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.
This merry month of May the GeekMoms have been stuck on Mars, trapped in a strange town, debating the merits of STEM and creativity in our schools, and solving puzzles in a future dystopia. Check out our reading lists as we get ready for the summer.
There are some books whose titles that don’t just grab your attention, they leap up and lock your attention in a choke hold until you start reading them. The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy by Sam Maggs, released yesterday, is one of those titles. The second I spotted the book, and its amazing cover, I knew I had to read it right then and there.
Tomorrow Quirk book releases The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy: a “fun and feminist girl-power guide to the geek galaxy” written by The Mary Sue associate editor Sam Maggs. I spoke to Sam about her experiences growing up as a “fangirl”, learning to approach media critically, and her hopes for the next generation of geek girls.
GeekMom: At what age did you first realise you were a fangirl? Can you describe that moment? Sam Maggs: My parents both saw the first Star Wars film over twenty times in theaters, so I was pretty much destined to be a fangirl from the start. But my first foray into fandom was my obsession with Stargate SG-1, which I discovered when I was about twelve years old. Seeing a woman like Sam Carter on-screen, someone who could kick ass but was also an astrophysicist, was huge to me.
GM: What are some of your earliest memories that you look back on and think “only a geeky kid would have done that”? Sam: The hours upon hours I spent in my basement on my computer reading Stargate and West Wing fanfic instead of making friends, for sure. I was also the head of my elementary school’s Library Club.
GM: How has being a fangirl changed for you as you’ve grown up? Sam: Fandom has become more and more inclusive for women, so I’ve been able to meet so many ladies online, through social media, that I admire and am now friends with. There’s also so much more merchandise for girls now, so I can express my fandom that way too!
GM: In the book you discuss many different fandoms; do you consider yourself a part of any in particular? If so which ones and are there any fandoms you have left behind? Sam: I’m definitely a huge fan of Harry Potter, Tamora Pierce novels, Mass Effect, and Marvel comics. The Stargate fandom has died down over the years, but I would still consider myself a part of it. I had a Twilight phase for a while there, but who didn’t?
GM: You also share a great list of female role models from different kinds of geeky media. Who were your role models when you were growing up? Sam: I mentioned Sam Carter earlier, but Hermione was also big in getting me to accept my nerdy side and realize that it could be an asset, and wasn’t something to be ashamed of. Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness and The Immortals quartet featured Alanna and Daine, two kick-butt heroines I still adore.
GM: Who do you hope is going to pick up this book and read it? What do you hope they get from it? Sam: I hope that everyone can get something out of this book! For girls new to fandom, it might be a good primer; for veteran fangirls, you might find some new tips and tricks about cons or trolls or a new video game to pick up. I’d even recommend it for allies to see what it’s like to be a girl in fandom.
GM: What geeky events/moments would you like to share with the next generation of fangirls? Sam: I can’t wait to see more ladies at conventions! They’re so much fun and I just want everyone to be able to go to one!
GM: Do you feel that being a critical consumer is a necessary part of being a fangirl today, or is it possible to just enjoy a fandom without engaging in those debates? Sam: I think it’s important to remember that you can be a fan of something even if you realize that it’s problematic. But representation for women and minorities will never change unless we speak up about what we take issue with, so it’s definitely important to engage with media on a critical level to realize what you’re taking in and how it influences your views on gender and society.
But you can still like something even if it has issues!
GM: Do you feel that the convention scene has shifted in the last few years, especially for women? Where would you like it to go? Sam: It definitely has – con attendees are now nearly 50% women across the board. I would love to see more booths and panels catered specifically towards women – ECCC and C2E2 in particular are already doing a great job of this.
GM: Turning the tables from the interviews you did in the book: what does the word “fangirl” mean to you? Sam: It means loving something passionately and without embarrassment. It means the things you love have changed your life for the better.
GM: How has being a geek positively influenced your life? Sam: It’s basically given me everything – my career, my friends, my partner. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to make my fangirliness into a career, because I love sharing the things about which I’m passionate with other ladies. Plus, with the advent of social media, I was able to meet so many amazing people through our shared interests that I never would have met otherwise, including my partner! I’m very grateful.
