Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book Review: Dark Summoner (Relic Keeper Series Book 1) by D.D. Miers

"Looking at him made me desire things I never thought I would want." 

Bound to a fate she doesn't want... 
Burned by a passion that torments her soul... 
Torn between two immortal rivals...
Only one thing is certain. Nothing is as it seems. 

Abby Davenport has spent the last ten years forgetting her past until a fateful night reveals her false reality. Thrust into a new world of dark sorcery and ancient magic, she's shocked to discover her destiny lies as the keeper of a powerful relic. Now everyone wants to control, own, or destroy her. No longer able to discern truth from lie, she's torn between a charming guardian and a mysterious summoner. Abby finds herself strangely drawn to each man--one sworn to protect and one who calls to her soul. Can she survive the strange and dangerous labyrinth of the first realm, where every move, emotion, and reaction must be a calculated one? 


First of all, what a beautiful cover! Secondly, I'm so happy I came across this. Even better, I nabbed it for FREE from Amazon during a promotion. A free book with stunning "You-know-you-want-to-read-me" cover art...of course I got hooked. Props goes out to D.D. Miers for this great first installment of her "Relic Keeper" series. Plus, it's her freaking debut!

That's amazing! 

It's an easy, quick, gripping read. Abby, our main protagonist, is a highly relatable character, despite her tortured past. Her inner monologues reflect the same thoughts that you, the reader, would think as she's swept up into this new, crazy world, and that puts you right in the front seat of all the action. 

We've all read books where we roll our eyes at the stupid things the protagonist does, says, or thinks.

Abby Davenport is NOT that character. She's smart. She reacts with common sense. She does what we the reader would do if we were in her shoes. And you can't deny the chemistry between her and the swoon-worthy Dorian.

My only gripe with the book...
I wanted more.

No, not because it was an incomplete story. I'm just being a bit greedy. I wanted the words to never end. I can't wait till the next installment comes out so that I can continue on with this series. Definitely a fan! If you're looking for a enthralling read, I highly recommend picking this up, ASAP! 
Rating: 5 Stars

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Experienced climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the leader of guiding expedition company Adventure Consultants, says his goodbyes to his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley). He flies out to Kathmandu where he meets up with his new batch of clients that he’ll train and escort to the top of Mount Everest. Forking out a small fortune of $65,000 a piece to brave this harrowing mission includes the ever so charming Texan, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), humble mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a skilled climber who has already conjured six of the Seven Summits, making the peak of Everest her final mission.

Tensions rise between Hall and fellow climber Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) when prestigious journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) joins the Summit climb after Rob snags him for publicity over Fischer’s competing company named Mountain Madness. Rob’s company embarks on the ascent where we’re introduced to Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), Adventure Consultants’ base camp manager.  

The different teams embark on a forty-day long prep exercise, and in the midst of training, overcrowding proves problematic. Given the crucial time window to safely scale and descend the mountain before nightfall, the two rivals decide to team up. All seems to be going to plan as the joined companies reach the summit, but after discovering that guide ropes on upper reaches haven’t been installed, it sets the teams back by over an hour, just as a deadly blizzard descends on the mountaintop.

Mountaineering movies are nothing new to the silver screen, having graced us with thrillers like Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit. Given that the feat of concurring Earth’s highest mountain is a death defying stunt in itself, Everest captures not only the thrill of previous climbing movies, but also the survivalist spirit seen in grittier films such as 2012’s The Grey. Sweeping landscapes and stunning cinematography make Everest a vertigo-inducing adrenaline rush that will leave its audience on the edge of their seats. There’s no doubt that Contraband director Baltasar Korm├íkur was the right choice for the project, capturing the brutality of the mountain’s elements in breathless fashion. The pitfall to this movie ultimately rests in its pacing and plot development. The first act of Everest is a rather slow ascent that sets the stage for the climax, but the drawn out introduction bogs down the runtime. Thankfully, the information provided to us by way of training exercise montages clues us in on the true dangers of Everest. And that’s where we see the true star of the movie: the mountain itself.

