Sunday, October 19, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 4-4 - The Apprentice

All magic comes with a price.  It seems we should have learned that lesson by now.  However, the hard part is when that price comes from a liar.

Yep, Rumplestiltskin/Gold hasn’t changed a bit.  He may pretend for Belle’s sake, but he’s still out for himself.  And this episode proved it big time.

We begin in the past as a Dark One (pre-Rumple) attempts to get something.  It’s the same something that Gold found in the opening episode of the season – a magic cylinder.  That cylinder is guarded by an older looking man – the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  But he is only one line of defense, and that second line is a magic spell on the cylinder itself that will keep any Dark One from ever getting it.  What and why aren’t explained – yet.

And that’s when our flashback catches up to Anna and Rumple.  She approaches Rumple in an attempt to learn about her parent’s trip to the Enchanted Forest.  However, he wants a deal.  And the deal he wants is for Anna to poison the Apprentice.

TV on DVD Review: Toy Story of TERROR!

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Entertaining adventure story with some old friends
Cons: Might scare the most sensitive children out there.
The Bottom Line:
Toys disappearing
From creepy roadside motel
Who is after them?

Don’t Stop at the Roadside Motel

Last year, I was all excited about the premier of Toy Story of TERROR!, but for some reason I didn’t especially care for it.  However, I decided to watch it again this year when it was on TV this year, and I wound up really enjoying it.  Now, I’m at a bit of a loss to figure out why I felt the other way.

This half hour special is from the people at Disney/Pixar and includes the original cast back to voice their characters.  While not all the characters are back, we get a good chunk of the old and new characters as they accompany Bonnie (voiced by Emily Hahn) on a road trip.  When her mom’s car gets a flat tire in the middle of a rainstorm, they pull into a nearby motel in the middle of nowhere until they can get it repaired in the morning.

The toys have been watching a scary movie in the trunk, and Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), who is an expert on them, continues to warn the toys of the dangerous things that can happen.  But instead, the gang wants to explore the room where they are spending the night.  Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) is the first to vanish followed quickly by Rex (Wallace Shawn), Pricklepants, Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Woody (Tom Hanks), and Buzz (Tim Allen).  With only Jessie (Joan Cusack) free, it is up to her to save her friends.  But where are they?  And can she face one of her biggest fears to save the day?

Maybe my expectations last year were too high, and I was expecting a full movie’s story in 22 minutes (got to factor in commercials).  Watching it this year, I was actually surprised at how quickly the story moved.  They’ve got time for lots of action and some nice character development in that time.  And we can’t leave out the humor since there are several good laughs along the way.

Actually, I mention character development, but really only Jessie gets any significant development.  Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the cast is their usual charming selves, but it is Jessie that has to overcome her fear of being left in a box.  Yes, so it is predictable, but still, it is nice to see this weakness brought up again and faced over the course of the story.

Despite have “Terror” in the name, I don’t think this will truly scare kids.  Yes, the toys are watching an old fashioned vampire film early on, but there are so many laughs with the character’s reactions to it, I’m not sure it would scare them.  The only really scary thing might be the weird thing grabbing the toys, but once that is explained, I’m not sure that would scare kids for long.  I don’t think it would have scared me as a kid, but I think you’ll only need to worry if you have super sensitive kids.

While the animation doesn’t include any of the beautiful money shots we normally get from a Pixar film, it is certainly up to telling this story.  The voice cast, new and old, does a great job bring their characters to life.

So if you somehow missed Toy Story of TERROR!, fix that today.  It’s a fun story that you will enjoy as long as you aren’t as stupid as I was last year.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

October 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

As you can see, I'm still running a bit behind.  Got family in town again.  But here's what I did get watched this week, including the stuff I caught up on from last week.

Please feel free to link up your summary posts at the bottom, and please link back to this post so we can build the circle up.

The Amazing Race (10/10) – I’m sorry to see the firefighters go, although they only had a couple of weeks left in them anyway.  His ankle would not survive long, and hopefully this way he can get the treatment he needs.  Still, I always hate it when someone goes out because of bad directions.

