Saturday, October 31, 2015

Weekly TV Thoughts for October 31st

Once Upon a Time – So, did Emma take away everyone’s memories with the Dreamcatchers?  Or did she just do it to Henry’s girlfriend?  And, while her actions weren’t good, she still had more purpose behind them then Cora did all those years ago.  So, what happened to Merlin?  Is he is Storybrooke or somewhere else?  Back in his tree?  I think we’ve definitely seen the beginning of Emma turning to the Dark One.  But what can turn her around?

The Big Bang Theory – Amy’s revelation at the end got me, and I was feeling uncomfortable for her as her friends were picking a date for her.  Sheldon arguing semantics with the guy selling the helium was great!  Those might have been the best scenes of the episode for me.

Supergirl – I was looking forward to this and prepared to love it.  After all, it’s the team behind Arrow and Flash, which you know I love.  Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was actually a little let down.  Part of it was dancing around her cousin.  Just say it was Superman, already!  I love Jimmy, I mean James Olsen.  And I can certainly see the potential of the show growing.  Heck, I like the fact that most of the cast already knows who she is, which is avoiding one cliché.  I’ll definitely stick around, and I suspect it will grow on me.  After all, not all pilots grab me.  There is definitely potential even if it didn’t grab me right away.  I shouldn’t be surprised with the casting of Kara’s adoptive parents, of course.  Look what they’ve done on The Flash.  But casting Clark of Lois and Clark and the movie’s Supergirl were wonderful touches.

Dancing with the Stars – There was some amazing dancing this week, but I’m with everyone that team Halloween was the top dance of the night by far.  I thought that “Once Upon a Dream” was an interesting choice for a Halloween episode, but it worked well.  I said last week that the eliminations were be hard from here on out, and I’m sorry to see Haynes go on a week he greatly improved.

The Muppets – I think I’m done.  The show just isn’t getting any funnier.  There are a couple of moments each episode that I enjoy, but they aren’t enough to keep me coming back any more.

The Flash – The previews kind of gave the main plot away.  We knew who the other half of Firestorm was going to be.  Still, a very solid episode getting us there, and the other stories are interesting.  Can’t wait to see next week with Wells.  And Iris’s Mom?  What a piece of work she is.

Agents of SHIELD – I was almost ready to check out before Jemma met Will.  That made the episode much more interesting.  When they rescue him, I wonder what that will do to the Jemma/Fitz relationship.  I do like that Fitz immediately started working on how to get him back.  He is a great guy, doing the right thing no matter what.

Arrow – Yes, I love the action on the show, but the quiet moments?  They were some of the best this season.  The scene between Oliver and Lance where Oliver confronts Lance was amazing.  Perfect writing and acting.  It was absolutely be logical for Lance to be the one in the grave now that they’ve set him up as a double agent.  Somehow, I don’t think it will be him.  It’s just too obvious a choice.

Survivor – My heart fell for the guy who had to leave, and I’m not even a parent.  Sorry to see Woo go, but how crazy is it to switch up the tribes again one week before the merge?  Knew it had to be coming soon since we are almost half way into the game.  Oh, and I still hate the food challenges.  Makes my stomach turn, and I wasn’t eating any of those things.

Heroes Reborn – Some very interesting twists to the story with this flashback.  So, why does Claire’s son not remember who he is?  And how might we have changed the future with the actions that have already happened?  I’m definitely anxious to see part two or this.  But how awkward was it not to see Claire once, even when dead?

The Amazing Race – Second time they are “still racing” this season?  Have we had non-elimination legs yet?  Are they doing these instead of non-elimination legs?  I was not happy to see the Green team fighting since I love them.  And can the photographers just go already?  Please?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ornament Review: Princess Anna - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun pose of a great character
Cons: No base, so can’t stand alone
The Bottom Line:
Anna ornament
Captures personality
In very fun pose

Anna Joins the Hallmark Ornament Family

Last year, Hallmark released two ornaments to capitalize on the Frozen mania sweeping the country.  Naturally, they focused on the two most popular characters for those initial offerings.  This year, with a little more time to plan, they added a third, Princess Anna.  And in her ornament debut, Anna is wonderful.

Anna is featured in her traveling clothes, and they are brightly colored in red and blue.  She’s looking back over her shoulder and smiling as she walks away.  It’s a cute and fun pose, and any fan of this character will love it.

Of course, the downside of the pose is that, with Anna walking, there is no way you can set this ornament out to be displayed.  There is just no base since only one foot is flat and it’s not enough to support and balance the ornament.  You must hang it from something.  Fortunately, the ornament hangs straight, so it’s not really an issue.

Elsa and Olaf were certainly the star characters of the movie, and I get that, but I really liked Anna as well since she is such a strong character.  Yet, this ornament shows the teasing side of her as well.  The smile on her face perfectly captures her personality, and you can’t help but love the ornament.

The details on the ornament are great as well.  You can see flowers on her dress, although they are a little dark, so they can be harder to see.  Her cloak’s intricate pattern is captured as well.  These are details from the film, and it’s great to see them here.

So if you like Frozen, don’t hesitate to add Princess Anna to your collection.  It will be hard to top this ornament for the character.

Original Price: $14.95

October 30th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We made it to Friday!  Here's this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week's book is The Chocolate Falcon Fraud, the latest in the long running Chocoholic Mysteries by JoAnna Carl.

I've been reading and loving this series since the first book came out.  I think that was 2001.  It's definitely been a while, which is why this is book #15 in the series.  The series is still going strong.  I finished the book this evening and I loved it!

Official release date is next Tuesday.  I'll have a review and giveaway up on Thursday next week.  But for now, here are some teasers.

The book begins like this:

When Jeff Godfrey came in the door of TenHuis Chocolade, I didn't know if I should shake his hand, kiss him, or call the cops.

To be honest, there isn't much on page 56.  It's the last couple of paragraphs of chapter 6.  But there is this line, the last one of the chapter.

But when we went in the emergency room door, Hogan met us with a different plan.

And that's a wrap for this week's Friday memes.  Please watch the drooling for chocolate.  This is Halloween weekend, after all.  I'm sure you'll be able to find plenty you can eat.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review: Flipped for Murder by Maddie Day (Country Store Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and mystery in a fun setting
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Start your morning with
Delightful book featuring
Breakfast and murder

You’ll Flip for This Series Debut

Over 10 years ago, I was on a trip with friends in Arkansas, and for breakfast every day, we went to a little store that also served breakfast.  It was fun and delicious.  I couldn’t help thinking of that when I was reading Flipped For Murder, the first in the new Country Store Mystery series.  See, main character Robbie Jordan has just opened a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch in addition to selling kitchen gadgets.  It’s a cozy setting I thoroughly enjoyed as I devoured this book.

