Monday, February 17, 2020

Movie Review: Maleficent - Mistress of Evil

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good story pulls you into this sequel
Cons: Acting doesn’t always work for me
The Bottom Line:
Fairytale sequel
Good original story
Better than the first

“Remind Me, Did He Die, or Was He Killed?”  “Both.”

I’ve tried watching Maleficent, Disney’s live action twist on Sleeping Beauty, twice now, and I just couldn’t get into it.  I just found it too slow to truly enjoy, especially since we knew where the story was going to go.  So when I saw they were going to release the sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, I wasn’t that excited.  However, the previews made me curious just where they were intending to go with the story, so I decided to rent it.  Turned out, I enjoyed it more than the original.

It’s been a few years since we last checked in with these characters.  In that time, Aurora (Elle Fanning) has taken to her new role as Queen of the Moors, where she rules over all the fairies and other magical creatures.  Meanwhile, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is spending her time protecting the Moors from any threat coming from the human world.  Meanwhile, Aurora and Prince Phillip’s relationship has bloomed, and now Phillip (Harris Dickinson, taking over the role from Brenton Thwaites) has asked Aurora to marry him, a proposal she gladly accepts.

Unfortunately, Maleficent isn’t as enthused about the marriage as everyone else seems to be.  Still, she agrees to go to a celebratory dinner that night hosted by Phillip’s parents (Robert Lindsay and Michelle Pfeiffer).  To say the dinner goes badly is an understatement, and soon it looks like war is the only possible outcome.  Can anyone stop what has been set in motion?

Yes, there are still some nods to the original Sleeping Beauty story, but for the most part this is an original story, imaging what would happen next in the world created by the original.  So if you haven’t seen Maleficent, don’t sit down to watch this one.  You’ll be a little confused on what exactly is happening here.  If you’ve seen it recently, you’ll be okay since they do a good job of reminding you about the key plot points from the original.

They story they’ve come up with is a good one.  We get to learn more about Maleficent all while on the edge of our seats wondering how the characters will get their happy ending.  The story does a good job of showing the dangers of blind hate and fear without getting in the way of the story.  I was definitely caught up in the action much sooner and more fully than I was with the first one.

The effects are top notch.  While this is much more live action than some of the recently Disney “live action” films, there are still plenty of magical creatures, which means plenty of special effects.  They all looked great.

My problem with the film comes with the acting.  It’s in the same style as the original, so I wasn’t surprised with some of the choices the actors made.  They just didn’t quite work for me.

Overall, I am glad I decided to give Maleficent: Mistress of Evil a chance.  If you enjoyed the first one, you should definitely watch this one, and if you were remotely curious where they were going to take the story, you’ll be glad you watched it.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Disney Pin Review: Pirates of the Caribbean - Minnie Mouse: The Main Attraction #2

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great theme around a popular ride
Cons: Dead cons tell no tales
The Bottom Line:
Minnie and Pirates
Prove to be a fun combo
With second pin set

A Pirate’s Life for Minnie

Each month this year, Minnie is visiting a classic Disney Parks attraction, and she is dressing for the occasion.  She started out in Tomorrowland with Space Mountain, she’s moving across the park to New Orleans’ Square and Pirates of the Caribbean.  (Yes, my Disneyland bias is showing.  But have you seen the ride at Walt Disney World?  Sorry, but theirs is vastly inferior.)  I’m only collecting the pins this year, and this is another fun pin set.

The pin set consists of three different pins.  Each month also has an appropriate color scheme, and this month is gold and black.  One pin is the icon for the attraction dressed up for Minnie.  In this case, we get a skull with a bow on top.  Honestly, this alone cracks me up.  We are talking something supposed to be a scary warning and making it cuteish.  No, it’s not fully cute, but it is edging that way.  The bow is black with little gold polka dots on it.  And the white skull has a gold tooth.  Next is Minnie herself.  She’s wearing a bow that matches the one from the skull.  Finally come the Minnie ears.  In this case, the different ears have icons in them.  In one is the skull with a bow again while the other has a ship’s wheel.  Instead of a bow, we get a pirate ship in the space between the two ears.  Each of the three pins has some glitter in the darker elements, too.

It’s going to be hard to top the Space Mountain pin set for beauty.  Then again, I love stars, so the glimpse of space it offered us was an instant draw for me.  However, this set is lots of fun.  The theming is once again outstanding, the color choices evoke the ride, and the pins are fun.  This is another popular ride, so I expect these pins will be popular for a long time to come.  This month’s items were certainly popular when I went to get them at my local Disney Store yesterday.

I’m really glad I decided to collect these pin sets each month.  The Pirates of the Caribbean set once again proves to be plenty of fun for fans of these theme park attractions.

If you'd like to see a picture, check out my picture on Instagram.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

February 15th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Girl Scout Cookie Championship – Obviously, I have a one track mind because the instant they announced the s’mores challenge, I wanted to see someone use Thin Mints.  Now I’m obsessed.  I need to try a chocolate mint s’more.  The cakes in the final round looked amazing.  Not sure I got Yosemite out of the winner’s cake, but it certainly looked great.

The Flash – I’d forgotten about Iris going into the mirror at first.  I was thinking we had a clone or something, but then I remembered the mirror.  I’ll be interested to see how long it takes before Barry really figures things out.  He’s definitely on the right track already.  And what was going on with Nash there at the end?

Legends of Tomorrow – If the show had been back in the fall, I’m sure it would have been the Halloween episode.  As obsessed with slasher as I am, I loved it, and all the little nods to the classics of the genre.  I’m going to be very interested to see where they go with Zari this season.

Survivor – What a start.  Glad Natalie is out.  I never have liked the Twinies since they were on The Amazing Race.  Not surprised Amber is gone.  I’ve always felt Rob was the stronger player of that couple, but considering they were a couple, she was always going to have a target on her back.  Not getting why Sandra is so angry at Rob.  Did he change his mind?  If not, he lies.  We know that about him.  He’s as big a liar as you are.  Get over it.  It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds.  Yes, I’m only remembering about half the cast right now, but I’m sure the others will pop in as they get more screen time.

Lego Masters – Space, the broken frontier.  I thought Mayim was going to be a guest judge, but she left with an hour left.  Sam and Jessica were in the bottom two twice and are still around.  Of course, with the other team’s build falling apart before it could be demolished, it was easy to see why they left.  They’ve got some creative challenges for this show.  This is going to continue to be fun.