GM: If you could give geek girls advice for their careers or personal lives, what would it be? Sam: Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to love what you love and to be who you are. If the people around you don’t like it, there are a million other people out there who will.
The GeekMoms have taken advantage of Spring Breaks and Easter holidays to get some reading in. This month their selections include math in The Simpsons, a mysterious town in Idaho, YA science fiction, and a teenage girl from Japan determined to chronicle the life of her great gandmother.
It’s been six weeks since the Sleepy Hollow hiatus began, and if you’re anything like me you’re really starting to miss the weekly adventures of Abbie, Ichabod, Jenny, Frank, and the other inhabitants of the little New York town. I’ve been reading my way through the various Sleepy Hollow publications on offer to see which are worth reading over the summer. Continue reading GeekMom Approved Reads for Surviving a ‘Sleepy Hollow’ Hiatus
What’s actually happened?
Rumors have been flying regarding a return for The X-Files for several months now. Here’s what’s official. Today Variety announced that a six episode “event series” has been greenlit by FOX with production set to begin this summer.
This is a revival of the show and not a reboot, meaning stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny are set to return, as is series creator Chris Carter.
Why bring it back?
It’s been 13 years since the show went off air with a feature film (I Want to Believe) released in 2008, so why bring it back now?
The original TV run left a lot of questions unanswered, specifically regarding the show’s overall alien invasion mytharc. The 2008 film was a standalone story that didn’t serve to answer those questions and fans have been clamouring ever since for a third film or return from the show to finally tie up all the loose ends.
I haven’t watched The X-Files in years. What do I need to watch to get ready?
The show is currently on both Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime (for those in the US), but with 202 episodes and two films to get through, that’s a big ask even without knowing when the show is returning to screens. For those looking to catch up reasonably quickly it’s best to stick to the mythology episodes.
My recommendation would be:
S1: “Pilot”, “E.B.E.”, “The Erlenmeyer Flask” S2: “Duane Barry”/”Ascension”/”One Breath”, “Colony”/”End Game”, “Anasazi” S3: “The Blessing Way”/”Paper Clip”, “Nisei”/”731”, “Piper Maru”/”Apocrypha”, “Talitha Cumi” S4:“Herrenvolk”, “Tunguska”/”Terma”, “Memento Mori”, “Gethsemane” S5: “Redux”/”Redux II”, “Christmas Carol”/”Emily”, “Patient X”/”The Red & The Black”, “The End” Fight the Future S6: “The Beginning”, “Two Fathers”/”One Son”, “Biogenesis” S7: “The Sixth Extinction”/”Amor Fati”, “Sein Und Zeit”/”Closure”, “Requiem” S8: “Within”/”Without”, “Per Manum”, “This Is Not Happening”/”Deadalive”, “Essence”/”Existence” S9: “Nothing Important Happened Today” 1 and 2, “Trust No 1”, “Provenance”/”Providence”, “Jump the Shark”, “William”, “The Truth” 1 and 2
It’s still a huge list but it’s more manageable than all 200 plus!
Isn’t there a comic series?
Season 10 is an ongoing comic book series written by Joe Harris set several years after the events of the second movie, which places it in 2014/5. We’re not sure yet how the comic book stories will tie in with the new TV episodes or how canon those events will be, but with Chris Carter as Executive Producer on both the TV revival and the comics we’re sure all will be revealed.
We know Mulder and Scully are back, what about everyone else? (SPOILERS) When the show ended in 2002 several major characters had been killed off, including the Cigarette Smoking Man and The Lone Gunmen. The Season 10 comics have revived the Gunmen completely while the status of the Smoking Man, Krycek, and several other shadowy characters in up for debate.
Rumor has it that Mitch Pileggi has been approached about reprising his role as Walter Skinner, and the Season 10 comics have included agents Doggett and Reyes, so there’s a chance both will return, assuming of course that shooting can be arranged around Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish’s busy schedules.
