Thursday, November 30, 2017

November 2017's Monthly Reading Summary

Here we are on the last day of November, so that must mean it is time for the monthly reading summary.

I didn't make it to the index this month.  I will be sure to do that next month, however.

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

A Deadly Éclair by Daryl Wood Gerber (French Bistro Mysteries #1) – 5
Mimi Rousseau is just months into her new venture of a French bistro and hotel in the heart of Napa County.  This weekend, she is hosting her first event, the wedding of Angelica Edmonton, noted TV talk show host and the niece of Bryan Baker, Mimi’s benefactor and mentor.  However, when tension at the pre-wedding dinner on Friday night leads to a dead body on Saturday morning, Mimi finds herself looking into the murder.  What is going on?

It’s fun to find a series set in Napa County that doesn’t focus on wine, although wine is certainly present.  The French food will definitely leave your mouth watering as you work your way through this good first mystery.  The initial chapter has a bit of a data dump in it, but once beyond that, the mystery picks up and the pace never slows down again.  The characters are outstanding, and the relationships between the series regulars is already strong.  I’m looking forward to seeing that grow as the series progresses.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Assault and Buttery by Kristi Abbott (Popcorn Shop Mysteries #3) – 4
Rebecca Anderson’s popcorn shop is under renovation, which is how she finds a mysterious diary in the kitchen’s wall.  She is trying to figure out who the writer was when someone dies after eating her popcorn – popcorn that was poisoned.  Her attempts to clear her reputation and save her business end with her in prison for impeding a police investigation.  What’s going on?  Will Rebecca get out of jail?

This book has a unique first half as we get flashbacks to what landed Rebecca in jail.  It absolutely works; I was engaged the entire way through and the plot comes together perfectly at the end.  There’s some fun humor, although a couple of scenes that were supposed to be funny irritated me.  Likewise, I didn’t feel the repercussions of the jail plot twist were adequately dealt with.  We didn’t see quite as much of the series regulars, but I did enjoy what we saw.  And the new characters were wonderful.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

City of Lies by Victoria Thompson (Counterfeit Lady Mysteries #1) – 5
Elizabeth Miles makes her living as a con woman, an unusual profession for a woman in 1917.  However, when her latest con goes south, she finds herself on the run from the mark’s goons.  In her attempts to escape, she joins a group of suffragists outside the White House and is delighted when they are arrested.  But has she truly escaped the men searching for her?

If you pick up this book expecting a murder and five suspects, you’ll be disappointed.  However, with those adjusted expectations pick up this book because it is wonderful.  The story is captivating and moves quickly; I always had a hard time putting the book down.  This may be the first in a series, but the characters are already strong.  I’m not normally one to root for a criminal, but I couldn’t help but root for Elizabeth in this book.  Real history is woven in without slowing down the fictional story at all.  I’m not sure where the series will go from this wonderful beginning, but I can’t wait to find out.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson (Greenhouse Mysteries #3) – 5
When Megan Sawyer sees a woman stranded during a winter storm, she offers her a ride to town.  The woman is Becca, who is coming to Winsome to spend the upcoming Christmas holiday with her aunt.  However, when she goes to drop off Becca, Megan witnesses a confrontation between Becca and her very estranged father, Paul.  When Paul dies a few days later, Becca quickly becomes the chief suspect.  But Megan thinks there is more to his death, especially since it mirrors an unusual death in one of Megan’s aunt Sarah’s books.  Is the killer using the book to send a message?

The Christmas setting is in contrast to the plot of this book.  In fact, it makes it seem darker as a result.  This is a plot that will stay with you for a while after you are done.  Little things that appear to mean nothing come into clearer focus when we reach the climax of the tightly plotted story.  I enjoyed seeing the returning characters again, but the new characters really steal the show.  They are very strong, even Paul, which is unusual for a murder victim.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Last Detective by Robert Crais (Cole and Pike #9) – 5
While PI Elvis Cole is watching his girlfriend Lucy’s son, Ben is kidnapped.  The caller says it is payback for something in Cole’s past, but he can’t figure out what that might be.  As more people get involved in the case, the kidnapping puts a strain on Elvis’s relationship with Lucy.  Can he find Ben?

This is a thrilling read from start to finish.  Since we have gotten to know Lucy and Ben over the last couple of books, we care about the outcome here.  I was so pulled in at the climax that I didn’t want to stop.  The characters are strong as well, including Elvis and his partner Joe Pike.  They are becoming more human.  The flashbacks to Elvis’s past help with that, and they manage to be as engrossing as the main story instead of slowing it down.

Spy School Secret Service by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #5) – 5
The evil organization SPYDER is back, and they are planning to assassinate the President.  Because of Ben Ripley’s success fighting them in the past, he is sent under cover into the White House to try to find the sleeper agent.  However, with the large number of people in the White House each day, Ben soon realizes just how mammoth the task is.  Can he figure out what is going on in time to save the President?

This premise sets us off on another wonderful wild ride into the world of espionage.  Oh, the fact that Ben is only twelve-years-old might be unrealistic, but it is so much fun and author Stuart Gibbs makes it work here.  There are lots of twists leading up to the wonderful climax.  The characters are good, although they could be a little stronger.  That’s probably just the adult in me talking, however because it certainly wasn’t on my mind when I was busy turning pages.  The book also packs a fair number of laughs that caught me off guard and truly made me laugh out loud.  Kids of all ages will love this book.

A Perfect Manhattan Murder by Tracy Kiely (Nic and Nigel Mysteries #3) – 5
Nic and Nigel Martini are back in Manhattan for the Broadway premier of their friend Patty’s play.  While Nic is happy to see Patty and their mutual friend Harper, she is less enthused about seeing Harper’s husband Dan, a Broadway critic who is as boorish in real life as his reviews are harsh.  The morning after the play’s premier, Dan is found dead, and the police quickly zero in on Harper as their prime suspect.  Nic is certain that her friend is innocent, but can she prove it?

Once again, we are treated to a fantastically fun story.  We get to know Dan and meet the suspects before he dies, which means we don’t waste any time diving into questioning suspects.  I didn’t see the ending coming at all.  The characters are a little on the thin side, but I don’t mind.  The quips and banter flies fast here, and I was constantly laughing.  This series continues to be a wonderful homage to The Thin Man.

“I” is for Innocent by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #9) – 5
Five years ago, Isabelle Barney was murdered on the day after Christmas.  While her estranged husband was acquitted of the crime, her ex-husband is now suing him in civil court in a wrongful death case.  Kinsey has been hired to help the lawyer win the case, taking over from a PI who just died.  His notes were a mess, so she is completely retracing his steps.  But as she goes, she begins to wonder just who committed the murder.  Is she helping the court case, or hurting it?

Kinsey is back in top form in this book.  The plot twists all over the place before coming to a perfectly logical climax.  Henry and Rosie are involved in a very fun sub-plot that provides some laughs.  The suspects are strong, and we meet a couple of new supporting characters since Kinsey has had to move her office.

