Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February 2018 Monthly Summary

It's the last day of February, so that means it is monthly reading summary time again.  And yes, I have updated the Index this month.  New this year, I'm going to start indicating when the last time I updated a particular category was (although some of them are updated rarely, so you'll see that as well.)

Anyway, here's the list.

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

The Phantom of Oz by Cindy Brown (Ivy Meadows #5) – 5
Ivy is excited when she learns that her best friend and fellow actress Candy is in town as part of the touring cast of The Wizard of Ozpera.  However, in the months since the two have seen each other, Candy has lost a dangerous amount of weight and doesn’t seem like herself.  Then Ivy learns about the accidents that have been happening on this tour, especially once they arrived in Phoenix.  Can Ivy figure out what is happening and save her friend?

The book includes a fun mash up of The Wizard of Oz and The Phantom of the Opera, working elements of the later into the plot of the mystery.  The mystery might not be super traditional with the murder happening pretty late in the story, but there is so much going on you really don’t need it to happen earlier.  I was certainly never bored as the story moves forward quickly toward the climax.  The book is filled with great humor, yet there is a more serious side as well, which we see as we get to know the characters, especially Ivy who has some great growth here.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Too Big to Die by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Odelia Grey #12) – 5
One Saturday, Odelia and Greg’s errands are interrupted when they see a dog trapped in a car on a hot day.  They rescue the dog, but the dog’s owner is less than happy with them.  She turns out to be former reality TV star Marla Kingston, and her husband is a client of the law firm where Odelia works.  While he makes Odelia’s work life difficult, the man who stopped to help them winds up dead.  What have Odelia and Greg gotten into now?

Any fan of this long running series will tell you to expect a fast-moving case, and that’s exactly what we find here as well.  One of the complications that arises here involves a series regular; that part of the book will appeal most to fans of the series.  Zee is a strong character in this book, and I always love seeing her, although all the series regulars get a scene or two to shine.  A suspenseful climax caps another fantastic book.

Biscuits and Slashed Browns by Maddie Day (Country Store Mysteries #4) – 5
March brings a maple syrup festival to Brown County, Indiana, and Robbie Jordan is hoping to snag some of the tourists into her shop, Pans ‘N Pancakes.  However, the festival has also brought Dr. Warren Connolly to town, a professor hated for many reasons.  He is found murdered one morning before the day’s events can get started, and the police begin to look at one of Robbie’s friends as the killer.  Then a local maple syrup farmer goes missing.  What is going on?

I thought we might be in for some lectures as Dr. Connolly is first introduced to us as a climate change denier, however, this was dropped after the second chapter as we begin to find real motives for his murder.  In fact, we get several strong motives and suspects that kept me turning pages and guessing until the end.  While I missed one of the regular characters, the rest were present and accounted for and were as charming as ever.  The setting is fantastic, too.  I’d love to visit Robbie’s store.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Inspired by the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes, better known as Westley, sat down to share his memories of making the film.  He goes from being cast at the age of 23 to meeting his cast mates and stories from filming on sound stages and on location.  Helping him out, we get sidebars from his co-stars, the director, and the writer.

And any fan of the movie will love the stories told here.  It is obvious that everyone has fond memories of their time on set, are proud of the results, and thrilled that so many people love the movie as much as they do.  Even the stories that aren’t completely positive are amusing.  I know I’ll watch a couple scenes differently as a result of the stories shared here.

The Corpse with the Silver Tongue by Cathy Ace (Cait Morgan #1) – 4
Cait Morgan has traveled to Nice to present a paper for a sick colleague when she runs into her former boss, Alistair Townsend.  Unable to say no, she finds herself at a birthday party for Alistair’s wife that night.  Dinner is ruined when Alistair drops dead at the table and the other guests start feeling sick.  With the police looking at Cait, she needs to figure out what is really happening.

Cait is an interesting character because she has an excellent memory but a habit of judging others quickly.  I did find myself annoyed by her at times, but that never lasted for long.  The suspects make a strong cast as they have layers to them that Cait has to peal back before she can solve the crime.  And the plot heads into some areas I wasn’t expecting that I found interesting.  I had a couple of niggles with the climax, but they were minor.

The Haunted Lighthouse by Penny Warner (Code Busters #2) – 4
Cody and the rest of the Code Busters are excited for the next school day because their classes are going on a combined field trip to Alcatraz.  The night before they leave, Cody gets a strange e-mail message.  Then the four friends get part of a note on their front door step in the morning.  It seems to imply that there might be a treasure on the island.  Can they figure out what is going on while on the field trip?

While the title of the book is a little misleading (we discuss some haunted places but never see any), this is a fun book for kids of all ages.  The plot moves along quickly, and it included a great twist.  The characters are on the thin side, but I’m sure kids won’t notice that.  And there is enough information on codes for kids to have lots of fun with them long after they’ve finished reading the book.

Pressing the Issue by Daryl Wood Gerber (Cookbook Nook Mysteries #6) – 4
The Renaissance Fair has come to town, and all of Crystal Cove is getting into the act.  However, not everyone is in the partying mood, as Jenna Hart discovers when she and some friends stumble on the body of Nick, a local vineyard owner.  Nick was universally loved, or so it seemed.  Who wanted him gone?

It was so glad to be back with Jenna and her community.  She really does have a large group of friends and family, and they all get their moments to shine here.  Of course, we get some strong suspects.  I did figure some parts of the mystery out early, but I didn’t have it all pieced together until Jenna figured it out.  And the Renaissance Fair proves to be another fun backdrop for the action.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Hummus and Homicide by Tina Kashian (Kebab Kitchen #1) – 4
Lucy Berberian is back in her hometown of Ocean Crest, New Jersey, while she tries to figure out what to do next in her life.  While she is reconnecting with family and friends, she is also working at her parent’s restaurant, Kebab Kitchen.  Her high school nemesis, Heather Banks, is now the health inspector, and goes out of her way to make trouble for Lucy.  However, after eating at the restaurant’s hummus bar, Heather dies in the parking lot.  With business declining and Lucy the prime suspect, Lucy begins to search for answers.  What happened to Heather?

