Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Movie Review: The Philadelphia Story

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs in the fun first half
Cons: Story falls apart in the second half
The Bottom Line:
Laughs at beginning
Give way to a rushed ending
Not classic for me

“What’s This Room?  I Forgot My Compass.”  “This Would Be South South West Parlor by Livingroom.”

I’ve heard about The Philadelphia Story for years, and I’ve heard it pretty much universally praised.  I know it’s considered one of the best romantic comedies of all time.  So I was looking forward to a fun time when I finally sat down to watch it.  Sadly, I was left disappointed.

Two years after her divorce, Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is set to remarry.  Her new groom is George Kittridge (John Howard).  He’s not quite as high society as she is, but she is happy.

However, her ex-husband isn’t happy about the idea of her remarrying.  So, the day before, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) shows up with a reporter and photographer, Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie (James Stewart and Ruth Hussey).  Tracy doesn’t want any press at her wedding, but she doesn’t have any choice.  But as Tracy spends time with these wedding crashers, what will happen?

This movie is based on a play that was highly successful at the time.  It had been written for Katherine Hepburn, and she was able to play her role in the movie version, too.  I can see the bones of the play in the first half.  Oh, we get more locations than I’m sure they did in the play, but it was all there in the set up and the initial interactions between the characters.  There were lots of great lines, I was laughing, and I was generally enjoying myself.

It's the second half where things fell apart.  We can start with two of the characters getting drunk and staying drunk for much too long.  I’m usually not a fan of watching drunk characters, and that was the case here.  I certainly didn’t find their antics funny.

Then comes the third act.  I get what we are the audience were supposed be rooting to happen.  But none of it felt earned.  In fact, I had whiplash with how quickly certain characters changed to get us there.  It was almost like the writer looked at the screen time left, threw up their hands, and just ended it.

Between these two things, I was left scratching my head at why the characters decided to do what they were doing.

This isn’t the fault of the actors.  They are all fantastic, and their performances are all perfect at getting every laugh they can out of the script.  I must praise Virginia Weidler who is an absolute delight as Tracy’s younger sister Dinah.  She is a scene stealer.  The second half definitely could have used more of her in it.

Since the film is from 1940, it was filmed in black and white.  Even so, the sets look wonderful.  I can see the appeal of being part of Philadelphia society via this movie.

The first half is fun, but I wish the entire movie lived up to that promise.  I don’t quite see why The Philadelphia Story has become such a beloved classic.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Book Review: Torn Asunder by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #12)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters we love in a can’t put it down mystery
Cons: Nothing related to the story itself
The Bottom Line:
Death of a stranger
Who was he and who killed him?
Another great book

The Murder of the Uninvited Guest

Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake Mysteries have been one of my favorite series for the past decade.  I’ve enjoyed watching the characters and their relationships grow and change, and the mysteries are always top notch.  Torn Asunder, book twelve in the series, is another fantastic entry in the series.

Those who have been following the series know that Julia Snowden and her family have been working on Morrow Island, the private island where they have their summer clambake business, in hopes of adding weddings to the rest of their business.  Now, the first wedding is about to take place, the wedding of family friends Zoey Butterfield and Jamie Dawes.

The rehearsal dinner is also taking place on the island.  While Julia knows most of the guests at this event, there is one man she doesn’t recognize.  In the middle of the meal, the stranger collapses.  At first, it is assumed that he had an allergic reaction, but soon it looks like he was murdered.  Fortunately, Julia’s detective boyfriend, Tom, is on hand, but no one seems to know who the victim was.  If he was a stranger, who wanted to kill him?

Of course, it isn’t long before Julia and Tom begin to make progress.  I’ve got to say, I had definite Agatha Christie vibes from the story.  It seems that everyone actually had a connection to the victim once Julia starts to dig.  Additionally, there is a storm that traps them on the island and disconnects them from the internet for part of the book.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing.  In fact, I had a hard time putting the book down, which isn’t a surprise with this series.  There were so many revelations on the way to the logical climax.

