Sunday, August 31, 2014

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, effects, characters, story
Cons: Story does bog down in the middle
The Bottom Line:
Spider-Man is back
As the new franchise heats up
Really drew me in

"You're Spider-man!"  "The Costume Give Me Away?"

I was of the opinion that we didn’t need a Spider-Man reboot because, even though the films went downhill, I had enjoyed the first two so much.  Still, I do like the character, so I always planned to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  That chance didn’t wind up happening until it hit Blu-Ray, but I enjoyed it.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is reveling in his life saving New York from one disaster after another.  In fact, as the film opens, he is stopping robbers who were stealing radioactive material on his high school graduation day.  Unfortunately, he is still haunted by the memory of his girlfriend Gwen Stacey’s dad warning him away from his daughter.  In fact, his desire to keep Gwen (Emma Stone) safe causes such a problem that he and Gwen break up.

Meanwhile, over as OsCorp, an employee named Max (Jamie Foxx) is a loner who becomes obsessed with Spider-Man after a run in with Peter in costume.  And Peter’s friend Harry (Dane DeHaan) is about to inherit the company when his father dies.  A freak accident and a quest for a cure will give Spider-Man two villains and help him learn more about his parent’s disappearance.  But can he defeat an electrically charged villain?

I was pretty much on board from the first scene, which featured great action and some very fun quips.  Unfortunately, the story did get bogged down in the middle, not too surprising since the film runs almost two and a half hours.  (And they cut out quite a number of scenes, too.)

Still, I did appreciate the character development made over the course of the film.  This film isn’t just about action but it shows the heart of Peter and how his life as a superhero affects his regular life.  There are some great scenes with Aunt May (Sally Field) that highlight this as well as the scenes with Gwen.  While the climax didn’t affect me quite as much as I thought it might while watching it, I felt it for a couple of hours afterward, so it was obviously very well done.

The acting was uniformly great.  Jamie Foxx was a definite standout in that department as he went through the greatest change, but everyone had their great moments.

The effects were wonderful as well.  I bought Spider-Man’s swinging through the city and all the various fights, but the highlight again as Electro.  The computer effects on him were amazing.

Considering how they left things, I’m definitely on board for the next movie in this rebooted franchise.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will please all the fans of this comic book hero.

This review is my final entry in the 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

August 30th's Weekly TV Thoughts

No, I didn't forget to post this.  I just finally watched The Quest today.  Things are slowing down as we hit that break between Summer season and the regular TV season, but I'll be busy again very soon.

Wipeout - So this week was a two hour edition.  The bosses and employees seemed more like friends this time around, and I liked that.  Those who were talked into it must have gotten eliminated early.

Royal Pains - I have said it before and I will say it again.  Seriously, USA Network promo people, DON'T SHOW A SCENE FROM THE END OF AN EPISODE!!!!!!  Some of us might want to be surprised by those twists.  So I am curious why Hank said no to Boris.  And I knew Emma was leaving, but I want to know how that will all tie up.  Season finale next week already?  Lots of lose threads to draw together; can't wait to see how it all plays out.

Covert Affairs - I said last week I thought it was Caitlin, and I was right.  Of course, who else could it have been that we knew from McQuaid's company.  Sometimes it doesn't take a genius to figure this stuff out.  So, who is the target and why is this diplomat after someone?  Last time, fall season of this show started up in October, so I would guess we don't have too long to wait (unlike Suits).

Mystery Girls - That ending was pretty funny.  I mean, I knew Charlie would find a way to show her husband what she did was good, but everyone walking into that trap was great.  Again, another solid episode.  When they want to, they can make the show fun.

Graceland - Is it just me, or is this show becoming a mess.  I mean, really?  That's how they are going to play the tape recording of the murder from last season?  Of all the things to do?  And potentially killing Mike?  I'm sticking it out for the remainder of this season because there are only a couple of episodes left, but then I'm done.

The Quest - Christian is gone!!!  And there is very much rejoicing around here.  At this point, I'm not sure I care who stays and who goes.  I like Bonnie, but she's weak.  The guys seem like good contenders, although if the ladies gang up against them, they are doomed.  And I'm not sure if it was Christian leaving or just the two episodes back to back, but I got into the second hour more than I had before.  Since we have two weeks of back to back episodes left, I think that's a good thing.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Book Review: Death Valley by Sandy Dengler (Jack Prester #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, fun story, good use of setting.
Cons: I can't think of any.
The Bottom Line:
Travel to desert
As Jack solves first mystery
Still great years later

Dead Body in Death Valley - How Appropriate

While most people make the transition from the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie, I made mine to Sandy Dengler.  I had already enjoy many of her books for all ages when she came out with several mysteries aimed at adults.  I started with Death Valley, the first in her Jack Prester series, and I was hooked.  Rereading it now, it’s easy to see why.

Jack is part of an experimental program in the National Parks.  He’s a floater that heads to whatever park needs him to coordinate between various law enforcement agencies to peacefully and efficiently deal with a crisis.  When this book opens, the program is just getting off the ground, and this is Jack’s chance to prove the program is worthwhile.

Jack is called to Death Valley when the body of George Gibbs is found in a salt creek.  George had been in the park investigating irregularities in the park funds.  As a result, Jack is assigned Evelyn Brant as a partner to come in and help with that side of the investigation.  Ev is a great accountant, but she is a city girl through and through and the desert is a very alien world to her.

When the two head out to the crime scene, Jack’s dog Maxx digs up another body in the sand.  This second body is a biker, one of close to a thousand former Hell’s Angels who have invaded the park to relive their glory days.  How is his death related to George’s murder?  What had George’s investigation of the funds turned up?  Will Ev ever get used to the desert?  And will the growing tension between the bikers and the park rangers lead to violence?

I was actually surprised just how much of this story I remember as I sat down to reread it.  I must have read it more than once to remember it so distinctly 20 years later.  As a result, it’s hard to judge the plot.  Since I remembered what happened, I felt like the clues were obvious.  However, as a college freshman (I wasn’t reading as many mysteries in high school or reading for pleasure much at all), I didn’t pick up on them and was completely fooled until the end when Jack lays out all the clues I had missed.

The characters were vivid in my mind, and they stayed that way as I reread the book.  There is a surprisingly large cast, and they are all distinct, which helps keep them all straight in my mind.  Ev gets the most character development, and while she starts out cold and aloof, you can’t help but love her by the end.

