Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 2012 End Of The Month Update!

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Killed it!

May was a record breaking month with my all-time best day since the blog began! In one day, I got more hits on a single review - Prometheus - than the prior #1! This resulted in a serious record-breaking month (almost 2,000 hits more than the prior record!), thanks for reading!

May had a very cool thing happen. As many of my readers know, my reviews are dominated by film and television reviews. Despite my love of music, graphic novel and toy reviews, movie reviews are the bread and butter of this blog. So, you might be able to imagine my pleasure and surprise to see that the review of Bath & Body Works' Rain Kissed Leaves Shampoo leapt mightily into the Top Ten reviews of all time! For most of the month (until some of the Summer Blockbusters started getting reviewed), that review was actually my #1 review of the month. Very cool!

Four reviews this month made it into my Top Ten of all time!

If you're thinking of subscribing, please do! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here!

In May, we were able to keep the Index Pages up and updated the entire month, making for a very dynamic website. The primary Index Page, which is now updated daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. By purchasing items through the links on the blog, you sponsor my ability to continue reviewing. Thank you so much for that support!

At the end of May, I have reviewed the following:
355 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books! - NEW CATEGORY!
Graphic Novels
505 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
1596 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
153 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
474 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
468 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Other Food
110 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
106 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
93 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
108 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
73 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
20 - Other Product Reviews

My featured reviews for May are my reviews of Making Mirrors - Gotye and Homewood Suites in Rochester, NY (I couldn't choose just one this month)! Check them out!

For May, the Top Ten Reviews were my reviews of:
10. Dark Shadows
9. Piranha 3DD
8. The Hunger Games
7. Battleship
6. The Walking Dead - Season 2
5. The Avengers
4. Bath & Body Works Rain Kissed Leaves Shampoo
3. Men In Black 3
2. Snow White And The Huntsman
1. Prometheus

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 238 reviews
9s - 311 reviews
8s - 522 reviews
7s - 548 reviews
6s - 486 reviews
5s - 672 reviews
4s - 465 reviews
3s - 386 reviews
2s - 164 reviews
1s - 111 reviews
0s - 60 reviews
No rating - 19 articles/postings

And, if you haven't checked out the top reviews of all time, at the end of May, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. Anne Hathaway For Wonder Woman!
9. Bath & Body Works Rain Kissed Leaves Shampoo
8. Men In Black 3
7. Project X
6. Breaking Dawn, Part 1
5. Snow White And The Huntsman
4. The Avengers
3. The Hunger Games
2. Star Trek: Machinations Of Doomsday
1. Prometheus

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Surprisingly Delicious, Lindt Enhances Their Lindor Truffle Line With New Vanilla Truffles!

The Good: Taste good, Great bulking, Generally decent ingredients
The Bad: A little more expensive than mass-produced chocolates.
The Basics: Destined to become part of the main line and a favorite of vanilla flavor-enthusiasts everywhere, Lindt Vanilla Lindor Truffles are delightful!

I am not, it ought to be noted, a huge fan of vanilla. Vanilla is, usually, pretty boring to me. I mention this at the outset of my review of the new Lindt Vanilla Lindor Truffles because I do not want any sort of allegation flying around that I came to the experienced biased in favor of the little sweets. The truth is, my wife and I found the Lindt Vanilla Lindor Truffles when we were at the mall on her birthday. Unable to resist anything she wanted on her birthday, I was compelled to let her purchase a few for me for enjoyment and review (I know, I have a real hard life, right?!).

As the latest flavor in the line, the Vanilla Truffles are pretty much guarantees to become part of the permanent line because they taste wonderful and they fill a flavor niche that had been, before now, missing.


Lindt Lindor Vanilla truffles are one of the standard twelve truffles from the Swiss chocolatiers Lindt & Sprungli and their U.S.-based subsidiary. Each truffle is a one inch sphere of Vanilla with a shell about an eighth of an inch thick. This shell covers a semi-fluidic Vanilla ganache ball inside and that center ball is also Vanilla. Each of the truffles comes individually wrapped in a purple foil wrapper. This is a distinctive wrapper on its own or when with other Lindt Lindor Truffles. While I usually rail against the environmental impact of individually-wrapped candies, it is hard to imagine Lindt Lindor truffles not wrapped. This keeps each one clean, unmelted and intact.

Each Lindor Truffle is a sphere with a seam at the hemisphere that is essentially a white globe with tiny black dots sealing in a near-solid Vanilla ball inside. In this form, the 120 count box, the individually-wrapped truffles are packaged together in a thin cardboard box. This size has one hundred twenty truffles, which lowers their overall cost to about thirty cents each. While this might still seem a little pricey to some, it is a decent price for confections of this quality.

Ease of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as opening the box and then opening one of the plastic wrappers around the actual truffles one wishes to eat. There is no special way to unwrap or eat Lindt Lindor Vanilla truffles. Keeping them cool prior to consumption is essential, though!


The Vanilla Lindt Lindor Truffles smell more like Vanilla than they do like vanilla, despite the white surface of the orb featuring tiny black specks, like vanilla beans. The smell is creamy and light, which made me suspect that this truffle might not live up.

Nothing, however, could be further from the reality! While the outer coating is a creamy Vanilla, the center is flavored distinctly and purely like vanilla. Reminding one instantly of a premium vanilla ice cream (in its melted state), the Vanilla Lindor Truffles are slightly sweet – not overbearingly so – and creamy. These are a delicious, lighter flavor that lives up to the promised flavor.

As with most vanilla products, the Vanilla Lindor Truffles leave the mouth dry with an aftertaste that is enough to make one want to drink something right away.


Well, these are candy, so it is tough to look at these for something nutritious and then blame them for not being healthy. Lindt Lindor truffles are surprisingly good, though, which is probably why they are so expensive. The primary ingredients are White Chocolate, vegetable oil and sugar. There is nothing unpronounable in these candies.

A serving of the Lindt Lindor Vanilla truffles is considered three balls. From three truffles, one consumes 230 calories, most of those calories being from fat (170). There are five milligrams of cholesterol and 30 mg of sodium. There is 6% of one’s daily calcium in three spheres, so they are not terribly nutritious.

These are candy and anyone looking to them for actual nutrition needs to get a reality check. These are not Vegan-compliant, nor are they recommended for anyone with a nut allergy as they are produced on the same equipment that peanuts (and tree nuts) pass over. They are, however, marked as kosher.


