Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Review: "F" is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Kinsey is back in
Another strong letter full
Of twists, surprises

Proving the Innocence of a Killer on the Run

When I started listening to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series a couple of years ago, it actually wasn’t my first introduction to the series.  I had listened to “F” is for Fugitive over 15 years ago, and my guess is it was an abridgement, although I don’t remember for sure.  I was curious to see what I would think of this book now and what I would think of it in context, not that I truly remember any of the story.  Turns out I loved it.

Seventeen years ago, teen Jean Timberlake was murdered on the beach in the town of Floral Beach.  Her boyfriend, Bailey Fowler, was convicted of the crime, but he escaped after serving a year of his sentence.  Now, he’s been recaptured, and Bailey’s father has hired Kinsey to find out the truth of what happened back then.

And so Kinsey drives the hour and a half north to Floral Beach and begins interviewing the people who were involved with Jean back then.  She finds that Floral Beach is a very small community, and everyone knows everyone else.  Even today, Jean’s reputation with the boys is legendary, and it seems like the suspect list is long.  But with no one willing to tell Kinsey the truth, can she solve this cold crime?

This book takes place almost exclusively outside of Kinsey’s usual stomping grounds of Santa Teresa.  What’s funny to me is that I actually remembered just a tad of how this book opens thanks to the ending of the previous book in the series.  Other than that, I was coming to this book with a completely fresh slate.

Which means I was in for all the fun twists and turns as the story progressed.  It seems that everyone Kinsey meets has a motive for the killing, and as Bailey’s return and Kinsey’s questions put everyone on edge, the ride truly gets crazy.  Yet Kinsey is once again able to put everything together to reach a logical conclusion in time for the wonderful climax.

This book also features an almost completely new cast of characters, but they are completely real to us as soon as we meet them.  This isn’t a surprise to me since I’ve always found Sue Grafton’s characters to be strong.  We do see a little growth in Kinsey in this book as well, and I really liked that.

Of course, this is a departure from my usual cozies.  Just know that going in and you’ll be fine.

When I get to the first book not narrated by Mary Peiffer, it’s going to be quite an adjustment for me.  I love her work here.  She brings Kinsey to wonderful life, which is important in a first person narrated story, and injects just enough into her voice to help us get Kinsey’s amusement at some of the people and events of the story.  She also helps bring the other characters in the book to life.

While I didn’t remember much about this book from my first time listening to it, I’m glad to have re-listened to it now.  “F” is for Fugitive is a wonderful book that will leave you guessing until the end.

Need to learn the alphabet?  Here are the rest of the Kinsey Millhone Mysteries in order.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

January 20th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We made it to another Friday, which of course means it is time for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm spotlighting Kitty Kitty Bang Bang by Sparkle Abbey.

This is the third Pampered Pets Mystery, and it is a lot of fun.  Here's how the book begins:

"We've got to stop meeting like this," the teasing voice whispered in my ear.

Normally, I share something long for the 56, but I'm going with a short and sweet sentence this time.  You want context of why this line is fun?  You'll have to read the book.

The look on He-Man's face was priceless.

Hope you have a great weekend!  Me?  Hopefully, I'll finally take down my Christmas trees.  (Yes, they are fake.)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ornament Review: O Holy Night - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Nice looking church, good sound clip
Cons: Windows don’t light up (again)
The Bottom Line:
Church celebrating
A holy Christmas night with
Instrumental song

Get Ready for a Holy Christmas Eve

With all the Hallmark ornaments I collect, it is rare for me to buy their religious ornaments.  The one exception are the churches they release each year which complement their old Candlelight Services series.  O Holy Night was 2016’s release, and it was another good church.

This church is formed from wood, or at least it’s sculpted to look like it.  It’s got large wooden beams making the walls.  There are stone corners and foundation.  Between the painted red wood and the stone, this is a very nice looking church.  It is very squarish rectangle and has a steeple rising out of the front of the church.  Naturally, there is snow on the ground and the roof.  This is Christmas after all.

Now, the old ornaments in the official series had windows that would light up when you stuck a Christmas tree light in the back of the church.  I loved that.  I wish these newer ornaments did that.  I will always complain about that even though that obviously isn’t what they are doing any more.  However, we do still get a fun extra – sound.  Put the two button batteries in the base of the ornament and press the button to hear about a 20 second clip of “O Holy Night.”  This year that sound clip is instrumental, just a piano playing part of the first verse of the carol.  You can easily imagine it as the opening of a Christmas Eve service.

I usually set my collection of churches out each year, after all buildings have nice flat bases, and this one is no exception.  If you want to hang this ornament, however, you’ll find that it hangs straight.

I do wish they still made the churches with windows that could glow with the help of a light string.  They could still have the music clip since they did both one year.  But I do enjoy these churches as they are.

