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Astral Dawn - The End of Paradise
Astral Dawn - The End of Paradise
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Unique View of Paradise, December 16, 2013
If anyone were to ask Caspian Knoll what he was doing with his life, he'd probably have tough time coming up with an answer. At twenty-two he works a low paying dead end job, and lives with his parents. His idea of an exciting weekend involves something good on TV, and he's never had a real girlfriend. That's not to say Caspian is "a loser". Quite the contrary. He's basically a decent guy. He is intelligent and inquisitive. He wants more out of life. But he isn't quite sure how to get beyond "wanting" it. He's held back by a general sense of fear and anxiety. Of course he doesn't seem like the type of person to save a heavenly realm from invasion. But are the people who save other worlds ever, really, the people that you would expect?
One Friday evening, Caspian picks up an interesting looking Ankh necklace when he stops into an antique store on his way home from work. Other than that nothing else remotely atypical happens, and Caspian goes home, has some dinner with his family, watches some television and falls asleep. He awakens in a strange Heavenly realm. He's taken to places with names like the Clear Path, Inspiration's Light and the Way of Ascension before his arrival in the Celestial City. Here he finds a guide who tells him that a) he is dreaming (he kind of figured that one out on his own) b) This is somehow different from a normal dream c) He's in what humans traditionally think of as Heaven and d) He's not actually dead- just visiting. All seems well in the Celestial City, as you might expect. But Caspian begins to notice some folks around that look like they don't belong in Heaven. In fact, they look like they belong somewhere a bit further south... But for some reason, Caspian is the only one who can see them. It comes to pass that Caspian might be the only thing stranding between Paradise, and an invasion.
Like any other book, Astral Dawn: The End of Paradise has its share of strengths and weaknesses. Impatient readers be warned that some of the weaknesses appear first. We get a preface and a prologue that are set in realms that we can assume are Heaven and Hell, but without really having an idea of who these beings really are, or the stakes, it's hard for the reader to engage, or even understand. Push though this.
Once we meet Caspian things start to look up He has found himself in a similar situation to a lot of other "new adults". He's been told that he may have to pay his dues but eventually if he tows the line he'll have a good job, a family, and a happy fulfilling life. But he's not sure how to get from point A to point B. He sends out resumes, but not much seems to come of them. When he sees a girl who catches his interest, he can't think of anything to say to her. A lot of readers may sympathize with Caspian in this, because it's a point in life that's very similar to where a lot of readers either are of have been once: the point where we once assumed that everything would come together, only to learn that it's not that easy. As a sympathetic and realistic character, he gives the reader a firm foundation in the familiar. Therefore when he starts to encounter realms that are more fantastical, he needs the same explanations that the reader does, in order to understand what is happening. He also gives the reader something firm and familiar to hold onto, in spite of some of the more bizarre goings on.
Things do get weird. We are essentially taken on a guided tour of Heaven here. We learn a lot of "rules" for travel, fighting, and communicating in this new realm. There is are hints along the way, that Caspian's journey is not yet through by the end of this book, and will be continued in a sequel. There are plenty of loose ends at the finish of this book, but that's alright as long as they are tied up in later installments.
Author, Adam R. Brown, also deserves credit for setting his novel in a multicultural world. Well, technically two multicultural worlds. He rarely dwells on a character's race unless it has some relevance to the plot or characterization- which occasionally it does. In his character descriptions he'll mention that a beautiful woman appears to be of Hispanic descent. We learn that Caspian is African American early on via a few off hand comments, but his race doesn't define him. There's a sense of balance in Brown's depiction of race and culture. It is a part of who his characters are, and sometimes why they act a certain way, but it is never their defining characteristic. This balance is refreshing in fiction, where often all characters are given the same cultural background as the author and/or the intended audience.
Overall, Paradise as seen in Brown's novel is a vividly created world that is not always what you'd expect of Heaven. No angels playing harps on clouds here! It is the way that the novel subverts our expectations and ideas about Heaven and Hell that make this an interesting read.

