Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: The Bungalow Mystery by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced and fun
Cons: Weak characters; obvious plot points
The Bottom Line:
Stolen bonds, orphans
Give Nancy next mystery
Fast paced page turner

The Mysterious Guardian

While I can remember certain Nancy Drew mysteries I read as a kid, I am not sure if I read The Bungalow Mystery before or not.  A couple of scenes seemed vaguely familiar to me, but the rest of the plot was completely unfamiliar, so I probably did read it but it didn’t make much of an impression on me.  If that’s the case, I’m not sure why because I enjoyed it as an adult.

The story starts on a dark and stormy afternoon when Nancy and her friend Helen get caught in a sudden storm on a lake.  They are rescued by Laura, a teen who has recently become an orphan.  She’s in the area to meet her new guardians.  However, when she does meet them, something seems off, and Nancy and Helen agree with that assessment.

Meanwhile, Nancy’s father, Carson, is helping a friend by trying to figure out how bearer bonds disappeared from a bank.  He’s in and out of town as a result, but when he is in town, he asks Nancy to help him investigate.  Will she find any clues in this case?  What is going on with Laura’s new guardians?

And once again Nancy is off on another exciting, fast paced adventure.  It is amazing just how much happens to Nancy and what she pieces together in these 180 pages.  Some of the twists are a little obvious, but I wasn’t completely sure how everything would fit together or how Nancy would prove it until the end.

We still haven’t met Nancy’s usual crew in this book.  Helen, who is older and getting married soon, is around near the beginning but isn’t really part of the action here.  A potential boyfriend character is around in the second half of the book.  I can’t remember when Bess, George, and Ned show up, but I miss them.

Not that the characters in this series are super strong.  With only 180 pages, the emphasis is on plot with characterization being fairly basic.  Still, I remember not caring as a kid, so I’m sure today’s kids won’t mind either.

There are a few dated references and expressions in the book, but I think the biggest thing that will date these books for today’s kids are the pictures.  Still, I doubt most kids will care.

It’s fun every so often to revisit friends from your childhood.  While most of the usual cast wasn’t here, I still enjoyed spending time with her in The Bungalow Mystery.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Movie Review: Garage Sale Mystery - Murder by Text

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: It’s a Hallmark movie
The Bottom Line:
Suicide, murder?
Question about band member
Light but fun movie

“So My Air Tight Locked Up and Done Suicide is Now a Murder?”  “Not Yet.  But Can We Take a Closer Look?”

As a fan of cozy mysteries, you quickly forgive stories that involve your main characters but only partially pertain to the theme.  That’s what happened in the second Garage Sale Mystery that Hallmark is premiering this month – Murder by Text.

You see, this mystery revolves around the local modern country band Dalton.  Yes, Jennifer Shannon (Lori Loughlin) gets involved with this mystery when members of the band come into the shop she co-owns with her best friend Dani (Sarah Strange).  But that’s about the only connection to Rags to Riches or garage sales we really have in the movie.

It turns out that Dani is a huge fan of the group, so much so that when she meets front man John Dalton (Kurt Teixeira), she can hardly speak.  Dalton is releasing a new CD and about to launch a new tour, but they are starting off with a sold-out concert for members of the group’s fan club here in town.  When Jenn and Dani get invited to the sound check, they jump at the chance.

However, the sound check doesn’t go as planned when the base player, Lita, doesn’t show up.  Then she sends a text message to everyone in the band that looks like a suicide note.  Two band members rush over to her home to find her dead from an apparent suicide.  But is something else going on?

Once again, Jenn faces a good puzzle because there are very few clues that this isn’t what it appears to be, a tragic suicide.  Watching Jenn piece it together is entertaining as always, and I was engaged the entire way through.  The clues were great, and I didn’t figure out the killer until the final 15 minutes.

The rest of the cast gets some interesting sub-plots.  Dani is dealing with a visit from her sister, Beth Anne (Gabrielle Miller).  The two don’t get along super well and haven’t had much contact in years.  Why is she visiting now?  Meanwhile, Jenn’s husband Jason (Steve Bacic) and daughter Hannah (Eva Bourne) are fighting over an old building in town.  Jason’s company has just gotten a contract to tear it down and put in condos but Hannah is fighting to save it as a historic building.  Neither sub-plot is exactly original, but they do add some fun and give us a chance to see the rest of the main cast, which isn’t a problem since I love them.

Yes, my usual cheese warning applies, although it doesn’t seem as bad this time around.  Still, there are moments where the acting or the writing are less than they could be.  Honestly, I was caught up in the story so much I didn’t really mind.

