Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Movie Review: Spider-Man - Into the Spider-Verse

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: A fun, fast movie
Cons: A little slow to get started
The Bottom Line:
Meet new Spider-Man
Filled with action and humor
Purely delightful

“I Can’t Let You Open a Portal to Another Dimension.  Brooklyn Isn’t Zoned for That.”

I didn’t pay too much attention when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came out several years ago.  It was only after it had been out for a while and I started hearing lots of people praising it that I decided I should watch it.  Since my to watch list is as long as my to be read pile, I didn’t get to it until this last weekend, but I quickly saw why everyone loved it.

The movie tells the story of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore).  He’s struggling with being the new kid at school and dealing with a father who is stricter than Miles appreciates, especially when it comes to Miles’s passion of being a graffiti artist.

While his uncle is helping him with a painting in the sewers one night, Miles is bit by a spider.  He thinks nothing of it until the next day, when things seem different.  Since there is already a Spider-Man in the city, Miles quickly figures out what is happening to him.  But a trip back to the sewer to confirm his theory gets him involved in a fight with the city’s future, not to mention all of reality, on the line.  And with help coming from some surprising places, can Miles figure out his new powers to save the day?

I’ll admit, I was beginning to wonder exactly where the movie was going early on.  I know it had to introduce us to Miles and his world before we could really get into the story, but it seemed a bit slow to me.  But that is a minor complaint overall.

Not being super familiar with the comics, I don’t know how the characters here fit into any comic books, but I don’t care.  This is fun, and what is presented here makes sense even if you are coming in cold.

Once the movie really got going, it was an all-out roller-coaster ride to the end.  It was hard to look away for a second as there was always something going on.  The story moved forward quickly.  Yes, some aspects of it were still predictable, but this is definitely a case where I didn’t mind because I was having fun.

There are lots of great one liners that provide laughs.  Some of them are pretty meta, and others are witty.  I laughed numerous times and smiled plenty of others.

Yet the movie also does a good job of giving us characters moments.  We truly do come to care for Miles and some of the other characters, so some of the events in the third act really hit home.

The voice cast is filled with names I recognized.  But they never outshine their characters.  I got lost in the story, never listening for voices I recognized instead enjoying their performances.  And this movie also has Stan Lee’s final Marvel cameo in it.

The animation is very stylized.  It’s designed to mimic a comic book.  I’ll admit, it took a bit to get used to it, but it was worth it.

I know the sequel has just opened.  While I doubt I’ll go see it in the theater, I have definitely added it to my to watch list.  If you have missed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, you’ll be happy you made it a priority to watch it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Book Review: Hot Pot Murder by Jennifer J. Chow (L.A. Night Market #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong leads, fun setting, good mystery
Cons: A couple of small ones, but nothing major
The Bottom Line:
Feast ends in murder
The lead characters shine here
In fun mystery

Shocking Ending to a Festive Meal

It’s always fun to read about places I know, so finding a cozy series set in the Los Angeles area is a treat, even when the neighborhood where the story takes place is fictional, like in the L.A. Night Market series from Jennifer J. Chow.  I was looking forward to revisiting the location and the characters in Hot Pot Murder, and I enjoyed my return visit.

This series focuses on Yale Yee who has started running a food stale at a night market in her neighborhood.  While she started out with recipes from the restaurant her father owns, she’s rediscovered her love of cooking and has branched out on her own.  Helping her out is her cousin, Celine, who is on an extended visit from Hong Kong.

Yale’s father belongs to an association of Asian restaurant owners in their smaller community, and this group is having a hot pot feast for Thanksgiving.  Yale and Celine have been invited as well.  Yale knows most of the people who are attending since her father has been a member for years.

While most of the group gets along well, there are some hostilities boiling just below the surface.  However, Yale doesn’t expect the night to end in murder.  That’s what happens when the association’s president goes to plug in an extension cord and gets electrocuted.  Unfortunately, the police think this wasn’t a horrible accident and focus their attention on the owners of the restaurant hosting the dinner, who happen to be close friends of the Yees.  Their alternative suspect?  Yale’s father.  Naturally, she uses her relationships with those in the group to try to figure out what really happened.  Can she do it?

