At this time of year, I can generally be found scrambling to locate a Valentines Day card for my husband that fulfils my near-impossible desires of being not-too-smutty, not-too-smushy, and not costing approximately half my next mortgage payment.
Nor do I wish to have “hilarious” cards describing how much we’d like to “bonk” one another on display where our six-year-old, or my mother-in-law, can easily read them. As a result, I’ve taken to Etsy for my Valentines Day card shopping over recent years where I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to nerdy, adorable cards that really speak to us and our relationship. This year I have, unsurprisingly, noticed a vast array of Star Wars cards in my searches and I wanted to share some of my favourites with you, many of which are perfect for handing out at school.
While Sunday’s opening episode of The X-Files’ 10th season waded far into the depths of mythology, Monday night’s follow-up, “Founder’s Mutation”, looks at the emotional impact that mythology has had on Mulder and Scully, and the scars they still carry.
Read on for our recap but beware: here be spoilers.
The X-Files returned to FOX last night after a, frankly terrifying, 14-year hiatus. Launching straight back into the show’s epic, and complex, mythology, Mulder, Scully, and the gang were back in fine, if confusing form in the unfortunately titled “My Struggle Part One”, an episode that delighted fans but is unlikely to win over many new faces, whilst positively alienating (pun absolutely intended) anyone sitting in the right hand side of the political spectrum.
It could easily be argued that 2016 is the year that Harry Potter returns. Of course, the boy wizard has never really gone away as the large crowds at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, or the Harry Potter Studios Tour in Leavesden will attest. However it has been five years since the last Potter film—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II—was released, and a frankly astounding nine years since the final book was launched. 2016 will give us our first new material in the Potter universe (excluding updates to Pottermore) since then, so it’s only right that Potterheads are celebrating, even as they continue to mourn for Alan Rickman. A whole host of things are happening in the Potter world this year so let’s take a look at them. Continue reading Return to Potter in 2016
Christmas is a time for traditions, with the same food, films, music, and memories brought out year after year. Yet it’s always great to add a little something new to the mix as well. Here are some of my favorite Christmas-themed picture books that I hope you might enjoy adding to your own library. Continue reading GeekMom Recommends: Christmas Picture Books
My favorite line in the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy comes from Padmé toward the end of Revenge of The Sith. She stands in the Galactic Senate and watches Supreme Chancellor Palpatine proclaim himself Emperor of a newly founded Empire.
“This is how liberty dies,” she comments to her companions, “with thunderous applause.”
It’s a chilling line simply because we know from our own history how true it can be. Even the briefest look at the story of Hitler’s rise to power mirrors Palpatine’s own journey in many ways. Rising to power on a tidal wave of support, first elected as Chancellor before using fear to manipulate other politicians and transform the country/Republic into a dictatorship under his control alone.
The Star Wars prequels reflect our own history back at us through the lens of a galaxy far, far away and remind us of things we ought not to forget. In our post 9/11 era where we as “good citizens” are expected to throw away more and more of our personal liberties in the never-ending pursuit of the spectre of terrorism, and where increasingly oppressive politicians are growing in popularity with an increasingly scared population – perhaps the story we see across the three prequels has never been more important.
This is what I love about the Star Wars prequel trilogy. While the Original Trilogy throws us straight into the heart of an ongoing war where heroes and villains are already established, the prequels show us both how those things came to be, and how easily the road to war can be walked. In fact, if we take a look at recent news, it’s a path we can see being trodden once again – only this time it’s happening in the United States with the rise of Donald Trump. Continue reading Is Donald Trump Leading the U.S. Down the Path to the Dark Side?
How do you cook and serve a human? Hopefully, this is not a question you have ever needed to answer, but it is one that Janice Poon—food consultant and stylist for NBC’s Hannibal—has spent much of her time considering. This holiday season, Janice has teamed up with Freddie of Tattle Crime to produce a batch of cookie recipes that even the fussiest of foodies will love.
I was able to try out some of the recipes myself, and to speak with Janice about her work on Hannibal and her advice for any aspiring chefs who have been inspired by Hannibal‘s culinary command.
In this month’s bumper edition of Between the Bookends, the GeekMoms have been reading about vampires (of both the sparkly and non-sparkly kind), tea, horror in New Zealand, cheese-mite cosmology, CSI meets The Brothers Grimm, and much more. Dive in to check out our recommendations for the month.
In the United Kingdom, November 5th is known as Bonfire Night. Across the country, bonfires are lit and firework displays held to commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot way back in 1605.
There are many different foods associated with Bonfire Night although few of them could be called healthy. Among them are toffee apples, treacle toffee, and baked potatoes cooked within the fire itself, but perhaps the most classic Bonfire Night food is parkin.
