Sunday, June 30, 2019

Reading Challenge Update: Audiobook Challenge

The other challenge I am going to post an update for right now is the Audiobook challenge, hosted by Hot Listens and Caffeinated Reviewer.

Once again, I signed up for the Stenographer level, which is 10-15 books.  I have currently listened to:

1. Lost Light by Michael Connelly
2. The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley
3. "M" is for Malice by Sue Grafton
4. The Sentry by Robert Crais
5. The Narrows by Michael Connelly
6. Taken by Robert Crais
7. The Promise by Robert Crais
8. "N" is for Noose by Sue Grafton

A glut of audio books in June has put me well ahead of schedule.  I really aim for 12, one a month, and I should surpass that.  Not sure by how much since it doesn't look like I will be going to visit my family until Thanksgiving this year, and a trip home is always good for an audio book or two.

Additionally, I will get caught up on Robert Crais's books this year.  Normally, I rotate several authors, but I decided to push through on his books so I can listen to the new one when it comes out in August.  But that means it is time to start looking for another author to put in the rotation.  I'll have to see what I have easy access to via my library.  I have a long list of potential authors.  Trust me.

Reading Challenge Update: Mount TBR and Virtual Mount TBR

Can you believe we are half way through the year?  Crazy, right?

I know I don't always post updates for my various reading challenges, but I thought I'd post a couple of them this time around.  (Not all my challenges ask for updates, so I won't be posting anything on those.)

Up first are the two I've paired up - Mount TBR and Virtual Mount TBR, both hosted by My Reader's Block.

For Mount TBR, I signed up for the lowest level, reading 12 books I owned at the end of 2018.  As you can see, I'm almost there.

Mount TBR Books:
1. Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
2. The Double-A Western Detective Agency by Steve Hockensmith
3. Saturn Night Fever by Diane Vallere
4. Due or Die by Jenn McKinlay
5. Manuscript for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land
6. Murder on Lenox Hill by Victoria Thompson
7. Permanently Booked by Lisa Q. Mathews
8. Downton Tabby by Sparkle Abbey
9. Barking Mad at Murder by Jacqueline Vick
10. Murder in Little Italy by Victoria Thompson
11. A Baker Street Wedding by Michael Robertson

Meanwhile, for the Virtual Mount TBR (books you borrow, etc.), I am coming close to my goal of 24 books.

Virtual Mount TBR Books:
1. Lost Light by Michael Connelly
2. A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman
3. The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley
4. Bridges Burned by Annette Dashofy
5. "M" is for Malice by Sue Grafton
6. The Sentry by Robert Crais
7. Double Whammy by Gretchen Archer
8. The Narrows by Michael Connelly
9. The 18th Abduction by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
10. Forget Me Knot by Mary Marks
11. The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich and Peter Evanovich
12. Taken by Robert Crais
13. Full Bodied Murder by Christine M. Blum
14. The Promise by Robert Crais
15. One Taste Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein
16. Book, Line, and Sinker by Jenn McKinlay
17. Beaches, Bungalows, & Burglaries by Tonya Kappes
18. "N" is for Noose by Sue Grafton

With half the year still to go, I shouldn't have any trouble surpassing my goals.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

June 29th's Weekly TV Thoughts

With me dropping one show and another one ending this week, my thoughts are going to get very small next week.  I might have to comment on game shows or something.

American Ninja Warrior – No wonder they’ve been making such a big deal about a mom not hitting the buzzer yet – we got our first this week.  That was an impressive run, too.  So happy to see Jesse back.  I think she’s my favorite woman on the show.  Glad to see Sean get the speed pass.  Hope his ankle continues to get better with that extra time off.

Blood & Treasure – I made it half way through the episode and officially gave up.  I couldn’t remember who most of the characters were or how they fit into what had happened last week.  And I just didn’t care.  I realized I was just waiting for the episode to end so I could move on to something else, and I decided that was a sign to stop watching the show, so I have officially given up on it.

The Amazing Race – I always seem to root for the underdog, so I was rooting for the final Big Brother team to survive to the final leg.  It would have taken quite a miracle since all three of the other teams were working against them.  And I would have been shocked if I had said this after their first season, but I was rooting for Colin and Christy and am thrilled they won.  I wish they weren’t quite so into Eastern Mysticism, but their overall growth from their first time on the race is so impressive.  It was a pleasure to root for them.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Book Review: "N" is for Noose by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #14)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, decent mystery…
Cons: …Once the pace finally picks up
The Bottom Line:
A slow beginning
Masks another good story
Worth persevering

Overcomes a Slow Start to be Entertaining

I always finish a book once I start it.  Sometimes, my issues with the beginning of a book are resolved the further you go along.  I’m especially patient with an author I normally enjoy.  Such was the case with “N” is for Noose by Sue Grafton.  This book definitely had a slow start, but I was quite intrigued by the time we reached the climax.

P.I. Kinsey Millhone has been hired to ease the mind of a widow.  No one is questioning that Tom Newquist died of a heart attack, something brought on by his poor health habits.  However, his widow, Selma, is convinced that something was bothering her husband in the last few weeks of his life, and she needs to know what that was.  The problem is, she has no clue where Kinsey might begin to look, and none of Tom’s friends or co-workers in the Nota Lake Sheriff’s office are willing to speak ill of the man or have any clue what might have been bothering him.

So Kinsey digs into his life, hoping to find some thread she can unravel.  Was Tom hiding something?  Can Kinsey figure out what it was?

