Saturday, March 31, 2018

March 31st's Weekly TV Thoughts

A few shows returned this week.  I'm actually surprised that my Tuesday shows still airing this season aren't back for another couple of weeks.  April 10th.  But as I said, I will be busy with TV pretty much until the end of the season once those two are back.

But that's future.  Here's what I watched this week.

Once Upon a Time (3/23) – They didn’t drag out Tilly as a suspect, which I appreciate.  And that’s an interesting story behind the statue and how Alice got out of the tower.  I was just wondering about that last week.  Now, my burning question is, did Emma ever miss her bug?

Deception – I thought the entire episode would be escaping from the room, so I was surprised when they pulled off the escape so quickly.  I wonder how they expected to get her out if Cameron Black weren’t part of the equation.  There was only the one stolen painting, right?  So would the others get sacrificed?  Anyway, the twists in the second half were good.  Probably should have seen them coming, but I was surprised.

Legends of Tomorrow – Now that was certainly more fun, and much more what I expect from the series.  I’m intrigued by what we learned about Ava.  What was/is Rip up to?  And I’m quite curious where they are going to go with Amaya.

Survivor – I thought there really was hope for James.  I can’t believe that tribe keeps losing.  And I can’t believe Chris.  I’m tired of hearing him talk, and I just spent five minutes listening to him.  Dom can go, too, since he is so full of himself.

Suits – I feel for Harvey in this case for sure.  Not only is Jessica baring the consequences of his sin, but he is now throwing her under the bus for it.  I get where he is coming from.  Honestly, I get where he is coming from with Donna, too.  However, he was so stupid with Paula!  A bit surprised that Mike’s case didn’t play out longer, but I love how it was resolved.

Designated Survivor – So that wasn’t the only appearance for Dr. Frost.  They are setting her up as a potential love interest for sure.  I was wondering how the former President leaked the deal, but they explained it.  And boy, could this episode had been ripped any more from the headlines.  We’ve got a very thinly disguised Korea and a leaker undermining the President because they think it is the right thing to do.

Big Bang Theory – I know Bill Gates was the big story.  And it was nice to see Penny and Leonard have something to do for a change other than react to everyone else.  But I loved the Bernadette sub-plot the best.  That was what was the funniest to me.  If you don’t read the vanity cards at the end, the tribute to Steven Hawking was wonderful.  I think that was my favorite part of the episode.

Arrow – They telegraphed Thea leaving in the last episode that aired.  I haven’t felt like they’ve known what to do with the character for the last couple of years, but I will miss her brother/sister scenes with Oliver.  I’m glad she and Roy left since I’ve always liked them together.

Ninja Vs. Ninja – I always root for the firefighters, and they never seem to do as well as expected.  Maybe I should stop rooting for them so they’ll do better.  On the other hand, how do you not root for Grant and Neal.  So glad they came from behind to win.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Review: Murder on Washington Square by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Brings characters and setting to life with page turning mystery
Cons: Mystery could be a little more complex
The Bottom Line:
Neighbor in danger
In page turning mystery
You won’t want to end

Another Outstanding Trip Back in Time

I hadn’t realized just how much I’ve already come to love the Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson until I picked up Murder on Washington Square, the fourth in the series.  Within pages, I was smiling at once again being in the presence of midwife Sarah Brandt and Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy as they deal with another murder in 1890’s New York City.

This book actually starts with a note – a note that Sarah receives from Nelson Ellsworth, the son of her nosey neighbor Mrs. Ellsworth.  Intrigued, she agrees to meet him that evening in Washington Square.  There, she learns that Nelson has accidentally fallen for a woman, Anna, and impregnated her.  However, Nelson wants to do the right thing and marry her, only Anna is refusing to marry him.  Nelson is asking Sarah in her role as midwife to look at Anna.  Sarah agrees, but Anna refuses to let Sarah examine her.  Something seems off about their encounter, but Sarah can’t quite figure out what it is.

36 hours later, Sarah is shocked to learn that Anna has been murdered and Nelson has been arrested for the crime.  Since things don’t add up for Sarah, she enlists the help of Frank Malloy to figure out what really happened.  Even though it isn’t Frank’s case, he agrees.  But can they clear Nelson?

As I already stated, I love these characters.  Sarah and Frank are both extremely bright and do a good job of investigating the case, sharing information to build a complete picture of what happened.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, they still bicker a bit, but you can see the respect they have for each other in the very slow burn romance.

While these two are the star of the show, they don’t overshadow the rest of the cast.  The few other series regulars get a moment to show off as well, and we see different sides of a few of them.  The new characters are strong and definitely hold their own in this strong cast.

While this isn’t a historical novel centered on certain events, New York City of the 1890’s is really another character.  We get a feel for what life was like back then on every page of the book.  And a few real people do make cameos, which is fun.

Yet none of this gets in the way of the story.  Yes, I had parts of the solution figured out before I reached the end, but there was still a twist or two that surprised me, and there were enough complications along the way to keep me turning pages.  I never wanted to put the book down, and finished it as quickly as I could.

With how this book ends, I am definitely looking forward to seeing where things go next for Sarah and Frank.  If you’ve missed this series, you’ll want to fix that right away.  You’ll be up to Murder on Washington Square before you know it.

Needing more?  Here are the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries in order.

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

March 30th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

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

This week, I've got teasers from Wedding Cake Crumble, the tenth Cupcake Bakery Mystery from Jenn McKinlay.


