Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Review: The Hudson River Mystery by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #28)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: A few moments, a fast read
Cons: The plot is ludicrous and the characters are out of character.
The Bottom Line:
Story makes no sense
These aren’t characters we love
No reason to read

What Was This Author Thinking?

Many fans of the Trixie Belden series have books they hate, and there are some that are universally loathed.  I’m odd because some of the weaker books I like despite the weaknesses.  That’s not the case with The Hudson River Mystery.  Even when I read this one the first time as a teen, I could only shake my head and wonder how the book even got published.

A trip to pick up older brother Brian and his lab partner Loyola from the shores of the Hudson River lead to a mystery when Trixie thinks she sees a shark fin in the water.  Despite the fact that everyone tells her there is no way it could be true, she is certain of what she saw.  Thea Van Loon, a children’s author who is working on a book about the area, backs up Trixie.  But why does Trixie think there is something off about Thea?

But Trixie has a mystery closer to home to solve as well.  Brian isn’t acting like himself.  He’s even questioning if he still wants to be a doctor, and he feels sick and tired.  What could be causing the shift in his personality?

So what’s wrong with the book?  Where do I even start?

How about the characters?  Every single one of them is completely out of character.  Trixie, while occasionally thoughtless and too quick to speak over the course of the series, hits new lows in this book.  Honestly, I want to slap her a few times.  The rest of her friends are also off, and more than just a little bit.  Brian’s odd behavior is part of the plot, but the rest of them?  There’s no explanation for it.

The plot in this book is really two smaller plots.  The story with Brian is the focus early on, and as that gets resolved, the shark takes bigger prominence.  All I can figure with the shark is they were trying to capitalize on Jaws, which came out a year or two earlier.  But really, a shark in the Hudson?  I can easily understand why everyone else was ridiculing Trixie – it’s pretty unbelievable.  Yes, there is an explanation for what Trixie saw, but it is so crammed into the end, it’s a data dump.  Oh, and Brian?  There’s a disclaimer at the end that nullifies that plot as well.

Plus let’s discuss the fact that this book is set at Halloween.  (In fact, the climax takes place on Halloween night.)  We’ve just had The Mystery of the Headless Horseman and The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon.  Both would have been better books set during Halloween.  That’s never made sense to me either.

Complaints aside, there are a couple of fun moments between the characters, and it is a fast read.  But that’s about all the book has going for it.

I really don’t get why this book was even published.  It should have been scrapped as a bad idea before it was even written.  If you are new to the series, you’ll be turned off by this book, so don’t start here.  However, even fans aren’t missing much if they miss The Hudson River Mystery.

I do highly recommend you find a different book in the Trixie Belden Mystery series.  Most of them are quite enjoyable.

Halloween Edition of Book Beginning and Friday 56

Happy Halloween.

I wish I could say I have a truly frightening book that would fit right in with the holiday for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.  But I don't.

But I do have a book that hasn't been released yet.  It will be out on Tuesday, and you can watch for my review on that date.  The book is Suede to Rest by Diane Vallere.  I've actually already finished it, and I really enjoyed it.

This is the first in a new series, and the entire thing starts like this:

A breeze rippled through the trees to the left and the right of the storefront.  I stood across the street, taking in the blacked-out windows and the once-magnificent sign now covered in bird poop, decades of grime, and spray-painted curse words.

From page 56, we find:

"I need to use your phone."  I snatched Ken's cell from his hand before he had a chance to say no and dialed Carson's number from memory.  I'd cycled through most of the entry-level curse words by the time he answered and was contemplating a couple of new ones.

There you have it.  As I said, review will be up on Tuesday, the day the book is released.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Movie Review: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some laughs and fun along the way
Cons: Slower pace and dated elements won’t attract kids today.
The Bottom Line:
Two classic stories
Don’t hold up as well today
Worth watching for fans

These Stories Have Their Moments

In the period immediately after World War II, the Disney studio was hurting financially.  In an effort to turn things around, they released several features that combined two or more stories into one longer movie.  Given the season, I decided now was a great time to rewatch The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad.  It had been a few years since I last watched it, but my memories of the film pretty much held up, for better or worse.

The first of the two stories in this film is Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  Or a small portion of the novel.  (I haven’t read the book in probably 30 years, but I do remember it being much more involved than the story presented here.)  Basil Rathbone is our narrator as we hear the tale of Mr. Toad (voiced by Eric Blore).  He’s the heir and owner of the prestigious Toad Hall, but his constant desire for speed gets him into serious trouble.  The focus of the film is his obsession with getting a car and the trouble that causes for his friends Ratty (Claude Allister), Mole (Colin Campbell), and Badger (Campbell Grant).

