Thursday, April 30, 2020

April 2020's Reading Summary

I keep saying I'm not reading that much more than normal, but I think this list betray that.  Outside of the readathon I did this weekend (and those books will be reviewed in March), I didn't feel like I was putting that much extra time into reading.  I am reading more on weekends, but just 100 extra pages.  Still, this list feels like a lot more than that.

Anyway, that's a long winded way of saying here's what I read in April.  Links will take you to my full review.  And the index has been updated again this month.

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

Murder on Waverly Place by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #11) – 5
Midwife Sarah Brandt is surprised when her mother, Mrs. Decker, begs Sarah to join her at a séance.  Mrs. Decker is hoping to reach Maggie, Sarah’s older sister, and obtain forgiveness for something that happened before she passed.  Sarah goes, but nothing she experiences convinces her that it is at all real.  However, Mrs. Decker goes back a second time, and one of the group members is murdered.  They quickly call in Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy.  The lights were out, and everyone was holding hands, so how was the victim killed?

Between the how and the who, I was pulled into this story and couldn’t put it down.  There are some great twists along the way, and the climax is logical, although one part bothered me.  It’s a very minor complaint.  Sarah and Frank continue to be strong leads, ably sharing the view point of the story in a way that is easy to follow.  They even made me laugh a few times as I was reading.  While we don’t see Frank’s family, we do get to see more of the people in Sarah’s life, and I love spending time with them.  The new characters are fantastic, and help bring New York City of 1897 to life.  I always get lost in Sarah and Frank’s world, and this book was no exception.  If you are looking for a historical mystery, I highly recommend this book.

The Future King by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #3) – 4
This book picks up almost immediately after the previous book ended.  Fort has just rescued his father, but the man is in a coma.  Oh, and half of England is under a dome.  No one knows what is happening inside the dome, but a video has been released demanding that Fort and his friends Rachel and Jia be sent to the dome or the people inside won’t be released.  While no one in charge intends to send the trio, they still find themselves there.  Will they be able to stop what is coming?

If you haven’t read this series yet, don’t start with this book.  It assumes you’ve read the first two, and there isn’t much background given to help explain the world that has been created.  This book starts out a little slowly with too many teases about what might happen in the future, but once the main quest really gets going, the book picks up, and there are twists and surprises that kept me engaged.  The characters are good, and Fort does more growing here.  I’m not a fan of the post-apocalyptic setting, especially right now, but I am intrigue enough that I have to know what is going to happen next, so I will be back for more.

Murder on Memory Lake by J. D. Griffo (Ferrara Family Mysteries #1) – 3
Things are looking up for Alberta Scaglione in her retirement.  She’s inherited money and a cabin on Memory Lake from an aunt, and her granddaughter, Jinx, has come back into her life thanks to a job for the local paper in Tranquility, New Jersey.  However, things take a sad turn when Alberta finds the body of her childhood nemesis in the lake.  Alberta quickly realizes the woman was murdered, and Jinx talks Alberta into investigating to jump start her transition to crime reporter.  Can they solve the case?

The book starts out with a couple of chapters that are little more than data dumps, giving us the background on the characters.  Yes, we need to know the information, but it could have been slipped into the novel better.  The mystery itself is strong with several viable suspects and a logical trail to the great climax with some fun red herrings along the way.  Alberta and Jinx are joined by another couple family members, and the four women are a delight, making me laugh a few times.  The book is written in omniscient point of view, but mostly sticking with Alberta and Jinx.  It mostly works, but it allows for passages of the characters pondering life.  These felt like they’d be more at home in a literary novel than a mystery.  The book closes out with a few recipes.  The bones of the book are good, but overall, it felt overwritten.  There is enough enjoyable elements to the book that if you are curious about the book, I recommend you check it out and see what you think for yourself. 

