Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Review: The Hudson River Mystery by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #28)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: A few moments, a fast read
Cons: The plot is ludicrous and the characters are out of character.
The Bottom Line:
Story makes no sense
These aren’t characters we love
No reason to read

What Was This Author Thinking?

Many fans of the Trixie Belden series have books they hate, and there are some that are universally loathed.  I’m odd because some of the weaker books I like despite the weaknesses.  That’s not the case with The Hudson River Mystery.  Even when I read this one the first time as a teen, I could only shake my head and wonder how the book even got published.

A trip to pick up older brother Brian and his lab partner Loyola from the shores of the Hudson River lead to a mystery when Trixie thinks she sees a shark fin in the water.  Despite the fact that everyone tells her there is no way it could be true, she is certain of what she saw.  Thea Van Loon, a children’s author who is working on a book about the area, backs up Trixie.  But why does Trixie think there is something off about Thea?

But Trixie has a mystery closer to home to solve as well.  Brian isn’t acting like himself.  He’s even questioning if he still wants to be a doctor, and he feels sick and tired.  What could be causing the shift in his personality?

So what’s wrong with the book?  Where do I even start?

How about the characters?  Every single one of them is completely out of character.  Trixie, while occasionally thoughtless and too quick to speak over the course of the series, hits new lows in this book.  Honestly, I want to slap her a few times.  The rest of her friends are also off, and more than just a little bit.  Brian’s odd behavior is part of the plot, but the rest of them?  There’s no explanation for it.

The plot in this book is really two smaller plots.  The story with Brian is the focus early on, and as that gets resolved, the shark takes bigger prominence.  All I can figure with the shark is they were trying to capitalize on Jaws, which came out a year or two earlier.  But really, a shark in the Hudson?  I can easily understand why everyone else was ridiculing Trixie – it’s pretty unbelievable.  Yes, there is an explanation for what Trixie saw, but it is so crammed into the end, it’s a data dump.  Oh, and Brian?  There’s a disclaimer at the end that nullifies that plot as well.

Plus let’s discuss the fact that this book is set at Halloween.  (In fact, the climax takes place on Halloween night.)  We’ve just had The Mystery of the Headless Horseman and The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon.  Both would have been better books set during Halloween.  That’s never made sense to me either.

Complaints aside, there are a couple of fun moments between the characters, and it is a fast read.  But that’s about all the book has going for it.

I really don’t get why this book was even published.  It should have been scrapped as a bad idea before it was even written.  If you are new to the series, you’ll be turned off by this book, so don’t start here.  However, even fans aren’t missing much if they miss The Hudson River Mystery.

I do highly recommend you find a different book in the Trixie Belden Mystery series.  Most of them are quite enjoyable.

Halloween Edition of Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Happy Halloween.

I wish I could say I have a truly frightening book that would fit right in with the holiday for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  But I don't.

But I do have a book that hasn't been released yet.  It will be out on Tuesday, and you can watch for my review on that date.  The book is Suede to Rest by Diane Vallere.  I've actually already finished it, and I really enjoyed it.

This is the first in a new series, and the entire thing starts like this:

A breeze rippled through the trees to the left and the right of the storefront.  I stood across the street, taking in the blacked-out windows and the once-magnificent sign now covered in bird poop, decades of grime, and spray-painted curse words.
From page 56, we find:

"I need to use your phone."  I snatched Ken's cell from his hand before he had a chance to say no and dialed Carson's number from memory.  I'd cycled through most of the entry-level curse words by the time he answered and was contemplating a couple of new ones.

There you have it.  As I said, review will be up on Tuesday, the day the book is released.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Movie Review: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some laughs and fun along the way
Cons: Slower pace and dated elements won’t attract kids today.
The Bottom Line:
Two classic stories
Don’t hold up as well today
Worth watching for fans

These Stories Have Their Moments

In the period immediately after World War II, the Disney studio was hurting financially.  In an effort to turn things around, they released several features that combined two or more stories into one longer movie.  Given the season, I decided now was a great time to rewatch The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad.  It had been a few years since I last watched it, but my memories of the film pretty much held up, for better or worse.

The first of the two stories in this film is Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  Or a small portion of the novel.  (I haven’t read the book in probably 30 years, but I do remember it being much more involved than the story presented here.)  Basil Rathbone is our narrator as we hear the tale of Mr. Toad (voiced by Eric Blore).  He’s the heir and owner of the prestigious Toad Hall, but his constant desire for speed gets him into serious trouble.  The focus of the film is his obsession with getting a car and the trouble that causes for his friends Ratty (Claude Allister), Mole (Colin Campbell), and Badger (Campbell Grant).

Honestly, this story is probably best known these days from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland (and the memories of the ride at Walt Disney World).  Watching the movie again, I noticed several of the characters actually show up in the ride; I thought they were just random people in the ride with no real connection to the movie.  Still, the ride goes off in a crazy direction that has nothing to do with any other version of the story.

But let’s get back to this film.  There is a courtroom scene that, while essential to the plot, will probably bore the kids.  I know I wasn’t that impressed with it, and I’m an adult.  However, there are still some comedic action sequences that will definitely entertain kids, particularly the climactic battle against weasels for possession of Toad Hall.  The animation is definitely on the dated side, but that was just the style of the time.  It’s certainly good, and the voice work is fine as well.

Once this story is done, Bing Crosby takes over to tell us The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.  We are introduced to Ichabod Crane, a single school teacher looking to find himself a rich woman to marry.  A beautiful woman catches his eye, but unfortunately, there’s another man in town who wants to marry her, and this man will stop at nothing to get rid of his new rival.  This all comes to a head at a Halloween party where the rival tells a spooky story about the Headless Horseman.  But it’s just a story…right?

What’s interesting about this segment is that Bing Crosby does all the voices as well as sings a couple of songs that further things.  Of course, really, the characters talk very little, it’s more Bing narrating things for us and occasionally changing his voice if a character is talking.  Still, we are able to follow the story quite successfully, and the songs are fun if not very memorable outside the movie.  They also definitely follow Bing’s style and 40’s style, which isn’t bad, but it also feels dated as you are watching.

While the final scene is the most famous, there is actually a bit of build up to it, introducing the characters and giving us the story of the Headless Horseman.  In fact, I found parts of it quite funny in a slapstick way.  It still might bore kids, but I have a feeling this will entertain them a bit more than the first segment does.

Even the final scene is a mix of chills and laughs.  It’s a fine balance, and the two parts definitely battle it out the entire way through the scene as Ichabod tries to get away from the Headless Horseman.  The result is a scene that will still scary the most sensitive kids, but that will entertain most kids with little chance of nightmares or other issues.