Honestly, this story is probably best known these days from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland (and the memories of the ride at Walt Disney World).  Watching the movie again, I noticed several of the characters actually show up in the ride; I thought they were just random people in the ride with no real connection to the movie.  Still, the ride goes off in a crazy direction that has nothing to do with any other version of the story.

But let’s get back to this film.  There is a courtroom scene that, while essential to the plot, will probably bore the kids.  I know I wasn’t that impressed with it, and I’m an adult.  However, there are still some comedic action sequences that will definitely entertain kids, particularly the climactic battle against weasels for possession of Toad Hall.  The animation is definitely on the dated side, but that was just the style of the time.  It’s certainly good, and the voice work is fine as well.

Once this story is done, Bing Crosby takes over to tell us The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.  We are introduced to Ichabod Crane, a single school teacher looking to find himself a rich woman to marry.  A beautiful woman catches his eye, but unfortunately, there’s another man in town who wants to marry her, and this man will stop at nothing to get rid of his new rival.  This all comes to a head at a Halloween party where the rival tells a spooky story about the Headless Horseman.  But it’s just a story…right?

What’s interesting about this segment is that Bing Crosby does all the voices as well as sings a couple of songs that further things.  Of course, really, the characters talk very little, it’s more Bing narrating things for us and occasionally changing his voice if a character is talking.  Still, we are able to follow the story quite successfully, and the songs are fun if not very memorable outside the movie.  They also definitely follow Bing’s style and 40’s style, which isn’t bad, but it also feels dated as you are watching.

While the final scene is the most famous, there is actually a bit of build up to it, introducing the characters and giving us the story of the Headless Horseman.  In fact, I found parts of it quite funny in a slapstick way.  It still might bore kids, but I have a feeling this will entertain them a bit more than the first segment does.

Even the final scene is a mix of chills and laughs.  It’s a fine balance, and the two parts definitely battle it out the entire way through the scene as Ichabod tries to get away from the Headless Horseman.  The result is a scene that will still scary the most sensitive kids, but that will entertain most kids with little chance of nightmares or other issues.

Still, I can’t fully recommend The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad to families.  I think the dated elements and slower pace will turn off most modern audiences.  However, DisNerds will still enjoy watching this piece of Disney history.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ornament Review: 1923 - Walt Arrives in L.A. - The Moments that Made Disney #1 - 2014 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Captures an early milestone from Walt’s career
Cons: Overall effect darker than it should be
The Bottom Line:
Walt risks chasing dream
Captured as this series starts
DisNerds will love it

Remembering a Gamble that Paid Off

I’ve been a Disney fan as long as I can remember.  I just enjoy the magic of most of the films they produce, and the parks are absolute fun no matter how many times you go.  So when Disney started producing a series of ornaments the commemorated Disney’s legacy by highlighting milestones along the way, I absolutely had to get them.  As a logical first step, we start with 1923 - Walt Arrives in L.A.

This ornament features Walt standing behind a camera.  He’s actually looking next to the camera at the action he is filming.  Walt and the camera are both standing on a black base that has “Walt Disney – Los Angeles – 1923” written on it.

My first thought when I saw this was “What is Walt doing filming live action?  He didn’t start doing that until later in his career?”  And I call myself a DisNerd.  When he moved to LA, he was still making the Alice shorts, which features a live action girl in an animated world.  Those would indeed be filmed with a camera like the one pictured here.

Still, I do have a couple of complaints with the ornament.  Walt and the camera are bronze, designed to look like this is a statue commemorating the event.  Yet between the black base and the dark bronze color, the result is an overall dark ornament.  You have to really look closely to see the details.

And when you do, you’ll see that Walt’s face doesn’t exactly look like Walt.  Oh, I know he would be younger than the man we are used to seeing from late in his career.  But still, he just doesn’t look right to me.  I can’t place my finger on what or why.  Who knows, this may be something else I am getting wrong.

Either way, the flat base means you can set this out and display it year round if you so desire, which is a nice feature.

Of you can hang it on your tree.  Since this is a Disney Story ornament, it comes with a red ribbon through the loop, so it is all ready to hang.  It tips ever so slightly to the front right corner, but once you get it nestled in the branches on your tree, you’ll never notice.

Unlike many Disney Story ornaments, this one is actually fairly light.  I often worry about these ornaments slipping off and breaking, but I don’t think that will be an issue with this one at all.

This series is limited and only available on line, so you’ll never be able to find it in any stores.  The series started with this release in August, and so far each entry has sold out in about a week.

