Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Review of Universal Studios and Fright Night

Last October, I went to Universal Studios (Hollywood) and Fright Night with my two young adult daughters. Below is a summary and review of the park.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS: The park is open between 8am-6pm for their standard attractions.  We purchased Universal Studio Express tickets which were roughly more than doubles the price of the basic admission.  I loved the Express lines.  We usually walked right into the attraction.  The longest wait time was about ten minutes long.  

The main attraction my daughters and I were most excited about was the Harry Potter section. We headed straight there after entering the park.  The general area was decked out like a movie set of Hogwarts, promoted a roller coaster and a simulated movie-ride, and featured enchanting stores, concessions, and an old time stone castle restaurant.  We were captivated by the Harry Potter memorabilia, such as a wand store and shops that sold wizard robes and magic props.  The cobblestone streets broke off into out-of-the-way alleys with more shops.

The gigantic castle was where the simulated Harry Potter flying ride was housed.  With our Express tickets, we leisurely walked to the front of the line.  Others had at least a two-hour wait.  As we headed to the ride car, we were enamored with the alcoves within the castle that were arranged with screens, movie props, famous characters, and some supernatural gimmicks.

The actual ride was not working perfectly.  The movements were sharp, jerky, and created motion sickness.  The ride malfunctioned about three times, stopping in the middle of scenes, including the flying broom Quidditch game, which gave me and my two daughters utter nausea after exiting the ride.  The queasiness did not leave us until lunch time.  Later on, I vomited in my extra large soda cup and then felt so much better.  My daughters never vomited, but their spins eventually went away.

Another ride that made us sick was the Minion movie ride.  The movie theater had special seats that moved during the interactive movie.  That ride might have been okay had it not been for the Harry Potter ride.

Our favorite attraction was the tram ride.  The backlot sets and the mini-reenactments of Jaws and Fast and Furious were outstanding.  We also enjoyed lunch at City Walk as well as the shopping.  The Waterworld show demonstrated special effects and stunts with a fun story and was highly entertaining.  Some of the rides with movie simulations were avoided because we feared that we might get nauseous again.

All in all, Universal Studios is very expensive and probably worth the money.  I would have a different opinion if we waited in line for most of the day.


Dining Hall at Hogwarts

Fright Night happened every night at 6:00pm when most of the Universal Studio attractions closed and then the park seamlessly turned into a collection of haunted houses.  It's a separate ticket cost and a separate Express fee.  The Express fee was roughly triple the cost of the tickets.  My daughters and I absolutely loved it.  The longest wait time was about twenty minutes.  We saw every house and attraction.  All of them were excellent.

We went back to Hogwarts for dinner and ate in a whimsical dining hall that resembled a Tudor castle.  The food was English.  Shepherd's pie, chicken pot pie, roast chicken, fish and chips, and sticky pudding were some of the menu options.  We all enjoyed our food and the and prices were more reasonable than expected.  The Harry Potter ride was still open.  We decided not to give the ride a second chance, but we were delighted to gaze at the castle at night.  There were holograms over the turret and piped-in scary sounds that set such a eerie, ghastly tone for Fright Night.
The haunted houses were scattered all over the park.  We began on the lower level which hosted four of the haunted houses.  We loved all of them.  My favorite was the Holiday Mask and The Exorcist, whereas my daughters like Stranger Things.  They were all pretty scary.  No one touched us, but there were plenty of actors who jumped out of the walls to scare you.  They all wore great costumes and makeup.  The scenes in the houses were very detailed as if they might have been used for a movie.  
We then headed to some of the other haunted houses which were behind the Harry Potter section in the back lot warehouse part of the park.  Chuckie the Doll was the longest wait that we had, about twenty-five minutes.  People were waiting three hours for that house.  We enjoyed it, but it definitely wasn't worth waiting for three hours.
Throughout the night, spooks on stilts and scary monsters walked around.  Every hour there was a parade/skit that they all performed which blocked everyone from roaming through the main artery of the park.  We loved the fun, but some were in a hurry to go stand in another line.
Once again, the best "house" was not really a house, but the tram ride that took you to the backlot.  We got to walk around all of them.  Dozens of actors dressed to scare greeted us as we walked the TV and movie sets.  For example, Norman Bates walking around the Psycho House.  

