Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Book Review: The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness Mysteries #14)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong atmosphere, fun characters, good story
Cons: Usual slow start
The Bottom Line:
Cottage in Cornwall
Unexpected reunion
And great atmosphere

Gothic Trip to Cornwall

As I have stated multiple times over the years, I skipped over the classics of the mystery genre in my reading journey.  I’ve filled in a few over the years, but one of the classics I am still missing is Rebecca, which helped inspire The Last Mrs. Summers, the newest Royal Spyness Mystery from Rhys Bowen.  While I’m sure familiarity with Rebecca would have helped me appreciate this book more, I still enjoyed catching Georgie’s latest adventure.

If you are new to the series, Lady Georgiana Rannoch O’Mara is a minor royal in 1935’s England.  Yes, she has finally married Darcy O’Mara, but settling into a happy ever after is not in the cards for them.  Instead, they have more adventure and mystery to look forward to.

It's been a quiet couple of months now that Georgie and Darcy are back from their honeymoon to Africa.  Darcy has just left on one of his secret assignments, and Georgie, who should be hiring a new cook, is feeling a bit at loose ends.  So when her best friend Belinda shows up talking about the small cottage she’s just inherited in Cornwall, Georgie jumps at the chance to join Belinda in taking a look at it.

It turns out that cottage was too nice a term for Belinda’s inheritance.  Shack would be a better term.  That’s when Belinda runs into her childhood friend Rose.  Rose surprises Belinda by announcing that she is now married to Tony Summers and has become mistress of Trewoma Hall.  Rose insists Belinda and Georgie stay with her while they are in the area.  However, something doesn’t seem right at Trewoma Hall.  Will Georgie figure out what is going on before tragedy strikes?

If you are familiar with the series, you know what to expect here, and you won’t be disappointed.  Before the plot really kicks in, we get updates on the various supporting players in the series.  I do love them, so it is nice to pop in on them.  Belinda is my favorite of Georgie’s friends and relations, so I was thrilled to find out she was going to be strongly featured in this book.  Of course, as we meet the new characters, they are strong as well.

The downside of getting to check in with Georgie’s family and friends is it takes a bit longer for the plot to get going.  Once we meet Rose, things definitely pick up, with lots of questions to be answered.  Again, I’m sure if I were familiar with Rebecca, I’d enjoy spotting some nods to that Gothic classic.  Even without that knowledge, I reveled in the atmosphere that Rhys Bowen created as she told the story.  Once Georgie figures everything out, the events make perfect sense.

Some books in the series have involved more history than others.  This book just focuses on the plot at hand with only a few references to the historical events unfolding around the characters.  Still, the setting is well down, and I felt like I was back in 1935 with the characters as I read.

Fans of the series will be delighted with Georgie’s latest adventure.  Pick up The Last Mrs. Summers and be prepared for an atmospheric trip to another time and place.

And be sure to enjoy more of Georgie’s adventures with the rest of the Royal Spyness series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Ornament Review: A Job Well Done - Once Upon a Time #10 - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good ending to Santa’s journey
Cons: Sound ends abruptly, tip
The Bottom Line:
A well-deserved rest
Brings Santa’s journey to end
And wraps up series

Relaxing After a Job Well Done

I’ve been saying for a few years that I didn’t see how much longer that Hallmark’s Once Upon a Christmas series could keep going, so I wasn’t too surprised when I saw that the series was going to end with 2020’s release, A Job Well Done.  As the title of the ornament suggests, the series goes out…well.

Santa is back from his Christmas Eve delivering toys.  He’s relaxing in his chair, and his shoes are on the floor next to him.  His hat is hanging on the edge of the chair.  He’s got a mug of hot cocoa in one hand and a snow globe in the other.  And he’s got a puppy keeping him company as well.

When this series started, Santa was sitting as well, that time in a chair with a table next to him as he went over his naughty and nice list with his puppy on the floor next to him.  I love the symmetry between these two ornaments.

Like all the rest, this ornament features light and sound when plugged into Hallmark’s Magic Cord.  This cord is on the way out; in fact, I’m sure that the ornaments released this year for it will be the final two ornaments that use the cord.  As such, if you haven’t stocked up on the cord yet, I suggest you do so quickly.

