Sunday, February 28, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Stitch Crashes Beauty and the Beast - Stitch Crashes Disney #1 - 2021 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great looking giant pin
Cons: I’m not beastly enough to find cons
The Bottom Line:
Stitch gets the spotlight
Beautiful first series pin
Oversized, looks great

Stitch Starts His Chameleon Act with a Change as Old as Time

For 2021, Disney centered their limited edition series around Stitch.  I’m not a big fan of Lilo and Stitch (although I keep meaning to rewatch the film), but I loved the trailers they produced when it first came out.  These trailers featured Stitch ruining iconic scenes in other Disney animated movies.  Because of that, I was intrigued by the series.  To be honest, I’m still not sure if I will be collecting all of them, but I caved and got the first since it is centered around Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorites.

The pin is of Stitch, and he’s still his mostly purple color.  However, he’s not completely purple like normal.  He’s got roses on him – enchanted roses.  He’s also got a rose in his mouth, looking like he is trying to impress a woman.  Maybe Beast has some competition for Belle from someone other than me.

Even the card the pin comes on gets into the act.  Behind Stitch, we see the remains of a chandelier that has crashed to the ballroom floor.  For those who remember those trailers, this was how one of them ended.

What I haven’t mentioned is that this is a jumbo pin.  It’s 3.5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide.  It had better be big since this is the only pin we get for $24.95, which is more expensive than the 3 pin sets they’ve been releasing over the last few years.  To be honest, it almost looks big enough to be one of the things Disney sells to hang from a pin lanyard, but it clearly isn’t.  It’s got two pins sticking out of the back, although I wouldn’t want to wear this one in the park all day because of the size.

As I said, between my love of those trailers from almost 20 years ago and loving Beauty and the Beast, I decided to get this pin.  I really do like it, and I think the pin’s backing is as much part of the fun.  Did I mention the sides of the card have holes in them, making it look like old fashioned film?  It’s great!

Stitch is going to change more as the series progresses.  The next two are growing on me, so I suspect I will wind up with all of the pins from this set.  Either way, I’m glad I got the first entry.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

February 27th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Batwoman – So we will spend a couple of episodes chasing this painting now – at least we know who has it.  And we’ve got a new mystery in Alice’s past.  With all this emphasis on what happened to Kate, how are we ever going to solve it if the actress is never coming back to the show?  And, to a certain extent, I’d kind of like them to move on at this point.  We know she’s never coming back, let’s really build the new world.  I am definitely torn on this one since I do get what they are trying to do with the returning characters and getting the new Batwoman fully into the show.

The Equalizer – Okay, no surprise that the man was innocent.  It’s rare that we find someone who is truly guilty in a show like this.  Given that, I still enjoyed seeing how the story unfolded and exactly where it went.  I’m sure the detective won’t work with her for too many episodes, but I am loving that dynamic.  And the sub-plot with the daughter wasn’t quite as annoying this week.

Ellen’s Game of Games – Two for the price of one!  I’d forgotten about the slime bucket challenge.  They need to have that more often.  I do feel sorry for the person who couldn’t find her prize in the first round.  And the winner the second hour would just begin to get momentum and then lose it again.  I kept rooting for her, although I wouldn’t have done any better than she did.

Superman & Lois – I think I was surprised at just how somber this show was.  I’m not talking dark like Arrow or Batwoman, but serious.  I guess especially since the producers have been talking about Superman as a symbol of hope.  But there is much I enjoyed here.  I really love Clark and Lois’s relationship.  And I like the fact that they are friends with Lana and her husband.  I hope they don’t mess that up, aka have Lana be hiding feelings for Clark.  And, while I know there will be bumps along the way, I want Lois and Clark to have a firm relationship.  I know we are going to get teen drama with the twins.  I hope it isn’t too bad/predictable.  And the liberal slant has already started as well.  We shall see how bad it gets.

WandaVision – A very different episode.  Drama instead of comedy.  It is certainly interesting to see more of Wanda’s backstory, and I loved how they worked in scenes from a few of the shows they were drawing inspiration from.  But it felt slow, especially after the quicker pace of the earlier episodes.  I can certainly understand why Wanda did what she did, however.  And it definitely looks like she was being manipulated into creating this world.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Movie Review: Chronicle Mysteries - Helped to Death

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun characters
Cons: Usual light cheese factor
The Bottom Line:
A nearby retreat
Has suspicious accident
Entertaining flick

“How Are Those Two Not a Thing Yet?”  “Right?  So Slow!”

As much as I do enjoy Hallmark’s mystery movies, I’ve really enjoying the slower rollout of new movies this year.  Okay, so that’s due to the pandemic slowing down production, but still, having a couple of movies a month, one each from their different franchises is nice.  We get to reconnect with our friends without being overwhelmed with new movies.  This week, we revisited the characters from Chronicle Mysteries with Helped to Death.

Billy Garrett (Lochlyn Munro) is a local self-help guru who ran a nearby retreat center.  After a guest was killed there, he spent time in jail for negligent manslaughter.  But now he is out, and he is opening back up.  Podcaster Alex McPherson (Allison Sweeney) thinks the retreat would make a good series of stories for her show, especially when the Chronicle’s new intern, Zack (Ian Collins) leaves a potentially suspicious voicemail message after a weekend up there.

With Drew Godfrey (Benjamin Ayres) coming along as well, Alex arrives for a few days of interviewing the staff and guests.  However, when one of the guests dies under mysterious circumstances, Alex can’t help but start investigating.  Is the past repeating itself?

Before we get any further, I do have to laugh at Lochlyn Munro popping up in this movie since he played the murder victim in last week’s Crossword Mystery.  I get it, the movies are produced in the same area, so they go to the local talent pool to hire the many needed new characters.  And these aren’t the only Hallmark mystery movies he’s popped up in.  But I still found it a fun coincidence.

This movie presents a solid mystery.  While I was sure that the supposed accident was murder, I wasn’t sure who done it or why until Alex figured it out.  The motives and suspects were plentiful, which is always great for a mystery.