I finished this book yesterday, and fans of the series are going to love it!

Here's how it begins:
"Here comes the bride," Melanie Cooper sang as she held a bouquet of multicolored snapdragons in front of her as if she were walking down the aisle.

And from page 56, you'll find:

"Tell us, Elise," Cassie said.  "What inspired your novel The Palms?"

I'll have a full review and giveaway up next Thursday, so come back and enter.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong action
Cons: Dark moments; shallow characters
The Bottom Line:
The Star Trek reboots
Continue down a dark path
Action is still fun

“Things Have Started to Feel a Little…Episodic.”

I have never been the biggest Star Trek fan, although I did watch some of the later series.  Maybe that is part of the reason I’m just now watching Star Trek Beyond.  However, I have finally watched it, and the result left me mixed.

The Enterprise is half way through its five-year mission to explore new worlds, and the crew is getting restless.  This even applies to Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine).  So, when the ship is scheduled to land at a space station for supplies, the crew is excited about some much-needed shore leave.

However, that leave is cut short when a nearby distress signal comes and the Enterprise is the best ship to answer the call.  Unfortunately, when they arrive, they meet an enemy with technology they have never seen before.  Soon the crew is stranded on the planet.  Most of them, including Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana), are taken captive, but a few, like Bones (Karl Urban), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Kirk, and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), find themselves free.  Will they be able to meet up and rescue their shipmates?  Who is this new enemy?

Watching this movie, I figured out what some of my other issues with these new movies are.  They are dark and seem darker than other parts of the franchise.  Yes, there were always the red shirts who die early in an episode, but there still doesn’t seem to be the kind of major catastrophe there is early in this movie.  There are other moments that are very dark later on as well.

Now, I get that they are attempting to make the Star Trek franchise into a more modern action-oriented franchise.  And I’m not complaining about the action, especially in the second half.  They make the science behind those scenes believable enough for me, and they were certainly fun.  However, if the expense if the lighter tone of the franchise, I’m not sure I want it.

Of course, this is not a statement about the special effects, which were, well, out of this world.  Truly, they are fantastic.  Likewise, the acting is wonderful from the entire cast.

Unfortunately, the actors don’t have much to work with.  The emphasis is on the action, and that short changes the time that could have been spent on character development.  Some, like Bones, just become a cliché of the worst of their character from the originals.  Others do get attempts at character development, but they turn out to be rather shallow.

So, watch this movie for what it is, a darker take on a popular franchise with lots of action.  Star Trek Beyond isn’t nearly as good as it could be or the best the franchise has to offer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ornament Review: A Short Snooze - Petite Penguins #2 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute napping penguin
Cons: Small, since it is a mini ornament
The Bottom Line:
Miniature snooze
Gets a holiday upgrade
Makes it very cute

Holiday Nap Time!

When you shrink penguins down to miniature ornament size, you wind up with some very cute ideas.  We are only two ornaments into the Petite Penguin series, yet both have been very cute.  In fact, A Short Snooze is absolutely adorable.

This ornament features a penguin curled up for a nap.  However, since it is Christmas time, he’s found a great place to do it, he’s curled up in a Santa hat.  His blue and purple scarf and his head is sticking out of the hat, but the rest is hidden by the hat.  That means the majority of the ornament is red and white as a Santa hat should be.

Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I think this is a very cute ornament.  It just screams cozy and comfy.  Heck, it makes me want to curl up for a nap.  It helps that the white parts of the hat are fuzzy, just like they should be.  The rest is plastic, as are most Hallmark ornaments.

Just in case the series name didn’t tip you off, this is one of Hallmark’s mini ornaments.  It is an inch long from side to side and less than an inch in the other dimensions.  If you aren’t careful with how you display it, it will easily get lost.  I do have a table top sized tree, and it looks great there.  Since this is a series, you will find the series marker on the bottom of the ornament, but it is very small.

The ornament is actually flat on the bottom, so you could set this out in a display.  Just remember the size issue again.  Or you can hang the ornament.  The loop is positioned such that it hangs straight.

If you keep the size in mind, you’ll be quite happy with this ornament.  A lot of cuteness is packed into A Short Snooze.

Be sure to look at the rest of the Petite Penguins series.

Original Price: $7.95

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Book Review: The Uninvited Corpse by Debra Sennefelder (Food Blogger Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery, fun hook
Cons: Took a bit to separate out the characters early on; pacing in second half
The Bottom Line:
Garden party death
Blogger much clear her sister
Makes for fun debut

You Are Invited to a New Series

The instant I heard the premise behind The Uninvited Corpse, I was hooked.  You see, Hope Early, the main character, is a blogger.  I identify with bloggers just a little for some strange reason.  Okay, so Hope actually has a food and lifestyle blog, but still, that connect got me reading this fun debut.

Hope has recently gone through some changes in her life, but she’s landed on her feet.  She’s back in her home town of Jefferson, Connecticut, and she’s turning her blog into a home business.  She’s even enjoying fixing up her new home and taking care of the chickens she’s bought.

However, life takes an unexpected turn at a garden party her friend, is hosting to celebrate the release of this friend’s latest gardening book.  Everyone is surprised when real estate agent Peaches McCoy shows up uninvited.  But that’s not as surprising as when Hope finds Peaches’ body before the event is over.  The police quickly focus on Hope’s sister, Claire, a rival real estate agent.  With evidence stacking up against Claire, Hope begins looking for other suspects.  Can she free her sister?

