Saturday, March 23, 2019

March 23rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Things are looking a bit light the next couple of weeks as several shows go on hiatus before they ramp up for their final run of episodes.  But here's what I have for this week.

Supergirl – Very interesting to meet Lex.  I’m thinking my predictions of Lena turning to the dark side have been diminished now that she’s had a run in with him again.  Definitely don’t think she’s going there by the end of the season.  I wasn’t aware that James had a sister, but it was fun to meet her.  My favorite part was Lex controlling the guns to the music as he escaped, however.  And now that Manchester is dead, how will that play into the hate storylines?

God Friended Me – I knew the first job was too easy.  I’m glad they at least addressed Miles’ dad’s job promotion and his family issues.  Not surprised at how that progressed, but it was still good to see it at least addressed.  And can we all agree that Simon is not behind the God account?

Arrow – So, if I’ve been complaining about the flashforwards all season, you can pretty much bet how I felt about this episode.  It didn’t change my mind one bit about the future storyline since it seems like the present storyline is irrelevant.  Here’s hoping they can change my mind by the end of the season, but I doubt it.

The Flash – I’m glad Nora’s secret it out.  I hope we get some answers as to what is really going on with her when we come back.  (In a month?  Seriously?)  Anyway, Grace is a worse Cicada to be facing.  Defeating her uncle would have been tough enough.  I knew she’d kill her uncle before the episode was over.  Although he sure seemed to change fast from evil to nice.  I wonder if the dark matter had anything to do with that.

This Is Us – What is it with characters on shows not wanting to have kids right now.  Seems to be popping up on several of my shows in the last couple of years.  Not surprised that Kevin chose Zoe.  I’m dreading next week with Randall and Beth’s fight.  I can’t wait for that storyline to be over.  And I completely get where Toby was coming from, although that final scene with him holding his son was so perfect.

Survivor – I hadn’t noticed we had two episodes back to back until the first one didn’t end.  They finally voted out one of the returning players.  Since they’ve been talking about that all along, it was interesting to see it finally happen.  That was quite a twist in the second hour with two tribes going to vote one person out.  And they finally showed up more than two minutes of the edge of extinction people.  I’m very curious to see what happens with them next week.

The Orville – Kind of saw both storylines coming, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them.  I actually felt sorry for Gordan.  Okay, so I like the character, but he wasn’t a goofball.  And what a voice he has!  Those two need to produce a few songs together.  I’d buy them.  The smoking sub-plot was supposed to be funny, but with my on going issues with neighbors smoking, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was supposed to.  And how fun to see Voyager’s Tim Russ show up near the beginning.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Movie Review: Captain Marvel

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Creative introduction to a new Marvel superhero
Cons: A few niggles
The Bottom Line:
New superhero
Creative introduction
In a fun movie

Fun Twist on an Origin Story

I hadn’t heard of Captain Marvel until Marvel Studios announced they would be creating a movie for this character.  Considering my lack of comic book knowledge, this isn’t completely surprising.  However, I put it on my must watch list since I figured I’d need to see it to be ready for the next Avengers movie when it comes out next month.  I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed it.

As the movie opens, we meet Vers (Brie Larson), a member of the Kree.  This race is caught in a war with the Skrulls, an alien race that can transform themselves into any other person or animal they’ve seen.  Vers has spent the last six years training to be part of their elite military squad under the direction of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law).  She has no memory of her time before she started training, but she accepts that and uses it to drive her to train harder.  It has paid off because she is finally ready to go out on her first mission.

However, the mission goes wrong and she finds herself tracking several Skrulls on Earth in 1995 where she also crosses paths with Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a rookie agent named Coulson (Clark Gregg).  Will she be able to stop the Skrulls?

As superhero movies have flooded the market, I have complained about how similar the origin movies can be.  We see how they get their powers while also seeing them fight their first villain.  Yes, I need to be introduced to these heroes myself often, so I appreciate the background, but they can be extremely formulaic.  That wasn’t the case here.  Yes, we are introduced to Vers and get quite an interesting backstory, but it isn’t the typical first movie origin story, so I really enjoyed it.

That also means the plot has some unique and fun twists to it that kept me engaged between action scenes.  I did think by the time we got to the climax things were a bit anti-climactic, but that might just be me.

 There is certainly plenty of action in the film.  This is a superhero movie, after all.  These action scenes usually involve some pretty heavy special effects.  All those effects were believable, including the effects to make Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg look 25 years younger.

The acting was mostly good.  Brie Larson has some scenes with a pre-teen, and I thought some of those scenes were forced, but that was my only complaint in the acting department.  As the star, Brie has a wide range of scenes to play, and she nailed the rest of them.  The rest of the cast is obviously having fun while working hard to make us believe their characters are real.

You’ll definitely want to stay through the credits.  There are two scenes, one that sets up Captain Marvel’s appearance in next month’s Avengers movie.  The second one is good for a laugh, but I’m wondering if it will play into the new movie as well.

Captain Marvel does a good job of introducing us to another superhero from the Marvel world.  If you care about staying up to date in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll want to watch it, and you’ll have a lot of fun doing that.

March 22nd's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Well, it's been since the beginning of the year since I participated in Book Beginning and Friday 56.  I've just been very busy on Thursday nights.  But I'm back this week.

This week, I'm featuring The Hidden Corpse, the second Food Blogger Mystery by Debra Sennefelder.

The book comes out on Tuesday, but I finished it today for review on Tuesday.

Here's how the book begins:

"Still missing, no new leads on Lily Barnhart."

Nothing like jumping in with a mystery, right?

And jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

"I heard about the fire.  Did Peggy fall asleep again while cooking?"

I hope you'll come back Tuesday to read my full review.  Until then, have a great weekend.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Book Review: Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz (Orphan X #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fast paces action
Cons: My issues with the premise; violence
The Bottom Line:
The fight for his life
Finds Evan multi-tasking
A great fast-paced book

Target: The President

Anyone who has been reading the Orphan X thrillers from Gregg Hurwitz knows that Evan Smoak’s life has been building to a confrontation with President Bennett.  We get the confrontation with Out of the Dark, and it is the wild ride you’d expect for this series.

For those who haven’t met Evan yet, he was recruited as a twelve-year-old into a secret government program and trained to be an assassin.  He went rogue years ago and now uses his skills to help those who find themselves in impossible circumstances.  However, his past as part of the Orphan program has a way of coming back to complicate his life.

Evan’s first mission as a nineteen-year-old in 1997 sent him to an Eastern European country to take out a general who was going to make the region unstable.  Well, more unstable than it already was.  At the time, current President Bennett was just an undersecretary at the Department of Defense who was secretly in charge of the Orphan program.  At the time, Evan thought the mission went off without a hitch, but now he finds himself directly in President Bennett’s crosshairs.  What about that mission is so dangerous to President Bennett now?

This conflict is personal, and Evan knows that it will only end with one of the two men dead.  Therefore, Evan has to find a way to take out the most protected man in the world.  With President Blank sending Orphan A after Evan, he must gather information quickly and quietly.  Meanwhile, someone has called Evan’s phone requesting his help.  And that help is on a deadline as well.  Will Evan be able to juggle both missions and come out alive?

Given our current political environment, I was a little hesitant to read a book where the premise is taking out the President.  Now, let me be clear, the President in the book is in no way either our current President or any President we’ve had in my life time.  Not only is the name different, but the rest of the details of his life are different.  And it is very clear that he is a very bad man.  One thing I like about Evan is that he only goes after truly vile people, and the character in this book certainly qualifies.

So I set that aside and dove in.  I was quickly caught up in Evan’s drive to protect his life against overwhelming odds.  As you’d expect if you’ve read the earlier books in this series or any of Gregg’s other books, the pace is fast and the complications keep mounting until it looks like there is no way Evan will pull things off.  And yet he manages to do that in some creative ways.

One thing I have loved about this series is that Evan is much more complicated than he first appears.  On the surface, he is a man who has been trained as a killing machine, but he is looking for ways to shed that.  This conflict is fascinating to watch, and his journey takes some interesting twists here.  The book is peopled with other great characters, both new and returning.

Being a thriller, this book is definitely not one of the cozies I normally read.  Yes, there is some language, although not as much as you might expect.  However, the violence makes up for it.  This one especially seemed to be a bit more violent than the earlier books in the series, but that might just be because this book is freshest in my mind.  Just know this going in and you’ll be fine.

This book plays out from threads introduced in earlier books, most notably the previous book in the series.  However, it could easily be read as a standalone.  Yes, you won’t appreciate all of the nuances of events and characters, but everything you need to know is explained here without any spoilers.  Of course, since it will just make you want to read the earlier books, you might as well start there.

Despite my issues with the premise, I completely enjoyed Out of the Dark.  If you are a fan of fast-moving thrillers, you need to be reading this series.

Missing some of Evan’s adventures?  Here are the Orphan X thrillers in order.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Movie Review: Life-Size

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Acting from the leads, some fun
Cons: Predictable, growth happens too fast
The Bottom Line:
A doll brought to life
Predictable kids’ movie
That doesn’t charm me

My Opinion of This Movie Didn’t Change on a Second Viewing

I know I watched Life-Size years ago.  We’re talking probably when it first aired on TV in 2000; if not, it wasn’t too long after that fact.  I remember not being that impressed with the movie at the time, so I was a bit surprised when I discovered the film has developed a bit of a cult following, even earning a TV movie sequel.  With that in mind, I decided to give the movie a second shot and see if my take on it had changed.

Casey Stuart (Lindsay Lohan) lost her mother a few years ago.  While she still lives with her dad Ben (Jere Burns), he has turned his grief into a drive to become a partner in his law firm.  Sad and lonely, Casey finds a spell that she thinks will return her mother to her.  Going behind her father’s back, she acquires the book and gets what she needs to enact it.

However, things go wrong and she accidentally brings an Eve doll to life.  As Casey tries to figure out a way to undo the spell, Eve (Tyra Banks) begins to infiltrate Casey and Ben’s lives.  Will her presence bring any changes to them?

Not familiar with Eve?  She’s essentially a Barbie clone.  While the movie never mentions the famous doll, Eve talks about all her careers and how perfect she was at them over the course of the movie.  Obviously, with model Tyra Banks playing the character, she’s also beautiful.  And there are references to her house and other accessories.

I’m sure you can see where the plot is going from my teaser, and you’d be correct.  Now, as you know, I don’t knock a movie for being predictable if I am having fun along the way.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have fun watching this movie.  Yes, it hits all the expected notes.  However, it feels perfunctory as it goes about doing that.  In fact, at times it seems like it is rushing to hit those notes instead of allowing them time to develop and the characters to grow.  Instead of enjoying myself, I found myself ready for the movie to be over.

This isn’t a fault of the actors, who are all good.  Okay, so some of the supporting players are over the top, but the main trio are all solid actors.  Yes, even Tyra Banks, who isn’t known for her acting, does a good job as Eve.  Frankly, I’m surprised she hasn’t gotten more acting jobs.  This was back when Lindsay Lohan was still a rising star, and she shows how talented she was here.  Jere Burns has some fun reacting to Eve’s antics as the movie progresses.