After months of hard work, Robbie is finally ready to open Pan ‘n Pancakes, in the small town of South Lick in southern Indiana.  If the crowds on opening day are any indication, she is going to have a successful business.  Customers seem happy with her food, and the crowds never die down until after the lunch rush is over.

Unfortunately, that afternoon, Stella Rogers is shot in her home.  Stella worked at city hall and went out of her way to make Robbie’s life miserable when Robbie was tring to get the needed permits to remodel her restaurant.  In fact, Stella was pretty much always disagreeable, and most of the town didn’t like her.  But Robbie is the first person the police question since one of Robbie’s signature cheesy biscuits was found stuffed in Stella’s mouth.  Because Robbie doesn’t have an alibi, she begins to worry that her status as a murder suspect could affect her business.  Can Robbie find the killer before all her hard work is ruined by gossip?

The book does a great job of introducing us to Robbie’s world.  It opens on the restaurant’s opening day, and as we are introduced to the characters who will play an important part in the book, it’s never overwhelming.  In fact, I didn’t have any trouble keeping them all straight as the story went along.  The core characters of the series are very charming, and I can’t wait to spend more time with them.

Now this isn’t to say that the mystery takes a long time to get going, either.  Stella is shot fairly early in the book, and it doesn’t take Robbie too much more time to start poking around on her own to save her reputation.  The plot twists in some unexpected directions, and I had a hard time putting it down until we reached the logical and exciting climax.

I have never been to Indiana, although I’ve been close in Kentucky and Ohio.  Still, I felt like I was in that part of the country as the small town and surrounding area were described.  Heck, it made me want to jump on a plane and go visit in person.  The author’s interest in linguistics really shows as several characters have very particular speech patterns, but that never got in the way of the story.

I love breakfast foods (possibly because I don’t get to eat them very often since 6 days a week I’m running out the door for work at the last minute).  The talk of the food Robbie was making in her diner always made my mouth water.  If you fall into that camp as well, you’ll be thrilled to know that the book includes recipes for cheesy biscuits, pancakes, and brownies.  Yum!

Flipped For Murder has atmosphere and charm to spare, with great characters and an intriguing story.  I’m already hungry for more.

Enjoy more helpings with the rest of the Country Store Mysteries.

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Movie Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Decent atmosphere, one great chase scene
Cons: Not quite at the level of a scary classic
The Bottom Line:
Sins come back to haunt
As guilty teens stalked and killed
Not classic, still fun

Four Can Keep a Secret, but If There’s a Fifth?

While the 80’s will probably always be the decade most closely associated with the slasher film, it enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the mid-90’s thanks to Scream.  That movie created its own franchise and a slew of imitators.  One of those imitators was I Know What You Did Last Summer.  While not perfect, it actually does hold up as a fairly suspenseful film.

Things are about to change for Barry, Helen, Ray, and Julie (Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze, Jr., and Jennifer Love Hewitt).  These four friends are excited to take the world by storm when they leave their small North Carolina town at the end of the summer.  Before they do, they accidentally hit a man along a winding country road on the evening of the 4th of July.  Since Barry had been drinking, the four friends decide to hide the body and take the secret with them to their grave.

A year later, the secret has destroyed the four friendships, and their dreams are quickly dying as well.  None of them can handle the guilt of what they did.  However, when Julie gets a threatening note in the mail and the others start to be harassed, they realize they must come together to figure out who else knows their secret.  Will they survive the upcoming holiday?

As I was watching the film, I realized that this movie has much in common pacing wise with the classic Halloween.  While we see the villain early on and know he is stalking our heroes (or anti-heroes, really), the murders don’t really start until the final reel.  Instead, in between the stalking scenes, we get Julie, often helped by the others, trying to figure out who is after them so they can stop the attacks.  The result is decidedly spooky and suspenseful.  This isn’t at the top of the genre (like the classic Halloween) and the mystery aspect often lessens the tension, but it works reasonably well.  There really is only one decent extended stalking scene, but it is wonderfully creative and executed.

The movie is sort of taken from the Lois Duncan book I Know What You Did Last Summer.  Honestly, the premise is the same, but there are lots of changes in the execution.  She was reportedly not very happy with the film, so fans of the book should be prepared for the changes.  90’s wunderkind Kevin Williamson, creator of Scream and Dawson’s Creek, was responsible for the adaptation and his script is good, as you’d expect.

The one thing that strikes me is that we care for our four main characters and root for them even though they have done something very wrong early in the film.  While the characters justify their actions to themselves and each other, I don’t feel like the film excuses their behavior.  Obviously, we see the effects of their guilt on their lives even before the action kicks off.  And let’s face it, the villain is also over the top evil, so it is easy to root for the teens to survive.

Slashers have a (well deserved) reputation for starring actors who can’t act.  One of the changes in the 90’s resurgence was better acting and better developed characters.  Both of those come into play here.  We do come to care for the characters before they die, and the actors do a great job of bring them to life.  Fans of The Big Bang Theory will enjoy getting to see Johnny Galecki in a supporting role here.

Of course, the film is rated R, filled with plenty of violence and foul language.

While certainly not at the level of the classics of the genre, I Know What You Did Last Summer delivers a decent amount of scares and thrills.  If you‘ve seen the classics and are looking for something else, I recommend you check it out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Review: A Skeleton in the Family by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, decent mystery
Cons: Mystery hits a few too many road blocks along the way
The Bottom Line:
Family skeleton
Wonders why he was murdered
Creative, fun start

Make no Bones about It, This is a Good Debut

As a general rule, I stay away from supernatural themed books, but something about the Family Skeleton series drew me.  I think it was the idea of a wise cracking skeleton as a side kick/partner in crime solving.  Either way, I bought A Skeleton in the Family and then let it sit on my To Be Read Mountain Range for a while.  Fortunately, I dusted it off because I enjoyed this debut.

Georgia Thackery has come home with her teenage daughter in tow.  As an adjunct professor, she goes where the jobs are, and right now the jobs are at McQuaid University, where her parents teach.  They are currently on sabbatical, so Georgia and Madison move into their house.  This also means reconnecting with Sid, Georgia’s best friend.  Oh yeah, and Sid happens to be a skeleton.  He walks and talks.  No one quite knows why or how he is; they’ve just learned to live with it.

