Sunday, May 26, 2019

Movie Review: Aladdin (2019)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great additions for Jasmine; overall fun
Cons: A bit slow
The Bottom Line:
Familiar story
Is visually awesome
Fun, adds little new

Make Way for Prince Ali – Again

It has taken me a long time, but I am slowly warming up to these live action remakes Disney is doing of their animation classics.  Maybe my expectations have been lowered, or maybe they are starting to find a way to capture more of the magic.  Either way, the more previews I saw for Aladdin, the more excited I got for this new version.  I was so excited, in fact, that I went to see it during a preview screening Thursday night.

If you are already familiar with the tale, you pretty much know what to expect here.  When we first meet Aladdin (Mena Massoud), he is a street urchin stealing to make ends meet.  While in the market one day, he runs into a beautiful woman clearly from the palace, never realizing his new crush is really Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).  Unfortunately, he’s also captured the interest of Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) who needs a “diamond in the rough” to enter the cave of wonders to retrieve a magic lamp – a lamp with a Genie (Will Smith) in it.

This movie sticks very close to the classic animated movie.  Oh, it makes some changes, but most of them are superficial (I’ll discuss the biggest change in a few minutes).  They may present something in a new way, but the end result is the same.  So, if you like the original movie, you’ll certainly enjoy the story here.

That includes keeping the original songs.  Honestly, since I love the music from this film, I was glad to see them include the songs here.  “One Jump Ahead” gets a different arrangement, and it feels a bit off to me.  But I suspect after a couple of listens I will better appreciate it.  The rest, while clearly new arrangements of the original songs, also feel like old familiar friends.

Visually, the movie is stunning.  They’ve recreated an old Arab city, and the sets and costumes take you to a whole new world.  (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)  There is quite a bit of computer effects in the movie, and they look very realistic.  Oh, I caught one or two moments that didn’t quite work, but I bought 99% of the film, must better than the previews for the movie looked, actually.

The biggest flaw in the film for me is the pacing.  It feels slow.  Now, as much as I love the original, I will freely admit it is a bit slow until Robin William’s Genie makes his first appearance.  This movie does pick up after Will Smith shows up as the Genie as well, but it still feels a bit slow.  It doesn’t help that there are some scenes where both Aladdin and Genie make complete fools of themselves.  They are played for laughs, but those kinds of scenes usually make me cringe more than laugh.  Even with those pacing issues, I enjoyed the movie overall.  I think there will be enough to keep kid’s interest, although the climax might be too intense for those who are easily frightened.  It’s different from the original, which was also intense, but this one is intense in its own way.

While the original Jasmin was a strong woman, part of this movie is Jasmin’s transition into a stronger woman.  She is never one who wants to just take on the role as wife to some prince, but she really grows as the movie unfolds.  That is reflected in the new song written for her character, which I absolutely loved.  Jasmin has never had a good solo song – there was none in the original movie, and the songs added for the stage versions I’ve seen (at California Adventure and on Broadway) weren’t that good.  They nailed it here, and I absolutely loved it and the scene where she really takes a stand.

The movie also adds a second romance which was a ton of fun.  I loved how they played it.

No, this Aladdin is not the original.  Yet it is still fun and entertaining.  If you enjoy these characters and this story, you’ll be glad you watched the remake.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

May 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Final two season finales of the year are in the books.  Of course, I started a new show the next night, and American Ninja Warrior is back in a big way next week, so I won't have any weeks with no TV at all.

Supergirl – They actually did a good job of wrapping things up, better than I thought they would.  And I didn’t feel like it was too preachy, although the crack about the 4th estate made me roll my eyes.  Definitely some interesting balls in motion for next season, including the fact that Lena now knows the truth.  And to think that I had finally relaxed, figuring she wasn’t going to turn evil despite the name.  Looks like they are setting her up to turn evil next season after all.  I’m a little bummed about that.  Would have been nice for her to be a non-traditional Luther.

Legends of Tomorrow – That was a packed episode, too packed.  Part of that comes from the fact that they have too many characters on the show.  I mean Zari has been on the show for two seasons now, and I’d mostly forgotten about her quest to save her family until they crammed it in to write her out.  Poor Nate doesn’t have good luck with love interests sticking around.  His sacrifice for Ray and brief reunion with his father was pretty good, however.

Blood & Treasure – I decided to give this new series a shot since it looked like it could be a lot of fun.  And I do see the potential in there.  But it wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped, plus it looks like we’ve got another long conspiracy to unravel.  Yes, I figured that would be the case, but still, I’m just not sure if I want to get into another show like that.  I may give it another shot next week, but we will see how I’m feeling then.

The Amazing Race – I’m so ready for Rachel to be off the race, so I was bummed that she came in last on a non-elimination leg (totally saw that coming, however) and then that she barely avoided elimination again.  Plus the preaching got to me as well – I actually fast forwarded through their 1st place finish.  The drum challenge didn’t change the order the teams finished in at all.  It was like almost everyone needed a practice run to figure it out.  The skyscraper challenge in the first hour was much harder than it sounded.  I was surprised it too the teams so long to get that figured out.

Hollywood Game Night – So, I’m unclear how it was any surprise how much money was raised during the episode.  I guess the final game if the team hadn’t gotten enough names guessed.  Other than that, the money “raised” was really just taking the place of the points.  Having said that, it was an absolutely blast to see the celebrities out there having fun, including Jennifer Garner and Kristen Bell since I’m big fans of both.  I think I was laughing hardest at Kristen not getting the clue involving her husband’s name, although having to come up with something so quickly under pressure, I absolutely get it.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Book Review: Forget Me Knot by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, good plot
Cons: Plot a little slow to start, a little (very little) political snipping
The Bottom Line:
When quilter murdered
Martha and friends ask questions
I was hooked by end

Can Martha Solve a Knotty Murder?

