Friday, May 25, 2018

May 25th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Time one again for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Bear Witness to Murder by Meg Macy.

This is the second book in the Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mystery series.  It comes out on Tuesday, but I've already read and enjoyed the ARC, so I'll be reviewing it on release day.

Here's how the book begins:

"She's so furry!  I love her."  The little girl hugged the brown bear dressed in a striped orange sweater.  "Can I keep her, Mom?  Please?"

The DisNerd in me couldn't resist this bit from page 56:

"I thought you preferred Sesame Street and the Disney Channel."
"If I hear that song 'Let It Go' one more time..." Mary Kate sighed.

Okay, not the most suspenseful tease, but I just couldn't resist.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Review: I Scream, You Scream by Wendy Lyn Watson (Mystery A-La-Mode #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, talk of ice cream
Cons: Pacing could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Ice cream and murder
Make for a delightful mix
Delicious debut

You’ll Scream for This Debut

I am an equal opportunity dessertetarian, but ice cream is my favorite.  So, I’m a bit baffled that it has taken me so long to read I Scream,You Scream, the first in the Mystery a la Mode series.  After all, I bought the book when it first came out, so it’s been sitting on my shelf for nine years now.

Tally Jones has just poured everything into an ice cream shop in her home town of Dalliance, Texas.  However, people aren’t exactly flocking to Remember the A-la-Mode, so she has agreed to take on a catering job for Wayne, her ex-husband, and Brittanie, his new girlfriend.  Her bank balance is forcing her to swallow her pride.

But things go from bad to worse when Brittanie dies the next morning.  Tongues in town start wagging, and both Wayne and Tally are on the top of the suspect list as far as the police are concerned.  While Tally doesn’t think Wayne could have done it, she knows she is innocent, and she begins poking around to figure out who killed Brittanie.  Can she find the truth?

This may be a series debut, but I felt like I knew these characters within just a few pages.  I especially loved Tally’s interactions with her cousin Bree and Bree’s teenage daughter Alice.  I might have laughed a few times.  Okay fine, more than a few.  Tally’s high school boyfriend has just returned to town, and I’m very curious where that relationship will go in future books.  And, of course, there are the suspects, who are just as strong.

Unfortunately, the mystery wasn’t quite as strong as the characters.  Early on, the book seems focused on Tally’s life and several interesting sub-plots.  The mystery does grow stronger in the second half, and I appreciated the twists we got then.  Likewise, the solution was perfectly logical and satisfying.

And, of course, there is plenty of talk about ice cream.  My mouth might have drooled a time or two as I wished I could taste the flavors Tally was describing.  At the end of the book, there are instructions for creating a tropical sundae, including a special topping that sounds delicious.

Just a quick note.  Henery Press has recently republished this book and the next two in the series.  I am linking up to that edition, however, I read the original mass market paperback released back in 2009.  Trust me, I’m kicking myself for having this book on my shelf that long without reading it.

Now that I’ve met Tally, you can bet I won’t be waiting so long before I visit her again.  With summer coming, now is the perfect time to dish up some ice cream and setting in with I Scream, You Scream.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Ornament Review: North Pole Tree Trimmers #5 - Hydration Department - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute looking ornament
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Thirsty Christmas tree?
This elf coming to rescue
In cute series piece

Is Your Christmas Tree Dry?  This Elf to the Rescue!

While I have found all of the North Pole Tree Trimmers fun, some leap off the tree at me with just how creative they are.  2017’s entry in the series in one of those.

This series focuses on the elves that help Santa with decorating or other Christmas preparation.  The elf we get for this entry in the series is responsible for keeping Christmas trees watered.  He’s decked out in green, like most of the elves in this series are.  He’s holding the nozzle at the end of a tube that connects to the water pack in his backpack.  There is some writing on the water pack as well as the year the ornament came out.

And above all, he’s cute.  There’s a great smile on his face, and he looks like he really enjoys his job.  I’m glad someone does, because I would always forget to water my trees when I had live ones.