Since he would scare people, Sid doesn’t leave the house much, but an anime convention proves the perfect opportunity for him to get outside.  While in his elaborate costume, he sees a face he recognizes from the time he was alive.  Suddenly, he begins to wonder about his life before joining the Thackery family.  He’s never had memories of who he was when he was living, and before now hasn’t really cared.  Georgia agrees to help him learn about his past, and they quickly learn that Sid was murdered.  Since Sid had been with the family for 30 years, the pair realize they have a cold case on their hands.  Can they solve it?  Can they even figure out who Sid was before?

The nature of the story here sets up a different sort of plot than those in a normal cozy.  As you know, I enjoy those different plots because it gives the book an added amount of spice.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out as nicely as I had hoped.  There are a lot of dead ends along the way, and I just didn’t feel like it was moving forward much.  Fortunately, things definitely pick up at the end, and I felt very satisfied with the conclusion.  Maybe part my problem with the pacing was the time it took to set up the unusual aspect of the story (you know, Sid), so this might be something that goes away in future books.

The characters were great, and yes, I’m including Sid in that.  He may be a skeleton, but he has a strong personality, and it is easy to see the bond between him and Georgia.  As our narrator, Georgia is also a wonderful character, and I loved her.  The supporting players are equally as strong, with some it is easy to despise.  I’m looking forward to seeing all of them again in later books.

Over the course of the book, we get about every bone pun you can think of, usually coming from Sid, occasionally coming from Georgia.  They do help lighten the mood, and I always love a good pun.  I’m not sure I would say this book rises to the level of a humorous cozy, but I will never complain at all about a good pun.

While I do think the pacing of the book could have been better, A Skeleton in the Family is an enjoyable read.  I’m definitely planning on visiting Georgia and Sid again to seeing what other mystery and mischief they can get into.

Check out the rest of the Family Skeleton Mysteries in order.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ornament Review: Let It Go - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Song clip and appropriate pose
Cons: Elsa’s head and body are dwarfed by her dress
The Bottom Line:
Ornament with song
Moment appropriate pose
Size only issue

Hallmark’s Second Elsa Ornament – Now with Music!

Over the last few years, Hallmark has been releasing a series of Disney ornaments that include music from the movies.  Considering how big the music to Frozen was, I was surprised that last year’s Frozen ornaments didn’t include any of the songs.  They fixed that with this year’s Let It Go, and I can see fans of the film clambering for it.

Yes, the ornament is of Elsa.  She’s standing in her trademark blue dress with her arm outstretched.  Her dress is flowing behind her and she has a happy look on her face.

My only real complaint with the ornament is the proportions.  Elsa’s head and arms look very small, but her dress flowing out behind her looks impressive.  Now, I know she had a long, flowing dress in the movie.  However, it seems to me that they could have cut it down a little and not made her seem so small as a result.  Additionally, with her arms sticking out to her side, I do worry that they could easily snap off, especially since the ornament comes in tissue paper to wrap it in for storage.  I haven’t heard stories of that happening, but you will want to be careful.

As I mentioned earlier, this is one of Hallmark’s magic ornaments.  When you have the 2 button batteries installed in the base of the ornament, just press the button on the right hand side and you’ll get a 30 second clip of Elsa singing “Let It Go” from the movie.  The clip is from the end of the song, as Elsa is embracing her powers.  It’s why the pose of the ornament is so perfect – it’s one she made at this point in the song.  The clip does end a bit abruptly, so it would be nice if they had extended it an extra half second or so, but that’s a minor complaint.

The advantage of Elsa’s flowing cape is that she has a nice base for standing.  You can set this ornament out year round and enjoy her and the song clip whenever you like.

However, if you want to hang it on your tree, you’ll be please with that option as well.  The hook is attached to the top of Elsa’s head.  When you slip a loop through it, you’ll find that she does tip back just a bit, but with the angle of her feet, it gives the illusion that she is climbing the stairs in her newly created ice palace.  This is one time when the fact that the ornament doesn’t hang level doesn’t hamper the ornament at all.

Yes, I know, I need to let my disappointment with how small Elsa’s head and body are go.  Really, that is my only complaint with Let It Go, and I am certain that Frozen’s many fans will feel the same way.

Original Price: $17.95

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: Big Game by Stuart Gibbs (FunJungle #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, well done mystery, important message
Cons: The facts that this mystery is based on are too horribly true
The Bottom Line:
Poaching for rhinos
Another case for Teddy
More FunJungle fun

Big Fun in Big Game

It’s always a pleasure to return to one of the many worlds that Stuart Gibbs has created for us.  His books are always fun page turners no matter where they might be set.  He may write for a middle grade audience, but I have enjoyed each one he’s written.  Big Game finds us back on the grounds of FunJungle, a giant zoo in the middle of Texas, where the animals are once again in danger.

It’s a cold morning in February when a gun goes off somewhere on the grounds of FunJungle.  The immediate result is an elephant stampede, but security quickly determines that someone has shot at Rhonda Rhino.  She is about to give birth to a baby, so this is doubly worrisome.  Worse yet, the angle of the bullet makes it look like the shot came from inside the park.

Twelve-year-old Teddy Fitzroy has already solved two cases in the park, but he is flattered when J. J. McCracken, the park’s extremely rich owner, asks him to investigate.  Even better, that means he gets to work with J. J.’s daughter Summer.  But can they find the shooter before he strikes again?  And can Teddy avoid security guard Large Marge who is still determined to arrest Teddy for anything she thinks she can make stick?

Before we go any further, I should issue a spoiler warning.  No, I’m not going to spoil anything, but this book does spoil the previous book in the series, so be sure you’ve read that book before you read this one.  However, since these books are so wonderful, that’s not a problem at all.

While I have enjoyed all of Stuart’s books, this series holds a special place in my heart since it was the first one I read, and I love the giant zoo setting.  It was wonderful to be back and visit the characters once again.  They are all well-developed, and it was interesting to see them and their relationships grow in this book.  With how things ended, I’m very anxious to see what happens to them in future books.

The plot was wonderfully constructed.  As things came together at the end, I was impressed with the set up for the events much earlier in the book.  I figured out the solution as Teddy did, and everything fell into perfect place.  There were some great twists and at least one heart pounding scene before we reached that ending as well.

