Saturday, June 30, 2018

June 30th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Caught up now, not that it was that hard.

Take Two (6/21) – Okay, so the writing wasn’t the best, and it had a higher element of cheese than I’m used to for the networks.  But it was still a lot of fun.  I loved the dig at cop shows (like Castle) and what the actresses wear.  The mystery was pretty good.  I laughed several times.  I’ll definitely stick with it.  It looks like a fun summer show.

American Ninja Warrior – Wow, three women finishers.  And that was not an easy course, either, although the balance obstacle was much better than the blocks from last week.  The guy running it with one artificial leg was almost enough to get me to start searching for Ninja gyms so I could start training.  Almost.  But I was able to quell that urge.  It was close, however.

Take Two (6/28) – Just as much fun as the pilot.  And the second assistant could be a hoot if she sticks around.  I was wondering how they would keep this going, and now we’ve got at least six months of cases before we have to worry about the premise any more.  The acting seemed a bit better, and the mystery was very well done.

Friday, June 29, 2018

June 29th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's been a month.  Time to get back into the Book Beginnings and Friday 56 habit, isn't it?

This week, I'm featuring One Fete in the Grave by Vickie Fee.


Yes, those are fireworks on the cover.  It starts just after the fireworks have ended on the 4th of July.  Perfect time to be reading the book, right?
Speaking of when the book starts, here's the beginning:

There were a series of deafening explosions.  Babies were crying.  A dog was howling.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

"Liv, you haven't been saying much.  You're the pro, so jump in here with any ideas."

I've been enjoying this one, and I'm hoping to finish it today.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Book Review: Marked Masters by Ritter Ames (Bodies of Art Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters in a fast paced, fun caper
Cons: All cons have already been stolen
The Bottom Line:
Attempt to stop heist
Another fast-paced story
With great characters

More Intrigue in the Art World

The problem when you have so many series you read is getting back to all of them.  As I’ve been making an effort to read more books in series I started last year, I put Marked Masters on my June reading list.  I really wish I’d gotten it sooner.

You see, the Bodies of Art Mysteries has a strong story arc.  A very, very strong story arc.  This book picks up just after the previous book ended, making it a sequel in every sense of the word.  Now, I’m not saying I had trouble dropping back into the world of art recovery expert Laurel Beacham.  Author Ritter Ames did a good job of reminding us what had happened in the previous book without slowing down the events of this book.  But having a fresher memory would have been nice.

This book opens with Laurel in Florida with Jack Hawkes.  Despite what they have just gone through, Laurel still doesn’t trust Jack and is only reluctantly working with him.  He is keeping too many secrets from her while demanding she share everything she know.  They are continuing to work together, however, in order to stop a major art heist, and Florida is their most promising lead.  A kidnapping and a dead body prove that they are on the right track.  Will they learn more about the plans in order to stop the heist?  Or will they be stopped permanently?

I will repeat what I said about the first book in the series.  If you pick up this book expecting a dead body and five suspects, you’ll be highly disappointed.  This is a caper story with the focus on the good guys who are trying to stop the heist.  As such, the plot is different from a traditional mystery, or at least the majority of mysteries I read.  Honestly, it’s nice to take a break every so often from the familiar formula.

Of course, it helps that the plot is wonderful.  Laurel spends a bit too long mulling over the events upon occasion, but it’s a minor complaint since the next twist is usually right around the corner.  And twists there are aplenty.  Laurel and Jack run into plenty of complications and surprises as they attempt to stop what is going on, which keeps the pages turning.

After reading the first book, I suspected that this one wouldn’t resolve the art heist plot, and I was correct.  However, enough of what was introduced here was resolved that I do feel we got a good story.  And what was left open is obviously going to feed into the next book, which I need to read soon.

Meanwhile, Jack continues to mystify and Laurel continues to be a wonderful main character.  We got to know both of them a bit better here, although I continue to agree with Laurel that Jack is still keeping some major things from us.  We meet some interesting new characters here with secrets of their own, and I found them just as fascinating.

Marked Masters continues a fast-paced story in style.  I know I’m going to have to visit Laurel and Jack again soon.

Once you get started, you’ll want to read the rest of the Bodies of Art Mysteries, too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Movie Review: Rush Hour 3

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Action; story mostly works
Cons: Detective Carter’s antics, especially in the first half.
The Bottom Line:
Antics growing old
Story, action are still fun
Worth watching cheaply

“You Saved My Life Today.  How Can I Repay You?”  “Do You Have Twenty Dollars?”

It’s generally true that movie sequels get worse as they go along.  Writers and producers try to capture the magic of the first again and again and don’t allow for change.  As a result, what was fun in the first outing gets boring by the third.  That’s certainly the case with Rush Hour 3, which is definitely the worse in the trilogy.

As the movie opens, it’s been three years since we last checked in on Detective Carter (Chris Tucker) and Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan), who aren’t speaking much since Carter scared off Lee’s girlfriend.  We first see Carter directing traffic at a busy intersection while Lee is guarding Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma), who is giving a speech at the meeting of the International Court in Los Angeles.  It seems that he knows the identity of the leader of the Triad, an international crime cartel.  However, before he can reveal the names, he is shot.

As the danger continues to build, Lee and Carter find themselves following a trail to Paris.  Will they uncover the leader of the organization there?  Or will Carter be too distracted?  And what will happen when the case takes a personal turn for Lee?