This series is off to a good start.  Lucy has a great collection of family and friends, although I did feel that her parents could be better fleshed out.  We see hints of more here, something I hope is developed further as the series progresses.  The mystery is solid with several believable suspects and plenty of secrets.  The ending surprised me and kept me turning pages.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Color Me Murder by Krista Davis (Pen & Ink #1) – 5
Florrie Fox is delighted when her boss offers his carriage house as a place for her to live.  It’s only a few blocks from the bookstore she manages.  Her boss, Professor Maxwell, doesn’t want his nephew, Delbert, to move in, so it is perfect.  Florrie begins to have her doubt when she meets Delbert, but the last thing she expects to find is his dead body.  With Professor Maxwell arrested for the crime, Florrie needs to work fast to prove his innocence.

This is a delightful start to a new series.  Florrie is a strong main character, and I love her friends and family as well.  I already can’t wait to visit them again.  The plot is complex with multiple twists and turns that surprised me.  I did feel the climax was a bit weak, but it certainly did explain everything that had happened.  Florrie also designs adult coloring books, and as an added bonus, the physical book features a front and back cover ready to be colored.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book

I Know What You Bid Last Summer by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #5) – 5
Sarah is running a sport equipment exchange in a local school gym.  The night before, as she is about to leave, someone attacks her.  Despite the attack, the event goes off without a hitch – until Sarah finds the dead body of the school superintendent.  What is going on?

This is another fabulous, fast paced read in one of my favorite series.  There are several different avenues that Sarah investigates along the way, and they all come together beautifully for the climax.  Meanwhile, we get some development in several series threads and a very funny sub-plot.  Sarah continues to grow as a character, and the rest of the cast, both new and returning, are fantastic.  The writing makes me feel like I’ve visited Sarah’s corner of the world.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: I Know What You Bid Last Summer by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, great mystery
Cons: I bid zero on cons
The Bottom Line:
Body in the gym
A multi-pronged mystery
Great bargain for us

I Know You’ll Enjoy This Book Any Summer (or Now)

I’ve been a fan of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries since the first book in the series came out.  However, I was especially excited when the title of the fifth book was announced.  How could you resist a book with the title I Know What You Bid Last Summer?  Fortunately, it lived up to the title.

As the book opens, Sarah Winston is putting the final touches on a sports equipment swap in the school gymnasium.  It’s late at night and the rest of the volunteers have left.  She’s about ready to go home when she is attacked.  Her attacker messes up all the carefully sorted equipment and makes off with items that have been donated to a silent auction to raise money for the schools in the area.

Thanks to Sarah’s friends, the swap goes just fine the next morning.  As things are winding down, however, she discovers the body of the school superintendent.  Is this murder connected to the attack on Sarah?

Fans of the series will remember that the previous book ended with a cliffhanger.  Yes, what happened is address and addressed fairly early into the book.  And that’s all I will say so I don’t spoil anything.  If you haven’t read the series yet, you might want to pick up the earlier books before enjoying this one since some of what happens here plays off threads introduced in those earlier books.

Of course, you don’t need that background to enjoy the main mystery of this book.  It actually has quite a few threads as Sarah attacks the investigation in several different ways.  Everything comes together in the end in a very logical way after giving us several twists.  There are a couple of strong sub-plots as well, one of which provides some wonderful comic relief.  They are perfectly balanced to keep us interested without slowing down the pace of the main mystery at all.

Sarah has really grown over the course of the series, and she faces some things that force her to continue growing here.  I love watching that as well as watching her grow closer to the friends she has in the community.

And the rest of the characters?  They continue to shine.  Both old and new are strong and further help to pull us into Sarah’s world.

Really, that’s what happens when you pick up on of the books in the series.  I become engrossed in Sarah’s world and life and I just can’t put it down.  I feel like I’ve visited her corner of Massachusetts, something I am dying to do in person by the time I’ve finished the book.

Whether garage sales are your thing or not, this is a series you will certainly enjoy.  I Know What You Bid Last Summer is a fantastic addition to the series that will keep you turning pages until the end.  Now comes the long wait until we can visit Sarah again.

Get more bargains with the rest of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Book Review: Color Me Murder by Krista Davis (Pen & Ink #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Complex mystery; fun new characters
Cons: Climax could have been better
The Bottom Line:
Florrie moves to a
Murderous situation
Starts new series well

Color Me Hooked on this New Series

I wasn’t super surprised when I heard about Krista Davis’s new Pen and Ink mystery series.  With how popular adult coloring books have become, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a cozy series around them.  I was very intrigued about Color Me Murder, so I was anxious to read it.  Now that I’ve read it, I am anxious to read the next in the series.

Florrie Fox has always enjoyed drawing, so designing her own adult coloring books has become a profitable hobby.  During the day, she manages Color Me Read, a popular bookstore in Georgetown, which also sells her books.  Her only complaint with her life is her drive into work from her apartment in one of the DC suburbs.

One Saturday, her boss, Professor John Maxwell, asks if she wants to move into the carriage house on his property just a few blocks away.  Florrie is delighted, and it helps Professor Maxwell, too.  His sister has decided that the carriage house is the perfect place for her son, Delbert, to live.  The catch is Professor Maxwell doesn’t want his nephew living there at all.

