Friday, September 18, 2020

September 18th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

 We made it to Friday again!  I'm celebrating with a fun Book Beginning and Friday 56.

The book I'm highlighting this week is Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings by Liz Ireland.

That's right, I'm featuring a Christmas cozy already.  It's actually the first of four Christmas books I'll be reviewing in the next couple of weeks.  All of them come out on 9/29, but I can't do them all justice if I review them all the same day, right?  I'll be reviewing this book this coming Tuesday.

But for today, a couple of teasers.  Here's how the book begins:

The strange occurrences that threatened to upend my marriage, my adopted city, and the potential happiness of tens of millions of children started on a December morning just nine days before Christmas with a frantic pounding on our bedchamber door.

Meanwhile, at 56% into the book, we find this:

He drew back in offense.  "Boots Bayleaf knows how to keep his lip buttoned."
Given that he'd just spilled the story to me in exchange for a joyride, I took those words with a whole block of salt.

In case you haven't guessed, yes, this book is a cozy set at the North Pole, and it is delightful.  I hope you'll come back Tuesday for my full review.

Meanwhile, have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Review: Fatal Forgeries by Ritter Ames (Bodies of Art Mysteries #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5

Pros: Strong characters; fun travel; good story
Cons: A bit slower; familiar conflict between characters
The Bottom Line:
The next heist chapter
Advances Laurel’s story
Series fans will like

Laurel Beacham Recovers a Painting, But at What Cost?

With the way that Ritter Ames’s Bodies of Art Mysteries build on each other, I made a point of working Fatal Forgeries into my reading schedule as quickly as I could.  I wanted to return to Laurel’s world while various plot threads were fresh in my mind.

If you haven’t read this series, I do NOT recommend you start with this book.  You’ll be lost.  Author Ritter Ames does the best she can to fill you in on what has happened before, but this is part four of a five part story.  Yes, the book does have a beginning, middle, and end all its own, but it is also part of a larger story, and to fully understand character relationships, you need to read the books in order.  Not only that, but there are major spoilers in this book for events and twists revealed in earlier books.  You’ll enjoy them more if you read them in order.

For a little background, Laurel Beacham works for the London office of the Beacham Foundation, an organization her family founded to restore and return artwork.  However, she has gotten wind of a giant art heist that is being planned.  As she works to stop it and the forgeries that are part of it, she has teamed up with Jack Hawkes, a mysterious man she is also falling for.

As this book opens, Laurel has taken on one of her side projects, stealing a stolen piece of artwork so it can be returned to the rightful owner.  However, when she returns to London, she discovers that two forgeries of this particular painting had been confiscated in England recently.  Did she just stop a new lead they could have used to trace forgers back to the art heist itself?

I always have trouble writing teasers for this series because the plots quickly spin out in surprising ways, and I don’t want to spoil anything for you.  However, if you enjoy heist stories, this is a book you will enjoy.  With all the characters in place, there are more action and twists as Laurel and Jack work toward figuring out what is really going on so they can stop it.  I didn’t feel like the plot of this book was quite as fast paced as the earlier books in the series, but that’s a minor complaint overall.  Along the way, we get some answers to bigger mysteries while still leaving plenty to be resolved in the final book in the series.

Meanwhile, the characters continue to grow and evolve.  They have always had many layers, and I enjoy getting to know them better in each book.  I will admit to growing tired of Laurel’s basic conflict with Jack.  There seems to be some softening on both sides with that, so hopefully we are moving past it at this point.

And we get to travel as well.  More of this book takes place in London than in some of the others, but we do still head over to the continent at some point.  In a year where we can’t travel, it is a joy to journey via this book, and every location comes to vivid life for us.

If you’ve been reading this series, you’ll definitely enjoy your time reading Fatal Forgeries.  If you are new to the Bodies of Art mysteries, I will once again warn you to start at the beginning.  But once you’ve done that, you’ll be reading this book before you know it.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Bodies of Art Mysteries.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Movie Review: Princess Protection Program

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun movie
Cons: Predictable
The Bottom Line:
Princess in danger
Hides in Louisiana
Predictable fun

“A Normal Dad Would Go to a Foreign Country on a Secret Mission and Bring His Daughter a T-Shirt Not a Person.”