One thing I had loved about the first book in the series was the relationship between Yale and Celine.  They hadn’t seen each other in years, and they had to form a relationship quickly.  That new friendship is built on here, and I loved seeing it grow.  I also enjoyed Yale facing some of her past in this book.  Yes, she still has room to grow, and she’d be the first to admit it, but the growth we got here felt earned.  Celine also grows, and I loved seeing her maturity.

Yale and Celine really are the focus of the book, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the cast aren’t great.  We’ve got a few other returning characters, and they get moments to shine.  The suspects are good as well, maybe not quite as strong as the rest of the characters, but they work well for the story.

And the mystery is good.  There were enough suspects and events to keep me guessing, and I loved how the solution played out.  A couple of times in the middle, I thought the pacing was slowing down, but then something would happen to kick things into gear again.

Even though most of the action takes place in a fictionalized neighborhood in L.A., Yale and Celine do manage to hit a few real locations over the course of the book.  I enjoyed spotting places I know when that happened.  Despite the big city setting, most of the action takes in a small part of it, keeping the cozy feel.

If all the talk of food in this book (and there is plenty) leaves you hungry, you’ll be happy with the two recipes at the end of the book.

Hot Pot Murder is a great second book in this series.  If you are looking for a cozy with a bit of a different setting and wonderful leads, this is a series you need to check out.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Ornament Review: Tourist Mickey - All About Mickey! #1 - 2022 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mickey having fun as a tourist
Cons: All cons left behind before the vacation
The Bottom Line:
Mickey takes a trip
Fun start to a new series
With tropical feel

Mickey Says, “Cheese!”

I was surprised in 2021 when Hallmark ended their Mickey’s Movie Mousterpieces ornament series after only ten entries.  However, it made a bit more sense when I saw that they were starting a new series with Mickey in 2022 – All About Mickey!  I’m really trying to cut back on ornaments (honestly, I need to stop all together), but I couldn’t resist getting the first in this series, which is Tourist Mickey.

The idea of this series is that it will feature Mickey celebrating a different hobby or occupation with each entry.  You know, the type of things he likes to do when he isn’t making movies or greeting guests at his theme parks.  Personally, I’m viewing it as the Disney equivalent to the Spotlight on Snoopy series, which I’ve been collection for decades.

I’ve got to say, I love the idea of Mickey as a tourist.  Considering how many of us love to go be a tourist in his theme parks, this is a great twist on reality.  It was why I just had to get this one.

The ornament itself is great.  Mickey is wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt (yes, those are white flowers on it) over his trademark red shorts.  He’s holding a camera up to his eye and is ready to take a picture of something he’s seen.  Okay, so the big camera he’s taking a picture of looks a little dated, especially since so many of us just take pictures with our phones now, but it makes it obvious right away what he’s doing.  Between the shirt and the camera, this ornament screams tourist.

And he looks great.  The idea of Mickey getting away somewhere tropical and enjoying it really does appeal to me.   Heck, I want to go on this trip with him.  I think we’d have a wonderful time.

Mickey does stand on his feet, although he’s not super stable.  Even a fairly light bump will make him fall down.  If you really want to set him out, he does lean back on his tail, but the tail is fragile enough, I couldn’t want to do that.  Plus, he really is leaning back.

Since this is an ornament, it’s supposed to be hung on your tree.  When you go to do that, you’ll find that he hangs straight.

Since this is a new series, you’ll find the 1 in a Christmas tree series marker on Mickey’s foot.

I’m telling myself that I don’t have to buy every ornament in this series, although I know I will have to get the second in the series when it comes out next month.  Even if I wind up stopping the series, Tourist Mickey was just too much fun to pass up.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Movie Review: A Deadly Tango - The Dancing Detective Mysteries

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: The leads, the scenery, lots of fun
Cons: Some typical Hallmark issues, although light overall
The Bottom Line:
Dancing and murder
Good mix for plenty of fun
This franchise starts well

“You Look Like a Detective.  You Walk Like a Detective.  And I’m Guessing You’ll Dance Like a Detective.”

Hallmark is trying to introduce some new mystery franchises.  It’s hard to know for sure which ones will stick since we’ve yet to see second movies from many of them, but there are several I hope are around for a while.  Friday night saw the introduction of one such franchise - The Dancing Detective - which premiered with A Deadly Tango.  I completely enjoyed it.