Plus there’s the humor.  Most of it comes at Large Marge’s expense, but I enjoyed those scenes as well.

Sadly, the premise for this book, the value of rhinoceros’s horns and the poaching that goes on because of that, is an all too real issue.  This issue is addressed over the course of the novel without ever once slowing down the pace of the plot.  A note from the author at the end tells us all how we can learn more and help.

As an added note, Barnes and Noble actually has an exclusive edition that includes excerpts from the FunJungle employee handbook, two press releases, and a few crime reports that all tie into the action of this book.  They aren’t essential, but they are fun, and if you want the entire experience, that’s the way to pick up the book.

No matter where you get it, be sure to pick up Big Game.  This is a fun book that will leave you anxious for more.

After one visit, you'll definitely want more trips with the FunJungle series.

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

Saturday, October 24, 2015

October 24th's Weekly TV Thoughts

A couple shows missing this week with a couple more to go missing next week.  Interesting that it is happening already in the season for me.   I know there will be a big drop come December, but I wasn't expecting it before that.

Anyway, here's what I thought about this week's episodes.

Once Upon a Time – Guinevere is under a spell?  Lancelot is in prison?  With Merida?  What in the world is going on and how are they going to resolve all of this?  I love the scenes between Emma and Hook.  Hook really does love Emma.  And I loved how David and Mary Margaret were really working together all this time to find out if Arthur could be trusted or not.  It didn’t seem like David to go behind her back, but I bought it completely until the reveal at the end.  But with them under the spell now as well….  How exactly do we break that?

Girl Meets World (Sat & Sun) – I was on board with part 2, but part 3 really ruined this entire thing for me.  First of all, there is no real resolution, although at least Riley knows her feelings now.  I am certainly glad that everything is out in the open.  But how will they move on?  And please tell me there were some cut scenes because a few of those sequences felt like dream sequences (especially the one that started with Lucas and Riley in the widow) but they never called them as such.  It just felt weird to me.

Big Bang Theory – The plot with the fencing was kind of slow, but the laughs were wonderful.  I think that might be the best episode of the season so far in my eyes.  I especially loved the part where Barry was on the phone.

Dancing with the Stars – I’d heard of most of those dances even though I’d only seen a few of them.  Still, it was a great show with many strong performances.  Not sorry to see Paula go, but she’s the last easy loss.  From here on out, the eliminated couples are going to be hard to see go.

Castle – That was hard to watch mainly because of “The Nose.”  She wasn’t funny just awkward and a bit mean.  I was expecting some kind of twist with Kevin not passing the test.  I’m actually rather sad about that.  And yes, I’m still so over the breakup.

The Flash – They are working to make Captain Cold the good guy he’ll need to be for the spin-off.  I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out.  Pretty good episode with some twists and I had forgotten that about Iris’s mother.  The chemistry between the characters is coming back, although we need more Joe/Barry scenes.

Agents of SHIELD – Really looking forward to seeing what happened to Jemma while she was away next week.  Did they really kill off May’s ex?  It looks like it, but we didn’t actually see his face, so it’s possible that they didn’t.  And who is that monster?  I would bet good money it’s someone we know.

Scream Queens – This is getting to be more and more about sex every week.  Or I’m just noticing it more and more.  If this keeps up, I’m not sure if I can last until the mystery is solved because I’m not going to care.  And yes, that is with three characters killed this week.  And they were characters we’d seen before, including one who had been in every episode.  They are just trying to prove me wrong, obviously.

Arrow – I think we are in for some rough water with Sara.  (Pun intended.)  I’d forgotten they’d moved the Arrow cave.  I wonder where Oliver is planning to move it this time.  What can we do for Thea and her need to kill?  I am thrilled to see Oliver and Diggle have worked out their issues.  Their bond is one of the things I love about the show.

Survivor – All girl alliance.  Augh!  I so want to see the men create one and stick with it some season.  You’d think they would by now.  So glad it wasn’t Kelly or Spencer.  I’m really rooting for Kelly to win this time, but I do like Spencer as well.  Oh, and when you have a strong alliance, you don’t go trying to change it or it comes back to bite you.  I knew that from watching past seasons.

Heroes Reborn – Two of the characters I thought were series regulars were killed off tonight.  Must admit I’m a bit surprised by that.  Glad we are going to get some answers about a year ago finally.  And it’s nice to see characters meeting up so stories can start moving forward.  I think the show is about to really take off, or at least I hope so.

The Amazing Race – I am so ready for the paparazzi team to go!!  Their behavior is driving me crazy.  If Team Texas is after the Green Team because they are a threat, that’s fine; it’s when it gets personal that I have issues.  And the challenges?  Hate heights, and the crocodiles were a bit much, too.  Not sure how I would have done on that leg.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Stars: 5 out of 5
: Atmospheric mystery perfect for October
Cons: Holmes comes across as arrogant early in the book
The Bottom Line:
Gothic mystery
Involving murderous hound
Stands up as classic

Spooky Holmes Mystery

It’s almost embarrassing for this mystery reader to admit it, but I know almost nothing about the original Sherlock Holmes stories.  For example, I’ve read a couple of the short stories, but that was back in Jr. High, and I’ve never read any of the novels.  I changed that this month with The Hound of the Baskervilles, an appropriate spooky tale for Halloween.

In the country in the southern part of England, there is a family cursed for all time by the actions of one of their ancestors.  This ancestor, so the legend goes, was attacked by a hound, a hound that haunts the family to this day.  No one pays any attention to this legend until the current member of the Baskerville family dies.  He had a weak heart, but there is evidence that suggests his heart might have had help along the way to his death.

The family doctor comes into London and presents Holmes and Watson with the facts of the case.  He is also there to welcome the new Baskerville heir, who has been living in Canada.  Almost as soon as he arrives, this heir is given a warning note that his life in in danger.  Is the hound real?  If not, can Holmes figure out what is happening?

I actually started this book not really knowing much more than the title, but I soon found myself drawn into the story.  The events are mysterious and, when we arrive at Baskerville Hall, there is an almost gothic air that I wasn’t expecting.  The tension and chills build toward a great climax, and all the plot points are resolved by the end.

Since this is really my introduction to the real Sherlock Holmes, I was surprised to find that I didn’t like him at first.  He comes across in the beginning as an arrogant know-it-all.  Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten used to his super observant behavior in the other, more modern detectives who have been fashioned on him over the years, but it felt a bit like a parlor trick, especially early in the book where he is constantly pulling that out of his pocket.  I think the abundance of that in the beginning is what really did it for me.  If the same number of scenes had been spread out over the course of the novel, it wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much.

