Friday, August 31, 2018

Book Review: Lost Legacy by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers Mysteries #2)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and story pull us in
Cons: More mature than many of the cozies I read, but completely worth it
The Bottom Line:
Farmer’s suicide
Unearths secrets from the past
Compelling story




Suspicious Suicide Unearths Questions from Zoe’s Past

It was beyond time for me to make a return visit to Zoe Chambers, paramedic in the rural areas of Pennsylvania.  After all, I loved the first book in the series when I read it last year, and I am several books behind.  I was looking forward to another engrossing book when I picked up Lost Legacy, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Zoe answers a 911 call to find a farmer has hung himself from the rafters in his hay barn.  Zoe is immediately reminded of the death of her great-uncles, one of whom hung himself in that very barn decades ago.  Is it a coincidence, or is there something more sinister going on?

Naturally, Zoe shares her questions with Police Chief Pete Adams.  Pete’s initial investigation turns up several surprises including a note hinting that something else from Zoe’s past isn’t what it seems.  Is the modern death a murder or suicide?  How does any of this tie to Zoe’s family?

Once again, this book really is as much Pete’s story as it is Zoe’s.  They share time as our third person narrators, and they each have sub-plots involving their parents that help us get to see another side of them.  They are strong leads that fully pull us into the story.

The rest of the cast is just as well defined.  We have a few returning characters, some of which are given a chance to shine here; others are more background players this time.  And the characters introduced in this book fit perfectly into the story as fully fleshed characters.

The story is gripping, with lots of questions that we need answers to.  I was always reluctant to put the book down when real life got in the way of my reading time.  Yet with all the questions circling around, we still get resolution to everything by the time the book ends.  There was one plot point where I was ahead of Zoe, but I understood her thinking and why she was clinging to her thoughts.

This book definitely falls on the traditional side of the mystery spectrum.  There is a smattering of foul language in the book, and a couple of scenes are right on the edge in terms of the details that we are given.  Likewise, this book digs up some serious issues for both Zoe and Pete.  But all of this helps make them more real characters for us.  I’m just letting you know so you are prepared for something more serious when you pick up this book.  Because you do need to pick up this book.

Lost Legacy delivers on the promise of the first Zoe Chambers mystery and continues to bring us wonderful characters in a strong mystery.  This is yet another series where I need to return sooner rather than later in order to find out what happens to these great characters next.

Check out the rest of the Zoe Chambers Mysteries.

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

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Movie Review: Garage Sale Mystery - Murder in D Minor

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Enjoyable mystery and sub-plots
Cons: Usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Murder, treasure hunt
Come together in fun plot
Music to fan's ears

“Don’t Touch Anything.”  “What Am I, New?”

It's the final movie of Garage Sale Mystery month for 2018, and this time we are getting a musical theme with Murder in D Minor.  This month of movies certainly goes out on a high note.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist.  I guess Dr. Tramell is rubbing off on me.)

Karl Dietz has recently died, but even before he did, he was working with an estate auction company to sell off his many possessions.  He'd been quite successful in life, and had amassed a collection of treasures, enough to excite Jen (Lori Loughlin) and Dani (Sarah Strange), so they head to the auction to see what they can find for their shop.  While many people are there and bidding, Jen is able to get an old player piano.  It needs to be restored, but she knows that one of their regular collectors will gladly pay for it once it is in top shape.

Jen leaves it with her friend Dean (Jeff Joseph) for restoration work.  However, when she stops by a few hours later, she finds him lying on the floor and the front panel of the piano off.  With a list of people trying to buy it from her, Jen begins to suspect that there is more to this player piano than what it seems.  Can she discover the truth?

This is mystery adds a treasure hunt to the murder; in fact, that treasure hunt often seems to take over.  Yes, there is a murder, and Jen solves it, but she becomes engrossed in the hunt for whatever the secret is.  A bit of the premise was a familiar mystery story device, but the movie itself was still fun.  I never would have guessed where things would lead, including who the killer turned out to be.  The suspects have so many secrets, the movie keeps us guessing.

In the family sub-plot department, Hannah (Eva Bourne) is trying to tutor the college's star quarterback, who is about to be on academic probation.  Meanwhile, Jason (Steve Bacic) encourages Logan (Connor Stanhope) to make his basketball team his statistics project.  Neither storyline is particularly surprising, but it is always fun to see the rest of Jen's family.

Meanwhile, Dani's boyfriend gets a couple of scenes.  I notice that we haven't seen Hannah's boyfriend for a couple of movies now.  I had hoped we'd get more continuity than that, but on the other hand, she hasn't had any other romance, so maybe he will still be in the picture next time we get to check in with these characters.

This being a Hallmark movie, there's the typical cheese factor.  Fans don't seem to mind, however; I know I don't.

I've heard no official word on any more Garage Sale Mystery movies, so I don't know when we will get to visit Jen and the rest of the gang again.  That means we need to savor Murder in D Minor.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Once Upon a Time - Season 7


Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Returning characters, emotional resolutions
Cons: New characters not nearly as good
The Bottom Line:
Rebooted season
Missing some of the magic
Still glad I watched it




“Imagine If I Were to Walk Through that Door and Say I Was Your Son.”  “That Would be a Kicker, Wouldn’t It?”

As a big fan of Once Upon a Time, I was worried yet hopeful when I learned the premise for season 7.  A new curse and new characters while leaving many of the familiar people and locations behind?  This might be good, but it could be very bad as well.  And it turned out that this final season of the show was both, sometimes in the same episode.