I have always loved Sandy Dengler’s books because of her wonderful writing, and this book reminded me why.  Sandy’s husband was a national parks ranger and they were stationed at Death Valley at one point.  That factors in to her descriptions of the park, and you feel like you are there.  Additionally, her unique writing style makes great use of the language to emphasize things and truly keep you engaged.  Plus there’s a Frisbee scene at the end that is absolutely amazing.  And I’m not just saying that because I love ultimate Frisbee.  I thought the scene was wonderful when I read it before I’d even heard of the sport I now play several times a week.   There's even a bit of humor in the book.  A couple of the characters are enjoyable, but the narration really manages to slip a few grins into the story.

This book was written for a Christian audience.  Jack and some of the other characters are Christian, and there isn't any bad language (although one of the bikers swears quite a bit; we just aren't told what words he uses).  There are several discussions of God and Christianity.  To me, it grows out of the characters and who they are.  While it does serve as character development, I never feel it slows the book down.

I reread the copy I've had for 20 years, however, the book is newly out for Kindle.  Since the book was written so long ago, there are definite references to things that are dated, like how expensive Ev's computer is or the type of cell phone someone hands Jack at one point.  Frankly, I got a kick out of that, but just keep that in mind as you read the book.

I'm glad to see this series available again, and I'm looking forward to the excuse to revisit the fun series.  If you have yet to meet Jack Prester, Death Valley is the place to do it.

If you are like me and prefer the paper version, here's a link to the used copies.

And once you get started, you'll want to read the rest of the Jack Prester Mysteries in order.

August 29th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's a Friday before a long weekend.  And I've almost survived my first week at a new job (only one day to go until I've officially survived)!  Let's celebrate with this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I've actually been rereading a book from 20 years ago, and I really enjoyed visiting it again.  The review is right here.

Yes, it's a murder mystery and yes, it's set in Death Valley, how appropriate is that?

And here's how it all begins:

A hundred feet off the deck and eighty feet below sea level!  He glanced again at his altimeter to make sure.  Flatline.  He did it!  Now to get out of here before someone read his numbers.

And skipping ahead to page 56, we finds:

Walking through this jam-packed campground behind Hippo made Jack feel like a tugboat follwing an ice breaker.  He simply strolled along in the wide open swath Hippo's bulk cut.

Let the speculation on what it means begin, and enjoy your long weekend if you live here in the states.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

TV Show Review: Arrow - Season 2

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action, strong story, characters
Cons: Flashbacks don’t really add much
The Bottom Line:
This action filled show
Grew the characters this year
For a strong season

"We Have to Work on Your Excuses."  "I Know."

After quickly getting addicted to the CW’s new superhero show Arrow, I couldn’t wait for season two to start.  Fortunately, it continued to build on the wonderful first season with more action and drama.

The show is based on the DC Comics character of Green Arrow.  Honestly, I know little about him outside of this series, but that’s okay.  What is here works so well I don’t need to know much more.

In the aftermath of the season one finale, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) returned to the island where he’d been stranded for five years.  However, it isn’t long before Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity (Emily Rett Rickards) head back there to track him down and get him to return to Starling City.  With his mother, Moyra (Susanna Thompson), in jail, it falls to him to run Queen Consolidated, and his return has come just in time since Isabel Rochev (guest star Summer Glau) has been brought in by the board and doesn’t seem to have the same vision for the future of the business as Oliver does.  Meanwhile his sister Thea (Willa Holland) is running the nightclub he started.

Unfortunately, Oliver’s return is just in time since someone has arrived in town with designs to destroy the city.  However, this time it is much more personal than Oliver knows.  Will he figure out the plot in time to stop it?  Who is behind everything?

Actually, the second season is even more complicated than this since I haven’t really talked about Roy (Colton Haynes), Thea’s boyfriend and Oliver’s secret apprentice in the justice business.  Then there’s the Lance family.  Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) has been demoted to patrol while Laurel (Katie Cassidy) has joined the DA’s office and is targeting the Vigilante (aka Oliver).  But the big surprise is the new superhero in town with some ties to Oliver’s time on the island.

Once again, those flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island proved to be the weakness to the show.  They definitely tie in more to what happened this year, but I just don’t see the point of them most of the time and felt they slowed down the present day story.

However, the present day story more than makes up for any weakness.  You might have figured out that there are a ton of characters in this show, but that’s because there are tons of things happening.  There are some case of the week type episodes, but they are fewer this season, instead tying in much of what happens to the overall season arc or at least the character development.  The show is very suspenseful at times, too, with the characters facing overwhelming odds.  I had a hard time figuring out how they were going to succeed.

There is plenty of character growth here this season.  Just about everyone gets grow to a certain extent, and watching them deal with everything they are facing is incredible.

Which means all the actors have stepped up their game this season.  We might have one or two scenes that aren’t the best, but there wasn’t anything that threw me out of the show.  I especially love Felicity, who gets the funniest lines and some serious growth this season.

Because the show is more grounded in reality, it relies more on stunts than special effects, although both are handled perfectly when they appear.

As a fun note, they set up the CW’s new series The Flash with a couple episode guest spot early in the season.  I can’t wait for that show to appear this fall.

The second season is being released in the DVD only set and a Blu-Ray/DVD/UltraViolet combo set priced at only $10 more than the regular set.  Both sets feature all 23 episodes from season 2 in their native wide screen and full surround.  The sets also have the same extras, which include an episode commentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and three featurettes, one that chronicles Oliver's journey in the eyes of Starling City so far, one that looks at the action and special effects of the show, and one that focuses even more on the stunt work of the show.

Arrow is exactly what it sets out to be – a strong and fun superhero show.  You won’t be disappointed with season two at all.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. City of Heroes
2. Identity
3. Broken Dolls
4. Crucible
5. League of Assassins
6. Keep Your Enemies Closer
7. State Vs. Queen
8. The Scientist
9. Three Ghosts
10. Blast Radius
11. Blind Spot
12. Tremors
13. Heir to the Demon
14. Time of Death
15. The Promise
16. Suicide Squad
17. Birds of Prey
18. Deathstroke
19. The Man Under the Hood
20. Seeing Red
21. City of Blood
22. Streets of Fire
23. Unthinkable

This review is part of the 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ornament Review: Hangin' with Count Snoopy - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Snoopy as Dracula, Woodstock and friends, sound
Cons: Only if it leads me to other Halloween ornaments
The Bottom Line:
Snoopy and Woodstock
Along with a couple friends
Are in spooky mood

Snoopy’s Definitely Ready for Halloween

I resisted.  I really did.  After all, until 2014, the only Halloween ornament I’d bought from Hallmark was part of last year’s Happiness is Peanuts All Year Long series.  But come on, how could I resist Hangin' With Count Snoopy?  I just hope this isn’t opening the flood gates to more Halloween ornaments.  (Really, I don’t decorate for Halloween.  I did resist the Halloween series that started last year, after all.)

