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

: 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.