Carol’s Second Act – We have a couple of story arcs going on here.  The patient was around last week, and it looks like will be a factory next week.  Plus we’ll be seeing more of the surgeon.  I actually liked him and especially loved the scene in the surgeon’s lounge.  I still think you can have a good bedside manner and be a good surgeon, but they made him human.  I’ll be interested to see where the crush goes.  The sub-plot involving the tattoo?  Best laughs of the series.  Could it be the writers are finally finding the rhythm of the show and what works?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Ornament Review: Up 10th Anniversary - 2019 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Looks great, sound clip adds to fun
Cons: Very hard to add the batteries
The Bottom Line:
Celebrate 10 years
With great looking ornament
Batteries are hard

Celebrating 10 Years with a Magic Ornament

Pixar’s wonderful movie Up celebrated 10 years in 2019.  (How can that movie be so old?)  As it often does, Hallmark celebrated this milestone with an ornament.  It’s one I’d been wanting for a while for this movie, but one aspect didn’t quite work like it should have.

We’ve gotten some ornaments of the characters over the years, but we had yet to get a Hallmark ornament of the house floating with all the balloons above it.  That’s exactly what we get this year.  The yellow house is, frankly, overwhelmed by the balloons above it.  And the balloons are multi-colored, just as they should be.  Okay, so the balloon part is really a solid plastic part with parts of spheres sticking off the main mass, but anyone can easily figure out what it really is.  The ornament uses a dangle element, with the house dangling from the balloons.  This makes it look much more like the house did in the movie, but it also means you can’t set this ornament out to be displayed.  You must hang it, but fortunately, it looks great when you are hanging it.  As far as the size of the house compared to all the balloons, the ornament captures how the two looked compared to each other when we look a look from far away.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I love how this ornament looks.  It is a perfect representation of what I wanted to represent this part of the movie.  And I love the movie, so this is important to me.

Even better, this ornament is a magic ornament.  When you stick the button batteries in the compartment in the balloons and then press the button, you are treated to a 30 second clip of the main theme of the movie.  The instant you hit the button you’ll recognize exactly what the music is from.

So far, this is sounding like a fantastic ornament, right?  I was looking forward to adding it to my collection from the moment Hallmark announced it was coming.

The issue came when I had to add the batteries to the ornament.  The way the compartment is situated in the balloons, it is almost impossible to put them in.  Seriously, it took me several minutes to get them added, and usually I can add the batteries in less than a minute.  Considering, you shouldn’t store the batteries in an ornament, you then have to go through this each year.  As much as I love the magic element of this ornament, this is a major drawback for me.  I don’t know why they made it so hard to add the batteries.  You’d think they would have tried it out and made sure it wasn’t so hard.

But battery issues aside, this is still a good ornament.  I might not enjoy the music every year, but I will certainly enjoy this ornament.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Book Review: Battered by G. P. Gottlieb (Whipped and Sipped Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; good mystery
Cons: A little slow to get started due to backstory
The Bottom Line:
Death of a neighbor
Keeps café owner busy
Good twists on genre

Murder Hits Close to Home

It’s always fun to find an author with her own twist on the genres I love.  In this case, I’m talking specifically about Battered, the first Whipped and Sipped mystery from G. P. Gottlieb.  It’s a culinary cozy, but the main character runs a shop that serves healthy treats.

Alene Baron runs Whipped and Sipped with her best friend, Ruthie Rosin.  Together, the two have turned the café and coffee shop into a healthy choice with a loyal clientele.  They serve only the best coffee, and most of their items are vegan, even the sweet treats, that is popular in their neighborhood in Chicago.  Alene lives a few blocks away from the café in a condo she shares with her father and her three children.

Her world is a little chaotic, but it gets more so when she finds one of her neighbors dead one afternoon.  It is clear that he was murdered, and soon Alene is casting everyone in the role of killer.  Since she knows everyone who might be a suspect, can she figure out what really happened?

Another way this debut has a twist is the location.  Cozies set in big cities like Chicago are rare; the setting is usually a small town.  However, this book doesn’t feel like it is set in a big city.  Most of the action takes place within a few blocks, and Alene knows all the suspects well.  It feels like a cozy even if it is in a big town.  Honestly, I appreciated the way G. P. Gottlieb pulled that off.

There are a lot of characters, and their relationships are complicated.  There is a cast of characters before the book gets started, so if you get confused, you can easily refer to that.  I found it took me a bit more work than some books to keep everyone straight, but I was soon able to do so.  It helped that the further into the book I got, the more the character’s personalities came through.  The more real a character is, the better I can remember them.  There are several prickly characters here, but that also helped me keep them straight and made it easy to consider them suspects.

I’ve complained in the past about books that have data dumps of backstory, and this book did fall into that trap, making it a little slow to get going.  We do need to know at least some of the background to understand what happens, however.  Once the murder takes place, we are able to follow Alene around as she tries to sift clue from red herring.  I thought I had it figured out a couple of times, but the solution still surprised me.

And recipes!  This book has a lot of recipes.  There are thirty, and they range from orange poppy seed muffins to fish tacos and gluten-free vegan cookies.  Yes, there are quite a few vegan recipes here, including vegan sweets, so if you are looking to eat a little healthier, this book will help you.

Battered took a little time to get going, but it was worth it.  If you are looking for a slightly different take on a culinary cozy mystery, this is the debut to read.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Book Review: Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton (Van Shaw #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, engaging plot
Cons: Flashbacks, slow pacing early on
The Bottom Line:
Ranger returns home
Finds himself in mystery
Slowly builds suspense

Captivating Debut

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Glen Erik Hamilton at several local book events over the last couple of years.  He’s a very friendly guy, and that coupled with raves about his books made me buy his first book, Past Crimes.  Like many books I buy fully intending to read, it sat while I waited to find time in my schedule to read it.  I finally hit upon the idea of getting it from the library on audio, and I’m glad I did.

Army ranger Van Shaw hasn’t been home in ten years, and he has no intension of going home.  He was raised by his grandfather, Donovan, to be a thief, and Van has completely turned his back on that life and all it means.  Not to mention that he and his grandfather parted under less than ideal circumstances.  But when he receives a note from his grandfather asking if he’d come home, he heads back to Seattle.

When Van arrives in the early morning hours, he finds Donovan lying on the floor bleeding from a very recent gunshot wound.  Van hasn’t had any contact with his grandfather, but he is sure that his grandfather has continued his life of crime.  Van suspects that someone Donovan knows shot him, and Van knows he will be the best person to investigate and figure out what happened.  Was it a past crime that caught up with Donovan?  Or was a more recent caper the motive for the crime?

Before we got any further, let me be clear – this is not one of my normal light cozies.  This is a serious book with dark twists and turns.  That also means it has more violence, sex, and language than the books I typically read.  I found that the violence and sex was still subdued.  Oh, it was there, but it served the story and never got too explicit.  Honestly, the language felt over the top and excessive, however.  But I know that is part of the hard-boiled genre.

