Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book Review: The Purloined Puzzle by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady #19)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Light, fun, logical mystery
Cons: The usual, but they are minor for this fan
The Bottom Line:
Puzzle disappears
Murder weapon before corpse?
Light, fun as always

The Puzzle Vanishes

Whenever I pick up a Puzzle Lady book, I know I’m in for a wild, witty ride as Cora Felton finds herself involved in another puzzle related murder.  (I mean, really, why would people keep including puzzles when they commit a murder in her town?)  And that’s just what I got with The Purloined Puzzle.

The last thing on Cora’s mind that morning was a puzzle.  She just wanted her scone from the local bakery.  But Peggy has just found a puzzle at her house and won’t leave Cora alone until Cora agrees to go back to her house and solve it.

But that’s when things get weird.  Before anyone can solve it, the puzzle is gone.  Then Peggy’s brother finds a bloody knife in his bedroom.  The only problem is, there’s no body to go with the knife.  And here Cora thought the biggest problem in her life was that her least favorite ex-husband, Melvin, was back in town.

Fans of the series pretty much know what follows next.  Cora goes around causing havoc as she attempts to solve the mystery, eventually piecing together events to reach a logical solution.  And that’s what happens again here.  There are some good twists and surprises that kept me confused, but the climax was logical.

The characters are on the thin side in this series, and that holds true again here.  Over the course of the series, I’ve come to enjoy hanging around the many regulars, and so I was glad to stop by and check in with them again.  There is one younger character who is supposed to be six, but she seems closer to three here, but that was my only real complaint.

For me, the biggest joy of the series is the banter and word play between characters.  These books never fail to make me grin, chuckle, and laugh as I read, and this book was no exception.  At times, the banter can get a little frustrating, and I do have to wonder how these characters keep speaking to each other, but both of these are minor complaints.

Those who enjoy puzzles will be pleased to know we get two crossword and one Sudoku puzzles over the course of the story.  And, if like me, you don’t want the challenge of solving them, you can just keep reading and wait until they are solved for us.

Fans of this series will be pleased to read Cora’s latest adventure in The Purloined Puzzle.  This series is definitely on the light side of things, but if you are looking for that, it will fit the bill perfectly.

Need more Cora?  Here are the rest of the Puzzle Lady Mysteries.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great laughs from the premise
Cons: First quarter slow set up
The Bottom Line:
Grandson a monster?
Movie provides some great laughs
After slow first act

Glad I Booked the Return Visit to Hotel Transylvania

By the time I got around to watching Hotel Transylvania a couple of months ago, I’d already recorded the sequel on TV.  Since I didn’t like the original, a part of me thought about going ahead and deleting it, but I decided to go ahead and watch Hotel Transylvania2, and I’m glad I did.

The movie gets off to a slow start, showing us the wedding of Maris (voiced by Selena Gomez), daughter of Dracula (Adam Sandler) and Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a human.  We then watch as they have their first child, a son.  The question is, is he a human or a monster?  Dracula is doing everything he can to make sure his grandson reaches the full potential of his monster side.

However, the action really picks up just before the child’s fifth birthday.  With a clock ticking to uncover his monster side, Maris is talking about leaving Hotel Transylvania in order to raise her son in California where Jonathan grew up.  She thinks it will be safer for her son.  No one else thinks it is a great idea, and so Dracula thinks up ways to get his grandson to manifest as a monster.  Will they work?

Let’s start with the bad.  The first quarter of the movie is pretty much just set up.  Oh, there are some jokes in there as we see Jonathan’s family and friends dealing with a wedding filled with monsters, but they don’t really go anywhere.  It’s not until we reach the week leading up to the fifth birthday that things begin to get interesting.  This is where the movie should have started all along.

And that’s when the fun really begins.  Naturally, Dracula’s plans don’t go according to, well, plan, which causes lots of laughs.  I got a kick out of the movie at this point.  It was pretty much the exact movie I had hoped the original one would be.  Yes, the film is still aimed more at kids than adults, but it should amuse parents, too.

Even once the jokes start, the story continues to be disjointed with a third act that isn’t set up like it should have been.  However, that’s a minor complaint since it does work well to resolve the story.

The voice actors continue to do a great job bringing their characters to life.  Their work is just as much responsible for the fun as the animation.  Again, the animation is more stylized, but it works for this world where monsters and humans live side by side.

So if you were disappointed by the first, I recommend giving Hotel Transylvania 2 a try.  This is a rare case where they improved things for the sequel.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Review: Chesapeake Crimes - Fur, Feathers, and Felonies edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mostly good stories with story characters
Cons: A couple that weren’t quite to my taste
The Bottom Line:
Animal lovers
Targeted with short stories
In fun collection

Criminally Fun Animal Inspired Short Stories

I don’t tend to read short stories.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, but with so many novels calling my name, it’s hard to make the time for them.  However, when I was asked to take a look at Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies, I couldn’t pass it up.

This collection of short stories features 13 authors who are all members of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime.  And the theme of this collection is animals.  Okay, so that was fairly obvious from the sub-title, right?  And I’m sure you’re picturing the obvious cats and dogs.  There are plenty of stories features them, but there are also some more unusual animals involved, including one with an octopus, and one with exploding cows.  Yes, you read that right.

Over the course of this collection, we meet a dog who tags along when his person runs afoul of some dangerous people, find out what happened to a lady with eight cats, meet a pet crow, and learn the fate of the famous dog of a murdered movie star.

With so many different authors and stories, there is something for everyone here.  There are stories features cops and stories featuring criminals.  The stories range from the fun to the darker, although I would be hard pressed to say any of these stories are truly dark.  And if you don’t care for one particular story (there were a couple I didn’t like), the next one will probably be exactly your pet of choice.