If you’ve noticed, I tend to stay away from the crafty cozies.  Most of the crafts featured don’t interest me (there are exceptions, of course).  It’s one reason why I have passed on Mary Marks’ Quilting Mysteries until now.  After seeing her at several events, I finally decided to give in and read the first, Forget Me Knot.  I’m glad I did because this book really grew on me.

Retirees Martha Rose and her best friends Lucy and Birdie have been getting together every Tuesday to quilt for a couple of years now, but they are thinking of adding a new member to their circle.  Claire Terry has invited them to come to her house this Tuesday, which surprises Martha since Claire is easily a decade younger than she is, and Martha is the youngest of the trio.  The friends arrive to a shocking discover – Claire’s dead body in her living room.

While the trio are sad, they figure the police will handle the investigation – that is until someone steals three quilts from a quilting show that weekend – Martha’s, Birdie’s, and Claire’s final prize-winning quilt.  It’s just too much of a coincidence for Martha, but what is the connection between Claire’s death and her quilts?

I felt the book started out a little uneven.  What I’ve teased happens early in the book, but then we spend some time with Martha investigating without it feeling like the book is going anywhere.  It is layering in some suspects, but it is only in the second half of the book that things really begin to pay off.  Once we hit that point, the twists begin to come at a steady pace.  Some of the twists lead us to some edgier motives for a cozy series, but the book handles them well.  The climax makes perfect sense and wraps everything up well, and there is a brilliant twist along the way.

We are meeting an entirely new cast of characters here, but they are already rich characters.  They are older than a typical cozy cast, but I really appreciated that since it’s always nice to see some variety in cozies.  Martha, Lucy, and Birdie are very distinct characters already, and we get to know various people in their lives as the book progresses.  We meet a wide range of suspects, too, as the book progresses, and I felt they were just as real as the series regulars.

One thing that did bother me a little were some political snipes.  I appreciate that politics rarely if ever comes into play in the cozies I read, so these were a surprise.  Even more so, they felt needless.  I suspect that they were intended to be funny, since I laughed at the last one in the book, but given all the politics in the world today, this did give me pause.  The book came out in 2014, and if that has continued in the series, I am worried about what the author is putting in the books today.  Fortunately, this dropped off as the plot got stronger in the second half; I am hoping it has dropped out of the series as it has gone along as well.

One reason I decided to pick up this series is that it is set in the suburban sprawl that is the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County.  I live just barely north of the San Fernando Valley, and I always enjoy reading books where I recognize the setting.  Again, this is a way that the series sets itself apart from other cozies – this isn’t a small town.  Yet, it still invokes the cozy feeling since we are investigating people in Claire’s life to find her killer.

It is easy to see why the seventh book in the series will be out this summer.  Not that I need another series to catch up on, but I will definitely be reading the sequel to Forget Me Knot to find out what happens next to Martha, Lucy, and Birdie.

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

May 24th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Yes, I missed last week, but I'm back this week for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring the latest Murder, She Wrote tie in novel - Murder in Red by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land.

This book will be out on Tuesday, and I'll have a review with giveaway up on release day.  But for now, let's look at how the book begins:

"Well, Jessica, at least I wasn't murdered."

And if you are a fan of the show at all (or familiar with it by reputation), you will get why I loved that first line so much.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

Amazing how something as unsavory as murder never failed to bring us closer, our lives as occasional companions seemingly centered on the deaths of others.

That's it for me this week.  Hope you have a great weekend, long one for some of us.  And I hope you'll stop back by on Tuesday for my review of this book.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Movie Review: Killer Sentence - A Hailey Dean Mystery

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, great characters
Cons: Strong dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Parolee victim
Plenty of strong suspects here
Good movie for fans

Murder of a Parolee

Hallmark’s Hailey Dean franchise has done something their other franchises haven’t started doing yet.  When they are given a chance to premier several movies in a row, they weave some threads through all the movies, culminating in the final film.  The threads introduced earlier in May came to a head in this week’s movie, Killer Sentence.

If you’ve been watching the movies premiering this month, you’ve seen that Hailey Dean (Kellie Martin) has been involved in a parole hearing for Clayton Morrel (Bradley Stryker), the first inmate she helped convict when she worked in the Atlanta DA’s office.  Despite her testimony and that of Paulina (Lauren Holly), the current head of the DA’s office, Clayton still received parole at the end of the second movie.  This film picks up four months later as those involved in his case are still trying to deal with his release.  Hit worst of all is Paulina.  She keeps misplacing work files, and she is trying to monitor Clayton in order to catch him breaking parole so she can send him back to jail.

Hailey is shocked to learn that Clayton has written an autobiography, and he is scheduled to do a book signing at a local bookstore.  She shows up to talk to him, only to discover the event has been canceled because he didn’t show up.  Worried, she goes to his house and finds him dead.  As the evidence piles up against Paulina, Hailey begins to investigate since she knows her friend couldn’t have done it.  But can Hailey find the truth?

This was a very strong mystery with multiple suspects.  I spent the entire movie alternately suspecting each character and then dismissing them as too obvious.  Yet when Hailey does figure it out, it all makes perfect sense.

Of course, the movie does have the usual dose of cheese.  As with the others in the franchise, it is stronger than most of the Hallmark movies, but once I get fifteen minutes or so into the film, I’m so hooked on the story that I don’t care anymore because I have to know who done it.  Hailey’s creator, Nancy Grace, does get her usual cameo, this time much better than the one from the previous movie.

I do like these characters, as was driven home to me by the sub-plots involving Fincher (Viv Leacock) planning a special evening with his girlfriend and Jonas (Matthew MacCaul) trying to plan a dating anniversary dinner with Hailey.  Both are fun and help lighten the movie a little.