The characters are fun as always.  The usual characters for this franchise are all here, and it was great to see them again.  We meet a new character I’m hoping we’ll see again.  And the suspects do their job of confusing us perfectly.

Either I’m getting more immune to Hallmark’s cheese the more I’ve watched or they are getting better at hiding it (or both), because I found a minimal amount of cheese in this movie.  (Although there is one line that, just wow!  No one could have made that line believable.)  Anyway, if you are a fan of Hallmark’s movies, you won’t be bothered by what you get here.

Hallmark continues to offer diverting mystery movies that entertain.  If you haven’t caught Helped to Death yet, be sure to catch it soon.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Book Review: A Side of Murder by Amy Pershing (Cape Cod Foodie Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters, location, mystery
Cons: Pacing, one stereotype for several characters
The Bottom Line:
Return to Cape Cod
Leads Sam to discover corpse
Uneven but fun

Murder Mars a Return to Cape Cod

At this point, all of us are ready to get out and enjoy a vacation.  Since that still isn’t possible, visiting tourist locations via fiction is the perfect alternative.  That makes the timing of A Side of Murder, the debut Cape Cod Foodie Mystery from Amy Pershing, perfect.

Samantha Barnes, Sam to her friends, grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, but left to go to culinary school and become a famous chef.  However, a viral fall from grace leaves her struggling to figure out what is next, so when she inherits her aunt’s home on the Cape, the timing is perfect.  A new job writing about food in Cape Cod for a local paper is also a wonderful opportunity.

Her first assignment is to review the Bayview Grill, a new restaurant in an old location.  Sam enlists some friends to join her and the evening is going well, until she steps out for air and finds a dead body floating in the water nearby.  Sam knows the victim from before she left the Cape.  The police are quick to view it as an accident, the victim was a known drunk, so the idea of her accidentally falling into water and drowning makes sense.  But Sam doesn’t think that’s what happened.  Can she prove it was more than an accident?

I often say that the pilot of a TV show has to walk a fine line, introducing characters and setting up relationships while also telling us a story.  The first novel in a series has to do that as well.  Sometimes, a series debut errs a bit too much on the side of set up, and that was the case here.  It meant the pacing of the mystery itself was off.  On the other hand, I did like the characters, so I wasn’t too board by this part of the book.

And the mystery itself is good.  It might take Sam a while to figure out who the suspects might be, but I was surprised by several of the things that were uncovered on the way to the logical solution.

As I said before, I really do like the characters.  Sam reconnects with friends from high school.  She has preconceived notions about them, but we see hints of hidden depths to them as the story unfolds.  I’m sure that will be explored more in future books.  The suspects were strong as well, which helped keep me from seeing what was going on too early.

I did have a problem with how some of the characters were portrayed, however.  The older characters fell into some stereotypes that aren’t true.  With one character, I would have understood this characterization, but it was multiple characters.  And for one of these characters, this trait doesn’t fit with what else we know about her.

Being a food centered mystery, we get delicious sounding recipes for a four-course casual dinner with friends at the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed this debut.  If you need a virtual vacation A Side of Murder, pick up this book today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Book Review: Shucked Apart by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters, plot
Cons: Some supporting characters don’t get much page time
The Bottom Line:
Nearby oyster farms
Give Julia more danger
In focused entry

Hunting for the Oyster Seed Thief

One thing that I enjoy about Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake Mysteries is the look at various industries in Maine.  We get another one of those in Shucked Apart.  As you might guess, this mystery takes us into the world of oyster farming, which provides a wonder backdrop to this mystery.

May for Julia Snowden means trying to get the Snowden Family Clambake ready for the summer season.  There are plenty of tasks to do, but she is interrupted when her boyfriend, Chris, asks her to help his friend, Andie Greatorex.  Andie is an oyster farmer on the nearby Damariscotta River, and someone just stole her latest purchase of oyster seed.  These baby oysters are worth $35,000, so it is a significant loss.  Andie is more concerned about the feeling she has that this is personal, designed to intimidate her.  Yet Andie is reluctant to give any suspects that Julia could question.

Given that, it isn’t any surprise that Julia hasn’t made much progress when she stumbles on a dead body.  With the stakes raised, can she figure out what is happening?  Or is the murder unrelated to the robbery?

Now, if some of details that I mentioned about oyster farming are confusing to you, don’t worry, we get a crash course in what it takes to raise oysters near the beginning of the book.  Yet, what makes this book so great is that these scenes don’t slow down the story.  Julia is gaining information for the case at the same time.  The pace is steady from the beginning and increases as we draw closer to the climax.  When Julia figures things out, all our questions are answered.

This series tends to be on the slimmer side length wise, and this book is no exception.  The mystery itself doesn’t suffer, but it does mean that we don’t see a few of the series regulars, or they just have brief cameos.  I’ll definitely say I missed them.  I sub-plot that included them would have been nice.

But here’s the thing, it wasn’t needed.  The main mystery is compelling enough to keep us engaged, and we do get some updates on some of the characters who are in the book.  There are some minor spoilers for things that have happened in the past, so I do recommend reading the series in order, although you shouldn’t be too lost if you jumped in here.

It certainly helps that the characters we meet here are wonderful.  They are fully formed and help make us care about the outcome of the mystery, which is no surprise to fans of the series.

As always, we get recipes to end the book.  There are five this time, and two fit the oyster themed.  For those of us who aren’t fans of seafood, we get a delicious sounding banana bread recipe.

I’m always reluctant to leave Julia behind when I reach the end of a book, and Shucked Apart is no exception.  Fans will be left satisfied but wanting to know what happens next to their favorite characters.

 Here are the rest of the Maine Clambake Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Book Review: Furbidden Fatality by Deborah Blake (Catskills Pet Rescue Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Charming animals, great characters, fun plot
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Buying pet shelter
Then finding dead dog warden
Charming series stars

Glad I Adopted This Debut

Try as I might (and believe me, I am trying), it just isn’t possible to read every cozy mystery published.  As a result, I pay attention to recommendations from others.  Last fall, I saw someone recommend Furbidden Fatality. It was someone I trust, so I added it to my to be read list.  I’m so glad I did.

