Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Book Review: Staging is Murder by Grace Topping (Laura Bishop Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good characters and mystery
Cons: Pacing could be a little stronger early on
The Bottom Line:
A client murdered
And assistant arrested
In this fun debut

Starting a New Business is Murder

With so many cozy mysteries and themes out there, it always amazes me when I run across one I haven’t seen before.  That is the case with Staging is Murder, the first Laura Bishop Mystery from Grace Topping.  Laura is just starting a business as a home stager, someone who helps people selling their homes make them look more attractive to prospective buyers.  Of course, her business gets off to a rocky start when her first client in murdered.

That first client is Victoria Denton.  Victoria has a reputation in their small Pennsylvania town of being difficult, to put it mildly.  Despite warnings from her friend, Nita, Laura takes on the job of getting the old house that Victoria lives in ready to sell because she knows that, if Victoria is happy, her praise will help Laura gain future clients easily.  The problem is, the rooms are crowded with knickknacks and furniture, and Victoria doesn’t see anything wrong with how it looks, so each change that Laura wants to make proves to be difficult to implement.

Working late one night, Laura is shocked to find Victoria’s dead body.  The police are quick to zero in on Laura’s college aged assistant, Tyrone.  However, Laura doesn’t believe Tyrone is guilty for a minute.  With prompting from Tyrone’s grandmother, she begins to investigate.  The problem is, the number of people who might have wanted Victoria dead is endless.  Can Laura find the real killer?

Since this is the first book in a new series, we are meeting everyone here for the first time, and I enjoyed getting to know Laura and her friends.  They have a little room to grow and become stronger as the series progresses, but I definitely felt like they were on their way to becoming strong characters that will bring us back for many books in a series.

The murder takes place pretty quickly, but then the book bogs down a bit as Laura tries to figure out how to start her investigation.  Okay, so I admit that I would struggle with the same things she does, but it did make the pacing a bit uneven.  Fortunately, once Laura truly begins to investigate, the pace picks up and I was hooked.  I especially appreciated how direct Laura’s sidekicks could be at times in their questioning.  I’m afraid if I were to ever take on a mystery, I’d never figure out a way to ease into interviewing my suspects and I’d be just as direct.  Just one more reason I’m better off leaving the mystery solving to the pages of books.  The climax resolves everything in a fun and creative way.

Speaking of mystery books, Laura is a mystery fan herself, and there are references to well-known mystery series scattered through the book as Laura wonders what various main characters would do in the situation she’s currently in.  Even though I have not read all the books that she references, I still found them fun.

Each chapter starts with a helpful hint for staging your own home.  Honestly, reading those made me think about the state my condo is in.  It would take me forever to get it ready to sell.  Good thing I don’t have any plans to sell it any time soon, right?

If, like me, you are looking for fun new hooks for cozy mystery series, you’ll be delighted to pick up Staging is Murder.  Author Grace Topping has staged a fun debut that promises more fun books to come.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Movie Review: Avengers Endgame

Stars: 5 out of 5
: Amazing conclusion to a decade of storytelling
Cons: A couple nitpicks, but nothing worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Epic conclusion
Wraps up decade plus of films
Will satisfy fans

Epic.  Absolutely Epic.

Much has been made of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and for good reason.  Marvel Studios has attempted to do something no one else has done – create a single story with multiple threads across films released over more than a decade and from multiple franchises.  Just thinking about it all is daunting, right?  Now factor in the many people involved behind the scenes, and the process gets even more staggering.  But fans have been along for the ride from the beginning, and the number of fans has grown over the years as the box office returns have shown.  It has all lead up to this movie, the appropriately titled Avengers: Endgame.

Let’s discuss spoilers.  There won’t be any.  I promise, I will be talking about the movie in general enough terms that you will still go into this movie ready for surprises and twists.

The film picks up about three weeks after the end of Infinity War.  Those who have been left behind by Thanos are regrouping and ready to confront him again in hopes of reversing what he did.  But will it really be that simple?

Yes, that’s all the plot teaser I’m giving you.  Heck, I’m not even going to list characters and actors.  Let’s fact it, if you’ve been following the movies at all, you’ll know who is in the films and who is playing the characters by this point.

And if you aren’t familiar with the films, DON’T JUMP IN HERE.  Seriously, you will be lost and confused.  This film does a decent job of refreshing your memory, but if you haven’t seen anything, there isn’t enough to help.  Take the time to go back and watch the earlier movies.  It will take a lot of time, but it will be worth it.

Frankly, I must admit that my memory is a little rusty.  Yes, I’ve seen all the movies, but each of them only once, and they are stretching back a decade or so at this point, so a few of the characters that popped up for cameos were a little hazy for me.

And yes, if you have been following these movies all along, then you will be richly rewarded.  There are so many quick nods and cameos that you can’t help but smile along the way.

This movie will pull out all the emotions as you watch.  There are some very touching moments that will make you tear up.  And there are some wonderfully funny moments that will genuinely make you laugh.  Many of the audience members I was with cheered along the way as well.  It’s hard not too with how much we have grown to love these characters.  Yes, even the characters I originally didn’t care for I’ve come to love at this point.

As expected, this movie ties in the movies that have come out in the last year, so not only do we get the resolution to the cliffhangers of Infinity War, but also Ant-Man and the Wasp.  Meanwhile, Captain Marvel is pulled in as well.  Trust me, everything comes into play.

I was worried that three hours would feel too long.  Yes, a time or two, I felt the movie was just beginning to drag, but that feeling never lasted for more than a few minutes.  With the number of characters and what they need to do, I can’t imagine this film being any shorter and properly telling this story.  Yes, the time invested in seeing this film is completely worth it.

