Wednesday, July 31, 2019

July 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

Another month come and gone.  Here's my monthly reading summary for the month.  And yes the Index has been updated.  Two months in a row - shocking isn't it?

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

Scoop to Kill by Wendy Lyn Watson (Mystery A-La-Mode #2) – 4
A reception to honor outstanding achievement at the local college turns tragic when Tally Jones’s niece, Alice, finds the body of grad student Bryan.  Bryan was another local attending the college, although he had clearly been making some enemies along the way.  With Alice in the thick of things, Tally starts spending a little less time at her ice cream shop, Remember the A-La-Mode, and more time at the college looking for clues.  Will she find the killer?

While the mystery starts strongly with the discovery of Bryan’s body just a few pages in, the book still seems to wander a bit.  We are gathering clues and information on the suspects, but it isn’t until the second half that it feels like Tally is truly investigating and we are beginning to find clues and disregard the red herrings.  Once this happens, the book gets very good, and I was fully hooked.  Tally and her immediate circle are a fun group, and I enjoyed spending time with them.  I also enjoyed the cameos by some of the supporting cast from the first book.  The suspects were strong enough to help us tell them apart, but they could have spent a little more time on the page to be fully developed.  I had forgotten that there is a love triangle in this series, although it looks like that is coming to a head, which I appreciated.  There is more language scattered throughout this book than is typical for a cozy, but this is still a light, fun cozy sure to keep you cool on a warm summer day.  You might want to make sure you have some ice cream on hand first, however, to satisfy any cravings.

Murder with a Cherry on Top by Cynthia Baxter (Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mysteries #1) – 4
Kate McKay has returned to her hometown of Wolfet’s Roost in the Hudson River Valley of New York, and she has opened her own ice cream shop.  Her only possibly concern is that it is across the street from the bakery owned by Ashley Winthrop.  The two have known each other all their lives, and they have never gotten along.  Sadly, Kate hasn’t even been opened a week before she gets proof that Ashley intends to continue their feud.  But when Ashley is murdered the day after the two have a very public fight, Kate finds herself questioned by the police.  Can she figure out what really happened before she is arrested for a crime she didn’t commit?

First books in series walk a fine line between introducing us to characters and giving us a good mystery.  This one errs on the side of character backstory, which makes the first quarter very slow plot wise.  Things do pick up as we go along, and by the second half the mystery is in full swing.  Once it got going, I found the mystery good with an ending I didn’t suspect yet one that made sense.  Kate, her Gran, and her niece are all solid characters and I enjoyed spending time with them.  I am curious where Kate’s love life will go after what we learned and the characters we met here.  The suspects don’t get much page time, but they seem real from the little bit of time we did get to spend with them.  And there is plenty of talk about ice cream, which made me crave one of my favorite desserts.  There are four delicious sounding recipes at the end, so you can bring a bit of Kate’s shop home with you.  If you are looking for a new series to help you cool off as the summer heats up, this debut is for you.

The Wanted by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #17) – 4
Elvis Cole thinks his current assignment will be easy.  Single mother Devin Connor has hired him to find out where the money, clothes, and fancy watch that her teenage son, Tyson, have are coming from.  She thinks that Tyson has started selling drugs, but it isn’t long before Elvis determines that Tyson is part of a trio that is robbing houses in the LA area.  While Devin isn’t happy with the news, she’s preparing to deal with it, and Elvis thinks the assignment is over.  However, that night Tyson disappears and a frantic Devin asks Elvis to find him.  As Elvis once again begins to hunt for the teen, he discovers that someone else is after the teen and his friends, someone leaving dead bodies in their wake.  Will Elvis be able to find Tyson in time?

This is yet another satisfying thrill ride from the pen of Robert Crais.  The story starts strong and keeps us going until we reach the end.  Unfortunately, it does have a few trademark Robert Crais issues, including Joe Pike acting a bit like a deus ex machina, although it isn’t as bad as in some books.  Also, parts of the book rely on characters being too stupid to live (I was rooting for one to die, in fact).  The characters could all be stronger, for example I couldn’t keep the main villains straight at all.  But they are developed enough that I cared about the outcome.  This is one of those books where it is easy to pick apart the flaws, but it is such a fun thrill ride that I’m glad I read it.

Risky Biscuits by Mary Lee Ashford (Sugar and Spice Mysteries #2) – 4
“Sugar” Calloway and her business partner Dixie Spicer have taken on a new cookbook client, the St. Ignatius Crack of Dawn Breakfast Club.  The group is famous for their all you can eat biscuits and gravy breakfasts, and they want their cookbook to raise money to refurbish the park where they hold their breakfasts.  Alma is the de facto head of the group, and she is also a neighbor and friend of Greer, Sugar’s landlady, in the retirement community where Greer now lives.  One day, Alma goes missing only for the police to report that she died under mysterious circumstances.  This throws the cookbook project into chaos, but Greer is very concerned about what happened to her friend.  Can Sugar uncover a few clues while making sure the cookbook makes it to print on time?

Reading this book, I realize I have completely fallen in love with the setting.  St. Ignatius seems like a charming small town that I would love to visit (between murders, of course), and the author’s descriptions of Iowa make it sound beautiful.  The book takes a little time to focus before the plot really starts to get going.  As I figured, those early wanderings did come into play as the story wound to its logical conclusion.  I thought I knew where things were going early on, but it turned out I was wrong.  The characters in this series are all strong and just as charming as the setting.  And there’s the food.  While reading, I was drooling at the descriptions of food, so I was happy for the four recipes we find at the end.  This book will leave you hungry for delicious food and another trip to this charming small town.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

The Pawful Truth by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #11) – 4
Charlie Harris has decided to indulge his love of history by auditing a class at Athena College.  On his first day, he is impressed with his professor, Dr. Carey Warriner, who is obviously popular not only because of his good looks but also because of his abilities as a lecturer.  However, part of an exchange between Dr. Warriner and a fellow student as Charlie is leaving concerns Charlie.  When that student dies under mysterious circumstances, the campus rumor mill heats up, and Charlie is left to wonder if he is taking a class from a murderer.

