Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ornament Review: Albert H. Almstead - Snowtop Lodge #8 - 2012 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Some nice touches
Cons: Doesn’t fully embrace the theme like others in the series
The Bottom Line:
Has some nice touches
But theme not carried throughout
Lesser of series

I Feel Like a Scrooge for Not Loving Albert

Hallmark’s series can be good or bad, especially if you have that obsessive collector gene.  You find yourself buying ornaments even if you don’t love them to fill in your collection.  It’s why I have Albert H. Almstead.  But I’m afraid that my dislike might say more about me than him.

Albert was the 2012 release in the Snowtop Lodge series, which features snowpeople dressed up for various holiday events.  As Albert’s last name suggestions, he is out collecting donations for the poor.  One hand is holding a pail to collect the donations while the other is holding a sign that reads “Season’s Givings!”  He’s wearing a red Santa hat and has a red scarf tied around his neck.  The scene painted on him is of a village with the snow gently falling down.

I think the reason I don’t find this ornament as appealing as some of the others in the series is because it isn’t as special.  Others in the series feature touches that tie into their name and theme, and this is especially true in the picture painted on the snowman.  That village really could be any village.  It does look like it is showing a mission, but it’s a stretch to tie it into the giving theme.  Don’t get me wrong, it looks like, but it could fit many other themes.  The one touch that ties into his theme wonderful is his button, which look a bit like coins.  I love that, and I think of the painting on him tied into the theme better I’d like the ornament more overall.  Not that I know what scene I’d paint on him.

At least that’s my hope.  The other option as to why I don’t like this ornament as much is that I’m not happy being reminded to give to those in need.  Definitely something for me to think about.

Like the others in the series, Albert was designed to stand on his own.  You’ll also find the 8 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom.

Albert does tip forward ever so slightly when you go to hang him, something that is often the case with this series.  It’s not too bad, however.  Think of it as him leaning forward to make it easier for you to give.

Now don’t misunderstand – it’s not that I hate Albert H. Alstead.  He just doesn’t have the same appeal as most of the rest of the series.  Obviously, I have to rotate my collection, but I think that Albert will have less tree time than his brother and sister snowpeople.

Collect the rest of the village with the Snowtop Lodge ornament series.

Original Price: $19.95

Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here we go - this week's TV post.  I'm glad two of my shows weren't on this week since I spent most of the week behind on TV.  Well, and all my Thursday shows were off as well.

I just watch too much TV.

Once Upon a Time – I didn’t even think about the Evil Queen and the anti-magic potion until that final scene.  With her teamed up with not-Robin Hood, we are in for a wild ride.  I don’t like seeing Bae give in to the magic even in a flashback (and the older actor or different actor was really bugging me, too).  But what is Gold’s end game with Gideon.  I’m sure he has a plan, but I don’t see what that could be.

Dancing with the Stars – I’ve long said that if there was a season without any stars I was super anxious to see, I’d give the season a pass.  Yet here I am watching.  That’s right, I have no one I am really rooting for.  The judges seemed to think everyone was pretty similar, and I agree with their scores.  The best and worst were easy to spot, and they were scored appropriately, too.  I think I know who is going next week, the comedian who did so poorly early on, but we’ll see if I’m right.

24: Legacy – There’s always at least one super torture episodes per season, and this was obviously it.  So who is this new bad guy we will now be tracking down?  I don’t think I remembered his name.  And was it just me, or did it look like no one actually died in the drone strike.  That was a complete waste.

Supergirl – Once again, this show isn’t really part of any crossover, it’s just the final scene that sets up the musical episode of The Flash.  However, that’s not to say this was a bad episode at all.  In fact, I really enjoyed the two stories and how they played off each other.  Winn is too easy to forgive, but Kara is too stubborn.  And I’m loving Teri Hatcher as Mon-El’s Mom.

The Flash – Loved it!  Okay, so they were mostly covers of songs, but still, it was so much fun.  A bit hokey being the alternative world, but very much the delight I thought it would be.  My favorite was definitely the Super Friends numbers.  I was laughing so much at it.  And Barry’s second proposal was beautiful as well.

Legends of Tomorrow – That can’t be good.  The ending?  I mean, I can only imagine the trouble that the Legion is going to unleash on us.  I’m not a Lord of the Rings fan at all (I agreed with Nick in his long about Tolkien loving long stories), but I still know enough to enjoy all the references they made to the story.  These cameos they are putting in this season are truly delightful.

Arrow – Even after five years, I’m still not a fan of the flashbacks, so a flashback heavy episode is not going to be an episode I enjoy.  Couple that with the torture and Oliver’s “secret” (come on, we all knew he enjoyed this too much) and we had an episode I didn’t enjoy.  Hopefully, this will bring some growth for Oliver, but I’m not holding my breath.

Survivor – No!!  Not Malcom!!!  I really, really wanted him to win or at least go far.  And I’m ready for Sandra and her arrogance to go.  I don’t know why Jeff was so surprised at everything that’s been going on since they set up two tribes to vote one person off.  It was an interesting twist, but I don’t think it was necessarily in anyone’s best interests to do it this way – even the producers since fans love Malcom so much.

Designated Survivor – So what is Aaron’s deal?  I’ve assumed all along he was a red herring, but that meeting at the end sure made me suspect otherwise.  And why was Hannah on to him at the end?  Are the kids safe at Camp David?  I hope so.  That was a hard scene to watch as they flew away.  So much intrigue.  So many twists in one episode.  I love this show!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review: L. A. Requiem by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #8)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Background on Joe; overall good mystery
Cons: Some clinches creep into character and story
The Bottom Line:
Background on Joe Pike
As related case unfolds
Turns out mostly good

Finally Time to Learn About Pike

One of the complaints I have had about the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books has been the lack of development of the leads, especially Joe Pike.  L. A. Requiem addresses that, giving us background on the PI as we delve into a case that hits close to home for him.

It all starts when Elvis and Joe are asked to find a missing woman.  It just happens that Karen Garcia and Joe dated years ago when he was still an officer with the LAPD.  Karen has only been missing for a day, but her father is certain that something bad has happened to her, and since the police aren’t taking it seriously yet, He wants Elvis and Joe to find her.

Unfortunately, the police find her first when someone calls in about a dead body at Lake Hollywood.  Since the police didn’t take him seriously before, Karen’s father insists that Elvis and Joe are kept in the loop on the case, and he has the power to make that happen.  Naturally, that doesn’t sit well with the police, especially considering the circumstances when Joe left the department.  Can the duo gain any trust with the LAPD?  Can the two of them solve the case?

