Friday, January 31, 2014

Music Review: Thrive by Casting Crowns

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Powerful lyrics and fun music to encourage and challenge
Cons: A couple songs are okay but don't completely speak to me
The Bottom Line:
Masterful release
Casting Crowns still delivers
Music to touch heart

Casting Crowns Thrives with Their New Release

I have been hooked on Casting Crowns since their self-title debut a decade or so ago.  Their lyrics have amazing abilities to challenge me and uplift me.  I've heard it argued that their lyrics aren't necessarily anything new, but something in how they write touches me.  And that continues with Thrive.

The disc starts out with the title track and what it is easy to argue is the theme of the disc.  In this song, lead vocalist Mark Hall sings of our need to be plugged into God because He is the one who will sustain us in the world so we can do more than just survive.  I'll admit it's not a terribly deep song, but it is a fun mid-tempo anthem that really starts the disc off right.  And the choir that sings much of the chorus is a fun addition, too.

It might be a stretch to say how all the rest of the songs on the disc fit into this theme, but it is easy with many of them.  There are songs of encouragement - an easy fit.  And yes, they do include some of those songs of challenge as well.  Honestly, for some of these it is easy to argue that if we are not living in God's word, we won't be able to thrive.  In fact, while they don't say it outright, that's the theme of the closer for sure.  But we'll get there in a moment.

"All You've Ever Wanted" is a typical Casting Crowns anthem.  It's piano driven but clearly supported by the rest of the band.  This is a song of confession where Mark sings about the desire to live the Christian life on his own strength when all God is really looking for is our heart.  He's already done all we need, which is a pretty powerful reminder.

I really love "Just Be Held."  They're entering mid-tempo ballad territory here.  The song is written from God's point of view as He tells us to just let Him hold us during the storms of life.  I especially love the line from the chorus, "Your worlds not falling apart it's falling into place."  I do love songs about trusting God, and this falls into that camp.  It's a powerful reminder of just who God truly is and should be in our lives.

Another powerful song is "This is Now."  The song is written from Peter's point of view after he's denied Jesus and is struggling with what he's done.  What is really amazing about this is the third verse when Jesus counters Peter's thoughts and puts his betrayal in the past.  It's a great reminder of just how much Jesus loves and forgives us.

Along similar lines is "Follow Me," a song that one of the women in the group sings.  It looks at many of the lives Jesus touched while on the Earth and the power of his love and forgiveness.  You have to really pay attention to the lyrics as each verse starts out with a few lines from the person and then Jesus' response, yet when you pay attention, it's a beautiful song.

Encouragement of another kind comes in "Dream for You."  Written from God's point of view, it looks at how He had much bigger plans for David and Mary than they were dreaming.  The idea that God can give us more than we could ever dream is very special.  And it doesn't hurt that this song is very fun and upbeat with a great guitar lead instrument.  The choir is back for the chorus.  Matthew West actually co-wrote several songs on the disc, and this is one of them.  His fans will definitely notice the influence in the lyrics and song style.  I could see this on one of his discs as easily as it fits in here.

Along similar lines is "Heroes."  It's a song that offers encouragement to those who are living with struggles in their daily lives yet choosing to do the right thing and live for God in the midst of trials and persecution.  How is it the same?  To me it feels like the flip side of the coin.  While "Dream for You" is about God taking the ordinary and making it something more than the person dreamed, "Heroes" reminds us that doing the right thing for the right reasons is still following God.  As the bridge says, "You may never know their names/But they're moving mountains just the same."  It makes me want to tackle a few mountains in my own life.

Not every song on the disc speaks to me, but even the lesser ones have their good qualities.  "Broken Together" speaks to the idea that all marriages are between two sinful people.  While the one pictured here is obviously very broken, the idea that the two would come back together and build something from the lives of two broken people is beautiful.  It's definitely one of the slower songs on the disc.  Probably it's because I'm single, but it doesn't grab me quite like the others.

Then there's "House of Their Dreams."  It pictures a family drifting apart by sin and the busyness of life.  I like the chorus, but somehow the verses seemed labored, but maybe that's just me.  And when I say that, I mean both musically and lyrically.  This is another of the slow songs, and it just seems that Mark is speaking more than singing.  That impression is probably helped by the fact that there is minimal piano and even less guitar behind him on the verses.  I will admit I like the third verse although it still suffers from the same musical problems the first two do.

Earlier, I mentioned challenge in some of Casting Crowns songs, and there are two that definitely fit that category here.  The first is "Love You with the Truth," a song that reminds us if we truly love our unsaved family and friends we will be speaking the truth of the Gospel to them.  However, I love the line from the chorus, "I'm not pointing my finger, I'm holding out my hand."  Too often, we can do just the opposite (please say that isn't just me), so this is a good reminder of how we should approach those we care about who are still trapped in sin.

Speaking of being trapped in sin, the disc closes with "Waiting on the Night to Fall," an extended word picture of the old man of sin waiting for a chance to drag us back into sin.  Talk about convicting and powerful!  It's a serious warning wrapped in a slow and thoughtful power ballad that compliments Mark's vocals perfectly.  You can really hear the strings on this one as the song grows in intensity.

While there are a couple of songs that don't grab me, even they have their moments.  Overall, this is one of Casting Crown's best releases.  If you are a fan, rush out to get Thrive.  And if you haven't given them a chance yet, this might be the perfect disc to change your mind.

CD Length: 51:24
1. Thrive
2. All You've Ever Wanted
3. Just Be Held
4. You are the Only One
5. Broken Together
6. Love You with the Truth
7. This is Now
8. Dream for You
9. Follow Me
10. Heroes
11. House of Their Dreams
12. Waiting on the Night to Fall

Series Reading Update - January

One month into the series challenge, and I actually did pretty well this month.  I got at least one book in each of the 5 series I've chosen read.  Again, here's my initial post.

Anyway, the books read for the challenge this month are:

Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames
Murder with Ganache by Lucy Burdette
You Cannoli Die Once by Shelley Costa
Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay
New Lands by Geoff Rodkey

And yes, the links take you to my reviews.

From here on out, progress will likely slow way down.  Only two of those series have more than one book left I need to read.  The rest I will read as the next book comes out, which is April, May, and June.  But I feel good about getting this good a start on things.