The box of these Lindt Lindor Vanilla truffles remain fresh for quite some time. However, even the box notes they ought to be kept in a cool environment between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Kept in such an environment, these will remain fresh until mid-2013 and that makes the bulking of the truffles a great value. Given that they are individually wrapped, it is hard to imagine just what it would take for these to go bad outside melting and refreezing.

As for cleanup, all one needs to do is throw the wrappers in the garbage! Outside that, there is no real cleanup needed, unless one is eating them in a hot environment. In that case, it is likely one would need to wash their hands. If these truffles melt into most fabrics, they will stain, though that stain might not be noticeable on anything but a dark fabric. For that style of clean-up, be sure to consult a fabric guide for whatever you stained.


Lindt Vanilla Lindor Truffles were a shock to me – more than anybody! – and are very much worth stocking up on.

For other Lindt Lindor Truffles, please check out my reviews of:
White Chocolate
Milk Chocolate
Dark Peppermint


For other food reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Hokey Gothic Soap Opera Continues, Dark Shadows Volume 3 Continues The Story Of Barnabas Collins!

The Good: Moments of intrigue and mood
The Bad: Very clunky acting, Repetition, Soap operatic nature, Medium issues
The Basics: Fun, campy and very much a soap opera, the third volume of Dark Shadows finds Barnabas Collins exerting more influence over Collinsport!

It seems, whether I want to or not, I am finding myself more and more immersed in the series Dark Shadows, a 1960s gothic horror soap opera which my mother was a big fan of. The series was released on VHS in five episode (essentially a week's worth of episodes) installments and with "Volume 3," the show continues to be a strange oscillation between creepy and original and formulaic and blase. The originality comes from the fact that the daily soap opera had a unique setting and was going for a serialized gothic horror story as opposed to most soap operas about common relationships being made larger than life through affairs, treachery and lust. Sadly, the negative aspects of the show resound; the stories are often clumsy, the acting is clunky and frequently painfully awkward, and the nature of the medium requires that the stories be told around commercial breaks for which there are frequently melodramatic moments preceding said breaks and the repetition of information when one returns. This holds up poorly on video.

Volume 3 of Dark Shadows picks up where Volume 2 (reviewed here!) left off. At this point in the story, Collinwood has been visited by Barnabas Collins, a mysterious figure who seems to know his way around. Willie Loomis, a grave robber, has fallen severely ill and Jason McGuire continues to try to exploit Willie and their mutual hostess, Elizabeth. Victoria Winters has, for the most part, been an observer.

The video of Dark Shadows "Volume 3" contains episodes eleven through fifteen, without any bonus features or additional programming to make the video a better value. Here is how the stories go:

Episode eleven, Willie Loomis awakens at night, feeling better, where he is confronted by an incredulous Jason McGuire. After insisting to Jason that he is well-enough to leave, Willie says his good-byes, even apologizing to Elizabeth for all of the problems he has caused. Barnabas drops in on Elizabeth and Victoria where Elizabeth decides she will let Barnabas take up residence in the old house. Barnabas lets Victoria know that he will be renovating the old house and she is actually excited by the prospect. Barnabas wanders over to his new residence where he finds Willie and he orders Willie out on a mysterious new task, clearly in control of the young man.

While cleaning up the local diner she works at, Maggie Evans is startled by the appearance of Barnabas, which opens the twelfth episode. During a conversation while Barnabas has a cup of coffee, Maggie learns about the staff he carries and the value it holds both to him and because of its composition. When Barnabas leaves, a protective Joe - her boyfriend - arrives and then Maggie notices Barnabas left his cane behind. Finding Barnabas in his new residence, the overly polite Barnabas begins spying on Maggie and possibly preparing to do something worse, which is what Willie - still under the thrall of Barnabas - fears.

The thirteenth episode has Victoria visiting the old house and discovering Willie there, with Willie begging her to get out as quick as she can. Willie manages to get Victoria out before Barnabas arrives and insists that Willie go out and fulfill his task. Maggie, at her apartment, is visited by Barnabas. Terrified that she might have been followed home, Maggie lets Barnabas in and shows him some paintings by her father. Her father arrives and accepts a commission from Barnabas to paint a portrait of him. Sam Evans goes with Barnabas to the old house at Collinwood where they begin the portrait. Sam is shocked, though, when Barnabas disappears as dawn breaks through the windows at the old house.

In episode fourteen, Victoria reveals to Elizabeth that she saw Willie at the old house with Barnabas. Elizabeth goes to speak with Barnabas and has to console David, who comes along and dislikes what Barnabas is doing with the old house. Upon returning to the main mansion of Collinwood, Elizabeth is met by Burke Devlin, who is offended that Elizabeth sold off some property he wanted without giving him a chance to buy it. After their meeting, Burke talks with David, who wants the portrait of Josette that Barnabas had moved, which sense David back to the old house.

Episode fifteen opens with young David Collins trapped by dogs within the old house, when he is rescued by Barnabas. Jason McGuire returns to encourage Elizabeth to deal with Willie once and for all and he visits Willie, meeting Barnabas there. As Maggie falls into a nightmarish sleep, Willie goes on his "errand" and Sam Evans arrives in the parlor of Barnabas Collins where he continues work on the portrait.

The black and white episodes are filled with painfully awkward acting, most of it centered around the child actor who plays David Collins. The boy forgets his lines and when he remembers them, he delivers them without any real emotion. On the flip side, Jonathan Frid, who plays Barnabas, continues to come into his own in these episodes. He does spooky exceptionally well and there's not a moment where he is hammy in these episodes, though he does have a tendency to play to the camera in the worst tradition of soap operas.

In this set of five episodes, the repetition of information before and after the commercials seems excessive (especially given as there are no commercials on the video!). One has the sense that the writers had created a situation, knew where they wanted to be at the end of the week, but then did not know quite how to get to there.

What saves this volume from the scrap pile entirely? That's easy; even in these episodes, the moments Barnabas Collins is on screen, he is electric and engaging. He draws the eye and, even though I know where the series is going with the character, the way his character's backstory is unfolding is interesting and surprisingly well done. And in this set of episodes, the viewer actually comes to care some for Willie Loomis, who is clearly under Barnabas's control, but is fighting for his own humanity.

