Sunday, November 30, 2014

TV Recap - Once Upon a Time 4-9 - Fall

Were you paying attention tonight?  Because they snuck in an answer to a question from last season they’d never offered.  Plus they mentioned that Mary Margaret and David are sharing a heart.  It’s always nice to know that they haven’t forgotten those little details.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to it.

Ornament Review: Sweet St. Nick - Christmas Cupcakes #5 - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great looking Santa decorating a cupcake
Cons: Not real
The Bottom Line:
Santa of frosting
Tips, fully displays on tree
Looks great; makes hungry

Frosting Santa

If you are decorating cupcakes for Christmas, sooner or later, you’ll wind up making a Santa cupcake, right?  That is certainly the case for Hallmark’s Christmas Cupcake series.  In fact, in some ways, I’m surprised it took until the fifth entry to create Sweet St. Nick.

The cupcake has a plastic base that looks like a gold cupcake foil.  Peeking out of the foil is a vanilla cupcake.  But the decoration is up on top, and that part is made to look like Santa.  You’ve got red frosting for a hat and white frosting around his face for his beard and mustache.  There are even dots of black for his eyes and a red nose.  With the vanilla cupcake acting as his skin color, you’ve got a decent looking Santa.  Add in big pieces of glitter pretending to be powered sugar, and you’ve got a delicious looking cupcake.

Now, I say frosting, but of course the truth is this ornament isn’t made of frosting.  (If it were, it wouldn’t last five seconds.)  In reality, the “frosting” is fabric, as is the cupcake in the plastic cupcake holder.  This adds a multilayered look to the ornament that actually looks more like frosting than plastic could ever achieve.

If you pick up this ornament looking for an exact replica of Santa, you will be disappointed, but it very much looks like a Santa made of frosting on a cupcake.  And since that’s what the ornament is supposed to be, I love it.  It’s cute and a perfect addition to the series.

As always, the cupcake has a flat base, so you can display it any way you want.  If you’ve been collecting the series, you could easily set them in a pan or an actual cupcake display stand, for example.  The series marker, in this case a 5 in a Christmas tree, is on the bottom of the cupcake as well.

However, when you go to hand this ornament on your tree, you’ll find that it actually hangs so that Santa’s face is facing out.  This is different from the rest of the series where the ornament hangs straight up and down.  I like this look better since it allows the “frosting,” the part that makes the ornament unique, to truly be seen.  I wish the rest of the series hung the same way.  While it doesn’t match the rest of the series, it does match a limited edition ornament of a snowman cupcake from a couple of years back that was a compliment to this series.  Anyway, the ornament does hang by string so the ornament twists a little bit, but it shouldn’t be too hard to make sure Santa is hanging straight on your tree.

There are several series where the creativity continues to amaze me, and this is another one.  Sweet St. Nick is a fun and festive cupcake to add to your Christmas tree today.

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

Original Price: $9.95

Saturday, November 29, 2014

November 29th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I actually didn't do that badly with being out of town for Thanksgiving and getting my shows watched.  I only missed two shows.  Of course, all catch up on them when I get home.

Gotham – I know I said if I wasn’t super impressed, I’d drop this show.  I haven’t quite pulled the trigger, but I am seriously thinking about it.  The show has some great moments, but it’s not really pulling me in still.  If it were on another night, I might keep watching it, but I don’t need anything else on Mondays.

Castle – I am so happy they didn’t go for the obvious proposal ending of the episode.  Great for a more serious episode and one that focused on a supporting character.  I wasn’t worried about Espo, but I was worried about some of the other characters.  And I love how Castle twisted the familiar setup yet again.  You can read my full recap here.

Dancing with the Stars – Everyone was talking about how close this final was, and they were right.  I honestly didn’t know who I was rooting for.  I was a little surprised that Derek left in fourth, although he’s won enough.  Anyway, those freestyles were amazing.  My favorite had to be the Super Mario themed one.  I loved how they made all the music work.  With how much Alfonzo wanted it and how long he’d wanted to be on the show, I’m thrilled he won.  But really, I think I would have been happy with any of them.  They were all amazing dancers.

The Flash – One of their more serious episodes this week, but I liked how what he went through impacted the doctor and showed him how Barry’s connection to people is the most important part of who he is.  Interesting that they killed off two metahumans.  But really, what is the “good” doc up to?

The Amazing Race – I always hate it when a favorite team goes out for taking a great risk that didn’t pay off.  At least the fact that the rest of the teams have ganged up on the two teams I like the most didn’t make them fight each other at the end.  Oh well, now I can root on the surfers all the way.

Friday, November 28, 2014

November 28th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I did, with lots of great food and time spent with family.  But now it's time to get down to the serious business of Book Beginnings and Friday 56 for the week.

This week's book is Tagged for Death by Sherry Harris.

This is the first in a new cozy series.  It won't be published until Tuesday, but I've just finished an ARC.  My official review will be up on publication day, but here's a spoiler - I loved it!

Shall we get down to it?  Here's how it begins:

A gunshot sounded.  I jerked the phone away from my ear.  This time, I hung up first.

And from page 56 we get:

"CJ was nowhere.  Not during the interview.  Not after."
"Did you want him to be?"
I sat at my small kitchen table, tracing my finger around the bright flowers printed on the vintage tablecloth.  "He should have been.  No.  Maybe I did want him there.  Not for why you think."

I definitely recommend this book, and as I said, my review will be up on Tuesday.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope today brings you Stars: 5 out of 5 of warm memories with family and friends with lots of Pros and no Cons.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ornament Review: Cozy Country Church - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great looking church, fun sound clip
Cons: Windows don’t light up
The Bottom Line:
Christmas Eve service
Sounds of choir out the door
Wish these still lit up

It’s a Holy Night in this Cozy Church

I’m glad that Don Palmiter has been doing an unofficial series of churches.  While they still compliment the official Candlelight Services series that ended a few years back, the changes are significant as well.  Cozy Country Church is another fun ornament.

This church is a brick church, so the walls are very red.  There are white columns out in front and snow on the ground.  The two trees in front are completely covered in snow as well.  Yet the church itself looks warm and inviting with a yellow glow inside all the windows.

Now this is the part I wish we still had from the Candlelight Services series.  Those ornaments would stick in to a string of light and the windows would really glow.  Last year’s ornament didn’t light up, and that is the case again this year.  While the windows do look fairly bright on their own, I miss that little touch.

On the other hand, we are now getting sound clips with the churches.  This year, if you put the two button batteries in the base of the ornament and press the button on the right hand side, you’ll find that the ornament plays “O Holy Night.”  Okay, so the clip is actually only about 30 seconds long and just features a choir singing the first couple of lines.  Still, they sound great together, and it is a fun touch to the ornament.

