Thursday, December 11, 2014

Guest Post by Spencer Blohm - Christmas stories.

The holiday season is upon us, and it's time to dust off the covers of those classic holiday books and dig in. Some of those cherished classics are now not only great reads, but also great holiday films. Hollywood has been known to turn great classic books into movies, but some of these more modern films will surprise you that they are actually derived from books. So sit back and read on to find out some good, unique holiday films to start your season.

This 2004 movie stars Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple whose daughter won't be home for the holidays. They usually celebrate it, but decide to take a Caribbean cruise instead. This puts a damper in their neighborhood, who celebrates Christmas as a community. They are harassed by their neighbors, one of which is played by Dan Aykroyd beautifully. Their tone changes when their daughter decides at the last minute to return home for Christmas. The Kranks and the whole community pull together to create the best Christmas ever. The movie is a comedic masterpiece that is actually based on a book called Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. Grisham is usually known for his suspense and legal thrillers, so this may come as a surprise to a lot of people.

This 1983 gem is the epitome of Christmas. The movie follows Ralphie on his quest for that (now infamous) Red Rider BB Gun. It shows his trials and tribulations as he tries to get the present despite his parent’s reservations. There are so many images and lines that are memorable from the leg lamp to the line, “You’ll shoot your eye out!" This movie is based on a book by Jean Shepherd called In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Jean Shepherd also narrates the whole movie as the voice of grown up Ralphie. Despite being a box office disappointment, the film has gone on to become a Christmas classic thanks to heavy reruns through national and local television providers.

The Polar Express
This 2004 film was based on the book written by Chris Van Allsburg. It takes you on a fantastic journey on a train with a boy who has lost his belief in the magic of Christmas. As he travels to the North Pole, he is met with musical interludes to make this computer animated movie unique in its own right. Top that off with Tom Hanks voicing multiple characters as well as a cameo by Steven Tyler and this is quickly becoming a favorite holiday movie.

This movie stars Bill Murray in a 1988 modernization of Charles Dickens' classic book A Christmas Carol. The story follows a selfish TV executive on Christmas Eve as he's visited by three ghosts. This movie also has appearances by many of the comedic geniuses of the 80s such as Bobcat Goldthwait and Carol Kane.

Here's another version of this Charles Dickens' classic, this time catered to children through the excellent puppeteering of Jim Henson's Muppets. Kermit portrays Bob Cratchit the forlorn employee who works for Ebenezer Scrooge. It sticks pretty close to the classic story with the usual Muppet shenanigans intermixed.

A lesser known holiday movie, this is based on the 20th novel in the British comic fantasy book series Discworld by Terry Pratchett. The story is about the missing Hogfather (who is the Santa of that realm). If follows the search for what happened to the Hogfather and brings you into this unique fantasy world.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
There are two versions of this classic Dr. Seuss book. The one most remembered is the cartoon version, which follows the classic book. Then in 2000, Ron Howard directed a live action version which starred Jim Carrey as the Grinch. Of course, the special effects and pitch perfect comedy provided by Carrey has now made this just as memorable as the cartoon version.

Overall, holiday movies have become a huge part of pop culture. A Christmas Story has spawned merchandise, such as the leg lamp, and The Polar Express has created magical vacation getaways for families. Even though these books have been around, the movies are what brought it to life in the eyes of pop culture today.

Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, culture, and lifestyle blogger. He lives and works in Chicago. When not working he can be found camped out in his apartment watching the latest films and newest television shows.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Call BS! The Walking Dead Season 5 Mid-Season Finale.

Emily Kinney 2014 Comic Con (cropped)

Do NOT read this if you don't want any spoilers from The Walking Dead.

Okay first off, it's all over the internet that someone posted on the official AMC Facebook Page about Beth's death before the west coast had a chance to watch it.  I think it was pulled but oops!  Millions of fans were very upset about this spoiler.  Poorly played AMC.

I have never written a post about my displeasure with a television show before.  (Not even when the Lone Gunmen died on The X-files or Charlie drowned on LOST).  I don't get that worked up.  But Sunday night's episode left me grieving.  I think I'm in the anger stage now. I don't know when it will pass.

When it comes to The Walking Dead, I was sad that Dale died, I was bummed when Meryl died, I was devastated when Hershel died, but this?  At first I was sad and as someone on Twitter said, "When Daryl cries, the world cries."  So yeah, I was definitely choked up, my eyes definitely teary.  I usually go to work Monday morning reeling from the previous night's episode.  But I woke up angry.  I felt the writers or the creators or whoever made this decision did a disservice to the fans and to the plotline. 

First of all her father Hershel was brutally killed in last year's mid season finale.  Why choose another family member to die in this mid season finale? 