Still, I can’t fully recommend The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad to families.  I think the dated elements and slower pace will turn off most modern audiences.  However, DisNerds will still enjoy watching this piece of Disney history.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ornament Review: 1923 - Walt Arrives in L.A. - The Moments that Made Disney #1 - 2014 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Captures an early milestone from Walt’s career
Cons: Overall effect darker than it should be
The Bottom Line:
Walt risks chasing dream
Captured as this series starts
DisNerds will love it

Remembering a Gamble that Paid Off

I’ve been a Disney fan as long as I can remember.  I just enjoy the magic of most of the films they produce, and the parks are absolute fun no matter how many times you go.  So when Disney started producing a series of ornaments the commemorated Disney’s legacy by highlighting milestones along the way, I absolutely had to get them.  As a logical first step, we start with 1923 - Walt Arrives in L.A.

This ornament features Walt standing behind a camera.  He’s actually looking next to the camera at the action he is filming.  Walt and the camera are both standing on a black base that has “Walt Disney – Los Angeles – 1923” written on it.

My first thought when I saw this was “What is Walt doing filming live action?  He didn’t start doing that until later in his career?”  And I call myself a DisNerd.  When he moved to LA, he was still making the Alice shorts, which features a live action girl in an animated world.  Those would indeed be filmed with a camera like the one pictured here.

Still, I do have a couple of complaints with the ornament.  Walt and the camera are bronze, designed to look like this is a statue commemorating the event.  Yet between the black base and the dark bronze color, the result is an overall dark ornament.  You have to really look closely to see the details.

And when you do, you’ll see that Walt’s face doesn’t exactly look like Walt.  Oh, I know he would be younger than the man we are used to seeing from late in his career.  But still, he just doesn’t look right to me.  I can’t place my finger on what or why.  Who knows, this may be something else I am getting wrong.

Either way, the flat base means you can set this out and display it year round if you so desire, which is a nice feature.

Of you can hang it on your tree.  Since this is a Disney Story ornament, it comes with a red ribbon through the loop, so it is all ready to hang.  It tips ever so slightly to the front right corner, but once you get it nestled in the branches on your tree, you’ll never notice.

Unlike many Disney Story ornaments, this one is actually fairly light.  I often worry about these ornaments slipping off and breaking, but I don’t think that will be an issue with this one at all.

This series is limited and only available on line, so you’ll never be able to find it in any stores.  The series started with this release in August, and so far each entry has sold out in about a week.

Which makes me glad I didn’t hesitate too long before jumping in to start the series.  1923 - Walt Arrives in L.A. could be a little better, but it’s still a good start to what promises to be a magical series for DisNerds like me.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Moments that Made Disney series.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

TV Recap: Castle 7-5 - Meme is Murder

Definitely a good episode last night.  The mystery was fun with some good twists yet the path they followed along the way was well laid out.  I don’t think the timing of the ending quite works, but this is TV, so I’ll let it pass.

But we can’t discuss the ending without discussing the beginning.  Our victim is a social media star.  She’d come to NYC to make a living as a comedian.  That hadn’t quite come to pass, but she was making a name for herself posting funny reviews along with pictures on a social media sight.  Before she was killed, someone sent her a picture of herself from a burner phone – proof he was stalking her.

Suspicion quickly falls on an acupuncturist that she had just given a trademark bad review to.  He was furious and threatening her.  For one thing, she had never been a client and her review was hurting business.  (I’m sorry, but the reviewer in me was furious at that.  I hate phony reviews!)  However, he alibis out.  Castle wasn’t too surprised or upset because it wasn’t good from a story point of view.  (And that’s the first time in years he’s contributed anything like this.  They used to throw in those comments where he thought of the case as a story all the time, but they got away from that.  So nice to see it back.)

Book Review: A Biscuit, a Casket by Liz Mugavero (Pawsitively Organic Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Growing characters and cute pets in a strong story
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Dangerous dairy
Searching for clues on the farm
Makes for strong sequel

Corn Maze Corpse

Normally, I don’t have many books to read for Halloween, but this year I wound up with three cozies set during the season.  A Biscuit, a Casket is the last of those, and it appears I saved the best for last.

This is the second in a series that features Kristan “Stan” Connor.  After losing her PR job, she settled in the small town of Frog Ledge, Connecticut, and wound up starting a new business that sells organic, healthy treats for pets.  You’d think that would be a nice, safe occupation and place to live, but you’d most definitely be wrong.

In the few months since she started Pawsitively Organic, Stan has already begun to collect lots of clients.  One of them has even requested that she cater a birthday party for her dog to be held at the dairy farm just down the street a couple of weeks before Halloween.

However, Stan has just started to set up for the event when someone comes running out of the corn maze also on the property.  On the back edge of the maze is the body of the farm’s owner, Hal Hoffman.  As his wife and four sons try to deal with the shock, Stan begins to hear about Hal’s shady deals.  Did one of them get him killed?  Or are the police correct to look at his family?

While I enjoyed the first enough to continue the series, I felt it did have some flaws.  I liked Stan, but her habit of naming theme songs for her day got a little annoying.  That has been scaled back in this book, and I found the songs that popped into her head for certain scenes to be enjoyable, the way it’s supposed to be.  She’s definitely grown stronger as a character, and I enjoyed watching her settle into her new life more here.  The rest of the returning characters are fun again as well, and the new characters display some great depth that makes us care about the outcome.

The first book read much like the pilot of the TV series – introducing characters and setting up Stan’s new situation.  Those are often my least favorite episodes of a series because they can be slow, and I felt that did slow down the first book, too.  I’m happy to say with that introduction out of the way, the pacing of the mystery was much better here.  There are a few sub-plots introduced along the way, but they only enhance the book overall.  Yet the pace is never so fast that we aren’t given time to see how the events in the story are effecting the characters, especially the Hoffman family.  I loved those scenes because they truly added some depth normally not found in the cozies I enjoy.  Everything led up to a climax that once again surprised me and had me turning pages trying to figure out how Stan would survive.

The first book had included some sub-plots and relationships that were left unresolved to carry over through the series.  I was happy to see they were not only continued here but we made great progress in working toward resolutions.  With how things were left, I’m very interested to see where these things lead in the next book.

Recipes for two of Stan’s treats are included in the back of the book.  Since I don’t have pets (I’m allergic), I won’t be trying them, although they do sound pretty good even to me.

