Thursday, March 23, 2017

Music Review: Followers by Tenth Avenue North

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good reminders in fun songs
Cons: Repetitive lyrics in a couple of the tracks
The Bottom Line:
More Biblical truths
Wrapped up in musical fun
In this pleasing disc

Their Latest Project Will Keep Tenth Avenue North’s Followers Happy

Sadly, I’m out of the loop of much of Christian music these days, but I did discover Tenth Avenue North about the time their debut reached critical buzz.  I enjoyed that disc and I’ve kept up with their career over the years.  Followers is their latest release, and it’s excellent.

The title for the disc comes from “What You Want,” a song of surrender to God.  I’m sure it’s no surprise that the theme here is to be a follower of God.  This is a very fun, upbeat song that is also very likely to get stuck in your head without you even knowing it.  Trust me on this.  My co-workers might have caught me singing it without knowing it a time or two.

The theme of surrender also plays out in “One Thing” and “Control (Somehow You Want Me).”  I especially like that second one since it marvels at how the God who spoke the universe into place wants to use us.  It’s truly mind blowing, isn’t it?

Another theme on the disc is not letting the world affect our attitude.  Unfortunately, both of these songs suffer a bit from repetitive lyrics, which is a shame because I do enjoy them.  “Afraid” actually starts off the disc stating “I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”    Later on we are reminded that “No One Can Steal Our Joy.”

For me, there is always one song on any Tenth Avenue North disc that seems to be exactly what I need to hear.  This time around, that song is “Sparrow (Under Heaven’s Eye).”  The song plays on the idea that God delights in watching his children, but then wonders about those who are struggling with sin.  The chorus reminds us:
You see the sparrow
You see me here
With the pain of my past
And the depth of my fears
You see my future
One day I’ll rise
My hope is secure
Under Heaven’s eyes
And yes, the song does include the chorus of the hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” as the bridge, a touch I love.  It starts out sounding like a ballad, but they up the tempo for the driving chorus, and it’s a mix that really works.

Right behind it in my list of favorites is “I Confess.”  While one of the lines put me off originally, the more I listen to it, the more I am captivated by this song of confession.  It’s a lyrical ballad that truly shows a broken heart.

And we get a great reminder that God is on our side no matter what we are facing in “Fighting for You.”  This song aims the first verse at those who feel alone and the second at those who have wandered away, but then reminds us that Jesus died for us and is still fighting for us.

Musically, Tenth Avenue North maintains their soft rock sound.  Many of these tracks are upbeat and catchy, yet when they do slow things down, it still works just as well.  The variety helps make this disc stand out.

Other fans like me will be delighted with Followers.  And if you haven’t started listening to Tenth Avenue North yet, it’s definitely time to follow us fans and do just that.

CD Length: 38:25
1. Afraid
2. What You Want
3. Overflow
4. I Have This Hope
5. One Thing
6. Sparrow (Under Heaven’s Eyes)
7. No One Can Steal Our Joy
8. Control (Somehow You Want Me)
9. Fighting for You
10. I Confess

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ornament Review: Tea Time! #1 - Santa - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun pot and cup set
Cons: Santa is a bit too squat so a bit off.
The Bottom Line:
This festive tea set
With jolly Santa himself
Makes for fun debut

Tea Time Officially Kicks Off with Santa

In 2015, Hallmark released an ornament that teased a new series debuting in 2016.  Tea Time, a five part series, will feature a festive holiday tea pot and matching tea cup.  Naturally, the official series kicks off with Santa.

Santa actually makes a good tea pot.  Think of that childhood song.  He’s short and stout.  And he has his arms in the classic pose we’d do as children, too.  One arm is forming the handle while the other one is sticking out to form the spout.  This hand seems to be at an odd angle, but that’s so his hand will better form the spout.  The matching cup?  Santa’s toy bag, naturally.  It’s just a bit larger than a mini ornament.  It’s green with a handle on one side and has a candy cane sticking out of the top.  Based on the color of the liquid inside, I’d guess that this is actually peppermint hot chocolate and not tea.  Not that I’m complaining.  Pass a cup, please.

Now, I know Santa is supposed to be short and stocky.  Yet somehow, this seems to go beyond that.  As a result, this looks good, but it doesn’t have the wow factor of most Hallmark ornaments.  Yes, I’m glad I got it, but I waited until half off to get it.

Naturally, being a tea pot and a cup, you can set these ornaments out to display.  Their flat bottoms also hold the 1 in a Christmas tree series marker, and yes, it shows up on both pieces.  You’ll want to find a safe place for them is you set them out since they are made of porcelain, so they are more fragile than your typical Hallmark ornament.

