Friday, May 31, 2019

May 31st's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome to the final Book Beginning and Friday 56 for May 2019.  Hard to believe we are that far into the year, isn't it?

This week's book is A Baker Street Wedding by Michael Robertson.




If you aren't familiar with this series, it features a lawyer who has rented offices on Baker Street in London, and gets the letters people write to Sherlock Holmes as a result.  Different premise for sure.  This is the sixth in the series, and here is how it begins.

Laura Penobscott was too tall.

Okay, so maybe not the most intriguing opening, but I will admit it caught my attention.

Moving on to page 56, we find this:

"Now, don't be a city grump," said Laura.  "I know you don't like crows, ever since that incident in the Cotswolds, but this is nothing like that."

I'll be reviewing this book next week, so I do hope you'll come back to see my thoughts.

In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

May 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

Here we are at the end of May.  Must be time for this month's monthly reading summary.  As usual, the links take you to the full review.  And no, the index didn't get updated this month.  I even had a long weekend, and I still didn't do it.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).

The Scent of Murder by Kylie Logan (Jazz Ramsey #1) – 5
Jazz Ramsey is working on training Luther, a cadaver dog, in a construction site in her native Cleveland.  She has already planted something for him to find, but Luther indicates a find in a completely different room.  Sure enough, he’s found a body.  Even worse, it is the body of a former student at the all-girls school where Jazz works.  Jazz’s former boyfriend Nick has been assigned the case, and Jazz knows it is in good hands.  But she still can’t help but wonder what it was that lead the girl to her death.  As she begins poking around, she begins to uncover secrets.  Can she find out what got the young woman killed?

I’ve enjoyed several other books by Kylie Logan in the past, so I am not surprised I enjoyed this one.  But I am surprised by just how much I enjoyed it.  This is a little more serious than some of her other books, but that is no reason not to pick up the book.  The characters are compelling; even those we don’t spend much time with come across as real.  Jazz herself is fully formed and a wonderful main character.  The plot is strong with a steady helping of twists and clues to guide us to the logical conclusion.  The writing makes Cleveland come alive without distracting from the characters or the plot in any way.  This is a solid debut that already has me anxious for more.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Dying for Devil’s Food by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries #11) – 5
Mel Cooper is less than excited about her high school reunion because of all the bad memories she has from those years, yet she gets talked into going by her best friend, Angie, mainly because of the gig Angie gets them providing cupcakes for the event.  Once there, Mel finds herself beginning to make peace with her past, that is until she finds the dead body of Cassidy in the bathroom.  Cassidy was the worst bully in school, and just a couple hours with her has proved that things haven’t changed.  With her classmates looking at her as the killer, Mel knows she has to clear her name.  Can she do it?

Fortunately, most high school reunions aren’t nearly as bad as this one is.  But all the horrible people from Mel’s past make for wonderful suspects as she attempts to figure out what really happened to Cassidy.  What impressed me was that this book allowed for some growth in Mel and it showed us deeper suspects than I was expecting from the first few chapters.  This allowed the plot to move along at a quick pace with plenty of twists to keep me engaged.  Trust me, I didn’t want to put this book down until I reached the great climax.  There is a dose of humor mixed in that kept me smiling and laughing as I read.  Cupcake fans will be pleased with the three new cupcake recipes included at the back of the book.  It’s hard to read just one book in this series, and I’m already hungry for my next visit with Mel, Angie, and the rest of the gang.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

A Deadly Feast by Lucy Burdette (Key West Food Critic Mysteries #9) – 3
Hayley Snow’s wedding is just a few days away, and her list of things to do is long, as you’d expect.  She’s got family coming in from out of town, Thanksgiving the day before, and contractors to get working on the houseboat she wants to move into soon after she gets married.  So the last thing she needs to do is find herself embroiled in a mystery.  But when a woman on a seafood tour Hayley is covering for work drops dead, Hayley is asked by the friend who owns the company to find out what happened.  Can Hayley squeeze that into her busy week?

As you can see, there is plenty happening here, and I found the pages turning quickly.  Unfortunately, I felt the mystery suffered as a result.  It was often buried in everything else going on, and the resolution was rushed as a result.  But I do love these characters, and getting to spend time with them is wonderful as always.  I enjoyed getting to see a different side of a couple and have others return.  Thanks to these books, I’ve fallen in love with Key West, so it was fantastic to get to visit again.  It was a much-needed mini vacation.  There are nine new recipes for us to try; personally, I’m most intrigued by the pumpkin pie recipe.  While newcomers to the series won’t be as charmed with this outing, longtime fans will be happy to visit Hayley again here.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Spy School British Invasion by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #7) – 5
Ben Ripley and his team of fellow spies think they have been handed the key to finally taking down the evil organization SPYDER.  As it so happens, the key is a literal key.  Ben’s friends piece together that it most likely belongs to a storage space under the British Museum.  Since no one knows who in the CIA is really a SPYDER double agent, only Ben and his friends from Spy School can be trusted to go and retrieve whatever the item might be.  And so Ben, Mike, Zoe, Erica, and Erica’s parents make their way to London.  What will they find when they land?

This book picks up moments after the previous book in the series ended, so it does discuss some of what happened in that book.  As a result, if you want to go into that book completely surprised, you’ll want to read the books in order.  But that’s no problem since the entire series is so fun.  Once again, we get a wild ride filled with twists, turns, and extremely narrow escapes.  Yet in the quieter moments, we get to see some depth and growth in the characters, which I loved.  The action can be a bit over the top, but that plays into the comedy of the book and series perfectly.  I might not have laughed quite as much as I did while reading the previous book, but I was chuckling before I finished the first page, and I did grin and laugh the entire way through.  Middle Graders will love this book, and anyone looking for a fun read will be glad they picked it up as well.