January 31st's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Can you believe it's the last day of January already?  Me neither.

Anyway, it's Friday, which means it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  And I've got a two for one special this week.  Teasers from two books for the price of one post because that's how many books I've been working on this week.

Up first is Cloche and Dagger, the first Hat Shop Mystery by Jenn McKinlay.  And it starts out with:

"Scarlett Elizabeth Parker, put down the MoonPie and listen to me," Vivian Tremont ordered.

I held my cell phone away from my ear and frowned at it. How could my cousin who was almost five thousand miles away and in another country know I was eating a MoonPie?

And from page 56 we get:

There was no reply, which was not a big surprise, which I took to mean that I wasn't completely around the bend just yet.

Intrigued?  If so, please check out my review which I posted yesterday.

The other book is the book I'm currently reading, NYPD Puzzle by Parnell Hall.  It's the latest in his Puzzle Lady series and features several crossword puzzles and Sudoku that are part of the plot.  And it begins with:

"Want a job?"
Cora Felton eyed Becky Baldwin suspiciously.  "What kind of job?"
"A little detective work?"

And, jumping ahead to page 56:

The black sedan hadn't followed them past the pumps, but on the far side of the station, a car was idling in the shadows.

I'm enjoying this book.  The series can be hit or miss, but this one is pretty good.  I hope to finish it today, in fact.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book Review: Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay (Hat Shop Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters pull you into the book
Cons: Mystery aspect unevenly paced
The Bottom Line:
Uneven pacing
In otherwise fun debut
Will visit again

Scarlett’s Off to England and Danger

Among the names of cozy authors I really need to spend more time reading is Jenn McKinlay.  Yes, I read one of her cupcake books last year, but she has so many series out, catching up is a bit overwhelming.  That’s why I latched on to Cloche and Dagger, the first in her new hat shop series.  I can see why she is so popular, although I did have an issue with the book.

When Scarlett’s break up with her jerk of a boyfriend goes viral and she loses her job, even she has to agree her life is in the loo.  So when her cousin Vivian suggests that she move to London and help run the hat shop they inherited from their grandmother, she agrees.

Just a few days later, Scarlett arrives only to be met by a stranger instead of Vivian.  Seems Vivian has up and disappeared, and most everyone else that Scarlett talks to about it chalks it up to Vivian’s flighty artistic nature.  Scarlett has a bad feeling about it, however, a feeling that only grows when one of their clients is murdered.  With few friends and resources in London, can Scarlett figure out what is going on?

This may be a debut, but the author obviously knows how to create her characters.  Scarlett is a very strong lead I identified with right away.  The other characters she meets along the way are just as well developed, and I loved spending time with them.

I enjoyed spending time with them so much that it took me a while to realize the story was progressing rather slowly.  Yes, things were happening, but Scarlett was much more of a reactionary character much of the time than I like in a lead.  Eventually, she does start trying to figure out what is happening, and I enjoyed that, but I wish the pacing had been better overall.

Of course, one reason I was drawn to the book despite the slow mystery was the other things happening.  There’s Scarlett trying to get her bearings in an area she hasn’t visited for years, make new friends, figure out the business on her own, etc.  Those made for interesting reading, again because I really liked the characters.

The writing is polished and assured.  The pages flew by, and I was always reluctant to put the book down when I had to get back to my real life.

I liked the characters so much I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel to Cloche and Dagger.  If the pacing had been better, I would have given this book a very enthusiastic 5 stars.

You'll want to move on to the rest of the Hat Shop Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ornament Review: O Come All Ye Faithful - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good looking church and a fun sound clip
Cons: Windows don’t light up
The Bottom Line:
Christmas Eve service
In a classic looking church
Begins with organ

The Faithful Gather on Christmas Eve in this Stone Church

Since I was a fan of Hallmark’s Candlelight Services series, it was an easy choice to start the unofficial series of churches sculpted by Don Palmiter.  While not part of the official series which ended in 2009, these three churches certainly fit the mold and include a touch of Hallmark magic to boot.  2013’s entry, O Come All Ye Faithful, was a delightful addition with one difference.

This year’s church is an old fashioned stone church.  You can easily picture this church being one of the first buildings built in a colonist settlement.  It's gray with a brown roof and a cross on the front.  As you'd imagine, there is snow on the ground and a little on the roof.  The snow includes glitter, so it does sparkle, with is nice.  There is, of course, a walk way leading to the front door.

Like the other two that Don has done, this ornament features a sound clip.  Based on the title of the ornament, I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count.  No, we don’t get a choir singing, but we do get a nice organ version of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  It sounds like a call to worship or prelude to a Christmas Eve service.  To play the sound clip, you’ll need to install two button size batteries in the bottom of the ornament.  The song lasts about 25 seconds and actually starts with a bell ringing, which just adds to the call to worship feel.

Now here’s where the ornament surprised me when I first got it home.  All the others, both in the official series and in Don’s unofficial continuation, contained windows that would light up if you connected the church to a light string.  This ornament doesn’t have that.  No, it was never advertised that it did, and if I had known, I would not have been surprised when I opened the ornament.  Still, it is disappointing because that is one of my favorite aspects of the series.  The windows are yellow, so they do already feel like they are glowing, but some light coming from inside would really add to the feeling.

The base of this ornament is nice and flat, which is perfect for displaying.  Personally, I displayed mine with the rest of my churches in the series on my TV stand.  It really looked like it fit in except for the windows.

If you want to hang the ornament, you’ll find the loop on the back of the belfry.  Even with it being so far in the front of the ornament, it hangs perfectly straight.

Despite the lack of glowing windows, I do still like O Come All Ye Faithful.  I just wish it fully matched the rest of the official and unofficial series.

While not an official part of the series, check out the ornaments in the Candlelight Services series.

Original Price: $19.95

Waiting on Wednesday for January 29th

It's been a couple of months, but I'm back with another Waiting on Wednesday.

This week's book is City of Darkness and Light, the latest Molly Murphy mystery by Rhys Bowen.

This is a historical mystery series set in the very early 1900's.  Usually the action takes place in New York City, but this book will find Molly and her new baby need to get out of town, so they are heading to stay with Molly's dear friends Sid and Gus.  Sid and Gus just happen to be staying in Paris soaking up the artist scene over there.  It sounds great since the mob might be coming after Molly's husband Daniel since he just arrested some big members.

