Friday, October 20, 2017

October 20th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

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

This week, I'm highlighting Pillow Stalk by Diane Vallere.

Our main character in this book is Doris Day fanatic and mid-century modern decorator Madison Night.

Here's how the book begins:

"Mr. Johnson, I'm calling to discuss the disposition of your mother's estate," I said into the yellow donut phone.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we get this:

That's when I saw the headline:
Unsolved Twenty Year Old Homicide in Lakewood Back in Public Eye

I've finished this book, and I really enjoyed it.  I hope you'll stop back here on Tuesday for my review of the book.

But for now, have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review: Twelve Slays of Christmas by Jacqueline Frost (Christmas Tree Farm Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong, warm characters; Christmas spirit
Cons: Plot could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Murder on tree farm
Mystery, Christmas spirit
Great holiday read

Murder on a Christmas Tree Farm

Given my love of Christmas, it’s hard to resist when a new cozy mystery series starts up with a Christmas theme, which is why I knew I’d be reading Twelve Slays of Christmas pretty much as soon as the title crossed my radar.  A series set at a Christmas tree farm?  Sign me up, please.

The farm in question belongs to the White family, and has been operating for four generations just outside of the town of Mistletoe, Maine.  Holly has returned home after a broken engagement in the middle of December.  While she figures out what to do next, she knows she can help around the farm since they are not only selling trees, but they have a café, gift shop, and host the Reindeer Games, different holiday themed games on the twelve days leading up to Christmas.

However, things take a decided un-merry turn when Margaret Fenwick shows up on the farm.  She is from the historic society, and she has been making everyone’s lives miserable recently in her desire to get every single building up to code.  After a fight with several people in the café, including Holly’s father, Margaret leaves.  A few minutes later, Holly responds to a scream to find Margaret dying in one of the rows of trees.  In an effort to focus the investigation away from her family and the farm, Holly starts poking around.  But what secrets might she uncover?

If you are looking for a warm, cozy Christmas book, you’ve come to the right place.  There is Christmas atmosphere in spades.  And the games that the farm hosts?  I want to play them, too!  Okay, so maybe the last one wouldn’t be my cup of peppermint hot chocolate, but I would watch that one.

Speaking of food and drink, there are so many delicious sounding treats in this book, I think I gained weight just reading it.  There aren’t any recipes in the back, which might be a good thing for my scale.

Unfortunately, this did come at the expense of the plot, and at times, the Christmas spirit overshadows the mystery.  Holly also spent some time reacting to events (which is understandable) instead of actually detecting.  She does piece things together in the end, however, and the climax is very suspenseful.

The characters are outstanding.  Holly may not have lived in the area for a few years, but she still has obvious strong ties to the community.  I felt the love coming through in her interactions with the various characters.  They provided much of the warmth and Christmas spirit I felt.  Even though this book is set in Maine and there is all kinds of snow, I would love to hang out with these characters in real life.  Maybe I should plan my visit for summer when it would be warmer.

I’m already looking forward to visiting Holly and my new friends again.  Grab your favorite warm beverage, cuddle up by the fire, and slip into Twelve Slays of Christmas.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ornament Review: Luigi - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Looks just like Luigi
Cons: Very similar to the Mario ornament
The Bottom Line:
You’ll jump for a coin
When you collect Luigi
Nice pop culture piece

Jump at the Chance to Own Luigi

As a fan of the Mario Bros. (regular or super), I was thrilled to see them showing up in Hallmark’s 2017 line.  Luigi was a limited edition ornament, but that didn’t limit my desire to own him, and I’m glad I have him.

If you look at the Mario and Luigi ornaments side by side, you’ll find they look very similar.  The pose is an obvious similarity since both are jumping to hit a question mark.  Coming out of that question mark is a coin.  While I wouldn’t call Mario in his ornament truly short and stout, Luigi definitely looks taller and leaner just the way he should.  And they are jumping off with different hands raised in the air and different legs behind them.  Finally, there is the color difference – Luigi is wearing his traditional green shirt under his coveralls.