Nightfall by Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities #6) – 5
This book picks up moments after book five in the series ends as Sophie is dealing with the fact that the Neverseen have kidnapped her human parents.  After getting her human sister hidden away, Sophie begins to hunt for them.  The only clue is Nightfall, a clue that leads to Keefe’s mother, Lady Gisela.  But can she be trusted?  Or is she using Sophie and her friends for her own purpose?

I’ve been waiting a year to get the next chapter in Sophie’s story after the cliffhanger of the last book, and I wasn’t disappointed.  This really is a next chapter, so if you haven’t read these books, don’t start here since you will be lost.  But fans will quickly find themselves turning the 800 pages in this book.  The plot really stalls only once about two thirds of the way, but it isn’t too long before we are ramping up for the climax.  Meanwhile, all our favorite characters get some development and their moments to shine while we meet a fantastic new character.

Hark the Herald Angels Slay by Vicki Delany (Year-Round Christmas Mysteries #3) – 5
Things are gearing up for Christmas in July in the town of Rudolph, New York, and Merry Wilkinson is looking forward to the town’s new tradition, Santa arriving for his vacation in a boat parade.  However, things get complicated when her ex-fiance, Max Folger, shows up in town wanting to rekindle his relationship with Merry.  When he turns up dead in Merry’s shop, she finds herself drawn into the investigation.  Can she figure out what is going on?

I love this series for the Christmas spirit that author Vicki Delany infuses into every page, and just because this book is set in July, that Christmas spirit hasn’t diminished at all.  The mystery takes off into some surprising areas that kept me turning pages until I reached the end.  The series regulars are their normal charming selves, and I was pleasantly surprised by the growth we saw in the suspects as well.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ornament Review: Luke Skywalker - Star Wars #21 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Decent likeness of the older Luke
Cons: Details could be a little sharper
The Bottom Line:
Old meets new here as
We get an updated Luke
Draw for Star Wars fans

Luke is a Mysterious Figure

The new Star Wars movies have all us geeks buzzing as we count down each year to the latest part of the sage from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  It has also breathed new life in Hallmark’s official Star Wars ornament line.  Honestly, I think they were running out of ways to feature the characters from the original trilogy, but now they can feature the classic characters from the new movies.  That’s what they’ve done with 2017’s Luke Skywalker.

This ornament features Luke from his brief cameo at the end of The Force Awakens.  Honestly, that is a bit of a surprise since I’m sure he will be a much bigger presence in The Last Jedi, which opens this year.  If it were me, I would have tied it into the new movie.  But that’s a minor issue.

Anyway, Luke is standing with his robe flowing behind him.  Yes, he’s uncovered his head, and he is standing with his hands clasping each other.  We can clearly see that one of his hands is artificial.  He’s mostly tans and whites, with gray hair and goatee and that black artificial hand.

Like most of the ornaments in this series, it is that simple since they usually focus on a character.  I really like this chance to get the classic characters updated for the new movies.  The detail on this one is good.  It doesn’t quite look like Mark Hamill in his one scene, but it is a close enough likeness that anyone will know who it is supposed to be by just looking at it.

Between Luke’s feet and his robe, there is plenty here for a solid base, so this ornament stands very well on its own.  You’ll also find the series marker on the bottom.  Hard to believe we are at number 21.

Of you can hang this ornament on your tree.  The hook is on the back of Luke’s head, which allows him to hang straight.

Fans of both the new movies and the original trilogy will definitely want to pick up Luke Skywalker.  He’s been a hot seller at my local store, so obviously, there are a lot of us out there who like this ornament.

Fan of Star Wars?  You'll want to check out the rest of the official Star Wars ornaments series.

Original Price: $17.95

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: Hark the Herald Angels Slay by Vicki Delany (Year-Round Christmas Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Christmas infused cozy mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Christmas in July
Another murder in town
Christmas spirit filled

Christmas in July Turns Deadly

For the first two books in the Year-Round Christmas Mysteries, we visited the town of Rudolph, New York, for Christmas itself.  But when a town draws in tourists by celebrating Christmas all year long, there are other celebrations.  For Hark the Herald Angels Slay, we are visiting for their Christmas in July, and it’s a wonderful visit.

This July, the town is trying something different.  Instead of Santa coming for his vacation in a traditional parade, the town is going to do a boat parade.  Merry Wilkinson is looking forward to starting this new tradition in her role as Mrs. Claus, and she’s hoping that it will draw in tourists to help her store, Mrs. Claus’s Treasures.

What she isn’t counting on is her ex-fiance Max Folger showing up.  They split when he started dating Erica, the owner of the magazine where they both worked.  While Max claims he is in town to do a feature on Rudolph, he makes it very clear that he regrets letting Merry go and wants her back.  The only trouble is, Merry doesn’t want him back.

Things get more complicated when Merry finds Max strangled to death in her shop.  Everyone keeps insisting that Merry stay out of it, but she finds herself being drawn into the investigation.  Will she figure out what happened to Max?

I love Christmas, and one thing I absolutely loved about the first two books in the series is the Christmas spirit the infused the pages.  I wondered if that would be the case in this book since it is set in July.  I didn’t need to worry.  While the weather may be warmer, I still felt that Christmas spirit.  It certainly helps that the contents of Merry’s shop sound delightful.  I have a feeling I would spend way too much money there if it were real.

Of course, I am reading this book for the mystery, and this is the strongest one in the series to date.  There were several complications that left me turning pages as quickly as I could.  Things lead up to an exciting and logical climax.

And I love these characters.  Merry and the other series regulars are a lot of fun.  Well, there are a couple that are annoying, but since Merry is annoyed by them as well, I know I’m in good company.  I was actually surprised by the suspects introduced in this book.  They showed more growth than we usually see in the mysteries I read, which I enjoyed.

Hark the Herald Angels Slay is the strongest book in this series to date.  No matter when you read it, you will be filled with the Christmas spirit as you watch Merry solve a fun mystery.

Stay in the Christmas spirit with the rest of the Year-Round Christmas Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Tuesday, December 5th, so please leave your comment before 12:01 AM Pacific Time on 12/5.  You will have until midnight on 12/10 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 12/11.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Music Review: It's Finally Christmas by Casting Crowns

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great mostly original Christmas songs
Cons: Only six tracks (but priced accordingly)
The Bottom Line:
Six new Christmas tracks
Are mostly originals
Sure to be well played

This EP is a Christmas Gift You’ll Want to Unwrap

Since their debut, Casting Crowns has been one of my favorite groups, so when I saw they were releasing a second Christmas project, I jumped at a chance to own it.  It’s Finally Christmas turned out to be a six song EP, but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for it at all.

