Sunday, July 22, 2018

General Update

I realize I got back in the swing of reviewing and I never really updated you on the things going on in my life.

I’ve now had two check ins with my oncologist – one three months ago and one on Thursday.  Both times, I had scans first.  And both scans came back clean.  My blood work looks great as well.  Naturally, this is a huge relief.  It really is looking like they got all of the cancer with my surgery.  I haven’t had to have any radiation or chemo still, which is huge.

I can’t remember at this point if I talked about my job situation at all.  My company was bought out while I was out on medical leave, and everyone at the corporate office where I worked was let go, most of us the end of April.  While I have not yet found a new permanent job, I am working again as a temp.  It’s still in town, which is wonderful, and it is paying the bills.  I’m hoping I find something permanent soon, of course, but I worked a temp job for a year and a half at one point, so I can do it if I have to.

Other than that, I’m obviously keeping busy reading and watching and collecting.  I was able to participate in the mud runs I’d signed up for in June, and I had a blast doing both of them.  I did another one last weekend, and I’ve got one more scheduled for the end of August, and that looks like it for the year just because of scheduling.  I’m back to playing ultimate Frisbee as well.  Life is moving forward.

Praise the Lord!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

July 21st's Weekly TV Thoughts

Adding a new hours of TV this week with the return of Suits!

American Ninja Warrior – Was it just me, or did the doorknob obstacle not drop nearly as fast this time.  Seemed like a smoother drop, which is a good thing.  How awesome was SweetT?  Making it well beyond 5 obstacles.  But I feel so sorry for Grant.  Just barely getting eliminated for the second year in a row.

Suits – I’m happy.  I wasn’t sure how I would like this season without Rachel and Mike.  Yes, I miss them, but there is so much going on with the characters we already know (and the one new one) that I didn’t miss them too much.  Lots of good dialogue and character interaction and high stakes soap opera just like always.  I do hope this is a sign of a good season to come.

TKO – Wow!  That was a very fast winning time.  I watched it, and I still can’t believe it.  I was impressed with how few people got TKO’d.  After last week, I thought it would be the majority of people every week, but there really weren’t that many this go around.

Take Two – So fun to see Detective Ryan again, this time as a potential victim.  Once again, a great mystery full of twists.  I still don’t have a line on their formula yet, so I’m loving it.  Sad ending, however.  Believable, but so sad.  And the line about "on my show, we skipped to the scene of me walking up to the right location" was so fun.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania 3 - Summer Vacation

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun threequel
Cons: Still really aimed at kids
The Bottom Line:
Monsters on a cruise
Enjoyable story, laughs
Mostly for the kids

Monstrously Fun Vacation

While watching the Hotel Transylvania movies had always been on my radar, I was motivated to get them watched earlier this year when I saw that Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation was coming out this summer.  While the movies are just okay, I went ahead and saw the latest in the franchise in the theater this week.  While it still has its flaws, I think it is the best to date.

As the movie opens, Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) and his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) are trying to get another wedding in their hotel off the ground.  Through it, Dracula’s loneliness comes out.  However, Mavis misinterprets what is happening as a sign of stress from working too hard, so she plans a wonderful surprise for him – a vacation on a cruise ship.  While Dracula isn’t thrilled with the idea, he goes along with it because of the potential for family bonding time.

The entire gang is on the ship, but it isn’t too long before Dracula’s attention is captured by Captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn).  She may be human, but Dracula definitely has zinged.  Is there such a thing as two zings in a lifetime?  Unfortunately, there is a more sinister plot on the ship.  Will any of them survive?

My complaints with the first two movies have involved the very uneven pacing.  This movie actually does much better at it.  Yes, there is some set up, but it isn’t as drawn out as it has been in previous movies.  Likewise, when we hit the climax, the movie winds up pretty quickly without an overdrawn coda.

The plot itself is pretty predictable.  Even if the latest teaser hadn’t spoiled much of the plot, it would be pretty easy to figure out where everything is going.  Not that it is a bad thing by itself.

Watching the film, I still can’t help but think the franchise is aimed mostly at kids.  Again, there is nothing wrong with that, but it does mean I don’t find many of the jokes funny.  There were a few moments, especially the climax, that were hilarious and had the small audience I saw the film with (it was a weekday night) laughing loudly.  But the jokes still weren’t quite enough to distract us from knowing where the story is going.  And there is one scene that was actually much funnier in the previews than the cut version they gave us in the film.

The animation continues to be highly stylized.  That allows them to get away with even more unbelievable jokes since this clearly isn’t a realistic world.  The voice cast is still clearly having fun, and their enthusiasm comes through in the film.

Kids, especially those who enjoy the franchise, will want to see Hotel Transylvania 3.  If you are only a casual fan of the franchise, you’ll enjoy this one, too.  But there is nothing here that will change anyone’s mind about the films.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Book Review: That Touch of Ink by Diane Vallere (Mad for Mod Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery; well-developed characters
Cons: All hidden by a touch of ink
The Bottom Line:
Mysterious bill
Puts Madison in a maze
Delightful to read

More Than a Touch of Fun

As I’m desperately attempting to catch up on all the new series I’ve started in the last couple of years, I have returned to Dallas, Texas, the home of Madison Night.  She’s a Doris Day fan who has built a career as a designer specializing in Mid Century Modern designs with a side of mystery and mayhem.  Her second adventure, That Touch of Ink, is fun from start to finish.

It all starts when a five thousand dollar bill arrives in the mail.  These bills are extremely rare, having been all but taken out of circulation fifty years ago.  But Madison knows that it is a message from her ex-boyfriend, Brad.  Two years ago, the man had lied to her, and she hasn’t seen or talked to him sense.  Suddenly, he is popping back up in her life, whether she wants it or not.