I was sad when I turned the last page of A Biscuit, a Casket, and I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Frog Ledge.  If you are looking for a fun cozy mystery with lots of cute pets, this series is definitely for you.

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

My October 2014 Nightstand

About Friday, I had a panic attack because I thought I'd missed this post.  Turns out, I was fine.  This is the fourth Tuesday of the month, which means it is time for What's On Your Nightstand, as hosted by 5 Minutes for Books.

Just leaving my nightstand is A Biscuit, a Casket by Liz Mugavero.  This is the second in the Pawsitively Organic Mystery series, and I must say I really enjoyed it.  It was a definite step up from the first, and I'm looking forward to more.  My review is here.

So what's next?  I've got a month of ARCs ahead of me.  I try to only take one or two at the most per month, but somehow, I just kept accepting for right now.

Up first is Suede to Rest by Diane Vallere.  This is the first in a new series and my introduction to the author, but not her first book.

Then comes Bluffing is Murder by Tace Baker, aka Edith Maxwell.  I actually just read the first in this series this month and enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to diving in to the sequel.

Next is The Job, the third Fox and O'Hare book by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg.  The premise is an FBI agent and a conman teaming up to take down even worse criminals.  The plots take them all over the world and are quite fun if a little out there.

All those come out on successive Tuesdays in November.  But I've got two books set for December 2nd.

Tagged for Death is the first in a new series by new author Sherry Harris.  The theme of this series is garage sales.  I'm quite anxious to dive into this one.

Also up for review that day is Death With All the Trimmings, a Christmas entry in the Key West Food Critic Mysteries by Lucy Burdette.

As if that weren't enough to keep me busy, I'm also trying to reread Acadia (originally published as A Model Murder) by Sandy Dengler.  And I have a couple of middle grade books I want to read as well as Days of Wine and Roquefort by Avery Aames.

Yes, I have too many books I want to read this month.

Obviously, some will bleed over into December.  I don't have any ARCs, but I do have some Christmas books to read then.  Right now, I'm just hopeful I can get to all these extra books by the end of the year.

VeggieTales Review: Beauty and the Beet

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good lesson in an endearing and entertaining story
Cons: Might be too slow for some boys
The Bottom Line:
Who could love a beet?
In this endearing story
We learn should be all

“Sure.  Let’s Just Stay Here Because Nothing Bad Ever Happens at a Creepy, Dark Hotel.”

Last October, I bemoaned yet about Christmas story from the folks at VeggieTales and hoped they’d give us something new this year.  I was delighted this year to see them release Beauty and the Beet.  Yes, there are some Christmas lights and evergreens in the background, but this is a story that can be watched and enjoyed any time.

As Bob the Tomato is introducing this episode, Larry the Cucumber runs in.  He’s gotten an emergency letter (you can tell because it was handwritten – in crayon!) from a girl who is wondering how to handle the new mean girl at her school.  Larry has just the story and introduces their take on a familiar fairytale.

Mirabelle (voiced by Kelly Pickler) is the lead vocalist for her family’s traveling band, the Veggie Tones.  They are just starting out, but with a hit song, their fame is rising, and they’ve just been invited to perform at Vegetable Square Garden.  Certain this will make their career, her father (played by Larry the Cucumber), sets out just as a snow storm is hitting.

Unfortunately, the storm is worse than expected, and the family is stranded at a creepy hotel in the middle of nowhere.  With no money and no bus (don’t ask), they just clean and sing for a place to stay under the nasty eye of Mr. Beet, the owner.  However, Mirabelle feels the need to reach out to him with God’s love.  Can she melt the heart of this man?  Will they ever get out of the hotel?

As if the title didn’t give it away, this is obviously a take on Beauty and the Beast.  However, they have stripped out any romantic love and made it all about showing God’s love to others.  The familiar elements of the story make appearances in different ways that those familiar with the original will have fun spotting.  (No magic is involved, however.)  The result is very heart warming and really illustrates the lesson that God wants us to show His love to others and just how that can transform them – and us.

While the lesson is part of the story, this isn’t quite as funny as some of the previous entries in the long running series.  That said, there is one gag late in the story that is absolutely priceless.  It may be my favorite for the last several videos in fact.  I’m also not quite sure how boys will react to this one, although I certainly enjoyed it.

With Kellie Pickler voicing the lead character and the story revolving around singers, it should be no surprise that there are lots of new songs.  They are enjoyable and really fit into the theme of the story well.

And yes, there is a new silly song.  Every wondered about the birth of “Mac and Cheese?”  Larry sets the record straight as we go back to his great, great, great…grandparents and learn how this combination came to be.  It’s fun.

Speaking of fun, the one acknowledgement to the season is “Deck the Halls,” a Veggie Tones video that plays after the show ends.  It’s pretty funny with a few twists on the classic carol that everyone will enjoy.

Ultimate, Beauty and the Beet is sweet and endearing while reminding us that God wants us to love everyone, even those who are hardest to love.  It might not be as funny as some entries, but it is still a great lesson told in an entertaining way.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 4-5 - Breaking Glass

What is she up to?  It seems to be my standard question when it comes to Once Upon a Time.  Not that I’m complaining, but I’m back in that familiar place when it comes to The Snow Queen.  There is obviously much more going on here than it appears, and I can’t wait to figure it all out.

But that’s looking ahead.  Let’s start by looking back to 1998 and a chapter from the life of runaway Emma.

We meet up with Emma in Minnesota as she is trying to steal some food while a runaway teen.  She is almost caught, but a girl about her age helps her out by lying that they are together and picking up some stuff for her parents.  Then they pay with a credit card this girl stole, run away from a man in a truck chasing this other girl, and finally begin to enjoy their food.

This girl, named Lily, and Emma bond pretty quickly, and the two of them decide to crash in one of the abandoned homes on the lake for a while since it’s fall.  Like Emma, Lily doesn’t have a family and feels invisible.  They have a lot of fun together, including playing video games and taking a self video (does it still count as a selfie if it’s a video) with a video camera that Emma finds laying around.

Only Lily does have a family, and her father shows up that night looking for her.  In fact, I’m guessing this was really her family’s cabin.  Lily is taken away, and but she tries to explain to Emma.  Lily was adopted, yet still feels invisible in her family.  She tries to give Emma her address so they can try running away again later, but Emma won’t take it.  Meanwhile, Emma is back in the system and taken to another home.

Short and sweet, right?  But it has huge implications for the present, so let’s get to that.

