Monday, November 30, 2015

November 2015's Monthly Reading Summary

It's that time of the month again, time to post another monthly reading summary.  I missed updating the Index last month, but it is all up to date as well.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).  As always, the links take you to my full review of the title.

Olive and Let Die by Susannah Hardy (Greek to Me Mysteries #2) – 4
Georgie’s mother abandoned her 20 years ago, and Georgie has not heard from her since.  Naturally, she is surprised when the woman walks back into her life, having reinvented herself as soap star Melanie Ashley.  Before the two women can talk, however, they find a dead body.  Melanie quickly identifies the victim as her cousin Doreen.  Did Melanie’s return to town have something to do with Doreen’s death?  What secret is Melanie hiding?

This is another fun, fast paced mystery.  It did seem to wander a bit at the beginning, but everything comes into play before the climax.  The climax is a little different for a cozy, and I thought it worked very well.  The characters, old and new, are both really strong.  Unfortunately, a few minor editing issues annoyed me, but they didn’t affect the plot or solution to the mystery in any way.

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

The Chocolate Falcon Fraud by JoAnna Carl (Chocoholic Mysteries #15) – 5
Lee’s former step-son, Jeff, comes back to Warner Pier for the noir film festival.  He’s anxious to spend some time with Lee, but just a few hours later, he’s vanished.  What has happened to him?

The book starts off with a bang and never really lets up until we reach the end.  When we do get answers, they just leave us with more questions.  The characters are in top notch form, and I think we get to know Lee a bit better over the course of this book.  This series is always light and fun, and this book is no exception.

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

Neverseen by Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities #4) – 5
Sophie Foster and her closest friends have run away to join the Black Swan.  However, instead of getting many assignments in the active fight, the group are asked to train to improve their abilities.  A growing plague affecting the gnomes leads to questions about what the Council is really doing.  When a dangerous assignment does come their way, will Sophie and her friends be ready?

This book is another fantastic entry in the middle grade fantasy series.  The world is so richly detailed, and we get to explore more of it.  Likewise, the characters are wonderful, and the development we get here makes them even more real.  The story never lost my interest, which is something for a 700 page book, and we get some revelations and twists that left me anxious for the next book in the series.

A Body to Spare by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Odelia Grey #10) – 5
Odelia’s day of running errands come to an abrupt end when the attendants at the car wash pop her trunk and find a dead body there.  Who was he in life?  And why would someone leave him for Odelia to find?

From that simple premise comes another fun adventure for Odelia and the rest of the crew.  The plots twists to some unexpected places.  The characters are charming and wonderful as always.  Add in a dash of wit and you’ve got another winner.  I rest most of it in 24 hours, and I’m already anxious for Odelia’s next adventure.

Free Fall by Robert Crais (Cole/Pike #4) – 4
Jennifer is sure that her boyfriend Mark is in trouble, so she hires PI Elvis Cole to find out what is going on.  Elvis thinks he’s found an easy solution, but then he digs a little deeper and begins to uncover something much more serious.  Can Elvis help Mark and Jennifer, or is he in over his head?

The story quickly built into another thrilling read, and I was glued to the page waiting to see how it would all turn out.  The characters are good, although I still find Cole’s partner Pike to be unbelievable.  Despite that flaw, I enjoyed this departure from my normal cozy mystery diet.

I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems – 5
It’s lunch time, and Piggie has whipped up a batch of her favorite treat – slop.  And she wants to share it with her best friend – Gerald.  Will he try it?  Will he like it if he does?

Yes, this is a variation on Green Eggs and Ham, but the execution is flawless.  There are plenty of laughs, both from Gerald’s reaction and some of what Piggie says.  Plus, the moral about it being okay if you don’t like something as long as you tried it is perfectly done and a natural part of the book.

The Abominable Snowman by R. A. Montgomery (Choose Your Own Adventure #1) – 5
In this book, you are the star and the choices you make determine the outcome.  You are a mountain climber out to capture proof that the Yeti exists.  When you arrive, your friend Carlos is already in the field, but you can’t reach him by radio.  What do you do?  Think carefully because your choices could make your career or lead to certain doom.

I read some of these as a kid and enjoyed them, and it was fun to revisit the series with this book.  The story is fun, although some of the choices get pretty wild.  When I allowed myself to enjoy that, I really got in to seeing what would happen to me next.  Kids today will be just as delighted with this book as I was when I was a kid.

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

Going, Going, Ganache by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries #5) – 5
When a photo shoot for Southwest Style turns into a disaster, Mel and Angie find themselves hosting a cupcake boot camp as a team building exercise for the fractured magazine staff.  The second morning, Mel finds out of the staff members murdered behind her shop.  With the prime suspects in her bakery, can Mel figure out who the killer is?

This is a wonderful addition to the series, and it is easy to see why the series has so many fans.  The characters, main and new, are all strong.  The mystery provides plenty of tension, suspects, and red herrings, and a couple of sub-plots involving the main characters will keep series fans engrossed as well.  Add to that delicious cupcake recipes in the back, and you’ve got a winner.

Fillet of Murder by Linda Reilly (Deep Fried Mysteries #1) – 3
After going through a transition, Talia finds herself working at her friend Bea’s fish and chips restaurant again.  When a neighboring shop owner is murder and the police start to focus on Bea, Talia decides to start looking for the real killer.

This is the first in a series, and a lot of people seemed to love it, but it felt like it needed another draft to polish things up.  The characters weren’t quite as well developed as they could have been, and the plot has some serious pacing issues.  It wasn’t a bad debut, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher in hopes that I would review it.

Suspendered Sentence by Laura Bradford (Amish Mysteries #4) – 5
When the Stolrzfus barn catches fire, the Amish community comes together for a barn raising.  But in the midst of the building, bones are discovered, and they are quickly identified as those of Sadie Lehman, who disappeared 20 years before.  With the mystery of her disappearance now on everyone’s mind, Claire begins to search for answers to help those she has come to love.  But what really happened all those years ago?

The mystery was a tad slower than I thought it could be, but the book more than makes up for it with the characters.  I’ve come to care for them, and the growth we see here is not only organic, but growth that made me very happy.  These characters pulled me into the book once again, and I can hardly wait to visit them when the next in the series comes out.

Fry Another Day by J. J. Cook (Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mysteries #2) – 3
Zoe Chase has entered her food truck in a contest across the south east, hoping to win the $50,000 prize to be able to open her diner.  Before the first day of the contest, however, a competitor is found dead in his food truck.  It looks like a tragic accident until more strange things start happening.  What is going on?