The season picks up immediately after the cliffhanger that ended last season.  Lucy (Alison Fernandez), a young girl, has just found Henry, now an adult played by Andrew J. West, and told him that she is his daughter and his family needs him.  Since we last saw Henry, he has authored a huge best seller, but is now suffering from writer’s block, so he agrees to go with Lucy to see what she is talking about.

By doing so, he is introduced to the world of Hyperion Heights, a town under the thumb of Victoria Belfrey (Gabrielle Anwar), Lucy’s grandmother.  Lucy herself is being raised by her single mother Jacinda (Dania Ramirez), who Lucy claims is Henry’s wife Cinderella.  It isn’t long before Henry is meeting other residents of Hyperion Heights, including Jacinda’s roommate, Sabine (Mekia Cox), Roni (Lana Parrilla), who owns the bar in town, and police detectives Weaver (Robert Carlyle) and Rogers (Colin O’Donoghue).  But all of them are under yet another curse.  Will Lucy be able to convince any of them of the truth in time?  What is the purpose of this curse?

Those familiar with the show will certainly recognize the premise of the season.  While it most closely resembles the first season, the characters have been cursed and given amnesia so many times it isn’t funny.  Still, I was intrigued by the new season, and wanting to know what was happening to the characters I love kept me tuning it.

One of my biggest concerns was how the characters that did come back were still connected to the characters who didn’t return.  I mean, we spent so much time investing in Captain Swan and Rumbelle, I was going to be very upset if Hook and Rumpelstiltskin being in this season ruined the happy endings we had just seen for their characters at the end of season six.  I’m not going to spoil the hows, but I will say that this was one area I was very happy with.

However, I can’t get over the feeling that this season was not that well thought out.  Yes, we have backstories for everyone we are meeting here as well as flashbacks for our returning characters that fill in the gaps between last season and where they are now.  Some of the characters are twisted together in fun and surprising ways.  Yet, they seemed much more random this time, or at least not as well thought out and communicated to us.  As it became obvious that this season would be the final season, I feel like character arcs got rushed as well.  The result was a season with much less emotional satisfaction than the previous seasons.  Also, the fact that we were dealing with “alternative universe” versions of characters we’d already met like Alice (Rose Reynolds) and Cinderella didn’t help.

The exception to that was the returning characters.  Probably because of the six years we’d already spent getting to know them, I was invested in what was happening to them.  And yes, that did extend to adult Henry as well.  It was these characters and their story that kept me coming back week after week to see what would happen next.

And don’t get me wrong, I would get drawn into the story as I was watching an episode.  But it didn’t have the same magic as earlier seasons of the show did.

Of course, another issue I had was the timeline.  It drove me crazy all season long, and even their attempts to partially explain it at the end created more problems than solutions.

I will certainly give them this – knowing they had been canceled early in the season, the writers did do their best to give us an emotionally satisfying send off.  While not everyone might be happy with what happened to their favorite characters, I found it mostly satisfying.  Part of that was the return of many of the original cast members to give the show the ending it really deserves.

Like everything else, the acting was a mixed bag this season.  Don’t get me wrong, the returning trio was still as outstanding as always.  It was the new actors who were hit or miss.  That also may be why I didn’t connect with their stories and characters as much.

The show continued to be filled with special effects.  Outside one or two weaker episodes, these continued to shine.

While this season was definitely not as strong as the others, I’m glad I stuck around for season 7 of Once Upon a Time.  It’s definitely the weakest season of the show, but I liked getting the final chapter for these characters I truly do love.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Book Review: Stabbed in the Baklava by Tina Kashian (Kebab Kitchen #2)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery in fun location
Cons: Some supporting characters could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
A wedding murder
Makes Lucy investigate
Fun second story




Best Man Stabbed at the Reception

Normally, weddings are a joyous time.  Except when they happen at the start of a mystery, of course.  Then, you just know someone is going to turn up dead, which is exactly what happens in Stabbed in the Baklava.

It’s been a few months since we last saw Lucy Berberian, and in that time she has been moving into her new role as manager of Kebab Kitchen, the Mediterranean restaurant her parents started in Ocean Crest, New Jersey.  Things are going well, although her parents, who are semi-retired, seem to be having a hard time letting go.

Lucy was thrilled when the restaurant was hired to cater the wedding of socialite Scarlet Westwood.  It was short notice and a lot of work, but everyone came together to pull it off, including Azad, the head chef and Lucy’s ex-boyfriend.  The reception is going well, until Azad finds a dead body in the back of the catering van.

The victim is Henry Simms, who was the best man at the wedding, and Azad had a public fight with him in the kitchen just a couple of hours ago.  Naturally, the police think that makes him a great suspect.  It only helps that the catering van was locked and the murder weapon was one of the skewers they’d been using to serve food.  Lucy knows that Azad is innocent, but can she find the real killer before he is arrested?

This book is set in a resort town on the Jersey Shore.  While we got a bit of a taste of the town in the first book, I felt we got more of one here.  And you know what comes next – I’d really enjoy visiting this town.  Maybe I’d avoid Lucy’s restaurant so I wouldn’t wind up involved in a murder, but it sounds like there is plenty else to enjoy in the town.

The mystery itself is strong, with plenty of viable suspects.  I didn’t know where things were going, and I was usually following along with Lucy’s latest hunch, figuring it would be wrong in the end, but not having a better suspect myself at the moment.  When she does piece things together, it is perfectly logical.

