Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Review: What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: The illustrations are great
Cons: The rest is not Seuss’s best work
The Bottom Line:
Choosing a new pet
In book that Seuss abandoned
Nothing that special

Should You Get Dr. Seuss’s Newly Discovered Book?

July saw the release of new books from two beloved authors.  While the focus has been on Harper Lee’s new novel, I was most curious about the new Dr. Seuss book.  (We can discuss what that says about my literary tastes later.)  Having gotten to read What Pet Should I Get?, I feel fairly certain it should have stayed unpublished.  It’s not a bad book, but it certainly won’t be remembered as one of his better books.

The story follows a brother and sister who are sent to a pet store to pick out one new pet.  The brother, our narrator, immediately wants a dog, and his sister wants a cat.  But the more they begin to look around, the more choices they see.  What will they wind up taking home?

The plot really didn’t surprise me based on the title.  I just wasn’t sure if it was going to feature real animals or animals straight from the imagination of Dr. Seuss.  The answer is…yes.  Eventually, the book does feature two imaginary creatures, but most of the book does focus on real pets.

And that’s part of the problem.  Those two imaginary animals almost feel forced into the story.  If Dr. Seuss was going to follow his flights of fancy, it would have been a much larger part of the book.  Instead, it felt like it was just there to fill pages.

The book does rhyme, but it doesn’t flow like the best of Dr. Seuss’s books.  Some of the rhymes did feel forced, and other lines feel like they are changing the rhythm mid-book, something he never did.

The illustrations are classic Dr. Seuss, however.  They are the one thing that really does shine.  For that reason, I suspect that kids will still enjoy this book even if it doesn’t hold nearly the same appeal to adults.

But let’s discuss the ending.  It leaves the final choice the children make open.  I’m sorry, but when you ask a question in the title, shouldn’t you answer it in the book?  That bothered me.

The book ends with several pages about Dr. Seuss, his pets, his career, and his work habits.  It talks about how he’d go through 1000 pages making sure everything was perfect before he was happy with it every time he wrote a book.  It also points out how similar the children are here to the ones in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and theorizes that this book eventually morphed into that one.  All this leads me to the conclusion that he knew this wasn’t his best work and he never would have wanted it to see the light of day.

Now, I’m not saying it is horrible.  I’m not condemning anyone for publishing it or buying it.  I’m just saying it’s really average.

So back to my question in the title.  Should you get What Pet Should I Get?  If you have young children who love animals, they might get a kick out of it.  But if you are only curious, I’d go to the library to read it.

July 31st's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Can you believe we are on the last day of July already?  Yikes!  Where did the month go?  But it is the 31st and it is time for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week's book is Crushed Velvet by Diane Vallere.

I'm about half way through this book and really enjoying it.  That's not too surprising since I enjoyed the first in the series so much last year.

The book opens with just a simple sentence:

The crash was louder than I expected.

I'm going with a simple line from page 56 as well:

"I know they say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but I'd rather the fabric store not be linked to another homicide."

Want to know more about the book?  I'll be reviewing it (and hosting a giveaway) next Friday.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley (Flavia DeLuce #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, second half
Cons: Plot in first half is very slow
The Bottom Line:
Flavia is back
Plot needed better pacing
Characters still strong

The First Half Strings Us along a Bit Too Much

I’m trying to rotate through four series on audio, and July brought me back to Flavia DeLuce.  I enjoyed her first mystery a few months back, and was looking forward to visiting her again in The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag.  Sadly, the first half just took too long to get started.  Once the mystery finally got started, the book did take off, however.

If you haven’t meant Flavia, she is an 11-year-old living in the small town of Bishop’s Lacey in England in 1950.  Oh, and she has a fascination with chemistry, poison, and death.  These were only heightened by a murder she found herself involved in and solving just a couple of weeks before this book opens.

That opening finds Flavia sitting in the cemetery.  Her thoughts are interrupted by a woman crying.  The woman is Nialla, the assistant to famous puppeteer Rupert Porson.  They are on a nationwide tour performing his amazing version of Jack and the Beanstalk, but their van has broken down.  While they await the repairs, and to earn some money to pay for those repairs, they agree to do two performances in the village, and Flavia finds herself helping them set up.

However, before the performances are over, someone is dead.  Flavia and her family witness the deed, and Flavia immediately begins to investigate.  Will she once again find the killer?

