Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 2017 End Of The Month Report!

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May was a huge month for us, with us hitting some very cool milestones. We posted our 8,000th review in May and with season finales hitting television and Summer Blockbuster Season kicking off, we had a lot of productivity in May.

We have been continuing to adapt our prior reviews so they have functional links and our new reviews are being released with good new links, so products being reviewed generally have the right products associated with them. We appreciate our readers sticking with us through Amazon reconfiguring, which is likely to be ongoing for a bit longer!

This month, we picked up six new followers on Twitter, but no new subscribers! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. 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! We're slowly growing our readership, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In May, we updated the index pages every few days, keeping them quite useful to our readers. The primary Index Page, is usually updated daily and 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! Check it out and feel free to use that as it is a much more useful and organized index to the reviews I've written!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. As tax returns keep coming in and summer shopping picks up, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of May 2017, I have reviewed the following:
588 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
958 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
3236 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Oscar Winner Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews In Order)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
239 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Trek Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Wars Gaming Cards Reviews
The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game Reviews
Other Gaming Cards Reviews
Trading Cards Reviews
905 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
with specialized pages for:
Ornament Reviews
Star Trek Toys
Star Wars Toys
Lord Of The Rings Toys
Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel Toys
Comic Book, Movie, Television Toys
Plush and Other Toys
1014 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
272 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
114 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
220 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
211 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
108 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
61 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month of May is my review of: Colossal!
Check it out!

The month of May was packed with new, highly-read reviews and all of them were television reviews! For May, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. "Alex" - Supergirl
9. Thirteen Reasons Why - Season 1
8. "Infantino Street" - The Flash
7. "The Return" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
6. "Farewell, Cruel World!" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
5. Sense8 - Season 2
4. "The Return Part 1" - Twin Peaks
3. "I Know Who You Are" - The Flash
2. "World's End" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
1. "Finish Line" - The Flash

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 - 328 reviews
9s - 516 reviews
8s - 995 reviews
7s - 1109 reviews
6s - 1034 reviews
5s - 1314 reviews
4s - 981 reviews
3s - 768 reviews
2s - 372 reviews
1s - 248 reviews
0s - 120 reviews
No rating - 136 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, but no new additions to the all time Top Ten Reviews! At the end of May 2017, the most popular reviews/articles are:
10. Oz The Great And Powerful
9. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
8. Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events - Season 1
7. Warm Bodies
6. Iron Man 3
5. Now You See Me
4. Tyler Perry's Temptation
3. The Burden Of Being Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
1. Man Of Steel

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Stalled Democracy: House Of Cards Season Five Reflects Reality.

The Good: Good performances, especially by Robin Wright
The Bad: Tone, Unfortunately meandering plot, A bevy of unlikable characters
The Basics: The fifth season of House Of Cards has a glimmer of true intrigue and showcases wonderful actors, but continues to lose footing as President Frank Underwood strongarms his way back into the Presidency.

One of the consequences of being a long-running television show is that it is hard to maintain the fanbase and interest over years and years of production. In the case of House Of Cards, it is difficult to get excited about the fifth season of the show, which aired today on Netflix because the series is a dark look at American politics. House Of Cards was once a cautionary tale of what could go absolutely wrong with a self-serving villain at the top of the U.S. government; now, it is competing with reality. In some ways, the fifth season of House Of Cards suffers for that; the writers and executive producers did not seem to have a clear idea of what to do with the show after the hole they wrote themselves into tat the end of the prior season and what has happened in American politics since.

Ironically, the fifth season of House Of Cards begins at a position that should have a lot of inherent interest for the fans. At the climax of House Of Cards season four (reviewed here!), Francis Underwood's crimes were laid bare by Tom Hammerschmidt and the U.S. was dealing with a domestic terrorism situation that President and Claire Underwood were looking to exploit. How President Underwood could possibly survive the events of the first season (reviewed here!) becoming public is inherently intriguing. House Of Cards Season 5, despite potentially having less of a "hook" to it, begins at a place that has a lot of potential to it, but the season has to maintain and progress the story through the inevitable election storyline and then create a new hook for the sixth season.

In order to give the season any real dramatic tension surrounding the election of Francis Underwood to the Presidency, House Of Cards essentially neglects the bombshell of the past revelation and plays out a whole new level of political conspiracies. The fifth season of House Of Cards delays the results of the Presidential election and creates a crisis that is initially resolved using the Constitution . . . which allows Claire Underwood to temporarily assume the powers of the President.

Two weeks before the Presidential election, Claire Underwood is taping P.S.A.s for Homeland Security when President Underwood addresses Congress directly by appearing within the House Of Representatives. There, Underwood demands war be declared on ICO and the U.S. The Conway Campaign struggles to maintain momentum, while Hannah Conway makes a statement that could be construed as sympathetic to the domestic terrorists. After the funeral for the American who was killed, Claire Underwood has a conversation with the mother of the surviving domestic terrorist. Claire appeals to the terrorist's mother to have her son turn himself in.

Of course, Underwood has already caught Josh and when his usefulness expires, he has the FBI stage a death during "capture." As the investigation into Frank Underwood picks up prior to the election, Underwood has to influence the governors of swing states, including former Vice President Matthews. Claire is in New York when one of Frank's old classmates from the Sentinel lets her know that Tim has gone missing. Claire begins to worry that Ken might run off his mouth about Frank and Tim's relationship back in the day, while Seth Greyson offers to flip Stamper to the Congressional committee.

