Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Book Review: Nacho Average Murder by Maddie Day (Country Store Mysteries #7)


Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Robbie, fun new characters
Cons: Plot could be stronger, missing the rest of the regulars
The Bottom Line:
Robbie visits home
For murder on vacation
Entry a bit weak




Vacation with Murder

It can be tricky when an author sends a series character on vacation.  Sometimes, it’s a fun change.  Other times, it doesn’t work as well as a regular entry in the series.  Sadly, Nacho Average Murder falls into the second category.

This book finds Robbie Jordan taking a well-deserved vacation from Pan ‘N Pancakes, her country store in Indiana, and heading back to Santa Barbara for her high school reunion.  While she is looking forward to seeing her friends, this is the first time she’s been back since her mother died, and she is having nixed emotions on her return.

Robbie gets a shock when she reconnects with her mother’s best friend and hears a rumor that her mother’s death might not have been from natural causes.  Then someone her mother knew dies under similar circumstances.  Is there any truth to the rumor?  Will Robbie get the truth before her vacation is over?

My favorite cozies are filled with great plots and characters I love spending time reading about.  Robbie is definitely one of those characters, and we got to see a new side of her as she hung out with her old friends, acquaintances, and rivals.  However, I love the rest of Robbie’s normal circle of friends, and I missed them here.  The new characters are good, don’t get me wrong, but they aren’t the same.

I was very intrigued by the set up for the plot.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like it paid off quite as well as it could have.  It’s hard to discuss in greater detail without giving away spoilers.  I will say things are wrapped up in the end, so that’s not my concern.

There were definitely parts I enjoyed.  Robbie is staying at a small bed and breakfast attached to a restaurant, much like what she’s built at home, and I smiled at the comparisons.  Normally, these books have me craving breakfast foods, but this one had a twist – I was craving Mexican food.  I’m certainly not complaining about that, and the recipes at the end will help you if you find yourself craving the same thing.

I started listening to my first audio books in months while I was reading this book.  It was probably a mistake, but I had snagged one of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books.  If you aren’t aware, Kinsey’s native Santa Teresa is a thinly disguised Santa Barbara.  The similar settings made me stop and think a couple of times to make sure I had the right events in the right story.  On the other hand, this book makes a few references to Sue Grafton and her books, including one that was something new for Kinsey in the book I’m listening to.  Talk about perfect timing!

Fans of the Country Store Mysteries will still enjoy Nacho Average Murder.  However, if you are new to the series, this isn’t the place to jump in.  Instead, back up to one of the earlier entries.

Make a reservation for the rest of the Country Store Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Movie Review: Spies in Disguise


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, laughs, fun
Cons: Predictable and familiar elements
The Bottom Line:
Spy becomes pigeon
Familiar plot elements
Still provide us laughs




“I’ve Got to Fight Fire with Fire.  Because If I Try to Fight Fire with Glitter, I Could Get My Face Burned Off.”

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t go see all animated movies in the theater.  Like all genres, I will go if a movie interests me.  Spies in Disguise was one of those movies I couldn’t quite decide about, so I didn’t go out of my way to see it in the theater.  However, I mostly enjoyed it on home video.

As the movie opens, we meet Walter, a young man with a gift for inventing…creative crime fighting gadgets.  He drives his mom crazy with these inventions.  As an adult (voiced by Tom Holland), his gadgets now annoy Lance Sterling (Will Smith), the greatest superspy in the world.  In fact, they are so annoying, Lance fires Walter.

However, Lance’s latest mission has gone sideways, and Lance suddenly finds himself framed as a double agent.  He needs a gadget that Walter has invented to help him clear his name, but a mix-up turns Lance into a pigeon instead.  Now the two unlikely allies will have to work together to find the truth while turning Lance back into a human.  Can they do it?

Obviously, they movie plays into multiple familiar tropes, but with an added pigeon twist.  And the plot pretty much goes where you’d expect it to go.  Fortunately, there is plenty of fun to be had along the way.  I had to laugh at some of the lines and the action along the way.  The story moves very quickly and sometimes the jokes don’t quite have time to settle before we are off to something else, but they still made me laugh.

There are a couple of surprises along the way, but for the most part, the plot follows familiar lines.  However, kids won’t be able to predict the story as easily, so they will be entertained.  I have to admit, I got so caught up in the action that I wasn’t as far ahead of the movie as I might have been.

Because, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, this movie is fun.  Both Lance and Walter are exaggerated characters, but they fit into this world.  They are at once likeable and outlandishly funny.

And the action.  This is a globetrotting movie that plays into spy clich├ęs and has fun with it.  There are several major action scenes that will keep your attention.

One reason I hesitated to see the movie is the theater was the bathroom jokes in the previews.  I was happy to see that most of them were in the previews, and the movie found plenty of other ways to make us laugh.

The voice talent is wonderful.  The standout is Will Smith, who is obviously having fun playing an exaggerated version of his action persona.

I don’t know that I would have enjoyed the movie as much if I had paid to see it in the theater, but for a rental, it was a lot of fun.  If you and your family want something to entertain you for a couple of hours, you’ll find Spies in Disguise fits the bill.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Disney Pin Review: Matterhorn - Crests of the Kingdom - 2019 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun Matterhorn themed pin
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
A classic coaster
Honored with a classy crest
Race to buy it now

Nothing Abominable About this Crest

While many of the attractions Disneyland chose for the Crests of the Kingdom pin series are rides that are universal to all the Disney parks, a few are only found at Disneyland.  The Matterhorn is one of those.  Since I love that ride, I’m glad they chose to include it.

