Thursday, October 31, 2013

TV Special Review: Merry Madagascar

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great laughs for kids and parents wrapped up in a Christmas story
Cons: David Schwimmer’s voice reminds me too much of Ross.
The Bottom Line:
Wonderful special
If ready to be merry
Filled with many laughs

Is Alex Permanently on the Naughty List?

When I watched Madagascar a few years back, I was less than impressed.  As a result, I never have bothered to watch the sequels.  I may have to reconsider that after having seen the delightful Merry Madagascar.

The made for TV Christmas special finds the gang of zoo animals trying to escape Madagascar and get back to their zoo home before Christmas.  They all have dreams of what they will enjoy most.  However, their escape balloon is shot down by King Julius (Danny Jacobs) and his followers.

What they learn is that every year on December 24th, someone flies through the sky shooting rocks at Julius.  When Alex (Ben Stiller) the lion steps up and shoots down this villain, they make a shocking discovery – it’s Santa.  Worse yet, he has amnesia.  Suddenly, it is up to Alex and the gang to save Christmas.  Can they do it?

This show was pretty funny from start to finish.  There are plenty of jokes for kids and adults to enjoy, and I was laughing the entire way through.  Yes, there are some lessons to be learned, but they felt like a real part of the story.

One problem with the original holds true here.  I just can’t quite buy David Schwimmer.  Every time that Melvin the Giraffe speaks, I just hear Ross from Friends, and it takes me out of the film.  Even though the rest of the cast is well known, I don’t have that issue with them.  We’ve got the likes of Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Cedric the Entertainer in this special, and they all do a great job.  And it’s not that David is bad, but I can’t picture Ross as an animated giraffe.

The animation is good here.  It might not have any blow you away moments, but there are still some nice shots over the course of the special, and it never gets in the way of the story.

So whether you like the original or not, sit your family down and enjoy Merry Madagascar.  You’ll be very merry if you do.

This special is also part of the Dreamworks Holiday Collection, which I received free in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ornament Review: Santa Certified #1 - Train Engine - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Gorgeous ornament with lots of fun, small details.
Cons: Slight tip, but it's minor
The Bottom Line:
A beautiful sculpt
Filled with intricate details
Delightful debut

Santa’s Introducing a New Line of Special Toys with a Fire Engine Red Train Engine

As much as I am still a kid at heart, there are some things I’ve lost when it comes to childhood magic.  One of those is thinking of Santa making all those toys.  But Hallmark is working to bring that magic back with the new Santa Certified series, which debuted in 2013 with a train engine.

The idea behind this series is it captures that one special toy Santa has worked hard on for an extra good girl of boy.  And if this is the craftsmanship he puts into something, I want to make sure I’m on the good list.

This train is absolutely lovely to look at.  It is mostly red with wood tan trim and gold accents, and the colors are lovely together.  There are extra flourishes and accents everywhere, so the train looks extra special and fancy.  Any child would be honored to receive this one.  And yes, the wheels on the bottom really do work.  There's also a fancy script SC on the side of the engine.  There's even a bell that really does swing.  It doesn't ring, but it will swing plenty.  And speaking of bells, there are some on the wheels.

That special touch extends to the series marker.  Since this is the first in a series, there is a one inside a Christmas tree.  But it is much nicer than their normal series markings Hallmark uses.  I love it.

It's absolutely beautiful all the way around.  And you can tell Santa is proud of it because he signed it on the bottom.  It's those little extra touches I love.  You can also find the year, 2013, on the side of the engine.

The engine rests on the wheels of the train, and it is level, so you could use it as part of a display if you want to.

But if you are looking to hang it on your tree, you’ll find the hook in the top of the train.  It does tip back a little, but that's the only flaw with the ornament.  And the red will make it really stand out on your tree.

I’ve often said that these Hallmark ornaments can be little works of art, and the first Santa Certified ornament proves it.  I’m looking forward to a long line of beautiful ornaments to enjoy for years to come.

And check out the rest of the Santa Certified series.

Original Price: $14.95

October 30th's Waiting on Wednesday

After a couple of week off, I'm back with another Waiting on Wednesday.

This week's book is Second-Hand Stiff by Sue Ann Jaffairan.

This is the latest book in the Odelia Grey mystery series.  Odelia is a plus-sized middle age paralegal who just happens to find dead bodies everywhere she goes.  This time around, she's looking for a break from a hectic Thanksgiving when she goes with a cousin to a storage auction only to find a body in with all the goods being auctioned off.

I started reading this series back in 2009, and I really love it.  The books are filled with humor and fun while still packing good mysteries and some pretty well developed characters.

The book officially comes out December 8th, but most of the books from this publisher seem to arrive early.  I've got mine pre-ordered and I'm hoping to have it to read pretty close to the Thanksgiving setting.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

TV Recap: Castle 6-6 - Get a Clue

Castle must be loving life right now.  The first two cases back at the 12th have been right up his ally with strange suspects (last week) and real life conspiracy theories (this week).  Frankly, I’ve been loving it, too.  Yes, I enjoy the show when it does something serious, but I love it even more when it is fun.  And you can’t argue that these last couple of episodes have not been that serious overall.

The victim this week is found in an ally with markings on her hands that look like the stigmata.  However, it’s the wound in her throat that actually killed her.  Back in her apartment, she has books on the Middle Ages and pictures of weird symbols on her wall.  She was an accountant who had taken a week off work for something personal, but that was all that was unusual about her life.  Her cousin confirms that when they interview him.

Tracking her movements the night she was killed, they find video of a weird monk following her.  They manage to track him down, and he’s an ex-con.  But he says she got into a taxi and there was someone else following her.  At this point, Castle is in his element spinning theories related to The Da Vinci Code.

While tracking down the monk’s alibi, they visit a church, and this church has some of the same symbols in it that were in the victim’s apartment.  Furthermore, one she had written on her hand was on the wall.

Movie Review: The Tigger Movie

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Ultimately, a satisfying and fun film
Cons: With a very slow start for adults
The Bottom Line:
Beginning for kids
But adults who watch it will
Find they enjoy, too

He’s the Only One.  Or Is He?

Being a marginal Winnie the Pooh fan, I let the movies from the early 00’s pass me by without watching them.  However, since I have some friends with kids who have The Tigger Movie, I decided I needed to borrow it.  While at first I wasn’t impressed, I wound up liking it.

