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Mark Baker - Carstairs Considers RSS Feed (Santa Clarita, CA United States)

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Two At A Time
Two At A Time
Price: $9.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Between Recordings Release for Twice the downhere Goodness, June 2, 2015
This review is from: Two At A Time (MP3 Music)
Canadian rock band downhere has not been a band to leave their fans wanting for new material for very long. Between many of their studio releases, they've released other goodies that have been very good. That's the case with Two At A Time. This 2010 release features two brand new recordings that nine songs that were recorded for but not included with their 2009 release.

Before we go further, however, I have to get my one gripe out of the way. I bought this as a physical disc instead of a digital download. Or should I say physical discs. Yes, this is an eleven song release, yet they put it out on two discs. Disc one consists of the two completely new tracks. Disc two has the other nine songs. Frankly, that's just a pain in the neck since I am changing discs quite a bit to hear all the songs. Maybe there's a story behind it that would make some sense, but I haven't heard what it is. From here on out, I am going to treat this as one release of 11 songs.

We start out with the two new songs, and the first of these is "You're Not Alone." This was actually the only song I'd heard before I bought this, and I instantly fell in love with it. Yes, it's a song of encouragement that reminds us that God is always with us no matter what we're going through. Lead singers Marc and Jason do this one very much as a duet, and their harmonies are great. Overall, it's a great mid-tempo rocker.

They pick up the tempo a bit with "The Song You Sing." I love the word pictures they paint here of God working in and through us being the equivalent of Him finishing a symphony or singing through us.

From there, we move to the "B-sides." "One Small Step" is the song that gives the set it's name. Written to a person dealing with a huge trial in life of some kind, it promises "We'll take it one small step/Two at a time." The song is definitely written from the point of view of a friend wanting to help a friend, and it always makes me think of the awesome friends I have in my life.

"Everything to Lose" looks at a familiar subject from a different point of view. Jason's vocals and piano playing lead us off as he marvels at God's grace. But it tackles the subject from wondering about how God constantly forgives our sins even when we fall into the same ones over and over again. So maybe it really looks at God's patience at how we treat His sacrifice of Jesus instead of just strictly being about God's grace.

They throw things down for the prayer "Break My Heart," which asks for God to show us the world the way He sees it. But they speed things up again for the guitar driven "Everything Will," a reminder that God's will is always going to be done no matter how things are going for us. "Stand with Me" is the slowest song here and again shows off Marc and Jason's harmonies.

"Excavate" is an interesting mix musically. The verses are pretty quiet, but the guitars pick up for a very rocky chorus. The song itself reminds us that our treasures show where our heart truly is - the things around us or doing God's will.

I like how the message in "Household Name" sneaks up on you. It starts out with a couple of verses talking about fame in our society today and what would make you a household name. But as we reach the chorus, we realize the song is written from God's point of view and issues the reminder that "When you become a household name/The song I sing will be the same…What did you do with orphans and widows." Yep, no matter how famous we are, we need to take care of the least of these, as the passage they are references from the Gospels states.

"Grown Man" starts out very quiet with some strings and piano, but quickly picks up as they begin to sing about someone who is completely repenting from their sins. It's enough to make a grown man cry.

Finally, there's "Back to the Chorus." A nice mid-tempo closer, the song again has lots of musical imagery as it talks about how God is our rock no matter what is happening in life. The melody is very catchy, and I can't help but sing along every time I hear it.

Honestly, I'm glad that downhere chose to release these songs because there are some real gems in here. So if you are a fan of the band, be sure to get Two At A Time.

Toymaker Santa #11 In Series 2010 Hallmark Ornament
Toymaker Santa #11 In Series 2010 Hallmark Ornament
Offered by Hollywood Ornaments
Price: $12.99
16 used & new from $9.91

4.0 out of 5 stars Bang Drums, Ring Bells, Blow Horns for the 11th Toymaker Santa Ornament, June 2, 2015
Why is it always the case that the toys that kids love the most are the ones their parents hate? Maybe it's because the loud noise is always the issue. And yet toys that make noise, especially musical instruments are a staples of toys and the subject of the 11th in Hallmark's Toymaker Santa series, which was originally released in 2010.

