Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Book Review: Bear a Wee Grudge by Meg Macy (Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mysteries #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Sasha and immediate characters, worthy victim
Cons: Pacing lagged at times
The Bottom Line:
Scottish teddy bears
Throw in a murder as well
Fun for series fans



Murder Presents a Wee Problem

Scotland has popped up in a couple of cozies I’ve read in the past few months.  In one of them, the main characters took a trip to Scotland.  In this case, a Scottish festival is coming to the town of Silver Hollow, Michigan, and it makes a fun back drop for Bear a Wee Grudge.

If you are a first-time visitor to Silver Hollow, you will want to visit the Silver Bear Shop, as run by Sasha Silverman and her family.  Unfortunately, Sasha has found herself part of several murder investigations over the last year, so you might want to plan your visit around the latest mayhem.

Silver Hollow is planning a Highland Fling weekend, and Sasha and her family are right in the middle of it.  Naturally, their factory is making special bears wearing kilts to sell in a booth, but some of her friends and family are also going to enter the sporting events planned for the weekend.  That includes her father, who is hoping to win the ax throwing event – a skill Sasha didn’t even know he had.

Unfortunately, that skill comes back to bite him when the body of Teddy Hartman is found with an ax buried in his back.  Teddy had a well-known feud with the Silverman family, including a very public fight the day before his death.  The police are quick to arrest Sasha’s dad.  Can Sasha prove he didn’t do it?

As someone who has read the earlier books in the series, I’m actually surprised that Teddy lived as long as he did.  He’s the kind of character you just know is going to die sooner or later because of his negative connections to Sasha.  It was nice to see this thread finally come to the forefront of the series.

The story starts well, with plenty to draw us into the book.  Unfortunately, the pacing lagged as we drew closer to the climax, with other things slowing things down a bit.  This isn’t new to the books in the series, so fans will know to expect it.  The climax does wrap things up nicely and provide us with the closer we need on the clues and red herrings.

Sasha and her family and core friends are delightful as always.  I do enjoy spending time with them.  The suspects are also strong.  Unfortunately, my usual issue with the extended supporting cast comes into play again.  There are so many, and their relationships are so intertwined it’s hard to keep everyone straight at times.  Fortunately, these characters have very few scenes so this is a minor issue.

While a Scottish themed teddy bear book might not have been something I ever expected to read, Bear a Wee Grudge was fun.  Fans of the series will be happy with this latest offering.

Cuddle up with the rest of the Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Music Review: We Need Christmas by Matthew West

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong first seven tracks
Cons: Final four aren’t as good.
The Bottom Line:
More Matthew Christmas
While final tracks are okay
The first seven shine



Yes, You Do Need Matthew West’s New Christmas CD

Every year as fall rolls around, I start paying attention to who might have new Christmas music coming out this year.  I was delighted to see We Need Christmas from Matthew West pop up on some of the lists I check.  I really enjoy his previous Christmas releases, and this is another good one.

The disc starts out with seven new tracks to Matthew’ Christmas repertoire.  Even better, four of them are original tracks.  It is obvious they are inspired by the what the world has gone through the past couple of years, as we get such lyrics as “We need Christmas/now more than ever to bring us together” and “These days peace on Earth is hard to find/And I need You to remind me one more time/You’re still the hope of Christmas.”  As I listen to these two songs, I can feel myself remember that God is ultimately in control of everything happening.  I need this reminder on a regular basis.

“Make Way” is another of the new songs.  This is a fun upbeat song about the first Christmas.

Rounding out the new tracks is “Christmas Through the Year.”  This is a bittersweet song about how family times at Christmas change, for better and worse, over the years.  Overall, I find this one more sweet, but I could see that changing depending on how life has progressed for me.

I counted “Away in a Manger” as a traditional track on this disc, and it mostly is.  However, Matthew has added an original chorus, “Love Came Near,” that gives it something extra, which I really enjoy.

Rounding out this part of the disc, we get “I’ll be Home for Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.”  Both are fun renditions with a hint of jazz mixed in with Matthew’s usual pop.

Then comes “Gobble Gobble.”  Touted as a Thanksgiving song, it’s…different.  I get the humor that Matthew was going for, but I’m not sure this is a song I need to hear very often.

Rounding at the disc are new versions of three tracks that originally appeared on Matthew’s first Christmas release recorded live from the Story House.  I really like “Come on Christmas,” so I’m not complaining about getting that one again.  While I like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “O Holy Night,” I’m not sure we needed them yet again.

A bit more about these three tracks.  I had forgotten that Matthew West did an internet Christmas concert last year from the Story House.  That’s where these tracks originated.  Fortunately, I picked up on that from some extra lyrics he adds to one of the songs because I couldn’t figure out why these live tracks didn’t have any applause or anything else from an audience.

Fans of Matthew West will know what to expect.  He has a very distinctive pop/soft rock style, and it is prominent once again here.  If you don’t like it, that will obviously be a turn off, but I love it, so it’s just fine with me.

The seven tracks that start out this disc are strong enough that Matthew West’s fans need to get We Need Christmas.  The rest are filler, but mostly good filler.

CD Length: 40:27
Tracks:
1. We Need Christmas
2. Make Way
3. Away in a Manger (Love Came Near)
4. The Hope of Christmas
5. I’ll be Home for Christmas
6. Christmas Through the Years
7. Winter Wonderland
8. Gobble Gobble
9. Come on Christmas (Live from the Story House)
10. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Live from the Story House)
11. O Holy Night (Live from the Story House)

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Stitch Crashes The Jungle Book - Stitch Crashes Disney #9 - 2021 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun Jungle Book touches
Cons: Similar pose to two previous pins in series
The Bottom Line:
Stitch is going green
As he crashes Jungle Book
Fun, familiar pose




Stitch in The Jungle Book?  Fans Will Consider This Pin a Bare Necessity

Stitch has been visiting some of the older classic films for the last couple of entries in the Stitch Crashes Disney series, and he’s visiting another one for the ninth entry.  This time, it’s not a princess movie, however, as Stitch is crashing The Jungle Book.

When I hear jungle, I think green, so it’s no surprise that it is the dominate color of the pin.  Stitch’s ears and front are tan, but the rest is green.  He’s got a pattern on him, including plants.  And, if you look closely, you can see silhouettes of Baloo (twice!) and Mowgli as well.  On top of his head is a banana peel.  Fans of The Jungle Book and the song “The Bare Necessities” will make the connection with that song right away.

I’ve been saying that the off-color Stitches don’t work for me, but this is an exception.  Maybe I’m getting used to it, of maybe the green here is dark enough.  Either way, Stitch still looks good to me.  The characters in the pattern on him are a nice touch.