And I would say it is official.  The ending of the first movie this month was completely ignored once again, not that I expected Hailey to leave her therapy practice to go back to the DA’s office.

If you are a fan of the Hailey Dean movies, you’ll enjoy Killer Sentence.  This is another strong mystery featuring characters we’ve come to love.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Book Review: The 18th Abduction by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club #18)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong story
Cons: Most of the women background characters; parts are brutal
The Bottom Line:
A kidnapping case
Plus Joe tracks war criminal
Stronger series book

Hunt for Missing Teachers

I’m sure I would have given up on the Women’s Murder Club series by now if I had to buy them.  I usually enjoy them enough to keep reading, but I don’t know that I’d want to buy them.  Fortunately, my library does a good job of supplying me with each entry in the series, like the newest, The 18th Abduction.

Outside of the Prologue and Epilogue, the entire book takes place five years in the past, when San Francisco Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer is a newly wed to FBI agent Joe Molinari.  And both of them are dealing with high pressure cases.  In Lindsay’s case, she isn’t dealing with a homicide – at least hopefully not.  Instead, she’s investigating what happened to three women who went missing one night.  The three are teachers and friends who went out for dinner and drinks on a Monday night, and that’s the last anyone has seen of them.  Lindsay is part of the taskforce assigned to find them, but can they do that before the missing women are killed?  Or is it already too late?

Meanwhile, Joe stumbles into a case when he finds a woman sitting next to her bike near the FBI’s office in San Francisco.  That woman, Anna, explains that she was just trying to make a report to the FBI.  She’s seen a Serbian war criminal in the city – someone who killed her family and brutalized her.  Joe takes the report seriously, but can he find a way to bring this criminal to justice?

In some ways it was nice going back five years, back to a time when Lindsay and Joe were happily married before plot contrivances worked to undermine their relationship.  (Seriously, the last few books have been stupid where their relationship is concerned.)

On the other hand, the rest of the Women in the Women’s Murder Club are pretty much reduced to cameos.  I suspect this was to keep us (and the authors) from being too confused as to what is happening in their lives now versus back then.  But the end result is that Claire, as medical examiner, contributes to the case a little while Cindy and Yuki pretty much just get cameos.  However, as I have pointed out, that can be a blessing for Yuki, who gets some of the worst storylines of the series.  (Even worse than Lindsay and Joe’s marriage.)  The characters aren’t super strong, but that’s been a factor since the beginning of the series.

The plot itself was good, and I was happy to see something I’ve been wishing for happened here.  (Don’t worry, no spoilers.)  However, it is brutal, thanks to Anna’s story.  We learn about her back story, which involves war crimes.  It’s not pleasant, so keep that in mind as you are reading the book.  You’ve got to be in the right mindset to read it.  Fortunately, we don’t get into graphic details, but we do get enough to know how truly horrible things were.

Despite most of the Women missing much of the action, The 18th Abduction still proves to be one of the stronger entries in this series.  Fans will be happy with it.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Women's Murder Club series.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ornament Review: Ginger N. Sweethaus - Snowtop Lodge #14 - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute and creative
Cons: Very slight tip
The Bottom Line:
Gingerbread house made
By snowwoman.  Creative
Entry in series

Snowwomen and Gingerbread

One Christmas tradition is building gingerbread houses.  While I only did that a couple of years growing up, I did enjoy it (or should I say I enjoyed eating the frosting).  Anyway, that tradition comes to the Snowtop Lodge series with Ginger N. Sweethaus.

This year, we have a snowwoman, and she has just completed a gingerbread house masterpiece.  She’s proud of it, since she is holding her tray out for us to see and smiling.  The tray contains a nicely decorated house, definitely better than anything I did as a kid, as well as a couple gingerbread man cookies and other cookies.  She’s wearing a chef’s hat, and she has two rows of buttons on her front.  They look like mini frosted gingerbread cookies, and with the double line, it also looks like the buttons on a chef’s jacket.

The scene painted on the bottom of this ornament is fantastic.  It’s a snowy village scene, but with a twist.  Instead of a normal village, this one is a gingerbread village.  We can see several decked out gingerbread houses, the trees, which look like real trees, have been decorated for Christmas, and there are gingerbread people out and about in the village.

As I’ve said in the past, one reason I love Hallmark ornaments in their variations on a theme that come in their various series.  This is a prime example.  We’ve seen several villages in this series already, but making a gingerbread village is a wonderful and fun twist.  The snowwoman decked out as a chef is great as well.  The entire thing looks fantastic.  It would be fun for anyone who loves making gingerbread houses and snowman collectors in addition to the many fans of this series.

Ginger is a snowwoman, so naturally she can stand up on her own.  Like the rest of the series, she is porcelain, so you’ll want to be sure to put her someplace where she won’t accidentally get bumped and broken.

If you are looking to hang her on your tree, you’ll find the hook connected to her forehead through the chef’s hat.  (Ouch!)  She does tip slightly forward and to the right, but that won’t be an issue once you get a few Christmas tree branches around her.

You can find the 14 in a Christmas tree series marker painted on the bottom of the ornament.

I keep saying I need to cut back on ornaments, but it is so hard to be serious about doing that when Hallmark releases so many great ornaments.  Ginger N. Sweethaus continues a series I’m glad I started because I love them so much.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Snowtop Lodge series.