As always, the front is gray since the front is made from pewter.  While it is all one color, it is raised, so we can clearly see the mountain that makes up the heart of the crest.  The Latin phrase this month is “Adscendo summum montis nivalis” or “I climb the snowy summit of the mountain.”  Okay, so we are really riding in bobsleds, but if it were the real Matterhorn, we would be climbing it.

Inside shows Donald almost enjoying this ride.  I say almost because he’s reached one of the places where we encounter the Abominable Snowman, and Donald is obviously screaming as he passes by.  I can’t say as I completely blame him.  When they did a refurbishment of this ride a few years ago, they really upgraded good old Abominable.  Before, he looked rather hokey and was almost laughable.  Now, he looks pretty real and his arms move toward you as you race by.  Plus he’s louder.  Definitely the potential to make you scream if he catches you by surprise.

Obviously, I think this is another great pin.  Since it’s an attraction I enjoy, I am happy to have it in my collection, and the crest itself looks great.

This may be a bit more of a limited interest pin, limited to those who love Disneyland.  But if that is you, you may want to track it down.

To see what this pin looks like, please visit my Instagram account.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Reading Challenge Update: Audio Book Challenge 2020

We are six months into the year, so it is time for at least one reading challenge update.  Specifically, I'm looking at the Audio Book Challenge hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer.

I've been doing great at most of my challenges this year, getting in extra reading.  The one exception is the audio book challenge.  I said I was going for the Stenographer level, which is 10-15 audio books.  I usually try to listen to one book a month, so I thought I'd be okay.  However, I usually listen to audio books in the car.  I'm not driving anywhere right now, so you can imagine how that is going.

But I have listened to three so far this year.  And here they are:

1. "P" is for Peril by Sue Grafton
2. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton
3. Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Not sure what the rest of the year will look like and if I'll get much more listened to.  But we will see.

June 27th's Weekly TV Thoughts


Hollywood Game Night – I would have struggled with some of those games.  I didn’t get most of the movie titles.  I know so few dances.  I did okay with the actors and actresses, however.

The Titan Games – One win and one loss for the reigning titans.  This region is being the most unpredictable so far when it comes to those final competitions.  I’m enjoying that aspect this time around.

Stargirl – You knew no one was giving the costumes up, and it was about time there was a serious mission fail.  So neither development was especially surprising to me.  However, I still enjoy the episode.  That fight at the end was brutal.  But my favorite scene was there at the end with Courtney and Pat as Pat turned the tables and got Courtney to say everything Pat’s been trying to tell her all season.  Definitely fun.

Holey Moley – I’m impressed.  Some of the contestants are doing a great job of staying dry when they take on those impossible challenges.  Seriously, I think I might just jump in the water and save the effort of trying to stay dry.  I’d forgotten about the beaver hole – it’s been a while since we’ve seen it.

Don’t – Finally saw a repeated game tonight.  I figured it would happen sooner or later.  I’m impressed with all the different games they have come up with, however.  And yes, the unseen narrator is still the best part of the show.

Friday, June 26, 2020

June 26th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We made it to Friday!  And that means it is time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland.

                                                      

Yes, this is a mystery, but one featuring a store for gamers.  And that partially explains the opening line:

"What do you mean, a vampire killed him?"
Meanwhile, on page 56, we find:

The threat - even imagined - to Paige was too much for Nick.  "No!" he shouted.

Very short and sweet this week since I need to be getting to bed.

Look for my review of this book on Thursday.  In the meantime, have a fantastic weekend.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Book Review: Better Late Than Never by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover's Mysteries #7)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Intriguing premise executed well
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Twenty-year late book
A connection to murder?
Fun on ev’ry page




A Late Clue

Sometimes, the premise of a mystery grabs me.  That was certainly the case with Better Late Than Never, the seventh Library Lover’s Mystery from Jenn McKinlay.

Lindsay Norris has decided that the Briar Creek Public Library is going to hold an amnesty day for overdue books.  They will take back all overdue books no matter how old or in what condition with no fines and no questions asked.  However, even Lindsay is surprised when an old copy of The Catcher in the Rye is returned.  Despite the fact that it is 20 years overdue, it looks to be in fantastic shape.

Intrigued by the item, Lindsay does a little poking around in the library’s records and discovers that this book was last checked out by Candice Whitley, who was killed on the high school’s football field twenty years ago.  In fact, it appears that checking out the book was one of the last things she did before she died.  The crime remains unsolved.  Who returned the book after all this time?  Is it a clue that will lead to the killer?

See what I mean?  I couldn’t wait to find out how this overdue book was going to tie in to the unsolved murder.  Not surprisingly, the story moves along at a brisk pace with plenty of clues and revelations to keep us guessing until the suspenseful climax.

Fans who have been reading this series know that we’ve had a bit of a love triangle in the last few books.  Yes, I used “a bit” on purpose because the love triangle has not been a traditional love triangle.  It is completely resolved here, and I’m happy to see that it appears all the characters will stay involved in the series.  While I was definitely rooting for one of the guys, I really like the other guy, too.  I want both of them to be part of the series going forward.

Anyway, the romance did take over a bit, but since I was so invested in it and the characters, I didn’t mind, and it was never for too long.  Some of those scenes?  Let’s just say it is obvious why Jenn McKinlay has branched out to romantic comedies.  She is good at writing hot scenes that make you swoon while keeping things PG.

All the characters we know and love are back, and it’s wonderful to spend time with them yet again.  There aren’t very many new characters in this book, but they are strong as well.  A couple are obviously going to become new regulars, so I look forward to getting to know them better as the series progresses.

