Monday, December 10, 2018

Book Review: Death of a Neighborhood Scrooge by Laura Levine (Jaine Austen Mysteries #16)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Funny Christmas mystery
Cons: Who do you think I am, Scrooge?
The Bottom Line:
Stingy man next door
Jaine finds a Christmas murder
Always delightful

Bah Humbug Murder

Normally, I read Laura Levine's books almost as soon as I get my hands on them.  However, I had to save Death of a Neighborhood Scrooge for my annual Christmas cozy readathon.  It was certainly worth the wait.

Christmas is coming, and Jaine Austen has landed a sweet housesitting gig thanks to her neighbor Lance.  The two of them are staying at a mansion in Bel Air, and Jaine is quickly loving the luxuries of the place.  And it's perfect since this is a slow season for Jaine's freelance writing work.

Thanks to Jaine's cat, Prozac, she winds up meeting the neighbors.  Scotty Parker in particular is a pain.  The man is a former child actor best known for his performance as Tiny Tim in a mostly forgotten remake of A Christmas Carol.  However, he seems to have taken on the attributes of Scrooge, pinching pennies and getting into fights with his neighbors.  He's even roped Jaine into helping him polish up his masterpiece, a bloated script called The Return of Tiny Tim: Vengeance Is Mine!.  Yes, it's as bad as it sounds.

Christmas morning proves that someone has been very naughty when Jaine finds Scotty's dead body.  The police seem to think she makes a great suspect, so Jaine puts on her part time, semi-professional PI hat in order to clear herself of the crime.  But with so many suspects, will Jaine figure out who killed Scotty?

Those who are familiar with the series know exactly what to expect here.  If that's you, know you'll love this book as much as the others.

As usual, the murder takes place later in the action than some of the series I read, but the pages aren't waisted.  By the time Scotty dies, Jaine has already met several viable suspects with strong motives.  As she goes about trying to nail down alibis, she only gains more.  The ending makes perfect sense when Jaine does finally piece everything together.

Along the way, we get some fun sub-plots.  Lance has signed Jaine up for an on-line dating site, and we are treated to several dates.  Plus, Lance has a new crush of his own.  Meanwhile, Jaine's parents and several of their neighbors are taking a cruise.  We are treated to their misadventures thanks to a series of e-mails from Jaine’s parents.  Just from the initial e-mails from her parents, I knew we were in for a treat with that sub-plot, and I was highly rewarded.

Yes, this is a comedic mystery.  There are a few strong laughs, mostly coming from these sub-plots, and plenty of grins and snickers as Jaine works her way through the latest misadventure.

The characters are more caricatures in this series, and that holds true again here.  They are designed to give us laughs, but they totally fit into Jaine's world.  Trust me, you won't be complaining about that as you breeze through this book.

And the ending?  I'm very anxious to see exactly where that goes in the next book.

Death of a Neighborhood Scrooge is a delightfully fun Christmas mystery and another great addition to the Jaine Austen series.  Fans old and new will be left with a smile on their face as the pages fly by all too quickly.

Looking for more laughs and clues?  Here are the rest of the Jaine Austen Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Book Review: If You Ever Want to Bring a Pirate to Meet Santa, DON'T! by Elise Parsley

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightfully absurd and funny story
Cons: Listing cons would put me next to the pirate on the naughty list
The Bottom Line:
Pirate meets Santa
Hilarious disaster
For holiday laughs

Matey, This Picture Book Will Give Ye a Christmas Laugh

I'm so glad I stumbled on the Magnolia Says DON’T series a few years ago.  These picture books are silly fun.  As soon as I saw that there was going to be a Christmas entry this year, I knew I had to read it.  After all, how could you miss with If You Ever Want to Bring a Pirate to Meet Santa, DON’T!

When your father tells you that you are going to meet a man with a beard and a sack of treasure, he means Santa, not the pirate by the mall fountain.  And even if you befriend the pirate, it might not be a good idea to ask him to join you in line.  After all, he is on the naughty list.  His ideas of songs might not be festive.  He might want to pillage anything you are offered in line.  Will he reform before you get to the front of the line?

Yes, these books are told in second person, but really, they are Magnolia using her own experience to tell you why it might be a bad idea.  Trust me, the storytelling works perfectly here.

And the book is funny.  As you go along, the situation gets funnier until you reach the climax.  It was enough to make me laugh out loud.  And you will NEVER want to bring a pirate to meet Santa after reading this book.

The pictures add to the fun.  They are on the cartoony side, and they perfectly capture the absurdity of the situation.

