Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reading Challenge: Cruisin' Through the Cozies 2013 Wrap Up

Of the reading challenges I did this year, the only one that is holding a wrap up is Cruisin' Through the Cozies as hosted by Socrates' Book Reviews.

I had signed up for the highest level, which was 13+.  Here's how I did, with the links taking you to my reviews.

1. Mr. Monk Gets Even by Lee Goldberg
2. The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton
3. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
4. Arsenic and Old Lace by Parnell Hall
5. Red Velvet Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
6. The Silent Ghost by Sue Ann Jaffarian
7. The Family Way by Rhys Bowen
8. Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
9. Death Dines In
10. The Baker Street Translation by Michael Robertson
11. His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal
12. The Homicide Hustle by Ella Barrack
13. Murder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau
14. Revenge on Route 66 by Kris Neri
15. Heirs and Graces by Rhys Bowen
16. The Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews
17. Father Knows Death by Jeffrey Allen
18. Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKinlay
19. Final Sentence by Daryl Wood Gerber
20. Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish by Dorothy Gilman
21. A Spoonful of Murder by Connie Archer
22. First-Degree Fudge by Christine DeSmet
23. Dearly Depotted by Kate Collins
24. Mama Rides Shotgun by Deborah Sharp
25. The Chocolate Book Bandit by JoAnna Carl
26. Death Al Dente by Leslie Budewitz
27. Drive Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan
28. Stone Cold Dead by Catherine Dilts
29. Secondhand Stiff by Sue Ann Jaffarian
30. End Me a Tenor by Joelle Charbonneau
31. Brush with Death by Karen MacInerney
32. Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

I think I did it.  :)

Obviously, I'll be signing up again in 2014, this time at the new, 20+ level.  Somehow, I'm still not worried about completing it.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Weekly TV Thoughts Two Days Late

I was still trying to catch up on some after Christmas TV this weekend, but here's my thoughts on what little new I watched this week.

The Sing-Off – I knew Home Free was going to win by the end of the first week.  They were clearly the judges’s favorite.  Not that they don’t deserve to win because they are amazingly talented.  There was some fun stuff in the two hours, but overall, it was too long.  Really, these reality shows need to figure out how to end things faster.

Nikita – I’ve got both of the final two episodes watched now.  I wish they hadn’t killed off Ryan, but it really did drive the final episode story, so from that standpoint, he didn’t die in vain.  I saw the twist coming in the final episode before the reveal, but I still loved how it unfolded.  And the ultimate ending for Amanda was very satisfying because it shows just how Nikita has grown.  All told, I was very satisfied with how it wrapped up.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review: Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #16)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Christmas setting added to great characters and story
Cons: Maybe only for Scrooge
The Bottom Line:
The churches are pranked
Days leading up to Christmas
Can the show go on?




Duck the Halls with Pranks and Murder Fa La La La La La La La La

I was a little surprised when I learned that we were getting another Christmas entry in the Meg Langslow series for 2013.  This is the sixteenth book in the series, and book ten was also a Christmas mystery.  I know other series have done it successfully, and I needed have worried because author Donna Andrews takes us down another delightful path of murder and mayhem with Duck the Halls.

In case you've missed this series somehow, it centers around Meg Langslow and her extended family and friends in a small Virginia college town.  Her husband, Michael, teaches drama at the college, in fact.  Each entry seems to find Meg responsible for something new in the community with murder and mystery attached.  They sprinkle in a dose of humor and are always light, fun reads.

The weekend before Christmas, Michael is awakened by his new beeper.  He's joined the local volunteer fire department, and they're being called to the Baptist church.  Only when they arrive, they find out that it wasn't a fire - someone had left a bunch of skunks in the choir loft.

Meg is drafted to work out schedules to allow the services and concerts of the Baptists and the other churches in the area to go on as planned but with new locations since the Baptist church is unusable until they get the smell out, but things don't improve when another prank hits another church the next night.  Who is behind it all?  And what might the motive be?  Things become even more urgent when a body is found in one church's basement.

If you are new to the series, you can pretty much jump in anywhere.  The characters are introduced well enough that you'll follow what is happening and who all the players are with little difficulty.  For those who already know the characters, they will continue to charm and entertain here.

Special mention must to be given to Meg and Michael's twins.  The last time we had a Christmas book, they hadn't been born yet, but Josh and Jamie are four-years-old for this book and completely steal any scenes they are in.  They have quickly become some of my favorite characters in the series.

The plot?  It's great.  While it might not have the typical quick murder of most cozies I read, the pranks kept me interested before the murder actually took place.  I did short things out a little faster than Meg did, but I wasn't completely sure until the villain was unmasked.

And despite all the pranks and mayhem along the way, this feels like a Christmas book.  A cup of hot chocolate or egg nog and a fire would be the perfect accompaniments for reading it.  It also covers new ground from the first book, although the traditions of that one are mentioned, so it's a nice nod for fans of the series.

All told, Duck the Halls was the perfect book to read right before Christmas (I finished Christmas Eve, in fact).  No matter what time of the year you read it, you'll be transported to the days before Christmas and all the joys that means, with a little murder thrown in.

Looking for more mirthful murder?  You'll want to read the rest of the Meg Langslow Mysteries in order.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hallmark Disney Wireless Band Review



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun musical arrangements that will entertain
Cons: Minnie and Daisy's movement
The Bottom Line:
Mickey and the gang
Playing jazzy Christmas songs
Fun wireless band




Get the Whole Gang Together for This Fun Wireless Band

Hallmark loves their wireless band.  In the four years I've been collecting, they've released four different bands.  And, collector that I am, I have two of them.  Two years ago, I bought the Peanuts band.  And this year, I bought the Disney Wireless Band.  No, I didn't need both.  But I sure have been enjoying Mickey and friends.

These pieces are bigger than your typical ornament.  They stand several inches tall and each character is on a separate silver package.  There is no hook to hang them, so they are designed to be displayed on a shelf or a floor.