For me, the biggest hurdle to the movie was Chris Tucker.  His act has gotten old here, and I thought about turning the movie off early because of it.  He’s obnoxious at best in the first half, chasing after any woman and playing the ugly American to the hilt when they first arrive.  It’s supposed to be funny; it isn’t.  Fortunately, this seems to drop way down when the plot gets going.

And in the second half, the plot really is entertaining.  It’s got twists and turns with plenty of action and a stunt filled climax that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I do think they brushed over some things at the very end, but I’m willing to go along with it.

Also saving the movie are Jackie Chan’s stunts.  Honestly, I could watch clips of him doing scenes like he does here all day.  They are perfectly executed with split second timing, and I enjoy them every time.

The acting is fine.  It’s nothing outstanding, but it keeps us in the story as we wait for the next action sequence.

In the end, I was glad I stuck through the film for the story and the fun action sequences.  But there is no reason to go out and buy Rush Hour 3.  Wait for it to be on TV next time instead, and then enjoy it for what it is.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Book Review: Italian Iced by Kylie Logan (Ethnic Eats Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: All cons put on ice
The Bottom Line:
Laurel’s past comes back
And starts a great mystery
For fans old and new

The Star in the Freezer

The past always comes back.  Okay, so that might not be the case in real life, but it is definitely the case in the series I love to read.  Italian Iced is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

The series stars Laurel Inwood, who left Hollywood in disgrace a year ago after being fired by mega movie star Meghan Cohan.  She’s gone from being personal chef to planning the ethnic menus at Terminal at the Tracks, the diner in Hubbard, Ohio, owned by Sophie, her foster aunt.  She’s also started dating Declan, the owner of The Irish Store across the road.  In fact, she’s become quite happy with her new life, different as it was from her old one.

The diner rotates various ethnic foods each month, and the current country is Italy.  After a successful first night with the new menu, Laurel returns home to find that it has been trashed.  Nothing appears to be taken, but someone was searching for something.  Before she can figure out what they were looking for, she makes an even worse discovery, the body of Meghan in the freezer down at the diner.  Laurel has had no contact with Meghan for the past year.  What was she doing in town?  And how did she come to die in the freezer?

See what I’m talking about?  The past came back into Laurel’s life.  It provides a good chance for her to reflect on her life then versus now, and it’s fun watching her grow as a result.  The series doesn’t have a lot of recurring characters, but those it does have make great appearances here.  That leaves us plenty of time to get to know the new characters, aka the suspects.  They are memorable and strong, making the mystery hard to figure out.

They mystery features quite a few twists, turns, and surprises.  It kept me guessing the entire way through.  Yet at the end, I was satisfied with how everything tied together and was wrapped up.

And if your mouth starts watering for Italian food while reading the book, you’ll be glad to know there are two recipes at the end you can enjoy later.

Italian Iced brings the past into the present with a well plotted mystery that will have you turning pages.  If you’ve already met Laurel, you’ll be delighted to pick up this book.  And if you have yet to start the series, be sure to so today.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Tuesday July 3rd, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 7/3.  You will have until midnight on 7/8 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 7/9.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ornament Review: Core Crunchin' Kringle - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creative Christmas exercise idea
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Santa does sit ups
A Christmas themed exercise
Creative and fun

Santa’s Working on His Abs

Over the years, Santa’s gained an image as a jolly, over-weight man.  However, he’s trying to change that image.  Yes, he still intends to be jolly, but he’s going to lose some weight.  And that change is documented in Hallmark’s Core Crunchin’ Kringle ornament.

This ornament catches Santa as he is working on his abs.  No, he’s not content to just do sit ups.  He’s doing them on his equivalent of an exercise ball.  What do I mean by that?  He’s using a green ball Christmas tree ornament.  We’ve caught him as he is fully reclined with his feet touching the floor, and his hands are behind his head.  He’s got on gray sweatpants, and his red shirt isn’t quite large enough to cover his belly.  Obviously, he’s still got quite a bit of work to do.

This was the ornament that almost got away.  I really liked it in the stores, but I kept telling myself I didn’t need it.  When I changed my mind a couple of months ago, fortunately, I found it in a store that was still trying to get rid of their old ornaments.

I love it because I love the creativity it shows.  Obviously, people using exercise balls is nothing new, but the fact that they worked a Christmas decoration into this ornament is wonderful.  And who knows, maybe I will get some inspiration from Santa.  If he can start working out, maybe I can do a better job, too.  Although for me it’s more that I need to watch what I eat.

You might think that this ornament wouldn’t stand up on its own because Santa is on a ball, but thanks to the magic of Hallmark, the base of the ball is flat.  Between that and Santa’s feet, the ornament is plenty stable to set out.  The loop to hang the ornament on your tree is actually attached to Santa’s belly.  Yes, it hurts a little, but it is a good location since the ornament hangs straight.

It’s that kind of creativity and fun that makes me love Hallmark ornaments so much.  I’m glad I tracked down Core Crunchin’ Kringle.

Original Price: $15.95

Saturday, June 23, 2018

June 23rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Everything I watched this week was on Monday.  I know it's summer, but that just feels so wrong.  Of course, there is a new show I want to check out that premiered Thursday, but I am currently out of town for my parent's 50th anniversary, so I will have to wait until I'm back in town to watch.  Look for my thoughts on it next week.

