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

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The Mystery at Maypenny's (Trixie Belden)
The Mystery at Maypenny's (Trixie Belden)
by Kathryn Kenny
Edition: Paperback
53 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Sadly, Not as Good as I Remembered It, August 30, 2015
I remember being impressed with The Mystery at Maypenny’s when I first read it as a teen, but I know many fellow Trixie Belden fans who think the book has serious weaknesses. Rereading it for the first time in many years, sadly, I was able to see just what those weaknesses are.

If you aren’t familiar with Trixie Belden, she is a teen detective. Think the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew with better defined characters. She lives in a small town in New York called Sleepyside and she, her two older brothers, and their friends, including Trixie’s best friend Honey, have formed a club called the Bob-Whites. Sleepyside might be a small town, but they seem to be a hot bed of crime as once again there is trouble brewing in the small town.

However, this time, that trouble comes in the form of International Pine. This furniture company has already built a factory in town, and they want to expand production by building another one. The site they want to use is located in the Wheeler’s preserve. However, Honey Wheeler’s father doesn’t own all the land. Part of it is owned by Mr. Maypenny. While Mr. Wheeler has agreed to sell the land, Mr. Maypenny absolutely refuses. As the issue heats up, it divides the town and even the Bob-Whites.

Meanwhile, Mr. Maypenny gets a surprise when his long lost nephew makes contact. Throw in an out of town environmentalist, and you’ve got plenty of trouble. How will it all be resolved?

And more importantly, where is the mystery? While I vividly remembered certain scenes and plot points in the book, I couldn’t exactly remember what the mystery was. There was a reason for that. The mystery was shoehorned into the book almost as an afterthought. Even when it does come to the forefront, we only get a glimpse before it is all being wrapped up for us by other characters in a few exposition heavy scenes. The focus, instead, is on the proposed expansion of the furniture factory, which provides more than enough conflict to keep us reading.

Here’s the part I liked most when I first read it as a teen. By the time I got to this book in the series, I realized one key factor – everyone but the villain would get a happy ending. As we went along, I just couldn’t see how that was going to happen this time. The ending was a bit of a cheat in some ways, but it also does show the importance of thinking outside the box.

I also remembered this book as being fairly even handed in the growth vs. environment debate. Sadly, that’s not quite the case. Instead, the book definitely takes the pro-growth side with the environmentalist character introduced here being more a caricature than anything else and that side never quite getting a fair explanation in the book. However, I still like the fact that the author even tried. So often, when this subject comes up, the arguments for growth are overlooked. This is an important debate with two sides with information that we should be considering. Sadly, this isn’t quite as even handed as I wish it could be. Then again, this is fiction, and fiction aimed at middle graders, so I was probably expecting too much out of it.

The characters are actually fairly strong in this book. While Di Lynch is written out for at least half of the story, Dan actually plays a bigger role than normal here which makes sense since he lives with Mr. Maypenny. The rest of the Bob-Whites are at their best as are the supporting characters in the series. From a character standpoint, this is definitely one of the stronger books in the later part of the series.

Overall, however, the underdeveloped mystery makes The Mystery at Maypenny’s weaker than it could have been.

Commander Toad in Space
Commander Toad in Space
by Bruce Degen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $5.99
118 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars In Space No One Can Hear You Splash Down, August 30, 2015
I’ve decided I need to reread all the Commander Toad books this year. Research to find the best to give my niece and nephew for Christmas, or at least that’s the excuse I’m using. I went back to the very first one with Commander Toad in Space, which is very fun book.

Commander Toad and his crew on the Star Warts are always looking for strange new planets to explore. They’ve just found one that appears to be made up completely of water, so they take a floating lily pad with them so they can land on the surface. However, they quickly discover they are not alone on the planet. Who or what at else is there? Will they be able to escape?