I remember being surprised at how popular Princess Protection Program was when it premiered on The Disney Channel back in 2009.  This made for TV movie starred a couple of the Disney Channel stars of the day, which certainly helped.  I was always curious about it but never got around to watching it until they reaired it a couple years ago.  Only how late to the party?  While it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, I certainly enjoyed it.

As the movie opens, we meet Carter (Selena Gomez), a typical teenager living in Louisiana.  Her father has a not-so-typical job, however.  Joe Mason (Tom Verica) is part of the Princess Protection Program, a top secret organization that helps princesses in need.

That’s how he winds up in a small unknown country in time for a takeover.  He sneaks Princess Rosalinda (Demi Lovato) out of her country, and he winds up bringing her home, where she will pose as Rosie, Carter’s cousin, until the danger passes.

To say the two are opposites is an understatement, and they don’t seem capable of getting along.  Will Rosalinda find a way to fit in at school?  What will the two learn from each other?  And what will happen in Rosalinda’s home country?

Let’s be honest, knowing this is a Disney Channel movie, you can probably predict most of the plot points in this movie right now.  There are a few surprises as to details, but the big pieces are all obvious right away.  But there’s nothing wrong with that because the formula works.  It could be more fun, but it was entertaining enough to keep my attention.  Likewise, the characters aren’t original, but they work for the story and the actors do a good job of bring them to life.

I can see this movie appealing most of pre-teen girls who are still in love with all things princess.  That’s the biggest fantasy about all of this.  The idea that a princess could land in your life and become your friend is fun even if you know it would never really happen.

Of course, part of the popularity originally came from the two lead actresses, who were hot Disney Channel stars at the time.  The movie won’t be quite as popular today just because the actresses aren’t as big as they were then, but those in the target audience looking for a fun movie will still enjoy it.

And that’s what Princess Protection Program is – fun.  For adults it’s mostly forgettable, but for girls this will be a movie they will enjoy watching.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Book Review: Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover's Mysteries #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters, laughs, cameos
Cons: Pacing of the mystery
The Bottom Line:
Fundraising murder
Book that features cameos
Delightful for fans

Cameos and Murder

One of my local libraries has had author events that included dinner in the library after hours for the guests.  I got a thrill out of that the two times I was able to go.  I couldn’t help but think of those events while reading Death in the Stacks.

As the book opens, Lindsey Norris and the rest of the staff at the Briar Creek Public Library are preparing for the annual Dinner in the Stacks.  Unlike the events I just mentioned, this one is a fundraiser for the library and includes dancing and an auction.  However, the event this year is running into snags in the form of Olive Boyle, the new president of the library board.

Olive is used to throwing her weight around and having her demands met.  She also collects secrets and uses them to get her way with people.  Not only is she trying to make over the Dinner in the Stacks event, but she is also trying to get one of the librarians fired, taking Lindsey out as well.

As the event is winding down, Olive’s body is discovered in the middle of the fiction section.  With Lindsey and the rest of the staff on the suspect list, Lindsey finds her resolve to stop investigating crime wavering.  But with everyone Olive ever met as a suspect, can Lindsey find the truth?

The book takes a bit of time setting up the crime, and in that time, we learn to loath Olive as much as the characters do.  Even once she dies, I felt like the pacing was a bit off.  However, there is an excellent mystery here with some fantastic twists and a surprising climax.

But the characters are really the stars of this book.  Since this is book eight, that’s not necessarily a problem for the series’ fans.  After all, we wouldn’t still be reading the series if we didn’t love the characters.  Still, some of their antics took over at times.  On the other hand, we got some fantastic character development here.  Expected character development at times, but still stuff that series fans will love.

And I can’t leave out the biggest Easter egg for fans of all three of Jenn McKinlay’s series.  The characters from both her Cupcake Bakery and Hat Shop series show up in this book.  They don’t take over, but they do each have a few scenes, and those scenes are enough to make those who are fans of the series smile.  If you haven’t read those series yet, you won’t get a few jokes, but you won’t be too lost since Lindsey doesn’t know the characters either.  Also, if you want to know why we got the time jump in the newest Hat Shop book, this book will explain why it had to happen.

I’ve mentioned antics and jokes a couple of times now.  Like the others in the series, this book will make you laugh.  And the more you know the characters, the more of the humor you will get.