As Election Day looms, Underwood's staff begins to suspect that Conway's military heroism was manufactured. On Election Day, a terrorist threat is manufactured in Tennessee after low voter turnout is predicted in all of the polls. When Ohio also suspends its voting, the results of the election remain undecided for weeks. In the interim, Conway and Underwood work hard to influence Senators and House members in order to ratify the President and Vice Presidential elections. Ironically, Leann is able to deliver the votes that make Claire Underwood Vice President. With the Presidential contest unresolved, Claire Underwood is made temporary President.

But the election in House Of Cards is essentially over by the fifth episode of Season Five, which leaves nine episodes for the season to develop its next main plotline. While there are a few episodes in the middle of the season that explore a period of limbo which put Claire Underwood in the office of the President while Conway comes unhinged and his Vice Presidential running mate is essentially promised the post and uses his military contacts to orchestrate an attempt to influence the election. Ultimately, the fifth season of House Of Cards brings new adversaries into the political arena to combat the new Underwood Administration.

The latter half of the fifth season of House Of Cards finds the Underwoods dealing with a hostile Democrat who wants to replace Womack as Whip, an up and coming reporter who is slowly wooing Seth Grayson, and Conway's final campaign manager and a businesswoman who has assets and agendas all around the world. Jane Davis is introduced as a new major adversary who is playing political games on the level of the Underwoods with an agenda that appears to be motivated entirely by her own desire for profit.

House Of Cards has a tough tone for Season Five. More than in any prior season, it is obvious that the two lead protagonists in House Of Cards - Frank and Claire Underwood - have no friends. In the fifth season of House Of Cards everyone who surrounds the Underwoods is restless or flat-out hostile. While the show does an excellent job of illustrating why Frank Underwood is actually a better choice than Will Conway, who starts to come seriously unhinged and volatile, the only truly joyful portion of the season is the brief episodes while Claire Underwood is President. In fact, the ideal selling point for the sixth season would be to have a time leap in the story to eight years out as Claire Underwood prepares to assume the Presidency on her own.

In fact, tone is the real killer in the fifth season of House Of Cards. Unlike something like The West Wing (reviewed here!), where the characters are always working to build something, the characters in House Of Cards in the fifth season never seem to actually be working toward any agenda other than the maintenance of their own power. Seriously, when my business slowed, I mentioned to my wife that I thought it was time for me to apply for the Rural Internet Access program. That program was one that was part of The West Wing, but it was written in such a compelling way and with such clarity that for a time, I mistook it for something in reality. There is no analogous program or even idea in House Of Cards, something which becomes highlighted when ex-President Garrett Walker makes a reappearance and actually comments on how he wanted to do great things for the United States.

As a result, House Of Cards drags some through its fifth season. The show fails to hit and truly compelling notes; Claire does not assert her authority and independence in the brief time she is President to help make the de facto argument that women can handle the role for a U.S. audience and the Underwoods seem like a broken couple yet again. House Of Cards is most interesting when Frank and Claire work as a team together; in Season Five, Frank is just back to doing his own thing without ever listening to Claire's good advice. So, the fifth season of House Of Cards is very unsatisfying.

In the fifth season of House Of Cards, the essential characters are:

Francis Underwood – President of the United States, he is beseiged on all sides as he fights for re-election. When voter turnout risks his chances of being elected, he manufactures a crisis in order to delay the results. He wins his first election for President by getting damning quotes from his opponents. But as soon as he is inaugurated, he has to wrangle a new upstart Democrat and fend off constant attacks by Tom Hammerschmidt. He stops listening to Claire Underwood and in ignoring her advice, he inadvertantly sets Garrett Walker off,

Claire Underwood – Polling better as Vice President than the President is, she manages to get confirmed before it becomes clear Congress will not elect a Presidential candidate. She assumes the Presidency during the uncertain time and she turns to Tom for companionship when Francis is distant from her. She is approached by Jane Davis during a crisis manufactured by a powerful General. She tries to both advise Frank Underwood and secure her political future,

Katherine Durant – The Secretary Of State, she has reservations about the President's declaration of war against ICO and his attempt to make more radical travel restrictions. She is made deeply uncomfortable by Underwood's actions, especially when there is a new Middle Eastern situation brewing (thanks to Jane Davis) that can actually be prevented. Against all odds, she remains loyal to the Underwoods during the most trying times,

Thomas Yates - Speechwriter for the Underwoods and Claire's paramour, he starts to get sloppy and restless. After having an affair on Claire with the White House tour guide, he struggles to find his place with Claire. He wants to write and seems tired of having to keep his relationship with Claire Underwood entirely under wraps,

Doug Stamper – Having an on-again, off-again relationship with the widow of the man who died so the President could get a liver donation, he frequently feels marginalized. He is still the most loyal member of Frank's staff. He drinks on Election night when it looks like Underwood might lose the election. He does not trust Seth Grayson and he works to keep Rachel Posner from resurfacing as an issue. He finally comes clean to the widow and gets an unexpected response,

Leann Harvey – She acts as intermediary with Aiden and has strong feelings for MacAllen. She fights and negotiates for Claire to get the Vice Presidency. She works to protect the Underwood Administration, but when MacAllen goes on the run, she is pushed out of the Administration's staff. When MacAllen sends her sensitive information, she comes back on Stamper's radar,

