Monday, January 27, 2020

Play Review: Frozen - the Broadway Musical

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Story we know and love
Cons: Some important characters shortchanged by new songs and emphasis, one dance number questionable for kids
The Bottom Line:
Popular movie
Becomes okay musical
Fun but major flaws

Spectacular Stage Show with Weak Story

I really wasn’t too surprised when Disney chose to turn Frozen into a Broadway musical.  The songs in the movie were already Broadway worthy, and the movie was so popular that the audience for it was built in.  So when the touring production made it to the Pantages Theater here in Hollywood, I decided to go see it.  Sadly, it was actually weaker than the movie.

If you’ve seen the movie (and who hasn’t), you know the story.  It follows two sisters, Elsa and Anna.  Elsa has magical powers that create snow and turn things cold, and these powers have caused problems for her all her life.  However, her secret gets out on the day she is crowned Queen of their country of Arendelle.  When Elsa runs away, Anna tries to track her down and talk her into coming back.  Will Elsa return?  Can anything stop the summer blizzard that Elsa has created?

I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie when I first went to see it, so I was looking forward to seeing what they did with it on the stage.  One of the reasons for the movie’s success was the songs, and all of those songs are present and just as fun here.  Naturally, the play has added some original songs.  Of those, I found “I Can’t Lose You” to be the best of the bunch.  This duet between Elsa and Anna near the beginning of the second act is as moving as anything we’ve seen for the characters yet.  For fun, there’s “Hygge.”  Just about everyone in the main cast gets a chance to shine.  The only reason I’m debating about getting the soundtrack is because “I Can’t Lose You” was added after the soundtrack was recorded so isn’t there.  And it’s the song I most want.  Of the songs we already love, “Let It Go” is absolutely magical, and “In Summer” was as funny as ever.  Both are staged perfectly with great additions to make you love them all the more.  And I loved what they did with the finale, which is all I will say.

However, the additional songs (and there really are a lot of them), take away from the story.  This is especially important when it comes to Anna’s love life.  We actually spend more time seeing her falling in love with Hans than we do seeing her relationship with Kristoff grow.  If you know the story, you know how important that relationship turns out to be.  Frankly, Kristoff’s character feels short changed all the way around in the play as they spend more time on the relationship between the sisters, even at a young age.  I absolutely agree that their relationship is a key one in the story, but we need more time for Kristoff as well.

Then there’s the costumes for the song “Hygge.”  As much as I enjoyed the song (which reminds me of “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King), I didn’t appreciate the costumes, or should I say lack of costumes, that the company was wearing.  The song makes many references to a sauna, so the lack of costumes makes sense.  And for most of the song, they are wearing enough to cover anything important.  However, for the kick line at the end, they are wearing skin colored tights with nothing but branches to cover themselves and their neighbors.  The audience I was with was laughing and cheering.  However, I felt this wasn’t appropriate for a show aimed at kids.  If the target audience was adults, I wouldn’t question it nearly as much, and if they’d kept their original costumes, I would have been fine with it as well.  But this wasn’t appropriate for a show aimed at kids.  No, you don’t come close to actually seeing anything, but still – not in a play aimed at kids.

On the other hand, I’ve got to give the production credit for the effects.  This may be a stage show, but they have worked out ways to make some spectacular effects take place before our eyes.  Some of them are blink and you miss them stage magic, and it was phenomenal.  I’m including Olaf in this.  The snowman is a puppet, and he and his puppeteer are wonderful.  Likewise, the actor in the Sven costume is great.

And all the actors were wonderful.  The singing, the dancing, and the acting were all top notch.  I teared up at the places I do in the movie, so it worked overall.

Frozen has been a cultural phenomenon for so long, I know this play will be around for a long time to come.  While the play is good, it isn’t one of Disney’s best movie to Broadway adaptations.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Podcast Review: Murder Book Season 1 - The Tell-Tale Bullet

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Gripping story with plenty of twists
Cons: Courtroom recordings slow things down
The Bottom Line:
This true crime podcast
Features lots of twists and turns
For gripping listen

Michael Connelly Tackles a True Crime

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I didn’t really start listening to entertainment podcasts until this year.  I started when I heard about Murder Book.  This true crime podcast is from bestselling mystery writer Michael Connelly, and I love his books, so I had to give it a chance.  I was quickly caught up in the first season case – The Tell-Tale Bullet.