In the way of extras at the end, this book has discussion questions for one of the books the Crafternoon book club is discussing in the novel as well as directions for a craft project and three recipes.

While the pacing could have been better, the laughs and the cameos from Jenn’s other series make Death in the Stacks another winner for me.  This one was written for fans, and they will love every page.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Library Lover’s Mysteries.

Monday, September 14, 2020

TV Show Review: The Love Boat - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Light, fun romantic comedies
Cons: 70’s cheese and production issues; shallow view of love
The Bottom Line:
Come aboard and cruise
You might even find your love
70’s light fun  

Love on the High Seas

Over the years, I know I’ve seen the random rerun episode of The Love Boat.  Recently, I decided that I needed to at least watch the first season of the show.  It’s definitely a 70’s TV show, but if you are in the mood for that, you’ll find that you enjoy it.

The show takes place on the Pacific Princess cruise ship owned by Princess Cruises.  It follows five crew members as they interact with the guests on various cruises.  Those crew members?  You’ve got Captain Stubing (Gavin MacLeod), Doctor Adam Bricker (Bernie Kopell), Bartender Isaac Washington (Ted Lange), Purser “Gopher” Smith (Fred Grandy), and Cruise Director Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes).

The typical episode includes three storylines that weave in and out of each other, rarely interacting for more than a scene or two if that.  And what kind of storylines do we have?  A centerfold on board the ship is trying to hide old nude photos that have recently been published in a magazine.  A man disguises himself as a woman to take the only available cabin so he can woo the girl of his dreams.  An advice columnist is spending her working vacation doing nothing but work, ignoring her husband.  The musical entertainment on one cruise is a divorced couple who can’t stand each other.  A gang of thieves come on board after a rare and expensive diamond.  An inspector for the cruise line is on board, and none of the crew and figure out who it is.  And a woman is certain her husband plans to murder her while on the cruise.

With all the storylines on board the first season, only one stands out in my mind as particularly serious.  Most of the time, the stories would easily fit into a romantic comedy movie.  They aren’t anything too deep, and the ending is obvious early on even if the particular plots points along the way aren’t.  Still, it is fun watching to see just how the characters will end each episode.

I mentioned that this was a 1970’s show.  If the storylines don’t help give it away, the laugh track will.  Yes, this may be an hour-long show, but it has a canned laugh track.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy studio audience laughter when it is recorded during the filming of a sitcom, but I find canned laughter to be a bit annoying.  I would have been fine without it, but it’s a minor issue for me.

Another staple of the 70’s production is the lack of any attempts at continuity.  Most episodes feature at least one of the crew falling for a passenger on board the ship for that cruise.  Other times, their love is joining them for a cruise.  Yet then a couple episodes later (if not the next episode), they are falling madly in love with someone else.  Watching these episodes over the course of about six weeks, that stood out more than it would have watching the episodes spread out over many months.

Additionally, the guest stars sometimes show up in more than one episode playing a completely different character.  This is definitely the era where the slate is wiped clean at the end of every episode.

But speaking of guest stars, I was impressed with just how many of them I recognized over the course of the season.  Each episode included at least one person I knew from somewhere else, and many of them were involved in their own hit shows already while this show was being filmed.  I would expect a show to draw names like this once it had proved to be popular, but this was happening from the very beginning.  Okay, so most of the names would only be familiar to you if you liked other 1970’s shows, but if you do, you’ll be impressed.  If you don’t, then you should probably skip this show to begin with.  The acting from everyone, guest stars and main cast alike, has a certain level of 1970’s cheese to it, but if you know that going in, you’ll be fine.

While I’ve mainly pointed out the drawbacks to the show, I have to say it is light and fun.  There’s a reason I referenced a romantic comedy earlier.  If you are looking for something to relax and destress you while leaving a smile of you face, this show will do just that.

Of course, like many romantic comedies, the show presents a rather superficial view of love.  People seem to fall completely in love with complete strangers after just a few days.  I was also surprised to find that people are obviously sleeping together even though they aren’t married.  I guess I didn’t realize standards had changed that much on TV in the late 1970’s.  Oh, we never see any more than a kiss, but it is obvious what has happened off screen.