The story was good.  I will admit, it took a bit to hook me since it takes some time introducing us to the characters.  But once it truly got going, it was quite a ride.  I was on the edge of my seat listening to the final third of the book, the suspense was that good with a fantastic action sequence.  There are plenty of twists as well, so the set up was well worth it.

One thing that did slow things down was flashbacks to when Van was growing up with Donovan.  Honestly, I could have done without most of these.  Yes, they helped establish character and especially Van and Donovan’s relationship, but they also slowed down the present-day story.  Or maybe I’m getting very tired of the flashback technique since it’s been overused on several TV shows I’ve watched over the last decade.

The characters really are good.  I normally don’t like rooting for criminals, but these characters are so well developed you can’t help but care.  Of course, it helps that Van is trying to live on the correct side of the law, so I had no qualms rooting for him.  Even so, his old friends and Donovan’s friends all come across as real.  And everyone is upset by Donovan’s shooting, which helps make the criminal characters more human.

Normally, I don’t adjust my star rating for the audio version.  While I will talk about it in my review, I want my review, and especially the rating, to reflect the book itself and not the audio version since the author has no control over that.  However, if I did, I’d be taking off at least one more star for the audio version.  Jeff Harding is the narrator, and he does a very poor job.   Most of his voices sound cartoony, and it’s really hard to listen to them.  I thought I’d adjust as the book went along, but that never happened.  Fortunately, this is the only book in the series he has narrated, and I’ve heard the second narrator is very good.  I hope that is true since I do plan to continue on with the series.

Van’s debut may be darker than I normally read, but it is good.  Past Crimes will slowly draw you in until you can’t put the book down while you race for the end.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Book Review: Microphones and Murder by Erin Huss (Podcasting Sisters Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, twisty story, laughs and fun
Cons: A couple of scenes I could have done without, but they are minor
The Bottom Line:
New true crime pod cast
Featuring missing person case
Fun fiction debut

Don’t Miss This Debut

I have recently confessed that I am late to podcasts, but I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve found.  When I spotted Microphones and Murder, the first in the new Podcasting Sisters Mysteries from Erin Huss, I decided I had to give it a try.  The true crime podcasters hook definitely worked on me.  I’m glad it did because I really enjoyed this debut.

After several years working as an engineer on a popular true crime podcast, Liv Olsen has decided to launch her own.  She’s risking quite a bit as she’s used all of her savings to purchase the equipment she needs.  Liv teams up with her younger stepsister Camry Lewis, and the two travel to Santa Maria, on the central California coast, to tackle their first season of Missing or Murder.

Just over ten years ago, Amelia Clark vanished a week after an embarrassing video of her went vial on YouTube.  Her car was discovered at the head of a local hiking trail a few days later, but no sign of her was ever found.  The retired detective who handled the case originally has asked Liv and Camry to devote their first season to this case in hopes that public pressure will force the police to reopen the case and finally solve things.  However, the detective’s notes prove to be less useful than Liv hoped they would be.  As she begins to interview the people who knew Amelia back then, she feels like everyone is hiding something.  After ten years, can Liv and Camry generate enough interest to reopen the case?  What happened to Amelia all those years ago?

With all the murder mysteries I read, it is always nice to find a book that starts off with a different kind of mystery for the sleuths to solve.  And just because the book doesn’t start off with a murder doesn’t make it any less compelling.  As I teased, Liv quickly begins collecting a large group of suspects, and it seems that each interview leaves her with a new question that needs to be answered.  Don’t worry, everything is answered before the book is over, and we get a satisfying ending.

I also came to really love the characters.  Not that it took much.  Everyone comes across as warm and friendly from the moment they step on the page, and I enjoyed every minute I got to spend with them.  Liv and Camry have quite the crew by the time the book ends.  I did find one of the characters, who speaks with a stutter, a bit annoying to read because of that, but it was a minor complaint.  All of the main characters grew as we spent more time with them, and I am anxious to see where their relationships go as the series progresses.  The suspects are just as real.  They might not always be warm and friendly, but they are suspects, so they should make us question whether they are hiding a deep secret, right?

I did find a smattering of mild foul language in the book, but that’s often true for books from Henery Press.  There are also a couple of conversations I could have done without, but both of these are worth noting only in passing.

Have I mentioned this book is funny?  No, it’s not a laugh on every page kind of book, but there are some very funny scenes that definitely made me laugh out loud.

Microphones and Murder is a delightful debut.  I’m so glad I gave it a chance.  I will definitely be back when the sequel drops.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Music Review: The Story's Not Over by Jeremy Camp

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong lyrics and (mostly) catchy rock music
Cons: At the edges of the musical style I like (which is a personal con)
The Bottom Line:
Songs of faith and hope
And filled with a great rock beat
For all of his fans

Great New Disc from Jeremy Camp

Somewhere along the way, Jeremy Camp kind of fell off my radar.  Honestly, I’m finding it hard to keep up with Christian music in general these days, but that’s another issue.  Anyway, I have several of his early releases, and, while they never got a lot of play time, I always found a couple of songs that really spoke to me.  As soon as I heard about Jeremy’s new release, The Story’s Not Over, I knew I wanted to get it.  And I’m glad I did.

Listening to the disc, I was reminded of one reason I don’t pull out Jeremy’s discs super often.  His rock style isn’t always something I appreciate.  That’s on me; I get it.  And things like the rap ending from Social Club Misfits on “You Don’t” doesn’t help matters either.  Now, I’m not saying the music is bad.  Please don’t misinterpret it that way at all. It’s just harder rock than I usually enjoy.  He’s built a career with a very loyal fan base, so there are plenty of people who do appreciate it.  I enjoy it is smaller doses, so again, I’m not saying it is bad at all.

But here’s why I am happy I got the disc – there are some great lyrics here.  Most of these songs are great, but some of the songs really stand out to me.  Take the title track.  “The Story’s Not Over” is an upbeat reminder that God is in charge of everything that happens, so when life is hard, we just need to remember that there is more to the story.  It’s got a great beat and melody, and is easily one of the songs from the disc I get stuck in my head.

The other song most likely to get stuck in my head is the last song on the disc.  “Wilderness” is a song of trust during hard times.  “If You’re God in the good, in the Promise land/You’ll be God, God in the wilderness.”  It is one of the slower songs on the disc, but it is still a midtempo upbeat track.  While I feel like it was written in a time of wilderness, it really is a declaration of faith more than a song of struggle, and I absolutely love it.

