The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus by Tim Slover Book Review

The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Christmas Chronicles The Legend of Santa Claus by Tim Slover

Author: Tim Slover
Publisher: Bantam (November 2010)
ISBN: 0553808109, EAN: 9780553808100
Page Count: 176 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

In 1343, Klaus was orphaned and adopted by a guild of woodworkers and craftsmen.  Surrounded by tools and wood since a young age, Klaus became a master craftsman at the young age of 17, making a bitter enemy at the same time.  When the Black Death visited his small village shortly afterwards, Klaus was deeply grieved at the losses of others and sought a way to lift the spirits of those around him – particularly the children.  It began with 53 toys made for the children in his own village, which were blessed by the village priest and delivered on Christmas Eve.  And so the legend of Santa Claus begins…

Review:

Ever wondered who Santa Claus really is and how he came to be?  Well, look no further than this charming little Christmas tale that could easily become a classic in your home.  Not only does Tim Slover present a brief, but welcome, back story about Klaus’s mortal life, but he answers all of those questions that children ask around Christmastime.  Why does Santa Claus use reindeer to pull Santa Claus Delivering Gifts with Reindeerhis sleigh?  Because he grew up in the cold, snowy north and they were his wife’s favorite racing animal.  Why does Santa Claus deliver toys down the chimney?  Because Klaus’s mortal enemy, Rolf Eckhof, took half of the toys one year and burned them, which meant it wasn’t safe to leave the toys outside anymore. This also led to the popular belief that you better be good or you won’t get a Christmas toy as all of the parents of those toyless children used the experience as an opportunity to remember all of the things their children did wrong that year.  How does Santa deliver toys around the world in one night?  Through Chronolepsy or time stopping.  How does Santa understand all of the different languages?  By using the Lingua Franca Effect, which means Santa and his reindeer speak and understand whatever language is predominant in the region they are in.  The book also covers the concept of Tarrying (not aging and living a long life), why many believe Santa Claus is a Saint, how he makes toys, how he receives letters, how he travels, who the elves really are and so much more.  Think of a question about Santa Claus and it will probably be answered in this book!

The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus begins and ends with a narrative by a person who claims to have seen Santa’s sleigh and to have had the privilege of reading The Green Book, which is a biography of Klaus.  I feel that these sections will be interesting to adults and older children, but they kind of Spirit of Christmasdrag it down a bit for little children.  I understand why Tim Slover, the author, used them here and I appreciate the challenge to spread the true spirit of Christmas in the season, but they were not my favorite parts of the book.  My favorite part was the story of Santa Claus itself.  This book is brief, succinct and there is not a lot of time and effort developing characters, describing locales or going into great depth on any particular point and I think that this was a great way to go.  I envision families around the US including this book as part of their holiday traditions.  This is a wonderful little tale to read aloud to children of all ages.  Santa’s story is only seven chapters long and, while some of the chapters are lengthy, I feel that this book could easily be shared with children over a week or two in December.  Hopefully it will spark a wonderful feeling for Christmas in readers of all ages and draw families closer together during the holiday season as they focus more on the spirit of giving than on receiving.

I have enjoyed reading this book for Christmas during these past two years.  It is He Sees You When You're Sleepinga quick, easy read that only takes an hour and, with a mug of hot chocolate close by and some Christmas carols playing, it always brings a smile to my face and gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling about the holidays.  Again, this is a simple story, told with simple words and, while there is a villain, there is not a lot of excitement or thrill in the book, but I have grown to love it.  If you are looking for a good family gift to purchase for Christmas or enjoying reading holiday books yourself, this is one for the keeper shelf!

Content:

This book has some scenes of mild peril.  Many people die from the Black Death, but there are no details provided and just a general feeling of grief and loss.  There is an attempted murder, but it fails.  There are some brief philosophical and religious questions addressed.  Appropriate for viewers of all ages, recommended for ages 6 and up or to be read aloud to anyone.

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Filed under Christmas Books, Fantasy Books

A Magical Cartoon Christmas (2004) Movie Review

A Magical Cartoon Christmas (2004)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

A Magical Cartoon Christmas

Starring: Various
Director: Various
Release Date: 2004 (DVD Collection)
Language: English
Length: 75 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: Online Streaming
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

Join Jack Frost, little penguins, silly dogs and dancing cakes in this Christmas cartoon collection!  With a total of ten classic cartoons, including “Somewhere in Dreamland” and “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” these cartoons from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s will be sure to bring a nostalgic smile to your face and give you a chance to share your childhood entertainment with the next generation.

Review:

There are a total of ten cartoons in this collections including:

“Ginger Nutt’s Christmas Circus” (1949) – A sneaky parrot steals a circus ticket from a weasel and then heckles all of the circus performers.  Includes Santa Claus in the circus parade & a Peace on Earth sign at the end, otherwise a regular cartoon.

“Peeping Penguins” (1937) – Four curious little penguins climb down the chimney into a human house and explore.  Features “Curiosity Killed the Cat” song.  Takes place during winter and there is snow outside, but no mention of Christmas.  A cautionary tale about not getting into dangerous items around the house.

“A Waif’s Welcome” (1936) – When a poor little orphan boy is welcomed into the home of a family, their spoiled brat of a son does everything he can to get him in trouble.  This cartoon doesn’t feature any Christmas touches (aside from some sleigh bells jingling on the roof), but it is a good message for all little children to remember how lucky they are to having a loving family, food to eat and a roof over their heads.

“Christmas Comes But Once a Year” (1936) – It’s Christmastime again and all of the little orphans at the orphanage are excited to play with their toys.  Unfortunately, all of the toys break the first time they try to play with them!  Can a talented inventor save the day and create new toys?  This is a cute little Christmas cartoon that I can remember seeing when I was a little girl.  I love the toys that the inventor creates – I wish I had that kind of ingenuity!  This cartoon also reminds us that it really doesn’t take that much to make a young child happy and to remember to give around the holiday season to those who are less fortunate.

“Jack Frost” (1934) – When Jack Frost arrives to warn the animals about winter’s approach, one young grizzly bear cub believes that he doesn’t need to be afraid of winter.  He decides to run away from home, but he soon learns that even grizzly bears need to have a warm den for wintertime.  This cartoon features some very cute scenes showing a gnome-like Jack Frost preparing the forest for winter.  There are no specific Christmas references, but the little bear does lick some candy canes and the cartoon takes place in a snowy forest.  While we all feel like running away at times, this cartoon reminds us that being at home with our families is often the best solution.