As always, it was great to spend time with the characters.  Some of the townspeople we’ve gotten to know had more cameos than anything else because of how the book played out.  Yes, that was disappointing, but I was still happy to see them.  Julia and Tom just started dating in the previous book, so it was nice to see them as a couple in this one.  And the suspects are all strong, which made it hard to figure out what was going on.

Sadly, this is the final book in the series; Barbara Ross decided to end the series here.  There is some nice symmetry given how the series started.  While I am sad I won’t get to visit these characters again, fans of the series will be happy with how this book wraps things up for the characters.  There are some laughs along the way, and I may have teared up a time or two as well.  Truly, you couldn’t ask for a better final book.

We get another five recipes at the end of this book.  There are even a couple for non-seafood lovers like me.

Long time fans will be rewarded with Torn Asunder.  If you haven’t started this series yet, I envy you.  You have many fantastic books ahead of you.  Make a point of starting it today.

Check out the rest of the Maine Clambake Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

April 21st's Sunday/Monday Post

Welcome to this week's Sunday/Monday Post.  As usual, I will be linking up to:

Sunday Post
Sunday Salon
Stacking the Shelves
Mailbox Monday
It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

I'm writing this Saturday night, and I just spent the day at the LA Times Festival of Books, which was held again on the USC campus in downtown LA.  The highlight from a book perspective was getting to talk to several authors I've become friends with over the years.  I only bought one book during the day.

However, the real highlight was getting to hang out with a friend of mine all day.  Angelique and I have been going to the festival for decades.  We enjoy many of the same writers, so it's always fun to hang out and compare what we've been reading recently.  In fact, we spent quite a bit of time just sitting and talking instead of wandering around looking at the booths.  Although, we did cover all the booths, too.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Torn Asunder by Barbara Ross
Tuesday - Movie Review: The Philadelphia Story
Wednesday - Book Review: Under the Radar by Annette Dashofy
Thursday - Movie Review: Ferdinand
Friday - Book Review: The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Book Haul:

As I said, I only bought one book at the festival today.  But that's okay since I haven't read any of the books I bought last year yet.  Yeah, I need to stop buying books and read some of the ones I already have around here.

Anyway, the book I did buy was Perilous Waters by Terry Shames.  This is the first in a new series from the author.  It involves a diver in the Bahamas.  Sounds great to me!  Hopefully, I can get to it soonish.

Meanwhile, I had a book waiting for me when I came home.  My copy of 'Til Death by Annette Dashofy arrived.  This is book 10 in her Zoe Chambers series.  Yes, I was reading book 9 in the series last week (and the review is coming up on Wednesday).  I want to at least get this book read in the series this year as I keep trying to catch up on it.

Finally, I got my copy of Torn Asunder by Barbara Ross this week.  The publisher is only sending finished copies of their mass market paperbacks now, so I got it about a week before release date.  Closer than I would normally have liked, but I love this series, so I'm squeezing it in.

What I'm Currently Reading:

In fact, I've finished Torn Asunder.  Now, I need to get the review written so I can post it on Monday.  (If I don't, I'll just swap it in for Wednesday.)  So good.  Fans of the series will really enjoy it.

Since I was gone all day being around readers and authors, I haven't made much progress in my new book.  There's still some time this evening, and definitely time on Sunday to change that.  My current read is The Bootlegger's Daughter by Nadine Nettmann.  This is the first book from her in a few years, and her first historical.  It's set in Los Angeles in 1927.  So far, I'm enjoying it, but I'm only two chapters in.

That's it for me.  Have a great week!

Saturday, April 20, 2024

April 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Just as a heads up, I am spoiling which team got eliminated when I talk about The Amazing Race below.

Tracker – I love how this show can present one thing that you know isn’t going to be true and make it some believable.  A sign of great writing for sure.  I wasn’t too worried at that last commercial break, but it was still nice to see how everything turned out.