It’s no wonder that this case was picked for the first season since it has enough twists for a Michael Connelly novel.  The story starts in 1987 with a carjacking gone wrong in Los Angeles.  It ended with the death of a young man named Jade Clark.  When the police begin investigating the case, they quickly find a suspect named Pierre Romain.  But the police can’t find enough evidence to get a conviction, and the case goes cold until DNA evidence this century causes the police to reopen the case.  And that’s when the twists really start.

I found the podcast when the first half a dozen episodes had already been released.  I thought I was going to space them out, but I was hooked, and soon I found myself anxious to download the newest episode each Monday morning to listen to on my way to and from work since each episode is roughly an hour.

It is easy to see why Michael Connelly chose this story for his first season.  It contains lots of great detective work and courtroom drama.  In other words, it would have made the basis for a great novel featuring both Harry Bosch and Michael Haller.  There are certainly parts that will make you angry.  I will admit to looking up some news stories to find out what happened before the season finished.  I just couldn’t take the suspense any more.

As much as I enjoyed the season, I did get frustrated with the courtroom episodes.  The Murder Book team got permission to record the trial, but those recordings are hard to understand.  Michael Connelly does a good job of summarizing what happened during those recordings for us, but it is still frustrating not to be able to hear everything when we break to the actual tape.  Not to mention, for those of us looking for fast paced courtroom drama, the attorney’s talking seem a bit slow at times.  They needed writers to punch things up for them.  I felt the use of the courtroom recordings actually slowed things down in a few episodes.

In a real life twist worthy of the story, there are a couple of updates that were made after the initial run of episodes aired.  The entire first season is now available, so you can easily dig in and enjoy the entire thing in one fell swoop.

And once you start, you will be hooked.  I normally don’t enjoy true crime, but if you do, you need to listen to this podcast.  We get interviews with the detectives and attorneys involved in the case to help us understand some of the whys as well as the facts of the case.  It makes for a fascinating look at our justice system, how it works, and how it doesn’t at times.

We’ve been promised a season two when the crew finds a case worthy of being included.  In the meantime, you can enjoy The Tell-Tale Bullet.  If further seasons are as good as the first one, you can bet I will keep listening to Murder Book.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

January 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Batwoman – What?  What in the world is going on in that final scene?  Yes, it totally worked, I’m hooked, and I’ll be back next week to see what kind of alternative universe we are in now.  Having said that, the rest of the episode was fairly predictable, and Alice continues to be by far the best part of the show.  There were a couple of references to crisis, but not too much, which doesn’t surprise me given the nature of this show’s first season.  Most of the others seemed to be setting up seasons before and after crisis while this one wasn’t.

Supergirl – And speaking of crisis related fall out, this show had a lot of that to deal with.  I mean, Lex as everyone’s hero?  Wow, we’ve got so much stuff that is going to be going on in the next few episodes.  I can’t wait to see where they are going with these storylines.  I am glad that they restored Lena’s memories so that story will continue.  Although now that she is being manipulated by her brother and mother, I feel for her again.  Brainy working with Lex?  How can that be true?  There is just so much going on right now.  Then there’s the fact that if we have used Lex as a villain here, who will Superman be fighting when he gets his own spin off next year?

Arrow – As you know, I’ve never been on board with the 2040 flashforwards – mostly because they presented such a bleak future.  I’ve got to say, I am very intrigued.  If they don’t give us at least a limited series to show us how those cliffhangers play out, I’m going to be upset.  I need to know where this is all leading.

Legends of Tomorrow – I couldn’t remember who the new guy was.  Thanks to the ending, I’m all caught up again.  Seriously, I couldn’t remember where we left the show.  Looks like we’ve set up quite a few fun things for this season.  I hope they can pay them off.  Although can we not drink anything else nasty this season?  Please?  This wasn’t the best episode of the series.  It had some great moments, like the panel after the showing of their documentary.  However, overall, I felt like it was more amused by itself than I was.

