Webisode Review: Or So the Story Goes: Happy Thoughts

**I thought I had scheduled this for yesterday, but I had put in the wrong date!**

Back in May I received an email from Melissa Malone asking me to review “Or So the Story Goes: Happy Thoughts”. Unfortunately, that is when my life started getting so super busy I couldn’t keep up with reviews on this site. Each year I get about 8 to 10 requests to review webseries, which I absolutely love to do. It’s definitely fun to get to preview series before they go onto the web, and I enjoy helping people out by sending my review out into the blogosphere. But, as this is a hobby of mine, I don’t often get to the reviewing processes right away.

Melissa’s email was intriguing. She wrote:

 I’m the creator of Or So the Story Goes, a young adult webseries that puts a dark modern twist on classic children’s tales. This season we are bringing to the web a dark Peter Pan with Happy Thoughts. The total runtime, however is 70 minutes, giving us the opportunity to display Happy Thoughts as a feature film, as well. Our project began as an outreach program to teach the teens of our town, here the ins and outs of filmmaking and has blossomed into a project that uses the combined efforts of adults and teens alike to make it happen. Not only do we have many talented child & teen cast members, but also a 13 Year Old assistant director as well as three teen musicians included in our soundtrack.

How could I not be interested and hopeful that this was a webseries for which I could give a good review? What a wonderful project!

Summary of the Story via Or So the Story Goes :

After a rocky year, the Darling family moves cross-country for a fresh start.  Little do they know their new home is already occupied by the ghosts of a charming yet homicidal teenage boy named Peter and his previous victims. Peter’s quick obsession with the oldest daughter Wendy puts the family at grave risk. This brings a band of ghost hunters to the Darling’s door, lead by a vengeful leader sought on ridding the ghost that destroyed her life. Time is ticking and it’s anyone’s game.

This story is quite a unique perspective on the Peter Pan tale. It is very dark and might be a bit of a trigger for some people. It does not get graphic, but it is does have scenes where children get hurt. However, I thought going to the dark side of the Peter Pan story was completely brilliant. It better explains why Peter does what he does and how he finds the Lost Boys. It makes so much sense that I’m not sure why I never really connected the dots before.

The story line is brilliant, but they definitely could have used some more money for a better production value. The lighting is not always the best, especially inside. Some of the music fits like a glove and works with the scene and some of it not so much. I did enjoy that there were a lot of different rooms/venues used for the flashback scenes and the main story arc. I thought that was quite impressive and better than a lot of webseries do. The acting of the main actors was quite good, some of the minor characters came across as acting, but for a webseries with a lot of kids, it was better than I expected.

The series has more than a couple of one liners that made me smile or chuckle. My favorite line from one of the ghost hunters is: Paranormal is so in.

You are so right Percy, you are so right.

Fans of fairy tale retellings, ghost hunter stories, and the Supernatural fandom would enjoy this webseries. Check out the first episode below.

Book Review: City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts

This is the third book in Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series. While I tried to stay away from spoilers, there will be a few minor ones. If you want to read my review of the first book, go here. When I first got the series, City of Ghosts was the first book I picked up and tried to read. I immediately realized I had to go back to the beginning. This is not a series to read out of sequence. The steps taken in each book are vital to the overall understanding of the characters and over arching plot line. It is however, a series worth reading. I read it in two weeks, I told a friend about it and she did the same.

Chess Putnman, anti-hero extraordinaire, is in a bind. Literally. Chess is a secret addict, well, it’s a secret from her bosses The Church of Real Truth where she exorcises ghosts and debunks fake hauntings. They’ve bound her to the Black Squad with black magics and painful tattoos that keep her from speaking of their secret special mission to figure out why bodies are showing up mangled on the streets of Triumph City. But her drug dealer discovers she is working his streets when some of the mangled bodies wind up in his dominion and sends Terrible, his right hand man to help Chess figure out who is creating the black magic that is infiltrating the streets. But Terrible and Chess have had a falling out and as much as she wants him on her side, and at her side, (I want to make a crude joke about being inside her, but I wont, because I’m classy like that) Chess doesn’t know how to handle a real friendship or a real relationship because all she has no frame of reference from her past. Her prior relationships have all have failed because Chess doesn’t know how to trust people and her actions are often dictated by her addiction. Her relationship with Terrible seems doomed to failure also because of her inability to relate her emotions to another person.