Deal or No Deal Island – I started this one last week and I am now caught up.  I’m really surprised that Rob is still around.  Why people don’t target him early and often at this point is beyond me.  The Survivor aspect of the show makes the Deal or No Deal part tolerable.  Still not one of my favorite games, but it doesn’t take up much of the episode.  And some of what they’ve had to do is epic.

The Weakest Link – I admire the final two for slowly getting out the people from left to right until they were the only ones left.  Nothing personal at all in their voting.  Quite the prize the winner walked away with, too.  I’m surprised she did since I felt like he did better during the rest of the game.  Just shows that the questions you get matter.

Survivor – So what was the point of all that drama at tribal?  In the end, the same person went home they were planning to vote for earlier.  What was Q up to?  Was he serious about wanting to go but got talked into staying?  Or did he do this to help cover the plan?  Speaking of Q, he needs to go.  His ego and Robfather like attitude was getting on my last nerve.

The Amazing Race – I’ll admit, I got a little more distracted than normal while watching this one.  How did the alliance fall behind?  I completely missed the other teams passing them.  Not that it made any difference today, but it will on when teams leave.  I feel sorry for the SPOILER ALERT grandparents since they never had a chance to catch up.  They started the season strong, but have slowly fizzled as it’s gone alone.  And it was nice to another team win a leg.  We will see if that lasts since the boyfriends are proving to be a strong team.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Novella Review: The Ducal Detective by Sarah E. Burr (Court of Mystery #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and mystery in a fun setting
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Enter a new realm
With mystery novella
Promising series

Jacqueline Starts Her Reign Solving a Murder

I’ve really enjoyed both of Sarah E. Burr’s series that I’ve read so far, which are contemporary cozy mysteries, so I was intrigued by her Court of Mysteries series.  I got a chance to read The Ducal Detective recently, and I’m hooked on this different set up for a cozy.

This novella introduces us to the Realm of Virtues.  Essentially, this is a fantasy realm, although it is light on the fantasy here.  Outside a mention of a mythological creature, this really could be any medieval type setting with royalty and knights.

Here, we meet Jacqueline Arienta Xavier who has just been crowned Duchess of Saphire.  Jacqueline is still morning the loss of both of her parents in a carriage accident, and is struggling to take on her new responsibilities.

Then she gets word that her parents might not have died in an accident but instead were murdered.  Suddenly, Jacqueline’s world is turned upside down as she hardly knows who among her staff and advisers she can trust.  But she knows she must get to the bottom of it or her own life could be in danger.  Can she do it?

This novella really has a lot to do.  It must introduce the characters and start to create the world while also give us a compelling mystery.  That’s a lot to do in 120 pages.  Yet this book succeeds in spades.  It helps that we immediately can identify with Jacqueline.  And we watch her grow quite a bit here.  We like her, and we want to see her succeed.  We get to know several other characters as well, and I liked them.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of them as the series progresses.

The mystery itself is strong.  Since this is a novella, the mystery is appropriate for the length.  I was entertained the entire time, and I couldn’t wait to see exactly what was going on.  The ending was logical, and I appreciated how Jacqueline figured things out and how she handled the entire situation.

Honestly, that was my favorite thing in the story.  Jacqueline faces several nearly impossible situations, and I enjoyed watching her deal with them diplomatically.  We get a sense for the kind of ruler she is going to be here, and I’m looking forward to seeing her in action again.

Given the fact that Jacqueline is working on solving her parents’ murder, this book has a more melancholy tone at times than the cozies I typically read.  It’s mixed with some truly lovely scenes.  That balance is handled just right.

I actually read this via audio.  Melissa Green is the narrator, and she makes the story lots of fun, including narrating with a British accent.  I’m glad I’ve got the next few in audio already.

I always enjoy it when I can read a mystery with a creative setting and hook.  I’ve found that with The Ducal Detective.  If you are looking for something different, you’ll be happy you checked out this introductory novella.

 I'm looking forward to the rest of the Court of Mystery stories.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

April 19th's Friday Post

Time for this week's Friday Post.  I will be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

I'll be pulling quotes for the first three from Torn Asunder, the newest Maine Clambake Mystery from Barbara Ross.