It is easy to argue that you don’t need both since they are similar.  But can you really have one and not both of the Mario Bros?  I don’t think so.  I will repeat what I said on my review of the Mario ornament, however.  I wish one of the brothers had gotten a mushroom from their box – that would really set the ornaments apart.  Overall, that’s a minor complaint.  These ornaments are fun, and anyone who spent happy hours playing these games will be happy to add these ornaments to their collection.

Like with Mario, Luigi won’t stand on his own.  He’s jumping, he isn’t supposed to stand.  However, the ornament is balanced, so he hangs straight.

So if you have fond memories of Luigi and the rest of the gang, this is an ornament to hunt down.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Book Review: The Skeleton Paints a Picture by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mysteries #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Sid, Georgia, and a clever mystery
Cons: My only bone to pick – ending a bit rushed
The Bottom Line:
Accident in snow
Sid, Georgia on the case
Could it be murder?

Sid Finds a Body in the Snow

It is always nice to see a series I have enjoyed find a new publisher.  That’s the case with the Family Skeleton series by Leigh Perry.  The Skeleton Paints a Picture marks a slight shift in the series, and it will be interesting to see if it will continue.

Adjunct English professor Georgia Thackery has found a new job teaching at Falstone College of Art and Design.  In fact, the majority of the department is made up of adjunct since the main focus of this small college is art.  She took the job for the spring semester and moved up by herself, leaving her daughter with Georgia’s parents to finish off the school year where they’d been living.  However, Georgia is starting to feel lonely and isolated, so she is thrilled when she finds that Sid has mailed himself to her.

Sid takes a little explaining.  You see, he’s a living, breathing skeleton.  Well, not actually breathing, but you get the idea.  He and Georgia have been best friends since he saved her as a girl.  All of this is set up in the previous books in the series, and if you’ve missed them, I do recommend them since they are a lot of fun.

One of Sid’s traits is that he never sleeps, so after Georgia goes to sleep that first night, he decides to go for a walk.  They are isolated enough he isn’t worried about being seen, but he doesn’t expect to find a woman dead at the scene of an accident.  He quickly goes to get Georgia, who calls the police.

The victim worked in the writing lab at the college, but Georgia didn’t know her well.  The police think Georgia is hiding something when she answers their questions, but they have no idea that she is covering for Sid.  So Georgia and Sid begin to try to figure out if this is more than the accident it appears to be.  What will they discover?

Obviously, when you have one half of a sleuthing duo who needs to keep his identity hidden, it makes things a little more challenging.  Leigh Perry does a great job of writing around that, finding jobs for Sid to do and ways for him to get out of the house without freaking people out.

Between Sid and Georgia, we do get a great sleuthing duo faced with a good puzzle.  The mystery heads off in some surprising ways.  The ending seems a bit abrupt and rushed, but it does make sense based on what has come before.

The shift I mentioned earlier comes in the way of recurring characters.  While Georgia’s family members are mentioned, Sid and Georgia are the only characters who have appeared in previous books.  Fortunately, they are very real characters.  Yes, even the skeleton.  I don’t know if this is a sign of things to come with future books just featuring the two of them, but they are strong enough to carry the series.

Of course, they aren’t the only characters in this book.  Georgia’s co-workers make wonderfully strong suspects.

I did find a couple of pages in the middle of the book annoying as just a taste of PC is shoved in.  It felt forced, which was ironic because I can see how it could have been handled much better based on some of the characters in the book.

This is more than made up for by the humor.  We get lots of bone puns and jokes over the course of the book.  I love these, and the way that Sid and Georgia interact.  These books really are a lot of fun.  I normally avoid paranormal cozies, but I’m so glad I made an exception for them.

Make no bones about it, if you enjoy a good mystery, you’ll enjoy The Skeleton Paints a Picture.  This is a fun book that will leave you hoping Sid still has a very long life ahead of him.

