Thursday, February 28, 2019

February 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

The month started out slowly, but I things got better as they went along.

And yes, the index has been updated.  And the links will take you to my full review.

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

Manuscript for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #48) – 3
When Thomas Rudd approaches Jessica Fletcher after one of her signings and accuses Lane Barfield, their mutual publisher, of skimming money from their royalties, Jessica can hardly believe it.  Within a couple of days, both of the men are dead.  However, Jessica begins to suspect that the political thriller Lane asked her to read was to blame.  Is she correct?  If so, is she the next target?

I had a mixed reaction to this book.  On the one hand, I got very caught up in the plot, and always had a hard time putting it down.  There are twists and turns and plenty of danger, and I loved it.  It would have worked better, however, if it weren’t a Murder, She Wrote book.  It certainly doesn’t fit with the rest of the franchise in tone, with several events being several shades grayer than we got, at least on the TV show.  (I’ve only read one other book, the previous one.)  We see several of the regular side characters, but they and their relationship with Jessica was off.  What I suspect was supposed to be funny came across as rather mean.  These characters wouldn’t interact this way.   There’s also the fact that one of the plots in the book gets dropped in favor of the other.  Honestly, I think there are two good storylines here, and they should have gotten their own books.  This is the second book that Jon Land has written in the franchise, and I’m wondering if his efforts to turn things darker are going to be a permanent thing or if he will adjust better to the light tone of this franchise.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Murder on Lenox Hill by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #7) – 3
It’s a cold winter’s day when midwife Sarah Brandt is summoned to the Linton home.  When she arrives, it is to discovered they are worried about their daughter Grace.  While biologically almost a young woman, mentally she is still a child.  And yet, her parents think she is pregnant.  Sarah’s examination confirms their suspicions, but Grace never leaves them.  How could this have happened to her?  Who would take advantage of her like that?  Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy has been summoned to see Sarah’s father.  Mr. Decker wants Frank to work further on his investigation into the murder of Sarah’s husband, Tom.  Decker insists that Tom was not that man that Sarah thought he was, and he is certain that this investigation will help Sarah learn the truth.  Is Decker correct?  Can Frank find the truth while sparing Sarah from any pain?

Yes, my discussion about a current murder is missing on purpose since the body isn’t found until late in the book.  There is still plenty of plot to keep us engaged until that happens, but unfortunately it felt very predictable.  I had most of this book figured out long before Sarah and Frank did.  I’m often a step or two ahead of them, but not this far ahead.  I do still recommend this book to series fans since there are some significant developments on series arcs in this book, and you’ll want to see what happens there.  The subject matter is fairly sensitive, but it is handled delicately without going into too much detail.  Don’t make this the first in the series you pick up, but if you are already a fan, you’ll want to know what happens to Sarah and Frank here.

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen – 3
Emily Bryce is about to turn twenty-one, and she is ready to start doing something to help with the war effort.  Her parents have kept her at home with her mom hoping to find someone from the aristocracy to marry her off to, but Emily is determined to find her own path.  Then Emily meets Robbie, an Australian pilot recovering from an injury at a hospital in the area.  Even though her parents forbid it, she keeps seeing him behind their back.  She also soon joins up with the Women’s Land Army, helping to keep the farms in England running to provide food for everyone.  Will her parents ever accept her choices?

I’ve been a fan of Rhys’s mysteries for years, so I decided to give this book a try.  As I suspected going in, this is not a mystery, but more of a coming of age story set in the England of 100 years ago.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I was the target audience since I had trouble getting into it.  There is a lot happening, and that was part of the problem.  The story takes place over a year, and to get the entire time frame and the all Emily goes through into the story, at times I think we were cheated out of watching Emily deal with everything happening.  That resulted in some things we were told about and not shown.  On the other hand, Emily is a wonderful main character, and I was definitely rooting for her to succeed.  I did tear up a time or two.  And I felt we got a clear picture of what life was like in 1918 England for those who didn’t fight during the war – something that is often overlooked when we think about the cost of a war.

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman (Countess of Harleigh #1) – 3
It is 1899, and the Countess of Harleigh, born as Frances Wynn in America, has just completed her year of mourning after the death of her husband.  Reggie’s death was no great loss since he spent more time with other men’s wives then he did with Frances.  In fact, it was only through Frances’s quick thinking that his death didn’t cause a scandal.  Fortunately, Frances has enough money of her own that she can move out of her in-law’s home and set herself and her daughter up in a small place in London with a minimal staff.  Unfortunately, trouble follows Frances to her new life when a detective shows up asking about the night Reggie died.  Why is this coming up a year after his death?

Frances can’t spend too much time dwelling on this, however, since her sister, Lily, is coming to London for her first season with Frances as her chaperone.  Between the balls and other social functions, Frances hears of a string of robberies happening in the London upper class.  What will happen when those thefts begin to hit close to home?

I’d heard lots of good things about this book, so I was looking forward to reading it.  Unfortunately, I had some serious issues with the plot.  I can’t get into any more without giving away plot spoilers, so I’ll just say I found several things under done.  I’m sure some of it is my expectations when it comes to a mystery plot, but I still think there were some flaws.  However, I really enjoyed the cast of characters.  They are all lots of fun, and I enjoyed spending time with them.  The setting is great as well.  Who doesn’t dream of living the life of the English upper crust?  I enjoyed this enough to consider reading the sequel when it comes out despite my issues with the plot.

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #10) – 4
The day has finally arrived – Flavia’s oldest sister is getting married.  Considering how rocky her romantic life has been over the years, this is a bit surprising.  The wedding is beautiful, but when the newlyweds go to cut the cake, they find a finger in the cake.  How did it get there?  Who did it belong to?  Before Flavia can really dig into this case, she and Dogger get their first client for their new Arthur W. Dogger and Associates Discreet Investigations.  A local woman has come in asking them to find some missing letters that would be damaging to her father if they got out.  Only Dogger isn’t so certain that their client’s story is true.  What is really going on?