Double Whammy by Gretchen Archer (Davis Way #1) – 3
Former police officer Davis Way has finally landed a new job.  She’s working as undercover security at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.  The first thing she’s asked to do is figure out how someone is rigging the Double Whammy machines to win the jackpot.  She’s just started the investigation when she makes a startling discovery – the person getting the jackpots is her ex-ex-husband, a man she doesn’t want back in her life.  Can she figure out how he is rigging the machines without crossing his path?

I’ve had this series and this book on my radar for a while.  While I don’t gamble, the casino setting intrigued, and I know this series is very popular.  Unfortunately, this is one of those books that entertains while you are reading, but when you set it down, you begin to see the flaws.  There is a good plot here, but it gets distracted several times with sub-plots that slow things down.  I did like how Davis’s complicated past is given to us in flashbacks spread out over the entire novel; it helps give some of her actions more context.  Unfortunately, I felt she made some very stupid decisions over the course of the novel, especially in the final third.  There’s a complication in that final third that stretched my ability to suspend disbelief as well.  It’s a shame because I liked the characters and can see them growing even more over the course of a series.  This book describes itself as a comic caper, and I’ve found that some just don’t work for me, and I think that’s the case here.  I know the series has many fans, but this debut didn’t work for me as well as I wanted it to.

NOTE: I bought the original release of this novel a couple years ago, but I read the edited special edition thanks to the author.

Murder in Little Italy by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #8) – 5
Midwife Sarah Brant is called to the Ruocco family for a birth in their home over their Italian restaurant.  Antonio’s new Irish wife is in labor, but she is two months early.  However, when the baby arrives, Sarah begins to suspect that the baby is actually full term and Nainsi lied about when she got pregnant.  When Sarah returns for her follow up visit the next day, she finds that Nainsi died in the night – although she quickly realizes that Nainsi didn’t die from complications from child birth and sends for Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy.  Since Frank is Irish, his presence draws suspicion from the family.  As the racial tensions in the city over this incident begin to rise, Frank must find a way to solve the case.  Can he do it with Sarah’s help?

This is another engrossing trip back in time.  These books suck me into another time and place.  The mystery here is strong and takes up much of the book, only allowing for brief updates on ongoing stories.  However, the case is more than enough to keep us turning pages.  Frank and Sarah continue to be strong leads.  Frank is a little more dominant in this book, but Sarah still makes significant contributions to solving the case.  There are twists, red herrings, and a strong group of suspects.  I really could have believed anyone was guilty until Frank and Sarah figured things out at the end.  As always, this book was over all too quickly.  You can bet I’ll be back in time with these characters soon.

The Narrows by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #10) – 5
The Poet is back, and he is calling out FBI agent Rachel Walling.  She has been summoned from a field office in South Dakota to a burial scene in Las Vegas to help the FBI track down this serial killer once and for all.  Meanwhile, retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch has been asked to investigate the death of a friend by his widow.  Everyone thought this death was natural causes, but Bosch begins to agree that there was something suspicious about his death.  Where will the investigation lead?

While The Poet wasn’t originally part of the Harry Bosch series, this is a direct sequel to that Michael Connelly book.  If you haven’t read it, you’ll definitely want to since it spoils twists in that book, and the story here will mean more to you as well.  It is obvious to us that these two investigations are going to come together, and Connelly does a great job of keeping us entertained as he lays that ground work.  We get plenty of twists as we go along, and the book kept me engrossed until we reached the very end.  We get some follow up on the twist in Bosch’s personal life from the end of the previous book, and I enjoyed seeing his character grow as a result.  The rest of the cast is just as strong, which is no surprise.  We get the story from Bosch’s first-person point of view as well as the third-person point of view of other characters; these switches are never confusing and really enhance the story.  Obviously, this is a darker book than my normal cozies, but I knew that going in and that didn’t bother me.  This is another masterpiece from a wonderful writer.

The 18th Abduction by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women’s Murder Club #18) – 4
Three teachers have gone missing in San Francisco, and all eyes are on San Francisco police officer Lindsay Boxer as she is leading the hunt for them.  Unfortunately, there are few leads.  Can she find anything before it is too late?  Meanwhile, her new husband, Joe Molinari, has found a woman near the FBI’s San Francisco office.  This woman, Anna, claims to have just seen a known war criminal from her native Serbia in the city.  Is she right?  What is he doing there?  Can Joe make sure this man receives the justice he deserves?

Outside the prologue and epilogue, this book takes place five years in the past, meaning that some of the recent stupidity in Joe and Lindsay’s marriage has been forgotten.  I couldn’t be happier about that.  The story is another fast-paced mystery against overwhelming odds that keep the pages turning.  It even gave me something I’ve been wanting for a long time in this series (no spoilers, don’t worry).  Unfortunately, most of the Women in the Women’s Murder Club are reduced to cameos as the plot drives forward.  The characters continue to be fairly thin, but that’s no surprise to fans.  We get into Anna’s past and the war crimes that took place in Serbia, so expect the heavier subject matter when you pick up this book.  Overall, fans of the series should be happy with this latest offering.

Forget Me Knot by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #1) – 4
Martha Rose and her friends Lucy and Birdie was considering expanding their Tuesday quilting group, but when they show up to Claire Terry’s house that Tuesday morning, they find Claire’s dead body.  Then, one of her quilts is stolen from an expo that weekend, and Martha really begins to wonder what is happening.  Is the quilt theft related to Claire’s death?

I don’t tend to pick up as many crafting cozies as I do other sub-genres, but I’m glad I made an exception for this book.  The pacing was a little uneven early on, but the book is setting up a great second half, and that half completely had me hooked as the twists began to come quickly, leading to a great climax.  The book does venture into some darker waters for a cozy, but I felt it handled them well.  The characters, both series regulars and suspects, are all strong, and I really began to like the main trio by the end.  I did find the very occasional political sniping in the first half a little off putting.  I suspect it was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it that way.  Hopefully, this is dropped as the series progresses.  Unlike many cozies, this one is set in the suburban sprawl of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County.  This is just south of where I live, so I enjoyed seeing places I recognize in the book, and I still felt this had the cozy charm despite the larger setting.  It is easy to see why this series has done well, and I hope to find time for the sequel at some point soon.

