Thursday, January 31, 2019

January 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

And 2019's first month is behind us.  Here's what I read this month.  And yes, the index has been updated.

As usual, the links take you to my full reviews.

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

Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham (Veronica Mars #2) – 5
Veronica Mars is hired by the Neptune Grand to clear them of responsibility for an attack that left a young woman almost dead several miles away.  Before she was found, she was last in the hotel.  At first, she claims she can't remember what happened in the attack, but then she names someone on the hotel's staff.  With a client who wants Veronica to prove them innocent and a victim who thinks Veronica's only motive is to discredit her, can she find the truth?  Meanwhile, Weevil's trial is winding down.  Will the jury reach the correct verdict?  And will Veronica's father ever be able to use the stories he's found of the Sherriff department's evidence planting?

Having been a fan of the Veronica Mars TV show since the pilot aired, I'm a bit surprised it took me so long to read this second book.  I'm glad I finally did because I loved it.  The mystery introduced here was great, and it gave us a good excuse to check in with many of our favorite characters.  We even saw some minor characters again.  The characters are all fantastic.  I was most surprised by how much I grew to appreciate Veronica and Logan's relationship, something I'd never been a fan of in the TV series.  Like with the first book, I wish this had been told in Veronica's first-person narration – I missed her snarky narration from the series.  But that's a minor complaint.  Fans of the series will definitely love it.  Those new to the franchise might have trouble appreciating everything that happens here, but the obvious solution is to go back and watch the show.  You'll find it is well worth your time.

The Double-A Western Detective Agency by Steve Hockensmith (Holmes on the Range #6) – 5
Cowboy brothers turned detectives Big Red and Old Red have started a new detective agency with Diana and her father, Colonel Crowe.  There's just one problem, the lack of paying customers.  So when they are hired to travel to DeBatge, New Mexico, and catch some cattle rustlers, Old Red reluctantly agrees to go even though it's not the kind of case he wants to take.  With Diana tagging along, the brothers set out.  However, when they arrive, they discover a town divided with tensions running high.  The source of this powder keg?  Their client.  Then a dead body turns up, igniting the fuse.  Can Old Red figure things out before the town explodes?  Will the trio get caught in the crossfire no matter what happens?

I was so glad when I learned author Steve Hockensmith was writing a new adventure for these two cowboys.  If you haven't yet had the pleasure of traveling back to the 1890's with them, you are in for a treat.  The characters are wonderful.  Since we don't have too many recurring characters, that leaves plenty of room for new characters, and figuring out if they are friend or foe drives so much of the plot.  Yes, there is a mystery, and Old Red does a great job of figuring out what is going on.  He was certainly several steps ahead of me.  However, the added stress of the conflicts in town adds to the tension and puts Big Red and Old Red's lives in danger on a regular basis.  The humor from the earlier books is still here as well and helps defuse the tension a little.

A Literal Mess by J. C. Kenney (Allie Cobb #1) – 5
Allie Cobb has returned home to Rushing Creek, Indiana for her father's funeral.  While his death wasn't a surprise, it has still hit her hard.  She's not prepared for tragedy to strike her small town a second time when the body of Thornwell Winchester is found.  He was one of Allie's father's literary clients, and also the father of Allie's best friend, Sloane.  When Sloane becomes the police's chief suspect, Allie steps in to find out the truth.  Can she do it?

This book is more serious in tone than many of the cozies I read, but given what brings Allie home, that is completely appropriate.  I never found that overwhelming, and the book doesn't dwell on it.  After all, this is a mystery, and it isn't long before we are off meeting Thornwell and the potential suspects.  I was intrigued by the red herrings and enjoyed the twists as we headed toward the logical climax.  The suspects are strong, but I was really impressed with the series regulars.  They have pasts and baggage that brought them to the page fully formed.  I'm interested to see how that dynamic plays out as the series progresses.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Commander Toad and the Voyage Home by Jane Yolen, illustrations by Bruce Degen (Commander Toad #7) – 5
This book finds Commander Toad and the crew of the Star Warts winding down their mission to explore the galaxy.  After several years in space, they can now head home for some much needed rest.  So, Commander Toad puts the command into the computer.  Only, when they arrive, they don’t recognize the planet at all.  What has happened?

This is the final picture book about these characters, but all the charm is still here.  There are plenty of laughs and puns.  The storyline is good and gets resolved in a way the intended audience will understand.  Parents might have to help young reader with a few words, but it is a good challenge when the time comes to expand young readers’ vocabulary.  The illustrations perfectly capture the story while also sliding in a few extra jokes.

Saturn Night Fever by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker Space Case #3) – 5
It's been a few months since we last saw Sylvia, and in that time, she's been living on Neptune's compound, training with him and her friend, smuggler Mattix.  One day, Mattix's ship arrives back at Neptune's place on autopilot.  Inside, Neptune and Sylvia find a message from Pika, the little Gremlon who has also been living with them, asking for help.  Then they find Mattix's body.  Naturally, Neptune and Sylvia do the only thing they can, steal a Moon Unit Corporation ship, hire a small crew, and set out to reach Saturn and figure out what has happened to Pika.  But can their crew be trusted?  Will they survive the flight?

I was anxious to pick up this book to find out what happened after the revelation that ended the previous book.  We definitely get more on that here.  In fact, we get plenty on that as Sylvia is also trying to resolve her latest troubles.  There are plenty of twists and turns there as well since Sylvia doesn't really know who she can trust.  I did feel that in the midst of the twists the original premise got hurt a little, but I may be overthinking things, and it was definitely a minor issues.  Author Diane Vallere does a great job of making the science fiction setting and alien characters relatable.  Cozy mystery fans like myself will feel right at home here.  The alien characters allow for a few more over the top characters, but I loved that, and overall, I still found them to be relatable characters.

