Sunday, May 31, 2020

Disney Pin Review: The Enchanted Tiki Room - Crests of the Kingdom - 2019 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Captures the Enchanted Tiki Room
Cons: Would have been nice to have other elements
The Bottom Line:
Show of singing birds
Well represented with crest
A fun Tiki pin

It’s a Tiki Crest

In my mind, The Enchanted Tiki Room provides a great afternoon stop during a trip to Disneyland.  You get to spend 20 minutes sitting down in air conditioning.  Plus the show is fun; I always enjoy it.  So I was glad to see it pop up in the Crests of the Kingdom pin series.

The front of this pin is raised pewter.  While all of it is a silver color, it is raised enough that we can easily see the design.  Not surprising, it features three birds, one of the parrots that is the host of the show, and two of the female birds that make up the chorus.  At the bottom is a pineapple, appropriate since Dole has hosted the show for years, and right in front is the stand that sells Dole Whip.  Around the crest is the Latin phrase “Cantabo Aves Tropicae” or “Tropical Birds Sing.”  Definitely describes this show.

Of course, the pin is hinged, and you can open it up to find a fully color scene inside.  Once again, we’ve got two birds.  In the foreground, we’ve got Jose, the main host, and behind him is Collette.  Or at least that’s who I’ve decided they are.  Who knows which of the birds from the show they are supposed to be.  Around them are flowers, plants, and impressions of other birds.

It would have been nice if a few of the other elements of the show could have been worked into the pin design, but I get it.  Everyone thinks of birds when they think of the Tiki Room.  So this is a minor complaint on my part.  Overall, I love this pin.  The colors on the inside part are beautiful.  The outside crest is creative and also perfectly captures the show.

The creativity in these pins is wonderful, and I find them a must have for anyone who enjoys the attractions.  That is why I am so happy I got the Crest of the Kingdom for The Enchanted Tiki Room.

Check out the pictures of the pin I've posted on Instagram.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

May 30th's Weekly TV Thoughts

The Titan Games – I’m not sure how I feel about the regions thing.  I think last season was simpler and it is going to wind up being overly complicated now.  But I’ll give it a few more weeks to see how it all shakes out before I decide for sure.  The Mt. Olympus course is crazier this year, that’s for sure.  And the new challenges look tough.  There is no way I could be on this show at all, but I will enjoy watching it.

The Baker and the Beauty – I didn’t see a few of those twists coming.  Like the ex saving the day when Daniel was arrested.  For that matter, it was nice to see someone actually facing consequences for punching another person out.  Anyway, it was nice to see Daniel and the ex come to a better resolution.  And then the kiss with Mateo?  I mean, that, I saw coming.  I wasn’t expecting the breakup with Noa.  And I hope that Natalie and the mom are going to be less problematic going forward.

Stargirl – I’m very shocked at what they did.  I figured that this guy was going to be our big bad of the season, so the fact that they fought him and apparently defeated him already is a completely surprise.  Yes, they kept him in a coma, so he can always come back, but still, wow!

Legends of Tomorrow – That was as fun as I hoped it would be.  No, they didn’t really capture the flavor of Friends, but I thought they did a good parody of Star Trek.  That’s the fun and funny show that I have been missing so much this season.  I have a feeling that next week will be painful, but I’m glad we got to enjoy this week.  And, as much as I never really warmed up to Mona, it was fantastic to see her again.  If everyone is alive in this timeline, I’m wondering if we will hear anything more about the original where several characters had died.

Game On! – I thought I’d check this new show out since it sounded like another fun collection of wacky games.  I was sadly disappointed.  After the first one, most of the rest didn’t really appeal to me.  I’ll probably give it another week, but that might be all.

Holey Moley – New holes!  And some revised holes from last year, too.  I also have to remind myself as I’m sitting in my hot condo that this films in the winter, so it is cold to be going in that water.  I feel for the golfers even as I root for them to get wet.  Yes, I’m rather mean like that.  I do feel sorry for the diver.  I get they were going for laughs, but he should have been able to move on.  He looked mad, and rightfully so.

To Tell the Truth – I tuned in again this week, and boy am I glad I did.  If you didn’t watch the episode, I suggest you watch the entire thing.  And that’s all I am going to say.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Ornament Review: Tea Time! #4 - Chimney Sweep Snowman - 2019 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creative and fun set
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Snowman chimney sweep
Fantastic ornament set
Brings the tea time fun

Chilly Chimney Sweep

There are some job combinations I would never expect.  For example, a snowman as a chimney sweep?  I mean, fire makes snowmen melt, so I would think they would not be in favor of helping with fires at all.  But a snowman chimney sweep is exactly what we got with 2019’s two ornament Tea Time set.

The bigger, teapot inspired ornament is a snowman.  He’s got his top hat on, and he’s dressed in a vest with a green jacket over it.  His scarf is a reddish color, and it not only wraps around his neck but is long enough to form the handle for the teapot.  One arm is out and holding a brush that forms the spout.

The second, smaller ornament, is the cup of the tea set.  In this case, the outside is decorated to look like bricks.  And there are three lumps of sugar floating in the top of the cup.  Or, as I always say, three mini marshmallows because the liquid looks like hot chocolate to me.

I’m a little surprised that the snowman’s hat isn’t the cup in this set, but that’s a minor complaint.  I do love the way these ornament looks, and I find a snowman working as a chimney sweep oddly appealing.

Since these ornaments represent a teapot and cup, it’s no surprise that they stand on their own.  You can add them to any display you wish, although the ornaments are made of porcelain, so they will break easily if knocked off.

