Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ornament Review: Death Star Tree Topper - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Light and music show is a blast!  Star pun
Cons: Details could be a little better; not enough supply to meet demand in 2016
The Bottom Line:
Star for Star Wars fans
Light and music add to fun
Pricey but worth it

I Finally Have a Star for the Top of My Tree.  A Death Star, That Is

I feel like it’s time for another issue of true confessions.  With all my Christmas ornaments, I have never bought a tree topper.  Of course, there is a reason for that.  My artificial trees are small and on the cheaper side of things, and I haven’t trusted them to hold the weight of a tree topper.  But I had to change that this year for the Death Star Tree Topper that Hallmark released in 2016.

Yes, it is pretty much what you’d expect from that name.  We have a round ball that is made to look like the Death Star from the original Star Wars movie.  It’s gray with the pattern of the original raised on it.  There’s the trench at the diameter mark, and the circle in the front where the weapon fires.  The only real change is the hole in the bottom so you can stick it on the top of your tree.

First, as a lover of puns, can I say how much I love the idea of a Death Star as the star on the top of your tree.  Yes, it is a completely geeky thing, but it is so much fun.

The pattern on the Death Star is slightly raised.  I think it would look better overall if it were a little more raised, but when you have it in a dark room on a lit Christmas tree, it will look just fine.

In addition to the hole, there is a stick that goes in the bottom of the Death Star.  You can use this and the Velcro attached to the stick to help attach this topper to your tree.  Of course, my big fear is my weak branches tipping over under the weight, but this is nice to help make sure the Death Star stays in place.

But I have yet to get to why this tree topper was a must get for me.  It’s a Magic item.  It connects to Hallmark’s Magic Cord (sold separately) or the power cord supplied.  When you plug it in, you find that it lights up, flashing red, white, green, and blue.  The two hemispheres, the trench, and the weapon region all have their own lights, and they flash in various patterns.

A remote control also comes with this ornament, and when you press the button on the remote, the show really begins.  It alternates between “The Imperial March” or “The Star Wars Theme.”  During the 45 seconds that the music lasts, the lights put on a show in time to the music.

The instructions recommend that you plug the Death Star into both the power source that comes with the topper and the Magic Cord.  I figured out why very quickly.  While either alone is enough to power the topper, there isn’t enough power to run a show with any other ornaments you have plugged into the Magic Cord if you are just using that cord.  However, with the Death Star drawing power from both, the rest of your Magic Cord ornaments will also participate in your show.

As soon as I saw this, I knew it would be a hot item despite the $99.95 price.  It seems that Hallmark didn’t have as much faith in it, and I’m hearing that some stores didn’t even get enough to cover those who pre-ordered it on wish lists.  Prices on the secondary market are rising rapidly as a result.  While I make no promises, based on past performance, I would guess that Hallmark will release this next year.  If not, the secondary prices will continue to rise, so it is a gamble if you want to wait or buy it now.

However, I am glad I was able to get the Death Star Tree Topper.  I have a feeling I will be setting it next to my tree, but I will be smiling every time I press the button on the remote to start the show.

Original Price: $99.95

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Review: The Skeleton Haunts a House by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightfully fun mystery and characters
Cons: I have no bones to pick with this book
The Bottom Line:
Corpse in haunted house
Tough case for Georgia, Sid
Boney fun for all

Murder in a Haunted House

When you write a series with a living skeleton as a main character, there are some logistics on how to get him out of the house and involved in the mystery.  Of course, Halloween is a perfect time to do that, and that’s just what we get with The Skeleton Haunts a House, the third Family Skeleton Mystery from Leigh Perry.

Each year, McQuaid College, where Georgia Thackery is teaching English as an adjunct, turns over an abandoned building on campus to create a haunted house.  The funds from the house, dubbed McHades, are used as a scholarship.  It’s a huge deal, and this year, Georgia’s sister, Deborah, is in charge of the house and her teen daughter, Madison, is working inside.

Sid, Georgia’s best friend who just happens to be a skeleton, is looking forward to going through the house.  He’s dressed up as Scooby Doo this year, so no one will be freaked out by, well, him.  Sid is on his second trip through the house when a real dead body is found in the midst of the fake carnage.  Suddenly, Sid has to make himself scarce so the police don’t learn his secret.  Meanwhile, Deborah asks Georgia and Sid to find the killer to clear anyone from the haunted house staff from involvement in the murder.  While the victim is identified easily, can they find a motive and the killer?