And it is nice to be able to sit down and read a story in 30 minutes of less beginning to end.  These stories are all lean (although a couple are leaner than others), without a wasted word.

Yet, we aren’t missing anything either.  The characters are strong in all the stories.  Even the shorter stories feature characters that seem real.  Each story includes at least one good twist – these are mysteries after all – if not more.

So settle back and enjoy tails with everyone’s favorite pets.  Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies, is fun collection well worth reading.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ornament Review: Bambi 75th Anniversary - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute ornament of a fun scene
Cons: I have only nice things to say
The Bottom Line:
Celebrate Bambi
With this delightful, cute scene
Works at anytime

Celebrate Bambi’s 75th Anniversary with this Ornament

Bambi has cemented its place in American pop culture.  Love it, hate it, or feel neutral about it (I’m in that last camp), it is definitely part of our country’s consciousness.  As a result, it only makes sense that Hallmark would release an ornament to celebrate the movie’s 75th anniversary in 2017.

The ornament was a bit of a surprise to me only because it’s probably not what I would have picked, but it is wonderful.  It features the moment that Bambi first met Flower, the skunk.  The two characters are nose to nose and staring at each other.  They are surrounding by real flowers, which add a nice springtime feel to the piece.

Honestly, if I were creating the ornament, I probably would have done something with Bambi, Thumper, and Flower.  It’s why I’m not a Hallmark artist.  I much prefer this ornament that captures a scene from the movie, and it captures it perfectly.  It’s a cute moment in the film, and it’s a cute moment here, too.

The ornament sits on a flat base, so you could leave it out to enjoy year-round, or just in the spring.  Really, it does feel like a spring piece more than a Christmas ornament.  Fortunately, the ornament is balanced perfectly, so when it comes time to hang it on your tree, that won’t be an issue at all.

While the box and ornament name clearly mark this as a 75th anniversary ornament, that isn’t anywhere on the ornament itself.  Honestly, I don’t mind.  I like having my ornaments without labels so when I hang them on my tree, I just see the scene.

Any fan of Bambi will want this 75th anniversary ornament in their collection.  It captures such a delightful moment from the movie.

Original Price: $19.95

Sunday, April 22, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Flipper - Season 2

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Charming, light entertainment
Cons: Cheese, cut corners obvious, dated, slow pacing, formulaic
The Bottom Line:
This kid friendly show
Offsets many flaws with a
Charming pet dolphin

“Sometimes, I Wonder How We Were All Able to Get Along Without That Dolphin.”

When someone new got the rights to the 1960’s TV show Flipper and released a reasonably priced collection of season 2, I jumped at the chance to get more of this dolphin’s adventures.  The show has its flaws, but there is still something fun about it.

The show is set in Florida where Porter Ricks (Brian Kelly) is a ranger for the Coral Keys Park.  He lives there with his two sons Sandy (Luke Halpin) and Bud (Tommy Norden).  And of course, there’s Flipper.  Flipper is the family’s pet dolphin, and it’s a good thing they have him in their life.  Living so close to the water, the three seem to constantly be getting in dangerous situations, and it’s up to Flipper to save them or get them the help they need.  Just in the course of this season, they cross paths with a thief, discover a mine bomb in the park, Sandy finds himself trapped with a short plane ride ends in a crash, a movie stunt goes horribly wrong, and Bud finds himself trapped in a shark cage under water.

Really, about the only thing that has changed between seasons is the addition of Ulla Stromstedt as Ulla Norstrand.  At first this scientist bumps heads with the Ricks family, but she quickly comes to appreciate them and Flipper.  There’s even a bit of a hint of romance between her and Porter.  You know, for a 1960’s kid’s show.

And make no mistake about it, this is a kid’s show.  Sandy and Bud are the real human stars and they get away with way too much.  On the other hand, that also means that, no matter what the characters are facing, you know that everyone will turn out to be okay.

It also means that the writers didn’t seem to try too hard with the formula.  With 30 episodes this season, it gets a bit wearing at times, too.  On the other hand, it’s hard to come up with 30 different ways that a dolphin can be involved in a major way in a story.  The ones that work best are the ones that feature a good variation on the theme, like Bud and a couple of friends trapped in a car off the road or Sandy being tricked by a spy.

Then there’s the budget issues.  You can tell what was stock footage shot for something else and edited into this show and what was not filmed in open water.

And if they needed to fill some time in an episode?  They cut in shots of Flipper and the characters swimming under water.  Yes, the pacing is off in many of these episodes.  This seems especially true in the two parters.

On the other hand, I would find myself getting caught up in some of the tenser scenes.  Oh, I’d know that everyone would turn out to be okay, but I’d find myself glued to the screen to find out just how Flipper would save the day this time.

The acting?  It works for this show.  There’s nothing amazing here, but the scripts don’t call for anything amazing either.  There’s a certain dated cheese factor to the entire thing.

And that is part of the charm of the show.  No, this isn’t anything amazing, but if you can let yourself get caught up in the story, you’ll find you enjoy it.

Then again, maybe I just get caught up in the fantasy.  I’d love to have a pet dolphin and live next to the water so I can jump in and go for a swim every day.

As I mentioned, this set contains 30 half hour episodes.  It was released on DVD and Blu-Ray.  I went ahead and bought the Blu-Ray.  I’m not sure the picture really warranted it, especially with the various quality of the shots.  It is presented in its native full frame and stereo.