The usual comments about acting and effects apply.  The acting was great throughout, and I thought the effects were amazing.  One or two moments during the climatic battle looked a bit off, but I’m being nitpicky here.

As long as I’m being nitpicky, there was one aspect of the story and its resolution I didn’t necessarily care for, but to go further would involve spoilers.  It’s minor, and it’s certainly not something to dwell on.

They definitely brought a couple of character’s stories to a close here.  I found those endings extremely bittersweet yet also perfect.  When you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I mean.

There are further avenues they can explore, and I know they are working on plans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward.  But for now, I will revel in the satisfaction from watching Avengers: Endgame.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

TV Show Review: Friends - Season 9

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Many laughs with characters we love
Cons: The Ross/Rachel storyline is beyond done
The Bottom Line:
Next to last season
Show aging with tired stories
But still some good laughs

The One with All the Love Triangles

As much as I love Friends, it was obvious even when it originally aired that the writers were running out of ideas by the time they hit the ninth season.  Yes, there are definitely still some episodes that make me laugh here, but their attempts to stretch things out was beginning to wear thin.

As is usually the case on this show, season nine picks up just moments after season eight ended so we could resolve the cliffhanger from the end of last season.  Joey (Matt LeBlanc) has just “proposed” to Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) who has said yes.  The complications?  The ring Joey is holding actually belongs to Ross (David Schwimmer), Joey had only found it and wasn’t really proposing, and Rachel just had a baby with Ross, even though they aren’t together.  Already, you can see what I mean about storylines growing thin, right?  I remember back when the season eight finale ended, I was rolling my eyes.  Fortunately, they get this particular soap opera plot point resolved quickly, at least in the season nine premier.

Over the course of the season, Chandler (Matthew Perry) accidentally takes a transfer to Tulsa, Oklahoma, while his wife Monica (Courtney Cox) stays behind due to a new job as the head chef in a prestigious restaurant.  But before the season is over, Chandler is back in town and starting on a new career.  Meanwhile, the couple is also attempting to start a family of their own.  Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) finds a steady boyfriend in Mike (recurring guest star Paul Rudd), only to be thrown when old flame David (recurring guest star Hank Azaria) returns to town.  And Ross and Rachel try to balance their new daughter with work and living together without being a couple.

As I mentioned, there are some fantastic episodes here.  The Thanksgiving episode, when we meet Rachel’s youngest sister Amy as played by Christina Applegate, is easily the highlight and certain to make you laugh.  Chandler balancing Monica and Joey when he’s home during his Tulsa story arc also provides some good laughs.  Watching Phoebe with Mike is also a lot of fun, especially since Phoebe had never had much luck in the romance department before this.

But by this point, I was beyond ready for Ross and Rachel to be together.  They had teased us with this soap opera long enough, and adding Joey’s crush on Rachel to the mix didn’t help at all.  (In the commentaries, the creators of the show talk about how split the audience was.  Sorry, I don’t know any fans who weren’t rolling their eyes at these developments.)  As the season begins to draw to a close, Rachel begins to reconsider her feelings for Joey just as Joey and Ross develop their own interest in Ross’s new co-workers Charlie (Aisha Tyler).  This all leads to a season finale set in Barbados that also features the climax of Phoebe’s love triangle.  At least she got a resolution to hers this season unlike the now two triangles we have going on with Ross, Rachel, Joey, and Charlie.

Really, I do laugh, and I enjoy the majority of the episodes, I just find these long drawn out romantic stories to be frustrating.  Clearly, the writers were afraid of killing the show with getting more characters together, but I feel they did the opposite instead.

Anyway, the cast continues to shine.  The guest star list continues to be impressive as well, including Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Jeff Goldblum along with those I’ve already named.  While the storylines might annoy, I do still find plenty to laugh about as I watch this season.

Of course, one laugh is completely unintended.  Baby Emma, who is prominent is many of the early episodes this season, begins to vanish as the season goes along.  Heck, they don’t even include a line about who is watching her when the gang heads to Barbados for the season finale.

Season nine was the final season to have 24 episodes.  They are all preserved in the DVD set on four discs.  Extras include the standard three episode commentaries with the executive producers.  There’s also a featurette about the style of the show, a gag reel, a trivia game, and a music video.

Longtime fans will certainly find things to laugh at and enjoy here, but it is obvious that Friends is ready to wind down with the ninth season.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

April 27th's Weekly TV Thoughts

We are officially in May sweeps.  Only one season finale this week, however, but let the wild and crazy plot twists begin.

Supergirl – They’ve done a good job this season, I will give them this.  Even with a character as powerful as Supergirl, I’m wondering how they will resolve everything and clear her name.  She is fighting against overwhelming odds, even with her friends on her side.  Still hate the political overtones, but I am hooked to see how they will figure everything out.

Legends of Tomorrow – I’m glad Ava and Sara have made up.  I do like them as a couple.  Ray is possessed now?  That is going to be interesting.  I’m sorry that things didn’t work out for Constantine.  At least not in this episode.  I just wonder what Nate is going to do with the theme park.

Arrow – So Archer is gone.  And we learned more about Diggle’s back story.  About the biggest real news from the episode is that Oliver’s half-sister knows the truth about her mother’s murder now, but otherwise not too many interesting developments.

The Flash – Here’s the thing, both Barry and Iris were right in their opening fight.  And in their apologies at the end.  I’m glad they didn’t drag the fight out for a few episodes.  I’m glad Iris noticed what I’ve noticed about Thawn.  I’m still not sure what he is up to, but I’m intrigued.  I’m sad that they’ve turned Nora evil.  Can’t you deal with parental relationship issues without turning evil?  Like Caitlin here or so many of the characters on Arrow.

