Sunday, August 18, 2019

Disney Pin Review: Bambi - Disney Wisdom Collection #8

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good quote, good looking characters
Cons: Thumper isn’t one of the characters
The Bottom Line:
Wisdom in silence
Bambi inspired pin set
Thumper speaks the truth

Don’t Worry, I Have Plenty of Nice Things to Say About This Pin Set

When I first saw the announcement about the Disney Wisdom Collection, I knew there was one quote that would be part of the set for sure.  Sure enough, as I looked through the quotes selected, there was Thumper’s iconic quote in August.

Yes, this month’s quote is “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”  This is a quote from Thumper, who is quoting his dad, from the movie Bambi.  And, it is something I think we need to remember, especially these days, it seems.  Of course, there is a time to speak the truth, a truth that isn’t nice or someone might not want to hear, but you can say it gently and nicely.  In the context of the movie, however, this quote certainly rings true.  Saying nothing is better than blurting out comments that will do nothing but hurt someone.

As usual, the pin set features three pins.  The color this month is a burnt orange.  Since we haven’t had orange yet in this set, I’m sure it is supposed to be orange, but appears more brown than orange to me.  Anyway, one of the pins is the quote, with some of the words highlighted in green.  The featured character this month is Bambi.  Maybe that’s why I am picturing the color as more brown than orange.  Anyway, he looks like he is about to leap, and he looks great.  Rounding out the set is Flower the skunk, who looks a bit off in the two different shades of brown presented here, but he doesn’t look too bad.

Yes, this means once again the person who offers the wisdom isn’t present.  I honestly figured that Thumper would be part of the set, so this is my biggest surprise with the set this month.  (Okay, so it is really Thumper’s dad who has taught Thumper this bit of wisdom, but everyone attributes it to Thumper.)  Out of the eight quotes released so far in the series, only three of the characters quoted have shown up in the pin set, and it’s not looking good for the rest of them either.  Obviously, I’m the only one who expected the speaker to be part of the set most months.

That aside, I definitely like this set.  The characters, while still stylized, look good, and the quote is fantastic.

So I am glad to add this pin set to my Disney Wisdom collection.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

August 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – Second time this season with no finishers.  You could tell they were feeling defensive since they showed the tester finishing the obstacle.  Sorry that Captain NBC is done for the season, but it looks like another great group of athletes moving on.

Suits – Kind of saw that ending coming.  I mean, seriously, this is Samantha.  We know she’s going to cheat and get in trouble.  But how are we going to get her job back and get rid of Faye?  It was nice to see Ross again, although I would have enjoyed a little less fighting and a little more friendship.  But that is not this show, so I will take what I can get.

Pearson – Felt a bit like a placeholder to me.  No real advancement on any of our major storylines.  Heck, Jessica’s family wasn’t in it at all.  Maybe a little movement on somethings, but nothing major.  It was fun to see Harvey, however.

BH90210 – That was more like it.  Or maybe I was better prepared for it.  I enjoyed the show so much more, although why in the world we have to add this stalker to things is beyond me.  I think we’ve got enough soapy drama without it.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Book Review: Murder in Chinatown by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, characters, sense of time
Cons: All cons left in the past
The Bottom Line:
Chinatown teen lost
Dynamic duo on case
Time travel with book

Missing Girl Leads to Murder

With the previous book in the Gaslight series, we got a chance to explore Little Italy in New York City in the 1890’s.  For the ninth book in the series, we turn to a different section of town with Murder in Chinatown.

If you are new to the series, it really features two protagonists.  Sarah Brandt is a midwife, who travels all over the city helping any woman who needs her at the birth of their babies.  Frank Malloy is a Detective Sergeant in the NYPD, which is currently under a bit of reform thanks to their commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt.  Much to Malloy’s dismay, Sarah’s work seems to keep putting her in situations where she runs across murder, and she has a knack for helping him solve crimes.

As this book opens, Sarah has vowed to stay away from solving crimes and getting involved in anything dangerous after a recent close call.  However, she is in Chinatown with the Lee family since Cora Lee is about to give birth and gets a front row to the family drama unfolding.  Cora’s niece, Angel, is upset that her father has arranged a marriage for her to an older man and runs away.  The family is frantic to find her because the city is no place for a fifteen-year-old to be alone.

