Saturday, April 18, 2015

April 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Got a new show mixed in with the rest of the usual suspects.  And as we approach May sweeps and finale season, there's going to be lots of TV to watch over the next few weeks.

Once Upon a Time – Wow!  I never would have guessed the twist at all.  Obviously, this is how they are going to get Robin and Regina back together, but I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.  It’s a wild ride yet again, and I’m loving every second of it.  You can read my fullrecap here.

Dancing with the Stars – I’m so glad they brought Disney night back.  It was such fun.  I pretty much agree with the judges when they were harsh, but those last few dances?  Jaw dropping awesome!

The Flash – They gave us a couple of lines I’d been thinking myself (like how Central City was supposed to be the fun one).  I’m not a fan of bees at all, so that part definitely creeped me out.  And with everyone in against Wells (or almost in), things are going to heat up even more.  I’m just wondering how Cisco can be remembering something that got erased when Barry time traveled.

Agents of SHIELD – I was having TV trouble (again), so I missed a couple of key moments of the episodes.  I’m not completely sure I needed to know about how Melinda got her nickname, but it was still interesting to watch, especially with how they tied it in to everything else.

Arrow – No!  Not Roy!  I really love the character and how they have been building him this season.  I’m so bummed to see him exit. Such amazing acting from everyone as well.  But please, can we get Lance’s head on straight again?  I’m so sick of this vendetta.

Survivor – I was rooting for Joe, hoping he could pull it off somehow, but not surprised to see him go like this.  When all it takes is one slip up, sooner or later, you are gone.

Young and Hungry – One of the writers on this show is on my beach ultimate Frisbee team, so I told him I’d give it a shot.  I’ll admit, I had to watch all three episodes that were on Wednesday night to begin to enjoy it, but I was definitely laughing by the end.

Big Bang Theory – I’m surprised they ended Penny’s storyline already, but I’m glad she’s sticking with sales.  It might have been fun to see her be a successful actress, but I’d hate for her to give up a good job for something that didn’t pan out.

The Odd Couple – Very predictable story, but the laughs along the way were fairly strong.  That’s what counts, right?

Girl Meets World – On the other hand, I didn’t feel the laughs this time around.  I did like the final couple of scenes, but on the whole this wasn’t one of their funnier episodes.  And what’s up with having this episode now when we are supposedly between seasons 1 and 2?  Disney Channel promo, I suspect, but still.

Amazing Race – With two episodes back to back, I wasn’t that surprised the first episode was a non-elimination leg.  Sorry that the Olympias couldn’t turn it around since I really did like them.  Well, expect for the flat tire melt down.  I was annoyed, he was annoyed, she was annoyed.  I think that tells you just how annoying it was.

Friday, April 17, 2015

And the Readaholics Winner Is...

I have another winner to announce!  Elaine has won the giveaway for The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco.

Elaine, you should have an e-mail from me.  Please get back to me so I can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: Grand Canyon by Sandy Dengler (Jack Prester #5)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Continued character growth in a fast paced story
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Long awaited book
Continues character growth
In thrilling story




Jack Takes a Personal Case at Grand Canyon

Sandy Dengler has long been a favorite author since the time I started reading her books in high school.  In fact, the Jack Prester series was one of the first mysteries aimed at adults I read.  I’d long known that she had written a fifth book in the series that didn’t get published back in the 1990’s with the rest of the series.  Thanks to the advent of epublishing, the book has now seen the light of day.  Grand Canyon is a wonderful next installment in the series.

Jack Prester works for a special program in the National Park service.  He travels from park to park helping out with crises.  Over the course of the series, we’ve also watched Evelyn Brant go from city slicker budget analysis brought in to help with the first case to full-fledged partner and potential love interest.

Jack’s latest case hits too close to home when his friend Ernie Morales is gunned down outside the visitor center in Grand Canyon.  Naturally, he takes the case and his partner Ev Brant, shows up to try to keep him from ruining the case by getting too personally involved.  Unfortunately, Jack also has to contend with his father and Ernie’s father both attempting to interfere with the case.

When a tourist couple is gunned down, things seem to be heating up and the race is on to find the killer before he or she kills again.  However, Ev makes a startling observation about the tourist couple.  Is she right and what does it mean if she is?

Here’s where I have a confession to make.  Mrs. Dengler actually sent me this book as files on a CD a few years ago.  I immediately dropped everything and read it, but only decided to reread and review the series when I saw that she had put them out for Kindle.  It’s been interesting rereading it in context.

