Thursday, February 25, 2016

ARC REVIEW: Red -The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff

The True Story of Red Riding Hood
by Liesl Shurtliff
4/5 stars 

I'd like to thank NetGalley and Random House Kids for providing me with an ARC copy of this book in return for an honest review.

The third book in Shurtliff's series of 'True Story' novels, RED is just as fun and enjoyable as RUMP and JACK.

In this story, we get to skip back to Rump's old village where his old friend Red has been getting by without him, though she does wonder where he ran off to. After JACK, it's fun to jump back into the part of the world Rump came from. It offers up a lot of questions as far as the series. Will we see Rump again? Is Shurtliff leading up to something? In the future, will we see these separate story lines start to connect on a grander scale?

These questions fuel my excitement for these novels, but for now they remain unanswered.

Red is a tough, spunky young girl, who doesn't need anyone looking out for her and doesn't mind telling you so. Also told in the first person, this was a very easy book to fall into because of Red's spirited narration, especially once she crosses paths with the flighty Goldie who's determined to be friends.

Granddaughter of the Witch of the Wood, Red is strong with magic. Maybe too strong. Where her grandmother is a powerful and competent witch, Red has a hard time making her magic work right. Spells she casts have a tendency to blow up in her face and she's vowed never to use magic again. When her grandmother gets sick, Red resolves to find her a cure.

RED offers us a chance to explore the magic of this world and how it works, as we watch Red struggle with the magic within her. Despite her vow to never use magic again, the magic still exists inside her, giving us an interesting look at the world through its magic.

As expected, Shurtliff not only puts a twist on the classic story, but she manages to cross its path with unconventional elements from a handful of other stories as well, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Snow White, and -my personal favorite- Beauty and the Beast. This gives further credence to the prospect that we may one day see all these stories merge on a bigger canvas. We already have proof these fairy tales are interconnected; the question now is how interconnected?

Along her journey, Red finds personal strength and growth in a satisfactory and engaging story. She will also be faced with a much more serious and mature topic than Shurtliff has heretofore taken on -accepting death of loved ones. Red's goal of finding a cure for her grandmother quickly becomes fixated on finding a way to beat death, because she can't ever imagine a life without her grandmother in it. This is a very heavy topic to take on in middle grade, but Shurtliff handles it well. She doesn't sugar-coat the reality of losing loved ones, but she manages not to depress us at the same time. The book is made all the better by the inclusion and handling of this genuine dread.

A great addition to Shurtliff's name, kids -and overenthusiastic fairy tale fans like me- are going to love it just as much as the first two.
Check out my reviews for RUMP & JACK
Rump: The True Story of RumpelstiltskinRump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
View all my reviews

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the BeanstalkJack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
View all my reviews 

Have you read RUMP or JACK?
What fairy tale do you hope Liesl Shurtliff tackles next?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

WORTH WATCHING: Second Chance (Fox)

Current rating: 7/10
Potential Rating: 9/10
Fox, Fri @ 9 ET/PT
Inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Created by: Rand Ravich (aka, the Joss Whedon of Crime Shows)
Cast: Robert Kazinsky, Dilshad Vadsaria, Adhir Kalyan, Ciara Bravo, Vanessa Lengies, Tim DeKay (yay!!)

I finally got a chance to catch up on this show (thanks, Hulu!). I missed the pilot episode *sad face* but I've been so excited about Second Chance that, despite my deep abhorrence for watching shows out of order, I decided to jump in at episode 2. Luckily, they had a decent recap to hold me over until I can see the pilot for reals.

Oh, and I'm hooked.

See, this show caught my attention when it hit the 2016 lineup back in fall, with phrases like 'brought back to life', 'morally corrupt', and '...continue to haunt him'.

This is like my fangirl trifecta.

The series follows the life of Jimmy Pritchard, a 75-year-old former King County, Washington sheriff who was morally corrupt and later disgraced and forced to retire. After he is killed in a robbery at his son's home, Pritchard is brought back to life in the improved body of a younger man by billionaire tech-genius twins Mary and Otto Goodwin. However, despite having a new life and a chance to relive his life and find a new purpose, the temptations that led to his career being tarnished continue to haunt him.

Why I Love It

It's quite simple. Moral ambiguity vs the white hat.

Jimmy Pritchard, in his first life, would cross the line for the right reasons, and now he's got a second chance, in a younger, freakishly strong body, without the same rules he had to skirt around before BUT he's also trying to make amends with his son Duval, a straight-laced, by-the-book FBI agent who's determined to overcome the family's 'corrupt cop' reputation.


