Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Time: Glancing Back and Looking Ahead's quite an overwhelming concept if you think about it.

As the year draws to a close, I wish to take a moment and reflect on all that 2014 brought me and envision all that 2015 has to offer.

Glancing back.........

The biggest life change of 2014 was the decision to leave my teaching position. While that was an incredibly rewarding job, the decision to leave was the best choice of the year.  It was just.....time.

I lost a dear high school friend. An unexpected loss that made me realize first-hand how fragile life and time truly are.  No one is guaranteed tomorrow. And, if we will only realize that, perhaps we would live today differently.

The second half of 2014 found me as a stay-at-home mom to my two tween-aged sons.  This was the biggest highlight of the year and time I will always cherish. 

Over the year, I also traveled to some amazing places: Barbados, Aruba, Montreal, Barcelona, Lisbon, Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Southern California.  I created memories and had experiences that will surpass the test of time.

I bit the bullet and started blogging.  I didn't really have any specific goals for the blog or a specific direction, but here I am.  I am enjoying watching it morph into whatever it is meant to be over time.  I have been blown away by those who have supported me in this endeavor and for all the readers that stop by and continue to return.  Thank you!

Want to see and feel the effects of time? Explore a cave!
Harrison's Cave, Barbados 

Looking ahead.........

I don't really know what 2015 has in store for me.  Will I go back to work? That remains to be seen given some time.

I hope more travel is in my future for 2015.  It seems to be! And, at the moment, it looks like I will have the time to do so.

I will continue to blog for as long as it is rewarding. I am curious where this journey will take through time.

And, as I sit back and look at my oldest cat, Hunter, now over 17 years of age and with ailing health, I can't help but wonder if 2015 will be his last bit of time here with me.

However, I have so much to be grateful for. And, so much to look forward to! I'm sure 2015 will bring some downs along with what I hope to be many ups. We can attempt to look down the path before us and see what lies ahead, but our attempts will be futile. 

Only time will tell........  

May you have a happy, healthy, and memorable New Year!

Read more of my blog here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Family Movie Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Just back from the final film in the Night at the Museum trilogy.  It did NOT disappoint.  While we are once again reunited with many of our favorite personalities from the first two films, we are also delighted by the addition of new characters including Dan Stevens as Sir Lancelot, the great Ben Kingsley as Ahkmenrah's father, and Rebel Wilson, who was a hoot as British Museum's security guard, Mindy.  There is also a wonderful cameo from Hugh Jackman that received many laughs. 

It was great to see so many adults and teens in the theater NOT present with younger kids because, honestly, this film is for everyone!  Secret of the Tomb is just as fresh and creative as the first two movies. The writing is wonderful and, while there is the usual in-your-face humor that younger audiences love, there are many innuendos and sophisticated references that are targeted to older crowds. 

There are also SEVERAL touching moments in this film as Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) deals with the inevitable conflict a parent faces when their child is becoming an adult.  And, as a mom who just dropped her son off at the mall to meet friends for the first time, this was hitting home on a very personal note!  

For parents, this film is rated PG for some mild action, rude humor, and brief language.  I do not feel there is anything inappropriate for young viewers (except a very large, scary triceratops), but most jokes will be wasted on those under 9. And, like I said, many others will only be caught by older moviegoers. 

While this film works as a stand-alone, I suggest you watch the first two films if you haven't already done so.  They are also clever and highly enjoyable. 

There are some amazing lines in this film, both humorous and sentimental leaving this mom a bit emotional at the end.  Take into consideration that this film was dedicated to the late Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams and you had me wiping away tears by the end.  

For more of my Family Movie Reviews click here.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Legoland Florida: For the Lego Enthusiast of All Ages!

The other day my youngest son (aged 10) and I headed off to LEGOLAND Florida.  This was our third trip to this particular amusement park, a mere two and a half hour drive north of home. A friend asked me if the park is worth it as she was thinking of taking her son there.  So, here you go, the skinny on LEGOLAND Florida.

What Families Need to Know: 

The park is marketed toward families of those with kids up to 12 years old. However, unless your child is a huge Lego fan, that age may be pushing it a bit. My ten-year-old loves the park for one reason - the Legos, not the rides!  So keep that in mind when planning a visit.

There's TONS to do with smaller kids including an entire "Duplo Valley" for the youngest of visitors. 

Look for character photo opportunities throughout the park all day!

Your kids should take the time to climb and run around in one of the numerous play areas, including a couple of splash areas (in the main park) for young ones to cool off in. If it's going to be warm, go prepared with bathing suits as these areas offer some relief from the heat.  