As a longtime fan, it was great to be back in Bishop’s Lacey with Flavia and the rest of the cast.  In fact, I hadn’t realized just how much I’ve come to love these characters until I noticed how much I was smiling through the book.  The exception is Flavia’s cousin Undine.  I get what she represents, Flavia’s Flavia, but I find her super annoying, although there is hope for her character to grow here.  The plot was a bit out there, but I still bought it.  The pacing is uneven, especially for the wedding at the beginning, but it isn’t anything we haven’t seen in other books.  Flavia is still Flavia, after all, so we get her thoughts on chemistry, poison, and life in general.  I listen to their series on audio, and Jayne Entwistle’s narration continues to be outstanding.  If you haven’t given them a listen, I highly recommend you try the series this way.  But no matter how you read this one, fans will be sure to enjoy this latest visit.

Permanently Booked by Lisa Q. Mathews (Ladies Smythe and Westin #2) – 4
Summer Smythe and Dorothy Westin are taking some books to be donated to the Hibiscus Pointe library when they find the body of Lorella, the librarian, on the floor in the stacks.  Summer is certain that the strange encounter they had on their way into the library is the best clue to the killer, but Dorothy thinks the book club that Lorella was trying to start in the retirement community might hold the clue.  Can the duo work together again to solve the latest mystery?

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, and it was great to get to visit Dorothy and Summer again.  They may be very different people, but they make a fantastic team.  We get to see that as the book spends equal time in their third person points of view.  This technique is perfectly used to allow them both to drive the mystery at various times.  The plot is great with several viable suspects and keep us guessing until the end.  I did think one or two minor things were left dangling, but it wasn’t a big deal since the important pieces of the puzzle were resolved.  The characters range from fairly normal to wacky in a fun way, and I loved spending time with them.  If you are looking for a light mystery, this is one to book to put on your reading schedule soon.

Drawn and Buttered by Shari Randall (Lobster Shack Mysteries #3) – 5
It’s a couple of days before Halloween, and things have slowed down some at the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack.  The summer tourist families are long gone, but some tourists are still in the area looking at the fall colors.  However, there’s still plenty of excite going on, like the discovery of a giant lobster.  Quickly dubbed Lobzilla by the community, he’s almost big enough to beat the world record.  However, the morning after he’s found, he’s vanished.

If that were all Allie Larkin had on her mind, it would be one thing, but other odd things are happening in town, including a local witch who is doing everything possible to get Aunt Gully to join her coven.  Then, on Halloween night, Lobzilla shows up again, only he’s next to a dead body.  Can Allie figure out what is going on?

While the body doesn’t show up right away, we still have plenty of plot happening, including some sub-plots and time spent setting up suspects and motives.  Everything continues to be blended together well after the murder takes place.  The climax is creative and everything is explained by the time we turn the final page.  I thought the sub-plot involving the witch might make the book darker than I would enjoy, but I thought it was handled perfectly.  It gave the book a touch more Halloween atmosphere, but the characters treated it much like I would like to think I would.  The characters have gotten sharper as the series has progressed, and that was true here again.  The suspects are well drawn, Allie is a great lead, but my favorite continues to be Aunt Gully.  Everything came together for a book I couldn’t put down and the strongest in the series to date.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Restaurant Weeks are Murder by Libby Klein (Poppy McAllister #3) – 4
Poppy McAllister is thrilled to be helping Tim during the Restaurant Week cooking competition as the third member of his team.  While their relationship is complicated, she knows they can work well together.  The weeks gets off to a shaky start when there is a problem with the hotel where the judges were going to stay, and Poppy volunteers the not quite open yet bed and breakfast she is working on with her aunt.  Then, on the first day of the competition, someone sabotages the ingredients.  As things spiral out of control, Tim and Poppy find themselves at the center of it all.  Can Poppy figure out what is happening?

Fans of this series will be thrilled with the latest outing for Poppy and the rest of the crew.  Yes, everyone is here and causing mayhem and laughs for us like normal.  I did sympathize more with the victim of Figueroa’s antics since I allergic to cats as well, but I still found that subplot fun.  As usual, Aunt Ginny and her friends steal the show.  I do feel the pacing of the mystery could have been better, but this is something I’ve felt with all three books in the series.  We definitely did get a good mystery that kept me guessing until the very end.  There are seven Paleo friendly recipes at the back of the book to enjoy once you’ve finished the book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

One Feta in the Grave by Tina Kashian (Kebab Kitchen #3) – 4
It’s mid-August in Ocean Crest, New Jersey, and Lucy Berberian is on the planning committee for this year’s beach festival.  Unfortunately, Archie Kincaide is proving to be a pain during the week.  He owns a shop on the boardwalk, and he and his neighbor have been feuding since Archie moved to town.  He’s also been causing problems for Lucy’s friend Katie, not only at the festival but also at her job at city hall.  Taking a break one afternoon, Lucy is walking on the beach when she discovers Archie’s body under the boardwalk.  It’s clear he’s been shot, but who did it?  With Katie among Detective Clemmons’s suspects, Lucy jumps in to figure out what really happened.

This is another fun mystery.  While we have two obvious suspects before Lucy finds Archie’s body, we quickly get more, and I enjoyed how the plot unfolded.  The climax was a lot of fun.  I do wish the supporting cast of the series were better developed; I like them, but I feel like most are still not as developed as they could be.  That isn’t true for Lucy or the suspects, who manage to keep us guessing.  And I loved the location.  I can easily picture myself enjoying an annual vacation in Ocean Crest, and the added fun of the beach festival made me long to go stick my feet in some warm sand myself.  There are 3 delicious sounding recipes to be enjoyed once you’ve finished the book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Book Review: One Feta in the Grave by Tina Kashian (Kebab Kitchen Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun setting
Cons: Supporting cast could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Beach festival death
Lucy tries to clear her friend
Twists in fun setting

Beach Festival Interrupted by Murder

Yes, I enjoy reading books set during the season I’m reading them, but sometimes, it is wonderful to read out of season.  We’ve been having a cold (by our standards) winter in Southern California (go ahead and laugh now, but it has been below freezing at night which is unusually cold for us), so it was absolutely fabulous to enjoy a virtual trip to the beach with One Feta in the Grave.

