Monday, March 31, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 3-15 - Quiet Minds

I was not expecting that last night.  I had heard that the events of last night would happen to someone, but I thought I knew who and I thought I knew when.  Definitely took me by surprise when it happened.

And yes, I'm being vague until I get below the jump.

I'm going to try something a little different with the recap this week, switching between Storybrooke and Enchanted Forest of a year ago.  This might get tricky, so hang on.

We're going to start in Storybrooke, also something different.  We start with a strategy meeting as David, Emma, Regina, and Mary Margaret try to decide what to do next.  They decide that David and Emma will try to hunt down Mr. Gold out in the forest while Regina goes back to the farmhouse to search for clues to the witch's identity.  Mary Margaret is not happy about being left behind, but she has an important job to do, too - let the witch get close to her - I mean keep the baby safe.

We also get a scene of Zelena trying to summon the dark one while holding his dagger, but it doesn't work.

Ornament Review: Brave Little Tailor - Mickey's Movie Mouseterpieces #2 - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mickey in a classic pose
Cons: His hat was on in that scene (but the ornament wouldn't look as good without it)
The Bottom Line:
A gee whiz moment
Before flies become giants
Mickey looks so cool

Mickey's Captured in a Classic Gee Whiz Pose for His Second Movie Mouseterpiece

I'll admit it was a bit of a surprise to many Hallmark collectors when it was announced that the second in the Mickey's Movie Mouseterpieces series would be Brave Little Tailor.  Why?  Because that short was used in a 2011 ornament featuring Mickey and Minnie.  But this 2013 release does feel like a classic Mickey pose and is well worth getting as well.

Since the series focuses on Mickey, he's by himself, and he's captured at the classic moment when he's finished telling the story of how he killed seven with one blow (seven flies that is).  His left hand is on his waist and with his right hand he's leaning on his scissors.  His right leg is crossed over his left leg as well, and you can tell by his face he's a little embarrassed at the praise he's getting from the king.  If he only knew what was about to be asked of him (killing a giant), he wouldn't look so happy.

The costume he's wearing is exactly like the one he wears in the short.  He's got a blue tunic with a green belt over red shorts.  His green hat with a red feather is on his head.  Yes, the hat was actually on the floor by this point in the short, but without the hat, it wouldn't be quite as easily associated with the short.  I like it and I'll take it.

You might think that with Mickey really only standing on one foot, he wouldn't stand up on his own.  You'd be wrong.  He is leaning on his scissors, and they provide just a point, which is enough to balance him out.  Most of the weight is on his left foot, however, so it's not the steadiest ornament.  You'll definitely want him further back on a shelf.

Speaking of his feet, on his left foot, you'll find the series marker and copyright information.  On his left foot, you'll find the name of the short and the release yet.

Since Mickey is already leaning even when standing, it wouldn't be that big a deal if he were at a tiny bit of an angle when you hung him from your tree.  That's not the case, however.  He hangs at the exact angle he was while standing.

Even though Hallmark used the same animated short for two ornaments so close together, both are worth getting.  The ornaments are very different and fun in their own ways.  I'm glad I got 2013's Brave Little Tailor.

Check out the rest of the Mickey's Movie Mousterpieces series.

Original Price: $12.95

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review: I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein (I Funny #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good month in the life type story
Cons: Most characters a little flat
The Bottom Line:
Preparing for laughs
Dealing with serious school
All within this book

The Next Joke in the Life of Jamie Grimm

I seem to be reading collaborations because of the lesser known coauthor.  There are several series out there I do that with, and one of them is this middle grade series from James Patterson.  I'm a marginal Patterson fan on his best days, but I love the novels of co-author Chris Grabenstein.  I Even Funnier is their second book together in this series, and I liked it.

The series look at Jamie Grimm, a middle schooler who has had a harsh life.  He's living in a wheel chair and living with his uncle and aunt.  However, he's learning to make the best of a very bad situation through humor at the encouragement of his other uncle.  The first book found him entering a local contest for stand up comic kids.

This book follows Jamie Grimm as he takes the next step in the Planet's Funniest Kid Contest.  Having won his state, regionals are coming up in Boston, and Jamie has to prepare all new material.  But that's not the only thing he has to contend with.  Being a middle schooler, he still has to contend with tests, homework, figuring out girls, the other comedian in school (whose jokes are old and painfully unfunny), and tutoring the class bully, aka his cousin Stevie.

To be honest, I wasn't a fan of the first in the series, so I got this one from the library.  I was surprised at just how much more I enjoyed it.  (Maybe the price had something to do with that?)  The characters are still a little shallow here.  It's not that they are completely flat, but they just never fully come alive.  Fortunately, Jamie does, so when something happens that affects him, you feel it.  Heck, I found myself tearing up a time or two as I was reading.

My bigger issue with the first was the plot.  It felt like story lines were introduced and then rushed or dropped.  Maybe I was just ready for it this time, but I saw the book as more of what it was - a couple of months in the life of Jamie while he prepares for the next round of competition.  That's not to say that the plotting was better, but when a sub-plot ended early, I recognized it as being part of real life.

If you are looking for laugh out loud jokes in this book, you will probably be disappointed.  Yes, there are jokes and humor, but Jamie spends more time telling us what his jokes are about than actually telling us his jokes.  And there are plenty of cheesy groaners from his rival at school (although I found them plenty funny).  I certainly enjoyed the humor there was.

Laura Park does the illustrations in the novel, and there are plenty of them.  They provide some of the humor, and I enjoyed them.

Because of Patterson's famous short chapters and the illustrations, this is a very fast read.  Even reluctant readers will find themselves zooming through the story, which is a good thing.

So I'm glad I gave I Even Funnier a chance.  The book definitely left things open for the next chapter, and I will be looking to find out exactly what happens next.

This review is part of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

March 29ths Weekly TV Thoughts

The Amazing Race - While I wasn't sorry to see Luke and Margie go, I do often feel sorry for teams that wind up so far behind everyone else they have no chance of catching up.  Still, if it had to happen to one team, I'm glad it was them since it means they are off my TV now.

Dancing with the Stars - Double elimination in the first week?  Yeah, not really fair in my opinion.  Boy the Star Wars fans must be voting in force for Bill Dee to have stayed.  The man is nice enough, but he has very little in the way of dancing skills.

Melissa & Joey - I saw that break up coming.  Never leave anything open on your computer you don't want seen.  I really did like that girlfriend, too.