Those looking for some kid friendly nostalgia will enjoy this season 2 set of Flipper.  But it is certainly an acquired taste.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

April 21st's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another week of TV.

Once Upon a Time (4/13) – So I wasn’t confused.  They had introduced us to Hansel as Jack, and that was because that was the name he’d taken to try to put his past behind him.  So Zelena got involved in one version of the story, and Regina did another.  I was impressed with Kelly’s fiancĂ©e.  I take it this means we’ve seen the last of her until the finale.  And they’ve wrapped up another story line, leaving us with our ultimate villains to duke it out for becoming the next Dark One.  At least that’s what it looks like to me.  Meanwhile, it looks like poor Regina is destined to have her heart broken again.

Supergirl – I was wondering how long Jonn’s father would be around.  This is going to be a very hard story line to watch.  I always loved the Toymaker episodes.  Sorry they’ve killed him off, but the toys and gadgets are always lots of fun.

American Ninja Warrior: Ninja Vs. Ninja – I’m actually surprised at how far the Frozen Ninjas went.  I honestly didn’t figure they’d make it through round 1, but they came very close to winning.  That was very impressive.

Lethal Weapon – Roger wasn’t a complete idiot this time around.  I count that as a win.  I figured out who was in the stolen car early, but it provided some nice steps forward for Riggs.  And I love it when Leo shows up.  He needs to be on more often.

The Flash – I am but I’m not surprised that The Thinker got Ralph.  Part of me shouldn’t be surprised since this means that his grand plan is going to happen, and that’s a bigger problem for the team.  But the way they really developed him this season, I figured he’d be around next season, too.  Then again, that development made his loss tonight mean so much more.  And wow, it hurt.  Those last few scenes were so well done.  And did I miss something?  Barry had the tuning fork he tried to use against the hologram and then Ralph had it as well?  How did that happen?

Survivor – I bet Michael is glad he played his idol.  Definitely worth it.  And I’m glad to see someone use it after last week and all the “curses” we’ve had this season.  I have a feeling he only bought himself one week, but we shall see.

Suits – Harvey and Mike working together and Donna and Rachel working together one last time.  Loved it!  I’m surprised but I’m not at the outcome of the Louis story.  Seems the message of this season is cheating works, which I don’t like at all.  On the other hand, I’ve always loved Sheila, so I’m glad they are back together.  Still, isn’t there some other way they could have gotten there?

Designated Survivor – Dr. Frost is the leaker?  Really?  I would say that was a fake out, but the preview for next week makes it look legit.  I’ve got to say, I think I’m going to find this story line, which obviously closes out the season since they are advertising Michael J. Fox being around for the rest of the season, very interesting.

Big Bang Theory – It’s nice to see Stuart’s store doing well for a change.  I mean, he’s been a funny loser, but it’s nice to see them shake things up.  Denise was very fun, too.  I’m sure this won’t last, but for now, it’s nice.  I do feel a bit for Raj, but just a bit.  Penny is completely right here.

Arrow – Interesting episode to focus on the villain of the season.  I mean, we only saw Oliver in one scene, and not as Green Arrow.  I liked it for something different, although Diaz is very dangerous.  And seriously, what was up with Laurel’s hair?  I guess one of those is supposed to be a wig, but it was very distracting.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: "J" Is For Judgment by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #10)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: I’m not judgmental enough to list cons
The Bottom Line:
A living dead man
Gives Kinsey complications
Series going strong

I Judge This to be Another Excellent Book

When Kinsey Millhone’s situation changed a couple of books back, I assumed that was the end of California Fidelity as one of her clients that gets her involved in mysteries.  So I was as surprised as Kinsey was to find them hiring her again in “J” is for Judgment, the tenth in the series.

Kinsey is hired to track down Wendell Jaffe.  Everyone believed the man died five years ago – committed suicide by jumping off his boat just before his pyramid scheme came crashing down.  However, his body was never found, and now there are reports he’s been spotted at a resort down in Mexico.  California Fidelity cares because they’ve just paid out his life insurance policy to his supposed widow to the tune of half a million dollars.

Kinsey heads out to verify the siting.  She soon locates him only to have him leave in the middle of the night.  Where did he go this time?  Will Kinsey be able to track him down?

We are once again off on a wonderful mystery.  The case introduced us to a fantastic set of characters.  Author Sue Grafton was truly gifted with the ability to create memorable characters in just a few paragraphs, and that is on full display here.  These characters leap off the page and make us care about the outcome.

Without giving too much away, we actually do get quite a bit of time in Kinsey’s native Santa Teresa, which gives us a chance to catch up with some of the series regulars.  I loved their scenes and can’t wait to see what happens next in their lives.  Meanwhile, Kinsey stumbles on some interesting information about her past.  This was treated as the sub-plot it should be, but I was a bit surprised that it was left dangling a bit, but I’m sure it will be picked up in a later book, and I’m very curious to see where this thread goes in the future.

And the mystery itself?  It was fantastic as always.  There were plenty of complications and surprises along the way as Kinsey tries to figure out exactly what Jaffe is up to and where he will surface next.  The climax wrapped things up well.

Once again, I listened to the audio version narrated by Mary Peiffer.  I love her take on Kinsey and how she brings the book to life without inserting herself into the story.  It’s a very fine line that she walks perfectly.

I keep saying it because it is true – there is a reason that Sue Grafton had so many fans.  Her books are fantastic.  If you haven’t met Kinsey, you need to fix that today.  “J” is for Judgment is another book her fans will love.

If you haven’t read them all, here are the Kinsey Millhone books in order.