I mentioned earlier that those early books in the series were some of the first mysteries written for adults that I read.  I also wasn’t doing as much reading thanks to college, so those books really stand out in my mind.  I remembered specific lines, scenes, and plot points.  Even though it’s only been about four years since I read this book, I didn’t have that same memory of the story here.  I remembered a couple of plot points, but I couldn’t have told you who the villain was, for example.  I found that an interesting statement in how the mind works.

That also means I found the plot just as interesting and thrilling as I did before.  There’s a twist in the second half that makes this book different from many of the books I read, and I enjoyed that.  I got so caught up in things the second time through that I had a hard time stopping when I had to return to real life.  As always, the story makes perfect sense by the time we’ve reached the end.

If I’d reviewed this book after I first read it, I would have told you the character development was good.  However, now that I’ve read the book so soon after having read the previous books, I find the character development is even better.  Yes, it’s the natural next step in the arcs we’ve been witnessing, but it feels real and natural for who these characters are and the story that is unfolding.  The new characters are also quite interesting and helped pull me in to the story.

I’ve always loved Mrs. Dengler’s writing.  I am in awe of it once again.  She paints such vivid pictures of the Grand Canyon that it made me long to visit again.  Heck, she even made me want to go down into the valley and see some of what she describes from down there.  She also slips in some fun observations into the narration.  While the early part of the book is told from Jack’s limited third person point of view, she opens it up later in the book to other characters, allowing for some of the character development I talked about.

I do feel the need to point out a couple of things.  First, a by standing dog is killed along with the victim in the opening scene.  This is a Christian mystery series, although that isn’t a strong element until the second half of the book.  Even then, it never over shadows the mystery.  Finally, for those who might pick it up expecting a clean Christian mystery, there is some foul language.

One final thing.  The first four books in the series came out in the early 90’s, and this book was originally written then.  I have not read the epublished versions of those books, so I don’t know what kind of updating might have been done to them.  With this book, I did notice a couple of references to cell phones and the internet.  It’s not a major part of the story, but something I found interesting.

I’d always felt that the story wasn’t complete for these characters after the fourth book ended, so I am glad to get the resolution I wanted in Grand Canyon.  While it makes a good stand alone, it is much better in the context of the series.  If you haven’t started the series yet, do so today.  You’ll enjoy this tour of the National Parks.

And if you need to back up to read Jack and Ev's earlier adventures, here are the Jack Prester Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book.  No discussion of a review was made since at the time, there was no place for me to review it.

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

April 17th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Has it been a week already?  Hard to believe it's time for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56 again, right?

This week's book is Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan




I'm not much past page 56 yet, but so far, it's good.  The review will come...sometime.  I've got a few book reviews lined up for the next few days, so I'm not exactly sure when this one will get reviewed.  Plus, I have to finish it first.

Anyway, here's how it starts.

"I know it's legal.  But it's terrible."

And, from page 56:

Lizzie's heart flipped, just for a second, wondering.  Was Aaron checking on her?  Had someone gotten wind of what she was doing?  She shook her head, trying to dismiss her silly fear.  No way.  She'd been careful.

Not quite sure how much I will get read this weekend because I am going to the LA Times Festival of Books all weekend with two plays in the evenings.  Yes, it will be jam packed but also lots of fun.

Hope you have a great weekend as well.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Movie Review: Bring It On



Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Torrance and Cliff
Cons: Rest of the characters; predictable plot
The Bottom Line:
Two, Four, Six, Eight!  Who
Is sorry he watched this film
Me, me, me! That’s who!




Turns Out I Wasn’t Missing Anything by Not Watching This Movie

Over the years, I’ve heard some people talk about how much they enjoyed Bring It On, so I thought I’d missed out on something.  Plus with all the sequels (okay, direct to video sequels but still), I figured there had to be something I had missed.  Nope.  I would have been just fine skipping this movie all together.

The story followed Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst), who, as a senior, is hoping to become head cheerleader.  If so, she will inherit a great squad that has won back to back championships at nationals.  This is a top notch squad.

Things begin to fall apart when Missy Pantone (Eliza Dushku) joins the squad.  She’s just moved to the area, but she quickly tells Torrance something she doesn’t want to hear.  Those award winning routines?  They’re stolen.  And the school they are stolen from is aiming to get to nationals this year, too.  What will Torrance do?

My problem with the movie is that I didn’t like the characters.  It really is that simple.  I felt sorry for Torrance, especially since the rest of the squad doesn’t try to back her at all when she realizes what she must do.  She’s struggling to do the right thing, but no one else wants to put in the effort.  Missy is just surly until late in the film, however her brother Cliff, Torrance's romantic interest, is great.  Heck, I even liked the rival squad better than most of the squad who are supposed to be the heroes.

