Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Movie Review: Ships in the Night - A Marth's Vineyard Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, great characters
Cons: A light dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Return to Vineyard
With entertaining movie
That fans will enjoy







Art Gallery Murder

The first of this year’s new mystery movies from Hallmark was released this past weekend.  I actually feel like it is a little late this year, especially since we don’t get our next new movie until next month.  Another sign of the year we’ve had, I’m sure.  Anyway, we returned to Martha’s Vineyard with this new movie – Ships in the Night, and it was fun.

There’s an upcoming fundraiser in Martha’s Vineyard, and one of the local art galleries has agreed to donate a painting to be auctioned off.  However, there seems to be some miscommunication, and when retired Boston cop Jeff Jackson (Jessie Metcalfe) agrees to pick up the painting as a favor, it isn’t ready.  The next day, Zee Madieras (Sarah Lind) shows up at the gallery to clear up the confusion to find a dead body in the middle of the floor.

Despite the fact that he is retired, Jeff once again finds himself investigating the latest murder in Martha’s Vineyard, helping out Zee’s father, the police chief (Eric Keenleyside).  They quickly find several motives, but which one actually lead to the murder?

I really enjoyed the first two movies in this franchise that we got last year, so I was thrilled that our first movie of the year was a return to these characters.  There is more set up than I’ve described here, and the mystery does a great job of confusing things with multiple potential motives until Jeff and Zee narrow things down.

In you are new to the franchise, Jeff and Zee were friends in their teens and have the requisite slow burn romance.  Zee is a doctor and the local medical examiner, so her involvement in the case makes some sense.  Okay, so she wouldn’t really go out and question suspects with Jeff, and he wouldn’t be out following leads on his own.  But we’ll ignore that break from police procedure because the movie is fun.

It helps that we really like all the main characters.  They are a fun bunch and the chemistry between the actors is wonderful.  It’s easy to buy all the relationships we see on screen.

Of course, there is the Hallmark cheese factor.  There is a slight dose of it here; fans of these movies might not even notice it at all.

There are still some dangling plot threads in the character’s lives, so I hope we get another visit to Martha’s Vineyard this year.  Fans of the franchise and Hallmark’s mysteries in general will enjoy Ships in the Night.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Book Review: The Broken Spine by Dorothy St. James (Beloved Bookroom Mystery #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Some good twists on the cozy in this debut
Cons: I’m keeping all cons a secret
The Bottom Line:
Tru hiding secret
Solve murder to protect books
Strong start to series




Uncovering Secrets to Keep Her Own

When The Broken Spine crossed my radar, I knew I had to read it.  The idea of a secret bookroom appealed to me, and that plays a large part of the mystery.  I’m so glad I picked up this series debut since I enjoyed it.

Tru Beckett has always lived her life playing by the rules.  However, when she learns that the books in her library are all going to be removed to make way for a modern, bookless “technology center,” she decides she has to do something.  So, she sets up a secret room in the library’s basement and hides as many of the books as she possibly can.

Tru enlists a couple of friends to help her one night, but as they are finishing up the next morning, the unthinkable happens.  A shelving unit filled with DVDs falls over and kills the town manager, the very person behind the change in the library.  Since Tru found the victim, the police start with her as their first suspect.  They can tell she is hiding a secret, but that secret is her bookroom.  She quickly decides the only way to keep her secret is to solve the murder herself.  Can she do it?

I always love it when a cozy comes up with an additional motive for the main character to investigate a murder.  In this case, not only does Tru want to clear her name, but she has to keep her new bookroom a secret.  That added layer to her motivation was great.

And the mystery was good.  A couple of times I thought the pacing might be slowing down, but then something would happen to kick the plot into high gear again.  The result was a book I never wanted to put down.  There are some great twists along the way, and the solution makes perfect sense.

Since this is the first book in the series, it’s not always easy to tell suspects from potential series regulars.  Not that it matters because all the characters are strong.  I like Tru, and her friends are just as great.  A few of the minor characters really make an impression with only a couple of scenes.  I’m definitely looking forward to spending time with all of them again soon.  They don’t all fall into typical cozy mystery categories, too, something else I appreciated.

As a reader, the idea of a bookless library truly bothers me.  I get that libraries offer so much more than books, and I’m thrilled that they do.  I’ve borrowed movies and ebooks and audiobooks from my own library.  But getting rid of books all together?  Naturally, that part of the premise made me sympathize with Tru that much more.

The Broken Spine is a delightful debut.  I already can’t wait to visit Tru and her friends again.  If you are looking for a fun new series to start the new year, this is one to check out.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Movie Review: psych 2: Lassie Come Home

Stars
: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun to spend more time with Shawn, Gus, and the rest of the gang
Cons: Mostly minor, but fans won’t mind
The Bottom Line:
Hospital mys’try
psych gang together again
Great fun for their fans





“This Lassie Thing is the Perfect Reason to Not Think About Anything Real at All.”

I was a fan of psych during its original run, so I always had psych 2: Lassie Come Home on my radar.  Since I am finally getting over my aversion to streaming, it took me a little longer to watch it than I might have originally, but I’m glad I finally got to watch it.

The action mostly takes place back in Santa Barbara, the location where the series was set.  The town’s current chief of police, Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson), has been shot multiple times, and then suffered a stroke while in surgery.  While someone has been arrested for the shooting, his old partner, Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson), doesn’t believe the confession and is conducting a secret, off the books, investigation.

But that’s not the only secret being kept.  You see, Lassiter thinks he is seeing stuff at the posh medical facility where he is recovering.  And that’s where Shawn Spencer (James Roday Rodriguez) and Burton Guster (Dule Hill) come in.  They are sneaking down to Santa Barbara from their new home in San Francisco as well to help him figure out what is going on.  Does it have anything to do with his shooting?

Let’s be honest here, fans never turned in to psych to watch a well plotted, complex mystery.  The mystery was always the excuse for Shawn and Gus’s antics.  And for that reason alone, fans will be happy to watch this movie again.  It perfectly recaptures the relationships we loved, and not just Shawn and Gus.  I will say that Shawn and Gus can get a bit tiring at times, but most of the time I was laughing at their antics.

Now, this isn’t to say that the mystery is irrelevant.  It does draw us in and reach a logical conclusion.  A couple of the twists are a bit abrupt, but it does all hang together.

Another thing this show was famous for was pop culture references.  Once again, they have worked them in perfectly.  Some are in your face meta (which is fun) and some are more subtle, but they are always fun.  The show used to focus on the 1980’s, but they had plenty of more recent ones here.

