Hi, my name is Candy in Austin, TX and this my blog to rave (and sometimes rant) about books, movies, products, services or just whatever strikes my fancy. I love when people comment on my blog, so feel free to agree or disagree or maybe I inspired you to try something?

Disclaimer: I do get some of these books/products for free for doing an honest review. Yes, those are affiliate links and I could be compensated if you purchase through them. It\'s always small and it always goes to my kids college funds.

11 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Amazon Fire TV

FireTV is basically just what it sounds like: it turns your TV into a giant Kindle Fire. If you are familiar with other streaming media players, you’ll have an idea of what to expect. FireTV streams video and audio content to your TV from the same providers: Hulu, Netflix, and (of course) Amazon.

So let’s go through my first experience:

Part One: Opening the box (Queue Thus Sprach Zarathustra.)

Ok, I have to say it: Nothing impressive here, sorry Amazon. I have to say that the FireTV is about the most boring looking black box I’ve ever seen. The good news: It completely disappears on your entertainment center.

The remote is pretty bare bones looking. The microphone button grabbed my attention, but otherwise, there are very few buttons. Can I complain that it is both very black and very small? Yes, I know that “Black is the new Black”, but I’ve already lost it once and I’ve had it for about 2 hours.

Ok, enough looky-looky, time to um….hooky-uppy.

Part Two: Setup (Where is my “That was Easy!” button?)

Power: Check!
HDMI Cable: Check!
Turn on TV: Check!
Wait for it to boot…wait…It’s done: Check! (That was fast!)

And done? Check! I’m an Amazon Prime member and my account was already setup on the box and ready to go.

Part Three: Interface (“What does this button do?)

Actually, it’s not rocket science:

The “Home” button takes you back to the home screen.
Click the wheel to scroll through options.
Hit the button to make your selection.

Voice Search: Ok, I will tell you: I am not a big user of voice tech. Really, I hate to use the telephone. I guess I’m afraid the pizza guy is going to tell me “No!” But I can see that with a little getting over my own fears, voice search is going to be awesome! My FireTV correctly heard all three of my queries. One caveat here: Voice Search only pulls up Amazon content. No a huge deal for my family, but maybe for yours. You can always search the old fashioned way like other streaming boxes.

Part Four: Video and Audio

As I said, it was easy to hook up. Just plug it in. Video looked great on my 40” TV. Audio was good over our home stereo. The quality did not seem any better or worse than my other HD set top box.

The services available to stream from are also pretty standard fare both on the video and audio front.

Part Five: Games (“Thousands of games coming…”)

This reminds me a bit of the days when I got the original Kindle Fire. Of course, Amazon made good on their promise there, so I have faith that they’ll do the same here. Just a quick view through the list of already available games tells me that there is already a good mix of “approved” titles for the Fire TV, and more are on the horizon.

Please do not mistake this for a “NextGen” gaming console. It looks like a good choice to be able to play tons of Android games on your big screen.

Overall: 4 stars. Fire TV is a very nice mix of old and new. There are a few puzzle pieces missing, but knowing Amazon, they’ll be filled in quickly!

Description:
Amazon Fire TV is a tiny box you connect to your HDTV. It’s the easiest way to enjoy Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, low-cost movie rentals, and much more.

Massive selection—Over 200,000 TV episodes and movies, millions of songs, and over a hundred games

Perfect with Prime—Unlimited access to thousands of popular movies and TV shows including exclusive titles like Downton Abbey and Under the Dome. Get a free 30-day trial

Voice search that actually works—Simply say the name of what you want to watch and start enjoying in seconds.

Tiny box, huge specs—Fast quad-core processor, 2 GB of memory, dedicated GPU, plus 1080p HD video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound

Easy to set up and use—Pre-registered to your Amazon account so you can enjoy favorite titles and personalized recommendations

Instant streaming—Exclusive new feature ASAP predicts what movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and buffers them for playback before you hit play

Perfect for parents—Amazon FreeTime lets you easily limit screen time and create personalized profiles just for kids (coming soon)

Great for gaming, too—Play blockbuster titles like Minecraft-Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead, and Monsters University, plus free games and Amazon exclusives. Paid games start from just 99 cents

Rating: ★★★★☆

09 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Frosted Shadow, a Toni Diamond comic murder mystery (Toni Diamond Makeup Mysteries) by Nancy Warren

I’ve read some pretty craptastic cozy mysteries over the past several years. When the author sent this book in with a review request, I let it sit for quite a while. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how it wasn’t going to make me groan and gouge my eyes out with a spoon.

