Monday, July 31, 2017

July 2017's Monthly Reading Summary

Since today is the last day of July, it must be time for the monthly reading summary for the month.  The index has been updated as well.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).

Death Crashes the Party by Vickie Fee (Liv and Di in Dixie #1) – 5
Liv McKay is working with some clients to plan an anniversary party for them when they find two dead bodies in their garage.  The murder victims worked at the trucking company Liv’s father-in-law owns.  Soon, rumors are swirling about Liv’s family, and the police are uncovering some things that are upsetting the family.  Liv and her best friend Di Souther start their investigation to find out what is really happening.  Can they figure it out?

This was a very enjoyable debut with some twists on the usual cozy set up, which I really enjoyed.  Liv is a fantastic main character, and Di is a wonderful sidekick.  I did feel they were a bit passive early on, but that soon changed and they threw themselves headlong into solving the mystery, which featured plenty of surprises and twists.  Throw in a bit of humor, and you have a winner.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

Murder at the Male Revue by Elizabeth Perona (Bucket List Mysteries #3) – 4
Catering a fund raiser for the community center is doing double duty for the Skinny-Dipping Grandmas as they can also check “Visit a strip club” off Joy’s bucket list.  But when the auction for the men gets started, chaos insures and the town council’s president is murdered.  Who could have done it?

As always, Francine is our guide to this third wacky and fun mystery.  There are some good secrets, twists, and surprises that come out, although the ending did feel a bit abrupt.  The characters are fun and strong.  Between a couple of slapstick scenes and the dialogue, we get some great laughs along the way as well.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Commander Toad and the Space Pirates by Jane Yolen (Commander Toad #6) – 3
It’s been a long space voyage, so long that the crew of the Space Warts is bored.  Unfortunately, trouble finds them in the form of Commander Salamander, the notorious space pirate who is Commander Toad’s arch nemesis.  He quickly boards the ship and plans to force the crew to play his favorite game, Hop the Plank.  Can they get out of this situation?

I remember liking this one as a kid, but as an adult, it just doesn’t hold up well.  The puns, a favorite of mine, aren’t on full display here.  The twist at the end is just a bit too abrupt for me.  I’m sure kids who are fans of these books will still enjoy it, however.

30 Second Death by Laura Bradford (Tobi Tobias #2) – 4
When Tobi’s friend Carter goes off on an actress at the theater where he works, he’s afraid of losing his job.  Tobi decides to help out by hiring the actress to be in a commercial she is about to shoot for an advertising client, but when the actress dies on set while Carter is coloring her hair, he immediately finds himself the top suspect.  Now Tobi must do another favor – clear Carter of murder.

I loved the first book in this series, and one of the main reasons was the characters.  They are a delight to be around, and their relationships are so wonderful.  I felt the mystery in this one was slow, especially in the first half where a couple of sub-plots got in the way of Tobi solving the mystery.  Still, it did reach a logical conclusion at the end.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Demolition Angel by Robert Crais – 3
Three years ago, Carol Starkey lost her partner and lover when a bomb exploded.  Heck, she almost lost her life herself, and she has lived with the scars, real and emotional, from it ever since.  Now she is tasked with solving the murder of another LAPD bomb squad member killed by a bomb.  The ATF thinks it was the work of Mr. Red, a serial bomber.  Can Carol catch him?

The mystery itself in this book is strong, and I enjoyed the twists and turns as we went along.  However, I had a real problem with Carol.  She was a walking cliché of the hard-boiled mystery genre right down to her chain smoking, secret drinking, and hard to like personality.  Her character arc was a cliché as well, but I finally did find myself caring about her toward the end of the book.

Disney at Last by Ridley Pearson (The Return #3, Kingdom Keepers #11) – 4
Finn, the rest of the Kingdom Keepers, plus Jess and Amanda are still back in 1955.  While they wait for their trip back to our time to be perfected, they have a new mission – stop the overtakers from even being created.  Meanwhile, in the present, Jess and Amanda’s friend Mattie is in a fight of her own to protect the parks of the present.  Can she do it?

With two stories in two time periods, this book is never boring.  There are several great fight scenes, and we even get to see some of the Disney heroes for more than a glimpse this time around.  As always, the characters could be more fleshed out, but I have spent so much time with them I really don’t care.  I do feel the climax glossed over a few things, but I do like where the characters end up.  We’ll just blame it on me trying to follow time travel.

Circle of Influence by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers #1) – 5
After an especially tension filled Township Board meeting, paramedic Zoe Chambers is called to an abandoned car with a dead body in the front seat.  That discovery on a cold winter night plunges Zoe and Police Chief Pete Adams into a complex mystery that hits too close to home.  Where will it end?

I shouldn’t have put this debut off for so long.  It’s an amazing book full of great writing.  The characters are strong, and they pull us into the story quickly.  There are so many twists and turns along the way, but everything makes perfect sense by the time we reach the end.  Zoe and Pete share third person narrator duties, something the author uses perfectly to let us get to know the leads and build the tension in the story.

A Puzzle to be Named Later by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #18) – 4
When Yankee’s pitcher Matt Greystone moves to town to rehab after a car accident, Cora Felton is thrilled.  That is before a therapist’s house is broken into and Cora is asked to solve a puzzle that points to something in the therapist’s files.  When a second puzzle shows up on the dead body, she knows she has to figure out what is going on.

Like some others in the series, the mystery is the weak link in this book.  The action is quick even if it doesn’t always lead us anywhere.  The climax is a bit convoluted as well.  However, I read these books for the word play and comedy, and that’s here in spades.  I laughed multiple times in the book and smiled throughout.  Plus, it’s fun to spend time with the gang again, and I liked the new characters as well.

Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick (Lillian Frost and Edith Head #2) – 5
In December 1938, an FBI investigation into the smuggling activities of Albert Chaperau has reached the doors of Paramount, where Edith Head is the head of costumes.  Since Lillian Frost was at the dinner party where Albert was exposed, she finds herself involved in attempts to head off the investigation.  Meanwhile, Lillian is also looking into the disappearance of Jens Lahse.  No one has seen him for a week.  Where could he have gone?

This book plunges us into the world of old Hollywood, and doesn’t let us out.  Real and fictional blend seamlessly on the page, all of them coming to wonderful life.  The book takes time to lay the foundation of both stories and introduce the characters, but once that happens, it is off and running and hard to put down.  Add in a touch of Christmas, and you have a very charming book.

Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander (Bakeshop Mysteries #1) – 4
After years at sea, Jules Capshaw has returned to Ashford, Oregon.  While she figures out what to do with her life, she is helping her mother with Torte, the family bakeshop.  But she’s hardly back in town before she meets Nancy Hudson.  Nancy is a new member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival board, and she is obnoxious, picking fights with everyone she meets.  When Jules finds Nancy one more in Torte’s kitchen, there are quite a few suspects.  But with the police focuses on Jules’s friends, she starts to investigate herself in order to find out the truth.  Can she do it?