I made a point of mentioning earlier that the action takes place back in Santa Barbara.  Most of the characters are still living in San Francisco.  I will freely admit to rolling my eyes at how everyone acted like it was a couple hour drive instead of the multiple hour road trip required to drive between them.

This is the second reunion movie that has been done since the series ended.  Timothy Omundson had real life health problems just before the first one started filming.  It was great to see him back in action here, and I appreciate how they wrote his real life health issues into the mystery.

And the gang is all here.  They even work in Buzz McNab and Woody Strode as well as Karen Vick and Henry Spencer.  It truly is fantastic to see everyone again.

The chemistry from the entire cast is still amazing.  You can believe that the character’s relationships have continued off screen, and the cast appears to be having fun working together again.  There’s an impressive roster of guest stars as well, and they fit right in to the chaos that is psych.

Having said that, it would have been nice to have a few more reminders of where the characters are in their lives.  The movie assumes we remember how the series ended and what happened in the last movie.  I was always struggling to remember those details.  Yes, it’s on me, but it was a minor issue overall.

If you are a fan and trying to track the movie down, it is available on Peacock, NBC's streaming service.  I was able to watch the movie for free.  There were three minutes of commercials at the beginning, and then the movie uninterrupted.

Minor issues aside, it was fun to revisit the psych gang.  If you were a fan of the series, you’ll be glad you watched psych 2: Lassie Come Home.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Stitch Surfing - All Star Trading Cards - 2020 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun pin of Stitch surfing
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Stitch going surfing
Started a new pin series
As is lots of fun




An Out of This World Start to one of 2020’s Pin Series

I have been working collecting on a couple of different limited edition Disney pin series from 2020.  I decided to jump into both of them late, so I’m still trying to track all the pins down.  The first of those series is the All Star Sports Trading Cards series, and it got off to a fun start with Stitch surfing.

I will be the first to admit that it’s been years since I watched Lilo & Stitch.  (I really should rewatch it).  But I do remember that surfing plays a part in the movie, and Stitch takes to surfing right away.  That’s what makes this pin and the series overall so much fun – it takes characters in action doing something that do in their movies.

The pin itself is a rectangle with a white boarder.  It looks just like the sports cards that people can buy and collect.  The picture shows Stitch on a surfboard riding a wave.  Stitch and the board are attached to the pin, giving it a tiny pit of 3D.  Stitch has signed his name is at the top of the card, and at the bottom in sparkly blue it says “Surfing.”

While I’m not the biggest Stitch fan, I certainly appreciate this pin.  It fits with the movie and gets the series off to a promising start.

Since Stitch is a popular character, this pin is a little more expensive on the secondary market than some of the others in the series.  If you are interested, you’ll have to be patient or spend a little bit more than you would have if you bought it when it first came out.

But I found it worth it.  Stitch got this pin series off to a wonderful start at the beginning of 2020.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

January 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

 My first streaming show appears on the list.  Not that anyone besides me cares to know about this milestone.

Ellen’s Game of Games – The problem with Ah Snap was perfectly illustrated by what happened in this episode.  It is usually one person who dominates so it isn’t fun.  And they made such a big deal about the all female Sudden Drop, but they only had one male contestant on at all.  Not complaining, but it was just the odds.

The Weakest Link – Not surprised that Jack left at the end.  I would have voted him off, too, since he is crazy good.  I’d love to see him show up on Jeopardy!  John was impressive at the end, getting all the questions right.  I was impressed with how many of the questions I got right over the course of the show, although I definitely would have missed a few of the ones everyone considered easy.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – So you have this friend that you’ve suddenly decided to build a different relationship with, and you just jump into bed right away.  And you act like you’ve wanted this for years?  I was having a hard time with that part of the episode.  Having said that, I truly did enjoy the medley scene near the end of the episode.  So funny.

Call Me Kat – Still more amusing than truly funny.  I did like the idea of her staying in town but trying not to let her mother know about it.  Even so, I feel badly for her not getting to go on that trip.  And I’m very glad they didn’t play her as drunk for more than that one scene.

Star Trek: Discovery – Got to admit, I didn’t see most of that episode coming.  Glad that Paul is out of his comma.  Hopefully that will help them get home.  Can they extract the Klingon completed from Ash’s mind?  What will remain?  But I think the biggest surprise is that Lorca is really from this universe.  I did not see that coming at all until I was supposed to, ie. just a couple of minutes before they officially told us.

WandaVision – I was amused, and I am intrigued.  As a fan of classic sitcoms, I did love the nods to them, but I felt like they were trying just a bit too hard with the jokes at times.  Definitely intrigued by where they are going with this because there are definite hints there is more to the story (as you’d expect).  But the detail, from the black and white to the aspect ration was lots of fun.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Book Review: The First to Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and twisty plot
Cons: One annoying character; a few minor nits to pick
The Bottom Line:
Lies and deception
Create a twisty thriller
That’s hard to put down




Who Do You Trust When You Are Surrounded by Lies?

Last year (still trying to grasp that 2020 is last year already), I spent some time listening to Hank Phillippi Ryan’s first two stand alone suspense novels.  When The First to Lie came out, it was extremely popular at the library, so I didn’t even try to get it until now.  I knew I was in for another wild, twisty ride, and I enjoyed it.

As this book opens, we meet two women.  Nora has just taken a job as a sales rep for a Boston based pharmaceutical company.  However, she is not that interested in selling the product.  Instead, she is keeping her identity a secret so she can try to find some kind of dirt on the company.  Meanwhile, Ellie is a reporter who has just gotten a job at a Boston news station that is about to relaunch itself.  She is planning a story on the same pharmaceutical company, but she is having trouble getting sources to go on the record.  But in a world where everyone is lying, who can be trusted?

It's hard to describe much more of the plot than that without risking giving away spoilers.  This is a book that is best to go into as blindly as possible anyway.  I did pick up on a few twists before they were revealed, but there were others that caught me completely off guard.

Most of the characters were great.  I could sympathize with them and it was easy to root for them.  However, in all three of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s stand alones, she has had one character who just annoys me to no end.  I get that the character is supposed to be one we aren’t sure if we can trust or not, but I really had a hard time when that character in this book was on the page.

There were also some issues that a good edit could have taken care of.  The timeline seemed off to me, although I might have missed something since I listened to the audio.  There was definitely one continuity error, however.  Overall, these were minor, but they did annoy me.

As I said, I listened to the audio version.  Cassandra Campbell was the narrator.  She was good, but it took me a bit to really begin to distinguish some of the characters from each other.

There are multiple view point characters in this book and even a couple of different timelines.  Each chapter is clearly marked as to who and when the scene fits into the story.  I had no problems following the narrative even while listening to the book.  I only specify that because I couldn’t flip back to the beginning of a chapter if I got confused.

