Monday, July 24, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Father Dowling Mysteries - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mysteries and characters
Cons: Pacing is a little slow
The Bottom Line:
A priest, mysteries
Tad slow, but still delightful
With two charming leads

Introducing Father Dowling

Somewhere along the line, I caught a few reruns of the Father Dowling Mysteries, and I found them fun.  I’d always been curious to see more, and thanks to TV on DVD sets, I can do just that.  Season 1 was short, but it was also a good introduction.

This set actually starts with the movie that introduced the viewing world to Father Frank Dowling (Tom Bosley).  He’s a priest at St. Michael’s church in a poorer neighborhood of Chicago.  He’s assisted in his ministry and his sleuthing by Sister Stephanie “Steve” Oskowski (Tracy Nelson).  There’s also his housekeeper, grumpy Marie Murkin (Mary Wickes), who always seems to find something to complain about.  The movie finds Father Dowling investigating when one of the grown-up boys who had grown up in his church commits suicide by jumping from the ledge of his successful company’s top floor.

Thanks to the 1988 writer’s strike, the first season was short, featuring 7 episodes, although one of them was a double length episode.  Over the course of these episodes, a bride-to-be is killed and her fiancée framed just two months before their wedding at St. Michael’s.  Sister Steve’s old flame comes to them for help after he witnesses a murder someone wants to cover up.  A dead body vanishes between when Father Dowling finds it and the police arrive.  The duo must figure out who left a baby behind in the church.  And Father Dowling’s twin brother shows up in town and causes havoc for the priest.

These episodes originally aired during the winter of 1989, and the date definitely shows in some of the costumes and music.  Yet the stories themselves are still interesting.  I appreciate the fact that some of the mysteries don’t start with a dead body; there are other mysterious things happening before the dead body shows up.  It creates a nice break for the formula.

The characters are wonderful as well.  Those familiar with the series looking for James Stephens as Father Phillip Prestwick might be surprised to remember that he was only in two episodes this season.  He would join the cast full time in season two.  Marie is only in a few scenes, often providing some comic relief in a sub-plot, but her scenes are always fun.  That means as far as main characters go, Father Dowling and Sister Steve have to carry the show, and they do a wonderful job of it.  Their relationship is absolutely charming.  The two obviously care for each other deeply, but it is a father/daughter relationship.  We aren’t told for sure, at least here, but I suspect that Father Dowling had much to do with Steve not going into the ways of her former friends from the bad neighborhood where she grew up.  She has some surprises in her thanks to that background that the writers use to help solve the cases.  The actors are perfect at bringing this relationship to life, and you have to smile at some of their exchanges.

My only real complaint is that the show tends to be a bit slow.  It’s a pacing issue.  I don’t feel it is a matter of when the show was made because I didn’t notice it when watching the first season of Murder, She Wrote earlier this summer.  Instead, I think it is a stylistic choice made to set this series off from the other mystery shows of the day.  Either way, it is a minor issue.

As I said, season one was short, so it isn’t a surprise that this set only has two discs.  The seven episodes plus the movie are preserved in their native full frame and stereo sound.  Given how old the show is, both are in good shape and very watchable, although you won’t find the perfection of a show being filmed today.  The only thing we have in the way of extras is episode teasers.  By my count, the only episode that doesn’t have its own promo is the second part of a two parter, and the teaser that is included really covers both episodes.

With only three seasons, the Father Dowling Mysteries have fallen off many radars.  If you’ve missed the show, it is worth finding the first season set and enjoying these cases.

(Or you can do like I did and skip to the complete series set.)

Season 1 Episodes:
Fatal Confession (Original TV Pilot Movie)
1. The Missing Body Mystery (Double length episode)
2. What Do You Call a Call Girl Mystery
3. The Man Who Came to Dinner Mystery
4. The Mafia Priest Mystery (Part 1)
5. The Mafia Priest Mystery (Part 2)
6. The Face in the Mirror Mystery
7. The Pretty Baby Mystery

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pin Review: Snow White - Storybook Classic Collection #11 - 2017 Disney Store Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good cover, great inside scene
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Snow White back to roots
Celebrated in two scenes
Presented as book

Disney Honors the Storybook Origins of Their First Animated Film

While Disney has created many films over the years, most of them are based on stories originated by others.  It’s just that Disney’s version of the film is the most famous.  Disney has been honoring those origins with their Storybook Classic Collection pins all year long, and this month, they are shining the light on their original feature length film – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Of course, this pin is based more on the book that Disney produced years later tied into their film, but still, it does feel like things have come full circle.  Like the others in the series, the cover is based on the Disney book cover and the features Snow White surrounded by the dwarfs.  Over the top of the characters, we get the title.  The cover is a light blue, and the characters are outlined in black and red.  It’s a rare time this pin has features more than one color on it, but it allows them to fill in the bow on Snow White’s head.

Like a book, this pin opens to reveal a scene inside.  The scene inside shows Snow White at the beginning of the movie singing into the well about her wish to meet her true love.  It’s a rare thing that any part of the pin matches the ornament, but they chose the same scene for the inside picture and the ornament this month.  I really like that.

And I like this pin overall.  Even though the cover is simple, it still shows off all the characters.  The inside picture is wonderful, especially given the limitations of the pin.  I’m impressed with the amount of detail we get.

Since this is a heavier pin, there are two sticks in the back to hold it in place if you decide to wear it.  Personally, I find pins like this too heavy to wear.

We have plenty of Snow White merchandise, but this pin is special.  As part of the Storybook Classic Collection, it is a great way to honor the movie and its literary origin.

Looking for more great pins.  Here are the rest of the Storybook Classic Collection.

Ornament Review: Snow White - Storybook Classic Collection #11 - 2017 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Many great details in this ornament
Cons: Snow White’s face is off
The Bottom Line:
Detailed ornament
Slight issue with Snow White’s face
Still great overall

It’s Hard to Wish for a Better Ornament to Capture This Scene

Since Snow White is a Disney Princess and the first full length animated movie, Disney has produced lots of merchandise related to it over the years.  Very few of those items capture her at the beginning of the movie, but that’s just what they’ve done with the ornament for the Storybook Classics series.

