Battlestar Galactica, Season 3 Review

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Review:

So, after two seasons of exceptional television by really any measure, season three of Battlestar Galactica is where it started to go off the rails. After a fairly strong start on New Caprica with what is probably the single most spectacular battle scene in the show’s run, the rest of the season frequently floundered. It became increasingly clear that not only did the Cylons not have a plan, the writers really didn’t either.

What the plot lacked in logic and continuity, it did make up for in shock value, especially in the killer season finale: “Crossroads, Part 2.” Unfortunately, a few big shocking moments don’t make up for the muddled mess that was most of the rest of the season. The season was partially salvaged by some great character work from the actors, but overall, it was a disappointment.

Season three does, however, seem like a good time to point out something I was remiss in not mentioning earlier: the music! Battlestar Galactica has an absolutely beautiful score composed by Bear McCreary, whose blog posts also offer some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits. Here’s the show’s opening credits music as a sample:

Why is season three an especially good time to mention the music? Another of the most memorable music choices in the series takes place in the aforementioned season finale as the Final Five are revealed to the immortal strains of Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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Melissa & Doug Grill Set

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Review:

We purchased this years ago as a gift for a young nephew, who played with it for several years before passing it back to our children when he outgrew it. The set has changed slightly in the intervening time – our set has cherry tomatoes, whereas the current set appears to have tomato slices.

My feelings about this set are a little more mixed than most Melissa & Doug products. The kids have a great time cutting up the onion and pepper and skewering the meat and vegetables. They are high quality and have stood up well to frequent play by several children of various ages over several years. They can also be used to help teach basic skills such as colors and patterns.

However, my kids barely play with the grill itself, which is kind of poor quality by Melissa & Doug standards. It consists of a wooden box (no complaints there) with a sheet of sturdy plastic with lines drawn on it to represent the “grill”. The coals are painted on the bottom of the box. I think it would feel more realistic if there were either some play coals to rearrange with the tongs or real bars on the grill (or, preferably, both). As it is, the grill gets used mainly to store everything when not in use.

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Dragonsdale Book Review

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Review:

I am pretty sure that if I’d read this book as a 10 year old girl, I would have loved it unconditionally. Reading it as a 30-something woman instead, there were a few conditions, but I found it to be an enjoyable read.

Dragonsdale is essentially a horse book with dragons instead of horses. This is a good thing as far as I’m concerned – I loved horse books as a girl and making the horses into dragons was a fun twist. Wikipedia tells me that 16 year old “Salamanda Drake” is actually two middle aged guys named Steve, and the two Steves must be commended for putting some real thought into the differences you might expect between a riding academy for dragons and one for horses. The worldbuilding was nicely done, especially for the audience, with enough details to bring Dragonsdale to life, yet plenty of scope for the eager imaginations of young girls dreaming of a tame dragon of their very own. 

My main issue with the book (and again, this is the perspective of an adult reader – I don’t think it would bother most children) was the behavior of the father. Admittedly, grief can make people behave quite irrationally, but for a guy so traumatized by his wife’s fatal accident that he can’t bear to let his daughter ride, he doesn’t seem to have any issues riding himself. It seems just plain cruel to forbid her to ride at the same time he’s raising her surrounded by dragons, and forced day in and day out to watch others ride them, including others far younger or less knowledgeable than she herself. Imho, it’s way beyond irrational and into the realm of stupid to expect her to obey him forever under those circumstances.

Similarly, I’m sure dealing with the spoiled daughters of aristocrats is a nightmare (yay democracy!) but as a former equestrian, I was really giving him the side-eye when he let his anger get in the way of his judgement enough to foist off an untrained mount on a rider he knew to be both incompetent and cruel, thus putting the life of both the rider and the dragon at risk. It would be bad enough if it were a horse, but something that can fly, breathe fire, and eat people? Seriously?

Despite my issues with the father’s characterization, Dragonsdale was enjoyable, and I think it would make a great read for kids about 8-12, especially girls who love horses.

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Princess Smartypants Book Review

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Review:

I have somewhat mixed feelings about Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants. On the one hand, it’s an entertaining and funny book. On the other hand, I don’t think that Princess Smartypants herself is a particularly good role model for girls (feminist or otherwise), so if you’re looking specifically for princess books that do have good role models, this one probably shouldn’t be on the list.

One of the most common types of Rebellious Princess is the princess who doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Princess Smartypants takes this one step farther and doesn’t want to get married, period. She is quite happy being single, thankyouverymuch. I think that’s great. Not all women do want to get married, after all, and it’s fantastic to see a heroine who’s a confirmed bachelor and not just “waiting for Mr. Right.”