Trying to find out more about the five thousand dollar bill, she contacts a local numismatist.  When she goes to meet him, she finds a dead body instead.  Only the police, in the form of Lt. Tex Allen, don’t believe the dead man is the man Madison was going to meet.  Who died?  Where’s the numismatist?  Why has Brad come back into her life?  What has he gotten Madison involved in?

This book is impossible to put down.  Seriously, the pace is that fast.  There is always something happening to move the story forward as Madison searches for answers.  In many ways this reads more like a teen sleuth story than a cozy murder mystery.  Yes, there is a murder.  Yes, it gets solved.  But Madison is more focused on the other strange things going on in her life, and there are plenty of strange things to keep her and us guessing and confused until the very end.

Brad’s return does provide another complication in Madison’s already complex love life.  Yes, the love triangle introduced in the first book is still in place here, and honestly, I’m not sure which of the guys I want her to end up with.

That’s because, like the rest of the cast, both Tex and Hudson are well developed characters.  This cast really is top notch.  But Madison truly shines, which only makes sense since she is the main character and our narrator.  Brad’s return forces her to work through some pretty deep stuff, and the growth she shows is great.  I’m very anxious to see where she goes as a result of this book as the series moves forward.

Doris Day fans will recognize the title of this book as a play on That Touch of Mink.  While the plot of this book is nothing like that romantic comedy, there are a couple of Easter eggs that are fun to spot.  However, if you have never seen that movie, you’ll be perfectly fine reading this book and not for one moment be lost.

I can’t recommend That Touch of Ink highly enough.  You’ll get lost in the story and be finished all too soon.  Fortunately, there are still several more books in the series to go.  Now, to make the time to read them.

Looking for more?  Here are the Mad for Mod Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

TV on DVD Review: The Good Place - Season 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots and lots of laughs
Cons: A couple of slower episodes at beginning and end
The Bottom Line:
Get ready to laugh
With afterlife comedy
Creative and fun

“I Call Them Opposite Tortures.”  “You Mean Presents?”  “Yes, That’s Better.”

Last summer, I got hooked on The Good Place, a comedy set in the afterlife.  I did my version of binge watching – watching one or two episodes a night – until I was ready for season two.  I loved it so much, I got some friends watching it as well, and we all watched season two, waiting to find out what would happen next and laughing along the way.

Before I go further, I have to issue a MAJOR SPOILER WARNING FOR SEASON ONE of the show.  There is no way to talk about this season without discussing a major twist from season one.  If you want to watch the show from the beginning unspoiled, just know I still recommend the show completely and go watch the first season.  If you’ve seen the first season or don’t care, we can move on.

This season picks up after the revelation that ended season one.  Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) have all had their memories wiped by Michael (Ted Danson) in his attempt to reset his torture experiment.  You see, despite what they’ve been told, these four dead humans are in the Bad Place, but instead of traditional torture, Michael is trying to prove that these four will torture each other for eternity better than the demons could normally torture them.  He’s really on edge because he is under orders from his boss that he can’t reset things again, and if they figure out the truth one more time, everything will be shut down, they will go about being tortured traditionally, and Michael will be dissolved.

With the stakes so high, our dearly departed human foursome finally try to gain an ally in hopes to get out of the Bad Place and get to the real Good Place.  Will they be able to keep the fact that they know the truth a secret?  Can they even escape?  Have they changed enough to make it to the Good Place?

Before we go any further, I need to make one thing perfectly clear.  I don’t agree with this show’s theology at all.  So, my endorsement of the show isn’t an endorsement of the theology.

But I absolutely endorse the show as a comedy show.  This show is hilarious!  All of the actors are given a chance to shine at some point in the season, and they all take full advantage of it.  The writers are geniuses at finding the comedy from the creative premise and milking it for all it is worth.

Because I didn’t find a way to work her into the teaser earlier, I will give a special shout out to D’Arcy Carden, who plays Janet, the robot afterlife assistant.  She is absolutely hilarious and spot on in the way she brings the character to life.  And yes, Janet is a complete character with her own complications and stories this season.

And again, the rest of the cast is absolutely wonderful.  While a character or two are on the annoying side, everyone gets their moments to shine and all produced genuine laughter from me over the course of the season.

I felt the first couple episodes of the first season were a tad slow as they were setting things up, and I felt that was true here as well.  The last couple of episode, likewise, transitioned to next season and were a tad slower on laughs.  Not to say they weren’t good episodes, but they weren’t to the level of the rest of the season.  But the majority of the episodes were filled with laughs and fun.  Not to mention some great cliffhangers that kept me coming back week after week.  We even finally learn how Tahani died, and it was worth the wait.

Being a comedy set in the afterlife, this show has something you don’t see often in TV comedies, lots of special effects.  And they are perfectly rendered, helping us believe the things we are laughing about.

One thing that is interesting about the show is that, while we are laughing, we are getting bits and pieces of philosophy and thoughts about good and evil and the true nature of both.  No, the show never forgets that it is a comedy, but for all the silliness on screen, there can be some surprisingly deep moments between the great gags.

Like the first season, this season consisted of only 13 episodes.  If the result is the strong comedy we get here, I’m perfectly find with the lower number of episodes.

