Monday, June 30, 2014

Ornament Review: Christmas Window #11 - Five and Dime Store - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun scene with boy facing us
Cons: Window could be better decorated
The Bottom Line:
Window a bit plain
But what this ornament has
Still makes it festive

The Five and Dime Store Has Its Ups and Downs

I guess we do still have Five and Dime Stores in our world today.  They've just been adjusted for inflation and are now the 99 Cents stores.  However, for the 2013 entry in the Christmas Window series, we are going back to the old fashion Five and Dime Store.

Since this entry was released in 2013, it was sculpted by Tammy Haddix and features a boy outside the store.  In the window, we can see a card board cut out of Santa, a small Christmas tree, and a sign advertising free yo-yo's for a visit with Santa.  The boy has obviously already been because he's playing with his yo-yo outside the store.  His dog is also there with his paws up on the window.  The boy is actually facing us instead of looking in the window, which is a change.  He's standing under a window awning that advertises "Five & Dime Store."  On the sides of the window itself we see the prices, which are indeed a nickel or a dime.

When you turn the ornament around, you can see the window from the backside.  There's a better view of the sign as well as cubby holes featuring trucks, balls, rocket ships, and even a box filled with coloring books.  In other words, just the kind of things that would make perfect stocking stuffers for the kids who visit Santa.

My one complaint with this ornament is that, overall, it seems a little plain in the window decorations part.  Yes, there is something Christmassy there, but it feels like it should be better decorated.  There's plenty of brown when you look inside.

On the other hand, the toys inside the store are a festive touch I like, and the boy is obviously have a great time with his yo-yo, judging by the smile on his face.

Like the others in the series, the base of this ornament features the series marker (11 in a Christmas tree), which isn't surprising because it is so flat.  You can follow my example and display them under your Christmas tree or on any mantel or shelf of your choosing.

If you want to go the traditional root and hang it, you'll find the loop on the front of the store's roof.  You'll find that the ornament hangs level.

For my money, the display in the Five and Dime Store could have been better.  Still, this is a fun ornament overall that I will display with the rest of my series for years to come.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Christmas Windows series.

Original Price: $20.00

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Reading Challenge - Mt. TBR Checkpoint #2

Ack.  I actually missed a checkpoint back in March.  Just completely forgot to post something.  But here I am checking in from my attempts to climb Mt. TBR at the second checkpoint.

I originally signed up for the lowest level, which was 12 books.  Now I'm up to 16 books.  And they are (with links to the reviews).

1. You Cannoli Die Once by Shelley Costa
2. New Lands by Geoff Rodkey
3. Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption by Dan Clark
4. Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames
5. Mayhem at the Orient Express by Kylie Logan
6. Murder Past Due by Miranda James
7. I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
8. Clammed Up by Barbara Ross
9. Gluten for Punishment by Nancy J. Parra
10. The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
11. Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman
12. Clobbered by Camembert by Avery Aames
13. Melissa Explains it All by Melissa Joan Hart
14. The Reversal by Michael Connelly
15. Dead Man's Switch by Tammy Kaehler
16. Bran New Death by Victoria Hamilton

I figure I might as well shoot for the next level, which is 24 books.  That's only 8 more to go, or just over a book a month.  I'm not too worried about hitting it since I've got at least three I'm hoping to get to in July.

We've also been asked which of these books has been on our TBR pile the longest.  For me, that might be Murder Past Due by Miranda James.  I so wish I had read this book earlier.  Now, I'm trying to figure out when I can read the sequel.  It was just so much fun.

Reading Challenge - All About Middle Grade

I spent quite a bit of time earlier this year searching for a middle grade reading challenge.  I never did find one, and then just last week I stumbled on the All About Middle Grade challenge hosted by The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia.  Yes, the year is half over, but I'm signing up anyway.

And I'm signing up for the top level - Master of All That is Middle Grade, which means I will read 8 or more middle grade books this year.  And since I'm going to count the books I've already read, it should be easy.  Heck, I think if I just started keeping track from today, I'd have no problems.

Links take you to my full review:

1. New Lands by Geoff Rodkey
2. Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski
3. I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
4. Poached by Start Gibbs
5. Blue Sea Burning by Geoff Rodkey
6. Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle by "Science" Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
7. Kingdom Keepers VII: The Insider by Ridley Pearson
8. The Mystery at Saratoga by Kathryn Kenny
9. Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
10. Earthquake Shock by Marlane Kennedy
11. The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith
12. The Sasquatch Mystery by Kathryn Kenny
13. The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon
14. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
15. The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
16. The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson
17. Space Case by Stuart Gibbs
18. The Mystery of the Headless Horseman by Kathryn Kenny
19. The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon by Kathryn Kenny
20. The Hudson Valley Mystery by Kathryn Kenny
21. Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
22. Everblaze by Shannon Messenger

Reading Challenge: Summer Reading Challenge

I know, I know.  I swore I wasn't going to join any reading challenges during the summer, but From Left to Write's Summer Reading Challenge is too easy and too fun to pass up.

The idea behind it?  Read 15 minutes a day.  Every day between June 26th and July 24th.

See, that's too easy to pass up.  And even though I'm joining three days late, so far I've done it.  The only catch will be weekends, but with this challenge, I'm sure I can make that goal.  If not, I do make up for it on weekdays when I read on my lunch hour.

How about you?  Come join the fun.

Book Review: The Mystery at Saratoga by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #24)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great characters; exciting second half
Cons: Weak ending; why couldn't Dan come?
The Bottom Line:
Race track mystery
Sheds light on Regan's story
Average entry

Trixie Races Through Another Mystery

Some of the books in the Trixie Belden series stand out vividly in my mind - usually because they are favorites I have reread multiple times.  Then there are the ones I hated and have rarely revisited.  The Mystery at Saratoga falls somewhere in the middle.  In fact, I want to like it more than I do, and a recent reread reminds me of the flaws in the book.