Avalanches, faulty gear, rickety ladders, high winds, hypothermia, and even severe frostbite aren’t the only things to fear. Upon reaching the top summit of Everest, known as The Death Zone, any injury or wrong move can cost you your life. The atmosphere is so thin in fact that the human body starts to systematically shut down at this elevation, hence the ominous nickname. This dizzying peak rests at the same cruising altitude of a 747 aircraft, making it an open graveyard that no helicopter can reach in attempt to rescue. If that’s not frightening enough, the lack of oxygen is pretty much the final nail in your coffin on the likely chance something goes wrong. This can cause swelling in the brain that will lead to disorientation, loss of vision, difficulty breathing, and even hypoxia that can make you behave irrationally and suffer from hallucinations. Every aspect of this harrowing journey is demonstrated with such white-knuckle intensity that it puts you, the audience, in the middle of the action, making the terror literally palpable.

Another thing the film does so cleverly is hook potential viewers with a star studded cast. Hollywood heavyweights Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, and Avatar’s Sam Worthington all play a role in Everest, but surprisingly enough, none of them are the leads. Jason Clarke takes the helm in a particularly compelling role of real life climber Rob Hall, and an impressive batch of character actors pilots the supporting roles that includes John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men), Thomas M. Wright (Outsiders), Martin Henderson (The Ring), and Dawn of the Dead’s Michael Kelly. Considering the heavy clothing and hazardous conditions, no one has the particular luxury of using body language to convey emotions. Everything relies solely on actors’ close-ups, and it never fails. Each plays off one another impeccably, but the one misgiving is that of Jake Gyllehnaal. 

Don’t get me wrong. His performance was stellar. But…

Most advertisements rank him as the third lead in the film, and his face is on a lot of the promotional posters. Yet, his screen time is very limited. This gripe aside, Everest is a thrilling spectacle that deserves viewership. But don’t even think about watching it on your phone.

I’ve become an advocate for televisions in recent years after hearing a friend of mine watched Gravity on his cell. Sure, certain movies like rom-coms don’t lose any of its experience by viewing it on a smaller screen. So if you want to watch Bridget Jones or The Wedding Singer, then by all means… But movies like this deserve a properly sized screen. So grab a blanket and plant yourself down in front of your TV, because Everest will leave you chilled to the bone.

Rating: B+

By Source, Fair use,

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Once Upon a Time: "Our Decay" Recap & Review

What do we get when the Wicked Witch and the God of the Underworld team up? A match made in Hell...

We return to the past in the wondrous green realm of Oz on Zelena’s so-called birthday. On her quest to enact the time travel spell that will claim Regina’s happy ending as her own, the Wicked Witch tries to steal the brain from Dorothy’s beloved Scarecrow. Before she can finish the deed, a certain Kansas girl, now all grown up, swoops in to save the day. With the help of Toto, Dorothy distracts Zelena long enough to grab her friend and go.

In the present day Underworld, Hades strong-arms Rumplestiltskin into opening up a portal to Storybrook. As Belle visits Mother Superior to help feed Zelena’s baby, the Wicked Witch appears to reclaim her child. A gaping hole in the floor appears, swallowing up Belle, Zelena, and the newborn. Crash-landing in the Underworld, Belle manages to escape an injured Zelena, taking off with the baby.

Along the way, Belle manages to find Rumple. Her husband breaks the news to her about his deal with Hades, where the Lord of the Underworld will claim his second born child. Baffled by his concern, she realizes only then what he’s hinting at. She’s pregnant. If having the fear of your unborn child being ripped away from you isn’t bad enough, Belle also discovers the truth that Rumple has become the Dark One…again. Unable to condone his need for power, she leaves him to find her friends.


Still sulking over the loss of the Scarecrow’s brain, a vital ingredient to enact the curse, Zelena finds an unwelcomed visitor in Oz. Hades himself appears, offering his helping hand. In return, he wants to share her soon-to-be curse. If he can go back in time, he can overthrow his brother to take Olympus as his own. Having been banished to the Underworld, the only way he can be fully free to stay in other realms is by true love’s kiss, which is pretty much impossible since he’s been stripped of all kindhearted emotions. Zelena refuses his offer, but he won’t take no for an answer. When she returns to her castle, he begins pestering her all over again, this time poking fun at her lackluster birthday festivities. She sharply corrects him that it isn’t her birthday.