I’ve long heard of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and I’d love to go sometime.  Until that happens, this is a great alternative.  The characters are wonderful and already fully formed, although I do feel like part of Jules’s backstory isn’t strong enough for her actions.  But that’s probably just me.  The plot is good, although it was a little weak at the end.  Still, everything is wrapped up in a logical way.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ornament Review: Spotlight on Snoopy 20th's Anniversary Commemorative Ornament - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Honors 20 years of Spotlight on Snoopy
Cons: Very similar to original piece, larger with less detail
The Bottom Line:
This ornament for
Series anniversary
Not what I hoped for

Disappointing Anniversary Piece

When I realized that the Spotlight on Snoopy series was hitting number 20 this year, I was hoping that Hallmark would celebrate with a special anniversary piece.  While they did, the result was disappointing.

The problems with the piece start off with the design.  It’s very similar to the first ornament in the series.  Both feature Snoopy and his friend Woodstock getting ready to fill in for Santa.  Snoopy’s wearing red and he has a huge green sack of toys.  Woodstock is holding the map of their route while Snoopy gives us the thumbs up.  He’s not wearing sun glasses, something he was doing in the original as part of his Joe Cool persona (the original ornament was called Joe Cool after all).

Okay, I get it.  Unlike other series where it is easy to combine items or characters for an anniversary piece, this one is hard since it is Snoopy and Woodstock each year.  There are slight changes, but you have to really look at them side by side to see that.  Couldn’t they have found something different for the anniversary piece?  Snoopy and Woodstock blowing out 20 candles on a cake?  That would tie into this year’s ornament in the series in fact since Snoopy is a baker in it.

That aside, the next issue is the size.  This ornament is noticeably bigger than not only the rest of the series but the other Peanuts ornaments.  You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Great, more detail.”  You’d be wrong.  There’s actually less detail here than in the regular pieces.  Because the size is bigger, it costs more than the regular piece as well, which is no surprise.  Additionally, to set it apart, it is made from porcelain, which makes it a bit more fragile.

I actually saw all of this except the size from the Dreambook that Hallmark released this spring.  I was hoping that it would be better looking in person, but it isn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t a bad ornament.  It’s just not a good ornament either.  And since I really need to cut back on what I buy (and considering what I’ve bought already this year and plan to buy later, you can stop laughing now), this makes an easy one to eliminate.  That’s disappointing since, as I say every year, this series is the series I’ve been collecting since the 2000’s, before I got into collecting Hallmark ornaments to the extent I do today.

Snoopy has big feet in this ornament, and they provide enough of a base that you can set this ornament out.  Or you can hang him.  Since the loop is on Snoopy’s head, which isn’t centered, you’ll find that he tips slightly to the right.  It’s noticeable, but it would be easy enough to overlook if the rest of the ornament were better.

It’s easy to pick apart the flaws in this ornament, especially if you were hoping for better.  If you are missing the first in the series, this anniversary piece might be worth picking up.  For long term fans, this 20th Anniversary piece is a mixed bag, however.

With 20 ornaments, there are plenty to choose from in the Spotlight on Snoopy series.

Original Price: $17.95

Saturday, July 29, 2017

July 29th's Weekly TV Thoughts

As promised, I caught up once I got back from my trip.

Hollywood Game Night (7/20) – What a crazy collection of games.  The karaoke one was hilarious.  I was so impressed with the picture game at the end, especially how the guy game back and won.  So very impressive.

Battle of the Network Stars (7/20) – The team I’m rooting for always seems to lose at the end.  How could I not root for the soaps team with two Beverly Hills 90210 stars on it?  How scary that the one guy was so sick after the run.  Glad he was okay by the end.

Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge – So my Ninjas went out in the semi-finals.  I was bummed by that, but happy because it meant I could root for Heart of Texas, so came in third.  At least Commanding Officers came in third.  Since they were always the wild card, I really didn’t want them to wind up winning.  And I’m the guy who usually roots for the underdog, too.

American Ninja Warrior – Wow!  So sorry to see Grant go out.  I really like him.  Not that I wanted The Godfather to go out either.  Such a hard choice there.  I was thrilled both of those friends made it to the buzzer.  And it appeared the secret to finishing the course was to take off your shirt before the last obstacle, but only just at that last obstacle.

Suits – There’s the unhappy episode ending I’ve been expecting – at least for poor Louis.  Yes, he’s a pain in the neck who over reacts to everything.  But when they want to, they can really make us feel for him.  Harvey is not having an easy time of it leading the firm.  And as soon as Donna walked into that scene with Rachel, I knew exactly how that was going to turn out.  At least they both learned from their mistakes, which I knew they would.  Even though Mike is out of it, I’d like to know more about the dead prisoner case.  There probably isn’t more to it than that, but this mystery lover sure wants to know more.

Hollywood Game Night – When I realized how many singers were playing this week, I hope they were going to do the karaoke game again.  And they started with it!  So funny.  If the balloon game had gone more than one round, it might have been a closer game.  As it was, the other team never had a chance to recover from that.

Battle of the Network Stars – While I’d heard of most of the shows, the only star I knew was Willie Garson, and I know him best from White Collar, not Sex and the City.  Didn’t make the episode any less fun.  When it all comes down to the tug of war (and let’s face it, it always comes down to the tug of war), the cops had this one in the bag.  I was surprised at how well some of the comedy actors, did, however.

Friday, July 28, 2017

July 28th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's finally Friday.  It's been one of those weeks.  I've got to do this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56 really quick so I can go to bed.

This week's good is Dressed to Confess by Diane Vallere.


The book comes out on Tuesday, but I've been fortunate enough to get an advanced copy.  I enjoyed it.  My review, with a giveaway, will be up on Thursday of next week.
But for today, here's how the book begins:

Party planner Ebony Welles stood in the center of Marvin Gardens. Around her feet, additional properties from Monopoly were scattered, along with stacks of over-sized salmon-colored Chance and ochre Community Chest cards.

And over on page 56, we get this gem.

"You've got to help me out here," she said.  "The mayor is breathing down my neck."
"Think about what you are asking me to do."

And that's it for this week.  Happy weekend.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Review: Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander (Bakeshop Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Delightful characters; charming setting
Cons: Mystery a little weak at end; one part of Jules’s backstory
The Bottom Line:
Making enemies
Leads to bakery murder
In charming debut

Journey to Ashford to Meet a New Baker Sleuth

Obviously, I love puns.  I honestly think it would be hard to be a cozy mystery reader without loving them.  But when I saw the title of the first Bakeshop Mystery, it grabbed me more than many of them.  I mean, with a last name of Baker, how could I pass up a book entitled Meet Your Baker?