The characters continue to be a bit of a mixed bag.  Lucy herself is great, as is her best friend and partner in crime solving Katie.  The love triangle introduced in the first book is still in play, although I suspect I know where it might be going.  Some of the supporting cast still hasn’t been developed enough.  This is especially true of Lucy’s mother, who still seems very focused on Lucy’s love life, or lack thereof.  The suspects are strong, with the secrets needed to keep us guessing until the end.

And we get three recipes at the end of the book, including baklava.  No surprise there, right?

Overall, this was a fun cozy mystery that continues a great series.  Grab a plate a hummus and some baklava for dessert and sit back to enjoy Stabbed in the Baklava.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, August 27, 2018

TV on DVD Review: The Flash - Season 4


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mostly enjoyable season of a fun show
Cons: Plot slows down in the middle of the season
The Bottom Line:
Facing a new foe
Barry must out think, out run
Mostly good season




“Do You Remember Back in the Day When We Wouldn’t Calmly Consider a Stone Statue Our Prime Suspect?”  “No, I Actually Don’t.”

After three seasons with another speedster being the big bad on The Flash, I was thrilled when they announced that in season four, Barry Allan and the rest of his friends would be facing The Thinker.  A high-speed chess game sounds like fun, right?  While it was mostly enjoyable, there were some issues with the season.

Of course, before anything can happen, first, we have to get Barry Allan (Grant Gustin) out of the speed force, where he went at the end of last season.  Fortunately, Cisco (Carlos Valdes) has just the plan for that, and it works.  Unfortunately, it creates its own side effects, a bus full of new people with meta powers.

While Barry deals with those, he also prepares for his wedding to Iris (Candice Patton), Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) continues to deal with her Killer Frost other half, and Joe (Jesse L. Martin) and his girlfriend Cecile (Danielle Nicolet) make a surprising announcement.

But it’s those new bus metas who prove to be more than they appear.  It turns out they are part of the plans that Clifford DeVoe (Neil Sandilands), aka The Thinker, has for the world.  But what is he up to?  And can Barry figure out how to stop walking into his traps?

The season started out well, dealing with the fallout from last season’s cliffhanger ending and introducing us to DeVoe.  It’s somewhere around the middle of the season where I felt they got stuck in a rut and were vamping until it was actually time for the big showdown.  Mind you, the episodes were still enjoyable, but I got a little frustrated since I wanted the story to move forward.

Yes, Tom Cavanagh is still around as Harrison Wells.  The Earth 2 version is brought back this year, and I enjoyed seeing him again.  So far, he’s been my favorite version of Wells.

We do get some cast shake ups this season.  I will only mention additions since the others would be a spoiler.  I was sad early in the season to learn that Katee Sackhoff was going to be playing a recurring character.  Fortunately, they wrote the character to minimize her bad acting, and she wasn’t in that many episodes.  More important to the story of the season was Hartley Sawyer as Ralph Dibny.  When we first met this PI, I didn’t care for him at all, but I really loved the character development he got, so by the end of the season, I really cared for his character.

Of course, the regular cast get their own arcs this season, and I loved seeing what was next for all of them.  They know their characters by this point, and their acting, whether it calls for comedy or character, completely fits the script.

And there is a wide range over the course of the season.  There are some fantastic stand-alone episodes.  One early in the season finds Barry dealing with a new suit with hilarious results.  There is another brilliant episode that takes place in less time than it takes for an episode to air.  Even the familiar superhero trope where Iris winds up with Barry’s powers rises above the cliché.

The special effects continue to impress, especially given the time and budget required for a weekly TV show.

Even though I wanted to fast forward the plot in the middle of the season, overall season 4 of The Flash is still entertaining television.  Fans will enjoy watching Barry save the day just in the nick of time.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ornament Review: Seasons Treatings #10 - Chocolate - 2018 Hallmark Release


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Chocolate!
Cons: The chocolate isn’t real
The Bottom Line:
Chocolate lover?
Ornament will make you crave
Chocolate you love





Prepare for Chocolate Overload!

If there is one dessert universally loved, it is chocolate.  Oh, I know, there are people who don’t love it, but it seems if you put chocolate in anything, it will be the first dessert gone from a party.  And we are celebrating chocolate with this year’s entry in the Season’s Treatings series.

We’ve got a platter of delicious looking chocolate treats.  There’s a chocolate Santa in his decorative foil.  There’s a chocolate cake with a dab of whipped cream on top.  We’ve got some peppermint brownies, or at least brownies with candy canes on top.  There are chocolate chip cookies, and there are a couple of chocolate cupcakes.  All of these goodies are on a white platter with a green border.

I judge how successful each entry in this series is based on who much they make me drool.  This one is a winner.  I look at it, and all I can think about is how sinfully delicious each piece on the plate must be.  I don’t see how anyone who loves chocolate could be disappointed by this piece.  The only flaw is the cupcakes, which are so small they look more like the gold foil than a true cupcake.

Since this is a plate, it has a flat base, so you could set it out to be displayed.  This piece is a little more three dimensional than pieces in the series usually are, so setting it out might be an option if it would fit in with your display plans.

The greater three dimensional nature of this piece is also why it is a rare ornament in the series that hangs almost straight.  There is just the slightest tilt to the right, and it is a rare flaw in the piece, but you can disguise it with some tree branches.

If you are looking for a series marker, you’ll find it on the bottom of the platter.  This series has hit double digits with this piece and is still going strong.  In fact, based on how quickly this entry has sold out around me, I think this will prove to be one of the more popular ornaments in the series.

So if you are a chocolate fan, pick up this ode to chocolate today.  You’ll be sure to enjoy it for years to come.

Drool over the rest of the Seasons Treatings series.