Supergirl – Wow!  I was not expecting all of those changes.  I knew Winn wasn’t going to be around full time next season, and I knew Brainy was, but I wasn’t expecting him to go to the future.  I wasn’t expecting Mon-El to return, either.  I’m glad he made that choice, however, and I respect him and Kara so much for it.  I’m glad they saved Sam.  Really, it seems like just about everyone has major changes going into next season.  But what was up with that ending?  Lena’s turning evil?  Kara has a double?  Is the show back yet?

American Ninja Warrior – So fun to see Isaac back again.  I feel for the Towers of Power.  I’d love to see them both make it to Vegas.  Those bars looked hard; I know I would have struggled with them.  Then again, I wouldn’t have made it beyond the blocks.  All the balance obstacles look impossible to me.  Okay fine, I think I could make it beyond the floating steps, but that would be about it.

American Ninja Warrior: Ninja Vs. Ninja – Of these four final teams, I would have been okay with any of them winning, but I was rooting the most for LaBrekfast Club.  I’m not sure quite why I love them so much, but I do.  Naturally, that means I was thrilled with the outcome.  Such a close final race, too.  Amazing!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Book Review: "K" Is for Killer by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #11)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Engaging, creative mystery filled with strong characters
Cons: Ending a bit rushed
The Bottom Line:
Kinsey gets cold case
With some intriguing questions
Another great book

Kinsey Faces a Daunting Case

I’ve often commented in my reviews of the Kinsey Millhone series how fun it is that something other than a murder initially draws Kinsey into some of her cases.  However, there is never anything other than murder involved in “K” is for Killer.  Even so, this is a very creative book.

Kinsey is working late one night at her office when she is interrupted by a woman.  The woman wants to hire Kinsey to find out what happened to her daughter, Lorna.  The catch?  The daughter died 10 months ago, and when she did, no one found the body for two weeks, meaning the police couldn’t even determine the cause of death.

Lorna was a night owl, and as Kinsey begins tracking down leads, she finds herself beginning to follow the same pattern.  Kinsey unravels a world that Lorna’s parents knew nothing about.  But could any of it have led to her death?  Was she even murdered?

Okay, so I knew early on that we were dealing with a murder, but not being able to pin down how added an extra wrinkle to things that I loved.  We learn that Lorna was involved in a porn movie, so some of the subject matter is definitely outside my usual cozies.  Even so, the details were kept to as much of a minimum as possible; same with the state of the body.  I did feel the ending was a bit rushed, but that was my only complaint with the book.

We don’t get to see much of the series regulars in this book.  Kinsey’s landlord is out of town, and she is spending most of her time up at night and sleeping during the day.  Still, Kinsey really is the star of the series, and I loved spending time with her as always.  We only got a brief mention of the thread introduced in the previous book, which disappointed me, but I’m not too surprised, to be honest.  Sue Grafton is a master of character, and she shows it again here as each character we meet along the way comes to vivid life.

I’m still enjoying this series on audio as narrated by Mary Peiffer.  She does such a great job bringing Kinsey and her world to life that it is a pleasure to listen to them.

Once again, we are left wondering how Kinsey will deal with the events of this book, which means I’m anxious to get to the next in the series.  “K” is for Killer will keep Kinsey’s many fans engaged from start to finish.

If you are missing any of Kinsey's adventures, here they are in alphabetical order.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Book Review: Back in the Habit by Alice Loweecey (Falcone and Driscoll Investigation #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Growth for Giulia
Cons: Character growth overshadows mystery at times
The Bottom Line:
Back to former life
Provides great character growth
And good mystery

The Return of Sister Mary Regina Coelis

Last year, I started several new to me series that already had several books out.  And, true to form, I let new releases and other new series keep me from getting back to some of them.  But I’m making some time to return to those series, which is what brought me to Back in the Habit, the second book featuring former nun Giulia Falcone.

In the eighteen months since leaving the convent, Giulia has gone to work for PI Frank Driscoll.  She is slowly shedding her ways as a nun as well.  And then her former life walks through the door when Sister Mary Fabian, her former Superior General, comes into the office.  One of the Novices has recently committed suicide, and her parents haven’t accepted Fabian’s statements as to why.  She is looking for some outside person to come in and figure out what happened.

Unfortunately for Giulia, that means going undercover and returning to her life as a nun, once again becoming Sister Mary Regina Coelis.  The timing is perfect because nuns from around the country as coming for a feast day.  Will she be able to figure out what happened?  Or will returning to her former life be too much for her?

This is Giulia’s second mystery, and it is interesting to see her return to her former life.  The contrast between her life now, which is still very sheltered, and her life back then is amazing, at least for me, and we get to see some true character growth in her.  Unfortunately, it also means we don’t get to see as much of Frank or Sidney, the other main character at this point in the series, although they do get a few great scenes.  Their interactions provide some of the humor in the books, so I missed that.

This book doesn’t provide a shining picture of life as a nun, but that isn’t too surprising when you think about it.  Giulia left for a reason, and, like Giulia, the author is a former nun herself.  Plus, this is a mystery.  There has to be something shady and underhanded going on for Giulia to investigate.  Having said that, the book does provide us with sympathetic characters who are nuns for the right reason and who do feel the call.  I wouldn’t call it a balanced, but again, we are talking about a mystery.  That’s not the point of the book.