Girl Meets World (10/10) – What a fun episode.  Not exactly original, but very funny.  The best part may have been the “Parent Play” at the beginning, but the entire thing turned out to be pretty funny.  Really enjoyed it.

Once Upon a Time – I’m still a little torn on this season, but by the end of the episode I was definitely hooked.  I think the more they weave the Frozen characters into the main characters of the show, the better I will like it.  You can read my full recap here.

Gotham – I feel like the show is going somewhere.  I just can’t figure out where and if I am interested or not.  I will say this, they could cut Jada Pinkett Smith’s character and it would be no great loss at all.  Heck, I couldn’t even figure out what her scenes added to anything in this episode.

Dancing with the Stars – The switch up didn’t seem to go quite as well this time as last time.  It seemed like everyone scored better, but this time there was more variety.  The bottom stars are definitely apparent as the weeks progress, and we will probably lose them over the next couple of weeks.

The Big Bang Theory – It was Leonard and Penny who were the serious ones in this episode.  What does that say about their relationship?  Good things, in my opinion.  I loved how easily distracted the guys were, and I think it proved that the ladies had nothing to do with their lack of productivity the last few years.  And Penny opening the blinds at the end?  Perfect!  There are some drunk people I would have liked to have done that, too.

Castle – The chemistry and mojo for the show is back, and I’m glad to see it.  A fun episode with some of Castle’s wild theories thrown in for good measure.  I’m not fully back on board and ready to see what comes next.  You can read my full recap here.

The Flash – In some ways, this felt like part two of the pilot with how they were still figuring out stuff about him and how he and some of the others were still figuring out what he should and shouldn’t be doing.  Yet the villain was all new (and new and new), so that much wasn’t.  Either way, it was still such a great episode.  Really, fun lines but so much heart behind it, even in the flashbacks.  And what is up with that doctor?  Why is he pretending to need the wheelchair?  What is his obsession with The Flash?  And why did he have to kill the guy?  Seriously, that is the biggest intrigue so far.

Agents of SHIELD – That was a very fun episode.  I laughed at May quite a bit, something that usually doesn’t happen.  And they advanced Fitz’s story, too.  I think this may have been their best episode of the season, at least so far.

Survivor – Seriously, have people never watched this show before?  YOU DO NOT THROW CHALLENGES.  YOU DO NOT TRY TO DICTATE TO EVERYONE ELSE WHAT TO DO.  It always comes back to bite you in the end.  Always.  The instant you start getting arrogant, you might as well pack your bags.  And the ladies only voted you out because you painted a target on your back.  Otherwise, they probably would have left you alone.

Arrow – The producers promised an emotional goodbye to Sara, and they really delivered.  For once, I enjoyed the flashback, too, with Tommy in it.  This may be the best episode of Arrow in a while, certainly stronger than last week.  And we can already see the direction that Laurel will be going this year as she takes steps toward becoming the next Black Canary.  So glad it looks like they will be giving her something good to do.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: The Legend of Sleepy Harlow by Kylie Logan (League of Literary Ladies #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and a strong mystery mixed with humor
Cons: Needed a final edit for continuity issues
The Bottom Line:
Halloween cozy
Mysteries, great characters
Lacking good edit

Sleepy Editing Detracted From What Could Have Been a Great Book

I have truly fallen in love with the League of Literary Ladies.  This is my third time visiting them on South Bass Island this year, and I just love seeing how their current literary reads gives clues to modern mysteries.  Just in time for Halloween, we get the latest in the series, The Legend of Sleepy Harlow.  I loved it despite some serious editing flaws.

October is descending on Put-In-Bay, the main town on the island, and as the residents begin to get ready for the winter season, Bea has one last big group, the Elkhart Ghost Getters.  They are hot on the trail of the ghost of Charles “Sleepy” Harlow, an infamous local gangster who was murdered in 1930 but made his living before that running alcohol into the area from Canada during Prohibition.