Actually, in this ornament, Santa has enough instruments to form a one man band. That may be a slight exaggeration, but it's not too far off the mark. His left hand is holding a trumpet up to his mouth to blow. His right hand has a bell in it. And he's got a drum hanging around his neck with the drum sticks attached to his work apron. He's really getting into the music he's playing because he's leaning way forward from the waist.

I wasn't immediately drawn to this ornament like I was some of the others in the series. The ones that grab me right away are the ones that excite my inner child. I don't quite associate instruments with toys, so it wasn't an immediate sell.

But as I've looked at it more, I have grown to like it better. One thing that sells me on it is the variety of instruments. That really adds to the fun. And the little touch of Santa wearing a conductor hat makes me smile.

Between the strange angle of Santa's feet and the way he's leaning over, there's no way to get this ornament to stand. The hook for hanging the ornament is actually on the back of his hair. You might think that would leave him hanging odd, but it actually does work. The feet look a little awkward still, but that's just an issue with the sculpt over all. If you look at the rest of the ornament, he looks great.

Yes, Hallmark has their little series symbol hidden on the ornament. No, it's not in the first place you look. It's very faint, so I almost missed it, but when I got it in the right light, I could see it just fine.

For someone who has always loved music, this entry in the Toymaker Santa series will be an immediate hit. For the rest of us, it will still bring a smile when it is closely examined.

An Ideal Husband
An Ideal Husband
DVD ~ Cate Blanchett
Offered by Paradise Falls DVD
Price: $28.99
11 used & new from $13.93

4.0 out of 5 stars "Even You Are Not Rich Enough to Buy Back Your Past. No Man Is.", June 2, 2015
This review is from: An Ideal Husband (DVD)
The other night, some friends and I were trying to decide what movie to watch. While it wasn't my first choice, we wound up watching An Ideal Husband. Since I love Oscar Wilde's plays, I figured I'd enjoy it. And I was right.

It's London season for the upper society in the 1890's, and for Lord Arthur Goring (Rupert Goring), life is grand. He spends his time avoiding the trap of marriage set by the eligible women and his father's constant nagging about getting married. His best friends are Sir Robert and Lady Gertrude Chiltern (Jeremy Northam and Cate Blanchett). They are a very happily married couple. Arthur is even on friendly terms with Robert's younger sister Mabel (Minnie Driver).

But all that changes when Gertrude's school chum Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore) arrives on the scene. She insists on meeting Robert, and it turns out that is because she wants him to back something in Parliament - something that will bring her a great fortune but will cost the country much. And she is using blackmail to get her way. Will Robert give in? How will this secret affect his marriage? And how might the fallout affect Arthur and Mabel?

This is based on one of Wilde's plays, and if you are familiar with his comedies at all, then you know you are in for a wild, hilarious ride. You never want to miss a line because it either advances the story or sets up the next joke - sometimes both. Trust me, the laughs are plentiful. Honestly, he could give some sitcom writers a few lessons on how to write comedy.

Unlike some of Wilde's plays, the stakes in this story feel real. Yes, he's still poking fun at the society of his day (which is funny today), but he puts his characters through some real struggles along the way. I wasn't sure how he would resolve things, but he did so brilliantly. What I thought was the climax came early, but I still found the rest of the movie entertaining.

And for fans of Wilde's best known play, The Importance of Being Ernest, there are a couple of very nice nods to the play here.

The cast is wonderful at bringing the characters and the world of the story to life. I thought the performances were all perfect, and the subtlety in one scene was absolutely hysterical.

But I do have an issue with this movie - one that would probably be bigger if I had seen the play first. I get that they don't want to take a play and film it for two hours on two or three sets, so they break something into smaller scenes to help keep the movie audience from being bored. However, quite often in the first act, they start a conversation in one setting and continue it in another. It's obviously the same scene continued, but too much time has passed for them to be picking up where they left off. That drives me completely up a wall. As the movie progresses, they do a better job of keeping scenes in one location and making scene changes fit with the progress of the plot. It's not as bad as they've butchered other Wilde plays (some of them are unwatchable as a result), but maybe if I saw the play I'd think that about this movie.

