Saturday, November 30, 2019

November 30th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Fall finales started airing last week.  I guess only two of my shows were affected by that, but several did take the week off due to Thanksgiving.  And thanks to the holiday, I'll have a double dose of Survivor next week.

God Friended Me – I’ve been thinking for a while that eventually they would have an episode without a happy ending.  I guess this was it.  What I find really interesting is that it involved one of the main cast’s family, although that isn’t surprising since it means something.  I feel sorry for Miles.  He did the right thing, and he thought it would help because he hadn’t been told the truth.  I still think this is the best that Cara’s step-dad would have hoped for since he did break the law.  Not as impressed with Arthur’s storyline, although that’s probably because I’ve said much the same things as the priest he was having conflicts with has said.

Dancing with the Stars – With as often has Ally has been saved by the judges, I was kind of rooting against her, but I would have been okay with any of them winning.  Those dances were all fun to watch.  Congrats to Hannah.

The Flash – That was…interesting.  Episodes in the mind can work, but that one really didn’t for me.  Did not see the ending/cliffhanger coming.  How will they defeat everything next week to be ready for crisis in two weeks?

Arrow – Two mind twisting episodes in a row.  This one wasn’t much better.  Still not sure I’m in the camp that believes the Monitor is good either. Guess we will be finding out in two weeks.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving here in the United States of America.  I've got no new review today.  But I wanted to take a minute to say I am thankful for those of you who read my blog on a regular basis.

I hope if you are celebrating today, you have a fantastic time with family and friends.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ornament Review: Green Lantern - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Lesser done superhero in action
Cons: Can blend into tree
The Bottom Line:
Mini Green Lantern
Piece captures him in action
Small but very nice

The Power of Green for Your Green Tree

There are certain characters you immediately think of when you think DC Comics Superheroes.  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, for example.  Not surprising, these are also the characters you think of when you think of the Justice League.  But DC and the League both have other characters, and Hallmark included one of them, Green Lantern, in this year’s addition to their Justice League mini ornaments.

Green Lantern is the first of these mini ornaments not to be diving forward into the fight.  Oh, he’s fighting, he’s just doing it his way.  He’s pulled back with his right arm extended.  His right arm is the one with his ring of power on it, so he’s ready to unleash his power to fight whatever evil the Justice League is facing today.  This is a classic Green Lantern with a green and black costume.

And that green costume might be an issue on your tree.  It would be easy for him to get lost in the green branches.  But then again, he is Green Lantern.  He needs to be green.

That’s my only concern with the ornament.  He looks just like the classic character from the comic books.  I’m not as familiar with him as some of the other comic book characters since I never read comic books growing up, but even I can easily recognize who he is.

This is a miniature ornament.  As such, he is only an inch and a half tall.  He will look great on my miniature tree, but he will get lost if you aren’t careful on a big tree.

Since he is in action, you can’t set this ornament out to be displayed.  However, he looks great when you go to hang him on a tree.  Hanging him really captures that in the middle of a fight look.

I’m happy to see Hallmark branch out a little and include Green Lantern in their mini Justice League set.  I’m curious to see if they will continue next year, and if so, which characters we will get.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Review: Cobblered to Death by Rosemarie Ross (Courtney Archer #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, cozy setting
Cons: Plot underdone
The Bottom Line:
Baking contest death
Likable characters but
Plot is uneven

Clobbered by Cherry Cobbler

Once again, I’m proving that I can’t resist a culinary cozy.  Despite not needing any new series to start, I just had to pick up Cobblered to Death.

Courtney Archer has made a name for herself as the host of a cooking show called The Farmer’s Daughter.  There’s just one catch – she is actually the daughter of a doctor from Chicago.  She hates deceiving her fans, but keeping it a secret is part of her contract.

In an effort to expand her brand, Courtney is serving as host of The American Baking Battle.  It is supposed to be a friendly baking competition, but even at the opening night reception for the bakers and celebrities to interact, Courtney can sense the tension.  It seems that Mick, one of the contestants, is at the center of the problems.  Worse yet, he has learned Courtney’s secret and appears ready to hold it over her head.  However, on the second morning of taping, Courtney finds Mick dead on the floor of the show’s set, hit over the head with the pan of cherry cobbler she had made for her own show.  With the police looking at her as a person of interest, can she figure out what really happened to Mick?

This book started out well, and I was quickly under its spell.  Courtney is a strong main character, and I instantly liked her.  I could sympathize with her predicament about her background, probably because she clearly doesn’t like it herself.  Likewise, her show’s producer, Eric, is great, and we meet some other fun characters.  The tension and secrets are introduced quickly as well, giving us some potential suspects before Mick is murdered.  And make no mistake, if you read cozy mysteries, it is obvious who the victim will be early on.

However, the further I went into the book, the more I struggled with it.  Don’t misunderstand, I still loved the characters.  Courtney makes a great friend on the set of the show, and I enjoyed watching their relationship develop.  There are hints of romance as well, and I was intrigued by how this storyline played out here and what it set up for the future.

No, my problem lay with the plot.  There weren’t quite enough suspects and clues to keep the story moving forward.  We get to spend plenty of time with the events surrounding The American Baking Battle, which was fun, but I needed more twists and surprises as I worked my way through the story.  The climax was weaker than it should have been as a result, although it does answer all of our questions.

I really did enjoy the setting.  The show is being filmed at a private estate in the Poconos, and the location sounded like a lot of fun.  I would certainly enjoy a visit in real life when it isn’t filled with the tension of a murder mystery.

