Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review: Blackberry Burial by Sharon Farrow (Berry Basket Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
: Fun location, great characters, strong mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Revisit Marlee
In cold case filled with tension
Delightful sequel

Old Skeletons Don’t Stay Buried

It’s always a pleasure to return for book two of a series and find it is just as much fun as book one.  That’s exactly the case with Blackberry Burial, Sharon Farrow’s second Berry Basket Mystery.

This book picks up just weeks after the first book ends.  It’s days before the 4th of July, but that’s not what Marlee Jacob is focused on.  Instead, she and her friend Piper are attempting to lock down the starting location for the Blackberry Road Rally, an annual event in the resort town of Oriole Point, Michigan.  This year, it will be art themed since it is happening during the centennial celebration for the nearby Blackberry Art School.

When Marlee and Piper head out to check on their latest lead, Piper’s dog gets lose.  By the time Marlee catches him, the dog has dug up a human skull.  It’s actually Marlee’s baker back at her shop, The Berry Basket, that is able to identify the skeleton.  20 years ago, Theo had been part of that summer’s class at the art college, and he thinks that the dead body is that of Sienna, a student who disappeared at the end of that summer.  However, her clothes were found in Lake Michigan, leading everyone to assume she had accidentally drowned.  If that is her remains, how did she come to be buried away from the lake?

The book starts well, with Marlee finding the bones and the identity leading to some questions.  However, the story really picks up when the centennial celebration starts.  That’s when any potential suspects in this cold case arrive, and the tension rises, too.  The further into the book I got, the harder I found it to set the book down.  That only increased when I got to the climax, which left me racing to get Marlee safe.

I really came to love Marlee and her home town of Oriole Point in the first book, and it was great to be back.  This is the kind of place I’d love to visit on vacation.  Well, except for the murder rate, obviously.  The characters are a huge part of that charm, and the ones we met in the first book are all back.  We have a strong slate of suspects that are obviously hiding things from Marlee and the police.

We got to see much more of Ryan, Marlee’s fiance, in this book.  My impression of him hasn’t changed, and I’m actually wondering just where the romantic sub-plot is going in this series.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find that there are four recipes in the back of the book, all four of which feature blackberries.  We get everything from a salad to a gluten free muffin.  They sound delicious.

Over the course of Blackberry Burial, we find out about some pretty obscure berries, and I’m thrilled.  Why?  That means this series can run for a long time.  Once you meet Marlee Jacob, you’ll be rooting for the same thing.

You'll find more berry goodness with the rest of the Berry Basket Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tree Topper Review: Oh What Fun! Tree Topper - 2017 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Disney magic in Magic Cord topper
Cons: It definitely is pricey
The Bottom Line:
Magic tree topper
Mickey, Pluto, music fun
For your Christmas tree

What a Fun Tree Topper

Hallmark has my number.  I get the Dreambook each year hoping to see fewer things I want to buy, and every year there are just as many if not more.  As a Disnerd, there was no way I could pass up the Oh What Fun! Tree Topper.

This tree topper features Mickey and Pluto.  Mickey is filling in for Santa, and he’s sitting in the sleigh.  There are two reindeer out in front of him, but Pluto has taken the spot of the lead reindeer.  Based on the full bag of presents behind Mickey, I’d say they are just taking off from the North Pole.  How do I know where they are?  Because they are flying around a red and white striped pole with a sign on it identifying it as the North Pole.

So my problem with tree toppers is actually my tree.  They are admittedly cheap, and even when I try to put several branches together, the branches aren’t strong enough to support a tree topper.  Even the stick that Hallmark includes designed to attach to a tree branch for added support isn’t enough to hold a topper on a tree.

So why did I buy this one?  Well, first, I love Disney, and it is just so much fun.  I really do love the way it looks.  And who knows, maybe someday I will have trees that would actually support this.  For now, the base of the tree topper is strong enough and wide enough that I can easily set it next to my tree and still enjoy.