Jemma Simmons has a style that combines practical geek with feminine. Her wardrobe is full of cute pieces that emphasize her “nice girl” demeanor, especially when contrasted with the black and leather in the outfits worn by Skye and May.
As we sprung forward and lost a precious hour of sleep, the GeekMoms still found time to cram in plenty of reading. This month’s selection includes demonic advice, a future British dystopia, and dinosaur sex–just thankfully not all at once! Read on to delve deeper into what we’ve been reading.
Lieutenant Abigail Mills from Fox Network’s Sleepy Hollow is one of the toughest cops on television; and her wardrobe reflects that. Abbie’s clothing is all about practicality and comfort, after all, you can’t go chasing down demons, witches, and monsters in stiletto heels and party dresses. Her simple style makes her easy to emulate and it’s a look that can be adapted to suit anyone.
Neutrals: Abbie sticks almost exclusively to neutral shades in her clothing which serves to compliment both her stunning skin tone and hair color. Neutrals are great because they can be worn by everyone and are nearly always flattering (there’s a reason why every woman owns a basic black dress). Stick with greys, blacks, browns, and perhaps a touch of navy blue and you’re halfway to achieving Abbie’s look.
V-Necks: Another staple of Abbie’s wardrobe is the v-neck t-shirt. Wear one with a plain vest top in a contrasting shade underneath for instant layers. This technique is also great for adding some extra warmth to your outfit without adding bulk if you’re in a cold climate.
Boots: I love Abbie’s choice of footwear. How many female law enforcement agents do you see on TV wearing ludicrously impractical heels (I’m looking at you Kate Beckett). Not so Abbie; she sticks with comfy, practical short boots that are just as great for running away from demons as they are for kicking some serious butt.
Skinny Jeans: Nothing goes with boots quite like a good pair of skinny jeans. Try to find the time to shop around for your jeans (yeah I know, I hate clothes shopping too) but the range of cuts and styles that make it so damn annoying also increases the likelihood that at least some will look amazing on you. BuzzFeed recently ran a feature where one of its female contributors tried on 10 different pairs of jeans that all claimed to be the same size. The variety of results she came up with was mind-boggling; just keep that in mind when one store claims you are two sizes larger than what you thought.
Jackets: Abbie has a number of different jackets but she always sticks to shorter lengths that end around her hips. Most of her jackets are leather, usually in either brown or tan, however she does have a few more distinctive ones including some designs with contrasting sleeves in a different color and/or fabric. A leather jacket in a style that suits you is one of my basic wardrobe essentials because they go with so much and work through much of the year.
Accessories and Make Up: Abbie usually keeps the accessories to a minimum–she’s all about practicality–but one item we have seen her don is her military style cap. It’s a less common style than the broadly similar baseball cap (more hipster-y beret) but once again it’s a practical choice. Abbie’s makeup is always very natural, almost to the point of barely being able to tell she’s wearing any. She uses a soft pink lipstick and natural or nude shades of eye-shadow to keep with the neutral look.
BONUS: Jenny Mills
Abbie’s sister Jenny wears many of the same fashions as her sister (neutral tones, skinny jeans and boots). However, there is one thing that makes her unique: her shoulders. Nearly all Jenny’s outfits draw attention to her shoulders in some way. Examples include sleeveless tshirts that cut off across the shoulder line and military style vest tops. Jenny also favours hoodies over her sister’s short jackets.
Back in my early days at GeekMom in 2011, I wrote a post listing My Top Ten Tear-Jerking Moments in Science Fiction. Since then, I’ve watched lots of new TV shows and movies—some of it sci-fi, some of it not (my original list includes entries that are closer to fantasy than true sci-fi and so does this one)—and so I felt that my list was due for an update. Here then are nine new additions to my list. Some are rather old to the world, but they’ve been new to me in the past four years and they have all made me cry.
BEWARE: Spoilers abound from the beginning—and make sure you have tissues in hand.