Which makes me glad I didn’t hesitate too long before jumping in to start the series.  1923 - Walt Arrives in L.A. could be a little better, but it’s still a good start to what promises to be a magical series for DisNerds like me.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

TV Recap: Castle 7-5 - Meme is Murder

Definitely a good episode last night.  The mystery was fun with some good twists yet the path they followed along the way was well laid out.  I don’t think the timing of the ending quite works, but this is TV, so I’ll let it pass.

But we can’t discuss the ending without discussing the beginning.  Our victim is a social media star.  She’d come to NYC to make a living as a comedian.  That hadn’t quite come to pass, but she was making a name for herself posting funny reviews along with pictures on a social media sight.  Before she was killed, someone sent her a picture of herself from a burner phone – proof he was stalking her.

Suspicion quickly falls on an acupuncturist that she had just given a trademark bad review to.  He was furious and threatening her.  For one thing, she had never been a client and her review was hurting business.  (I’m sorry, but the reviewer in me was furious at that.  I hate phony reviews!)  However, he alibis out.  Castle wasn’t too surprised or upset because it wasn’t good from a story point of view.  (And that’s the first time in years he’s contributed anything like this.  They used to throw in those comments where he thought of the case as a story all the time, but they got away from that.  So nice to see it back.)

Book Review: A Biscuit, a Casket by Liz Mugavero (Pawsitively Organic Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Growing characters and cute pets in a strong story
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Dangerous dairy
Searching for clues on the farm
Makes for strong sequel

Corn Maze Corpse

Normally, I don’t have many books to read for Halloween, but this year I wound up with three cozies set during the season.  A Biscuit, a Casket is the last of those, and it appears I saved the best for last.

This is the second in a series that features Kristan “Stan” Connor.  After losing her PR job, she settled in the small town of Frog Ledge, Connecticut, and wound up starting a new business that sells organic, healthy treats for pets.  You’d think that would be a nice, safe occupation and place to live, but you’d most definitely be wrong.

In the few months since she started Pawsitively Organic, Stan has already begun to collect lots of clients.  One of them has even requested that she cater a birthday party for her dog to be held at the dairy farm just down the street a couple of weeks before Halloween.

However, Stan has just started to set up for the event when someone comes running out of the corn maze also on the property.  On the back edge of the maze is the body of the farm’s owner, Hal Hoffman.  As his wife and four sons try to deal with the shock, Stan begins to hear about Hal’s shady deals.  Did one of them get him killed?  Or are the police correct to look at his family?

While I enjoyed the first enough to continue the series, I felt it did have some flaws.  I liked Stan, but her habit of naming theme songs for her day got a little annoying.  That has been scaled back in this book, and I found the songs that popped into her head for certain scenes to be enjoyable, the way it’s supposed to be.  She’s definitely grown stronger as a character, and I enjoyed watching her settle into her new life more here.  The rest of the returning characters are fun again as well, and the new characters display some great depth that makes us care about the outcome.

The first book read much like the pilot of the TV series – introducing characters and setting up Stan’s new situation.  Those are often my least favorite episodes of a series because they can be slow, and I felt that did slow down the first book, too.  I’m happy to say with that introduction out of the way, the pacing of the mystery was much better here.  There are a few sub-plots introduced along the way, but they only enhance the book overall.  Yet the pace is never so fast that we aren’t given time to see how the events in the story are effecting the characters, especially the Hoffman family.  I loved those scenes because they truly added some depth normally not found in the cozies I enjoy.  Everything led up to a climax that once again surprised me and had me turning pages trying to figure out how Stan would survive.

The first book had included some sub-plots and relationships that were left unresolved to carry over through the series.  I was happy to see they were not only continued here but we made great progress in working toward resolutions.  With how things were left, I’m very interested to see where these things lead in the next book.

Recipes for two of Stan’s treats are included in the back of the book.  Since I don’t have pets (I’m allergic), I won’t be trying them, although they do sound pretty good even to me.

I was sad when I turned the last page of A Biscuit, a Casket, and I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Frog Ledge.  If you are looking for a fun cozy mystery with lots of cute pets, this series is definitely for you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

My October 2014 Nightstand

About Friday, I had a panic attack because I thought I'd missed this post.  Turns out, I was fine.  This is the fourth Tuesday of the month, which means it is time for What's On Your Nightstand, as hosted by 5 Minutes for Books.

Just leaving my nightstand is A Biscuit, a Casket by Liz Mugavero.  This is the second in the Pawsitively Organic Mystery series, and I must say I really enjoyed it.  It was a definite step up from the first, and I'm looking forward to more.  My review is here.