So I am glad to have O Holy Night in my collection.  It’s another nice church with a fun sound clip.

Looking for more churches?  Here are the Candlelight Services and unofficial churches.

Original Price: $19.95

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: Hearse and Gardens by Kathleen Bridge (Hamptons Home and Garden Mysteries #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good character, interesting mystery
Cons: Too much extraneous stuff slows down the plot
The Bottom Line:
Too much background here
Slows down story most of book
Overwhelms the good

Too Many Distractions.  Again.

I had a mixed reaction to the first book in the Hamptons Home and Garden series, but I enjoyed the ending and I really wanted to like the series, so I gave Hearse and Gardens a try.  Sadly, it didn’t improve any on the flaws of the first book.

Meg Barrett and her friend Elle Warner are excited to be given access to one of the cottages on Elle’s great-uncle’s estate.  The cottage is about to be moved, but first, the pair can go in and remove anything they think they can use for their antique and decorating businesses.  While they are exploring the cottage, they find a door to a long forgotten recording studio.  Inside the studio is a skeleton.

Everyone is quick to assume that the skeleton belongs to Great Uncle Harry’s son who disappeared well over a decade ago.  But if those are his remains, who locked him in the studio?  Everyone assumed he ran off with the neighbor’s wife.  Where is she?  Is she dead as well, or is she the killer?  And what about the rare Warhol painting the duo supposedly stole?

The book starts off very quickly as we find the skeleton in the first few pages.  However, the pace lags after that.  Meg goes about her life, including a feud with another decorator and a legal fight over the cottage he’d bought for herself.  Actually, I found those sub-plots more compelling than the main mystery at times.  Plus we get long passages describing places and things that Meg has found or giving us the history of the Hamptons.  The mystery does have some good twists, but most of them come in the final third of the book, and once the pace picked up, I again got very interested in it.

The characters are certainly interesting.  Meg is a strong character, and I appreciate her partial hearing loss since it is something different for a protagonist in a cozy series.  There are a few returning characters, and I enjoyed seeing them again.  The new characters are outstanding as well, and I never had a hard time keeping them all straight.

The book has some decorating tips at the end as well as two recipes from Meg’s dad, a gourmet chef.

I wish the pacing of this book were better because there is much to like in Hearse and Gardens.  As it stands, this will be my last visit with Meg to the Hamptons.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book in hopes I would review it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Assault and Beret Winner

One last winner for this first month of 2017.  And the winner of Assault and Beret is...


I've just sent you an e-mail, so please be looking for it and get back to me so I can make sure you get your prize.

Movie Review: Framed for Murder - A Fixer Upper Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery, fun characters
Cons: It’s a Hallmark movie
The Bottom Line:
Neighbor is murdered
Makes Shannon a detective
Builds a fun story

Hallmark’s Newest Mystery Movie Series Has a Solid Foundation

There are authors on my shelf that I fully intend to read, yet for some reason I haven’t.  One of those is Kate Carlisle.  I read her debut years ago and enjoyed it, yet I’ve never read any more in either of her series.  Why am I bringing this up now?  Because Hallmark Movies and Mysteries has debuted their latest movie franchise based on Kate Carlisle’s Fixer Upper series.  Framed for Murder gets this new movie franchise off to a great start.

The movie is set in the small town of Lighthouse Cove on the coast.  Shannon Hughes (Jewel) is the go to person in town for renovations, and she specializes in the Victorians that populate the town.  In fact, she’s just finished work on her friend Jennifer’s (Erin Karpluk) new bed and breakfast.

However, things take a dark turn when Shannon discovers the body of her neighbor, Jennifer’s uncle Jesse (Ken Tremblett), one morning.  The police think he accidentally tripped and fell, hitting his head, but Shannon isn’t so sure.  Little clues make her think that Jesse was actually murdered.  Can she find any evidence to back up her claim?

Any fan of a book knows that you need to let go of any preconceived ideas when a movie version is made.  While I’ve never read any of these books, I do know that they changed Shannon’s last name for the movies from Hammer to Hughes.  I don’t know of any other changes, but I’m sure there were some.

But I can really only judge on what I saw here.  And what I saw was a very good mystery.  I had no clue where things were going until Shannon figured it out at the end, yet the ending tied up everything nicely, including an opening that didn’t seem to tie in to anything else for quite a while.  Your patience there will be well rewarded.

And I like these characters.  Heck, I was very sorry when Jesse turned out to be the victim, and I sympathized with the characters as they mourned.  Shannon is a great character, and I also really enjoyed Mac Sullivan, a true crime reporter and the potential love interest played by Colin Ferguson, who helps Shannon along the way.

I am only familiar with Jewel’s singing career, not that I’ve even followed that for a decade or so.  I wasn’t sure how she’d do as an actress, but I was pleasantly surprised.  She brought Shannon to wonderful life.  When you’ve got an actress like Jewel, it’s not surprise that they found a chance to get Shannon singing, which was wonderful.  The rest of the cast is just as strong.