Whether you’re throwing a big neighborhood party, or staying home with the drapes closed this Halloween, chances are there’s a game to suit both your tastes and this spookiest of seasons. To help you celebrate Halloween I’ve picked out six games in six different styles including board games, video games, and games to play with kids.
This month the GeekMoms have been enjoying spooky tales of peculiar children, talented alchemists, mysterious desert towns, and deep, dark, fears.
These include the latest in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children‘s novels, a novelization of the Welcome to NightVale podcast world, the latest from Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess, and the definitive origin of Black Widow.
Teaching kids coding is one of the current buzz topics in schools, and rightly so. Programming is a vital skill, so much so that the National Curriculum in the UK—the government’s official guidelines on what schools are required to teach—has recently been updated to include the subject from a very young age.
My six year old has already come home talking about debugging algorithms, words I never used in all my years of schooling. I wanted to be involved in this journey with him and this new post series will follow our adventures in learning more about robotics, programming and more.
In Colt Express, you take on the role of a bandit holding up a train in the American Wild West. Players use their cards to move around the train, gather loot, attack rival players, and influence the Marshall—at the end of the game the player with the most loot is the winner.
It’s back-to-school month and the GeekMoms have been working hard on their very own reading lists. From Bill Murray to origami, To Kill a Mockingbird to Shakespearean Star Wars, check out what we have been reading this month.
If I had to pick one adjective to describe moms, it would be “busy.” We’re always on the go doing something or other, usually at the the cost of our own leisure time. As a result I find it difficult to find the time to sit and play video games that require hours of game-play working through excessively long levels, or exploring open-world universes, unless I choose to sacrifice even more of my sleep. I’ve therefore become a big fan of games I can dip in and out of easily when I have a little time to spare.
A few weeks ago, I was able to attend Manchester Comic Con for the fourth time. Since its inception in 2011, the con has continued to grow, expanding both in space and time, giving it hugely increased floorspace and a second day.
As one of the largest conventions in the north of England, the con attracts huge crowds and even with the extra space, the con floor remains packed out. I had debated bringing my five year old along this year for the first time, however after seeing the Saturday crowds I opted against it, choosing to introduce him to the convention world at a smaller local show instead.
This year’s Expo suffered many of the same minor issues as previous shows. However vast improvements have been made.
No on-the-door tickets were available on the Saturday which prevented people queueing for hours outside the venue in poor weather—an issue in previous years—in the hopes of getting inside.
This did, however, create one of the longest queues I have ever seen for general admission: one which stretched out of the venue, across the courtyard, over a street, and most of the way around the next block, at the time I arrived. Regardless of its length, the fact that the queue was composed only of those with pre-purchased tickets meant it moved quickly. Two friends who joined the end of the line at the time it stretched around the block reported it took only 45 minutes before they were inside.
One of my personal gripes with the show was the simple lack of activities. The main stage hosted only a few talks per day alongside the daily cosplay masquerade, and the only other scheduled events were Robots: Live battles.
This year The Victorian Steampunk Society were in attendance with their own events schedule, but even this addition was not enough to really fill two days. I spent some time testing out board games over at the Esdevium Games stand which filled several hours, but even then I found myself ready to leave by early afternoon on Sunday (having left early on Saturday too) because there were only so many times I could walk around the same merchandise stalls.
I love Manchester Expo, and having spoken to many regular con attendees, it is a favorite for a lot of the UK geek crowd. Despite its growing size, the con retains a friendly small-show atmosphere and has a great mix of stalls both selling merchandise and for artists over in the Comics Village. I’m already looking forward to bringing my son.
However, I do wish there was simply more to do than just walk around or meet up with friends. While guests are not everything, it is disheartening to see the same company’s London show attracting huge guest stars like Gillian Anderson, Felicia Day, John Noble, and members of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast, while Manchester gets Sylvester McCoy and two of the cast of Arrow.
When the highlight of the weekend’s main stage schedule is a world exclusive preview of an extra from the Robot Overlords Blu-ray—a film that (tragically, it’s actually pretty good) almost nobody went to see—it really suggests a need to try to reach a little higher. Reaching higher has been one of the things the show organizers have been great at. Every year, Manchester Comic Con has grown and improved. I hope it continues to do so. In the meantime enjoy a look at some of the amazing cosplay for this year’s show.
As a group, us geeks can be a little, well, snobbish about the games we play. Why would we play Clue when we could play Catan? Why choose Scrabble over Stone Age? As much as we might think that way, a quick Amazon search for “board games” reveals that classic titles such as Monopoly, Clue, Sorry!, and The Game of Life are still the top results. My husband and I returned to two popular games—Yahtzee and Clue—both of which had recently been given a Firefly-themed makeover, to see if they could win us over.