As you might guess, the movie focuses on Tigger (voiced by Jim Cummings), the tiger who loves to bounce all over the place.  Fall is approaching in the 100 Acre Woods, and all of Tigger’s friends are too busy getting ready for the coming winter to go bouncing with him.  Even his attempts to help get a giant boulder off Eeyore’s (Peter Cullen) house turn into a disaster.

Frustrated and a little lonely, Tigger starts wishing for a family.  Thanks to Owl’s (Andre Stojka) wise suggestion, he starts looking for his family tree.  While Roo (Nikita Hopkins) starts to worry about his friend, Tigger is determined to keep searching, even getting some of his friends into the act.  Can he find his family?

As I said, the first half of the movie didn’t impress me much.  It was definitely aimed at a juvenile audience, which is fine, but it wasn’t as engaging as the kid’s films I love.

The songs certainly weren’t helping it along.  Even though they were written by the Sherman Brothers, they are mostly forgettable.  This is one thing that never improved, although I did get a kick out of "Pooh's Lullabee," which finds Pooh trying to sing some bees to sleep.

And this is not the fault of the voice cast at all.  They are all great at bringing these classic characters to life.

However, about half way through, something changed and I found myself drawn into the film and enjoying it.  Yes, the plot was predictable and I knew the moral early on.  But that didn’t make it any less exciting or fun to watch.  The scene at the end where Tigger gives his new found family gifts is touching and made me smile.

The movie does use the convention of a book that all of the Disney Winnie the Pooh movies use, although it’s not nearly as prominent as it is in the classic Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Will I rush out to watch The Tigger Movie again?  Most likely not.  But I did enjoy it and would gladly sit down to watch it again if a member of my family wanted to see it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 3-5 - Good Form

I know there are lots of Emma/Hook shippers out there.  I’m not one of them.  I could have gotten on board with Emma and August, but I like the idea of her getting back together with Neal.  I’m a first love/true love kind of guy, I guess, and that is in keeping with fairy tales.

Having said that, I know lots of people who were looking forward to a certain kiss last night.  And, considering everyone thinks that Neal is dead, I could certainly get behind it.  However, leave it to Pan to take the wind out of Hook’s sails.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start, as always, with the flashback which focuses on Killion Jones in the days before he becomes the pirate known as Hook.

Music Review: Christmas is Here by Brandon Heath

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: The old standbys are good, recalling arrangements of old
Cons: The new songs?  Bah!  Humbug!!!
The Bottom Line:
Buy for the classics
Because the new songs aren't great
Brandon's fans only

I Really Wanted to Love This Disc, but the New Songs Drag It Down

Every year in late summer, I start anxiously looking to see who is releasing new Christmas music this fall.  I was thrilled to see that Brandon Heath was releasing one this year, and I rushed out to buy it.  Sadly, Christmas Is Here didn't live up to my expectations.

I own enough Christmas music that I look for the original songs to make or break a disc for me.  And this is where the disc falls flat.  Two of the songs are more Bah Humbug than Christmas cheer.

First up is "The Day After Thanksgiving."  And I know many people agree with the sentiment in the song - wait until Black Friday to start playing Christmas music and selling stuff in the stores.  It's a catchy tune and a good mid-tempo song.  I have a feeling he was trying to go for funny, but it just comes across as grumpy.

Then there's the irony that I am complaining about this song in October on a disc that has been out for two weeks already.

Then there's "Momma Wouldn't Lie to Me."  Written from the point of view of a kid who still believes in Santa, I do think it makes a good point about what can happen to kids from being lied to about Santa.  But first, if parents aren't aware, the song could spill the beans.  And again, it feels more like a grumpy song that a song full of Christmas cheer.  That is despite the very upbeat, jazzy music.

Then there's "Just a Girl."  I'm still trying to figure out what Brandon was trying to say with this song written from the point of view of the innkeeper.

Fortunately, the rest of the tracks are great.  In fact, they more than make up for these three songs.  Brandon tried to capture the sound of the crooners of old on these tracks, so many of them feel very familiar to me already, and I love it.  For example the instruments on "The Christmas Song" sound so much like Nat King Cole's classic version I have to remind myself that he did rerecord them.  He channels Bing Crosby on "Silent Night."  And while the medley of "O Come All Ye Faithful/Angels We Have Heard on High" is new, it too sounds like the old crooners at work.

Among these tracks, my favorite is "Go Tell It on the Mountain."  I'm not usually a fan of this song, and Brandon's bluegrass version might have worked against it.  However, somehow it fits the song, and I love the way that he sings too verses together before going back to the chorus.  This might become my favorite version of the song.

The bluegrass band also appears on "In the Bleak Midwinter."  It doesn't work quite as well here, but it is a good take on a lesser recorded song.

This is a disc to wait to buy until after Christmas.  Even then, buy it for the old standbys because the new songs aren't that great.  Christmas Is Here will get mixed in with my Christmas music on iTunes, but it won't be one I rush to pull out each year.

CD Length: 34:31
1. The Day After Thanksgiving
2. The Christmas Song
3. O Little Town of Bethlehem
4. Just a Girl
5. In the Bleak Midwinter
6. Momma Wouldn't Lie to Me
7. Away in a Manger
8. Go Tell it on the Mountain
9. Silent Night
10. O Come All Ye Faithful/Angels We Have Heard on High

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Humor, story, characters, and pirates
Cons: You not buying this book immediate (cause I’ll have to send pirates after you)
The Bottom Line:
Engaging story
And many great characters
Mixed well with humor

Magic, Pirates, and a Gargoyle

I will follow a good story no matter who the target audience is, and that’s led me to some wonderful series intended for middle grade audiences.  If nothing else, I love the creativity and twists on the familiar they show.  Take Magic Marks the Spot, the first in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series.  It’s got pirates, magic, and laughs a plenty.

All Hilary has dreamed about is being a pirate, and she is determined that’s what she will be when she grows up.  However, there are two problems standing in her way.  First, she’s a girl, and there is no way the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates will allow a female to join.  Second, she is the daughter of the Royal Admiral, the man who has made it his mission to end piracy.

When she is sent to Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies, she is determined to run away and become a pirate.  Joined by the family’s magically alive gargoyle, she sets out to find a ship to sail on.  But when she is placed in charge of finding the treasure with a map that has no clues, can she do it?