That said, I thought that some of the methods Smartypants uses to get rid of her unwanted suitors were mean-spirited. Later, when one of her suitors manages to outsmart her and pass all the tests she devises to win her hand in marriage, she gets rid of him with a dirty, underhanded trick. Prince Swashbuckle isn’t exactly a charmer himself – he’s conceited and smug and when he passes her tests, he concludes that Smartypants isn’t so smart after all – but I would have preferred that she beat him fair and square. As it is, she comes off as kind of a spoiled brat and this mars an otherwise fun book.

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

A Gentleman of Fortune Book Review

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Review:

I picked this up at the library the other day and found it to be an enjoyable read. Advertised as a cross between Jane Austen and Miss Marple, it’s a respectable addition to both the cozy and historical shelves of the mystery section. The heroine and sleuth, a Regency spinster named Dido Kent, wasn’t as memorable as some, but was clever and appealing enough to spend a few afternoons with, and the mystery itself kept me guessing. On the downside, I found part of the solution to be improbable to the point that it broke my suspension of disbelief, but I still enjoyed it enough that I plan to read some of the other Dido Kent mysteries.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

RCA 7″ Portable DVD Player (DRC99371E) Review

Review:

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We don’t have a television or DVD player, so we got this portable DVD player to enable our kids to watch movies on devices other than the computer. We picked this one mainly because it was the cheapest one at Target, but it turned out to be a decent basic player. The controls were easy to use and the construction sturdy enough to stand up to a fair bit of abuse from the two year old, as well as more gentle use from the older members of the family. After almost a year of frequent use, it finally kicked the bucket after the little guy spilled water on it, but prior to that it survived being dropped, stepped on, and more.

Our primary complaint was the relatively low volume, which worked okay for louder movies but could make dialogue hard to hear in quieter ones. Some sort of child lock to prevent the toddler from randomly stopping, skipping, fast forwarding, etc. would have been appreciated as well, but if all you need is an inexpensive device with basic features, this is a good value.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Giant Boulder of Death App Review

Giant Boulder of Death (AppStore Link) Giant Boulder of Death
Developer: Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
Rated: 9+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Review:

A fun game that takes the same gleeful pleasure in mass destruction as Hungry Shark Evolution. Instead of a hungry shark, you’re an enormous boulder rolling down a mountain in the Alps and smashing everything (and everyone) in your path. In addition to the basic theme, Giant Boulder of Death comes with several extra themes, of which my favorite so far is Happy Holiboulder. I was kind of annoyed that the pink and girly Ms. Boulder theme boasts of easier challenges. Really, guys?

It’s much faster to load than Hungry Shark Evolution, so we end up playing it more, but it has a tendency to be laggy at times, which can be frustrating, too.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Hungry Shark Evolution App Review

Hungry Shark Evolution (AppStore Link) Hungry Shark Evolution
Developer: Ubisoft
Rated: 12+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Review:

This is a fun but somewhat frustrating game where you get to play, essentially, Jaws and chow down on everything you can catch, from schools of fish to monster crabs to parasailers and beyond. Hurtling your sleek fangy body through water and air alike to catch your next meal is the fun part, especially once you get to the larger shark species like the Tiger and the Great White (we have not yet reached the Megalodon) and can start chowing down on old nemeses from earlier levels. Take THAT, Lionfish!

Unfortunately, the game is super slow to load, to the point that if you have an unusually bad run or two you can spend more time waiting for the darn thing to start up again than you do actually playing the game. The directional controls (both tilt and manual) can also be a bit frustrating and prone to getting confused, but I’m not sure if that’s the controls themselves or just me not being very good at using them. (I would assume the latter except my nephew, who’s much better at this sort of game than I am, mentioned something similar to me when we were talking about the game.) As a result of these frustrations, we don’t play it that often, even though we have fun when we do.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Take the Lead Movie Review

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Review:

Based on an inspiring true story about a ballroom dancing instructor who taught inner city kids. Like many movies about inner city schools, Take the Lead resorts too frequently to cliches, but overall this is an enjoyable, feel good film with a good performance by Antonio Banderas as the instructor, Pierre Dulaine, and some nice dance scenes, including a particularly hot tango with Lithuanian-Canadian dancer Katya Virshilas.

 

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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LEGO Friends Olivia’s Tree House (3065)

Review:

My daughter has always wanted a treehouse of her own, so I think that’s why she picked this set out. It’s an okay set. There’s nothing notable about the build, in my opinion, but the play value is decent. It’s good for secret clubhouses and such (a la the G.R.O.S.S. clubhouse in Calvin & Hobbes.)

Update: Since we purchased it, the set has been discontinued and it is now priced as a collectible item rather than a children’s toy. For several similar alternatives, check out the new Lego Friends jungle theme, especially Jungle Rescue Base (41038) and Jungle Tree Sanctuary (41059).

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)