Kari Stuart wasn’t exactly content with her life as a waitress in her small down in the Catskills, but she didn’t expect her life to change as quickly as it did when she won the lottery.  She hasn’t quite figured out what to do with the money – until she learns about the needs of a local animal shelter.  Despite her determination to not be impulsive, she buys it sight unseen, knowing it needs to be fixed up before it can reopen.

What Kari doesn’t realize is that it comes with issues from the local dog warden, Bill Myers, who has been harassing the previous owner for years.  When Kari finds Bill dead outside the shelter’s fence in the middle of the night, things only go from bad to worse.  The police are considering her their prime suspect, with some of Kari’s new friends as their other suspects.  In order to clear her name, Kari begins investigating herself, and quickly finds Bill had made lots of enemies.  Can she figure out what happened?

The book does a great job of pulling us in right from the start.  Kari is a strong main character, and the pets are charming, especially Queenie, Kari’s new kitten who really starts the ball rolling and steals many scenes.  I’m allergic to many pets, so I have never had any of my own, but I was quickly charmed by the animals here.

We only get a couple of scenes with Bill before Kari finds his body, but it is enough to recognize that we will have plenty of suspects.  Even so, I was surprised by where the story went.  There are lots of twists along the way, but when we reach the climax it all makes sense.

I’ve already talked about the animal characters, but the human characters are just as strong.  While we are meeting all of them for the first time here, Kari already knew some of them.  Still, they all come to life for us on the page.  We are already seeing some growth in the characters and their relationships, and I’m anxious to see where those relationships go as the series progresses.

This is author Deborah Blake’s first cozy mystery, but this isn’t her first novel.  That experience shows in the pacing, the characters – everything, really.  It’s easy to get pulled into this story and hard to put it down when the time comes.

I’m very glad I picked up Furbidden Fatality, and I’m already looking forward to my next visit.  If you enjoy adorable animals in your cozies, adopt this book right away.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Ornament Review: Tea Time! #5 - Reindeer - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great looking set
Cons: Final in the series
The Bottom Line:
This reindeer tea set
Makes festive series ender
Two ornament set

Enjoy a Final Tea Time with a Reindeer

In recent years, Hallmark has started announcing that some of their ornament series will run for a limited number of years.  We’ve always known that the Tea Time! series would end after five years, so it wasn’t a surprised that 2020 was the fine ornament set.  Fortunately, we got a great final entry.

This year, the theme of the tea set is reindeer.  The tea pot ornament is one of Santa’s reindeer.  He’s dressed in a green harness with bells on it.  He’s wearing a Santa hat to keep warm.  Of course, he’s standing on his two back legs, and one of his legs is the spout.  The handle is another part of his harness.

The second ornament in this series is the cup.  This cup is designed to look like a bell, or, really, half of a bell.  If you chopped a bell in half, that’s what you’d get here.  It’s a gold cup, and there are designs like the sides of a bell.  The handle matches the reindeer’s harness.  Inside the cup, you can see a warm beverage with a fun design of milk in a star pattern on the top.

As always, this set is cute.  If I collected tea pots, I’d be tempted to get a set like this in real life to have at Christmas.  Since I don’t drink tea or have the room for a collection like that, it’s nice to have this set in smaller, ornament size.  (Not that I have room for all the ornaments I buy either, but that’s another story.)

Since this looks like a tea pot and a tea cup, I’m sure it is no surprise that the ornaments stand on their own.  In a rarity, Hallmark put white ribbon through the loops on both ornaments.  Both pieces are perfectly balanced so they hang straight.  And you’ll find the five in a Christmas tree on the bottom of both pieces.

This has been a fun series.  While I’m sure there are many more ideas that could have been done, these five ornaments were great.  If you were collecting Tea Time!, you’ll be happy with the final entry in the series.

Enjoy more Tea Time! in ornament form.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Tell a Fairytale Day - Celebrate Today #2 - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun day Disney fans will love
Cons: The characters are a little off
The Bottom Line:
A pin reminder
To celebrate fairytales
Disney fans approve

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Pin….

I’m always fascinated to learn about the fun holidays people have invented.  That was one of the appealing things of Disney’s Celebrate Today pin series from 2020.  They definitely picked some days I didn’t know about, including the February date, Tell a Fairytale Day.

Tell a Fairytale Day is February 26th each year.  Talk about a great day for Disney to highlight since so many of their animated classics are versions of fairytales.

And, it’s no surprise that they are highlighting the cast of one of those fairytales for this pin.  They’ve picked Sleeping Beauty.  The pin features Aurora and Prince Phillip as well as the three fairies and, up in the corner, Maleficent in her dragon form.  I’m not sure why they picked this particular fairytale to highlight – maybe the fact that fairies play a large part in it inspired them.

The pin itself is fine, although the characters look slightly off.  Maybe I’m expecting more from a pin this size with so many characters on it, but their faces look a little indistinct to me.  As always, the date of the celebration is in the lower right corner.  It’s a bit shiny, so it’s a little hard to read the date.

Tell a Fairytale Day may have been a bit obvious for Disney to include in their Celebrate Today pin series, but it is one that their fans will appreciate.  If you are a Disney fan, you’ll love this pin as a reminder to enjoy fairytales on the twenty-sixth of February every year.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

February 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

 Batgirl – I’m a bit conflicted about this episode.  On the one hand, they are right, and it has been pointed out over and over again that one white women make the news and inspire massive search parties.  On the other hand, I feel like it was delivered as a lecture.  I’m glad that Ryan now has a place to live and more importantly, that she found Kevin.  That was a great scene.

The Equalizer – Another fun episode.  I enjoyed the main story and seeing just how she was going to pull everything off.  I’m already tired of the sub-plots with the daughter, however.  Completely predictable and a little boring.  I get why she is there, but I hope they start to truly do more with her, and something interesting, soon.