The point of the book is to tell a good story, and it does.  While the mystery isn’t a typical mystery, it is well done.  I do feel that more time was spent on the character growth for Giulia than the mystery proper, but I was never bored.  The book always pulled me into Giulia’s world.

The book has some funny passages as Giulia interacts with her new life and as she readjusts to her old life.  However, the book has plenty of darker edges.  It certainly isn’t as dark as the first book in the series, but it is darker than some part might lead you to expect.  There is also more foul language than in a typical cozy.

Speaking of the first book, some of what happened in the first book is discussed here, which spoils things.  Keep that in mind when you decide what order to read them in.

I’m glad I made it to Back in the Habit.  Now, I need to make time for Giulia’s next adventure.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Movie Review: A Will to Kill - A Hailey Dean Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Strong mystery ends plot line well
Cons: Mild dose of cheese
The Bottom Line:
Hailey faces past
Wraps up major mystery
Fans won’t want to miss

The Answers About Will

When we first met Hailey Dean in the Hallmark movie franchise, we learned about her murdered fiancé Will and how his death had impacted her life.  We’ve gotten hints about what happened all those years ago over the movies that followed, but when I heard that A Will to Kill would be focusing on his murder, I knew we’d get answers.

Hailey Dean (Kelly Martin) is finally ready to go back and reopen the cold case investigation into Will’s death.  Oh, it’s been investigated over the years, but they’ve hit dead ends.  Hailey is hoping that her emotion state might help her dig up something she didn’t remember from that time.

Looking through a box of mementos from that time in her life, she realizes she’s lost touch with one of her friends from college.  In fact, no one has heard from her in all those years.  Could she be the key to what happened all those years ago?  Where is she?  And was Hailey really the target?

This movie is definitely worthy of this major mystery in Hailey’s life.  There are plenty of twists and turns.  I went into the movie with a theory, and I got so caught up in the action I rather forgot my theory.  Yes, fans will be satisfied with the outcome as well.

The mystery was such a focus of the movie that there wasn’t much time for supporting players or sub-plots.  Yes, Fincher (Viv Leacock) gets one involving his new girlfriend, but that’s about it.  I’m a bit surprised we didn’t see Hailey’s family at all considering how personal this case was, but I didn’t even think about it when I was watching.  That’s how caught up in the case I truly was.

Not only is the case personal for Hailey, but it’s also person for Danny (Giacomo Baessato), Will’s younger brother who became a cop as a result of Will’s death.  While the movie does focus on Hailey and her reaction to everything, Danny gets a few moments to shine as he also deals with all of this.

Maybe it was because everything was so focused, I felt the cheese factor was lower than normal in this movie.  It was definitely the best of the three we’ve seen this month.  Oh, it’s still there, but it’s mild.

Fans of these movies will be happy to finally have this mystery from the past solved in A Will to Kill.  I’m curious to see where the character will go from here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Book Review: With a Little Bit of Blood by D. E. Ireland (Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mysteries #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and sense of time
Cons: Plot seems to start slowly
The Bottom Line:
House party murder
Maybe hunting accident?
More fun with duo

Henry and Eliza Must Solve a Murder at a House Party

1913 has turned out to be a very murderous year for Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins.  As With a Little Bit of Blood opens, the duo, made famous by the play Pygmalion that was turned into the musical My Fair Lady, are about to be faced with their fourth murder case.  And readers can rejoice because it’s another great one.

This time they have been invited to join the first country house party being thrown by the new Lord and Lady Ashbury (she the former Clara Eynsford-Hill).  Considering the series of bad luck that Eliza and Henry have been having, this is perfect because they need a place to stay.

While Eliza is excited about her first fox hunt at the end of the week and the ball that will take place that night, Henry is afraid that he will be bored out of his mind.  Things only get worse for Henry when one of the fellow guests is a woman who stalked him several years earlier.  It’s not until the first morning that things take a deadly turn, however, when one of the guests is shot on the rabbit hunt.  While Henry is quick to chalk it up to a hunting accident, Eliza is certain that it was murder.  But do any of the guests have a reason for wanting that man dead?

I will admit I found the book started rather slowly.  It was only later that we realized just how some things were playing into the overall plot.  Additionally, the time was used to introduce the victim and suspects.

Once the murder happens, things do get much more interesting as lies and secrets are uncovered.  I really didn’t suspect who the killer was, but once Eliza and Henry figured it out, everything made perfect sense.

A few of the series regulars are really reduced to cameos here.  We get brief updates on them before Henry and Eliza head to the house party.  However, there are more than enough suspects to make up for it.  We actually have a rather large cast, but the characters are all strong.  I never once had a hard time keeping them straight.  We continue to see some growth in the series regulars, and I’m anxious to see how some relationships move forward after what happens here.

The authors do a good job of bringing the world of 1913 to life with such new things as cars and airplanes factoring into this book.  Yet, with the fun they have with some of those things, there are more serious things happening in the world at large, which come into the plot a time or two as well.

As the series goes on, it has gotten further from the original roots of the famous play and musical while still staying true to the authors’ take on the characters.  That’s not to say that fans of the source material will be disappointed.  In fact, I think they will be as enthralled as I am by how the duo who comprise D. E. Ireland have moved these characters forward.

With a Little Bit of Blood is another winner for fans of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins.  It’s a fun trip back in time to England 100 years ago.