It’s mid-August in Ocean Crest, New Jersey, and Lucy Berberian is on the planning committee for this year’s beach festival.  This event is designed to help bring in tourists before summer ends since so many of the businesses rely on tourist money to get them through the upcoming slower nine months.  The week includes a sand sculpture contest, food festival, and beach volleyball among other events.

Unfortunately, Archie Kincaide is proving to be a pain during the week.  He owns a shop on the boardwalk, and he and his neighbor have been feuding since Archie moved to town.  He’s also been causing problems for Lucy’s friend Katie, not only at the festival but also at her job at city hall.  Taking a break one afternoon, Lucy is walking on the beach when she discovers Archie’s body under the boardwalk.  It’s clear he’s been shot, but who did it?  With Katie among Detective Clemmons’s suspects, Lucy jumps in to figure out what really happened.

Ocean Crest has always struck me as the type of place I’d love to regularly visit on vacation, and this book set during August didn’t disappoint.  It made me want to head to the closest beach and stick my feet in the warm sand.  Yes, there are plenty of scenes set in Kebab Kitchen, the Mediterranean restaurant that Lucy’s parents opened.  I’d be happy to pop in there for dinner after a day at the beach.

Of course, there is the pesky business of the murder.  While there are two obvious suspects very early on, Lucy manages to uncover several more not too long after she finds the body.  I enjoyed how the plot unfolded with the twists and red herrings that were introduced along the way, and I loved the climax.

My only complaint in this book involves the characters.  While Lucy and Katie are well developed, I still don’t feel we’ve gotten to know the supporting players well.  Don’t get me wrong, I like them.  Well, most of them; there’s one that annoys me, but that character is definitely growing on me.  Anyway, it would be nice if we saw a bit more of them and saw them in a little different light.  Mind you, this is a minor complaint overall.  The suspects are definitely strong and developed enough to keep us guessing as to who might have done it.

Yes, this is a book set at a restaurant, and that means we get three delicious looking recipes.

If you are looking to throw off the late winter blues, One Feta in the Grave is just what the doctor ordered.  Or save it for a beach read this summer.  Either way, you’ll enjoy this visit with Lucy.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Kebab Kitchen Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Book Review: Restaurant Weeks are Murder by Libby Klein (Poppy McAllister Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, good mystery
Cons: Pacing could be better
The Bottom Line:
Food competition
Filled with mayhem and murder
Fun story for us

Cooking with a Killer

The Poppy McAllister series by Libby Klein is only on book three, but it has already gained a loyal following thanks to the fun, quirky characters.  They are on full display yet again in Restaurant Weeks are Murder.

Poppy is thrilled to be helping Tim during the local Restaurant Week competition.  While their relationship is complicated, the fact that he asked her to be part of his team means a lot.  Unfortunately, the third member of their team is Gigi, who also has her sights set on Tim, although Tim doesn’t seem to even notice.  The three will have to work together to create different dishes every day with mystery ingredients for a panel of judges.  Their competitors are other restaurant owners in town, and the winner gets a nice prize check and publicity.

Things get complicated quickly when there is a problem with the hotel where the judges were going to stay, and Poppy volunteers the not quite open yet bed and breakfast she is working on with her aunt.  Then, on the first day of the competition, someone sabotages the ingredients.  As things spiral out of control, Tim and Poppy find themselves at the center of it all.  Can Poppy figure out what is happening?

I already mentioned how fun the characters are, and that holds true.  While Poppy may be our main character, she is the calm observer to some of the antics going on around her, usually led by Aunt Ginny and Figueroa, Poppy’s trouble making cat.  These two are sure to leave you laughing, although I did find some of Figueroa’s antics here painful.  Then again, I’m also allergic to cats, so I could sympathize with his victim while still laughing at his antics.  The suspects are memorable in their own right and really stand out from each other while bringing their own comedy to the mix.

As with the first two books in the series, I do think the plotting could have been tighter.  At times, the character’s antics slow things down.  I’m not saying the mystery is at all bad, however.  There is plenty happening with motives, secrets, and clues.  I had no clue where things were going until Poppy figured it all out.

While I’ve only mentioned Tim so far, loyal readers know he is but one part of a love triangle.  Gia is still around plenty, so the love triangle is still in full force.  Actually, it was kind of nice to see more of Tim in this book since I’ve felt Gia was getting the majority of the page time so far.  And, while this is book three for us, it’s only been four months for the characters, so this doesn’t bother me.  After all, Poppy has been busy solving three murders and getting the bed and breakfast ready to go during that time.  Is it be resolved in this book?  You’ll have to read it to find out.

Once again, there are seven recipes at the back of the book.  Since Poppy makes Paleo items, all of the recipes are Paleo friendly, including Black Forest French Toast, biscuits, and a no bake specialty cheesecake.

Restaurant Weeks are Murder continues to entertain with fun characters and a confusing mystery.  Fans will be delighted with this book.  And if you haven’t discovered this series yet, now’s the time to jump in before you get further behind.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Book Review: Drawn and Buttered by Shari Randall (Lobster Shack Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters; strong mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
A giant lobster
Adds intrigue to a murder
Best in series yet

Allie is Drawn into Another Murder

Last year, we got the debut of the Shari Randall’s Lobster Shack Mysteries, which have proved to be lots of fun.  Drawn and Buttered is our third visit, and it’s the best one yet.