I can’t see how The Good Place will run for a long time, but the writers seem to have a plan in place for each season, and I’m going to enjoy the ride for as long as I can.  Fans of the show will be happy to laugh along with season two.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. Everything is Great! (Two-episode season premier)
2. Dance Dance Resolution
3. Team Cockroach
4. Existential Crisis
5. The Trolley Problem
6. Janet and Michael
7. Derek
8. Leap to Faith
9. Best Self
10. Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent
11. The Burrito
12. Somewhere Else

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book Review: Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien (Noodle Shop Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mostly fun characters in entertaining mystery
Cons: Lana’s mother; pacing in middle
The Bottom Line:
Wrong dumpling order
Leads Lana to mystery
Fun series debut

Lana Finds Herself Delivering Death

In my quest to never catch up on my to be read mountain range, I decided I needed another new series to read.  Enter Death by Dumpling, set in a Chinese restaurant.  I just couldn’t pass it up, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Lana Lee is exactly where she didn’t want to be.  In her late mid-20’s, she’s working as a waitress at her parents’ Chinese restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House.  It’s just temporary until she gets her life back together – or at least that’s what she’s telling herself.

But, despite what she thinks, Lana hasn’t hit rock bottom yet.  After dropping off a lunch order for Mr. Feng, the owner of the Chinese village where Ho-Lee Noodle House is located, he dies from his sever shellfish allergy.  Yes, he was eating shellfish dumplings, however Lana thought she was delivering pork dumplings like always.  The police start asking questions of Peter, the restaurant’s cook.  Lana knows Peter couldn’t have done it, but things aren’t adding up.  Was Peter involved in the crime?  If not, who was?

This series is off to a good start.  We get to meet Lana and a fun cast of characters.  She and her best friend Megan make for a great team.  The other shop owners in the center make for intriguing suspects and potential series regulars.  I’m sure we will be getting to know some of them better as the series progresses.  Lana has some issues with her family that I hope we get to explore more in future books.  I really hope her mother gets better developed as the series goes along.  I felt she was the flattest of the characters here, but that can definitely change as the series progresses.

The plot started out well, with Mr. Feng dying before too many pages had gone by.  I did feel that things bogged down a little in the middle as Lana searched for anything that would help her figure out what had truly happened.  However, as we reached the final third of the book, things picked up again with some great twists and revelations before we reached the climax.

Unlike other culinary themed cozy novels, this one doesn’t have any recipes at the end.  But considering how long it has been since I did more than drool at the recipes included, that doesn’t make any difference to me.

Death by Dumpling is a promising debut that will leave you wanting more.  I may not need any new series to follow, but I’m very glad I picked this one up.  I’ll definitely be back for seconds.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Ornament Review: Bell Ringer Snoopy - Spotlight on Snoopy #21 - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great ornament that ties series into Christmas
Cons: Very slight tip
The Bottom Line:
Charity ringer
Snoopy, Woodstock helping out
In good ornament

Snoopy’s Ringing for Charity

Hallmark’s Spotlight on Snoopy ornament series rarely focuses on Christmas.  Yes, there are the exceptions, but most of the time, we get Snoopy involved in some career or hobby, many of them inspired by things he’s done in the Peanuts comic strip over the years.  We get a rare Christmas themed entry in Bell Ringer Snoopy, the newest addition to the series.

As the name says, Snoopy is taking a turn as a Salvation Army bell ringer.  At least it’s my assumption that he’s working for the Salvation Army.  We don’t see the collection bucket, but we do see Snoopy with a bell in his right hand.  He’s dressed like Santa, complete with a red hat and coat and a fake white beard.  Woodstock is doing his part as well.  No, he’s not ringing a bell.  He has a little tuba he’s blowing.  He’s dressed as an elf with a green hat and coat with red trim.

Since this ties directly to Christmas, this one is extra fun.  Plus, it looks great.  Snoopy and Woodstock are festive, and both are obviously in the middle of ringing the bell and blowing the trombone.

Snoopy and Woodstock are standing in just enough white snow to provide a nice base.  You can set this ornament out to be displayed if you’d like.  And you’ll find the 21 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom as well.  This series is getting to be one of Hallmark’s longer running series.

Or, you can choose to hang the ornament on your tree.  The ring is attached to Snoopy’s hat, and you’ll find that the ornament tips slightly to the right, but that should be easy enough to hide with tree branches.

It’s wonderful to see this series still coming up with great ideas for Snoopy and Woodstock.  Collectors will be mostly delighted with Bell Ringer Snoopy.

Don't miss the rest of the Spotlight on Snoopy series.

Original Price: $12.95

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Book Review: Encyclopedia Brown Carries On by Donald J. Sobol (Encyclopedia Brown #14)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 10 fun, short mysteries to solve
Cons: Characters are thin
The Bottom Line:
Ten more short cases
Match wits with boy detective
Proves to still be fun

Ten More Cases with the World’s Smartest Ten-Year-Old

I have often confessed that, even with all the mysteries I read, I usually can’t figure things out much before the detective does if at all.  That’s nothing new.  As a kid, I had a hard time matching wits with Encyclopedia Brown, and as an adult, it’s just more embarrassing that he’s smarter than I am.

If you’ve missed this middle grade series, Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown is a boy who remembers everything he’s ever read and is super observant.  So when he is presented with a puzzle, he is able to point out what is out of place.  Quite often that trips up the criminal or would be criminal.  Each book consists of ten short stories with the solutions at the end of the book.  The idea is that the reader can solve the case along with Encyclopedia and then see if they figured things out correctly.

The books always open with a case that Encyclopedia’s father, the police chief in their town of Idaville, needs help with.  In Encyclopedia Brown Carries On, he’s trying to figure out how to move a giant mousetrap that a would be criminal left outside town hall when no one would buy it from him.  The rest of the stories find Encyclopedia and his partner Sally helping his friends and neighbors.  They encounter Bugs Meany a few times when Bugs tries to rig a drawing and again when he tries to set Sally and Encyclopedia up with the police.  They also help a friend keep his business giving for golf balls to himself and save the Left-Handers Club from sabotage.