However, when Molly and her baby get to Paris, they find themselves in just as much danger.  And since Sid and Gus aren't around, Molly is on her own in a new city.

I love this city because it is a time machine.  From page one until I reach the end, I'm 100 years in the past.  I'll miss New York City this time around, but I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens to Molly in Paris.

The book's release date is March 4th, but I'm lucky enough to have gotten an ARC, so my review will be up in two or three weeks.  Stay tuned to see what I thought.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Movie Review: Percy Jackson - Sea of Monsters

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Acting, some effects, fun story
Cons: Many changes from book, some effects
The Bottom Line:
Changes from book will
Annoy series fans but still
Entertaining film

"You Want to Go on a Quest.  It Must be Thursday."

It’s been several years since I read the second book in the Percy Jackson series.  In fact, I read it not too long after the first movie came out.  And considering how close the original book and movie were (not very), I didn’t bother rereading the book before seeing Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.  I’m sure that was a wise decision.

Now, if you are new to the franchise completely, you would actually be okay to jump in here.  There are really two prologs to the movie, one that gives the back story and one that sets up some of the action in this movie.  Briefly, Percy is a demigod, specifically the son of Poseidon.  He lives in modern day New York State, but there are plans afoot to over throw the gods of Mount Olympus….

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is settling into his new life at Camp Half-Blood, the only safe place for demigods.  Or so they think.  One night at dinner, the camp is attacked by a mechanical bull, and the campers discover that the tree that protects the camp has been poisoned.

Percy’s friend Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) is certain that only one thing can save the tree and their camp – the mythical Golden Fleece.  Even though their nemesis in the camp, Clarisse (Leven Rambin), is sent out on the quest to find it, Percy, Annabeth, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), and Percy’s half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith) sneak out and attempt to find it on their own.  The last known location was in the Sea of Monsters, better known to us mortals as the Bermuda Triangle.  But when their paths cross with an old foe, the quest takes on an even more urgent tone.  Can they find the fleece in time?

I remember enough of the book that I can already hear fans of the series screaming out about the inconsistencies.  The only one that really annoyed me was Tyson.  He’s a Cyclops, and the book makes it clear that, while not full grown, he is bigger than Percy and the others.  Here, he’s the same size.  They also changed a certain prophecy since the gap between movies being released in real life has made the original timing from the books impossible.

Basically, just know this.  If you watch this movie, pretend the book never existed and you’ll be fine.  Otherwise, you’ll just be nitpicking apart the film from start to finish.  The book is not fresh enough in my mind to do that, which I think is probably a huge blessing.

But if you are able to watch this as a film itself, you’ll certainly enjoy it.  After a bit of a slow start, things quickly pick up.  The moment our heroes leave on the quest, the story really gets interesting, and it held my attention until the end.  There are several good action sequences and twists to keep anyone entertained.

I do wonder, however, how they will handle the climax of this movie and the plot of the next book if the movie franchise goes forward.  In attempts to wrap some things up in case the movie series doesn't continue, they might also be writing themselves into a corner.

I found it interesting that most of the adult actors changed between movies.  That meant we get to see the likes of Nathan Fillion and Anthony Stewart Head in roles others played last time.  I didn’t mind; in fact, I enjoyed seeing them in the movie.  The main cast (Percy and his friends) are the same.  Everyone does a good job with the acting.

However, let’s talk special effects.  As you might imagine, the monsters make the film rather effects heavy.  Some work, but for the most part you can tell that the characters are interacting with something fake.  The opening scene, in fact, looks so fake even the actors looked CGI to me.  On the other hand, Tyson’s one eye face was spectacular.  Revolting but spectacular.  And some other sequences in the film were just as much fun because of good effects.

In the end, yes I recommend Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.  It is a fun pop corn flick that kids and their parents can enjoy together.  Just don’t expect much faithfulness to the book and you’ll be just fine.

What's on My Nightstand - January 2014

Can you believe it's already time for the first What on Your Nightstand of 2014?  Me neither.

I just finished up Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames and posted my review earlier today.  It was a fun culinary cozy, and I'll definitely be reading more in the series since one of my goals for the year is to get caught up.

I've actually got quite a few cozies lined up to read this next month.  I went from that one to Cloche and Dagger, the first in a hat shop mystery series by Jenn McKinlay.  This book is actually set in London, and it's been very fun.  I hope to finish it today and have my review up on Thursday.  I'll definitely be grabbing the sequel in May.

After that comes NYPD Puzzle, the latest Puzzle Lady mystery by Parnell Hall then Killing Cupid by Laura Levine, the latest in her Jaine Austen mystery series.

This will keep me out of trouble for a few days anyway.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review: Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames (Cheese Shop Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and mostly strong plot
Cons: Slows down a bit in the middle
The Bottom Line:
Fundraising murder
Gets Charlotte out of cheese shop
For reading pleasure

That Dead Body Wasn't on the Scavenger Hunt

I read the first book in The Cheese Shop Mysteries not too long after it came out.  That was back in 2010.  I remember enjoying it, so I have no idea why it has taken me four and a half years to get around to reading Lost and Fondue, the second in the series.  It definitely won't be as long until I read the next one.

On the outskirts of Providence, Ohio, is an old winery that hasn't been used in a long time.  Charlotte's best friend Meredith has decided to turn the Ziegler Winery into a college, and she's throwing a fund raiser to help with the cost.  Charlotte has been roped in to cater the event, including several different kinds of fondue.

One of the events is a scavenger hunt designed to get the guest exploring the entire house, something some of the guests love since they believe the rumors that there is a fortune hidden somewhere inside.  However, as it is almost over, Charlotte stumbles on a dead body in the basement.  When the police focus on a friend, Charlotte feels the need to find the real killer.  But what do the strange clues felt behind mean?

Because it had been so long since I read the first book, I was pretty much coming to this book new when it came to the characters.  As a result, I did feel a bit overwhelmed at first since there is a large cast of both recurring characters and suspects.  However, that feeling didn't last long as the author did a good job of introducing everyone and making them stand out from one another.  I grew to like most of them, especially Charlotte.  She is a strong main character.  Her weakness seems to be her love interest.  I'm conflicted when it comes to Jordan, but I'm hoping that will be ironed out as the series progresses.