In fact, this ornament features Snow White from her first scene of the film as she is bringing up water from the wishing well.  She is standing next to the well with her hands on the side, and her head is back like she is singing “I’m Wishing” to the doves hiding under the roof.  The detail in this ornament is amazing.  We can see the texture in the well.  It captures the plants that are growing on the well, and there are a total of five doves in it  Heck, the rope is a course enough thread that you can feel the texture of it.

Which is why the one things that doesn’t have the proper detail is a shame.  Snow White’s face is off.  It’s not that she looks bad, it’s just that she doesn’t completely like herself.  When I first looked at it, it really bothered me, but on second look, it isn’t as bad as I remembered.  And they get the detail of the rag dress she is wearing in this scene perfect.

Being an outdoor scene, this ornament has a flat base, so you can set it out to display year round if you want and have the space to display it.  Or you can hang it from the red ribbon that comes attached.  When you do, you’ll find that it might tip forward ever so slightly, but you have to really be looking for it to see it.

It’s a shame that Snow White’s face isn’t better. In fact, it is a little surprising.  But it isn’t enough of a flaw to ruin an otherwise great ornament.

Looking for more great ornaments.  Here are the rest of the Storybook Classic Collection.

Original Price: $19.95

Saturday, July 22, 2017

July 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

And how do you make a short TV post even shorter?  By going on vacation, of course.  Yep, I left town Thursday morning.  I'll be back Sunday night, and I will have to catch up on Thursday's shows then.  As a result, this is a very short post this week.

American Ninja Warrior – They talk about how the athletes are a family.  By watching the show so regularly, we get brought into this family.  It’s nice to get updates on the various athletes and their families, like Brian Arnold becoming engaged and the one man’s wife who is doing so much better.  The family of six (with the seventh not old enough yet) was fun, although I wasn’t surprised they compacted most of their runs, especially with the results.  Very few finishers, which is a surprise.

Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge – Go Ninjas!!!  I was thrilled with the results, hoping that the Ninjas, the Mathletes, and the Stunt team would all go on.  Finale Sunday already?  Yikes!  That snuck up on us fast.

Suits – That’s a rarity, two episodes in a row without major cliffhangers or conflict at the end.  In fact, we saw some growth in characters and we left them in a relatively good place.  It’s kind of nice.  Plus, they got Mike’s past off the table, at least for a while.  I knew a lawyer would throw it in his face sooner or later.  It was an obvious plot point, and it was well played here.  But I guess we need to get used to some F bombs each episode now that they’ve pushed the S word as far as they can.  That’s disappointing.  I really would like this show more if they cleaned up the language.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ornament Review: Seven Swans-a-Swimming - 12 Days of Christmas #7 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful swan
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Ending series birds
With simple, elegant swan
Stunning as always

Simple is Elegant with the Swan-a-Swimming

We’ve reached the final bird in the 12 Days of Christmas series.  (For that matter, it’s kind of hard to believe we’ve reach the seventh entry already.)  This year’s Seven Swans-a-Swimming is a bit simpler than previous years’ entries, but it is still beautiful and elegant.

This is a white swan, and it is pretty much white.  There is a gold treble clef symbol on the front and golden leaves holding the wings in place.  Of course, we do get black eyes and an orange beak with a gold crown on his head.  The only other real color is on the wings, which are white blending into blue.  On the wings, we get bits of music and part of the verse of the song.  Dangling from the bottom of the ornament is a gold heart with “Seven” and “7” written on it.

One thing I have enjoyed about this series is the unconventional choices that have been made at times.  This one feels a little obvious in that regard.  However, before I can get too disappointed, I start to really look at it and I fall in love all over again.  This bird is stunning because it is that simple.  I honestly can’t picture it any other way.  It will even stand out from the rest of the birds in the series.  This is one that fans of this extremely popular series are going to be very happy with.

As usual, this ornament isn’t designed to be set out for display.  You can blame the dangle if you’d like.  However, that isn’t an issue since it hangs perfectly level, and if it isn’t level, well, you can’t tell because of how the bird is designed.  It won’t be an issue on your tree at all, trust me.

Those looking for a 7 in a Christmas tree series marker will find it on the swan’s bottom.  No surprise there.

If you are looking for an example of simple being beautiful, this ornament is it.  Although we had a hint of how the rest of the series will play out with the 12 Little Days of Christmas series last year, it will still be interesting to see what they look like in full sized color.  But that’s next year.  For this year, I’m going to enjoy having Seven Swans-a-Swimming on my tree.

Enjoy the rest of this beautiful 12 Days of Christmas series.

Original Price: $12.95

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Book Review: A Puzzle to be Named Later by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #18)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and familiar characters
Cons: Mystery takes a back seat to the antics.
The Bottom Line:
Baseball, mystery
Wrapped in comedic trappings
Overall, it’s fun

Play Ball with Murder

Summer means hot days, relaxing, swimming, and watching baseball.  So I waited to read A Puzzle to be Named Later until summer so I could read it in the proper season.  Okay, not really.  It just so happened that the first chance I had to read it was in July, the month when the book is set.  I wish I could say I planned it that way.  But I have no problem saying I enjoyed it.

As any fans of this series knows, famed Puzzle Lady Cora Felton is a huge Yankees fan, so when Matt Greyston moves to the area, she is absolutely thrilled.  Matt is the Yankees latest star closing pitcher who, unfortunately, broke his arm in a car crash.  He’s decided to rent a home in town to rehab.

His big introduction to the town at their 4th of July picnic is overshadowed by a break in, however.  A therapist has had her home burgled and a flash drive stolen.  That’s when a puzzle shows up that makes Cora wonder just what this therapist’s files contain.  Then a dead body turns up with another puzzle, and Cora knows she has her work cut out for her.

This series is hit or miss with the mysteries, and this book was a weaker mystery.  Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty happening, but that was just it.  It seemed like it was stuff happening and some random clues that didn’t really lead much of anywhere.  Cora is able to piece things together at the end, but it is rather convoluted.

But I don’t read these books for the mysteries, I read them for the humor and word play.  And here I was rewarded.  The banter between the characters was as sharp as ever.  Cora’s grand-niece Jennifer is growing, and she provided some laughs of her own this time around.  In fact, she has my favorite line in the entire book.

The usual gang is all here and it’s always fun to spend time with them.  I really enjoyed the new characters that were introduced in this book as well, which made it hard knowing one of them had to be the killer.

As you’ve probably guessed with all the talk of puzzles, this book includes two crossword puzzles and a Sudoku that you can solve.  Or, if like me you don’t enjoy the puzzles, you can keep reading until they get solved for you and the clue they hide revealed.