Original Price: $12.99

Saturday, August 25, 2018

August 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Big news this week.  Or is that Big Bang news.  The upcoming 12th season will be the final season of the show.  I'm not surprised, and it's probably time.  I don't see how the show could continue on too much longer.  But I am sad.  I'm really going to miss the gang when the show goes off the air in May.  Fortunately, I've got one final season of new episodes to enjoy first.

Meanwhile, here's what was actually on this week.

American Ninja Warrior – They’ve tricked me so far this season with the first person to run since that person has done pretty well.  But I wasn’t surprised this week when the first person was eliminated on the salmon ladder.  After all those videos of him doing tricks on it during practice, I just had a feeling it would take him down.  Again, the majority of the results didn’t surprise me too much.  In fact, I don’t think there were any big surprises in people who were eliminated this time.  On to the finals!

Castaways – Finally focused on some of the other people.  It was good to see a bit more of the others, and see more people meeting up.  It proves we do need others to help us survive both emotionally and physically.  Although having the right people certainly does help as they are also showing.

Suits – Nice to see Katrina back this week, although I’m very worried about where they are going with her now.  I hope Brian’s marriage is never at stake.  I really liked their friendship, too, so seeing this coming is going to be a problem.  Is it just me, or is Sam getting along with everyone a bit too quickly?  I thought they’d drag that out more.  And how fun was that last scene with Harvey and Louis?  I’m a bit surprised Louis didn’t come in and save the day with his client.  Does that mean we have a case that will last longer than one week?  I would like to hear a bit more about that one in future episodes.

Friday, August 24, 2018

And the Second Winner

I'm a bit late, but I have pulled the winner for Four Weddings and Maybe a Funeral.  And that winner is...

...Gloria!

I've sent you an e-mail, so be watching for that so I can be sure to connect you with your prize.

Book Review: Lost Luggage by Wendall Thomas (Cyd Redondo #1)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: Book takes a bit of time to get started
The Bottom Line:
Dreaming of a trip
That then goes horribly wrong
Fun, twisty story




Cyd’s Dream Vacation Turns Into a Nightmare

Obviously, I don’t get to all the books I want to read as soon as they are released.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.  It doesn’t help when a book crosses my radar a month or two after it has been released.  That was the case with Lost Luggage.  I was immediately intrigued, and the nominations for best first mystery it has received have helped keep my interest peaked.

This new series features Cyd Redondo, an expert travel agent in her uncle’s agency.  She is a master at working the system to get fabulous vacations for their clients for an amazing price.  There’s just one catch – she’s hardly traveled outside her neighborhood in New York.

But that is going to change when she is offered a promotion where she could win a trip for two to Africa if she sells enough tours.  Never mind that she doesn’t know who her plus one might be – she is determined to win.  Plus, it will give her a chance to check up on some of their guests in person, right?

Only, when she lands she learns that one couple is in jail.  And there seems to be an epidemic of lost luggage.  What is really going on?

The book gets off to a bit of a slow start.  Yes, it is at least partially set up, and we need it for what comes later.  However, since we know where the book is going, I was impatient for it to actually get there.

Once it did get going, it was a non-stop ride I didn’t want to put down.  Cyd is in a strange country with no idea who she can trust.  What’s not to love about that?  The twists were strong, and I didn’t see most of them coming.  I couldn’t imagine how she was going to get out of the situations she was in alive.

And the book is funny.  Cyd finds herself in some pretty funny situations, and her resourcefulness just adds to the fun.  I can’t imagine not only surviving but thriving in the situations she found herself in.  Instead, all I could do was laugh.

Obviously, I loved Cyd as a main character, but she is surrounded by some other strong characters.  We didn’t get to see most of them for very long, but the ones we did get to see were believable.

The book has just enough language, sex, and violence to not fit the cozy sub-genre that I normally read.  Some of that violence is against animals done by the bad guys; it’s mostly kept to two scenes you can easily skim through and it is vital to the plot.  Just keep that in mind when you pick up the book.

I know summer is winding down, but if you aren’t ready for it to end, here’s a perfect chance to go on another vacation.  Lost Luggage will make you thankful you aren’t on this particular trip while leaving you with a smile on your face.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Movie Review: Garage Sale Mystery - Picture a Murder

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery, fun subplots
Cons: Usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Antique camera
Captures a modern murder
Makes for fun movie

Clue in the Antique Camera

I always love it when the writers of a mystery series are able to come up with creative ways to work a theme into a mystery.  That was certainly the case with Picture a Murder, the latest in the Garage Sale Mystery movie franchise from Hallmark.

Jen (Lori Loughlin) and Dani (Sarah Strange) are thrilled when they get asked to sell some antique cameras on consignment.  Unfortunately, the cameras are for sale because of the death of Larry Brady, who was collecting them.

One of the cameras contains some old film, so Jen goes to get it developed.  While she is waiting to see what is on the film, Larry’s nephew, Tony, asks to speak with her.  He says that something was up with Larry, but he doesn’t know what.  Then Jen gets the pictures back.  One of them appears to show Larry struggling with someone.  Was his death a murder?  Can Jen figure out what happened?

There is a very strong mystery here with several viable suspects.  The clues that Jen has to go on aren’t much help to her, which makes the case much more fun for us.  Yet, Jen figures it out in the end and manages to escape once again unharmed.  No surprise there, but I enjoy seeing her get out of the close calls she finds herself in.

On the sub-plot front, Jason (Steve Bacic) is trying to help Dani find a temporary employee for the store and Logan (Connor Stanhope) has a secret about a paper he wrote for school this his sister Hannah (Eva Bourne) is determined to uncover.  One of these was fairly predictable, although I should have seen the ending of the other one coming.  I enjoy the supporting cast, so it is nice to see them having something fun to do.