And be sure to enjoy the rest of the Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins mysteries.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Ornament Review: Welcoming Wreath - Marjolein's Garden #4 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good wreath, nice birds
Cons: Not quite as charming; green will get lost in tree.
The Bottom Line:
Wreath hanging outside
Makes welcome home for these birds
Good but lacks some charm

Nature’s Wreath

Since the earlier ornaments in the Marjoleain’s Garden series have all been nature scenes, I was a bit surprised to see the fourth entry was a Welcoming Wreath.  After all, a wreath is a traditional Christmas decoration.  However, I do like the ornament.

As you’d expect, the ornament is a mostly green wreath.  However, in keeping with Marjoleain Bastin’s work, the wreath is made up of many different kinds of greenery, not just holly.  It has red apples substituting for the berries, and there is some snow draped over the top.  But what really makes it stand out are the two birds.  One is just taking off from the top with its wings spread while the other is sitting in the lower part of the wreath sampling the apples.

So no, this isn’t a wreath on your door that welcomes others to your home, but this is a wreath that has welcomed birds.  I do like that idea and how it is played out here.

However, I do still miss the other scenes we’ve gotten for this series.  This is missing that touch of charm and whimsy that the captured my interest with the earlier pieces.  The details are great, and I do like the bird sampling the apple, but it’s not quite the same.

Since this is a wreath, you have to hang it somewhere.  Being so green, it could get lost in a Christmas tree easily, another strike against it.  However, when you do go to hang the ornament, you’ll find that it hangs straight.

And yes, the 4 in a Christmas tree series marker is on the ornament, but I’m going to let you discover where.  It’s a bit hidden, but not that hard to find.

I’ll confess that I bought Welcoming Wreath after Christmas because it was part of a series.  I will still display it some, but it won’t get as much rotation as some of my other ornaments.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Marjolein’s Garden series.

Original Price: $17.95

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Book Review: The Missing Map of Pirate's Haven by Sigmund Brouwer (Accidental Detectives #12)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery that is lots of fun
Cons: Buried with the treasure
The Bottom Line:
Mystery host
And pirate treasure combine
Fast paced and fun book

Will the Accidental Detectives Find the Pirate Treasure?

One of the reasons pirates are so popular is their treasure.  Who doesn’t dream of stumbling over a huge treasure and being insanely rich as a result?  And the Accidental Detectives aren’t the first fictional characters to stumble into a hunt for a treasure a pirate left behind.  But just because the premise is familiar doesn’t mean that The Missing Map of Pirate’s Haven isn’t wonderful.

Ricky Kidd, his friends Mike, Ralphy, and Lisa, along with Ricky’s younger brother Joel, are heading to San Diego.  During the morning, they are to help Lisa’s uncle paint the house he just bought, but they will have afternoons to enjoy summer in Southern California.  It sounds like a dream vacation.

After they’ve landed, Lisa’s uncle tells them a legend about a pirate that operated in the area a hundred years ago.  He supposedly buried his treasure nearby.  It sounds farfetched…until Joel finds two silver coins.  Meanwhile, Lisa’s uncle is acting strangely himself.  Will Ricky find the treasure and figure out what is going on?

I’ve read this book a couple of times over the years, but it’s been well over a decade since the last time.  As a result, I remembered a couple of scenes, but that was it.  Pieces of the plot came back to me as I read it, but I was once again in awe of how the mystery was laid out.  Little things become big clues later, and every piece Ricky needs to solve the mystery is laid out for us.  Yet I still didn’t pick up on everything.

And the characters are fun.  They feel well rounded, which is impressive considering this is a 130 page middle grade mystery.  It helps that the characters are teasing each other and get involved in some other things that make me laugh.  Laugh with someone, and you feel you know them, right?  I do feel that a couple of the characters introduced in the book make some major changes rather quickly.  I don’t remember feeling that way in the past, and I’m sure kids won’t complain about that at all.

This series is a Christian series, and some spiritual themes are worked into the book.  They are a natural outflow of the characters, however, and don’t feel forced into the book at all.  Additionally, they never slow down what is a very fast paced plot.

Every time I pick up an Accidental Detectives book, I’m reminded just how much I love them.  No matter your age, if you are looking for a great mystery, I can’t recommend The Missing Map of Pirate’s Haven enough.

Check out more of Ricky’s adventures with the rest of the Accidental Detectives series.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

June 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another summer week, another short weekly TV thoughts.

Supergirl – It was a set up for next week’s finale.  It knew it.  We knew it.  But it did a remarkably good job of being entertaining.  I’m very curious to see how we are going to save the Earth without ruining everything we know and love.  I mean, is the skyscrapers fall, that can’t be undone in a few episodes, and I don’t see them dealing with that fallout for a season.

American Ninja Warrior: Ninja Vs. Ninja – Michelle lost her first race, but man, it was so close.  That was epic.  And then to fall on the salmon ladder.  I loved her teammates jumping in the water with her at the end there.  It will be interesting to see who comes out on top this season.

American Ninja Warrior – They got me.  We never get a finisher before the 20 minute mark, but they actually had a finisher as the first person to run the course.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was so happy for him, too.  I really do want to root for everyone to finish.  It was hard to see JJ go out early like that.  Fortunately, Jesse finished.  I always love watching her.  I’m dying to know what movie she is working on, so that teasing worked.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Book Review: Murder on Mulberry Bend by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and sense of time and place
Cons: Mystery could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Visit this duo
Compelling trip back in time
Another murder

Murder of a Poor Teen

With the way the previous book in the Gaslight Mysteries ended, picking up the next book as soon as possible was a given.  Not that I’m complaining because Murder on Mulberry Bend was about good book.