Again, this would not have been a fun experience had it not been for the Express tickets.  Spend the money if you really want to go.  We saw everything.  Yes, it was over-priced, but I am glad we did it and had a blast.  We walked over 27K steps that day! 5/5 STARS!

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Review and Author Interview with Char Stratton's She Has a Right


My Review:

She Has a Right by Charlene Stratton is a memoir about some of life's disappointments and wonderful gifts.  The short (around 70 pages) read begins with Char's childhood.  Her mother gave her to her grandparents who raised her like their own child.  Char did not know her father until she was a young woman.  She then meets the love of her life, her husband Roger and learned the art of farming.  Other rough patches she encountered include her struggle with cancer.  Char has had an amazing life and is an inspiration for people who have had a rocky start.  She believes like her title that she and so many others have a right to be treated kindly, to be respected, and to be loved.  5/5 Stars
Interview with Charlene Stratton

1) What inspired you to write a memoir?

I had thought about writing my story, but didn't have the courage or know where to start. I went to a book signing in Plainfield, WI, a town close to me to see who wrote a book.  CJ Boyd and I got talking about her book and I started telling her my story. . We talked about 1 hr and shared so much. She told me you have to tell your story, and you can't smake this up. She also told me about She Rises Studio, a world wide women group that is women supporting women.  I started writing down my story and joined She Rises Studio . And they are wonderful . They are so supportive and do what they say they're going to do. I'm almost 75 and I did It!! I'm so excited and happy that I did it  . 

2) How did your grandparents feel about your mother?
My birth mother I don't think grandparents thought much about. They didn't understand her. My grandmother who became Mom they loved and seemed to respect. 

3) In today's world, how would you label your mother?  Do you think she had psychiatric problems?
Yes, I think my birth mother had psychiatric problems, very much so. Back then there was no help or understanding of this. She was never responsible, a liar, was nasty to everyone at times, and borrowed more money than I can imagine. She went for horrible men who used her. Very sad life. 

4) Do you wish you knew your father better?  When you were in Greece, did you try to find his family?
I am so glad I got to know my birth father. I wish I would have had our pictures taken together and that my kids could have met him and knew him . But the time we had together was great and sharing and loving. He told me the truth and he never said anything nasty about Joyce . We had a strong connection and I can see me in him and I'm so thankful for that 💞
5) What advice do you have for others in terms of forgiveness towards those who were supposed to be there for you?
The advice I have for people is that you need to forgive.  It frees your soul. They are products of their time and the generations before them. The only way you will grow and rise, is when you forgive and go on and teach your children to rise and don't let anyone for any reason treat you like a lesser person. Grow, rise, make a difference.   And have a beautiful life. You have only one chance to do so.

6) Your book is very inspirational.  What authors inspire you?
Alot of different authors have been interesting, but no one in particular. 

7) What is your next book going to be about?
I don't know if I will write a book again.  Maybe I will if I can help people with it and grow and rise.  Thank you for having me do this. I hope my friend helps women grow and also tell their stories to help others women rise.

Great book about forgiveness, hope, and positivity!  Thanks for being my guest, Char!

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Review of Stephen King's Fairy Tale

    Stephen King's Fairy Tale (2022) is part horror, part fantasy, and even part young adult if you don't mind the colorful language.  The book begins with a sad, lonely boy, Charlie Reade, who gets a rough start at life when his mother dies in an accident.  His father turns to the bottle and neglects Charlie as alcoholism and depression takeover.

    Charlie spends his middle school years getting in trouble with an evil friend.  His bad decisions are ignored by his father.  Charlie turns to God in despair and prays for his father's sobriety.  His prayers become bargaining tools.  If God could bring Charlie's dad back from his blurry haze, then Charlie could change as well by doing good deeds instead of cruel shenanigans.  And God hears him. Charlie's dad comes back from his personal hell through AA.  