Likewise, you’ll want to find a sturdy branch for hanging them on your tree.  Fortunately, both pieces are perfectly balanced, so they hang straight.

I wish Santa were quite so squat because this looks to be a fun series.  Even so, I’m glad to add the first official Tea Time set to my collection.

You'll definitely want to visit the rest of the Tea Time series.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Review: Design for Dying by Renee Patrick (Lillian Frost & Edith Head #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, history, and a fun mystery
Cons: How the police treat Lillian is a little unbelievable at times
The Bottom Line:
Murder set in old
Hollywood combines real and
Fictional for fun

Renee Patrick Has Designed a Fun Debut

I’ve long been fascinated with Hollywood and the movies, so any time a mystery set in old Hollywood crosses my radar, I take note.  I don’t read them, but I take note.  I changed that with Design for Dying, the debut mystery from Renee Patrick, and I’m very glad I did.

It’s November 1937, and Lillian Frost has landed a job at a department store in Los Angeles.  She came to Hollywood from New York thanks to winning a contest for a screen test.  Her acting ability was about what she expected, but she is determined to stay in California.

Trouble walks into her store one day in the form of two homicide cops.  They are investigating the death of Ruby Carroll, Lillian’s former roommate.  When Lillian recognizes the dress that Ruby was wearing as a costume from a movie, she finds herself crossing paths with Edith Head, the costumer at Paramount Pictures even if her name isn’t on the big office in the department.  The two women are curious what happened to Ruby.  Might Lillian’s knowledge of Ruby and Edith’s knowledge of Hollywood help the police solve the crime?

Having lived in Southern California for the past 20 years, I thought I’d feel right at home in the setting right away.  It took me a few chapters, but that’s just because of how much the area has changed in the last 80 years.  It wasn’t long before I was fully immersed in this place at that time.

And make no mistake this is a book set in Hollywood.  Real people rub elbows with our fictional characters.  I don’t know as much about Hollywood history as I would like (for example, I’d never heard of Edith Head before), especially this period, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a few cameos, but that doesn’t matter because I had fun reading these fictional appearances of the people I did know.

But this book isn’t just Hollywood.  In fact, it never forgets that it is a mystery first.  The book actually starts with Lillian finding out that Ruby is dead, and we then get to know Ruby via a few memories that Lillian shares and the investigation.  It works well to pull us quickly into the story.  There are a couple of nice twists to things before we reach the end.  While I had my eye on the villain, I loved how the clues came together, and the climax was a lot of fun.

As I stated earlier, I can’t state for sure who in the cast of characters is real and who is fictional, but I honestly don’t really care.  Everyone came alive on the page for me, and the real and fictional rubbing elbows was much of the fun for me.  Lillian is our first person narrator for the book, and while she uncovers a few of the clues and is involved in the majority of the action, at times she is the sidekick for Edith.  It’s a good sleuthing partnership that brings to mind some of the classic pairings of the genre.

My only hesitation is how the police treated Lillian.  Yes, they explain it in the course of the story, but it still doesn’t quite ring true for me.  But I was having so much fun this was a very minor point.

Design for Dying bring Hollywood history to life while weaving a fun and tangled mystery.  I’m completely hooked and can’t wait to visit this dynamic duo again.

Monday, March 20, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Home Improvement - Season 4

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and fun with all the characters
Cons: No cons were built into this season
The Bottom Line:
Spreading spotlight wealth
Build more laughs for audience
Delightful season

“Installation Will Be a Breeze.”  “That’s What You Always Say, and then the Breeze Turns Into a Tornado.”

I must admit that I came to Home Improvement on the tail end of its original run, and I’ve been slow to catch up via the DVD set I bought several years back.  I’d also noticed while watching the first three seasons the show was much more formulaic than I remembered it being.  That formulaic tendency went away when I saw down to watch the season 4 DVD set, and I found myself ending season 4 more than season 3.

Yes, the set up for the show is still the same.  It follows Tim Taylor (Tim Allen), host of the local home improvement show Tool Time alone side Al Borland (Richard Karn).  At home, he’s married to long suffering wife Jill (Patricia Richardson), and they have three boys – Brad (Zachery Ty Bryant), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and Mark (Taran Noah Smith).  Rounding out the regular cast is their neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman), who often offers Tim advice to help him navigate his relationships.  Not that Tim ever remembers it correctly.