The five Disney characters in the band are Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Goofy.  Each has a separate instrument, and when you press a button on one member of the band, they all start to play along.  That's what makes them so much fun, and that's the reason to buy all five of them.  Each member of the band starts two songs, so when you have all five pieces, they play 10 songs total.  To interact, they need to be within a three foot circle.  I thought the band in previous years could be further apart than that, but since I like to display a band under one of my Christmas trees, that isn't an issue for me either way.

What songs are included?  You've got such classics as "Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls," "Twelve Days of Christmas," and "O Christmas Tree."  The only religious song included is "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear."  And on the rarer side are "Nutcracker March" and "Carol of the Bells."  While those aren't songs I would have expected to hear from the set, I love them.  In fact, they are my favorites of the songs that are played.

All the instruments played are electronic versions, but they still sound good.  At various times, you can really hear all the instruments in the band playing, and at others they are supporting background.  The combination is wonderful.  The songs only last about 20 seconds apiece, but they are worth it.

The arrangements of the songs are fun mostly jazz.  They are different than we heard on the Peanuts Wireless Band, so that makes it worth better.  All the songs are recognizable but fresh at the same time.  Once you've listened to it, you'll understand.

To start the band playing, hit the button on any member.  That member starts one of his or her two songs, and the others join in after a second or two.  Hit that member's button again to hear the other song, or hit a different character to hear something else.  Another option is to get the characters playing in concert mode.  There, they start a new song after 30 or 40 seconds and rotate through all 10 songs.

In addition to the music, the characters move in time to the music.  They just rock back and forth, but it is a nice addition.  Minnie on her keyboard and Daisy on her flute really get into the songs.  You need to make sure they are located on a secure surface because they rock enough that they scoot.  I put mine on the floor under my tree, and they have stayed in place there no problem.

Each member of the band operates on 3 AAA batteries, and the first set came with the pieces.  How long the batteries last depend on how much you use them.  Just playing them occasionally, the batteries have lasted me all year with no problem.  Of course, if you play them on concert mode, the batteries would drain much more quickly.  The batters fit into the bottom of the package base no problem.

These have been a fun addition to my Christmas decorations this year, and I know I'll enjoy the Disney Wireless Band for years to come.  Snag these however you can because you'll enjoy them, too.

My Christmas Eve Nightstand

Yes, it's Christmas Eve.  It's also the fourth Tuesday of the month, so that means it's time for What's on Your Nightstand (with a bonus edition next week because of the holidays).

This month, I've been reading Christmas themed books.  Usually, I hope to have one or two, but this year, I've had four.  I'm working on the last one, Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews.  This is the second Christmas mystery in this funny series, and it finds a series of pranks happening in the churches in town in the days leading up to Christmas.  Who is behind them?  And, of course, a dead body drops as well.  I'm about 100 pages from the end and hope to finish soon.

Which is a good thing because I have another book I want to finish up for review before the end of the year.  And that's The Bridge to Never Land by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  This book is a follow up to their Peter and the Starcatchers series, which I've been reading one book a December for the last few years.  I think this may be the last; it's certainly going to be a different take on things.

So that's what I hope to get read in the next week.  Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and happy reading for the next week to you, too.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Disney Wireless Band: Mickey on Sax - 2013 Hallmark Release



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Two more fun songs and a sax
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
The last band member
Mickey and sax add to joy
Complete set with him




Mickey Rounds Out the Band with Two Classics and a Sax

You can’t have a band made up of classic Disney characters without featuring Mickey Mouse.  I think it’s a law or something.  Hallmark made him the final entry in their Disney Wireless Band in 2013, but that certainly doesn’t make him least.

Like the other members of the band, Mickey is wearing a red Santa hat.  Unlike the other two guys (Donald and Goofy), he’s wearing a red coat.  He’s standing on a stand made to look like a silver package, and he’s holding a saxophone.

Mickey’s two songs to start are two obvious choices, “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells.”  Both are presented in fun, jazzy versions that last about 20 seconds or so.  What’s makes this band so much fun is how they interact when you start one playing, and I love that here, too.  It’s especially fun on “Deck the Halls” since near the end, Mickey will start a phrase and then the rest of the band will answer it.  Everyone holds still when they aren’t playing.  It’s a great piece of programming.

Of course, Mickey adds his sax to the other members of the band as well.  At times he really shines here, too, at other he takes a back seat.  Either way, you’ll enjoy listening to him play along with the others.

Each member of the band requires 3 AAA batteries to operate, and these batteries fit quite nicely in the present they are standing on.  It’s a nice way to disguise what they are really doing.

I’ve been enjoying my band all month long, and I plan to enjoy it for years to come.  Mickey Mouse was a great conclusion to the fun series, and if you don’t have him yet, track him down today.

Original Price: $29.95 or $15.95 with purchase

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Disney Wireless Band: Daisy on Flute - 2013 Hallmark Release



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Leads two great songs
Cons: Tends to scoot on some surfaces
The Bottom Line:
Beautiful flute leads
Two rarer Christmas classics
Daisy is the star




Daisy and Her Flute Are My Favorite Entry in the Band

While I like all the members of the Disney Wireless Band, there is one that is my clear favorite - Daisy Duck, who is playing a flute.  And it might not be for any reason you’d think.

Looks wise, she fits in perfectly with the rest of the band.  Like everyone else, she is wearing a Santa hat, and like Minnie, she has a bit of holly attached to the front.  She is wearing a red Santa coat as well and red heels, so she looks very festive.

The reason I love Daisy is because of the songs she plays.  She has the distinction of leading “Nutcracker March” (and if I knew The Nutcracker better, I could tell you which song it was) and “Carol of the Bells.”  Neither song is that long (right around 20 seconds), but they both sound great.  The flute is very pretty as it starts both of these songs, and when the other members of the band join in, they sound great.  “Carol of the Bells” is a favorite because of the drama, and it sounds perfect here.

Naturally, Daisy adds her flute to the other eight songs her band mates start as well.  It’s a high, lilting sound and compliments the other songs perfectly.

Daisy has something else in common with Minnie besides the mistletoe and red jacket.  According to friends, she will also scoot as she whips back and forth playing her flute.  I’ve only had her on the floor under my tree, so I haven’t seen it for myself, but it is definitely something to watch out for.