At first glance, this disc looks like it is broken down half new tracks and half original numbers, but that’s not quite right.  The only truly traditional song on here is “O Holy Night,” and it’s is a gorgeous version of the song.  “What Child is This?” starts out sounding traditional, but they’ve tweaked the chorus.  I love it for the variety.  Their women take the lead on the vocals for these two tracks.

Which means that Mark Hall is the lead vocalist for the rest.  The disc opens with “Gloria/Angels We Have Heard on High” which does incorporate a few lines from the hymn into the song, but it is mostly new material focused on what the birth of Jesus means to sinners.  The title track celebrates the joys of traditions this time of year.  “Somewhere in Your Silent Night” reminds us that Jesus is still with us and ready to reach us where we are this Christmas and any time.  Finally, “Make Room” is a plea to live for Jesus.

Stylistically, this fits perfectly within Casting Crown’s adult contemporary wheelhouse.  There’s nothing here that will surprise their fans.  Since I’m one of them, I definitely consider this a strength.

Yes, I already have Casting Crown’s first Christmas release, and I enjoy it every year.  I can already tell that It’s Finally Christmas is going to get just as much air time each Christmas.

CD Length: 25:28
1. Gloria/Angels We Have Heard on High
2. It’s Finally Christmas
3. What Child is This (Christ the King)
4. Somewhere in Your Silent Night
5. O Holy Night
6. Make Room

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Book Review: Nightfall by Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and story keep the pages flying
Cons: Slows down a little at one point, but not for long
The Bottom Line:
Sophie in action
Trying to protect loved ones
Engrossing again

Sophie Races to Save Someone Close to Her

I’ve been very impatiently waiting for a year to find out what happened after the cliffhanger that ended book 5 in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, so that means I was keeping my reading schedule clear to start Nightfall as soon as I could after it was released.  It was definitely worth the wait.

If you are new to the series, you need to fix that today.  This is a wonderful middle grade fantasy series.  It stars Sophie Foster, an elf who was raised by humans until she was a teenager, at which point she learned why she never felt like she quite fit in with the humans around her.  But that was just the beginning of her journey.

Before we go further, I need to issue a spoiler warning.  Because of how this book starts, it will be impossible to discuss this book without spoiling the previous book in the series.  I am NOT going to spoil anything in this book, however.  Because this story is really one story broken down into books, you really need the read the previous books before you pick up this one anyway.

The book picks up exactly where the previous book ended – Sophie has just gone to check on her human family only to learn that they have been kidnapped by the Neverseen.  Only her “sister” is still there.  The only clue that Amy overheard when their parents were kidnapped is the name Nightfall.

Unfortunately, this clue leads Sophie and her friends straight to Lady Gisela, Keefe’s mother.  She is obviously using this situation to manipulate Sophie.  Can Sophie use Lady Gisela to learn where her parents are being held without giving Lady Gisela what she needs for her plans?

If all of this leaves you lost, then this book isn’t for you – yet.  As I said before, these books build on each other.  So all that means is, back up and begin with book one.  Author Shannon Messenger does a good job of reintegrating us into Sophie’s world, but I’m sure the explanations would only go so far for someone who has never picked up a book in the series.

For fans of the series, this book will satisfy.  There are plenty of the twists and close calls that we’ve come to expect in the series.  I did feel that things slowed down a bit about two thirds of the way into the book as Sophie started hitting dead ends, but it wasn’t too long before we were ramping up for the climax.

Over the course of the series, Sophie has made a lot of friends, and there is room in this book for all of them to shine.  Some get more page time than others, but they all get their moments and all get some development as characters.  Fans of Keefe will be happy to learn he gets plenty of page time to make up for the previous book.  Plus, we get a delightful new character here.

What I’ve been dancing around is the length of this book.  It’s 800 pages.  That’s daunting for sure, but I can’t point to anything I think should be cut out.  The pages certainly do fly by, and I got lost in the story any time I sat down to read.

I’m not too surprised that we get a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of this book.  It’s not nearly as bad as the last cliffhanger, but it is certainly enough to leave me wondering what happens next.

Seriously, this series is fabulous, and Nightfall is a great next chapter for Sophie and her friends.  If you’ve been counting down like I have, your patience will be rewarded.

If you need to catch up, here are the rest of the books in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

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

Saturday, November 25, 2017

November 25th's Weekly TV Summary

I didn't get very far into my TV watching this week since I'm out of town for Thanksgiving.  I'll be working on catching up next week, but here's what I did get watched.

Once Upon a Time (11/17) – Two hours of magical goodness.  I should have picked up on Gothel being the witch in the tower.  So, is she really Eloise, or was Hook really searching for someone else?  I assumed it was his daughter all along.  And then there’s the fact that his daughter is Alice/Lily.  Didn’t see that coming either.  I still want to know what safe guard Ivy put in place.  And who is Regina going to search for in San Francisco.  Is that going to be Zelena or someone else?  I would have sworn that Rumple was awake, but he sure didn’t act like it, so what’s his game?

Supergirl – I’m a bit surprised that they have now introduced Reign.  And right before the four-way crossover, too.  I wouldn’t have expected that until early next year.  On the other hand, as soon as Mon-El was so worried about the one chamber, I knew that was his wife.  No idea where they will go from here going forward, however.

Dancing with the Stars (Monday) – Please, Len.  Everyone knows who is going to win.  Jordan has been a shoe in since the very first episode of the season.  I can’t remember when we had a season this obvious so early on.  Not that he doesn’t deserve it as the dances tonight showed.  There were some great ones, and the freestyles were awesome for sure.  Not surprised it was Drew who went out tonight.  These are the final three I’ve been expecting for several weeks now.

The Flash – As stupid as Barry was, at least they didn’t make us takes weeks to confirm the identity of The Thinker.  Nice to see that they are changing up their formula.  Now, we just need to figure out his end game.

Legends of Tomorrow – I don’t like Grodd, so the fact that he’s now going to be a part of this show doesn’t make me happy at all.  Like the sub-plot with Mick.  Sara must feature heavily into the crossover since they gave her the episode pretty much off.

Dancing with the Stars (Tuesday) – As I said, Jordan won.  No surprise, and that’s a good thing.  He deserved to win.  I mean, did he ever really have a bad week?  I was perfectly okay with the order of the finishes, in fact.  Great season.  And did I hear right that they are only doing four weeks in the spring, and all athletes?  Very interesting.  I bet this is thanks to American Idol.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Book Review: "I" is for Innocent by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
A five year old case
Gives Kinsey plenty of twists
Series in top form

A Change Brings Kinsey Back in Top Form

The end of the previous book in the Kinsey Millhone series found our PI main character getting fired from her part time job at the insurance company California Fidelity.  It left me wondering how author Sue Grafton would move the series forward in “I” is for Innocent.