Murder in Red by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #49) – 4
When Jessica Fletcher’s friend Mimi Van Dorn collapses, Jessica is naturally concerned, but when Mimi passes away later that night, Dr. Seth Hazlitt thinks she had help.  Naturally, Jessica starts investigating, and she quickly finds evidence that Mimi was indeed murdered.  Does the new clinic outside town hold the answers to Mimi’s death?  Or is a secret from her past responsible for her murder?  Jessica will have to figure it out fast since another old friend has checked into the new clinic and could be in mortal danger himself.

Yes, we are once again in Cabot Cove and environs for much of the book, although Jessica finds herself traveling quite a bit as she tries to piece together this puzzle.  Things start off a bit slowly, but they gain speed as the book progresses, and by the end I was completely hooked.  Part of the early slowness are attempts to develop Jessica with her thoughts about life, but they come across as forced and don’t add much to the book.  Still, I was turning pages quickly at the end to see just how Jessica would bring everything together.  I was happy to find that the foul language that has bothered me in the last two books wasn’t present here, which is much more like the franchise of old.  I was also happy to find that Jessica’s relationships with Seth and Sheriff Mort Metzger were much closer to how I remember them from the TV series.  George Sutherland, a recurring character in the books, is present here and I enjoyed getting to meet him for the first time.  Fans of the franchise will be very happy with this book.  I know I was.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich and Peter Evanovich (Fox and O’Hare #6) – 2
Unlikely duo FBI agent Kate O’Hare and former (maybe) conman Nick Fox have been asked to look for a tech billionaire known to pretty much everyone as The Big Kahuna.  He disappeared a few days ago, but Kate and Nick are shocked to find that both his wife and his business partner are already hoping to have him declared dead.  Kate and Nick aren’t willing to declare him dead yet; they think he might be hiding out in Hawaii.  With Kate’s father and Cosmo, another FBI agent, tagging along, they set out to see if they can find him.  However, it appears someone wants The Big Kahuna dead.  Can they find him in time?  Or will they lead the killers right to him?

The last book in this series was three years and a different co-author ago, and it shows.  Nick and Kate are shadows of themselves, with Kate going to Nick for plans on everything instead of them working as partners.  Their romantic relationship has gone back several books, too, and yet they don’t appear to be hiding the fact that they work together professionally.  Kate’s dad is just a caricature now, and the new characters are one note jokes, per se, which makes spending so much time with them painful.  While the plot does include a couple of small cons, it is nowhere near as elaborate and therefore fun as the previous books.  Really, any group of characters could have been the stars of this plot.  The pacing is uneven, especially early on when we get travelogues of Hawaii.  We could have easily cut 30 pages without noticing at all, and in a book that already reads short, that is saying something.  I did get hooked as I went along, but I think the flaws would have been more frustrating if I hadn’t been able to knock the book out in a couple of days.  I borrowed this book from my local library, but I’m not sure even that price (free) will be enough to get me to come back if Nick and Kate have any more adventures.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Book Review: The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich and Peter Evanovich (Fox and O'Hare #6)


Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: The plot is fun at times
Cons: Characters are bad, pacing is uneven
The Bottom Line:
Nick and Kate are back
In name only.  Characters
Nothing like we know




The Big Letdown

I’m not normally a Janet Evanovich reader, but I made an exception for the Fox and O’Hare series because of the co-writer, Lee Goldberg.  I’ve been a fan of his books for a long time.  I found the first five books in the series to be fun capers, and it is nice to get outside my normal cozy sub-genre every so often.  Book five in the series came out almost three years ago, but I’ve been tracking The Big Kahuna, the sixth in the series.  Its release kept being delayed, and I noticed that Janet’s son, Peter, was now listed as the co-author.  Undeterred, I requested it from the library.  I’m glad that is how I got the book.

If you are new to the series, Kate O’Hare is an FBI agent who spent years of her career tracking down master thief and conman Nick Fox.  However, once captured, Nick offers his services to the FBI, and Kate reluctantly starts working with him quietly as they concoct elaborate cons to take down dangerous criminals that couldn’t be touched any other way.  Meanwhile, the two slowly begin to admit their growing feelings for each other.

Or at least that was the premise for the first five books in the series.

This book finds the pair asked to look for a tech billionaire known to pretty much everyone as The Big Kahuna.  He disappeared a few days ago, but Kate and Nick are shocked to find that both his wife and his business partner are already hoping to have him declared dead.  Kate and Nick aren’t willing to declare him dead yet; they think he might be hiding out in Hawaii.  With Kate’s father and Cosmo, another FBI agent, tagging along, they set out to see if they can find him.  However, it appears someone wants The Big Kahuna dead.  Can they find him in time?  Or will they lead the killers right to him?

Fans of the series can already spot the big complaint with this book.  This is not a Fox and O’Hare plot.  Yes, we do pull off a couple of small cons, but nowhere near the big scale con that would require Nick’s skills, and we don’t need any of the regular crew to pull them off.  Any detective can hunt for a missing person which is really what happens here, and that’s not what Nick and Kate do.

Then there are the characters.  Kate is supposed to be a take no prisoners FBI agent who is one of the best agents in the country.  Here, Nick takes the lead on most of what they do, and Kate lets him, relying on him to make all the decisions.  Yes, he used to take the lead on the cons, but Kate would lead on other parts of each mission.  They had a dynamic that worked well with both of them bring something to the partnership, but that isn’t the case here at all.  Furthermore, their romantic relationship seems to have backtracked about four books.  Granted, it’s been three years since I read book 5, so I am hazy about how that book left things, but I seem to remember them being a couple, at least much as they could since they couldn’t acknowledge they were working together in public.  Now, we are back to Nick flirting with a Kate who doesn’t want to have anything more than she has to with him.