Sadly, on VHS, there are no bonus features and while MPI transferred the film to video, they did not clean it up. As a result, Dark Shadows looks as terrible on video as anything from the 1960s would unretouched. Dark Shadows is similarly plagued by the fact that it was frequently cursed with technical problems. Candles in the crypts and people lighting matches for their cigarettes (characters are frequently seen smoking on the show) cause burn out and when characters move across the sets, frequently the actors get washed out by the lights. So, even if the images weren't fairly grainy, the quality of what was on the film was frequently problematic. There's no reason I can think of for anyone still tied to VHS to settle with collecting these episodes on that medium.

[For a much better value, check out Dark Shadows Volume 1 on DVD, reviewed here, as it has over forty episodes on the currently dominant medium!]

For other shows with soap opera qualities, please check out my reviews of:
Gilmore Girls
Dawson's Creek - Season 1


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Too Loud (And Inefficient) To Earn My Recommendation, The Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand Gets Blown Away!

The Good: Inexpensive, Easy to use, Easy to travel with.
The Bad: Requires USB power to use, Does not sufficiently move air to keep a laptop computer cool, Comparatively loud.
The Basics: The Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand is not powerful enough (and draws upon power to operate!) to successfully keep laptop computers that are in heavy use cool.

As I work my way up (finally!) to reviewing the laptop computer my wife purchased for me last year after she was gifted one, I am stalling by evaluating every possible peripheral we have around the house for them! Today, I actually reach the last one, the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand.

Given that both my wife and I use our laptop computers consistently for long periods of time – twelve to fifteen hours a day is not unheard of – one of the first accessories we purchased was a laptop cooler. I tend to be squeamish about anything that requires power, so I went with a cooling mat (reviewed here!). My wife went with the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand. Recently, I had reason to use the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand myself for a few days and it made me very happy that I do not have to keep using it now.

The Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand, model F5L055, is a hard plastic desk-like support for laptop computers. It is 11 3/4" wide by 11 3/8” deep and just under 2” tall at the back. The front is lower, which makes the latop’s keyboard raised when it is on the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand. The laptop computer does not slide, though, because the top features two rubber patches which act as slip-resistant strips for the laptop. The Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand features a fan in its center, which sits beneath the center of the laptop that is placed on the stand.

The Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand is powered via USB power. There is a foot-long cord that ends in a USB-male jack that plugs into any USB port on the laptop. As soon as the device is powered, the fan on the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand begins blowing air up. Because the surface of the top of the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand is curved, the air that is being blown up blows out both sides of the base of the laptop.

The first thing I noticed about the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand is that it is loud. In fact, the fan on the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand is nowhere near whisper-quiet. While it effectively moves some air, the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand does not move enough air to justify the amount of noise it makes. Instead, the heat that is not dispersed by the fan continues to radiate. The Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand also gets hotter the longer it runs, making it pretty ineffective over long periods of time. While the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand is not a huge energy hog, I have noticed that it cuts down my laptop battery’s life by half when it is active and my laptop is not plugged in.

Belkin does manage to do something neat with the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand, though. The cord comes in a small channel which allows one to easily wrap the cord under the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand when it is not in use.

This is, ultimately, not enough to make it possible to recommend the Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand; there are better cooling products for laptop computers.

For other products that can be an asset to laptop use, check out my reviews of:
Netgear WN2000RPT WiFi Range Extender
Gear Head 3 Button Optical Mouse
Dynex 4 Port USB 2.0 Hub


For other computer-related reviews, be sure to visit my Computer Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Fear The Government Of Yore: Thirteen Days

The Good: Documents well the history, Good acting
The Bad: Little character development, Awkward pacing, Lack of consequences at the end.
The Basics: Despite Kevin Costner's excellent portrayal of Kenny O'Donnell, Thirteen Days fails to convincingly portray the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When Thirteen Days came out, it was right around the time George W. Bush was being considered for the job. When one of my friends saw the film, her opinion was. "I hope nothing like that ever happens if he becomes president, because we would all be dead." Having now seen Thirteen Days, I'm convinced as well that had anything like the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred during the Bush Administration, the United States of America would have initiated World War 3.

Thirteen Days opens with a U.S. spy plane flying over Cuba and photographing medium-range nuclear missiles being transported on the island. When news of this reaches President Kennedy, he and his brother are aided in preventing World War Three with the Soviet Union by Kenny O'Donnell, the president's special assistant. What follows is a chess match between the United States and the Soviet Union where the topic of the missile deployment forces each side to make their moves. As the U.S. gets closer and closer to war, the military applies pressure on Kennedy to go to war while cooler - and more intelligent - heads prevail on John F. Kennedy for a diplomatic solution.

One of the nice things about Thirteen Days is that it illustrates well the power of the intellect over military might. In Thirteen Days, the best minds in the nation are put in a room together and told to come up with solutions and they do. The brothers Kennedy and O'Donnell make for compelling intellectual characters who innovate when they need to.

John F. Kennedy is painted as a man thrust into responsibilities he never anticipated or wanted and is getting an ulcer as a result. Robert Kennedy is painted as an intellectual savior of the nation and watching Thirteen Days, it is impossible to not feel sorry for the assassination of this leader. He could have done amazing things and this film makes it clear that he had the mettle for it.

But the surprise character many of us do not know about from our history classes is Kenny O'Donnell. O'Donnell is a nice balance to the Kennedy's, offering practical more emotional - instinct-driven - opinions and theories. Moreover, his handling of military officers is a masterful work of political intelligence. By preventing such things as information about U.S. planes being shot at, he preempts the rules of engagement and prevents war from being a tactical necessity.

Unfortunately, the characters are caught mid-stream. If one hasn't taken US history courses or lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the characters make little sense. That is, the film takes place while the Kennedy Administration is in progress, so their historical significance up to the Cuban Missile Crisis is not explored or even alluded to in a way that is significant.

Fortunately, the acting makes up for it. In some ways. Kevin Costner leads the cast as O'Donnell. He makes O'Donnell human in ways that many of the other characters are not. They tend to be monolithic, with Bill Smitrovich portraying the Joint Chief of Staff as a hard military man and Steven Culp as Robert Kennedy with almost no emotion. That is, Costner plays a more well rounded character with actual depth while the others play their characters as archetypes, as symbols more than viable individuals.

So, often it becomes difficult to tell if the acting is good for the writing or the writing is simply a study in caricatures as opposed to individuals. Notably, Bruce Greenwood plays John F. Kennedy with mixed convincibility. Some moments, he seems exactly like Kennedy does in historical broadcasts both televised and radio. But never does Greenwood get quite to the point of being the clever politician who stumped Nixon in the debates.