This is one of those books where there were several nits to pick.  However, don’t be fooled into thinking I didn’t enjoy the book.  Overall, this is a great story of suspense that kept me very entertained while on a long drive recently.  I wouldn’t have minded an even longer drive because I had to know what was going to happen next.

The First to Lie is a suspenseful page turner, and that’s no lie.  Set aside plenty of time when you pick up this book because you won’t want to put it down.

January 15th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it to Friday again!  That means it is time for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I have the first in a new series, The Broken Spine by Dorothy St. James.



This debut was a lot of fun.  I'm already looking forward to book two in the series.  It officially releases on Tuesday, and my review will be up then.

Meanwhile, here's now the book begins:

No one in the moderately sized rural southern town of Cypress would ever suspect their stalwart assistant librarian of breaking into the library where she worked.

I read an eARC, and when I got to 56% into the book, this was the first sentence:

"Mrs. Farnsworth didn't come in this morning.  I have alerted the police.  They're looking for her."

I normally read over and see what the best teaser is for the Friday 56, but I figured I couldn't top that, could I?

I hope you'll come back Tuesday to read my review.  In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Book Review: A Batter of Life and Death by Ellie Alexander (Bakeshop Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters we love, good plot
Cons: Pacing a bit off at times
The Bottom Line:
Competition show
Brings a murder to Ashland
Need to read more soon




Murderous Contest

When I was perusing my bookcase, I realized I never had gotten back to the Bakeshop Mysteries.  It’s actually a little embarrassing how long it’s been since I read the first one.  So, I decided it was time to return to Ashland, Oregon, with A Batter of Life and Death.

It’s autumn, and that means the Shakespeare Festival that Ashland is known for is wrapping up for the season.  Jules Capshaw is looking forward to catching her breath for a bit, although she is hoping that Torte, her family’s bakeshop, will still have enough customers that they can keep saving money for the upgrades they need.

A potential answer comes in the most surprising way.  The Pastry Channel has come to town to film the new season of Take the Cake, a baking competition show.  They want to use Torte’s kitchen for some of the contestants and they want Jules to be a contestant on the show.  While initially reluctant, Jules agrees to compete.

However, even before filming can begin, Jules finds one of the contestants dead on the set.  Chef Marco had made plenty of people angry, but who was made enough to kill him?

Obviously, a baking competition isn’t a new set up for a culinary cozy mystery, but author Ellie Alexander does a good job of using the set up to create her own mystery.  The pacing was a little off in the middle, but there are a good number of secrets and lies that Jules has to sift through before she can find the killer.  The other contestants make for wonderful suspects – they become a bit more developed as the book goes along so we care about the outcome.  The climax is suspenseful and logical.

Because it has been so long since I read the first book, the characters weren’t fresh in my mind when I picked up the book.  However, I was eased back into Jules’s world very quickly.  Jules is still dealing with some personal issues, and I appreciated the growth she got here.  Several other characters had good growth as well, and I’m interested in seeing what happens next to all of them.

I’ve never actually been to Ashland, but the book definitely made me want to visit.  Since I love the theater, that would be a huge draw for me as well.  Someday.

The book ends with 7 recipes you can enjoy any time.  They range from vegan butter to a delicious sounding chocolate cake and a pumpkin cream latte.

I know I am far behind on this popular series.  A Batter of Life and Death shows just why so many people love it.  I need to revisit Jules again soon.

If you are behind like me, check out the rest of the Bakeshop Mysteries.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

TV Show Review: L.A.'s Finest - Season 1

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters and strong second half of season
Cons: Hard to get into show, especially at a one episode a week pace
The Bottom Line:
LA detectives
Show overcomes a slow start
For fun second half




“Are You Still in the Doghouse?”  “I’m in the Pound.”

I wasn’t that interested in L.A.’s Finest when I first heard about it.  I’ve never seen any movies in the Bad Boys franchise, and this show is spinning off one of the characters from one of those movies.  However, when Fox picked up the first season this last fall, I decided to give it a chance.  It took me a while to get into it, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

The show centers on two LAPD detectives – Sydney Burnett (Gabrielle Union) and Nancy McKenna (Jessica Alba).  Not only are they work partners, but also friends.  Nancy even tries to include Sydney in things with her family, including Nancy’s husband Patrick (Ryan McPartlin) and step-daughter Isabel (Sophie Reynolds).  Patrick happens to be one of the DA’s in LA, so law and order definitely run in the McKenna family.

However, things are about to get very complicated for these partners.  What appears to be a routine case ties in to a drug cartel that Sydney was investigating back in Miami.  Not only is this cartel the reason she moved to LA, but the fresh lead begins to dig up bad memories for her.  Meanwhile, Nancy is about to have parts of her past come back into her life, complicating the new life she has made for herself.  With the help of another set of detectives in their department – the Bens, that is Ben Baines and Ben Walker (Duane Martin and Zach Gilford), can Sydney and Nancy figure out what is happening and find a way to stop it?

This show was originally created to stream for Spectrum cable customers (and I’m one of them), so it definitely feels different from a show that would air on a traditional network.  Naturally, there is a bit more language, violence, and sex, although thanks to watching most of the season on Fox, the worst of that was cut out, I’m sure.

Another way that this show is different is the way stories progress.  There is a strong season long storyline, and it is at the forefront of many of the episodes of the show.  There are smaller cases that the detectives have to solve along the way, but instead of being the main focus of any given episode, they are often the sub-plot.  Not only that, but these smaller cases wind up being spread over two or three weeks.  It’s obvious that the show was designed to be binged instead of spread out over many weeks.  With how Fox kept preempting it, it was longer than the 13 weeks I expected it to be.

I think that is part of what kept me from getting into the show right away.  I had to adjust my expectations, but it is also harder to get into this story when it has been a week or two since we last saw the characters.

But I stuck with the show, and I eventually did get hooked on the story that was being told.  The characters don’t always do the smartest things, but there are consequences for their actions.  As I invested in the characters, I had to know how they would get out of this situation – that is if they would at all.

This may share some DNA with a police procedural TV show, but there is more action.  Okay, so it’s TV show scale action rather than a big budget movie action, but I still appreciated the action and suspense we got along the way.

And the actors were all great.  They pulled me into each episode, so I was always sorry to see it end.  That’s what kept me coming back from week to week.