It’s been so long since I read the books that I didn’t remember anything about this book before I sat down to reread it. I was very pleasantly surprised at just how much fun it was. The plot was decent and moved along at a good pace. It helped that the characters were introduced quickly at the beginning of the book. The illustrations by Bruce Degen are delightful and really help tell the story.

Of course, the jokes that spoof science fiction, specifically Star Wars and Star Trek are numerous and add to the fun. I’m sure I missed many of them as a kid, but as an adult I got them and really enjoyed them. There are also some puns that I greatly enjoyed.

These books are categorized as Easy Readers, and I agree with that. The short sentences are a bit choppy, but that’s a minor complaint and will be perfect for young readers. More importantly, the vocabulary is simple enough for young readers to read. A few words, mainly the characters’ names, might cause the reader to need some help from an adult, but that challenge will be good for them.

I’m glad I remembered these books because they are fun. If you’ve missed them, pick up Commander Toad in Space.

Tis the Seasoning! Santa and Mrs. Claus Salt and Pepper Shakers Ornaments 2015 Hallmark
Tis the Seasoning! Santa and Mrs. Claus Salt and Pepper Shakers Ornaments 2015 Hallmark
Offered by Cozi Gifts
Price: $17.00
9 used & new from $14.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Kitschy Classics Coming to Your Tree, August 30, 2015
As I’ve been saying this month, I wasn’t planning on starting the ‘Tis the Seasoning series by Hallmark. When we got a sneak peak at this year’s offering, I wasn’t that impressed. But the instant I saw them in person, I was blown away and I knew I had to collect this series.

This year, we’ve got Santa and Mrs. Claus, or as they prefer to be known, Salty and Peppy. Mrs. Claus is Salty and Santa himself is Peppy, the pepper shaker. They are mainly red and white. While the pair of ornaments is shaped like more traditional salt and pepper shakers, it’s the paint on them that really makes them come alive. This isn’t the traditional Santa and Mrs. Claus, but they are just a shade off traditional in a cutesy way.

A friend of mine described it as kitschy. You know, that overly cute stuff you’ll see in stores and some kitchens. Honestly, these make me think of my grandma and the type of things she’d put in her kitchen. No, they aren’t overly elegant or proper, but they are cute and fun, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

But here’s a detail I love. You can see the wood grain in the shakers. No, the ornaments are not made of wood, but they sure look like it. It’s those kind of details that make Hallmark ornaments so special, and this one blew me away.

As salt and pepper shakers, these have nice flat bottoms, so you can set them out on display. I don’t see an obvious stopper to refill them, so if they were real, they would have to have screw tops. Both pieces have 2 in Christmas trees as the series marker on the bottom.

And both of them hang straight as well. Since this is a pair of ornaments, they each have a ring on the top, and they are both perfectly balanced.

This series has completely won me over, and I can’t wait to see what they release next. It’s like collecting salt and pepper shakers but at half the size (and decoration only). That’s really making ‘Tis the Seasoning fun for me.

Lord of the Wings: A Meg Langslow Mystery (Meg Langslow Mysteries)
Lord of the Wings: A Meg Langslow Mystery (Meg Langslow Mysteries)
by Donna Andrews
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.08
51 used & new from $12.94

5.0 out of 5 stars I’m Raven about Meg’s Latest Adventure, August 25, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I love Donna Andrews’s books, so I bought Lord of the Wings and started reading it without even bothering to find out what it was about. I quickly figured out the book was set a few days before Halloween, and I thought about putting it down and saving it for October. But I could never wait that long and devoured it right away.

The town of Caerphilly has decided to throw a giant Halloween festival this year in an effort to bring more money to their small economy. Meg Langslow isn’t in charge of it – that has fallen to the Lydia, the new hire in town responsible for all the festivities they put on over the course of a year. Meg is just in charge of the Goblin Patrol, the group of volunteers who are helping with security for the wide spread event.