Okay, since this is a mystery, you can pretty much figure out that Tom does have a secret that was weighing on him, but it takes forever for Kinsey to find the thread to unravel.  We are over a quarter of the way into the book before the investigation begins to go anywhere.  But after that point, I began to get hooked and I was very impressed with what Kinsey uncovered and how she put everything together by the time the book was over.  It could have used some editing in the beginning, but it was well worth reading overall.

Much of the book takes place outside of Kinsey’s home town of Santa Teresa, California.  This isn’t the first time we’ve spent significant time outside of town on a case.  We do get a little bit of time with the regular supporting players, which was nice.  However, the book is filled with a strong cast of new characters.  I’ve always found that the characters are a strong point in this series.  In just a few lines, they spring to life, and I’m left in awe at how deftly author Sue Grafton was able to do that.

Based on my research, I have reached the end of the line in this series in one respect – this appears to be the final book narrated by Mary Peiffer.  I’m really going to miss her take on the characters and narration, which I have always found wonderful.  And the fact that I was listening on audio might have helped me enjoy the book more since I was in my car driving anyway, so I was more patient with the slow beginning to the book.  After all, I listened to over half of it in just about 24 hours while I was driving all over Southern California for a fun weekend.

If you are new to Kinsey Millhone’s cases, I definitely don’t recommend that you jump in here.  However, fans will find they enjoy “N” is for Noose once the story gets going.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Kinsey Millhone Mysteries.

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Movie Review: Mystery 101 - Playing Dead

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters, strong mystery, fun
Cons: Usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Actress in danger
Flirting while looking for clues
Fun mystery film

The Play’s a Deadly Thing

Back in January, I really enjoyed the first movie in the Mystery 101 franchise from Hallmark, so I was thrilled to see it return with Playing Dead.

If you missed this franchise, it features Jill Wagner as Amy Winslow, an English professor who specializes in mystery literature, and Kristoffer Polaha as detective Travis Burke.

As this movie opens, Amy is getting ready for opening night of a play.  No, she’s not on stage, but she’s advising since it is a mystery play named Shadow of Death.  However, the cast, led by Hollywood actress Bella Brightman (Rekha Sharma) seem to be more concerned with personal dramas happening behind the scenes.  It’s opening night when things really get interesting as accidents seem to be happening to Bella.  Is someone out to get the leading lady?

Meanwhile, Travis already had his hands full with a series of burglaries in town.  Are they related to what is happening at the theater?

This is a very well-done mystery.  I wasn’t sure where they were going to how they were going to tie everything together, but once Amy and Travis put the pieces together, it makes perfect sense.  Along the way, we got to have plenty of fun as the duo uncover one secret after another.  There is a lot going on here, so you need to pay attention, but it is worth it.

Since this is only the second movie, Amy and Travis are still at the flirting stage of their relationship, although it is obvious to everyone that they are interested in each other.  While a little of their jabs fell flat, I enjoyed their war of words as they worked the case.

And I enjoyed the supporting cast again.  While the emphasis is clearly on the mystery, we got to see plenty of the rest of the characters; they are a fun lot for sure.

This movie does have a bit more of the Hallmark cheese factor than I remembered the first movie having.  It definitely came from the writing as well as the acting, hence my earlier comment about some of the witty lines between Travis and Amy falling flat.  Still, if you are a fan of Hallmark movies, you’ll certainly enjoy this one.

And enjoy it I did.  Playing Dead is another fun mystery movie that will keep you guessing until you reach the end.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Book Review: Strangled Eggs and Ham by Maddie Day (Country Store Mysteries #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery and characters
Cons: Still doesn’t actually come with pancakes
The Bottom Line:
Resort brings tension
Which escalates to murder
Once again charming

Tension Leads Someone to Resort to Murder

We haven’t quite gotten summer weather yet in Southern California, and I’m ready. That made reading Strangled Eggs and Ham, set in the heat of August, all the more enjoyable for me.

As summer is winding down, the tension is town is soaring as high as the temperatures. Someone has proposed a new resort just outside the town limits, and people are divided over it. Some want the jobs it would bring while others are opposed to the impact it would have on their lives and the local environment. Robbie Jordan is caught in the middle, with her aunt Adele opposed but some of her customers needing the jobs it would bring in. Robbie is trying her best to keep Pans ‘N Pancakes neutral ground, but some of the tension comes into her restaurant.

However, one morning a dead body is found on the proposed site of the resort. With Robbie’s restaurant a cornerstone of the community, she begins to pick up tidbits. When events hit close to home, Robbie begins to really investigate. Can she figure out what is really happening?

I was very impressed with how even handed this book was. We meet sympathetic characters on both sides of the issue, and it was easy to root for the community to find a compromise that would satisfy everyone. Of course, murder does have a way of clouding other issues, but that is exactly why we read these books, right?

The plot takes some time to set up the characters and motives before the murder takes place, and once it does we have plenty of threads to follow up on as Robbie tries to piece things together. One reason I love this series is that her restaurant really is a hub of the community, so she can investigate while continuing to work; her commitment to her job is a bit more realistic than some of the books I read. Yes, she does do some sleuthing in her off hours in her efforts to piece things together in a satisfying way.

I also love these characters. There are so many fun series regulars, and I was thrilled to get to spend time with most of them. A couple are out of town, but we do still get to hear how they are doing. As I already implied, the suspects are strong and help draw us into the story.

For those who don’t know, Maddie Day is a pen name for Edith Maxwell, who has written some mysteries under her own name. There is a very fun Easter Egg for fans of one of those series in this book.

As usual, we get some absolutely delicious sounding recipes at the back of the book. I need to get motivated to try the southern jam cake, although the chocolate chocolate chip muffins sound good, too. All told, there are five recipes to enjoy after you’ve finished the book.