Due or Die by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lovers Mysteries #2) – 4
Carrie Rushton has just been elected president of the Friends of the Library.  Even though Lindsay Norris isn't a member of the group since she's the head of the library itself, she is thrilled to be working with someone bringing fresh ideas and perspectives.  However, after Carrie's first meeting in her new role, she returns home to find her husband shot to death.  People are quick to jump to the conclusion that Carrie is guilty, but Lindsay is sure the woman is innocent.  Will a winter storm coming to the area turn the trail of the real killer cold?

While I still don't have all the supporting characters straight in my head, the characters important to this mystery are all well developed.  That includes not only the suspects, but the main characters.  Thanks to a couple of sub-plots, I found the pacing uneven, although things did pick up for the climax.  Things do fit together well, but there is a major timing issue in the climax.  It annoys, but it is minor overall.  While I always enjoy Jenn's books, I found this one super funny, laughing out loud multiple times over the course of the story.  I'm already looking forward to my next stop at this library.

The Missing Chums by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #4) – 4
The only thing that could make summer vacation better for Frank and Joe Hardy is a mystery, and one is handed to them by Chief Collig when he asks them to go undercover at the homeless encampment outside of town and find out what is causing the increased fighting down there.  Before the teens can begin their assignment, they witness a bank robbery, however.  Then, after a costume party hosted by Callie Shaw and Iola Morton, their friends Chet and Biff vanish.  Can the brothers figure out what happened to their friends?  Are all these events connected?

I was a bit worried that the book had bitten off more than it could successfully resolve, but it did a good job of reigning in these plots and bringing them to a successful conclusion.  I enjoyed seeing how Frank and Joe figured things out and successfully wrapped everything up.  The characters are shallow as always, but it's not something I remember as a kid, so I bet today's kids will not notice either.  They might notice how dated some elements are, including the word "chum" in the title.  However, that kind of things never stopped me as a kid, and I bet most will get caught up in the fast-moving action of the story.

Not a Creature was Stirring by Christina Freeburn (Merry & Bright Handcrafted Mysteries #1) – 4
Merry is hoping to turn her Christmas crafting business into a full-time job, and as part of that plan, she's purchased a motorhome from her ex-step-daughter.  The hope is she can use it as a mobile crafting studio and a place to show her stuff at some of the more popular craft shows.  She's trying it out at the Christmas Holiday Bazaar, one of her favorite events of the year.  However, when she's unloading her products, she finds the dead body of her ex-husband in one of the storage compartments.  How did his dead body get into the RV?

With as much as I love Christmas, this book was a lot of fun.  We got lots of talk about everything Christmas, even comparing characters to famous fictional Christmas characters.  I did feel the book needed another polish to flesh a few things out, and I found Merry's concern for her ex-husband's family a little hard to believe considering how short her marriage had been.  On the other hand, I loved the majority of the characters, and Merry's relationships with her own kids was fabulous.  The plot was good with many twists and turns.  I figured out a couple of things early, but I was left guessing about the rest of it until the end.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

"Changing Habits" by Alice Loweecey (Giulia Falcone #3.5) – 5
It's a week before Giulia Falcone's wedding to Frank Driscoll, her former boss and soon to be partner in Driscoll Investigations, and she has a few last-minute things to take care of.  You know, typical details for the week before the wedding like getting the wedding favors together, finding a wedding dress, and figure out who is switching the valuable items in various churches in the area for cheap fakes.  Nothing major, right?  When the latest theft hits close to home, Giulia is determined to find the guilty party.  Can she handle everything?

This short story was written to bridge the transition as Giulia switched publishers.  It packs quite a bit into the story, but handles it all in an entertaining way.  The story doesn't have quite the twists and turns of a novel, but it entertained me for the hour it took me to read it.  Likewise, the characters don't show us any hidden depths, but we still get to enjoy time spent with them.  Since I love this cast of characters, I was glad for that chance.  Plus there are a few laughs along the way.  Long time fans will enjoy this story, and those who jump in here will be left wanting to spend even more time with Giulia.

Lost Light by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #9) – 5
It's been several months since Harry Bosch retired from his job as a homicide detective in Los Angeles.  He's attempting to adjust to life as a civilian, but he can't resist when another former cop mentions a cold case they'd both worked on.  Angella Benton was strangled in the entrance to her apartment building.  Just as Bosch was beginning to investigate, the heist of two million dollars from a movie set gave the case a bigger profile, and the robbery homicide division took it over.  Four years later, the murder remains unsolved and the money has not been found.  But Bosch has barely begun poking into it again before he is warned off.  Is someone still interested in this case?  Can Bosch solve it without his badge to open doors for him?

I enjoyed seeing Bosch working without his badge, overcoming the added obstacle of not having any official business looking into this case.  While he may not be a cop, we still did get cameos by many of the series regulars, and it was great to check in with them.  The characters are strong as always, with Bosch leading the pack.  I was surprised to find that this book was narrated first person, something I always enjoy.  I hadn't run across that in a Harry Bosch book yet.  The case itself was gripping with plenty of twists and turns to keep us engaged up until the end.  I listened to the audio version narrated by Len Cariou, who does a great job except for one character.  Fortunately, that character isn't a major player in the action of the book.

Pruning the Dead by Julia Henry (Garden Squad Mysteries #1) – 4
Lilly Jayne is opening up her garden for a garden party for the first time in years, a first step toward getting back into life in Goosebush, Massachusetts, after the death of her husband.  Unfortunately, getting back into life in Goosebush includes dealing with her first husband's current wife.  Merilee Frank goes looking for trouble and does a very good job of stirring it up.  She makes several scenes at the party, but the real shock comes a few days later when Merilee turns up dead.  With the police looking at several people Lilly is certain are innocent, she begins to investigate with the help of her best friends.  But can they figure out what really happened?