The wonderful characters and setting will be more than enough to draw people to this new series, and Cobblered to Death shows them off well.  I do hope the plots get stronger as the series progresses.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Book Review: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #50)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mysteries – past and present
Cons: Climax is over the top, characters sniping at each other
The Bottom Line:
Revisit murder
In light of current events
Milestone entry

Jessica’s First Murder Mystery Comes Back to Haunt Her

This year marks thirty-five years since Jessica Fletcher first graced our TV screens in Murder, She Wrote.  And this month, the franchise reaches another milestone with the publication of A Time For Murder, the fiftieth novel based on the long running show.

Years before she wrote her first novel, Jessica was involved in a murder case.  At the time, she and her husband, Frank, were living in Appleton, Maine, and raising their eight-year-old nephew Grady.  Jessica was a long-term substitute English teacher at the high school.  One morning, the principal of the high school was found in his office, and Jessica finds herself involved in figuring out what happened to him.

What brings this case from twenty-five years ago to mind?  A reporter from Cabot Cove High School asks Jessica about it in an interview.   Jessica dodges talking about the case, as she normally does, but when she decides to go and share a little more with the reporter, she realizes she was talking to an imposter.  Who interviewed her?  What is her interest in the case?

I picked up the book skeptical since it has been long established that Jessica’s first real life murder case was the murder she solved in the pilot episode.  (Speaking of which, they spoil that particular mystery in the first chapter here.  But after thirty-five years, I doubt there are many fans who haven’t seen it yet.)  I was happy to see how they explained that away so that this new book still fits with what has come before.  Since this is set twenty-five years in the past, we are obviously outside of real time with these novels.  With as young as Grady is, I’m not sure that even works with the timeline of the series, but I’d have to go back and rewatch the pilot to verify that.  Either way, I just accepted the books logic and moved on.

And I’m glad I did because this book was a lot of fun.  We spend part of the time in the past, and I enjoyed getting a glimpse of Jessica’s life with Frank and Grady as a boy.  There are some other surprises and cameos from the past that fans will absolutely enjoy.  Plus, the mystery is good.  This story is dribbled into the action of the present, and each time we returned to now, I was a little disappointed since I wanted to find out what had happened all those years ago.  And don’t worry, it is always clearly marked when we are moving to the past, so both timelines are easy to follow.

The majority of the book takes place in the present as Jessica works to figure out how the past is impacting what is happening to in the present.  Both storylines are compelling, so when it was time to return to the past, I was a bit disappointed because I wanted to know what would happen next in the present.  (Never happy, am I?)  In other words, I was once again pulled into this book and had a very hard time putting it down.

Unfortunately, my issues with the books I’ve read continue here.  The climax is an over the top action scene that stretches credibility.  It is page turning, but it also doesn’t feel right for this franchise.  Likewise, Jessica, Mort, and Seth snipe at each other a bit too much for my recollection of their relationships in the later seasons of the show.

On the other hand, Jessica has stopped swearing, which I appreciated tremendously.

It is obvious this book was written with its milestone status in mind.  The mystery from the past allows us to introduce a few Easter eggs that fans will love as they read.

It is a testament to the characters that Murder, She Wrote has so many fans so long after it debuted.  If you are one of them, I recommend you pick up A Time For Murder.  You’ll be glad you did.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Monday, December 2nd, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 12/2.  You will have until midnight on 12/7 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 12/8.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Movie Review: Frozen II

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Plenty of fun and moving moments
Cons: Uneven tone, preachy at times
The Bottom Line:
This massive sequel
Can’t recapture first’s magic
Still has fun moments

Overall Uneven, but Still Fun at Times

Given how many animated sequels Disney has been pumping out to the theaters recently, I’m not surprised that we are getting a sequel to Frozen.  That film has lost of some its popularity over the last six years, but there are still plenty of fans who want to see what happens next to sisters Elsa and Anna and their friends.  Frozen II has finally come out, but sadly, the movie misses what made the first one great.

As we check in with our friends, change is in the air.  Oh, it may be because the season is changing to autumn from summer, but Olaf the Snowman (voiced by Josh Gad) knows that something different is coming.  While Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is trying to figure out how to propose to Anna (Kristen Bell), it is more than that.  It’s a voice that Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) keeps hearing.  She doesn’t know what it means, but she feels it calling to her from the north of Arendelle.

The country to the north had been the subject of stories when Elsa and Anna were little girls.  But how will the stories their parents told them match the reality.  Will the sisters and their friends be able to figure out the secret that will impact their own kingdom as well?

If you go back and look at the original movie, you’ll find some pretty serious events and themes lightened by comic relief, most noticeably from Olaf.  That first movie managed to find the right tone, incorporating the humor without feeling out of place.  This movie doesn’t pull that off as well.  The comedy is funnier, but the drama is darker, and it feels inconsistent as a result.

Now, don’t misunderstand, this movie has some extremely funny moments.  Olaf steals several scenes, but the funniest moment might be the song that Kristoff gets.  And that’s all I will say about it so as not to spoil the surprise.  All the adults in the audience when I saw it were dying.  I honestly think we were laughing harder than the kids were as many of the jokes seemed to be aimed at us.

And that might be part of what the problem with the film was – the humor comes across as jaded.  I’m thinking especially of Olaf’s songs.  Yes, they are funny, but instead of enjoying his naiveté like in the first film’s “In Summer,” this movie mocks him more.  Plus, the jokes at his expense in the first film were ones that kids would get.  Here, they will probably leave kids asking more questions of their parents to understand what is so funny.

Then there’s the main story that sets us out on big adventure.  At the heart of it is a big secret.  I actually guessed what the secret was early on, and sadly I was right.  This movie is used to score points with the backstory, and that predictability cheapens it.  Considering the first movie put a twist on true love (something I loved), it would have been nice to have a twist on the secret.