Honestly, there really are no slow tracks on the disc.  But even so there is enough variety that the songs don’t sound the same as you listen to the disc.

Other topics covered in these songs include recognizing the punishment we deserve for our sins (“Should’ve Been Me”) while also celebrating the new life we have because of Jesus’s sacrifice for us (“Dead Man Walking”).  He reflects on how quickly time goes (“Keep Me in the Moment”).  Another powerful song is “Father,” a song that celebrates how God takes us in our weak, sinful state and loves us anyway.

Jeremy Camp’s fans have really fallen for this disc, and it is easy to see why.  If you love his music, you need to get The Story’s Not Over.  Even if you are a casual fan like me, you’ll enjoy this release.

CD Length: 37:31
1. Only You Can
2. Still Alive
3. Dead Man Walking
4. Should’ve Been Me
5. Father
6. Keep Me in the Moment
7. Out of My Hands
8. The Story’s Not Over
9. Indestructible Soul
10. You Don’t (Featuring Social Club Misfits)
11. Wilderness

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Disney Pin Review: Aurora - Windows of Magic - 2019 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creative touches make this Aurora pin fun
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Aurora smiles out
Color battle continues
This pin makes me smile

Everything’s Coming Up Roses for Aurora’s Window

It’s the little touches that make the Windows of Magic pin series from Disney so much fun.  In the case of Aurora, those details might not be so small, but they are enough to make any fan of Sleeping Beauty smile.

This series features classic Disney heroes and heroines in stained glass windows.  Okay, so they are pins, so the back in solid and light can’t really shine through, but the effect is pretty remarkable.  It helps that the fronts of the pins are made from clear plastic and there are silver lines just like in real stained glass.  These pins were released one a month throughout 2019, each character selected to counter a villain from the Windows of Evil pins that had been released the year before.  Naturally, Maleficent was part of that series, so Aurora was the complement.

At first glance, this window is no surprise.  We’ve got Aurora smiling out at us from the window.  The border of her window has vines wrapped around it, and there is a rose up on the top.  In the very bottom are three bursts of color – green, pink, and blue – to represent the three fairies who raised her.

I love the touches in the frames in these pins.  They are part of what makes them special.  However, that isn’t the best feature of this pin.  No, it’s the fact that Aurora’s dress is two different colors.  On the right, her dress is pink.  On the left, it is blue.  And the background is also pink and blue.  It looks like Disney let two of the fairies lose in their pin storage area unsupervised, doesn’t it?

And it’s that little touch that makes me smile when I look at this pin.  It’s absolutely fabulous, and something I never would have thought of.  That’s why I admire the pins instead of trying to design any of them.

Since these were limited edition pins, they are hard to find now.  But if you enjoy Sleeping Beauty, you’ll be happy to tracked down Aurora.

Interested in seeing the pin?  Here's a link to my picture on Instagram.

Disney Pin Review: Maleficent - Windows of Evil - 2018 Release

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Nice touch in the frame
Cons: The picture is too impressionistic.
The Bottom Line:
Maleficent pin
Captures the stained-glass feeling
But doesn’t look good

Evil Misses the Mark

Being the completest I am, I had to buy all of the entries in Disney Windows of Evil series.  However, I find myself questioning the decisions made when they designed the Maleficent window.

I’m not surprised that they created a window based around Maleficent.  She is an extremely popular villain, so it makes complete sense to me.  And I get that they were trying to do something a little different.  But it is much more impressionistic than the rest of the windows in the series, and it doesn’t really work as a result.

What am I talking about?  Each pin in this series creates a faux stained-glass window around a famous Disney villain.  I saw faux because it is a pin, and each pin has a solid back, so you can’t actually shine light through it.  The design has a silver colored frame, and silver lines through it, to help capture the look and feel of stained glass.  That is all done well here.

The problem comes with the picture they decided to create in the middle.  Against a red and green background we’ve got a dragon’s head with Maleficent’s horns.  Down near the bottom, we’ve got what looks like Maleficent’s silhouette from the back facing the dragon.  It’s different.  Honestly, if I didn’t know who or what this was supposed to be, I’m not sure I would have been able to guess.  And, considering that just about every other Window of Evil or Magic (the companion series) features the hero or villain taking up most of the frame, I’m confused as to what they were trying to do here.

I do enjoy the touches this series of pins have in the frames.  While most of the frame here is classy looking straight lines, there is a spinning wheel up on the top of the frame.  I love that.

Maleficent has a very passionate and loyal fan base.  Even though this pin is the weakest in either of the pin series, it is one of the most expensive on the secondary market.  Just say Maleficent, and it becomes extremely popular.

However, that doesn’t keep me from finding this particular pin disappointing.  Unless you must have everything Maleficent or in a series once you start collecting it, there is no reason to track down this pin.

Interested in seeing the pin?  Here's a link to my picture on Instagram.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

February 8th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Two shows may have ended forever last week, but I started two new shows this week.  Okay, they are both reality competition shows, and I expect they will only last a few weeks, but they were both still fun.

Girl Scout Cookie Championship – I heard about this show a couple weeks ago, and I had to give it a try.  Creating other desserts using Girl Scout cookies intrigues me for sure.  I’m surprised it looks like we will have different contestants each week.  When I saw the one woman was going with an environmental theme, I knew she’s win.  But I have to say her cake looked the best of the three, and it sounds like it tasted the best or pretty much close to the best.

The Flash – Giving Barry a little more time off post crisis, I see.  Really, the episode was all about Iris and her new storyline/mystery, which sounds like it will be driving much of the back half of the season.  That last scene?  Creepy and an effective cliffhanger.  But I would like to know how long Cisco will be gone.  I’m going to miss him for sure.

Legends of Tomorrow – Better than last week’s episode, but still not quite the humor powerhouse the show can reach.  Zari’s going to be very interesting this season.  How long before everyone’s memory comes back.  And what will happen to her brother when people can remember the truth.

Survivor at 40 – No wonder I can’t remember all the contestants.  Almost 600 players?  That’s insane?  I had forgotten about half the moments they highlighted, but others I remembered clear as could be.  Fun to see them again.  And I am jazzed about the Winners at War season starting next week.

LegoMasters – This show sounded like fun the instant I heard about it, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s hard to go wrong with a theme park theme, but some of those were amazing.  I’m kind of glad no one went home right away.  It would take a bit to figure out what you need to do, so a second chance is nice.  Not that I can say much.  Every thing they were doing is well beyond my capabilities.