Unfortunately, that's indicative of the film. First, the tension never actually seems high. We all know how the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, so it's no surprise that we're not all nuked. But the film never captures the entire dread potential of nuclear war.

As well, the film never seems to get going. It has an excruciatingly slow build-up. If one were to walk in after the first half hour, they would not have lost any of the attempt to create a mood.

Finally, the lasting consequences of the incident are lacking from the film. The red telephone between the U.S. and the USSR is not brought in to conclude the film.

Add to that the direction uses very annoying black and white moments where the color simply disappears. There's no sensibility to the changes between color and black and white and it serves only to confuse the film's purpose.

A film on the Cuban Missile Crisis that doesn't grab the viewer in the first few minutes is death for the film; it's a major crisis in U.S. history that was tense for all those involved and if it fails to evoke a mood, then it fails. Ultimately, Thirteen Days fails to evoke a tense mood instead miring itself in pointless details like an encounter between Kenny O'Donnell and Jackie Kennedy, and ultimately fails as a film.

For other works with Bruce Greenwood, check out:
Super 8
Star Trek


For other films, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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A Tale Of Two Bajorans: Kira And Ro Reboot Star Trek: Deep Space Nine With Avatar!

The Good: Generally interesting characters, Good writing
The Bad: Essentially the same plot at the first pilot to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!
The Basics: A good, but not great, restart of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine begins with Avatar, Book One!

For those who might not read my many, many reviews, I am a huge fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (reviewed here!). I was one of the few who was hooked from the first episode and I cry every time the last frames come up on screen of the last episode. It was a powerful part of my life during some rather formative years, so it is almost a surprise it has taken me so long to getting around to getting into the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel series as it has. Actually, it is not so much of a surprise: I gave up on the Star Trek novels shortly after Star Trek: Voyager began and Pocketbooks was cramming out two per month on the average month. The first original Star Trek: Voyager book was abysmal; the characters sounded nothing like the characters and it was just all-around bad.

Lately, though, I had been hearing rumors that because there was a chance somewhere between 0% and "never" of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine either returning to television or being picked up as a film franchise, Pocket Books was now being given license from the Powers That Be at CBS/Paramount to continue the story of Space Station Deep Space Nine following the series finale. Given how climactic and final "What You Leave Behind" (the series finale to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, reviewed here!) was, the novelists working on the project basically had to reboot the series and they started doing that with Avatar, Part 1 by S.D. Perry. Avatar functions as a pilot for "season eight" of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, much the way that "Emissary" (reviewed here!) functioned as a pilot for the television series.

Three months after the end of the Dominion War and the disappearance of Captain Benjamin Sisko in the Fire Caves of Bajor, Jake Sisko is working at the archaeological excavation of B'Hala when a Prylar hands him an ancient prophecy concerning him and the Emissary (Captain Sisko). Eager to see his father again, Jake abandons the dig and makes plans to make a journey that will allow the prophecy to come true. Elsewhere, in the Badlands, the U.S.S. Enterprise-E is hunting rogue Breen ships that have been sighted following the war. Instead, they come across an old Cardassian vessel that is housing a secret of its own, a secret that will call the 101 year-old Elias Vaughn to change his life.

Unfortunately, it is at this time that space station Deep Space Nine is running a complete and total retrofit of the station and the Defiant and it is at its most vulnerable. Protected by a lone ship, the new command staff of Deep Space Nine - made up of familiar faces like Colonel Kira Nerys (now the commander of the space station), Dr. Bashir, Lieutenant Nog (Chief of Operations), and Lieutenant Ezri Dax (ship's counselor) and characters entirely new or new to this context, like Security Chief Lieutenant Ro Laren, Ensign Thirishar ch'Thane (Andorian science officer), and Commander Jast (first officer) - is overrun with mechanical problems when Prylar Istani Reyla arrives on the station and is killed in an apparent robbery which also results in the death of her assailant. As Ro and Kira square off over the new security chief's handling of the situation, the station comes under attack by three Jem'Hadar attack ships. Normally this would not be a problem, but with the station and Defiant in the middle of complete overhauls . . .

Avatar, Book One is a reboot of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine franchise, but it is also a continuation of the story that was told in the television series. S.D. Perry and the producers of the novel series are smart enough to not simply recreate the television series. As a result, the characters who left in the final episode: Odo, Worf, and O'Brien are all still gone. Similarly, there are giant political and religious holes in the Cardassian and Bajoran governments. First Minister Shakaar is still the leader of Bajor, but the religious leaders from the Vedek Assembly are scheming to figure out the future of Bajor and the Cardassian Union is absent, save the mention of a letter Bashir receives from Garak.

In other words, change is entirely in the air at Deep Space Nine and three months after the final frames from the television series, Avatar picks up as a new pilot. On the good, this is very strongly the universe of Star Trek presented in this novel. The book includes the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E, plus Ro Laren and Simon Tarses from Star Trek: The Next Generation, making it a clear and powerful crossover with the established Star Trek universe. That both works and it doesn't. It works in that since the pilot to Star Trek: The Next Generation, there has been some firm character connection to another Star Trek series to "pass the torch." The problem here is that it was the Enterprise and Picard who appeared in "Emissary" to make that transition, so it feels much like replaying the best ideas from the television series. I understand Perry could not use any characters from Star Trek: Voyager - the U.S.S. Voyager has not made it home when this book takes place - but that feeling is still left in the text that they are rehashing "Emissary."

Nowhere is this more clear than in the character of Elias Vaughn. Vaughn is headed somewhere - though he is thinking of leaving StarFleet until he encounters what he encounters on the old Cardassian freighter - but he is painted as a man who is lost, who has a vision which appears to be taking him to Deep Space Nine. This is essentially Benjamin Sisko's character arc in "Emissary." The insulting aspect is that Perry seems to get this and Picard observes that he observed the exact change in Elias that he recognizes from the time he saw Sisko go through it.

Beyond that, Avatar is a decent fit into the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine universe. Readers would be best served by watching the episodes "The Abandoned" (reviewed here!), "Rapture" (reviewed here!) and "What You Leave Behind." Without the last two, especially, readers will likely be a bit lost as to what is going on as the events of those episodes trigger much of the action of Avatar up until the moment of the Jem'Hadar attack. Avatar, Book One actually picks up nicely as a "season eight" season premiere, though the plot similarities to "Emissary" would not be lost on readers who are fans of the television series.