That’s why the predictable plot points fell flat.  I was mostly bored as I waited for the story to unfold.  I just didn’t like the characters enough to care or get caught up in the story, so I wasn’t having fun.

Heck, even the language, which was just fine for a PG-13 movie, bothered me.  It seemed excessive, although if I’d been enjoying the film I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.  Or maybe it just stood out to me more since I was watching it on TV, and the editing was rather poor.  Yes, the editing actually made the language stand out to me more and cringe more than if they hadn’t edited it.

Now this complaint isn’t on the actors.  I like Kirsten Dunst, and she was a pleasure to watch here as always.  Eliza Dushku was good as well, and the rest of the cast was fine; it was just their characters I couldn’t stand.

I will give the movie this, I enjoyed the climax.  There were some nice moments there, and the routines we got to see were spectacular.

Overall, I’m glad I just wasted my time on Bring It On.  Now that I’ve got the curiosity out of my system, I’ll move on to another movie.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ornament Review: A Visit from Santa #6 - Dove - 2014 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute final visit between Santa and an animal friend
Cons: For series fans, it’s the final one
The Bottom Line:
Santa and a dove
Cute way to end this series
For animal fans




Our Visits with Santa Come to a Peaceful End

At some point over the last few years, it dawned on me that Hallmark had three very similar series going.  There’s the long running and popular Frosty Friends series, Snow Buddies, and A Visit from Santa.  All three featured animals, the only difference being who is visiting the animal.  Obviously, having three similar series didn’t work, and so in 2014, Hallmark ended the newest, A Visit From Santa, at six.  The series went out with another great visit, however.

For his final animal visit, Santa is visiting with a dove.  He’s holding his left hand up, and the dove is resting on it with her wings up in the air.  In his right hand, Santa is holding a wreath.  He’s dressed mostly in a traditional red hat and red coat, but his coat has a fringe.  It’s changed in every ornament in the series, but this time, it’s a light blue fringe that matches his gloves and contains a leaf pattern in it.

This series has always been cute, and this ornament is no exception.  Santa and the dove are looking at each other, and that just makes me like it more.  It was the cuteness of the series that made me start it to begin with, and that continued right though until the end.  Plus I like the fact that a dove symbolizes peace and peace on Earth is a Christmas greetings.

Santa does have two little black feet that stick out the bottom of the ornament, and they help to balance it.  It’s not the most stable ornament, but it will stand on its own as long as the surface isn’t going to be bumped a lot.  You’ll also find the six in a Christmas tree, Hallmark’s series marker, on the bottom of the ornament.

The loop for hanging Santa is on the top of the ornament.  (That just sounds bad, doesn’t it?  Hanging Santa?  Yikes!)  The ornament tips forward ever so slightly when you hang it, but it’s barely noticable.

I must admit I have mixed feelings about this series ending.  I have so many Hallmark ornaments that it is getting a little overwhelming.  This series was one I wasn’t super attached to.  On the other hand, I do think the ornaments in the series are so cute.  I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have to decide, isn’t it?

If you’ve been collecting this series, you’ll definitely want to get the final A Visit From Santa to complete your collection.  It’s a great last note for this cute series.

Original Price: $12.95

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Grave on Grand Avenue Winner!

And the winner of the Grave on Grande Avenue giveaway is...

...Cynthia.

I'll be sending you an e-mail shortly so I can connect you with your prize.

There are still giveaways going on for The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco and A Sticky Situation, so if you haven't already, feel free to join those.

Book Review: A Sticky Situation by Jessie Crockett (Sugar Grove Mysteries #3)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters (old and new) and a strong plot
Cons: Nothing that will stick
The Bottom Line:
Body in basement
Revives sticky mystery
Delight for readers




This Book Will Stick in Your Hands

Every time I start reading one of my favorite culinary cozy mysteries, I start craving the food featured.  Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue since my favorite Saturday breakfast is real maple syrup over waffles.  Ironically, right now I’m playing in an Ultimate Frisbee beach league and don’t have time for that before I need to head out the door.  Why am I bringing all this up now?  Because that was the only downside of reading A Sticky Situation which brings us back to the Greene family’s maple syrup farm.  Still, I was thrilled with another great mystery.

Spring is almost here and the sap is running, which means that Dani Greene is out in the sugar bush every day checking on the trees and the sap flowing from them.  Not only that, but it is a month until the annual Sugar Grove Maple Festival, which brings tourists to town, and Dani is responsible for helping organize that.  This time of year also means the appearance of Dani’s aunt Hazel, a woman who tests the patience of everyone in the family, and she seems to be in rare form this year.