Anyway, when you plug this into the cord, you’ll find the base and the snow globe Santa is holding light up.  Push the button by the puppy and you are treated to a show.  As Santa talks about his satisfaction with another successful Christmas Eve, the lights on the ornament blink.  After about 20 seconds, he stops talking and we get a musical version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”  All the while, the lights of this and ALL the ornaments attached to the same Magic Cord blink in time with the music.  The show lasts about a minute before abruptly stopping.  That’s the only part I found weird.  I’m sure it is an issue of space on the recording in the ornament, but it just needed another few seconds to fully wrap up.  Or maybe it is just my ornament.

I will say again, I will miss the Magic Cord.  The way ornaments from a series can interact to tell one story with the new Power Cord is wonderful and fun, but I miss the way all the ornaments on the Magic Cord interacted, whether they were part of the same series or not.  I wish that both cords were going to be used going forward since they both have strengths.  I’m sure it’s an issue of not wanting to confuse casual collectors, so I understand.

All of the ornaments in the Once Upon a Christmas series feature nice flat bases, and this ornament is no exception.  As such, you can set them out in a line and enjoy Santa’s journey in chronological order if you so desire.  The series marker, a 10 in a Christmas tree, is also on the bottom of the ornament.

The hook to hang the ornament is on Santa’s head.  Slip a loop through it, and you’ll find that it really tips forward.  It would be hard to hide in among tree branches, too.  The ornaments in this series are heavy, so be sure to find a sturdy branch on your tree to hang them on.

I keep referring to this as the final ornament in the series, and it is the final official ornament in the series.  Like the first year, which offered a companion ornament, we will get an unofficial entry in the series in the fall to bookend Santa’s December.

It’s unfortunate that A Job Well Done doesn’t send the series out with perfection.  Still, fans of the series will be happy with how it ends.

Missing part of Santa’s journey?  Here are the rest of the Once Upon a Christmas ornaments.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

July 2020's Monthly Reading Summary

July has come to an end, so it's time to look back at what I read during the month.  Yes, the Index has been updated.

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

No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland (Ten Again Mysteries #1) – 5
Autumn is happy running Ten Again, the gaming store she owns in the small Wisconsin college town where she grew up.  Things are going well until one of the regular gamers in the store dies in the mall.  Things quickly turn on Autumn and the rest of the gamers, with some of them in particular in the police’s spotlight.  But Autumn doesn’t think her gamers, who have become her friends, could really be killers.  Can she prove it?

While I’m not much of a gamer, this book still sounded like lots of fun, and I was right.  There are some references to geeky things, most of which I got, but if you don’t get the reference, it shouldn’t interfere with your enjoyment of the book.  That’s because the mystery is strong, with lots of events and clues to keep the pages turning until we reach the logical and suspenseful climax.  The characters are wonderful, and I love how much they care for each other.  I also appreciated Autumn’s debates about being involved in the investigation.  It felt realistic when she would try to get out before something pulled her back in.  I do wish Autumn swore a little less, but that’s my only complaint about this fun debut.

Super Puzzletastic Mysteries presented by Chris Grabenstein – 5
This book for middle grade readers features twenty stories by members of Mystery Writers of America.  Each story provides the clues and puzzles you need to solve it along with the characters.  In fact, the solutions are at the back of the book to give you time to figure out what is really going on before you see if you got it right.  While a few authors feature series sleuths, most of the stories feature original characters.

And all of them are fun.  Many are straight up mysteries, but some feature puzzles we can learn about and solve with the characters along the way.  The stories average about 15 pages each, so they would work well for reading aloud and solving as a group.  It might take a group to solve some of them.  I figured a few out, but many left me stumped until I turned to the end.  There isn’t a bad story in the bunch, and kids will certainly enjoy this collection as much as I did.

The Brim Reaper by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #3) – 4
Perpetually unemployed Samantha Kidd has agreed to help her friend Eddie with a fashion exhibit at the local museum featuring vintage Hollywood costumes.  However, when the shipments of hats at the center of the exhibit arrive, the boxes are empty.  Then Samantha and Eddie find a dead body in the museum.  After calling the police, Samantha fully intends to walk away from the case and focus on a job she’s taken working for her boyfriend, Nick, as he launches his own shoe design studio.  However, she can’t just walk away.  As her attention continues to be divided, will she be able to balance her new job and her relationship with finding a killer?