If you’ve missed this series, it stars ballet dancer Allie Larkin.  Yes, you read that right, the main character in a series set around a lobster shack is a dancer.  You see, Allie had an accident and broke her ankle so she can’t dance at the moment.  While she is home recovering, she is working at her Aunt Gully’s lobster shack in a small town in Connecticut.  Since she grew up in this town, she has friends there, and we get plenty of the small town cozy feeling I love so much in the cozies I read.

This book opens a couple of days before Halloween, and things have slowed down some at the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack.  The summer tourist families are long gone, but some tourists are still in the area looking at the fall colors.  However, there’s still plenty of excite going on, like the discovery of a giant lobster.  Quickly dubbed Lobzilla by the community, he’s almost big enough to beat the world record.  However, the morning after he’s found, he’s vanished.

If that were all Allie had on her mind, it would be one thing, but other odd things are happening in town, including a local witch who is doing everything possible to get Aunt Gully to join her coven.  Then, on Halloween night, Lobzilla shows up again, only he’s next to a dead body.  Can Allie figure out what is going on?

As you can probably guess, there is plenty of story to get through before the body is discovered.  However, the pace never lags.  We are meeting suspects and getting motives as well as being introduced to some sub-plots.  Even once the murder takes place, everything is balanced perfectly, and I never wanted to put the book down.  The climax is creative and everything is explained by the time we turn the final page.

I mentioned the sub-plot involving the witch on purpose.  When it was first introduced, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it since it had the potential to turn the book dark.  I’m happy to say that it was there just enough to give the book a bit more Halloween flavor but it didn’t get too dark for me.  I think part of that is because the characters, especially Aunt Gully, treated it much as I would.  Or at least I how I hope I would if I were in that situation.

As the series has progressed, the characters have sharpened.  Aunt Gully is my favorite of the supporting characters since she is so much fun.  Allie, as our main character, is a wonderful narrator and great at piecing things together.  The cast includes her friends, who I love, and suspects that are strong enough to keep us guessing who the killer might be.

I really do feel this series has gotten stronger with each book, and Drawn and Buttered is the best one yet.  If you haven’t sampled this series, you are in for a treat.  Fans will snap this one up to find out what is going on with their favorite characters.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon - The Hidden World

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: The main characters; series wraps up well
Cons: Pacing; most of the supporting characters
The Bottom Line:
Viking and dragons
One final adventure film
Wraps up series well

Satisfying Concluding Chapter to the Trilogy

I must admit I am not the biggest fan of the How to Train Your Dragon series.  Yet, when I got the impression that this newest one, subtitled The Hidden World, would be the final film, I was curious enough to go see how they would end it.  Turns out, I’m very glad I did.

The village of Berk, under the leadership of Chief Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), has become not only a kingdom where dragons and Vikings live side by side, but also a force for free dragons.  However, their work hasn’t gone unnoticed, and some of the people who have made their living capturing dragons aren’t happy about it.  They approach Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a renown dragon hunter, to stop Hiccup once and for all.

For his part, Hiccup decides that, for the safety of his people, they need to find the legendary Hidden World, a place where dragons live in safety.  His plan is to relocate not only their dragons but his entire village there.  Complicating matters is the discovery that his dragon, Toothless, isn’t the only Night Furry left.  And the other one is female.  As she and Toothless fall in love, how will that complicate everything?

My complaints with the series are in full display here.  I found the pacing uneven, especially the part that focuses on Toothless falling in love.  Yes, parts of that were funny, but on the whole, I felt it lasted a bit too long.  Other things could have been shortened up a little as well.  Still, it mostly kept my interest as the tale unfolded.

All the characters are back (well, a prominent one is back in flashbacks), which is both good and bad.  While I love Hiccup and Astrid, his love interest voiced by America Ferrera, some of the rest can be annoying.  Oh, I get that they are supposed to be funny, but I find them more annoying than funny.  It doesn’t help that there are so many supporting characters that we still don’t really get to know the others.  Hiccup and Astrid have some great scenes together, however, that remind me why I love these two characters.

The other amazing friendship in the film is between Hiccup and Toothless.  Toothless doesn’t say a word, but the love these two have for each other comes through every second they are on screen together.  While the other characters also obviously care of their dragons, these two are much of the heart of the franchise.

While I kind of saw where the film was going, it didn’t diminish the impact of the last 15 minutes.  Things wrap up so perfectly.  If you love these characters, you’ll really find the final few scenes impactful.  I did, and I’m not a super big fan of the franchise.

While the characters are still stylized animation, some of the settings are jaw dropping.  Animation can look so amazing these days.  The voice cast continues to do a good job bringing these characters to life for us.

The way the film wraps things up is enough to make me recommend How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World to fans of the franchise.  If you don’t like the series, you can skip this one, however.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

February 23rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

I have an important programming alert.  Next Saturday's regularly scheduled Weekly TV Thoughts will be delayed one day in order to share a review of Dr. Seuss Day, which is Saturday, March 2nd.  Look for next week's Weekly TV Thoughts to hit on Sunday, March 3rd.

Now, without further ado, this week's Weekly TV Thoughts.

Supergirl – I do like how they are playing the Alex storyline right now.  As long as they made her forget that Kara is Supergirl, they are making it interesting.  That alien was absolutely creepy.  Dreamer will make an interesting superhero, I think.  Depending on how they develop her powers.  And Lena is going to start during dark like the rest of the Luthors now.  I figured it was coming at some point, but I was hoping they would flip things just this once.

God Friended Me – Sometimes, being a friend means saying things the other person doesn’t want to hear.  Although it sounds like Miles might have said it out of anger back then.  Still, it was nice to see him getting a bit of a happy ending as part of the episode since he got his friend back.