A street vendor with dubious magicks has something to do with the bodies but Chess has a hard time figuring out what part he is playing. And it is a horrifying one. The pressure piles on and Chess continues to pop her pills even as she understands in a small way that they are destroying her life, her magic, and her relationships. Added to the horrible deaths is Chess uncertainty about the binding spell which will kill her if she reveals what she knows. It is tied up with First Elders, the underground City of Eternity, and her new “partner” Lauren.

While the dark magic of this book is really interesting with potions, physchopomps, and wraiths, it is Kane’s exploration of Chess’ growth as a human being that makes this series stand out from the rest of Urban Fantasy. Here the series leaves behind, mostly, it’s love triangle and after her betrayal Chess realizes what Terrible really means to her and she sets out to fix it, if she can, in spite of bumbling and pill popping. I love the slow agonizing waltz Kane makes the characters move to, but it is for their own good and the readers. She shows the very very slow rebuild of bumbled steps, turns, twists and falling down.  Forward and back, to the side, and forward again. Chess and Terrible’s conversations set them apart from other UF couples, and I’m not just talking about Terrible’s Downside accent. The turning point for them is displayed in lovely artistic prose in the third book in the series, and it is all perfectly stepped and timed.

I cannot say enough good things about this series to convince you to read it. Just get your hands on them. It is my favorite series I discovered last year. I suggest taking out the first three books because if you fall in love with it as I did, waiting even two days to get your hands on the second or third book is torture.

Read another review here  (slightly spoilery) and here.

Book Review: Unholy Ghosts

While browsing the library sci/fi and fantasy shelves I came across an interesting looking book and decided to borrow it without any more information than the blurb on the back. However, it soon became obvious that I had accidentally picked up the third book in the series, so I sent it back to the library, and took out the first one instead. Finished the first and second book withing a week and was taking out the third book for a second time so quickly I wished I hadn’t sent it back in the first place.

In Stacia Kane’s urban fantasy series, Chess Putnam is a churchwitch exorcising ghosts and debunking staged haunting. In 1997, an onslaught of ghosts rose up and began killing humans. People with magical abilities took over the government and banished the ghost to an underground city. Chess lives in Triumph City in Downside, the seedy area of the city. When persons with magic took over the government they got rid of all religions, calling themselves The Church and teaching Truth are Facts. Chess lives in a converted Catholic Church and sunlight streams through the glass stained windows as she pops her pills and gets high on her couch. Chess is an addict.

Chess’ drug dealer, Bump, has a ghost problem and he calls upon his churchwitch to figure out if it is real ghosts or someone setting up an elaborate prank to keep him from reopening an airport which he wants to use to traffic his drugs. Because she is hiding her drug use from The Church, her employer, Chess can’t go to her regular sources to get information or help, and so Bump sends his number one enforcer, Terrible along with Chess to hunt down the ghost or persons responsible. Part of using magic to banish ghosts are the sigils used to protect herself and those around her from being possessed, so Chess has sigils tattooed onto her body and marks up her helpers with black chalk. Chess must deal with a nasty monster, a demanding drug dealer, lust for Lex the son of a rival drug dealer who  gets involved in the case, and the realization that Terrible is more complex and intelligent than she first thought.