Original Price: $19.99

Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Review: The Narrows by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #10)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fast moving and twisty plot
Cons: Evil villain, but what I expected when I picked up this book
The Bottom Line:
Bosch gets involved in
A reborn FBI case
Another thrill ride

Harry Bosch Vs. The Poet

Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuted, Michael Connelly was creating one universe with his books.  He started out with some books about Los Angeles Police Detective Harry Bosch, but as he began to write standalones, he wove all his books together.  Sometimes, it was just a cameo or mention of characters from another book, but other times he wove characters from the standalones into the Harry Bosch series.  The Narrows represents a leap in this process, however.  This is a direct sequel to one of his stand alones but features Harry Bosch as a main character.

Which means, before we go any further, I do want to issue a spoiler warning.  While I won’t be spoiling the twists of this book (and there are plenty), this book completely spoils the twists of The Poet.  It only makes sense since this is a direct sequel.  But if you haven’t read that earlier standalone book, you really do need to read it before you enjoy this one.  Frankly, it’s been a few years since I listened to it, and I wish it had been a little fresher in my mind before I started this book.

The Poet is back.  After popping up only one other time in the years since FBI agent Rachel Walling shot him, he has now sent the FBI a GPS device with the coordinates of the burial site he’s been using for his murder victims.  Since he addressed it directly to Rachel, she has been brought down to Vegas even though she has been sent to South Dakota since that night eight years ago.

Meanwhile, Bosch, now retired, has been asked to investigate a friend’s death.  Everyone thought it was natural causes, but his widow thinks something else was going on, and she is afraid she might be blamed if she goes to anyone else.  As Bosch begins to investigate, he thinks that there is indeed more to this friend’s death than everyone believed.  Where will the investigation lead?

Yes, I’m being vague about whose death Bosch is investigating.  I will say it is someone we’ve seen in previous books from Michael Connelly, and this death saddened me because I’ve liked the character from the first time we met him.

Connelly does a great job of starting the investigation from these two different points and weaving them together.  While it is obvious to us early on that things will merge, he keeps us interested while the characters catch up to what we can assume since we know we are reading a book.  And then when these characters do meet, there isn’t too much time before they are sharing information, so we can focus on the twists to come.  As always, Connelly lays things out well, keeping the action fast while also giving us surprising twists that make perfect sense.

Speaking of twists, Bosch got a big twist in her personal life at the end of the previous book.  That is followed up on here, and I loved getting to see a different side of his character.  All the characters in this series are complex, and that continues here, which helps pull us into Bosch’s world and makes me anxious to get back when I finish a book.

The book is told partially from Bosch’s first-person point of view and partially from other character’s third-person point of view, mostly Rachel’s.  While I was listening to the audio, I never had a hard time knowing which point of view I was in.  Well, a couple of times, the switch wasn’t obvious for a sentence or two, but then only between the action was happening fast and both Bosch and Rachel were involved in what was happening.  It was never confusing or distracted me at all.

As always, these books are certainly darker than the cozies I normally pick up.  We are dealing with a demented serial killer for one, and the series never shies away from the violence of murder.  It’s not too gratuitous, and I find the books well worth it, but do keep that in mind when you pick one of them up.

I already mentioned that, once again, I listened to an audio version of this book.  Specifically, I listened to the Booktrack edition narrated by Len Cariou.  For the most part, he did a good job, although the couple of times a kid entered the book, I found his voice annoying as he tried to mimic a preschooler.  The other thing to comment on was the music, which was at the end of some chapters, but not all.  It was needless and a bit distracting as I tried to figure out the pattern.  At least the occasional sound effects at the beginning didn’t carry over through the entire book since they were distracting.  Honestly, I just need a book read well, I don’t need the extras.

The Narrows is another masterpiece from a great writer.  It is well worth waiting to read until you have the backstory so the twists mean more to you.

To learn more about Harry Bosch, be sure to check out the rest of the Harry Bosch books in order.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Disney Mug Review: Pocahontas - Disney Wisdom Collection #5

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great quote; great looking mug
Cons: None related to the mug itself
The Bottom Line:
A great wisdom quote
Captured on a stunning mug
Glad I got this one

Good Reminder on a Fun Mug

While I will never love the movie Pocahontas, I definitely appreciate Disney using a quote from it as part of their Disney Wisdom Collection.  This beautiful mug is a great addition to my collection.

The color of the month is a pretty blue green color.  The result is absolutely beautiful.  On one side of the mug, we have Meeko the raccoon, this month’s mascot, and Flit the hummingbird.  They are in various shades of blue, which isn’t their natural color, but I’ve gotten used to these stylized characters, and I like how they look.  They don’t have as much doodle around them, but what they do have looks like leaves and branches.

On the other side is the quote of the month from Grandmother Willow.  “Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one.”  There is a lot of truth in this quote since it seems like the right path is rarely the easiest one.  And the quote looks amazing.  They use pink and orange extensively, which really makes it pop out.  I think they outdid themselves with the presentation here.  Again, the quote is surrounded by leave doodles.

Of course, looks aren’t important if this isn’t a good mug.  Fortunately, that’s not a problem at all.  The mug is wide and short, but it still easily holds 14 oz.  It is designed so that you can stack it with others from the set to take up a little less room in your cupboard, which is nice since I really don’t need any more mugs.  And, like most mugs today, it is dishwasher and microwave safe.

I have very little Pocahontas merchandise, and I don’t see that changing.  I’m happy to have this mug as one of those rare exceptions.

Disney Pin Review: Pocahontas - Disney Wisdom Collection #5

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great quote, set looks good
Cons: Not a fan of the movie the quote comes from
The Bottom Line:
Great quote from poor film
With good reminder on life
Anchors a fun set

Wisdom from a Tree

When I saw that one of the quotes in the Disney Wisdom series was coming from Pocahontas, I was less than happy.  I have major issues with that film, including its historical inaccuracies and its including fantasy elements in a historical story.  Yet, when I actually thought about the quote they included, I loved it, so I was happy to add this pin set to my collection.