Delbert proves to be a disagreeable person, and Florrie is wondering if she should have moved or not.  Before she figures that out, she finds Delbert’s dead body while opening the bookstore.  The police immediately figure that Professor Maxwell is the killer, but Florrie knows the man couldn’t have done it.  Can she figure out a way to prove it?

This mystery hooked me pretty much from the start.  I loved Florrie and her family and friends.  Well, most of them, although those I didn’t love right away grew on me by the end.  They definitely felt like real people by the end of this book, and I’m already anxious to see them again.

Not only did I love the characters, but the plot was wonderful.  There was always some twist or surprise to keep me turning the pages.  There were some really puzzling elements in this book, and I couldn’t wait to see how it all came together.  I might have even told a nurse I didn’t want her to call me yet so I could read more.  I did feel the climax was a bit exposition heavy, but it was a minor complaint.  I certainly did feel that everything was wrapped up satisfactorily.

Florrie loves to bake.  In fact, she bakes every morning.  It explains the recipes at the end of the book, which initially were a surprise to me.  Considering how my mouth was watering reading about the Strawberry and Cream Torte and the Blackberry Breakfast Muffins, the recipes are wonderful to have.

But coloring is the hook for this series, right?  That’s why the front and back cover are designed to be colored.  Obviously, this only holds true for the physical book, but that’s a fun touch.

Krista Davis has introduced a great new series with Color Me Murder.  I can hardly wait to see how the future books in the series add to the wonderful picture of this book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: A couple of really good laughs
Cons: Could have been funnier
The Bottom Line:
Monster comedy
Is missing the monster laughs
Turns out average

Potential Wasted

I was never completely sold on Hotel Transylvania, which is why I never bothered to watch the movie until now, six years after it came out.  It looked like it could be fun, but the previews never quite captured my interest.  Having seen the movie, I can definitely say there was a reason for that.

No surprise, the movie focuses on Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler), who has built Hotel Transylvania as a retreat for monsters.  He was inspired to do this after his wife was killed by humans who hate monsters even though the monsters just want to get along with us.  He opens it once a year to his fellow monster friends for his daughter Mavis’ (Selena Gomez) birthday.

This year marks Mavis’ 118th birthday, and she is tired of living in the shadows.  She is ready to meet some people her own age and is fascinated by humans, something Dracula and the rest of the monsters certainly don’t understand.

Into the party wanders Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a human who has no idea what he’s found.  While Dracula tries to keep his identity a secret, he and Mavis meet.  What will happen next?

Unfortunately, what happens next is fairly predictable.  Now, I’m not opposed to predictable if I am having fun along the way.  In this case, the jokes just didn’t work for me.  There are a few the work, but not enough to entertain me for the hour and a half the movie runs, which is a shame because there is the potential for a lot of fun here.  I did want to see how they would resolve things, so I was engaged that much, but I was never fully pulled into the story.

Of course, part of the problem is that they resort to bathroom humor.  Given that this is an Adam Sandler movie, they don’t go as gross as they could, which I am grateful for.  Still, I wish they’d tried for some of the jokes involving monsters that could have actually been funny.

They have an impressive roster of monsters here, including the Mummy, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, and the Wolf Man.  Likewise, the voice talent is top notch, featuring Kevin James, Fran Drescher, and David Spade, to name a few.  They were all perfect in the film.

The movie is aimed at kids, and there is nothing here that would scare them.  The only couple of scare moments don’t last more than a couple of seconds and quickly turn into a gag, so there’s nothing to worry about there.

And I think kids might enjoy this movie.  It’s certainly not bad.  But unfortunately, Hotel Transylvania isn’t entertaining enough to keep adults engaged or make them want to watch it again.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

February 24th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Funny, this looks identical to the two shows I watched last week.

Legends of Tomorrow – We haven’t seen much of Zari for a while, so it was about time for her to get an episode to really shine.  I’m glad she’s fully on board with the team, and I like the development they gave the other characters.  Mick as a novelist?  Now that’s funny.  I’d heard that Wally was coming to this show, and I was wondering when.  Guess they answered that question there at the end.

The Amazing Race – Well, that was a disappointment.  I was really hoping that Big Brother would be the final team eliminated, but they won.  There was just something about them, especially her, that rubbed me the wrong way.  Both of those last two legs seemed incredibly tough with lots and lots of tasks I would have been frustrated by.  So my hat is off to all three teams who finished the entire race.

Friday, February 23, 2018

February 23rd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to the final Friday of February.  You know what that means around here, Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Color Me Murder, the first in a new series by Krista Davis.


I just finished the book, and I loved it!  I'll be reviewing it on Monday.  And yes, that is a cover you can color in if you buy the physical book.

Shall we get down to business?  Here's how the book begins:
"Florrie?  Is that you?"

Okay, not the most exciting beginning.  But I've found a 56 that is definitely more intriguing.

Jonquille seized the book from my hands.  He scanned the first few pages.  "This is like a blueprint for what happened at the carriage house!"

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review: Hummus and Homicide by Tina Kashian (Kebab Kitchen Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong start to a new series
Cons: A few of the supporting characters could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Health inspector dies
Always bad for restaurant
Delicious debut

Death by Hummus

I don’t tend to buy hummus often for myself despite the fact that I like it.  However, it is something that my mom buys quite regularly.  Why am I bringing this up?  I found it funny that I was reading Hummus and Homicide while my mom was visiting, so I was actually eating hummus while enjoying this delicious debut.

After being passed over for a promotion at her law firm yet again, Lucy Berberian has returned to Ocean Crest, New Jersey, to figure out what is next in her life.  Even though it is the slow season, her parents are down a waitress in their Mediterranean restaurant, so she is drafted to help out in Kebab Kitchen – not that Lucy really minds helping out for a few days.  In fact, she’s finding it fun to be back in town reconnecting with family and friends.