They also hang straight as well.  The snowman tips forward ever so slightly, but he is leaning back a little when standing, so it looks natural both ways.

This is the fourth in a planned series of five, so you’ll find the four on the bottom of both ornaments.

Tea Time has featured some fantastically creative sets, and this fourth set is no exception.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Tea Time ornament sets.

May 29th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to the final Friday in May.  I'm celebrating with a sweet entry for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week's book?  Sprinkles of Suspicion by Kim Davis.


This is the first book in her Cupcake Catering Mystery series, but Kim is no stranger to cozies or blog since she runs the fabulous Cinnamon and Sugar and a Little Bit of Murder blog.

This books jumps right into the story.
One glass of cheap California chardonnay cost me my husband, my job, and my best friend.  Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of my troubles.

That definitely made me want to read more.

Meanwhile, at 56% into the book, we find:

"I'll be back with a warrant to continue my search."
"When will that be?  My mother is coming with a real estate agent in the morning, and it would be awkward if you came while they were both here."

And with that, I'm going to wish you a happy weekend.  Want to know more about this book?  I'm reviewing it on Wednesday as part of a book tour, so I hope you'll come back then.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Book Review: Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen (Woman of World War II Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Poppy, details about the time period
Cons: Much of cast weak, uneven pacing
The Bottom Line:
Murder in village
Poppy must patrol and solve
Book could be stronger

Strangler in the Village

I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more historical mysteries, which means trying out new authors.  Since I had Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders sitting on my bookshelf, I decided now was a good time to travel back to World War II.

It’s the summer of 1942, and Poppy is doing her part for the war effort as the air-raid warden for her village of Little Buffenden.  Her job is to walk around each night and make sure that all windows and doorways are covered up.  With an American Air Force base near her small village, their chance of being the target of an attack have increased.

The Americans nearby have caused quite a stir in the village, with some denouncing them outright while others, especially the young women, seem to find them fascinating.  When not one but two young women who have started dating Americans turn up dead, the evidence quickly points to one of the Americans.  Poppy just doesn’t buy it, however.  Teaming up with a handsome American pilot, Poppy sets out to find the truth no matter where it leads.  But has she just made herself a target of the killer?

World War II is one of the time periods that fascinate me, so I was happy to disappear into that time and Poppy’s corner of England.  The author has clearly done her research, and details of daily life fill the page.

Unfortunately, they also push out the plot at times.  I found the mystery very uneven.  Some interesting developments would be followed by pages of Poppy rehashing them as she goes about daily life.

Which is a shame because I love Poppy.  She is an interesting main character, and I could see some growth in her character here.  She is strong enough to carry a series.  The rest of the cast doesn’t hold up quite as well.  I never felt like we got to know most of the residents in the village.  A few stood out, but not quite enough to draw us into Poppy’s world.

This isn’t a bad book, and I would get drawn into the story at times.  But I wasn’t captivated as much as I had hoped I would be.

So Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders turned out to be a mixed book.  If the time period interests you, pick it up.  Hopefully, the series will improve as it goes along.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Book Review: The Murder of Twelve by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #51)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong, page turning plot
Cons: Character relationships
The Bottom Line:
Trapped in a blizzard
With a killer on the loose
Page turning thriller

Weddings are Murder

When I describe cozies to those who haven’t read them before, I often compare them to Agatha Christie and Murder, She Wrote.  The two come together for The Murder of Twelve, which is a page turning read.

The blizzard of the century is bearing down on Maine, with predictions of three feet of snow in Cabot Cove.  Jessica Fletcher isn’t in any hurry to get back to her suite at Hill House, the hotel where she has been staying while her home is being rebuilt.  Instead, she is happy to help Sheriff Metzger figure out what is happening to the stranger found just outside of town, dead in his car.  At first, it looks like a tragic accident, but Jessica quickly finds evidence that it was murder.

When she does finally return to the hotel, she discovers that a wedding party has checked in.  However, the bride and groom are missing and the family can’t seem to stand each other.  Then the bodies begin to pile up.  What is happening at the hotel?  How does it tie in to the stranger in the car?

Make no mistake about it, this book reads much more like a thriller than a cozy mystery.  Or, more accurately, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  There’s no foul language and the violence is kept to a minimum, but it is tense.

Now, that isn’t to say that this isn’t a good book.  I was very much caught up in the story and had to know what was going to happen next.  Jessica is kept very busy trying to stop a string of murders from continuing, and I couldn’t wait to see how she would do it.

With much of the book taking place at Hill House in the middle of the record storm, we don’t see as much of any of the series’ supporting players.  The focus of the book is on Jessica and the suspects, and they are more than enough to support this book.  I came to care for many of the suspects, which made me care even more about the outcome.

This isn’t to say that we don’t see some of the regular supporting players here, we just don’t see as much of them as we normally night.  In some cases, that helped cut down on the issues I’ve noted in their relationships in the previous books.  I will say, I am getting very tired of Harry McGraw’s one joke.  It’s time to do something different with that character if we are going to continue to see him.

The descriptions of the weather are excellent.  I was reading this book as the weather was finally starting to warm up for a Southern California spring, but it made me shiver with winter cold.  Considering how much I hate snow, it might not take much to make me feel cold, but still, I was very impressed with how much I could feel the cold seeping into my body.