This is another delightful mystery.  The plot is strong, with plenty of suspects, clues, and events to keep us engaged until Samantha finds the killer.  I’m really like Samantha and the rest of the regular characters.  The suspects aren’t quite as well developed, but that’s more due to lack of page time than anything else, and they are still strong enough to make us care about the outcome.  There are a few minor timeline issues and typos; I wish the book had gotten the final edit it needed.  While this isn’t a laugh a page mystery, there are some fun scenes and phrases that made me grin if not laugh out loud.  Overall, this is another diverting mystery.

Hems and Homicide by Elizabeth Penney (Apron Shop Series #1) – 4
Iris Buckley is happy to be opening a new shop in her native Blueberry Cove, Maine.  Partnering with her grandma, Anne, the shop will be a physical location for her internet business selling original apron designs and vintage linens.  However, while starting the renovations, Iris discovers a skeleton in the basement.  Anne immediately identifies the remains as belonging to her friend Star Moonshine.  Anne always assumed that Star just drifted out of town back in the early 1970’s, but clearly something happened to her.  Anne wants to make sure justice is served for her friend.  Can Iris help her do that?

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about this book, and it is easy to see why.  Author Elizabeth Penney has created a wonderful location.  Blueberry Cove is the kind of town I’d love to visit.  Iris leads a cast of charming characters that I can’t wait to get to know better as the series progresses.  While the plot got out to a great start, I did feel it bogged down a bit early on in the book.  But once it kicked into high gear, we got some great twists before everything was neatly tied up.  Prepare to be charmed when you pick up this book.

Sowing Malice by Wendy Tyson (Greenhouse Mysteries #6) – 5
When the von Tresslers moved to town, they didn’t make the residents of Winsome, Pennsylvania, very happy.  They’ve mostly kept to themselves except when they were pushing to do things their way.  Now, David von Tressler has died, and most of the mourners are from out of town.  That includes three women that Megan Sawyer runs into at the local nursery.  Shortly after Megan meets them, one of the women disappears.  Then a body turns up at Megan’s farm.  What is going on?

I was thrilled to see another entry in this great series, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The mystery is strong.  It starts quickly and there are plenty of twists and turns before we reach the end.  The characters continue to be wonderful.  We got updates on the series regulars and the new characters were well developed.  There’s nothing here that spoils previous books in the series, so you could jump in here, but to fully appreciate the character growth, I do recommend reading the series in order.  This series is more of a traditional mystery than a lighter cozy, but as long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.  I definitely recommend this book and the entire series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette (Ice Cream Parlor Mysteries #1) – 4
Bronwyn “Win” Crewse is ready to reopen Crewse Creamery, the ice cream parlor founded by her grandparents in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, after some renovations.  Unfortunately, opening day sees an early October snow storm and no customers.  However, Win’s day gets even worse when she stumbles upon a dead body after she’s closed the shop for the day.  The man turns out to be someone who crossed paths with Win’s family years ago, and not for the better.  Before Win knows it, the police are looking at her father as the killer.  Now, Win needs to figure out what really happened so she can clear him of a crime she knows he didn’t commit.  Can she do that and get customers into the ice cream parlor?

I love ice cream, so that was a draw to this series, and the ice cream descriptions definitely made me drool.  The delicious sounding recipes at the end will help with that.  The mystery started out a little slowly.  It did eventually get going, and we had some good suspects and twists before Win figured everything out.  The characters were a mixed bag.  I loved Win, and her family is wonderful as well.  I especially appreciated the close relationship she has with both her parents and her grandfather.  Her friends were more caricatures than fully developed characters, and as a result, they amused me at times and annoyed me at others.  I can see them getting more developed as the series goes along, however.  This is still a tasty treat, and I can see it developing into a favorite series for many.

“Q” is for Quarry by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #17) – 5
Private investigator Kinsey Millhone is feeling a bit restless when Lieutenant Conrad Dolan walks into her new office.  Eighteen years ago, in 1969, he and his friend, Stacey Oliphant, found the body of a young woman.  Both men have pursued the case over their careers with the police, but they haven’t figure out who she was.  They want to take one more look at it, and they want to hire Kinsey to help them with the leg work.  Will the three of them find any new leads in this cold case?