This is the 24th book in the Trixie Belden mystery series, a lesser known but usually better mystery series like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.  Trixie is fourteen and lives next door to her best friend Honey Wheeler.  The two solve all kinds of mysteries and hope to open a detective agency when they grow up.  Along with their brothers, Brian, Mart, and Jim, and two other friends, they've formed the Bob-Whites of the Glen, a club that gets involved in service projects (that lead to even more mysteries).  Yes, there is explanation of all this at the beginning of the book as well, but honestly, you're better off starting the series earlier for multiple reasons.  One of which is that the volume of characters can overwhelm at times until you really learn who all of them are.  But by book 24, loyal fans who have been reading in order are certainly ready to jump in.

It's August, and with Jim, Brian, and Mart at camp, it's quiet in Sleeyside.  That is until Honey calls Trixie with horrible news - Regan has vanished.  The Wheelers' groom has left a note saying he hopes to be back soon, but he hasn't explained where he went or why.

However, a trip to the library puts Trixie and Honey on his trail.  It seems seven years ago, before he went to work for the Wheelers, he was working with race horses in Saratoga.  One of them was drugged, and suspicion fell on the then teenager.  Now, Regan has gone back to clear his name.  Trixie and Honey manage to get a trip to Saratoga as well.  Can they track down Regan and prove his innocence?

Rereading this book, I was surprised at just how slow the first half of the book really was.  Of course, some of that is because you have to get Trixie and Honey out of Sleepyside and into Saratoga.  The author does a good job of laying a trail to get them there, but then the book slows as the next part is set up.  Plus we get chapters on racing and the history of Saratoga, some of which comes into play later and some of which is just filler.  Although I must admit that the chapter on the history of Saratoga does have some pretty funny moments that have stuck with me all these years later.

Once the mystery really gets going, the pace picks up.  However, I must admit I noticed just how much of the plot hinged on coincidence.  Yes, that happens a time or two elsewhere in the series, but here without coincidence, nothing would be resolved.

Plus there's the dues ex machina ending.  While many of these complaints are things I've noticed more as an adult than as a kid reading this book, the ending always bothered me.  It comes out of left field and just makes me roll my eyes.  It's like the author got trapped in a corner and this was the only way to get out of it and get the story moving forward again.

Plus there's the fact that Dan couldn't make it.  He's another member of the Bob-Whites, however his appearances in books is kept to a minimum.  He's actually quite active in the first part of the book, and with good reasons, Regan is his uncle.  So why, then, couldn't he have helped Trixie and Honey in their search in Saratoga?  Again, that always bothered me as a kid.

This late in the series, the characters can be hit or miss.  Here, they are the best versions of themselves.  They have their flaws, but they are still likable with strengths that outshine those weaknesses.

Even so, this winds up being just an average book in the series.  Fans will enjoy reading it and learning a bit more about our favorite groom.  But if you aren't already familiar with the cast, you'll be better served backing up and starting from the beginning before reading The Mystery at Saratoga.

And if you need to back up, here are the Trixie Belden Mysteries in order.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Weekly TV Thoughts: June 28

It's that time of the week again.  Summer shows are now in full swing, so it's been a busy TV week.

As always, leave your thoughts on these or any other show in the comments or leave me a link to your blog where you talk about what you watched this week.

And while I don't come out and say it, there is a spoiler that is fairly obvious below.  You've been warned.

Enlisted - I can't believe that's it.  I'm so bummed the show is over.  It went out with some great laughs and the most touching scene at the end ever.  Yet, as always, their touching moments rang true.  (And I knew Lori would show up.  But when she did made it even more special.)

Wipeout - You know, some of those new obstacles seem a little easy for the show.  Not that I'm volunteering to be on the show, of course.  I like my body exactly how it is.  Have to give props to the brother with the injured knee, however.  He was strong after that injury.  Easy to root for him at that point.

24: Live Another Day - So I was right in my rambling last week - we didn't get a silent clock at the end of the episode and it was a clue.  Great twist, however, I love it.  I'm a bit surprised they changed focus like this.  Oh, we've often had a "big bad" we didn't know was the big bad at the beginning, but this didn't feel like one of those stories.  However, I've very curious to see how this all plays out.  And poor Chloe getting caught on the wrong side of all of this.

American Ninja Warrior - Third woman, and a rookie this time.  It didn't seem like there were quite as many people finishing overall.  I wonder if it was the cold, the altitude, or both.  I know going to that altitude would certainly be hard on me.

Royal Pains - I knew that husband wasn't up to anything bad from the conversation we overheard when Hank went all doctor near him.  And I was wondering about her name on the door, too.  Nice twist there, still.  As to this new half-sister, I was wondering exactly what Evan was before he said it - is she to be trusted or is she in for the long con?

Covert Affairs - So many balls in the air.  Obviously, there's our new big story with the terrorists, but it looks like Annie is suffering some PTSD.  And Calder is with a prostitute, I have a feeling.  Who is this new guy with his eye on Annie?  So many interesting places to go from here.  Yet I knew what was happening as soon as we saw the sister outside the building.  So sad.  So hard to watch.

Mystery Girls - Speaking of so hard to watch….  I wanted to like it.  I might give it another week, but I might not.  That was just painful.  Jennie was okay, but Tori was over acting something awful and most of the lines fell flat.  The idea should have been so much funnier.  And seriously, why not start with the pilot that sets things up?  That would make so much more sense than to air it as episode 4 or 5, whenever they are going to actually air it.

Suits - Amazing.  Mike being on the other side is just as riveting as any client, except I'm rooting for both sides.  I love watching how everyone is fighting, too.  They are trying to get what they want without being quite as ruthless as they would normally be.  I really don't see how they can resolve this, but I will watch every second.  Oh, and that scene between Harvey and Rachel at the end?  Brilliant!

Graceland - I don't really have much to say this time around.  Not a bad episode, but nothing really stood out to me either.  Advancing stories but not too much advancement for all the characters.  Of course, the new guy was gone, but that wasn't a surprise.  I mean, he's only a guest star.