Survivor - I get the urge to quit.  I really do.  I'm sure I would feel that way as well.  But I'm sure quitting is something I would regret for the rest of my life.  And I can't imagine quitting because you didn't get your way at tribal.  That's what the gal did.  Sorry, but didn't help yourself at all.  Meanwhile, I really hate that police officer.  I hope his lying cheating ways come back to bite him - hard.

Arrow - It took me a minute to remember who this was we were fighting this week, but I liked the outcome of the episode.  Laurel is definitely in a much better place now.  Must be about time for Sara to die (unfortunately).  They are talking about a major event this next week after all.

Psych - As much as I hated last week's episode?  I LOVED the finale.  Humor without being over the top.  Great shout outs to fans.  The proposal was especially funny.  But the quick shout out to Monk was the best part, in my opinion.

Suits - I like this arc they're giving Mike.  And his job offer took me by surprise.  Obviously, he can't take it or the show will be over, but he should.  So where are they going to go with this?

Enlisted - Not one of their better episodes.  There were definitely laughs, but the poo ray?  Not really my cup of laughs.  And did they get a new member without telling us?  I really wish they'd air these in the order written.

Friday, March 28, 2014

TV Show Review: Newhart - Season 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good laughs with some fine characters
Cons: The best is still to come; picture quality of the set
The Bottom Line:
Building better laughs
Series still not hitting stride
Best is coming up

"That's One Thing About Progress.  You Can't Always Tell When It's Happening."

I've been waiting a long time to say this - welcome back to Vermont and the Stratford Inn.  It's been six years since season 1 of Newhart was released, and I'd given up hope we'd ever see season two.  But thanks to the good folks at Shout Factory, we finally got it.

This was Bob Newhart's sitcom from the 80's.  In it, he played Dick Loudon, a do it yourself book writer who, along with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann) moved to Vermont to open a bed and breakfast.  However, life in a small town can get rather crazy.  Carrying over from season one are George (Tom Poston), the handy man at the inn, and Kirk (Steven Kampmann), owner of the Minute Man cafe next door.  He is a compulsive liar who considers Dick his best friend, a sentiment that isn't shared.

There was a cast change this year.  Gone is Leslie as the maid and in her place is her cousin Stephanie (Julia Duffy).  Stephanie arrives after having left her new husband behind and being cut off by her family.  She takes on the job of maid, something she is ill suited for.  She's used to having maids, not being one.  And yes, while by no means recurring, we do get to see more appearances by Larry (William Sanderson), his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss), and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad).

So what happens this season?  Dick gets a chance to ghost write a tell all biography for a well known actress - there's just one catch, she only works with those she's slept with.  Stephanie has to face her ex-husband when he comes looking for an explanation.  Her old life comes walking back into the inn when her high school boyfriend and her high school rival show up - on their honeymoon.  Kirk is worried that a new restaurant will put him out of business and leans on Dick for support.  In another episode, Dick's hard work to meet a deadline is frustrated by a permanent border, a miniature golf course, and George demanding a pension plan.  The entire town gets invited to the inn for Thanksgiving.  And Joanna mistakes the interest of a college professor.

The show was not super big on story arcs (this was the 80's after all), however, there is one that starts party way through the season.  Kirk meets the woman he thinks might be the love of his life.  However, he balks when he learns that Cindy (Rebecca York) is a clown.  The entire arc with Cindy is not to be missed and are some of the best stories with Kirk from his two seasons on the show.

This season also introduces Michael Harris when Peter Scolari appears in two episodes as the producer for the local TV station with dreams of ratings gold and a ticket to a bigger market.  He would go on to become a regular on the show for the remaining six seasons.  Both of the episodes revolving around the TV station are brilliantly funny and not to be missed.

Overall, however, this season is still a step down from the greatness that would start with the next season.  Don't get me wrong, there are laughs, and adding Stephanie this season certainly helps.  However, she and Michael and Larry and the Darryls are the main characters people remember from the show.  When the rest of that list comes on board full time (or half time in the case of the brothers), the show just gets so much stronger.

Still, as I said, there are some good laughs, especially in the episodes I high lighted above.  The writers do a good job of coming up with some fun situations and witty dialogue.

The cast nails it and really delivers.  Bob Newhart's sarcasm and snark is perfect here, and the rest of the cast inhabits their characters perfectly.

Unfortunately, the set could be better.  We get all 22 episodes on three discs in full frame and stereo sound, which is in keeping with how they were originally broadcast.  There is nothing in the way of extras, but I'm just happy to have the set.  I'll take it without the extras.  My disappointment with the set is the picture quality.  There is quite a bit of grain and dust on it in just about every episode.  Surely, it seems like they could have found some way to clean it up more.  The episodes are still very watchable, however, so don't let that stop you.  Just be prepared for less than perfection.

Frankly, I'll take season two however I can get it.  Newhart is a great show, and it's nice to see some forward progress made on releasing this gem on DVD for the fans.

Season Two Episodes:
1. It Happened One Afternoon, Part 1
2. It Happened One Afternoon, Part 2
3. Animal Attraction
4. The Stratford Wives
5. The Girl from Manhattan
6. Don't Rain on My Parade
7. Lady and the Tramps
8. The Man Who Came Forever
9. The Looks of Love
10. Kirk Goes for the Juggler
11. A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Pow
12. Cats
13. Curious George at the Firehouse
14. Book Beat
15. Kirk Pops the Question
16. Best Friends
17. Kirk Ties One On
18. Go, Grandma, Go
19. Leave it to the Beavers
20. Vermont Today
21. Send Her, Ella
22. New Faces of 1951

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland 1-12 - To Catch a Thief

It was pretty funny.  Last week, I mentioned wondering how Knave got his heart back.  Then during the week, I got to wondering how Alice and Knave became friends in the first place.  Both of those questions got answered in the flashback from this week's episode.  And the events in the modern story line?  Yikes!  They've got a lot of wrap up in the series finale.  (Did you catch they actually called it that during the promo?  Not that I'm surprised.  I'm just glad they are giving us the entire thing.)

Anyway, let's start with the flashback, which finds Will working as the Knave or Jack of all Trades for Cora.  Yes, it's an unexpected consequence of having her rip his heart out.  And his current mission?  Hunt down and kill Alice.  However, Alice keeps out smarting Knave and the other soldiers sent after her.  The second time, she captures Knave in a rope trap.  When she learns why he is hunting her, she decides to steal his heart back for him.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 28th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Wow, I'm getting bad at these weekly memes.  This is the second one this week I've almost completely forgotten to do.  But here I am really fast with this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week's book is a book I just finished this evening - I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.