So if you are looking for a light, funny summer read, A Puzzle to be Named Later will fit the bill perfectly.

You’ll find more laughs with the rest of the Puzzle Lady Mysteries.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Diagnosis Murder - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Humor livens up some decent mysteries
Cons: Not the show’s best episodes
The Bottom Line:
Doctor on the case
Mixing comedy, murder
Slow, fun series start

“There Are Times When All Doctors Have to be Detectives.”

I stumbled on Diagnosis Murder late in its run, probably around season 5 or so, but I immediately fell in love with the mix of comedy and mystery.  I caught some reruns over the years, but I know there are plenty of early episodes of the show I haven’t seen.  I’ve at least partially fixed that by watching the season 1 set.

If you are new to the show, you’ve probably already guessed that it features a doctor as the main character.  Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick van Dyke) works at Community General, which also happens to be a teaching hospital.  Among his friends on staff are Dr. Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell), the pathologist on staff, and Dr. Jack Stewart (Scott Baio), a resident who has overcome a troubled past.  Then there’s Normal Briggs (Michael Tucci), the administrator who seems to clash with Mark quite a bit.  Rounding out the hospital cast is Delores Mitchell (Delores Hall), Mark’s secretary and a nurse in her own right.

But Mark also works as a consultant for the police helping them with medical cases and murder in general.  It helps that his son Steve (played by Dick van Dyke’s real-life son Barry van Dyke) is a homicide investigator.

Over the course of this season, Steve gets frame for murder when he tries to blow the whistle on some dirty cops.  A killer tries to use an earthquake to hide a murder.  A telethon to raise money for the hospitals ER gets off to a shaky start when the celebrity host is killed.  A long time patient of Mark’s shows up at the hospital dying of a gunshot and hands Mark a winning lottery ticket.  When a magic trick goes horrible wrong, a magician dies in front of a live audience.  And Amanda finds herself set up for murder when a sorority sister with a secret to expose dies after threatening to write a tell all book.

Coming late to the show, I feel like its best days were ahead of it.  Of course, that’s partially because Scott Baio left the show after season two, and I’m partial to his replacement, Dr. Jessie Travis.  Not that there isn’t anything wrong with Scott or his character; it’s just not the character I know best.  Dr. Sloan isn’t living in his beach house yet.  In fact, he’s not sharing a house with Steve yet, either.  It just feels weird to me since it’s not what I’m used to.

And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the show moves inexplicably from Colorado to Los Angeles part way through the season.  They’d never made a big deal out of either setting, but if you pay attention, you can definitely tell.  Yes, the earthquake episode happens after the move.  Normally, I’d roll my eyes at the cliché, but considering the episode aired in 1994 when the Northridge earthquake was fresh on everyone’s mind here in LA, I’m very willing to let it slide.

Many of the episodes this first season are closed mysteries – a mystery where there are a certain number of suspects and Mark and his friends are trying to figure out who the killer is.  They fall into a pretty predictable pattern right down to the number of suspects – three.  The show does have a few open mysteries – a mystery where we know who the killer is early on and the suspense comes from watching Mark try to prove what we already know.  The show mixed things up a lot more later in the run (by the time I was watching it on TV), and I find both styles fun.

Even when we do run into a string of three suspect closed mysteries, this show still entertains.  The roster of main characters allows us to have some variety when it comes to the investigating.  Everyone has their quirks, and those quirks give us some great moments.

Plus, this show starts Dick van Dyke.  That means there are going to be some scenes you wouldn’t see on any other show as the writers take full advantage of his talents.  We’ve got several episodes that allow him to tap dance for us.  In one memorable episode, he gets to interrogate a suspect from the back of a car racing around a police obstacle course.  Truly, the writers are brilliant at coming up with ways to show off the talents of their star.  About the only episode that doesn’t work is the one where Mr. van Dyke plays some elderly distant relatives of his character.  With him playing four characters plus Mark Sloan, it just doesn’t quite work for me, especially when he’s trying to play a woman.

But that’s the only truly bad episode of the season, and the only misstep of the acting.  The main cast already has great chemistry, and they are so much fun to watch.  Dick van Dyke especially is warm and delightful.

Season one consisted of 19 episodes, and they are preserved here on five discs.  The video and sound aren’t quite what we are used to today, but these episodes are almost 25 years old, and the imperfections on the screen aren’t that surprising as a result.  Believe me, they are still very watchable.  My biggest complaint with the set itself is that the menu screens are significantly louder than the episodes themselves, so you need to be ready to mute or turn down the volume as soon as it is over.

The only thing we get in the way of an extra is the episode of Jake and the Fatman that introduced the character of Dr. Sloan.  I’ve never seen an episode of Jake and the Fatman, and I still don’t feel like I’ve seen one.  This episode is almost all Mark Sloan with the series character only getting a couple of scenes.  Yes, Dick van Dyke played the part, and he was assisted by a few of his medical students, but that’s the only thing that carried over to the show.  Heck, Mark even makes a comment at one point about not having any kids.

While the first season isn’t quite what Diagnosis Murder would become in its heyday, there are still some fun episodes in this set.  Fans of the show will enjoy reliving where it all began.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Miracle Cure
2. Amnesia
3. Murder at the Telethon
4. Inheritance of Death
5. The 13 Million Dollar Man
6. Vanishing Act Part 1
7. Vanishing Act Part 2
8. Shanda’s Song
9. The Restless Remains
10. Murder with Mirrors
11. Flashdance with Death
12. Reunion with Murder
13. Lily
14. Guardian Angel
15. Nirvana
16. Broadcast Blues
17. Shaker
18. The Plague
19. Sister Michael Wants You

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book Review: Circle of Influence by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful writing and characters in gripping plot
Cons: None worth noting
The Bottom Line:
Winter mystery
Lives spinning out of control
Amazing debut

Another Debut I Should Have Read Sooner

While I don’t always read all of the books nominated for the Agatha Awards each year, I do pay attention.  After Annette Dashofy was nominated twice for her Zoe Chambers series, I decided I had to put the series on my to be read list.  I finally dusted Circle of Influence off and read it, and it’s easy to see why this book was nominated for best first novel.