The book doesn’t take much time getting us to that fateful garden party, which is a mixed blessing.  We are introduced to quite a few characters early on, and I had trouble keeping them all straight at first.  Fortunately, as the mystery went along and we got to know the suspects and regulars better, I was able to remember who they were.  Of course, it helped that their personalities better developed as we spent more time with them.

The good part of getting to the garden party early is that the book starts quickly with a few tense scenes involving Peaches before Hope finds her body.  Hope follows those threads introduced early and finds some other motives and secrets as well.  I did feel the book slowed down a little in the second half, but then it picked up again for the climax, which was great.

As you may have noticed, I do enjoy the culinary cozies quite a bit.  Even if I hadn’t been drawn to the blogger aspect of this book, I would have wanted to read it because of the food hook.  Anyone who enjoys culinary mysteries will be glad they picked this one up and Hope loves to relax and think by cooking.  We get some delicious looking recipes at the end, including a couple of variations of chocolate chip cookies as well as rice pilaf and cinnamon apple bread.

The Uninvited Corpse is an enjoyable debut, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the characters even better as the series progresses.  I invited you to sit back and enjoy the first in what looks like a fun new series.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Movie Review: Sherlock Gnomes

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some laughs
Cons: Moral too strong
The Bottom Line:
The good potential
Buried under the moral
So it disappoints

Is There a Team to Save the Gnomes?

When I enjoyed Gnomeo and Juliette last month, I started really looking forward to Sherlock Gnomes.  How could a sequel to a movie I enjoyed that involves a mystery be miss for me?  Sadly, it turned out to be disappointing.

Things have changed for Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) and Juliette (Emily Blunt) and the rest of their garden gnome friends and family since they have moved to London.  The garden in their new home is a fixer upper, something Juliette throws herself into changing, much to Gnome’s dismay.

An attempt to make a grand gesture and win her affection back goes wrong, leaving Gnomeo and Juliette outside their garden when someone or something comes and steals them all.  That’s when they meet Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who are hot on the trail of the thief.  Will they figure out what has happened in time?

The premise could have set up a very fun and funny movie.  After all, I was surprised at just how funny the original movie was.  Sadly, this one missed the mark.  Oh, there are some laughs, but they are fewer and much further between than I was hoping for.

Meanwhile, the story is only okay.  You know how much I love a good mystery, and the mystery was decent enough.  However, they had to preach about the importance of recognizing and respecting your partner instead of telling a good story.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good moral, and it certainly fits with Holmes, but it was such a point that it overshadowed everything else.

Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I were more familiar with the Holmes cannon.  Not showing Shakespeare well didn’t seem to be an issue with the first one, and I certainly caught several fun nods to the original Holmes here, but they didn’t seem to be as prevalent.

This isn’t a complaint aimed at the voice cast, who all do a great job here.  Likewise, the animation is great.  It’s the script that lets them both down.

I wanted to like this movie.  I really did.  And if it spent more time on jokes and less on the moral, I probably would have.  As it is, Sherlock Gnomes is a movie that might entertain kids but adults will want to steer clear.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Ornament Review: Sweet Little Mouse House - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute ornament that lights up
Cons: Light effect could be better
The Bottom Line:
Noelville gets the
Miniature compliment
That fans will enjoy

Better Miniature Compliment to Noelville

When Hallmark started emphasizing their miniature ornaments again in 2016, they naturally wanted to grab collectors, so they tied in some ornaments to popular series.  Even though Noelville had ended the year before, they released Sweet Little Mouse House to try to grab collectors of that series.  In my case, it worked.

This ornament features a gingerbread house all decked out.  Yes, there are gingerbread walls, but there are hard candies on the roof, gumdrop bushes, and hearts for shutters on the windows.  We even get candy canes on the corners, and a gingerbread man waving at us in the front window.

To the casual observer, this ornament looks like the Noelville Mouse House, also a miniature ornament, that Hallmark had released during their ornament collectors event the year before.  The differences are minuscule when it comes to looks.  There are windows on all four sides of this ornament, and a slight difference in the roof.  Also, this ornament is slightly larger.  We’re only talking a quarter of an inch, but in the case of a miniature ornament, that is a big difference.

And that size might be to help incorporate the largest change between the ornaments.  Like the piece in the official series, this ornament lights up.  No, you don’t attach it to a light string – the bulb is already inside the ornament.  Instead, you press down on the chimney (which, yes, is another difference between the two ornaments).  The light only stays on as long as you are pressing the chimney down.  Honestly, I wish it stayed lit for a few seconds after you press the button.  Additionally, the bulb doesn’t light everything evenly.  The back window and part of the roof are the most obvious examples.  Still, given the size of the ornament, this is a fun addition, and a great way to tie into the official series.  To make the bulb light up, we get a micro button battery.  Trust me, this thing is really small.

The ornament does have a flat base, so it will sit out on any flat surface, but given the size, it might be easy for this one to get lost in everything else going on around it.  Then again, that would be an issue for hanging it on a tree.  The loop to do that is just forward of middle, and that means the ornament tips back slightly, but in the middle of branches, you probably won’t notice.

I still haven’t figured out why this is a mouse house other than the size.  But name issues aside, the Sweet Little Mouse House is a great addition to any miniature ornament collection due to the light effect.