The book opens a few weeks later, and Kinsey has landed a new office, this time inside a law firm.  Once again, she is independent, agreeing to take some cases for the lawyer while still taking on her own clients.  But in this case, she is taking on a case for the lawyer, Lonnie Kingman.  Five years ago, Isabelle Barney was murdered on the day after Christmas.  Her husband, David Barney, was arrested for the crime, but acquitted.  Now, David is being brought into civil court.  Ken Voight, Isabelle’s ex-husband, is suing David for wrongful death.  Lonnie is actually Ken’s lawyer, and Kinsey is being asked to reinterview witnesses and shore up the case.

Kinsey gets the case a couple of weeks before the trail is supposed to start due to the death of a fellow PI due to a heart attack.  His notes are a mess, so Kinsey finds herself retracing his steps.  But as she interviews Isabelle’s friends and family, she begins to wonder just what happened five years ago.  Could David actually be innocent?  If he is, who really killed Isabelle?

I thought the last book in the series was the weakest to date, but I am happy to report that Kinsey is back in fine form here.  The plot kept me engaged the entire way through, and it surprised me several times along the way as well.

The focus on this series is always Kinsey, but I found that I had missed her landlord, Henry, and Rosie, who owns the neighborhood bar, in the last couple of books.  I’m pleased to say they are back in fine form here and provide great comic relief.  The other supporting players we’ve gotten to know in previous books are just reduced to mentions, which makes sense since they are employees of California Fidelity, and we appear to have moved beyond that.  I have a feeling we’ve met a couple of new supporting players in this book, and I liked them.

Which leaves us with the suspects.  As with most of the books in this series, we spend the most time with Kinsey talking to them, and this batch of suspects is wonderful.  When Sue Grafton is in top form, she can create complete characters with just a few lines, and that’s what she does here.

I’m continuing this series is audio, and Mary Peiffer is still the narrator.  She so perfectly captures Kinsey and her world.

I can see how partnering with a lawyer will bring Kinsey a wider variety of cases, and if “I” is for Innocent is any indication, we are in for some wonderful rides.  Don’t hesitate to pick up this book today.  I’m anxious to see where things will go next.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Kinsey Millhone Mysteries.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

TV Show Review: The Librarians - Season 3

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mixes comedy and fantasy with ease
Cons: Effects could be better at times
The Bottom Line:
God resurrected
Causing Chaos on the Earth
More fantasy fun

“I Hate Prophecy More Than I Hate Time Travel.”

I’ve gotten so I watch mostly shows on the traditional five networks.  Honestly, that’s gotten to be more than I can handle.  (I need to cut back somewhere.)  One of the rare shows I enjoy on the non-traditional networks is The Librarians, and the show is just as much fun in the third season.

Now if you are thinking this show is about books and people who take care of them, you’d be completely wrong.  In this case, the library is really a place for collecting artifacts – magical artifacts.  That means our librarians, Ezekiel Jones (John Harlan Kim), Cassandra Cillian (Lindy Booth), and Jake Stone (Christian Kane), are collecting these objects before they fall into the wrong hands.  You can see how this would cause some excitement in their lives.  Helping them out is their guardian Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn).  As far as the library itself goes, there’s Jenkins (John Larroquette), who has curated the collection for a long, long time.

This season finds the librarians fighting chaos.  Okay, so that’s pretty standard, but in this case, Chaos is a person, an ancient Egyptian god, in fact.  And he’s determined to regain his power and take over the world.  The librarians have a way of stopping them, but it will require a sacrifice.  What will that sacrifice entail?

The show is actually a spinoff of a series of made for TV movies that starred Noah Wiley.  He continues to serve as an executive producer and returning to play Flynn Carsen.  He’s not in every episode, but he appears in more of them here than in the first two seasons.  Also reprising a role from the movies this season is Jane Curtin as Charlene, another of the librarian’s curators.

Of course, the fight against Chaos doesn’t occupy the entire season.  Along the way, we get Baird trying to stop a prophecy of her own death, a spontaneous combustion death at a wellness resort, and a spooky carnival.

What is hard to capture is the exact feel of this show.  It’s quite obviously a fantasy.  But unlike many shows on today that seem to want to take things super seriously, this show is part comedy.  It creates some pretty wacky situations for the characters and milks them for laughs.  That light-hearted feeling translates to a lot of fun for us.

Yet the show takes itself seriously enough.  When things do get serious, and they do, it plays those moments perfectly, too.  There is a fine balance, and the show makes it look very easy.

Of course, the cast deserve their fair share of the credit for that.  No matter which notes they are expected to play they hit it out of the park.  There is not a moment you can point to as a problem.

The biggest weakness the show has is special effects.  I’m sure it’s no surprise to learn the show has quite a few of them, and most of them work, but it is easy at times to tell that this is a lower budget show.  Still, this is worth noting only in passing.  I’m always having so much fun, I don’t really mind.

The other issue this season is a personal pet peeve.  I am not a fan of the device where a show starts out in an interesting situation and then flashes back to show us how the characters got there.  This season, the writers employed it for a long string of episodes in the middle of the season.  Not a deal breaker for sure, but definitely annoying.

There were 10 episodes in this season, so there are 10 episodes in this set.  In addition, we get commentaries and vlogs on all 10 episodes.

If you are looking for a show that is just plain fun and isn’t trying to be anything else, you’ll want to check out The LibrariansSeason 3 continues that fine tradition of being completely entertaining.

Season 3 Episodes:
1. And the Rise of Chaos
2. And the Fangs of Death
3. And the Reunion of Evil
4. And the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
5. And the Tears of a Clown
6. And the Trial of the Triangle
7. And the Curse of Cindy
8. And the Eternal Question
9. And the Fatal Separation
10. And the Wrath of Chaos

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ornament Review: Keepsake Korners Bakery - Keepsake Korners #3 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Bakery with fun tie ins on display
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Bakery ready
Showing off festive displays
That are fun tie ins

Delicious Addition to Keepsake Korners

Every town needs a bakery.  There is nothing like fresh delicious treats to brighten any day.  Fortunately for the residence of the Keepsake Korners series, there is the Keepsake Korners Bakery.

This ornament is a building, and this time around the building is yellow.  The building is obviously wood, and the yellow makes it stand out.  The door on the building is red, and it is in the middle with two giant display windows on either side.  In keeping with the others in this series, the displays in the window harken back to other popular series.  In this case, the ornaments chosen are recent ones.  In the left window, we see Santa floating in an ice cream hot air balloon, which was the 2011 ornament in the Santa’s Sweet Ride series.  The right window features a display of sugar cookies arranged on a plate to look like a Christmas tree.  This was the popular 2015 Season’s Treatings ornament.

Of course, the four ornaments in this continuity series itself are inspired by the popular Nostalgic Homes and Shops series.  This building features light.  You can put a light from a Christmas light string in the back of the ornament, which helps light up in the inside of the shop.  There is a scene paint on the back of the ornament showing a helpful employee wrapping a purchase next to the cases of baked goods ready for you to buy.  It adds a nice touch and separates these ornaments from the mother series.