As you might guess from the title, this is another Peanuts ornament.  Snoopy is sitting on top of his doghouse, only he’s wearing a vampire cape and a black pointed hat.  His arms are holding the cape and out to the side, so the cape is spread out to look like wings.  At the bottom of the doghouse are two pumpkins in the grass.  And across his doghouse is a black banner with orange letters reading "Happy Halloween!"

Obviously, Snoopy is dressed up as Dracula.  So why is it called Hangin’?  That’s where the fun really come in to play.  Hanging from the side of the doghouse, upside down, are Woodstock and two of his little bird friends.  They are wearing fake vampire wings as well.  And they are attached as dangles, so they move a little when you actually brush them or tip the ornament.

On looks long, this ornament is so cute.  The birds on the side of the doghouse are just that perfect touch that makes you smile.

However, this is a magic ornament, so there is sound as well.  When you pressed the button, you hear “Spooky Halloween Music.”  That's what the box claims, anyway, but you might better recognize the music as Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in d minor".  You know, “Dindinin, dundundundun dun.”  (Okay, fine, I had to ask someone else myself since I recognized it but I couldn't remember the name.)  Again, it’s a great touch with the dramatic organ music and two different selections from the piece, but the perfect finish is actually still to come.  You get to hear Snoopy do an evil chuckle at the end, and he sounds like he is trying to fit the Dracula part.  Snoopy's laugh comes at the end of both sound clips.  Again, it’s just absolutely perfect.

Since I don’t decorate for Halloween – really, I’m serious – I’m happy to report that this ornament has a nice, flat base.  That means I can up it out somewhere to enjoy every year in October.  I’ll probably put it next to Linus from last year’s series.

However, if you do want to hang the ornament, you’ll find the little ring off the side of Snoopy’s hat.  He hangs straight, so no matter what you find to hang him from, he’ll look great.

Truly, this can’t be the start of anything new.  (Although the Halloween Cupcake is calling my name as well.)  I just couldn’t resist Hangin' With Count Snoopy.  Any fan of the character will fall in love with it.

Original Price: $24.95

This review is part of the 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: Bloom and Doom by Beverly Allen (Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful characters, tons of fun
Cons: Plot does slow down a little in the middle
The Bottom Line:
Language of flowers
Delightful new characters
Mixed up in murder

Debut That Blooms

I almost passed up Bloom and Doom this spring.  After all, it's a cozy mystery series set in a flower shop, and I'm a guy.  Flowers just aren't my thing.  (Not to mention my allergies to pollen.)  However, I heard such good things about it that I had to give the book a try.  I'm glad I did because this was a completely delightful debut.

Audrey Bloom and her cousin Liz have settled in the town of Ramble, Virginia, and set up a florist shop.  Audrey has learned the language of flowers and uses them to help craft beautiful and meaningful bridal bouquets.  Her latest client is Jenny, a former friend who is now marrying Derek, the most eligible bachelor in the county.

However, two weeks before the wedding, Jenny has decided to call the entire thing off because she’s realized she doesn’t love her fiancĂ©e.  The morning after she does, Derek is found murdered in his car outside Jenny’s apartment.  With the evidence pointing to Jenny, Audrey feels the need to step in and save her former friend.  Derek wasn’t well liked, so the list of suspects is actually long.  Can Audrey find the truth about what happened to Derek?

The thing that really drew me to this book was the characters.  There is already a full cast, and they are all delightful.  I didn't have any trouble keeping them all straight as the book progressed because they were fully formed already.  I'm sorry the book is over because I really wasn't ready to say goodbye to them, which means I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel.

Unfortunately, the plot did slow down a little in the middle, but the characters kept me turning pages.  Once the story picked up again, it didn't slow back down until we reached the logical conclusion.  I had a couple of sub-plots guessed correctly, but I didn't figure out who the killer was until right before Audrey did, and even did I didn't have all the clues correct.

This is all mixed together with a dose of humor.  There are two scenes that are fun and some great lines scattered throughout.  There is plenty on the language of flowers as well, but it is all presented in an interesting way that never detracts from the story.

I'm glad I listened to those great reviews for Bloom and Doom because I really enjoyed this book.  You can bet I'll be lining up for the sequel with no hesitation at all.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Nightstand - August 2014

Another month is winding down already.  Can you believe it?  Heck, summer is winding down, school has started up again (and my niece is in kindergarten!).  All that can only mean one thing - time for What's on Your Nightstand, as hosted by 5 Minutes for Books.

For me, I've been upping my game silently all year aiming for a higher and higher total of books read.  Now, I'm making it official - I'm going for 100 books.  Of course, I'm counting picture books, audio books, and traditional books read.  I'm at 73 right now, so I'm in fairly good shape, but I'm going to have to keep those pages flying if I'm going to make it.

I just finished Bloom and Doom, the first in a Bridal Boutique Mystery series.  While obviously not normally something I'd go for, the positive reviews made me decide I had to give it a try.  I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed it.  My review is posted right here if you are interested..

That frees me up to start a reread of Death Valley, the first in the Jack Prester Mysteries by Sandy Dengler.  It's been over 20 years since I read this book, but I loved the series when I first read it.  I'm hoping to get up to book #3 by the end of the year since that one is set at Christmas.

Beyond that?  I've got a middle grade reread where I will actually hold the review until October and time it for Halloween.  Then I may read Topped Chef by Lucy Burdette.  From there, I'm not really sure, but the stack of books I want to read is long, so finding the next book won't be an issue at all.

TV Show Review: The Big Bang Theory - Season 7

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Seven great characters that will make you laugh
Cons: I can’t stop laughing long enough to think of one
The Bottom Line:
Show still going strong
As these seven characters
Make us laugh each week

"How Did She Get You to Do Yoga?"  "Well, To Be Honest, I Thought She Said Yoda."

At some point, every show that is on TV for a long time declines in quality.  (Heck, some short lived shows fall off in quality, too, which is why they are short lived.)  Frankly, I’m still waiting for that to happen to The Big Bang Theory.  It just finished its seventh season, and the show is still as strong as ever.