But since this was my introduction to the story, I really did enjoy An Ideal Husband. This is a comedy of manners that anyone who loves to laugh will enjoy.

Hiding Place
Hiding Place
Price: $4.99
91 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Nichol's Last Recording with Selah is Another Winner, June 2, 2015
This review is from: Hiding Place (Audio CD)
When the Christian group Selah started, it was formed by brother and sister Todd Smith and Nichol Sponberg and their friend Allan Hall. After three regular recordings and a Christmas CD, Nichol decided to leave the group for a solo career. Hiding Place is that final recording, and it contains all the Selah trademarks.

Selah rarely records original songs, instead breathing vibrant life into hymns and covering more modern songs. The disc starts with one of those covers, "You Raise Me Up." Yes, this is the same song of encouragement that Josh Groban made famous about the same time this disc came out. It starts with an extended string intro before all three members of the group take turns singing the song of encouragement.

The group loves to do covers of hymns, and there are several on here. Nichol has a solo on their version of "I Need Thee Every Hour," which they've paired with the first verse of the old song "Part the Water." It's a great introduction to the hymn of surrender. Nichol's vocals are amazing, and the strings and piano behind her are outstanding.

They also love to throw some Southern Gospel into the mix, and two of the hymns on here get that treatment. "There is Power in the Blood" and "Through it All" are both well suited to the style, and they make for some fun tracks.

Since Todd and Nichol were raised on a family mission in Congo Africa, they often do part of all of a song in Kituba, the native language. The first of those here is "Esengo," which I don't recognize as having an English version, so I think it is a native hymn. They are joined by other members of their family, and it is a percussion heavy song with some guitar thrown in as well. It definitely stands out from the rest of the disc, but it's a fun interlude.

I'm not quite as forgiving of "By and By." They've taken the old hymn and sing it entirely in Kituba. I'd much rather have one verse in English, but that's me being picky, I guess. It is definitely a family affair, since the track starts out with an old recording from a baptism service led by Todd and Nichol's grandfather in Congo. Todd has the vocals on this song, but he is joined by his father on it. This one is just their voices and the percussion, so it's fun, I'm just really wishing there were a verse in English.

The disc closes like it started - with all three members of the group singing on a song accompanied by piano and strings. This time, it's the hymn "Before the Throne of God Above." They're version of this song is beautiful with some great harmonies along the way.

But I've left out my two favorite songs from the disc, both of which are in minor keys. One of them is "O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus." This hymn calls out for a dramatic arrangement, and they deliver. It's a Todd and Nichol duet that is heavy on the strings, but does include piano, percussion, and guitar for a rich mix. And the lyrics, marveling at God's amazing love for us, are so powerful.

Then there's the title track. "You are My Hiding Place" has always been one of my favorite praise choruses (hard to believe it's over 30 years old). Again, Todd and Nichol provide the vocals, with Allan on piano helped out by strings. The arrangement is absolutely breathtaking. It starts soft and builds as it progresses. Todd and Nichol's harmonies are great. They sing it a total of four times, with only one of them as a round, the way I often sang it in youth group growing up. I can listen to this song endlessly on repeat (and have upon occasion).

So if you are looking for some powerful arrangements of hymns, Selah is the group to look at, and Hiding Place contains some great examples of their work.

X-Men [Blu-ray]
X-Men [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Halle Berry
Price: $4.99
91 used & new from $2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "You Actually Go Outside in These Things?" "What Would You Prefer, Yellow Spandex?", June 2, 2015
This review is from: X-Men [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I know I saw X-Men when it was in the theaters back in 2000. I also remember not being that impressed. Of course, part of that was because it was so overhyped on some websites I visited I was sick of hearing about it by then. Since my roommate's copy of the trilogy has been staring me in the face for months, I decided to rewatch this one. The worst that happens is I get another review out of it, right? To my pleasant surprise, I enjoyed the film despite some flaws.

The next level of human evolution is here. Mutants with super powers have started appearing in the human population. Us normal humans are not happy about it at all, and there is a bill before the Senate to require these mutants to register. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stuart) and Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellen) both oppose the legislation, although one of them is willing to go to bigger lengths to kill it.