Honestly, once the book got started, I forgot about the logistics of Sid getting in and out of the house and just got lost in the story.  There are a good number of suspects and motives, and Georgia and Sid are kept busy trying to track down alibis to figure out who actually committed the murder.  We get some fun twists along the way before reaching the climax, which both shocked me and kept me glued to those last few pages to find out what was going to happen next.

The book is filled with richly developed, real people.  And yes, I’m including Sid in that equation.  He truly feels as real as all the flesh and blood characters, and he’s a fun addition to this series.  We get to meet Georgia’s parents in this book, and considering we’ve just heard about them before, I enjoyed getting to see them.  They add to the dynamic of this story.

Now, if you have a book with a living skeleton as a main character, you have to expect humor, right?  You certainly get that in spades here.  From Georgia’s asides as the narrator about Sid’s condition to the swear word alternatives that Georgia and Sid use to the occasional bone pun, the humor will keep you entertained as well as you move through the book.

Sid and Georgia make an excellent team, and they prove it once again with The Skeleton Haunts a House.  I’m anxious to see where things go from here for this dynamic duo and their friends and family.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Movie Review: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some good stalk and kill sequences
Cons: Too many brainless parts
The Bottom Line:
Rushed slasher sequel
With a plot that falls apart
Turn off brain to watch

“All I Know is This Island Didn’t Have a Murder Rate Until You People Showed Up.”

One of the staples of the slasher genre has been the quick turnaround for a sequel.  While the 90’s resurgence in the genre tried to change many things about the genre, the quick sequel was not one of them.  That’s why, a year after the first came out, we got I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.  It needed more time to iron out some serious plot issues (and considering this is a slasher, that’s saying something).

As the movie opens, it’s been a year since fisherman Ben Willis (Muse Watson) stalked Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Ray (Freddie Prinz, Jr.)  and their friends and two years since the four friends hit Ben with their car and left him for dead.  Julie is still struggling through all that has happened, which is why she finds herself struggling with grades while in summer school again and having recurring nightmares.

Things are looking up when her friend and roommate Karla (Brandy) wins a trip for four to the Bahamas over the 4th of July.  When an invited Ray doesn’t show, Julie’s friend Will (Matthew settle) joins Carla, Carla’s boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer), and Julie for this trip.  They arrive on the island just before the first storm of the season hits, leaving them stranded as the only guests on the island.  But a message for Julie leaves her convinced that they and the skeleton staff are in danger.  Is she right?  And what happened to Ray?

The film actually gets high marks right away for addressing the tag from the previous film and trying to give us some character development for Julie and Ray.  Unfortunately, in an effort to increase the tension, we get several painfully obvious false scares before we get to the island and the movie really begins.

Now here’s the part where I’m going to be painfully stupid.  One of my problems with this film is all the people who are killed when Julie and Ray are the real targets.  I get that this is a slasher film.  I truly do.  That means lots of people have to die.  But I don’t get why we are going after the people who do die.  In the first film, the collateral damage victims make a little bit of sense, but not quite as much here.  And this doesn’t bother me in the Scream films like it does here, either.  Go figure.

So leaving my personal issues aside, we do get some decent stalk and kill sequences and a mix of sympathetic and annoying characters to be eliminated.  This part is all well done, and when the storm hits and the killing starts, it’s easy to feel the tension building.

Which brings me to the part that feels rushed.  In an effort to provide a twist to the story (required of all slashers, especially during the 90’s), we learn a bit more about Ben, but none of that makes sense.  Even watching the movie knowing what will unfold, it feels like it is forced into the film.

And, despite efforts to set things up earlier, the climax still feels a bit du ex machina for my tastes.  Then there’s one character’s fate, which makes no sense.  Plus don’t get me started on the final scene.  What worked in the first film definitely doesn’t work here.

The acting is still decent, and I don’t find anything to pull me out of the film.  That’s impressive considering the script the cast had to work with.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the accident that started the whole rampage was actually two summers ago now, so the title really doesn’t work either.

The thing with 90’s slasher movies is they tried to be more intelligent than the ones that had come during the slasher mania of the 80’s.  Sadly, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer fails in those efforts.  There are still some decent death and chase sequences, so die hards of the genre will want to check it out.  But be sure to turn off your brain before you start watching it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Review: Fatal Frost by Karen MacInerney (Dewberry Farm #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Return visit with fun characters, great story
Cons: I’m not in the spirit to find cons
The Bottom Line:
Murder at Christmas
And Lucy must clear a friend
Fun second entry

Somebody is Going to Have a Frosty Christmas

It’s funny how trends come even in cozy mysteries.  After years of reading mysteries set in every dessert business you can think of, I’m now reading three series set on farms.  I guess I have to offset all that virtual junk food somehow, right?  Fatal Frost takes us to a small farm in a small town in Texas for the second Dewberry Farm Mystery, and it’s a winner.

