lego movie videogameThe Lego Movie Videogame lets players act out as Emmet, the main character in the Lego Movie. Emmet’s ordinary, perfectly normal, and rule-following life is completely disrupted when he is mistaken as the Special, the key, the one person who can save the world. People who have seen The Lego Movie will recognize the plot of the movie as being the plot line in the video game as well. After he is seen as the Special, he is thrust in with a group of strangers to help them stop evil Lord Business as he tries to put his evil plans into action.

The Lego Movie Videogame allows two players to play at once as they travel through 15 levels of play. You are also allowed to play as a variety of different characters, but only after that character is introduced into play. Playing as a different character lets you use that character’s specific skill set to help Emmet on his quest. In order to save the world, players build AWESOME creations to defend themselves. Everything is made of Lego bricks and players are transported into the Lego World as Emmet and his friends battle to stop evil Lord Business.

This game is also available for Nintendo 3DS, XBox 360, and WiiU.

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Psst, hey there, would you like to see something cool? Down by the arboretum in Dubuque, if you hike to the very back, climb over the old barbed wire fence and head west (watch your step for sink holes) you’ll find what remains of an old park, destroyed 100 years ago by a flash flood that killed five people. Here’s the old limestone bandstand and pavilion, and, if you look hard enough, the decaying remains of the roller-coaster. Be careful, though, since no one is sure if anyone’s allowed here.

Intrigued? So was I, way back when my curiosity easily overruled my common sense. It led me and my friends to the old Union Park, abandoned houses and zinc mines, caves and the subterranean network of cisterns and cellars underneath my neighborhood (don’t tell my mom, though.) It’s the same curiosity that drives the book “100 Places You Will Never Visit: The World’s Most Secret Locations,” by Daniel Smith. The places photographed and described in Smith’s book tend to fall more into the “you’ll never visit because it’s illegal/top-secret/destroyed/radioactive” and not “you’ll never visit because you’ve never heard of it” category, but the locations described are interesting, especially if you’re a fan of government conspiracies.

The book is heavy on speculation when describing places such as The Skunk Works, Mount Weather and – of course – Area 51. Smith also takes a turn at the politics of some off-limits areas, like Bohemian Grove (a California camp where the world’s most powerful meet, away from the public eye), the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The more interesting places described are those not located in North America (or, at least, are outside of the U.S.’s collective imagination) like La Basse Cour (“The Farmyard”) in Belgium, the unidentified structures in China’s Gobi Desert or the temple vaults of Sree Padmanabhaswamy in India. Again, most of these places are known, just off-limits to the public. But, the photographs, maps, and illustrations give the reader enough to at least pique curiosity.

If you looking for more lost cities and urban exploration, check out “Hidden Cities: Travels to the Secret Corners of the World’s Great Metropolises” by Moses Gates or “Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City” by Bradley Garrett. Or, if abandoned places are more your style, try the TV series “Life After People,” Abandoned America” by  Matthew Christopher or my personal favorite “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman.

July 1

lone survivorLone Survivor – Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Eric Bana

The story of four Navy SEALs sent on an ill-fated covert mission to neutralize a high-level Taliban operative. They are ambushed by enemy forces in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. Based on The New York Times bestseller. Rated R.

 

 

 

July 8

non-stopNon-Stop – Liam Neeson, Michelle Dockery, Julianne Moore

During a transatlantic flight from New York City to London, U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks receives a series of cryptic text messages demanding that he instruct the government to transfer $150 million into an off-shore account. Until he secures the money, a passenger on his flight will be killed every twenty minutes. Rated PG-13.

 

 

July 15

rio2Rio 2 – Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Chenoweth

Jewel, Blu, and their three kids are leaving their domesticated life in that magical city for a journey to the Amazon. They encounter a menagerie of characters that are born to be wild. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets the most fearsome adversary of all: his father-in-law. Rated G.

 

 

orphan blackOrphan Black, Season 2 – Tatiana Maslany

Season two hits the ground running with Sarah in a desperate race to find her missing daughter Kira. Her scorched earth tactics spark a war with pro-clone Rachel, dividing and imperiling all the clones. As Sarah discovers more about her past, mysterious newcomers appear. But can they be trusted?

 

 

July 22

single moms clubSingle Mom’s Club – Nia Long, Amy Smart, Tyler Perry

When five struggling single moms put aside their differences to form a support group, they find inspiration and laughter in their new sisterhood, and help each other overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. Rated PG-13.

 

 

 

heaven is for realHeaven is for Real – Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly

The true story of a small-town father who must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world. Colton claims to have visited Heaven during a near death experience. He recounts the details of his amazing journey with childlike innocence and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth. Rated PG.