Each member of the band requires 3 AAA batteries to operate successfully.  The first set comes with the piece, and mine have lasted me all December.  I don’t play them that often, so your battery life may vary.  The batteries fit nicely in the bottom of the base that Daisy is standing on, which is made to look like a silver package.

When I do play with the band, I have a lot of fun.  The arrangements are entertaining and watching the members interact is great.  I have all of mine next to each other under my tree, but if you spread them around a room, they’d sound even better.

And Daisy Duck's songs are a true treat in the band.  I start her more often than the others because I love listening to her and the rest of the band interacting.  This is one worth tracking down first.

Original Price: $29.95 or $15.95 with purchase

Movie Review: Pixar Short Films Collection 2



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Animation to make you laugh with good bonus features
Cons: No “Play All” option
The Bottom Line:
Collecting the shorts
With view toward how they are made
Fans of art will love




Second Round of Pixar Shorts – Same Entertainment Value

Pixar revived the art of the short theatrical animated release.  Well, it may not really be true, but for many of us it feels that way.  Their habit of putting something fun before their newest releases is something I look forward to as much as their movies themselves.  Couple that with the shorts they’ve started doing for DVD special features, and you’ve got enough material for Pixar Short Films Collection 2 already.

This disc contains twelve shorts.  As far as I am aware, only three are new to DVD while the rest have been previously released.  It may not be a must buy, but for the die hard fan, it is nice to have them all in one place.

Some of these shorts were originally created as bonus features for their DVD releases.  Those are fairly easy to spot since you’ve got familiar characters in them.  The disc starts with one of these and the longest short as Remy from Ratatouille shares with us why rats are really our friends.  It’s pretty funny, although the warning at the end is the best part.  There’s also “Dug’s Secret Mission” which follows everyone’s favorite dog from Up in the 24 hours before he meets Carl and Russell.

There are also two each of the Cars Toons and Toy Story Toons.  Mater becomes part of a flying squad in “Air Mater” and he travels back in time to the creation of Radiator Springs in “Time Travel Mater.”  Meanwhile, the Toy Story gang plans a "Hawaiian Vacation" for Ken and Barbie and Buzz meets some forgotten fast food toys when he gets switched out in the ball pit in “Small Fry.”

Finally comes the non-franchise shorts that ran before features in the theater.  We’ve got the likes of “Presto” about a magician and his rabbit.  There’s also “Partly Cloudy” which shows us what happens to the stork who has to deliver all the sharp and prickly animals.  Then there’s “La Luna” which shows us three generations of men working together to clean up shooting stars.

There is quite a variety of shorts on the disc, and they are all enjoyable.  Whether they feature familiar characters or new ones, I enjoy watching these, and it’s nice to have them at my finger tips if I want to watch one in particular.  Yes, I have most of these, but that means having to remember which movie it was on when I want to watch them.

As a bonus feature, the directors of each short have provided an audio commentary, sometimes with the help of another staff member who worked on the short.  These are interesting as we get to see some of the thought processes behind the shorts and technical issues that had to overcome in making it.  The exception is the commentary for "George and A.J." which was funny for a bit, but I was hoping to learn more about this one.

The animation geek in me really enjoyed the other bonus feature, the student shorts of John Lassiter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter.  These are hand drawn and rather crude (student shorts, remember with limited budgets and fast production schedule while working on other projects), but they are fun.  My favorites were "Winter" and "A Story."  It’s always nice to see how the story men of today got started.

I mentioned earlier that three of these shorts appear to be showing up on DVD for the first time.  One of these is “George and AJ,” which tells us what happens to the two men who went to collect Carl at the beginning of Up.  It was originally released for the digital version of the movie only, and I hadn’t seen it before.  It’s basically storyboards with voices talking (limited animation if any at all), but it’s pretty funny.  While the Toy Story Toon “Small Fry” premiered before The Muppets in the theater, it wasn’t included on the DVD, so this was my first chance to see that one.  Finally, there’s “Time Travel Mater.”  I really like how this one ties in to the new Carsland at Disneyland’s California Adventure which makes sense since it premiered on TV the week after that area of the park opened.  A little bit of the Cars Toons goes a long way, but I love this one, so I was thrilled to get it.

The animation on all of these shorts is beautiful.  (Okay, there’s the one I just talked about that is storyboards, but it’s worth viewing for it’s own reasons anyway.)  You can tell they are using these to push boundaries for the feature films, and the experiments pay off.

The story telling is also very impressive.  While the ones that feature familiar characters do include dialogue (with the original cast members for the most part), the non-franchise shorts don’t have any speaking at all.  And yet through just the animation acting, we still get the story and some truly great laughs.

And that’s the biggest thing on this disc – the gags are wonderful.  While there are some sweet moments, these are first and foremost intended as comedies, and you will laugh as you watch.

The one flaw for this disc is the lack of a Play All feature.  While I don’t need it for me, it would be pain for parents to have to turn on the next short every few minutes if their kids are watching this.

But the main audience for this is probably people like me who are interested in these shorts and learning a bit about what went into them.  For me, Pixar Short Films Collection 2 was great.  I’m very pleased to have it as part of my collection.

Included Shorts:
1. Your Friend the Rat
2. Presto
3. BURN-E
4. Partly Cloudy
5. Dug's Special Mission
6. George & A.J.
7. Day & Night
8. Hawaiian Vacation
9. Air Mater
10. Small Fry
11. Time Travel Mater
12. La Luna 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Weekly TV Thoughts

Yep, it's Christmas time.  Very few of the shows I watch are on.  Here are some thoughts on the ones I didn't already write about.

Survivor – Once again, the jury made the right decision when it came to the winner of Survivor.  And, as I said last week, I really didn’t see any of the final three as the villain.  They were an alliance that stuck together, and it actually worked for them.  I will say it would be nice to see someone who hasn’t played before win in the next cycle.  In fact, I’d love a whole new group, as much as I love seeing previous favorites again.

The Sing-Off – It’s easy to tell who the judges like, although I don’t envy them their job.  These groups are so talented, it’s hard to say goodbye each week.  Personally, I’m rooting for Home Free to win.  Guess we don’t get to vote this season, which might hurt the ratings in future cycles.  Either way, can’t wait to see who wins.