Of course, this does come with my usual Hallmark cheese warning.  But as long as you know you are getting a Hallmark movie when you sit down to watch this, you’ll be just fine.

Using an antique camera to solve a modern murder turned out to not only be a great hook but a great mystery.  So sit back and watch Jen solve her latest case in Picture a Murder.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Review: Against the Claw by Shari Randall (Lobster Shack Mysteries #2)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, charming setting
Cons: Pacing in the first half
The Bottom Line:
Body in the bay
No one seems to know victim
Charming, fun filled book





Who Killed the Girl with the Pitchfork Tattoo?

I refuse to believe that summer is almost over.  How can that be possible?  So it was a pleasure to return to Mystic Bay, Connecticut, in Against the Claw.  The town, which is a huge vacation location, is just getting ready for the Fourth of July as the book opens.

Allie Larkin, normally a dancer, is still working for her Aunt Gully’s Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack while her broken ankle heals.  Since her aunt just opened this new business a few months ago, all help is appreciated, especially as they get ready for the crush of tourists coming for the holiday weekend.

However, it’s not all partying in town.  While Allie is out helping a friend on her lobster boat, the two find a dead body.  No one seems to know who she was; her biggest identifying mark being a pitchfork tattoo.  Who was she?  Why was she out in the middle of the bay?

Honestly, I thought I knew one plot point early on in this book, but instead the story surprised me at every point along the way.  I did think the book was wandering a little at times, especially in the first half.  It does become more focused in the second half as things begin to really pick up.  Even so, I hadn’t realized the importance of some events in the book until the climax, when Allie is able to bring things into perfect focus.

I enjoyed meeting Allie and the rest of the main cast in the first book, and I was just as happy with the time spent with them here.  They are a fun bunch, and reading about them is a pleasure.  The characters we meet in this book are just as much fun to spend time with.  Yet one of them is a killer.  And the fact that I liked them so much made it harder to figure out what was going on.

Then there’s the location.  I mentioned I’m holding on to summer as long as I can, right?  Mystic Bay is that perfect resort town you visit and want to move to.  There are ice cream stands, a local theater (where Allie is rehearsing for a show), a beach that Allie can walk to, and, of course, the lobster shack.

Speaking of which, Aunt Gully was persuaded to share her secret lobster sauce recipe this time around.  You’ll find it in the back of the book.

Against the Claw is a charming sequel filled with fun characters and delicious sounding food.  Despite the murder rate, I’m ready to move to Mystic Bay.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

First Winner of the Month

I just pulled the winner for A Dark and Twisting Path.  And that winner is...

...Chris!

I've sent you an e-mail, so please be looking for it to confirm your address.

Ornament Review: Christmas Windows #16 - Keepsake Korners Cafe - 2018 Hallmark Release


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute Christmas scene
Cons: The thought of sitting down outside makes me cold
The Bottom Line:
Take a break for treat
Fun Christmas details again
Make this a winner




Need to Recharge?  Stop by the Keepsake Korners Café for a Treat

I’ve been disappointed with Hallmark’s Christmas Windows series for the last couple years because they didn’t have a Christmas theme to them.  I’m very happy to say that has been fixed with the 2018 entry in the series.

This year, the ornament features a café, and even a quick glance tells you that this café is getting into the holiday spirit since the paint around the window is green and the awning out front is red and white striped.  Inside the window is a copper kettle of hot chocolate and a display rack of freshly baked cookies.  These treats are very festive – Santa heads and green stars.  They’ve actually set up a chair out front, and a little girl is sitting out there holding her hot chocolate and playing with her cat.  Behind the girl are red brinks and the café’s address, which just happens to be 2018.  When you turn the ornament around, you’ll see a sign advertising the special of the day – hot chocolate.  Under the window are shelves with cups, plates, a cake, and a tea pot.

I’m not a cold weather person – there is a reason I live in Southern California.  So the idea of sitting outside in the winter, even while drinking hot chocolate, is completely foreign to me.  Yet, there is something very cute about that aspect of the scene, and I appreciate the creativity, especially since this isn’t the first food place we’ve had in the series.  Overall, this is a very charming ornament that will make anyone who looks at it hungry and thirsty for Christmas treats.  Like I need an incentive to eat more sweets.

As with the rest of the series, this ornament has a nice flat base.  It is part of a building, after all.  You’ll also find the series marker on the bottom of the ornament.  Can you believe we are up to 16?

Not surprising, this ornament hangs straight.  The ornaments in this series all do that, so I’d be surprised if one didn’t.

It’s so wonderful to see this series once again the remembering the Christmas part of the Christmas Windows title.  I’m thrilled to have it in my collection.

Collect more of this town with the rest of the Christmas Windows series.

Original Price: $19.99

Monday, August 20, 2018

Book Review: Room for Doubt by Nancy Cole Silverman (Carol Childs Mysteries #4)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Enjoyable plot and characters
Cons: Moral ambiguity with plot; timeline issues
The Bottom Line:
Simple suicide
Quickly looks like more in this
Intriguing story




Suicide or a Serial Killer?

I always enjoy reading books set in Southern California, so it was with pleasure that I picked up Room for Doubt, the fourth Carol Childs mystery by Nancy Cole Silverman.  Carol is a reporter for a radio station here in Los Angeles, and this book finds her involved in another bizarre case.