Yes, this is a middle grade book and not the thrillers he is normally known for.  I enjoyed it more than the first in the series, but you'll have to come back on Sunday for my full review.

Meanwhile, here's the beginning.

Hi!  I'm Jamie Grimm, and it's really great to be back in front of an audience again.

And moving to page 56:

"Hey, speaking of lunch, did you hear about the kid who drank eight Cokes?  He burped seven up!  Get it?  SevenUp?"
"Got it," I say.  "Thanks."

No, the book isn't all jokes, and no, the jokes that in this book aren't all groaners like that one (although I must admit I thought it was fun).

Ornament Review: Brave Little Tailor - 2011 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Captures a classic cartoon moment between Mickey and Minnie
Cons: Mickey isn't accurate to cartoon (although a minor point)
The Bottom Line:
Minnie gives courage
As Mickey faces giant
Fun look for duo

Minnie Provides the Right Motivation for the Brave Little Tailor

One of the many classic Mickey Mouse shorts is "Brave Little Tailor," which finds our hero, through a series of misunderstandings, facing a giant.  When he realizes what he's gotten himself into, Princess Minnie offers to marry the hero and starts kissing him.  Before he knows it, Mickey has agreed to the task.

This ornament from Hallmark, released in 2011 captures that moment.  Minnie has Mickey in a big embrace.  He already has the marks of several kisses all over his face, and Minnie is leaning in for another one.  They are both wearing their costumes from the short - Minnie is a pink dress and a hat with a flowing piece of fabric coming from the top.  Mickie is in a blue tunic with his scissors in his left hand and his green hat with a (plastic) feather on top.

Wait, what?  As I discovered when I rewatched the short to write this review, Mickey actually didn't have his scissors or hat on for this scene.  However, the look is just a part of the short the ornament wouldn't have been as effective without it.  It's worth noting only in passing.

The rest of the scene is captured perfectly.  Mickey and Minnie both look like they are smiling - Mickey is for sure.  It's such a cute moment, and it makes for a cute ornament.

Looking at a picture, you wouldn't expect the ornament to be that stable, but it actually stands up rather nicely on it's own.  It's not the most stable ornament out there, but as long as you put it on something that isn't bumped too hard very often, you should be fine.

If you want to hang this ornament on your tree, you'll find an arm coming up from the back of the ornament with the ring.  Slip a hook through the ring and you'll find that it tips slightly back and toward Minnie.  It's very subtle, and by the time you get it on your tree, you'll never notice.

This is the kind of ornament that Disney fans will love since it captures such a fun moment from a classic short between Mickey and Minnie.  I'm enjoying having Brave Little Tailor.

Original Price: $17.95

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Acting and emotional story
Cons: A few nitpicks; the ending
The Bottom Line:
The drama behind
Making Walt's film masterpiece
Good for what it is

Getting the Right to Mary Poppins

As a DisNerd, I'd have mixed reactions to Saving Mr. Banks from the moment I heard about it.  I'd already known much of the story behind the work Walt Disney went through to get the rights to Mary Poppins.  And honestly, I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about watching an actor, any actor, play Disney.  Plus how would P. L. Travers come across?  Then I started hearing raves for it, so I finally got a chance to rent it.  It was good, but I do have some issues with it.

When Walt Disney's (Tom Hanks) girls were little, they found the Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson).  They convinced him that the stories would make a great movie.  However, Mrs. Travers was against the idea.  She loved the characters and didn't want to see them turned into chirping cartoons.

It took 20 years for Mrs. Travers to even agree to meet with Walt Disney, and this movie follows that trip and what it took for her to finally give over the rights to her beloved characters.  She objected to everything.  How the house would look.  The songs.  Oh the songs.  The color red being in the film.

As this story unfolds, we see flashbacks to her days growing up in Australia and her relationship with her own parents (Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson).  How does that affect her feelings for the characters?

Honestly, part of the reason I was worried is that Disney would come across as the hero and Mrs. Travers as the villain.  And she certain did come across as unreasonable, especially at the beginning.  However, as the movie unfolded, she became a very sympathetic character.  It was not the hatchet job on her I had feared.  In fact, I quite grew to like her.

My other issue going in was watching Tom Hanks play Walt Disney.  Honestly, I never quite got over this.  I'm not saying his acting was bad; in fact, from what I've heard, he was outstanding in the part.  But he's not Disney, and it just never felt like anything other than an actor playing Walt Disney to me.  Yes, I fully understand that this is the DisNerd in me coming out, but I can't help it.

The acting was uniformly amazing.  Even though I could never forget it was Tom Hanks, I thought he was good.  I completely bought Emma Thompson as Mrs. Travers.  From the rest of the 1960's cast, my favorite was Paul Giamatti who played Mrs. Travers's driver.  The cast of the flashback sequences were quite good as well, especially Annie Rose Buckley who played the author as a girl.

Everyone I've talked to about the film talked about how moving the ending was and about how I'd need tissue.  Considering I cry in movies at the drop of a hat, I took that warning seriously.  Maybe it was because I was expecting it, but while I was certainly moved by what I saw, I didn't really cry.

Then again, maybe it was because of my issues with the film.  Let's start with my DisNerd nit picks.  There is a scene in the film set and filmed at Disneyland.  While I'd never been to Disneyland in 1961, I've seen enough pictures to know it was fake.  Oh, they filmed it at Disneyland, but that was the problem.  Too many changes to the park have been made since the 1960's, most noticeably the new Fantasyland.  Then, during the screening of the film that constitutes the climax, it they had a scene from Mary Poppins out of order.  It fit the dramatic arc they needed, but it bugged me.

On their own, those two issues wouldn't have been enough ruin the film.  I'd point them out and move on.  But there's the fact that the climax of the movie is a completely and total lie.  I knew much of the story portrayed in the film already, and I know how it really ends.  I get why they did what they did - it is much better thematically and dramatically.  However, it still bugs me and makes me wonder what else was made up for dramatic purposes.  Honestly, this may be one reason I wasn't as moved by the ending as I expected to be - I knew I was being manipulated, and that kind of thing always bugs me.

I realize I'm sounding harsh at this point.  Please don't misunderstand - the movie is good and worth seeing.  It's just my desire to correct things that are making me sound pretty forceful here.

