Monday, April 30, 2018

April 2018's Monthly Reading Summary

It's that time again.  Here's what I read in April.  And yes, the Index has been updated as well.

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

Cinco de Murder by Rebecca Adler (Taste of Texas Mysteries #3) – 3
It’s Cinco de Mayo weekend, and Josie Callahan has a full plate.  She will be waitressing at her family’s Tex-Mex restaurant as well as helping her uncle with the first annual chili cook-off and dancing in the parade.  The last thing she needs is to find the body of Lucky Straw, one of the cook-off contestants.  He wasn’t well liked, but who would kill him?

This is a fun mystery tying into a different holiday, yet it fits the theme of this series perfectly.  The mystery is good, with several elements to keep us guessing until the end.  I did feel that the book needed another edit to smooth things over as Josie’s changing theories constantly confused me, but not in a good way for a mystery.  The series regulars are as fun as always, especially Josie’s abuela.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Wedding Cake Crumble by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries #10) – 5
It is one week until Angie and Tate’s wedding, and Mel, as maid of honor, has joined Angie in running errands to various venders to make payments.  A stop at the photographer turns up a nasty surprise – his dead body in his office.  Mel’s Uncle Stan, a homicide detective, quickly makes a connection to another murder, that of Angie and Tate’s limo driver.  Is someone out to sabotage the wedding?  Will any of them be the next target?

This book is a pure delight for fans.  The wedding does take over a bit in the second half, but I didn’t mind in the slightest.  We’ve been waiting a lot of books for this moment.  And that’s not to say we don’t get a good mystery with some interesting twists.  The new characters are good, but the series regulars shine with their own sub-plots.  This book also has some great laughs.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Worlds Apart by James Riley (Story Thieves #5) – 5
With the fictional and non-fictional worlds now separate, Owen finds he has lost his imagination, not that he can imagine how that would be a problem.  However, when Kara shows up and takes him 5 years into the future, he sees how things have devolved.  Meanwhile, Bethany’s fictional half is enjoying her new life until her father is shot by a mysterious ray gun.  What is Nobody’s plan doing?  Can Owen and Bethany stop him?

If this isn’t making sense to you, don’t jump in here.  This is the final book in the series, and it builds on everything that came before it.  However, fans who have read the previous four books in the series will be delighted.  We get another wild, fast paced ride.  Almost all the characters we’ve met along the way are back for this book as well, and I loved seeing them all again.  The climax is wonderful and wraps up the series well.  Along with the fun and some meta laughs, we get some interesting thoughts on the importance of both imagination and reality.

Turning the Tide by Edith Maxwell (Quaker Midwife Mysteries #3) – 5
While the country is gearing up for the Presidential election of 1888, Rose Carroll and others in her town in Massachusetts are gearing up for a peaceful protest in support of women’s suffrage.  Days before the election, Rose finds the body of Rowena Felch, the local leader of the movement, dead outside her home.  Could it be that someone hates the idea of women voting that much?  Or is there another motive?

While women’s suffrage is a strong theme in the book, Rose quickly finds other motives for murder.  I did feel the plot slowed down a time or two, but that never lasted for very long.  In fact, the author was able to work in development in the mystery in the middle of some of the scenes about the suffrage movement.  I especially appreciated the fact that some of the males in this book supported the movement, too.  The characters are great as always, and a couple of sub-plots advance series storylines well.  All told, this is another great book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

It’s Your Party, Die If You Want To by Vickie Fee (Liv and Di in Dixie #2) – 4
Party planner Liv McKay is busy with two parties before Halloween, but she’s making time for a retreat for the women business owners of Dixie, Tennessee.  However, the first night, the group’s president is found murdered.  Morgan Robison wasn’t well liked around town for multiple reasons, not the least of which is her reputation as a husband stealer.  But why did she push someone at the retreat too far?

It was great to be back in Dixie with Liv, her best friend Di, and the rest of the characters I met in book one.  They are all fun to be with, and I love their various relationships.  The suspects are good, although the mystery gets derailed by party planning at times.  Despite the weak pacing, there are some good twists and clues, and Liv picks up on the key clues in to time solve the mystery.

The Silver Gun by L. A. Chandlar (Art Deco Mysteries #1) – 4
Lane Sanders has landed a job as the personal assistant to New York City’s mayor Fiorello “Fio” La Guardia in 1936 New York City.  She’s enjoying her job even though some days it feels like she is just trying to keep up with her energetic boss as he is on a crusade to clean up the city.  One night, at the scene of a fire, Lane receives a warning for her boss.  But soon she begins to wonder if there is more to the warning.  And is she really a target?

This new series gets off to a promising start.  There’s a good mystery here that kept me engaged most of the time and certainly had me turning pages during the suspenseful climax.  I did feel the beginning wandered a bit too much, although it did all come into play by the end.  Likewise, the ending could have been tighter as it set up the next in the series.  The characters, both real and fictional, are a varied bunch and a delight to be around.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

True Fiction by Lee Goldberg (Ian Ludlow #1) – 5
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?