One person Lucy isn’t happy to see again is Heather Banks, her old nemesis from high school.  Sadly, it seems that Heather hasn’t matured much, as their first run in proves.  Heather has taken on the job of health inspector in town, and right after their run in, Heather shows up at Kebab Kitchen and suddenly finds a bunch of violations they need to fix.

Weirdly enough, Heather shows up for lunch the next day, wanting to try the new hummus bar that Lucy’s mom recently introduced to the restaurant.  Heather starts to act funny before she leaves the restaurant, and then Lucy finds Heather’s body behind the restaurant.  Naturally, the rumors that Heather was poisoned at Kebab Kitchen start to hurt business.  Even worse, the police think that Lucy is responsible.  Despite her vows to stay out of it, Lucy begins to investigate.  Can she figure out what really happened?

I was drawn right into this book.  We are allowed a little time to meet Lucy and some of the other characters before Heather dies, but not too long.  Lucy manages to uncover quite a few secrets and motives before she unmasks the real killer.  The climax was suspenseful and surprising.

Lucy is a great main character, and I liked her right away.  I did feel that her parents were a bit predictable, but we got to see a different side of them as the book progressed.  I hope they are developed more as the series progresses.  Lucy’s friend Katie is a delight and a wonderful sidekick.  The suspects are strong enough to keep us guessing as Lucy continues to unearth secrets about them.

We get three delicious sounding recipes at the end of the book.  Naturally, one of them is for hummus.  The others are for a tabbouleh salad and a white almond cookie.

This new series is off to a promising start.  Hummus and Homicide will whet your appetite for more mysteries to come.  Meet Lucy today so you’ll be ready for her next mystery.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Kebab Kitchen Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Music Review: The Greatest Showman Soundtrack

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful songs that capture the movie
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Movie musical
Produces a great soundtrack
All fans will wear out

A Great Soundtrack

When I saw The Greatest Showman last month, one of the reasons I loved it was the songs.  That’s always a good thing for a musical, right?  I loved them so much that a few days later, I went out and bought the soundtrack, which I have been enjoying ever since.

The soundtrack contains 11 tracks, which are all the songs in the movie.  In keeping with a traditional musical soundtrack, there are no instrumental tracks on the disc.

Unlike many musicals, these have a modern feel, some of them could easily pass for pop songs, in fact, and most of them are very upbeat.  If you are looking for traditional Broadway style songs, look elsewhere.

If you’ve missed the movie, you should fix that right away.  But to give you a little background, it tells the story of PT Barnum as he starts the show that would eventually become the circus he is most famous for.

And if you are looking for great music, you’ve come to the right place.  Obviously, some of them apply very much to the story here.  For example, the disc opener, “The Greatest Show,” is very much a song for this movie.  But it’s a very fun number that gets the entire cast involved in inviting the audience into the show they are about to put on.  Since this song opens and closes the movie, it works for the audience of P.T. Barnum’s show as well as us.

Another similar song is “The Other Side,” the song where Barnum convinces Phillip Carlyle to become his partner.  However, it really is a fun song that brings a smile to my face each time I hear it.  Of course, that might be because this High School Musical lover is happy to have Zac Efron on another soundtrack.

For the rest of the songs, I refer you to my comment about pop songs.  Oh, they have content that fits the movie, don’t worry, but out of context they still work.  For example, while “A Million Dreams” is a young Barnum singing to his future wife about his dreams, it really does work outside the movie.  Oh yes, the aging characters complicate things as a radio single, but it’s still a great song outside the movie.

Likewise, “This is Me” is a fantastic anthem of personal acceptance.  “Tightrope” is a great reminder of the struggles that arise in life when our priorities get out of whack.  And the cause of those wrong priorities?  Thinking it will “Never Enough.”  Heck, even the duet “Rewrite the Stars” could work for any lovers facing problems, although it does fit Zac Efron and Zendaya’s characters perfectly.

About the only tracks I don’t absolutely love are the two Reprises we get, one for “A Million Dreams” and the other for “Never Enough.”  They don’t add much to the disc.  But this is a soundtrack, so they should be included for that reason.  I get it.  I’m being very nitpicky here.

Speaking of which, I am going to have to pay more attention next time I see the movie since I’m surprised there is no reprise for “The Greatest Show.”  I’m guessing the one track gets divided up in the movie, but I was expecting the song to open and close out the disc.  Again, this is something I’m noting only in passing.

I’m counting down until this movie hits Blu-Ray so I can watch it to my heart’s content.  Until then, I will be playing The Greatest Showman Soundtrack to relive these moments again and again.

CD Length: 39:51
1. The Greatest Show
2. A Million Dreams
3. A Million Dreams (Reprise)
4. Come Alive
5. The Other Side
6. Never Enough
7. This is Me
8. Rewrite the Stars
9. Tightrope
10. Never Enough (Reprise)
11. From Now On

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Book Review: Pressing the Issue by Daryl Wood Gerber (Cookbook Nook Mysteries #6)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great to return to the fun characters
Cons: Mystery could have been twistier
The Bottom Line:
Renaissance Fair death
Means new visit with Jenna
So great to be back

Verily, Thee Shalt Enjoy This Tale

Over the last couple of years, Berkley has dumped the vast majority of their cozy mysteries.  As a long time reader of their books, it has saddened me to see so many character I love disappear like that.  However, a few authors have found new homes for their series.  One of those is Daryl Wood Gerber, who is continuing the Cookbook Nook Mysteries with Pressing the Issue.

It’s April in Crystal Cover, California, and that means the Renaissance Fair has come to town.  Okay, so it’s a smaller fair than in many places, but it has taken over the town pier, and everyone is looking forward to a good time.  Jenna Hart has packed the Cookbook Nook with a variety of cookbooks based on the theme, and she is looking forward to having a good time as well.