While the family does find her, she turns up dead a few days later.  Sarah manages to get Malloy involved in the case because she fears other police won’t care to fully investigate given who the victim was.  But can Malloy figure it out?  Will Sarah get involved despite her promise to stay away from murder?

With the last book set in Little Italy, the racial tensions weren’t below the surface but actually caused some very tense scenes.  This book also brings up racial issues of the 1890’s, but it does so without the added drama.  Still, we get a very clear picture of how the Chinese were treated in the 1890’s, and it isn’t pretty.

Not to worry – this book doesn’t forget it is a mystery.  These details are woven into a plot that moves forward quickly, always giving us a new clue or red herring to keep us guessing.  I thought I had a couple of things figured out, but I was completely wrong about them.  However, when everything comes together at the end, it all made perfect sense.

Some of the books in this series feature a true partnership, with Sarah and Frank contributing equally to the solving of the murder.  Others feature one or the other more heavily.  I would say this book leans a little toward Frank since Sarah is trying to stay out of danger.  Now, this isn’t to say we don’t see plenty of her, and she still manages to get involved in quite a bit of the story.  It really doesn’t matter who is taking the lead since I enjoy spending time with both of them.  I also enjoyed the time we got to spend with the supporting players; I’m especially enjoying how Mrs. Ellsworth’s roll in the series has evolved.  Of course, the book is filled with new characters.  They all felt real to me, even those who just had a couple of scenes.

This series never fails to transport me to the 1890’s, and this book is no exception.  It’s in the small details of what life was like back then, and I really do enjoy these trips back in time.

Fans of the series will be interested to note that a couple of on-going storylines get some nudges forward here, and it looks like one has been set up to be the focus of the next book in the series.  I’m dying to get to it now.  However, if you haven’t been reading the series, you could easily jump in here since we get any background needed and these storylines aren’t given much page time.

If you are looking for a trip back in time, I can’t think of better tour guides than Frank and Sarah.  Grab Murder in Chinatown today and settle back for the trip.

Enjoy more trips back to the 1890's with the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Ornament Review: Cozy Cup - Petite Penguin #4 - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute ornament
Cons: Size if you aren’t expecting a mini ornament
The Bottom Line:
A penguin in cup
Creates a cute ornament
Small, enjoyable

I’ll Take a Penguin with My Tea

Hallmark’s Petite Penguin series has quickly become a favorite.  The penguins are so very cute, and each entry finds them doing something else that is charming.  This year’s Cozy Cup is no exception.

This year, we’ve got a penguin sitting inside a cup.  The cup is mostly white with some red borders and Christmas trees painted on the sides.  The penguin’s head is sticking out of the top and a blue and green scarf is around his neck.  No, there isn’t anything inside the cup, but to be it looks like something you’d serve tea in.

See, this is so very cute.  I am curious how the penguin got into this cup, but I’m overthinking.  And maybe my years seeing Snoopy sled in his supper dish have influences me, but I can easily picture this penguin sliding down a hill inside his cup.  No, there is nothing in the ornament that makes me think this is what is really happening, but I can still picture it.

Now, you caught the name of the series, right?  Because it is called Petite Penguin for a reason.  The ornament is just under an inch tall, and not much wider, so keep that in mind when you buy it.

The cup does have a flat bottom, so you can set this ornament out if you want.  It would be easy to lose it if you aren’t careful doing that, however.  That’s why I plan to hang mine on a mini tree I’ve bought from Hallmark.  If you slip a hook through the loop on the penguin’s head, you’ll find that it hangs straight.

This is the fourth ornament in this miniature series, so you’ll find a 4 in a Christmas tree on the ornament.  I must admit, it was in the third place I looked, but if you have sharp eyes, you should be able to find it.

These miniature ornaments aren’t for everyone, but I am loving them.  If you are looking for something very small to round out your Christmas decorations, you’ll want to take a closer look at Cozy Cup.

Looking for more cute?  Here are the rest of the Petite Penguin ornaments.

Original Price: $7.99

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Movie Review: An Inheritance to Die For - An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery, characters we love
Cons: Ending is rushed; light dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Sally’s aunt in killed
Someone in family guilty?
Fun; not all wrapped up

“I Only Know One Way to Get Roe’s Attention When She’s in Research Mode.”  “But a Marching Band Would Disturb the Other Patrons.”