This has long been a favorite series of mine.  Here's how it begins:

I walked my friends Zoey Butterfield and Jamie Dawes through the first-floor function rooms of Windsholme, the mansion built by my mother's ancestors on Morrow Island. My stomach fluttered with equal parts excitement and anxiety. I cared so much what they thought.

Meanwhile, the plot has really kicked in on page 56, where we find this:

"We shouldn't have moved him," Pete said.
"We thought it was an allergic reaction." Tom was unapologetic. "Besides," he looked at the dark windows, the wind-driven rain thrumming against them, "the medical examiner will be glad we got him out of the storm."

I'm about half way through it, and I'm completely hooked.  It's a much tighter turn around than I like, but I am hoping to have the review ready to go on Wednesday.  Will I make it?  You'll have to come back to find out.

Meanwhile, let's take a gander at this week's Book Blogger Hop.  The question is:

Do you think contemporary book covers lack originality?

Like most things in life, it depends.  I mean, look at the cover I shared.  Those are lobsters in place of the bride and groom on the top of the cake.  That's pretty original.

Certain genres and subgenres certainly have styles.  I get it, that's to help you know what it is you are looking at when you are browsing in the bookstore.  And there are definitely some subgenres that are very repetitive.  But others can be pretty creative within their subgenre.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

TV Show Review: Home Improvement - Season 7

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs with the Taylor family
Cons: Tim still too stupid overall (although it’s better than earlier seasons)
The Bottom Line:
The laughs continue
With characters that fans love
In family sitcom

“You’re Taking Apart Our Dryer?” “I’m Taking Apart Our Dryer for You.”

I hadn’t intended to take so long between seasons of Home Improvement.  I have them all on DVD, so I have no excuse.  But I finally sat down and watch season seven of this classic 90’s sitcom.

There is little new in this season of the show.  It still stars Tim Allen as Tim Taylor, the star of the local TV show Tool Time, where he and his assistant Al (Richard Karn) show how to do home improvement products.  Scratch that – they should how NOT to do products since Tim’s insistence on more power often creates disasters.

On the home front, Tim’s wife Jill (Patricia Richardson) is finishing up her masters in psychology.  Oldest son Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan) is getting over being dumped by his girlfriend.  Middle son Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) continues with his job for the school newspaper and gets his driver’s license.  Meanwhile, the youngest son, Mark (Taran Noah Smith) enters his goth phase.  And next door, Wilson (Earl Hindman) continues to offer advice.  His niece, Willow (recurring guest star China Kantner) also decides to move in.

What else happens in these twenty-five episodes?  Tim decides to buy a lodge on a lake for the family to move to.  A college is interested in offering Brad a soccer scholarship.  Tim finds some pot hidden in his yard.  Meanwhile, he buys a house as an investment and Al becomes his tenant.  The family goes to the Lion’s game for Thanksgiving.  And it’s brother against brother when Brad’s puff column pumps Randy’s investigative piece off the front page of the school paper.

My biggest problem with the series remains – Tim really is an idiot.  I know, I know, that’s the premise of the series, and I enjoy it in small doses.  But it wears on me when, episode after episode, he makes some pretty basic mistakes.

On the other hand, the writers do a good job of throwing stories around this season.  It helps that the boys are now grown enough to handle being the focus of an episode.  I appreciate it when we get to see Tim and Jill working together on an issue they are facing raising their sons.  Tim’s actually less of an idiot in those episodes than in earlier seasons, which I like.

I do appreciate that, at the end of the episode, the characters have resolved their issues and hopefully grown a little as a result.  Okay, they probably haven’t grown too much since this is 90’s TV where characters didn’t change that much from week to week.  Watching these episodes back to back, we don’t see huge continuity errors, but there is very little growth, either.  But that’s okay; that was TV in that era.

The cast all knows their characters at this point, and they do a good job of bringing them to life each week, milking every joke they can from the script.