We know we are in for a Joe centric book from the very first page since it actually starts out with a flashback to a portion of the incident that ended Joe’s LAPD career.  Throughout the book, we are treated to glimpses of Joe’s past from various points in his life as well as some scenes from the third person point of view of Joe and others involved in the present day case.  Most of the book is still narrated by Elvis in first person, however, complete with his asides and sarcasm.  These point of view changes are easily marked, so we can always follow what is happening.

Make no mistake about it, this is definitely darker in tone than the normal books I read.  We are in full hard boiled mode here.  That was something I had to remind myself as I read, especially in the final pages as things really turned dark.  Elvis’s humor does lighten things at times, but it is toned down from previous books.

In a case of be careful what you wish for, I must admit I was disappointed with Joe’s backstory.  It felt too familiar.  Yes, the book was written in 1999, so it is close to 20 years old at this point, but I still think that we could have had a few surprises in Joe’s backstory that might still explain why he is the way he is.  I definitely felt like we got to know Elvis better as a result of the events in this book, which is good, and the other characters are interesting.

The plot started strong and held my attention throughout.  However, the climax was rushed with a key piece of the story – the motive – being all but glossed over.  Again, the plot suffered from a couple of clich├ęs as well, but again that might be because I’m looking at it with eyes that have seen 20 years more of detective fiction.  Meanwhile, a few of the pesky details of the plot get glossed over at the end in a fashion that I didn’t find completely believable and bordered on Crais’s trademark due ex machina. 

At this point, you’d be expecting me to talk about the audio version since that’s how I’ve been reading this series over the last couple of years.  Sadly, I can’t do that this time since neither of the libraries I have access to have the audio book.  I actually had to read the book itself.  (Talk about your first world problems.)  I found myself reading certain lines in the way the various narrators have does it in the past, but overall it was interesting seeing how the characters, especially the new characters, came across to me solely from the page.

This also allowed me to really savor the final chapter.  It really is a love letter to Los Angeles, and as a resident of the area, I truly enjoyed it.  It also found that it ended the book on a slightly more positive note than the final few chapters had been giving us.

L. A. Requiem is considered one of the highlights of Robert Crais’s career.  While I didn’t find it quite as good as others seem to, I certainly enjoyed it and look forward to seeing where these characters go from here.

Looking for more books in the series?  Here are the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Mysteries in order.

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

March 24th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's Friday once again, which means it is time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring When the Grits Hit the Fan by Maddie Day (aka Edith Maxwell).

This is the third is a series I love, and it is so much fun.  I just finished it earlier today.  Watch for my review on Tuesday, which is release day.

Keeping in mind that this is a murder mystery, don't you just love this first line:

Who knew people could be so nasty to each other?

Unfortunately, that's true in real life, not just in murder mysteries, isn't it?

Since I read this from NetGalley, I'm jumping to 56% into the book for the Friday 56 this week.  Don't worry, I won't spoil anything:

"Hang on there, Paul.  I'm a few steps behind you and can't see too well back here."

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Music Review: Followers by Tenth Avenue North

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good reminders in fun songs
Cons: Repetitive lyrics in a couple of the tracks
The Bottom Line:
More Biblical truths
Wrapped up in musical fun
In this pleasing disc

Their Latest Project Will Keep Tenth Avenue North’s Followers Happy

Sadly, I’m out of the loop of much of Christian music these days, but I did discover Tenth Avenue North about the time their debut reached critical buzz.  I enjoyed that disc and I’ve kept up with their career over the years.  Followers is their latest release, and it’s excellent.

The title for the disc comes from “What You Want,” a song of surrender to God.  I’m sure it’s no surprise that the theme here is to be a follower of God.  This is a very fun, upbeat song that is also very likely to get stuck in your head without you even knowing it.  Trust me on this.  My co-workers might have caught me singing it without knowing it a time or two.

The theme of surrender also plays out in “One Thing” and “Control (Somehow You Want Me).”  I especially like that second one since it marvels at how the God who spoke the universe into place wants to use us.  It’s truly mind blowing, isn’t it?

Another theme on the disc is not letting the world affect our attitude.  Unfortunately, both of these songs suffer a bit from repetitive lyrics, which is a shame because I do enjoy them.  “Afraid” actually starts off the disc stating “I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”    Later on we are reminded that “No One Can Steal Our Joy.”

For me, there is always one song on any Tenth Avenue North disc that seems to be exactly what I need to hear.  This time around, that song is “Sparrow (Under Heaven’s Eye).”  The song plays on the idea that God delights in watching his children, but then wonders about those who are struggling with sin.  The chorus reminds us:
You see the sparrow
You see me here
With the pain of my past
And the depth of my fears
You see my future
One day I’ll rise
My hope is secure
Under Heaven’s eyes
And yes, the song does include the chorus of the hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” as the bridge, a touch I love.  It starts out sounding like a ballad, but they up the tempo for the driving chorus, and it’s a mix that really works.

Right behind it in my list of favorites is “I Confess.”  While one of the lines put me off originally, the more I listen to it, the more I am captivated by this song of confession.  It’s a lyrical ballad that truly shows a broken heart.

And we get a great reminder that God is on our side no matter what we are facing in “Fighting for You.”  This song aims the first verse at those who feel alone and the second at those who have wandered away, but then reminds us that Jesus died for us and is still fighting for us.

Musically, Tenth Avenue North maintains their soft rock sound.  Many of these tracks are upbeat and catchy, yet when they do slow things down, it still works just as well.  The variety helps make this disc stand out.

Other fans like me will be delighted with Followers.  And if you haven’t started listening to Tenth Avenue North yet, it’s definitely time to follow us fans and do just that.

CD Length: 38:25
1. Afraid
2. What You Want
3. Overflow
4. I Have This Hope
5. One Thing
6. Sparrow (Under Heaven’s Eyes)
7. No One Can Steal Our Joy
8. Control (Somehow You Want Me)
9. Fighting for You
10. I Confess

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ornament Review: Tea Time! #1 - Santa - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun pot and cup set
Cons: Santa is a bit too squat so a bit off.
The Bottom Line:
This festive tea set
With jolly Santa himself
Makes for fun debut

Tea Time Officially Kicks Off with Santa

In 2015, Hallmark released an ornament that teased a new series debuting in 2016.  Tea Time, a five part series, will feature a festive holiday tea pot and matching tea cup.  Naturally, the official series kicks off with Santa.

Santa actually makes a good tea pot.  Think of that childhood song.  He’s short and stout.  And he has his arms in the classic pose we’d do as children, too.  One arm is forming the handle while the other one is sticking out to form the spout.  This hand seems to be at an odd angle, but that’s so his hand will better form the spout.  The matching cup?  Santa’s toy bag, naturally.  It’s just a bit larger than a mini ornament.  It’s green with a handle on one side and has a candy cane sticking out of the top.  Based on the color of the liquid inside, I’d guess that this is actually peppermint hot chocolate and not tea.  Not that I’m complaining.  Pass a cup, please.