This is the third time that we’ve gotten Stitch sitting like he is here.  While it was very slightly different when he crashed Pinocchio, this one even has a same head tilt as he does in the Lady and the Tramp pin.  I get it, it is hard to come up with twelve different poses.  But I hope we get a little more variety with the final three pins.

Once again, the background card is also themed around the featured movie.  We get a bit of food in baskets, another banana peel, and some stones behind the pin.  I’ll admit, the specific scene included here isn’t jumping out at me, which I guess means I need to rewatch it.  Such a hardship.

Despite the disappointment of the pose, I really do like this pin overall.  Fans of The Jungle Book will enjoy Stitch’s take on the classic.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

November 27ths Weekly TV Thoughts

A very short list this week.  Not because my shows weren't on the air (although one was absent) but because I'm out of town for Thanksgiving and not sitting around watching TV.  Pretty good excuse, right?

The Equalizer – Look at that, no lectures.  And an entertaining episode, to boot.  I was actually surprised that their first suspect turned out to be the sniper.  I was expecting that to be a red herring.  I like that they are continuing to follow Dee’s journey trying to deal with the loss of her friend.  And, as much as she can be a typical teen at times, her speech sending Robin off for the finale was so wonderful and so mature.  I loved it!

Legends of the Hidden Temple – I was a jinx this week.  The teams left in the order I was rooting for them.  So the team I wanted to go all the way went out first, etc.  Having said that, the final team did a great job in the temple.  Congrats to them for winning.

Dancing with the Stars – I was wrong last week when I predicted that Jojo would win.  Honestly, I’m not sure who I wanted to win since the couples I was rooting for most went home last week.  Some wonderfully fun performances tonight, that’s for sure.

The Flash – You call that a crossover?  Two short scenes via a screen is not a major crossover event.  My guess is she wasn’t available for more thanks to filming the end of Supergirl, but still, it was disappointing.  Barry has a pretty big mind game going on right now.  The question is, how much is true, how much is false, and is the alien behind it or a victim as well?  Oh, and I am questioning whether Joe is really dead or not.  It’s a nice twist, but I suspect that if he were really going to die, we’d have seen it on screen.  They wouldn’t write off a major character like that on this show.


Friday, November 26, 2021

Ornament Review: Han Solo Mini Ornament - 2021 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Overall, good miniature ornament
Cons: Doesn’t quite look like Han.
The Bottom Line:
Han becomes mini
It does not quite look like him
Still good overall



Han Solo is Ready for a Little Action

Last year, Hallmark released mini ornaments of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.  They are expanding on them this year with a couple of new miniature ornaments.  One of those is Han Solo.

I’ve got to admit, of the Star Wars ornaments released in the last couple of years, this is the hardest one to identify.  Maybe I’m just being too picky.  Han is wearing his trademark white shirt and black vest.  He’s got blue pants and black boots that go up to his knees, and his pistol is in his hand.

This is a classic look for Han, so I’m not completely sure why I don’t recognize him right off.  It might be because his face is so small that it is hard to recognize him.  Don’t get me wrong, we can see eyes, nose, and mouth.  But it just feels like it’s a generic human.  Then again, I felt the same way about Luke last year.  It was just, with his lightsaber, it was easier to figure out who Luke was supposed to be.  And this isn’t a new complaint, either.  I’ve felt that way about the full-sized ornaments, too.

And maybe I’m just being picky.  Han looks good, but not quite as great as I normally expect from Hallmark, even with their miniature ornaments.

Make no mistake about it, this is a miniature ornament.  Han is barely bigger than an inch in height.

The ornament will stand up on its own.  Han is standing on his feet, so it’s not super stable, however.  I’d be careful about where I was going to set this out since the ornament is so small and could easily be lost.

I’m planning to hang mine on my miniature tree this year.  I’m happy to say that Han hangs straight when you slip the hook through the loop on the top of his head.

I’m happy to have more pop culture miniature ornaments, and overall, I do like this Han Solo ornament.  If he were just a little better, he’d be perfect.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm taking my traditional day off for Thanksgiving today.  If you are in the United States, I hope you are spending a great day with family and friends.  As always, I am thankful for you, my readers.  Otherwise, I'd just be over here talking to myself.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Book Review: Gingerdead Man by Maya Corrigan (Five-Ingredient Mysteries #7)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Well-plotted Christmas cozy
Cons: I’m not Scrooge!
The Bottom Line:
A murder at tea
Christmas cozy with great plot
Good seasonal book



The Christmas Cookie of Doom

When I decided earlier this year to catch up on the Five-Ingredient Mysteries, I planned it so that I could be reading the newest, Gingerdead Man, near Christmas.  It was a fun addition to the series.

Bayport, Maryland, is kicking off the holiday with a Victorian Christmas festival, complete with characters from Dickens novels.  Val Deniston’s granddad is playing Scrooge this year, much to his dismay, since newcomer Jake Smith is playing Santa.  The event concludes with a tea for the volunteers.  Val is helping with the teas all day, including the one at the end of the event.

However, that tea doesn’t go as planned.  First, a stranger in a weird costume shows up and starts handing out gingerbread men to those attending.  Then, after eating his cookie, Jake falls over and dies from poison.  Jake may be new in town, but he’s already made some enemies.  Can Val figure out which of them was upset enough to murder him?

If you aren’t familiar with the series, Val’s granddad is an active part of the investigation in each book.  Don’t misunderstand, Val ultimately is the one to figure things out, but Granddad does a little investigating of his own and is a great sounding board.  I love their relationship and their partnership.  I also love the fact that he isn’t your stereotypical older character but a realistic senior citizen.

The rest of the cast is great as well.  They are distinct enough that we can keep them straight.  It does help that I’ve read several of these books this year, of course.  The suspects are just as compelling and enjoyable.

I thought the story wandered around a bit at the beginning, but I suspected it would all tie together.  By the time I put the book down, I was very impressed with the plot.  And that’s all I’m going to say so I don’t spoil anything.

There are six recipes at the end of the book, all having five or fewer ingredients in them.  While several are holiday themed, there are a couple that could easily be enjoyed year round.

If you are looking to settle in with a well plotted cozy this Christmas, Gingerdead Man is for you.  Grab a gingerbread man and some hot chocolate and enjoy.

Check out the rest of the Five-Ingredient Mysteries.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Movie Review: Free Guy

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action, comedy, heart
Cons: This movie is free of cons
The Bottom Line:
Background character
Becomes aware.  Film filled with
Great laughs, fun action



“People with Sunglasses Don’t Talk to People Like Us.”

I watched as much of the Olympics as I could last summer, so I saw the frequent ads for Free Guy.  It looked like fun, and a recommendation from my brother and sister-in-law put it firmly on my list of movies to watch.  I finally got around to watching it with a couple of friends last week, and we all loved it.