So even though this didn’t have as much of a connection to garage sales, Murder by Text is still a fun chance to hang out with characters we love and watch Jenn solve a great mystery.  Fans of the series will be delighted with it.

August 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here's what I watched this week.

American Ninja Warrior – It was so hard watching James struggle through the course and come so close to making it and yet not making it.  On the other hand, Jamie and Joe were incredible finishing it.  The women were amazing, and I feel sorry for Michelle going so far and still not making it to Vegas.  The female superstars of this sport are truly amazing.

Hollywood Game Night – Naturally, as a fan of This is Us, I was rooting for the cast to win.  That was an amazing come from behind win by the other team.  Carson was so annoying.  But the cast of This is Us was having such a fabulous time together.  You can tell they’ve really bonded because that sure looked like so much more than acting.

Suits – I’m glad to see Louis maturing again.  I certainly hope that lasts.  I’d feel sorry for Mike but it is actually nice to see him get what he deserves.  Still, I am very curious to know what exactly Alex is up to.  And I am rooting for them to find a way to get justice for these prisoners.  What has been happening is very wrong.

Battle of the Network Stars – Knowing how important the tug of war is, my money was on sci fi for the win, but I didn’t expect them to dominate all day like they did.  Wow!  Funny watching Jill actually do an obstacle course, although it was nothing like the ones on Wipeout.  Nothing at all.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Book Review: Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Stars: 1 out of 5
Pros: I liked Ann
Cons: The rest of the book didn’t work for me
The Bottom Line:
A falling starlet
Dysfunctional characters
I just couldn’t like

Fallen Stars

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I have three authors I rotate on audio, and if the next in one series isn’t available from either of the library systems I have access to, I’ll switch to a different author in the rotation and circle back around when the audio book is available.  I recently had the horror of not being able to snag books by any of these authors the weekend before a trip, so I spent some time looking in the library for something else to listen to.  That’s when Star Island caught my eye.  I’d been curious to try the books of Carl Hiaasen for years now.  I know many people find him hilarious, but I was concerned I wouldn’t enjoy him.  Turned out, I was right.

Cherry Pye is getting ready to release a comeback album, her second.  And her career hangs on this album and the related tour doing very, very well.  The problem with that is that Cherry has gone the way of too many teen celebrities.  She’s been a pop star since she was fourteen, and at twenty-two has only increased the partying.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad that her family has hired a double to cover for when Cherry is too strung out on drugs to appear in public.  Ann DeLusia. fools people from a distance, and that’s all the family cares about.

However, things are about to go off the rails.  Without much time before the tour starts, Cherry is heading to rehab and Ann is about to be kidnapped.  As things spin out of control, we meet a slightly deranged paparazzo who thinks that Cherry is his meal ticket, a former governor of Florida who left office and vanished decades ago, and a bodyguard with a very unusual prosthetic to name but a few of the oddball characters in this novel.  Where will it all lead?

Carl Hiaasen’s books are often lumped into crime fiction, and I can see that since several crimes do occur over the pages of the book.  However, this isn’t mystery in the truest sense of the word.  Instead, I would classify it as over the top comedy.

If you haven’t picked up on it from my description, these characters are definitely out there.  About the only one who seemed normal was Ann.  Trust me, you don’t know anyone like this group.  (And if you do, you have my deepest sympathies.)

But that’s where the book failed.  Ann was the only character I truly liked in the bunch.  The rest?  If there had been a big shootout and they’d all died, I probably would have cheered.  Many of them are people I’d attempt to avoid in real life, and spending time with them fictionally wasn’t any more pleasant.  It didn’t help that these characters were swearing so often I was actually cringing at times.  It lost all effectiveness very early on in the book and just kept right on going.

Obviously, since I was finding the characters disgusting, I missed the humor.  Oh, I get that we were supposed to find all of their antics funny.  They weren’t at all funny.  I laughed a couple of times, but not nearly as often as I was supposed to laugh.

And maybe that’s because we are supposed to be laughing at characters self-destructing.  Sorry, I don’t find that funny.

Despite not liking the characters, I did get caught up in the plot enough to want to know how it ended.  The point of view shifts to many of the characters at various times, which gives us a very clear picture of everything happening, a technique I always enjoy.

Stephen Hoye was the narrator for this audio book.  He did a great job bringing the story to life without getting in the way.