There are plenty of restrooms (a problem I have with some parks) and plenty of restaurants to choose from.  However, feel free to bring in snacks of your own. They aren't as strict as some other theme parks. No coolers, of course. 

Main Attractions:

Even if you're older than 12 and not a Lego fan, you will be amazed at the incredible sculptures built entirely of Legos situated throughout the park.  They truly are a work of art. Spend some time in Miniland marveling at the incredible Lego models of international cities. Plus, that's where you'll find the Star Wars exhibits which are truly out of this world.  

There are only a few "big" rides and even they're not so big.  Do not go expecting major rides like in some of the other Orlando theme parks. My favorite ride is The Dragon, a very tame roller coaster, but Flying School is awesome too!  Don't forget to have your kids check out the Driving School - a huge draw - where they can actually drive their own cars.  

Make sure you hit at least one of the 4D Movies.  There are usually a few different ones playing throughout the day.  They are short but worth it.  Plus, the air-conditioned theater will get you out of the Florida heat for a while.  

The Water Park (which I have never been to) is only open in the summer months (June-August) AND the main park itself closes regularly on specific days throughout the year.  Check their operating hours at before you plan your trip.  Also, your ticket to the main park does NOT include the water park.  That has a separate entrance fee along with parking at an additional $14 per vehicle.   

***Note: If you plan on going on the "Quest for Chi" ride - you will notice the warning signs that say, "You WILL get soaked." - Yes, they're not kidding.  Not so bad when it's hot, but last year was quite cold.  However, my sons were dying to go on it.  I succumbed to the pressure and bought over-priced ponchos at one of the gift shops.  This year I went prepared! 

Is It Worth It?

At the time of this review, ticket prices are $87 plus tax for adults and $80 plus tax for seniors and kids up to 12 years of age. 

TIP: NEVER pay these prices!  Honestly, the park is not worth that amount of money.  There are some special deals on their website and the price is reduced IF you buy a ticket in advance for a specific day, but the ticket will ONLY be good for the specified day - so your plans cannot change.  

The best deal I've ever found (and the one I've used each time I've visited the park) is the buy an adult ticket and get a free child's ticket.  At that price, the entrance fee becomes worth it.  These deals are offered through various fast-food chains (at the moment, McDonald's) and in the Lego magazine my son subscribes to. 

General Information: 

Overall, this is a fun day for families. My three visits were during the fall and winter and the only time I experienced crowds was during their Halloween special event. And, even then, it didn't compare to the masses I've seen at other theme parks at peak times.  

The park is small enough that one day is MORE than sufficient to see it all (except perhaps in the summer months, when crowds are worse AND the water park is open.)  I do suggest getting there right at opening time.  If you do, the park will practically be empty for a couple of hours. 

There are several hands-on activity areas that are worth checking out and everyone needs to see the Pirates' Cove Live Water Ski Show at least once.  

Legoland Florida was built on what was once Cypress Gardens along beautiful Lake Eloise. Be sure to take a walk through the small area that remains of what was once these stunning botanical gardens.  It is a nice place to go and get away from the crowds, have a snack, and take in some of the beautiful landscape. 


Have no fear!  In the tradition of all major theme parks, there are TONS of stores conveniently located throughout the park.  I swear they are the main attraction for my son who makes sure he frequents EACH one AT LEAST twice. Their prices are the same as other lego stores and at  

TIP: Some stores will carry the occasional retired set or hard to find sets.  There is also a discount store that offers clearance and sale items. I suggest you shop there first.  It is called Extreme Brick Bargain Shop. 


The park is constantly expanding.  Set to open in Summer 2015 is their on-site hotel and resort which has Lego themed rooms that look beyond FUN! Guess who has already asked to go back just to see that? 

Similar Post:

Universal Orlando

Friday, December 26, 2014

Charming Memoir of the Making of the Best Film Ever Made! (Book Review)

As You Wish by Cary Elwes (with Joe Layden) is a memoir depicting the making of the film The Princess Bride - the best movie ever made - and is as delightful as the fairy tale it's about.  The film, based on the book by William Goldman, is a "timeless classic" (to borrow words from Elwes) and one that I shared with my boys (on VHS!) several years ago. Needless to say, I was quite excited about the release of this book.  

Right off the bat, Elwes (who played Westley) is charming and witty.  His honest accounts of the making of this movie are both heartwarming and humorous. Elwes allows us into his personal admissions of  insecurities and nervousness on one page and will have you literally laughing out loud on the next. One of my favorite stories is how Elwes and director Rob Reiner had to leave the set during Billy Crystal's cameo because they couldn't stop laughing - which certainly doesn't come as a surprise.  The others, however, I will not spoil for you.  But, I will say, there are some scenes you will not watch the same way again after reading this book. Not in a bad way, but with more appreciation and tenderness. 