The Sound of Music Live!
The Sound of Music Live!
DVD ~ Carrie Underwood
Price: $8.99
55 used & new from $4.15

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Valiant and Somewhat Successful Enterprise (3.5 stars), December 9, 2013
This review is from: The Sound of Music Live! (DVD)
Firstly I understand this was based on the stage version, not the film. But it's still somewhat difficult for me having grown up watching the film. I've heard Mary Martin's recordings as Maria and as talented as she is, Julie Andrews is Maria for me. Likewise The Sound of Music is sweeping vistas, stunning views of the Alps and the grandeur of the Von Trapp estate.

But I tried to come to this with an open mind. After all, this was the first time in 50 years that a musical was produced live for television. I am grateful to NBC for taking a huge risk in airing that. I understand that they could not have done that without a big name star in the lead. Enter Carrie Underwood. Underwood sang it a la Mary Martin, not Julie Andrews (as I said I prefer Andrews) but her voice lacked the warmth of Martin. Not that it was terrible. I was impressed that she managed to tone down her twang and cut down on some her pop-isms. But the biggest problem is that she can't act. For the entire first act (up to "Climb Ev'ry Mountain") she was visibly nervous. I can excuse that for the first 20-30 minutes. If she had eased into her performance at that point I wouldn't have held it against her at all. But it lasted nearly 2 hours before she eased into it. I noticed her look directly into the camera at several points early on. When she sang "Do-Re-Mi" she was huffing and puffing so much she sounded like she'd run a marathon. I wasn't sure if she'd hit the final note and when she did there was a look of visible relief on her face. Her most comfortable number was definitely "The Lonely Goatherd". She actually looked like she was having fun! Still the singing wasn't my biggest problems with her. In terms of creating a character; well, she didn't. She read her lines with the inflection that had clearly been coached. She was missing the joie de vivre of the character, and there was no journey from willful stubborn girl, to strong woman.

I've seen a lot of people bashing Stephen Moyer's performance; basically saying that he appeared, stiff, cold, and one note. Um, isn't that what Captain Von Trap is? The difference is that when he's paired with a lively, charismatic Maria they play off one another in a fun way. When his Maria is stiff and wooden that dynamic is impossible. I see the fault more on her part than his. Maybe "fault" is the wrong word. She was an inexperienced actress in a role that demanded more than she was able to give (though her attempt was sincere and brave). But just because Moyer is the more experienced actor doesn't make the lack of chemistry his fault. As for his singing, I thought he had a nice voice. Not the strongest in the world, but then the guy.who dubbed Christopher Plummer didn't have the strongest voice either;. And I think that Moyer was responsible for two of the more emotionally resonant moments in the piece. The first was when he hears the children singing the reprise of the title song, looks at them, realizes that he doesn't know them at all, so looks at the Alps that are so familiar to him, and begins to join in their song and finally embracing them. The other was during "Edelweiss" when he started playing the song on the guitar (which looked like he was doing for real...) and singing, and then became overcome with emotion and got choked up. Maria then comes in and joins him and he visibly takes strength from her presence beside him and nails the end of the song

Moyer's other strong work came in his scenes with Max (Christian Borle) and Elsa (Laura Benanti). Borle and Benanti are stage veterans (Benanti actually played Maria in the 1999 Broadway Revival of the show) and it shows. Their two songs (cut from the film) "How Can Love Survive" and "No Way To Stop It" were comic relief highlights. The first is a duet between Elsa and Max and the second is a trio in which the Captain is included as well. Working alongside these pros elevates Moyer's performance to the level it could have been through out if he'd been given a strong costar. In "No Way To Stop It" there's a great moment where the Captain and Elsa realizes how poorly suited they really are. They end the song singing the same thing in the same place but miles apart. I found Borle's Max less fun than what I'm used to. He seemed more opportunistic and calculating. In contrast I found Benanti's Elsa to be far more sympathetic as Elsa than the ice queen portrayal that I'm used to. In spite of her "me first" attitude I felt bad for her when she realized that the engagement to the Captain wasn't going to go anywhere.