This month the GeekMoms dove deeply into the Chris Carter-verse with books featuring both The X-Files and Millennium, fallen in love again with Star Wars through a new series of Little Golden Books, enjoyed home crafts, and finally found something to draw them away from a beloved series. Read on to find out more about what we’ve been reading this month.
Little Passports is a subscription service that sends your child a monthly package designed to teach them about a specific country. Each package includes activities and items themed around the culture of that month’s featured country. Geography has never been one of my strong points, in fact it was the subject I hated most at high school after gym, so I had more than a little trepidation when my son (FB) began to express a keen interest in the subject by constantly asking me to label maps and point out locations my husband and I had visited in the past.
Despite my lack of subject knowledge, I was keen to develop his interest at a young age—beginning first with simply buying a globe for his room and investing in an atlas. However, when I began to hear about the Little Passports service I was keen to sign him up for a trial.
This month in Between the Bookends, the GeekMoms have been reading about alien parasites, parenting skills, dark fantasy, climbing Everest, and the songs that tell the story of modern Britain. Check out what we’ve been reading after the jump.
If you want to visit the magical Platform 9¾ from the Harry Potter series, there are currently three places you can do so: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando, the Warner Bros. Studios Tour in Leavesden, and the real Kings Cross Station in London. I have been lucky enough to visit all three within the last year and I wanted to try to determine which one is the “best” experience by scoring all three across a range of categories, including how much there is to do, the authenticity, and the cost.
What Can You Do there?
Universal Studios definitely wins when it comes to the total Harry Potter package. As well as Platform 9¾, guests can experience Diagon Alley, which features Harry Potter and The Escape from Gringotts, Ollivanders, and dozens of shops and restaurants. After riding the Hogwarts Express to Universal’s Islands of Adventure, they can also visit Hogsmeade where they can ride the Dragon Challenge, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and explore Hogwarts itself in Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey. There’s more shops and restaurants there too. I recommend a cauldron cake from Honeydukes—yum! 10/10
At the Warner Bros. Studios Tour, Platform 9¾ forms part of the overall tour, which takes you through dozens of original sets from the movie series. In addition, there’s a cafe where you can drink butterbeer and two shops—the Platform Shop, which sells merchandise specific to the Hogwarts Express, and the more general shop at the end of the tour. Other than a few staged photo opportunities throughout, there is little else to do other than the tour itself. However, more is constantly being added and the Studios run special events every few months. Look out for the Sweets and Treats event this summer, with prop makers recreating the food used in the films. The tour is an amazing experience (my husband and I took seven hours to go through the first time and its has been extended since then), but not ideal for younger children as it is very much a case of look don’t touch throughout. 8/10
Kings Cross station is a real working station not a tourist attraction, so naturally, there is little to do here in comparison to the other locations. However, the designers have packed plenty of theming into their small space. You can take your photo pushing a trolley through the station wall and browse the impressively themed shop, which packs an incredible amount of detail (and spending opportunities) into a very small space. 3/10
Universal Studios struggles to earn many points when it comes to authenticity. Existing as part of a theme park, the station and train have been built purely for that purpose and were not involved in filming in any way. However, Universal Studios is the only one of the three which allows guests to board the Hogwarts Express and take a real journey (from Diagon Alley in Universal Studios to Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure or vice versa). Because of this, guests pass through a real ticket check (only guests with a park-to-park ticket may ride) before entering the queue for the train. 3/10
For authenticity, almost nothing can beat the Studios Tour. The train sitting in the station is the 5972 Olton Hall—the actual locomotive used in filming—and you can tour the carriage used by Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the films. Each “room” along the carriage has been set out for a specific film with different props strewn around. For example, in the Order of The Phoenix room, you can see Luna’s copy of the Quibbler lying on the seat. 9/10
Kings Cross station also fares well when it comes to authenticity. After all, you’re really in Kings Cross station! If you step just outside, you will even see the building used for exterior shots in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. Sadly, the Platform 9¾ area is not located between the real platforms nine and 10 (to do so would have required architects trained in real magic), but that’s easy enough to overlook. 9/10
Realism of the Platform Effect
Universal Studios is the only one of the three locations to use an effect to make guests really walk through a wall. Sadly, you won’t realize you’re doing it. The effect is used in the queue line where guests at one part of the line will see those further ahead of them appearing to walk through a brick wall. However, once you get to that point, there is nothing to see because the effect is only visible further back. Regardless, it’s an impressive effect that was amazing the children in the queue. 7/10