Ellen’s Game of Games – The strategy of ganging up on one person didn’t work on the roller coaster game.  Very close at the end, but I was happy to see $100K given out.

Young Rock & Kenan – My quest to find a new sitcom led me to these two shows on NBC.  Young Rock was ... interesting.  Kenan was a bit too painful for me.  I didn’t laugh at all in the first one.  I had a couple of grins in the second.  I gave them a try because I like the people behind them (The Rock and Kenan), but they really didn’t work for me.  Both are one and dones for me, and this is despite how I always talk about giving a show time to find itself.  Both did well in the ratings, so I will be rooting on the shows to succeed for those involved, but I won’t be watching.

WandaVision – I’d read theories that Agnus was really behind it.  But who is she?  How does she tie in to the plot to revive Vision?  Still so many questions?  I’m not a fan of The Office or most other multi camera comedies, so I’m sure there were lots of jokes and nods I didn’t get in this episode, but at this point, I’m so drawn into the world and wondering what is going on that I don’t care.

Friday, February 19, 2021

TV Show Review: God Friended Me - Season 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Uplifting main stories each episode
Cons: Some political preaching that was a real turn off
The Bottom Line:
Helping suggestions
A mainly uplifting show
Wish it didn’t preach

“Two Atheists Sitting in a Church.  There’s Got to be a Punch Line in There Somewhere.”

Probably my biggest surprise from the 2018-2019 TV season was how much I enjoyed God Friended Me.  Yes, I took issue with parts of the show, but at its heart, it was an uplifting show.  I’m happy to say that I mostly enjoyed season 2 as well, although my issues with the show were stronger.

If you missed the first season of this show, it follows Miles Finer (Brandon Michael Hall), a young podcaster who has turned his back completely on God and religion despite his father, Arthur (Joe Morton), being an Episcopal priest.  All that changes when he is friended on Facebook by an account claiming to be God.  As God gives Miles friend suggestions, Miles finds ways to help these people out.  And he begins to question anew his atheism.  Helping Miles are his best friend and tech genius, Rakesh (Suraj Sharma), and one of his first friend suggestions, Cara (Violett Beane).  Rounding out the cast is Miles’s sister Ali (Javicia Leslie) and Arthur’s fiancée Trish (Erica Gimpel).

As this season opens, Cara is pursuing a journalism opportunity in Paris, which just happens to be perfect since some of the leads to track down who is behind the God account seem to be pointing in that direction.  Meanwhile, closer to home, the God account is sending suggestions to someone named Joy (recurring guest star Jessica Lu).  Joy is in New York City on business, and she has no interest in helping people at all, but she begins to be pulled in anyway.  Over the course of the season, the gang attempts to help a theater about to close, a social worker fighting through trauma, and a Holocaust survivor trying to track down his sister.

The main part of each episode was always wonderful.  This is a feel-good show about people helping people.  Honestly, the show would leave me with a smile on my face each episode.  The situations were often more complicated than they first appear, and I didn’t always see how the issues would be resolved, but there was a happy ending coming.  Oh, once or twice the main storyline didn’t end happily, but it still ended the right way.

I also enjoyed the ongoing mystery of who or what is behind the God account itself.  I feel like that got too convoluted at times, but maybe it was just because I was trying to follow all the twists with time off between episodes.  I was content with how this season of the show left that mystery.

What did bother me was the moral preaching.  I wasn’t surprised that the show has a very liberal worldview.  I actually would have been surprised if it didn’t, in fact.  However, I was bothered by the way the show would present those type of conflicts.  These mostly came from ongoing stories involving the characters’ personal lives.  And they would set up a strawman character to be the bad guy in these circumstances and then we were supposed to feel good when they were vanquished.  The one that stands out to me the most is the man who objected to Arthur living with his fiancée before they got married.  This is a traditional Christian value, and the man was objecting to Arthur, a priest, living this way.  But he was treated like an idiot for holding the traditional Biblical view.

Like many shows, this one was impacted by COVID-19.  The good news is, we still got twenty-two episodes of the show, and the writers were able to wrap up storylines.  This is even more impressive since the show got cancelled after production had been shut down.  That means the ending of the final episode is a little rough, but it did wrap up things to my satisfaction.

Potential spoilers on the final scene ahead, but I will be vague.  I was bothered by the very final scene until the producers said they intended that to say the mystery isn’t completely over yet.  Looked at that way, I am okay with it.  And yes, that is always the way they intended to end the show.  Good thing it was filmed early on.

The actors all do a great job here.  The regulars are wonderful at bringing their characters to life each week, and the guest stars fit perfectly in the world of the show.

While I wish the show would have been more even handed when it approached some subjects, on the whole, I still enjoyed season 2 of God Friended Me.  This is a show that will leave you smiling after each episode.

February 19th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

 Welcome to Friday!  Time to celebrate with Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Furbidden Fatality by Deborah Blake.

This is the first in a new series, and it was delightful.  It comes out this coming Tuesday.

Here's how the book begins:

Kari glanced down at the pet carrier sitting on the passenger seat next to her, then up at the sign on the simple but rustic building in front of them.  "It doesn't seem to bad," she said.  "I'm sure you'll like it here."

Moving ahead to 56% into the book, we find this:

"Oh," Kari said.  "Well, I'm sorry to have wasted your time, Sheriff."
He sighed, flipping open the folder again.  "I wouldn't say that, Ms. Stuart.  You're still a good suspect, and I sure as heck hope you didn't dig up this dirt just to try to throw me off your trail.  Or that of any of your friends.  If so, I assure you it isn't going to work."

Longer quote from me this time, but they were too good to shorten.

I'll have a review up on release day, so I hope you'll come back on Tuesday to see what I thought.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Book Review: Long Island Iced Tina by Maria DiRico (Catering Hall Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters, story, humor
Cons: Climax a bit complicated
The Bottom Line:
A returned painting
Sets up shower guest murder
Plenty of fun here

Reappearing Painting and Murder

I was completely charmed by the first book in the Catering Hall Mysteries last year, so I was looking forward to Long Island Iced Tina.  I’m pleased to say that this is a delightful return trip to the Belle View Banquet Manor in Queens.