The reader gets an intimate look at the working relationship (and subsequent friendships) this cast and crew shared. The way Elwes speaks of fellow crew and cast members is genuine and warm. He does a brilliant job of capturing the personalities of  Reiner and others through his stories and memories.  He speaks with such affection for all the cast members as he recounts the making of this beloved film.  I particularly treasured his tales of Andre the Giant (Fezzik) - whose heart truly seemed larger than life. 

One of the best features of the book is the recollections provided by several cast members including Robin Wright (Buttercup), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), and Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck) - just to name a few. Their personal accounts of filming The Princess Bride only make the movie MORE endearing to its fans - if that is even possible.  They all speak of each other and their experiences on this set so complimentary. It makes the movie that much more lovable.  

There are many other stories from this book I want to mention, but, as I said earlier, I'm trying desperately not to steal your fun.  I can, however, share that movie buffs will appreciate the fact that Patinkin and Elwes trained for months so they could complete the sword fight (one of the most infamous scenes in the film) without the use of stunt doubles. Who said acting is easy? There wasn't one story told that I did not enjoy and, honestly, I didn't want them to end! This book truly honors all those involved in making this film.  

I recommend As You Wish to those who would enjoy a sneak peak inside the movie industry and one of the longest-standing cult classics of all times.  For fans of The Princess Bride and those interested in getting a close-up and personal look into a beloved film, this is a real treat. What a fabulous tribute! 

This is one book I am excited to have in my permanent collection. 

The Princess Bride: A Note About the Film

A friend of mine recently asked me which film I buy over and over again on different media. My response was a dumbfounded, "Huh?" 

"You know," he explained, "which film do you buy as technology changes?"  I admitted I never repurchased a movie.  BUT, what I didn't share is that I have kept a VCR hidden in the back of my closet for one purpose alone - The Princess Bride.  

This is without a doubt one of my favorite movies of all times. I have seen it hundreds of times, and never, EVER, tire of it.  Like countless other fans, I can recite EVERY line. 

The movie, which was released in 1987, was not an immediate success.  It did not gain the attention it deserved until it was released on VHS and for over 25 years has remained a pop-culture phenomenon. The Princess Bride is a gem for its talented cast, amazing script, and unforgettable movie quotes. Fred Savage (who played the grandson) says, "I think any audience can find something in the film that speaks to them, because it does have its toes in so many styles, genres, and tones. It means something to everyone, no matter what you want from the movie." (As quoted in As You Wish)

And, in case you were wondering, I finally did receive the DVD copy of The Princess Bride for Christmas thanks to my mom! In fact, when she went to purchase it, they were sold out and had to order it. The store clerk inquired, "What's with this movie? This is the seventh copy I've had to order today!" 

So, yes, as you see, it has remained THAT special.  

Read more of my Book Reviews.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Family Movie Review: The Polar Express

Over the course of the last several years, The Polar Express has risen to the top of my list of favorite Christmas movies.  Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg and starring Tom Hanks, this is the ONE movie that puts me in the Christmas spirit every time I watch it.  

The story follows a group of children, some on the verge of no longer believing in the magic of Santa, and others who do still believe, or at least want to, but have a special lesson to learn. On Christmas Eve they embark on a journey to the North Pole via the magical polar express.  

"One thing about trains... it doesn't matter where they're going. What matters is deciding to get on."

Along the way they will discover something about themselves and learn that the greatest gift of all is friendship. Besides seeing the secret operations of Santa and his elves, the group of children will learn to trust, have humility, and, simply, to believe. 

The film is shot in motion picture computer-animation and is a pure joy for your eyes (this film is filled with stunning images) and your heart.  However, the highlight of the film for me is the musical soundtrack composed by Alan Silvestri.   In fact, the original score is so beautiful, I bought it a few years ago and play it each year at Christmas time. 

The film is rated G for General Audiences, although, some of the scenes are a bit creepy.  For example, I personally know an adult or two that would be freaked out by the marionettes.  

All joking aside, this is a Christmas classic that my sons and I have enjoyed for years and I'm confident will remain a family favorite.  

"Sometimes the most real things in the world, are the things we can't see."

A couple of years ago, Santa brought sleigh bells for my own sons so they will always carry the spirit of Christmas in their hearts.  I hope the bells never become silent. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

When Raising Your Tween Son Feels More Like an Encounter with Cujo

I love when my long-time friend and I get together for lunch and discuss all the latest antics our 12-year-old boys are up to.  It's never a pleasant conversation and a far cry from the times years ago when we would discuss our sweet, little boys and their new accomplishments. Now it's all about, "Can you believe he said THAT?"