And I truly appreciate the pacing of the comedy in these episodes compared to the sitcoms of today.  Not every line is a joke.  Or a set up.  Sometimes, the lines are just there to tell the story.  It’s the rare episode that goes too long between jokes (there are a couple of special episodes), but they don’t force in laughs for the sake of laughs.  They still work on giving us a good mix of laughs and story to keep us entertained.  (Today’s sitcoms feel like they try to make every line a laugh line, and it wears.  But that’s a conversation for another review.)

As I said earlier, season seven consisted of twenty-five episodes.  Each of them is preserved here in this three disc set.  They are in full frame and stereo since that is how they were originally broadcast.  In the way of extras, we get an extended gag reel with mostly outtakes we hadn’t seen during the closing credits.

While this may not be one of my top sitcoms, it does still make me laugh.  For that reason, I’m glad I made it back for season seven of Home Improvement.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Book Review: A Murder Most French by Colleen Cambridge (An American in Paris Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, great mystery, historic setting used well
Cons: French speakers’ dialogue doesn’t quite make sense to me
The Bottom Line:
Demonstration death
Pulls Tabitha in again
For second good book

Murder Most Rare

I enjoyed the first An American in Paris Mystery from Colleen Cambridge, so I was looking forward to A Murder Most French, the second in the series.  Fortunately, it was as good as the first.

This book finds us in Paris in January 1950.  We once again get to spend time with Tabitha Knight, who happens to be neighbors and best friends with Julia Child.  Julia is happily taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu, and Tabitha is happy learning from her friend since Tabitha has very little knowledge of what to do in the kitchen.

When this book opens, Julia is excited about a demonstration that a famous chef is going to be doing that afternoon at the school, and she insists that Tabitha go with her.  However, the demonstration ends abruptly when the chef dies after taking a sip of a rare and expensive wine he’d received just before the event started.  Despite vowing to stay out of it, Tabitha can’t help but wonder what is going on.  Can she figure it out?

Let’s get my issue out of the way first.  Obviously, this book is set in France.  It is well established that Tabitha speaks fluent French, and any time she is with other Americans, she mentions in the first-person narration that they are speaking English.  So why is it that every time a French character is speaking, we have at least one word in French?  They would naturally be speaking French, so every word is in French.  This also annoyed me since I know no French, although we can always figure out what they mean by context or Tabatha’s explanation.  Quite often, the French world is one of the few words I know, so decoding it isn’t an issue.  And, it does mean that all these characters come across in my head with a delightful French accent.  But I am left scratching my head about the logic of why this is happening.

Really, despite that lengthy paragraph, I did enjoy the book.

We don’t have a large circle of series regulars, but the ones we have are delightful.  Yes, that includes Julia Child, who comes across much like I picture her acting based on the few video clips I’ve seen.  Tabatha is a strong main character who really does try to stay out of trouble while she pokes into the mystery.  And the suspects we meet here are good.

And what a great mystery we have.  The clues and red herrings are all in place to keep us guessing until the end.  A couple times, I wondered where the story was going, but everything came into play like I suspected it would.

Like with the first book, there is a smattering of foul language in this novel.  Keep that in mind if that kind of thing bothers you.

Given the historical setting, Paris in the aftermath of World War II is a big focus.  I really enjoyed that look at what life was like then, including how the citizens survived the occupation in the war years and the results of the war in how the citizens went about living life.

Don’t read this book hungry.  With Julia Child as a character, there is lots of talk about food, and it made my mouth water as I read it.  No, there aren’t any recipes at the end, but we don’t really need them.

Overall, A Murder Most French is a strong and fun mystery.  Anyone with an interest in Paris in the 50’s or Julia Child will be glad they picked it up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Ornament Review: A World Within #9 - Polar Bear in Snowflake - 2023 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute looking miniature ornament
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Cool polar bear
Riding inside a snow flake
A small but cute piece

A Cool Addition to the World Within Series

As I say every year, I enjoy the creativity of the World Within series.  The ninth entry, released in 2023 is yet another wonderful example.