And yes, my normal Hallmark movie warning comes into play here.  There is a certain level of cheese to the movie, both in the writing and the acting.  Just know that going in, and you’ll soon be lost in the story.

Truly, Framed for Murder is a fun movie.  I’m going to have to dust off the books and make time to read them so I’ll be ready for more movies in this promising new franchise.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Book Review: Murder with a Twist by Tracy Kiely (Nic & Nigel Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun, good characters, fun, good mystery, fun
Cons: What part of fun three times did you not understand?
The Bottom Line:
This Thin Man tribute
Is highly entertaining
Lots of fun for all

Loving Homage and Delightful Mystery

As soon as I heard about Murder with a Twist, I knew I had to read it.  Author Tracy Kiely described it as an homage to The Thin Man stories, and since I loved those, I wanted to see how this modern take would be.  I’m pleased to say it lived up to my expectations.

Nicole “Nic” and her husband Nigel Martini are in New York for Christmas, spending it with Nigel’s extremely rich family.  While the couple live in Los Angeles, Nic is a former homicide cop with the NYPD.  And the family wants to use her background to help them find Nigel’s cousin Audrey’s husband.  It seems that Leo is a cade only interested in Audrey’s trust fund and not a very good husband, but Audrey is insisting that her husband be there for her 25th birthday party set for the week after Christmas.

The trail quickly leads Nic and Nigel to one of Nic’s old contacts on the shady side of the law, Frank Little, a money lender with less than scrupulous practices and ties to even worse men.  But when a dead body appears, Nic has to wonder what she has gotten into.  Will she find Leo?  Or is Audrey really better off if Leo never comes home?

Those who are fans of The Thin Man will immediately start noticing similarities.  Our main character is former homicide cop Nic instead of former PI Nick.  Like the first story, this one is set at Christmas.  And the couple even has a dog, although in this case the dog is extremely large.  The similarities don’t end there, and I guarantee you that any fan will be smiling as they read the book.

But here’s the thing – even if you’ve never read Hammett’s book or seen the movies, you will still absolutely enjoy this book.  You might not appreciate all the nods to the original, but this book stands up on its own.

Take the mystery.  It starts off quickly and pulls us through the entire book.  We get plenty of twists and surprises before we reach the logical ending.  And that ending?  Nic confronting all of the suspects at dinner, of course.  Yet another Thin Man reference that has gone out of style but I enjoyed seeing here since it isn’t used much anymore.

Likewise, the characters are fantastic.  Some of them are larger than life, but they fit their part in the story and the universe that is being created here.  Nic and Nigel are very well drawn and believable.  You can’t help but love them.

Plus there’s the money element.  Who wouldn’t love to have as much money as the Martini’s obviously do?  It’s nice to dream a bit as you read, isn’t it?

The story is filled with humor.  Sometimes, it’s the antics of the Martini’s new dog, Skippy.  Others, it’s the quips and wit of the characters, usually Nic and Nigel.  I found myself laughing out loud multiple times as the book progressed, although I did find the book got more serious as the stakes in the mystery got higher.  Still, we’d get those lines that break up the tension even late in the book.

This book has been on my radar for two years and in my condo for about a year.  I am so sorry I waited that long to read it.  Don’t make my mistake and pick up Murder with a Twist today.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Movie Review: Rogue One

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Acting, special effects, humor early on
Cons: Essentially a war film that tells us a story we already know
The Bottom Line:
Side Star Wars story
Does little for the franchise
Die hard fans only

Star Wars Goes Full on War

When Disney acquired LucasFilm and promised new Star Wars movies, I was among those who were very excited.  I’m more excited about the official episodes, but the other movies they planned in the world sounded fun, too.  Thanks to the craziness of the holidays, I just now got to see Rogue One, and I was very disappointed by it.

The movie tells us the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones).  As a young girl, she watches as the Empire tracks down her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), and kidnaps him, killing her mother in the process.  Her father is a great engineer, and the Empire want to use him on a top secret project.

As a young woman, Jyn lives under an alias, trying to hide from the empire.  But it’s the rebellion who figures out who she is, freeing her from a prison.  They’ve gotten word from a pilot that Galen has a message for them, a message that might be key to defeating the Empire’s new weapon.  Jyn is teamed up with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and the robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) to track down her father.  Only Cassian has orders of his own.  Will they be able to work together to get the plans to the rebels?

I heard almost nothing but praise for this movie since it came out, so I feel like I’m in the minority, but I didn’t like it.  There are two problems with this film, the first is that it is a war film.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, the action takes place across a bunch of great planets, but it is a war film.  I don’t like war films, and this movie reinforced why.