This afternoon was one of those incidents when being a mother to a hormonal tween was enough to make me want to jump off a cliff or, at the very least, eat a gallon of ice cream.

When I picked my sons up at school, I reminded my older one that he has his annual eye exam today. Immediately he started with the complaining. "Why tonight?  I just want to go home.  I'm not going!"

"Ummm, ah, yes, you ARE going," I muttered trying to keep my composure.

The entire way there AND the entire time in the waiting room - bitch bitch bitch!  OMG!  What a change from previous years when he couldn't wait to get new glasses.

When we were called into the first examining room, I caught him rolling his eyes at the doctor's new assistant. Yep, there was my baby giving this poor woman complete and utter attitude.  I was mortified. As we shifted from one room into another, I whispered to her a sincere apology for my son's mood.

After the exam comes the fun part, right?  Picking out new frames!  He decided, since his prescription hadn't changed, he didn't want new glasses.  "Insurance pays for them, you are getting a spare pair," I insisted trying desperately to remain calm.   I also reminded him that his current pair broke three times over the summer and that a spare pair would be useful to have.

Nope, still attitude.  Still refused to try frames on.  "I'm not going to wear them so why bother?" he declared. Unfortunately, the frames he currently has weren't available any longer.  Otherwise, I would have picked those again and called it a day.

With what I'm sure was embarrassment on my face and in my eyes, I looked at the assistant, picked a pair off the wall and said, "We'll take these."  I then looked at my son and asked one final time, "Would you like to try on this pair I chose for you?"  He grabbed them, put them on for a split second and said, "These are fine."

Perfect, at least we're making a decision.  Let me just mention that the receptionist, who I have known for years, was watching this entire scene unfold from behind the counter smiling and giving me a "they all go through it" kind of look. I think she may have actually whispered this to me, but I was too much of a mess to really focus.

While ringing us up, the assistant asked if my son wanted transitions again, like his current pair.  I said, "No, I'm not paying for transitions (not covered by insurance) for a pair of glasses that are going to sit in his drawer." My son agreed, reiterating, "Yep, not going to wear them." Great, another decision made.  

As we were walking out the door, the receptionist called me aside and said, "Nikki, you know you're a great mom!"  Really? Because I didn't feel like it at the moment.  In fact, I felt like crying!

While I drove home I thought of all the consequences he should have for this behavior.  He, on the other hand, sat in silence contemplating (trust me, I know my son) whether or not he just cut off his nose to spite his own face.  Plus, he's been a complete angel since we've gotten home, which is further proof that kids this age are just crazy! 

I've decided no consequences are in order.  When his current pair of glasses mysteriously end up under my car tires, he'll have no choice but to wear the ones I picked out.  That will be justice enough!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Movie Review)

"It never ceases to amaze me. The courage of hobbits." ~ Balin 

I know in my Note of Gratitude to Peter Jackson I said I would not be writing a review of the latest Hobbit film.  But after watching the marathon in the theater yesterday, there are some things I want to say about the film and the trilogy in general.  If you haven't seen The Battle of the Five Armies yet, you may wish to skip the section and go right to my comments on "The Trilogy."  I do not want to taint your opinion before you see it for yourself.

The Battle of the Five Armies

I'm just going to come right out and say it.  The Battle of the Five Armies was a disappointment to me.

Before you slam me, hear me out.

This film was what I was afraid it was going to be - all about the special effects and battle scenes and less about the heart.  In fact, there are more emotional scenes in the first two Hobbit films than in this one - which is insanely ironic considering what happens (no spoilers, I promise!) In particular, the goodbyes were anti-climactic.  And, keep in mind, this is coming from someone who cries at the end of Return of the King every time she watches it!

Nonetheless, with that said, the film was still incredibly well made.  The fight scenes are indeed epic.  The set designs, the make-up and costumes, the special effects - ALL are amazing and deserving of being seen on the big screen (and winning some Oscars, hint hint!) Howard Shore's score continues to mesmerize me and give me chills.

Richard Armitage (Thorin) and Martin Freeman (Bilbo) were outstanding!  Oh, and who doesn't love Syvelster McCoy as Radagast. And, I must say, that Ken Stott's performance as Balin continued to warm my heart.   However, many of the other cast members just seemed - well, tired.  

Overall, go and enjoy the film!  It actually provided a fabulous segue to the Lord of the Rings which I plan on binge watching soon.  More importantly, it is such a gorgeous film to watch. From the cinematography to the choreography, this is top notch movie making. 

Parents: The Hobbit movies are rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense, fantasy action-violence, and frightening images.