Before each chapter there are letters between characters or excerpts from newspapers and guide books.  When I was reading the ones before chapter 1, I was already laughing.  While I found these between chapter things to be the funniest parts of the books, there were plenty of lines and observations in the story that made me laugh out loud.  Yes, sometimes in public.  And no, this grown man had no shame in laughing at a middle grade book in public.  While the focus was on the adventure, there was also that humorous tone lurking just beneath the surface ready to strike.

And this is quite the adventure tale.  The set up might be a bit slow, but I was entertained the entire way.  Once the story really gets rolling, you’ll be glued to the pages as you wait to see just how Hilary can overcome the latest twist.

The characters are fun as well.  They are well developed for a middle grade novel, and I truly came to care for most of them.  The rest were either evil or weren’t around long enough to be developed.  There is room for growth in the next few novels, but there’s really nothing to complain about here.

I fairly sailed through the book.  (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)  It was hard to put down when real life called, and I picked it back up as soon as I could.

Obviously, this book will appeal to girls who want some adventure in their books.  However, any boy who is willing to overlook having a girl as the main character will completely enjoy this one.  Hilary is very much a tomboy, and the book is filled with all the staples of a pirate story only toned down for the target audience.

Honestly, I can’t recommend Magic Marks the Spot highly enough.  I’ll be first in line when the sequel comes out to find out what happens to Hilary and her friends next.

NOTE: I received this book as part of the Amazon Vine program

Want a couple of teasers?  I've got two non-spoilery quotes here.  And this review is part of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

VeggieTales Review: Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good story and moral
Cons: Missing much of the earlier fun; do we really need another Christmas entry?
The Bottom Line:
Christmas VeggieTales
Does not improve on others
Still good for the kids

"We Found It on the Internet.  How Could It Be Dangerous?"

I love Christmas.  I have way too much Christmas music; and I collect Hallmark Christmas ornaments.  Still, there is such a thing as too much Christmas, and Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas proves it.

Ironically enough, it's not the story I'm talking about (although the plot involves over decorating).  I'm actually referring to the fact that this is the latest in I don't know how many Christmas shows that VeggieTales has done.  While the message is still good, I feel like they've run out of Christmas shows to do.  After all, last year was the first in several we hadn't gotten a new Christmas story from them.  No body does Christmas shows every year.  These must be some of their better sellers to keep cranking them out.

This particular story revolves around a mall.  Every year, Larry and the French Peas play elves in the mall who record what all the kids want for Christmas.  It's a job that Larry takes very seriously.

However, the Spring Valley Mall has been losing sales, and in an attempt to increase shoppers, the mall has hired Bob the Tomato and Mr. Lunt to come in and decorate it.  They are going all out, and it is going to look spectacular.  But Larry hears part of a story from a little girl who is trying to help someone.  Will he be able to track her down and help?

Now don't misunderstand me - there is nothing wrong with this story by itself.  The reminder of the need to share God's love, a love He demonstrated at Christmas, is great.  We should always be reminded to share with others.

However, it just doesn't have that Christmas spark.  Honestly, I'd rather see this message is a regular story for the series.  And I'd rather see more regular stories for the show period.

Speaking of sparks, this one certainly doesn't have the warmth and humor of the earlier ones.  Since Phil Vischer took a less active role in the series, it hasn't been a good, and this is a perfect example.  Kids will still certainly enjoy it, but it doesn't have the same appeal to adults.

Even the silly song, "Wrapped Myself Up for Christmas," isn't as funny as the premise promises.

Then there's Si Robertson's cameo as the narrator of the story.  I know this isn't the first time they've done stunt casting for voices in the series, but I'm not a fan of Duck Dynasty, so this one felt superfluous to me.

I realize I'm sounding very harsh, and this disc truly isn't that horrid.  The story is entertaining, and computer animation is good, and the voice talent is still great.  I certainly can't argue with the moral of the story.  I just really really wish they'd stop with the idea that they need to release a new Christmas story every fall.

So if you have kids who love VeggieTales, go ahead and get Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas.  But adult fans like me won't need to rush out to add this to their collection.

Weekly TV Recap for October 26th

Here are some brief thoughts (very brief this week) on the rest of the shows I watched this week.

The Amazing Race - They teased part of the cliffhanger a week ago?  Uncool.  But at least we are getting the two part cliffhanger out of the way early.

Dancing with the Stars - And they didn't eliminate anyone on this show this week, either.  I'm glad to see they took responsibility for the glitch and did what was fair, however.  I wonder when we'll have a double elimination in that case.

Survivor - I really would like to see more of the family members playing together, but that didn't happen with the switch up.  And the way things are going, it's not going to happen much even when we get to the merge (which I guess will be a couple of weeks).

Arrow - I am torn between finding out who Black Canary is (I've heard before I know) and just going with the story as it unfolds.  I'm really loving this season and how they are developing things.

The Big Bang Theory - That song at the end was both romantic and funny.  A great episode all the way around since Sheldon was just so funny and Penny at the end was so incredibly sweet.

Crazy for You - I did not care for this episode at all.

The Michael J. Fox Show - I still have trouble finding it super funny, but I do enjoy it.  It falls into the mildly amusing category, and I'm more than happy to keep watching it.

White Collar - I'm just not quite on board with the season still.  I hate it when Neal and Peter are this much at odds since I love their bromance.  Still, Mozzie delivering Diana's baby was great.

Covert Affairs - How are they going to bring down Henry?  That's the question that is completely puzzling me.

Friday, October 25, 2013

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland 1-3 - Forget Me Not

Now it feels like a spin off.  Yes, they had the cameos in the pilot, but that's pretty much all they were.  And yes, I know we'd been to Wonderland on Once Upon a Time.  But now it feels a bit more like they aren't running another story but are actually part of the same universe.

And why is that?  Because the Knave of Hearts is Will Scarlett, one of Robin Hood's Merry Men.  We got a flashback with his story set mostly in Enchanted Forest, which also means we got Robin Hood and Maleficent.

Our story in Enchanted Forest starts "a few years ago" and centered on a time when Will had just joined Robin Hood's men.  But he joined them with his own agenda in mind.  We wanted to rob Maleficent's castle.  As soon as he was "in," he brought up the suggestion.  And when he finally talked Robin into it, Robin told his men to only take the gold they were going to steal.  While Maleficent was not at home when they robbed her (smart on their part), if they took any magic, she'd come after them.