And, honestly, even without the windows lighting up, I do like how the ornament looks.  There is a style and class to it that make it a very inviting church.  If I were in the area for Christmas Eve, I’d certainly consider stopping by.

This ornament is a building, so the base is nice and flat.  That works out well since I like to display these churches, official and unofficial, together in front of my TV.  Actually, I’m running out of room at this point and need to figure out what else to do with the extras.

However, if you do want to hang this ornament on your tree, you’ll find a loop hiding behind the steeple.  It tips forward ever so slightly, but not enough to truly matter, especially once you get it in the branches on your tree.

I do still really wish these ornaments lit up like the old series used to.  The sound clips are good, but the light up was my favorite feature.  Still, I am happy to have Cozy Country Church added to my collection.

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

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

TV Recap: Castle 7-8 - Kill Switch

They got me last night.  I assumed I already knew the final scene of the episode, and I was rolling my eyes from the beginning about how boring and predictable that would be.  Yet they didn’t go there.

But we’ll get there in a few minutes.

We’ve had fun episodes so far this month, so that means it is time for a more serious episode.  And, as they like to do a couple of times a season, they also focused on one of the supporting characters.  This time around, it was Esposito who carried much of the show, and he was great at it.

The episode starts with a murder in a park.  Our victim is a man who works for the government investigating health companies that don’t follow guidelines.  Obviously, one of his cases must be the cause.  His boss seems to agree, although she has no clue what he might have been working on that would cause his death.  His brother says that the victim was rarely in the park, and only there because the victim got a phone call.

Fitness Equipment Review: Perfect Bands Kit

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good variety of exercises, easy to use
Cons: No exercise booklet included, door anchor might not work on all doors.
The Bottom Line:
Two resistance bands
Create opportunity
For good home workout

Great Way to Bring the Gym Home

I have such good intentions of working out at home, and then I just don’t do it.  Frankly, it’s one reason I don’t join a gym, I don’t work out at home, so I why should I spend the money for a gym membership.  But when I have gone to a gym, I’ve enjoyed some of the variety of things you can do.  That’s why I jumped at a chance to get the Perfect Bands Kit.

This kit contains everything you need to get more exercise at home.  The core of the kit are the two rubber resistance bands.  One is 10 pounds and one is 15 pounds, or you can combine them for a total of 25 pounds.  Additionally, you get handles to attach to the bands, and a door anchor.

Notice something missing in that listing?  That’s right, they don’t give you an exercise guide.  The piece of paper that comes with it, which explains how to attach the bands, does give you a web address so you can download and print out the exercise guide.  Frankly, this just seems cheap to me.  Everyone is going to want it, so why not include it?  Still, it is available as long as you have the internet and a printer.

The handles are actually fairly easy to attach to the bands, making it easy to set up and switch out bands if you so desire.  This holds true if you want to combine the bands as well.  I’ve had no problems with that at all.  Everything seems sturdy and durable.  I’ve only had my set for a couple of weeks, so I don’t know how durable it truly is, but I don’t see it falling apart any time soon.

The door anchor is the trickiest part of the set.  You need to put this anchor through a door with enough of a gap in the hinge side for it to fit thought.  (And trust me, you want to use the hinge side of the door.  No, I didn’t break a door, but watching how much it moved when I pulled was very scary.)  Fortunately, I’ve found I can use this in my bedroom without any issues, but the door is rather tight as it closes on the anchor.  I tried it on another couple of doors and couldn’t get them to work at all because it was too thick.

I’m not a creative guy, so without the booklet, I’m sure there are many exercises I would have missed doing with these bands.  The guide includes every muscle group in your body from the neck down.  Yes, there’s even one they say that you can do for your core.  Honestly, some of these I don’t quite get from the instructions, but I need to watch a demo and then have someone correct me as I’m doing it to truly get it correct.  That’s more on me.

But let me tell you, the exercises I do know I’m doing correctly – I feel it.  I quickly found that I got the best results by combining the two bands (which is super easy to do).  And after a couple of reps, I can certainly feel it.  Mostly, I notice this with the upper body exercises, which again is a matter of doing it correctly.  I know these are working.

Another great thing about this set is that it is expandable.  The company offers bands at a greater variety of weights than are offered in this starter set.  I haven’t priced them, but it is something I will definitely look into if I actually start using these on a regular basis.  I’m sure anyone who uses them will find they quickly grow beyond these two resistance levels.

Now, I don’t think these bands are the only thing you’ll need or even want when it comes to home fitness, but they make a great tool to have and include.  I still intend to use them in addition to push ups, sit ups, my over the door pull up bar, and planks.  As you see, I really have no excuse.

Now, to just find and keep the motivation to use the Perfect Bands Kit on a regular basis.  If I can, I’ll find these really help me get my body into shape beyond the running I already do.  Maybe I’ll actually stick to my New Year’s Resolution on exercise this year.  (Okay, you can stop laughing at me know.)

NOTE: I received this product free for review via Amazon’s Vine program.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What's on My Nightstand - November 2014

Can't believe another month is almost over.  Heck, the year is almost over.  But it is indeed the fourth Tuesday of the month, so it's time once again for What's On Your Nightstand as hosted by 5 Minutes for Books.

I just completed Days of Wine and Roquefort by Avery Aames.  If you want to know what I thought of it, here's my review with a give away.

I'm currently about 100 pages from the end of Tagged for Death by Sherry Harris.  I'm reading this one from review on release day next week.  It's a debut, and I'm really enjoying it.

Usually, when I do these, I'm not completely sure what I will be reading then, so it's a vague idea at best.  However, I have books I've been saving for December, so this time around it's easy.  I've got several Christmas mysteries to read this month, and I'm looking forward to them.  Up first in the list will be Death with All the Trimmings by Lucy Burdette.  Again, I got an ARC of this book, so I'm making it a priority.  Then I will be reading Silent Knife by Shelley Freydont, The Nightingale Before Christmas by Donna Andrews, and rereading Murder on the Mount (aka Mount Rainier) by Sandy Dengler.

It's after that I'm not quite sure what I will read.  I have a couple of ARCs for the beginning of January I will need to get read.  But I might try to slip in a Middle Grade book if I have the time before I have to read those.  We'll just have to see how busy the month is and how much reading I really get done.