Constance Bailey (Lacey Chabert) is a detective, but she has a hard time keeping a partner since she has a hard time trusting anyone else to do the job correctly.  Still, she manages to convince her captain to send her on a special assignment in Malta.

Businessman Mark Aston has died under mysterious circumstances.  Since his brother is a Senator, he pulled some strings to get an American cop to travel to Malta and find the killer.

Mark ran a company that put on ballroom dance competitions around the world.  However, this weekend was the annual competition for the executives in his company to compete and be reminded why they do what they do.  Constance is going in undercover as a new executive that Mark hired just before he died.  She doesn’t have any dance experience, but she’s being partnered with Sebastian Moore (Will Kemp), a dance instructor.  They are posing as a married couple.  Will Sebastian help Constance dance well enough to stay in the competition?  Will they solve the murder?

I will freely admit that the premise stretches credibility, at least for me.  A local cop being sent to solve a crime in Europe?  And Interpol cooperating?  Then there’s the fact that the setup was completely predictable.  You know Constance is going to be constantly out of her comfort zone (although they dropped that fairly early on), and there were several other extremely predictable moments in the first quarter.  But you know what?  I truly didn’t care.  I was having so much fun with this movie that I let it all go.

First off is something I rarely talk about with these movies – the location.  It was gorgeous!  The resort where most of the movie took place was fantastic, and the scenes shot out and about Malta made me want to hop on the next plane to go visit.  Okay, so I don’t know where the movie was really filmed, but either way, it was a stunning location and lots of fun.

I also had fun watching Constance and Sebastian interacting.  Sebastian is a huge fictional mystery fan, and that was the source of some fun lines.  There was plenty of banter, and Lacey Chabert and Will Kemp have wonderful chemistry whether they are dancing or investigating.

While those two are wonderful as their characters, the rest of the cast was a little uneven.  Nobody was truly horrible, but they definitely pale compared to the leads.  And it doesn’t help that the script doesn’t develop the suspects as well as it might have even though we get some scenes without the leads in them.  I think that is partially because of the time spent on the set up.

And yes, there are a few low budget cheese moments in the film, although they are kept to a minimum.

The mystery was solid.  There were several possible motives and some strong red herrings that distract Constance and Sebastian (and us) from the real solution until the end.

And the dancing is good.  Okay, so I doubt anyone would win any real contests, but it worked for the movie and added something different.

I’m not sure where The Dancing Detective can go from here, but I am anxious to find out.  If more movies in this franchise are as fun as A Deadly Tango, it will quickly become a favorite.

June 4th's Sunday/Monday Post

It's the weekend!  That must mean it is time for another Sunday/Monday Post.  As usual, I'll be linking up to:

Sunday Post
Sunday Salon
Stacking the Shelves
Mailbox Monday
It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Not too much of excitement this week.  It was the start of quarter end close at work, so it was busy.  But, I fortunately got some of my work earlier than normal, which made the week much more manageable.  I was definitely happy about that.

I know last week, I was happy because I thought my shoulder was healed.  Turned out to not be the case.  It's better, but it's not healed up yet.  I've found that running seems to really help it.  I ran yesterday, and it isn't bugging me at all today.  We'll see how it does tomorrow.  But it kept me from paddle boarding yet again Saturday.

We are finally seeing the sun here in "sunny" southern California.  After almost a week of straight cloud cover, it finally came out Friday.  Saturday was sunny and hit the lower 80's.  Unfortunately, we will be dipping back into cooler temps again Monday.

Blog Spam Comment of the Week:

I've got another blog spam comment for you this week.  Yes, it's similar to ones we've all gotten, but I find them so over the top in their praise I can't help but share:

Much needed information! The writer wrote a special blog for us and this blog is stunning.

This time, the comment is on one of my culinary cozy mystery reviews.  I can see how that was much needed information.  And finding out my blog is stunning made me feel so special.  Or the entire comment made me laugh so hard.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Movie Review: A Deadly Tango
Monday - Ornament Review: Tourist Mickey
Tuesday - Book Review: Hot Pot Murder by Jennifer J. Chow
Wednesday - Movie Review: Spider-Man - Into the Spider-Verse
Thursday - Book Review: Murder on Madison Square by Victoria Thompson
Friday - Friday Post
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

I've got another big haul to tell you about, so get comfortable.