Fringe – “Peter”
In the latest addition to my list (I only watched this episode for the first time this week), Walter recounts the events of his son’s death in 1985 and his subsequent actions to Olivia. This episode creates my own personal “perfect storm” of things guaranteed to reduce me to an emotional wreck: sick children, dying children, mothers losing their children, and the subject of these events being boys—I only have a son, so anything to do with boys seems to affect me disproportionately. By the end of those 42 minutes, I was effectively one giant ball of emotion and I’m still not quite fully recovered.
Marvel’s The Avengers
Do I even need to say it? It’s been three years, I’ve even had Coulson given back to me, and yet I still haven’t forgiven Joss Whedon for what I went through in that cinema. The worst part wasn’t seeing him stabbed (although that physically hurt), but watching the reactions of each Avenger as they learn about his death over the comm. A group of “extraordinary people” temporarily incapacitated by the death of one very ordinary man.
Supernatural – “The Man Who Would Be King”
I could very easily make an entire list of sad moments just from Supernatural—and it wouldn’t be a short list, either. The show is probably one of the most consistently heartbreaking things on TV that has nothing to do with Joss Whedon. Most lists I’ve seen out there focus on Sam and Dean moments, but my personal choice is all about Castiel. After an entire episode focused on the (frequently wrong) choices he has been making, Castiel pleads to his father (God, for those of you unaware that Castiel is an angel) to offer him guidance and give him a sign that he is “on the right path.” His face when he is met by nothing but silence is heartbreaking.
Guardians of The Galaxy
I’ve seen this film several times now and yet somehow, I always forget about its opening. I think perhaps it’s just so painful that I block it out. Actually, it seems to be some kind of collective block on the part of all geeks. Google “Guardians of The Galaxy Opening Scene,” and you’ll see almost nothing but references to the scene that comes after this one. You know, the funny one with the dancing and the “microphone” made from a space rat? However, we must all be forced to accept that the film actually opens on Earth in 1988, where a young Peter Quill visits his dying mother in hospital. The desperate way he clutches at her hand and realizes it’s too late breaks me every time.
Warehouse 13 – “Emily Lake”
This entire episode is a roller-coaster, with the discovery that Jinks has been working undercover and was not the traitor we worried he was. That relief was, of course, short-lived. The worst part about the scene where his body was discovered wasn’t actually the moment we saw it, but normally laugh-a-minute Pete’s futile attempt to act like nothing is wrong as he asks, then begs Claudia not to go into the room. There’s a lot that could be said about how the show’s only canonically gay character (Helena is bi) was the one killed off. However, in this instance, I’m merely acknowledging those issues because Jinks was fully resurrected shortly afterwards. Somehow, however, even that knowledge doesn’t lessen the impact of that scene.
For the most part, Zombieland is a comedy about Twinkies, Bill Murray, and “The Rules,” but underneath that it’s really a story about family. We spend most of the film believing that tough-guy Tallahassee misses his dog, but over a game of Monopoly one word gives away to everyone, us included, that he has actually been talking about his young son. We see him break down and get a series of flashbacks to a younger, happier man with his adorable toddler. The scene gets some added emotional weight due to how unexpected it is, both in its placement within the story and that it shows the most “macho” tough character unashamedly crying in front of the others.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “The Magical Place”
Agent Coulson should probably get some sort of award for being the only character to make it onto my list twice. As for Whedon… *Ahem* After his untimely death, Coulson made his reappearance on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., bringing with him a whole lot of questions about, well, just how it was that he was even breathing. In this episode, we saw him undergo a procedure to help him remember his resurrection and the results are agonizing for both him and the viewer.
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part Two
There are countless moments in this film that made me cry: Snape discovering Lily’s body, Hedwig’s death, the Weasley’s clinging to one another around Fred. But the one that really did me in was Harry speaking to his parents in the forest. Perhaps it’s because I lost a parent at a very young age, but the thought of his being able to speak with some version of them, even if they are little more than shadows, brings me to tears. Tears which peak when he asks that most childish question but one every adult still wants answered, “Does it hurt?”