Zoe Chambers is the assistant coroner and an ambulance paramedic in the small community of Vance, Pennsylvania.  On one snowy January night, she parks her ambulance for a couple of hours to attend the local township’s board meeting.  The meeting is filled with tension, mostly thanks to the antics of Jerry McBirney.  Zoe has her own reasons for hating Jerry, but Jerry recently seems determined to anger the Bassi family, some of Zoe’s closest friends.

After the meeting breaks up, Police Chief Pete Adams is called to check out an abandoned car, that of Jerry.  When he arrives, he finds a dead body inside, and quickly calls Zoe to the scene.  It isn’t long before the two are embroiled in a case that hits very close to home.  What will they learn?

Honestly, if you sat down to read this book not knowing it was a debut novel, you’d never guess.  It is that polished.  Take the weather.  Yes, I’m starting with the weather.  This is set in Pennsylvania in January, which means ice and snow.  Without ever slowing the story down, I felt that cold weather while reading this book.  What makes that even more remarkable is that this July here in Southern California, we’ve been experiencing record heat.

The winter ice also makes a great metaphor for the plot.  It slips and slides all over the place.  You never know when you will hit a twist and spin around.  I might have actually gasp at one of them.  The climax is strong and perfectly logical.  There is so much tension in this book it was almost impossible to put down, which explains why I was up later than I should have been finishing it.

While the series is called the Zoe Chambers series, it really has two main characters – Zoe and Pete.  We spend equal time with the two of them as our limited third person narrators.  The author takes full advantage of that to build suspense and keep the pages turning.

Much of the success of this book rests on how attached we get to the characters so quickly.  They truly are that strong.  In lesser hands, I don’t think I would have been pulled in like I was.

Now make no mistake about it, this is not one of the light, cozy reads I tend toward.  This is on the traditional end of the spectrum, and the subject matter is a little darker as a result.  There’s still nothing too graphic here, it is traditional, after all.

Discovering a wonderful series with multiple books already published is a mixed blessing.  It means you have immediately added multiple books to your to be read list, but it also means you have many wonderful reads in front of you.  That is definitely the case with Circle of Influence.  If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t wait any longer.  Once you’ve read it, you’ll be like me, looking forward to visiting Zoe and Pete again soon.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ornament Review: Baker Snoopy - Spotlight on Snoopy #20 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun design
Cons: Tips forward slightly, similar theme to older ornament
The Bottom Line:
Snoopy hard at work
Baking delicious cookies
Anniversary year

Christmas Cookies Now Ready

I love sweets.  As if you couldn't tell that my regularly reading my blog, right?  So naturally, this year’s Baker Snoopy doesn’t have to work that hard to appeal to me.

Yep, for the 2017 edition in Hallmark’s Spotlight on Snoopy series, Snoopy is working as a baker.  He’s got a tray with four cookies on it.  Woodstock is standing on a corner of the tray holding a shaker, and it looks like this is shaking out the red and green decorations that are on the cookies.  The one next to Woodstock has the least on it so far, so obviously, he’s still working on that one.  Speaking of red and green, Snoopy is wearing a red chef’s hat and bow tie as well as a green apron.

This ornament is similarly themed to Happiness is a Warm Cookie from a few years back, but it is different enough I don’t mind it too much.  I like the non-traditional chef’s hat since red will show up so well on the tree.  In fact, I like this ornament overall.  I just wish that Snoopy’s ears didn’t have a white border on them again this year.  Unfortunately, that seems to be the case on many of Hallmark’s Snoopy ornaments over the years.

This is the twentieth entry in the Spotlight on Snoopy series.  And yes, the series marker on the underside of the tray reflects that.  Honestly, it’s a little hard to believe it’s been that long, but if I think about it, it certainly makes sense.  This series holds a special place in my heart since it was the series I was collecting before I was seriously collecting Hallmark ornaments.  Most years, this was the only one I would buy, so it is nice to see this series continue and show no signs of slowing down.  And to include my name in tribute in the series piece, well that’s just…me being delusional about a coincidence.  Still, I am smiling about that title.

The ornament will stand up on it’s own, although it isn’t completely stable.  The only base is Snoopy’s feet, and Woodstock and the tray that Snoopy is holding make it a little front heavy.  Still, I wouldn’t worry too much about setting this one out.

Because of that, I’m not super surprised to see that the ornament tips forward slightly when hung.  Snoopy looks like he’s standing on his toes.  Honestly, by the time you get tree branches around him, you’ll never notice.

Longtime fans of this series will be happy with Baker Snoopy.  And if you just enjoy Peanuts ornaments in general, this one will catch your eye as well.

Check out the rest of the Spotlight on Snoopy series.

Original Price: $12.95

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book Review: Disney at Last by Ridley Pearson (The Return #3; Kingdom Keepers #11)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun climax for the Kingdom Keepers (and friends)
Cons: The ending glosses over several things
The Bottom Line:
Past and future fights
As Kingdom Keepers battle
Magical climax

Will the Kingdom Keepers Return?

We have arrived at another climax for the Kingdom Keepers.  After defeating the Overtakers in The Insider, they’ve had to travel back in time to set up their victory in 1955.  And now that trilogy is ending in Disney at Last.

Does that preceding paragraph make no sense to you?  Then you shouldn’t even think about reading this book.  Yet.  You see, this is the eleventh book about these characters, and the second battle they’ve been waging against the Disney villains, dubbed the Overtakers, who are trying to take over the Disney theme parks and destroy the Disney magic forever.  It’s rather impossible to jump in here and fully understand everything that is happening.  However, if kids fighting Disney villains in the parks at night appeals to you, you definitely need to jump back to Disney After Dark and read the series.

As this book opens, the Kingdom Keepers plus Jess and Amanda are trapped in 1955.  Philby and a very young Wayne are attempting to figure out how to reverse the time travel and get the group home to the present day.  Meanwhile, Jess and Amanda have arrived with news.  1955 is when the Overtakers were being created.  If the Kingdom Keepers can stop that from happening, maybe the bad things that have happened during the fight would be erased from history.  Of course, there is the possibility that the group would never be friends as well.

Meanwhile, in the present, Jess and Amanda’s friend Mattie is fighting a battle of her own.  A group of Fairlies are in the park and plan to use their powers to destroy it.  Can she stop them?  Are Overtakers behind the attack?  Will Mattie get any help in her fight?

Again, everything I’ve just teased above makes perfect sense if you’ve been following the series.  Some of the revelations from the previous couple of books are expanded on here, and it is interesting to see how this new picture all fits together with what we already know.

