Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I just finished my second read-through of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and it was just as good as the first time. When I first picked it up, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it looked like it could be quite a bit of fun, and after reading a bit about the author I was quite excited about it.

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs. A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows. (Summary “borrowed” from Goodreads.)

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front – this is not a horror story. While parts of it are gripping, suspenseful, and a bit dark, and while there is a bit of violence, this book does not strike me as a horror novel in any way. But because of the two scenes that are rather violent, I would recommend it for preteens and up.

From the first several chapters you’re immediately interested in Jacob and his grandfather, especially. Jacob grows up listening to his grandfather’s tall tales, about life on a faraway island with a group of orphans, all of whom had special abilities. After Jacob witnesses something totally bizarre, he tries to tell the authorities around him – the police, his parents, etc. – and is totally ignored, eventually being sent to talk to a psychiatrist. Searching for answers, he travels to the island in the stories, hoping to discover something about his grandfather’s early life. Layer by layer he takes apart the mystery of the past, and he discovers more than he may have bargained on. More than that I cannot say.

However I can say that this is an excellent book, well-written and perfect for any lover of adventures that keep you guessing. The setting and the characters truly live, holding you in the book’s world, and never wanting to leave. It’s dark in places, but full of hope and messages about friendship and working as a family, even if maybe you aren’t family.

What really intrigued me though were the photographic illustrations. And that’s where the author, Ransom Riggs comes in. Ransom Riggs has a hobby. He collects old photographs, “rescuing images of historical significance and arresting beauty from obscurity – and most likely, the dump.” He collects them, not because they’re of family, or special in any other way but that they strike him as special – pieces of the past he can’t stand to let disappear. Something about this struck me, long before I read the book. I watched his little video, “Talking Pictures” and it really moved me. Quite possibly because I have a hobby. I collect old photographs.

But the photographs I’ve been collecting over time have all been somehow connected to family, and piece by piece I’m building an album covering the last hundred years of my family. It’s not easy because often I run across a face no one now alive knows anymore. But there was some time they meant something to someone. And so I keep them in a special hoard, of vintage photos that strike me for some reason, even though they mean nothing to me personally or historically. After watching Talking Pictures I branched out. I don’t have many yet, but someday I might have a neat little collection. The whole notion totally appeals to me, a lover of history, the past, classic films, and better times. The video (below) is only a few minutes long, but very much worth watching.

Ransom Riggs illustrated the entire book with vintage found photographs, some from his collection, some from the collections of other people that do the same things. And it adds such an odd little touch that makes the whole book seem different and unique.

The only thing (other than a bit of violence) that keeps Miss Peregrine from being a good children’s book is a small amount of profanity. Not quite as bad as The Book Thief, but enough that I noticed it in the beginning. The odd part? After the first third of the book, there’s no more language, proof that it wasn’t necessary in the first place. And from what I’ve heard, there’s no more in the rest of the series. Really though, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed Mom-style, with a bottle of whiteout. Lovers of good kids-lit, lovers of historical fiction, and lovers of adventure should all consider picking this book up.

And the last week or so, Brother #3 (also a fan) and I have been avidly scouring the internet for the latest little snippets of news about the film. I don’t know why I’m bothering to be excited but I am. I never enjoy movies based on books I like, but I can’t help but hope this one will be different.

Do you know this book? Interested in reading it?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Carol of the Bells

For my last song, of course I’m picking a song that probably everyone has heard by now, but I don’t care. Merry Christmas. :-)

Carol of the Bells is such a beautiful complex song, but the acapella group Pentatonix brings a whole new feel to it. As you’re listening it seems hard to believe that only five people are responsible for every sound you hear…every sound. By far my favorite version of this song. Oh, and if you can, turn up the bass before you listen, and luxuriate in the baritone Avi’s rumble.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Marshmallow World

How much more fun can you get than a song called “Marshmallow World?” The title along clues you into its lack of seriousness and its good clean (sweet) fun. This is another one of my very favorite Christmas songs. One I can play on repeat over and over all month long. Maybe part of its obsessive effect on me is the lack of snow in SoCal, which makes snow seem a magical, enchanting wonder of nature...not that it’s not, but there’s a lot more to it than that (or so I’m told). Even so, I’ll keep my little idealized idea of it as long as I can.