The Good Place – That was a great way to end the series.  And we still have another episode to go?  I’m wondering if we are going to end the series with the characters walking through that final door.  I hope not.  If so, it will be a major downer.  Still, this episode had some very funny moments.  Plus it gave us Lisa Kudrow!  How awesome is that?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Ornament Review: Defender - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good representation of the video game
Cons: Screen lights up poorly; lacks nostalgia factor for me
The Bottom Line:
This Defender game
Looks good, but screen lights poorly
Little nostalgia

This Ornament is Hard to Defend

I grew up with the first wave of video games, so I’ve bought all of Hallmark’s video game cabinet ornaments.  While I played my Atari 2600 more than I played any real video games, I still enjoyed the occasional video game, and these have brought back memories of those games.  So I was a bit disappointed when I saw that Defender was the video game ornament for 2019.  Yes, I bought it, but the ornament itself did little to change my mind.

If you aren’t familiar with this lesser known game, you are a fighter pilot trying to save humans from being kidnapped by aliens.  You have to shoot down the alien ships before they can get the humans up to the mother ship.  Honestly, I think I only played this game once or twice in the arcade version.  I did have it for my Atari 2600, and I enjoyed playing it there.

The ornament is once again a faithful recreation of an arcade machine from back in the day.  It’s mostly black with the proper decals painted on it.  The joystick and buttons are on the front, and you can even see the slots where you’d put the quarter to play.  (Remember when video games only cost a quarter?)

Like the others, this is one of Hallmark’s magic ornaments.  It requires three button batteries to function.  Once they are inserted, you can hit the player start button to see the screen light up and hear the sound effects from the game.  This lasts about 30 seconds.

And this is where the ornament fails for me.  My enjoyment of the others has been based on nostalgia.  The screen looks like I remember, and I can picture what the characters are doing as we hear the sounds.  I don’t have strong enough memories of this game, even the sound effects of the Atari version, to know for sure what is happening as the sound effects play.  Meanwhile, the screen doesn’t light up well enough for us to see what is on it.  I know it isn’t just mine because the displays I looked at in several stores were the same way.

Yes, with all my talk about cutting back on Hallmark ornaments, this would have been a logical one to cut out.  But I bought it anyway.  (Have I ever claimed to have self-control?)  I’m sure that fans of Defender will enjoy it.  I like it, but I don’t have the connection to it I have to the other video game ornament releases.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Book Review: Statue of Limitations by Kate Collins (Goddess of Greene St. #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong story, lots of fun
Cons: Flat supporting characters, one big aspect of the set up
The Bottom Line:
Murder, construction
Fun overcomes weaknesses
Hard to put book down

Entertaining Debut

In another case of too many books and too little time, I never made it very far into The Flower Shop Mysteries from Kate Collins.  But I decided to jump into her new series, The Goddess of Greene St. Mysteries, from the very beginning.  Overall, I enjoyed Statue of Limitations despite some flaws.

Athena Spencer has had to move back to live with her family in Michigan after her divorce.  That means dealing with her large, crazy Greek family on a daily basis since she and her young son are living with them and she is working at the family’s garden center.  It also means she is on hand when her grandparent’s Greek restaurant is threatened by the powerful Talbot family.  They intend to raze an entire block of shops to put in condos.  The fact that a murder takes place in their home, two weeks after another suspicious death, doesn’t seem to be slowing their plans down at all.  The police are focusing their attention on a stranger in town, but Athena thinks they have the wrong suspect.  Can she solve the murder and save her grandparent’s restaurant?

Follow all that?  I didn’t even get into the statue that gives the book its title.  Honestly, when I was first starting this book, I felt like this book might spin out of control with all the plot threads that Kate Collins was introducing, and in lesser hands it might have.  However, all these threads just kept me engaged as I was reading.  Honestly, I had a hard time putting the book down because something was always happening on one of the fronts.

Having said that, the book has some weaknesses.  First, there’s the set up.  I mentioned the stranger that Athena feels is innocent.  Honestly, I had a very hard time believing her behavior toward that man.  I mean, I believed he was innocent as well, but for someone as smart as Athena is supposed to be, she acts rather stupidly where he is concerned.  That truly bothered me.  I get why it happened (and there are a couple of different reasons), but it didn’t feel right.

The ending is a bit abrupt.  It completely wrapped things up, and I was satisfied with how it did that, but it felt more forced than I would have preferred.