This book introduces us to Jules Capshaw.  After years at sea as a pastry chef, she’s returned to her hometown of Ashford, Oregon.  She’s trying to figure out what to do next with her life, but in the meantime, she’s working with her mother at Torte, the family’s bakeshop.

Jules is hoping for some peace and quiet in order to figure out her life, but that’s not what she gets.  Ashford is a small town, with a heavy reliance on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the politics of that festival carry over into town life.  Recently, the festival has added a new board member, Nancy Hudson, and Nancy has decided that this is her serfdom to run as she sees fit.  Not that she’s too pleasant when dealing with anyone, as Jules sees first hand.  However, when Jules goes to open the shop one morning, she finds Nancy’s dead body on the floor of Torte’s kitchen.  With the police questioning Jules’s friends and Torte’s employees, she starts trying to figure out what really happened.  Can she do it?

I think I was in love with this setting before I started reading the book.  I love live theater, after all, and I’ve long heard of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that is Ashford’s claim to fame.  I’d love to go sometime, but until that happens, getting to be a tourist via this book is a wonderful alternative.

The mystery starts out quickly, giving us a taste of Nancy’s nastiness before she is murdered.  She has some interesting secrets about herself and others that come out as the book progresses.  There are some strong sub-plots that take center stage at times, pushing the mystery to the background.  I did feel the climax was a little weak, but it does perfectly explain everything.

I already like this cast of characters.  Jules and her friends old and new already feel like friends, and I’m looking forward to visiting them again soon to find out what happens next to them.  I did think that Jules’s reason for returning to Ashford was a little weak, but maybe that’s just me, and if I’d been in her shoes, I’d fully understand.

And we get delicious sounding recipes.  There are eight of them in the back of the book, including recipes for things Raspberry Danish, Brazilian Cheese Muffins, and Sweet Heat Espresso.

If you are hungry for another culinary cozy series, the Bakeshop series is certainly one to consider.  With the friendly characters and fun setting, it’s easy to see why it is so popular.  Come Meet Your Baker, and you’ll quickly find yourself moving on to the next in the series.

Enjoy more tasty mysteries with the rest of the Bakeshop Mysteries.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ornament Review: Happy Halloween! #5 - Mummy - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great cute scary scene
Cons: Pumpkin tied to monster?
The Bottom Line:
Mummy awakens
Scary overcome with cute
Makes for a fun piece

This Year’s Halloween Ornament is All Wrapped Up in Fun

I admit that I don’t know much about many of the monsters out there in lore.  I have a low threshold for suspense and scares.  However, I’ve been enjoying Hallmark’s Happy Halloween! series, and this year’s entry is no exception.

As always with this series, the ornament features a scene with our monster of the year inside a pumpkin.  Because the pumpkin’s mouth is wide open, it’s easy to see the scene inside, which features a mummy coming out of his coffin.  We can see his eyes and the ghost of a smile, but the rest is wrapped in white strips.  His arms are raised in front of him.  Next to the coffin are a few jars, and on the walls behind him are Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Here's where my lack of knowledge comes into play.  The pumpkin face always changes to go with the theme of the monsters, and somehow, a wide-open mouth doesn’t say mummy to me.  But maybe that’s just me.  It does give us a great glimpse of the scene inside, however, which I love.  And I love the details of the hieroglyphs behind him, too; they really make the ornament.  So, you can see they are stickers if you look closely, but as long as you aren’t looking that closely, it’s not an issue at all.

This entry in the series probably has the widest base yet for the pumpkin, so you can definitely set the ornament out without fear of it tipping over.  The 5 in a Christmas tree (seriously, Hallmark needs a non-Christmas series symbol) is on the bottom of the ornament as well.

The ornament tips back ever so slightly when you go to hang it.  That’s a bit of a surprise since the ring looks like it should be centered.  It’s not enough of a tip to be any kind of an issue, however.

The monsters in this series are more cute than scary, and this mummy is no exception.  So don’t be afraid.  Grab this Happy Halloween! ornament today.

Looking for more spooky fun?  Here are the rest of the Happy Halloween! ornaments.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Review: Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick (Lillian Frost & Edith Head #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong time and place influence characters and story
Cons: I don’t know any cons
The Bottom Line:
30’s Hollywood
Offers more intrigue, danger
For this fun duo

Who is Dangerous to Know in 1938 Hollywood?

Earlier this year, I made the charming acquaintance of Lillian Frost and Edith Head while I watched them solve their first mystery.  I didn’t waste any time picking up Dangerous to Know, their second adventure, and I might have liked it even more.

If you aren’t an aficionado of old Hollywood, Edith Head was a costume designer during the golden age of movies.  (Don’t worry, I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of her either.)  Lillian Frost is the completely fictional young woman who came to Hollywood because she won a screen test and stayed.  No, she isn’t an actress and doesn’t even want to be an actress.  As a result of the first book, she’s found a wonderful position as the social secretary for millionaire Addison Rice, a man who gives some pretty creative parties.

This book takes place in December of 1938.  A couple of months before, Lillian and Addison had been in New York, and they had attended a dinner party that was going downhill before a maid accuses one of the guests, Albert Chaperau, of smuggling.  As this book opens, the FBI’s investigation of the charges has led to the doors of Paramount, where Edith is now the head of the costume department.  Edith wants every last detail from Lillian in hopes of helping the studio and some of their famous stars as the FBI keeps circling.

Meanwhile, Edith has another favor to ask of her friend.  She wants Lillian to ask around about Jens Lahse, a pianist who is friends with actress and singer Marlene Dietrich.  Jens has fled from Austria ahead of the German takeover of his country.  No one has seen him in a week, and Dietrich is concerned.  Lillian readily agrees, but just as her investigation appears to have reached a dead end, she makes a shocking discovery.  Just what has happened?

This book spends little time rehashing how Lillian and Edith met or their unlikely friendship.  If you want the full story, you’ll have to read the first book in the series.  However, nothing here spoils the first book if you decide to jump in here.

With the dueling plots, there is plenty to keep you engaged as you read.  The book spends some time setting up the new characters and their relationships with each other, but once that foundation is laid, things really take off.  I figured out the solution only paragraphs before Lillian did, although even then, there was quite a bit I had missed.

The book mixes real and fictional characters in a completely organic way.  Again, since I don’t know old Hollywood well, I suspect I missed quite a few of the cameos, although the extensive notes at the end of the book helped fill in the gaps.  But whether I recognized a name on the page or not, I felt like all of them came to perfect life.

And I really am impressed just how much real history was worked into this story.  The notes at the end help flesh out what is true, what is fiction, and what is inspired by truth.  Couple that with writing that evokes 1938 and the world as it was during that time, and this is a trip back in time.  While this book may not be focused on Christmas, it does play into a sub-plot and come up regularly, which I also enjoyed.

In addition to the real-life actors and actresses who appear, there is also plenty of talk about films.  I am finding myself intrigued by many of them.  I need more movies to watch about as much as I need more books to read, but I am definitely interested in watching more old movies after reading this book.