This book doesn’t waste a minute throwing us into this thrill ride and never lets up until we reach the climax.  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what was going to happen next, and the book manages to wink at a few clinches of the genre along the way.  Ian and Margo were good characters, and another we meet along the way walks the fine line of being a caricature without being unbelievable.  Since this is a thriller, there is a bit more language, violence, and sex than in the books I normally read.  There is plenty of humor here to help ease the tension.  I already can’t wait for the sequel.

“J” Is for Judgment by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #10) – 5
Kinsey is surprised to be hired once again by California Fidelity.  They’ve just paid out a claim on Wendell Jaffe’s life insurance five years after his supposed dead at sea only to hear he’s been spotted down in Mexico.  Kinsey locates Jaffe only to have him vanish again.  Can she prove he is still alive?

This is another fantastic mystery.  The characters are strong and help pull us in.  The story itself has plenty of twists and turns before we reach the climax.  We have some time for updates from the series regulars, and I love what is happening there.  Kinsey also stumbles on a surprise in her personal life.  I’m curious to see how this sub-plot plays out in future novels.

Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley - 4
This latest collection of short stories from the members of Sisters in Crime Chesapeake Chapter features 13 tales, or is it tails, involving animals.  Yes, there are lots of dogs and cats featured, including a murdered crazy cat lady, a story about a dog getting into trouble with his human, and a movie stars famous dog.  But we get some unusual animals, too, including an octopus and exploding cows.

As with any collection, there were a couple of stories that weren’t to my taste.  But I would then find I loved the next one.  And when each story takes less than 30 minutes to read, you aren’t committed to something you don’t like for very long.  For short stories, the characters were well drawn, and each story featured at least one twist with longer ones features a few more surprises.  While a couple stories trend a little darker, there are some light, very fun stories in the collection as well.  Truly, there is something here everyone will enjoy.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Purloined Puzzle by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady #19) – 5
Cora thinks that the worst problem in her life is the reappearance of her least favorite ex-husband, Melvin.  Then a teen asks Cora to solve a puzzle that was just left at the teen’s house.  Only before it can be solved, the puzzle disappears.  Then the teen’s older brother reports finding a bloody knife in his bedroom even though there hasn’t been a murder.  Is a corpse going to appear?

Fans of the series will be delighted with the latest installment.  We get the usual banter as Cora causes havoc on her way to solving the case.  The usual twists are there before we reach the logical solution.  The characters are on the thin side, which is nothing new for the series, yet I’ve come to care for them and was glad to visit them again.  I laughed multiple times along the way, and those who enjoy puzzles will be glad to know there are two crossword and one Sudoku along the way.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Movie Review: Avengers - Infinity War

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action, comedy, effects
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Avengers team up
Epic action-packed movie
Pure delight to watch

“Thanos Is Coming!”  “Who?”

A Marvel movie release is still huge news these days, and with good reason.  While there have been one or two sub-par efforts, for the most part, these are entertaining, escapist movies.  So I went into Avengers: Infinity War expecting just that.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

As hard as it will be, I will be discussing this movie while staying spoiler free.  Nothing to worry about here, so read on.

The movie opens in space as Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are confronting Thanos (Josh Brolin).  Thanos has finally put his master plan into place, and he’s collected the first of the infinity stones.  With each one he collects, he will grow more powerful.

The Hulk, in the form of Bruce Banner, manages to wind up on Earth after that conflict, specifically in the home of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) with a warning that Thanos is coming after the two infinity stones on our planet.  As word spreads to the other Avengers, will they be able to come together to fight off this threat to the universe?

This really is just the tip of this movie.  It includes a large cast of just about every character we’ve seen in these Marvel movies to date.  And the plot takes place in multiple locations as the battle crosses the universe.  I’m really not exaggerating there.

That means there is plenty to keep us entertained.  At two and a half hours, I worried I might feel the film dragged at all.  I didn’t, and when it was over, I was surprised.  Even when there are epic battles, they didn’t go on so long that I got bored.  It certainly helps that we can jump from one group of characters to another, so something is always advancing the story.

The characters aren’t as strong as in their individual movies, but that’s understandable.  There are so many of them and so much happening that it is impossible to give each of them their own moment.  When the plot does affect one character in particular, we are given some moments to see them react to things, which helps us see the events on a personal level.

The cast seems to be having fun bringing these characters to life once again.  I can’t fault any of the performances here.

Likewise, this movie is filled to the brim with special effects, and they all look wonderful.  Hardly a surprise these days, right?  I was so caught up in the story, I really wasn’t even thinking about the effects, to be honest, which means they were doing their job without overshadowing anything.

And there is plenty of humor, especially in the beginning.  I laughed multiple times, and even missed a little dialogue because the audience I saw it with was laughing so loudly.

At times, I felt like this was a giant fan fiction crossover story as characters who have never met were being introduced in seemingly random combinations.  Not that I am complaining.  I was smiling the entire way through.  Based on some audience reactions, I think there were a couple of cameos I didn’t recognize because I’m not familiar with the comics, but they didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all.  I also suspect that I might have missed some connections because I have only watched most of these movies once each over the last ten years, and I know they’ve been building to this for a while.  Again, this was a minor point.