Ironically, the quote, which I love, comes from one of the fantasy characters, that of Grandmother Willow.  But the quote!  “Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one.”  That’s actually a very true statement.  In fact, I would argue that the right path is rarely the easiest one.  Yet people are too willing to go along with others and take the easiest path instead of standing up for what is right.  It gets more complicated when you factor in people who think they are on the right path when they really aren’t.  It’s why Jesus said in Matthew 7 “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (Yes, I did just quote the Bible in the same paragraph with a mystical talking tree.  No, that doesn’t mean we should blindly accept anything that is said, but we should filter everything through the lens of scripture.)

Anyway, on to the pin set.  As usual, there are three pins.  The first is the quote in stylized calligraphy and a rectangle frame.  The two characters pins are of Meeko the raccoon and Flit the hummingbird.  Once again, we don’t have a pin of the person who gave us the quote, but we are three for five for not getting a pin of the person being quoted, so that’s not really a surprise.

The color of the month is blue again, but more of a blue green than the baby blue from the Dumbo set.  It’s a very pretty color.  The quote is mainly pink, white, and orange on the blue background, while the characters are a couple of shades of blue.  I feel like the quote is the boldest color choices yet (which is ironic since the theme for next month’s quote is bold), but it works well.  As to the characters, neither of them is usually blue, but their look here is in keeping with the series and mostly works.  Flit could be a little easier to recognize; you certainly wouldn’t know who he was out of context, and he’s mostly one shade of blue, but that’s a minor complaint.  Since I’m not a fan of the movie, I know I don’t have these characters in my pin collection since I would have skipped over them at the parks.  It’s not a hole I was looking to fill, but I am fine with adding these two characters since their antics are definitely a highlight of the film.

No, this pin set hasn’t changed my mind on the movie.  But I am glad to add this part of the Disney Wisdom Collection to my pin collection.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

May 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

And the schedules for next year has been announced.  Everything I'm currently watching is coming back with one big exception (which I already knew about), and almost everything is on at the same time.  The only real surprise is that Batwoman is going to premier in the fall on the CW and Legends of Tomorrow won't be back until mid-season.  I figured it would be the other way around.  Of course, we will see if I stick with any of those shows after the big fall cross over and the end of Arrow.

But that's seven months away.  For now, let's look at this week's shows, including that big finale I already mentioned.

Supergirl – While I’m still not super impressed with this season, at least we were telling a story and moving it forward and not preaching this week.  How Supergirl is going to prevail is well beyond me.  I feel like we are completely at war right now, too.  I don’t see how we go back to something resembling normal after all of this.

Legends of Tomorrow – Again, the show feels like it is out of control, and I’m not sure how we go back and fix things.  Maybe that is because we are currently in the present, so we have to save our time to do it.  Gary turned out to be a handful when he gets upset.  And the Fairy Godmother was much more devious than I thought she was.

Arrow – No real surprises as far as I was concerned.  It helped that I knew who was leaving and had read some theories about next year’s crossover.  Based on what they’d been doing this season in the present and the future, it all made sense.  But it still hit me very hard.  Darn it, I want a happy ending for them.  It really does feel like it’s been pointless watching the show all these years.  And I know that was my complaint all season, but this didn’t help at all.  It was nice to see Curtis come back and see the return of Black Siren, not that I thought she was gone for long.

The Flash – Another emotional hour.  Cisco isn’t Vibe anymore?  That’s going to be hard for him and the writers.  And they’ve moved up The Flash’s vanishing act, although I’m not surprised with the big Crisis crossover coming next year.  Reverse Flash is back on the loose, so when will he pop up again?

Survivor – So the guy I was rooting for didn’t win.  But I’m not surprised that Chris won.  He got back in after spending almost the entire game on the edge, and then he made that big move in the fire getting out the guy most people had been trying to get out for a couple of weeks.  I’m okay with that outcome.

The Big Bang Theory – That finale was perfect!  As uneven as this season has been, I couldn't have asked for a better send off for these characters. So many laughs. Even the moments that I was expecting still came in a way that surprised me and made me laugh.  And the little moments.  So many little moments I completely enjoyed.  Thanks for 12 great years filled with laughter and friendship.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Book Review: Murder in Little Italy by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: None worth bringing to the present
The Bottom Line:
Irish mother dies
Ignites some racial tension
Always engrossing

An Irish Death in Little Italy

I have quickly come to learn exactly what to expect when I pick up one of Victoria Thomas’s Gaslight Mysteries – an engrossing trip back in time that completely captures my interest.  That’s exactly what happened again with Murder in Little Italy, the eighth entry in the series.

The series features Frank Malloy, an Irish police Detective Sergeant, and Sarah Brant, a midwife, in 1890’s New York City.  Their paths seem to keep crossing at the site of various murders around the city and Sarah uses her position to find out information that helps Frank solve the case, much to Frank’s dismay.  The two have also developed very strong feelings for each other, feelings that neither of them are willing to admit to.

Sarah is called by the Ruocco family for a birth in their home over their Italian restaurant.  Antonio’s new Irish wife, Nainsi is in labor, but she is two months early.  However, when the baby arrives, Sarah begins to suspect that the baby is actually full term and Nainsi lied about when she got pregnant.  When Sarah returns for her follow up visit the next day, she finds that Nainsi died in the night – although sarah quickly realizes that Nainsi didn’t die from complications from child birth and sends for Frank.  Since Frank is Irish, his presence draws suspicion from the family.  As the racial tensions in the city over this incident begin to rise, Frank must find a way to solve the case.  Can he do it with Sarah’s help?