Twin Peaks – “Arbitrary Law”
In this episode, Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed in the form of the entity BOB, who resided within her father. In this heartbreaking scene, BOB forces his host to violently slam his head into a door, resulting in fatal trauma. As Leland dies, BOB’s spirit leaves him and he finally realizes what he did, begging forgiveness from God, Laura, and the men around him. Knowing that Leland himself isn’t really to blame, Cooper talks him “into the light” and allows him to find peace.
What have you watched lately that’s brought you to tears?
Agent Peggy Carter with her elegant 1940s chic and ball-busting attitude is the current darling of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Marvel fans and feminists alike applauding Agent Carter‘s daring take on what it meant to be a woman at the end of the Second World War. Peggy’s wardrobe has become something of a character in and of itself with an entire section of the show’s official website given over to analysis of her costumes (and those of other characters on the show—especially Dottie and Angie) and discussions with costume designer Giovanna “Gigi” Ottobre-Melton. It only seems fair then that we should kick off our new GeekMom Fashion Inspiration feature with a look at how to recreate Peggy’s look for yourself.
Tailored: While most of us wouldn’t be able to afford to have our clothes personally tailored, well cut clothing is essential in emulating Peggy Carter’s style. Although not always formal, her clothes are always neat with clean lines and little fuss. Forget frills and lace, her outfits are minimalistic yet very feminine, partly as a result of fabric rationing after the war. Watch out for wide collars and lapels—these are a trademark of Peggy’s style and often have contrasting angles and shapes.
Military: Peggy is a patriot—she was Captain America’s sweetheart after all—and that is reflected in her clothing. Look out for pieces with military style including Naval (she rocks a stunning navy blue dress with white stripes in episode two) and use tones of red, white, and blue. The symbolism can be subtle, such as the Eagle Wing pin brooch above which resembles Air Force wings, but remember that wearing actual medals is a big no-no unless you earned them yourself.
Stripes: Possibly for another patriotic nod, Peggy is often seen wearing stripes, sometimes more subtly than others. Her suits often have a subtle pin stripe to them and we’ve seen bolder stripes on her hats and dresses too. Try to avoid wearing them alongside a starry item unless you want to emulate Uncle Sam instead.
Skirts:Agent Carter is set in the 1940s when most women wore skirts or dresses every day. In order to reflect Peggy’s style, keep skirts a modest knee-length and cleanly cut; pencils and A-lines work best. Anything too long will get tangled around your legs if you have to take down some Hydra agents on your way to the office.
Accessories: Peggy often wears low heels that aren’t too showy but maintain feminine details with thin straps. Her shoes always match the overall color of her outfit, unlike her purses which are frequently in a contrasting color as with her belts. Of course Peggy’s most iconic accessory is her red hat. In the 1940s hats were commonplace, whereas today you’ll probably attract some attention simply by wearing one. The fedora has garnered some bad press lately thanks to its association with GamerGate (even though it’s been frequently mixed up with the trilby) but hopefully the combined awesome of Peggy Carter and Indiana Jones can restore its once good name.
Hair and Make Up: Peggy’s hair is always flawless. Personally I am a strong advocate of the roll-out-of-bed-and-comb-my-fingers-through-it school of hair maintenance but that simply will not fly with a Peggy Carter outfit. Her hair is usually styled in soft wavy curls but is occasionally pinned up for more formal occasions. Peggy’s makeup is mostly subtle except for her lips which are always bright red. Actress Hayley Atwell has revealed on Twitter that the show uses Besame’s 1946 Red Velvet to get that glorious red shade. To cap off the look, use a bright red nail polish too.
This month’s Between the Bookends sees the GeekMoms reading about talking cows, dystopian future entertainment, a steampunked wild west, a wall of Trudd, and some big changes for Harry Dresden.