Obviously, I’m not in the market that Carl Hiaasen aims for.  I’d been curious for enough years that I’m glad I enjoyed Star Island, but I won’t be picking up any more of his books in the future.

August 18th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it to Friday again, so it must be time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm highlighting Gila Monster by Sandy Dengler.

This is the fourth in a Christian mystery series that features two police officers in the Phoenix area.

I just love how this book begins:

Joe Rodriguez, at five-feet-eleven, weighed just over 160 pounds and almost none of it was fat.  Beside him stood his partner, Tom Flaherty.  Tom, six-feet-one, weighted maybe 155 if he let his unruly red hair grow really long and then soaked it.  Before them crouched a thickset lizard about fourteen inches in length, weighing in at maybe two pounds.
The lizard, outweighed 157 to 1, was winning the standoff hands down.

That last line makes me smile.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

A kid stuck his head in the doors at this end of the hall.  "Mayday!" he yelped and disappeared.

That's it for this week.  I hope you have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ornament Review: Where's Waldo? - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfectly captures Waldo
Cons: Won’t blend on your tree like he does in the books
The Bottom Line:
Waldo has been found
He’s hiding out on your tree
In fun ornament

Where’s Waldo?  Hiding on Your Tree This Year

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become aware of some traditions of hiding things in the days leading up to Christmas.  There’s the Elf on a Shelf.  There’s the German tradition of hiding a pickle.  Not having any kids, I don’t get into any of those.  But when Hallmark introduced a Where’s Waldo? ornament this year, I jumped at a chance to get it.

For those who aren’t familiar with this character, he’s the star of several children’s books.  Each book features multiple two-page spreads with very busy illustrations.  You mission?  Find Waldo wherever he is hiding on those pages.  With his distinctive blue pants and red and white striped shirt, you’d think it would be easy, right?  You’d be very wrong since those are the predominate colors in each illustration.

The ornament just features the character, but they’ve captured him perfectly.  He’s wearing his iconic costume including the red and white hat and glasses.  He’s turned his face to look at us, and he has a cane in his left hand.

And anyone who knows Waldo will immediately know exactly who this ornament is.  And that’s the appeal.  If you love the character and want him on your tree, you won’t find a better chance ever again.  The ornament is simple, but in this case simple definitely works best because you really don’t need anything else.

Of course, the thing that made finding Waldo such a challenge was always the fact that everything and everyone else around him was dressed so similarly.  On a Christmas tree, he will tend to stand out.  But I can still see family members trying to hide him around the tree for fun.

And you’ll definitely need to hang him on your tree.  The ornament captures him mid-step, which is how he usually is in the books.  But it means that you can’t set him out to be displayed.  That’s not a problem, however, since he hangs straight.

For fans of the books, this Where’s Waldo? ornament is a delight.  As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to add it to my collection.  Now, to figure out how to hide him in my tree.

Original Price: $15.95

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Her Majesty's Winner

I just pulled the final winner for the month.  The copy of On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service goes to ...


I just sent you an e-mail, so please get back to me so I can pass have the publisher send you the book.

Book Review: Club Deception by Sarah Skilton

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, interesting story
Cons: Weak sub-plots and ending
The Bottom Line:
A magicians’ club
Politics behind the scenes
Fun, could be stronger

Pay Attention to the Woman Behind the Magician

Every year, my local library puts on a local author day, and this last January, I met author Sarah Skilton there.  She had her first adult novel coming out in July, and since it involved magic, I thought it sounded like fun.  Unfortunately, Club Deception didn’t live up to my expectations.

The book follows four characters as their lives begin to intertwine in the world of Club Deception, an exclusive club for magicians in Los Angeles.  There’s Claire, the wife of club president Jonathan.  Jonathan has long cheated on Claire even though she is the mind behind his act and the real person who keeps the club running smoothly.  Then there’s Jessica, the new wife of traveling magician Cal.  Now that they are married, Cal is ready to return to Los Angeles after a three-year absence.  Meanwhile, Kaimi has been hired to sell some pages from a rare manuscript by the master of card tricks.  Finally, there’s Felix, a former baseball player interning with Jonathan in hopes of becoming a world class magician.

Now, this book touts itself as a mystery.  Despite the fact that was are told in the prologue (before we back up six weeks for chapter one) that one of the characters has been poisoned, it really doesn’t fit my definition of a mystery.  Heck, that portion feels like sub-plot because even when we do catch up to the point of the murder, the book focuses on how it impacts the characters and less on the who done it.