White Collar - I've always identified with Peter, so what he went through in this episode was so captivating.  The mix of emotion and the choices he was faced with.  And it was played perfectly.  I'm curious to see where they are going to go from here, but I hope this level of storytelling keeps up.

Fall Into Reading 2013 Wrap Up

With Christmas just around the corner, it must be time to wrap up Fall Into Reading for another year.  Thanks again to Musings of a Book Addict for hosting.  If you'd like to see what other people got read, here's the link to more wrap up posts.

And here are my results.  The links take you to my review, naturally.

Books on my original list read:

Mama Rides Shotgun by Deborah Sharp
Deadly Heat by Richard Castle
Nick and Tesla's High Voltage Danger Lab by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile by Shannon Messenger
The Chocolate Book Bandit by JoAnna Carl
Death al Dente by Leslie Budewitz
Drive Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan
The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
Stone Cold Dead by Catherine Dilts
Secondhand Stiff by Sue Ann Jaffarian
Kingdom Keepers VI: Dark Passage by Ridley Pearson
Tell No Lies by Gregg Hurwitz
End Me a Tenor by Joelle Charbonneau
Clash of the Class Clowns by Kirk Scroggs
Brush with Death by Karen MacInerney
Secret Santa by Fern Michaels, et al
And two picture books as the two more for the vintage children's books reading challenge.

Books not on my original list read:
Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson
Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

Book in Progress:
Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

Books on my list not read:
Melissa Explains it All by Melissa Joan Hart
Bridge to Neverland by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Gluten for Punishment by Nancy J. Parra
Mayhem at the Orient Express by Kylie Logan
You Cannoli Die Once by Shelley Costa
Dead Man's Switch by Tammy Kaehler
Wicked Eddies by Beth Groundwater
Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames
Bran New Death by Victoria Hamilton

My thoughts:

Well, I did say when I started that I was biting off much more than I could chew.  I had a feeling many of those cozies would wind up down there on the bottom, but I really had hoped to get to them.  I just need more time to read.  Still, I made it through 18 books during the Fall.  That makes me very happy.

Naturally, some of these books will be read in the next few months.  And any I still haven't read will be on my Spring Reading Things list.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Disney Wireless Band Review: Goofy on Bass - 2013 Hallmark Release



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Nice touch when mixed in with the rest of the band
Cons: Not quite as good on his own as everyone else
The Bottom Line:
The base of the band
Goofy and his bass provide
Musical backbone




Goofy Sure Takes His Bass Playing Seriously

Every band needs a bass player.  Okay, so it depends on the band, but for the Disney Wireless Band, it certainly proved to be true.  And that bass player just happens to be Goofy.

Now if you are thinking of a bass guitar, you’d be wrong.  Goofy has himself a traditional upright bass, you know, the kind that look like a viola and you stand up to play.  And sure enough, he is standing holding this instrument.  This makes Goofy the tallest of the band, but not by too much.  It only has four strings to it, and he plucks them.  Well, he would anyway if they and he weren’t just plastic, but the way he swings his arms back and forth to the music that he’s playing, that’s the effect he’s supposed to have.  He swings he body from side to side, and each hand touches the neck of his bass at the end of the arcs.

Obviously, Goofy provides the base of all ten songs that this band plays.  And he does a good job of it.  You can hear it in there, but it’s not overpowering.  It completes the sound without diminishing anything that the rest of the band is doing.

And, just like everyone else in the band, Goofy starts two songs on his own.  He plays a few notes before everyone comes in full force.  His too songs are "O Christmas Tree" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."  His solos at the beginning are more introductions that the first few notes of the song, but they sound nice and when the other band members come in, the songs sound great.  He does get another solo at the end of "O Christmas Tree" which is fun.

As with the others, Goofy runs on three AAA batteries that fit nicely into the silver package base he and the bass are standing on.  They have lasted me this Christmas season just fine, although the more you play with them, the quickly they will drain, obviously.

While I am obviously enjoying this set, I would say that out of all of them, Goofy is the one that would hold up worst if left on his own.  Each of the other two members sound good playing solo, but the bass isn't designed to be a solo instrument.  He's good, but he's not as much fun on his own.  Really, you should just get the entire set anyway, so it doesn't matter, but that's my one thought with Goofy.

The stand up bass is not something I would have pictured as part of a wireless band like this, but Goofy playing the bass adds a nice note to the Disney Wireless Band.  On his own, he’s good, but mixed in with the rest of the band, he’s great.

Original Price: $29.95 or $15.95 with any purchase

Book Review: Secret Santa by Fern Michaels et. al



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Three engaging Christmas set stories
Cons: I can't being to tell you how awful Fern Michaels's story is
The Bottom Line:
Skip the first story
And you'll find other three are
Worthy of our time



The Headliner is the Problem

Once again, I find myself, a guy, buying and reading a romance.  Why is that?  Because once again, a mystery author I love provided one of the stories in an anthology.  That happened years ago with Joanne Fluke, and it happened again this year with Secret Santa.  This time, Laura Levine is the author I picked up the book to read.  And once again, I enjoyed three out of the four stories.

The book opens with "Mister Christmas" by Fern Michaels.  This is the second story I've read by her (the first being in the other anthology), and my original impression was confirmed.  How did this woman get any kind of fame as a writer?  It's not that the writing itself is bad, but the plotting is horrible.  The story features Claire, a corporate lawyer, who is forced to cancel her Christmas plans when a wealthy client demands she come to Ireland before he dies.  In reality, it's a trick to get her to meet his nephew.  And here's a twist, they fall in love almost immediately.

Are you looking for conflict in this story?  You'll have to look pretty hard because any and all potential conflict is resolved in 10 pages or less.  In the span of the 89 pages this story takes, we get a drunk Claire, a poor single mother, and a hostage crisis.  It's just too much with nothing being really developed at all.  The characters are cardboard at best, and I found myself skipping paragraphs in an attempt to get through it faster.

I can only image what would have happened if she'd taken the extra 10 pages everyone else did.  Blizzard?  Potential amputation?  War?  Heck, there was room for another "plot" in there somewhere.