It had been about a year and a half since I read the first in this series, but I remembered liking the characters.  I was quickly reminded why, and I enjoyed journeying with them to the various stops on the race.  The race creates a nice plot, and I found the various tasks and how Zoe and her crew overcame them to be plenty of fun.  Sadly, the mystery was a sub-plot at best, and the rush to wrap things up at the end left me less than satisfied with that aspect of the book.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: Half Upon a Time Trilogy by James Riley

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced, fun, and funny adventures
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Hang on for this fun
Alternate fairy tale world
‘Twill please all readers

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Great Fairy Tale Trilogy

Hang around this blog long enough, and you’ll discover my love of all things fairy tale and alternative fairy tale.  (Disney and Once Upon a Time just to name two very obvious examples.)  That’s what initially got me interested in the Half Upon a Time Trilogy written by James Riley.  But what kept me coming back was the wonderful story.

The story begins with Jack, who is living in the village of Giant’s Hand.  While all his friends are trying to find quests they can go on to prove their worth, Jack is content to stay home and help on the family farm, hoping to live down the legacy of his father, Jack of Beanstalk fame.

Into his world one day comes May, who appears in a flash in the sky.  She is from an alternative world without magic, and she has no idea how she got to Jack’s world.  She is searching for her grandmother, who has been kidnapped.  Reluctantly, Jack finds himself pulled into her quest.  Can they find her grandmother?  Who is May’s grandmother?  What will happen to them along the way?

Of course, that’s really just the set up to the first book.  It isn’t long before other fairy tale characters start popping up and May and Jack realize that there is a conspiracy at play that they might be able to defeat, if they don’t play into the hands of the villain.  Over the course of the three books, we meets giants, pirates, mermaids, and Prince Phillip joins the group to make a trio of heroes trying to save the kingdom.

Needless to say, the action is fast and the pace never lets up.  I breezed through all three books in the series, and I’m sure that kids will do the same.  After all, it’s very hard to put a book down when there is so much action and so many twists.

Plus, you’ve just got to love the characters.  May, Jack, and Phillip really do make a great team, and they are just fun characters.  I loved spending time with them and truly worried if they’d be able to save the day in the end or not.  Especially with a certain prophecy that is made….

Then there’s the sarcasm.  Jack and May, especially, are very sarcastic characters.  Since I tend to be a tad sarcastic, especially in real life, I laughed many times at things that were said.  It added a lot of fun to the epic story unfolding.

This set contains all three books in the trilogy in paperback, and therefore contains the complete story.  I read the books as they were published, and I found the wait between books to be so long.  The ability to have all three books ready to go so you don’t have to wait to continue the story would be wonderful.

While most people think of fairy tales as aimed at girls, this series contains plenty of action and adventures to keep boys turning pages, too.  Not to mention that two of the main characters are boys.  On the other hand, May is not some damsel in distress but an active part is the story as it unfolds, which will appeal to girls.

So if you’ve missed these entertaining books, this slipcase set is the perfect way to read the Half Upon a Time Trilogy.  The magic and adventure will keep you turning pages through all three great books.

This is my entry for this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Music Review: MercyMe, It's Christmas by MercyMe

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fresh, fun takes on traditional songs
Cons: The original tracks could be better
The Bottom Line:
Second Christmas disc
Different traditionals
Make for fun listen

Once Again, a Christmas Disc that Grows on You

While MercyMe’s first Christmas CD is not one I pull out as soon as Christmas hits each year, I do find myself enjoying it when I pull it out.  That’s why, when I saw they were releasing MercyMe, It's Christmas this year, I knew I had to buy it.  Once again, it took a little time to grow on me, but I’m definitely enjoying it.

Unlike their first release, MercyMe has included several new tracks mixed in with the old standards.  In fact, the disc opens with two of those new tracks.  Up first is “Newborn,” this midtempo song mixes a few new lines together with “Away in the Manger” and “Hark! The Hearld Angels Sing” Unfortunately, I don’t quite find it that fresh.  I think I would have preferred them to do the songs individually.

I do enjoy the next track, “Christmastime Again,” which revels in the joys of the season even if December seems to come faster and faster each year.  This is a fun upbeat track that will definitely get you into the mood.  Linked in my mind is another new track “Hold On, Christmas,” a song about wanting to get home for the holiday.

Rounding out the new tracks is “Our Lullaby.”  For a lullaby, it’s surprisingly upbeat, but it is fun and it touches on who Jesus is and what he came to do.  It’s actually my favorite of the original songs on this disc.

Which leaves us with the traditional songs.  Now, you may know the words, and you may think you know the melody, but trust me, they’ve all gotten a MercyMe makeover.

Take, for example, “Sleigh Ride.”  This song is arranged just differently enough to make it feel fresh, yet you’ll definitely recognize it.  It’s got MercyMe’s soft rock stamped all over it, and the result is fantastic.  It’s just so much fun.  “I’ll be Home for Christmas” is slightly faster than normal, but it works.  “Holly Jolly Christmas” is a soft rock song, not the folk track that Burl Ives made famous, but it is probably the closest to a version you would recognize.  And, since they have to go slightly country at some point, there’s “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

About the only traditional song that doesn’t work is “Joy,” their take on “Joy to the World.”  It’s just too slow for my taste.  This is a song that’s supposed to be joyful, right?
Leading the pack for most unusual is “O Come, O Come.”  They’ve given this song a complete makeover, including a major key and an arrangement that sounds more like a traditional hymn.  This one takes a listen or two to appreciate, but I do like it for something different.

And, honestly, that’s what works well for the many traditional songs on here.  They don’t sound like every other version of the song you have, which is great come December 15th.

While these traditional songs are fun, I do with the originals were better.  Overall, I know I will enjoy MercyMe, It's Christmas this December and many more to come, and I think you will as well.

CD Length: 41:23
1. Newborn
2. Christmastime Again
3. Sleigh Ride
4. I’ll Be Home for Christmas
5. Hold on Christmas
6. A Holly Jolly Christmas
7. Go Tell It on the Mountain
8. Do You Hear What I Hear
9. Our Lullaby
10. Joy
11. O Come, O Come

November 28th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Short list, between the shows that weren't on this week and those I haven't watched yet thanks to being out of town for Thanksgiving.  I'll have a lot on my DVR to catch up on when I get home, I guess.  Look for those next week, but for this week, here's what I did watch before I left town.