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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Book Review: True Fiction by Lee Goldberg (Ian Ludlow #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great thrill ride, good characters, laughs
Cons: Truly, none worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Thriller come to life
Sends Ian on the run in
Page turning debut

I Truly Enjoyed This Book, and that’s Not Fiction

I first found screenwriter and novelist Lee Goldberg when he started writing tie ins for Diagnosis: Murder, and I’ve followed his career ever since, both on and off screen.  That means that True Fiction would have been on my radar anyway, but as soon as I heard the premise, I was completely sold.

When terrorists take control of a plane leaving Hawaii and crash it into the island, the entire country is horrified.  But none more so than thriller writer Ian Ludlow.  You see, he had suggested just the twist on 9/11 that happened here to the CIA a few years back during a brainstorming session to help them come up with worst case scenarios.  Within a few hours, Ian is certain that the CIA is out to kill him to silence him.  Using every trick in the book – tricks he knows thanks to the books he’s written, Ian flees from his book tour in Seattle with his author escort, Margo French.  Will the two be able to survive?

I knew this wasn’t one of my normal cozies when I sat down to read it, and I will say I appreciated how sparingly foul language was used.  Too many authors seem to use it as padding, but here it felt like it was warranted when it was used.  There was a bit of sex and violence thrown in as well, which is typical for a thriller, although some of what is intended for laughs flirts with the line of good taste, at least for me.

This thrill ride doesn’t waste a second but pulls us in from the very first page.  I was turning pages quickly the entire way through as Ian tried to figure out how to survive this situation.  The climax was perfect.  What’s truly scary is, I could picture parts of this happening.  The book managed to turn a few clinches of the genre on their heads, winking at us as it did.

One thing I enjoy in Lee’s books is the humor, and this book had plenty in it that I enjoyed.  This may be a thriller, but it has humor in it, too, and it’s wonderful for breaking the tension.  This isn’t a laugh a page comedy, but it is slipped in there, sometimes unexpectedly.  It caught me off guard a few times and truly made me laugh.  And yet, the book never forgets the very real story unfolding.

The characters help ground it as well.  Ian and Margo are both well drawn, making them easy to root for.  The villain of the piece is just as well drawn.  There is one major character who manages to walk that fine line of being eccentric without feeling out of place.  In fact, he was one of my favorites.

True Fiction is as much fun as I expected it to be.  The pages flew by all too quickly.  Fortunately, this is the first in a series.  I already have the sequel on my to be read list.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Movie Review: Reap What You Sew - An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery with characters we love
Cons: One character gone, usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Old friend is murdered
Starts confusing mystery
Light, satisfying

Poppy Comes to Die

I suspected that change was in the air for the Aurora Teagarden movies after the last one aired back in January, but it was confirmed with Reap What You Sew, the latest entry in the movie franchise.

This movie finds Aurora (Candace Cameron Bure) thrilled that her childhood friend Poppy has moved back to town.  Her mother Aida (Marilu Henner) and Poppy’s mother were good friends, although Poppy and her father moved away after Poppy’s mother died.  Poppy is beginning to make a name for herself with her YouTube channel devoted to needlework, and she has a book coming soon.

All that changes when Poppy fails to show up for a dinner, and Aurora and her friend Sally (Lexa Doig) go to investigate.  The friends find Poppy’s body on the floor of the condo she was renting.  What happened to her?

Wondering about the changes I mentioned in my opening paragraph?  Warning: Minor spoilers not related to this mystery ahead.  The opening few minutes of the movie confirm that Martin, Aurora’s boyfriend for the last few movies, has been written out of the franchise.  This does and doesn’t surprise me.  I haven’t read the books, but I knew that Martin was gone by this point in the book series, but when they kept him around longer than he lasted in the books, I wasn’t expecting them to write him out.  End minor spoilers.

Setting that aside, this is another fun movie in the franchise.  Because Aurora was friends with the victim, we do feel the loss here more than in some of the other movies.  We are provided with several viable suspects, and I had a hard time figuring out who the killer might be until the very end.  Yet everything made sense when we got there.

The emphasis is on the mystery over characters, which is nothing new for the franchise.  Having said that, there are little moments among the regulars that allow us to get to know them a little better.

My usual warning about the writing and acting applies here – this is a Hallmark movie.  However, I find that, as long as I remember this going into the movie, I’m fine with the Hallmark cheese factor.

Those who have been enjoying the Aurora Teagarden movies will enjoy watching Reap What You Sew since it’s a great next step for the characters.  Anyone looking for a light mystery will enjoy it as well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book Review: The Silver Gun by L. A. Chandlar (Art Deco Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good characters and mystery
Cons: Beginning and ending could be tighter
The Bottom Line:
New historical
Gets off to promising start
Travel back today

Journey Back to 1930’s New York

I claim to enjoy historical fiction and historical mysteries, but I rarely venture outside of a few authors in this sub-genre, so when The Silver Gun crossed my path, I had to give it a chance.  This is the first book in a series set in New York City in 1936, and it was a good debut.

Lane Sanders has been working for New York’s ninety-ninth mayor as his personal assistant for six months.  This is the first time a woman has held this position, just one of the things that Mayor Fiorello “Fio” La Guardia has done to shake up the city.  He’s also working hard to end corruption and fight gangsters, something that has made him plenty of enemies.

So when Lane is accosted by someone at the scene of a fire and given a message for her boss, she assumes it is in retaliation for one of his anti-corruption policies.  But as events proceed, Lane begins to wonder if she is indeed the target instead.  Might her vague memories of her life with her parents hold the key to what is happening now?