“Hawaiian Birds” (1936) – When a group of flashy birds arrives from the big city, a local island girl leaves her hardworking boyfriend to follow them to their nightclub.  Unbeknownst to her, the girl’s faithful boyfriend follows her to try and persuade her to return home to their island paradise.  This cartoon features the instrumental version of “Jingle Bells” playing while it is snowing in the city.  Otherwise, it is a normal cartoon about being happy where you are at and not running away from those who love you.

“Hector’s Hectic Life” (1948) – Hector, a dog, is warned by his owner that if he makes one more mess, he is out on the street!  Determined to be good, Hector is doing all he can to stay out of trouble.  But when three little puppies show up on his doorstep, Hector will have his hands full trying to keep the house clean!  The puppies destroy a Christmas tree and make a mess of the Christmas presents, eventually ending up in the Christmas stockings.  I really enjoyed the creative ways that Hector cleans up the puppies’ messes – I wish cleaning in real life was that easy!

“Snow Foolin’” (1949) – Different animals show off their ice skating skills in funny and creative ways.  There is also a sing-a-long with a bouncing egg for the song “Jingle Bells.”  This cartoon doesn’t feature a plot, but it was one of my favorites in the collection.  It was just cute, fun and short.  I love the different animals ice skating and got a kick out of their antics.

“Little Audrey: Tarts and Flowers” (1950) – Little Audrey bakes a gingerbread man whom she follows to the magical land of Cakeland, where the gingerbread man is going to be married to the angel food cake.  But the devil’s food cake wants angel cake for his own and will do anything to keep her!  This is a cute little fantasy cartoon that features many cakes and sweets that children dream about.  Not a Christmas cartoon, but a sweet treat for little ones.

“Somewhere in Dreamland” (1936) – A poor boy and girl work hard to try to help out their single mother put food on the table, but they are always hungry.  On Christmas Eve, the children dream sweetly of a special place called Dreamland full of new clothes, toys and all the delicious food they can eat!  When they wake up on Christmas morning, they find that their hovel has been magically transformed into a Christmas dreamland thanks to a few local merchants.  This is probably the most well-known and beloved of the cartoons in this collection and there is something really moving about it.  Not only do we get to see the lovely dreamland that the children have created to escape their bleak reality, but we get to see some good, kind-hearted people reach out to help those in need during the holidays.

One of my main complaints still remains the fact that they are always trying to cram non-Christmas-themed cartoons into a Christmas cartoon collection.  Other than that, these cartoons did give me a sense of nostalgia.  I remembered some of these cartoons from TV when I was a little girl.  These cartoons are definitely simpler and more basic than the cartoons that children watch today.  I am not sure if little children will have the patience and interest in watching these older animated features.  These have not been cleaned up or brightened to appeal to a new generation of viewers.  The colors are quite muddy and dark.  Also, these animated cartoons are sorely in need of a clearer soundtrack.  The volume is quite low and you can hear the feedback from a poor quality soundtrack as you listen to the songs and speaking.  Still, it was fun to see these cartoons again and, while they cannot really compare to the Disney cartoons (which have been digitally remastered in most cases), they do possess a certain charm and are enjoyable.

Content:

These cartoons feature parents spanking their children, the threat of blows, poverty, and some rather scary looking villains.  Recommended for children ages 3 and up.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Halloween

Home for the Holidays (1995) Movie Review

Home for the Holidays (1995)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott
Director: Jodie Foster
Release Date: 3 November 1995
Language: English
Length: 103 minutes
Movie Rating: PG-13
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Claudia (Holly Hunter) just lost her job, made out with her ex-boss, sent her daughter off to have sex with her boyfriend at his parents’ house, and is on her way to another fun-filled family Thanksgiving.  Her chaos-creating brother, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), does everything he can to make waves and her sister, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), is extremely uptight and unrelatable.  Her parents are older and seem even less likely to understand what their children are up to than ever and, to make matters worse, there is a handsome stranger (Dylan McDermott) there to witness every humiliating moment!

Review:

When I watched this movie for the first time, I hated it.  I did not really see the humor in a completely dysfunctional family getting together to celebrate Home for the Holidays Movie PosterThanksgiving together.  However, as I grew older, I came to realize that there is a sick, twisted type of laughter that can come from watching a movie like this one.  Even families that get along well have a touch of dysfunctionality in them.  I am fortunate that I come from a family where we grew together as we grew older rather than far apart.  This is not to say that we all get along all the time, but, for the most part, we are all good friends.  I genuinely enjoy seeing my family around the holidays, but I also enjoy coming home to my peaceful little apartment afterwards.

Whether you enjoy the holidays with your family or not, I must point out that this is not the type of movie that I would feel comfortable watching with my family over the holidays as you are going to offend some, hurt others and bore the remainder.  Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) just got fired (a touchy subject in these economically down-turned times), made out with her 60+ ex-boss, was informed by her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) that she is ready to have sex Tommy, Mom & Dadwith her boyfriend and does not fit in with her family at all any more.  It doesn’t help that she got pregnant as a young teenager, never got married, has been pursuing a career in an art-related field, but has given up on herself as far as becoming a true artist is concerned and now she is going to be confronted with her conventionally successful sister, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson).  Joanne and her husband, Walter (Steve Guttenberg), are the normal couple in this movie, but they are presented in an abnormal, rather rigid way.  They stress about making the holiday perfect and are definitely by-the-book, live-life-by-the-rules type of people.  Sadly, this is probably the way many of us react around the holidays and it makes me think that I need to cut loose and have a bit more fun around my family – its not like they can change their minds and trade me in for someone else!  Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), Claudia’s brother, swoops into Aunt Gladytown to liven things up.  He just got married to his partner, Jack (Sam Slovick) and gives up all of Claudia’s secrets while seriously antagonizing Joanne & her family.  For the older generation, Adele Larson (Anne Bancroft), their long-suffering mother, is hanging onto the vision of a perfect family, but is way too weird to be able to expect her children to turn out as “normal.”  Henry Larson (Charles Durning), the sweetie of a father, is still trying to do everything he did when he was younger and stronger.  He is forgetful, hard-of-hearing and clinging to his vices like a lifeline.  Throw in crazy Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin) and you have a real party on your hands!  Those of you who dread going home for the holidays and really have to go through situations like the one portrayed here, you have my deepest sympathies.  For those of you who have relatively normal holiday experiences (all things considered), you can get a glimpse of why so many people dread the holiday season.