Meanwhile, Logan (Hugh Jackman), a man with the ability to heal and some strange metal in his hand, is befriended by Marie (Anna Paquin), a teen who can absorb things via touch. Logan doesn't remember anything about his life until just a few years ago. When the two are attacked, they wind up joining Professor Xavier. But was their attack part of a bigger plot?

This is a weird mix of origin/set up and regular movie. While Logan, aka Wolverine, doesn't remember much about how he became who he is, I did thanks to the prequel movie that I watched a couple years back. Anyway, as Logan and Marie enter this new world, we get lots of explanations and introductions to the world of mutants.

On the other hand, most of the characters already know each other and are ready for the fight that is coming. As such, it doesn't fall quite as much into the first superhero movie cliches that I am growing tired of seeing. That in itself felt refreshing to me this time around.

Of course, there are several action sequences and lots of special effects. I thought they blended well into the world the actors were inhabiting. I believed what I saw, and I enjoyed the action.

The cast does an amazing job. Rounding out things are the likes of James Marsden, Hallie Berry, and Rebecca Romijn. There isn't a weak performance in the bunch.

However, there is a weakness to the film - the characters themselves. I never feel like we really get to know any of them. Yes, the cast is large, but even Logan and Marie, the real focus, don't seem as real to me as they should. The movie was much more about action and story than characters. Maybe if I knew the characters already from the comics, I would connect better.

Overall, I'm still glad I gave X-Men a second chance. It's a decent superhero movie, and I'm looking forward to watching the sequel.

Happiness Warm Cookie 2011 Hallmark Ornament
Happiness Warm Cookie 2011 Hallmark Ornament
Offered by Solomons Treasures
Price: $15.37
4 used & new from $15.37

5.0 out of 5 stars Warning: Happy Cookie Cravings Ahead, June 2, 2015
I try to limit my Peanuts ornament purchases each year from Hallmark. And I really don't need any more of Snoopy since I've been buying the Spotlight on Snoopy ornament for years. Yet I couldn't resist getting Happiness is a Warm Cookie last year. It's just so cute.

The ornament really could fit in the Spotlight on Snoopy series since it includes just Snoopy and Woodstock. In fact, the ornament was sculpted by Tracy Larsen who has done many of the ornaments in that series. But it is a standalone piece.

The ornament features Snoopy as a baker. He's wearing a white chef's hat that says "hohohohoho" on a red ban around the base. He's also wearing a red apron that says "Happiness is a Warm Cookie" on it. He's obviously just finished baking some delicious looking sugar cookies because he's holding a tray of them in his right hand. Woodstock is sitting on top of the cookies. Both of them are in the process of sampling their hard work. The cookies look like sugar cookies. They are tan and covered with glitter to make them sparkle. And they are obviously as good as they look. How can I tell? Snoopy's tongue is licking his lips on the left side of his mouth.

The overall effect when you look at the ornament is very red and white. That makes it really stand out on a green Christmas tree. While I'm not a fan of an overabundance of glitter on ornaments, I do like it here. It's not overdone instead adding just a touch of highlight to the piece.

Of course, the down side is that every time I look at the ornament, I start craving warm cookies. This is not a good ornament to get if you are on a diet.

Snoopy's feet are level, so you can place him on a table or shelf and display the ornament that way.

However, if you want to hang it on your tree, you'll want to put a hook in the little brass ring on the top of Snoopy's chef hat. Snoopy might hang forward just a bit when you go to hang him, but I'm splitting hairs at this point. To the casual observer, he's hanging straight.

As soon as I saw the picture for this one last year, I knew I had to get it. Seeing it in person only confirmed my desire. It really is a cute ornament that any fan of Peanuts will love since it will give them the warm fuzzies.

Happiness is owning Happiness is a Warm Cookie.