This elf does stand on his own two feet, but just barely.  The water pack on his back wants to pull him back, so I recommend leaving him in a very sturdy place if you are going to set him out.

That water pack also changes his center of balance ever so slightly when you go to hang him on your tree.  Fortunately, it is such a small amount that he actually still looks like he is hanging straight.

And yes, there is a 5 in a Christmas tree hidden on the ornament since this is the fifth in the series.  I’ll let you find it for yourself.

This is such a creative addition to the series that I’m glad I have this elf.  If you are a fan of the North Pole Tree Trimmers, you’ll be glad to have it in your collection, too.

You'll want more elf help with the rest of the North Pole Tree Trimmers.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review: Murder on Moon Trek 1 by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker Outer Space Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great use of setting to tell a fun mystery
Cons: Took me a while to feel fully at home in the world, but a minor complaint
The Bottom Line:
Trek to outer space
For creative mystery
Sure to delight all

Murder on a Space Ship

As much as I love cozy mysteries (and I obviously do), I will confess that they can be very similar, so I’m always looking for something new in the genre.  That’s why Diane Vallere’s Murder on Moon Trek 1 caught my attention – it’s a murder mystery set in outer space, specifically, a space ship.

Sylvia Stryker’s first day on Moon Unit 5 isn’t going as she planned.  She was hoping that her position as uniform inventory manager would allow her to fly under the radar (pun intended) since she hacked her way on board the space ship.  However, that plan evaporates almost as soon as the ship has taken off when she finds a dead body in the uniform closet.

Not only is her cover blown, but Sylvia finds herself facing suspicion of killing the man herself.  However, she begins to suspect that something much more sinister is going on; something that could spell disaster for the entire ship.  Can she clear her name and find the truth before it is too late?

The book plunks us right down in the middle of the action, which normally I would love.  Here it was a bit disconcerting only because of the science fiction setting.  Sylvia herself isn’t fully human but part Plunian, for example.  However, the more I read, the more comfortable I felt with Sylvia’s science fiction world, and the way we were introduced to things as we needed to know them is certainly better than a giant data dump, so really this is minor.

Sylvia finds the body in the second sentence; that’s how quickly the story starts.  There’s a lot going on here that keeps our interest the entire way through the book, with several twists and complications before we reach a logical climax.  The book is a fast read, but even so, I was turning pages as quickly as I could to figure everything out.

The characters grew on me as well.  There are only a few we get to truly know well, but they are outstanding, and I can’t wait to spend time with them again.  And yes, Sylvia tops that list.  She is a great lead character.

This book does a fantastic job of mixing the cozy mystery genre in with the science fiction genre.  I do enjoy science fiction, and I caught several winks and nods to some of the classics, although my knowledge of the genre is lacking enough that I’m sure I missed plenty more.  And readers who pick this up looking for a mystery won’t be disappointed in that aspect of the book either.

It’s always wonderful to find a writer who takes a risk that pays off, and that’s exactly what we get with Murder on Moon Trek 1.  Sit back and enjoy this fantastic debut today.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Movie Review: Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Chemistry between leads, special effects, second half
Cons: Pacing is off, which is usual for the franchise
The Bottom Line:
Spin off franchise starts
Uneven pacing in film
Laying new groundwork

Laying the New Groundwork

Like any fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I was interested when they announced plans for a new franchise set in the Harry Potter universe.  And then I didn’t actually get around to watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them until this year.  While I found it lacking, I am still hopeful for the rest of the movies.

We travel back to 1926 and meet Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in New York City.  He’s carrying a suitcase that seems to have a mind of its own.  You see, Newt is a wizard, and his suitcase actually contains all kinds of fantastic beasts he’s found in his travels all over the world.

He hasn’t been in New York long before he spots an anti-witch and wizard group and been spotted by Tina (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol).  Meanwhile, he’s also bumped into Jacob (Dan Fogler), a No-Mag (as us Muggles are called here in the states) who wants to become a baker.  But when the unthinkable happens and some of Newt’s beasts get lose, what will happen next?