Plus there’s the fact that it is a Magic Cord piece.  When you click the button on the remote (included as are your first set of button batteries), you start the show.  As you might expect, the topper plays “Jingle Bells.”  The middle and the base of the ornament both light up, and as the music plays, the lights inside turn, displaying snowflakes and Mickey heads on your wall and ceiling.  It has to be pretty dark for them to really appear, but when they do it is a lot of fun.  Naturally, the lights on the other ornaments connect to the cord flash to the song.  The song runs approximately 45 seconds, and the lights keep turning for another minute and 15 seconds after the music stops.  During at added time, the other ornaments on the cord don’t light up.  All told, you get almost 2 minutes in the show when you push the button.

Because this requires so much power, you need to plug in a separate power adaptor (also included) to allow the topper to play and the other items plugged into your magic cord to still operate.  Otherwise, just the topper plays.

This topper is extremely similar to one released several years ago.  It was also a Magic Cord topper, and it featured Santa and his reindeer.  For a Disnerd like me, this one is much more fun with the Disney characters and the Mickey ears lights.

This was a splurge pure and simple.  And yet, I am so happy with it.  Even if I just set the Oh What Fun! Tree Topper next to my tree for years to come, I know I’ll be enjoying it.

Original Price: $99.95

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Movie Review: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun overall
Cons: Gets too frantic half way through
The Bottom Line:
Very fun concept
One twist should have come later
Kids will still enjoy

Mostly Fun, but too Frantic

I confess.  I haven’t kept up with Chris Grabenstein’s middle grade novels, but I did read his book Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library a couple of years back.  When I saw that Nickelodeon was going to make it into a movie, I immediately wanted to watch it.  While I think kids will likely really enjoy the results, I found it a little flat.

As the movie opens, we meet Kyle (Casey Simpson), one of the many kids in town who are addicted to the scavenger hunt games that Mr. Lemoncello (Russell Roberts) creates.  In fact, he might be a little too addicted.  When he learns that Mr. Lemoncello is going to let 12 lucky twelve-year-olds into his new library overnight to play games, he knows he has to be included.

Sure enough, Kyle is selected, and he and his fellow contestants find themselves in a race to solve puzzles to figure out how to escape from the library.  Can they do it?  Or will things get out of hand first?

The twelve kids begin to be eliminated fairly quickly, so we don’t have to keep track of all of them for the entire movie, fortunately.  The core kids do fall into types instead of real characters, but this is an adult looking at the movie.  As a kid, I wouldn’t have minded in the slightest, and they didn’t have time to do more in the 68 minute flick.

In many ways, this movie comes across as a book themed version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Instead of chocolate, we’ve got great themed rooms that are filled with adventures and puzzles for the kids to solve.  We don’t get enough information to solve most of the puzzles ourselves, but there isn’t time.  The characters solve them that quickly.  And it is a pleasure to see references to stories I love pop up.

And yet, about half way through, we get something that happens that changes everything.  I get that it is supposed to up the tension and stakes for the characters.  However, it leaves the rest of the movie feeling frantic.  If it had happened closer to the end of the film, I think I would have appreciated it more.

The acting is good.  This isn’t going to win any awards, but it works for this movie and the universe they are trying to create.  Likewise, the special effects are great and add to the fun of the movie.

I suspect that my complaints with the film are because I’m not the target age.  Kids will definitely enjoy spending time watching Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

October 28th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another week spent watching way too much TV.

Once Upon a Time (10/20) – They really need to do something to shake up the season.  Listening to a little kid whine “But you have to believe” is getting old when are in the seventh season.  I hope they aren’t dragging this out for the entire season but are going to come up with some way to give us a fresh twist on things.  At least next week we will hopefully learn a bit more about why Rumple is involved.