In fact, I think that’s one of the film’s faults.  It spends more time with dad Ben over Casey once Eve comes to life.  Ultimately, this is supposed to be Casey’s story, but by spending the time with Ben, we are short changed on her growth.

Maybe I was too old both times to see any magic that Life-Size holds.  While the movie has its fans, I don’t think I will ever be one of them.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Book Review: Drowned Under by Wendall Thomas (Cyd Redondo #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, lots of fun
Cons: At times a bit too busy
The Bottom Line:
Missing passengers
Send Cyd racing down under
Fast paced and wild ride

Cyd’s Cruising to Find Missing Passengers

I haven’t been able to travel for a couple of years now (stupid adult responsibilities), so I’m anxious to find some mysteries that scratch the itch to travel.  That’s why it was a pleasure to head out again with Cyd Redondo.  She’s a travel agent who is just starting to travel herself, and she’s finding herself in some dangerous waters as she does so.

Drowned Under is her second adventure, but I don’t recommend you start here.  This book includes some major spoilers for the first book.  It has to.  But you’ll want to read the books in order, so go back and pick up Lost Luggage first.  It’s well worth it.

It’s the week before Christmas, and Cyd is dreading the upcoming holiday filled with rumors, whispers, and awkward family moments.  Then Barry Manzoni comes to her for help.  Barry is a childhood friend and Cyd’s ex-husband.  His parents are on an Australian cruise, and they vanished part way through.  Even though they didn’t book with Redondo Travel, Cyd still begins to use her contacts to see what she can learn.  In fact, she uses one of those contacts to get herself booked on the next cruise their ship is taking, which is following the same route.  Okay, so she might be using the trip to avoid Christmas with her family, but she does want to help Barry.

After a whirlwind trip half way around the world, she arrives on the ship only to find a dead body.  The crew want to say it is a tragic accident, but Cyd suspects foul play.  Does this tie into the disappearance of the Manzonis?  Can Cyd trust anyone on board?

Those who have read the first book will know what to expect here, and they won’t be disappointed.  We are off on another wild romp with plenty of surprises and complications that keep Cyd rushing to figure out what is going on and us turning pages.  I do feel the book gets a little frantic at times, but by the end the various plot threads come together into a satisfying conclusion.

Because Cyd is traveling, we really get an entire new cast of characters here, all of whom might or might not be behind the problems Cyd is trying to unravel.  Of course, that adds to the plot, but the characters all come across as real, or at least real for Cyd’s world.

What do I mean by that last comment?  This book has a very strong screwball comedy element.  Between some of the situations that Cyd finds herself in and some of the people she meets, there are plenty of laughs.  Yes, that does mean many of the characters come across as a bit more caricature instead of characters, but they fit perfectly into the book.  And there are definitely more serious moments that ground us enough to take the crimes seriously.  It helps that Cyd, while not immune from the occasional odd ball comment or action, comes across as very real.

The book has a smattering of foul language.  Like the first, there is a very strong sub-plot involving an endangered animal, however, there is no animal cruelty in this one.

Since this book is set in Australia at Christmas, it doesn’t feel like a Christmas book I normally would read.  After all, we’re talking about heat instead of cold and snow.  But I enjoyed the nods to the season that were part of the story.

If you are looking for a fun ride off the coast of Australia, look no further than Drowned Under.  Pick up this book and hold on tight.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Ornament Review: Jolly Ol' Jumper - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creative Santa ornament
Cons: Lights can become loose
The Bottom Line:
Santa jumping rope
Creative exercising
A fun Christmas piece

Santa Demonstrates a Colorful Way to Get Into Shape

Even after almost a decade of collecting Hallmark ornaments, it still amazes me how some ornaments immediately catch my eye in the Dreambook and others never seem to register no matter how often I look at the book.  Jolly Ol’ Jumper was one of the ornaments that caught my eye immediately.  As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it.

This ornament shows Santa using a little down time to get some exercise.  But, being Santa, he’s doing it with a Christmas theme.  He’s in a red sweatshirt, black track pants, and green shoes, and he’s jumping rope.  Only, it’s not a regular jump rope, it’s a rope of Christmas lights.  The lights are arching up just behind Santa’s head as he swings them around.

Yes, it really is that simple, but how incredibly clever and fun is that?  Even better, while the lights don’t actually light up, they are clear plastic, so they will catch the lights on your tree.  The effect is actually quite pretty.  Yes, you have to be looking at it to notice, but I like it.

On the other hand, the lights are glued onto the plastic representing the cord, and they can easily come lose.  I have one lose on my ornament, and it tends to hang out right next to its neighbor.  This isn’t a reason not to buy it, just a warning to be careful.

Because Santa is jumping rope, he doesn’t have both feet solidly on the ground.  The result is he won’t stand on his own.  But that’s okay since he hangs straight.

This ornament proved to be popular in 2018, so if you want a copy, I suggest you hunt one down soon.  Jolly Ol’ Jumper is a creative and clever addition to my ornament collection.

Original Price: $15.99

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Book Review: The Revenge of Magic by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; intriguing story and world building
Cons: None, but be aware this is a little darker than his earlier series
The Bottom Line:
Monster attack and
Magic start this great new series
You’ll soon be hooked on

Intriguing Series Debut

I’ve loved both of James Riley’s other two series, so I pretty much bought The Revenge of Magic sight unseen and started reading it as soon as I could.  My faith was rewarded because this new series is off to a great start.