I’m so glad I have discovered this wonderful historical mystery series.  Dangerous to Know will please the many fans of the first in the series.  And if you haven’t taken this trip back in time to meet this wonderful duo, I highly suggest you do so today.

Enjoy more mystery from the Golden Age of Hollywood with the rest of the Lillian Frost and Edith Head Mysteries.

Monday, July 24, 2017

TV Show Review: Father Dowling Mysteries - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mysteries and characters
Cons: Pacing is a little slow
The Bottom Line:
A priest, mysteries
Tad slow, but still delightful
With two charming leads

Introducing Father Dowling

Somewhere along the line, I caught a few reruns of the Father Dowling Mysteries, and I found them fun.  I’d always been curious to see more, and thanks to TV on DVD sets, I can do just that.  Season 1 was short, but it was also a good introduction.

This set actually starts with the movie that introduced the viewing world to Father Frank Dowling (Tom Bosley).  He’s a priest at St. Michael’s church in a poorer neighborhood of Chicago.  He’s assisted in his ministry and his sleuthing by Sister Stephanie “Steve” Oskowski (Tracy Nelson).  There’s also his housekeeper, grumpy Marie Murkin (Mary Wickes), who always seems to find something to complain about.  The movie finds Father Dowling investigating when one of the grown-up boys who had grown up in his church commits suicide by jumping from the ledge of his successful company’s top floor.

Thanks to the 1988 writer’s strike, the first season was short, featuring 7 episodes, although one of them was a double length episode.  Over the course of these episodes, a bride-to-be is killed and her fiancée framed just two months before their wedding at St. Michael’s.  Sister Steve’s old flame comes to them for help after he witnesses a murder someone wants to cover up.  A dead body vanishes between when Father Dowling finds it and the police arrive.  The duo must figure out who left a baby behind in the church.  And Father Dowling’s twin brother shows up in town and causes havoc for the priest.

These episodes originally aired during the winter of 1989, and the date definitely shows in some of the costumes and music.  Yet the stories themselves are still interesting.  I appreciate the fact that some of the mysteries don’t start with a dead body; there are other mysterious things happening before the dead body shows up.  It creates a nice break for the formula.

The characters are wonderful as well.  Those familiar with the series looking for James Stephens as Father Phillip Prestwick might be surprised to remember that he was only in two episodes this season.  He would join the cast full time in season two.  Marie is only in a few scenes, often providing some comic relief in a sub-plot, but her scenes are always fun.  That means as far as main characters go, Father Dowling and Sister Steve have to carry the show, and they do a wonderful job of it.  Their relationship is absolutely charming.  The two obviously care for each other deeply, but it is a father/daughter relationship.  We aren’t told for sure, at least here, but I suspect that Father Dowling had much to do with Steve not going into the ways of her former friends from the bad neighborhood where she grew up.  She has some surprises in her thanks to that background that the writers use to help solve the cases.  The actors are perfect at bringing this relationship to life, and you have to smile at some of their exchanges.

My only real complaint is that the show tends to be a bit slow.  It’s a pacing issue.  I don’t feel it is a matter of when the show was made because I didn’t notice it when watching the first season of Murder, She Wrote earlier this summer.  Instead, I think it is a stylistic choice made to set this series off from the other mystery shows of the day.  Either way, it is a minor issue.

As I said, season one was short, so it isn’t a surprise that this set only has two discs.  The seven episodes plus the movie are preserved in their native full frame and stereo sound.  Given how old the show is, both are in good shape and very watchable, although you won’t find the perfection of a show being filmed today.  The only thing we have in the way of extras is episode teasers.  By my count, the only episode that doesn’t have its own promo is the second part of a two parter, and the teaser that is included really covers both episodes.

With only three seasons, the Father Dowling Mysteries have fallen off many radars.  If you’ve missed the show, it is worth finding the first season set and enjoying these cases.

(Or you can do like I did and skip to the complete series set.)

Season 1 Episodes:
Fatal Confession (Original TV Pilot Movie)
1. The Missing Body Mystery (Double length episode)
2. What Do You Call a Call Girl Mystery
3. The Man Who Came to Dinner Mystery
4. The Mafia Priest Mystery (Part 1)
5. The Mafia Priest Mystery (Part 2)
6. The Face in the Mirror Mystery
7. The Pretty Baby Mystery

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pin Review: Snow White - Storybook Classic Collection #11 - 2017 Disney Store Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good cover, great inside scene
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Snow White back to roots
Celebrated in two scenes
Presented as book

Disney Honors the Storybook Origins of Their First Animated Film

While Disney has created many films over the years, most of them are based on stories originated by others.  It’s just that Disney’s version of the film is the most famous.  Disney has been honoring those origins with their Storybook Classic Collection pins all year long, and this month, they are shining the light on their original feature length film – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Of course, this pin is based more on the book that Disney produced years later tied into their film, but still, it does feel like things have come full circle.  Like the others in the series, the cover is based on the Disney book cover and the features Snow White surrounded by the dwarfs.  Over the top of the characters, we get the title.  The cover is a light blue, and the characters are outlined in black and red.  It’s a rare time this pin has features more than one color on it, but it allows them to fill in the bow on Snow White’s head.

Like a book, this pin opens to reveal a scene inside.  The scene inside shows Snow White at the beginning of the movie singing into the well about her wish to meet her true love.  It’s a rare thing that any part of the pin matches the ornament, but they chose the same scene for the inside picture and the ornament this month.  I really like that.

And I like this pin overall.  Even though the cover is simple, it still shows off all the characters.  The inside picture is wonderful, especially given the limitations of the pin.  I’m impressed with the amount of detail we get.

Since this is a heavier pin, there are two sticks in the back to hold it in place if you decide to wear it.  Personally, I find pins like this too heavy to wear.

We have plenty of Snow White merchandise, but this pin is special.  As part of the Storybook Classic Collection, it is a great way to honor the movie and its literary origin.

Looking for more great pins.  Here are the rest of the Storybook Classic Collection.

Ornament Review: Snow White - Storybook Classic Collection #11 - 2017 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Many great details in this ornament
Cons: Snow White’s face is off
The Bottom Line:
Detailed ornament
Slight issue with Snow White’s face
Still great overall

It’s Hard to Wish for a Better Ornament to Capture This Scene

Since Snow White is a Disney Princess and the first full length animated movie, Disney has produced lots of merchandise related to it over the years.  Very few of those items capture her at the beginning of the movie, but that’s just what they’ve done with the ornament for the Storybook Classics series.

In fact, this ornament features Snow White from her first scene of the film as she is bringing up water from the wishing well.  She is standing next to the well with her hands on the side, and her head is back like she is singing “I’m Wishing” to the doves hiding under the roof.  The detail in this ornament is amazing.  We can see the texture in the well.  It captures the plants that are growing on the well, and there are a total of five doves in it  Heck, the rope is a course enough thread that you can feel the texture of it.