Book Review: The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #27)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Decent mystery; characters all present and mostly in character
Cons: A couple detours in plot; Trixie and Mart’s fighting
The Bottom Line:
Trip to pirate inn
Lands Trixie, friends in trouble
Strong later release

Disappearing Pirates and Reappearing Ships

Ghost ships.  While I’ve heard the term, I don’t think I’ve read too many books that involve those words.  The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon is one obvious exception, and it is a very fun mystery from the Trixie Belden series.

If you aren’t familiar with this character, Trixie starred in her own middle grade mystery series, kind of like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, but with a much larger cast of friends and supporting characters.  Each character has strong personalities as well, making them seem more real to me.

Early in the series, Trixie and her friends formed a club, the Bob-Whites of the Glen.  These seven friends have all kinds of fun together between the mysteries that Trixie seems to drag them into.  Among the members are Trixie’s older brothers Mart and Brian and her best friend Honey Wheeler.  One other recurring character is Miss Trask, the manager of the Wheeler estate, who also acts as chaperon for some of the group’s trips.

Trixie and the rest of the Bob-Whites are reluctant to go along with Miss Trask on her visit to see her brother and the family home, an inn that Mr. Trask had finally turned around thanks to pirate theming.  However, she insists they come and she lures them there with a tale of her ancestor Captain Trask.  The captain was a pirate who vanished from the inn’s dining room in front of a crowd of people and no one knows how he did it.

When the group arrives, they soon realize that this old mystery is the least of their worries.  A series of strange accidents have been occurring.  There’s one guest who acts weird.  And that’s before Trixie and Honey witness a ship glowing in the darkness.  Is it a warning of more danger to come?

This late in the series, you never quite know what you will get in the way of character.  Some of the ghost writers who used the name Kathryn Kenny were fairly faithful to the original versions, but others obviously knew nothing about these characters.  Here, they are fairly good.  Honey’s a tad on the scared side, but it’s not that bad.  Worse is Trixie and Mart.  These siblings are often teasing and occasionally fighting with each other, but here it is a pretty steady theme.  It’s supposed to mirror Miss Trask’s own relationship with her brother, but it irritates me.  On the other hand, when they really need each other, the two are there without hesitation, which is always true to character, and something I have always loved about the books.

Also on the plus side, all seven of the Bob-Whites get to go.  This doesn’t often happen – heck, some authors find ways to get rid of characters even when they are home.  While not every one plays a large part in the story, it is nice to see them all.

The plot is decent, with some good twists and nice deductions by Trixie at the end.  Some of the other characters solve things along the way, too, and there is a few chapter detour that actually doesn’t add much to the story, but for the most part, it is fun and entertaining.  Even if you remember the big chunks of the plot, it’s fun to watch the characters figure it out all over again.
So while not the strongest entry in the series, it is still a fun book and a good one for this late in the series.  If you’ve met Trixie before, you need to solve The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon.  And if you haven’t met her before, fix that today.  These mysteries and characters are still fun no matter how old you are.

And once you've met her, you'll want to read more Trixie Belden Mysteries.

This is the second in my two part Halloween edition of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  Ironically, as part of this series, I'm not reviewing the book that actually takes place around Halloween.  Come back on Friday to see why I don't find it a Marvelous book.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Book Review: The Mystery of the Headless Horseman by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #26)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery, mostly good characters
Cons: Why Headless Horseman never explained; Di at times, but explained
The Bottom Line:
Vanishing butler
And a missing antique vase
Make strong late entry

Legend Come to Life

It’s an idea I’m surprised hadn’t surfaced in the Trixie Belden series before.  Since fictional Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson, New York, the setting for the series, is near the area used for The Legend of Sleepy Hallow, why not create The Mystery of the Headless Horseman.  Someone finally hit upon that idea, and the result is one of the stronger entries in the second half of the series.
For those who have missed this series, Trixie Belden is a detective series along the lines of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, only the characters are better developed.  Trixie is a fourteen-year-old who plans to open a detective agency when she grows up, and she’s getting lots of practice as a kid since this is the twenty-sixth book in the series.  Along with her two older brothers and some friends, they’ve formed the club The Bob-Whites of the Glen which they use to put on fund raisers and generally help those around them.  This book finds them planning the use to estate of their member Diana Lynch, Di for short, to put on a bazaar to raise money for UNICEF, one of their favorite causes.

However, the day before the fundraiser, Di’s butler, Harrison, vanishes.  This is especially bad because with Mr. and Mrs. Lynch out of town, Di’s parents were only comfortable with the bazaar being on their property if Harrison was there to supervise.

When the friends go out and hunt for him, they find him trapped in the basement of a neighboring house.  Only his explanation for how he got there doesn’t make sense.  Looking into it further leads Trixie to the trail of a stolen Ming vase and crosses her path with the Headless Horseman.  What in the world is happening?

The Headless Horseman only appears in two scenes, but they are adequately spooky.  Die hard thrill seekers will be bored by them, but they got my heart pumping when I read them years ago and still find them suitably atmospheric.  He is adequately explained by the end of the book (one part almost right away), however the one thing that is never explained is why the villain is dressing up as the Headless Horseman.  Minor detail, right?  Actually, we can make an educated guess, and it’s an idea I had as a kid, but it would be nice if that were explained.

Other than that, the plot holds up very well as an adult.  There are some good clues and twists to the story that will keep the pages turning.  I did know one of the twists early on, even as a kid, but that never bothered me, and the ending explains everything.  Well, everything except why the Headless Horseman.

As this series progressed, the various ghost writers did a mixed job with the various character’s personalities.  Here, it is easy to say that Di is out of character, and I’m sure some things are exaggerated for her.  However, her personality shift is actually part of the plot and explained to my satisfaction.  I actually like the characters here and how they are portrayed.  Di does bother me at times, but she’s supposed to, and it is all resolved by the end.

At 200 pages, this is a fast read, even faster as an adult than it was as a kid.  However, the story never feels short, which I appreciate.

I have to mention one of my favorite sub-plots in the series.  In this book, Trixie’s older brother Mart decides to train the family’s Irish Setter Reddy to obey.  The results provide some fun moments throughout the course of the book.

Even with my one complaint, this is still a great read.  The author comes close to getting everything right for The Mystery of the Headless Horseman.  This is one series fans will enjoy reading and rereading.

And if you enjoy this book, you'll want to read the rest of the Trixie Belden Mysteries.

This is the first of a two part Halloween edition of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on my blog.  Come back tomorrow to see my review of the next in the Trixie Belden series and then Monday check out Shannon Messenger's blog for other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday links.

October 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Look at this!  I'm caught up on TV!!  I helps to have no life on a Friday for a change.  So here's what I watched this week, including thoughts that get me caught up from last week.