Carol’s Second Act – Don’t these characters realize they are on a TV show?  All secrets come out eventually, and in the worst possible way.  Still, that was actually a fairly funny episode.  The subplot with the wheelchair was predictable but funny as well.  Curious where the relationship will go in the future.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Book Review: A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns (Will Rees #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, characters, and sense of time
Cons: Pacing did seem off; hard to remember character relationships
The Bottom Line:
Will finds murder in
A Shaker community
Good historical

Simple Time but Complex Murder

I say I enjoyed historical mysteries, but I don’t read that many of them.  So when the Will Rees mysteries series crossed my radar, I was immediately intrigued.  Will is a traveling weaver in 1795 Maine.  I picked up the first book, A Simple Murder, and prepared to get lost in the past.

It’s been several years since Will’s wife died.  Always a wanderer at heart, Will set out as a traveling weaver, leaving his son and his farm in Maine with his sister and her husband.  He’s returned home occasionally over the years, but on his most recent visit, he discovers that his son has fled and joined a sect of Shakers who live over a day’s journey away.  Upset, Will rushes down to talk to his son, David, and hopefully make amends.

His reunion with David doesn’t go well.  He’s trying to figure out how he can go about rebuilding their relationship when word reaches him that one of the women in the Shaker community has been murdered.  Will has found himself stepping in to solve a few crimes over the course of his travels, and it is actual David who suggests to the elders that Will might be able to help figure out what happened.  Can Will overcome his status as an outsider to gather the clues he needs to solve the case?

I must admit, I know very little about the Shakers, so this was an eye-opening book in that regard.  Will spends quite a bit of time in the Shaker community, so we get to learn about this sect.  It’s made me curious enough to want to learn more about their beliefs and how they live.

I’m torn on the mystery.  There are plenty of suspects and twists and turns.  But at the same time, the pace seemed slow.  I suspect that was a result of the historical setting.  When Will had to travel to talk to someone, it would take up most of the day.  As a result, he could only talk to a few people each day, and the time slipped away.  I suspect that crept into my mind as I was reading and it felt like we weren’t making any progress when in reality we were.

The characters were certainly strong.  I loved watching Will’s growth as well as his relationships with several characters grow.  I really fell in love with these characters and I want to see them happy.

As the book progressed, Will uncovered quite a few family connections, and I had trouble keeping all of those straight.  While putting a list of characters or a family tree in the book would certainly help, it would have also constituted spoilers for the story.  I was still able to follow the story, but this might have also helped me feel like the plot wasn’t as strong as it could be.  And none of this is to say the suspects weren’t strong.  I could easily remember who all of them were, I just could remember as easily how they were all connected to each other.

Author Eleanor Kuhns did a good job of bring life to 1795 for us.  There are only marginal references to real history, but it was in the everyday details of life that I felt like I was back in time.

A Simple Murder proves to be anything but simple.  This was a good debut.  I am definitely planning to visit Will again to find out what happens to him next.

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

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Movie Review: Batman (1989)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, Jack Nicholson as Joker
Cons: Romance, Batman needed more development
The Bottom Line:
Batman on big screen
Dated effects and action
But still entertains

“Can Somebody Tell Me What Kind of a World We Live in Where a Man Dressed Up as a Bat Gets All of My Press?”

I never watched Tim Burton’s Batman movies.  Granted, I didn’t watch many movies growing up, but even as an adult, I never wanted to go back and watch them.  (I’ve seen the final two sequels these spawned.)  I’d heard they were dark, and, considering my reaction to some of the darker DC Comics movies, that was enough to make me stir clear.  When I saw that TBS was showing them back in December, I decided it was time, and I recorded them all.  Now that I’ve seen Batman, I found that I enjoyed it overall.

This movie doesn’t waste much time with backstory.  Instead, it throws us right into a scene of Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) as his nightly alter ego, Batman.  He’s begun to fight crime as Batman, but he is just a rumor.  The public doesn’t believe he is real, but criminals are beginning to become afraid.  While Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) and new DA Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) deny his existence, reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) is on the trail of the story.  When award winning photo journalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) comes to town, she joins Alexander’s attempts to learn the truth about Batman.

However, things are about to get even more dangerous.  Mobster Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is only mid-level in his organization, if that, but a bath in chemicals turns him into The Joker, and he has plans for Gotham City.  As Bruce and Vicki become close, will Joker’s reign of terror come between them?

The first thing I noticed about this film is how dated it is.  No, I’m not talking about content, although the music, hair, and costumes do show their age a little.  I’m talking about staging and effects.  Even the action sequences feel a bit dated.  Then again, the movie is over 30 years old, so it isn’t that surprising when you stop and think about it.  And, it adds a bit of charm to the proceedings, as long as you know to expect it.

As to the tone, it is certainly darker than the campy 1960’s Batman TV show, but it isn’t nearly as dark as the Batman or DC movies we’ve gotten in the last 15 years.  The PG-13 rating is right, but if you enjoyed recent films, this one won’t be an issue for you at all.

We get quite a bit of backstory on The Joker here, but not quite as much on Batman.  Yes, his backstory eventually comes into play, but it isn’t as heavy as in most recent comic book movies, which feel they need to give us an origin story for each character.  I really appreciated that since I already knew the story.  Joker’s backstory does slow things down a bit early on, but it also helps us understand some of his actions once he’s transformed.

Jack Nicholson is fantastic as Joker.  He’s clearly the star of the film and clearly have a blast hamming it up.  No, he never goes over the top, but his performance is the star of the film, and he gets all the best lines.  I must say I actually found Michael Keaton a little forgettable as Batman.  I know it’s his story, but the script doesn’t give him as much to do, so it is probably the script’s fault more than his.

Or maybe it’s the fact that I was rolling my eyes at the cliché his relationship with Vicki Vale turned into.  Seriously, the romance is the worst part of the film.

Being a superhero movie, you expect effects and action.  As I mentioned earlier, they are a little dated by today’s standards, but most of them hold up well.  The climax certainly had me on the edge of my seat, which means I was buying into the story.

The biggest surprise to me was Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent.  Obviously, they recast the character later in this run of movies.  I’m a bit disappointed since I’d like to know what he would have done with the character in the later movies.

I guess, for me, I wanted a bit more development for Batman here, and felt the movie focused more on Joker.  I’m looking forward to moving on in the franchise.  If you haven’t seen Batman and you enjoy superhero movies, definitely give this one a watch.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Buried to the Brim Winner

Well, I am very late in picking the winner for Buried to the Brim, but let's do it.  That winner is...

... Linda Herold.

I just sent you an email, so be sure to watch for it and get back to me so I can make sure you get your prize.