Once again, this book made me laugh several times as I was reading it.  Honestly, that’s one reason I’m glad it looks like all the characters are sticking around because they are wonderful at making me grin even when I’m not laughing.  While the mystery is taken seriously, you’ll still laugh and find your mood lightened as you read.

This is definitely a case where a great premise translates to a great book.  I enjoyed every page of Better Late Than Never, so if you are looking for a fun mystery, this is the book to check out.  Just make sure you return it on time.

Then check out the rest of the Library Lover’s Mysteries.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

TV Show Review: Diagnosis Murder - Season 4

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 26 strong episodes
Cons: A bit of cheese in the acting
The Bottom Line:
Murder, medicine
Combined with a dose of fun
Excellent season




“Is This the Part Where I’m Supposed to Break Down and Confess?”  “It Would Help.”

Looking back on Diagnosis Murder, it’s easy to see how the show would slowly transition over the years.  Some changes are immediate and obvious, like the casting changes last season.  Others slowly work their way into the heart of the show.  We can see some of those in season 4.

The bones of the show remain the same.  Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick van Dyke) works at Community General Hospital, but his love of mysteries and his ability to spot clues keep getting him involved in solving murders.  His son Steve (Barry van Dyke) works for the LAPD, and the two often team up on cases.  Helping them out are Dr. Amanda Bentley-Livingston (Victoria Rowell), the pathologist at the hospital, and Dr. Jesse Travis (Charlie Schlatter) one of the residents at the hospital.

One of those changes I am talking about happens in the form of who we don’t see as much of this season.  This is the final season for Michael Tucci’s Normal Briggs, the hospital’s administrator.  That isn’t that much of a surprise since, even though he’s in the opening credits of every episode, he only appears in a handful.  He goes out with a bang in the season finale, “The Murder of Mark Sloan,” which features a bomber out to get revenge of Mark, a plot line that the series would return to for the finale of the next season, albeit with a different villain.

So what kind of cases would the gang tackle this season?  When a cop is killed by friendly fire during a raid, Mark thinks it might have been murder.  An ice skater is Mark’s prime suspect in a murder.  In one of the two two-parters of the season, Mark faces off with a serial killer who is doing his best to catch Mark’s attention.  A body hidden in the walls of Community General leads to the solution of a decades old case.  And Mark solves a murder backstage at a country music awards show.

Near the end of the season, we began to see more of the stunt casting and theme episodes I will always associate with the show.  Andy Griffith plays Ben Matlock for a two-parter that finds him defending Jesse from a murder charge.  Several actors who have played TV doctors guest star in an episode where a doctor drops dead while operating on his mentor.  An episode of the TV show Mannix is revisited when Mike Connors and most of the cast of that episode reprise their roles.  And Harvey Korman and Tim Conway guest star as former comedy partners turned rivals who find themselves connected again by murder.

This season, the show also becomes more of a family affair.  Dick van Dyke’s real-life daughter Stacy appears in an episode as… Mark Sloan’s daughter Carol who is fleeing from an abusive husband who turns up murdered.  Meanwhile, Barry’s two sons appears in an episode as brothers also caught up in a murder.

The mysteries continue to be strong.  Once again, they are a mix.  Sometimes, we don’t know who did it until Mark reveals it at the end.  Other times, we know from the start, and the suspense comes from seeing if Mark and the gang will figure it out.  Either way, we are entertained for the entire run of the episode.

The tone of the show can vary from week to week.  Most of the shows are light, but occasionally they get into darker waters.  I especially found an episode involving a weaponized small pox hard to watch right now, but that’s due to timing more than anything else.

On the other hand, I love these characters.  I always enjoy watching them interact and the friendships that are formed between them.  The cast is just as strong as ever.  I’ll admit, the acting does take me an episode or two to get used to since it can edge toward the cheesy side of things, but that’s not a problem for very long.

Season four consisted of 26 episodes.  When it was originally released, it was released in two sets, but now I see you can buy all of it in one set.  Either way, these episodes are spread out over a total of seven discs.  The only extra in the set is the original Mannix episode that the show riffs off of in this season.  I enjoyed getting to watch it, especially since I know some of the guest stars who were in both the Mannix original and the Diagnosis Murder continuation from such shows as Murder, She Wrote and Scarecrow and Mrs. King.  The Mannix episode plays immediately after you watch the Diagnosis Murder update.  I’m not sure why it isn’t available by itself on the menu, especially since, when you watch them back to back, you can see the parts of the original story they ignored for the update.

All told, this is another fun season of murder with a medical twist.  Fans of the show will enjoy watching season 4 of Diagnosis Murder.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Book Review: The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, mystery, setting
Cons: Pacing slow at times
The Bottom Line:
Long missing woman
Might solution be in sight?
Atmospheric book




Mystery from the Past; Race Against Time in the Present

Years ago, I discovered and read Sarah Stewart Taylor’s four Sweeney St. George mysteries.  Every so often I check to see if she has anything new coming out, and I was thrilled to see The Mountains Wild turn up in one of those searches.  I immediately put it on my to be read list.

This book introduces us to Maggie D’Arcy.  In 1993, her cousin Erin vanished while living in Ireland.  Maggie went over for a couple of months trying to figure out what happened, but the mystery was never solved.  It did have a profound impact on her life since after returning home, Maggie become a cop herself on Long Island.

Now, another young woman has vanished.  In the search for her, a skeleton has been found, and buried with the skeleton is Erin’s scarf.  Has Erin been found after all these years?  Where is the new woman who has vanished?  Are the cases connected?