This series continues to entertain; I just love visiting Robbie. If you are a fan as well, be sure to pick up Strangled Eggs and Ham today.

Need more? Here are the rest of the Country Store Mysteries in order.

Note: I received an ARC of this book. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Book Review: Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross (Jane Darrowfield #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery, charming characters, comedy
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Community strife
Put Jane in danger in this
Delightful debut

Jane Will Charm You in This New Series Debut

I have fallen in love with Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake Mysteries, so when I saw she was starting a new series, there was no question that I was going to start it.  Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody introduces us to a new character I hope to follow around for many more mysteries.

Jane Darrowfield is one year into an early retirement, and she’s beginning to find herself at loose ends.  She’s traveled, she’s planted a garden, and she’s organized.  She’s also begun to look into situations for her friends, but she is surprised when she is contacted by Paul Peavey.  He’s the director of Walden Springs, a nearby 55-and-older community, and he needs Jane’s help.  He hires Jane to go undercover as a potential new member and hopefully she can come up with solutions to help me.

Jane hasn’t been there for more than a couple hours before she begins to see what the problems are.  The community has formed clique that would make any high school proud, and the popular kids and the bikers are in the middle of a not so friendly prank war that is getting out of hand.  But before Jane’s ideas can be put into practice, someone winds up dead on the community’s golf course.  Did the war escalate to murder or is there another motive?  This is more than Jane bargained for, but can she solve the case?

Naturally, as the first book in a new series, there are some things that need to be set up, but they are handled well without slowing down the story.  We waste little time getting to Walden Springs, and once we do, we begin to see the problems quickly.  The pace only picks up once the murder takes place.  As you’d expect from one of Barbara Ross’s books, there are plenty of twists and surprises before we reach the logical conclusion.

Jane herself is a fantastic lead.  We get glimpses of her past, and I look forward to learning more about her as the series progresses.  The supporting players in her life aren’t an active part of this book after the story gets going, but I like them and want to be able to spend more time with them, too.  The suspects become fully fleshed out by the end, and I came to like some of them much more than I thought I would.

The book has some very funny scenes.  It does grow more serious as the story progresses, but even then, we get moments that lighten the mood.

Jane is being introduced as part of Kensington’s partnership with Barnes and Nobel and so is available as a paperback exclusive with that store for a year.  For now, the links in my review will take you directly to Barnes and Nobel, or you can find it in your local store.  In the middle of 2020, it will be available at all retailers and in all digital formats.

So, you might need to spend a little extra effort to meet Jane, but I guarantee you that it is worth it.  Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody is a delightful series debut, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with her soon.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Book Review: Beaches, Bungalows, and Burglaries by Tonya Kappes (Camper and Criminals Cozy Mysteries #1)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Characters grew on me
Cons: Too many illogical things to name
The Bottom Line:
This campground cozy
Has charming characters but
Many other flaws

The Campground Isn’t the Only Thing That Needed Fixing

I grew up camping, and I have many happy memories of those trips.  I’ve often thought of finding a good cozy series that centered on camping.  One that I’ve seen a lot of recently is the Campers and Criminals series from Tonya Kappes, an author I’ve been wanting to try, so I decided to give Beaches, Bungalows, and Burglaries a try.  Sadly, it disappointed me.

Mae West’s life has turned upside down.  It turns out that her husband, Paul, was running a Ponzi scheme, something she learned only when the FBI raided their house.  Barely able to prove she wasn’t involved, she divorces Paul.  Unfortunately, she’s lost her homes, her money, and her friends.  The only thing she has left is an RV and a campground in Kentucky that Paul had put in her name.  Based on the brochure, it looks nice, and Mae thinks that it might be just the place to relax and decide what she is going to be next.

However, once again reality is different from what she is expecting.  When she arrives at Happy Trails outside of Normal, Kentucky, she finds the place is a rundown dump with only some monthly residents but no overnight campers.  Making matters worse, Paul had conned many of the locals out of their savings as well.  When the FBI arrive to question Mae in Paul’s escape from prison, they discover his dead body floating in the lake in the middle of the campground.  Suddenly a murder suspect, can Mae uncover the truth while working to restore the park to its former glory?

Sounds, promising, right?  I went into this book with high hopes that I would find a new, fictional, campground to revisit on a regular basis.  However, the book needed some serious editing.

To start with, Mae comes across as schizophrenic.  Obviously, a sub-plot of the book is what Mae is going to do in the future.  From one chapter to the next, she was constantly changing her mind, yet it was presented like she had definitely decided what she was going to do and hadn’t really been considering the other option every time it came up.

Then there’s the plot.  For the most part it was working until we reached a giant plot hole in the final quarter of the book.  We are talking about one large enough to drive Mae’s new RV through.  The killer’s identity and motive made sense when revealed, but my issue was never addressed, and how none of the characters would have wondered about it is beyond me.  I even went back to reread the scenes in question to make sure I wasn’t misremembering something, and I wasn’t.

Plus there’s the local law enforcement officer, who introduces himself as an FBI agent who moonlights as a national parks ranger.  Really?  Not to mention he acts like a local police officer (who are nowhere to be found) instead of an FBI agent in this situation.

And I haven’t even gotten to the grammar.  You know it has to be bad when it bothered me since I rarely even notice grammatical errors if I’m being honest.  The book was mostly readable, but every so often there would be a sentence with a missing word or some other issue that would trip me up.  One or two are forgivable, but this went far beyond that.