It all begins when Carol receives a call very early in the morning.  A body has been found hanging from the Hollywood sign.  Carol arrives on the scene to find the police have ruled it a suicide.  She doesn’t quite believe it, but she doesn’t have anything to go on other than her gut.

Before the weekend is over, Carol has been contacted by Chase, a PI, who claims that this recent suicide is connected to two other suspicious deaths he is investigating.  Then Carol gets a phone call on her new late Sunday night show from someone calling herself Mustang Sally who all but admits to being responsible for the recent death.  What is really going on?


One reason I enjoy this series is the intriguing premises of the plots.  Yes, they do tend a little more to the traditional side of things than straight cozy, but that more serious side works well most of the time.  I was uncomfortable with where the plot of this book went, which I fun funny considering some of the TV shows I watch since I’m on the other side of things with those shows.  Carol did seem to struggle with her choices at the end, which I appreciated, but still, the moral ambiguity bugged me.

The plot itself is very intriguing with some complications that kept me turning pages.  I did find some timing issues in the middle of the book, but they didn’t have too big an impact on things.

In the first book, we met psychic to the stars Misty Dawn.  I was disappointed when I first learned she was going to be back in this book, but I didn’t mind her that much here.  Probably because her “talents” were only used once.  I don’t believe in psychics, so obviously having her talent being a huge factor in the outcome would bug me.  Outside of that, I found her a fun character and a good foil for Carol.

The rest of the cast is wonderful as always.  We get to see a bit more of Carol’s best friend, Sheri, in this book.  And I really liked Chase, the PI.  I hope we see lots more of him in future books.

Even with my qualms about the plot, Room for Doubt was still an enjoyable book.

You'll want to enjoy the rest of the Carol Childs Mysteries.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Diagnosis: Murder - Season 2


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mysteries to solve
Cons: A few weak episodes, I prefer later seasons more
The Bottom Line:
Doctor solving crime
Makes for fun mystery show
Still pleasure to watch




“I Like Playing Good Cop, Bad Cop.”  “You Want to Play Bad Cop Next Time?”  “Yeah!”

Diagnosis: Murder is a different type of medical mystery show.  Instead of trying to figure out why a patient has weird symptoms, we are solving murders.  What makes it a medical show?  The majority of the main characters work in a hospital.  And with Dick van Dyke leading the pack, how can it help be anything but fun.

Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick van Dyke) is a chief of internal medicine at Community General hospital in Los Angeles, where he works with Dr. Jack Stewart (Scott Baio) and Dr. Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell).  Mark spends time trying to avoid the hospital’s administrator, Norman Briggs (Michael Tucci), often with the help of Mark’s administrative assistant Delores Mitchell (Delores Hall).

And he gets involved in murders, much to the annoyance of his son, LAPD homicide investigator Steve Sloan (Barry van Dyke).  When he does, Jack and Amanda are quick to jump in and help him solve things, with Norman and Delores sometimes helping as well.  Over the course of this season, they get involved when Mark’s accountant dies while Mark is being audited, the members of a board that Norman is on start dying, a body at the hospital keeps vanishing, a mobster dies after Mark operates on him, and a string of suicides are tied to a dating service.

The show can really change tone from episode to episode.  A perfect example is mid-season, when Mark’s annoying sister, played by Betty White, arrives in town and drives everyone crazy while they try to solve the murder of her real estate agent in her new home.  The very next episode involves the murder of a boxer, and is much more serious in tone.  Oh, there is usual something fun in each episode, Dick van Dyke is the main character after all.  How can you have a serious show when Mark Sloan does his hospital rounds in roller skates?

The one thing this season is missing are opened mysteries – mysteries where we know who did it, and the suspense comes from watching Mark and the gang catch them.  This show would often mix things up by including these alongside the traditional “who done it” type of mystery, but that’s not the case this season.

I started watching the show near the beginning of season 5 so I must admit I have never really connected well with Norman, Delores, and Jack since they were all before my time.  Even having watched both of Delores and Jack’s season’s now, I still find I prefer Jessie, who arrives next season.  It’s also funny seeing episodes where Mark and Steve don’t share the beach house, something that was a staple of the later seasons.

On the fun side, there is the episode where Amanda wins a day on the set of The Young and the Restless.  Why is it so much fun?  Victoria Rowell played Drucilla on that soap at the same time she was playing Amanda on this show, and the script pokes some fun at that.  While I had seen some of these episodes in reruns, I don’t think I had seen that one before.

The mysteries themselves are good.  I rarely have a clue what is going on before Mark figures it all out.  There are a couple of clunkers over the course of the season, but for the most part the mysteries work.

And the acting is fine as well.  It’s very clear that everyone is having fun, yes, even Norman.  I may not like Norman, but Michael Tucci is clearly enjoying his time on the show.

Season 2 consisted of 22 episodes, and they are all preserved in this six-disc set.  There are no extras, and the full frame picture has a few flaws.  Likewise, the sound, which is stereo, won’t blow you away.  But since this is a mid-90’s TV show, the picture and sound fit the show.  And fans of the show won’t complain since they get to enjoy spending time with these characters again.

And really, that’s the highlight of the show.  These characters are fantastic, and I love getting to see them in action again.  If you are a fan of Diagnosis: Murder, you’ll enjoy getting lost in this season 2 set.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

August 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – Was that the first time someone fell on the new steps?  And it happened twice in the episode, too.  No big surprises as to who finished, at least for me.  And that includes the women who were competing.

Castaways – I’m glad that various people are meeting up.  I don’t see people lasting the entire time, however long it turns out to be, on their own.  Heck, there were people we didn’t even hear from this time, so it’s obviously pretty boring TV, too.  I’m surprised someone quit already.