Second, last season showed a spunky Beth telling off Daryl that she was "still here."  That despite her not being Michonne, Carol or Maggie she was still alive.  Maybe it didn't make sense.  She didn't have amazing fighting skills, yet she was still resilient enough to survive.  Yes, a lot of it is because she had other people around her, but her ability to listen and learn helped her to adapt.  She always pitched in, whether it was stabbing walkers in the head at the fence with a crowbar or taking care of Judith.  That in itself gave hope to those who are just everyday people.  Sure you need to be tough, but you don't have to be brutal.

Third, in one of the The Talking Dead episodes a producer or writer said they would never get rid of Carl because he represented hope for the future.  Now don't get me wrong, I love Carl, I think he's a great character and don't want to see him die, but he's not exactly a ray of sunshine.  He's a dark character.   He's seen the dynamics of the group and the way things have panned out and become cynical.  He's killed in cold blood.  If Carl represents hope for the future, Beth represented, to me at least, hope for mankind.  She was the light of the group and although her despair led her to attempt suicide in season 2, she overcame it.  Her disposition and steadfast nature helped the group see a flame in the darkness. 

Fourth, during this season, at the Hospital, we see Beth using skills to her own advantage and the advantage of her friends.  She shows us she is smart and resourceful.  She shows us that she is interesting and there is way more to her than meets the eye.  Why put her through all this, why develop her character to kill her?  To get the audience attached to her and then pull the rug out from under us?  I guess that's exactly why.  I know this creates drama, and it was certainly effective, but I just don't know that it was necessary.

Yes, I understand this is the zombie apocalypse.  I understand that Beth's actions also caused this.  I even understand that the show is not real.  However, I feel that after everything that Beth has been through and everything that I, as a viewer, have been through with her, it was a cheat and a betrayal to kill her off.

I will probably change my mind, but as of now, I don't know if I want to continue to watch The Walking Dead.  It's the investment in the characters that keep me coming back and yes, I'm invested in the other characters too, very much.  But I thought one of the themes of the show was survival?  I don't know if I want to watch another beloved cast member get killed.  Does this mean that Judith isn't even safe?

Maybe Beth didn't chop the heads off 10 zombies solo like Michonne, or blow up a tank like Daryl, but this in itself made her one of the most realistic characters on the show. Everyone else seems to have superhero status while Beth was a regular person.  Personally, I would want to be like Michonne, or Sasha, but really?  I'm more like Beth.  I'm not a samurai, or a sharpshooter and I probably couldn't get my friends out of Terminus.  But this is exactly why I need Beth on the show, why the audience needs Beth and why the group itself on TWD needs Beth.

Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sinner - Audio.

Title/Author: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater.

Narration: Dan Bittner and Emma Galvin.

Genre: Paranormal.

Publisher: Scholastic Audio.

Source: Library.

Synopsis: Everybody thinks they know Cole St. Clare's story.  Stardom.  Addiction.  Downfall.  Disappearance.  But only a few people know Cole's darkest secret -- his ability to shift into a wolf.  One of these people is Isabel.  At one point, they may have even have loved each other.  But that feels like a lifetime ago.  Now Cole is back.  Back in the spotlight.  Back in the danger zone.  Back in Isabel's life.  Can this sinner be saved?

Midnyte Musings:  Sinner continues the story of Cole St. Clare and Isabel Culpepper from the Mercy Falls Trilogy.  While it had some paranormal elements, I felt that this story was mroe of a contemporary.  I'm usually not interested in the Contemporary genre, but I absolutely loved this book.  It had everything to do with the characters.  I could probably read about them napping because I want to be in their world so much. 

Cole is basically on a comeback track and has moved to Los Angeles and signed up to be on a reality show with a controversial producer known for making her stars break down, or implode, or explode on camera.  With Cole's shapeshifting condition he is a reluctant candidate, but somewhat desperate to find himself, or rather, be happy with himself, which is something that has never happened.  He is terrified that he'll slip back into his self destructive ways, yet it seems that part of him wants to.  For the escape and for the high.  He carries guilt for Victor's loss, for dropping out of existence for a year causing his parents to question if he's dead or alive and for hurting other people in his life.  He is a quintessential bad boy, rock star.  The kind of person that people want to be near and know or conversely the kind that some people never want to see again.  His main reason for going to L.A. however, is Isabel.

Isabel also deals with the problems she encountered in Mercy Falls.  The death of her brother, her guilt in playing a role in it, her parent's separation and her own relationship with her parents.  She is a cold person, hard to get to know, very jaded and I want to be just like her.  She is smart, clever, driven, astute and fearsome.  Not a typical sweet-girl protagonist, she is bitchy and a mean girl, but not for any self fulfilling reasons.  It is just her way and she has little patience for stupidity and deceptions.  She has trouble trusting Cole and trusting herself with her own feelings for him.