My complaint with this movie is the same one I’ve had with many of the Harry Potter books and movies – the beginnings are slow.  J. K. Rowling, who wrote the screen play, spends a lot of time with world building before the real story begins.  Oh, we can see where the conflict is going to come from early on, but it takes a while for that to really get going.

Now that’s not to say we don’t get some great moments before then.   There’s a sequence where we get to see some of the beasts that Newt is carrying that is a triumph of special effects and imagination that is sure to make you smile.  The four main characters are a lot of fun, and their scenes together are great.  The chemistry between these actors is fantastic.  In fact, the acting and special effects all the way through are wonderful.

When we get into the second half and the story really begins to gel, things pick up significantly.  The climax is wonderful with a couple of good twists to the story.

And here’s why I am still looking forward to the sequels even though I found this movie a little lacking.  This movie is laying the groundwork for the stories to come.  Think about the first Harry Potter book.  It’s very slow as it introduces us to his magical world.  While we already know about the universe, we still need to meet the characters and the conflict that is going on during the 1920’s.

I do wish that J. K. Rowling’s pacing would get better, but I trust that the story that ultimately springs from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be worth the wait.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Book Review: The Secret of the Old Mill by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Eventful and fun plot
Cons: Characters are weak
The Bottom Line:
Counterfeit money
Start the Hardys on new case
Fun for young readers

The Hardys Take on Counterfeiters

I know I read The Secret of the Old Mill years ago when I was a boy, but I didn’t remember much about the story until I started reading the first chapter.  Suddenly, the big picture of the plot came back to me.  Not that it kept me from enjoying the book a second time.

Frank and Joe Hardy’s father Fenton Hardy, the famous detective, is returning to town, and they’ve gone to the train station with their friend Chet to pick him up.  While they are waiting for his train, Chet is passed a counterfeit bill.  Naturally, Frank and Joe become interested in trying to find the counterfeiters.

Meanwhile, Fenton is working on a case he can’t discuss with his sons, and something strange is happening out at the new factory on the edge of town.  Things only get more interesting when Fenton receives a threatening note.  But which case is the note warning him away from?

As you can see, there is plenty here to keep young readers interested.  While a few of the bigger plot points are obvious to adults early on, watching how the Hardys piece things together is still fun.  Kids will certainly be hooked to find out just what is going.  Plus, there are several exciting events that happen along the way toward the climax.

I never noticed as a kid, but the characters in these books are rather weak.  The emphasis is on action over realistic characters or character development.  Honestly, I never minded as a kid, and I’m sure today’s kids won’t mind either.

The biggest issue might be how dated elements of the plot are, starting with Fenton Hardy traveling by train.  Who does that anymore?

The Hardy Boys books are fast reads, but they are still fun.  The Secret of the Old Mill is a book that fans of the brothers will gobble up and be left wanting to read more.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

May 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

A big series finale this week.  Spoiler alert - it's down at the bottom.

Once Upon a Time (5/11) – Well, everyone is in a jam for sure.  Can’t believe Henry was so stupid as to get the pen.  And Gold blew it with the squid ink.  I wasn’t surprised that the big returns were all in the wish realm.  I just can’t figure out how they will give anyone their happy ending on Friday.

Deception – So the team helped both brothers this week.  I enjoyed him taking down the warden in prison.  The secret society storyline was a bit much, but it appears we’ve gotten another clue to the conspiracy.  With the show canceled, I wonder if we will get any resolution to anything.  I’m trying to think how they would have played both brothers out of prison, so I’m rather doubting it, actually.

Supergirl – Why do I feel that Reign isn’t subdued?  I’m really worried about what will happen when she does get out again.  Heck, I will be surprised if we ever truly get Sam back.  Lena talking to Kara like that at the end hurt as well.  She’s right to be hurt, and I hope they work this out and Lena isn’t our villain next year.  I was really like having a Luthor who was an ally for something different.  I get it if it doesn’t last.  So, is Mon-El going to stay after the threat is really over?  My guess is yes, although that will make me think less of him, even though he has his wife’s permission to stick around indefinitely.