The previous books in this series have explored many different neighborhoods and elements of the city at the time, but they have only mentioned some of the racial tensions of the city.  This one brings it to the foreground, and it adds a nice element to the mystery.  It also means that Frank gets a partner in the investigation, a newer Italian police officer, something he hasn’t had in the past.  I hope we see this character again since I really liked him.

The books in the series usual do a good job of balancing Sarah and Frank investigating and finding clues.  I can’t point to anything specifically here, but I feel like Frank did more investigating this time around.  This isn’t to say that Sarah isn’t an active part of the book, but she isn’t questioning people or finding reasons to visit them as much in this book.  She still manages to find out some key information that helps solve the case, so maybe it’s just my perception instead of reality.

Either way, the two continue to be strong lead characters.  While we do get a little forward progress on some on-going storylines, it is very minimal and even some of the supporting players don’t put in appearances.  The focus of this book is on the case at hand without much room for sub-plots.

This case is certainly strong enough to support that.  The new characters are wonderful.  They sprang to life from the first time we met them, and I honestly could have seen any of them being the guilty party before the book was over.  We get several good clues and some red herrings and twists before Sarah and Frank both figure out what really happened.  And make no mistake, they do both figure it out.

Murder in Little Italy is another strong trip back in time to solve a fantastic mystery.  These visits are over all too quickly.  Now to reluctantly return to the present until I get a chance to return to Sarah and Frank’s world.

After reading this, you'll definitely want to check out the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries.

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Movie Review: A Prescription for Murder - A Hailey Dean Mystery

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Entertaining mystery
Cons: Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Hospital setting
Another entertaining
Hailey Dean movie

Murder at a Hospital

You can set a mystery just about anywhere, and I can’t think of very many places where one hasn’t been set over the years.  A hospital is nothing new, but it can be quite creepy, which is the case in A Prescription for Murder, the second of this month’s Hailey Dean Mystery Movies.

Erica is the new administrator of the hospital, having gotten the job about a year before.  However, it appears the stress is getting to her because she has developed a heart murmur.  On the advice of the hospital’s cardiologist, she is under observation in the hospital when she takes a turn for the worse and dies.

So how does Hailey (Kelly Martin) get involved?  Her boyfriend Jonas (Matthew MacCaull) is called to do the autopsy, and he can’t figure out what actually killed her.  It doesn’t appear to be natural causes, however.  Then, when the police get involved, Finch’s (Viv Leacock) girlfriend Megan becomes the prime suspect.  So Hailey starts sleuthing to figure out what really happened to Erica.  Can she figure it out?

What makes this movie so creepy?  I think it’s the idea of being helpless in a hospital that makes me feel that way about the setting.  There is certainly nothing creepier than other Hailey Dean movies on the screen.  And maybe it’s been I’ve stayed in the hospital that makes this feel more real to me than some other settings.

Anyway, we have another solid mystery here.  While it is easy to write off one or two suspects early on (and Hailey does as well), we still have plenty of motives and suspects.  The ending was a little obvious, but there is so much going on that I thought I might be wrong.  In fact, the plot involves some good surprises along the way.

Some of those other things going on include a sub-plot involving Hailey meeting Jonas’s father.  I really enjoyed this storyline since it provided some much needed comic relief.

The story of the prisoner up for parole introduced in the previous movie also continues here.  It is obvious that Clayton Morrel (Bradley Stryker) is going to be the through line for these three movies, and also helps explain why they have made a big deal about Lauren Holly guest starring in these three movies as Paulina, the DA.

In other continuity news, they actually reference the calendar that Jonas was part of in the previous movie, which was fun.  However, they seem to have dropped the minor cliffhanger involving Hailey’s professional life from the end of the last movie.  That surprised me a bit.

Naturally, this comes with the standard Hallmark cheese factor, and again, it seems a little stronger here than in some of the other franchises.  Nancy Grace, creator of the character, has her usual cameo, although this one wasn’t quite as fun as some of them are.

While this isn’t my favorite Hallmark Mystery franchise, A Prescription for Murder still a fun way to spend a couple of hours, especially if you do like the characters.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Dying for Devil's Food Winner

I realize I'm a day late, but I have finally pulled the winner for Dying for Devil's Food.  And that winner is...


I've sent your an e-mail, so be sure to be looking for it so I can make sure you get your prize.

Ornament Review: Tea Time! #3 - Nutcracker - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creative tea set with a nutcracker theme
Cons: Nutcrackers aren’t short and squat like the tea pot is
The Bottom Line:
Nutcracker tea set
Becomes cute ornament set
Creative and fun

Why Do I Like This Ornament Set?  It’s Not a Tough Nut to Crack

While I don’t have that many, I do love nutcrackers.  This is something that came done from my grandma to my mother and on to me.  So when I saw that a nutcracker was the inspiration for the third Tea Time! ornament, I was excited.

This two ornament set features a festive tea pot and matching cut.  The tea pot itself is a classic looking nutcracker.  He’s done up in red and green with black, gold, and white accents.  While I do typically picture nutcrackers tall and thin, this one is short and squat, the better to look like a tea pot.  Also to help with the tea pot illusion, one arm is bent to form the handle while the other is at an angle to form the spout.

Okay, so the short and stout thing does bother me, I’ll admit it.  I just don’t picture nutcrackers looking quite like this one does.  But I just keep reminding myself that this is “really” a tea pot, and then I’m okay.

And it helps to look at the “mug” that comes with the set.  This second ornament is a nut.  How perfect is that?  I should say it is half a nut since the top of the shell has been cracked off so we can use it to drink the hot beverage, which appears to be either hot chocolate or tea.  Yes, I know the series is entitled Tea Time!, but some other have pretty obviously been hot chocolate.

Together, the two ornaments make a great set.  Once again, I could see a tea set that actually looks like this selling well, which is why I enjoy this series so much.