Fortunately, Holmes is actually absent for a portion of the story, and Watson is doing his best to gather clues on his own.  This allowed me to truly get to know Watson, and I really like him.  Likewise, the rest of the cast are strong characters, and I grew to like most of them.  When Holmes comes back into the story, I felt he was more toned down and I liked him as well, probably because we are building toward the climax, and as a result Holmes isn’t showing off as much.

Of course, part of my problem might have been the audio version I listened to.  David Case is the narrator (there are so many audio versions of this book out there), and I had a bit of a hard time getting into the book because of his narration.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but as I got used to his narrating style, I wasn’t as put off by it.  I do think some of my view of Holmes is colored by his performance.  I do wonder what I would think if I had read it myself or had someone else as the narrator.

Complaints about Holmes aside, I did enjoy The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I can see why Holmes is such a landmark character in the mystery genre, and I do feel the need to read more of these tales.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

I am read this as part of the Reading to Know Classics Book Club, hosted by Reading to Know.

October 23rd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've almost made it through another week, which means it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

I'm going to go with the middle grade mystery I just started tonight this week, and that would be Big Game by Stuart Gibbs.

This is the third in his FunJungle series which is set at a zoo/amusement park in Texas.  Think San Diego Wild Animal Park with some roller coasters (not that we see much outside the animals since they are always the focus of the mysteries).

So with that in mind, here's the opening:

I was helping walk the elephants when we all heard the rifle go off.

And jumping to page 56, we find:

"I was thinking, it's kind of weird that two crimes happened here this morning, so maybe they're connected somehow." 
Marge screwed up her face, trying to make sense of this.  "What do you mean?" 
"Maybe someone broke into the candy store to create a diversion from the fact that they were shooting at the rhino," I said.  "Or maybe they shot at the rhino to divert everyone from the candy store."

I'm always a third of the way in, and loving this book.  Not that I'm surprised since I really do enjoy all of Stuart's books.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Movie Review: The Hunger Games - Catching Fire

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Acting, effects, character development
Cons: Slow, repetitive story; middle part of trilogy
The Bottom Line:
Curse of trilogy
Evident in middle part
Leaves you wanting more

“Since the Last Games Something is Different.  I Can See It.”  “What Can You See?”  “Hope.”

Unfortunately, trilogies follow certain patterns.  It is rare to find a strong middle part to a series that knows it is a trilogy.  I wasn’t thinking about that when I sat down to watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  And yet, by the time I was done I was able to see how that afflicted the story.

(And yes, I know they are making four movies, but they are doing it by splitting the final book into two parts, therefore I’m still counting the story as a trilogy.)

As the movie opens, it’s been almost a year since the events of the first film, and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) still hasn’t completely recovered emotionally from her time in the hunger games.  Unfortunately, she has to put on her happy face since it is time for her and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to leave on their victory tour and put on the act that they are in love, something that doesn’t sit well with would be boyfriend Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

As Katniss and Peeta travel around, they see just how everyone lives and the fact that rebellion is about to spark.  President Snow (Donald Sutherland) blames this on Katniss, so he devises a plan to get her killed and end all hope of rebellion.  But with Katniss more focused on saving Peeta, will she play into his hands?

Actually, this movie suffers from two problems.  First, it knows it is a sequel and tries too hard to repeat things that worked from the first story.  The result are scenes that actually bore us.  They were never the best scenes the first time around, but they are actually even worse now.  In fact, the entire second part of the movie feels recycled.  This is the fault of the source material and not the movie itself, but it is still a problem.

Then there’s the problem I talked about earlier, the middle part of a trilogy issue.  The problem with middle parts of trilogies is they must bridge the gap between the first part and the climax.  Obvious, right?  However, they often become so involved with getting characters from point A to point B that the story suffers.  In this case especially, the movie just ended with a couple of major revelations and no real conclusion.  It just stopped.  I will give it credit for working since I really want to know what happens next.

And that’s the truth about this film.  While there are serious flaws with it, it is still mostly entertaining.  The action scenes and special effects are well done and there are some creative touches to the story that make it good.  The needed character growth is there and very good.  And things have been moved around so we can bring this story to what looks to be an explosive climax over the next two films.

And I’m certainly not blaming the actors for any faults in the film.  They are all fantastic at bringing their characters to life.

I’d also like to point out that I still haven’t read the books, so this was my introduction to the story.  I had no issues following what was happening.  I’m sure there is more depth in the book (there always is), but if you aren’t familiar with the franchise, you won’t get lost if you stick with the films.

As a transition film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire works well.  Unfortunately, it never becomes any more than that.  Still, it will leave you wanting to know what happens to these characters next.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Movie Review: Murder She Baked - Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun and fairly faithful take on a great book
Cons: A bit too enthusiastic in the acting
The Bottom Line:
A delicious book
Turns into light, fun movie
That fans should enjoy

Fun Film Version of a Delicious Mystery

I am always intrigued when a series I love is turned into a movie, so I knew I’d have to watch Murder She Baked: Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery as soon as I heard about it.  After all, I’ve been reading Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series since that book, the first in the series, came out.  As I expected, they definitely made some changes to the book and characters, but I really did enjoy it.

Hannah Swensen (Alison Sweeney) lives in Eden Lake, Minnesota, where she runs The Cookie Jar, a popular cookie shop.  The worst thing she faces is her mother Delores’s (Barbara Niven) attempts to set her up.  The latest is the new dentist in town, Norman (Gabriel Hogan).

However, one day Ron LaSalle (Jason Cremak), the deliveryman from the local dairy, is late with the order for The Cookie Jar.  When Hannah goes out back, she finds Ron shot next to some of her Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies.  Despite warnings from Mike (Cameron Mathison), a state detective brought in to work the case, Hannah starts poking her nose into the mystery.  Will she figure out what happened?

Despite the fact that I first read the book back in 2001, I actually remember the plot fairly well (my reread in 2006 might help with that), and I’m happy to say the movie stuck close to it.  I’m sure there were details and suspects they cut out for time, but it unfolded pretty much as I remembered it.  That’s impressive since they played up the new romances that begin between Hannah and both Mike and Norman here.

Of course, in almost any movie, the details are going to be changed.  I can sit here and start listing them for you.  Hannah lives in a house instead of a condo.  Lisa, Hannah’s employee later partner at the bakery played by Juliana Wimbles, is too old for the character in the series.  And on and on.