I’m sure it’s no surprise to say they do indeed begin to make some headway as they go back over the case.  I enjoyed being along for the unpredictable ride.  I thought I had things figured out a few times before we reached the real climax.  The characters are as strong as ever.  I loved seeing the growth in Kinsey, especially with a recurring sub-plot popping back up.  There are a couple of other fun sub-plots with the regulars.  Dolan and Oliphant could be a bit annoying at times, but that never lasted for very long.  This book is based on a real-life Jane Doe, and there is information in the back on how Sue Grafton became interested in that case, which is still unsolved best I can tell.  It’s always a pleasure to see a long running series that is still this strong and entertaining after so many volumes.

Quiche of Death by Mary Lee Ashford (Sugar and Spice Mysteries #3) – 4
Sugar Calloway and Dixie Spicer, owners of Super and Spice Cookbooks, are spending a weekend with the Arbor family gathering material for a cookbook to preserve family favorite recipes, some of which have been turned into the frozen meals the family is famous for.  However, the weekend gets off to a rocky start when Theo, the only grandchild, arrives with his fiancĂ©e, Collette.  This is the first time Collette has met the family, and things don’t get well.  Then Sugar finds Collette’s body the next morning on her walk.  There is a possibility it was a hunting accident, but could it be murder?

I really have grown to love the characters in this series, so I was happy to be visiting them again here.  Don’t worry, we do get to see all the regulars as the story unfolds.  It was a bit overwhelming meeting the Arbor family all at once, but it wasn’t long before I had these suspects straight in my mind.  Unfortunately, the plot could have been better.  One aspect wasn’t fully developed, and the pacing was uneven.  However, Sugar does uncover some interesting information, and I was engaged the entire time I was reading.  In fact, I was sorry to reach the last page of this quick read.  I enjoy the setting, Iowa, since it is one we don’t get to see very often, at least in the books I read.  Naturally, we get three delicious sounding recipes at the end to enjoy once we are done with the book.  If you are looking for a fast, fun read, this is the book to pick up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Dead Body Language by Penny Warner (Connor Westphal #1) – 4
Connor Westphal has moved from San Francisco to the town of Flat Skunk in California’s gold country, where she is running the weekly paper she inherited from her grandparents.  When Lacy Penzance comes in to place an ad to track down her long-lost sister, Connor readily agrees.  Then Lacy takes back her ad.  The next morning, Lacy is found dead.  The sheriff doesn’t think it is the suicide it was staged to look like.  Under the guise of writing an article about Lacy, Connor begins to investigate.  Will she find the killer?

What I haven’t mentioned so far is that Connor is deaf.  I found this character trait to be an interesting addition to the mystery, and it really added suspense to the climax.  Connor is an all-around strong character, and I enjoyed getting to meet her friends here as well.  The plot is strong, although I have a couple niggles about who the killer turned out to be.  Even so, I have to admire the strong plotting; I missed several major clues.  I did find there to be a few more four-letter words than I was expecting, and I think there were timeline issues, although I might have added an extra day in there somewhere as I was reading.  I originally read this book close to when it was originally released in 1997, but I never read the rest of the series.  I’m looking forward to fixing that soon.

From Beer to Eternity by Sherry Harris (Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon Mysteries #1) – 4
When Chloe Jackson promised her friend Boone she would help his grandmother, Vivi, if something happened to him, she never expected she’s have to follow through.  But after his untimely death, she heads to Emerald Cove, Florida, to help her with her beach side bar.  Things get complicated when Chloe finds one of the regulars dead behind the bar one morning.  With the police looking at Vivi as a suspect, Chloe has to figure out what really happened.  Can she do it?

Picking up this book, I was immediately transported to the beach, a place I love.  The setting was fantastic, and I would love to visit in person.  The mystery was a little slow to get going as we were introduced to the characters and setting, but once it did, I was fully engaged.  There were plenty of twists along the way.  The climax was a bit rushed, but it still answered all of my questions.  There are several times where Chloe seemed to have more time in her day than normal, and one chapter with a wonky timeline, but none of this impacted the plot in a meaningful way.  Chloe had been working as a children’s librarian before this story started, so I loved the occasional references to children’s books.  She leads a group of fantastic characters, some of whom already feel like friends.  I will definitely be back for the next round.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

A Chorus Lineup by Joelle Charbonneau (Glee Club Mysteries #3) – 4
The high school show choir Paige Marshall has been coaching has been invited to the national finals in Nashville.  She expects that only complication will be the career making audition back home in Chicago she’s been invited to in the middle of the competition.  But that’s before someone sabotages all the team’s costumes and band instruments.  Then a murder takes place.  Can Paige figure out what is going on?