"And he never forgave, and he never forgot." ~ Balin 

The Trilogy

The Hobbit trilogy is an instant classic and should be enjoyed at least once by everyone.  It is movie-making at its finest.  Director, Peter Jackson, is a master filmmaker that will forever be one of the greats. He made Middle-earth come alive for the world.  I tend to catch something new every time I watch the films. 

Is there a better location on the planet than New Zealand?  Absolutely not.  The landscape has been such a key aspect of making these movies so visually beautiful to watch.

The action sequences are so gracefully choreographed that it is almost as if you are watching the New York City Ballet in Lincoln Center.  Three such scenes that come to mind are the escape from the goblins (An Unexpected Journey,) the barrel escape and subsequent fight against Orcs (Desolation of Smaug,) and the formations of the elven army in the final movie.

Oh, and just a quick word about the cast.  (Quick because one can write an entire dissertation on how incredible the entire cast was.)  These are actors that were born to play these parts.

I know some fans were downright annoyed with some changes made by Jackson.  The ones I'm going to discuss are the addition of Tauriel and the return of Legolas.  First, as a parent and former educator, I love that Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) was added to these films.  If for no other reason than to give girls a strong female character to look up to.  And, bringing back Orlando Bloom to play Legolas really didn't seem like a big stretch for me - and I am certainly not going to complain about having to watch him again!

However, let's talk about the elephant in the room, shall we?  Should The Hobbit have been made into a trilogy?

My fear when An Unexpected Journey was released two years ago was how are they going to fill three movies.  Two films, definitely.  And, one film just would not have been enough. But three?

I actually went back to re-read The Hobbit after seeing the first film because I had to see how the next two movies were going to play out.  I cut the book in my mind the way Jackson does, but knew that wasn't leaving much for the third book - except, you guessed it - an extended version of the battle!

"Home is now behind you, the world is ahead." ~ Gandalf

An Unexpected Journey was the most true to the novel and remains my favorite. While some criticized Jackson for taking too much artistic license, I'll let you decide that for yourself. This trilogy is and always will be top of my list of brilliant film making.  I've attached this scene below.  It is one of my all time favorite scenes and brings tears to my eyes each time.  It captures the essence of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. 

Check out more of my Family Movie Reviews.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Manic Marathon Monday!

Because December isn't busy enough, I decided to throw a 9-hour movie marathon into the equation.  And, while I did not meet my own Christmas shopping deadline as I had hoped, (see How to Stay Sane During the Holidays) it isn't entirely my fault.  One gift, for my oldest sister, never became available, so now I'm back to square one with her.  On top of that, a gift, a new toaster, for my father needs to be returned before he even opens it, because his old one is apparently working again.  
On top of the holidays, my sons are finishing up their second quarter of school on Friday so last week and this week have been completely chaotic.  In addition to typical after-school activities, we have the school holiday concert on Wednesday night and every teacher felt compelled to have a mid-term, or a project, or a holiday party, and in some cases all of the above! Last week I baked and delivered nearly a dozen bread loafs and gift-wrapped an additional ten presents for teachers. You get it, it's a busy time of year.

But, back to today.  Despite the hectic time of year, I am taking some time, 9+ hours to be specific, to attend The Hobbit Marathon at my local theater.  And, while excited, I am also filled with anxiety.  Why?  Well, because attending the marathon means I am not going to be able to fulfill my other daily responsibilities, mainly the care of my sons.  My mom will be picking up the boys at school and handling dinner while my husband will be getting them off to bed and ready for the next morning.

Don't get me wrong.  They are both completely capable of handling the "job." AND, just as important, they are both very supportive of me having "alone time."   It's the mommy guilt I suffer with.  And, I know I'm not alone - there are countless other moms out there that deal with this. For those that don't - kudos to you, teach the rest of us how not to feel this way! Part of it is definitely my need to control things - I totally get that.  But to stress over whether or not my mom will test my son on his spelling and vocabulary correctly or if my husband will pack their school lunches properly is just plain insane, I will admit.  No kid ever died because his father packed him chocolate chip cookies instead of Oreos in his lunchbox. 

(For my final review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies click here.)

Again, it's not that they can't do it, it's just my stupid mommy guilt.  Okay, and to make it a wee bit more stressful for me, my sons are not thrilled that I will be seeing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies without them.  After all, Peter Jackson's Middle-earth has been an entire adventure we've experienced together up until now as I made clear in my Note of Gratitude to Peter Jackson. But, like my husband told me, I don't need their permission, yet I still feel a little guilty.  Not that I won't be taking them.  We will be back in the theaters this upcoming weekend to see it together.  I'm hoping by seeing it first without my sons, I can, perhaps, release most of the heavy sobs today, and keep the tears to a dull roar when I do see it with them and avoid embarrassing them. 