By Ayena (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m now on the fourth book, and I adore this series. It seriously departs from the norm for the genre following the life of a functioning drug addict and shows how much time and energy that lifestyle demands of the person caught in addiction. Unlike some other reviewers, I don’t think it glorifies drug use, Kane shows how Chess’ problems stem from her use and her inability to think because of dulled senses. But she also shows why someone who grew up in abused homes, finds one good thing about herself- her magic which lends to horrible visages,  would try to shut it all out through drug use. I liked that Chess’s drug use was was a gritty, ever pervasive, third character throughout the book. I didn’t find it gimmicky at all. I was also pleased that the reason Chess got into all of her situations were because she was a drug addict, and not because she was some sort of overconfident dumb butt who wont ask for help because she should be strong enough to handle it, even though she really can’t. Chess is here because of her life choices and not because a genre trope dictates it. Plus she is more likely to wear black skinny jeans and sneakers than leather pants and high heel boots which make her far more realistic, clothing wise, than most of the urban fantasy heroines.

The whole Lex and Terrible triangle made me a little nervous. Especially because I had strong feelings right away about both characters, and while the plot line of each book is complicated and intriguing, how Chess manages her relationships as a drug addict was a plot line I was addicted to. The progress of Chess’ relationships are dictated by her past and her drug use and not genre expectations, which I found refreshing and honestly though provoking in how often I let my past mistakes dictate my current relationships. A great urban fantasy story with a lesson on relationships that doesn’t involve cliches? Yes, please.

By Rj1979 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kane has a strong sense of world building. She has created an alternative timeline based on magic. A whole new government is in place, a whole new way of life, and a whole new way of speaking for those in the ghetto. I enjoyed that Downsiders spoke with their own inflection and sentence structure. I know this was a sticking point for other reviewers, but having lived in a large city and come in contact with more than just one suburban neighborhood, I know that many neighborhoods develop their own slang and sentence structure, so I was pleased Kane thought about this and made it part of the story. I’m glad Chess doesn’t speak like that, because a whole book of broken English would have gotten old, but I didn’t mind that some of the characters spoke differently.

The world building and language building in this story is amazing. Chess as an anti-hero protagonist interesting and compelling. I’ve devoured this series and honestly taking time to step away from reading just to write the review, is a little bit of torture.

Read another review here and here.

Book Review: Dead Bolt

Dead Bolt is the second book in Juliet Blackwell’s A Haunted Home Renovation series. Mel Turner is a former archaeologist who moved back home when her mother died and  took over her father’s construction/renovation business. Mel takes on old historic homes and restores them to their former glory by finding and restoring old fixtures or contracting people to remake them. She also has a habit of seeing ghosts.

Mel is working on a new house renovation where strange things keep happening. In addition to things mysteriously moving around in the house, home owners who refuse to move out of the basement while construction is ongoing, a crocheting old neighbor is making Mel’s life difficult by jumping in front of her car, and then he ends up dead. Mel must finish her contracting work, solve the neighbors murder, rid the new house of its ghost, and figure out how all these problems feed into each other.

I think Mel should invest in this old timey Ghost Kit!
Photo by Harry Price via Wikimedia Commons

Once again Juliet Blackwell turns out an excellent tea cozy mystery with a dash of the paranormal. I really enjoy all of the home renovations stuff, it is fascinating to me. I love fixing stuff up and refurbishing things, so I am quite taken with the level of detail about the construction work. This may not be for everyone, but I find the historical aspect of the renovation and the work done to be just as fun as the mystery. Mel always seems to stumble across complicated past mysteries that are connected to a current murder, which is not all that surprising since she can see the ghosts and only gets involved when they make her life more difficult.

Speaking of ghosts, in this book the Blackwell introduces the malevolent kind, and people are hurt because of it. Adding a dash of tension, to the cozyness of the mystery, the ghosts who are out to harm Mel seem to also be able to possess(ish) people. They amplify the energy of the people in their vicinity and interesting scenes are replayed from the past into the present, helping Mel to dig deeper and hopefully solve the mystery before the ghosts run everyone out of the house. A quick and interesting read, Dead Bolt is just what the doctor ordered for all those Sunday afternoons you don’t want to deal with the crowds at the beach or are stuck in your homes because of three feet of snow blocking the door. I quite enjoyed my little escape into Mel’s world, where everything really does go wrong for a time, and honestly, seeing or reading about other people struggling always makes my days a little brighter. . . . That came out wrong.