In the end, I’m glad I watched season 1 of L.A.’s Finest, and I’ve already started watching season 2 on demand.  It was worth the extra effort to get into this show.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Book Review: Quicksand by Gigi Pandian (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, engrossing plot
Cons: It took me so long to start reading this book
The Bottom Line:
Mysterious trip
Sends Jaya on adventure
Can’t put this one down




Get Sucked into Quicksand

It’s a common lament among readers – so many books so little time.  But that’s the reason I am just now getting to Quicksand, the third Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery from Gigi Pandian.  I enjoyed the first two in the series, but finding the time to get back to Jaya’s world proved to be tougher than I wanted it to be.

When this book opens, it’s been five months since we last checked in with Jaya.  In that time, she hasn’t heard anything from Lane Peters.  She’s not sure if she should be worried or hurt by his silence.  That changes when she gets a plane ticket to Paris along with a note from Lane saying he’s found something connected to the East India Company that he thinks she’d be interested in.  Intrigued, she arranges for some time off work and heads over to France.  Only, when she arrives, nothing is as she thought it would be.  What has Jaya gotten involved in now?

Yes, I’m being very vague in my plot teaser.  That’s because this is a book best experienced as it unfolds.  The twists and turns are fantastic, and they kept me off balance in the best possible way.  Since these books involved treasure, the plot doesn’t follow a traditional murder mystery plot, and they are richer for it.  The climax was exciting and answered our questions perfectly.

While we do get a few scenes with the people in Jaya’s life back in San Francisco, Jaya and Lane are really the only returning characters in this book.  They are strong enough to carry the story and make us care about the outcome.  Of course, we meet some colorful characters along the way, and they are highly entertaining as well.

Author Gigi Pandian and her character, Jaya, are both of Indian descent.  As a result, these books also involve the history of India.  I love that additional aspect since I learn something along the way.  The notes at the end help us separate what is real history from what Gigi made up for the purposes of the plot.

I’m glad I finally got to check in with Jaya Jones again.  If you want a great adventure, then you’ll be thrilled you picked up Quicksand.

If you want more, here are the rest of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Cookie Review: Chocolate Marshmallow Oreos

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good chocolate taste
Cons: Very hard to taste the marshmallow flavoring
The Bottom Line:
A mixed Oreo
Delicious chocolate taste
Missing marshmallow


Hint of Marshmallow Isn’t Enough to Make Me Love These Oreos

I am a sucker for anything marshmallow.  (Ironically enough, I don’t buy regular marshmallows very often.  Probably because the entire bag would be gone in one sitting.)  So when I spotted the Chocolate Marshmallow variety of Oreos, I had to give them a try.

Like a traditional Oreo, these have two chocolate cookies.  This time, the filling is a dark brown color and it is supposed to be flavored like a chocolate covered marshmallow.

The problem is the marshmallow flavor is mostly swallowed by the chocolate.  Now, this isn’t to say that the flavor is bad; I do like chocolate after all.  But I was looking for more marshmallow flavoring.  You can taste it a bit more if you eat the crème in the middle by itself.  However, the cookies overwhelm it if you just pop the whole thing in your mouth.

As I said, the taste isn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.  Which is probably a good thing since I don’t need more junk food to tempt me in the store.  I wouldn’t turn down Chocolate Marshmallow Oreos if someone offered them to me, but I won’t be buying them again for myself.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

My Favorite Books Read in 2020

 We are already ten days in 2021.  Can you believe it?  That might make me the last person to get a list of their favorite books read during 2020 published, but I'm going to fix that today.

As a reminder, I list these books in the order I read them.  And these are the books that stood out to me as I went over all the books I read during the year.  There were plenty of 5 star books I read this year that almost made the list, so feel free to browse through my book or monthly summary categories over on the left hand side to see what all I read.  While most of these books were published in 2020, there are a couple of older books on my list.  If I read it for the first time in 2020, it qualifies for this list.

With that out of the way, here's the list.  The link will take you to my full review.



Cozy Mysteries


Murder on Bank Street by Victoria Thompson

I read several of the Gaslight Mysteries this year in an attempt to catch up, and I rated all of them 5 stars.  But this one stood out to me since it wrapped up a major storyline we'd been following for 10 books, and it did it in a very satisfactory manner while developing the characters.


Microphones and Murder by Erin Huss

The first of several books by new to me authors on my list this year.  I loved the characters, and the mystery kept me guessing until I reached the end.  Plus the podcasting aspect was something different from other cozies I read.  The second was just as much fun as the first.


Here Comes the Body by Maria DiRico

A cozy set in New York City with some characters who are in the mob.  Yes, you read that right.  It works in this delightful series debut.  You have time to read this one before the sequel comes out in February.  I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes next for these characters.


The Secrets of Bones by Kylie Logan

This series sits on the line between cozy and traditional.  The first one made my list last year, and this year's entry was just as strong.  The main character owns a cadaver dog, which sets the series apart from many I read.  I loved the premise of this one and how it unfolded.


Killer Chardonnay by Kate Lansing

A debut author to watch.  This book had a great mystery and complex characters brought to life by sub-plots that never took the spotlight from the mystery.  I have an ARC of the second on my review list this month, and I have very high hopes for it.


The Falcon Always Wings Twice by Donna Andrews

Donna and her character, Meg Langslow, are familiar entries on my list.  This is book twenty-seven in the series, after all.  And it is the series at it's best.  A strong mystery, charming characters, and plenty of laughs.  There are a lot of things going on in this book, and they are all balanced perfectly.


Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay

I read several of Jenn's books this year, but this one stood out to me.  Yes, I am still behind in the Library Lover's series, but I had such a blast watching the characters from all three of her mystery series interacting here.  If you are a fan of Jenn's and you haven't read this book yet, you need to fix that just for the cameos.


Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings by Liz Ireland

A cozy mystery set at the North Pole at Christmas?  I couldn't pass that up.  It delivered everything I was hoping it would.  There's a bit of fantasy (we are dealing with Santa and elves, after all), but the author does a great job of bringing it all to life.  I'm looking forward to the second book coming later this year.


Cake Popped Off by Kim Davis

This is the second book in a series, and it took the set up from the first book and paid it off in spades here.  I'm really growing to love the characters, and I'm dying to know how what happened in this book is paid off as the series continues.


Absence of Alice by Sherry Harris

Sherry Harris is another regular on my list.  Her latest Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery is not to be missed.  This is a cozy with a thriller edge that grabbed me and didn't let me go.  Meanwhile, we've got the usual cast of fantastic characters we love.


Other Mysteries


Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg

I've been reading Lee's books for years.  This is the most serious book from him I've read, but that didn't make it any less good.  As always, he captures me with the plot and brings his characters to life expertly.


Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz

Each book in the Orphan X series gets better, and 2020's book was no exception.  This is a thriller with fully developed characters you can't help but root for.  I seriously can't recommend this series strongly enough.