Book Review: Days of Wine and Roquefort by Avery Aames (Cheese Shop Mysteries #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters in an engaging mystery
Cons: A few niggles, but mostly minor issues.
The Bottom Line:
The plot is stronger
While the characters still shine
Enjoyable book

Murder of a House Guest

At the beginning of the year, I decided it was time to catch up on all of the books written by Daryl Wood Gerber under her two names.  Of course, then she announced she was coming out with two books in her Cookbook Nook series in 2014.  I’ve read both of those, and now that I’ve finished Days of Wine and Roquefort, I’m up to date on the mysteries she writes under the pen name Avery Aames.

If you’ve missed this series, you can pretty much jump in here.  You will be spoiled on a few character sub-plots and secrets, but the main mysteries from each book are not revealed.

What you do need to know is that Charlotte Bessette and her cousin Matthew run a wine and cheese shop in the small town of Providence, Ohio.  Somehow, that small town has become plagued by murder, and Charlotte always finds herself involved in trying to figure out what is happening, usually with the help of her friends, especially her assistant Rebecca.

It’s a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, and Charlotte’s life is very quiet.  Her fiancĂ©e, Jordan, is out of town and her cousin Matthew and his girls have moved out of the house they were sharing since Matthew just got remarried.  It’s why Charlotte agrees to let Matthew’s friend Noelle Adams move in for a little while.  Noelle has just gotten a new job at a winery in the area and her new place isn’t quite ready yet.

The day before Noelle starts her new job, Charlotte is shocked to return home and find Noelle stabbed with a wine corkscrew.  She manages to get off a cryptic final phrase before she dies.  Since Noelle hardly knew anyone in town, who would want to kill her?  Had someone from her previous life followed her? 

In the last book, I complained that I felt the sub-plots overwhelmed the main mystery.  That wasn’t the case here.  Who killed Noelle was front and center with the sub-plots serving their purpose of helping develop the characters and occasionally giving supporting players something to do.  I did feel like the rehashing of clues and suspects and theories could have been trimmed a little, but that is minor.

The reason?  I really do enjoy these characters.  Charlotte has a close nit group of family and friends, and I like spending time with them.  We even got to see a couple who weren’t around much last time, which was nice.  The characters are continuing to grow and change, and I like this in my main characters as well.  Rebecca’s love life took an interesting twist here, and I’m curious to see how that is resolved.  It could help to grow her character, which would be a good thing since she does tend to act her early 20’s age at times (and at times I love her for acting her age0.  I also wish that Charlotte would recognize why the chief of police wants her to stop investigating murders and stop taking it personally when he warns her away from the danger.  Overall, these are both minor issues in a cast I pretty much love.

Of course, you can’t have a culinary cozy (or many cozies in general these days), without providing recipes.  This book features six new ones including a delicious sounding chocolate cheesecake and a pizza I really want to try.  I just need to get going and actually try some of these recipes.

I’m glad I’ve made the effort to catch up on this series this year.  With Days of Wine and Roquefort behind me, I can look forward to the sixth in the series coming in just a couple of months.  I’m already looking forward to my return visit to Charlotte and her friends

If you do want to read the earlier books, here are the Cheese Shop Mysteries in order.

I actually have two copies of this book, so I am offering my extra in a giveaway.  And it is an autographed copy, too.  Just leave me a comment on this review and include your e-mail address before 11:59 PM on December 1st, and I will draw one lucky winner.  It's that simple!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Game Review: Rack-O

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Simple to learn yet tons of fun to play
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Numbers fall in line
As you race to organize
One card at a time

Organizing Numbers Has Never Been So Fun

There are some games that are so simple it is amazing no one thought of them earlier.  And yet, these are often the most fun games.  A perfect example of that is Rack-O, and I just love playing it.

The set up and equipment are simple.  There are four trays with slots in them, a tray for the draw and discard pile, and a stack of 60 cards with one number each on them.  2 to 4 people can play (and you can take out some of the cards if fewer than 4 are playing).

To start the game, shuffle the cards and deal 10 to each person.  The rest are put in a draw pile with the next card turned face up to create the discard pile.  Each player lines up their cards in their holder so only they can see them, and they must put the cards in the holders in the order received, first in the back, most recent in the front.

The object is to arrange cards in numerical order from lowest in the front to highest in the back.  To do so, you draw either the top card from the discard pile and trade it with a card already in your rack or you draw the top card from the draw pile and either use it in your rack or discard it.  The first person to get all their numbers in order says “Rack-O” and wins.

See, it really is that simple.  Yet it is tons of fun.  My family has had this game for several years, and we always enjoy pulling it out and playing.  The game is part luck (which cards you draw or the person before you throws away) and skill (where you place the cards you decide to use in your rack).  The skill actually does come into play more than you might think since sometimes you can wind up with a gap too narrow or where all the cards are already in use.  You need to pay attention to what everyone throws away.

My family always just plays one round at a time, declaring a winner and then moving on.  However, you can keep score and play until one person reaches the limit.  Each card in order from the front to the back count as 5 points (the points are on the side of the racks), so the first break in your sequence ends your score.  The person getting Rack-O automatically gets 75 points.

The box recommends this game for ages 8 and older.  I’d say you could introduce it younger since all you need to be able to do is count to 60.  You might need to team up with the younger kids early on, but before you know it, they’ll be playing on their own (and probably beating you).

This isn't one of the first games we pull out, but we enjoy it every time we do.  Rack-O is a simple yet fun game that everyone can enjoy together.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

November 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Yep, I managed to get all caught up this week.  Actually, I was proud of myself for getting caught up by Wednesday night.

With Thanksgiving this week, things will start slowing down for winter finales in the next few weeks.  December is one of the truly slow times of the year for TV anymore, although as I watch less and less of the USA Network, summers might get slower again as well.  Heck, maybe I can start watching the TV on DVD sets I have around here.  It would be fun to rewatch some of these shows I love.

But that's in the future.  Here's what I actually did watch this week.  And don't forget to leave me a link to your thoughts on what you watched this week.

Big Bang Theory (11/13) – I’ve got to admit, even with the promos, I didn’t see Sheldon’s broken nose coming.  However, I did see Raj’s final line of the episode coming.  Not that it was any less hilarious.

White Collar (11/13) – Since this is the final season, it makes sense that we are actually, finally, working toward Neal getting free.  It was the kind of thing that had to happen at the end of the show and not before then.  But what will he do with his freedom?  And two moles in the Pink Panthers?  This is going to be a wild ride.

Covert Affairs (11/13) – I did not see that ending coming.  So, why did they kidnap Auggie when they killed the other members of his unit?  What is this really all about?  I’m definitely intrigued.

Once Upon a Time – Two hours still wasn’t long enough.  I just love this show and get lost in it every week.  We also got some great answers this week on how things went down in the past.  How they will stop Ingrid in today’s world is beyond me – at least at the moment.  You can read my full recap here.