Before you ask, yes, Diesel (the “Cat” of Cat in the Stacks) is a very active part of this mystery, and is as charming as ever, although the new kitten in Charlie’s life does his best to steal the show.  Honestly, the entire cast of regulars, human and animal, are at their best, and it is always a delight to spend time around these characters.  The plot is a little weak, however, feeling more like a soap opera at times and filled with speculation at others.  However, it does reach a logical conclusion.  Honestly, time with these characters is never really wasted, and I enjoyed my time with them again here.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Secret of Shadow Ranch by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew #5) – 4
It’s summer, and Nancy has been invited to spend it with her best friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne on the ranch their uncle Ed and aunt Bet have just bought in Arizona.  However, she has barely landed when she learns that things aren’t going well on the ranch.  Someone is trying to drive the new owners off the land with acts of sabotage, most of which are foreshadowed by a phantom horse.  There is a legend that an old outlaw cursed the ranch, but Nancy thinks the culprits are more modern and very real.  Can she figure out what is going on and why?

This may be the fifth book in the series, but this is the first time we are seeing Bess and George, Nancy’s usual sleuthing companions.  They jump right in here for another action-packed story.  The general plot outline is fairly obvious early on, including a massive coincidence in the story, but that didn’t keep me from turning pages as quickly as I could.  As an adult I find the characters thinner than I remember, but we still like them enough to care about the outcome.  Since the book was last updated in the 1950’s, some of the language is a little dated (it even stopped me a little), but I doubt it will slow down today’s kids as they race to see how Nancy will piece together this fun mystery.

Ripe for Vengeance by Wendy Tyson (Greenhouse Mysteries #5) – 5
Some of Denver Finn’s friends are coming to town, and Megan Sawyer is excited to see a different side of her boyfriend.  They don’t make a good first impression, however, when their dinner together is filled with not so hidden tension.  These friends are in town as part of a corporate charity weekend to mentor kids at a nearby school for troubled teens, but that event goes wrong when one of the adults is murdered.  The police are looking at a teen as the likely killer, but Megan doesn’t think the teen did it.  Can she find the real killer?

This series always has strong characters, and this book is no different.  We get to know everyone involved in this case well, and as events unfold, their reactions and the impact on their live help pull us into the story.  Those looking for a twist a minute might find the pace a little slow, but I found the book compelling since I was so drawn to the characters.  Not to say that this book doesn’t have some good twists and an ending that surprised me.  We do get to see the series regulars and those introduced in previous books, but they are in supporting roles, so they don’t take over from the characters important to this case.  There is a little foul language, and the more serious tone helps put this on the traditional side of the spectrum for me.  Just make sure that your mood matches the book, and you’ll be fine.  This isn’t to say that it is all serious; we get a fun sub-plot involving a pig and plenty of cuteness from the animals on Megan’s farm to help lighten things.  Plan to set aside quite a bit of time when you open this book because you won’t want to stop reading.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

The Tell Tail Heart by Cate Conte (Cat CafĂ© Mysteries #3) – 5
Things on Daybreak Island have gotten quieter now that it has entered November and the season is officially over.  Maddie James is delighted to find that she still has a few locals who drop into her cat cafe.  But she’s really surprised about the man who came in, paid for a week in advance, and spends most of his time working on his laptop surrounded by the cats.  However, things get interesting when a woman shows up and announces that she believes JJ, Maddie’s cat, is really her cat.  Naturally, the encounter upsets Maddie, but it is soon pushed to the back of her mind when a body is found floating in the water next to the yacht club.  With a Nor’easter approaching the island, will that interfere with the investigation into the death?

I found it fun to visit this island during the off season, not that it keeps the book from being any less exciting.  In fact, there is quite a bit happening here, and it takes some time for Maddie to unravel what relates to the murder and what is just red herring.  By the time she does that and we reach the exciting climax, everything makes perfect sense.  One of the minor characters in the series really steps into the spotlight with this book, and I enjoyed getting to learn more about him.  The suspects are strong, and I loved spending time with the series regulars again.  I’m already anxious for the next book to see how the ending of this one is resolved.  This is another fun, charming entry in the series.

Scone Cold Dead by Karen MacInerney (Gray Whale Inn #9) – 5
It’s late spring on Cranberry Island, but the beautiful weather is doing nothing for the tensions building.  Something is going on with the lobstermen on the island.  There are rumors of illegal activity, but no one seems to have any proof.  Natalie Barnes is concerned about that, but she is also concerned that her bed and breakfast doesn’t have reservations like in years past.  Fortunately, she does have some guests thanks to the new artists commune her niece, Gwen, has opened.  But when the tension on the island leads to murder, will Natalie figure out what happened?

It’s always a pleasure to visit Cranberry Island, and this book is no exception.  The characters are old friends by this point, and there are a couple of sub-plots that focus on them that helped pull me into the book early.  Not that the mystery itself wasn’t compelling, and the sub-plots and mystery weave in and out of each other expertly.  There are several good fully developed suspects we meet and plenty of turns before we hit the suspenseful climax.  Natalie is working on recipes for a scone competition, so it is no surprise that three of the recipes at the end of the book are scones.  Fans of the series will be happy with our latest visit to the island, and this book is fun enough to hook new fans as well.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Subject of Malice by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila Maclean #4) – 5
English professor Lila Maclean is attending an academic conference she has helped organize near her university in Colorado, and she is looking forward to presenting a paper, attending panels, and rubbing elbows with the publisher that has accepted her book.  The downside is that her rival, Simone, and Simone’s twin sister, Selene, are also attending the conference and trying to make life miserable for her.  The conference organizers have some surprises up their sleeves, but the dead body after the opening night dinner wasn’t one of them.  Did someone’s academic rivalry boil over to murder?