Supergirl – Lecture much?  The entire bridal shower storyline was just a lecture about prejudice.  Seriously, if the rest of the shows weren’t so good and interconnected, I think I might drop it.  And mind you, they managed to blame non-liberals for the father’s attitude even if he was looking like the bigot early on.  Phew, can’t miss an opportunity to lecture.  Fortunately, I did enjoy the story on Mars, and now that Sidney Bristow’s partner is on Earth, I hope we get to see him again.  (Yes, that's an Alias reference for those who might have missed the show.)

Dancing with the Stars – I guess I’m alone, but I like Drew’s dance.  There were a lot of good dances, in fact.  As much as I like Nick, he should have gone.  In fact, I’d argue he should have gone earlier.  He seems like a very nice person, but he was clearly the weakest dancer left at this point.

The Big Bang Theory – I was surprised at just how funny I found the book the further I went along.  Sheldon is truly fortunate he hasn’t been killed based on his spoilers alone, however.  Anyway, the jokes at Howard and Raj’s relationship were a hoot.  We don’t see Amy and Howard together much, but that was fun as well.  And I loved how Penny was handling Sheldon.

The Flash – They have definitely gone back to a lighter tone this season.  So many funny bad luck moments.  But poor Wally!  To be broken up with via box?  Yikes!  Especially one that doesn’t work.  I’m so sorry to see him gone.  I hope he at least comes back for the cross over event, although I really hope this isn’t a permanent thing.  And it looks like we will get Earth 2’s Wells this season.  I was wondering when he’d show up again, although I was expecting a new version of him.  And I was not expecting my last scene at all.  Joe’s going to be a father again??!!  That will be interesting and fun.  But my favorite part?  The shirt Cisco was wearing.

Legends of Tomorrow – I see red when I hear the term “mansplaining.”  Other than that, it was a very fun episode.  We’ve now meant the new member of the team.  So how does the water witch play into the season as a whole?  Quite obviously, she’ll be back considering her connection to Amaya.

This is Us – Jack has a brother?  I’m guessing he must have died in Vietnam based on the fact that we’ve never heard of him before.  That picture at the end certainly hinted at it, although they love to lead us astray like that.  Kevin is so irresponsible.  If he can hurt someone, he will do it.  Maybe we can work on that after we get over this pain killer addiction.  Toby’s scene in the dinner was so sweet and funny.  I might be won over to him yet based on how they are writing him this season.  He’s so less skevvy.

Survivor – I’m trying to remember when the last time someone went to a first tribal this late in the game and was the first person voted out.  Honestly, the whole “She hasn’t tried to play the game with me until today” was just being petty.  For her, this was the first time the game became real.  There’s little reason to start playing too hard until then for most people, I’m sure.

Designated Survivor – As I feared, this show is turning into all politics all the time.  That’s not why I watched season 1 at all.  I’m debating how much longer I’m going to continue it, especially since it looks like the ratings are diving.  I think if I hang in this season, I will watch the entire show.  But is it worth it since I have so much else I’m watching?  That’s the big question.

The Good Place – I was wondering if they were going to get back to Janet and Jason’s relationship from the end of season 1.  And they did it in the most funnest way possible.  You know that Derek is going to cause problems now, and I suspect that Janet will continue to glitch at the worst possible moments.  But poor Chidi.

Arrow – I was glad to see Diggle taking on the leadership mantel by the end of the episode.  That’s something I wouldn’t have wanted to see drag out too long.  However, he’s taking some kind of drug for his tremors?  That won’t end well.  If they are going to get Oliver and Felicity back together, I hope it is for good.  I’m not super big on any of the romances on this show, but constantly getting people together and breaking them apart is annoying.

The Orville – Yes, that was very, very heavy handed.  But wow was that also convicting.  How often do I fall into the trap of following the crowd on something and judging someone based on one mistake instead of letting them have some grace?  Yes, all this from a comedy sci fi show.  Oh, and even though I knew everything would be okay, I was definitely on the edge of my seat.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Movie Review: Darrow & Darrow

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; lots of fun
Cons: Sub-plots over shadow mystery; data dumps
The Bottom Line:
A grand theft court case
Is our chance to meet this cast
Fun franchise starts here

“I Guess You Can Call Us the Isle of the Misfit Attorneys.”