This season picks up exactly where the last one left off.  Leonard (Johnny Galecki) is on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a research trip.  Back at home, the gang must learn to deal with his absence, especially his roommate Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and his girlfriend Penny (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting).  However, when he comes back, his desire to spend some time with Penny over Sheldon shows the beginnings of the first changes in the group, a theme that actually echoed through the season.

What do I mean?  Well, following up on the sixth season finale, Raj (Kunal Nayyar) is now able to talk to girls even when he’s sober.  What didn’t change there is that he still isn’t a lady’s man, although it does open up a few new relationship possibilities for him.  Speaking of relationships, Sheldon and Amy (Mayim Bialk) wind up taking what for them is a huge step forward in their relationship on a romantic train ride up to the Napa Valley.  Penny makes a huge change to forward her career as an actress and finds herself in a less than desirable roll opposite a surprising co-star.  I would argue that the only main characters not to have major changes this season are Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), but since they adjusted to married life last season, maybe that’s for the best.  They still get some great stories, like Howard’s drastic change after trying to help out his mother and how they deal with having Raj has a house guest for a week.  They also have to deal with Howard's mother (voiced by Carol Ann Susi) when she breaks her leg.

Now I know some argue that the addition of Amy and Bernadette have actually harmed the show.  I will certainly agree it has changed the show (there’s that word again).  Penny spends more time with them than she does the guys, and Penny's dynamic with the guys was always fun.  However, the show is just as funny as it always has been.  How do I know?  I regularly watch reruns any time I find it on TV, and I laugh at the old episodes just as much as I do these new ones.  Heck, how can you not have fun with a city wide scavenger hunt or an old fashioned murder mystery game (both compliments of Raj)?  Or Howard wearing an itchy sweater to prove a point to Sheldon.

And the geekiness continues.  Stuart (Kevin Sussman) and his comic book store regularly appear in the series.  When the guys don’t get into Comic Con, Sheldon decides to start his own, leading to a day with James Earl Jones.  Speaking of which, the show finally celebrates Star Wars day in what is a touching and funny episode featuring the third appearance of comedy legend Bob Newhart.

My big complaint with the show continues – it often goes of the sex joke.  It can be just as funny with clean jokes when it wants to be.

But make no mistake about it, this show is hilarious.  They definitely still use the awkwardness of the characters for humor, but it is a loving kind of humor that is never too mean.  It does not matter how many times I’ve seen an episode, I still laugh the entire way through it.  And yes, I will watch these reruns just as much as I will watch reruns from previous seasons.

As always, Jim Parsons gets the majority of the praise and awards for his work here, and it is well deserved.  Sheldon is the most awkward of the characters, and I’m sure he isn’t easy to play, but he gets so many of the best laughs.  However, the entire cast shines as they bring their characters to life each week.  It is a shame that the rest don’t get the praise they deserve.

As with the last couple of seasons, this season is being released in a DVD set and a combo Blu-Ray/DVD/UltraViolet combo pack for just $10 more.  That's the set I'd recommend.  In addition to the 24 half hour episodes, the set has several bonus features including one on James Earl Jones's guest spot, highlights from the 2013 ComicCon panel, Johnny Galecki crashing a writer's panel, and of course a gag reel.

For pure laughs, there is no better comedy than The Big Bang Theory.  If you are new to the show, you’ll be glad you discovered why it is so popular.  Season seven is just as funny and as much fun as what has come before, so sit back and get ready to laugh.

Season 7 Episodes:
1. The Hofstadter Insufficiency
2. The Deception Verification
3. The Scavenger Vortex
4. The Raiders Minimization
5. The Workplace Proximity
6. The Romance Resonance
7. The Proton Displacement
8. The Itchy Brain Simulation
9. The Thanksgiving Decoupling
10. The Discovery Dissipation
11. The cooper Extraction
12. The Hesitation Remification
13. The Occupation Recalibration
14. The Convention Conundrum
15. The Locomotive Manipulation
16. The Table Polarization
17. The Friendship Turbulence
18. The Mommy Observation
19. The Indecision Amalgamation
20. The Relationship Diremption
21. The Anything Can Happen Recurrence
22. The Proton Transmogrification
23. The Gorilla Dissolution
24. The Status Quo Combustion

This review is part of the 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun look at bad days
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Bad day just gets worse
Told in entertaining way
So we can enjoy

Fun Look at Bad Days – Even in Australia

While it was never a staple in our house growing up, I know we read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at some point.  Seeing an ad for the movie coming out in a couple of months reminded of the book, so I decided to check it out from the library.  It’s just as fun now and I remember it being.

Alexander just knows it will be a bad day when he wakes up with gum in his hair and trips over his skateboard.  And sure enough, his teacher doesn’t like his picture, his best friend demotes him from best friend to third best friend, and he gets in trouble for fighting when he was only responding to someone else’s taunts.  Will his day ever get better?

It’s hard to describe just what makes this book fun.  After all, we are seeing bad thing after bad thing happen to Alexander.  I think part of it is the attitude that comes through in his narration.  While you immediately sympathize with him, you also can’t help but laugh at his attitude and just how truly rotten his day is.

I really appreciate the fact that his bad day is partially just bad luck (no prize in his cereal box) and partially because of his bad attitude and actions (getting in trouble for fighting).  While the book is written from Alexander’s first person point of view, it does allow parents to talk about how life is unfair and yet how our attitude can affect our day.  Both are important lessons to learn at any age.  (I know I still need them at times.)  Neither of this is preached from the book, yet it is easy to discuss them as the bad events unfold.

One thing that helps lighten the mood is the repetition of the title in the book as well as Alexander’s stated desire to move to Australia.  We never do learn why he thinks that place is better than his home, but it does create some fun that keeps the book from just being a list of bad things that happen to Alexander.

And the illustrations by Ray Cruz are outstanding.  They are simple pen and ink, but they capture poor Alexander and the events of the day with warmth.

It’s easy to see why Judith Viorst’s book has become such a classic.  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is fun to read on good days and bad days no matter how old you are.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Movie Review: The Rocketeer

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action and fun story with a great period feel
Cons: Lothar’s killing is a bit too brutal for the rest of the film.
The Bottom Line:
A flight to the past
In a fight against Nazis
Make period fun

"How Do I Look?"  "Like a Hood Ornament."