The Librarians – I’m really wondering where they are going with this season.  They were almost making it look like Moriarty isn’t a bad guy this week.  Meanwhile, is the library fixed?  Or will they still be having issues with that going forward?

Supergirl – Considering this was supposed to air last week, I don’t feel like we missed that much with it being out of order.  But this does now give us three storylines to be following, her aunt, this inventor, and what really happened to her human father.  Oh yeah, and there’s the fact that she’s working for an alien and doesn’t know it, but I have a feeling that is tied into her dad.  I’m really truly officially hooked at this point and can’t wait for next week.

Castle – Finally, it looks like Castle and Beckett are on the same page and acting as husband and wife should.  Yes, definitely some fun scenes, but I am so thrilled to see that Beckett had some sense knocked into her.  Hopefully, the show can get back on track at this point.

Dancing with the Stars – What great performances!  And those freestyles were awesome!  I especially loved the obstacles; that will be an iconic freestyle for sure.  I wonder if I can work any of that into my next mud run.  Of course, there was no surprise about who won.  Not that Bindi didn’t deserve it, seriously, can Derek get a tougher partner next season?

Scream Queens – I kept waiting for the body to drop, and then as the last scene started, I knew what was going to happen.  So that makes me wonder why kill Boone if she was going to kill Gigi anyway?  Or was Boone’s death faked for some reason?  Either way, certainly not going to miss Gigi.  Dying to know where this is leading.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: Fry Another Day by J. J. Cook (Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mysteries #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful characters, fun story
Cons: The mystery was extremely weak
The Bottom Line:
A food truck contest
Filled with murder and mayhem
And weak mystery

On Your Mark, Get Set, Die!

I always intended to get to Fry Another Day before now.  After all, I enjoyed the first book in the series, so reading the next one was an obvious thing to do.  Somehow, I kept putting it off until last week, but sadly, I found it lacking in one key detail.

Zoe Chase has entered her food truck, The Biscuit Bowl, in a food truck race.  A field of 10 food trucks will be stopping in several cities in the south east participating in challenges as they sell their signature dishes in each city.  The cash prize is $50,000, the amount that Zoe needs to really fulfill her dream of remodeling her diner.  So, with her Uncle Saul and a few friends, she packs up and drives to the starting line of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Things get off to a rough start when Reggie Johnson dies before the first morning’s challenge can begin.  His Dog House food truck, specializing in hot dogs of course, was the only other truck from Zoe’s hometown of Mobile, Alabama, but the two rarely got along.  It appears to be a tragic accident, but as the race continues with more strange things happening, Zoe begins to wonder if it was really an accident.  With the police looking at one member of her crew as a killer, she has motive to solve the case.  Can she do that and still win the race?

It had been roughly a year and a half since I read the first in the series, so I was a little fuzzy on the characters.  I remembered liking them, and it wasn’t long before I remembered why.  They are a different group from the normal in a cozy mystery, and I enjoyed getting to know them better as the book progressed.  And yes, all the series regulars are back in this book since they join Zoe on the race.  We only get to know a few of the competitors in this book, but they are a good as well.

Likewise, the race makes for a great plot.  I enjoyed seeing just what each day would bring in the way of a new challenge and how Zoe and her team would overcome it.  I’ve read several books with cooking contests in them recently, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the device here at all.  There are some sparks in the air between several characters as well, and I loved seeing these new relationships develop.

But you’ll notice I haven’t talk about the mystery yet.  Sadly, that’s the weak point of the book.  And for a mystery, that’s a serious problem.  It truly is a sub-plot at best.  While Zoe is thinking about the strange events often, she hardly does any actual investigating.  Instead, things happen to her or to someone around her.  I was really going to give it a bit of a pass until I reached the end.  There was such a rush to wrap up the mystery that we get the briefest of explanations for most of the plot points and one remains completely unexplained.  I think the things that were explained make sense, but more time should have been spent making sure that was the case.

Being a culinary mystery, there are a few recipes in the back from the book.  We also get the recipe again for the deep fried biscuit bowl that is Zoe’s specialty.  I really do want to try some of her creations.

I completely enjoyed the book even with the weak mystery until the even weaker ending.  If you haven’t started the series, I don’t recommend you start with Fry Another Day.  I love the characters enough to give the series another try.  Hopefully, the mystery is a bit more of the focus in this next one.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Movie Review: Murder, She Baked - Plum Pudding Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery with characters I love
Cons: Some editing and acting issues, but minor
The Bottom Line:
Christmas elf murdered
Fans note differences from books
Still fun to watch film

A Plum Good Christmas Mystery Movie

There was a collection “Huh?” a few months back when Hallmark announced it would follow up the first movie in the Murder, She Baked franchise with Plum Pudding Mystery.  Considering this is the second movie they were going to make based on Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series, why were they going to base it on the twelfth book?  I’ll admit I was among those scratching his head, but I set that aside to watch it when it premiered this past weekend, and I really enjoyed it.

It’s the week before Christmas, and Eden Lake is getting ready for the holiday.  That means that things are really hopping for Hannah Swensen (Alison Sweeney) down at The Cookie Jar where she is creating delicious holiday desserts in addition to her cookies.  Many places in town are buying up those cookies, including Crazy Elf Christmas Trees, the biggest Christmas tree lot in town.  As a special request, Hannah even makes a special plum pudding for owner Larry Jaeger and his fiancée.

Stopping by after a date with Norman (Gabriel Hogan) the dentist one night to pick up a check, Hannah is shocked to find Larry on the floor, murdered.  Despite warnings from detective Mike (Cameron Mathison), Hannah’s other beau, she begins to poke her nose into the investigation.  Can she find the killer before Christmas?

I must confess that the book is a little fuzzy in my mind.  I mean, I remembered that Larry was the murder victim, but I couldn’t tell you what else happened in the book.  It began to come back to me as I watched the movie and we met the various suspects.  I would wager that the mystery element was pretty close to the original.

Of course, being the second movie, details of the character’s personal lives were different from the book because they had to be.  I’m talking about things with Hannah’s mother Delores (Barbara Nivens) and Hannah’s sister Andrea (Lisa Durupt) specifically, but there are other subtle changes with many of the other characters in addition to characters who haven’t even been introduced yet.  (Truly, the book series has a very large cast of characters.)  While I had fun spotting the differences, even pointing out a huge one from the final scene to my roommate, it really doesn’t matter.  I knew to set realistic expectations going into the movie, so I just took what they presented.