Middle Grade


City Spies by James Ponti

I'm so glad I stumbled upon this book this year.  Action, mystery, and wonderful characters.  The book is filled with heart, and I am looking forward to the sequel this year.


Spy School Revolution by Stuart Gibbs

The previous book in this series wrapped up a major arc, so I was curious to see how Ben's life would advance.  This one throws in a conspiracy going back to the days of the Revolution and incorporates the humor and thrills fans expect.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

January 9th's Weekly TV Thoughts

 First week of the year, and TV is back in full force.  Well, as full force as it gets right now anyway.

Call Me Kat (Sunday) – I know I say this all the time, and it is true – you can’t judge a show by its pilot.  So I will give this one another chance.  But I wasn’t overly impressed with this pilot.  It had some fun moments, and I got used to the breaking of the fourth wall pretty quickly.  I want to like the characters, but I feel like Kat could be more embarrassing than funny.

Supermarket Sweep – The first run had some obvious winners.  They had so much extra time.  I was surprised it took them so long to find what they needed at the end; I thought they had the top prize in the bag.  In the second round, the team made a good call not to move on.  They struggled with those clues.  Not that I would have done much better.

Ellen’s Game of Games – A double dose this week.  There’s a reason I don’t go on the show.  I have a fear of heights, too, so I would not do well at Know or Go.  However, the roller coaster game looks like fun to me.  I was surprised they didn’t dump the slime on the guy who won that challenge in the first hour.  That’s a creative and fun new game.  The new guessing game in the second episode seems a little simple.  Especially since they just blast people with air.  I was impressed with how the second team almost game back in the acting round after getting nothing in the first round.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – So many thoughts!  I’m sad that they had to write Joan out of the show, but I get that the actress made another commitment that wasn’t supposed to interfere but did.  I feel like they could bring her back at some point in the future if schedules aligned.  I’m surprised she made a choice – but very happy at the same time.  I was on Team Max from the beginning.  The show was so emotional overall, but I feel like it was handling grief well.  So often on a show we move on except for a few mentions, but this was tackling it head on.  I appreciated that.  I hope it’s not a major theme of every episode, however.

Mr. Mayor – I gave it both episodes that aired this week, but I’m out.  It has amusing moments, but it was more cringe than laugh, and I don’t want to continue.  I gave it a shot because of Ted Danson, but not even he can save this one.

Call Me Kat (Thursday) – You know what I just said about Mr. Mayor?  It applies here as well, but somehow, I find this show charming enough to keep watching.  I may give it up at some point, but I’m finding it sweet and amusing, and I want to keep watching.

Last Man Standing – While I don’t normally watch this show, I had to tune in to see Tim playing both of his characters.  I found it odd.  Tim Taylor just didn’t seem like himself.  However, I did enjoy some of the jokes about Home Improvement.

Star Trek: Discovery – I’m glad that Tyler’s secret is out, although that explanation is interesting.  Clever way to smuggle the information they needed, too.  Overall, the show just seems a bit slow.  Or maybe it is how this is being dragged out with so many interruptions.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Movie Review: Soul

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good theme and animation; fun overall
Cons: A different story, so takes a couple watches to fully appreciate
The Bottom Line:
A different film
Reminds us to enjoy life
Takes a watch or two  

Rediscovering the Soul of Life

I finally did it – I have signed up for a streaming service.  Anyone surprised that it was Disney+?  I didn’t think so.  The first thing I watched when I signed up was Soul, the newest film was Pixar.

The movie tells the story of Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx).  While he works as a music teacher, he has always dreamed of being a Jazz musician.  When he finally gets his shot, he is so excited, he stops watching where he is going, and he winds up falling down an open manhole.

When Joe wakes up, he discovers that he is now in the in-between.  Not ready to be dead with his dream so close, Joe tries to find a way to get back to Earth, finally connecting up with 22 (Tina Fey), a reluctant soul that doesn’t want to head to Earth at all.  Will mentoring her help Joe get back to Earth himself?

Honestly, the previews for this movie left me feeling a bit cold.  I just couldn’t quite figure out what the movie was going to be about and how much I might enjoy it.  But I still had to watch it because…Pixar.  I’m glad I did.

Obviously, the premise of this film isn’t something I’d agree with theologically.  If you have kids, you will want to keep that in mind.  But, I don’t look to animated films for my theology, so this is worth noting only in passing.

I suspect the humor in this film is something that will grow on my over time.  While I was certainly amused by parts of it, I felt like I should have been laughing at it a bit more.  I suspect watching it in a crowded theater would have helped with that.

The story is good.  There were several developments along the way I wasn’t expecting, and I enjoyed that.  That isn’t to say I was surprised by the ultimate outcome of the story, just several of the developments along the way.

I don’t recognize as many of the voice cast as I often do.  In addition to the two cast members I already named, the film also features Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett.  As always, the voice cast is wonderful whether I recognized their name or not.

And the animation is fantastic.  The fantasy world that they’ve created is fun and inventive.  Meanwhile, the scenes set in New York City look great as well.

The theme of the movie is one that is familiar to fans of Pixar and especially fans of director Pete Docter’s other movies (including Up and Inside Out).  It’s certainly a good reminder to stop and enjoy life along the way while pursuing our goals.  I think that was one reason I did enjoy the movie so much was the theme.

As I’m writing this review, it’s about a day after I watched the movie, and I’m still trying to pin down my exact reaction to the movie.  I think this is one of those movies that will grow on me with rewatches.  Now that I know where the movie is going and how it gets there, I was relax and enjoy the journey.  This wouldn’t be the first film that has become a favorite the more I’ve watched it.  The Princess Bride and The Emperor’s New Groove are other movies that fall into that category. 

If this sounds like I think the movie is bad, that’s not the case.  It’s just different.  Many people seem to be embracing it right away, but I’m still trying to process the film for what it is and separate it from my expectations.

Of course, this movie was supposed to be released in theaters with a short.  That was is “Burrow,” and you’ll find it on Disney+ as well.  I definitely recommend you search it out because it is cute.

Soul is a good movie.  It’s different from a normal Pixar film.  If you are a fan of Pixar, you should definitely watch it with an open mind to the story the film is telling.

January 8th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

 Hello again.  I took a couple of weeks off for the holidays, but I am back for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Quicksand by Gigi Pandian.


This is the third Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery.  I'm way behind in this series, but I enjoyed getting to finally read this book.

Shall we get to it?  Here's how the book begins:

"Is that the hilt of a sword sticking out of your purse?" Miles asked.

Moving on to page 56, we find this:

"Listen," I said, "I'm already in, so why not let me help?"

"First," Marcus said, "we order food and wine.  I realize you're an American, but this is a civilized country."