At the Studios Tour, there is no special effect to greet you as you move from the previous room of the tour onto the platform. I felt this was a wasted opportunity because guests walk down a fairly blank corridor and out onto a very realistic platform, so it’s a shame nothing was made of this transition. Instead, guests can pose with one of four luggage trolleys fixed halfway into the wall. Three are for the official photographers to take your picture, while the fourth is for guests to use their own cameras. While having four trolleys is great to reduce waiting times for the photo opportunity, having them together in a line does unfortunately take away from the realism of the setup. 2/10
At Kings Cross station, the same trolley photo opportunity is available as in the Studios Tour. However, there is only one trolley. This can lead to fairly big queues (even late at night), but the positioning of the trolley (on the same wall as access to real platforms) and the fact that there is only one “entrance” makes the experience impressively believable. 5/10
At Universal Studios, guests can board and ride the Hogwarts Express between the two theme parks that house the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Although the ride isn’t a real train (it’s actually closer to a cable car), the appearance to guests is almost completely immersive. Guests queue up on the platform, wait for the train to arrive, and squeeze into carriages identical to those seen on-screen. During your journey, the “windows” of the carriage look out onto scenic British countryside with a few visitors. Look out for the Knight Bus, Hagrid, and the Weasley twins, to name a few. The journey going the opposite way has a different “story” happening outside too. Add to this the fact that the train journey is a real-life journey, and you couldn’t ask for anything more from the experience. 10/10
At the Studios Tour, guests can meet the real Hogwarts Express and climb aboard one of her carriages. The train is static, but will occasionally blow her whistle and make noises like she is getting ready to depart. A steam effect as seen at Universal Studios would have been a great addition here, but may be difficult to implement given that the train sits within an enclosed room. Across the platform, guests can sit in a semi-open “carriage” with green screen windows to recreate a short journey. This is very similar to the experience of the Hogwarts Express ride at Universal—some of the same footage appears to have been used—but lacks the immersive nature of its counterpart as you are clearly sitting on the platform while it happens. 6/10
Kings Cross station comes up dead last in this area, as there is no train experience at all. You could always board a real train and head off somewhere, but sadly, it won’t be the Hogwarts Express. 0/10
Cost (For a Family of Four)
In order to experience Platform 9¾ at Universal Studios, guests require a park-to-park ticket, as the train ride really does move its passengers between the two parks that make up the resort. Single-day tickets cost $147 per adult and $142 per child making the total cost a whopping $578. However, it is worth remembering that multi-day passes come at a significant discount if you’re planning a trip. 1/10
At the Studios Tour, the cost per adult is £33, while children age five to 12 are £25.50, and children four and under attend for free. A family ticket is available, so the cost for our hypothetical family is £101 ($160). Tickets include access to the entire tour, although extras such as butterbeer and photo opportunities are extra. You can also purchase a digital guide and souvenir book; these come at a reduced cost if purchased as part of your ticket. 6/10
The clear winner in terms of cost is Kings Cross station, which is freely accessible to anyone visiting the area. Photos and souvenirs are obviously available at a cost, but it is free of charge for anyone to queue up and take their photo at the entrance using their own camera. Total cost for a family of four: $0. 10/10
How Does It All Add Up?
The grand totals for each experience are as follows:
Universal Studios: 31
The Warner Bros. Studios Tour: 31
Kings Cross Station: 27
Despite providing dramatically different guest experiences, the two bigger attractions came out, amazingly, with identical scores. Both are must-do attractions for Potterheads and with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter now open in Hong King and soon to be arriving in California, hopefully there will soon be an attraction within a reasonable distance of even more fans. Although it didn’t reach the same total as its bigger siblings, Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross station still fared well, mostly because of its price point, which makes it refreshingly accessible to everyone—a rarity in the world of tourist attractions. Whether you prefer thrilling rides or authentic experiences, there’s a Platform 9¾ experience for everyone.
GeekMom received complimentary entry to the Warner Bros. Studios Tour.
Lego Jurassic World was my first foray back to the Lego games franchise since Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7. Recent offerings have put me off of the games, but the lure of my favorite ever movie being given the Lego treatment was just too strong. I was incredibly hopeful I would enjoy it.
Elder Sign is a cooperative dice-rolling game based on the Cthulhu Mythos in which you and your fellow players work together as a team of researchers investigating a museum, attempting to prevent the rise of an Ancient One. Players must collect a number of Elder Signs before the Ancient One fills its Doom Track, kills the players, or drives them all mad. Sound good? Then find out more in our in-depth look at both the physical game and its digital alter-ego, Elder Sign: Omens.
How Do You Play?
The museum that forms the playable region of Elder Sign is composed of a number of large cards, each representing a room, while in the digital version you are faced with a map of the museum with a number of locations highlighted on it.