Girl Meets World - Two sitcoms premiered this week starring 90's TV stars, and this was by far the better one.  Some truly funny lines and situations.  Yes, a bit corny.  Yes, a bit cheesy.  But it did have some real heart and real fun.  Plus the nods to the first show were wonderful.  I will definitely be back for more.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Ornament Review: Ornament Tree - 2013 Hallmark Ornament Display Stand

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun stand for display a dozen ornaments
Cons: Ornaments tend to twist and turn
The Bottom Line:
An ornament tree
Waiting to be filled with your
Twelve favorite ones

It's Not a Pear Tree, but You Can Hang Your Partridge in It

In 2013, Hallmark rereleased the first two ornaments in their popular current 12 Days of Christmas series, much to collector's dismay.  They also released a stand they called an Ornament Tree.  While it will work for any ornaments you want to hang there, it was obviously tied into that series.

The stand itself is metal with an antiqued gold finish on it.  It actually goes together in several parts, so you can put all three levels together to have enough space for 12 ornaments, or you can just put out enough levels to hold the ornaments you want to display.  Of course, the stand just doesn't look quite as good without all three levels screwed together.  Personally, I put it together and left the bottom levels empty this last year, and that is probably what I will keep doing.

The stand is two feet tall and just over a foot wide.  Even so, there is just enough room for an ornament and a very small hook.  Trust me on this, the size of the ornaments you display there matters.  Anything too big won't work at all.

The stand is described as a tree, and I can see that to a certain extent.  The various branches curl out from the pole in the middle and there are a few leaves scattered on it here and there.  However, it is obviously a display stand, and that is obvious.  Now, don't get me wrong, it looks very nice.  And filled with ornaments, it looks even better.  But without anything on it, it does look rather plain.

Did I mention how easy it is to put together?  The pieces just screw into place, and at the bottom is a nice solid stand that holds the display steady.  I put mine together in just a couple of minutes last year, and took it down in the same amount of time.

My only complaint is that it is really hard to keep the ornaments turned so they are looking into the room.  With how the hooks go over the display branches, my ornaments kept wanting to turn sideways.  It's a minor complaint overall.

So why is this associated with the 12 Days of Christmas series?  I think it is simply because it was designed by Edyth Kegrize, the artist behind the series.  It does feature a bit of that whimsical feel to it that the series does.  And, of course, it was released back in October when the first two ornaments in the series were rereleased.  As the box says, you could use this to display any 12 ornaments you wanted, however.

The stand proved to be very popular.  Box price is listed at $50, but it was only $30 if you made a qualifying purchase during Ornament Debut last October.  My favorite Hallmark store sold out of the stand on Saturday, and I barely got the last one across town Sunday afternoon.  See what happens when you debate whether you truly need it or not?

But I'm glad I got it.  I put it together that weekend and left it up until January.  I have a feeling it will go up early again this year.  I love the 12 Days series, and this Ornament Tree is a perfect way to display it.

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

Original Box Price: $49.95 (but discounted when originally released)

June 27th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to Friday!  Almost there for the weekend!  And it also means it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring another pre-release - The Prime Minister's Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal.  The book comes out on Tuesday, but I've read an ARC this week, so look for my review on Tuesday.

This is the fourth in a series about Maggie Hope, American raised but with dual citizenship, she finds herself working under cover to help the British as World War II begins.  I will say this, you definitely need to read the books in order or you won't enjoy them as much.

Anyway, here's how Chapter 1 begins:

Maggie Hope had thought that summer in Berlin was hell, but it was nothing compared to the inferno of darkness that now raged in her own head, even as she was "safe as houses" in Arisaig, on the western coast of Scotland.

And, skipping ahead to Page 56:

The Prime Minister chewed harder on his cigar, then banged his fist on the table, making Nelson jump.  [The cat] pretended to groom himself to restore his dignity, then slunk off.

See how nice I am.  I filled in who Nelson was for you without you even needing to ask.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Music Review: Love & the Outcome by Love & the Outcome

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some fun tracks with good lyrics
Cons: Needs more variety stylistically and more depth to some lyrics
The Bottom Line:
Not a bad debut
Noticeable weaknesses
Bet they build from here

Good Debut, But Needs Some Maturity

Thanks to a sample I got last fall, I decided to give a couple of new artists a try.  One of these was Love & the Outcome.  I'd love to say their debut lived up to the promise of the couple of songs I liked, but it didn't quite grab me.

Love & the Outcome is the pop/rock husband/wife duo of Jodi King and Chris Rademaker.  They both sing, although Jodi does all the lead vocals.  Jodi also plays the keyboard and Chris plays bass.

Unfortunately, the disc suffers from a couple of issues.  The first is that the songs all sound similar.  There's a mid to up tempo beat to them, and similar enough melodies that the songs can begin to blend together.  There's a difference between having a signature sound and sounding too much alike, and they haven't quite found it yet.

Another issue is the lyrics.  Some of the songs are quite good.  Some of them are just okay.  On songs like "The Story Your Building in Me," I felt like asking what is the point of the song.  I realize that's harsh since it is a biographical song.  Then there's "Ask" looks at prayer but sounds all too familiar.

With both of these issues, it's a matter of needing a few years yet to mature.  There is promise here, but I don't think Jodi and Chris have quite reached the peak of their creative powers yet.

And I say that because I do definitely see some promise in some of the songs.  Not that there's anything new or different with "When We Love," but it is so bouncy and upbeat you can't help but enjoy the music.  And, while the lyrics don't dive too deep, it is a good reminder that we need to love others.

The first single is another good track.  "He Is with Us" is a soft rock anthem that reminds us to trust God in the hard times.  Again, I wouldn't say it's terribly original, but it is fun.  Same with the next track which talks about the desire to hear more directly from God.  Still, after looking at the way He still works around us, there's "No Mistaking (It's You)."

"Heart Like You" is one of the slower tracks.  The lyrics are some of the best as they pray for a heart like God's.  After the quiet first verse, the chorus does build in tempo and intensity, and it sounds really nice.

The disc closes out with "What a Promise," which looks at God's promise to never leave.  Again, it starts out slow but builds for the choruses, and I love the reminders in the lyrics.

As you can see, these songs aren't all bad.  Given a few years, I think that Love & the Outcome could become a great duo.  They just need a little time to build up to it.

CD Length: 40:30
1. When We Love
2. He is With Us
3. No Mistaking (It's You)
4. City of God
5. Ask
6. The Story You're Building in Me
7. Closer to You
8. Bring Us Back
9. King of My Heart
10. Heart Like You
11. What a Promise

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movie Review: The Lego Movie

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and creativity on display
Cons: One aspect of the climax I didn't care for
The Bottom Line:
Movie built on bricks
But it's not filled with plastic
Characters or laughs

"All This is True Because It Rhymes."