The movie is rated PG-13, and parents should take that to heart.  There is a smattering of language and some pretty rough scenes.  It may be about a beloved film for all ages, but this is definitely aimed at adults.

So yes, I am glad I watched Saving Mr. Banks.  However, the ending, which most everyone else loved, keeps me from giving it a unreserved recommendation.

March 26th's Waiting on Wednesday

Where is my head?  I almost forgot it was time for Waiting on Wednesday.

This week's book is Blue Sea Burning by Geoff Rodkey.

This is the third book in his middle grade series The Chronicles of Egg.  They are set in a fanciful world, but one without magic (if that makes any sense).  They follow a young boy nicknamed Egg who is thrust on an extraordinary adventure where he must struggle to stay alive while trying to avenge his family.

This third book?  Well, there's not much I can get into that won't spoil the surprises of the first two books, so I'm not even going to try.  But please go and read them because they are absolutely delightful.

The book comes out on April 3rd, so not too much longer to wait until I can find out what exactly happens next to Egg.  Considering how the last book ended, I have a feeling it's going to be a fun and wild ride.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ornament Review: Yoda - Lego Star Wars - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Yoda, Light saber, and Lego.  Need I say more?
Cons: A bit on the large size (but so are other Lego ornaments)
The Bottom Line:
Yoda takes his turn
Standing on the Lego blocks
Christmas for the geeks

Now as Lego Ornament, I Am

As much as I loved Legos growing up (and I certainly enjoyed them), the sets they have based on popular movies and characters are so great.  No, I haven't actually bought any of them (although I have been tempted).  I've just stuck to the Lego video games, and the Lego Star Wars Hallmark ornaments.  Yoda was the subject of the 2013 ornament, and he was fun.

In keeping with the Lego theme, these ornaments are big and blocky.  If you want something more artistic, stick with the Yoda that came out a couple years ago as part of the Star Wars series.  However, I like this because it gives a different feel to the character and it ties in to the unofficial series they have going on.

Having said that, Yoda's head is perfect.  It's green and round, and his pointy ears stick out at the correct angle.  They've even got his gray hair sticking out the back in hard plastic.  His body is a typical Lego body painted to look like Yoda as a Jedi master.  And his yellow legs and green hands are typical Lego legs and hands as well.  In his right hand, he's holding a light saber that is powered on.  Both feet are firmly planted on a gray Lego block with Lego Star Wars painted on the front.

Again, if you are looking for something more like Yoda, you'll be disappointed.  But this ornament is exactly as described - Lego Yoda.  He does seem a bit on the large side, but I've felt that way about all the ornaments in this unofficial series, and I've still liked them.

Because Yoda is standing on that Lego block, he's got a steady base you can use if you want to leave him out all year long.  He'll sit just fine on any flat surface where you might want to display him.

Of course, he is designed to be hung on a Christmas tree.  It's no surprise to me that he is very balanced.  He tips forward slightly, but not enough to be an issue at all.

So if you are looking for some ultra geeky fun to add to your Christmas tree, I highly recommend tracking down Lego Yoda.  You'll be enjoying him for years to go.

Original Price: $14.95

TV Recap: Castle 6-19 - The Greater Good.

Captain Gates seems to be more absent than normal this season.  In fact, I feel like the supporting characters in general are just not around as much.  But she was a presence in a big way last night.  A predictable story arc for her, but I still enjoyed it.

For this episode, Beckett and Castle are working on their wedding guest list.  However, their idea to start working on that gets interrupted by the call for a murder.  The victim was a day trader who was working at a bit firm in the city.  His place was trashed, but there was no evidence of self-defense wounds on him.  And his shirt was unbuttoned, but it was done after he was shot.  He was from Venezuela, and was raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents died in an earthquake.  His cousin says he seemed stressed about work, but that's all she knows.  Work turns up nothing as well.

Lanie provides an interesting clue, however.  She finds evidence on his chest that he had tape ripped off like he'd been wearing a wire.  Was he undercover?

What's on My Nightstand - March 2014

March is quickly coming to a close.  Okay, so we have one more week, but tomorrow is the fourth Tuesday of the month, so it's time for What's on Your Nightstand?

I started off the month with a rash of cozy mystery reviews.  Mainly, they were ones I had finished or almost finished at the end of February but came out in March.

Then I took a detour to non-fiction for Cold-Case Christianity (linked to my review).  This book was an interesting take on the evidence for Christianity written by a cold-case detective.  I enjoyed it as a mystery reader because I could really follow his logic.  I didn't think the book necessarily broke any new ground, but I enjoyed it anyway.

On Monday, I just finished Let the Storm Break, the second in a YA fantasy series by Shannon Messenger. It was captivating, and I couldn't put it down.

So what's on deck?  Tonight, I picked up a hold request from the library - I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.  It's a middle grade novel.  The first was okay, so we'll see how I feel about this one.  At least the price was right.

After that will be Inherit the Word, the second Cookbook Nook mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber.  I'm quite anxious to get to this one, so hopefully it will be as good as the first book was.

That will take me into April, and beyond that I don't know for sure.  I've got a few books by favorite authors coming out, so it will partially depend on when I get the books.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review: Let the Storm Break by Shannon Messenger (Sky Fall #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong leads in a whirlwind of a story
Cons: Having to wait for book three
The Bottom Line:
Vane, Audra return
Another engaging book
Read with gale force speed

You'll Race Through This Storm

I pretty much skipped the young adult section of the bookstore growing up.  I keep reading middle grade until I started reading adult novels (although it's hard to say I've completely given up on middle grade novels).  While I'm not super familiar with that particular department, I am hooked on the Sky Fall series by Shannon Messenger.  Let the Storm Break is the second in her series, and it was wonderful.

This is a fantasy story, and Vane and Audra, our two main characters, are hot human but another race that can control the wind.  Their race is in a civil war, and they are caught in the middle.  This is especially true of Vane, who holds something that the other side needs and even the good guys want to exploit.

But really, don't jump in here.  It's all much better explained by reading the first book in the series.  You'll be anxious to read this one before you know it.

It's been almost a month since Audra left Vane, although the pull of their bond is strong for both of them.  Vane is trying to cover with the Guardians about why she left, knowing they will not approve of the truth.  Meanwhile, he is having trouble sleeping.  Every time he does, he has nightmares that are harder and harder to break.  For her part, Audra is running, chasing, heck even she doesn't know.  But she is trying to come to grips with her actions and recent revelations as well.