The characters started out as a little over the top, but as the book progressed and I got to know them better, I began to like them.  Honestly, they are a draw, and part of me wants to give the series another chance.  After all, it was a very quick read, and I read most of it in two days.

I feel like most of the flaws in the series could have easily been fixed with a serious full book edit.  A fresh set of eyes could have found the flaws I have pointed out, and they should have been fixed to make the book better.  Instead, I feel like this book was rushed out, something that is only compounded by the fast pace books in this series have been released.  This book came out in May of 2018, and as of this review, seven books in the series are available with an eighth up for pre-order.  That doesn’t give me confidence that some of my concerns will be address if I move forward with the series.

While I wouldn’t consider this a culinary cozy, there are three recipes in the back that sound delicious.  There are also some cleaning and organizing tips that would work for an RV or as part of your regular life.

I wanted to like this book.  I really did.  But the flaws are too glaring for me to enjoy it.  So I will be driving away from Happy Trails after having read Beaches, Bungalows, and Burglaries.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Movie Review: Toy Story 4

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs, tears, new adventure for characters we love
Cons: Ending is extremely bittersweet
The Bottom Line:
Toy Story gang’s back
Adventure filled with laughs, tears
Bittersweet ending

“I Was Made to Help a Child. I Don't Remember it Being this Hard.”

I must admit, I was among those worried when they announced Toy Story 4.  Don’t’ get me wrong, I have loved the first three movies in the franchise.  While not my favorite Pixar movies, they are all definitely in the top tier.  And, while I can see why this movie is getting all the praise it is getting, this one definitely fell short for me.

After a brief opening scene set nine years ago (and I was already chocked up that early in the film), we jump to where our heroes are today.  No, Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw) hasn’t aged in real time.  In fact, she is about to head out to Kindergarten orientation.  Despite the fact that Bonnie tends to leave Woody (Tom Hanks) in the closet, he still sneaks into her backpack to make sure this first day goes well.  And that’s how he witnesses Bonnie making a new friend – a toy friend she makes from things in the trashcan and names Forky (Tony Hale).

However, Forky doesn’t want to be a toy.  He’s perfectly content with being in the trash and it is all Woody can do to keep Forky from jumping back in any trash can he can find.  This is only complicated when Bonnie and her parents head out on one last vacation before Kindergarten officially starts.  When Forky jumps out the RV window, Woody follows.  Will he be able to reunite Bonnie with Forky with the help of an old friend?  Will Buzz (Tim Allen) find the duo and be able to help them?

As I said, I can certainly see why this movie is getting so much praise.  It will make you laugh.  It will make you cry.  There is much to love here.  The majority of the movie takes place in an antique store and a traveling carnival, and the settings are fantastic.  The new characters are a lot of fun.

Not to mention the animation looks wonderful.  This only has a few what I would call beauty shots that really do look like works of art, but those scenes are wonderful.  However, there is an outstanding quality to the animation overall.

No, my issue comes mainly with the ending of the film.  It is extremely bittersweet.  I get what they were doing, and part of me likes it.  Another part of me really doesn’t like what they did, especially since it required one of the characters to act very out of character, and, even though I saw it coming, I didn't feel they built is up well enough.  It’s hard to discuss it without giving away spoilers, so I will leave it at that.  I think many fans will be fine with the direction they take things.  I suspect I will be in the minority in feeling conflicted over the end.

Another disappointment is that the majority of the gang are reduced to extended cameos in favor of new characters.  Okay, so it’s hard to give all the characters parts to play, but I would have enjoyed seeing more of them then we get here.

Oh, but the laughs.  There are so many throughout the film.  I was grinning for much of the movie when I wasn’t laughing outright.

And the voice cast was outstanding once again.  They bring these characters to life with warmth.  From interviews, it is obvious that the actors feel as attached to these characters as we do (if not more so), and I think it shows in their performances.

There are some characters and scenes that are a tad on the creepy side.  This Sid’s room creepy from the first film.  If your kid is extremely sensitive, they might be bothered by those scenes, but I suspect most kids will be okay with them.

I was surprised that there wasn’t a short before the film.  However, there are lots of Easter Eggs for Pixar fans in this movie, some of which I will have to look for when I rewatch it.  And you’ll definitely want to stay for a few bonus scenes in the credits at a minimum.  I was glad I stayed all the way through the credits.

I’m sure Toy Story 4 will be another hit for Pixar, and deservedly so.  My conflict aside, this is another fun movie with characters we love.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

June 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another week, and some more TV thoughts, including two new game shows.  I thought I wasn't going to watch much this summer, but the game shows on ABC are pulling me in.

American Ninja Warrior – Like last week, I don’t think anyone is surprised about how won the fast pass.  My money would have been on Daniel Gill if I were a betting man.  Not that he doesn’t deserve it and didn’t earn it.  The ladies were on fire tonight.  The coconut climbing obstacle looked hard in a different way than I was expecting, but maybe it’s the fact that I can’t climb that made my expectations different than where people actually had problems.

Blood & Treasure – I have tried, but I can’t seem to make myself care about this show.  I think I was expecting something sleeker with more quips.  I think this could have been a great movie, maybe a mini-series, but I’m ready for things to be wrapped up.  I know I keep saying this, but we will see how I am feeling next week.  I may give up the show.

The Amazing Race – I know I said I was okay with any of the teams winning, and I am, but I was rooting for Team Fun.  They’ve obviously grown on me since we first met them because in that season I found them annoying.  But when they referenced this being the leg they went out on during their first season, I knew they were doomed.  I was hoping it was the Afganimals after their brag about being the best team.  They really need to come down a peg or 10 after that comment.  I mean, they are middle of the pack at best and have been for a while, so they are clearly not the best.