Mia Carina is delighted for her friend Nicole, who is pregnant with her first baby.  Nicole has chosen Belle View as the location for one of her baby showers, and Mia is trying to juggle Nicole’s mother, Linda, and grandmother on one side and her step-mother, Tina on the other, a job made harder by the fact that Tina does everything she can to antagonize Nicole’s family.  Despite Mia’s best efforts, Linda and Tina get into a fight the day of the shower, but that is quickly forgotten when Nicole opens one of her gifts to find a priceless – and stolen – painting.

Everyone at the party is shocked by the mysterious gift.  No one seems to know who brought it or where it has been since it was stolen.  Things get further complicated when Mia discovered the dead body of one of the guests the next morning.  She can’t help but think there is a connection between the painting and the murder.  But what is it?

I always enjoy it when a book finds a way to set itself apart from the others I read, and the stolen painting definitely did it in this case.  While it is obvious it plays a part in the murder, just how it does so takes a while to figure out.  Meanwhile, we get some fun red herrings and complications on the way to the truth.  The climax was a bit complicated, so I had to really think about what was going on to figure everything out, but it does make sense.

Meanwhile, the characters are fantastic.  The suspects are strong, and the series regulars are charming.  We got some nice character development for them, and I’m curious to see where things go in the next book.

If you’ve missed the first in the series, not only does this series take place in the borough of Queens (and the greater New York City area), but Mia’s family is part of the mob.  Yet this book is still a cozy, proving that cozy is how you tell the story and the type of story you choose to tell, not so much about the exact ingredients you put in the story.

Speaking of ingredients, we do get four delicious sounding recipes at the end of the book as well as a tip for making a memorable event.

Finally, I have to mention the humor.  There is a great sub-plot involving Mia’s grandmother that will have you laughing.  Even in the scenes that don’t revolve around her, you’ll find dialogue and events that will make you smile if not laugh.

Long Island Iced Tina is a pleasure from start to finish.  Grab some iced tea, sit back, and enjoy this delightful book.

Don't refuse the rest of the Catering Hall Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Movie Review: Terminal Descent - A Crossword Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery movie
Cons: Light does of cheese
The Bottom Line:
Elevator crash
Becomes murder mystery
In light, fun movie

“I’m Saying You…Grow on People.”  “Oh, So I’m a Fungus Now.”

Modern technology is wonderful.  Not only does it make our lives easier, but it also gives mystery writers creative new ways to kill off people.  We got one of those in Terminal Descent, the newest Crossword Mystery Movie from Hallmark.

Tess (Lacey Chabert) has agreed to a crossword puzzle competition against a computer.  While several people seem to think she will lose handily, she is happy to do it because she thinks it will be fun.  Morgan Daniels (Lochlyn Munro), the founder of XCal Technology, is happy with the publicity this competition will give his company and their new artificial intelligence computer.

Tess heads over to the company’s offices a few days before the competition to meet everyone.  As she is about to leave, Morgan gets on the building’s elevator.  It is high tech and voice activated.  But then it malfunctions and Morgan plunges to his death.  A few things that Tess observed help out police detective Logan (Benjamin Elliot) in his investigation.  But did the elevator just malfunction?  Or was it sabotaged?

I always enjoy it when writers get creative with a murder method, which is what happens here.  Of course, once the murder happens, the motives start to look very familiar.  Yes, they do explain how the murder happens, but the focus is on the suspects and why they might have wanted to kill Morgan.  There are enough suspects and twists to keep the viewer engaged until the logical end.

This series seems to suffer from more turn over in the supporting cast that normal.  Yes, Tess’s aunt and Logan’s dad are still around, but the rest of the supporting players are new.  Not that I’m complaining since I liked them.  Hopefully, we will see some consistency in future movies.

Of course, this movie does come with the standard Hallmark movie cheese warning.  Fortunately, it is a light dose, so fans of these movies probably won’t even notice.

Terminal Descent is another fun Hallmark mystery movie.  If you are looking for a light mystery to enjoy for a couple of hours, this is the movie for you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Book Review: Smothered by G. P. Gottlieb (Whipped and Sipped Mysteries #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, good mystery
Cons: A few unresolved plot threads, timeline issues
The Bottom Line:
A gym owner dies
Alene drawn into the case
While running café

This Sequel Was a Little Too Whipped

Last year, I made the acquaintance of Alene Baron in the first Whipped and Sipped Mystery.  I enjoyed it enough to make a return visit with Smothered.  Unfortunately, this mystery was uneven.

It’s only been a few weeks since Alene Baron solved that first case, and life has pretty much returned to normal at Whipped and Sipped, the vegan café she owns in a Chicago neighborhood.  Her biggest annoyance these days is Stanley Huff, the man who owns the Better Be Fit gym next to the café.  She feels some of his business practices are shady, and he’s just an inconsiderate neighbor.

As annoying as he can be, Alene didn’t expect to find him head one morning.  The police are called, and they have some suspicions that Stanley’s death might not be the heart attack that Alene thought it was.  When one of Alene’s employees become the prime suspect before disappearing, Alene can’t help but try to figure out what is going on.  Will she solve this murder as well?

My problems with this book aren’t anything that couldn’t be fixed by a careful edit.  There are some plot threads and red herrings that are introduced but never fully resolved.  There were some timeline issues, one of my biggest pet peeves.  At times, we were given summaries of conversations instead of actually watching the scene unfold.

And yet, there were things I enjoyed about the book.  There are a lot of characters, many of them returning from the previous book.  I’ll admit, it took me a bit of time to keep them all straight, and I was grateful for the cast of characters at the beginning of the novel.  However, the further into the book I got, the more the characters came alive for me.  I was especially impressed with the growth we got to see in the characters, not only in this book but between books.  Alene is a very relatable main character, possibly too relatable with her flaws.  No, the flaws don’t overwhelm, but I identified with her a bit too much.