Gotham – I liked Bruce and Cat together.  They were so fun and cute.  Plus it really did let us see a non-somber side to his character, finally.  They were the best part of an otherwise ordinary episode.  Next week is the fall finale, and I may not return in the spring, we’ll see.

Dancing with the Stars – Well, his luck and fan base finally ran out.  It was painfully obvious, too, he needed to go.  Some of those scores were shockingly high.  Looks like it should be an epic final come Monday and Tuesday.

Castle – That episode was everything I envisioned.  Heck, Ryan, Lanie, and Esposito’s reactions were exactly what I expected as well.  Nice twist there at the end and the classic Western lines coming from Castle and Beckett made me laugh.  Plus they’ve really gone back to Castle’s writer roots, which I am loving.  You can read my full recap here.

The Flash – Well, Barry and Iris not talking sure didn’t last long.  I like how her boyfriend and Barry are starting to get along.  Don’t tell me they’re setting him up to be murdered.  I am absolutely certain that the “good” doc really does know something about Barry’s mother’s death.  I was happy to see whoever it was show up at the end, until he left that note threatening Iris.  I really am wondering just who is behind it all.

Agents of SHIELD – You know, the first time Tim DeKaye was on the show, I didn’t confuse him with his character on White Collar.  For some reason, this week, I did.  I knew Ward wasn’t to be trusted.  I was a bit surprised he didn’t kill his brother right in front of us.  And I knew that was Skye’s mother as soon as they brought in the rest of the village.  How interesting that her dad is actually on our side even if we don’t know it yet.  Very curious to see how that all plays out.

Arrow – Felicity in that dress?  Wow!  And considering that cannon Arrow wound up with Laurel, they sure are playing up the romance with Felicity.  Honestly, at this point, I’m okay with whichever way they go with the romance on the show.  Just as long as it isn’t Cupid.  Man, was she wacky, but in a good villainous way, of course.

Survivor – I hope we get some insight into what exactly happened next week because I did not see that coming.  Other than John and Jaclyn switching sides constantly.  Honestly, those two are loose cannons.  But it makes for a very exciting season, which is nice for a change of pace.

Big Bang Theory (11/20) – I was just thinking a couple of weeks ago we hadn’t heard about “Fun with Flags” for a while, and then up it popped.  And three plots, so plenty going on.  I wonder if they will tone Bernadette down a little because she truly has become a bit of a bully over the last couple of seasons.  The guy’s story was rather sobering, especially for this show.  Still, all told, it was another fun episode.

White Collar (11/20) – So how will they take down the Pink Panthers without getting those Neal loves in danger?  I mean with Elizabeth pregnant, the stakes there are raise really high.  I like that Neal has a conscious and doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but I saw that coming with Amy.  I was hoping she wouldn’t get hurt, but she did.  So sad.

Covert Affairs (11/20) – It was the next step forward, yet I feel like not much truly happened.  Essentially moving the pieces into place for the next episode.  The real question is, what does he want from Auggie?

Amazing Race – I’d actually seen that greased pole thing on another show one time, and it seemed to be like you just had to keep going on it until the grease wore off and you could get to the flag.  So the people should have just kept going.  It’s been a while since a team saved by a non-elimination leg went out the next time around, and in this case, the switching detours certainly is what did them in.  Not that I could handle that greased pole.  Heights and I do not get along.

Girl Meets World – The show was back on!!!  I had an inkling what that final video was going to be, but I liked it.  I did definitely figure out the sub-plot early on.  But stories were funny and sweet, which is why I love this show so much.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ornament Review: The Little Mermaid - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Impressive sculpt and great song clip
Cons: Song didn’t come from scene, but who cares?
The Bottom Line:
Marked with great song/scene combo
Make part of your world

For Her 25th Anniversary, Make Ariel Part of Your Tree

It really is hard to believe that the Disney animation renaissance started twenty-five years ago already.  Where has the time gone?  But it was twenty-five years ago that The Little Mermaid hit theaters and became a huge hit.  To celebrate, Hallmark issued The Little Mermaid ornament as part of their unofficial Disney songs series.

The ornament is based on the iconic scene where Flounder (who is not in the ornament) has presented Ariel with the statue of Prince Eric.  The statue is attached to its base, and is a heroic pose of Eric looking out over his kingdom with one foot on a stone.  Ariel has swum up to it and is perched so that her arms are resting on Eric’s arm.  The result is that the two of them are eye to eye, and Ariel is looking into the eyes of the statue with a love sick look.

Now, as a DisNerd, I do have to note that the song used in the ornament actually comes before this scene in the movie.  But you know what?  I don’t care.  Yes, the song is the iconic “Part of Your World.”  The ornament takes three button batteries in the base.  When they are installed, just press the button to hear a clip of the song from the movie.  The clip runs almost 45 seconds and is from near the beginning of the song.  Any fan of the movie will recognize it and love it in a heartbeat.  It fades out a tad too early, but that’s my only complaint with it.

And what a perfect duo the song and the sculpt really make, too.  I love the fact that Ariel isn’t connected to the ground since she swam so much in that part of the movie.  I love that song.  The combination of the two is just wonderful.  Yes, the song came before the two even met, but as I said, I truly don’t care.  It makes me smile when I press the button, and that’s all that matters.

With the base of the ornament being the base of the statue, the ornament stands perfectly well on its own two feet (sorry, reference to the sound clip, couldn’t resist).  And since this isn’t really a Christmassy scene, you can display it anywhere you want year round.  Of course, Ariel is mainly red and green, so that does make it more Christmassy than many of the Disney ornaments Hallmark releases, right?  And I should mentioned that Ariel’s bottom half is covered with glitter to add to the Christmas feel.

The loop for hanging the ornament is on the top of Ariel’s head.  Despite efforts to make the ornament balanced, it does tip very slightly to the right.  It’s not enough to ruin the ornament in any meaningful way, and once you get it in the tree, you’ll never notice.

While not all of Disney’s animated films that have come out in the last 25 years have been good, I’m quite thankful for the many films we have enjoyed during that time.  So it is very fitting to honor The Little Mermaid on its 25th anniversary.  I can’t think of a better way for ornament collectors to do that than this ornament.

Original Price: $24.95

November 21st's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Yep, it's that time of the week again.  We've made it to another Book Beginnings and Friday 56!

The book I'm featuring this week is Days of Wine and Roquefort by Avery Aames.  I actually just finished the book a few hours again, and I will have the review and a giveaway up on Monday, so be sure to come back.

So how does the fifth in this popular series begin?  I'm glad you asked.