I’ve listened to several versions of this song over time, and Dean Martin’s is the one I always come back to. No other singer suits it quite as well as Dean with his lazy-day crooner voice. But there is one version of this song I have spent years looking for, praying for, and crying over its non-existence. “Michael Buble? WHY YOU NO SING THIS?” Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve grown up on a steady diet of classic films with a side of the Rat Pack, but Michael constantly floors with me with his style and amazing voice, so different from anything else out there right now – a total throwback to the Big Band Era. And he is the only contemporary singer that I think is perfect for this song. But he’s also about the only one who hasn’t done it. Ah, well. Such is life. But I will very likely spend a good portion of every winter searching for this song sung by Michael Buble. Maybe someday…

Until then, I hope you enjoy this song as much as I do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

My local library always has a pretty generous list of book recommendations on their front page. They’re divided into grades, age ranges, genres, and seasons, and the staff swap out titles pretty regularly. Sometime last Christmas I found Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares on their Christmas YA list and it immediately caught my eye. A Christmas adventure in New York City? Count me in. Unfortunately I couldn’t get it in time for the holidays, and decided to wait until next year when I could get a hold in earlier. The anticipation was worth it.

I’ve left some clues for you. If you want them, turn the page. If you don’t put the book back on the shelf please.’…Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

The cover blurb does not do this story justice, but it did give just enough to get me started, and I stayed utterly glued to it through the entire book. Dash & Lily is written about the only way you could make a story like this work – in alternating first-person voices. A chapter by Dash, a chapter by Lily. The only other time I tried to read a book written this way I hated it. But for some reason, after about two back-and-forths in this story, I was acclimated. And now I can clearly see that no other way could’ve been so powerful.

The opening chapter is a “Dash” chapter. And just a few pages in I was a bit worried I wouldn’t  like it as much as I hoped. Dash is a sardonic, jaded teenager with quite a bit of bitterness around the edges. He hates Christmas, is completely alone for the holidays, his parents are separated and off with their significant others, leaving Dash lost in the middle of everything. Which is actually just the way he likes it. See how that could really be a bit of a drag to read, when you’re expecting a nice little Christmas story?

But then comes Lily, a true idealist, the day to Dash’s night. She’s the polar opposite in every way. As much as he hates Christmas she loves it. She loves the bustle, the people, the crowds, everything. But she also is alone. Her parents have gone off on a romantic getaway for the first time, leaving her and her brother home alone, with a promise of Christmas on New Year’s.

Dash discovers Lily’s red notebook while going through the shelves of his favorite bookstore and completes the first few dares. But instead of leaving his contact information in it, and putting it back like he’s supposed to, he leaves a dare of his own for Lily. And so the adventure begins. While they never see each other face to face, happy go lucky but lonely Lily, and pretentious but contented Dash leave and discover each other’s clues all across New York City at Christmastime.

That’s when things got fun. But before long, you begin to see it’s much more than a fun story. It’s a friendship story. The game is only one part of the characters’ lives, but it becomes something they really need. Both alone and lonely, they each start to become what the other one needs. Dash finds someone he doesn’t mind talking to (or writing to) and sharing with. Lily finds someone able to shake her out of her perfect little bubble, and to encourage her to be something better. Dash learns how to trust, and Lily learns how to make a friend. As the chapters rolled by, I especially noticed the change in Dash’s ‘voice’. Gradually he softens and mellows out, becoming a better man by Lily’s friendship.

Because that’s what friendship is about. Not what the other person can do for you, but what you can do for each other. How can you help maybe fill a corner of their life, be that person they need. And that’s what this book is about. Two friends finding exactly what they need in each other, and filling a little void. It’s not just fun and games, either. Not just a scavenger hunt, Blue’s Clues NYC Edition. That’s only about half the book. It’s about relationships with the people that matter, and about loving someone for who they are, not just who you wish they were. Hanging in there, even when things get messy, forgiving when someone messes up, and trying again tomorrow.