What Avatar does very well is fit into the adult concepts that were presented in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While my usual nit-pick about any Maquis being left alive had to be tabled for me to accept Ro Laren in Avatar, I enjoyed that there are casualties even in this first act of the new series. As for Ro, the fundamental problems with Ro are that she is referred to as a Lieutenant (a StarFleet rank, when she is working for the Bajorans) and there is instant conflict between her and Kira. Kira, having once been a terrorist and having worked over the seven years of the television series to accept everyone from her collaborator mother to Cardassian war criminals who were pawns in their government's machinations, seems to have taken a big step backward here. After all, Ro did her part for Bajoran refugees before the end of the Occupation, left StarFleet to join the Maquis (an organization Kira sympathized with!) and ultimately (we are told in Avatar) was part of a rogue force attacking Dominion installations during the Dominion War.

But even better is the thematic aspect of Reconstruction. The Dominion War is over, but Nog is essentially an anti-Jem'Hadar racist, Elias Vaughn is in the middle of a spiritual crisis where he wants to contribute something other than death to the galaxy (he is a great warrior for the Federation, yet has somehow never progressed beyond the rank of Commander), and Dax and Bashir are already having fractures in their young romance. That works especially well and Perry is able to do things that could not be done on television and seldom are on the shows that can; in the middle of a sex scene between Julian Bashir and Ezri Dax, there comes a huge spiritual shift in the act (Bashir senses suddenly that he is not with Ezri, but with one of the former hosts to the Dax Symbiont) and everything is thrown into chaos as a result. Politically, tensions are high about the treaty that was signed ending the Dominion War and when the Jem'Hadar ships appear and attack, fears run rampant and tensions run high. This works beautifully to open a new chapter for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Above all, it continues the story from the television series and progresses it forward. Can the book be read and get fans into this new literary Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series? Sure. But it is so specific and referential to aspects of the television show, that it will be much more appreciated by fans of the television series than by general readers.

There is a lot to like, as well, within the character of Kira, whose position as commander of Deep Space Nine was a long time coming and is well-presented here. In fact, the only troubling aspect to the Kira aspect of Avatar, Book One (outside the relationship with Ro) is that Kira HAS been here before. In fact, Kira commanded Deep Space Nine for about the same amount of time during the Dominion War when Sisko went AWOL after Jadzia's death. So, why she is so harried seems a little annoying to careful fans (like why she needs someone to coordinate with StarFleet when presumably she was doing that before a year prior - one fails to believe Worf was much of a help to her during that time!) but outside that, Nerys works and her exhausted self is well-characterized here.

In other words, there is a lot of potential here and the story is clearly just beginning . . .

For the first major portion of the eighth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, be sure to check out Twist Of Faith, reviewed here, which includes this book and three others!


For other Star Trek books, be sure to visit my Star Trek Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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With “Caretaker,” Star Trek: Voyager Is Off With A Bang!

The Good: Excellent initial characterization, Reasonably good plot, Competent acting
The Bad: Only the usual starting show problems
The Basics: Quit while you're ahead - watch “Caretaker,” enjoy it, and don't break your back to watch other Star Trek: Voyager episodes!

I almost managed to keep my promise to myself that I wouldn't spend this review lambasting the entire Star Trek: Voyager series following the pilot episode. I guess right now I'm failing. There are some good episodes of Voyager in the first three seasons (there's not a single superlative episode thereafter) and the series peaked with the penultimate episode of the second season ("Resolutions," if you're interested).

Part of the problem is "Caretaker," which got the series off to a great start. Despite the simple resolution to the essential character conflicts (which are much more understandable in the immediate situation in "Caretaker" than in the following episodes), "Caretaker" is easily the best beginning to a Trek series ever. The writers and producers succeeded in making a collection of interesting characters, putting them in an interesting ethical conflict and actually succeeding in making the viewer care.

"Caretaker" is the story of a group of renegades who are whisked off into another corner of the galaxy by a powerful alien. Shortly thereafter, their pursuers from the right side of the law are similarly abducted while hunting for the renegades. In the far corner they find themselves forced to rely on each other as they unravel the reasoning behind why they were abducted and, in the process, are forced to make a difficult decision.

The problems the U.S.S. Voyager and its crew immediately find themselves embroiled in take two forms: the mysterious Caretaker (the alien who brought the crew into the Delta Quadrant) and the Kazon, a warlike nomadic race on a nearby planet that menaces the subterranean Ocampa which the Caretaker is bent on protecting. Lost in a far corner of the galaxy, the two crews must protect the Ocampa, stop the oppressive Kazon and attempt to find a way home.

As this is only the first episode of the series, one might guess they fail with that last part.

The Federation Starship Voyager is led by Katharyn Janeway, who is commanding a new state of the art starship that is environmentally friendly. She is hunting a renegade named Chakotay and the reason she was tapped was because her Security Chief, a Vulcan named Tuvok, was aboard the ship enemy ship when it was lost. The crew is rounded out by an ambitious ensign, a former criminal as the chief helm officer, a holographic surgeon and a half-Klingon, half-human woman who will soon become the chief engineer. In the distant corner of space they find themselves, they meet a guide and his telepathic assistant. They also, in the process of resolving their ethical dilemma, make a new enemy.

"Caretaker" is light on the special effects, though it has some excellent effects in a climactic space battle. This works to the strength of the show; the first episode is packed with character. And if Tom Paris seems especially well defined in the first scene he appears in, there's good reason; actor Robert Duncan McNeill taped at least two versions of it with the woman originally cast as Janeway.

The acting in the first episode seems remarkably good considering it is a pilot episode and the show has so much further to go.