Which is why the one things that doesn’t have the proper detail is a shame.  Snow White’s face is off.  It’s not that she looks bad, it’s just that she doesn’t completely like herself.  When I first looked at it, it really bothered me, but on second look, it isn’t as bad as I remembered.  And they get the detail of the rag dress she is wearing in this scene perfect.

Being an outdoor scene, this ornament has a flat base, so you can set it out to display year round if you want and have the space to display it.  Or you can hang it from the red ribbon that comes attached.  When you do, you’ll find that it might tip forward ever so slightly, but you have to really be looking for it to see it.

It’s a shame that Snow White’s face isn’t better. In fact, it is a little surprising.  But it isn’t enough of a flaw to ruin an otherwise great ornament.

Looking for more great ornaments.  Here are the rest of the Storybook Classic Collection.

Original Price: $19.95

Saturday, July 22, 2017

July 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

And how do you make a short TV post even shorter?  By going on vacation, of course.  Yep, I left town Thursday morning.  I'll be back Sunday night, and I will have to catch up on Thursday's shows then.  As a result, this is a very short post this week.

American Ninja Warrior – They talk about how the athletes are a family.  By watching the show so regularly, we get brought into this family.  It’s nice to get updates on the various athletes and their families, like Brian Arnold becoming engaged and the one man’s wife who is doing so much better.  The family of six (with the seventh not old enough yet) was fun, although I wasn’t surprised they compacted most of their runs, especially with the results.  Very few finishers, which is a surprise.

Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge – Go Ninjas!!!  I was thrilled with the results, hoping that the Ninjas, the Mathletes, and the Stunt team would all go on.  Finale Sunday already?  Yikes!  That snuck up on us fast.

Suits – That’s a rarity, two episodes in a row without major cliffhangers or conflict at the end.  In fact, we saw some growth in characters and we left them in a relatively good place.  It’s kind of nice.  Plus, they got Mike’s past off the table, at least for a while.  I knew a lawyer would throw it in his face sooner or later.  It was an obvious plot point, and it was well played here.  But I guess we need to get used to some F bombs each episode now that they’ve pushed the S word as far as they can.  That’s disappointing.  I really would like this show more if they cleaned up the language.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ornament Review: Seven Swans-a-Swimming - 12 Days of Christmas #7 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful swan
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Ending series birds
With simple, elegant swan
Stunning as always

Simple is Elegant with the Swan-a-Swimming

We’ve reached the final bird in the 12 Days of Christmas series.  (For that matter, it’s kind of hard to believe we’ve reach the seventh entry already.)  This year’s Seven Swans-a-Swimming is a bit simpler than previous years’ entries, but it is still beautiful and elegant.

This is a white swan, and it is pretty much white.  There is a gold treble clef symbol on the front and golden leaves holding the wings in place.  Of course, we do get black eyes and an orange beak with a gold crown on his head.  The only other real color is on the wings, which are white blending into blue.  On the wings, we get bits of music and part of the verse of the song.  Dangling from the bottom of the ornament is a gold heart with “Seven” and “7” written on it.

One thing I have enjoyed about this series is the unconventional choices that have been made at times.  This one feels a little obvious in that regard.  However, before I can get too disappointed, I start to really look at it and I fall in love all over again.  This bird is stunning because it is that simple.  I honestly can’t picture it any other way.  It will even stand out from the rest of the birds in the series.  This is one that fans of this extremely popular series are going to be very happy with.

As usual, this ornament isn’t designed to be set out for display.  You can blame the dangle if you’d like.  However, that isn’t an issue since it hangs perfectly level, and if it isn’t level, well, you can’t tell because of how the bird is designed.  It won’t be an issue on your tree at all, trust me.

Those looking for a 7 in a Christmas tree series marker will find it on the swan’s bottom.  No surprise there.

If you are looking for an example of simple being beautiful, this ornament is it.  Although we had a hint of how the rest of the series will play out with the 12 Little Days of Christmas series last year, it will still be interesting to see what they look like in full sized color.  But that’s next year.  For this year, I’m going to enjoy having Seven Swans-a-Swimming on my tree.

Enjoy the rest of this beautiful 12 Days of Christmas series.

Original Price: $12.95

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Book Review: A Puzzle to be Named Later by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #18)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and familiar characters
Cons: Mystery takes a back seat to the antics.
The Bottom Line:
Baseball, mystery
Wrapped in comedic trappings
Overall, it’s fun

Play Ball with Murder

Summer means hot days, relaxing, swimming, and watching baseball.  So I waited to read A Puzzle to be Named Later until summer so I could read it in the proper season.  Okay, not really.  It just so happened that the first chance I had to read it was in July, the month when the book is set.  I wish I could say I planned it that way.  But I have no problem saying I enjoyed it.

As any fans of this series knows, famed Puzzle Lady Cora Felton is a huge Yankees fan, so when Matt Greyston moves to the area, she is absolutely thrilled.  Matt is the Yankees latest star closing pitcher who, unfortunately, broke his arm in a car crash.  He’s decided to rent a home in town to rehab.

His big introduction to the town at their 4th of July picnic is overshadowed by a break in, however.  A therapist has had her home burgled and a flash drive stolen.  That’s when a puzzle shows up that makes Cora wonder just what this therapist’s files contain.  Then a dead body turns up with another puzzle, and Cora knows she has her work cut out for her.

This series is hit or miss with the mysteries, and this book was a weaker mystery.  Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty happening, but that was just it.  It seemed like it was stuff happening and some random clues that didn’t really lead much of anywhere.  Cora is able to piece things together at the end, but it is rather convoluted.

But I don’t read these books for the mysteries, I read them for the humor and word play.  And here I was rewarded.  The banter between the characters was as sharp as ever.  Cora’s grand-niece Jennifer is growing, and she provided some laughs of her own this time around.  In fact, she has my favorite line in the entire book.

The usual gang is all here and it’s always fun to spend time with them.  I really enjoyed the new characters that were introduced in this book as well, which made it hard knowing one of them had to be the killer.

As you’ve probably guessed with all the talk of puzzles, this book includes two crossword puzzles and a Sudoku that you can solve.  Or, if like me you don’t enjoy the puzzles, you can keep reading until they get solved for you and the clue they hide revealed.

So if you are looking for a light, funny summer read, A Puzzle to be Named Later will fit the bill perfectly.

You’ll find more laughs with the rest of the Puzzle Lady Mysteries.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TV Show Review: Diagnosis Murder - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Humor livens up some decent mysteries
Cons: Not the show’s best episodes
The Bottom Line:
Doctor on the case
Mixing comedy, murder
Slow, fun series start

“There Are Times When All Doctors Have to be Detectives.”