When Hallmark Movies and Mysteries started advertising Darrow & Darrow, the first in a new mystery franchise, I immediately knew I’d be turning in.  I really knew nothing about it other than the stars and the fact that it involved lawyers, so we’d get some courtroom drama.  The result was a lot of fun, not that I expected anything less.

Claire Darrow (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) is living in her childhood home and running the law firm founded by her late father.  Despite having several employees, the firm isn’t doing well.  It’s not that she doesn’t win cases; in fact, she wins enough to have caught the eye of the assistant district attorney, Miles (Tom Cavanagh).  However, she takes on cases that don’t turn out to be that profitable.  Her mother, Joanna (Wendie Malick), has recently returned to town after a scandal cost her a job in New York.  Joanna has all kinds of ways to fix the firm and improve Claire’s life, advice Claire isn’t necessarily interested in hearing.

And soon Claire has a new case.  Dave (Kirby Morrow), the owner of the local donut shop is accused of robbing the neighborhood jewel store, an accusation that, given his background, isn’t completely out of the picture.  Dave insists he is innocent and Claire believes him.  It’s another case that won’t earn her a lot of money, but Claire believes taking on the case is the right things to do even if it pits her against Miles in court.  But the police have a good case.  Can Claire find a way to get Dave off?  Is he really innocent?

Yes, we really do have a mystery case involving grand theft instead of murder, something I truly enjoyed.  With Dave’s freedom on the line, I felt the stakes were significantly high to make for a compelling mystery.  In fact, it was nice to take a break from murder.  The mystery could have been stronger over all, but I did love the ending.

I wasn’t surprised when, near the end, they teased us the next Darrow & Darrow movie, coming in 2018.  This had the feelings of a TV pilot, complete with data dumps and a sub-plot or two that was more about setting up character relationships for future movies.  In fact, at times they greatly overshadowed the mystery.  That is my biggest complaint with the story.

Having said that, I enjoyed these plots.  Claire and Miles spend some time flirting, and watching them do that is a blast.  While they do attempt to round out Joanna, she comes across too strong, and I can understand Claire’s issues with her.  I’m hoping this gets toned down in future movies as they work out their relationship.  Claire is a single mother, and the potential stories with Louise (Lilah Fitzgerald) are interesting.  I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with her in future movies.

The Hallmark cheese was turned down for this movie.  I felt the cast did well.  There are a lot of characters, so I suspect it will be a few movies before I have them all straight.  My biggest issue with the writing was the data dumps.  We need the information, but it was a little too obvious that we were being fed the information.

Issues aside, Darrow & Darrow launches another promising movie franchise from Hallmark.  I’ll be tuning back in for their next case.

October 27th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've almost made it through another week, which means it is time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week's book is Blackberry Burial by Sharon Farrow.


This is the second Berry Basket Mystery, and it is a lot of fun.

Here's how it begins:
I was prepared to do a great deal for my business.  Dying my hair raspberry red was not one of them.  Now I only had to convince the photographer.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find this:

Like a heroine from the Old West, I was counting on the sheriff to help me out of this mess.  Or, in this case, the head of the sheriff department's investigative branch.

This is only page 56.  She won't be out of it by a long shot at that point.  What a boring book it would be if that were the case.

I'll be reviewing this book on 10/31, which is release day.  I hope you'll come back then to see what I thought of it.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Book Review: Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott (Beryl and Edwina Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, historical setting, story
Cons: Nothing worth mentioning
The Bottom Line:
Small English village
Holding some murder motives
Fun historical

War and Murder

As a traditional/cozy mystery fan, there are so many sub-genres to pick from that it can be overwhelming at times.  One I generally don’t read is the English village myster.  For some reason, that doesn’t usually grab my attention, which might help explain why I have read so few Agatha Christie books.  But when Jessica Ellicott (also known as Jessie Crockett and Jessica Estevao) released Murder in an English Village, I immediately planned to give it a try since I’ve enjoyed her other books.