The more that I watch this movie, the more that I come to appreciate some of the subplots and classic holiday sequences.  Holly Hunter plays a likeable loser who is crushing on her gay brother’s friend, Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott), but Tommy Leaves Claudia Strandedshe thinks that they are a couple.  By the time that she discovers that her brother is setting her up, most of the holiday is gone and their relationship is left hanging, but in a hopeful way.  Robert Downey Jr. is a scene-stealer as the outrageous brother, Tommy, of the Larson clan.  He bends the rules when it comes to play football with the rest of the family, makes over-the-top comments guaranteed to garner everyone’s attention and create maximum embarrassment and is generally a pain in the neck!  He is also the source of almost all of my favorite scenes!  Robert Downey Jr. is so young and handsome in this movie.  This is back before life stomped all over him and he looks fresh, unlined and mischievous.  Two of my favorite scenes revolve around his antics.  The first is when he argues with Claudia, who storms out of the car.  He apologizes and, when she turns to get back in the car, he drives away.  Granted, this would drive me crazy in real life, but it is pretty funny watching it happen to other people.  Turkey Falls in Joanne's Lap at ThanksgivingThe other scene is where he is carving the turkey (see the video clip above) and “accidentally” jettisons it into his sister, Joanne’s, lap, who is completely horrified.  The only character who manages to stand up to Tommy’s antics is Geraldine Chaplin, who plays their Aunt Gladys.  She is just nuts!  She views life through her coke-bottle glasses and clearly, her vision is distorted through them!  I love that she is always giving away lamps to people and trying to tell stories, but getting them all mixed up so that no one knows what she is talking about.  Dylan McDermott is a charmer and it is just a shame that we don’t see more of him on TV or in the movies these days.  Sparks were flying between him and Tommy and him and Claudia so we were kind of kept guessing for a while until you realized who he was really going after.  Charles Durning, who plays Claudia & Tommy’s father,  has most of the touching moments in the movie.  There is a really nice scene at the end that gave me warm, fuzzy feelings like I Claudia and Leohave come to expect from most holiday movies.  Their father is down in the basement, watching old home movies, while he remembers their childhood and his younger years.  It made me remember Christmas a few years ago when my father decided to put all of our old pictures and home movies on DVD for us as a gift.  I had completely forgotten most of the embarrassing moments that were captured when I was a child and was totally horrified to see them on my parents’ huge, flat-screen TV!  After watching this scene, I realized that my dad watches these movies and remembers all of the good times and the hopes and dreams that went along with them, while I was just mortified. I guess that I am glad that there are some moments that were captured for all of us to remember what we looked like and sounded like when we were kids, I just hope that any future boyfriends of mine will never see these!

Anyway, this movie is a bit of a mess, but it was still fun to see how strong family bonds are.  They argue, play, embarrass, support and love each other.  This film will remind you that your family members are your best friends and your worst Claudia, Mom & Dadenemies.  The reason why I dread the holidays is because they are never perfect.  That may be why I hated this movie so much at first.  The holiday shown here is so much less than perfect that it makes me feel infinitely better about my own Thanksgiving experiences in comparison.  I doubt that this movie will become a regular holiday staple for me to watch, but there are so few Thanksgiving movies that they play around the holidays that it is for the best that I have found a way to enjoy this off-beat holiday film.

Content:

This movie really pushes the PG-13 rating.  There is a lot of swearing, including the *f* word.  One of the main characters is an out-and-proud gay man.  There are several scenes of drinking and smoking.  Most of the scenes include some kind of fight sequence between siblings, many of them over-the-top and pretty hurtful.  There are scenes that include discussions of teen & out-of-wedlock pregnancies, having sex for the first time, and some heavy petting.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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Filed under Comedy Movies, Thanksgiving

Special Agent Oso: The Living Holiday Lights Special (2010) Movie Review

Special Agent Oso: The Living Holiday Lights Special (2010)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Special Agent Oso Season 2, Episode 11
Starring: Sean Astin, Michael P. Greco, Madison Moellers, Raymond Ochoa, Meghan Strange
Director: various
Release Date: 6 December 2010
Language: English
Length: app. 40 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

Special Agent Oso (voice by Sean Astin) is a little miffed that his friends would rather race off and spend time with their friends and family than to include him Advent Wreathin their holiday celebrations.  Luckily, he has some special quests to take his mind off of things!  First, he stops off at Celeste’s house in France to help her set up a Christmas advent wreath before her grandparents arrive.  Follow these three special steps to success: Step 1: get the advent wreath, Step 2: put the candles in the wreath and Step 3: have an adult light the candles.  Learn about the unique colors and meanings of the candles that go into the wreath, as well as the fact that Santa Claus is called Pere Noel in French.

After that, Special Agent Oso travels to Israel to help Noah (voice by Raymond MenorahOchoa) set up the Menorah so it is ready when the family arrives to celebrate Hanukkah.  Follow these three special steps to success: Step 1: find the Menorah, Step 2: put the candles in the Menorah and Step 3: have an adult light the candles.  Oso remarks that the set up is very similar to Christmas and asks to understand what the difference is.  They include a special musical number explaining a little bit more about what you do on the Jewish holiday.

Finally, Oso is off to the USA where Braden wants to set up the kinara for kinaraKwanzaa, but he is not sure what to do.  Follow these three special steps to success: Step 1: find the kinara, Step 2: put the candles in the kinara and Step 3: have an adult light the candles.  Now that we are on the third celebration with the same routine, we should realize that, though the holiday trappings are a little different, we all celebrate in similar ways.  We also all value the family at this special time of year.

Review:

This special begins with Oso blasting ornaments onto trees as he boards down a snowy slope so you might be fooled into thinking this is just another Christmas special.  If so, you would be sadly mistaken.  Sure, the show begins with helping with a Christmas decoration, but the emphasis is on an advent wreath, which is Celestenot something commonly seen in the US.  Also, Celeste is a cute little girl who really understands the spirit of Christmas.  When her grandparents arrive, Oso asks where the presents are and she replies that being with her family is enough of a gift for her.  When she discovers that Oso doesn’t have any family to spend Christmas with, she invites him to stay and spend the holidays with her family.  Unfortunately, Oso has other people to help so he takes the gift of a Christmas tree from Celeste’s backyard and is on his way!  As he travels to his next destination, Oso ponders what a family is.  He decides that is formed of people you love and care about.  He tries reaching out to his friends, but they are always brushing him off, or at least they seem to be – but there is a fun surprise for him in the end!