However the award for the evening goes to Audra McDonald. She opens the show with a prelude (as opposed to Maria twirling around the hills like in the movie) alongside the other nuns (all stage vets including Christiane Noll, Nikki Renee Daniels, Elena Shaddow- who recently played Maria at the Papermill Playhouse, Ashley Brown- who played Maria at The Muny in 2010, Gina Farrell- who placed one of the nuns in the 99 Revival, and more; virtually all of whom have Broadway and operatic credits) and she sounds absolutely divine. Unfortunately the move to Carrie Underwood's title song is a bit of a let down after that. I prefer "My Favorite Things" as a song Maria sings with the children- it makes more sense in that context. But Audra sounds so pretty singing it that I don't mind at all that it doesn't make a great deal of dramatic sense for it to be done that way (I feel that moving it was an improvement on the part of the film). However it is her "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" that is the high point of the broadcast. That's the point where even Carrie Underwood shows what appears to be some genuine emotion. Not only does she have a great voice, she's always an interesting, charismatic performer who never skips the character work in favor of the vocals.

Overall this was not a perfect broadcast. It had a miscast leading lady, and a general "made for television" feeling. There were some technical problems such as poor sound mixing at times, and occasionally an audible hiss. However, I think that for the first time doing this in 50 years the network needed both a well known title and a big national star as a leading lady. I applaud the effort put forth from everyone involved and especially appreciate the successful elements. But since it got great ratings, hopefully NBC will do this again. When they do, I think it might be wise to do a musical with name recognition (maybe a "name" actor/actress who can sing rather than a singer who can't act) in the lead, but a less iconic film version. For example Brigadoon and Camelot are family friendly musicals with flawed film adaptations that aren't nearly as ingrained in popular culture as The Sound of Music.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 13, 2013 6:50 AM PST

The Photo Traveler (The Photo Traveler Series) (Volume 1)
The Photo Traveler (The Photo Traveler Series) (Volume 1)
by Arthur J. Gonzalez
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.49
4 used & new from $4.95

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the more gripping YA novels I've read recently, July 7, 2013
The divide between literature for older children and literature for adults has gotten much smaller than it once was, in the past decade; and the gap between books intended for adults and those intended for teens is smaller still. In the sci-fi/fantasy genre it is perhaps at it's smallest; with adults devouring the latest Harry Potter,/Twilight/Hunger Games books along with their kids. The Photo Traveler by Arthur J. Gonzalez is a novel that is classified in the YA (young adult) or teen genre. Why? It has a teenage protagonist, certainly (and one who actually acts like a teenager as opposed to many of his counterparts in other books who act 17 going on 45). But if the character were to be written ten years older, the only really notable change would be that he would (hopefully) be a bit more mature and less impulsive. All of the other circumstances could be altered slightly to fit an older hero. What I am getting at here, is that The Photo Traveler is a novel written for teens and about a teen, but it's one that could just as easily be enjoyed by adults.

Our protagonist, Gavin Hillstone, initially finds himself in a situation that no child should have to face. His parents were killed in a house fire when he was just out of diapers and he has no real memory of them. He was legally adopted by his foster mother, a kind woman, whose murder he witnessed in a convenience story robbery gone wrong. Living with her drunken, abusive husband, Gavin's only escape from the ugliness in his life is photography. However, one day, Gavin learns that his paternal grandparents are still alive and across the country in Washington DC. If he had living relatives when his parents died, why was he in the foster system? Why would his grandparents willingly put him up for adoption? In search of answers Gavin runs away to DC, where he meets Bud and Estelle, the family he never knew he had. Bud and Estelle claim that that gave Gavin up so that he would be safe until he was old enough to learn the truth about himself and his family. His family is the descendants of a group of explorers who found something enabling them to travel through time and space via images. If a picture is of a real person or place, Gavin can go there by uttering a simple chant. At first he uses this ability the way a teenage boy would use it: recklessly. But he soon learns that others are after the power that the Photo Travelers possess and more besides. As a holder of that power Gavin has tremendous responsibility to use it wisely.