Survivor – It only took how many weeks?  I think they’ve talked about Wardog since week 2 if not week 1.  Personally, I’m glad to see him out finally.  But when are the people on Edge going to get a chance to come back into the game?  I assuming it will be one person like last time, and that will be the end of it.  But who knows.  They could do anything to shake things up.

The Amazing Race – Well, I’m bummed.  Not surprised, but bummed.  I love Rupert and Laura and wanted to see them win, or at least go far.  As cool as that elephant challenge looked (and the teams seemed to be enjoying it), it definitely seemed like one of those challenges where it was impossible to pass a team, and the wrong elephant could definitely ruin your day.

The Big Bang Theory – That was a fun episode.  I loved seeing Leonard standing up for himself, or at least trying to.  And can I say how nice it is to see President Sebert again this season?  I do feel for Raj, but I like the fact that his girlfriend is still around.  Ever since they called off their wedding, I am liking their relationship so much more.

The Orville – That was EPIC!  Okay, so it didn’t come as a big surprise given what we know about alternative timelines, but still, what a way to end the season.  So many episodes this season have felt like more than a TV episode, and this one did as well.  The graphics, too, were out of this world.  Literally, right?  So glad I’m watching this show.

Abby’s – I’ll confess, the main reason I continued this series is that I realized The Orville ended this week, so I’d definitely have time on Thursdays to watch this show going forward.  And I’m glad I did.  This was more what I was expecting.  Okay, so the big twist of the story I was expecting (I knew she wouldn’t really get the money), but I had fun along the way, and that’s mainly what I expect from a sitcom.  Poor Dan, I loved his bits.  So many fun moments along the way.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Book Review: Barking Mad at Murder by Jacqueline Vick (Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Good mystery, plenty of fun
Cons: Some minor pacing issues
The Bottom Line:
Vision of murder
A good plot infused with fun
Glad I picked it up

Something Different, but Fun

You’ve probably noticed that I tend to shy away from paranormal cozies.  Yes, there are exceptions, but for the most part I avoid them.  So, what lead me to pick up Barking Mad at Murder?  This is the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic Mystery, after all.  I met the author at a local author event several years ago.  After chatting with her most of the day, I had to buy one of her books.  Yes, it did take me a while to read it, but I’m glad I finally picked it up.

Frankie Chandler makes her living as a pet psychic in a small town in Arizona.  There’s just one problem – she’s a fake.  She really uses cues from her knowledge of human and animal behavior and fakes her visions to help pet owners with their pets’ behavior.  So, you can imagine how surprised Frankie is when a dog named Sandy actually gets through and gives her a vision of a murder.  She’s willing to write off the entire thing as a bad dream until a body matching the victim in the vision turns up in the desert.  Can Frankie figure out what really happened?  Does Sandy know more than Frankie got in the first vision?

Okay, I’ll confess.  Even knowing the premise of the book, it still took me a few chapters to fully embrace the fact that animals could communicate with Frankie.  That’s on me.  I will say, once I did get into that world, I really did enjoy it.  After all, Frankie is just beginning to really communicate with animals, so she doesn’t know what to expect or how it works.  It was fun watching her explore that.

Overall, the plot is good.  I did think the pacing was a bit off a time or two, but never for very long.  Since Frankie is also new to investigating a murder, she stumbles a time or two on her way to figuring everything out, but she gets there.  Along the way, we get a good sub-plot to help keep our attention.  The climax was great and resolves all the questions we had over the course of the book.

Since this is the first book with these characters, we spend a little time getting to know Frankie and her friends.  I can already tell who I want to become series regulars.  Some of them have a little room to grow, but that’s often the case with the first in a series.  Considering Frankie wasn’t looking for love, the book ends with a romantic triangle.  Honestly, I like both guys, so whoever Frankie winds up with would be okay with me.  The suspects were certainly good, which helped keep me confused.

One reason I picked up the book was because I was expecting some humor, and I wasn’t disappointed.  While I may not have been laughing out loud on every page I was grinning frequently at the predicaments that Frankie managed to get herself into.  Occasionally, I was cringing as well, but that’s more my sense of humor than an issue with the book.

I’m glad I took the detour to Barking Mad at Murder.  This is a good series opener wrapped in humor.  Anyone looking for a light, fun read will be rewarded when they pick up this book.

The rest of the Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic Mysteries are calling to you.  Can you hear it?

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

April 26th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've made it to Friday, and that can only mean it is time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring The Scent of Murder, the first in a new series from Kylie Logan.


I just finished this book yesterday, and it is FANTASTIC!  I'll be reviewing it next Thursday ahead of its 5/7 release.
Here's how the book begins:

It had rained that afternoon and the sidewalks were still wet. When the last of the evening light hit them, the slate squares reflected Jazz Ramsey’s neighborhood—streetlights, and the neon signs that flashed from the windows of the trendy pubs, and a watery rendering of St. John Cantius church, an urban Monet masterpiece, its tan brick walls and bell tower blurred.

Sets the scene, doesn't it?  Moving ahead to 56% into the book, we find this scene.  Jazz, the main character, is talking to the murder victim's roommates.

"And she was weird," Croc put in.
Since Croc had already settled in with a game of Call of Duty, Jazz turned to Meg for the answer.  "Was she?"
She laughed.  "Hey, I'm a theater major over at Case.  I see weird all the time!  I wouldn't exactly call Florie weird, I'd say she was...strange."

