Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Monthly Reading Summary for September 2015

Since this is the last day of September, seems like the perfect day a monthly reading summary, wouldn't you agree?  Good, because here it is.  As always, the Index has been updated as well and the links will take you to my full review.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).

Cinderella Six Feet Under by Maia Chance (Fairy Tale Fatal #2) – 4
Ophelia and Prue have traveled to Paris where they hope to reunite Prue with her mother.  Instead, they find that Prue’s mother is missing and there is a dead body in Prue’s step-family’s home – a body wearing a ball gown and only one slipper.  Then Gabriel shows up and insists that’s not the only tie in to Cinderella.

The combination of fairy tale with cozy mystery is successful once again.  There are a couple of plot points that seem a bit rough, but for the most part the story is a fun, fast paces romp.  I love the trio at the heart of the series, and the rest of the cast is just as sharp and fun.  I already can’t wait to see where they go next.

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

Trick or Deceit by Shelley Freydont (Celebration Bay #4) – 5
The first annual haunted house contest in Celebration Bay ends in tragedy when the winning house is vandalized and a dead body is found in with the fake body parts.  Is the jealous runner up to blame?  Who else might have wanted to kill the victim?

This is my fourth trip to Celebration Bay in the last year, and I’ve enjoyed each of them.  Once again, the book provides some unique clues and red herrings that I found lots of fun.  It was great to visit the core characters again, although I wish we would see a bit more character growth in a few of them.  The new characters are just as charming.  This is a great stop for your Halloween (or any time of the year) reading list.

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

That is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Williems – 5
When a Fox invites a Chicken to join him for a walk in the forest, it is not a good idea.  And as things continue to unfold, the bad ideas continue to evolve.  But who are they bad ideas for?

This is another unique picture book from Mo Willems with pictures on some pages and dialogue on others, kind of like an old silent film.  Then there’s a Greek chorus of baby chicks constantly giving the warning in the title.  The end of the book contains a great laugh, making this book so much fun.

Red Velvet Revenge by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery #4) – 4
The summer heat is killing business for Fairy Tale Cupcakes, so when Mel and Angie get an offer to sell cupcakes at a rodeo in the mountains, it seems like a great idea.  However, when someone is shot at the opening parade, they begin to wonder what they’ve landed in the middle of this time.

I found the first quarter of this book very slow since it sets up several things that could have been handled in a few pages or a couple of chapters max.  Once the story does get started, it moves along at a great clip, however.  The characters, both old and new, are wonderful, and the climax actually made me tear up.

“B” is for Burglar by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #2) – 5
Kinsey is hired to track down a missing woman by the woman’s estranged sister.  It seems like a boring routine case at first, but the more she digs into it, the more Kinsey begins to question what is happening.  No one has seen the woman for months, and the normal avenues of inquiry just aren’t adding up.  What is going on?

I really got pulled into this book and great enjoyed it.  The plot is strong with plenty of clues and red herrings, but everything came together at the end.  The characters are sharp, often with just a few words or sentences.  It’s easy to see why this series has been so popular for so long.

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis – 4
Take a look at temptation from the other side as we see the letters that Screwtape, a senior demon, writes to his nephew and first time tempter Wormwood.  Wormwood’s assignment is a new Christian, and he tries to use family life, World War II, and even a new love to turn the Patient away from Jesus.  Will it work?

Keeping in mind that these are fictional letters, there is still much to chew on as we see how the enemy can twist anything and everything against us.  The subtly employed is incredible and rings true.  While some references can be dated (the book was published in 1941), Lewis’s view on how our society would progress is spot on scary.  About my only real issue is that he appears to be espousing the view that a Christian can lose their salvation, something I disagree with theologically.  Read it with discernment, but by all means read it.

Stone Cold Case by Catherine Dilts (Rock Shop Mysteries #2) – 4
In an effort to learn more about local rocks and minerals, Morgan has been taking a class from the local college.  While one a class field trip, she gets separated from everyone else and finds a mountain man guarding a skeleton.  The discovery reopens an unsolved disappearance in this small Colorado town.  But what happened all those years ago?

It had been a while since I read the first book in this series, but it didn’t take long before I was back on board with the characters again.  They are wonderful, and I enjoyed seeing the growth in them.  The book had too many sub-plots, which crowded out the mystery a little at the beginning, but as the book when on the mystery took over and came to a very strong climax that kept me turning the pages.

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

The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg (Fox and O’Hare #4) – 4
The unlikely duo of criminal Nick Fox and FBI Agent Kate O’Hare are after a casino owner who is knowingly helping launder money that goes to terrorists.  But as their con is set in motion, things quickly spiral out of control.  Will they be able to turn their target into an FBI asset?

These books are always light, fun reads and this book is no exception.  The characters could have more depth, but they are developed enough to keep my interest, and the crew that Nick and Kate always pull together is half the fun.  The twists and plentiful and the ride is fun.  I’m very anxious to get my hands on the next in the series.

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

Move Your Blooming Corpse by D. E. Ireland (Eliza Doolitle and Henry Higgins #2) – 5
Eliza and Higgins have gone to Ascot to cheer on the race horse that Eliza’s father recently bought a share of.  However, a woman is murdered in the stable and a man runs onto the track in the middle of a race.  Higgins things he could have stopped the tragic events of the day, so he starts investigating.  But another murder makes Eliza wonder if things are really that simple.  What is going on?

Those who enjoyed seeing these beloved characters again will be delighted with their return.  The writing duo behind these books has done a wonderful job of making them their own and continuing to grow the characters.  The mystery is fantastic as well with everything falling perfectly into place during the suspenseful climax.

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

Snow Way Out by Christine Husom (Snow Globe Shop #1) – 3
Cami Brooks is enjoying running her family’s curio shop and reconnecting with her friends.  One night, after hosting a snow globe making class, she is walking how through the park when she finds a man asleep on the park bench.  Only, he’s not sleeping, as she discovers when he falls over, revealing the knife in his back.  The scene looks just like a strange snow globe she’d seen in her shop before she left, but when she goes back with the police, it’s gone.  What is happening?

The characters in this book were wonderful.  I could feel the basis for their friendships and the loving relationships with Cami’s family.  They could have used a bit more development, but I would have been willing to revisit them if the plot were better.  Sadly, the book is filled with events happening to Cami; she doesn’t do much to drive the plot at all.  Worse yet, the climax is weak and the explanation for some of the events is adequate at best.  And let’s not discuss a scene that would never happen involving Cami and the police.