The movie revolves around Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a teller at one of the banks in Free City.  He’s happy in his life, going to work and hanging out afterwards with his best friend, Buddy (Lil Rey Howery).  The one thing missing in his life is love, and he’s hoping to eventually meet the woman of his dreams.  His very specific dreams.

Much to his delight, he spots her (Jodie Comer) one day.  That meeting is going to drastically change his life.  You see, Guy is really a background character in a video game.  How will this change his life?  And the game?

Actually, there is much more going on here than even that teaser, but I don’t want to give away any more because it is delightful to watch it all unfold.

Ryan Reynolds is at his best here, playing the type of character he often does.  He’s the everyman who is just a bit funnier and a bit more of an action star.  He excels at it, and this movie is a perfect showcase for him.  Outside of a few cameos, I didn’t recognize the rest of the cast, but they are all equally as good at bringing their characters to life.  Some of them are over the top, but in a delightful, laugh out loud way that fits the movie perfectly.

This movie is such fun.  It’s got plenty of humor.  It’s obvious pretty quickly that Guy is in a video game where the players go around committing crimes, but Guy doesn’t realize that.  A lot of the humor comes from his reactions, or lack of reactions, to what is going on around him.  There are also some pretty great lines and over the top action.

Make no mistake, there is plenty of action.  It’s video game inspired action, so it isn’t realistic, but it really doesn’t matter.  It fits the world of the story perfectly.  It’s very easy to just sit back and enjoy.

The story is very good and ties all the jokes and action together well.  As much fun as we are having, everything is leading somewhere, and it is actually pretty smart about getting us there.  Okay, so my friends had an issue with part of the climax, but it worked fine for me.  What’s great is, the story manages to create heart that makes us care amidst the laughs and action.

Are you sensing that I had a lot of fun with this movie?  The three of us were engaged and laughing the entire time.

The movie does earn its PG-13 rating. There is video game violence, although it is so over the top it is hard to complain about that.  There’s also language scattered throughout.  Honestly, the movie would have been fine without the language.

I’m already regretting renting this film.  I wish I’d just gone ahead and bought Free Guy.  If you are looking to be completely entertained, this is the movie for you.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Book Review: Pearls Gone Wild by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #6)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced story, great characters
Cons: A few things get forgotten in the wrap up
The Bottom Line:
Murder in boutique
Samantha must help a friend
Holiday backdrop



Retail at Christmas is Killer

It can be a problem when you find a prolific author you enjoy.  I like knowing I have plenty of Diane Vallere’s books ahead of me.  But I despair of ever catching up since I seem to read them about as fast as she writes them.  Still, I’ve taken another step forward with Pearls Gone Wild, the sixth in her Samantha Kidd series.

Samantha is a former buyer who has returned to her hometown of Ribbon, Pennsylvania.  The past couple of years have been rough for her, but she has finally landed a steady job and she and her boyfriend Nick are in a good place, even if his job has him over in Italy again.  She is looking forward to his return before Christmas, however.  And she’s looking forward to enjoying a restful staycation to get ready for the holiday.

However, her plans for rest go out the window when her friend Cat needs her.  First, Cat’s husband, George, announces that he needs his space and moves out.  This blindsides Cat, who is eight months pregnant with their first child.  Then, when Cat and Samantha go to Cat’s boutique late that night, they catch a burglar in the act and George’s dead body behind the jewelry display case.  Can Samantha figure out what is really going on?

Anyone familiar with the series will know to expect a wild and crazy ride, and that’s the case again here.  There are twists and surprises to keep you engaged the entire way to the end.  Unfortunately, I think a couple bits of the plot got sidelined as the book neared the climax, so not everything was resolved as it should have been, but the major plot points are resolved and explained.

The series has a small cast of regulars, but they all put in appearances here, some larger than others.  I enjoyed seeing them again and the character development we got for Samantha along the way.  We get a slew of suspects, and they were all real enough to keep us engaged and help us remember who they all are.

I can’t leave out the humor.  Samantha may have matured a little from the earlier books in the series, but there are still some pretty funny moments and escapades.  And yet, the murder and its aftermath for Cat are taken seriously, and we get the quieter moments that really allow Samantha to grow as a character and make us love her more.

This book is a bit edgy for a cozy.  Don’t worry, nothing explicit happens on the page.  As long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.

While this book is set in the week leading up to Christmas, it isn’t especially Christmassy.  Some Christmas cozies are brimming with the season, but this one uses it as a background to the action.  That’s just something to note in passing.

Pearls Gone Wild is another fun adventure for Samantha.  If you are as behind in the series as I am, you are in for a treat when you get here.

Enjoy the rest of the Samantha Kidd Mysteries.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Kim Possible Cheering - All Star Trading Cards #11 - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun pin with a rarer Disney character
Cons: Will connect with Kim Possible fans more
The Bottom Line:
Kim Possible cheers
For being included here
A treat for her fans




I’m Cheering for This Pin Featuring Kim Possible

Another lesser used Disney character is making an appearance in this month’s All Star Trading Cards pin.  Kim Possible is here to represent cheer.

If you aren’t familiar with her, Kim Possible was the star of a Disney Channel animated series.  To be honest, that’s about as much as I know without looking up more information because I never watched it.  A quick search confirmed what I remembered about the premise.  Kim is a typical teenager – except for her missions fighting crime.  Honestly, it sounds like something I would enjoy if I had watched it.

Anyway, this pin features Kim in the middle of a cheer.  She’s leaping in the air, and the pompons in her hands are pointing down.  She is actually a separate pin attached to the base pin, so she is raised from the background.  The background is a field of some kind.  Honestly, I can’t quite tell what the background is supposed to be other than a field of some kind.  As usual, Kim has signed the pin in the upper right-hand corner and Cheer is written in a blue banner across the bottom of the card.

This pin series really did feature characters from across Disney’s many brands.  I like that.  Of course, since I’m not a fan of the series, I don’t connect with this pin quite as much.  But I knew enough to immediately recognize Kim and get why she is included for cheerleading.

For some of the pins, I’ve questioned whether they were truly a sport.  That’s not the case here.  I’ve seen enough of cheer competitions to know just how much athleticism is demanded for it.  It’s very different from billiards, for example.

I doubt I would have picked up this pin if I weren’t collecting the series.  Fans of Kim Possible will definitely want to track down a copy for themselves.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

November 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Legends of the Hidden Temple – So close.  So very close.  And after their close calls at being eliminated earlier in the competition, too.  Couldn’t believe they finished first at the Steps of Knowledge.  I need to pay more attention to see if they really have any choices in the temple itself, or if they have to follow a predetermined path.  Because it seems like all the teams always hit all the rooms.

Dancing with the Stars – That’s disappointing.  I was really enjoying Suni and Melora, so I’m sorry to see them go.  I fear that JoJo will wind up winning.  I haven’t found her as compelling as the judges have, but I had a feeling she would win all along.  It will be history making that way, after all, but I don’t feel she’s the best dancer.