Therefore, to help ease the feelings of guilt I am having, I will, undoubtedly, tidy up the house before I leave, prepare lunches for tomorrow, make sure all the laundry is put away, write instructions for everyone (man, I'm so OCD!), and text all parties throughout the day with messages such as, "I forgot to mention....," "Did the boys have a nice day?" "I left the whatever on the whatever..." and my favorite, "Please kiss the boys goodnight for me and tell them I love them."  That's the one that kills me when I'm not home with them. And, although I know the importance of parents maintaining a piece of personal identity, I also recognize it's not always easy. 

Now excuse me while I prepare to head off to the theater and enjoy The Hobbit Trilogy on the big screen one last time without stressing over the home front. No one ever enjoyed life sitting at home and sipping tea all day. 

Armed with a package of tissues and a hidden sandwich inside my purse, the only question that remains is, do I wear mascara?  

So, wish me luck!  I'm going on an adventure!!!!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

An Imaginative Series: Part IV of The Giver Quartet (Book Review)

I concluded The Giver quartet by Lois Lowry finishing up with Son last night. Since I've already reviewed Messenger and touched on The Giver in the movie review, this will not be a detailed book review.  However, I do want to take the time to say that I thought this was a beautifully written series and highly imaginative.  I loved how the first two books, The Giver and Gathering Blue, are separate stories that then come together in the third and fourth novels.  Each one is so unique and different -yet Lowry connects them all so creatively.

Son was different than I expected because it goes back to the beginning. Although, we are now seeing the events through Claire's, Gabriel's birthmother, perspective, who offers another strong female protagonist to the series. Perhaps because I am a mother, but Claire's story was touching and one I'm glad Lowry decided to tell.  Son is divided into three separate "books" that mark the different time frames of the story ending with the present where the reader is reunited with favorite characters from the first three novels.  I really enjoyed learning the fates of all these characters and watching them grow up and grow old.

I recommend this series to fans of young adult fantasy novels.  In my previous review, I stated that Messenger was my favorite in the series.  Now, I will put Son right up there with it.

Read more of my Book Reviews.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Family Movie Review: The Giver

The Giver, based on the novel by Lois Lowry, came to the big screen in 2014.  And, while the first in the popular series by Lowry (see my review for Messenger, the third in the quartet) was flying off the shelves by young adult fantasy readers, others skipped the book altogether and headed straight for the theater.

First, this was a book I read because my son was reading it and I try to read what he's reading.  I liked (not loved) the book for it's beautiful, descriptive language and important messages. However, we both felt it was drawn out a bit at the end.  Nonetheless, this book relied heavily on detailed images created via beautiful prose.  So, I wondered how they were going to pull this movie off. Well, honestly, they didn't.

At best the movie was a Cliff's Notes version of the book.  In its defense, The Giver is not an easy novel to adapt to the big screen. From what I've encountered, the majority of people who enjoyed the movie did not read the book.  The best part of the film was the "memories," the artistic, color images of life in our current world. They stirred up many emotions and personal memories.  However, I believe the importance of most of those events will go unnoticed by young viewers. 

Even Meryl Streep's performance as the Chief Elder couldn't save this film for me.  The movie changed SO much of the book and not necessarily for the better.  For one thing, in the novel Jonas is 12. Were there no talented 12-year-old actors out there?  However, with so many plot changes, it's almost as if the filmmakers HAD to make the film version of Jonas older.  Also, the community didn't come alive like it did in the book. Not enough is explained. The Giver, played by Jeff Bridges, didn't evoke half the emotion in me as the character did when I read the novel.  

Overall, the film is rated PG-13 for  mature thematic images and some sci-fi action/violence.  There are two violent scenes: a flashback of war and a brutal poaching scene on elephants that nearly ripped my heart out. Honestly, I just don't think younger viewers will enjoy or comprehend the main message of this film. 

The story is about a dystopian community that portrays yet another bleak outlook of the future of humanity (isn't that what most YA fiction books are about these days? - think The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner.)  Imagine a world with no wildlife, no emotions, no free-choice?  NO, THANK YOU! Unfortunately, the filmmakers just didn't capture these elements enough for me to recommend the film.  If you read the book, I believe you will be very disappointed.  If you didn't read the book, you might enjoy some aspects of the film. Nothing about this film grabbed me except the stunning cinematography. In my opinion The Giver, along with the other novels in the quartet, are meant to be read and not adapted into motion pictures. 