All the complaints really are minor.  I couldn’t get through this book fast enough, and I was satisfied when I turned the final page.  The Murder of Twelve will keep you engrossed far longer than you had planned once you pick it up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of the book.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Book Review: The Study of Secrets by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila Maclean #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot and characters
Cons: Some timeline issues
The Bottom Line:
On sabbatical
Lila makes time for murder
More page turning fun

Sabbatical with Murder

It is rare for a book to end with a cliffhanger, but when that happens, I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.  That was why I was so anxious to pick up The Study of Secrets, the fifth Lila Maclean mystery.  I’m glad to say it was worth the wait.

Lila Maclean has been taking her semester sabbatical with family friend Bibi Callahan.  She’s been finishing up her book on the mysteries of Isabella Dare as well as writing a mystery of her own.  With the final weeks of the fall semester winding down, Lila is facing the prospect of returning to her normal life.

Over the months, she has gotten to know some of Bibi’s friends, so she is happy to lead a book club meeting for them on one of Isabella Dare’s books.  The night starts out with fun and laughs but ends in tragedy when one of the women is murdered.  Bibi asks Lila to help look into the murder.  Fearing her friend will wind up accused of the crime, she is only too willing to jump it.  What secrets will she uncover?  How did they leave to murder?

The book doesn’t take too long to dive into the mystery at hand, and it keeps us engaged the entire way through.  There are multiple secrets in the past that could play into what is going on in the present, and Lila has to figure out how that all plays into the current death.  I loved watching her peal back the layers, and I was surprised by some of the twists and turns of the plot.  The climax was logical and answered all of my questions.

I did feel the timeline was a bit squishy.  We seemed to lose or gain days at random intervals.  None of that impacted the unraveling of the mystery, but this is a pet peeve of mine, so I did notice.

The characters are wonderful, but this is no surprise to series fans.  Most of them are new, but they are so real that I didn’t want any of them to be killed or be the killer.  I just knew it would be hard on Lila and the others.

Lila has been facing a complication in her love life, and we get further developments on that here.  I enjoyed how it was resolved, although parts of it felt a bit rushed.

I mentioned that Lila has been taking a fall semester sabbatical earlier, and I did that on purpose.  That’s right, much of the action takes place in December, and we get some fun scenes set around Christmas activities.  As a Christmas lover, I loved that added element.

Fans of the series will be thrilled to find out what happens next to Lila in The Study of Secrets.  The charming characters and engrossing plot make the pages fly by all too quickly.

Check out the rest of the Lila Maclean Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, May 25, 2020

TV Show Review: The Good Place - Season 4

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: A few laughs, the cast
Cons: Too many annoying characters, maudlin ending
The Bottom Line:
Fate of the world stakes
Misses the comedy mark
Doesn’t stick landing

“Everything I Do Blows Up in My Face. I’m Like a Hot, Blonde Wile E. Coyote.”

I had a mixed reaction to the news that The Good Place was going to end with season 4.  While part of me was sad that a show I loved was ending so soon, I was happy to know they were going to go out as planned when they felt they were out of stories to tell.  Unfortunately, I felt the final season was a letdown.

If you haven’t seen the show, not only will jumping in here be confusing, but it will contain some spoilers for fun twists and turns to the story.  You really don’t want to start here.  Or read this review yet either, for that matter.  So go back and watch season 1, which I most definitely do recommend.

This season picks up exactly where season 3 left off.  Former demon Michael (Ted Danson), After Life Assistant Janet (D’Arcy Carden), and the Soul Squad, aka Elanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason (Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto) are getting ready for their experiment to prove that humans can improve.  Unfortunately, The Bad Place has chosen humans who are not only the worse people imaginable but also will personally annoy our heroes.  Among them is Chidi’s ex-girlfriend (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), so Chidi has had his memories erased and becomes part of the experiment as well.  Will Elanor and the others be able to prove that humans can get better?  Or is everyone doomed to be wiped out?

So, what went wrong this season?  For starters, the new characters who are part of the new experiment.  They aren’t funny.  They aren’t endearing.  They are painful to watch.  While Elanor could be painful at times in season one, she was also sympathetic enough to make us root for her.  These new characters are just plain painful.  I get that we were supposed to find them funny, but they weren’t.

Then there’s the ending.  No, I’m not going to spoil it, but I saw it coming an episode or two before it aired, and I was sorry to be right.  It was sad.  In fact, the entire finale was more maudlin than funny.  It was not the upbeat ending I was looking for.  I get what they thought they were doing with it, but it didn’t work at all.

Now, this isn’t to say that there weren’t good moments this season.  I still laughed in most episodes.  But those moments were fewer and further between than normal in these final thirteen episodes.  The strongest batch of episodes were a bunch in the middle that focused on the characters we’d seen in earlier seasons.

And the acting was still top notch.  I can’t fault the cast.  In watching some interviews around the time the series wrapped up, you can tell how much the actors enjoyed working together, and that chemistry and love comes through on the screen.

I always hate it when a show I love doesn’t stick the landing.  I had such high hopes for The Good Place, but season 4 left me disappointed.  I will enjoy the brilliance of the earlier seasons, but I doubt I will revisit this one very often.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Disney Pin Review: it's a small world - Minnie Mouse the Main Attraction #4 - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Two pins capture ride in a fun way
Cons: Minnie herself looks odd
The Bottom Line:
small world pin set
Two of the pins make me smile
But Minnie looks odd

A Favorite Attraction, but Minnie Looks Odd

Of all the things impacted by the situation going on in our world right now, one of the least stressful has been my pin collecting.  Okay, so I may have stressed a bit trying to get the releases for Minnie Mouse: The Main Attraction (and I’m still missing March’s release), but I was extremely happy to get the release for April, even though this set inspired by it’s a small world is my least favorite to date.