Suits – I could really do without all the details of Louis and Sheila trying to have kids.  Then again, I struggle to like them as characters as it is.  Definitely a family theme to the episode with all the storylines.  Now that Alex and Samantha both have all their cards on the table, things are about to get very interesting.

Take Two – After last week’s dive into Sam’s past, we got to see more about Valetik’s past.  I liked the character development, although I must say I think the two of them are becoming true partners way too quickly.  I’m not saying I don’t like them working together.  In fact, the more I watch, the more I like it.  It just seems way too fast, at least for a TV show.

TKO – Another super close finish.  I can’t believe the top three times were all under 6 minutes.  I thought the guy who ran first might be bumped to second, but I figured the guy who ran second would definitely win.  Just shows how wrong I can be.  All five of the times were outstanding.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Book Review: Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #12)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery and characters
Cons: Take the Darkness in the title seriously
The Bottom Line:
A case from the past
Elvis must learn the truth now
Compelling myst’ry




Cole’s Latest Client – His Reputation

When you are a private investigator, you need a client to get involved in a case, right?  After all, you’ve got to make money or there’s no point in putting your life in danger.  Yet that’s just what Elvis Cole does in Chasing Darkness – gets involved in a case without a client hiring him.  Then again, considering the case, his willingness to jump in makes perfect sense.

It all starts with the discovery of Lionel Byrd’s body in a home he was renting under an assumed name.  It appears to be suicide, but what makes it capture the police’s attention is the photo album found at his feet.  It contains pictures of women who have been murdered over the years.

And the police immediately head to Elvis Cole for answers.  You see, three years ago, Elvis had been hired by Lionel’s lawyer when Lionel was arrested for murder – the murder of one of the victims in the book.  And Elvis came up with an ironclad alibi for him.  While the police are just interested in his records from his investigation, Elvis is wondering what is going on.  He knows he was right three years ago.  So, what is really happening?  Is there still a serial killer out there ready to strike again?

The premise captured my attention immediately.  The evidence makes it hard to argue with the conclusion the police have reached, so I enjoyed watching Elvis try to figure out what is truly happening.  He hits a few dead ends and makes a couple of wrong turns along the way, but I was with him every step of the journey.  The climax leaves a few things up in the air, but Elvis acknowledges most of them as answers he’d still love to get but knows he never will.  Yes, this is one mystery that doesn’t wrap things up neatly while still giving us a satisfying answer to the big mystery.  It works.

Fans of Elvis’ partner Joe Pike will be disappointed to learn that he is more absent than usual in his book.  This is really Elvis’ story, and he shines in it.  We see a few other series regulars.  I’m happy to say that Carol Starkey was a fine addition to things here, and even John Chen wasn’t as creepy and annoying as normal.  Then again, he didn’t get much page time.  The rest of the characters come across as real as the book progresses.

You do need to take the title seriously.  This is a dark book, even for this semi-noir series.  The crimes are horrific and we get some detail about them that honestly, I could have done without.  Even Elvis’ trademark wit is in shorter supply than normal.  The book is definitely still worth reading, especially for fans of the series, but just know this going in.

Once again, I listened to the audio book narrated by James Daniels.  He’s done several of the audio books in the series now, and I’m enjoying his take on the characters.  I do wish they wouldn’t filter the dialogue that is coming through the phone, but that’s a production issues in many audio books that annoys me, and it’s a minor annoyance overall.

Chasing Darkness is another fine book that will please fans of author Robert Crais.  Grab it today and watch the pages fly.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Mysteries.

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Book Review: Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness Mysteries #12)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Character growth, compelling mystery, lots of fun
Cons: Slow start, repetitive early sub-plot
The Bottom Line:
Wedding planning and
Mysteries at country estate
Make up this fun book




Is It the Summer of Weddings for Lady Georgianna?

Over the last several books in the Royal Spyness series, we’ve been building to several different weddings.  Both Lady Georgianna’s mother and grandfather are looking to get remarried while Georgie herself is planning her wedding to Darcy O’Mara.  All of these weddings are planned for the summer of 1935, which just happens to be the time period for Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding, the latest in the series.

Georgie is discovering that planning a wedding when you are a member of the royal family is tricky.  Even though she is giving up her claim on the throne since Darcy is an Irish Catholic, she is still related to the royal family, and Queen Mary is expecting to be invited as well as offering suggestions on who from the European royals might want to attend.

But the biggest concern that Georgie and Darcy are facing is where they will live when they are married.  The solution comes from the most unlikely place when they are offered a country manor half an hour from London.  Georgie heads out to begin setting it up for after the wedding, but she quickly discovers that something isn’t right.  She expected the skeleton staff, but something about the servants doesn’t seem right.  What is really going on?

The book starts with the usual updates on the people in Georgie’s life as well as some wedding plans.  Those who are familiar with the series won’t be surprised by this since many books in the series take some time with set up and characters updates.  I did find this part a little slow, but my biggest issue with this part of the book was a sub-plot that was very recycled.  I was really hoping that Georgie had matured beyond this by now.

However, once Georgie arrives at her potential new home, things definitely pick up.  This isn’t a typical murder mystery plot, and I loved the book for it.  Instead, it incorporates some Gothic elements as Georgie tries to figure out what in the world is going on.  This part kept me glued to the page as I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.  And the climax?  Wonderful!  In fact, I found the entire final part of the book to be very satisfying.