Then there are the characters.  I felt like we got to know Athena and another couple very well.  I loved them, and spending time with them was a delight.  However, the rest of the cast aren’t that developed yet.  I know, I know, this is the first book in a series.  That’s what subsequent books are for.  It’s just that her family, especially, is still very one dimensional.  And maybe it’s because that one dimension is trying to meddle in Athena’s life in unwelcomed ways that I found them annoying.  But they weren’t a major part of the book here, so it wasn’t a super big issue yet.

A couple of my issues were obvious early on, and I was thinking they would keep me from enjoying the book.  I was wrong.  Let me state it clearly – I enjoyed this book.  I really did get caught up in the story and Athena was a wonderful main character.  I was always trying to sneak in a few extra pages, and it worked because I flew through the book in just a couple of days instead of my average three days per book.  I really wanted to know how things were going to end.  And yes, I was looking to see if we had word yet on when the next book might be coming out.

Kate Collins’s many fans are going to be thrilled to see her back with Statue of Limitations.  This is a fun debut that pulls you in to Athena’s world.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Movie Review: Gourmet Detective - Roux the Day

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong leads in a fun mystery
Cons: A couple supporting performances are weak
The Bottom Line:
Valuable book
Basis for this mystery
Lots of fun to watch

“You Want to Delay Going to a Game to Buy a Book?”

I’d written off the Gourmet Detective franchise at Hallmark since it’s been three years since we last visited Henry, Maggie, and the rest of the gang.  I was delighted to learn we were going to get a new movie featuring these characters, and Roux the Day was worth the wait.

San Francisco detective Maggie (Brooke Burns) is delighted that she has finally gotten Henry (Dylan Neal) to agree to attend a baseball game.  However, he just has one stop to make along the way.  He’s been hired to authenticate and bid on a chef’s book for a closed restaurant at a charity auction.  For those, like me, not familiar with the term, a chef’s book is the book used in a restaurant that holds the master recipes everyone uses when they cook there.  It has notes and scribbles and is fascinating for those into the foodie scene.  This particular chef’s book has been missing since the restaurant closed years ago.

When Henry and Maggie arrive, they learn the book has already been sold.  Being resourceful, Maggie learns who bought to book, and they arrive at his shop only to find dead.  With the game now just a memory, the two are plunged into another baffling case.  Who has the book?  Is it worth killing over?

This movie soars because of the chemistry between the leads.  There is an ease between them that makes their scenes sparkle and their banter seem effortless.  It is a pleasure to watch the two of them on screen together.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they are working on a puzzling mystery.  We quickly get some good suspects, and they kept me guessing until we reached the climax.  I’m a little surprised at how the climax unfolded, but I’m not going to complain too loudly since it gave us a fun, suspenseful scene.

I appreciated how it took both Maggie and Henry to solve the crime.  They both contributed things along the way that ultimately solved things.

As much praise as I gave Brooke Burns and Dylan Neal, there are some weaker performances from the rest of the cast.  The Hallmark cheese is kept to a minimum in the script, but there are a couple of actors who still manage to give us a small dose along the way.

On the other hand, I enjoyed getting to see the rest of the regular supporting cast again.  This is especially true of Bruce Boxleitner, who plays Henry’s father.  He gets a fantastically funny scene at one point, and several other good scenes.  I’ve been a fan of his for years, so any time he pops up in something I’m watching, I enjoy it.

Roux the Day was another fun mystery that left me smiling when I finished it.  Let’s hope we get to revisit these characters again soon.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Book Review: Careless Whiskers by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #12)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, great characters, cute pets
Cons: Too distracted by the cute pets to list cons
The Bottom Line:
Some backstage drama
Sets the scene for mystery
Filled with pet cuteness

Murder Takes the Stage

I enjoy live theater.  I don’t go see it as much as I would like, but I always enjoy it when I go see it.  With backstage drama being the setting for Careless Whiskers, the latest Cat in the Stacks Mystery, I was especially excited to pick up this book.

This spring, Athena College’s theater department is debuting a new play from a local playwright.  Charlie Harris is looking forward to it since his daughter, Laura, is going to star in it, and her husband, Frank, is the director.  While most of the cast and crew are college students, the college is bringing in a big name for Laura’s co-lead.  Unfortunately, they’ve had to make a last-minute substitution, and Luke Lombardi will be starring opposite Laura.  Laura is not happy about this development.  She’s worked with him before, and he is arrogant, rude, and demanding.  And those are his good qualities.