However, the threat from Raiden keeps growing, and Vane and Audra are in his crosshairs.  Will they be able to keep their secrets from him?  Will they even survive their next confrontation?

This book is told in alternating first person chapters from Vane and Audra's viewpoints.  This gives us their sides of the tale as things are starting out and some insight into what each are thinking as the story unfolds.  It's an interesting device that works very well here.

And I've got to say I really do like the characters.  Vane and Audra are the strongest, obviously, but the rest of the cast feels real to me as well.  It makes it so much easier to get lost in the storm, I mean story, when you care like I did here.  There is a strong romance between Vane and Audra, and I loved how their relationship moved forward here.  There was some natural angst, but that wasn't the focus of things, which was refreshing.

For the first 50 pages or so, I was enjoying getting reacquainted with the characters and the world they inhabit.  Then things too off and I fairly raced through the rest of the 380 page novel.  You might say I was bonded to the book as I was thinking about it even after I'd put it down.  I'd come back to sneak in a couple of pages if I couldn't sit and read for an hour.  The pages just flew by.

Unfortunately, the book has a big problem.  THE NEXT ONE ISN'T OUT YET!!!!!!  I was expecting something like what happened at the end, at least the broad outline not the details as they unfolded.  Even thought I saw the big picture coming, I am so ready for the next book to be out so I can find out what happens next.

So if you are looking for some light fantasy and romance with a strong plot, you'll love Let the Storm Break.  I will be missing these characters until I can catch up with their next adventure.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 3-14 - The Tower

Well, that was a different twist on Rapunzel.  I'm not saying I didn't like it, just that they gave the story a whole new meaning.  And I like how they used it in Storybrooke as well.  And the ending?  Well, I'm getting a head of myself.  Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

And the beginning starts in Enchanted Forest of nine months ago.  And it starts with David (aka Prince Charming) going into a castle.  As he searches through it, he finds a room.  Inside that room he finds Emma's nursery, and then Emma as an adult all ready for her first ball.  However, soon the wardrobe opens and she is sucked in, but not before telling him that he failed her, but not to fail the next one.

Next one?

Cookie Review: Dulce de Leche - Chips Ahoy! Ice Cream Creations

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Sweet cookies
Cons: Missing the Dulce de Leche taste.
The Bottom Line:
There's a bland, sweet taste
So the taste is not that bad
But missing caramel

Disappointing Lack of Real Flavor make the Dulce de Leche Cookies Average

When I found Chips Ahoy! new Ice Cream Creation cookies, I had to give them a try, so I immediately bought all three of the flavors I was interested in.  While I quite like two of them, I have been very disappointed with the Dulce de Leche Cookies cookies.

Now keep in mind that I love caramel.  I can't get enough, and I actually think I prefer a caramel sundae to a chocolate sundae (although it is a close contest).  So I opened the package of these cookies fully expecting to enjoy them.

I will admit I was a little put off at first when I realized these weren't chewy cookies but crunchy cookies.  But that was only a momentary issue as I bit down and let the cookie slide into my mouth.

However, I quickly discovered that these have the barest hint of caramel, and that is all.  I can see plenty of caramel chips in the cookies, but they must not have had a strong flavor because they are rather bland.  There are white chips in the cookies, and I still can't tell if they are supposed to be vanilla chips (my first guess) or white chocolate.  And the cookies themselves?  They are pretty much your basic cookie flavor.  They'd be perfect for highlighting the caramel taste - if it were there.  But it isn't there.

Now these cookies aren't a complete loss.  They do taste sweet and certainly don't taste bad.  However, compared to other cookies I buy, the flavor is just okay.

And since they are cookies, they aren't healthy.  Two cookies contain 160 calories, half of them from fat and provide no nutrients at all.  And the ingredients, with lots of flour, oil, and sugar, back that up.

Would I be opposed to eating these again?  No.  But there are so many better cookies out there that there's really no reason to settle for the bland Dulce de Leche Cookies taste.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

The Amazing Race - I never thought I'd say it with that team, but I was glad it was a non-elimination leg.  After she was so encouraging and supportive, I would have hated to see them go home.  Here's to hoping she really has matured and stays this way for however long they are still there.

Melissa & Joey - Now that they've resolved the Lennox situation, the old boyfriend can swoop back in, right?  I hope so.  And I wonder why Ryder is much less of a presence right now than in the past.

Arrow - I feel like I missed something with Laurel, but it was nice to see an episode focused outside of Oliver but still advancing the story.

Survivor - When I saw how little the tribes got split up, I figured it would be a vote along old tribe lines.  I guess not.  This is going to make the next few episodes much more interesting than I was expecting.

Psych - The single worst episode of the series.  They have gotten so enmeshed in the antics of the characters they aren't even trying to tell a good story any more.  This was also the series finale, and if it had been I would have been very upset.  Here's hoping I do like the series finale next week and it erases this bad episode from my memory.

Suits - An actual case in court with a judge and everything.  It's been a while since we've seen much of that.  Louis is getting stuck in the middle of way too much.  While I agree that most of what happens to him is his own fault, it is still sad to see.  And I also felt sorry for Mike at the end, but it is the result of him lying like he does.  Why do I think they aren't done with that story line overall, much less with Louis?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ornament Review: A Visit from Santa Fifth Anniversary Limited Edition - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute ornament with Santa and his first five animals friends.
Cons: Size, weight, and the bears seams
The Bottom Line:
Celebrate five years
With Santa, five animals
It's cuteness times five

Celebrating Five Visits with Santa

Hallmark likes to mark milestones for some of their series ornaments.  I've noticed they don't do this for all of them, and I haven't figured out why they pick the series they do to spotlight.  But in 2013, they released a limited edition ornament for A Visit From Santa's Fifth Anniversary.

This series features Santa visiting various animals.  It's a really cute series, and I've been enjoying collecting it.  For the fifth anniversary piece, the combined all five of those animals into one giant ornament.

Santa is standing in the middle of this circle of animals.  He's wearing a traditional red coat and hat.  Each ornament in the series features a different trim to the coat, and this time it's blue with a zig zag pattern.

On Santa's right are the first two animals from the series, the polar bear and the deer.  The polar bear has an obvious seam to him, but it doesn't bother me so much this time around since the original ornament did as well.  Santa is holding out in right hand to scratch the deer under the chin.  His right arm is up to hold the snowy owl that was in the third ornament in the series.  On Santa's left side are the final two animals so far, a fox and a squirrel.