As always please link up your posts in the comments below and link back up here to help spread the word.  I look forward to reading about what you are watching.

The Amazing Race (10/17) – Augh!  I have really come to dislike the Dentists, mainly because the guy is so arrogant (and I don’t think it is the way he is edited either), so I was sorry that they could save their save since this was a non-elimination round.  Here’s hoping this has knocked them down a peg or two.  And how stupid is the mother of the mother/daughter team?  To prove a point, you are willing to lose the race?  And how did not pointing out the pit stop make you any better than how you are claiming your daughter behaved?  In fact, I felt like you proved her point.  (Not that I had strong feelings about it or anything.)

Girl Meets World (10/17) – I wasn’t sure what to think when I saw that bullying was going to be the subject of the episode.  In the end, I loved it.  Funny and very heartwarming with a minimum of lecturing.  And did I mention funny?  They pretty much got it perfect.

Once Upon a Time – Easily my favorite episode of the season so far, and that was because it was focused mostly on our characters.  Plus the scenes between Hook and Gold were great.  So much to explore there now, and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.  You can read my full recap here.

Dancing with the Stars – I always hate it when a couple goes after a strong week.  Didn’t used to happen as much when they had the results the next night – I’m just saying.  Anyway, the weaker dancers are getting picked off one by one.  It is that time of the season.

Gotham – I read tonight that the November 11th episode is going to be worth watching, so I will give the show that long.  I did enjoy this one more because it showed us a bit more of Bruce Wayne.  But I think that is about all that is drawing me to the show at the moment.

Big Bang Theory – So many great lines and funny moments in this episode.  I loved Sheldon and Raj in the tunnel.  Bernadette and Howard fighting over money was a bit predictable, but still funny.  And I’m with Leonard about the money, although why they didn’t just open the joint savings account I will never know.

Castle – Not quite as good as last week, but still pretty funny.  I appreciated them breaking their formula a bit at the end.  Castle’s scenes in the school were wonderful if a tad predictable.  Still, well worth watching.  You can read my full recap here.

The Flash – The series is so much fun, but when they decide to get serious and go for the heart strings, I’m right there with them.  Amazing moments near the end and with the one doctor thinking about her fiancĂ©e.  This show is amazing, and I’m so glad it’s been picked up for the rest of the season so I can keep enjoying it.

Agents of SHIELD – A bit surprised that Simmons is back so soon, although I can’t wait to see how she really interacts with Fitz.  Skye being completely in the know is going to be interesting.  But what is her dad up to?  I think he sees Coulson has usurping him so he’s after revenge, but we’ll find out soon, I’m sure.

Melissa & Joey – I am a Sabrina the Teenage Witch fan from way back, so I loved this episode.  Having Aunt Zelda and Salem in it and hearing so many of the old phrases was just so much fun.  I was expecting them to go the entire “It was all a dream” route, but the ending they went with works as well.  Very nicely done.

Baby Daddy – That was hilarious.  I’m okay with there being nothing on the cliffhanger because it was great.  I knew what was really going on the entire time, but that didn’t make the reveal any less funny.  Would have been nice to let her win, but I still loved it.

Survivor – At least we are seeing some loved ones getting to play together this time.  I don’t think it worked out quite like how they wanted last time.  The mixture of the two tribes makes that super interesting.  And yet, with an easy vote, they went with breaking up a family set at tribal.  It will be interesting to see how that plays out.  Meanwhile, I hope Jeff makes the other tribe pay for the rice.  No wonder they were winning.  But how stupid are they?

Arrow – Several great lines tonight (and I erased the episode before I could record them.  Rats!)  It will be interesting to have Thea back, especially since she still doesn’t know about the Arrow.  I wonder what they plan to do with her this season.  Laurel is progressing down her path quickly, but I’m liking her story much better this season.

The Amazing Race (10/24) – As much as I generally don’t like the mother/daughter team, I was happy to see them working together this week.  And I rewatched the scene where they got into the fight, and they were right.  In fact, they were there first period and the guy cut in front of them.  I’m actually okay with the U-Turn as payback in this case.  But Bethany was wonderful in the roadblock, and I knew she’d be great holding the tea tray.  He’s been practicing for that detour for years.  I loved how they practiced before doing it for real.

Friday, October 24, 2014

October 24th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

The week is finally ending, so that means it is time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  (And is it just me, or are the weeks getting much much longer these days?)

This week I've started my third and final Halloween book for the year, A Biscuit, a Casket by Liz Mugavero.

This is the second in her Pawsitively Organic Mystery series, and I'm enjoying it much more than the first.  The first was setting things in motion, but with that background laid, it's much easier to dive in and enjoy the characters and story this time around.

And it has a killer opening:

The chain saw appeared out of nowhere, its wide arc narrowly missing the top of Stan Connor's head.

See what I mean?

And this is a tantalizing potential clue from page 56:

Stan thought about that.  A family heirloom as the weapon.  Was that symbolic or coincidental?

I'm not quite half way through myself, so even I don't know the answer to that question yet.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review: Stirring the Plot by Daryl Wood Gerber (Cookbook Nook Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, good overall story
Cons: Pacing could have been a little tighter; Aunt Vera’s “powers”
The Bottom Line:
Who killed the head witch?
Dangerous fundraising group
With mystery, clues

When Fundraising Turns Deadly

Crystal Cove used to be a sleepy resort town, but then Jenna Hart moved home.  At least that’s what she is beginning to think in the third Cookbook Nook Mystery.  After all, Stirring the Plot represents the third murder in three months that Jenna has had to solve.

If you are new to the series, Jenna is running a cookbook store with her Aunt Vera in this town on the California coast.  Jenna grew up there, and now that she’s back, she’s reconnecting with friends, some of whom work in the shop with her.  She’s even got a new boyfriend.  Life would be perfect if it weren’t for that murder problem.

Every October, Crystal Cove is invaded by the Winsome Witches.  This group of local ladies use Halloween to put on several benefits raising money for literacy – no actual witchcraft required.  The group was founded by Pearl Thornton, and she is still the group’s official leader.  However, the morning after a night tour of the city that ends at her home, Pearl is found dead in her backyard.

Jenna’s aunt Vera was a member of the group and close friends of the victim.  With Vera feeling the effects of the murder, she begins to poke around, prompting Jenna to search for clues as well.  Will the two of them figure out who the killer is?  Or will this person conjure up a get out of jail free card?