I know I’ve seen The Rocketeer at least a couple of times, but it’s probably been at least a decade since I watched it (if not much longer).  After picking up Hallmark’s ornament based on the movie this year, I got really curious to see it again, so I borrowed the movie from the library.  I’m glad I did because I enjoyed it.

The story is set in 1930’s Hollywood and revolves around Cliff (Bill Campbell).  He’s a pilot whose dreams of competing in an upcoming flying competition are shot down, literally, when he accidentally flies his plane over a car chase.  What he doesn’t know is that the car chase involves a self-contained jet pack designed by Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn).

When the chase comes to his hanger, Cliff finds himself in possession of the jet pack.  Instead of turning it over to the authorities or finding the owner, Cliff and his friend Peevy (Alan Arkin) make a few modifications to it, and Cliff puts it to use.  What he doesn’t know is that the Nazi’s, lead by film leading man Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) will stop at nothing to get their hands on this rocket.  And Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) just happens to be working on his latest movie….

In many ways, this is a typical superhero origin story.  We meet Cliff and his friends and see how he acquires his powers, in this case the rocket pack.  However, it doesn’t feel like one – possibly because the villain is not developed in quite the same way the villains in today’s movies are.  First of all, he’s human.  Secondly, we spend just enough time with him to know his motivation and plans, but that’s it.  Instead, the movie focuses on Cliff.

And this movie is fun.  With that 1930’s feel, it actually captures a bit of what life was like for the well connected in Hollywood of the era.  The production did a perfect job of making you feel like you were back in that era between the sets and props and costumes.  Plus there are so many perfect little moments where I couldn’t help but smile.

Of course, I do have to point out the one thing that still turns me off - Lothar, who is a big brute who looks remarkably like Frankenstein's monster (although no one else makes the connection).  He’s downright scary, and he kills a couple of people rather brutally.  I’m not saying it’s anything bloody or graphic, but what we do see still turned my stomach a little. (And yes, I know I’m the guy who reads all those murder mysteries.)  I think more than anything it’s that these deaths seem out of character with the fun that is the rest of the film.

On the other hand, I loved Jenny.  While yes, she does provide plot complications for Cliff and she ultimately does need saving, she’s not a typical damsel in distress and does her best to fight back, even helping Cliff at one point.  Plus, she gets my favorite line in the movie (no, not the one used in the title).

The acting is wonderful.  It’s obvious the cast is having fun making this film and it comes through in the performances.  It may not be award worthy, but it fits the film.

Sadly, the special effects don’t hold up as well today.  You can tell that the flying scenes, especially the ones outside, are fake.  But what do you expect for a movie that first came out in 1991?  Considering the time period, it actually looks pretty good.

The box office wasn’t great for The Rocketeer, and it’s fallen into cult classic status.  If you are one of those who hasn’t seen it yet, I recommend you find a copy and fix that today.

This review is part of the 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off.

August 23's Weekly TV Thoughts

It's that time of the week again.  As always, feel free to share your thoughts on what you watched either in the comments or via a link to your own blog post.

Wipeout - I was surprised this was only an hour episode since they seem to go for two hours when they have teams like this.  You'll notice that teams that sniped at each other the most tended to be the ones who didn't make it as far.  Still, I can't imagine wanting to be on the show enough to get back with an ex for it.

America Ninja Warrior - Not too much to comment on here.  The number of people making it to stage two is pretty standard so far, and the ones who have made it are the ones I expected to make it.  The year of the woman continues since, while not finishing stage one, we've had one make it past the Spider Jump.  I'm really curious to see how Kacy does in two weeks on that one since she's so short.

Royal Pains - I love it when everyone makes up.  I was definitely surprised about the shooter and so pleased with Paige for figuring it out.  I don't know why I didn't consider Boris for the backer of HankLab, so that's a perfect choice.  Really, this was a great episode that left me with such a perfect glow.

Covert Affairs - Okay, I admit I don't know what to think about McQuaid.  One minute, I think he's guilty.  The next, I think he's clean and truly being set up by someone.  Obviously, that's because of great writing.  Very curious to see where they go with this next week.

Mystery Girls - After last week's disappointing episode, I wasn't expecting much.  Is that why I enjoyed this episode or what it actually that much better.  I certainly found myself laughing at a few of the lines, and overall, I really enjoyed it.

Suits - Knowing this was the summer finale, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop.  Yet I never saw that ending coming.  Louis Litt as a named partner furious with the other two?  This is going to be very interesting when the show comes back.  So glad to know it's already been renewed for another season once we get the back half of this one this winter.  I'm guessing that's January, but we'll find out for sure later.  And those last two scenes?  Absolutely amazing acting from all three of the actors involved.

Graceland - I am most curious about that tape, and yet once again it is completely ignored.  I have a hard time seeing how any of this will get wrapped up in three episodes.  And unless they wow me, these might be my final three episodes of the series.

The Quest - I'd say this wasn't a good challenge for the ladies, but one of them did win it all.  Of course, three were in the bottom.  I know with my lack of balance, I wouldn't have done well.  And that was an interesting twist that "pick your team" really meant "pick your targets."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: Kneading to Die by Liz Mugavero (Pawsitively Organic Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Stan and the other characters, human and animal
Cons: Plot could be a little stronger
The Bottom Line:
The cute animals
Make this mystery charming
For all cozy fans

Murder that Kneads Solving

One cozy sub-genre I don't venture into that frequently is the pet cozies.  There's a simple explanation for it - I'm allergic to dogs and cats, and as a result have never grown too found of many of them.  It's not that I hate them, but I'm not comfortable being around them.  However, since I'm trying out all the books by the Wicked Cozy Authors, I picked up Kneading to Die, and I'm definitely glad I did.

Kristan "Stan" Connor's life has taken a turn she never expected.  She's lost her PR job and is struggling to figure out what to do next.  Hoping a change of scenery will help, she buys a house in a small Connecticut town and moves there.

Of course, with the move, she needs to find a new vet for her cat, Nutty.  After Carole, the town's only traditional vet, comes by and introducers herself, Stan takes an early morning appointment for her cat.  However, when she arrives, she finds the vet dead on the floor.  Between the police and the gossip in town, Stan suddenly feels herself under a cloud of suspicion.  Can she find the killer before her reputation in town is ruined?

Animal lovers will certainly rejoice in the pets in this book.  It seems like just about everyone has one, and they are all charming.  Yes, even I was able to see that, and I would like to meet them (after taking my anti-histamine, of course).  I could tell how much I cared by my reaction to some late in the book events.