As I said, I enjoyed the book.  I hope you'll come back Tuesday for my review.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Book Review: Hitting the Books by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover's Mysteries #9)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lindsey, strong plot, great use of library
Cons: Uneven pacing, not as much of the supporting players
The Bottom Line:
Lindsey is witness
And case leads to library
Fans will enjoy it




Was the Hit and Run a Murder Attempt?

One of my reading goals for the year is to get up to date on Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lover’s Mysteries.  I jumped right in with Hitting the Books, which was the ninth book in the series.

Spring has arrived in Briar Creek, and it’s such a beautiful day that Lindsey Norris can’t help but spend a few minutes looking out the window of the library.  However, what she sees is someone hit tennis coach Theresa Huston and then drive off.  It sure seemed to Lindsey that the car sped up as it approached the crosswalk.  When the investigation points to the library, Lindsey can’t help but get involved.  But was this a case of negligent driving?  Or was it attempted homicide?

The book starts off strongly, settling us back into Briar Creek and getting the mystery off quickly at the same time.  However, I did feel the pacing lagged a little in the middle.  On the other hand, I loved how the library came into play in this mystery.  Lindsey’s job running the library has always been a part of the earlier books in the series, but I felt like this book incorporated the library into the series in a strong and creative way.  Honestly, I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before.  While I still had a question or two I wanted answered at the end, the biggest part of who and why were answered for us.

While all the characters are present, we don’t see as much of the supporting players as we do in some books.  Instead, the focus is on Theresa and the people in her life.  I loved the new characters, so I’m not complaining too much about that.  Plus, we also get to see some great development for Lindsey and Sully.

The series always features several extras at the end, and this book is no exception.  There are some reader’s questions for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a craft project, and three recipes.

Hitting the Books isn’t quite as strong as the series normally is, but fans won’t care.  It’s always great to visit Lindsey and the rest of the gang, and the mystery is intriguing.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Library Lover's Mysteries.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Haunted Mansion - Minnie Mouse the Main Attraction #10 - 2020 Release

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Tries for something different for a fan favorite attraction
Cons: The results don’t really work
The Bottom Line:
A ghostly Minnie
Pin set tries for different
Doesn’t pull it off

Minnie Will be Haunted by These Fashion Choices

It was no surprise to anyone that the attraction Minnie visited in October as part of the Minnie Mouse: the Main Attraction series was the Haunted Mansion.  I’m also not surprised that lots of people planned to get it since the Haunted Mansion is an extremely popular attraction, so it would appeal to those who were only casual collectors of series.  What did surprise me was that this was my least favorite release in the series.

In her journey around, the park, Minnie is making a quick hop from Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland to the Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square.  (Yes, I am Disneyland centric.  What can I say, I've been there countless times and only to Disney World once.)

As usual, the pin set features three pins.  The predominate colors this month were black and teal, which is fitting for a bunch of ghosts.  The icon this month is Madam Leota.  She’s looking at us from inside her crystal ball home.  The pin itself is round, and we can see Madam Leota’s face looking out at us.  So far, so good, right?

The second pin is Minnie.  She’s turned teal, although her dress and a ribbon on her head are a light purple.  She’s seen something that has frightened her because her legs are together, and her hands are on her face.  If you’ve seen reading my reviews of this series, you know I’m not a fan of the pins where Minnie isn’t her usual black and white, and this one definitely doesn’t work for me.

The final pin is the Minnie Ears pin.  If you look at other parts of the collection, you’ll see that they included the veil to represent the ghost bride they’ve added to the attraction in the last few years.  However, it doesn’t really work for the pin.  We’ve got black and teal stripes on the ears and Madam Leota in the middle of the bow.  But then there is a teal veil that is supposed to be hanging down behind the pin.  It just looks weird, especially since none of the other sets have done anything like that.  They’ve all just had the ears as a pin, nothing like the veil added.

Now, this isn’t to say that the set is horrible.  I can see what they were going for, and it just doesn’t work.

This is truly the only disappointing set in the series.  If there had been more like this, I wouldn’t have gone through the drama of trying to get all the sets in 2020.  But the only reason to get the Haunted Mansion pins for the Minnie Mouse: The Main Attraction series is if you are a completist collector.

If you'd like to see the pins, please stop by my Instagram account.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Book Review: City of Schemes by Victoria Thompson (Counterfeit Lady #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, creative plot, fun
Cons: One aspect of the ending didn’t sit right with me
The Bottom Line:
A face from the past
Plus trying to help a friend
Make for a fun book




Facing the Past While Planning for the Future

I’ve been looking forward to checking back in with Elizabeth Miles for months.  She is the star of the Counterfeit Lady series from Victoria Thompson.  The series is something different, and I love it for that.  City of Schemes was another delightful book.

If you are new to the series, you really need to meet Elizabeth.  She is a conwoman raised in the business in 1910’s New York City.  However, she’s put that behind her (well, almost behind her) after getting engaged to Gideon Bates, a member of society.  She seems to find herself getting involved in schemes despite her promises to stay away.

And if you are new to the series, I do recommend you start with the earlier books.  This one builds on those earlier books in a big way, plus is contains a pretty big spoilers for the previous book in the series.  Those events are crucial to character development in this book, so it didn’t surprise me at all that we got the spoilers.  But it really is best to go into the book unspoiled.

Elizabeth and Gideon have kept their engagement quiet, not putting notices in the paper, and are only planning a small ceremony for family and close friends.  However, when word gets into the paper anyway, they find a face from the past popping back into their lives.  Oscar Thornton is not happy to learn that Elizabeth is still alive, and he wants the money that he feels she owes him.  Can they stop him once and for all?

Meanwhile, Gideon has reconnected with one of his friends who has returned home from World War I.  Logan Carsten had become engaged to a young woman before he left, but he fell in love with someone else while stationed in France.  He intends to honor his engagement, but then, he hears from this Frenchwoman asking for his help in coming in America.  Elizabeth thinks something more is going on.  Can she also help Logan?

As you can see, there is plenty going on in this book to keep us engaged.  As these plots unfold and circle in and out of each other, I was glued to the page, not wanting to stop until I found out what Elizabeth was planning next, especially when something would happen to derail her plans.  The story unfolds in a very unique way.  While I could guess a few of the things that were going on, there were still some twists I didn’t expect.  I did have a quibble with the ending; I suspect if the motive for what Elizabeth did had been built up a bit more, I wouldn’t have minded what happened.

The characters are fantastic.  I love Elizabeth and Gideon.  Since they drive much of the story, that makes every page a delight.  We’ve got a great collection of supporting players as well, and I was happy to spend time with them again.  Meanwhile, the development we get here is fantastic and really does build on what has come before.