Luke hasn’t changed at all, and soon he is irritating many people in town.  He is also the victim of some pranks, but when things turn deadly, Laura finds herself in the spotlight as a suspect.  Charlie has sworn off sleuthing after a recent close call, but with Laura’s reputation and freedom on the line, he and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, begin searching for the real killer.  Will they be able to clear Laura?

As is usually the case in this series, the murder takes place later in the book than in most of the cozies I read.  However, that isn’t an issue since we are spending time getting to know the suspects and their motives.  We are also introduced to a sub-plot or two that only muddy the waters once the murder happens.  I never felt the book dragged once, either before or after the murder happened.  Yes, Charlie is able to resolve everything by the time the book ends, and the book kept me guessing until he figures it out.

Over the course of the series, we’ve gotten to know the characters well.  It’s always a pleasure to check in with Charlie and the rest of the regulars.  Yes, everyone is present and accountant for, and they brought smiles to my face once again.  This goes double for Diesel and the other four-legged characters in this book.  Make no mistake about it, the pets are just as important as the human characters when it comes to my enjoyment of the book.

I already mentioned that we get to know the suspects.  I really do mean that.  They feel real as we slowly get to learn more about them over the course of the book, making it easy to picture any of them as the killer.

I will admit to finding some of Luke’s behavior more funny than boorish, probably because I could picture myself saying some of his lines as a joke.  While I rethink my sense of humor, I will tell you that Luke does plenty that I did find over the line, arrogant, and rude as well.

I continue to love how the police are portrayed in this series.  I often feel like the police get a bad rep in cozies since the main character is often trying to prove a family member or friend isn’t guilty.  It’s a natural motive and conflict for an amateur sleuth, so I can understand why it happens so frequently.  Here, the police are portrayed as smart and doing their job.  While Charlie is discouraged from getting involved, he is quick to go to the police with any information he turns up.  It not quite a partnership, nor should it be, but it is a refreshing change.

Careless Whiskers is filled with twists and animal cuteness.  In other words, this is just the thing to please Charlie and Diesel’s many fans and even earn them new ones.

Not up to date?  Here are the rest of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Tuesday, January 28th, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 1/28.  You will have until midnight on 2/2 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 2/3.

Monday, January 20, 2020

TV Show Review: Fuller House - Season 4

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: More laughs with characters we love
Cons: Continuity issues; slow first few episodes
The Bottom Line:
Season four of laughs
Overcomes slow beginning
And turns into fun

“Typical.  In the Fuller House Even the Chilis Have to Hug.”

Because I don’t have any streaming services, I am always a year behind in watching Fuller House.  Fortunately, Netflix is faithfully releasing each season on DVD a year after it comes out, so I was recently able to catch up with a favorite wacky family in season 4 of the show.

If you aren’t familiar with the show, it is a sequel series to the TV Show Full House from the late 80’s and early 90’s.  This show finds a widowed DJ Tanner Fuller (Candace Cameron Bure) living in the house she grew up in and raising her three sons, Jackson, Max, and Tommy (Michael Campion, Elias Harger, and Dashiell and Fox Messitt) with the help of her sister Stephanie Tanner (Jodie Sweetin) and her best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber).  Rounding out the regular cast are Kimmy’s ex-husband/current fiancĂ© Fernando (Juan Pable Di Pace), and their daughter Ramona (Soni Bringas).

This season picks up at some point after season 3.  We don’t find out exactly how much, but Kimmy is very obviously pregnant with the baby she is carrying for Stephanie and Stephanie’s boyfriend Jimmy (recurring guest star Adam Hagenbuch), aka Kimmy’s brother.  Naturally, this means we get storylines about the two facing parenthood and Kimmy dealing with being pregnant again.  DJ is now back with high school boyfriend Steve (Scott Weinger, who is in most of the episodes), and the two are working on their relationship while facing the pressure of their well-meaning family and friends who seem to think that every milestone in their relationship is vitally important.  Meanwhile, she also has to deal with the fallout of dumping her business partner, Matt (guest star John Brotherton), and on the kid front, Ramona faces a group of mean girls, Jackson finds something very surprising he is good at, and Max deals with a huge failure – his first B on a test – and runs for class president against his girlfriend Rose (guest star Mckenna Grace).

