Friday, August 28, 2015

August 28th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

This again for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, the book is Trick or Deceit by Shelley Freydont.

Yes, I'm continuing in the Halloween theme.  This book will actually be published on September 1st, but I'm reading it for review and giveaway next Thursday.

I must admit, the book doesn't jump out there with the best first line:

Liv Montgomery stopped at the bottom of the town hall steps to button her jacket.

However, on page 56, we find this:

Liv was just thinking, Whew, almost home free, when a cry arose from the park across the street.

And there you have it for the week.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review: Commander Toad in Space by Jane Yolen

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: A good, fun story
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Commander Toad starts
Exploring watery place
Fun easy reader

In Space No One Can Hear You Splash Down

I’ve decided I need to reread all the Commander Toad books this year.  Research to find the best to give my niece and nephew for Christmas, or at least that’s the excuse I’m using.  I went back to the very first one with Commander Toad in Space, which is very fun book.

Commander Toad and his crew on the Star Warts are always looking for strange new planets to explore.  They’ve just found one that appears to be made up completely of water, so they take a floating lily pad with them so they can land on the surface.  However, they quickly discover they are not alone on the planet.  Who or what at else is there?  Will they be able to escape?

It’s been so long since I read the books that I didn’t remember anything about this book before I sat down to reread it.  I was very pleasantly surprised at just how much fun it was.  The plot was decent and moved along at a good pace.  It helped that the characters were introduced quickly at the beginning of the book.  The illustrations by Bruce Degen are delightful and really help tell the story.

Of course, the jokes that spoof science fiction, specifically Star Wars and Star Trek are numerous and add to the fun.  I’m sure I missed many of them as a kid, but as an adult I got them and really enjoyed them.  There are also some puns that I greatly enjoyed.

These books are categorized as Easy Readers, and I agree with that.  The short sentences are a bit choppy, but that’s a minor complaint and will be perfect for young readers.  More importantly, the vocabulary is simple enough for young readers to read.  A few words, mainly the characters’ names, might cause the reader to need some help from an adult, but that challenge will be good for them.

I’m glad I remembered these books because they are fun.  If you’ve missed them, pick up Commander Toad in Space.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ornament Review: 'Tis the Seasoning! #2 - Salty and Peppy - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Nostalgic and cutesy seasoning pair
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Salty and Peppy
A throwback seasoning pair
Made me love series

Kitschy Classics Coming to Your Tree

As I’ve been saying this month, I wasn’t planning on starting the Tis the Seasoning! series by Hallmark.  When we got a sneak peak at this year’s offering, I wasn’t that impressed.  But the instant I saw them in person, I was blown away and I knew I had to collect this series.

This year, we’ve got Santa and Mrs. Claus, or as they prefer to be known, Salty and Peppy.  Mrs. Claus is Salty and Santa himself is Peppy, the pepper shaker.  They are mainly red and white.  While the pair of ornaments is shaped like more traditional salt and pepper shakers, it’s the paint on them that really makes them come alive.  This isn’t the traditional Santa and Mrs. Claus, but they are just a shade off traditional in a cutesy way.

A friend of mine described it as kitschy.  You know, that overly cute stuff you’ll see in stores and some kitchens.  Honestly, these make me think of my grandma and the type of things she’d put in her kitchen.  No, they aren’t overly elegant or proper, but they are cute and fun, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

But here’s a detail I love.  You can see the wood grain in the shakers.  No, the ornaments are not made of wood, but they sure look like it.  It’s those kind of details that make Hallmark ornaments so special, and this one blew me away.

As salt and pepper shakers, these have nice flat bottoms, so you can set them out on display.  I don’t see an obvious stopper to refill them, so if they were real, they would have to have screw tops.  Both pieces have 2 in Christmas trees as the series marker on the bottom.

And both of them hang straight as well.  Since this is a pair of ornaments, they each have a ring on the top, and they are both perfectly balanced.

This series has completely won me over, and I can’t wait to see what they release next.  It’s like collecting salt and pepper shakers but at half the size (and decoration only).  That’s really making Tis the Seasoning! fun for me.

Be sure to check out the rest of the 'Tis the Seasoning! series.

Original Price: $14.95

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review: Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #19)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful characters in a great mystery
Cons: I was hoping to see more of someone introduced a couple of books ago
The Bottom Line:
Halloween party
Includes crime wave and murder
More fun times for us

I’m Raven about Meg’s Latest Adventure

I love Donna Andrews’s books, so I bought Lord of the Wings and started reading it without even bothering to find out what it was about.  I quickly figured out the book was set a few days before Halloween, and I thought about putting it down and saving it for October.  But I could never wait that long and devoured it right away.