I will be completely honest. This strained relationship, the attempts to mend it, and the basic moral opposition that creates the strife is the main reason I am infatuated with this show. I am all about characters, especially flawed characters, and I love watching well-done character development.
Granted, Second Chance needs a little work, but that's something it can easily grow into. They just need to hammer home this difference in morals. I love the developing relationship between young Jimmy and Duval, despite their differences, but so far it's almost too easy. They've been poking at the moral conflict, creating some episodic strain between Jimmy and Duval, showing us Jimmy's bad habits of hanging out in dives, getting drunk, picking fights -but what they really need is to push more of Jimmy's genuine flaws to the forefront, really home in on that 'temptations...continue to haunt him' promised in the premise, and have them clash with Duval's uncompromising nature, because so far their moral differences haven't forced either character to morally compromise themselves or created any lasting consequences.

So far, episodes 3 and 4 have been my favorite, because they have strayed the most into this emotional minefield.

On the upside, I suspect that Philip Baker Hall's continued recurrence as old Jimmy will eventually lead to a visual embodiment of this moral conflict in young Jimmy, between past flaws and second chance. I quiver with anticipation.

Speaking of complicated relationships...

Another regret in Jimmy Pritchard's life was not treating his wife as well as he could have. Does the show spell a second chance at love for him, as well as the reparations of his relationship with Duval? Of course it does, because those blood transfusions with Mary involve long hours sitting alone together while trying to save her life.

One might think this potential romance between the recently-75-year-old and the much-younger Mary Goodwin is weird -okay, it's a little weird- but so far it's being approached delicately, and the greatest impact their relationship is having is on a developmental level. Mary wants to see him take full advantage of his second chance, coaxing him when things get tough with Duval. Jimmy wants to see her take advantage of the time she has and live a little more.

Please, please, pleasepleasepleaseplease do not ruin this golden opportunity for a genuine, healthy relationship with lust and meaningless sex. I'm begging you.

Again, in tandem with how I want to see the characters evolve, I also want to see them -specifically Jimmy- jeopardize their own successful and potential development. Because apparently I'm a glutton for punishment.

The Whole Frankenstein Thing

For being a modern inspiration of Frankenstein, I feel like the 'bring someone back to life' bit is handled with modern, realistic plausibility. It has a good set up -reclusive billionaire genius with unlimited funds and no one asking questions- and better yet a good reason -he's trying to find a cure for his sister's terminal cancer.

However, I do think viewers are getting too hung up on this 'Frankenstein' comparison, and some of the reviews so far reflect that. Instead of seeing the word 'inspired by', they're thinking 'adaptation' and, frankly, it isn't. Otto Goodwin is no Victor Frankenstein and the new and improved Jimmy Pritchard, despite his moral ambiguity and unexpected super-human strength, is not a monster. (Not yet, anyway.)

So that's an important thing. Don't go into this looking for a new Frankenstein. Just enjoy it for what it really is. Okay? Okay.

Having said that, it's entirely possible that show creator/writer Rand Ravich is merely working his way towards a stronger Frankenstein parralel. Already, the creator in Otto Goodwin is least enamored of his creation. While the rest of the cast is satisfied with seeing Jimmy given a second chance and trying to put his new skills to good use, Otto's disapproval and contention over what Jimmy isn't is building in the background.

So far, the relationship between Jimmy and Otto is the least developed, but it's definitely intentional. What have you got up your sleeve, Rand Ravich?


I like the casting overall, but I think the performances of Robert Kazinsky and Tim DeKay specifically are phenomenal, and I love the guest bits of Philip Baker Hall.

Robert Kazinsky, an actor I was not before familiar with, exudes the bad boy haunted by inner demons with a dark brooding and determination. That Look he gives bad guys makes me squirm.
That's the one.
At the same time, he manages to tackle the role with the exuberance, energy, and giddiness befitting a 75-year-old suddenly restored to youth. In turns noble, dark, and happy-go-lucky, he really pulls off that new life/old temptations vibe.
I loved Tim DeKay in White Collar -who didn't?- and his casting was reason #2 I was excited for this show. Arguably, his role hasn't changed much. By-the-book, good guy FBI agent, saddled with a morally ambiguous partner. Honestly, I think that makes DeKay and his knack for wry humor the perfect choice for the role of Duval Pritchard. We already know he can pull it off, and I like seeing DeKay take on the added emotional baggage of quote/unquote 'daddy issues'.