It's been years since I read the first two books in this series, but I was soon back in Paige’s world thanks to reminders in the text about what had happened before.  Some of them do get spoilery, so keep that in mind if you are interested in the series.  Thanks to the references, I was able to fully appreciate the character growth in the regulars we saw here.  The new characters were just as strong.  The plot was good and kept me guessing.  I was surprised by a sub-plot that took over in the final quarter, completely slowing down the momentum.  But we are then flung back into the mystery for a climax that had me turning pages while it successfully wrapped everything up.  It also wrapped up these characters’ arcs, so fans of this series will be able to walk away satisfied with the time we’ve spent with them.

Echo Park by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #12) – 5
Since Harry Bosch joined the open unsolved squad of the LAPD, he has been actively working on one of his own unsolved cases, that of a young woman who vanished thirteen years earlier.  He has a suspect, but it is just based on gut feeling.  Then he gets a surprising call.  A man who was recently arrested with dead bodies in his car has reached a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.  He’s going to confess to several other crimes, including Bosch’s cold case.  Is the confession credible?

I had missed Harry Bosch, so I was thrilled to be back in his presence when I picked up this book.  He’s a fantastic character, and he comes to life once again in these pages.  FBI agent Rachel Walling is also present, and I enjoyed their interactions.  The rest of the characters, returning and new, are just as vivid.  I knew to expect twists, but they still caught me off guard when I reached them.  Yet each one was logical.  This series has more sex, language, and violence than my normal cozies, but they are never gratuitously put into the book but used to tell the story.  I definitely count myself among Michael Connelly’s fans, and I can’t wait until I find the time to visit Harry Bosch again.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

August 1st's Weekly TV Thoughts

The Titan Games – Another injury for the men.  I wonder what happened to him.  I hope he’s okay overall.  Meanwhile, the women’s finale was close.  I was definitely rooting for her.  I really liked her from the package at the beginning of the episode.

Stargirl – One thing I’ve noticed is they allow scenes to develop on the show.  It isn’t as rush as many shows are today.  I do enjoy that since it allows things to feel more real.  Speaking of which, Courtney’s dad is a jerk.  I love the actor, and he did a good job, but man is he a jerk.  A quieter episode overall, must have needed to save the budget.  But things are about to heat back up.

Tell Me a Story – I’d been curious about this show, so with it airing on the CW, I thought it was time to give it a shot.  It was…interesting.  I called the climax of the episode early on.  Having three stories makes me wonder how they will tie together, if they tie together in any way but the superficial way they already do.  I’ll give it another week, but I’m not sure I will stick with this one.

United We Fall – Much better than last week’s episode.  I was laughing so hard at some of the lines and moments.  Both stories really were fun.  Unfortunately, my cable went out at the end.  I got to see the contraption she built, but then it cut out.  I know it was mostly commercials, but I would have liked to see the final scene, including the tag.

Killer Camp – They got me.  I was shocked that Rob was the killer.  However, I wasn’t surprised to find out there was another one.  After all, the show would be over in three episodes otherwise, and that wouldn’t be good at all.

Cannonball – Again, some new contests.  I’m impressed with everything they keep coming up with.  I would have done horribly on the balance/surfboard competition.  I can’t balance to save my life, or in this case, win money.

Holey Moley – I’ve missed this show the last couple of weeks.  Nice to have it back.  I was rooting for the woman who does the obstacles courses.  In fact, I would bet we’ve both done the Camp Pendleton Mud Run together since she lives near the base.  I was sorry to see her go out when she did.

Don’t – A new game tonight.  Lots of trivia challenges in this episode, and they proved to not be very good at them, didn’t they?  Of course, I didn’t know the answer to most of those questions, so I can’t say too much.  And yes, I still laugh harder at the narrator than I do at anything else.  Especially what sounded like it was going to be a promo to come on the show but instead was telling you “Don’t apply.”

Friday, July 31, 2020

Book Review: Echo Park by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #12)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters and plot
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
A case from the past
Is it solved with confession?
Another great book

Does the Confession Solve the Cold Case?

I’ve missed Harry Bosch.  It’s been way too long since I was able to visit him via one of the books in the series, and I quickly remembered why I love these books so much as I fell under the spell of Echo Park.