The town of Caerphilly has decided to throw a giant Halloween festival this year in an effort to bring more money to their small economy.  Meg Langslow isn’t in charge of it – that has fallen to the Lydia, the new hire in town responsible for all the festivities they put on over the course of a year.  Meg is just in charge of the Goblin Patrol, the group of volunteers who are helping with security for the wide spread event.

However, a few days before Halloween, things obviously begin to go haywire.  Someone breaks into the town’s haunted house.  While Meg is chaperoning a trip to the zoo with her twins, a fake foot is found in with the alligators.  And a dead body is found behind the zoo.  With so much happening, can Meg make sense of anything before the craziness of the holiday really hits?

This is a wide ranging plot with several very diverse elements.  I loved that because it kept me quite confused as to where the story was really going.  And between everything Meg was juggling, the pace never slowed down.  I was turning pages as quickly as I could until I reached the logical climax.

The series has introduced us to a large cast of characters, which is no surprise for a series that’s been running this long.  The series regulars are all present and accounted for, and it was fun to see them again.  We actually got to see more of Meg’s brother Rob and his computer company, Mutant Wizard, in this book than is often the case, and I enjoyed that.  Of course, my favorite characters are still Meg’s twins, who steal many a scene in this book.  There are a nice group of suspects as well who are well developed and help keep us from guessing the ending too soon.

I found all the Halloween revelers to be quite amusing and had to laugh as some of their antics over the course of the book.  Couple that with Meg’s crazy family and the twins, and you’ll be smiling and laughing as the pages fly by.

About my only disappointment is that a potential new series character introduced a couple of books ago is once again only referenced in passing.  I guess I need to let my hope that we’d see more of this person go.  Other characters who were in earlier books of the series have dropped by the wayside as others have taken their place.  I guess that will be the case here as well.  It just seems a waste since there is much character growth potential in the series regulars that could be explored here.

And, trust me, this is a minor complaint.  I enjoyed spending time with Meg and her family again.  Lord of the Wings was over all too soon, and I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Missing an adventure or two?  Here are the Meg Langslow Mysteries in order.

What's on My Nightstand - August 2015 Edition

Well, it's been a couple of months since I've done What's on Your Nightstand.  And I have a very good reason for it - I've completely forgotten.  Heck, I almost forgot again today, but suddenly remembered as my brain was waking up this morning, so here you go - a very quick post before I get ready for work.

Actually, most of what's on my nightstand you can see over on the left in the "Upcoming Book Tour Stops" section.  I've got a full September, and I'm digging into that first book right now.  So, officially on my nightstand are:

Cinderella Six Feet Under by Maia Chance
Trick or Deceit by Shelley Freydont
Stone Cold Case by Catherine Dilts
Move Your Bloomin' Corpse by D. E. Ireland

That will keep me very busy this month, however, I'm hoping to slip in another couple of books:
Red Velvet Revenge by Jenn McKinlay
The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

And I've got a list of audio books I've requested through my library.  My guess is they will all come in at once as well.  But they are:
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton
The Black Ice by Michael Connelly

Yes, all this should keep me very busy in September, don't you think?  It will be interesting to see how much of this I actually get read/listened to.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Movie Review: Terminator: Salvation

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, breaks formula of franchise
Cons: Characters could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Creative story
Stands out in franchise.  Fun but
With weak characters

Salvation for the Franchise Comes by Breaking the Mold

When I watched the third Terminator movie a couple of weeks ago, I felt like it was beginning to feel old, familiar, and predictable.  Still, that movie’s ending, I was curious to see how the story would advance in the next film, Terminator Salvation.  I was surprised to find they told a different kind of story in the familiar world of the franchise, and I liked the movie for that.

For the first time, the entire movie takes place in the post-apocalyptic future, aka 2018.  John Connor (Christian Bale) is leading the resistance, or at least part of the resistance, in Los Angeles.  While on a mission, he uncovers a device that might lead to the complete destruction of SkyNet.  And the timing couldn’t be better since a new hit list has just come out with John as number two.  Number one?  A teenager named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin).

Tests of this new weapon are proving to be successful, but there’s a complication.  Destroying SkyNet might also mean the destruction of Kyle.  John now needs to find a way to save his father, and he might have to rely on the most unlikely of sources for that help.