And the reason it was so easy for me to do that is because I was having fun.  As with the first film, the spirit of the books was preserved.  Oh, the characters might behave slightly differently then I picture them while reading the books, but I enjoy getting to see the world I’ve pictured for 15 years come to life.  (Having said that, I do hope they tone Delores down soon.  Yes, she’s overbearing in the early books, but she’s mellowed quite a bit these days.)

My only real complaints come from a technical standpoint.  There are times when the scene breaks are a bit too abrupt, creating scenes that are a bit too short, which made the movie feel disjointed.  The acting was mostly good, but a few moments were cheesy.  Still, these are worth noting only in passing.

So if you are a fan of light mysteries, check out Plum Pudding Mystery.  And if you are already a fan of Hannah, relax and enjoy watching her world come to life.  Just keep your expectations realistic (like you should with all book to movie adaptations) and you’ll love it.

Looking for this movie on DVD?  It is part of the Murder, She Baked Complete Collection.

Want to read the book?  Here's my review of Plum Pudding Murder.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book Review: Suspendered Sentence by Laura Bradford (Amish Mysteries #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and story that shows them off
Cons: A little overwritten at times, but a minor issue.
The Bottom Line:
Long buried body
Secrets revealed today
Compelling reading

You are Hereby Sentenced to another Great Read

I’m so glad I started Laura Bradford’s Amish mysteries.  To show you how much I’ve enjoyed them, I’ve just finished Suspendered Sentence and am now up to date on the four book series.  When you consider the books waiting on my TBR stacks to be read, reading all four books this year is really saying something.

The series focuses on Claire Weatherly, who has moved to the town of Heavenly, Pennsylvania.  She’s living with her aunt Diane and helping a little with the bed and breakfast that Diane runs in town, but Claire’s also opened a shop specializing in selling items that the local Amish make.  Through the shop, she’s made many friends in the English and Amish communities and those friendships get her involved in the local mysteries.

A barn fire on the Stoltzfus farm brings the entire Amish community together to rebuild.  However, in the middle of the barn raising, bones are found on the farm.  They are quickly identified as the bones of Sadie Lehman, who disappeared almost 20 years earlier while in the middle of her Rumspringa, the time when Amish youth experience the life of the English to see if they want to stay in the Amish community or leave.

The discovery of Sadie’s body on what was her family farm at the time of her disappearance reopens the two decade old mystery.  Once again, Claire finds herself drawn into the mystery as her friends in both parts of town are affected by the discovery.  But what really happened to Sadie? And what will these new revelations mean for those alive today?

What is truly amazing about these books is the way they draw me in.  When I pick one up, I’m no longer in Southern California but in this small town on the other side of the country.  These people and places are that real to me.  Yes, the new characters are just as vivid within a few pages as the characters we’ve gotten to know for the previous three books.  And the returning characters?  The growth we see here is amazing, and I was glad to see it.  Characters are clearly Laura’s strength.

I will admit, the plot could be a bit stronger.  I figured as couple things out early, although I didn’t figure it all out until the end.  But the book really isn’t about the twists but about how the secrets coming to light are impacting the characters.  And make no mistake about it, there are secrets waiting to be uncovered.  The ending felt a tad rushed to me, but everything did make sense before I turned the last page.

The book also feels a little over written at times, especially when we are digging into Claire’s feelings.  There were a few times I rolled my eyes at what we were told, but maybe that’s because I’m a guy.

Honestly, both of these are very minor complaint, however.  As I said, the characters have drawn me in for four books so far, and I have really enjoyed the ride.

I’m definitely looking forward to book 5, which hits shelves this coming March.  In the meantime, if you haven’t picked up Suspendered Sentence yet, do so today and get lost in a great story.

You'll appreciate the character growth best if you read the Amish Mysteries in order.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ornament Review: Captain Phasma - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great sculpt of a new Star Wars character
Cons: Not so thrilled with collecting the villains
The Bottom Line:
This new character
Cashing in on new movie
Delights Star Wars fans

The First Order Leader is Ready for Your Tree

I was going to resist.  Really, I was.  I wanted to see The Force Awakens, the new Star Wars film before I started buying ornaments from it.  And yet, I’ve caved and bought both of Hallmark’s ornaments for 2015 based on the film already.  I was too afraid they’d sell out before I had a chance to buy them if I waited until I had a chance to see the movie.  Captain Phasma was the second of these ornaments released, and it looks like a great ornament.

Disney is keeping these new character descriptions very close to the vest, so very little is known about Captain Phasma.  We know the character is a woman, and the leader of the First Order, who appear to be the villains in the new movie.  (And how interesting is it that both of the ornaments released this year are of villains?)  And, of course, we know how the character looks.

Even before I looked up information on the character, I had a feeling she was a villain.  Why?  Because of her mask.  It looks an awful lot like a Stormtrooper mask, doesn’t it?  Of course, the difference is that it is made of metal.  In fact, almost her entire armor is made from metal.  The only thing not is the black cape in the back.  She is also holding a gun, ready to fire.

Hallmark seems to have actually used metal in making this ornament, or at least metal plating.  The result gives the ornament a little shine (until fingerprints smudge it, or course).  But the result is also a heavier than normal ornament form Hallmark.  You’ll definitely want to make sure this one is far back on a sturdy branch to keep it from sliding off part way through the Christmas season.  On the plus side, the hook is on the top of her helmet, and the ornament is balanced well, so it hangs straight.

Captain Phasma’s stance has her feet apart.  She’s obviously bracing herself for that shot she’s about to fire.  Her feet are just far enough apart that you can set this ornament out on any flat surface.  However, it is uneven, so any time that surface is bumped, she will probably fall over.

The sculpt on this ornament really is quite good.  It looks like just pictures and clips we’ve seen from the trailers so far.  It’s hard to imagine a better ornament of this character.

My only real hesitation is that I tend to stick with heroes for my ornament collection.  I have made a few exceptions for iconic villains.  Hopefully, I’ll feel that Phasma fits into that camp after I see the movie.

The main reason I caved was to have some ornaments from the year that The Force Awakens actually came out.  For that reason, I’m glad I bought Captain Phasma.  Even if I don’t like the character in the film, I will like this ornament for that reason.