The book is good overall.  I got caught up in the story, and wanted to know how everything was going to turn out.  Most of the story was told from Lane’s first person point of view, but the passages that are from a different character’s third person point of view enhance the story and help build the suspense.  The climax definitely kept me turning pages.

Unfortunately, the pacing wasn’t good throughout.  Early on, the author introduced a bit too much, making it hard to get into the story.  I suspected that everything would come into play later on, and it did.  Likewise, the ending wandered a bit, setting up threads that will be followed in the next book.  Neither are necessarily bad, but tighter writing would have helped resolve these problems for me.

Fortunately, we have strong characters all the way through.  They are quite varied, and some of them are a hoot.  I’m not familiar with the time period, so I can’t say with certainty who are real and who are fictional beyond a few obvious ones, although I have my suspicions.  Either way, they blend together on the page perfectly, allowing us to get lost in the time.

And yes, those looking to get a look at life in 1936 will do so.  This isn’t the typical picture we get of life during the Great Depression, but instead, a look at the lives of those who are doing their best to fight against the Great Depression instead of just survive it.  It’s a refreshing change for the time period for sure.

The Silver Gun is a good debut that promises much more to come.  It’s obvious we’ve just scratched the surface of Lane’s story, and anyone who enjoys a good historical mystery will be glad they’ve picked this book up.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book as part of a blog tour.  Check out the other stops today.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 16, 2018

Ornament Review: A World Within #3 - Cardinal in a Pinecone - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Details in a small size
Cons: It is a mini ornament
The Bottom Line:
Bird in a pinecone
A cute miniature scene
Another great piece

Mini Christmas Cardinal in this World Within

It does amaze me at times how much detail Hallmark can get into their ornaments, especially their miniature ornaments.  Even though 2017’s A World Within isn’t the most detailed ornament, it is still impressive.

This miniature series features a scene inside another design.  This year, the outer ornament is a pinecone.  You can see and feel the bumps on the outside of the pinecone on the sides and back and there’s some snow sitting on top.  However, the front, is open to let us see the scene inside.  In this case, we get a cardinal sitting on the branch of an evergreen tree.

Now, if this were a regular sized ornament, I’m sure we’d get a bit more to the scene inside.  As it is, this one is just the bird on the branch, although the end of the branch is actually sticking outside the frame of the pinecone, which is a nice touch.  However, I’m not complaining about them not including more detail behind the bird.  I’ve mentioned this is a miniature ornament, right?  It’s barely an inch tall, so if they included too much more detail, it would get cluttered.

Since this is a pinecone, there is no flat surface to set this one out to enjoy.  Instead, you’ll have to hang it on your tree.  When you do that, you’ll find it hangs straight.

Since this is part of the A World Within series, you’ll find the 3 in a Christmas tree marker on the back of the ornament.  Yes, you might need a magnifying glass to see it, but it is there.

It continues to amaze me that Hallmark can get what they do in these A World Within ornaments.  Pick up the 2017 entry in the series and be amazed.

Enjoy the rest of the A World Within ornaments.

Original Price: $7.95

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Movie Review: Ready Player One

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting themes in a fun story
Cons: Shallow corporate villains
The Bottom Line:
Nostalgia filled film
With fun virtual story
And connection themes

Are You Ready for a Nostalgia Filled Movie?

Even though it isn’t a mystery, I’ve heard quite a bit about the book Ready Player One; I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.  That means I went into the movie version with a completely open mind.  Overall, I enjoyed the movie, finding it thought provoking.

The film is set in the not so distant future of 2045, in a world that is sadly much different from our own.  The results of riots and battles have left most of the population living in poor, run down conditions.  Its in this world that we meet Wade (Tye Sheridan).  Like most of the world, he spends his days in the Oasis, a digital world where you can do anything or be anyone you want to be.  All of his friends are in this digital world.  In fact, he hasn’t met them in person.

The Oasis was the brain child of Halliday (Mark Rylance).  Five years ago, Halliday died, leaving behind a series of tests to determine who will control the Oasis next.  Wade is determined to win, but so is Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the owner of a company that would profit greatly from being combined with the Oasis, and he has an army working for him

The first challenge is a race that seems impossible to win.  One day, Wade notices Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) attempting to win the race.  Even though they don’t officially team up, the meeting seems to lead both of them to figuring out the first challenge.  Will they be able to figure out the rest?

The biggest thing I knew about the story going in was that it was filled with pop culture nostalgia from the 80’s and 90’s.  I got a kick out of seeing how many of the references I could spot.  Some are blink and you miss them, and others are much more prominent.  I enjoyed spotting them as the movie went along, and I especially enjoyed the details of the final challenge since it involved a video game I love.  (And that’s all I’m saying about it.)  Even though I wasn’t familiar with the elements of the second challenge, I still found quite a few laughs during that sequence.

The real world setting of the film is definitely dystopian, and that put me off since I’m not a fan of dystopian stories.  However, the movie takes place in the Oasis as much if not more than the real world.  I loved the various settings there and found them a lot of fun.

Because so much of the story was in the digital world, much of the film was actually animated.  It looked perfect as a computer-generated world.  This was a very effects heavy film, in fact, and they all looked great.

Likewise, the actors are not only acting but voicing their computer counterparts, and they were great as well.

I’ve heard that the book can be slow at times, but I never found that to be the case in the movie. My guess is that means the fat was trimmed.  The movie does feature a climax that will not quit, and it did seem to go on a tad too long for my taste, but that’s a minor complaint.