YA novels with boys as narrators are rare, and when they are written (often by women) the boy is sort of a fantasy version of a male teenager. The Photo Traveler's greatest strength is that Gavin feels like a 17-18 year old male. In other words, there are times when he can be intelligent, charming and endearing, and there are times when you want to throttle him! For example, he shows kindness and generosity during the Great Depression, but when he sees a photo of his friend's beautiful cousin who died years earlier, he naturally decides to steal some pictures of her so that he can go back in time and start a relationship with her. Surely nothing could go wrong with that plan, right?

Of course things do go wrong, there and elsewhere. Gavin is warned that with time travel he has to be careful of "the butterfly effect". He can't influence past events. But he's not aware of the secrets that exist within his own family. It is these secrets that make his trips to the past more dangerous than he realizes, and make him wonder who, if anyone, he can trust.

If you're a fan of any genre, there are times when you know where the book is going more or less. That's true here as well. But there are times that the author throws you curve that leaves your head spinning. For me that happened about ¾ of the way through the book and again in it's last few pages. I had been enjoying my journey with Gavin until that point, reading the book at a fairly quick pace. However, then something happened. There was a very definite point at which I stopped being able to put it down until I'd finished. Even finishing the book didn't leave me satisfied, because as I turned the page following a giant cliffhanger I learned that I could keep an eye out for the sequel. Well, now I'll have to. I'm hooked! Like Gavin, once the reader gets started on a journey he/she will need to see it through to the end.

*Originally published in*

Sentimental Journey
Sentimental Journey
Price: $11.88
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nostalgic and Enjoyable, February 2, 2013
This review is from: Sentimental Journey (Audio CD)
I've been following actress/singer Emmy Rossum's career for quite a while, and I think that one of the truest things that anyone can say about her is that she never does what one might expect. For example, in 2004 she earned many positive reviews and several awards for her performance in the film version of Phantom of the Opera. After that many fans expected an album for classical crossover music and showtunes. Instead, Rossum took a year off from filmmaking in order to cowrite and record 2007's Inside Out. The album mixed adult contemporary pop with new age. While it earned some accolades, the primary criticsm of it was that while Rossum has a beautiful voice, the layered vocals on the album obscured it somewhat. Rossum then left music for a while to make several films and star on the hit Showtime series Shameless: The Complete First Season (currently in it's 3rd season). But in 2013 she released a follow up album of a very different style.

"Sentimental Journey" is a collection of covers of popular music of the 1920's-1960's. The songs are arranged as a musical calendar, with each one evoking, either lyrically or emotionally, the feeling of a different month. Hence songs like "I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover" for March (St. Patrick's Day), "These Foolish Things" for April (April Fool's Day), and "Apple Blossom Time" for May. According to Rossum, this was the music she grew up with. It was what her mother played around the house when she was a child, and sang to her as lullabies. Her emotional connection to the material definitely comes through here. The best thing I can possibly say about this album is that Rossum makes these songs, written many years ago and covered by many artists since, sound fresh. The notion of the album as a musical calendar doesn't feel gimmicky (it could have!) and Rossum connects beautifully with the emotional content of the different songs: she'll make you smile on "The Object of My Affection" (which features a spoken bit from Rossum's "Shameless" costar, William H. Macy), and weep on "Autumn Leaves (Les Feulles Mortes)".