Original Price: $17.95

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book Review: Astronauts, Spies, and Hippopotami by Stuart Gibbs

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Three first books in three different series that will entertain
Cons: None, none, none (Once per books)
The Bottom Line:
Different series
From same talented author
All three worth reading

Variety Pack with Triple the Fun and Mystery

While I never completely lost my love of middle grade novels, I have recently started to make more time to read the books.  Naturally, that means I have some favorite authors for that age group, and one of those is Stuart Gibbs.  He is currently writing three different series, and if you have missed out on his books, Astronauts, Spies, and Hippopotami is the perfect way to jump in.  Why?  Because it contains the first book in each of the different series.

Stuart’s first series was FunJungle, which kicked off with Belly Up.  The setting is a giant zoo in the middle of Texas and our hero is Teddy Fitzroy.  His parents are both working at FunJungle, which leaves him free to explore.  That’s how he witnesses something one night makes him think that Henry Hippo, the park’s mascot, was murdered only two weeks after the park opened.  But who would kill a hippopotamus?  What could the motive possibly be?

I actually found Stuart’s books when this book was brand new, and it was what hooked me on his writing.  The setting, the characters, the plot – everything is perfect.  I’m not a zoo person, but I still love the behind the scenes tour we get of this fictional zoo.  I love (or love to hate, depending on who we’re talking about) the characters, plus Teddy is blessed with responsible parents, often a rarity in Middle Grade novels.  And the plot moved forward at a great clip.  It’s just great fun.

Spy School is the next book in the collection, and it is the first in the series of the same name.  This series focuses on Ben Ripley, a twelve-year-old who is recruited for training as a spy at an elite boarding school.  Of course, when he arrives as the top secret spy school (his parents think he’s going to a special science school), he discovers that not all is as it seems.  Someone is out to kill him, and an evil organization wants to recruit him.  Who can he trust?

I wasn’t completely sure about this series when the first one came out, but I’m thrilled I gave it a try.  Once again, the characters are great.  The plots are a bit over the top, but this is a spy series with just a hint of fun in it, so you can’t help but smile as you read.  The twists are great and the pages fly by all too quickly.

Moon Base Alpha is Stuart’s newest series.  In fact, Space Case, the book included in this set, is the only book in the series out so far.  (Book two, Spaced Out, is coming in April.)  This one is set in the near future on the first colony on the Moon.  However, one of the group’s members walks out of the base and dies, leaving Dashiell Gibson, our hero, to think he’s been murdered.  Can he prove it?

I was really looking forward to this book because the setting was so different from most of what I read, and it didn’t disappoint.  I felt like I was in the base with Dashiell and this new group of friends.  The plot twisted in some unexpected directions, and the ending surprised me.  In other words, it’s another great book from Stuart.

This collection includes the paperback version of each of the three titles.  The books are just over 300 pages each, so you have plenty of great reading ahead of you when you pick up this set.  And if you are older than the target audience, that’s okay, too.  I am, and I can’t put them down.  Anyone who wants a great read should pick up this set.

As you can see, the series are very different from each other, but the great writing, characters, and plot are consistent no matter which series you are reading.  Plus they are all just plain fun.  If you pick up Astronauts, Spies, and Hippopotami today, you’ll be lost in a fun new world full of mystery tomorrow with two more waiting to be explored.

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

Saturday, November 21, 2015

November 21st Weekly TV Thoughts

I think I'm going to make it.  I think I'm going to make it.  The hard part is always getting everything in plus packing on Tuesday of this coming week.  Of course, if I skip my run for the night I would be fine.  We'll just have to see how I'm feeling on Tuesday.

But that's next week.  Let's talk about what I watched this week, shall we?

Once Upon a Time – Before, two hour events fit together.  That definitely wasn’t the case last night.  In fact, that second hour felt a bit like filler, which was frustrating since we got so many twists and surprises in the first hour.  Still, both were solid hours, and it was fun to see Dr. Whale, Mulan, and Red again, although I’m not happy with the rumored Lesbian relationship to come on the show.  My guess as of now is Mulan and Red.

The Librarians – Fun episode, and I wonder how they are going to build on that.  They seem to have a lot of balls in the air this season, and I’m really wondering how everything will tie together in the end.

Supergirl – If there are continuity issues with them playing this episode out of order, I didn’t notice.  And now I’m really intrigued.  What really happened to her dad?  I’m really really hoping he’s not really dead since I like the stunt casting they did for post of her parents.  And this seems to confirm that the guy Alex works for is really an alien.  So what is he up to?

Dancing with the Stars – Not super surprised that they didn’t have an elimination this week.  They wanted four stars for Monday night, after all.  Very impressive dances from all the stars remaining, at least at some point.  But we all know that Bindi is going to win.  Seriously, can we not give Derek the young, athletic partner next season?

Castle – Good mystery with some nice twists, although they rushed things at the end.  Nice to see they’ve got Ryan and Esposito back together.  Sure hope they do the same for Castle and Beckett next week.  I’m so over this whole thing.

The Muppets – An okay episode.  Pretty much still holding on for the reboot in the Spring.  Hope it is worth the wait.

The Flash – I’m not too surprised that Barry healed on his own so quickly.  They’ve already established that he heals fast.  But I loved seeing his dad back again, and I loved the advice he gave him.  The relationship between Barry, his Dad, and his Foster Dad was part of the heart of the first season, so I was glad to see it back again.

Agents of SHIELD – Seriously, this show has too many storylines.  I just can’t seem to care about them because we don’t get enough time with any of them.  Cut out a storyline, and I’m on board.

Scream Queens – Boone’s back and now he’s dead for real.  And we still don’t know who the twin, aka the second killer is.  I did know Boone was dead as soon as he set down the knife.  How stupid can you get?  Of course, why any of these characters haven’t already fled is beyond me.  Oh, and I’m wondering if Hester is really dead or not.  I could almost see that fixing her neck for good in the twisted world that is this show.

Arrow – So where is this going with Diggle’s brother now?  That is going to be an interesting road.  I have a feeling we won’t really be following up on it right away since we’ve got the team up crossover happening in two weeks.  And can I just say I’m so looking forward to that!

Survivor – Not Wigglesworth!  I was so rooting for her, although I have a feeling she wouldn’t have made it further than that since everyone would have voted for her in the finals.  And it sounds like she wasn’t that upset to leave, either.  Is it just me, or have we had a blindside every single episode this season.  It is the most unpredictable season to date, which I love.  Except when they blindside someone I want to stick around.