But you know what?  It really didn’t care.  Every time a new character from the series popped up, I smiled.  I was just having too much fun seeing these characters I love brought to life.  And there were plenty of great nods to the series in the movie.  I loved that all the desserts and cookies mentioned have been made it in the series.  While the actual recipes are missing (obviously), we even heard the secret ingredient in the title cookies.

The characters were a tad off from how I picture their personalities, but I think that was a result of the acting.  Everyone just seemed a tad over enthusiastic.  It was the style they were going for, and as I got in to the movie, it didn’t bother me nearly as much.

No, this isn’t a great movie, but it is fun.  If you are a fan of Hannah, you’ll enjoy it.  And if you are looking for a light, fun mystery, then Murder She Baked: Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery will fill that need and leave you craving the books.

Interested in reading the book that inspired this movie?  Here's my review of Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ornament Review: Monopoly - Family Game Night #2 - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun take on Monopoly
Cons: Back of ornament quite plain; tips forward
The Bottom Line:
Makes this Monopoly’s year
For board game series

Do You Need a Monopoly on this Ornament?

Last year, I was thrilled when Hallmark started the Family Game Night ornament series since I have so many fond memories of playing games.  Since 2015 happens to correspond to the 80th anniversary of Monopoly, that game gets the honor of being our second entry in the series.

Like with the first in the series, we get a wonderful 3D ornament of a board game box.  The game box forms the back of the ornament with a corner of the game board sticking straight out at us.  Across the front, we get Rich Uncle Pennybags running across.  In front of him are a house, a hotel, and the race car game token.  And the corner of the game board sticking out at us?  Advance to Go and I’ll tell you.

While I grew up with a very different version of the box cover, I’ve seen enough copies in the stores recently to recognize it as the modern Monopoly game cover.  I certainly do recognize it as a Monopoly game cover.  It’s enough to bring up fond memories.  No, I never played this game for hours on end.  I tend to give up when it is obvious I’ve lost, but I still love it.  And I have enough variations on the game I love to play as well.  (In fact, I’ve reviewed those variations but never the original game.)

The one down side to these ornaments is the back.  In this case, it’s perfectly plain red.  It does give a place for the series marker, but it would be fun if they painted it like the back of the box or gave us something to see back there.

With the game board sticking out of the front of the box, you’ll find it actually has a nice, flat surface, so you can set this one out to display year round if you so desire.

The loop for hanging this ornament is on the top of the box.  As a result, when you slip a hook through it, you’ll find that it tips forward slightly.  You can take advantage of that if you hang it near the top of your tree since it will allow you to view the details on the ornament better.

I am so loving seeing what they do with these old childhood (and adult) favorites.  Monopoly will be a winner for a long time to come.

Enjoy games?  Be sure to check out the rest of the Family Game Night series.

Original Price: $14.95

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: Driving Heat by Richard Castle (Nikki Heat #7)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery to keep you turning pages, fun tie ins to Castle
Cons: Supporting characters could be a little stronger
The Bottom Line:
The next mystery
Keeps Nikki guessing and us
Turning the pages

Heat Drives Toward Another Case Solved

Every year, I look forward to reading the latest Nikki Heat mystery by “Richard Castle.”  Yes, I find the mysteries to be good, but I also enjoy seeing what small references to the show Castle they slip into the book.  Driving Heat is the seventh in this bestselling series, and it’s another wonderful ride.

For those who aren’t in on the joke and the series, these novels were inspired by the TV show Castle.  In that show, Nathan Fillion plays Richard Castle, a bestselling author who decides to base his latest character on NYPD detective Kate Beckett.  This character?  Nikki Heat.  Of course, to do that, Castle must follow Beckett around helping her solve cases.  Somewhere along the way, it was decided that the books Castle was writing should actually be written and published for fans of the show to read.  The identity of the real writer remains a mystery (although I’ve seen some credible theories about who is writing them.)  Bits and pieces of the show appear in each book, although the books are strong enough to stand up on their own to any mystery lover.

This book opens on a day of change for Nikki Heat.  It’s her first day as Captain of the twentieth precinct.  However, the day gets off to a rough start before she even makes it in the office when the body of her psychiatrist, Lon King, is found.  With such a personal connection to the victim, Nikki begins to investigate in addition to taking on her new responsibilities.

Things take an interesting turn when video of the doctor’s office finds Nikki’s fiancée, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jameson Rook, going into the office.  He refuses to discuss why he was there, driving a wedge between them and complicating Nikki’s case.  What secret is Rook hiding?  Can she juggle her new administrative duties and still solve the case?

Obviously, the character of Nikki Heat is following the career path of Kate Beckett (who just became a captain this season on the show as well), although she has gone through a different path to get there.  In fact, it was interesting seeing a precinct without the work place drama in this book, something that has added complications to the mystery in the past multiple books in the series.  Part of me enjoyed that, and part of me missed it.  On the other hand, I do like the detectives who are under Nikki, and watching them all work together is quite fun.

The plot is great as well.  It starts a little slowly, but it continues to build until we reach a great climax.  The story managed to surprise me along the way, and the ending was absolutely wonderful. 

Of course, I do have to point out my annual disclaimers about the characters.  While Nikki and Rook are fully developed, the rest of the regulars are a bit thin.  Roach, the detective duo of Raley and Ochoa, based on the TV characters of Ryan and Esposito, are certainly better, but the other trio of homicide cops could be more sharply defined, although they are defined enough for us to like them.  Likewise, these books always read slowly.  It’s not that I’m not into the story, but I’ve finally figured out the type is smaller than I’m used to.  Once I mentally get myself in the space for how long it will take me to read the book, I’m fine.

As I said, these books would be wonderful mysteries even if you didn’t watch the TV show.  However, if you do, you’ll spot a few small references or throw away lines that are from the show.  These moments always make me smile if not laugh outright, and I love them.  And in this book, those in jokes include the name of the murder victim.

So whether you watch the show or not, consider picking up Driving Heat.  You’ll be lost in a great mystery before you know it.

(Now, if only next year’s book can avoid the missteps they are doing on this season of Castle, we’ll be in great shape.)

Looking for more of these creative tie ins?  Check out the Nikki Heat Mysteries in order.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book Review: The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting story and good characters
Cons: A few weaknesses, but still enjoyable
The Bottom Line:
Haunting in mansion
Can Nancy figure out how?
Still fun mystery

How Is the Ghost Haunting the Mansion?