To understand Star Trek: Voyager better, it helps to know who the characters are as established in this pilot episode. They are:

Captain Kathryn Janeway - A scientist who is sent on a rescue mission when her ship is abducted by an alien force. Highly ethical and humane, Janeway is forced to make a moral decision that pits the life of a planet against the easy return of her crew to where it belongs,

Lieutenant Tuvok - The Vulcan security chief, he is efficient and commanding. Tuvok was undercover investigating a Maquis ship when it was abducted by the Caretaker alien, compelling Janeway to hunt for him,

The Doctor (The Emergency Medical Hologram) - The chief medical officer when the medical staff is inadvertantly killed, he is a hologram with the sum total of the Federation's medical knowledge programmed into him. He is limited to Sickbay as that is the only place on the ship that has the holographic projectors,

Ensign Harry Kim - Fresh from the Academy, Kim is on his first mission. After leaving Deep Space Nine on Voyager, he is tortured by the Caretaker. He's not having the best week,

Lieutenant (j.g.) Tom Paris - Formerly StarFleet, Formerly Maquis, Janeway buys his way out of prison with the mission to the Badlands because in addition to being a criminal, he's an ace pilot. He is a rogue willing to work for anyone, for the right price,

Captain Chakotay - Leader of a Maquis cell that is lost in the Badlands. Chakotay is a Native American Indian who teams up with Janeway to try to find a way back to the Alpha Quadrant, though the appearance of the warlike Kazon soon scuttles his plans,

B'Elanna Torres - Chakotay's chief engineer, a half-human, half-Klingon woman who is filled with anger. Abducted and experimented on by the Caretaker, this Maquis is not having a great week either,

Neelix - A Talaxian (new race native to the Delta Quadrant) and a junk merchant, Neelix is essentially a freemarket guide living in the area who offers his service for passage on Voyager,

and Kes - A young Ocampa (also a race introduced in this episode), a race that lives very short lives. She is deeply compassionate and a friend of Neelix, she aids Janeway in rescuing Kim and Torres.

The characters start out as an interesting mix and "Caretaker" presents them in a way that gives the viewer hope that their characters might be maintained and grow. They certainly have a lot to work with!

More than any of the other Star Trek series', Voyager begins with a feeling of polish and a stronger sense of what it is. It's disappointing to see how very far off course it went. A pleasant surprise for those who aren't Trek fans as well.

[Knowing that the season is a much better investment, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete First Season on DVD, which provides the full opening to the series. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to check out my Star Trek Review Index Page for reviews on episodes, films and seasons across the entire franchise!

© 2012, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Exceptionally Poseable, The Orange Lantern Lex Luthor From DC Direct Is Pretty Wonderful!

The Good: Cool sculpt, Decent accessories, Great poseability, Awesome balance
The Bad: Pops apart, Head articulation, Collectible value
The Basics: The Orange Lantern Lex Luthor action figure from DC Direct is one of the hidden gems of the Blackest Night toy line!

The best heroes, it may be argued, are offset by the villainy of their primary adversary. The Joker, for example, is a reflection of Batman; he is chaotic and afraid of nothing, whereas Batman is exceptionally organized and uses fear as a weapon. For a long time, Lex Luthor was simply the generic bad guy to reflect Superman’s naïve goodness. But some of the best writers, like Brian Azzarella in Luthor (reviewed here!), give Lex Luthor more depth and personality than that, which fleshes him out as a more complicated and compelling villain.

But, sometimes, the villain gets stripped down for plot purposes. During the Blackest Night event, Lex Luthor’s character complexities are stripped away as the Guardians deputize every major hero and villain in the DC Universe in order to combat the threat of the Black Lanterns. Thus, Lex Luthor, is given an orange power battery and ring and as an Orange Lantern, he both contributes to saving the universe from death incarnate and squabbles with the only other Orange Lantern, Larfleeze. Larfleeze remains one of the most elusive DC Direct figures yet made and I – like many a fan – am still kicking myself for not picking one up when they were originally released because now they are insanely expensive.

For those unfamiliar with him, Orange Lantern Lex Luthor is the Orange Ring infected (or empowered, I suppose, depending upon your perspective) version of Lex Luthor, seen very briefly in Blackest Night (reviewed here!). Only a background character in the story, Orange Lantern Lex Luthor is the set-up for Lex Luthor’s ultimate quest for a Black Ring of power.

It is Lex Luthor in his orange-ring construct costume that is the subject of the DC Direct figure! There is also a Mattel version of this figure, though it has a frosted orange appearance instead of the translucent orange version that DC Direct created.


The Orange Lantern Lex Luthor figure is exceptionally well-detailed, in both the sculpt and the coloring, though the latter gets cheated some! This figure is essentially Lex Luthor in the power armor he wore in the 1980s, completely recolored as a construct of the orange ring he wears on his right hand. The Orange Lantern Lex Luthor figure is 7 1/8" tall to the top of the extended collar that protects the back of his head.

This toy is a decent sculpt, especially for a character that has only had two-dimensional references; the Orange Lantern Lex Luthor looks good in all three dimensions. DC Direct included details like the Orange Lantern symbol molded on his chest and even details like the rivets on the armor. The tubes that connect Luthor’s breastplate to the collar are present, manufactured in soft plastic much like the “skirt” on the armor that descends from the character’s waist. The armod is all-encompasing and leaves only Luthor’s head exposed. The head has Luthor looking pretty maniacal with a creepy smile and angry eyes. It does, however, look like the popular villain.

The Orange Lantern Lex Luthor's costume is molded entirely in a translucent orange plastic, so you can see through him and see all the joints. The only piece of this figure with any coloring depth or realism is the head. The eyes are tiny orange orbs that have replaced his human appearance. The detailing for Lex Luthor’s lips and teeth is exceptionally well-rendered. This is one of the best-colored human heads in the DC Direct line!


The Orange Lantern Lex Luthor, greedy sonofabitch out for his own gain, comes with only two accessories: his stand and his orange lantern. The stand is an orange and white disk with the Orange Lantern logo. It is 3 3/4" in diameter and 1/4” tall and it features a small peg that fits perfectly into the hole in Orange Lantern Lex Luthor's right foot. This keeps him in exceptionally stable poses while on his stand, which can be helpful because the figure is so detailed that it has treads on the bottom of his feet!

The Orange Lantern is a pretty typical lantern made of a pearlescent orange plastic with a clear panel on two ends so one might shine a light through it (I suppose). 1 3/4" tall by 1 1/2” wide and deep, the orange lantern fits nicely in either of Lex Luthor’s hands and looks appropriate there. The handle only occasionally comes off this lantern.


The DC Direct figures were designed more for display than play, but the Orange Lantern Lex Luthor is pretty amazing for both. Even in outlandish poses, he has the balance needed to stand up. The treads on the sides of the feet even keep the Orange Lantern Lex Luthor standing when he is on textured surfaces!

The Orange Lantern Lex Luthor comes with an incredible eighteen points of articulation, which is pretty high, especially for a DC Direct figure! The Orange Lantern Lex Luthor has fully articulated ankles, knees, thighs, groin socket, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, chest and head! The shoulders are proper ball and socket joints. The head is on a ball joint, which allows the villain to nod up and down as well as look left to right! Most of the joints on this figure are ball joints, giving Luthor exceptional flexibility.