Ornament Review: Sweets for My Sweet - Season's Treatings Special Edition #1 - 2020 Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Valentine’s sweets in decorative form
Cons: Too busy drooling to list cons
The Bottom Line:
Valentine’s Day treats
Displayed on many levels
Sure to make you drool

Chocolate and Cookies to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Holidays are just an excuse to eat sweets.  Oh, that may not be the official reason for them, but think about a holiday that doesn’t involve a sweet treat.  It’s hard to come up with one, isn’t it?  So the only surprise to me when Hallmark announced they would release four special edition ornaments to add to their Season’s Treatings ornament line was that they hadn’t done this sooner.  The first of these four ornaments is Sweets for My Sweet, which revolves around this month’s holiday – Valentine’s Day.

Someone must be loved because this ornament features a three-tiered platter of sweets for Valentine’s Day.  Yes, I most often think of chocolate when I think of this holiday, and two of the three levels are developed to it.  The very top platter has chocolates from a fine chocolatier on it.  On the next level is something slightly healthier – chocolate covered strawberries.  (I said slightly.)  Finally, if you want something in addition to chocolate, we get three sugar cookies topped with frosting.  The display itself has three platters that get smaller as they go up with a silver pole in the middle and a heart up on top.  The edges of the platter are decorated in red.

Like the ornaments in the official series, just looking at this ornament is enough to make my mouth water.  They look good enough to eat.  So if you are sticking with your New Year’s resolution to watch what you eat, you won’t want to put this ornament out.  (And could you send me some of your self-control while you’re at it?)  However, if you’ve already fallen off the wagon, you’ll love this one.  I’m not much of a sugar cookie person, but I do love chocolate, so those top tiers are definitely calling to me.

Most of the time with this series, I recommend against setting the ornaments out to be displayed.  I’m going to make an exception in this case.  This is a tiered platter.  It’s whole purpose is to be set out to be displayed.  Of course, my usual reason for recommending against setting the ornaments out is because they are mostly flat and you won’t see what is on them.  Obviously, that isn’t the case here.

That’s a good thing since I don’t have much to hang non-Christmas ornaments on.  However, if you do hang ornaments for Valentine’s day, you’ll appreciate the loop at the top of the ornament.  You’ll find that ornament hangs straight.

Some of these series Hallmark has done that take their popular Christmas ornament series and use them for other holidays have had series markers on them and been treated as their own separate series.  That’s not the case here.  You won’t find a series marker as these are considered special editions of the regular Season’s Treatings series.

No matter what they call it, I’m delighted with Sweets for My Sweet.  I’ll enjoy drooling over this ornament for Valentine’s to come.

Enjoy more seasons treats with the rest of the Season's Treatings series.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Book Review: Knot in My Backyard by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, needed character growth
Cons: Some of Martha’s behavior early on (but see pro about character growth)
The Bottom Line:
Baseball field death
Martha must clear her neighbor
Builds on first book well

Murder Hits Close to Home

Among the new to me series I started last year was Mary Marks’s Quilting Mysteries.  I was intrigued enough to come back for book two, Knot in My Backyard.  I really enjoyed my second visit with the characters.

Martha Rose lives in what used to be a nice quiet neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley area of Southern California.  Unfortunately, a nearby local private school has built their baseball stadium in what should have been an open space bordering the neighborhood.  While she and her neighbors have complained often and loudly, their complaints have been drowned out by the noise of the baseball games and their property values have dipped.

In an effort to get more exercise, Martha takes up walking.  On her first morning, she is walking through a nearby wash, and she finds the dead body of Dax Martin, the school’s jerk of a head baseball coach.  She immediately knows that the police will start looking at her neighbor and friend Ed Pappas.  While Ed is a nice man, he did get into a physical altercation with Dax not that long ago.  Can Martha figure out who really killed Dax before Ed is arrested for murder?

Yes, this is the second quilting mystery.  Martha and her friends still meet up to quilt, and quilting does come into play at one point in the plot, but it doesn’t drive the plot as much as it did in the first book.  Since I don’t quilt, I didn’t mind, and this is quite often the pattern for a cozy mystery series anyway.

And it’s hard to complain with a plot this strong.  Martha suspects early on that there is something much larger going on with the baseball stadium and Dax’s murder, but she keeps striking out when she tries to learn anything new.  These dead ends really do drive the story forward, and they make sense when she does begin to get answers to her questions.  I was hooked the entire time and couldn’t wait to reach the climax to find out what was really going on.

I felt like the characters were stronger in this book than the first one, which only makes sense because we’ve had more time to get to know them.  This applies to the returning characters as well as the new suspects.

Having said that, I did feel that Martha did some foolish things in this book.  Most of them were in pursuit of the case, but how she went about it also impacted her personal relationships.  Initially, she didn’t understand why others were reacting to her actions like they were, but I was happy to see her accepting some responsibility for that, at least in her own mind, late in the book, providing some character growth.  I’m very anxious to read the next one to see where her relationships go as the series progresses.

When I read the first one, I mentioned a few pointless political comments that I found off putting.  I’m happy to say these weren’t present here.  I’m not saying that the book doesn’t brush into a few political topics, but these are all outgrowths of the plot, and any brief comments characters make feel natural to the story.  There’s no preaching here.

I mentioned with the first book, but I have to mention it again.  Martha’s neighborhood is about half an hour without traffic from where I live.  (Without traffic?  In Los Angeles?  I crack myself up.)  It’s rare that a cozy uses the suburbs as a location, and I got such a kick out of seeing places I know popping up in this book.  For years, I played ultimate Frisbee just a couple of miles from an open area where several critical scenes are set, so that brought an extra smile to my face.

I’m very glad I revisited Martha and her friends.  Knot in My Backyard is a fun second mystery that will please cozy readers.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Left Coast Crime Panel

I am pleased to announce that I will be moderating a panel next month at Left Coast Crime in San Diego.  Well, pleased and a little bit nervous.

The panel is Thursday afternoon, March 12th, at 3:45 PM.  The topic?  What's Cooking?  - Culinary Cozies.  Yes, definitely something right up my ally.

The authors on the panel are going to be Maya Corrigan, Kaye George, G.P. Gottlieb, and Leslie Karst.  I've read all of Leslie's books, but you might see books from the other authors popping up here in the next few weeks.

If you are going to be at Left Coast Crime, I hope you'll stop by.

January 2020's Monthly Reading Summary

2020 is flying by.  Can you believe we are a month into the near year already?  It doesn't seem possible to me, but here we are.

And yes, I finally got the Index updated!  I even added a couple of new categories, one of which is seven months overdue.

Meanwhile, here's what I read this month.