This year, the ornament is shaped like a snow flake.  It is very round, but it isn’t perfectly round, capturing the sides of a snow flake.  In the middle, we get a polar bear.  He’s sitting looking out at us, with his feet out in front of him.  And behind him, we see, a sheet of ice.

This ornament (and the series) is a miniature ornament.  The diameter is about an inch and a half.  Yes, the polar bear is a bit cartoony, but he’s supposed to be.  He’s cute, and that’s all that matters for this ornament, right?  I really do like it, and I appreciate all the detail they got into the size.  Granted, they didn’t need that much here, but it’s still fun.

The ornament doesn’t stand on its own.  But it’s an ornament.  It’s meant to be hung.  Fortunately, when you go to hang it, you’ll see that it hangs straight.

And the series marker is on the back of the ornament.

I will mention that, like most Hallmark ornaments that involves snow, there is glitter on this ornament.  So when you are handling this one, expect to get glitter on your fingers.

If you are looking for a small, cute ornament, you’ll be glad you picked up the ninth A World Within.

And be sure to check out more of the A World Within ornaments.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Book Review: Under the Paper Moon by Shaina Steinberg

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting mystery in post WWII Los Angeles
Cons: I spent much of the book wishing for something different for the characters
The Bottom Line:
Reunite with past
In historic mystery
Could have been better

I Wished I’d Liked It Better

When I first heard about Under the Paper Moon by Shaina Steinberg, I thought it would be something I’d enjoy.  A historical book set right after World War II in Los Angeles, plus the main characters had been spies during the war.  It immediately grabbed my attention.  While there were parts I enjoyed, there were parts that I struggled with.

When her brother was taken hostage while fighting in Europe, Evelyn Bishop went overseas and joined the OSS in an effort to end the war sooner if not find and rescue her brother.  Now that the war is over, Evelyn has returned to Los Angeles.  Her father owns an airplane factory, so she doesn’t need to work a day in her life if she doesn’t want to.  But she wants to, so she’s opened a PI agency, only taking the clients she really wants.

Her latest case finds her trailing a family friend to find evidence that he’s cheating on his wife.  But the last thing Eveyln expected was for him to be murdered.  In order to figure out what happened, Eveyln is going to have to team up with Nick Gallagher, the man who betrayed her when the war ended.  Will they uncover the truth?

I’ve really struggled more than usual with my thoughts on this book.  Usually, I can tell pretty quickly what worked and what didn’t for me.  There are certain things I look for, and if I’m not enjoying a book, it’s usually one of those things causing the problem.

In this case, I did enjoy much of the book.  We get some flashbacks to what happened during the war, which help explain what is going on in the present.  These are clearly marked, and a small part of the book overall (despite how it might seem early on).

And the contemporary mystery was good as well.  There were enough twists and surprises to keep me engaged.  The climax made sense, too.

Unfortunately, many of the issues I had with the book get into spoiler territory.  I will say that I knew we were supposed to be rooting for Evelyn and Nick to get back together, and all I saw were the issues in their relationship.  The author wrote herself into a corner as far as their relationship went with the story she was trying to tell.

I think my other issue with the story is explained by the author’s note at the end.  She set out to tell a certain story with a certain outcome.  That ending felt forced, and I found myself rooting for a different outcome most of the book.

Having said that, I was satisfied with where the characters wound up when I turned the final page.  Again, it’s hard to explain my thoughts on the book without giving specific spoilers, but it does show just how complex we can be as humans, doesn’t it?

And maybe it’s the film noir vibe of the book that turned me off more than anything.  I do enjoy the occasional darker tale, so I thought I might be okay with this one.

The narration was mostly limited to either Eveyln or Nick’s point of view (and it changed between chapters), but at times, it switched to omniscient point of view, and it always felt awkward when it did, especially since it was telling us things instead of showing them.

Ultimately, I’m not sorry I read Under the Paper Moon, but I’m not likely to seek out other books by Shaina Steinberg.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.