Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cookie Review: Chips Ahoy! Oreo Creme Filled

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Oreo Crème middle
Cons: Really doesn't work with the rest of the cookie
The Bottom Line:
Sweet center filling
Overwhelms rest of cookie
So better apart

Sweet Flavor, but Doesn’t Really Belong in These Cookies

The cookie aisle is a dangerous place in the grocery store – or at least it is for me.  I was walking down it recently when I spotted Chips Ahoy! had a new flavor out – Oreo Creme Filled.  I was curious, so I had to try it.

These cookies are in the Chewy line of Chips Ahoy! cookies, meaning they are softer cookies.  Since those are the cookies I prefer, that is a point in their favor.

And these cookies are just as you’d picture them.  From the outside, they look like your standard chocolate chip cookie.  However, inside they hide a layer of white cream that is usually at the center of an Oreo cookie.

Now don’t misunderstand what I am about to say.  I love Oreo cookies.  And their creamy middle is wonderful with the chocolate outer cookies.  However, they don’t belong in a chocolate chip cookie.  The Oreo cream overwhelms the rest of the cookie, so it is all you can taste.  The result is just very sweet.  It’s not bad, but it needs more other flavor to balance it out.

This is one combination that shouldn’t have happened.  It’s not bad, but it’s not that great either.  I won’t be tempted to buy Oreo Creme Filled again in the future.  I'll stick with Oreos or regular Chips Ahoy! cookies.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: My New Friend is So Fun! by Mo Willems

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and a good message gently taught
Cons: Brian doesn’t look like a bat to me
The Bottom Line:
Playing with new friends
What does that mean for Gerald?
We get laughs and warmth

New Friends – And Old

I have fallen in love with the Elephant and Piggie books.  Whether the books have a lesson to teach or not, they are always just plain fun.  That’s the case once again with My New Friend Is So Fun!

On this particular day, Gerald is talking to Snake.  The two are alone because Piggie, Gerald’s best friend, is spending the day playing with Brian Bat, Snake’s best friend.  At first, both of them think it is nice because their best friends are so much fun.  But then they start to worry.  What if their best friends are having more fun without them?  Will they lose their best friends?

So obviously, this is a book with a lesson in it, and that lesson is just because your best friend is making new friends, it doesn’t mean they like you any less.  And the reason I love this book is because it teaches that lesson with warmth and humor.  In fact, it never once “teaches” us this lesson in words.  The lesson comes solely because of the actions of the characters.

And there’s still plenty of humor.  As Gerald and Snake start to panic about losing their best friends, the reactions get over the top.  Even the climax, while sweet, is also pretty funny.

As usual, the story is told through dialogue and illustration, making it a fast, fun read.  The dialogue is fairly easy to read, making it a good book for beginning readers.  My only complaint in this department is Brian the Bat.  He just doesn’t look like a bat to me at all.  Mo Willem’s illustrations are always stylized, but normally they do look like what they are supposed to look like.  Here, Brian looks more like a Rabbit to me.  But I’m complaining about a very minor thing over all.

Because truly, My New Friend Is So Fun! is so fun.  There’s plenty of humor and a good lesson that will entertain Gerald and Piggie’s many friend, both old and new.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What's on My Nightstand - July 2014

We've hit the fourth Tuesday of the month, which means it is time for What on Your Nightstand.

I can tell you what is coming off my nightstand - The Good, the Bad, and the Emus by Donna Andrews.  As in I just finished it 10 minutes ago.  It's the latest in her Meg Langslow comedic mystery series.  Not the best in the series, but still lots of fun.  My full review will be up later this week once I've had a chance to write it.

Coming up next, I will be reading The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith.  I'll be reading it for the Classic Book Club hosted by Reading to Know.  I've never been a part of this book club before, but this seemed like a good excuse to reread the book.  I read it close to 20 years ago, so it will be interesting to see what I remember of the book.  I'll be posting that review on Sunday, if all goes according to plan.