The Flash – I liked the fact that we weren’t coming in off a cliffhanger.  Yes, it was a slow start to the episode, but it made for a nice chance to get some updates on the characters and set things in motion without a major crisis going on.  Of course, we did get that crisis eventually.  Ray’s time in the episode was definitely fun, although he didn’t feel quite like himself in the first half.  Still, have we discussed how much I miss him on Legends recently?

Survivor – I was hoping Evie could hold on.  Rather happy to see Naseer heading home however.  Anytime anyone says “you’re going home, it’s the easy vote,” I want them gone.  That challenge looked grueling!  I don’t know that I would have made it two seconds.

Legends of Tomorrow – It was nice to get some of the gaps in what has been happening filled in.  Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that explanation to begin with.  It was obvious who shot the Waverider at the end of last season, so I’m glad they did drag that out for very long.  Now, of course, if they twist it, I’ll most likely be on board again.  Other than that, it was a mostly character development episode without many outside characters.  Still, a good one.

Batwoman – I was surprised they let everyone else in on who Mary has turned into so quickly.  But then it ended without Mary getting rid of it, so clearly this is a part of a larger storyline.  And the actress is loving it.  She’s having fun and doing a great job being someone else.  I was happy to see that she let Ryan and Luke know how she is feeling, too.  Because she has some very good points as to how she is treated.

Frogger – I was wondering how they were going to work the finale.  Interesting twist on the old levels, although I still think those who had face the city crossing before had an advantage.  Crazy how close the final level was.  The winner was the one I was rooting for out of those three, so I’m happy.

United States of Al – The A Story was pretty predictable.  Fun, and I liked the character growth we saw, but predictable.  I got a kick out of the B story, with the dad being so insecure when find out who the ex is.  Overall, another enjoyable episode.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Music Review: Happiness is...Christmas! by Kristin Chenoweth

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Many new Christmas songs
Cons: A bit slow overall
The Bottom Line:
More Kristin Christmas
With mostly new to me songs
Sung beautifully



Happiness Is…New Christmas Music from Kristin Chenoweth

Over the last decade or so, Kristin Chenoweth’s first Christmas release has become a favorite of mine.  (Okay, so I have lots of favorites when it comes to Christmas music.)  When I discovered that she had a new Christmas release this year, I bought it immediately.  While Happiness Is…Christmas! isn’t quite as good as her first one, it is growing on me.

The disc starts out with the title track, and Broadway fans will recognize the music.  “Happiness (is Christmas)” takes the song “Happiness” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and gives it seasonally appropriate lyrics about the joys of making memories and spending time with family and friends.  To make it even better, it is paired with “Christmas Time is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas.  This is a wonderful opening track, and Kristin’s connection with the play (being Sally in the Broadway revival), makes it even better.

Things continue well with “Why Couldn’t It Be Christmas Every Day?”  This is a bouncy, fun cover of the song.  Kristin slows things down for a cover of “Merry Christmas, Darling” from the Carpenters before giving us the jazzy and fun “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) the Man with the Bag.”  There are hints of “Jingle Bell Rock” in that song for added fun.

It’s at this point that the disc slows down.  While these songs are beautiful, they tend to drag a bit.  This section kicks off with “The Stories That You Told.”  Best I can tell, this is a completely new track.  This is a very melancholy song, reflecting on stories told in the past that won’t be shared again, at least from the original storyteller.  It is bittersweet, but the bitter outweighs the sweet for me.

“The Little Road to Bethlehem” is beautiful, but again, it is slow, and I just don’t connect with it.  At least not yet.  I have a feeling this one might grow on me.

Kristin is joined by Keb’ Mo’ for the bluesy “Merry, Christmas, Baby.”  It’s a fun arrangement, and they both are incredible singing it.  I’ve just never cared for the song.

While still slow, I do appreciate the sentiment for a better world that is captured in “Christmas Lullaby.”

Speaking of lovely sentiment, there’s “We Are Lights.”  Yes, this is the song originally recorded by the Wicked cast and written by Stephen Schwartz.  And yes, it is technically a Chanukah song.  But that’s not a problem as the reminder to blaze for others is one that everyone needs, regardless of faith and regardless of season.

I’m still trying to figure out what I think of “Santa, I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with You!”  On the one hand, this original song is fun and funny.  The melody is likely to get stuck in your head, and it is a much-needed boost of energy at this point in the disc.  On the other hand, some of the lyrics are a bit too much, at least for me.  Overall, I do enjoy this one as Kristin gets some gripes about past presents off her chest.

We finally get to another track that is solely a traditional Christmas song.  I love “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and I’m not surprised to find that Kristin’s version is another great take.  Its easy-going jazz fits the song perfectly.

The disc closes with “My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year).”  This is a simple arrangement, with the focus on Kristin and a guitar accompaniment.  It’s always nice to get a New Year’s song, and this is a lovely one.

I think there are two things keeping this from being a winner right out of the gate for me.  The biggest issue is the pacing of the songs.  There are more slow tracks than fast ones.  I like a good variety, and I don’t feel we quite got that here.  On the other hand, the songs are all beautiful.  Kristin’s voice is amazing and brings the lyrics to life so it’s hard to complain.  Overall, this would be good quiet background music at a Christmas party.

The other issue is a double-edged sword.  When I get a disc that is more original tracks or tracks I’m not familiar with, it always takes it a while to feel like Christmas.  This is almost all songs I’m not already familiar with.  On the other hand, with the size of my Christmas music collection, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I’m already beginning to overcome this issue, and I have a feeling in a few years, I’ll be able to put this disc on any time and feel like it is Christmas.

I’m glad I got Happiness is…Christmas!  It’s already growing on me.  While I don’t think it will top Kristin’s original Christmas release, fans will be thrilled to add it to their Christmas rotation.

CD Length: 47:38
Tracks:
1. Happiness (is Christmas)/Christmas Time is Here
2. Why Couldn’t It Be Christmas Every Day?
3. Merry Christmas, Darling
4. (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) the Man with the Bag/Jingle Bell Rock
5. The Stories That You Told
6. The Little Road to Bethlehem
7. Merry Christmas Baby (with Keb’ Mo’)
8. Christmas Lullaby
9. We are Lights
10. Santa, I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with You!
11. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
12. My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year)

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Book Review: Fogged Off by Wendall Thomas (Cyd Redondo #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters and a very strong plot
Cons: Nothing major
The Bottom Line:
Travel to London
Murder, more complications
Fast paced and so fun



Retrieving a Client from London Gets Complicated

Obviously, I have several cozy sub-genres I go back to quite regularly.  One I always intend to read more of is travel cozies.  One of the few travel cozies I do enjoy is Wendall Thomas’s Cyd Redondo Mysteries, so I was thrilled to see Cyd return with Fogged Off.