Dancing with the Stars – It’s Adam’s to lose at this point.  No disrespect to the other two who are still in it, but he’s by far the best.  His only competition was the skater he was dancing against during the battle.  Although I have to ask why, in a shortened season like this, two of the skaters got to do Contemporary dances.  They were beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but they are so different from anything else that it gave them a huge advantage.

American Ninja Warrior: Ninja Vs. Ninja – Two new obstacles, and I mean completely new.  I don’t remember ever seeing them before.  Made for some interesting battles along the way.  And so many close races this time around, too.  At this point, it’s hard to know who to root for.  I really want all of them to win.

The Flash – Cecil taking on other personalities was lots of fun.  I wonder if they will be using that to defeat the Thinker next week.  I can’t imagine how, but I don’t feel like they’d add that in this week just for laughs.  I’m worried about Wells.  Maybe fixing the Awakening will fix him as well?  And what did Caitlyn see in her past?  Is Killer Frost not a meta power after all?  Will she be going full evil next season?  (I hope not.)

Survivor – Considering last week, I’m not too surprised at who left, although it really could have been Donathan.  Honestly, how is he still there?  I had him pegged as an early casualty from the beginning, so I’m surprised he’s stuck around this long.  I’m betting on who the final three will be, but we shall see what happens next week.

Designated Survivor – I was kind of expecting some cliffhangers.  Yes, I am curious where the show would have gone from here, but I don’t think I’m curious enough to be upset the show was canceled.  They wrapped up most of the major storylines that had been going on well except for the charges against the President.  Those seemed to be forgotten, but they probably intended to pick them up again next season.  Oh well.

Arrow – As frustrated as I’ve been with this season, this episode was good.  I knew where the show was going as Oliver was making his amends with everyone.  But I can’t believe he didn’t talk to Felicity at all.  Seriously?  She has a right to be angry with him.  The scene between Evil Laurel and Sara was so well played, and Lance’s goodbye scene with Oliver was heartbreaking.  It will be very interesting to see how they get Oliver out of this next season.

American Ninja Warrior All Star Special – This is always such a fun special to watch.  I mean, how fast the Papal Ninja went up the salmon ladder.  And the distance they were flying at the wingnuts.  Not surprised we got to see Kacy again.  I said in the fall she’d pop up every so often.  I’m sure it will happen again.  And congrats to Team Christine for winning two years in a row!

Once Upon a Time (5/18) – Yes, I did watch this Friday night instead of a couple of days later like I have been all season.  I’m torn about the ending.  Emotionally, it was great.  Regina becoming the Good Queen and getting the love and respect of the others is fantastic.  I truly do love that.  And Rumpelstiltskin’s sacrifice was moving on so many levels.  And yet, I’m still trying to figure out timing and timelines and how we got two Henrys and two Hooks but only one of everyone else.  To me, this perfectly encapsulates the season.  Characters I loved to root for in a story that doesn’t quite hold together if you stop and think about it.  Unlike the first six seasons that held together so much more.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Ornament Review: Swingin' Sax - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun Sax for the jazz band.
Cons: Doesn’t play well on its own, biggest tip of the three.
The Bottom Line:
Jazzing up the halls
Not quite as good on its own
But great with the band

The Leader of the Band is on Sax

The ornaments in the Merry Music Makers series from Hallmark all theoretically could stand on their own.  However, when you plug them in to their power cord, you’ll notice they all play a few seconds of “Deck the Halls.”  I think that makes Swingin’ Sax the leader since that is the song this ornament plays.

Like the others, this ornament features a penguin sculpted by Kristina Gaughran playing an instrument.  And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, this penguin is playing a saxophone.  The saxophone itself glows when the ornament is plugged in.

Plugged into what?  Hallmark’s new Power Cord, which not only allows the ornaments to play a song, but it also allows the other ornaments of the set to play along when any of the ornaments are playing.  You can buy just one, but you get a better song when you have all of them.