Smallville: Season 5
Smallville: Season 5
DVD ~ Tom Welling
Offered by Phase 3, LLC
Price: $21.43
17 used & new from $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "What Do We Have Here, Sheriff?" "Another Day in Smallville.", June 2, 2015
This review is from: Smallville: Season 5 (DVD)
After four years in high school, the time has come to enter the real world of jobs and college. And that's not just true in real life but also on the TV show Smallville. As it entered season 5, the main cast ventured out into the real world. But the show kept producing great episodes as Clark Kent took another step toward becoming Superman.

Once again, we start the season dealing with the fallout from last season's cliffhangers. (At least this time there was a bit of a recap before the first episode to give you some idea what was happening). Clark Kent (Tom Welling) was just discovering his fortress of solitude and still arguing over his fate and purpose here on Earth with his biological father (voiced by recurring guest star Terrence Stamp). Meanwhile, Smallville is dealing with the aftermath of another meteor shower.

As the season progresses, Clark briefly loses his powers and starts a relationship with long time love Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk). Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) finally gets a job at the Daily Planet. Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) takes on Lex Luther (Michael Rosenbaum) for a state senate seat withLois Lane (Erica Durance) as his campaign manager. And politics makes strange bed fellows as Martha Kent (Annette O'Toole) takes money from Lionel Luthor (John Glover) to help.

Meanwhile, Clark, Lana, and Chloe all start college. Lana pledges a sorority of vampires, and Clark gets more than he bargained for with his new professor who is hiding an other worldly secret of his own (recurring guest star James Marsters).

Obviously, there was a lot happening this season, and the first half is very strong. We're introduced to two more members of the DC comics family when Aquaman and Cyborg show up. The campaign makes an interesting story arc that involves most of the characters for several episodes. Plus Clark now knows that Chloe knows his secret, which makes their scenes a lot of fun.

I have to give a special shout out to "Exposed" which reunites John Schneider with his Dukes of Hazzard co-star Tom Wopat. Even though I have weak memories of the show from a few episodes I watched in my childhood, I still got several references to that show that made me laugh out loud.

Then comes the 100th episode of the series. Now don't get me wrong, the episode itself is powerful as it plays out a warning Clark had gotten early in the season - in exchange for something that happened to him, someone close to him would die. The fall out from that is very well written and acted, and I teared up several times.

However, the episodes soon devolve into a parade of meteor freaks of the week. When the show does too many of those, it quickly loses my interest because they are so predictable. A plot thread from early in the season finally comes back into play in the last couple of episodes, and we find out someone else learns Clark's secret, but it's just not up to the level of the earlier episodes of the season.

As I hinted earlier, the acting this season is strong. Everyone truly gets a chance to shine at some point, and whether it's lighter bits or more dramatic, they always hits the mark.

Likewise, the show is filled with special effects, and they always worked perfectly to help tell the story at hand. I was never left shaking my head at something that looked fake.

The 22 episodes from the season are all here in widescreen and stereo on six discs. Extras on the set include lots of deleted scenes, two audio commentaries, the Vengeance Chronicles webisodes, and a look at creating the 100th episode.

Despite a run of several weak episodes in the second half, season 5 of Smallville is still strong enough to give 5 stars. Just be aware that we get yet another cliffhanger that will make you want to watch the next season right away.

Wide-Eyed And Simplified (Unrehearsed. Unpolished. Unplugged.)
Wide-Eyed And Simplified (Unrehearsed. Unpolished. Unplugged.)
Price: $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Stories Behind the Acoustic Selections, June 2, 2015
I have a confession to make. I've had Wide-Eyed And Simplified from the band downhere for years, but I haven't listened to it much since I bought it. Heck, I even had it autographed years ago. But a friend who also loves the band was talking about it, so I dug it out and gave it another listen.

Released after their third studio release (Wide-Eyed and Mystified), the idea was to take most of the tracks from that disc plus three fan favorites and sit down in a studio and record them acoustically.

But here's my problem with this idea and with many band acoustic records. When you have a band that plays all the instruments you normally use in your songs, how different can the acoustic versions really sound? And that's my biggest issue with this disc. Yes, there are some superficial changes. The biggest one I notice is that Jason's piano playing really stands out more here than normal (and I like it). But for the most part, these songs sound almost identical to their original versions.