Honestly, my biggest complaint with the film was that the villain was the head of a company, thereby sending messages about corporate greed.  Now, I get it.  Corporations can be forces for evil in the world.  But as an accountant, it bothers me that this is such a common theme these days.  Businesses do need to make money, and if they don’t, they go out of business.  They can also provide a lot of good along the way, but that doesn’t seem to show up in movies or in the news.  Okay, okay, I’ll step off my soap box now.  It certainly does add a great David vs. Goliath element to the story.  I think my issue with it here is that the villain seemed shallow and too easy a target.  Maybe there was more development they cut out that would have helped me be on board with this element.

It could be argued that an even stronger theme to the movie is the importance to living in the real world instead of escaping into the world of the internet.  Considering all the discussions I’ve seen pop up over the last couple of years about the dangers of our social media obsessed world, I found a lot of chew on here.  And then I came home and started working on this review to post on the internet.  Of course, I’m not saying that the internet is all bad; I’ve made some great friends because of it I never would have made otherwise.  Like all things, it is a balance, and I think the movie does a good job of reflecting that overall.

Ready Player One really is fun and gives us something to chew on when we leave the theater.  Me?  I’m logging off to go hang out with some friends now.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

April 14th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another week of TV in the books.

Once Upon a Time (4/6) – Okay, so I was wrong about Nick’s true identity – it’s Hansel.  And he’s awake, which makes his desire to kill witches understandable.  Still, it’s going to be hard that Henry is going to lose this friend, not that I think they will care now that he’s been tied up like this.  And Zelena is the next target.  You knew eventually they’d have either her or Regina becoming the target.  Does this mean we will resolve this story line next week?

Deception – Much better than last week.  I’m glad to see that the brother in prison is standing up for himself now, although I found the past romance to be interesting.  Did not see the street artist twist coming, and now that’s he’s vanished, how will this translate to the mystery woman story?  And it was nice to actually see something advancing that there.

Legends of Tomorrow – Not surprised that Amaya left, but I’m sad about it.  I really liked her, and I love her with Nate.  However, they made it very clear they could never truly be together, so I saw this coming.  A bit surprised, however, to see Rip leave for good.  I always enjoyed him popping in and out.  Speaking of popping in, good to see Jax again.  And this doesn’t change my opinion of Damion.  I really hate that they brought him back to this show for this season.  Very fact set there at the end, but going after time demons next season might actually be more fun than I thought when I first heard that Constantine was going to be on the show full time next season.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  And yes, I loved Beebo being the thing they conjured to fight the demon this season.

American Ninja Warrior: Ninja Vs. Ninja – What makes it so hard to watch this show is it seems like I have people on almost every team I like and want to root for.  I was bummed that Kevin Bulls’ team left so early, but glad that Daniel Gill moved on.  After all, Tiana lives here in my town; I have to root for her.  More epic close races for sure.

Lethal Weapon – Has the show changed that much, or am I just not enjoying the same stuff I did before?  Roger is nothing but a buffoon this year.  At least Riggs is having to seriously confront his issues with his father, and I’m liking that they aren’t making it easy for him, although I still want to know how he survived being “killed” when Riggs was a teen.

The Flash – Interesting developments tonight.  The Barry/Ralph dynamic was a bit predictable but plenty of fun.  I’m really liking Ralph.  However, the developments I’m most interested in involve Devou and his wife.  Will she be the key to his undoing?  And what is Wells up to?  I have a feeling we aren’t supposed to trust him, which is probably a misdirection.

Survivor – Obviously, I’ve never played the game, but it seems to me that if you know someone is gunning for you, you would play an idol if you have it, especially if it is only good one or twice.  Look at Dom, he played an idol and didn’t need it.  I’m glad that at least one of that trio went home.  I wanted it to be Dom just because, but I’m fine with it being Chris.

Suits – I am going to miss the dynamics of these characters.  I really am.  There were so many great Mike/Harvey scenes in this episode that made me laugh.  I disagree with Rachel on Louis, but I love their relationship as well.  And the Mike/Rachel scenes were fantastic.  They are such a great couple.  And, while I’m not necessarily on the Harvey/Donna train, Harvey definitely made the right decision when Paula forced his hand.

Designated Survivor – I feel like we concluded that ARC, and it was a good conclusion.  As soon as the aid mentioned her brother, you knew we’d meet him.  At least they didn’t kill him.  But someone on the senior team is leaking information?  That is not good at all.  I’m very curious to find out who that is.  And I must say, I really like Kirkman’s brother.

Big Bang Theory – That scientist was something else.  And this is definitely not season 1 Sheldon.  He would have stayed in that cabin for months in season 1.  Leonard, too, most likely.  Yep, a small glimpse of how Sheldon has grown, which we get every so often.

Arrow – So the clip they teased us with last week of Felicity telling Oliver they needed a break was drug induced.  I’m so glad of that.  But what does Oliver think he can do on his own?  I get this is part of their story line, but I’m ready for this to be over already.  Fortunately, we are near the end of the season, but I hope they can repair the damage they’ve done to us and the character relationships.

Friday, April 13, 2018

April 13th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's time for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring a thriller - True Fiction by Lee Goldberg

I actually have already finished this book.  It's a very fun, very fast read.  I'll be reviewing it next Thursday.

The first sentence really gives you a great idea of the tone of the book.

The assassin wore only a Speedo and his lean body was slathered with sunscreen that made him smell like a baked coconut.

Meanwhile, we get this exchange from page 56:

"I'm sensing a little hostility," Ian said.
"Gee, you think?"  She shook her head, obviously dismayed by how clueless he was.  "I totally get why someone wants to kill you."

As I said, completely fun.  Come back for my full review on Thursday to find out why you need to read this book.

In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Wedding Cake Crumble Winner

I'm on time for pulling the second winner of the week!  The book is Wedding Cake Crumble, and the winner is...