 

July 29

noahNoah – Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins

A man is appointed by God to carry out a crucial mission of rescue before a calamitous flood destroys the world. Rated PG-13.

June 3rd

robocopRoboCop – Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton

The year is 2028 and multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is at the center of robot technology. When Alex Murphy, a loving husband, father, and good cop, is critically injured in the line of duty, OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer. OmniCorp envisions a RoboCop in every city and even more billions for their shareholders, but they never counted on one thing. There is still a man inside the machine, pursuing justice. Rated PG-13

 

 

son of godSon of God – Diogo Morgado

The story of Jesus’ life brought to audiences through compelling cinematic storytelling that is both powerful and inspirational. Told with the scope and scale of an action epic, the film features powerful performances, exotic locales, dazzling visual effects and a rich orchestral score from Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer. Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado portrays the role of Jesus as the film spans from his humble birth through his teachings, crucifixion and ultimate resurrection. Rated PG-13

 

 

June 10th

jack ryanJack Ryan – Shadow Recruit – Chris Pine, Keira Knightly, Kevin Costner

A global action thriller set in the present day. This original story follows a young Jack as he uncovers a financial terrorist plot. When Ryan believes he’s uncovered a Russian plot to collapse the United States economy, he goes from being an analyst to becoming a spy and must fight to save his own life and those of countless others, while also trying to protect the thing that’s more important to him than anything, his relationship with his fiancee Cathy. Rated PG-13

 

 

true detectiveTrue Detective – Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson

In 2012, Louisiana State Police Detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart are brought in to revisit a homicide case they worked in 1995. As the inquiry unfolds in present day through separate interrogations, the two former detectives narrate the story of their investigation, reopening unhealed wounds, and drawing into question their supposed solving of a bizarre ritualistic murder in 1995.

 

 

June 17th

lego movieThe Lego Movie – Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks

Emmet, an ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure, is mistakenly identified as the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously underprepared. Rated PG

 

 

grand budapest hotelThe Grand Budapest Hotel – Ralph Fiennes, F Murray Abraham, Jude Law

The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune. Rated R

 

 

June 24th

winters taleWinter’s Tale – Colin Farrell, Russel Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay

Set in a mythic New York City and spanning more than a century, follow a story of miracles, crossed destinies, and the age-old battle between good and evil. Rated PG-13

 

 

 

300 rise of an empire300 : Rise of an Empire – Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey

Greek general Themistokles attempts to unite all of Greece by leading the charge that will change the course of the war. He’s pitted against the massive invading Persian forces led by mortal turned god Xerxes, and Artemesia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy. Rated R

wind is not a riverA gripping tale of survival and an epic love story in which a husband and wife – separated by the only battle of World War II to take place on American soil – fight to reunite in Alaska’s starkly beautiful Aleutian Islands.

Following the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss, to document some part of the growing war that claimed his own flesh and blood. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, after an argument they both regret, he heads north from Seattle to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government. While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as “the Birthplace of Winds.” There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese.

Alone in their home three thousand miles to the south, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband’s disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to reimagine who she is – and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows. A powerful, richly atmospheric story of life and death, commitment and sacrifice, The Wind Is Not a River illuminates the fragility of life and the fierce power of love. (description from publisher)

cooks clown and cowboysYou know the question’s coming: what did you do on your holiday? Master the experiences in Cooks, Clowns and Cowboys : 101 Skills and Experiences to Discover on Your Travels and you can reply:

I created a perfume in France.

I danced the flamenco in Seville.

I mixed the perfect martini in New York.

I earned my cosmonaut stripes in Russia.

I rode with cowboys in Argentina.

Saddle up for a new you, and come back from your travels with more than just a suntan. (description from publisher)

eighty daysOn November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly, the crusading young female reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper, left New York City by steamship on a quest to break the record for the fastest trip around the world. Also departing from New York that day—and heading in the opposite direction by train—was a young journalist from The Cosmopolitan magazine, Elizabeth Bisland. Each woman was determined to outdo Jules Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg and circle the globe in less than eighty days. The dramatic race that ensued would span twenty-eight thousand miles, captivate the nation, and change both competitors’ lives forever.