This book really stood out to me from pretty much any other YA for the positivity of it. The messages about friendship couldn’t have been better, and the ending was the perfect, sweet, hopeful note it needed to be. Because that’s what the message of Christmas is – hope and goodwill to all. That’s what Dash & Lily needed, and it’s what we all need – hope. And it’s what they found.

Four stars. One star off for a couple homosexual characters (nothing graphic though), and a smattering of language. However, major props for the fact that the title characters never make out with each other. How often does that happen in YA, these days? If you’re looking for something new and different to add to your Christmas reads list, this should definitely be on there somewhere.

Are you interested in reading this? Have you read it already? What did you think of it?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas With the Kranks (2004)

Every Christmas there are a few movies my family always watches. Home Alone (one and two, three doesn’t exist to us), The Santa Clause (one and sometimes two), A Christmas Story, A Muppets Christmas Carol. The classics. But over time I’ve added a few more to my list, some for the family, some are just for me. One that’s been on there for a year or two now is Christmas with the Kranks. Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis…how can that possibly not work?

Luther and Nora Krank go all out for Christmas every year. But this year, their daughter Blair will be in Peru, and that’s rather taken the wind out of their Christmas sails. Luther especially has turned into the Grinch, and proposes a radical idea. “Let’s skip Christmas, take the money, and take a cruise with it instead.” No presents, no tree, no legendary Christmas Eve party, not even the traditional Frosty on the roof, that everyone in their neighborhood does. They are simply skipping Christmas. The only problem is, no one will let them.

As sad as the plot may sound, it is also one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. From Luther’s war with a gang of neighborhood children lobbying to “Free Frosty” from the basement, to Nora’s embarrassing run-in with their priest while she’s in a bikini at the tanning salon, every moment is hilarious. They are assaulted by carolers, molested by boy scouts, hunted down by the neighborhood “ward boss” ( classic Dan Aykroyd) and all the time they stick to their guns. But when the hilariously unexpected happens Luther’s cruise dreams are turned on their head.

There’s not too much more I can say without giving away some of the best moments and plot lines. Suffice it to say, it is a positive uplifting film about the meaning of Christmas and why Christmas matters, and how people can come together. The fact that it makes me laugh so hard I cry is a nice bonus. Looking for a new Christmas film to add to your list? This is a must.

Is this already one you’re familiar with? Gonna give it a try?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

David's Tea & Marbles: The Brain Store

This post is a bit of a departure from the norm, and something I don’t see myself doing too often. But as it’s the holidays and everyone (including myself) is doing quite a bit of shopping, this seemed like a good time to do it.

The largest mall in my immediate area underwent a massive remodel over the last year and a half. Remodel is an understatement. They gutted it and rebuilt it almost from the ground up in some sections. It is now the most beautiful mall I have ever been in…although it’s less of a mall, more a shopper’s theme park. Many of the stores are “firsts-in-the-area,” and make exploring the mall very exciting. On my first ‘mall-crawl’ I stumbled across a little gem called Marbles: The Brain Store. The name of the store does not do it justice. It is the coolest little game store I’ve ever been in.

Wall-to-wall games, games of every sort, small tables with games set up to play, card games, board games, wooden games, action games, party games, but all of them family friendly games. No Cards Against Humanity here. It’s not so much a brain game store it seems, as a family game store. My family takes games very seriously. At pretty much every family gathering games are played, whether the adults or the little ones – games will be pulled out at some point. And many games my family knows and loves were at Marbles, along with dozens I knew immediately we would learn to love. For little ones, versions of Spot-It I never knew existed, for bigger kids and adults things like Labyrinth, Telestrations, and Apples to Apples.

But what really made it for me were the employees. I don’t know about you, but for me the hard thing about buying games, is that if you’ve never played it, it can be very hard to decide if it is actually as good as it may look, or sometimes they seem too difficult based on the “back of the box” blurb. At Marbles if you show interest in a game, or seem perplexed by it, an employee almost immediately offers you a demonstration at one of their game tables or the front counter. Some of the more popular games are already set up around the room, or open behind the counter ready to go. The employees take the time to give a quick but thorough run-down of the rules, and play a round with you so you can get the feel of the game. Some places I shop, I don’t like being “sold to.” I like to browse and leisurely select my own choice. At Marbles, it is a very different dichotomy, and I greatly appreciate the hands-on experience of a game before I choose to spend the money on it. I want to know what I’m getting.