This is Us – I hope Beth gets that teaching job.  I’d really like to see her having some fun.  Interesting backstory, although they need to do more to redeem her mom.  So far, she’s the one character we haven’t seen enough to understand where she is coming from.  Yes, there was the monologue at the end, but it wasn’t enough for me.

Survivor – I’m wondering just what they will have to do to get back in the game.  Looks like they have nothing out there, but there has to be more than just sitting around.  It’s been a while since they had a way to get back in the game, so I’m curious to see how this all plays out.  Not surprised that Reem and Wendy were on the chopping block.  I was annoyed by both of them, so hopefully the team sticks to that plan.  Although I do think it was very unfair to point out the three of them down there working on the one guy’s swimming as them forming an alliance.  That was actually very smart.  On the other hand, how do you go on Survivor not knowing how to swim?  Take lessons before you leave!

The Masked Singer – Once again, the site I go to was correct on both counts.  Okay, they still had two guesses for the Rabbit, but I’ll give them this one since Joey was one of the correct guesses.  Granted, they pretty much gave it away with the synchronized singing clue at the beginning.  And I was pretty sure that they were right on Rumor Willis as well.  Had to be some child of a Hollywood power couple.

Suits – I’m sorry, but I think Donna did the right thing.  Harvey’s client was scum.  Harvey was doing the best he could to fix it, and he was certainly innocent.  I can’t wait to see what happens next week.  Hardman showing up was a great twist.  Meanwhile, I’m glad Brian did the right thing for his family.  I’m happy with how that storyline has turned out.  And I was surprised to see Louis’ mugging come back into play.  I’d kind of forgotten about it, actually, but I like how that played out.

The Big Bang Theory – That was the best episode of the season!  And it was classic Big Bang.  Lots of geekiness and plenty of laughs.  Loved it!

The Orville – I suspected where this was going fairly early on.  It helped that I had noticed it was a two parter.  But the cliffhanger!  Yikes!  I don’t know how they will get out of this.  I’m surprised that Isaac has turned so evil.  I wonder if his ties to the doctor’s family will turn him back and help save the day.  Oh, and I did not see the bones coming.  That was a complete surprise.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Movie Review: My Fair Lady

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Songs, acting
Cons: I really don't like the story
The Bottom Line:
Classic musical
Many memorable songs
Story I don't like

I Should Just Accept That I'm Not a Fan of This Musical

Since I've become quite the fan of the Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mysteries, I figured I really should watch My Fair Lady at some point.  Yes, I've seen the stage version many times over the years, but I've never actually watched the movie.  When I caught it on TV, I decided to change that.  The result is pretty much what I expected.

In case you aren't familiar with the story, it involved Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), a flower girl in London in the 1910’s with a heavy Cockney accent.  One evening, as she is huddling with a bunch of theater goers in the middle of a sudden rainstorm, she meets professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), a specialist in linguistics.  An idle boast to Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), another linguist that Henry has met that night, leads to Eliza showing up at the professor's home the next day asking for lessons to turn her into a proper lady.  Soon, Eliza is studying full time as Henry is trying to pass her off as a refined lady at a ball coming up.  Can he do it?

So here's my thing - I just don't like the story.  Henry is horrible to Eliza, and I spend much of the movie cringing at his antics.  His behavior late in the second half isn't nearly enough to redeem his character.  As a result, I absolutely hate the ending of the musical.  I much prefer the original ending of Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play that was turned into this musical.  Fortunately, the authors of the mystery novels I mentioned at the start have kept that ending and softened Henry quite a bit.  Anyway, the ending here ruins much of the story for me.

Now, that isn't to say that I don't enjoy the music along the way.  While there aren't any big show stoppers or dance numbers along the way, there are quite a few fun songs.  They are the reason this is the classic musical it is today.

Of course, I do have to comment on the singing.  Audrey Hepburn was famously dubbed by Marnie Nixon here outside a random line here or there.  Meanwhile, Rex Harrison, speak/sings most of his songs.  It really bugs me that the main male lead in a musical isn't singing.  Maybe that's one reason I don't like his songs.  Or, the other reason, might be because they are such an outflow is his character, which I already don't like.

Likewise, the movie looks wonderful.  While it was filmed in the mid-1960's, it is set in the 1910's.  The result is a lavish production that captures the feel of the periods.  Yes, I said both.  Even though it does evoke the earlier time period, there is something about it that just screams 1960's big budget musical.  Since that's what it is, that's no big deal.

The acting is wonderful.  Rex Harrison deservedly won an Oscar for his portrayal of Henry Higgins.  He does a great job of making us hate the character.  When Eliza finally reaches her breaking point late in the movie, we can understand why.  My earlier complaints about the singing aren't an issue with the acting at all.

I can understand why people love My Fair Lady so much.  But my issues with the plot, especially the ending, keep me from enjoying it as much.  I'm glad I watched the movie musical, but I don't feel the need to watch it again.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Book Review: Permanently Booked by Lisa Q. Mathews (Ladies Smythe and Westin #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun characters
Cons: A couple minor issues.  Note I said minor
The Bottom Line:
Corpse in library
Dorothy, Summer back on case
Second book is fun

Who Help the Librarian Check out Permanently?

Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting the mismatched Ladies Smythe and Westin.  Sadly, it took me this long to get a chance to read their second adventure, but I’m glad I finally made the time since I enjoyed being Permanently Booked.

This series features Dorothy Westin and Summer Smythe.  They live in a senior only facility located in Florida.  While Dorothy belongs there, Summer has wormed her way into taking over her grandmother’s unit even though she is several decades younger than the minimum age.  The two are very different, but that worked well when they encounter a dead body in the first book, and it works just as well for them here.

This time, it’s a trip to the Hibiscus Pointe library that brings them into contact with a dead body.  Summer has recently been cleaning out the books in her grandmother’s condo, and they are taking boxes of books down to be donated.  However, when they find the room dark, they begin to investigate.  That’s when they find the body of Lorella, the librarian, on the floor between the stacks, a heavy bookend lying nearby.