First up is Murder Off the Books by Tamara Berry.  I pre-ordered this book, which is the third in her By the Book Mysteries.  This series is hilarious, and I'm very much looking forward to diving in and seeing what happens next.

The rest of the books are all books I've gotten for review.  From the publisher, I got the fourth Mrs. Claus Mystery, Mrs. Claus and the Trouble with Turkeys by Liz Ireland.  This series is a mix of fantasy and cozy mystery.  Add in a generous dose of humor, and you can see why I would enjoy it so much.  It comes out at the end of September, and I already can't wait to read it.

But first, I'll be reading the next three books.  Up first will be Gone but Not Forgotten by C. Michele Dorsey.  This is a stand alone by an author I always enjoy, so when she asked if I wanted to read it, I jumped at the chance.

I also accepted The Body in the Cattails by Catherine Dilts directly from the author.  This is the first in a new series from her, and I'm curious to see what she's doing with these new characters.  It definitely sounds like it is going to be a little different for a cozy, but in a good way.

Finally, I joined a book tour for A Sense for Murder, the sixth Sally Solari Mystery from Leslie Karst.  I've always enjoyed this series, so I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to the characters next.

What I'm Currently Reading:

Actually, as I type this on Saturday night, I'm not currently reading anything.  (And no, it's not because I'm working on my blog instead of reading.)  This afternoon, I finished Muddled Matrimonial Murder by Kim Davis.  That means I'm about half way done with my June books already.  Kind of hard to believe, isn't it?  Anyway, I enjoyed this book.  My review will be up on June 12th as part of a blog tour.

It won't be long before I start another book, however.  Before I crawl into bed, I'll pick up my next June eARC, A Stolen Child by Sarah Stewart Taylor.  This will be more serious in tone, and I'm curious to see where the series is going to go.

Have a great week!

Saturday, June 3, 2023

June 3rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

It's amazing what hitting the end of May still does to my TV viewing schedule.  Obviously, I've still got a couple of scripted shows that won't finish up until the end of the month.  Other than that, it's going to be pretty reality heavy for the foreseeable future.  Speaking of which, glad American Ninja Warrior is back.

American Ninja Warrior – The youngsters dominated.  Of course, I feel like there were more of them to begin with.  Lots of very impressive performances, too.  And, three years in, we have a new champion yet again.

Race to Survive: Alaska – Not really surprised the father/son team went home.  If I’d had to put money on it, it would have been them after last week.  Considering how proud the father was of his navigating, I find it funny that this is what did them in.  What a close race for first.  My money is on the brothers to win, but it could be anyone.

Superman & Lois – So, Clark outs himself to save his son.  Interesting twist.  How is Kyle going to react, especially when he finds out he’s the last to know.  I’ve got no idea where they might be going with the Mannheims.  Things are going to get very messy there and I can’t wait to see what is next.

Gotham Knights – So much to this episode.  I knew the friend was in danger, but that last shot?  What the heck?  Dent having that conversation with himself was interesting, and it provided a twist, too.  I was sure Harvey was actually involved, not just being framed.  And I hope we find out what really happened with Turner’s parents.  I feel like that is a set up for a second season, however, and I doubt the show is going to get one.

Hot Wheels Ultimate Challenge – I thought I’d give this a try since it sounded like it could be fun.  I was thinking something along the lines of LegoMasters.  Not being a car guy, I wasn’t nearly as much into it.  I do like them transforming a car they have a connection to, that’s a nice touch.  The end results were both pretty spectacular, although I think I liked the runner up more than the winner.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Movie Review: Million Dollar Mermaid

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Entertaining story, great water choreography
Cons: Romance storyline isn’t that good
The Bottom Line:
Real life swimmer
Swimming scenes are wonderful
Romance not as good

Esther Williams Swims Through This Swimmer Biography

I’ve long heard about Esther Williams and her musicals involving her swimming.  I’ve always been intrigued, so I decided to give Million Dollar Mermaid a chance, not knowing much about it.  I mostly enjoyed it, although I did have some issues with it.