Check out the rest of the Noelville ornament series.

Original Price: $9.95

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March 24th's Weekly TV Thoughts

One last quiet week.  I think from here on out it will be busy until May.

Once Upon a Time (3/16) – The mystery reader in my immediately saw that Tilly was being framed.  Glad I wasn’t the only one.  Now I’m wondering how Alice got out of the tower.  And I’m glad that Regina and Lucy are teaming up to find a cure for Henry.  Is that what Ivy will be doing to help?

Deception – I still don’t know how long they can keep this show going, but I think I’ll be along for the ride.  Then again, given the ratings, that might not be long.  Glad that some at the FBI seem eager to help and others don’t.  Yes, a bit of a cliché in some ways, but still more realistic than having everyone welcome him on board right away.

Legends of Tomorrow – Each week, I seem to be less and less impressed with this season.  I’m over the whole demon possession storyline.  Just way too dark for my tastes.

Survivor – One team constantly losing.  That seems to happen quite a bit on the show.  I wonder if it is mental or the people involved.  Of course, it could be both.  They made it fairly obvious who was going home, however.  By showing how much she wanted to stay, you knew she was next out the door.

Designated Survivor – Lyor is an idiot!  I’m getting kind of tired of how much of an idiot, in fact.  I’d forgotten we were looking for a VP in this episode, or I would have seen the mayor being nominated coming.  Still, she appears to be a great pick.  The real question, however, was did Seth get his book?  Was it really for their anniversary?  Seems a rather major present for a six month anniversary.

American Ninja Warrior Ninja Vs. Ninja – Those were some very close races.  Came down to .02 seconds in a relay race for one of them.  The other relay was almost as close.  While I root for the underdog often, I wasn’t as invested in Young Bloods tonight.  I’m surprised they won considering who they were going up again.  Very impressive.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Movie Review: I Can Only Imagine

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Inspiring story based on the life of MercyMe’s lead singer
Cons: Plays a bit with the timeline, acting early in the movie
The Bottom Line:
Bart Millard’s Background
Provides inspiration in
This mostly good film

“Mercy Me!  Is That Really His Voice?”

I came late to the MercyMe bandwagon, not buying any of their releases until they had their third one out, but I’ve become a fan over the years.  Still, I wasn’t planning on seeing I Can Only Imagine until I learned it was the life story of Bart Millard, their lead singer.  Intrigued, I decided to see it.

Bart grew up in a small town in Texas.  His father was physically abusive, and his only escape was music.  One summer, his mother sent him to a church camp, but while he was there, his mother left the family, leaving him alone with his father.

In high school, Bart (played by J. Michael Finley as a teen and adult) tried everything he could to please his father (Dennis Quaid) before falling into the starring role in the school play.  That taste of the stage focused him on performing music as a career.  But would be able to make a living at music?  Will he and his father reconcile?

So, my teaser probably isn’t leaving much to the imagination.  This movie doesn’t have many twists or big surprises, but since this is based on a true story, then that isn’t unusual.

However, I found the story extremely moving.  Most of the abuse is only hinted at, but it is enough to make us understand where Bart is coming from.  Watching how God changed not one but two lives is inspiring.  Even if you don’t have anything like that in our lives, it can still remind us of the power of God in our lives.

Now, if you are already cringing at the idea of a Christian movie, expecting it to preach at you, don’t worry.  If anything, the fact that Bart is a Christian is under played, in my opinion.  And yet, the message still comes through, so maybe that’s just my expectations.  Yes, ultimately, we know that it is God who changed Bart’s father’s life, and Bart’s as well, but that’s done without resorting to lectures.

Unfortunately, this movie does suffer a little from Christian movie syndrome.  There are moments of weak acting and weak writing.  It’s especially true in the first 20 minutes when we meet Bart as a boy.  And there’s the obvious fact that an adult is playing high schooler Bart.  That actually surprises me a bit since they did a great job on the makeup for Cloris Leachman, who plays Bart’s Meemaw.  She definitely ages in the three different times we see her.

As I was watching, I kept trying to work the story they told into what I knew of the actual timeline for the band.  I’m sure they changed some details to make it a better movie.  That doesn’t change the message about the power of God in a life.

A film dealing with abuse could be dark, but they cover that part of the story mostly with dialogue and a couple of scenes with minimal violence.  The film deserves its PG rating, but it doesn’t come close to pushing any boundaries there.

My biggest issue with the film, honestly, is the casting of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant.  Yes, these two major names in Christian music had something to do with MercyMe’s success, so it makes sense they are in the film.  And the actors cast here bear a passing resemblance to the singers.  But it was still different enough that I was distracted when they were on the screen.  For some reason, I didn’t have that issue with any of the members of MercyMe.  Go figure.

And yes, there is a reason for the name of the movie.  MercyMe fans will recognize it as the band’s single biggest hit.  In fact, back in 2001, it was even charting on non-Christian music stations.  This story leads up to Bart writing the song “I Can Only Imagine.”  How that plays out I will leave for you to discover.

One final warning – bring tissues with you.  Okay, so I cry at the drop of a hat, but I was tearing up in the second half of the film quite a bit.  Yes, this is an uplifting film; I wouldn’t recommend a depressing film at all.