Avengers: Infinity War will leave you anxious for the next movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially the next Avengers movie (coming April of 2019).  It proves that 10 years out, Marvel still knows how to make an incredibly entertaining movie.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

April 28th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another week, another list of TV shows watched.  One season finale in the mix, but not time to relax as Dancing with the Stars is back on Monday.

Once Upon a Time (4/20) – How did Tilly get the dagger?  Or did it just magically appear there?  Is she still the guardian?  If Henry and Cinderella start believing the truth before the curse is broken, that will be an interesting twist.  But someone needs to tell them what will happen if they break the curse and quick!  Regina is right to be upset with Rumple right now, but here’s hoping he redeems himself soon.  I trust they will wrap all of this up, but in four weeks that seems like quite an undertaking.

Deception (Sunday) – We got some much needed development for Cameron, and I really like seeing that.  The crime and the case were a lot of fun.  What is the plan?  If it is for both of the twins to be in trouble, the fact that Cam is working with the FBI and they seem to be on to this mystery woman would be an issue.

Supergirl – That was a hard episode to watch because the emotions were so true and so real.  Both storylines meant coming to terms with the truth, and I’m glad the characters have accepted it.  But wow!  So well done.  And yes, those opening scenes were a lot of fun with some great jokes before the more serious parts started.

America Ninja Warrior: Ninja Vs. Ninja – That first match up was a surprise.  We didn’t even have any relays, that’s how dominated the superheroes were.  Those flying monkey bars were brutal all night long.  Great matches for sure.

Lethal Weapon – They kept Roger’s crazy to a minimum early on, so this was a better episode.  They were also way, way too nice to their daughter at the end even despite what she did to save the day at the end.  Also enjoying Riggs’ time with his girlfriend and her son these days.  I fear for that storyline, but I hope I’m wrong.

The Flash – What is The Thinker’s plan?  And moving the nuke guy didn’t change it?  It made it better?  What is his plan?  Something tells me his wife will be the key to his undoing.  Like Supergirl, this was a more somber episode, and it was well done and some needed payoff for last week.

Deception (Tuesday) – I feel like I can barely breath.  I can’t wait to see how they get out of that mess.  I enjoyed getting to see more of Jonathan and seeing him interacting with the other characters.  And we are definitely moving forward on the overall storyline right now, too.

Survivor – Wow!  They actually saw through what Desi was trying to sell.  I was sure with the way Jeff read the votes that it would be Michael.  They actually got me with the editing for a change.  What stinks is, someone blew their chance to take control of the game, and now they will still be on the bottom.

Suits – Considering how much they hyped the wedding, I’m very surprised that it was such a footnote to the season finale.  Mike and Rachel deserve more than that, especially since they are leaving the show.  I mean, there was a lot going on, and I find it interesting that Zane is going to be around next season even though Rachel won’t be there.  I am interested in Jessica’s spin off, however.  Glad I know that got picked up since they left us hanging there.

Designated Survivor – Since I knew Michael J. Fox was going to be on the show until the end of the season, I was a bit surprised they wrapped up the 25th Amendment storyline already.  But what about Dr. Frost?  The mystery reader in me thinks it’s an obvious set up.  Maybe someone bugged her.  But I suspect she really is the problem and that learning it will redeem Wells in everyone’s eyes.

The Big Bang Theory – It was great to see President Sebert again.  It’s been years since we’ve seen him.  Overall, a pretty fun episode.  I liked Amy’s dress the second time we saw it.  I can see the issues with it style wise, but it is definitely an Amy dress.

Arrow – I really feel like I missed something.  Oliver went to Russia and then came back?  When did he decide to do this?  I really feel like I missed something in there.  I think Laurel is on our side, at least for now, but I don’t know if we can really trust her or not.  I’m glad we are finally getting to the trial.  One more thing to wrap up.  I love how they gave the date of the trial as the date the next episode airs.

Friday, April 27, 2018

April 27th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday, so it must be time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring The Art of Vanishing by Cynthia Kuhn.


This is the second in the Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries.  You see, Lila is a new professor at a college in Colorado.  A college that seems to be a hotbed for mysteries.
Here's how the book begins:

The campus was cloaked in pale gray light.  Softly descending flakes muted the frozen landscape and cast a tranquil spell, as if I were inside of a snow globe.
Until a booming voice shattered that all to bits.

It's a great opening, right?

Meanwhile, on page 56, we find:

"More bad publicity," the chancellor said, glowering at me.  "Why do these things always happen when you're around, Professor?"
I cast about for a response but came up empty.

I enjoyed this one.  I'll be reviewing it on Thursday, so I hope you'll come back for the review.

In the meantime, have a great weekend.

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
: 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 Show 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.

This movie is part of the Aurora Teagarden DVD Collection Two.

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. 

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.