The two women were a study in contrasts. Nellie Bly was a scrappy, hard-driving, ambitious reporter from Pennsylvania coal country who sought out the most sensational news stories, often going undercover to expose social injustice. Genteel and elegant, Elizabeth Bisland had been born into an aristocratic Southern family, preferred novels and poetry to newspapers, and was widely referred to as the most beautiful woman in metropolitan journalism. Both women, though, were talented writers who had carved out successful careers in the hypercompetitive, male-dominated world of big-city newspapers. Eighty Days brings these trailblazing women to life as they race against time and each other, unaided and alone, ever aware that the slightest delay could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

A vivid real-life re-creation of the race and its aftermath, from its frenzied start to the nail-biting dash at its finish, Eighty Days is history with the heart of a great adventure novel. Here’s the journey that takes us behind the walls of Jules Verne’s Amiens estate, into the back alleys of Hong Kong, onto the grounds of a Ceylon tea plantation, through storm-tossed ocean crossings and mountains blocked by snowdrifts twenty feet deep, and to many more unexpected and exotic locales from London to Yokohama. Along the way, we are treated to fascinating glimpses of everyday life in the late nineteenth century—an era of unprecedented technological advances, newly remade in the image of the steamship, the railroad, and the telegraph. For Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland—two women ahead of their time in every sense of the word—were not only racing around the world. They were also racing through the very heart of the Victorian age. (description from publisher)

mistbornI read a review of this book that described it as “Lord of the Rings meets Ocean’s Eleven”, and I just knew it would be love at first page.  In Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, the Final Empire has been taken over by the evil Lord Ruler and much of the population has been enslaved.  The oppressed citizens of the Final Empire (known as Skaa) are forced to work in the Pits of Hathsin mining the most valuable metals in the land for the Lord Ruler’s personal treasury.  No Skaa has ever escaped the Pits….until now.

Kelsier is no ordinary Skaa; he is a Mistborn, a type of Allomancer who is gifted with special powers when he ingests metals.  After using his powers to escape the Pits, Kelsier vows revenge on the Lord Ruler.  He begins to assemble a team of other Allomancers, which includes a young girl named Vin who is just discovering her powers as a Mistborn.  Together, they devise the ultimate heist  in order to remove the Lord Ruler from power and free the people of the Final Empire.

This was such a fun book to read; it is fast-paced and exciting, and the magic system is unique and fascinating.  Sanderson’s impressive world building made the Final Empire really come alive.  And bonus, the trilogy is already completed!  As soon as you finish Mistborn you can check out copies of The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages right away instead of having to wait years and years for the thrilling conclusion.

This classic children’s novel has been weathering the storm of censorship and controversy for 4 decades now. Jean Craighead George won the 1973 Newbery Medal for her novel, Julie of the Wolves, which tells the story of a Yupik Eskimo girl called Miyax (Julie to her pen pal in San Francisco) who survives alone on the Arctic tundra by communicating with a wolf pack. The outside world has wrought changes on Julie’s culture, and when she is forced to choose between an arranged marriage and a harsh, desperate flight across the wild tundra, she runs away. She eventually learns the language of the wolves and becomes a member of the pack, a process that’s terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure.

Julie’s journey of survival and self discovery has resonated with young and old readers since its publication in the seventies, despite being challenged for including violence and being “unsuited to age group.” To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.

For this segment of Amazing Audiobooks, I’m focusing on the behemoth novels that fill up disc after disc of listening material. These exciting, immersive *bugcrushers will eat up time spent on the road, on the treadmill, or doing chores – listen while you cook dinner or fold the laundry; listen when your knitting needles click or break out your headphones when you want to keep reading but your partner insists on lights out!

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, read for you by John Lee: A beloved gargantuan novel of the people building a cathedral in 1100s England – filled with mystery, suspense, rich historical detail, and captivating characters. This 32-disc novel is a winner! Its sequel, World Without End, is similarly enthralling.

 

A Game of Thrones, written by George R.R. Martin and masterfully performed by Roy Dotrice. This single novel takes up 28 CDs, or 33.5 hours. More than enough for the usual road trip! The four sequels to this novel are each around 30 discs of listening material, which would supply your listening needs long enough to drive from Davenport to Orlando Florida and back – three times!

 

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, written by Susanna Clarke and performed by Simon Prebble, is a fantasy novel that answers the question: what if a society of proper London magicians were around to magically assist the armies of England in the Napoleonic wars? And what if the leaders of that group were fighting against each other as well as taking on malevolent forces from the realm of Faerie? And what if all of this was written in a superb Jane-Austen-esque style that evokes all the sparkling wit and manners of the times without sacrificing the edge-of-your-seat action that modern audiences expect? Or, to put it more simply: This is an amazing novel and you should listen to it or read it right away. 32 hours of listening pleasure on 26 discs.

Some more excellent, lengthy novels:

*Bugcrusher: A book that is so big and heavy, you’d like to have it in hand to squish a scary bug.