After that?  I'll be working away on my goal of eventually reviewing all the books in the Trixie Belden series.  Up next?  #25, The Sasquatch Mystery.  From there it will be a book that a friend from Australia gave me months ago.  I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I haven't read it yet.  Finally, I will be reading the fourth Cheese Shop Mystery by Avery Aames, To Brie or Not to Brie.

That should carry me into August.  From there, I've got some new releases by favorite authors I'll need to get my hands on.  I'm still hoping to get in some Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books.  And I have another couple series I want to reread, not to mention I still have a towering pile of new books screaming my name.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'd better get reading.

Ornament Review: Four Calling Birds - Twelve Days of Christmas #4 - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful ornament with some unusual colors
Cons: The wings look more vulnerable than normal.
The Bottom Line:
Another winner
In this beautiful series
Bold works well again

And Just What Is a Calling Bird, Anyway?

A friend made an interesting point as we were waiting to see just what Hallmark artist Edythe Kegrize would do for the fourth entry in the Twelve Days of Christmas ornament series.  There is no such thing as a calling bird.  After a lifetime singing the song at Christmas, I was startled to realize she was right.  Oh, there are theories about what it meant in the old days, but really, we don't know for sure what this verse means.  As a result, Four Calling Birds might be a bit more fanciful than the others in the series, but that doesn't make it any less beautiful.

Just how fanciful?  Well, the bird is done in blues and purples if that gives you any idea.  The bird has a pretty dark purple head and a blue body and tail with a light blue over light purple wings.  The bird is wearing an acorn top on its head and the dangle element is a light green acorn as well.  There is a fuzzy light blue piece of cloth tied around the bird's neck.  As usual, the wings have lyrics from the verse printed on them with music on the back wing.

Now I will admit that purple and blue isn't the first color I think of when I think of a bird of any kind.  And yet, this ornament is just as beautiful as the others in the series.  It's really hard to describe the ornament in any other way.  The choices may be bold and outside the box, but they work so well together that I can't wait to get this one on my tree.  Being dark, it might blend into the tree a bit more than some of the others in the series, but that's my only complaint with how it looks.

I so worry a bit about the wings on the bird.  The previous entries in the series have all had wings that just stuck out a tiny bit from the body.  This time around, they stick down from the body and most of the ones I've looked at already curve a little.  I'm very worried about the wings breaking, mostly likely when I wrap it up to store it, but even if it were to drop, that might break them.  (I really wish Hallmark would include the plastic storage they used to use for this series to protect the wings.)

Since this is a bird and there is the acorn dangling down from the ornament, there is no way to stand this ornament up for display.  You have to hang it.  The good news there is that the ornament appears to hang straight to me, although it's a bird.  If it didn't, would you really be able to notice.

Since this is the fourth in an official series, you'll find a 4 in a Christmas tree somewhere on the ornament.  It's pretty much where I expected it to be, although I will let you hunt for it if you are so included.

Real of not, Four Calling Birds is a beautiful addition to what is my favorite Hallmark series.  I'm not sure what Edythe will do for next year's rings, but I've no doubt I will love it as much as I do this ornament.

Original Price: $12.95

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book Review: Earthquake Shock by Marlane Kennedy (Disaster Strikes #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5 (for the target audience)
Pros: Action and good characters
Cons: None for beginning readers in early elementary school.  Adults will find it light and short
The Bottom Line:
The earth starts to shake
Will these four friends make it home?
Early chapter book

This New Series is Not Off to a Shaky Start

Growing up in California, earthquakes are a fact of life.  I’ve been in quite a few small ones, but only one major earthquake.  Even then, it wasn’t located close enough to really disrupt my daily life.  Still, I found it interesting that earthquakes were the main focus of the first in the new Disaster Strikes series from Marlane Kennedy.  I approached Earthquake Shock with a little more interest than I will some of the others just because I know a little more about them.

Joey is thrilled to be allowed to stay late at the skate park even if it does mean having to come home with Dylan.  He is trying to learn some new tricks on his new skateboard, and he’s enjoying practicing them with his friends Fiona and Kevin.  However, as the four of them are on their way home, an earthquake hits Los Angeles, separating the group.  Is everyone okay?  What will they find when they get home?