Speaking of which, the plot felt a bit uneven to me overall.  Or maybe it was that the book could have used an extra twist.  Either way, the story was still entertaining and I never would have figured out who the killer was.  The climax was very suspenseful, and I had no clue how Stan was going to get out of that mess.

Most of the series I read feature main characters who process the horror of what they are going through rather quickly.  Honestly, I don't think about that too much since I'm focusing, with them, on solving the murder.  Stan, however, takes much of what happens to heart more than normal.  I liked that because it felt more real and actually made me like the character more.

There are several other strong characters in the cast, and I was left wondering how things will develop between some of the characters or wondering about the history between a few of them.  Also, I like the fact that Stan's sleuthing caused some issues with her new neighbors.  I hope that is resolved in later books, but I liked how it wasn't swept under the rug like in many books.  Yes, I think I'm hooked enough to read the next book to find out more.

Speaking of hooks, this book isn't just about pets, but about organic, natural treats for pets.  There are three recipes in the back that Stan makes over the course of the book that you can make for your own pets.  Obviously, I haven't tested them, but we won't get into how many culinary cozies I've read and never tried the recipes, either.  (I really need to fix that).

So I am looking forward to seeing how Stan and the rest of the cast grow in the next in the series.  Kneading to Die is a good debut that animals loves will absolutely love.

From here, you'll want to check out more of the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries in order.

August 22nd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

My night got away from me last week, so I missed Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  But I'm back and ready to participate this week.

This week's book is Bloom and Doom by Beverly Allen.  I actually won the book in a contest back in April, but I'm finally now getting it read.

This is the first in a series centered around a florist who specializes in bridal bouquets and the language of the flowers she uses.  Of course, it is a murder mystery series, so a dead body has to drop.  So far, I'm really enjoying it.

The book begins with:

"White roses symbolize innocence."

And from page 56:

When I opened my apartment door, Chester flew out.  At least I think that's what happened.  All I saw was a streak of gray fur.

I'm about a quarter of the way through and hope to hit the half way point today.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

TV Show Review: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Effects, action, and an outstanding final run of episodes
Cons: Uneven beginning to the season.
The Bottom Line:
Movie connections
Overcomes a slow start to
Finish with a bang

"They Could be Torturing Him or Worse - Making Him Do Strength Training."

It’s taken a little bit of time, but I have gotten pulled into the Marvel cinematic universe.  I’ve especially enjoyed how all the movies are connected in some way.  So when ABC announced the creation of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for this last TV season, I knew I’d be watching.  It had some rough spots, but in the end I was glad I stuck with it.

Set in the world of the movies, the TV show follows a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who travel around the world on a souped-up plane protecting the rest of the humans from super natural threats.  The team is lead by Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).  Yes, that Agent Coulson, and how he survived what appeared to be a fatal incident in The Avengers provides one of the season’s long mystery arcs.  Also on the team are Agents Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), two top notch agents at fighting and tactics.  Then there are Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), two super smart scientists who are also good friends.  And then there’s Skye (Chloe Bennett), a hacker with an unknown past the team meets in the first episode who Coulson invites along and proves to provide a little help as well as cause some problems.

So just what kind of things to they encounter?  Well, there are the people found dead in the forest with nothing around them.  There’s a bus that starts floating.  Simmons contacts an alien virus.  Ward starts reliving his worst memories.  And they must help Lady Sif track down an escaped Asgardian prisoner.

The show started out with monster ratings, which slowly declined as the season wore on.  Part of that was justified since the show had some freshman year struggles as they found their way and their characters.  Personally, I thought they focused too much on Skye early on and left the rest of the characters underdeveloped until late in the season.

But the other part of people’s frustration with the show is the fault of expectations and producer Joss Whedon.  Yes, he’s highly involved in the S.H.I.E.L.D. universe right now since he wrote and directed The Avengers and is working on all the films since then.  And his TV credits include the much loved Buffy, Angel, and Firefly.  However, it’s been over a decade since those hits were on TV, and the landscape has changed.  Back when they were on the air, story arcs were rarer and not as driving to TV shows as they are today.  His own shows are often pointed out as having pioneered it.  Yet if you look at them, each season featured a villain (the "Big Bad"), but we often went weeks without seeing or hearing much from them until the final third of the season.  Then they take center stage and become all consuming.  That is the style of storytelling employed here.  Much of the early season features stand alone stories with just hints at the bigger pieces and mysteries that will be tackled later.  I think people got tired of waiting for more to come and started to leave the show.

Remember I mentioned earlier how all the films are connected?  This show fits perfectly in that universe.  Early in the season, we get minor references to the Thor sequel and even a couple of guest stars from the movies, including Samuel L. Jackson.

Then something interesting happens about the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out.  The show changed dramatically as a result of that film.  Suddenly, it was like they were in full gear and each episode became outstanding.  In some ways, it’s a shame they had to wait so long to get going, but the end result was definitely worth it.

This does make me wonder where they will be going with season two and how it will tie in to the Avengers sequel.  It sounds like they are all working together, so only time will tell.

I do know some of the villains who show up in the show are villains from the comic books.  Since I never read them as a kid, I had to catch the references on line, but I still find that very fun.

This show certainly never skimped on the effects or action budget.  While never quite movie awesome, they certainly had their fair of great fights and chases and outstanding effects.

Likewise, the acting was good.  The characters are definite Whedon tropes, but I warmed up to them once I finally got to know all of them.

This season is coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray and will feature all 22 episodes in their native wide screen and full surround.  Extras will include audio commentaries on some of the episodes, deleted scenes, and a gag reel.  Additionally, there's a look at the comic con panel that introduced the show before season one aired, and two looks behind the scenes, one at the sets for some of their stunts, and another for a special effects.  Finally, they included the TV special look at the Marvel movie universe that aired part way through the season.