This story could have ended up as a cliche.  The two main characters love each other but can't admit it, can't come together.  This plot usually frustrates me but in Stiefvater's hands, the book is magic.  I think that both of them want to jump into this relationship, but both of them navigate it on tiptoe.  Isabel because she doesn't want to get hurt or look like a fool and Cole because he is afraid to scare her off.  Or maybe because he is afraid that if she sees the real him, she won't love him. 

The supporting characters are wonderful too.  Isabel's cousin Sophia brings out the protective side of Isabel and Cole's driver takes on the role as kind of a big brother.  This man wants nothing from him and that is why Cole is so drawn to him.  I loved seeing their friendship take off. 

Narration:  Dan Bittner and Emma Galvin return to reprise their roles as Cole and Isabel and they make the book come alive.  With the writing and the narration combined, these characters jump off the page.  Cole is a bit more animated, maybe less insolent in Sinner and Isabel still has her caustic observations but also shows vulnerability. 

Starstruck Over: Everything.  I didn't want this book to end. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Linger and Forever - Audio.

Title/Author: Linger and Forever by Maggie Stiefvater.

Narration: Linger - Dan Bittner, Pierce Cravens, Emma Galvin & Jenna Lamia. Forever - Dan Bittner, Pierce Cravens, Emma Galvin, Jenna Lamia & Maggie Stiefvater, 

Genre: Paranormal.

Publisher: Scholastic Audio.

Source: Library.

Synopsis: Linger - In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

Forever - When Sam met Grace, he was a wolf and she was a girl. Eventually he found a way to become a boy, and their loved moved from curious distance to the intense closeness of shared lives. That should have been the end of their story. But Grace was not meant to stay human. Now she is the wolf. And the wolves of Mercy Falls are about to be killed in one final, spectacular hunt. Sam would do anything for Grace. But can one boy and one love really change a hostile, predatory world? The past, the present, and the future are about to collide in one pure moment - a moment of death or life, farewell or forever
Midnyte Musings:  While I did think that Shiver was a practically perfect book with a perfect ending, and didn't need any follow up.  I absolutely loved the sequels. 

Now I totally understand all the Team Sam and Team Cole graphics.  Both are totally swoonworthy, interesting and complex.  Each damaged in their own unique way and trying to fight their way into a new and hopefully, improved future.  Sam and Grace are the "sweet" couple.  They have issues with their families, yet are grounded and have dreams and goals as long as they include each other.  While they easily could have wandered into Mary Sue territory, Stiefvater's portrayal of them ensures that they don't.  I do appreciate the friction between Grace and her parents and it adds to the plot of the story and the character development.  The rational part of me thinks that her parents have the right to impart their rules, but the emotional part of me is on Grace's side.  In Linger, the two protagonists are dealing with Grace's parents, Grace's new mysterious illness and Sam's newfound responsibility.  His father, Beck, has brought new people into the pack and Sam is thrust into a new role.

Isabelle and Cole are the second couple in this story.  They are the typical oil and water yet so perfect for each other.  I love these characters in Stiefvater's hands.  Again, these two could have been so cliched if written by a less talented author, but they are just perfection. Isabelle is basically a wealthy, mean girl traumatized by the death of her brother.  She is pulled into the wolf world by this event and therefore into Cole's world.  Cole is a damaged, self-centered rock star.  Or former rock star.  He is too deep for his own good and filled with angst.  He is in escape and self destruct mode.  Yet his child prodigy intelligence just may be the key to finding a cure for Grace's illness and for the virus that turns them into wolves.

In Forever, the last book in the Mercy Falls series, Sam has to deal with Grace's absence, the suspicions that surround him regarding her disappearance and the foreseeable destruction of the pack.  His pack.  His life was perfect for a while.  He seemed to be cured of his wolf side.  He loved his job.   He loved making music and most of all, he loved Grace.  But when Grace turned into a wolf his world changed.  Again.  Now, he and Grace have to deal with the new changes in their lives and more changes that threaten their world.  

Cole is still struggling with his own existence and unhappiness, although he is more likable than in Linger.  He and Sam remind me of two alpha wolves circling each other, but they have to find a common ground to solve their problems.  Isabelle struggles with her home life and the feelings she harbors regarding the death of her brother.  She and Cole also have to deal with the feelings they have for each other and maybe through their relationship they can figure out what they want and who they are.