However, a few days before Halloween, things obviously begin to go haywire. Someone breaks into the town’s haunted house. While Meg is chaperoning a trip to the zoo with her twins, a fake foot is found in with the alligators. And a dead body is found behind the zoo. With so much happening, can Meg make sense of anything before the craziness of the holiday really hits?

This is a wide ranging plot with several very diverse elements. I loved that because it kept me quite confused as to where the story was really going. And between everything Meg was juggling, the pace never slowed down. I was turning pages as quickly as I could until I reached the logical climax.

The series has introduced us to a large cast of characters, which is no surprise for a series that’s been running this long. The series regulars are all present and accounted for, and it was fun to see them again. We actually got to see more of Meg’s brother Rob and his computer company, Mutant Wizard, in this book than is often the case, and I enjoyed that. Of course, my favorite characters are still Meg’s twins, who steal many a scene in this book. There are a nice group of suspects as well who are well developed and help keep us from guessing the ending too soon.

I found all the Halloween revelers to be quite amusing and had to laugh as some of their antics over the course of the book. Couple that with Meg’s crazy family and the twins, and you’ll be smiling and laughing as the pages fly by.

About my only disappointment is that a potential new series character introduced a couple of books ago is once again only referenced in passing. I guess I need to let my hope that we’d see more of this person go. Other characters who were in earlier books of the series have dropped by the wayside as others have taken their place. I guess that will be the case here as well. It just seems a waste since there is much character growth potential in the series regulars that could be explored here.

And, trust me, this is a minor complaint. I enjoyed spending time with Meg and her family again. Lord of the Wings was over all too soon, and I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Terminator Salvation (Two-Disc Director's Cut) [Blu-ray]
Terminator Salvation (Two-Disc Director's Cut) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Christian Bale
Offered by vsource
Price: $9.73
144 used & new from $1.55

4.0 out of 5 stars Salvation for the Franchise Comes by Breaking the Mold, August 24, 2015
When I watched the third Terminator movie a couple of weeks ago, I felt like it was beginning to feel old, familiar, and predictable. Still, that movie’s ending, I was curious to see how the story would advance in the next film, Terminator: Salvation. I was surprised to find they told a different kind of story in the familiar world of the franchise, and I liked the movie for that.

For the first time, the entire movie takes place in the post-apocalyptic future, aka 2018. John Connor (Christian Bale) is leading the resistance, or at least part of the resistance, in Los Angeles. While on a mission, he uncovers a device that might lead to the complete destruction of SkyNet. And the timing couldn’t be better since a new hit list has just come out with John as number two. Number one? A teenager named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin).

Tests of this new weapon are proving to be successful, but there’s a complication. Destroying SkyNet might also mean the destruction of Kyle. John now needs to find a way to save his father, and he might have to rely on the most unlikely of sources for that help.

While we have seen glimpses of the future in the past movies, this is the first time we’ve spent much time there. That alone was a nice change of pace since we can now see the future we’ve been hearing about and dreading. Normally, I’m not a fan of post-apocalyptic stories, so the fact that I was ready to explore this world says something about the franchise.

Another change that I liked was the fact that we didn’t spend the entire movie running from terminators. Yes, that aspect of the franchise was still there, but it wasn’t the focus of the movie. Instead, the focus was taking the battle to SkyNet while still preserving the past. Plus we get a bit about the power struggle happening inside the resistance.

The thing we do still get are wonderful action scenes. They had me glued to the screen since so much was happening so quickly I couldn’t keep track of it any other way. Was what we saw possible? Probably not. But it was so well done I really didn’t care. The special effects were wonderful as always for the franchise, too.

The one flaw I can see in the movie is the lack of character development. I know, that’s not usually a strong point in an action movie, but it is a flaw again here. The only character I truly felt connected to was John Connor, and that was because this is the fourth movie telling his story. Even then, he could have been a stronger character.

Not that I’m blaming the actors. They do a great job with the material they have. It’s the script that could have been stronger.