"Get a move on, Charlotte Bessette," I muttered.  Time and I were not fast friends.

I'm actually using the first sentence from page 56 this time.  So does that make this Friday 56 beginning?

Rebecca saluted while mumbling, "Spoilsport," under her breath.  Real adult.

So there you have it.  See you Monday for the review, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving to my American readers if I don't see you before.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review: Hell on Wheels by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Odelia Grey #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in a fast moving mystery
Cons: None to be found here
The Bottom Line:
Wheelchair athletes
Plus a boss with a secret
Another strong book

Quad Rugby Turned Deadly

While I enjoy both of Sue Ann Jaffarian’s series, Odelia Grey has a special place in my heart.  This plus size paralegal is a fun and real heroine, and I love spending time with her.  I recently had the pleasure of doing that with Hell on Wheels, the latest in the series.  My only complaint is that it is already over.

While Odelia’s paraplegic husband Greg cannot play quad rugby, he has always been a fan of the sport.  It’s a game played by quadriplegics as they try to get a ball across their opponent’s goal line.  Odelia has become a fan as well, and this particular weekend finds the two of them down in San Diego rooting for their friends on a local team in a major tournament.  Unfortunately, that also means a run in with Peter, an obnoxious quadriplegic who makes a pass at Odelia in front of Greg.  He’s also a poor sport on the court.  However, they are shocked when their friend Rocky loses it and starts beating on him.  They are even more surprised when Peter dies.  Obviously, it looks like Rocky did it, but Odelia and Greg question what they’ve seen and want to help in any way they can.

Meanwhile, Odelia’s boss Mike Steel has gotten into a beating of his own out in Perris, California.  No one even knew he was going to be there, yet he comes home bruised and asking Odelia to cover for him at work.  What’s really going on?

With the murder mystery (and yes, there is a mystery to what really happened to Peter pretty quickly in the story) and the mystery of what happened to Steel, this book doesn’t lack for plot.  That’s why I found the pacing strong.  Something was always happening to move one of the stories forward, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to learn what the latest clue or twist meant.  Everything led to a suspenseful climax that expertly wrapped everything up.

As I’ve already hinted, Odelia is a strong main character, and that continues to be the case here.  She truly cares about her family and friends, and that keeps getting her involved in dangerous situations.  As you’d expect by this point in the series, we’ve got a strong group of supporting characters, and we see many of them here.  I love them just as much as Odelia and always smile when we get to spend quality time with these well-developed characters.  The cast of suspects is equally as human.

The main mystery in the book is more serious than some of them have been, but for those looking for their fix of humor there’s the sub-plot with Steel.  Honestly, the scenes and lines involving him were some of the funniest in the series, and I laughed several times as that sub-plot unfolded.  The tones of these two stories is wildly different, yet the two combine seamlessly for a coherent whole book.

Fans of Odelia will be thrilled with her latest adventure.  And if you’ve missed this great series, go back and start from the beginning.  You’ll be racing through Hell on Wheels before you know it.

And if you have missed this fabulous series, I highly recommend you read the Odelia Grey Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ornament Review: Toymaker Santa #15 - Easy Bake Oven - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Santa testing an oven with delicious cookies
Cons: Slight tip, one seam could be a little better.
The Bottom Line:
Delicious testing
Must make sure the oven works
Has some fun details

Toymaker Santa is Taking a Break with Cookies Made in an Easy Bake Oven

One complaint I have heard from fans of Hallmark’s Toymaker Santa series is that the selection of toys has highly favored the boys.  I can’t disagree.  While there have been a few gender neutral toys, there’s only been one that catered specifically to girls.  Until now.  For the 2014 entry, Santa is testing out an Easy Bake Oven (or an off brand oven).  While it doesn’t grab me as much as some of the earlier ones (for obvious reasons), I do still like it.

Santa is sitting on the floor with his legs out in front of him.  In between his legs is the oven itself.  Now, I never had one and never played with one as a kid, so I don’t know much about how it is supposed to look.  But I find the one in this ornament cute.  It’s blue, and around the nob on the top is a painted on smile.  There are two red burners on top, four nobs, the oven door is open, and a sheet with a cookie is coming out of the oven.  Santa’s got another cookie in his right hand and a glass of milk in the left.  And a small detail I love?  Instead of a hammer in loop of his apron like every other ornament in the series, he’s got a blue spatula that is a match for the oven.  How perfect is that?

Okay, even this guy with no connection to the oven can’t help but appreciate this ornament.  Why is that?  Santa’s testing out an oven, and he’s making cookies to do it.  Could anything be more perfect?  I mean, you’ve got to bake something, right?  And in this case, he’s making his favorite snack.  The tie in to the snack you left out for Santa on Christmas Eve as a kid are universal even if this ornament will appeal mostly to girls.

Before we move on, I do want to make clear that, while this isn’t my favorite in the series, I do still like it and appreciate it.  I’m just a guy, so the appeal of the toy isn’t as strong as some of the others.  Still, I’m glad to see them doing a toy that will appeal most to girls.  I’m racking my brain trying to come up with more they might do in fact, but I’m drawing a blank.  Then again, I can’t think of too many toys they haven’t done yet, so I’ll sure I’ll be surprised in the future.

Because Santa is sitting with the oven in front of him, there’s enough of a flat bottom that the ornament will sit out on any level surface no problem.  And with this being the fifteenth in the series, you’ll also find a 15 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of the ornament.

As if usual in the series, the loop for hanging Santa is on the top of his usual hat.  He tips slightly to the right.  It’s not too bad, and if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll probably miss it.

However, harder to miss is the seam on Santa’s right leg.  It’s actually over on the side, and it looks a little worse than the one on his left.  I’ve definitely seen worse, but it’s still disappointing.

Overall, this is a winner, however.  Any woman or girl who dreamed of an Easy Bake Oven will love this year’s Toymaker Santa ornament.  Even I’ve found details I love about it and am glad to add it to my collection.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Toymaker Santa series.

Price: $14.95

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TV Recap: Castle 7-7 - Once Upon a Time in the West

How can you go wrong with Castle in the old west?  You just can’t.  Well, there might be a way, but the writers certainly didn’t find it on last night’s episode.  That was a ton of fun and a great mystery honeymoon for the newlyweds.  And for these two, what could be more appropriate?

Speaking of newlyweds, the episode starts with Castle and Beckett breaking the news to Esposito, Ryan, and Lanie, who are less than thrilled that they missed the big day.  Martha isn’t helping talking about how wonderful it was.  (And later, at the precinct, Captain Gates points out she wasn’t even included in this Champaign announcement).  Lanie is quicker to forgive than the guys, who really seem out to hold a grudge.