It’s been six months since the attack on Washington, D.C.  Six months since Forsythe “Fort” Fitzgerald’s world was turned upside down when a giant creature comes up from the ground and destroys many of the monuments there, killing his father in the process.  In that time, one thought has kept Fort moving forward – the desire for revenge.

One day, Fort is surprised to be visited by the representatives of a school for magic.  Thirteen years ago, four magic books were found and only those born after they were discovered can read and use them.  When Fort is offered a chance to study at this school, he jumps on it, figuring this is a chance to learn something to help him extract his revenge.  However, not everything at the school is what it seems.  Can Fort learn what people are hiding from him?  Or will he be kicked out before that happens?

If you’ve read James’s other series, you will be a little surprised to find that the tone of this series is a shade darker than his earlier ones.  Yes, there is still some humor, but it isn’t as prevalent.  The set up does call for something more serious in tone, so this is completely appropriate.  Do note that I said this is a shade darker.  It’s still not dark by any stretch of the imagination, and I think it is appropriate for the target middle grade audience.

Since this is the first in a new series, there is quite a bit of world building going on.  While there are certainly tropes from the fantasy genre here, James has some twists on it that makes it his own, and we need to learn everything we can about this new world where we’ll be spending time in the books to come.  Sometimes I feel that this can slow things down, but I didn’t feel that happened here.  There are more explanations early on in the book, but the questions Fort gets begin to take over before we get bogged down learning about this new world.

And once Fort gets to the school, things really pick up the pace.  He has plenty of question, and learning the answers only seem to lead to more questions.  I am very intrigued by the threads for the next book left dangling at the end of this one, and I can’t wait to see where Fort’s journey takes him from here.

Wherever that is, he’ll be surrounded by a great group of characters.  Yes, he has some friends and some enemies already, and everyone seems to be hiding something.  I suspect that what we learn in this book is just the outer layer of what people are hiding, and I can’t wait to find out more.  From what we see here, these characters are already well developed.  Obviously, Fort is the most developed since this is his story.

I’m intrigued by this new world that James Riley has created, and I’m anxious to see where he intends to take Fort.  Buy The Revenge of Magic today so you don’t get left behind on this magical new series.

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

Saturday, March 16, 2019

March 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here are my thoughts on TV for the week.

Supergirl – I feel like so many people are going to the dark side right now.  J’Onn being one of them.  Lena is definitely heading that way as well.  It’s not helping me enjoy a season I’m already struggling to watch.  And who shot James?

God Friended Me – I wasn’t surprised about how the date went.  And I suspected something like that kiss at the end would happen as well.  But I was surprised about the main plot.  I figured that the dad would turn over the restaurant to his daughter, not sell the family restaurant.  And Miles’ dad is getting a promotion, too.

Arrow – I just can’t enjoy the modern storyline knowing how badly the future is going to go.  And I’m struggling with the fact that the actors playing the older kids look to be too close in age to be the right ages for William and Mia.  I did like the final take down of the bad guy and how it all turned out.

The Flash – It was obvious something wasn’t going to go as planned.  I mean, this isn’t the season finale.  I didn’t know what until the second Cicada showed up.  I totally called who that was, too.  But now what?  What does this mean?  And how is Nora’s time travel and alliance in the future play into any of this?  That’s what is bothering me the most right now.

This Is Us – Even though I expected the baby to be okay (at least for now), I figured the episode would be intense.  I loved Miguel so much in this episode.  Trying to distract them with the game (which was definitely funny – loved the ending of that), having Toby’s parent’s information.  And they did a good job of addressing everyone’s issues, or at least bringing them to the front.  I was surprised that Kevin is still drinking.  I wonder what Zoe is going to do about that.

Survivor – Come on!  Get Wendy out!  I’m disappointed that the team swap saved her.  And the same team lost again.  They just can’t pull it together at all.  Yet again they didn’t vote off the weakest player.  Sorry, but I don’t care if you are a soccer player, if you aren’t eating you are a liability to your tribe in challenges.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Book Review: "M" is for Malice by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #13)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: Slows down a bit at one point
The Bottom Line:
Hunting for an heir
Gives Kinsey family drama
Another great book

Malice Among the Maleks

I have officially crossed the line to the second half of the Kinsey Millhone series, and I’m sad about it.  I am really enjoying this PI’s cases and watching her life unfold.  “M” is for Malice is another great example of why.

Kinsey fully intends to turn down her latest client.  It’s not that she doesn’t need the work, but she has no interest in getting to know her recently discovered cousins, and one of them, Tasha Howard, has called asking to hire her.  However, the case appeals to her too much, so she takes it.  The owner of Malek Construction recently passed away, and the only will anyone can find leaves his money to his four sons.  The problem is that no one has heard from his son Guy in almost twenty years, ever since he was kicked out of the family’s home after too many brushes with the law.  He was also supposed to have been written out of the will, but no one can find that newer will.

No one has heard from Guy in all these years, and no one knows where he was even headed when he left, so to say the trail is cold is putting it mildly.  Can Kinsey figure out what happened to Guy?  Is he even still alive?

I’m sure it is no surprise to anyone familiar with the series to say that the hunt of Guy only serves to introduce Kinsey to the Malek family and plenty of family drama.  This series excels at family drama, and uses it to weave complications to mysteries.  It is exceptionally well done here.  Yes, things do slow down a bit in the middle, but I was still pulled into the story because I was expecting, and dreading, what was coming next.  I thought I had things figured out a little early, but author Sue Grafton managed to confuse me again before everything got wrapped up.