This movie is actually a story of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman (Esther Williams).  As a child in the 1900’s, she had polio, so she couldn’t dance or play with the other children.  She would sneak away every afternoon and taught herself to swim in the nearby lake.  When her father, Frederick (Walter Pidgeon), learned about it, he encouraged her.  She quickly showed she had great talent, winning local competitions.  Frederick wants it to remain a hobby for her, but when his music conservatory shuts down and the two find themselves without any funds in London, it’s Annette’s swimming that saves the day, thanks to James Sullivan (Victor Mature), a promoter they met on the boat to London.  Will that success translate in the United States?

I knew nothing about Annette Kellerman before watching this movie, and I’m sure much of what I “learned” here was changed to make a better movie.  From the little research I have done, I do know that some aspects of her life made it into the film, including being arrested for indecency at a beach in Massachusetts for daring to wear a one piece bathing suit.  How times have changed in the last 120 years.

The musical aspect is different from what I was expecting.  The characters don’t sing.  Oh, there is a scene with some passengers on a ship singing a song in a group at night, but that’s it.  However, there are some very elaborately choreographed numbers involving Annette swimming above and below the water.  Considering she is credited with the popularity of synchronized swimming, that certainly makes sense.  Most of these sequences are near the end of the film, with bits of story around them.  I enjoyed them, and if you enjoy stuff like that, I’m sure you will to.

The movie came out in 1952, and it definitely shows.  There are some scenes that are obviously filled with special effects.  Likewise, the acting style is dated.  Once I got into the film, I really didn’t mind either one.

What bothered me more was the romance.  Like in many musicals, there is a huge romance here between Annette and James Sullivan, who she married in real life.  No, that’s not really a spoiler since it is obvious early on that they will wind up together, even though the film tried to make us wonder about it.  And, as I was watching, I was thinking how romantic the story was.  But then the movie ended, and my brain turned back on.  The way the two treat each other is pretty bad, actually.  If this is the idea of romantic we’ve gotten in our heads because of Hollywood, is it any wonder that so many people have bad ideas about relationships?  The real people were married for years in real life, so I hope they had a better basis for a happy relationship than this film portrayed.  And yes, I know you need conflict even in a romantic movie, but this could have at least been resolved better.

Still, this is a charming movie, and if you are a fan of water choreography, you really need to watch Million Dollar Mermaid.

June 2nd's Friday Post

We made it to Friday!  For a short week, this week sure was long.  Let's kick the day off with a Friday post, where I will link up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

My teasers this week come from Hot Pot Murder, the second L.A. Night Market Mystery by Jennifer J. Chow.

This is a fun second entry in the series.  You can get a sense of that from the opening:

All happy hot pot gatherings are alike; each unhappy hot pot event is disastrous in its own way.

Given the title, that opening lines gives you a sense of what is to come, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, we get a sense of danger from this quote from the 56% point of the book:

“Are you all right?” Celine said. “You look pale.”
“Maybe dehydrated,” I lied, removing the glass from my forehead and drinking some of the cool liquid.

I've finished the book over the weekend, and I just wrote my review Thursday night.  I enjoyed it.  I hope you'll come back on Tuesday, which happens to be the book's release day, for my full review.

Let's wind down with this week's Book Blogger Hop.  The question is:

What would the title of your autobiography be?

I really had to think about this one.  In fact, I had something else before the perfect title came to me.  It's something I tell people as a joke all the time, especially at work.  And it captures my sense of humor, too.  Here you go.

When in Doubt, Panic

Now, I just need to write it.  I think I'm panicking at the thought of having to write my autobiography, in fact, so I guess you won't have to read it after all.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Book Review: Passport to Spy by Nancy Cole Silverman (Kat Lawson #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Kat in a fun, can’t but it down adventure
Cons: I don’t spy any cons
The Bottom Line:
Hunting stolen art
First, Kat must learn who to trust
Great second entry

Tracking Stolen Art in Germany

I was very curious where Nancy Cole Silverman was going to go with her new Kat Lawson Mystery series, so I was eager to pick up Passport to Spy, the second book.  I was quickly caught up in the story.

This book is set in December 1999.  Kat is a reporter who lost her job working at a newspaper, but she’s taken on a new one with Travel International, a magazine that will send Kat out to cover various locations for them.  However, the magazine is actually a front for a division of the FBI.

Her first assignment is to cover the Christmas festivities in Munich, Germany, and use that as an excuse to get close to Hans von Hausmann, the owner of a local art museum.  The FBI believes that he knows the location of a horde of paintings stolen and hidden since World War II.  It’s a delicate operation with international implication.