I’d forgotten just how funny these books can be.  I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the antics of the characters, especially early on in the book.  Things do get more serious later on, but the initial humor was great.

City of Schemes is a fantastic book.  It will pull you in from page one, and you’ll be reluctant to set it down when you read the end.  I’m already looking forward to finding out what the future holds for Elizabeth and Gideon.

Missing one of Elizabeth’s adventures?  Check out the rest of the Counterfeit Lady series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, January 4, 2021

December 2020 Reading Summary

Welcome to 2021!  We've made it to the new year.  But I'm going to spend today looking back at what I read in December of 2020.

The Index has been updated, and all all links take you to my full review.

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


Murder in Season by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #52) – 4

Jessica Fletcher is looking forward to spending Christmas in her fully restored house, including a visit from nephew Grady and his family.  The final work needing to be done on her house is a new septic system.  When the workers start digging, they find human remains.  It is quickly determined that one of the bodies is centuries old, but the other is much more recent.  The investigation looks like it ties into the founders of Cabot Cove.  What secret might the founders have been hiding that is worth killing for today?  Meanwhile, in a bit of horribly bad timing, a tabloid TV reporter is in town to do a story about the high murder rate in Cabot Cove.  What complications will that produce in the investigation?

Next to the Cabot Cove episodes of the TV show, the episodes with Grady were always my favorite, so I was thrilled to get to spend time with him here.  Some of the other regulars seem a bit off to me, but that’s been how I’ve felt with the last few books, the only books in the series I’ve read.  The mystery was good.  I do struggle at times to get into mysteries that are set years before the characters we are reading about, but this book did a good job of tying the past into modern activity to make me care about the outcome.  The ending was a bit abrupt, but it does answer our questions.  The Christmas scenes were wonderful and put me in the mood for the holiday.  This is a Christmas treat for fans of the series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

 

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly (Mickey Haller #2, Harry Bosch #14)

After a year off from law, Mickey is ready to come back, but he gets more than he bargained for when a friend is killed and Mickey takes over his cases.  One of those cases is a huge murder trial starting in just a week.  Can Mickey handle this high profile case?  Why was his predecessor murdered?

I really should have come back to this series sooner.  The characters are outstanding and the plot was complex and twisty.  I was glued to the story and will definitely be searching out the sequel.

November 2020 Update:

Now that I'm going through and reading all of Michael Connelly's books in order, I reread this one.  It is interesting seeing Harry through Mickey's eyes as the two meet for the first time.  It also explains why it took me a bit to warm up to Harry Bosch.  He's a bit of a jerk in this book.  Still, I enjoyed it again.

 

Christmas Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #26) – 2

There is a stranger in Lake Eden, and no one knows who he is – including the man himself.  Hannah and her mother find him one day mostly starved, and get him to the hospital.  When he is revived, he doesn’t remember his name, but asks to be called Joe Smith instead of John Doe.  Hannah makes it her mission to find out who he really is.  Can she help him recover his memory?

This book takes us back in time to the early days of the series, and it is fun to see some of those relationships knowing what has happened to the characters since then.  The plot is definitely different for a cozy, but I liked it for the variety.  Unfortunately, the plot is drowned out by talk of food.  I skimmed parts of the book, and I didn’t miss any part of the plot.  The plot does get stronger as the book goes along, and I liked the way the story finished.  This series always has an abundance of recipes, and this book is no exception with twenty new treats to try, including seven cupcakes.  If you are a fan of the series and set your expectations accordingly, you’ll be fine.  But otherwise, there is no need to read this book.

 

A Whisker of a Doubt by Cate Conte (Cat Café Mysteries #4) – 4

Maddie James and her friend Katrina have learned about a colony of feral cats near one of the richest neighborhoods on Daybreak Island, so they are working to take care of it.  However, the neighbors are resistant to their efforts, going out of their way to be a pain.  Just a couple of days before Christmas, Maddie finds the body of one of them, Virgil Proust, outside his house.  Virgil and his wife were some of the loudest people fighting against the cats and Maddie’s efforts to feed them.  When the police focus on Katrina as their prime suspect, Maddie knows it is up to her to find the truth.  Can she do it?

I’ve been waiting impatiently for this book due to the cliffhanger the previous book left us with.  I was thrilled to get back to Maddie and find out what happened there.  Even if you haven’t read the books that came before this one, you’ll still be able to jump in here and follow along.  I will say that Maddie’s attitude in this sub-plot bothered me a bit at times, although I always understood where she was coming from.  The main mystery is good with a few nice surprises on our way to the solution.  The suspects could have been stronger, and I struggled at times to remember all of their relationships, but I was still invested in the story.  The regular characters are strong and charming, as are the cats at the cat café where Maddie works.  The Christmas setting adds an extra level of cozy.  Fans new and old will enjoy this festive entry in the series.

 

The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #28) – 4

This year at Christmas, the churches in Caerphilly, Virginia have started a Helping Hands for the Holidays charity event, and Meg is right in the thick of it, organizing and helping.  One of their projects is helping Harvey the Hoarder declutter and fix up his house before the county is called to intervene.  Day one goes pretty well, but when Meg shows up for the second day, she finds him lying in a pool of blood in the garage.  Are the rumors of a treasure hidden in the house true?  Did that get Harvey killed?

I always enjoy visiting Meg, and this book was no exception.  The sub-plots involving her large family slow down the main mystery early on, but as a fan of the series and the characters, that’s a minor complaint.  Once the mystery gets going, it is strong with several good suspects and twists before we reach the great climax.  The sub-plots still weave in and out of the main mystery, and I really enjoyed them and the Christmas spirit they give us.  I didn’t find this book quite as funny as some of the others, maybe because it left me contemplating which side of the hoarder or collector line I’m on.  If you are looking for an entertaining mystery set at Christmas, there’s still time this year to cozy up to the fire and enjoy this mystery.

 

Unlocked by Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8.5) – 5

This is an unusual release.  The first 500 pages are a guide to the world of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, with character information, info on animals, background on the races, and a few fun activities.  The last 250 pages are a “novella” (it is short for this series) and picks up where Legacy, the previous book in the series, left off.  It’s not just filler, but it contains lots of plot developments that fans will be glad they read.  It splits time between Sophie, the main character, and Keefe, one of her friends who is going through quite a bit here.

If you are new to the series, you really don’t want to start here.  Yes, I said guide, but it comes with lots of spoilers for the first eight books in the series.  Back up and start at the beginning; it’s worth it.  This is more a love letter to fans.  If you are a fan, you’ll definitely enjoy the information contained in this book.  And the novella will leave you satisfied.  It feels like a complete story and made me laugh and cry.  Yes, there is another cliffhanger, so now begins the wait for book 9.