Season 1 consisted of 25 episodes.  They were released on DVD in two different sets.  There was also a made for TV movie that introduces these characters, and it is included…on the first disc of set two.  Yeah, doesn’t make any sense to me either.  The movie must have aired over 90 minutes with commercials because it is only about twenty minutes longer than a typical episode.  The only other extra is the original promotion for each episode.

If you are looking for light entertainment, you will enjoy The Love Boat’s first season.  Just keep in mind the time period and you’ll fall in love with the show and the characters.  How much did I enjoy it?  I’m considering trying to find more episodes to watch.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Disney Pin Review: Hercules - Windows of Magic - 2019 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good pin for a rarely done character
Cons: Something off about his face
The Bottom Line:
Hercules window
Rarer character appears
But looks slightly off

This Pin is Almost Heroic

Disney’s Windows of Magic pin series allowed them to highlight some characters they don’t normally honor with pins.  One of those is Hercules.  Despite the fact that the movie was fairly popular when it came out, I don’t have very many pins featuring the characters, so I was glad to add this pin to my collection.

Each pin in the series features a faux stained-glass window featuring a different Disney hero or heroine.  As is usually the case, Hercules takes up most of the window.  He’s got some lightning bolts in the sky behind him.  The bottom third of the pin features Pegasus, his flying horse.  The frame has his emblem at the very top, and them some designs from the movie leading into Greek columns.

I’m always a bit surprised at just what elements of the movie make it into one of these windows.  In this case, I’m surprised that Phil, his satyr trainer, isn’t here.  Since many of the princes didn’t make it into the princess windows of magic, I’m not as surprised that Meg isn’t here.

What I find disappointing is how the characters we do get look.  Pegasus is more suggestion at the bottom than really represented, which is okay since some of the other supporting characters in these pins have been impressionistic.  But Hercules doesn’t look quite right.  There’s something off about his face.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is especially noticeable when you first book at the pin.

Even so, this is a good pin or a rarely seen characters.  If you are a fan of Hercules, you’ll be happy to add this pin to your collection.

If you'd like to see the pin, check out the pictures on my Instagram account.

Disney Pin Review: Hades - Windows of Evil - 2018 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Captures Hades and some mythological characters
Cons: Pain and Panic would have been a fun addition to the pin
The Bottom Line:
Come and meet Hades
Dark window represents him
Good series entry

This Hades Pin is Actually Quite Pleasant

Greek Mythology came to life when Disney took on Hercules in the 1990’s.  The film may not have been quite as enduring as some of the early ones from the decade, but it did give us a memorable villain in Hades, the subject of this Windows of Evil.

As with the rest of the series, each pin depicts a different villain as captured by a faux stained-glass window.  Hades’ face is front and center, with his eyes glowing yellow.  Coming out of his head are the blue flames he has for hair.  Around him are some of his various creatures.  To the left is an outline that suggests his hell hound.  Then there’s the hydra on the right-hand side.  Finally, down at the bottom, is the boatman who ferries souls across the river.  We can even see the green river.

I mentioned the green river because that is one of the few parts of color in this pin.  Most of it is dark, blues and purples and blacks.  That fits the character and where he lives, so I get why they did that.

The window’s frame features a stylized skull at the very top and some flames around the sides.  Again, it is in keeping perfectly with Hades.

I think my biggest surprise with this pin is that they don’t include the main henchmen from the movie – Pain and Panic.  I realize that they were created for the Disney movie, but that would have been a bigger reason to include them in this pin over the creatures from mythology that didn’t play big parts in this movie.

That’s a minor complaint, however.  Overall, this is a great pin for what is a rather fun villain.  Yes, Hades is pure evil, but he is so fun in the movie, I find I rather enjoy him – at least how he was portrayed there.

So if you also like Hades, you’ll want to track down this Windows of Evil pin.  It will make a great addition to your collection.

If you'd like to see the pin, check out the pictures on my Instagram account.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

September 12th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I might have been binge watching (or as close am I come) to a show (watch for the review in October), so the fact that this was a light week for TV was nice.  Here's what I watched that premiered this week.