Meanwhile, the plot is good overall.  I was impressed with the motives that were introduced and how Alene figured it all out.  The ending was perfectly logical and the climatic scene was very entertaining.

This wouldn’t be a culinary cozy if we didn’t get recipes.  Since Alene’s café is vegan the recipes are slightly different than you might see in a normal culinary cozy, but the food in this book still sounds mouthwatering.

Like with the first book, Alene’s neighborhood in Chicago becomes a small cozy community.  The setting may be a large city, but by focusing on a small part of the town, this book definitely still works as a cozy.

While Smothered had its flaws, I did enjoy other aspects of it.  If you enjoyed the first, you’ll definitely want to see what happens next to Arlene.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Queen of Hearts Playing Croquet - All Star Trading Cards #2 - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great character choice for this sport trading card
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Queen playing croquet
Another all-star winner
Creative and fun

Do You Play Croquet?

While some of the pins in Disney’s All Stars Trading Card series were a bit of a stretch, there were others that were obvious.  The February release was another of the obvious ones.  Of course, we need to include The Queen of Hearts playing Croquet.

This series features Disney characters playing sports in a trading card design.  Now, we don’t normally actually see trading cards for croquet, but that’s a minor detail I’m very willing to let slide.  The pin itself features the Queen about to hit her croquet ball.  Of course, the ball is actually a hedgehog rolled up, and her mallet is a flamingo.  What else would you use?  Behind her, we can see her soldier cards lined up, all of them hearts.  Croquet is in a banner across the bottom in a glittery blue.  The Queen herself is a pin on pin, so she stands out a bit.  And the Queen has signed it up at the top, making it even more of a collectible card.

The pins in this series are fun.  I love variations on a theme, which means many series appeal to me (unfortunately for my pocketbook).  This is a good one since you do associate the Queen of Hearts with croquet from her appearance as Alice in Wonderland.  And she’s one of the few villains in this pin series so that makes her stand out even more.

It’s always fun to see Disney coming up with new pins.  These All Stars Trading Cards are creative, and the Queen of Hearts is a great addition to the series.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Book Review: Finn and the Intergalactic Lunchbox by Michael Buckley (Finniverse Series #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong action and imagination
Cons: A cliched character
The Bottom Line:
Fantasy story
That keeps the action moving
Kids will enjoy it

Traveling the Galaxy via…a Lunchbox?

It’s been a few years since I last read one of Michael Buckley’s books, so when I saw he was starting a new series, I was thrilled.  Finn and the Intergalactic Lunchbox is as crazy as it sounds.

You see, Finn is a typical almost twelve-year-old.  He’s got a younger sister who annoys him, he’s struggling to make friends at his new school, he’s being picked on by a bully, and he has a crush on a classmate.  His life changes when he accidentally takes his sister’s lunchbox to school one day.  When it starts to glow, he discovers that it’s become a portal to another part of our galaxy.  On, and this portal is the key to a battle against a race called The Plague that destroys planets.  With The Plague now looking at Earth as their next target, Finn is going to have to come up with some kind of plan to save the world.

Yes, this book is just as wild as it sounds.  Even more so since I didn’t mention the seven-foot-tall robot that is also a major character.  The book was a bit too end of the world for me at times, but that’s a matter of personal taste and a small issue.

A bigger issue to me was one character that was a cliché.  I appreciate the attempts to develop him and the growth we saw, but I still had to roll my eyes at him.

It’s a shame since the rest of the characters are good.  The action keeps the rest of them from being fully developed, but they were developed enough for us to care.

And the creativity that went into this book is fantastic.  There is plenty of fun to be had here as Finn discovers there is so much more to the universe than we ever suspected.

If you are looking for a book for a reluctant reader, this is one to consider.  The story is fast paced with enough twists and surprises to keep the pages turning.

Oh, and we get a cliffhanger that sets up the next one in the series.

Finn and the Intergalactic Lunchbox is a wild ride filled with twists and imagination.  Kids will eat it up and be ready for Finn’s next improbable adventure.

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

Saturday, February 13, 2021

February 13th's Weekly TV Thoughts

 Not too much I watch on this week.  And next week isn't looking any better.  In fact, it will be missing another show from this list since Zoey is not going to be back until the end of March.  But we've got a couple of the Arrowverse shows starting up in the next couple of weeks.

The Equalizer – The Superbowl pulled me in.  I wasn’t planning to start the show since I’ve watched neither of the movies (or the original series), but the ads made it look good.  I enjoyed it.  I wish the “client” had stayed put like she was supposed to, but I liked that the detective was hesitant about the frame from the very beginning.  It’s nice to see a smart detective in shows/books like this.  I wish it weren’t on Sunday night since the rest of my week is looking pretty empty, but I think I will be back.

Ellen’s Game of Games – A couple of games we haven’t seen in a while.  I’d forgotten about both of them, too.  Don’t leave me hanging is fun.  But I really love the umbrella game.  The winner was doing so well, then suddenly lost her luck and couldn’t get any correct any more.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – Can we say lecture?  That was just painful to watch, and it was the writer’s fault.  It just felt like a cliché to me.  If they had tried to break some new ground, offer some new thoughts on things, I probably would have enjoyed it.

WandaVision – What?  That was my reaction to the end of the episode.  I have no clue what that twist means for the next episode.  It just keeps getting stranger and stranger.  Honestly, I’m not sure what I think about what we’ve seen so far.  I have a feeling I’m going to need to rewatch this series once we know what is happening so I can see how they unspooled it all for us.

Friday, February 12, 2021

February 12th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

 It's Friday!  And it's the start of a long weekend, at least here in the states.  And for some people.  I'm one of the lucky ones who gets Monday off, and I'm looking forward to it.

But for today, I've got this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Long Island Iced Tina by Maria DiRico.

This is the second in the Catering Hall Mysteries.  It's not actually due out until February 23rd, but I got my hands on an ARC, and it's wonderful!

Here's now it begins:

"My grandbaby's having a baby!!!!"