Yes, this is essentially a building, but I find the tie ins to the old ornaments in this series to be lots of fun.  The added light is also a draw for me.

Being a building, this ornament has a nice, flat base, which is a good thing because I’m thinking of creating a display of these and the rest of the Nostalgic Homes and Shops series this year.  After all, I never have displayed those ornaments before.  If you do want to hang the ornament, you’ll find the hook on the roof is perfect to balance them.

The four Keepsake Korners ornaments released this year have proved to be very popular, so if you are interested in the Keepsake Korners Bakery, I suggest you snag one now.  Just like delicious baked goods, it is going quickly.

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

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Book Review: A Perfect Manhattan Murder by Tracy Kiely (Nic and Nigel Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Comedy and a good mystery
Cons: Characters a little thin
The Bottom Line:
Broadway critic killed
Means more laughs and clues for us
You won’t stop smiling

Poisonous Reviewer Gets Poisoned

I never would have guessed how much I’d come to love the Nic and Nigel Mysteries when I started them this year.  They are a complete delight with good mysteries and plenty of laughs.  I’m sadly all caught up now that I’ve read the third, A Perfect Manhattan Murder.

This book finds retired police detective Nicole, Nic to her friends, and her husband Nigel Martini back in Manhattan for the premier of a friend’s play on Broadway.  This means that they can reconnect with Patty, the playwright, as well as Harper, two of Nic’s best friends.  Unfortunately, Harper’s husband Dan is also involved in the reunion.  He’s a well respect Broadway critic who is extremely unpleasant in real life and has a reputation for being nasty in his reviews.  The night of the play’s premier is enjoyable, except any time that Dan is in the vicinity.

The morning after the play opens, Harper finds Dan dead in his work apartment.  The more the police investigate, the more it looks like Harper did it.  Nic believes that her friend is innocent, but can she prove it?

We get a chance to see Dan in action before his demise, and this time is put to great use introducing the suspects.  By the time he dies, we know who Nic needs to talk to, and she and Nigel spend the rest of the book trying to get to the truth.  The reveal at the end was a surprise to me, yet all the clues were there.  I love it when that happens.

These books are a loving homage to The Thin Man series, and at times I feel the characters are a bit thin.  Then again, they were in the movies as well.  Still, they completely work for the world of this book, and I didn’t mind as I was reading.

Of course, one reason I didn’t mind was that I was so busy laughing.  Once again, this book perfectly captures the banter of the movies.  Nigel, especially, is always ready with a quip that made me laugh.  Then there are the reactions to Skippy, their Bullmastiff.  This is one of the wittiest series I’ve read, period.

Some of the conversations between Nic and Nigel definitely head into sexually suggestive territory, but we still only get vague hints at their sex life.  Considering they are a very happily married couple, I don’t mind in the slightest.  There are a handful of four letter words scattered around the book as well.  I don’t feel the book needed them, but they are hardly enough to put me off this book.

Like in The Thin Man movies, Nigel and Nic both love their alcohol.  We get some theater themed cocktail recipes at the end of the book as a result.

As I said before, I’m sad I’m caught up on this series.  Next time you are in the mood for a light read, you’ll find that A Perfect Manhattan Murder is the perfect book to meet your needs.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Movie Review: Justice League (2017)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, great action, solid story
Cons: Effects a couple of times, but I’m being nitpicky
The Bottom Line:
We meet new heroes
Come together; save the world
Film pure escapism

“Is This a Bad Time to Bring Up My Blood Sugar?”

As much as I love TV’s Arrowverse, I have been very disappointed with the recent DC Comics movies.  That’s been doubly disappointing since these are the superheroes I know best (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much).  Still, I couldn’t help it, I was holding out hope that Justice League would be great despite the trend, and my hope was rewarded.

Hope is something that is in short supply as this movie opens.  The world is falling apart and growing dark as a result of Superman’s death.  But something else is bothering Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck).  It seems there are strange creatures out there feeding on the fear that is rising in the streets.  After Batman captures and kills one of them, it’s remains leave behind a symbol of three boxes.

Fortunately, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) knows what these creatures are, but it’s more bad news.  These creatures are the creation of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), a creature that destroys worlds.  He was only defeated generations ago thanks to the combined efforts of the Amazons, the ancient gods, and the citizens of Atlantis, among others.

With evidence that Steppenwolf is back and ready to destroy the world, Bruce and Diana begin recruiting others with powers to help them, people like Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen, aka The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher).  But will they be enough?

I had not realized that Joss Whedon was involved in this project until I was in the theater and the opening credits were playing.  Despite the fact that I don’t find his TV projects that good, I absolutely love his movies, and this movie is another great example of why.

First of all, this movie needs to juggle all the characters, introducing us to three of them.  The job, then, is to make sure that we care about them enough to want to see them win.  And we do.  The new characters arrive fully fleshed out.  We get enough of their backstory to understand them, but there is plenty more to explore in their future solo projects.  Meanwhile, there are moments that fill us in on what is going on with the characters we’ve already met and allow them to develop as well.

Of course, this is a superhero movie, and that calls for plenty of action, and we get that here, too.  The action scenes and fights will satisfy you if that is what you are looking for, yet they don’t go on too long and they are filmed so that they are easy to follow.

And the story tying all this together actually makes sense.

Of course, this film is filled with special effects, but they are there to support everything else going on and not the other way around.  There were a couple of scenes that could have been a little better, but they were short, and this was a minor issue overall.

This is truly an ensemble movie, and the cast does a wonderful job at making their characters shine at the right time and supporting everyone else when it isn’t their turn in the spotlight.

I mentioned earlier being a fan of the TV Arrowverse, which includes the TV version of The Flash.  Some fans of the show were upset when they didn’t cast Grant Gustin in the movie.  Personally, I think it was a very wise decision.  This is a different take on the character and not tied into the show at all.  This allows the show to do what it does (which I love) and the movies to do their take on the character and his stories.  This helps keep them separate for everyone.  Having said that, I certainly enjoyed seeing a few of the things I’ve learned from the show be mentioned in passing in this film.

I can’t leave out the laughs.  There are some truly fun and funny moments and lines in this script that help lighten the mood at times.  Not that it really needs it since this is a lighter movie overall than some of the other recent DC films.

Be sure to stay through the entire credits.  There are two bonus scenes you'll want to be sure to watch.

I left the theater smiling, which is exactly what I wanted when I went to see Justice League.  It is perfect escapism, which is all it wants to be.  I highly recommend you go see this movie today.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Review: Spy School Secret Service by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action and laughs
Cons: Nothing worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Saving President
Filled with action, laughs, danger
Fun for all readers

Homework Assignment: Save the President

One of my favorite authors is Stuart Gibbs.  Yes, he writes for middle graders.  But he writes such delightful books for middle graders that everyone should read them.  Spy School Secret Service is his latest, and it’s filled with his usual adventure and laughs.