As a kid, I was usually happy if I solved two cases per book without needing the solution at the end.  I’m glad I say I was somewhere around six or seven (I didn’t actually count) in this book.  And no, that’s not because I remembered the stories before I picked up the book; it’s been so long since I last read this collection they were all essentially new stories to me.

Each story is only about five pages, not including the solution in the back.  Throw in an illustration, and it is obvious they really do fit the short story classification.  There isn’t time for major twists or surprises, but that’s okay because this is a different kind of mystery focused on trying to have the reader think through the solution themselves.  Plus, they’re fun.

Because the stories are so short, it also means that there isn’t much in the way of character development.  Many of the kids in the stories are only around for that one story, so we hardly see them.  Even the series regulars like Encyclopedia and Sally aren’t super well developed.  But I didn’t care as a kid, and it didn’t really bother me now.

The books are a little dated, complete with the nickname Encyclopedia.  Do today’s kids even know what that is?  Overall, the stories and solutions hold up pretty well.  They certainly entertained me all over again.

I had almost forgotten just how much fun Encyclopedia Brown could be until I picked up Encyclopedia Brown Carries On.  While some elements might be dated, I think today’s kids would still enjoy time with him.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2018

July 14th's Weekly TV Thoughts

One new show added this week.  And Suits returns next week!

American Ninja Warrior – Wow!  So many inspiring stories tonight.  Truly inspiring, not like some of the ones we often get.  I was most moved by the woman who used to be in the wheelchair just two years ago.  Wow!  (Although did I miss it?  Did her husband not run?)  And donating a kidney and running just a couple of months later.  Having gone through surgery myself this year, that blows me away.  Of course, he was in better shape than I was before my surgery.

TKO – I was intrigued by this show, so I decided to give it a shot.  I might find myself getting tired of it fairly quickly, but for now, I think it is fun.  I’m actually surprised anyone can make it through any of those stages.  I think I’d fall off without any “help” from the other contestants, so my hat is definitely off to those two who did pretty well.

Take Two – One thing I am loving about this show is how the episodes start with one thing and quickly jump to something else.  From a sex tape to drug smuggling is the perfect example.  We are slowly seeing more of the characters, although they seem the least important part of the show.  Still, I’m loving what we are seeing.  Quirky and fun yet again.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Book Review: The Death of an Ambitious Woman by Barbara Ross (Chief Ruth Murphy Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, interesting main characters
Cons: Supporting characters a little on the weak side
The Bottom Line:
This car crash was no
Accident.  Complicated
Case well worth reading

It Definitely Wasn’t an Accident

When I started reading Barbara Ross, I started with her Maine Clambake Mysteries, always intending to go back and some point and read The Death of an Ambitious Woman, her first mystery.  It’s taken longer than I intended, but I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would.

Unlike her series, this book is set in a small town in Massachusetts and focuses on interim Police Chief Ruth Murphy.  As the book opens, she’s been acting as the police chief for several months, and it is looking likely that she is about to officially get the promotion.

However, things in town are about to heat up with a car crash.  Tracey Kendall is discovered after she crashes into a wall along a road on the outskirts of town.  She was driving very fast, and the lack of skid marks make it obvious she didn’t try to stop at all.  Things get more interesting when the mechanic who serviced her car disappears.  The more Ruth and her detectives investigate, the more pressure she faces to drop the case.  Will pursuing the truth cost her the promotion?  What really happened?

I went into this book expecting an excellent mystery, and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.  There were plenty of complications both in the form of red herrings and in the form of local politics.  Yes, Ruth has made some enemies over the years, and those bad relationships also come into play as she searches for the truth.  Not that Ruth lets that stop her.  The climax is ultimately satisfying and wraps things up perfectly.

We get to know Ruth and a few members of her staff very well.  The key players in the mystery are also strong characters.  There are a number of smaller players that I must admit I had a hard time keeping straight, but when they show up again, we were given enough context to remember who they are and how they relate to the mystery.

The book does have a few four-letter words scattered throughout, and we get a few descriptions of violence that are slightly more detailed than you would find in a typical cozy.  Even though this is flirting with the edges of the cozy/traditional/soft boiled subgenres, I’m sure that most fans of Barbara’s work will still really enjoy it.

For now, this book is a standalone.  However, I think there are more stories to tell with Ruth, and if Barbara Ross ever did go back to the character, I’d definitely want to read more.

I’m glad to have finally reading The Death of an Ambitious Woman.  Any fan of well written mysteries will be glad to have picked up this excellent debut mystery.

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Review: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Heart pounding action
Cons: Slow start; lectures
The Bottom Line:
Dinos on attack
Slowed down by set up, lectures
Still enjoyable

Knowing What Is Coming Hurts, but Book Holds Up Remarkably Well

Way back when I first started listening to audio books, I grab whatever my library had available, which is how I wound up listening to a truly horribly abridgment of Jurassic Park.  But that was over 20 years ago, and I decided it was time to listen to the unabridged version.

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, this techno thriller from 1990 tells the story of a new amusement park that was being built on an island off the cost of Costa Rica.  It is a special park because the owner has cloned dinosaurs and the main attraction.  And the owner of the park has thought of every possible way to make sure the animals are kept away from the guests to the guests are kept safe.