The Buccaneers’ Code by Caroline Carlson (Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #3) – 5
Hilary Westfield takes on Captain Blacktooth one last time, this time for leadership of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates.  However, there is much more at stake since the Mutineers are plotting once again to take over the kingdom, and this fight might be the only way to stop them.  But can Hilary rustle up any kind of pirate crew for the battle?

While I knew the broad outline of the story early on, I had a wonderful time getting to the end.  The characters are charming, and the plot moves quickly with a few surprises along the way.  I could hardly put the book down.  I also loved the humor of the book.  I’m sorry to see this series end, but I’m so glad I found it.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, retold in today’s English by Cheryl Ford – 4
Join Christian on his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.  He’ll encounter many dangers and trials as he tries to stay on the straight and narrow path.  And then in the second half of the book, follow his wife Christiana’s journey.

I was obsessed with this story in other forms as a kid, and it was interesting to read the original many years later as an adult.  Christian’s journey is book, with many powerful lessons and morals that still apply today.  Even when the characters start to sermonize as they walk along, it is interesting.  The second half isn’t as engaging, however, and feels like it suffers the fate of the sequel.  There are still some good moments here, but overall the first part is better.  Bunyan never tries to hide his allegory.  This translation into modern English is very readable while still maintaining the voice of an author from the 1600’s.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Winners for Move Your Blooming Corpse Are....

It's time to draw some winners.  Yes, you are reading that right.  Thanks to the generosity of the authors, the giveaway has jumped from one winner to three!

So let's get to the lucky winners, shall we?  And that are...

Elaine Roberson
J Holden

Congrats to all three of you.

I'll have another giveaway starting on Thursday and two more next week, so be sure to come back and keep entering.

Book Review: The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan retold in today's English by Cheryl V. Ford

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Powerful allegory in Christian’s journey
Cons: Christiana’s journey in the second half not as strong
The Bottom Line:
Journey of Christian
Facing trials, struggles of life
Still powerful now

Come Join Christian’s Journey to Celestial City

As a kid, I was exposed to The Pilgrim's Progress early thanks to the record of the children’s musical called Enchanted Journey that was based on this classic book and then the book Little Pilgrim’s Progress.  In fact, I was obsessed with the story for a while and read Little Pilgrim’s Progress back to back to back until I found the Chronicles of Narnia.  But that was years ago.  (Let’s not get into how many years ago, okay?)  So when a small group in my church started doing a book study based on The Pilgrim’s Progress, I jumped at the chance to revisit the story.

If you aren’t familiar with the book, it is a classic of literature.  It was written by John Bunyan and was started while he was in prison for illegally preaching the gospel in England during the late 1600’s.  It is an allegory told in the form of a dream.

As the book progresses, we follow Christian as he journeys from his home in the City of Destruction.  He has read that his city is doomed to be judged and he must undertake a journey to escape before it is too late.  Also bothering him is a huge burden on his back.  After meeting with Evangelist, he sets off on a journey along the straight and narrow path to the Celestial City.  But what might he encounter on the way?

Now, if you haven’t figured it out already, let me be clear right off the bat – Bunyan is not at all subtle in his allegory.  If what I already shared isn’t obvious enough, let me share about an encounter Christian has as he is leaving the City of Destruction.  Two of his friends, Obstinate and Pliable come to try to talk him out of his journey.  Obstinate refuses to listen to anything that Christian shares while Pliable goes along with him – until they encounter their very first obstacle.  At that point, Pliable turns and runs home with his tail between his legs.  So scenes like that are predictable as you read it based solely on character names.

And yet, you don’t read this book for the plot twists and surprises or well developed characters, something I had to rewire my brain for as I was reading.  Instead, the morals that Bunyan is trying to share are the reason to read this book.  Those are powerful, and his object lessons are still valid and sharp all these centuries later.  At times, the book reads more like sermons as the characters discuss things back and forth.  It’s sneaky since I would never pick up a book like that, but those scenes were good and always made me stop and think.

Of course, the allegory breaks down at times and things appear and disappear at times when the plot calls for it.  Yet if you take each chapter by itself, there are lessons to learn and things to think about.

Christian’s journey takes up the first half of the book, and is the best known part of The Pilgrim’s Progress.  However, Bunyan wrote a sequel, which details the journey of Christian’s wife Christiana and their four kids.  It is interesting to read it since, while following the same route, the encounters and difficulties are different.

However, I found I didn’t enjoy this half as much as the first half.  Yes, it suffers from the curse of the sequel – the sequel just isn’t as good as the original.  There were other issues with the second half as well.  For example, while the first half definitely had continuity issues, the second half had more as characters seemed to age very quickly and it seemed like Bunyan was forcing things into the story.  Maybe it was the dream framework of the story at work.  The action seemed a bit more forced and the sermons much less sharp.  The second half is certainly worth reading, but there is a reason the first half is better known – it’s the better story and allegory.

Since Bunyan wrote this so long ago, he wrote it in old English.  I don’t know if I could make it through this book in his original version.  This particular edition was translated into modern English about twenty years ago by Cheryl Ford.  She has done a great job of making the story readable for modern audiences while still maintaining Bunyan’s voice.  The difference in writing style between today and 400 years ago is still obvious, and my issues with the narrative were the result of the differences in storytelling between then and now.  Mrs. Ford has kept in the notes and Scripture references from Bunyan’s original in the margins as well.  Additionally, at the end of the book are indexes - an index of all Scriptures referenced and one of the events and characters in the novel.  There are even a few discussion questions for the chapters that cover Christian’s journey.  The book is also filled with the calligraphy of Timothy Botts.  I found this fun and enjoyed seeing how he interpreted the various places and character names.

There was a reason I loved this story as a kid – The Pilgrim's Progress is an amazing allegory of the Christian life with warnings and encouragement for all.  While the second half isn’t as strong, this is a book still well worth reading today.

What's on My Nightstand - September

Last week, I was thinking about the monthly What's on Your Nightstand post and actually looking for it.  I figured they had decided to go with the final Tuesday of the month when I didn't see it pop up.  But last night?  I completely forgot to look for it.

Anyway, normally, I'd have a list of books I need to read for book reviews to include here, but the truth is, I've actually already finished first first three.  I do still need to read Pane and Suffering for a book tour stop on October 14th and Flipped for Murder for October 29th, But the rest of October I'm free.