Players choose a room to enter (embarking upon an Adventure) and attempt to roll dice and match the symbols on the card—sometimes in a specific order. If the player successfully completes their Adventure by matching all the symbols, they can gain spells and weapons to help them win more Adventures; they can also gain the all-important Elder Signs needed to defeat the Ancient One. Failing the Adventure can result in a loss of the player’s health and sanity, the arrival of a monster who will increase the difficulty of future Adventures, or Doom being added to the Ancient One’s Doom Track. After each player’s turn, a clock is advanced and at midnight, the Ancient One reveals a card that can benefit them, so players are encouraged to win as fast as possible. Some rooms also have their own, usually negative, Midnight Effects.
How Do You Win and Lose?
To win at Elder Sign, players must collect a set number of Elder Sign tokens. The number is determined by the Ancient One they are fighting.
The tougher the Ancient One, the more Elder Signs will need to be collected to defeat it. Completing some Adventures will win you multiple Elder Signs, but the better the rewards, the harder the Adventure will be to complete. The team of players lose if they all are killed or driven insane by the Ancient One, or if the Ancient One fills its Doom Track.
Are There Any Expansions Available?
Yes. For the physical game two expansions, Unseen Forces and Gates of Arkham, are available. If you are playing digitally, there are currently three expansions: The Call of Cthulhu, The Trail of Ithaqua, and The Dark Pharaoh. All three unlock additional player characters and Ancient Ones to battle.
What Formats Is the Digital Game Available On? Elder Sign: Omens is available on iOS (for both iPad and iPhone), Android, Kindle, and Steam.
How Do the Costs Compare?
The base game currently retails for around $30 with the expansions costing $15 to $20 each, making this one of the cheaper games currently on the market. The digital base game retails for $6.99 (iPad), $3.99 (iPhone), $14.99 (Steam), or around $4.50 on Android. Expansions are $2.99 each.
What Age Is It Suitable For?
The game is recommended for age 12+, and having played it many times, that feels like the correct choice from the developer. While the game play is simple enough that a younger child could understand what’s going on, the artwork is obviously very intense (this is a game set in the realm of the Ancient Ones, after all) and some of the mechanics would likely go over their heads.
The digital version also contains occasional cut scenes that could scare young children. If your child is already acquainted with classic horror, they may enjoy the game, but for the majority, the recommended age will be accurate.
Is It Actually Any Good?
Whether or not you will enjoy Elder Sign, either digitally or physically, is more than likely going to boil down to how much you enjoy randomness as a factor in your gaming. Completing Adventures is entirely based on dice-rolling (occasional cards and characters can change die rolls, but these are frustratingly few and far between), which means that even the best-equipped Investigator can fail spectacularly over and over again if the dice just aren’t in the mood to behave.
This can be incredibly aggravating, and I would know. Despite countless attempts and intentionally hoarding as many helpful cards as possible, I am still yet to beat the final card of The Call of Cthulhu expansion, by nothing more than sheer bad luck.
The randomness effect does, however, level the playing field, meaning that any group of players can work well together from experienced Investigators to total newbies.
The cooperative element really shines during physical play, as players debate which rooms/Adventures they should attempt and which to avoid. We played as a group late on New Year’s Eve and, despite losing spectacularly, had a great time playing—and isn’t that the whole point?
Digital Vs. Physical Green = Pro, Red = Con, Black = Neutral
Game set up is as good as instantaneous.
The game keeps track of which cards can be used at any time, instantly deals out the correct rewards (or penalties) at the conclusion of an Adventure, and advances the clock as required.
The player has to play as multiple characters, remembering each individual’s special abilities and current inventory once their turn rolls around.
Designed for single player, so you don’t need to get a group together.
The single-player format means the game loses out on the cooperative nature of the physical version, arguably one of its best parts.
Both the base game and the expansions are cheap. The complete game with all expansions can be bought for as little as $13.
The base game is somewhat limited and quickly becomes repetitive, so the temptation to buy expansions is high.
Rooms with a Midnight Effect (a usually negative outcome every time the clock strikes midnight) are easily spotted on the map, as are those with Terror Effects.
Only one room can be seen at a time, so the player must either remember the requirements for each one or spend time looking at each one every time they choose a new room/Adventure.
Lots and lots of parts means the game takes a very long time to set up.
The game can be played by up to eight people, making it a great party game and a good choice at a games night with lots of guests, where other games might leave people out.
Midnight and Terror effects are written in small print on the cards, making them easy to overlook.
Although more expensive than the digital game, the physical edition is one of the cheaper games on the market (keep an eye out for frequent price reductions too).