I hope you'll come back to see my thoughts on this book next week.  Meanwhile, my review of the book I featured last week will be up today.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Movie Review: Countdown to Murder - Morning Show Mysteries

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, great characters
Cons: Slightly higher helping of cheese
The Bottom Line:
A grocer’s murder
Movie with strong mystery
Light and fun to watch

Murder of a Grocer

If I’ve had one issue with the Morning Show Mysteries, I have felt they’ve focused on Billie Blessings’s restaurant over her job on the morning show Wake Up, West Coast.  Yes, the first movie was mostly set around the TV studio, but we haven’t spent more than a scene or two there since.  That certainly changed with Countdown to Murder, this week’s addition to the franchise.

In fact, the movie starts out on the set of Wake Up, West Coast as Billie (Holly Robinson Peete) discovers the cupboards are bare.  They groceries that were supposed to come in for her cooking segment from Fairweather Market haven’t arrived, which isn’t like them.  When Billie discovers the same thing has happened at the restaurant, she heads down to investigate.  She arrives to find the police there, including her new boyfriend, Detective Ian Jackson (Rick Fox).  The owner, Art Fairweather, was found dead in the back of the store.

However, rumors are quickly flying that there was more to his death than the tragic accident it first appears to be.  And the discovery of a rubber ducky with his eyes crossed out lend credence to that theory.  Another death with another duck makes it look like someone is out to destroy Fairweather Market.  But why?

I know what I said in the beginning, but this really does allow for more scenes at the studio, especially since they begin to cover this as a local news story.  Several of the plot complications involve various members of the studio team as well.  While they have always been around, it was nice to see more of them.

Unfortunately, the time in the studio seemed to up the cheese factor in this movie.  This is especially true when the characters are “on air.”  It just never comes across well.  Fortunately, if you are a fan of Hallmark movies in general, you are used to it, and it doesn’t hamper the enjoyment much.

Especially because this is another intriguing mystery.  I was confused all the way through because none of the pieces felt like they were right to me.  Of course, once Billie figures everything out, it makes perfect sense.

As much as I’ve been talking about the studio, we do still get a few scenes at the restaurant, which is good since I love the supporting characters no matter which part of Billie’s life they are part of.  This is especially true for Aunt Cassandra, as played by Karen Robinson.  She is a hoot.

And the romance?  Yes, it takes a back seat to the mystery, but I love watching Holly Robinson Peete and Rick Fox on screen together, so I’m rooting for their characters to continue moving forward with their relationship.

Countdown to Murder is another entertaining mystery with a fantastic cast of characters.  If you’ve been enjoying the Morning Show Mysteries, be sure to check this one out.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Book Review: Lights! Camera! Puzzles! by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #20)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Enjoyable for series fans
Cons: Weak on plot and humor
The Bottom Line:
Movie set murder
Weak entry in the series
Only for the fans

Puzzling Murder on a Movie Set

I was so pleased to see that the Puzzle Lady series was continuing this year with Lights! Camera! Puzzles!  When this series is on, the plots are fun and the antics of the characters make me laugh.  Sadly, this book didn’t live up to the potential of the premise or the best books in the series.

Cora Felton, famed Puzzle Lady, is having her worst nightmare come true.  Not only has Melvin’s tell all book about their disastrous marriage hit the bestseller lists, but now it is being made into a movie.  She agrees to become an associate producer on the film in hopes of control some of the damage even if it means she has to spend time with her least favorite ex-husband on a daily basis.

Before things can even get started, however, tragedy visits the set when a production assistant is killed.  The police aren’t sure what to make of it, but Cora isn’t that concerned since it has nothing to do with her.  However, as things continue to go wrong on the film, she begins to take a more active interest.  Can she figure out who is behind everything happening?

The best entries in this series can be a lot of fun.  The mysteries might not be the most intricately plotted, but the laughs as the characters banter back and forth more than make up for it.  The emphasis on dialogue usually makes the pages fly by.

Unfortunately, the banter wasn’t working here.  Yes, I did get some laughs at Cora’s word play with various characters, but it wasn’t consistent and some of the interactions became repetitive and felt forced.  Since that’s the star of the books, it was disappointing.  This is especially the case since Cora and Melvin have some epic battles of wits at times, so I expected so much knowing Melvin would be featured in this book.

Much of this book takes place on locations the film is using around New York City as it is filming.  While Cora does head home to Bakerhaven, Connecticut, each night, we don’t see much of the series regulars beyond her immediate family.  I missed some of the other regulars, and the new characters didn’t make up for their absence.  I’ll admit that the characters in this series are on the thin side, something that has always been the case, but over time we’ve gotten to know the regulars.  New characters just can’t pick up the slack in the same way in one book.

In the early books, Cora was the anti-cozy lead character since she drank like a fish and smoked like a chimney.  That was slowly gone away, but she still swears.  I’m sure her vocabulary is quite colorful, but we only get the mild swear words here, although there are a few more than normal in this entry.

And the mystery itself?  It is more a series of events that Cora suddenly figures out in the end.  I was happy to see that Cora received an actual clue that helped her put everything together, but there weren’t a lot of clues or red herrings along the way, just events.

Fans of puzzles will be happy to learn we get a crossword puzzle and a Sudoku over the course of the book.

I know this all sounds like the book is bad, and it is easy to point out the book’s short comings.  However, I was entertained as I read it, and I found it a fast read.  Fans who want to catch Cora’s latest adventures will want to pick it up, but this is not a book for the casual fan to read.

So, I’m not sorry I picked up Lights! Camera! Puzzles!  But I certainly hope that our next visit with Cora is better thought out.