Each ornament in the series has been very cute individually.  Santa's interaction with the animals has been charming.  That holds true with this ornament.  Even with all five animals crowded in together, it still looks very cute and almost cuddly.

Of course, to get all five of those animals together, the ornament winds up being rather large.  It has a good two inch diameter, so be sure to find a large spot for it on your tree.  It's also a bit on the heavy side, so you'll want to be sure you find a steady branch to put it on.

The animals are perfectly balanced around Santa, so when you slip a hook through the loop on top of Santa's hat, you'll find that the ornament balances perfectly.

With all the animals around Santa, it also has a nice wide base, so if you want to set it out to be displayed somewhere, you don't need to worry about it falling over on its own.

The size, weight, and the seam in the bear are all potential flaws in the ornament.  The size and weight can't be helped.  After all, how are you going to get all those animals in one ornament without making it this big?  The seam is definitely something they could have fixed, however.

Even so, I was happy to add A Visit From Santa's Fifth Anniversary ornament to my collection.  It takes the cuteness factor of the others in the series and ups it by five.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Visits from Santa.

Original Price: $17.95

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland 1-11 - Heart of the Matter

Wow.  What an ending.  I sat there with my mouth hanging open as it played out.  Now I'm really curious how it is going to play out in future weeks.

But we have lots of ground to cover before we get there, so let's get to it.

I was so thrilled with the flash back because it included Cora!!!  That was lots of fun.

We actually flashed back to a time right before the Red Queen's wedding.  She had invited the Queen of Hearts (aka Cora) to tea to get to know her better.  Cora immediately praises her as the daughter she'd love to have (unlike that disappointment Regina), and suggests that she teach Red Queen magic.  That puts a damper on their relationship since the Red King is opposed to magic.

March 21st's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday, and you know what that means.  Time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

My book this week is Let the Storm Break by Shannon Messenger.

This is the second in her young adult fantasy series, and so far I'm really enjoying it.

It starts with:

It sucks to be king.

And jumping ahead to page 56, we get:

"You do look exhausted, Vane.  When was the last time you slept?"
"I don't remember," I admit, lying back down and rolling away.
She's quiet for so long I start to drift off - or I must have because when she finally speaks it makes me jump.
"Is it nightmares or fantasies?"

I'm only about 70 pages in, so I've got a ways to go, but I should have my review up at some point next week.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reading Challenge: Spring Reading Things 2014 and Spring Into a Good Book 2014

It's the first day of Spring.  Now, at the risk of making everyone else mad, I will admit that we've had a very mild winter.  In fact today might be the coldest day of the month, and it's supposed to be in the 70's again.  I can't completely enjoy it since California is in such a bad drought, but it's hard to complain about weather this nice.

But anyway, being Spring, that means it is time to sign up for Spring Reading Thing for 2014.  Once again, The Musings of a Book Addict is hosting.

I'll admit I am also going to join Spring Into a Good Book, which is a very similar reading challenge hosted by Book Dragon's Lair.  Why not, right?

The rules?  Make a list and read the books.  Easy enough, right?  Fortunately, it's okay if you change books part way through or only get to a fraction.  In all my years of doing the Spring Reading Thing and it's twin Fall Into Reading, I've only finished my list twice.  Once, I purposely made a small list.  The other, I was unemployed, so it was easy to spend lots of time reading.  I'm actually unemployed right now, so that might help me in the early weeks of Spring, but hopefully it won't last the entire three months.

Reviews are optional, but of course I will be reviewing the books I do finish right here.

So what will I be trying to read during this time?

Current Read:

Let the Storm Break by Shannon Messenger (and yes, I'm starting it today).

Left Over from Fall Into Reading 2013:

Bran New Death by Victoria Hamilton
Gluten for Punishment by Nancy J. Parra
Dead Man's Switch by Tammy Kaehler
Melissa Explains it All by Melissa Joan Hart

New Books by Favorite Authors Coming This Spring:

Inherit the Word by Daryl Wood Garber
Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Ghost of a Gamble by Sue Ann Jaffarian
Kingdom Keepers VII by Ridley Pearson
Blue Sea Burning by Geoff Rodkey
Poached by Stuart Gibbs
Death of a Mad Hatter by Jenn McKinney
Unlucky 13 by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Death Runs Adrift by Karen MacInerney
Mr. Monk is Open for Business by Hy Conrad

Books I've Agreed to Read for Review:

'Til Dirt Do Us Part by Edith Maxwell
Basil Instinct by Shelley Costa
Sense of Entitlement by Anna Loan-Wilsey

That's 18 books.  If I were smart, I'd stop there.  But let's go on to

Other Books I'd Like to Read:

Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman
Clobbered by Camembert by Avery Aames
Death in Four Courses by Lucy Burdette
I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
Clammed Up by Barbara Ross

And the list could go on, but I'm going to cap it here for the time being.  I will be very happy if I make it this far this Spring, and if I do, I'll be adding other books to my list.  If not, well, these will carry over into Summer and Fall.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'd better get reading.

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good story and great character development
Cons: Climax a tad too long, Jane a weak characters
The Bottom Line:
Traveling the realms
Character development
In this fun sequel

"Do You Even Know What These Things Do?"  "No."  "Neither Do I."

I'm still trying to catch up on movies I missed in the theater in 2013.  One of those was Thor: The Dark World, so when I saw a friend had bought it, I snagged it right away.  (Yeah, I watched it that week and returned it.)

The story picks up after TheAvengers.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is busy fighting across all the realms to keep any dark and powerful forces at bay.  As a result, he is being treated as a hero and his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) thinks that he might be ready to become king.

The one thing holding him back is Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).  He loved this mortal woman, much to Odin's dismay.  However, she has just stumbled on an anomaly in London that could kill her.  Even worse, it means the Dark Elves, a race that had supposedly been defeated a millennia ago, want her to drain this anomaly from her and use it to take over the nine realms.

I have noticed some issues with superhero movies.  The first one is always an origin story, and it slows the movie down while we wait for the hero to gain their powers and come to terms with it.  Then, in the sequel, they have to up the stakes by giving us two villains.  I actually have to respect this movie because it doesn't try to do that.  Instead, it just tells us the next chapter of the story with the next villain.  Okay, so you could argue there is an army, but they act as one, therefore one villain.

This allows time for some character development, which I felt was a strong point of the film.  Through the action, we got to know many of these characters better, which made us care about the outcome.