Now, I know Santa is supposed to be short and stocky.  Yet somehow, this seems to go beyond that.  As a result, this looks good, but it doesn’t have the wow factor of most Hallmark ornaments.  Yes, I’m glad I got it, but I waited until half off to get it.

Naturally, being a tea pot and a cup, you can set these ornaments out to display.  Their flat bottoms also hold the 1 in a Christmas tree series marker, and yes, it shows up on both pieces.  You’ll want to find a safe place for them is you set them out since they are made of porcelain, so they are more fragile than your typical Hallmark ornament.

Likewise, you’ll want to find a sturdy branch for hanging them on your tree.  Fortunately, both pieces are perfectly balanced, so they hang straight.

I wish Santa were quite so squat because this looks to be a fun series.  Even so, I’m glad to add the first official Tea Time set to my collection.

You'll definitely want to visit the rest of the Tea Time series.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Review: Design for Dying by Renee Patrick (Lillian Frost & Edith Head #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, history, and a fun mystery
Cons: How the police treat Lillian is a little unbelievable at times
The Bottom Line:
Murder set in old
Hollywood combines real and
Fictional for fun

Renee Patrick Has Designed a Fun Debut

I’ve long been fascinated with Hollywood and the movies, so any time a mystery set in old Hollywood crosses my radar, I take note.  I don’t read them, but I take note.  I changed that with Design for Dying, the debut mystery from Renee Patrick, and I’m very glad I did.

It’s November 1937, and Lillian Frost has landed a job at a department store in Los Angeles.  She came to Hollywood from New York thanks to winning a contest for a screen test.  Her acting ability was about what she expected, but she is determined to stay in California.

Trouble walks into her store one day in the form of two homicide cops.  They are investigating the death of Ruby Carroll, Lillian’s former roommate.  When Lillian recognizes the dress that Ruby was wearing as a costume from a movie, she finds herself crossing paths with Edith Head, the costumer at Paramount Pictures even if her name isn’t on the big office in the department.  The two women are curious what happened to Ruby.  Might Lillian’s knowledge of Ruby and Edith’s knowledge of Hollywood help the police solve the crime?

Having lived in Southern California for the past 20 years, I thought I’d feel right at home in the setting right away.  It took me a few chapters, but that’s just because of how much the area has changed in the last 80 years.  It wasn’t long before I was fully immersed in this place at that time.

And make no mistake this is a book set in Hollywood.  Real people rub elbows with our fictional characters.  I don’t know as much about Hollywood history as I would like (for example, I’d never heard of Edith Head before), especially this period, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a few cameos, but that doesn’t matter because I had fun reading these fictional appearances of the people I did know.

But this book isn’t just Hollywood.  In fact, it never forgets that it is a mystery first.  The book actually starts with Lillian finding out that Ruby is dead, and we then get to know Ruby via a few memories that Lillian shares and the investigation.  It works well to pull us quickly into the story.  There are a couple of nice twists to things before we reach the end.  While I had my eye on the villain, I loved how the clues came together, and the climax was a lot of fun.

As I stated earlier, I can’t state for sure who in the cast of characters is real and who is fictional, but I honestly don’t really care.  Everyone came alive on the page for me, and the real and fictional rubbing elbows was much of the fun for me.  Lillian is our first person narrator for the book, and while she uncovers a few of the clues and is involved in the majority of the action, at times she is the sidekick for Edith.  It’s a good sleuthing partnership that brings to mind some of the classic pairings of the genre.

My only hesitation is how the police treated Lillian.  Yes, they explain it in the course of the story, but it still doesn’t quite ring true for me.  But I was having so much fun this was a very minor point.

Design for Dying bring Hollywood history to life while weaving a fun and tangled mystery.  I’m completely hooked and can’t wait to visit this dynamic duo again.

Monday, March 20, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Home Improvement - Season 4

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and fun with all the characters
Cons: No cons were built into this season
The Bottom Line:
Spreading spotlight wealth
Build more laughs for audience
Delightful season

“Installation Will Be a Breeze.”  “That’s What You Always Say, and then the Breeze Turns Into a Tornado.”

I must admit that I came to Home Improvement on the tail end of its original run, and I’ve been slow to catch up via the DVD set I bought several years back.  I’d also noticed while watching the first three seasons the show was much more formulaic than I remembered it being.  That formulaic tendency went away when I saw down to watch the season 4 DVD set, and I found myself ending season 4 more than season 3.

Yes, the set up for the show is still the same.  It follows Tim Taylor (Tim Allen), host of the local home improvement show Tool Time alone side Al Borland (Richard Karn).  At home, he’s married to long suffering wife Jill (Patricia Richardson), and they have three boys – Brad (Zachery Ty Bryant), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and Mark (Taran Noah Smith).  Rounding out the regular cast is their neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman), who often offers Tim advice to help him navigate his relationships.  Not that Tim ever remembers it correctly.

The season starts out with Jill making a huge decision – to go back to school to get a master’s degree in psychology so she can become a counselor.  This leads to her trying to balance her family with her homework for the rest of the season, and this change doesn’t sit well with Tim at first.  Meanwhile, Al becomes a partner in the local hardware store and is named one of Detroit’s most eligible bachelors.  On the home front, Brad gets a paper route, Randy’s birthday party ends in disaster thanks to an over waxed dance floor, and Mark starts having trouble in school.  It’s not a good year for Tim and cars as he destroys one and sells the hot rod he’s been working on – a decision he soon regrets.  Even Wilson gets into the act of having episodes devoted to him as he considers selling his home and later is set up on a blind date by Jill.

As you can see, there is plenty going on with the entire cast.  This is a wonderful change from the old formula of Tim does something that annoys Jill, she gets mad, Tim makes it worse, Wilson sets him straight, and Tim and Jill make up.  Yes, there are still some episodes along those lines, and even when the focus is on someone else, Tim is just as likely to make things worse at first than help, but breaking away from this formula is very welcome.

And the change gives us some great laughs.  The writers are definitely on the top of their game, not only giving us some good storylines but also great jokes.  When this show is really working, I can picture myself saying some of the things these characters say in these situations.

For those keeping track, this season also features the first appearance of Tim’s younger brother Marty (William O’Leary), who shows up in several episodes here and would pop up from time to time for the rest of the series.