Speaking of actors, there is a noticeable absence in this film. When the movie was made, Arnold Schwarzenegger was busy being the “governator” here in California, so the brief appearances of his face in the film are all CGI.

Weak characters aside, I still loved Terminator: Salvation because it told a new story in the world we already know. Like the rest of the franchise, it’s a fun ride, so pop it in, sit back, and enjoy.

If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!
If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!
by Elise Parsley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.26
55 used & new from $9.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seriously, Wouldn’t an Alligator Make the Best Show and Tell Ever?, August 23, 2015
The story follows Magnolia, who has come up with the best show and tell ever for nature day. Instead of a hollow stick or a bird’s nest, she has brought in an alligator. She promises her teacher that the alligator will behave and not eat anyone, but oh the trouble that he gets into – drawing funny pictures, making paper airplanes, and so on. Will it be worth it in the end?

While there is definitely a main character and a name, the book is actually told in second person. It’s not a narrative style you normally see, but it does seem to work here. That means we become Magnolia as we read the book.

It also means it reminds me of the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series. No, this doesn’t have the logical steps and conclusions of those books, but you’ll definitely be reminded of them as you read this book.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is if this book is fun, and that I can answer with a resounding yes. The premise has the potential for quite a bit of fun, and we actually get to see that played out as the story progresses. No, the alligator never does anything too bad, and the trouble he gets into is just plain funny.

Adding to the fun story are the wonderful pictures. There are reactions and jokes in those pictures you’ll definitely want to watch for.

This is a book that kids will want to read over and over again, and parents won’t mind in the least because it is so much fun. Don’t hesitate. Go out and get If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t! today.

1 X 'Tis The Seasoning! 1st In Series - 2014 Hallmark Keepsake Ornament
1 X 'Tis The Seasoning! 1st In Series - 2014 Hallmark Keepsake Ornament
Offered by Clickamin
Price: Click here to see our price
64 used & new from $1.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Such a Creative Official Start to This Series, August 22, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I had written off the ‘Tis the Seasoning series based on the unofficial release in 2013, but I almost changed my mind when I saw the official first in the series that came out in 2014. It took until this year to get me to go back to collect last year’s, but I’m glad I did.

This series features two ornaments, a salt and pepper shaker combo, with a holiday theme. And for the first year, the pair is a milk bottle and a gingerbread cookie. The milk bottle is the salt shaker, obviously. It’s clear, so you can see that it is mostly filled with salt, represented by pieces of glitter. The gingerbread boy is the pepper shaker. He’s not painted in traditional Christmas colors but in blues with a little yellow. He also has glitter on his frosting, giving him a nice glow.

What really drew me on this was the milk bottle as the salt shaker. It drew a smile from me when I saw it. And the gingerbread pepper shaker is lovely to look at. The colors truly pop off the ornament. Together, they make a striking pair that makes me want a nice gingerbread cookie and a glass of milk. Oh, I know they are supposed to be salt and pepper shakers, but I can’t help it, I want a delicious snack.

Unfortunately, the milk bottle does have a little flaw in it. The bottle actually consists of an outer and inner layer with the “salt” inside the inner layer. In two corners down at the bottom, you can see the glue that holds the inner layer in place. But it’s the only flaw in the ornament.

The bases on both pieces of this set are wide enough that you can stand them up to display them that way if you want. And they both have the series marker on their bottoms. Additionally, you’ll find the indentation for the stopper on the gingerbread cookie’s bottom. Obviously, you screw off the top to add salt to the milk bottle. If, you know, they were a real set.

However, if you want to hang these ornaments on your tree, you’ll find the rings on the top of the ornament. They are both perfectly balanced and hang straight.

I didn’t need to start this series, and I resisted as long as I could, but I’m glad I caved. This first ornament in the ‘Tis the Seasoning series is full of the little details I just love.

Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries)
Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $5.62
89 used & new from $1.13

5.0 out of 5 stars Even Knowing the End, This is a Wonderful Mystery, August 22, 2015
While I love mysteries, I must admit my knowledge of the early masters of the genre is very limited. I’ve only listened to a handful of Agatha Christie stories on CD over the years, for example. Still, over the years I’d had the ending to Murder on the Orient Express spoiled for me. When I decided to listen to it on CD recently, I was wondering how that would affect my impression of the story. I need not have worried; I still loved it.

Hercule Poirot had hoped to have a few days to spend in Istanbul on his way home from a case in Syria, but when he arrives, he finds himself being summoned back to England. Even though travel is usually light in the winter months, he still has a hard time finding passage on the next train, only getting on because he is friends with someone who works for that particular line.

On the train the first day, he is recognized by Mr. Ratchett, an American who asks for Poirot’s help since Ratchett is in fear for his life. Poirot refuses for one simple reason, he doesn’t like the man’s looks. Something about him really bothers the detective.

However, that night, Ratchett is indeed murdered in his first class sleeping compartment. Since the train is stuck in a snow storm, Poirot is asked to help find the killer. It is quickly determined that the killer is still on the train, but the clues at the crime scene point to two very different killers, and all the passengers seem to have alibis. Can Poirot solve this case?

It was actually fun reading this story knowing the ending. (No, I’m not going to spoil anything.) Even then, I couldn’t quite see how Poirot was going to figure it all out. I was in awe as he worked the solution out over the course of the book. And yes, it is a logical ending. Even knowing what it was, I wasn’t sure if I would buy it or not, but I did completely.

I’ve heard that Agatha Christie isn’t super strong when it comes to characters, but I didn’t feel that here at all. We have a large cast, and I didn’t have any trouble keeping them all straight. They were real enough to make me care about the outcome, and I felt for some of them as the story progressed. That’s important as the case draws to its climax.

So I’m glad to finally know the full story of Murder on the Orient Express. No matter whether you go into the story spoiled or not, this is a book you’ll enjoy reading.

Extreme Treks: Sacred Mountains of China
Extreme Treks: Sacred Mountains of China
DVD ~ Ryan Pyle
Offered by Ryan Pyle Productions
Price: $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Extreme Treks through Some Beautiful and Dangerous Country, August 20, 2015
I don’t normally go for travel logs or documentaries, so I was hesitant when I was offered a copy of Extreme Treks: Sacred Mountains of China for review. Yet something about it appealed to me, so I decided to give it a try and I really enjoyed it.

This was also my introduction to Ryan Pyle, a photographer, our host, and the adventurer who sets out to travel around four of the sacred mountains in China. These are remote, mostly in the Tibet region, and the only way to do so it to hike them. Oh, and did I mention the altitude? This is not a simple day stroll but a multi-day adventure that could turn deadly if proper precautions aren’t taken.

The disc consists of four episodes, each dedicated to a different mountain. The format is pretty much the same. He arrives and spends a little time acclimating to the altitude and explaining to us a bit about how this mountain is considered sacred. Then he sets out with his support crew, and we get breathtaking shots along the way as he encounters obstacles ranging from weather to exhaustion and hints of altitude sickness.

As I was watching, all I could think was “I’d never survive this.” What he went through in his treks is awe inspiring. But I’m glad he did because the shots are absolutely beautiful, and I doubt I’d ever learn about this region any other way.

Because these are roughly 45 minute made for TV episodes (and I don’t know where they initially aired), we get just an overview of what he saw and experienced over the multiple days he spent filming and hiking. Honestly, at times, I felt like I could have watched more just to see the landscape.

At other times, however, I felt like things were a little repetitive, maybe because I watched them several nights in a row. If I had spaced them out, I don’t think I would have felt this way.

While Ryan did travel with a support crew made up of locals, this is definitely his show. Almost all the dialogue is him telling us about what has happened, either in voiceover or directly into the camera from the trail.

