Sunday, July 31, 2016

Travel Review: The Hermitage

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Interesting look at our seventh President
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Well preserved mansion
Chance to learn about Jackson
Great trip back in time

A Trip to Life on the Frontier in the 1800’s

Last month, I made my first trip to Nashville.  I was there mostly for business, but I had a few hours to kill one morning before I came home, so I decided to go to The Hermitage.  I am so very glad I did.

For those like me who haven’t heard of it before, The Hermitage was the home of Andrew Jackson, our seventh President.  While he was born in South Carolina, he spent most of his life in Tennessee, and bought the plantation outside of Nashville as a young man.  It is where he lived before, between, and after his gigs as a general and his two terms as President.

I wasn’t familiar with his life, so I was thankful that we started out with a museum giving us a brief overview of his life and accomplishments.  You can breeze through this section in 30 minutes and get a good idea about his life.  For example, he grew to fame during the war of 1812, winning the important battle of New Orleans, which took place after peace had been declared.  Makes you appreciate the speed news spreads today, doesn’t it?

Speaking of today, what I think struck me most was how little times haven’t changed in our country.  Andrew Jackson was swept to the Presidency in a wave of voters fed up with the corruption of Washington DC.  In fact, he’d won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College 4 years before he won the Presidency.  And during campaign, his wife’s past was a target for the other side.

It’s sad how little has changed, hasn’t it?

Once you are done with the tour (and finish up the museum before stepping outside), you can continue on to see The Hermitage itself.  The house has been loving kept so that we can view it today the way it was actually lived in during the latter part of his life.  It gives you a good appreciate for how life was 200 years ago.  The docents inside the mansion are very interesting and really help us understand what we are seeing.

There is also plenty of see on the grounds.  Part of the admission fee is an electronic guide that narrates for you as you go along.  Just enter the numbers on the signs to get more of a feel for what life was like during that time.

There is plenty of see around the property, so I do recommend you take the time to wander some.  There is the garden where President Jackson and his wife and buried.  There’s the cabin where the longest surviving slave from the plantation lived until his death.  There’s the original house where Jackson lived when he first bought the property.  They even grow a little bit of cotton during the season since this was a cotton plantation.  Plus the property is absolutely beautiful.

Being a plantation in the south before the Civil War, the Hermitage had slaves the entire time that President Jackson lived there.  They do a good job today of showing what life was like for the slaves during that time.  No, they don’t paint a rosy picture, and they shouldn’t.  They also discuss some of his mistreatment of Native Americans, although that isn’t focused on nearly as much as his treatment of his slaves.  As a result, I do feel the museum is balanced.  They show us what President Jackson did that was good while also showing his flaws.  Naturally, they do play up the good, but I would expect that in a museum dedicated to anyone.

I spent about two and a half hours there, and I felt I’d seen what I wanted to see.  However, if I had longer, I would have lingered more and listened to all of the electronic stops along the way.  I’d certainly love to go back if I were ever in the area again.

So if you find yourself in Nashville, make time to visit The Hermitage.  You’ll be very glad you did as you learn about one of our Presidents.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

July 30's Weekly TV Thoughts

Yes, I am home from my trip.  Yes, I have a lot of TV to catch up on as a result.  I've done pretty well in the last 24 hours, watching about a week's worth.  And yes, I kept from watching the next episode of several shows, with one exception.  Now I'm dying to see the next episodes of shows, and I will get more this coming week, too.  Maybe there is something to this binge watching thing after all.

American Ninja Warrior (7/18) – I feel so sorry for those brothers.  Almost both going to Vegas, but missed it by that much.  Yikes!  Brutal course.  I’m wondering if anyone will be able to finish in another season or two.

Angie Tribeca (7/18) – So I guess I need to pay more attention to the conspiracy story we have going on.  Still not sure how that will all play out along with the romantic triangle, but lots of fun moments in the episode for sure.

Dead of Summer (7/19) – I’m glad we have Drew’s story out of the way.  I predicted exactly how it would unfold as soon as we met him.  Truly, these flashbacks are doing nothing but dragging out the current story.  Yeah, I’m sticking with it for now, but it’s going to have to really start getting good soon if I’m going back for season two (if the show gets renewed).

Scream (7/19) – So Branson really is dead.  What a horrible way to go, especially after everything he’d been through.  I certainly agree with Brooke’s speech at the carnival, although I can also understand the carnival going on.  I wonder if the police officer survived or not.  I thought he was alive when Emma found him, but that wasn’t completely obvious.  And Emma is mad!  Not that I am surprised, but I do wonder how they will deal with that.

Suits (7/20) – So does Mike have a true ally in prison now or not.  His roommate seems like a nice guy, but that could still turn.  I truly feel for Harvey, and I hope he gets his painting back somehow.  Not that I expect him to, but I can hope.

Spartan (7/21) – Because the Republican convention ran long, I had to read about the ending.  My DVR only recorded the original start and end time.  I was hoping for one of the Ninja Teams.  Or the Muddy Minglers.  But the Comeback Kids were a wonderful team as well, and I am thrilled that they won.

Girl Meets World (7/22 and 7/29) – Yes, I watched them both.  So many cool nods to the first ski lodge trip there, I loved that!  And I liked how they worked out the triangle.  About time, too.  Plus I figured this is how they were going to go with it, well at least Lucas ending up with Riley.  I’m not sure I buy what they are selling about why Maya was doing what she was doing, but that’s okay, it was still a fun couple of episodes.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Book Review: The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #4)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery and character development
Cons: Pacing uneven overall
The Bottom Line:
His mother’s murder
Gives us chance to see Bosch grow
Character study




Delving Further into Bosch’s Past

Book 3 in the Harry Bosch series delved into a case he’d solved before the series started.  It was an interesting book that really worked on multiple levels while showing us a bit of Bosch’s past.  The Last Coyote delves even further into his past by reopening a case from 30 years before that had impacted him.  While still entertaining, it wasn’t quite as good as that previous book in the series.

This book is set in the spring of 1994, just after the Northridge earthquake that hit the greater Los Angeles area.  Harry’s house is one of the many casualties of the quake, but he is refusing to acknowledge that.  He’s still living in it and trying to fix it up so it won’t be torn down even though it has been condemned.  He has plenty of time to do that since he’s been suspended from his job as a LAPD homicide detective after attacking Lieutenant Pounds, his immediate supervisor.

 But Bosch decides to use the time to open the case that has haunted him his entire life – the murder of his mother when he was still a boy.  His mother had been a prostitute, and no progress was ever made in the case.  Bosch gets the old records and begins to read over what happened.  But with a case that is 30 years old, are those involved still alive?  Will Bosch be able to figure out what happened?