In this book, Lila is approached by her boyfriend, police detective Lex Archer, about helping investigate because she knows the players and the motives.  That stretched credibility a bit for me, but I was having so much fun I didn’t let it bother me too much.  There is plenty of malice at the conference, not all of it connected to the murder, and that was enough to keep me turning the pages as quickly as possible until I reached the satisfying climax.  Lila is once again a great main character who faces a couple of twists in her personal life in this book.  We don’t see all of the supporting cast, but the ones we do see are great as usual, and the suspects are strong as well.  The setting of the conference, an old movie studio turned into a resort, added a layer of fun to things as well.  All told, I give this book a grade of A+.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

The Closers by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #11) – 5
Harry Bosch has returned to the LAPD, joining the Open/Unsolved Unit that has recently been established and partnering again with Kiz Rider.  His first day back, they are given a new DNA hit on a cold case from 1988 to work.  The case involved a sixteen-year-old girl that was murdered that summer, and the DNA was recovered from the gun that killed her.  The match takes them to a petty criminal who has never been arrested for murder or come close to committing murder.  Naturally, this make Bosch and Kiz question whether their suspect is guilty.  If he isn’t, will he lead them to the killer?

This book started a bit slowly as we were introduced to all the players from the original investigation as Bosch and Kiz work on getting up to speed on the case and see if they can figure out how the DNA results fit.  However, rest assured, there are still plenty of twists coming before the book is over, and fans of author Michael Connelly won’t be disappointed in how things unravel by the time the book ends.  Bosch is still a fantastic lead character, and I enjoyed getting to spend time with Kiz again.  Several other regular players pop in.  Since this book takes place 17 years after the murder took place, it allows us to see how murder impacts those left behind, especially when they have no idea what happened.  This adds a complexity to the book I enjoyed, and it left me wondering how these events impacted the new characters if it did at all.  As always, Michael Connelly proves why he has so many fans.

Let’s Fake a Deal by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #7) – 5
Sarah Winston’s latest garage sale turns into a disaster when the police show up just after she has opened.  It turns out Sarah is selling stolen goods, and the people who hired her have vanished without a trace, making it look even more like she is guilty.  That night, Sarah meets up with her friend Michelle at a local bar.  Michelle, who is up for a promotion in the Air Force, is facing a bogus discrimination complaint.  The next morning, one of the men Michelle thinks is behind her complaint is found dead in her car.  Can Sarah clear her friend while keeping herself out of jail?

With two strong mysteries, I’m sure it is no surprise to say that this is a fast-paced book.  Sarah is always working on one case or the other, and author Sherry Harris balances them perfectly, so we can easily follow what is happening in both cases.  I had a hard time putting the book down, which is standard for this series, and I was satisfied when I reached the ending.  The characters are great as always; I’m especially enjoying getting to know Sarah’s brother Luke.  This book highlights another issue that career military people face without forgetting that it is a mystery novel first, something I especially enjoy about this series.  Now comes the wait for the next time I get to visit Sarah.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Book Review: Let's Fake a Deal by Sherry Harris (Sarah Harris Garage Sale Mysteries #7

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mysteries and characters as always
Cons: I’ve finished the book already
The Bottom Line:
Selling stolen goods
While friend is framed for murder
Fast paced, fun cozy

My Enthusiasm for This Book Is Not Fake

I have quickly come to learn what to expect when I pick up a book from Sherry Harris.  Each book delivers an excellent mystery filled with strong characters.  So I was excited when I sat down to read Let’s Fake a Deal.

The book opens with the ultimate disaster for Sarah Winston.  She’s just opened her latest garage sale when the police show up.  It turns out that the items for sale are all stolen.  Sarah frantically tries to find the couple who she is working for, but they have slipped away, and Sarah finds herself arrested for trying to sell stolen goods.

That night, Sarah meets her friend Michelle at a local bar.  Michelle is stationed at the nearby Air Force base and was in line for a promotion until she got an anonymous discrimination complaint filed against her.  Some of the men Michelle suspects are behind the complaint are in the bar and is takes everything Sarah has to keep Michelle from falling for their bait that night.  The next morning, one of those men is dead in Michelle’s car.  Sarah knows something strange is going on since Michelle wouldn’t have resorted to murder.  Can she prove her friend’s innocence and clear herself at the same time?

Many of the previous books in the series have had the main mystery and a pretty strong sub-plot.  This time around, both mysteries Sarah is facing feel like a main mystery.  Sherry Harris expertly balances both of these stories, giving us clues to what is really happening in both without confusing us in the slightest.

And, with two strong mysteries, I was pulled into the book more than normal.  The pages in this series always fly by all too quickly, and this book was no exception.  It’s the eternal struggle, I want to savor a book I’m enjoying, but I have to know what is going to happen next.  When I did reach the climax, I was satisfied with how everything was wrapped up.

One reason I love this series is the characters.  Sarah leads a fun cast, and I always enjoy spending time with them.  I’m especially enjoying getting to know her brother, Luke, better.

I’ve also always enjoyed how these books highlight different struggles of military life.  This one is certainly one that will infuriate you, yet the book never forgets that it is a mystery novel first and uses the issue of how women in the military are treated as a great backdrop to that case.

Now that I’ve finished Let’s Fake a Deal, I do have one major disappointment.  I have to wait until the next book comes out to spend more time with Sarah.  If you love this series, you will be satisfied with this book.  And if you haven’t started this excellent series yet, I highly recommend you do so immediately.

Need more?  Here are the rest of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, July 29, 2019

TV Show Review: The Good Place - Season 3

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs, stuff to think about
Cons: The first few episodes a little slow
The Bottom Line:
Humans back on Earth
Can they prove they are good now?
Deep thoughts while you laugh

“Can You Believe My High School Voted Me Most Likely to Die Young and Unaccomplished?”  “You Did Die Young and Unaccomplished.”