As I hinted at earlier, that murder doesn’t take place until almost the half-way point.  Yes, some of what happens before that is important to the solution of the case, however, the tension just isn’t there.  It’s more a series of events that we just don’t care about for far too long, and I was a little bored at times.  Honestly, some of these revelations could have been worked into the story after the murder takes place so we care about what we are learning.  It would have made the book stronger.

Once that second half hits, the pace definitely does pick up, and I began to enjoy it much more.  The climax is not as suspenseful as the first book, but it is gripping in other ways and very well done.

The characters are still absolutely wonderful.  Well, Flavia’s older sisters are truly horrible to her, but then again, Flavia isn’t a saint to them by any means either.  We meet quite a few new characters in this book, and they all come across as real.  These characters are the true strength of the book.

Flavia is not your typical 11-year-old, and her observations, especially in the first person narration, are often funny.  This isn’t a humorous novel overall, but you will find lines that will make you smile if not laugh.

Once again, the audio book was narrated by Jayne Entwistle.  I can’t imagine anyone better suited to read this story for us.  Her voice perfectly captures Flavia’s age, spunk, and personality.  Even if I were to read a book in the series, I’d still hear her voice narrating it in my head.  But I seriously doubt I’d pick up an actual copy of the book since I’d miss Jayne’s narration too much.

And yes, I do intend to continue the series.  While The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag could have been paced better, I’m still curious what happens next to Flavia.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ornament Review: Cool Icicles #3 - Nutcracker - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Traditional nutcracker fused with an icicle
Cons: Very green, so will blend in with tree
The Bottom Line:
Cracking and crunching
Nutcracker closes series
Wish it were not green

Cracking the Ice in the Final Icicle

I was not surprised when Hallmark announced that 2015 would feature the final ornament in the Cool Icicles series.  Was I happy?  No.  But seeing how poorly the first two did in sales, I knew that series hadn’t caught on, so it would have been a poor business decision to keep it going past #3, the minimum for a series.  Fortunately, we do get one final Christmas icon – a Nutcracker.

This is a very traditional looking nutcracker.  He’s painted green, and from the waist up, he looks just like any other nutcracker you could buy.  He’s got a hat, white hair, and gold trim where you’d expect it.  However, it’s that bottom half that makes this series different.  The bottom half is an opaque going to clear icicle with ridges and a point at the bottom.

The way the ornaments in this series catch the light in the icicle part is wonderful, and it’s something I’ve enjoyed with the first two and know I’ll enjoy with this one as well.  The look is perfect, and I do love nutcrackers so I’m glad they got that right.  About my only real complaint with the ornament is the color.  Green will blend into the tree too much.  I wish they’d gone with red so it would stand out more.  That also feels like a more traditional nutcracker color to me.  I’m actually a little surprised they went with green.  Don’t misunderstand, I do love the color and think the ornaments looks great, but I just know it will get lost on the tree.

No, this isn’t a working nutcracker.  The mouth doesn’t move, as you can tell by how the beard is attached.  We do have a crack around the mouth and the handle in the back, which is again glued into place.

Since the ornament comes to a point at the bottom, there is no way to stand the ornament up, so you have to hang it to display it.  Fortunately, that isn’t an issue since, when you slip a loop through the hook on the top of the ornament, you’ll find that it hangs perfectly straight.

Being the third in the series, you’ll find a 3 in a Christmas tree hidden on the back of the nutcracker’s head.  It’s very small, but it is there if you look for it.

I can think of several other Christmas icons I would have liked to see as part of this series.  It’s too bad the series never caught on because I think it could have been great for many years.

But that was not to be.  With the series wrapped up with the Nutcracker, we will have to let the Cool Icicles that could have been melt away.

Like what you see here?  These are the earlier Cool Icicles ornaments.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Review: Killer Jam by Karen MacInerney (Dewberry Farm Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and setting and a good mystery
Cons: Plot does bog down a little in the second quarter
The Bottom Line:
Farming in Texas
Makes delightful new setting
Sure to please readers

Lucy Finds Herself in a Killer Jam

Since I’ve been reading and enjoying Karen MacInerney’s Gray Whale Inn series since it started, I knew I had to move with her from Maine to Texas and start the Dewberry Farm Mysteries as well.  Naturally, that meant when I was offered an ARC of Killer Jam, I jumped at it.  As I expected, I enjoyed this new series debut.