Since Harry Bosch joined the open unsolved squad of the LAPD, he has been actively working on one of his own unsolved cases, that of a young woman who vanished thirteen years earlier.  He has a suspect, but it is just based on gut feeling.

Then he gets a surprising call.  A man who was recently arrested with dead bodies in his car has reached a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.  He’s going to confess to several other crimes, including Bosch’s cold case.  Is the confession credible?

 As I already said, it was great to be back with Bosch.  He’s a wonderful character, and once again author Michael Connelly does a fantastic job of bringing him to life.  Rachel Walling, an FBI agent who has been in some of Connelly’s non-Harry Bosch novels, appears in this one, and she is a great compliment to Bosch’s character.  There are other characters we’ve gotten to know in this book, and it’s wonderful to see them again.  Of course, we’ve got new characters, too, and I appreciated how vividly they came to life as well.

And the case?  Well, it wouldn’t be a Bosch case if it didn’t twist all over the place.  I knew to expect them but I was still surprised by what happened as the case unfolded.  Yet, each one was completely logical given what had come before and leads up to a fantastic climax.

Since this isn’t one of my typical cozies, there is more language, sex, and violence than I would normally read.  However, these elements are kept to a minimum and are never used gratuitously but always further the story or characters.

I did listen to the audio book.  The version I listened to was narrated by Len Cariou, who did a great job reading the book without getting in the way of the story.

There is a reason why Michael Connelly has so many fans, and I definitely count myself as one of them.  Echo Park is another outstanding book from a master of mystery.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Harry Bosch series.

July 31st's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's Friday!  That means it is time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Killer Chardonnay by Kate Lansing.

This is the first on the Colorado Wine Mystery series, and the first novel from Kate Lansing.  It's wonderful!

Here's how the book begins:

I arrange open bottles of wine behind the hard maple countertop from lightest to heaviest.

The opening sets the stage, but this from page 56 will definitely make you wonder what is going on:

We continue our sibling banter, but there's something simmering below the surface, a forced nonchalance emanating from Liam that sets me on edge.

I really enjoyed this book.  I'll be publishing my review on Thursday next week, so I hope you'll come back and read my review then.

In the meantime, have a wonderful week.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Book Review: A Chorus Lineup by Joelle Charbonneau (Glee Club Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, compelling mystery
Cons: Weird pacing in the last quarter
The Bottom Line:
Sabotage, murder
At show choir competition
Good series wrap up

Competitions Are Murder

I really did intend to return to the Glee Club Mysteries sooner.  After all, I enjoyed the first two and it was obvious the series ended with A Chorus Lineup.  But somehow, I let years go by before picking up this book.

If you missed this series or it’s been a while since you visited the characters, Paige Marshall is our main character.  While she dreams of being an opera singer, she also needs to pay the bills, so she took a job teaching her local Chicago high school’s show choir.  It’s been rocky with two murders along the way, but as this book opens, things are looking good for Paige and the choir.  They’ve been winning regional competitions, and now the choir is heading to the national competition in Nashville.  The biggest complication that Paige can foresee is the audition of a lifetime she’s been offered back in Chicago that’s in the middle of the competition week.

The choir arrives a few days before the competition itself, taking advantage of some master classes and time to rehearse on the stage where the competition will take place.  The first morning, however, one of the mothers from one of the other teams makes a horrible discovery – someone has destroyed the costumes of most of the teams and even sabotaged band instruments.  The woman immediately starts to publicly and repeatedly blame Paige for the sabotage.  When a murder happens, the stakes are raised.  Is the event safe?  Can Paige figure out what is happening?

Since it had been so long between books, I was fuzzy on all the details of the characters, however, it wasn’t long before I was remembered who people were and their relationships.  It helped that there are plenty of references to events from the previous books.  Some of them are spoilery, so if you are interested in the series, I recommend starting from the beginning.

Thanks to those references triggering my memory of the earlier books, I was able to appreciate the character growth we’ve seen in Paige and some of the supporting characters in early books and again here.  The care and support they show each other is wonderful.  Naturally, the book is filled with new characters, all of whom come across as well.

The plot was strong for most of the book.  I was kept guessing who could be involved in the events unfolding, and couldn’t wait to see how that would end.  Then, in the final quarter of the book, we take a pause in the action for a sub-plot to take over.  It completely killed the momentum.  However, when the we got back to the mystery, it was kicked into high gear for the rest of the book, and the climax answered all my questions.