Like others in the series, this book isn't labeled as an easy reader, although I suspect that beginning readers will be able to read most of this book without help.  There might be a word or two they'd need an adult to help them sound out.

If You Ever Want to Bring a Pirate to Meet Santa, DON’T! is perfect for this time of year.  And it is so much fun, I suspect it might get slipped into the reading pile the rest of the year.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

December 8th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Take out two shows, and there is nothing to hide my Arrowverse addiction is there.  First four shows out there for all to see.

Supergirl – Clearly that is not the end of either of those character’s stories for the season.  The wife will obviously pick up the mantel of the anti-alien campaign.  And President Baker is turning out to be bad, just like I feared.  He’s not evil…yet…but he’s clearly not good.

Arrow – So Oliver is going to be working with the police now.  I didn’t see that coming, but I should have.  The Mayor is going to be a problem, but I think I’m going to like that.  But I’m worried about Oliver and Felicity.  I hope they work out something soon.  I think I’d be more into this season if it weren’t for the flash forwards.  Again, it makes me wonder what the point is of what we are watching now.  And I’m really worried for Oliver and Felicity.  They’d better not break up again.

Legends of Tomorrow – I was not expecting that cliffhanger.  Very interesting way to end things.  And it looks like next week is going to be a ton of fun!  Already can’t wait.  I feel sorry for Constantine now that we’ve gotten a bit of his recent backstory.  (And no, I never watched the show he starred in, I only know him from the shows currently airing.)

The Flash – A traitor inside team Flash.  What a shocking twist!  Okay, so I was a bit surprised, but they’ve played that card a time or three already.  I’m curious where they will go with it once they come back in the new year.  Overall, it was a fun 100th with a number of great stops at key moments.  Very nice nod to history of the show.

Survivor – Good thing Christian played his idol.  I’m surprised it was Gabby who wound up leaving, as she was obviously, since she apologized to Allison before her name came up.  Ironically, Christian was the only one who voted for Allison.  And yes, I’m still rooting for Christian.

Big Bang Theory – The was a sweet episode.  Oh, Howard’s storyline was pretty funny, but I liked the tape and how that all played out.  Even though I don’t watch Young Sheldon any more, I still enjoyed the cross over via the video tape.  But the burning question is, will we see that shower curtain again?

The Good Place – D’Arcy Carden was amazing!  Those were pretty good impressions of the rest of the cast, and it was pretty funny watching her do everything.  How hard of an episode must that have been for her.  And, I’m sure, a lot of fun.  But she was in every scene, sometimes multiple times.  Oh, yeah, story.  Something is definitely wrong with the points system.  And what will we find now that we are in the real good place.  I can’t wait to find out.

Friday, December 7, 2018

December 7th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Well, it's been six weeks or show, but I'm back with another Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Death of a Neighborhood Scrooge by Laura Levine.

Yes, it's a Christmas entry in the long running Jaine Austen comedic mystery series.  I saved it for December, and it was worth the wait!  This has long been a favorite series.

Here's how it begins:

I blame Connie Van Hooten for everything.  If she hadn't packed up her staff and gone yachting in the Mediterranean, I would've never spent that cursed Christmas as a murder suspect.

Page 56 features part of an e-mail from Jaine's father:

I've got to look at the bright side.  The clattering false teeth I ordered for Lydia Pinkus's Secret Santa gift are tucked away safe in my suitcase.

As a fan of the series, I was already laughing just imaging this since Jaine's dad has a one sided rivalry going with Lydia.

Honestly, the entire book was great.  I'll have my full review up on Monday, so I hope you'll come back then.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Book Review: Christmas Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #23)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun seeing Hannah before the series starts
Cons: Light on mystery; pacing.
The Bottom Line:
A flashback story
Very light on mystery
Die hard fans might like

Hannah's First Brush with Murder

Just like last year, Joanne Fluke has treated us to a Christmas mystery featuring her sleuth Hannah Swensen.  And, just like last year, the book is a flashback story to a Christmas before the events in the most recent books take place.  In fact, in this case, Christmas Cake Murder takes place many, many years before.

This book is set at the first Christmas since Hannah's father has died.  Hannah has dropped out of her graduate program and is home trying to help her mother, Delores, deal with life after her loss, and Hannah is beginning to worry.  Fortunately, Grandma Knudson and Annie come up with the perfect project to get Delores's mind off her loss.  It seems Essie, a beloved member of the community, has fallen and broken her hip.  In an effort to cheer her up, Delores is asked to organize a Christmas ball, with Hannah recruited to bake the cakes for the events.