“I don’t know the day I was born, but thank you for reminding me.”

“That is actually a sad story,” he muses.

“I only know the day my mother abandoned me.”

“Getting sadder,” he mocks. “So, this is what? Celebrating Abandonment Day?”

The two verbally spar off, but they eventually come to find that they aren’t so different.  Having been robbed of their happy endings by their siblings, they’re both out for vengeance. Zelena finally consents to his offer, and they go out together to find the Scarecrow. Oddly enough, cuteness ensues as they come across a bicycle among Dorothy’s wreckage, sharing a bike ride through the woods that ends in a playful tumble.

When they find the Scarecrow, Zelena gleefully takes care of Dorothy and claims the Scarecrow’s brain, only to see afterward that Hades is gone. Returning to her castle, she’s only too happy to find him waiting for her. Zelena then assumes that he’s come to say goodbye, because he is condemned to return to the Underworld. He assures her differently, professing her to be his true love. If she kisses him, then he’ll be free. Distrust gets the better of Zelena, and she refuses him. They’re both cut from the same cloth, and she fears that Hades is only using her to get what he wants most: revenge. Zelena demands he go back to the Underworld and never return, in which he sourly assures her that she will regret her decision.


Realizing that Hades opened the portal to take her baby,  Zelena winds up on Emma’s doorstep, asking Robin and Regina to help her find her daughter. The trio eventually crosses paths with Belle. Desperate to hold the baby, Zelena convinces Robin to let her feed their daughter. Unsurprisingly, she uses her magic to escape with the baby. Reality hits when she’s safe and sound, seeing that her magic backfired, injuring the infant. Regina and the others track Zelena back to the Underworld’s version of her house, where Zelena openly returns the baby to Robin. Fearing that she can't properly protect her daughter, Zelena tearfully pleads with him and her half-sister to take care of the child, to keep her safe from Hades.

Meeting in the town square, Hades and Zelena reunite. To her dismay, she learns that Hades only opened the portal to keep her daughter safe from the others who took her away to begin with.

“I would never hurt you… That’s the thing about true love; it endures. It can never be broken.”

Hades recreated the Underworld to look like Storybrook just for her, so that it was in the image of the dark curse she wished to enact. After all this time, he still loves her. History repeats itself however, as Zelena can’t bring herself to trust him just yet. Smart girl. She sets out to find her daughter—on her own—when Hades calls out, “April 15th.” Her true birthday.  In a rather dementedly sentimental fashion, Hades had tortured the information out of Cora, taking care of her for Zelena’s sake. He assures Zelena that if she ever changes her mind, he’ll be waiting for her.   

Following the rocky ride that has been season five, “Our Decay” is the best of the year…by far. Sure, we’ve got some people making some really stupid decisions here, but that’s nothing new. Despite their repeated defeats, the villains still prove to be the smartest of the bunch.  Why would you trust Zelena to not pull something and run away with your daughter, Robin?  Let’s face it. The Heroes of the show can be so naive and gullible sometimes. Even though they all know very well that the Baddies are evil, they can’t help but to keep falling for the same tricks. Yes, the show is about redemption and the hope that anyone can become a hero. But just because you try to see the goodness in people doesn’t mean you have to be downright idiotic. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, we’re at the 167th second chance here, and yet no one's learned from their mistakes.

That gripe aside, the romance between Zelena and Hades is oddly charming. Their past damage has made them wise, particularly Zelena. It’s refreshing to see someone using everyday commonsense. Sure, love makes you blind, but heartbreak makes you wiser. And Zelena proves to be smart enough to keep her head above her heart. Anticipating the slow burn of their romance certainly peaks interest. With the show’s main couples seeming to have stalled out, the authentic connection between these two villains is a much needed refreshment. Up until this point, Zelena has been the woman we all love to hate. Between her genuine devotion to her daughter’s wellbeing and her rational approach to Hades, there’s undoubtedly a change in the wind.  