Official Trailer Courtesy of YouTube

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Desperately Seeking LEGOS!

It's that time of year when parents are going nuts trying to find that ONE Lego set their child MUST have for the holidays, but it seems to be sold out in every store in the country.

Photo by Christian Sinibaldi for
So, when my friend posted on Facebook that she was seeking a particular set (Santa's Workshop) and was looking for suggestions on where she might be able to find one, I felt compelled to not only share with her, but with all of you, the low-down of my experiences with Lego shopping.  You see, for the last several years, my Christmas shopping has been a harrowing experience as I try to get sold out sets or, in the case of this year, discontinued sets. I've done just about everything short of the black market in dark alleys to get certain items.  I've even had shipments from as far away as Asia for hard to find minifigures. 

Therefore, here are my tips for Lego shopping during the holiday season. 

TIP #1: (and you have to be firm on this) obtain the list of set(s) your child wants no later than mid-November.  **After this deadline, there's no guarantee elves will have the time to make the set.**  

TIP #2:  Buy the set as soon as you see it.  Pay full price if you have to. Then, once the set is securely hidden in the back of your closet, you can always return it if you find it cheaper later on. (Trust me on this - don't be a fool!) 

TIP #3: Shop online.  Many stores offer free shipping starting Thanksgiving  weekend and they have a much larger inventory than the traditional storefronts.  Even will offer free shipping when making purchases over a certain amount and they run sales. Plus, no crowds, no lines!! 

****Note**** Know the MSRP from before you buy.  Not to throw anyone under the bus, but Toys R Us tends to charge $1 more per set and stores like Target tend to match or charge $1 under.  

TIP #4: If local stores are sold out even online, check with Lego retail stores in your state.  If they have an item they will ship it to you for a reasonable shipping fee. 

TIP #5: Don't hesitate to call one of the Legoland Theme Parks - they will also ship an item to you for a reasonable shipping fee. AND, have no fear, their prices match the company's MSRP. 

Now, when all of the above fails.......

TIP #6: CALL Lego directly and here's where I get to my Lego Christmas miracle.

Two years ago, my son wanted the Monster Fighters Haunted House from Santa.  In fact, that was the only gift he was asking Santa for, so all his marbles were in one bag. I made the mistake of waiting too long.  EVERYONE was sold out: the major retailers, the websites, the storefronts, etc. We were now less than two weeks away from Christmas morning. 

So I did what any rational parent would do.  I called the company directly and had them "double check" their secret stash of toys.  The wonderful customer service agent on the other end of the phone looked and looked and looked, checking all available avenues. Unfortunately, she, too, came up empty.  

Lego does, however, send out letters from Santa himself, explaining to your child that the elves got a little behind in their work and would deliver the set as promised a few days late.  

Well, if this isn't an anticlimactic Christmas morning, I don't know what is.  BUT, it was certainly better than nothing.  

This story doesn't end here, however.  Santa and his elves must have been pulling for me because I received a phone call 30 minutes later from the customer service rep stating she found ONE Monster Fighters Haunted House.  It just popped into the inventory after we got off the phone.  Do I want it?

Do I want it??  HELL, YES!  Ship that baby to me ASAP!  

My prized possession! 
I remember writing emails to her boss praising her dedication and excellent customer service.  

I will also tell parents that I have, and will, on occasion, go the eBay route.  This year, however, I just wasn't willing to go for it.  My son gave a last minute request (to his Elf) for a Star Wars Ewok Attack set that is out of production.  I did look on eBay, but sellers know the gold they have and they aren't willing to part with it easily. They were asking astronomical amounts for this set and I wasn't willing to bite.  I mean, I get that they're collectors' items, but my son just wants to play with the darn toy. 

So, yes, private eBay sellers is one way to go, but just be aware that most of the time, you will pay hefty for it. And, I certainly wouldn't buy sets selling for over the MSRP if the set is still on the regular market.  Even I'm not that desperate! 

To this day, the Monster Fighters Haunted House remains on display in my living room as a reminder to me to shop early!  The one question I'm still asking myself is why didn't I buy stock in Lego when my first son was born?  

Happy Shopping! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

TOP 5 Books to Give This Holiday Season

The holidays are almost here!  Have you finished your shopping yet?  What about the book lover in your life?  Have you found the perfect book for him or her yet?  

If not, here is my list of TOP 5 books to give this holiday season. I'm sure there is a novel on this list for every reader in your life.

My Favorite Books of 2014

1. Fiction / Paranormal: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult is a must-read for both animal advocates and readers of mystery and occult novels. I know that sounds like an interesting combination, but trust me on this. This is unquestionably the most important novel of the year.  Although classified as fiction, there is nothing fictional about the urgent plight of elephants worldwide.  (Read full description and review here.)  