The actors are also in fine form this season.  They are able to milk every laugh out of the material.  It certainly helps that they know each other at this point and are able to play off each other perfectly.  The kids have not only grown up but grown as actors, so they are able to handle the spotlight perfectly when it shines on them.  With Wilson in some scenes outside his backyard, it’s fun to see how they stage things so that we still don’t see all of his face.  You can catch some glimpse, especially if you are ready with the pause button, but the joke is still great.

The season consisted of 24 new episodes and an hour long clips show of previous segments from Tool Time.  All of them are presented in this three disc set in their native full screen and stereo surround.  The only extra is a six minute long outtakes reel that features some bits that aired during the credits and some new material.  Unlike the episodes themselves, the outtake reel picture and sound quality isn’t the best, but it is still worth a few laughs.

It’s nice to see Home Improvement shining the light and laughs on all the character.  This easily makes season 4 the best season to date.

Season 4 Episodes:
1. Back in the Saddle Shoes Again
2. Don’t Tell Momma
3. Death Begins at Forty
4. The Eyes Don’t Have It
5. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s Just Irresponsible
6. Borland Ambition
7. Let’s Got to the Videotape
8. Quibbling Siblings
9. My Dinner with Wilson
10. Ye Olde Shoppe Teacher
11. Some Like It Hot Rod
12. ‘Twas the Night Before Chaos
13. The Route of All Evil
14. Brother, Can You Spare a Hot Rod?
15. Super Bowl Fever
16. Bachelor of the Year
17. It’s My Party
18. A House Divided
19. The Naked Truth
20. Talk to Me
21. No, No, Godot
22. Tool Time After Dark Part 1
23. Tool Time After Dark Part 2
24. Sisters and Brothers
25. A Marked Man
26. Wilson’s Girlfriend

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #14 - Tubing - 2011 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Colorful and fun
Cons: Wish the year weren’t written on it.
The Bottom Line:
Tubing down a hill
Friends having more winter fun
In miniature piece

Winter Time for a Little Tubing

I’d never really thought about how many winter sports involve letting gravity pull you down the snow until I started reviewing the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.  The fourteenth ornament in the series is the fifth time we’ve had Snoopy and Woodstock sliding down snow in some form, yet this 2011 release is still original.

See, in this ornament the friends are using an inner tube to head down a hill.  And this isn’t a black inner tube either.  It’s painted a fun blue-green on top with red underneath.  I’m actually a little surprised that it isn’t pure red and green, but I like this better since it sticks out a bit more from the typical Christmas ornament and looks more realistic.  Snoopy, decked out in a hat, is holding on to the handles on the tube, and Woodstock is sitting on the very front.  On the top layer, there is 2011 written on it and the white outline of flames.

As I already said, this ornament looks great since it looks like a tube you’d rent or buy specifically for going tubing.  The way it captures that look makes me smile.  I do wish they hadn’t included the year on it.  That works on buildings, but this is seems out of place to me here.

Since this is a miniature ornament, you probably would only want to display this in a scene with other small pieces.  By itself, it would be easy to get lost.  Of course, a tube has a nice flat base, so it’s no surprise you can set it out on any flat surface.  You’ll also find the 14 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom.

This ornament does have a bit of a tip to it, but it is perfect that way.  See, it tips forward, making it look like we’ve caught Snoopy and Woodstock in the middle of their run.  I love that!

Tubing, especially with brightly painted tubes like Snoopy and Woodstock use here is newer than some of the other snow sports that we’ve had in the series to date, and I am happy to see it included in the series.  It’s a colorful and fun addition to the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

You'll find more fun with the rest of the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

Original Price: $7.95

Saturday, March 18, 2017

March 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I can't remember the last time I had a season finale in March, and I had two of them this week.  At least I will have an easier next few weeks with two shows off the air.  I'll definitely be ready for them to be back in September.

(Now that I think about it, the last time I had a show end early was the final season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  That's been well over a decade.)

Once Upon a Time – I did not see that ending coming.  Just as Hook has finally won David over, his past comes back to bite him, literally.  He has changed.  David saw it for himself.  Yet that’s going to get in the way of things for sure.  Other thoughts – when did we get Dr. Hopper back?  Last we knew, the Evil Queen had turned him into a cricket again.  Did you catch the candlestick and the clock in Rumplestiltskin’s home?  And that scene where Hook talked David out of killing the king was so powerful and so well done.

24: Legacy – I still can’t quite see where they will go from here.  Like everyone else, I think our main characters are on a suicide mission.  And one marriage is about to get very messy.  Tony hasn’t done much – yet.  I don’t think they’d bring him back for anything less than a game changer.  And we are in the second half of the season and have yet to skip any hours.  I wonder if that will change at all.

The Flash – Jay is stuck in the speed force.  Yikes!  I hope they get him out of it soon.  Of course, I knew they’d get Wally out of there somehow.  And I knew Jessie couldn’t stay forever.  The cast is already about as large as it can get.  But Barry and Iris break up?  How does that make sense?  The writers didn’t quite sell me on that one.

Legions of Tomorrow – A night of characters sacrificing themselves.  Plenty of fun with this riff of Apollo 13 before that happened, however.  Now that we have one part of the spear, what will happen next?  That’s what I want to know.  And the outtake/extended take of Victor Garbor singing instead of a teaser for next week, too.  I’m so glad he’s going to be in next week’s Flash musical episode.

This is Us – Really?  That’s the season finale?  We hardly got anything on the kids as adults, it was all about Jack and Rebecca meeting and their big fight.  It felt like a letdown in so many ways, especially since it was all in the past.  A separation and cooling down period, I get.  I hope they don’t break them up but show us how they work through their differences.  And Jack as thief?  Sorry, I don’t like that either.  Easily, my least favorite episode of the season.  Hope this isn’t a foretaste of things to come next season.

Arrow – I thought they might play around with us knowing Chase was the villain for a couple of weeks before Oliver found out, but I was definitely wrong about that.  The conversations they were having with each other were fantastic, too, as they were flitting around the truth out in the open.  What is Oliver planning to do with his ultimatum on the Green Arrow turning himself in?  Not that he can right now since he’s been captured.  I must say, I did not see that coming.

Lethal Weapon – I was expecting that episode to pack a punch, and boy did it ever.  Definitely took that storyline and went in their own direction with it.  So many great moments and so many great performances.  I’m glad to know it is coming back next season because I have to know what happens next.

Survivor – Poor Caleb, out on day 9 both times.  He seemed to have a good attitude about it during his exit video, however.  This isn’t the first time they’ve gone from two tribes to three, but doing it this early is certainly unexpected.  It seems like the tribes are pretty lopsided, which means the votes won’t be super exiting next week either.  And then the fireworks can start.

