Ringing in 2015

Well, the new year is almost upon us, and looking back on this year I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by. I feel like the most I’ve accomplished is a minor job for my resume and another great trip with my fiance. On the other hand, I did hit some minor goals. I watched the entire Harry Potter series, got caught up on my 3DS games (though I’m now behind a little again), and got into a few TV shows again by finally watching “Avatar” and enjoying the craziness that is “Gravity Falls” I’m positive I’m missing a few things, but the main thing to take away is that I found this year for me personally to be relatively mundane.

This was also the most prominent year I’ve experienced yet for celebrity deaths, at least celebrities I’ve grown up with. On the internet front, we lost Justin “JewWario” Carmichael, who was an amazing guy and just so happy-go-lucky despite harboring some demons. We’ll soon be coming up to the “anniversary” of his death, and it’s going to be a weird and sad feeling.

On the movie front, there were tons, especially from my childhood: Richard Attenborough, who I’ll always remember as the late and great John Hammond from “Jurassic Park” (one of my favorite movies), the lovable Mickey Rooney, who I wish I’d seen more of, Harold Ramis, who I’ll always see as Egon (you know who I’m talking about), Bob Hoskins, who I wish I’d seen more of, and finally, the talented and hilarious Robin Williams, who even despite questionable movie choices always got a laugh out of me. Of course, there were plenty of other great people we lost this year, but these ones in particular left an impact on me.

But as it is with every year, the good still outweighed the bad for me, and I have a few things to look forward to in the coming year. I’m excited to visit my fiance in the spring for a hopefully much longer and even more eventful trip. We’re hoping to sort out what needs to be done for me to become a US citizen and maybe even discuss marriage plans. Even though I have to job hunt again, I’m hopeful to find something (NOT fast food) that I can be satisfied with before I eventually move. While I haven’t looked into much as far as what games/movies will be coming out, I’m definitely excited for the 3DS remake of “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” and I’ve made it my goal to finally beat that game after all these years of never achieving it.

I didn’t really make any resolutions last year, but this year I hope to make some progress with my fiance for our future. I want to get back into using my “Just Dance” games and the like to exercise a bit so that if I’m stuck sitting around at home, I won’t be all unhealthy and lazy all the time. I plan to have the Dresden series completely read by the end of the year (hopefully), as well as maybe even the books I still have to read yet. I also want totry to complete some games I’ve been putting off besides my 3DS ones, such as “Okami” for the Wii. And of course, I want to continue being happy with my life no matter what the year throws at me.

So, those are my wishes for 2015. I hope far more good happens than bad, both for me and for everyone out there as well. Have a happy new year! 🙂

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“Last Christmas” Review – Spoiler Free

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I know, I know, the last month or so on this blog has been all about “Doctor Who” and especially “The Dresden Files.” But as I did last year with “Time of the Doctor”, I wanted to talk about this year’s Christmas special. However, in case anyone still has to see it, I’m keeping this one spoiler-free. With that in mind, let’s dive into the plot.

Clara wakes up on Christmas Eve to discover Santa Claus and his elves stuck on her rooftop. Just before she can grasp what’s happening, the Doctor appears and asks her to come with him on an important but dangerous trip. They arrive at a base in the North Pole to discover a group of scientists and some people whose heads are engulfed by strange, alien crabs. Can the Doctor and Clara save these people from the aliens, and why is Santa trying to help out as well?

I’ll get to my main opinion now: I liked this episode. As a Christmas special, the inclusion of Santa, his elves and reindeer, and even the North Pole pushed this one far up for me as feeling Christmas-y. Plotwise, it has a lot of twists and turns that keep it interesting, though one twist in particular starts feeling overused by the end. I enjoyed the elf characters, but my MVPs for this special were the Doctor (of course), Santa Claus (surprisingly) and another character who gave me my absolute favorite Clara scenes in the entirety of her run. You just have to see it for yourself.