The series is aimed at young readers just graduating up to chapter books.  It’s only 110 pages long, and there are pen illustrations once or twice a chapter.  As a result, I found it to be a very fast read, and it certainly isn’t over complicated.  But it is just right for the target audience.

Take the plot.  It’s really more a series of encounters that the friends have after the quake hits as they try to get home.  There are some close calls, which definitely caught my interest, but they were resolved fairly quickly so we could move on to the next thing.  Still, it works well for the target audience, who will find each encounter very interesting.  I know I did.

Considering how short the book is, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of character development, and the characters and their growth are fairly obvious to adults.  However, kids won’t care because they’ll be interested in the action.  And even with the limited amount of page time she had to work with, Marlane still managed to give us some good characters we care about.  I did tear up at the end, after all.  And I really did like Joey, who bravely did what he needed to do in several situations.  He makes a great hero.

The author even manages to work in just a bit of humor.  It’s not enough to make light of the bad situation, but it does help lighten the mood.

So what about details of the quake itself?  Again, I haven’t been as close to the center of a big quake as these characters are, but I certainly did recognize the way it was described from the quakes I’ve been through.  The aftermath felt real to me as well.

Earthquake Shock really is a great book for young readers because the story will catch and keep their interest.  Heck, I might have a few nitpicks, but even so I got caught up in it and am glad I read it.

This review of part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

July 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Wipeout - The writers on this show are wonderful with how they can develop and expand on a pun.  I always enjoy the puns.  I'm a bit surprised at the theme of the winner getting to date Jill.  The first guy they introduced us to won, and I was rooting for him all along.  I've got a pretty good track record this season, or at least better than usual.

24: Live Another Day - I had suspected we'd get that ending all along.  I was hoping we wouldn't, but I had suspected as much.  And after they showed the coffin, I thought I knew who was in it as well.  Again, hoped I was wrong.  And yet?  Those scenes still packed a wallop.  Never a comedy, never a happy ending, but always a wallop.  I think the hardest scene was the President's monologue at the end.

American Ninja Warrior - They really did kill Kacy's finish with the promos, however, it didn't make it any less fun and amazing to watch.  And I loved how her boyfriend climbed up to celebrate with her.  Talk about a true gentleman.

Royal Pains - I'm surprised they brought the mafia guy back, but obviously he's around for several episodes at this point.  I wonder exactly where they are going with him.  Likewise, I'm wondering where they are going with the sister storyline.  And look at Divya pulling a Hank to save a patient.  I'd really want them on my side if I had a mystery illness.

Covert Affairs - Don't characters realize that when you hide a secret, it only comes back to bite you in the end?  Auggie and Annie are in for it now.  In other news, they got me when that guy came in and attacked Annie, but as soon as we saw him, I knew that the gun would come into play.

Mystery Girls - Well, they finally let us see the pilot.  It wasn't that great an episode, but few pilots truly are.  In this case, it was especially true since they didn't solve a mystery at all!

Suits - That show packs more twists in an hour….  The Donna/Louis plot line really had nothing to do with anything, and yet it was so much fun and really made me smile at the end.  As to the rest, I feel like a broken record, but this is very interesting and getting more interesting all the time.

Graceland - That felt like the lead up to a season finale, or at least a mid-season finale.  The way they played all those cliffhangers was just perfect.  I am very intrigued to see where they will go next week.

Girl Meets World - I absolutely love this show!  Okay, so I really don't see Lucas's reaction at the end being realistic, but it was nice.  Auggy's sub-plot was hysterical, and it was nice to see Topanga get a little more to do.  So many great lines, and a very clean comedy, too.  Well, except for the shaving cream and potatoes, of course.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Review: Drizzled with Death by Jessie Crockett (Sugar Grove Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Dani and the cast; entertaining mystery
Cons: Could use a better sense of place; maple syrup cravings
The Bottom Line:
A series debut
Sweetened with characters and
Humor that pleases

Dani Finds Herself in a Sticky Situation

When I spotted Drizzled with Death in coming soon listings, there was no doubt in my mind I would read the book.  You see, I love maple syrup - the real stuff, forget those imitations that they sell in stores and taste horrible.  So a mystery series themed around a maple syrup grower was something I had to support.