Book Beginnings and Friday 56 for October 25th

I should be heading to bed.  (Heck, by all accounts I should be tired.)  But before I do, let's get this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56 posted.

This week's book is a middle grade novel - Magic Marks the Spot, the first in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series by Caroline Carlson.

Here's the first sentence of chapter one:

Ever since the letter had arrived from Miss Pimm's, Hilary had spent more and more time talking to the gargoyle.
Moving on to page 56, we find:

"If I could grant wishes, I'd have a heaping plate of spiders in front of me right now.  And," he added, "I'd be wearing a pirate hat.

Want to know more?  Come back Sunday when I post my review of the book.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Disneyland Review: Alice in Wonderland

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun trip through the movie
Cons: The outside doesn’t look that great; long lines
The Bottom Line:
Trip through Wonderland
California exclusive
Fun for the long wait

Fall Down the Rabbit Hole and Take a Journey with Alice in Wonderland

The kid in me still finds it hard to resist the pleasures of Fantasyland in Disneyland.  I love all the old characters and movies, and it is fun to go visit them in the dark rides that are a staple of this area.  One of the more popular ones is Alice in Wonderland, and it’s good.

This ride is a California only ride - the rest of the Disney parks don’t have it.  That might help explain the popularity.  It’s also unique among dark rides because it is multi-level.  Now, it still goes at one slow and steady speed, but it does climb as you enjoy the ride inside.

The ride is located around the corner from the main section of Fantasyland dark rides.  It’s next to the Mad Tea Party (appropriately enough) and across the walkway from the Matterhorn.  Unfortunately, the outside doesn’t look at nice as it used to.  The part of the track that takes you from the upper level to the lower level is outside and sits on some big leaves.  It also goes over the part of the track where you board the ride.  Unfortunately, OSHA has gotten involved and they have had to put on railings and build out the platform so it has lost much of its appeal.  I certainly get the need for employee safety.  I don’t want them to change it back.  It’s just disappointing.  I heard rumors once that they are thinking of redesigning it to fit with regulations but so it looks better.  I’d certainly be all for that.

The lines for this once seem to hover around 30 minutes and go up as the park gets more crowded.  It easily rivals Peter Pan’s Flight for longest lines in Fantasyland.  There is no height requirement, although little kids will be asked to sit on the inside of the seat.  If you can transfer to the ride vehicle, it is handicap accessible as well.  The ride vehicles are built to look like caterpillars and come in a variety of fun colors.

Once you are on board, you start your journey by following the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole.  It’s actually a dark tunnel and then you come to the door that opens into this wild and crazy world.  While we never see Alice, we do hear her as she chases the Rabbit around.  We have brief encounters with Tweedledee and Tweedledum, listen to the flowers sing and meet up with the Cheshire Cat.  From there, we head to the Queen of Hearts garden, play croquet, and wind up on trial for our lives.

At this point, we break free from the cards and head outside to the part of the track I talked about earlier.  When we hit ground level, we take a brief spin by the Mad Tea Party before we exit our caterpillar.

Like most of the Fantasyland rides, this one doesn’t do a good job of filling you in on the whole story.  They've only got 3 minutes and 38 seconds to work with after all, about part of those are outside.  Then again, the movie (and the books) are pretty random events, so that doesn’t matter.  In fact, that aspect of the story actually works pretty well for this ride.  You don’t have to follow much since each scene is separate.  Only the part with the Queen of Hearts tells much of a real story.

But that doesn’t make it any less fun.  The friend I usually go to Disneyland with loves Alice, so we always hit this ride.  Not that I’m complaining since I love just about everything there.  The animatronics inside look good and the colors are fun.  In fact, they are very true to their animated selves unlike a couple of characters in other rides.  Despite our run in with the Queen of Hearts, there is nothing too scary for young kids here, either.  They still might freak out, but there is nothing that is going to jump out at them or be too truly dark and evil.

Be prepared to wait, but definitely plan to take a ride on Alice in Wonderland next time you are at Disneyland.  It’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else, and it’s a fun trip through the movie.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

TV Recap: Agents of SHIELD 1-5 - The Girl in the Flower Dress

When I saw the preview for last night’s episode, I was surprised.  Not that they were going there at some point but that they went there so soon.  I didn’t expect Skye’s double dealings to become an issue until at least the half way point of the season.  Then again, since this one really continued the pilot, that might be why.

The episode opens in China as a street magician is doing his act.  When his audience starts to discount his work, he pulls out his big trick – he can start and hold fire in his hand.  It so impresses a woman in the audience that she goes home with him.  After another demonstration, she drugs him and two guys in fireproof suits show up to kidnap him.

When he wakes up, he learns he is in a research facility, and it isn’t SHIELD like he first thinks.  (He’s been living under their surveillance for years.)  Instead, they want to help him achieve his true potential.  He could become a hero, say Scorch.  They inject him with something, and it makes his fireballs more powerful.

But this group is really Caterpillar – the group from the pilot episode.  They are experimenting on him hoping they can stabilized their subjects so they don’t explode.  The fire resistance on his skin is just what they are looking for.  Once that is confirmed, they knock it out and take that part of his DNA from him.

Meanwhile, our band of SHIELD agents have been trying to track down just how Caterpillar found him.  Skye is able to trace it to a hacker in Austin.  However, he is from her old group, Red Tide.  In fact, he’s her old lover.  When he manages to escape from their surveillance and get home, she is waiting for him.  She tries to confront him, but they wind up sleeping together.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

TV Show Review: Nikita - Season 3

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good action and characters – some of the episodes
Cons: Some storylines too weird, dark, and soap operay
The Bottom Line:
Definite step down
Fans will want the next chapter
But not show’s strongest

"Division's Different Now."

Season three of Nikita takes our heroes off in a new direction, sort of.  They are still trying to take down Division, but this time they are doing it from the inside because they are running it.  It created some interesting stories, but I’m still not quite sure it worked as well as the previous two seasons.

The only reason that Division is still up and running is so they can take down the last few rogue agents.  They would prefer to bring them in and help them adjust to a normal life, but they will take any means necessary to do it if they don’t cooperate.  After all, the goal is to take down this super secret organization as quickly as possible so our heroes can go on with their lives.