If you are new to the series, Cyd runs her family’s travel agency, located in New York City.  Until recently, Cyd herself hadn’t done much traveling, but that has started to change.  Sadly for her, it seems like murder, mayhem, and endangered animals are always close behind when she does get to leave home.

Shep Helnikov has died while on his yearly trip to London.  He has been a loyal client of Redondo Travel for years, but when reviewing his file, Cyd is shocked to learn that Shep had recently booked a side trip to Paris, a side trip that voids his insurance.  Suddenly on the hook for the expenses of returning Shep’s body to the states, Cyd jumps at an offer to pay for that if Cyd will go over and escort his body back personally from Shep’s employer.

Of course, things are never as easy as they appear.  Shep was a renowned scholar on Jack the Ripper, and someone seems to be after the research that Shep had acquired for his next book on the subject.  Cyd’s uncle Leon is also on the trip, but despite a promise to her aunt to keep an eye on Leon, he heads off on his own as soon as they’ve cleared customs.  Then there’s the fact that Shep might not have died from natural causes.  Will Cyd ever get back to the states?  Or will this doom Redondo Travel?

As you can tell, there is a lot going on here.  That makes the book hard to put down.  Cyd has so much stuff to sift through to figure out what is really happening that it keeps the pages turning.  I’ll admit, sometimes, with a plot this crazy, it is easy to lose track of things, but I never felt that was the case here.  Author Wendall Thomas does a great job of keeping all the balls in the air and reminding us just what is going on with each of them as the stakes continue to rise.

Even more impressive is how she brings all the elements together for a logical and suspenseful climax.

And yes, we get another appearance by an endangered animal.  As if Cyd’s life weren’t complicated enough.

This is a mystery mixed with a caper, so some of the characters can be a bit broad.  We actually have a mix of fully developed characters and those on the broader range of the spectrum.  However, they all work in this story.  It helps that the broader characters aren’t on the page as much.  They all felt like they perfectly fit into this book.

Yes, as a caper, this story includes a liberal dose of humor.  I was smiling the entire way through and laughed at a few of the situations that Cyd found herself in.

This book does include a smattering of four-letter words.  It’s a bit more than I would have liked if it were up to me, but overall, it’s a minor issue.

Fogged Off is an entertaining mystery with plenty of twists and fun to keep you engaged.  If you are looking for your next arm chair travel mystery, book through Cyd Redondo, Redondo Travel.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

TV Show Review: Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist - Season 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great stories told with wonderful singing and dancing
Cons: The lecture episode, and the way the love triangle played out
The Bottom Line:
Stories continue
With more singing and dancing
Mostly good season




Mostly Fun in Season Two

One of the unexpected pleasures of last year was Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, so I was excited when it came back at the beginning of this year.  While I did have a couple of issues with season 2, I still mostly enjoyed the show.

If you’ve missed it, it follows Zoey around as she tries to deal with her personal and professional life.  However, there is a fun twist – she can hear what people are truly feeling as they express themselves to her in song.  It makes life crazy at times, but is part of the fun for us.

This season picks up a few months after the season 1 finale, and Zoey (Jane Levy) is finally ready to return to the world.  When she does so, she finds out there are some big changes at work, including a promotion for her.  She also makes a decision about her love life, choosing between Max (Skylar Astin) and Simon (John Clarence Stewart).  Or does she?  Meanwhile, the rest of her family is trying to deal with their loss.  For mother Maggie (Mary Steenburgen), it means figuring out how to move on personally and professionally.  Meanwhile, her brother, David (Andrew Leeds), tries to figure out what to do with his life after finding his job too stressful.  Her sister-in-law, Emily (Alice Lee) deals with depression.  And Max and Zoey’s friend Mo (Alex Newell) start working on opening a business together.

If this is sounding heavy, don’t worry.  While there are definitely some heavy storylines and moments, the show usually does a good job of balancing them out with lighter storylines and moments.  Add in the wonderful singing and dancing during the multiple musical numbers each episode, and you’ve got a show that is actually fun.  Some episodes might lean bittersweet, but most of the time, I feel uplifted when I finish.

Having said that, I do have a couple of issues with the season.  They devoted an entire episode to race issues, focusing on how African Americans and other minorities are treated in businesses.  Yes, it is as bad as it sounds.  It is nothing but a lecture, and it is the worst episode of the season (the entire series, really).

The other is the love triangle with Max and Simon.  I’m leery of love triangles to begin with, but what they did with it over the course of this season was pretty bad overall.  Even after saying that, this is more of a minor annoyance rather than a major issue.

But so much of the season still worked.  The storylines for all the characters were entertaining, and kept me interested to see what was going to happen next.  They managed to switch things up with Zoey’s powers a few times in fun and creative ways.  It really is hard to turn this show off without a smile on your face.

The actors are all phenomenal.  Not only are they acting, but they are singing and dancing, and they don’t miss a beat.  (Pun always intended.)  Honestly, I want to see more of the cast in musicals going forward.  There are some very impressive vocalists here.

Sadly, the ratings haven’t been strong for the show, and it was cancelled at the end of this season.  Happily, we are about to get a Christmas musical movie (coming December 1st) to help wrap up some of the storylines left opened at the end of the season.  We can thank Roku for rescuing the show, and this movie will be airing there.  You can bet I will be watching.

Like the first season, season 2 consisted of thirteen episodes.  They are roughly 42 minutes each in length, but it really is amazing how quickly the episodes and the entire series can fly by.

Despite a couple of sour notes, the second season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was filled with the great mix of fun and series we came to expect from the first season.  If you’ve missed this show, you’ll be thankful you went back and watched it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

And the Winner Is....

 I just pulled the winner of the Doggone Deadly giveaway.  And that winner is...

...Linda!

I just sent you an email, so look for that and let me know how I can get you your prize.

Book Review: Murder at Morrington Hall by Clara McKenna (Stella and Lyndy Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong main characters, well done mystery
Cons: Pacing in the first half (although I’m conflicted about this)
The Bottom Line:
Surprise for Stella
Complicated by murder
Interesting start



Life Upheaval and Murder

Earlier this year, I won the three books in Clara McKenna’s Stella and Lundy Mysteries. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have picked them up otherwise, which would have been a mistake since I enjoyed the first one, Murder at Morrington Hall

It’s May 1905, and American Stella Kendrick is thrilled to be joining her father on one of his trips abroad. They are in England to sell some of his breeding horses. Only when they arrive does Stella realize that she is part of the bargain. Her father has arranged for her marriage to Viscount “Lyndy” Lyndhurst. 