    Now it's payback time.  Charlie gets an opportunity to pay it forward.  His neighbor, Harold Bowditch, a cantankerous elderly recluse, falls in his yard as Charlie is on his way home from school.  Charlie helps the man by getting an ambulance and then promising to watch his dog as he recovers.

 Several months go by and they form a relationship.  Mr. Bowditch is a mystery.  He oddly doesn't have Medicare or insurance to pay his medical bills.  In his desperation, he asks Charlie to go into his safe and take some of his gold to a place that will buy it without questions.  Charlie learns that Mr. Bowditch is beyond wealthy.

    Once Mr. Bowditch is released from the hospital, Charlie continues to care for him and Radar, his German Shepherd that is also not doing well due to old age.  He discovers more odd things about his neighbor and friend.  When it becomes clear that Mr. Bowditch is going to die due to other complications, he tells Charlie about his shed, a winding staircase that leads down to another world, and a magical sundial that will restore Radar by making the dog young again. After Mr. Bowditch dies, Charlie and Radar descend into the unknown where the fairy tale begins.  NO SPOILER!

The title, Fairy Tale, is just that.  There are lots of tie-ins with the great fairy tales of the centuries.  For example, Mr. Bowditch has a fairy tale library in his house.  As Charlie reads these classics, King deftly reminds the reader about famous characters and story lines.  There are many comparisons with lots of fairy tales, especially Jack and the Beanstalk.  Charlie meets several princes, princesses, ogres, monsters, talking animals, and more once he descends into an alternative world below the shed of Mr. Bowditch's house.  He gets put into a position to play the hero.

Fairy Tale is not Stephen King's best.  My personal faves are The Stand and The Shining, but it's solid King that keeps you turning the pages, loving the characters, and connecting with the plot.  One of the many interesting things that King does throughout the book, is illustrate the beginning of each chapter.  The pictures resemble old wood-cuts from the Hans Christian Andersen tales.  

    Besides the fairy tale tie-in, King brings up God a few times with universal themes of good vs. evil.  Besides the AA program with God as a higher power and Charlie's deal with God, King uses the name Gogmagog as the name of the evil force/character that has taken over the fairy tale world.  Gogmagog is technically a famous giant and also goes with King's mention of Jack and the Beanstalk.  Furthermore, Gog and Magog as separate words are biblical references from Revelation that focuses on the End of Days.  

    The characters in both Charlie's life and his alternative fairy tale life are some of the same, like a mirroring effect.  We all have princes, villains, fairy godmothers, ogres, and other archetypes that show up throughout our lives.  We have also played these archetypal roles for others.  Joseph Campbell, author of Hero with a Thousand Faces, wrote about how mythological and fairy tale characters are ingrained within our psyche.  

    Lastly, Stephen King is currently 75 years old.  For decades, he has never failed to entertain us with his infinite imagination.  I will always be a fan.  Fairy Tale does not disappoint!  5 Stars.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Mind Control in the Advertising World

 Mind Control Theme in Peacocks...

Mind control has long been a superpower that many have longed to possess.  The possibilities in power, money, and success are endless.  Corporations, governments, and militaries spend fortunes in understanding the behavior of others.  Social media giants use algorithms to predict their users’ next mouse clicks.  Influencers use products for the bandwagon effect of their fans.  Group think of major medias can impact nations’ laws and elections. But no other industry than the advertising world can make us buy products by unapologetically using mind control tactics.