One thing that has impressed me about The Good Place is the writer’s willingness to reframe the premise of the show each season.  Yes, the show is about four humans in the afterlife, but how they explore that, and what it means to be good or bad, is constantly changing.  Nowhere is that more obvious than in season 3.

Before we go on, I need to issue a giant SPOILER WARNING.  No, I won’t be spoiling season 3.  But to discuss season 3, I will need to spoil a big twist in season 1 and some twists in season 2.  Trust me, you will still enjoy this show even knowing what is coming, but it really is best going into the show completely spoiler free.  So go back and watch the earlier seasons if you haven’t already.  And, when you are ready to move on, come back to this review.

All ready?  Then let’s move on.

Season 3 picks up where season 2 left off.  Our human characters, Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) are back on Earth with no memory of their deaths or anything that has transpired in all the reboots of the Good Place.  Michael (Ted Danson), demon turned friend, has been allowed to reset the timeline as if these four haven’t died in an experiment to see if they can prove they can become good and earn their way to the real Good Place.  However, Michael and afterlife assistant Janet (D’Arcy Carden) can’t stay on the sidelines and keep pushing these four to be better.  It starts by getting them all together in Australia to study philosophy under Chidi.  What will happen when they meet up?  Will they be able to improve themselves?  Will Michael and Janet stay out of things?  Or will they get caught trying to help the humans?

In any other show, I would expect this premise to take up an entire season, and that’s close to what the show has done in the first two seasons.  Instead, the show spends a few episodes doing this and then blows that up and moves on to something else.  And then they do it again.  These changes all make sense as we follow the characters on their journey, so it’s easy to keep up with the natural progression of things.

Frankly, I felt the season got stronger as it went along.  Part of that is because I find some of the best scenes of this show are also when Michael is interacting with the humans, something he didn’t get to do much of during the early part of the season since they were supposed to be on their own.  Plus, I love Janet.  The more we see of Janet, the better, in my opinion, and she got several chances to shine in the second half.

Which brings me to a mini rant.  D’Arcy Carden was completely robbed when the Emmy announcements came out this month.  There is an episode where she has to play not only a couple different iterations of her character but also play Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason.  And she absolutely nails it.  That was by far the best episode of the seasons, and it is thanks to all her hard work.  Heck, she should have won best supporting actress with no contest.  Once you watch the episode, you’ll understand.

Now, this isn’t to take away from the rest of the cast.  Ted Danson has been nominated again (as has the show in general), and he deserves his Emmy nomination.  The rest of the cast is equally strong.  It really is an ensemble show, and each character is given several chances to shine over the course of the season, and the actors all nail their showcase scenes.  Considering some of the things the writers throw at the characters, that’s saying something, too.

Speaking of which, the special effects are still strong.  Yes, a half hour comedy that is strong on special effects, and they nail it.

In case you’ve missed it, yes, I did still find the show funny.  There is at least one scene an episode that has me laughing out loud, and I’m chuckling at things the entire episode.  But the show also makes you think.  I will issue my standard disclaimer – I don’t agree with the show’s theology about the afterlife, but they still raise some interesting questions about good and bad and what that looks like.  I especially am intrigued by what they are trying to say on the show.  I feel like we are building to something, and I want to know what it is.  I certainly found it interesting that they appear to be concluding that it is impossible for humans to be good enough to get into the Good Place, something that Christianity teaches.  I suspect their solution is going to be very different from the truth, however.

If you haven’t heard, it has been announced that the upcoming fourth season will be the final season of The Good Place.  The writers feel like this will allow them to go out on top while telling the story they intended to tell.  I’ll miss the show, but I am glad to see they aren’t going to drag things out.  If they were interested in doing that, they certainly could have milked several things in this season for a few more episodes.

But now is the perfect time to catch up.  Like the first two seasons, season 3 is only 13 half hour episodes, so you can easily get caught up in what is left of the summer.  And you will get addicted enough to do so.

While I did feel the early episodes of the season were a bit slow, the season still built to something fun and funny.  It’s easy to recommend season 3 of The Good Place.  Be prepared to laugh and think while you get ready for the final season of this smart and funny show.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Movie Review: Jailhouse Rock

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: The title song, Elvis singing
Cons: Thin plot and characters
The Bottom Line:
Elvis vehicle
With thin plot and characters
Saved by his singing

Ex-Con Makes Good

There are giant holes in my American pop culture knowledge.  At this point in my life, I only have myself to blame.  One of them is the career of Elvis Presley.  Oh sure, I’ve heard recordings of him singing, but I had never watched any of his movies.  Thanks to TCM, I fixed that with Jailhouse Rock.

This movie tells the story of Vince Everett (Elvis Presley), a young man who finds himself in jail for manslaughter thanks to a bar fight.  While there, his cellmate is Hank Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), a former singer who winds up teaching Vince everything he knows about surviving in jail and singing.  When Vince gets out, he decides to try to turn his new found musical talent into a career.  He meets Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler), and the two set about trying to make him into a star.  Will they succeed?

Let’s be honest here, the plot doesn’t hold any surprises.  While I didn’t have all the plot points figured out early on, I was usually one or two plot points ahead of the movie.  As a result, I felt like the movie was slow, but considering it runs just over an hour and a half, it’s probably more me than anything else.

And, as long as we are being honest, the movie is really just an excuse to see Elvis singing.  This was as close as we got to music videos in 1957, so I can see why people would have rushed to the theater to see it.  Unlike some musicals, the songs in this movie all make sense since they are songs that Vince is singing as part of his career, either recording them or performing them somewhere.  There also aren’t really any dance numbers since Elvis is usually recording something as his character is singing.  The exception to that is the “Jailhouse Rock” sequence, which we get as a rehearsal for a TV special.  It is easily a highlight of the movie, and it is easy to see why Elvis had such a fan base at the time and why his legacy has been so lasting.

With the film being so short, character development is sacrificed in the script.  The characters are just developed enough for us to care, but that is it.  I’m not blaming the actors at all; it is the script they are working with.  No, Elvis isn’t the strongest actor, but he does a reasonable job here.