This book transports us to 1920 and the small English village of Walmsley Parva.  Lifelong resident Edwina Davenport is having a hard time making ends meet, so she places an advertisement for a boarder.  The last person she expects to answer is her old boarding school friend Beryl Helliwell.  Beryl is an American famous for her adventures all over the globe.  But Beryl is at loose ends and looking for a little quiet and stability.

On her first afternoon in the village, Beryl drops some hints to the local gossip that the two are secretly working for His Majesty, hoping to help Edwina save face concerning her finances.  Instead, someone tries to strangle Edwina that night.  Obviously, someone has a secret to hide.  The only thing Edwina can think of is the disappearance of a young woman who was in the area working on the local farm during the recently ended Great War.  Edwina always felt that this disappearance didn’t get the attention it truly deserved, so the two friends begin to hunt for someone who might know what really happened.  What will they uncover?

There really is much to praise in this book.  Let’s start with the vastly mismatched main characters.  Edwin and Beryl are a ton of fun together.  Edwina is from a proper British family that has fallen on hard times, so she is used to having servants and the class system that goes with them.  Beryl is the complete opposite, and some of their interactions are funny as a result.  Yet, no matter how different they are, we still get a good sense of their friendship.

Through the rest of the characters, we get a real sense of what the War to End All Wars really did to the people who stayed home.  In fact, the events of World War I, which ended just a couple of years before this book is set, drive much of the plot.  This backstory also really helps flesh out the suspects and the setting.

The plot is strong as well.  I’m only teasing the very beginning, but as events proceed and layers are unpeeled, we find more secrets than Edwina would have guessed her neighbors are hiding.  I did figure out the solution about the same time that Edwina and Beryl did, but even then, there was another couple twists I didn’t see coming.

The book is told third person from both Edwina and Beryl’s points of view, with a few passages from others slipped in.  This is never confusing since we always get a clear breaking point when the point of view is changing and really strengthens the story.

Now that I’ve found a home for myself in Walmsley Parva, I hope to be back to visit my new friends Edwina and Beryl again soon.  Murder in an English Village is a fun series debut that will leave you anxious for a return trip back in time.

Enjoy more trips back in time with the rest of the Beryl and Edwina Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Movie Review: Blackbeard's Ghost

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Effects, some laughs
Cons: Over reactions, predictable story
The Bottom Line:
This new job comes with
Ghostly complications.  Film
Is just average

Ghostly Laughs from this Ghostly Comedy

While I’ve dipped my toe into the paranormal waters now and then as an adult, I mostly avoided anything having to do with that as a kid.  As a result, I have never watched Blackbeard’s Ghost, but when I discovered it on Turner Classic Movies last month as part of a Vault Disney night, I decided to give it a try.  Turns out I wasn’t missing much.

Steve Walker (Dean Jones) has just moved to the Carolina coast to become the track coast for Godolphin College.  He’s so new, he’s taken lodging at Blackbeard’s Inn.  The legendary pirate is supposed to have sailed in these parts, and the inn is owned and run by women who claim to be descendant from him or his crew.

They are also about to be run off by the local gangster who wants to take over their location to open a gambling casino, and he’s given them an impossible deadline to pay off the mortgage.  Nobody in the area is willing to cross him, so he is used to getting what he wants.

On his first night staying at the inn, Steve invokes an ancient incantation that unknowingly brings the ghost of Blackbeard (Peter Ustinov) to him.  Only he can see or hear the man, and his attempts to get away make him appear crazy, especially to Jo Anna Baker (Suzanne Pleashette), the college professor who has caught his eye.  Where will all of this lead?

Being a Disney comedy from the 60’s, I’m sure you can guess where this is going to lead.  Yes, the complications and sub-plots are fairly predictable.  I’m not necessarily opposed to predictable if I’m having fun, however.