As I already said, this ornament leads the others in “Deck the Halls.”  The sound clip goes for about 24 seconds, and it has some fun, jazzy rifts on the song.  However, I noticed something as I was listening to it by itself – it doesn’t stand that well on its own.  There are a couple of places where it is obvious you are supposed to have the others as they fill in the melody and this one cuts out to allow them to have it.  It doesn’t sound bad on its own, but it doesn’t sound as good as the others do solo.

Of course, if you buy all three, that’s no issue at all.  The three ornaments really do compliment each other, and it is that fun that made me want to buy all three of them.

The other thing I noticed about this ornament is the tip.  Yes, the others tip as well, but this one has the worst tip of the three.  It still has a solid base, so if you want to set it out to be displayed, that isn’t an issue at all.

While Swingin’ Sax isn’t my favorite in the series, it is still fun.  And combined with the other two, you’ll definitely be glad you bought it.

Curious to see them in action together?  Check out my Youtube video.

Original Price: $24.95

May 18th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it to another Friday, which means it is time again for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I have a cozy mystery.  Shocking, right?  But there's a bit of a twist since the title is Murder on Moon Trek 1 by Diane Vallere.

Yes, that's right.  This mystery has a sci fi setting.  It's a lot of fun.

Here's how the book starts:

When Moon Unit 5 kicked off its inaugural trip from my home planet of Plunia, I expected the uniform closet to be stuffed to capacity.  I just hadn't expected it to be stuffed with a body.

Moving on to page 56, we find:

"Need I remind you that you're still in my custody?"
No, you needn't," I said, with a trace of annoyance.

This is the first in a series, and it's a lot of fun.  My full review will be coming Tuesday.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review: Without a Doubt by Nancy Cole Silverman (Carol Childs #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: A couple of minor issues, but none affecting the plot
The Bottom Line:
Jewelry robbery
Leads Carol to twists and turns
In great mystery

Jewelry Robbery at Christmas

If you’ve paid attention, I try to save Christmas set mysteries to read in December.  I had missed the fact that Without a Doubt is set during that month, or I would have tried to read it several months ago.  But I wasn’t willing to wait until December this year to visit Carol Childs again, and I’m glad I didn’t.

Of course, December means something additional in Los Angeles, where Carol works as a journalist for a local talk radio station – the beginning of awards season.  That means that some of the local jewelry businesses bring in fancier pieces for celebrities to either buy or rent for up coming awards ceremonies or parties.  So when Carol is in the right place at the right time to witness a jewelry store be robbed, she quickly realizes the haul might be more than she originally thought.

Further complicating things is the fact that her boyfriend, Eric, who is an FBI agent, is also working the case, putting a strain on their relationship.  As Carol tries to figure out what happened, she keeps coming back to Carmen Montague, a socialite best known for being famous.  What might Carmen have to do with what is going on?  Can Carol crack the case?

This book starts with a bang – literally – and keeps the pace moving until the end.  The twists were very well done and help ramp up the tension before we reach the climax.  We’ve got some sub-plots introduced in the last book that continue here as well, although you don’t need to read the series in order to understand what is happening in this book.

I really do love Carol.  She’s a strong main character doing the best she can to figure out the crimes she gets involved in as a reporter.  Because of how this plot develops, we don’t see as much of some of the series regulars, but the new characters are strong enough to keep us engaged.

There were a couple of things that slipped by the editor that needed a bit of polish, but they were both minor and didn’t impact the plot at all.

It turned out that I didn’t miss much by reading this book now instead of December.  There were some scenes that made reference to the holiday, but the setting was more about the ramp up to the awards season than the Christmas season.  Still, there were a couple of scenes that referred to Christmas that made me smile.  This is definitely an LA set book, and these were only in LA in December types of things.

The ending of Without a Doubt left me wondering what would happen to Carol next, so I need to bump the fourth book in the series further up my to be read list.  If you haven’t meant Carol yet, pick up this book today.  You’ll be glad you did.

Looking for more?  Here are the rest of the Carol Childs Mysteries.