The season starts out with Jill making a huge decision – to go back to school to get a master’s degree in psychology so she can become a counselor.  This leads to her trying to balance her family with her homework for the rest of the season, and this change doesn’t sit well with Tim at first.  Meanwhile, Al becomes a partner in the local hardware store and is named one of Detroit’s most eligible bachelors.  On the home front, Brad gets a paper route, Randy’s birthday party ends in disaster thanks to an over waxed dance floor, and Mark starts having trouble in school.  It’s not a good year for Tim and cars as he destroys one and sells the hot rod he’s been working on – a decision he soon regrets.  Even Wilson gets into the act of having episodes devoted to him as he considers selling his home and later is set up on a blind date by Jill.

As you can see, there is plenty going on with the entire cast.  This is a wonderful change from the old formula of Tim does something that annoys Jill, she gets mad, Tim makes it worse, Wilson sets him straight, and Tim and Jill make up.  Yes, there are still some episodes along those lines, and even when the focus is on someone else, Tim is just as likely to make things worse at first than help, but breaking away from this formula is very welcome.

And the change gives us some great laughs.  The writers are definitely on the top of their game, not only giving us some good storylines but also great jokes.  When this show is really working, I can picture myself saying some of the things these characters say in these situations.

For those keeping track, this season also features the first appearance of Tim’s younger brother Marty (William O’Leary), who shows up in several episodes here and would pop up from time to time for the rest of the series.

The actors are also in fine form this season.  They are able to milk every laugh out of the material.  It certainly helps that they know each other at this point and are able to play off each other perfectly.  The kids have not only grown up but grown as actors, so they are able to handle the spotlight perfectly when it shines on them.  With Wilson in some scenes outside his backyard, it’s fun to see how they stage things so that we still don’t see all of his face.  You can catch some glimpse, especially if you are ready with the pause button, but the joke is still great.

The season consisted of 24 new episodes and an hour long clips show of previous segments from Tool Time.  All of them are presented in this three disc set in their native full screen and stereo surround.  The only extra is a six minute long outtakes reel that features some bits that aired during the credits and some new material.  Unlike the episodes themselves, the outtake reel picture and sound quality isn’t the best, but it is still worth a few laughs.

It’s nice to see Home Improvement shining the light and laughs on all the character.  This easily makes season 4 the best season to date.

Season 4 Episodes:
1. Back in the Saddle Shoes Again
2. Don’t Tell Momma
3. Death Begins at Forty
4. The Eyes Don’t Have It
5. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s Just Irresponsible
6. Borland Ambition
7. Let’s Got to the Videotape
8. Quibbling Siblings
9. My Dinner with Wilson
10. Ye Olde Shoppe Teacher
11. Some Like It Hot Rod
12. ‘Twas the Night Before Chaos
13. The Route of All Evil
14. Brother, Can You Spare a Hot Rod?
15. Super Bowl Fever
16. Bachelor of the Year
17. It’s My Party
18. A House Divided
19. The Naked Truth
20. Talk to Me
21. No, No, Godot
22. Tool Time After Dark Part 1
23. Tool Time After Dark Part 2
24. Sisters and Brothers
25. A Marked Man
26. Wilson’s Girlfriend

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #14 - Tubing - 2011 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Colorful and fun
Cons: Wish the year weren’t written on it.
The Bottom Line:
Tubing down a hill
Friends having more winter fun
In miniature piece

Winter Time for a Little Tubing

I’d never really thought about how many winter sports involve letting gravity pull you down the snow until I started reviewing the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.  The fourteenth ornament in the series is the fifth time we’ve had Snoopy and Woodstock sliding down snow in some form, yet this 2011 release is still original.

See, in this ornament the friends are using an inner tube to head down a hill.  And this isn’t a black inner tube either.  It’s painted a fun blue-green on top with red underneath.  I’m actually a little surprised that it isn’t pure red and green, but I like this better since it sticks out a bit more from the typical Christmas ornament and looks more realistic.  Snoopy, decked out in a hat, is holding on to the handles on the tube, and Woodstock is sitting on the very front.  On the top layer, there is 2011 written on it and the white outline of flames.

As I already said, this ornament looks great since it looks like a tube you’d rent or buy specifically for going tubing.  The way it captures that look makes me smile.  I do wish they hadn’t included the year on it.  That works on buildings, but this is seems out of place to me here.

Since this is a miniature ornament, you probably would only want to display this in a scene with other small pieces.  By itself, it would be easy to get lost.  Of course, a tube has a nice flat base, so it’s no surprise you can set it out on any flat surface.  You’ll also find the 14 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom.