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

Script for Scandal by Renee Patrick (Lillian Frost and Edith Head #3) – 5
In 1936, a bank robbery took place in Los Angeles.  While the robbers were killed, the money was never found, and rumors have circulated that there was someone else involved.  Most suspect that the someone else was LAPD Detective Gene Morrow, the boyfriend of Lillian Frost.  While the rumors have mostly died down, they are about to come out again in 1939 thanks to a new movie being filmed at Paramount.  Costume designer Edith Head has seen the script, and she gets a copy to her friend Lillian so she and Gene can be prepared.  Lillian is more concerned than Gene and actively tries to find out who the writer is claiming is his source for this movie.  She hasn’t been looking for too long before someone turns up dead.  Can Lillian and Edith figure out what happened back then and how it is impacting what is happening today?

I was so happy when this series found a new home because I enjoyed the first two books so much.  This book is just as strong.  The authors mix real people with the fictional characters so expertly I am sure I missed some of the cameos.  Yet everyone comes across as real.  I did think the plot was wandering a bit early on, but everything became an important part of the story before it was over.  Not that I was complaining since I was hooked for most of the book and couldn’t wait to see how it would all turn out.  Both Edith and Lillian are instrumental to solving the crime in the end.  Meanwhile, there is a delightful subplot involving Lillian’s boss preparing for a job as an extra that leads to a hilarious scene.  This book brings old Hollywood to life in every detail, and I enjoyed every minute spent in that world.  This book will delight Edith and Lillian’s fans and win them new ones.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Murder on Bank Street by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #10) – 5
In the spring of 1897, New York City Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy has been given permission by NYPD Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt to focus solely on solving Dr. Tom Brandt’s murder.  However, since people are expecting Teddy Roosevelt to be called to Washington to serve in the new administration at any moment, Malloy knows he must act quickly to solve the case.  He has three good suspects and a description of the murder weapon, but he is facing the fact that Tom died over four years ago.  He can’t establish alibis, and the killer might have gotten rid of the weapon over the years.  He’ll only have one shot at confronting the suspects as well since his best weapon is the element of surprise.  Can he gather enough evidence to get the killer to confess?  Will Sarah Brandt, Tom’s widow and Frank’s friend, be happy with what Frank learns along the way?

Dr. Brandt’s murder has been an ongoing storyline since the first book, so I was happy to finally see it solved.  Ironically, Sarah doesn’t play an active part in solving it, but she is still an active part of the book as she reacts to what Frank is learning and her scenes are just as compelling.  We get to see a different side of several characters, including Frank’s new sleuthing partner, but Sarah gets the most development, which only makes sense.  We have three viewpoint characters over the course of the book, but the changes are always easy to follow.  The plot is strong and kept me confused until we reached the satisfying ending.  It did seem a bit repetitive early on, but that was a minor issue overall.  If you are new to the series, you could jump in here without missing too much since everything you need to know is explained.  As always, I felt like I was in 1897 with the little details and character’s attitudes acting like a time machine.  I’m curious to see how the series will progress without this storyline an active part of things, but I am satisfied with how this storyline was wrapped up.

Buyer, Beware by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #2) – 5
Samantha Kidd is excited about another fashion store opening up in her hometown of Ribbon, Pennsylvania.  She and some friends attend the opening night party, but the party ends abruptly when Samantha stumbles on the body of a dead woman in the handbag department.  The woman was the store’s handbag buyer, and the police quickly rule it a murder.  Then Samantha gets another shock – the store’s owner asks Samantha to take over the dead woman’s job and use her position to help figure out what happened.  But is Samantha putting herself in danger by taking a dead woman’s job?

I might not normally have picked up this book because of the fashion theme, but I already knew that author Diane Vallere can craft a great cozy mystery.  Yes, fashion is certainly an aspect of the book, and even plays into the plot, but it never overwhelmed the story or bored me since the book never loses sight of the fact that it is a mystery first and foremost.  And what a mystery!  The suspects are all outstanding and do a great job of misleading us.  Samantha has to deal with twists and red herrings galore until she finally figures things out.  I did feel a few of the details could have been smoothed into the story better, but that’s a minor complaint overall.  I enjoyed this book and need to make time to visit with Samantha again soon.

The Silent Second by Adam Walker Phillips (Chuck Restic #1) – 4
Chuck Restic has spent twenty years in HR, and he’s good at his job – making sure employees get along so they don’t sue each other or, more importantly, the company.  That’s how he first meets Ed, who has had a complaint filed against him.  Ed seems like a nice guy, and their meeting goes well, but then Ed disappears a couple of days later.  A plea from Ed’s family to figure out what happened to him intrigues Chuck.  He’s recently separated from his wife, and he wants to do something to fill his time away from work, so he uses his boredom as an excuse to start poking around.  The trail quickly leads to real estate around Los Angeles, but how could that have led to Ed’s disappearance?

I’d seen the author speak at a library event a while ago, and I thought this book sounded like fun.  While I certainly enjoyed it, I found the book to be darker in tone than I was expecting.  There were a few laughs when Chuck was in HR mode, but for the most part, this felt more like a hard-boiled book.  But that’s my only complaint with the book.  I really did like Chuck – in fact, I could identify with him a bit too much.  (Maybe that was part of my problem.)  The rest of the cast are just as strong and become well-rounded people as we learn most about them.  The plot was great with plenty of twists and an ending I didn’t see coming.  The book was light on foul language and didn’t get too graphic with the violence or sex, which I most definitely appreciated.  This is a solid debut, but pick it up when you are in the mood for something on the darker side.

“P” is for Peril by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #16) – 3
Nine weeks ago, Dr. Dowan Purcell vanished without a trace.  Now, his ex-wife, Fiona, has hired PI Kinsey Millhone to figure out what happened to him.  Kinsey isn’t sure she can cover any ground that the police haven’t already covered because they have been as thorough as they can be, but she gamely agrees anyway.  Soon, she is caught in a web of speculation.  It seems everyone has a theory, from Fiona to Dr. Purcell’s current wife, Crystal, to family and friends.  But can Kinsey find any clue to figure out what actually happened to him?

The mystery starts well as always, and I was soon caught up in the case.  There is a very strong sub-plot that helped draw me further into the story.  I love Kinsey and the other regulars, so it is always fun to spend time with them, and the new characters are just as strong.  Even the weather, a cold November rain, helped add the right atmosphere to the book.  Then I got to the ending.  The book just stops.  It’s very abrupt.  While I have a theory on what happened and why, it would have been nice to have it confirmed, especially since I can come up with another equally as compelling theory on what happened and why.  These kinds of endings work for literary novels, but are frustrating for mystery readers.  Fans of the series will still be glad they read this entry, but new readers definitely shouldn’t jump in here since there are stronger books in the series.