Okay, okay, I confess.  When I first heard of The Lego Movie, I dismissed it as a movie I wasn't going to be interested in.  (And yes, this is from someone who loves the Lego video games.)  However, when I started laughing at the previews, I became intrigued.  And when I heard from various people just how good it was, I knew I had to see it.  So, I didn't see it until it hit Blu-Ray, but I enjoyed it.

Our story follows Emmet Brickowoski (voiced by Chris Platt).  He's an ordinary construction worker in the Lego city where he lives, but he's very happy that way.  After all, he follows his instruction manual completely, ensuring that his life is awesome.

One day, however, he is delayed at the construction site where he works and sees Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks).  That leads him to discover a floating red brick.  It turns out that brick is the key to defeating President Business (Will Ferrell).  Suddenly thrust into a leadership role, will Emmet handle the pressure or will he fall apart?

I was just a few minutes into the film when I started thinking that movie was creative in the same vein as the best of Pixar films.  There are so many nods to Legos and their world that I was laughing and loving it.  Granted, I never played with Legos too much as a kid, but I still got the jokes.  We're talking everything from water to how the characters move.

The story is predictable but fun.  As you know, the fact that something is predictable never ruins it for me as long as I am enjoying the ride, and that was absolutely the case here.  The story is filled with so many jokes, it's hard not to laugh and have a great time along the way.  And since this is a Lego movie, they have a wide range of characters to choose from like pirates and Superheroes.  Even some other franchise characters make brief and funny appearances.

The voice cast is amazing.  I was actually surprised how many of the names I recognized since I didn't recognize their voices at all.  That, to me, is perfectly voice over work.

The computer animation isn't going to blow you away with realism or any jaw dropping scenes.  But it doesn't have to.  This is a movie where all the characters and sets are made out of plastic bricks.  Anything realistic would be out of place.  The movie knows this and is stronger as a result.

The only complaint I had heard about the film was about the climax.  I'm not going to spoil things, but I do see what the person was complaining about.  I get what they were trying to do theme wise, and a part of me likes it, however, I also feel the movie would have been just as strong if not better without that particular plot point.

Even so, I enjoyed The Lego Movie.  It's filled with laughs that kids of all ages will enjoy over and over again.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book Review: Basil Instinct by Shelley Costa (Miracolo Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs, characters, and fun story
Cons: A few too many characters, although important ones are easy to keep straight
The Bottom Line:
Mixed up in murder
With secret society
Means danger and fun

Secrets and a Secret Society

Not too long after I read the first Miracolo Mystery, the author offered  an early copy of the second one free for review.  Never being one to pass up a free copy of a book I planned to buy, I accepted.  Turns out, I liked Basil Instinct even more than the first.

The series centers around the Italian restaurant Miracolo and the family that runs it.  Our guide to this world is Eve Angelotta, the third generation to work there.  Still leading the pack is her Nonna (Grandma to the rest of us), Maria Pia.  Maria still shows up every day even though she turned the reigns of head chef over to Eve.  However, that is just the tip of the ice burg when it comes to family involvement since Eve works with several cousins and even her father's ex-girlfriend.

To Eve, it was a normal Monday, but her world was about to be turned completely upside down.  Nonna gets an invitation from Belfiere, a secret society of highly skilled female chefs.  Membership in the society is completely secret and involves a tattoo, an initiation meal, and who knows what else.  Based on what Eve and her cousin Landon find, it might even mean death.

However, Nonna is thrilled as she begins to prepare dinner for her 50 new sisters.  While Eve and Landon are trying to figure out how to keep her safe, the unthinkable happens.  Will Nonna's day go off without a hitch?  What is this society really all about?

Do not misunderstand what I am about to say - this book is a mystery.  And for the climax, Eve figures out who done it.  However, the plot involves more than mystery.  I'll just leave it at that.  I loved every second of it and always found myself turning the pages to find out just what would happen next.

My complaint from the first book still rings true.  There are just too many characters to keep everyone and their place in the story straight.  Fortunately, those who are important to the story stand out a bit more from those who are just supporting characters, and I had an easier time placing the relationships between everyone here than I did the first time around.  The characters we do get to know, both returning and new, are well developed and do like them.

What I either missed or didn't remember from the first book was the comedy.  I started laughing at Eve's narration on page one and found myself laughing the entire rest of the book.  There is one section in particular that reaches the level of a farce, and absolutely loved it!  I did have to wonder why Eve didn't get into more trouble with the police for her antics here, but I was enjoying myself too much to care too much.

And, being a culinary mystery, there is a recipe in the back of the book.  If you love Italian food (and who doesn't), it will make your mouth water.

So get ready for a fun mystery as you return to Miracolo.  This group of family and friends will entertain you from start to finish in Basil Instinct.  I'm already looking forward to a return visit very soon.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What's On My Nightstand - June 2014

I almost forgot this month.  But fortunately I remember and the official post for What's On Your Nightstand is up (not that I've let that stop me from posting before).

Last week, I made it through several books, trying to up my count for Spring Reading Thing right before the end.  I finished Dead Man's Switch and Bran New Death.  And then, over the weekend, I finished Basil Instinct.  The book officially comes out tomorrow, but I got an advanced copy.  My review will go live at 1:30 AM my time, so go you think you are interest, go read it.

So now, I'm working on another ARC, this time The Prime Minister's Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal.  This is the fourth in her Maggie Hope series of historical mystery/spy adventures set in England during World War II.  As always, I'm really enjoying it.  Expect the review on July 1st.

From there, I will probably reread and review Trixie Belden #24, The Mystery at Saratoga.  I'll follow that up with Death in Four Courses by Lucy Burndette.

That's about as far in advance as I've gotten.  I have an entire stack of books waiting for me to read, and I'm quite anxious to dive into them.  I just don't know in what order that will happen.  I keep saying I'd like to reread and review some Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, so maybe that will happen.  We'll just have to see, I guess.