Okay, I'm done I promise.  Let's move on because the rest of the stories were actually pretty good.

"The Yellow Rose of Christmas" by Marie Bostwick takes us back to the 1980's and the little town of Too Much, Texas.  Velvet Tudmore is the town historian, and she has never had any use for men.  However, the new high school history teacher catches her eye.  Is it too late to find love in her sixties?  When she starts getting notes and roses from a secret admirer, she thinks she knows who they are from.  Is she right?

This was a sweet story.  It's a story that could only happen in a romance novel, but I didn't mind because I liked the characters and the plot.  Only one twist caught me off guard, but I didn't mind spending time with Velvet and her family at all.

Now we come to the reason I bought this book.  I must admit that "Nightmare on Elf Street" by Laura Levine does seem a bit out of place here since it is a murder mystery with no hint of romance, but since I love the series, I didn't mind at all.  Freelance writer Jaine Austen has taken a job as the elf at a mall to a pretty despicable Santa.  When he is killed with a Christmas ornament to the heart, there are no shortage of suspects, but Jaine dives in to make sure the case is solved before her annual trip to visit her parents.

The series always features wacky humor, and this story is no exception.  Even though the story is only 100 pages, we manage to get a couple of sub-plots and some twists as well.  I loved every page, and it makes me all the more ready for Jaine's next full length adventure, coming in just a couple of weeks.

Finally comes "Room at the Inn" by Cindy Myers.  This one isn't really a romance either (although there is a very happily married couple in it) but chick lit.  Barb and her husband Jim are stranded on the side of the road in Colorado just days before Christmas by a giant snow storm.  As they get to know their fellow strandees, Jim drops a bombshell on Barb.  Will she recover?  Can she bring some Christmas cheer to the others when she might need it herself?

It took a little bit to get where this story was going, but once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it.  The characters were all well developed.  While there were a couple of parts that stretch credibility, I didn't mind because I was having fun.  And you've got to love a reminder to embrace change and reach out to those around you.

So there you have it - three very different but good reasons to read Secret Santa.  Now, I just hope that no other authors out there get put in a Fern Michaels's anthology so I never have to suffer through one of her "stories" again.

Looking for more fun with Jaine?  Here are the Jaine Austen Mysteries in order.

December 20th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

'Twas the Friday before Christmas and all through the house
I was getting ready to post in Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

And now you know why I'm a reviewer and not a poet.  :)

I'm on the last of my Christmas books for the year (which is a good thing, right?).  This week, it's Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews.  It's the latest in her humorous Meg Langslow mysteries.  I just hit page 56 tonight, but I'm enjoying it.




So, shall we get to it?  Page one starts off with:

The buzzing noise woke me from an already restless sleep.  In my dream, it was Christmas morning.  We were opening presents and all the boxes I'd wrapped so neatly had suddenly become empty.  Or worse, they contained odd, inappropriate objects.

And from page 56, we find:

"...very sorry," Riddick was saying.  "But it's just not practical to remove the altar rail and the first few rows of pews just for the concert."

This is definitely helping me get in the Christmas spirit - pranks, murder, and all.

Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas this week.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Disney Wireless Band Review: Donald Duck on Guitar - 2013 Hallmark Release



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Two great songs and a good guitar sound
Cons: Donald’s big mouth
The Bottom Line:
Two more Christmas songs
Get a fun rock/jazz combo
Thanks to Donald Duck



Donald’s Rocking Out on His Guitar

When I first learned that Hallmark was doing a Disney Wireless Band, I wasn’t sure which character would wind up with which instrument.  However, when I saw Donald Duck with a guitar, I felt it was perfect.  I can just picture the angry duck as a guitar playing rock star.  And the final piece is just as good.

Like all the other members of this band, Donald is on a stand that is painted to look like a wrapped package.  It’s just a box with silver on it and a slightly darker shade for the ribbon and bow, but it looks nice.  This box actually houses the 3 AAA batteries needed to operate Donald, but it looks festive, too.

Donald is holding an electric guitar and looks ready to rock out this season in his green shirt and green scarf.  My only complaint with him is that he has his mouth open.  If you set him on a stand, all you really see is that open mouth.  However, since I have mine on the floor underneath my Christmas tree, that isn’t an issue.

When you press the button on the base, Donald alternates between two songs - "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and ""Up on the Rooftop."  While the first song is good (and the only religious song in the band), the second is a ton of fun.  It's got a retro rock feel to it and almost sounds like a Beach Boys song as it starts.

Of course, the joy of this wireless band is watching them all interact.  If you buy all five members, they will combine to play a total of ten songs.  Donald’s guitar is an important part of all of them, and he sure seems to enjoy himself as he plays.  I love the way he rocks back and forth to the music.

These guys are just fun.  I enjoy pushing a button at random and listen to everyone play along.  And if I have fun, imagine how much fun kids would have with the series.

Unfortunately, they’ve proved to be popular and are very hard to find at this point.  Then again, we are almost to Christmas.  So if you are interested, start searching now.

And I recommend you do because this is a band I will be enjoying for quite some time to come.  Donald Duck on his guitar is just part of the fun from the Disney Wireless Band.

Original Price: $29.95 or $15.95 with any purchase.

TV on DVD Review: Burn Notice - The Complete Series



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, great characters, bits of humor
Cons: Burn story line not always clear, darker final season and a half
The Bottom Line:
TV spy thriller
Filled with action you’d expect
Make for a fun ride



When You’re a TV Viewer Looking for a Spy Show….

As a self-described USA Network addict, I automatically start watching any new show they put on the air.  The last time I didn’t do that was with Burn Notice.  Once I started hearing such raves for it, I tuned in to the season one reruns just before season two started and I’ve been hooked ever since.

The series revolved around Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan).  He used to be a spy until he got a phone call in the middle of an operation.  Suddenly, he had to get out on his own, something he just barely managed to do.  Next thing he knows, he’s been dumped in Miami.  For better or worse, it’s his home town, which means having to deal with his chain smoking mother Madeline (Sharon Gless), a woman he doesn’t necessarily get along with all that well with.  The only people who are still talking to him are his ex-girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), a gun runner for the NRA, and Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), an ex-Navy Seal who also happens to be reporting on Michael to the feds.