Marbles, you’re doing it right. And now every time I’m in the mall I pop in there, and frequently I walk out with a new game for the family.

Then on my second mall-crawl, which happened to be Black Friday (no, I’m not crazy, nor am I one of those people) I wandered into a store, not even hardly realizing what it was. What it was, was David’s Tea. I like tea. By that, I mean I like curling up with a warm ‘cuppa,’ I like the endless flavor profiles you can enjoy, I like that I don’t get the jitters like I do with coffee lately. But as much as I enjoy a cup of tea I’m not usually one to go tea rooms, tea shops, or really go out of my way at all for a specific type of tea. Nor have I ever dabbled in loose-leaf tea. That all changed with David’s.

You walk in and are immediately greeted by smiling employees behind a loooonnnggg counter that runs along one entire side of the store. The smell alone is good enough to make you buy up the entire store on the spot, but then you notice what is behind the counter. An entire wall, from waist height, almost to the ceiling, of very large, very colorful tea canisters, each one clearly labeled, their rainbow of labels beckoning for you to try every. single. one. The other long wall is covered in neatly presented gift packages, sampler sets, tea mugs (no froo-froo tea cups here), infusers, tea pots, tea bags – anything your heart could desire. And the final shorter wall is a small counter, glassed off from the rest of the store, where you can order a to-go cup of any tea in the store, hot, iced, or as a latte.

The highlight is definitely the smelling experience. This isn’t as odd as it sounds. What better way (short of tasting it) is there to pick out flavors you might like to try, than inhaling it’s natural, earthy, herbaceous goodness? The employees are extremely helpful, make excellent recommendations based on your taste, and will pull down any of the dozens and dozens of canisters for you to smell. But don’t worry, when you pick one (or several, if you’re me) you’re not buying the tea that everyone’s noses have been over. There’s a shield, hiding the real stash of tea from the smelling samples. By the time you’re done shopping, there are usually a dozen or so canisters that you’ve been enthusiastically sniffing, at your spot on the counter.

Now at first, I was disappointed when I realized that it was primarily loose-leaf tea, but that went away very quickly. Loose-leaf always seemed a little intimidating to me. I didn’t know what was involved, or how to do it all, so I ignored its existence. Big mistake. David’s got me over that very quickly. While they do sell several of their mixes in tea bags (or sachets, as they call them), loose-leaf is how you get the most out of the brand. And they couldn’t make it easier to get into. Most of the tea mugs, and many of the pots come with lovely little built in infusers. You dump a bit of your loose-leaf in the infuser, pour the water over it, let it steep, and either pull the infuser out of the mug, or if it’s a tea pot, go ahead and pour it into your vessel of choice. And every container of loose-leaf is clearly labeled with recommended measurements and steeping time. Couldn’t be easier. They also have small enclosed infusers you can use in any mug, and perhaps coolest of all, little disposable tea bags that you can measure your loose-leaf into! My little haul:

The rewards program is very generous. You’re constantly earning free tea rewards, and there’s a free cup of tea on your birthday. And while everything seems fairly reasonably priced, they have excellent sales and combination deals that make it quite affordable, even to a cheapskate like me. I’ve seen that if you buy online, every order comes with free samples as well. And after emailing customer service with a question about my account, I can definitely say their customer service is excellent. Not only were my questions answered, but they helped me find a few rewards and things I hadn’t worked out on my own yet.

If you have a David’s anywhere near you, it is definitely worth inventing an excuse to go visit. Five stars all the way.

I haven’t done these posts reviewing stores in the past, and I don’t intend to do them terribly frequently. I don’t really want to over-commercialize things here, but I was so excited about my recent finds I had to share them.

Have you ever run across these stores, or any others that might be similar?