Since these ornaments are supposed to represent a tea pot and a tea cup, it’s no surprise that they have flat bottoms.  You can easily set this series out to be displayed if you so desire.  They are also perfectly balanced, so they hang straight when you go to hang them on your tree.  Looking for the series marker?  You’ll find the 3 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of both ornaments in this set.

The creativity in Tea Time! continues to appeal to me.  If you enjoy creative tea sets, you’ll want to add this ornament set to your collection.

Here are the rest of the Tea Time! ornament sets.

Original Price: $19.99

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Book Review: Double Whammy by Gretchen Archer (Davis Way Crime Capers #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters; glamor, fun
Cons: Too many logical flaws, especially in the final third
The Bottom Line:
Casino caper
I think I over thought it
Wanted to like more

I Wanted to Like this Book More Than I Actually Did

Obviously, I have a very hard time getting to all the books I intend to read.  That’s why Gretchen Archer’s Davis Way series has been on my radar for years but I finally just picked up the first book in the series, Double Whammy.  I really wanted to enjoy it, but it had too many issues for me to fully do so.

When we meet Davis Way, she has finally landed a job.  Working for the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, might not be her dream job, but after a year of unemployment, she’ll take anything she can find.  As a former police officer in her small home town of Pine Apple, Alabama, she is perfect for taking on under cover security for the casino and hotel, finding guests and employees who are trying to make their own luck.

Her first assignment is to figure out how people are winning the big jackpot on the Double Whammy video poker machines.  Unfortunately, the man who is cashing in each time the jackpot gets high is her ex-ex-husband Eddie.  Can she figure out how he is cheating the system?  Even more importantly, can she do it without getting into more trouble over this man she thought was out of her life?

While I don’t like to gamble myself (I hate to lose money on it), I find the glitch and glamor of casinos to be fascinating, which is why I’ve been drawn to these books.  And we do get a healthy dose of that glamor here.  Okay, so some of Davis’s jobs along the way are less than glamorous, but the entire book had a sheen to it that kept me from seeing some of the flaws until I had finished the book.

First up is the plot.  There is a good plot here, however, it is slowed down by some side trips that don’t do much to add to the overall story.  Davis has a complicated backstory as well, and we are treated to that in small doses as the book progresses.  Considering I hate having backstory dumped on me, I did appreciate how that was doled out.  The main storyline of the book does have some interesting twists and surprises to it, but I wish it had been more the focus of the entire book.

Which brings us to the characters.  Davis is an interesting main character, and I can see plenty of potential in the supporting characters to grow into even more complex characters as the series progress.  I liked the cast, which again I think helped me overlook some of the issues.

My issues come to Davis herself.  She makes some incredibly stupid choices over the course of the book, especially in the final third.  Honestly, she is extremely lucky that she even made it out of the mess she was in.  I wouldn’t have done what some of the other characters had done to help her.  Of course, there are some other flaws with this part of the book, but I’m being vague to avoid spoilers.  I just had a hard time swallowing the final third of the book, which is ironic because that was also the part that kept me turning pages the fastest.  Again, it was only when I was done with the book that I began to question what had happened.

This book bills itself as a comedic caper, and I think that may be part of the issue.  I find that they either work well or completely miss the mark as far as I’m concerned.  The series has quite a few fans, so I’m obviously in the minority when it comes to this book, which leaves me wondering what exactly I am missing when it comes to this debut.  Is it me?  Or are others having too much fun to think things through as much as I am?

I bought this book a couple of years ago (told you it’s been on my radar for a while), and after I bought it, the authors released a “Special Edition” that was edited to make it flow better.  She was nice enough to give me a copy of that new edition, and that is what I read.

Ultimately, I think I am just the wrong audience for Double Whammy.  Based on the number of people who love it, there is definitely a fan base out there for Davis and her antics; I’m just not part of it.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Movie Review: The Rookie

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Moving, powerful, and enjoyable story
Cons: Plot predictable, but you won’t care
The Bottom Line:
A baseball movie
Hits familiar notes but is
So enjoyable

Root for the Double Underdog

I firmly believe there is only one true sport (ultimate Frisbee), but that doesn’t stop me from watching sports movies upon occasion.  I always intended to watch The Rookie at some point, but I finally got around to watching it recently, and I wish I’d seen it sooner.

The movie is inspired by the true story of Jimmy Morris (Dennis Quaid).  As a kid, he lived for baseball, playing every chance he got.  His father (Brian Cox) was in the military, so they moved around quite a bit.  Furthermore, his father never understood Jimmy’s obsession with the game.

But the story really picks up with Jimmy as an adult in the small Texas town where the Morris family had settled.  He’s married with kids of his own, and he teaches chemistry and coaches baseball at the local high school.  This being Texas, baseball doesn’t get much respect, and his team doesn’t seem to care much.  While trying to give a motivation speech about taking risks and trying your hardest, the team turns it back on Jimmy.  Finally a deal is struck.  If the last place team wins enough games to go to division, Jimmy will follow his lifelong dream and try out for the majors.  What will happen next?

Actually, no one tries to hide what happens next.  I knew the basic outline of the story when the movie hit theaters over a decade ago.  And if you don’t, well, it’s a PG sports movie from Disney.  I’m sure you can figure out what happens.

Yet knowing what happens going into this movie isn’t a disadvantage at all.  It is a wonderful story from start to finish.  I was pulled into the film much more than I expected to be, tearing up more than once as the events unfolded.  Even the expected character development from some of the cast moved me.  But I really liked the relationship between Jimmy and his wife Lorri, played by Rachel Griffiths.  They felt like a real couple to me, with real struggles.  But what I loved is, even when they disagreed, they worked through things as a couple.