The only issue with the joints (outside the plastic on this figure being uncommonly stiff when it is first pulled from the package) is with the ankles. For some reason, the ankle joints – which are a ball joint – are not held in as tightly as the rest of the figure’s joints. Thus, my Luthor’s feet popped off pretty easily when I was making weird poses for him. Fortunately, they pop right back in, but it can be unnerving considering how other DC Direct figures have simply broken with such articulation eccentricities.


The Orange Lantern Lex Luthor is part of the DC Direct Blackest Night Series 8 line which was fairly common and no one seemed to care about. Comprised of second and third string characters, none of the characters in the Series 8 line were vital to the Blackest Night story, save the Atom and that remains one of the least popular figures in the DC Direct line! Because the Orange Lantern Lex Luthor is an obscure character in an obscure corner of the story, I suspect this figure will not appreciate for quite some time. That’s too bad, though, because this is a remarkably cool action figure!


Lex Luthor has grown on me over the years as an intriguing villain and while he might have had a very minor role in the Blackest Night Saga, the Orange Lantern Lex Luthor figure makes for a pretty cool toy worth picking up!

For other Blackest Night figures, please check out my reviews of:
Wave 8 Black Lantern Black Flash
Wave 8 Indigo Tribe The Atom
Wave 7 Arkillo
Wave 7 Red Lantern Mera
Wave 6 Blue Lantern The Flash
Wave 6 Star Sapphire Wonder Woman
Wave 5 Black Lantern Deadman
Wave 5 Nekron
Wave 2 Indigo-1
Wave 1 Saint Walker


For other toy reviews, please check out my Toy Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Not Quite All The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb (But Almost Close Enough)!

The Good: Decent mix of radio hits, Good voice, Nice lyrics
The Bad: Somewhat basic instrumentals (does not capture Loeb's full range).
The Basics: Surprisingly good, The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb is a wonderful reflection of the musical artist, even though it doesn't illustrate all her truly best tracks.

It's a rare opportunity for me where I get virtually all of the works of an artist in and then their "Best of" album comes in for me to evaluate right around the same time. The reason this is a treat for me is simple: I can very easily look at my most recent music reviews and recall my favorite tracks off each album and compare them to what ended up on the "best of" album. In the case of The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb, this is a remarkably easy thing for me to compare: I've been listening to her pretty much nonstop for the last week.

The verdict on The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb is very easy for me to make simple and direct: this is an album with Loeb's most recognizable tracks off all of her albums at the time, but it in no way reflects her best-written or performed works. For example, the superlative tracks off the albums Tails and The Way It Really Is, "Hurricane" and "Now I Understand" are noticeably absent from this compilation. So, from a literal perspective, this is not, in fact, The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb. However, if one were condemned to prison with the ability to take only on Lisa Loeb album with them, this might be the best choice to meet those criteria. And, to be honest, out of all of the compilation albums I have heard in my life, this one might be one of the better ones as far as sounding like the music belongs together in the order it is. In other words, more than just sounding like a random collection of hits thrown together, The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb actually sounds like a complete album with its own messages, themes and sense of cohesion.

With eighteen tracks, clocking in at a second over an hour, The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb might be light on the "very best," but it certainly is definitive Loeb. All of the tracks are written or co-written by Loeb (the majority have her as the solo writer) and she provides the lead vocals to each and every song. As well, Loeb frequently does her own backing vocals, which is pretty impressive. She plays acoustic guitar on all of the songs and the electric guitar on "Waiting For Wednesday," the track I think this album could have passed on. As well, she co-produced all but three of the songs on this album. In other words, this album reflects - for the most part - the musical sensibilities of singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb.

Given that only one song on the album features Loeb on her electric guitar, this might well be viewed as the best of Lisa Loeb's acoustic works. The surprising aspect of many of her albums to those whose familiarity with Loeb is mostly her radio hit "Stay (I Missed You") is that Lisa Loeb has some ability to rock and sound a bit heavier, angrier or vocal than the demure poet the one single paints her as. That surprise is largely lacking from The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb, save on her track "Single Me Out." Most of the songs on this album are the more musing songs which focus on asking questions ("How," "Do You Sleep?," "What Am I Supposed To Say?"), telling musical stories ("Furious Rose," "Waiting For Wednesday") or expressing fairly universal sentiments ("Stay (I Missed You)," "Falling In Love," "Wishing Heart").

For those not familiar with the works of Lisa Loeb, she is a singer-songwriter whose general style is the lone woman with guitar who performs from the nebulous border between pop-rock and folk-rock music. She is an adept music writer, vocal performer and lyricist.

Perhaps best known for her #1 hit, "Stay (I Missed You)," Lisa Loeb started from a place where what separated her from most of the marketplace was her powerful ability to write compelling lyrics. Lisa Loeb burst out of the gate as an articulate young woman with lines like ". . . I turned the radio on, I turned the radio up, / And this woman was singing my song: / The lover's in love, and the other's run away, / The lover is crying 'cause the other won't stay. / Some of us hover when we weep for the other who was / Dying since the day they were born. / Well, this is not that: / I think that I'm throwing, but I'm thrown. / And I thought I'd live forever, but now I'm not so sure" ("Stay (I Missed You)"). I used to work with a guy who loathed popular music and when the Fugees hit it big with "Killing Me Softly," a song he had been listening to for about three months before it became a mainstream success, all he said was "Sometimes the masses get it right." With Lisa Loeb, "Stay (I Missed You)" might provided an even more potent example. There are so few pop-rock songs written with such a smart ability to express what the artist is trying to say as that.

The thing is, Loeb is not a one-hit wonder, at least not on the lyrical aspects. At least as good as her mainstream smash is the song "Bring Me Up," where she sings, "We've shared humility and orange roses. / And poking fun at all our friends / They had their barbecues, we have our arguments. / We never can agree. / You said, "when you don't talk you take it out on me." / I was quiet, I was tired. . . . I wanted you to make it stop . . . And you were wrong and I was right. and I wanted you to bring me up. / Hmmm you know me well, this is something that I shouldn't have to tell you." Loeb has a pretty incredible ability to both tell musical story-songs and to express emotions that fall along the lines of universal relationship feelings. Her ability to explore dysfunctional relationships in songs gives her a wonderful perspective and one that makes her very accessible, even if her diction is above the heads of the 12 - 15 year-old c.d. buying market.