Holey Moley – I couldn’t resist this mini golf obstacle course series.  I just wish we got to see all of the holes because some of what we skipped looked rather fun.  The commentators are going to get old in a hurry, however.  (And no, I probably won’t be commenting on this one each week.

Spin the Wheel – The giant wheel concept is fun, but I don’t think I will be watching this one unless I’m home and bored.  It just doesn’t have enough pull to get me to watch it each week.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Book Review: Book, Line, and Sinker by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover's Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun plot and great characters
Cons: All cons buried with the pirate treasure
The Bottom Line:
Treasure hunters come
Causing strife in Briar Creek
Fun third mystery

This Book is Not a Stinker, and That’s Not a Line to Hook You

Pirates were bad men.  They robbed and murdered anyone they pleased.  And yet, there is something fascinating about them, and they have woven their way into our pop culture in a way that romanticizes them.  (Yes, I’m a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which are a perfect case in point.)  Honestly, I think one reason why we love them so much is because of the dream of suddenly finding a pirate treasure.  And pirate treasure fever comes to Briar Creek, Connecticut, in Book, Line, and Sinker, the third Library’s Lovers Mystery from Jenn McKinlay.

Pirate fever arrives when Preston Riordan and his salvage company come to town with plans to dig in the islands off the coast for a treasure that Captain Kidd supposedly buried there over two hundred years ago.  The plans immediately draw concern from Lindsay Norris’s friend Milton, who doesn’t want anything to ruin the islands.  On the other hand, Trudi Hargrave, the town’s tourism director, thinks this is the perfect thing to bring in more tourism and more business.

Even as the digging commences, the battle still rages.  Unfortunately, the tension leads to a dead body in the excavation site on one of the islands.  When Lindsay’s friends become suspects, she begins looking for clues to clear them and figure out what is really happening.  Can she dig up the correct X to mark the killer?

The plot of this book is a little different from that of a typical cozy.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing.  In fact, I quite enjoyed the journey the book took me on.  However, you do need to adjust your expectations accordingly and let the book unfold.  Trust me, you’ll be completely hooked and satisfied with the story you were told when you turn the final page.

Lindsay’s personal life is also heating up in this book when her ex-fiance comes to town looking to rekindle their romance despite the fact that she has moved on with Mike Sullivan.  I must admit, I had a minute of eye rolling when I saw this particular sub-plot pop up since it is a bit of a cliche in cozy mysteries, but I actually enjoyed how it played out here.

One reason I enjoyed it is because it allowed Lindsay some time to reflect on her new life which allowed us a chance to get to know her better.  This may be the third book, but we’ve already seen some good growth in her and gotten to know quite a few supporting characters.  They are all back and as charming as ever, although I do still struggle with remember who a couple of the crafternoon ladies are, mainly because they haven’t gotten much page time on their own yet.  I am also pleasantly surprised at how Lindsay’s relationship with the local police has changed since book one.

Speaking of the crafternoon group, we are once again treated to several extras at the end, including a few discussion questions for The Great Gatsby, a cross stitch project, and a couple of recipes, all inspired by this group.

Book, Line, and Sinker continues this fun series.  I have quite a way to go to catch up, but I am enjoying my time with these early books in the series.  If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t wait any longer.  You are in for a treat.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Library Lover’s Mysteries.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Movie Review: Newlywed and Dead - Picture Perfect Mysteries

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and mystery
Cons: Light dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Groom dies on dance floor
Do Allie’s photos have clues?
Fun first in franchise

“What are the Odds?”  “Slim to None, I’d Guess.”

Hallmark is introducing new movie mystery franchises at an accelerated rate this year.  Sunday brought us another one with the first Picture Perfect Mystery.  Newlywed and Dead was a fun first film with this group of characters.

We first meet Allie Adams (Alexa PenaVega) as she is shooting a wedding.  Yes, she is a professional photographer for all kinds of events, but one of her staples is wedding photography.  This one is filled with tension, not helped by the fact that the bride’s ex showed up at the rehearsal dinner the night before to make sure the bride didn’t want him back.  That’s also made things a bit awkward for Allie.  Why is that?  The ex is her brother, Greg (Jon Cor).

However, the ceremony happens, and the bride and groom come in for the reception.  As they are having their first dance, someone shoots the groom and he dies.  The police, led by detective Sam Acosta (Carlos PenaVega), begin to look at Greg, and the groom’s family puts pressure on them to solve the case.  But Allie knows her brother is innocent.  Do her pictures of the wedding and reception hold a clue to the killer’s true identity?

 Let’s start with the most fun part of this franchise.  If you didn’t pick up on the clue from their names, Sam and Allie are played by husband and wife Carlos and Alexa PenaVega.  I’m sure it is no surprise that these two characters are denying the chemistry between them as the movie progresses, and watching these two characters flirt knowing the actors are married in real life is a lot of fun.  And it’s hard to deny the chemistry between them captured on the screen.

I really enjoyed the mystery.  There are several solid suspects with clues and red herrings to keep us guessing.  I did figure out the killer a couple of scenes early, but that’s a minor complaint as far as I’m concerned.

Meanwhile, I really enjoyed these characters.  I’m hoping that the majority of the supporting players here will become series regulars because I would love to see them again.  That’s especially true for Greg, who plays a major part of this story as the suspect we are trying to clear with our investigation.

Of course, I do need to mention the usual dose of Hallmark cheese that infests the film.  It’s a light dose, so as long as you are prepared, you’ll be fine.