The advertising industry knows how to leave an impression on the potential customer.  Ads affect the temporal lobe of the brain that processes language.  Slogans, jingles, and sounds can set off triggers.  Thin-slicing, a mental process where the advertising world targets, is a place in the brain where one makes a judgment or inference on something instantly with limited amounts of information.  Our decisions to make purchases heavily rely on colors and branding.  An image is not worth one thousand words.  Actually, images are processed 60000X faster than text.  Smell is another method that easily influences the purchases of customers.  Cinnabon, Abercrombie & Fitch, Dunkin Donuts, and even the Apple Store (they have their own fragrance) use scents at malls to lure in customers. Touch is also a very powerful tool in sales.  Waitresses who touch men’s shoulders are proven to get better tips. (Psychology Today)

Subliminal advertising is probably the most mysterious form of mind control.  Seeing or hearing something subconsciously without remembrance seems like a waste of time and money in advertising.  But it works.  Subliminal advertising gets a person to buy a product with little thought by tapping into the customer’s emotions without the customer’s awareness.  Studies show that the subliminal message works best if it is negative.  Hidden messages within branding such as Baskin and Robbins (31 is in the word), color psychology like using blue for trustworthiness (notice how a lot of apps are blue), and sounds or hidden lyrics in jingles have proven to boost sales.  Because subliminal methods work, some forms of subliminal advertising fall under illegal deceptive advertising criteria. 

Here are some famous examples.


The idea of being able to control someone and make them buy your product is intriguing.  Buy my my my book....  

If you can make someone buy your product, what else can you make he/she do?  Peacocks, Pedestals and Prayers explores the dark side of advertising in an evil, horror-paranormal novel.  Download a free copy from May 11-15.





Thursday, April 27, 2023

Interview with Author Travis Randall

 1) Travis, thanks for being my guest.  First question, what is the significance of the title of your book Hounding: A Tale of the Heaving Sky?

Hi Dina, thanks for taking the time! The title is in reference to the fact that our protagonist is on the run. Not only is he fleeing from agents of a very persistent dictator-turned-god, he's running from guilt about his possible complicity in the death of several people throughout the story, and he is hiding from some extremely important knowledge about himself and his upbringing. Additionally, something else is seeking him, something that he desperately doesn't want to meet, but that's getting into spoiler territory.

As for the 'heaving sky,' it's the world we find ourselves in, the world of the Four Corners. A catastrophe has struck, and nothing is static, the universe is still in flux. For now.

2) Your protagonist, Greydal, ends up early on in the story as disfigured with one leg.  Why did you cripple him?

Even competent people make mistakes. Debilitations can be, well, debilitating. But it's what we do to overcome and adapt to our shortcomings, trauma, and the vicissitudes of life that make us "3D," that make us a full person, capable of handling the tough stuff. The trite answer is, it builds character. 

3) Who do the Legate and Interloper/Old Man represent?

The Legate was inspired by those who are in power but are unwilling to hand the reins over to a newer generation. There's a song by Jay Munly called 'Grandfater,' which is a retelling of the classic Peter and the Wolf. In Munly's version, an old man is desperate to steal a wolf's teeth, so he can experience the vitality, respect, and strength of his youth. The Legate is like that: clinging to something gone for good, and putting everyone else through hell because of it.

Old Man Moonlight, aka the Interloper, represents the truly unknowable aspects of the world. There is a concept in medieval Christian mysticism called the 'cloud of unknowing.' It essentially suggests that the only way to mentally apprehend the divine is to accept the fact that, once you have identified any qualifiable attribute of it, you've now lost the thread. One has to surrender to the "unknowing," the mystics stated, to begin to grasp the truth. I think concepts like that fit very well with traditional cosmic horror.

4) Your figurative language is out of this world.  Some examples are "terror clothed her", "...and the rain was its laughter", "...maybe I'm a cottage and someone added other rooms without my permission", and "the underside of the cloud rolled as though filled with eels...".  Did you absolutely love English class?  Who are your favorite writers?

I was obsessed with English, but I got in trouble for bringing my own books. As for authors, Gene Wolfe and his masterpiece Book of the New Sun is a likely bet for the work which touched and influenced me the most. Which makes sense; the man's talent was otherworldly, both in the beauty of his writing and the mastery he displayed. Other writers, such as Brian Evenson, Laird Barron, Ramsey Campbell, Kathe Koja, and Peter Watts all penned fiction which is fixed in my mind forever, because of how they wove tales, used language, or introduced shocking concepts.