Barking with the Stars by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mysteries #9) – 4
Pet therapist Caro Lamont is working with the stars and dogs who are part of the Barking with the Stars fundraiser, which is raising money for an organization that provides service dogs to soldiers who have returned from war.  The biggest celebrity is Purple, an internationally famous pop star.  But a few days before the big event, Purple is found dead.  The police suspect foul play and are looking at Caro’s ex-husband.  Geoffrey is many things, but a killer is one of them, right?

This series is always fun, and this book is no exception.  The plot moves forward well, and Caro keeps digging until she puts things together in the end.  I did feel like one plot point got forgotten as the book went forward, but that is a minor complaint.  The characters are great.  Caro and a few others seem very real, but the rest can be eccentric.  They work in the series and provide some fun laughs, especially Betty.  The series storylines advance as well, and I enjoyed getting those updates.  This is another fun entry in a very fun series.

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Stuart Gibbs (FunJungle #6) – 5
Teddy Fitzroy is surprised when his friend Sage reveals that he found a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull on his ranch.  But now that skull has gone missing.  It’s large and heavy, so who could have stolen it?  And how did they do it?  Meanwhile, he’s gotten a call from the Barksdale twins about their new exotic pet.  Who is selling these dangerous animals?

This book really does have two storylines, and it balances both well.  We do get a couple of lectures about endangered animals, but they don’t slow down the action for long.  And with everything happening, there is plenty of action.  When Teddy pieced together the clues, I couldn’t believe I missed them myself.  The characters are great as always, and some of the situations Teddy found himself in made me laugh out loud.  These books are aimed at middle schoolers, but anyone who enjoys a fun mystery should definitely pick them up.

Iced in Paradise by Naomi Hirahara (Leilani Santiago #1) – 4
Leilani Santiago has returned from Seattle to the island of Kauai to help run her family’s shave ice shack.  Unfortunately, that means dealing with family dynamics, including her estranged father.  He’s returned now with Luke, his newest surfing protégé, for a local competition.  The morning of the competition, Leilani finds Luke dead on the floor of the shave ice shack.  With her father as the prime suspect, Leilani begins to investigate.  Can she find the truth?

This book is written in first person present tense, which took a couple of chapters to get used to, but once I did, I had no trouble getting lost in the story.  The mystery with strong with plenty of suspects, yet things make sense when Leilani finds the truth.  Like other books Naomi Hirahara has written, family dynamics are also a strong storyline, and they weave in and out without taking over from the mystery.  This helps us get to know the characters, and I grew to love them as I read.  I did struggle with the Pigeon English the characters speak; at times it really slowed me down as I worked to translate what they were saying.  But that was my only complaint.  The book left me feeling like I’d visited Kauai but craving shave ice.

Second to Nun by Alice Loweecey (Giulia Driscoll Mysteries #2) – 4
Former nun turned PI Giulia Driscoll’s newest client is MacAllister Stone, aka Mac.  Mac runs a bed and breakfast in her family’s old non-working lighthouse.  Lately, something sinister seems to be at work at the bed and breakfast with possible ties to the legend of a family ghost.  Giulia and her husband, Frank, go undercover as guests.  But this job is turning out to be rougher than it sounds as the strange events seem to be increasing in frequency.  Before Giulia finds the culprit, she will have to determine if she is looking for a ghost or a flesh and blood villain.

Giulia spends the first few chapters wrapping up her current cases before heading to the bed and breakfast, so the main mystery gets off to a slow start.  Once it does begin, we are treated to plenty of mysterious events until Giulia brings it to a logical and satisfying conclusion.  The characters are wonderful.  The new cast grow as the book progresses, but I love spending time with the regulars.  They’re one reason why the opening chapters were still so much fun.  These characters have such great chemistry with each other, including teasing each other, and that humor kept me smiling if not laughing throughout the book.  The book does have a smattering of foul language, certainly more than the cozies I normally read, but that is worth noting only in passing.  If you are looking for a delightful getaway, this is the book to pick up.