One adjective that a lot of people use to describe this album has been "jazzy". Interestingly it's the less "jazzy" tracks that I like the best: "The Object of My Affection", "I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover", "Apple Blossom Time", "Summer Wind", "Autumn Leaves", and "Pretty Paper" are among my favorites. Not that the jazzier songs are bad! Rossum sounds sultry and rich on songs like "These Foolish Things", "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", and the title song. She also gets in touch with her country side on the song "Many Tears Ago" (Rossum sang bluegrass tunes in the 2000 film Songcatcher). Interestingly, "Pretty Paper", which was written as a country song, is taken in a different direction on here. Unlike many actresses who consider themselves singers, Rossum has a beautiful voice. She also has a strong musical background and a gift several different styles.

Will this album ensure that classics of the past are on the top 40 once again? Probably not. But it provides us with a lovely interpretation of some of these standards and hopefully it will at least introduce some of Rossum's younger fans to the popular music of a different era. It's hard to say where Rossum's music career will go from here, but one thing I can predict is that she's unlikely to do what's expected!

Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre
DVD ~ Mia Wasikowska
Price: $10.99
46 used & new from $3.09

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointment, August 9, 2011
This review is from: Jane Eyre (DVD)
Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books ever, but it's adapted very frequently for film and stage. The last screen adaptation was the 2006 BBC version and that was a stand out for me. But generally I think that unless a filmmaker has something special to do or say about this particular work, Hollywood might be wise to look to other classics for adaptation. However I'd heard excellent things about the most recent big screen version of Jane Eyre and after listening to an interview with the director on NPR in which he promised his new film played up the gothic elements of the story in a way that other versions hadn't, I had hopes that while it wasn't strictly necessary it might be darn good.

It's not. Not that it's terrible, it's just "blah". Mia Wasikowska was miscast as Jane. For one thing she's too pretty for the role. For another I didn't get much sense of an inner life. Not that it was bad acting per se. She smiled at the right moments and cried at the right moments, but really I got no indication of an actual personality from her Jane. Michael Fassbender was OK as Mr Rochester but nothing special. The biggest problem there is that he and Mia have very little chemistry together. Also he proposes after what seems to be three conversations. We don't get any sense of any relationship there because most of significant events are left out. If I hadn't read the book I'd have no idea why Blanche Ingram was there to begin with! I did like Judi Dench as Mrs Fairfax and Sally Hawkins as Aunt Reed. But Mrs Fairfax and Aunt Reed shouldn't be my favorite characters!

Small choices made by the the filmmakers bothered me. For example, When Mr Rochester proposes to Jane the whole part with the lightening striking the tree is left out. Bye bye foreshadowing. Another thing I disliked was that the whole first half was told in flashback while Jane was with St John Rivers and his sisters. I was hoping that the purpose of this was to cut down on the time that was devoted to a fairly dull, but necessary for plot, part of the story. But no. Even after the flashbacks end, bringing us back to the "present" we still need to see Jane with the Rivers' family for a while longer. And then, when she leaves (talking to Mr. Rochester's voice which she hears in the air, and looking like a lunatic) her return to Thornfield and to Mr Rochester is brushed over in about five minutes. When Pride and Prejudice was adapted in 2005 I complained that looked more Bronte than Austen with it's wild, windswept moors. Well this looks more Austen than Bronte. Thornfield is a well lit house, and gardens are perfectly manicured (I thought the director said he was playing up the gothic elements!). It's worth a watch on DVD, don't get me wrong. It's not a terrible adaptation and it's pretty to look at. But I've seen much better.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 21, 2014 7:45 PM PST

House of Voices
House of Voices
DVD ~ Virginie Ledoyen
Offered by Maple Bar Movies
Price: $8.49
52 used & new from $1.70

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you come to it in the right frame of mind, it's worth a watch (3.5 stars), December 2, 2010
This review is from: House of Voices (DVD)
First of all the original title of this film is "Sainte Ange". The US title is House of Voices but that's an amazingly stupid title since it has nothing to do with the film at all. But what's in a name? The film itself was an overall enjoyable experience with some really well done elements. Not perfect by any means but a solid effort in the vein of The Others, The Devil's Backbone, The Orphanage, Turn of the Screw etc.