But that is interrupted by the discovery of a body.  It’s a woman who got sick and died on the subway, and they quickly determine it was poison that killed her.  Foxglove to be specific.  And it entered her body several hours earlier.  While back tracking to where she was at the time, they determine she was still at a ranch in Arizona.  The sheriff out there won’t investigate, saying it is a New York problem.  It is way outside of Beckett’s jurisdiction, and while they wait for official strings to be pulled, evidence is disappearing.  That’s when Castle hits upon a grand idea – he and Beckett will go out there on their honeymoon and investigate.  Beckett agrees, but only if they take a real honeymoon not an undercover one later on.

Book Review: The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg (Fox and O'Hare #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: And fun story with danger and humor
Cons: A couple of minor ones, but nothing serious
The Bottom Line:
Another fun job
Against a truly bad man
How will this con work?

Have I Got a Job for You

I have always felt like the Fox and O’Hare series by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg was a cross between Castle and White Collar with an international twist.  Reading The Job, the newest in the series, while new episodes of both shows are airing has only helped confirm that feeling for me.  But does it matter?  Not in the slightest because this book is fun all by itself.

If you’ve missed the first two in the series, they feature by the book FBI agent Kate O’Hare.  After years of tracking down conman and thief Nick Fox, she finally had him.  Unfortunately, he works a deal so that he and Kate are teamed up to take down even worse bad guys.  Their assignments take them all over the globe and to some very harrowing circumstances as they work on cons to catch these international villains.

Conman and master thief Nick Fox has just been spotted on camera stealing a painting from a museum in Tennessee.  FBI agent Kate O’Hare doesn’t think he did it, however.  First, there’s the fact that he denied it even before she heard about it.  Secondly, it wasn’t quite his style, and he was careless enough to let his face be caught on a security camera.

When Nick shows up as the prime suspect in another theft, this time in Turkey, Kate finds herself on the trail of someone trying to get Nick’s attention.  What might this mean for their secret partnership?  Is the real thief trying to communicate with Nick or get revenge on him?  And what will the answers let the duo to next?

The opening of this book captured my attention right away, and it never let up.  I always had a hard time putting it down when I had to get back to my real life.  The stakes in this book are the highest they’ve ever been, and that kept me turning the pages quickly.  Even so, I felt a few of the potential wrinkles could have been harder on our leads and their helpers.  Overall, this is a minor complaint.  The climactic scene was perfect and had me once again glued to the pages to find out how Kate and Nick would triumph.

My one constant complaint with the series is that the characters are paper thin.  There is little to change that here, although just based on following them for three books, they are getting stronger.  That’s not to say I don’t like them because I love them.  I just feel that could be better.  This applies equally to the team that helps run the cons with Nick and Kate.  Yet I still absolutely love these supporting characters.  They are a lot of fun and really add to the joy of the series.

Maybe I’m just not remembering the earlier books as well, but I thought this was the funniest books yet in the series.  The supporting characters are a hoot, and they are at their comic best here.  Nick and Kate also trade some fun barbs that had me chuckling.

If you are looking for pure escapist fun, The Job is the book for you.  My quibbles with the book truly are minor.  I enjoyed it from start to finish and am looking forward to seeing what happens to these characters next.

Looking for more?  Here are the rest of the Fox and O'Hare series in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Report from Bouchercon

I mentioned on Friday that I was out of town at Bouchercon.  Those in the mystery community will definitely know what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, it’s the biggest mystery convention in the country.  People come from all over to attend – authors and readers.  It’s named after Anthony Boucher, who was a critic during the twentieth century.  (And they give out the Anthony’s during the conference.)  I’ve thought about going for several years, but usually it’s too expensive by the time you add in plane tickets and hotel.  But this year, it was in Long Beach, which is just an hour south of me with no traffic (took me almost two hours on Thursday but I made it home in just over an hour).  How could I pass that up?

There were some preliminary things (tours, etc.) early in the week and then the conference actually started on Thursday.  I had a can’t miss deadline at work, so I couldn’t go down until after it was over on Thursday, but I was there for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (which is only a half day).

There are panels.  Lots and lots of panels.  That’s essentially what happens during the day every day.  Several authors are on each panel and they are prepared to talk on a certain theme.  Hopefully, the authors also fit that category – that certainly seemed to be the case this year.  There were some panels for cozy authors, some for noir, some for police and PI’s, and some for everything in between.

Friday, I only wound up making it to three panels.  The first was one on super fans.  Suddenly, I felt like a slow reader and minor collector when I heard how many books some of the panelists had and how many they read a year.  Essentially, some of them are book a day people.  There’s no way I could do that.  Heck, I didn’t even do that when I was unemployed this spring.  Then I went to a fun panel on humor in mysteries.  However, the funniest panel I went to that day was “Been There, Wrote That.”  Essentially, it was four authors who were quizzed on their books by Gar Anthony Haywood.  It was hysterical!  I’ve fans of two of the authors on the panel, and I couldn’t get those questions right at all.  It was very hard, specific stuff.  But it was a lot of fun.

Saturday was more panels – one on culinary cozies (which was another very funny one) and a howler from four of the authors on the Jungle Red blog.  They essentially played Balderdash, asking us to correctly identify obscure people or words.  We, the audience, got most of them right, but there were lots of laughs all around as we played.

Sunday was only a half day, but I still got two panels in.  The one on duos who co-author books was very interesting and fun.  I also enjoyed one on mysteries for Middle Graders.  After all, I do still read some of them.

After every panel time, all the authors who were on panels signed books.  I spent a lot of time in the signing hall.  In fact, I packed a big suitcase full of books I wanted to get signed.  I was very thankful I drove – no added baggage fees.  I was constantly going out to my car swapping books around.

And the rest of the time?  I was hanging around visiting with authors and readers and just generally having a good time.  I automatically had something in common with every person there since we all love mysteries.  I spent a lot of time with my friends Sue Ann Jaffarian (who also happens to be an author), and Heidi Van Der Akker.  Saturday, I arranged to meet up with Karen MacInerny, who had a panel I missed on Thursday.  She graciously signed all the books of hers I had brought and we chatted for quite a while.  At one point Donna Andrews joined us, and I enjoyed listening to the two of them talk shop.  I find all the changes in the world of publishing fascinating, and it’s fun to learn exactly how everything is shaking out.  I made some new friends Saturday night when I joined Sue Ann and Heidi with their friends Paul, Amy, and Michael for dinner.  Friday night, several of us from the DorthyL listserve were going to get together for dinner, but it only turned out to be myself and Ruth Donald, but we have fun at dinner together just the two of us.  I also got to chat with author Catherine Dilts and a friend of hers that night, during the auction.