In some ways, this book is a character study of Bosch.  After all, he is working on an old case that impacts him greatly.  We are also treated to the sessions he is having with the department psychologist to determine if he is fit to return to work or not.  Ironically, I got frustrated with him several times over the course of the book.  Since he is suspended, he has to sneak around in his investigation, but at times he crosses the line and almost becomes a bully to find out what he needs.  The therapy sessions aren’t as interesting as they could be and slow things down as well.  However, we also truly feel for Harry as the book progresses, and we get a different picture of him by the time the book is over, so ultimately this character study does work.

Once Bosch gets fully on the trail of the mystery, however, the book picks up.  I figured a few parts of it out early, but there were still some twists that surprised me along the way, yet everything made sense at the end.  We also met some great characters along the way.

While I live in the Los Angeles area now, I moved here a year and a half after the earthquake that forms the background of this book.  I enjoyed getting to see just what it did to the area, but in fiction.  It certainly would have been a mess to live through, and that is captured here even though we are several months out from the actual quake when the book opens.

I’m continue this series on audio.  Dick Hill does a mostly good job with the narration.  He’s tone down some of the invented character ticks that annoyed me in the previous books, but he still gets over dramatic when the characters get emotional.  I’m hoping that gets toned down even more as the series moves along.

While The Last Coyote is a step down from the previous book in the series, it is still an entertaining story.  It certainly won’t be the last book I read in this series since I’m looking forward to see what happens to Harry next.

And if you want to catch more of Bosch's cases, here are the Harry Bosch mysteries in order.

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

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Movie Review: Lethal Weapon



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good action, great characters and acting
Cons: First half a bit uneven
The Bottom Line:
Unlikely partners
Entertaining beginning
To storied franchise




“You Ever Met Anybody You Didn’t Kill?”  “Well, I Haven’t Killed You Yet.”

When I first got out of college and started watching some of the movies that I’d heard about but never seen, I added the Lethal Weapon franchise to that list.  This was about the time the fourth film came out, so it’s been a few years.  When I found the films on TV, I decided to rewatch the franchise, and of course, I had to start with the first in the series.

Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is a 50-year-old detective in the homicide department at the LAPD.  He’s got a family, but he doesn’t have a partner at work.

Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is cop for the LAPD as well, but he works in the narcotics division.  He’s widower who has lost the will to live.  He can’t quite bring himself to commit suicide, so he takes huge risks with his life.  And he also doesn’t have a partner at work.

When a young woman takes a swan dive out of her hotel room, Murtaugh and Riggs are teamed up.  She was high on a new drug, but the drug was also poisoned.  Furthermore, this young woman was the daughter of one of Murtaugh’s friends from his days in Vietnam.  With Riggs’s huge risks, Murtaugh is certain that they will both wind up dead.  Will they survive working together and bring down the killer?  Where will their investigation lead?

The first thing that struck me is that the movie is set in the days leading up to Christmas.  Like Die Hard (which came out the next year), it’s hard to truly classify it as a Christmas movie, but the decorations and music definitely infuse the film.

I definitely remember the franchise getting lighter as it goes along, and viewing this movie again confirmed that.  Yes, there are a few funny lines, but this film is pretty dark.  This is especially true when dealing with the depressed Riggs.  A couple of his scenes are hard to watch even though we know the outcome.  Yet, that makes him very real.  Murtaugh’s family does the same for him.  Yes, it’s easy to like the two leads.

The movie is equal parts mystery and action.  No, there are not the major stunt filled spectaculars we think of now when we think of an action film, but there are some decent action sequences for the time.  This is the 80’s after all.  And the plot does plenty to get the adrenaline flowing as we reach the final third of the film.  There are some slow patches early on, but they never last for too long.

The stunts are all well done and very believable.  Of course, this was the days before green screen effects were so popular, but they truly do hold up today.

Likewise, the acting is great.  Danny Glover and Mel Gibson make it easy to care for the leads, and the supporting cast is just as real.

I’m glad I’m refreshing my memory of the Lethal Weapon films.  I’m looking forward to watching all of them again soon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ornament Review: Happy Halloween! #4 - Vampire - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creative pumpkin reveals a fun scene inside
Cons: Slight tip, some details can get lost in background
The Bottom Line:
Blood sucking pumpkin?
Creative execution
Of a spooky scene




It’s a Blood Sucking Fiend in This Year’s Pumpkin

Last year, I broke down and started Hallmark’s Happy Halloween! ornament series.  I just can’t seem to resist their scene within something else series (and they’ve got several).  Plus I got a kick out of the variations they had on the themes.  2016 gives us another wonderful entry.

This year, our little monster is a vampire.  In keeping with that theme, the pumpkin mouth, while wide open, has two fangs sticking down from the top.  The eyes are also slit a little and the stem from the pumpkin looks just like a hair on a classic vampire.  The pumpkin itself is back to orange this year.

Inside, we see a well rested vampire rising for a night of blood sucking.  He’s wearing a black cape and standing in front of an open coffin with red velvet inside.  The open coffin lid does get a little lost in the background, which are red curtains.  And this dark cavern is illuminated by two torches.

What really got me with this series is the way the pumpkin changes to match the monster.  I just love that creativity.  However, I’ve got to say that the scene inside the ornament itself is wonderful as well.  The details are a little harder to see, but they are there if you look for them, and I love that.

There is a nice, wide base, so you can set this ornament out as part of a display if, you know, you don’t have any place to hang your Halloween ornaments.  You’ll also find the 4 in a Christmas tree series marker down there.  (And I’m going to keep campaigning for a Halloween series to have a pumpkin series marker.)

If you do want to hang the ornament, you’ll find that it tips back a little.  It’s not too terribly a tip, but it is noticeable.  Of course, it if is going to tip one way or the other, better to tip back because it allows us to see the scene easier.

Wonderfully executed creativity is always enjoyable, and that is once again what we get with the 2016 Happy Halloween! ornament.  If you enjoy that holiday, be sure to check it out.

Be sure to check out all the spooky fun with the rest of the Happy Halloween! series.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: The Silence of the Library by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #5)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery with a girl series twist
Cons: Not as much of the supporting cast
The Bottom Line:
Series mysteries
Lead to modern mystery
For nostalgic fun




Teen Sleuth Leads to Murder

If you read my reviews regularly, you’ll notice that I love the Trixie Belden series.  While my love for that series has lasted well into adulthood, as a kid, I devoured the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown as well.  All of that made me really look forward to reading The Silence of the Library, the fifth Cat in the Stacks mystery.  Why?  Because a fictional teen sleuth series plays a huge part in the book.

As a child, Charlie Harris was introduced to Veronica Thane one day by his aunt.  As a result, he has long loved this lesser known series from the golden days of the teen detective series books.  The Athena Public Library is setting up a display about the various teen sleuths for National Library Week, and Charlie is lending his expertise to help Veronica get the spotlight.

No one has heard anything from the author, Electra Barnes Cartwright, in years, so Charlie is a bit surprised to learn that she is not only still alive but living not that far from Athena.  She is almost 100 years old, but she has agreed to make an appearance during the week to meet her fans.