Santa was played by Nick Frost, who I’ve loved ever since discovering his and Simon Pegg’s work. His version of Santa was a lot of fun, a bit sarcastic and jokey, but still clever. He doesn’t play up the usual cliche of going all “Ho ho ho” and the Doctor in particular even notes how less jolly he is than normal. It ties into the plot later on, but needless to say I really liked his performance here.

Capaldi as usual did a great job and I liked the use of humor in this with him, both with his own quips and playing off of Santa. His scenes with Clara were well done, especially one near the end that was downright heartwarming while it lasted. There’s another great moment near the end that has him embracing his childlike sense of joy, and it made me go, “There he is. That’s the joyful Doctor I’ve been missing.” It fit perfectly for a Christmas-themed episode and made me smile.

I won’t talk about the other character, as it involves major spoilers, but the acting and purpose surrounding them was very, very good. There are side characters, namely the scientists, but I found I only got attached to maybe two of them and even while watching the episode I had trouble recalling their names. They (mostly) have nice send-offs, but as supporting characters I felt they weren’t as interesting as they could’ve been. However, that was also tied into the plot, so while I still prefer characters like those from “Time Heist,” these were a step up from many other previous ones.

Now we come to my problems with the episode, and aside from my minor grievance with a reoccurring plot twist, most of my problems center with (you guessed it) Clara. I’ve already talked in length about being biased toward disliking her, but this episode did give me a few good moments with her. However, it also gave me an ending that fell short. I never kept up with the speculation about Jenna Coleman staying or leaving after this special, so I didn’t know what her final decision was. But despite finding out after the fact, I still felt the ending to this episode was a bit rushed. It sets up this shocking but great moment that could’ve been taken into many directions, only to subvert it by the end. There was potential to do something amazing with her story and I felt it was completely wasted.

With all that in mind, “Last Christmas” is still worth giving a watch. It has a weird but interesting plot, good character moments, some great humor and tons of creepiness as well. Even though I still consider “A Christmas Carol” to be my absolute favorite special, this one tops some of the others for me.

I give “Last Christmas” a solid 8.5/10.

“Grave Peril” Review

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Okay, I ended up finishing the third book sooner than expected. While I plan to take a small break from Dresden now, I’m going to continue covering the series on this blog. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at “Grave Peril.”

The central mystery Dresden has to deal with in this one revolves around ghosts, dredged up from the other side (aka the Nevernever, more on that later) by an unknown force. One ghost in particular called the Nightmare seems to be targeting Harry and his friends specifically. On top of that, Harry’s not-so-nice godmother is after him as well. Are the two interconnected, or could the Nightmare have its own agenda?

There’s a lot more to the plot besides that vague description, but to say more about it would be getting into a ton of spoilers. I WILL say that this is easily the most twisty-turny story so far. I was only able to predict one thing in the course of it. I think I more blame myself for having seen too many supernatural shows/movies than I do the book for making it semi-obvious. The book’s focus stays on the ghosts and NIghtmare for a while to make you think that that’s the obstacle Harry will have to overcome, but the story quickly becomes much deeper than that. It’s a lot to take in, but I found it super engaging and clever in the directions it took.

A couple supporting characters make their debut here, and I’m going to mention two of the big ones. First, there’s Michael, a Knight of the Cross who wields a powerful sword called Amoracchius. This sword is also very important to the story. Michael is a man of faith and also a famiy man, as we get to meet his wife, Charity, his young daughter, Molly, and there’s mentioned of their son who Charity is pregnant with. Michael plays a big part in the story and is easily one of my new favorite supporting characters. I love how he interacts with Harry and acts like his opposite in nearly every way, from having a family to even just hating swearing. I’m normally not big on overly religious characters, as I can find them preachy at times, but Michael hits the right balance for me. There are times I find him nosy like Harry does, and there are plenty of other times where I find myself siding with him against Harry. I’ve been told I’ll see more of him through the series and I honestly can’t wait.