However, what Bea didn’t realize is that the members of EGG had been on the island the previous October.  On that first trip, they had made some enemies, including Bea’s friend Kate.  The tension is even worse this time around, and after a flair up with Kate, one of the members of the group is found murdered.  With Kate an obvious suspect, Bea begins to question her guests to find out who the killer might really be.  Can she do it?  And is Sleepy really revisiting the island as a ghost?

Like the first two in the series, this book is fast paced and fun.  The plot weaves all over the place and threw many clues at me that just confused me until everything came together at the end.  There were even a nice couple of creepy ghost scenes that weren’t really that scary but were definitely fun and added to the plot.  The allusions to The Legend of Sleepy Hallow weren’t as strong as some of the comparisons in the first two books, but that was a minor point.

I also liked the characters.  The main women have been strong since day one, and that continues here.  This is more Bea’s show than in previous books (even though she’s always been the main character), but those scenes with all of the women are some of the best, and we really get to see a progression in them and their friendships.  The suspects are equally as strong, and that also helped confuse me on who did it until the end.

Plus these books always have a nice sense of humor.  Between some fun events and Bea’s comments in the first person narration, I got some grins and laughs from the book.

So what is my complaint?  There were times when this book felt like a draft that needed a final edit.  Early in the book, an upcoming event is mentioned and the prep for it plays an important part in an early scene.  Then it is never mentioned again, even in passing.  I would think we’d at least get an acknowledgement that is happened without incident.  Near the climax of the book, I think we experienced two October 30ths in a row, although I’m not completely certain on that.  Bea at one point mentions some guests she has coming to stay at her bed and breakfast in a week, but they never show up and no explanation is ever made.  All of these would be annoyances, but I would chalk them up to me missing something in the passage of time.  However, I know that in the final 100 pages, the location where the body was found is changed.  It is mentioned multiple times by multiple characters that Bea found the body in one location, when it was really in another.  That’s a very big detail for the characters to get wrong.  That’s what makes me think that an earlier version of the story didn’t get fully edited to include the changes in the later drafts.

Fortunately, all those editing errors have no real change on the outcome of the mystery, so while they annoy, they are not a fatal issue with the book.

Still, it saddens me because The Legend of Sleepy Harlow could have been another outstanding addition to the fun series.  I still definitely enjoyed it, but I hope the attention to detail is better in any future books.

October 17th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Time again for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

I'm reading some Halloween books these days, and this week's book is Stirring the Plot, the third Cookbook Nook Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber.

Now, even thought this book is set at Halloween, it's still a cozy with plenty of fun and likable characters - at least so far.  I'm not much past the 56 at the moment.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Here's how the book starts:

A cat yowled.  Not mine.  Tigger was back at the Cookbook Nook.

I wasn't sure I was going to find a good 56 this week, but near the bottom of the page we get this gem:

To take my mind off the murder, I joined the women by the display.  They clustered around me and gazed expectantly, as if I were the Wizard himself.

There you have it for another week.  See you next Friday.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ornament Review: Sorry! - Family Game Night #1 - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 3D box art makes for a fun looking ornament
Cons: Dice on the ornament because they are now part of the game
The Bottom Line:
Game night memories
Of being sent back to start
Fun for family tree

I’m Not Sorry! I started Hallmark’s New Family Game Night Ornament Series

In case you haven’t noticed, I collect a lot of Hallmark’s ornament series.  And every year, I state I will not start any new ones no matter how cute they are.  And every year I wind up breaking that promise by starting several new ones.  This year, I only started their new Family Game Night series.  With Sorry! being the first one, I just could not resist.

The ornament’s basic shape is a rectangle, which makes sense because it is a take on the cover of the board game.  The design looks like the cover of the box as well with SORRY! written in big letters across the top and the picture from the cover across it.  But here’s where it gets fun.  The picture portion is actually in 3D, and the corner of the game board comes out toward you.  The pieces on the board are also in 3D, attached to the board.  That makes it much more fun than just being a picture of the game board cover.  This includes two game pieces knocking into each other with red sending a green game piece back to the start.  (Bummer since I liked to be green).

Actually, the entire front is recessed, so as you look at the ornament, you’ll see that the SORRY! across the top is actually 3D as well.  This also creates a shelf under the game board, and on it you’ll find more game pieces, some of the cards, and dice.