As always, Kinsey is the star of the book.  She’s again found herself taking a case that makes her examine the way she relates to the people in her life.  A sub-plot involving an ex coming back into her life really help with that as well.  The growth is slow, but she is at least asking the right questions of herself.

Not to say that the rest of the cast aren’t strong.  Sue Grafton could create a character with just a few sentences, and these characters are proof of that.  There are a few series regulars, and I enjoyed seeing them, but the bulk of the time is spent with the characters related to the case, who shine.

When Kinsey’s path crosses some Christians, I started to wince, expecting them to turn out to be hypocrites or extremists.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were presented in a positive light, which unfortunately seems to be rare in fiction.

I’m still listening to the series on audio, and once again the book I listened to was narrated by Mary Peiffer.  I find her take on Kinsey and the rest of the characters to be delightful.  She definitely helps pull me into the world of the books.

“M” is for Malice is another strong case for Kinsey and an enjoyable ride for us.

If you haven’t discovered the alphabet cases of Kinsey, here they are in order.

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Book Review: Bridges Burned by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: All cons went up in smoke
The Bottom Line:
Explosion and fire
Create relationship wedge
Drama amidst twists

Can Zoe and Pete Solve the Case Before They Burn Bridges?

I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in books.  There are all the book that come out each month I want to read, but there are also the older books that I have missed.  I need more hours in my day to devote to reading.  (Or not having to work a day job.)  Which brings us to the Zoe Chambers series.  I didn’t start this series when the first one came out, and now I am having to fit the older books of the series into my reading schedule.  Bridges Burned is the third in the series, and it was well worth making the time to read.

If you are new to the series, it focuses on Zoe Chambers, an emergency medical worker who is training to be the deputy coroner is a rural Pennsylvania county.  Just as important to the series is Pete Adams, the chief of police in the area.  In fact, I really consider them the co-leads of this series since we spend equal times in their third person points of view.  After years of being friends, Zoe and Pete have finally started dating, but this new case might put a damper on that.

It all starts with an explosion.  One of the few houses in a new subdivision explodes after the residents report smelling gas.  While Zoe isn’t on duty, she rushes to the scene to offer whatever aid she can.  While she is there, she stops the distraught owner from rushing in to see if his wife was home.

Sadly, the wife’s remains are found in the rubble.  The fire investigator also find evidence that the gas leak and explosion that killed her wasn’t an accident.  While Pete immediately suspects her husband of setting things up, Zoe doesn’t believe it.  It helps that she has begun bonding with the victim’s daughter.  Both Pete and Zoe dig in their heels, certain that they are correct.  Where will the facts lead?  Will their relationship be destroyed before the truth is revealed?

This is a bit of an unusual mystery.  There is plenty of stuff happening, and we certainly get clues that lead us to a solution.  But, instead of the many suspects that could have done it, we seem to zero in on one at a time until everything gets figured out.  This really is structured more like a police procedural than the cozies I normally read, which is why the plot felt different to me.

There is plenty of drama between Pete and Zoe in the book as well.  Since we spend time with both of them, we get to see the misunderstandings from both points of view.  I actually appreciated this since it let us see that both of them did see the other’s point of view, making them richer characters.  It also let us know that when one of them was stupid, they recognized it.  Trust me, that’s a good thing.  Otherwise, it would be easy to hate one character over another.  Instead, we feel sympathetic for both of them.  While this is an important part of the book, the twists and turns of the case are always front and center, and help drive their positions.

There are some stand outs in the new characters who are as fully formed as Pete and Zoe and allow us to be pulled into their lives and the drama unfolding around them.  Even those we don’t get to know super well hint as the depth we would see if they spent more time on the page.

And everything leads to a logical, page turning climax.  I couldn’t put the book down when I got there because of the overwhelming odds and danger the characters are facing.

This series sits on the border between cozy and traditional.  Because of Zoe and Pete’s jobs, we get a bit more detail than we normally would in a cozy.  Likewise, there is a smattering of foul language.  Neither goes to extremes, so it doesn’t bother me too much.  Just know that going into the book and you’ll be fine.

Bridges Burned is another wonderful book from the pen of Annette Dashofy.  If you haven’t started this series yet, be sure to do so today.

Need to catch up?  Here are the Zoe Chambers Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Movie Review: A Puzzle to Die For - The Crossword Mysteries

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun characters
Cons: Usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Clues in a crossword
Another new film franchise
Has promising start

“There are Clues in This Crossword Puzzle.”

As a longtime fan of the Puzzle Lady Mysteries, I was intrigued when Hallmark announced they would be introducing the Crossword Mysteries to their mystery movie franchise line up.  No, there is no connection between the books and the movies other than the fact that some clues to the mystery are hidden in a crossword puzzle.  A Puzzle to Die For is the first movie, and it was lots of fun.

The movie starts with the robbery of an art gallery in New York City.  However, things turn deadly when the owner catches the thief in the act and is shot.  Detective Logan O’Connor (Brennan Elliott) is assigned to the case, and one of the things he finds at the scene is the Sunday crossword puzzle from the New York Sentinel.

Tess (Lacey Chabert) is the crossword puzzle editor at that paper, and her desk is near the desk of the crime reporter.  When she crosses paths with Logan, she finds out about the puzzle.  Intrigued, she looks up that puzzle, which had been submitted by a freelancer.  When she thinks she has found some clues to the theft and murder in the puzzle, she goes to Logan, who dismisses her.  Has she found some clues?  If so, can she get Logan to believe her?