Christmas is fast approaching in the small town of Buttercup, but things aren’t quite as smooth as Lucy Resnick is hoping for.  For starters, she awakes in the middle of the night to find someone digging up her dewberry bushes and peach trees.  The new mega church outside of town is boycotting the Christmas market as being too commercial even though the funds are going to help a local resident in need.  Even Lucy’s love life has hit a snag with her boyfriend’s ex-wife in town looking for property to buy.

Things take a deadly turn when Lucy spots a fire.  Inside the burning home is the body of Krystal.  It might look like an accident except for one thing – the body is cold.  Someone killed Krystal and then set the house on fire.  The local sheriff latches on to the first suspect, Lucy’s friend Molly.  While Molly was certainly angry with Krystal, she never would have killed her.  Can Lucy find the real killer and clear Molly before Christmas?

As I’m sure you can already tell, there are plenty of storylines to keep you invested in the book.  Something is always moving forward, which kept me wanting to turn the pages.  Author Karen MacInerny juggles the various plots and sub-plots perfectly and brings everything together for a logical and suspenseful climax.

And the characters are wonderful, too.  This is only the second book in the series, but there are several regulars we are definitely getting to know, and we get to know them even better here.  Lucy really grows with what she goes through here, and I appreciated that growth.  And I wouldn’t complain if some of the characters introduced here came back in future books.

Now, I talked about healthier food and being set on a farm.  But this is a Christmas set book, and you can’t have Christmas without goodies, can you?  In the back, you’ll find mouthwatering recipes for Brown Sugar Fudge Balls, Czech Christmas Bread, and Lebkuchen Bars.  These might not be traditional American Christmas treats, but they will make your mouth water.

Fatal Frost is a wonderful second novel.  It brings back characters we love and gives them a fun new puzzle to solve.  Sit back and let this book put you in the murderous Christmas spirit.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Review: Nate the Great Goes Undercover by Marjorie Weinnman Sharmat

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Simple mystery that kids will enjoy
Cons: Pictures might be a little dated for adults
The Bottom Line:
Garbage can robber
Nate must find the culprit in
This fun picture book

Nate the Great Tracks the Garbage Thief

When I was the appropriate age for picture books, the only Nate the Great book we knew about the original.  I guess the library didn’t have the others in the series.  However, we discovered the rest with my younger brother, seven years later.  Nate the Great Goes Undercover is actually the second book.  Like most picture books, it usually doesn’t matter, except in this case, we meet two characters who appear in the rest of the series in this book.

Nate is a young detective, and he’s earned quite a reputation in his neighborhood for his good work solving their mysteries.  He also loves pancakes, and he’s recently adopted a stray dog, Sludge, after finding the dog in a field eating a pancake.  It’s a perfect match!

On the morning that our story starts, Nate is taking Sludge for a walk when Oliver, Nate’s next door neighbor, approaches them.  Someone is breaking into Oliver’s garbage cans every night and making a mess, and Oliver wants Nate to solve the case.  Nate’s excited for his first night case, but can he catch the culprit?

As you can see, the case is simple.  Granted, I couldn’t remember who had done it until about half way, but Nate follows a logical trail to reach the conclusion, hitting a couple of dead ends along the way.  He even thinks he’s solved the case early on, but when he learns he is wrong, he goes back to work, letting nothing stand in the way of solving the case.

Actually, the only character who comes back from the first book is Rosamond.  (Well, there are her cats as well.)  She gets a very funny scene.  We meet Oliver and Sludge here, who would go on to appear in most of the rest of the cases Nate solves.  And then there’s Esmeralda.  As far as I remember, this is the only book she appears in, and it is easy to see why – she is too normal and therefore not as funny as the rest of the cast.  She does give Nate a good clue here, however.

Then there’s the humor.  Nate narrates the book in a deadpan Sergeant Friday way that is lots of fun.  I already mentioned that Rosamond’s scene is pretty funny, but there are some other funny situations and reactions as the book progresses.

The illustrations are a bit dated since the book was released in the mid-70’s.  However, I have a feeling that adults will care about this more than kids.  The pictures definitely help tell the story and add to the fun.