A local vineyard owner, Nick, is the king of the fair, something he gladly does every year.  He and his family have been well respected for years in the community.  So, it is a shock when Jenna and some friends find his dead body one evening.  Despite Nick’s good reputation, someone didn’t like him.  Can Jenna figure out who it was?

The last book in the series ended on a bit of a somber note, so I was glad to revisit Jenna and her family and friends for that reason alone.  It also means that there is a spoiler warning here.  The events of the previous book will be spoiled for you if you jump in here.  That just means you need to read the previous book in the series, right?

Fans of the series will be as delighted as I was to return to these characters.  Jenna has a real community around her, and I enjoyed seeing them all again and watch how their lives and relationships are flourishing.  Yes, there is plenty of room for the new characters as well.

Plus there’s the town, which always has some kind of fun festival going on.  I haven’t been to a Renaissance Fair in years, but reading about it here was enough to make me want to visit one.

The first couple of chapters spent some time introducing the suspects and victim as well as updating us on the lives of the series regulars.  It was nice to be able to ease back into their lives.  It isn’t that long before Nick is killed, and then we are off and running with an ever-changing set of motives, clues, and suspects.  I did figured part of it out fairly early, but there were still many pieces of the puzzle I needed to fully understand what was going on, and I was having such fun with the characters that I didn’t mind that much.

And, of course, there are recipes.  We get a variety of dishes, including Cornish Pasties, Ginger Cheesecake, Shepherd’s Pie, and Sin-in-a-Cup Frozen Cheesecake Bites to name a few.  Your mouth will be watering long before you get to them, so it’s nice to be able to try these treats.

Fans of the series will be thrilled to see Jenna and the gang again in Pressing the Issue.  There may be a new publisher, but the characters are as charming as ever.

Need more Jenna?  Here are the Cookbook Nook Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Great characters, lots of fun
Cons: Pacing
The Bottom Line:
New superhero
Gets entertaining movie
A bit long, still fun

Finding Fun in Superhero Movies Again

Marvel’s marketing is definitely working.  By making all of their movies different chapters in the same story, I feel like I have to keep watching to keep up with them all.  Otherwise, I probably would have skipped a few of them, and Black Panther is probably one of them.  Instead, I was there on opening day to meet the newest superhero to grace the big screen with his own film.

We meet T’Challa, aka Blank Panther (Chadwick Boseman), as he is about to become king of his people.  While the rest of the world thinks it is a nation of poor farmers, in actuality, Wakanda is rich and technologically superior to the rest of the world thanks to a special element they discovered centuries ago.

T’Challa has barely taken the throne when word reaches Wakanda that Klaue (Andy Serkis) has stolen some of this element and is planning to sell it on the black market.  What no one knows is that Klaue is working with Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordon) who has his own agenda.  T’Challa heads out to try to stop Klaue.  What will happen?

Like I suspect most people, I watch superhero movies to have fun.  I view them as pure escapism.  When they take themselves too seriously, I lose that sense of fun (I’m looking at you most of the DC Comics movies).  On the other hand, I do want them to take themselves seriously enough that I care about the outcome (Thor: Ragnarok, I’m looking at you).  This movie strikes that perfect balance.  The action scenes are delightful, and there are some great lines.  Still, the movie takes itself seriously enough that we care about the outcome.

This is a hard balance for a film to have, and the actors do a great job of pulling it off.  There isn’t a bad actor in the bunch, and they make us care about the outcome.

Do I really need to mention special effects at this point?  They are fantastic, and further help pull us into this fanciful movie.

You’ll notice I was talking about having fun earlier.  I was a little afraid we’d be lectured a few times in the movie, and they start to go there but they managed to pull back before it goes too far.  And I certainly will not argue with the overall message that we are all brothers and sisters who should be helping each other out.  Sadly, that is a lesson that we have never mastered in human history.

My real complaint comes from the length.  At two hours and fifteen minutes, it feels long.  I’m not sure what could have been cut to make the film better, so many that’s just me.

This being Marvel, there are scenes after the credits start to roll.  There are two in fact, so be sure you sit through both of them.

Since we’d already met him, it’s nice to see Black Panther get a full movie so we can really get to know him.  This is a fun superhero movie that will please any fan of the genre.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: The Haunted Lighthouse by Penny Warner (Code Busters Club #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery filled with history and codes
Cons: Characters are thin
The Bottom Line:
Alcatraz treasure?
Code Busters are on the case
Lots of fun for kids

The Code Busters Hunt for Treasure

I can remember as a kid being hooked on codes, and trying to use them to communicate with my friends.  That’s why the idea behind the Code Busters series is so smart.  Heck, even as an adult, I love the idea of using codes to communicate.  So I was glad to rejoin these kids in The Haunted Lighthouse.

Cody and the rest of the Code Busters are excited for the next school day because their classes are going on a combined field trip to Alcatraz.  The night before they leave, Cody gets a strange e-mail message.  Then the four friends get part of a note on their front door step in the morning.  It seems to imply that there might be a treasure on the island.  Can they figure out what is going on while on the field trip?

Now you might be wondering exactly how this plot ties into the title of the book.  I will say that there is a lighthouse, and there is some discussion about a few places being haunted.  However, if you are looking for a typical ghostly middle grade mystery, you will be disappointed.

However, that’s not a reason to skip this book.  I was actually impressed with how things unfolded as the book went along.  There were some twists I didn’t see coming, and I had fun along the way.

The characters are a bit on the simple side, but that’s the nature of the book.  We are dealing with a 180-page middle grade novel, after all, and there isn’t time to give us more complex characters.  I know as a kid I certainly didn’t mind, and I’m sure today’s kids won’t mind either.