And I know I shouldn’t have started naming people because there is no way I can name them all.  It was lots of fun and many great conversations were had during those few days.

Honestly, I was sad when it was over on Sunday.  I was ready for another couple of days.  Due to my work schedule, I don’t know if I will be able to make another one in the future, but I’d love to think so.  They are definitely a lot of fun and well worth it.

I’ve been joking all day that I was at work recovering, but that’s actually pretty accurate.  It was certainly an adjustment to get back in work mode when I got up today.

Ornament Review: Baby Mine - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute sculpt with added sound clip
Cons: I’m not cold hearted enough to name cons
The Bottom Line:
Heart melting moment
With tender sound clip added
Enjoy on your tree

One of Disney’s Most Tender Moments Captured as an Ornament

Disney has never shied away from making you cry.  Granted, I can cry easily, but there are many moments in Disney films that will make you tear up.  And one that still gets me is the Baby Mine scene from Dumbo.  That’s the scene that Hallmark chose to make into an ornament this year, and it’s a winner.

Now purists will easily note that this isn’t a strict recreation of the scene from the movie.  In it, Dumbo’s mom was in jail.  They’ve opted to go with a tender scene of the mother and son elephants cuddling instead.  Dumbo is in Mrs. Jumbo’s trunk and she is rocking him.  They are looking at each other and smiling.  Honestly, it’s a very cute ornament.

However, it doesn’t stop there.  This is one of Hallmark’s magic ornament that includes sound.  When you put the two button batters in the bottom and press the button on the left side, you hear a clip from “Baby Mine.”  The clip lasts just under 30 seconds seconds, and yes, it is directly from the movie.  You get the complete first verse of the song before it fades out rather quickly.

I love Dumbo, and I love this song, so getting this ornament was a no brainer for me this year.  And I was richly rewarded.  The sculpt is so incredibly cute, and the song clip adds so much to the fun.

Granted, this isn’t necessarily a Christmas scene, so you could leave it out all year long to enjoy.  The base is perfectly flat, so you can set it out on any shelf or desk or table you might want to display it on.

If you do plan to display it on your tree, you’ll find the loop on the back of Mrs. Jumbo’s head.  Slip a hook through it, and you’ll see that the ornament hangs slightly to the left.  If you are looking for it, you’ll definitely notice it, but once it is hanging in your Christmas tree, you won’t notice at all.

This is a great idea brought to life perfectly.  Any Disney fan, especially a fan of Dumbo, will be proud to display Baby Mine for years to come.

Original Price: $19.95

Sunday, November 16, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 4-8 - Smash the Mirror

Two hours!  Two glorious hours!  And we even got some answers.  And yet, those two hours aren’t enough.  And we have to wait two weeks to find out what happens next!  But for now, let’s glory in the two hours.

And get started with the flashback, which finally reveals how Elsa got trapped in the urn.

Ingrid hides the hat and then talks to the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to try to make a deal to find the other sister she so desperately wants.  The first sister will be Elsa.  However, the Apprentice says that the Sorcerer doesn’t make deals.

And so Ingrid returns home and starts trying to turn Elsa against Anna by lying about what Anna has been up to, claiming that Anna intended to use the hat to trap Elsa.  Elsa quickly see through the lies and comes up with a plan to trap Ingrid back in the urn.  Together the sisters hunt through the castle to find it hidden in the East wing, aka the former home of Ingrid and her original two sisters.  They also find a frozen Hans there (interesting twist).

Saturday, November 15, 2014

November 15th's Weekly TV Thoughts

As promised, here is the post for Weekly TV Thoughts despite the fact that I'm actually out of town at Bouchercon.  (Got to love scheduled posts.)  It also means I missed my Thursday shows (thanks CBS for watching my schedule and preempting Amazing Race on Friday).  Hopefully, I'll be able to catch up at some point this next week.

Please make use of the link up at the bottom.

Once Upon a Time – Every little answer we get just leaves us with more questions.  What do those ribbons mean?  What happened between Knave and the Red Queen (okay, maybe I’m the only one who cares about that)?  Why can Ingrid control her powers when Elsa and Emma can’t?  I’m sure we’ll be learning more about that soon, but I can’t wait to learn more.  You can read my full recap here.

Gotham – Why must the villains and their mothers overact so much?  Truly, it is painful to watch.  And Carol Kane is a much better actress than that.  But the stuff with Gordan and even Bruce?  Truly wonderful and I’m really getting sucked in to that story.

Dancing with the Stars – The fans are definitely speaking over dancing ability.  Lea wasn’t the best, but she was still very good.  The cream is definitely up on top, however, and it is pretty obvious who should be around for the finals.  And how did we get down to only two weeks left already?

Castle – I loved it!  The mystery wasn’t one of their best, but the rest of the show was outstanding.  The alternate reality was fun and shows how one relationship can change so much.  Meanwhile, the wedding at the end.  I may or may not have teared up a little, although I will deny it if asked.  You can read my full recap here.

The Flash – As always, so many wonderful moments.  Caitlin wondering if she was sounding like Felicity.  Barry’s talk with Iris’s dad.  And the heartbreaking break up scene when they are only friends.  I was a little surprised they killed off a DC villain like that, but the episode was so good I really don’t care.

Agents of SHIELD – I’m so glad we’ve got the carving thing behind us.  I’m not sure I’m going to like the search for the city any better, but Coulson going insane?  Not my favorite plot line of the show.  Hopefully he’s on track from here on out and we can get back to fun action again.  Ward is definitely going to cause some of that, and I’m looking forward to it.

Survivor – So Jon and his girlfriend weren’t as divided as they tried to make them out to be.  And they didn’t go the direction I predicted they would go.  I’m very interested in seeing the fallout of their position.  And seriously, after how many seasons on the air, I can’t believe that anyone would not know how important the social game and being nice to everyone is.  Even if you stab them in the back, if you do it with a smile, you’ll still get their vote.  But you have to be smiling.  Of course, I am assuming that they didn’t do some significant editing, which I know these shows do.

Arrow – A vigilante before the Arrow?  How interesting.  And the Laurel/Oliver dynamic is pretty good as well.  Roy has never been my favorite character, but they really did a great job with him this week, too.  I didn’t see that explanation for his “memory” coming, but it does make sense.  Which leaves just one question, what up with this new archer?

Friday, November 14, 2014

November 14th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

I'm out of town right now with an iffy internet connection.  But I'm reading such a great book, I have to include it in Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

What am I reading?  Hell on Wheels by Sue Ann Jaffarian.