But let’s be honest, we read these books for the magical fights with Disney characters.  We get several intense scenes yet again, including a dueling climax that will have you turning pages.  I’ve often wished the Disney heroes got more page time in this series, and that wish was granted this time around.

As an adult reading these books, I’ve often said the characters could be better developed.  That’s true yet again here.  However, after all the page time I’ve spent with them, I’ve become attached, and a few of the scenes had me trying to discreetly wipe tears since my roommate was home.  The idea that this might be the end of the line for these characters certainly makes me sad.

Not to say that the ending was perfect.  A few things got glossed over.  I’m not saying I don’t like how things ended, but I’m not sure I understand how we got there.  That’s probably because any time you really start to think about time travel, my brain blows up, so we’ll just blame it on that.

That’s certainly no reason to skip Disney at Last.  Not that I could keep long time fans away from this book if I’ve tried.  And anyone who enjoys Disney will get caught up in the magic that is this series.

Need the background on these characters?  Here is the full Kingdom Keepers saga in order.

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, laughs, good story
Cons: Long prologue, characters could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
New take on hero
Spider-Man in Marvel world
Filled with action, fun

Spider-Man Finally Comes Home to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

As any comic book movie geek knows, rights issues have kept a few of Marvel’s characters from joining the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Fortunately, Marvel and Sony worked out a deal so that Spider-Man could be included.  That leads us to another reboot of the character in Spider-Man Homecoming.  While I wasn’t sure we needed a reboot, the result is fun.

We’ve already met this version of Spider-Man in the third Captain America movie.  And that’s something that this movie absolutely gets right.  It assumes we already know how Peter Parker got the abilities that turned him into Spider-Man and the rest of his backstory.  If it didn’t, this would be the third time we saw this on film in 15 years.  Honestly, I did think the prologue with bits and pieces from his time in the Captain America movie went on too long, but that’s a relatively minor issue.

The main action picks up two months later as we meet Peter Parker (Tom Holland) on a typical day.  Unfortunately, he’s stuck in school when he really wants to be out fighting the bad guys.  However, Happy (Jon Favreau), his contact with Stark Industries, won’t return his calls.  And so he’s left to suffer through high school where this 15-year-old is a geek at a school for academic genius.  As soon as school lets out, he hits the streets trying to stop crime as Spider-Man while waiting for his next mission with the Avengers.

When one attempt doesn’t turn out as planned, Peter’s attention is drawn to the weapons the thieves were using.  Something is different about them.  When he winds up with a piece of the technology, he and his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), try to figure out what it is.  What has he stumbled into?

When I mentioned earlier that this was part of the larger Marvel universe, I meant it.  There’s an initial prologue set after the first Avengers movie that actually really helps set everything up.  Plus Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) is a main character and there are some very fun Public Service Announcements from Captain America as played by Chris Evans.  No, you don’t have to be up on all the movies to fully understand everything, however.

I heard such raves about this film that I went in with high expectations.  Maybe they were a little too high.  Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed the film.  I just felt like it didn’t quite rise to the level of the best superhero movies.  It’s funny, but I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly why.  The story is absolutely wonderful.  Yes, it’s a superhero plot, but it is fun.  The way they tie this into the larger Marvel world is great, too.

I think my problem lies with the characters.  We are introduced to quite a few of them, which means we don’t get enough time to really know them.  That kept me from fully engaging in the film.  Peter Parker is the obvious exception since this is his film.  His story here was a bit obvious, but that’s not to say it wasn’t good.

And this isn’t a slam on the actors at all.  Everyone is outstanding, which isn’t a surprise since, in addition to the stars I’ve already named, we get the likes of Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei in the film.  It’s just a factor of the amount of screen time they get.

If you are looking for fun, this movie certainly delivers.  While Spider-Man isn’t his quippy best here, we get some good laughs as a teenager attempts to survive high school and save the world.  I certainly laughed several times.

And there is enough action to keep everyone happy; I was on the edge of my seat during these sequences.  This movie really played into my fear of heights, which helped with that.

Do I even need to mention the special effects?  It’s really no surprise that they were good.

And this is a Marvel movie in another key way.  You definitely want to sit through all of the credits.  Trust me on this.

Spider-Man Homecoming isn’t my favorite film with the character, but it is highly entertaining and will certainly keep comic book and action fans happy.  It’s nice to have this character where he belongs.

July 15th's Weekly TV Thoughts

A scripted show!  It's actually nice to have a scripted show in the running again.  Wow, how times have changed from when I watched so many USA Network shows, right?

American Ninja Warrior – I’m surprised I didn’t break down crying during the episode myself.  The stories of loss were so hard to take.  I’m sure that was partially a factor of the book I’m reading which is showing us how upsetting the murder is to the victim’s family.  Anyway, loved seeing two women hit the buzzer.  And their boyfriends, too.  Quite a few finishers, which I always like to see.

Spartan – Still rooting for Heart of Texas.  And, I think I’m reading to see Commanding Officers go.  They’ve hit second twice now.  But I’m probably just being hard hearted.  Sorry to see last year’s winners eliminated as well.  I had hoped they’d at least make it long enough to defeat their old captain.  As much as I loved the third place teams from both legs originally, I’m not too surprised they were eliminated.  They were real underdogs to begin with, and at some point they were going to go.

Suits – So nice to have a scripted series back in the mix!  They set up a lot of interesting potential in this episode.  Donna as a partner.  I bet that won’t get smoothly.  Is Rachel out of law school now?  Her being in charge of the associates should be fun.  Louis is about the only one I’m not sure about since they didn’t give him a clear direction for the season yet.

Battle of the Network Stars – What was funny to me is that the stars I know best on the show are from USA Network shows and not from the shows that got them on these teams.  Speaking of which, why wasn’t anyone from Suits on the Lawyer team?  Outside of the obstacle course, it did seem to be fairly one sided.  Still it came down to the tug of war again.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ornament Review: Benny M. Merrymaker Miniature - Snowtop Lodge Companion Piece - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good reflect in a miniature ornament
Cons: The generic wreath and out of control scarf
The Bottom Line:
Special miniature
Represents full size piece well
Good details for size

A Mini Merrymaker

Last year, Hallmark released a miniature version of the first ornament in the Snowtop Lodge series as a limited edition ornament.  Considering how many were left on the shelves, I didn’t expect to see any more miniature versions of the ornaments in this series, so you can imagine my surprise when they released Benny M. Merrymaker as a miniature ornament for the Keepsake Ornament Club this year.