Have more fun with Sid in the rest of the Family Skeleton Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, October 16, 2017

TV on DVD Review: The Good Place - Season 1

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightful afterlife comedy
Cons: Takes a couple of episodes to build; theological issues
The Bottom Line:
Funny afterlife
As Eleanor tries to stay
Surprisingly fun

“Why Do Bad Things Always Happen to Mediocre People Who Are Lying About Their Identities?”

Despite being a fan of Kristen Bell, I decided I wasn’t going to watch The Good Place.  I wasn’t interested in a comedy about the afterlife, and my experience with single camera comedies has been decidedly mixed.  Yet I finally gave in over the summer and started watching the first season on demand.  It wasn’t long before I was hooked.

We meet Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) on the day she died.  She finds herself being greeted by Michael the Architect (Ted Danson).  He explains that she has been good enough to make it to the Good Place.  It’s not exactly anything she’s heard about while she was alive, but only one human really got the afterlife right.  Michael is excited since she is part of his first neighborhood.  It is filled with frozen yogurt shops and people who have all been good.  Everyone there even has a soulmate, and Eleanor quickly meets hers, Chidi (Willian Jackson Harper).  She also meets her new neighbor, Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Tahnani’s soulmate, Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), a Buddhist monk who is keeping his vow of silence even into the afterlife.  They even have a robot personal assistant, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), at their beck and call.

There is just one problem – Eleanor is not qualified to be in the Good Place, and she knows it.  She confides to Chidi, who begins to help her in her attempts to become good.  But can they keep her secret?  Will she be able to continue fooling people about who she really is?

Now, let me be clear from the outset that, as a Christian, I have huge theological issues with the premise of this season.  That was the reason I wasn’t planning to start watching the show, and I was completely correct about that.  In no way is my endorsement of this show an endorsement for a merit based view of the afterlife.  However, viewed as a fantasy comedy, this show is pretty funny.

It takes a couple of episodes to lay the groundwork for the show, but once it does, the show makes me laugh.  This isn’t a laugh a minute sitcom, but takes some time delivering some of the jokes.  When it does, however, it really delivers.  The situations are outright hysterical at times as things continue to spiral out of control for Eleanor, Chidi, and the others.  And that’s not to say that the characters don’t get witty lines as well.  There are plenty of jokes in the dialogue.

Unlike many half hour sitcoms, or at least the half hour sitcoms I watch, this one had a definitely story arc for the first season.  That leads to some great cliffhangers at the end of the episodes as things get worse for our characters.  Remember, I was watching this via On Demand after the first season had finished, and I was trying to watch just one episode a night.  If I had the time, I often found myself watching more than one because I had to know what would happen next.

We do get flashbacks to our character’s lives before they died, and they provide some interesting background to what we are seeing now.  Still, I actually found these to be a weak point of many of the episodes, mainly because I found Eleanor after death to be sympathetic, while the Eleanor before death was a royal jerk.  This definitely proves she is correct that she doesn’t belong in the Good Place.  The other characters weren’t as funny before they died, either.

Obviously, Ted Danson is best known for his comedy over the years, and I knew Kristen Bell could be funny from her work on Veronica Mars.  I wasn’t surprised that they pulled off the comedy in this show perfectly.  I wasn’t familiar with the rest of the cast, but they are just as perfect.  Even when things take some seemingly strange turns, everyone’s performances keep things real for us, and their reactions are some of the funniest things in the show.

Since this show deals with the afterlife, we get more special effects than we would normally think of for a TV comedy.  While a couple are obvious computer effects, for the most part, they work to further pull us into this world.

The creator of the show had mapped out a thirteen episode arc for the first season, and that is exactly what we got.  (Considering the ratings could have been better, I don’t know what the network might have gone for.)  That means there really is no filler, each episode propels things forward to the season finale, which wraps this first season up perfectly while leaving us dying to know what happens next.  Trust me, I was thrilled I only had to wait about five weeks for season 2 to start, and since we are fast approaching the half way point of season 2 (NO!!!!!!!), you can watch this and then jump into season 2 with no waiting.  Trust me, you’ll be glad about that.