For the first time in the collection, Minnie Mouse has stayed relatively close by in her travels.  In March, she was visiting the Tea Cups, and in April, she has moved on to it’s a small world, just a couple of minutes walk away.

The pin set features three pins as always.  The first is the clock face.  And I do mean face.  It’s a giant circle with the smiling face on it.  On the attraction, it ticks and tocks back and forth.  Here, it’s a hot pink color with a teal green face painted on it.  The second pin is the Minnie Mouse ears.  They are pink and purple with flowers on the ears.  The bow itself is teal with the numbers on the side of the clock face on it.  I love that touch.  In fact, I love these two pins.  I tend to think of small world as white, which is the color of the outside, at least here in California, but I recognize that the teals, pinks, and purples are also associated with the ride.

It’s Minnie that is the problem for me.  They’ve decked her out in pink and teal and purple as well, including her skin.  It just looks weird.  I know I got used to the stylized colors on the Disney Wisdom Collection last year, so I might adjust to this one eventually, but it won’t be right away.

But two out of three pins is still good, and the other two pins are great.  As I’ve been saying, I do love this attraction, so that’s a huge plus for me as well.

I’m hoping that The Disney Store gets their website working right as I will be buying these from the site for the foreseeable future.  I almost gave up on getting this series beyond the first two, but I am glad I tracked down the pins for it’s a small world and look forward to visiting more attractions with Minnie Mouse.

If you are looking for pictures, please stop by Instagram account.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

May 23rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Batwoman – I can’t believe Mouse thought he was going to convince Alice to do things his way.  As soon as I saw that scene where he gave his ultimatum, I knew he was dead.  A villain with Bruce Wayne’s face.  That will be interesting.  And Commander Kane is going to be an even worse foe going forward.  I’m having problems with kryptonite being the only thing that can destroy the batsuit.  Seems like lazy storytelling on someone part – whether than came form the comics or not.  That wasn’t as bad a cliffhanger as I thought it would be.  Still, I’m hooked enough I’ll probably be back when it returns next year.

Supergirl – Again, not a super bad cliffhanger.  If I didn’t know better, I would have said most of that was planned as the season finale.  I mean, we did wrap up several pretty major storylines, including Kara and Lena.  I was definitely smiling about that.  Of course, we still have to take down Lex.  In some ways, it’s a shame he’s been on this show so much with Superman getting his own show in the fall.  But I have been enjoying his mayhem over here, so I’m not complaining too much.  I’m pretty sure they can save Brainy now that they know he’s in trouble, so I’m not too worried about him.

The Beauty and the Baker – Definitely a downer episode with some major cliffhangers.  Realistic, and I definitely can’t wait to see where they are going to go with these plot lines, but not the light, upbeat show we are used to seeing.  Is it next week yet?  I’ve got to know what happens next.  Yes, safe to say I am hooked on the show.

Stargirl – Thank you, CW, for introducing a new series right now.  I’m going to need it.  This has the potential to be fun.  I enjoyed the second half much more than the first.  I felt like I was two steps behind until we started getting exposition in the back half.  But it is a pilot.  With all this set up out of the way, I think we are really going to have fun now.

Legends of Tomorrow – I thought that next week’s episode was the one we were doing tonight, so you can imagine my frustrating at dealing with zombies all hour.  I hate zombie!  Obviously, they didn’t really kill of Sara despite how it looked with the Zobmies.  But did they kill off Gary?  As annoying as he could be, he is fun in small doses.  He’s been one of the lighter sides of a dark season, in fact.

Celebrity Escape Room – I’m no good at puzzles, so I’m not sure I would have figured any of those things out.  I’m glad they are smarter than me.  It was mostly fun, although Jack Black got annoying at times.

Holey Moley – They have really made the holes hard this year!  I do like the fact that they have cut down on the rounds, which gives us time to see everything that happens.  But they are definitely aiming to make the contestants fail this year.

To Tell the Truth – I wasn’t planning to watch this one, but I flipped over part way through.  Not sure I will be back every week, but I had to laugh when Will Shorz was the person they were about to start guessing when I tuned in.  He’s created the crosswords for all the Puzzle Lady mysteries I read as well as creating the Crossword Puzzle Mysteries for Hallmark.  I didn’t know which one he was, but it was fun to put a face with the name.

Friday, May 22, 2020

May 22nd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Not only is it a Friday, but it is a holiday weekend Friday here in the states!  I'm kicking things off with Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm offering a teaser from The Study of Secrets by Cynthia Kuhn.


This is the fifth book in the Lila Maclean mystery series.  It comes out on Tuesday, and I'll be back when with my review.

In the mean time, here's how the book begins.
"Have you found any buried treasure in the study?" Bibi asked, pouring me another cup of tea.

Meanwhile, at 56% , we find:

"Back up, please.  Why did you go to the police station?"

Short and sweet this week.

Hope you have a great weekend and will come back Tuesday for my review of this fun book.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Book Review: Murder Most Fermented by Christine E. Blum (Rose Avenue Wine Club Mysteries #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Decent plot, setting
Cons: Weak characters, one plot element unresolved
The Bottom Line:
Buried in garden
Second book is a mixed bag
I want to like more

Halsey Discovers Where the Bodies are Buried

When I read the first book in the Rose Avenue Wine Club last year, I concluded I’d give the second one a try since I already had it.  It’s taken me this long to get to Murder Most Fermented.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t changed my opinion of the series that much.

Annie Hall, Halsey to her friends, is enjoying her new life on Rose Avenue in Mar Vista, California.  However, she’s not so sure about the gift her friends in her neighborhood wine club have given her for her birthday – a patch of dirt.  Okay, really, it’s a plot in the neighborhood garden where plots are highly sought after.  Halsey is hoping to turn her section into a very small vineyard.