Heroes Reborn – This show is just too convoluted for me, I guess.  With so many moving parts, I’m just having a hard time finding and connecting to any single character enough to care about the outcome.  I mean, I want them to save the day, and I know they will, but right now I’m struggling.  At least there are only three episode when it comes back in January.  Oh, and I’m still struggling with Matt Parkman being a villain.

The Big Bang Theory – It really was a fun episode.  I think my favorite storyline was actually Leonard and Penny.  So fun and so funny.  Although the final scene with Amy and Sheldon was so heartbreaking.  Perfectly writing and acted and definitely right for the characters and the show.  Can’t wait to see what they do with these two next.

The Amazing Race – When have they ever had a Speed Bump that hard?  Some of them have been downright easy.  Laughably so.  But in this case you both have to do a very time consuming Road Block?  Plus there’s a U Turn (and a single U Turn at that, can’t remember the last time it wasn’t a double U Turn)?  Yeah, the Texas boys had no chance at all.  Well, if they hadn’t been U Turned they might have made it (who knows with editing on the show being what it is).  I’d really grown to like them again, so I’m sorry to see them leave.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Music Review: God with Us by Laura Story

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” a couple of the new tracks aren’t bad
Cons: A couple of the new tracks aren’t that great
The Bottom Line:
New tracks? A mixed bag
Traditional carols? Good
Hoping for better

Sadly, Not as Good as I Hoped It Would Be

I have so much Christmas music, that I don’t need any more.  Still, every year, I seem to add a few discs when artists I like release new music.  That’s how I got God with Us, the first Christmas release from Laura Story.  Sadly, it’s not as good as I hoped it would be.

There are two things I look for in a new Christmas disc.  The first is impressive new songs.  Unfortunately, this disc is a mixed bag in that department.  The disc starts out with the upbeat “Love Is Here,” which celebrates Jesus coming to earth.  It’s a great way to kick off the disc because it’s fun.  The other new song I like is “Emmanuel.”  There’s nothing terribly new in the lyrics, but I love many songs that remind us of just what Christmas is all about – as the title of the disc says, God with us.

Unfortunately, the rest of the new tracks aren’t that impressive.  “Just Another Christmas” is a prayer that we won’t get so caught up in the events and demands of the season that we won’t focus on what it really means.  Unfortunately, it’s a mid-tempo song that doesn’t really catch me melodically or lyrically.  “Behold the Lamb of God” is too repetitive for my tastes, and I find myself zoning out.  While I love Psalm 121, “I Lift My Eyes” is way too slow.  Plus, it feels like it should have been on a regular disc, not a Christmas disc.

So that leaves us with the five traditional carols.  “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is great to have since it’s not a commonly recorded song.  Plus Laura has added a new chorus to it that is wonderful.  Many of the arrangements of the classics are simple, but it really works for them.  “Angels We Have Heard on High” is a perfect example.  The heavy piano and slower than normal pace allow the lyrics to really capture us.  “O Come All Ye Faithful” is heavy on guitar with a more upbeat pace that makes this version fun.  And the disc closes with “Silent Night,” which is beautiful as always.

That just leaves us with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  The version Laura offers here is absolutely stunning.  The track is completely a cappella, and Laura is joined by a choir.  It is haunting and will give you goosebumps as you listen to it.

It’s not that God with Us is bad, but it’s also not outstanding.  I’ll mix these tracks in with the rest of my Christmas music digitally, but it won’t be one I pull out and listen to often on its own.

CD Length: 40:48
1. Love is Here
2. Just Another Christmas
3. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
4. Angels We Have Heard on High
5. O Come All Ye Faithful (with Steven Curtis Chapman)
6. Behold the Lamb of God (with Brandon Heath)
7. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
8. Emmanuel
9. I Lift My Eyes
10. Silent Night

November 20th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've made it to the weekend again!  And that means it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm reading The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle by Laura DiSilverio.

The book won't actually be out until December 1st, and I will have a review and giveaway posted on December 3rd.  But in the meantime, here are a couple of teases to hold you over.

Like how the book begins:

Choosing a book for the Readaholics to read is a tough task, and the five of us who make up the book club take the responsibility seriously.  Usually.

Page 56 finds us at the grand opening of a pub that the main character's brother owns.  Why am I telling you this?  To give you a little context for this next sentence.

"Oh, gross, the toilets are overflowing!"  A woman popped out of the restroom near the bar and made her announcement like she was calling a Rockies game and needed to be heard by everyone at Coors Field.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got 35 pages left in the book, and I think I need to finish it.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book Review: Fillet of Murder by Linda Reilly (Deep Fried Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Decent mystery
Cons: Uneven plot, characters could use more development.
The Bottom Line:
What held great promise
Needed another edit
For some more polish

Something’s Fishy Here

You know those annoying times when you smell something, whether good or bad, but you can’t quite find the source.  That’s how I feel about Fillet of Murder.  The book just didn’t quite work for me, but I’m at a loss to completely figure out why.

This book introduces us to Talia Marby, who has moved back to her small home town in Massachusetts after quitting a job she hated and dumping her fiancée.  Until she figures out what her next step is, she’s gone back to work for her good friends Bea and Howie at Lambert’s Fish & Chips, their fish and chips restaurant.  Since Howie is out sick right now, Bea really needs the help and is thrilled that Talia is there.

However, there is trouble in the small shopping center where Lambert’s is located.  A comic book store wants to move in, and Phil Turnbull, who owns the classic lamp store across the courtyard from Lambert’s, is pressuring everyone to keep it out.  After an especially hostile encounter, Talia and Bea find Phil’s dead body in the back of his store.  With the police looking at Bea, can Talia find the evidence to clear her friend?

The book started out well with plenty of conflict and the murder happening fairly quickly in the story.  We get plenty of suspects, and things are advancing well.  And then we hit a section that seems to stall out the story.  I now get what the author was trying to do, but it felt like it slowed things down and left me anxious to get back to the mystery.  The climax was logical and suspenseful and wrapped up all the mystery related loose ends well, although a few things are thrown at us in the last few pages out of nowhere.

Meanwhile, I had a hard time connecting to the characters.  They were good characters, but they just didn’t feel fully formed to me.  Only near the end of the book did I feel like that was changing, but by that point the story was over.

There are two recipes at the end of the book, one for coleslaw and one for deep fried pickles.  I must say, those pickles sure did sound good over the course of the book.