How might that lead to a mystery?  I'll let you read the book to find out for yourself.  Meanwhile, we find this on page 56:

Jamie grabbed her hand and clutched it.  "Is that what I think it is?" he asked, his tone full of dread.

Much more mysterious and sinister, right?

While the book isn't out for another week and a half, I'll have my review up next Thursday.  I hope you'll come back then.  In the meantime, have a fabulous weekend.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Book Review: Bronzed Betrayals by Ritter Ames (Bodies of Art Mysteries #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action, story advancement, characters
Cons: Only if you aren’t up to date on the series
The Bottom Line:
Body in her room
More complications abound
Fast paced fun for fans

The Unexpected Body in Laurel’s Room

I’ve gotten caught up in the Bodies of Art Mysteries by Ritter Ames.  Unlike other series that mostly stand alone, these books are a definite series.  By now, I am hooked and need to know what is happening to the characters, so I was thrilled to find the time to pick up Bronzed Betrayals, the fifth in the series.

Laurel Beacham and Jack Hawkes are enjoying a night out together.  Well, that might be an exaggeration since they are at a party they aren’t enjoying.  However, it provides the perfect cover for an art recovery that the two have planned.  That recovery doesn’t go as planned, but the night really spins out of control when Laurel returns to her hotel room to find a dead body.  She knows the victim, but who killed the person?  Are they trying to frame Laurel?

I’m going to once again warn you that this is not the place to start this series.  There is so much going on in this book that you won’t appreciate if you jump in here.  Not to mention some rather big revelations in earlier books that will be spoiled in these pages.  You really do want to read these books in order.  Laurel is trying to stop a major art heist planned in the future as well as deal with revelations about her family, and those stories will mean more to you if you know the background.

I entered this book thinking it was the final book in the series, and my expectations were that the various plot threads we’ve been following through the earlier books would be resolved here.  Turns out, I was wrong.  But I can now say I am up to date and can anxiously wait for the next entry with the rest of the series’ fans.  (September 2022 update: Author Ritter Ames sadly passed away before she could continue this series, so this will be all we get for these characters.)

That’s not to say we don’t get plot advancement here.  Fans will be happy to get more answers to some of the story threads.  I hesitate to say we have resolution on anything since there’s always some twist along the way.  Not to mention a pretty major cliffhanger at the end of the book.

To be clear, this book does have a beginning, middle, and end that leave us satisfied when we turn the final page.  It’s just that so much of what happens here ties in to other things going on, it makes much more sense if you know that background.

This isn’t a typical cozy mystery plot.  This is more of a cozy caper series.  As long as you know this when you pick up the series and set your expectations accordingly, you’ll be fine.

I’m happy to say that the characters are continuing to grow as the series progresses.  I’m especially happy with how Jack is maturing.

And there is plenty of action.  I was turning pages as quickly as I could multiple times as I read.

Fans of this series will be delighted with Bronzed Betrayals.   Laurel and Jack’s next adventure can’t get here soon enough.

Need more?  Here are the Bodies of Art Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

TV Show Review: The Mandalorian - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong lead characters, action, cinematography
Cons: A bit slow at times
The Bottom Line:
New Star Wars stories
A tad slow, great to look at
And The Child is cute

“You’re Not so Bad … for a Droid.”  “Agreed.”

I know, I know, I’m late to the party.  But since I just got a Disney+ subscription, I am just now able to watch The Mandalorian.  Based on everything I’d heard about it, I expected I would enjoy the first season.  While I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I expected to, I did still enjoy it.

The show follows the adventures of The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal).  He’s a bounty hunter working and living a long time ago in a galaxy far away.  More specifically, he’s working in the time not too long after the events of The Return of the Jedi.  Unlike many of his Mandalorian brethren, he is trying to make his living as a bounty hunter, traveling to distant worlds to collect those who have prices on their heads.

In the first episode, his latest commission is to collect someone dead or alive.  However, when he arrives, he finds that his target this time is a child.  That sets him on a path that will lead him to worlds and people he didn’t expect to be visiting.  What will happen next?

Just in case you missed it, The Child is the biggest tie in to the Star Wars universe to be a consistent part of the show.  (Well, and the storm troopers that pop up semi-regularly.)  This is the breakout character of the show, and deservedly so.

With the way everyone raved about the show, I will admit my expectations were pretty high.  So that might be why I found the show a bit disappointing.  It is slower than I was expecting.  And there is lots of silence.  That one may just be something I’m not used to in TV shows these days where everything is packed with dialogue in an effort to get a story told in the allotted time.

Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  There is plenty of action.  It’s just often a slow burn until we get to those scenes.

Along the way, there are some fun moments that are clearly winks to things fans have been saying for years about the Star Wars universe.  Heck, I was laughing very hard at one episode in the season finale.

And the cinematography is outstanding.  Each episode features gorgeous shots of whatever planet we are on.  The effects are just as wonderful.  This looks like a big budget movie.  It is easy to get lost in the visuals.

I also have to praise to Pedro Pascal.  His character, The Mandalorian, wears a helmet in every scene.  So via voice and body language, he has to convey everything is character is thinking and feeling, and he does a great job of it.  This is especially impressive since he is playing opposite a puppet of The Child in some scenes.  He carries the show.  While some characters pop in and out, The Mandalorian and The Child are the only characters consistently in every episode, so they are the ones we know best.  The rest of the cast is fantastic no matter how many episodes they get.

Speaking of The Child, I certainly see the reason the character has captured so much attention.  He’s cute!  And funny.  Considering he never talks, that’s saying something.  The writers do a great job of setting things up for us to get to know this character.

I certainly see the appeal, especially for Star Wars fans.  While I have enjoyed the original trilogy, I’m not as invested in this universe as many others, which might be another reason I wasn’t as hooked as I thought I’d be.