She’s just trying to dig up some dirt when she makes a startling discovery, the buried body of a missing elderly neighbor.  Obviously, the woman didn’t bury herself in the dirt, but who could have killed her?  With the police once again considering Halsey a suspect, she and her friends have to dig in to find out what really happened.

The plot was definitely stronger in this book than in the first.  There are some interesting developments in the neighborhood that might or might not play into the murder, and I enjoyed seeing how everything unfolded.  There are some sub-plots, but they don’t take over from the main plot.  There was one major aspect of the plot that seems to get dropped, but the majority of things are successfully wrapped up by the end of the book.

Once again, the action takes place over several weeks.  However, this time I was expecting that, so I didn’t have any frustration trying to make a timeline work until I discovered this.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel like we get to know the characters any better than we did in the first.  Halsey is fairly well developed as are one or two others, but that’s it.  I struggled to keep all the women of the wine club straight, and it didn’t help that there are three women whose names start with P in the club.

I continue to love the Southern California setting.  While I haven’t spent much time in Mar Vista itself, I have spent time in the surrounding neighborhoods, so I can easily picture the area where the action takes place.  I always find that fun.

I don’t drink wine, but if you do, you’ll enjoy the wine list and suggested wine pairings at the end of the book.

The series continues to be a mixed bag for me.  I wanted to enjoy Murder Most Fermented more than I did, but I am glad I gave the series a second chance overall.  This book is definitely a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Movie Review: Heist and Seek - An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun, solid mystery
Cons: Too many actors look similar; light dose of cheese
The Bottom Line:
Necklace is stolen
With murder soon to follow
Fun, creative film

Stealing from a Fundraiser

I miss the days when a mystery could be about something other than murder.  You know, the mysteries you read as a kid that involved theft and counterfeiting and other crimes.  While murder does appear in Heist and Seek, the new Aurora Teagarden movie from Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, the key to solving the murders is solving a theft.

The library where Aurora (Candace Cameron Bure) works is holding their annual fundraiser, and it is promising to be their best one yet.  They are borrowing some artifacts from a nearby museum that proport to have been given to Queen Elizabeth I.  Naturally, security is tight, with Lynn and Arthur Miller (Miranda Frigon and Peter Benson) on hand to help make sure nothing happens.

However, when the curtain is pulled back for the big revel, the crown is missing.  A search of the people at the event turns up empty, but the cameras caught a suspect.  When that suspect is shot before he can be questioned, it is a race to figure out who else was involved in the crime.  Will Aurora figure it out?

Of course, there are several people with had motive, so it is a matter of figuring out which of them had the opportunity and actually committed the crime.  The plot does a wonderful job of teasing us answers, confusing us, but ultimately leading to the logical conclusion.

Meanwhile, Nick (Niall Matter) is trying to find the right time to propose to Aurora.  This was a completely predictable sub-plot, but every scene that involved it left me smiling.  It was so much fun watching it all played out.

I’ve seen some complaints about the casting of this movie, and I would tend to agree.  Many of the guys looked too similar, so it was hard to tell them apart the instant they walked on the screen.  Fortunately, there were usually clues early in the scene so we could figure out which characters these were, but it would be nice if they found some different types for the next movie.

This isn’t a knock on the cast – they are all fine.  There is a bit of Hallmark cheese in the film, but it is a mild dose, and won’t bother fans of the franchise at all.

This movie was fun from start to finish.  Light, fun entertainment is perfect for right now, so be sure to check out Heist and Seek.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Book Review: Spiders from Mars by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker Mysteries #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun characters, creative setting
Cons: Book, while logical, takes a few leaps
The Bottom Line:
Quest to free mentor
Turns into quest for killer
Mystery in space

Free Neptune!

Diane Vallere is one of the authors who consistently stretches the boundaries of the cozy mystery genre.  True, she has some that are very traditional mysteries, but she also has some that…aren’t.  The perfect example of that is Spiders from Mars, the newest in the Sylvia Stryker Space Case Mysteries.

Yes, you read that right.  This entire book, really the entire series, takes place outside of Earth’s atmosphere.  Syliva herself is half Plunian and half human and the series introduces us to a wide variety of human and alien characters.  This book resolves a cliffhanger from the previous book in the series, and there are references to past events.  But if you wanted to jump in here, you could without too much difficulty.

It’s been four months since we last checked in with Sylvia, and in that time, she’s had one thing on her mind – freeing Neptune, her mentor and friend, from prison for a crime he sort of committed.  (For more on that, you’ll need to read the previous book in the series.)  She’s come up with the perfect plan, too.  She’s going to have him declared dead so she can slip him out of prison.

However, when she goes to file the paperwork, she learns that there has been a murder in the prison and Neptune is the only suspect.  Her original plan out the window, she has to act fast to free him and clear his name before he disappears for good.  Can she do it?

As you can see, if the setting were on Earth, the mystery itself would feel very much like a cozy plot.  Yes, there are things that change due to the space setting, but the heart of the book is a mystery.  And it’s a good one.  There are so many twists and turns, I thought I was on a space flight avoiding asteroids while I was reading it.  The plot does take a couple leaps that were a little jarring but could have been smoothed over with a little editing.  Don’t worry, these aren’t major things and everything makes sense at the end.  I just wish things had been smoothed over a bit more.

The characters are wonderful.  All of Sylvia’s friends put in appearances here, and it was great to see them again.  They may be aliens, but they and their cultures are real and such fun to revisit.