This is the start of a new series, but I can already tell you I love these characters.  Lilly and her "squad" are well drawn, and how much they obviously care for each other made me care for them.  I do feel the book could have been a little tighter, especially at the beginning, but it never wandered for too long, and a strong gardening sub-plot helped keep me engaged.  I did feel the third person narration head hopped a bit, a personal pet peeve, but that was a minor complaint.  I love the setting, a coastal small town.  This is exactly the kind of place I'd love to visit if I could.  The mystery itself was enjoyable with several strong suspects.  I began to suspect where things were going as we got close to the end, but I didn't have everything figured out until Lilly pieced things together for us.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

The Gun Also Rises by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston #6) – 5
Sarah Winston has been hired to organize a book sale for Mrs. Belle Winthrop Granville, III, focusing on Belle's massive mystery collection.  But sandwiched in between the Trixie Belden, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, and Ann Cleeves books, she finds what appears to be the Hemingway manuscripts that went miss from a train in Paris in the 1920's.  Belle is just as shocked to see them as Sarah is.  But a couple of hours later, Belle has been attacked, the manuscripts are missing, and someone is dead.  What has Sarah stumbled into this time?

Once again, we are treated to a fabulous mystery that is more treasure hunt than strict cozy murder mystery.  Not that I'm complaining in the slightest.  The pace never slows down as we jump from one thing to another as Sarah tries to figure out what happened before her life spins even further out of control.  We don't see as much of some of the series regulars, but we do get to see more of others, and I liked how relationships were growing here.  Naturally, the book is filled with well-developed new characters.  The mentions of various mystery books made me smile.  The sub-plots involving the air force base were really well done and once again spotlighted some of the real issues those who sacrifice so much for this country go through, both those serving and their families.  This is a strong entry in a series that keeps getting better.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Murder, She Meowed by Liz Mugavero (Pawsitively Organic #7) – 4
With three weeks before her wedding, Stan Connor is finding it hard to keep her mother and sister from taking over and planning things their way.  She does finally give in to her sister’s desire to throw her a traditional bachelorette party, but things end on a somber note when the stripper is found dead in the cake he was supposed to jump out of.  Worse yet, Stan knew the young man.  Feeling the need to investigate, Stan tries to figure out who would have wanted to kill him.  Can she do it?

I did feel this book got sidetracked at times by the wedding planning sub-plot, but that might be because I’m a guy.  There is definitely a strong mystery here with several viable suspects and a great climax.  Along the way, we get plenty of twists and turns.  While Stan’s relationship with her family has grown some, the wedding planning brings out some of their old relationships, and it was interesting to see this side of the characters again.  Some of the regulars play smaller parts here, but it is great to see the regulars no matter how much page time they got.  Those who have pets will be interested in the two new recipes for organic treats at the end of the book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Book Review: Murder, She Meowed by Liz Mugavero (Pawsitively Organic Mysteries #7)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mystery and mayhem as Stan prepares for her wedding
Cons: Wedding takes over at times
The Bottom Line:
Wedding prep sidetracked
To find who killed a stripper
Enjoyable book

Corpse of a Stripper

I always enjoy going to weddings of friends, especially when I’ve been rooting for them to get married.  I consider the main characters in the books I read to be friends, albeit fictional ones.  Therefore, I enjoy it when I get to attend their wedding via a book.  And that’s just what we get to do for Stan Connor and Jake McGee in Murder, She Meowed.

Stan and Jake’s wedding is just three weeks away, and Stan is starting to really stress out.  No, the pressure of the big day isn’t getting to her, it’s her mother and sister.  Her mother, Patricia, especially, is trying to replan the wedding in her image while her sister, Caitlyn, is insisting on a traditional bachelorette party, even though that isn’t want Stan wants at all.

Stan gives in on the bachelorette party only to have it end early when the stripper Caitlyn has hired doesn’t jump out of the cake.  Instead, he’s lying inside dead.  Worse yet, Stan knows the man thanks to his job delivering items from a nearby farm to her pet patisserie.  Stan feels compelled to find out what happens, but can she figure any of it out?

It was very interesting seeing Stan interacting with her family more in this book.  When the series started, she didn’t have a good relationship with them, and we’ve seen that slowly change over the course of seven books.  The upcoming wedding causes things to revert, which is realistic, and it definitely brought out some different sides of the characters, which I enjoyed getting to see.

Having said that, I did find the wedding planning took over the book at times.  If that had been trimmed a bit and the mystery given a bit more prominence, I would have enjoyed the book better.  What can I say, I enjoy fictional weddings, but I’m still a guy.

But that is a minor issue, overall.  The mystery has several viable suspects, and I happily spent time with Stan as she uncovered clues and alibis in her attempt to learn the truth.  The ending was fantastic, and it wrapped up everything perfectly.

I already talked about Stan’s family, but there are plenty of other characters in the book.  With everything else going on, a few of the regulars play a smaller role, but it was still fun to see them again.  The book has plenty of suspects, and they all come across as real, keeping us engaged in the mystery.

And for pet lovers, we get another couple recipes for organic pet treats.

Longtime fans of the series will be very happy with this latest visit to Stan and the rest of her family and friends.  If you are new to the series, you may want to back up a bit to fully appreciate what happens here.  When you have, you’ll want to RSVP for Murder, She Meowed.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Book Review: The Gun Also Rises by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; fast moving plot
Cons: None in this bargain
The Bottom Line:
A found manuscript
Sets off murder, treasure hunt
In page turning book

Hunt for Hemingway Treasure

No one is better at finding more than she bargained for than Sarah Winston.  She continues to find murder, mystery, and mayhem as she tries to run her garage sale business.  The Gun Also Rises is her sixth adventure, and it is once again wonderful.

Sarah has been asked to run a book sale for Mrs. Belle Winthrop Granville, III, with the proceeds benefiting the local library.  No, she's not handling the many rare books in Belle’s collection but her many mystery novels that range from kid's mysteries to popular modern authors.  Sarah is delighted to jump in, although she's having a hard time focusing on the work with so many wonderful books around her to distract her.