Through her renewed friendship with Richard, Sarah Brandt has discovered the Prodigal Son Mission.  Despite the name, this mission actually ministers to teenage girls who might ordinarily be out on the street.  They are taught all manner of things to help them make a respectable life for themselves. 

And it gets her involved in another murder when Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy asks her to identify the teenage woman who has been found in the park.  It’s one of the residents of the mission that she’s just met.  With no one to fight for justice for this young woman, Sarah insists that Frank track down the killer with a little help from her.  But will they uncover any leads?

Yes, I know I said I had to pick up this book because of a cliffhanger.  That involves an ongoing storyline involving the murder of Sarah’s husband.   We get some significant developments there as well, and I am still hooked.  I have to know what is going to happen next with this cold case.

The pace of this mystery is weaker than some of the other books in the series.  Don’t get me wrong, I was certainly hooked the entire time.  But it just felt like the twists I’ve come to expect weren’t there.  Or maybe that was because I had a feeling I knew what was going on early in the book.

But as I said, I was still hooked as I was once again transported to New York City in the 1890’s.  The little details of everyday life transport us back in time with ease.

And I was thrilled to see these characters again.  Yes, I’m getting a little tired of how Frank and Sarah interact at times, but I’m still enjoying their extremely slow burn romance.  It helps to remember that it’s only been a few months for them, and their social classes make them think they could never be together.  The rest of the cast is extremely sharp as well, which is no surprise at this point in the series since the characters are always sharp.

I’m quickly coming to realize that any time spent with Sarah and Frank and their world is time well spent.  No wonder this series has so many fans.  Now that I’ve finished Murder on Mulberry Bend, I’m plotting how quickly I can return and visit them again.

Continue your trip back in time with the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Movie Review: A Marriage Made for Murder - A Hailey Dean Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Solid mystery
Cons: A little heavy on the cheese
The Bottom Line:
A dead art dealer
Starts a solid mystery
Great for Hailey fans

“Now I See.  This Isn’t a Date; It’s an Investigation.”  “Why Can’t It Be Both?”  “With You, It Usually Is.”

When I heard the title of the second Hailey Dean Mystery Movie this month, A Marriage Made for Murder, I must admit I assumed that we’d be dealing with a couple who committed murder.  Turns out I was quite a ways from the truth, but the title makes perfect sense by the end.

The victim in this movie is Victor (Matthew J. Dowden), the owner of an art gallery that Clyde (Chad Lowe) regularly purchased art from.  Hailey Dean (Kelly Martin) tags along when Clyde goes to offer his condolences.  At that point, everyone seems to think he’s had a heart attack.  It’s only when Hailey asks her boyfriend Jonas (Matthew MacCaull) to speed up the death certificate does she learn that the hospital has no record of Victor in their computer.

That’s odd enough for Hailey to call in the police, who are able to determine it was murder.  As the secrets in Victor’s life start coming to light, motives multiply.  But who killed him?

So how does the title play into the mystery?  I’m not going to tell you; you’ll have to watch it to find out for yourself.  I got so caught up in the motives that were coming to light that I couldn’t figure out who the killer was going to be.  Things make sense at the end, and the final quarter of the movie is wonderful in how it plays out.

Meanwhile, having Clyde back in Hailey’s life continues to help her deal with her fiancé Will’s murder.  That appears to be the main focus of the next movie in the franchise, so I’m looking forward to getting some answers on this mystery.

Being a Hallmark movie, there’s a fair amount of cheese to be had here, both in the writing and the acting.  It seemed to me to be a little worse than normal here, but it still only damped my enjoyment a little.  The usual cast of supporting players are all here and enjoyable as always despite the cheese.

A Marriage Made for Murder provides an enjoyable hour and a half of mystery and sets us up for the next movie in the franchise.  Hailey’s fans will enjoy this one and be anxiously waiting for the next.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ornament Review: Candied Christmas Rose - Christmas Cupcakes #8 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Delicate rose topped cupcake
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Cupcake Christmas rose
Decorated ornament
To adorn your tree

White Rose of Christmas

I know there is such a thing as a Christmas rose.  Even though I’m a huge Christmas guy, I haven’t done much research on them.  However, I’ve now got a reference to one in my ornament collection thanks to the Candied Christmas Rose, the eighth in Hallmark’s Christmas Cupcake series.

The base of this ornament is a silver cupcake wrapper (made out of plastic) with a hint of a chocolate cupcake peeking out the top.  The focus of the ornament is the frosting, designed out of felt.  There is a mound of red frosting, and sitting on top of that is a white Christmas rose with a yellow center.  There’s also a green leaf, and the entire thing is sprinkled with glitter, I mean powdered sugar.

This is a pretty ornament.  The rose is delicate looking, and the glitter is great at catching the light.  While it doesn’t quite make my mouth drool like some of the others in the series, it is still a great addition.

Being a cupcake, this ornament has a nice, flat base, so you can add it to any display you may wish.  You’ll also find the 8 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom of the piece.

Or you can hang it on your tree.  In keeping with the felt theme, the ornament features a loop that is a strong piece of string.  Slip a hook through it, and you’ll find that it hangs straight.