However, I must admit I was disappointed with Jane in this movie.  Yes, the love interest is pretty much there just to get in trouble and provide motivation for the hero.  However, I felt her character was weak and worse than normal.  Definitely wish she had played a bigger role before the climax.

On the other hand, there's Tom Hiddleston's Loki.  The character is so rich and troubled, you can't help but sympathize with him even though he's the villain.  Yes, I do love to hate him.

The acting by everyone is wonderful no matter how big or small a part they play in the overall film.  As a Chuck fan, I have to give a special shout out to Zachary Levi who took over the Fandral role since Josh Dallas was tied up with Once Upon a Time.  (An interesting bit of trivia, Zachary was the first choice for the character in the first movie, but he couldn't do it because of Chuck.  Full circle and all that.)

Likewise, the special effects are wonderful.  While I wouldn't expect anything less from a movie of this magnitude, I wasn't disappointed.

Which brings us to my other minor complaint about the film, the climax.  Yes, the final battle has to be epic, but here I felt like it was a bit too frenzied with too much going on.  As a result, I also felt like it went on a tad to long.  I'm being nitpicky here, I realize, but that is how I felt.

Overall, Thor: The Dark World was a fun sequel that was well worth watching, and one that extends the Marvel Universe.  I'm enjoying watching this universe expand with each film.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review: Blackberry Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #17)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Enjoyable characters and plot
Cons: Cliffhanger ending; usual complaints
The Bottom Line:
Series rolls along
With this diverting entry
I still enjoyed it

Stolen Blackberry Pie and an Accident

Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen series has long been a favorite of mine.  I find the characters fun, and recipes delicious sounding.  (It's been years since I baked any of them, but I keep thinking I need to again.)  Blackberry Pie Murder marks the latest case for Hannah and her friends, and I enjoyed it.

Hannah owns The Cookie Jar, a cookie shop in the small town of Lake Eden, Minnesota.  It's also a dangerous place to live since Hannah keeps stumbling over bodies next to her latest culinary creation.  In fact, as this book opens, the local newspaper is marking the four month anniversary since Hannah found the last dead body.  That's about to change again, unfortunately.  And in a big way.

It was a dark and stormy morning, and Hannah was driving on a deserted road when she slid and lost control.  Next thing she knew, she hit something - a something that turned out to be a man.  Now, she is facing charges for vehicular manslaughter.

However, questions are nagging on her mind.  What was the man doing in the road in the middle of such a bad storm?  Who was he?  Hannah and her family and friends begin to investigate.  Meanwhile, Hannah's mother is driving everyone crazy by not making any decisions on her upcoming wedding to Doc.

I have seen a lot of criticism for this book, more so than for the others in the series.  I can't say it isn't warranted, but it just didn't bother me.

Take the plot.  I found it entertaining.  I began to piece things together before Hannah did, but I didn't have everything lined up until right before Hannah figured things out.  However, the book does end with a pretty big cliffhanger.  Some were complaining about that, and I can see their point.  Me?  I'm anxious for the next book to find out what happens next.

I still find the characters charming.  They do fall into some types that keep them from coming fully alive, but they work for the story.  It certainly wouldn't be a visit to Lake Eden without seeing all of them.  The new characters are good as well, and made me care about the outcome.

Then there's the love triangle.  Yep, Hannah still hasn't made her choice between Mike and Norman, although it is pretty clear who the author thinks she should wind up with.  Personally, I gave up on this being resolved at least 10 books ago and can mostly tune it out at this point.  I think I'd actually be surprised if it were resolved, in fact.

By my count, there are 21 new recipes (with a few variations thrown in) in this book.  As a result, there is plenty of talk about food and baking.  This does slow the story down at times, but again it is what I have come to expect from the series.

Maybe it's just that my expectations are being met, but I am still enjoying my visits to Lake EdenBlackberry Pie Murder was an enjoyable diversion, and I'm planning my next trip to visit Hannah.

If you need to catch up on the earlier books, here are the Hannah Swensen Mysteries in order.

March 19th's Waiting on Wednesday

Being Wednesday, it must be time for Waiting on Wednesday.  This week, I'm looking at Bloom and Doom by Beverly Allen.

This book is the first in a new Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series.  The main character, Audrey Bloom, finds herself involved in a murder when her best friend's fiancee is murdered.

This is a new author, so I'm going into this book based solely on a couple of reviews I've read.  However, they praised the book for the great characters and strong plot.  They made it so irresistible I decided to read it.

Like I need another series to try to keep up with.

The book will be out April 1st, so not too long to wait.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

TV Recap: Castle 6-18 - The Way of the Ninja

Castle and Ninjas.  Honestly, I'm a little surprised they did give us this combination before now since it seems pretty much perfect.

The episode starts with a woman running down a deserted ally.  Suddenly, a throwing knife hits her in the chest and she dies instantly.

The next morning, our team is called in to investigate.  They quickly learn that the girl was a Japanese ballerina who had recently come to New York to perform there.  She was found with a key on her, a key that leads to an abandoned cookie factory.  Inside, they find what might be a shrine to her by the killer?  Either way, Castle finds a knife that might be the murder weapon.  They hear a noise and Beckett goes off to investigate only to have a Ninja show up and steal the knife from a surprised Castle before disappearing in a cloud of smoke.

Disneyland Review: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Stars: 5 out of 5 (Nostalgia and fun over true thrills)
Pros: Great theming and plenty of fun.
Cons: New effects in third lift; little real thrills for thrill seekers
The Bottom Line:
This mild thrill ride does
Provide twists, turns, old west fun
Smile for everyone

This Here’s Still the Wildest Ride in the Wilderness

Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad will always have a special place in my heart.  That’s because it was the very first roller coaster I went on.  Being the brave pre-teen I was (you can stop laughing now), I held on tight the entire length of the ride only to have a big smile on my face when I was done.  While I waited until college to go upside down (see, I’m still brave), I was hooked.

With Disney theming is everything, and that definitely applies to this coaster.  At any other park, it would be considered an okay attraction because it would just be steel beams holding up the track.  Here, they have given us a runaway train car in the middle of wilderness spires.  You can’t see much of the track while waiting in line because much of it is hidden behind the mountain that has been recreated here.