Having said that, there were other themes I did appreciate.  While Olaf is worried about change, Anna does her best to reassure him that some things don’t change, like how much people love each other.  Things get dark at the climax, and Anna finds herself needing to give herself a pep talk.  Her song at that point, which had been a reoccurring theme, is something we all need to remember to do when life gets hard – take a step toward “The Next Right Thing.”

Speaking of music, it is once again a huge part of the film.  I feel like a couple of the songs tried a bit too hard to be the next “Let It Go.”  While the songs are fun and advance the story, I don’t feel that there is another breakout hit we will all get tired of hearing here.  If there is one, it will be “Into the Unknown,” but even it doesn’t feel like it captures that “Let It Go” lightening in a bottle.

Technically, the film is great.  While the characters are stylized, there are some amazing shots of the animated world they live in.  Likewise, the voice cast all does a great job of bringing their characters to life.

I know that Frozen II will be big.  Everyone will need to go see it.  But I don’t feel this film will have the long life the first one did.  There are plenty of fun parts to the movie, but on the whole, it doesn’t capture the magic of the original.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

November 23rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

God Friended Me – I saw Rajesh’s breakup coming since they started the fake breakup storyline a couple weeks ago.  I’m so sorry to see that however, since I liked his ex.  Meanwhile, Miles’s dad still needs to apologize for accepting the job of Bishop without talking to Trish at all about it.  I’m definitely still on her side of this one.  The main story?  Yes, they have to give Miles and Kara a few bumps, but this had better be all this is.  Audrey seems to have forgiven her friend/step-mother pretty quickly.  But that’s the nature of this show.

Batwoman – Eventually, Sophie is going to go back to Kate.  And Kate is finally becoming the activist I expected her to be all along.  I knew it was coming, but it is still disappointing.  I’m wondering what Alice is up to with her father/step mother.  I’m guessing she will try to poison step-mom.  But when was Mouse acting like her and Kate’s father?

Supergirl – Lena’s secret is out in the open.  I thought they’d play that out longer, but I have a feeling that they are wrapping up some storylines due to the crossover.  Give us a season A and season B.  Anyway, that scene was so hard to watch.  As much as Lena needs to get a clue, we can certainly understand why she is so hurt by everything.  I found myself wishing they hadn’t turned her evil.

Dancing with the Stars – Not James!  As you know, I’ve been rooting for him to win it all, so I’m very disappointed.  Although I bet his head and heart just weren't in it this week.  I'm not sure if him being off the show is a blessing or not.  The distraction might be good, but it might be good for him to have the time with his family.  Now, I’ll be rooting for Kel.

The Flash – So this and Arrow are the only ones really building to the crossover, and both are talking about taking the Monitor down.  I have a feeling I know what at least the plot of the first hour will be.  We will see how things change as the episodes go along.  This was Killer Frost and Cisco’s week off for the cross over.  I was reminded how I have really come to like Ralph.  Heck, he was teaching Barry a thing or two.  And what does it say about me that I couldn’t remember the meta that Cecile was helping at all?

Arrow – As much as I’ve hated the flash forwards, I truly do like what they are doing with Oliver and his adult kids.  If only there were some way to change the future and allow him to have seen them grow up.  Still not happy about that.  I figured Laurel wouldn’t betray Oliver.  But who shot them at the end?  And what is Lyla working with the Monitor?  That’s going to be awkward going forward.  I’m glad Roy is back of the team again.

This Is Us – Yep, definitely giving Rebecca memory issues.  Not happy about that.  Flash forward at the end is to only 9 months from now?  Why aren’t Randall and the rest speaking?  That tidbit doesn’t make me happy at all.  And yet he was calling Rebecca in the flash forward.  Toby wasn’t at the 40th birthday party either.  Again, that doesn’t make me happy.  Maybe they just didn’t show him and he was there after all.  Yes, I’m rethinking whether I want to keep watching this show again.  I do love the fact that they have some strange Thanksgiving traditions, and those traditions are passed on to the next generation.  Those are what make the holidays truly fun.

Survivor – It’s been a while since they last had two tribals like this.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time it happened.  And both of the people who “should” have gone home are still around, while people who thought they were in charge and dominating are out of the game.  I have a feeling things are going to get shaken up next week.  I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

The Good Place – Definitely one of the better episodes of the season.  I really liked seeing some of Chidi’s backstory and some of those moments from the show we didn’t see.  That scene with Chidi and Michael in Chidi’s apartment during the first Good Place was classic.  But that note at the end?  Priceless.  It’s going to be a long wait until January but a short sprint to the finish from there.

Carol’s Second Act – Again, I saw the plot points of the main story coming.  Had fun getting there, but it wasn’t terribly original.  The sub-plot was a lot of fun.  Both actors played it perfectly, too.

Friday, November 22, 2019

November 22nd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring the 50th Murder, She Wrote tie-in novel: A Time for Murder.


Here's how it starts:
"When did you solve your first murder?" the reporter for the Cabot Cover High School newspaper asked me from across the table at Mara's Luncheonette just before the noon lunch rush began.

And, from page 56:

"What to know what I see, Mrs. F?"
I had no idea why he'd taken to calling me that again.  "OH, did I leave something out, Sheriff?"
"A second bullet."

This book is a lot of fun.  I'll have my full review, with giveaway, up on Monday, so I hope you'll stop back by.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Book Review: And Then There Were Crumbs by Eve Calder (Cookie House Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, delightful setting
Cons: Mystery is a sub-plot
The Bottom Line:
Murder on first day
Kate bakes and works to free boss
And in that order

Unfortunately, the Mystery Got Crumbs

As you may have noticed, just about any culinary cozy that crosses my path catches my attention, especially if it is dessert related.  Throw in the fact that And Then There Were Crumbs is set in Coral Cay, Florida, which sounded like a great location, and I was sold.  Unfortunately, the results were mixed.