As big a sweets fan as I am, it is hard to pass up on this series.  Candied Christmas Rose might not make my mouth drool as much as others, but it is still a delicious addition to this series.

Collect the rest of the delicious Christmas Cupcakes series.

Original Price: $12.95

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Review: Claws for Alarm by Karen MacInerney (Gray Whale Inn Mysteries #8)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful setting, characters, and plot
Cons: Timeline issue (that will be edited in future editions of the book)
The Bottom Line:
Murder and mayhem
Mixed with calm island retreat
Another winner

Don’t Be Alarmed.  You’ll Enjoy This Mystery

Some series feel like home.  You love the characters and setting so much, that you can’t wait to go back.  One of those series for me is Karen MacInerney’s Gray Whale Inn Mysteries, so you can bet I was glad to be back to visit in Claws for Alarm.

Maine bed and breakfast owner Natalie Barnes thought that having the participants of a yoga retreat staying at the Gray Whale Inn would be relaxing for her as well.  Unfortunately, they have brought a lot of drama with them, and Natalie has found herself getting pulled in to the squabbles.

But that’s nothing compared to the drama brewing on the island.  Francine has recently moved to Cranberry Island, and Francine is trying to turn it into her version of what the island should look like.  She’s made almost everyone on the island mad, but she’s pushed Natalie’s friend Claudette far enough that the two of them get into a food fight in the island’s store.  When Francine is found murdered the next morning, Natalie knows that Claudette will be the prime suspect.  Can she find the real killer and keep her friend out of jail?

Let’s start by getting the bad out of the way first.  There’s a timeline issue, and a rather major one.  However, the good news.  Karen has told me she is working on fixing it as fast as she can, so once the edits go out, it won’t be an issue in further editions of the book.

And that’s a good thing because I really did love the book otherwise.  The characters in the series are fantastic.  They feel like good friends, and I’m always thrilled to go back and visit them again.  Couple that with a setting I find relaxing (even with the murders), and you’ve got a winner right there.  We get some interesting updates on a few of the series regulars, and I’m curious to see what happens to them next (and I’m betting I know at least one thing happening in the next book).  And that’s not to discount the suspects.  They are just as real as the main characters, making it hard to figure out the killer.

Speaking of which, I thought I had the killer pegged early, but I turned out to be wrong.  And yet, the twists of the plot and the ultimate solution were completely logical.  I love it when that happens.

And we can’t leave out the recipes.  We get five of them here, plus two bonus recipes, for such things as a flourless chocolate cake, avocados stuffed with crab salad, and lemon cookies.

Claws for Alarm is another wonderful book that is over all too soon.  It’s the next best thing to a relaxing island retreat.

Enjoy more trips to Cranberry Island with the rest of the Gray Whale Inn Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Monday, June 11, 2018

TV Show Review: Murder, She Wrote - Season 2

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 22 more cases with Jessica
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Jessica on case
For twenty-two more murders
Charming as always

“If Murder Were a Disease, You’d Be Contagious.”

It’s always fun to revisit old fictional friends, and that’s just what I’ve been doing for the past month by rewatching season 2 of Murder, She Wrote.  This show is as charming as ever.

The premise really never changed in this show as we follow bestselling mystery author Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) as she gets involved in one mystery after another.  It seems no matter where she goes, she finds a mystery of some kind to get involved in.  A trip to Mardi Gras finds her needing to clear a distant cousin of murder.  When a friend is murdered in the Caribbean, she heads down to solve the case.  Her niece’s career as a jockey takes off thanks to murder.  Jessica finds herself the foreperson of a jury filled with people who are certain of what the verdict should be, until she talks them through the case.  She even travels across the pond and we meet Emma McGill, her cousin (also played by Angela Lansbury) when someone tries to kill Emma.

Of the twenty-two episodes in this season, four of them are set in Jessica’s idealistic hometown (except for the murder rate) of Cabot Cove.  There’s a suspicious death at the newly popular diner in town.  The body of a businessman planning to build a new development in town is discovered in a hole on the construction site.  The entire town starts receiving poison pen letters.  And when an accident happens during a funeral, people discover that the wrong body is in the coffin.

When I started rewatching the series last year, I decided I was going to keep a running account of how many murders take place in Cabot Cove.  Adding in this year’s four, we have reached six and a half out of the 44 episodes from the first two seasons.  Of those, three and a half have mostly involved people who don’t live in town.

Cabot Cove is the only place where things have changed for this season as William Windom steps into the role of Dr. Seth Hazlitt.  I love the character, so it’s nice to have him on board.  We still have Tom Bosley’s Amos Tupper as the sheriff, although he keeps talking about retiring.  In other recurring character news, we get to see Jerry Orbach’s Harry McGraw once and Jessica’s nephew Grady puts in a couple of appearances.

While many of the mysteries are the standard suspicious death with multiple suspects, I do enjoy it when the writers manage to change things up.  There are some creative cases this season, and I admire how well everything is put together.  It’s been so long since I watched these episodes that I am usually a step or two behind Jessica in figuring things out, but I don’t mind.  The fun is in spending time with her and watching how she pieces everything together.

Outside a couple of over the top performances, the acting is good again this season.  Of course, no one tops Angela Lansbury who brings such a warmth to the part.  Notable (at least to me) guest stars this season include June Lockhart, Glynis Johns, Linda Hamilton, Robert, Culp, and several actors from WKRP in Cincinnati.