Narration:  Perfection.  All the performer's voices fit the characters so well, it's uncanny.  Grace and Sam are young and sweet, earnest and honest.  Cole and Isabelle a lot more world weary standing out with their portrayals.  Isabelle sharp and cold, and Cole insolent and arrogant.  I was upset at first, because I loved the way that Jenna Lamia, portrayed Isabelle in Shiver.  But it took no time at all for Emma Galvin to win me over with her portrayal of Isabelle.

Oh! And also Maggie Stiefvater wrote the music on the audio.  WHAT?  So much talent in one person seems so unfair to me.  But she is awesome and wonderful. 

After I listened to Shiver, I went right back to the library and took out Linger, Forever and Sinner.  Now I understand the hype for this series and I agree with it wholeheartedly.  This is a series that I absolutely adored.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Feature & Follow - Book song! (11/14/14).

Feature and Follow is hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  Click on the links to visit their blogs and find out more about this great meme.

This weeks Question:
Create a playlist, or if you are lazy, just one song for a book. 

I just finished Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff.  The story is set in a small Southern town and includes dangerous magic that can kill and literally tear the town apart.  I think Tornado by Little Big Town captures the mood of the novel perfectly.  It's a great book so check it out and watch the video above for some great imagery.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Meme #5 (10/31/14).

 photo wwbook-4withwords2.jpg

Welcome to my Halloween Meme! Each Friday in October I will be asking a Halloween or Horror related question.

Feel free to simply answer the question in the comments below OR grab the button to create a post on your blog and don't forget to come back and leave your name/url in the linky.

Check out other blogs for their posts as well.

Question: Do you have a book that you read every year to get in the mood for Halloween?  If not, do you have a tradition that you participate in?

Answer: I haven't re-read a book in a very long time, but I do try to read scary books often and I double my efforts come Fall.  I also watch scary movies and at Halloween time there are so many on to choose from.  I also make sure to go to a haunted house as soon as one opens for the season.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

New York Ramblings - Warrenology.

What: Warrenology.
When: May 24, 2014.
Where: The Warren's Occult Museum.

While scrolling around Facebook one day, I noticed a post for an event to meet Elaine Warren and, as portrayed in the movie The Conjuring, tour their museum of haunted and cursed artifacts. This was right up my spooky alley so I messaged Kate from Midnight Book Girl because she was planning to come up that weekend in anticipation of BEA.  She was right on board with me and we anxiously looked forward to a night of creepy fun.

Lorraine Warren ironically lives on a dead end and her house in nestled among trees and shrubs.  Maybe it seems a bit more forlorn than the residences surrounding it, but I don't think kids hesitate to trick or treat at her house on Halloween. 

When we arrived we were escorted to the living room where we sat auditorium style and while we waited for the evening to start, I looked around trying to soak in every detail.  Lorraine housed a few cats and I could hear a rooster (or chicken) clucking in the next room.  The decor was crowded with mementos, pictures and decorative as well as some religious items.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, maybe something a bit more occult?  But it was no more frightening than an elderly aunt's or grandmother's home.  Her son-in-law, Tony Spera, introduced himself and told us what would be in store for the evening.  We would watch a video of an exorcism that Lorraine attended, then would be led into the basement for the museum tour, then we would travel to the cemetery where Ed Warren was bured and then onto a restaurant for dinner and a chance to chat with Ms. Warren and buy books. 

The iconic Lorraine Warren was introduced and appeared from the kitchen amidst jokes from her son-in-law that she was drinking.  Sweet and good natured, with her famous bun securely on her head, Lorraine welcomed her guests and talked to us about herself.  Tony took over and showed us "the" video (again as portrayed in The Conjuring).  I expected it to scare me, but not so much.  Tony then told us a few stories about Ed and Lorraine and then talked to us about the cursed doll Annabelle!  Eeek!  Several stories of scoffers and their demise, we were warned NOT to touch anything!  And if we were to let someone know right away so they could bless us and take the necessary precautions. 

The steep staircase and long basement hallway were lined with decorations, historical posters of the Warren's appearances and many spooky paintings by Ed Warren himself.  Then we were led into the coolest.  Room.  Ever.  Lined with cases and bookshelves holding displays and artifacts from their cases and from allegedly haunted places around the world, the room was an homage to the Warren's career.  Some items they collected themselves and some were given to them for safe keeping.  It was like an occult shop exploded and a true testament to their lives.
After much examination and picture taking we caravanned to the gravesite of Ed Warren.  Tony explained the symbols on his monument, basics of spirit photography in a graveyard and his personal experience of hope and assurance that his late father in law came through from the other side and made contact.

At the restaurant we were served a tasty dinner and was able to meet new people, relax, buy books and personally meet Lorraine.

People came from all over the country making a weekend trip out of the event.  Whether you are a believer, or just interested.  you may want to check out Warrenology for yourself.

The famous Annabelle. 

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