Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ornament Review: Benny M. Merrymaker - Snowtop Lodge #13 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great details; fun
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Benny here to help
By decorating merry
Details will delight




Benny is Ready to Make You Merry

After spending so much time in 2016 back collecting the Snowtop Lodge series, I was quite anxious to see how the series would continue in 2017.  I was quite happy with Benny M. Merrymaker, which is a great thing since we got three different versions of him.

If you aren’t familiar with this series, each one takes a snow person and dresses them up to fit a certain theme – a theme that fits with their name.  In this case, Benny is going to help make you merry by helping to decorate.  He’s even got a wreath he’s ready to give you.  It’s actually a very nice holly wreath with some berries and other decorations in it.  Berry is dressed for the cold with a festive Santa hat on his head and a red and white striped scarf.  The body is painted with a scene that depicts some houses dressed in their Christmas finery.

The ornament is wonderful as always.  The detail on the wreath and the painting truly blows me away.  Benny’s smile is infectious.  This truly is a great addition to the series.

And it’s fortunate that I like Benny since we got two other versions of him.  There was a member’s only mini version, which is fun although not nearly as detailed.  And while the Table Top sized Snowman Santa only has echoes of Benny, it is easy to see his influence in that piece as well.  I should probably only count it as a half, so I really do like all two and a half of them.

Like his Snowtop brethren, Benny has a nice flat base, so he can easily sit out as part of a display.  You’ll also find the 13 in a Christmas tree series marker on his bottom.  If you are going to set him out, do remember that most of the ornament is made from porcelain, so be sure you set it in a place where it won’t get bumped and broken.

You’ll also want to keep that in mind if you hang him on your tree.  A sturdy branch will obviously work best.  Benny tips forward slightly, but hit makes him seem more eager to hand you the wreath.

The artwork and fun details make Benny M. Merrymaker another great entry in the Snowtop Lodge series.  If you are a fan, you’ll definitely be glad you added him to your collection.

Here are the rest of the Snowtop Lodge ornaments.

Original Price: $19.95

Monday, January 22, 2018

Movie Review: Past Malice - An Emma Fielding Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun main characters
Cons: One small niggle with the plot; cheese
The Bottom Line:
Vanishing antique
Draws Emma to a murder
Fun, light mystery

“I’m an Archaeologist.  It’s My Job to Dig Up Secrets.”

At first thought, I wouldn’t say that archeology would be a hot topic for murder, but Emma Fielding is proving me wrong.  While I haven’t read the books in the series, Past Malice is the second movie starring this archeologist.

Emma (Courtney Thorne-Smith) is being forced to take a vacation.  While she is disappointed since it means she can’t work on her latest discovery, her attitude changes when her friend Adelle (Sitara Hweitt) invites her to a dig.  Professor Thomas Webster has been working around an ancient house and has made some huge discoveries.  However, his biggest find is missing.

Naturally, Emma can’t resist a mystery like that, so she shows up at the castle only to find that things are even more complicated than she expected.  There is a local legend about a witch who, centuries ago, placed a curse on the family that owns the castle.  Her first meeting with Professor Webster doesn’t go well.  To say he is a jerk is putting it mildly, but then he starts talking about secrets he knows that ensure the family will keep him on.  Promising to tell Emma more later, he stalks off.

Only when Emma goes to meet him, Webster isn’t around.  Then she spies his body in a walled off room.  How did he get in there?  Who killed him?

You always know you are in for a good mystery when a victim isn’t well liked since it gives you plenty of suspects and motives.  That was the case here.  However, as the story progressed, I was surprised by what Emma uncovered on her way to the logical solution.  There was one aspect of the plot I thought could have been handled better, but it was minor overall.

We don’t have very many characters who return from the first movie here.  Obviously, there’s Emma.  Two of her grad students show up as well.  The biggest returning character is FBI agent Jim Connor (James Tupper), who comes in to help Emma figure things out.  They are a fun pair, and their chemistry is wonderful.  The rest of the movie is filled with suspects, who kept me guessing.

Of course, I do need to issue my standard Hallmark cheese warning.  This isn’t as bad as some of their movies are, but it does have its moments, both in the acting and the writing.  But if you know to expect that going in, you’ll be fine.

Almost as soon as we saw the castle where the majority of the action takes place, I recognized it.  It has always been used as the Luthor mansion in Smallville and as the Queen mansion in the early seasons of Arrow.  Just a fun bit of trivia.

Past Malice is a fun diversion.  The puzzle is compelling and the two main characters are great to spend time around.  If you are looking for a light mystery, this movie will certainly fit the bill.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

January 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Shows are back in full force, which means Tuesdays are super busy again.

This is Us (1/9) – That was intense.  The sessions are exactly why I don’t tend to buy into the idea that there is a genetic component to addiction.  They wanted to write off Kevin’s issues to Jack’s issues.  However, the issues that came out are definitely things my family has talked about on the show.  They didn’t try to make Kevin a fifth wheel, but he kind of was.  It just shouldn’t have come out like that.

Supergirl – I’m glad that Mon-El and his wife are off the sidelines, although I really didn’t expect her to survive the battle.  I mean, you know something is going to happen to her, especially now that we know the story.  But I’m wondering about the Reign story.  She’s so strong already.  How can they build this up for the rest of the season?