I have never celebrated Hanukkah or Kwanzaa so this special included some good basics to explain a little about how they celebrate.  There is less focus on why they celebrate and what they celebrate, but if you start with the decorations, you can kind of begin a conversation about the other points from Oso's Menorahthere.  In Israel, Noah gives Oso a dreidel, a special top with symbols on it.  You play a fun game with it and, while it is not really discussed, it is shown as Noah and his little sister play with it.  In the USA, Braden is pretty sparing with his explanation of what Kwanzaa is.  I confess that this is the holiday I know the least about and, being a whiter than white person, I doubt if I am going to be celebrating it anytime soon.  I wish that they had included a bit more information about this celebration as I feel that most people in the US could stand to get a bit more knowledge about this holiday and why it is so important to those who celebrate it.  I left the special knowing that there are seven candles in the kinara and that there are multiple colors, but that is about it.  Still, it was nice to see the whole family gathering together to light the candles and to hear a bit about the day’s principal (just the first day).  We also get to hear the traditional holiday greeting, meaning “What’s the news?”  Braden then gives Oso a unity cup, but it just makes Oso realize that he doesn’t have a family to celebrate with.

While Oso helps children who celebrate the holidays in different ways, this special ultimately is trying to convey the message that the most important part of the holiday is the family you spend it with.  Whether you are spending time Oso on His Sledwith the family you are related to by blood, by adoption or creating your own family with close friends, that is the most important part of this holiday season.  This is a very important message for little kids to receive as it seems like most of them are focused on what they are going to get this year.  I confess that I was exactly the same when I was younger so I try to cut the kids some slack, but I also know that I was not wishing for iPads and cell phones when I was little.  My gifts cost a lot less money!  It is really easy to get carried away at this time of year and to forget what is important.  I would encourage parents as well as children to think about what message they want to give at this season.  If you can afford to buy your children whatever they want, should you?  Or should you focus on family activities and learning to appreciate and value the holiday that you celebrate for what it is?

Make sure that, if you watch this holiday special, you stick around to the end.  Oso has his three holiday presents that he received from the children he helped, but he has no one to share the cup with (no one to dine with), no one to play the dreidel with and no one to help him decorate the tree.  And, as we all know, there Christmas Trainsis nothing worse than a lonely holiday!  Luckily, there was a special surprise waiting for Oso at the end of the episode and it should bring a smile to your face.  With bright, cheerful colors and blocky CGI-animation, this show is perfect for toddlers and little kids.  I highly recommend this special for little ones who are trying to understand why everyone celebrates in a different way.  With simple, basic instructions to follow for each holiday celebration, little ones should be more likely to be tolerant and to ask questions.  Unfortunately, there is not a lot in the Oso series for older children and adults to enjoy, which would give this special  a higher rating.  Still, the message is great and this is definitely one of the best Oso episodes I have seen and appropriate for children of all races and religions to watch because of its handling of three different holidays.

Content:

Recommended for children of all ages.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa

Magic Gift of the Snowman (1995) Movie Review

Magic Gift of the Snowman (1995)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Tony Ail, Nathan Aswell, Chera Bailey, Kathleen Barr, Garry Chalk
Director: Toshiyuki Hiruma Takashi
Release Date: 9 November 1995
Language: English
Length: 47 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

When Landon finds out that his younger sister, Emery Elizabeth, is so ill that she might not live to see another Christmas, he comes up with a plan to help her get better.  Landon encourages Emery Elizabeth to eat regularly, take her naps and her medicine and take better care of herself.  If she does, Landon will share the story of Snowden, a really cool snowman who lives in the magical kingdom far, far away.  Magic Gift of the Snowman, produced by Jetlag Productions in 1995 and released on DVD by Goodtimes Entertainment, is an original story from Jetlag Productions.

Review:

I stumbled across this animated tale on Hulu.com during the Christmas season and, while not a great movie, it is definitely cute and will appeal to younger viewers, especially to preschoolers.  The animation is simple, but bright and Magical Gift of the Snowmancolorful.  Emery Elizabeth and all of the girls in the movie were shown with pale pink lips that almost didn’t even look real so there was something off about the animation of the faces, but that is a minor detail.  Landon reminded me visually of Henry in The Littles, but he and all of the other children are animated in a very cute, borderline anime-fashion (no big eyes).  There are some original songs included, none of which I felt was good enough for me to remember what they were about when the movie was over, but I am sure that children will enjoy the music nonetheless.

The best part about the movie, however, is the sweet storyline.  It was so wonderful to see an animated special where siblings not only got along, but they love each other and encourage each other.  Landon loves his little sister very much.  Rather than be upset that she is getting a lot of care and attention due to her prolonged illness, Landon is determined to do all he can to help Emery Elizabeth get better.  He spends a chilly afternoon in the yard creating Snowden, Snowdena snowman that reminded me quite a bit of Frosty the Snowman, but in sunglasses and a trenchcoat.  Snowden’s slang may be dated now, but little kids will not know that and will get a kick out of the way Snowden talks.   Landon and Emery Elizabeth must help Snowden recover Princess Electra’s smile from an evil villain who is determined to make all of the children take candy, rainbows and their dreams and turn them into a bunch of slimy yuk.  Emery Elizabeth is critical to defeat the villain as she can use the power of her inner self to turn her wheelchair into any object with wheels.  I loved that the writers chose to make Emery Elizabeth, the handicapped one, the heroine of the story.  Instead of having her wheelchair be a weakness, Emery Elizabeth was able to turn this disability into a great strength that eventually saved all of the children!

This movie is definitely created with children in mind.  I felt like Landon or Emery Elizabeth on a Magnificent Steedanother young boy or girl would have imagined a story like this and chosen to share it with their siblings.  The magical kingdom where everything takes place only has children who live there.  They dance, play and sing all day, powered by Princess Electra’s magical smile.  The beds are shaped like cream puffs and ice cream cones.  Every toy and game imaginable is available for the children to play with and they have no cares or worries.  The only limit on what you can do in this magical kingdom is your own imagination.