This is a well done mystery.  While I suspected who early on, I was surprised by several of the events along the way and didn’t have a clue as to motive until Tess figured things out.  Yes, she does work closely with Logan, and there are definite sparks there, yet they both reach the solution independently, something I really enjoyed.  There are plenty of viable suspects and red herrings to keep us guessing and entertained until the end.  I do think that there is one thing that was left dangling, but I suspect I know what happened.  (Or I just missed a line that explains things, which is also possible.)

While this movie is fun, there is a more serious tone at times than I was expecting.  It’s not throughout the movie, but it does affect a few scenes.  It was completely appropriate, gives the characters some depth to be explored later, and the actors handled it perfectly.

Speaking of which, there is the usual Hallmark cheese in the movie, but again, it is kept to a minimum.  As a fan of the Murder, She Baked franchise, it was fun to see Barbara Niven pop up at Tess’s aunt who has a connection to the case.

It’s hard to predict who will be the main characters at this point, at least for me, although I am fairly confident about a few of them.  Fortunately, they were characters I liked and can’t wait to visit again.  That’s a good thing since they announced during the movie that we are going to get three more movies in the franchise come October.  It appears that Hallmark is going for franchise marathons more and more this year.

So be sure to get into this new franchise from the beginning.  A Puzzle to Die For will leave you anxious for the next chapter with Tess, Logan, and the rest.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Book Review: Chocolate Cream Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #24)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting story, lots of delicious sounding recipes
Cons: Murder very weak, lots of unanswered questions left for next book
The Bottom Line:
Book fans expected
An interesting story
Murder is short changed

Chocolate Pies and Lies

I’ve seen this book coming for a while now.  I was hoping I was wrong, but with each book it was obvious to any fan of the Hannah Swensen series that sooner or later we were going to see the events of Chocolate Cream Pie Murder.

Before we go any further, a warning.  While I will not be spoiling this book, due to how storylines in this series have been developing, it is completely impossible to discuss this book without spoiling events of the previous books in the series.  If you haven’t read them and want to be surprised, please stop reading now.  Up to date?  Then let’s move forward.

Valentine’s Day is coming, and The Cookie Jar is getting ready to cater various Valentine’s Parties with new treats.  Hannah Swensen is throwing herself into this baking in order to not think about the news she’s gotten that Ross was already married, so their wedding was all a lie.  She has told the town of Lake Eden in an effort to curb gossip, and all of her friends are with her.

Which is why Ross sneaks back into town in the early hours of the morning demanding something from Hannah – something she might not be able to give him.  What will happen if she can’t?

Okay, so I’m still being vague.  You need to read this book to see how things unfold.

Yes, there is a murder, but it happens very late in the book.  The result is that part of the book is pretty rushed.  There are some other plot threads that are introduced earlier, and those threads definitely kept me interested as I was reading.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like things were well wrapped up.  We’ll need to read the next book to get all our answers.

And yes, the soap opera of the last few books continues here.

As does all the talk of food.  I swear, it must be possible to gain weight just by reading this book.  By my count, we get twenty-eight new recipes here.  While they mainly focus on desserts like the title recipe, chocolate mint cookies, and a couple of different bundt cakes, we do get recipes for several breakfast muffins, an egg bake, and a spinach salad.  Seriously, this will make your mouth water as you read.

It’s always fun to visit these characters.  I was sorry to see that a couple of the regulars were missing in action here, but most of them popped up.  We even saw some old friends from much earlier in the series return.  I do feel like Ross got cheated here since what has happened over the last couple of books doesn’t seem to fit with the Ross we met earlier.  Yes, it is explained here, but it still bothers me.

Fans who have been reading this series for years will want to get the next chapter in Hannah’s saga.  But don’t pick up Chocolate Cream Pie Murder unless you are one of them.

Need some background?  Here are the rest of the Hannah Swensen Mysteries in order.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Christmas #7 - Ice Fishing - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Creative for fishermen
Cons: I’m not a fisherman, so it doesn’t appeal
The Bottom Line:
Cookie cutter fish
Has more limited appeal
My least favorite

I’ll Be Fishing for Reasons to Like This Ornament

As a rule, I have loved the Cookie Cutter Christmas series since it started.  2018 marks the first year I didn’t absolutely love it.  I thought it might change when I saw it in person, but it didn’t.

I think the problem for me is the theme – ice fishing.  I don’t fish, so it doesn’t appeal to me.

This isn’t to say that the ornament itself doesn’t look good.  The cookie cutter shape is a fish, naturally.  Inside, our mouse friend is sitting on a hard candy fishing.  He’s just caught something since there is a hard candy fish on his candy cane fishing pole.  He’s also staying there on the ice since he has a tent made of candy dot sheets right next to his hole.  We get a glimpse of the sun behind the mountains.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem to have the whimsy of the other entries in the series.  It’s still got the cute mouse and the clever scene populated with sweets.  It just doesn’t have the spark that makes me love the others so much.  And it’s not just the fact that I don’t fish because the ice fishing entry in the Winter Fun with Snoopy is one of my favorites.

Since the ornament is a 3D shaped cookie cutter, it does have a wide enough base to stand on its own, although the rounded bottom to the ornament means it tips backwards.  So, I do recommend hanging it on your tree.  It’s no surprise that it hangs straight.

Since this is part of a series, you’ll find a 7 in a Christmas shape on the back.  It’s hiding next to the handle for the cutter back there.  Yes, they do think of everything.

I do know some collectors really liked this one, but I’m left hoping that next year’s Cookie Cutter Christmas will be better.