Despite being cheaper than many games, the build quality is fantastic and the pieces are all well made and lovely to handle.
There are only two expansions. However, for those of us trying to limit our rapidly growing game collections, this may be a good thing!
The cards representing the rooms are laid out on the table and the requirements for each one can be seen all at once, making choosing your next room/Adventure easier.
Best played with a group, so not ideal if you don’t have a gaming group or local gamer friends nearby.
GeekMom received the base game ofElder Signs: Omens for review purposes.
“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June.” – So wrote Dr. Seuss, and for those of us reaching the halfway stage of various reading challenges for the year, we may be wondering “how the time has flewn” quite so quickly this year. Let us know how you’re getting on whether you’re taking a GoodReads challenge of your own or the PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge along with countless others. The GeekMoms have been reading about Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lecter, and many other less well-known characters this month so read ahead to see what pages they’ve been turning.
Thanks to a recent birthday and bookstore gift cards, Lisa was able to stock up on a couple of books from one of her favorite reading obsessions: alternative Sherlock Holmes stories.
For those wanting to dive into the many alternative mysteries about Sherlock Holmes not actually written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the best place to start is with books and stories that bear the seal of approval by the Conan Doyle Estate. This is a good indication that the author involved did their homework in keeping with the spirit of Doyle’s most famous creation. Lisa’s favorite read of the month,Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, (a follow-up to his first Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk), is one of those. This tale introduces the reader to Pinkerton Agency inspector Frederick Chase and Scotland Yard’s Athelney Jones trying to hunt down a sinister criminal with mind to take over as the kingpin of London’s criminal world not long after that fateful disappearance of Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls.
Horowitz is known for his knack for mystery via his books for adults and young readers, as well as his creation for the World War II TV series Foyle’s War. This was evident with Moriarty, as it will keep Holmes and mystery fans up all night reading ’til the end, as well as pondering the outcome long after they finish the book.
The other Holmes-inspired novel she purchased is the collection of “Holmesian Tales Across Time and Space,” Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, edited by David Thomas Moore. Moore, who had admitted to not being a huge fan of Holmes in his younger days, has since realized what a rebel the detective was after seeing the many new incarnations of the detective in movies and television. As a result, he complied fourteen tales from established and emerging science fiction and fantasy authors that take Holmes, Watson, and the usual supporting characters into scenarios that are anything but usual. The stories range from Wild West adventures to outer space adventures.
There were a couple of tales where the scenario just didn’t feel right (entering the world of the Wizard Lords’ events during the Year of the Yellow Cat was confusing, to say the least), but all of these stories were inventive and certainly not your typical Holmes. Traditionalists who find the modern Holmes’ versions a little far-fetched should steer clear of this collection, because there are female Holmes, a carnival dwarf version of Mrs. Hudson, and even appearances by pop icons like Andy Warhol and Elvis Presley. For those who want to take a journey with an unlimited amount of twists, turns, and surprises, then this anthology won’t disappoint.
Several years ago GeekMom Judy read a book that stuck with her for a long time. It was called Three Dog Lifeby Abigail Thomas. The touching story, that Stephen King called “the best memoir I’ve ever read,” was basically heart wrenching reflections on life after the author’s husband was struck by a car while crossing the street, and left with a severe brain injury. Turning to her family, friends, and bed full of dogs for comfort, the author navigated some pretty treacherous life waters. Judy loved the book so much that as soon as the library copy was returned, she bought a copy for her own bookshelves.
Then a few months ago, Ms. Thomas released a new book, called What Comes Next and How to Like It. This book covers a friendship that lasted for decades and some major life events that threatened to end it. The new book is written in very short, sometimes one paragraph “chapters” which make it very easy to read. Like Three Dog Life, What Comes Next is brutally honest and revealing. It will leave you thinking about the friendships in your own life, especially those which have lasted decades.
This month Patricia is reading Judy Blume’s latest book, In the Unlikely Event, released on June 2nd. If you have been a fan of Judy Blume’s poignant youth-point-of-view novels since a young age, as Patricia has been, you won’t be disappointed. The story follows several characters’ lives brought together by a C-46 commercial airliner crash in 1952 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a true event that impacted Judy Blume herself in real life.
In Blume’s classic style that we have experienced in adult novels such as Smart Womenand Summer Sisters, she takes us through numerous points of view, male and female, young and old, privileged and in-need. She covers issues and topics from the 1950s that are still of concern in today’s society, such as racism, religious freedom, and the challenges of single-parenthood. And, of course, first love. Patricia is about halfway through the novel right now and things are getting pretty emotional! She could barely put down the book to write up this brief review!