After losing her job, her apartment, and her fiance all in one day, Kate McGuire decides it is time for a change, so she packs up her belongings and moves to Coral Cay, hoping to land a job as a pastry chef before her savings runs out.  The best job she seems to be able to land is at The Cookie House, a bakery known for its breads, but not one pastry of any kind.  Sam Hepplewhite, the owner, seems gruff, but Kate begins to see a softer side to him.

On Kate’s first full day on the job, Stewart Lord stalks into the bakery.  He is a real estate developer who has decided to buy up Coral Cay and turn the entire island into a resort for the rich and famous, and he has The Cookie House in his sites as his first purchase.  He makes Sam a rock bottom offer, but only leaves with some cinnamon rolls he demanded from Sam.  A few hours later, Stewart is dead, and Sam’s cinnamon rolls are the culprit.  The police arrest Sam, but Kate doesn’t think her new boss is a killer.  Can she prove he didn’t poison Stewart?

I’ve heard a lot of praise for this book, and I can see why people love it.  Heck, I was under its spell for the first 100 pages or so.  This may be a debut, but the writing is sure.  I easily got lost in Coral Cay and am ready to visit in real life.  While character’s pasts are important to understand what is happening in the present, we get this info in quick bursts instead of in long, drawn out flashbacks.

Even more important, the characters are strong.  Kate makes some friends on the island, and I can see why she considers them such good friends in such a short amount of time.  Heck, I loved hanging out with them.  There is a large cast of characters, but they were never overwhelming, and we were also given context to remember who everyone was.

Unfortunately, it is the mystery that undercuts the book.  We spend more time – significantly more time – on the fate of the bakery once Sam is arrested than we do on actually working to solve the case.  That’s the main plot of the book with the mystery serving as a sub-plot.  It’s a shame because the basic mystery was strong.  We just needed more of it with more twists along the way.

This book will make you hungry!  Kate manages to do plenty of baking over the course of the book, with cookies being a focus.  I want to try several different varieties mentions here.  Unfortunately, we don’t have any of those recipes at the end of the book.

The characters and the setting easily capture the reader.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for me, and the under baked mystery left me disappointed.  However, enough people love the book that if the premise sounds good, pick up And Then There Were Crumbs.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Christmas #8 - Decorating the House - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute and creative ornament
Cons: None for fans of this series
The Bottom Line:
Decorating time
With this bulb shaped ornament
Shows decorating

Decorate Your Tree with this Decorating Ornament

I’ve made no secret of how much I love the Cookie Cutter Christmas series.  Each entry is so cute.  So, I’m sure you aren’t going to be at all surprised to hear me say I love this year’s entry as well.

This year, the Christmas cookie cutter shape is a light bulb.  I must admit, I didn’t quite see it until someone else pointed it out, but now that I know what it is supposed to be, I can’t believe I didn’t see it to begin with.  And it’s a perfect shape for the scene inside the ornament.  Our mouse is working on decorating the outside of his tree house.  He’s standing on a ladder made of candy canes to hang some decorations over his door.  In this world where treats fill in for real things, I’m going to say he is hanging lights.  Okay, so it looks like colored hard candies strung on a rope, but remember, he is standing on a candy cane ladder.  We’ve got a cookie for a front door step, licorice as the door frame, and a cupcake bush, so those could easily be lights he is hanging.

I honestly think that is one of the things I love about this series.  At first glance, the scene looks like a mouse decorating his house for Christmas.  But when you look closer, you start to see all of those fun details.  And they make everything so cute.  Plus there’s the fact that the scene fits perfectly in the shape of the cookie cutter and fits the theme of the cookie cutter.  I do love how the snow at the bottom of the ornament is ever so slightly leaking out of the frame.  Could this ornament be any more perfect?

Well, it could if you were looking to stand this ornament up to display.  The bottom of the ornament is ever so rounded, so it won’t stand up for more than a second without rolling to one side or the other.

On the other hand, the ornament looks good when hung.  It might tip ever so slightly to the left, but it’s hard to tell for sure, and when you hang it in the middle of tree branches, you’ll never notice.

As I’ve mentioned, this ornament is part of a series.  As a result, you’ll find an 8 in a Christmas tree on the back of the ornament.  It’s right next to the handle for the cookie cutter.  They really do think of everything with these ornaments, don’t they?

This ornament is another triumph for the Cookie Cutter Christmas series.  If you want a cute ornament, you’ll be hard pressed to find one better than this one.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Cookie Cutter Christmas series.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Book Review: Ghosts of Painting Past by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: All cons painted over
The Bottom Line:
Christmas discovr’y
Opens mystery from past
In holiday book

Uncovering the Past at Christmas

While I love Christmas, living in Southern California, I experience it a little differently than how it is usually pictured.  For example, I don’t dream of a white Christmas – to me rain feels like Christmas.  Some of those differences are captured in Ghosts of Painting Past, the fifth Aurora Anderson Mystery.  It only makes sense since Rory lives in Vista Beach, a community in the greater Los Angeles area of California.

The house across the street from Rory is being torn down, so she is trying to drown out the sound of construction vehicles with Christmas carols when the sound suddenly stops.  The crew has found bones buried under a building in the backyard.  It isn’t long before the police have been able to identify the bones, but their identity puts Rory’s father in the role of suspect.  Rory tries to help out with a variety of holiday events planned in the community, including finishing up her own ornaments to sell at the craft fair despite what is happening in town, but when a new body turns up, the stakes are raised.  Can she figure out what happened in the past and how that is impacting the present?