(Note: I did not receive any compensation for these reviews. All opinions are entirely my own.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Canon

I like many different kinds of music, but unfortunately, true classical music is not one of them. Soundtrack scores I’ll do, but large, flamboyant classical pieces are not exactly my thing. But there is one piece that I absolutely love, and it’s about as cliché as you can get. Pachelbel’s Canon in D. There are probably more covers of that piece, than any other classical piece out there, but I like all of them. But there’s one I like best, and that’s “Christmas Canon.”

Ever since I was very little, this has been one of my very favorite songs. Some little girls were cranking up Hannah Montana (may she rest in peace), and I was cranking up The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It would come on the radio, and STAND BACK because I would be running for the volume dial. I didn’t understand any of the lyrics other than “on this night, on this night, on this Merry Christmas night,” but that didn’t stop me from singing along, lyrics or no.

There’s not much more I can say about this song, other than that it’s pretty much my oldest favorite Christmas song.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Pet Sematary was my first encounter with Stephen King, either his books or films. No, I am not living in a cave. No, I do not think horror is evil. I just hadn’t gotten to him until this year. A cousin whose recommendations I trust told me this would be a good one to try out, and I’m very glad I did. I’m already looking ahead at my to-read list, trying to figure out how soon I can make the time to read another.

“Sometimes dead is better....When the Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true: physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son -- and now an idyllic home. As a family, they've got it all...right down to the friendly cat. But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth -- more terrifying than death itself...and hideously more powerful.” (synopsis ‘borrowed’ from Goodreads.)

From the first few chapters I was completely and utterly lost in King’s world. A sign of an amazing author is that you forget there is an author. As you read, the writer seems to just disappear, leaving a pure and unadulterated story. King mastered this. The “idyllic” setting this promised was just that. The gorgeous setting he created gripped me before there was even a whiff of mystery and horror. The rustic farmhouse, the wide open field behind it, the path into the woods surrounded by tall grasses, all of it seemed taken straight out of my favorite place in this world – a little corner of the Pacific Northwest my family inhabits. Granted King’s ideal setting has less rain than my real version of it.

But once you venture past the immediate setting you find the dark corners that the plot lives in. Follow the path into the woods and you come to the little “Pet Sematary” that the town’s children have maintained for centuries. A circular little clearing, surrounded by trees, and with a great wall of fallen branches on one side, shutting it off from the rest of the forest – the “deadfall.”

Second to the setting in terms of instant attention-grabbers, was the old man, Louis Creed’s neighbor Jud. I’ve never truly loved a character in a horror story like I loved Jud.

Louis Creed, who had lost his father at three and who had never known a grandfather, never expected to find a father as he entered his middle age, but that was exactly what happened…although he called this man a friend, as a grown man must do when he finds the man who should have been his father relatively late in life.

And this is the role Jud plays throughout the entire novel. Jud was one of those characters that I love so much because they seem to truly live. I was almost as interested in Jud and his piece of the story as I was in the main character, Louis and his family.

I don’t tend to scare easily when I read, and that opens up the entire horror genre for my amusement. I enjoy a little bit of a “creep-out” and I like it when it goes even a little farther than that, maybe because it doesn’t happen too often. Well I got my creep-out, and I closed the book for a few minutes because I could tell it was going to go a lot farther than that if I didn’t break my attention for just moment. Out of the many “terrifying” moments in this book, none of them gave me my desired creep-out like the moment Louis Creed heard Something moving in the woods behind the deadfall. Doesn’t seem like much does it? But King builds an environment of such heavy, palpable tension that it doesn’t take much.

There were moments that made me want to cry, that made me laugh out loud, and that infuriated me. By the final climax, I was so engrossed I ended up staying up until 1 am to finish it. Oh, and the moment that infuriated me? Yes, it was rage at a cheap writing trick I thought King was pulling, but it was uncalled for. Just a page later everything was hunky-dory…or as hunky-dory as a Stephen King novel can be. Reading involves a certain amount of trust. And trying new author, you have no relationship with them and therefore trust is a bit more fragile. But Stephen King earned my trust and respect with this novel, even if I panicked for a moment.

If you’re not a horror person at all, don’t bother. If you’re a horror connoisseur or just trying to find a good book to break into the genre this is definitely a good one to try. But never forget,

The soil of a man's heart is stonier…A man grows what he can, and he tends it. 'Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own... always comes home to you.