I actually knew very little about MercyMe other than their music before watching this movie.  I enjoyed getting to learn more about Bart and the band’s early days.  I highly recommend I Can Only Imagine for their many fans.  Even if you aren’t familiar with their music, the story told here will inspire and uplift you.

March 23nd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring The Uninvited Corpse, the first in a new cozy series by Debra Sennefelder.


This book comes out on Tuesday, and I'll have a release day review up then.  It's a fun first in a new series.
Here's how the book begins:

"Thank you, Hope Early, for joining us and sharing all your tips for spring cleaning."

Okay, I'd like to hear those tips, although if they don't involve someone else doing it for me, they wouldn't do me any good anyway.

Moving on to page 56:

Wallace's devastated look forced Hope to pull herself together.

Now we're back in more familiar territory with a mysterious element.  I know what to do with that.  Keep reading.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Book Review: Cardiac Arrest by Lisa Q. Mathews (Ladies Smythe and Westin #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot, good characters, laughs
Cons: Summer needs a little maturity
The Bottom Line:
New sleuthing duo
Form delightful partnership
In a fun debut

An Arresting Series Debut

Last year, when I started regularly reading the Chicks on the Case blog, I made sure all of the authors were on my to be read list.  Sadly, with the size of the list, I just now read my first book by blog member Lisa Q. Mathews.  Cardiac Arrest is the first in her Ladies Smythe and Westin series, and it is safe to say I am hooked.

This series is set in the retirement community of Hibiscus Pointe in Milano, Florida, and stars an unlikely duo.  Dorothy Westin is a widow who has lived in the community for years.  Summer Smythe is a twenty-something who is squatting in her late grandmother’s condo in the complex while she attempts to figure out her life.

While the pair have met around the complex, what really draws them together is the death of Dr. Anthony Amoretto, better known as Dr. A, the most popular cardiologist in Milano.  Summer starts a new job working for him on the day of his death.  In fact, she fixes him his morning shake.  The police are quick to think she is the prime suspect.  Dorothy, meanwhile, was Dr. A’s first patient that morning so she’s on the scene as well.  While she was immune to his considerable charm, she also doesn’t think that Summer is a killer, so the two team up to figure out what really happened to him.  Can they do it?

Summer and Dorothy really are partners in this book, and that includes point of view.  Both take turns as our third person point of view character.  It’s always clear when we switch and whose head we are in.  This allows us to gather clues with both of them at various times.  I really enjoyed this narrative technique, and it served this story perfectly.

Those looking for a strong mystery will not be disappointed.  As you’d expect, Dr. A had plenty of secrets and Dorothy and Summer are able to uncover them as the book progresses.  I really had no clue where the story was going to go until the pieces fell into place at the end.  The climax was creative and suspenseful at the same time.

The characters are interesting as well.  Despite the action being centered at a retirement community, they really are quite varied, and I appreciated that.  Obviously, Dorothy and Summer are the best developed.  I found Summer a bit clueless and reckless at times, but then she’d do something to show she has more depth than I was thinking.  I hope that she matures over the course of the series, but this is a minor complaint.  Dorothy is a delight – a feisty woman of a certain age.

Some of the characters are a bit over the top, but that’s in keeping with the tone of the book.  I enjoyed the comedy that the author worked in here.  Summer and Dorothy especially play off each other perfectly, eliciting some of the funniest moments in the book.

I doubt I would have ever found this series if it weren’t for the Chicks on the Case blog, but I’m so glad I did.  Cardiac Arrest was a delight from start to finish, and I’m thrilled that the Ladies Smythe and Westin already have two more cases for me to read and enjoy.  I’m looking forward to revisiting them soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ornament Review: Santa Certified #5 - Teddy Bear Pull Toy - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Classy looking Christmas pull toy
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Teddy bangs the drum
In this charming pull toy that
Brings series to close

Santa Certifies One Last Great Ornament

I must admit I have found the Santa Certified series to be a bit uneven.  While I loved the first, some of the others weren’t as good as they could have been.  Others must have felt the same way because Hallmark brought the series to a conclusion with the fifth ornament in 2017.  However, it goes out on a high note.

This year, the ornament is a pull toy.  On the cart is a cute teddy bear with a Santa hat on his head.  His hands are holding drum sticks, and yes, there is a drum in front of him.  The drum is red and gold and has 2017 written on the front of it with SC painted on the top in a fancy script.  The cart is a yellow-green with red wheels.

As I said, this ornament is supposed to be a pull toy, and there is a red rope in front.  The wheels actually do turn, and there are levers connected to the bear’s arms, so when you turn the front wheels, his arms move up and down so he actually bangs the drum.  Okay, so for the ornament version, the drum doesn’t actually bang and his arms don’t move enough for him to reach the drum – we just get the motion.  However, you can imagine who the real toy would work and it’s a really fun feature.

The ornaments that worked best in this series are the ones with a timeless look, and this ornament certainly has that.  Yet it is nostalgic since it makes us think of our childhoods.  Who didn’t annoy their parents with a toy like this at some point?  The fact that it is decked out for Christmas is even better.  I’m not a fan of yellow-green, but in this case, it works since it sets the cart apart from your Christmas tree.

Since the ornaments in this series are supposed to be the toys Santa spent extra time on for the extra special girl or boy.  This one doesn’t seem to have as many of the cool details, although you can see fur designs in the molded plastic for the bear.  When you turn it over, you’ll find that Santa has signed this ornament himself, and the series marker has gotten an upgrade.