She's going through the books in the attic when she discovers a travel bag containing something that stops her cold.  Inside, she finds what she thinks are the Ernest Hemingway manuscripts that were stolen from a train in Paris in the 1920's.  She takes them down to show Belle, who is just as surprised and mystified their presence in her home.  A couple of hours later, Belle has been attacked and the manuscripts stolen.  Then Sarah finds a dead body.  What has she landed in the middle of now?

As a mystery reader, I loved the set up for this book.  Over the course of the story, we get references to Trixie Belden, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Ann Cleeves, Joanne Fluke, Agatha Christie, and so many others.  Any time one of these names popped up, I had to smile.

Of course, that alone would not have been enough to make me love this book.  Being a mystery, I expect this book to have a good mystery of its own.  It does.  This book is more of a treasure hunt than a traditional cozy mystery, but I loved every minute of it.  Yes, we do solve the murder that happens along the way, but the hunt for the manuscripts drives more of the action than sifting through suspects in the murder.  Again, I am not complaining about that in the slightest since there was always a twist happening.  I never wanted to put the book down.

The characters are fantastic as well.  Sarah herself is a reluctant heroine, and I like her caution as she tries to unravel the latest puzzle she's found herself in.  Because of the nature of this book, we don't see as much of some of the supporting characters, but what we do is wonderful.  Other supporting characters are still front and center, and I loved seeing how those relationships progressed.  The new characters are complex and helped pull us into the book.

Sarah is a former air force wife, and the series is set near a fictional air force base.  Author Sherry Harris, herself an air force wife, uses this to highlight some of the issues that our veterans and their families deal with.  I appreciate this look at the sacrifices everyone makes.  These sub-plots definitely stay in the background behind the hunt for the manuscript, but they provide a little added depth.

This series gets better with every book, and The Gun Also Rises continues the trend.  If you haven't started this series yet, do yourself a favor and buy the first one today.

Missing any of these mystery books?  Here are the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Book Review: Pruning the Dead by Julia Henry (Garden Squad Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fun setting, great mystery
Cons: Pacing
The Bottom Line:
A murder in town
Reveals some larger conflicts
In this fun debut

Lilly Must Prune the Suspects Until She Finds a Killer

I don't have a green thumb.  I don't even have a brown thumb.  You leave a plant with me, it will die.  I've even killed cactus.  Yet, I love plants and flowers, so I was looking forward to Pruning the Dead, the first in the new Garden Squad mystery series from Julia Henry.

Lilly Jayne, a woman of a certain age, is opening her family's home in Goosebush, Massachusetts, for a garden party.  It's been several years since that she hosted a party like this as she was mourning her late husband.  But she is slowly getting back into the life of the town, and this party is one way to do that.

Unfortunately, getting back into life in Goosebush includes dealing with her first husband's current wife.  Merilee Frank goes looking for trouble and does a very good job of stirring it up.  She makes several scenes at the party, but the real shock comes a few days later when Merilee turns up dead.  With the police looking at several people Lilly is certain are innocent, she begins to investigate with the help of her best friends.  But can they figure out what really happened?

This series is off to a great start.  Lilly and the rest of the characters are wonderful.  I could feel the bonds between these friends right away, and how much they care for each other made me care for them more.  Yes, the suspects are just as strong, and I had a hard time figuring out just which one of them was going to be guilty.

Unfortunately, I did feel the book could have been a little tighter.  This was especially true near the beginning, but I never felt this the plot wandered for too long.  There is a strong gardening sub-plot that I really enjoyed, which certainly helped keep my attention.

It's rare when a cozy isn't written in first person, and that's the case here.  The book sticks fairly close to Lilly's point of view, however, we get very brief passages from a few of the other characters.  I do feel these transitions could have been a little smoother, but I think this is more of a pet peeve than anything else.

I loved the setting.  Goosebush is one of those mythical small town I love to visit in cozies, in this case right on the coast.  Since this story is set in mid-spring, it made me want to go visit the beach.  I could almost smell the sea air as I read.  Honestly, there are so many spots in this town I want to visit, so naturally, I'm anxious to go back for future books.

And let me be clear, the mystery is good.  I began to suspect where things were going as we got closer to the end, but I had to keep reading to find out for sure if I was right or not.  The clues and red herrings are fun, and the climax is wonderful.

For those with better luck gardening then I have, there are some gardening tips at the end you can use to make your own gardens better.

I'm hoping that trouble in Goosebush will be popping up like weeds so we will have many more chances to go visit these new friends.  Pruning the Dead is a fun debut that promises many more great visits to come.

Enjoy seeing these characters grow with the rest of the Garden Squad Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Health Update

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on my health.  There’s a good reason for that.

I’m still healthy!!!

I’ve been feeling fine, and earlier this month, I had my one year follow up tests.  Yes, it's been a year since I had the surgery for my colon cancer.  They found nothing to be concerned about at all.  My colon looks completely healthy.  Naturally, that was a huge relief for me.

I’m still playing ultimate Frisbee and running.  Did a 5K last weekend and am signed up for two mud runs with June, with hopefully more to come.

Naturally, I’m praising God for this.  It still seems surreal to me at times that this all happened.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

January 26th's Weekly TV Thoughts

This week, they announced that Suits will be ending with a shorter season 9.  I'm going to miss the characters, but it is definitely time.  They've lost half the original cast, and the show isn't nearly as good this year.  I'm still enjoying it, but it is time.  And I say that having watched the season 8B premier this week.

Supergirl – I do not like this new director at all.  She is pure evil, and going after Kara like crazy.  The biggest question is why.  And Alex having her memories of Supergirl erased?  Wow!  That is going to be interesting to watch play out over the rest of the season.

Arrow – So we learn more about this half sister no one knew about.  Still not sure I’m on track with that or with the future storyline.  I really don’t like the future storyline.  This project that Arguss is working on is going to spell trouble as well.