Or have they?  When the owner, John Hammond, invites Drs. Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm, to visit the park and determine whether it is safe or not, they begin to find that everything is not as it appears.  And that’s before the unthinkable happens.  Will anyone be safe?

With five successful movies now coming out over the last 25 years, it’s hard to pretend we don’t know what is coming.  Yet that is exactly what you need to do when you read the book.  But even so, the book starts very slowly.  Yes, I would agree that time is needed to explain the science behind the science fiction here and to start to show how unsafe everything is.  Yet the first half of the book just drags while we sit and get these lectures.  Some scenes on the mainland early on do help build the intrigue.

And then the mayhem starts, and it becomes a heart pounding race through the park.  I was fortunate to listen to much of this in one day as I was driving to visit family because it is incredibly hard to stop once the danger starts.  Fans of the movies will recognize some scenes from this book that were included in the second and third movie since there just wasn’t time for all the death and mayhem presented here in one film.

Which is why fans of the movies will still enjoy the book.  Yes, names are the same, but personalities and relationships are different, including the ages of the kids.  You’ll recognize some scenes from the movie, but there are plenty of scenes and plot points that got cut for time.  This was a 15 hour audio book after all.  That also includes a climax that is much better than the movie’s climax, and characters who have different fates in the two versions of the story.

The characters are just barely deep enough to make us care about them and the outcome, but they could be deeper.  The dinos are the real star of the book, just as they are the movies.  It doesn’t help that the background of the characters is established via clunky flashbacks in the first half, when we are waiting for things to get going.  Still, I did like most of the characters, although the seven-year-old girl got on my last nerve by the end.  Probably realistic for the age, but she was so obnoxious.

The book went further than I would have liked in the gruesome department.  And yes, I know exactly what this book is, so this is a personal complaint.  Just keep it in mind before you pick the book up yourself.

There are some interesting themes and ideas presented with the book.  Even though I completely disagree with the evolutionary basis behind them, I still found stuff to chew on.  Unfortunately, these are presented more as lectures, although the lectures are backed up by what we are seeing as the story unfolds.

As I already mentioned, I got an unabridged audio version this time, narrated by Scott Brick.  I believe this is a relatively new production.  Whether it is or not, Scott did a great job of bringing the story to life.

Overall, I enjoyed revisiting the book that started a franchise.  Despite the flaws, Jurassic Park is just as entertaining now as it was when it was first released almost 30 years ago.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action, laughs, effects
Cons: All cons shrunk to microscopic size
The Bottom Line:
Size shifting heroes
Movie filled with laughs, action
A delight for all

Ant-Man is Back for another Epic Size-Shifting Adventure

Fans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe were quick to note the one hero that was missing from Avengers:Infinity War – Ant-Man.  I wasn’t that surprised since he had his own stand along moving coming out just two months later.  Ant-Man and the Wasp is set about the same time as the latest Avengers movie, and is a fun, wild ride.

It’s been two years since we last saw Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).  After getting captured following his adventure with Cap (as Captain America’s friends call him), Scott has spent the last two years under house arrest.  He’s three days away from getting his ankle bracelet removed, and he’s doing everything by the book to avoid violating the terms of his deal, which would get him sent to prison for 20 years.

One of those terms was avoiding any contact with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).  He’s been very good about that as well until a very vivid dream makes him think he might have had contact with Hope’s mother, who disappeared into the sub-atomic world decades ago.  Next thing he knows, he’s working with Hope and Hank to rescue Janet.  Unfortunately, they’ve attracted the attention of a mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who can phase in and out of existence as well as some thugs lead by Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins).  Will they be able to rescue Janet without the FBI catching Scott breaking his deal?  Or will these added complications make it impossible?

Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that you are in for a very fun ride.  I was laughing the entire way through the movie, as was the audience I saw the movie with.  There are fantastic lines and funny situations from start to finish.  I think I was smiling the entire time even when I wasn’t laughing.

And, of course, there is plenty of action.  As the title suggestion, Hope is in on the action as The Wasp, and that means double the size changing action as she and Scott work together to save the day.  Those looking for action won’t be disappointed either.

The special effects team must have had to work overtime on the film.  With all the size changes, there are so many effects shots it is mind boggling.  Yet each of them came out perfectly believable.

With all the action and laughs, there isn’t a lot of time for serious character development.  Yet when the story does slow down a little, the actors shine at those quieter moments.  They never miss a beat throughout the entire film.

As we’ve come to expect, there are two additional scenes, one near the beginning of the credits and one at the very end.  You MUST stay for the first scene, and that’s all I will say about it.  The second scene is fun, but not a must see.

I’m sure the events of this film will dovetail with the upcoming Avengers sequel in some way, although I’ve no idea how that will happen.  It just made me more anxious for next May to roll around so we can get the cliffhanger resolved.

Marvel has proved again that they know how to make an audience pleasing movie.  Ant-Man and the Wasp will leave audiences smiling as they await the next adventure with these characters.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Book Review: A Souffle of Suspicion by Daryl Wood Gerber (French Bistro Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery and cast
Cons: Mimi’s relationship with Tyson
The Bottom Line:
Crush Week, festival
Complicated by murder
Delicious puzzle

Crush Week, Sweets Fest, and Murder

Fans of Daryl Wood Gerber’s books (and the books she wrote as Avery Aames) know that she loves creating event for her mysteries.  So I wasn’t surprised to find that A Souffle of Suspicion, the second in her French Bistro mysteries, features a festival.

In this case, the festival is centered around sweets, a sure fire crowd pleaser.  However, Mimi Rousseau’s Bistro and Maison Rousseau are only providing the grounds.  This Sweet Treats festival is also timed for Crush Week, the time in the fall when the Napa Valley swells with tourists coming to watch the grape harvest.  Between the two, the hotel has no vacancies and the bistro is booked solid for both lunch and dinner.