After a rough start, Kat is able to make contact with Hans.  But as she begins to get close to him, she develops more questions than she gets answers.  Does he know where these paintings are located?  Will she find them?  How much danger is she in?

Quite obviously, this book doesn’t have the typical plot of a mystery I would read.  Honestly, I found that to be a lot of fun.  The story was strong, and I always had a hard time putting the book down when real life interfered with my reading.  Kat is dealing with a bunch of people she does not know, leading her to wonder who she can trust and who is using or lying to her.  I loved trying to unravel all of that with her.  Along the way, there is plenty of danger, and a third act that just keeps upping the suspense.

Besides Kat, there are really only two characters who come back from the first book.  It was great to see them again, and I enjoyed their appearances.  Everyone else is new.  As I already said, they have their own agendas that Kat must figure out, but they all come across as real.

The Christmas setting adds some fun to the plot, at least for this Christmas lover.  It’s a wonderful backdrop to the action.  Honestly, I felt like I was in Germany with Kat as the story unfolded, shivering from the cold more than once.  Yes, I really am a wimp when it comes to cold weather.

The book ends with the true history behind the story.  It’s fun to see how fact was used in this novel and makes it all too real, sadly.

Passport to Spy will have you hooked from the beginning.  I hope that Kat’s career change is a long lasting one because I can’t wait to travel with her for her next assignment.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

May 2023's Reading Summary

Here it is the end of May.  Must be time for another reading summary.  As you can see from the pictures, I read lots of ebooks (and a couple of audio books) this month.  I try to keep it as roughly 50/50 between physical and ebook, but this month was tipped in favor of the ebooks.  June is going to be very similar.

Anyway, I've updated the index this month (thank you long Memorial Day weekend).

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


Murder on the Home Front by Jessica Ellicott (WPC Billie Harkness #2) – 5

Billie Harkness has been on the job as one of only two female constables in the Hull police force for a few weeks now.  In that time, neither her co-workers nor the public have come to accept her any more then when she first started.  One of her true allies has been Peter Upton, a fellow constable who has been training her.  When the two of them find a dead body in an air raid shelter, Billie discovers some details that don’t make any sense.  Can they use those to figure out what happened to the victim?

It was great to be back in summer 1940 with Billie and Peter.  While most of the book is written from Billie’s third person point of view, we get some scenes from Peter’s, and they help flesh out the characters and plot wonderfully.  I was hooked the entire way through the story, although I did wonder where it was going a bit at first.  Once the body turned up, things were full speed ahead until we reached the end.  There is a strong sub-plot that is unfortunately too real and should not have been acceptable then or now.  I appreciated how it was handled.  The overall mystery is something that could only be told in England during World War II, and it helped bring details of that time in history to life for me.  If you enjoy historical mysteries, you need to pick it up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


#TagMe for Murder by Sarah E. Burr (Trending Topics Mysteries #2) – 5

Coco Cline has a new neighbor, unfortunately.  Larry Dunmer is in town to conduct an audit, and he has his wife has proved to be horrible neighbors, complaining about anything and everything.  Still, Coco knows he will only be in town a few months.  So she is surprised when he is killed on the beach one morning.  Worse yet, her friend is accused of the crime.  Can Coco wade through the suspects to figure out what is really going on?

This book does include some minor spoilers for the first book (nothing like who the killer is), so keep that in mind.  However, I love how part of the character development in this book is watching Coco deal with the aftermath of that first case.  The set up for this mystery was familiar, but the book didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on that, instead moving into a strong mystery that kept me guessing until the end.  This was helped by strong suspects.  I also love how Coco uses in person interactions and the internet to solve the case.  A sub-plot with Coco’s boyfriend also kept me turning pages.  If you are looking for a great mystery, you’ll want this book to trend to the top of your to be read pile.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Black Box by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #16) – 5

When the LA riots happened back in 1992, Harry Bosch was a homicide detective who was called in to work crime scenes as quickly as possible since there were so many happening during that time.  One of those was of a reporter from a paper in Europe.  Nothing ever came of the case until twenty years later.  Bosch is now working in the cold case squad, but a ballistics hit was just made that links the gun that killed the reporter to gang related murders that have happened in the years since.  Can Bosch use this fresh new lead to finally solve the case?