Aidan MacAllen - Very nervous about the NSA taking his algorithms, he is convinced by Leann to infiltrate the NSA to alter his algorithms and use the NSA to disseminate new information. He creates a massive cyberattack in order to destroy his algorithm. Terrified by how his work has been used, on election night, he jumps ship and goes into hiding. He ends up in Indonesia before being captured by the Russians. His return becomes a priority for President Claire Underwood, but his extraction is delayed until later. Upon returning to the U.S., he is unable to live with all he has done,

Conway – Experiencing tension with his wife, the Republican Governor of New York and the Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, he starts to crack. When his Vice Presidential runningmate references his war record, he has to use his military experience to carry his campaign. He does a twenty-four hour live-stream in order to try to differentiate himself from the Underwoods. When the election results are delayed, he becomes twitchy and starts to illustrate that he is not cut out for the Presidency,

Jane Davis - A businesswoman with contacts in every part of the world, including in places where the U.S. has no functional presence, she manages to get herself into a government bunker during a key crisis to get President Claire Underwood's ear. She wants Claire as President and is part of conspiracies worldwide intended to advance her causes and bring her profit,

Tom Hammerschmidt - The former editor of The Washington Herald debates with Claire Underwood on Charlie Rose. He continues to run a specialized team of reporters at the Herald, which now seems dedicated to trying to bring down the Underwood Administration. When his efforts fail to keep Frank Underwood from getting elected, he starts getting flash drives packed with damning information on Underwood's schemes,

Mark Usher - A Republican political operative, he joins Conway's campaign at the very end. When he starts to see that Conway is unfit for duty, he prepares to prop Conway's Vice Presidential candidate up to take over. When Underwood learns of that plan, Usher jumps ship and helps Frank win back the Presidency. He joins the Underwood Administration as a senior advisor, though he is playing Romero and Davis against the Underwoods as well,

and Alex Romero – An upstart Democratic congressman leading a progressive block, he has no love of Frank Underwood. He worked with Mark Usher in the past, but does not respect Usher or Romero. His ambitions lead him to make a deal with Underwood and, when he is betrayed, he leaves the Democratic party.

House Of Cards features an exceptional cast. Kevin Spacey, Michael Kelly, and Neve Campbell all give good performances. Colm Feore is criminally underused in House Of Cards Season 5. Patricia Clarkson erupts into the fifth season in a role that might be the first one I've ever seen her play where I did not like the character she was playing. Clarkson's Jane Davis is slimy as they come and Clarkson is masterful in the role.

Robin Wright and Jayne Atkinson rule the performances in House Of Cards Season Five. Wright is incredibly presidential as Claire Underwood. Atkinson manages to play both skittish and competent in ways that most actors could not manage.

Ultimately, their performances are not enough to make the dreary fifth season of House Of Cards enjoyable to watch. Yet another season of House Of Cards passes where none of the characters are likable and nothing actually happens save that the tenuous political administration it details desperately maintains power.

For other works from the 2016 – 2017 television season, please check out my reviews of:
"The Return Part 4" - Twin Peaks
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 3
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 4
Sense8 - Season 2
Dear White People - Season 1
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 2
"The Pyramid " - Doctor Who
The Walking Dead - Season 7
Thirteen Reasons Why - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 3
Iron Fist - Season 1
Love - Season 2
Santa Clarita Diet - Season 1
A Series Of Unfortunate Events - Season 1
One Day At A Time - Season 1
Travelers - Season 1
The OA - Season 1
Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
"Invasion!" - Arrow
"Finish Line" - The Flash
"Nevertheless, She Persisted" - Supergirl
Luke Cage - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 1


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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Good, But Somewhat Underwhelming: Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint Chocolate Candies (My 8000th Review!)

The Good: Decent flavor, Pretty good ingredients
The Bad: Mild chocolate flavor, Cookie flavor is not impressive
The Basics: Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolate candies are nice, but not a great representation of mint and dark chocolate.

One of the nice trends in current candymaking has been that candy bars that try to embody cookies and cream have expanded outward from "cream" to chocolate. As one who is not overly fond of white chocolate, the idea of a cookie and chocolate bar is far more appealing to me than chocolate cookie bars and white chocolate. So, when I found the Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolate bars, I was pretty psyched. Unfortunately for me, as one who loves dark chocolate and mint, the Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint were not all they could have been.

Between a fairly generic chocolate that is more like milk chocolate than dark chocolate and a cookie center that is more dry than actually flavorful the Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint candy bars are one of Hershey's less impressive creations as they try to build their premium chocolate line.


Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolate candies are a mini-bar that is made up of three connected blocks. The full piece of candy is two and one-quarter inches long, one and one-quarter inches wide and one-half inch thick. Each of the bars comes individually wrapped in a brown wrapper with green text. It is worth noting that while I usually rail against the environmental impact of such things, it is hard to imagine these Hershey's chocolate candies not wrapped. This keeps each one clean, unmelted and intact.

Each connected bar of chocolate squares is a triumvirate of rectangle bars that is chocolate covering the rough cookie-piece bottom of the bar. In this form, the 6.3 oz. bag, the individually-wrapped chocolate candies are packaged together in a thick paper bag. This size has nine chocolate bars and the paper bag does little to protect the candy. The bag is not resealable, though that matters very little considering that the chocolate candy does not go bad as they are individually wrapped.

One of these bags, even with only nine chocolate bars, tends to run in the $5.00 range. These are not entirely inexpensive candies!

Ease Of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as opening the bag and then opening one of the plastic wrappers around the actual chocolates one wishes to eat. There is no grand secret to eating Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolate candy. With these having a seam between the two domes, it is easy to consume far less than the full, recommended, serving at any given time.