The ornament rests well on the wheels, and you could easily wheel it around to enjoy the motion if you wanted to include it in a display, although it might be on the large size.  Of course, it is designed to be hung, and you can slip a hook through the loop on the top of the bear’s head.  When you do that, you’ll find that the ornament hangs straight.  Nothing for the best for this series, right?

It is wonderful to see the Santa Certified series go out on a high note.  While we won’t get to see everything that Santa could have designed, this piece is a wonderful way to end the series.

Check out the rest of the Santa Certified series.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Book Review: Raspberry Danish Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #22)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters, delicious sound recipes
Cons: Weak mystery and ongoing soap opera
The Bottom Line:
Was latest victim
Intended target?  Cooking
Still takes center stage

Finally, a Poisoning!

I have long lobbied for Joanne Fluke to include poison as a means of murder in the Hannah Swensen series.  Come on, with the titles of the books being a different dessert, it just makes sense, right?  I don’t remember that happening before in the series, but it was finally the weapon of choice in Raspberry Danish Murder, not that the poison was in the Danishes, but I’ll take what I can get.

Before we go any further, I should warn you that my recap below will be spoiling the cliffhanger ending of the previous book.  There’s really no way around it since it plays into the mystery of this book.  However, my normal spoiler free policy for this book is still in effect.

It’s been two weeks since Hannah’s new husband Ross vanished.  In that time, she has had no word from him, and Mike has had no luck in tracking him down either.  While Hannah is still upset, she is having to focus on other things, like the baking The Cookie Jar will need to do for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Hannah’s sister Michelle is in town to direct a couple of plays over the holidays as part of her college course work.  She’s working with her friend P.K. at KCOW to do a couple of promos.  P.K. was working as Ross’s assistant, and now that Ross has vanished, he has taken over some of Ross’s work as well as Ross’s office.  One evening, P.K. is in an accident while driving, but it is quickly determined that the accident was caused by poisoned candies that P.K. ate.  The candies had been sent to the office, but the mailer was discarded, so no one knows if they were intended for P.K. or Ross.  With no real timeline to go on and two potential victims, it’s hard to know where to even begin this investigation.  Is this why Ross left town?  Can Hannah figure out what happened and where her husband is?

As you can see, there is a lot going on here, or there might be in a normal series.  Fans of this series know that we spend a ton of time talking food and recipes in the books these days, and this is the case here again as well.  That takes time away from fully fleshing out the plot, which I find disappointing.

Now this isn’t to say that we don’t wind up with some twists in the mystery of who committed this murder and why.  However, it would have been nice if more time had been spent fleshing that story out for us.  As it is, the ending, while it works, feels very rushed.

And we do get some interesting twists involving Ross (which may or may not tie into this book’s murder).  We also get another cliffhanger ending.  Frankly, I wasn’t impressed with it at all.

Fans of the series will certainly enjoy spending time with their favorite characters again.  There isn’t much development for any of them, but I absolutely enjoyed getting to see them all.

And if you can gain weight just from reading a book, this is certainly the book that will do that to you.  There are almost 30 delicious sounding recipes over the course of the book, most of them desserts or cookies of some kind.  Read this book before you start your new diet.  Trust me.

Sadly, I do feel like this series has lost the spark it had in the early days.  It’s not that Raspberry Danish Murder is bad, it’s just not as much fun as it once was.  Fans, like me, who want to follow the soap opera will want to read this one.  But there is nothing here to hook anyone on the series or change the minds of anyone who has given up on the series.

Fans will want to make sure they have read all of the Hannah Swensen Mysteries in order.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good if unbelievable action
Cons: Rest of the film needs to be better
The Bottom Line:
Video game film
Plenty of action but needs
Rest to be better

“It’ll Be an Adventure.”  “Death is Not an Adventure.”

Since I was never super into video games, I don’t know much about most of them, and Tomb Raider is no exception.  I even ignored the two earlier movies released based on the franchise, but when I saw the previews for the 2018 film, I decided to give it a chance.  It looked like it could be a lot of fun.  Sadly, it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be.

Seven years ago, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) lost her father when he went off on a trip and never returned.  While the rest of the world assumes he is dead, she hasn’t given up hope, which is why he hasn’t signed the papers that official declare him dead and give her access to the considerable Croft estate.  When she is finally convinced to do that, she is given a puzzle that she quickly figures out.

That puzzle leads her to a secret room that where her father kept his real work and a recording from him that tells her to burn all his research and notes on something called Himiko.  He insists that an organization called Trinity is after it, and the fate of the world is at stake.  While Lara doesn’t buy into that, she does use the research to trace her father’s last trip.  Is he really gone?  What will Lara find?

Based on the previews, I was expecting an action movie.  And there was certainly lots of action.  I didn’t find it all plausible, but I kept reminding myself to just let it go.  After all, realistic action isn’t necessarily the point of an action movie.  Having fun while watching the impossible is.

I don’t have high standards for the other parts of an action movie, however, this film didn’t seem to be trying that hard.  The plot was decent, but fairly predictable.  I found myself getting bored in the scenes between the action.

Part of that comes from the lack of character development.  We really get the very minimum on any of the characters.  Heck, you’ll noticed that I only named a couple in my plot teaser.  That’s because there really isn’t much to make them memorable.  And this isn’t the fault of the actors – the script lets them down.