I had forgotten just how atmospheric Sarah’s writing can be.  I was immediately captivated all over again as we are invited in Maggie’s world.  The story jumps between Maggie is the present, her investigation in 1993, and glimpses of Maggie and Erin growing up together.  If that sounds complicated, don’t worry.  It all is clearly labeled and easy to follow.

As rich and evocative as the writing is, I did feel the mystery got off to a slow start.  Even though Maggie is a detective back in Long Island, she clearly has no jurisdiction in Ireland.  As a result, she isn’t really driving the plot for a while.  Once she does find a way to get involved, things definitely pick up, and we get some great twists along the way to the climax.

One thing that is interesting with the dual timelines is the characters.  Because many of the same people are involved in 1993 and the present, we get to see how the characters evolved over the years.  It’s not something I get to see too often in the books I read, and I enjoy that.

Having said that, this is definitely Maggie’ book.  Through everything going on, we can’t help but root for her and feel for her as the tale unfolds before us.

Another interesting quirk of the book is the tense used in the story.  For the flashbacks, things are told in the past tense.  However, the parts of the story set in the present as written in present tense.  I always find my mind has to adjust when I read a book written in present tense, but it never takes me long to do so.

The Mountains Wild is a book that will stick with you after you finish it.  It’s definitely more serious than the cozies I normally read, but keep that in mind and you’ll enjoy it, too.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Ornament Review: Merry Minions - 2019 Hallmark Release



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: It’s the Minions!
Cons: Could easily tip back when set out
The Bottom Line:
Minions for Christmas
Ornament that makes me smile
Because it is fun




Watch Out for Merry Minions on Your Tree

Like many people, I fell in love with the Minions in the Despicable Me movies.  They are so incredibly funny.  So when I spotted Hallmark’s Merry Minions ornament, I had to get it.

This ornament features the three main Minions (and if I were a bigger fan, I would know their names).  One is standing on another’s head and leaning on the third.  It’s almost like they were trying to create a Christmas tree, but, being Minions, they didn’t quite get it right.  Two of the Minions are wearing Santa hats, which is really the only acknowledgement of the season.

And I love it!  These guys really are cute together, and I can just picture them doing this to cheer someone up during the holidays, not realizing they aren’t quite getting it right.  Still, their heart is always in the right place, something I definitely appreciate.

The two Minions on the bottom form a mostly sturdy base.  If you bump them too hard, they will tip over backwards, so make sure they are on something that won’t get bumped if you set this out.

The ornament does hang straight, so if you add them to your tree, you’ll be happy with the results.

But really, it is hard to be unhappy with Minions around, period.  This ornament will make you merry for years to come.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Candy Review: Fudge Brownie M&M's


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delicious candy tastes like fudge brownies.
Cons: Too busy enjoying to find cons
The Bottom Line:
Love a fudge brownie?
You’ll love these new M&M's
They’re the next best thing




Addictive Fudgy Goodness

M&Ms are one of those candies I can’t resist.  Seriously, I can eat the plain ones by the handful.  While their various versions are hit or miss, I’m tempted to try each new variety they come up with.  That’s why, when I started seeing the ads for Fudge Brownie M&M's, I had to try them.  Now, I’m here to issue a warning – they are addicting.

These M&M's are on the larger size, roughly the size of a peanut M&M.  However, inside the candy coating, you’ll find a gooey(ish) chocolate center.  It’s not the hard milk chocolate of a traditional M&M.  It’s not fully gooey.  It’s somewhere in between, texture wise, and it works perfectly.

And the taste?  It really does a good job of capturing that just out of the oven flavor of a warm fudge brownie.  I don’t know how they get the warm part – although maybe if I were eating these in winter, I wouldn’t notice that part.  Yes, you still taste the candy coating, this is a M&M, after all.  But the combination is highly addictive.  It’s almost impossible to just eat one handful.  My taste buds wake up immediately and then start to demand more and more.

However, I don’t think you’d enjoy them.  In fact, I think I am the only person who will truly appreciate them.  So maybe you should buy them to send to me.  Yeah, that will work!

In all seriousness, Fudge Brownie M&M's are a winner.  If you enjoy brownies with plenty of fudge topping (and who doesn’t?), you should definitely check out the newest member of the M&M family.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

June 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Hollywood Game Night – How do you not know the Brady Bunch?  Although I’d probably freeze under pressure.  You could tell that was happening most of the time.  The stars and movie game?  I would have been horrible at that one.  The song game, too.  The celebrity name game this week seemed easier than last week.

Press Your Luck – You knew the Wammy was coming sooner or later.  In fact, I was thinking about last week’s episode while I watched.  Fortunately, this week had a much happier ending.

Match Game – It always amazes me how I can match so well sometimes when I’m can’t come up with anything and other times when I’m sure I have a good match no one comes up with it.  The Big Bad Wolf is eating free range pork, for example.  I would have matched there at the end with Sharon Stone, however.  I think we concluded that makes me old.

The Titan Games – Epic.  That final showdown between the brothers was epic.  I wonder how long they really went on, and you could tell they were both tired.  I surprised that both of the Titans were defeated and by such margins.  I’m bummed about Jessie.  I was going to root for her the entire way through.

Holey Moley – I was happy to see Pole Position again.  I really like that hole.  I’m surprised we haven’t seen the diver again.  Just as that running gag was starting to get going.  I wonder why the IT guy had to drop out.  I hope it wasn’t because he was injured, although that could be with some of these holes.

Don’t – I enjoyed this episode more than last weeks.  Probably because I knew a bit more what to expect.  Also, the narrator cracked me up.  He is the best part of the show.  Obviously the Don’t Flinch round would have been the best time to use the Don’t Push button.  I’m so impressed with her nerves of steel.