And don’t let the space setting worry you.  Yes, there may be a few things you aren’t used to seeing, but they are all explained, and it feels normal before you know it.  I was fully lost in Sylvia’s world and enjoying every page of it.

This book was over all too quickly.  If you are looking for a fun change of pace, then you’ll be glad you picked up Spiders from Mars.

You’ll also enjoy the rest of Sylvia Stryker’s Space Cases.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Movie Review: Cats (2019)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Many of the songs are good
Cons: Bizarre looks combined with depressing story
The Bottom Line:
Famous musical
Some good songs in the soundtrack
But overall strange

Weird from Start to Finish

I have always been interested in seeing Cats, but it has never worked out to me to see a stage version.  I’ve heard mixed reviews of this musical overall, so I wasn’t sure what I would think, but I was still intrigued.  Then I started hearing how bad the new movie version was, and the trailers certainly confirmed that.  Still, I just couldn’t resist renting the DVD.  I’ve got wanting to see the musical out of my system now.

What little plot there is centers around a group of cats, the Jellicles, who reside in a neighborhood in London.  Our entry to this world is Victoria (Francesca Hayward), who has been dumped in their territory just in time for the yearly festival to see who will ascend to the Heaviside and be reborn into a new Jellicile life.

Right there, I’ve got issues with the plot.  We are holding a contest to see who dies and comes back to life?  While I say I don’t look at popular fiction for my theology, this entire premise didn’t sit well with me on multiple levels, one of them being the bad theology.   Not to mention it is a very dark, depressing premise.

The musical was inspired by a collection of T.S. Elliot poems on cats.  Honestly, if you just listened to some of the songs without any story or visuals, you’d understand why this musical is popular.  Many of them are fun, and they capture various cat personalities (and human personalities) perfectly.  Then there’s “Memories,” a hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking song.  Yes, the music is phenomenal, but what else would you expect from Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Likewise, the choreography is fun and inventive.  There were a few moments that made me cringe, but that is part of the entire movie’s visuals, which I will get to in a minute.

And I’m not going to fault the actors.  They are giving this production their all.  The film boasted about the all-stars in the cast, which include Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Taylor Swift, and Ian McKellen.  Honestly, this is an ensemble piece, so no one gets a ton of screen time, and I didn’t recognize many of the names of those in the cast.  Everyone does a good job of singing and trying to bring their characters to life.

Then there are the effects.  I found them impossible to look away from in a train wreck kind of way.  We can see the actor’s faces, but most of their bodies are covered by a CGI cat body and hair.  The movie was filmed on oversized sets, so we get the feel of life cat-sized.  I get what the director and producers were going for here.  I really do.  And I’m not sure how you could better capture that these are cats.  But it is still that odd mix of captivating horror that just doesn’t look right overall.

I think if I had enjoyed the story more, I might have forgiven the visuals.  However, the depressing story combined with the weird look make Cats a miss for me.  Now that I’ve seen it, I have no desire to see any form of this show again since I’d have the same issues with the story no matter what the visuals were.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Book Review: Sunrise at the Mayan Temple by Sigmund Brouwer (Accidental Detectives #14)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, exciting second half, humor
Cons: Slow to start, short story colors the book too much
The Bottom Line:
Exciting trip south
Slow start, weaker mystery
Not as good as rest

Slow Start, Fast Paced Second Half

As much as I love the rest of the Accidental Detectives series, I have never warmed up to Sunrise at the Mayan Temple despite reading it several times.  On this reread, I think I was finally able to put my finger on just way this one isn’t as good as the rest of the series.

Ricky Kidd is surprised when his younger brother, Joel, is given six tickets to spend 10 days down in Mexico.  He’s even more surprised when his parents agree to send the two of them plus his friend Mike, Ralphy, and Lisa, along with Old Lady Bugsby as their chaperon, down there.  When the group arrives, they learn they are there to be part of a dig at Chichen Itza.  It sounds great, but Ricky soon begins to get new worries.  Like why is everyone afraid of the leader of their dig?  Are the rumors of an ancient legend come back to life true?  Or is something more sinister happening?

These characters originally began life in a series of short stories author Sigmund Brouwer wrote.  Once I realized that, I began to see how the early events of each book incorporated a short story.  In this case, the short story was one that he was particularly proud of since it won an award.  Part of my issue is this short story, which is a bit of a downer.  Even more so, I feel the book overall is twisted to make this story work. In order to tie it into the story, Ricky has to let things go that he normally wouldn’t in his pursuit of justice.  That just doesn’t sit well with me even after rereading the book a few times.

Then there’s the mystery itself.  We get a very slow start to it due to a travelogue as the characters head down to Mexico.  Once it does begin, it proves to be extremely gripping.  However, in the rush to tell the story, much of it is resolved in a data dump.  Ricky has some of his usual brilliant deductions, but they only resolve a small part of the case, not the majority of the story like normal.  I love this series because of his deductions, so that is a disappointment.

Fortunately, the characters carry this book.  They are at their best here.  There are some very funny moments, including a running gag I just loved.  It’s always a pleasure to spend time with them, and I enjoyed getting to do that once again.

Sunrise at the Mayan Temple is more of a mixed bag than usual for the series, but it is the only off book.  I definitely recommend this series, but only after you’ve met the characters should you consider reading this one.

Enjoy Ricky’s other cases with the rest of the Accidental Detectives books.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

May 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Yes, there will be some whining below and next week.  When we are dealing with unplanned cliffhangers that won't be resolved until January or May of next year, I get to whine a little.