The Greene family has owned a maple syrup tree farm in New Hampshire for generations.  Also part of the family tradition is providing the syrup for the town’s annual All You Can Eat Pancake fundraiser for the local fire department.  Never mind that Dani’s Grampa wins every year, people still love to attend.

At this year’s breakfast, Alanza Speedwell and Grampa are the last two eating when Alanza flops face first into her plate.  No, it isn’t a food coma, it was murder, and people begin to suspect that her syrup was poisoned.  Dani has been working hard to grow the family business, and this could be a huge setback if it doesn’t shut the place down all together.  And it's not like Alanza hadn't made plenty of enemies in the short time he'd been in town.  Can Dani find the killer before the business is the next victim?

Let's get my one complaint with the book out of the way right away.  I felt like we were plunked down in the story with little to no context or description to aid us.  References are made to regular events, and we have to infer what they are from the scene eventually set there.  Either the author got better with this or I got the setting because by the end of the book, I wasn't having this problem at all.

So let's get on to what I did enjoy, starting with the characters.  They are an eccentric and fun bunch, just the kind you'd expect in a small town setting in the middle of New Hampshire.  And yet they always felt real.  Okay, maybe one or two were out there, but they were such fun I didn't care.  Dani herself is a wonderful main character who grows in some surprising ways over the course of the book.

The plot was great fun.  The book is filled with a wide variety of viable suspects, and I didn't zero in on the killer until Dani did.  And yet the solution was completely logical with a wonderfully done climax that had me turning pages quickly.

Which brings us to the humor.  Between Dani's love life and the exotic animals roaming the area, there was actually quite a bit of humor in the book.  I wasn't expecting it, but it was a touch I really enjoyed.

I mentioned loving real maple syrup, right?  Then you will understand that I had maple syrup cravings while I was reading this book.  They were so powerful that I had to go out and buy some and have waffles for breakfast over the weekend.  (Waffles are one of my favorite maple syrup holders.)  If you are like me, you'll be glad to find two recipes in the back.  I don't drink, so the Maple Magic Martini doesn't interest me, but the Who'd a Thunk It sounds divine.

Just like having one pancake (another favorite maple syrup holder), just reading the first in this series isn't going to be enough.  Good thing the sequel just came out this month.  You can bet I won't wait to read it as long as I waited to read Drizzled with Death.

July 18th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it to another Friday!  So let's get the final work day of the week started with Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'll be pulling quotes from Drizzled with Death by Jessie Crockett.  Yes, a maple syrup themed cozy mystery series.  Just when I think they've found all the topics they can cover, they pull out a few more.

And here is how the book begins:

I knew as soon as I lied to my mother, the night would turn out badly.

And jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

I was a bit worried about my leisure time in the upcoming summer.  What if by some miracle Piper managed to net the kangaroo with [the hammock] and the kangaroo struggled free, tearing a huge hole right through the side?

Yes, you did read that right, a kangaroo.  It's part of a subplot that brings a lot of great humor to the book.

I actually finished the book on Wednesday, and my review is right here if you want to read more about the book.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ornament Review: Minnie Has a Ball! - A Year of Disney Magic #1 - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun idea and a great sculpt
Cons: None at all
The Bottom Line:
Beach ball, sand, and fun
Nothing more you could ask for
In magic debut

Have a Ball with Minnie at the Beach

When I first learned of the year long Peanuts ornament series that Hallmark started last July, I almost predicted that they would do one with Disney characters this year.  I would have been right.  At Ornament Premier this year, they released the first in this new series – Minnie Has a Ball!  And it is a lot of fun.