The movie takes place in 1958 in an orphanage in France. The building is old, creepy, and not fully up to safety code, and when a young boy dies (seemingly as a result of the poor safety precautions) the children are moved elsewhere and the building is shut down until funds are available to fix it up. Staying on in the meantime is the cook, Helenka, the handyman, and Judith (Lou Dillon) a grown orphan with some sort of mental problems who is in Helenka's care. Our heroine, Anna (Virginie Ledoyen), arrives to be the housekeeper of this odd little household. Anna is pregnant as the result of a rape (the details of which are only suggested) and doesn't want the baby. The job offers her an opportunity to retreat for the duration of her pregnancy and a place to give birth in private. Taking notice of some odd occurrences at St. Ange, Anna becomes obsessed with the idea that there is a paranormal source that somehow relates to events that Judith may have witnessed at Saint Ange during the war.

Of course on top of all this Anna has her own issues. She's recovering psychologically from her rape and her pregnancy disgusts her. She is reckless with her health and safety, perhaps in an attempt to cause a miscarriage. This is never actually said: we see her body covered in bruises, from several falls, but we're never told if they're intentional. Ledoyen wisely suggests that perhaps Anna doesn't know herself. But she's in the position not wanting a child, in a building that was made for unwanted children, so perhaps her own unconscious guilt plays into her paranoia as well. Yes, Anna eventually solves the mystery of Saint Ange but that turns out to be something of an anticlimax. For me what was most interesting was the lack of certainty. You could interpret it as a ghost story, or a psychological drama. Both of our heroines, Anna and Judith are unstable. They've suffered physically and psychologically and are therefore not the most reliable witnesses. As a result the film plays with your mind and creates a strong sense of atmosphere that is unabashedly gothic.

After watching this film I looked it up online out of curiosity and was surprised by some of the truely terrible reviews people have given it. Now don't get me wrong. It wasn't a great movie. It lost it's way a bit in the last 1/3 and there were several plot holes and issues with the screenplay. But it did keep me interested throughout, and I spent a bit of time after I saw it, thinking about it. So to me, that's not a waste of time. You just can't come to it with the expectation of seeing a fast paced horror film. You need to be willing to accept a mood piece that's open to several different interpretations.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 30, 2012 5:25 PM PST

Shutter Island
Shutter Island
DVD ~ Leonardo DiCaprio
Offered by International Cheap Discount
Price: $5.73
173 used & new from $0.01

83 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Better to live as a monster or die as a good man?", June 12, 2010
This review is from: Shutter Island (DVD)
I think that some of the mixed things I'd heard about it come from the fact that some audiences were a) expecting something different and b) don't like to think. To be fair the studio mislead them by selling Shutter Island as a fun, edge of your seat, thrill ride. It's really a psychological drama disguised as a B grade horror movie. It indulges in all the gothic tropes: the isolated mental hospital, the hurricane that cuts everything off from civilization, hints of Nazi experiments, even the music plays into it. But really that's just the setting. If you take it as the whole thing, that's where you'll run into disappointment. It's more about what's happening in the mind of the main character- which is a puzzle in itself- than the big twist ending. I think that The Sixth Sense and others of it's ilk did a disservice to audiences in a sense. People look for the "trick" in movies, studios advertise the "big twist ending". But this isn't a movie about a twist. Yes, there's a big reveal in the end, and the "what" of the reveal is fairly obvious. It's the "how" and the "why" that we should be thinking about. These are the answers to the psychological puzzle of the film. People get so into the "what" after being groomed on twist endings that they forget there is a "how" and a "why". When the big reveal comes it's more about the catharsis, the coming full circle, the emotional confrontation, than the twist itself.