When you board the ride, you are seated in rows of two with just a simple lap bar to hold you into place.  That should tell you the real level of thrills you are about to have.  There are three lifts with coaster sections in between.  While you are careening around corners or going up the lifts, be sure to check for the little things Disney has added to the attraction.  There’s a waterfall you go through on the first lift (it parts for you so you don’t get wet) and audio animatronic creatures on the second lift for example.  You finish the ride by going by a western town.  Listen for the dialogue and laugh at the signs in the windows.

After over a year closed for a major overhaul, Big Thunder has opened again in March of 2014.  I got a chance to ride it last week, and it’s still just as much fun as I remembered?  Why was it closed for so long?  For one thing, they laid in all new steel rails.  I wouldn’t have said the ride was rough before, but it is very smooth now.  Heck, they should have done this to the Matterhorn during its recent rehab.  The also added bats during the dark part right before the first lift, which is a great illusion.

Then there’s the third lift.  I have a feeling this change will be the most controversial change to the attraction.  Before, while you were climbing, you saw the rock walls around you start to shake like from an earthquake or cave in.  Now?  A lantern accidentally sets off charges and the walls start to explode while you climb.  This is all done with animation projected on the walls.  There is supposed to be smoke that fills the chamber as you climb, but it wasn’t working when I rode.  I don’t know if that would have helped or not, but overall I’m not impressed.  While the projections are fun at the bottom, I grow tired of them by the time we reach the top.  Furthermore, the entire point of this ride is the real stuff you are going by.  This third lift obviously looks fake to me.  I wish they’d kept the rocks that looked like they were about to fall on you, but I always loved that part of the ride.  Heck, they still could have had the fuses on the bottom leading to those rocks at the top.  Yep, in this case they should have left the ride alone.

All told, this ride lasts about 3 minutes and reaches maximum speeds of 35 miles per hour.  It is disabled accessible (and they’ve added a nice new platform for that separate line), but you have to transfer to the ride’s cars.  Additionally, you have to be 40 inches tall to ride.

Of the roller coasters in the park, this is usually the least popular.  I have a feeling that will change, at least for a while, with this rehab.  Waits are often around 30 minutes or so, but again I expect these to climb, at least for a while.  The ride does offer Disney FastPass if you want to come back for a shorter wait later.

As you might have figured out, this ride isn’t high on thrills.  However, it is still very fun and is perfect for introducing kids to roller coasters outside of kiddie coasters.  It worked for me, obviously.

However, it can still move you around in the seats quite a bit.  I’ve wound up scrunched on one side of the car with my riding partner as one or the other of us slid across the seat.  It rarely happens, but it has.

My opinion on the enhanced features for the third lift might change as I ride it more and experience with it the smoke.  However, it is a minor complaint over all.  The heart of the ride – a fun roller coaster with great theming, remains.  Now that it has reopened, I will be back to riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on every trip to Disneyland.

Monday, March 17, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 3-13 - Witch Hunt

Red had speaking lines!  Regina is still working with our heroes!!!  Yes, I was very happy with some of the events from last night’s episode of Once Upon a Time.  Yes, sometimes it truly is the little things.

Shall we get to it?  Here’s what happened….

We start with the flashback to the Enchanted Forest of a year ago.  Regina has the idea that the tunnels under her castle just might allow access to the castle.  The entire army couldn’t go through, but one person could slip through to shut off the protection shield.  Regina is the one to do it since it will involve magic.

Book Review: Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting perspective as we study Christian apologetics
Cons: Could go deeper at times
The Bottom Line:
Logical looking
Historical evidence
For the Christian faith

Looking at the Gospels Like a Detective

While I have studied it in the past, I haven't done much recently with my interest in apologetic, the arguments for why Christianity is true.  My love of mysteries combined with that interest for Cold-Case Christianity, a book I enjoyed despite some minor flaws.

J. Warner Wallace, a former cold-case detective, used to be a skeptic himself.  As he began to be drawn to Christianity, he started looking at it and the Gospels specifically as he would evaluate his work to see if it made sense.  As a result, he became a Christian.  Further study led to this book.

The book can really be divided into two sections.  In the first, he discusses 10 things he's learned over the years as a detective to see if what he is learning is true.  He talks about such things as keeping an open mind (including being open to the possibilities of miracles), testing to see if evidence found is actually part of the case, determining whether eye witnesses are reliable or not, and tracing the evidence.  Heck, he even discusses conspiracy theories and how relevant they are in real life (as apposed to fiction).  Each chapter in this second includes examples from his time as a detective and how these tools apply to Biblical scholarship and other arguments for Christianity.

The second half of the book takes these 10 tools and uses them to examine the Gospels specifically.  He looks at when they were written (are the Gospel writers really eye witnesses?), if there is outside evidence to support it, how certain are we that the Gospels we have today are the ones actually written, and whether the writers had any reason to lie when they were writing.

Overall, this book makes a very compelling case that the events in the Gospels are true.  There is little here that I hadn't heard before, but the way he presents it is new and different.  At times, things can get a bit dry in the second half, but that's never the case for long.  And, honestly, while he is presenting facts, these are important facts.  It's the meat of the book, and the time to pay the closest attention.

At times, the book does seem a bit shallow.  Honestly, I wish he had dug deeper into a few of the things he brings up.  This is especially true in the first half when he often skims the surface of an idea he brings up.  Some of those are fleshed out better in the second half, and I appreciated that.  Others aren't, however.

If you are looking for more information, too, there are cobias notes and references in the back you can use to further examine any of the ideas that are presented.

On the other hand, the author's experiences as a cop lead him to make some points I hadn't really thought about before.  The biggest example comes when he is talking about eye witnesses and how they can often point out something different based on where they were when the crime happened.  It doesn't mean that one or the other witness is lying, it just means that not everyone saw every detail.  I've done that before with some of the stories in the Bible in my mind, but it was nice to have modern examples that show how it still looks.

As the book progresses, the author includes arguments from those who don't believe the Bible and then shows how their arguments don't measure up to the evidence we are seeing.  I appreciate these sections as they showed that the author was thinking through his arguments thoroughly.

The books end with a challenge to move from believing that God exists (which even the demons do) and can save us to believing that Jesus is God sent to save us.  There is a compelling argument to be made that this change to active faith is logical based on the evidence we can see in the world around us.

If you are at all interested in this subject, I challenge you to read Cold-Case Christianity for yourself.  While I wish it dug deeper at times, this book will give you enough evidence to start your search and point you to places you can find more information.

This is the most important decision you will ever make.  Don't pass up this look at whether Christianity has a basis in history or not.