5) Without spoiling the story, you use ants in part of the plot.  How do ants tie into everything?  Do you feel that we are all ants to our creator?

I have a bag in the drawer of my kitchen. Anytime I see a bug in my apartment (barring spiders, because those are generally nice and helpful) I scoop them up and put them outdoors where they can hopefully flourish. If there is something bigger out there, it probably sits on the other side of a larger gap than the one between us and the ants. But I think the metaphor works well, and I hope that whatever that presence might be, it's kind.

6) In some of the scenes, I got a sense that you believe in other dimensions.  Please explain your thoughts and views on parallel universes.  (If I am way off on this, please disregard-LOL!)

I wouldn't say parallel dimensions, though tropes like that are great  for bringing a bunch of incongruous stuff together on a single page. I'm not a scientist, though I'm sure they'll continue to surprise us for as long as the profession is around. However, I've had enough bizarre experiences in my life to be very open-minded, even if I rarely agree with most peoples' answers. There's a semi-famous work called The Trickster and the Paranormal, which tries to look at the commonalities between things like UFO sightings, high strangeness, and other odd events from the credible to incredible. I think that whatever answers we think we personally have (I'm not talking about science here), we're probably half off the mark. At best.

7) Your book easily covers two genres, fantasy and sci-fiction.  Which genre do you see the book as?  Which genres do you read the most?

I read horror the most, but fantasy follows close behind. The first chapter-book I ever read as a kid was R.L. Stine's Hide and Shriek, and it cemented horror as a favorite. I consider Hounding to be an epic fantasy-horror, though it shares some similarities to the science-fantasy genre, and to works from authors like Vance and Wolfe. 

8) Are you like any of your characters?  How?

I joke in tense situations like Ida, but if I'm honest, I'm probably closest to Greydal. The good and the bad. He's willing to take risks and stick his neck out for people he cares about, but he's also self-centered and sensitive. I think many authors' first works are in some ways autobiographical. That's true here; Greydal's experience throughout Hounding mirrors some of my own life, including his relationship with his father, as well as what you could call a (very frightening and protracted) spiritual awakening.

9) Are there more adventures planned for Greydal and Roan?  Are you working on another book?

There are! The sequel is half-finished, though readers will likely be surprised at the setting and bizarre direction of the story. But several people like Greydal and Roan are returning, that's certain. But in what form? Can't say.

10) Please leave all of your links.  Thanks for writing a terrific book and being my guest! Also, thanks for giving me an amazing interview!

Thank you for the time, Dina! Those interested can find me at the links below:

Author Website -
Twitter -

Publisher -
Amazon -

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Hounding: A Tale of a Heaving Sky by Travis Randall

 The Hounding begins with Greydal Alone, a Tulka teen who is watching ants in the rain. He is dreading going to the Ring, a fantasical court room. His adopted father is also there, but as a convicted murderer. Although the court suspects Greydal of aiding his father in murder, the judges declare him innocent and execute his father. Greydal returns to his hamlet, but things are not the same. His home town gets torn apart and taken over. Almost everyone dies. Greydal and Rulf, another teen, escape. Both boys have never been anywhere outside of their town and only know legends that explain other lands in the Four Corners. They soon sense that they are being hounded. Both boys encounter trouble and Greydal is left for dead. Greydal soon wakes up in a wagon with King Marcos and his daughter Roan. He is missing his leg. They jouney back to the king's kingdom. Greydal and Roan eventually fall in love. Outside forces such as the Legate, Interloper, and Old Man Moonlight are discussed. The king and Greydal seem to have similar folklore. These evil forces appear on their journey and the king dies.

I don't want to spoil the story, but inspite of Greydal's physical disadvantages, he is a Tulka and has special powers that allow him to communicate with the supernatural. Some of my favorite scenes include a battle between Greydal and a warrior. It reminds me of David and Goliath. The love story is heartfelt and genuine. I love a phrase that Randall repeats throughout the book. It goes something like this: 'You can't go over it, you can't go under it or around it, but you have to go through it.' I took it to mean a good way to live your life-facing it head on, without trying to find easy shortcuts.