Disney Family Sing Along II – I was smiling just as much for this one.  I love that they included some classic mother songs since it aired on Mother’s Day, including a song I forgot about from Peter Pan.  The Houghs stole the show again.  I mean, how did they do all of that with stuff they have at home?  I’m sure they got some help, but still, wow!

Batwoman – This is all leading somewhere, and I would love to know where it is going to go.  Instead, we get the early season finale next week.  And I thought I wasn’t going to be back for next season.  I bet it will now.  Alice knows the secret?  Yikes!  Luke figured it out, but those glasses were a nice touch.  And I’m loving having Mary on the team.

Supergirl – Sean Astin and Willie Garson!  Yes, I was way too excited for the guest stars in this episode.  Again, it’s killing me knowing that next week is the season finale and we won’t really get resolutions to anything.  I suspect we will get killer cliffhangers.  They are really going to have a different show next season regardless.  I mean, blowing up the DEO?  That’s a pretty major change to everything.  I’m so glad Lena same back and realized what she’s really been doing.  I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m very happy it happened.

The Baker and the Beauty – Really?  You are going to drop that bombshell on Daniel just before you get out of the car?  That didn’t make Noa look very good.  The mother/daughter scenes fell into a cliché.  So did the father with the brother, but I really liked how that played out.  And they are going for the café.  No surprise, but I’m glad to see that.  Vanessa’s about to become a huge problem even though how Daniel and Noa met wasn’t nearly as bad as the reporter was trying to make it sound.

The Flash – I’m trying to decide if that cliffhanger was worse than normal for a season ender or not.  It’s was certainly bad, and I wish we could find out how they are going to get Iris back next week.  Who knows when they will be back filming again.  Sigh.  I will wait, but I never said I’d wait patiently.

Legends of Tomorrow – That was fun.  That’s the kind of fun this show is supposed to be and that I’ve been missing so much this season.  I’m glad to know they finished filming the season so I can relish these cliffhangers instead of wondering when they will be resolved.  Yes, the character arcs were predictable, but that’s also part of the charm of the show.

Survivor – I’m not sure how I feel about Tony winning.  As impressed as I am with Natalie making it back in the game, I’m glad she didn’t win.  Voting out first to winning it all?  No.  Just no.  I’m sorry Michelle didn’t get any votes at all.  She deserved some – she would have had mine.  But I am most impressed by the jury.  Normally, I fast forward through that part of the finale as it can get pretty bitter.  Instead, they were respectful and complimentary.  That’s a level of maturity I really can respect.  I love Amber saying what I have thought about her win.  But hey, the two of them seem very happy together, and I love seeing that.  That’s the ultimate prize.  I miss the reunion.  I was looking forward to the reunion.  But I understand why it didn’t happen.  I didn’t feel like they slowed down the finale to make it stretch for three hours, but I do think they could have trimmed some fat earlier in the season if they wanted to.  Overall, this was a great season.  Let’s do it again in the fall.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Book Review: Going Nowhere Fast by Gar Anthony Haywood (Joe and Dottie Loudermilk #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Intriguing plot; fun set up
Cons: A couple of the characters are more annoying than fun
The Bottom Line:
Unexpected corpse
Derails traveling couple
Twisty plot is fun

Corpse in the Airstream Bathroom

When I finished Leave No Footprints (which I reviewed Wednesday), I wasn’t quite ready to leave the National Parks.  Fortunately, I’d just been digging through the books in my condo and found Going Nowhere Fast by Gar Anthony Haywood.  It proved to be just the mystery I needed.

Joe and Dottie Loudermilk have turned in a traditional retirement for life on the road.  When Joe retired from his career as a police officer in Los Angeles, the couple bought an Airstream trailer and hit the road, going wherever they felt like.  An additional bonus has been the fact that they are not bothered by their grown kids who can’t quite seem to function as adults.

The couple are currently enjoying the Grand Canyon.  However, when they return from a run one morning, it’s to find that their youngest son has found them.  But that’s not the biggest surprise – there’s a dead body in their trailer’s bathroom.  Joe and Dottie certainly don’t recognize the corpse, and their son says he doesn’t recognize him either.  But he’s lying about something.  What is he hiding?  Does it have to do with the murder?

Before going any further, I should point out that this book was originally published in the mid-90’s, and I’ve had the book sitting on my shelves for over a decade.  I point this out because, even though the 90’s aren’t that long ago, it really is a different time.  For example, no one has cell phones, and they use this thing called a pay phone.  Weird, right?  The book is currently available as an ebook, and I don’t know if it has been updated at all.  Just be prepared for the trip back in time, and you’ll be fine.

Since I grew up camping in trailers, I immediately identified with Joe and Dottie.  In fact, part of me finds their life very appealing.  Of course, there’s the whole murder thing, which I wouldn’t want to find myself part of in real life, but that part intrigued me here.  I couldn’t wait to see what was going on and how they’d figure it out.  Joe may be the retired cop, but Dottie is really the one who drives the investigation here.  She does a good job of gathering clues and piecing things together while dealing with some twists I didn’t see coming.  The plotting here is excellent.

The characters, on the other hand, could have been a little better.  Joe seems to be constantly grumbling or complaining about something to the point where he’s often angry.  I’m sure it was supposed to come across as humorous, but I found it off putting.  Their son was an idiot, but I still found him amusing at times.  Neither character is so bad that I am sorry I read the book, but I wanted to like them more than I did.  Dottie, as narrator, is the most normal of the bunch, and I certainly did like her.  The rest of the cast are interesting and do their job of keeping us confused as to what is really going on.