I first read The Hidden Staircase, the second Nancy Drew book, on Christmas Eve.  I can remember getting caught up in the story and the hours flying by, which was a good thing since I didn’t know if I could wait until Christmas Morning to open presents and needed the distraction.  I didn’t remember much about the plot before sitting down to reread it, but I found it just as diverting the second time around.

Nancy Drew is thrilled when her friend Helen Corning calls offering her a new mystery to solve.  It seems that the house her great aunt and great grandmother live in has suddenly become haunted.  They are hearing strange sounds and things are moving across the room when their backs are turned.  Helen wants Nancy to help her figure out what is happening, and Nancy is only too happy to go.

Only before she can even leave, Nancy gets a visitor who claims that her father, lawyer Carson Drew, is in danger.  Suddenly, Nancy is torn, but Carson insists he is quite safe and Nancy should go help her friend.  Is Carson safe?  Can Nancy figure out who is haunting the house, and why?

The title of the book might be considered a spoiler, but Nancy is very quick to conclude that there must be a hidden passage way of some kind in the house, and she spends much of the book trying to locate it.  While she is doing that, we get some more spooky incidents.  They are very mild by haunted house story standards, but they are still fun.  Meanwhile, the sub-plot with Carson heats up and causes some issues as well.  Everything comes together for a good climax.  It’s a little anti-climactic in some ways, but it does resolve everything.

Those most familiar with the series will be surprised to learn that Nancy’s usual sidekicks aren’t around yet.  Nancy does go on a brief date near the beginning of the book, but we never even meet the guy.  Instead of Bess and George helping her solve the mystery, Helen is a quite capable assistant.

I was surprised to find the characters stronger than I remembered in this book.  Oh, they aren’t the fully fleshed out characters in the majority of the novels I read, but they are decent for a middle grade novel.  They certainly made me care about the outcome of the case.

Likewise, the writing was smoother than what I remembered from the first in the series.  Yes, there is lots of telling and summarizing action, but it got the job done and kept me engaged in the story.  In fact, it was only when I was skimming a page at random that I really noticed some of the issues with the writing.

It’s easy to sit here and nitpick the flaws, but on the whole, I found rereading The Hidden Staircase to be a fun experience.  There is a reason that Nancy Drew has been such a popular character for so many years, and you’ll find it here.

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

Saturday, October 17, 2015

October 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Let's just get right to it this week, shall we?

Once Upon a Time – Arthur not quite as noble as expected?  Didn’t see that coming.  But what is he really up to?  I’m sure it has something to do with the tip of Excalibur, aka the dagger.  And I’m beginning to wonder if Emma really cast the latest curse of not, too.  If not, who did?  And did she manipulate them into doing it for some reason?  So many questions swirling in my head right now.

Big Bang Theory – Why am I not surprised they aren’t changing the living situation at all?  I know the show’s dynamic would kind of fall apart if they did, but still, I’d kind of like to see something different there, at least for a few episodes.  Not that I didn’t laugh multiple times at the show.  And that show?  The melody was actually kind of catchy.  They just need to come up with someone who can write decent lyrics for it.

Dancing with the Stars – Some of those celebs did amazing this week.  The first perfect score of the season?  (Was the dance really that good?)  And with a switch up partner, too.  It will be interesting to see how all of them do when they go back to their original partners next week.  Oh, and next year I think I’m going to start voting at switch up time and see how Derek does with the worst female celeb left.  Yes, I do have a mean streak.

Castle – I enjoyed this episode more than last week’s.  And this is sort of working with Beckett being in the office and not in the field as much.  But I still don’t like the situation they’ve set up with this break up.  They need to get back together and soon.  Work on things together.  That’s what this show is really all about.

The Muppets – I love Statler and Waldorf, so I think my favorite part of the episode was that sub-plot involving Fozzie accidentally hurting Statler.  I found the rest of it fairly predictable and not really all that funny.  And the first part, I liked just because of the characters involved.

The Flash – Liked this one better than the premier last week.  The new police officer is going to be a fun character.  I like where they are putting Barry right now, and the multiple worlds is going to be fun.  I wonder what their Wells is like?  Of course, there is still the fact that after Eddie killed himself, all that Throne had done should have been erased, so Barry should have his mother and the real Wells from our world should be alive….  They need to address that at some point.  The final scene in our world?  Did not see that coming.

Agents of SHIELD – Why does Simmons need to go back?  That’s the big question on my mind.  The rest of it?  Still too many characters/stories to really get into anything.

Scream Queens – You never split up.  The guy was asking to be this episode’s victim.  So, we know the sorority supervisor was the woman in that house.  What is her role in all of this since obviously she’s not on the side of the good guys?  And who is it she wants killed next?  Theoretically, we could know who the two killers are (since we’ve seen two Red Devils at the same time), the guy from the second episode and her.  But why do I have a feeling there is actually some kind of twist involved?

Arrow – I’m glad we are finally hearing something about the effects of the Lazarus Pit on Thea.  They mentioned there would be some before she was resurrected, but there didn’t seem to be any afterwards.  And yet Laurel is still going to try to resurrect Sara.  (Yes, we knew it was coming for the spin-off, but still.)  I also agree that Green Arrow isn’t that different from Arrow, yet.  I’m sure they will start working on something to fix that now.  But Oliver as Mayor?  I’m with Felicity on that one.

Survivor – And why is Abi still there?  Okay, Jeff was the smarter choice since he’s injured and not doing much for the team.  But seriously, that woman is so paranoid and all over the map, why she gets so much respect/fear is beyond me.

Heroes Reborn – A couple more characters came together, and I feel like we have a bit more of an idea what the overall plan is.  That makes me happy.  I’m still wondering how a few of these pieces are going to come together in the end, however.

The Amazing Race – The Green Team survives the U-Turn!  I’m glad it wouldn’t have made any difference if someone had been U-Turned.  I hate it when the U-Turn is the last thing on the race.  Still don’t get why everyone is hating on the Green Team so much.  It will be interesting to see how the choices from this leg play out in the coming weeks, especially since the teams are still racing right now.