Looking for more puzzling mysteries?  Here are the rest of the Puzzle Lady Mysteries.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Ornament Review: Batman - 2018 Hallmark Miniature Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Captures classic Batman perfectly
Cons: Only if you aren’t expecting a mini ornament
The Bottom Line:
A classic Batman
He’s springing into action
In miniature

Batman Joined the Mini Justice League in 2018

When I think of DC Comics, the big three I think of are Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman.  I’m sure that’s why Batman was one of the two miniature ornaments added to Hallmark’s mini Justice League collection in 2018.

This Batman is a classic comic book Batman.  He’s mostly in gray and blue, gray costume with blue mask, cape, and gloves.  He has a yellow utility belt and yellow and black symbol on his chest.

Now, I did mention this is a miniature ornament, right?  Because that is important to keep in mind.  He’s the size of a coin, being 1.5 inches at his longest.  You’ll definitely want to keep that in mind when you purchase him since you’ll need to make sure you have a place to display this mini ornament before you do.

Fortunately, I have a miniature tree, and this Batman is perfect for it.  He might be small, but he still looks amazing with many tiny details on him.  I still can’t get over how they do that.  While you can’t set him out since he’s in mid-jump into a fight with a villain, I wouldn’t want to, anyway.  It was be too easy for him to be missed and lost.  However, when you go to hang him on your tree, you’ll find that he hangs straight.

I know miniature ornaments aren’t for everyone.  But if you like them, then I highly recommend you add Batman to your pop culture mini ornament collection.

Original Price: $7.99

Monday, April 22, 2019

Book Review: The Sentry by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #14)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Development on Pike, fast paced plot
Cons: Could have toned down language and violence
The Bottom Line:
A fast-paced thrill ride
Bit too much violence, language
Still, fans will enjoy

Wrong Place, Wrong Time – But for Whom?

I am inching closer to being up to date on the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series.  As I do, I am noticing that the humor in the earlier books that helped make them enjoyable for me is missing as each entry seems to get more hard boiled.  Yet I still enjoyed my time with this duo in The Sentry.

It all started because Joe Pike stopped to put air in his tires.  While he is at the service station, he notices two suspicious men about to enter a sandwich stop across the street.  Pike follows them and stops them from beating up the owner, Wilson Smith.  When Pike is waiting to talk to the police, he meets Wilson’s niece, Dru Rayne.  Wilson and Dru have resettled in California, trying to put their lives back together after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina five years ago.  Joe is drawn to Dru, so he gives her his number in case anything else does.

The two men Pike interrupted were members of a notorious gang, and they return for revenge.  When Pike brings his friend and partner Elvis Cole into the case, Elvis begins to uncover clues that things aren’t quite what they appear to be.  What has the innocent act of stopping at a service station and doing a good deed gotten the duo into?

Thanks to the multiple view point storytelling and the prologue, we have a sense what else is really going on before Pike and Cole do.  Having said that, we aren’t bored since there is so much more than that happening in this book.  The action starts from the first chapter and keeps going until we reach the climax.  My attention never wavered.

Of course, the action does bring with it increased violence.  Yes, I know to expect that going into the book since I’ve read so many others by the author at this point.  Still, it seems over the top at times here.  We could have gotten the sense for what happened without the descriptions given.  Likewise, the language, while realistic, was also over the top.  Both of these are complaints I’ve had in the past, so this is nothing new.

While we get some scenes from a couple other characters, the majority of the story is told from either Pike or Cole’s third person point of view.  In the past, when we switched over to Cole in a book focused on Pike, we’d get first person narration and his old sense of humor.  Here, it sticks with third person, and we lose some of the humor as a result.  However, we still get interesting insight into both of these men as a result of this technique.  It’s why I consider this a book about both of them even if Joe Pike is rightly listed as the main character on the cover. While Elivs Cole’s development is interesting, I’m happy to see that Joe Pike is continuing to grow into a great character, following the trend of the last few books to move him away from being a one note character.  We do get to see a few of the recurring characters here, although most are reduced to cameos.

The audio book for this entry in the series was narrated by Luke Daniels.  There have been so many narrators at this point that I’m losing track of whether I’ve heard him before or not.  Regardless, I felt he did a good job bringing the story to life for us without overshadowing the story.

For me, this book would have been better if the violence and language had been toned down a little, but I realize I’m alone in that assessment.  Author Robert Crais has many fans, and any of them who haven’t read The Sentry yet will completely enjoy it.

Missing some of their cases?  Here are the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Mysteries in order.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Movie Review: The Commuter

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Heart pounding action
Cons: Slow start, ignores timing they established
The Bottom Line:
A killer trip home
Filled with heart pounding action
Fun mindless action

Going Home Might Just Be the Death of His Family

I actually don't remember hearing about The Commuter when it came out.  Then again, I don't often watch for thrillers or action movies in general, so that's probably why this one passed me by.  And the premise wouldn't have necessarily caught my attention either.  Yet, when a group of friends was trying to decide on a movie recently, this is the one we wound up watching, and I'm glad we did.

Through a montage, we meet Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) as he goes about his life.  We see him interacting with his wife and son (Elizabeth McGovern and Dean-Charles Chapman), getting ready for work, and interacting with his fellow passengers on his train ride into New York City where he sells life insurance.  Michael is a former cop, and he and his wife and struggling to make ends meet, especially with his son about to go to college.

Which is why he is shocked and upset when he is called into his boss's office this particular day and fired.

Still in a daze and unsure how to tell his wife, he gets on the train for the trip home.  While riding, he is approached by a stranger (Vera Farmiga) who gives him an interesting proposition.  If he will correctly identify one of his fellow passengers, he will earn $100K.  Suddenly, he finds himself in a cat and mouse game with deadly consequences for everyone he knows.  Can he identify the target?  What will happen to the target if he does?  What will happen to him, his family, and his fellow passengers if he doesn’t?