So what's next?  I've got a month of ARCs ahead of me.  I try to only take one or two at the most per month, but somehow, I just kept accepting for right now.

Up first is Suede to Rest by Diane Vallere.  This is the first in a new series and my introduction to the author, but not her first book.

Then comes Bluffing is Murder by Tace Baker, aka Edith Maxwell.  I actually just read the first in this series this month and enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to diving in to the sequel.

Next is The Job, the third Fox and O'Hare book by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg.  The premise is an FBI agent and a conman teaming up to take down even worse criminals.  The plots take them all over the world and are quite fun if a little out there.

All those come out on successive Tuesdays in November.  But I've got two books set for December 2nd.

Tagged for Death is the first in a new series by new author Sherry Harris.  The theme of this series is garage sales.  I'm quite anxious to dive into this one.

Also up for review that day is Death With All the Trimmings, a Christmas entry in the Key West Food Critic Mysteries by Lucy Burdette.

As if that weren't enough to keep me busy, I'm also trying to reread Acadia (originally published as A Model Murder) by Sandy Dengler.  And I have a couple of middle grade books I want to read as well as Days of Wine and Roquefort by Avery Aames.

Yes, I have too many books I want to read this month.

Obviously, some will bleed over into December.  I don't have any ARCs, but I do have some Christmas books to read then.  Right now, I'm just hopeful I can get to all these extra books by the end of the year.

VeggieTales Review: Beauty and the Beet

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good lesson in an endearing and entertaining story
Cons: Might be too slow for some boys
The Bottom Line:
Who could love a beet?
In this endearing story
We learn should be all

“Sure.  Let’s Just Stay Here Because Nothing Bad Ever Happens at a Creepy, Dark Hotel.”

Last October, I bemoaned yet about Christmas story from the folks at VeggieTales and hoped they’d give us something new this year.  I was delighted this year to see them release Beauty and the Beet.  Yes, there are some Christmas lights and evergreens in the background, but this is a story that can be watched and enjoyed any time.

As Bob the Tomato is introducing this episode, Larry the Cucumber runs in.  He’s gotten an emergency letter (you can tell because it was handwritten – in crayon!) from a girl who is wondering how to handle the new mean girl at her school.  Larry has just the story and introduces their take on a familiar fairytale.

Mirabelle (voiced by Kelly Pickler) is the lead vocalist for her family’s traveling band, the Veggie Tones.  They are just starting out, but with a hit song, their fame is rising, and they’ve just been invited to perform at Vegetable Square Garden.  Certain this will make their career, her father (played by Larry the Cucumber), sets out just as a snow storm is hitting.

Unfortunately, the storm is worse than expected, and the family is stranded at a creepy hotel in the middle of nowhere.  With no money and no bus (don’t ask), they just clean and sing for a place to stay under the nasty eye of Mr. Beet, the owner.  However, Mirabelle feels the need to reach out to him with God’s love.  Can she melt the heart of this man?  Will they ever get out of the hotel?

As if the title didn’t give it away, this is obviously a take on Beauty and the Beast.  However, they have stripped out any romantic love and made it all about showing God’s love to others.  The familiar elements of the story make appearances in different ways that those familiar with the original will have fun spotting.  (No magic is involved, however.)  The result is very heart warming and really illustrates the lesson that God wants us to show His love to others and just how that can transform them – and us.

While the lesson is part of the story, this isn’t quite as funny as some of the previous entries in the long running series.  That said, there is one gag late in the story that is absolutely priceless.  It may be my favorite for the last several videos in fact.  I’m also not quite sure how boys will react to this one, although I certainly enjoyed it.

With Kellie Pickler voicing the lead character and the story revolving around singers, it should be no surprise that there are lots of new songs.  They are enjoyable and really fit into the theme of the story well.

And yes, there is a new silly song.  Every wondered about the birth of “Mac and Cheese?”  Larry sets the record straight as we go back to his great, great, great…grandparents and learn how this combination came to be.  It’s fun.

Speaking of fun, the one acknowledgement to the season is “Deck the Halls,” a Veggie Tones video that plays after the show ends.  It’s pretty funny with a few twists on the classic carol that everyone will enjoy.

Ultimate, Beauty and the Beet is sweet and endearing while reminding us that God wants us to love everyone, even those who are hardest to love.  It might not be as funny as some entries, but it is still a great lesson told in an entertaining way.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 4-5 - Breaking Glass

What is she up to?  It seems to be my standard question when it comes to Once Upon a Time.  Not that I’m complaining, but I’m back in that familiar place when it comes to The Snow Queen.  There is obviously much more going on here than it appears, and I can’t wait to figure it all out.