Investigative reporter Lucy Resnick has changed the trajectory of her life.  The former investigative reporter has bought the farm – literally.  In this case, it was the farm her grandparents owned outside the small town of Buttercup, Texas.  While the property has been owned by Nettie Kocurek the last few years, the farmhouse and barn were left untouched.  After the summers Lucy spent there, the land holds warm memories for her.

She’s been there a few months when she gets a surprise visitor, a man who claims he is there to investigate the possibility of oil on her farm.  It seems that when Nettie sold the land, she retained the mineral rights.  When Lucy confronts Nettie about this, Nettie seems proud of herself and the trouble she is causing for Lucy.

But Lucy isn’t the only one who has issues with Nettie.  At the annual Founder’s Day Festival, someone stabs Nettie inside the tent erected for the jam judging.  The local sheriff, the victim’s nephew, doesn’t think he has to look any further than the outsider – Lucy.  Can Lucy resurrect her investigative reporter skills to find the killer?

One of the things I have always loved about the Gray Whale Inn mysteries is the island setting.  Then again, I love islands, so I connected with that setting right away.  It did take me a little longer to warm up to this small Texas town, but by the end I loved it as well.  The people and the location were charming, and I would love to go for a visit.

Speaking of people, the characters were great.  Lucy is a strong woman, which is good considering what she faces over the course of the book.  Her friends in town and the suspects are equally well drawn.  Honestly, they are a huge appeal of the book, and I can’t wait to see them again.  I really do hope that a potential new friendship being formed near the end is explored further in later books as well.

The plot is the only place the book stumbles.  Overall, it is very good with twists and surprises along the way.  In fact, I wasn’t completely sure how it was going to end or even what the motive might have been as we were closing in on the climax.  However, I did feel like it bogged down without much forward progress in the second quarter.  Once it got going again, however, it kept moving toward a wonderful climax.

A quick couple of notes.  A sub-plot in the book involves Lucy’s friend Quinn and her abusive ex who is not paying any attention to the restraining order against him.  Personally, I felt this added some great depth to the book.  Additionally, there are questions about some supernatural elements that are left to the reader’s imagination.  As you can tell by the number of supernatural books I read (or don’t read), that’s not my favorite thing in a mystery, but here it didn’t bother me at all.  The one note that bothered me the most is a scene that where Lucy and Tobias, her potential love interest, completely forgot their reasons for their “date” and just had the date.

Of course, there are recipes.  There’s the Dewberry Jam referenced in the title as well as a Strawberry Custard Pie that sounds divine.  We also get cottage cheese and glazed maple twist recipes along with directions for making beeswax candles.  And if you are curious about the name of the farm, we even learn about dewberries in the book.  Personally, I’d love to be able to try them sometime.

For fans of the Gray Whale Inn books, there is a connection to this new series.  It’s a small moment that made me smile near the beginning.  Not that you need to read that series to enjoy this series debut at all.  This book would stand up well even without that connection.

Now that I’ve gotten to know the residence of Buttercup, I can’t wait to visit them again. Killer Jam is filled with a good mystery, delightful characters, and a fun setting that will bring cozy readers back for many more visits.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ornament Review: A Little Crab Cake - Keepsake Cupcake #1 - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful looking cupcake perfect for beach season
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Crab introduces
Delicious and cute series
You’ll want to collect

You’ll Be Crabby if You Don’t Start the Keepsake Cupcake Series

Why did it have to be cupcakes?  After two years of collecting Hallmark’s monthly series, I was ready for them to come up with a property I wasn’t that interested in collecting.  For one thing, I am fast running out of space for displaying things.  Yet when I saw the 2015 – 2016 monthly series, Keepsake Cupcakes, I knew I had to collect it.  The series starts with a winner – A Little Crab Cake.

Like the previous two years, the series is starting with a beach theme.  The cupcake itself is vanilla, with just a hint peeking out of the blue cupcake foil.  The blue frosting swirled on top is just a shade lighter than the foil and is made to look like waves with a little starfish and a shell attached to it.  But sticking out of the top is the red crab that gives the ornament its name.

Now I’ve been collecting and enjoying the Christmas Cupcake series Hallmark has done for the last few years.  That series is made mostly from felt.  Here, we are back to plastic.  It’s a minor detail mainly worth noting only in passing.