Once again, part of the fun of the series is watching Bosch work his way to the conclusion.  I never would have guessed it, but it makes perfect sense when we get there.  Along the way, I enjoy spending time with Bosch and seeing how his life has evolved.  I especially enjoyed watching his relationship with his daughter in this book.  I did find the office politics Bosch faces border on clich├ęd, although I did see the higher ups point in one aspect here.  I also found something that happened near the climax a little too convenient.  But both of these are minor points in an otherwise strong book that will please series fans.


Silence is Golden by Penny Warner (Connor Westphal Mysteries #6) – 4

Gold fever has hit Flat Skunk, California, after local eccentric prospector Sluice Jackson finds a nugget.  Reporter Connor Westphal isn’t quite so quick to jump on the gold bandwagon, but while she is still trying to figure out what is going on, an old skeleton turns up.  Meanwhile, Connor’s college boyfriend is in town with his ex-wife and their daughter.  Then a modern body turns up.  Can Connor figure out what is going on?

Obviously, there is a lot here, and that kept me entertained and engaged the entire way through.  I did feel like the ending was rushed, including a sub-plot getting pretty much dropped.  If you are new to the series, you should know that Connor is deaf, and I continue to love how that is portrayed in the stories.  This book is now twenty years old, so some things are dated, but as long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.  Likewise, there is a little more swearing than you might expect, but not as much as earlier books in the series.  The characters, not just Connor, are all great, and I enjoyed spending time with them.  If you are looking for a unique main character, you’ll enjoy this book.

If I Had a Hammer by Teresa Trent (Swinging Sixties Mysteries #2) – 4

It’s November of 1963, and Dot Morgan’s excitement at witnessing JFK’s trip to Dallas turns to tragedy.  While her cousin deals with what they witnessed, Dot has to concentrate on her first job out of secretarial school.  She’s working at a local construction company, but she really only likes one of her bosses.  When he falls victim to a weird accident at work, Dot starts to investigate.  Can she figure out what happened?

You can’t write a series set in Texas in the 1960’s without dealing what happened that November.  I liked that this piece of history is given its own subplot, although I did feel like that storyline was rushed.  The main mystery is strong, with plenty to keep me turning pages, and the suspects were developed enough to help keep me confused.  I loved getting to spend time with Dot again, and the rest of the regulars are good as well.  As we get into the second half of the book, the action moves into December, and I enjoyed the Christmas parts of the book, too.  If you are looking for a good mystery set around an important piece of American history, this book is for you.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


A Novel Disguise by Samantha Larsen (Lady Librarian #1) – 5

When her half-brother dies unexpectedly, Tiffany Woodall quietly buries him and then assumes his identity.  There is nothing else for her to do in 1780’s England, especially if she wants to stay in the cottage the two of them lived in.  But she quickly finds that being two people is much more challenging than she expected, especially when she starts falling in love with the local book seller and has to dodge the marriage proposal of the local rector.  But it’s taking over her half-brother’s job of the local duke’s librarian that puts her in the most danger when one of the servants dies.  Might it tie to her brother’s death?

Obviously, there is a lot going on here, and it does mean the mystery takes a little time to become an important part of the story.  But I didn’t care.  I was quickly caught up in Tiffany’s life and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to her next.  And make no mistake about it, the mystery here is strong.  I loved how things were all pulled together for the climax.  The characters are also wonderful, with plenty of them to love or love to hate.  I always felt like I was transported back in time as I was reading.  My only complaint was that we learned a little more than I felt necessary about the after effects of the poison, but that was a minor issue.  I’m already looking forward to the sequel.  If you are looking for a fun historical mystery, don’t miss this one.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Her Dying Day by Mindy Carlson – 4

Documentary graduate student June Masterson has finally hit upon the perfect topic for her final project – the disappearance twenty years ago of Greer Larkin.  Greer had burst onto the mystery scene with six well received books before she disappeared, never to be seen again.  With the principles in Greer’s life agreeing to talk to June, she fantasizes about solving the case, making for the perfect end to her documentary.  Can she do that?  Will she even finish it in time?