Randall is also quite the expert in imagery and metaphors. I never tire of his beautiful prose and vivid descriptions. This story has a very dramatic sharp turn that will leave most if not all readers surprised on the direction of the story. Surprisingly, this is Randall's first book. Based on imagination, originality, complex characters, and intricate plot, I believe he hit a home run! If you like both fantasy and sci-fi, you will love The Hounding.

5 Stars

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Review: The Year of the Flood (Book #2 Maddaddam Series)


Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam Dystopian Trilogy Book #2 (2009): The Year of the Flood continues with the theme of man’s self-inflicted destruction of the world.  The novel follows some of the lives of a group of Gardners in America before and after the waterless flood of mankind.  When the author writes about the present, she describes the world as a much smaller place because of a global pandemic.  When she switches to the past, she describes the world after a previous pandemic.  Much America has divided itself into almost tribal-like groups that are determined by mindset, education, and misfortune.  

The Gardner group is kind of like a cult.  High-ranking members are numbered Adam #1, #2, #3, etc. and Eve #1, #2, #3, etc.  The numbers do not correspond to how high they are on the totem pole, but rather what their specialties are.  Some Eves are great bee-keepers, and some Adams are great at teaching the children about herbs and medicine, etc..  The Gardners are vegetarians who aspire to be experts in agriculture.  They remind me of a Zen-Tree-Hugger-Doomsday Prepper.

Some of the background of the book goes into the abuse of genetics like Oryx and Crake, Book #1.  There are many spliced, engineered species that were created after the extinction.  Engineered genes are used throughout the book for many frivolous things, especially with altering human appearances. Food is also genetically engineered (like super-GMOs), especially meat.  Natural vegetation and bugs are the food of choice for the Gardners. 

All the characters in the Gardner group have back-stories that date before the waterless flood/pandemic.  This cult consists of former strippers, students, rich housewives, burger flippers, military, and high-techies.  A Gardner could essentially be anyone.  They have hymns, sacred holidays, and spiritual instructions from their leader, Adam 1.  They also believe in God, or at least their version of God which greatly correlates with God in the Bible as evidenced by several Biblical verses and stories.  Gardners do things for the good of the group, the good of the Earth, and the good of mankind.  They are the protagonists of the story.

Oryx, Crake, and Jimmy the Snowman from Oryx and Crake-Book #1 are not really good-guys. They are part of the science/tech crowd who want to play God, especially Crake.

Some other groups are the PainBallers (this dystopian world’s way of making someone a prisoner in a warped legal system), pleebs (street people), Helthwizer (the tech company that also works as a compound with all of the world’s elites), and other competing or allied cults.

In this book (Book #2), there isn’t a striking conflict (yet).  The main problems that the Gardners face are survival and autonomy.  They do not have any power in this dystopian world, but they are somewhat tolerated.  They know their days are numbered.  When the waterless flood/pandemic sweeps, the power structure between all of the groups is once again levelled.  The Gardners’ survivor skills some into play.

My Review: The book was a 5 Star No-Brainer.  I love Margaret Atwood and I also love this series.  Her book is extremely entertaining, but it is also a warning about the potential misuse of genetics, neglect of Earth, dependence on pharmaceuticals, animal cruelty, and the exploitation of women and little girls.  The book has a year time stamp at the beginning of most of the chapters.  This I found a little confusing as she goes back and forth in time.  She also uses original phrases that took me awhile to catch on to meaning.  That aside, the story is amazing.  She has a certain style that makes the reader work as a detective to follow along.  If you love sci-fi and dystopian fiction, you will love this series.  I can’t wait to read the last book, Maddaddam.  I really hope this series makes it to the movie theater or a streaming service.

Review of Universal Studios and Fright Night

Last October, I went to Universal Studios (Hollywood) and Fright Night with my two young adult daughters. Below is a summary and review of t...