While all this is going on, Hannah begins to share her dreams of opening her own cookie and coffee shop.  And a novel that Essie was working on captivates Hannah, Delores, Michelle, and Lisa.

You'll notice I didn't talk about crime at all.  That's because the mystery really is more of a sub-plot in this book.  Instead, time is spent planning the Christmas ball and Hannah figuring out what is next for her.  The strands of the mystery are woven in early, so when it does begin, it does come to a logical conclusion, but this isn't a typical mystery at all.

As a result, I don't recommend that you pick up this book if you aren't already familiar with the series.  It's not at all a good example of why the series is so popular, and you will be bored.

Fans of the series will enjoy it more.  It's fun to see characters we already know and love before we met them.  Heck, Hannah's middle sister, Andre, is pregnant in this book.  And none of the current guys in Hannah's life are present, although we do hear about a recently failed romance long time readers will be familiar with.

Even so, I'll admit to struggling to get through this book at times.  While seeing Hannah getting her life arranged in the way we already know is fun to a certain extent, the book does drag at times.

And yes, there are plenty of recipes.  By my count, we get a total of 11 new ones this time, including three bunt cake recipes.

Christmas Cake Murder is a fairly quick read that will amuse die hard Hannah fans.  Anyone else can skip this entry in the long running series.

Need more delicious mysteries?  Here are the rest of the Hannah Swensen Mysteries.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Ornament Review: Partners - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Captures statues I love
Cons: Looks like plastic trying to be metal
The Bottom Line:
Disney and Mickey
Statues shrunk to ornaments
Not perfect, still good

A Piece of the Parks for Your Tree

Many Disney parks have a statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse.  The best known iteration is the Partners statue.  I love looking at the one at Disneyland, so when I saw that Hallmark was releasing a version of it, I had to buy it.

Since I know the statues are slightly different at different parks, I'm not even going to claim I know which particular statue inspired this ornament.  It really doesn't matter since the basics remain the same.  These statues feature Walt Disney holding hands with Mickey Mouse.  Walt is pointing out to the distance.  You could say he is pointing into the future.  Or maybe he's pointing to all the guests they get to welcome to the park that day since he is usually pointing down Main Street to the entrance.  Both the man and his creation are smiling.

I will say that the ornament looked better in pictures than it does in real life.  The issue is in the fact that plastic is being painted to try to look like metal.  It's not bad, but it is definitely a flaw.  The good news is, this ornament looks better in dim light - say on a Christmas tree with just the lights of the tree on in the room.  Again, it doesn't look bad.  You can definitely tell who is in the statue.  They have the details in the faces and bodies you'd expect.  It just looks like plastic trying to be metal complete with some areas that are weathered and rusty.  And it’s those weathered and slightly rusty places that look so odd.

That complaint aside, I love it.  Then again, is that any surprise since I love Disney so much?

Since this is a statue, it comes with a great base so you can set it out to be displayed year-round.  If you are looking to hang the ornament on your tree, you'll find the loop on Walt's shoulder.  It's a great place for it since the ornament hangs straight.

If you buy this ornament expecting something that looks metal, you'll be disappointed.  But if you love Disney and these statues as much as I do, you'll be glad you bought the Partners ornament.

Original Price: 17.99

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Book Review: Game of Scones by Mary Lee Ashford (Sugar and Spice Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, good mystery
Cons: Pacing could be better
The Bottom Line:
Recipe battle
Dead body sidetracks cookbook
Good series begins

War of the Scones

Over the last couple of years, I've become a fan of the Pampered Pets Mysteries written by the writing team of Sparkle Abbey.  So, when I saw that one of those authors was launching a series of her own, I had to start it.  Plus, I don't seem to be able to resist a culinary theme.  That’s why I picked up Game of Scones by Mary Lee Ashford.  I'm glad I did.

This book introduces us to Rosetta Sugarbaker Calloway, “Sugar” to friends.  After losing a job at a food magazine, Sugar goes into business with award winning baker Dixie Spicer to form Sugar and Spice Cookbooks.  Their plan is to focus on helping to launch community cookbooks.

Their first project is very close to home since they are working on a cookbook for the centennial of St. Ignatius, Iowa, the town they've set up their business in.  Unfortunately, the cookbook project has heated up the long simpering feud between Elsie Farmer, a member of the most powerful family in town, and Bertie, Dixie's aunt.  The pair are currently fighting over who has the best scone recipe.  There is only room for one in the book, and both think their recipe should be included.