Girl Meets World – From the previews, I was expecting one thing, but it looks like they are giving us something else.  I still want to know why the rest of the kids are in Texas, other than we couldn’t have the show without it.  But I’m just dying to know what they are doing with the love triangle they’ve been building up.  I could see it coming all season, but I want to know how it will end.  I have a feeling the previews have been wrong all along having seen this episode, but I’ll have to tune in Saturday and Sunday nights to find out.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Book Review: The Black Ice by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, some twists to the plot
Cons: Plot could have been tighter.
The Bottom Line:
A cop’s suicide
Begins another good case
For detective Bosch

Designer Drugs and a Murdered Cop

I really had intended to get back to the Harry Bosch books before now.  But I slipped a different book into the Michael Connelly slot in my audio book rotation a few months back, so I’m just now getting to The Black Ice, the second book starring this popular detective.  While I still think I prefer Mickey Haller better, I did enjoy this book.

It’s Christmas night when the body of narcotics police officer Cal Moore is found in a hotel room.  Cal had been missing for several days, and no one was honestly surprised when he turned up dead.  It’s an obvious suicide, even detective Harry Bosch thinks so after his brief look at the crime scene before he is ushered out by top brass in the LAPD.  The only thing that doesn’t really make sense is the note Cal left behind, “I found out who I was.”

The next day, Bosch gets a new case that makes him question whether Moore really committed suicide or not, however.  Then he learns that Moore was secretly working on a case Bosch had asked for his help on involving a designer drug called black ice.  Suddenly, Bosch is beginning to wonder if Moore was really murdered.  Can he overcome department politics to uncover the truth?

The story started well, and we quickly began to see a wide web that tied multiple things together.  How Bosch would prove it all was the real mystery of the book.  I must admit I found that part a little long and drawn out at times, and a few of the twists seemed more like clichés, especially the police department politics.  Granted, the clichés in the cozies I read don’t bother me.  Go figure, right?  Still, there were enough twists to hold my interest, and the climax was very satisfying.

I do like Harry Bosch as a character.  I wish he weren’t such a loner, but it does mean most of the characters we spend much time with are new to this book.  They were all well developed as well, making it easy to care about the outcome of the story.

One of the reasons I didn’t rush back to the series was the reader of the audio book.  Dick Hill over dramatizes at times, and it is actually distracting from the story.  It wasn’t as bad here as in the first in the series, although a supporting character’s stutter was enough to drive me up a wall.  Fortunately, he’s only in a couple of scenes.

Since this is a police procedural, the language and description of violence is significantly more I’m used to reading.  I knew that going in, so this is worth noting only in passing.

Since I’ve already listened to all the Mickey Haller books, I knew that that character and Harry Bosch were half-brothers.  I thought that was something that Michael Connelly had come up with after he’d created the Mickey Haller character, but we actually get a scene in this book where Bosch is remembering meeting his father.  Turns out, that this wasn’t something he came up with late in the process but had set up before he wrote the first book with Mickey Haller as the main character.

The Black Ice is a good second novel.  It’s certainly made me look forward to moving on with the Harry Bosch series.

And, like me, you'll want to move on to the next in the Harry Bosch mysteries in order.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

October 16th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've made it to Friday, so it must be time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56!

This week's book is Fry Another Day by J. J. Cook.

This is the second in the Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mystery series, and it involves a cross country Food Truck rally of sorts with competitions along the stops in the south east.  Oh, and a murder or two thrown in as well.  I really do want to try some of the biscuit bowls!

But, since I could share one with you even if I made one, here's how the book begins:

"Can you really make a biscuit out of sweet potatoes, Zoe?" Delia asked.

The answer to that is...  Wait, you actually expected me to spoil something?  Sorry.  But here's a teaser from page 56:

Uncle Saul made an unbelieving face.  "You think those two are the front runners, Zoe?"
"I think so.  What can't you do with bread?  Who doesn't love cupcakes?  It won't matter what the challenge is, bread or cupcakes will win every time."

Is she right?  You'll have to read the book to find out.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Floral Depravity Winner!

Time to announce the last winner for the week.  This time, the book was Floral Depravity, and the winner is...


Gram, I've sent you an e-mail.  Please respond it to ASAP so I can connect you with your prize.

Movie Review: Invisible Sister

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun story, good characters, great effects
Cons: Predictable story, moments of acting
The Bottom Line:
Seeing another
While being invisible
Fun, predictable

You’ll See Enjoyment from this Movie

One of the advantages of watching Girl Meets World is seeing ads for more Disney Channel original movies I might be interested in.  Granted, I mainly decided to tune in to Invisible Sister because Girl Meets World star Rowan Blanchard was going to be in it, but it sounded like it could be fun.  Turned out, it was.

Cleo (Rowan Blanchard) is the younger sister in the family and everyone pretty much ignores her.  She’s gotten used to just skating by, living in the shadow of her much more popular older sister Molly (Paris Berelc).  Cleo even feels like her parents ignore her.

On Halloween Friday, Cleo’s science experiment goes haywire, and Cleo accidentally makes Molly invisible.  Since Molly has things she has to do at school, Cleo dresses up in Molly’s costume and takes her place, all the time hoping she can figure out a way to undo her experiment.  What might the sisters learn about each other along the way?

No, this movie isn’t incredibly original.  I could pretty much see most of the plot complications coming early on.  This is especially true if you’ve seen Freaky Friday.  And yet, I had a blast watching it because I was having fun.  I really did like Cleo and Molly and found it easy to root for them to succeed.  There were some fun moments and plenty of laughs along the way to the climax, and the quieter character moments worked just as well.

In fact, I was very impressed with the fact that Molly wasn’t a jerk.  I kind of expected her to be before I started watching the movie, but she was actually pretty nice.  I’d say that how both sisters started out was in part thanks to their own actions, something that they realized over the course of the movie, and an element of the film I really appreciated.

The film was filled with current Disney Channel stars.  I can’t tell you what shows they are all in, but I do recognize them from various previews.  The acting was a bit over the top at times, but for the most part it worked and never threw me out of the movie.  And yes, Rowan was toned down from her performance as Riley on Girl Meets World.  (Yes, I think she’s perfect as Riley, but this isn’t as frantic.)

The effects were very well done.  Since one of the characters is pretty much invisible for most of the film, there are lots of effects, and I bought all but one or two of them.  The one thing that tripped me up is that, while the characters can’t see Molly, sometimes we can, so we can see her reactions to things.  That took me a little while to get used to, but once I did, I didn’t mind it.

If you have pre-teens, they’ll definitely enjoy this movie.  And if you give Invisible Sister a chance, you just might find yourself enjoying it as well.  I certainly did.