Speaking of being seen in public, they also have meetings in the FBI together, and fly a commercial flight together, again things they never would have done in previous books.

I’ve said in the past that the characters have never been the strong point of the series, but clearly there was something to the characters in the past if I feel this strongly about Kate and Nick.  Kate’s father, likewise, becomes a caricature of his former self with some moments that are very out of character for him.  Cosmo was in the earlier books, but he only had a scene or two, which was good since he is funny in extremely small doses.  We get too much of him here.  And the new characters?  They are all one note jokes, per se, and those notes are used as much as possible to try to get us to laugh.  They would have been funny in small doses, but not as major characters.

Then there’s the plot.  It starts off slowly with long passages describing places in Hawaii.  Granted, they made me want to visit the islands, but it also took much longer than it needed to at times.  They could have cut out 30 pages easily and the book already reads short as it is.  I did find myself getting into the story at times, and I cared enough to want to know how it ended.  There are some fun action sequences – improbable but still fun.  I was able to devote quite a bit of time to reading it over a weekend, which definitely helped.  If it had dragged on for too much longer, I would have gotten very frustrated with it.

Clearly, the fact that this book took so long to come out wasn’t to work out issues with the story to make it stronger.  I don’t know if any further books in the series are planned, but The Big Kahuna might be it for me, even if I can get further books from the library.

If you want some fun capers, do go back and check out the earlier books in the Fox and O’Hare series.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Book Review: Murder in Red by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #49)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery; familiar characters
Cons: A bit too much ruminating, a bit slow to start
The Bottom Line:
When friend is murdered
Jessica leaps to action
Fun, gripping story




Can Jessica Solve One Friend’s Murder to Save Another?

Thirteen years ago this month, Jessica Fletcher solved her last murder – on TV.  Thanks to the magic of tie-in novels, she has kept right on solving baffling cases, and Murder in Red in the latest of her exploits.

Jessica is feeling sad and a bit philosophical when the book opens since she is at a funeral.  Shockingly, it is a funeral of someone who died of natural causes, but it has still caused her to reflect on life and resolve to spend some time with those who holds dear.

However, the reception isn’t over before Mimi Van Dorn collapses.  She and Jessica are friends, serving together of the Friends of the Library Board.  Mimi is in a coma, but she takes a turn for the worse that night.  Dr. Seth Hazlett thinks Mimi had a little help, and Jessica quickly finds evidence that confirms his theory that Mimi’s death was murder.

Seth wasn’t happy because Mimi was one of his many patients who had been leaving his practice in favor of the Clifton Clinic that just opened up on the outskirts of Cabot Cove.  As Jessica tries to figure out what happened to her friend, she begins to wonder if Seth has good reason to not trust the clinic.  Or is there a secret from Mimi’s past that lead to her murder?  With another good friend going to the clinic for medical help, Jessica will have to figure things out quickly.

Despite being a fan of the TV show for years, this is only the third book I’ve read, so I don’t know if this has always been true or not, but I’ve noticed that in the three books I’ve read, we’ve spent a lot of time in Cabot Cove, Maine.  On one hand, I love that town and the characters there, but on the other, I keep defending the town as not being as deadly as everyone thinks since Jessica spent so much time traveling during the TV series.  The books are trying to prove me wrong!  Actually, there are some jokes in the book about the town’s high murder rate, and I must admit I laughed at them.  The trail does lead Jessica out of state, so we spend time traveling, mostly in New England, but the heart of the action is in Cabot Cove.

I have also found that the victims in the books I’ve read are closer to Jessica than in the TV show.  Usually in the show, she was trying to clear family or friends of murder, here, friends seem to be the victims.  This gives the book more of a somber tone, but it also still drives Jessica to solve the murder.  She learns some surprising things about Mimi along the way to the ultimate solution, which was logical and had an action-packed climax.  I question whether Jessica could have really pulled that climax off, but this is fiction, so I’ll let it slide.

This is the first book I’ve read that features George Sutherland, a Scotland Yard inspector who was introduced in the books and has been an occasional love interest for Jessica, something that has apparently divided fans.  (Personally, I always thought she’d get together with one of the characters from the show, so her having a love life again doesn’t surprise me.)  Anyway, I had to look him up to see who he was.  That’s what I get for jumping into the series of books so late, right?  Anyway, I enjoyed meeting him.  Naturally, we get to see Seth Hazlitt and Sheriff Mort Metzger again.  I found their relationship with Jessica to be much closer to the TV series in this book than the last book, which I was happy to see.  The rest of the cast are strong as well; there isn’t a weak character in the bunch.

When I’ve reviewed the last two books, I’ve commented on the foul language that was scattered throughout, surprising since it was out of place for this franchise.   I was happy to find this book was completely free of foul language.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I did find the beginning a tad slow, partially because Jessica spent time ruminating on life.  She ruminates some other times over the course of the book; I know this is supposed to be part of her character development, but it was feeling a bit forced to me here.  Fortunately, the plot did build and I was very hooked before too much time passed and once again couldn’t put it down the closer I got to the end.

Over the twelve years of Murder, She Wrote on TV, Jessica Fletcher build a loyal fan base.  Any of those fans will be happy to pick up Murder in Red and revisit this old friend.  I know I was.

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 June 4th, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 6/4.  You will have until midnight on 6/9 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 6/10.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Cookie Review: Neapolitan Joe Joe's


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creative Neapolitan cookie
Cons: Strawberry is the predominate flavor (not that I’m complaining)
The Bottom Line:
Neapolitan
Transformed into a cookie
Delicious dessert

Delicious Mix of Flavors

I think I’ve proved over the years that I am willing to try the many variations of Oreo’s that Nabisco comes up with.  I mean, if you check out the index, you’ll find I’ve reviewed a few of them over the years.  And, while I’ve never reviewed any, the same goes for the varieties of Joe Joe’s, Trader Joe’s knock off of the popular cookie.  So, when I was in my local Trader Joe’s store a couple of weeks ago and spotted the Neapolitan Joe Joe’s on the new item shelves, I had to give them a try.