Lorella has recently been working to restart a book discussion group for the residence of Hibiscus Pointe.  Dorothy agrees to take it over, certain that the killer might be hiding in the group.  Summer is not much of a reader, but she is certain she already has a line on the killer based on an odd encounter they had before they found Lorella.  Is she right?  Or does the book group hold the key to finding Lorella’s killer?

Naturally, as the book progresses, Dorothy and Summer begin to find other suspects.  These suspects lead us on a merry chase as this duo work to uncover motives and clues.  Of course, all those clues make sense when they’ve pieced things together at the end, and the climax is a lot of fun.  I did think one or two minor things were left open, but the majority of things were wrapped up.

One reason this series is so much fun is the over the top characters.  Dorothy is fairly grounded, but Summer is a young twenty-something that hasn’t quite grown into being a grown up yet.  Still, she’s normal compared to some of the other people we meet in these pages, both series regulars and suspects.  Yet they work in this book to keep us engaged and guessing just who could have done it.

Summer and Dorothy really are co-leads in the book, we even spend equal time in their limited third person points of view.  Don’t worry, it’s always clear when we are switching points of view.  I enjoyed this since it allowed both of the characters to drive the investigation at various times.  We didn’t see quite the depth to them here that we did in the first book, but again, that’s a minor issue.

Obviously, I tend to gravitate to cozies that are fun, and Permanently Booked definitely fits that bill.  If you are looking for a light mystery, be sure to check this series out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Movie Review: Chronicle Mysteries - Recovered

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Great new characters, engaging mystery
Cons: Light dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
A cold case pod cast
Turns up a hot new murder
Engaging first case

“What Happened to Gina DiSavio?”

My first Hallmark Mystery Movie (my gateway drug, if you will) was the Murder, She Baked series starring Alison Sweeney.  While I would love to see more of those movies, I was happy to see Alison returning in an all new movie mystery series, the Chronicle Mysteries, which kicked off with Recovered.

This series features Alex McPherson (Alison Sweeney).  Alex has started a podcast where she looks at old, unsolved mysteries.  After a successful first season, she decides to focus on a case that hits closer to home.  Alex spent several summers in Harrington, Pennsylvania, growing up, and one of her friends, Gina, vanished without a trace almost 20 years ago.  In all that time, no one has figured out what ever happened to her.  Teaming up with a reluctant Drew Godfrey (Benjamin Ayres), the editor of the local paper, Alex begins to see what she can uncover about what happened back then.  When a fresh murder happens in town, Alex is sure it connects to the disappearance.  But is she right?

As much as I enjoy mysteries, I don’t often go for the cold case mysteries, and I’m not sure why since I tend to enjoy them when I read or watch them.  Of course, it helps when we meet people who care about what happened back then, and we get that here.  Not only does Alex care what happened to her friend, but we meet Gina’s mother before too much time has passed.  Once the modern crime happens, we divide our time between the two cases, which seem to bring us toward one solution.  (Oh, please.  You really expected something different?)  The climax is super fun and creative and certainly works well for a movie.

Hallmark spent years turning book series into mystery movie franchises.  (Murder, She Baked was based on the bestselling Hannah Swensen series, which is why I started watching it.)  So far this year, they seem to be focusing on creating original characters, and that’s what they’ve done here.  (I hope, going forward, they will create a mix of both.)  I did feel the movie took a bit of time getting us fully into this new world as they slowly parceled out context and information about these characters.  Normally, I’m the one arguing against massive data dumps, but here it would have been nice to have just a little more context earlier in the film.  Still, everything we need to know is present by the end of the movie.  I think the writers were aware of how they were slowly dishing stuff out since they created a running joke about it.

The characters we meet here are great.  There are several supporting characters at the paper I enjoyed getting to know as well as our two leads.  I’m sure we will be seeing them in future movies.

Yes, this is a Hallmark movie, so there is the normal Hallmark cheese factor, although the dose here is rather light.  The actors do a good job drawing us into the story and making us care about the characters.  Fans of the Murder, She Baked franchise will have fun spotting Lisa Durupt, who played Hannah’s sister, showing up in this movie.

The next two Chronicle Mysteries movies have already been filmed and are airing over the next couple of weeks.  Based on what we saw in Recovered, I’m looking forward to revisiting these characters and seeing where crimes from the past lead them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Book Review: The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #10)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun trip with these characters
Cons: Usual pacing issues
The Bottom Line:
Finger and letters
Open Flavia’s latest
Which is fun visit

The Curious Case of the Clue in the Cake

The last couple of books in the Flavia de Luce series have been rather somber, so I was ready for Flavia’s life and the series to return to the lighter tone some of the earlier books had.  That’s exactly what we get with The Golden Tresses of the Dead, and I really enjoyed it.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure yet, Flavia is a young chemist who has a special affinity for poison.  And she manages to find herself involved in one mystery after another in her small English village.  This book takes place in the fall of 1952, and Flavia herself is now thirteen.  It’s a unique choice for a series aimed at adults, but it works. 

The day has finally arrived – Flavia’s oldest sister is getting married.  Considering how rocky her romantic life has been over the years, this is a bit surprising.  The wedding is beautiful, but when the newlyweds go to cut the cake, they find a finger in the cake.  How did it get there?  Who did it belong to?

Before Flavia can really dig into this case, she and Dogger get their first client for their new Arthur W. Dogger and Associates Discreet Investigations.  A local woman has come in asking them to find some missing letters that would be damaging to her father if they got out.  Only Dogger isn’t so certain that their client’s story is true.  What is really going on?