Book Review: If Walls Could Talk

If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell is a tea cozy mystery novel, with a slight bent toward the paranormal. Melanie Turner, archaeologist turned home renovator, has just walked away from a divorce and lives with her dad since the death of her mother, and has taken over the family business. Mel’s renovation company specializes in remodeling historic homes, and with her background in archaeology Mel’s business is booming. Then Mel takes on a renovation she has a bad feeling about and someone gets killed (it’s a mystery novel, I don’t consider this a spoiler). The dead man returns as a ghost and haunts Mel as she tries to get the renovation project back on track. Mel discovers not only can she see this recently departed acquaintance, but she has the ability, generally, to “see dead people.”

Mel is determined to track down the murder, rid the house of ghosts, and move on with her life. Along the way she meets up with an old friend, would be flame, who seems to be helping her in spite of his obvious lack of desire to get involved with her again. Added to her already hectic life, Mel’s ex-husband’s son comes to live with her and brings a friend with him. As if juggling a business isn’t hard enough! Mel plugs away at the mystery that has landed in her lap, especially as the police don’t seem all that interested in finding the killer, but will she figure out who it is before she meets with a fatal construction accident?

I don’t know, you tell me. It’s a tea cozy mystery, take a wild guess. 🙂 I love tea cozy mysteries and was glad I stumbled across this book while surfing the web and looking at other people’s reading lists (by which I mean, I can’t remember how I found this series to read). I order all tea cozy mysteries from the library, because they are fun, fast reads so I usually get six of them from the library and finish them in a week and half. I’m not overly invested in them being anything other than completely entertaining and it’s a bonus if I find them interesting.

What I did find interesting about this book was all the historical renovation information which was thankfully never given as an info dump. I liked reading how Mel goes to salvage shops in order to find actual old pieces of house, how she works with specialist at restoring old windows, and how she takes old photos and newspaper clippings to use as a blueprint for her work. I mean, that stuff is cool. I love history! I also like that tea cozy mysteries are full of flawed fictional characters, whose descriptions don’t tend to run toward skinny, beautiful teenagers, with violet eyes. But rather, curvy, brunettes wary of false praises from silver tonged men. Once issue I had was Mel was her way of dressing. Because she is a woman in the construction trade, she feels that she has to make a stand that women can do it too . . . . with her clothing. I don’t even, I can’t even, what? Doesn’t she take pride in a growing business at a time when most are failing? Shouldn’t that garner her respect from her foreman and employees? Besides, she has to cover up her flowery dresses by a local designer with coveralls. So, it seems a strange stand to take, but she lives in California, so I just kind of frowned and shrugged my shoulders. (Seriously, garnering respect with clothes. What?)

If Walls Could Talk was an interesting and well written mystery. I liked the dash of paranormal (seeing ghosts is cool). I liked that it wasn’t the main focus of the book, but the mystery of the killer was. Personally if I was seeing ghosts because someone had recently been killed in a home I was renovating, I too would want to find the killer, lessen my chances of becoming a ghost, and leave the freaking out about being a little on the Haley Joel Osment side later. Mel’s old flame turned possible new flame is an intelligent man which a good heart, and I liked him. I’m not overly invested in him as a character because he was kind of a side plot in the book. But I’m OK with that scenario in the first book of a series. If you like tea cozy mysteries or paranormal mysteries, give this series a try. It is fun and entertaining, and definitely a quick read.

Movie Review: Dark Shadows

Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer star in Dark Shadows a movie based on a television show of the late 60’s. Dark Shadows is the story of a man, Barnabas, who was cursed when after he hooked up with a scullery maid/witch but spurned her for a fair haired maiden. The scullery maid spelled the fair haired maiden into jumping off a cliff and when Barnabas followed his true love off the cliff he fell into the crags only to discover that he did not die because he was…. a vampyre (think Andrew in “Storyteller” in season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The witch formed a mob of the towns people and they stowed Barnabas away in a coffin and buried it underground.