Many people seemed to love this book when it came out, which is why I decided to read it.  I’m not sure what I was missing, but Fillet of Murder unfortunately didn’t live up to my expectations.  It’s not that the book is bad, but it needed a little more work to iron out some issues.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in hopes that I would read and review it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

JellyTelly Review: Galaxy Buck - Mission to Sector 9

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: A great Biblical message about being used by God
Cons: The story isn’t as entertaining as much of Phil’s previous work
The Bottom Line:
Mission in deep space
Contains a great message but
Lacks entertainment

Boldly Taking the Gospel Where No Man Has Gone Before

If you dig back into my archives, you’ll find it no secret that I really enjoyed Phil Vischer’s What’s In the Bible? series of videos.  Using giant puppets, he went through the entire Bible exploring the themes of each book and how it fit into God’s overall redemption plan.  So when Galaxy Buck: Mission To Sector 9 was announced as the first part of a follow up project, I was excited.  After seeing it, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be.

This 40 minute video reunites many of the major characters we got to know through What’s in the Bible?, but forget everything you thought you knew about them.  Much like how the characters of VeggieTales change their role based on the story, we now find Buck Denver and most of the gang working for Pastor Paul, who has an intergalactic broadcast sending the Gospel to the far reaches of the solar system.  Buck and the rest of the crew work in the phone banks, helping people get their tote bags and other goodies.  But Buck isn’t satisfied.  He knows God wants him to do great things.

Buck thinks his opportunity has come when a report of a down transponder comes in from Sector 9.  So, under the supervision of Sunday School lady, Buck leads Clive, Owen, and Marcy out to this distant uninhabited planet to fix the transponder so that Pastor Paul’s message can still go out.  Only when they get there, they encounter danger and aliens.  Will Buck succeed in his mission?  Or has he doomed his friends?

I honestly had a hard time getting past the new jobs everyone had.  It took me longer than expected to get into the story as a result, although it didn’t help that the story was slow, period.  Yes, I’m familiar enough with Star Wars and Star Trek to get the fact that we were getting some spoofs of them, but it just wasn’t that funny to me.  Instead, I kept waiting for something to happen.

Since we are talking about spreading the Good News we learned about in the earlier videos, I was expecting a little more about that, too.  Honestly, I think the initial idea of Buck and his crew working a phone bank a pretty good indictment of many Christians today.  However, I didn’t feel like the story went much beyond that.  But since this is the first of these videos, maybe I was expecting everything at once.

I will say I loved the moral.  Buck has to learn that God wants him just to be available, not to look for big things to do Himself.  That’s very Biblical.  Plus, when you are open to God and His leading, you’ll find yourself doing bigger things than you ever dreamed even if they aren’t what you think are big things.

Yes, I am looking at this as an adult, but an adult who has enjoyed much of Phil Vischer’s previous work.  I’ve always found good lessons mixed in with fun stories and great jokes.  This video had one out of three, at least as far as I was concerned.  Kids might enjoy it more.

It’s a shame that Galaxy Buck: Mission To Sector 9 isn’t more entertaining because it absolutely has a great message for all to learn.  Here’s hoping that the next Galaxy Buck adventure has more entertainment with its lesson.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Book Review: Going, Going Ganache by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; mystery and subplots weaved together well
Cons: May cause strong cupcake cravings.
The Bottom Line:
Cupcake photo shoot
Magazine staffer murdered
Strongest entry yet

Page Turning and Mouth Watering

I am so glad I’ve been making the effort to catch up on Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery mystery series this year.  I’ve fallen in love with the characters, and each book pulls me further into their lives.  I’ve just finished Going, Going, Ganache, and I’m already hungry for the next one.

Mel, Angie, and their Fairytale Cupcakes are being featured in Southwest Style magazine, and the duo are hoping that this will help propel their business even further.  However, when their rival Olivia tries to sabotage the photo shoot, the duo find themselves hosting a cupcake boot camp for the magazine’s staff to make amends for the results of Olivia’s crashing the party.

The staff is fractured and constantly fighting, and the magazine’s new owner thinks that working together to bake 1000 cupcakes before a big gala in a week is the perfect way to mend some fences and mold them into a team.  However, the second morning, Mel finds one of the staff members dead behind her bakery.  With the prime suspects in her shop baking, Mel figures she has the perfect opportunity to sniff out clues.  Can she find the killer?

I cannot say this enough, the characters in this book are strong.  Yes, the series regulars are great, and I loved getting to spend more time with them.  However, the new characters are just as real.  I could feel the tension between them in many of the scenes, and the murder does nothing to lessen that tension at all.

Naturally, this means the mystery is filled with viable suspects, and the clues and red herrings are there to keep us guessing until the end.  There are some wonderfully subtle clues in the book as well.  I was quite proud of myself for going back and finding one, in fact.  The ending is wonderfully suspenseful and perfectly logical.

But let’s go back to the series regulars for a minute.  There are several sub-plots involving them, and I actually found myself caring more about how they would be resolved than who the killer was at times (not that the mystery ever took a backseat for very long).  Fans of the series will definitely feel the same way I do, and love how these sub-plots are expertly weaved in and out of the mystery.  (Although I’d love to slap some sense into Mel.)  And the ending?  I’m going to have to pick up the next book soon to see where everyone goes from here.  I see some interesting possibilities coming down the road.

In case you are in the mood to bake after reading this book, you’ll find recipes for four of the cupcakes that the characters make in the back of the book.  Trust me, you will be craving them after reading the book.  There was a fifth cupcake featured that sounded delicious as well.  I’ll have to go back and see if we’ve previously gotten the recipe; if not, I hope it appears in a book soon.

I’m really regretting putting this series off for so long.  It’s obvious from Going, Going, Ganache why this series has so many loyal fans.  If you aren’t in that number, fix that today.

And you'll definitely appreciate the characters more if you watch them grow by reading the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries in order.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ornament Review: Salty and Sweet - Keepsake Cupcakes #5 - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute ornament with great Christmas colors and theme
Cons: Name is very confusing
The Bottom Line:
Christmas cupcake cheer
With darling, seasonal piece
Given funny name

Sweet Ornament of a Reindeer at a Salt Lick

What’s in a name?  At times, not too much.  Other times, I find myself puzzling over the name and wondering why it doesn’t make sense.  That’s the only thing tripping me up with Salty and Sweet, the Christmas entry in the Keepsake Cupcake yearlong series from Hallmark.