Still, I did mostly enjoy season one of The Mandalorian.  If you haven’t checked out this show yet, I certainly recommend you do so.  I’ll be moving on to season two soonish.  I’ve got a little time before season three comes out, and there are some other shows on Disney+ also calling my name.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Book Review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Thursday Murder Club #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, twists to the mystery
Cons: A few, but overall enjoyable
The Bottom Line:
Older characters
Try to solve a fresh murder
Mostly good debut

Enjoyable but Flawed Debut

I started hearing the buzz about The Thursday Murder Club a few months ago.  It sounded right up my alley, so I decided to get a copy and see what I thought.  While I can see why others are enjoying it so much, I did find some flaws that bothered me.

Welcome to Coopers Chase Retirement Village.  It’s a community for active seniors in England.  There are all kinds of activities happening on a regular basis, but the most unusual, and smallest, is a group of four friends who meet every Thursday to discuss cold criminal cases.  While they may not take their findings to the police, they enjoy looking at the stories and seeing if they can figure out what really happened.

Then one day, the murder of a developer takes place near the community.  Naturally, these four friends jump at the chance to figure out what is really going on.  Will they be able to solve the case?

See what I mean?  This set up is similar to many cozies I read, so I settled back to enjoy.  After all, I’d heard about how funny it is and how great a mystery there is.

Before I start picking it apart, I do have to say that I enjoyed it overall.  For one thing, the mystery is strong, with plenty of twists I didn’t see coming.  I was engaged the entire time trying to figure out what was really going on.

Meanwhile, the characters are charming.  Ron, Ibrahim, Joyce, and Elizabeth are a diverse group, but they mesh well and form a great core group to solve the mystery.  I completely enjoyed getting to know them.  They are older than the sleuths in the cozies I typically read, but that was part of their charm.

At times, I struggled with the humor of the book.  Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely moments that made me smile if not laugh.  However, other times I felt like the book was more clever than funny, and it was proud of how clever it was, which took the joy out of it for me.  As we approached the climax, the story definitely got more serious, which was appropriate.

The closer we get to the climax, the faster the twists come.  On the one hand, I enjoyed that since it kept me guessing.  On the other, I felt like I was being jerked around a time or two.  This does break a few tropes of the mystery genre, for better or worse.  By the time the book is over, everything has been explained, so you don’t have to worry about any dropped plot points.

I’m struggling a bit with how justice was served at the end of the book as well.  Which is all I will say to avoid spoilers.

The characters get away with quite a bit of sticking their nose in police business.  While the police do get on them at times, I still found the police too willing to work with them at others.  But this is something I tend to turn a blind eye to in other books I read, so I will note this one mainly in passing.

The book is partially told in diary entries from Joyce, but mostly told in present tense from various character’s points of view.  We always follow which character is our main character in each scene, and I settled into the storytelling pretty easily.

Every so often, I come across a book that has easy to spot flaws, but I enjoyed it anyway.  This is one of those times.  It isn’t perfect, but I did enjoy it and definitely plan to read the sequel.

If you are curious about The Thursday Murder Club, I recommend you check it out.  While I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as most people seem to, I still found it fun.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Ornament Review: Lucy - 2020 Hallmark Mini Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Lucy captured skating
Cons: None of you remember it’s a mini ornament
The Bottom Line:
Lucy goes skating
Confidently gliding pose
Mini ornament

Lucy Confidently Glides onto Your Mini Tree

In 2020, Hallmark released three Peanuts characters as mini ornaments.  They crafted these ornaments as if the characters were ice skating, and infused their personalities into each of them.  Lucy was one of those lucky characters, and her ornament is wonderful.

The ornament depicts Lucy confidently gliding across the ice.  She’s on her left foot with her right foot behind her.  Her arms are outstretched and she has a smile on her face.  While Lucy traditionally wears dark blue, she’s wearing a light blue coat in this ornament with a lavender hat on her head to help keep her head warm.

Lucy in the comics is always confident, even when she is wrong.  I can easily see her out skating, enjoying herself.  She definitely appears to know what she is doing as she is the one of the three characters enjoying herself the most.

I’ve mentioned this is a miniature ornament, right?  Because if you aren’t expecting that, you’ll be surprised.  It’s just over an inch tall.  But if you keep that in mind, you’ll be happy with the detail we get.

Since Lucy is skating, this ornament won’t stand on its own.  But that’s okay because it is easier to lose mini ornaments if you set them out.  Personally, I like putting them on the mini trees I’ve bought.  It’s much harder for them to get lost that way.  No surprise, but Lucy hangs straight when you put her on your tree.  Could you imagine Lucy accepting anything less?

This Lucy ornament proves that good things come in small packages.  If you are a Peanuts fan and looking for some miniature ornaments, this is definitely one to check out.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Jungle Cruise - Minnie Mouse the Main Attraction - 2020 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: perfectly captures the Jungle Cruise
Cons: all cons sent up the River
The Bottom Line:
Adventurous set
Finds Minnie ready for Cruise
All three pins are great

Minnie is Ready for Her Tour of the Jungle

One ride I love at Disneyland is The Jungle Cruise. What can I say, I’m one of those people who believe there is no such thing as a bad pun. So I was happy with how much I loved Minnie’s stop there on her year long tour of the park.

This was the eleventh release in the Minnie Mouse the Main Attraction pin series. She’s making this stop in Adventureland after visiting the Haunted Mansion over in New Orleans Square.

As always, we got a three pin set. The first pin is the icon associated with the ride. In this set, it’s what could easily be a sign for the ride. Across the top it says Jungle Cruise. Below that is an elephant and lots of foliage.

Minnie is the focus on the second pin. She’s got a kahki safari hat on her head, and her dress is the red and white stripes that make the cover on some of the boats in the attraction.

The red and white motif is most prominent on the third pin, a pair of Minnie ears. The band is a leopard print. The ears and red and white striped. And off to the left side you get the foliage and elephant from the sign in the first pin.

Together, all three of these pins capture the look of the ride perfectly. I would bet most fans could look at any pin in this set and know immediately what ride is being represented. That’s the sign of a great set to me. The fact that I love this ride so much only adds to the fun for me.

So I solute Minnie for taking a fun filled trip down the rivers of the world. This Jungle Cruise set will be a proud part of the Disney pin collection.