Since this is the tenth book in the series, we are very invested in these characters, and that also means the wedding.  Those new to the series might find the first chapter boring, but I was loving it.  Heck, since the last book took place away from Flavia’s village of Bishop’s Lacey, it was fantastic to be spending time with all the series regulars again.  I’ve come to really love all of them, and the smiles I got when Flavia spent time with so many of them was proof of that.  The exception continues to be Undine, Flavia’s young cousin.  She continues to be the most uneven character in the series.  I get that she is supposed to be as annoying to Flavia as Flavia is to her sisters, but still, I find her over the top at times.  Yet that is more tempered here than in previous books, so I’m hoping she grows some in future books.

The plot?  It’s strong, although it does get sidetracked at times with Flavia’s soliloquies on chemistry and poison and her musings on life in general.  I didn’t find them any worse than other books in the series, so if you enjoy the series, you know what to expect.  The solution is a bit over the top, but it worked for me.  The suspects are all strong and add to the fun of the story.

I continue to listen to this series, and if you haven’t experienced Jayne Entwistle’s excellent narration, you are missing out.  I’m not sure I could read one of the books.  I certainly couldn’t do it without hearing Jayne’s voice in my head.  She brings the story to life with so much joy and fun that they make these books so much more delightful.

Fans will be happy to revisit Flavia and the rest of the cast in The Golden Tresses of the Dead.  If you haven’t found this unique character yet, you owe it to yourself to give her a chance to win your heart.

You'll want to check out all of the Flavia de Luce Mysteries.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Ornament Review: Millennium Falcon - 2018 Hallmark Star Wars Storyteller Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Adds to story, looks great
Cons: Not too much of a show when on its own
The Bottom Line:
Fly with Han, Chewie
Looks great, adds fun dialogue
A good addition

You Won’t Have a Bad Feeling about this Ornament

If you are using ships from Star Wars to retell the story from the original movie, of course you are going to put the Millennium Falcon.  It’s such a huge part of that movie, and the entire franchise really, that it needs to be included.  So I wasn’t surprised to see that it was one of the 2018 additions to the Star Wars Storytellers line from Hallmark.

This ornament looks just like the ship from the movie.  That includes molded plastic that is shaped to represent the ridges on the original ship.  While I don’t know how it flies through the air well looking like that, you certainly can’t mistake this ship for anything else.

But the fun comes when you plug this ornament into Hallmark’s Power Cord (sold separately).  That’s when a couple of very small areas on the ship light up and this ornament contributes to the overall show these ornaments put on.  Individually, it just has a 30 second clip from the moment they jump out of hyperspace to find that Alderaan has been destroyed.  However, when combined with the other ships in the series, you get more from it, including Hans’ contribution with this ship to the climactic battle.

With a mostly flat bottom, you could set this ornament out to be displayed year round.  It hangs straight when you go to hang it on your Christmas tree.

As I say, this is an iconic ship.  It had to be part of the set.  I’m a little surprised it wasn’t part of the first wave to be honest, although seeing how the sound clips add to the scenes originally released and don’t stand as well on their own, it makes some sense.

While the ornaments are expensive, I find them worth it.  If you are a Star Wars fan, you should definitely consider adding the Millennium Falcon to your Storytellers set.

Original Price: $39.99

Sunday, February 17, 2019

TV Show Review: Fuller House - Season 3

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Plenty of laughs
Cons: Generally hokey show (like always)
The Bottom Line:
Next Fuller chapter
Filled with plenty of laughs, love
Light, mindless, and fun

“I Think It’s a Little Hokey.”  “Are You New Here?  This is What We Do.”

It’s always a pleasure to return to characters you know and love.  Look at how many revivals of TV shows we have going on these days.  The one I’ve been enjoying the most is Fuller House.  I snapped up season 3 as soon as I could get it on DVD since I don’t have Netflix, and I’ve been enjoying it.

If you aren’t familiar with the show, it is a continuation of the 1980’s-1990’s sitcom Full House.  30 years have passed since the original, and it now focuses on three of the characters who were girls when the first one aired.  At the center of the new family is D. J. Fuller (Candace Cameron Bure), a widow.  D. J. is getting help raising her kids from her sister Stephanie Tanner (Jodie Sweetin) and her best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber).  The kids in this new sitcom include D. J.’s three kids, Jackson (Michael Campion), Max (Elias Harger), and Tommy (Dashiell & Fox Messitt).  There’s also Kimmy’s daughter Ramona (Soni Bringas).  Rounding out the cast we have Kimmy’s ex-husband and current fiancĂ© Fernando (Juan Pablo Di Pace), D. J.’s high school boyfriend Steve (Scott Weinger), D. J.’s business partner and current boyfriend Matt (John Brotherton), and Stephanie’s boyfriend Jimmy Gibbler (Adam Hagenbuch).  Yes, that’s right, Stephanie is dating Kimmy’s brother.

Hey, they don’t call this show Fuller House for nothing.

Over the course of these 18 episodes, Stephanie faces a decision about having kids of her own, Steve plans his wedding to C. J. in Japan, with Kimmy helping plan it and everyone traveling over for the event.  While D. J. has made a decision about her love life, she still has doubts that Matt is the man for her.  Fernando buys the former Gibbler house and, which Jimmy’s help, returns it to its former … glory isn’t quite the word for it.  Jackson has to retake history during summer school, which introduces him to Rocki (Landry Bender), the daughter of Stephanie’s friend Gia (Marla Sokoloff).  Max tries to give a report even though he’s sick.  Tommy even gets his own storyline in an episode as D. J. tries to get him into a prestigious pre-school.  And Ramona keeps trying to get into the dance school of her dreams.

To be honest, I feel like the show focuses most on the adults, with the kids usually being relegated to a B story in an episode.  If they are part of the main plot, there is an equally strong storyline for the adults.  Not that I’m complaining since the pull for many of us is the now adult characters.  We’ve loved these characters and the actresses and actor playing D. J., Stephanie, Kimmy, and Steve since the show originally aired, so it is natural to care most about them.  Not that the kids are bad characters, I just find the adults the ones I care about the most.