This ornament does have a bit of a tip to it, but it is perfect that way.  See, it tips forward, making it look like we’ve caught Snoopy and Woodstock in the middle of their run.  I love that!

Tubing, especially with brightly painted tubes like Snoopy and Woodstock use here is newer than some of the other snow sports that we’ve had in the series to date, and I am happy to see it included in the series.  It’s a colorful and fun addition to the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

You'll find more fun with the rest of the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

Original Price: $7.95

Saturday, March 18, 2017

March 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I can't remember the last time I had a season finale in March, and I had two of them this week.  At least I will have an easier next few weeks with two shows off the air.  I'll definitely be ready for them to be back in September.

(Now that I think about it, the last time I had a show end early was the final season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  That's been well over a decade.)

Once Upon a Time – I did not see that ending coming.  Just as Hook has finally won David over, his past comes back to bite him, literally.  He has changed.  David saw it for himself.  Yet that’s going to get in the way of things for sure.  Other thoughts – when did we get Dr. Hopper back?  Last we knew, the Evil Queen had turned him into a cricket again.  Did you catch the candlestick and the clock in Rumplestiltskin’s home?  And that scene where Hook talked David out of killing the king was so powerful and so well done.

24: Legacy – I still can’t quite see where they will go from here.  Like everyone else, I think our main characters are on a suicide mission.  And one marriage is about to get very messy.  Tony hasn’t done much – yet.  I don’t think they’d bring him back for anything less than a game changer.  And we are in the second half of the season and have yet to skip any hours.  I wonder if that will change at all.

The Flash – Jay is stuck in the speed force.  Yikes!  I hope they get him out of it soon.  Of course, I knew they’d get Wally out of there somehow.  And I knew Jessie couldn’t stay forever.  The cast is already about as large as it can get.  But Barry and Iris break up?  How does that make sense?  The writers didn’t quite sell me on that one.

Legions of Tomorrow – A night of characters sacrificing themselves.  Plenty of fun with this riff of Apollo 13 before that happened, however.  Now that we have one part of the spear, what will happen next?  That’s what I want to know.  And the outtake/extended take of Victor Garbor singing instead of a teaser for next week, too.  I’m so glad he’s going to be in next week’s Flash musical episode.

This is Us – Really?  That’s the season finale?  We hardly got anything on the kids as adults, it was all about Jack and Rebecca meeting and their big fight.  It felt like a letdown in so many ways, especially since it was all in the past.  A separation and cooling down period, I get.  I hope they don’t break them up but show us how they work through their differences.  And Jack as thief?  Sorry, I don’t like that either.  Easily, my least favorite episode of the season.  Hope this isn’t a foretaste of things to come next season.

Arrow – I thought they might play around with us knowing Chase was the villain for a couple of weeks before Oliver found out, but I was definitely wrong about that.  The conversations they were having with each other were fantastic, too, as they were flitting around the truth out in the open.  What is Oliver planning to do with his ultimatum on the Green Arrow turning himself in?  Not that he can right now since he’s been captured.  I must say, I did not see that coming.

Lethal Weapon – I was expecting that episode to pack a punch, and boy did it ever.  Definitely took that storyline and went in their own direction with it.  So many great moments and so many great performances.  I’m glad to know it is coming back next season because I have to know what happens next.

Survivor – Poor Caleb, out on day 9 both times.  He seemed to have a good attitude about it during his exit video, however.  This isn’t the first time they’ve gone from two tribes to three, but doing it this early is certainly unexpected.  It seems like the tribes are pretty lopsided, which means the votes won’t be super exiting next week either.  And then the fireworks can start.

Designated Survivor – Luke?  No!!!  I’m not surprised, but I’m still pretty upset by it.  And the VP dead as well?  I did not see that one coming at all.  How do we go forward from here?  And the First Lady is not going to be happy about being sidelined like this.  She’ll understand eventually, I’m sure, but this is going to make for some good drama as the season goes along.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Leprechaun - Cookie Cutter Through the Year #2 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfect shape and very fun scene
Cons: This ornament is lucky enough to have no cons
The Bottom Line:
Irish ornament
Looks great and plenty of fun
No luck required

The Luck of the Irish is with this Cookie Cutter

When you are designing a cookie cutters for holidays, many shapes are obvious.  For example, what else would you do for St. Patrick’s Day than a shamrock design?  That’s exactly the route that Nina Aube took for Cookie Cutter Leprechaun, and the result is a winner.