Do be sure to check out the rest of the Cookie Cutter Christmas ornaments.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Book Review: Lion Down by Stuart Gibbs (FunJungle #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery, plenty of fun
Cons: Gets close to lecturing a couple of times; characters introduced here could be better rounded
The Bottom Line:
Was mountain lion framed?
Teddy is in race to save
Fast paced and fun book

Framing a Lion

Over the last four books in the FunJungle series, we’ve seen Teddy Fitzroy solve mysteries involving all kinds of exotic animals inside this zoo/amusement park combo.  However, the animal in danger in Lion Down is actually outside the park.

While FunJungle is located in a mostly uninhabited area of Texas, there are some larger estates and ranches that border the park’s property.  Living in one of those is Lincoln Stone, a radio and TV news personality that is known for saying very controversial things.  He has a dog he loves, and, unfortunately, that dog has been killed.  Lincoln is quick to blame it on the mountain lion that roams in the area, but the agent of the Department of Fish and Wildlife put in charge of the case doesn’t think that’s true.  Thanks to Teddy’s reputation for solving puzzles at FunJungle, the agent turns to Teddy for help.  Teddy agrees that the evidence left behind doesn’t add up.  Can he figure out what happened?

Meanwhile, Teddy and Summer, his girlfriend, are asked to figure out why the giraffes in FunJungle get sick every Monday.  Will this case distract them from saving the mountain lion?

As you can see, there is plenty happening here.  The two mysteries weave in and out of each other, each providing their own clues and some very funny scenes before Teddy figures them out.  The climax is epic, with a page turning race to save the day.  Oh, I identified several things that were going to come into play in the climax as I read the book, but I couldn’t figure out how or who the culprit was until I got there.

The books in this series always balance the mystery with information on the very real dangers the featured animals are facing in our world.  I did feel this one missed the balance a little bit, with a few passages reading more like lectures than normal.  I doubt kids will notice or mind, however.

Likewise, I felt that some of the characters introduced in this book were flattered than normal for the series, bordering on caricature.  But again, I think this is something adults will notice but kids won’t mind.

The series has quite a few characters.  While some of the supporting characters don’t get much page time, it is fun to see them again.  Teddy and Summer are strong leads.  Yes, Teddy is the star of the series, but Summer is just as an important part.  We get to see a different side of Summer’s father, the owner of FunJungle, in this book, and I still love Teddy’s parents.

I already mentioned the humor, but I have to talk about it again.  While there are some serious and suspenseful moments, there are also several very funny scenes in this book that will have you laughing as you read.  Yes, some of them involve the usual suspects (fans of the series will know who I mean), but that didn’t make them any less delightful.

It’s always fun to visit the world of FunJungle.  It’s the next best thing to getting to go in person, if, you know, the park were real.  Lion Down will certainly please the many fans of this series.

Enjoy more visits to FunJungle with the rest of the series.

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

Saturday, March 9, 2019

March 9th's Weekly TV Thoughts

The biggest TV news for me this week is that Arrow is ending with a short season next season.  Honestly, I'm not that upset about it.  The show has been sliding for a couple of years now, and I've been struggling with this season.  If they were to do the same with Supergirl, I'd be insanely happy.

Supergirl – I’m hard pressed to find something enjoyable about this episode.  So much hate.  About all I can say is I’m now not so sure Lena is going full evil.  Not if Alex is on board with her project.  Oh, I know it can still go either way, and I suspect she will be evil soon, but I hope not.

God Friended Me – Simon is obviously a red herring.  I’m sure when they figure things out, they won’t set it up like this.  Can’t believe he agreed to move an entire team.  Cara and Miles are finally going on a date!  I’m a bit surprised by that as well.  And I was glad that the case of the week ended the way it did.  Such a warm ending.

Arrow – I loved how Felicity told Oliver she was pregnant.  And I loved how she changed her mind about killing Diaz.  But who got to him in his cell?  I was not expecting that ending at all.

The Flash – Was not looking forward to that episode.  King Shark’s story was better than I was expecting, but I hate Grodd.  Anytime he’s in an episode, it bothers me.  And the computer effects for both of them were horrible.  Some forward story movement.  I liked that.  But a mostly forgettable episode.

This is Us – How did the tapes survive the fire?  Did we already establish that sometime and I missed it?  That was so hard to watch between the past and Kevin and then Randall at the end with Beth.  So much cringing.

Survivor – How is Wendy not gone?  Seriously?  She’s annoying me like crazy.  And why would a team that is losing get rid of Chris?  They need someone like him on their team.  What am I not getting when it comes to team dynamics?  Yes, at some point it switches to individual, but everyone seems to go individual from the very beginning.

The Big Bang Theory – Amy’s conversations with Raj were definitely the highlight of the episode.  And I was actually impressed with Leonard’s mom.  I’m not sure I believe it, but she actually made what she did to Leonard feel almost okay.  Wasn’t surprised by where Penny and Bernadette’s story went.

The Orville – I didn’t suspect Gordan’s friend was guilty until he asked Gordan to leave the ship with him.  However, as soon as Gordan showed up and said “Let’s split, I knew that was a set up.  Still a great episode.  I’ll be interested to see how they play this going forward.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Disney Mug Review: Mulan - Disney Wisdom Collection #2

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good sized mug, fun quote, characters
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
A colorful mug
With a great quote, characters
Means drink holding fun

Rare Disney Character on a Great Mug

The second quote that Disney chose for their Wisdom Collection is taken from the movie Mulan.  That allowed them to pick a very rare character for some of the items released.  That, combined with it being part of a series, turned this mug into a popular item right from the start.