The other character I’ll mention is someone who resides in the Nevernever, which is the spirit world and also acts as another world for supernatural beings. It’s here, during a ghost chase, that we meet someone from Harry’s background: Lea, his faerie godmother (yes, really). Unfortunately, this godmother isn’t the kind, overly helpful type that you’d see in “Cinderella.” Lea is set up to be a character to hate and you really DO grow to hate her. She’s manipulative, cunning and takes every chance possible to bring Harry in to serve her. She ties into a deal he made as a young man, and her pursuit of him is something I feel won’t be resolved anytime soon. But, as much as I dislike her, I can’t help wanting to know more about her and by extension Harry.

If I had to gripe about this book, it’d be two minor things. One would be the use of Michael near the end, where he basically is taken out of the story so we can focus on what Harry’s doing. It’s a REALLY minor nitpick, though, as the stuff Harry’s involved in is far more interesting. The other minor thing would be Murphy’s lack of presence in the book. I’ve liked Murphy since day one, but in this she doesn’t get much to do. She’s involved at one point with the Nightmare plot, but it leaves her in a state where she’s out of the story till the very last chapter. While it was a good way to show she’s not invulnerable to danger and will no doubt have lasting consequences for her, I was just a little disappointed that she couldn’t be involved. Still, once again a minor point, and I know I’ll be seeing plenty of her in future books.

Overall, “Grave Peril” is my favorite story in terms of the twists and turns involved. While “Fool Moon” had a pretty huge cast of supporting characters, both good and bad, this one felt a bit more focused. We get to know characters like Michael and Lea pretty well, the Nightmare and other threats presented are given a lot of detail both in character and schemes, and existing characters have a few new developments given to them. While this book is also set up to be easily read by newcomers, I would still recommend starting from the first book so you can really appreciate the twists and turns this book presents.

I give “Grave Peril” a 9.5/10.

“Fool Moon” Review

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As promised last week, this week I’ve decided to cover the second book of “The Dresden Files.” I finished reading it before my Miami trip ended and I’m already a good way through the third book as we speak. But for now, let’s take a look at “Fool Moon” and see how it holds up.

From the title and given the source material, you can probably deduce that this book has something to do with werewolves (I know I did even before my fiance mentioned it). The plot involves Harry Dresden once again helping Murphy on a case involving what appears to be a serial killer werewolf or possible imitator. Along the way, Dresden gets tangled up in both the mob and a variety of werewolf factions, making it harder to figure out who the culprit is. Will he find and stop the killer before he or the people around him meet a bloody end?

Plotwise, I enjoyed this book even more than the first. While I still prefer vampires (no, not the sissy Twilight ones) over werewolves as my monster of choice, I liked the representations involved with the story. You have the magically-induced hexenwolves, the seemingly more “traditional” werewolves, lycanthropes, and the fabled loup-garou, just to give you a taste of how many are in this. It was a little daunting at first keeping track of them all and also the people involved, but Jim Butcher did a good job at making them stand out from each other. I definitely didn’t expect the culprit until the reveal, and the book has an intense climax and ending that left me feeling satisfied.

A few things carry over from the first book as well, such as Harry’s friendship with Murphy now being strained due to him appearing untrustworthy to her. He also gets in a pseudo relationship with Susan, one that appears to be very physical from the brief mentions of it. Their status as a couple is outlined a bit better from what I’ve seen in the third book, but I can’t help thinking how much more interesting it would’ve been if she had been a fresh face from the first book for him and not just someone for us to meet. That’s not to say I dislike Susan, because I do think she’s a good character and I love that she’s a reporter given my own college background. I just feel their relationship, as presented in this book, wasn’t very defined. Though, to be fair, it’s not the main focus of either story and I’m glad Butcher tends to keep things focused on the mystery occurring within the book.

I found the supporting characters even more interesting in this story, particularly that of Tera, a werewolf who has a connection to the case and aids Harry whenever necessary. I found her mysterious and honestly pretty cool, and if she were to ever pop up in the future, I’d be happy. Many of the werewolf characters in general were interesting, and I’ve been told at least one of them returns in a later book, which I’m hoping will give them more characterization.