Friday, June 19, 2020

June 19th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome to Friday!  For me, it's even better because I'm taking today off.  My own personal 3 day weekend.

I'm going to start the celebration with Book Beginning and Friday 56 for the week.  This week's featured book is The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor.

                                                      

This is the first book from this author in over a decade.  I was very happy to find her writing again.

Here's how the book begins:

My mother singing.  That's one thing I remember.
Jumping ahead to the 56% point in the book:

Roly and Wilcox and Regan are waiting for us at Pearse Street.  No reporters today.  Griz is late but when she comes rushing in, clutching her phone, I know she has something.

The book comes out on Tuesday, and I will have a review ready to post that day.  I hope you'll come back and see what I thought.

In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Book Review: Billy Boyle by James R. Benn (Billy Boyle #1)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and sense of time, good mystery
Cons: Historical detail does slow things down at times
The Bottom Line:
Hunt for spy; killer
Introduces character
A trip back in time




Search for the Spy

I’ve heard about the Billy Boyle mysteries several times over the years.  It had crossed my radar yet again right before a friend started raving about them.  That was the added push I needed to travel back to World War II with the first in the series, entitled Billy Boyle.

Billy had just made detective in the Boston police department when World War II hit America.  In an effort to keep him away from the front lines, his family uses their connections to General Eisenhower and Billy finds himself assigned as Uncle Ike’s personal investigator.

Billy’s arrival in London in the summer of 1942 is just in time because there is about to be a meeting to discussion Operation Jupiter, the plans to invade Norway and free it from the Germans.  There’s just one problem – there is a spy in the ranks, and no one knows who it is.  So Billy goes to the meeting to see if he can find the spy before the plans for the invasion are ruined.  However, things are complicated when one of the exiled Norwegian officials dies under mysterious circumstances.  Does Billy have a murder on his hands?  Can he find the spy?

World War II has always been a time in history that fascinates me, however this book made me realize there are large parts of it I don’t know much about.  While many of the characters are obviously fictional, Operation Jupiter was a very real part of the war – and if I had heard about it in the past, I had forgotten about it.  I enjoyed learning about it here, and it provided a wonderful backdrop to the action.

Unfortunately, I did find that action to be hit and miss.  The author had obviously done a lot of research on the time period, and he was anxious to share that with us.  Some of that period detail resulted in a slower story than I would normally enjoy.  It’s a curse I’ve found in other historical series as well.

And yet.

And yet I found myself captivated by the characters and the world that surrounds them.  Billy leads a cast of very real characters even if most of them are fictional.  I loved Billy, someone who is out of his element but is trying not to show it.  That vulnerability is especially appealing.  While he really doesn’t know anyone when the book starts, he quickly makes some friends, and I look forward to seeing them again in future books.

Don’t misunderstand, either.  There is a good story where.  The murder part is a classic locked room mystery, and everything is explained by the time we reach the end.  The suspects and their motives are strong – assuming of course it was even murder.

This isn’t one of my typical cozies, and I wasn’t sure what I might find in the way of content.  I was very happy to find that it was still very mild.  There is a smattering of foul language and the violence never gets more detailed than it truly needs to be.  I was especially impressed with the restraint Billy showed when it came to the women he encountered.  It was a refreshing change from some of the non-cozy series out there.

The book has a mixed tone.  There are some very light, fun parts that made me smile if not laugh.  There are other parts that get pretty deep.  These are balanced perfectly for a richer story.

I’m coming to this series late, so I have a lot of catching up to do, but make no mistake – I will be reading more books in this series.  Now that I’ve met Billy Boyle, I have to know what happens to him next.

Fight through more of World War II with the rest of the Billy Boyle Mysteries.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Movie Review: Adventures in Babysitting (2016)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun, wacky family comedy
Cons: Definitely some themes parents will want to talk through with their kids
The Bottom Line:
When a kid sneaks out
It leads to chaos for all
In remake that works




When Babysitting Gets Out of Hand

Time for another true confession – even though I grew up in the 1980’s, I have never seen Adventures in Babysitting.  After all, I didn’t watch very many movies until I went to college.  However, when The Disney Channel decided to remake it with one of the stars of Girl Meets World in a lead role, I decided to give the remake a chance.  I’m glad because I mostly enjoyed it.

Jenny Parker (Sabrina Carpenter) and Lola Perez (Sofia Carson) are both up for a photography internship, but that’s all they have in common.  Jenny is a responsible, driven young woman, while Lola is laid back to the point of irresponsibility.  While at an interview for the internship, the two meet and take an instant dislike to each other.  They accidentally switch phones, and Lola takes a call intended for Jenny – a desperate call for a babysitter.  Desperate for money, Lola takes the job.

Jenny has her own babysitting gig that night, and while there, she learns what Lola has done.  She brings her charges to confront Lola and switch back her phone only to discover that one of Lola’s kids has snuck out for the night.  Desperate to save her reputation, Jenny is the one who actually leads the group into the city to try to track down the boy.  But when things go from bad to worse, will anything get them all home safely before the parents find out?

I must admit a part of me is still of two minds about the film.  All of the kids, including the babysitters, make some bad choices.  They seem like a good idea, but when you stop and think about them, they really aren’t.  I remember the original was controversial, partly for that very reason.  This is definitely a movie to talk about with your kids.

On the other hand, this movie is fun.  There are some wacky situations the kids find themselves in over the course of the evening, and they are played perfectly for laughs.  The little bit of stunt work involved is fantastic as well, and makes the physical comedy work.