While we have seen glimpses of the future in the past movies, this is the first time we’ve spent much time there.  That alone was a nice change of pace since we can now see the future we’ve been hearing about and dreading.  Normally, I’m not a fan of post-apocalyptic stories, so the fact that I was ready to explore this world says something about the franchise.

Another change that I liked was the fact that we didn’t spend the entire movie running from terminators.  Yes, that aspect of the franchise was still there, but it wasn’t the focus of the movie.  Instead, the focus was taking the battle to SkyNet while still preserving the past.  Plus we get a bit about the power struggle happening inside the resistance.

The thing we do still get are wonderful action scenes.  They had me glued to the screen since so much was happening so quickly I couldn’t keep track of it any other way.  Was what we saw possible?  Probably not.  But it was so well done I really didn’t care.  The special effects were wonderful as always for the franchise, too.

The one flaw I can see in the movie is the lack of character development.  I know, that’s not usually a strong point in an action movie, but it is a flaw again here.  The only character I truly felt connected to was John Connor, and that was because this is the fourth movie telling his story.  Even then, he could have been a stronger character.

Not that I’m blaming the actors.  They do a great job with the material they have.  It’s the script that could have been stronger.

Speaking of actors, there is a noticeable absence in this film.  When the movie was made, Arnold Schwarzenegger was busy being the “governator” here in California, so the brief appearances of his face in the film are all CGI.

Weak characters aside, I still loved Terminator Salvation because it told a new story in the world we already know.  Like the rest of the franchise, it’s a fun ride, so pop it in, sit back, and enjoy.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book Review: It You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't! by Elise Parsley

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightful pictures and story
Cons: This section eaten by the alligator
The Bottom Line:
Take a fun premise
Mix in great story, pictures
Result?  This great book

Seriously, Wouldn’t an Alligator Make the Best Show and Tell Ever?

I was wandering in Barnes and Noble the other night when I spotted If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't! on a special display as the picture book of the month.  Well, with a title like that, I had to read the book.  It’s as delightful and fun as I expected.

The story follows Magnolia, who has come up with the best show and tell ever for nature day.  Instead of a hollow stick or a bird’s nest, she has brought in an alligator.  She promises her teacher that the alligator will behave and not eat anyone, but oh the trouble that he gets into – drawing funny pictures, making paper airplanes, and so on.  Will it be worth it in the end?

While there is definitely a main character and a name, the book is actually told in second person.  It’s not a narrative style you normally see, but it does seem to work here.  That means we become Magnolia as we read the book.

It also means it reminds me of the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series.  No, this doesn’t have the logical steps and conclusions of those books, but you’ll definitely be reminded of them as you read this book.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is if this book is fun, and that I can answer with a resounding yes.  The premise has the potential for quite a bit of fun, and we actually get to see that played out as the story progresses.  No, the alligator never does anything too bad, and the trouble he gets into is just plain funny.

Adding to the fun story are the wonderful pictures.  There are reactions and jokes in those pictures you’ll definitely want to watch for.

This is a book that kids will want to read over and over again, and parents won’t mind in the least because it is so much fun.  Don’t hesitate.  Go out and get If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't! today.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ornament Review: 'Tis the Seasoning! #1 - Gingerbread and Milk - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful shakers, great pair, fun
Cons: Needed glue visible at the bottom of the salt shaker
The Bottom Line:
Milk and gingerbread
Start new savory series
A perfect pairing

Such a Creative Official Start to This Series

I had written off the 'Tis The Seasoning! series based on the unofficial release in 2013, but I almost changed my mind when I saw the official first in the series that came out in 2014.  It took until this year to get me to go back to collect last year’s, but I’m glad I did.

This series features two ornaments, a salt and pepper shaker combo, with a holiday theme.  And for the first year, the pair is a milk bottle and a gingerbread cookie.  The milk bottle is the salt shaker, obviously.  It’s clear, so you can see that it is mostly filled with salt, represented by pieces of glitter.  The gingerbread boy is the pepper shaker.  He’s not painted in traditional Christmas colors but in blues with a little yellow.  He also has glitter on his frosting, giving him a nice glow.

What really drew me on this was the milk bottle as the salt shaker.  It drew a smile from me when I saw it.  And the gingerbread pepper shaker is lovely to look at.  The colors truly pop off the ornament.  Together, they make a striking pair that makes me want a nice gingerbread cookie and a glass of milk.  Oh, I know they are supposed to be salt and pepper shakers, but I can’t help it, I want a delicious snack.