With no job history that he can report, Michael has to start earning money however he can, so he reluctantly takes jobs to help those in need.  He takes on your average problems if your average problems happen to be drug runners or gun smugglers or kidnappers or gang members or extortionists or any other number of things.  Along the way, he meets Jesse Porter (Coby Bell), a man in a situation much like his own.  Meanwhile, he also is trying to figure out who burned him and why so he can go back to work for the CIA.  However, that conspiracy may be much more complicated than he ever expected.

For the most part, the episodes followed a pattern.  Two-thirds would be devoted to the case of the week while one-third would be devoted to the latest development in Michael trying to clear his name from the burn notice.  Of course, that formula wasn’t always true (mid-season and season finales, for example, were almost always burn notice exclusive).  The two plot lines would overlap each other as the episode progressed.  This meant that there was something for the casual or new viewer in every episode, although you obviously wouldn’t follow everything that was happening.  They got away from this in the last season, but it held true for most of the show’s run.

This show was something you didn’t find much on TV, or at least I didn’t – pure action and adventure.  Every episode had stunts and chases and explosions.  Okay, so they might be on a smaller scale than you’d find in the movies, but I often felt like I was watching an action movie as I watched an episode.  Occasionally, the low budget would come into play, but most of the time I’d believe what I was seeing, too.  While you knew the good guys would win in the end, the odds were often so overwhelming I was left wondering exactly how that would happen.

Of course, when I think about action, I tend to think the characters will be shallow.  That’s not the case here at all.  Granted, there is more time with a TV show to develop characters, but I felt all of the main characters were great.  Even a few of the recurring characters got some development, which made me love them, too.  The main actors were great at bringing their characters to live every week.  I never found a poor performance in the bunch.

And I can’t leave out the humor.  Despite the high stakes and the action, this show mixed in a liberal dose of dry wit, either in Michael’s voiceover narration or in the banter between the regulars.  No, it wasn’t a comedy, but it did help lighten the mood, and I often laughed at a line or exchange.

While they did occasionally leave Miami in the later seasons, most of the episodes were set and filmed in Miami.  The gorgeous weather and tropical feel certainly helped give this an escapist feel that I enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the show did have its flaws.  The first was the on-going story of Michael’s burn notice.  Somewhere around season 3 or 4, it got pretty convoluted and hard to follow.  It even seemed like what happened one week contradicted what happened in a previous episode, but maybe that was just me.  Either way, I just gave up trying to follow that storyline too closely and just enjoyed the case of the week.  Eventually, they did get the burn notice back under control and it started making sense again.

The other flaw was probably more personal, but I found it got darker in tone in the second half of season six through the end of the series.  For a show that dealt with some pretty hardened criminals each week, the show had managed to stay light up until then.  However, as the odds went from overwhelming to staggering, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.  I did like how the series ended, on the other hand, and I definitely plan to watch and enjoy it again.

The show lasted for seven seasons on the USA Network, and each season had roughly sixteen episodes (some had more and a couple had less).  This set combines all the previous released, so you get 111 episodes of the show.  Extras include a very few commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, and a few featurettes on the stunts and other behind the scenes fun of the show.  There is nothing new if you've been collecting the series all the way along.  The only thing you are missing is the Sam Axe prequel movie which was filmed, aired, and released separately.

Despite the flaws, I really did enjoy Burn Notice.  If you are looking for some fun action with great characters, you will find you enjoy the series as well.  Fans new and old will enjoy being able to watch these episodes whenever they feel like it thanks to this complete series set.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Disney Wireless Band Review: Minnie Mouse on Keyboard - 2013 Hallmark Release



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great songs and fun interaction
Cons: Moves quite a bit depending on what surface you place her on.
The Bottom Line:
Disney band begins
As Minnie rocks her keyboard
And plays two great songs



Minnie Starts Things Off With Her Fun Keyboard

I’ve enjoyed my Peanuts Wireless Band from Hallmark the last two years.  I didn’t need a new one.  And yet I couldn’t resist when I saw they were doing a Disney Wireless Band in 2013.  The band started off with Minnie Mouse, and I snatched her up as soon as she came out.

Like all the members of this band, Minnie is on a base that is a silver wrapped package with a bow out front.  This adds a great festive touch.  She is the only member of the band sitting down, but that makes sense because she is playing a keyboard.  When you push the button hiding under her feet, she tips side to side as she plays.

Each member of the band starts off two songs, and Minnie’s are "Jolly Old Saint Nick" and "Twelve Days of Christmas."  Don't worry, they last about twenty seconds each, you don't have all 12 verses of that second song.    They sound great with a hint of jazz and rock in there.  I especially like "Twelve Days" which starts on day seven or so and just does that one verse.

But the joy of the band is that each of the five members interacts.  If you have them all on and within range of each other, they pick up the wireless signals and play together.  Minnie’s jazzy piano is in the background on the other eight songs with the occasional flare where she gets to shine.  It’s a fun feature that makes this band so special.

Each member of the band requires 3 AAA batteries to operate.  My first batch has lasted me through this December, but the more you play with them, the faster they’ll wear out.  There is an option to have the songs start playing automatically as background music, which will really wear them out.

And a word of warning, Minnie really gets into her playing and will make the piece scoot as she rocks back and forth.  When I first brought her home, I set her on a table, and she was moving across it toward the edge.  Now, I have her under my Christmas tree, and she stays put.  Just think about that as you place her and make sure she is secure.

The Disney Wireless Band is a blast, and I’ve really been enjoying them this year.  They are in limited supply at this point, but if you can track down Minnie Mouse, you’ll enjoy her keyboard playing.


Original Price: $29.95 or $15.95 with purchase

Book Review: Brush with Death by Karen MacInerney (Gray Whale Inn Mysteries #5)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong stories and main characters
Cons: Weak supporting characters
The Bottom Line:
Artistic murder
Just one problem Natalie
Must solve in this book




Murder Creates a Still Life

I came very close to reading Brush with Death several months ago, but right before I started reading it, I discovered that it was set at Christmas time, so I decided to set it aside until December.  But it really doesn’t matter when you read it since it is an enjoyable book period.