I must admit, every time I pick up a book where a mystery from the past is uncovered, I worry a bit that I won’t find the book that compelling.  After all, if the crime is that old, will anyone in the present care?  And yet, time after time, I find myself enjoying these types of stories.  This book is no exception.  It quickly becomes apparent to us why this decades old crime is still relevant today, and we start rooting for Rory to figure out what really happened back then and how it is playing out in the present.  It certainly helps that Rory has a couple of very personal reasons to want to see this resolved.  There are plenty of clues and red herrings to keep us guessing and keep the story moving forward, but the ending makes perfect sense.

Despite the tole-painting hook of this series, the tone has always been a bit more on the serious side of the cozy spectrum.  That’s true again here, but given the mystery that is unfolding, that is completely appropriate.

And, we do have plenty of Christmas events to help lighten the mood a little.  I’ve already mentioned a craft fair, but there’s caroling and a “snowman” building contest.  Well, a sandman building contest, really, taking place right on the beach.  While I can’t sculpt anything from sand (or snow), reading these scenes made me want to participate.  As I hinted earlier, I loved seeing someone celebrating Christmas in Southern California.  I still got the Christmas vibe, and I didn’t need snow to do it.

The characters in this series continue to grow on me.  We have a limited number of main characters, but it was fabulous to see them all again and see how their relationships grow in this book.  The new characters introduced for this book are all strong characters as well, which helps make the stakes of the mystery so real.

With Christmas fast approaching, now is the perfect time to pick up Ghosts of Painting Past.  It would be fun to read during December, but it will get you in the Christmas mood any time of year.

Watch Rory paint up some clues in the rest of the Aurora Anderson Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Disney Mug Review: Simba - Disney Wisdom Collection #11

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great quote; pretty mug
Cons: Simba gets a little lost
The Bottom Line:
Another great quote
On a pretty yellow mug
Series almost done

Another Fantastic Mug Filled with Wisdom

The Disney Wisdom Collection Mugs have been a lot of fun.  I’m enjoying having the colors and characters on my shelf, and this month’s addition is another winner.

This month, we get a quote from The Lion King.  The quote is from the turning point in the movie when Rafiki confronts a now grown Simba who has been trying to hide from his past.  “The past can hurt.  But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”  Great reminder, right?

The mug itself is yellow in color.  It really does seem to be a lion yellow, which I know isn’t a regular color.  I’m sure the fact that the quote is from The Lion King is what is making me think of it that way.  Anyway, the quote is on one side of it written in a different shade of yellow with purple and green highlights.  There are fun squiggles all around it as well.

The other side of the mug features this month’s characters, Simba and Pumba.  They are in a combination of brown and yellow.  Pumba looks great this way since he is supposed to be brown anyway.  Simba blends into the rest of the mug a bit, but it isn’t too bad.  All the better for pouncing, right?

As usual, the mug is short but wide, so it holds 12 oz. of your favorite beverage.  It is completely dishwasher and microwave safe, and the bottom is slightly smaller so it will stack with the rest of the mugs in this series.  They really do look fun together as the colors mix and match on my shelves.

It’s hard to believe this series is winding down – the last entry will be out in just a few weeks.  But that’s the future.  For right now, I will enjoy this mug I bought in the not too distant past.

Disney Pin Review: Simba - Disney Wisdom Collection #11

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Three great pins and a great quote
Cons: All cons left in the past
The Bottom Line:
Learning from the past
With this fun Disney pin set
Features Lion King

Learn From the Past and Get this Pin Set

I’m having a hard time processing the fact that the year is winding down.  Yet my pennant of pins from the Disney Wisdom Collection is almost full, so we must be close to the end of the year.  This month, we’ve got a set inspired by Rafiki in The Lion King.  It’s a serious quote, and a good reminder.

The quote is “The past can hurt.  But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”  This quote comes late in the movie after Nala has found Simba hiding out beyond the pride lands, afraid to go back because of what he thinks he did.  It certainly fits Simba’s story in the movie, but it applies to so much of life.  I would add that yes, we need to grieve when bad things happen, but we can’t live in the past or dwell in the past.  But must learn from it and move forward, which is the healthy way of dealing with the past, both good and bad.  Not that it is always easy.  And this isn’t meant to be flippant or heartless in the middle of a tragedy.  As I said, you need time to grieve.

Okay, enough with the pop psychology from the accountant, right?

As usual, this set includes three pins.  The color of the month is a lion yellow.  The quote has some words emphasized in a burnt orange to help them stand out.  The other two pins are characters.  One of them is Simba.  In fact, he’s the featured character of the month, which explains why the pins are in lion yellow.  I’m doubly surprised at the other character.  I figured Rafiki would be the obvious choice, but instead we get Pumba.  We don’t get a lot of pins from this movie, and I would have been fine with either character, but since this is Rafiki’s quote, I expected to see him.  My other surprise?  I thought they might slip Timon into the pin set as well.  He could have been riding on Pumba’s back.  Yes, we only get two characters in the usual pin sets for this series, so this second one isn’t as big a surprise.

Since Rafiki isn’t included in the set, that gives us a total of 3.5 out of 11 entries in the series where the speaker has been one of the characters included in the pin set.

The characters look nice on the pins.  The accent color for them is brown.  Since yellow and brown are the natural colors for Simba and Pumba, these look the least stylized of any of the pin sets we’ve received so far.