In an effort to find a compromise, Sugar stops by to visit Elsie.  However, she finds Elsie in her garden dead.  After their very public fight, naturally Bertie is the prime suspect, but Bertie seems to have left town.  Or has something worse happened to her?  With Dixie distracted by her aunt's disappearance, Sugar begins to try to figure out what has happened.  Can she find the truth?

I can't remember the last time I read a mystery set in Iowa, and I found that a lot of fun.  St. Ignatius is a charming town with that small-town appeal we love in a cozy.  I'm already looking forward to many more visits there.

Likewise, the cast is fun.  Sugar and Dixie are a great pair, and they make a formidable duo.  We meet an assortment of family and friends, and I felt like we got to know several of them here.  I'm looking forward to learning more about everyone in future books.  The suspects are strong and kept me intrigued.

I did feel the pacing was a bit off.  However, I never lost interest, and it wasn't long before something else intriguing would happen.  Things came together for a great climax and wrapped up everything perfectly.

And what's a culinary cozy without recipes?  I wasn't surprised to discover that we get both scone recipes as well as a broccoli gratin recipe.  I must admit there was one cookie mentioned in the book I was intrigued by, but it wasn't included.

I'm definitely looking forward to visiting Dixie, Sugar, and the rest of the gang again soon.  Game of Scones whets your appetite for more mysteries to come.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Music Review: The First Noel EP by Marc Martel

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: First three tracks are fun
Cons: I have never been a fan of the second three tracks
The Bottom Line:
A second EP
Not as good as first for me
Due to selections

Song Selection Makes Marc's Second Christmas EP a Disappointment for Me

As a fan of Downhere (and I will miss that band forever), I've followed Marc Martel to his solo efforts.  I was excited when I learned about The First Noel, since I had really enjoyed his first Christmas EP.  Sadly, this one didn't measure up, but I suspect it's mostly a personal issue for me.

The project starts well with three wonderful songs.  It opens with the upbeat "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas."  This duet with Plumb was released as a single last Christmas, and it proved to be a radio hit.  That's not a surprise since it is fun.  "Mary, Did You Know?" comes next.  This time, Marc teams up with Buddy Greene, who co-wrote the song.  Their duet is phenomenal.  Then again, I really do love this song.  Finally, there's "The Christmas Song."  This time, the guest is Scott Mulvahill, and once again, the duo create a fun version of the song.

It's the second half where things fall apart for me, and it is nothing but the song choice.  The second half starts off with the title track, a song I find slow and boring.  Marc does increase the temp a little on this track and adds a new chorus, but it still doesn't really work for me.  Next up is "Ave Maria" followed by "The Hallelujah Chorus."  I know, I know, they are both classic pieces, but they aren't to my taste.  One or the other would have been fine, but having both back to back doesn't interest me.

But here's the thing, all three of these tracks are technically wonderful.  Marc has the musical talent to pull them off well.  I enjoy the bells used near the beginning of "The Hallelujah Chorus," and find his guitar heavy arrangement of "Ave Maria" fun.  Marc tackles these three tracks without a major musical guest star, but his voice is so strong you don't need a duet.

The music on all of these tracks in minimal.  The EP came about via a Go Fund Me (yes, I contributed), so there is no elaborate orchestra.  Marc's background in a band comes through since keyboard and guitar are the predominate instruments.  Yet you really aren't lacking anything.  The vocals are strong and really do carry the tracks.

And that's why I'm still glad I got the release even if the second half songs aren't my favorites.  I doubt I will specifically listen to these tracks on their own much, but mixed in with the rest of my Christmas music on my phone and computer, I will enjoy The First Noel EP.

CD Length: 22:11
1. It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas (feat. Plumb)
2. Mary, Did You Know? (feat. Buddy Greene)
3. The Christmas Song (feat. Scott Mulvahill)
4. The First Noel
5. Ave Maria
6. The Hallelujah Chorus

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Movie Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs, moments with old friends
Cons: Doesn't live up to the original by a wide margin
The Bottom Line:
Return to Ralph's world
Has laughs; but it's not as fun
Wish it were better

Race to Save Vanellope's Game

Like many others, I loved Wreck-It Ralph.  I'd forgotten just how much until I rewatched it in October.  As soon as they announced the sequel, I was anxious to see it.  Sadly, Ralph Breaks the Internet had its moments, but ultimately is disappointed me.