Sophie‘s 2015 resolution to read more has started off well as she is currently on her seventh book of the year. She really enjoyed David Duchovny’s debut novel Holy Cow, a somewhat surreal book told in the first person by a cow named Elsie. Elsie learns about meat farms and decides to escape her home and fly to India where she will be worshiped as a goddess. Along for the ride are a Jewish pig named Shalom and Tom the turkey who is starving himself to avoid ending up on a plate come Thanksgiving. The book is highly irreverent but also includes a deeper moral message.
She has also been reading some non-fiction behind-the-scenes books about television. Wrapped in Plastic looks at the importance of Twin Peaks twenty-five years on from its initial broadcast. Whether you love the show or hate it, its impact on modern television cannot be understated. Showrunners examines the rise of the showrunner in the last two decades, the person with overall responsibility for a television show from writing to finance. It suffered from a lack of depth caused by trying to cover too many ideas with input from too many people but still managed to convey a sense of what the role is all about.
Sophie is currently reading Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey with her bookclub. The story is set in a dystopian future where social class is determined by which colors a person can perceive and how strongly. It’s a very strange book so far with a strong sense of Douglas Adams-style whimsy although she hopes the pace will pick up soon as she is finding it becoming a little repetitive.
Ariane finished reading Changes, book 12 of the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. She had been warned to expect big changes for wizard Harry Dresden in this book, made obvious with a title like Changes. In fact, Ariane had been told that there was going to be so many changes that she’d be left begging for the changes to stop. With a warning like that, she braced herself through the whole book for the imminent changes to blow her mind, and she found herself disappointed that said changes didn’t actually really happen until the last ten pages. At least in the end, the very, very end, changes did happen and did blow her mind. Thank goodness it’s not the last book available in the series, because Changes ended on quite the cliffhanger. Ariane had to go start the next book right away to find out what happened next.
Fran read Karen Memory again—the steampunk/wild west story about an gold-rush era “sewing club” (ahem) and the amazing women who run it was so much fun to read the first time, she gave in to temptation and read it again (you can read Fran’s interview with author Elizabeth Bear at SF Signal). She also read V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic—Multiple Londons! Amazing Sartorial Feats! MAGIC!—and the non-fiction The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. The latter is filled with the history of coroner’s science as well as poisons. Okay. A Darker Shade of Magic‘s got some poison and pointy sharp things too. She’s now reading Jodi Meadows’ YA The Orphan Queen, and Ken Liu’s upcoming Dandelion Dynasty book: The Grace of Kings.
Laura normally avoids dystopian novels but she loved Station Eleven. The author, Emily St. John Mandel, writes tenderly about the current world we take for granted. A world where small rectangles hold the power to connect us with people around the world, where metal cylinders transport passengers across the sky, where warm air flows at the touch of a button, and something magical called the Internet answers every question. In Station Eleven, this time has passed although it can be remembered through artifacts on display at the Museum of Civilization. This novel describes a future where 99% of the population has been killed by a horrific plaque. As expected, there are many dangers including the threat of survivalist gangs and cults. There’s also a troupe of artists who travel from settlement to settlement playing Beethoven and performing Shakespeare. Their motto is lifted from Star Trek: “Survival is insufficient.” Through storylines that stretch across decades, the reader comes to know all sorts of characters whose lives intersect in unexpectedly compelling ways.
Being a book nerd, Laura promptly read two earlier novels by Emily St. John Mandel. The Singer’s Gun centers on a man who was raised by a family of thieves but tries to live more conventionally, even though his job and his love life hinge on deceit. The story takes us from art theft to espionage to an island in Italy where secrets aren’t what they seem.
In The Lola Quartet, the author gives us another disgraced character, this time a promising journalist whose professional lapses force him to move back to his hometown. When he’s shown a picture of a child who may be his daughter, he’s caught up in a dangerous swirl of vengeance he didn’t anticipate. Emily St. John Mandel is an excellent writer. Her novels showcase her many fascinations, from weather to music to comic books to the nuances of personal responsibility. Any of her books are worthy reads. Station Eleven is a new pinnacle, don’t miss it!