Leading the fight in the field and back at the super secret office is Nikita (Maggie Q) along with fiancĂ© Michael (Shane West).  (And just wait until you see how the proposal happens.)  Ryan Fletcher (Noah Bean) is officially running the office and reporting directly to the President.  Still on the computers is Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford), and Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) is often helping in the field as she also tries to come to grips with her family legacy.  Meanwhile, Amanda (Melinda Clarke) is still out there and working to bring down Nikita any way she can.

The main problem I had with this season is how dark it got.  I know the show has not always been sunny and light – this has been more of a hard action drama.  However, the writers took the characters to some seriously dark places as the season progresses.  I liked how they handled it and the character growth it provided, but I didn’t always think it was necessary.  In fact, at times, I felt they went too far just in an attempt to give us another plot twist.  And it's that element that bothered me more than the story they were telling which at times veered toward soap opera.

This does mean that the actors were called on to do more, and they stepped up their game.  No matter how much I was rolling my eyes at the plots the characters were given, I always believed the acting that went with it.

Likewise, the special effects were great when needed, and the action was always top notch.  This is an action show more than anything else, and it works perfectly as that.  Those scenes are fun and adrenaline pumping – what else do you want?

All 22 episodes are available in their native wide screen and full surround in a five disc DVD set and a four disc Blu-Ray set.  Extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.

I was ambivalent about the show continuing until I saw the season finale.  That’s when I realized how much I still cared for the characters and I wanted to see how things would resolve.  Fortunately, we’ll get six episodes starting late in November of 2013 to wrap things up.  Fans will want to catch up on season three of Nikita before that happens.  Here’s hoping the show goes out with a bang like the first two seasons instead of middle of the road like this season.

Season 3 Episodes:
1. 3.0
2. Innocence
3. True Believe
4. Consequences
5. The Sword's Edge
6. Sideswipe
7. Intersection
8. Aftermath
9. Survival Instincts
10. Brave New World
11. Black Badge
12. With Fire
13. Reunion
14. The Live We've Chosen
15. Inevitability
16. Tipping Point
17. Masks
18. Broken Home
19. Self-Destruct
20. High-Value Target
21. Invisible Hand
22. Til Death Do Us Part

TV Recap: Castle 6-5 - Time Will Tell

I loved last night’s Castle.  I don’t know if I can emphasize that enough.  I am well aware that my tastes might not be shared by everyone, especially since it did two unusual things on Castle – one I know for sure was a first.  But that would be spoiling things.

The body is found when a neighbor is returning home from work and finds someone running to the elevator with blood on his hands.  He goes to the opened door and finds the very tortured and bloody body of a parole officer.  Her clients are the non-violent offender type, so they are quickly ruled out.  We visit with her step-brother (played by Tim Russ aka Tuvac from Star Trek Voyager), but they weren’t super close.

Our victim had filed a complaint against someone she thought was stalking her.  It matches the description of the man seen fleeing the scene of the crime.  And when he returns to her apartment and starts searching it, they pick him up.

And that’s when things get weird.  This man (played brilliantly by Chuck’s Joshua Gomez) claims to be from 30 years in the future sent back to stop this woman’s murder.  Somehow, it sets off a change of events that leads to billions of people dying.  He’s quite insistent that they need to help him find the killer and that he isn’t it.  The only real clue he offers is 12 58, and he doesn’t even know what that means.

What's On My Nightstand - October 2013

I almost forgot it's the fourth Tuesday of the month.  That happens to me when we've got 5 Tuesday.  Plus I have a lot going on in my personal life right now.  Anyway, that makes me a posting machine, but here's my What's on My Nightstand for October.

I know last month I said I was about to read Death al Dente, but I finally got it read just last week.  My review is here if you want to take a look.

Just today, I finished Magic Marks the Spot, the first in the middle grade The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series by Caroline Carlson.  I got it through Amazon's Vine program, and I'm very glad I did.  I'll officially review it on Sunday as part of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, but here's a spoiler.  I LOVED IT!!!  Come back on Sunday to find out why.

That means that tomorrow, I'll be starting Drive Time, the fourth Charlotte McNally Mystery by Hank Phillippi Ryan.  I've had this book since it came out in 2010, and I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I'm finally getting it read.

Monday, October 21, 2013

TV Special Review: DreamWorks Holiday Collection

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Four great specials for your holiday season
Cons: Did this really need to be on two discs?
The Bottom Line:
These four great specials
Will become winter viewing
For your family

DreamWorks Invites You to Spend the Holidays with their Franchises

Obviously, I have not paid close attention to the Christmas specials that air each year because I had missed the fact that DreamWorks has been releasing some direct to TV specials based on their popular movie franchises.  I became away of my animation gap when I was asked to review the Dreamworks Holiday Collection How could I turn it down?

This two disc set contains four half hour specials on two discs.  And that right there is my biggest complaint.  Seriously?  You need two disc for two hours?  I sure don’t see why this couldn’t have been released as one disc.  And I should note it is only available on DVD.  But the contents make it worth considering.

The first disc features the more established franchises and the Christmas specials that mention Christmas specifically.  (More about that in a minute.)  Up first is “Merry Madagascar,” which finds the zoo animals being forced to save Christmas when they accidentally shoot Santa down and give him amnesia when he flies over Madagascar I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of this franchise having only seen the first movie, but I found this special delightful.  The jokes for kids and adults were plentiful, and the lessons learned were good.

Next comes “Shrek the Halls” which features our favorite ogre trying to put together the perfect Christmas for his new family.  Things fall apart when his friends show up.  The result is predictable but still heartwarming and fun.  Again, there are lots of jokes for kids and their parents.  I had caught this one on TV when it first aired, and I still feel like the bathroom humor is a bit excessive, even for this franchise, but I know that kids will love it.

Both discs have some special features, and this one’s mainly feature Christmas song spoofs with the characters from the specials, most of them being the penguins from Madagascar They are alright, but I have a feeling that kids will love them more than I did.

Now, I’m one of those people who think that December is about Christmas.  I’m not trying to exclude anyone, but this is what the majority of the people in this country celebrate.  I don’t expect this to be the only holiday ever mention, celebrated, or talked about during the month, however, which is why I’m perfectly fine with the fact that Christmas doesn’t get mentioned once on the second disc.  That’s because both franchises are set in countries and times that didn’t celebrate Christmas.  And it certainly helps that I found the specials to be fun.