Officially the ornament for August (they sell them a month early), this ornament features Minnie Mouse.  She’s dressed for the beach in an orange bikini (don’t tell Walt), but she still has her pink bow in her hair.  The colors they’ve chosen seem to work together well even if I don’t normally picture them going together.  They also die in to the sandals on her feet, which are orange with pink bows.  She’s actually turned sideways like she is running by us, and in her hands, she’s holding an inflatable beach ball.  Just like many traditional balls, it has white and colored stripes on it.  She’s standing in the sand, and there is a starfish at her feet.

Despite my comment earlier, Minnie’s bikini is actually very tastefully done and looks nice.  It didn’t even dawn on me what she was wearing until I looked closer to write my review, and you could say it is more of a two piece suit.  Minnie is smiling and clearly enjoying her time at the beach.  But then again, who wouldn’t?  I mean, it’s the beach.  It’s always fun there, right?

Because they have added the sand around Minnie’s feet, the ornament has a nice base for standing.  That makes it perfect for setting out to display every August (or year round if you prefer).  It will display nicely with any beach scene you want to set up, including Pig Pen from last year’s Peanuts entry, Fun at the Beach.

However, if you want to hang the ornament, there is a loop on Minnie’s head so you can do just that.  Minnie is perfectly balanced, so she hangs nice and straight no matter what you hang her from.

Speaking of which, Hallmark did sell a Mickey head stand you can use to hang up to 12 Disney ornaments.  (There are 12 in this monthly series.  Coincidence?)  The hooks in this series are perfectly designed so that you can hang Minnie in it and she faces the room with ease.  It looks like the entire series should hang correctly.  I sure hope so.  This stand was extremely popular during Premier and is already sold out, at least from what I’ve been hearing.  The ornaments will still be available, however, so you can pick them up and enjoy as the year goes along.

And enjoy them you will.  A Year of Disney Magic is off to a great start with Minnie Has a Ball!  I’m going to enjoy collecting this series for the next twelve months.

Original Price: 12.95

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Movie Review: Glory (1989)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Powerful story and great performances
Cons: Most characters slightly underdeveloped; predictable story
The Bottom Line:
Historic soldiers
Fighting in historic war
Historical film

Fighting For Your Own Freedom

I will freely admit to having pre-judged Glory long before I saw it.  Just knowing what it was about was enough to make me feel I'd know my reaction to it.  When my roommate recorded it off TV, I decided to test my theory, and I was right.

The movie tells the story of Colonel Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a northern who is part of the army during the Civil War.  He isn't seeing much action.  While home on leave, he is offered the chance to lead up the first regiment made up of runaway slaves and free black men.  When he takes the job, it proves much tougher than he ever expected.  Can he get his men into fighting shape?  Will they ever see combat?

It's a war movie, and that really tells you everything you need to know about the plot.  And that was one thing I had judged this movie on before I saw it.  I found as I watched it that I was completely right in how my expectations were met.

Now, as I always say, that doesn't mean the movie can't still be very entertaining, and it was.  I was pulled into the story of the regiment and everything they had to endure.  Even though this was set in history, I was outraged at some of the abuse that Shaw had to fight against.  I even learned a thing or two about the Civil War I didn't know before.  (No, I'm not taking a movie at face value, but these new facts appear to be backed up elsewhere as well.)

Where the movie could have done better is the characters.  We really get to know Shaw, but the rest of the men are fairly interchangeable.  Even Shaw's friend and fellow officer Major Forbes (Cary Elwes) could have been better developed.  That would have made the predictable ending even more powerful to me.

I'm not faulting the actors one bit.  Okay, I had a bit of trouble picturing the usual comedic Matthew Broderick in a serious role, but he was great in the part.  Likewise, Cary Elwes was a great actor with the scenes he was given.  Among the African-American soldiers we have the likes of Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman who bring their usual outstanding acting to this film.  Really, it was the script that should have developed the characters better.

Being a war film, there are several battle scenes, and they looked as realistic as I wanted them to look.  Since I'm fairly squeamish, I don't mind if things are toned down a little, but I bought what I saw.

In case you haven't figured it out, I expected Glory to be a powerful but predictable war movie.  While I felt stronger characters would have made it more powerful overall, I'm pleased to say that I was mostly right.