American Ninja Warrior – I get the shorter season, especially since they aren’t starting until September.  But I’m not sure how I feel about so few people moving on each week.  I like the normal levels, and it seems like a lot of good Ninjas will not be moving on.  However, I do like to see some rookies complete the course and another person hit the buzzer for the first time.  And that’s why I always love watching this show.

Tell Me a Story – This show has definitely become a thriller.  My heart was pounding during the final act.  So many characters in so much trouble.  And that twist at the very end?  Where are they going to go with that?  I’m also still wondering how they are going to bring all these stories together in the end.  Show is still very dark.  Debating if I will go back for season 2, but I have to finish out this season to find out what happens.

Holey Moley – With how they built up that final hole, I’ve got to admit, I was a bit underwhelmed at first.  However, when I realized you had to make a hole in one, I got more interested again.  I don’t know that I would have ever gotten close given 50 tries, so my hat is off to all of them.  Oh, and the clown hole?  Why did they wait until tonight to premier that one?  I’m surprised they had two new holes tonight, but that one would have been fun to watch all season.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Book Review: Death on Demand by Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Annie, Max, setting, mystery
Cons: Suspects could have been stronger overall, foul language
The Bottom Line:
Mystery bookstore
Is setting for mystery
Popular series

Crime Writer Murdered

Over the years, I’ve read some of Carolyn Hart’s books, but I have never read any of her most popular series, which also happens to be a popular cozy series in general.  I decided it was time I fixed that by going back to the beginning with Death on Demand.

This book introduces us to Broward’s Rock, an island off the coast of South Carolina.  Annie Lawrence has just inherited Death on Demand, a mystery bookshop on the island, from her uncle.  A group of mystery writers have been meeting there every Sunday night, and Annie gladly continues to welcome them to the store.

However, this particular Sunday things don’t go well.  Last week, Elliot Morgan, one of the authors, teased that he was going to spill secrets about everyone else in the group.  This week, someone kills him during the meeting before he can do that, and Annie lands in the position of chief suspect.  Maybe it’s a good thing that her not-quite-ex, Max Darling, has arrived on the island.  Can they solve the crime together?

This series is best known for the many, many references to other authors and detectives that are worked into each book.  This book sold me right away when the first literary reference was to Mrs. Pollifax.  As a huge fan of that series, I couldn’t help but smile.  Yes, a few times the references did seem to get out of hand, but for the most part I enjoyed them.

The mystery itself is quite a puzzle.  Not only does Annie need to figure out who done it, but she needs to figure out how done it.  Both of those puzzles kept me engaged and the solution was satisfying.

The suspects could have been a bit stronger.  Honestly, I had a bit of a hard time keeping them straight early on.  While that did get better as the book progressed, they were never fully fleshed out.

On the other hand, I loved Annie and Max.  They are great characters individually, and together they are fantastic.  With them as the lead characters, it’s easy to see why this series has been so popular.

The setting helps, too.  After all, what mystery lover isn’t going to want to read a book with so much talk about other mysteries.  It’s great.  And, while I tend to picture Broward’s Rock as, well, a rock, the actual island sounds like a fantastic vacation location.  I’d visit in real life if I could, so I look forward to escaping into more books in the series.

This book originally came out in 1987.  As you’d expect, elements of it are a little dated now since technology has advanced so much.  Adjust your expectations accordingly, and you’ll be fine.

There are more swear words of just about every variety than in a typical cozy.  I do wish that element had been left out.

I listened to the audio version narrated by Kate Reading.  She did a great job at making the story and characters come to life for us.

Now that I’ve finally entered Death on Demand, you can bet I will revisit this store.  I can't wait to see where Annie and Max go from this strong debut.

Plot your return visit with the rest of the Death on Demand series.

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

September 11th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

 Welcome to Friday once again and this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Fatal Forgeries by Ritter Ames.

This is the fourth book in a series, and it is a lot of fun.  You definitely need to read the series in order, but you won't be disappointed.

Here's how the book begins:

The mid-January air was cold enough that I saw my breath, but I was too focused on my task to feel chilled.

Meanwhile, over on page 56, we find:

"Oh, my nerves are shot."  She slid up to sit on the table.  "We are walking such a fine line here telling Max as little as we have."

I finished this one up earlier in the week, and I enjoyed it.  I hope you'll come back for my review next Thursday.

In the mean time, enjoy your weekend.