Which is why right now I am reading The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw.  This is the final in a funny middle grade trilogy starring 4 of the Princes Charming who aren't quite as heroic as you might think.  I'm quite anxious to see how things are all wrapped up.

I've also got the latest Nikki Heat book, Driving Heat, on my TBR pile.  Plus I know I plan to read Gretel and the Case of the Missing Frog Prints, which is actually a murder mystery aimed at adults, not middle grade students like it sounds.  Finally, I'm hoping to get in Fry Another Day, the second book in a mystery series.  This one came out in January and I'm just now getting to read it.

On audio this month, I need to listen to The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle for the Reading to Know Book Club.

So obviously, I will still be plenty busy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

TV Show Review: Boy Meets World - Season 6

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Funny at times, serious at others with characters to carry us through both
Cons: A bit over the top at times, especially if Eric is involved
The Bottom Line:
Funny, serious
Meld well this season.  Still, at
Times over the top

“When Did I Ever Have a Bad Idea?”

Welcome to college.  That’s right, after five years of watching the gang travel from sixth grade to twelfth grade (don’t ask), the main characters on Boy Meets World are prepared to go to college in season 6.  This was the first full season I watched, and I remembered it being a bit over the top.  What surprised me was just how serious the show was at the same time.

If you are new to the show, it follows the misadventures and misunderstandings of new college freshman Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) and his friends and family.  That includes his longtime girlfriend Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel), his best friend Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong), and Shawn’s girlfriend and Topanga’s friend Angela Moore (Trina McGee).  There’s also Cory’s brother Eric (Will Friedle), who is rooming with Shawn’s long lost half-brother Jack (Matthew Lawrence).  We also get next-door neighbor and teacher from sixth grade on up Mr. Feeny (William Daniels).  Rounding out the cast are Cory’s parents Alan and Amy (William Russ and Betsy Randle) and younger sister Morgan (Lindsay Ridgeway).

Of course, before we can get to college, we must deal with the season five cliffhanger.  The show picks up right where it left off as Topanga has just proposed to Cory at their high school graduation.  The reactions to that are decidedly mixed, and the end result almost leaves us with a wedding.  Meanwhile, Mr. Feeny has retired and moved to Wyoming only to find himself drawn home, where he winds up teaching at the college where all the students are now attending.  He’s also crushing hard on the school’s dean (William Daniels’ real life wife Bonnie Bartlett in a recurring guest star role).

While Cory and Topanga are now engaged, they move into the dorms down the hall from each other.  Naturally, this means that Cory is rooming with Shawn and Topanga is rooming with Angela.  Things get a little awkward early on when Shawn and Angela break up, but the gang soon learns how to still hang out as friends.  Meanwhile, Eric and Jack get a beautiful new roommate, Rachel (Maitland Ward), who sends the best friends into competition mode trying to win their new roommate as a girlfriend.

Over the course of the season, Cory almost ruins his college career before it even begins, the gang learns that honesty can have its drawbacks, Eric turns Rachel into a star a la The Truman Show (this was 1998 and 1999 after all), a new professor (played by Ben’s brother Fred Savage) crosses the line with Topanga (in a PG rates way that fits the show), a new Matthews is born, and someone gets married.

As I said earlier, I remembered this season as being a bit over the top, and there is definitely plenty of that here.  Most of it comes from Eric, who has descended to a level of goofy that would only work on a sitcom.  Granted, he was never smart, but he seems to get dumber with each season.  Not that Cory is far behind.  He can overreact with the best of them, too, but he is still a great main character.  The constant sub-plots involving Rachel, Eric, and Jack and the guys trying to impress their new roommate are a bit repetitive as well.

And yet….

About half way through this season, the show takes a turn toward the serious and hits us with one episode after another.  It all starts when Shawn and Jack’s father comes to visit and has a heart attack, which sends Shawn into a tailspin.  Then, when Amy Matthews goes into labor early, the baby boy is extremely sick and has to stay in infant ICU.  In a storyline that actually shows some maturity in Eric, he become a big brother for a boy in an orphanage and then must make a decision when a family on the other side of the country wants to adopt him.  It’s one thing after another, and I found myself tearing up as I watched many of these episodes.

Yes, the show still has laughs, but these storylines definitely make things more serious.  But here’s the thing, I always wanted to go beyond the two episodes I was planning to watch every night.  It was hard to stop because I had to see what would happen next with the characters.  And I’d seen these episodes when they first aired, so I had very, very fuzzy memories of some of these storylines, too.  Somehow, the more serious tone works.

Actually, I think it works because we like the characters.  When these episodes first aired, I had only started watching in season 5.  I still felt the pull to know what was happening to them.  Now that I’ve watched the series from the beginning, I’m finding that my connection to the characters is even stronger, so I feel the pull more.

Obviously, that means the acting is sharp.  The cast knows their characters, and they hit these scenes dead on.  Whether we are supposed to be laughing or feeling, it is truly great.

I’ve got to mention the writers, too, who find that perfect balance between laughs and serious moments while fully bringing the viewers along for the ride.

Like the last few seasons, this is a bare bones season set.  We get all 22 episodes on three discs in their native full frame and stereo sound.  Nothing in the way of extras is offered.

If you are new to the show, this might be a different season to hook you on Cory and the rest.  But if you have been enjoying Boy Meets World, you’ll definitely want to continue their adventures in season 6.

Season 6 Episodes:
1. His Answer
2. Her Answer
3. Ain’t College Great
4. Friendly Persuasion
5. Better Than the Average Cory
6. Hogs and Kisses
7. Everybody Loves Stuart
8. You’re Married, You’re Dead
9. Poetic License: An Ode to Holden Caulfield
10. And in Case I Don’t See Ya….
11. Santa’s Little Helpers
12. Cutting the Cord
13. We’ll Have a Good Time Then
14. Getting Hitched
15. Road Trip
16. My Baby Valentine
17. Resurrection
18. Can I Help to Cheer You
19. Bee True
20. The Truth About Honesty
21. The Psychotic Episode
22. State of the Unions 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Review: The Buccaneers' Code by Caroline Carlson (Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Humor, plot, characters…pretty much everything
Cons: A good pirate never lists cons
The Bottom Line:
Concluding chapter
In delightful trilogy
Is pure fun to read

A Good Pirate Reads This Book

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates.  How can you not love a series with that title?  Two years ago, that was enough to convince me I had to give the first in this delightful series a try, and I was hooked.  Now I find myself sad to say that The Buccaneers' Code is the final book in the series.  The book itself, is wonderful as always, and I found myself racing through it.