I’m glad I finally picked up Going Nowhere Fast.  If you are looking for an offbeat mystery that will hook you until the end, this is the trip for you.

This is part of Friday's Forgotten Books.

May 15th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

I'm back again this week with another round of Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Spiders from Mars by Diane Vallere.


Yes, this has a sci-fi setting, but it is a mystery at heart.  Plus it's fun.  Just take a look at how it starts.

The first thing I did was have Neptune declared legally dead.  It was an unlikely start to a rescue mission, but it was my first one, and Neptune's incarceration made it difficult to ask him for advice.

Moving on to 56% into this ebook, we get this:

Uh-oh again!  Norman must have turned on the gravity assist, because I hadn't even noticed that I was slowly gliding toward the ground!

So yes, it does have sci-fi elements.  I love getting to try out a different setting like that.

I'll be reviewing this book on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back for it.  In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

TV Show Review: Murder, She Wrote - Season 4

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun mysteries, Jessica herself
Cons: No cons, he wrote
The Bottom Line:
Murders around her
Jessica investigates
Episodes still fun

“So You Admit That You Are a Writer.”  “Well, I’ve Never Felt the Need to Deny It.  At Least Not So Far.”

This has been a strange season in the world, and that is being reflected on TV.  Normally, April would be filled with new episodes of my TV shows as they build up to May sweeps and season finales.  Instead, it was very quiet with very little on since most shows had to end their production schedules early and networks were spreading out new episodes.  So what did I do?  I decided to jump into season 4 of Murder, She Wrote to fill the TV gap instead of waiting until mid-May like I normally would.  It was a welcome escape.

If you have somehow missed this 1980’s classic, it follows Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury).  While trying to get over her grief of losing her husband, she decided to write a mystery.  It became a best seller, and her second career was born.  However, she also finds herself involved in real life murders, wherever she goes.  Fortunately, she is able to notice the little things and solve the cases, clearing her friends and family in the process.

Over the course of the twenty-two episodes that make up this season, Jessica finds murder at a fashion show in Paris, she gets a lesson in TV writing when the plot of one is her books is stolen for an episode of a TV show, Jessica’s cousin Emma (also Angela Lansbury) finds herself solving a murder after reconnecting with an old flame, Jessica must clear her niece and nephew-in-law of murder that could spell trouble for their marriage, a visit with a playwright friend in Georgia leads to murder, and a visit to meet her nephew Grady’s fiancée (Michael Horton and Michael’s real life wife Debbie Zipp) ends in murder at a restaurant.

Of course, fans of the show live for the episodes set in Jessica’s hometown of Cabot Cove, Maine.  It’s there that we get the closest things we have to recurring characters in the form of Sherriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) and Dr. Seth Hazlitt (William Windom).  We get five cases set in Cabot Cove this year.  A hitchhiker dredges up an old murder case.  When the deputy’s wife is murder one night, all kinds of secrets in town come to light.  The annual Founder’s Day celebration is interrupted when a Native American shows up claiming to own the land where the town has been built.  Amos’s sister arrives for an unannounced visit, and her in-laws are right behind her.  Finally, the death (by natural causes!) of a citizen sparks rumors of a treasure possibly connected to Benedict Arnold.  Seth gets an extra episode as he and Jessica travel to DC and reconnect with his brother along the way.

I’ve been keeping track of the Cabot Cove episodes as I rewatch the show, and this year was not kind to my stats.  Of the 86 murders that Jessica has solved over the course of four seasons, we now have fifteen and a half that took place in Cabot Cove.  That’s five new ones this year.  Making things worse, four of them involved residents of town, and only one involved people from out of town.  That brings those totals to nine murder involving residents and six and a half involved people from out of town.  The numbers were pretty even until this year.

On the other hand, Cabot Cove started to be fleshed out this year.  For the first time, we see the beauty parlor.  This is also the first season we meet realtor Eve Simpson (Julie Adams).  While it wasn’t acknowledged this season, this would be the final season with Tom Bosley as Amos Tupper since he’d go on to star in his own TV mystery show – the Father Dowling Mysteries.

In case you couldn’t tell by how I’ve rambled on about it, I love this show.  The mysteries are always top notch.  Yes, it is often obvious when they are showing us the clues, but I still don’t always remember what those moments means.  Although I did find a string of episodes where I did remember things as I was watching them.  I wouldn’t remember an episode as I got started, but we’d hit a certain scene, and I’d know exactly how the rest of the plot was going to play out, including the important clue that had just happened.  Since it’s been years since I watched these episodes, that amazed me.

And it’s fun just to watch Jessica in action.  Angela Lansbury is excellent here.  She can make Jessica be as sweet and innocent as could be or tough, depending on what the situation calls for.  She does it without missing a beat.  And the character is always sharp.  People dismiss her at their own peril, which I love.  It’s also fun to see who will pop up as guest stars in any given episode.  This season, we get Robert Reed, Janet Leigh, Dean Jones, Dean Stockwell, Frank Gorshin, and Shirley Jones.  Those are at least the names that meant something to me.

The twenty-two episodes of this season are collected on DVD on five discs in their native full frame picture and stereo sound.  This isn’t a show that will challenge your system at all, but it is a TV show from the 80’s, so this is just how it originally aired.  The only extra is a bonus episode from season five.  I’m not sure why this particular one was included, and it seems rather silly now since all seasons of the show are available on DVD.

Whether I remember the plot of an episode or not, it is always a pleasure to be in Jessica’s presence, so I enjoyed every minute of season 4 of Murder, She Wrote again.  This is a light, fun mystery show that will keep you entertained for every episode.