I had so much fun solving this mystery along with Allie and Sam that I was smiling when they announced the franchise would be back with more mysteries for us next year.  That gives you plenty of time to watch Newlywed and Dead before the second movie comes out.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Book Review: One Taste Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein (Sarah Blair Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Solid mystery and characters
Cons: One sub-plot didn’t pull me in
The Bottom Line:
Sarah must save twin
While fighting to keep her cat
In tasty debut

Sarah Blair’s Tasty Debut

It doesn’t take much for a culinary cozy mystery to catch my interest.  When I heard that Sarah Blair, the main character in One Taste Too Many, is a cook of convenience, that immediately caught my attention.  After all, cook of convenience describes me perfectly.  (And I prefer that to lazy, which could also describe my cooking.  And house cleaning.  But we don’t go there.)

Sarah is awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from her twin sister Emily who exclaims that Bill is dead and the police think Emily is responsible.  Sarah isn’t that upset that her ex-husband is dead, but she is surprised that Emily is the chief suspect.  But Emily was found with Bill, who had eaten her rhubarb crisp despite the fact that he hated rhubarb and avoid the nuts Emily used because of his allergies.  What is really going on? 

Meanwhile, Sarah gets a shock when Bill’s current girlfriend, Jane, produces a will that claims Jane gets custody of RahRah, the Siamese cat that Sarah has had ever since Bill’s mother died several years ago.  Can Sarah prove she should keep RahRah while clearing Emily of murder?

While I introduced Sarah as a cook of convenience, Emily is working as a line chef at a local restaurant, and all the action takes place against a backdrop of a culinary festival taking place in the sister’s town of Wheaton, Alabama.  So there is plenty of talk about food to make your mouth water.  And we get two recipes at the end, both from the cook of convenience side of the cooking spectrum.

The mystery starts strong with us learning of Bill’s death on the very first page.  I did find the storyline with RahRah to be a bit harder to get into since I’m not a huge pet person.  If I had had a few books to grow invested in Sarah and RahRah’s relationship, I think I would have been more concerned with the outcome there.  Still, I did find myself caring by the end.  Both storylines get resolved satisfactorily, with Sarah making some surprising connections in the murder case to wrap everything up.

There is a solid foundation for the characters here.  They definitely have room to grow as the series progresses, and I’m sure they will.  However, I felt we got to know the main characters well here, with the suspects being just as strong.

One Taste Too Many proves to be a solid debut.  For those who love culinary cozy mysteries, one taste might not be enough.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

TV Show Review: Suits - Season 8

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great acting, more with characters we love
Cons: Can’t they stop squabbling at some point?
The Bottom Line:
New characters come
But same squabbling in firm
Miss Mike and Rachel

“Aren’t You Right About Everybody?”  “Yeah, Pretty Much.”

I went into season 8 of Suits knowing we’d be getting a different show.  Yes, the show was still about lawyers, and we already knew most of the characters.  But with the departure of two main characters at the end of season 7, we were down to half of the original cast.  That’s going to make a show feel different.  In this case, different was good, but not great like the show used to be.

In many ways, the show hasn’t changed.  While about lawyers, it is more a soap opera about the power struggle inside a law firm, in this case Zane, Specter, Litt.  This season picks up as Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) and Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) work to merge their firm with what is left of Robert Zane’s (Wendell Pierce) firm after he was pushed out by his partners.  While Robert has been mostly friendly for years, it is still a rough transition.  Which of the three named partners will be the head of the firm?  Further complicating matters, both Harvey and Robert have made promises to different people that they will be the next named partner of the firm.  So, who will it be, Alex Williams (Dule Hill) or Samantha Wheeler (Katherine Heigl)?

Meanwhile, Donna (Sarah Rafferty) struggles as the chief operations officer of this new firm.  Harvey has to face more of his messy family past when his brother is in trouble.  Louis tries to get a personal life outside the firm when he and Sheila (Rachel Harris) try to start a family.  And Katrina (Amanda Schull) finds herself in a hard situation when she is asked to mentor an associate she thought was under performing.

As you can see, there is still plenty going on this season.  And it is definitely still a soap opera.  It may not be who is sleeping with whom, but the power dynamics as just as much of a soap opera, and I got sucked in once again as I watch.  Yes, there are characters I root for more than others, although they do a decent job of making us like everyone even if we aren’t necessarily rooting for them.

But I find I am getting tired of it.  Some of this back biting is entertaining, but at this point, it is beyond time for these characters to learn to get along, especially if they are friends and business partners.  This is the most dysfunctional work place I have ever seen.  How people stay around there is beyond me.

Other the other hand, I have to give a shout out to Katrina’s storyline this season.  I haven’t been the biggest fan of her character, so seeing her brought on as a series regular worried me a bit.  And then, when I saw where her story was going, I was prepared to be upset.  Yet, she proved to be one of the most mature characters of the season, and I liked what eventually happened there.

One issue I had with this season was one I predicted going into it.  While I didn’t miss them for a the first few episodes, I definitely missed Mike and Rachel as the season wore on, especially with Rachel’s dad one of the main characters this season.  (Seriously, he probably doubled his episode count, which is pretty amazing with Rachel out of the picture.)  To me, Mike and Harvey’s relationship was the cornerstone of the show, and it definitely suffered without their scenes together.  I also missed the Donna and Rachel scenes.  On the other hand, I am happy for both of the actors and the fact that they are happily doing other things, and I like the fact that them both leaving last season allowed their characters to have a happy ending.  But the show was missing the dynamic their characters brought to everything.

The actors are all in top form here, both old and new.  As much as the characters may fight, I get the feeling the cast enjoys working together on the set.