In this case, I was amused, but that was about it.  The movie makes the most of a guy talking to someone who is invisible.  Oh, we can see Blackbeard much of the time, but we get shots where he is invisible, usually to up the slapstick comedy factor.  It just never quite got to the heights of some of Disney’s better movies in the genre.

I think one of the reasons for this is how Dean Jones’s Steve Walker reacts to things.  He is over the top upset and yelling.  No, I don’t think it was bad acting, but he was upset or yelling for much of the movie, and I grew tired of that.  When he was calmer, the movie was better for me.

And I can’t fault the special effects.  These were phenomenal for this time.  There’s nothing we haven’t seen in other Disney comedies, but it still blows my mind.  Obviously, they are dated now, but I’m willing to buy into it, and it is part of the film’s charm.

It’s not that Blackbeard’s Ghost is a bad movie.  It’s just not all that entertaining either.  I’m glad I got to see it since I’ve been curious about it, but I won’t be rushing out to watch it again.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Book Review: Pillow Stalk by Diane Vallere (Madison Night #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Twisty plot, Madison, fun
Cons: Climax has a timing plot hole
The Bottom Line:
Super Doris fan
Finds herself in puzzling case
Fun, twisty debut

Loving Doris Day Might Get Madison Night Killed

A couple of months ago, I made a point of watching Pillow Talk as prep for starting Diane Vallere’s Madison Night series.  Why?  Because Madison is a huge fan of Doris Day’s movies, and the first in the series is called Pillow Stalk.

Madison Night is an interior decorator who specializes in mid-century modern – you know, the 50’s and 60’s, the time period of Doris Day’s movies.  She’s recently relocated to Dallas, where she had opened Mad for Mod.  With this retro style being so popular, her business is beginning to take off.

However, things take an unusual turn when someone is murdered outside Madison’s car at the local pool.  In fact, at first, people think that Madison herself had been murdered.  Then the murder weapon turns out to be one of several pillows that Madison had in her trunk.  With the police focused on her friend and handyman Hudson, Madison begins to wonder just what she’s gotten caught up in.  This is far from one of Doris Day’s comedies.  But do the police have her under surveillance because they think she knows something or because they think she will be the next target?

The premise of the book is very clever.  The story brings in Madison’s decorating and love of Doris Day in a completely organic way and made them an integral part of the plot.  Being a guy, I can testify that the decorating doesn’t slow down the plot.  Trust me, if it had, I would have been bored.  And what I don’t know about Doris Day fills volumes, but I got what I needed to know without it being an issue at all.

And what a plot!  There are twists.  There are turns.  There are events that keep us turning the pages.  And that’s just in the first quarter of the book.  Trust me, the pace is fast and the plot keeps you guessing.  I did find the climax a little out there, but it seemed to fit the book.  I also think there is a plot hole involving timing of a couple of events, but I’m not super concerned about it.

Most cozies I read feature a late 20’s female main character, so I found Madison’s late 40’s age to be refreshing.  She still has some familiar baggage, but she approaches life differently, which I enjoyed.  I’m not so sure we got to know either of the male leads super well yet, but we see hints of more depth to them that can be explored in future books.

And yes, this does mean that Madison’s love life is complicated.  Would you expect anything else from a series inspired by the romantic comedies of Doris Day?

Speaking of which, did I need to see Pillow Talk before reading this book?  No.  But since it is referenced several times in the story, I did find it fun to have some idea what they were talking about.  I intend to continue watching the movies before I read the rest of the series.

And I will certainly be moving on.  I need to know what happens next to Madison Night.  Pick up Pillow Stalk today, and you’ll soon be stalking her yourself.

You can stalk her with the rest of the Madison Night Mysteries.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ornament Review: Halls Station - Keepsake Korners #2 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene inside this building
Cons: All cons have left the station
The Bottom Line:
All aboard for this
Train station ornament
Cute lit scene inside

Travel to Town Via Halls Station

With cars and so many other ways to travel these days, it is rare for a city to have a train station any more.  But the buildings in Hallmark’s Keepsake Korners are inspired by the popular Nostalgic Homes and Shops series, so it makes sense one of the buildings would be Halls Station.