So this pin set looks great.  If you’ve been collecting the Disney Wisdom Collection, you’ll love it.  Your future self will thank your past self for buying it.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Book Review: The Last Dragon by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced fantasy story
Cons: A bit darker in tone that I normally enjoy
The Bottom Line:
Search for his father
Might lead Fort to last dragon
Fantasy, magic

Fort’s Continued Hunt for His Father

Earlier this year, James Riley introduced us to his newest magical world.  The Revenge of Magic is his third fantasy series for middle school students.  We get to return to this world in The Last Dragon.

I will be including a spoiler for that first book below since that spoiler sets up the action for this book.  Be forewarned as you read the review.

It’s been six months since the attack that rocked Fort’s world.  He and his father were visiting Washington, DC, when something rose from the ground and snatched his father before vanishing.  In the last few weeks, Fort has learned about magic and join a school in which kids are learning these skills.  Even more surprising, he’s learned there is a chance his dad might still be alive.  Since that day, rescuing his father is all he has thought about.

Now, Fort has a chance to get the magic book he needs to rescue his father from wherever he was taken.  He has enlisted his friends to help him steal the book as it is moved one night.  However, as always, complications ensue, including a new roommate that Fort is supposed to spend all his time with.  But as he practices the magic skills he needs, he keeps having nightmares in which the Old One promises him his father in exchange for the last dragon.  What does that even mean?  Should he make that exchange?  Or will his original rescue plan work?

For me, it’s been six months since I read the first book in the series, but this one does a great job of reminding us of the world that James Riley had created while propelling the action forward.  I was soon caught up once again in this world and ready to see where Fort’s adventures took him here.  They take him to some pretty unexpected places, and it’s a fun, fast paced ride that will keep kids reading.  It certainly kept me reading.

As I was reading this book, I was able to pin point what does bother me about this series.  It has a slight post-apocalyptic feel to it.  Or maybe that’s just me trying to put a word to the feeling I get from it.  Either way, it doesn’t have quite the same warmth and fun that James Riley’s earlier books have.  That’s not a favorite genre of mine, so this is a personal issue with the book, but those who like the genre will love this book.

After all, the characters are fantastic.  Fort is a very relatable main character, and he’s surrounded by a strong group of friends.  I really liked how these relationships played out here – they felt realistic for what Fort was dealing with and his actions.  That brought a realism to the fantasy that I appreciated.

While this series is not completely my choice of genres, I’m still anxious to find out what happens next to Fort.  How can I not be after how this book ends?  I’m glad I read The Last Dragon, and I think you will be, too.

Get the background you need with the rest of The Revenge of Magic series.

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

Saturday, November 16, 2019

November 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

When two of your shows take the week off, it makes your TV watching much easier.  And this was the last week for American Horror Story for me forever, too, which will help going forward.

Batwoman – The more I watch, the darker this show becomes.  That’s what I expected, but I’m thinking I’m going to drop the show after the crossover event unless something big happens to hook me.

Supergirl – Another episode designed to give the leads time to work on the crossover.  Still, that was background we desperately needed on the understand what is going on between Lena and Andrea.  I’m very curious where they are going to go with her character now.

God Friended Me – They got me with this one.  I didn’t have any of the twists with the main story figured out.  Or the twist with the painting.  I still can’t figure out where they are going with the God Account storyline at all.  I’m sure we won’t get there until the series finale.  I just hope they have enough advanced notice to do it right.  Anyway, it was a bit more somber, but very good overall.

Dancing with the Stars – I honestly can’t believe that Shawn is gone.  I’m not surprised the judges didn’t save him; I knew all along the instant he was in the bottom two he would go.  And, as you know from what I’ve been saying, I believe he should have gone several weeks ago, so I’m not upset in the slightest.  The rest had some good dances.  The competition for the final two weeks is going to be very tight.

This is Us – Please don’t tell me that they are going to give Rebecca Alzheimer’s or dementia or something like that.  I don’t know if I can watch that play out.  Yes, I know it happens, but I don’t need to watch that on TV.  In other news, I liked Kevin’s storyline for the episode.  It was killing Kate to not tell Toby what was really going on, but I’m glad she didn’t.  And the story in the flashback was so touching.  Deja’s mom will be an interesting addition to things next week.  I expect fireworks, but that will really set some things off, I’m sure.

Survivor – Once again this season, I missed we were getting two episodes until I sat down to watch.  As soon as they made a big deal about Kellee finding two idols, I knew she was the one to go in the first hour.  Would have been nice to surprise me a little.  And what is up with the Dan storyline.  Seriously?  Do they need to have every social issue part of this season?  At least it made it easier to get through the episode faster.  And that was tricky having the note be the trap.

American Horror Story: 1984 – That was an interesting finale.  I was right when the season started about Brook being the final girl, but I’m glad she had some company.  Way too much disgusting stuff in this episode.  I definitely will not be back for any more seasons or going back to see what I missed.

The Good Place – I think I like where this show is ultimately going.  And, while I may not agree with their theology of the afterlife, I certainly agree that everyone can change.  God can change everyone at any point in their lives.  That’s the Gospel in a nutshell.  Not, if we can figure out a way to not kill humanity, that would be great, Chidi.

Carol’s Second Act – Pretty predictable main storyline.  Not saying I didn’t enjoy most of it, but you could write it from the start.  Then again, most sitcoms aren’t terribly original in their plotting.

Friday, November 15, 2019

November 15th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday, so that means it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Ghosts of Painting Past by Sybil Johnson


I actually finished this book over this last weekend, but since I will be reviewing it this coming Tuesday, publication day, I thought I'd tease it a bit.

Here's how the book opens:

The earthmover moved back and forth, tearing down the last remnants of a house on Seagull Lane, digging up all its secrets.

This is a mystery, so of course there are secrets to be unearthed.