If you’ve been reading my reviews of the Hallmark movies I’ve watched over the last few years, I’ve commented on the Hallmark cheese factor.  This may be a Disney Channel movie, but I noticed it here as well, mainly among the adults in the cast.  However, the acting is perfectly in tone with the light hearted movie, and you’ll get lost in the story before you know it.

Speaking of story, each of the kids get their one sub-plot and as a result their moment to shine.  It’s mostly predictable stuff, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

By the time the movie was over, I was completely enjoying myself.  While I can’t compare it to the original, I found the remake of Adventures in Babysitting to be fun for a new generation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Book Review: The 20th Victim by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club #20)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong story
Cons: Ending rushed
The Bottom Line:
Assassin at work
Keeps pages turning quickly
Patterson thriller




Rehearsal for Assassination?

It took me a little longer than normal to get the newest Women’s Murder Club book this time around.  With the libraries closed right now, they didn’t get the listing for The 20th Victim up as quickly as normal, and many of us were watching for it.  Fortunately, I still got on the waiting list fairly early for the ebook version, so I didn’t have to wait too long to visit Lindsay and the rest of the crew.

Getting fast food turns out to be fatal for one man who is taken out by a sniper as he is leaving the drive through on morning.  His wife in the seat next to him is left physically unharmed.  It’s a perfect sniper shot.  While Lindsay gets the case as part of her job as a San Francisco homicide detective, reporter Cindy gets a key clue.  Someone wrote “Rehearsal” in the dust of the car’s back window.  The question is, rehearsal for what?

Meanwhile, Claire has some scary news of her own to deal with, and Yuki has to prosecute the case of a teenage getaway driver who won’t flip on the real criminals.  Even Lindsay’s husband, Joe, has a case of his own when his college roommate thinks his father was murdered.

It’s no surprise to fans of the series that this book is filled with several storylines that weave in and out of each other.  In this case, I think there was one story too many since the book had to rush to wrap them up.  The easy candidate is the repetitive plot that we saw earlier in the series.  Or maybe it should have shortened something in the middle.  Either way, the climax is definitely rushed for all the stories.  Along the way, the pace never lagged, however, and I was always happily turning pages when I had time to read.

As always, the characters are relatively thin.  We’ve spent enough time with them that we certainly care about them, but the focus is on the plot, and that doesn’t leave us much time to delve into the character’s personalities or see much growth.

Despite my picking on the negatives, I enjoyed this book.  Most of those negatives are baked in when I pick up a book in this series.  The plots were definitely some of the stronger in the series, and I enjoyed seeing how things unfolded.  I kept my teaser as brief as possible since discovering some of the early twists in the story was definitely some of the most fun.

Fans of James Patterson will be pleased with The 20th Victim.  It’s another fun page turner with familiar characters.

Check out the rest of the Women's Murder Club mysteries.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Ornament Review: Family Love - Snowtop Lodge Companion Piece - 2019 Hallmark Release


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great reminder about family
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Snowman celebrates
The love of family ties
Lovely ornament




Celebration of Family Love

2019 saw the 15th anniversary of the Snowtop Lodge series, and they released a couple of special ornaments to celebrate.  Family Love is one of those, but it’s a great ornament all on its own.

As fans of the series would expect, this ornament features a snowman.  He’s wearing a velvet Santa hat and a red vest, although the vest is painted on.  He’s holding a green banner with “Family” written on it.  Across his stomach is the phrase “Strung together with love.”  Below that are snowpeople holding hands.

I love the sentiment of this ornament.  It is love that holds a family together.  And, even with everything going on right now in the world, that family love (and love from friends) is such a huge encouragement.  The snowpeople aren’t quite as detailed or fun as the scenes on the official series ornaments, but that’s okay.  This one is wonderful just the way it is.

Being a snowman, this guy stands on his own thanks to his nice, flat base.  He is porcelain, so you’ll want to make sure you set him out someplace he won’t be knocked around.

Naturally, he’s also designed to be hung on your tree.  The loop is hiding in the Santa hat, or at least it is in mine.  You can barely see it.  The good news is it is still easy to get a hook through the loop.  The even better news is that the ornament hangs straight.

Obviously, this ornament caught my eye because I collect the rest of the Snowtop Lodge series.  However, you really could enjoy Family Love whether you have the rest of the series or not.

Do check out the rest of the Snowtop Lodge series.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

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

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of heroes
Cons: No hidden items, no Perdita
The Bottom Line:
Roger, Dalmatians
In this magical window
No room for extras

My Thoughts on This Pin are a Bit Spotty

I appreciate it when the designers of the Windows of Magic pin series are able to work in multiple characters.  However, with the pin dedicated to the heroes of 101 Dalmatians, I feel like they tried to work too many characters into the window.

The main focus is on Pongo, as it should be.  He takes up about half the window.  The rest is broken into three sections.  Two of those are taken up by two of the puppies, and the final section is devoted to Roger.  The sections for the puppies are so small we can’t see anything behind them.  Behind Pongo, there’s a clock, and behind Roger, we can see a horn, part of a piano, and some sheet music.  The window’s frame has a paw print at the top, and features bones on the side and bottom.

I appreciate the fact that they tried to work so many characters into this pin.  But I feel like the result is a bit too busy.  Also, I enjoy these pins because of the hidden things we can hunt for, but in this case, there isn’t room for the hidden things.  Finally, where is Perdita?  She’s as much a part of this as Pongo.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still like the pin.  The faux stained-glass still looks wonderful, and that was a big draw of the series for me.  I just don’t love it as much as I do so many of the others in the series.