The movie starts off a bit slowly.  Yes, I get we needed the set-up, both in who Michael is and the turn his life has taken.  I'm not saying the time is wasted.  But I was very ready for the action to start by the time it did.

But once it did, hold on.  This movie becomes a twisty ride that grabs your attention and never lets go.  That's a good thing since it isn't completely logical if you think about some of the things that happen.  But as you are watching, things seem logical, and you get caught up in the tension as the seconds tick by.

Actually, that was my biggest issue with this part of the movie.  They talk about how long it takes the train to reach each stop, but the movie takes a lot longer than it should between each stop.  I was well aware of how time had slowed down, but I didn't really care because I was caught up in the action.

And there is plenty of action.  Yes, Michael has to spend time identifying potential targets and eliminating them, but they manage to work in some good action on a commuter train.  There's really only one set piece, but it is spectacular, with believable special effects.

This really is Liam Neeson's movie, and he shines.  The rest of the cast is just as sharp, but his character is the only one with enough screen time to really be developed.  As the pressure builds, he shows us how Michael is struggling to save the day against odds he is only beginning to understand.

While I might not have picked The Commuter to watch on my own, I'm glad I did.  When you are looking for an action-packed action flick, this is definitely one to consider.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

April 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

God Friended Me – So clearly we know what the big story of the season is, and I’m thrilled that they were able to resolve that as well.  Obviously, they could have turned this into a series finale if they’d needed to, but I’m glad to know the show will be coming back.  Especially after that cliffhanger.  What is going on there at the end with someone else having the God account now?

Legends of Tomorrow – That was fun.  It would have been more fun if I were a fan of Austen, but I still got a kick out of it.  I guess Nate’s dad really is dead.  I assumed he was just near death and they’d figure out a way to revive him, but that’s clearly wrong.  And I had forgotten about the main demon of the season, so it was nice to remember what the stakes are for everyone.

Arrow – I’d been hearing a lot about this episode and the Birds of Prey coming together.  It was great to have Sara back, although I have to wonder since when did she have a canary cry?  I’m guessing that was our Laurel’s cry, but I don’t remember Sara taking it.  I liked how they got through to Laurel, and for once a good thing in the future storyline.  But is that it for Laurel now?  They are going to be down serious actors for the final season next year.

The Flash – I get it.  I really do.  And I’m wondering if Reverse Flash was really up to something or if he was actually being a good guy for a change.  I’d still like to know that.  But boy do I feel for Nora there at the end.  I still say she and Reverse Flash were up to something else, something other than catching Cicada.  I wasn’t that into most of the episode, but wow did that ending pack a punch.

Survivor – So there was the two tribals in one night episode I thought we were getting last week.  And both of them took out returning players.  I do feel a bit for those who go home with an idol in their pocket because they were blindsided.  I get it, it is hard to know when to play it or not.  I’ve really changed on that over the last few years of watching the show.  Sometimes, yes, the person was stupid, but I think tonight Kelly got played and played well.

The Amazing Race – So very glad this show is back.  I’m rooting for Rupert, but I’m not surprised how he and his wife did on the show.  I figured he’d get lost easily.  I mean, 2 hours in the park?  He did climb the mountain faster than I expected.  But they are still around for at least one more leg.

Big Bang Theory – Yes, it is time for the show to end.  I’ve loved it for years, but it just isn’t funny any more.  The jokes and the plots are predictable at this point.  I’m sorry it is ending after it should have.

The Orville – I was not expecting that ending.  Obviously, this time distortion was something new, and the mindwipe didn’t work.  So what is the fallout going to be?  Looks pretty bad next week.

Abby’s – Either I wasn’t in a mood to laugh Thursday night (See my post on Big Bang Theory), or I’m rapidly losing interest in this show.  Mildly amusing, but I’m already getting sick of how some of the characters interact with each other.

Friday, April 19, 2019

April 19th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Three weeks in a row.  It's been months since I was so consistent with these Friday posts.

This week for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  And I'm featuring Barking Mad at Murder by Jacqueline Vick.


This book features a pet psychic, definitely something different for me.  Okay, so it's still a cozy mystery, so it's only the paranormal aspect is that different for me.
Here's how the book begins:

There it was again.  A high-pitched buzz that tickled at my ears.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find this:

"Something really traumatic must have happened to force her to manifest in a physical way in such a short span of time.  What was it?"

I finished this book earlier this week, and I enjoyed it.  Look for my review this coming Friday.

In the meantime, enjoy your Easter weekend.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Review: With a Kiss I Die by J. A. Hennrikus (Theater Cop Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery; great characters
Cons: Some might find the beginning a little slow (but it is worth it)
The Bottom Line:
A play disaster
Plus murder after party
Equals page turner

This Book, By Any Other Name, Would be as Addicting

Given the number of books I read, sometimes I forget just how much I love a series or set of characters until I encounter them again.  That was definitely the case with Sully and the gang in the Theater Cop Mysteries.  I remembered enjoying the first book, but I’d forgotten just how much until I picked up their second adventure, With a Kiss I Die.

February is a slower season for Edwina “Sully” Sullivan in her job working as the administrator for the Cliffside Theater since they are a summer theater company.  Sully is using the time to work on grant applications so the company can build their own theater.  The biggest and best chance is with the Century Foundation, and Sully feels that application is just about ready.

Meanwhile, Dimitri, the theater’s resident director, has gone down to Boston to direct a production of Romeo and Juliet.  It’s a last-minute job since the previous director’s vision wasn’t going well.  Unfortunately, Dimitri is stuck with some of the previous director’s choices.  When Sully gets a chance to go down to Boston to try to help, she jumps at the chance since it would also allow her to do a little schmoozing with the heads of the Century Foundation.