The last thing Dani needs is a mystery, but that’s just what she gets when a skeleton is found in the basement of town hall.  The remains are identified as Spooner Duffy, a drifter who came through town for a few months and then vanished with the proceeds from that year’s Maple Festival.  Of course, finding his body in the basement tends to bring up questions about whether he really stole the money or not.  Even though it has been thirty years since the man was in town, his reappearance starts old gossip and resentments flying.  When Dani is asked to prove Spooner didn’t steal the money, she starts asking questions.  Will she find the real thief?  Will this investigation put her on a killer’s radar?

Since this is the third book in a series, the main cast of characters already feel like old friends, and I was thrilled to get to visit them again.  Dani is a wonderful main character, and her continued journey towards independence is fun to watch.  We got to see some different sides of other series regulars as the book progressed.  Then there’s the new casts of characters who feel just as real as those we already know.  There were one or two supporting characters I wish we’d gotten to see more, but that was a minor complaint.

Between a couple of strong sub-plots and the main mystery, the pace of this book never faltered, and I was turning pages as quickly as I could, wishing I had the time to finish it in one sitting.  The sub-plots did their job – they supported the mystery and provided new insight into the characters without overwhelming the main story.  The clues were perfectly planted but hidden by enough red herrings I didn’t figure things out until just before Dani did.  Still, the solution was logical and that final scene suspenseful.

If you love maple syrup as much as I do, you’ll be thrilled to find three new maple syrup themed recipes in the back of the book.  Someday, I’m going to have to give them a try.

Once again, it’s been a privilege to head to New Hampshire and visit the Greene family.  A Sticky Situation is a pleasure to read and will leave readers with a sweet taste in their mouths.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Giveaway!

Thanks to the publisher, I have one physical copy to give away to a lucky commentor.  Just leave your name and e-mail so I can get in touch with you if you win.  Sorry, US addresses only.

The contest will close at midnight California time on April 21st.

Good luck!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review: The King's Stilts by Dr. Seuss



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Charming story and great illustrations
Cons: Lots of words so takes a bit longer to read than a typical picture book
The Bottom Line:
Balancing work, fun
Presented in fun story
That’s not work to read




You’ve Got to Have Fun

I have this feeling that I read The King's Stilts at some point in the past.  But when exactly that was, I can’t recall.  It’s certainly not one of Dr. Seuss’s better known books which is a shame because it is lots of fun.

King Britram has a very busy job.  His kingdom, Binn, lies below sea level and only the Dike Trees keep the water from coming in.  However, the Nizzard birds like to eat the tree’s roots, so he’s trained and army of patrol cats to keep the trees safe.  That requires all his attention most of the day, but at the end of the day, he enjoys spending time on his stilts as a way to relax.

However, Lord Droon doesn’t find the stilt walking very kingly, so he conspires to steal and hide the stilts.  What will happen when the king finds they are gone?

When you think of Dr. Seuss, you think of rhyming stories and a decent word to picture ratio.  That’s not the case here.  This story is told completely in prose, and most of the pages have lots of words on them. This is not a fast read, but if your child has the attention span for it, it’s a good story.  Because of that, I recommend it for older preschoolers.

The illustrations are classic Seuss, however.  His simple pen and ink style with caricatured animals and people is in full display here.  As always, they add to the charm of the story, especially as we are racing to the climax.

Adults will easily see where the story is heading, but kids won’t know.  Even if they do, it is a fun journey with a nice twist or two along the way.  And the ending for the characters?  Absolutely perfect.  Justice is served in the most creative way possible.

There’s even a moral about the importance of work and play, but it comes directly from the story and never once preaches to us.

So if you’ve missed this little gem, find a copy to read today.  It’s a shame this isn’t better known because I think The King's Stilts is pure fun.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 4-17 - Heart of Gold

They still get me on this show.  Tonight’s twist?  I never saw that coming.  And it is definitely going to change the rest of this season.

The episode starts off with the hunt for the Author.  Mary Margaret and David try to make Emma see that what they did in the past was a onetime mistake.  Yes, a huge one, but not a normal pattern, but she’s not willing to listen.  Still, she is willing to work with them to find the Author before Gold does.

Unfortunately, they are too late.  Gold find the Author trying to form a new quill from a branch of a tree in the forest.  However, since it is from our world, it doesn’t have the magic needed to create the stories.  Gold offers the Author a pen from the Enchanted Forest with the magic needed if he will work with Gold.  The Author agrees, and they disappear in smoke.

Meanwhile, a chained Regina awakes in her vault with Gold standing over her, and we are about to learn what it is that will make her do Gold’s bidding.  But to learn that, we need two flashbacks.