I was also very impressed with the character growth we saw in Georgie in this portion of the book.  I couldn’t picture the Georgie of the earlier books dealing with what she faces here, yet she does it with style.  She isn’t the only character I enjoyed in this portion of the book.  I won’t spoil who it is, but there is another character who has changed quite a bit for the better.  And it’s a character I used to despise, too.  The rest of the cast is wonderful as well, but these two really stood out to me.

Wondering if there is a wedding or three?  I’m not going to spoil that for you, you’ll need to read the book yourself to find out.

Fans of this series will be very satisfied by Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding.  This is another fun visit with our favorite minor royal.

And if you need more, check out the rest of the Royal Spyness Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Giveaway!

Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Thursday August 23rd, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 8/23.  You will have until midnight on 8/28 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 8/29.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Movie Review: Garage Sale Mystery - The Mask Murder

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, continuity with supporting characters
Cons: Normal cheese, mask tie in weak
The Bottom Line:
Jen returns for a
Storage unit murder that
Will entertain fans

“These Are Death Masks.”  “That’s Not Creepy at All.” 

Storage lockers make great set ups for mysteries since you never know what you will find inside them, and a dead body is very easy to hide in them.  So, I’m not that surprised that it was the set up for The Mask Murder, this week’s new entry in Hallmark’s Garage Sale Mystery movie franchise.

Jen (Lori Loughlin) and Dani (Sarah Strange) are heading to a storage locker auction hoping to score some bargains for their store, Rags to Riches.  They are excited when they realize just what is in the locker they win.  With dollar signs in their eyes, they begin to move stuff to their store.

When Jen goes back for the final load, the owner of the facility asks if she would be interested in another locker owned by the same person as the one she already bought.  Excited by the prospect, Jen immediately agrees to take a look at it.  However, when she raises the door, Jen finds a dead body.  The young woman was an employee of the storage facility.  What could have led to her death?

Once again, Jen is off on a mystery that contains plenty of viable suspects and twists before we reach the logical climax.  I did feel the mask tie in was a little weak, but the rest was so strong, I’m certainly not complaining.

On the sub-plot front, the rest of Jen’s family gets involved in a fund-raising competition at Hannah’s college while Dani has a chance to reconnect with an old flame, Drew (Matthew Harrison), who we actually met in one of the movies from last summer.  It was nice to see a love interest for Dani brought back.  Meanwhile, Hannah (Eva Bourne) is still dating Officer Ryan (Cory Rempel), who we met in the previous movie.  I’m hoping that both pieces of continuity actually last.  As always, it was such fun to see the characters again.

And, as always, there’s the Hallmark cheese factor.  It seemed to be worse when the sub-plots were the focus rather than the main mystery.  Still, as long as you know to expect this going into the movie, you’ll be perfectly fine.

Hallmark’s mystery movies have quickly become addictive for me, and The Mask Murder was another pleasing one.  If you are a fan, you’ll enjoy it as well.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Review: A Dark and Twisting Path by Julia Buckley (Writer's Apprentice Mysteries #3)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot and charming characters keep the pages turning
Cons: Timeline issues in the early pages, but minor overall
The Bottom Line:
Sam is framed again
Strong third book in this series
Will keep fans happy




Lena’s Path Continues to be Enjoyably Twisty

After the cliffhanger that ended the second book in the Writer’s Apprentice Mysteries, I was really looking forward to learning what happened next in A Dark and Twisting Path, the next book in the series.  I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint at all.

It’s been a few months since we last checked in with Lena London and the rest of the residents of Blue Lake.  In that time, Lena and best-selling suspense author Camilla Graham have gone on a tour to launch their first official book written together.  However, there has been no sign of baby Athena, and Sam West, Lena’s boyfriend, hasn’t given up trying to help his ex-wife recover her baby.

Lena has hardly gotten back to town when she gets a call from her friend Allison, who has just discovered a dead body at the edge of her property.  While Allison’s husband recently argued with the victim, Lena recognizes the letter opener sticking out of the victim as one she gave Sam.  Why is someone trying to frame him again for murder?

For those who aren’t familiar with this series, Camilla is writer who specializes in Gothic books, so these books have a bit of a Gothic feel more than a traditional, straight cozy.  That means we don’t get the typical suspects and puzzle.  As long as you know that when you sit down to read the book, you’ll be perfectly fine.

Why do I say that?  Because this is a fast-paced book with something always happening to keep us engaged.  I hardly wanted to put the book down and finished it in two days.  I was very satisfied when I finished the book.

I do have a small niggle, however, and that is with the timing of events in the first few chapters.  The characters can’t seem to remember when certain events happened.  As you know, this is a pet peeve, but after the first 40 pages, it was no longer an issue, and the timing wasn’t a key factor to the story.

While the plot may not be typical of a cozy mystery, I’d argue that the characters are closer to it.  We get a strong main character in Lena, who is determined to see justice done and to help those she loves.  The supporting characters are a fun mix, with a few eccentric characters thrown in for good measure.  The villain?  That is pure Gothic.  Okay, so I haven’t read any Gothic stories I’m aware of, so I’m guessing, but it certainly feels right to me.  As an added bonus, we get to meet Lena’s father and step-mother in this book; I really enjoyed getting to see them on the page and see a different side of Lena as a result of their presence.

Fans of the series will be thrilled with A Dark and Twisted Path.  If you haven’t picked up these books yet, you really shouldn’t jump in here.  Instead, go back to the beginning.  You’ll be enjoying this book before you know it.

Need to back up?  Here are the Writer’s Apprentice Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Giveaway!

Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Tuesday August 21st, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 8/21.  You will have until midnight on 8/26 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 8/27.