Rebecca Angel has been reading the Mark Crilley Akiko series to her nieces. Currently they are on Akiko and the Great Wall of Trudd. Akiko is a human girl who is contacted by very nice aliens to come with them and help their king on the planet Smoo. Akiko decides to go, and sets off with the knowledgeable Mr. Beeba, brave Spuckler, helpful robot Gax, and the sweet but mysterious Poog. It’s a great series with humor, adventure, and learning about courage and leadership. Independent readers will enjoy it, but it makes a fantastic read-aloud!
GeekMom received some of these items for review purposes.
Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is a Kickstarter-funded documentary film and book that examines the role of the showrunner. Not all that long ago, nobody had ever heard of the term “showrunner” and only die hard fans knew the names of anybody involved in creating their favorite TV shows beyond the main cast. In the last decade or so, all that has changed. Showrunners like Joss Whedon, Bill Prady, and Damon Lindelof are now household names each with their own devoted fanbase who follow their careers between shows and across media.
Showrunners the Movie is a 90-minute exploration of just what it is a showrunner does, how and why they do it, the challenges they face, and more. In creating it, the producers interviewed dozens of showrunners including Jane Espenson (Caprica), Hart Hanson (Bones), Janet Tamaro (Rizzoli & Isles), and Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse) and quizzed them about every aspect of their work. What makes a good showrunner? What does your work day look like? What are the best (and worst) parts of the job? What results is a broad look at TV production in the teenage years of the new millennium. It’s an industry in flux as new distribution and funding mechanisms such as Netflix, Amazon Originals, webseries, and Kickstarter-funded productions such as Veronica Mars leave traditional networks scrambling to assert their place. That sense of mild confusion is palpable throughout both the film and the book.
Although the film is interesting in that it covers a lot of ground and thus allows a wide variety of thoughts, opinions, and stories to be voiced, it suffers in that that same breadth never allows for much depth to occur. The film asks a question then jumps from showrunner to showrunner seeking answers. As fascinating as it is to see that variety (every showrunner takes a different approach—after all, the production of a serialized show on HBO has to differ greatly to that of a mainstream network procedural), I would have loved to see some focus. Show me a day in a showrunner’s life in detail. Let me see the minutiae of their workday, the ups and the downs, the tough decisions and the great laughs. Of course that’s a difficult thing to capture on film. As the showrunners being interviewed explain themselves, no two days are the same and different problems are being thrown up every day, but at least is would have gone some way to prevent the slightly superficial feel that the film suffers from.
The book provides more of the same, broadly following the same path the documentary did but without the constraints of time. This allows it to include the full answers given by each showrunner to the many questions they were asked. If you read the book soon after watching the documentary (as I did) you will constantly find lines that you remember hearing spoken out loud. Chapters include “The Script is King” which looks at staffing a writers’ room, an explanation of pilot season, and a look at the basic TV act structure, “The Politics of Making Television,” and “Connecting to the Matrix,” which discusses the internet and its impact on showrunning. Between these chapters are “In Depth” features which look at subjects like “Women & Minority Showrunners” and “How Lost Changed Showrunning,” as well as longer, focused segments on specific points such as showrunner “burnout.” One of the most interesting sections is a piece from Joss Whedon on how he considers himself a “company man” and his surprise at finding himself labelled a “rebel.”
The accompanying book has many of the same problems as the documentary. The question/answer format seen on screen is translated onto the page, so you read the question, then a series of answers from each showrunner. There is no flow, just a series of loosely connected anecdotes, opinions, and stories which quickly serve to make the book feel monotonous even though the content is actually very interesting and insightful. I even spotted chunks of answers/dialogue being re-used in multiple chapters on more than one occasion. With better formatting Showrunners would have been a joy to read, as it is the book suffers from creating the sensation of reading dictated notes. However, if you’re the kind of person who has a real interest in TV production, Showrunners is a window into a world most of us will never experience.
Since the announcement from David Lynch that Twin Peaks will be returning in 2016 following a 25 year break, interest in the surreal little Washington town is, well, Peak-ing! Articles discussing the show are appearing all over, even the mainstream media and social media is abuzz with weird quotes about owls, coffee, and cherry pie. If it’s been a long time since your last visit to the place with fantastic trees, or you’d just like to explore the town in a little more depth, then Andy Burns’ new book Wrapped in Plastic might be perfect for you.