Yes, you read that correctly – dice.  When I first saw the ornament, I thought this was a detail that Hallmark had gotten wrong.  With Sorry!, you always flip over cards to tell you how many spaces to move and any other special options – or at least that’s how the version I played growing up was designed.  Apparently, the newer version of the game includes dice.  I don’t know what you use them for, but that is why that are included in the ornament.  It’s the only detail I didn’t like, but if it is how the game is played now, it does belong on the ornament.

The ornament does have a nice flat back (with cover art from the an older Sorry! box painted on it).  However, if you set the box on that, the game board will stick up in the air.  You can try setting this ornament up on the narrower side so the game pieces comes out like it should.  Even though this side of the ornament is fairly narrow, it actually is fairly steady if you want to display it this way.

Still, I recommend hanging the ornament from the little ring attached to the top of the box.  It’s right in the middle of the box, so the ornament hangs straight, which isn’t a surprise at all.  I mean, with all that space on top, they should have been able to make sure it balanced correctly.

Looking for the series marker.  It’s not hidden on the back of the ornament like I thought it would be.  Instead, it was in the second place I looked.  I’ll leave it to you to find it, but I thought the location was lots of fun.

I loved this game growing up because the cards made it something different.  And I love the idea of hanging games on a Christmas tree.  Since you think of toys and games at Christmas, this makes lots of sense as a Christmas decoration, right?  Between that and the many hours my family spent playing games while I was growing up, I just couldn’t resist the series, and I was thrilled with this game being the one they started with.  If they had just painted a rectangle to look like the game box, that would have been boring, but the 3D game art with the extra pieces and cards below it makes this a winning ornament.

So I will never be Sorry! I broke my pledge and started a new series in 2014.  Family Game Night is already off to a great start and promises many more years of reliving great memories playing games to come.

Price: $14.95

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ornament Review: Itsy Bitsy Cupcake - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Looks like a cute but creepy professionally decorated cupcake
Cons: The legs are too flexible
The Bottom Line:
Cute cupcake spider
A great series compliment
Crawls into your heart

The Itsy Bitsy Cupcake Crawled Onto the Dessert Plate

I am in serious trouble.  Since I started collecting Hallmark ornaments, I have avoided their Halloween ornaments.  I don’t decorate for Halloween.  I will not start decorating for Halloween.  But this year, I bought two of them, and I think with Itsy Bitsy Cupcake, I might be committed.

This ornament is a compliment to the Christmas Cupcake series, which features festively decorated cupcakes.  This cupcake is decorated to look like a creepy spider.  The little bit of the cupcake we can see above the purple cupcake foil makes it obvious it is chocolate.  The “frosting” is also black, but it’s poufy in a way you can only get with a professional (or a decoration like this).  The end result is a large spider body that is a bit cute even for those who don’t like spiders.  Two eyes and a red nose have been glued into the fabric used as frosting, and the way they peer out at you is actually a little cute.  It has eight red pipe cleaners (or something similar) coming out of it for the legs.

The result is actually pretty good.  It does look like a cupcake, however, it looks like one that has been dressed up for Halloween.  I can picture walking into a store and finding real cupcakes like this for sale.  That’s how nice it looks.  And it’s got the right balance to look spooky and cute at the same time.  This is important, and the balance is right.  Everyone knows it is for Halloween, yet it’s not going to scare someone who is afraid of spiders.

My only issue with this ornament is the legs.  Despite how they look in the pictures, they are actually easily bent.  When I unwrapped him from the box, they were bent around and looked bad.  I was able to straight all but one fairly easily, but that one still sticks off at a weird angle.  And because of how they look, you really have to find a place to hang this ornament.  For those of us with no Halloween tree, that creates a problem.

On the other hand, it does hang straight and level when you use the thread that comes up as a hook.

I already know I will be buying a Halloween ornament next year – a series compliment to the Cookie Cutter series.  But for this year, I will keep enjoying Itsy Bitsy Cupcake and try to figure out if this is the start of a new collection for me.