Mimi is not responsible for the festival, that falls to Renee, the sister of Mimi’s head chef Camille.  However, Renee has ruffled a few feathers in her efforts to turn the festival company she just bought into a successful business.  Still, Mimi isn’t prepared to get a call from Camille that she’s just found Renee dead in Camille’s kitchen.  While it was clearly murder, the police are looking at Camille.  Can Mimi clear her?

Who doesn’t love sweets?  That alone helped pull me into the story.  Not that I needed much since we meet Renee and a few of the suspects early on and it isn’t too long before Renee dies.  I did feel the pace could have been better a time or two, but overall that was a minor complaint.  The climax was surprising and pointed out some clues I had completely missed when I was reading the book.

My bigger complaint comes from one particular relationship between the characters.  One of Mimi’s good friends is Tyson, the detective in charge of the case.  Now, I get the police not liking her help is solving things.  I am perfectly fine with warnings about staying out of police work.  However, I have a hard time buying that they are friends.  Most of their interactions feel more antagonistic than that.

That’s the only character or relationship I have an issue with, however.  The rest of the returning characters are charming, and I loved getting to spend time around them again.  The suspects were strong, and I really couldn’t figure out who was going to wind up the killer until Mimi figured it out.

Of course, we get plenty of recipes to go with the culinary theme.  They do focus on the French bistro theme of the series, although we do get a couple of treats as well.

A Souffle of Suspicion features a well done puzzle with characters we love and plenty of mouth water food.  What more could culinary cozy fans want?

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Ornament Review: Tea Time! #2 - Penguins - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun, creative tea set
Cons: Short, stout penguins bother me still
The Bottom Line:
Penguins serving tea
Festive set has grown on me
Certainly is fun

Tea for Penguin Lovers

I’m not sure I would have thought of penguins at Christmas time.  Yes, they live in the snow and cold (although Antarctica and not the North Pole), but they aren’t something you see regularly at Christmas.  Except with Hallmark.  They are doing well marketing penguins in their Christmas decorations, so I wasn’t too surprised to see them pop up for the second in the Tea Time! series.

This set of two ornaments features two penguins, an adult and a child.  The adult forms the tea pot itself, with one wing acting as the handle and one as the spout.  While it is mostly black and white with orange for feet, it sports a little blue and purple in the hat and scarf it is wearing.

The child is the cup.  It’s crouched down, and the top of its head is off so we can have the opening of the cup.  At least that’s what it looks like to me.  Again, the cup is mostly black, white, and orange, but this penguin is wearing a purple scarf that also is forming the handle of the cup.  The person drinking this tea likes it sweet since there are sugar cubes floating in the top.  Oh, given the chocolate brown of the liquid we can see inside, maybe this is hot chocolate.

I don’t typically think of penguins as short and fat, but that is exactly what we see here.  I know, I know, they are supposed to be a tea pot and tea cup; I get why they look the way they do.  But it still looks slightly wrong to me.  It doesn’t help that their cheeks are puffed up like they are holding their breath.

On the other hand, I really do like them; they are a fun addition to the Tea Time! series.  I could totally see someone wanting them as a fun seasonal tea set.  In fact, if this set were real, it would work great for the entire winter, not just Christmas.

Being a teapot and teacup, both stand up straight if you set them out to be displayed.  You’ll find the series marker on the bottom of both ornaments.

Unlike most Hallmark ornaments, these ornaments include the white ribbon you’d need to hang them on your tree.  When you do, you’ll find that they both hang straight.

Both pieces of the set are made from porcelain, so they are more fragile than many Hallmark ornaments, which are made from plastic.  You’ll want to keep this in mind when you display them so they don’t accidentally get broken.

This set has grown on me the more I looked at it.  While I’m still completely on board with the short, stout penguins, it makes a fun second Tea Time! set.

Original Price: $19.95

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Movie Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Loving look at a loving man
Cons: Seems the video could have been better at times; could have been better focused
The Bottom Line:
Mr. Rogers tribute
Wonderful document’ry
Nostalgia induced

Remembering the Best Neighbor

Like many, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  In fact, I watched it much longer than most probably did.  I usually blame my brother, who is seven years younger than I am, but let’s be honest – I still haven’t grown up, so I was very much enjoying watching the episodes.  With those fond memories in mind, I knew I had to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? as soon as I heard about it.

This movie is a documentary about the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, best known to most of us as Mr. Rogers, the creator of that seminal children’s TV show.  Through archival video and interviews with family, friends, cast, and crew, we get a look at the man who created such a huge part of American culture.

This is not a hit piece – not even remotely.  If you are looking for any dirt there might be on the man, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  But I’m perfectly okay with that.  We don’t need to know any and all secrets about a person, not that I think there are any with Mr. Rogers.  Everyone interviewed for the movie says he was exactly how he came across on the show, a kind, caring man.

The movie fills us in a bit on the history surrounding the show starting and even some moments where the show or Mr. Rogers himself made history.  However, it isn’t exactly a biography.  It is almost more of a character study instead.  The film does follow a lose timeline of the show, but it also seems to jump from one subject to another.  Honestly, I wish it had been a bit more focused.

Watching the documentary as an adult made me appreciate the show in an entire new way.  The show is so anti-everything on TV, even back then.  The actors are able to take moments that would be cheesy and make them work in powerful ways.  The show teaches with little if any lecturing.  And the songs!  The songs came back to me in just a few notes, and I felt like I had seriously been missing them.