“Kung Fu Panda Holiday” starts off this disc as Po finds himself in charge of the winter festival feast for all the great Kung Fu warriors.  Not only does he not know what he is doing, but he really wants to spent it helping his dad make a meal for their village, something that has been their tradition for years.  This is my favorite of DreamWorks’ franchises, and I greatly enjoyed the special.  It has the right amount of humor coupled with a heart warming ending.

Lastly comes “Dragon Holiday: Gift of the Night Fury.”  As we return to the Viking village from How to Train Your Dragon, we find that everyone is excited to celebrate their first winter holiday now that they’ve established peace with the dragons.  But when the dragons suddenly take off, will the holiday be ruined?  There are some great lines and moments in this one, and a very touching scene at the end.  Frankly, it made me want to watch the movie again.

The special features here are mostly themed around Dragon, although we do get one on how noodles are made to tie in with Kung Fu Panda For the rest, there are some on how to draw certain dragons and a very funny series on training the various dragon species.

Would I recommend this set?  Absolutely.  Whether you love the characters or not, these specials will warm your heart during a cold time of the year.  There are laughs, tender moments, and good messages.  Really, isn’t that what it takes to make a good holiday special?  While I will probably never consider them classics, I’ll certainly enjoy rewatching them during December each year.  And today’s kids, who love these characters, will adore them.

So if you like the characters, get the Dreamworks Holiday Collection today.  You’ll be very glad you did.

NOTE: I was sent this set in exchange for my honest review.

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 3-4 - Nasty Habits

Don't you hate it when life gets in the way of your fun?  I had to take care of stuff in real life, so I didn't get to watch Once Upon a Time until tonight.  Then again, maybe that wasn't so bad since it means I only have to wait six days until the next episode.

This is likely to be a short recap.  We shall see.  (I always think that….)  Not because there wasn't a lot going on (I think it's my favorite of the season so far) but because I'm short on time.

Our flashback featured Bae and Rumplestiltskin back when they were in Enchanted Forest.  Bae is basically held captive in their home, and he doesn't like it.  He wants to go out and make friends, but Rumple doesn't want to let him go since he is afraid of what others might do to him.

But one day he returns home to find Bae has gone.  He magically traces him to a village, but they are also missing their children.  The Pied Piper has arrived in Once Upon a Time.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: Death Al Dente by Leslie Budewitz (Food Lovers's Village Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some good elements
Cons: Balanced by equally weak elements
The Bottom Line:
Some elements work
But many still needed work
Average debut

Festive Murder

I keep hearing about new cozy series that sound good, so I keep giving them tries.  Unfortunately, not all of them are the great series starters I’m hoping to find.  (Like I need another new series to read).  The latest series I’ve tried is the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries which debuted with Death Al Dente.  I could see some potential there, but it didn’t wow me.

Erin Murphy has returned to her hometown of Jewel Bay, Montana, to help run the family business along side her mother Fresca.  She has big plans for Murphy's Mercantile, aka The Merc, including partnering with local merchants to market and sell stuff grown and made in Montana.

Since returning several months ago, Erin has been organizing the first annual Fiesta di Pasta, a new event to draw tourists to the area at the beginning of summer.  The Merc and the neighboring bar are hosting the opening night festivities, but when Erin steps out the back gate, she finds Claudette dead in the ally.  Claudette had been an employee at The Merc until several months ago.  Why would someone want her dead?  When the rumor mill and the police, led by Erin’s high school best friend, start focusing on Fresca, Erin realizes she must find the killer in order to keep the family business running.

The pacing of this novel was off.  There were some twists and interesting clues.  However, we also got pages of Erin rehashing these clues trying to figure everything out and not getting anywhere.  Meanwhile, she’d come up with a list of questions, but then not have a chance to ask them next time she saw her suspect.  There were also several sub-plots which could have used better development.

Likewise, the characters show promise but could be better.  Erin and a couple of others were good, and I cared for them.  But there were just too many supporting players, and I struggled to keep them all straight.  They would just all blend together without much to make them memorable.

Even the setting suffered a little.  When we were out in nature, Montana came alive and I was ready to hop on a plane to go visit.  However, the village seemed a bit less defined to me.

If your mouth waters at the Italian food served early in the book, you’ll be happy to find many recipes in the back of the book to help you create a multi-course Italian feast.

Am I glad I read Death Al Dente?  Yes because it sounded fun and I was curious about it.  However, it really needed a bit more polish to truly be a great debut.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Music Review: The Glorious Unfolding by Steven Curtis Chapman

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Songs of encouragement and hope
Cons: “Michael and Maria,” last few songs run together
The Bottom Line:
Songs to life spirits
No matter what your challenge
Classic Steven sound

Steven Curtis Chapman Shines Light on the Hope of the Glorious Unfolding

It’s been a number of years since Steven Curtis Chapman released a new CD of regular music.  A lot of that has had to do with him coming to terms with the tragedy in his life of his daughter’s fatal accident.  But the lessons he has learned come through loud and clear in this, his eighteenth studio recording, The Glorious Unfolding.

If there is one message that comes through in this disc, it is hope.  Steven sings time and time again about how God will take any situation and circumstance and work through it.  At times, I get the feeling that these truths are meant as much for him as us.  But I’m okay with that.  I find lessons from someone who still struggles much easier to accept than lessons from someone who has something like this mastered.

If you are at all familiar with Steven’s music, you pretty much know what to expect here.  We’ve got guitar based pop with some piano based songs thrown in for good measure.  We never get beyond mid-tempo on this disc, but it’s only at the end where the songs blend together at all.

The disc opens with the title track, a souring anthem that reminds us that what we are facing is not God’s final word in our lives.  Instead, it is part of a much bigger picture.

Our response to knowing God is still working in dark times is to “Take Another Step.”  This song draws a parallel involving a marching band on a day that goes from sunlight to darkness and reminds us to keep marching.  The beat on this one makes it a steady marching song as well, and the call to faith is great.  Admittedly the chorus is very simple, and at first I didn’t like the song because of that, but after a few listens, I really grew to like it.

There are some songs that fall outside of the main theme, like “Love Take Me Over.”  This is a call to action to spread God’s love to others, and yet it acknowledges that we need to let God fill us up before we can fill up others with his love.  This is also the first single and a fun pop song.

“Only One and Only You” is a song written for his middle school daughter to remind her how special she is despite what she sees in the mirror.  It’s a very melodic song although the rhythm takes a couple listens to fully appreciate.

