Wednesday, April 24, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World: A Hidden Gem

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)
Version: Theater purchase

Seems like the How to Train Your Dragon series can do no wrong. All three movies were brilliant -- kudos to Dreamworks! The second sequel, The Hidden World, stayed the course and may have been the best of the three. If you haven't seen it yet, get to a theater now before it's gone, because it's a great story and the animation is superb. It will pay to see it on the big screen. Two more days left at my local theater!

In this chapter of the story, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is leading their Viking clan with his dragon Toothless the favored leader of the clan's weyr. Yet despite their defense of everything dragon, enemy clans still want to capture and kill off Toothless and his charges. Hiccup remembers a myth of a land beyond the edge of the world where dragons live free and safe, and he searches for it as a last refuge against the attack of the merciless and seemingly unstoppable mercenary Grimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), whose specialty is the black night fury dragon of Toothless's species.

The characters from the past films return, including Hiccup's love interest, Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), who provide support in the great cause. And there are, of course, the band of insanely cute and lovable dragons these feisty Vikings would be lost without. Dreamworks Animation provides each with amazing colors and designs and expressions that give them personalities all their own. And this sets this animated film apart from others for the attention to detail it gives to entertain its audience.

There is tremendous depth to this story, recapturing the magic of the two previous How to Train Your Dragon films, and capping the narrative arc of the trilogy with a feast of characters and settings and, to cap it all off, the hidden world of dragons that is an amazing fantasy world of color and imagination. The film is worth seeing just to visit this hidden world. But of course, it wouldn't be How to Train Your Dragon without its heart, which is taken with the love of human and beast, in this case, his or her faithful and fearless dragon and the sacrifices each makes for the other. Be ready to put your own heart on the line as Hiccup, Astrid, and the amazing list of other unforgettable characters face the most difficult decision of their lives in this third wonderful film of the series.

Get to the theater quick before How to Train Your Dragon -- The Hidden World leaves the big screen. You really need to see it there before you see it on DVD.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

How Can I Avoid Paying for a Damaged Textbook?

Damaged Binding: The Expense of Replacement
By Alan Eggleston, Book Editor and retired writer and editor, former bookseller

Reader Amy wrote back in July 2018:
Hello! My 7th-grade son was recently charged $85 for a broken spine (pages falling out) on his 3-year-old algebra textbook (hardcover). He was not rough with it in any way - he used it every day, and carried it back and forth to school. I contend that the BOOK is at fault, not my son! Do you have any advice on how to argue against this fine? I would appreciate any thoughts you may have. Thank you!
Unfortunately, when Amy wrote this I was recovering from complex surgery and it's taken a long time to build up my wherewithal to get back to writing for my blog. But here is a response at long last. I wrote a short reply back in February, but here's a fuller explanation.

The Possible Problem

Several things could contribute to pages falling out of a three-year-old algebra book. It could be a book damaged by an earlier owner or owners. It could be careless use by your son other than being rough. Equally, it could be a faulty binding by the publisher. The best way to tell is to look down inside the spine: Is there peeling, flaking glue and string? Is the spine in general disrepair? Is the spine firm or does it give a lot when opening the book, and does it hold its shape when you stand it vertical? Are the pages discolored inside where they meet the spine? Is there any flaking glue at the back edges of the pages? Are there full stringing holes at the back edge of the pages or are they torn? Was any of this present when you got the book in the fall?

If there is peeling, flaking, and discoloration in the binding at the spine or at the back of the pages, the gluing could be damaged, such as from weather. Three years isn't an old age for a book, but if it isn't cared for during that age the glue and string can be damaged, such as getting wet, damp, or cold or hot. If the spine is bent the strings can be stressed and broken. If the book is stored in cold, damp places such as the car or garage or basement, or if it gets hot sitting in the sun too long, it can be damaged, too, weakening the binding. Mold and mildew can set in, also weakening the binding.


Look at all your textbooks as soon as you get them. Leaf through the pages and gently tug the pages. Check the binding to make sure it's in good shape -- has it been over- stressed by previous owners? Look down the inside of the spine for discoloration, peeling, and flaking of glue and worn string. Look at the back edge of pages where they meet the spine for discoloration. Obviously, don't try to pull out pages, just make sure they're secure. If you see any problems or have questions, return the book to school and get a replacement. Or at least get an assurance you won't be charged for replacement when you return it at the end of the semester or year.

If everything looks good, take care of the book while it's in your possession. Treat it like any book you intend to keep. Don't store it in cold, damp places nor in hot very dry places. If the book gets wet, gently dry it such as with a hair dryer on a low setting. Keep the temperature and humidity environment as even as possible for the best possible results. And keep the book clean and dust-, mold-, and mildew-free. Also, treat the spine gently, opening the book no more than halfway -- if you have a new textbook, break it in gently.