And the codes!  We are introduced to several I’d never heard of here as well as several I expected.  As the characters encounter the codes, they discuss how to solve them, so we can learn about the codes and solve the puzzles presented as well.  Plus, there is more information on the codes in the back of the book as well as the solutions so you can check your work.

I must admit, even though I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have never been to Alcatraz.  The bits of the history interjected here were fascinating to me, and they didn’t slow the story down at all.  I bet kids will love learning about it as well.

Even though the title is a little misleading, there is much to love about The Haunted Lighthouse.  Just watch for an increase in codes after your kids read the book.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

February 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Yes, I did watch lots and lots of Olympics, but I'm not going to comment on any of them.  Here are my regular shows that I watched this week.

Legends of Tomorrow – You know, there was a reason I didn’t watch Constantine.  I enjoyed parts of the episode, but overall it wasn’t the best episode of the season.  And why did they include Snart?  He could have just stayed on Earth X for all the good he really did on our Earth.  Trying to help Nora backfired.  So sorry to see that.  And was that a sneak peak into the future of Arrow, or was that referring to when Oliver was arrested in the fall?  The timeline of this show in relation to others is all very confusing at this point.

The Amazing Race – I always hate to see a team go out from losing a passport.  However, I think it was a blessing that it wasn’t a non-elimination leg.  They never would have caught back up.  I was impressed with how she handled it.  She was the strong on, something I didn’t expect at all.  The competitive eaters needed to be there for that eating challenge.  And I hope I don’t have nightmares about it, especially the other team member having to wear the scorpions.  Yikes!  My skin was crawling.  I’m glad Yale was eliminated.  I’m still hoping Big Brother is the final team to go.

Friday, February 16, 2018

February 16th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

And it's Friday, so that must mean it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Hummus and Homicide by Tina Kashian.


This is the first in a new series.  It officially goes on sale 2/27, but I'll have a review for it this upcoming Thursdays.
Here's how the book begins:

"Lucy Berberian!  Is that you?"

Short and sweet, right?  Jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

"Your call said there was a body," the young officer said.  "Where is it?"
"Out back."

I know, I know, no surprise that there's a dead body in a murder mystery, right?  Still, I thought it was a fun teaser.

Have a great weekend.  I hope you'll come back Thursday for my review of this book.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Book Review: The Corpse with the Silver Tongue by Cathy Ace (Cait Morgan #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting mystery with complex characters
Cons: Cait at times
The Bottom Line:
A death at dinner
Ruins Cait’s working vacation
And starts this series

Deadly Trip to Nice

There are so many authors and books out there I just can’t get to them all despite my best efforts.  (And yes, I do try.)  That’s why I just bought Cathy Ace’s first mystery at Malice Domestic last year, and I’m just now reading it.  The Corpse with the Silver Tongue introduces us to Cait Morgan, a criminologist who seems to find murder wherever she goes.

Cait Morgan is a professor who specializes in criminal psychology.  Originally from Wales, she has settled in British Columbia.  However, as this book opens, she finds herself in Nice in the southern part of France, presenting a paper for a colleague who got sick at the last minute.  She’s getting a long weekend out of it at the college’s expense, so she’s quite happy.

Then she runs into Alistair Townsend at the hotel bar.  She used to work for the man before she got her masters degree, and she loathed him.  But she can’t quite say no to an invitation from him, so she finds herself attending a birthday dinner that night for Alistair’s wife.

Alistair has traded his advertising agency in for an escargot farm.  While everyone is enjoying the escargot at dinner that night, Alistair drops over dead.  Before the police and medical personnel arrive, others are starting to feel sick.  Something suspicious is going on, and the police think Cait is part of it.  Can she figure out what is happening?

Cait is an interesting main character, more so than in many of the books I read.  Not only does she have her psychology background, but she has an impressive memory.  She reminds me of the classic mystery characters a bit more than most modern sleuths in this way.  And like some of those classic characters, she also has a habit of judging people based on first impressions, a weakness she recognizes and fights against over the course of the book.  At times, her commentary on the characters can be a bit much, but that’s usually when something happens to remind her about judging others.

The rest of the cast are just as interesting, with layers to them that need to be peeled back as the case unfolds.  They prove to be more complex than they first appear, which keeps Cait and us guessing as the story unfolds.

And there is an interesting tale here.  While Cait’s past with Alistair initially colors her thoughts on his death, she quickly begins to look at other motives.  That’s all I’m going to say because you need to see where the plot goes for yourself.  I was impressed at the end with the clues scattered through the story and how Cait pieced things together.  I did have a couple of niggles with the climax, but they are minor overall.

Since these books are from a smaller press, it is easy to miss them.  I know I did at first.  If you are looking for something different, it’s worth hunting down The Corpse with the Silver Tongue.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ornament Review: Snowtop Santa - 2017 Hallmark Table Top Decoration

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful larger piece with fun light effect
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Larger Snowtop piece
Adds a twinkling light effect
Collectors will love

I’m Enjoying This Table Top Santa Snowman

I was going to resist Snowtop Santa.  No really, I was.  You can stop laughing now.  While I love the Snowtop Lodge series, this is a more expensive tabletop release from Hallmark, and I don’t have a lot of places to set out pieces like this.  Then I caved, and I’m glad I did.

This piece has a few nods to this year’s ornament sized entry in the Snowtop Lodge series, Benny M. Merrymaker.  Both snowmen share a similar face and smile, both are wearing Santa hats, and both are holding wreaths.  But there the similarities end.  Snowtop Santa is wearing a plaid scarf that has hints of green in the mostly red and white pattern.  And the scene on the lower part of his body is very different.  It features a snowy village on Christmas Eve.  How do we know it is Christmas Eve?  We can see Santa flying away after leaving toys for all the good children there.  The details on this scene are amazing – better than we normally get on the ornaments since this is a bigger piece.  There is glitter that adds some fun sparkle to the whole thing as well.