This pin might not be quite as fun as some of the other Windows of Magic, but it will still be a great pin for fans of 101 Dalmatians to get.

Want to see a picture?  Check out my post on Instagram.

Disney Pin Review: Cruella de Vil - Windows of Evil Pin - 2018 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Lots of fun little touches
Cons: Nothing spotty about it – it’s great!
The Bottom Line:
Cruella’s window
Features lots of fun touches
With great stained-glass look

My Thoughts on This Pin are Black and White

Obsession can make a good villain.  There is none who better exemplifies this than Cruella de Vil, the subject of the Windows of Evil pin I’m looking at this month.

Cruella’s face takes up about half of this faux stained-glass window.  She’s grinning at us, which is creepy as always.  You just know she’s up to something when she is grinning like that.  Around her is a light green background.

At the top of the window is one of my favorite features of this pin.  We have a silhouette of her two henchmen, Jasper and Horace, framed in a square.  Why do I love that so much?  Because it is a callback to the scene where we first see them through a window just before they break in to steal the puppies.  It’s such a very fun way to include them without them taking away from Cruella.

Down at the bottom are a couple more silhouettes, this time of puppies.  One is white and one is black, but they are the opposite of Cruella’s hair.  The frame itself is spotted, just like Dalmatians, and up at the very top is a “C.”

Obviously, there is much to like about this pin, and I do.  The details (I didn’t name them all) are fantastic, and the way they have faked the stained-glass look is excellent.  I believe this is also the only time (definitely the first I’ve reviewed) where the pin for the villain features something related to the hero on it.  This is a fun pin from top to bottom.

Since this was a limited-edition release, it is long gone from pin stores at Disneyland.  However, if you are a fan of Cruella, this is definitely a pin worth tracking down.

Want to see a picture?  Check out my post on Instagram.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

June 13th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Hollywood Game Night – That was a close game, and it was close all the way through.  I’m a little surprised they never tried to put the balls between the guy’s legs in the first game.  Glad this fun show is back.

Press Your Luck – Last week was preempted here in LA, but I certainly enjoyed this week’s episode.  I couldn’t believe how long some of the players went between wammies.  Kind of saw their change of luck coming, but I was hoping the guy in the bonus round would wind up winning big.  He was doing so well for so long, too.

Match Game – That was an impressive come from behind win in the first game, although it was an easy match.  Then, in the second game, they had only one match in the two rounds.  It is funny how it goes like that sometimes.

The Titan Games – The women’s titan wasn’t defeated, but we finally had someone else win the men’s competition.  I always hated challenges when I was tied to someone else because I was never strong enough to do my own thing.  I certainly feel for those who lost there.

Stargirl – Wow.  I feel bad for the new friend.  Yes, she did something stupid, but her family is being harsh.  I’m not so sure Henry is completely at fault, I think the mean girl stole the picture and sent it out.  (Yes, Henry shouldn’t have been showing the picture to his friends, that’s for sure.  I just don’t think he was involved in it going to the entire school at all.)  Her powers are pretty impressive.  But what, if anything, does the principal have to do with all of this?

Holey Moley – I’m disappointed.  I wanted that Mohawk wet.  I wanted to see what happened to it.  That was a very impressive hole in one to end things.  Yes, luck, but still, very nice.

Don’t – I thought this show looked like fun.  Some of the challenges were, and some weren’t.  I do like that a family is working together and everyone goes home with money.  I’ll see what I think of the second episode.

Friday, June 12, 2020

June 12th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome to Friday.  Time for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm offering teasers from Billy Boyle by James R. Benn.

                                          

Yes, this is a mystery.  It's the first in a series set in World War II.  I finished it earlier this week, and I enjoyed it.  I'll have a review up on Thursday - assuming I get it written between now and then.

In the meantime, here's the beginning of chapter 1:
I wanted to die.  No, actually I didn't want to die.  Or live.  I just didn't care.

A fun beginning, right?

Here's another fun exchange from page 56:

"Will there be a test?"
"Oh yes, indeed!" Kaz laughed.

This book has some fun exchanges and moments, and I got to highlight two of them.  Overall, this is a serious mystery.  And it's good.  I hope you'll come back on Thursday to see my full review.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Book Review: Murder on Lexington Avenue by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #12)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters; compelling mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Murder in office
Links to deaf community
Another strong case




Working on Saturday is Murder

I guess is shows my lack of creativity, but I am always amazed when an author can keep coming up with compelling cases that touch different aspects of a character’s life.  Victoria Thompson has an even harder quest since she has to find reasons to keep bringing two characters together to solve murders.  But she does it wonderfully once again in Murder on Lexington Avenue.

New York City Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy is called to a crime scene on a Saturday.  A man has been killed in his office, and Frank almost immediately learns the man was involved with one of the schools for the deaf in New York City.  His interest is piqued since his own son, Brian, is deaf, but Frank chose to send his son to one of the rival schools in the city.

Frank starts his investigation, but while questioning one of the suspects, he finds he has to get midwife Sarah Brandt involved in the case.  Suddenly undercover with the victim’s family, Sarah is able to learn more about the family dynamic and get various members to confide in her.  Will that lead Sarah and Frank to solve the case?

The story starts right away.  There’s no set up before Frank is called to the scene of the crime.  The plot is intriguing with plenty of suspects and motives.  I was certain I had it figured out several times before Frank and Sarah brought the case to a satisfactory conclusion.