This series features Ben Riley.  Just over a year ago, he was recruited to the CIA’s spy training school.  Since then, he’s found himself on some pretty serious missions fighting SPYDER, a top secret evil organization.  How top secret is it?  Not everyone at the CIA knows they even exist.

Unfortunately, SPYDER just keeps coming back, and the latest chatter is that they are plotting to kill the President of the United States.  Cyrus Hale decides that Ben is the perfect person to go undercover and figure out who SPYDER has on the inside of the White House.  His cover is that he is the new friend of the President’s son.  However, to say the two don’t hit it off is an understatement.  And the number of people in the White House is overwhelming.  Will Ben be able to narrow the suspects down in time?

This is just the set up for this book.  Trust me, from here it shoots off and becomes another wild ride.  There are some pretty spectacular action scenes that had me turning pages quickly.  All the twists and turns lead us to a completely believable climax.  Okay, a believable climax for a world where a twelve-year-old regularly saves the world, but that’s exactly what we are expecting when we pick up this book.

Peppered into this world of action and intrigue are quite a few laughs.  I was lucky no one caught me laughing at this book in the break room at work, in fact.  There are so many moments that just caught me off guard, and I loved it.

The characters are good.  Oh, they could be a little stronger, especially the supporting characters, but they are strong enough to make us care about the outcome of the story.  We do get to learn a bit more about Erica Hale, Cyrus’s granddaughter who is a couple years older than Ben.  With the emphasis on action, kids will get caught up in the story and travel along with Ben.  Heck, as an adult, I do, too, so really, this is worth noting only in passing.

I’m always disappointed when I reach the final page of a Stuart Gibbs novel because I’m not ready to leave the story behind yet.  Fans of the Spy School series will feel the same way when they reach the end of Spy School Secret Service.  If you haven’t started the series yet, I highly recommend you do.  You’ll find yourself waiting anxiously for the next in the series before you know it.

Since one adventure is never enough, be sure to check out the rest of the Spy School series.

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Classic story, wonderful acting
Cons: Time constraints hamper story and characters
The Bottom Line:
Classic Christie tale
Told with great modern actors
Overall good take

“I Recognize That Mustache.”

I am often a little embarrassed to admit that with how much I love mysteries, I have read very little Agatha Christie.  One of the few I’m familiar with is Murder on the Orient Express, thanks to listening to the audio book a few years ago.  So, when I heard about a new big screen adaptation, I knew I had to see it.  Despite the mixed reviews, I found I enjoyed it.

We meet famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) in Israel where he is working the case of a stolen relic that could start an inter faith war if he doesn’t figure it out in time.  With the case concluded, he thinks he deserves a vacation, but a summons when in Istanbul finds him boarding the Orient Express at the last minute as he heads to London.

On the train, he begins to meet his fellow passengers, including Mr. Ratchett (Johnny Depp).  Ratchett is a business man of dubious ethics who is afraid that one of the people he’s swindled might be out to get him.  He wants to hire Poirot to watch his back, but Poirot refuses.

Their second night on the train, an avalanche traps the train.  While everyone has their bumps and bruises, Poirot discovers in the morning that Ratchett is dead.  Murdered, in fact. Stabbed.  Despite his desire for a vacation, Poirot finds himself pressed into service.  Is one of his fellow passengers a killer?

There are twelve suspects in this case, and this movie clearly shows why some stories work better as books than movies.  In the book, we get time to know all the suspects.  There just isn’t time for that here.  It’s not a fault of the writers, it’s just a flaw of the medium.  It’s a shame since this movie has such a huge cast of well-known names with the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, and Judi Dench.  Everyone is fantastic at making the most of their screen time, but it isn’t enough to truly show off their talents.

Not having read many of the Poirot stories, I don’t have a solid picture in my mind of the detective.  I know some people who complained that Kenneth Branagh isn’t at all the way Poirot is described.  Honestly, that didn’t bother me.  I did find his mustache very distracting, and not at all the way I pictured it in the book.  At times, it felt like he was a bit more Sherlock Holmes personality wise than his own character.  At times, I even saw some Monk in him.  While only occasional references to “little grey cells” are made, I was okay with that.  Honestly, I find that phrase overused when describing Poirot.  The movie gives Poirot a love interest in his past.  We don’t know much about this relationship, but he does talk to her picture a few times as a device to allow us to hear his thoughts on the case.

And the case feels short shafted here.  In the book, it is a carefully constructed puzzle that leads to only one logical conclusion.  It’s a story that is masterful even rereading it.  Again, because of the time constraints, some of these plot points get condensed, which makes the story feel rushed.  It’s all there, but I was glad I had the background of the novel to make it easier to follow.

The movie tries to have some beautiful shots.  Unfortunately, their location budget must have been small and their effects budget just as small.  It’s obvious most of the time when they are using effects instead of a physical location.  This is mainly worth noting only in passing.

In addition to starring, Kenneth Branagh also directed the film.  He made a few interesting artistic choices designed, I suspect, to show us how cramped the train is.  Instead, they just make those scenes weird.  I’m thinking especially of the scenes shot from above, where we see the tops of the actor’s heads as they carry on a conversation.  Fortunately, those are rare.

The movie does add in a dash more action and vary the locations for a few scenes to keep things from getting too slow and repetitive for the viewers, and these changes worked for me.

Let me make it clear, I think this film works overall and captures this story well.  It takes on an almost impossible task, so it is easy to spot the flaws.  But I was drawn into the story as I watched it, and the climax is riveting.

So, if you are looking for an old fashioned mystery, this is a movie to go see.  Murder on the Orient Express isn’t perfect, but it is enjoyable for fans of the classic story.

November 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I eliminated one show this week.  Unfortunately, only a half hour show.  I really need to cut back on TV.

Once Upon a Time (11/10) – Ivy cast the curse?  After learning from Regina?  Did not see that twist coming.  Oh, I know Regina was trying to help Ivy, but it didn’t turn out that way at all.  I’m most curious out how she “hero proofed” the curse.  And I’m sure there is some way around it, but until we know for sure what it is, I can’t figure out how they’d get around it.  I’m sure it has something to do with Storybrooke, but what exact that is, I don’t know.

Supergirl – I feel like this was a light week for all the regulars to give them time for the crossover.  Not that it was a bad episode, but they were planning ahead, I’m sure.  I loved the shout out to Chloe from Smallville.  Yes, I know she’s now part of the comics, but she started on Smallville, so I’m considering it a shout out to that show.

Dancing with the Stars – I really should have been Drew.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Drew, but I feel like he’s the weakest dancer left.  Still, it is Jordan’s to lose at this point.  The others are strong, but he is so far above them.

The Flash – They are definitely having fun this season.  Heck, I was laughing from the very beginning of the episode.  The mugger was great.  The counsel of Wells was funny, too.  And the new guy is right on the line between super annoying and pretty fun.  I hope they don’t cross over to all annoying.