If you are familiar with all things Neapolitan and Oreo (I mean Joe Joe), then you pretty much know what to expect here.  One of the cookies is chocolate, the other is vanilla.  And the cream in the middle?  It’s strawberry flavored, of course.

There is a reason Neapolitan is popular; the three flavors mix together well.  And they mix together well here as well.  The strawberry center seems to be the strongest flavor, with that sweetness standing out while you are eating the cookie.  But don’t count out the chocolate cookie.  The vanilla cookie is overpowered by the other two, so it is basically eating a chocolate strawberry.  What’s not to love?  I’m actually not a fan of Neapolitan ice cream because I’m not a fan of chocolate ice cream.  But since the chocolate is in a cookie here, which I love, I think these are delicious.

Of course, they aren’t healthy for you.  Yes, Trader Joe’s might sell some healthier items, but these are cookies.  They aren’t healthy, and they aren’t supposed to be healthy.  Just keep that in mind before you scarf down an entire box.  (No, I haven’t, but it sure is tempting.)

While not every flavor experiment is for everyone, I’m certainly glad I tried Neapolitan Joe Joe’s.  If you think you might like them, I highly recommend you find a box next time you are in Trader Joe’s.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Movie Review: Aladdin (2019)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great additions for Jasmine; overall fun
Cons: A bit slow
The Bottom Line:
Familiar story
Is visually awesome
Fun, adds little new




Make Way for Prince Ali – Again

It has taken me a long time, but I am slowly warming up to these live action remakes Disney is doing of their animation classics.  Maybe my expectations have been lowered, or maybe they are starting to find a way to capture more of the magic.  Either way, the more previews I saw for Aladdin, the more excited I got for this new version.  I was so excited, in fact, that I went to see it during a preview screening Thursday night.

If you are already familiar with the tale, you pretty much know what to expect here.  When we first meet Aladdin (Mena Massoud), he is a street urchin stealing to make ends meet.  While in the market one day, he runs into a beautiful woman clearly from the palace, never realizing his new crush is really Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).  Unfortunately, he’s also captured the interest of Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) who needs a “diamond in the rough” to enter the cave of wonders to retrieve a magic lamp – a lamp with a Genie (Will Smith) in it.

This movie sticks very close to the classic animated movie.  Oh, it makes some changes, but most of them are superficial (I’ll discuss the biggest change in a few minutes).  They may present something in a new way, but the end result is the same.  So, if you like the original movie, you’ll certainly enjoy the story here.

That includes keeping the original songs.  Honestly, since I love the music from this film, I was glad to see them include the songs here.  “One Jump Ahead” gets a different arrangement, and it feels a bit off to me.  But I suspect after a couple of listens I will better appreciate it.  The rest, while clearly new arrangements of the original songs, also feel like old familiar friends.

Visually, the movie is stunning.  They’ve recreated an old Arab city, and the sets and costumes take you to a whole new world.  (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)  There is quite a bit of computer effects in the movie, and they look very realistic.  Oh, I caught one or two moments that didn’t quite work, but I bought 99% of the film, must better than the previews for the movie looked, actually.

The biggest flaw in the film for me is the pacing.  It feels slow.  Now, as much as I love the original, I will freely admit it is a bit slow until Robin William’s Genie makes his first appearance.  This movie does pick up after Will Smith shows up as the Genie as well, but it still feels a bit slow.  It doesn’t help that there are some scenes where both Aladdin and Genie make complete fools of themselves.  They are played for laughs, but those kinds of scenes usually make me cringe more than laugh.  Even with those pacing issues, I enjoyed the movie overall.  I think there will be enough to keep kid’s interest, although the climax might be too intense for those who are easily frightened.  It’s different from the original, which was also intense, but this one is intense in its own way.

While the original Jasmin was a strong woman, part of this movie is Jasmin’s transition into a stronger woman.  She is never one who wants to just take on the role as wife to some prince, but she really grows as the movie unfolds.  That is reflected in the new song written for her character, which I absolutely loved.  Jasmin has never had a good solo song – there was none in the original movie, and the songs added for the stage versions I’ve seen (at California Adventure and on Broadway) weren’t that good.  They nailed it here, and I absolutely loved it and the scene where she really takes a stand.

The movie also adds a second romance which was a ton of fun.  I loved how they played it.

No, this Aladdin is not the original.  Yet it is still fun and entertaining.  If you enjoy these characters and this story, you’ll be glad you watched the remake.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

May 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Final two season finales of the year are in the books.  Of course, I started a new show the next night, and American Ninja Warrior is back in a big way next week, so I won't have any weeks with no TV at all.

Supergirl – They actually did a good job of wrapping things up, better than I thought they would.  And I didn’t feel like it was too preachy, although the crack about the 4th estate made me roll my eyes.  Definitely some interesting balls in motion for next season, including the fact that Lena now knows the truth.  And to think that I had finally relaxed, figuring she wasn’t going to turn evil despite the name.  Looks like they are setting her up to turn evil next season after all.  I’m a little bummed about that.  Would have been nice for her to be a non-traditional Luther.

Legends of Tomorrow – That was a packed episode, too packed.  Part of that comes from the fact that they have too many characters on the show.  I mean Zari has been on the show for two seasons now, and I’d mostly forgotten about her quest to save her family until they crammed it in to write her out.  Poor Nate doesn’t have good luck with love interests sticking around.  His sacrifice for Ray and brief reunion with his father was pretty good, however.

Blood & Treasure – I decided to give this new series a shot since it looked like it could be a lot of fun.  And I do see the potential in there.  But it wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped, plus it looks like we’ve got another long conspiracy to unravel.  Yes, I figured that would be the case, but still, I’m just not sure if I want to get into another show like that.  I may give it another shot next week, but we will see how I’m feeling then.