Since I read an electronic arc, I'm jumping to 56% into the book for this:

They were thinking about what might have happened to the surfboard when two heads, one with white hair, one with gray, popped up over the wood fence that separated Rory's property from Mrs. Griswold's.

I really enjoyed this Christmas cozy mystery.  I hope you'll come back and read my review on Tuesday.  Until then, have a great weekend.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

City of Scoundrels Winner

I pulled the winner for the second giveaway this week.  The prize is City of Scoundrels, and that winner is...

... Celia!

I've sent you an e-mail, so please look for it and get back to me so we connect you with your prize.

Book Review: Murder at the Mansion by Janet Finsilver (Kelly Jackson #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, great location
Cons: Characters could be a tad stronger, some editing mistakes
The Bottom Line:
Kelly’s back in town
Just in time for a murder
Fun second entry

Redwood Cove Faces a Second Killer

I know I talk about how big my to be read pile is quite a bit.  Here’s a perfect example.  I read the first book in the Kelly Jackson series a couple of years ago now, and I’m just getting a chance to read Murder at the Mansion, the second in the series.  That’s not because I didn’t enjoy the first.  I just have so many books screaming for my attention.  I made a point of reading it this month, however, and I’m glad I did.

Kelly Jackson has returned to Redwood Cove on the Northern California coast after a brief trip home to pack up her things.  She’s thrilled to be back to become the manager of one of several bed and breakfasts that her boss owns in the area.  While her location is under renovations, she is helping out at Redwood Heights, a more upscale location.  Her boss is in the process of selling it, and Kelly is supposed to do an inventory of all the items on sight, some of which have some historical value.

Redwood Heights has also had some trouble with thefts; several valuable pieces of jewelry have gone missing from guest rooms.  Then, on Kelly’s first full day back, one of the guests is found dead in her locked room.  Along with the Silver Sentinels, a group of senior citizens who have formed a community watch group, Kelly begins to try to figure out what happened.  Can they solve the crimes?

It really was great to be back in this setting.  I grew up in Northern California, so trips to the redwoods were common, and I miss them here in Southern California.  While Redwood Cove itself is fictional, the location sounds divine with the redwoods so close to the ocean.  I’m definitely ready to visit.

And I can now that Kelly has caught the latest killer.  The plot starts out strongly and the pace is steady until you reach the end.  There are plenty of events, twists, and clues to keep you engaged and turning the pages all the way until the end. Plus, some of the developments are fun.

I also enjoyed spending time with these characters again.  Even though it has been a while since I read the first, I was able to reconnect with them pretty quickly.  I do feel they still need a bit of development to be fully realized characters, but that’s something that will come as the series continues, I’m sure.  I didn’t have a hard time keeping the characters straight, which is impressive given a cast of regulars that is on the larger side, not to mention the suspects.

Likewise, I felt like the book needed one more polish.  Occasionally, something wasn’t quite clear from earlier in the book or a character said or did something that made me stop and reread.  This wasn’t a major flaw, but it was noticeable and a bit distracting.  While annoying, this is mostly worth noting in passing.

While this book doesn’t have any recipes, there is plenty of talk about food.  From the wine and cheese guys, to the baking and raw foods that are prepared, this book left my mouth watering.

I’m glad I finally got to revisit Kelly and solve the Murder at the Mansion.  Hopefully, I will be able to sneak a trip to Redwood Cove into my reading plans soon again.

Enjoy the rest of the Kelly Jackson Mysteries.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Ornament Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun take on a classic book cover
Cons: Harry is slightly off
The Bottom Line:
Second book cover
Turned into good ornament
As if by magic

Help Harry Escape from the Chamber of Secrets

When Hallmark released an ornament of the first book in the Harry Potter series last year, I hoped this was going to be the start of a new unofficial series.  Obviously, I was thinking along the same lines as Hallmark since we are getting Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this year.

The ornament itself is a faithful recreation of the classic book cover, just shrunk down to ornament size.  This cover shows Harry hanging on to the tail of Fawkes the Phoenix as he escapes from the chamber of secrets.  While it looks like the cover of the book, what makes it fun is that Harry and Fawkes are coming off the book cover.  It gives the ornament just a bit more of a 3D effect while still being an obvious book.  The book lover in me loves the combination.

Unfortunately, I do have to comment on the same issue I had with last year’s book cover ornament.  Harry doesn’t quite look like Harry in this ornament.  He’s close, but he’s off.  It’s definitely a disappointment, but not enough to keep me from buying the ornament.  Yes, I am comparing the ornament to the book cover, and he is still slightly off.  Although I think some of it is expecting Daniel Radcliffe Harry instead of cover Harry, which is definitely on me.

The book part of the ornament is rather thin, definitely thinner than the real book (and this is one of the shorter books in the series).  You could set the book out, but it isn’t super stable, so it could get knocked over easily.

But ornaments are made to hang on your tree, right?  Fortunately, this ornament looks great when hung.  The loop is on top of the ornament, and it hangs straight.

I do wish Harry looked a bit more like the book over, but that’s my only complaint.  I love having Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to hang on my tree.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Chocolate Shark Shenanigans Winner

We've got two winners this week.  The contest that ends Thursday is still open, but I've pulled a winner for The Chocolate Shark Shenanigans.  And that winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail, so be on the look out for it.

Book Review: The 19th Christmas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club #19)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong main mystery
Cons: Weak sub-plot; little interaction for the women
The Bottom Line:
This Christmas entry
Features good main mystery
But still average

Can Lindsay Stop a Caper at Christmas?

It is becoming increasingly popular for the cozy mysteries I read to include a Christmas book.  As a Christmas lover, I don’t mind at all.  However, I was surprised to see that we were going to get a Christmas addition to James Patterson and Maxine Paetro’s Women’s Murder Club series this year since it doesn’t fit with some of the subject matter of the series.  The 19th Christmas is fast paced, but ultimately average.