To say Stella is less than pleased would be an understatement. Before she can completely process what is happening, she and Lyndy find the body of the vicar who was supposed to marry them in the library. While the local police are on the case, Stella and Lyndy stumble upon information that might help solve it. Will they figure it out? And what will this mean for their upcoming wedding?

This book is heavier than I normally prefer when it comes to the romance. Normally, that might irritate me, but here, I found myself pulling for Stella and Lyndy. They are both likeable protagonists, and that makes it easy to want them to be happy. 

The story is told from multiple points of view. Don’t worry, it is always easy to tell when we switch. In addition to Stella and Lyndy, we get many scenes from the point of view of the local inspector. Early in the book, it is actually his scenes that are driving the mystery forward, although Stella and Lyndy are gathering things that will come into play later. On the whole, the pacing could have been a little stronger, but I appreciated how the pieces came together when we reached the climax. On the other hand, I felt a little frustrated when we got scenes from Inspector Brown’s point of view since I was enjoying spending time with Stella and Lyndy.  I know, I know, never satisfied, am I?

Clearly, I like the leads. I can’t say that about the rest of the cast, although that’s okay. We aren’t supposed to like everyone. Several of the others fell into the love to hate camp, which is also fun. The characters are definitely memorable and entertaining, which is most important. 

I’m curious what is next for Sella and Lyndy, so I’m glad I have the next two books in the series already.  If you enjoy mysteries set in historical England, you’ll also fall under the spell of Murder at Morrington Hall.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Ornament Review: Battleship - 2021 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great details on these two Battleship themed ornaments
Cons: They do tip forward when hung
The Bottom Line:
Two ornament set
Perfectly captures this game
Brings nostalgic smiles



You’ll Want to Get These Ornaments B4 They are Gone or You Will Be Sunk

I love the Family Game Night ornament series because of the happy memories they bring back of playing games as a kid.  Hallmark clearly isn’t afraid of running out of games any time soon since they are releasing unofficial companion pieces to the series most years, and I am getting many of them as well.  This year’s additional ornament is actually a set of two to capture the fun of Battleship.

It makes sense this would be a two-ornament set.  Each ornament represents one of the game boards you would use to play the game.  Honestly, I can’t remember what colors we had as a kid (it’s been a very long time since I played the game), but here, the two ornaments are red and blue.  Inside, they look similar.  The gray ships are on the grid on the horizontal surface and there are pins sticking out of the grid on the vertical surface, representing the guesses that have been made.  The white and red pegs are over on the side.  And there is one peg on the top of each game board, representing the number of ships each person has sunk.

You’ll notice I said these ornaments were similar.  Clearly, we’ve caught two people in the middle of a game, and they are playing each other.  If you look closely, you’ll see the red pegs in one piece correspond to the ships on the other piece’s grid.  No, I’m not surprised by that attention to detail, but it is that attention to detail that I love.

And I do love this set.  Okay, so I was never the biggest fan of Battleship (probably one reason why I haven’t played it in years or own it as an adult), but this set still brings a smile to my face.  It’s a great way to remember the game.  If Battleship was a favorite game, I can only imagine how much more you will like this set.

The ring for hanging the ornaments is in the top middle of the raised cover.  This does mean the ornaments tip forward a little when you go to hang them, but it really is the best place for the loop to be on the ornament.  A well-placed tree branch or hanging the ornaments back-to-back would help with this.  In fact, if you line up the rings right, you can slip one ornament hanger through both and get them to hang straight.

The bottoms of the ornaments are nice and flat, so it would be very easy to display these are part of a scene if you so choose.

My only decision now is whether to hang these next to each other or away from each other on my tree.  Either way, I’m glad to add these Battleship ornaments to my collection.

Do check out the rest of the Family Game Night ornaments.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Disney Pin Review: National Button Day - Celebrate Today #11 - 2020 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great looking button as a pin
Cons: Twists the origins of the day
The Bottom Line:
Celebrate buttons
Slightly different meaning
But still, a fun pin




Celebrating a Different Kind of Button

I’ve been collecting pins and buttons since I was a kid.  That’s why I loved the November entry in Disney’s Celebrate Today pin series.  And I don’t even care if they are offering a twist on what the day is really supposed to be about.

You see, November 16th is National Button Day.  But if you look it up on the internet, you’ll find that it is supposed to be celebrating the creativity that can be displayed in the buttons we use to fasten our clothes.  However, Disney is taking it the other way, the buttons people can attach to their clothes, or backpacks, or anything else, to decorate them.

The pin itself is round like a button.  However, it has the two sticks out the back instead of the longer bar holder for a button.  The pin itself looks like one of Disney’s “I’m Celebrating” buttons.  It’s mostly green, with Pluto wearing a hat and blowing a noise maker.  The writing on it says “I’m Celebrating! National Button Day.”  Either this series was for Disney World release only or I got the pin from someone in Florida (I honestly don’t remember) because underneath that, it says Walt Disney World.  (And yes, it is always possible that they released the pin at both Disney World and Disneyland with the Walt Disney World for both locations.)  The bottom right corner still has the square with the date.

As I said at the beginning, I’ve been a button collector all my life, so I love the fact that they paid tribute to buttons, the forerunning of pins, with this release in the series.  The fact that it looks like a button you might get at a Disney park makes it even better.

Purists may say they are cheating with this celebration pin, but I find it lots of fun.  If you collect buttons, or pins, you’ll want this reminder of National Button Day.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

November 13th's Weekly TV Thoughts

The Equalizer – The main storyline was wonderful.  The way they tracked down the victim, the twists.  I did see the final twist coming (who got kidnapped at the end), but other than that it kept me on the edge of my seat again.  The sub-plot?  Their biggest lecture of the season so far, and I wasn’t happy about that.  Did like her final comeuppance, but the lecture from Aunt Viv, which I saw coming early on, was definitely just that – a lecture.  Subtlety is your friend.

Legends of the Forbidden Temple – I was rooting for the returning contestants to get it to the end and win.  They almost won but it wasn’t quite fast enough.  Love seeing the original host pop up as well.  It sounds like they had a great time and were very satisfied to be there, which is all the really matters in the end.

Dancing with the Stars – Two couples going is always hard.  I do think there are some weak couples in the couples that are left, but I do feel that the couples who left should be going as well.  Honestly, I felt like the judges were a little 10 happy tonight.  Doesn’t give the couples much room to grow in the two weeks left.  And six couples are going to the semi-finals?  How is that even possible?  Do we have another double elimination next week and four couples making the finals?  Or a triple elimination next week?  Either way, it’s scary.