Jenna does actually worry about being a curse on the town for a  little while after the murder takes place, and I found it to be interesting character development for her.  On the whole, I like all the main cast, and I enjoyed getting to see them again.  They are an interesting bunch, and the relationships forming are fun while leaving room to explore more in future books.

The plot started out well, introducing us to suspects early on and giving us some interesting clues, too.  But then the book seemed to bog down a bit.  The various activities happening in town give us time to talk to suspects, but I felt it also slowed things down as we had to learn about the events.  There was also some rehash of suspects, motives, and clues that felt repetitive to me.  However, Jenna pieced together some good clues to reach the climax, which I loved for multiple reasons, so the book had a strong finish.

In the first two books, it has been established that Aunt Vera feels she has a connection to the other world and offers readings of various kinds.  That has always bothered me, but here it felt like it was a much more pronounced part of the book.  I usually just ignore that part of things, but I couldn’t do that here.  Still, this was a minor annoyance to the book.

There is lots of talk of food in the book, which means we get several recipes at the end.  My mouth watered reading several of them, and the Pumpkin Maple Syrup Cheesecake is calling my name.  I might have to give it a try soon.

Complaints aside, I really did enjoy my latest visit to Crystal Cove.  Those looking for a Halloween themed book to read this time of year will be delighted to find Stirring the Plot.

Enjoy this book?  You'll want to read the rest of the Cookbook Nook Mysteries in order.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

TV Recap: Castle 7-4 - Child's Play

That was another fun episode, and the mystery was pretty good, too.  That’s my one sentence review of the episode, but let’s dive in deeper.

Our victim is a young ice cream truck driver.  He’s found shot in his track in an abandoned part of the city.  His parents have no idea who might have killed him.  He was studying graphic design, and the night before he died, he go really spooked in class and then left.  His teacher saw him getting in a car with a man she didn’t know.  And all his work on the class computers is gone.

Then comes the twist.  There was someone hiding in the ice cream truck when the victim was killed.  The only clue to his/her identity is a permission slip from a nearby second grade class.  When none of the students open up right away, there is talk about going under cover to gain the kids trust.  Naturally, the logical person volunteers – Castle.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Music Review: Unto Us by Aaron Shust

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Christ focused Christmas music that is highly original and fun
Cons: I will get strange looks listening to it year round.
The Bottom Line:
Orchestra and choir
Aaron’s Christmas offering
Original, fun

Aaron Shust Ushers in the Christmas Season with the Masterful Unto Us

Every so often, I think that I have too much Christmas music (which I do), and maybe I shouldn’t buy any more.  I’m glad I don’t listen to that part of my brain, however.  When artists I normally enjoy release new Christmas music, I automatically buy it.  This year, Aaron Shust is one of those artists, and I am thrilled to add Unto Us to my Christmas rotation.

Since Aaron has always leaned toward the praise and worship side of the spectrum, it’s not real surprise to me that he chose to go the route he did for this release.  It’s a full on orchestra/choral disc (at least most of the time).  While not my first choice of discs to buy, I was on board with this choice by the end of my first time through the disc.  It’s beautiful.

The disc opens with “Star of Wonder” which is an almost completely instrumental overture.  You’ll hear bits of familiar carols as it progresses, most noticeably “We Three Kings.”  The orchestra is already in fine form here as they play.  When the choir comes in, we are treated to “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

That’s another thing I like here.  While most of the music is original, the familiar carols we get are not your typical carols.  Near the end of the disc, there’s a fun version of “Good Christian Men Rejoice,” and Aaron has added his own chorus to the song.  The disc closes with his pop/soft rock take on “Go Tell It on the Mountain” which lifts a song I normally don’t like and makes me enjoy it.  Probably the most familiar song here is “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” but even that gets tweaked with a new melody written by Aaron.

But many of the tracks are new songs.  One of my favorites is the title track, which presents us with a fun upbeat and catchy melody and words of proclamation who Jesus is that come mainly from Isaiah.  After a couple of listens, you will have this song stuck in your head, and you’ll enjoy every second of it.

Another fun track is “God Has Come to Earth.”  This song proclaiming who Jesus is and his coming to Earth is another upbeat track I find myself singing if “Unto Us” isn’t stuck in my head.

Now, I’ve jumped around talking about the songs, but there is a discernable order to the disc.  The first half are declaration of who Jesus is, bringing to mind the prophets and the angels as they proclaimed Jesus’s birth.  Then we switch to the adoration of the shepherds for the next three tracks, including the instrumental “Keep Silent.”  The simple lyrics of “Sanctuary” are extremely haunting as well.  And wait until you hear the boys’ choir and the young soloist on that one.  Finally, the last two tracks are the shepherds proclaiming what they’ve seen to anyone who they meet along the way.

I often judge a disc by how quickly it feels like Christmas to me.  This is a hard one to judge because it doesn’t have as many traditional carols (which I like), and with orchestra doesn’t grab me as much as some of the jazzier discs I have do.  However, it feels like a church choir program, which does make it feel like Christmas to me.  I could easily see myself sitting through a performance of this and loving every second of it.

While many Christmas discs can start to sound the same after a while, with the beautiful orchestra and the many original tracks, Unto Us will definitely stand out from the rest.  It might take you a few listens to fully feel like Christmas, but you’ll appreciate it right away.

CD Length: 40:53
1. Star of Wonder (Overture)
2. Gloria
3. Unto Us
4. Advent Carol
5. God Has Come to Earth
6. Sanctuary
7. Keep Silent (Instrumental)
8. Bethlehem
9. Rejoice
10. Go Tell It

Sunday, October 19, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 4-4 - The Apprentice

All magic comes with a price.  It seems we should have learned that lesson by now.  However, the hard part is when that price comes from a liar.

Yep, Rumplestiltskin/Gold hasn’t changed a bit.  He may pretend for Belle’s sake, but he’s still out for himself.  And this episode proved it big time.

We begin in the past as a Dark One (pre-Rumple) attempts to get something.  It’s the same something that Gold found in the opening episode of the season – a magic cylinder.  That cylinder is guarded by an older looking man – the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  But he is only one line of defense, and that second line is a magic spell on the cylinder itself that will keep any Dark One from ever getting it.  What and why aren’t explained – yet.

And that’s when our flashback catches up to Anna and Rumple.  She approaches Rumple in an attempt to learn about her parent’s trip to the Enchanted Forest.  However, he wants a deal.  And the deal he wants is for Anna to poison the Apprentice.

TV Special Review: Toy Story of TERROR!