Then there’s the latest song written for his wife Mary Beth.  "Together" a wonderful testament to their 29 year marriage and how God has helped them weather all that life throws at you.  It gives full honor to God for it, but it also talks in general terms about the good and bad in life.  The piano and strings on this song are beautiful together.

Speaking of the bad you experience in life, there are two songs about people he’s lost in recent years.  Of these, I prefer “See You in a Little While,” a song to his grandmother.  It focuses on the hope of Heaven and being reunited with those we love there.  It’s a light, mid-tempo song.  On the other hand, there’s “Michael and Maria.”  This one focuses a bit more on loss, and it feels slower although I don’t think it is that much slower than the first.  Frankly, I think this one could have been left off.  Either that, or at least fill us in on who Michael is (assuming Maria is his daughter, of course).

As I mentioned earlier, the last few songs are also a drag on the CD.  They are slow tempoed and run together a bit.  It’s a shame because there are some good songs individually, like “Feet of Jesus.”

Still, overall this fan is happy to have some new music from Steven Curtis Chapman.  Like many of his other projects, I know I’ll be listening to The Glorious Unfolding for years to come.

CD Length: 47:47
1. Glorious Unfolding
2. Love Take Me Over
3. Take Another Step
4. Something Beautiful
5. Finish What He Started
6. Only One and Only You
7. See You in a Little While
8. A Little More Time to Love
9. Sound of Your Voice
10. Together
11. Michael and Maria
12. Feet of Jesus

Weekly TV Recap for October 19th

I am watching way too much TV right now.  Here are some quick thoughts on the shows I didn't do full recaps for.

Amazing Race – I felt so sorry for those guys.  They did the right thing but got hit with tons of bad luck.  It seemed like every flight they were on was delayed due to mechanical difficulty.  And they tried to work around it only to hit more snags and more snags.  Definitely not how they deserved to go out.

Dancing with the Stars – Yes, my mouth dropped when they revealed who was leaving.  I was expecting Leah to be leaving all along.  She’s trying hard, I get that, but she’s not as strong a dancer as the others and despite her obvious anger, she is getting scores she deserves.

Survivor - For some reason, I was expecting the switch up of teams to happen this week, but I'm glad it didn't so the family members could at least win once.  But having people switch it up next week will be very interesting.  The family member thing has really changed the dynamics this season, and I like it.

Arrow - This is why I love this show.  When done right, the characters are so great, and you truly feel for them as they go through impossibly situations like this.  And that ending?  Must we really have cliffhangers like that so early back into the season?

The Big Bang Theory - I'm not sure I'd say anything in the episode was original.  They've had jokes like those many times before.  And yet it was still so funny.  The best scene, however, was Sheldon, the pictures, and the monkey.

The Crazy Ones - I don't know what it is about laugh tracks that make sitcoms funnier to me.  I'm so close to laughing at this show, but it never quite happens.  Still, it is amusing.

The Michael J. Fox Show - This one keeps growing on me every week.  Not laugh out loud funny, but I'm liking the characters and getting a few chuckles out of it.

White Collar - Was it just me, or was getting Peter out of prison a little too easy?  Oh, I know this criminal is going to blackmail Neal all season, but still, I was expecting at least an episode of getting him out of jail.  And the dynamic between the two is still off.  Hope that is resolved soon.

Covert Affairs - Looks like we've still got some building to do, and I was expecting more bang right out of the gate.  We certainly got bang at the end of the episode, however.

Friday, October 18, 2013

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland 1-2 - Trust Me

And this is the reason I don’t give up on a show after just one episode.  I enjoyed the second episode of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland so much more than the pilot last week.  It was probably because I didn’t feel that I knew what was going to happen thanks to previews that told too much of the story.

While the show does have flashbacks, it doesn’t quite have the same level of flashbacks that the original show does.  For example, we learn early on that Cyrus, the genie, used to live in Agrabah.  When Jafar showed up at the store of his former master, the master panicked and wished Cyrus far away.  That’s how he and his bottle wound up in Wonderland.

But that was just one scene.  We did see scenes of Cyrus and Alice meeting and falling in love.  They started hanging out so Cyrus could show Alice all she could wish for, but soon they fell in love.  Cyrus tried to send her away, but she promised to never use her wishes so they could be together.  We also learned that wishing for a genie’s freedom is messy – so just wishing for his freedom would have more of the unintended consequences that come with wishes.

So let’s talk current timeline, shall we?

October 18th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Yeah!  Time for another Book Beginnings and Friday 56 to close out the week.

This week's book is Death Al Dente, the first in a new mystery series by Leslie Budewitz.  I just finished the book this evening and am hoping to have my review up tomorrow night after work.

But in the mean time, here's how it begins:

"Who put these huckleberry chocolates on the front counter?" I grabbed the stack of purple boxes crammed with gooey huckleberry-filled chocolate wannabes swathed in purple foil and shoved them onto an open shelf on the side wall next to the herbal snoose.

And from page 56 we find:

I wanted to share the Pinsky's conviction that the killer would be found, and I didn't doubt Kim's abilities.  But I could not forget - as no one in my family did - that some deaths were never explained.

Maybe I've been reading too many cozy debuts too close together, but this one didn't stand out.  There were some things I think could be great, but for the most part it felt average to me.  More in the full review tonight.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

TV Recap: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1-4 - Eye-Spy

When you have a friend who wants to stop by and hang out, you skip your TV shows to do that.  Which explains why I am just getting my recap done.

I know some people raved about this week’s episode.  I didn’t see the big deal.  In fact, it might be my least favorite so far.  But maybe my expectations were just too high.

The episode starts with a diamond theft.  There were a bunch of different men carrying briefcases – only one of which had the diamonds in it.  And yet somehow, someone still stole them.

Using surveillance, they find their suspect, and she happens to be a former SHIELD agent, in fact, Coulson trained her himself.  Everyone thought she was dead after an accident.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ornament Review: Twelve Days of Christmas 2 Pack - 2013 Hallmark Ornament Set

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Two beautiful ornaments at original box price
Cons: Does hurt secondary value of those with original release
The Bottom Line:
Restarting twelve days
With two stunning ornaments
Don’t miss it this time

Rare Opportunity to Start a Series Two Years Later

In 2013, Hallmark did something they haven’t done in decades – re-release the first two ornaments in one of their official series.  Oh, they’ve re-released some ornaments or released ornaments as repaints, but what they did with the catch up release for the Twelve Days Of Christmas was unique.