The series focuses on Hilary Westfield, a young woman who has always dreamed of being a pirate.  In the first book, she ran away from finishing school to pursue her dream and found herself on a quest she never imagined.  Factor in magic and a talking gargoyle, and you’ve got an imaginative and delightful trilogy.

As this book opens, it’s been six months since Hilary’s last adventure, and she is spending the winter holidays with her mother, trying to practice her fencing during her down time.  She is surprised when she finds pirates appearing at her door looking to join up on Hilary’s quest.  They are answering an advertisement she’s placed in the paper.  Just one problem – Hilary never placed that advertisement.

The next visitor is Miss Pimm, the headmistress of Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies.  Miss Pimm explains that she placed the advertisement.  It seems that the villains known as the Mutineers are on the move again with a new plan to take over the kingdom.  The only hope is to expose them by taking out Captain Blacktooth, one of the Mutineers and the head of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates.  Once the challenge is set, Hilary has three months to put together a crew and get them ready to fight.  But is that realistic?  Will Hilary win, or will she be forced into exile at the Pestilent Home for Foul-Tempered Pirates?

Really, I can’t say enough good things about this book.  The characters are wonderful.  We see some surprises in a few of the returning cast this time around, and all of them grow as they get ready for the biggest fight of their lives.  We do get some new minor characters as well who are fun.

The plot?  It moves along quickly from one complication to another.  I might have cheered when something happened near the climax (even though I was expecting it).  I also might have yelled at the time to slow down when it was obvious I wouldn’t be able to finish the book before my lunch hour was over.  But since I was alone in my car reading when both of those things happened, I plead the fifth.  Yes, I knew the broad outline of the story early on, but a few of the twists and surprises along the way caught me off guard, and I was entertained on every page.  Plus I loved the ending.

As you might have guessed from my description of the story, there are plenty of laughs along the way.  Heck, the gargoyle provides many of them all by himself.  There are some absurd situations, witty dialogue, and groups and place names that will make you laugh.  Plus I can’t leave out the between chapters fun.  That’s where we get letters between the characters, news articles, official posting, and other writing.  This has been the case in every book in the series, and I’ve found them some of the funniest bits.  That’s the case here, too, although they always help advance the story as well.

Oh, and the title of the book?  It references a code of conduct for pirates.  The examples we get are quite amusing as well.

This may be a book aimed at middle schoolers, but this adult is thrilled he found them.  While The Buccaneers' Code may be the end for Hilary and her friends, I’m anxious to see what the author might bring us next.

This is my entry for this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  Follow the link to find more entries.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ornament Review: Happy Halloween! #1 - Witch - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene
Cons: Background too dark to show all details
The Bottom Line:
The witch flies at night
Obscuring some small details
Overall cute scene

Bewitching Start to Hallmark’s First Halloween Series

When I started collection Hallmark ornaments five years ago, I specifically avoided looking at their Halloween ornaments.  I don’t decorate for Halloween, and I wasn’t going to start.  I’ve slowly been caving the last couple of years as they’ve released Halloween related compliments to series I love.  But I fell in a big way just this month when I broke down and started the Happy Halloween! series.  I swear, series are my weakness as a collector.  The series started in 2013 with a cute witch as the focus.

This is a very cute and creative idea, one that many artists seem to be enjoying working with at Hallmark right now.  Each ornament in the series features a scene inside a carved pumpkin.  In this case, the bright orange pumpkin’s face is a fairly traditional, while the pumpkin itself has an elongated oval shape.  There are two triangle eyes and a triangle nose up high, and a very wide open mouth that is actually the majority of the front of the pumpkin.  Inside, you’ll find a scenes with a witch.  Now, this isn’t a stereotypical ugly witch and a young, cute witch.  She’s flying across the night sky on her broom and wearing a witch’s hat and cloak.  Behind her, you can see the moon and some glitter stars almost shrouded by fog (also containing glitter).  And if you look really closely, you’ll find a couple of bats in the background.

Speaking of bats, the mouth, while looking like a smile, also looks a little like a bat.  Okay, so maybe you have to squint to see it as a bat, but a swear it has just a hint of that shape to me, and I think it’s a fun little feature.

Unfortunately, with the background being black, some of the details don’t really show up that well in the diorama.  That’s especially true of the bats.  The witch herself, since she’s in front of the background, looks great, however.

The pumpkin comes to a narrow flat bottom.  You could set this out to display, but it leans forward and will tip over fairly easily if you bump whatever it is sitting on.

One reason I haven’t bought too many Halloween ornaments is because I wasn’t sure how to display them by hanging them.  Hallmark certainly plans for you to display them this way since they provide a loop on the top of the pumpkin’s stem.  Slip a hook through it and you’ll find that it hangs level.  It definitely looks better hanging than it does standing on its own.  As to how to display it, I think I’m going to use one of the stands I’ve bought from Hallmark and use it for Halloween ornaments.

You will find a 1 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of the ornament, representing the fact that this is the first in a series.  I do wish they’d come up with something different for the series marker on these.  I was thinking a pumpkin, but that might be hard since the Christmas tree symbol used in really just a triangle.  But that’s a different matter entirely.

The dark background makes the first Happy Halloween! ornament less than perfect, but it’s still a fun start.  I’m glad I changed my mind and started this series.

There's more spooky fun with the rest of Hallmark's Happy Halloween! series.

Original Price: $14.95

Weekly TV Thoughts for September 26th

Yes, the new TV season has started and started with a bang.  You can tell just by looking at the list of shows I watched this week.  We won't even count the two hour premiers.  I'll actually have less TV to watch this coming week thanks to the shows going to their normal one hour running time.

The Big Bang Theory – I thought I had maybe come to terms with the whole Leonard kissed another woman thing, but I’m not.  It really doesn’t feel right for the character, and I hate that it intruded on the wedding.  However, I am loving Sheldon and Amy breaking up.  I think this could be quite interesting to watch over the next several weeks.

Castle – It is unfair to give us a cliffhanger after waiting so long for new episodes.  Completely unfair!  But what a great episode.  I’m curious what it is that Beckett is after and what Bracken has to do with any of this.  I wouldn’t have minded if we never saw him again, but I’m okay with it because he sure beats the disappearance storyline from last year.  Not that he'll be around much since he's back on Heroes Reborn.