The other problem is that we already know what is going to happen, and it happens.  We do learn why there is the famous fatal flaw in the original Death Star, and the cameos by some characters we know are fun, but they don’t support a two hour plus movie.

Not this isn’t the fault of the production itself.  This looks like a Star Wars film, filled with fun creatures and strange new alien worlds.  The special effects were wonderful.  And the acting was great.  There was even some fun humor early on before it got dark.

No, my problem with this story is with the script.  In fact, it’s the same problem I have with the prequels.  We know where the story is going, and it does nothing along the way to surprise us.

Rogue One hasn’t diminished my enthusiasm for Episode VIII later this year, but I will be more cautious about the next extra project that they release.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ornament Review: Stanley T. Starr - Snowtop Lodge Companion Piece - 2008 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Different, glowing compliment to the series
Cons: Starrs outshine any cons
The Bottom Line:
This snowman lights up
Fun compliment to series
Worth it if you’ve missed

Let Stanley T. Starr Shine on Your Tree

When you become a Hallmark collector, you quickly learn that not only do they have the official series pieces, but there are also unofficial series compliments.  Some of those pieces can be as good if not better than the official series pieces.  I think that’s the case with Stanley T. Starr, an unofficial series compliment to the Snowtop Lodge series.

This piece was originally released to the Keepsake Ornament Club, so he is a little rarer.  At first glance, he might not seem so special.  After all, this is a snowman, like all the entries in the series.  Stanley has a blue-gray scarf and light green stocking in one hand.  Like the others he has a scene on him.  This time, it is of a snowy village under a clear night sky.  Stanley is the least colorful of the series to date; all the colors are very muted and the scene on him is mostly just raised with very little gray shading.  Of course, he does have another part of the scene on his hat.  If you look up there, you’ll see Santa and his reindeer taking off.

Honestly, I like the muted look of this piece.  I’m not saying I would want every ornament in the series to look like this, but there is something elegant about the minimalist look.

However, what really makes the ornament stand out from the official series is the fact that it lights up.  You can stick it on any light bulb on your Christmas tree, and you’ll see light shining through the stars.  In fact, the bottom of the ornament glows, too, which really makes the snowy village scene stand out.  This just makes him all the more fun.  I stuck him on a white light this year because I have so little imagination for something like that, but you really can put him on any colored light you want.  I tried this as I was undecorating the tree, and I found that I liked blue as well.  Try it on various colors and see what you think.

Like the others in the series, you’ll find that Stanley does have a nice, flat bottom, so you can set him out as part of the rest of the series.  Of course, you won’t be able to get him to light up if you do that.  Since he is not an official part of the series, you won’t find a series marker on him anywhere.

I hung my copy of this ornament on my tree this year.  He hangs straight, although light bulbs and tree branches can interfere with that.

It’s easy to miss these series compliments if you aren’t paying close attention.  If that happened to you, go track down a copy of Stanley T. Starr today.  You’ll be very thankful you did.

Don't miss out on the rest of the Snowtop Lodge series.

Original Price: $20.00

January 14th's Weekly TV Thoughts

This was a crazy busy week at work with a huge deadline on Friday.  I'm glad I didn't have my full compliment of shows because I would have been behind come Friday night.

The Librarians – They finally dealt with Cassandra’s tumor, although I’m a little curious how her gift works now.  Is she smarter?  Or is she able to transfer her knowledge to others?  Or both?  And I loved how they tied in the vampires to one of the movies.  I’d forgotten that particular movie.

The Odd Couple – I like what they are doing with Oscar; they are really growing him.  However, Felix’s story was just painful in this episode.

This is Us – Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, how can you be so stupid?  That was so obviously going to backfire.  I was afraid that Jack was going to wind up imitating his father instead of going to him for a loan.  Showed how truly desperate he was to provide for his family.  Yet I love how the characters ultimately face what is coming their way together head on.  And it looks like we are still on track for Randall’s father to die at the end of the season.

Lethal Weapon – Since I’m in a bowling league at work again right now, I loved the bowling connection there.  Those scenes were fun.  I wish the captain hadn’t been part of corruption, although I sure get the desire to put someone away like that.  And yes, I laughed a couple of times.  I hope they are getting some of the humor back because that seems to have ben missing recently.

The Great Indoors – Wow, the club was so unfriendly.  However, the insults throughout the episode were a lot of fun.  Very funny and spot on.  The show still needs to develop the characters more as characters instead of the caricatures they are right now, but I am enjoying it more each week.

Girl Meets World – I was fighting tears in that last scene, and I’m just dreading next week.  Series finale and the threat of leaving the country?  I have a feeling they won’t go.  They did this kind of thing on Boy Meets World, and when they filmed the episodes, they didn’t know if the show would be back or not.  But still, it’s going to be hard, especially knowing it is the series finale.