Ornament Review: Christmas Window #10 - Jangles - 2012 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Back to a true Christmas window!
Cons: The gold cord in the back
The Bottom Line:
This window will help
You get ready for Christmas
With all the trimmings

Get Your Christmas Decorations Now At Jangles!

For the last few windows in Hallmark's Christmas Window series, I've been complaining that they didn't look that Christmassy to me.  Well, that changes with Jangles, the 2012 entry in the series.

Honestly, I can't quite tell what Jangles is supposed to be.  My guess is it is a department store.  But since the sides of the window say "Gifts, Toys" on one side and "Decorations" on the other, you'd almost think it was a specialty shop for Christmas items.

Either way, the ornament features a little girl walking her dog.  While the dog is impatient to move forward, she's been stopped by the display in the window.  Inside, she sees a Christmas tree with presents under it and Santa with a sack of toys.  Well, it usually has toys in it, but right now the sack has an elf sticking out of it.  Under the window are blocks, and supporting the roof are fancy columns.  There's plenty of snow on the roof as well as the ground.

When you turn the ornament around, you can see a few more decorations.  There's a rocking horse next to the tree.  A snowman and a toy soldier are on a shelf while a teddy bear has fallen to the floor.  And there's a drawer open revealing a few ornaments and a gold chain for wrapping around your tree.

Honestly, that gold chain is the oddest part of the ornament to me since it is sticking up out of the drawer.  I looked at several in store displays, and they all had this "feature."  It might make sense if it was drapped over the side of the drawer, but since it is sticking up, it just looks weird.  It's definitely defying gravity, something I've never seen a chain do.

That odd feature aside, I do like the ornament.  It's a return to a true Christmas window and the details are charming.  Yes, the soldier could have used a bit more, but it's still good.

As always, you'll find the 10 in a Christmas tree (can you believe we're on #10?) on the bottom of the ornament.  I use that nice flat base to put this one out with the rest of the series under one of my Christmas trees.  But if you want to hang it, there is a brass loop at the top.  The ornament hangs level.

That gold cord sticking out of the drawer just gets me.  The rest of the details are nice, but I hope an employee of Jangles fixes it soon.  It's the one detail that bugs me most about the 2012 Christmas Window.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Christmas Windows series.

Original Price: $20.00

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Board Game Review: Sorry!

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun game with some twists on the classic set up
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Race around the board
Hope to avoid Sorry! card
Classic all enjoy

You Will Not Be Sorry! You Played This Classic Board Game

Some board games come and go while others stand the test of time.  One of those classics is Sorry!  Yes, there are some variations of the game out there, but the classic is still going strong and still incredibly fun.

The premise is simple and familiar in board game circles - get your four pieces around the board from start to finish.  It's the rules of the game that change things up and make it fun and unique.

The biggest change here is that instead of rolling dice, you flip over cards to see how far you move your pieces.  The numbers range from 1 to 12, and they are fairly evenly distributed.  Some of the numbers have special rules.  For example, you can only move a piece out of start with a 1 or a 2.  A 4 always means you move backwards.  With a 10 you can move 1 backward or 10 forward.  A 7 allows you to split your move between two pieces while an 11 allows you to switch position with any piece of an opponent.

Then there's the Sorry! card.  This card allows you to move any of your pieces from your start space to any space occupied by an opponent, sending that opponent's piece back to his start.  It can be a great boon for you, a set back to them, and if you are really lucky, both.

Slides are another part of the game.  If you land at the start of a slide, you get to move down to the end of it, moving any opponents in your way back to their start.  Heck, any time you land on an opponent, they go back to start.

Like many games, it is a fun combination of luck (drawing the cards) and strategy (which piece will you move the required number of spaces).  I played this game plenty growing up, and I always found it to be fun.  And you never know who will win.  I recently played it again with my niece, and she had almost all her pieces home yet never got the card she needed to win, so Uncle Mark came from behind and won.  (Bad Uncle Mark!)

The official description on the game says ages 6 and up, but my niece is 4 - almost 5.  She's played before and obviously has no problem knowing the rules.  Depending on your child, you might be able to play it with them early.

Either way, this is a game that belongs in every family's game closet.  Sorry! is still fun and challenging no matter how old you are, meaning all ages can enjoy it together over and over again.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

June 21st's Weekly TV Thoughts

Hi and welcome to this week's Weekly TV Thoughts.  As always, you can play along in the comments or on your own blog.  If you do want to comment on your own blog, just leave the link so others can visit.

Enlisted - Not a laugh out loud episode, but definitely amusing.  Pete and Randy definitely had the funniest stuff with their competitions.  I agree with Derek, they are idiots!  But they are amusing idiots, which is what is required for a comedy.  Meanwhile, I knew he wouldn't get away with hiring the others to fix things at the house for him.  However, I didn't see the twists coming with the son.  I'm sorry to see Derek break up with his girlfriend because I liked that character and relationship, but I can hardly argue with her moving across the country so her son can be near his father.

24: Live Another Day - I often think they've killed off characters for no reason on the show.  But when they do it right, they hit it out of the park (no pun intended).  That episode was so intense, but not for the reason that last week's was.  The emotions were just so strong and heart breaking.  I don't know where we will go in the final 5 episodes, but it is going to be one crazy ride.  Just one complaint, why no silent clock?  (Unless that was a clue of some kind….)

American Ninja Warrior - No additional women made it this week, but I think the biggest surprise is Flip going out on something so simple.  I knew that going for speed would do those two in sooner or later.  I'm sorry to be correct.

Royal Pains - Well, I called Emma's father completely wrong, and Eddie makes much more sense.  But I feel like something else is going on with her.  Yes, I like her, as do the other characters, and her answers at the end of the episode certainly make sense, but I just feel like Eddie's reaction means something else is up.  Meanwhile, how much longer will Jeremiah's love for Divya allow him to put up with the baby?

Melissa & Joey - I'm torn.  That wedding was so incredibly funny, but at the same time, something about Mel not really being awake for it seems wrong.  And this must be how they intend to work in a younger cast member again since both of the original kids are now in college.  How Lennox will get out of this love triangle is beyond me.  When is the show coming back?