The plot was strong with several viable suspects and some very puzzling clues.  I loved how Charlotte figured things out at the end, but until then I had no clue what was going on.  I did feel the book dragged a bit in the middle, but it wasn't for very long.

There were several sub-plots that were fun even if they didn't add much to the mystery.  They certainly helped round out the characters.  One sub-plot introduces a character we love to hate.  In fact, I was expecting her to be the murder victim, but it would probably provide too much trauma for some of the secondary characters, so I'm willing to let her just be a constant throne in the side of the heroes.

And there are five recipes in the back of the two, including two fondue and one quiche recipe.  That's on top of the mouth watering cheese descriptions spread throughout the book.  I claim to be a cheese lover, and all this book has shown me is that I need to expand my cheese pallet beyond cheddar (the sharper the better).

So grab a plate of cheese and sit down for an enjoyable read.  It won't be nearly as long before I go back to revisit Charlotte and her friends.  I just wish I'd read Lost and Fondue sooner.

I won't be waiting as long before I read more of the Cheese Shop Mysteries in order.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ornament Review: Pirates of the Caribbean - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfectly captures logo, great sound clip
Cons: It means hanging a skull on your Christmas tree
The Bottom Line:
Thar be pirates here
Celebrate with ornament
Enjoy the sound clip

A Pirate’s Life for Your Tree

I seem to keep buying Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ornaments from Hallmark.  While I enjoy the ride and the movies, I wouldn’t have considered myself nearly as big as fan of the series as I guess I am.  The 2013 release was another one I just couldn’t resist.

This ornament is the logo from the movies.  That means I’ve got a skull hanging on my Christmas tree.  The ornament is mainly a grinning skull wearing a red bandana with a couple of baubles hanging from it.  One of the baubles is attached to the rest of the ornament, but the other is dangling.  Behind the skull are two swords crossed to form an X.

This is a strange choice for a Christmas ornament, I must confess. It would be more logical if I decorated for Halloween, but since I don’t do that, I’m stuck with hanging it on my Christmas tree.  I guess it’s the DisNerd in me that was so excited to get this one I honestly didn’t care if it fit the spirit of Christmas or not.  I was just excited to have it.  It looks just like the logo, which means it is a little creepy but still very fun.

Although the magic element certainly helps.  If you install the two button batteries (your first set is included), this ornament will play a clip of one of the main themes from the soundtrack of the films.  Just hit the button on the right side of the ornament and you’ll get 30 seconds of music.  It’s the main theme from the movie, and anyone who loves the movies would recognize it easily.

I must not have been the only one who enjoyed the combination because this was a fairly popular ornament.  Yes, some were more popular, but this was a rare one to find after Christmas.

Because this is a skull with two swords sticking out the bottom, it won’t stand.  You’ve got to hang it if you want to display it.  Fortunately, the loop in the top of the skull is in the perfect spot, and this one hangs straight with no trouble at all.

Fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise will want to track down this ornament.  It’s fun, and the music adds a great touch.  And if anyone comments on having a skull on your Christmas tree, just send the pirates after them.

Original Price: $17.95

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reading Challenge: 2014 Finishing the Series Reading Challenges

Somebody stop me before I sign up for another reading challenge.  Seriously.  But I've decided to tackle a couple of different series this year, so I'm signing up for two more challenges.

Fortunately, they pretty much work hand in hand, so you could say I'm only signing up for one more, really.  They are the 2014 Series Challenge and the 2014 Finishing the Series Reading Challenge.  You can follow the links to find out more, but the gist of each one is that you must finish one or more series during 2014.  The series must have at least 2 books in it by December of the year to count.  There are two main series that will actually make this a challenge and then several more I'm throwing on just because.

For the Series Challenge, I'm going for the silver level, which is 4-6 series.  For Finishing the Series, that makes me at Level 3, which is 3+ series.  And, unlike the others, I'm naming names right now, so here's the list of what I'm counting.  I'll come back and add links as I get them read.

The Cheese Shop Mysteries by Avery Aames:
1. The Long Quiche Goodbye (read in 2010)
2. Lost and Fondue
3. Clobbered by Camembert
4. To Brie or Not to Brie
5. Days of Wine and Roquefort

The Key West Food Critic Mysteries by Lucy Burdette:
1. An Appetite for Murder
2. Death in Four Courses
3. Topped Chef
4. Murder with Ganache
5. Death with All the Trimmings

Those are the main reason I am signing up for these challenges, but I figured as long as I'm at it, I might as well list a few other series I plan to read two books in this year.

Miracolo Mysteries by Shelley Costa:
1. You Cannoli Die Once
2. Basil Instinct

Hat Shop Mysteries by Jenn McKinlay:
1. Cloche and Dagger
2. Death of a Mad Hatter

Chronicles of Egg by Geoff Rodkey:
1. Deadweather and Sunrise (read in 2013)
2. New Lands
3. Blue Sea Burning

That's a lot of reading, so I'd better get busy.

Weekly TV Thoughts for January 25th

Intelligence – Now see this is what I was expecting from the show – a decent enough story but nothing too spectacular.  It was interesting enough to hold my interest, and I’ll probably give it one more episode before I decide for sure, but there wasn’t anything compelling about it like there was last week with the wife’s storyline.

Melissa & Joey – So Joey’s moved out just as they start their relationship.  I wonder how long that will last, but it will be fun to watch play out.  And yes, I’m back on board even though it took being drunk to get the main characters together, something that almost turned me off the show this last summer.

Arrow – I still feel like they are setting pieces into place for the rest of the season, but the threads are beginning to come together.  They did tie up a loose thread by killing off the dirty cop.  And they are positioning Ray to become the side kick.  I’m really going to enjoy watching the relationship develop.

psych – So I rewatched the original episode to fully appreciate this remake.  It was fun, although I’m not completely sure it was needed.  It did highlight now the antics of Shawn and Gus (but mainly Shawn) have gotten crazier over the years.  And yes, they did change the killer and motive.