Designated Survivor – Luke?  No!!!  I’m not surprised, but I’m still pretty upset by it.  And the VP dead as well?  I did not see that one coming at all.  How do we go forward from here?  And the First Lady is not going to be happy about being sidelined like this.  She’ll understand eventually, I’m sure, but this is going to make for some good drama as the season goes along.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Leprechaun - Cookie Cutter Through the Year #2 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfect shape and very fun scene
Cons: This ornament is lucky enough to have no cons
The Bottom Line:
Irish ornament
Looks great and plenty of fun
No luck required

The Luck of the Irish is with this Cookie Cutter

When you are designing a cookie cutters for holidays, many shapes are obvious.  For example, what else would you do for St. Patrick’s Day than a shamrock design?  That’s exactly the route that Nina Aube took for Cookie Cutter Leprechaun, and the result is a winner.

Each ornament in this Cookie Cutter Through the Year series focuses on a holiday or fun event from the first half of the year.  This ornament features a bronze colored shamrock cookie cutter.  But the fun of the ornament is what is inside.  That’s where we find a scene depicting our mouse friend dressed in a green leprechaun outfit sliding down a rainbow to find the gold at the end.  There’s a grassy hill behind him, and that includes a couple of four leaf clovers.  You can just make out the sun peeking out from behind the hill in the perfectly blue sky.

One element I love about this and the mother series (Cookie Cutter Christmas) is the way candy is used in the series.  In this case, the only evidence of candy I see is the gold.  They sure look like gold foil covered chocolate coins to me.  Yum!

But that’s not to suggest I don’t like this ornament.  I really love it, in fact.  It helps that I love green, and there is a lot of it here.  The mouse’s hat and the rainbow are both covered in glitter, so they sparkle, which adds to the fun.

The stem of the ornament almost provides enough of a base to allow you to set the ornament out to be displayed.  Almost.  It’s not stable enough to stay standing if there is any bump or bounce nearby, so I don’t recommend actually displaying it this way.

However, we are still in luck because this ornament hangs straight.  That’s not too much of a surprise given the balanced nature of the shamrock shape.

And yes, you’ll find a 2 in a Christmas tree on the back of the cookie cutter since this is the second in the planned six piece series.  I do wish they’d come up with some other shape for these year round pieces, but that’s obviously not going to happen.

This series is so creative and fun, you’ll definitely want to add it to your collection.  Cookie Cutter Leprechaun will be perfect to display every March for years to come.

Original Price: $15.95

March 17th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  No, I don't have an Irish book to share with you for Book Beginning and Friday 56.  Instead, I'm spotlighting Design for Dying by Renee Patrick.

This is a mystery set in 1937 Hollywood.  And if you think that sounds like fun, you'd be right.

Here's how the book begins:

The hem of the dress was drenched in blood.  I could only hope no one would notice.

Jumping a head of page 56, we find this quote.

"Always look your best up to the limits of larceny."

Short and sweet this week, right?  I'll be reviewing the book on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back then to learn more about it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Silence of the Flans Winner

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Book Review: The Semester of Our Discontent by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila Maclean #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and setting, good mystery
Cons: Pacing a little off in the plot at times
The Bottom Line:
A first semester
Filled with lots of death, danger
In this good debut

Lila Starts Teaching – to Murder

Over the years, there have been several mysteries set at colleges that have crossed my radar, but I’ve never picked one up.  I finally enrolled in one with The Semester of Our Discontent, and I’ve learned my lesson – I should have done this sooner.

Lila Maclean has just gotten her PhD in Literature and is excited to be settling into her first semester teaching at Stonedale University in Colorado.  She’s extra please since her cousin is also on the English department faculty.  She’s not so happy with her department chair, Dr. Roland Higgins, however.  When she suggests a course in detective fiction, he not only shoots her down but essentially tells her to be quiet.

Lila and her faculty mentor are walking into a department meeting just hours after Lila’s ill-fated meeting with Dr. Higgins only to find him stabbed to death on a table in the department library.  When the rumors start flying that she knows more than she is letting on, either to protect someone or because she herself is the killer, Lila begins to try to find the killer.  But the clues she finds appear random, and no one seems willing to help her.  Can Lila find the killer?

The book gets off to a fast start with Lila finding the dead body by the end of the first chapter.  However, I did feel the book had some pacing issues as we went along.  We do get some very interesting clues and the secrets the Lila uncovers are good, and the climax does resolve all the plot threads and wraps everything up nicely.

Lila is a wonderful main character.  Her natural curiosity is perfect for getting involved in a murder, and her motive to keep poking around is very strong.  We are introduced to a great group of characters as well.  Some of them already feel like friends, and the rest will provide some interesting sub-plots as the series progresses now that they aren’t suspects in this case.

The setting came alive for me.  This may be a fictional college, but I felt like I was really there.  And as the semester wore on, I could feel the crispness in the air as late summer turned to fall as well.

This is a debut mystery, but the writing is strong.  That’s hardly a surprise since author Cynthia Kuhn is an English college professor herself.

So trust me, you’ll be discontent if you skip this book.  Your homework assignment is to read The Semester of Our Discontent.  But don’t worry, this is one homework assignment you’ll enjoy.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Movie Review: Moana

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Funny and adventure filled movie
Cons: A few nitpicks, but nothing major
The Bottom Line:
Journey to islands
Fun filled adventure story
Great animation

“If You Wear a Dress and Have an Animal Sidekick, You’re a Princess.”

Despite the good things I’d been hearing about Moana, I missed it in the theater.  However, I still pre-ordered it, so I was able to watch it over the weekend on Blu-Ray.  I can certainly understand the buzz because this is a fun movie.

The story takes us to the South Pacific where we meet Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho).  She is the chief’s daughter and as such destined to become the next chief.  Her tribe thrives on the coconut trees that grow on their island and the fish they can gather from the nearby water.  They have but one rule – don’t sail beyond the reef that surrounds their island.

Yet Moana longs to go exploring.  And her grandmother (Rachel House) believes that the ocean has chosen Moana for a mission to restore something that was stolen years ago by the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).  Will Moana venture beyond the reef?

The movie takes a bit of time to get going.  Naturally, this is partially set up since we need know the background to Moana’s adventure.  But since we know that Moana is going to head out to sea, it ultimately seems a bit slow.  However, once the adventure picks up, the movie really becomes fun.  There are several great actions scenes that will definitely keep your attention.

What I wasn’t expecting was the humor.  I was laughing the entire way through.  Whether it’s at dialogue, character reactions to things, or Heihei, Moana’s dimwitted pet rooster (yes, dimwitted even for a chicken), there is plenty to make you smile.

Since I know so little about Polynesian culture, I found that part interesting as well.  Oh, I know it’s Disney, so it’s hardly something to take as a reliable source, but it added a nice touch to the film.  Much of this does come early in the film, which adds to that set up and slow down I mentioned earlier.