I stumbled on Diagnosis Murder late in its run, probably around season 5 or so, but I immediately fell in love with the mix of comedy and mystery.  I caught some reruns over the years, but I know there are plenty of early episodes of the show I haven’t seen.  I’ve at least partially fixed that by watching the season 1 set.

If you are new to the show, you’ve probably already guessed that it features a doctor as the main character.  Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick van Dyke) works at Community General, which also happens to be a teaching hospital.  Among his friends on staff are Dr. Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell), the pathologist on staff, and Dr. Jack Stewart (Scott Baio), a resident who has overcome a troubled past.  Then there’s Normal Briggs (Michael Tucci), the administrator who seems to clash with Mark quite a bit.  Rounding out the hospital cast is Delores Mitchell (Delores Hall), Mark’s secretary and a nurse in her own right.

But Mark also works as a consultant for the police helping them with medical cases and murder in general.  It helps that his son Steve (played by Dick van Dyke’s real-life son Barry van Dyke) is a homicide investigator.

Over the course of this season, Steve gets frame for murder when he tries to blow the whistle on some dirty cops.  A killer tries to use an earthquake to hide a murder.  A telethon to raise money for the hospitals ER gets off to a shaky start when the celebrity host is killed.  A long time patient of Mark’s shows up at the hospital dying of a gunshot and hands Mark a winning lottery ticket.  When a magic trick goes horrible wrong, a magician dies in front of a live audience.  And Amanda finds herself set up for murder when a sorority sister with a secret to expose dies after threatening to write a tell all book.

Coming late to the show, I feel like its best days were ahead of it.  Of course, that’s partially because Scott Baio left the show after season two, and I’m partial to his replacement, Dr. Jessie Travis.  Not that there isn’t anything wrong with Scott or his character; it’s just not the character I know best.  Dr. Sloan isn’t living in his beach house yet.  In fact, he’s not sharing a house with Steve yet, either.  It just feels weird to me since it’s not what I’m used to.

And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the show moves inexplicably from Colorado to Los Angeles part way through the season.  They’d never made a big deal out of either setting, but if you pay attention, you can definitely tell.  Yes, the earthquake episode happens after the move.  Normally, I’d roll my eyes at the cliché, but considering the episode aired in 1994 when the Northridge earthquake was fresh on everyone’s mind here in LA, I’m very willing to let it slide.

Many of the episodes this first season are closed mysteries – a mystery where there are a certain number of suspects and Mark and his friends are trying to figure out who the killer is.  They fall into a pretty predictable pattern right down to the number of suspects – three.  The show does have a few open mysteries – a mystery where we know who the killer is early on and the suspense comes from watching Mark try to prove what we already know.  The show mixed things up a lot more later in the run (by the time I was watching it on TV), and I find both styles fun.

Even when we do run into a string of three suspect closed mysteries, this show still entertains.  The roster of main characters allows us to have some variety when it comes to the investigating.  Everyone has their quirks, and those quirks give us some great moments.

Plus, this show starts Dick van Dyke.  That means there are going to be some scenes you wouldn’t see on any other show as the writers take full advantage of his talents.  We’ve got several episodes that allow him to tap dance for us.  In one memorable episode, he gets to interrogate a suspect from the back of a car racing around a police obstacle course.  Truly, the writers are brilliant at coming up with ways to show off the talents of their star.  About the only episode that doesn’t work is the one where Mr. van Dyke plays some elderly distant relatives of his character.  With him playing four characters plus Mark Sloan, it just doesn’t quite work for me, especially when he’s trying to play a woman.

But that’s the only truly bad episode of the season, and the only misstep of the acting.  The main cast already has great chemistry, and they are so much fun to watch.  Dick van Dyke especially is warm and delightful.

Season one consisted of 19 episodes, and they are preserved here on five discs.  The video and sound aren’t quite what we are used to today, but these episodes are almost 25 years old, and the imperfections on the screen aren’t that surprising as a result.  Believe me, they are still very watchable.  My biggest complaint with the set itself is that the menu screens are significantly louder than the episodes themselves, so you need to be ready to mute or turn down the volume as soon as it is over.

The only thing we get in the way of an extra is the episode of Jake and the Fatman that introduced the character of Dr. Sloan.  I’ve never seen an episode of Jake and the Fatman, and I still don’t feel like I’ve seen one.  This episode is almost all Mark Sloan with the series character only getting a couple of scenes.  Yes, Dick van Dyke played the part, and he was assisted by a few of his medical students, but that’s the only thing that carried over to the show.  Heck, Mark even makes a comment at one point about not having any kids.

While the first season isn’t quite what Diagnosis Murder would become in its heyday, there are still some fun episodes in this set.  Fans of the show will enjoy reliving where it all began.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Miracle Cure
2. Amnesia
3. Murder at the Telethon
4. Inheritance of Death
5. The 13 Million Dollar Man
6. Vanishing Act Part 1
7. Vanishing Act Part 2
8. Shanda’s Song
9. The Restless Remains
10. Murder with Mirrors
11. Flashdance with Death
12. Reunion with Murder
13. Lily
14. Guardian Angel
15. Nirvana
16. Broadcast Blues
17. Shaker
18. The Plague
19. Sister Michael Wants You

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book Review: Circle of Influence by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful writing and characters in gripping plot
Cons: None worth noting
The Bottom Line:
Winter mystery
Lives spinning out of control
Amazing debut

Another Debut I Should Have Read Sooner

While I don’t always read all of the books nominated for the Agatha Awards each year, I do pay attention.  After Annette Dashofy was nominated twice for her Zoe Chambers series, I decided I had to put the series on my to be read list.  I finally dusted Circle of Influence off and read it, and it’s easy to see why this book was nominated for best first novel.

Zoe Chambers is the assistant coroner and an ambulance paramedic in the small community of Vance, Pennsylvania.  On one snowy January night, she parks her ambulance for a couple of hours to attend the local township’s board meeting.  The meeting is filled with tension, mostly thanks to the antics of Jerry McBirney.  Zoe has her own reasons for hating Jerry, but Jerry recently seems determined to anger the Bassi family, some of Zoe’s closest friends.

After the meeting breaks up, Police Chief Pete Adams is called to check out an abandoned car, that of Jerry.  When he arrives, he finds a dead body inside, and quickly calls Zoe to the scene.  It isn’t long before the two are embroiled in a case that hits very close to home.  What will they learn?

Honestly, if you sat down to read this book not knowing it was a debut novel, you’d never guess.  It is that polished.  Take the weather.  Yes, I’m starting with the weather.  This is set in Pennsylvania in January, which means ice and snow.  Without ever slowing the story down, I felt that cold weather while reading this book.  What makes that even more remarkable is that this July here in Southern California, we’ve been experiencing record heat.

The winter ice also makes a great metaphor for the plot.  It slips and slides all over the place.  You never know when you will hit a twist and spin around.  I might have actually gasp at one of them.  The climax is strong and perfectly logical.  There is so much tension in this book it was almost impossible to put down, which explains why I was up later than I should have been finishing it.