So if you never gave the show a chance or wrote it off part way through, now’s the time to go back and catch up on season one of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..  Once you get through the enjoyable but slow early episodes, you’ll be rewarded with an outstanding final run of episodes.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Pilot
2. 0-8-4
3. The Asset
4. Eye Spy
5. Girl in the Flower Dress
7. The Hub
8. The Well
9. Repairs
10. The Bridge
11. The Magical Place
12. Seeds
13. T.R.A.C.K.S.
14. T.A.H.I.T.I.
15. Yes Men
16. The End of the Beginning
17. Turn, Turn, Turn
18. Providence
19. The Only Light in the Darkness
20. Nothing Personal
21. Ragtag
22. Beginning of the End

This review is part of the 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ornament Review: Edna Mode - Disney/Pixar Legends #4 - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Quotes from film; great sculpt of lesser character
Cons: Really too large of an ornament overall
The Bottom Line:
Size always matters
Here it takes good idea
And makes it too large

Darling, You Really Must Factor Size Into These Things

Hallmark has been using their Disney/Pixar legends series to create new ornaments from some of the films they haven’t really visited before.  Take this year’s entry for example.  They’ve only made one ornament from The Incredibles and, to be honest, it was less than incredible.  Edna Mode is their second visit to this popular movie.  Unfortunately, it’s not as good as it could be either.

They truly went with a minor character for this ornament since Edna just has a couple of scenes.  She’s the superhero costume designer we meet as the family is getting back into the superhero game.  Of course, both of her scenes were fun, and I’ve seen other stuff themed around her since she was a favorite character, so she does make a good subject for an ornament.

Edna is standing on an oval base with the “i” logo from the movie on it.  She's been caught in mid conversation (but when is she not talking) and is gesturing with her right hand while turning to look at us over her left shoulder.  It really captures the spirit of the character, and I do like that.

What I don’t like is the size.  Edna is a small character to begin with, so here she’s way too big.  I’m not talking about scale at all, I’m just talking in general since the ornament will leap off the tree (figuratively, of course), and really stand out.  If they had reduced her size by one third, she would be much better and more in keeping with the size of the others in this series.  Granted, this is the first ornament in the series to feature just one character, but still, she really should be smaller.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this is a magic ornament, also a first for the series.  Do they need the extra room in the base for those elements to work and then they made her bigger as a result?  If so, they should have forgotten about the magic element since that hasn’t been part of this series to date.

Anyway, to get the magic part to work, you need to add 2 button batteries to the base of the ornament (your first set is included).  Then, just press the button, and you’ll hear four of Edna’s classic lines from the movie.  Unfortunately, they left out "No capes!"  That entire thing was my favorite bit of hers, and I would have liked to at least hear those two words.

Since this ornament has such a nice base, you can set it out on a shelf or desk to display all year long.  Even then, Edna would seem large, but it would be better overall.  Anyway, in addition to having the pocket for the batteries, the bottom of the base also has a 4 in a Christmas tree since this is the fourth in the series.

Edna’s head has the loop for hanging the ornament.  Does she hang straight?  I assume so.  She hangs perfectly straight.

I do like the magic element to this ornament because I usually find that very fun.  However, I wish Edna Mode has been shrunk just a little bit.  Even thought she's by herself, the size just seems out of proportion.

And if you love Disney and Pixar, you'll want to check out the rest of the Disney/Pixar Legends series.

Original Price: $17.95

This review is part of the 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Review: Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great plot, fun diverse cast, great use of setting
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Trip to Hollywood
With jewel thieves and murder
Keeps Georgie hopping

Lady Georgiana Goes Hollywood

There have been several books over the years I've been interested in reading because they were set in old Hollywood.  I've never managed to actually read them.  However, since Queen of Hearts is the latest adventure starring minor royal Lady Georgiana, a series I already love, it jumped straight to the top of my to be read pile.  I enjoyed every page of this visit to the Hollywood (and world) of the 1930's.

Lady Georgiana is surprised when her mother, the actress Claire Daniels, sweeps back into her life offering a trip to America.  It seems that Claire’s boyfriend Max wants to marry her, and to do that, Claire needs to head to Reno, Nevada, to get a quickie divorce.  She’s looking for company on the long boat and train ride, and wants Georgie to join her.  Since Georgie has never had the opportunity to go, she readily agrees.

However, danger starts on the ship crossing the Atlantic.  Georgie thinks she sees someone fall overboard.  Then a jewel is stolen.  However, Claire is offered a part in a movie, so the duo head from Reno to Hollywood only to find the intrigue has followed them.  Can Georgie make sense of what is happening?

Sometimes when characters go on a cross country (or around the world) trip like this, it can make the pacing of the plot uneven.  I'm glad to say that wasn't the case at all here.  There was a bit of set up at the beginning, but once we got on the ship, the intrigue started.  Even though the plot spanned the ship to Hollywood, it was a logical progression and made perfect sense in the end.

We even got to see some of the usual supporting characters, a fact that thrilled me since I love them.  I'm not the biggest fan of Georgie's disaster of a maid Queenie, but she got some of the best laughs from me in this book.  Other characters pop in and out, and they are quite entertaining and a couple even grow a little.  The new cast is wonderful as well and made me care about the outcome.

And how was it visiting 1930's Hollywood?  I loved that aspect of it, too.  Since I live in Southern California, I found the description of the way things used to be quite interesting.  We also got cameos from some real people from the era, which I enjoyed.  It was also interesting watching Georgie and the regular characters react to our country in that time period.  I never would have thought about some of their reactions, but they always made perfect sense.  And I enjoyed the brief discussions of how the talkies had changed the entertainment industry.

Someday, I hope to get to some of the other old Hollywood mysteries I'd like to read, but until then, I am glad I finally made the trip back in time.  Queen of Hearts is a wonderful read for fans of the series or fans of this time and place in history.

Looking for more of Georgie's adventures?  Check out the Royal Spyness Series in order.

Monday, August 18, 2014

TV Show Review: Once Upon a Time - Season 3

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters and acting that make us care about a great story
Cons: Some didn’t like first half story arc, but I enjoyed it
The Bottom Line:
Changing locations
Don’t slow the magic at all
A third great season

"I Don't Like Apples."  "Who Doesn't Like Apples?"  "It's a Family Thing."

For season 3 of Once Upon A Time, ABC and the producers decided to do a split season.  That meant we got 11 episodes in the fall, a long break, and then 11 more episodes in the spring.  The result was two mostly self-contained stories that captivated.

The first half of the season was started by the cliffhanger at the end of season two.  Henry (Jared Gilmore) has been kidnapped and taken to Neverland, and we’ve got quite the assortment of people hunting for him.  Naturally, his mother Emma (Jennifer Morrison) is leading the charge.  Also along for the ride is Regina (Lana Parrilla), Henry’s adopted mother, who also happens to be the Evil Queen.  We can’t leave out Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and David (Josh Dallas), aka Snow White and Prince Charming.  Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle), aka Rumplestiltskin comes along as well.  Rounding out the group of heroes is Hook (Colin O'Donoghue), who has faced Peter Pan (guest star Robbie Kay) before.