Baby Daddy - I've only been watching for a few episodes, but I felt the emotions of this one.  I've been pulled in by the characters that much already.  Still being new to the show, I have no idea where they are going to go with the relationships from here, but I'm anxious to find out.  I'm a little unclear why the Wheelers were even allowed at the block party, but those scenes and how they changed the words of that song were so fun.

Suits - For someone I couldn't stand that first season, they sure have made Louis out to be a nice guy these days.  It does help that we see how much Donna looks out for him, like tonight.  First she got him to do the right thing, then she went to bat for him with Jessica.  Meanwhile, this Mike/Harvey fight in great.  I can't tell how they will drag this out and come up with a win/win ending, but I will love the ride.

Graceland - Yep, I'm fully on board for the new season.  What they are doing with the characters is amazing.  Charlie and Briggs with the guilt?  The one guy with his son?  This is looking to be much more promising than season 1.  I think I'm glad I came back.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reading Challenge Wrap-Up: Spring Reading Thing 2014 and Spring Into a Good Book 2014

Summer is upon us, so it's time to wind down these two Spring reading challenges.  Spring Reading Thing was hosted by The Musing of a Book Addict and Spring Into a Good Book was hosted by Book Dragon.

I didn't quite make it through the entire list, thanks to some additions I got along the way, but I came very close.  The advantage of being unemployed all Spring (new job starts on Monday).  Anyway, here is my list with links to my reviews.

Books on my original list read:
Let the Storm Break by Shannon Messenger
I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
Inherit the Word by Daryl Wood Gerber
Clammed Up by Barbara Ross
Ghost of a Gamble by Sue Ann Jaffarian
Poached by Stuart Gibbs
Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Blue Sea Burning by Geoff Rodkey
Gluten for Punishment by Nancy J. Parra
Death Runs Adrift by Karen MacInerney
Unlucky 13 by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Death of a Mad Hatter by Jenn McKinlay
'Til Dirt Do Us Part by Edith Maxwell
Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman
A Sense of Entitlement by Anna Loan-Wilsey
Clobbered by Camembert by Avery Aames
Mr. Monk is Open for Business by Hy Conrad
Melissa Explains It All by Melissa Joan Hart
Kingdom Keepers VII: The Insider by Ridley Pearson
Dead Man's Switch by Tammy Kaehler
Bran New Death by Victoria Hamilton

Books not on my original list read:
Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara
Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
The Pickled Piper by Mary Ellen Hughes
Boiled Over by Barbara Ross

Books from Fall 2013 not read:
NONE!!!!!  (although two of them were read this week)

Books from Spring 2014 not read:
Basil Instinct by Shelley Costa (in progress)
Death in Four Courses by Lucy Burdette

So as you can see, if I had stuck to my original list, I would have finished it.  That's pretty impressive to me, and a major step up from what I normally do.  Furthermore, I am almost half way through one of those not read books, and the other will be read by the beginning of July if not the end of June.

Of course, I put off some books I got this spring that I am dying to read because they weren't on my list.  Now I've got to get cracking on all of them.  Somehow, I've got to figure out how to read more books without cutting back on everything else in my life and working full time.  How do I get a longer day again?

Reading Challenge Wrap-Up: Sequel Spring

Well, since Spring is winding down, I guess it's time to wrap up my Spring reading challenges.  I'll start with Sequel Spring, which was hosted by the lovely ladies at Words in a Teacup.

In an effort not to over commit myself, I said I'd read 6 sequels in the last three months - about half of what I expected to read this Spring.  Well, it turned out I was unemployed the entire time (new job starts Monday), so I got more reading done.  And I also got more sequels read, too.  In fact, I read 18 sequels.  Talk about under shooting, right?

Anywhere, here are the sequels I read with links to my reviews.

1. Let the Storm Break by Shannon Messenger
2. I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
3. Inherit the Word by Daryl Wood Gerber
4. Ghost of a Gamble by Sue Ann Jaffarian
5. Poached by Start Gibbs
6. Blue Sea Burning by Geoff Rodkey
7. Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle by Science Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
8. Death Runs Adrift by Karen MacInerney
9. Unlucky 13 by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
10. Death of a Mad Hatter by Jenn McKinlay
11. Boiled Over by Barbara Ross
12. 'Til Dirt Do Us Part by Edith Maxwell
13. The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
14. A Sense of Entitlement by Anna Loan-Wilsey
15. Clobbered by Camembert by Avery Aames
16. Mr. Monk is Open for Business by Hy Conrad
17. Kingdom Keepers VII: The Insider by Ridley Pearson
18. The Reversal by Michael Connelly

So there you have it.  Lots more reading then I thought I'd get to, that's for sure.  No wonder I've been so busy reviewing for my blog.

Ornament Review: A Tropical Holiday - Cookie Cutter Christmas Companion Piece - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute island scene starring that cute mouse
Cons: Nothing really to do with Christmas
The Bottom Line:
A holiday trip
Or a summer vacation
Cute scene either way

Celebrating Christmas on the Islands

Hallmark's popular Cookie Cutter Christmas ornament series started as a stand alone ornament at the 2011 Keepsake Ornament Club event.  Somehow, it seems appropriate that they would revisit it for the 2013 event, and that's just what they did with A Tropical Holiday.

This series features a scene instead of a cookie cutter.  There's a mouse as our main character, and he's enjoying some kind of Christmas activity.  At least, usually he is.  As the name might suggest, he's not exactly in the traditional Christmas spirit in this ornament.

The ornament features a flower shaped cookie cutter.  Either that or a sun shaped one.  You know, bumps coming out of a circle (not that we can see the inner circle).  That definitely ties in to the tropical theme.

And the scene?  Our mouse is relaxing in a pair of swim trunks and a drink on a beach chair.  He's on the sand with waves lapping nearby (under the sand).  And there's a tree growing up from the background that is just close enough it might be giving him shade.  Other than that, it's blue sky as far as the eye can see.

It really is a rough life, isn't it?

Obviously, this really isn't a Christmas themed ornament in the slightest, but I really do like it.  For one thing, the event where it is offered takes place in summer.  Second, it's just so cute.  Heck, they even work in some food as the chair the mouse is sitting on looks like a bent wafer cookie.  Some ornaments in the series feature more food than this, but I like that detail.