However, here's the part that does make this CD fun. Before each song, the guys talk about the creation of the song. And since members and lead singers Marc and Jason write all the band's songs, they've got some great stories to tell. You learn which song started out as a love song to Jason's wife. Which song is the oldest song in the band's history? Which song got poor reviews the first time they played it? Which song was partially inspired by a piano? There are some interesting stories on this disc, and you can tell the band has fun together with a few of the laughs that come up. I do wish Glenn and Jeremy had been better miked because when they talk it's harder to hear, but since Marc and Jason do most of the talking, it's not that big an issue.

Since Wide-Eyed and Mystified is my favorite of their releases and 8 of those songs are present here, you can bet I do like the choices. They start things out with the upbeat "The More," which talks about growing to know God more. "A Better Way" is still one of my top two downhere songs, and the way Marc and Jason play off each other in the chorus is just outstanding. It's a slower track, but each word is fantastic.

Also on the slow side, we've got "Unbelievable," a song that looks at the wealth of songs we have in the church, even incorporating some of the lyrics into the bridge. Jason's piano playing is a highlight of the version here. A reminder that everything matters to God is found in "Little is Much." "The Real Jesus" looks at how our culture perceives Jesus and who He really is. Finally, "Remember Me" is a communion song that I'm a little surprised hasn't caught on in more churches.

They are a Canadian rock band, however, and you'll see that again in "Surrender" and especially the very upbeat "Stir," a call to the action of loving those around us.

The final three songs on the disc are classics from their two earlier releases. "What It's Like" is another upbeat song that reminds us that Jesus knows what we're going through. "Great Are You" is a praise song that's a bit on the simple side yet is actually very powerful when you stop and listen to it. (And some of the stranger images from it makes sense now.) Finally, there's "Protest to Praise," a song about finding God in the trials of life.

Most of these tracks are fairly fresh from having been recently recorded or frequently played in concert (or both). These are four guys who are used to making music together, so it all sounds good. I know I've singled out Jason's piano playing, but he also plays guitar, along with Marc. Glenn plays the base and Jeremy plays the drums.

If you are new to downhere, this isn't the place to start. I would recommend getting some of their studio releases and enjoying them. This was really designed for their fans to get a glimpse behind the creation of these songs. And those who already know the songs will certainly appreciate that. I know I picked up on some things in these songs by listening to their thoughts.

While the acoustic sound isn't enough different to really notice, fans will still enjoy hearing the thoughts behind the songs on Wide-Eyed And Simplified.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Season 5
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Season 5
DVD ~ Melissa Joan Hart
Offered by westcoastmedia
Price: $15.49
20 used & new from $11.74

5.0 out of 5 stars "Never Send a Woman to do a Cat's Job.", June 2, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Season 5 of Sabrina the Teenage Witch brought lots of changes to the show. The show moved from ABC to the WB. Sabrina finally left high school and many of those characters behind. But with all the changes, the show was still funny.

Sabrina Spellman (Melissa Joan Hart) is heading to college, but she's just moving across town. She's found an apartment close to campus where she is sharing a room with the prickly Roxie (Soleil Moon Frye). Down the hall is paranormal expert Miles (Trevor Lissauer). And their resident advisor, who puts in a full 24 hours (just not all in the same day), is Morgan (Elisa Donovan).

But what about her aunts? They are still very much involved in Sabrina's life. Zelda (Beth Broderick) gets a teaching job at the college, while Hilda (Caroline Rhea) buys the coffee shop where Sabrina works with Josh (David Lascher). And talking cat Salem (voiced by Nick Bakay) still manages to keep causing trouble for everyone.

Season 4 ended with a major cliffhanger. After trying to decide between long time boyfriend Harvey and new crush Josh, Sabrina discovered that Harvey had learned her secret. That was too much for him, and apart from a couple of cameo appearances Nate Richert isn't around this season at all. But that doesn't mean that Sabrina and Josh start dating. Before that can happen, Morgan gets her claws into Josh.

Also gone are plots that rely on Sabrina casting a spell and things getting comically out of hand. Yes, those plots still happen, like when she casts a spell to make herself go faster, causing her roommates to run slow. Instead, we get stories about Sabrina investigating Morgan's sorority and working to help the residence of an apartment complex about to be destroyed. She becomes the most hated person on campus when she rallies against preferential treatment for athletes.