The Flash – So it took Nora getting hurt to come up with the idea of helping Grace.  Of course, the villain still needs to pay for his crimes, but I wonder if that will help him out at all.  And yes, we have a very similar plot thread on The Flash as on Supergirl, but without the political overtones so it isn’t bothering me nearly as much.

This is Us – I’m glad they went back at the end.  The story of what happened in Vietnam is tragic.  Naturally, I’m very curious how this will all play out over the rest of the season.  And yes, I was very impressed with all the cuts and how they two visits mirrored each other.  Beautifully done.

The Masked Singer – How funny that the Poodle was someone that Dr. Ken worked with so closely and he still didn’t figure it out.  Makes me feel better for having no clue at all.

Suits – I’m glad to see that Samantha and Alex buried the hatchet so quickly.  I’m sure they will spark again since that’s what the characters do on this show.  I mean, seriously, do they ever work together for more than an episode?  It was nice to see even Donna admit she had to learn something and had made a mistake.

The Orville – A month?  They were serious in prison, in orbit for a month?  And I’m unclear why the Orville had a deadline to fix the problem.  I mean, their timing was perfect to save Bortus and Kelly, but they didn’t know that.  And it was clear they had moved on to the other sign, so it wasn’t trying to fix the star during the sign’s month.

The Good Place – I knew there had to be some twist, but I really never saw these coming.  I wonder who the other two residents will be?  Obviously, these residents are going to cause major complications for our characters, which I think will be very funny.  But those last few minutes between Chidi and Elinore were heart breaking and so perfectly written and performed.  The scene with Janet was spectacular, too.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Book Review: Lost Light by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; fast paced plot
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Bosch on a cold case
Finds plenty of heat and twists
Engrossing again

Bosch Shines Light on a Cold Case

I was anxious to get back to Harry Bosch since the previous book in the series ended with a shift in Harry's life.  I knew the shift was coming eventually, but I was anxious to see how his life would progress from there, so I was happy to sit down with Lost Light.  I was even happier when I discovered just how good this entry in the series is.

It's been eight months since Harry "pulled the pin."  For those of us who are civilians, that just means he retired from his job as a detective with the Los Angeles police department.  In that time, he's tried to relax and adjust to civilian life, but some of his old unsolved cases are still haunting him.

When another former cop calls Harry, he can't help but dig out his files and start looking again at the case of Angella Benton, a case they both worked on.  This young woman was strangled in the entrance to her apartment building.  Just as Bosch was beginning to investigate, the heist of two million dollars from a movie set gave the case a bigger profile, and the robbery homicide division took it over.  Four years later, the murder remains unsolved and the money has not been found.  But Bosch has barely begun poking into it again before he is warned off.  Is someone still interested in this case?  Can Bosch solve it without his badge to open doors for him?

This book does a good job of pulling us in right away, giving us the backstory in an interesting way that keeps us engaged while also giving us the start of Harry's current investigation.  As in all good Michael Connelly novels, this one takes off in some unexpected directions that keep us glued to the page through the twists until we reach the end.

While Bosch may not be a police officer, we do still get cameos by many of the regular characters from the series, something I was thankful for.  It's nice to see them again.  I enjoyed seeing Bosch attempt to work around his status as a retired cop and still get the information he needs to solve the case.  Bosch finds some excuses to head out to Vegas as well, meaning that he encounters his ex-wife again.  I am spoiled for their relationship, but I still find myself pulling for them to work things out as I read these books.  Naturally, the book has some new characters who come to life as the story progresses.

One thing that surprised me was that this book is narrated first person from Harry's point of view.  While this isn't the first time I've run across this is Michael Connelly's books, this was the first time I have run across it in a Harry Bosch novel.  I enjoy first person narration, so I enjoyed that aspect of the book.

Naturally, the book does contain more language and violence than I'm used to in my cozies, but I felt that it was appropriate to the story and never got gratuitous.  On the other hand, some passages are beautifully written, especially passages where Bosch is thinking about life.  As always, they are a true pleasure and help elevate these books.

Once again, I listened to the audio version, this time narrated by Len Cariou.  For the most part, I enjoyed his performance, although there was one character he did that really annoyed me.  I'm sure his performance was accurate, but it still made for uncomfortable listening when that character was in a scene.  Fortunately, he wasn't a major player in the action of the book.

I know that Bosch's employment status changes several more times in the books ahead of me, but it is nice to see the first of these.  Lost Light is just as good as the rest of the series, and I'm already looking forward to reading the next.

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

Here are the rest of the Harry Bosch novels in order.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Short Story Review: Changing Habits by Alice Loweecey (Giulia Falcone #3.5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun short story
Cons: Only if you expect a full novel
The Bottom Line:
Giulia's wedding
Comes with mystery and laughs
Fun transition tale

Transitional Short Story

When Alice Loweecey's series featuring nun Giulia transitioned publishers, it also featured a bit of a few cosmetic changes.  To help smooth over that transition, Alice released the short story "Changing Habits."

It's a week before Giulia Falcone's wedding to Frank Driscoll, her former boss and soon to be partner in Driscoll Investigations, and she has a few last-minute things to take care of.  You know, typical details for the week before the wedding like getting the wedding favors together, finding a wedding dress, and figure out who is switching the valuable items in various churches in the area for cheap fakes.  Nothing major, right?  When the latest theft hits close to home, Giulia is determined to find the guilty party.  Can she handle everything?

You'll remember I said short story.  Yes, this really is a short story; I read it in under an hour.  With everything crammed into the story, it moves quickly and there might not be the twists and turns you'd expect in a novel, but I found the story satisfying.

Likewise, there isn't a lot of time to get to know new facets of the characters.  However, as a fan of the main cast, it was great to pop in for a quick visit.  There are only one or two new characters in the story, and they serve their purpose well.