The thirteen episodes are included in this two-disc set.  They are wide screen and full surround, which is how the show originally aired.  In the way of extras, we get two commentaries with two actresses, the creator, and one of the executive producers, a look at the special effects, a gag reel, and a table read.

I’m glad I gave this comedy a chance.  The Good Place is delightfully funny and surprising.  I hope more people find the show so we can get many more years laughing at these characters.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Pilot
2. Flying
3. Tahani Al-Jamil
4. Jason Mendoza
5. Category 5S Emergency Doomsday Crisis
6. What We Owe to Each Other
7. The Eternal Shriek
8. Most Improved Player
9. …Someone Like Me as a Member
10. Chidi’s Choice
11. What’s My Motivation
12. Mindy St. Claire
13. Michael’s Gambit

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Movie Review: Gourmet Detective - Eat, Drink, and Be Buried

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, character development
Cons: Hallmark cheese, but a light dose
The Bottom Line:
Reenactment death
Puzzling, fun mystery
That is fun to watch

Deadly Birthday Party

People often mocked Murder, She Wrote because, no matter where Jessica Fletcher showed up, a murder would take place.  However, as any cozy mystery fan knows, that’s a normal part of the sub-genre.  Henry Ross discovers this in the latest Gourmet Detective movie – Eat, Drink, and Be Buried.

You see, Henry Ross (Dylan Neal) is serving a dual part in his friend David’s birthday.  He’s been asked to supervise the meal, but he and his girlfriend, San Francisco homicide cop Maggie (Brooke Burns) are also guests.  Despite some miscommunication about whether it was a costume party or not, they are having a wonderful time.  Well, a mostly wonderful time.  David’s children and step-children are constantly fighting, and they have hardly taken the party off.

As a surprise for his guests, David has talked his son, Doug and step-son, Ken, into reenacting the dual that helped launch his family’s fortune.  However, the dual ends in tragedy when it is discovered that Ken isn’t faking his death scene - he was shot with a real bullet.  It is quickly apparent that this isn’t a tragic accident.  But who wanted Ken dead?

See what I was talking about?  Even birthday parties aren’t safe when an amateur sleuth is around.  Not that I’m complaining since this is a fun mystery.  The plot kept me guessing until the end, and the twists were strong.

We also get to know Henry better when his estranged father shows up unexpectedly.  His father is played by Bruce Boxleitner.  I’m a huge Babylon 5 and Scarecrow and Mrs. King fan, so seeing him in this role was a lot of fun.  Couple that with a sub-plot involving Henry’s own birthday and we get some real insight into this character.

The cast does a good job here.  Yes, there is still the usual Hallmark cheese, but it isn’t as bad as it can be.  Honestly, I got so caught up in the story that I hardly noticed.

These Hallmark mystery movies continue to be fun, and Eat, Drink, and Be Buried is no exception.  If you are looking for a couple of enjoyable hours of mystery, you won’t go wrong here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

October 14th's Weekly TV Thoughts

This has been a very long week with very little TV watching.  I've watched most of this stuff today and last night after work, which is why it is so late.  But here you are:

Once Upon a Time (10/6) – That went about as I expected it to go.  Which isn’t good or bad.  It definitely felt been there done that.  I mean, we have a curse and no one knows who they are.  Only a kid believes the truth.  I’m intrigued to find out exactly why this curse was cast, and I do want Henry to get his happy ending and why the other characters we know got caught up in the curse, but it’s not nearly as captivating as previous seasons have been.  Hopefully, I’ll get into it ore as the season progresses.

Dancing with the Stars – Anyone else notice that so many of the dancers seem to get their best scores this week of the competition.  Is it a break through?  Or is it just connecting with the dance because it is so personal?  Not that there weren’t great dances happening this week.

Supergirl – I’m on board.  Obviously, we somehow accidentally created the villain with all that activity at the beginning of the episode.  That’s a bummer because I liked the little bit we saw of her.  But the new developer we just met is interesting, and Lena running CatCo is a good way to keep her involved.  I could have done without the obvious political jabs, but at least they were kept in the background this time.