I fully admit that this show always takes a few episodes to get into.  I love the characters, but there is a strong cheese factor to the proceedings, and it just takes me a few episodes to get into it.  This season seemed to take longer for some reason.  I think part of that was because I felt like the first few episodes were out of order.  Maybe I should have watched the end of season 3 again, but this season started with a Christmas episode and Kimmy more than a few months pregnant.  Later in the season, we have episodes about football and the class president episode, and Kimmy doesn’t seem to get more pregnant.  Yes, I know how realistic this show is, but still, is it too much to ask for a little continuity?

Once I was able to turn off that part of my brain, I did begin to enjoy the episodes again.  The show realizes how ridiculous it can be and mocks itself at times, which I always enjoy.  I think I enjoy those because it is a delightful wink, letting us know that the show is in on the joke without being mean.  There are some fun episodes, like the ones I mentioned above.  I also enjoyed the episode where the ladies head to a 70’s party on board a ship.  As someone who liked Steve when he was on the original series, it’s nice to see him and DJ back together again.

Speaking of the original series, the original adults, Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), Joey Gladstone (Dave Coulier), and Uncle Jessie (John Stamos) and Aunt Becky (Lori Loughlin), pop in occasionally for visits.  What’s nice is to see that their relationships with the ladies have matured so that they are as likely to get advice as they are to give it.  And, while hugs might not be as prevalent as they were on the original show, there are still plenty of hugs offered here.  The show makes me laugh, but it can make me tear up in a good way upon occasion, too, just like the original did.  (Watch out for that first episode in particular.)

The cast is having fun, and it is obvious they love each other and working together.  That comes through in their performances and makes the show so great to watch.

Season 4 consisted of 13 episodes, and they are all preserved here on two DVD’s.  There are no extras, just the shows and the laughs and love they contain.

So yes, despite the slow start, I did still enjoy season 4 of Fuller House.  I’m already dreading reaching the end of this revival when season 5 comes out on DVD.  I’m going to miss having new adventures for the Tanner and Fuller clan in my life again.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Book Review: Downtown Desperadoes by Sigmund Brouwer (Accidental Detectives #13)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and fun characters
Cons: All cons captured by desperadoes
The Bottom Line:
NYC return
Top notch, fast paced mystery
Holds up to rereads

Returning to NYC to Help a Friend

While today, I obsessively read books in order, I never worried about it when I was a kid.  Most of the time, the events of one book didn’t follow the events of another, so you could read a book in any order and you wouldn’t miss anything.  One of the few exceptions to that rule is The Downtown Desperadoes.  This entry in the Accidental Detectives series is a direct sequel to Lost Beneath Manhattan since it takes Ricky Kidd and the gang back to New York City to help a friend we met in that first book.

It all starts with a phone call.  Ricky is confused by the strange message, and he is certain it is a prank, expect for the fact that the voice sounds familiar.  It’s a couple of hours later when he recognizes it as Brother Phillip, the man who had helped him track down his younger brother when Joel was kidnapped during the class trip to New York City back in the spring.  When his father tries to find out what is happening with Brother Phillip, he discovers the mission the man run has burned down, and the police believe that Brother Phillip died in the fire.  The only problem is, the fire took place before the phone call.  Ricky is able to convince his family and friends, Ralphy and Mike, to change their Thanksgiving plans and go to the city, but when they arrive, things only get weirder.  Did they really know Brother Phillip?  Is he in danger?  Or is he a criminal?

It really is helpful to have read this book in the proper order since we see many of the same characters we first met in Lost Beneath Manhattan again.  However, if you haven’t read that book yet (or it’s been a while since you have), we get enough background to follow what is happening here.  That includes passages from the earlier book as seeing the people and places again triggers Ricky’s memories.  Don’t worry, these passages are brief and serve their purpose.

This is another fast-paced mystery with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers of all ages glued to the page.  These books first came out in the early-90’s, and I was technically older than the target audience back then.  That hasn’t stopped me from reading and loving these books several times over the years.  At this point, I remembered the ultimate solution, but I didn’t remember all the twists and turns along the way, so I was once again turning pages as quickly as I could.  As much as I was racing to solve the case again, I was still able to pause to admire just how subtly the clues were laid into the book.  Seriously, this is a master class is writing a mystery that still leaves me in awe as an adult.