And while she uses repetition effectively in songs like "Bring Me Up" and "Do You Sleep?," she is less effective with it on tracks like "Truthfully." This song holds up incredibly poorly - especially over multiple replays - with its refrain of "truthfully, I - / I'm finding finally. / truthfully, you - / you helped me find at last. / truthfully, we - / are finding out what's true. / and truthfully I am finding out what's you" ("Truthfully"). Combined with the singsong nature of the vocal performance, the simplicity of the lyrics rather quickly becomes annoying and tiresome. Fortunately, this is the exception to the rule on The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb, an album that more frequently surprises with its clever rhyme schemes and verbal expressiveness.

Lisa Loeb's vocals tend to fall into an alto and soprano range and the songs on The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb, there is a fair exploration of her range. She goes higher for songs like "Do You Sleep?" a song impressive also for the speed that she manages to get the lines out in. She goes a bit lower for songs like "Taffy" and this helps her to emote a bit more anger, which fits the song perfectly (it's an angry song by the lyrics, if not by the instrumentals).

Similarly, The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb has tracks that are generally more along the pop-rock sensibilities of Lisa Loeb, omitting the songs that are the most folksy from this compilation. Strangely, the opposite is true as well; The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb is lacking in a number of the tracks where Loeb plays the electric guitar and plays heavy, dramatic chords. The result is a (mostly) light pop-rock album that sounds like a Lilith Fair radio station.

While it might seem like The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb would have very limited appeal, the strength of Loeb's lyrics make her works easily accessible and enjoyable to anyone who loves great singer-songwriters. Anyone who liked the poetics of anything they might have heard by Loeb on the radio will likely feel like it is concentrated on this album and this work does have a high number of truly wonderful tracks by the singer-songwriter.

The best track is "Stay (I Missed You)," the low point is probably the repetitive and less memorable "All Day."

For other, former Artist Of The Month, reviews, be sure to check out:
Beginnings - Shania Twain
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner
Femme Fatale - Britney Spears


For other music reviews, please be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the albums and singles I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Not As Healthy As Many Multigrain Snacks, Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips Are Actually A Pleasant Surprise!

The Good: Tastes good, Not overly unhealthy
The Bad: Not incredibly healthy, Flavor is more of Totino’s pizza rolls, than actual pizza!
The Basics: The Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips are a surprisingly delightful salty snack, that is not salty . . . nor particularly flavored like pepperoni pizza!

This morning, I was in a hurry on my way out of the house. As a result, I did not pack the lunch I ought to have and I grabbed some snacks at the gas station on my way to work. Looking for something inexpensive, I picked up a bag of Totino’s Pepperoni flavored Pizza Chips. It’s not like I was going something inherently unhealthy, either; these chips are multigrain snacks (like Sun Chips, but without being gross or really accenting the healthy nature of them).

And while I might seem to be rating these chips harshly, I actually liked them quite a bit. In fact, all that really brought them down was how they tasted more like Totino’s pizza rolls than actual pizza and that they were not as healthy as I would have liked. That said, these are pretty wonderful multigrain snacks!


Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips, for those who are not familiar with them, are multigrain chips. General Mills has marketed their Totino’s chip line as an alternative to Sun Chips and they occupy the nebulous border between snack chips and crackers quite nicely. The Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips feature a dusting of pepperoni pizza flavoring that is red and black on the chips. The chips look like a wheat-colored version of tortilla chips and the dusting of flavor is very subtle and light.

Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips come in various sizes, but always in a bag. The standard size bag that I have found is 20 oz. The chips are a somewhat wavy rectangle approximately 1 3/4" by 1 3/4" by up to 1/2" thick at the highest curvature. Most of them are slightly curved.

Ease Of Preparation

Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips are simple to enjoy; all you need do it open the bag and remove the chips from it! There is no trick to eating Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips; they are a snack that is ready to go from the bag to the mouth.


Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips smell exactly like the microwaved pizza rolls that share their name. There is a delightful scent of oregano and pepper. This is a very inviting, warm and salty scent that instantly makes anyone who likes Totino’s pizza rolls salivate!

On the tongue, Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips are an odd balance of tomato, a hint of cheese, and multigrain chip. What struck me immediately about the Pepperoni Pizza Chips were that they were not salty in their flavoring. In fact, in the mouth, these have more in common with an unsalted cracker than a snack chip. The lack of salty flavor is not a detraction with these chips. Instead, it allows them to actually present a flavor. The flavor of cheese comes out as the chip lingers in the mouth. There is an interesting meaty taste/scent that is released as one swallows the chip. On some of the chips, the flavoring is strongly of the tomato sauce – slightly sweet – that probably makes Totino’s pizza rolls so popular with children. While these chips do have some flavor very much like Totino’s pizza rolls, the multigrain chip flavor – very dry and wheaty – effectively competes with the pizza roll flavor. Neither flavor is particularly like actual pizza.

The Pepperoni Pizza Chips do not leave a strong aftertaste in the mouth.


Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips are actually not as bad on the health scale as most salty snacks are. Given that the ingredients are led by whole grain corn flour, sunflower oil and whole oat flour, it might surprise salty snack eaters to learn how generally good these chips are. These have a shelf life of at least half a year – the bag I bought this morning would have expired on October 29, 2012, had I not eaten it before that! - so it's not a bad snack to stock up on.

Each one ounce serving of Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips has 140 calories, fifty of which come from fat. There are also 2 grams of dietary fiber. While there are 6 grams of fat and 2 grams of protein, there is a disturbing 310 mg of sodium, which represents 13% of one's RDA of sodium (these chips don’t taste like it, though!). There are a smattering of vitamins and minerals, but nothing significant. There is a dietary note that the Pepperoni Pizza Chips includes wheat and milk ingredients, which prevents them from being Vegan compliant or Gluten-free.


Kept in their bag, Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips will remain fresh for a while and as long as the bag is resealed, one suspects they will last for a few weeks before getting stale. I've never had to deal with issues of freshness for my Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips.

Cleanup is simple as well. Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips are a dry food and thus leave no mess behind. Because they are weakly powdered with flavor, so they do not even mess up one's hands significantly. Simply wash your hands, throw out the bag and cleanup is done!


Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Chips are a good snack that is not all it could be for people looking for a healthy snack or something that is truly pizza flavored, but they are surprisingly enjoyable!

For other salty snack food, check out my reviews of:
Orville Redenbacher's Butter Gourmet Popcorn
Cheez-It Cheddar Jack Snack Crackers
Planters Flavor Grove Jalapeno Pistachios


For other food and drink reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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