Suits season 8 may be a step down from the earlier seasons, but it is still fun to watch.  Fans will enjoy seeing what happens next to their favorite characters.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Book Review: The Promise by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole & Joe Pike #16, Scott and Maggie #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong story, fun with lots of characters we know
Cons: Characters on the thin side
The Bottom Line:
Scott and Cole meet up
On a case that draws you in
Will please fans of Crais

I Promise, This is an Enjoyable Book

I’d always intended to get to the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels, but The Promise is the reason that I finally started them.  I had already read (or listened to) most of author Robert Crais’s standalone novels by that point, and knowing that K-9 officer Scott James and his dog Maggie, the main characters from Suspect, were going to feature very heavily in this book motivated me to finally get started, but I held onto this book until I could get to it in order.  It was well worth the wait.

Elvis Cole is hired to find a missing woman.  Sounds like one of his ordinary cases.  The only promising lead is the house that a friend of her late son has rented.  Elvis heads there only to find no one home.  However, before he can leave the neighborhood, the police swarm in.  They are hunting for a fugitive, and he was last seen going into this neighborhood.

Which is how Scott and Maggie get involved.  Maggie is tracking the fugitive, and she leads the police to the house that Elvis had just visited.  Once inside, the police find a dead body.  Then Maggie alerts them to a room full of explosives.  Suddenly, the police are very interested in the man spotted running for the house, a man that Elvis Cole started chasing.  As the danger begins to mount, Scott and Elvis will have to work together if these cases are going to be resolved.

Yes, we are given another fast-paced thriller that keeps our attention the entire time.  Parts of the book are narrated from Cole’s first-person point of view, but we get some passages from other character’s points of view as well, most noticeably Scott and Maggie.  Yes, a few chapters are from Maggie’s point of view, and I enjoyed this take on a dog’s brain and how it functions.  At times, this does mean we get some repeated information as we see a scene from multiple points of view, but each time through, we get a different piece of the puzzle.  Since Elvis and Scott pursue this case from different angles and learn different things, the multiple-viewpoints compel the story forward and makes for a suspenseful book.  And, with clear headings, the breaks are never confusing.

There was one major plot point I thought was a plot hole.  It was driving me crazy.  I’m just going to say that it got resolved to my satisfaction, so if you are getting frustrated by an apparent plot hole, give the book time to work things out.

By the time we reached the end, I was completely satisfied with the story.  I saw one or two minor things coming early, but I was surprised by some other twists.

When I reviewed the previous book in the series a couple of weeks ago, I complained about the characters.  Once again, the emphasis is on the action over character development, but this time it didn’t bother me so much.  I think part of that is because the villains aren’t nearly as despicable and we don’t have passages describing the horrible things they are doing to their victims.  Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of violence, and the villains are still evil.  We just don’t get quite as much nasty detail here.  Also, the foul language has been toned down.  Again, it is still there, but it isn’t as prominent.

The exception to my comment on the characters is John Stone, Pike’s mercenary friend.  We get to see a little depth to Stone here, and I appreciated what we saw.

This audiobook was a first for me – it features dual narrators.  Luke Daniels has narrated the last few books in the Elvis Cole series, and he handles all of the scenes told from Cole’s first-person point of view.  MacLeod Andrews narrated Suspect, which first introduced Scott and Maggie, and he handles all the third-person narrated scenes.  It took me a few switches to get used to it, but they are both capable narrators, and I enjoyed it.  I did find it a little odd when they did each other’s characters, as they spoke in voices I wasn’t used to hearing, but that is a minor complaint.  A little more annoying was the practice of making a character sound like they are talking with their mouth full if they are eating during a scene.

It was nice to finally get to this book and see Scott and Elvis meet, and I hope more cases draw them together.  Fans of any of these characters will enjoy The Promise.

Check out the rest of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike mysteries.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Disney Mug Review: Lumiere - Disney Wisdom Collection #6

: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good quote, characters look good on the mug
Cons: Much paler than I would have liked
The Bottom Line:
Mug with boldness quote
Comes in very pale yellow
Good, not favorite

This Mug is a Little too Pale Yellow to be Bold

While I have been enjoying the variety of colors in the Disney Wisdom collection, I hadn’t thought of the irony for this month’s entry in the series.  The quote is on boldness, and the color is yellow.  The mug really drives the point home since it is a pale yellow.

The quote comes from Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast.  “You don’t have time to be timid.  You must be bold, daring!”  And, since both Lumiere and Cogsworth are our characters this month, the yellow makes sense.  However, for the mug, they went with a very pale yellow.  I really was picturing something a little darker, like the yellow in the inside of the mug.  I’m sure it will grow on me as a color, but I still haven’t quite adjusted to it.

Unfortunately, the characters don’t fair that well on the mug.  Lumiere almost completely fades into the mug.  The candlestick part of his body is dark, but the wax is so light it is hard to see.  Cogsworth is a bit better, but he still blends in a little too much.

On the other side of the mug, we get the quote for the month.  The calligraphy is wonderful again, and it is in purple and lavender, so it really stands out.  Dare I say it?  The quote itself is bold.  The squiggles around in include flames, and there is a red rose.  I love both of these touches.

As with the others in the series, it is short and wide, which means it is still a 14 oz. mug that is completely microwave and dishwasher safe.  The way the bottom notches allows the mugs to stack on top of each other, which is very helpful since I am already out of cupboard space before I even started this series.

But I can’t resist these mugs.  This one may be paler than I wanted, but this mug is still going to be fun to have and use.