Each Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint candy bar smells of milk chocolate and peppermint. The mint scent is muted by the sweet chocolate aroma from each candy.

The Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint candies are sweet and minty. The cookie base of the Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolate bars make each one dry, but the mint infused in the sweet chocolate makes the consumer salivate! The dark chocolate for the Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint candy bars is so mild that it tastes like milk chocolate infused with peppermint flavoring. The chocolate in the cookie portion of the bar is dry and not noticeably chocolate flavored.

The Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint candies leave a very sweet, slightly dry, aftertaste in the mouth after the last of the bar is consumed. The minty aftertaste endures for about ten minutes after the last of the bar is eaten.


The Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolate bars are candy, so it is tough to look at these for something nutritious and then blame them for not being healthy. Hershey's chocolate candies are made of pretty decent ingredients, though. The primary ingredients are sweet chocolate, sugar, and enriched wheat flour. There is nothing unpronounceable in these candies and there are minimal preservatives; everything in these could be readily identified by me.

A serving of the Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolate candy is considered two pieces. From two pieces, one takes in 200 calories, 110 of those calories being from fat. There is virtually no cholesterol (less than 5 mg in a full serving), very little sodium (65 mg of Sodium - 3% RDA), and there are no vitamins in these chocolate candy. There is, surprisingly enough, 15% of one's daily iron and 2% of their daily calcium in two pieces, so that is nice.

Honestly, 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 almonds pass over. These are not marked as kosher and there is a notation that some of the ingredients might be genetically-engineered.


The bags of these Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolate candy remain fresh for quite some time. The bag of Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolates we picked up a month ago had an expiration date of December 2017, so they have a pretty decent shelf life. Given that these are chocolate, one assumes that if they are kept in a cool, dry environment they will not melt or go bad. Because they are individually wrapped in a very sealed package, it is hard to imagine just what it would take for these to go bad outside melting and refreezing.

As for cleanup, one need only throw out the wrappers in the garbage to clean up after the Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint chocolate bars. 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 candies melt into most fabrics, they will stain. Getting them to melt, though, is a bit of a feat.


Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch Mint candy bars are all right, but for the price, I tend to want something more impressive than average.

For other candy reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Cadbury Royal Dark Creamy Mint Dark Chocolate With Creamy Mint Filling
Ferrara Milk Chocolate Peppermint Chocolate Orange
Klondike The Candy! Mint Chocolate Chip Candy


For other chocolate reviews, please visit my Chocolate Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Legends Of Tomorrow Season 2 Has Better Villains Than Its Story Warrants!

The Good: Moments of character, Interesting villains, Some fun episodes
The Bad: Macguffin is not satisfactorily explained, Some poor moments of character, Lack of big emotional moments
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow improves in its second season, but still has serious issues with telling a solid story over the course of the seventeen episodes that pit the Legends against Eobard Thawne and his allies.

Legends Of Tomorrow is a show I was very excited about when it aired. The series, which is essentially a "best of" team-up show for the DC Comics Television Universe had an unfortunately rocky first season (reviewed here!). The first season was established with a fundamentally problematic premise that made it hard to buy into its own concept after the pilot episode. But, with the show seeing an end to its primary villain at the climax of the first season episode "Legendary" (reviewed here!), Legends Of Tomorrow was threatened with an essential existential crisis at the outset of the second season. Fortunately, "Legendary" included a final scene that was otherwise unattached to the events of the rest of the narrative and it set up the second season surprisingly well.

The second season of Legends Of Tomorrow opens already dealing with the effects of Hour Man from the Justice Society Of America crashing in an alternate Waverider near the Waverider and its current crew. The season develops fairly organically from being a series of vaguely connected episodes that find the Waverider crew struggling to take up the mantle of the now-gone Time Masters to a heavily serialized adventure where the Waverider crew desperately works to stop the machinations of Eobard Thawne.

Following the warning by Hour Man from the Justice Society Of America, the Waverider crew takes up the task of protecting Earth from temporal aberrations. But in 1942, the Waverider is nearly destroyed and left abandoned on the ocean floor. Found by Dr. Nate Heywood, the Waverider is powered back up by Heywood and Mick Rory. Rory tells his rescuers the story of how the Waverider became damaged and its crew scattered: the Legends found themselves in 1942 where the Nazis gained nuclear weapons technology needed to destroy New York City. While Dr. Stein tries to stop Albert Einstein from helping the Nazis, Sara Lance tracks down Damien Darhk in 1942 on her quest to prevent her sister's death. While the Legends are successful in stopping the Nazis in 1942, one of the members of the Justice Society Of America is killed by a time traveler and Rip Hunter remains lost in time. And Damien Darhk is working with Eobard Thawne to create time aberrations.

With the Waverider crew - plus Heywood and Vixen from the Justice Society Of America - under Sara Lance's command, the crew starts investigating who killed Hour Man and their investigation soon ties the time aberrations to Eobard Thawne. Thawne, Darhk, and Malcolm Merlyn are working together to recover and assemble the Spear Of Destiny, a mythical mystical artifact which will allow the trio to rewrite reality. But stopping the Speedster while maintaining their loyalties tests every member of the Waverider crew . . . especially when Mick Rory finds himself tempted by another villain who he misses more than anyone else!

Vandal Savage was a decent villain for the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow, arguably because he could be used in all sorts of time periods given that he was an immortal. The second season of Legends Of Tomorrow takes some time for the Waverider crew to actually identify their adversaries, which is a nice twist on the formula and the fact that one of them is a time traveler himself makes his adventures far more plausible. Eobard Thawne is an incredibly good villain and he is able to be back in play because the temporal remnant of Eobard Thawne was left in play following The Flash episode "Flashpoint" (reviewed here!). Thawne in the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow has dual motivations: to stay alive by outrunning the Black Flash (who is chasing him through time and space) and to rewrite existence so that he can actually exist once again.