As I hinted about a minute ago, the film came out in 1957, and is still in black and white.  I know for some that is a complete turn off, but once the movie gets going, it didn’t bother me at all.

I think what I found most interesting was the warning about tempers that flow through the movie.  It may not have been intentional, but several events in the film are a direct result of someone attacking others in a fight when they’ve lost their temper.  And it always had bad results.  Of course, it helps make Vince an ex-con we can root for and not a hardened criminal, but it keeps being a repeated theme as the movie progresses.

I’m not sure how much Jailhouse Rock will appeal to the casual movie viewer, but fans of Elvis will definitely be glad they watched it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

July 27th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – I’m really not surprised that Drew got the second pass last night.  If anyone was going to do that, or get the trifecta, it was going to be him.  Amazing how much the weather plays into things with two people not being able to get up the final obstacles because of moisture from the rain.  Glad the brother and sister made it.  And when they say 12 people go through, it looks like they are counting the two women who move on separate.  Or am I not paying enough attention at the end when they tell us who moved on?

Suits – The gang is acting exactly as they would normally act.  No surprise.  It is nice to see that Faye is smarter than they are giving her credit for being and it isn’t working.  But boy, with all the stunts they’ve pulled, there is no way they will ever get rid of her.

Pearson – Definitely better than the premier.  I should have seen it coming that Jessica leaked her own information to the press.  That’s a classic Jessica move.  She’s right about it being smart, however.  I’m getting more interested to see where it goes, although it is going to take me a few episodes to keep everything straight, I have a feeling.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Book Review: The Closers by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #11)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: Mystery does start a little slowly, but we do need that background
The Bottom Line:
Bosch back on the force
Lands a very hot cold case
Always worth reading

Can Bosch Close a Cold Case?

Timing is a funny thing sometimes.  Earlier this year, author Michael Connelly started a true crime podcast called Murder Book.  The first season (which is all that has aired so far), focused on a cold case from 1988.  As it turns out, this summer I made it to book 11 in the Harry Bosch series, The Closers.  In it, Bosch returns to the LAPD and joins the Open/Unsolved Unit that the city had just started in the early 2000’s.  And his first case?  It comes from 1988.

Bosch has been partnered up again with Kizmin “Kiz” Rider, a former partner from his days working homicide in Hollywood.  His first day back on the job the two get a welcome to the squad present in the form of a DNA hit on a cold case from 1988.  The case is of a sixteen-year-old who was abducted from her home in the Chatsworth area and killed during that summer.  No serious leads were ever uncovered, but some DNA was recovered from the gun used in the crime.  The technology wasn’t good enough to find a match at the time, but with the improvements in technology, it has been run again and a match was found.

However, the match doesn’t seem to fit.  The man is a criminal who has been in and out of prison his entire life, but it is always been for burglary and other lesser crimes, and all after the murder took place.  Is this man the killer?  If not, can Bosch find a way to get him to lead them to the killer?

Obviously, the fact that this crime took place in 1988 and the real-life case on the podcast took place in 1988 is a pure coincidence.  But what isn’t the coincidence is the name of a couple of the other cops in Bosch’s new squad who share names with the cops who worked the real case.  Michael Connelly has used them as consultants for years to make sure he gets the details of police work right, and he put them in the book as a thank you.  They are minor characters, but obviously I found that Easter Egg fun.

If you are thinking this sounds a little thin for a Bosch book, you aren’t alone.  When I first started this book and heard the setup of the crime, I knew there had to be more to the case because otherwise it would be too simple.  I was right.  I will say that I felt things started a little slowly as Bosch and Kiz reworked the early parts of the case and we met all the players.  However, the further into the book I got, the more I got pulled into the story and we absolutely needed that background to fully understand how everything played out.  The twists are all there, and the way things spin out in the end is classic Connelly.  As always, I’m also left wondering what is next for Bosch.

Speaking of whom, he never fails to entertain.  Since he is back on the police force, we are back to third person narration, but all of it the book’s narration comes from Bosch’s point of view.  He is still a complex character we can relate to even if he is smarter at figuring out these crimes than we would ever be.  I always liked Kiz, so I was glad to spend so much time with her again.  Some of the others in Bosch’s orbit weave in and out of the book; they are such rich characters that I enjoy spending time with them again.

Through this case, we really get to see how a murder affects those left behind years later.  There are conversations about closure and whether that helps a person heal or not.  There is a tragedy to the case in this book that adds power to the story.  Yes, it is fiction, but it is a reminder that, when something like this happens in real life, the effects can be long lasting.  All this is a long way of saying that I found the new characters just as complex as the series regulars.  While obviously, we won’t be seeing them again, I can’t help but wonder how their lives changed as the result of what happened here if they do at all.

Len Cariou once again brought the story to life.  I’ve enjoyed his work on the series for several books now, and I enjoyed it here again.

By the way, if you, like me, didn’t make a connection to a minor character in The Narrows, the last Bosch book, we get the answer to who that was in this book.  I was glad to have that teaser tied up here.  Trust me, if you’ve read that book before you read this one, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Again, it’s an Easter Egg that isn’t a big deal if you miss it.

I continue to be so glad that I’ve embarked on catching up on this series.  The Closers makes it easy to see why Michael Connelly has so many loyal fans.  I certainly count myself among them.

Here are the rest of the Harry Bosch novels.

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Ornament Review: Happy Halloween! #7 - Skeleton - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute but slightly creepy scene perfect for the season
Cons: Pumpkin itself could tie in better.
The Bottom Line:
Skeleton, graveyard
A bit creepy, mostly cute
A fun addition

Walking a Dog Past the Graveyard

I do not have enough creativity to do something like the Hallmark artists do.  Take the Happy Halloween! ornament series.  I’m not sure I can come up with too many monsters to include that they haven’t done yet, and I felt that way last year.  But when I saw that the 2019 entry would feature a skeleton, I couldn’t believe that I had missed such an obvious one.