2. Fiction / Literary: The Search for Intelligent Life on Earth by Gerry Pirani is a debut novel and an award-winning finalist of the 2014 USA Book Awards in a fiction category.  This was the best surprise of the year with characters you will instantly connect with.  This novel will have you re-evaluating your own life and demons. Recommended for adult fans of literary fiction. (Read full description and review here.)

3. Young Adult / Realistic Fiction: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell was my favorite young adult novel read this year.  It is a timeless story of ill-fated love and what it takes to be your own person. Recommended for high school readers and adults who enjoy young adult fiction, especially if you grew up in the 1980s. (Read full description and review here.) 

4. Young Adult / Fantasy: Ingrid by Lynnette Kraft is a light-fantasy, young adult novel that shows how guilt, regret, and bitterness can tear away at the core of one's own soul. This was the most uplifting novel I read this year.  Don't forget to download the original soundtrack that accompanies this novel! Recommended for middle and high school students.   (Read full description and review here.) 

5.  Crime / Detective: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith is the second in the Cormoran Strike series. This is a sophisticated crime novel that picks up right where The Cuckoo's Calling left off.   It is a welcome relief from others in this genre where you crack the case half-way through the book. Recommended to fans of J.K. Rowling.  (Read full description and review here.) 


It was no easy feat to narrow this list down to only five books.  I particularly read a lot of young adult fiction, so I picked two that I felt were quite different. Check out my full list of book reviews to find your next novel.  Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Most IMPORTANT Novel of the Year (Book Review)

"That's not humility you see on our long final journeys:
          it's procrastination.  It hurts my heavy body to lie down." 
- Dan Chiasson, "The Elephant"  (as quoted in the novel)
Photo by Emelie Johansson 
Etosha, Namibia

Leaving Time Jodi PicoultThis is the hardest book review I've written to date.  Emotional on so many levels, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult is about a young girl trying to find out the truth about her mother's disappearance ten years earlier.  The story is told through the viewpoints of the four main characters: Jenna, a 13-year-old searching for her mother; Alice, a scientist studying elephant behavior and grief; Virgil, a burned out private detective; and Serenity, a washed-up psychic whose past mistakes have caused her to give up on her own unique talents.

The story brings you on a journey through the supernatural world that takes you on wild twists and turns before ending with a climax that will blow your mind! The mystery behind Alice's whereabouts and the rest of the bizarre circumstances that occurred the night of her disappearance will have you anxiously turning the pages. At the end you'll look back and everything you've read will fall neatly into place.  This is a well-written, deeply thought out story.

Yet, at the heart of the novel are the true protagonists, the elephants. While the characters and events are fiction, there is nothing fictional about the plight of elephants portrayed in the story.  Most of us are aware of the studies showing elephants grieving over lost loved-ones. We've read how they take part in communal rituals such as burying their dead and even how they've been known to actually shed tears. Through meticulous research, Picoult provides us with heartwarming accounts of these majestic creatures.  I could read the elephant observation notes all day and not get tired of them.

Photo by Emelie Johansson
Etosha, Namibia
For those of you who know me well, you know I'm a highly emotional animal advocate. So it won't shock you to know that I was shedding tears by page 7 and by page 396 I was sobbing. The reason this novel touched me so profoundly and made me want to tell everyone to read it can be summed up in one word - elephants. Through her beautiful writing, Picoult portrays the urgency  in which our elephants need our help!  Both in the wild, due to the ivory trade, and in captivity, where elephants are typically abused and mentally broken from the unnatural surroundings, elephants need our action and they need it now!!

What can you do?  Educate yourself on the plight of elephants. Do not support circuses or other industries that use animals as entertainment. Support organizations like World Elephant Day and The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, a setting in the novel and an actual place, by visiting their website at and Global Sanctuary for Elephants at who need our help to build and operate elephant sanctuaries all over the world.

I'd be shocked if you don't come away from this book with a deep connection to these amazing animals and fire in your gut to save and protect them. This novel has the ability to bring elephant conservation to the forefront of animal preservation. I've never felt the need to thank an author for writing a  book, but Picoult merits praise for raising awareness. The elephants need us to make a difference before it's too late.

**If you liked Leaving Time, check out Picoult's novella, Larger Than Life**

Photo by Emelie Johansson
Etosha, Namibia

Photo by Emelie Johansson
Etosha, Namibia

Sincere thanks to photographer and dear friend, Emelie Johansson, for allowing me to use her breathtaking photos. You may see more of Johansson's photography on Instagram @emelie.linnea and at