But the news of this rare appearance brings out the crazies among her fans – collectors who will do anything for a rare copy of a book or an autograph.  Charlie is beginning to think that this author appearance might be a bad idea when someone dies.  Can he figure out what happened?

Over the course of this book, we are treated to the first few chapters of the very first Veronica Thane mystery.  I must say that “Miranda” James (really a pen name for Dean James), has perfectly captured the flavor and style of the old series.  It’s a little over the top even for the genre, but it is a hoot.  There are many references to other, actual, teen series books as well, mainly Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys but the others get mentioned as well, so mystery readers who grew up reading the genre will be delighted.

Another thing I loved about this book was how the modern day story incorporated elements from the teen sleuth genre into the plot.  Oh, it is a murder mystery, but the plot brings in enough other elements, sometimes as red herrings and sometimes as real clues, that it provides a nice change of pace for a cozy.  Of course, things do lead up to a logical climax, which isn’t a surprise for this series.

Unfortunately, we don’t see quite as much of the series regulars as I would have liked.  Still, that’s a minor complaint since we get some wonderful new characters here.  They keep Charlie confused and us turning pages until the end.

Diesel, Charlie’s Maine Coon cat, is as much a fixture as ever, of course.  He’s a real charmer and continues to be a fantastic scene stealer.

You don’t have to have fond memories of series books from your childhood to enjoy The Silence of the Library.  Any fan of cozies mysteries will enjoy it.  But hours spent in the company of Nancy or Trixie or any of the others will give this book an added boost that will leave you smiling.

And if you haven’t met Charlie and Diesel yet, here are the rest of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries in order.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Movie Review: Garage Sale Mystery - The Wedding Dress

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery bring past to modern times
Cons: 70’s fashion not represented; one sub-plot; usual cheese
The Bottom Line:
Wedding dress with clue
To an open mystery
That happened in past

An Old Dress Reopens the Mystery of the Missing Groom

It’s always tricky when you try to use a mystery from the past and bring it into the present.  You have to make sure that the story has consequences for someone in the present, so that adds an extra layer to the story.  The Garage Sale Mysteries on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel have all had an element of the past in them so far, but none as pronounced as The Wedding Dress.  While the movie isn’t perfect, it does handle the past and present coming together perfectly.

Jennifer Shannon (Lori Laughlin), garage sale enthusiast and owner of Rags to Riches, never passes up an estate sale.  And she’s found a real treasure at the most recent one – a wedding dress from a top designer in excellent condition.  She should be able to sell it and make a nice profit.

However, when Jennifer examines it closer, she finds a hidden pocket with a blood stain in it.  Always up for solving a mystery, she begins to dig into the history of the dress, even tracking down the bride, (Cheryl Ladd).  She soon learns that the groom vanished between the wedding and the reception and was never heard from again.  With the bloody pocket, Jennifer thinks she may know what happened.  Is she correct?

This was actually a good mystery.  It may be 35 years since the groom disappeared, but the story unfolds logically as we watch Jennifer try to piece things together.  I didn’t have things figured out before the ending, although I felt foolish for not picking up on it beforehand.

On the other hand, I did have a sub-plot involving her husband pegged from the get go.  And can I just say that women who won’t tell their husbands what is bothering them are bigger idiots than they think men are?  Seriously, that entire sub-plot annoyed me like crazy.

I’m sad to say that Jennifer’s son Logan is not in this movie.  I’ve always loved the character and the way the actor interacted with Lori Laughlin.  Instead, he spends the movie at computer camp.  Looks like he’s been recast for the next one, which means all of Jennifer’s family has been recast at this point.

The acting is standard for a movie in this franchise with a hint of cheese to it, something that is not helped along by the dialogue the actors are forced to say.  Know what you are facing going into the movie, and you’ll be fine.

But can we get to my real complaint about the film?  If you’ve done the math, you’ll figure out that the wedding that started the entire thing took place in 1979.  And yet, the actors and the styles that everyone wore look like it could have been a wedding from last week.  And we get several flashbacks to that wedding, too.  It always threw me out of the film.  And you know it’s obvious if I’m commenting on it since I know nothing about fashion.

Overall, The Wedding Dress is a decent mystery that will entertain you for an hour and a half.  And really, what more could you want?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review: Commander Toad and the Dis-Asteroid by Jane Yolen (Commander Toad #4)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: A non-scary science fiction picture book
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Commander Toad to
The rescue with…beans?  More fun
With crew of Star Warts




Not Reading This Book Would be a Dis-Asteroid

There aren’t many genre picture books, or at least they aren’t super popular.  One of the rare exceptions in the science fiction genre is Commander Toad.  I’ve been enjoying rereading these books recently, and Commander Toad and the Dis-Asteroid proves to be another fun addition to this series.

Commander Toad and his crew on board the Star Warts are about ready to leave the headquarters of Star Fleet when they are given their new mission.  It seems that Star Fleet has received a distress call from an asteroid somewhere between Jupiter and Mars.  However, the distress call doesn’t quite make sense.  The call seems to be requesting beans.  Armed with many kinds of beans, Commander Toad heads out to see what is happening.

They arrive to find the asteroid completely covered in water with pigeons flying over the surface.  One of them lands and tries to communicate the problem, but he is speaking Pigeon Toad.  Will Commander Toad be able to understand and fix the problem?

This is such a fun book.  While there is definitely some danger and a real problem that needs to be solved, this is the least scary problem the crew has encountered to date.  So if you have a little one who is super sensitive, this might be a good book to read.  The story moves along at a decent pace as well, with the detours being lots of fun.

As always, this is a book full of puns.  Even if kids don’t get them all, their parents will love them.  One or two are even explained for the kids.

Bruce Degen once again provides wonderful illustrations.  His pictures provide some laughs all on their own, especially with some hidden gags early in the book.

These are classified as easy reader books, and outside a few names or titles (Lieutenant springs to mind), I don’t see any of the words in this book being a problem.  And if parents are helping their kids read, there will be no problem at all.

So be sure to pick up Commander Toad and the Dis-Asteroid.  You and your kids will enjoy this science fiction tale.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cookie Review: Chips Ahoy! S'more



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good tasting cookies
Cons: Doesn’t actually taste like a s’more
The Bottom Line:
Delicious tasting
But taste not as advertised
Missing marshmallow

Valiant Effort, but Doesn’t Capture That S’more Magic

I was walking through the grocery store a couple weeks ago, and I made the mistake of walking by a display of Chips Ahoy! cookies.  Their newest flavor jumped out at me – s’more.  Since I love s’mores as much as anyone else who has grown up camping, I had to give these cookies a try.  I wasn’t expecting too much, and it’s a good thing because these turned out to be less than they could have been.

The basis for these cookies is a standard chewy Chips Ahoy! cookie.  In the center of the cookie is a disc of chocolate.  And there are still plenty of chips in the cookies, both chocolate and a white chip.