While I think children will really enjoy this tale, I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would.  There is not a lot there for older children or for adults to want to sit through it with younger viewers.  Many view this DVD as a Christmas Emery Elizabeth & Landon to the Rescuemovie, but there is nothing really Christmasy about it.  Emery Elizabeth needs to live past the holiday to have any hope of recovering from her illness, but over half of the action takes place in a magical kingdom.  There is one scene at the end that shows Emery Elizabeth opening a Christmas present near the Christmas tree, but that is the only Christmas scene in the movie.  Still, if you are looking for a movie to share with your children around the winter holidays, this is a good cartoon to buy.  You can usually find it for $2 – $5 online or in stores so it is very affordable and worth the cost if you have little ones at home who will watch it a few times in a row.

Content:

This movie contains an evil villain who looks like a zombie with big bug eyes, but he is not too scary.  There is also a scene that contains a lot of fire that the children have to escape.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Christmas

Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular (2003) Movie Review

Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular (2003)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Scary Godmother #1
Starring: Tabitha St. Germain, Scott McNeil, Garry Chalk, Britt McKillip, Adam Pospisil
Director: Ezekiel Norton, Michael Donovan
Release Date: 17 July 2003
Language: English
Length: 47 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Jimmy doesn’t want to have to take his younger cousin, Hannah, trick-or-treating with his friends so he tricks her into going to the basement in an old, deserted house.  Terrified, Hannah is sure she is going to be eaten by monsters and is relieved to be rescued by her Scary Godmother who whisks her off to a Halloween party!  There, Hannah will meet a skeleton, a werewolf, a vampire family and a monster who hides under the bed who teach her that not all monsters are scary.

Review:

This is such a cute special that I want to give it a higher rating because I love the story, but I hate the graphics.  I understand that not everyone has the high budget of a Disney or Dreamworks animated special, but, for some reason, the Scary Godmother and HannahCGI in this Halloween special really bothered me.  It is a weird combination between CGI like you would see in a video game and a flat CGI format that is forced into movement, almost like an illustration from a picture book that has pieces moving in it.  I know that I am not describing it very well, but there is just something off about the show.  The colors seem weird, the characters are strangely flat and the animation takes a bit of getting used to.  Once you watch 5 – 10 minutes, the animation will probably not bother you any more as you get used to it pretty quickly.  I don’t know that younger viewers will notice it at all, however, as they are accustomed to different forms of CGI animation than I am (due to some really strange shows on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network), but the animation here really bothered me.  Check it out for yourself by watching the entire special above.

The best part about this Halloween special is the storyline.  I love that it teaches children not to be scared of monsters by introducing them one by one and making them silly and funny.  Hannah meets her Scary Godmother first, who is a Skellywitch.  She rides a broom and can cast magic on others.  For some reason, Hannah is not scared of Scary Godmother at all when she meets her.  It may be that this is because Scary Godmother whisks her away from a creepy, dark house or it may be that she is always smiling and is dressed really cheerfully.  Scary Godmother’s costume is a rocking combination of ballerina, witch and fashionista.  Skully the Skeleton is next.  He literally surprises Hannah by bursting out of his closet and then jokes that everyone has one!  Skully is so worried about the party snacks and decorations that Hannah quickly realizes that she has nothing to be afraid of.  These two characters are the least frightening in the show so it was great that they started off with them.

Harry the Werewolf is the first guest to arrive at Scary Godmother’s house.  He wears loud Hawaiian shirts and is always hungry.  Harry is pretty loud and prone to making abrupt movements and wanting to devour everything in sight so he makes Hannah pretty nervous.  But Harry is too worried about arguing with Vampire FamilySkully about who gets to eat the party snacks first to pay much attention to Hannah.  The next arrivals are a vampire family complete with Duke, Duchess and their son.  Both children are encountering a vampire child and a human child for the first time so they have a lot to discuss.  Hannah is pretty scared of the vampires, especially since they keep joking about sucking her blood rather than eating the party treats!  A Hannah and Bug a Boofew well-placed jokes about food and sleeping arrangements turn these two into friends before Hannah even knows what is happening!  The last monster to arrive is the scariest – the Bug-a-boo, a monster who scares children from under their bed.  Hannah is really scared of the monster and keeps her distance until they both learn that they share favorite pizza toppings and both know Jimmy.  It doesn’t take long before Hannah is having a fun time and even bonds with her new friends to play a practical joke on Jimmy and his friends!

The only part of the story that I did not like was the section about Hannah’s flashlight.  Hannah’s parents sent her off to go trick-or-treating with a flashlight, Scary Godmotherwhich they assured her would scare away all of the monsters.  The only problem is, her flashlight doesn’t scare any of the monsters!  I know that this is supposed to be a funny part of the show and help children see the monsters as non-threatening, but I think that it might cause problems for some younger viewers.  I always believed that monsters couldn’t get me if the light was on or if was daylight so you might have to have a talk with your kids after the show to explain to them that flashlights might not be bright enough to work, but their bedroom light does?

Ultimately, this was a great new special to discover for Halloween and I think that it is wonderful to see someone is still making Halloween cartoons to show around the holidays.  I remember looking forward to seeing movies like this on TV so much around Halloween and now it seems like there just aren’t as many to watch any more. While the animation style was not my favorite, I love the message and there are plenty of laughs for viewers of all ages to stay entertained!

Content:

This movie features monsters including a witch, a skeleton, a werewolf, a vampire family and a monster with multiple eyes and really big teeth.  All of them are presented in a silly, funny way so it shouldn’t be too scary for younger viewers, but Hannah does scream quite a bit and get scared as she meets new monsters.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.

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My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Hundred Acre Wood Haunt (2008) Movie Review

My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Hundred Acre Wood Haunt (2008)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: My Friends Tigger & Pooh
Starring: Kimberlea Berg, Jim Cummings, Ken Sansom, Travis Oates, Peter Cullen
Director: David Hartman, Don MacKinnon
Release Date: 2 September 2008
Language: English
Length: 72 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Related Reviews: My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Bedtime with Pooh; My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Super Duper Super Sleuths

Synopsis:

Join Pooh, Tigger, Darby and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood on six fun-filled adventures!  Use your own super sleuthing skills to answer the questions and pick up on the clues to help the gang and solve the mystery.

Review:

“Super-Sized Darby” – When Darby (voice by Kimberlea Berg ) accidentally gets sprayed with Rabbit’s (voice by Ken Sansom) new Insta-Go Grow Potion, she Super Sized Darbygrows so big that she is taller than the trees!  At first, Darby’s height and super speed help the sleuths solve cases, but she soon learns that she can’t play with her friends, eat enough food to not be hungry or lots of other normal activities because she is too big!  This cartoon should help children appreciate their small size, even though they may not always like being the shortest in the room!  It will also be fun for them to imagine what it would be like to be huge like Darby!