The animation is wonderful, as expected.  Water plays a huge part in the film, and there are a couple of shots that look absolutely amazing.  The rest of the animation might not blow you away, but it is completely enjoyable.

The songs are a bit of a mixed bag.  “How Far I’ll Go,” the song Moana sings, is a souring ballad that fits well in the Disney cannon.  They try to go for comedy with another couple of songs, “You’re Welcome” and “Shiny.”  They won’t work quite as well as they could.  They aren’t bad, but they aren’t that much fun out of context.

On the other hand, the voice cast is uniformly great.  The supporting characters are fun, although this movie really belongs to Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson.  They spend much of the film as the only two characters, and they pull it off admirably.

That’s not necessarily an easy job as Maui is more of an anti-hero than a true hero or even a reluctant hero.  Moana is constantly have to use any means necessary to convince him to do the right thing.  It creates a bit of a different dynamic for the film, which I ultimately enjoyed.

This is also the rare Disney animated film that doesn’t feature romance of some kind.  There isn’t even a hint of it.  I found that refreshing, especially since I wouldn’t have wanted to see it between Moana and Maui at all.

There are definitely some scary moments in this film that will upset the easily frightened.  Most kids should be able to take it in stride, but if your child is easily frightened, you’ll want to preview it first.

Despite some nitpicks here and there, this is a fun film that will please fans of Disney animation.  If you haven’t seen Moana yet, fix that today.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Gone with the Twins Winner

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Book Review: Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Jane Ryland #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and a strong plot
Cons: Jane trying to get out of testifying
The Bottom Line:
Murder, hit and run
Two elements in story
That keeps you reading

I’ve Got Plenty to Say about This Book

When I pick up one of Hank Philippi Ryan’s books, I know I am in for a fun ride.  Her Jane Ryland series skirts the end of the cozy side of the mystery spectrum, and I enjoy this slight break in genre.  Say No More is her latest, and it’s another compelling read.

Jane Ryland has landed a new job as a reporter for a TV station in Boston.  However, instead of reporting on the news, she’s responsible for creating hour long documentaries.  She and her new producer are working on a story about campus rape aimed to coincide with the start of the fall semester.  However, on the way to an interview, they witness a hit and run.  Jane gets the license plate of the drive and a good look at his face, but reporting that to the cops might be more than she bargained for.

Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Boston homicide cop Jake Brogan, is called to the scene of a suspicious death.  A woman has been found floating in her backyard pool.  The call came in from a next door neighbor, but it seems that everyone connected with the crime is trying to hide something.  Can he figure out what clues actually pertain to his case?

We actually bounce between Jane, Jake, and three other characters over the course of the book.  Don’t worry, each point of view change is clearly marked.  It creates a fun way to get fully into the story as we wait to see how everything will come together for in the end.  The various plots intersect every so often, and not just when Jane and Jake are sharing page time.  I’ll leave the rest up for you to discover as you race through the book.

Hank makes good use of the various points of view to pull us into the story quickly and keep us engaged.  No, we don’t have cliffhangers every time the view point shifts, but I was usually thrilled to get back to each character to find out how things were progressing.

And all of the characters are strong.  Jane and Jake lead a very small cast of returning characters, and I enjoy seeing them and their relationship evolve.  That leaves plenty of room in the book for new characters, and they come alive before our eyes.  There was one view point character I especially found myself rooting for, and I love how that person developed.  All three of the new viewpoint characters had strong arcs that I enjoyed.  (Yes, I might have been cheering at what happened to one of them.)

All this said, I do have one complaint with the book, and it is a rather big one.  Throughout the book, but especially at the beginning, Jane resists getting too deeply involved as a witness to the hit and run.  She tries to use her position as a reporter to stay out of it, citing her desire to report the news, not be the news.  Sorry, but that’s baloney!  Yes, the accident happened during work hours, but it wasn’t related to anything she was doing for work – simply a case of wrong place, wrong time.  She has no privilege that any other ordinary citizen wouldn’t have, and the fact that she kept trying to get someone else to agree with her on this really rankled me.  If she were protecting a source for a story, I’d be on her side, but she was clearly in the wrong here.  On the other hand, I did find her realizations on how her sources might feel as a result of how she feels here to be wonderful character development.

That’s a long rant for something that is actually a minor point in the book.  Overall, I completely enjoyed this story.

In fact, I’m already looking forward to visiting Jane and Jake again.  If you haven’t read this book yet, you really should pick it up today.  And so I don’t spoil anything, I will Say No More.

Looking for more of Jane's adventures?  Here are the Jane Ryland Mysteries in order.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Music Review: These are the Days by Love & the Outcome

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun music and thoughtful lyrics
Cons: Borders on the overproduced side, which will quickly make it dated
The Bottom Line:
Duo back with more
Focuses us on God with
More fun pop music

These Are the Days for More Good Music from Love & the Outcome

I stumbled upon the debut from husband and wife duo Chris Rademaker and Jody King not too long after it came out, and I’ve been enjoying it.  They offer fun lyrics wrapped in polished pop.  Naturally, that meant I wanted to get their sophomore effort, and These Are the Days continues the trend.

The first single off this release quickly climbed up Christian music charts, and it is very easy to see why.  “The God I Know” is a fun, upbeat song of praise that talks about how God can change a life.

The next track is my personal favorite on the disc.  “Galaxies” marvels at the fact that the God who spoke the world into existence can know and love and care about us individually.  That has long been something I have marveled at, and I always enjoy hearing a fresh perspective on the topic.

As the disc continues, you get songs about commitment to God (“Ends of the Earth” and “If I Don’t Have You”) and how God makes things all worthwhile (“Louder, Closer, Deeper” “Palaces?”) or even how God has already conquered the things we battle here on earth (“Gates”).  Chris and Jody recently welcomed their first child into their family, and that influences several songs on this disc, most noticeably “Seek & Find.”

What struck me the most listening to this disc is how many of these feel like they are worship songs.  I could picture singing many of them in church on Sunday mornings.  And yet, they manage to avoid the repetitive lyrics pitfall that usually annoys me in the modern worship genre.

Most of the songs are mid-tempo polished pop.  I do think that some of their production will date the sound of the album in a few years, but for today’s audience it sounds wonderful.  While the few slower tracks are certainly welcome for a change of pace, they make each track unique enough to stand out.

Chris and Jody continue to impress me with fun yet thoughtful music.  If you are looking for a new duo to try, be sure to check out Love & the Outcome’s These Are the Days.