While the series is called the Zoe Chambers series, it really has two main characters – Zoe and Pete.  We spend equal time with the two of them as our limited third person narrators.  The author takes full advantage of that to build suspense and keep the pages turning.

Much of the success of this book rests on how attached we get to the characters so quickly.  They truly are that strong.  In lesser hands, I don’t think I would have been pulled in like I was.

Now make no mistake about it, this is not one of the light, cozy reads I tend toward.  This is on the traditional end of the spectrum, and the subject matter is a little darker as a result.  There’s still nothing too graphic here, it is traditional, after all.

Discovering a wonderful series with multiple books already published is a mixed blessing.  It means you have immediately added multiple books to your to be read list, but it also means you have many wonderful reads in front of you.  That is definitely the case with Circle of Influence.  If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t wait any longer.  Once you’ve read it, you’ll be like me, looking forward to visiting Zoe and Pete again soon.

Revisit these characters with the rest of the Zoe Chambers Mysteries.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ornament Review: Baker Snoopy - Spotlight on Snoopy #20 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun design
Cons: Tips forward slightly, similar theme to older ornament
The Bottom Line:
Snoopy hard at work
Baking delicious cookies
Anniversary year

Christmas Cookies Now Ready

I love sweets.  As if you couldn't tell that my regularly reading my blog, right?  So naturally, this year’s Baker Snoopy doesn’t have to work that hard to appeal to me.

Yep, for the 2017 edition in Hallmark’s Spotlight on Snoopy series, Snoopy is working as a baker.  He’s got a tray with four cookies on it.  Woodstock is standing on a corner of the tray holding a shaker, and it looks like this is shaking out the red and green decorations that are on the cookies.  The one next to Woodstock has the least on it so far, so obviously, he’s still working on that one.  Speaking of red and green, Snoopy is wearing a red chef’s hat and bow tie as well as a green apron.

This ornament is similarly themed to Happiness is a Warm Cookie from a few years back, but it is different enough I don’t mind it too much.  I like the non-traditional chef’s hat since red will show up so well on the tree.  In fact, I like this ornament overall.  I just wish that Snoopy’s ears didn’t have a white border on them again this year.  Unfortunately, that seems to be the case on many of Hallmark’s Snoopy ornaments over the years.

This is the twentieth entry in the Spotlight on Snoopy series.  And yes, the series marker on the underside of the tray reflects that.  Honestly, it’s a little hard to believe it’s been that long, but if I think about it, it certainly makes sense.  This series holds a special place in my heart since it was the series I was collecting before I was seriously collecting Hallmark ornaments.  Most years, this was the only one I would buy, so it is nice to see this series continue and show no signs of slowing down.  And to include my name in tribute in the series piece, well that’s just…me being delusional about a coincidence.  Still, I am smiling about that title.

The ornament will stand up on it’s own, although it isn’t completely stable.  The only base is Snoopy’s feet, and Woodstock and the tray that Snoopy is holding make it a little front heavy.  Still, I wouldn’t worry too much about setting this one out.

Because of that, I’m not super surprised to see that the ornament tips forward slightly when hung.  Snoopy looks like he’s standing on his toes.  Honestly, by the time you get tree branches around him, you’ll never notice.

Longtime fans of this series will be happy with Baker Snoopy.  And if you just enjoy Peanuts ornaments in general, this one will catch your eye as well.

Check out the rest of the Spotlight on Snoopy series.

Original Price: $12.95

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book Review: Disney at Last by Ridley Pearson (The Return #3; Kingdom Keepers #11)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun climax for the Kingdom Keepers (and friends)
Cons: The ending glosses over several things
The Bottom Line:
Past and future fights
As Kingdom Keepers battle
Magical climax

Will the Kingdom Keepers Return?

We have arrived at another climax for the Kingdom Keepers.  After defeating the Overtakers in The Insider, they’ve had to travel back in time to set up their victory in 1955.  And now that trilogy is ending in Disney at Last.

Does that preceding paragraph make no sense to you?  Then you shouldn’t even think about reading this book.  Yet.  You see, this is the eleventh book about these characters, and the second battle they’ve been waging against the Disney villains, dubbed the Overtakers, who are trying to take over the Disney theme parks and destroy the Disney magic forever.  It’s rather impossible to jump in here and fully understand everything that is happening.  However, if kids fighting Disney villains in the parks at night appeals to you, you definitely need to jump back to Disney After Dark and read the series.

As this book opens, the Kingdom Keepers plus Jess and Amanda are trapped in 1955.  Philby and a very young Wayne are attempting to figure out how to reverse the time travel and get the group home to the present day.  Meanwhile, Jess and Amanda have arrived with news.  1955 is when the Overtakers were being created.  If the Kingdom Keepers can stop that from happening, maybe the bad things that have happened during the fight would be erased from history.  Of course, there is the possibility that the group would never be friends as well.

Meanwhile, in the present, Jess and Amanda’s friend Mattie is fighting a battle of her own.  A group of Fairlies are in the park and plan to use their powers to destroy it.  Can she stop them?  Are Overtakers behind the attack?  Will Mattie get any help in her fight?

Again, everything I’ve just teased above makes perfect sense if you’ve been following the series.  Some of the revelations from the previous couple of books are expanded on here, and it is interesting to see how this new picture all fits together with what we already know.

But let’s be honest, we read these books for the magical fights with Disney characters.  We get several intense scenes yet again, including a dueling climax that will have you turning pages.  I’ve often wished the Disney heroes got more page time in this series, and that wish was granted this time around.

As an adult reading these books, I’ve often said the characters could be better developed.  That’s true yet again here.  However, after all the page time I’ve spent with them, I’ve become attached, and a few of the scenes had me trying to discreetly wipe tears since my roommate was home.  The idea that this might be the end of the line for these characters certainly makes me sad.

Not to say that the ending was perfect.  A few things got glossed over.  I’m not saying I don’t like how things ended, but I’m not sure I understand how we got there.  That’s probably because any time you really start to think about time travel, my brain blows up, so we’ll just blame it on that.

That’s certainly no reason to skip Disney at Last.  Not that I could keep long time fans away from this book if I’ve tried.  And anyone who enjoys Disney will get caught up in the magic that is this series.

Need the background on these characters?  Here is the full Kingdom Keepers saga in order.

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, laughs, good story
Cons: Long prologue, characters could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
New take on hero
Spider-Man in Marvel world
Filled with action, fun

Spider-Man Finally Comes Home to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

As any comic book movie geek knows, rights issues have kept a few of Marvel’s characters from joining the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Fortunately, Marvel and Sony worked out a deal so that Spider-Man could be included.  That leads us to another reboot of the character in Spider-Man Homecoming.  While I wasn’t sure we needed a reboot, the result is fun.