I will remind you that this is mid-80’s TV, as if the fashions aren’t evidence of that.  There are definitely some dated elements, but that is honestly part of the charm.

The set just features the 22 episodes of the season in their native full frame and stereo sound.  There are no extras, and the picture shows its age at times, but it’s not really an issue given the age of the show.

If it’s been a while since you visited Jessica, it’s time to fix that, and season 2 of Murder, She Wrote is a great place to catch up with her.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. Widow, Weep for Me
2. Joshua Peabody Died Here…Possibly
3. Murder in the Afternoon
4. School for Scandal
5. Sing a Song of Murder
6. Reflections of the Mind
7. A Lady in the Lake
8. Dead Heat
9. Jessica Behind Bars
10. Sticks and Stones
11. Murder Digs Deep
12. Murder by Appointment Only
13. Trial by Error
14. Keep the Home Fries Burning
15. Powder Keg
16. Murder in the Electric Cathedral
17. One Good Bid Deserves a Murder
18. If a Body Meet a Body
19. Christopher Bundy – Died on Sunday
20. Menace, Anyone?
21. The Perfect Foil
22. If the Frame Fits

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Book Review: If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, DON'T! by Elise Parsley

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightfully silly fun
Cons: DON’T think there are any
The Bottom Line:
Circus, library
Make for a comic mix in
This fun picture book

Three Rings of Fun!

I stumbled upon the hilarious wacky adventures of Magnolia a couple of years back, but I haven’t followed these picture books closely.  That’s why I’m just now reading If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, DON’T!  It’s silly fun that kids of all ages will love.

Magnolia has noticed that sign at her local library proclaiming that “You can do anything at the library.”  She takes that as an invitation to put on a circus for the kids in the library.  Of course, they all need to be quiet – this is a library after all.  But really, what could possibly go wrong?

I’ll leave it to you to discover just where Magnolia’s antics get her, but this book is a lot of fun.  You do need to let the logic side of your brain go, like why the librarians didn’t kick her out early on, but just go with it because the results are worth it.  And it all leads up to the climax, which is the best part.

Elise Parsley is the author and illustrator for these books, and she does a fantastic job again here.  Not only is the story fun, but her illustrations are outstanding as well.  They really bring Magnolia’s antics to life.

The one quirk about this book is that it is told in second person.  Even though Magnolia is obviously the one causing the mayhem, she is warning what might go wrong if “you” tried to do something so we can learn from her experiences.  While books in second person are rare, it works here and seems to add to the charm.

So, if you are looking for something fun to read with your kids, I highly recommend you pick up If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, DON’T!  The entire family will enjoy the fun in this picture book.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

TV Show Review: Suits - Season 7

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Acting, characters, legal storylines
Cons: Romantic sub-plots really up the soap
The Bottom Line:
More legal drama
Romances cause biggest snag
End of era set

“I Know I’m Asking for the Impossible, but Isn’t That Kind of What You Do?”

I have been a fan of the legal soap opera that is Suits since season 1.  Yes, I’ve always found it, or at least parts of it, to be a soap opera, but that was never clearer than in season 7.  While I still enjoyed it for the most part, there were some things that bothered me.

Season 7 opens with Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) back at Spector Litt.  While he has returned, he has made a deal with Harvey Spector (Gabriel Macht) that he gets to take on some pro bono cases in addition to the work he does to bring in money for the firm.  Unfortunately, his first pro bono case lands him and Harvey in hot water with a long-time client.

Meanwhile, Harvey and Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) are struggling with keeping the firm going without Jessica Pearson (recurring guest star Gina Torres).  As they butt heads over the direction to go, Donna Paulson (Sarah Rafferty) makes a bold career move.  And Mike’s fiancée Rachel Zane (Meghan Markle) finds herself in charge of the new associates.

The soap opera I mentioned earlier?  That comes from the character’s love lives.  While Mike and Rachel keep having trouble settling on anything for their own wedding, Louis runs into an old flame while Harvey gets a surprising new girlfriend, which throws Donna for a loop.

And, as I said, this was my biggest complaint with the season.  I especially hated while Louis did in the final part of the season.  I’ve never been one to root for Donna and Harvey to get together, but I’m also not rooting against it, and I found the evolution of their relationship interesting.

Before we go any further, let’s discuss the elephant in this season.  As you may have heard, Meghan had some minor life changes recently.  (Yes, I’m being slightly sarcastic.)  Obviously, that comes into play with how the season ends.  Fans who root for Rachel and Mike will be happy with where the characters end up, although I did feel they were short served by everything else the writers were trying to do with the final part of the season, including a planted pilot for Gina Torres’ Jessica Pearson.

So what did I like this season?  I loved the fact that they did work in Jessica a few times.  I always loved her character, so it is nice to see her again.  The legal trials and complications are fantastic as always.  I don’t know how the writers keep coming up with these twists and turns, but I find myself glued to the scene for each episode.  While they don’t have as many scenes together as I would like, I still love the Harvey/Mike and Donna/Rachel dynamics.  I also really enjoyed Alex Williams, a new character played by Dule Hill.

And, of course, there’s the acting.  The actors continue to do a fantastic job of bringing their character to life.  There isn’t a weak link in the cast, including the recurring characters and guest stars.

I’m very curious to see where the show will be heading in season 8.  I’m hoping I will still enjoy it as much as I always have.  But for now, fans can enjoy the goodness that is season 7 of Suits.