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Entertaining adventure story with some old friends
Cons: Might scare the most sensitive children out there.
The Bottom Line:
Toys disappearing
From creepy roadside motel
Who is after them?

Don’t Stop at the Roadside Motel

Last year, I was all excited about the premier of Toy Story of TERROR!, but for some reason I didn’t especially care for it.  However, I decided to watch it again this year when it was on TV this year, and I wound up really enjoying it.  Now, I’m at a bit of a loss to figure out why I felt the other way.

This half hour special is from the people at Disney/Pixar and includes the original cast back to voice their characters.  While not all the characters are back, we get a good chunk of the old and new characters as they accompany Bonnie (voiced by Emily Hahn) on a road trip.  When her mom’s car gets a flat tire in the middle of a rainstorm, they pull into a nearby motel in the middle of nowhere until they can get it repaired in the morning.

The toys have been watching a scary movie in the trunk, and Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), who is an expert on them, continues to warn the toys of the dangerous things that can happen.  But instead, the gang wants to explore the room where they are spending the night.  Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) is the first to vanish followed quickly by Rex (Wallace Shawn), Pricklepants, Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Woody (Tom Hanks), and Buzz (Tim Allen).  With only Jessie (Joan Cusack) free, it is up to her to save her friends.  But where are they?  And can she face one of her biggest fears to save the day?

Maybe my expectations last year were too high, and I was expecting a full movie’s story in 22 minutes (got to factor in commercials).  Watching it this year, I was actually surprised at how quickly the story moved.  They’ve got time for lots of action and some nice character development in that time.  And we can’t leave out the humor since there are several good laughs along the way.

Actually, I mention character development, but really only Jessie gets any significant development.  Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the cast is their usual charming selves, but it is Jessie that has to overcome her fear of being left in a box.  Yes, so it is predictable, but still, it is nice to see this weakness brought up again and faced over the course of the story.

Despite have “Terror” in the name, I don’t think this will truly scare kids.  Yes, the toys are watching an old fashioned vampire film early on, but there are so many laughs with the character’s reactions to it, I’m not sure it would scare them.  The only really scary thing might be the weird thing grabbing the toys, but once that is explained, I’m not sure that would scare kids for long.  I don’t think it would have scared me as a kid, but I think you’ll only need to worry if you have super sensitive kids.

While the animation doesn’t include any of the beautiful money shots we normally get from a Pixar film, it is certainly up to telling this story.  The voice cast, new and old, does a great job bring their characters to life.

So if you somehow missed Toy Story of TERROR!, fix that today.  It’s a fun story that you will enjoy as long as you aren’t as stupid as I was last year.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

October 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

As you can see, I'm still running a bit behind.  Got family in town again.  But here's what I did get watched this week, including the stuff I caught up on from last week.

Please feel free to link up your summary posts at the bottom, and please link back to this post so we can build the circle up.

The Amazing Race (10/10) – I’m sorry to see the firefighters go, although they only had a couple of weeks left in them anyway.  His ankle would not survive long, and hopefully this way he can get the treatment he needs.  Still, I always hate it when someone goes out because of bad directions.

Girl Meets World (10/10) – What a fun episode.  Not exactly original, but very funny.  The best part may have been the “Parent Play” at the beginning, but the entire thing turned out to be pretty funny.  Really enjoyed it.

Once Upon a Time – I’m still a little torn on this season, but by the end of the episode I was definitely hooked.  I think the more they weave the Frozen characters into the main characters of the show, the better I will like it.  You can read my full recap here.

Gotham – I feel like the show is going somewhere.  I just can’t figure out where and if I am interested or not.  I will say this, they could cut Jada Pinkett Smith’s character and it would be no great loss at all.  Heck, I couldn’t even figure out what her scenes added to anything in this episode.

Dancing with the Stars – The switch up didn’t seem to go quite as well this time as last time.  It seemed like everyone scored better, but this time there was more variety.  The bottom stars are definitely apparent as the weeks progress, and we will probably lose them over the next couple of weeks.

The Big Bang Theory – It was Leonard and Penny who were the serious ones in this episode.  What does that say about their relationship?  Good things, in my opinion.  I loved how easily distracted the guys were, and I think it proved that the ladies had nothing to do with their lack of productivity the last few years.  And Penny opening the blinds at the end?  Perfect!  There are some drunk people I would have liked to have done that, too.

Castle – The chemistry and mojo for the show is back, and I’m glad to see it.  A fun episode with some of Castle’s wild theories thrown in for good measure.  I’m not fully back on board and ready to see what comes next.  You can read my full recap here.

The Flash – In some ways, this felt like part two of the pilot with how they were still figuring out stuff about him and how he and some of the others were still figuring out what he should and shouldn’t be doing.  Yet the villain was all new (and new and new), so that much wasn’t.  Either way, it was still such a great episode.  Really, fun lines but so much heart behind it, even in the flashbacks.  And what is up with that doctor?  Why is he pretending to need the wheelchair?  What is his obsession with The Flash?  And why did he have to kill the guy?  Seriously, that is the biggest intrigue so far.

Agents of SHIELD – That was a very fun episode.  I laughed at May quite a bit, something that usually doesn’t happen.  And they advanced Fitz’s story, too.  I think this may have been their best episode of the season, at least so far.

Survivor – Seriously, have people never watched this show before?  YOU DO NOT THROW CHALLENGES.  YOU DO NOT TRY TO DICTATE TO EVERYONE ELSE WHAT TO DO.  It always comes back to bite you in the end.  Always.  The instant you start getting arrogant, you might as well pack your bags.  And the ladies only voted you out because you painted a target on your back.  Otherwise, they probably would have left you alone.

Arrow – The producers promised an emotional goodbye to Sara, and they really delivered.  For once, I enjoyed the flashback, too, with Tommy in it.  This may be the best episode of Arrow in a while, certainly stronger than last week.  And we can already see the direction that Laurel will be going this year as she takes steps toward becoming the next Black Canary.  So glad it looks like they will be giving her something good to do.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: The Legend of Sleepy Harlow by Kylie Logan (League of Literary Ladies #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and a strong mystery mixed with humor
Cons: Needed a final edit for continuity issues
The Bottom Line:
Halloween cozy
Mysteries, great characters
Lacking good edit

Sleepy Editing Detracted From What Could Have Been a Great Book

I have truly fallen in love with the League of Literary Ladies.  This is my third time visiting them on South Bass Island this year, and I just love seeing how their current literary reads gives clues to modern mysteries.  Just in time for Halloween, we get the latest in the series, The Legend of Sleepy Harlow.  I loved it despite some serious editing flaws.