The main reason I wound up buying this piece is because of the optional light effect.  The stars in the scene have holes in them, and the piece includes a battery operated fake candle.  Turn it on, and you can see light flickering through the holes, making it look like the stars are twinkling.  I absolutely love it!  It’s a wonderful touch.  Unfortunately, the candle does seem to get dimmer after you’ve had it on for a while, but after you turn it off for a little while, you’ll find that it is at full strength again.

As I said, this is a table top piece, so you’ll find it has a sturdy, flat base.  There is no way to hang it on your tree, but that’s okay.  It’s about ten and a half inches tall, so it would take up way too much space on the tree, and it’s so heavy it wouldn’t stay on a branch.  However, under the tree, it would look fantastic.  Since it is made mostly from porcelain, you’ll want to make sure you put it someplace where there is no danger of it getting knocked over and broken.

I’m so glad I bought Snowtop Santa.  The light effect makes this beautiful piece even more special.  I’m looking forward to putting him under my tree for years to come.

And he looks great with the rest of the Snowtop Lodge series.

Original Price: $49.95, or $29.95 with the purchase of any ornament

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Review: As You Wish by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightful behind the scenes stories of a movie I love
Cons: Finding cons in this book is inconceivable
The Bottom Line:
Behind scenes stories
About a well-loved movie
All fans need to read

Loving Look Behind the Scenes of a Beloved Movie

Like millions of others, I love The Princess Bride, so naturally Cary Elwes’ book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from The Making of The Princess Bride caught my attention as soon as I heard about it.  And there it sat on my “to buy and read someday soonish” list until a friend sent me a copy.  I’m glad she did because I completely enjoyed the book.

For those who might not know, Cary Elwes played the hero of The Princess Bride – Westley.  And the book is pretty much what you’d expect, stories from the making of the film.  He starts with how he was cast at the age of 23 without many credits and proceeds through meeting his cast mates, filming the movie, and fencing practice.  You can’t forget about the fencing.

My only niggle with the book comes from the subtitle.  I don’t know that I would consider any of the stories here “inconceivable.”  Obviously, he was going for the tie in to film, which is certainly fun.  But based on what I know about movie making (which admittedly isn’t much), I didn’t find anything shocking here.

Believe me, for any fan of the movie, that is a very minor complaint.  I would pick this book up and not want to put it down.  Pages would fly by as I pictured the behind the scenes stories he was telling and how they fit into the movie I know and love.  And yes, there are a couple of scenes I won’t look at the same way again now that I know a bit about what went on behind the scenes.

Don’t let that last sentence worry you – if you are a fan of this movie there is nothing here to turn you off to the movie.  Cary doesn’t tell any bad stories.  There are very few stories about anything negative happening during the filming of the movie, and those that are here come across as humorous.  I don’t know if there are any truly bad stories to tell about the filming, but if there are, you won’t find them here.  And I’m perfectly fine with that.

What comes across instead is how much fun Cary had while making this film.  Yes, there was hard work involved, but looking back at it all these years later, he remembers the time fondly.  Clearly, he and his cast mates had a good time together.  I often think when that is the case, it comes across on the screen.  Maybe that’s why we’ve all fallen for this movie.

While most of the book is Cary’s memories, he does include side stories from his co-stars, the writer, and director.  These help flesh things out and are a lot of fun.  If I had one complaint, Cary doesn’t tell any stories he wasn’t part of, so if you want to hear anything about the scenes he wasn’t in, you’ll be disappointed.  But honestly, he’s in almost every scene of the film, so that’s hardly an issue.

What comes across in all the stories shared is just how much everyone is proud to be part of this film.  You can tell they are so thrilled that the film has found such an enduring place in movie history even if it wasn’t the box office success it should have been when it first came out.

Reading this book made me want to rewatch the movie again, something I hadn’t done for years.  I’d forgotten just how good it really is.

If you are a fan of The Princess Bride but have yet to pick up As You Wish, you really need to do that today.  This is a wonderful behind the scenes look you’ll savor.

And in the inconceivable event that you’ve never watched the movie, here’s my review of The Princess Bride.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Movie Review: Gnomeo and Juliet

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Very fun take on Shakespeare
Cons: Characters could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Different Shakespeare
Proves to be plenty of fun
Give this film a chance

Different Take on Shakespeare Mostly Works

I pretty much dismissed Gnomeo and Juliet when it first came out, but I started reconsidering when I watched the previews for the upcoming Sherlock Gnomes.  Since this new movie is a sequel, I decided to go back and give the original a chance, and I’m glad I did.

As you’d expect from the title, this animated movie retells the story of Romeo and Juliet with garden gnomes.  You can see why I was skeptical, right?  The gnomes live in neighboring gardens, one belonging to Mr. Capulet and the other to Miss Montague.  For our ease, they are also color coordinated, the gnomes in one garden are all red, the other all blue.

While no one quite remembers what started the feud, both these neighbors and their gnomes hate each other.  One night, Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) disguises himself to wreak havoc on the other garden.  That same night, Juliet (Emily Blunt) disguises herself and slips into an abandoned garden to take an orchid.  The two meet by accident, and it is love at first sight – that is until they learn who the other really is.  But their attraction is too much to ignore.  What will they do about it?