“Piglet’s Lightning Frightening” – Piglet (voice by Travis Oates) makes a picnic lunch for the Super Sleuths to say thank you for all of the nice things they do, Piglet Frightenedbut a sudden rainstorm drives them inside.  When it starts thundering and the lightning slashes across the sky, Piglet is so scared that he hides under the bed!  Can the Super Sleuths help Piglet have fun during the storm?  This is the perfect cartoon to show to little ones who get a bit nervous during loud storms.  There is a clever little song about the cool percussion sounds that thunder makes and a fun game with silly faces to play during the lightning flashes.  Ultimately, we learn that friends can help you through your biggest fears.

“Eeyore’s Trip to the Moon” – Eeyore (voice by Peter Cullen) has always wanted to try rolling around in moon clover, but he doesn’t know how to get up to the Looking at the Moonmoon!  When Darby finds a moon-shaped rock on the ground and the rest of the Super Sleuths decide that they must find a way to return the rock to the moon so that it is whole again.  Now Eeyore can tag along inside the moon rocket and fulfill his dream while Darby and Tigger (voice by Jim Cummings) repair the moon!  This cartoon was one of my favorites on the DVD and it was just so cute!  Eeyore doesn’t often get a good story in the Winnie the Pooh series so it was really fun to see him so happy and excited to roll around in moon clover.  Children will get a giggle out of the antics of Pooh (voice by Jim Cummings)trying to act as mission control on the ground and Tigger trying to justify that the Hundred Acre Wood is now the moon.  This cartoon is very clever and a joy to watch – just keep an eye out for the sneaky moon woosels!

“The Incredible Shrinking Roo” – Roo (voice by Max Burkholder) is so excited to be measured after summer is over!  Roo is positive that he is taller now, but when they measure him against the same sunflower, it shows that Roo is actually shorter than the beginning of summer – he’s not growing, he’s shrinking!  Roo drinks a whole honey pot full of milk, stretches, wears one of Tigger’s shirts so he has plenty of room to grow, and lays out in the sun and has water sprinkled Incredible Shrinking Rooover him like a plant, but nothing works.  When Darby starts thinking about it, she realizes that it isn’t Roo that is getting smaller – the sunflower is getting taller!  This is a cute cartoon about getting taller and all of the things that everyone encourages you to do to make it happen: Eat your fruits and vegetables, drink your milk, exercise, stretch, buy clothes a little big so you can grow into them, etc.  Children will definitely be familiar with all of these recommendations as all of the adults in their lives are constantly reminding them what to do to grow bigger!  The ending was a cute surprise and should help children realize that there is really not much you can do to grow taller – just be healthy and happy with the size you are!

“Eeyore’s Home Sweet Home” – When Eeyore’s house is accidentally squashed during a game of Pooh Kicks, the Super Sleuths make helping Eeyore their task for the day.  They decide that, instead of repairing Eeyore’s old house, they will Eeyore Discusses His Home with Poohfind something brand new – and better!  Children will definitely find something to laugh at as they see Eeyore try to fit into all of the homes that the Super Sleuths find for him!  This cartoon teaches children the valuable lesson that different types of homes work for different types of people.  Not everyone likes the same things or has the same skills so we have to accept people as they are and help them find where they belong.

“Rabbit’s Prized Pumpkin” – Rabbit is concerned that something will damage his perfect pumpkin so he asks the Super Sleuths to take care of his valuable Rabbit's Prized Pumpkinvegetable.  But what is the best way to protect a pumpkin?  They can’t stand around in Rabbit’s pumpkin patch all day and all night so they have to come up with a way to keep the pumpkin safe, yet still let it grow!  This cartoon helps children develop critical thinking skills to solve problems.  There are many ways that you could protect Rabbit’s pumpkin and the Sleuths go through most of the obvious solutions, but these solutions will only be obvious to adults, not necessarily to children.  This one is not quite as cute or funny, but it does have some great lessons in it!

Bonus Episode:
“Handy Manny: Halloween” – Victor needs help fixing his sewing machine at the costume shop so Manny and his tools put their Halloween preparation plans on Handy Manny's Halloweenhold to go and help out!  When Manny can’t get the part that he needs to fix the sewing machine, the tools help Mr. Lopard make a costume with the extras around the shop.  The best part about this episode is that Manny takes the time to teach the tools a little bit about why we dress up in costumes (to scare the ghosts who come out on that night) and about the Hispanic equivalent to Halloween or El Dia de los Muertos (Spanish holiday around Halloween where you celebrate your dead relatives).  I also loved how they put together a creative, fun costume out of odds and ends that you can find around the house.  A costume doesn’t need to be expensive or store-bought to be great!

“Handy Manny: Squeeze’s Magic Show” – Magic Marty needs Manny’s help to fix Handy Mannyhis magic box. Squeeze is a huge fan of magic and thinks that she can do magic just like Marty does!  She talks Rusty into handcuffing himself to a handle and then can’t get him out!  Even though this episode is about magic, Manny turns it into a lesson on asking for help when you don’t know how to do something.  This is a lesson that adults need to learn, too – I hate asking for help when I don’t know how to do something!

I was hoping for a bit more from this DVD collection than I got.  I found the title to be very misleading.  It is called “Hundred Acre Wood Haunt” and the cover is My Friends Tigger & Pooh Hundred Acre Wood Hauntpretty spooky looking so I thought that there were going to be some Halloween-themed episodes on the disc, but there aren’t!  The only episode that has a Halloween theme is the Handy Manny bonus episode at the end of the DVD!  All of the My Friends Tigger & Pooh episodes take place in the spring, two of them take place when it is dark (“Piglet’s Lightning Frightening,” which starts out sunny and then turns dark & stormy and “Eeyore’s Trip to the Moon,” which takes place at nighttime, but is still pretty light due to the light of the moon), but the rest are bright and sunny, not at all Octobery or autumnal.  I think that there are going to be a lot of disappointed viewers when they discover that there are no Halloween treats on this DVD – just tricks!