It’s a given that if you are a main character in a long running mystery series, your family and friends are in danger.  However, sometimes that can extend to the family of your friends.  That’s certainly the case with An Inheritance to Die For, the second Aurora Teagarden mystery movie we are getting from Hallmark this month.

You see, this movie finds us getting to know a bit more about the family of Sally Allison (Lexa Doig), Aurora’s (Candace Cameron Bure) best friend.  We meet Sally’s aunt Gladys (Karen Kruper) briefly before the action really picks up at the wedding of Sally’s cousin.  However, the wedding ends in tragedy when Gladys dies during the reception.  Even worse, it wasn’t her bad heart as everyone thought but instead it was murder, specifically poison.  There seem to be several people with motives, all of whom are pointing their fingers at each other.  Can Aurora cut through the lies and find the killer?

Naturally, the murder and investigation hit a little close to home for Sally, and there are a couple of scenes that deal with this, but for the most part, the emphasis is on the puzzle and Aurora trying to unravel what exactly has happened.  There are plenty of twists and turns, and they kept me guessing until the very end.  Unfortunately, the ending was a bit rushed.  I had to watch the climax again to make sure I understood who all had done what to whom and why. 

With the last movie, I complained about Aurora’s mother, Aida (Marilu Henner) needing something different to do.  She got that here.  Yes, she does warn Aurora about the danger of investigating what is happening, but she finds herself very involved in events, too.  I really enjoyed getting to see that storyline develop and how it played into the main mystery.

Now, I started off this review by talking about how we got to see more of Sally’s family.  Of course, the ones we really spent time with are the suspects.  For example, her father comes to town for the wedding, but we hardly see him.  Not that we needed to see more of him for the plot to work, but it would have been nice.

The characters we did get to spend time with are great, however.  There is a fun scene at the start of the movie with the Real Murders Club, and we see them again a couple of times as Aurora works through theories on who had motive to commit the crime.  And yes, Nick (Niall Matter), Aurora’s new love interest, is a big part of the film.  I enjoyed seeing how their relationship developed here.  I’m definitely on board with their romance.

And actors are as charming as always bringing their characters to life.  Yes, there is a dose of the usual Hallmark cheese in the writing and acting, but it is a light dose.

Even with the ending being a bit rushed I still really enjoyed it.  An Inheritance to Die For is an enjoyable entry in the Aurora Teagarden film franchise.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

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Book Review: The Deep End by Julie Mulhern (The Country Club Murders #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and main characters
Cons: Supporting characters need some context; Ellison’s love life
The Bottom Line:
Finding corpse in pool
Introduces great series
Now I must read more

I’m glad I Jumped into this Series

I have been hearing about Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders series for years, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about it.  Yet, I kept putting off starting it since I keep telling myself to concentrate on finishing up series I’ve already started.  I finally gave in and picked up The Deep End, the first book, and now I’m kicking myself for not starting the series sooner.

The story takes place in 1974, and introduces us to Ellison Russell.  She is devoted to her teenage daughter, Grace, and her art.  She and her husband are still living together, but that is only because they have decided to wait to get divorced until Grace is out of the house.

Part of Ellison’s routine is a swim at dawn in the country club’s pool.  On this particular June morning, she swims into a dead body in the pool.  Worse yet, when the police arrive and pull the body out of the pool, she recognizes the victim as Madeline Harper, her husband’s mistress.  Ellison knows that she makes a pretty compelling suspect in the woman’s murder, as does her husband.  She knows she is innocent and she believes that her husband may be an adulterer, but he isn’t a killer.  However, the fact that he’s suddenly left town for parts unknown doesn’t make him appear innocent.  Can Ellison figure out what really happened to Madeline?

If you enjoy books that start with a bang, this book is definitely for you.  Ellison finds Madeline’s body within the first few pages, and the pace never lets up from there.  She uncovers secrets that rock her world and make her question things about the people she thought she knew.  And there is plenty of danger that compels Ellison to keep going to solve the crime.  I had no clue who was responsible for things until the end, yet when Ellison figures things out it makes perfect sense.