Dancing with the Stars – So I really am wondering why they had a double elimination and two full dances in the second week?  That is a lot of the stars and the pros to try to deal with.  And yet again, how they hand pick the best dancers for some pros and those who need more time to grow to others is evident.  I mean, out first twice in a row?  I hope they really give Keo a better star if he comes back.  No real surprise who left on Tuesday as well.  We’ve got a few more easy weeks before it’s going to start to get harder to see who should go.

The Muppets – Well, that was a huge disappointment.  I love the Muppets, but I’m not a fan of the mockumentary style at all.  I’m with Gonzo about how stupid it is, in fact.  But I thought I’d tune in to see if it was any good.  It was painful to watch and not remotely funny.  I guess I’m too worldly without kids to think about because I didn’t think it was that bad as far as content went.  It was just painful and unfunny.  I’ll give them next week to change my mind, and then I’m out of there.

Scream Queens – This show is wrong on so many different levels.  And the content?  Way worse than just about anything I watch, which didn’t surprise me considering the creator.  But I enjoyed it.  No, it’s not the best show ever, and I didn’t think all the jokes worked, but it was enough fun, and I’m intrigued enough by the mystery to stick with it.  Plus that twist at the end certainly surprised me.  I’ll be pondering what that means.

Survivor – This is another show I almost gave up this year until I remembered it was the returning survivors.  There are several I’m rooting for, but none more than Kelly Wigglesworth.  So glad her performance in the challenge didn’t hurt her.  The location of the hidden idol was interesting as was the fact that they went directly to tribal.  Twists like that could make for a very interesting season.

Heroes Reborn – After the disaster that this show became in season 4, I wasn’t sure about tuning in.  Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have if they hadn’t cast Zachary Levi on the show.  But I’m glad I tuned in.  I’m intrigued, and I’m certainly curious how these characters and powers will all come together.  Is Claire alive?  I certainly hope so, although it didn’t look good from the previews.  Lots of intrigue and fun ahead, I’m sure.

The Amazing Race – I’m so glad to see the TMZ employees gone already.  I can’t stand that show and change the channel as fast as I can when it comes on, so I was hoping I wouldn’t see them that long.  Those volleyball/soccer players were amazing, however.  I was so impressed.  And I’m thrilled that the green team didn’t get eliminated for going for the Fast Forward.  So far, I’m rooting for them.

Girl Meets World – I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, I love the friendships on this show.  Obviously, they didn’t figure that identifying the bully was important, but the lessons of friendship and growth were more important.  Such a great show.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ornament Review: Disney Fantasia 75th Anniversary - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun scene made more enjoyable by music and sound
Cons: Cord used to start the magic; noticeable tip forward when hung
The Bottom Line:
Brings us this delightful scene
For good ornament

Ballet of an Ornament for Fantasia’s 75th

Time for another confessions of a DisNerd.  I’m not the biggest fan of Fantasia – either one actually.  The segments lose their appeal to me after a while, and I find the movies too long.  Then again, I don’t think I’ve sat and listened to a piece of classical music since my college music appreciate class, so obviously, the subject matter doesn’t interest me.  Having said that, there are a couple of segments I really enjoy.  And one of them is the subject of the ornament Hallmark did to celebrate Fantasia's 75th Anniversary.  When I saw it, I knew I had to have it.

This ornament features a scene from the “Dance of the Hours” section of the movie, or as I know it, the hilarious animal ballet.  The most famous pairing of the piece is the hippos and alligators.  And that’s exactly what we’ve got here.  The ornament has a large brown oval base with Walt Disney’s Fantasia 75 years on a plaque on the front.  On top of the base we get a hippo in her tutu and ballet slippers with her arms outstretched and the alligator who is holding one arm up in the air for her to twirl under.

When you have a moment so connected to music, you have to include that music, right?  Hallmark certainly thought so since this is a magic ornament.  When you insert the two button batteries and pull the cord that dangles down from the ornament, you see the hippo twirl around while hearing some of the music from that segment.  The whole thing lasts almost 30 seconds.

And yes, I’ve got to ding the ornament for that cord.  I love the movement and the sound, but I really wish they didn’t make you pull a cord to get it started.  If you don’t pull it down far enough, it won’t work right.  However, if you pull it down too hard, it will break.  A button would have been so much better.  I do have to give them credit for having two musical notes as the thing you pull at the bottom of that string, however.

But honestly, that string is my only complaint with the ornament.  I love this part of the movie, and it makes me smile to see this ornament.  The motion and sound just add to the fun.

Because of the cord, the ornament doesn’t really sit flat if you go to display it without hanging it.  You can do it, and then pick it up to play the music, but it’s just going to be a little tipped.

There is an arm coming out of the back of the base specifically to use to hang the ornament.  When you do, you’ll find that it tips forward a noticeable amount.  That’s rather disappointing for an ornament this expensive.

And yes, price is certainly a factor.  Because of the size and the magic element, this one is selling in Hallmark stores for $29.95.

Despite the cord issues, I knew I had to get the Fantasia's 75th ornament as soon as I heard about it, and I really do like it.  The piece is so fun, you’ll be enjoying it for years to come.

(Expecting Sorcerer Mickey for Fantasia’s 75th?  That was the subject of the Mickey’s Movie Mousterpieces ornament this years.)

Original Price: $29.95

September 25th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've made it!  It's Friday, which means it is time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm going to use a book I just finished.  Just Killing Time is the first in a new series by Julianne Holmes.  I'll have a review and giveaway up on release day, which isn't until October 6th.

This is a very fun new cozy series, and I think the two quotes will show that.  Let's start with the beginning:

The brochure lied.  A week in the mountains of Vermont had not, in fact, helped me achieve a peaceful Zen that would pervade my life for the coming weeks, helping me approach old challenges with fresh energy.

Page 56 starts a new chapter, so I'm going to pull my second quote from another beginning of sorts.

The Sleeping Latte should have been called Ruth's Heaven.  The warm air that swept out the door as I walked in carried a mixture of scents that practically made me swoon: fresh-baked goods, strong coffee, and a faint hint of cedar.