The characters are good.  They are a step above the characters we would get in a typical middle grade mystery, but there isn’t a ton of definition or development.  Then again, what can you expect with a 130 page book.  They are strong enough to pull us into the story, and kids won’t care.  Heck, I don’t care as an adult.  It helps that there are a couple of scenes that still make me laugh as I read.

These novels were original written for the Christian market.  The Christian element isn’t overpowering (in fact, I found it a little light in this book), but know that going into the story.

I mentioned earlier that these books originally came out in the 1990’s.  As a result, a few things are a bit dated, and the character’s ages also reflect events that were more contemporary than they are now.  This is just something to note in passing since it really has no bearing on the meat of the book.

Every time I revisit the Accidental Detectives, I’m reminded why I love these characters so much.  The Downtown Desperadoes will keep kids, or anyone who loves a great mystery, turning pages until they reach the satisfying end.

Once you’ve read one, you’ll want to read more of the Accidental Detectives books.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Disney Pin Review: Space Mountain - Minnie Mouse: The Main Attraction #1

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creatively combines Minnie and a classic attraction
Cons: All cons left orbiting alone
The Bottom Line:
A spacey pin set
As new collection begins
Out of this world fun

The Disney Store’s New Pin Series Launches with an Out of This World Set

After faithfully collecting the Disney Wisdom Collection last year, I was anxious to see if Disney was going to release another monthly series I’d be interested in.  When they first announced 2020’s series was going to be Minnie Mouse: The Main Attraction and it would feature Minnie as a fashion icon, I wasn’t so sure I was going to be interested.  The one thing that made me think I might be interested is that each entry would be themed around a classic attraction from the Disney parks.  Looking at the pictures of the first few releases, I knew I was hooked.  I’m just getting the pins this year (honest!), and the pins blast off with a set themed around Space Mountain.

The sets in this series will once again be three pin sets.  The first pin is an icon that represents the ride itself.  For Space Mountain, they went with the easy iconic futuristic peak of the ride that you can see from almost anywhere in Tomorrowland when you are in the parks.  However, the pin is not just that peak.  Over the top of it, they’ve got a purple oval with stars in it.  Honestly, it’s beautiful all by itself, but the fun continues with Minnie.  In keeping with the gray and purple color scheme this month, she mostly gray.  She’s looking down and smiling, but what makes her fun is that her dress is that Space Mountain peak.  I’ve got to say, it looks good on her.  Based on the pictures I’ve seen so far, I think this is my favorite Minnie dress, although it is hard to tell in the pictures that have been released on line.  The final pin in the set is a pin representation of the Minnie Mouse ears that are being released each month.  The bow on Minnie’s ears is made up of a few planks of the mountain’s roof with a star in the middle to catch the light.  And the ears?  In another fantastic detail, they are both windows into space, but one shows moons orbiting planets while the other just has stars.

As you can tell, I love these pins.  That isn’t a surprise to me since I’ve realized while writing reviews for this blog that I love it when artists take something and tweak it to represent a theme.  That’s what we are going to be getting all year, and I can’t wait to see what all they do.  Meanwhile, this first one is fantastic.  It’s the little details that just make it so fabulous.

The series will feature several items each month.  There’s the pin set, a mug (I’m out of cabinet space; I can’t get these!), a Minnie plush, Minnie ears, and a bag.  Depending on what you collect, there is something for everyone.  I already collect Disney pins, but I think the pins are the best since they have elements from several of the other items in it.

As I said, it’s the fact that these are themed around attractions that has pulled me in.  I’ve gone back and looked at the pin sets they did for Mickey a couple of years ago, which were themed around different decades, and they just don’t appeal to me.  But these pins!  They’ve picked attractions that are at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World (and probably the other parks as well, but I don’t know the other parks well enough to confirm), so no matter which US park you know best, you’ll still be able to recognize the attraction.  Some appeal to me more than others, which is no surprise, but most of them make me smile.  Then again, I’m a sucker for just about any ride at the parks.

I can’t wait to see how the artists add the fun touches to the rest of the pins in this new series.  But for right now, I’m going to enjoy blasting off with Minnie on Space Mountain.

If you'd like to see a picture, check out my post on Instagram.