The Michael J. Fox Show – Promo for the Olympics being on NBC much?  Still, it was worth the story line although my favorite was definitely the daughter and her pageant.  Watching everyone’s attitudes toward it change back and forth over the course of the episode was very funny.

White Collar – I wasn't surprised about the first shock at the end of the episode, and from there I knew what the final scene would be.  Doesn't mean I can't wait until next week.  And it's nice to have Diana back.  Just can't believe she missed most of the season (since the actress really was pregnant).  Season finale already next week?  Say it ain't so!

Enlisted – I was laughing multiple times at this one pretty hard.  Just the random silliness.  I felt like they were trying a bit too hard to put some heart into this episode.  But those last few seconds?  Pure comic gold.

Friday, January 24, 2014

January 24's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday.  And you don't know how happy that makes me.  So let's kick it off with Book Beginnings and Friday 56 for the week, shall we?

This week, I'm reading Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames.

And here's how the book starts:

"The Ziegler Winery will be the perfect site, Charlotte. So historic!" Meredith, my best friend since grade school, twirled in the middle of The Cheese Shop, arms spread wide, the flaps of her red raincoat fluting outward.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

Wolford, who stood beneath the arch leading to the dining room, said, "Is the treasure real?"

I'm about half way through the book, and I'm enjoying it so far.  Hoping to get the book finished this weekend and a review up early next week.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ornament Review: What Christmas is All About - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Looks good with a classic Peanuts sound clip
Cons: Not original voice clip, slight tip
The Bottom Line:
A classic moment
Captures with looks and sound clip
Ready for your tree

Linus’s Timeless Reminder of the True Meaning of Christmas

One of the classic moments from A Charlie Brown Christmas is when Linus gets up and recites the story of Jesus' birth from Luke 2.  In 2013, Hallmark captured that moment with their ornament What Christmas Is All About.

The ornament features Linus standing on a stage.  His hands are crossed and he is smiling, he’s obviously gotten to one of the parts about joy.  In fact, his security blanket is lying to one side behind Charlie Brown’s poor Christmas tree.

The ornament has a big oval base, which makes it perfect for setting out on display on any flat surface.  Across the front is the quote that was shortened to give this ornament its name, That’s What Christmas is All About, Charlie Brown.  The top of the base – the part Linus is standing on – resembles the floor of the stage with wood colored planks formed in the plastic.  The base is pink, which seems a little odd, yet it works for the ornament.

The ornament looks good and immediately draws the scene from the TV special to mind.  The look on Linus’s face is priceless as he is obviously contemplating the good news he is sharing with everyone.

But the real fun of this ornament is the sound clip.  To play it, you must have the two button batteries installed in the pocket in the base.  When you want to hear it, just press the button next to Linus.  You hear about 30 seconds of the quote from Luke.  It's not the entire passage, and it stops short of the title quote, but it's still fun.  Listening carefully, it's not the original voice from the special.  But they have a very good imitator doing it, and this fan doesn't really care.

The loop for hanging the ornament is located on the top of Linus’s head.  Because of the size, you’ll definitely want to make sure it is on a sturdy branch.  He tips a little forward and ever so slightly to the right.  However, I never noticed in the six weeks he was sitting on my tree this year.

So Peanuts fans will definitely want to get their hands on What Christmas Is All About.  It captures a moment that makes the TV special so beloved.

Original Price: $17.95

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Gladiator - A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption by Dan Clark

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Honest look at steroid use and the consequences
Cons: At times, the honesty leads to some uncomfortable scenes
The Bottom Line:
Dangers of steroids
As told by one who took them
Eye-opening truths

The Truth about Steroids from Someone Who Used

My interest in mud runs has come full circle now that I’ve read Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption.

See, my initial interest was sparked when mystery author Sue Ann Jaffarian signed up for and completed a mud run just as I was becoming a fan of her books.  It sounded like fun, and I figured if she could do it, I could do it.  Of course, while she did one, I started signing up for any I could find.  This was in 2010 when the boom of mud runs was really taking off.

One of the ones I found that year was Gladiator Rock ‘n Run.  In fact, I did the inaugural run in December of 2010 down in Irvine.  This particular mud run was founded by Dan Clark who played Nitro on the 90’s TV show American Gladiators.  This book is his memoir, and I probably never would have picked it up if it hadn’t been for the number of times I’ve done this particular mud run in various Southern California locations.

The book starts out with Dan’s childhood.  As a child, Dan Clark was very close with his older brother.  When that brother died tragically, he felt compelled to make something of himself.  His quest led him to football, but an injury could have sidelined him.

That’s when, at the age of eighteen, Dan heard about steroids, which promised to help heal him faster and help him build more muscle to be even better on the field.  When he saw the gains he wanted, he continued to take them, ignoring the warnings signs.  His massive size and desire for fame eventually led him to American Gladiators where he starred as Nitro.  But will he ignore the warning signs his body is giving him about the damage it is taking?

This book is honest – at times brutally so.  While Dan started taking steroids in the early 80’s when they weren’t illegal, he only ever justifies taking them his first round, and then only because he didn’t know better, something he obvious regrets.  Once he starts to see the side effects, he never offers true justification for taking them again, only the reasons he felt like he had to take them at that time in his life.  And considering he was on them for 20 years, it’s obvious he regrets his time on them now.

I mentioned the brutal honesty, and that comes when he starts talking about what the steroids did to his body.  Since the book is designed to be a cautionary tale, it is justified.  However, some of these scenes made me uncomfortable.  I suspect that was the point, so they certainly worked.  There is some talk about his sex life (and one chapter I really didn’t need), but again, it was usually in the context of what the steroids were doing to him.

And yet the book was always readable.  At times, Dan’s narration from today looking back at his bad choices makes it feel like a Greek tragedy.  It worked because the book was always compelling, and I had a hard time putting it down.

Those looking for tons of behind the scenes stories on American Gladiators will be disappointed.  Yes, the stories are there, but since the book is focused on his abuse of steroids, that is where the focus of the story rests.  Still, there are some tidbits that are an interesting look at the show.

The book is written in present tense.  I’m not sure I remember seeing that in a memoir before (although I admittedly don’t read too much in the genre).  When I realized this, I thought it was an odd choice, but it worked.  In fact, I think it helped me get lost in the story Dan was telling even more.