Big Bang Theory – While Sheldon isn’t quite as good as the humorous monologue as Howard (see the season 5 episode where he’s at NASA training for one of the funniest scenes on the show period), he wasn’t still pretty funny here.  June wedding?  Really?  I’m predicting a May wedding myself.  I just wonder if it will be outside or not.

The Flash – I was not expecting crazy Barry to come back.  Glad we’ve got regular Barry back now.  Anyone else think the Speed Force could realize the problem?  Say for the mid-season break?  And they’ve shown us the villain right away.  No more surprise reveal that he’s part of the inner circle this time.  They’ve promised lighter this year, and I hope they deliver, but so far, it was fairly serious, which this episode had to be.

Lethal Weapon – I didn’t think that Riggs was going to have a girlfriend so soon, but that breakup scene at the end was so hard to watch.  Fun case overall and great scene at the end.  I wonder what the new boss will do now that she realizes this isn’t an act.

Legends of Tomorrow – Yes, this is still my favorite show of the Arrowverse.  Yes, it’s corny, but I like the fact that they don’t take themselves so seriously all the time.  I was laughing at so many of the lines.  And yet when they give the characters a few tender moments, those work so well, too.  So what is coming?

This is Us – I’m so over this whole Jack’s death thing.  Just rip the Band-Aid off and tell us already!  Other than that, it was a solid episode.  For once, I didn’t think that they did an apology well enough on this show, but I think Kate will bring that up again later based on how she was looking there at the end.  And I think Randall is in a great place to help their foster daughter.  It’s going to be rough, but so far, he seems to have more of a handle on it than I thought he would.

Survivor – It’s really simple.  If you want to be the star of a challenge, make sure you are actually the star.  If you cost your team the challenge, you’d better be prepared to go home.  And I’m sorry, but the reaction?  Sour grapes.  No alliance is going to save you this early in the game if you mess up that badly.  However, I do know red heads I trust.

Designated Survivor – I was more impressed with the statue storyline than I thought I would be.  I do sympathize with the business man in some ways, but lives are on the line.  Is anyone really, truly that heartless?  That part made me the maddest at the writers.  Not sure where they are going with the potential scandal storyline, but I am curious about that.

The Good Place – That party?  It sounds like so much fun.  I get why it was supposed to be torture, but only for one of them.  Michael was pretty funny going through his crisis.  And the twist at the end?  That’s unexpected.  I wonder where they will go next.

Arrow – So the only person to actually die was William’s mother?  Actually, I’m not too surprised since I already knew most of the cast was coming back, but still, that somehow seems like a bit of a cheat.  What are evil Laurel’s true motives?  I don’t buy the revenge for shooting her thing.

The Orville – At times, I feel like this show is Mystery Science Theater 3000 itself.  It’s saying exactly what we are all thinking, and I love it for that.  A bit surprised we didn’t see more from the rest of the crew this week, but a good episode that shows the heart of the characters.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Winners!

I am very late in pulling the winners of the contests that closed this week.  Well, I'm very late on one of them anyway.  But I've pulled both winners tonight.

The winner of A Room with a Brew is Kay!

The winner of Fixing to Die is Laura!

I've sent you both e-mails, so please be looking for them so I can make sure you get your prize.

Book Review: Murder on the Toy Town Express by Barbara Early (Vintage Toy Shop Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, good mystery, fun
Cons: All cons run over by a toy train
The Bottom Line:
Deadly toy expo
Case filled with many questions
Strong characters, fun

A Bully Takes a Plunge

Just in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I never really grew up, so you can imagine how quickly I jumped at a cozy mystery set around a nostalgic toy shop.  The first in the series was great, and I’m happy to report that Murder on the Toy Town Express is even better.