Wrapped in Plastic is the fourth book in the Pop Classics series from ECW Press, a series designed to “offer intelligent but accessible arguments about why a particular pop phenomenon matters.” The book explores the show from a variety of angles but never digs deep into technicalities that could make the book less accessible to casual fans, making it a perfect introduction to further reading on the series. It’s short, punchy, and perfect for dipping into in short bursts while waiting in the car or sitting on the bleachers. The book begins with a look at the way modern TV differs from that of the pre-Peaks era, examining how much more bold and cinematic the medium has become over the decades. “Twin Peaks didn’t immediately redefine the night-time soap opera,” it says, it just “modeled ‘the unexplored possibilities that the medium held.’”
We begin with an exploration of the people and the town of Twin Peaks itself. There are discussions not only of superficial aspects of life such as Audrey Horne’s now iconic outfits, but of the way these elements are used to mask a darkness under the surface of the entire community. It’s a concept that would go on to be explored in shows such as Chris Carter’s Millennium (1996) and arguably Breaking Bad (2008). There is a brief history of how the show came to be on air in the first place with a look at David Lynch’s work up to that point and the shows that inspired it including British sci-fi show The Prisoner. Lynch’s directing style is discussed in detail, as is how it was passed on to others who worked on the show. Peaks star Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs) describes the style as, “ethereal” with Lynch sharing dreams or music he felt would explain the vibe of what he wanted to get across. Other directors were, “not obligated to use the house style,” but rather asked to study the vocabulary of the pilot and use it to maintain a consistent feel to the show. Twin Peaks was never weird for weird’s sake despite how it might seem to those who never got the show. Rather those behind it were simply open to whatever spirit moves the artist. Rather than forcing weirdness (as happened with one director who didn’t quite understand what was required) the show simply went with the flow, whatever strange directions that flow might lead.
Away from the obvious weirdness of show aspects like the Log Lady and The Man from Another Place, Wrapped in Plastic also considers the more serious subjects tackled on Twin Peaks. The show was one of the first to tackle the subject of incest on American television, and certainly the first to do so on a network show. Spirituality was also explored through concepts like the Red and White lodges, through the Judeo-Christian iconography of the white horse seen by Sarah Palmer, and a scene inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The show allowed all of its characters to have complexity–even those with little more than bit parts–and gave them opportunities to change and grow throughout its run. The antagonistic relationship between town bigwig Benjamin Horne and his daughter Audrey is a strong example of this. We watch Audrey support her father through a mental breakdown that results not only in the two of them developing a strong bond, but also in the redemption of a character who had previously been squarely lumped into the bad guy category.
The book ends with a look at the way Twin Peaks has itself gone on to inspire new television. Many shows have parodied Twin Peaks including The Simpsons, Darkwing Duck, and Psych. The Latter turned an entire episode into a Twin Peaks homage—even going so far as to name the episode “Duel Spires”. Other shows have taken less direct inspiration. Picket Fences, Northern Exposure and Gravity Falls all have aspects that can be traced back to that strange small town. Wrapped in Plastic does a great job of exploring just why Twin Peaks has become such an important stop in the history of television. It’s somewhat meandering, without well-defined chapters, and occasionally jumps from idea to idea without giving them the word count you hope it would (I often found myself pausing to consult Google and further explore a name or idea) but as an introduction to thinking deeper about the show, it’s exactly what you would want.
Interestingly, at the very end of the book, a quotation from David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer (author of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer) is included that vehemently denies any possibility of a new series. “I’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth,” she states, “there’s nothing in the works. What on Earth do people think would happen now? Everybody’s different. You can’t go back there.” Whatever you may think, the truth is that since the manuscript for Wrapped in Plastic was completed, things have changed forever. We are indeed going back. As for what will happen, who’s to say? All I know is that gum I like has definitely come back in style.