The bumps on the ornament actually are positioned so that you can stand this up if you want to do so.  And I'm a little surprised at how sturdy it feels.  I don't think I'd want to display it that way long term, but for a short time, it would be fine.

Naturally, I hang this ornament on my tree this last December.  It hangs perfectly straight, although it is a little heavy.  I can't quite figure out why, but it definitely feels heavier than others in the series.  Keep that in mind when you are picking a branch to hang it on.

Since this is an unofficial companion piece and not part of the official series, you won't find any series markers on it.

Since it was only available at the event, A Tropical Holiday might be a bit more expensive and hard to track down.  But if you are a fan of the series, you'll be very glad you did.

Be sure to check out the other cute ornaments in the Cookie Cutter Christmas series.

Original Price: $12.95

June 20th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to Friday.  My last free day for a while since I'm starting a new job on Monday.  Excited.  Nervous.  But my bank account will be happy even if it means I'll be reading fewer books.

But that's not what you came to hear about.  You're looking for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  So let's get to it.  This week's book is Basil Instinct by Shelley Costa.  It's the second in a series about a family that runs an Italian restaurant.

I'm reading it right now because I got a copy to review.  The book actually hits shelves on Tuesday.

And it begins with:

At 9:41 PM I uttered those fateful words: "How bad could it be?"  If you didn't tumble out of your crib yesterday, surely you know that the universe hearts those words as a challenge.  So it sends you a hurricane or a tax audit or a new man who still lives with his mother.  Even so, I didn't see it coming.

Now I'm going to cheat a little because, frankly, page 56 is a bit boring.  It's a fine page moving the story along, but nothing that catches the interest for a snippet like this.  Unlike the first two paragraphs of page 50:

I took a big breath and swung open the door to the kitchen classroom.
Which was when a bunch of lighted matches, arcing through the air, damn near hit me.

Really, when I read those sentences, I just couldn't find anything to compare.  They are took good to pass up, right?

I'm aiming to have my review up on Tuesday, but with the new job, it's not the guarantee it would have been when I had hours to sit and read.  I'm not much past page 56 at the moment, but I expect to be able to make some good progress tomorrow.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review: Bran New Death by Victoria Hamilton (Merry Muffin Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Eccentric yet believable characters and a good story
Cons: Story could have started a little faster
The Bottom Line:
Merry's castle home
Gives her front seat to murder
Fun start for readers

Bran New Series is a Winner

Sometimes, when I hear the theme of a new mystery series, I am surprised there isn't already a series out there with that theme.  Such was the case with Bran New Death.  Seriously, we didn't have muffins before?  And since I seem to be even more addicted to culinary cozies than I was before, I had to pick it up.  The result was fun.

After months of trying to sell it, Merry Wynter has no choice but to go visit her inheritance.  Located by the small town of Autumn Vale, Wynter Castle is just that - a castle in the middle of upstate New York.  Even after seeing it, Merry still feels the need to sell it.  The upkeep on it alone would be more than her savings would tolerate.

However, she quickly realizes the grounds and house need some serious repair.  After all, someone has been digging holes in the yard.  That someone turns out to be Tom Turner, and after they have a very public fight, Tom turns up dead in the bottom of one of those holes.  Can Merry navigate the new small town and find the killer?

You'll notice that I didn't really talk about the muffin making above.  It does happen, and it is an organic part of the story.  But it's something that Merry falls into along the way, not the focus of the book.  Since, I will admit, I read for the mystery more than anything else, I really don't mind.

What I did mind was the slow start.  We got Merry's back story and learned a bit about the town and her family before things really got going.  It wasn't too bad, but the start definitely could have been a bit faster.

Once the book does get going, however, it's a great read.  The plot moves forward at a quick pace with some twists and surprises along the way.  I didn't figure out the solution until Merry did, but it made perfect sense.

The characters can be a bit over the top, and yet they work.  Merry is the most normal, but even her best friend isn't well grounded.  As I said, their eccentricities work, however.  They kept me entertained even during the beginning, and they never felt like caricature.  They were just plain fun.

Heck, I got a few laughs out of the book as well.  There was one line in particular, just over half way through, that really got me.

Under the pen name Amanda Cooper, the author has just started a Teapot Collector's series.  I found that fun since Merry also collects teapots.  Just an interesting bit of trivia.

Naturally, there are recipes in the back - two muffins and a soup.  All three sound excellent, and I'd love to try them myself.

With some on going stories definitely still up in the air (and some intriguing teases left for us), I'll definitely be back for more.  Cozy readers will gobble up Bran New Death and be left wanting the next bite.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: Dead Man's Switch by Tammy Kaehler (Kate Reilly Racing Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery; great climax
Cons: Too much racing info; characters a little underdone
The Bottom Line:
Racing series starts
With a book that needs some tweaks
Not bad, but not great

Kate's Big Racing Break is Murder

A couple years ago, I was chatting with an author I love at a book festival and started chatting with the author next to her as well.  The result was that I bought Dead Man's Switch, a book I probably would have passed on otherwise.  After all, I'm not much of a sports guy and definitely not into racing.  That may have hampered my enjoyment of the book, although this debut wasn't quite ready for a victory lap either way.

Kate Reilly is going from track to track in the American Le Mans Series, hoping that being in the right place at the right time will land her a permanent job racing.  Sadly, it also lands her at the wrong place at the wrong time when she finds the body of Wade Becker under her car.  The silver lining in this cloud is that she gets his spot on the racing team.

However, she also lands on the official and unofficial suspect list for Wade's murder.  Not only are the police interested in her whereabouts and motives, but rumors on the track are swirling as well.  So Kate takes it upon herself to investigate Wade's death.  The more she investigates, the more she learns that Wade wasn't a nice man with too many enemies.  Can she find the killer before her reputation is dead while still being ready to race?

Now, the author knows she will have many people picking up the book who don't know anything about racing, and she goes out of her way to make sure we are comfortable with the terms.  In fact, I think she goes a little too much out of her way.  There are long passages that are exposition talking about racing terms, track conditions, strategy, and the like.  It isn't too clumsy, but it definitely could have been cut down to give mystery readers what they want.