The Toy and Train Expo has come to East Aurora, New York, and Liz McCall and her father, Hank, have set up a booth for their vintage toy shop, Well Played.  Liz’s isn’t super happy when they find their location and discover they are located next to Craig McFadden’s comic book booth.  Craig and Liz had gone to school together, and Craig has bullied her.  She has done her best to avoid him as an adult, but the little bit they have interacted has shown that he hasn’t matured a whole lot.

However, for this weekend, he’s buzzing about some big announcement he plans to make that morning.  And he’s wearing a superhero costume that no one seems to recognize.  Before he can make his announcement, he climbs up the scaffolding in the convention center and then plunges into the middle of an elaborate train display.  No one else was up there, but something feels off to Hank, the retired chief of police.  It appears that Liz’s family and friends are potentially connected in some way to the case, so she begins to investigate.  But can she make sense of all that is happening?

There really is a lot going on here to keep us entertained.  There’s always some plot point or twist, and the various elements that come into this book are fun.  We also get a strong sub-plot.  The climax is well done and wraps everything up logically.

The characters are great.  Liz and Hank are the ones we see the most, but the rest of the supporting players are also strong.  We are introduced to quite a few new characters here, and I really liked them.  We don’t get to know all of them super well, but that’s just a function of how much page time they get.

The first book of the series set up a romantic triangle.  There are significant developments in it, here, and they also played into developing Liz better, which I loved.  While the love triangle has gotten a bad name in cozy mysteries, this is one series where I think it is being handled well.

I can’t leave out the humor.  Hank loves puns, as you might have guessed from the name of the toy store.  Since I love puns, the scenes where he uses some always made me laugh.  There are some other funny events in this novel, and I laughed out loud several times while I was reading.

Murder on the Toy Town Express is just plain fun, with a good mystery and characters you quickly come to love.  Don’t hesitate to visit Liz today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ornament Review: Clue - Family Game Night #4 - 2017 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: It’s Clue!!!!!!
Cons: Board looks weird, tilts forward
The Bottom Line:
Board game that I love
Now shrunk to ornament size
And I am so thrilled!

I Doubt You Need a Clue to Figure Out How This Mystery Lover Feels About This Ornament

When Hallmark first announced their Family Game Night series, I immediately said my number one wish for the series was a Clue ornament.  And Hallmark came through with the fourth entry in the series.

As you can imagine, I spent many happy hours playing Clue as a kid.  I even tried to come up with ways to play it by myself that sort of worked.  (Okay, not really, but it didn’t stop me.)  A mystery to solve and clues to gather?  I’ve always been a mystery reader, so this was right up my alley.

And this ornament is wonderful.  Like others in the series, we have the board sticking out of the box.  The game and the game box has gone through many versions over the years, but they went with the one from the 80’s.  Sitting on the board are the six weapons, and two of the tokens, Miss Scarlet and Colonel Mustard.  They even include the confidential case file folder that holds the solution to the mystery.  It looks more like a traditional file folder than the envelope that was really in the game, but it’s still a wonderful touch.

Being a child of the 80’s, this is the version of the box cover I still have, so I am absolutely thrilled to see it here.  Since I love green, I always played as Mr. Green.  Yes, I would have preferred if he had been one of the tokens chosen, but that’s being nitpicky.

However, I do have some critiques.  The rope is more of a yellow plastic than the white used in the game.  And yes, I pulled out my game to double check on this.  This is especially obvious since it is sitting next to the yellow Colonel Mustard token.  In the earlier entries in this series, they just tried to include a portion of the game board.  This time, they tried to include all of it, but the result looks distorted.  They should have just used half the board.

And the biggest issue?  It tilts forward quite noticeably.  Of course, this is an issue the series has as a whole since the loop for hanging the ornament is on the top of the lid, and most of the ornament sticks out in front.  There’s no real way to balance it well.

The game board does provide a nice flat surface, so you can easily set it out to be displayed year-round if you want.  And you’ll find the series marker on the bottom of the board.

No, the ornament isn’t perfect.  However, I still absolutely love it.  Clue will bring smiles to my face for years to come.

It’s your turn to find more ornaments in the Family Game Night series.

Original Price: $15.95