Honestly, you can read these books in any order, and kids won’t notice any continuity issues.  So if you haven’t met Nate, pick up Nate the Great Goes Undercover today and enjoy.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Ornament Review: The Nativity #2 - Wise Men - 1999 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Miniature ornament with good detail
Cons: Color would have really helped
The Bottom Line:
Wise men come second
In this small Hallmark series
Good detail for size

Wise Men Seek Jesus – Early

When you are creating a traditional nativity scene, you of course include the three wise men.  Oh, I know the arguments about them coming later and us not knowing how many there were, but we are talking about tradition here.  Which is why they are the second ornament in the Nativity miniature series from Hallmark.

This 1999 ornament is just the trio of wise men.  Two of them are kneeling as they hold their gifts, and the one in the middle is standing.  The ornaments in this series are made out of pewter, so they are all the same shade of gray, but it works here since there is more than enough detail carved into the ornament to tell for sure who they are.  Yes, it would be nice if they were painted, but it isn’t necessary.

It’s actually rather impressive that they make they got this much detail into the ornament, since this is a miniature ornament.  We’re talking about something that is an inch and a half tall and an inch and a quarter wide and includes three men.  Yes, detail could have been better, but you know who they are, so I’m happy with it.

The middle wise man has the loop for hanging sticking out of his head.  This ornament hangs straight, which is no surprise since it looks like an easy ornament to balance.  The ornament is a bit heavy since it is made from pewter, but because it is small, it’s not too heavy.

However, you can also set this out with the others in the series to create a miniature nativity since the bottom is perfectly flat.  You’ll also find the 2 in a Christmas tree series marker down there.

I must admit I was surprised to find the Wise Men as the second ornament in this series.  I always think of them in the order they most likely arrived, Shepherds and then Wise Men.  But if we are going in Gospel order, Matthew (which has the story of the Wise Men) does come before Luke (which has the story of the Shepherds).

Either way, this miniature ornament of the wise men is a good one to have if you are looking for a small set of nativity ornaments.

If you want this ornament, you'll definitely to get the rest of the Nativity miniature series.

Original Price: $9.95

October 15th's Weekly TV Thoughts

My TV watch list keeps getting longer.  And with Lethal Weapon picked up for more episodes this week, it's not going to so down any time soon.  Personally, I'm thrilled with that pick up since I am enjoying that show so much.

Once Upon a Time – The Show is definitely finding its groove this season.  That twist on Cinderella was fun, but I’m enjoying seeing more of the old recurring gang like Whale and Hopper again.  The scene introducing Jekyll and Frankenstein was epic!  Definitely having fun with it again this year.

Dancing with the Stars – I’ve got to admit, Most Memorable Year week has grown on my over the seasons.  Sometimes, it is a bit obvious, but this time the stories seemed to be more moving than most.  It was a great with some breakout performances.  And with no elimination, things are going to be tight next week since all the stars were so close.

Big Bang Theory – That has to be the funniest fight ever!  Loved that final scene.  And poor Raj, constantly waking up like that.  Of course, he should have kept his mouth shut in the first place.

Supergirl – Loved it!  They are obviously setting up some changes with this episode, but it was still a ton of fun.  I’d been hearing complaints about the actor they’d cast as Superman before anyone saw him, but I absolutely loved him.  He’s just perfect in the part, and I want him to stay on the show full time now period.

Conviction – Yes, I gave it a second chance, and I enjoyed it more this week.  I’m not fully on board yet, and if I decide I have too much TV, it will be an easy cut, but this could be a show to follow.  Of course, if the ratings don’t improve, it won’t matter what I think.

The Flash – I wanted him to fix everything.  I’m not sure how I feel about the changes they’ve made to the show as a result of the alternate timeline.  Heck, they’ve even messed with Arrow, and I am very curious to see how they explain all of that for people who don’t watch all four shows.  (Of course, I feel for those people since they are all so much fun.)  I wonder if we are just moving on from here or if we will fix a few things.  I’m guessing that with Caitlin turning into Killer Frost, we are leaving things as they are.

Arrow – Felicity had the line of the night, most likely the season, and possibly the series.  Cheesy, but the kickers was “I’ve been waiting five years to use that joke.”  Seriously, best line ever!  I figured out the purpose of that exercise before they told us.  Pretty obvious TV thing, but it works well for a team exercise, too.  This new ally is going to be a problem, however.  And what is going to happen to Diggle.

Lethal Weapon – On the heels of the news that the show has been picked up for 5 additional episodes (total of 18 for the season), we get another great episode.  I appreciated that the character stuff was about something other than Riggs’s dead wife.  I did see that RJ’s new friend was involved in the crime, but I still like how that all played out.  Plus some more fun lines along the way.