However, when she arrives in Boston, she finds that rumors of the play’s issues weren’t exaggerated.  Even worse, a celebratory dinner ends in a murder.  While Sully may not be a cop any more, she still finds herself drawn into the events, especially when people start disappearing.  Can she figure out what happened?

Early in the book, we get plenty of goings on related to the play and what a disaster it could turn out to be.  Layers to the bigger mystery are being introduced as well, so when the murder does happen, we are off and running.  Still, those looking for the murder to happen early might be a bit disappointed.  Personally, I was enjoying the book before the murder took place, and I was hooked even more when that happened.  I raced through this book in two days instead of my normal three because I had to know what was going on.  In fact, I spent time I should have spent on other things reading that second day to finish.  Yes, I found the solution completely satisfying when I reached the end.

It didn’t take me long to get back into the characters in this series and remember just how much I loved them.  Even though the book mostly takes place in Boston, we still get to see quite a few of the characters we met in the first book, and it is obvious how much they all care for each other.  These are real people with real relationships.  They also have multiple ties to the events of this book and the suspects, which help make us care about the outcome and help make those characters feel real as well.

Since Sully was a cop in Boston several years ago, she is a different main character for a traditional mystery series.  She knows proper procedure, and she cares about making the case.  However, this still reads as a traditional mystery and not a police procedural.  In fact, author J. A. Hennrikus finds ways for Sully to investigate and get clues without stepping on police toes, which I really appreciated.  Her relationships with the cops in town also cause some added friction.

Notice I said traditional instead of cozy in that last paragraph?  The author herself describes this as a traditional series.  There is a smattering of mild foul language here, beyond that, there is nothing here that would keep this from being a cozy in my opinion.  The fact that Sully is a former cop and works more closely with the cops doesn’t really change the tone of the series.

How that I’m done with Sully’s second adventure, I’m left wanting more.  Pick up With a Kiss I Die today.  Then you can be like me hoping that the author will continue the series soon.

NOTE: I received a copy of the book

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Movie Review: A Murder in Mind - Morning Show Mysteries

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Complex mystery, good characters
Cons: Light dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Actress and murder
Evidence points to guilty
Can Billie clear friend?

“I Wish She’d Stick to the Baking and Leave the Murders to Me.”

Hallmark Movies and Mysteries seems to have decided to give us movie marathons this year, with several entries in a franchise coming out once a week during a month.  Personally, I preferred it when they spread the movies out over the course of a year, but I can see how it is easier for fans of a certain franchise to make sure they don’t miss anything.  Anyway, it is Morning Show Mysteries month, and A Murder in Mind is our first chance to revisit Billie Blessings.

Billie (Holly Robinson Peete) is thrilled for her friend Katie Sanders (Hilary Jardine).  She used to work at Billie’s restaurant, but now has landed the lead on a locally produced TV series based on the life and cases of a well-known attorney immortalized by her son in a series of bestselling novels.  The show is sure to be a hit, and Katie is going around the local media doing press, including a stop on Billie’s morning show.

However, all is not as perfect as it seems.  Katie is getting threatening notes that tell her to leave the show or else.  Then a dead body turns up, and everything seems to point to Katie.  Billie is sure the evidence is wrong, but can she find anything that will prove to Detective Ian (Rick Fox) that Katie is innocent of the crime?

As many Hallmark Mysteries Movies as they are pumping out this year, they are really stepping up their game plot wise.  The mystery was very tightly plotted with plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing.  I suspected a few things, but I was more wrong than I was right when all was said and done.  And they included several tense scenes that kept me glued to the screen as we reached the climax.  I do feel the wrap up scene glossed over some of the consequences of the story on the non-guilty characters, but that’s a very minor complaint.

Meanwhile, the characters are good.  Yes, we have the usual supporting characters, and I enjoyed their scenes.  Some definitely could have used a bit more screen time, but it would have taken away from the plot, and there’s always next week’s movie, right?

Yes, this is a Hallmark movie, so there is a bit of cheese, but it isn’t that bad, actually.  I was able to quickly get lost in the characters and story thanks to actors who were doing their jobs well.

I do have to comment on the irony of this movie.  One plot point involves a morality clause in a contract, something that has sadly shut down production on Hallmark’s longest running current mystery movie franchise.  The timing of this in the first new mystery movie to be released after the news broke was too perfect not to comment on.

As hard as it is to keep up with all the movies Hallmark pumps out these days, they are perfect when you want some light entertainment.  And that’s just what we get with Morning Show Mysteries: A Murder in Mind.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Review: Sifting Through the Clues by Daryl Wood Gerber (Cookbook Nook Mysteries #8)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery, delightful characters
Cons: Jenna’s relationship with Cinnamon bothers me
The Bottom Line:
Celebrate book clubs
While solving puzzling murder
Fun cozy story

Jenna Must Sift Through the Suspects to Find a Killer

One thing I enjoy about Daryl Wood Gerber’s Cookbook Nook Mysteries are the various themes she works into the books.  It seems that each week, her fictional town of Crystal Cove on the California coast is celebrating something different, and Jenna Hart, part owner of the Cookbook Nook, is planning fun activities and carrying fun items to celebrate.  And Daryl’s pick a wonderful theme for Sifting Through the Clues.

Spring has sprung in Crystal Cove, and the town is celebrating all things book club.  Clubs from neighboring towns have come to advertise their clubs and Jenna is letting the Cookbook Nook be used to host some of the book discussions happening during the week.  But she’s most excited about the progressive dinner that her own book club, the Mystery Mavens, is planning for Saturday night.  However, the night ends in tragedy when they arrive at their last stop and find their final hostess, Ivy Beale, dead on her kitchen floor.  Ivy had a reputation of knowing everyone’s secrets, and Jenna had seen her clashing with several people in town recently.  Was that what got her killed?