I was sitting around one day looking for something mindless to read because I’d just finished reading a heavy book and needed something light and easy. I thought “okay, why not”.

Oh, boy.

This was NOT what I was expecting at all. It actually had a decent plot, a good little mystery with plenty of twists. Yes, you’ll pick the ending out pretty quickly, but does it really matter? It’s kind of like Psycho meets Mary Kay, but in a good kind of way.

The writing was decent, there were a few sections that went on a little bit too long, but overall the author does a great job of moving the story forward and keeping you interested and entertained. It’s not going to win a heavy literature award any time soon, but that’s not why I read this book. It delivered exactly what it promised.

I also liked the cover. Yes, I judge books by their covers.

Definitely recommended for cozy mystery readers. You’ll figure out the whodunnit, but it won’t matter.

Description:
There’s nothing pretty about murder.
Meet Toni Diamond, make up artist to middle America. She’s also got a nose for trouble and a passion for solving mysteries. Imagine Columbo in a lavender suit. She never met a woman who wouldn’t look better with a little help from the Lady Bianca line of cosmetics. But don’t be fooled by appearances. Underneath the fake diamonds and the big hair is a sharp brain and a keen eye that sees the details as well as the funny side of life. When a Lady Bianca sales rep is murdered at the annual convention in Dallas, Toni is the one who notices things that some people, like sexy Detective Luke Marciano, might easily miss. Only someone who understands as much about how to make appearances deceiving could see into the mind of this killer — a murderer who wants to give Toni a permanent makeover. Into a dead woman.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Book count for 2014: 07

07 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

My book club chose this book. I blame them.

Don’t get me wrong, the premise of this book is so very sweet. A man forms an informal type of book club with his mother, who is at the end of her life. They trade books and they talk about them and they connect over them.

The problem? It tries too hard. It’s a little too pretentious. The author talks about books as they he is the authority on them and we, the readers, are barely worthy of talking to (or at). It just comes off as a little too much of a hoity-toity narrative to me. Add in some name-dropping and I finished this one only because it was a book club selection.

Avoid, unless you like heavy literature and name drops.

Description:
“What are you reading?”

That’s the question Will Schwalbe asks his mother, Mary Anne, as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, Mary Anne returned from a humanitarian trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering from what her doctors believed was a rare type of hepatitis. Months later she was diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal, often in six months or less.

This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne carry on conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, they are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.

Will and Mary Anne share their hopes and concerns with each other—and rediscover their lives—through their favorite books. When they read, they aren’t a sick person and a well person, but a mother and a son taking a journey together. The result is a profoundly moving tale of loss that is also a joyful, and often humorous, celebration of life: Will’s love letter to his mother, and theirs to the printed page.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Book count for 2014: 06

04 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

UNi 100% Organic Pure Moroccan Argan Oil by Uni

I seem to be reviewing quite a bit of moisturizing products these days. I’ll not think about if that means I’m starting to get older. :)

This Argan Oil product was received at no cost to me in exchange for an honest review. I’ll tell you that when they asked me to review this, I was skeptical. I’ve used oil based products in the past and they always left a residue or smelled really horrible or made me itchy. I wasn’t really expecting to like this at all.

But I did. I have been using it on my hands a few times per day and on my legs after shaving. It soaks in very quickly and doesn’t leave an oily residue or mess on your skin. The manufacturer also mentioned that it might have a smell, but I don’t find that my bottle has any smell at all – and that’s saying something because I’m told I have a super sensitive nose.

I have not used this on my hair or scalp. I’ve been too cautious to because I have a fairly oily scalp already.

I did, after just one minute of using it, run my fingers around my phone screen to see if it left a residue. To my surprise, it did not.

I do have very dry skin though and this was great to make my skin feel soft – even from just an immediate application. I do wish it was a little more portable – some sort of bottle I could toss in my purse to use right before a meeting when I’ll be shaking hands with someone.

I had my husband try it – he also commented that it had no smell. He has pretty soft skin and he found it took a bit longer for it to soak into his skin, although I do wonder if it will help with his dry scalp after he shaves it.