Yes, these are our heroes who are putting aside their differences from the past to find and rescue the boy they all love because -  if you’ve missed the first two seasons - all but Hook are related to Henry.  However, even this common purpose can’t keep the group together for long, and they start splintering once they reach Neverland.  Can they come together to rescue Henry?  Or will Peter Pan win?

Now Neverland was just the first half of the season.  It was definitely different for us since we spent very little time in Storybrooke, which has been our home base for the first two seasons.  We did pop in there a couple of times, with Belle (Emilie de Ravin) and the recurring characters facing some trouble of their own.

Some fans of the show grew tired of this story arc, but I loved it.  Then again, I’ve always loved Peter Pan.  This was definitely a different take on the familiar character, and that did bother me at first, but I soon grew past that and actually started rooting for Hook (and his friends) to defeat Pan.  In true Once Upon a Time fashion, they kept the flashbacks coming and reveal some surprising connections between our established characters and the familiar Neverland characters.  And yes, we meet them all.

I’m not going to say much about the second half of the season to avoid spoilers.  I will say that it involved a new villain played delightfully by Rebecca Mader.  Again, it’s Once putting their spin on a very familiar set of characters.  The fans who grew frustrated with the first half of the season seemed to love this one more; I certainly enjoyed it.

Through these two different arcs, the characters continued to grow.  Honestly, that’s one reason I love this show.  Yes, seeing all these fairytale characters in one place is a blast, and watching all the twists is a lot of fun, but the producers have created such real characters that I love and care for all of them.  Yes, that even goes for Regina and Mr. Gold, the two villains of the piece who are the most interesting, complex characters.  I love how they have developed and grown and can’t wait to see what happens to them each week.  Not to say that the rest of the characters haven’t grown (literally in the case of Henry whose voice has noticeably started changing).  All of them are interesting to watch week to week.

This is a testament to the acting, which is uniformly top notch.  The regular cast is wonderful, and I’ve already praised Rebecca Mader, so I have to give a shout out to Robbie Kay.  His Peter Pan was delicious creepy and absolutely wonderful.  If anyone was paying attention, he will have a long successful career.

The special effects continue to impress as well.  Being a story about magic and fairy tales, there are quite a bit of them in the show.  Occasionally, the TV budget is obvious, but most of the time I completely believe what I’m watching.

Season 3 consisted of 22 episodes, and all of them are in this set.  With DVD, you get six discs with the episodes in native wide screen and full surround.  Extras include the usual deleted scenes, bloopers, and a few audio commentaries as well as a featurette on the villains of the show (including interviews with the actors and writers) and one on the creation of Ariel, who was included in a few episodes this season.

The Blu-Ray set cuts the number of discs down to five, but still has all the episodes and DVD extras.  It has additional deleted scenes and one more audio commentary plus a bonus featurette that takes us inside the writer's room.

So prepare to see two familiar stories in a completely different light as you embark upon season 3 of Once Upon A Time.  These episodes always fly by too quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be anxiously waiting for season 4 to start.

Season 3 Episodes:
1. The Heart of the Truest Believer
2. Lost Girl
3. Quite a Common Fairy
4. Nasty Habits
5. Good Form
6. Ariel
7. Dark Hollow
8. Think Lovely Thoughts
9. Save Henry
10. The New Neverland
11. Going Home
12. New York City Serenade
13. Witch Hunt
14. The Tower
15. Quiet Minds
16. It's Not Easy Being Green
17. The Jolly Roger
18. Bleeding Through
19. A Curious Thing
20. Kansas
21. Snow Drifts
22. There's No Place Like Home

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Review: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good story
Cons: Lacking supporting characters, Nancy a bit too sweet at the beginning
The Bottom Line:
Nancy’s mystery
Solving career begins here
Still entertaining

The Start of Nancy’s Career

Since I reread the first Hardy Boys book a couple weeks ago, I decided it was time to revisit The Secret of the Old Clock, Nancy Drew’s first adventure.  Again, I had no real recollection of the book, but I know I had read it.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well it held up.

Nancy Drew is driving home from delivering some papers for her father, attorney Carson Drew, when she witnesses a little girl almost get hit by a car.  When she stops to make sure the girl is okay, she meets the girl’s two great-aunts, who tell her about an inheritance they thought they were going to get to help raise their grandniece.  However, their benefactor left all of his money to the Tophams, a family that Nancy unfortunately knows well since she went to school with the two daughters.

However, Nancy wonders if their might have been a more recent will.  As she meets other supposed heirs, her desire to find the truth intensifies.  Can she track down the will?  Does a later one even exist?

Like the first Hardy Boys book, this one certainly had dated elements, mostly Nancy’s choice of clothes.   Yes, even this guy knew enough to know that a teenage girl today wouldn’t wear a dress every day.  There’s also the fact that the characters act like the $100K inheritance would set them up for life when divided out among the heirs.  Finally, there are a few dated terms.  Still, I think most kids today would get into the adventure and enjoy it.

The biggest surprise to me was the lack of supporting characters.  This book is pretty much Nancy all the time.  Bess and George are nowhere to be seen.  I remembered that boyfriend Ned Nickerson didn’t show up for a few books, but I thought Nancy’s two best friends were around from the beginning.  There’s no boyfriend mentioned at all, and one friend does appear for a few chapters, but that’s all.  Instead, this book is all Nancy with a little bit from Carson and their housekeeper Hannah Gruen.

Not that this is a bad thing.  I did get annoyed with Nancy constantly thinking or talking to herself, but since she had no one else, it made sense.  And she is a very strong character who definitely drives the plot forward.  In fact, she solves the case herself with her dad only stepping in on the legal matters.  In that regard, she fairs better than Frank and Joe do in their first case.  She can come across as a bit too sweet, especially in the first few chapters, but by the end I really liked her.

The story does stall out once or twice, most noticeably for me in a chapter set at a department store.  Still, every scene does advance the plot by showing us character or presenting a setback.  There is quite an exciting sub-plot involving thieves that does tie in to the main story.

I will admit I found the writing simpler than I remembered, but then again I was a kid the last time I read the book.  I breezed through it in a couple of hours, and I’m sure that kids will only stumble over a few dated terms as they race to find the solution.

The fact that Nancy Drew’s adventures (in several incarnations) are still in print is a testament to the staying power of the character.  If you have a middle grade reader, don’t hesitate to introduce them to The Secret of the Old Clock.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.