And there you have it for this week.  Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review: Snow Way Out by Christine Husom (Snow Globe Shop Mystery #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful characters with strong relationships
Cons: Plot weak with even weaker climax
The Bottom Line:
A fresh idea
And likeable characters
Underserved by plot

This Series Debut was Snow Disappointing

I don’t tend to read the crafty cozies, mainly because the crafts used as the theme don’t interest me.  However, when Snow Way Out, the first in a new Snow Globe Shop Mystery series crossed my radar, I jumped on it.  Who doesn’t enjoy snow globes?  I was hoping this would be a fun new series, but sadly it was disappointing.

Cami Brooks has taken on running her parent’s shop, Curio Finds, while her mother undergoes treatment for cancer.  It shares a space with Brew Ha-Ha, a coffee shop run by Pinky Nelson, one of her best friends.  While quite different from her last job working for a Senator in Washington DC, Cami is enjoying being home and reconnecting with her friends and family.

In an attempt to boost business in the shop, Cami and Pinky are jointly hosting a snow globe making class.  Cami leaves work late that night after class and is walking home when she finds a man sitting on a bench in the park asleep.  At least she thinks he is asleep until he falls over, revealing the knife sticking out of his back.  Cami immediately recognizes the scene as identical to one she spotted in an unfamiliar snow globe in her shop just before she left, but when she goes back with the police, that snow globe is gone.  What is going on?

Actually, there is a lot going on, but little of it is because of Cami.  While she decides to investigate, especially when her friends start acting funny, she actually does very little active investigation.  Instead, the book is filled with lots of events, and they do provide some entertainment, but it leaves the mystery very underdeveloped.  And don’t get me started on one development with the police that would absolutely never happen.

Sadly, the climax isn’t much better.  It’s actually a little anti-climatic, and the explanation for some of the strange things happening in the book doesn’t really satisfy.

This is a shame because I absolutely loved the characters.  Cami is surrounded by some very good friends, and I got a feel for those friendships in their many scenes together.  Likewise, I enjoyed the scenes with her parents.  Yes, they could have used a bit more development, but I’d be willing to spend more time getting to know them better in future books if the plot of this one had been better.

There are instructions for making your own snow globe at the end of the book.  It’s pretty much a summary of what we learn in the first chapter, but it is interesting and made me start thinking about the kind of snow globe I’d enjoy making.

Sadly, the plot doesn’t serve the characters well.  Snow Way Out had plenty of potential with great characters and a great premise, but the average plot just drags everything down.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ornament Review: The Sorcerer's Apprentice - Mickey's Movie Mousterpieces #4 - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute sculpt for a big anniversary
Cons: All cons magically swept away
The Bottom Line:
Mickey and magic before
It turns dangerous

Mickey Celebrates a Magical Anniversary

I was surprised by this year’s entry in Mickey’s Movie Mousterpieces.  I’m not completely sure why, but I never even thought that they’d include The Sorcerer's Apprentice in the series.  However, when I learned that it was Fantasia’s 75th anniversary this year, I immediately understood why they chose it for this year’s entry in the series.  Not that I was complaining since it is a great ornament.

In keeping with the simple ornaments of the series, the focus is definitely on Mickey.  He’s wearing the reddish robes he’s wearing in the short, and he’s putting on the blue sorcerer’s hat.  None of the other props from the short are involved, but that’s one thing that appeals to me about the series.

Another thing that appeals about this ornament is the smile on Mickey’s face.  He’s looking up at the hat and smiling because of the power he knows he’s about to wield.  Of course, we know it will all be too much for him, but in this moment, he doesn’t know it.  It just perfectly captures that early sense of potential in the short.

You can easily set this Mickey out to display year round.  Between his feet and the back of his robes, he’s very stable.  You’ll also find the 4 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of the ornament, showing that this is the fourth in this ornament series.

But ornaments are meant to be hung.  Mickey has a loop in the front of his hat for this purpose.  Slip a hook through it, and you’ll find that he tips back a little, but this just allows you to see his face better when you hang the ornament.

This really would be a great ornament in any year.  However, since this is such a significant anniversary for Fantasia, it just makes The Sorcerer's Apprentice that much better.

Looking for more Mickey?  You’ll definitely want to check out the rest of Mickey’s Movie Mousterpieces.

Original Price: $12.95

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book Review: Move Your Blooming Corpse by D. E. Ireland (Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful mystery populated with great characters
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
These literary
Icons get new life in great
Mystery for all

These Pages Will Move Quickly

Earlier this year, I rediscovered the characters of Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle as detectives thanks to the wonderful writing team of D. E. Ireland.  I was looking forward to their next adventure in Move Your Blooming Corpse.  I’m thrilled to say that it is another winner.

If those names don’t ring any bells, they are two of the characters in George Bernard Shaw’s classic play Pygmalion.  Still not ringing any bells?  You might know them best from the musical My Fair Lady which was based on Pygmalion.  The bare essentials – Henry Higgins is an expert in dialects and proper pronunciation in 1910’s England.  As a bet, he teaches Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney young woman, to speak proper English and passes her off as someone of the upper classes.  While there was no mystery in the original story, these mysteries take place after the events that made the characters famous and fit quite naturally into their world.

This book opens in June of 1913 and finds Eliza and Higgins at the Royal Ascot for a full day of racing.  They are there to support Eliza’s father who has just bought a share of a race horse.  Between races, Higgins sees a strange man, Harold Hewitt, with a gun hidden in his bag.  Before he can find a policeman to report it to, Hewitt runs onto the track, getting trample by a horse and disrupting a race.  The bigger surprise is when a woman is found murdered in a horse stall after that race.

While the police think that Hewitt is a suffragette reenacting a stunt done the previous month to gain attention for the cause, Higgins is certain that the man was up to something else.  In fact, Higgins thinks he could have prevented the murder in the stable if only he had reported Hewitt sooner.  Dragging Eliza along, Higgins begins to investigate.  But when another murder takes place, Eliza begins to realize that the murders could hit close to home.  Will Eliza and Henry be able to solve the crime before disaster strikes again?

The book definitely starts out strongly with mysterious events happening from the very first chapter.  Eliza is a bit reluctant to start investigating early on, but once she jumps on board as well, the pace really picks up and I had a hard time putting the book down until the page turning climax.  The pieces of the puzzle come together in a logical manner and the mystery is absolutely wonderful.