Sophie has been reading a wide variety of books this month, beginning with Red Dragon by Thomas Harris in preparation for season three of Hannibal which began on NBC earlier this month. This was her first time reading a Hannibal novel and she found the experience fascinating as a die-hard fan of the TV show. She often found herself noticing where ideas had been lifted from the source novel and changed, subtly or not, for the TV show, and she loved getting to see how the characters had been subtly altered to increase the diversity of the cast by adding more women and people of color from the original. Sometimes she even recognized full lines of dialogue that had been appropriated into different scenes. Sophie loved the book and cannot wait to see these new characters introduced this season.
Sophie has also been reading a number of graphic novels this month. She picked up Fury’s Big Week by Christopher Yost after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron. The book was published as a prelude to the first Avengers movie in 2012 and although it has its moments she didn’t really enjoy it, much preferring the current ongoing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic series. Staying with Marvel, Sophie also read Mark Millar’s Civil War, her first real foray into the Marvel comics-verse. After getting to grips with the often very different characterization (Captain America was barely recognizable to her), she enjoyed the book but found herself deeply unhappy with the ending which felt like it came out of nowhere.
Sophie’s book club chose The Book Thief by Markus Zusack which she began reading almost immediately thinking the premise sounded very interesting. Sadly, after around 50 pages she ended up passing it on to another member because the writing style was just too annoying for her to stand. This is one month where she will be watching the movie adaptation instead! She chose to spend her time finishing up the third and final installment of Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy—The Last Town—and really enjoyed it despite the extremely violent scenes which pushed her right to her limits despite her being a fan of somewhat graphic horror. The book took a very different journey from the previous two and was non-stop action right from page one; she felt almost out of breath after reading it!
Finally Sophie read the first book in The Selection series by Kiera Cass. The book is the first in a series of YA novels set in a somewhat dystopian future U.S.A. (now renamed Illea and also now a kingdom), which echo The Hunger Games if the parts set in the Capitol had been the entirety of the competition. In The Selection, 35 young women have been chosen to enter what is basically a glorified version of The Bachelor and “compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.” You can imagine the rest of the book from that one sentence. Sophie thought the book was about as good as she imagined from that description (and from the hilarious reviews on Goodreads) but found the book to have that same guilty pleasure factor as The Twilight Saga—you know it’s awful but keep reading anyway! She plans to read more of the series to see if it can get any better!
Fran is re-reading Stephanie Feldman’s Angel of Losses. This Crawford-Award-winning book about family, sisterhood, myth, magic, and mystery grabbed her when she read it last fall. This time, it’s the interweaving of theology, history, and folk tales that drew her back.
She’s also reading an early copy of Max Gladstone’s Last First Snow because she loves the world of The Craft Sequence, and this might be the best one yet—bureacracy-mancy, necro-arbitrage, and more.
Lastly, she has a book hangover because she read Naomi Novik’s Uprootedin twelve blissful hours. Fantastic characters, electric magic that doesn’t color within the lines, and a world that breaks free of its fairy tale origins. Yes, please.
Copies of some books included in these recommendation have been provided for review purposes.
This year, Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Theme Park in Tamworth, UK, has undergone a massive £2.5 million ($3.8 million) expansion, increasing in size by 40 percent and adding in three new attractions. We visited the park over the busy May school holiday with our five-old-son to see what we thought of the new expansion.
We could tell we were in for a busy day before we even arrived at the park, as we sat in traffic and crawled toward the entrance for a solid 15 minutes. We were sent to a parking area we had never seen on our previous visits and after picking up our complimentary passes, and then entered via a second entrance we never knew existed (rather than the main entrance). This second entrance is positioned at the opposite end of the park to Thomas Land, although because Drayton Manor is such a compact park, the walk across only took us a few minutes. Walking through, we were able to point out some other family rides to our son for later in the day.
The expansion to Thomas Land is not immediately obvious when approaching from the “wrong” direction, as the entrance is somewhat concealed behind the main Knapford Station area. Our son Fin immediately spotted Winston’s Whistle-Stop Tours, a slow monorail ride up above Thomas Land and asked to ride it, which we obliged despite a 40-minute queue as it allowed us an aerial view of the new expansion to help us get our bearings. The new expansion has certainly increased the open space in Thomas Land so it doesn’t feel as cramped as it once did. Some rides have been moved around to improve access and the whole space feels open even with large crowds. Everything looks bright, fun, and well maintained and the whole area feels cohesive. Moving Jeremy Jet’s Flying Academy to a central position outside the new Sodor Airport coffee shop and cafe creates a fantastic central feature for this whole area. However, there is a large area of seemingly dead space towards the rear. This appears to be set up for events, however, with it not being in use the day we visited caused that part of the park to feel desolate.