The Flash – Obviously, it’s the mystery reader in me coming out, but I keep wondering why no one brought this up at the trial – if Barry is such a great CSI, why would he commit murder in his own apartment and leave so much evidence convicting him around?  I mean, seriously, if that isn’t evidence he was framed, I don’t know what is.  I am very curious to see how they get him out of this, that is for sure.

Lethal Weapon – The comedy was spot on, and I always enjoy seeing more of the doctor, but I’m really getting tired of Riggs being so very dark and Murtaugh being so clueless with his family.  I knew these are the traits they’ve established for them, and I especially get it with what they are exploring with Riggs this season, but I’m missing the other dimensions to their characters.

Ellen’s Game of Games – It may have helped that I was only half watching this week, but the contestants didn’t seem as annoying this week.  I don’t think I would do well on the show at all since it plays into my phobias so much, but it’s amusing to watch for sure.

Black Lightning – Because I need another show, and another superhero show at that….  Seriously, I’ve been going back and forth on this show, so I decided to give it a try.  It was okay.  I feel like I’m not the right audience for it, which is fine.  It was also a pilot, but they had to get the exposition in there.  I’ll see what I think next week.  It could be good or it could be dark, and if it is too dark, I’m probably out.

This is Us – Randall’s story wasn’t the best this week, but I loved Kevin and Kate.  Kate becoming friends with the least likely person.  And Kevin finally accepting Miguel.  Granted, I’ve always like Miguel since it’s Esposito from Castle, but I hope we begin to see more thawing toward him in the present day.

Amazing Race – I had figured the basketball players weren’t long for the race all along.  It is very physically demanding, and teams like them don’t do well.  But they got an extra lease on life this week.  We’ll see how they fair next week.

The Librarians – I get why they had Cassandra back in the library.  She needed a lesser load after last week, and it helped sell the two sides switching sides at the end.  But I miss the entire team working together.  Very curious how they will resolve this division they’ve created.

The Big Bang Theory – Yes, the episode was supposed to be about Raj.  His storyline was rather predictable.  However, I found Sheldon and Leonard to be the highlight.  I don’t buy his reaction to Sheldon acting like a normal human being for a change, but it was downright hilarious, which is all that really matters for a sitcom, right?

The Good Place – I used to love this show.  That was until they dissed Ultimate Frisbee.  How dare they!!!  Okay, okay, so I laughed multiple times as always.  So many witty lines, so many fun moments.  And I really, truly love Michael and what they’ve done with him.

Arrow – While there was plenty of blame to go around on the Team Arrow break up, the newbies are definitely acting more childish at the moment.  Oliver did apologize.  Oliver!  He never does that.  Obviously, this team divided thing is going to make things very hard for everyone to defeat James.  I’m sure they will come together by the end of the season, but what drama are we going to go through first?

Friday, January 19, 2018

January 19th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Here we are again - time for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Class Reunions are Murder by Libby Klein




This book starts off with an intriguing line:

I was being bullied by stationery.

That's not something you read every day.

And I'm picking the very first sentence of page 56 as well.

"I'm here to discuss the situation of her aunt's declining mental state."

The book comes out January 30th, but I will have my review up this coming Thursday.  I hope you'll come back to read it.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Interview with Me

In lighter news, I'm over at Chicks on the Case today as the first book blogger in their new monthly feature.  I hope you'll stop by and take a look at what they asked and what I had to say.

Surgery Scheduled!

My surgery is back on the schedule.  I'm going in this coming Monday morning.  They still aren't completely sure what is going on with my liver, but they are pretty confident that it isn't cancer.  I plan to follow up with that after my surgery, and they will know more after the surgery on that anyway.  In the meantime, I'm excited to finally be moving forward and starting to treat it.

But just because I have the surgery next week doesn't mean the blog will be silent.  I've got three review for next week already drafted and one more I plan to write today.  So be sure to stop by and see what I am considering all next week.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ornament Review: Garland Giggles - Making Memories #10 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene of a Christmas tradition
Cons: This tradition doesn’t resonate as much with me as some others
The Bottom Line:
Stringing edibles
Gives time to laugh, smile, giggle
More cute memories




String Together More Memories for Your Tree

There are so many traditions to choose from for the Making Memories series, but not all of them touch everyone.  For example, my family only strung popcorn once or twice for the tree, although I do remember making some construction paper garlands.  While I may not connect with Garland Giggles on a memory level, I do still find it cute.

Each ornament in this series features a snow adult and a snow child engaged in some Christmas tradition, and this year they are stringing together popcorn and cranberries to hang on the tree.  The adult has the bowl of popcorn in front of them, and the child has the cranberries, but they are obviously both stringing both items.  Between them is a string with popcorn and cranberries already on it, with space for more.  While I’m surprised it doesn’t seem like either of them are snacking, they are looking at each other and obviously having a good time.  Another surprise is that there isn’t a pet this year.  Most ornaments in the series include a dog or a cat or both.

Pet absence aside, this is still a cute ornament.  The snow people are always adorable, and the moment between them is perfect.  Even if, like me, making edible garlands was never a big part of your Christmas, you’ll still like it.

The scene fits on a snowflake.  Or at least a snowflake is always used to provide a flat base.  I love that touch as it makes the series stand out.  You’ll also find the series marker, a 10 in a Christmas tree this year, on the bottom.

The hook is sticking out of the adult’s snow cap.  It looks slightly off center, but you need to take into account the fact that the adult is larger than the child.  That’s why the ornament doesn’t tip side to side.  It does tip slightly forward, but once you get it in the middle of tree branches, you’ll never notice.

Since I didn’t string garland each year, Garland Giggles may not be my favorite in the series, but I definitely still appreciate it.

Make more memories with the rest of the Making Memories series.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Book Review: The Linking Rings by John Gaspard (Eli Marks #4)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced mystery, fun characters, magic
Cons: Plot could be a little stronger, but a minor issue overall
The Bottom Line:
Magic in London
Ruined by a murderer
Fast paced and fun trip




A Gathering of Magicians Makes a Killer Appear

Whenever a series I love takes the characters on vacation, I must admit I get a little worried.  I read a series for the recurring characters, and often a book set outside the normal setting means that we won’t have the full cast.  That thought crossed my mind when I saw that The Linking Rings would take Eli Marks to London, but I quickly forgot about that as I got caught up in the plot.

Eli, his girlfriend Megan, and his uncle Harry are in London because Harry is being honored along with a group of magicians at The Magic Circle, one of the oldest magic clubs in the world.  While Harry is only there long enough for his show, Eli and Megan are planning to stay for a week and be tourists.

Harry is performing alongside Oskar Korhonen the first night of this celebration.  After the audience is warmed up and Harry and Oskar are introduced, the curtain opens to find Harry standing next to the chair Oskar is sitting in.  The catch?  Oskar is dead, stabbed in the back while sitting in the chair.

Naturally, the police are quick to zero in on Harry as a suspect, but Harry shares something truly sobering.  He and Oskar had spent some time back stage arguing about who was going to sit in the chair.  The question quickly becomes, who was the intended victim?

The book starts off very quickly, and I was soon caught up in the story.  Did I miss a couple of the regulars?  Yes, although the new characters did a good job of filling in for me.  As we’ve come to expect with the magicians in this series, they are an eccentric group and very entertaining as a result.  And Eli, Megan, and Harry are their normal charming selves.

The plot is fast paced, constantly moving from one event to another.  Like a good magician, it keeps us so distracted that we don’t quite notice that Eli is doing more reacting that actual investigating.  He does piece things together in the end, however.  Truly, I was entertained the entire way through, so it’s a minor complaint.

Part of the reason I was entertained was the humor.  Eli’s first-person observations are often very fun.  One of the couples we meet in this book is quite funny as well.  I laughed a time or two and grinned plenty of others.

Like many people, I find magic fascinating.  No, we don’t learn how to do any actual tricks here, but the hook certainly works well for me since I find the tidbits we do get fascinating.  And I love how it enables Eli’s mind to look at the puzzle differently from the sleuths in the books I normally read.

This series has grown on me, and I truly do enjoy my time with Eli.  The pages in The Linking Rings disappeared all too quickly.  You’ll be left hoping another book in the series appears soon.

Looking for more magic mysteries?  Here are the rest of the Eli Marks mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Movie Review: Last Scene Alive - An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good, twisty mystery
Cons: Couple regulars missing; usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Hollywood in town
Roe as film’s main character
Twists in mystery

“My Daughter?  Curious?  How Unusual.”

Cozy authors love to bring a movie production to town.  It gives them a great way of introducing a victim and suspects without killing off anyone else in town.  That’s exactly what Charlene Harris did in Last Scene Alive, and now that Hallmark has turned the book into a movie, we’ve got a movie about a murder on a movie set.

In this case, it is Aurora “Roe” Teagarden (Candice Cameron Bure) who has brought the film crew to town, at least in advertently.  Her former boyfriend, bestselling mystery author, Robin Daniels (Robin Dunne) has written a new mystery, and the main character is based on Roe.  He’s sold the film rights before the book even hits the show, and the film production has come to town to get an authentic setting.  Robin is in town as well, something that makes Roe’s current boyfriend, Martin Bartell (Yannick Bisson), very unhappy.

Celia Shaw (Courtney Richter) has been cast to star in the film, and she is thrilled to meet Roe.  She is going out of her way to capture the essence of the character, which is ironic since Roe seems to be the only person not head over heels at having the film crew in town.  Roe is getting pulled into the behind the scenes drama against her will as Robin keeps asking for her opinion on things.

Which is why Roe is on set the first day of filming.  However, before they get too far into the day’s schedule, Celia is found murdered in her trailer.  No one seemed too happy with her, but who wanted to kill her?

Okay, so another reason that authors probably use the Hollywood film crew backdrop for their story is that so many people find the behind the scenes of movies so fascinating.  I know I’m one of them, so I do love these set ups.  This is a good one as the suspects are strong, and the backstage drama is ripe with motives.

The movie takes full advantage of the suspects.  I was surprised multiple times as we worked our way to the climax, but by the time Roe figured it out, it all made perfect sense.

I was a bit disappointed to find that her two strongest sidekicks weren’t in the movie.  Sally was just out of town on business, but it sounds like John has been written out of the movies completely.  I’m not surprised based on his character’s arc in the last couple of movies, but I’m disappointed since I liked him.  A couple other regulars or usual background characters step up to fill the sidekick role, and I did enjoy getting to see them.

Of course, my usual Hallmark cheese applies.  The acting in these Hallmark movies is okay, but it’s not going to win any awards.  As long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.

The twists in the mystery make up for any disappointment I felt in the regular characters who were missing.  If you are a fan of these movies, you’ll definitely enjoy Last Scene Alive.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Five Years!

Sometime this month marks five years that I’ve had this blog.

I know, I know, most people can point to the date of their first post as their blogiversary.  Me, being me, had to be different.  When I started this blog, I had a backlog of reviews I wanted to post on it from another site, so I back dated some of those to earlier in January.  And those first few months were crazy as I copied those reviews over as quickly as my schedule and blogger would allow me.  Anyway, that’s why I don’t have an exact date.

But I did want to take some time this month to mention my blogiversary and thank you for reading.  Without readers, I’d just be over here talking to myself.  So thank you for coming here and seeing what I am rambling about each day and taking my topic swings into account.

Here’s to many more years.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Weekly TV Thoughts

I've had lots of family this week, so I haven't done as much TV watching as normal.  Ironically, the one show I haven't gotten watched yet is This is Us, one of the very few shows the entire family watches.

Lethal Weapon – Leo is always fun, and Leo teaming up with Trish was great.  The interesting twists about Riggs keep coming – his wife knew his father was in prison.  They keep turning Roger into a duffus, and I’m not really happy about that.

Ellen’s Game of Games – Back to annoying contestants.  They may be my biggest turn off to the show.  The first time we see the umbrella game, and the contestant gets the cash first thing.  And then goes on to win the entire thing.  That’s pretty impressive on her part.

The Amazing Race – I would have been okay with the race that did if it had been at the beginning.  To have that lead to your elimination was a bit harsh.  At the beginning, you still have some time to recover, there being a penalty if you don’t win, of course.  At least the Yale team wasn’t eliminated because of it, and I was okay with the Goat Yoga team being eliminated, so it’s not like a favorite team is gone because of it.

The Librarians – Cassandra did a good job of flying solo that episode.  They are really doing a lot of that kind of stuff this season, aren’t they?  That town seemed to nice.  I knew it was too good to last, but I loved the idea, too.  They did a good job of creating such an idyllic place.

The Big Bang Theory – Yes, the best scene of the night was Penny walking back in after helping Sheldon with string theory.  Amy and Leonard’s reactions were just priceless.  However, Sheldon’s phone calls with his mom were pretty funny as well.

The Good Place – This was just a way of saying goodbye to the place we’d come to know over the last season and two thirds.  It wasn’t the best episode overall, but it had it’s moments, most of them revolving around Michael.  The best moment was him getting the “Human Started Kit.”  That was very funny.

Friday, January 12, 2018

January 12th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

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

I'm reading way ahead right now, so I'm going to do a flashback and post teasers from Belly Up, the first book by Stuart Gibbs and the first in his FunJungle series.




Even though I was an adult when this book came out, this was the book that turned me into a Stuart Gibbs fan for life, and he still hasn't disappointed me.

I mean, how can you go wrong with a beginning like this one?

I'd just been busted for giving the chimpanzees water balloons when I first heard something was wrong at Hippo River.

I'm going to cheat a little and pick a teaser from the end of page 52.  That's because page 56 is mostly description and doesn't make for a good teaser.  But page 52 ends a chapter, and we get this.

"Yes, that's exactly what I want," said Martin.
"But that's-"
"A direct order.  Do it - or there will be consequences."

Want to see what I thought of this book?  Come take a look at my review.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Health Update

I didn't wind up having surgery yesterday.  When I had the CT scan last week, they found some spots on my liver they thought might be cancer.  I got that news last Friday.  Then, Monday, my oncologist called to say on further review of my CT scan, comparing it to CT scans from 2006, they found two of the spots were the same size and in the same location.  So they are now thinking they are something else entirely.

To make sure, they want me to have an MRI, which is scheduled for this afternoon.  Assuming this comes back confirming the new theory, they will reschedule my surgery.  It's hard waiting, but I am trying to trust God in all of this.  It isn't easy all the time, but I do know I am in His hands.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2017

It's that time of the year again - time for a list of the favorite books I read in 2017.  You'll see lots of new names (because I started reading them this year) and some familiar names as well.

As a reminder, these were not necessarily all published in 2017.  These are books I read for the first time in 2017.

I've broken them down into three different categories - Cozy/Traditional, Other Mysteries, and Middle Grade.  The links will take you to my full review, and books in all categories are listed in the order read.

Cozy/Traditional
I added the traditional tag because a few of these are darker than the image of a normal cozy.  They are still light on language, violence, and sex.

Nun Too Soon by Alice Loweecey
I really was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, but I shouldn't have been.  I met the author, and she is warm and funny, just like the characters in this book.  The banter was great, and the mystery was very solid.  The main character is a former nun turned PI, something that probably would never have been on the top of my list of characters, but I am so glad I gave this series a chance.

Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James
Those familiar with the series need no introduction.  And if you haven't started this delightful series, do so today.  Charlie, a librarian, and his cat, Diesel, are a delight, and the mysteries are so full of twists that the pages fly by all too quickly.

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
I've been a fan of Rhys Bowen for years, and she is no stranger to my favorite reads lists.  This is a more serious stand alone set in England during World War II.  This is one of those books that so pulls you into the story it always take a little while to reacclimate to the present day when you put the book down.  Well worth reading.

Ivy Get Your Gun by Cindy Brown
I read two of Ivy's adventures this year, and I loved them both.  This actress/PI in training is a delight, and the series mixes comedy with some serious themes and well developed characters with ease.

Counterfeit Conspiracies by Ritter Ames
Who doesn't love a good caper?  I quickly got caught up in the art caper filled with twists and turns and intriguing characters.  The book ended all too soon, but fortunately it's the first in a series.

Circle of Influence by Annette Dashofy
This book is definitely on the serious side of the traditional spectrum, but I didn't mind at all.  The characters pop off the page from the very beginning, and the personal nature of the mystery kept me completely hooked.

Cat About Town by Cate Conte
I've been a fan of the books that "Cate" writes under her own name, Liz Mugavero, for a while, so I wasn't surprised I liked this new series debut.  I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed it.  The setting and characters just make you want to settle in and stay.  I'm definitely looking forward to the second in the series.

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett
Brand new author is a book that is tons of fun.  The Hollywood setting didn't hurt, but the way this mystery unfolded was original, and the humor made it lots of fun.  This is an author to watch, and I'm looking forward to book two in the series.

Murder on the Toy Town Express by Barbara Early
The first in this series made my list last year, and the second book didn't disappoint.  Great characters, puns, good mystery, and vintage toys.  Seriously, what's not to love?

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson
Most of the time, Christmas set mysteries are light even by cozy standards.  This is a noticeable exception as the book has a very serious tone.  But that just makes you feel the events more as the mystery unravels.

A Perfect Manhattan Murder by Tracy Kiely
Ending this section on a light note.  Honestly, any of the books in this series could have been on my list since I read all three of them this year.  Created as an homage to The Thin Man movies, they are perfect whether you know those movies or not.  The banter had my laughing, and the mysteries kept me confused.  What else do you need?

Other Mysteries:
I have three authors I rotate on audio.  I'm years behind, so these are all older books.  But all three of them had books that blew me away this year, so I had to include them.

Blood Work by Michael Connelly
This is one of Michael Connelly's stand alones, but it perfectly captures what I love about his books.  When he is on, where you end up is no where near where you start, yet each step along the way makes the surprise ending perfectly logical.  I can't recommend this book highly enough.

The Last Detective by Robert Crais
I'm not as big a fan of Robert Crais' books as many people seem to be, but this book hooked me from the very beginning.  I listened to most of it while driving around one day, but when I got home, I was so upset because I just had to know what happened next.  Even the flashbacks worked here to hook me.

"I" is for Innocent by Sue Grafton
The news of Sue's death at the end of 2017 upset me because I've been loving these books.  She can create characters in just a few words, and she creates wonderful plots that twist all over the place.  This book surprised me several times along the way to the logical climax.  This book is a perfect example of why she is so beloved.

Middle Grade
There is nothing like a good middle grade novel to remind you why you fell in love with reading in the first place.  They are just fun and so creative.  I have several I've bought I haven't had time to read.  Some day, I will find time to read more of this genre in addition to everything else I read.

Secret Origins by James Riley
A series where the main characters jump into books?  I'm already sold.  But then add in the fact that each book plays with the expectations of different middle grade genres while still advancing the series story line, and you have a winner.  This book offers some surprises as our heroes leap into a comic book and super hero world.

Secret of the Skeleton Key by Penny Warner
I've long been a fan of Penny's books for adults, and I've had this book for several years.  No surprise that I enjoyed it as well.  The secret codes in the book are sure to add to the fun for kids.

Panda-Monium by Stuart Gibbs
I'm a die hard Stuart Gibbs fan, but the FunJungle series remains my favorite.  This book is no exception with a strong main mystery and sub-plot, laughs, and character development.

Nightfall by Shannon Messenger
Part of me was hesitant to pick up an 800 page book, but the rest had to know what would happen next after the cliffhanger from the last book.  I kept waiting for the book to slow down, but there was only a brief period, and we really needed it to catch our breath for the climax.  And yes, I'm now waiting anxiously for the next book in the series.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: The Forgotten Man by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #10)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, Elvis Cole
Cons: Needless flashback, Starkey
The Bottom Line:
A man from the past
Is he who he says he is?
Another strong case




Has The Forgotten Man Walked Back into Elvis Cole’s Life?

When the main character of a series has a mystery in his or her past, you know that will come into play at some point in the future.  That’s exactly what happens for PI Elvis Cole in The Forgotten Man.

You see, Elvis never knew his father.  His mother never told a sole who he was, in fact, feeding Elvis a story when he was a boy, but not enough information to track the man down.  However, a man who was shot in the alley of a Los Angeles used his dying breath to say he was Elvis’ father.  He even has some recent articles about the detective on him.  Could this man really be Elvis’ long lost father?  What lead him to the alley where he was shot?

Before we go any further, I do have to issue a warning.  This book spoils all the twists of the previous book in the series, The Last Detective.  Believe me, you don’t want to go into that book already knowing what happens, so read that book before you read this one.  Part of what plays out here, especially in Elvis’ personal life, plays off that book, so I certainly understand why the details are brought up here.

The recurring characters are a mixed bag in this book.  Obviously, we see a lot of Elvis since he remains our first-person narrator for much of the story.  However, Joe Pike, Elvis Cole’s partner, actually takes a back seat to Carol Starkey, a character first introduced in Demolition Angel.  I must admit I have never particularly liked the character, but I hate what author Robert Crais did to her here.  She needs a personality transplant stat!  Of course, part of that is that we are now back to the early books where every woman wants to throw themselves at Elvis.  The rest of the main characters in the book are introduced here, and they are well developed for their parts in the story.

The story itself is good.  We get a needless flashback to Elvis as a young teen.  It’s designed to help flesh out his character in relation to what is going on here, but instead it felt like it slowed things down.  We get bits and pieces from some other characters that take a while to feed into the main story, but my faith that these would eventually come into play was rewarded.  As always, the climax is suspenseful, and there are some good twists along the way.

As usual, I listened to the audio version of the book, this time narrated by James Daniels.  He does a great job of bring the story and characters to life without being overly dramatic.

Despite my complaints, The Forgotten Man is a solid PI novel.  If you’ve missed this entry in the series, be sure to pick it up today.

Looking for more good mysteries?  Check out the rest of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Mysteries.

Monday, January 8, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Fuller House - Season 2



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs
Cons: Audience at times
The Bottom Line:
Rejoin characters
For next chapter of laughter
Sure to entertain




“Why Do I Feel Like We Should Hug?”  “Because It’s Mandatory in This Family.”

No one will ever mistake Full House for amazing TV, so it is no surprise that this applies to its modern day spin off, Fuller House.  And yet, there is something so charming about it and so much fun.  And that continued with season 2.

After being scattered for the summer, everyone is returning home to resume their lives.  D.J. (Candice Cameron Bure) has finally made a decision between her two would be boyfriends, business partner Matt (John Brotherton) and high school sweetheart Steve (Scott Weinger).  However, before she can announce her decision, she is blindsided to find out they both have girlfriends.  Meanwhile, Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) finds love in the most unexpected place with her new boyfriend Jimmy (Adam Hagenbuch).  And Kimmy’s (Andrea Barber) soon to be ex-husband and current fiancĂ©, Fernando (Juan Pablo Di Pace), moves in after he gets kicked out of his apartment.

Not that love trials are reserved for just the adults.  Both Jackson (Michael Campion) and Ramona (Soni Nicole Bringas) struggle with their first crushes.  Heck, even eight-year-old Max (Elias Harger) finds love, when not busy working on his sustainable garden project for school.  And Tommy (Dashiell & Fox Messitt)?  He’s just trying to learn to walk.

This season takes place over the fall, so we get episodes dedicated to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.  Over the course of the season, D.J. celebrates her 39th birthday.  We get multiple blasts from the past (with one recast) when D.J. and Kimmy go to their 20th high school reunion, Stephanie writes a song that could help launch her music career, and Ramona gets the chance of a lifetime with a dance audition for a famous instructor.

There are multiple storylines in each episode, and since this is a Netflix show, we get a full 30 minutes of show in each episode.  (Okay, so some are a little under, but some are over, so I’m counting the average.)  That allows us plenty of time for all the stories to play out.

And that also allows time for the laughs.  Yes, I laughed multiple times over the course of these thirteen episodes, sometimes even when I saw the joke coming.  It’s just a thoroughly entertaining show.  It’s not trying to be super sophisticated, but to entertain, and it completely satisfies on that level.

The acting here isn’t of a caliber that is going to win any awards, but that’s okay, too.  The cast inhabit their characters perfect and make the jokes work.  A perfect example of this comes from the Halloween episode.  Kimmy and Fernando dress up as Ricky and Lucy Ricardo.  Yes, they are pale imitations of the originals, but the homage is sure to get laughs from fans of the original.

I think what makes this show work the most is that everyone is obviously having fun, and the fun the cast is having infuses the work.

We do get to see the “legacy” cast a few times as well, and I love seeing what Joey (Dave Coulier), Danny (Bob Saget), Uncle Jesse (John Stamos), and Aunt Becky (Lori Loughlin) are all up to.  Heck, we even get to meet Joey’s family.

About the only annoying thing is the studio audience.  They could tone it down a tad, especially the “oohs” when a couple kisses, and if you couldn’t guess from the plot teasers I did, there is a lot of kissing this season.

Like the previous season, there are some definite adult references and moments.  This isn’t the squeaky clean Full House from the 80’s and 90’s.  However, I have a feeling most of those jokes will go over the heads of kids, and it certainly isn’t as bad as most shows on TV these days.

Season two consisted of thirteen episodes, and all of them are in this two-disc set.  The show is presented in its native wide screen and full surround.  There are no extras, but fans of the show will definitely enjoy having them in their collection.

I’m certainly one of those fans.  I laughed hard at all the episodes of season 2 of Fuller House.  It’s designed for fun, and that’s exactly what you get when you watch this show.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. Welcome Back
2. Mom Interference
3. Ramona’s Not-So-Epic First Kiss
4. The Curse of Tanner Manor
5. Doggy Daddy
6. A Fuller Thanksgiving
7. Girl Talk
8. A Tangled Web
9. Glazed & Confused
10. New Kids in the House
11. D.J. and Kimmy’s High School Reunion
12. Nutcrackers
13. Happy New Year, Baby

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Dial M for Mousse Winner

I have pulled the winner for Dial M for Mousse.  And that winner is...

... Cathy Lee Clark

Cathy, I sent you an e-mail on Saturday, so please respond to that so I can connect you with your prize.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

January 6th's Weekly TV Thoughts

And we are back from the Christmas break.  Okay, so it's still only a handful of shows, but it's more than last week.  Not too much more next week, but the week after that, watch out because my superhero shows are back.

Lethal Weapon – Wow!  Riggs’ father is a piece of work.  And does he really have that kind of power to reach to LA from a Texas jail?  Heck, how is he still alive?  They way this started out, I was expecting a funny episode, but it wound up being very serious.  And I knew the secret service agent wasn’t going to walk away from the episode and head into the sunset.  Too clichĂ© for him not to, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to do that.

Ellen’s Game of Games – The contestants are a bit much.  But I find the games so much fun.  I was thrilled with the winner of the first hour.  There’s was something so nice about both of them.  Blindfolded Musical Chairs was a riot for sure.  The second hour didn’t have nearly the annoying contestants and was a lot of fun.  The guys sure were stupid on the Know or Go part, although I could see how they would come up with the wrong answers.  I probably would to in those circumstances.

The Amazing Race – I am already tired of the Big Brother team, and they came in near the top.  I’m hoping that’s a fluke and they go soon.  It’s hard to know much about the other teams yet, although I suspect the Basketball players won’t be around too long either.

Big Bang Theory – When I heard the premise of this episode, I hoped it would be funny, and it certainly lived up to my expectations.  I feel sorry for Stewart, although I’m not surprised by the outcome.  I think what surprised me most was Penny realizing that Amy is her best friend.  And at least we got to see Bernadette even if only briefly.  I wonder if that means Melissa has had her baby.

The Good Place – I did not expect that beginning!  When they left us with that cliffhanger, I didn’t expect it to be good news for Michael.  I didn’t pick up on any of the clues, but I figured Michael was up to something all along.  I’m very curious where they will go from here since they still have several episodes this season.

Friday, January 5, 2018

January 5th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's the first Friday of 2018.  Must be time to celebrate with Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm highlighting The Linking Rings by John Gaspard.




This is the fourth in his Eli Marks series with features a magician as the detective.  And this book takes the core trio to London, as you can tell from the opening.

There were many attractions I had hoped to see on my first visit to London.  The inner workings of the city's jail system had not been one of them.
Especially on day one.

Since I read an electronic ARC, here's from 56% into the book.

"Well, that was a complete waste of my time, and theirs," Harry said, not for the first time in the past few minutes.

The book actually comes out on the 16th, and I will have a review up that day.  How do I know?  It's already scheduled.  I do hope you'll come back.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Movie Review: Jumanji - Welcome to the Jungle



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs; Jack Black
Cons: A little bit of content; predictable
The Bottom Line:
Jumanji is back
In hilarious movie
Laugh, smile, and enjoy




“I Really Hate Those Drums!”

I’ve been a fan of the original Jumanji since I was in in the theater over 20 years ago.  (At some point, I really should review it.)  So when I saw the previews for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, I started getting excited because it looked like it was going to be a lot of fun.

After a brief prologue in 1996, we meet four teens in the present day.  They are your stereotypical teens, the nerd (Alex Wolff), the jock (Ser’Darius Blain), the self-absorbed popular girl (Madison Iseman), and the brainiac (Morgan Turner).  Over the course of one day, they all manage to land themselves in detention.  And hiding in the room they are sent to for detention is an old video game system with one game – Jumanji.  Not knowing any better, they pick characters from the game and start to play only to get sucked into the game.

And that’s where things start to get weird.  They are in the game as the characters they chose before getting sucked into the game, and their characters couldn’t be any more different from their true personalities.  So now, they need to embrace their new personalities and complete a quest to save the land of Jumanji from the evil Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale).  Can they do it before they run out of lives?

The original movie took the premise of a jungle slowly taking over a town fairly seriously, going for adventure and drama with some comedy.  This movie goes for full blown comedy, and it succeeds.  How can it not with the premise?  After all, you’ve got Dwayne Johnson playing a nerd and Jack Black playing a teen girl with Kevin Hart as the former jock and Karen Gillan as the brainiac.  It is absolutely hilarious.

And praise for that goes to the actors.  I’m not normally a fan of Jack Black, but he completely makes the movie and nails his character.  He got the most laughs from me.  This isn’t a slight on the rest of the cast who also nail their characters.  Honestly, without actors willing to embrace their roles, this movie would have bombed, but instead it succeeds.  I laughed so hard multiple times throughout the film.

Now let’s be honest, this isn’t the most original movie story wise.  You know the plot, and you know the character arcs before you start watching it.  And yet, you won’t care.  It truly is that much fun.

The movie definitely earns its PG-13 rating based on a healthy sprinkling of “S” words and a couple of scenes involving Jack Black’s character learning about male anatomy.  Honestly, I think the film would have been just as strong without them, and it could have easily earned a PG rating as a result of cutting that stuff.

You don’t need to have seen the original Jumanji movie to understand anything here.  We get a couple of nods to the first film, but nothing that is important to the plot.

If you are looking to escape your life for a couple of hours, then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the perfect movie for you.  It’s tons of fun that is guaranteed to leave you smiling.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Life Update

If you were paying attention on Monday, you noticed that I cut back on my reading challenge goals for the year.  Not in the number of them I signed up for, but the level I signed up to read.  Unfortunately, there is a reason for that.

On December 15th, I was diagnosed with colon cancer.  There are still a lot of unknowns at the moment.  Tomorrow, I'm going in for two CT scans to see if it has spread beyond my colon.  On January 10th, I am going in for surgery.  After the surgery, we will have more concrete answers  as to what treatment will look like after that.

What does it mean for the blog?  I am not shutting it down.  However, posting will most likely be slower than normal over the next few months.  It also means that I am not accepting review requests for the time being.  I will complete those I have already agreed to, and I am concentrating on those books right now, so my book reviews in general will be down over the next few weeks as I start reading books way ahead of schedule.

I will keep you updated as I learn more myself.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Review: Dial M for Mousse by Laura Bradford (Emergency Dessert Squad Mystery #3)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong series regulars, lots of fun
Cons: Weak suspects
The Bottom Line:
More dessert rescues
Lead to another body
In fun third novel




Delivery for a Dead Retreat Owner

We are now on the third book in the Emergency Dessert Squad series, and I’m still completely hooked on the concept.  In the first book, Winnie Johnson was left an antique ambulance in an elderly friend’s will.  With a little ingenuity, she turned it into the selling point of her new business that delivers desserts to pick up someone’s spirits.  It’s such a fun concept, and the fun continues with Dial M for Mousse.

As this book opens, Winnie has just gotten a job delivering five different desserts to the people currently staying at the new retreat center outside of town.  These are creative people, including a poet, a magician, and a puppeteer among others.  She has a weekend to come up with the desserts, so she has some fun brainstorming the desserts and names with her friends.

The delivery is set for late morning on Monday when the guests are going to be in a meeting.  After leaving the desserts in their cabins, she pokes her head into the center’s main building only to find that the owners has just fallen down dead.  Only as she replays the scene later in her mind, she begins to suspect things were not as they first appeared.  Can she figure out what really happened?

One of the things I love about this series are the dessert titles.  Take the two we get at the back of the book – Your Jokes Make Me Snicker (Doodle) Cookies, and Now You See ‘Em, Now You Don-Uts.  I love a good pun, and these are fantastic.

That sense of fun carries over to the suspects in this book.  They are unique and add some humor to things.  Unfortunately, I don’t feel we spend enough time getting to know them, but that’s because the mystery is a little weak overall.  Don’t get me wrong, we do get some twists and surprises, as Winnie does her best to figure out what really happened that Monday morning.

However, the series regulars more than carry the book.  We have several good sub-plots with them, and I truly do care about these characters so I was pulled into those scenes.  I was glad with how several things turned out, in fact.

Dial M for Mousse truly is a lot of fun, which is no surprise to anyone who is a fan of this series.  And if that is you, but sure to pick up this book today.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Giveaway!

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 Friday evening January 5th (please note the earlier deadline), so please leave your comment before noon Pacific Time on 1/5.  You will have until midnight on 1/8 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 1/9.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reading Challenge: New Release Challenge 2018

Of course I'm back for the New Release Challenge for 2018.  There are so many books coming out this year I can't wait to read!  (un)Conventional Bookviews is our host for this fun challenge again this year.

This is one challenge where I am not cutting back on my level.  I'm going to stick with the New Release Pro level, which is 31-60 books.  That's a wide range, so I think I can land somewhere in that range.

I'll list the books below as I finish them.

1. Dial M for Mousse by Laura Bradford

Reading Challenge: Mount TBR and Beat the Backlist 2018

With all the books I already own that I haven't read, of course I'm back for Mount TBR in 2018.  I'm joining in the similarly themed Beat the Backlist this year as well.  The only difference between the two?  Mount TBR requires that you own the book as of December 31, 2017.  For Beat the Backlist, anything goes as long as it was published in 2017 or earlier - books bought this year, library books, etc.

Beat the Backlist allows you to set your own goal, so I will be using the same one for both.  That goal is 12 books, the Pikes Peak level of Mount TBR.  Yes, I'm going back to the lowest level again this year, but I'm trying to cut back on all my reading challenges this year.

For Beat the Backlist, I am on the Book Bards team!

I'll list the books below as I finish them.

Reading Challenge: Audiobook Challenge 2018

I'm still very much in love with audiobooks, so of course, I have to sign up for the Audiobook challenge again in 2018.  Once again, it is being hosted by Hot Listens and Caffeinated Reviewer.

Since I'm cutting back on everything this year, this is going to be no exception.  I'm going for Weekend Warrior, which is 5-10 audiobooks.

I'll list them below as I review them.

Reading Challenge: Foodie Reads 2018

Yes, I'm back for Foodie Reads in 2018.  Was there any real doubt?  Based on a True Story is hosting again, but it is less of a challenge this year, and more of a collection of foodie read links.  In other words, anyone can join or just post their links as they want even without joining.  Since I'm trying to cut back on my reading challenge levels this year, that fits me perfectly.

I'll still list the foodie reads (culinary cozies) I read here as I read them.

1. Dial M for Mousse by Laura Bradford

Reading Challenge: Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge 2018

Once again, I plan to join Books, Movies, and Reviews, Oh My! in the Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.  Yes, most of these books will qualify for the cozy mystery reading challenges, but I like to join since I do read some non-cozies as well.

This year, I'm going to go for the Inspector level, which is cutting back for me.  That is 26-35 books.

I'll list the books below as I finish them.

1. Dial M for Mousse by Laura Bradford

Reading Challenge: Cruisin' Through the Cozies and Craving for Cozies 2018

I have no plans to change my reading genres this year, so of course, I'm signing up for Cruisin' Through the Cozies and Craving for Cozies again in 2018.  I am scaling back my goals.  I might wind up beating them, but I can always increase my goals, right?

This year, Cruisin' is giving us the option of picking books in categories or just reading what we want.  I'm going the no category route.  I'm going for level 3, which means I will read 30 cozies of my choosing this year.

I'm sure it is no surprise that I am going for the Famished level in Craving as a result since that means I will read 11-30 cozies this year.

I'll be updating this post with the titles as I read them.

1. Dial M for Mousse by Laura Bradford