And we get a few chances to laugh along with Giulia and the gang.  It's one thing I love in this series, and we get a nice dose of it here.

Giulia's fans will be thankful they stopped in for a quick visit for "Changing Habits."  If you aren't yet a fan, this will whet your appetite for the full-length meal that are the novels.

Looking for more of Giulia's cases?  Here are the rest of the stories in order.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Movie Review: Silent Witness - A Ruby Herring Mystery

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong main characters and mystery
Cons: Stronger than usual dose of cheese
The Bottom Line:
A murdered baker
Puts Ruby on the crime beat
Cheesy but still fun

“Who Knew Bakers Could Be So Bitter?”

Hallmark's Christmas movies have proved to be very popular every year, and they seem determined to increase their mystery movie output to match.  They are starting at least four new franchises this year, which new movies in their popular franchises also planned.  And these new movies officially started with Silent Witness, the first Ruby Herring Mystery.

Ruby Herring (Taylor Cole) is a consumer investigative reporter for a local news station in Seattle.  However, as this movie is starting, she is taking some vacation time so she can be the maid of honor in her sister Charlotte's (Alyson Walker) wedding.  The wedding is taking place at a resort just outside of town, and baker Sugar Albert (Stelina Rusich), a family friend, is going to bake the wedding cake.

However, when Ruby and Charlotte go for a hike their first morning at the resort, they find Sugar's dead body.  The officer at the scene is quick to rule it an accident, but Ruby is suspicious, as is Detective Jake Killian (Stephen Huszar).  When her station asks her to poke around since she is already on the scene, she can't resist.  But will she uncover anything to prove it was murder?

The mystery here was quite good.  I wasn't sure who did it until Ruby figured things out at the end.  There were enough suspects and clues to keep us engaged and confused the entire way through.

However, this movie had a bigger than normal dose of Hallmark cheese.  Yes, the acting was hampered by it at times, but the writing was to blame for much of it.  I was cringing at some of the lines the actors were given to say.  Fortunately, that awkward dialog started to go away as the plot got going, although it did pop up again a time or two.  But then again, this is a Hallmark movie, so it isn't too surprising, right?  And it was certainly still worth watching.

I really did like the core characters in this movie.  Ruby and her family obviously love each other, and that is so nice to see.  Okay, so it also contributed to a bit of the cheese, but overall, I liked it.  Jake is obviously a potential love interest, and I enjoyed watching him spar with Ruby.

As long as you are prepared for the cheese, you'll enjoy Silent Witness.  The Ruby Herring Mysteries are off to a promising start.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Book Review: Not a Creature was Stirring by Christina Freeburn (Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great plot and characters
Cons: Some niggles, but not enough to make me a complete Scrooge
The Bottom Line:
Christmas crafting, death
Holiday infused story
In charming debut

Who was Enough of a Scrooge to Leave the Dead Body in Merry's Motorhome?

If my goal this year was to not start any new series until I'd caught up on a few of my series in progress, I'm failing.  Here we are in the second half of January, and this is my second new series by a new to me author.  But honestly, how could I pass up the Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mysteries?  Someone as obsessed with Christmas as I am?  And so I dove into the first book, Not a Creature was Stirring.

One of Merry Winters's favorite weekends each year is the Christmas Holiday Bazaar, held the weekend before Thanksgiving.  As a crafter and Christmas lover, she enjoys getting to sell her merchandise to others who are also ready to get into the Christmas spirit.  This weekend, she is extra excited because she's just bought a new RV from her ex-step-daughter.  She's hoping that this will allow her more flexibility, and she's planning to turn part of it into a mobile crafting studio.  This is a great chance to try it out.

While she's unloading, she discovers the body of her ex-husband hidden in a storage compartment of the RV.  Now, her dream is turning into a nightmare since the police are sure she killed the man.  True, she didn't like Samuel, but they hadn't been married long enough to truly hate him that much, right?  But the biggest question is, how did his dead body get into the RV?

If you love Christmas, you really do need to read this book.  Christmas oozes from every page.  Whether it's talk of Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, Christmas crafts, or comparing people to characters from Christmas stories, you can't help but get into the Christmas spirit.  Normally, this is a book I would save for reading in December, but I didn't want to do that with a book that was being released in January, and honestly, it was fun to have something that helped me hold on to the Christmas spirit just a little bit longer.

And yes, the book does have a strong mystery.  It starts out quickly, and it kept me engaged and guessing the entire time.  Yes, I did figure a couple of things out earlier than Merry did, but how they fit into the bigger picture was still unclear to me before Merry pieced them together.

Unfortunately, I did feel like the book needed one more polish before it was completely done.  While the climax made sense, I felt like a few things could use have been ironed out a bit more.  Additionally, it felt like Merry was too invested in her ex-husband's family for the amount of time they'd been married.  A few other things seemed to need a polish to be more consistent.  I was reading an ARC, so hopefully they were ironed out before the final version was released.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, and much of that was the characters.  Naturally, I really liked Merry and her love of Christmas, but her relationship with her family was really special.  Her business partner in the Merry & Bright Crafting business, Bright, is a hoot.  I would have loved to see more of her in the book.  There are a variety of suspects to keep us guessing, and they were all fleshed out with clear motives.

And I mentioned the twists, right?  Because the plot really did keep me engaged as well.

There is much to enjoy in Not a Creature was Stirring.  If you love Christmas, this book will put you in the holiday spirit no matter what time of year you read it.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I'm reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  Please go here to find the rest of the stops.

And please use the Rafflecopter below to enter a tour-wide giveaway.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Ornament Review: Merry Mickey - Disney Christmas Carolers - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun musical ornament
Cons: Price
The Bottom Line:
Mickey rings bell, sings
Part of interactive set
Merry, bright, and fun

Mickey Makes a Merry Start to Disney's Christmas Carolers

Hallmark introduced a new Power Cord in 2017 that allows ornaments to interact in fun new ways.  They immediately started creating ornaments for it from several of their licensed properties in an attempt to get people to try it out.  It certainly worked for me, which is why I bought all three of the Disney Christmas Carolers ornaments in 2018.  Merry Mickey gets things off to a great start.