Yes, this is essentially a building.  It’s a two story brick building with a green roof.  Nice of them to have Christmas colors, right?  Halls Station is on the sign on the roof.  These ornaments are slightly bigger than the official ornaments in the Nostalgic Homes and Shops series.

What sets these ornaments apart are the windows.  Instead of having an open back with a display inside, these are set up with a scene in the window.  We can see in the foreground a toy train in the window.  That is appropriate, right?  This train is the tie in to another series since it looks like the eighth ornament in the Tin Locomotive series from 1989.  I hadn’t heard of this series since I start collecting years later, but I find those things so much fun.

I love ornaments that light up inside, and this is one of those.  When you stick a light in the back of the ornament, you can better see the painting on the back of the ornament which shows three boys playing with a model train display while an employee looks on from behind a counter.  It’s a really cute scene and a lot of fun.  We can also see the light shining from the upper windows, but there is no scene inside them.

Naturally, this ornament has a nice flat base.  I would hope any building would.  The hook for hanging the ornament is on the roof, and it tips ever so very slightly to one side and the back.  It’s very slight, and you’ll only notice it if you are looking for it.

I was on the fence about the Keepsake Korners ornaments until I saw them in person.  I’m really enjoying the light up pictures inside, and Halls Station is no exception.

Fans of this ornament will enjoy the official Nostalgic Homes and Shops ornaments.

Original Price: $15.95

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Movie Review: Dating is Murder - A Hailey Dean Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery movie; good characters
Cons: Plot predictable; usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Missing young woman
Tied to hot, new dating app
Fun, light mystery

“Stay for Dinner.”  “I Can’t.  I Have to Go on Three Dates.”

There have always been stories about the dangers of meeting strangers, but they really ramped up in the days of the internet and now apps.  While there is definitely some truth to needing to be careful, it is easy to see why these stories persist – these feed into our fears of the unknown.  It also makes for some great mysteries as we see from Dating is Murder, the third Hailey Dean mystery movie.

No, Hailey Dean (Kellie Martin) isn’t looking for a new boyfriend.  While she and Jonas (Matthew MacCaull) are taking things slowly, they are still enjoying their relationship.  It’s actually Hailey’s friend and business partner Sabrina (Emily Holmes) who has installed the latest app, Penguin Match.  Started by a couple of geeks in one of their mother’s garage, it is taking the city by storm.

However, Hailey’s attention has been captured by a missing young woman.  Miranda is the daughter of one of her mother’s friends, and she has been missing for a few days.  Hailey begins pushing for answers which unfortunately lead to finding Miranda’s body on a hiking trail.  When Jonas makes the connection to another murder of a young woman who had been missing, Hailey thinks there might be a serial killer.  But when she makes the connection to Penguin Match, things really get interesting.  Is a serial killer using the app for cover?

Okay, given the title of the movie, I don’t feel I’ve really spoiled anything, but it does take the movie a while to make the connection.  Not that this is a problem since it is entertaining the entire way.  In fact, I was a couple of steps ahead of Hailey for most of the movie, but I didn’t care since I had to know if I was right.

We have a strong group of supporting players in this series, and they are all back.  We don’t see as much of Hailey’s family, which would have been nice, but that’s a minor complaint and would have just slowed things down further.  Those who are back are lots of fun.

The actors all do a good job here.  Oh, there is the usual Hallmark cheese, but that’s the only complaint here.  And yes, Nancy Grace, author of the books these films are based on, gets another cameo here.

In the first two movies, we’ve gotten some clues to the unsolved murder of Hailey’s late fiancé.  That sub-plot isn’t even brought up in this movie, although the teaser for the next in the series (no air date given yet) looks like it will return to that story, possibly in a big way.