I look forward to my next Stephen King book with great excitement, but I’m a little worried none of them will hit me as well as this one did. The rustic setting and gritty characters were exactly right for me. Any recommendations of what to try next?

Friday, December 4, 2015

PaPEr ToWnS (2015)

After the novel, The Fault in Our Stars, I was very annoyed, slightly angry, gun-shy, and determined to avoid John Green as long as possible. I knew that eventually curiosity and the belief that any author deserves a fair shot would get the better of me. Even while resisting however, my eye has been on Paper Towns. Something about the plot sounded fun and adventurous. The exact opposite of TFIOS. Last week I finally watched the trailer for the film, and decided to go for it. And I did. And I loved it.

Normally I wouldn’t have watched the movie first, but I needed reassurance that the book was a story worth spending time on. A two-hour movie is also less of an emotional commitment than a 350-page novel. John Green had not yet gained my trust. Now the book is at the top of my YA to-read list.

Young and shy Quentin is in for the night of his life when Margo, the most popular student in high school, recruits him to help her play mischievous pranks on the friends who betrayed her. The next day, however, the mysterious Margo is nowhere to be found. With help from a few buddies and some cryptic clues that she left behind, Quentin embarks on an obsessive mission to find the girl who stole his heart and made him feel truly alive.

The trailer and the synopsis do not do the movie justice. First of all, this movie is not a boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl story. It is not primarily a romance, nor is it about Margo Roth Spiegelman. It is first and foremost a movie about friends and about growing up, not just growing older, and about seeing people accurately, not how you want to see them. The three friends, Q, Radar, and Ben have grown up together. As graduation nears and they each plan to go off to their respective colleges they know there is a good chance they will never all be together again. Margo is the catalyst that sets them and two girls off on one last great adventure – an interstate manhunt for Margo Roth Spiegelman. Road-tripping up the east coast from Florida to New York brings them together and deepens their friendship in ways they had never experienced. In the end Quentin learns a painful lesson, but takes the good with bad, and learns for the first time in his life what really matters – the relationships he has now.

This past summer I read The Beginning of Everything, a YA novel that struck a chord with me because I’d never seen a YA story with such an excellent message: grow up, get over your childish foolishness, and become an adult, even if your friends and those closest to you will not. I enjoyed the main character’s last great adventure, and the journey to the end of high school (high school both as an attitude and a time of life). And ever since I read that book, I’ve wished it was a movie. Well, little did I know, but The Beginning of Everything, as excellent as it is in its own right, draws heavily from Paper Towns. From the female character that draws the main character into a series of adventures, to the message that you must grow up, live your life right, and value those that are in your life now to the warnings about the danger of idealizing human beings. The film Paper Towns was my Beginning of Everything. I’ll have to read the novel before I can accurately compare them, but as things stand now, they’re both different and the same.

That said, it is not a family film. The language wasn’t too horrible – there were two or three strong profanities in a two-hour film. But there is quite a bit of innuendo throughout. Sexual jokes, comments about “waiting for prom” to “do it,” and then afterward admitting it has been “done.” And perhaps worst of all, one of Margo’s pranks ends with a teenager fleeing a house totally naked, showing just about everything. The nudity I could’ve done without, and the scene could’ve been just as effective without going so far. Points off for the nudity. The most I can say about that particular part is you can see it coming, so just hit fast-forward if you’re like me and don’t appreciate that stuff.

It was well acted – the friends all made me laugh out loud at points. They were each different and unique in their own right. And the adventures they go through very much held my attention. I tend to not enjoy high school movies, but this one had enough going for it that I look forward to watching it again. I’ve had both soundtracks (the score and the vocal songs) running non-stop since I finished the movie, and I’m very much looking forward to the book.

Mr. Green, you have earned a bit of my trust. But still, just because I really, really did not like TFIOS

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christmas Cookies

Let’s admit it, there really are a limited number of Christmas songs out there. There are plenty of artists to do the same songs in different ways, but eventually you have to admit you have probably heard almost every Christmas song in existence. That’s why every time I hear a new, original Christmas song that I actually like (because there are plenty of new ones I loathe) I dance a little dance of joy.