The Murder Pit by Jeff Shelby (Moose River Mysteries #1) – 3
Life is going well for Daisy Savage.  Recently remarried, she, her husband, and their blended family are settling into the old fixer upper they just bought.  While her husband, Jake, bemoans the work, Daisy fell in love with the place despite the work.  The house seems to have quite a few secrets, and Daisy finds one in their basement’s crawl space – an old coal chute.  Unfortunately, that discovery also comes with a dead body, and the victim is someone that Daisy recognizes.  With the small-town rumor mill kicking in, Daisy finds herself as a suspect.  Can she figure out who really killed the victim and why he was dumped in their basement?

The plot started out well, and I enjoyed the added puzzle about why the victim was left in Daisy’s basement.  There were some good twists before we reached the end.  Sadly, I did have some issues with the book.  The characters are a bit thin.  I get that some of them were supposed to be comedic, but they still could have been stronger.  Daisy’s kids seemed to act younger than they were supposed to be.  She homeschools most of the kids, but she seems to justify letting them play and not actually doing any work with them.  (Yes, I get that in a cozy, the main character spends all their time on the case instead of their job, but that’s not the case here.)  There were some timelines issues as well, nothing that affected the plot, but the author clearly lost track of time.  On the other hand, I loved Daisy and Jake’s relationship, and I laughed quite a bit at the character’s interactions.  I’ve read other books from Jeff Shelby in the past and enjoyed them, so I will read one of his books again.  Hopefully, this was just an off book.  Overall, I enjoyed it, but there are some issues that need to be resolved.

The Beckoning Ice by Joan Druett (Wiki Coffin #5) – 4
In February of 1839, the US Exploring Expedition is approaching Cape Horn.  While many of the sailors are looking forward to their first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, Wiki Coffin has other concerns.  A crewman on the ship he is currently on has slit his own throat.  It was well known that Midshipman Dove was unhappy with the life of a sailor, but Wiki doesn’t believe he committed suicide, and he soon begins to find evidence to back up his theory.  But who committed the crime?

It’s been several years since I read the previous book in the series, but it didn’t take me long to slip back in Wiki’s world.  The author does a fantastic job of bringing life on the sea in the 1830’s and the expedition to life, and she’s made me curious to learn more about what really happened during the voyage in real life.  Unfortunately, her love of all things nautical did slow down the mystery at times, but after reading the previous books, I was still interested to know what was happening to the ships that I didn’t mind too much.  And it was never long before Wiki was back to working on the mystery.  There are a lot of characters, but they are developed enough to help us remember who they are, and we get little reminders as well when they step on page.  If the subject at all interests you, I definitely recommend you check out this series.

Hunting for Hidden Gold by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #5) – 4
When their dad requests their help, Frank and Joe Hardy are only too happy to jump on a plane to Montana.  Fenton Hardy is on the trail of a gang of thieves, but before they leave, Frank and Joe also hear about some gold that’s been lost in the area for years.  With danger attacking even before they land in Montana, the brothers have to figure out who the mole in town in, where the gang is hiding, and possibly find time for a treasure hunt.  Can they do it?

It’s fun to revisit these characters even as an adult.  The action starts almost immediately and never really lets up, not that I’m complaining.  There was even one part of the plot that the Hardys couldn’t figure out right away, which was a nice change.  The characters are thin, and we don’t see much of the usual supporting players.  There are definitely some dated references, but as long as kids know the book is older, they should be fine with it.  I know I had fun revisiting these characters.

Pumpkin Spice Peril by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries #12) – 5
Over the years that best friends Mel Cooper and Angie Harper have run Fairytale Cupcakes, they have made friends with some of their customers.  Near the top of that list are husband and wife artists Peter and Rene.  Every Friday, Peter comes in to pick up cupcakes for Rene, who is currently putting the finishing touches on a major art installation to be unveiled in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Mel and Angie are providing the cupcakes for the opening night party.  However, the night before the big event, someone dies under suspicious circumstances.  Has Mel been pulled into another murder?