Thwane allies himself with Malcolm Merlyn and Damien Darhk as a matter of pragmatism. Thawne cannot stay in one place and time long enough to lay the framework for all of his plans. So, he relies upon Darhk and Merlyn to execute many of his wishes. Those two villains from Arrow are good choices because both have things they want that rewriting existence can provide. Legends Of Tomorrow makes a lot of allusions to Merlyn and Darhk's arcs on Arrow, but the context clues are sufficient so those who are not fans of Arrow will be able to understand their motivations and abilities quite well.

Despite the hugely problematic macguffin in the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow - the Spear Of Destiny is a mystical artifact and Amaya's totem is never scientifically explained in the season - the character work in the season is mostly very good. Having Sara Lance take over as captain of the Waverider is a great way to give the abrasive tactician a better position in the narrative. Lance makes a compelling and occasionally flawed captain, but she is able to explore more than simply being a recurring sexuality joke or a somewhat monolithic assassin.

Amaya is an awesome addition to the cast and the budding relationship between Jiwe and Heywood in the course of the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow is surprisingly well-executed. The heroes from two different eras actually have a very organic arc whereby they grow to have genuine feelings for one another.

The other truly intriguing relationship in the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow is a relationship between Mick Rory and Dr. Stein. Rory attempts to enlist Dr. Palmer into being his sidekick or partner, but quickly comes to recognize that Palmer's talents are in his intelligence and trying to change him diminishes him. Rory and Stein, however, start to develop a truly unlikely camaraderie. Rory turns to Stein for help when he starts to see Leonard Snart in different times and places; Stein works to help Rory, despite being generally afraid of him. As their relationship becomes deeper, Rory's influence rubs off on Stein and he is willing to do things like steal technology from the future!

The character relationships in Legends Of Tomorrow Season 2 develop well, in addition to some of the fun plots that the show creates. The essential characters in the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow are:

Sara Lance - Following the disappearance of Rip Hunter after the Waverider is crashed, she is promoted to captain of the Waverider. Despite the sexism of the JSA's leaders, Stein quickly sees that she is the rightful leader of the Legends. She allows Amaya to join the crew to hunt the Speedster. She quickly proves to be an able tactician who is willing to use extreme measures to save time and space, thwart the Speedster and protect her crew,

Dr. Martin Stein - Ceding command of the Waverider after others assume he should be the Captain, he works hard to identify and stop the time aberrations. He is appalled at how his younger self treats his wife and, in the process, he convinces his younger self to pay more attention to her. As a result, Stein ends up with a daughter and he wrestles with accepting his time aberration daughter. He identifies Eobard Thawne as their adversary, aids Mick Rory in determining the cause of his hallucinations, and steals technology from the future that allows the crew to save the knights of Camelot,

Ray Palmer - Early in the adventures, Palmer loses his Atom suit. After a brief struggle to find a new sense of identity, which involves partnering with Mick Rory and attempting to access his dark side. When he comes into possession of more dwarf star alloy, he is able to rebuild his suit and he gets the chance to save George Lucas, become a Knight of Camelot and revisit the home he build in the Cretaceous Period. He works to safeguard time by advising Heywood to avoid getting emotionally entangled with Jiwe, given that he knows the future Vixen,

Jefferson Jackson - Groomed to be the Chief Engineer of the Waverider, he is able to keep the ship up and running once Rip Hunter is lost. He experiences the most harsh version of racism when the Waverider ends up fighting zombies during the Civil War. He quickly identifies that Stein is hiding something when Stein starts having flashes of his daughter. He becomes determined to stop the brainwashed Rip Hunter and save Sara Lance. When Rip is recovered, he teams up with Lance to enter the lost captain's mind to try to find the location of the final piece of the Spear Of Destiny,

Mick Rory - Still reeling from the loss of Snart, he is wounded during the Waverider's final mission under Hunter. Kept in suspended animation, he is woken by Heywood and tries to take Ray Palmer under his wing when Palmer loses his Atom suit. He starts to hallucinate seeing Snart and turns to Stein for help. His more criminal methods are required at times to save the team and his feelings for Snart make him susceptible to the endgame that Eobard ultimately comes up with to recover the Spear Of Destiny,

Rip Hunter - Lost in time, he has his neural landscape completely rewritten to keep the fragments of the Spear Of Destiny safe. But when the Waverider crew finds him working as a filmmaker in the 1970s, the Legion Of Doom captures him to torture him for information. Brainwashed by Eobard Thawne, he becomes a tool for the villains, nearly killing Sara Lance in the process. After a trip into his mind is used to recover the location of the final Spear fragment, he and Lance disagree about how best to proceed . . . and who is in command of the Waverider,

Dr. Nate Heywood - A time detective, he follows the clues to the wreckage of the Waverider. There, he and Oliver Queen find Mick Rory and he works to recover the rest of the crew. Smart and resourceful, he is a hemophiliac until - in trying to rescue his JSA grandfather from the Nazis - he has to use a superserum being used by Thawne. Altered to have the ability to transform into steel, he is testing his abilities when he is thrown back into feudal Japan. Rescued, he is sympathetic to Amaya and her quest to get justice for Hour Man. He carries his grandfather's dog tags and has a dislike of visiting the future. He and Amaya begin to develop a romantic relationship, in spite of Palmer's warnings to him,