And that’s okay because this book is more of a character study than anything else.  I quickly realized that and adjusted my expectations accordingly.  Now this isn’t to say that the book didn’t have an interesting story going on.  There are some secrets from the past, betrayals, and complications for the characters to deal with, and I found myself getting caught up in their stories.  It helps that the inner politics of the club is fascinating, and it features into the story quite a bit.

And this was despite the fact that the characters weren’t always likable.  Mainly, it was Claire I had a problem with.  She is manipulative at times, but at others we see a human who is hurting.  The rest of the cast make some choices I would disagree with at various times, but for the most part I liked them the entire way through.  All four of the characters I mentioned earlier take their turns as our third person point of view narrator, and that gives us amble opportunity to get to know them.  It also gives us different takes on some of the other characters, which is always interesting.

Still, when I got to the end, I felt like it was missing something.  Maybe it’s because I am used to the tropes of the mystery genre instead of general fiction, but I felt like a couple of the storylines didn’t go anywhere.  And I get what the author was trying to do with the ending, but I felt like the characters hadn’t really learned anything from what had happened before and there was more to the story as a result.  Again, maybe that is me.

This is definitely a departure in another way from the mysteries I normally read – the amount of sex on the page.  But it is in keeping with the harder mysteries I listen to, however.

Am I sorry I picked up Club Deception?  No.  There were certainly parts I enjoyed.  I think a little more focus on what the novel wanted to say would have made it stronger, however.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Once Upon a Time - Season 6

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderfully developed characters in a still magical story
Cons: So far, magic covering any cons
The Bottom Line:
Magical intrigue
Characters continue to
Grow in great season

“I Killed You.”  “Did You Really Think It Would Be That Easy?”

When asked my favorite TV show currently on the air, I answer without hesitation Once Upon a Time.  Yes, the show has changed significantly since it started, but all good shows of this kind need to grow and change.  I still find the show, well, magical, and season six was no exception.

If you are new to the show, you will be lost here.  There’s no way to avoid it with a show of this kind.  The basics?  Every fairytale character you know is real and is currently living in the town of Storybrooke, Maine.  They originally arrived there via a curse, and they’ve faced several more over the years.  As they have faced multiple threats, families have grown and relationships have changed.

And, honestly, that’s one of my favorite things in the show.  These characters are growing and are not the people they were in season one.  That adds a richness to things that makes every moment mean so much more.  And it’s another reason not to jump in here.  You won’t fully appreciate what we do get to see this season.

As the season opens, our heroes are trying to welcome a lot of new visitors to town.  The residence of the Land of Lost Stories have arrived, and are now getting on with their lives and their stories.  At the end of last season, Regina (Lana Parrilla) tried separating herself into her two halves, Regina and the Evil Queen, before crushing her Evil Queen part.  It didn’t quite work out as she has planned, and it isn’t long before everyone learns that the Evil Queen is back, ready to exact her revenge on Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and David (Josh Dallas).  Naturally, their family, including daughter Emma (Jennifer Morrison) jump in trying to keep that from happening.  However, Regina’s half-sister Zelena (Rebecca Mader) is drawn to the Evil Queen side and might not prove to be an ally to our heroes.

While the season still aired in two parts, the season didn’t have two distinct story arcs.  Some characters from the Land of Untold Stories would pop up for one episode, some for more, and some would play a large piece in the overall arc.  This season, we get to meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Hank Harris and Sam Witwer), Captain Nemo (Faran Tahir), and Aladdin (Deniz Akdeniz) and Jasmin (Karen David) as well as a new version of Jafar (Oded Fehr).  (No connection to the Jafar of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, unfortunately for fans of that show.)

The season had actually opened with Emma getting a vision of her impending death, something that begins to play out more in the back half of the season as we get a new threat.  Honestly, I had negative flashbacks to another show when this storyline was fully introduced for the mid-season cliffhanger, but the way it played out was actually well done and erased my concerns as the show built toward the ultimate battle between good and evil.  Who will survive?

I already gave you my big draw to this show – the characters.  I love them, and I love spending time with them.  This show sucks me in each week, and when things are over, it’s hard to believe it’s been an hour already.

Of course, the storylines help with that.  I still find them compelling.  Yes, they are repeating themselves at times, never more so than in the season finale, but I still enjoy it.  I even get what they were trying to do with the season finale, but it still felt like too much of a retread to me.  My only real complaint for the season.