This Blu-Ray consists of four episodes of the show, so roughly 3 hours of material. There are no bonus features. However, you do get the shots in glorious HD, which helps you feel like you are right there. The sound is in stereo, and it is great as well.

A quick note (that is also included on the disc packaging) that there are a couple of uses of unbleeped language on the shows. He also strips down to take a dip in a creek at one point. Keep that in mind if you are thinking of watching with your kids.

Ryan’s passion for China comes through on this disc, and I certainly learned about these mountains and the culture surrounding them while I was watching. It was well worth taking these vicarious Extreme Treks.

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

Disney Mickey's Fire Brigade Ornament 2015 Hallmark
Disney Mickey's Fire Brigade Ornament 2015 Hallmark
Offered by Keepsake Corner
Price: $29.30
13 used & new from $23.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful and Surprising Ornament if Willing to Spend the Money, August 20, 2015
For me, one of the biggest surprises of Hallmark’s 2015 line was Mickey’s Fire Brigade. Why? First off, they released an ornament based on this short last year as part of the Mickey’s Movie Mousterpieces series. Second, I’m surprised they created an ornament this elaborate and expenses based on one of the shorts. Having said that, I really do like it.

The short features Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as firemen called to the scene of a burning building. Of course, the fire gets out of hand (mainly because it is alive and fights back). Additionally, they have to try to rescue the clueless Clarabelle Cow who is taking a bath in the upstairs of the house.

This ornament captures the mayhem pretty well. The main part of the ornament is the blue house, which is square. We can see gray smoke and clear orange flames coming out of the windows. In the front, we have Clarabelle in the tub hanging out of the upper window with Goofy on a ladder trying to get to her. Mickey is being spun around on a hose while Donald is dumping water on the fire on the side of the house from a different upper story window.

Yes, you read that right. Clarabelle Cow is actually in an ornament. And all the DisNerds like me just rushed out to buy it. I must confess, that was a huge draw for me.

This ornament is a magic ornament, which in this case means it has added sound and motion. The ornament takes three button batteries, and your first set is included for you. When they are installed, you turn the crank to get the action started. You’ll see Clarabelle tip in and out of the window, Donald and the flames bob as well, Goofy’s ladder rocks back and forth, and Mickey turns round and round on that hose. Meanwhile, you’ll hear music, sirens, and other sounds from the short.

Taken together, this ornament is a lot of fun. No, the scene the ornament depicts is not strictly from the short. Here’s the thing, I don’t care. All of these elements happened at some point, and taken together it provides a great summary of the short. (A shorter short?) The motion is fun and the music is wonderful.

Plus, have a mentioned that we get Clarabelle?

The ornament has a nice flat base, so you can set it out to enjoy year round. After all, there’s nothing specifically Christmas about it. Meanwhile, there is a hook you can use to hang it on your Christmas tree. It is heavier than your average ornament, so plan accordingly when you place it on your tree. It tips slightly forward, but it’s not too bad, and you’ll find it easy to disguise with branches on the tree.

I do have a couple of complaints. First, I hate having to use a crank to get the magic aspect to work. And you have to keep cranking it. Since the ornament is really powered by batteries, I don’t see why they couldn’t have used a button like they usually do for their magic ornaments.

This is couple with the fact that the ornament appears a bit fragile. The smoke and flames look like they could snap off easily if you drop the ornament. This is made of plastic, after all. When you consider the price, why would you want to make something that fragile and then increase the temptation to touch it, thereby increasing the likelihood that it will break?

On the other hand, the detail is wonderful. There is a lot happening in a very small space, but it looks great. Because of the size of the scene, the characters are small, but they still look really good. The movement and music add a great touch. Plus, we get Clarabelle on an ornament. (Or have I mentioned that fact already?)

Yes, I have a feeling I would have bought this ornament no matter what it was like because Clarabelle was part of it. However, I am mostly pleased with Mickey’s Fire Brigade. It’s one I will carefully enjoy for quite some time to come.

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