Disney Pin Review: Lumiere - Disney Wisdom Collection #6

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good quote, characters look great
Cons: I’m boldly going with none
The Bottom Line:
A bold choice of quotes
In great looking three pin set
For fans, collectors

Don’t Be Timid – Buy These Pins

When you know what you want, you need to go out and get it.  Such is the case with limited edition items that Disney sells, like the pins in the Disney Wisdom Collection.  That makes the quote used for the sixth release in this monthly series so appropriate.

Okay, so the quote really applies to bigger things in life than collecting.  The quote this month comes from Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast.  As a huge fan of the movie, I can easily give you the context of this scene.  Beast is getting ready for his big date with Belle, and he is hesitant to declare his love for her.  Knowing that time is running out, Lumiere counsels him, “You don’t have time to be timid.  You must be bold, daring!”  There is definitely wisdom is knowing what you want and going after it whole heartedly, especially if it leaves you vulnerable, like in Beast’s case.  Of course, there is also wisdom is knowing when going after something could be dangerous.  But that’s not the contest of this quote, so I will save that discussion for another time.

As usual, the set consists of three different pins.  One is the quote in calligraphy, with “daring” getting the biggest emphasis.  Another pin is Lumiere, which means we are currently three for three when it comes to getting a pin of the person being quoted.  Rounding out the set is Cogsworth.  The color for the month is yellow, which certainly makes sense for Lumiere.  The overall color is a little paler than I was expecting, but it works, and with the accent color being and yellowish brown is perfect for Cogsworth.  It allows both characters to look their best, and Cogsworth might look the best of any characters in the series to date.

I’m a big fan of the movie, so I would probably buy this set even if I weren’t collection the rest of the series.  But since I’ve been enjoying the series, I’m glad to add this pin set to my Disney Wisdom Collection.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

June 15th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here we go, weekly TV thoughts for this week.

Blood & Treasure – I may be picking up on who all the players are finally.  If only I’d been paying attention from the beginning.  And yes, I even laughed a couple of times.  I still think this is too ambitious a show, at least for me, but I’ll keep watching for now.  I just hope they have a plan to wrap things up by the end of this season so we aren’t left hanging.

The Amazing Race – I’m sorry to see Chris and Brett go.  On the other hand, I’m surprised they made it this far.  They always seemed slow to me.  And wow, that challenge they tried for so long was much harder than I thought it would be.  That’s the one I would have gone for, too.  I can see the frustration with the lines at the airport, but I can see myself on both sides of that debate.  Honestly, I think I’d be okay with any of the teams winning at this point.  I’m rooting for Team Fun, but none of the ones left really annoy me.

Press Your Luck – I’ve loved watching reruns of this show over the years, and the new one is absolutely fun.  I love the bonus round at the end.  Yes, it would be fun to do two rounds with two sets of contestants each week, but the bonus round is nice, too.  I won’t comment on the show each week, but I will definitely be watching.

Card Sharks – Again, I won’t be commenting on this every week, but I will keep watching.  The show could turn the enthusiasm down a notch and still be fine, but this is a game show I enjoy watching in reruns, so I will definitely keep watching.  Couldn’t believe that the cards went in this episode.  Three A’s?  And the first guy going on such a long run.  Wow!

Abby’s – And that was last call at Abby’s.  Imdb says there were supposed to be 13 episodes, but they have no information on the final 3, so I’m guessing that only 10 were produced.  That sure felt like a good finale for the characters will Bill getting fully accepted into the bar.  Overall, just an average episode.  I’m not going to miss the show, but I am glad I stuck it out, if that makes any sense.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Book Review: Murder Knocks Twice by Susanna Calkins (Speakeasy Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting historical details
Cons: Mostly flat characters, slow plot
The Bottom Line:
Speakeasy setting
History overshadows
Plot and characters

Bringing 1929 Chicago to Life

I love history, especially American history, so I’m always on the lookout for a new promising sounding historical mystery series.  When Murder Knocks Twice, the first in a new series set in a Chicago speakeasy, crossed my radar, I was immediately interested.

Gina Ricci is thrilled when she lands a job at The Third Door, one of many speakeasies in 1929 Chicago.  Her friend, Lulu, already works there, and she has promised the tips are good.  Since Gina needs to support herself and her sick father, the promised money is very welcome, and the glitch, glamour, and possibility of meeting some celebrities captivates Gina.

As Gina settles into her new job, she starts to hear that her predecessor was murdered, but no one seems willing to talk about it.  Besides, it happened away from The Third Door, so surely the murder was unrelated to the job Gina has now, right?  Gina has just convinced herself of that when she witnesses a murder.  Is she safe in her new job?  Can she figure out what is really happening?

Those looking to get lost in the world of Prohibition era Chicago will enjoy this book.  We get lots of details of what life was like back then, complete with discussions of current celebrities.  We even get a historical figure who is a supporting character.

However, those looking for a good mystery will be disappointed.  I have sometimes found that historical details can overwhelm a historical mystery, and I felt that was the case here.  The murder Gina witnesses doesn’t take place until a third of the way into the book.  While the pace does pick up a bit more after that, I still wish we’d had a few more clues and red herrings to ponder.  The ending was a bit abrupt as it raced to wrap everything up, although the solution that Gina reaches does make sense.  I’m not saying I was bored, but I could have been more entertained.

There is a large cast of characters, and they suffer as a result.  While we get to know Gina and a few others, many of the rest remain fairly thin.  Obviously, those important to the series can be fleshed out as the series progresses, and hopefully they will be.

If this time period or location interest you, I definitely recommend you pick up Murder Knocks Twice.  Hopefully, the books get stronger as the series progresses.