What to Do if There's a Problem

In my experience, schools aren't very sympathetic to students or parents when there's a damaged book. Schools often don't have extra funds available and they always assume families are at fault. So the best thing is to always be proactive and avoid problems in the first place. But sometimes it just isn't avoidable! It isn't always your fault. 

If there's a binding problem:
  1. Seek out a professional publishing binding repairer and see if it would be cheaper to repair it.
  2. See if you can find a cheaper replacement book in otherwise equal or better condition, There are online textbook stores -- see what's available!
  3. Explain why it wasn't your fault (such as if you can show it was faulty manufacturing). 
  4. You could always try to refuse to pay, but it's unlikely to work. The school holds too much power over you and your kids.
It's always valuable to remember: Investing effort in book care now may save you a more expensive investment in a book you don't want to keep later!

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Paddington 2: Better Than the Original and Great Family Fun

Movie Review: Paddington 2 (2017)
Version: Cable TV rental

If you enjoyed Paddington (2014), you should love Paddington 2, the return of everyone's favorite Peruvian bear become Londonite. I actually liked Paddington 2 better than the original. It was original, it was imaginative, it was full of comical situations with very interesting characters, and it starred a most interesting bear who almost everyone likes, including a brood of criminals in a London prison who can't resist his innocent charms.

It seems Paddinton Bear, now Paddington Brown since he has been adopted by the Brown family, has been looking for a gift for his 100-year-old Aunt Lucy back in the rain forest of Peru. He goes to the antique store, where he finds a pop-up book that makes the perfect gift. Except he tells the wrong person about the book, a nascent actor looking for clues to a lost treasure which are given in the book. When Paddington is mistaken for the actor who steals the book in a break-in, he is sent to prison, where he meets the brood of misfit criminals, who come to like him and want to help him clear his name. Meanwhile, the Brown family also set out to prove Paddington's innocence.

Paddington and his group of prison mates break out to find the book and capture the man who framed Paddington, Close on their heels are the Brown family, who are also close on the bad guy's trail. All make for a fun frolic in Paddington's new London environment as he prepares to celebrate Aunt Lucy's very exceptional birthday. Oh, dear -- wrong bear, that's Pooh.

The great cast from the original Paddington returns, with the addition of the lovable rascal Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, the eccentric actor. Among the cast are Ben Whishaw who voices Paddington; Sally Hawkins  is the mother, Mary Brown; Hugh Bonneville plays the father, Henry Brown; Julie Walters portrays Mrs Bird, the mother-in-law; and Jim Broadbent is Mr Gruber, the store owner. And there is a host of entertaining actors portraying the prison crew to add the perfect touch of fun.

Do see Paddington 2. It's great family fun.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

A Sea of Gold: Quintessential Kydd and a Great Read!

Book Review: A Sea of Gold by Julian Stockwin
Version: Publisher provided

For my money, Sea of Gold is the best in Julian Stockwin's 21-book Thomas Kydd series yet.

Sea of Gold picks up where Iberian Flame leaves off, with Captain Sir Thomas Kydd in command of the British frigate Tyger off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. He joins another frigate captain, Lord Thomas Cochrane, who is famous for daring raids against France. Both are to fight off Napoleon's attempts to retake Spain, chasing after French forces off the east coast of France and Spain and the eastern end of the Pyrenees mountains. Then the two join forces in league against a French fleet off the west coast of France running the British blockade in an attempt to leave for the Caribbean to make mischief in the colonies. You join in the skirmishes and battles as Stockwin engages the reader in the fun of well detailed drama and action of the seas, in harbors, and in close quarters as Kydd and his crew work desperately around uncertain conditions and under unreliable leaders to beat back foes, French and British.

In another part of Europe, Kydd's good friend Renzi (Lord Farndon) becomes involved in foreign intrigue to aid the British government in funding its lone ally, Austria, in the battle against France. Risking his life and freedom from inside French territory, Renzi also unknowingly puts Kydd's persona fortune in jeopardy, a result of Kydd's exploration of insurance speculation during personal time off back in London. Making for a touching scene later in this story, Kydd's long-time crew rush to the captain's rescue to help him save his home and career.

Most of the Kydd-series books feature detailed battle scenes and great interactions with his crew. More recently Stockwin has turned to historical events removed from action at sea and focused on international events. Well, Sea of Gold gets back to the heart of action at sea and what makes the characters click as a crew. Everything comes back together in this highly enjoyable read of what I think brings loyal readers back to Stockwin's stories again and again. Sea of Gold is quintessential Kydd and a great read!