Overall, I can definitely see myself picking this up again on my own. Recommended for those with dry skin or want smooth silky skin.

Description:
UNi Argan Oil, Your One Step Treatment to Beautiful and Healthy Looking Hair, Body, Skin, and Nail

UNi Argan Oil is 100% pure made from Moroccan Argan Trees. This naturally light scented oil helps protect, hydrate, and restore elasticity to all hair types. Large concentration of fatty acids and antioxidants help restore the appearance of dull skin, hair, body, scalp and hands. Reduces and removes frizzy and damaged hair. Excellent for cuticles – helps prevent cracking and peeling of nails. Can treat all skin types as well.

Why Choose UNi Argan Oil?

Our fast absorbing light weight oil is smooth, and NON greasy compared to other brands.

Highest quality of oil production, it is cold pressed and unroasted. Comes rich in Vitamin E (Tocopherols) and Omega 6 (Linolenic Acids)

NO strong odors. Our 100% organic Argan oil has a light nutty smell and is fragrance free.

USDA and ECOCERT certification means high purity and authentic.

Can be used on sensitive and non-sensitive skin to reduce age spots and boost skin tones.

Manufactured in the Kingdom of Morocco and Packaged in the USA.

UNi Argan Oil comes in a beautiful smooth dark glass bottle with easy access dropper.

UNi Argan Oil are manufactured and bottled throughout the year to ensure freshness and quality. Manufactured date is printed on every bottle with a shelf-life of 36 months.

Benefits of UNi Argan Oil

UNi Argan Oil is a great natural organic alternative compared to other chemical filled cosmetic products in the market today. Our Argan Oil is packed full of essential fatty acids, such as, omega-3, omega-6, omega-9, vitamins E, vitamins B9, and folic acid.

UNi Argan Oil, Your Number One Choice for Anti-Aging, Healthy Hair, Radiant Skin, and Daily Moisturizer for All Skin and Hair Types.

Rating: ★★★★☆

02 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Acme Westcott iPoint USB Pencil Sharpener, Black

For some reason we end up with a lot of pencils laying around the house. They are all either a.) brand new or b.) the lead has broken off. Hard to use a pencil when it is in one of those two conditions. The little “materials box” pencil sharpeners all tend to get broken or lost. We just don’t have the space for a wall mounted hand cranked sharpener and don’t want to spend the money on a full size electric. So what do you do?

Acme Westcott’s “iPoint USB Pencil Sharpener” is a nice middle point between a full sized electric sharpener and a small handheld (read “cheap”) sharpener.

Here are some specific thoughts on the product features:

USB or Battery: The sharpener seems to work fine on either one. We have more than enough USB ports in my home office, so I doubt we’ll ever need to use the battery option, but nice to know it is there.

Size: It’s about the size of a standard 12 oz. soda can.

Cord: The extending USB cord is nice. I just wish that it use a standard USB end on the sharpener side. The round plug makes me thing that USB was an after thought. Using a micro or mini usb connector would let the user make use of cords already plugged in but not in use.

Pencil sizes: Only standard sized pencils please. The hole in the top will not accommodate anything else.

Pencil types: Most brands of pencils seemed to sharpen fine. The unit even worked with colored pencils. Dollar store and decorative (read “cheap”) pencils took longer to sharpen (about the same as compared to a standard electric sharpener.

Sharpness: The unit never quite got any of our pencils to a sharp point. Brand new pencils were left with a tiny flat spot were the point should be. Dull pencils were left with a still blunt tip. The unit never “auto-stopped” as some reviews have said, but it also was no longer doing anything to the pencil.

Overall: 3 Stars. It does make pencils “less dull” but doesn’t quite earn the title “Sharpener”.

Description:
You can choose to power this iPoint Pencil sharpener with batteries or a USB connection to your computer.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

31 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Pelican Phone Protector for Samsung Galaxy S4 – Retail Packaging

Sometimes you want to make your phone pretty. Other times, you want to make sure that it is protected. The Pelican Phone Protector is for the latter.

Is it pretty? Somebody once said “In simplicity, there is beauty.” If that is so, then this case is the most gorgeous case I’ve ever seen. Color choices are limited to two tone solids. They call mine “Black/Grey”, more like “Dark Grey/Light Grey”, but really I am not picky. If you really must have a case that is pretty by the standard definition, there is a nice flat area on the back of the case where you can put your stickers, bling, or whatever picture you’d like.