CD Length: 48:18
1. Strangers
2. The God I Know
3. Galaxies
4. Ends of the Earth
5. Good Life
6. If I Don’t Have You
7. Gates
8. Palaces
9. Hear From You
10. These Are the Days
11. Louder, Closer, Deeper
12. Paradise
13. Seek & Find

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Book Review: The Secret of the Skeleton Key by Penny Warner (Code Buster Club #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Solid mystery with codes added for more fun
Cons: Characters a little thin, but target audience won’t care
The Bottom Line:
Codes added to clues
Sure to delight young readers
Hours of secret fun

Codes are Key to this Middle Grade Mystery

I’ve long been a fan of Penny Warner’s books for adults, so I’ve always been curious about her middle grade mysteries.  I bought the first three in her Code Busters Club series a couple years back, but I’m just now getting a chance to read the first one.  The Secret of the Skeleton Key was just as much fun as I thought it would be.

Cody and her three friends, Quinn, Luke, and M.E., have formed a club dedicated to learning codes, giving each other codes to crack, and solving mysteries.  And a mystery is just what they’ve found when Quinn and Cody observe some strangers in a neighbor’s house.  Mr. Skelton lives alone and creates weird yard art.  So why are there suddenly two other people in Mr. Skelton’s house?  Cody observes mysterious symbols in his window.  And then his house catches on fire.  What’s going on?

I can easily see this book capturing the imagination of any kid who reads it.  Most of the chapters feature a code that the characters use to communicate with each other or to piece together the next part of the mystery.  The solution to the code is given at the end of the book along with lots of information on the codes discussed.  That way, you can use the codes with your own friends once you’ve finished the book.  What kid could resist?

The mystery is very well done.  The codes provide the steps needed to propel the characters toward the solution.  And what a great solution we wind up with at the end of the book.  This book will keep readers turning pages until they reach the end.

The characters are typical for a middle grade series – which means that adults will find them a little thin.  Cody is the one we get to know the best since we follow her third person point of view for the entire book.  However, this is a complaint only adults will have.  Based on my own reading as a kid, I know that kids will love these characters.

At 200 pages, this is a fast read, but the codes at the end will provide hours of entertainment for kids when they are done learning The Secret of the Skeleton Key.

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Ornament Review: Anna G. Halo - Snowtop Lodge #7 - 2011 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful angel/snowman combination that works
Cons: Slight tip forward, but not too bad
The Bottom Line:
Angel and snowman
Combine well in ornament
Different and fun

Angelic Snowwoman

I don’t collect any of Hallmark’s angel ornaments.  Frankly, the artistic expressions of angels don’t normally appeal to me, and Hallmark’s have been no exception.  Of course, I made an exception for Anna G.Halo since she is part of the Snowtop Lodge series, and I’m very glad I did.

If my intro didn’t give it away, Anna is an angel – a snowwoman angels.  She’s got a metal halo over her head and metal wings sticking out of her back.  She’s got a white scarf around her neck, and is holding out a gold Christmas tree in a pot.  The scene painted on her is that of a church nestled in a village.  You can even see some of the homes around it.

As I hinted at earlier, I really do like this ornament.  Of course, it helps that Anna is more snowwoman than angel.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she were just playing an angel in the local church pageant.  But that’s left open for us to decide.  Either way, she looks beautiful and the scene painted on her looks wonderful.

You won’t be surprised at all to learn that she has a nice flat bottom, so you can display her on any flat surface.  She’s a snowwoman after all.  You will want to be careful where you set her since she is made from porcelain and likely to break if you aren’t careful with her.  You’ll also find the seven in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom of the ornament.

Any angel should be able to float level, right?  Anna actually tips forward ever so slightly as if she is so anxious to give us that Christmas tree she’s leaning forward to hand it to us faster.  It’s not a big flaw, however.  The ring for hanging the ornament is in the middle of the halo, which makes it hard to slip the hook in and out, but with a little patience it can be done.

I’m not looking to reverse my stance on Hallmark’s regular angels any time soon, but I am enjoying Anna G. Halo.  She’s a fun addition to the wonderful Snowtop Lodge series.

Here are the rest of the Snowtop Lodge ornaments.

Original Price: $19.95

March 11th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Just about everything was on this week (missed you, Arrow), plus my two ABC shows were back and Survivor returned with a two hour episode.  Yes, it's been a busy week of TV watching.

Once Upon a Time – That wasn’t the attack that Emma has been seeing.  Snow has always been there in the background, and Regina wasn’t there.  So will there be another attack?  Is Emma still in danger?  My best guess is yes.  I was surprised that Emma and Regina made it back to Storybrook in this episode, and I loved the explanation of how she got the Swan last name.  Never through about it before, but it fits her so perfectly.  But what will happen with Robin?

24: Legacy – Obviously, there was no way they’d catch the bad guys in this episode.  We’ve got a lot more season to go.  I was surprised we got rid of everyone from that one cell in the episode.  Obviously, they are switching gears for the next arc.  It was a little painfully obvious.  But how did the villains know where the wife was?  That’s the real question as far as I am concerned.

Supergirl – They haven’t been subtle about it, but last night was a bit too much as far as I’m concerned with the alien arc.  They are lecturing us about illegal immigrants this season, and I’m tired of it.  Hopefully, I can last out the show and it won’t be as preachy next season.  I’m worried for James, too.  With Kara no longer at KatCo, and him already not being in multiple episodes, are they writing him out?  Fun to see Teri Hatcher show up, of course.

The Flash – Wow.  Just wow.  So much to process for the episode.  Poor Wally is the biggest take away.  He was trying to do the right thing and it all went wrong.  Which leaves me wondering, will we get rid of all of the Flashpoint story to defeat our big bad at the end of the season?  And, if Savatar is supposed to be someone we know, is it Wally?

Legends of Tomorrow – Finally got Rip back.  It will be interesting to see the team’s dynamic now that he’s back in charge.  Different episode overall.  Not sure it really worked for me, but I do appreciate them trying something different.

This Is Us – So many great moments.  Truly, truly great moments.  Saying goodbye to William was bittersweet.  I loved Kate’s monologue to Randall.  Randall’s dream of his dad’s meeting.  Randall comforting Kate.  Randall quitting his job.  Kevin’s play being so good.  I’m so worried about Jack.  I know he’s dead in the present, but I still don’t want to know about it.  And Kate’s confession?  I think that actually explains a lot about her.

Lethal Weapon – I hate to say this, but is Trish’s new job too good to be true?  I doubt we’ll explore that next season, but I could easily see that coming back to bite her next year.  And they’ve obviously set us up for a power season finale next week.  I’m wondering if we will get resolution or just lots more questions since the renewal came so late.  And I’m wondering if Riggs will be able to move on after what he has learned.  Not that I’m upset with how they have played out his grief this year.  I’ve actually found it very realistic.