We’ve really just meant a core group of characters here.  Ellison is already a strong lead, and it is easy to feel for her as she uncovers secrets.  Likewise, the rest of the main cast is strong and help pull us into the world.  I did feel like we could have used a bit more context for who some of the supporting players are in Ellison’s world, but I’m sure we will get that as the series continues.

My other issue with the book was the fact that it set up a love triangle.  Now, I’m not opposed to the love triangle as long as it doesn’t drag on for books on end.  However, I felt like it was a bit inappropriate based on what was happening in Ellison’s life at this point in the series.  I’m sure by the time I pick up the next book in the series, I’ll be fine with watching her love life evolve.

And this book is funny.  I was grinning the entire way through as I read it.  Mostly, the humor comes from Ellison’s observations of the events as they unfold.  What is amazing is the way this book balances the tone.  It is funny without treating the very serious events as anything less than what they are.  Some scenes are dark, and they are treated as they should be.  In lesser hands, balancing these two tones would have come across as awkward at best, but here they blend together perfectly.

Speaking of tone, there are some elements to this book that definitely make it on the edges of what I would consider cozy.  I’m not going to say more since the elements are spoilers that are important to the plot.  They were still handled in a way that isn’t too graphic, but if you want your books to be perfectly clean, then this isn’t a book for you.  Just to be clear, I am highly recommending this book, so the content and how it was handled didn’t bother me at all.

Now that I’ve finished The Deep End, I have to figure out when I can go back in time and join Ellison for her next mystery.  After one book, I can already tell why this series has such a devoted following, and I can tell I will become part of it.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Music Review: No Shame by Tenth Avenue North

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Powerful songs of encouragement and challenge
Cons: A few tracks aren’t to my taste, but that’s a personal thing
The Bottom Line:
Songs designed to help
Let go of shame and live in
God’s wonderful grace

Missing This Release Would be a Real Shame

Everybody struggles with guilt.  It’s part of being human.  And it’s also the main topic of No Shame, the newest release from Tenth Avenue North.  With the positive messages and fun music, this is another winner.

The band makes clear early that they are making a distinction between healthy shame and toxic shame.  The first is what makes us recognize our sin and leads us to repentance.  The second is what piles on the guilt even after we have repented and makes us think God can never use us again.  It’s an important distinction.

And it’s one that is very obvious early on with the title track.  This is the first song on the disc and celebrates the freedom we have when we confess our sins to God and accept the fact that He has forgiven them.  It’s also about not letting others shame us with their expectations.  Both ideas in one song?  Believe me, it works.  There are some great lyrics here (although I must be missing something with the line from the chorus that says “I’m so free I ain’t scared of the ceiling”), and the music is upbeat and fun.  The Young Escape joins them on this track.  I can listen to it over and over again and the message seems to sink in even more each time I do.

Wondering about the idea of someone shaming us with their expectations?  That’s explored a bit more is “Someone to Talk to.”  It is also a hard wake up call to the church.  Too often, Christians try to appear like we have it all together, and are shamed when someone sees our sins or our weaknesses like loneliness or depression.  This song finds the singer talking about trying to confess areas of struggle in the church and instead being told he wasn’t welcome there.  While we should be condemning sin, we need to be loving sinners and helping them deal with the struggles in their lives, and this song is a powerful reminder as to why.

The first single from this new release is “Greater Than All My Regrets.”  This is a great anthem about God’s grace being greater than anything in our past.  That is truly freeing, isn’t it?

Another stand out track is “Paranoia.”  This is a song written for our polarized times as the band sings about reaching out to those who aren’t like us and getting to know them as individuals.  I keep saying this needs to happen – we will never get anyway in our country or our world together by writing off people who disagree with us and having nothing to do with them.  However, we might heal issues if we actually spend time talking to them.

The band slows things down for the final two tracks.  “Space to Speak” is perfect for the start of a quiet time with God since it is asking, almost begging, God to come speak to me.  It’s challenging me since I am realizing I don’t really have space for that in my life these days.  Finally, the disc ends with “Always Been You,” a song that recognizes that it is always God we need in our lives even when we try to fill it with something else, something we think we need.