These ornaments feature the Fab Three out caroling for our enjoyment.  This one features Mickey, who is the only caroler holding an instrument of any kind – a bell.  They are out caroling, after all.  Mickey is standing under a street light.  He's dressed in a blue jacket and a yellow scarf to help keep him warm, and he's holding a green book with carols in it.

Each ornament in the trio starts a different carol.  When you push the button on Mickey, he leads the others in singing "Jingle Bells."  No surprise since he's holding a bell, right?  The performance lasts about 40 seconds.  Meanwhile, the light above Mickey continues to glow when he is singing and Mickey's arm moves when he rings his bell.

Again, this ornament only produces this show if it is plugged into Hallmark's Power Cord, which is sold separately.  You can buy just Mickey and enjoy the show without the other two, but it is more fun when you have all three of them.

But here's something I confirmed this year - you don't need to have the ornaments plugged into the same Power Cord for them to work.  I'm not sure how far apart they can but, but I plugged my trio into two different cords on my two trees, which are just on opposite sides of my sliding glass door, and they worked just fine.

The ornament has a nice, flat, round base, so you can easily set it out to be displayed if you want.  Or you hang it from your tree, and you'll find that it hangs straight.

These ornaments are expensive, but they are fun.  Factor that in when you decide if you want to buy them.  But if you are willing to spend the money, you'll enjoy Merry Mickey.

Original Price: $34.99

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Book Review: The Missing Chums by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Fun adventure
Cons: Thin characters; dated elements
The Bottom Line:
Bank theft; kidnapping
Lead Hardys on a wild chase
Light weight but still fun

Who Kidnapped Chet and Biff?

I know I never read The Missing Chums as a kid.  My library didn't have a copy of this particular Hardy Boys book (I think I read all the ones they had), and I didn't buy a copy for myself.  The title always intrigued me since I wanted to know which of the Hardy’s friends went missing and what happened to them.  Now, as an adult, I finally know.

The only thing that could make summer vacation better for Frank and Joe Hardy is a mystery, and one is handed to them by Chief Collig when he asks them to go undercover at the homeless encampment outside of town and find out what is causing the increased fighting down there.  Before the teens can begin their assignment, they witness a bank robbery, however.  Then, after a costume party hosted by Callie Shaw and Iola Morton, their friends Chet and Biff vanish.  Can the brothers figure out what happened to their friends?  Are all these events connected?

I was a little worried when I started reading this book and saw how many different plot threads the story was introducing.  However, by the time that Chet and Biff vanish, the book stops introducing new plot threads and instead works on weaving these plots into a coherent whole.  Yes, by the time we reach the climax, we see how everything fits together, and it all makes sense.

My biggest issue with this book is the usual in this series - the characters.  While I remember them being more robust when I was a kid, they are very one dimensional.  There are just the basics of personalities there.  But I didn't mind as a kid, and I'm sure today's kids won't mind either.

The story has already been updated once, and this version from the 1950's is very dated once again.  The biggest thing is the word choice.  I mean, who says "chum" any more when referring to their friends?  Honestly, I think I only know this word thanks to this book.  Of course, the characters don't have cell phones, either.  Honestly, I enjoyed slipping back into this seemingly simpler world, but some readers might have trouble with these changes.  Then again, some kids will get caught up in the story and not even notice the dated elements.

I do want to address the homeless encampment for a moment.  We actually learn early on that many of the men who are living there do work, they just can't afford a place to live.  This is just one of the many ways that the book goes out of its way to avoid any negative stereotypes.  If you are worried about your kids picking up negative views of the homeless while reading this book, there really isn't anything to worry about.

While I wouldn't want to read a bunch of these books back to back, I do enjoy occasionally revisiting the Hardys and their chums for another adventure.  The Missing Chums is a fun mystery that will keep readers engaged as long as the dated elements don't bother them.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

January 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here are my thoughts for the week.

Angie Tribecca – I know, I know, the entire season 4 aired on TBS right before New Years.  It’s taken me this long to watch it all. Honestly, this season was very hot and cold.  I missed the characters they didn’t have, including the dog.  Sorry, but he didn’t do much.  They still had some very funny jokes, but overall, the season was rather ho hum.  With how it ended, I could see it being a series finale.  If so, I’m fine with that.  Not sure I would return for another season if it were to come back.

God Friended Me – I should have figured it was something like this when they teased us with so many friend suggestions at once.  Interesting how they wound up saving the building via a book.  The reader in me loves it!

The Flash – I saw that last scene coming.  Of course, Nora has to go get played.  What is up in the future, anyway?  Nice to see them at least mention Joe.  (The actor is out because of an injured back, but will be back in a few weeks.)  I’m curious what Detective Wells is on the trail of.

This is Us – I really thought they weren’t going to tell us who won the election there at the end.  Toby is such a great guy.  Why didn’t I see it in season 1?  Beth sure came around quickly, although I think she is going to be very upset again now that he’s won.  And poor Kevin keeps getting jerked around in his relationship.  I hope Zoe is worth it.

The Masked Singer – The panelists sure called it this week.  3 of the 5 were correct on who the singer was.  And this is something like I was expecting, someone not known for singing still giving it his all.  I am impressed with their courage to do that.

The Orville – I never suspected anything with the new love interest, although it did seem rather fast.  I like how they played out their relationship once the truth was revealed and they then had to work together to survive.  Made for a very interesting dynamic.  And I like the fact that it didn’t end with talk of peace, although this is a crack in the door they could use in the future.

The Big Bang Theory – I’m actually surprised.  I expected Sheldon to struggle with the idea of cutting Amy out of the project.  I’m glad he didn’t since it is the right thing to do, obviously.  Very funny about the gym at the end.  Meanwhile, I suspect that Penny working for Bernadette is going to go south before the season is over.