Philip Baker Hall is a great choice for the cantankerous, no-holds-barred, old-school sheriff who pops into Jimmy's head every so often to remind him who he used to be.

The casting department also get a helping of Geek Cred for using Scott Melville of Teen Titans fame as the voice of Goodwin's super high-tech computer interface, Arthur.

Now for creator Rand Ravich. See, I knew his name sounded familiar, but I've only just now realized why. Rand Ravich was the creator and producer of Life, the crime drama about a cop (Damien Lewis) falsely accused of murder, exonerated after twelve years in Pelican Bay and returned to his job on the force. One of my other favorite shows, co-starring Sarah Shahi, this sadly only lasted two seasons despite its quirky zen lead and brilliant concept.

His efforts with Second Chance have only proved that his skill with meshing great character, emotion-toying development, interesting plot lines, and working unconventional premises into cop shows was not a one hit wonder. For this reason, Rand Ravich is quickly becoming my Joss Whedon of crime shows.

Despite its flaws, Second Chance is a diamond in the rough.

Like I said, this show needs to make a bigger impact. Drive home some of Jimmy's flaws; show us more genuine conflict with the characters, but let it lead somewhere. Maybe tone back the cop procedural; obviously it's a key component of the show, but I think it would benefit by shifting the characters to the focal point and using the crime of the week to reflect their struggles and victories.

BUT THESE ARE ALL QUALITIES THAT CAN -AND NEED- TO DEVELOP NATURALLY WITHIN THE CHARACTERS AND THE STORY LINE ITSELF. What we have so far is a great start for the show, but this may not satisfy the viewers of today, who want everything, and want it now.

Already the show is moving toward more oomph, as E6 just revealed some bad guys lurking in the shadows and something hinky is going on with Jimmy's genetic code. I'm crossing my fingers so hard that this new genetic code development is somehow tied to his moral behavior (ie, lasting consequences) that my knuckles ache.

I only hope this show gets the chance to truly shine and doesn't get pulled prematurely.

My rating for the show is 7/10 for the five episodes I've seen -good premise, interesting direction, thoroughly enjoyable, and the ability to toy with my emotions- but you probably noticed that I added another rating sections under 'Potential', with the higher 9/10. Here's a quick rundown of the differences:

  • 'Current Rating' -rating of the show so far, based on what we actually know.
  • 'Potential Rating' -projected rating based on the direction it's heading and the plot threads I see developing; essentially, what the show has the potential to rate if it survives and gets the chance to mature.
This isn't spastic, I swear. This is me, getting fed up with too many good shows being axed too quickly because viewers and reviewers are losing patience without factoring in the potential of a developing show. So there. :P

So do this fangirl a favor, share this review to spread the word and check out Second Chance on Hulu or or Friday nights. See if you think it's worth watching, too.

Monday, February 22, 2016

REVIEW: Jack -The True Story of Jack & the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff

The True Story of
Jack & the Beanstalk
by Liesl Shurtliff
Alfred A. Knopf
Middle Grade
4/5 stars

The same author who brought us Rump (check out my review for that!) endeavors to tell us what really happened in Jack & the Beanstalk -and it's just as fun as her first book.

Jack is a farm boy with big plans. He is destined to be Great. Papa told him so. The Jacks of their family have always gone on to do big and important things -just look at his great-great-great-great-great-great-GREAT grandfather Jack, the Giant Killer. Raised on the stories of his heroic patriarch, Jack is determined to live up to his Great name and slay some giants of his own. When the giants break through the sky and steal the farm, the animals, and his Papa away, Jack will have to discover whether he'll be able to live up to the Greatness.

The retelling is as clever as it is fun. Shurtliff adds elements of other fairy tales into Jack's, intertwining Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, and even sprinkling references to The Elves and the Shoemaker and There Was An Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. Technically a companion novel to Rump, rather than a direct sequel, Jack's tale takes place in the same world. The connections Shurtliff made between the two stories are particularly brilliant. Each chapter is headed by an excerpt from the tales of Jack the Giant Killer, our Jack's so-many-greats grandfather, which is an interesting way to bring the two stories together. 

While Jack searches for his Papa, he explores more of the giant world and begins to realize there's a bigger problem. Weaving all these stories together, Shurtliff gives me the perfect excuse to use a favorite gif. Greed -and magic- come with a price, you know.