San Francisco Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer and her partner Rich Conklin are using their lunch hour for a little holiday shopping, and they happen to be on hand when someone tries to do a snatch and grab.  Rich is able to apprehend the criminal, and the criminal immediately wants to talk deals.  He’s heard rumors that someone named Loman is planning some kind of big heist on Christmas Day.  As the tips begin to pour in, the police are left chasing their tails as they try to figure out what Loman really plans.  Or who he even really is.

Meanwhile, reporter Cindy Thomas has landed the story of an illegal immigrant accused of a murder.  He’s been in jail awaiting trial for a long time.  Cindy gets assistant district attorney Yuki Castellano involved in her attempts to free him.  And medical examiner Claire Washburn?  She’s left town to teach a course during Christmas week to college students down in San Diego.

And that right there represents one of my issues with the book.  I know colleges offer classes during semester breaks.  But what college would offer one during Christmas week itself?  And Claire is going to leave her family (except her husband) during Christmas week to teach this class?  Sorry, I’m not buying it.

Instead, it feels like a convenient want to get her out of the book since the main story takes up most of the pages.  Cindy and Yuki’s sub-plot is a brief and undercooked part of the overall book that is there more to preach to us than entertain us.  The four women and their families only interact for one scene, in fact.

The main story is quite thrilling, and I got caught up in the action.  However, I feel like it hinged on the criminal doing something very stupid, and we never really figured out why he would do this.  My guess is it was to taunt the police, but criminals so rarely do this it feels like a plot devise.

I was surprised at just how much I got the Christmas spirit from the book.  I was reading it around Halloween, and I got so in the Christmas spirit that I had to pull out some Christmas music.  First time this year, too.

Then there’s the epilogue, which seems to come out of nowhere.  Are they setting up the next book?  That’s all I could think while reading it.

While The 19th Christmas has flaws, I got caught up in the book while reading it.  Fans of the series will enjoy checking in with Lindsay over a busy Christmas.

Here are the rest of the Women's Murder Club books.

Monday, November 11, 2019

TV Show Review: The Big Bang Theory - Season 12

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs, perfect ending
Cons: The season started a little rough
The Bottom Line:
Final season laughs
Entertains and wraps up well
Show goes out with bang

“This is the Rest of Our Night, Huh?”  “No.  This is the Rest of Our Lives.”

Twelve years is a phenomenal run for a TV show, and that’s the run that The Big Bang Theory just ended.  While season twelve got off to a shaky start, I found overall I enjoyed the final season of this fantastic, funny show.

The season picks up where season eleven ended.  Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) have just gotten married.  While they are off on their honeymoon, the rest of the gang deals with Amy’s parents (guest stars Kathy Bates and Teller, who actually speaks in his guest appearances this season).  But once they get back, things begin to fall into mostly familiar patterns for these friends.

Raj (Kunal Nayyar), tired of being the only single member of the group, decides to let his father set him up with Anu (guest star Rati Gupta).  Penny (Kaley Cuoco) makes an announcement that shocks Leonard (Johnny Galecki).  Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) don’t get any major storylines this season, although Bernadette’s drug makes it to market with Penny as the head of sales for it.  Plus, they have to deal with the fact that Stuart (recurring guest star Kevin Sussman) now has a steady girlfriend, Denise (guest star Lauren Lapkus), who is staying over at their house quite a bit.  But it is still Sheldon and Amy who drive much of this season with their research on super asymmetry.  They keep pursuing the potential breakthrough they had at their wedding.  Is it a viable theory?  If it is, will they will a Nobel for it?

As I said, the season got off to a rough start.  Part of it is because the friends seem to spend more time sniping at each other than usual.  Yes, they are often unkind in search of a punchline, but it was a bit uncomfortable how much they were sniping at each other.  Honestly, another issue I had with the first part of the season was Raj’s arranged marriage.  Of all the characters, he’s been in love with love so long that to watch him appear to be settling for Anu was a bit disappointing.  And that’s not a slam on Anu, but how things felt between them early in the season.  However, watching how the writers played out this particular storyline was ultimately satisfying.

There were plenty of laughs to be had over the course of the season.  You might think we’ve laughed as much as we could at these characters, but I found myself laughing at their antics once again.  It amazes me how the writers can still find variations on themes to make us laugh after twelve years.  My hat is definitely off to them.

Of course, the actors are still in top form.  They bring these characters to life perfectly, milking every joke from the script.

As the season went on, the writers tied up a few plot threads that have woven in and out of the entire series.  They left a few open as well, but that’s okay.  That’s life.  And I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not finding out about those things.

Which brings us to the series finale.  Perfection.  It is hard to land a long running series, and I’m sure the writers felt the pressure for years.  I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.  There were lots of laughs and some tender moments.  It wrapped things up while leaving the door open for us to think about these characters’ lives continuing on even if we don’t get to check in on them anymore.  And trust me, I want to keep checking in on them.  That right there is the sign of a good finale to me – it left me wanting more.  If you can leave me wanting more about twelve years on the air, you’ve done something right.

Season twelve consisted of twenty-four episodes.  In addition to the episodes, this set consists has several special features on the final days of the series and its impact.  It also includes the half hour special that aired on CBS the night the show’s finale aired back in May.

All good things come to an end.  While some grew tired of the show years ago, I am finding a Big Bang Theory sized hole in my TV viewing schedule this fall.  Fortunately, now that season twelve has hit DVD and Blu-ray, I can revisit any of the gang’s adventures any time I want.  And I will be revisiting them often.