 

Gone but Knot Forgotten by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #3) – 4

Martha Rose is saddened to learn of the death of her childhood friend, Harriet Oliver, and even more surprised to find that she has been named executor of her estate since she and Harriet haven’t spoken in years.  Harriet’s death has been ruled natural causes, but Martha has lots of questions about the circumstances of her death.  That only grows when she realizes that several items are missing from Harriet’s collection.  Is there more to her death than it appears?

The mystery certainly intrigued me, and it moved forward at a steady pace.  I did feel the ending was a bit abrupt, but it was suspenseful and answered all of our questions.  The characters are wonderful.  Martha’s quilting friends are fun, and her love life gets some interesting developments here.  Quilting does factor into the mystery in a unique way, and I really enjoyed that.  While the book is set during December, it isn’t a Christmas book.  There’s a very good reason for it – Martha is Jewish, and I enjoyed learning a bit more about Jewish culture as I read.  It’s easy to see why so many people enjoy this series; I’m glad I finally started it.

 

“A Christmas Mourning” by Laura Bradford (Amish Mysteries Short Story) – 5

Claire Weatherly is going to enjoy a rare day off with her aunt Diane, and the two are going to play tourist, visiting the Amish sites that are open for tours.  When Claire mentions this to Jakob Fisher, her new boyfriend, he tells her a story about a Christmas years ago.  Raised by a local Amish family, Jakob actually attended school in the one room school house Claire and Diane will be visiting.  The last year he was there, he took a fancy Christmas spoon his mother owned to show off to his friends, and it got lost.  Claire decides to see if she can figure out what happened to it.  But can it be recovered all these years later?

I’ve been meaning to read this short story at Christmas one year, and I’m glad I finally made the time.  While the events of the past are set around Christmas, the contemporary part is not set during the season, which was a surprise that I got over quickly.  The story was perfect for a short story; it kept me engaged without being overly complex.  The ending made me tear up, but in a good way.  We don’t see all of the characters, but it was wonderful to check in with those who were part of the story.  It took me just under an hour to read, so if you want to read it this year, there is still time to slip it in before the holiday.

 

Death at a Country Mansion by Louise R. Innes (Daisy Thorne Mysteries #1) – 4

Dame Serena Levante was a world-renowned opera singer.  She’s also the mother of Daisy Thorne’s best friend, Floria, so when news comes that Serena is dead, Daisy rushes to Serena’s mansion outside of the English village of Edgemead.  The police quickly see that it was murder, and they believe that robbery was involved since an expensive painting is also missing from the mansion.  Daisy owns the local hair salon, and it is a hub of gossip.  As a result, she begins to hear things that might help the police in their quest to find out what happened.  Can she get the gruff inspector to listen to her?

I wasn’t planning to read this book until I started hearing great things about it, and I’m glad I picked it up.  The mystery starts out right away, and we have plenty of twists and turns.  The climax wraps everything up neatly for us.  Serena was the kind of woman who left behind many suspects, something I always enjoy.  We don’t get to know all the suspects super well, but because we like Daisy and Floria, we care about the outcome.  We meet some other regulars, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with all of the cast.  There are a few things that could have been smoothed out better, including a timeline issue, but they are minor overall.  The book is shorter than many today, but there wasn’t a wasted scene.  Overall, this is an enjoyable debut, and I’m looking forward to visiting Daisy again soon.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

 

Wedding Bear Blues by Meg Macy (Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mysteries #4) – 4

Sasha Silverman and her sister Maddie are involved in the Valentine’s weekend wedding of a local friend.  However, between the demands the bride is making and the fact the wedding party doesn’t get along, it is turning out to be anything but fun.  Still, Sasha wasn’t expecting one of the members of the wedding party to turn up dead at the rehearsal dinner.  When her bridesmaid duties suddenly include finding the real killer, can she figure out what happened?

Because we meet the members of the bridal party in a couple of group scenes, I had trouble keeping them all straight early on, but as the book progressed, I found it easier to remember their relationships.  The plot is strong, with some nice red herrings that kept me confused until we reached the climax.  Helping things out are some fun sub-plots, although one of them stretched credibility a bit too far for me.  I’ll believe that Sasha can solve the murder but not how this sub-plot played out.  I think that may be on me.  We do get updates on Sasha’s larger group of family and friends, but they mostly stay in the background, which helps us get to know the suspects better.  This is a wonderful winter time cozy, so snuggle in with a blanket and your favorite hot beverage and enjoy.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

 

A Wicked Yarn by Emmie Caldwell (Craft Fair Knitters Mysteries #1) – 4

After the loss of her husband, Lia Geiger moves to a new town in Pennsylvania and starts selling things she and her knitting friends make at a local craft fair run by her best friend, Belinda.  She’s expecting to sell lots of items over Mother’s Day weekend, and Saturday is great.  But when she arrives on Sunday, she finds Belinda standing over the dead body of Belinda’s ex-husband, a developer who just the day before was planning to buy the barn where the craft fair is held and tear it down.  With attendance at the craft fair dropping and Belinda everyone’s prime suspect, Lia jumps in to clear her friend.  Can she do it?

While I don’t normally read crafting themed cozies, I’m glad I picked up this debut because I enjoyed it.  The mystery is strong with several viable suspects, and it kept me guessing until the end.  I did struggle with Lia’s relationship with Belinda.  Even given what she is going through, I had a hard time believe that Lia and Belinda are best friends.  However, there are plenty of other characters to love here, including Lia’s new neighbors and her young adult daughter.  I enjoyed spending time with them.  I’m looking forward to visiting Lia again when the next book in the series comes out.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

 

Absence of Alice by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #9) – 5

Sarah Winston is happily preparing a garage sale for her latest client, Alice Krandle, when she gets a phone call claiming to be from someone who has kidnapped Sarah’s landlady and friend, Stella.  With clear instructions not to contact the police, she sets out to find Stella while also following the kidnapper’s strange demands.  Can she find her friend in time?

Yes, this book is part thriller, but it is still part cozy as well.  The balance truly works.  The twists and turns kept me glued to the page.  Because of the plot, the book is a bit darker than a typical cozy, but it is just a shade or two darker.  One reason this book still feels cozy is the locations and characters we love are front and center.  How this plot impacts the characters and their relationships is realistic and does a great job of building on what we’ve seen in previous books.  There are discussions of some of the Sarah’s other cases, and they are vague enough to avoid most spoilers, but I still recommend reading the books in order.  If you aren’t already a fan, you’ll be hooked in no time.  And those who already know and love Sarah will be thrilled with her latest adventure.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.