This is the fifth in the Gray Whale Inn Mysteries featuring Natalie Barnes, the owner of a bed and breakfast on Cranberry Island, just off the coast of Maine.  She’s been there for three years now, and even though the population is small, Natalie has now stumbled on five dead bodies.

Cranberry Island is turning into an artist retreat – or so it seems to Natalie.  Her niece, Gwen, is getting ready for a showing of some of her paintings, if she can master a new medium.  There is trouble brewing between Gwen’s mentor Fernand another artist, Zelda Chu, who are both talking about establishing artist retreats.  And then there’s visiting artist Nina Torrone who is coming to the island for a little solitude.

The day after Fernand throws a big party for Nina, Natalie finds Fernand dead.  It looks like suicide, but Gwen insists it was murder.  After all, Fernand was planning a trip with his boyfriend and helping Gwen prepare for her show.  But if Fernand was murdered, who did it?

There are times when I read a book set at Christmas, and the timing screams through in the story.  That wasn’t the case here.  Yes, there was snow and occasional references to decorations or a holiday food, but it wasn’t as big a part of the book as I expected.

There was so much happening that’s only a minor issue, however.  The murder is only a portion of the book with multiple sub-plots happening as well.  Everything is juggled perfectly, leaving us with a book that is very hard to put down.  I was always anxious to figure out what would happen next with one storyline or another, and the fact that I had a few things figured out early wasn’t an issue since I wanted to know what would happen with the rest.

Natalie is always a great main character, and I loved her again here.  She is strong and smart although still flawed, which just makes me like her more.  Her family is equally as well developed.  The other residents on the island didn’t seem quite as strong here as they have in the past, but I still enjoyed spending time with them.  And the characters brought in for this book were strong enough to keep me engaged in their fates.

As always, this book contains several recipes for items Natalie made over the course of the story.  Someday, I really need to try the recipes from this series – they always sound so good.

While this book may not scream Christmas, it is still a very fun read.  So if you are looking for a little peace and quiet with a murder thrown in, book a trip to Brush with Death.

And then you'll want to book more trips with the Gray Whale Inn Mysteries in order.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TV on DVD Review: psych - The Musical



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: The usual psych fun with singing and dancing
Cons: You're kidding, right?
The Bottom Line:
Singing and dancing
Adding to laughs and murder
Match made for psych-O's




I See Singing, Dancing, and Laughs in Your Future

There have been whispers for years.  Then it was a sure thing.  Then the hype started.  Finally, the world was treated to the best singing and dancing murder mystery in December 2013.  I’m talking, of course, about psych: The Musical.  And two days after it hit airways, it’s already hit DVD.  Rush out and buy it.

In fact, if you’ve been wanting to get into this show but were afraid of being lost after seven seasons this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.  While a former villain plays a major role in things (and makes references to previous appearances), the first song gives much of the set up for the show.

And what is that set up?  Shawn Spencer (James Roday), is a thirty something clown who has found a way to use the super observations skills drilled into him by his father, former cop Henry (Corbin Bernsen).  Instead of becoming a cop like his dad, he pretends to be a psychic and helps solve murders for the Santa Barbara police department.  In on the charade is his best friend and partner in crime solving Gus (Dule Hill).  While his now girlfriend Juliette O’Hare (Maggie Lawson) believes him and Captain Vick (Kirsten Nelson) goes along with things because of Shawn’s results (while being skeptical at times), it’s Chief Detective Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) who is openly disbelieving in Shawn’s “ability.”

Which brings us to this case.  Zachary Wallace Zander, aka Z, (Anthony Rapp) has escaped from the psychiatric prison where he’s been held captive for seven years.  He was arrested after killing a critic of his new musical play about Jack the Ripper and by locking him in the theater and setting it on fire.  The only person who can help them track this danger man down is Yang (Ally Sheedy), a serial killer that Shawn and Gus have tangled with before.  But will she provide them real clues or is she toying with them again?  Can they catch Z before he kills again?

Now fans of the show are already yelling at my description of the set-up.  Before you watch this episode, just know that it was originally filmed and designed to air during the recently completed seventh season.  The fact that it was held until December for a big event means that a few things that happened late in season seven haven’t happened yet.  Know that going in, and you’ll be fine.

What this show always does brilliantly is combine mystery with comedy.  In fact, I often think of this show as a comedy more than a mystery.  That combination is in perfect unison here.  Yes, there is a mystery.  Yes, we want to know how Shawn will solve it and what is really going on.  However, there are so many great moments, lines, and gags that I was laughing the entire way through.  While season seven wasn’t the strongest for the show, this two hour movie is the perfect example of just how wonderful the show can be when it is working on all cylinders.

What about the singing and dancing?  I’m glad you asked.  Yes, they do set it up a bit as to why the characters are treating this as a musical, however, most of that doesn’t come until the end.  Either way, by the end of the first song, I didn’t care – I was already having that much fun.  The cast is very talented and they pull off the singing and dancing without missing a beat.  The first two songs are brilliantly funny, and there are some other classic moments later related to singing and dancing.  The only cast member who doesn’t participate in the musical part is Corbin Bernsen, and according to him, that’s a good thing for us.  I’ll just take his word for it, but even his non-participation gives us a laugh.

Casting a Broadway star as the main suspect in this episode makes sense, and Anthony Rapp fits into the world of psych perfectly.  While I wasn’t always a fan of the original Yang episodes, I did enjoy seeing her again here.  And the rest of the guest stars are good.  The main cast is great as always.  They are once again obviously having fun, and that’s translates perfectly for us.

This DVD contains not only the two hour episode itself (well, 88 minutes if you don't count the commercials), but also includes a CD of the soundtrack.  Not bad for the price of a movie.

So if you are looking for a light musical comedy with murder (and who isn’t?), be sure to check out psych: The Musical.  You’ll be laughing and tapping your toes before you know it.

TV on DVD Review: Burn Notice - Season 7



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Acting, action, and ending
Cons: Darker than earlier seasons
The Bottom Line:
Grab yogurt cartons
And sit down for one last rush
With this great burned spy




"I Hate to Say It, Sammy, But I Think This Thing is Far From Over."