This ornament in the series has a skeleton boy out walking his dog.  How do I know it is a boy?  I don’t.  It’s a skeleton.  The only clue we have is the blue baseball cap on his head.  But that cap to me screams boy.  It could be a girl or an adult for that matter, but it just feels like a boy.  Anyway, naturally, the dog is a skeleton as well with an orange collar around his neck.  Naturally, they are walking past a graveyard.  Heck, they are probably just going for a stroll around the block.  They are just outside the fence for the graveyard, and we can see headstones behind them.  There is a tree in the background and some bats flying against the sky which features a giant moon.

As always, this scene is framed by a pumpkin.  In this case, the pumpkin has his mouth wide open.  It looks to me like he is screaming, maybe seeing the walking skeleton frightened him.  It certainly would frighten me.  (Yes, probably even if it was Sid from the Family Skeleton Mysteries until I learned it was him.)

But the pumpkin is probably my biggest disappointment with the ornament.  In the past, I love the creative way the pumpkin has been changed to go with the theme of the year.  This year doesn’t feel nearly as creative.  Then again, there are only so many things you can do with a pumpkin mouth, right?  I’m probably expecting too much.

Overall, I do like this ornament.  Each entry has captured that slightly creepy but mostly cute feel, and this one does it perfectly again.  That’s another reason I feel like we’ve got a skeleton boy and his skeleton dog; it just feels cuter to me.

Like all good pumpkins, this one has a flat bottom, so you can set this out to be displayed if you so desire.  Since this is part of a series, the 7 in a Christmas tree series marker is on the bottom.  Or, if you have a place you like to hang Halloween ornaments, you can use the loop in the pumpkin’s stem.  When you do, you’ll find that the ornament tips back ever so slightly, but not enough to be an issue.

I’m still stumped on what other creatures we could encounter in this series.  Guess I’ll find out when the 2020 ornaments are announced.  Meantime, I will enjoy this year’s Happy Halloween! ornament.

Check out the rest of the Happy Halloween! ornaments.

Original Price: $15.99

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Book Review: The Subject of Malice by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila Maclean #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Engrossing mystery; well-developed characters
Cons: Some might question Lila’s semi-official involvement in the case
The Bottom Line:
Conference murder
With academic motive
Page turning story

A Study in Malice

It has become obvious to me that you can find motives for murder anywhere.  Just look at the wide range of settings and hooks I read in my various mystery series.  Academic conferences prove to be deadly in The Subject of Malice, the newest Lila Maclean mystery from Cynthia Kuhn.

Lila has been helping put together an academic conference at the Tattered Star Ranch not too far from her home in Colorado.  She has a full agenda between attending panels, presenting at her own panel, and attempting to make some professional contacts, including rubbing elbows with the academic press that has agreed to publish her book on Isabella Dare.  Unfortunately, her nemesis, Simone, is also attending the conference with her equally evil twin sister Selene, and the conference has hardly started when they drop a bombshell on Lila.

However, they aren’t the only ones with surprises at the conference, including an appearance by an English professor turned mega bestselling author.  While the crowd is buzzing about his unexpected turn as the keynote speaker, someone is murdered.  Because Lila is familiar with the academic world and the players in the case, Lila’s boyfriend, homicide detective Lex Archer, asks her to keep her eyes open and sit in on a few interviews.  Lila, already curious about what is happening, is happy to assist in any way she can.  Will they find the killer before the conference ends?

Yes, I can see people having issues with Lila being asked to sit in and provide feedback on parts of the investigation.  A part of my mind was questioning whether that would actually happen or not.  However, I was having so much fun that I truly didn’t care.

This book has lots of malice for Lila to shift through before she can reach the climax.  There are motives for murder and issues in her personal life that kept me reading as quickly as I could.  I never wanted to put the book down, and each twist just made me want to read even faster, if that were possible.  The climax wraps things up well.

The characters were just as strong as the story.  Lila has always been a sympathetic main character, and that hasn’t changed here.  She even weathers some twists in her personal life.  We don’t get to see all the regular supporting characters, but I enjoyed seeing the ones that were part of the book.  We certainly see a different side of Simone before the book is over, which was much needed.  I’ll be interested to see how that relationship progresses in the next in the series.  The new characters are a charming bunch; it’s hard to picture one of them as the killer until Lila figures things out.

And I found the setting fun.  While it is close to home for Lila, most of the book takes place at a former movie location set turned into a resort, which fits perfectly with the mystery and gothic literature theme to this particular conference.  I completely enjoyed everything about it.

The Subject of Malice is the strongest book in this series to date.  After having read it, I must give it a grade of A+.

Need the prerequisites?  Here are the rest of the Lila Maclean Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I am reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  Please check out the other stops here and enter the tour wide giveaway below in the Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Music Review: Untitled Hymn - A Collection of Hymns by Chris Rice

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great modern collection of timeless hymns
Cons: Does nothing to change my mind on “Were You There”
The Bottom Line:
Simple, timeless hymns
Lyrics with eternal truths
Will listen for years

Chris Rice is Back with Another Great Collection of Hymns

It’s been several years since the last time Chris Rice put out any new music, and that was a wonderful collection of hymns.  I was thrilled to see we were getting Untitled Hymn: A Collection of Hymns this year.  Yes, it is another collection of hymns, and yes, it’s good.

This really is a perfect companion to Peace Like a River, Chris’s last hymn collection.  Once again, we’ve got twelve hymns simply arranged but beautifully sung.  And, the simple arrangements can help focus us on the wonderful lyrics.  Each track starts out with Chris on either piano or guitar and his vocals.  However, as the songs progress, other elements are woven in – we get other instruments, Chris provides some background vocals on some tracks, and a small choir joins him on others.  There are even strings on “Amazing Grace” that make the track stand out.