Survivor – GenX is starting to go down, but the switch is coming next week, so that will change things up.  Can’t wait to see how it all plays out.  But Lucy was so stupid!  Didn’t she see what happened to Paul last week?  I mean, yikes!  However, she would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for that idol.  I think the fact that there is a switch is all that will save those guys.

Designated Survivor – I didn’t feel as lectured this week with the islamophobia story, probably because it played out in more of a political fashion.  Not sure I agree with Kirkland at the end there, but I loved the episode and the storylines and how things are really heating up.  Can’t wait to see what is going on with that phone call at the end.

Legends of Tomorrow – I didn’t remember Rip wasn’t going to be on the show this season.  Or is that part of the cliffhanger and we’ll find him again soon?  Either way, this was a fun season premier.  It’s definitely over the top, but I completely enjoy that.  And with two villains from other shows on here now, it’s feeling like we’ll have a more appropriate villain this year.

Girl Meets World – That really did not feel like a scary Halloween episode.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun and definitely had a good message to it, but it wasn’t remotely spooky.  Maybe it was the It’s a Wonderful Life vibe making me think of Christmas more.

Friday, October 14, 2016

One More Winner

It's Friday night, so that much mean it is time to pick out the final winner of the week.  And the winner for Masking for Trouble is...


I'm just sent you an e-mail, so be on the look out for it so I can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradly (Flavia de Luce #8)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Flavia and the rest of the regular cast
Cons: Mystery a little obvious but still engaging
The Bottom Line:
A bad homecoming
Bucked up by a dead body
Flavia still shines

Death of a Woodcarver

There are four series I am listening to on audio, and I was trying to rotate them.  That fell by the wayside based on availability this year, and I wound up getting up to date on the Flavia de Luce mysteries.  Naturally, that meant that I made a point of listening to Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d as soon as it came out, which coincided with as soon as my library got the audio version.

Twelve-year-old Flavia has returned from Canada.  However, her welcome home in December of 1951 wasn’t nearly what she’d hoped it would be.  She arrives home to the news that her father is in the hospital with pneumonia, and he is so sick that he can’t receive any visitors.  Her sisters are as obnoxious as ever, and her young cousin is annoying Flavia as well.

So when Cynthia, the vicar’s wife, asks Flavia to deliver a message to a woodcarver in the next village, Flavia jumps at the chance.  She arrives to find the woodcarver hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door dead.  Naturally, Flavia is delighted at this turn of events.  But can she figure out who would kill an old woodcarver?

Those who missed Flavia’s family and the English village setting while she was in Canada in the previous book will be delighted with the return to Bishop’s Lacey here.  Even though I enjoyed the last outing and the different setting, I was glad to get back to the usual characters and setting.  These characters are a fun group.

Of course, Flavia is the real star of the series.  I’m enjoying seeing some growth and maturity in her.  No, it’s not enough to change her character, but it is refreshing to see that she is growing into a young woman who is slightly more sympathetic and mature.  And I get a kick out of Flavia’s interactions with her young cousin.  Flavia can’t figure out why this girl annoys her so much, but she is so much like Flavia it adds a comic touch to things.

The mystery is much more the focus here than in some of the previous books in the series.  It’s not the best element of the series usually, and that’s the case again here since I figured out some of what was happening long before Flavia did.  Still, it is interesting and kept me engaged the entire way through.

As always, Jayne Entwistle is fantastic at bringing the story to life.  She is engaging and perfect as Flavia without overwhelming the story at all.  Seriously, if you are looking for a great audio book to try, this is the series for Jayne’s narration.

The bad part of being caught up on a series is that you now have to wait impatiently for the next in the series to come out, and I will definitely be doing that for the next in tise series.  Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d will please fans of this unique detective.

And once you meet Flavia, you'll definitely want to read more of the Flavia de Luce Mysteries.

October 14th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it to Friday!!  Let's celebrate with Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week's book is a Halloween themed cozy mystery - The Skeleton Haunts a House by Leigh Perry.

This is the third in the series, which features Sid the Skeleton, a living skeleton.  Well, you know what I mean.  Don't worry, the rest of the cast are humans.

The book is a lot of fun, as you can tell from the first line:

Most people wear Halloween costumes in order to look scarier, but my best friend Sid picked his to look less scary.

No, I'm not going to tell you what his costume is.  You'll have to read the book to find out.

Jumping ahead to page 56, you find this gem:

"What are you doing?" I asked her.
"Working around the cops," she said, looking at her phone again.

There you have it, short and sweet this week.  If you want to learn more, my review will be up next Wednesday.

Have a great weekend.