I suspect that the white chip is white chocolate that they are hoping to have flavored to have tasted like marshmallow.  Sadly, they didn’t quite hit the mark.  As often happens when there are white chips in these cookies, there is a sweet factor, and they taste different from a normal chocolate chip cookie, but they don’t come anywhere near a s’more.

The package does recommend heating them, 9 to 10 seconds in the microwave for two cookies.  I gave that as try as well.  Doing this really brings out the graham cracker taste in the cookie, something that is missing when you eat it cold, and it melts the chocolate disc in the middle, which is delicious.  But it does nothing to introduce the flavor of marshmallow.

Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  These cookies certainly taste good.  They just don’t taste much like s’mores.  And since that is what they are going for, they fail to deliver on that promise.

So if you are looking for a twist on the chocolate chip cookie, feel free to pick up Chips Ahoy! S’more.  Just don’t expect them to have the marshmallow flavor actually needed to create real s’more taste.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Book Review: The Sound of Murder by Cindy Brown (Ivy Meadows Mysteries #2)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Humor, deep characters, good mystery
Cons: Sub-plots overwhelm a bit in first half, but still a great book
The Bottom Line:
Murder of neighbor
And Ivy’s new dinner show
Another fun book




Sounds Like Another Winner to Me

When I tried the first Ivy Meadows book a few months back, I loved and I couldn’t wait to start the next one, so I’m a little surprised it took me until now to get around to reading The Sound of Murder, her second mystery.  The wait was worth it, however, because this was another fabulous read.

Ivy Meadows is trying to divide her time between two interests, acting and learning to be a PI.  On the acting front, she has landed a gig in The Sound of Cabaret, a new musical that combines The Sound of Music with Cabaret as Mary, a postulant nun, helps a bunch of Jewish dancers flee the Nazis while falling in love with the Captain Vaughn Katt, the owner of the club where they dance.  This show is at a dinner theater in the community of Sunnydale, outside of Phoenix proper and large enough to really be its own town.

Unfortunately, Ivy has just had a small fire in her own apartment, and she is looking for a place to live while it is being renovated.  Fortunately, she lands a housesitting gig for a resident of Sunnydale.  But she’s barely arrives when one of her new neighbors dies in his garage, an apparent suicide.  The man’s daughter doesn’t buy the suicide angle and hires Ivy’s uncle, a licensed PI, to learn the truth.  Ivy takes on the case as her very first assignment and is determined to do a good job.  But is there more to the suicide than meets the eye?  Can she balance the investigation with her acting schedule?

Now if you didn’t figure it out from the description of the play, this is definitely a humorous cozy.  I dare you to read the description of the scenes and the songs without getting a smile on your face.  There is plenty of humor from the characters and situations as well.

And yet this book has a depth to it.  While we may be laughing at certain things, the death that starts the investigation is treated very seriously.  There are also things that Ivy is facing that are serious as well.  This is never awkward; the book finds the perfect balance between the funny, the sometimes absurd, and the serious.

This results in some fantastic characters.  There is a richness and depth to them and makes them truly shine.  While I already knew I loved the series regulars, there were some great new characters in this book, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them pop up again in the future.

There are several sub-plots in this book, and at times they push the murder investigation to the back stage.  But you know what?  I didn’t mind because I was having a fabulous time hanging out with the characters.  As the book progressed, some of those sub-plots actually did begin to tie in to the murder, and the mystery took center stage more and more.  The climax brought us a logical and fun solution to the mystery.

I’m thrilled the third Ivy Meadows mystery is already out and you’d better believe I plan to read it soon.  If you are looking for a fun mystery set in the world of theater, The Sound of Murder is definitely for you.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ornament Review: The Big Bang Theory - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 1 out of 5
Pros: It hangs straight
Cons: Execution is every detail ruined what could have been a good ornament
The Bottom Line:
A good idea
Horrible execution
Easy to skip it




I’m Still Waiting for the Bazinga!

I freely admit I am one of the millions who loves The Big Bang Theory.  Heck, it’s the only show I have my DVR set to record reruns, and I religiously watch them.  I’ll even turn on TBS’s marathons and watch them if I have nothing else to do.  Yet I will not be buying this year’s Hallmark ornament based on the show.

The idea behind the ornament is great.  The shape is based on the atom spinning logo that the show has made famous.  That gives us six sides.  One of them has the full logo for the show while the other five have portraits of the five original characters, Leonard, Penny, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard.

The problem is in the execution.  The people themselves look very poorly done.  Sheldon and Raj almost look like themselves if you squint, but Penny especially looks very cartoony.  It’s like someone created them in clay and they were squished a bit.  I know that an ornament will never capture a person exactly, but this is beyond artistic license.

But wait, it gets betters (and by better, I mean worse).  This is a magic ornament, and if you press the button by Raj’s head, you’ll get to hear the theme song from the show.  Only it isn’t the theme song as performed by Barenaked Ladies.  No, they must have wanted too much for Hallmark to license the song, so instead we get someone covering it.  Whoever did it gives the song just a hint of country flavor.  It’s not bad, but it makes it obvious it is a cover.  And then there is the fact that they get the lyrics wrong.  It’s “billions,” not “millions” as they sing here.

The ornament is wide, although I’d be hard pressed to set this out to display because I’m not sure it would stand up for very long.  Instead if I were to buy it, I’d definitely want to hang this ornament, and fortunately, the ornament does hang straight.  See, I did find something nice to say about it.

But that’s all there is nice to say about it.  The idea could have made for a hot seller, but the execution completely ruined this ornament.  This Big Bang Theory fan will stick with last year’s Sheldon Cooper ornament instead.

Original Price: $19.95

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg (Fox and O'Hare #5)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong story and humor keep the pages turning
Cons: Characters a little flat as always
The Bottom Line:
Fox, O’Hare, madman
As plot, laughs twist together
For page turning romp




Fans Will Pursue This Book

While I can usually handle cliffhangers on the TV shows I watch, I find them frustrating in books.  I have no idea why that is – maybe it’s because I know it will be nine to twelve months before I get resolution?  However, they certainly make me want to pick up the next book, which is why I couldn’t wait to read The Pursuit.

If you haven’t read this series yet, it stars Nicolas Fox and Kate O’Hare.  After years of FBI Agent Kate O’Hare pursuing con man Nick Fox, she finally caught him, only to watch him turned loose as part of a deal.  Now, the two are teamed up for some very, very off the books opps as they take down dangerous criminals that no one would be able to stop via traditional means.

This book opens moments after the last one had ended.  Nick has been kidnapped.  When Kate arrives where she is supposed to meet him in Hawaii, she finds signs of a fight, but no Nick.  She quickly sets to work trying to figure out just what happened to him.  The criminals have left some clues for her to follow, and she begins tracking them down as quickly as possible.

Which is fortunate since Nick is being held by Dragan Kovic, an ex-Servian military officer who has made a fortune stealing diamonds.  He has “requested” Nick’s help for a seemingly impossible robbery.  Can Kate find Nick?  Will the two be able to bring this mad man down?