The Good Place – Okay, I could have done without the political commentary, but fortunately, that was a very small part of the episode.  If I didn’t know better, I would have said that was a season finale.  That could easily have been the season ending cliffhanger right there.  And it feels like a perfect set up for next season.  As it is, we get a new episode next week, so I’m very anxious to see where they are going with what is left of the season.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Book Review: Due or Die by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lovers Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs, good characters
Cons: Mystery uneven due to other storylines
The Bottom Line:
Friends of library
Bring Lindsay drama, murder
Uneven but fun

Due Read This Book

As you may have noticed, if I can, I will aim to read a book during the holiday where it is set.  I find that adds an extra bit of fun to the book.  Imagine my complete surprise when I picked up Due or Die, the second Library Lovers Mystery from Jenn McKinlay, and found that it was set in January.  Completely unplanned, but a very fun surprise.

With a new year comes a new election for president of the Friends of the Library.  While Lindsay Norris is not part of the group, she is thrilled when Carrie Rushton wins the position.  While the old president had held the position for many years, he wasn't effective at getting much done in the group.

When Carrie returns home from her first meeting as president, it is to find her husband shot in their living room.  Markus was not well liked in town, but the police seem to be focusing on Carrie as the killer.  Lindsay is sure she is innocent, but a huge winter storm coming in complicate the investigation.  Will anyone find the killer before the trail grows cold?

I just started this series a couple of months ago, and I was anxious to get back and spend more time with these group of friends.  There are a large group of minor characters that I still don't quite have all sorted out yet, but since they only are in a couple of scenes, it isn't that big a deal.  I was fully able to track the main characters, and I enjoyed seeing what happened to them next.  Meanwhile, the suspects brought in for this book were also strong.

I did feel the story got sidetracked with a couple of sub-plots, including the winter storm I teased earlier.  Now, I'm not saying I didn't enjoy these sub-plots, but they kept the mystery from being as strong as it could have been.  Having said that, things do pick up as we near the climax, and we reach a logical conclusion to everything.  I think there is a pretty major timeline issue with the ultimate solution to everything, however, but it didn’t bother me too much.

One reason I enjoyed this book so much is the humor.  While Jenn's books always make me chuckle at a minimum, I found myself laughing out loud multiple times as I was reading this book.

If you enjoy extras with your cozy, this one has plenty of them.  There is a book group discussion guide for Wuthering Heights, a crochet pattern, and two recipes.

I do wish the mystery were strong, but I still completely enjoyed Due or Die.  I'm glad I have many more adventures with Lindsay and the gang ahead of me.

If you are looking for more mysteries to check out, here are the rest of the Library Lover's Mysteries in order.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Movie Review: Peter Rabbit (2018)

Stars: 3 out of 5
: Genuine laughs and heart
Cons: Not a fan of slapstick
The Bottom Line:
Classic characters
Given new twist.  Some good laughs
But too much slap stick

Beatrix Potter Meets Home Alone

I must admit, Peter Rabbit wasn't high on my list of movies to watch.  While I have fond memories of the Beatrix Potter books, this movie didn't look like something I would enjoy.  However, when a group of friends decided to watch it, I discovered that there were some things I enjoyed more than I thought I would.

Life is almost perfect for Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden).  He is taking care of his triplet sisters and his cousin.  He's living life in the English countryside surrounded by many animal friends.  And he's made friends with Bea, a human (played by Rose Byrne).  Unfortunately, Old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill) is still insistent that Peter and the rest of the animals stay out of his garden.  But when the old man drops dead of a heart attack one day, Peter and the rest think their lives are now perfect.

Unfortunately, the property passes to Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), great-nephew of Old Mr. McGregor.  Thomas is just interested in quickly selling the property and moving back to London, but he is just as insistent that Peter and the rest stay out of his property.  Worse yet, he and Bea seem to be attracted to each other.  Will Peter ever gain access to the garden?

The preview really played up the fights that Thomas and Peter get into, and they are certainly a large part of the movie.  They are the over the top slapstick that are popular in many kids movies and are designed to make you laugh.  Here's a secret, however.  I don't find them that funny.  Instead, I'm cringing while everyone is laughing.  It's the main reason this movie wasn't high on my list of movies to see.  Having said that, there is a hand to hand fight between Thomas and Peter that is brilliantly funny.  Absurd, but funny.

When the movie came out, there was quite a bit of controversy because at one-point Peter uses Thomas's blackberry allergy to try to off him.  It is played for laughs, and those with allergies were upset.  Honestly, I don't see it as any different from electrocuting Thomas for laughs.  Neither are good things outside of the fake movie world.  And this is coming from someone with an allergy to tree nuts and many non-food things.

What did surprise me about the movie is the fact that I was laughing at it.  When it wasn't inflicting pain on Thomas, it provided some genuine laughs.  These come from the animals and their behavior as well as their take on humans.  The laughs were coming pretty steadily throughout the film, in fact.  I really did enjoy it more than I thought I would.

The story itself is fairly predictable.  There's nothing wrong with that if I am enjoying myself, and I found that I was.  The more serious and heart felt ending was definitely earned and quite good.

The cast all does a great job bringing their characters to life, whether they are playing humans, voicing animals, or doing both.  The animals are created with hyper-realistic animation, and they look fantastic.  Really, I am amazed by what they can do these days.

Fans of Beatrix Potter will find lots of little nods to enjoy.  Almost all the animals are characters from her various books.  It's been years since I read any of them, but I still recognized many of the names.  Bea is an artist whose modern paintings aren't that great, but her sketches of her animal friends look very much like the illustrations from the classic books.

So I'm glad I wound up watching Peter Rabbit.  Even though I didn't care for the brutal slapstick scenes, I still found myself laughing and smiling as I watched it.