The effects in the film are good.  In fact, there were times that the way scenes were filmed definitely payed homage to the film’s video game roots.  I’m sure fans who came to the film because they love the games will appreciate that.

As I was watching, I couldn’t help but compare this movie to the Indiana Jones movies.  This film definitely fits into that genre; however, it feels like a poor imitation.  Even the lesser Indiana Jones movies have more life and fun than this movie.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Tomb Raider at times.  I just found it disappointing as a whole.  I think fans of the video game franchise will enjoy it, but the rest of us can definitely skip this one.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ornament Review: Noelville Mouse House - 2015 Hallmark Release

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Cute small design
Cons: Doesn’t light up
The Bottom Line:
Miniature house
But not good series tie in
Done better next year

Noelville’s First Mini Piece is Average

2015 saw the official end of the Noelville series.  However, Hallmark still chose to include it in the pieces they released as part of their event for ornament collects that year in the form of the Noelville Mouse House miniature ornament.

If you are familiar with the series, you know what to expect here.  This is a gingerbread house decked out in all kinds of sugary goodness.  There are hard candies on the roof, gumdrop bushes, and candy canes on the corners.  There’s a gingerbread man (not mouse) in the front window waving at us.

You’ll note that I said this is a miniature ornament.  It’s only about an inch in any direction, so it is significantly smaller than the rest of the series.

The other difference from the rest of the series is the fact that it doesn’t light up.  Oh, I get that it is a miniature ornament, but the thing with the Noelville series is that it lights up.  Honestly, I found this highly disappointing.  I must not have been the only one since they essentially released this ornament the next year with a light element.  The roof is thin enough that light will filter through it, which is very pretty, but it’s not the same thing at all.

Being a house, this ornament does have a nice flat base, but if you set this out, it will get lost in a bigger display if you aren’t careful.  The loop is a little too far backward, and as a result, the ornament tips forward a tad.

Completists (like me, unfortunately) will want to get the Noelville Mouse House, but anyone else can skip it, especially in light of the Sweet Little Mouse House that Hallmark released the next year.

Check out the rest of the Noelville ornament series.

Original Price: $9.95

Saturday, March 17, 2018

March 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I'd forgotten that CBS will have March Madness for the next couple of weeks, but I really am surprised that the CW seems to be taking off a couple of weeks as well.  I guess I'll enjoy the quiet while I can.

Meanwhile, This is Us ended for the season, and I think I added a new show to my roster.

Once Upon a Time (3/9) – Regina has ties to the Princess and the Frog characters?  Really?  Once again, one of my problems with this season is the attempts to bring other characters and tie them in with characters we already know.  Interested in where they will go with this, however.  Not ruling it out completely yet.  Glad Lucy knows what is going on now as well.  And was it me, or was Victoria’s death almost brushed aside.

American Ninja Warrior – USA Vs. the World – I was impressed with how the Latin America team did, especially compared to last year.  If they hadn’t reset the points, I suspect it would have been the USA that won, so I’m glad they did.  I wonder how much having seen the obstacles makes any difference.  I’m shocked at how poorly the team from Asia did.  I constantly think they will do better than they do.  Is it the course or something else that trips them up?

Deception – I wasn’t looking for a new show, but one preview of this and I was intrigued.  It was just what it promised – a slick and fun mystery show, and the magic element is going to be fun.  I wish we weren’t trying to get someone out of jail – I don’t need that extra story.  I can tell I’m going to have to pay more attention than normal to this one since the magic happens very quickly.

Legends of Tomorrow – That felt like a Halloween episode.  I’ve been saying that a lot about this show recently, haven’t I?  I liked what they did with Wally, although I can’t say there were any real surprises in there.  And I’m assuming they were using recordings with the actor lip syncing to the real Elvis.  Either that, or he has a future as an Elvis impersonator.

The Flash – Not the first time I’ve seen the power switching storyline, but I still enjoyed it here.  That was because they actually used it to advance the characters, especially Iris and Ralph.  Plus, I wonder if this new meta is going to play into defeating Devoe.  And will Harry have the brain power to do it?  His thinking cap does seem to be working for him.

This is Us – Now that’s how you do a season finale.  So much better than last year’s.  I felt like they were tying up so much of this season and teasing us with what is coming in the future.  I’m really worried about the far future, and Deja is going to be a huge issue going forward.  But I’m curious to see Kevin with Zoe.  And Kate is obviously proving Toby’s parents wrong.  What is going on with him?  It really does look like they will be stronger next season.  At least I hope so.

Survivor – I’m going to give them credit for breaking the curse of that idol.  It was used.  The player who used it didn’t go out, although his alliance member did.  And they tried very hard to shake things up with it.  That was pretty impressive, and you have to hand it to Jeff for not giving away that they was lying through his teeth.

Designated Survivor – The season finally seems to be gaining a little steam.  I’m actually on the President’s side with the video.  Not saying his apology wasn’t excellent, but I really don’t see how what he did to the prisoner was wrong, all things considered.  Love how he resolved the land issue, and honestly, I think imminent domain is overused period.  The hacker storyline is getting very interesting.  Love the essay sub-plot, and the final scenes with his brother were outstanding.  Yep, an all-around great episode.