October is descending on Put-In-Bay, the main town on the island, and as the residents begin to get ready for the winter season, Bea has one last big group, the Elkhart Ghost Getters.  They are hot on the trail of the ghost of Charles “Sleepy” Harlow, an infamous local gangster who was murdered in 1930 but made his living before that running alcohol into the area from Canada during Prohibition.

However, what Bea didn’t realize is that the members of EGG had been on the island the previous October.  On that first trip, they had made some enemies, including Bea’s friend Kate.  The tension is even worse this time around, and after a flair up with Kate, one of the members of the group is found murdered.  With Kate an obvious suspect, Bea begins to question her guests to find out who the killer might really be.  Can she do it?  And is Sleepy really revisiting the island as a ghost?

Like the first two in the series, this book is fast paced and fun.  The plot weaves all over the place and threw many clues at me that just confused me until everything came together at the end.  There were even a nice couple of creepy ghost scenes that weren’t really that scary but were definitely fun and added to the plot.  The allusions to The Legend of Sleepy Hallow weren’t as strong as some of the comparisons in the first two books, but that was a minor point.

I also liked the characters.  The main women have been strong since day one, and that continues here.  This is more Bea’s show than in previous books (even though she’s always been the main character), but those scenes with all of the women are some of the best, and we really get to see a progression in them and their friendships.  The suspects are equally as strong, and that also helped confuse me on who did it until the end.

Plus these books always have a nice sense of humor.  Between some fun events and Bea’s comments in the first person narration, I got some grins and laughs from the book.

So what is my complaint?  There were times when this book felt like a draft that needed a final edit.  Early in the book, an upcoming event is mentioned and the prep for it plays an important part in an early scene.  Then it is never mentioned again, even in passing.  I would think we’d at least get an acknowledgement that is happened without incident.  Near the climax of the book, I think we experienced two October 30ths in a row, although I’m not completely certain on that.  Bea at one point mentions some guests she has coming to stay at her bed and breakfast in a week, but they never show up and no explanation is ever made.  All of these would be annoyances, but I would chalk them up to me missing something in the passage of time.  However, I know that in the final 100 pages, the location where the body was found is changed.  It is mentioned multiple times by multiple characters that Bea found the body in one location, when it was really in another.  That’s a very big detail for the characters to get wrong.  That’s what makes me think that an earlier version of the story didn’t get fully edited to include the changes in the later drafts.

Fortunately, all those editing errors have no real change on the outcome of the mystery, so while they annoy, they are not a fatal issue with the book.

Still, it saddens me because The Legend of Sleepy Harlow could have been another outstanding addition to the fun series.  I still definitely enjoyed it, but I hope the attention to detail is better in any future books.

This book is strong enough you'll want to read the rest of the League of Literary Ladies books in order.

October 17th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Time again for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

I'm reading some Halloween books these days, and this week's book is Stirring the Plot, the third Cookbook Nook Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber.

Now, even thought this book is set at Halloween, it's still a cozy with plenty of fun and likable characters - at least so far.  I'm not much past the 56 at the moment.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Here's how the book starts:

A cat yowled.  Not mine.  Tigger was back at the Cookbook Nook.

I wasn't sure I was going to find a good 56 this week, but near the bottom of the page we get this gem:

To take my mind off the murder, I joined the women by the display.  They clustered around me and gazed expectantly, as if I were the Wizard himself.

There you have it for another week.  See you next Friday.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ornament Review: Sorry! - Family Game Night #1 - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 3D box art makes for a fun looking ornament
Cons: Dice on the ornament because they are now part of the game
The Bottom Line:
Game night memories
Of being sent back to start
Fun for family tree

I’m Not Sorry! I started Hallmark’s New Family Game Night Ornament Series

In case you haven’t noticed, I collect a lot of Hallmark’s ornament series.  And every year, I state I will not start any new ones no matter how cute they are.  And every year I wind up breaking that promise by starting several new ones.  This year, I only started their new Family Game Night series.  With Sorry! being the first one, I just could not resist.

The ornament’s basic shape is a rectangle, which makes sense because it is a take on the cover of the board game.  The design looks like the cover of the box as well with SORRY! written in big letters across the top and the picture from the cover across it.  But here’s where it gets fun.  The picture portion is actually in 3D, and the corner of the game board comes out toward you.  The pieces on the board are also in 3D, attached to the board.  That makes it much more fun than just being a picture of the game board cover.  This includes two game pieces knocking into each other with red sending a green game piece back to the start.  (Bummer since I liked to be green).

Actually, the entire front is recessed, so as you look at the ornament, you’ll see that the SORRY! across the top is actually 3D as well.  This also creates a shelf under the game board, and on it you’ll find more game pieces, some of the cards, and dice.

Yes, you read that correctly – dice.  When I first saw the ornament, I thought this was a detail that Hallmark had gotten wrong.  With Sorry!, you always flip over cards to tell you how many spaces to move and any other special options – or at least that’s how the version I played growing up was designed.  Apparently, the newer version of the game includes dice.  I don’t know what you use them for, but that is why that are included in the ornament.  It’s the only detail I didn’t like, but if it is how the game is played now, it does belong on the ornament.

The ornament does have a nice flat back (with cover art from the an older Sorry! box painted on it).  However, if you set the box on that, the game board will stick up in the air.  You can try setting this ornament up on the narrower side so the game pieces comes out like it should.  Even though this side of the ornament is fairly narrow, it actually is fairly steady if you want to display it this way.

Still, I recommend hanging the ornament from the little ring attached to the top of the box.  It’s right in the middle of the box, so the ornament hangs straight, which isn’t a surprise at all.  I mean, with all that space on top, they should have been able to make sure it balanced correctly.

Looking for the series marker.  It’s not hidden on the back of the ornament like I thought it would be.  Instead, it was in the second place I looked.  I’ll leave it to you to find it, but I thought the location was lots of fun.

I loved this game growing up because the cards made it something different.  And I love the idea of hanging games on a Christmas tree.  Since you think of toys and games at Christmas, this makes lots of sense as a Christmas decoration, right?  Between that and the many hours my family spent playing games while I was growing up, I just couldn’t resist the series, and I was thrilled with this game being the one they started with.  If they had just painted a rectangle to look like the game box, that would have been boring, but the 3D game art with the extra pieces and cards below it makes this a winning ornament.

So I will never be Sorry! I broke my pledge and started a new series in 2014.  Family Game Night is already off to a great start and promises many more years of reliving great memories playing games to come.

Roll the dice and check out the rest of the Family Game Night series

Price: $14.95