The quote chosen comes from the Emperor.  When we meet him near the end of the movie, he praises Mulan by saying “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”  That quote is on one side of the mug.  The other features a couple characters from the movie, and pretty much the characters you’d expect.  That’s right, we get Mushu and Cri-Kee.  While Mushu has shown up on quite a few things over the years, I feel like Cri-Kee is much rarer.

The color this month is red.  The mug is a vibrant red, and the characters are done in shades of red.  The quote is in silver with a couple words being done in yellow to help them really stand out.  It is a lot of fun.

The mugs in this series are short and wide.  They may not look like it, but they will hold 14 ounces easily.  They are wide enough they take up a little extra room in your dishwasher, but they are dishwasher and microwave safe.  The bottom is a little narrower, so you can stack the mugs in this series on top of each other, which means they take up a little less room in your cupboards.  That’s a good thing since I’m pretty much out of room as it is.

The characters and quote combine for a fun mug.  I was glad to add this to my collection, and I’m looking forward to more.

Disney Pin Review: Mulan - Disney Wisdom Collection #2

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great quote with rare character
Cons: Might be too stylized for some
The Bottom Line:
A flowery quote
Combines with fun characters
In great three pin set

Second Disney Wisdom Pin Set Doesn’t Need to Grow on You

For the second month in the Disney Wisdom pin series, we are moving both forward and backward in time.  The film featured is Mulan, which came out in the 1990’s (how can that be over 20 years ago?), decades after Dumbo, which was the featured movie last month.  But it is featuring characters and a story that are set centuries ago, long before the then contemporary setting of Dumbo.

The quote this month comes from near the end of the movie as the Emperor of ancient China is praising Mulan.  He says, “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”  However, the Emperor himself doesn’t appear on any of the pins.  The quote itself is once again featured on a rectangular pin featuring a couple different fonts of calligraphy and a few words emphasized.  The two other pins in the set feature supporting characters.  We’ve got Mushu, the Komodo dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, and Cri-Kee, the cricket who also tags along on the adventure.

The color this month is red, an appropriate choice for a set released just after Valentine’s Day, right?  (I’m sure Mushu had more to do with it than the month, however.)  Each pin is almost completely red.  The quote is written in silver with a couple of words featured in yellow.  The characters are red with different shades to emphasize different parts of their body.  It’s a deep, bold red, so it really stands out.

As with the first in the series, it takes me a few looks to adjust to the characters in this color, but once I do, I like it.  And, again, I love the quote.  Those who not only survive but triumph when they face a hard time do stand out.  They are the kind of people who want in your life because they will always be an uplifting presence and help you strive to be better, too.

Another feature of this set is the inclusion of at least one rare character on a Disney pin.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Cri-Kee on a pin before.  I know I’ve seen Mushu, although I don’t remember if I had him before or not.

Once again, this set proved to be very popular.  If you don’t have this second set yet, you’ll have to watch for a deal on a used set since it sold out the weekend it was released.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Book Review: Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg (Ian Ludlow #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great main characters, twists, laughs
Cons: A bit of a slow burn start, some of the humor
The Bottom Line:
Ian’s research trip
Bring him and Margo real thrills
More page turning fun

Ian and Margo are in for Another Thrill Ride

Last year, Lee Goldberg introduced us to the unlikeliest of thriller heroes – an author.  That book was so much fun I could hardly wait for the sequel.  Killer Thriller was a delight as well.

Ian Ludlow is our hero for this series.  He’s a very successful thriller writer who was shocked in the first book to recognize a scenario he had come up with coming true in real life.  He wound up on the run with Margo French, his author escort at the time the attack happened.

This book picks up almost two years later, and Ian is getting ready for a trip to Hong Kong.  One of his books is being turned into a movie, and the studio is paying for him to be there at the start of filming for publicity.  He’s also planning to turn it into a research trip for the book he should be writing.  Days before he leaves, Margo shows up at his door.  She is now homeless, still trying to deal with the events from two years ago.  Feeling sorry for her, Ian agrees to hire her as a research assistant for the trip.

Neither of them realize that their arrival in Hong Kong has attracted the wrong kind of attention thanks again to one of Ian’s books.  Will they recognize the danger they are in before it is too late?

Like the first one, this book is a blend of humor and thriller.  Much of the humor this time comes from the movie that is being made.  Lee has spent years as a writer in Hollywood, and he knows how to perfectly mock the entertainment industry without being so insider that he loses the rest of us.  Unfortunately, some of his humor falls into the adolescent male category, and I didn’t always appreciate that.  Then again, I’ve read Lee’s books enough to know it was coming.

And yes, there is a thriller plot in the book as well.  Thanks to the wonderful use of multiple points of view, we can see things building before Ian and Margo realize just how much danger they are in.  This book doesn’t have quite the same explosive beginning the first one does; it’s more of a slow burn.  But once it ignites, it becomes a page turning thriller with plenty of twists and turns.

Not only is a writer not usually who you picture as the main character of a thriller, but Ian is not a young, in shape guy.  He’s a middle aged, over weight guy.  I also appreciate that aspect of his character since it makes him more realistic.  Margo is a fun side kick, and I enjoyed getting to spend time with both of them again.  They are clearly the series stars.  The rest of the cast is good, although we don’t get to know any of them particularly well.  They are all supporting characters in a thriller, after all.

While spy thrillers are not my normal genre, I’m glad I followed Lee Goldberg into it.  Killer Thriller is a funny page turner that will leave you wanting more.