As before, Shurtliff weaves a quirky tale against a backdrop of an almost-familiar fairy tale land setting. Jack is an adventurous boy determined to fulfill the destiny he believes his name bestows on him. He's no stranger to the odd bit of mischief, either, especially if it involves sneaking grasshoppers or frogs into the pocket of his annoying little sister's apron. Told in the first person, Jack's personality makes the narrative entertaining and compelling.

I especially loved watching Jack's development through this story. A cocky, self-assured boy tackles huge hurdles with ingenuity, but we realize he's still just a boy, and there's that low part of the book where he realizes it, too. His journey, especially in his relationship with his sister and in dealing with the question of 'what can one boy do?', grabbed me with its genuineness. Kids are going to love relating to Jack.

While it doesn't have a beat-you-over-the-head moral, Jack learns important lessons and experiences that will be easily translated into every day life. JACK wasn't only a fun book, it's also Aunt Approved.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

REVIEW: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage (Mysteries of Cove #1)

Fires of Invention
Mysteries of Cove #1
by J. Scott Savage
Shadow Mountain Publishing
4/5 stars

I want to thank Shadow Mountain Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC.

A major thing I love about this book is that there is definitely the feel of a dystopian or post-apocalyptic society here, but it isn't depressing. I'm very tired of the no-hope, doomed-civilization worlds. With Fires of Invention, there's a fun, playful essence to the story that's infectious. It's just a group of people who decided to hole themselves up in a mountain because overuse of technology poisoned the air outside and that's just their life. It's a (mostly) normal little society -no Hunger Games, no aptitude test, just good old fashioned job placement. 

But back to that 'holed themselves up in the mountain' thing. I was a little wary at first when the characters talked about how the sky was poisoned by too much technology because I didn't want to be beat over the head with environmental strong-arm tactics and that wasn't the intent at all. Imagine my joy to find that this is straight up, really truly, an actual plot device to further the story. Because of this outside sky poisoning, inside Cove 'inventing' and being 'creative' are the worst crimes comprehensible.

Of course our main character rather excels at that. Trenton is a mechanic who wants nothing more than to improve the poor, often ill-maintained machinery their society runs on and, while he doesn't want to be a cursed Inventor, sometimes he just can't help but see a better way to do things. Throw in Kallista Babbage, daughter of an Inventor and murderer, on the hunt for her father's last invention and -yeah, I call that a party.

The story unfolds at a good pace, giving us a mystery within the first few chapters to keep our attention until things really start to unfold. For this reason, this book could be easily handed to a middle grade or YA reader and I doubt they would even notice. Coupled with the great characters and the fantastic if eerie underground steampunk setting, this one's a win.
Both of our main characters understand machines and blueprints far better than they do people and emotions, which means the awkward interactions (<3 <3 <3!!) are frequent, endearing, and great points of character and relationship development.

Speaking of relationships...
One thing I really admired is that, in the story, Trenton and his mother don't get along very well. Savage handled it so well because -despite Trenton's frustration and anger with his mother, how he makes her stew and stings her with barbed comments in his anger- Savage never makes his mother the bad guy. Trenton's angry with her, he's hurt by her actions, and he doesn't understand why she's trying to ruin his dreams. He certainly doesn't like her for a good portion of the book, but despite all that I never felt that she was truly villainized and I have immense respect for Savage for that, especially since this is a children's book.

But that's not the only tricky parent/child relationship Savage handles and the second one is much subtler. Leo Babbage is hinted to be much like Trenton in the respect that he understands mechanics much more than people and we see how this affected Kallista's upbringing and personality, and how it affects her relationship with Trenton. We don't see too much on the actual relationship between father and daughter, but I'm hoping we get more flashbacks/details in the sequel. *crosses fingers*

Minor characters are given good depth alongside our heroes and, even better, roles to play in the story's conclusion. I love it when that happens.
The one exception for this was Clyde who, admittedly, didn't have a whole lot to offer in the climax. I don't even know what he would have done. I just liked the character and wanted to see him involved. The fact that he didn't isn't bad for the story, but it does mean that I will be watching out for Clyde's role in future books because he'll have to do something important eventually.

Oh, right. Did I mention that huge mechanical, FIRE-BREATHING dragon? Each chapter is headed by an illustration of this steampunk awesomeness, as it is being built one gear and mechanism at a time. But what's it doing in the story? Dude, you have to find that out for yourself!

Have you read Fires of Invention?
If not, what book are you enjoying right now?