That’s because this ornament is so cute!  The vanilla cupcake looks just like sand, and the blue they used is a pretty color for the waves.  The result is warm and friendly and makes me want to head out to the beach.

Because it is a cupcake, it should be no surprise that the ornament has a flat bottom.  That’s perfect because I intend to keep this collection in the Bakery Display that Hallmark sold as a compliment to the series.  If you do want to hang it, you’ll find a hook coming out of the crab’s head.  The ornament does hang ever so slightly forward, but not enough you’ll notice unless you are looking for it.  You’ll find the series marker on the bottom of the ornament.

A Little Crab Cake gets this new series off to a wonderful start, and the rest of the series is pretty much this adorable as well.  I didn’t take long to cave on this series, and I will be glad I bought them.

Original Price: $12.95

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Book Review: Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes by Jane Yolen

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Puns, good story, great illustrations
Cons: The character introductions in the beginning
The Bottom Line:
Toad exploring space
He and crew on strange planet
Slow start leads to fun

A Grape Space Adventure

The other day, I suddenly remembered the Commander Toad books.  Since these were written in the early 80’s, they were definitely books we found in the library when my younger brother was the appropriate age.  The only title I remembered was Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes, so that’s the one I decided to get out of my library.  While a bit simpler than I remembered, I did find it fun.

Commander Toad is most definitely a spoof on science fiction shows, specifically Star Trek and Star Wars.  After all, the commander and his crew are traveling the galaxy exploring it.  Even though this is the second book that was written about him, the first few pages introduce us to the rest of the crew aboard the Star Warts, including co-pilot Mr. Hop, Lieutenant Lily, Doc Peeper, and navigation expert Jake Skyjumper.

The story really gets going when the crew finds a new planet to explore.  Commander Toad and Lieutenant Lily take a shuttle down, only to find that Lily is allergic to the planet.  Commander Toad still steps on the planet and is immediately swallowed by a giant red lump.  What kind of planet is this?

As if the names didn’t give you a clue, you are in for some grape puns before the book is over.  Since I’m of the opinion that there is no such things as a bad pun, I’m obviously okay with that.  In fact, I really liked it.  The puns and the spoof of science fiction were my favorite part now.  While I don’t think I quite got all of the spoofs as a 10-year-old reading this for the first time, I know I appreciated the humor then as well.

As I said, the story felt a bit simple the first time I read it recently, although I did feel it was stronger the second time around.  The characters have just enough personality as well.  But hey, this is a picture book.  It’s about what you’d expect.

In fact, this definitely belongs in the Easy Reader category.  While the character names will be a challenge, that is about the only thing that should challenge young readers.  The rest of the vocabulary is fairly easy to sound out.

And the illustrations by Bruce Degen really do add to the charm of the book.  They perfectly capture the characters and the situation they find themselves in.

It seems to take some work to track down Commander Toad these days, but it is definitely worth it.  Despite a bit of a slow start thanks to the character introductions, Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes goes on to be a pun picture book.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

July 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – It seems they are making it harder and harder for ordinary people to get through the course.  I mean, only three finishers tonight?  But oh man, the people to do make it through or very far.  Their stories are amazing.  And I’m rooting for the one husband to get a wildcard spot.  He deserves it with how far he went even if he wasn’t fast enough, and it would mean so much with his wife.  Yes, I’m falling for the sob story, but it is so inspiring.

Royal Pains – So much better than last week’s episode.  I knew part way through that Evan and Paige weren’t going to get the baby, but I actually loved how it played out.  Seeing Hank with his ex again sure was interesting.  And Divya and Rog are together again.  I never would have guessed that after season 2.  Loved the last scene with Hank and Evan.  Definitely curious to see where they will go with everyone next season.  It’s going to be a long wait.

Scream – Are they counting Tyler’s death as the death for this episode?  Because he was the first one killed, so that shouldn’t count.  I was surprised when no one died.  And where was the sheriff’s son?  The real question is, who staged the scene at the hospital?  Because I sure didn’t find any clues there, although it sure was creepy.  I really was expecting Brook to die tonight since they are working so hard to give her growth and maturity.  You know that means she’s the next to die.  Although since Tyler is the only guy they’ve killed, it might be time for one of the male characters to meet the mask.

Melissa & Joey – They finally get Ryder back, and it’s for a clips show?  Not that there weren’t some fun moments we got to relive, but that wasn’t what I was hoping for tonight.