Naturally, this means I found the acting great.  Even the kids in the cast were enjoyable.  There’s nothing here that won’t pull you into this film and keep you watching until the end.

This film is a perfect example of a film where the journey to the end is worth taking even if you know where it is going.  If you’ve missed The Rookie, you should fix that today.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Book Review: Spy School British Invasion by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #7)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good characters, fast paced plot, fun
Cons: None on either side of the pond
The Bottom Line:
Trail leads to England
Gives us another wild ride
Filled with heart and fun

Can Ben Track SPYDER Without Causing an International Incident?

The previous book in the Spy School series was the first time that we actually left the United States in our quest to vanquish the evil organization SPYDER.  Of course, since Ben Ripley, our main character, is only thirteen, it makes sense, right?  However, in the last book, Ben was in Mexico, and now he’s leaving our continent for Europe in Spy School British Invasion.

Before we go any further, I do want to issue a minor spoiler warning, not for my review but the book in general.  Because this book picks up moments after the end of Spy School Goes South, it naturally discusses the events of that book, especially the climax.  So, if you want to read that book and be completely surprised, you’ll need to pick it up first.  Honestly, that’s no issue at all.  In fact, I highly recommend this entire series and reading it in order.  They are all so much fun.

Anyway, on to this book.

Ben Ripley and his team of fellow spies think they have been handed the key to finally taking down the evil organization SPYDER.  As it so happens, the key is a literal key.  Ben’s friends piece together that it most likely belongs to a storage space under the British Museum.  Since no one knows who in the CIA is really a SPYDER double agent, only Ben and his friends from Spy School can be trusted to go and retrieve whatever the item might be.  And so Ben, Mike, Zoe, Erica, and Erica’s parents make their way to London.  What will they find when they land?

Those who have been reading all along will recognize SPYDER since they’ve been a thorn in Ben’s side from the very first book – originally trying to recruit him as a double agent and then trying to kill him when those plans failed.  It’s no surprise that we are battling them again, although what we learn about them along the way here does include a surprise or two.

Like early books in the series, the plot is a wild ride.  There are multiple action sequences and close calls as Ben and the rest of the characters run from one dangerous situation to another all in their quest to defeat SPYDER.  If it all feels a bit over the top at times, I’m sure that’s on purpose.  I’m equally certain that kids won’t mind at all; I know I don’t.

Underlying all the life and death action is the humor.  This book will make you laugh.  Heck, I chuckled at something on the very first page.  I might not have been laughing out loud quite as much as I was with the previous book, but I was definitely still laughing and enjoying the antics of all the characters, both good and bad.

But here’s the thing – those characters are still very real.  They might come across as larger than life at first, but everyone has a moment or two that shows they are human.  I loved seeing some of these characters in a very different light before the book was over.

Once again, author Stuart Gibbs has woven together a spy thriller that is perfectly entertaining for the target audience of middle grade readers as well as older readers.  Grab your passport in book form and enjoy Spy School British Invasion.

Missing one of Ben’s adventures?  Here are the Spy School books in order.

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

Saturday, May 11, 2019

May 11th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Next week, we have more season finales as well as a big series finale.  Plus upfronts, so we'll know next year's schedule.  But for now, here are my thoughts on this week's crop of shows.

Supergirl – I called that one weeks ago.  President Baker is pure evil.  I’m betting that we get Lynda Carter’s alien back as President before the season finale airs.  Lockwood’s son is completely correct.  Not that the alien doesn’t deserve to be brought to justice, but she was driven to what she did because of Lockwood.  I actually thought that Alex was going to get a baby.  And can they be any more obvious about setting up a romance between Alex and Kelly?

Legends of Tomorrow – So we are going to get a glimpse of hell now, huh?  And please, please, please tell me we are done with the nipple thing.  That’s just disgusting.  Already don’t care for Gary, and this isn’t helping.  The Apples to Apples take off game looks like a lot of fun to me.  I want to play!

Arrow – Cliffhangers in the future and the present.  I’m very curious how they will get out of the trouble they are in.  Yet I’m still struggling to care overall this season.  Too much doom, gloom, and darkness.  Was the show this dark in season 1?  Speaking of which, I forget just how much I missed Tommy until he pops up again.  I suspected it all mostly in Oliver’s head when he got out of being trapped on his own.  I know he’s the Green Arrow, but still, there’s no way that could happen.

The Flash – So Thawne did have a master plan and was using Nora.  Can’t wait to see what it is, how Ralph figured it out, and how they will stop him.  I figured that something must be coming because it was looking like we were pretty much going to defeat the big bad and we still had an episode to go.  Although it looks like she is back next week as well.

Survivor – It’s not reverse psychology to say you are going to do something and then not do it.  But it is a trick and very good game play.  I’m rooting for Devins at this point.  And I’m rooting for Joe to get back in the game.  We are in for an interesting finale.

The Amazing Race – I wish they’d get creative with their editing.  As soon as they cut away to the final commercial with Rachel and her sister struggling, I knew they wouldn’t get eliminated.  Of course, I don’t quite see how they survived.  I guess the other team got lost?  Rachel is being Rachel, which means she is annoying.  I’m ready for her to leave my TV.

The Big Bang Theory – I was waiting for the other shoe to drop with Leonard’s mother as well.  But his reaction was perfect, and that final scene.  Wow!  I wonder where they are going with Raj.  Loved Stuart’s sub-plot.  It’s nice to see him getting some happiness.  And man, that roommate was creepy.

Abby’s – This episode started out fun, but it somehow lost its way in the middle.  The whole mystical object part just fell flat for me.  I was most intrigued by the opener being filmed before it was dark.  Were they filming these back in March, and the time change made it light enough when they started filming?