Frank and Sarah both have families that we’ve gotten to know, and we do get to see both of their families a little bit before the plot fully takes over the book.  I always enjoy getting updates on these supporting characters.  I believe that a longer mystery arc got a huge kick start here, although I’ll have to keep reading to find out for sure.  (Not that I’m complaining about that in the slightest.)

As always, Frank and Sarah work together to solve the crime.  It takes a while for Sarah to get involved in this case, but once she does, she is fully involved and as important as Frank in solving the case.  I loved watching them working together.  It may be unofficial since he works for the police and she’s a midwife, but they felt like a solid team here.

Because of Frank’s son, Frank brings a personal knowledge to this case that I really enjoyed.  It allowed us to see some development in him.  This book also shows a light on issues in the deaf community in the 1890’s.  While some have been resolved in the decades since, the author’s note at the end talks about those that still rage on today.  I loved how the author talked about those without slowing down the mystery.

The Gaslight Mysteries are always wonderful trips back in time, and Murder on Lexington Avenue is no exception.  You could jump in here or start at the beginning.  Either way, you’ll enjoy solving crimes with Frank and Sarah.

Here are the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Movie Review: 2 Fast 2 Furious


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, likeable characters, decent story
Cons: Mostly mindless movie
The Bottom Line:
Street racing and crime
Combine in action packed film
Mindless yet still fun




Racing to Stop a Criminal

I had some issues with the original The Fast and the Furious when I watched it a few years ago, but with the franchise being so popular, I had to give it another chance.  That’s why movies air on TV right?  I caught 2 Fast 2 Furious on the air recently, and I enjoyed it more than the first.

After the events of the first movie, former police officer Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker, the only returning cast member) has relocated to Miami, Florida, where he occasionally takes part in illegal street races.  After one such race, he gets picked up by the police, but instead of being sent to prison, he’s given an opportunity.

The US customs service is trying to take down drug kingpin Carter Verone (Cole Hunter).  They’ve even had an agent, Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), undercover for almost a year.  Monica has gotten word back to the police that she is putting together a crew of fast drivers for a job.  If Brian will also go undercover and help take him down, they will forget about his recent crimes.  He insists on working with Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), his childhood friend who is now an ex-con.  Will the pair be able to work together enough to succeed in their mission?

Let’s be honest, the plot is just an excuse for fast cars racing in incredible and impossible ways.  And stunts.  We can’t forget the car related stunts.  Having said that, the plot holds together well.  I was actually concerned for the characters are got caught up in the action more than I did during the first movie.

It helps that the characters are likable here.  I struggled with liking anyone in the first film, but here I could sympathize with the heroes and I wanted to see them succeed.  It also helps that the actors appear to be having fun working together.

And the action?  It’s great.  There are definitely some moments that stretch credibility, but they are fun, so I definitely didn’t care.

2 Fast 2 Furious is a fun, mindless action movie.  If that’s what you are in the mood for, this is definitely one to check out.  And it makes me want to continue on with the franchise.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Book Review: Guaranteed to Bleed by Julie Mulhern (Country Club Murders #2)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong story and characters
Cons: Ellison’s Mother at times
The Bottom Line:
Football game murder
Ellison on a mission
Excellent story




Guaranteed to Entertain

It quite often takes me longer than I intend to return when I discover a new series I enjoy.  I really did plan to return to Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders earlier, but I just have too many books calling my name.  (It might help if I’d stop beginning new series, but that’s beside the point.)  Anyway, I finally made the time to read Guaranteed to Bleed, and I enjoyed it.

It’s September 1974, and Ellison Russell is back in Kansas City.  This particular Friday night, she’s at a high school football game, crowded into the stands.  She’s not a fan, but her daughter, Grace, is a cheerleader, so Ellison is there to support her.  Unfortunately, that also leads Ellison to discovering a dying teen.

Bobby Lowell uses his dying breath to beg Ellison to “Tell her I love her.”  Ellison isn’t sure who “her” is.  This murder is once again hitting too close to home as Bobby and Grace had grown up together.  Ellison doesn’t plan to get involved in solving the murder, but as she tries to fulfill Bobby’s dying words, she stumbles on suspects and motives.  Will she find the mysterious woman?  Will that lead her to the killer?

The book starts quickly, reintroducing us to Ellison and her life while also setting up the story.  Because Ellison isn’t trying to solve the murder, the plot unfolds a little differently than most mysteries.  However, there is plenty of story and conflict.  I was never bored, and the further I went into the book, the more I had to know what was going to happen next.  Everything is resolved by the time we reach the final page.

Ellison is a sympathetic main character.  I love her, and I can’t help but want the best for her.  Because of what is happening here, we see some good growth in her, which I also enjoyed.  The rest of the cast are strong, and I like most of them.  Ellison’s mother annoys me with her focus on always doing or saying the right thing and not allowing for life to get in the way.  Fortunately, most of the time she comes across as amusing more than annoying.

There’s a fine balance here between comedy and drama.  There are moments and lines that made me smile if not laugh.  However, the murder hits very close to home, and Ellison is going through some other serious things.  These different tones mesh well together, and I found it made the book richer.

The book delves into some darker issues than in a typical cozy, approaching PG-13 territory.  Just know that going into the book, and you’ll be fine since it doesn’t get into detail on any of these issues.

Some of the things Ellison is dealing with here are fallout from the first book in the series.  I highly recommend you read the earlier book first since there will be some spoilers and a few other things will make more sense.

I’m glad I made the time to read Guaranteed to Bleed.  The characters and story captivated me once again.  Hopefully, it won’t be quite as long before I am able to return and visit Ellison again.

Enjoy more from the 1970's with the rest of the Country Club Murders.