... Donamae!

I just sent you an e-mail.  Keep an eye out for it and get back to me so I can make sure you get your prize.

Book Review: It's Your Party, Die If You Want To by Vickie Fee (Liv and Di in Dixie #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong, enjoyable characters in good mystery
Cons: Party planning takes over mystery at times
The Bottom Line:
Halloween setting
Juggles two parties, murder
Uneven, still fun

Two Parties and a Murder

Halloween seems to be popping up more often in cozy mysteries these days, and it’s no surprise since it’s an obvious time to set a mystery.  It’s Your Party, Die If You Want To is once such book set in the weeks leading up to the holiday, and it’s a lot of fun.

Party planner Liv McKay is extremely busy with two big parties in the days leading up to Halloween.  She’s throwing a riverboat gambling themed engagement party as well as coordinating a huge city-wide fundraiser to take place on Halloween itself.  But first, she has a retreat with other women business owners in the small town of Dixie, Tennessee.  They’ve even brought in a special guest speaker – TV psychic and ghost hunter Lucinda Grable.

The first night of the retreat, Lucinda invites the women out to a nearby cemetery to help film an episode of her TV show.  Things are a little spooky, but they turn really spooky when Liv and a couple other women find Morgan Robison very much dead.  Morgan was the president of their group, but she wasn’t very well liked, if for no other reason, she had a habit of stealing other women’s men.  It appears someone on the retreat is a killer.  Who might it be?

It had been a few months since I read the first in the series, but I was quickly back in the world of Dixie with Liv and her best friend Di.  While Liv is clearly our main character, Di is an important part of the book, and I love their relationship.  I also love Liv’s relationship with her husband, Larry Joe.  So many of the series I read start with a single protagonist, and I enjoy seeing a very happily married protagonist.  Their extended family are still here and fun as well.

The mystery itself could have been a little stronger.  Oh, don’t worry, the suspects are all believable characters and have good motives, and the clues are there so when Liv explains how she figured it out, it was obvious.  But the party planning took over at times, slowing down the pace of the mystery.  Before too long, a twist or event would bring the mystery back to the foreground and confuse me and Liv, however.  There’s another sub-plot in the book as well that adds to the fun.

The book has some party planning tips in the back, and since there were two big parties, we get ideas from both of them.

Obviously, I was reading this book out of the Halloween season, but that’s okay.  No matter when you curl up with It’s Your Party, Die If You Want To, you’ll find an enjoyable cozy mystery.

It's time to party with the rest of the Liv and Di in Dixie series.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Cinco de Murder Winner

I completely forgot to pull the winner of Cinco de Murder last night.  But I fixed that today.  And the winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail, so please get back to me so I can pass the book on to you.

Ornament Review: Season's Treatings #9 - Cherry Pie - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Drool worthy dessert
Cons: I don’t picture cherry pie as a Christmas dessert
The Bottom Line:
Cherry pie looks great
Is it a Christmas dessert?
Still looks delicious

Is This the Cherry of the Season’s Treatings Series?

Sometimes, you learn things by collecting ornaments.  That’s what happened to me with the 2017 Season’s Treatings ornament because I wouldn’t have considered the treat a Christmas treat.

The ninth entry in the series featured a cherry pie.  It’s sitting on a wooden serving tray.  There’s a lattice cover for the pie, with some leaves and a cherry on top.  One piece has already been cut from the pie, and it is sitting on a plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.  A snowman pie server is sitting next to the plate, and 2017 is written on the serving tray underneath it.

My family is not super big on cherry pie, so this doesn’t have the immediate reaction that some of the ornaments in this series do.  Having said that, I can feel my mouth start to drool when I look at it.  That ice cream on top really helps.

But this is where my opening paragraph comes into play.  Maybe it’s my family, or maybe it’s California, but I wouldn’t have considered cherry pie a Christmas dessert.  I picture it more during the summer.  Maybe that’s because you can get fresh cherries in the summer.  I don’t know.  Now if this were pumpkin pie, I would have no concerns at all.

As usual with this series, the bottom is flat, but there isn’t a lot of height to it, so setting it out to be displayed wouldn’t really show it off.  However, it hangs at a fun angle when you slip a loop through the hook in the pie.

And yes, you’ll find the series marker on the back of the ornament.

My only quibble with the ornament remains the seasonality of the dessert, but that’s a minor issue.  The ninth Season’s Treatings will make your mouth drool, which is my standard for this series.  What else do you need?

Well, maybe the other drool worthy ornaments you’ll find with the rest of the Season’s Treatings series.

Original Price: $12.95

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: Turning the Tide by Edith Maxwell (Quaker Midwife Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; good mystery
Cons: Pacing a tad off a time or two
The Bottom Line:
Suffragist is killed
But was that movement motive?
Another good book

Who Killed the Suffragist?

It is amazing how some things seem to come in cycles.  In the last nine months, I’ve read three different historical mysteries that featured the struggle for women to get the well-deserved right to vote.  Each of these series were set in different locations and different decades.  Turning the Tide is the most recent of these, and it was another winner.

This is the third mystery about Rose Carroll, a Quaker midwife in 1888 Massachusetts.  This book opens just days before the 1888 Presidential election, which makes it the perfect time to bring this real historical issue into the series.

Rose has just joined the movement herself, but she is planning on joining the protest on election day.  The Saturday before, she attends a meeting of the local women’s suffrage movement as they listen to speakers and prepare for the protest.  It’s there she meets Rowena Felch for the first time.