The disc has ten songs but twelve tracks.  The first track is an introduction, where the band discusses the difference between the types of shame I talked about earlier.  The second comes right after “Someone to Talk to” and is a voicemail that lead singer Mike is leaving for someone who has just confessed some major issues in his life.  It is a powerful minute that challenges me to ask who I have in my life like that, and who am I there for like that.  This is what the church should be about.

Stylistically, this is a continuation of the band’s rock style from their previous releases.  It’s not always to my taste, but I’m mid-forties, so that doesn’t surprise me.  However, I find the lyrics are wonderful always, which is why I keep buying the band’s discs.  Honestly, it’s only a couple of tracks in the middle that aren’t really to my musical tastes.  There are more than enough tracks on here that I enjoy to make me glad I bought it.

There is plenty of encouragement and challenge in No Shame.  I will be thinking over the truths in this disc for a long time to come.  Pick up this disc now because if you don’t need these reminders now, you will at some point in your Christian journey.

CD Length: 39:55
1. Intro
2. No Shame (Featuring The Young Escape)
3. Heaven is Now
4. Someone to Talk to
5. A Phone Call
6. Greater Than All My Regrets
7. The Future
8. Paranoia
9. Reaching
10. Call My Name
11. Space to Speak
12. Always Been You

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Book Review: The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Funny look at starting school
Cons: Some of Pigeon’s concerns don’t seem to be ones kids would share
The Bottom Line:
Pigeon must start school
Comedy with fun ending
Charming for young kids

Is Pigeon Ready for a New Experience?

Mo Willems has turned out many wonderful picture books over the years, but he doesn’t return to his first creation, Pigeon, as frequently as some of his others.  However, he has given Pigeon a new adventure this year with The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!

Pigeon has just learned that he has to start attending school.  Surely, he doesn’t have to do that.  After all, he already knows everything.  Will there be math?  There are too many letters!  And Pigeon is not a morning bird.  Will anything be able to change his mind?

For those unfamiliar with these particular picture books, Pigeon is the only character in the books (usually), and the story is told via dialogue as Pigeon tries to convince us to go with his way of thinking.  Of course, he eventually changes his mind, often by his own arguments.  The result is fun and clever.

I will freely admit that I am a bigger fan of Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie books than the Pigeon, although I can still find his adventures quite fun.  This book is no exception.  I appreciated the tie in to one of Pigeon’s earlier adventures at the end as Pigeon is changing his mind.

Obviously, the idea is the child reading the book (or being read to) will sympathize with Pigeon.  However, I felt that some of his arguments about not going to school weren’t something kids would have.  On the other hand, I did appreciate that, by the end of the book, Pigeon had realized most of his fears were unfounded and he was enthusiastic about going to school.  (Personally, I’m still with him about having to wake up early to go anywhere.)  While many kids are excited about starting school, I could easily see this book helping those who aren’t ready for this big step.

As usual the illustrations are stylized, and they provide a charm all their own.  Kids will absolutely love them and appreciate some gags hidden in them.

It’s hard to believe that school is already starting (some around me are starting tomorrow).  If your kid is starting school in the next few weeks, they’ll enjoy seeing that The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

August 10th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – I can’t believe some of the big names that aren’t moving on.  Wow!  And no finishers at all.  Is that a first for the show?  It was nice to see two lesser known names in the race at the end.  And I do wish everyone who did well could move on, like that mom.  Not that I don’t want to see Jessie in Vegas either since she’s my favorite woman on the show.

BH90210 – Well, that was…different.  I never watched much Beverly Hills 90210, but I did follow the series since the characters were roughly my age.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show.  Parts of it had me laughing and parts had me cringing.  I’ll be interested to see where things go with the rest of the six episode run.  And yes, the tributes to Luke Perry were touching.

Suits – Please tell me that Faye won’t be as obnoxious now.  Please.  I like Harvey and Donna as a couple.  Yes, I was fine with them apart, but I’m enjoying them together and how they are working on their relationship.  But, to be honest, I can’t wait for Mike to be back next week.  I'm also enjoying seeing Samantha and Alex getting along so well.  It's a nice change from last season.

Pearson – So the driver was indirectly responsible.  That’s what that means, right?  I’m glad Jessica’s cousin is softening.  I expected it, but still it’s about time.  And I’m so glad to get to see Jeff tonight.  Seriously, I love their relationship, and I always have, even on Suits.