Even with the weird pacing, I still enjoyed A Chorus Lineup.  This book does a great job of wrapping up the characters and their lives, so fans of the series will close the book with a huge sense of satisfaction.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Movie Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Acting from the cast
Cons: Overly dark and disturbing
The Bottom Line:
Batman, two villains
Focus on wrong characters
Leaves this film darker

Tim Burton Must Have Been Given More Control with Batman Returns

When I watched Batman, I was surprised that it didn’t feel much like a Tim Burton film.  Yes, there were touches of his trademarks here and there, but it wasn’t nearly as bizaar as some of his films can be.  So I went into Batman Returns hoping the same would hold true here.  Sadly, this movie was much stranger than the original.

Our story actually opens in the past as a family, horrified by their newborn, send him out one winter night into the sewers.  This baby grows up to become Penguin (Danny DeVito).  When Penguin begins his reign of terror on the streets of Gotham during the city’s tree lighting ceremony, he is just searching for answers to who he is.  He says he even understands why his parents sent him away.  However, his path has crossed that of business man Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), who thinks he can use Penguin for his own purposes.

Meanwhile, Shreck’s administrative assistant Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is frustrated with her life, or lack thereof.  Working late one night, she runs afoul of Shreck, who tries to kill her.  She takes on a new persona, Catwoman, and begins to go after Shreck to get her revenge.  How will Batman (Michael Keaton) deal with these two villains?

Yes, there is a reason I mentioned Batman last in a Batman movie.  Honestly, this isn’t his film.  This film is about the three villains.  Yes, there are three.  Even this casual fan had heard of Penguin and Catwoman.  I’m not sure if Max Shreck was invented for this movie or if he is in the comics, but he is definitely a villain of this piece with his own agenda.  Anyway, we get plenty about the villains, their backstory, and what makes them tick.  I would guess that the two famous villains get as much screen time as Batman, if not more.  They definitely have more if you combine the time the villains have against the time Batman has.  I get that it is important to know your villain, but this is definitely too much.  Honestly, Batman doesn’t have any real character growth, and you don’t feel any attachment to him.

And this isn’t the fault of the actors at all.  Michael Keaton does a good job.  He’s just let down by a script that gives him nothing to work with.  He’s really playing a straight man to the villains, who are all obviously having fun.  They are almost over the top without actually going there.

Then there are the other Tim Burton touches.  Penguin is disturbing.  I’m not talking about his looks, but his actions are psychotic.  Selina/Catwoman is a much more sympathetic character.  In fact, I’d say she’s the most sympathetic character in the film.  And there are the clowns.  Clowns everywhere.  Tim Burton loves circuses, and he works them in here.  Overall, this has significantly darker themes and scenes than the last film does.  It’s not The Dark Knight dark, but it’s heading in that direction.  Add in the overt sexuality of the film, and it is disturbing.  I’m not talking about fun double entandres, either.  Some of the comments made me uncomfortable, and I was watching by myself.  I can’t imagine watching this in mixed company.

The story itself isn’t bad.  It would help if we spent a little less time with the disturbing and given that time to developing Bruce Wayne/Batman more.

This movie came out three years after the first one, and it is amazing how much film making had advanced in that time.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still dated elements, but it doesn’t feel nearly as dated as Batman does.

Ironically, this movie takes place during the Christmas season.  It’s definitely the anti-Christmas film, which is probably why there isn’t a campaign to consider it a Christmas film like there is with Die Hard.

I’d expected to like Batman Returns after enjoying Batman, but this one left me very disappointed.  I definitely don’t plan to watch this film again any time soon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: From Beer to Eternity by Sherry Harris (Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and setting, solid mystery
Cons: Minor pacing and timeline issues
The Bottom Line:
New series starts with
Death outside a beach side bar
Look forward to more

Cheers to a New Series

Sherry Harris is one of many authors whose books I can’t wait to read, so when I learned she was planning a new series I was excited.  I might not have picked up a book set in a bar otherwise, but I’m very glad I did since I enjoyed From Beer to Eternity.