The picture quality is uneven.  Naturally, that is to be expected with the age of some of the video they have for us, but I felt like some of it was done that way on purpose.  I wish they would have cleaned up what they could and left the archival footage grainy as it has become over the years.

I was a bit surprised to see a documentary on Mr. Rogers earning a PG-13 rating.  They come from a couple of stories one crew member told.  Again, don’t worry, they don’t reflect poorly on Mr. Rogers.  In fact, they show a fun sense of humor.  I’m torn because I did like them, but it seems like, given the subject, they could have been left out.  Then again, this probably isn’t a movie kids would enjoy anyway, so I’m most likely overthinking this.

Be prepared for a heavy dose of nostalgia as you watch.  I spent the afternoon after watching the movie thinking about some of my favorite moments from the show, like the film on making crayons or meeting the killer whale trainers or the “Bubbleland Opera.”  (Seriously, I loved that as a kid!)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a loving tribute to a man many of us still consider a neighbor.  And it leaves you with stuff to think about – how are you impacting those around you.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

July 7th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I'm a little surprised that there was no American Ninja Warrior on Monday.  But that means I just had one show to watch this week.

Take Two – Once again, the show was lots of fun, but I’m not sure I buy that ending.  The owner would really talk to the guy responsible instead of doing something to hurt him?  I’m really not sure I’m buying it.  Love the new office, and that commercial was pretty funny at the end, too.  I love how they are giving Sam something to help solve the case each week.  This really is reminding me of early Castle, which is a very good thing.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ornament Review: A Tasty Treat Repaint - Petite Penguins #1 Repaint - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute penguin
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Treat revisited
With some fun color changes
Must for collectors

This Tasty Treat Repaint is Just Grape

Hallmark loves making slightly different versions of their popular ornaments, especially if the ornament is part of a series, not that the collectors like me complain too loudly.  It’s how we got the 2017 repaint of A Tasty Treat, the first Petite Penguins ornament.

Like the original, this miniature ornament features a penguin holding a popsicle that is bigger than he is.  However, the popsicle has changed from red to purple.  Clearly, this penguin wanted a grape treat.  The scarf on his neck is a different color as well, a yellow-green and light blue strip this time around.  Of course, the penguin himself is still black and white, and the end of the popsicle is still covered in glitter to represent the ice frozen on the top.

I thought the original was cute, and I love this version just as much.  Maybe even a little bit more.  While purple isn’t a traditional Christmas color, somehow it makes this ornament stand out.  I just love that color choice.  But maybe that’s because I would have chosen purple as a kid over red because red was usually cherry, and I would prefer the purple grape flavor.

Either way, since this ornament is the exact same mold as the original just painted differently, it still stands on its own.  I know, it doesn’t look like it will since the popsicle is so big, and it’s not the most stable, but it will stand up as long as it isn’t somewhere you will bump it.  Likewise, the ornament tips slightly thanks to the oversized popsicle, but it actually looks straight at that angle.

What is most interesting is the series marker.  This is the only part of the ornament mold they changed.  Not only did they leave the series marker out, but they changed the copyright to reflect the original release year and the year of this repaint.

I want to mention again that this is a miniature ornament.  The entire thing is an inch tall.  As long as you expect that when you purchase him, you’ll be fine.

I have more ornaments than I know what to do with, but I couldn’t resist getting A Tasty Treat to add to my collection.  He’s just so cute.  If you are a fan of Hallmark’s penguin ornaments, you’ll love him, too.

You'll enjoy this ornament with the official entries in the Petite Penguins series.

Original Price: $7.95

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Italian Iced Winner

I know, I know.  I'm a couple of days late pulling the winner for Italian Iced.  But I finally did it tonight, and the winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail, so please get back to me as soon as possible so I can make sure you get your prize.

Book Review: One Fete in the Grave by Vickie Fee (Liv and Di in Dixie #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Enjoyable mystery, great cast of characters
Cons: Pacing a little uneven
The Bottom Line:
Fireworks on fourth
Perfect disguise for murder
Fun summer cozy

This Fourth of July Ends with the Bang of Murder

Typically, my quest to read books around the holiday when they are set is limited to Christmas.  However, when I realized that One Fete in the Grave started on the 4th of July, I had to make it an early summer read.

A killer used the annual fireworks display in Dixie, Tennessee, to cover murder.  As soon as the fireworks display has ended, the body of Bubba Rowland is discovered.  He’s a member of the town council who has plenty of people who dislike him thanks to his corruption.

Party planner Liv McKay was in charge of the festivities this year, but she isn’t planning to get involved in the investigation.  That is until Earl, her mother’s fiance, is accused of the murder.  True, Earl and Bubba had their disagreements, but he couldn’t have done it.  Unfortunately, the evidence does look pretty convincing.  Liv has her work cut out for her.

If you like books that start with a bang, you’ll like this one.  Okay, so maybe that bang is the fireworks, but Bubba’s body is found at the bottom of page two.  While we don’t meet the victim alive in the book, we still get to know what kind of person he was as Liv’s investigation unfolds.  Yes, at times she gets distracted by her business, something that slows down the plot, but there are still plenty of suspects, and the climax surprised me even though it was perfectly logical.

We’ve got a great cast of characters in this series, and they are all present.  Liv’s mother is a hoot, and I enjoyed a sub-plot she was involved in.  I still love Liv’s relationship with her husband, and Liv’s best friend Di has a large part in this book.  We don’t spend as much time getting to know the suspects, but they still come across as completely real.

If you are planning a party, there are some tips in the back to help you.  We even get a couple of completely appropriate recipes, although neither is for the chocolate cake I was drooling over in this book.