Each ornament in this Cookie Cutter Through the Year series focuses on a holiday or fun event from the first half of the year.  This ornament features a bronze colored shamrock cookie cutter.  But the fun of the ornament is what is inside.  That’s where we find a scene depicting our mouse friend dressed in a green leprechaun outfit sliding down a rainbow to find the gold at the end.  There’s a grassy hill behind him, and that includes a couple of four leaf clovers.  You can just make out the sun peeking out from behind the hill in the perfectly blue sky.

One element I love about this and the mother series (Cookie Cutter Christmas) is the way candy is used in the series.  In this case, the only evidence of candy I see is the gold.  They sure look like gold foil covered chocolate coins to me.  Yum!

But that’s not to suggest I don’t like this ornament.  I really love it, in fact.  It helps that I love green, and there is a lot of it here.  The mouse’s hat and the rainbow are both covered in glitter, so they sparkle, which adds to the fun.

The stem of the ornament almost provides enough of a base to allow you to set the ornament out to be displayed.  Almost.  It’s not stable enough to stay standing if there is any bump or bounce nearby, so I don’t recommend actually displaying it this way.

However, we are still in luck because this ornament hangs straight.  That’s not too much of a surprise given the balanced nature of the shamrock shape.

And yes, you’ll find a 2 in a Christmas tree on the back of the cookie cutter since this is the second in the planned six piece series.  I do wish they’d come up with some other shape for these year round pieces, but that’s obviously not going to happen.

This series is so creative and fun, you’ll definitely want to add it to your collection.  Cookie Cutter Leprechaun will be perfect to display every March for years to come.

Original Price: $15.95

March 17th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  No, I don't have an Irish book to share with you for Book Beginning and Friday 56.  Instead, I'm spotlighting Design for Dying by Renee Patrick.

This is a mystery set in 1937 Hollywood.  And if you think that sounds like fun, you'd be right.

Here's how the book begins:

The hem of the dress was drenched in blood.  I could only hope no one would notice.

Jumping a head of page 56, we find this quote.

"Always look your best up to the limits of larceny."

Short and sweet this week, right?  I'll be reviewing the book on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back then to learn more about it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Silence of the Flans Winner

I just pulled the second winner of the week.  The prize is The Silence of the Flans, and the winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail, so please get back to me so we can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: The Semester of Our Discontent by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila Maclean #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and setting, good mystery
Cons: Pacing a little off in the plot at times
The Bottom Line:
A first semester
Filled with lots of death, danger
In this good debut

Lila Starts Teaching – to Murder

Over the years, there have been several mysteries set at colleges that have crossed my radar, but I’ve never picked one up.  I finally enrolled in one with The Semester of Our Discontent, and I’ve learned my lesson – I should have done this sooner.

Lila Maclean has just gotten her PhD in Literature and is excited to be settling into her first semester teaching at Stonedale University in Colorado.  She’s extra please since her cousin is also on the English department faculty.  She’s not so happy with her department chair, Dr. Roland Higgins, however.  When she suggests a course in detective fiction, he not only shoots her down but essentially tells her to be quiet.

Lila and her faculty mentor are walking into a department meeting just hours after Lila’s ill-fated meeting with Dr. Higgins only to find him stabbed to death on a table in the department library.  When the rumors start flying that she knows more than she is letting on, either to protect someone or because she herself is the killer, Lila begins to try to find the killer.  But the clues she finds appear random, and no one seems willing to help her.  Can Lila find the killer?

The book gets off to a fast start with Lila finding the dead body by the end of the first chapter.  However, I did feel the book had some pacing issues as we went along.  We do get some very interesting clues and the secrets the Lila uncovers are good, and the climax does resolve all the plot threads and wraps everything up nicely.

Lila is a wonderful main character.  Her natural curiosity is perfect for getting involved in a murder, and her motive to keep poking around is very strong.  We are introduced to a great group of characters as well.  Some of them already feel like friends, and the rest will provide some interesting sub-plots as the series progresses now that they aren’t suspects in this case.

The setting came alive for me.  This may be a fictional college, but I felt like I was really there.  And as the semester wore on, I could feel the crispness in the air as late summer turned to fall as well.

This is a debut mystery, but the writing is strong.  That’s hardly a surprise since author Cynthia Kuhn is an English college professor herself.

So trust me, you’ll be discontent if you skip this book.  Your homework assignment is to read The Semester of Our Discontent.  But don’t worry, this is one homework assignment you’ll enjoy.