Yes, it can be confusing not to know whether the main character is dreaming or hallucinating, or really seeing what is. But with patience that becomes clear and the beautifully photographed, eerily haunting dream sequences are worth watching without trying to "figure them out". Just enjoy the performances (impressive across the board), the score, the cinematography, and go where the film takes you. Some might call the ending a cop out. But really it leaves audiences with even more questions: are there some things that are so painful that we're better off (literally) cutting them out of our brains? Is a delusional mind a prison or an escape? Who is sane? Is sanity a choice? In my opinion answering these questions would be the cop out!
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 4, 2010 10:02 AM PST

The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle, Book 3)
The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle, Book 3)
by Libba Bray
Edition: Hardcover
277 used & new from $0.01

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Changing World, July 6, 2008
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I loved the first two novels in the "Gemma Doyle trilogy" but I wasn't sure if Libba Bray would be able to write a satisfying conclusion. The Sweet Far thing is over 800 pages long, and structured similar to a Shakespearian tragedy (for reasons that don't become apparent until the end of the book) but leaves the reader with a feeling of completion. As Gemma Doyle and her friends Felicity and Ann prepare for their graduation from the Spence Academy for Young Ladies the pressure of the impending future is felt. Felicity needs sponsorship in order to make her debut in society and come into her inheritance. She needs that money in order to take her abusive father's ward, Polly, away from him, and live in freedon somewhere. Unless Ann can make it as an actress she faces a future as a governess to her cousin's bratty children. Gemma holds the power of the Realms which she needs to figure out how to distribute fairly. She has the Rakshana- a patricharcal organization after her to give them the power, and the Order- the Rakshana's Matriarchal counterpart after the power for themselves, and the various mythical creatures of the realms all after their fair share. At the same time, Gemma must cope with her father, who is an opium addict, and her seemingly impossible love for Kartik- an Indian boy who has his own stake in the future of the Realms.

With the pressures of Victorian society weighing on them, Gemma, Felicity and Ann are tempted to escape to the Realmss to visit Pippa- their friend who escaped into the Realms to avoid a loveless marriage but refused to "cross over" as the dead are supposed to, opting instead to remain in the Boarderlands with several girls who were killed in a recent factory fire. But Gemma has her doubts about Pippa too, who seems to have become corrupted by her refusal to cross over. Unsure of who to trust Gemma must find a way to secure the future for herself and her friends in a rapidly changing world while learning that sometimes the hardest person to know and to trust is yourself.

Without any spoilers, some people have accused the ending being somewhat contrived. I think the seeds are there from the very beginning. In some cases the seeds are even planted in earlier books of the trilogy. A close reading will show how everpresent themes such as sacrifice come to fruition at the end of the novel. Bray wisely doesn't lay everything out neatly. Some things are left open to interpretation. I think ending it neatly would've been counterproductive. The girls in the book are fighting several worlds that want to keep them "in their place". Perhaps the best way to end it is to have them outside that order.

This book is twice as long as the others in the series and about three times as complicated. But that's because the heroines are learning some hard lessons about the nature of power, friendship, sex, and politics: no easy answers and no black and white. They're distinguishing between various shades of gray and learning that sometimes people do the wrong thing for the right reason and vice versa. Everyone has secrets and their own agenda. There is no easy solution to the dilemmas that Bray sets up, so we see her characters stumble again and again as they try to find their own answers.

This is a great read for teenage girls. In the era of Gossip Girl, Twilight and nurmerous cheap teenage romance heroines, Gemma and her friends are an intelligent breath of fresh air, struggling for independance, and the freedom to pursue their dreams. For the first time they are truely questioning the values of their society, one where wealthy white men rule and people get rich off the suffering of others. They realize that they can make the world a different, and hopefully a better place in their own small ways. Despite being rooted in the Victorian era many of the girl's struggles are applicanble to today.