Now if you are worried that I’ve spoiled too much for you, my teaser just covers the first few pages of the book.  Once again, the plot of this book twists in some fun, surprising, and unexpected places before we reach the fantastic ending.  In fact, I felt like the pace of this book was a little faster than normal for the series.  There were certainly a lot of great twists along the way.

While the focus on the action, the characters are a little flat here, but that’s been my constant complaint over the course of the series.  We get to know them enough to truly care about them, but they aren’t as developed as many series I read.

Having said that, the fun and humor of the series is in fine form, and much of that comes from the usual crew that Nick and Kate once again bring together to help them take down the bad guys.  Two in particular always make me laugh, and it is a joy to see them in action again.

So yes, the time spent waiting to see how the climax would be resolved was time well spent.  I enjoyed every page of The Pursuit and can’t wait to find out what happens next to Kate, Nick, and their crew.

New to their adventures?  Here are the Fox and O’Hare novels in order.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

TV on DVD Review: Royal Pains - Season 8



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: More wonderful episodes with these characters
Cons: We have to say goodbye to them
The Bottom Line:
One last Hamptons trip
Filled with fun and laughter as

HankMed says good-bye




HankMed’s Final House Calls

I think everyone knew it was coming.  Two years ago, the USA Network renewed Royals Pains for season 7 and 8, but each season would only be eight episodes.  While they waited until this spring to officially announce that season 8 would be the final season, I wasn’t surprised to hear the announcement.  However, the writers and creators took advantage of this news to craft a wonderful final season that will leave all fans thrilled.

As this season opens, it’s the start of a new summer, and the HankMed gang is getting ready for business as usual.  Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein) has a new potential girlfriend.  His brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) is still trying to balance the demands of HankMed and his job running the hospital.  Meanwhile he and his wife Paige (Brooke D’Orsay) are still trying to have a child.  Dr. Jeremiah Sacani (Ben Shenkman) is attempting to get back to treating patients after spending most of the year in the lab.  And physician assistant Divya Katdare (Reshma Shetty) is anxiously waiting for word on getting into medical school while expecting a child with her new husband – Raj (Rupak Ginn).

While the HankMed gang deals with all this going on in their lives, Hank accompanies Boris (Campbell Scott) on a trip to Hong Kong, Jeremiah treats his favorite author, and we meet a family of kids who need help.

But there is definitely change in the air.  First, Hank and Evan’s father Eddie (Henry Winkler) reappears announcing his upcoming marriage to Ms. Newburg (Christine Ebersole) before he vanishes.  Then a surprise reappearance from Jill (Jill Flint) captures Hank’s interest again.  Are things changing for our characters?  Where will everyone end up?

Yes, there really are only 8 episodes in the season, and they are jam packed full.  There is not a wasted second here.  As always, the emphasis is as much if not more on what is going on with the characters as it is the medical mystery of the week.  Oh, we get some new clients and their ailments, but we tune in because of these characters.

And the final episode nails why.  (No, I’m not going to spoil anything.)  These characters are a family.  They have stood by each other through thick and thin, and they truly care for each other.  Oh, they may fight and have disagreements (we do need conflict on a TV show after all), but they work things out in the end.  I have loved watching their relationships grow and change as the characters grew over these eight seasons.  For fans like me, this didn’t disappoint.

Which brings us to the final episode.  It was perfect!  I’m actually a little surprised I didn’t bawl all the way through it, but there were so many wonderful moments between the characters as everything was wrapped up.  And I am absolutely thrilled with how they wrapped things up for the characters.  In fact, I was so happy with it, my poor roommate had to listen to me ramble on about it a couple times that night after I’d finished watching it.

Since the writers were treating it as a final season, they brought in quite a few past characters for cameos.  Many of them showed up in the musical episode, which was a lot of fun.  And let me just say, the female cast is super talented.  The men hold their own when it came to singing, but the ladies shine.

Of course, I’m going to keep the praise going by talking about the great acting.  The stars and the recurring actors nail their parts once again.  The guest stars rise to the occasion as well.

If you are a fan of this show, you’ll be thrilled with how it ended.  Buy Royal Pains Season 8 today so you can enjoy it over and over again.

Season 8 Episodes:
1. Stranger Danger
2. Palpating the Orbital Rim
3. Fly Me to the Kowloon
4. Doubt of Africa
5. Saab Story
6. Home Sick
7. The Good News Is…
8. Uninterrupted

Monday, July 18, 2016

Book Review: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #6)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Amazing character and character development
Cons: As usual, the mystery is the weak link
The Bottom Line:
Harriett’s return
Grows character; changes things
Strongest book to date




Strength in Mourning

Since I started the Flavia de Luce series last year, I knew the basic set up of the sixth entry, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, a long time ago.  That didn’t stop me from being intrigued by the way the topic was introduced at the end of the last book, and I was looking forward to seeing how things paid off here.  The result was the best book in the series to date.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it’s something different.  Flavia de Luce is an eleven-year-old amateur chemist and amateur detective in 1951 England.  It’s not often you see a child as the main character in an adult novel, right?  While some rave about the series, I’ve found them to be a bit slow at times as mysteries, focusing instead on Flavia and her family, her World War II vet father and her two older sisters.

“You’re mother has been found.”  As this book opens, it’s been a week since Flavia’s father has made that shocking announcement.  Flavia’s mother, Harriet, went missing in Tibet a decade ago and has been presumed dead, but no proof has ever been found.  Now, her body is coming back on a special train into their village of Bishop’s Lacey.

There is a crowd on the platform when the train bringing Harriet’s body arrives, including not only friends from the village but people that Flavia doesn’t know.  One of them comes up to Flavia and starts to give her an important but cryptic message to pass on to her father.  A moment later, this stranger is dead, crushed under the wheels of the train as it is departing.  Who was he?  What did his strange message mean?  Does it have anything to do with Harriet’s death?

I have complained in the past that the mystery often gets swallowed by other going ons in the book, and that certainly happens again here.  There are pieces and clues to the mystery scattered throughout the book, so when Flavia does piece things together, it all makes sense.  I will say one aspect of the climax seemed a bit abrupt to me, and I’m still wondering why the characters behaved in that manner, but it’s a minor issue for me.

Since the mystery takes a back seat, this book is really about the mourning that the characters go through.  Since Flavia is our narrator, her conflicted emotions are the easiest to see.  She never knew Harriet since her mother died when she was just a baby, yet she worries that she should be feeling something.  Her father clearly still loves Harriet deeply, and Flavia’s sisters try to deal with the confirmation of the loss in their own ways.  It makes for a fascinating read as each of the character’s reactions is genuine and perfect for them.

As a result, I don’t recommend jumping in here.  To fully get the impact of this book, you need to know the characters.  But if you take the time to get to know them, you’ll be very glad you did.