Whenever you party with this book, you’ll find it enjoyable.  One Fete in the Grave combines the lazy days of summer with a murder in an enjoyable way.

Party even more with the rest of the Liv and Di in Dixie Mysteries.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Movie Review: Incredibles 2

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and action with a family we love
Cons: Cons would make this movie less Incredible
The Bottom Line:
More action and laughs
As Incredibles return
Sequel well worth wait

Incredibly Fun Sequel

It’s been 14 years since we first met the family of superheroes known as The Incredibles.  Since that time, the superhero genre has exploded with the Marvel Cinematic Universe reaching new heights with each movie and plenty of superhero shows on TV.  Like others, I’m surprised it has taken so long for us to get this sequel, but I found Incredibles 2 well worth the wait.

This movie picks up moments after the last one ends.  And I do mean moments.  We actually get to watch as this family of superheroes takes on The Underminer, which means we don’t have to search for John Ratzenberger’s cameo.

Unfortunately, the fight doesn’t go well, and it means that the Incredibles aren’t changing any minds about bringing superheroes out of the shadows.  In fact, the family finds themselves staying in a hotel without any job prospects.

That is until Lucius Best, aka Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), passes on an offer he’s received.  It seems that a mystery man wants to help bring superheroes back into the light, and he thinks that Helen Parr, aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), is the best person to do that.  This means leaving Bob, aka Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), with kids Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huckleberry Milner), and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile).  Will Elastigirl succeed in her mission?  Can Bob handle the kids?

And we are off on another fun ride.  I must admit I was worried from the previews that this movie would make Bob out to be an idiot when it comes to dealing with the kids, but I felt the movie walked the fine line when it came to that plot.  What do I mean?  There were plenty of laughs with the issues the kids were having, but they weren’t all at Bob’s expense.  And he definitely tried hard, which helped a lot in my mind.

I will admit that the previews spoiled many but not all of the best laughs in the film.  But that didn’t seem to matter.  When we hit those scenes in the movie, the audience I was with laughed just as hard, and I was right there with them.  I must admit that Jack-Jack stole much of the show.  Overall, this is a great comedy.

What the previews didn’t spoil was the superhero storyline that Elastigirl is involved in.  Granted, the twists weren’t all that surprising, but it was still very well done.  And the villain, while pure evil, does provide us some things to think about.  Just maybe not quite to the extremes presented here.  We also get to meet a host of new superheroes with a range of powers, and I enjoyed them very much.

The voice cast is wonderful again.  They bring their characters to life perfectly and allow us to get lost in the story.  The animation is stylized like it was in the first movie, but perfectly captures the feel of this film.

Speaking of which, I once again loved the retro 50’s look of the film.  With modern references worked in, it allows the film to feel timeless.

There were warnings outside the theater and before the film started about flashes of light that might bother those with photosensitive epilepsy, so keep that in mind.  I was a bit surprised to find a couple characters used God’s name in vain as well, something we don’t usually see in animated movies.  Despite this being a superhero movie, I didn’t find the fight scenes that violent, especially compared to other superhero movies, so the crew did remember their audience when it came to those.

This is a sequel just as they should be – a chance to see what happens next to our favorite characters that is as much fun as the first one.  If you haven’t seen Incredibles 2 yet, fix that today.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Book Review: The Floating Light Bulb by John Gaspard (Eli Marks #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Plenty of page turning fun
Cons: Other things overwhelm mystery at times
The Bottom Line:
Myst’ry at the mall
Makes Eli learn a new act
Lots of magic fun

Eli Finds Himself Creating Magic and Stalking a Killer at the Mall of America

When it comes to magic in mysteries, you can’t go wrong with Eli Marks.  Of course, he has a distinct advantage since he is a magician by trade.  He finds himself in another situation where he needs to conjure up some clues in The Floating Light Bulb, the fifth book in the series.

As the book opens, Eli and his uncle Harry are attending a magic show inside the amusement park inside the Mall of America.  The magician, Billy Blume, is one of Harry’s former students, and he has asked the older magician for some pointers.  The show is rather lack luster, but it’s nothing compared to the big climax, when Billy fails to appear on cue.

The next day, Eli and Harry find out why Billy never appeared – he’d been shot.  Then, to Eli’s surprise, his ex-wife, Deidre, and her new husband, Homicide Inspector Fred Hutton, ask him to take the job as Billy’s replacement.  They just want him to observe what is going on and report anything to them.  He is not – repeat not – supposed to do any questioning or investigating on his own.  But will Eli find anything, or will learning the show keep him to distracted?

While magic has always played a part in these books, as it should, I felt the magic overwhelmed the mystery a bit.  Eli learning the act and rehearsing with his new co-workers does seem to take the focus from the mystery quite a bit of the time.  Yes, events related to the mystery are sprinkled throughout these scenes, so they aren’t all wasted, and we do get a great climax that resolves things.

And please don’t misunderstand, I had a blast reading this book.  The scenes involving magic were fantastic, and I found the story of Eli trying to learn all of this to be a lot of fun.  Equally fun was a sub-plot involving the Minneapolis Mystics, an unofficial group of older magicians that Harry belongs to.  They weren’t in the previous book, so I enjoyed getting to see them again this time.

It certainly helps that Eli is surrounded by a great cast of the characters.  Both returning and new are fantastic and really helped pull me into the story.

I really enjoyed my time with this book, and the pages flew by all to quickly.  The Floating Light Bulb gives Eli’s fans another magical adventure they will enjoy.

Need to catch up on this series?  Here are the Eli Marks Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.