The first book had a lot of nods and homages to Pygmalion and My Fair Lady.  Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t seen either play in several years, but I didn’t find as many of them here.  However, that’s not a bad thing because it means the writers are making these characters their own, and to sustain a long running series, they will have to do that.  I’m all in favor of this being a long running series, too.  I could definitely see character growth in the main cast, most of it for the better.  (Really, I’m with Eliza and would love to knock some sense into the Eynsford-Hills.)  Even so, those who love these characters from the plays will certainly recognize them.  The new characters were well developed and interesting as well, and I enjoyed getting to know them, too.  I wouldn’t complain if one or two of them had cameos (or larger roles) in future books, in fact.

The historical details of the book are wonderful, and I found myself getting lost in another time and place as I read.  The campaign to give women the right to vote was definitely a part of that historical feel, and I liked seeing that fight first hand.

There is a fun sense of humor in this book as well.  While there isn’t a laugh on every page, I found myself grinning and chuckling multiple times as I read through the story.

D. E. Ireland has turned these classic characters into their own so effortlessly, it almost makes me wonder why no one has done it before.  If you are a fan of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, or just historical mysteries in general, you need to pick up Move Your Blooming Corpse.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mysteries.


Thanks to the authors, I have one copy of this book (unautographed) to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Tuesday, September 29th, so please leave your comment before 12:01AM Pacific Time on 9/29.

Monday, September 21, 2015

TV Show Review: The Flash (2014) - Season 1

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Amazing characters and acting in a truly fun story
Cons: Any cons will be gone in a flash
The Bottom Line:
Super-fast Barry
In a charming and fun show
Delightful for all

“Impossible’s Just another Tuesday for Us, Remember?”

When Grant Gustin first appeared on Arrow as Barry Allen, I was among those spectacle about his performance and wondering if he could really pull off the lead on The Flash.  However, I figured I’d give it a try when it premiered last fall.  By the end of the pilot, I was hooked, and that feeling never left the entire first season.

Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) is a crime scene technician in Central City.  When he was 10, he lost his mother in a strange event that has never been explained, and the police have convicted his father (recurring guest star John Wesley Shipps) for the crime.  As a result, he was raised by Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), the father of his best friend Iris (Candice Patton).

On the night the story really begins, Barry is working late in the lab while across town, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) of S.T.A.R. Labs is going to flip the switch on his new particle accelerator.  Something goes horribly wrong, however, and, thanks to a storm, Barry is struck by the fallout.  When he wakes up nine months later, he has an incredible talent.  He can run very, very fast.  He starts working with the remnants of S.T.A.R. Labs, Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), to fully understand and use his new powers.

Because Barry wasn’t the only one affected by the accident at the particle accelerator, and Barry finds himself using his new powers to fight these villains working alongside Joe West, a detective on the police force and his partner, Detective Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett).  Meanwhile, he also realizes that he might now hold the key to getting his father out of jail.  But where might his investigation lead?

Okay, okay, so my plot teaser is really little more than the pilot.  Yet that really is the premise for the first season as Barry begins to find out just what he can do now fighting the villain of the week.  In the second half of the season, while there is still plenty of fighting the villain of the week, pieces of the larger story begin to fall into place and hooked me even more than I already was.  It certainly helped that what little I knew about this character came from the 1990 TV show, so I was coming to this completely fresh.

Speaking of that older version, I love the fact that they continually make nods to it even though it is pretty much forgotten today.  Barry’s father is played by the Barry from that original show, John Wesley Shipp.  The female lead from the original, Amanda Pays, guest stars twice as a character with the same name.  But the best thing was a guest appearance by Mark Hamill reprising his villain, The Trickster, from the original show.  And it allows one of the best lines of the entire season.

The pilot also shows the perfect balance of tone that the show strives for over the course of the entire season.  Most of the time, the show is light with plenty of great lines from the cast.  Essentially, it shows Barry enjoying his new found powers and exploring what he can do as he saves his city.  However, there are more serious moments.  When those hit, the show gets those 100% right, too.  And yes, we often get those in the same episode, but it is never jarring.  As the season progresses, the show does lean toward the serious side, but it always works.  And the groundwork they’ve laid pays off big time in the season finale.  If you don’t at least chock up while watching it, something is definitely wrong with you.

This isn’t one of those spin offs that was left to fly on its own right away.  There is an official cross over story with Arrow early in the season, and the characters pop up on each other’s shows several other times.  You don’t have to watch season 3 of Arrow while watching this season of The Flash, but it would certainly help.  Oh, and for the record, Felicity gets the best lines here just like she does on Arrow.

As you might expect from what I’ve said, the acting is phenomenal.  The cast obviously gelled right away, and their friendships translate well to the screen.  They balance the various tones perfectly and truly make us care for the characters.

Meanwhile, the special effects are great.  Obviously, we need a lot of them for a show about a superfast human and the various other super powered people he fights.  I always buy what I am seeing on the screen.

All 23 episodes of the first season are preserved in this set.  Naturally, they are in widescreen and full surround.  In addition to the deleted scenes, gag reel, and audio commentary, we get a featurette on creating the fast moving special effect, a screen test for Grant, and one of the return of the Trickster.

Every week, I couldn’t wait until Tuesday to watch Barry’s latest adventure.  Start watching season 1 of The Flash today, and you’ll be hooked even faster than Barry runs.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Pilot
2. Fastest Man Alive
3. Things You Can’t Outrun
4. Going Rogue
5. Plastique
6. The Flash is Born
7. Power Outage
8. Flash vs. Arrow
9. The Man in the Yellow Suit
10. Revenge of the Rogues
11. The Sound and the Fury
12. Crazy for You
13. The Nuclear Man
14. Fallout
15. Out of Time
16. Rogue Time
17. Tricksters
18. All Star Team Up
19. Who is Harrison Wells?
20. The Trap
21. Grodd Lives
22. Rogue Air
23. Fast Enough

Sunday, September 20, 2015

TV Show Review: Arrow - Season 3

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great stories for character growth
Cons: Grows too dark near the end of season
The Bottom Line:
Season did grow dark
Showcasing character growth
And gripping story

“How Many Abandoned Warehouses Do You Think Are in This City?  No, No, I’m Genuinely Curious.”

I’ve discovered just how hooked I am on superhero shows.  Granted, I always knew I liked the genre, but they are taking up an increasing amount of my TV viewing time, and I’m not complaining.  It’s been a recent development, too, since Arrow is the oldest of the shows I’m watching, and it just finished up season 3, which was another season well worth watching.