This was not one I was expecting to love as much as I do. A. I am not a big country music fan. B. While I do love them, how seriously can one take the Robertson family? C. I really, really am not a George Strait fan. Feel free to hate me for that. However, “Christmas Cookies” by Phil Robertson and George Strait ended up being one of my very favorite Christmas songs last year. The fact that I spent a month straight baking cookies may have had something to do with it…

All I ask is that you set aside your preconceived notions and give this song a fair shot. It is what it is. An adorable, sweet and fun Christmas song to/about his wife, Miss Kay. And I am not ashamed to admit it, Miss Kay is a bit of a hero to me.

What do you think of this one? A little too out there, or endearingly cute?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes has been on my to-read list for a little while now. Although it’s more of a revisit, than a first time read, it’s been long enough for me to bring fresh eyes to it, and it really was like a new experience. The Hound of the Baskervilles was the perfect book for this, and when it came up on the docket for the Reading to Know Book Club, it was an excellent incentive to do it now, instead of at some unknown future date.

Poor Sherlock is one of the most argued-about, obsessed-on, fan-fictioned, re-done literary characters of all time. Unfortunately, because of all the Sherlocks out the in the media now, it’s a bit difficult to formulate your own mental perception of the original, “real,” one-and-only Sherlock Holmes as Doyle intended him. As hard as I tried, my own mental image of Sherlock (both his personality and appearance) ended up being a bit of an amalgamation of two different modern Sherlock “spins.” (The Mentalist, which is actually not a real Sherlock, but inspired-by, and BBC’s Sherlock.) I suppose that can’t be helped, but it still felt like my own personal Sherlock, which is all I could have hoped for. And again, for trying to create my “personal” Sherlock, this book was perfect.

“The most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles features the phantom dog of Dartmoor, which, according to an ancient legend has haunted the Baskervilles for generations. When Sir Charles Baskerville dies suddenly of a heart attack on the grounds of the family’s estate, the locals are convinced that the spectral hound is responsible, and Holmes is called in.”
Now, in the beginning I was a little disappointed because even though “Holmes is called in,” he does not at first answer that call personally. He instead chooses to send Watson ahead of him to watch over Sir Charles’ heir to the great estate. Watson’s journals and letters accounting the goings-on in Dartmoor take up the middle third of The Hound. But once I managed to stop sulking about Sherlock’s absence, I enjoyed it very much. The first-person telling of the mysterious happenings added to the suspense, and in the long run I really didn’t miss Sherlock too much. But from the moment he decides he is ready to step in, action takes over.

While I didn’t find this book scary or even creepy exactly, it was certainly interesting enough to keep me thoroughly glued to it. From a roaming murderous convict, to a servant haunting the halls at night, to the devil-dog itself, there was plenty to hold my attention. And really all I ask from books like these is that I don’t want to see “it” coming. “It” being any of the plot twists, great surprises, shock-and-awe moments, etc. Even if I sense them creeping up on me, I don’t want to know what is going to happen, and unfortunately I have an uncanny knack of always figuring it out before I want to, even if I’m deliberately trying NOT to. In this book, among the four or five different plot twists and solutions I only had one figured out, and that one wasn’t even terribly important.

Growing up in a family that voraciously consumes mysteries and whodunits, this was exactly up my alley. Growing up with a personal love for the vaguely macabre, chilling and “creepifying”, this didn’t meet my standards for a “scary story,” but it did appeal to the side of me that loves gothic-type stories, with all their windy moors and palpable tension. If you’re hesitant to go near books that might be a bit too dark and frightening, I would say this one is most likely mild enough that it’s worth a try. The tension is not overwhelming, just gripping. And the pure mystery of everything seems to keep it from getting to heavy. If you’re as odd as I am, save it for a dark and windy night after everyone else has gone to sleep, and embrace the darkness of Dartmoor.

Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him.

Yet we may shelter ourselves in the infinite goodness of Providence, which would not for ever punish the innocence beyond that third or fourth generation which is threatened in Holy Writ. To that Providence, my sons, I hereby commend you, and I counsel you by way of caution to forbear from crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted.