Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Movie Review: Silent Witness - A Ruby Herring Mystery

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong main characters and mystery
Cons: Stronger than usual dose of cheese
The Bottom Line:
A murdered baker
Puts Ruby on the crime beat
Cheesy but still fun

“Who Knew Bakers Could Be So Bitter?”

Hallmark's Christmas movies have proved to be very popular every year, and they seem determined to increase their mystery movie output to match.  They are starting at least four new franchises this year, which new movies in their popular franchises also planned.  And these new movies officially started with Silent Witness, the first Ruby Herring Mystery.

Ruby Herring (Taylor Cole) is a consumer investigative reporter for a local news station in Seattle.  However, as this movie is starting, she is taking some vacation time so she can be the maid of honor in her sister Charlotte's (Alyson Walker) wedding.  The wedding is taking place at a resort just outside of town, and baker Sugar Albert (Stelina Rusich), a family friend, is going to bake the wedding cake.

However, when Ruby and Charlotte go for a hike their first morning at the resort, they find Sugar's dead body.  The officer at the scene is quick to rule it an accident, but Ruby is suspicious, as is Detective Jake Killian (Stephen Huszar).  When her station asks her to poke around since she is already on the scene, she can't resist.  But will she uncover anything to prove it was murder?

The mystery here was quite good.  I wasn't sure who did it until Ruby figured things out at the end.  There were enough suspects and clues to keep us engaged and confused the entire way through.

However, this movie had a bigger than normal dose of Hallmark cheese.  Yes, the acting was hampered by it at times, but the writing was to blame for much of it.  I was cringing at some of the lines the actors were given to say.  Fortunately, that awkward dialog started to go away as the plot got going, although it did pop up again a time or two.  But then again, this is a Hallmark movie, so it isn't too surprising, right?  And it was certainly still worth watching.

I really did like the core characters in this movie.  Ruby and her family obviously love each other, and that is so nice to see.  Okay, so it also contributed to a bit of the cheese, but overall, I liked it.  Jake is obviously a potential love interest, and I enjoyed watching him spar with Ruby.

As long as you are prepared for the cheese, you'll enjoy Silent Witness.  The Ruby Herring Mysteries are off to a promising start.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Book Review: Not a Creature was Stirring by Christina Freeburn (Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great plot and characters
Cons: Some niggles, but not enough to make me a complete Scrooge
The Bottom Line:
Christmas crafting, death
Holiday infused story
In charming debut

Who was Enough of a Scrooge to Leave the Dead Body in Merry's Motorhome?

If my goal this year was to not start any new series until I'd caught up on a few of my series in progress, I'm failing.  Here we are in the second half of January, and this is my second new series by a new to me author.  But honestly, how could I pass up the Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mysteries?  Someone as obsessed with Christmas as I am?  And so I dove into the first book, Not a Creature was Stirring.

One of Merry Winters's favorite weekends each year is the Christmas Holiday Bazaar, held the weekend before Thanksgiving.  As a crafter and Christmas lover, she enjoys getting to sell her merchandise to others who are also ready to get into the Christmas spirit.  This weekend, she is extra excited because she's just bought a new RV from her ex-step-daughter.  She's hoping that this will allow her more flexibility, and she's planning to turn part of it into a mobile crafting studio.  This is a great chance to try it out.

While she's unloading, she discovers the body of her ex-husband hidden in a storage compartment of the RV.  Now, her dream is turning into a nightmare since the police are sure she killed the man.  True, she didn't like Samuel, but they hadn't been married long enough to truly hate him that much, right?  But the biggest question is, how did his dead body get into the RV?

If you love Christmas, you really do need to read this book.  Christmas oozes from every page.  Whether it's talk of Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, Christmas crafts, or comparing people to characters from Christmas stories, you can't help but get into the Christmas spirit.  Normally, this is a book I would save for reading in December, but I didn't want to do that with a book that was being released in January, and honestly, it was fun to have something that helped me hold on to the Christmas spirit just a little bit longer.

And yes, the book does have a strong mystery.  It starts out quickly, and it kept me engaged and guessing the entire time.  Yes, I did figure a couple of things out earlier than Merry did, but how they fit into the bigger picture was still unclear to me before Merry pieced them together.

Unfortunately, I did feel like the book needed one more polish before it was completely done.  While the climax made sense, I felt like a few things could use have been ironed out a bit more.  Additionally, it felt like Merry was too invested in her ex-husband's family for the amount of time they'd been married.  A few other things seemed to need a polish to be more consistent.  I was reading an ARC, so hopefully they were ironed out before the final version was released.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, and much of that was the characters.  Naturally, I really liked Merry and her love of Christmas, but her relationship with her family was really special.  Her business partner in the Merry & Bright Crafting business, Bright, is a hoot.  I would have loved to see more of her in the book.  There are a variety of suspects to keep us guessing, and they were all fleshed out with clear motives.

And I mentioned the twists, right?  Because the plot really did keep me engaged as well.

There is much to enjoy in Not a Creature was Stirring.  If you love Christmas, this book will put you in the holiday spirit no matter what time of year you read it.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I'm reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  Please go here to find the rest of the stops.

And please use the Rafflecopter below to enter a tour-wide giveaway.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Ornament Review: Merry Mickey - Disney Christmas Carolers - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun musical ornament
Cons: Price
The Bottom Line:
Mickey rings bell, sings
Part of interactive set
Merry, bright, and fun

Mickey Makes a Merry Start to Disney's Christmas Carolers

Hallmark introduced a new Power Cord in 2017 that allows ornaments to interact in fun new ways.  They immediately started creating ornaments for it from several of their licensed properties in an attempt to get people to try it out.  It certainly worked for me, which is why I bought all three of the Disney Christmas Carolers ornaments in 2018.  Merry Mickey gets things off to a great start.

These ornaments feature the Fab Three out caroling for our enjoyment.  This one features Mickey, who is the only caroler holding an instrument of any kind – a bell.  They are out caroling, after all.  Mickey is standing under a street light.  He's dressed in a blue jacket and a yellow scarf to help keep him warm, and he's holding a green book with carols in it.

Each ornament in the trio starts a different carol.  When you push the button on Mickey, he leads the others in singing "Jingle Bells."  No surprise since he's holding a bell, right?  The performance lasts about 40 seconds.  Meanwhile, the light above Mickey continues to glow when he is singing and Mickey's arm moves when he rings his bell.

Again, this ornament only produces this show if it is plugged into Hallmark's Power Cord, which is sold separately.  You can buy just Mickey and enjoy the show without the other two, but it is more fun when you have all three of them.

But here's something I confirmed this year - you don't need to have the ornaments plugged into the same Power Cord for them to work.  I'm not sure how far apart they can but, but I plugged my trio into two different cords on my two trees, which are just on opposite sides of my sliding glass door, and they worked just fine.

The ornament has a nice, flat, round base, so you can easily set it out to be displayed if you want.  Or you hang it from your tree, and you'll find that it hangs straight.

These ornaments are expensive, but they are fun.  Factor that in when you decide if you want to buy them.  But if you are willing to spend the money, you'll enjoy Merry Mickey.

Original Price: $34.99

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Book Review: The Missing Chums by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun adventure
Cons: Thin characters; dated elements
The Bottom Line:
Bank theft; kidnapping
Lead Hardys on a wild chase
Light weight but still fun

Who Kidnapped Chet and Biff?

I know I never read The Missing Chums as a kid.  My library didn't have a copy of this particular Hardy Boys book (I think I read all the ones they had), and I didn't buy a copy for myself.  The title always intrigued me since I wanted to know which of the Hardy’s friends went missing and what happened to them.  Now, as an adult, I finally know.

The only thing that could make summer vacation better for Frank and Joe Hardy is a mystery, and one is handed to them by Chief Collig when he asks them to go undercover at the homeless encampment outside of town and find out what is causing the increased fighting down there.  Before the teens can begin their assignment, they witness a bank robbery, however.  Then, after a costume party hosted by Callie Shaw and Iola Morton, their friends Chet and Biff vanish.  Can the brothers figure out what happened to their friends?  Are all these events connected?

I was a little worried when I started reading this book and saw how many different plot threads the story was introducing.  However, by the time that Chet and Biff vanish, the book stops introducing new plot threads and instead works on weaving these plots into a coherent whole.  Yes, by the time we reach the climax, we see how everything fits together, and it all makes sense.

My biggest issue with this book is the usual in this series - the characters.  While I remember them being more robust when I was a kid, they are very one dimensional.  There are just the basics of personalities there.  But I didn't mind as a kid, and I'm sure today's kids won't mind either.

The story has already been updated once, and this version from the 1950's is very dated once again.  The biggest thing is the word choice.  I mean, who says "chum" any more when referring to their friends?  Honestly, I think I only know this word thanks to this book.  Of course, the characters don't have cell phones, either.  Honestly, I enjoyed slipping back into this seemingly simpler world, but some readers might have trouble with these changes.  Then again, some kids will get caught up in the story and not even notice the dated elements.

I do want to address the homeless encampment for a moment.  We actually learn early on that many of the men who are living there do work, they just can't afford a place to live.  This is just one of the many ways that the book goes out of its way to avoid any negative stereotypes.  If you are worried about your kids picking up negative views of the homeless while reading this book, there really isn't anything to worry about.

While I wouldn't want to read a bunch of these books back to back, I do enjoy occasionally revisiting the Hardys and their chums for another adventure.  The Missing Chums is a fun mystery that will keep readers engaged as long as the dated elements don't bother them.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

January 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here are my thoughts for the week.

Angie Tribecca – I know, I know, the entire season 4 aired on TBS right before New Years.  It’s taken me this long to watch it all. Honestly, this season was very hot and cold.  I missed the characters they didn’t have, including the dog.  Sorry, but he didn’t do much.  They still had some very funny jokes, but overall, the season was rather ho hum.  With how it ended, I could see it being a series finale.  If so, I’m fine with that.  Not sure I would return for another season if it were to come back.

God Friended Me – I should have figured it was something like this when they teased us with so many friend suggestions at once.  Interesting how they wound up saving the building via a book.  The reader in me loves it!

The Flash – I saw that last scene coming.  Of course, Nora has to go get played.  What is up in the future, anyway?  Nice to see them at least mention Joe.  (The actor is out because of an injured back, but will be back in a few weeks.)  I’m curious what Detective Wells is on the trail of.

This is Us – I really thought they weren’t going to tell us who won the election there at the end.  Toby is such a great guy.  Why didn’t I see it in season 1?  Beth sure came around quickly, although I think she is going to be very upset again now that he’s won.  And poor Kevin keeps getting jerked around in his relationship.  I hope Zoe is worth it.

The Masked Singer – The panelists sure called it this week.  3 of the 5 were correct on who the singer was.  And this is something like I was expecting, someone not known for singing still giving it his all.  I am impressed with their courage to do that.

The Orville – I never suspected anything with the new love interest, although it did seem rather fast.  I like how they played out their relationship once the truth was revealed and they then had to work together to survive.  Made for a very interesting dynamic.  And I like the fact that it didn’t end with talk of peace, although this is a crack in the door they could use in the future.

The Big Bang Theory – I’m actually surprised.  I expected Sheldon to struggle with the idea of cutting Amy out of the project.  I’m glad he didn’t since it is the right thing to do, obviously.  Very funny about the gym at the end.  Meanwhile, I suspect that Penny working for Bernadette is going to go south before the season is over.

The Good Place – Okay, I could have done without the political commentary, but fortunately, that was a very small part of the episode.  If I didn’t know better, I would have said that was a season finale.  That could easily have been the season ending cliffhanger right there.  And it feels like a perfect set up for next season.  As it is, we get a new episode next week, so I’m very anxious to see where they are going with what is left of the season.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Book Review: Due or Die by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lovers Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs, good characters
Cons: Mystery uneven due to other storylines
The Bottom Line:
Friends of library
Bring Lindsay drama, murder
Uneven but fun

Due Read This Book

As you may have noticed, if I can, I will aim to read a book during the holiday where it is set.  I find that adds an extra bit of fun to the book.  Imagine my complete surprise when I picked up Due or Die, the second Library Lovers Mystery from Jenn McKinlay, and found that it was set in January.  Completely unplanned, but a very fun surprise.

With a new year comes a new election for president of the Friends of the Library.  While Lindsay Norris is not part of the group, she is thrilled when Carrie Rushton wins the position.  While the old president had held the position for many years, he wasn't effective at getting much done in the group.

When Carrie returns home from her first meeting as president, it is to find her husband shot in their living room.  Markus was not well liked in town, but the police seem to be focusing on Carrie as the killer.  Lindsay is sure she is innocent, but a huge winter storm coming in complicate the investigation.  Will anyone find the killer before the trail grows cold?

I just started this series a couple of months ago, and I was anxious to get back and spend more time with these group of friends.  There are a large group of minor characters that I still don't quite have all sorted out yet, but since they only are in a couple of scenes, it isn't that big a deal.  I was fully able to track the main characters, and I enjoyed seeing what happened to them next.  Meanwhile, the suspects brought in for this book were also strong.

I did feel the story got sidetracked with a couple of sub-plots, including the winter storm I teased earlier.  Now, I'm not saying I didn't enjoy these sub-plots, but they kept the mystery from being as strong as it could have been.  Having said that, things do pick up as we near the climax, and we reach a logical conclusion to everything.  I think there is a pretty major timeline issue with the ultimate solution to everything, however, but it didn’t bother me too much.

One reason I enjoyed this book so much is the humor.  While Jenn's books always make me chuckle at a minimum, I found myself laughing out loud multiple times as I was reading this book.

If you enjoy extras with your cozy, this one has plenty of them.  There is a book group discussion guide for Wuthering Heights, a crochet pattern, and two recipes.

I do wish the mystery were strong, but I still completely enjoyed Due or Die.  I'm glad I have many more adventures with Lindsay and the gang ahead of me.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Movie Review: Peter Rabbit (2018)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Genuine laughs and heart
Cons: Not a fan of slapstick
The Bottom Line:
Classic characters
Given new twist.  Some good laughs
But too much slap stick

Beatrix Potter Meets Home Alone

I must admit, Peter Rabbit wasn't high on my list of movies to watch.  While I have fond memories of the Beatrix Potter books, this movie didn't look like something I would enjoy.  However, when a group of friends decided to watch it, I discovered that there were some things I enjoyed more than I thought I would.

Life is almost perfect for Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden).  He is taking care of his triplet sisters and his cousin.  He's living life in the English countryside surrounded by many animal friends.  And he's made friends with Bea, a human (played by Rose Byrne).  Unfortunately, Old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill) is still insistent that Peter and the rest of the animals stay out of his garden.  But when the old man drops dead of a heart attack one day, Peter and the rest think their lives are now perfect.

Unfortunately, the property passes to Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), great-nephew of Old Mr. McGregor.  Thomas is just interested in quickly selling the property and moving back to London, but he is just as insistent that Peter and the rest stay out of his property.  Worse yet, he and Bea seem to be attracted to each other.  Will Peter ever gain access to the garden?

The preview really played up the fights that Thomas and Peter get into, and they are certainly a large part of the movie.  They are the over the top slapstick that are popular in many kids movies and are designed to make you laugh.  Here's a secret, however.  I don't find them that funny.  Instead, I'm cringing while everyone is laughing.  It's the main reason this movie wasn't high on my list of movies to see.  Having said that, there is a hand to hand fight between Thomas and Peter that is brilliantly funny.  Absurd, but funny.

When the movie came out, there was quite a bit of controversy because at one-point Peter uses Thomas's blackberry allergy to try to off him.  It is played for laughs, and those with allergies were upset.  Honestly, I don't see it as any different from electrocuting Thomas for laughs.  Neither are good things outside of the fake movie world.  And this is coming from someone with an allergy to tree nuts and many non-food things.

What did surprise me about the movie is the fact that I was laughing at it.  When it wasn't inflicting pain on Thomas, it provided some genuine laughs.  These come from the animals and their behavior as well as their take on humans.  The laughs were coming pretty steadily throughout the film, in fact.  I really did enjoy it more than I thought I would.

The story itself is fairly predictable.  There's nothing wrong with that if I am enjoying myself, and I found that I was.  The more serious and heart felt ending was definitely earned and quite good.

The cast all does a great job bringing their characters to life, whether they are playing humans, voicing animals, or doing both.  The animals are created with hyper-realistic animation, and they look fantastic.  Really, I am amazed by what they can do these days.

Fans of Beatrix Potter will find lots of little nods to enjoy.  Almost all the animals are characters from her various books.  It's been years since I read any of them, but I still recognized many of the names.  Bea is an artist whose modern paintings aren't that great, but her sketches of her animal friends look very much like the illustrations from the classic books.

So I'm glad I wound up watching Peter Rabbit.  Even though I didn't care for the brutal slapstick scenes, I still found myself laughing and smiling as I watched it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Ornament Review: Everlasting Light - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful stained glass inspired window
Cons: None worth shedding light on
The Bottom Line:
Window to light up
Sized perfectly for your tree
A fun ornament

A Glowing Window for Your Tree

When I first started seriously collecting Hallmark ornaments, I was immediately captivated by the Windows of Faith series.  I was sad when it only lasted three entries, but I was immediately interested when I saw Everlasting Light.  This 2018 ornament captures the spirit of those ornaments and actually does a much better job at glowing.

The ornament is made to look like a stained-glass window.  The picture is of a dove flying, and right under the dove is a verse from Isiah that says "The Lord will be your everlasting light."  Around the dove are various colored rays, giving the window more color.  The window is surrounded by plastic made to look like stone.  There's even some holly with golden berries on the lip in front of the window, which helps give it a bit of a festive feel.

I love stained glass windows.  It's something I wish churches here in California had more of.  That's why I was a fan of the original series and why I was so excited to see this piece come out.  The colors are pretty, and overall it looks very nice.

And this ornament glows.  There is a hole in the back of the ornament, so you can put a bulb from a light strand into it.  Plug the light in, and the window part of the ornament glows.  This was the one flaw in the earlier series where the hole for the light bulb was in the top of the ornament, and the light had a hard time reaching the bottom.  However, with this ornament's hole is in the middle of the back, the middle of the ornament glows brightly.  The edges of the window are still a little dark, but overall, it looks great.

This ornament goes have a nice flat base, so it is fairly easy to set this out if you so desire.  However, it screams to be hung on your tree near a white Christmas tree light.  (Yes, I think it looks best with a white light, but you can experiment if you want.)  The window does hang straight, although I found that the light bulb in the ornament kept it from actually hanging straight on my tree.

The other big difference is that the earlier series was clearly focused on Christmas while this ornament is a general stained-glass window.  If you wanted to use it in other decorating, it would look great.  Honestly, I was just thrilled to see a stained-glass ornament at all; this was a must buy this year.

So I am glad I bought Everlasting Light.  This is an ornament I plan to enjoy for years to come.

Original Price: $17.99

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Book Review: Saturn Night Fever by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, good plot
Cons: Twist makes me question one thing, but minor
The Bottom Line:
A rescue mission
Filled with space, twists, and danger
Fun filled adventure

Race to Rescue Pika

After the twist that Sylvia Stryker had in her personal life at the end of the last book, I was quite anxious to move on to Saturn Night Fever, her third outer space mystery.  Fortunately, I got it for Christmas and wasted little time blasting off again.

It's been a few months since we last saw Sylvia, and in that time, she's been living on Neptune's compound, training with him and her friend, smuggler Mattix.  One day, Mattix's ship arrives back at Neptune's place on autopilot.  Inside, Neptune and Sylvia find a message from Pika, the little Gremlon who has also been living with them, asking for help.  Then they find Mattix's body.

Naturally, Neptune and Sylvia do the only thing they can, steal a Moon Unit Corporation ship, hire a small crew, and set out to reach Saturn and figure out what has happened to Pika.  But can their crew be trusted?  Will they survive the flight?

You might have noticed that I didn't mention the cliffhanger from the last book in my teaser.  Don't worry, it is a major factor in this book.  I just didn't want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it yet.

As always, there is a lot going on, with plenty of twists to keep us turning the pages.  Sylvia doesn't know who she can trust, and it seems she is constantly finding something to make her question her judgement.  I feel like the ultimate revelation makes some of the initial set up questionable, but maybe that was just me.  I can figure out ways it works, so it probably is just me.  Either way, I did feel this was minor and that the big picture was resolved, although I am looking forward to finding out what happens to Sylvia next.

Yes, this book has a science fiction setting, including a cast of aliens.  Don't let that scare you away if you prefer cozy mysteries.  This is still a cozy mystery at heart, just with a unique setting.

And underneath the different exteriors are still real characters, both good and bad, that will draw you into the book.  While the science fiction setting allows for some more fun, over the top personalities that would never work in a book set in the real world, everyone feels real as you are reading the story.

Sylvia's next adventure can't come soon enough.  If you haven't yet read Saturn Night Fever, you'll enjoy this space trip.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Movie Review: Skyscraper (2018)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun, mindless action flick
Cons: Nothing super original
The Bottom Line:
Action in tower
Predictable story but
Plenty of stunts, fun

“What’s the Plan?” “Got Any Duct Tape?”

I was intrigued by Skyscraper when I started seeing ads for it last year, but not quite enough to get me into the theater to see it.  (There were just too many movies I wanted to see in the theater this summer.)  I finally caught it now that it is out on Blu-Ray.  It's a typical action flick, but it's fun.

Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) used to be a member of a SWAT team until one bad call left several people dead, him injured, and his judgement in question - at least by himself.  Now, he makes his living as a security consultant, and his newest client is Jhao Long Ji (Chin Han), who is finishing up a 200 plus story skyscraper in Hong Kong.  Will, his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their two kids have traveled there for his big presentation.

However, it's after the presentation that things start to go wrong.  Criminals want something that Jhao has, and they are willing to destroy the skyscraper to get it.  With Sarah and his kids trapped in the building, Will needs to figure out a way to rescue them.  Does he have what it takes to overcome overwhelming odds and save the day?

Now, let's be perfectly honest - this is an action movie pure and simple.  There are few true surprises as the movie unfolds; in fact, it is obvious that the early parts of the film are setting up things to be paid off later.  But that doesn't really matter because when the action starts, it is a thrill ride.  We go from one harrowing moment to another as Will fights to save his family.

Of course, it does help that I have a fear of heights.  That helped make some of the scenes extra harrowing for me.

Overall, the movie holds together pretty well.  Yes, there are some things I'm sure aren't realistic, but I bought them while watching the movie.  For one thing, it doesn't give you time to think.  For another, the internal logic of the movie holds together, or at least it did while I was watching it.

The biggest thing in an action movie is the stunts.  They are wonderful.  And the special effects that held everything together worked well, too.

And the acting was good as well.  There was nothing award worthy here, but the actors all pulled me into the movie.

One thing I really enjoyed was Will's relationship with his family.  It is obvious that he truly loves them any time they are on screen together, and that bond is what drives his actions in the film.  It was actually refreshing not to have the typical sub-plot where there are issues and he realizes how much he loves them when the danger starts.  Sarah is just as much in love with her family, and she contributes to keeping everyone safe.  This is definitely Dwayne Johnson's movie, so he gets the biggest moments, but there are a couple of scenes that call on Neve Campbell's character to stand up, and she does an admirable job as well.

Skyscraper is a fun action movie.  It's lightweight fun, but since that is all it sets out to be, that's just fine.  And when you are in the mood for something like that, I definitely recommend it.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Book Review: Commander Toad and the Voyage Home by Jane Yolen, illustrations by Bruce Degen (Commander Toad #7)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Puns and a good story
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
One last hop for Toad
As he takes his mission home
Brings last laughs to us

Unexpected Voyage Home

When I rediscovered the Commander Toad books a couple years back, I didn’t quite make it to the final book in the series.  Commander Toad and the Voyage Home actually came out a decade after the rest in the series, so it is appropriate that I spent so long getting around to reading it, right?

If you aren’t familiar with these picture books, they are spoofs on science fiction.  With character names like Jake Skyjumper and a ship called Star Warts, they take some digs at Star Wars.  However, Commander Toad and his crew are on a mission to explore unknown worlds, so the books feel like they belong in the Star Trek franchise.

And this book finds the crew’s mission winding down.  After several years in space, they can now head home for some much needed rest.  So, Commander Toad puts the command into the computer.  Only, when they arrive, they don’t recognize the planet at all.  What has happened?

What I love about these books as an adult are the puns, and this book features plenty of them.  They make me laugh as I read.  And be sure to look for the added jokes that Bruce Degen puts in his illustrations.  Parents might have to explain a joke or two to young kids, but I think most of them will get the humor.

The story itself is pretty clever as well.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to explain something super complex to your kids.  Commander Toad and crew actually reach a solution to their mystery that makes perfect sense.

I mentioned Bruce’s illustrations already.  They add to the charm of the story as they perfectly capture the crew’s personalities and the story as it is unfolding.

This is classified as an easy reader, but I definitely think a few of the words are on the more challenging side.  All that means is that parents will have a chance to help their young reader figure out some new words when they are ready to tackle that challenge.

Commander Toad and the Voyage Home is a fantastic picture books that kids of all ages will love.  Long may Commander Toad hop from star to star.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

January 12th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Time again for Weekly TV Thoughts

I'm going to be doing something a bit different this year.  While I will still be watching shows like Ellen's Game of Games and The Titan Games, I probably won't comment on them every week.  They are fun, but they aren't comment worthy.  If there is something I want to talk about, I will.  But other wise, I'll just enjoy and move on.

But here are my thoughts on TV for the week.

Oh, and there is a pretty major spoiler for The Orville below.  You've been warned.

God Friended Me – I saw that last line coming.  Okay, so I just saw it during that scene, but still.  They are right that the God account seems to be picking people that are connected to Miles in some way.  So what does that mean for Miles?  Who really is behind it?  I’m getting as curious about the mythology of the show as anything else.  And yes, I called the sister as soon as we learned that the guest of the week’s parents were dead.  Still, it was such a heart warming scene.

The Masked Singer – Is it me, or do the judges seem to miss the fact that most of the celebrities are people who aren’t known for their singing.  So constantly naming singers seems to miss the point.  Although they did get close with the pineapple.  I may start watching this show with the remote closer.  It’s fun, but I think they could cut out some of the extraneous stuff if they wanted to.

The Big Bang Theory – They’ve circled back around to Penny and Leonard not having any kids.  I hope this wakes Penny up on that.  Meanwhile, I might actually get on board with Raj’s relationship after this episode.

The Orville – I was pretty much tracking with this episode, expecting all the plot points.  But they got me with the last one.  I never saw Alara leaving coming.  But how fun was it to see The Doctor from Voyage and Dr. Phlox from Enterprise on the same show.

The Good Place – Oh my goodness!  I was laughing so hard through the entire episode.  Neutral Janet, the committee, Chidi helping Elinore.  It was all so fantastic!  I simply love this show!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Movie Review: Aquaman

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, effects, action, and story
Cons: Story does drag a little in the final act
The Bottom Line:
Next DC movie
Mostly entertaining film
Pacing only fault

"You The Fish Boy from TV?"  "It's Fish Man."

While Marvel Comics started celebrating ten years of its cinematic universe last year, DC Comics has been struggling to put together any movies that would draw fans in with the same numbers.  That began to change with Wonder Woman and Justice League, and it appears that they are continuing to build on that success with Aquaman.

The movie tells the story of Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the child of a human and the queen of Atlantis.  He was raised by his father on land, and he turned his back on his Atlantean heritage part way through his training with Vulko (Willem Dafoe) when he learned about his mother's death.

However, his half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), is planning a war against the surface dwellers.  When Mera (Amber Heard) appears again to warn him, he tries to ignore her only to find himself drawn into the upcoming fight.  Is there a way to challenge Orm and prevent the upcoming war?

Even though Aquaman did appear in the Justice League movie, this film did a good job of introducing him for those of us in the audience who aren't up on all the superhero backstories.  Yes, despite all the movies and TV shows I've been watching, I never have read comic books, so I need it myself.  And it does all this without keeping us from getting to the main conflict.

I've noticed that the trend in movies seems to be to run longer again.  That's fine if the movie has enough story to sustain it.  Unfortunately, I did feel the film dragged a bit, especially in the final act.  They had a few too many things going on, and as I was ready for the story to wind down, they had to wrap up all those storylines.  I do applaud them for having a satisfying climax without dragging that aspect out needlessly.  That often seems to be the case in action/superhero movies where a film builds to a climax so epic but ultimately bland, and this movie didn't fall into the trap.

That's not a major complaint, however, since the movie kept my attention most of the time.  It was only in the final act that I felt my attention beginning to wander.

Superhero movies require lots of action and special effects, right?  This movie serves up healthy doses of both.  Much of the action takes place under water, and I seriously want to know how they shot all that.  I mean, the characters talk, their hair floats, if I didn't know any better, I'd swear they really were filming underwater.  It was very impressive.  On the other hand, a few shots on land were so obviously green screened it was laughable.  It’s obvious where they spent their special effects budget.

And the action?  There were a couple of times things were cut together so fast it was a little hard to tell what was happening, but for the most part, I followed it perfectly.  There are plenty of edge of your seat moments during the film.

One advantage of a longer film is that it allows for character development.  Not all the characters are fully developed here, but I definitely felt like we got to know Arthur.  Then again, it is his story, so that only makes sense.

And the actors are all wonderful.  Whether a quiet character moment or a large action scene, I bought everything I was watching on the screen.

Speaking of which, there is one scene buried in the credits.  You'll definitely want to watch for that.

Since I've heard of the DC Comics characters more, I'm excited to see them finally figuring out how to make entertaining movies with their characters.  I'm hoping the trend continues going forward from Aquaman.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Book Review: A Literal Mess by J. C. Kenney (Allie Cobb #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: Allie's relationship with the police is questionable
The Bottom Line:
Author is murdered
And Allie must clear her friend
Serious; so good

Strong Debut

I'm trying to cut down on the review requests I accept this year.  I have so many books I already own that I'm dying to read I need to do something to free up time to get to them.  That's why I went back and forth on A Literal Mess.  Ultimately, I decided to give this new series debut a chance, and I'm really glad I did.

Allie Cobb has returned home to Rushing Creek, Indiana, because her father has died.  He was fighting pancreatic cancer, so the news wasn't a surprise, but she had been close to him.  In fact, her career as a literary agent in New York City is a direct result of his job as a literary agent.

Allie is finding comfort in being around family and friends during her trip home until tragedy strikes again.  The morning after the funeral, someone finds the body of Thornwell Winchester, a best-selling author who was her father's client for his entire career.  Additionally, he was the father of Allie's best friend, Sloane.  When the police begin looking at Sloane as their prime suspect, Allie starts to investigate to clear her friend.  But can she figure out what happened before she has to return to her job?

This book hit me hard right from the start.  We may have just met Allie, but we definitely feel her loss.  No, the book doesn't become dwell on her father’s death needlessly, but it isn't the light, breezy cozy I often pick up.  Nor should it be.  It handles Allie losing her father correctly, and I appreciated the more serious tone the book had.

I also appreciated the fact that Allie and her family and friends come with baggage.  While they are there for each other, their relationships aren't perfect and it gives them some added depth, especially for a series debut.  I am looking forward to seeing how these relationships play out in further books in the series.  The suspects were just as strong and had credible motives for committing the crime.

While the book starts out with the death of Allie's father, it never forgets that this book is really a mystery, and his death isn't supposed to be the focus.  We spend a little time getting to know Thornwell and a couple of the suspects before he turns up dead, and once we do, we meet other suspects.  I enjoyed the mystery, and the red herrings and twists kept me guessing until Allie figured it all out at the end.  I did think her relationship with the police stretched credibility, but I was willing to overlook that since I was enjoying the book.

While A Literal Mess might be more serious in tone, it was definitely well worth reading.  I'm glad I decided to give it a chance.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I'm reviewing this as part of a blog tour.  To find the other stops, please go to the tour's home page.

And enter the series wide giveaway by using the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Ornament Review: Merriest House in Town - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun light and music show
Cons: Doesn't interact with any other ornaments
The Bottom Line:
This year's decked out house
Uses the new Power Cord
No interaction

Merry House Joining the Power Cord Family

I have loved the previous crazy decorated house ornaments that Hallmark has released.  They are just so much fun!  So, naturally, it was a no brainer to get Merriest House in Town.

These ornaments take their inspiration from the crazily decorated houses that pop up in various towns around the country.  You know the ones - the ones that sometimes make YouTube with tons of lights and music.  This particular house is a blueish green house with lights all over the place.  Santa's going head first down the chimney and his sleigh, bag, and reindeer are on the roof.  In the front yard are two inflatable snowmen.  The windows light up.  And there are lights on the side of the house that outline a star and spell out "Joy."

Of course, this ornament wouldn't be complete without sound.  When you press the button, you get to hear an upbeat version of "Joy to the World," and the lights flash in time to the music.  It's a lot of fun and last about 30 seconds.

No, this ornament doesn't take batteries.  Instead, it needs to be connected to Hallmark's new Power Cord.  This is different from the rest of the ornaments Hallmark has released in this unofficial series, which take the old Magic Cord.  Since this is the second year the Power Cord has been around and they are creating so many ornaments for this new cord, I'm not surprised they switched over to it for this unofficial series.

However, here's the part that is a bummer.  With the old Magic Cord, all the ornaments that were attached to the cord reacted when any of the ornaments attached to the cord started putting on a show.  That made playing with these ornaments so much fun since the other lights were going crazy as well.  And it was fun to see what the houses would do no matter what ornament was playing.  The new Power Cord allows ornaments to interact in delightful new ways, and I love what they are doing with this technology.  However, the ornaments have to be designed to interact with each other for that to work.  This ornament is an orphan.  There aren't any other ornaments currently designed to work together with it.  It puts on a great display, and I enjoy it.  But I miss watching other ornaments light up in time with the music.

I am hopeful that there will be other ornaments like this in future years, and they will interact.  But nothing like that has been announced.

Since this is a house, the ornament has a nice flat base.  You can set it out to be displayed anywhere you want.  You can also hang it on your tree, and you'll find that it hangs straight.

I did enjoy this ornament this year for what it is, but I really did miss the interaction.  Here's hoping that future years make Merriest House in Town even merrier.

Original Price: $34.99

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Book Review: The Double-A Western Detective Agency by Steve Hockensmith (Holmes on the Range #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery with sense of urgency; fun
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Town set to explode
Adds urgency to story
Fun from start to end

Detectifying in the Old West Once Again

It's always hard when a series you love stops.  That's how I felt several years ago when the Holmes on the Range series went on hiatus, so you can imagine how happy I was when I learned that Steve Hockensmith was writing another adventure for Big Red and Old Red.  The Double-A Western Detective Agency was definitely worth the wait.

If you haven't yet discovered this series, it is set in the 1890's in the American west.  Big Red and Old Red, aka Otto and Gustov Amlingmeyer, are brothers who have discovered the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Old Red has taken to "detectifying," modeling his work after his hero.  That leaves Big Red to record his brother's adventures.

As this book picks up, Big Red and Old Red have started a new detective agency with Diana and her father, Colonel Crowe.  There's just one problem, the lack of paying customers.  So when they are hired to travel to DeBatge, New Mexico, and catch some cattle rustlers, Old Red reluctantly agrees to go even though it's not the kind of case he wants to take.  With Diana tagging along, the brothers set out.

However, when they arrive, they discover a town divided with tension running high.  The source of this powder keg?  Their client.  Then a dead body turns up, igniting the fuse.  Can Old Red figure things out before the town explodes?  Will the trio get caught in the crossfire no matter what happens?

Fans of the series will be delighted to be back in the presence of these cowboys turned detectives.  This series has always been tons of fun, and this book is no exception.  Because of the nature of our heroes, traveling cowboys, the series has never been super big on supporting characters, Diana and her father coming the closest.  I enjoyed getting to see her again in this book, and her relationship with the brothers is just as fun as always.  This leaves us plenty of new characters, and it isn't always easy to tell which are friend and which are foe.  That's perfect for a mystery.

The plot is enhanced by the backdrop of the town at odds with each other.  Now don't misunderstand, there is a strong mystery here, and Old Red does a masterful job of piecing it together.  I had a piece here or there figured out, but I was far from knowing the entire picture.  But when the brothers are facing life or death just about every other chapter, it adds a sense of suspense and urgency to unraveling the mystery that I enjoyed.  While there is no official ticking clock, you can almost sense things ticking down to an explosion if Old Red can't solve things in time, which kept me glued to the page.

The book does include more foul language than the cozies I typically read, but I knew that going in.  The content is certainly in keeping with the rest of the books in the series and keeps it firmly in the traditional subset of the mystery genre.

I've mentioned how much fun this series is, and one reason for that is the humor.  Between Big Red and Old Red's relationship and Big Red's narration, there are plenty of chuckles and laughs on the way that help relieve the tension.  The chapter titles are another great source of grins – they might even include a pun or two you'll appreciate more as the action in the chapter unfolds.

Since Old Red is now a full-fledged detective, I'm hoping this means we'll get more stories featuring this delightful duo.  I was sorry to return to the present when I finished The Double-A Western Detective Agency.

If you've missed any of these books, here are the Holmes on the Range mysteries in order.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Movie Review: Mission Impossible - Fallout

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Amazing action scenes
Cons: Plot connecting is boring and predictable
The Bottom Line:
Impossible stunts
Story is just average
Action is worth it

“Hope is Not a Strategy.”  “You Must Be New.”

I had planned on seeing Mission: Impossible - Fallout in theaters, but then life got in my way, so I didn't make it.  Turns out, I wasn't missing much of anything.  The movie definitely has its moments, but overall, it was too drawn out.

Plutonium is loose - specifically three spheres of plutonium.  In an effort to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the rest of his Mission: Impossible team head out to intercept a meet.  However, things take an unexpected turn, and the team doesn't take possession.

And thus, we are off on another around the world mission to keep the villains from using them to destroy the world, or at least parts of it in an attempt to take over what will be left.  Can they do it?

You'll notice that I'm being rather vague.  Honestly, does the plot matter in these movies?  They are just excuses to string together massive action stunt scenes, and that's why we tune in entry after entry.

The good news is the action scenes are amazing, edge of your seat stuff.  The climax alone (which takes 15 minutes of action and expands it to 22 minutes) is gripping.  Oh, you know how it will turn out, but they still manage to keep the action and twists coming, which in turn makes it impossible to look away from the screen.  They had to have spent months making everything work because what they got on screen in impressive.

But let's go back to the plot.  Honestly, we've seen it done before in this franchise.  In fact, I was mentally crossing items off my check list as the movie went along.  This is especially frustrating since the movie clocks in at almost two and a half hours.  The action scenes are spectacular, but the plot that holds it together isn't worthy of the run time.  It certainly doesn't help that they spoiled some of the best moments and jokes in the previews.

Over the course of the franchise, we've started to assemble a regular team, and most of them were back for this installment, including Ving Rhames as Luther and Simon Pegg and Benji.  More than any other entry in the franchise, this one requires you to have seen the last one since several characters that were introduced there are major factors in this movie as well.

While I've praised the stunts, the acting is just as good.  Some of the running time is devoted to character development, at least for Ethan, and that pays off.  Everyone does a good job of bringing their characters to life.

The action scenes make this worth watching, but I'm glad I wait until I could watch it at home.  If you are a fan of the franchise, you'll enjoy Mission: Impossible - Fallout, but it isn't a must watch if you aren't.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

My Favorite Books Read in 2018

Time for one final post looking at 2018.  After that, it will be full speed ahead into 2019.  But before we get there, I want to look back at my favorite books of 2018.  These are not necessarily in any order, but they are roughly in the order I read them.  The links will take you to my full reviews.


I Know What You Bid Last Summer by Sherry Harris
Sarah Winston find putting on a sport equipment swap gets dangerous when she is attacked and then finds a dead body the night before it opens.  As always, some great twists and strong characters, plus there's a very funny sub-plot.

Fly Me to the Moon by Diane Vallere
I'm always on the lookout for something new, and this series delivers.  After all, the main character is an alien, and the book is set on a space ship.  Yes, it is still a cozy, and we get to know the world over the course of the book, so fans looking for a different take on a cozy will feel right at home.

Cardiac Arrest by Lisa Q. Matthews
I can't believe it took me so long to start this series.  This debut, about an unusual sleuth pair, is a pure delight.  Lots of laughs, solid characters, and good twists.  And I can't believe I still haven't made it to the sequel.  I must change that soon.

Lost Legacy by Annette Dashofy
I know, I know, I'm way behind on this series.  And I really need to get caught up.  The characters are strong, and the plot keeps the pages turning.  It leans toward the traditional side of the spectrum and is definitely more serious than many of the cozies I read, but it is so good.

Hollywood Ending by Kellye Garrett
From serious back to fun.  This is the second in Kellye's series, and it was just as much fun as the first.  Of course, the Hollywood during award season setting helped.  A great mystery and a cast of great characters will keep you hooked.

Murder Flies the Coop by Jessica Ellicott
England in the 1920's is the setting for this fun series featuring a pair of mismatched sleuths who make a perfect pair.  I was smiling as I read this one.

Death of a Russian Doll by Barbara Early
A mystery with many layers, a Christmas setting, and a vintage toy shop.  Did I mention puns?  Seriously, what's not to love about this book.  Still need to be convinced?  There's a character named Mark Baker in it.  Yes, this book would have made my list anyway, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Killed on Blueberry Hill by Sharon Farrow
A familiar set up (main character clearing someone dear to her accused of murder) leads us into a mystery where the red herrings provide their own complications.  This is complex, and the characters are as well.

Murder on Cape Cod by Maddie Day
I was hooked right from the premise - a group of cozy mystery readers solving a real life mystery.  The execution is perfectly fun, and cast of characters is one I am looking forward to visiting again soon.  This is a Barnes and Nobel exclusive until the end of 2019, so it might take a little extra work to track down, but it is totally worth it.

Steamed Open by Barbara Ross
This is one of my favorite series, and it didn't disappoint again.  The suspects prove to be much more complicated than they first appear, and I love the development they got.  Plus several series threads advance as well, and we get to know a main character much better, too.

Lark! The Herald Angels Sing by Donna Andrews
I've been a fan of this series for years, but Meg and company are at the top of their game with this Christmas mystery.  The plot kept me turning pages, but I was glad I read most of this one at home alone.  Why?  I was laughing so hard at some of what happened.


Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz
Gregg's books always leave me turning pages, but this book really dove into his main character and showed us yet another side of him.  I had a very hard time putting this book down.

True Fiction by Lee Goldberg
I was hooked from the premise - a writer recognizes a terrorist attack as a worst case scenario he dreamed up for the CIA and goes on the run.  And I wasn't disappointed in the slightest.  Humor and twists kept me turning pages as quickly as I could.


As You Wish by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden
The behind the scenes story of filming The Princess Bride as told by the actor who played Wesley.  Any fan of the movie will be delighted to read this book.  Just one warning, it will make you want to watch the movie again.

How to Be a Perfect Christian by The Babylon Bee
The popular Christian satire site collects some of their best material and puts to together in a book.  At times funny and other times extremely convicting, but was a fast but very fun read.

Middle Grade

Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs
This is the final book in a mystery series for kids set in space, and the series goes out with a bang.

Worlds Apart by James Riley
Another final is series, this one about what happens when the fictional world and the real world are separated.  A little meta at times, but a whole lot of fun the entire time.