Speaking of which, the rest of the original cast continue to pop in for an episode here to there.  Everyone is back for the two-part season finale which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the original show and brings some changes to the adult’s lives.

The most important thing for a sitcom is does it make you laugh.  I can easily say the answer is yes.  Oh, the show continues to be hokey and cheesy with over the top elements.  I can only speak for myself, but that’s one thing I love about it.  This show is light, mindless entertainment, and it does it so well.  The laughs are plentiful and everyone seems to be having so much fun, which comes across through the screen.  Yes, the show does have tender moments as well, although they aren’t quite as plentiful or obvious as in the original.

Likewise, the acting is perfect for this show.  It’s not going to win any awards, and at times it adds to the hokeiness of the proceedings, but it makes us laugh and brings the characters to life perfectly.

This will be the longest season of the show since Netflix gave us 18 episodes.  Each episode is in the 30 minute range, most running a few minutes under but a few running longer.  They are collected in this two disc set in their original wide screen and full surround sound.  There’s nothing in the way of extras, but the episodes themselves are plenty of fun.

I will fully concede that Fuller House is an acquired taste, but if you love these characters and this show, you’ll enjoy season 3.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

February 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Once again, a light week for February sweeps.  And, while a couple shows are coming back this week, others are going on hiatus.

Arrow – Curtis has left?  No!!!  At least he left alive, which is rare for this show.  I’m not surprised that William is going away again.  They really don’t know what to do with him.  But how does this fit with what the older William said at the beginning of the season about being left at boarding school by Oliver and Felicity and basically forgotten about.  That’s right, I’m still not loving the flash forwards, which is no surprise.

The Flash – I’m glad that at least Barry discussed the issues with time travel since no one else seemed to bring that up.  57 times?  Wow, that’s a lot of death.  It will be interesting to see if they can figure out what she changed in future episodes.  And what is Thone’s goal.  It can’t really be to keep Barry from disappearing.

This is Us – So, Kevin has had a set back.  I hope it isn’t too bad, although knowing this show I’m sure it will be.  Amazing how Randall and Kate remembered that afternoon so differently.  I can certainly see that happening, however.  But my favorite part of the episode was flashback Randall on the phone ordering pizza.  So funny.

The Masked Singer – Again, the site I’ve been reading for theories called it.  I never would have come up with her in a million years otherwise.  I’m running about 50% on even knowing who the celebrities are, but that’s not surprising given how I fair on Dancing with the Stars, too.

Suits – Nice to see Scotty again.  Frankly, all the plots in this episode were nice.  They showed us the human sides of our characters in the end, something we don’t always see.  Pretty much stands alone, but I really liked it.

The Orville – That was a dark episode.  The lecture was a little obvious, too.  Hopefully, we’ve moved back to action and comedy next week.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Movie Review: Happy Death Day 2U

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Character growth, fun
Cons: If you expect formula, you’ll be highly disappointed
The Bottom Line:
What caused the time loop?
Tree learns as she loops again
Genre blending film

“Who Picks a Creepy Baby as a Mascot?”

I really enjoyed Happy Death Day, although the movie left one thing open – how exactly did Tree (Jessica Rothe) get stuck in the time loop that kept her dying over and over again?  That is one of the first things addressed in the sequel, Happy Death Day 2U.  But the answer to that is just the beginning.

The movie actually opens with Ryan (Phi Vu) as he wakes up in his car for the second day in a row.  He slowly makes his way back to his dorm room only to find that Tree is once again in the room he shares with his roommate Carter (Israel Broussard) only this time, the two are making out.  However, a phone call from his friends and research partners Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Andrea (Sarah Yarkin) sends him from the room over to their lab.  His elation at their news is short lived, however, when the Baby Face Killer puts in another appearance, and Ryan is killed….

Only to wake up in his car again.  Can the gang figure out what is going on now?

My teaser only covers about the first 15 minutes or so of the film.  After that, it spins off in some fun and surprising ways.  So if you are worried that we will have a rehash of the first movie in any way, shape or form, you can relax.  In fact, the Baby Face Killer becomes a sub-plot here, with most of the deaths being self-inflicted in order to reset the timeline.

I highly recommend you see the first movie first.  While there is a very helpful recap at the beginning, if you haven’t seen the first one, you might be lost.  This movie opens seconds after the first one ends, and continues the story right away, so it assumes you have a working knowledge of what has happened to the characters and even who they all are.

As I already hinted out before, this is much less of a horror movie than it is a science fiction story.  There are a couple of decent chase sequences that will get your heart pumping, but they aren’t the focus of the film.  Instead, the focus is on the science fiction that started these loops in the first place.

And there’s comedy.  No, this isn’t a laugh a minute film, but there are plenty of jokes and laugh out loud moments as Tree and her friends race to fix what has been set in motion.

Yes, I keep mentioning Tree on purpose.  Despite how my teaser set things up, Tree is still definitely the main character of the film.  It is her journey that pulls us into the action.  And she has some wonderful moments here as she struggles to deal with what is happening.  You probably don’t go to a slasher film to see character growth and be close to tearing up at one point, but that’s exactly what we get here, and the movie is better for it.

Needless to say, the acting calls for quite a bit of range.  While a couple scenes are a little weak, most of the acting is perfect no matter whether we are getting technobabble, comedy, character growth, or a chase scene.

And I was on the edge of my seat multiple times as the movie progressed, just not always because a character was being stalked.

There is a scene half way through the credits that not only explains the one plot hole I was thinking of as I watched the final scene, but also provided one final laugh.  You’ll definitely want to stay around long enough to see that.

Happy Death Day 2U is a genre blending film that is a lot of fun.  As long as you aren’t expecting the movie to fit any formulas, you’ll enjoy yourself.