Ninja Vs. Ninja – I’m not too surprised about who is moving on from tonight.  I was actually surprised the Olympias made it as far as they did since they aren’t among the best that Ninja has to offer.  I was very impressed with how they did.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Movie Review: Deadly Deed - A Fixer Upper Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Confusing mystery, advance on the romantic front
Cons: Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Charity house death
Filled with some great twists and turns
And fun characters

Good Deed Leads to Murder

Hallmark seems to be spacing out their original mystery movies a bit more this year.  Best I can tell, March only has one new movie, and it’s a return to Lighthouse Cove and the Fixer Upper Mystery franchise with Deadly Deed.

Shannon Hughes (Jewel) has agreed to renovate a home into several low income apartments.  The local bank has donated the foreclosed property, and one condition is that the project has to be finished in three months.  It’s daunting, but with the number of volunteers, including some of the proposed residents, it should be doable.

Before work begins on the first day, the bank’s president, Potter, comes by for a photo op for the local paper.  He was against this house being donated, but the bank’s board overruled him, and after the picture is taken, he makes his displeasure known, making several of the people there mad.  That night, Shannon returns to drop off some supplies needed for the next day and discovers Potter’s body.  Who did he make mad enough to kill him?

I was impressed with the mystery here.  Sometimes in Hallmark movies, it is obvious who the killer is thanks to the lack of actors playing suspects.  Here, there were enough suspects and twists that I was certainly confused until Shannon pieced things together at the end.

Meanwhile, we got some development in Shannon’s relationship with Mac (Colin Ferguson) thanks in part of a visit from his teenaged niece Callie (Lilah Fitzgerald).  I was a bit worried early on, but Callie was a great addition to the movie.  She provides a clue or two for the mystery as well as nudging Shannon and Mac forward.  She bordered a bit on the cute side, but I will take that over surly teenager, which is where I thought they might be going when she was mentioned at first.

Of course, we do have the usual Hallmark movie cheese warning.  The acting is good, but there is that factor in all Hallmark productions.  Just keep it in mind and you’ll be fine.

Deadly Deed was a fun mystery that kept me engaged the entire time.  Next time you are looking for a light mystery movie, be sure to give this one a try.

This movie rounds out the 3 Movie Fixer Upper Mysteries DVD set.

March 16th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring an ebook I just finished, Cardiac Arrest by Lisa Q. Mathews.


This is the first book in the Ladies Smythe & Westin series, and it is fabulous.  I will be reviewing it on Thursday, so I hope you'll come back then.
Meantime, here are a couple of teasers for you.  Up first, the beginning:

As a general rule, Dorothy Westin preferred to mind her own business.  But the leggy blonde on the top-of-the-line smartphone three lounge chairs down was making that rather difficult.

And, from 56% into the book, we find this:

The powder room door flew open and Summer quickly ducked behind the Laura Ashley drapes.  Someone was in an even bigger hurry than she'd been, and sounded just as upset.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book Review: The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, good story
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
A hidden letter
Sends Joanna on a quest
In delightful book

Can Joanna Solve the Mystery of Her Father’s Past?

Rhys Bowen has been on my auto buy list for years.  It helps that I’ve enjoyed her various series, and the stand alones she’s branched out to are just as good.  The Tuscan Child expertly juggles two different time lines to tell one outstanding story.

When Joanna Langley’s father, Hugo, dies, she returns to what is left of the family estate in the English countryside.  Hugo had been forced to sell it years ago when his own father died, so there isn’t much for Joanna to take care of except sort through for any personal effects from his life she might want.  She isn’t expecting to find anything she is interested in, but in an old trunk, she stumbles across a letter written to someone named Sofia in Italy.  Even weirder, it references Hugo having hidden “our beautiful boy.”

Joanna knew her father had been shot down over Italy during World War II, but that’s all she knew of the time.  But now she is wondering if she has a half-brother.  Curious, she sets out for the Tuscany region of Italy.  What will she find there?

This book tells us the story from Hugo’s point of view in December of 1944 and Joanna’s perspective in 1973.  The two time periods are easy to follow since each chapter has a clear heading.  Additionally, the 1944 chapters are narrated in third person while Joanna narrates the 1973 chapters in first person.  By the time the book is finished, we have a full understanding of just what happened back then.

But the book is more than a mystery.  In some ways, it feels like a coming of age story for Joanna.  Oh, she’s in her late 20’s, but she grows so much over the course of the book, I feel the description fits.

Of course, that means the mystery might be slower than some would like.  I might surprise you when I saw I didn’t mind.  There was enough of a mystery there to keep me going, but I was so engaged with Joanna and her journey that I was hooked the entire way through.  Honestly, I’m ready to visit Tuscany myself now; the book made it that appealing.

Obviously, I loved the characters.  They drew me into the book and I really did feel like I’d made some new friends by the time everything was done.

Please don’t take my comments about the plot the wrong way.  The mystery element of what happened in 1944 and how that is playing out in 1973 is well done.  Between the two time periods, we get a full picture of what happened to Hugo back then and a resolution to the “modern” storyline as well.  I had no questions left by the time I turned the final page.

About my only complaint was one of my own making.  Despite the headers at the beginning of every chapter, I had the hardest time remembering that Joanna’s parts of the book took place in 1973.  I can be so dense sometimes, can’t I?  And it was all completely on me, too.

The Tuscan Child was a bit of a change of pace for me, and I enjoyed every page of it.  Set aside some time and get lost in Tuscany with this great book.