While I do wish the plot were a little better, Dating is Murder is still a fun way to spend an hour and a half.  If you are looking for a light mystery movie, this will fit the bill nicely.

This movie is part of the Hailey Dean DVD Collection One Set.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

October 21st's Weekly TV Thoughts

I did a much better job of keeping up with TV this week.  It did help that The Orville wasn't on, but it helped that life wasn't completely crazy this week as well.

Once Upon a Time (10/13) – I had heard rumors that Emma was pregnant, but I wasn’t not expecting THAT twist.  We have Other Hook on the show, and not the Hook we already know and love.  Very interesting.  And I like it.  I really do.  I like the idea of Emma and Hook have a happily ever after.  Regina is still Regina, and I get why she came along for the ride.  So now we just need to figure out why Gold is here, and what his goals are that have aligned with Victoria’s.

Supergirl – So the new villain’s powers are gone?  I did not expect to see that coming.  Will they only turn on if her daughter is in danger?  At first, I thought Lena was going to be a great boss, but I think I can see where James is going to find her annoying.  I can definitely see both sides of their issues.  And can we just get Mon-El back already?

Dancing with the Stars – Sasha’s out.  Bummer!  There are a couple who probably should have gone before her, but her weeks were definitely numbered.  So enjoyed Disney night, as always.  It’s one of the weeks I look forward to most all season, and it didn’t disappoint again.

The Big Bang Theory – The episode had its moments, but it was a bit weak overall.  The scene with Leonard and Amy was pretty funny, as was the scene with Leonard and Beverly, and the tag scene with Sheldon getting the ticket.  In other words, I was a slow burn with some decent pay off.

The Flash – I can definitely see where Barry and Iris would have some issues to work out, and I’m glad they addressed them head on instead of letting them fester for half the season.  That climax was pretty funny with Barry’s new suit malfunctioning.  In fact, the tone was pretty fun all over.  I do wonder what is up with Caitlyn.

Lethal Weapon – Can we say “Daddy Issues.”  They were everywhere in the episode.  I’m glad the daughter didn’t get dragged into the case as a suspect more than she did, although I’m sure being kidnapped helped.  And how fun are things with this new chief?  She is adding some great comedy to the show.

Legends of Tomorrow – Not quite as funny as last week, but still lots of fun.  Was I the only one who didn’t buy the conjoined twins outfit, however?  I can’t see how anyone, even then, would buy it.  And we’ve got Amayra back on board, too.  Her powers being out of control seems like Caitlyn’s storyline on The Flash, so hopefully they go someplace different with it.

This is Us – As I was watching this, I couldn’t help but think that Rebecca treats Kate much like her mother did her.  Consider how much Rebecca hated it, that is sad.  Of course, the racism thing is obviously new.  Kevin obviously originally hurt his knee right before Jack died, so that’s part of what Kevin is going through.  And Kate is pregnant!  That is a surprising development for her.  I was expecting her story this season to be all about her singing.  Obviously not.

Survivor – Well, that didn’t go as I had hoped.  I was hoping the Joe wouldn’t actually play his idol, but he was smart to do so.  He was driving me up a wall tonight, so I wanted him gone.  Oh well.  Oh, and if it isn’t your secret to share, don’t go around talking about what other people have received in the way of advantages.  It will get you voted out.

The Good Place – Okay, admittedly a little gross, but so freaking funny!  There were a couple of really great lines and the idea that Michael was actually torturing Chidi was just great.  I’m very concerned about what Janet’s change is going to mean for the neighborhood.

Arrow – So Oliver is, what?  Going to take a step back?  I get why he’s doing it, and I applaud it.  You know it won’t last all season, but it’s going to be an interesting storyline for a few episodes, that’s for sure.

Friday, October 20, 2017

October 20th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Yes, I missed last week, but I'm back for this week's Book Beginnings 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 Show 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.

This movie is part of the Gourmet Detective DVD Mystery Collection.

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