Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sara's Library: The Precious Stone Trilogy

The Precious Stone trilogy by Kersten Gier
Consisting of: Ruby Red, Sapphire Blue, and Emerald Green
Original German editions: Arena Verlag 2009 (books 1 & 2), 2010 (book 3)
US edition: Henry Holt 2011 (book 1), 2012 (book 2), 2013 (book 3)
Translated from German by Anthea Bell

Summary of Ruby Red from Goodreads: Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!
Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.
When every-girl Gwyneth discovers she carries the rare time travel gene, rather than her perfect cousin, she's confused and uncertain what to do.  While Charlotte has been studying foreign languages, history, dance, and etiquette, Gwyneth has spent most of her leisure time watching romantic comedies with her best friend.  As such, the secret organization that has been overseeing such time travelers for centuries is less than confident in her abilities.
Ms. Gier writes a fluffy, plot-driven series of novels that will appeal to teen girls, even those who normally stay clear of genre fiction.  Although there is a talking gargoyle and discussions of alchemy and the philosopher's stone, the series is, at its heart, a romance, albeit it a sloppy one involving insta-love.  While the story is spread across three novels, the plot takes place over the course of a week, so it is rather unbelievable when Gideon professes his love for Gwyneth, even taking into account the perils they survive together in the past.
Gwyneth herself is likable enough, but she's primarily a stand-in for the reader.  What she manages to accomplish is all thanks to her best friend, Lesley, the gargoyle, and a ghost who haunts her private school, the latter two visible thanks to a handy ability to see and speak with spirits.  Everything that happens just seems entirely too convenient, and there's no character development to speak of.  Over the course of three novels, that's unacceptable.

If one is looking for a featherweight romantic fantasy, this might make a nice choice.  But anyone searching for something beyond a few hours of entertainment should look elsewhere.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dream Factory: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
Original airdate: October 2013 - April 2014
Original US broadcaster: ABC
Episode total: 13
Availability: No DVD release date announced, episodes available for download purchase through Amazon

Summary from Rotten Tomatoes: "In the first and only season of this spin-off from Once Upon a Time, a young Victorian Englishwoman named Alice (Sophie Lowe) is taken to an asylum after sharing fanciful tales of a magical world on the other side of a rabbit hole. Just before she's about to have an operation to make her forget about these tales, the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) saves her and transports her back to Wonderland. Upon returning, she tries to reunite with Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), the genie with whom she fell in love. But the reunion is not easy, because Wonderland is populated with its share of villains, including Jafar (Naveen Andrews) and the Red Queen (Emma Rigby)."

The summary alone should indicate that this show was a bit of a trainwreck and suffered from many of the same issues as Tim Burton's 2010 Alice film: the writers seemed to have no knowledge (or respect) for the original work.  Wonderland became a generic fantasy world where its bizarre flora and fauna were frequently treated as threats to our maudlin protagonists.  Merging the Wonderland characters with Agrabah and Jafar only confused the writing more.  It's still unclear to me why the writers chose to combine these stories to create one convoluted plotline.  If they had focused instead on making a Wonderland heavily rooted in the work of Lewis Carroll, perhaps it would have fared better.

The CG for this show, which is used in the sets and any non-human characters, was some of the worst CG on television.  Instead of creating a unique world that the audience would want to visit, its quality was so hokey that it was laughable.  It was the CG equivalent of visible wires.  If a show doesn't have the budget to use good CG effects, then I'd much rather have constructed sets and puppets.  Well-made sets and props will age much better than low-budget CG.

Unfortunately for the show, the CG quality was the least of its problems.  In addition to distractingly bad hairstyling (at least in the first few episodes), the writing was lackluster.  The romance between Alice and Cyrus was disgustingly saccharine for no apparent reason.  They made Snow and Charming seem like a normal couple, which is saying a lot.  I understand that the producers likely thought that a romance would induce viewers to keep watching, but I found it to be superfluous and completely unrelated to the original work.  It was obviously shoehorned in, as was the relationship between the Knave and the Red Queen. 

That being said, the Knave was one of the only likeable characters on the show, with the other being Jafar.  I'm not sure why the Once writers have such difficulty writing believable good characters, but it's only the villains and neutral characters that seem to have any depth.

To be honest, I kept watching each week with the hope that things would improve, but instead I found myself MST3king each episode.  It was the worst show I watched this year, and I'm glad that it was canceled so I don't have to find time for it each week next season.