Road To Paradise
Road To Paradise
by Paullina Simons
Edition: Paperback
64 used & new from $0.02

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Let Down After Some Much Better Work (2.5 Stars), June 15, 2008
This review is from: Road To Paradise (Paperback)
I've read all of Simons novels. Her early works (Tully, Red Leaves, Eleven Hours) are good but it's her more recent work (The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander, The Summer Garden, and The Girl In Times Square) that is more absorbing and has real emotional resonance. I was looking forward to another Paullina Simons novel but The Road To Paradise left me feeling unfulfilled. Basically we have two teens on a road trip following high school graduation. Shelby is going to California to meet the mother who abandoned her, Gina is going to marry the boyfriend who may cheat on her if she doesn't get out there soon (why she'd want to marry him isn't really clear). Shelby and Gina used to be friends but a mysterious betrayal tore them apart. Most readers will be able to figure out the reason for their falling out long before it's revealed toward the end of the book. They pick up a hitchhiker named Candy along their way. As it turns out, Candy has a colorful past (featuring pornographers and monks) some nasty people after her. They're drawn into her world, her unconventional ideas about religion, discuss philosophy and lose all their money. We never really feel connected to any of them and are frustrated with some of the bad decisions they make on their journey (Shelby is supposed to be Harvard bound- something that's very hard to believe given the fact that she rarely says, does, or thinks anything intelligent). This could have been a story about Gina and Shelby rediscovering their friendship and putting the past behind them as they start toward their future. It could have been a story about how two sheltered, middle class girls leave their safe world behind and open themselves to trusting a stranger who could get them killed or could save their souls. Basically it had potential as a premise but it never goes anywhere. It's a shame because Simons is capable of so much more. Here's hoping her next book is a return to form.
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Wonder In The World
Wonder In The World
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely album from a rising star, May 22, 2008
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This review is from: Wonder In The World (Audio CD)
In the past five years, Kelli O'Hara as emerged as one of the most talented stars of musical theater suggesting that we might finally be seeing a soprano heir to the thrones of Barbara Cook and Julie Andrews. After creating a few roles in musicals ranging from the brilliant and underrated (My Life With Albertine), to the dire (Dracula) Kelli's poignant portrayal of Clara Johnson in The Light in the Piazza made her a rising star and subsequent roles in The Pajama Game, South Pacific, and My Fair Lady, confirmed that status. I've been waiting for Kelli O'Hara's solo album since she announced that it was in the works back when she was doing The Pajama Game. Actually I've been hoping for it ever since I heard The Light in the Piazza OBCR. So does it live up to expectations? Yes and no. But do I like it nonetheless? Yes.

When it was announced that Harry Connick Jr. would be the producer I was worried that he would sort of take over and make it his project. That fear was unfounded. Yes, Kelli sings three of his songs, but she also includes one song penned by her husband, Greg Naughton ("The Sun Went Out"), one from her breakthrough musical ("Fable" from Piazza), one that her father requested ("I Have Dreamed"), two she wrote herself, as well as several covers. Of the Harry Connick Jr. songs, the title song "Wonder in the World" (which they sing as a duet) is the best. It's a pop ballad that has sort of a musical theater flavor. Another highlight is Kelli's original song "I Love You The World" as well as a cover of "And So It Goes". Kelli's rendition of Piazza's "Fable" isn't the same as the version Victoria Clark owned onstage. Rather it's a new arrangement by Connick Jr, that according to Kelli is how Clara (her character in the show) might hear the song: it's a pretty, soothing, lullaby. It lacks the raw emotion of the stage version but it's in keeping with the mellow feel of the album. Ditto for Kelli's other musical theater selections "I Have Dreamed" and "Make Someone Happy".

Overall this is a lovely album that I enjoy listening to. It leaves me wanting more which I guess can be seen as both positive and negative. We hear her jazzy, mellow, pop sound on this album. Hopefully on her next she'll let us see another side of herself. Just a side note: the CD booklet (I use the term loosely) comes with the cover art, some song info, and another picture of Kelli. Considering Kelli is a beautiful woman more photos would have been nice. Considering Kelli involved a lot of people close to her in this album, liner notes wouldn't have been amiss. Seeing how the album features several original songs, lyrics would have been nice. That's a relatively minor quibble though. The music is the important thing to me.

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