The mystery was much better.  We had several viable suspects, all of who seemed like logical choices at one time or another.

However, the characters could have been better overall.  Kate and one or two others were fully formed, but the rest never quite took on a life of their own.  They are just shy of being real enough for me.

Things do come together for the climax, which features a great racing scene that I actually found myself caring about and a solution to the mystery that was perfectly logical.

Honestly, I think this book could have been a little better with just one more draft.  Tightening up the plot and fleshing out the characters just a tad would have made it much better.

As it is, Dead Man's Switch turns out to be an average debut.  If the subject interests you, give it a spin, but there's not reason to race out to get it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review: The Reversal by Michael Connelly (Mickey Haller #3; Harry Bosch #14.5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Compelling story populated by great characters
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Haller, Bosch team up
Take on tricky, twisty case
Will justice prevail?

The Lincoln Lawyer Crosses the Aisle

After revisiting Mickey Haller last month, I was anxious to move on to his next case.  These books about the Lincoln Lawyer are proving to be quite gripping even if they aren't my normal choice.  A recent family vacation to Yosemite provided me the perfect opportunity to listen to the unabridged audio version of The Reversal, and I was once again enthralled.

The second book about Mickey Haller featured author Michael Connelly's other character, Harry Bosch, as a supporting character.  Here, both of them take on lead rolls.  I was worried that, since I have yet to read a full book about Bosch, I might be a bit lost here, but that wasn't an issue at all.

24 years ago, Jason Jessup kidnapped and killed a young girl.  Now, new DNA evidence has freed him, but the LA County DA is going to retry him.  In an effort to avoid any association with some bad practices from the first trial, the DA asks Mickey Haller to cross over from the defense and act as a special prosecutor.  Mickey gets talked into taking the job on two conditions - his ex-wife Maggie McPherson is his second chair, and his half-brother Harry Bosch of the LAPD as his investigator.

The trio has a long, hard road ahead of them.  After 24 years, some of the witnesses are dead or hard to track down.  Will they be able to build a case that will put Jessup where he belongs?

This book is told is alternating chapters from both men's point of view.  The odd chapters give us Haller's first person take on the story while the even chapters are from Bosch's limited third person point of view.  It gives us a great view of the action and adds some interesting layers to the book that I think would have been missing otherwise.

I was disappointed that some of the supporting characters from the first two books about Mickey Haller were missing here.  I'm sure fans of Harry Bosch will feel the same way.  On the other hand, we got to know Maggie much better in this book, and I really like her.  Speaking of liking, I like Bosch much more after spending so much time with him in this book.  He didn't fair so well in the last Mickey Haller book, but now I'm interested in reading his novels as well.

The book is populated by a bunch of interesting characters brought in just for this book.  They helped pull me into the case as well, and left me rooting for justice to prevail.

All these characters are in an engrossing story.  The story takes several twists I didn't expect (as well as a couple I did).  The result kept the miles flying by as I hoped to get just a little bit more listened to before my next stop.  Heck, I was actually cheering at one point during the story.  This includes the courtroom scenes, and there are plenty of them here.  By the time we get there, we are so invested in the story that what happens is actually very important to us.

The audio version I listened to is narrated by Peter Giles.  He does a great job giving us voices for all the characters that make some of the dialogue heavy scenes easy to follow.

Whether you listen via audio or read the novel yourself, I recommend The Reversal.  It's a great, twisty read that will leave you wanting more books by this author.

More courtroom drama can be found in the rest of the Mickey Haller series.  And more great mysteries can be found in the rest of the Harry Bosch series.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ornament Review: Christmas Window #9 - Sporting Goods Store - 2011 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Feels like a sporting goods store
Cons: Lack of much Christmassy; no Frisbees!
The Bottom Line:
A sporty Christmas
Christmas dream of many boys
Ornament for them

A Sporting Good Christmas Window from 2011

I was such a reader that I think of books when I think of great Christmas presents.  And yet, when I saw the subject of the 2011 Christmas Window ornament from Hallmark, it immediately loved it.  I mean, a Sporting Goods store is perfect for boys, right?

And that's exactly who we have peering in this Christmas window.  There's a boy out front with his dog jumping up on his leg.  He's looking in the window at a red bike with a green bow on it.  At least that's what it looks like.  He could also be looking at the basketball or the skateboard in the window.  On his right is a tree make out of three balls, baseball on top, soccer ball, and then a basketball on the bottom.  When you turn the window around, you'll find a football, a tub of baseballs, and a volleyball on the shelf under the window.  Above the window are two sports posters.

My most serious complaint?  There's not one single Frisbee to be found anywhere.  Since I love ultimate Frisbee, this is obviously a most serious omission.

Okay, fine, that's not my complaint.  In reality, my complaint here fits in with the one I've been making for a couple of entries in this series by now - where's the Christmas decorations?  Outside of the bow on the bike, it doesn't feel much like Christmas at all.  Heck, there's even no snow on the roof of the shop (although the boy and his dog are standing in snow).  However, for some reason, this doesn't bother me as much this time around.

At lot of fans of the series weren't happy with this one because the store feels more modern while the earlier entries felt a little more nostalgic.  While I can see their point (the posters help with that feel), I like it for that reason.  Heck, it makes me want to go to a sporting good store to grab a new pair of cleats for ultimate Frisbee.

Tammy Haddix sculpted this ornament, and she threw in a couple of fun touches.  The boy is wearing his hat backwards, and you can see a large H on it.  Secondly, if you move the ornament just right to see past the boy, you can see that the bike is a Haddix brand.  This wasn't the only ornament to feature that sports brand this year - Tammy also made it the brand that the snowmen were sledding on in the 2011 Making Memories ornament.

As always, there is a large, flat base to this ornament, making it easy for those like me who want to display it with the others in the series on a shelf, mantel, or under the tree.  If you do decide to hang it, you'll notice it tips slightly toward the outside of the scene, but it's not a bad tip at all.  And the 9 in a Christmas tree is located on the bottom since this is a series piece.

While this may not be as Christmassy as I would like, I do still enjoy the Sporting Goods store.  After all, this is a Christmas Window designed for us guys.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Christmas Windows series.

Original Price: $19.95