The actors are at the top of their game, and I love watching them on screen.  They have these characters and their relationships down, and the chemistry between them no matter who is on screen in wonderful.  Praise, as always goes to the two standouts – Robert Carlyle, who plays Rumpelstiltskin, and Lana Parrilla.  She is clearly having a blast playing both halves of Regina this season.

Before the season is over, we get a musical episode.  I will admit it took me a couple of times to fully enjoy it, but it works, and it certainly works well in a series about magic.

Speaking of magic, this show is filled with special effects.  There are usually a couple of episodes a season where things don’t work, but for the most part I buy what they see.

Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, the creators of the show, felt that the journey for most of the characters ended here at season six, so the season finale feels like a series finale in many ways.  It does wrap things up in a wonderful way for everyone…until the final few minutes which set up a season seven that will be missing much of the cast we know and love.  I am intrigued by this new direction.  I am withholding full judgment until I actually see it, and I hope my faith is rewarded.  If not, we will have to pretend the final few minutes of this season didn’t happen because I really could have lived with this as a series finale.

All 22 season six episodes are included in this set.  Naturally, they are in wide screen and full surround as are most shows today.  Extras on the set include deleted scenes, bloopers, one audio commentary, and a behind the scenes look at creating the musical.

For me, the magic and fun of Once Upon a Time have continued in season six.  Any fan of the series to date will continue to enjoy watching their favorite characters in these episodes.

Season Six Episodes:
1. The Savior
2. A Bitter Draught
3. The Other Shoe
4. Strange Case
5. Street Rats
6. Dark Waters
7. Heartless
8. I’ll be Your Mirror
9. Changelings
10. Wish You Were Here
11. Tougher than the Rest
12. Murder Most Foul
13. Ill-Boding Patterns
14. Page 23
15. A Wondrous Place
16. Mother’s Little Helper
17. Awake
18. Where Bluebirds Fly
19. The Black Fairy
20. The Song in Your Heart
21. The Final Battle Part 1
22. The Final Battle Part 2

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett (Detective by Day #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and mystery filled with humor
Cons: Romantic sub-plot is weak
The Bottom Line:
Looking for reward
Day gets involved in murder
A must read debut

Hit and Run Murder

Earlier this year, I started reading the Chicks on the Case blog, and through that I decided I wanted to read at least one book by all of the Chicks.  (And yes, I’ve still got one I need to get to plus more books by the authors I’ve already read.)  Kellye Garrett is the last of these ladies to have her debut novel published.  Hollywood Homicide came out about a week ago, and it is wonderful.

Dayna Anderson, Day to her friends, has retired from acting after a successful career of one commercial campaign for a fast food company.  As you can imagine, that didn’t line the pocketbooks forever, and she is hard up for money now.  Making matters worse, her parents are going to lose their house unless Day can find a way to give them the cash they need.

Which is why the billboard catches her eye.  The LAPD is offering a $15K reward for information leading to the arrest of the driver of a hit and run.  The young woman who had been hit died at the scene.  Day realizes she and her friends had actually driven by the scene not too long after it happened, so maybe they know something.  This isn’t the worst things an actress in Hollywood has done for money, and it should be easy money, right?

Spoiler alert – it isn’t easy money.  If it were, this would be a short story and not a novel.  Of course, Day’s lack of experience as an investigator plays into her lack of ability to solve the crime quickly, but her stumbles and dead ends were completely realistic.  Not that I would be much better about solving the crime than Day.  In fact, at one point, I thought I had the killer pegged only to know I was wrong half a chapter later when Day decided that person was the killer as well.  The ultimate solution is surprising and satisfying, and we get some fun twists along the way.

Meanwhile, the characters are wonderful.  They are quite an assortment, yet they all come to believable life.  I know there is more to some of them than we see here, and I can’t wait to get to know them better as the series unfolds.

My biggest complaint was with the romantic sub-plot.  It all felt very Jr. High to me.  Yes, it does play into the plot of the mystery, so I see the need for it.  This is a very minor complaint overall, and I’d probably behave more like Day does than I care to admit, so I can’t criticize too loudly.

Do note that the content is pushing the edges of the cozy sub-genre in a couple of scenes.  It’s nothing too graphic, and the scenes are played for laughs.

These aren’t the only scenes that are played for laughs.  There are plenty throughout the entire book.  As much as I am a Southern California Hollywood loving guy, I had to laugh at many of the correct observations made about my part of the country.  The light tone made the book that much more enjoyable.

Hollywood Homicide is not only my favorite debut so far this year, but one of my favorite reads of the year period.  Do yourself a favor and get this book today.  You’ll be very glad you did.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.