This set features the Partridge in a Pear Tree and the Two Turtle Doves, the two entries in this series that have been released over the last two years.  Since this is year three of the series, you can buy Three French Hens separately and be all up to date.  While Two Turtle Doves is identical to the one released last year, the copyright date on the Partridge is 2013.  That’s a small conciliation to the collectors who did buy the original release in 2011 since the value of their ornament will fall as a result of this set.

The ornaments themselves are stunning.  There’s a reason this is my favorite series going at Hallmark right now.  The Partridge is done in dark blue, tan, and light green while the Turtle Doves are more of the light purple and pink and their bodies wind around each other.  The wings on both ornaments feature musical notes, and the words of their verse in the song on written on their bodies in calligraphy.  Each ornament has a dangle element as well – a pear for the Partridge and a heart for the Turtle Doves.

These are definitely not for everyone, and I can see why people might be put off by the series.  They are not your traditional birds in coloring or design.  In fact, when I saw the first picture of the first one, I didn’t like it.  However, when I saw him in person, I changed my mind in two seconds.  These ornaments are stunning in person.  The design elements gives them a decoupage flair that you wouldn’t expect but actually does work.  Instead of being realistic, they go for the artistic.  And the results really do work well.

Because of the dangle, these ornaments are designed to be hung only.  However, they both hang straight or at least straight enough that only the most picky would notice they aren’t hanging straight.

And don’t worry.  These two ornaments are the only ones that will have the correct number to go with the song.  The rest of the ornaments in the series will feature one of the gift in question.

With two ornaments in one box, the ornaments come in plastic.  I was glad to see this since I always worry I will break the wings off these birds when I wrap them up at the end of the year.  Frankly, I’d like to see the rest of the series encased in plastic inside their boxes.

Of course, Hallmark breaking their own tradition hasn’t been without controversy.  Many people feel betrayed by Hallmark because their collectible is now worth less.  I can see that side of the argument.  However, I tend to side with those who think it is a good thing in the long run.  If we can get more people to buy the series, sales will be stronger on the overall series for the nine years that are left.  Then again, I bought a set myself, meaning I’ll be getting two every year until it ends.

So if you’ve missed out on this series, now’s your chance to start it today with the Twelve Days Of Christmas Two Pack without paying the high secondary market value.  You’ll be thrilled you did in the years to come as the beautiful series continues.

Of course, you'll need to get all of the 12 Days of Christmas series.

Original Price: $25.95

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TV Recap: Castle 6-4 - Number One Fan

After last week’s episode, I read an interview with Stana Katic, aka Beckett, that talks about the path Beckett would have to take before she got back to police work.  I now feel misled since the particular path that Beckett was traveling seems to be wrapped up already.

And the path to Beckett getting her job back?  It starts with a woman desperately trying to gather stuff up from her apartment.  There’s a dead man on the floor and the police are pounding on the door.  She grabs a gun, stuffs it in her purse, and leaves, but she is chased until she runs into a dental office and takes five people hostage.

Cut to Beckett and Castle in bed, only this time they are in the same bed.  It’s morning, and Beckett is trying to figure out what she will do now that she doesn’t have a job.  She can’t go back to the 12th thanks to a hiring freeze.  Castle’s suggestion that she not work since they are going to get married and they don’t need the income is not welcome.  As he is backtracking, Pi walks into the room clad only in a towel looking for one of Castle’s razors.  Then Martha walks in to announce her combat class for her acting studio has been moved to the living room starting in 15 minutes.  Then Alexis walks in.  As Beckett and Castle are talking about spending the night at her place (I guess she still has her place in New York after all), Alexis announces that Captain Gates is on the phone.  For Castle.

Naturally, both of them go down to see what is up.  The woman who has taken the people hostage is demanding to talk to Castle.  He tries negotiating with her over the phone, but she won’t talk because the police are listening.  Castle agrees to go in if she will release two hostages, a mother and child.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: The Chocolate Book Bandit by JoAnna Carl (Chocoholic Mysteries #13)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Enjoyable characters and mystery
Cons: I wish we’d see more of the supporting characters
The Bottom Line:
A tasty morsel
Twists, danger, and chocolate
What more could you want?

Lee’s Considering Joining a Committee to take the Place of a…Dead Woman?

By the time a series has reached book 13, it’s hard to find new things to say about it.  That’s the case with The Chocolate Book Bandit.  All fans really need to know is they’ll enjoy this one.  But if you want to know a little more than that, read on.

The series takes place in Warner Pier, Michigan, a resort town on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Our heroine is Lee Woodyard, who keeps the books for her aunt’s gourmet chocolate shop.  It sounds like a nice, safe life, right?  Not when Lee gets stumbling into dead bodies.

In a small town, the willing are always being asked to join various committees, and Lee is no exception.  She’s currently considering taking a spot on the library committee.  It’s a mostly advisory role, but before she takes the spot, Lee wants to observe a meeting.

Abigail Montgomery is the woman who is stepping down from the board, but when she doesn’t show up for the meeting, her body is found in the basement of the library.  Everyone seems to think of her as a quiet, reserved woman.  What might she have done to get herself killed?

These books are always light, fast reads, and this one is no exception.  At only 227 pages, there’s really only room for the main plot and a sub-plot involving Lee and her husband Joe.  Honestly, the sub-plot was okay, although I did like how it was resolved.  The mystery is the main focus, however, and it moves forward at a steady fast with revelations and twists until we reach a logical conclusion.

Lee, Joe, and the suspects are well developed.  Sadly, the supporting players seem to fade further into the background with each book.  Some get a scene, and some just get a mention.  I really wish they were given more page time.  I’d be willing to read a longer book to get an added sub-plot with more of them.  Anyway, the characters we do see are developed enough to care about the outcome.  Lee’s “tongue tangles” are around a bit more in this book, but it actually does tie in to the story.

These are always fast reads, and I flew through this one is a lazy weekend.  In stead of recipes, there are several “Chocolate Chats” as always, this talk talking about potential health benefits of chocolate.

Speaking of which, this book is sure to make your mouth water, especially when Lee is talking about some of the chocolate they make.  Don’t start this one the first day of a diet.

But if you are a fan of the series, you’ll enjoy the latest outing.  For the most part, these can be read in any order, so pick up The Chocolate Book Bandit today and enjoy.

If you are looking for earlier books, check out the Chocoholic Mysteries in order.