But that’s looking ahead.  Let’s start by looking back to 1998 and a chapter from the life of runaway Emma.

We meet up with Emma in Minnesota as she is trying to steal some food while a runaway teen.  She is almost caught, but a girl about her age helps her out by lying that they are together and picking up some stuff for her parents.  Then they pay with a credit card this girl stole, run away from a man in a truck chasing this other girl, and finally begin to enjoy their food.

This girl, named Lily, and Emma bond pretty quickly, and the two of them decide to crash in one of the abandoned homes on the lake for a while since it’s fall.  Like Emma, Lily doesn’t have a family and feels invisible.  They have a lot of fun together, including playing video games and taking a self video (does it still count as a selfie if it’s a video) with a video camera that Emma finds laying around.

Only Lily does have a family, and her father shows up that night looking for her.  In fact, I’m guessing this was really her family’s cabin.  Lily is taken away, and but she tries to explain to Emma.  Lily was adopted, yet still feels invisible in her family.  She tries to give Emma her address so they can try running away again later, but Emma won’t take it.  Meanwhile, Emma is back in the system and taken to another home.

Short and sweet, right?  But it has huge implications for the present, so let’s get to that.

Book Review: The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #27)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Decent mystery; characters all present and mostly in character
Cons: A couple detours in plot; Trixie and Mart’s fighting
The Bottom Line:
Trip to pirate inn
Lands Trixie, friends in trouble
Strong later release

Disappearing Pirates and Reappearing Ships

Ghost ships.  While I’ve heard the term, I don’t think I’ve read too many books that involve those words.  The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon is one obvious exception, and it is a very fun mystery from the Trixie Belden series.

If you aren’t familiar with this character, Trixie starred in her own middle grade mystery series, kind of like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, but with a much larger cast of friends and supporting characters.  Each character has strong personalities as well, making them seem more real to me.

Early in the series, Trixie and her friends formed a club, the Bob-Whites of the Glen.  These seven friends have all kinds of fun together between the mysteries that Trixie seems to drag them into.  Among the members are Trixie’s older brothers Mart and Brian and her best friend Honey Wheeler.  One other recurring character is Miss Trask, the manager of the Wheeler estate, who also acts as chaperon for some of the group’s trips.

Trixie and the rest of the Bob-Whites are reluctant to go along with Miss Trask on her visit to see her brother and the family home, an inn that Mr. Trask had finally turned around thanks to pirate theming.  However, she insists they come and she lures them there with a tale of her ancestor Captain Trask.  The captain was a pirate who vanished from the inn’s dining room in front of a crowd of people and no one knows how he did it.

When the group arrives, they soon realize that this old mystery is the least of their worries.  A series of strange accidents have been occurring.  There’s one guest who acts weird.  And that’s before Trixie and Honey witness a ship glowing in the darkness.  Is it a warning of more danger to come?

This late in the series, you never quite know what you will get in the way of character.  Some of the ghost writers who used the name Kathryn Kenny were fairly faithful to the original versions, but others obviously knew nothing about these characters.  Here, they are fairly good.  Honey’s a tad on the scared side, but it’s not that bad.  Worse is Trixie and Mart.  These siblings are often teasing and occasionally fighting with each other, but here it is a pretty steady theme.  It’s supposed to mirror Miss Trask’s own relationship with her brother, but it irritates me.  On the other hand, when they really need each other, the two are there without hesitation, which is always true to character, and something I have always loved about the books.

Also on the plus side, all seven of the Bob-Whites get to go.  This doesn’t often happen – heck, some authors find ways to get rid of characters even when they are home.  While not every one plays a large part in the story, it is nice to see them all.

The plot is decent, with some good twists and nice deductions by Trixie at the end.  Some of the other characters solve things along the way, too, and there is a few chapter detour that actually doesn’t add much to the story, but for the most part, it is fun and entertaining.  Even if you remember the big chunks of the plot, it’s fun to watch the characters figure it out all over again.
So while not the strongest entry in the series, it is still a fun book and a good one for this late in the series.  If you’ve met Trixie before, you need to solve The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon.  And if you haven’t met her before, fix that today.  These mysteries and characters are still fun no matter how old you are.

And once you've met her, you'll want to read more Trixie Belden Mysteries.

This is the second in my two part Halloween edition of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  Ironically, as part of this series, I'm not reviewing the book that actually takes place around Halloween.  Come back on Friday to see why I don't find it a Marvelous book.