The Downtown Desperadoes by Sigmund Brouwer (Accidental Detectives #13) – 5
It all starts with a phone call.  Ricky Kidd is confused by the strange message, and he is certain it is a prank, expect for the fact that the voice sounds familiar.  It’s a couple of hours later when he recognizes it as Brother Phillip, the man who had helped him track down his younger brother when Joel was kidnapped during the class trip to New York City back in the spring.  When his father tries to find out what is happening with Brother Phillip, he discovers the mission the man run has burned down, and the police believe that Brother Phillip died in the fire.  The only problem is, the fire took place before the phone call.  Ricky is able to convince his family and friends, Ralphy and Mike, to change their Thanksgiving plans and go to the city, but when they arrive, things only get weirder.  Did they really know Brother Phillip?  Is he in danger?  Or is he a criminal?

Unlike many middle grade mysteries, this one is a direct sequel to an earlier book.  To completely understand the events that happen here, it is best to have already read LOST BENEATH MANHATTAN.  But if you haven’t read that one yet, there is enough context here to follow the events as they unfold.  And what a plot!  While I remembered a few key things, like the climax, I was still caught up in the twists and turns.  This book is a master class is dropping clues into a story, and I still marvel at how Mr. Brouwer does it.  The characters are developed enough to make us care, but they are a bit on the thin side.  The adult in me notices that, but as I’m reading I don’t care.  The book was originally written for the Christian market, but the Christian elements aren’t overwhelming here.  These stories were originally released in the 1990’s, so a few references are dated, but it isn’t enough to ruin the story in the slightest.  This book is still as strong now as when I first read it.  Readers of all ages will be thrilled they picked it up.

Careless Whiskers by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #12) – 5
This spring, Athena College’s theater department is debuting a new play from a local playwright.  Charlie Harris is looking forward to it since his daughter, Laura, is going to star in it, and her husband, Frank, is the director.  While most of the cast and crew are college students, the college is bringing in a big name for Laura’s co-lead – Luke Lombardi.  Unfortunately, he is arrogant, rude, and demanding.  And those are his good qualities.  Soon he is irritating many people in town.  He is also the victim of some pranks, but when things turn deadly, Laura finds herself in the spotlight as a suspect.  Charlie has sworn off sleuthing after a recent close call, but with Laura’s reputation and freedom on the line, he and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, begin searching for the real killer.  Will they be able to clear Laura?

Fans are in for another great ride with this book.  As if often the case, the murder takes place later in the book, but the time it put to good use introducing us to suspects, motives, and red herrings.  I was never bored, and kept turning pages until Charlie figured everything out.  All the characters we love are here, both two legged and four legged, and they are a delight as usual.  The suspects are strong as well.  I continue to enjoy watching how the police are portrayed in this series as smart and competent.  This book will please Charlie and Diesel’s many fans and even earn them new ones.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Statue of Limitations by Kate Collins (Goddess of Green St. #1) – 4
Athena Spencer has had to move back to live with her family in Michigan after her divorce.  That means dealing with her large, crazy Greek family on a daily basis since she and her young son are living with them and she is working at the family’s garden center.  It also means she is on hand when her grandparent’s Greek restaurant is threatened by the powerful Talbot family.  They intend to raze an entire block of shops to put in condos.  The fact that a murder takes place in their home, two weeks after another suspicious death, doesn’t seem to be slowing their plans down at all.  The police are focusing their attention on a stranger in town, but Athena thinks they have the wrong suspect.  Can she solve the murder and save her grandparent’s restaurant?

As I was starting this book, I was thinking I was going to have problems with it.  Athena’s family likes to spend their time meddling in her life, something that I find annoying.  Honestly, the family needs more development quickly because I still found them annoying at the end.  I also questioned just why Athena was going to such extremes to help a stranger.  But I kept reading, and as I kept reading, I got more and more hooked on the story.  Yes, there is a lot here, and in lesser hands, it might have gone very wrong.  Here, it worked.  There was always something going on to keep me engaged.  The ending was a bit abrupt, but it did wrap everything up nicely.  This is a light book, but if that is what you are looking for, you’ll be delighted.  Kate Collins’s many fans will be very happy.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Buried to the Brim by Jenn McKinlay (Hat Shop Mysteries #6) – 5
Cousins Scarlett and Viv have an unusual new client for their hat shop.  Betty Wentworth, Scarlett’s fiancé Harrison’s aunt, is about to enter a dog show with her dog, Freddy, and she is hoping that a top hat will launch him from second place to first place this year.  At first Viv, who designs the hats, is reluctant, but soon she is on board, and everyone is delighted with the results.  However, the contest weekend gets off to a rocky start during the cocktail party that kicks things off when Betty gets into an argument with Gerry Swendson, the owner of the dog food company that sponsors the show.  The next morning, Freddy is the one to find Gerry’s very dead body.  With the police looking at Betty, Scarlett begins digging in, trying to figure out who else had motive.  It quickly becomes apparent that this dog show is far from cute.  But who committed murder?

It’s been a couple of years since the last book in this series came out, and it was wonderful to catch up with these old friends.  Some time has passed for them as well, but the relationships were as great as ever.  We saw plenty of the supporting characters and I loved every minute of it.  The mystery was just as strong, with plenty of suspects and a fantastic ending.  I did find one thing near the climax pushed me out of the book and I didn’t remember a few instances of very mild swearing in earlier books, but both are worth noting only in passing.  The running gags involving puns were always one of my favorite things in the series, and it is as delightful as ever here.  And the dogs!  There are some very cute moments with the dogs here.  Fans of the series will be delighted to get to revisit these characters.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Murder on the Half Shell by Shawn Reilly Simmons (Red Carpet Catering Mysteries #2) – 4
Penelope Sutherland and her catering crew are working on a period mystery filming on an island in Florida.  Penelope has hired a few locals to help out, including two teen girls who work part time as servers.  After a party one Friday night, the teens disappear.  Suspicion falls on Emilio, one of the chefs that Penelope studied under at culinary school.  Penelope doesn’t want to believe her old teacher is guilty, but there is something in his past that makes Penelope doubt her judgement.  Where are the girls?  Who is responsible for what is going on?

It’s been a few years since I read the first in this series, and I didn’t remember who everyone was.  Sadly, this book assumes you remember the relationships, and it took me longer than it should have to figure out those connections.  The characters are good, but they don’t feel fully developed to me.  I was pulled into the plot, however, with the missing teens making it easy to care about the outcome.  There are plenty of twists and turns, and the climax was satisfying.  Being able to visit a beach location during the winter was a great treat, and I found the balance of the mystery with the slower life of the island was well done.  This is a quick read, and I enjoyed it.