I said it was rugged. Have you ever dropped your phone and thought “Wow, the phone is still perfect, but the case chipped. Guess I need a new one?” I’m not normally fumble fingered, but I do have a bad habit of putting my phone in my pocket, and then it falls out. This has happened twice so far. The first time the phone only fell about 2 feet. The 2nd time, it fell about 5 feet. That is what I get for sitting on the railing outside the restaurant.

Do I need a new phone? Nope. Do I need a new case? Negative. The Pelican Phone Protector isn’t scuffed, scratched, or even dented. Did I mention it fell 5 feet? Onto concrete? I think rugged is an understatement (at least by normal urban living standards.)

Installation of the case is a breeze. It snapped on in about 5 seconds. It’s not quite as easy to get off, but I don’t plan on doing that anytime soon, so I should be ok. That 5 foot fall? The case didn’t so much as come apart at an edge. I may need a pry bar to get it off.

Overall: 5 Stars. Awesome protection, classic good looks. I only wish I’d gotten the purple one (my fault, I didn’t see it was available.)

Description:
PROTECTION AS TOUGH AS YOUR COMMUTE
Now you can get through the daily grind with one less thing to worry about: dropping your smart phone. Our engineers conceived two levels of protection: a tough chamfer design on the outside and a soft elastomeric lining on the inside. The result? Upon impact the Pelican ProGear Protector case deflects energy and cushions your phone, preventing damage to the fragile glass surface and sensitive electronics.

Rating: ★★★★★

28 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Hearts on the Line by Marla Martenson

Sometimes you just need a silly bit of chicklit to scrub your brain from all the heavy stuff… this book does this and does it well. It’s like sitting down and listening to a story from one of your best friends with a lot of juicy details.

The writing is fantastic, the editing is fabulous, the storyline, while a bit recycled from other books, is interesting and a quick read.

A perfect book to take with you on vacation or during a plane ride, easy to put down and pick back up, but interesting enough to keep you coming back.

Recommended big time for those who love a bit of good gossip now and then.

Description:
Now in her second installment, Marla is still firing Cupid darts at work, a plush dating service she calls the “Double D”—which doesn’t stand for dream date. She and her husband Adolfo work hard to achieve their goal of leaving their small apartment behind and buying a home, but with a boss who requires Marla to cross ethical lines, a tiny spark is all it takes, and Marla goes from being vice-president of a multi-city enterprise to unemployment. Adolfo’s passion switches to anger and then resentment, Marla’s celebrity hob-knobbing, shopping in boutiques, and pricey Botox habit all skid to a dead stop. Bills pile up. Determined, Marla turns to Craig’s list, connecting with a series of flaky employers, and if the 99 Cent Store doesn’t carry it, she doesn’t buy it. Broke and depressed, however, she rarely finds time to write. When a former client calls and asks if she’d work with him as a matchmaker privately, she shifts into a whole new level. Amazing things start happening. Not only does she help people find soul mates instead of trophies and sugar-daddies, she finds the emotional space to heal personal traumas in the past, ranging from the bullying she endured in her youth, a near rape, a disastrous previous marriage, and her father’s death—an unusual experience involving the ocean’s kiss. Marla writes as never before. Adolfo is proud of her, but Marla still holds grudges as they search for a new home. She decides to rekindle the flame in her marriage and thinks she knows just the person to help: Chantal, a former client who owns a spa specializing in Brazilian hot waxes. This proves to be a hilarious blend of torture, comedy, and high hopes—a bit like life itself. Along with her clients, Marla’s heart is on the line as she discovers the powerful ways in which dreams are real.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Book count for 2014: 05

26 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

PlayStation 3 EX-02 Next Gen Bluetooth Headset with Faceplates by Gioteck

What couldn’t I get used to?

Audio: Having the chat audio completely separate from the game audio left me trying to multitask between what was going on in the game and what people were saying. It would be nice if you could select for the game audio to come over the bluetooth as well. Maybe a separate volume control?

Fit: I’m used to in the ear or over the ear headsets. This one is a strange hybrid. I kept thinking if I moved my head it would fall off.

The good:

Set up: Pairing with my PS3 was simple and fast. The instructions that came with it did the job well.

Style: If you are the type that likes to make things match, you can switch out the faceplates to go with your wardrobe.