Just in case this is sounding like a dark book, it is and it isn’t.  Flavia’s antics help keep things light, and she gets a new foil in this book that is entertaining.  There was one scene that had me welling up with tears one minute and laughing out loud the next.  The book walks a very fine line, letting us experience the character’s grief without overwhelming or depressing us.

There are some developments in several ongoing sub-plots.  I called part of what happened here, but I was still shocked by the rest of it.

This novel does shift our understanding of the characters in a big way, filling in backstory on some of them.  I actually bought what the author did in this respect based on some of the conversations and bits and pieces we’ve seen in earlier books.  I’m quite curious to see what if anything is done with this in future books.

As always with this series, I listened to the audio version.  Jayne Entwistle is Flavia, and her narration is absolutely delightful.  If you go this route, you will not be disappointed.

The next book in the series is set up at the end of this book.  I know that some fans have been disappointed with it, but I’m quite interested to see what I will think about what happens to Flavia next.

The mysteries continue to be weak here, so I can’t give the book my full endorsement, but fans of Flavia and her family will be enthralled by the character study that is The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.

Since this book works best if you know the characters, you'll want to read the Flavia de Luce Mysteries in order.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

If You Are Reading This, I’m On Vacation

(Actually, I’m on vacation whether you read this or not, but that just sounded like a fun title.)

I’m on vacation for almost two weeks.  I’m looking forward to some time off with family, including my niece and nephew.  Who knows, maybe I’ll come back with some things to review specifically inspired by the trip.

And this includes a vacation from the internet.  I’m not even taking my laptop with me.

However, I have a bunch of reviews scheduled to post over the next couple of weeks, so please keep stopping by every day.  It will be the normal mix of movies, books, and ornaments.  Just keep this in mind with any comments you might leave me.

And I will be reading books for August review while I’m gone.  I’m aiming to hit all those tour stops (with giveaways for five of the six) in August, so I’ve got to start reading for them now.  Heck, I've already finished one of them.

Have a wonderful couple of weeks, and I’ll see you when I get back to town.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

July 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here are my weekly TV thoughts for the week.

America Ninja Warrior – That obstacle right after the salmon ladder was a killer!  Only two people made it past it.  And one of them was Jesse, too.  She has definitely earned her spot in the finals.  A rookie was the other one.  I’m not sure what that says about the obstacles or the mindset.  Or does it say anything about that at all?

Angie Tribecca – So, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that romance novelist.  There were some good jokes, but on the whole most of her stuff fell flat.  On the other hand, there was plenty of funny stuff, starting with the hair transplant.  Of course, now that one triangle has broken up, we’ve got another triangle starting.

Dead of Summer – I really, really, really don’t like the flashbacks.  Truly.  They aren’t adding anything to the show at all.  Definitely less creepy this week as well, outside of a few specific moments.  And was it just me, or was it cheesier this week as well?  Or was that just because my roommate was watching part of it with me?

Scream – How many lives does Branson have?  I thought he was dead by now, but he’s still alive.  Will the fire get him, or will he pop up alive again next week?  How did the teacher bleed that much that quickly?  And how long until Audrey’s secret gets full out so everyone knows?

Suits – Even I fell for it.  Poor Mike played on his first day.  He might not be in a prison with nasty people, but he obviously still needs to watch his back.  Meanwhile, things at the firm are very interesting.  They’ve got a lot of money in the bank from buy-ins, obviously, but why do I have a feeling that decision will come back to bite them?  This season is going to be good, I can tell.

Spartan – Yes, I was rooting for the Ninjas, especially after the one woman rolled her ankle.  And yes, I think I will be rooting for them in the two hour finale.  They were so impressive, and their teamwork when she got hurt was remarkable.  No hesitation, they just started working together.

Girl Meets World – I’m not surprised by how the episode ended, but somehow I wasn’t expecting it.  Nice to see Mya realizing what she has.  You don’t have to be as nice and perfect as some of the other characters, but you still can let the book of friends rub off on you.  And it’s nice to be reminded that friends can rub on you for good since we normally hear about them rubbing off on you for bad.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ornament Review: Lumiere - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfectly captures Lumiere at the beginning of “Be Our Guest”
Cons: Doesn’t include the song
The Bottom Line:
Iconic moment
Perfectly captured in this
Perfect ornament




Be Our Guest for This Limited Ornament

One of my favorite Disney movies of all time is still Beauty and the Beast, so naturally I was interested in the ornaments Hallmark was offering to celebrate the movie’s 25th anniversary.  In addition to one in the main line, they released this limited edition ornament of Lumiere.  It’s a winner.

Lumiere, of course, is the candlestick, and they’ve captured him in a pose as he starts singing “Be Our Guest.”  The color pallet is pretty much white (the candle wax) and gold (the rest of him, including snuffer he is using as a top hat).  The exception is the yellow for the flames on his hands and the red on the end of the brown match stick he is holding.

He’s also slightly bigger than the normal Hallmark ornament, but because he’s thinner, I don’t mind as much.  In fact, I love him just the way he is.  That song is so iconic from the movie, and this pose just captures that scene perfectly.  You can’t help but get the song stuck in your head as you look at him.  Or even think about him.  Trust me on this.

In fact, that’s the only way this ornament could have been better – if it had a song clip.  I’m not sure where they would have put the electronics for that, however, since I’m not sure the base of his candle stick is big enough to hold them and the batteries they would have needed.  Still, it’s a very minor complaint.  Trust me.  And if I am write they would have had to redesign the ornament to fit in the electronics, I might actually be thankful they left them out.

Lumiere’s base is actually not flush with the ground - he’s in mid stride, as it were - and yet, he’s still sturdy enough that you can leave him out year round to enjoy.  It’s a wonderful feat of craftsmanship.  And in other feat of craftsmanship, this is one of those ornaments that looks straight sitting or hanging despite the fact that he tips forward a little when you go to hang him.  Very little.  Trust me, if you aren’t watching for it, you’d never know it happened.  I think it works here because he is in action so he has no real straight lines to show us what perfectly straight should be.

I’m not the only one who likes this ornament.  The store I always shop in sold out within minutes of opening, and it sounds like that was the case in many stores across the country.  I’m thrilled I was able to get him, and if you want him, I suggest you track down a copy quickly because the price will probably only go up.  I hope Hallmark takes this as a sign and does more of the characters from the film in the future.

I’m trying to figure out where I can put Lumiere to enjoy him between now and Christmas.  Any Disney fan will be thrilled to add him to their collection.

Original Price: $15.95

July 15th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it!  It's Friday!!  That means it is time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week's book is The Sound of Murder by Cindy Brown.




This is the second in her Ivy Meadows series.  Ivy is an aspiring actress who stumbles into mysteries.  In this book, she's starring in a world premier play, The Sound of Cabaret, which mashes up The Sound of Murder with Cabaret (as if you couldn't figure that out from the title of the play).  And that should give you some kind of clue about the fun that is in this book.

However, it starts out rather simply.  Here's the opening.