Baby Daddy – And another clips show.  And all those clips from the episodes before I started watching made me really wish I could go back and see those earlier episodes.

Suits – It really does amaze me sometimes how the characters pull things out of their hats like with Jessica at the end.  And I think the therapy was all happening at the end?  Or at least near the end?  That was actually more confusing than a good storytelling technique.  I think we have the next villain in the firm for sure now, but how this is all going to play out with what Harvey is going through is going to be very interesting.

Graceland – Well, we did finally wrap one storyline up, but we immediately started another.  Can’t we wrap up another one first and focus on two instead of having, what, four to keep track of?  Yeah, can you tell I’m beginning to get frustrated with the show again?  And with my schedule as crazy busy as it is right now, I should start thinking about dropping it.

Girl Meets World – I knew where this one was going early on, although I didn’t know what food Auggie had given Chelsea.  Still, a very funny episode, and mostly without the adults, too.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ornament Display Review: Keepsake Cupcakes Display Case - 2015 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: A mini bakery display case that is perfect for the new series.
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Bakery display
Perfectly highlighting these
Festive cupcakes.  Yum!

Wonderful Way to Display Your Cute Keepsake Cupcakes

While I’ve enjoyed the yearlong series that Hallmark has released over the last two years, I was seriously hoping that, if they did a third year, it wouldn’t appeal to me at all.  Maybe Barbie or something like that.  That wasn’t the case, however, because Hallmark decided to release a series of cupcakes.  And they are so cute!  Fortunately, they have also provided the perfect display case for this new yearly ornament series.

How would you display cupcakes?  In a bakery display case of course.  Yes, this display really is that simple.  It’s essentially two pieces, a white piece of plastic with two levels to it and a clear plastic covering.  The display does have a very small Keepsake Cupcakes logo on the top and larger one on the front, but that’s all that identifies it with this particular series.  Any more than that would detract from the nature of the display and the wonderful cupcakes.

And that’s all you really need.  Honestly, this display case is part of what sold me on the series.  Even though I just have the first cupcake, I already have the display case out in my room, and I love it.  It looks just like the display case in a bakery, and I can’t wait to fill it up.  And yes, this is a decided change for the stand for the Year of Disney Magic series, when I was disappointed because the entire year was displayed together.  Either having that display stand opened me up to this idea or this display case is just that much better.  Honestly, I’m thinking it is both.

Which does bring up my only question about this display case.  I can easily see it fitting the twelve ornaments that are part of the main series.  However, there will be a thirteenth (to make a baker’s dozen).  I’m wondering if that ornament will fit in the display case or if it will have to sit on top.  I think the bottom shelf is wide enough that you can squeeze them all in, but I won’t know for sure until next June.

Since these cupcakes are ornament size, this case is small enough to fit on display somewhere.  It is 12.5 inches long by almost 8 inches high.  I’ve got mind sitting on top of the TV in my bedroom, and it looks great.

I should also point out that, to insert the cupcakes, all you need to do is remove the clear covering.  And it does just pop right off, so it’s super easy to get in and set up any display you want to create.

I can hardly wait to fill in the Keepsake Cupcake Display Case with the decorative cupcakes that will make up this new yearlong series.  It is going to look so incredibly festive when I’m done.

Original Price: $29.95 or $19.95 with any purchase during Ornament Premier

July 24th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Just home from another ultimate Frisbee loss.  My summer league team just can't seem to hold it together for an entire game.  But I'm putting that behind me.  And why is that?  Because it's time for Book Beginning and Friday 56!!!

This week, I'm featuring a book that I finished today - Killer Jam by Karen MacInerney.

The book's official release date is Tuesday, and I'll have my review of it posted then.  I was fortunate enough to get an eARC, so I've already enjoyed it.

And the book begins like this:

I've always heard it's no use crying over spilled milk.  But after three days of attempting to milk Blossom the cow (formerly Heifer #82), only to have her deliver a well-timed kick that deposited the entire contents of my bucket on the stall floor, it was hard not to feel a few tears of frustration forming in the corners of my eyes.

Since I was reading an eBook, I'll skip ahead to 56% in the book, where we find this:

I didn't argue, but foreboding filled me as I sliced another piece of buttermilk pie for a new order.

And there you have it.  Have a wonderful weekend.  I'll be busy tomorrow with a mud run and a play.  Fortunately, I'll have a few hours to kill, so I can get some reading in my new book done in between.