This ornament is a miniature version of this year’s entry in the series.  Benny is ready to help make you merry by hanging a wreath for you.  He’s holding the wreath in his hands and is smiling.  On his bottom ball, he’s got an outdoor scene painted of some houses and trees.

Since I haven’t actually seen the full-size version yet (tomorrow I can!!!), I can only compare the two based on the pictures of the regular sized Benny.  The biggest difference in in the wreath.  This version is a rather ordinary looking wreath with red decorations on it.  The full-size version has a much more detailed wreath.  The painting on this version is rather detailed for a miniature ornament, you can definitely tell what it is supposed to be.  The scene on the bottom is a bit more abstract than the full size version, but I like it.  The one that surprised me the most is that Benny’s Santa hat is tipped the other way in the two versions.

But enough with the comparisons – what do I think of this miniature ornament as he is?  I like him.  I do wish his wreath weren’t so generic, but I get why it is – it’s hard to get much detail into an ornament this size.  In fact, considering how small he is (about an inch tall), it’s actually impressive just how detailed he is.  This is especially true of the painting on his base.  My biggest complaint is the red and white twisted thread that is his scarf.  It’s too long.  This is especially true considering the ends stick out in random directions no matter how you try to smooth them down, but considering they hang almost to his base, they are definitely too long.

Benny, being a snowman, has a flat base, so you can set him out to be displayed.  Just remember his size; it would be very easy for him to get lost somewhere and broken.  And since he is made completely from porcelain, he’s on the fragile side.

Of course, you can hang him on your tree.  The loop is in the top of his head, and when you slip a loop through it, you’ll find that he tips forward ever so slightly, as do many of his full-sized brethren.

While I think I like the full-sized Benny better, that doesn’t mean I don’t still like the miniature Benny M. Merrymaker.  I’m certainly glad I added him to my miniature ornament collection.

Enjoy the rest of the Snowtop Lodge ornaments.

Original Price: $9.95

July 14th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Look at this.  It's time again for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm going with my current read - A Puzzle to be Named Later by Parnell Hall.

No surprise that I'm enjoying this book.  I just wished I'd been having more time to read.  I've made it to the half way point, but I was hoping to be further along.  Stupid life getting in the way of my reading.


Here's how the book begins:

Cora Felton could hardly contain herself.  She beamed like the cat who swallowed the cream, batted her cornflower blue eyes.  "Matt Greystone," she purred.

This book has lots of short chapter, so it's hardly surprising that we get a chapter ending on page 56.  And this is how it ends:

Sherry said, "What do you think it means?"
"I'm in a lot of trouble."

Short and hopefully sweet.  Have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Demolition Angel by Robert Crais

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Decent enough mystery
Cons: Lead character is an annoying cliché
The Bottom Line:
A murder by bomb
Gives us clichéd character
In average book

Takes Its Time Building to an Explosive Climax

Before diving into Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole and Joe Pike mysteries, I’d read or listened to all of his stand alones except one – Demolition Angel.  When I started actually listening to his series, I decided to save this one until I hit it in publication order.  I was curious since I’d heard such good things about it.  For me, this one really had to grow on me.

Before we go further, I do have a confession to make – I listened to an abridgement of the book.  I hadn’t paid attention until I got it from the library.  In my defense, it was the only audio version that either library system I have access to have available.  I honestly don’t think that factors into my opinion, but keep that in mind as you read my review.

This book introduces us to Carol Starkey.  She is a former member of the bomb squad who now works for the LAPD in the Criminal Conspiracy Section, and her latest case is hitting very close to home.  She is tasked with investigating the death by bomb of a member of the bomb squad.  She herself was blown up while on the bomb squad, and she lost her partner and lover in the blast.  She still hasn’t recovered from it emotionally, and that was three years ago.

Carol has barely started her investigation when the ATF shows up in her office announcing they think the bomb was the work of a notorious serial bomber nicknamed Mr. Red.  While fighting to keep control of her case, Carol also begins to investigate the bombing and Mr. Red.  Can she catch this man?

Honestly, I think I’m glad I was listening to an abridgement of this book.  Why?  Because before the first disc was over, I was rolling my eyes at Carol.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  Because of the death of her partner/lover, she has been driven to drink and smoke.  She’s hostile to others and hard to get along with.  Yeah, I was rolling my eyes, too.  Mind you, I’ll read clichés in my cozies without blinking an eye, but this one irritated me.  It didn’t help that Carol herself irritated me.  Her character arc, while predictable, did finally make me warm up to her as the book progressed, but it was late in the book before it happened.  I honestly would have had a very hard time getting through the entire book.

Which leaves the plot.  This at least was interesting as it included several good twists and turns before we reached the climax.  The climax had me hanging on every word even though I knew where it was going to go.

The abridgement is read by Patricia Kalember.  She could do a bit more to make characters distinct, especially when they are just talking with no tags between dialogue, but I was able to follow along with what was happening, so this is a very minor complaint.

The underpinnings of the mystery in Demolition Angel are good, but Carol is so predictable that the book itself winds up just being average.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ornament Review: Inside Story #2 - Fireside - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute, peaceful scene
Cons: Floor of scene slopes up
The Bottom Line:
Peaceful inside scene
Christmas by warmth of the fire
Member ornament

And the Dog and the Cat Shall Lie Down Together

Christmas sparks many mental images.  Obviously, memories of time with family and friends tops the list.  But a quiet Christmas Eve by the fire after all the chores of the holiday are done is another one.  That’s the image we get with the second ornament in Hallmark’s Inside Story series.

This ornament features an oblong shaped ornament painted a golden color.  Unlike the rest of the ornaments that are just shapes, you’ll find a scene inside the bulb of this one.  Over to the left-hand side is a Christmas tree.  In the back of the scene is a mantel with two stockings hung from it.  There’s a fire in the fire place.  And on the rug, a cat and dog are curled up asleep.  Peace on Earth indeed.

It’s hard to look at this ornament and not feel a warm glow envelope you.  (Or maybe that’s just the heat from the heatwave of a summer we are having here in Southern California right now.)  The floor of the scene slopes up at an odd angle, a product of the outer ornament framing the scene, but the rest is wonderful.  And the details are absolutely amazing.  For added fun, there’s glitter around the oval opening for the scene.