I struggled with part of this book – a subplot in June’s life that I truly didn’t like.  I can understand her choices, but still, it bothered me.  I did appreciate the character growth we got.  And the mystery itself was very well done.  It kept me guessing all the way to the satisfying ending.  There was one aspect that was left opened, but it could propel a follow up book.  This book has some content that definitely keeps it from being a cozy; it’s honestly a little hard to place outside of just plain mystery.  If you enjoy an engaging mystery, you’ll be glad you picked up this book.


Southern Ghost by Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand #8) – 5

Max Darling has taken on a new client he’s been keeping secret from his wife, Annie, owner of the mystery bookstore Death on Demand.  However, that changes when the client, a beautiful young woman, disappears and Max is arrested for the crime.  Annie doesn’t believe it, and together, the two of them work to figure out what really happened.  The key appears to be tied to something that happened twenty years ago, the case that Max was hired to investigate.  Is there more to figure out than the official story?  If so, can Annie and Max figure out what happened then and find his client in time?

The plot really does focus on the mystery from the past, but I’m not complaining.  It was a strong mystery with lots of motives and twists to keep me engaged.  The suspects are all strong, and I appreciated that we got to know them a bit before we got their full backgrounds.  Annie’s temper wasn’t as strong as in other books, and it had more of a comedic effect here.  Speaking of comedy, the sub-plot with Max’s mom and her research project on ghosts of the south was wonderful.  The references to other mystery books are still here but are more subdued, making them a fun bonus.  If you want to see why this series is so beloved, this is a good one to pick up.


Murder at the Marina by Janet Finsilver (Kelly Jackson #5) – 4

Kelly is taking an afternoon to see the boat that her friends, Ivan and Rudy, own.  But the tour never happens when she finds a dagger covered in what looks like blood on the boat.  While neither of the brothers own it, they do recognize it from their past.  A few days later, the owner of a Russian merchandise store turns up dead on their boat as well.  What is going on?  Does it have to do with the Russian Heritage Festival taking place in town?

I love it when background characters get a chance to shine, which is what happens here.  I was intrigued from the beginning and couldn’t wait to see how it would all play out.  Unfortunately, I did feel the climax was abrupt, and therefore weaker than it could have been.  While the suspects are appropriately shady, the rest of the cast is charming, which is no surprise to fans of the series.  I really do love these characters.  As always, I enjoyed spending time in a fictional version of the area where I grew up.  If you are looking for a fun cozy series, be sure to check this one out.


Tough Luxe by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #11) – 3

Samantha Kidd has landed a new gig as a fashion columnist for the local paper.  But she doesn’t expect that to lead to an invitation to visit someone in prison.  Pretzel heiress Suzy Kintz was a high school acquaintance of Samantha’s, but a few years after they graduated, Suzy was convicted of killing her husband, and has been in jail ever since.  Now, there is new evidence that might exonerate Suzy.  Can Samantha figure out what really happened all those years ago?

I was immediately intrigued by the premise, and I enjoyed watching Samantha try to piece things together.  However, when we hit the end, I was found I was left with too many questions – one I’d had since the beginning and a couple more than came up from the climax.  I also found a sub-plot involving Samantha and her husband to be cringe inducing.  At least that sub-plot led to some great character growth in Samantha.  On the plus side, it is always great to hang out with these characters, and I loved the humor of the book.  If you are already a fan, you’ll want to see what Samantha gets up to here.  If you are new to the series, you should pick up an earlier book first before you see what happens here.


Murder at Sea by Various Authors (Destination Murders Anthology #3) – 5

For this entry in the Destination Murders short story anthologies, the writers are sending their sleuths on cruises.  Of course, no vacation in this series is without a hiccup and dead body or two.  From Norway to Italy and Seattle, and from budget cruise lines to luxury yachts, the sleuths must deal with the unexpected when a killer decides that the sea is the perfect time to strike.

While there are a couple of stories that really stood out, every single one of these eight stories is enjoyable.  I can’t think of one I didn’t like.  Many of the authors included their series characters here, although you don’t have to know the characters to enjoy what happens.  In fact, this reminded me that I really do need to read some of these author’s novels.  These stories are long enough that, by the time you’ve read all eight, you’ve read the equivalent of a full-length novel, so there is plenty here to keep you entertained.  Each story features a fun twist or two, and the solutions always satisfied.  Whether you are looking for a great read for a summer vacation or want something to make you feel like you are on vacation, you’ll be glad you boarded this anthology.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.