And the lyrics.  Oh the lyrics.  There is a reason we still know and sing these songs years, decades, and sometimes centuries after they were written.  The lyrics pack so much truth into them that my spirit starts to soar within seconds as I mediate on them.  Is there anything better than thinking about God?  Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be writing and listening to modern music today.  I just happen to be in the AND camp.  I enjoy modern music AND classic hymns, especially new recordings of the hymns.

Long time Chris Rice fans will recognize “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)” as an original song that Chris first recorded on Run the Earth, Watch the Sky.  Yes, he did rerecord it for this project and it fits in with the songs around it.

Chris has added a new two-line refrain to “O For a Thousand Tongues.”  It took me a couple of listens, but now I love it.  Likewise, he has made a couple of tweaks to “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” but they quickly grew on me.

For me the only misstep on the disc is “Were You There,” and that’s just because I have never liked this hymn.  As a literal minded kid, the first time I heard this song, I thought to myself, “Of course, I wasn’t here.  I’m not two thousand years old,” and I have never been able to shake that thought no matter when I listen to this song.  Fans of the song will definitely still appreciate it.

I was completely unfamiliar with “Too Much I Love” before buying this release.  It’s what you’d expect, a lament about loving the world too much, and it’s quickly growing on me.

Best I can tell, this was released as a digital only project.  I certainly haven’t been able to track down a way to buy a physical CD, so adjust your buying strategy accordingly.

But definitely plan to get Untitled Hymn.  The lyrics never get old because of the timeless truths they contain.

Length: 40:38
1. What a Friend We Have in Jesus
2. Amazing Grace
3. Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)
4. O For a Thousand Tongues
5. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
6. This is My Father’s World
7. There is a Fountain
8. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
9. Hallelujah, What a Savior
10. Were You There
11. Fairest Lord Jesus
12. Too Much I Love

Monday, July 22, 2019

Book Review: Scone Cold Dead by Karen MacInerney (Gray Whale Inn #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and story
Cons: I’m not cold hearted enough to list any cons
The Bottom Line:
Lobstermen in stew
As conflict leads to murder
Always great visit

Can Natalie Find a Scone Cold Killer?

It’s always a pleasure to return to Cranberry Island.  Karen MacInerney has expertly brought it to life through the eyes of Natalie Barnes, the owner of the Gray Whale Inn bed and breakfast.  Of course, the island does seem to have a murder problem, as evidenced by the fact that Scone Cold Dead is the ninth book in the series.

It’s late spring, and trouble is once again brewing on the island.  There is tension boiling over in the lobster community as people are being accused of trying to skirt the laws to harvest more lobsters and therefore gain more money.  Since Natalie’s new nephew-in-law is one of the lobstermen, this naturally concerns her.  But when a dead body turns up, things get even worse.

Meanwhile, bookings at the inn have been down, and Natalie is hoping to gain some publicity by entering a scone recipe competition a newspaper on the mainland is holding.  And her niece, Gwen, has recently opened an artist’s commune on the island.  Will this distract Natalie from figuring out the latest murder?

As you can see, there are several sub-plots in this book, and they weave in and out of the main plot quite skillfully, sometimes influencing each other in the bargain.  The story is always moving forward, and I devoured the book as quickly as possible because I had to know what was happening.  The climax made perfect sense when we reached it, and it was very suspenseful.

I already stated I love the location, but one huge reason for that is the characters.  Natalie’s world is filled with characters we’ve all come to consider friends over the course of the series, and it was great to spend time with them again here.  A couple of the sub-plots directly involve them, and that helped pull me into the book faster than the murder would have all by itself.  Of course, the suspects are just as strong and compelling, making it hard to figure out what exactly is happening until Natalie pieces it all together.

There are several delicious sounding recipes at the back of the book.  Given this book’s theme, I’m sure it is no surprise that three of them are scone recipes.

Scone Cold Dead is another winning book from Karen MacInerney.  Grab your favorite scone and settle in to see what Natalie and the rest of the gang are up to now.

Be sure to book more time on Cranberry Island with the rest of the Gray Whale Inn Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Disney Mug Review: Jiminy Cricket - Disney Wisdom Collection #7

: 4 out of 5
Pros: Nice mug with another fun quote
Cons: Don’t like the color
The Bottom Line:
Another fun mug
Characters, quote are both great
Conscience glad I got

Don’t Prick Your Conscience.  Buy This Mug

I’m at the point I need to do some serious rearranging in my cupboards for the mugs I’ve been buying this year as part of the Disney Wisdom Collection.  Not that it has stopped me from starting the second half of the series with this mug inspired by the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio.

This month’s quote is “Always let your conscience be your guide.”  It is featured on one side of the mug in blue and red surrounded by doodles.  I love the way they’ve chosen to display the quote.  Of course, with it being a shorter quote, they can do more with it.  On the other side are the characters for the month, Jiminy Cricket and Figaro.

My biggest issue with this mug is the color.  Since Jiminy is the featured characters, they’ve gone with a yellow-green.  Now, I agree that it is appropriate for the character since crickets are close to that color.  I just have never been a fan of yellow-green.  So, as you can imagine, that takes away some from my enjoyment of the mug.  In person, the color is a bit more of a pea soup color, which is better but still not ideal for me.  As usual, the characters blend into the mug a bit, but they stand out better than Cogsworth and Lumiere did last month.

Like the rest of the set, I appreciate the fact that the bottom is notched so it is stackable.  I can fit more in my cupboards that way.  It is a little shorter than some mugs, but it is wider, so you get a 14 oz mug that is dishwasher and microwave safe.

Color aside, I do appreciate this addition to my Disney Wisdom Mug collection.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to figure out where it is going to rest in my cupboard.

Disney Pin Review: Jiminy Cricket - Disney Wisdom Collection #7

: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun set and good quote
Cons: Not a fan of the color
The Bottom Line:
Pinocchio set
Overall these pins are great
Not fan of color

This is Your Conscience Speaking.  Buy This Pin Set

We are starting in on the second half of the Disney Wisdom Collection.  Hard to believe that the 2019 is flying buy so quickly, isn’t it?  But here we are with a Disney pin set featuring a quote from the movie Pinocchio.