In the last 15 years, TV has changed dramatically.  Instead of mostly stand alone episodes, many TV shows tell multi-episode stories.  That’s why I respect it when show runners and TV networks set end dates for series I love.  It gives the show runner a chance to end the story how they want to without dragging things out too much.

Of course, sometimes the tenor of the show has changed.  That was the case with Burn Notice.  I got into the show just before season 2 started airing, and I’ve been a loyal viewer ever since.  However, with season 6 the show got darker, and that continued with Season 7 of the show.

When season 7 picks up, it has been nine months since we last saw Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) and his friends.  In that time, no one has even heard from Michael.  That’s because as part of the deal that got his friends released from CIA custody, he’s been deep under cover in the Dominican Republic to take down a terrorist organization.  If he can do this, maybe he and everyone else in his life will finally be free.

Of course, as he finally gets in with the group, he finds he needs help and he begins reaching out to his friends again.  Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse (Coby Bell) are more than ready to help, but Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) has moved on; she even has a new boyfriend.  And Michael’s mom Madeline (Sharon Gless) just wants her son to come home so she doesn’t lose anyone else.  Will that even be a possibility or will he wind up exposed and dead?

The darkness of season 6 continued with season 7, and I didn’t like that.  The show had always put our heroes up against overwhelming odds, but here the odds seemed worse than normal.  The humor that the show had often had also dimmed.  There were still some good lines, but I missed the mood lightener it had presented.

Of course, a few episodes before the end, there was a twist that really darkened things.  I was not a fan of that at all.

So it was with much reluctance that I sat down to watch the series finale.  But I was very pleasantly surprised with how things ended.  No, it wasn’t all light and warmth, but it was very satisfying, and even more importantly, it felt right.  We sent these characters out with style after seven years.

And I loved the nods to some of the elements of the series in the finale, too.

The show has always been known for its action, and that was still a strong point here.  The stunts and explosions are as big as ever.  I will admit that one or two were a little obviously fake, but most of the time I believe what I’m watching.

These actors have always brought their characters to wonderful life, and this season was no exception.  In fact, while I didn’t like some of the places the plot went, I always bought it thanks to the great acting.

There were 13 episodes in this final season, and they are presented here in their native wide screen and full surround sound on four discs.  Looking for extras?  You'll get the standard deleted scenes and gag reel as well as a featurette on how the end of the show was created.

So if you are a fan of Burn Notice, you owe it to yourself to find out how things end.  It may not be quite the journey you hope for, but the end of Season 7 will satisfy.

Season 7 Episodes:
1. New Deal
2. Forget Me Not
3. Down Range
4. Brothers in Arms
5. Exit Plan
6. All or Nothing
7. Psychological Warfare
8. Nature of the Beast
9. Bitter Pill
10. Things Unseen
11. Tipping Point
12. Sea Change
13. Reckoning 

Monday, December 16, 2013

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 3-11 - Going Home

Another finale, another threat to destroy the entire town of Storybrooke.  That was my thought, at least going into last night’s winter finale.  I mean, we just saw this at the end of season two.

And yet.

And yet, the emotion they packed into this episode was pretty amazing because it resolved character arcs from the season and from the series as a whole in some cases.  I really hope they don’t undo all of that in the second half of the season, but we’ll have to wait and see.

In the mean time, let’s get to it.

The flashbacks were a series of scenes.  We got Charming having to talk Snow down from the ledge as they are waiting for the original curse to happen.  We see Hook and Tinker Bell’s first meeting in Neverland (as she holds him at knife point after knocking Smee out).  And we saw again the scene where Emma gives birth to Henry only to give him up for adoption without even holding him.

The one scene I want to focus on a bit more is the one where Henry gets his book of fairytales. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review: Clash of the Class Clowns by Kirk Scroggs (Tales of a Sixth Grade Muppet #2)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Well executed fast moving story with lots of laughs
Cons: Pepe’s dialogue got in my nerves fast, okay?
The Bottom Line:
Fast moving story
With trademark Muppet humor
Perfect for your kids




Muppet Jealousy All Around

Even for me, the Tales of a Sixth Grade Muppet series is a very light read.  There are plenty of pictures that help tell the story in addition to the text, making this a fun book for reluctant readers.  And yet, both of the books I’ve read so far have been charming.  I’m certainly glad I picked up Clash of the Class Clowns.

Ever since Danvers Blickensderfer became a Muppet, his life has been pretty sweet.  He gets to intern with his idols and work closely with Gonzo, his biggest idol.  But annoyance comes in the form of his little sister Chloe who steals the show when Miss Piggy has an accident during the Kid’s Pick Awards, a development that Miss Piggy finds infuriating

When Chloe becomes famous and gets her own reality show as a result, Danvers is frustrated.  But then a new kid, Phips, starts at his school.  This new guy is pretty witty, but the object of his wit is always Danvers and his friends.  Can Danvers figure out a way to put this new class clown in his place?

As I already said, this was a very fast read.  I read all 222 pages in less than two hours.  Hardly a page goes by without a picture of some kind.  Between Danford’s drawings and the “real” illustrations, there is plenty to look at.  Yet these illustrations often have the best gags and laughs in them, usually with the real Muppets offering something funny.

I’ve given the simplified version of the plot which involves many more sub-plots which all come together for the climax.  And yet even with all the balls being juggled, nothing gets dropped.  It’s amazing how it all holds together, in fact.

The characters are light but fun.  We care about them, which is all that really matters.  Well that and the Muppets are true to themselves.  It’s easy to laugh at them because you know that’s exactly how they’d behave.

Which brings us to my main complaint with this book, okay?  Pepe, the crab, plays a big roll in this book, and his constant need to end a sentence with okay, is very annoying.  By the end of the book, it was really grating on my nerves.  Hopefully, that isn’t an issue going forward.

Because I love the Muppets, I couldn’t pass this book up, and I’m glad I read Clash of the Class Clowns.  Kids who are still struggling to read will enjoy the fast pace and wit of the book as well.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  Follow the link to read the other entries.