The movie picks up six years after the first one.  Everyone we met from the first movie is still hanging out at the arcade.  As far as Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is concerned, life is perfect.  He still spends his days being the villain of his game, but he gets to hang out at night with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), enjoying the various activities in the nearby arcade games.  However, Vanellope is getting bored with her game, wishing for more out of life.

When Ralph tries to shake things up for her, it goes horribly wrong, with the result being the steering wheel from Sugar Rush breaking off the machine.  With no easy way to get parts, Ralph and Vanellope set out to find a replacement, using the recently installed Wifi to go to the internet.  But finding a replacement part is only half the challenge; they also have to pay for it.  Will they get the part before Sugar Rush is removed from the arcade?

I'm trying to put my finger on what exactly went wrong as far as this movie goes.  It still has plenty of humor.  I wasn't laughing quite as hard as some of the people I saw it in the theater with were, but I laughed plenty, especially when they stumbled into the "Oh My Disney" site.  So many laughs that this DisNerd loved there.  They were pretty creative with how they depicted various websites and how they showed people getting around the internet as well.  Some of the humor felt a bit forced to me, but that was a minor complaint.

Maybe part of it is because, while Ralph does break the internet, that actually isn't the focus of the movie.  So maybe I kept expecting the movie to be about something it wasn't.

I think part of my problem is with the theme.  (And I'm trying to be vague here.)  It's not that I disagree with the theme, it's anything remotely bad, or I feel like they preached at us.  In fact, I would say it is something people of all ages can relate to.  I did feel like it contradicts the theme of the first movie, however.

Those looking to spend more time with the friends we made in the first movie should know that we do get updates on the major characters, however as far as returning characters go, it is mostly just Ralph and Vanellope in the internet.  We meet some fun new characters who make up for the missing old friends.

The actors are all in top form.  Whether returning or new, they bring their characters to life perfectly and let me get lost in the story.  Likewise, the animation is great.  It's much more ambitious than the first one was, and they pull off the very different locations perfectly.

While Ralph Breaks the Internet wasn't the fun sequel I was hoping for, I could definitely see it growing on me when I watch it a second time.  And I definitely will watch it again.  If you enjoyed the first, you'll want to see this one.  Just know it is a perfect example of a sequel not being as good as the original.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

December 1st's Weekly TV Thoughts

Caught up on shows, with plenty of new episodes to watch this week.

Survivor (11/21) – Dan’s right, it did take quite a bit from the Davids to take him out.  But then again, they were the underdog.  But talk about a crazy tribal!  That right there is why I continue to watch this show.  The unexpected is so incredibly entertaining.

Supergirl – James is no longer undercover.  Lena is going dark.  And we know that Black is evil as well.  At least we got some good steps forward in the plot this week.

God Friended Me – I suspected there was something funny about that last chess match all along, so that wasn’t a surprise.  But I don’t watch this show for the plot twists; I watch it for the heart-warming endings, and thankfully we got another one.  I’m curious where Miles and his dad are going to go if his dad starts to believe him.

Arrow – Finally!  But what a violent end, even for this show.  I’m just glad Oliver is out of prison, and I hope we can lighten things up some.  I guess I was wrong that Diaz is a series regular this season since it looks like he’s dead.

Legends of Tomorrow – Oh my goodness!  I was laughing so hard at that episode.  Just about every scene had at least one line or moment that was hilarious.  Definitely the light touch I needed after Arrow.

The Flash – I get where Nora is coming from.  Barry is right, but I get where Nora is coming from for sure.  Interesting to have a father/daughter villain team to go against the father/daughter heroes.  I feel sorry for our big bad now that we know more of his backstory.  (Supergirl, this is how you make someone sympathetic.)  With the crossover coming in two weeks, I get that they couldn’t have planned much more than this, but I feel like they might have planned to air the week of the election originally and then taken this week off?  Why else would a Thanksgiving episode air the week after the holiday.

This is Us – I love Beth, normally.  But in this case, she is dead wrong.  There is no way Randall can drop out of the campaign at this point.  Granted, I’m the one saying he shouldn’t be able to run since he doesn’t live in the city, but that’s beside the point since he is running.  Did not see the twist with Nicky coming.  What in the world is that going to mean?  And I’m still worried about the flashforwards.  Between this show and Arrow, I’m really beginning to hate flashforwards.

Survivor – I had missed we had a couple episode until I sat down to watch Wednesday night, late.  So I watched it over two nights.  And we went from a full on team choice to a split blindside.  And correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the Davids now down a player again?  I might have waited a week to send Carl home for that reason, although he clearly needed to go soon.  I am always surprised by players to get the way he did.  It’s a sign you want to go home.