Survivor – Ciera out first followed by Tony.  Wow!  This is going to be an intense season.  As much as Tony annoys me, he is completely correct about Sandra both running the show and being weak in the challenges.  I’d love to know how she got everyone to vote out Tony because the editing sure showed that it was much more split than that.

Designated Survivor – So glad to have this back.  And Hannah and the President finally met.  I feel like what we’ve seen so far was all set up, and now the real games can begin.  And what a wild ride we are in for, I’m sure.

Big Bang Theory – They’re really giving Raj a storyline this part of the season, and it’s about time he got a good one again.  Leonard’s mother is always good for stirring up trouble, and she did it again admirably with this episode.  So much fun all the way around.

The Great Indoors – This show really does seem to be finding it’s voice finally.  Clark as Jack was hilarious, and Jack all soft was funny as well.  It’s still not my favorite show out there, but it’s continuing to grow on me.

Powerless – Cold season?  Brilliant!  The overall comedy could have been better in this one, but it was still good.  I’m definitely going to stick with this one through the end of the season as well.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Movie Review: The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun action scenes; the two main characters
Cons: Predictable plot; too many characters, especially at the beginning
The Bottom Line:
High octane movie
While plot, characters suffer
Action makes it fun

Mindless Action

I wasn’t super interested in The Fast and the Furious franchise when the first movie came out years ago, but with each successive sequel, I must admit I got more curious.  Plus, I do enjoy a good action flick, and the stunts looked amazing.  Unrealistic but amazing.  So I finally broke down and watched the first one when it was on TV recently.  My reaction to it was about what I expected.

The movie centers around Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) who is doing everything he can to work his way into the life of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel).  Dominic runs a garage, but he also races cars in the secret street races that happen in Los Angeles.  In fact, Brian shows up in a supped up car looking to race, yet Dominic doesn’t seem to trust Brian.

Meanwhile, the LAPD and FBI are investigating a smuggling ring they think is made up of someone from the underground street racing world.  How will that impact Brian and Dominic’s relationship?

I almost shut the movie off several times in the first half hour because I was having that hard a time connecting to the characters.  We are introduced to a large cast of characters almost right away, and it’s hard to connect to anyone.  Plus, I usually have an easier time connecting to characters I’d want to be friends with, and most of the behavior of the characters was a turn off to me.

However, I stuck it out, and I began to connect with Brian and Dominic.  To me, they and their relationship were the heart of the movie, and that interest began to make me care about the film.

Not that the plot was terribly original.  It was fairly easy to spot the plot points coming at us at 180 miles per hour long before they got to us.  There was a sub-plot that worked its way into the main plot and yet felt like padding at the same time.

Of course, any time we got to a racing scene or action sequence, the movie really accelerated.  Oh, the animation of what was going on in the engine was corny, but the rest of the scenes were great.  Realistic?  No.  But so much fun to watch that I didn’t care.

I’m not faulting the actors; in fact, I had fun with the cast.  Ted Levine, who I best know from Monk, plays a cop here, and it was fun to see him in something else.  Meanwhile, I got a huge kick out of seeing Jordana Brewster playing Dominic’s sister.  I first met her as Riggs’s therapist on the TV version of Lethal Weapon, and I couldn’t help but wonder how that character would react to her character here.  I also got a kick out of seeing Michelle Rodriguez, although I didn’t care for her character here much more than I did her character on Lost.  There’s nothing in the overall acting that will blow you away, but it also won’t drive you out of the film.

In the end, my reaction to The Fast and the Furious was about what I expected it to be.  Yet, I am curious enough about the characters that I might just watch the sequel at some point if I find it on TV.

March 10th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Here we are.  We've made it to another Friday!  Of course, that means it is time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'll be teasing Say No More, the Agatha Award nominated book from Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Here's how the book starts:

"Did you see that silver Cadillac?  What he did?" Jane Ryland powered down the car window to get a better look.

Meanwhile, on page 56, we find this:

Now here were the police, asking to come in, and there was nothing she could do.

Intrigued?  Come back on Tuesday for my review.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Review: The Silence of the Flans by Laura Bradford (Emergency Dessert Squad #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fun concept, good plot
Cons: One sub-plot that redeems itself by the end.
The Bottom Line:
Poison in dessert
Threatens Winnie’s new business
In fun second book

I Will Not Be Silent About This Flan – I Mean Fun Book

When I started the Emergency Dessert Squad series last year, I fell in love with the concept behind it.  Winnie Johnson, the main character, has opened a mobile dessert business out of an antique ambulance she’s inherited.  I mean, how fun is that?  Couple it with punny dessert titles, and I couldn’t resist.  Winnie and her crew are back for a second mystery with The Silence of the Flans, and it is lots of fun.

As the book opens, it’s been six weeks since Winnie got her business off the ground, and things are really beginning to pick up.  Word of mouth is helping her gain clients, and she is having a lot of fun seeing the delight her rescues are giving those who get her desserts.

Things go horribly wrong when Winnie takes an order to deliver a Fade to Black-Berry Crisp to a senior at the nearby college.  She’s horrified when her client dies and people think that her dessert was poisoned.  The phone immediately stops ringing, and suddenly Winnie begins to wonder if her new business is doomed to failure.  The only way to save her reputation is to find the killer.  But can she do it?

I mentioned earlier being hooked on the concept of this series, and it is certainly true, but I also love these characters.  Winnie’s social circle includes a large number of senior citizens.  Her relationship with them and the dynamic that creates adds something special to this series, and I love them.  Of course, there are some characters closer to Winnie’s age that are great, and we have the strong suspects I’d expect to find in a book from author Laura Bradford.

The romantic sub-plot was borderline for me in this book.  With some authors, I’d find what happened here annoying, but Laura actually managed to make me appreciate what she was doing and how she grew some characters through it.

I can hear you asking, but what about the main mystery.  The pacing was great and the plot was strong.  A couple of times, I’d be a step or two ahead of Winnie, but then some twist would come along that I wasn’t expecting.  The solution at the end was completely logical, and I loved it.

Naturally, we get three delicious rescues – I mean recipes – at the end of the book.  I’m not going to spoil the fun of the titles, but I will say they sound delicious.  Sadly, there is no actual flan recipe, but that’s just being nitpicky.

Obviously, I love culinary cozies – I certainly read enough of them.  The delightful concept of this series is matched by wonderful characters and a great plot.  After you read the book, you’ll join me in singing the praises of The Silence of the Flans.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Thursday, March 16th, so please leave your comment before 12:01AM Pacific Time on 3/16.  You will have until midnight on 3/21 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 3/23.