The Amazing Race – I’m so ready for Rachel to be off the race, so I was bummed that she came in last on a non-elimination leg (totally saw that coming, however) and then that she barely avoided elimination again.  Plus the preaching got to me as well – I actually fast forwarded through their 1st place finish.  The drum challenge didn’t change the order the teams finished in at all.  It was like almost everyone needed a practice run to figure it out.  The skyscraper challenge in the first hour was much harder than it sounded.  I was surprised it too the teams so long to get that figured out.

Hollywood Game Night – So, I’m unclear how it was any surprise how much money was raised during the episode.  I guess the final game if the team hadn’t gotten enough names guessed.  Other than that, the money “raised” was really just taking the place of the points.  Having said that, it was an absolutely blast to see the celebrities out there having fun, including Jennifer Garner and Kristen Bell since I’m big fans of both.  I think I was laughing hardest at Kristen not getting the clue involving her husband’s name, although having to come up with something so quickly under pressure, I absolutely get it.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Book Review: Forget Me Knot by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #1)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, good plot
Cons: Plot a little slow to start, a little (very little) political snipping
The Bottom Line:
When quilter murdered
Martha and friends ask questions
I was hooked by end




Can Martha Solve a Knotty Murder?

If you’ve noticed, I tend to stay away from the crafty cozies.  Most of the crafts featured don’t interest me (there are exceptions, of course).  It’s one reason why I have passed on Mary Marks’ Quilting Mysteries until now.  After seeing her at several events, I finally decided to give in and read the first, Forget Me Knot.  I’m glad I did because this book really grew on me.

Retirees Martha Rose and her best friends Lucy and Birdie have been getting together every Tuesday to quilt for a couple of years now, but they are thinking of adding a new member to their circle.  Claire Terry has invited them to come to her house this Tuesday, which surprises Martha since Claire is easily a decade younger than she is, and Martha is the youngest of the trio.  The friends arrive to a shocking discover – Claire’s dead body in her living room.

While the trio are sad, they figure the police will handle the investigation – that is until someone steals three quilts from a quilting show that weekend – Martha’s, Birdie’s, and Claire’s final prize-winning quilt.  It’s just too much of a coincidence for Martha, but what is the connection between Claire’s death and her quilts?

I felt the book started out a little uneven.  What I’ve teased happens early in the book, but then we spend some time with Martha investigating without it feeling like the book is going anywhere.  It is layering in some suspects, but it is only in the second half of the book that things really begin to pay off.  Once we hit that point, the twists begin to come at a steady pace.  Some of the twists lead us to some edgier motives for a cozy series, but the book handles them well.  The climax makes perfect sense and wraps everything up well, and there is a brilliant twist along the way.

We are meeting an entirely new cast of characters here, but they are already rich characters.  They are older than a typical cozy cast, but I really appreciated that since it’s always nice to see some variety in cozies.  Martha, Lucy, and Birdie are very distinct characters already, and we get to know various people in their lives as the book progresses.  We meet a wide range of suspects, too, as the book progresses, and I felt they were just as real as the series regulars.

One thing that did bother me a little were some political snipes.  I appreciate that politics rarely if ever comes into play in the cozies I read, so these were a surprise.  Even more so, they felt needless.  I suspect that they were intended to be funny, since I laughed at the last one in the book, but given all the politics in the world today, this did give me pause.  The book came out in 2014, and if that has continued in the series, I am worried about what the author is putting in the books today.  Fortunately, this dropped off as the plot got stronger in the second half; I am hoping it has dropped out of the series as it has gone along as well.

One reason I decided to pick up this series is that it is set in the suburban sprawl that is the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County.  I live just barely north of the San Fernando Valley, and I always enjoy reading books where I recognize the setting.  Again, this is a way that the series sets itself apart from other cozies – this isn’t a small town.  Yet, it still invokes the cozy feeling since we are investigating people in Claire’s life to find her killer.

It is easy to see why the seventh book in the series will be out this summer.  Not that I need another series to catch up on, but I will definitely be reading the sequel to Forget Me Knot to find out what happens next to Martha, Lucy, and Birdie.

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

May 24th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Yes, I missed last week, but I'm back this week for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring the latest Murder, She Wrote tie in novel - Murder in Red by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land.




This book will be out on Tuesday, and I'll have a review with giveaway up on release day.  But for now, let's look at how the book begins:

"Well, Jessica, at least I wasn't murdered."

And if you are a fan of the show at all (or familiar with it by reputation), you will get why I loved that first line so much.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

Amazing how something as unsavory as murder never failed to bring us closer, our lives as occasional companions seemingly centered on the deaths of others.

That's it for me this week.  Hope you have a great weekend, long one for some of us.  And I hope you'll stop back by on Tuesday for my review of this book.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Movie Review: Killer Sentence - A Hailey Dean Mystery

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, great characters
Cons: Strong dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Parolee victim
Plenty of strong suspects here
Good movie for fans

Murder of a Parolee

Hallmark’s Hailey Dean franchise has done something their other franchises haven’t started doing yet.  When they are given a chance to premier several movies in a row, they weave some threads through all the movies, culminating in the final film.  The threads introduced earlier in May came to a head in this week’s movie, Killer Sentence.

If you’ve been watching the movies premiering this month, you’ve seen that Hailey Dean (Kellie Martin) has been involved in a parole hearing for Clayton Morrel (Bradley Stryker), the first inmate she helped convict when she worked in the Atlanta DA’s office.  Despite her testimony and that of Paulina (Lauren Holly), the current head of the DA’s office, Clayton still received parole at the end of the second movie.  This film picks up four months later as those involved in his case are still trying to deal with his release.  Hit worst of all is Paulina.  She keeps misplacing work files, and she is trying to monitor Clayton in order to catch him breaking parole so she can send him back to jail.