Not that magic is completely gone from her life. Hilda's biological clock gets lost, and she might never be able to do magic again. Her evil twin resurfaces and almost gets her stuck in the Other Realm. While attempting to throw a Halloween party to end all Halloween parties, she gets caught in a domestic fight between Frankenstein and his Bride. And thanks to Miles, Sabrina must face off against the leader of a cult who might be a witch and almost gets kicked out of her house when his paranormal detection device picks up something strange around her.

To be honest, it was only this time around that I noticed the loss of the formula that had served the show for the first four seasons. And it's a welcome break, frankly. The shows are still funny, but they aren't quite as predictable. The more grounded stories allow the actors a chance to play things more realistically as well, and the acting continues to be fine.

There are lots of changes, and the one I still don't care for is the lack of Harvey. I always loved his character. But the new ones more than make up for it. Morgan, Roxie, and Miles are all lots of fun, and they each bring something different to the show. It's nice to see new characters that really do add new dynamics, so that's something else they got right this season.

There were 22 episodes this season, and they are preserved here on 3 discs in full screen and stereo sound. We get nothing in the way of extras, but plenty in the way of laughs.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch was always a light sitcom, and that continues with season 5. If you are a fan of the show, you'll find much to appreciate with this set.

Death of a Chocolate Cheater: A Food Festival Mystery
Death of a Chocolate Cheater: A Food Festival Mystery
by Penny Pike
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
36 used & new from $4.53

5.0 out of 5 stars Chocolate Contest Worth Killing For, June 2, 2015
One of my favorite books from last year was the first in Penny Pike’s new Food Festival Mysteries. The instant I finished it, I started counting the days until I could read Death of the Chocolate Cheater, the follow up. I’m delighted to say it was just as much fun as the original.

San Francisco’s annual Chocolate Festival is coming up, and Darcy Burnett’s Aunt Abby has concocted the perfect recipe for the annual contest. Her Chocolate Raspberry Whoopie Pies are sure to be the hit of the festival. Not that the competition will be easy since several other great chefs are entering, including Jake Miller with a delicious Chocolate Mocha Mousse Cream Puff.

At the gala reception the night before the festival opens, Darcy is trying to stir clear of Polly Montgomery, one of the judges. They have a rocky past, and Darcy doesn’t want it to hurt Aunt Abby’s chances. However, everyone sees Polly a when she tries to climb up on a table and makes a huge drunken scene. A little while later, she shows up again - dead. When one of Abby’s oldest friends is arrested for the crime, Darcy begins to ask questions to try to find the killer. But with the other contestants and Vic’s fellow judges all having motive, can Darcy solve the crime?

This series is fun because of the characters. Darcy’s supporting crew includes her cousin, a hacker, as well as her aunt and fellow food truck owner/contestant Jake, her love interest. They don’t feel like the normal supporting players, and the chemistry the group has makes me smile. We get to know them better here, and I liked what I saw even more. The suspects are just as colorful and real.

I will admit the plot started out a little slowly this time around, but it got strong quickly and got stronger as it went along. The twists were coming so fast in the final 100 pages that I had a very hard time putting it down to get back to work when my lunch hour and breaks were over. The killer was logical, yet I didn’t figure it out before Darcy did. I did feel the romantic complication didn’t add much to the story, but again, it was a very minor issue.

The book will definitely leave your mouth watering for chocolate. Fortunately, the recipes for the chocolate treats that all the main characters and suspects entered in the competition are included in the back of the book. Try not to drool as you read them. It’s hard.

Another thing I love about this book is the pop culture references. Aunt Abby is a huge Disney fan (as am I), and the trailer where Darcy is living is decked out in all kinds of Disney stuff. There are also references to Murder, She Wrote and other things I’ve enjoyed over the years. While not a big part of the book, they are the chocolate frosting on what is already a great book.

So my complaints with this book are truly small issues. Overall, Death of a Chocolate Cheater is another page turning read with characters you can’t help but love. I’m already anxiously waiting for San Francisco’s next food festival.

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

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