Early the next morning, Rose is returning home from attending a birth when she sees something amiss in the yard of a house she is passing.  When she goes to investigate, she finds Rowena’s body.  Was someone that upset over her involvement in the suffrage movement?  Or was there another motive for her murder?

Like the other mysteries I’ve read recently with this theme, it is just a springboard to get us into the mystery.  We quickly learn that there are other motives and suspects for Rowena’s death.  I do feel like the plot could have used another secret from one of the suspects in the second half, but maybe that’s just me.  There are plenty of events to keep us turning pages, and the climax was satisfying.

While women’s suffrage wasn’t the only issue involved in why Rowena died, it was still a major part of the book.  However, author Edith Maxwell still managed to find ways to weave the mystery and plot points into those scenes, so they never slowed things down.  As a man, I will say I found the number of men who supported the movement in this novel refreshing.  Oh, there are the men who are opposed to the idea, which is historically accurate, but they aren’t over the top caricatures either.

The characters are once again strong.  We get a couple of sub-plots that slow things down a little in the beginning, but series fans will be glad to see some development for the characters involved and the ongoing storylines represented here.

So if you are looking for an entertaining trip back in time, look no further than Turning the Tide.  Rose is an excellent main character in another entertaining mystery.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Movie Review: Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: The production was great
Cons: The theology was way off
The Bottom Line:
A great production
Filled with bad theology
I can’t recommend

An Excellent Production of a Questionable Musical

While I’ve been a fan of Godspell for decades, I have never seen Jesus Christ Superstar.  I’d heard from some Christians that it was blasphemous, which was one reason I’d stayed away.  But I’d been curious, so with the recent Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert production airing on NBC, I decided it was time to give it a try.

This rock opera follows the last week of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion, but with a twist.  It is told from Judas’ (Brandon Victor Dixon) point of view.  We see Jesus (John Legend) as He enters the city of Jerusalem in triumph and then watch as the crowds turn and the Jewish leaders conspire with Judas to arrest Him.  Meanwhile, Mary Magdalen (Sara Bareilles) struggles with her relationship with Jesus.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to get when I sat down to watch this production of it Easter Sunday night.  Since it was “in concert,” I thought it might just be people singing.  That wasn’t the case at all.  There was a stage, and the singers were acting.  However, there was a live crowd as well, and at times their cheering made it hard to hear the singing.

The set was simple, which worked well for this production.  We didn’t need elaborate sets, and it felt like seeing the play live.  I enjoyed that aspect of it.  The costumes were more modern and not attempting to fit in with the historical period at all, but the entire thing had a modern feel, so it worked.

And the cast was great.  I must admit, I’m not familiar with most of them, but I found their singing and acting to be wonderful.  I was most worried about Alice Cooper when I heard he was in it, but he had one of my favorite scenes.  His Herod was spot on, and he delivered his lines with hilarious perfection.  The person I felt sorriest for here was Ben Daniels’s Pilot.  This version of the stories does a perfect job of capturing the no win situation he was truly in.  Being an Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice musical, there’s just singing here, and the cast doesn’t miss a note.

However, I can certain see the concerns I’ve heard about over the years.  In fact, I share many of them.  An obvious one is that this musical ends with the death of Jesus.  However, given that this is from Judas’ point of view, I can understand that one.  Godspell also ends the story at that point, so, while disappoint, it isn’t a deal breaker.

Other issues arise because of a smaller cast.  One weird scene involved what looked like a drug fuel party made up of the disciples.  It was only when Jesus appeared on the scene that I realized it was the money changers in the temple.  Given that this is a product of the 60’s and early 70’s, I’m more forgiving of this once I figured out what is truly happening in the scene, however, if the cast were large enough to not have an ensemble all playing many very differing characters, it would help.  It’s also the result of a smallish cast, and another issue that Godspell definitely has.

My bigger concerns come from portrayal of the three main characters, Judas, Jesus, and Mary Magdalen.  Let’s start with Mary.  The musical clearly adheres to the legends that there was a romantic interest between Mary and Jesus.  I mean, her biggest song is “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”  There are other times when Mary is advising Jesus to take time off because we don’t need Him for an evening.  Really?  That’s not what you tell God.

Meanwhile, Judas has clearly missed who Jesus truly is.  This one doesn’t surprise me too much.  Since the real Judas betrayed Jesus, he clearly didn’t understand what was happening.  Some of his lines, especially in the opening couple of numbers are cringe worthy from a theological point of view.  I understand the context of them, but they still really bothered me.

The worst problem I have with the musical is how it portrays Jesus.  At times, it feels like it is trying to correctly make Jesus out to be God.  There’s the scene at the last supper where Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.  And yet, most of the time, Jesus comes across as a man who has accepted His fate with no control over what is happening to him.  This is especially true in “Gethsemane.”  This is Jesus’ moment to shine, and it’s a powerhouse of a song, but the lyrics are troubling.  Early on, He sounds like He is just giving up because His mission had failed.  The opposite is true.  This is the moment He came to Earth for.  I really do feel the musical has missed the point of verses like “No one takes My life from me, but I willingly lay it down.”  (Mark Baker paraphrase of John 10:18)

Of course, there is the issue with going to a musical for your theology.  I’m sure any musical would have issues no matter who wrote it.  But since this last one is a major tenant of my faith, I find it troubling and misleading.  However, I know people who have been deeply moved by this musical.  Is it that I am being too harsh?  Or is it that God will use anything despite serious theological flaws?  I truly don’t know.

Overall, the theological issues with the way the story is presented got in the way of me enjoying the great production that was Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert.  Since I’d always been curious, I was glad I watched it, but I won’t be seeing this musical again in any form.