Lethal Weapon – I’m not sure the sub-plots scenes without Riggs and Martaugh worked for me this week.  The sub-plot was rather stupid, and going back to search just seemed weird.  However, the rest was powerful stuff.  Not as much humor, but watching Riggs with his old friends was so hard at times.

Legends of Tomorrow – Don’t get me wrong, I had fun with this episode.  The Freaky Friday sub-plot was great, and the two actors did a fairly good job of playing each other.  But can’t we just let Darhk die already?  This is the third season he’s been a villain now in the Arrowverse.  And I expected to like have another woman in the cast, but if it is just going to be a chance for them to bad mouth men, I’m less than impressed.

This is Us – Wow.  What a heavy episode.  Jack’s struggles being mirrored in the modern day Kevin was pitch perfect as always.  But what really hurt was Kevin’s breakdown on the lawn.  And then for that whiplash final scene.  I’m not looking forward to next week at all.

Survivor – I really thought Joe was going to go home, especially after the tie.  I get that Desi is a threat at challenges, but Joe is obnoxious.  Please, don’t make the same mistake next week.  Get him off my TV!

Designated Survivor – I really feel for Leo.  The first friend he’s tried to have over in a year and it’s someone who is using him?  Ouch!  At least Kirkman came up with a way to save the day again.  They’ve wrapped up the murder investigation, too.  But where are they going with the “bribery” story.

The Big Bang Theory – Raj’s new relationship didn’t last long.  And we got to see Barry again, if only very briefly.  I’m happy for the actor having a full-time job on another show, but I miss his character here.  I’m wondering if the actress who plays Bernadette is really on bed rest or if they just decided to go with this to shake up the pregnancy storylines since they did this not that long ago.

Young Sheldon – I laughed once over the course of this episode.  This show just isn’t working for me, so I’m dropping it from my list.  Obviously, I still have plenty to watch.

Arrow – Everyone knows about Diggle now.  I’m glad because I get tired of secrets that drag out forever.  Hopefully, we can fix that for good soon now that everyone knows.  I wonder when and how Slade will show back up because you know this story with his son isn’t over.

The Orville – I began to suspect something was off when Clair went crazy.  Although did she ever sell that scene in the cell.  I wasn’t sure where they were going with it.  Classic sci-fi trick episode, but I did like it overall.  There were some very funny moments in the midst of the tension.  And yes, I did catch Voyager’s Doctor’s scene.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Review: The Last Detective by Robert Crais (Cole and Pike #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action, suspense, characters becoming real
Cons: All cons kidnapped
The Bottom Line:
Ben being kidnapped
Start this heart pounding thriller
With personal stakes

Personal Kidnapping

I know lots of people who rave about Robert Crais’s books, but I’ve found them to be hit or miss.  That’s changed with The Last Detective.  Sit back while I rave about this book.

As the book opens, Los Angeles based PI Elvis Cole is trying to repair things with Lucy Chenier, he girlfriend.  She’s beginning to think that her ex-husband, Richard, is correct that Elvis’s world is too dangerous for her and her ten-year-old son Ben, while Elvis is trying to convince her that some of the events she’s seen since they got together were exceptions to what his life is like.

Lucy still does trust Elvis mostly since, while Lucy is out of town for a few days for work, she leaves Ben with Elvis.  On the last afternoon, the unthinkable happens – Ben vanishes.  After a frantic search of the neighborhood, Elvis gets a phone call.  Only it’s not a ransom.  The caller tells Elvis this is payback for sins from his past.  The only problem is, Elvis doesn’t recognize the voice or know what the caller is talking about.  With so many people investigating the case, can Elvis figure out what is really going on in time to save Ben?

Lucy and Ben have been in the past few books in the series, and I love these characters, so I was immediately pulled into the story.  While most of the book is told from Elvis’s first person point of view, we get scenes from Ben’s point of view and even some from the point of view of Elvis’s partner Joe Pike.  This adds to the suspense and our knowledge of what is really going on.  Even though I figured out one plot point early on, I was still glued to the story to find out how it would end.

Just how engrossed was I in the book?  I listened to the audio version narrated by James Daniels.  I had already started the book, but I listened to the majority of it while driving to and from an event in Southern California.  I was actually disappointed when I got home since I was in a very exciting point and I needed to know what was going on.  I might have invented a reason to go out again that night to get just a little bit more of the story.

Since the kidnapper is targeting Elvis because of his past, we get our first real look at his past, from his childhood to an extended look at an incidence from his time in Vietnam.  At first, I was disappointed because I wanted to know about what was happening to Ben, but then I got caught up in these flashbacks, too.

My biggest complaint with previous books has been that the characters, especially Joe Pike, haven’t felt real to me.  That wasn’t the case here at all.  We are seeing weakness in Joe even as we get to see a different side of Elvis.  The rest of the cast are also strong characters.  Fans of Crais’s other books will be glad to know that Carol Starkey pops up here.  She was first introduced in the standalone Demolition Angel.  I feel like we missed a piece of her life between that book and her appearance here, but that’s a very minor issue.

James Daniels’s narration of the book is mostly good.  Occasionally, it is a little hard to keep the speakers straight in dialogue heavy passages, but that was rarely an issue for more than a line or two.  It was very minor, and I was so pulled into the story I almost missed a turn or two while driving.  He perfectly narrates the story without overdoing it or trying to make himself part of it.

As with all of Crais’s books, there is more language and violence than the cozies I normally read.  A couple scenes of violence were unnecessary, but I didn’t feel the language was as out of place this time as in some of his other books.

I am also listening to Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels on audio, and since the two characters live on the same street and inhabit a similar Los Angeles world, I often think of one series while listening to the other.  That’s why I had to laugh when Bosch makes an unnamed cameo in this book.  It’s a fun bonus, but if you don’t know who it is, it doesn’t impact this book at all.  It makes me want to see the characters team up on a case sometime, however.

Obviously, I can’t praise this book enough.  The Last Detective is a thriller that will keep you engrossed until the very last word.

Once you've read this, you'll definitely want to read the rest of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

November 17th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to Friday and another edition of Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

I've got another Middle Grade book tonight, this time a fantasy book - Nightfall by Shannon Messenger.


I've been reading this book all week.  I hope that's excused since it in 800 pages.  I'm almost to page 600, so I should finish it this weekend.  It's the sixth in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, and it is so good.  Not that I'm surprised since I've enjoyed all the books in this series.
The previous book ended with a cliffhanger, and this one picks up moments later.  Don't worry, this isn't really a spoiler:

"You remember me?"
The question slipped from Sophie's lips before she could stop it, and the weighted words seemed to hit the floor of the messy bedroom with a thud.

Moving on to page 56, we find this:

"I can't let anything happen to you," she said quietly.  "I could never live with that guilt."