I should never do anything pre-coffee.

Skipping ahead of page 56, we get this exchange between Ivy and her PI uncle she works for part time to pay the bills.

"Do you want to be an actor or a detective?"
Aye, there's the rub.  I really did want to be a detective.  I also desperately wanted to be an actor, had ever since I was little.  I felt like I was in love with two demanding men at the same time.
"Can't I be both?" I asked.

I will be out of town the next couple of weeks, but I have plenty of reviews scheduled to run while I'm gone, so I hope you'll keep stopping by.  One of those reviews is for this book, and that review will post next Friday.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Book Review: Kernel of Truth by Kristi Abbott (Popcorn Shop Mysteries #1)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, great mystery, good depth
Cons: Rebecca a couple of times, but offset by growth
The Bottom Line:
Murder of mentor
In this fantastic debut
Fabulous, fun read




The Truth Is I Loved This Debut

Who doesn’t love popcorn?  Okay, so I’ll admit I’m not usually a fan of flavored popcorn, but I do enjoy plain popcorn with just a tad of butter and salt.  Naturally, that means that the first in the Popcorn Shop Mysteries was on my radar as soon as I heard about it.  And the more I heard about Kernel of Truth, the more excited I was to read it.  I just finally read it, and I only wish I’d read it sooner.

Rebecca Anderson did not expect her morning to start with a scream.  Yet that’s what happens when a scream interrupts her as she is preparing caramel sauce for her breakfast popcorn bars.  Investigating, she finds Jessica James standing over the body of Coco Bittles, who owns the chocolate shop next door to Rebecca’s popcorn shop.  Jessica was Coco’s niece and worked part time in the shop.

It looks like Coco’s death was a case of wrong place, wrong time since her cash for the day is missing.  Rebecca’s best friend and brother-in-law Dan, who also happens to be the sheriff, doesn’t seem to be making much progress in the case.  Since Coco was a mentor to Rebecca, she cares about the outcome and starts poking around herself.  Can she figure out who killed Coco?  Was it a simple robbery gone wrong?  And will Rebecca alienate the entire town before the case is closed?

That last question proves to be an important one since this is the town where Rebecca grew up, and she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder for how she was treated in the past.  Her actions here don’t necessarily help, and even I got frustrated with her a time or two.

And yet….

I actually liked this aspect of the book because by the time the story was over, we got to see some real growth in Rebecca.  This made her a richer, deeper character that I enjoyed getting to know and could really feel for.

Part of that growth comes from Rebecca’s group of friends and relatives.  I absolutely loved them!  They are strong, fun characters in their own right, but they lovingly whack Rebecca upside the head when she needs it.

The plot is certainly strong as well.  As the book unfolds, we learn more about Rebecca’s relationship with Coco, and that helps us understand her drive to solve the murder.  It also lends a bit of gravity to the book, which is offset by some fun humor.  There are a good number of developed suspects that keep us guessing until we reach the great climax.

Of course, we get some gourmet popcorn related recipes at the end of the book.  As I said, I’m not normally a fan because I find gourmet popcorn too sweet, but these three recipes certainly do sound tempting.

If this book hasn’t popped onto your to be read pile yet, you need to fix that today.  The many elements come together for a wonderful series debut in Kernel of Truth.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book in hopes I would review it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ornament Review: Six Geese-a-Laying - 12 Days of Christmas #6 - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful colors and fun sculpt like always.
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Half way through series
And another gorgeous piece
This series delights




Do I Love This Ornament?  Silly Goose, Of Course I Do!

We are now half way through Hallmark’s latest 12 Days of Christmas series, and it is very safe to say that it is my favorite Hallmark series.  Each piece is so unique and beautiful they are a feast for the eyes.  Six Geese-a-Laying is this year’s edition, and it is another winner.

This year’s ornament is done up in blues and purples.  Oh, the main body is white, but the head is blue with a white stripe as is the tail.  The body fades to a lavender by the tail section, and the wings are purple.  One again, we’ve got writing on the outer wings, with one side saying, “Six Geese-a-Laying” and the wing on the backside of the ornament giving the beginning of the verse.  The inner layer of the wings has musical notes on it.  The bottom of the bird is sitting in a ring of golden garland to represent the nest.  And the dangle?  It’s an egg, of course, with 6 written on it in numbers and letters.

Obviously, this isn’t a traditional looking bird, but I’m okay with that because the piece looks so beautiful.  Plus, based on the other ornaments in the series, we already knew to expect something new and different.  The colors work so well together and definitely make the ornament stand out.  Combine it with the others in the series, and you’ve got a colorful and beautiful collection that I can stare at for a long time.

With an egg dangling from the goose, this ornament must be hung.  Fortunately, you’ll find when you do hang her that she looks straight.  The series marker, a six on in a Christmas tree, is hidden on her backside.

I’m so thrilled I started this series because each new piece is wonderful.  If you’ve been collecting them all along, you’ll be happy to add Six Geese-a-Laying to your ornament collection.

If you've missed this great series, here are the rest of the 12 Days of Christmas series.

Original Price: $12.95

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

And the winner is

Time to announce the winner of this month's giveaway.  The book is Toasting Up Trouble.  And the winner is....

Becky!

Be watching your e-mail so I can connect you with your prize.  Congrats!

Book Review: Murder Under the Covered Bridge by Elizabeth Perona (Bucket List Mysteries #2)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun, wonderful characters, surprises and twists
Cons: A tad slow in the beginning, one niggle with the ending
The Bottom Line:
Delightful grannies
Back with another fun case
Pages turn quickly




Wrong Place, Wrong Time Thanks to a Photo Shoot

One of my favorite books last year was the first Bucket List Mystery by father/daughter duo Elizabeth Perona.  I was so happy to get to revisit the characters in Murder Under the Covered Bridge.

The series focuses on a group of sixty-something friends who have created bucket lists and then help each other fulfill these items.  They developed a certain level of nationwide notoriety after they found a dead body while skinny dipping in the first book, and it’s not looking like they will be curbing that notoriety that in this book.

See, the group are taking advantage of the covered bridge festival in Indiana to knock off an item from Charlotte’s list – be a sexy calendar model.  Francine and her husband are taking some pictures based on an old family story on one of those covered bridges when they hear gun shots.  Moments later, a man stumbles out of the nearby fields, slides down under the bridge, and collapses.

The man turns out to be Francine’s cousin William, and his injuries are life threatening.  While he lies in the hospital, Francine begins to poke around to find out what happened to him.  As she does, she starts to learn more about her own family.  However, when a fire breaks out, Francine begins to wonder just what is going on.

While I’ve just mentioned Francine and Charlotte, trust me, all of the members of the group are back.  Still, Francine and, to a lesser extent, Charlotte are the main characters here.  I love them.  They may be older than the normal main character in a book I read, but they are feisty and resourceful.  In fact, I like them because they are a break from the normal main character.  The rest of their group are just as fun.  And, naturally, we get to meet some great new characters as well.