Fast forward to the 60’s. Barnabas’ descendants rattle around in the grand old mansion Barnabas’ parents built. They’ve closed off most of the rooms because they can’t afford to heat them. Enter Victoria, or so she claims to be, a brunette with big eyes who arrives in answer to a post in the newspaper advertising a governess position for a little boy who sees ghosts. The family business, owning fishing ports, is going down the drain because a big head honcho Angelique has been buying up the ports and taking over their business. Barnabas’ coffin is uncovered during construction on the land and he awakens and bloodies his hands, and mouth, with the lives of the construction workers before hunting down his family. Though he swears he wont harm them.

Instead, he goes about revitalizing their name and business. As part of his revitalization he confronts Angelique, who turns out to be a figure from his past. His descendant Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, played by Michelle Pfieffer, is mother to a rebellious teenager and aunt to the ghost believing nephew. She is trying to hold down the fort and deal with Barnabas’ arrival with as much grace as she can muster. Barnabas is enchanted (in the normal sense, I think) by the governess who bears some relation to his dead fair haired maiden. Then his past looms up to destroy him.

With the help of several drinks at my local theater (they have a liquor license, it was perfectly legal) and having only spent $5 on a matinee I giggled my way through the movie. Due more to my slightly sober state, than the movie. In a word it was, OK. Not nearly as campy or as funny as I thought it would be. There was a whole lot of melodramatic acting which is only giggle worthy for a short time. Johnny Depp was how Johnny Depp always is in a Tim Burton film. Quirky, white faced, with lots of hand gestures. Michelle Pfeiffer was, as usual, excellent. The story line went along as expected until the last five minutes and then…. W. T. F?

And I don’t think it was because I had had something to drink that I didn’t understand the sudden turn in plot line. Additionally, the $5 dollar payment and drinking did not excuse a noticeable plethora of plot holes. Which would have been OK if there had been some sort of meta acknowledgement about them. Instead it was just more melodrama. How did Barnabas have descendants that survived if his parents were killed off, he was the only kid, and he died/became a vampire before having any children with the fair haired maiden? (If they had kids at some point, this was never explicitly explained.) The whole premise of the movie is based on something that makes NO SENSE!!!! Furthermore, the continuity in the universe as relating to vampire mythology is completely lacking. At one point the only way to be turned is to drink the blood of the sire and then the next there is no need to turn. I don’t really care how a person sets up their universe when it comes to vampires, mythological creatures after all, be it sparkles or ruthless blood thirsty demons who can get their souls back, but I demand continuity or the premise stinks to high heaven like a rotting corpse in the Florida everglades.

Quirky, with a few giggles, Dark Shadows does not rise to the level of cult classic campy nor does it leave the melodrama behind to be a fun family film. It hovers somewhere in the middle like a vampire outside the window of a 17 year-old sour face. All in all, I was extremely glad I had only paid $5 to see the show and that I had a class (or two) of champagne to see me through.

I did have fun posing in the lobby! Though, I need a better phone camera.

Little Links

Here are some cool links and discoveries that aren’t quite enough for their own posting. Enjoy all the goodies!

I discovered a quirky little blog of short stories in the supernatural vein including books of demons and zombies. The author, Deidra Alexander, has a refreshingly witty voice. Her blog posts are full of fun, family, and humor. Check her out!

This fun looking pirate game, Ghost Pirates, needs some crowd sourcing to help it get made. Check it out here. For $10 or more it’s yours, if the game is funded, and it is nearly there. [via io9]

Speaking of games, check out this vertical game of chess at Geekosystem. The internets are acting wonky I can pull up an image and save it to save my life. But you don’t have to imagine, just go to the Geekosystem link and if your internet isn’t acting wonky you’ll see the awesomeness of the vertical chess set.