Overall: 3 stars. This is not a bad headset for the price. Maybe I’ll get used to it if I keep trying.

Description:

  • Interchangeable Faceplates – Change your headset according to your mood, game, or because you can
  • Ergonomic Controls – Intuitive controls that not only feel right to the touch, but also perfectly placed right where your fingers instinctively expect them to be
  • Noise Cancelling Technology – Next Gen Chipset featuring noise canceling and superior enhanced voice clarity
  • External Speaker – Designed to sit comfortably on the ear, without entering the earhole itself, allowing longer gameplay in comfort

Rating: ★★★☆☆

24 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! (Covers Version 2): Learn to Program by Making Cool Games

I have had a “Love/Hate” relationship with the Scratch programming language for years. I love it because it is easy to to simple things. I hated it because I never had the time to really dig in. The Super Scratch Programming Adventure! gave me the perfect opportunity to sit back, relax, and give it another shot.

First off, don’t expect a lot from the story. It is meant for kids. However, it is really cute and provides a nice background to what you are doing. You aren’t just learning to program, you are saving the world!

I have seen a couple of reviews that say,”The resource CD was missing.” All of the resources are available for download, it says so right in the book. The book even walks you through how to add them to your projects, even ones not in the book!

Everything is laid out very simply. You read the story, and then there is a project to do. The story is in comic book format, the project is more “text-bookish” but still easy to follow.

Now that I am done, I plan to pass this along to my daughter. She is a 5th grader and I know she’d get a kick out of making her own games!

Overall: 4 stars. Great intro to Scratch and a good way to get started with programming.

Description:
Scratch is the wildly popular educational programming language used by millions of first-time learners in classrooms and homes worldwide. By dragging together colorful blocks of code, kids can learn computer programming concepts and make cool games and animations. The latest version, Scratch 2, brings the language right into your web browser, with no need to download software.

In Super Scratch Programming Adventure!, kids learn programming fundamentals as they make their very own playable video games. They’ll create projects inspired by classic arcade games that can be programmed (and played!) in an afternoon. Patient, step-by-step explanations of the code and fun programming challenges will have kids creating their own games in no time.

This full-color comic book makes programming concepts like variables, flow control, and subroutines effortless to absorb. Packed with ideas for games that kids will be proud to show off, Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is the perfect first step for the budding programmer.

For Ages 8 and Up

Now Updated for Scratch 2

Rating: ★★★★☆

21 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Brooklyn Beans Single-cup Coffee for Keurig K-Cup Brewers, 40-Count

I love my Keurig and I don’t think I could start my day without it. I am always looking for something new and definitely am not one of those “I will only drink brand X!” kind of coffee lovers. So when this became available I decided to give it a shot.

It’s really great to get a variety of a brand so that you can find out what you like and what you don’t. It is always frustrating to buy a box and realize that you really don’t like what you bought and are stuck with it (or have to give it away.)

Here is what I liked:
Maple Sleigh: This one smells wonderful! Think “cabin in Vermont”. It has a subtle, breakfasty maple flavor.
Vanilla Skyline: A little light on flavor, but definitely good.

Here is what I didn’t like:
Fuhgeddaboutit: Way too bitter for my taste.
Corner Donut Shop: Tastes like a “wannabe” cinnamon blend from another brand.

Notable for that that like that type of coffee:
French Roast, Breakfast Blend, and Cyclone.

Overall: 4 stars. I’d buy this brand again, but I’d buy specific types.

Description:
Decisions, decisions. This morning are you in the mood for some pizzazz or chill? Do you crave some bold slap-you-in-the-face flavor, or mild taste? Brooklyn Bean Roastery says who cares… have them all!

Our 40-count Brooklyn Bean Roastery sampler pack includes four samples of the following light, medium, and dark-roast blends: Breakfast Blend, Boardwalk Blend, Brooklyn Bridge, Colombian, Cyclone, Donut Shop, Fugheddaboutit and French Roast.

All of Brooklyn Bean Roastery’s delicious individual blends include:

  • Highest quality of coffee beans; 100% Arabica coffee beans available in 12 specialty blends.
  • Revolutionary “Roast2Cup” processing for extra freshness and premium flavor. You are guaranteed a fresh-brewed cup every time.
  • Crafted with pride in the USA.
  • Compatible with many popular single-serve coffee machines.

Rating: ★★★★☆