Price: $12.95

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

TV Recap: Castle 7-3 - Clear and Present Danger

While I’ve pointed out how “off” the first two episodes of the season have seemed, I have also been confident they could get the classic Castle feel back.  Last night proved me right.  To me, it felt like it could have been in last season (expect for the sub-plot).  Plus it was one of the funny episodes the show is known for.

Translation: I enjoyed it.

The murder victim is a pool shark.  He is found inside his locked apartment.  The apartment has been vandalized, and a pool cue shoved through his chest.  It’s a classic locked room mystery, and Castle is in his element throwing out wild theories on what might be behind it.  His first one is set off by the place where the victim normally plays pool.  The owner says that the victim said he got his skills by making a pact with the Devil, and mentioning a week ago that he had to pay up.

Monday, October 13, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 4-3 - Rocky Road

I still must admit I am of two minds about this season of Once Upon a Time.  At times, it feels like fan fiction, especially when it comes to the characters from Frozen.  On the other hand, with the way they ended the episode, I need to know what happens next and I need to know now.  That’s how I’ve always felt when this show was really firing on all cylinders in the past.

I think that means I’m getting hooked.  (Not Hook, but hooked.)

Even the flashback got better before it was all done, although that first scene had some bad CGI.  The actors looked like they were animated, but it was just the background and how poorly the CGI interfaced with the actors.  Anyway, our flashback this week focused on Elsa and Kristoff in the wake of Anna’s leaving for her quest.  They are debating whether Elsa should go after her or not when word reaches the castle that Hans is back.  This time he’s leading an army of his brothers to take over the kingdom by force.  Against Elsa’s orders, Kristoff sneaks off to investigate and learns that Hans is planning to find an urn that will trap anyone with Elsa’s powers.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: Space Case by Stuart Gibbs (Moon Base Alpha #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Unique setting brought to life with great characters and story
Cons: None in this universe
The Bottom Line:
Blast off for the moon
With intriguing mystery
In a fun setting

Dashiell finds Murder Spices Up Life on the Moon

I was fortunate to discover Stuart Gibbs with his first middle grade novel, and he’s one of several reasons I started delving back into that sub-genre – I remembered just how fun the books could be when done well.  Space Case represents the start of Stuart’s fourth series (one completed and three currently active), and I can already guarantee I will be along for every book in this series, too.

Dashiell Gibson has been living as one of the first humans to colonize the Moon for six months now, and he’s bored.  There aren’t that many kids his age, and there is even less to do.  In fact, he’s found he actually enjoys school since it gives him something to do.

All that changes one night when he overhears Dr. Holtz planning to reveal a big discovery the next morning.  Only when morning arrives, Dr. Holtz is found outside the base dead.  He’d gone out alone, breaking one of the biggest rules – one he always made sure others followed.  Dashiell is certain that foul play was involved, yet no one else believes him, even going so far as to suggest that Dr. Holtz was beginning to go crazy.  Is that why Dr. Holtz was outside?  Or did someone really kill him?

I must admit I was a bit surprised to see murder as the mystery in a middle grade novel.  Usually that’s not the crime under investigation.  And yet, it works here.  I think the fantasy elements help keep it from being as shocking for the age group as it might otherwise be, but the author also knows the age group and keeps the focus on the puzzle of who and why.  I know I had my suspects along the way, but I never saw the ending coming.

Stuart also does a great job of creating a realistic look at space travel, even in the near future of 2041.  I found this look at what life would real be like interesting and an added bonus to the story.  Plus it provided some great humor as Dashiell explains what life is really like or as the humans forget things like lesser gravity.  I laughed several times, and I’m sure the target age group will as well.

Of course, all this is pointless if we don’t like the characters.  That’s not something we have to worry about in the slightest.  At one point, I actually found myself hoping that none of them would turn out to be the killer – that’s how much I liked them.  The kids are the obvious stars, but even the adults were likeable.

So you can see why I will be returning to Mood Base Alpha as soon as the next book launches.  Space Case is a fun, captivating debut that will win Stuart Gibbs new fans and keep his loyal fans happy.

This review is an entry in this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.