The book takes a little time to reintroduce us to the characters and set up the book, but once it does, the story is off and running.  There are plenty of twists and surprises before we reach a perfectly logical solution.  I read most of the book on a plane ride home from a business trip, and I was glad I could sit down and immerse myself in the plot because I didn’t want to stop reading.  I did have a small niggle with part of the end of the book, and I’m certainly wondering how it will impact the next book in the series.

And the humor of the first book is back.  While there weren’t as many of the top funny scenes, there were still plenty of laughs at the situations the characters got into as well as their interactions with each other.  Honestly, I just love watching the friendships between these women and how they support each other in their goals and the new ventures their goals have gotten them.

While you could certainly read Murder Under the Covered Bridge without reading the first in the series, why would you?  Both books are fun, and you’ll wind up wanting to read both of them anyway.   Let these Grandmas show you how to have a great time while solving a murder today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Ornament Review: Green Thumb Snoopy - Spotlight on Snoopy #19 - 2016 Hallmark Ornament


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun sculpt and idea
Cons: What is with all the white on Snoopy’s ears?
The Bottom Line:
Growing in garden
Maybe Snoopy can use dirt
To darken his ears




Snoopy Successfully Grows Great Vegetables

The Spotlight on Snoopy Series was my gateway drug to Hallmark ornament collecting.  Even years before I bought the number of ornaments I do now, I still bought this series faithfully each year.  As a result, it’s still one of the first I look for each year and one I make sure I buy at premier in July.  This year’s addition to the series is Green Thumb Snoopy.  It’s fun, but it has one flaw.

As you’d expect from the title, this year, Snoopy is a farmer.  He’s wearing jean overalls, a red bandana, and a straw hat with a green ban on it.  In his right hand, he’s holding a hoe.  On his left is Woodstock, who is holding a tomato from their garden.  It’s not quite as big as Woodstock, but if it were any bigger, I’m not sure he’d be able to hold it.

While farming isn’t something I immediately associate with Snoopy, I still do like this ornament.  Besides, we’ve left his most famous characters behind almost a decade ago now.  It’s a very nice looking ornament overall.

Except for that flaw I mentioned earlier.  You see, when they painted Snoopy’s ear, they left a band of white around the outside.  Seriously.  When has Snoopy ever had white anywhere on his ear?  They also didn’t paint the backside of his ear.  Both of these things have been done on previous Snoopy ornaments, but the band of white on his ears has never been this pronounced.  And this isn’t a mistake because there is a little groove on his ear that they painted inside.  So I’m just left with one question – why?

Snoopy and Woodstock are standing on a patch of grass, so the ornament has a flat base.  Since it doesn’t have a solid connection to Christmas, you could easily display it year round, which is nice.  You’ll also find the 19 in a Christmas tree series marker down there.  Nineteen years.  Wow!  I’d have a lot of Hallmark ornaments thanks to this series even if I hadn’t started collecting other ornaments.

When you go to hang the ornament, you’ll find that Snoopy and Woodstock tip forward a little bit.  It’s not too bad, and you can easily disguise it with branches on your tree, however.

It’s the ears that truly annoy me on this ornament.  I was expecting to like it, but that is a detail they should have gotten right, especially with how many Snoopy ornaments they’ve done in the past.  It’s always going to be an issue for Green Thumb Snoopy, but I hope they don’t repeat it next year.

And here are the rest of the ornaments in the long running Spotlight on Snoopy series.

Original Price: $12.95

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Book Review: The Mystery of the Antique Doll by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #36)



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Mostly good characters, good overall mystery
Cons: A few character missteps, plot drives story too much
The Bottom Line:
Mysterious shop
And an errand in Paris
Average Trixie




 Plot Drives Book More than Logic

We are getting further into the reaches of the final five Trixie Belden books.  Most fans of the series hate them.  I’m not sure I hate them, but I can certainly see their weaknesses.  Take The Mystery of the Antique Doll.  It’s not the worst of the series, but it certainly isn’t the best of the series.

Dr. Ferris has asked Trixie Belden and her best friend Honey Wheeler to help out a neighbor who broke her arm.  Always willing to help others, they quickly agree.  Mrs. De Keyser. happens to live next door a new business in town, an antique store.  After their first afternoon helping Mrs. De Keyser, Trixie and Honey stop by and start admiring the antique toys only to have the owner, Carl, snap at them and ask them to leave.

Naturally, this sets off Trixie’s radar that something is suspicious.  However, she is soon distracted by a long weekend trip to Paris with Honey and her parents.  When Carl overhears the friends talking about their trip, he asks them to do him a favor and pick up a fragile antique doll and bring it back to Sleepyside with them.  Only when they do, they find themselves being followed by a stranger.  What is going on?

This is one of those books that sounds great in concept but needs some help in execution.  The clues that Trixie gathers rely more on coincidence that any actual sleuthing on her part.  In fact, one turn late in the book relies on something completely silly happening.  This didn’t bother me at all when I read it originally as a kid, but it is obvious as an adult.  Things do come together for a logical and exciting climax, however.

Then there are the characters.  Trixie and Honey have a group of friends called the Bob-Whites, and there are seven members of this club overall.  Jim, Di, and Dan hardly get anything to do in this book.  Heck, Dan only shows up for the climax, while Jim and Di do get to be part of a couple of group scenes.  Trixie’s brothers Mart and Brian definitely fair better.  They aren’t a huge part of the action, but they are around.  Still, the characters are mostly in character…until the final chapter.  As we learn about the Christmas presents that the Bob-Whites are making for friends and family, we learn that Trixie is knitting scarves.  Really?  Sorry, but it is well established that Trixie wants nothing to do with anything remotely like sewing.  Then there’s the Inspector Clouseau inspired character we meet along the way.  He’s supposed to be funny, but I found him annoying even reading this as a kid.  Having seen (and not liked) the original Pink Panther movies since then, I haven’t changed my mind on the character.

Honey’s parents are very rich, and they are always jetting away for work or pleasure.  They’ve included the Bob-Whites in the past, and that’s formed the basis of some of the earlier books in the series.  This is the first time they’ve included them for just a quick trip that lasts for a couple chapters.  Some fans have an issue with this, but I don’t mind as much.  Yes, it is just driven by the plot, but it’s a fun plot point.

When I originally read the books, I read them in random order.  I was still a kid, and I lapped up any adventure with the Bob-Whites in it.  If you look at it that way, this book is still good.  Looking at it as an adult, it is easier to see that the characters are a little flat and the plot has some holes.  Many of the fans who dislike this book read it for the first time as an adult.  I can see their point, but there are still things I enjoy about it, like getting to spend time with Trixie.

So if you are new to the series, don’t start with The Mystery of the Antique Doll.  This will never be one of the best of the series, but it isn’t the worst either.

Looking for Trixie's earlier adventures?  Here are the Trixie Belden Mysteries in order.