Ivy owned the Dreamcatcher store, a store devoted to healing stones and crystals.  While I don’t believe in that stuff myself, I actually found that this element provided some intriguing additions to the mystery.  Of course, there are the usual suspects with various motives for Jenna to work her way through before she reaches the end.  The final confrontation is very fun, and the clues lead to a completely logical final killer.

Over the course of the series, we’ve met quite a few of Jenna’s friends, and they are all present and accounted for.  If, like me, you have a hard time keeping track of everyone and how they all relate, you’ll love the character guide in the front.  Now, I’m not saying that the characters aren’t well developed; it’s just that there are so many of them that it is hard to keep track.  Even with the large cast, we get a little update from everyone, and I always enjoy checking in with the gang.

The focus of the book is on the investigation, and that brings us to the suspects.  I felt these characters, most of whom were introduced here, were good as well.  I definitely felt that any of them could have done it at some point before Jenna started focusing her attention on the real killer.

My only real issue with the book is Jenna’s relationship with Cinnamon Pritchett, the chief of police.  The two are supposed to be good friends, but Cinnamon is always sniping at Jenna.  I get that she doesn’t want Jenna in danger from the killer or ruining the investigation, but still, I have a hard time buying their friendship since we don’t really see any evidence of it in any of the books.

Fans of Daryl’s other series will find some fun Easter eggs hidden in this book.  I love it when I spot an in-joke or reference.

The recipes at the end are divided into two categories, sweet and savory.  We get four sweet recipes, including gluten-free versions of most of them, and ten savory recipes, most of which are various tea sandwiches.  Everything sounds yummy.

Any reader will enjoy the theme of Sifting Through the Clues.  This book will especially appeal to cozy lovers who want to get lost in a town of delightful residents as they work out a good puzzle.

Looking for more?  Here are the rest of the Cookbook Nook Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I'm reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  Follow this link to find the rest of the stops.  And use the Rafflecopter below to enter the tour wide giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ornament Review: Wonder Woman - 2017 Hallmark Miniature Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfect mini version of a great superhero
Cons: Only if you aren’t expecting a mini ornament
The Bottom Line:
A mini wonder
Perfectly rendered likeness
Great for a small tree

She’s a Mini Wonder

When Hallmark released two members of the Justice League as part of their miniature ornament line in 2017, I hadn’t realized they were going to do an unofficial series with these superhero characters.  That’s why I let Wonder Woman slip through my fingers.  Fortunately, I was able to track her down on the secondary market even though she has become the most popular one released to date.

Once again, I’m going to emphasize that this is a miniature ornament.  At her longest, Wonder Woman is just over an inch and a half long.  If you are looking for a full-size ornament, you’ll definitely want to look elsewhere.  However, if the size is okay with you, you’ll be happy with the piece.

This is a classic looking Wonder Woman from the comics.  It’s not based on any current movie or TV show versions of the characters.  She’s got her tiara in her brown hair.  Her outfit is red, white, yellow, and blue, and she’s got her lasso of truth at her side.  She appears to be jumping forward, with her left arm in front of her and her right arm behind.  And yes, the magic bracelets are on her arms as well.

Anyone who loves the character will love this ornament.  She looks just like Wonder Woman should, at least if you follow the comics.  Okay, so I don’t read the comics, but this still screams classic Wonder Woman to me, and I love it for that reason.

Since she is in action, you can’t set Wonder Woman out anywhere, not that you’d want to with her small size.  Instead, you need to hang her on your tree.  Fortunately, when you do that, you’ll find that she hangs at the perfect angle.  What do I mean by that?  She looks like she is in action.  You can argue about whether it is straight or not, but I think it is perfect.

As I mentioned earlier, this is the most popular of the mini Justice League ornaments released to date, so if you want her, you’ll have to do a little hunting to find her at a decent price.

But I’m glad I did that hunting because this mini version of Wonder Woman makes me smile.

Original Price: $7.95

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Book Review: More Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina with Ann Marie Mulhearn Sayer

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: More adventures with characters kids love
Cons: Not as fun and charming as the original
The Bottom Line:
Picture book sequel
With returning characters
But missing the charm

More Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better

I have fond memories of the monkey business in Caps for Sale from when I was a kid, so when I made the discovery a couple of years back that there were some sequels, I was quite intrigued.  I didn’t actually pick up More Caps for Sale until recently, thanks to my library, and I found that it hadn’t really recaptured the magic of the original.

This book picks up right after the classic ends.  The peddler is walking home after having gotten his caps back from the monkeys.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize that the monkeys are following him home.  When he does discover them in his yard, what will he do?  And what will happen when he goes into town to sell his caps the next day?

The charm of the original is that it was so unexpected.  You really didn’t know what was going to happen until the end.  Here, if you’ve read the original, you can pretty much guess what is going to happen.  And here, the monkeys aren’t a comic and unexpected complication, they are following the peddler the entire time.

Then again, maybe it’s just because I’m an adult now.  I can’t help but view the original with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.  I’m coming fresh to this book now, so maybe my disenchantment with it is because I am older now.  If kids are fans of the original, they could easily enjoy finding out what happens next to these characters.

The story was started by original author and artist Esphyr Slobodkina and finished by her friend Ann Marie Mulhearn Sayer.  Fans of the original won’t notice any differences in style here at all.

It’s not that More Caps for Sale is bad; it’s just not as engaging as the original.  If your kids are fans of the original, you might want to check it out, but otherwise, you can skip it.