Supergirl – Definitely mixed reactions to the finale.  Some of it was good.  I felt like we got some great emotional closure to the storylines and the characters.  I loved seeing some of the moments between the characters, old and new.  On the other hand, many of the speeches were the kind of nonsense I have found frustrating with the show over the years.  They sounded more like a collection of buzzwords than anything else, and I feel like it is going to date the show very quickly.  At least I hope it will.  I did love the villain’s fate.  I was a bit surprised they defeated them as early in the hour as they did, but it allowed them time to not rush the character arc resolutions, which ultimately was a good thing.

Survivor – I honestly had no clue where that was going to go.  All I know is that Shan needs to go now.  She is getting more and more annoying every week.  And the fact that she keeps bragging about being a pastor without being anything like a leader should be is frustrating me as well.  Her pride needs to be broken.

Legends of Tomorrow – If the break for the last commercial had been the cliffhanger for the episode, I wouldn’t have been surprised.  Granted, we got a great cliffhanger as it was.  So, Zari and Nate living in the totem?  Is that what we are going to see next?  And yes, I loved how everyone was naming old cast members but not naming Constantine, who is actually playing this new character.

Batwoman – That took a dark turn at the end.  And for how dark the episode was overall, that’s truly saying something.  Marcus was the nice one, too.  And we’ve got a tragic story with the detective in charge as well.  They are setting up some interesting storylines for the rest of the season.

Frogger – They definitely didn’t save the best for last.  It was almost laughable how badly the various people did the entire way through.  And if I looked at someone and said they were going far, they didn’t.  As always, I will issue the disclaimer that I wouldn’t do any better myself.

United States of Al – They covered a lot of ground there, with ultimately three stories in the episode.  I was wondering when we might hear about Lizzie’s fiancĂ© again.  I am glad they are continuing to work through that storyline.  Al with the kids was pretty funny – especially talking video games.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Music Review: We Need a Little Christmas by Pentatonix

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great new Christmas recordings old and new
Cons: A couple of tracks need to grow on me (but are still good)
The Bottom Line:
I missed this last year
But I’m glad I found it now
Great Christmas music



I Didn’t Know I Needed This Disc in My Christmas Collection.  But I Did.

Every year in the fall, I do a search for Pentatonix to see if they have any new music out I’ve missed over the last few months or any plans to release new Christmas music.  Somehow, when I did that search last year, the results failed me because I missed their 2020 release, We Need a Little Christmas.  As soon as I spotted it this year, I snagged a copy, and I’m glad I did.

Pentatonix has released quite a few Christmas CDs over the course of their short career, so you might think they are running out of standards to cover.  I’m sure they are getting close, but they aren’t there yet.  In fact, the disc starts out with a couple of new ones.  We get their take on “12 Days of Christmas” first, and it’s fun.  Their harmonies are tight, and it’s quick moving, making it a pleasure to listen to.  They do switch things up in the later verses, which threw me off at first, but I quickly adjusted.

Other standards on this disc includes “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with a touch of “Run, Rudolph Run” thrown in for good measure, and “My Favorite Things.”  I do argue that the second one isn’t really a Christmas song, but enough people have put it on Christmas albums that it pretty much is at this point.  Later in the disc, we also get “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Happy Holiday.”  I’m not a big fan of that second song, but their version is definitely my favorite so far.

Through the magic of modern technology, Pentatonix joins Bing Crosby and the London Symphony Orchestra for “White Christmas.”  Since they’ve already done this song on their own, this is a nice way to cover it again, this time with the person many people associate most with the song.  This version is beautiful, and I’m certainly not complaining about having it a second time.

One thing I appreciate about Pentatonix’s Christmas releases is their willingness to cover original songs from movies and other artists.  Quite often, these are songs I don’t have in my collection, and they still feel like Christmas right away.  We get several tracks like that here.  Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” takes on a different flavor here with one of the guy’s taking the lead.  It’s slightly faster, too, and it’s fun.   “Once Upon a December,” from the movie Anastasia, is hauntingly beautiful here.  I wasn’t familiar with the title track before getting this disc either, but I love it!  (And I call myself a musical fan.)

There’s even an original track here.  “Thank You” is a song of appreciation centered around the holidays.  It sounds like to a partner, but it would work for any good friend.

Then there are three tracks that are a stretch to call Christmas songs.  Okay, so I do have “Amazing Grace” on other Christmas releases, but this is the more modern version “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” with the new chorus written by Chris Tomlin.  “When You Wish Upon a Star” is new to a Christmas release for me.  While I don’t consider either of them Christmas songs, I’m not complaining about having them here because both of them are great.  (And maybe Pentatonix should consider doing a project centered on Disney songs?)

The disc ends with “The Seasons of Love” from Rent.  Since the song is about how you measure a year, I get how this could fit on a Christmas release.  My issue is, I’m not a fan of the musical (I find it way too depressing), so I’m trying to focus on the lyrics of the song and not the original source of the song.  When I do that, I think I’ll find that I like it here.

As always, the disc is filled with strong harmonies.  They can sing!  There’s a good mix of fast and slow, and I appreciate that since it keeps me engaged as I listen.

I’m sad I wasn’t able to enjoy We Need a Little Christmas last year, but I’m very glad I got it this year.  I know I will be enjoying it for Christmases to come.

CD Length: 38:33
Tracks:
1. 12 Days of Christmas
2. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/Run, Rudolph Run
3. My Favorite Things
4. Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)
5. Thank You
6. Santa Tell Me
7. Jingle Bell Rock
8. When You Wish Upon a Star
9. Once Upon a December
10. Happy Holiday
11. White Christmas (with Bing Crosby & The London Symphony Orchestra)
12. We Need a Little Christmas
13. Seasons of Love

November 12th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Will you look at that?  Two weeks in a row I'm participating in Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Fogged Off, the third Cyd Redondo Mystery from Wendall Thomas.

Like last week, when I read the opening of this book, I knew I had to feature it this Friday.  Here's that magic opening.

"Jack the Ripper had it made."

That certainly grabs your attention, doesn't it?  No, this isn't a historical mystery.  It's set in modern times (okay 2007).  But the plot does revolve around experts on Jack the Ripper.  And yes, it is set in London.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we get this fun exchange:

"Well, I don't think we can assume that.  It could just be a strange coincidence."
"Nope.  Not according to my second sight."
"Since when do you ahve second sight?  And shouldn't that have told you he was going to die in advance?"
"That's not the way it works."
"So it's second hindsight?"

As I hope you can tell, this is a really fun mystery.

I'll be back with a full review of the book next Thursday.  In the meantime, I hope you have a fabulous weekend.


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Book Review: Tropical Depression by C. Michele Dorsey (Sabrina Salter Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery; wonderful characters
Cons: A bit of Sabrina’s behavior; more than usual typos
The Bottom Line:
Hunting for killer
With hurricane approaching
Glad Sabrina’s back



Racing a Hurricane to Solve a Murder

It’s been years since we last spent time with Sabrina Salter, the main character in C. Michele Dorsey’s mystery series.  I had given up on getting a third adventure with her until Tropical Depression popped up.  As a fan, I jumped on it as soon as I could.