Amaya Jiwe (Vixen) - A member of the Justice Society Of America in 1942, she is with Hour Man when he dies and follows his accusation that a time traveler killed him to the Waverider. Using her ancient totem, she is able to channel the powers and special abilities of various animals. She is initially annoyed by the quarrelsome nature of the Waverider crew, but comes to admire their resourcefulness and some of their methods. She and Heywood begin to bond, especially after they are put in peril during the Revolutionary War,

and Eobard Thawne - Having been kept alive following the Flashpoint Tangent, he finds himself hunted by the Black Flash. He recruits Damien Darhk because of Darhk's desire to avoid his own death and Malcolm Meryln because Meryln wants to prevent his own downfall, in order to aid his quest to rewrite reality itself. Rewriting existence itself, he seeks to become remade and end the hunt for him. He is forced to ally himself with villains from throughout time to do his dirty work. Stranded on the moon with Ray Palmer, he is forced to make an unlikely alliance before executing his end game.

The performances in the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow are almost all good. Victor Garber has the chance to explore some of his more comedic abilities and Dominic Purcell has an incredible season where he is able to play more than a simple thug. Mick Rory might have one of the season's most frustrating arcs (mostly because the writers refuse to acknowledge that the character has had a substantive change when he makes a late-season reversal), but Dominic Purcell makes the moody former-villain compelling to watch with his ability to make subtle emotional performance moments resonate.

Matt Letscher makes Thawne into a compelling villain in the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow. Letscher plays the complexities of Thawne incredibly well in the key scenes he is in in the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow. Letscher's ability to play desperate in "Legion Of Doom" and coolly smart and emotionally connected in "Moonshot" help elevate Eobard Thawne into something beyond a simple comic book villain.

While Caity Lotz rises to the occasion of making Sara Lance into a commanding presence, it is Maisie Richardson-Sellers who explodes into the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow. Richardson-Sellers uses every opportunity to play Amaya Jiwe with both emotional line deliveries and subtle physical performances. She has great on-screen chemistry with co-star Nick Zano (Heywood) and her ability to convey emotions with a look or minimal motion is uncommonly great.

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 2 is a little more erratic upon rewatching than one might wish, but it makes a more sensible time travel adventure by having a time-traveling speedster as its adversary. While the season builds to a climax and contains so many unfixed historical aberrations that it seems to telegraph its own eventual undoing, Legends Of Tomorrow Season 2 is consistently entertaining and fun to watch.

For a better understanding of exactly what is in this season, please visit my reviews of each of the episodes at:
"Out Of Time"
"The Justice Society Of America"
"Outlaw Country"
"The Chicago Way"
"Raiders Of The Lost Art"
"The Legion Of Doom"
"Land Of The Lost"
"Fellowship Of The Spear"

For other works from the 2016 – 2017 television season, please check out my reviews of:
"The Return Part 1" - Twin Peaks
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 3
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 4
Sense8 - Season 2
Dear White People - Season 1
"Thin Ice" - Doctor Who
The Walking Dead - Season 7
Thirteen Reasons Why - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 3
Iron Fist - Season 1
Love - Season 2
Santa Clarita Diet - Season 1
A Series Of Unfortunate Events - Season 1
One Day At A Time - Season 1
Travelers - Season 1
The OA - Season 1
Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
"Invasion!" - Arrow
"I Know Who You Are" - The Flash
"Alex" - Supergirl
Luke Cage - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 1


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Cute, But Vastly Overpriced: 2014 Comic Con Sharknado Blood-Splattered Shark Pop! Vinyl Figure

The Good: Very cute, Stable
The Bad: Incredibly expensive, Base is weak on the concept
The Basics: The Pop! Vinyl Blood-Splattered Shark Sharknado figure is a cute variant, but one that does not fix the issues with the original release.

Not long ago, my wife became joyfully obsessed with the Sharknado franchise. My wife loves c-rate films, the way I love cheese and I've gotten her some merchandise related to b-movies. The first merchandise I found for her was the Sharknado Pop! Vinyl figure (reviewed here!). More recently, I managed to track down The Pop! Vinyl Blood-Splattered Shark variant.

For those unfamiliar with the Sharknado, the SyFy Network film Sharknado and its subsequent sequels involve the convergence of weather phenomenon and natural predator disasters when spouts of water bring sharks out of the deep and into the air. The tornadoes filled with sharks fall upon populated areas where the protagonist just happens to be and he has to kill sharks and stop the weather events to save the city or the world.

The Pop! Vinyl Blood-Splattered Shark figure is a the same cute shark on a watery base with waterspout pieces embedded into its side and a tornado halo on the top of the shark, with bright red paint in the figure's mouth to simulate blood!


The 2014 Comic Con Sharknado Blood-Splattered Shark Pop! Vinyl figure is a shark within a water spout only vaguely reminiscent of anything from Sharknado. The figure stands 4" tall from the bottom of the base to the tip of the dorsal fin. The Blood-Splattered Shark figure is 4 3/4" long and 3 1/2" wide.

This toy is a cool sculpt, even if it is pretty basic and more conceptual than representative. The Pop! Vinyl 2014 Comic Con Sharknado Blood-Splattered Shark figure is a generic gray shark figure with giant black eyes and an open mouth with big white teeth. The shark is, frankly, adorable. The teeth are not sharp, so the toy is fairly safe to be around people. The ventral fins look somewhat stuck on and Funko actually did an awesome job with the detailing in that the underside of the shark is an off-white color! The mouth is colored bright red to mimic the look of blood after the sharks have attacked people.