The ornament itself is wonderfully festive.  We start with a green cupcake foil and a little bit of a red velvet cupcake peeking out at the top.  Right there, we’ve got classic Christmas colors, and this is the first red velvet cupcake from Hallmark, so I love that change.  On top, we’ve got white frosting that drifts across with just enough creativity to look like snow.  There are flakes of glitter in it as well to catch the light.  On top of that is a tan reindeer with a red and white scarf around his neck.  And his antlers?  Pretzel sticks or course.

So I’m still trying to determine exactly what makes this particular cupcake salty.  I’m guessing the big pieces of glitter are supposed to be sea salt, so we’ve got salt on the frosting and salt on the pretzels for the antlers.  Plus, since the only thing on the reindeer that looks edible is the antlers, I’m wondering if he’s supposed to be another animal pretending to be a reindeer.  If so, I’m drawing a blank on which animal that might be.  Don’t get me wrong, I think this ornament is extremely cute.  It works well as a Christmas ornament or as a part of this yearlong cupcake party (or both).  I just can’t stop puzzling over the name.

Of course, since this is a cupcake, it’s got a nice, flat base that makes it easy to display year round.  And you’ll find the 5 in a triangle on the bottom, representing the fact that this is the fifth in the series.

With the Christmas theme, it would be an obvious choice to hang it on your tree.  There’s a loop on the reindeer’s head, and you’ll find that he tips slightly to the right, but it is virtually unnoticeable.

A rose by any other name might be a rose, but I can’t get past the name of Salty and Sweet.  The ornament itself is cute and fits in with the series well.  I just can’t help feeling like I am missing something with that name.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Keepsake Cupcakes.

Original Price: $12.95

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: The Abominable Snowman by R. A. Montgomery (Choose Your Own Adventure #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Unique format and idea executed well
Cons: I choose not to see any cons
The Bottom Line:
Story dictated
By choices you make.  Choose it
And have fun reading

Where Will You Wind Up When You Search for the Abominable Snowman?

Growing up as a reader in the 80’s, I naturally found and read some of the Choose Your Own Adventure Books.  In fact, I’ve still got a few in my garage somewhere.  I was thrilled recently to learn that they have been updated and are back in print for a new generation.  I’ve read one of these updated books, The Abominable Snowman, and these books are just as fun as they were before.

If you’ve never read a Choose Your Own Adventure book, there are some things you have to know before you begin.  First of all, you are the star of the story and the main character.  Also, you can’t read this book straight front to back since the story jumps around the book.  Every page or two, you will be presented with two choices.  Decide which one you want to pursue, and then flip to that page to find out what happens next to you.  Just keep going until you reach “The End.”  Don’t like that ending?  Back up and try again.

In this book, you are a mountain climber, one of the best in the world.  You and your best friend Carlos have decided to go to the Himalayas and find proof of the existence of the Abominable Snowman, also known as the Yeti.  Carlos arrives a few days before you, and by the time you arrive, he can’t be reached on the radio.  What do you do?  Choose carefully because your choices could make your career with proof of the Yeti, lead to an encounter with poachers, get you kidnapped by aliens, or give you a new blissful home in Shangri-La.

There are a total of 28 different outcomes based on the choices you make, so I’ve just given you a small sample.  As you can see, this book clearly crosses into the fantasy realm, but that is much of the fun.  You never quite know what will happen based on the choices you make or where you will end up.

When I read these books as a kid, I would stick my fingers in at various choices, using them as bookmarks so I could easily backtrack.  After all, I had to be sure I read everything.  I found myself using the exact same method as an adult.  If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?

Of course, reading the entire book in one sitting can lead to whiplash at times.  A character who is your friend based on one set of choices becomes your enemy based on another set.  I don’t remember having that issue as a kid, but it was a good exercise in flexibility for me as an adult.

This series is the one time I’ve read a story in second person, present tense that actually makes sense.  After all, the story is driven by what the reader decides to do.  I never even thought about how unique it was as a kid, and it felt just as natural to be reading it as an adult.

The book is just under 120 pages, and it has pen and ink illustrations on some of the pages, which adds to the fun.

I didn’t think I’d read this book as a kid, but a few of the endings seemed familiar to me.  I guess that’s what happens to books you read 30 years before.  Anyway, I can’t speak to changes or updates to the story directly, although I did notice you are taking pictures on a digital camera.  I know that wasn’t the case in the original version.  There’s nothing here that is dated at all, so the updates were successful.

Reading The Abominable Snowman was a fun trip down memory lane to my childhood.  If you are looking for something unique for the special kids in your life, pick it up today.

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Review: I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Very funny story, great pictures, good moral
Cons: Try it, You’ll Love It!
The Bottom Line:
Gerald tries some slop
Which is Piggie’s favorite
Hilarious book

I Really Like This Book

I’ve got to admit, I was quite curious what would be happening in I Really Like Slop!, the newest Elephant and Piggie picture book by Mo Willems.  Yes, I was trying to judge this book by its cover and title, and I wasn’t coming up with anything concrete.  Now that the book is out, I’ve read it, and I can say with certainty that this is another classic book in the making.

It’s lunch time, and Piggie is making one of her favorite treats – slop.  She really likes slop, and she wants her friend Gerald to try some.  Gerald isn’t interested because of the smell, but Piggie is his best friend.  Will he try it?  What will he think if he does?

Now if you are getting the Green Eggs and Ham vibe, you aren’t alone.  I’m sure everyone who reads it will be thinking of the classic Seuss book as well.  And while that book is wonderful, this book offers a fresh (pun intended) spin on the classic dilemma of trying something you never have tried before.

When Gerald does decide to try slop, his reaction is hilarious.  Plus Piggie has a classic line during those pages as well.  The ending is sweet with one final joke in there to get you laughing again.  The moral here is subtle – it’s okay if you don’t like something as long as you try it.

All this is told in Mo’s classic style.  We’ve got wonderful pictures that will make you laugh and assist the dialogue in telling the story.  The entire story is told via dialogue between Gerald and Piggie (with one line from a fly).  And the dialogue is filled with words that most early readers should be able to read for themselves.

I’ve been using my niece and nephew as an excuse to read these books, but I can tell you that even when they outgrow these books, I will enjoy catching the latest adventures of Gerald and Piggie.  As I Really Like Slop! proves, they are fun books for all ages.