My biggest complaint regarding the new expansion was the queuing system for the new rides, or rather, the lack of it. Most of the rides are small, circular affairs that stand by themselves in a large, open area. However, the fenced queue areas are just a few meters long, effectively only holding enough people to fill the ride up one time. This results in long, disorderly, snaking queues that weave around and are hard to define. On approaching the new Flynn’s Fire Rescue ride, we thought it had a short queue, only to realize that the queue actually began 50-feet across the park and was almost blending with the line for another ride. The introduction of some zigzagged fencing to mark out the queues for these new attractions would be a vast improvement to the area. It is also worth noting that none of the three new Thomas Land attractions actually feature trains, which could disappoint younger children. Instead, the new rides include Toby the Tram, Flynn the Fire Engine, and Captain the Lifeboat. Two of the three also result in riders getting wet as well, which I can only imagine will severely limit their attractiveness in cold weather.
Sadly, we were only able to ride one of the three new attractions. It was too cold for us to get soaked on the Sea Captain ride, which has riders standing on slowly rotating boats and firing water canons at other riders and those standing in the designated splash zones nearby, and Fin refused to ride the rocking, spinning Toby Tram. However, Fin was very excited to ride the Flynn the Fire Engine ride on which riders stand in cages and fire water canons into the center of the ride, attempting to hit holes in the windows of a “burning” building. The canons were fairly difficult for a five-year-old to operate by himself, but he loved riding with his dad anyway. There is some splashback on this ride too, but only a little. However, I do find it odd to include two rides on which riders will get wet (or very wet in the case of the Sea Captain) in a park with a cool climate most of the year. I doubt either of these rides will draw many visitors during the colder months when the park operates.
Of course, all the original rides from Thomas Land are still present, so despite not getting to ride two of the new additions, we still spent many hours riding all the area has to offer. Fin gradually increased in bravery through the day and by the end, we had tackled nearly everything except a few rides which Fin considered too tame even for him! Some of his favorites were Terence’s Driving School, Rocking Bulstrode, and Jeremy Jet’s Flying Academy. He was even brave enough to ride the Troublesome Trucks Runaway Coaster!
There are a number of family-friendly rides outside of Thomas Land as well, which we spent some time investigating. The Drunken Barrels (which was presumably named and themed some time ago—I doubt a family ride themed around beer barrels would get approval nowadays) are a fun, tilted spin on the classic teacups and the Wild West Shoot Out is great for everyone, even if actually hitting the targets is trickier than on some other similar rides. Sadly, the Pirate Adventure boat ride was closed for repairs the day we visited and our son is still too short to ride Drayton’s Dodgems. Later in the day, he braved both the Jolly Buccaneer and the Flying Dutchman, both of which had been greeted with a forceful, “no way!” in the morning!
Over the course of the afternoon, my husband and I took turns staying in Thomas Land with Fin while the other went off to ride some of the bigger thrill rides across the park. Drayton Manor is home to the only standing-up rollercoaster in Europe, Shockwave. After riding it, both of us declared it also the least comfortable rollercoaster in Europe. We both chickened out of riding the only new thrill addition since our previous visit, Air Race, mostly because it almost made me nauseous just by watching a ride video on YouTube. With most of the crowds concentrated in Thomas Land, the queues for the thrill rides were nearly non-existent, which was great for us as one parent could quickly nip off to ride one while the other rode a kids’ ride.
We had a fantastic day at Drayton Manor, so much so that we are planning an overnight stay at their hotel in August during the school summer break. The expansion to Thomas Land does not add enough to the park to win over any new converts—if the previous content was not enough to attract your family to visit, then I seriously doubt the additions will sway you. However, it is a welcome boost to the area for those who are visiting and adds more value for money to the park as a whole.
GeekMom received complimentary access to Drayton Manor park for this review.
To celebrate last week’s season finale of Supernatural, we’re taking a look at the wardrobe of Charlie Bradbury. Charlie is the archetypal geek girl—how could she be anything else when portrayed by the legendary Felicia Day—and her style is the ultimate in geek chic.
In the last few months, my 5-year-old son is now being taught spelling at school. As a result, I have been on the lookout for anything that will help him. One of the solutions I settled on quickly was using iPad apps.
Since we began using the iPad for spelling practice, his spelling has improved greatly, but much more importantly, his eagerness and enthusiasm about practicing spelling has improved too. Rather than battling to get a single practice in each night, not to mention the constant battle to find a scrap of paper and a single working pen despite the fact I had 50 of the darned things overflowing from a drawer last week, now I find him practicing spelling without even being asked—or choosing to go back over a few previous tests after completing his current one.
I wanted to share two great spelling apps with other parents who are in the same boat.