Unfortunately, the milk bottle does have a little flaw in it.  The bottle actually consists of an outer and inner layer with the “salt” inside the inner layer.  In two corners down at the bottom, you can see the glue that holds the inner layer in place.  But it’s the only flaw in the ornament.

The bases on both pieces of this set are wide enough that you can stand them up to display them that way if you want.  And they both have the series marker on their bottoms.  Additionally, you’ll find the indentation for the stopper on the gingerbread cookie’s bottom.  Obviously, you screw off the top to add salt to the milk bottle.  If, you know, they were a real set.

However, if you want to hang these ornaments on your tree, you’ll find the rings on the top of the ornament.  They are both perfectly balanced and hang straight.

I didn’t need to start this series, and I resisted as long as I could, but I’m glad I caved.  This first ornament in the 'Tis The Seasoning! series is full of the little details I just love.

Be sure to check out the rest of the 'Tis the Seasoning! series.

Original Price: $14.95

August 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Time to slip in this week's Weekly TV Thoughts.

America Ninja Warrior – One finisher, although a few others came close.  If this is how hard the course is this year, will there be any finishers next year?

Scream – Oh wow, things are getting so interesting.  I had figured out the baby twist.  The only question now is how is it.  Obviously the teacher is out since he’s now the prime suspect.  I’m still on the Sheriff’s son being involved somehow.

Suits – Mike’s secret causing problems again and the firm about to go under.  This is amazing, and I didn’t want it to end.  I can’t figure out how this is going to be resolved.  And I loved seeing Trevor having turned his life around.  That was not the direction I thought the show was going to go at all.

Girl Meets World – Ah yes, the defunding of the arts episode.  Do they have to hit every high horse this season?  Or can’t we just let the characters have fun without preaching at us every week?  Yes, I still laughed at the episode, but come on, let’s just have fun for a few weeks now.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Puzzling mystery to keep you turning pages
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Murder on stuck train
Classic Christie book set up
Entertaining read

Even Knowing the End, This is a Wonderful Mystery

While I love mysteries, I must admit my knowledge of the early masters of the genre is very limited.  I’ve only listened to a handful of Agatha Christie stories on CD over the years, for example.  Still, over the years I’d had the ending to Murder on the Orient Express spoiled for me.  When I decided to listen to it on CD recently, I was wondering how that would affect my impression of the story.  I need not have worried; I still loved it.

Hercule Poirot had hoped to have a few days to spend in Istanbul on his way home from a case in Syria, but when he arrives, he finds himself being summoned back to England.  Even though travel is usually light in the winter months, he still has a hard time finding passage on the next train, only getting on because he is friends with someone who works for that particular line.

On the train the first day, he is recognized by Mr. Ratchett, an American who asks for Poirot’s help since Ratchett is in fear for his life.  Poirot refuses for one simple reason, he doesn’t like the man’s looks.  Something about him really bothers the detective.

However, that night, Ratchett is indeed murdered in his first class sleeping compartment.  Since the train is stuck in a snow storm, Poirot is asked to help find the killer.  It is quickly determined that the killer is still on the train, but the clues at the crime scene point to two very different killers, and all the passengers seem to have alibis.  Can Poirot solve this case?

It was actually fun reading this story knowing the ending.  (No, I’m not going to spoil anything.)  Even then, I couldn’t quite see how Poirot was going to figure it all out.  I was in awe as he worked the solution out over the course of the book.  And yes, it is a logical ending.  Even knowing what it was, I wasn’t sure if I would buy it or not, but I did completely.

I’ve heard that Agatha Christie isn’t super strong when it comes to characters, but I didn’t feel that here at all.  We have a large cast, and I didn’t have any trouble keeping them all straight.  They were real enough to make me care about the outcome, and I felt for some of them as the story progressed.  That’s important as the case draws to its climax.

I know some of that was helped by the narration provided by Dan Stevens in the audio version I listened to.  I must admit, in the first few minutes, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to follow the story.  The voice he did for Poirot was so quiet I could hardly hear it while the rest of it was just fine.  However, after about 15 minutes, I found the problem went away and I was able to fully enjoy the story.  I’m happy because he did a great job with the very diverse cast, really helping bring the story to life.

So I’m glad to finally know the full story of Murder on the Orient Express.  No matter whether you go into the story spoiled or not, this is a book you’ll enjoy reading.

This review is part of this week's edition of Friday's Forgotten Books.