This is the ninth in her Odelia Grey series, and it's one of my favorite series.  The characters are such fun and the plots are always all over the place.  If I could I'd devour these books in one sitting.  If only I had the time.

And the quotes I've got for you will prove why.

Let's start with the beginning, shall we?

The crash was not a surprise.  I saw it coming, steeling myself for the inevitable sound of metal hitting metal at a high, reckless speed.  The final impact rattled my teeth and took my breath away.  It always did.

This is a humorous mystery series, and an example of the humor is found in two short sentences on page 56.

I really need to work on my duplicity skills.  I wonder if there's an app for that?

Okay, so knowing a joke is coming might take away from the joke, but I laughed when I read that the first time around, something I rarely do with books.

I'm about half way through and loving it.  I'm sure I'll finish this weekend despite being at Bouchercon.  I can never do anything but race through the books in the series.  As a result, I'm sure my review will be up at some point next week.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Book Review: Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems (Elephant and Piggie)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Funny look at why waiting is good
Cons: Could have shown distractions while waiting
The Bottom Line:
Gerald learns to wait
Will the surprise be worth it?
Fun lesson for us

I Cannot Wait to Tell You How Much I Enjoyed This Book

Usually, I discover that a new Elephant and Piggie book has been released a few weeks after the fact, but I happened to catch an announcement for the release of Waiting Is Not Easy! a couple of months back, and I couldn’t wait to read it.  (Some irony is involved there, I think.)  Fortunately, the wait was worth it.

It’s another nice day when Piggie tells Gerald she has a surprise for her friend.  The only clues she gives is that it is big, it is beautiful, and they can enjoy it together.  Oh, and it’s not ready yet.  And so Gerald spends the rest of the day being very impatient waiting until he can enjoy the surprise.  As the day goes on, he gets more impatient to learn what it is.  Will the wait be worth it?  What is the surprise?

Some entries in this series have obvious lessons, while some are just for fun.  This is a book with a pretty clear lesson about patience being rewarded.  (And it was released right before Christmas.  Coincidence?)  Yet, as always, the lesson comes through with plenty of warmth and humor.  There is never a lecture, and kids and parents will be entertained as they read.

The book continues the tradition of a story told solely through pictures and dialogue between the two friends.  And yet we follow everything perfectly and get plenty of laughs.  The cartoon style of the pictures certainly helps with that, and it provides us with great sight gags.  The dialogue is pretty funny as well as Gerald gets more impatient and Piggie keeps reassuring him the payoff is worth it.

The payoff is certainly worth it for us, and the last line gives us another great laugh.  Plus the illustrations on the last few pages are some of the best we’ve seen in the series.

I do have one complaint, and it’s a small one.  Instead of constantly whining about how slowly time is moving, it would have been nice if Gerald and Piggie tried to do something to make the time go faster while they waited.  I realize it’s not quite as funny, but it would have shown that there are creative ways to cope when you have to wait.

Complaint aside, fans who have been waiting for more adventures with Gerald and Piggie will be rewarded with Waiting Is Not Easy!  Now comes the wait for their next book.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Movie Review: Muppets Most Wanted

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs, good story, laughs, Muppets, laughs.  Did I mention laughs?
Cons: Well, Constantine starts with “cons”
The Bottom Line:
Familiar story
Hilarious Muppet take
You’ll love this movie

“Looks Like They Put the Reviews Up Early.”  “Or is That the Suggestion Box?”

I was one of the few (it seems) who wasn’t thrilled with the recent attempts to bring back The Muppets franchise, so I didn’t rush out to watch Muppets Most Wanted.  I did, however, go ahead and buy the movie when it first hit Blu-Ray.  And I just got it watched if that tells you anything.  But I am thrilled I bought it and am kicking myself for not watching it sooner because this movie is wonderful.

The movie picks up right after the end of the last one.  Literally.  I mean, it opens with the “The End” fireworks.  Clearly, this means that studio has ordered a sequel.  And as the Muppets brainstorm a plot, they hit on a perfect story and things get under way.

Flushed with the success of their come back (from the last movie), The Muppets have decided to go on an international tour.  They have signed up with Dominic Badguy (it’s French and not pronounced as it looks.  Really!  Would he like to us?) (Oh, and he’s played by Ricky Gervais.) who will help arrange the dates and locations for this tour.  And they start in Europe – Germany to be exact.

However, Constantine, the number 1 villain and world’s most dangerous frog, has managed to escape from the Russian gulag where he’s been held.  He’s a ringer for Kermit the Frog – except for a mole.  As Kermit gets captured in Constantine’s place, Constantine pretends to be Kermit and uses their tour as cover for his evil scheme.  Will anyone realize the switch in time to free Kermit and save the day?

Okay, so it’s not the most original plot, but I didn’t care.  You know why?  I was having so much fun along the way it really didn’t matter.  The action was fast moving and actually held up pretty well with no major plot holes.  Okay, I don’t expect perfection from the Muppets, but still, there wasn’t anything that made me roll my eyes.  There are even some tender moments between the characters as the movie went along.

First and foremost, this movie remembered that it was a comedy, and that’s why I loved it.  The jokes were plentiful and rapid fire.  In fact, I’m sure I missed some as I was laughing at the one that had just come before.  The laughs start with the opening number and continue right until the end.

As always, there are plenty of cameos that added to the fun.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out who appeared.  The main three human stars are Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, who plays an inspector that teams up with Sam the Eagle to try to track the mysterious bad guys, and Tina Fey, who plays the chief at the gulag.  The song Tina sings when we first meet her is hysterical.  All three of them are top notch making us believe in the magic of the Muppet world.  The Muppet performers are great as well.  Truly, there isn’t a bad moment in the film.

That includes the songs which never slow things down but always advance the story or provide us with wonderful laughs (usually both).

The Blu-Ray has three versions of the film.  There’s the original theater cut, the Unnecessarily Extended Edition, and the Statler and Waldorf cut.  You’ve already spent longer reading this review than it would take to watch the Statler and Waldorf cut (and I think you).  Still, it’s good for a quick laugh.  And I must take exception to the name of the Unnecessarily Extended Edition.  That’s actually the one I chose to watch.  Afterwards, I watched the opening scene in the theatrical edition.  Some of my favorite jokes in that first scene had been cut for theaters.  Seriously, you need to watch those extra 14 minutes.  You will thank me as the jokes are so funny.

And really, that’s what makes or breaks a Muppet movie or show of any kind.  As I said at the outset, I’m glad I bought Muppets Most Wanted because I will definitely be watching it again.  It’s light, fun entertainment that will leave you laughing.