Aside from the misleading packaging and title, this is a cute collection of Winnie the Pooh cartoons for little children.  Toddlers can learn and grow with Pooh and friends as they journey along new adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods.  I prefer the hand-drawn animation style, but the computer-generated format of Super Sleuthsthese cartoons grows on you after a while.  I love that they kept the personality of Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Roo and more intact for this series!  They are still just as fun and just as loveable!  My Friends Tigger & Pooh is a great choice for those of us who enjoyed watching Pooh growing up (like me) so that you can pass on the fun and create new memories.  Unfortunately, there is not much in this series for older children or adults.  Sure, they are still cute and fun, but they are definitely geared towards a very young group of children.  If you have children that are ages 1 – 3 and are looking for something short, fun, and educational, then you should give this series a try!

Content:

This DVD is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  Very young children who are not quite sure what thunder and lightning are might need a buddy to watch “Piglet’s Lightning Frightening.”  Recommended for ages 1 and up.

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The Midwife’s Tale (Midwife Mystery #1) by Sam Thomas Book Review

The Midwife’s Tale

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas

Series: Midwife Mystery #1
Author: Sam Thomas
Publisher: Minotaur Books (January 2013)
ISBN: 97812500107066
Page Count: 320 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

It is 1644 and Parliament’s armies have risen against King Charles I.  The rebels currently lay siege to the city of York, the home of Lady Bridget Hodgson, a midwife.  Bridget continues to deliver babies and look after her new mothers while praying for a quick resolution to the conflict.  When one of her friends, Esther Cooper, is convicted of murdering her husband, Bridget must act quickly to prevent Esther from burning at the stake.  Bridget joins forces with her mysterious new maid, Martha Hawkins, and tracks down clues through the city – clues that lead to a conspiracy amongst the most powerful in regards to the new balance of power.

Review:

I always a good historical mystery and loved The Midwife’s Tale!  Lady Bridget Hodgson is based on a real person (as I learned in the author’s epilogue) and it was absolutely delightful to read about this volatile period through her eyes.  Bridget has been twice widowed and her Mdiwfe in the Middle Ageschildren passed away when they were young. She is beautiful, still young enough to bear more children and is quite wealthy so she doesn’t lack for suitors, but Bridget enjoys her independence too much to wed again.  Instead, Bridget focuses on her duties as a midwife, which are varied and grant her a great deal of power for a woman in the 1600s.  Not only does a midwife deliver babies, but she ferrets out the information about parentage to ensure that children are supported financially.  The midwife uses coercion, force or fear to persuade unwed mothers to name the father of their babe.  If they refuse, they will not help with the labor or delivery, which is too terrifying to go through alone!  The midwife also has a group of women, called gossips, who help out in the different households.  They pass information along about all members of society, both high and low, and I think their husbands would be shocked and dismayed to realize how observant most of these women are!  There are few secrets in the town of York and Bridget seems to be involved in uncovering the few that remain.  I loved learning about the midwives and found it fascinating to learn about the treatments and methods used in this time period.

Bridget is a strong female character, as is her maid, Martha.  I was delighted to see that Bridget’s fiercest rival is another female, but I was a little less delighted to see how thick-headed most of the men of the time seemed.  I don’t know if it was because the information was coming from Bridget or because the author felt that men of the time really were that stupid, but most male characters were not credited with much intelligence.  Bridget’s brother-in-law was the exception, but I wish that there could have been a better balance.  Surely there would be at least a few enlightened males in the town of York who realized that women also possessed a brain, right?  Surprisingly enough, this comes from a male author who should surely know better!  Most of the men in the book are boorish, loutish and would-be-rapists simply waiting for an opportunity – I would never walk the streets alone!  Will, who is the most sympathetic male character and Bridget’s nephew, was born with a clubfoot so he is a bit more sensitive than most of the males of his time, though he, too, needed a swift kick in the pants from time to time!

The Midwife’s Tale is engagingly written and was a real page turner.  I was engrossed in the mystery, though it really wasn’t that complicated.  The book jacket makes it sound like the book’s sole focus Cavaliers vs Roundheadsis the murder of Esther’s husband, but there are so many other subplots going on that I found myself getting distracted and focusing on babies dying in childbirth, christening ceremonies, the murder of an infant boy, and much more.  Ultimately, when the main mystery was solved, I found myself a bit disappointed.  Not that I can condone murder, but the victims deserved death in this case and it seems like they met a fated end.  I was heartbroken to discover the identity of the murderer and was not at all pleased that they were caught.  It seems like Bridget had a warm, forgiving heart for many, but could be cold as stone to those she felt must pay for their sins.

The Midwife’s Tale is a fascinating glimpse into the past that will be sure to delight any who enjoy a good mystery.  Modern readers will be horrified to learn about the pitiful conditions of most servants during this time period and will have a better understanding of why people clung to their faith.  It is unreal to read about women being charged with treason because they rose up against their master or husband!  I loved the historical details and appreciate that the author modernized the dialogue and writing just enough to enable the reader to easily understand the story.  I am astonished to learn that this is Sam Thomas’s first book and will look forward with anticipation to more books written by this talented new author.

Content:

This book contains multiple scenes of death, including babies.  Some bodies are described in more detail than others.  There are multiple descriptions of labor and delivery, though nothing too explicit.  Life was pretty filthy back then so be prepared for dirty streets, chamberpots and reeking privies.  There are multiple scenes of attempted rape and several stories of rape.  Chauvinism and other prejudices are portrayed in a historically accurate manner.  There is some strong language.  There are several scenes of drinking and drunkenness.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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Button Holed (Button Box Mystery #1) by Kylie Logan Book Review

Button Holed

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Button Holed by Kylie Logan

Series: Button Box Mystery #1
Author: Kylie Logan
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (September 2011)
ISBN: 9780425243763
Page Count: 288 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Josie Giancola is thrilled to open her new shop, The Button Box, in downtown Chicago.  Though Josie knows her passion for buttons makes her a geek and her shop’s chances of success dicey, Josie is sure that her reputation as a button expert will bring in special clients – like Kate Franciscus, Hollywood starlet and future princess.  Unfortunately, Josie’s once-in-a-lifetime dream opportunity to provide Kate with buttons for her wedding dress turns into a nightmare when Kate’s lifeless body is found on the floor of her shop.  Who hated Kate enough to kill her?  Or, more accurately, who didn’t?