We’ve already met this version of Spider-Man in the third Captain America movie.  And that’s something that this movie absolutely gets right.  It assumes we already know how Peter Parker got the abilities that turned him into Spider-Man and the rest of his backstory.  If it didn’t, this would be the third time we saw this on film in 15 years.  Honestly, I did think the prologue with bits and pieces from his time in the Captain America movie went on too long, but that’s a relatively minor issue.

The main action picks up two months later as we meet Peter Parker (Tom Holland) on a typical day.  Unfortunately, he’s stuck in school when he really wants to be out fighting the bad guys.  However, Happy (Jon Favreau), his contact with Stark Industries, won’t return his calls.  And so he’s left to suffer through high school where this 15-year-old is a geek at a school for academic genius.  As soon as school lets out, he hits the streets trying to stop crime as Spider-Man while waiting for his next mission with the Avengers.

When one attempt doesn’t turn out as planned, Peter’s attention is drawn to the weapons the thieves were using.  Something is different about them.  When he winds up with a piece of the technology, he and his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), try to figure out what it is.  What has he stumbled into?

When I mentioned earlier that this was part of the larger Marvel universe, I meant it.  There’s an initial prologue set after the first Avengers movie that actually really helps set everything up.  Plus Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) is a main character and there are some very fun Public Service Announcements from Captain America as played by Chris Evans.  No, you don’t have to be up on all the movies to fully understand everything, however.

I heard such raves about this film that I went in with high expectations.  Maybe they were a little too high.  Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed the film.  I just felt like it didn’t quite rise to the level of the best superhero movies.  It’s funny, but I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly why.  The story is absolutely wonderful.  Yes, it’s a superhero plot, but it is fun.  The way they tie this into the larger Marvel world is great, too.

I think my problem lies with the characters.  We are introduced to quite a few of them, which means we don’t get enough time to really know them.  That kept me from fully engaging in the film.  Peter Parker is the obvious exception since this is his film.  His story here was a bit obvious, but that’s not to say it wasn’t good.

And this isn’t a slam on the actors at all.  Everyone is outstanding, which isn’t a surprise since, in addition to the stars I’ve already named, we get the likes of Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei in the film.  It’s just a factor of the amount of screen time they get.

If you are looking for fun, this movie certainly delivers.  While Spider-Man isn’t his quippy best here, we get some good laughs as a teenager attempts to survive high school and save the world.  I certainly laughed several times.

And there is enough action to keep everyone happy; I was on the edge of my seat during these sequences.  This movie really played into my fear of heights, which helped with that.

Do I even need to mention the special effects?  It’s really no surprise that they were good.

And this is a Marvel movie in another key way.  You definitely want to sit through all of the credits.  Trust me on this.

Spider-Man Homecoming isn’t my favorite film with the character, but it is highly entertaining and will certainly keep comic book and action fans happy.  It’s nice to have this character where he belongs.

July 15th's Weekly TV Thoughts

A scripted show!  It's actually nice to have a scripted show in the running again.  Wow, how times have changed from when I watched so many USA Network shows, right?

American Ninja Warrior – I’m surprised I didn’t break down crying during the episode myself.  The stories of loss were so hard to take.  I’m sure that was partially a factor of the book I’m reading which is showing us how upsetting the murder is to the victim’s family.  Anyway, loved seeing two women hit the buzzer.  And their boyfriends, too.  Quite a few finishers, which I always like to see.

Spartan – Still rooting for Heart of Texas.  And, I think I’m reading to see Commanding Officers go.  They’ve hit second twice now.  But I’m probably just being hard hearted.  Sorry to see last year’s winners eliminated as well.  I had hoped they’d at least make it long enough to defeat their old captain.  As much as I loved the third place teams from both legs originally, I’m not too surprised they were eliminated.  They were real underdogs to begin with, and at some point they were going to go.

Suits – So nice to have a scripted series back in the mix!  They set up a lot of interesting potential in this episode.  Donna as a partner.  I bet that won’t get smoothly.  Is Rachel out of law school now?  Her being in charge of the associates should be fun.  Louis is about the only one I’m not sure about since they didn’t give him a clear direction for the season yet.

Battle of the Network Stars – What was funny to me is that the stars I know best on the show are from USA Network shows and not from the shows that got them on these teams.  Speaking of which, why wasn’t anyone from Suits on the Lawyer team?  Outside of the obstacle course, it did seem to be fairly one sided.  Still it came down to the tug of war again.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ornament Review: Benny M. Merrymaker Miniature - Snowtop Lodge Companion Piece - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good reflect in a miniature ornament
Cons: The generic wreath and out of control scarf
The Bottom Line:
Special miniature
Represents full size piece well
Good details for size

A Mini Merrymaker

Last year, Hallmark released a miniature version of the first ornament in the Snowtop Lodge series as a limited edition ornament.  Considering how many were left on the shelves, I didn’t expect to see any more miniature versions of the ornaments in this series, so you can imagine my surprise when they released Benny M. Merrymaker as a miniature ornament for the Keepsake Ornament Club this year.

This ornament is a miniature version of this year’s entry in the series.  Benny is ready to help make you merry by hanging a wreath for you.  He’s holding the wreath in his hands and is smiling.  On his bottom ball, he’s got an outdoor scene painted of some houses and trees.

Since I haven’t actually seen the full-size version yet (tomorrow I can!!!), I can only compare the two based on the pictures of the regular sized Benny.  The biggest difference in in the wreath.  This version is a rather ordinary looking wreath with red decorations on it.  The full-size version has a much more detailed wreath.  The painting on this version is rather detailed for a miniature ornament, you can definitely tell what it is supposed to be.  The scene on the bottom is a bit more abstract than the full size version, but I like it.  The one that surprised me the most is that Benny’s Santa hat is tipped the other way in the two versions.

But enough with the comparisons – what do I think of this miniature ornament as he is?  I like him.  I do wish his wreath weren’t so generic, but I get why it is – it’s hard to get much detail into an ornament this size.  In fact, considering how small he is (about an inch tall), it’s actually impressive just how detailed he is.  This is especially true of the painting on his base.  My biggest complaint is the red and white twisted thread that is his scarf.  It’s too long.  This is especially true considering the ends stick out in random directions no matter how you try to smooth them down, but considering they hang almost to his base, they are definitely too long.

Benny, being a snowman, has a flat base, so you can set him out to be displayed.  Just remember his size; it would be very easy for him to get lost somewhere and broken.  And since he is made completely from porcelain, he’s on the fragile side.

Of course, you can hang him on your tree.  The loop is in the top of his head, and when you slip a loop through it, you’ll find that he tips forward ever so slightly, as do many of his full-sized brethren.

While I think I like the full-sized Benny better, that doesn’t mean I don’t still like the miniature Benny M. Merrymaker.  I’m certainly glad I added him to my miniature ornament collection.

Enjoy the rest of the Snowtop Lodge ornaments.

Original Price: $9.95