If you are looking for a great middle grade series and you haven't checked out this one yet, I highly recommend it.  I'll have my full review up next Sunday (the Sunday after Thanksgiving).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

City of Lies Winner

I just pulled the winner for City of Lies.  And the winner is...


I've sent you an e-mail, so please watch your inbox and get back to me so I can connect you with your prize.

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: The music; the second half
Cons: More cringes than laughs, especially in the first half.
The Bottom Line:
More A Cappella
Mixed with jokes that make me cringe
Mostly mindless film

More A Capella Antics

Sometimes, I have a short memory.  When I watched Pitch Perfect a couple of years back, I wasn’t as impressed as I hoped I would be, so I had decided to give the sequel a pass.  But with the third coming out, I stumbled on the second on TV recently, so I recorded it.  Watching Pitch Perfect 2, I remember my complaints with the original.  Yet, somehow, I found myself drawn in by the end.

As this movie opens, we join the Barden Bellas on a night of great triumph.  They are performing at the Kennedy Center for the President as part of their celebration tour for their third national A Capella title.  However, when Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is lowered down from the ceiling, something goes horribly wrong, and the group is embarrassed.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of their embarrassment.  They are forbidden to perform any more.  They can’t even hold any auditions to recruit new members.  Their only hope is to win an international competition they are automatically entered into because they are the current U.S. college champs.  But no team from the United States has ever won.  Can the Bellas do it?  Or will this event mark their swan song?

So I know this is a light comedy, but I do have to get one complaint out of the way first.  Just about everyone we’ve met in the first movie is still here in college, which is fine, but the group is all now seniors and they’ve recruited no new members?  And they are worried about the group continuing on?  Maybe you should have some younger members already.  Just saying.  Oh, they do pick up one new member thanks to a loophole, but is that really going to be enough to keep the group going after everyone graduates?

Okay, on to some of my more serious complaints.  The first half of the movie consists of the characters, especially Fat Amy, making fools of themselves.  Since I don’t like that kind of humor, it is painful to watch.  And yes, some of it gets crude at times.  And don’t get me started on the commentators of the A Cappella events.  The movie would be so much better without John Michel Higgins and Elizabeth Banks’s supporting characters at all.

Somewhere along the line, the tone of the movie shifts, and I started to like it.  It happens as we start to get to know the characters again and are actually given things and people to root for.  If they’d made the characters more human from the beginning, I think I would have enjoyed it more.

The plot?  It’s nothing too surprising, to be honest.  But this is a case where I don’t mind too much since the movie never pretended to be anything too original.  It’s just a light, mindless comedy, which is all it is wanting to be.

And yes, there’s plenty of A Cappella music, which is another draw for me.  Even when the songs are a style I normally don’t like, I still enjoyed listening to it because of the harmonies.  We get cameos (and I do mean cameos) by a couple of real A Cappella groups in this movie, including super group Pentatonix.  And yes, those really were Green Bay Packers doing their own singing in one scene.

So far, I’ve only managed to mention actors and characters I’m not a fan of.  (Rebel Wilson’s characters always grate on me.  I’m ready for her to pick a different character to play.)  Much of the action does still center around Anna Kendrick’s Beca, who gets a music internship in this movie that adds a nice sub-plot to things.  Most of the ladies in the Bellas only get a scene or two to truly stand out, but they make the most of them, and these supporting players get some of the funnier moments in the film, too.

While Pitch Perfect 2 will never be one of my favorite films, I’m ultimate glad I watched it.  I just wish the franchise found a better way to make us laugh for the entire length of the film.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Music Review: Faith Hope Love Repeat by Brandon Heath

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Well written songs of encouragement
Cons: Most songs have repeated lines
The Bottom Line:
Encouraging songs
Mixed with some honest lyrics
In fun pop music

Need Encouragement?  Listen to this CD.  Need More?  Repeat

I know that CDs take a long time to come out.  There’s the writing and recording and mixing.  So that makes it so remarkable that Faith Hope Love Repeat is hitting shelves right now.  With the natural disasters we’ve had in our country in the past few months, I know I could use a little encouragement.  We get that encouragement in spades from Brandon Heath’s latest project.

The disc starts off with an upbeat pop number that reminds us that “The Future is Bright.”  In keeping with a song about the future, there are even some robot effects in the song.  And how can he be promising us this?  Because we know that Jesus is coming back and this world is not our home.  It’s always a great reminder.

I can definitely identify with the sentiments in “I Run.”  Like Paul before him, he’s using the idea of running a race as a metaphor for living the Christian life.  As a runner myself, I get exactly what he’s talking about here.  The struggles with running echo so much in the struggles to live life like God has called us to live.  And yet, the song encourages us with the reminder that Jesus is waiting for us at the end.  If I ever start listening to music while I run again, you can bet this one will make my playlist.

Then there’s the title track.  It’s a song written from a parent to a child about the world.  The verses paint such a warm picture of a parent/child relationship, but the song admits that struggles will come.  And when they do come, turn to God for “Faith Hope Love Repeat.”  It’s a mid-tempo pop song that could easily cross across charts.  And the song takes on more meaning when you read in the notes that Brandon will be welcoming his first child in just a few weeks.

“A Little Faith” is another upbeat song written from God’s point of view that reminds us that He can use just a little faith and He will do the rest, including growing our faith.

Brandon gets honest in some of these songs, too.  “Whole Heart” admits that he doesn’t always give God his whole heart, but God already knows that is there and wants to heal the scars and help Brandon grow more.  “Someone Like Me” marvels that God would save sinners who constantly turn their backs on Him.  While Brandon uses some examples from the Bible, he also includes himself in the number of those who don’t deserve God’s grace and mercy.  That’s certainly true for me.

The disc closes out with the slower “Only One in the World.”  At first glance, this might seem like a downer to end on, especially when I’ve been talking about encouragement this whole time.  Brandon is talking about the days of struggle that come with living in a sinful, fallen world.  Frankly, I find it encouraging to know others struggle like this, and the song is so poetic and beautiful to listen to.  However, at the end, he brings in God’s love and how that changes his view of life.  It’s just one line, but it really changes things.

I have to touch on the fun “Got the Love.”  This song has a very fun, 70’s retro vibe to it, and the description of love certainly fits some of the songs from that decade as well.

My only real problem with this disc is one of repeated lyrics.  Even the songs I’ve praised above suffer from lines or phrases that get repeated.  I do find it a little wearying on repeated listens, but that’s my only real complaint.

Brandon Heath has proved he is a gifted song writer and singer, and Faith Hope Love Repeat shows it off once again.  If you are a fan of his music, you’ll enjoy this latest release.  And if you need some encouragement in your life, I would definitely encourage you to pick it up today.

CD Length: 39:46
1. The Future is Bright
2. Whole Heart
3. I Run
4. Got the Love
5. Don’t Be Afraid
6. Faith Hope Love Repeat
7. A Little Faith
8. Lighthouse
9. You’ll Find Love Again
10. Only One in the World