This series is set in the Caribbean on the island of St. John.  Sabrina and her business partner, Henry, run a business managing ten vacation rentals on the island.  This continues to provide us with fodder for mysteries.

It has been five years since I read the first two books in the series, so the characters and their relationships weren’t fresh in my mind.  That background quickly came back to me as I read.  The story does build on the characters and relationships from the first two books, but clearly enough is given that you can jump in here.  Still, all three are so good, you might as well read them all.

As the book opens, Sabrina has just returned to the island after three weeks in New England.  However, the vacation hasn’t turned out to be nearly as restful as she imagined it would be since her meeting with her long estrange grandmother didn’t go well, and she was betrayed by her boyfriend.

Things don’t get better when she arrives home.  One of the seasonal employees that Sabrina and Henry hired before Sabrina left is murdered the day she gets back on the island, and the police are looking at Henry as the killer.  After all, his machete was the murder weapon.  As Sabrina jumps in to figure out what really happened, she is confronted with the issues she thought she’d left behind when her vacation was over.  Will those issues keep her from finding the killer?

What I haven’t mentioned yet is the book is set in September 2017.  Since the last book in the series came out in 2016, that certainly works timeline wise.  This is right before two hurricanes devastated the island, and the action of the book takes place as Hurricane Irma is on her way.  While it is just in the background as the book begins, it adds to the suspense as we reach the climax.

The mystery was good.  There were plenty of twists to keep me engaged, and the solution was perfectly logical.  Everything else going on in the book worked together to make the plot even stronger.  This is definitely not a case where the sub-plots detracted from the overall mystery, and it’s hard to picture the book working nearly as well with any of them taken out.

As much as I remember liking Sabrina from the first two books, I’ll admit that some of her behavior bothered me here.  I could sort of understand it, but seriously, show a little maturity.  Then again, that is part of what she is dealing with here, so it gave us a chance to see some development for her.  That part of the story might have been a little too easily resolved, but that is a minor complaint.  The rest of the characters were strong as well.  Overall, I loved spending time with everyone in the book.

We get the story from the points of view of several of the characters.  This works well to let us get to know them better and fill us in on parts of the action.  The switch is always handled well, so we are never confused whose head we are in.

Unfortunately, the book had more than its fair share of typos.  Mind you, the book is very readable.  I don’t regret reading it for a minute, so this is worth noting only in passing.

This book is more of a traditional mystery than the cozies I typically read.  As such, there is a smattering of foul language here.  It’s kept to a minimum again, so as long as you know going in, you’ll be fine.

It was wonderful to see Sabrina again in Tropical Depression.  I’m hoping we get more adventures with her since I’m anxious to find out just what happens to her in the aftermath of this book.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Book Review: It All Began with a Scream by Padraic Maroney

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting history of the Scream franchise
Cons: Writing could have been better
The Bottom Line:
Hist’ry of franchise
Fun behind the scenes info
Issues with writing



Uneven History of the Scream Franchise

If you’ve paid close attention to my blog, you’ll find that I have a love/hate relationship with horror movies.  I know, quite a switch from the cozy mystery novels I typically read.  The one franchise that I am obsessed with is Scream, so when I found out about Padraic Maroney’s book It All Began with a Scream, I had to read it.

This book covers the history and production of all four movies released to date in the franchise.  With new interviews and research into previously released articles, Padraic dives into what went into the creation of each movie in the franchise.  He starts with the origins behind Kevin Williamson writing the first script and covers casting, production, releases, and everything in between for all of the films.

Thanks to my obsession, I’ve got to say that most of the stories about the production of the first movie were familiar to me.  This isn’t my first time reading about it or watching documentaries on it, after all.  It also helps that the movie was filmed in the area where I grew up, and was filmed when I was home from college over the summer.  (Sadly, I didn’t see any of the filming itself.)  Even so, he managed to sneak in a few fun bits of trivia I didn’t know.

What took me by surprise was just how chaotic the third and fourth movies were.  I knew there had been some behind the scenes issues, but I hadn’t realized just how bad they were before reading this book.  Sounds like a case of rushing to make deadlines and micromanagement from the very top.  It does make me wonder what could have been for those films, which are definitely the weaker films in the franchise.

No, Padraic wasn’t able to interview everyone in the cast and crew, but he does have a wide range.  Some of the crew who worked on a majority if not all four films are included as well as cast members from each film.  That helps give us a good perspective.  Are there people I would have liked to see interviewed?  Yes.  But that’s not his fault, I’m sure, but those people’s availability.

As much as I did enjoy the book, there were issues with it.  After introducing the people he interviews, Padraic only refers to them by their last name throughout the rest of the book.  That might work for the rest of a chapter, but by the time several chapters have passed, I was struggling to remember who these people were and how they fit into the production.  A few extra reminders, at least at the start of every chapter, would have gone a long way toward helping with that.

Additionally, the writing style of the book isn’t that engaging.  It feels like a laying out of the facts, but none of the fun or passion I would expect from a self-confessed fan of the franchise.  It didn’t help that the book is made up of lots of quotes, and some of them were a little hard to follow.  It’s a fine line quoting someone correctly and editing for clarity, but I felt like more editing for clarity would have helped.

I mentioned earlier being from Sonoma County.  I actually graduated from Santa Rosa High School, where the school scenes from the first movie were almost filmed.  (If you aren’t familiar with that story, read the book.)  While there were a handful of typos throughout the book, it absolutely killed me that every time the school was mentioned by name, it was Santa Rosa high school.  I know, I know, I rarely call out typos unless it is bad, but this is my alma mater you are dissing here with the incorrect capitalization.  Okay, sorry.  I’ll let it go.  Honestly, it only really bothered me this much because of my connection to the school, and I didn’t notice many typos throughout the rest of the book.

However, I do need to take exception to something else from that part of the book.  One of the producers is interviewed about the controversy of not getting to film at the school like they’d originally been promised.  I get it, they were treated poorly by the school board.  As much as I understand why the school board ultimately reached the decision they did, they should have handled the situation much better.  However, the producer goes on to call it censorship to not allow them to use the school to make the movie.  Censorship is a term that gets thrown out way too much these days when someone doesn’t get their way.  The school board never campaigned against the movie being made or being filmed in Sonoma County.  They just denied the use of Santa Rosa High School.  There is a huge difference, and that needs to be recognized, especially since the producers found some place else that worked for their needs, albeit with added stress and pressure.

Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox now.  And that rant isn’t factoring into my rating of the book.

As much as I did enjoy hearing about the production of the movies in the Scream franchise, I wish the book had been better written.  That keeps me from giving It All Began with a Scream my full recommendation, but I am glad I read it.