If there is any doubt what Dan was hoping to accomplish by telling his story, read the epilogue.  It’s a call to arms against steroid use, and it’s pretty persuasive.

And as the subject continues to be an issue in professional sports today, this is a subject that is important to discuss and consider.  As a result, I do recommend Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption for anyone who has an interest in the subject.  It’s eye opening honesty will make you rethink any opinion on the subject.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

TV Recap: Castle 6-13 - Limelight

I knew it was time for a lighter episode of Castle, and they delivered last night.  Yet there were some story arc developments and the mystery itself had some great twists to it.

When we first join Castle and Beckett, they are just getting a start on their day.  Beckett is reading the paper and is shocked to learn that Castle is getting back together with his ex-wife.  At least that’s what she read in the paper.  Castle assures her it was just a business lunch since this ex-wife is his publisher.  And Beckett believes him – she was just teasing him.

But that comes into play since the murder victim in this case is a star.  She grew to fame by playing a teen who was a regular student by day but a mystery solving pop star by night.  Alexis had been a huge fan of the show, in fact.  These days, she more known for her partying and time in rehab.

Music Review: The Sound of Music - Live! Soundtrack

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great songs, great new recordings
Cons: “Do-Re-Mi” cut
The Bottom Line:
Classic musical
Brought to life by great new cast
Plenty of talent

A New Recording of Broadway’s Sound of Music for a New Generation

I have a confession to make.  As much as I love the musical The Sound of Music, I only have one soundtrack from it – the original Broadway cast.  At some point, I really do intend to buy the Julie Andrews movie version, but there are a couple songs that the movie cut I loved.  However, that sound track I have has some issues, and I’ve wanted to replace it for years.  Enter the Cast Recording from the recent The Sound of Music - Live, and I’ve found exactly what I’m looking for.

All of your favorite sounds from the musical are here.  We’re talking “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Climb Every Mountain,” Edelweiss,” and “The Sound of Music,” among others.  However, if you are only familiar with the movie, some things are going to be different here.  The movie changed the order around, but this one sticks to the order from the original Broadway play.  When I was in the play in college, I must admit the new order took a little getting used to, but once you do, you won’t mind at all.

The only change this disc makes as far as songs go from the original is the song that Captain Von Trapp and Maria sing after they fall in love.  Here, we get the song from the movie, “Something Good.”  Honestly, I don’t care for either of the love songs, so I’m ambivalent about this.

The soundtrack uses a full orchestra, as it should.  The instruments sound amazing, and it’s easy to get swept up in the beauty of the music.

And the singing?  It’s wonderful.  Carrie Underwood’s acting as Maria was criticized in the movie (and rightly so), but if you watched the movie carefully, she came alive whenever she was singing.  That means there are no issues whatsoever with the songs she’s in.  (And honestly, the couple of lines she speaks on the recording are better acted than Mary Martin’s acting at the same spots.  Yes, I went there.)  The rest of the cast is great.  The kids don’t miss a note.  Audra McDonald is amazing as Mother Superior.  Stephen Moyer has a great voice, so his songs as the Captain are top notch.  Rounding out the main cast of singers are Laura Benanti as Elsa (the Captain's ill-fated love interest) and Christian Borle as Max who both do fine jobs as well.

So let’s talk about those two songs cut from the original movie.  Both are songs that Elsa and Max sing.  Captain Von Trapp joins them on the second song.  From the first act, there’s “How Can Love Survive?”  Elsa and Max sing this song to the Captain as a bit of a joke.  The idea behind it is that, since the Captain and Elsa are rich, they have no struggles to overcome, so how can they possible make it.  After all, the famous couples in love overcome great odds.  It’s part bragging (Elsa), part jealousy (Max), and quite funny.

The second song cut from the original movie is the first song from the second act - “No Way to Stop It.”  Again, there’s some biting humor to the song, but there is a seriousness underneath it all.  It comes as the Captain, Elsa, and Max are discussing the growing Nazi threat, and Elsa and Max try to use this song to convince the Captain that he should not try to fight the Nazi’s.  I especially love how Stephen Moyer plays this song.  In the movie, it was easy to tell how disgusted he was, but it still comes across in his voice on the recording.

There are some other songs on here that are lesser known.  The disc starts off with the nuns’ evening prayers.  We get the song sung during the wedding as well as the two dance songs from the party in the first act.  And the final track is the instrumental piece that pays over the credits.

I have to comment briefly on the fact that this was recorded in a studio and not the soundtrack taken from the filmed live performance.  I can understand why (partly because this was released before the movie), but I do still find it ironic.

The only flaw I can find with this disc is the fact that they took out the middle section of “Do-Re-Mi.”  Yes, the song can get repetitive and long, so maybe that is why.  But since they included the entire song in the movie, I’m a little confused as to why it isn't all here on this recording.

Still, that’s not nearly enough to be a deal breaker.  I’ve found a new preferred version of the play soundtrack with The Sound of Music - Live Cast Recording.  Still, I’m going to get the original movie soundtrack some day.

CD Length: 61:22
1. Preludium
2. The Sound of Music
3. Maria
4. My Favorite Things
5. Do-Re-Mi
6. Sixteen Going on Seventeen
7. The Lonely Goatherd
8. How Can Love Survive?
9. Reprise: The Sound of Music
10. The Grand Waltz
11. Landler
12. So Long, Farewell
13. Climb Ev'ry Mountain
14. No Way to Stop It
15. Something Good
16. Processional & Maria (The Wedding)
17. Reprise: Sixteen Going on Seventeen
18. Edelweiss (The Concert)
19. Reprise: Do-Re-Mi (The Concert)
20. Reprise: So Long, Farewell (The Concert)
21. Finale Ultimo: Climb Ev'ry Mountain
22. End Credits

Monday, January 20, 2014

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great laughs from fun story and characters
Cons: Doesn’t quite have the heart of the first one
The Bottom Line:
Minions create laughs
In entertaining sequel
Sure to please first’s fans

"You Really Should Announce Your Weapons After You Fire Them."

I had no desire to see the original Despicable Me, however some friends talked me into watching it with them, and I fell in love.  Now I’ve gotten to see Despicable Me 2, and I enjoyed it as well, although it wasn’t quite as good.

Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) has given up his evil villain ways and settled into life as a single dad to Margo, Edith, and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher).  He’s trying to create a line of jellies and jams and gives fairy princess birthday parties.  The worst problem he has is dodging his neighbor’s attempts to set him up with her friends.

All that changes when Lucy (Kristen Wiig) walks into his life.  She’s from the AVL (that's the Anti-Villain League) and she needs his help.  An entire research lab has been stolen from the North Pole, and it included a very dangerous transformation serum.  Can Gru help her get it back?

Those looking to laugh will certainly be rewarded here.  This is a comedy that kids and parents will both laugh at.  When I watched it, it was with two adult friends, and we were all laughing very hard at the story and lines.  Yet their young kids enjoy it, too.

The plot is fairly predictable.  I didn’t get all the twists along the way, but I saw several of them coming early.  That didn’t dampen my enjoyment since the laughs kept coming.

However, one thing I loved about the first movie was the charm the three girls introduced to things and how that interplay affected Gru.  That wasn’t here this time; in fact, the girls are more supporting players than main characters.  While Gru and Lucy share some great scenes, it wasn’t quite the same.

The voice cast is wonderful.  They do a good job of bringing their characters to life and keeping a consistent voice that isn’t necessarily their normal voice.  That allows me to get lost in the story without picturing the actor saying their lines.

The animation doesn’t go for the hyper realism of Pixar or Disney, but the stylized animation presented here is perfect for the story.  Actually, I think it helps with the laughs at times.

Plus, how could you realistically create the Minions?  These little yellow guys once again steal the show and provide some of the best laughs.

So if you were a fan of the first, be sure to watch Despicable Me 2.  While not quite as good as the original, it still provides plenty of laughs.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Review: Mr. Monk Gets on Board by Hy Conrad (Monk #17)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun and a puzzling mystery on a cruise ship
Cons: The 271 pages would annoy Monk (since they’re odd)
The Bottom Line:
Murder on board ship
Means relaxing is over
Fun for us starting

Mr. Monk Goes Cruising

I’ve always heard that writers never throw out unused ideas.  That’s a good thing since an unused script for the TV show Monk became the basis of Mr. Monk Gets on Board.  I’m sure many changes were made to the original script (it was a Sharona episode for starters), but the result is another great adventure for Monk fans.

Now if you are not familiar with the TV show Monk, you might not want to jump in here.  You certainly could.  There’s enough background given that you won’t feel completely lost.  But there are enough references to things past that you’ll enjoy it more if you have some background on the characters (and the episode “Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico”).

Even if you were a fan of the show, it would be good to back up a few books and take a running start at this one.  Since the show stopped production, the characters and new arcs have been introduced that have really allowed the characters to grow for the better.  Yes, Adrian Monk is still a phobic OCD detective who is brilliant at solving murder.  Natalie still works with him, although their relationship is changing (no, not romantically).  It’s good stuff, but it’s best read in context.

When this book opens, it’s been a couple of months since the founding of Monk and Teeger, Consulting Detectives, and business is very slow.  So slow, in fact, that Natalie is doing anything she can to drum up business.  So when a guy they meet at a crime scene suggests the B to Sea Cruise, Natalie decides to go.  It sounds like a great way to network, and a week on a cruise ship will be fun.

Or it would if Monk hadn’t decided to tag along.  As Natalie and Monk begin a game of musical rooms, Natalie overhears a conversation that makes her think someone is about to be murdered.  Is she right?  Can she and Monk prevent the murder from happening?  And what about the strange accidents that keep happening aboard the ship?

I’ve often said that Monk was a how-done-it show.  You know who did it – the person with the perfect alibi.  All you need to know if how they committed what appears to be the perfect crime.  That’s the case again here.  Yes, I was able to pick up on a few of the clues, but they were just random facts.  I needed Natalie and Monk to piece them together for me.  As usual in the books, there are several plots running parallel, but everything is juggled with ease.  Like the show, there are a couple of points where Monk’s antics overtake the mystery, but I was being so entertained, I didn’t mind.

The characters are strong once again in this book.  Natalie continues to come into her own as a detective.  She’s still no Monk, but she’s learning and figuring things out with a nudge or two from him.  Monk is also growing, although not as fast and not quite as much.  Since so much time is spent on the ship, we get plenty of new characters, and they are equally well developed, so we can care about the outcome.

As I hinted at earlier, the comedy from the series translates as well.  Natalie’s first person narration is perfect for conveying the action.  The pages just fly by in a mix of mystery and fun, and the book is over all too soon.

So if you have a background in Monk, you’ll enjoy Mr. Monk Gets on Board.  And if you aren’t familiar with this great franchise, I recommend you start today.  You’ll enjoy it.

Of course, this is Monk.  You will read the Monk Mysteries in order, right?  You'll thank me later.

Reading Challenge: 2014 Reading Challenge Addicts

Hi, I'm Mark and I'm a Reading Challenge Addict.  As if you couldn't figure that out after I signed up for 3 more last night.  So when I found out about Reading Challenge Addicts, I just had to sign up.

This is the place for those of us who are reading challenge addicts to congregate and cheer each other on.  And yes, there is a challenge part to it.  We have to admit how many challenges we've signed up for and confess how we are doing with them.

At the moment, I am going to sign up for the On the Roof level, which requires me to enter and complete 6-10 reading challenges in 2014.

Here's what I have entered so far (links take you to my sign up page):

1. Cruzin' Through the Cozies
2. The Foodies Read Challenge
3. Mount TBR Challenge
4. Rewind Challenge
5. Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
6. My Kind of Mystery (runs Feb. through Feb.)
7. Women's Murder Club Challenge
8. 1st in a Series Challenge
9. 2nds Challenge

All of these run the calendar year except My Kind of Mystery, which runs for 13 months from February 2014 to February 2015 inclusive.  I'm not sure if I will complete that one in time for this challenge, but I should get the other 8 done no problem since there will be lots and lots of overlap between these challenges.

Now it's really on!

1-25 Update:

Well, apparently I just can't stop myself.  I just signed up for two more, although they really overlap quite a bit.  Here's my post for 2014 Series Challenge and 2014 Finishing the Series Challenge.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Reading Challenge: 2014 2nds Challenge

One last challenge - for today anyway.  And it sort of goes hand in hand with the last challenge I signed up for.  It's the 2nds Challenge.