Hailey is shocked to learn that Clayton has written an autobiography, and he is scheduled to do a book signing at a local bookstore.  She shows up to talk to him, only to discover the event has been canceled because he didn’t show up.  Worried, she goes to his house and finds him dead.  As the evidence piles up against Paulina, Hailey begins to investigate since she knows her friend couldn’t have done it.  But can Hailey find the truth?

This was a very strong mystery with multiple suspects.  I spent the entire movie alternately suspecting each character and then dismissing them as too obvious.  Yet when Hailey does figure it out, it all makes perfect sense.

Of course, the movie does have the usual dose of cheese.  As with the others in the franchise, it is stronger than most of the Hallmark movies, but once I get fifteen minutes or so into the film, I’m so hooked on the story that I don’t care anymore because I have to know who done it.  Hailey’s creator, Nancy Grace, does get her usual cameo, this time much better than the one from the previous movie.

I do like these characters, as was driven home to me by the sub-plots involving Fincher (Viv Leacock) planning a special evening with his girlfriend and Jonas (Matthew MacCaul) trying to plan a dating anniversary dinner with Hailey.  Both are fun and help lighten the movie a little.

And I would say it is official.  The ending of the first movie this month was completely ignored once again, not that I expected Hailey to leave her therapy practice to go back to the DA’s office.

If you are a fan of the Hailey Dean movies, you’ll enjoy Killer Sentence.  This is another strong mystery featuring characters we’ve come to love.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Book Review: The 18th Abduction by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club #18)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong story
Cons: Most of the women background characters; parts are brutal
The Bottom Line:
A kidnapping case
Plus Joe tracks war criminal
Stronger series book




Hunt for Missing Teachers

I’m sure I would have given up on the Women’s Murder Club series by now if I had to buy them.  I usually enjoy them enough to keep reading, but I don’t know that I’d want to buy them.  Fortunately, my library does a good job of supplying me with each entry in the series, like the newest, The 18th Abduction.

Outside of the Prologue and Epilogue, the entire book takes place five years in the past, when San Francisco Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer is a newly wed to FBI agent Joe Molinari.  And both of them are dealing with high pressure cases.  In Lindsay’s case, she isn’t dealing with a homicide – at least hopefully not.  Instead, she’s investigating what happened to three women who went missing one night.  The three are teachers and friends who went out for dinner and drinks on a Monday night, and that’s the last anyone has seen of them.  Lindsay is part of the taskforce assigned to find them, but can they do that before the missing women are killed?  Or is it already too late?

Meanwhile, Joe stumbles into a case when he finds a woman sitting next to her bike near the FBI’s office in San Francisco.  That woman, Anna, explains that she was just trying to make a report to the FBI.  She’s seen a Serbian war criminal in the city – someone who killed her family and brutalized her.  Joe takes the report seriously, but can he find a way to bring this criminal to justice?

In some ways it was nice going back five years, back to a time when Lindsay and Joe were happily married before plot contrivances worked to undermine their relationship.  (Seriously, the last few books have been stupid where their relationship is concerned.)

On the other hand, the rest of the Women in the Women’s Murder Club are pretty much reduced to cameos.  I suspect this was to keep us (and the authors) from being too confused as to what is happening in their lives now versus back then.  But the end result is that Claire, as medical examiner, contributes to the case a little while Cindy and Yuki pretty much just get cameos.  However, as I have pointed out, that can be a blessing for Yuki, who gets some of the worst storylines of the series.  (Even worse than Lindsay and Joe’s marriage.)  The characters aren’t super strong, but that’s been a factor since the beginning of the series.

The plot itself was good, and I was happy to see something I’ve been wishing for happened here.  (Don’t worry, no spoilers.)  However, it is brutal, thanks to Anna’s story.  We learn about her back story, which involves war crimes.  It’s not pleasant, so keep that in mind as you are reading the book.  You’ve got to be in the right mindset to read it.  Fortunately, we don’t get into graphic details, but we do get enough to know how truly horrible things were.

Despite most of the Women missing much of the action, The 18th Abduction still proves to be one of the stronger entries in this series.  Fans will be happy with it.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Women's Murder Club series.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ornament Review: Ginger N. Sweethaus - Snowtop Lodge #14 - 2018 Hallmark Ornament


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute and creative
Cons: Very slight tip
The Bottom Line:
Gingerbread house made
By snowwoman.  Creative
Entry in series




Snowwomen and Gingerbread

One Christmas tradition is building gingerbread houses.  While I only did that a couple of years growing up, I did enjoy it (or should I say I enjoyed eating the frosting).  Anyway, that tradition comes to the Snowtop Lodge series with Ginger N. Sweethaus.

This year, we have a snowwoman, and she has just completed a gingerbread house masterpiece.  She’s proud of it, since she is holding her tray out for us to see and smiling.  The tray contains a nicely decorated house, definitely better than anything I did as a kid, as well as a couple gingerbread man cookies and other cookies.  She’s wearing a chef’s hat, and she has two rows of buttons on her front.  They look like mini frosted gingerbread cookies, and with the double line, it also looks like the buttons on a chef’s jacket.

The scene painted on the bottom of this ornament is fantastic.  It’s a snowy village scene, but with a twist.  Instead of a normal village, this one is a gingerbread village.  We can see several decked out gingerbread houses, the trees, which look like real trees, have been decorated for Christmas, and there are gingerbread people out and about in the village.

As I’ve said in the past, one reason I love Hallmark ornaments in their variations on a theme that come in their various series.  This is a prime example.  We’ve seen several villages in this series already, but making a gingerbread village is a wonderful and fun twist.  The snowwoman decked out as a chef is great as well.  The entire thing looks fantastic.  It would be fun for anyone who loves making gingerbread houses and snowman collectors in addition to the many fans of this series.

Ginger is a snowwoman, so naturally she can stand up on her own.  Like the rest of the series, she is porcelain, so you’ll want to be sure to put her someplace where she won’t accidentally get bumped and broken.