Because this ornament comes to a point at the top and bottom, you can’t set it out to be displayed.  You have to hang it.  Fortunately, it hangs straight.

This ornament was originally available only through Hallmark’s Keepsake Ornament Club.  It’s part of a three part series, so you’ll find the 2 in a Christmas tree on the back of the ornament.  How I wish this series were going to run longer.

Christmas can be a crazy busy time.  I know it is for me.  That’s why it is nice to have this second Inside Story ornament to remind us of the peace and joy the season can also represent.

Check out the rest of the Inside Story series.

Original Price: $20.00

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Book Review: 30 Second Death by Laura Bradford (Tobi Tobias #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong, fun characters
Cons: Mystery is a little weak
The Bottom Line:
A deadly favor
Fun with Tobi and her friends
Tad slow but still good

Framed for Murder Thanks to a Favor

No good deed goes unpunished.  It might be a cliché, but it certainly holds true for Tobi Tobias in 30 Second Death.

It all starts when Tobi’s friend Carter McDade finally snaps at Fiona Renoir, an actress at the theater where he works as a hairdresser.  Fiona is demanding and demeaning, and that’s on her good days.  But since Fiona’s uncle owns the theater, Carter is afraid he will lose his job, a job that he absolutely loves, as a result of his tantrum against the star.

That’s when Tobi gets the brilliant idea of casting Fiona in a commercial she is going to shoot for one of the clients of her advertising firm.  The commercial is for a spa, and Tobi is even able to get Carter a part in the commercial.  Things turn sour, however, when Fiona dies on set while in Carter’s chair getting her hair dyed.  Naturally, everyone assumes Carter did it, but Tobi knows her friend would never kill anyone.  Can she figure out who else had motive to kill Fiona?

I really loved the first book in this series, so I was looking forward to the sequel.  Unfortunately, I found the plot a little bit slow, choked out at times by a couple of sub-plots.  It does pick up in the second half, however, and the ending is perfectly logical.  One of the sub-plots didn’t quite work either, but it’s a sub-plot, so that’s okay.

However, I fell in love with the cast of characters in the first book, and that hasn’t changed at all.  Tobi is surrounded by a group of friends who are there for her.  In fact, they feel more like her family than friends.  In this book, she gets to return the favor of being there for her friends as she sets out to help a couple of them.  These relationships truly are wonderful.

Plus we get some fun and laughs.  This is especially true for the scenes involving Rudder, a parrot at the pet store owned by Tobi’s friend Mary Fran.  These scenes are guaranteed to make me smile if not laugh.  There are plenty of other fun moments along the way as well.

If you haven’t yet met Tobi, you really should fix that today.  While 30 Second Death isn’t quite the best of Laura Bradford’s books, it certainly still entertains.  With the way this book ended, I’ll certainly be back to find out what happens next.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ornament Review: Christmas Windows #15 - Outdoor Supply and Tackle - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great scene that celebrates outdoor sports
Cons: No Christmas connection
The Bottom Line:
Outdoor sports window
Completely misses Christmas
Makes weird ornament

Still Fishing for Christmas

I grew up camping, and I still love it.  There is something about being in the outdoors away from the city that is wonderful.  Okay, so I do like my modern conveniences, so I don’t know if I’d want to do it full time, but I really wish I went camping more often.  Why am I bringing this up?  Because it relates to Hallmark’s 2017 Christmas Windows series piece, which features an outdoor store.

The store is named Outdoor Supply and Tackle.  In front of the store, we find a boy walking by.  He’s obviously been out ice fishing (it is Christmas time, right?) since he’s got a pole over one shoulder.  He’s smiling because it was a successful day, his dog is carrying the fish they caught in his mouth.   The store window itself features a scene of an orange tent by a lake with a canoe in it.  Behind this scene, we see a couple of evergreen trees and behind them, some stars and the moon.  When you turn the ornament around, you find some of the merchandise for sale, including a lantern, a pack, a fishing net, two fishing poles, a tackle box, and a bait bucket.

When I learned the theme for the year, I was excited, and even based on the initial pictures, I liked it.  But then I got a chance to really look at it, and I was disappointed.  My complaint is the exact same one I had with last year’s entry.  The series is called Christmas Windows.  Yet this particular window has nothing to do with Christmas.  Heck, if it weren’t for the ice on the roof and sidewalk, you could say this was any season at all.

As just a celebration of the great outdoors, however, this ornament is great.  I’ve never been fishing (I don’t like fish for one thing), but I love the camping scene in the window, and I know that fishermen will love what they see here.

The scene is built on a flat base, so it is easy to set this ornament out to display.  Personally, when I display this series, it’s usually around the base of one of my Christmas trees.  You’ll find the 15 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom of the ornament.

But if you do want to hang this ornament on your tree, you’ll be glad to know that it hangs straight.  That’s not surprising since the loop is on the roof which gives us plenty of room to balance.

When my ornament arrived, the fish in the dog’s mouth had broken off.  I was able to glue it back in rather easily, actually, and you’d never know now, but be careful because he is obviously fragile.

I hope this series gets back to creative themed Christmas decorations in windows.  While I do like the 2017 entry in the series, it is missing that Christmas touch.

You can build quite a town with the other ornaments in the Christmas Windows series.

Original Price: $20.00

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: Commander Toad and the Space Pirates by Jane Yolen (Commander Toad #6)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Different story
Cons: Fewer puns, story could be scary, abrupt ending
The Bottom Line:
Pirates attack ship
Results is not as much fun
As earlier books

Can the Crew Defeat the Space Pirates?

It could be argued that pirates are a popular subject in the media these days, but I think that’s always been the case.  Witness Commander Toad and the Space Pirates from the late 80’s that gave us pirates in space in a children’s picture book.

It’s been a long, uneventful space voyage for the crew of the Star Warts.  You can tell by how truly bored the crew is.  They’ve read all their books, watched all their movies, and played all their games multiple times.  They are ready for any excitement they can get.

Their wish is fulfilled when the space ship of Commander Salamander comes on their radar.  He is Commander Toad’s arch nemesis, and he quickly boards the ship and takes the crew hostage.  He wants to introduce them to his favorite game – Hop the Plank.  With only Doc Peepers free, can he come up with a way to defeat the pirates and save his crew?