Review:

I love a good cozy mystery and Button Holed is a solid start to a new series.  Josie Giancola was an interesting character who constantly surprised me as the book unfolded.  At first, I thought she was just a Antique Button #1single woman struggling to open a store featuring her hobby and passion – buttons.  I quickly learned that Josie is anything but a simple character.  She designed costumes on a cult movie classic, Trolls, and has a steady royalty income every month.   Josie still keeps in touch with the movie’s famous producer, a friend from college, and that is how Kate learned about her shop.  Josie’s ex-husband is a gorgeous loser whom she can’t seem to shake and she is hopeless at blind dating.  Even though I am not passionate about buttons, I did enjoy learning about them and found it all too easy to identify with Josie and her attempts to find love and change her life.  I can’t wait to see Josie learn and grow in future books – hopefully there is some hot and heavy romance ahead of us!

The secondary characters almost stole the show for me in this book.  Josie’s ex-husband, Kaz, is a lovable loser who is extremely hard to hate.  Josie has to constantly remind herself not to fall for Kaz’s charms and sob stories, but it is pretty tough!  Brina is an ineffectual Goth girl who is pretending to work at the button shop, but doesn’t really do anything.  Estelle Marvin runs a crafting empire and is determined to have Josie on her show in a segment called “The Button Babe,” complete with button-bearing cabana boy in Antique Button #2nothing but a skimpy loincloth.  Margot, Sloan and Wynona backstab, gossip and will do anything needed to emerge from the shadows as Kate’s personal assistants.  Mike Homolka is delightfully despicable as a member of the despised paparazzo.  Prince Roland is more complicated than his handsome face suggests.  Hugh Weaver is a powerful Hollywood producer who only has time for Josie when he needs her help.  Stan is Josie’s retired neighbor who used to be a detective and can’t wait to get involved in solving the crime, preferably by using stakeouts.  Homicide detective Nevin Riley, one of Josie’s disastrous blind dates, is adorable, but appears to be incompetent.  Everyone of them (except for Kaz, Stan and Nevin) are suspects and have motives and means to kill Kate.  Kylie Logan has a real gift for describing characters in a way that makes them all relatable and likable, even if they aren’t!  I loved getting to know everyone in Josie’s world and hope that we will see some of these characters pop up again!

Button Holed is well written and intriguing.  The mystery was Antique Button Braceletinteresting until I solved it and then I just stuck with the book to see what happened to Josie and her fellow cast of characters.  There is some information about buttons included in the book, but it is not exhaustive or overwhelming.  I hope that we get to spend more time in Josie’s store in the next book and less time running around the countryside following up on clues!  The Button Box Mystery series is definitely one to check out for mystery lovers!

Content:

This book features a murder by stabbing.  Thieves break into the button shop multiple times and create a mess.  Josie’s life is in peril a couple of times in the book, but she doesn’t get hurt.  There are scenes of arguing and threats of physical violence.  No forensic details or physical violence is described in detail.  Gambling and gambling addiction are addressed in the book.  Characters are divorced, have sex outside of marriage, cheat on fiancés and spouses, and have children out of wedlock.  There are some scenes of drinking and smoking.  There is some mild language.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Cookie Dough or Die (Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery #1) by Virginia Lowell Book Review

Cookie Dough or Die

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

 Cookie Dough or Die by Virginia Lowell

Series: Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery #1
Author: Virginia Lowell
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (April 2011)
ISBN: 9780425240670
Page Count: 304 pages
Format: Paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Olivia Greyson is proud of her specialty shop, The Gingerbread House.  She sunk all of her divorce settlement into her new business at the urging of successful business owner, Clarisse Chamberlain.  Clarisse became a mentor and a friend so no one is more shocked than Olivia to hear that Clarisse committed suicide.  When Olivia discovers a note Clarisse hid in her shop, she realizes that Olivia was hiding a huge secret – she may have a grandchild somewhere.  Armed with this new information, Olivia challenges local law enforcement to investigate Clarisse’s death as a murder while she takes a break from baking and tries to find a lost child.

Review:

I love reading cozy mysteries and am a sucker for books featuring female businessmen running shops or other types of businesses involving their passion.  Olivia runs a shop named The Gingerbread Antique Snoopy Cookie CuttersHouse that specializes in selling cookie cutters, both antique and modern.  Though the author describes the shop a couple of times, I had a difficult time believing a small town could support a shop that is geared towards such a small niche market.  Tourists make up some of their business and I am sure online sales are also involved, but how many cookie cutter mobiles, hand-sewn aprons and coffee-table cookie books can you sell in a shop in a day?  I would have liked a bit more insight and understanding as to the value of the cookie cutters and the different types of people who collect them, but we are just given brief glimpses into this world in this book.  Olivia and her best friend Maddy spend quite a bit of time baking and decorating cookies, but I don’t think they sell them in the shop.

I liked Olivia as a character and feel that she has a lot of room to grow in this series.  She recently divorced her successful husband, a surgeon, who was looking for a prop at his side rather than a partner.  Olivia appears to be interested in the local Sheriff, who is a cutie, but her ex-Yorkshire Terrier Puppyhusband is also sniffing around.  Spunky, Olivia’s puppy, is adorable and definitely keeps Olivia on her toes.  Buddy, one of Spunky’s friends, is a real character and I hope that we will see more of him and other dogs in future books.  The author has a knack for describing animals and sometimes the animals seemed more real and important than their human counterparts!  What made Olivia interesting was not her love of her puppy, but the eclectic combination of friends that she has.  Some of them are snobs who demand the best and only come around when they want something, others are low maintenance and follow all the gossip, while a new friend is tech-savvy and eccentric.  It is interesting to see these friends congregate around Olivia and watch them interact as the sparks are always flying!

Cookie Dough or Die is well written and interesting.  The modern-day murder mystery of Clarisse is combined with an older mystery of a mysterious, gorgeous woman who disappears from town one day and is never seen again, leaving a stream of broken hearts behind.  Olivia is sure that this woman bore a child, fathered by one of Clarisse’s sons, but which one is the father and where did the mother and child go?  I enjoyed both mysteries and found them equally interesting, which was a nice change.  I also guessed incorrectly when it came to identifying the murderer!  This is a nice change for me as I usually lose interest in the mystery once I figure out who did it so this book kept me guessing until the end!

This book is a solid start for this mystery series and I am looking forward to reading more by Virginia Lowell in the future.

Content:

This book features a murder by poison.  Other characters survive attempted murder attempts.  There is some violence and verbal arguments.  Characters drink wine and smoke.  There is a lot of gossip and it includes premarital sex, having children out of wedlock, divorce and complicated romantic attachments.  There is some mild language.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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