If you are looking to hang her on your tree, you’ll find the hook connected to her forehead through the chef’s hat.  (Ouch!)  She does tip slightly forward and to the right, but that won’t be an issue once you get a few Christmas tree branches around her.

You can find the 14 in a Christmas tree series marker painted on the bottom of the ornament.

I keep saying I need to cut back on ornaments, but it is so hard to be serious about doing that when Hallmark releases so many great ornaments.  Ginger N. Sweethaus continues a series I’m glad I started because I love them so much.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Snowtop Lodge series.

Original Price: $19.99

Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Review: The Narrows by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #10)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fast moving and twisty plot
Cons: Evil villain, but what I expected when I picked up this book
The Bottom Line:
Bosch gets involved in
A reborn FBI case
Another thrill ride




Harry Bosch Vs. The Poet

Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuted, Michael Connelly was creating one universe with his books.  He started out with some books about Los Angeles Police Detective Harry Bosch, but as he began to write standalones, he wove all his books together.  Sometimes, it was just a cameo or mention of characters from another book, but other times he wove characters from the standalones into the Harry Bosch series.  The Narrows represents a leap in this process, however.  This is a direct sequel to one of his stand alones but features Harry Bosch as a main character.

Which means, before we go any further, I do want to issue a spoiler warning.  While I won’t be spoiling the twists of this book (and there are plenty), this book completely spoils the twists of The Poet.  It only makes sense since this is a direct sequel.  But if you haven’t read that earlier standalone book, you really do need to read it before you enjoy this one.  Frankly, it’s been a few years since I listened to it, and I wish it had been a little fresher in my mind before I started this book.

The Poet is back.  After popping up only one other time in the years since FBI agent Rachel Walling shot him, he has now sent the FBI a GPS device with the coordinates of the burial site he’s been using for his murder victims.  Since he addressed it directly to Rachel, she has been brought down to Vegas even though she has been sent to South Dakota since that night eight years ago.

Meanwhile, Bosch, now retired, has been asked to investigate a friend’s death.  Everyone thought it was natural causes, but his widow thinks something else was going on, and she is afraid she might be blamed if she goes to anyone else.  As Bosch begins to investigate, he thinks that there is indeed more to this friend’s death than everyone believed.  Where will the investigation lead?

Yes, I’m being vague about whose death Bosch is investigating.  I will say it is someone we’ve seen in previous books from Michael Connelly, and this death saddened me because I’ve liked the character from the first time we met him.

Connelly does a great job of starting the investigation from these two different points and weaving them together.  While it is obvious to us early on that things will merge, he keeps us interested while the characters catch up to what we can assume since we know we are reading a book.  And then when these characters do meet, there isn’t too much time before they are sharing information, so we can focus on the twists to come.  As always, Connelly lays things out well, keeping the action fast while also giving us surprising twists that make perfect sense.

Speaking of twists, Bosch got a big twist in her personal life at the end of the previous book.  That is followed up on here, and I loved getting to see a different side of his character.  All the characters in this series are complex, and that continues here, which helps pull us into Bosch’s world and makes me anxious to get back when I finish a book.

The book is told partially from Bosch’s first-person point of view and partially from other character’s third-person point of view, mostly Rachel’s.  While I was listening to the audio, I never had a hard time knowing which point of view I was in.  Well, a couple of times, the switch wasn’t obvious for a sentence or two, but then only between the action was happening fast and both Bosch and Rachel were involved in what was happening.  It was never confusing or distracted me at all.

As always, these books are certainly darker than the cozies I normally pick up.  We are dealing with a demented serial killer for one, and the series never shies away from the violence of murder.  It’s not too gratuitous, and I find the books well worth it, but do keep that in mind when you pick one of them up.

I already mentioned that, once again, I listened to an audio version of this book.  Specifically, I listened to the Booktrack edition narrated by Len Cariou.  For the most part, he did a good job, although the couple of times a kid entered the book, I found his voice annoying as he tried to mimic a preschooler.  The other thing to comment on was the music, which was at the end of some chapters, but not all.  It was needless and a bit distracting as I tried to figure out the pattern.  At least the occasional sound effects at the beginning didn’t carry over through the entire book since they were distracting.  Honestly, I just need a book read well, I don’t need the extras.

The Narrows is another masterpiece from a great writer.  It is well worth waiting to read until you have the backstory so the twists mean more to you.

To learn more about Harry Bosch, be sure to check out the rest of the Harry Bosch books in order.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Disney Mug Review: Pocahontas - Disney Wisdom Collection #5

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great quote; great looking mug
Cons: None related to the mug itself
The Bottom Line:
A great wisdom quote
Captured on a stunning mug
Glad I got this one




Good Reminder on a Fun Mug

While I will never love the movie Pocahontas, I definitely appreciate Disney using a quote from it as part of their Disney Wisdom Collection.  This beautiful mug is a great addition to my collection.

The color of the month is a pretty blue green color.  The result is absolutely beautiful.  On one side of the mug, we have Meeko the raccoon, this month’s mascot, and Flit the hummingbird.  They are in various shades of blue, which isn’t their natural color, but I’ve gotten used to these stylized characters, and I like how they look.  They don’t have as much doodle around them, but what they do have looks like leaves and branches.

On the other side is the quote of the month from Grandmother Willow.  “Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one.”  There is a lot of truth in this quote since it seems like the right path is rarely the easiest one.  And the quote looks amazing.  They use pink and orange extensively, which really makes it pop out.  I think they outdid themselves with the presentation here.  Again, the quote is surrounded by leave doodles.

Of course, looks aren’t important if this isn’t a good mug.  Fortunately, that’s not a problem at all.  The mug is wide and short, but it still easily holds 14 oz.  It is designed so that you can stack it with others from the set to take up a little less room in your cupboard, which is nice since I really don’t need any more mugs.  And, like most mugs today, it is dishwasher and microwave safe.

I have very little Pocahontas merchandise, and I don’t see that changing.  I’m happy to have this mug as one of those rare exceptions.