If I had to nitpick, aside from my minor grievance with the Harry/Susan relationship, there are two things I can pick on. The first would be a character introduced in the first chapter, Kim Delaney. We’re told she was mentored by Harry, but this is our first time meeting her and she very quickly “leaves” the book as quickly as she came in. Aside from minor plot relevance later, we don’t learn a whole lot about her and it would have been nice if she was a character we’d met in the first book to make a real connection with. As such, she just felt like a wasted opportunity.

The second thing is something I’ve noticed even since the first book, but I felt it was more noticeable here. On a technical level, there are a few glaring spelling mistakes in the book. I’ve even spotted at least one while reading the third, and I have to wonder if it was an oversight by the editor. I’m usually not a stickler for grammar, but when it comes to spelling, it just kinda irks me a little and makes me think, “I could’ve totally done a better job.”

That being said, despite some really minor flaws, I really liked “Fool Moon.” There was even more action, the various werewolves were fun to both learn about and get to know, the true culprit caught me off-guard in a good way, and the main characters and even supporting ones are once again well-written. I’ll be back in a couple weeks time (possibly even before Christmas) to go over the third installment.

Until then, I give “Fool Moon” a solid 9/10.

Blogging Woes (AKA Having Too Much on Your Mind)

If you’re like me and like to blog, I pose a question to you. Ever have one of those times when you have many things you can blog about and yet don’t know which to choose? That basically sums up my feelings this week as I grasp at the last few days of my trip before I have to head back home to prepare for job searching and the Christmas festivities.

This week involved a lot of things for me, especially from a review standpoint. I saw both “The Book of Life” and “Big Hero 6,” both of them fun, enjoyable movies that looked great and, despite simple plots, had a lot of heart through the characters. I’d highly recommend them both to the casual viewer. I also tried “Guitar Hero 3” for the first time, both with a PS3 controller and later a PS2 wireless guitar. I was pretty bad with both, but it’s a game that takes practice and is pretty fun when you accomplish something. I’m slowly going through “Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire” and loving every minute of it. I only ever tried “Emerald,” but this version feels fresh and well done so far. After a few months of searching to no avail, I managed to find and get a copy of “Harvest Moon: Animal Parade” for the Wii. It’s a game I’ve been interested in since watching PeanutButterGamer’s review of it and I’m happy to have finally found it. And, after a slow start, I finished reading the second Dresden book today, “Fool Moon.” I won’t go into details, though, as I may review it next week.

I’ve managed to try a few new restaurants during this trip, as well as indulge in some of my favorites from past trips. Some of these new ones include a delicious Cuban restaurant called Islas Canaria and an awesome donut cafe called Mojo’s Donuts. Another new one I visited just yesterday was a Japanese seafood buffet restaurant called Kamado’s. I’d never tried Japanese food before, so I was pretty excited to try it out. Besides classics like chicken balls, wings and boneless ribs, I had many firsts at this place: Veggie tempura, an Alaskan roll of sushi, miso and wonton soup (I preferred the wonton), specially made donuts, and even green tea-flavored ice cream (surprisingly good). It was a great experience and I definitely wouldn’t mind revisiting Kamado’s in the future.

I’ve been able to meet a few more new people on this trip, most notably my fiance’s sister’s new beau and some friends of Tony and Lee Ann’s. Thanks to Thanksgiving, I reunited with family from my future mom-in-law’s side (who are always awesome) and even revisited some from his dad’s side that I haven’t seen since a few years ago. I’ll be seeing his dad this weekend before I head home, so it’ll be a good rounding out of all the usual friendly faces for such a short trip.

The only thing left now is whether or not I’ll be heading home on time or end up having to extend my trip. Bad weather has been called for the day I come home and I’m not sure what the plan will be until the day prior to it. Despite those concerns, I’m thankful to my parents for giving me this trip as an early Christmas present, and I’m hoping it’ll ease the wait between now and my eventual return trip next spring. It might have been hectic at times, but I’m grateful I’ve had this time to see my fiance, experience all these new things, and even pick up a few early Christmas presents for myself. 🙂