What makes the blood-splattered shark into a Sharknado Pop! Vinyl figure is the base, the translucent water spout pieces attached to the sides of the shark and the halo water spout on the top of the shark figure. Here is where the figure could have been more representative of the actual sharknadoes from the movies; the base is essentially choppy water. Had the base or any of the other pieces had fins or even painted on little sharks, it would have been more emblematic of the swarm of sharks from the movie. As it is, the Pop! Vinyl 2014 Comic Con Sharknado Blood-Splattered Shark figure is still pretty cute.


The Sharknado Pop! Vinyl figure comes only with its choppy water stand, no other accessories. No part of the water spout is detachable from the shark, so the figure remains a consistent, stable Sharknado. The Sharknado does not detach from the stand and keeps the figure perfectly stable there.


The Pop! Vinyl toy line was designed for collectors, not children. The 2014 Comic Con Sharknado Blood-Splattered Shark Pop! Vinyl figure has no articulation, even in its jaw. As a result, this is like a cute little ridiculous statue and it is definitely intended for display more than play.


The 2014 Comic Con Sharknado Blood-Splattered Shark was an exclusive released only at the San Diego Comic Con. The variant is number 134 in the Funko television line and it has exploded in both price and value. It is a tough Pop! vinyl figure to track down, but the difference in price is a marginal difference for variation. It is hard to justify the overpriced nature of the variant, though it is still cute.


The Pop! Vinyl 2014 Comic Con Sharknado Blood-Splattered Shark toy is a neat variant, but it is incredibly expensive for the difference it has between the regular and variant version.

For other toys, please check out my reviews of:
Reverse-Flash The Flash Action figure
Cordelia Angel Action Figure
Holographic Engineer (Pressure Suit) Prometheus Action Figure


For other toy reviews, please check out the Random Toy Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, May 29, 2017

Netflix Competes In Summer Blockbuster Season With War Machine!

The Good: Great commentary, Wonderful performances, Some very funny lines, Good casting
The Bad: Pacing, Repetitive use of satire, Mood
The Basics: War Machine is a good idea with some very funny lines and decent performances, but it hits the same note far too often and drags entirely through its second act.

Summer Blockbuster Season has officially arrived and arguably the biggest surprise of it so far is that Brad Pitt is headlining a film that is intended to get viewers to stay away from the movie theaters. Instead of participating in a massive special effects-driven film that is intended to make huge bank at the box office, Brad Pitt is participating in a comedy film that is now out exclusively on Netflix. The film is War Machine and while theatergoers are competing for tickets and seats for the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean film and the Baywatch theatrical release, Pitt is encouraging viewers to stay home, get comfortable and take in some satire.

War Machine is a comedy about the U.S. military and it was strategically-released for Memorial Day Weekend. Had it been released in theaters, War Machine would have been an R-rated comedy, mostly for language. War Machine, like most military films, has a lot of swearing and the "adult themes" are ironic statements on the failures of policy, personality and strategy in a mismanaged war zone. Right off the bat, War Machine is very well-written and it is often quite funny.

Eight years into the War in Afghanistan, President Obama wants to get the war done. To that end, the General leading the coalition forces in Afghanistan is replaced by the determined General Glen McMahon. McMahon and his staff are brought in to do an assessment that will inform the President on what is needed to win the war - not more troops! After meeting with President Karzai and recognizing that he will get no more help from the infrastructure in Afghanistan, McMahon tours Afghanistan. After his tour, McMahon is told that Helmand province is unsecurable, so he sets his attentions to winning over the hearts and minds in Helmand.

McMahon asks the U.S. government for 40,000 more troops to secure Helmand and is told he cannot have them until the Afghan elections are over. When he learns about the bad conditions at the U.S. position codenamed Sasquatch, McMahon accompanies his troops out into the field. McMahon hires Badi Basim to represent Afghans in his new attempt at a regime. When the election results only confirm Karzai as Afghanistan's President, McMahon leaks his own report to try to get traction and public support in the U.S. about the war.

War Machine does an excellent job of making commentary on exactly what fails in a "nation-building" military conflict. The film details well how an insurgency is virtually impossible to defeat. War Machine is very well-written in that it explores incredibly well the rhetorical difficulties with attempting to win hearts and minds when you're armed and have no clear mission.

The satire in War Machine is appropriately dry and very funny, usually in a very off-putting way. Brad Pitt leads War Machine is a great series of incredibly dry deliveries paired with a very stiff and often-ridiculous physical performance. Pitt squints with one eye through almost his entire time on screen, while keeping his other eye very wide. Pitt's stiff back and gorilla arms help to define McMahon as much as his scowl and frown.

War Machine has brilliant casting and the cast is very well used. Anthony Michael Hall creates arguably his most abrasive character ever as McMahon's right hand man, Greg Pulver. Casting Sir Ben Kingsley as President Karzai is genius and Alan Ruck is credible as Pat McKinnon, the pragmatic government foil for McMahon. Topher Grace uses his brief time on screen to deliver very funny lines and Tilda Swinton creates yet another wonderful character, even though she is not in War Machine long. In War Machine, Scoot McNairy proves that his future in voice acting is secure for each and every position David Duchovny passes on.