Season three picks up a few months after the second season ended.  Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is hoping to buy back control of Queen Consolidated, but he fails when the company goes to billionaire Ray Palmer (recurring guest star Brandon Routh).  Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), however, continues to work for team Arrow while helping Ray on secret projects at his company as his second in command.

Meanwhile, Oliver’s sister Thea (Willa Holland) has been out training with her father Malcom (John Barrowman), and Oliver and Diggle (David Ramsey) go out to bring her home.  Things are actually looking relatively quiet until a murder rocks everyone’s world.  With a new villain coming to town screaming for justice, Oliver has to figure out what happened.  Meanwhile, Laurel’s (Katie Cassidy) world is rocked and she takes another step toward her destiny.  But who is the killer?  And what can Oliver and his secret identity do about it?

As if often the case with TV shows these days, it would be really hard to jump in here.  Yes, it’s only season 3, but due to the ongoing nature of the story, you’ll miss out on a lot of character development.  With all the characters involved (and I’ve left a couple out, actually), the season hits the ground running.  So start from season 1.  Not that you’ll regret it.

While Arrow has never been a light show, this season definitely went even darker than the previous two.  At times, that was good.  We got to see great growth in the characters and some wonderful acting by the cast.  On the other hand, it reached a tipping point late in the season, and I began to feel like it was just too much.  Fortunately, the season did turn around and end on a lighter note, and the rumors I’m hearing about season four indicate it will keep that lighter tone.

Not that this season was completely dark.  Ray Palmer added some fun as he tinkers with his inventions and works on seducing Felicity.  Speaking of Felicity, her mom shows up for two episodes, and Charlotte Ross’s performance in this guest role was absolutely wonderful.

In some ways, this season of Arrow was overshadowed by its spinoff, The Flash.  I absolutely loved that show, too, but why am I bringing it up now?  There was a crossover event early in the season and the characters popped up on each other’s shows several times, often revealing key plot points when they did that.  You don’t absolutely have to watch both shows, but it’s so much fun you’ll definitely want to do so.

The show continues to be filled with great stunts and effects.  It’s amazing what this show does on a TV budget each week.  The actors are at the top of their game as well.  I get the impression that they really do love their jobs, and it comes through in their work.

The flashback storyline this season does wind up tying into the season storyline, but, as always, I felt it was the weakest part of the show.  On the other hand, watch out for that mid-season cliffhanger.  It’s a doozy.  And as you quickly move on to the next episode, remember I had to wait 6 weeks to watch the next episode.

The season consisted of 23 episodes, and naturally they are all here in their native widescreen and full surround sound.  Extras include two commentaries, deleted scenes, and a gag reel.  In the way of featurettes, there’s one on the 2014 Comic-Con panel, one on the suits the superheroes wear, one on the set for this season’s villain’s lair, and one on creating Ray Palmer’s biggest gadget.

While season 3 of Arrow did grow too dark for a while, it was still well worth watching.  If you have been enjoying this show, you’ll be thrilled to add this season to your collection.

Season 3 Episodes:
1. The Calm
2. Sara
3. Corto Maltese
4. The Magician
5. The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak
6. Guilty
7. Draw Back Your Bow
8. The Brave and the Bold
9. The Climb
10. Left Behind
11. Midnight City
12. Uprising
13. Canaries
14. The Return
15. Nada Parbat
16. The Offer
17. Suicidal Tendencies
18. Public Enemy
19. Broken Arrow
20. The Fallen
21. Al Sah-Him
22. This is Your Sword
23. My Name is Oliver Queen 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

TV Show Review: Marvel's Agent Carter - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, 40’s feel, great characters and story
Cons: Men never do listen to Agent Carter, even long after they should have
The Bottom Line:
Minor character
Steps into spotlight and shines
Addicting season

Agent Carter Finds Danger in Post World War II New York

I must admit I wasn’t aware I wanted to know more about Agent Carter.  I mean, I liked the character in the first Captain America movie, but I just assumed that would be all I would learn about her.  But when ABC announced they would run an 8 episode limited series about the character during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s winter hiatus, I figured I’d tune in and see what I thought.  Like many others, I got hooked on season 1.

The year in 1946, and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) has found her life in New York City come to a screeching halt.  With the men now back from the war, she is reduced to getting lunch and drinks even though she is still working for a covert organization, the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve).  She is longing for a reason to get back in the field and prove what she can still do.

She gets that chance when Howard Stark (regular guest star Dominic Cooper) is accused of selling weapons to the Russians.  Knowing her friend couldn’t possibly be the traitor the media and government are saying he is, she begins to look at the evidence off the books.  She gets further involved when Stark asks for her help, teaming her up with his butler Jarvis (James D’Arcy).  But the conspiracy behind the frame has far reaching consequences with connections to a deadly plot in New York City.  Can Agent Carter uncover it in time?

Everything about this show is completely hypnotizing directly from the start.  It has the look and feel of a big budget period action piece.  The sets and costumes are perfect for evoking 1946.  It even mutes the colors just a bit, which helps with the period feel.

Likewise, the show never forgets its action/superhero roots.  Okay, so the superhero portion is kept to a minimum outside occasional flashbacks to the first Captain America movie, but there are some well-done action scenes over the course of the season.  No, they aren’t big budget movie huge, but they work well for a weekly TV show.

Since the show knew it only had 8 episodes before it even started, the story was created with a definite beginning, middle, and end.  The result is no filler and plenty of twists and drama.  Everything is wrapped up by the end, and I was left very satisfied.

Likewise, the characters are great.  We get a few guest stars we already know from the movies, but the majority of the characters are brand new.  We come to care for them by the end.  And I love how they developed Peggy.  The acting on this show was top notch from beginning to end.

However, I do have a major complaint with the show – how the men treated Peggy for the entire season.  Yes, I get that she would have been marginalized, and I was fine with that as a plot device early on.  As the season went along, she kept being marginalized even when she would tell them what was going to happen, it would happen, and then the men would ignore her the next time she found something.  At that point, it felt more like a plot devise to build tension instead of period realism.  Surely one of the men would be smart enough to start taking Agent Carter and what she said seriously.

The great news for fans of the show is that it will be back during the winter break again in January of 2016, this time with 10 episodes.  I will be back for every second.  If you missed the goodness that was Agent Carter season 1, get this set today and fix that oversight.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Now is Not the End
2. Bridge and Tunnel
3. Time and Tide
4. The Blitzkrieg Button
5. The Iron Ceiling
6. A Sin to Err
8. Valediction