The character being quoted is the Blue Fairy.  I must admit, it took me a minute to remember this was her quote.  Why?  I associate “Always let your conscience be your guide” with Jiminy Cricket’s song “Give a Little Whistle.”  But when he sings that, he’s just quoting the Blue Fairy who said it first.  Anyway, I do like this quote, and I’m not surprised it is included in the collection.  The one caveat I would add is that you need to make sure you are feeding your conscience with truth or it can and will lead you astray.  But God did give us a conscience to help lead us.

As usual, we have a three pin set.  One of the pins is the quote.  The second is Jiminy Cricket, which doesn’t surprise me.  He has his back mostly turned to us, and he is doffing his cap to someone.  I’m going to say it is the Blue Fairy as she sparkles out of the scene.  Rounding out the set is Figaro, the cat, who is smiling.

With the Blue Fairy not an official part of the pin set, this means that we have had the speaker of the quote represented in the set three times and not represented four times.  I suspect we will continue to drop below 50% in the months to come.

The color for the month is a yellowish green, which is no surprise since the main character of the month is Jiminy Cricket.  However, I’m not a fan of the color in general, so that part of the set bothers me.  Naturally, it looks great on the Jiminy pin, and the way the quote is arranged on its pin looks fantastic.  Sadly, Figaro looks a bit weird with this color, but I’m sure I will get used to him quickly as I have some of the others.

The color is the only drawback to the newest pin set.  For those, like me, who are collecting the series, it’s an overall good set.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

July 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Some scripted shows appear again!

American Ninja Warrior – When they started announcing the Power Tower and prize for the city finals, I was thinking that those who won it in the first round would be disappointed they couldn’t win it this time.  Then we found out they would still get to run to try to get the prize.  That made me happy, as I’m sure it did them.  I suspected the Kevin Bull wasn’t going to finish, but I’m glad he at least made it to the national finals.  Glad to see Sweet T advance as well.

Suits – Can people really come in and take over a firm like that?  I mean, it makes great drama, but it isn’t right if it is true.  I’ll be interested to see how they play this out over the rest of the series.  Loved the shout outs to Mike and Rachel.  Man, I still miss those characters.

Pearson – I had hopes for this episode since we already had a backdoor pilot a year and a half ago on Suits.  But this felt like more of a TV pilot than I was expecting.  I’ll stick with it for now, but I am not completely sold on it.  I think part of my problem is realizing that her boyfriend is just a guest star character.  I love him and their relationship, so I didn’t want to see more drama between them.  And, I still had the tease and then flashback style of storytelling, and we got that in what I guess is a tease from the season finale.  I’ll give it a few episodes, however, before I decide anything for sure.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Movie Review: The Lion King (2019)

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Looks great
Cons: Adds nothing to the story we already know
The Bottom Line:
This faithful remake
Brings nothing new to story
But looks amazing

Stunning Visuals in a Pointless Remake

25 years ago, I went to my first opening night of a movie to see the original version of The Lion King.  I loved it then, and I still love the movie.  And the Broadway show.  So, I was intrigued by the new remake of the film enough to go see it on opening night.  (Oh, Thursday night might be considered a preview night, but with as many showings as they are doing, it was opening night.)

If you aren’t familiar with the story, it takes place completely in the animal kingdom.  We meet Simba as a young cub (voiced by JD McCrary).   He is the crown prince of his lion pride, the son of Mufasa (James Earl Jones).  However, his uncle, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), wants the throne and he will do anything to claim it.  What will the outcome of his actions be?

Now, let’s get one thing straight from the beginning.  No matter how Disney may be marketing this, it is NOT a live action remake.  It is a highly realistic CGI remake – a different type of animation, but animation none the less.  And let’s give full credit to the visuals – this movie looks amazing.  These look like real animals on the screen interacting with a real background.  It’s easy to let your mind go and believe everything you are seeing on the screen.  Yes, a few insects look fake, but that’s a minor complaint when you are looking at an almost two-hour movie.  And some of the actions the characters do at times helps make it seem like these are real animals.  They not only look like real animals, but they move like them and at times behave like them.

On the other hand, in all the glut of Disney remakes, this one is the most pointless to date.  It isn’t a shot for shot remake of the original animated version, but it is close, and some scenes certainly are.  They have added about half an hour to the original story, and there are bits and pieces snuck in throughout the movie.  A couple of sequences are obviously expanded, but there is no scene that is clearly added just for this movie.

But that also means there really is nothing new to the story.  As much as some of the recent remakes have been retreads of the main story, they have still added character background or a new sub-plot.  Here, we really get nothing new.  We are watching this movie purely for the stunning visuals.

Now hear me out.  I’m not saying this movie is bad.  The story is still powerful, and it is easy to get into the events as they unfold yet again.  While a few of my favorite lines aren’t here, there are some new ones that are great – especially a joke at the beginning of the climax that had the audience I saw it with laughing hard.

The voice cast does a good job overall.  There are a couple of scenes where things feel a bit off, but that’s probably just my take on it because I’m so used to the original.  James Earl Jones reprises his role as Mufasa, and it is hard to imagine anyone else’s voice bring the character to life.  He’s the only returning actor.  In addition to the ones I already mentions, we get the likes of Donald Glover, Beyonce, Penny Johnson Jerald, Seth Rogan, and Bill Eichner.

All the song we love from the animated film are here, and they are easily a highlight of the film.  Fans of the Broadway version will recognize some of the songs from that version in the soundtrack as well.  Honestly, I wish they had fully put them in the film because they are powerful songs that add so much to the characters, but that’s a minor complaint.

I really did enjoy the remake of The Lion King.  It would be nice if the filmmakers had put their own spin on things, but even as it is, this is a visual feast that retells a great story.