War Machine is an unfortunately erratic film. While the opening narration in War Machine draws the viewer in, by the time writer Sean Cullen enters the narrative as a character doing a Rolling Stone profile on McMahon, the pace of the film is virtually at a dead stop. The essential joke of War Machine is that a hapless general is put in charge of a war zone where he cannot win using his military training; that punchline is delivered multiple times within the first ten minutes of the film. By the hour mark, War Machine struggles to say anything new.

That, sadly, is the death knell of War Machine; Netflix and Brad Pitt took a big, important risk on a film that had something to say and the statement is made with hilarity very quickly. The film's social commentary is also made exceptionally quickly and reiterated many, man times in War Machine. As War Machine trudges toward its inevitable end, the joke is beaten to death and the humor, ultimately, falls unfortunately flat.

For other Netflix exclusive films, please check out my reviews of:
Girlfriend's Day
Take The 10
True Memoirs Of An International Assassin
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House
Special Correspondents
The Fundamentals Of Caring
The Ridiculous 6


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Interesting, But Not Indispensible: Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt Balls

The Good: Great chocolate flavor, Good ingredients
The Bad: Expensive, Malted milk center is virtually flavorless, No real nutritional benefits
The Basics: Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls a good example of how Jelly Belly might be better off sticking to the jelly bean market as they do not quite land on all fronts with this chocolate confection.

On my recent trip East, I stopped at one of my favorite little shops. In Erie, Pennsylvania, right off Interstate 90, there is a whole store dedicated to Jelly Belly products. I made a point of stopping because, living in the middle of nowhere as I now do, I do not have access to the latest Jelly Belly jelly beans or other products. I was super excited when I stopped to find a new (to me) flavor of Jelly Belly jelly bean in the form of Pancakes & Maple Syrup (reviewed here!), but I also found myself pleasantly intrigued by the Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls. I'm a big fan of malted milk balls, so seeing that Jelly Belly now made Milk Chocolate Malt Balls made me excited to try them.

And the Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls are all right. But, for the price, Jelly Belly produced a far better chocolate than a malted milk ball; the center is virtually flavorless, while the outer coating is extraordinary. That made the confection a much tougher sell with me than I anticipated when I excitedly purchased the bag.


Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls are 3/4" - 1" oblate spheroids made of chocolate and semisolid malted milk filling. Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls come in a 2.3 oz. bag or a full bulk 10 pound box. Trying them for the first time, I went with the smaller bag, despite the environmental implications of it. In my 2.3 oz. bag, I found exactly 10 Milk Chocolate Malt balls.

For those who have never had a Milk Chocolate Malt ball before, Milk Chocolate Malt balls are a firm sugary sphere that is coated in chocolate. Moisture - or saliva - dissolves the ball within the coating, so many people who savor Milk Chocolate Malt balls either let the coating melt away in their mouth and let the malted milk center dissolve without chewing.

The coating of the Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt ball is an impressively hard milk chocolate. The coating is strong enough to prevent the candy from getting crushed and soft enough to melt easily in the mouth. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the coating on the Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls was of a quality consistent with Jelly Belly products - like the Dips line - not at all waxy!

Ease Of Preparation

Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls are candy so preparation is pretty much limited to opening the bag and popping candy into one's mouth. Do not try to swallow all of the Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls whole and you'll be fine!


Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt Balls smell delightfully chocolate. Smelling the real chocolate aroma that came the moment that the bag was opened was enough to get me actually excited about the Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls.

In the mouth, the Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls are solidly chocolate flavored. The chocolate flavor is delightfully dark and real, not at all waxy or generically sugary. The strong chocolate flavor entirely overwhelms the flavor from the center. The malted milk center is not sweet or flavorful enough to overcome the flavor of the chocolate coating. Instead, is manifests more as a texture than an actual flavor.

The Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls leave a strong chocolate aftertaste in the mouth after the last of them is consumed.


Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls are candy, so one ought not to be living off them. The Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls are made primarily of sugar, chocolate liquor, and milk. Most of the ingredients in the Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls are recognizable, which is a nice change from some of the competitors' products!

Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls have a whopping 310 calories per serving, 150 of which are from fat. That said, the full 2.3 oz. bag is a pretty big serving, so it is easier than one might expect to eat fewer and save on the calories and fat intake. The 16 grams of fat represent 25% of the recommended daily value of fat and they have 50% of the daily recommended saturated fat. There are only 65 milligrams of sodium in a serving and 43 grams of sugars. There are, however, 4 grams of protein in a serving of Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls and it is interesting to note that one gets 10% of their calcium by eating these.

These are not overly nutritious, but the Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls could be far worse on the ingredient and nutrition fronts. Because they contain milk and whey, they are not Vegan-compliant. They are not marked as gluten-free or Kosher, either.


The Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls store just fine in their bag and as long as they are kept in a cool, dry (preferably dark) place they ought to last for quite some time (I've never had a Milk Chocolate Malt ball of any type go bad). The bag I picked up last month would have expired on February 16, 2018 had I not consumed them well before then!

Because the coating is made of actual milk chocolate, these malted milk balls will melt and have the potential to stain - especially light colored fabrics. If it becomes an issue, consult a fabric cleaning guide. Chocolate stains might be a problem, but it only becomes an issue if it gets melted.


Jelly Belly Milk Chocolate Malt balls might please those just looking for an intriguing chocolate, but for those who love malted milk balls, this is not nearly as balanced on the flavor and nutrition fronts as one might hope for.

For other Jelly Belly candies, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Prehistoric Eggs
Sunkist Fruit Gems
Hot Chocolate Jelly Beans


For other food or drink reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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