The source material is one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies, but given the fact that this is an animated movie about garden gnomes, I’m sure it is no surprise to say they’ve turned it into a comedy.  Believe it or not, it works.  I laughed multiple times at what was happening, although I think I laughed more at the Easter eggs hidden throughout the film.  There are nods to not only this play but several other Shakespeare plays scattered throughout the film.  Most are blink and you miss them, and a few might have gone over my head since there is much of Shakespeare I’m not familiar with.  The film does acknowledge the original ending, but it does it with a wink and a nod in a very funny scene.

Since the movie cuts the story down to an hour and a half, the pace is fast.  Kids won’t be bored since there is plenty of action to keep them entertained.  That includes a climax that is very different from the play in every conceivably way.

About the only real weakness are the characters.  Even the main characters are a bit flat, and most of them are just there to move the story forward.  This will bother adults more than the child target audience.  And this isn’t the fault of the voice actors, who are all great.  It’s the fault of a screenplay that focuses on action.

I wasn’t aware that this film was released by Touchstone, a division of Disney.  Or, if I knew at one time, I’d forgotten about it.  I only mention this because of a great gag that makes much more sense when you know this.  Of course, you can also figure it out by watching the previews for Disney movies on the disc before the movie actually starts.

Honestly, my complaint about the characters is a very minor complaint, and I’m glad I gave the film a chance.  Gnomeo and Juliet is a light, fun movie that sets out to entertain and does it well.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Latest Update

Just a quick update on my health.  I am slowly healing up.  I’m doing a little better every day, but healing up from major surgery like I had takes some time.  Fortunately, I am still off work for another week.  Not that I want to go back to work next Monday.  Having all this time off has been nice, especially with the Olympics on.  (You might have figured out I enjoy watching them.)

My oncologist agreed that I don’t need any chemo or radiation, which is huge.  I’m going to have an MRI in 3 months and another CT scan in six months to make sure they don’t see anything else.  And they are still doing some testing to see if they can figure out what caused it in the first place.  But I’m concentrating on healing up and putting this behind me.

After all, I’ve got two mud runs to do in June.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

February 10th's Weekly TV Thoughts

The Olympics officially start today!  No, I don't count the opening and closing ceremonies.  I'm focusing on the events themselves.  But it also means that there won't be much in the Weekly TV Thoughts posts for the next couple of weeks.  Most shows are taking a hiatus, which I appreciate so I can watch as much Olympics as possible.

And once again, I'm talking about the upcoming week.  Here's what I watched this last week.

This is Us (2/4) – So my theories on how Jack died were confirmed.  No real surprises there.  However, how they told it was absolutely amazing and so powerful.  The monologues were amazing.  So beautifully written and acted, as I expected.  And yes, I even saw the laugh coming, and I still laughed.  About the only surprise was with the boy.  Who would have thought that was a glimpse into the future?

Supergirl – And we go into the break with all those things left unanswered?  Like what is Mon-El’s real mission.  How much longer until they really figure out who Reign is?  And how can we ever defeat her?  I’m surprised that Supergirl’s disagreement with Alex ended the way it did since Kara always seems to be correct when something like this comes up on the show.  After all, this is a show called Supergirl not Alex.

The Flash – There’s a certain poetic justice to using a lie to get Barry out of jail when the evidence against him was a lie in the first place.  But what is Devou up to?  Why kill those metas?  Why is he manipulating his wife?  This was definitely a different side of him.  Of course, it does take care of the problem that everyone who knew Barry was the Flash isn’t going to know that any more.

Lethal Weapon – Hard to imagine anyone other than Swoosie Kurtz as Ruth.  She was so wonderful!  Glad that Riggs is getting his drinking under control.  He had definitely hit bottom and something had to change there.  Can’t believe what they are doing with Roger, especially since he had no way of knowing the hitman was still alive and would set the cabin on fire.  Trish is definitely right that he shouldn’t be risking his life needlessly.  I wonder how they are going to resolve this.

Ellen’s Game of Games – I’m a bit surprised they ended the season with someone who didn’t win the biggest prize money.  And I’m rather surprised he didn’t win it all since he did so well earlier.  Heck, he had no strikes in his game.

This is Us (2/6) – I think I cried more at this episode than I did the one from Sunday.  Then again, watching the immediate fall out of Jack’s death will do that.  I love how they framed things with the car.  It worked so well to show us happier times vs. the heart of the episode.  And yes, I know I have complained in the past when we haven’t seen the Big Three as adults, but in this case, I was kind of expecting it, and I was okay with that.  We needed to see the immediate aftermath.  Is this what made Kevin and Randall bury the hatchet a little, or was that just an immediate emotional response?  I’ve been wondering what exactly changed in Kevin because, let’s face it, he’s the main reason there was tension between the two.

The Librarians – I may not have enjoyed the set up last week, but I really enjoyed the follow up season finale, starting with the fact that Flynn didn’t take off but was kidnapped.  Wouldn’t have been too surprised either way by Jenkins’ fate, but I was glad to see he was alive.  And now we have a tethered library again, so all is good.

The Amazing Race – Not too surprised that there wasn’t an elimination first hour.  I suspected that they wouldn’t eliminate teams during the big switch.  I’m very tired of Team Big Brother, so I was hoping the Double U Turn would be their undoing.  Sorry to see the brothers go instead.  And the reason I’m rooting against Team Big Brother?  She had a chip on her shoulder about the U Turn longer than anyone else, and they’d U Turned someone before.  I get that it’s not going to make you happy, but Yale has it right, it is a part of the game, and you have to accept it and move on.

Arrow – I guess that answers my question of how we will deal with our big bad after he’s threatened the city with a bomb.  As soon as he was arrested, I figured out something else had to be going on.  I’m interested to see how they will play the rest of it.  I hope we have a few episodes of general unrest before they realize there is someone behind the scenes manipulating things.  And can we get everyone back on the same team again, please?