This challenge is for reading the second in a series or reading a second book by an author.  I like that little twist in there in case an author doesn't write a series or you read a stand alone first.

I found many great new authors last year, so I don't think I'll have too much trouble filling in this one this year.  That's why I'm going to be brave and go for the second level - A Few More Bites.  I've just committed to reading 10 2nds over the course of the year.  I already know what several of them will be, too.

And I will list them here and link up the reviews as I finish them.

1. New Lands by Geoff Rodkey
2. Mr. Monk Gets on Board by Hy Conrad (second book of his I've read)
3. Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames
4. The Chase by Lee Goldberg and Janet Evanovich
5. Let the Storm Break by Shannon Messenger
6. I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
7. Inherit the Word by Daryl Wood Gerber
8. Poached by Stuart Gibbs
9. Death of a Mad Hatter by Jenn McKinlay
10. Boiled Over by Barbara Ross
11. 'Til Dirt Do Us Part by Edith Maxwell
12. The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
13. Basil Instinct by Shelley Costa
14. Death in Four Courses by Lucy Burdette
15. Maple Mayhem by Jessie Crockett
16. Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson
17. Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais
18. A Biscuit, a Casket by Liz Mugavero
19. Acadia by Sandy Dengler
20. Bluffing is Murder by Tace Baker
21. Silent Knife by Shelley Freydont

Reading Challenge: 2014 1st in a Series Challenge

I actually participated in this challenge several years ago when someone else was hosting it and before I had a book blog.  It's funny I'd signing up for this one since I always swear I won't start any new series, and yet here I am.

Anyway, I'm officially signing up for the 1st in a Series Challenge.

As the title implies, you are to read first books in series.  There are different levels based on how many you plan to read.  I'm going easy on myself and go for Series Novice which is 5 first books in series.  I've got more than that on my to be read pile, but since they are the easiest to push down the stack, they might not get read.

I'll update this page with titles as I get them read:

1. You Cannoli Die Once by Shelley Costa
2. Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay
3. Mayhem at the Orient Express by Kylie Logan
4. Murder Past Due by Miranda James
5. An Appetite for Murder by Lucy Burdette
6. Clammed Up by Barbara Ross
7. The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
8. Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara
9. Gluten for Punishment by Nancy J. Parra
10. The Pickled Piper by Mary Ellen Hughes
11. Dead Man's Switch by Tammy Kaehler
12. Bran New Death by Victoria Hamilton
13. Drizzled with Death by Jessie Crockett
14. Earthquake Shock by Marlane Kennedy
15. The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon
16. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
17. Death of a Crabby Cook by Penny Pike
18. The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais
19. The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
20. Kneading to Die by Liz Mugavero
21. Bloom and Doom by Beverly Allen
22. Death Valley by Sandy Dengler
23. Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran
24. Foul Play at the Fair by Shelley Freydont
25. Do or Diner by Christine Wegner
26. Speaking of Murder by Tace Baker
27. Space Case by Stuart Gibbs
28. Suede to Rest by Diane Vallere
29. Tagged for Death by Sherry Harris

Reading Challenge: 2014 Women's Murder Club Challenge

So I stumbled upon some new reading challenges today - although I hesitate to call this first one a reading challenge.  It's the Women's Murder Club Challenge, designed around the books in the James Patterson series.

Now really, is it a challenge if the only book I have to read is the new one that comes out this year and I'm already planning to read it?

The creator seems to leave that open since the lowest level - Amateur Sleuth - is for reading 1-3 books in the series.  I think that's the level I'll sign up for this year.

And the book I'm going to read is:

1. Unlucky 13

I'll link up my review once it happens, probably mid-May to mid-June depending on when I get it from the library.

Weekly TV Thoughts: January 18th

So I definitely think I've found two new shows to enjoy.  But with how low the ratings are for both, I probably won't have either of them around for long.  Like I need any more TV to watch.

And yes, spoilers!

America Ninja Warrior: USA Vs. Japan – I really am surprised that the Japanese team didn't do better.  Was it jetlag?  A home turf advantage?  Nerves?  Or just bad luck.  I mean, plenty of great people go out in unexpected places on the course, so that could easily be it as well.

Intelligence – This is why I always give a show a couple of episodes before I decide.  I was actually intrigued by the second episode.  And I was shocked with the development with his wife’s case.  The ratings dropped big time, however, so I don’t know how long the show will last.  Still, I think I’ll stick around for a third episode.

Melissa & Joey – I was expecting them to play out the ex-boyfriend for a few more episodes.  And yes, they’d known each other their whole lives, but still a proposal was too soon.  But his reaction when Ryder was in the hospital was so inappropriate, and if he loved her at all, he’d know that.  Anxious to see how Mel & Joe do as a couple next week.  And yes, this is the same guy who was about to give up the show because of how they got them together.  What can I say, I’m fickle like that.  And I loved the first line.  “Somebody say something.  It feels like we’ve been standing here for six months.”  Absolutely great.

Arrow – I like that they are keeping Barry Allen in the loop even if they aren’t going to bring him back for a back door pilot.  And I do like how they are developing the characters this season.  Some great action this week, too.  I’m glad to have this show back.

Psych – Much funnier than last week.  I love how Shawn was making up his acronym as he went along.  And Lassie as a dad will be fun to watch if the show lasts that long.  All around great episode.  Oh, and I hate the new chief of police, too.  Can’t wait until he’s gone.

White Collar – I was a little surprised they caught Rebecca already until the end.  She's obviously still got something else up her sleeve, but what?  And they played it out perfectly.  This show is back on top.  So, why are the Burkes going to wind up staying in New York?  It sounds too good to pass up, so I'll be sorry they can't actually go this time.

Michael J. Fox – I was wondering how they'd screw this new friendship up.  The whole "Parent Trapping" thing was very funny.  Could have done without the brother's storyline, but Eve's ending scene was pretty classic.

Enlisted – Not quite as funny as the pilot, but I still enjoyed it.  Loved the dinner contest scene as well as how easily Randy cried over Toy Story 3.  Heck, he was crying over parts even I didn't cry over.