Unfortunately, this book isn’t one of the better books in the Commander Toad series.  The puns, one of the aspects I love, aren’t quite as plentiful, especially once the story gets started, although I think we get every possible pun on hop.  There are still some enjoyable ones, but they are further and farther between.

Meanwhile, the story just falls a little flat for me.  The twist at the end is a bit rushed and just doesn’t ring true.  But I’m probably looking at this as an adult expecting more than a kid would expect.  I have a vague recollection of this book as a kid, and I was okay with the story then.

I will put out a warning that this book is definitely scarier than many that have come before.  The pirates feel like a much more menacing villain than even a sea monster and a planet that seems to swallow the crew, things we have faced in previous books.  If your child is easily frightened, this probably isn’t the book in the series to start with.

As always for the series, the language is perfect for an easy reader, and the illustrations by Bruce Degen really help bring it to life and include a joke or two of their own.

Fans of Commander Toad will probably still enjoy this book, but Commander Toad and the Space Pirates just doesn’t hold up to the better books in the series.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

July 8th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I picked up another new show this week, although this was more because I was stupid not to pick it up from the very beginning.

America Ninja Warrior – I was so bummed from the start.  I wanted the first couple of guys to make it, but you knew they were too early in the run to go far.  There were a lot of great saves tonight where I was sure the person was out, but they managed to make it further.  So happy for Brandon becoming a father soon.  And happy Lance made it all the way to the buzzer this year as well.

Spartan – Why yes, I was rooting for the teams that won again.  I wanted to see the returning champs at least make the next round, and since they were split on two teams, that meant I had to root for both.  And I really wanted to see the dancers advance as well.  I was glad to see the car gone.  That wasn’t much of an obstacle.  The puzzle and the rope climb are much better.  And it was amazing how close the finishes in the first round were.

Hollywood Game Night – I was home sick in May and bored, so I turned on a rerun of this show and I fell in love.  Not sure why I didn’t start earlier.  This was the first time I’d seem games for the entire team up off the couch, and I liked the added dynamic.  All of the games were a hoot.  I think the celebrities playing around took away from game time, but I don’t care.  It’s fun, and that’s all I was looking for.

Battle of the Network Stars – Maybe because I was more prepared for the format (and the summarized events), but I enjoyed this more than the previous week’s episode.  So close, much closer than I thought it was going to be, I must admit.  Not surprised the sex symbols team won, but the reality team gave them a good run for their money.

Friday, July 7, 2017

July 7th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

With the holiday (here in America) on Tuesday, it's throwing my entire week off.  Hard to believe it is Friday already, isn't it?  But that's a surprise I will always take.

And since it is Friday, that must mean it is time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm taking a break from mysteries and reading Disney at Last, the final book in The Return series by Ridley Pearson.  Some Middle Grade Disney based fantasy - what more could you want?

Here's how the book begins:

Gray fingers of dead trees twisting toward the sky warned of just how far he was from civilization.  The still water of the Mississippi swamp absorbed the tarry black of the night sky, creating a crater, a void in the earth's surface, bottomless and dangerous.  It held secrets, whispered of curses and secret burials.  Sticks rose like bones from its muddy surface.  A slice of yellow moon, shrouded in wisps of rapidly moving cloud, proved too weak to throw shadows, yet strong enough to reveal the stark landscape.

Evocative, isn't it?  I'd forgotten just how atmospheric (and creepy) some of the scenes in the series can be.

Meanwhile, we'll go for short and sweet from page 56:

"The scuff marks clearly lead inside.  Aren't you at all curious?"
"The word petrified comes to mind."

I'm about a third of the way in and enjoying it, which isn't surprise since I've enjoyed the earlier books in this trilogy and the Kingdom Keepers series.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Review: Murder at the Male Revue by Elizabeth Perona (Bucket Club Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Plenty of fun in this mystery
Cons: Ending a bit rushed
The Bottom Line:
Fundraiser gone wrong
Brings us more murder, mayhem
For fun third volume

Stripping Down Distractions Until a Killer is Revealed

While the majority of books I read (or cozies in general) feature a young woman, I’m always on the lookout for a fun series that features a different kind of protagonist.  One such series is the Murder on the Bucket List series by father/daughter writing team known as Elizabeth Perona.  Murder at the Male Revue is the third book in this fun series.

The books feature a group of women of a certain age who, at the age of sixty, each created a bucket list of 60 items.  They’ve only recently started trying to accomplish those items, over ten years later, but it seems that crossing items off their list also involves murder.

This book finds the group working a fund raiser for the local community center and pool.  Mary Ruth is catering the event, which is an auction of members of the local male revue.  It just so happens that going to a strip club is one of the items on Joy’s list, so the event is serving a dual purpose.  However, the biggest surprise of the night happens when the live auction has hardly started, and it sets off pure chaos.  Before things get back under control, the president of the town council winds up dead.

Camille was Charlotte’s neighbor, and Francine’s son was good friends with Camille’s nephew Eric, the leader of the male revue troop.  Not that Charlotte needs these as encouragement to jump in and solve a murder, dragging Francine and the others with her.  What secrets was Camille hiding?  Which of them got her killed?

Like the other books in this series, this is a fun book with plenty of twists and turns.  Even as these ladies unearthed clues, motives, and suspects, I was left wondering exactly what had happened.  I did feel the ending was a bit abrupt, but that’s my only complaint about the book.

Meanwhile, these characters are fun.  Francine is our third person view point character, and she is a great window into the mystery.  Charlotte is her main side kick, although Joy and Mary Ruth get their scenes.  Fans of the series will notice that I haven’t mentioned Alice yet.  She is actually out of town for the action of this book, but that allows us to get to know the other four ladies better.  I can’t leave out the suspects, who are all equally suspicious at some point in the book.

Plus, there’s the humor.  These ladies find themselves in some crazy slapstick situations over the course of the book in addition to some fun dialogue between the friends.  Trust me, you’ll be smiling and laughing as you attempt to solve the case.

While this book does mention the events of the first book in the series, by necessity, it spoils a big portion of the plot of the second book.  The authors attempt to do their best to avoid it, but it’s pretty much impossible.  The solution?  Go back and start the series with book one.

And that’s no hardship at all.  These ladies are sure to keep you entertained.  You’ll be reading Murder at the Male Revue before you know it.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.