Episode Rating: A

Saturday, April 2, 2016

MOVIE REVIEW: Jeff Nichols' "Midnight Special"

Midnight Special tells the story of Roy (Michael Shannon) after he escapes a rural Texas cult with his eight-year-old son Alton (St. Vincent’s Jaeden Lieberher). Accompanied by a state trooper, Roy’s childhood friend (Joel Edgerton), they take off down remote roads under the guise of night in an old Chevy as an Amber Alert is issued. Initially opening as a chase-thriller, it’s unclear as to the motivations of Alton’s hijackers. In fact, everyone’s an enigma, particularly the boy who’s oddly sporting goggles and noise-canceling headphones. As it turns out, the trio is being pursued by both the government and religious extremists who believe that Alton is either a threat or a messiah. Why might they think this? As it turns out, the curious boy with the glowing eyes in the backseat just so happens to possess otherworldly abilities.

Jeff Nichols’ films, though highly acclaimed, remain grossly underseen. Finding one of his movies playing at your local cinema seems as likely as stumbling across a Honus Wagner baseball card on the sidewalk. Being a fan of his work since seeing 2011’s Take Shelter, I’d made a conscious effort to see his newest films when they hit theaters. With that determination in mind, it took two gallons of gas and an hour-long drive just to get to the closest screening for Midnight Special. My expectations were admittedly high before I even got to the theater, as you can imagine, given that the round trip cost more than the price of the movie ticket.

As seen in Nichols’ previous works, Midnight Special teases its audience with the conceptions of each genre the director/writer tackles, but he never fully commits to the formula. Nichols also refrains from the conventional narrative. While similar films map out everything from the get-go, Midnight treats you as if you’re a fly on the wall. You’re not told anything through exposition. The world is fully recognized, but it’s left up entirely to the audience to piece the story together. This brilliantly executed concept leaves an underlying tension woven throughout the entirety of the plot, all the while making the relationships between his characters the true focus. And it’s always refreshing to know that the filmmaker trusts his viewers to be both smart and curious enough to follow along.

It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between Midnight Special and the early works of Steven Spielberg, particularly E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The earthy Texas scenery and throwback fashions also lends a hand in capturing an ambiguously retro time period, seen similarly in last year’s horror hit It Follows. Accompanied by David Wingo’s churning ethereal score, the film’s underlying mystery lifts expectations to dizzying heights, which may be its only downfall come the final act. Rarely does a film of this nature truly satisfy everyone upon payout. And given the secrecy surrounding the project, it’s impossible to express said oversights in greater detail, at the cost of potentially spoiling the film. With that said, fans of Nichols’ previous films like Mud and Take Shelter will find the emotional investment more gratifying than the eventual conclusion.

This is made possible by the stellar cast. Your average moviegoer may be familiar with Michael Shannon for his towering stature and often villainous character portrayals in films such as Premium Rush and Man of Steel. Having worked with Nichols on every one of the director’s projects, there’s no doubt as to why Shannon’s partnership remains so strong. Between the complexity of his characters and the continuous choice to never play into Shannon’s wheelhouse, Nichols always pulls a wholly original and even stronger performance from the actor with each project. And as previously seen in Mud, Nichols clearly has an eye for casting great child actors. Jaeden Lieberher is no exception. With regards to the supporting players, Sam Sheppard never disappoints, and Adam Driver shines as the film’s comic relief. As for Joel Edgerton, this Aussie can’t seem to do any wrong as he continues his hot streak of truly riveting performances. Additional credit goes out to him for having nailed a spot-on Texas accent. Honestly, is there an inflection this man can’t do? The biggest surprise comes from Kirsten Dunst who delivers in the heartbreakingly powerful portrayal of Alton’s frumpy, excommunicated mother, a turn many did not expect out of the actress (unless you’ve been watching FX’s Fargo). Seriously, if you haven’t seen her in it, you’re really missing out. Binge-watch, people.

In summary, Midnight Special is a truly beautiful, albeit uneven viewing experience that will undoubtedly be the topic of conversation upon exiting the theater. Its homage to classic 80’s sci-fi is a breath of fresh air amid the storm of CGI blockbusters flooding the cinema. The film ultimately works better as a character study than a science fiction piece, but it’s still a compelling experience that shouldn’t be missed. 

Rating: A –

By Source, Fair use,