Chloe Jackson has taken a leave of absence from her job as a children’s librarian in Chicago to keep a promise to a friend.  Before Boone left with the National Guard, he asked Chloe to help his grandmother, Vivi, with her bar down in Florida if anything should happen to him.  So when Chloe got the tragic news of his untimely death, that’s just what she did.  However, when she arrives, she finds that Vivi is quite capable of taking care of herself.  While Chloe tries to figure out what Boone thought Chloe could help with, she starts picking up shifts in the bar in Emerald Cove on the Florida Panhandle.

That’s how Chloe meets Elwell, a local who is a bit eccentric but mostly harmless.  One morning, Chloe finds him dead behind the bar.  As the police begin to focus on Vivi, Chloe begins to poke around, hoping to figure out what really happened.  She doesn’t know Vivi well, but she doesn’t strike Chloe as a killer.  Can she clear Vivi of the crime?

I love the beach, but I haven’t been so far this year.  With Emerald Cove being a beach community and the bar opening right up to the sand, this was the beach vacation I needed.  Okay, so there might be a bit more murder and mayhem to this book than I would personally want for a day at the beach, but it’s fiction.

In this case, the mystery did seem to get off to a slow start.  Or maybe I was just impatient.  Either way, we got quite a bit of information early in the book introducing us to the characters and the location.  It’s certainly information we need, but I was ready when the plot picked up.  Once that happened, I was completely hooked.  We got the expected twists and surprises.  The climax was a bit rushed, but we did get all of our questions answered.

I do have to comment on some timing issues.  There were several times in the book that I felt like Chloe was blessed with more than 24 hours in her day, and one chapter in particular where timing issues were obvious.  Overall, these issues were minor but annoying, especially since it is one of my pet peeves.

Because Chloe has worked as a children’s librarian, we get some references to classic children’s books, which I greatly enjoyed.  It also provided her with some needed skills to help navigate her new life.  She’s a strong main character, and I enjoyed meeting her here.  Since she is completely new to town, we are meeting everyone at the same time she is.  There’s an interesting cast of characters, and they are all strong, whether series regular or suspect.  And yes, I’m fairly certain we’ll see some of the suspects show up again in later books.

I already love these characters and this setting, so I will definitely be back for the next round.  From Beer to Eternity is the first in what promises to be a great new series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Ornament Review: Happy Halloween! #8 - Frankenstein - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute Frankenstein themed ornament
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Frankenstein, pumpkin
Combine in cute ornament
Light decoration

This Ornament?  It’s Alive!

I keep thinking that Hallmark will run out of ideas for their Happy Halloween! series.  After all, how many monsters can there be?  But each year, they release a new ornament that surprises me in a good way.  This year is no exception.

Our monster for 2020 is Frankenstein’s Monster.  (And yes, I’ll just be calling him Frankenstein the rest of the time.)  As always, the outside of this ornament is a pumpkin.  The pumpkin has got a scar on its forehead and its mouth is wide wide open, allowing us to see the scene inside.

Inside, we’ve got Frankenstein just getting up off the table that he was lying on when he was brought to life.  The table is shiny and looks metal.  Pasted to the back and sides of the pumpkin are items from the rest of the mad scientist’s lab.  Frankenstein himself is sitting up with his arms in front of him and a smile on his face.

Now, I’ll admit I’ve never read the book or seen any movies versions of Frankenstein, but I don’t picture him smiling at any point in the story.  However, it is perfectly in keeping with this series, which presents these classic monsters in cuter, more friendly formats.

And that’s why I started this series.  It is fun to have something to put out at Halloween, and these are cute.  This ornament is no exception.  I also love the way the pumpkin changes to reflect the monster, in this case, that scar.  Something about the way he has his mouth open seems like Frankenstein, too.

Naturally, as a pumpkin, this ornament has a nice, flat base, so you can set it out as part of a display if you wish.  As an ornament, it is designed to be hung as well, and you’ll find that it tips back ever so slightly when you go to hang it.  That actually works out okay since it allows you to see the scene inside the pumpkin a little easier.

Since this is part of one of Hallmark’s series, you’ll find the series marker, in this case an 8 in a Christmas tree, on the bottom of the ornament.  And yes, I still maintain they should have switched things up for this series and made it a pumpkin instead of a Christmas tree.

If you are looking to add something fun to your Halloween decorations, I definitely recommend this year’s addition to the Happy Halloween! series.  It’s mostly cute with just a touch of scary, so perfect for a light hearted display.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Happy Halloween! series.