While the murder happens a little late in the book, the time is well used to introduce us to characters and provide plenty of conflict.  I was never bored, and that only increased once the murdered happened and Mel started uncovering secrets.  The series regulars all sparkle as always, and I enjoyed getting to spend time with them.  The new characters are just as strong.  The book has a more somber tone than some of the others in the series, but it fits the events of the plot.  Don’t worry, there are still some good laughs along the way.  We get four new cupcake recipes at the end that sound delicious.  I raced through this book like always.  This is another fun entry in one of my favorite series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Booked 4 Murder by J.C. Eaton (Sophie Kimball Mysteries #1) – 5
Sophie “Phee” Kimball is annoyed when her mother keeps calling to talk about a cursed book.  It seems that several members of her book club have died after starting their current month’s selection.  Even though Phee is an accountant, Harriet is sure she is the one who can stop the curse, so Phee gives in and takes some vacation to go visit her mother in Arizona.  Once she arrives, Phee quickly determines that something strange is going on.  But is it from a cursed book?  Or is a killer using the curse to hide his or her tracks?

I’ve been hearing about this series for a couple of years, and I can see why.  This is a fun debut.  The mystery is something different for a cozy, and I really enjoyed it.  I was a little ahead of Phee in piecing things together, but only a little, and there were still some surprises when I reached the climax.  I was worried that Harriet would be annoying, but I found her fun.  The same goes for the rest of the cast.  There were quite a few characters, but I was able to keep them all straight, which shows how well developed they were.  The book made me chuckle and laugh, especially at the climax, which was a bit over the top but fit the story perfectly.  I will definitely be visiting Phee again soon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Book Review: Booked 4 Murder by J.C. Eaton (Sophie Kimball Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, intriguing mystery
Cons: A couple too many coincidences
The Bottom Line:
Cursed book or murder?
Join Phee in her quest for truth
Delightful debut

Is the Book Really Cursed?

I’ve been hearing good things about the Sophie Kimball Mystery series for a few years now.  I’ve even had Booked 4 Murder, the debut, sitting on a bookcase at home.  It’s just taken me this long to pick up the book.  Turns out, I’ve been hearing good things about these books for a reason.

Sophie Kimball, Phee to her friends, is an accountant for a small police department in Minnesota.  But that still doesn’t stop her mom, Harriet, from calling her in a panic.  Her mom is living in a retirement community in Sun City West, Arizona, and her book club is reading a cursed book.  How else would you explain the fact that four members of the club have died while reading it.  Harriet is terrified that she will be next and certain that Phee is the only one who can stop the curse.  Phee tries to explain she isn’t a detective, but Harriet isn’t listening.

Naturally, Phee doesn’t believe the book is cursed, but she knows the only way to appease her mother is to take some vacation time and go investigate.  However, her investigation begins to give her more questions than answers.  Is the book really cursed?  Or is someone using the curse as a cover for murder?

The premise of this mystery really intrigued me, and I am happy to say it delivered.  The plot is something different for a cozy, which is always fun.  Yes, I was pretty sure I knew where the book was going early on, but I wasn’t that much ahead of Phee.  I still didn’t have all the pieces until Phee figured it out, and I was enjoying being along for the ride in the meantime.  I did roll my eyes a couple of times at the coincidences that got Phee what she needed, but I was having too much fun to be super upset.

I was worried early on when Phee was talking about her mother driving her crazy.  I hoped that I wouldn’t find Harriet annoying as I read the book.  Fortunately, I didn’t find her annoying at all, although I can see why Phee would.  I also felt how much the two do love each other even if they view certain things differently.  In fact, they made a good team.

The characters in this book are good.  There are quite a few, but I never had a hard time keeping them straight, which shows how deftly the authors created them.  Phee herself is a fun main character, and I definitely enjoyed spending time around her.  I am interested to see how character relationships advance going forward and who might become recurring characters in the series.

And the book is fun.  I smiled, chuckled, and laughed at various times as Phee solved the case.  The climax not only wraps things up but provides some of the best laughs in the book.  Is it over the top?  A little.  But it works and fits the book perfectly.

I’m glad I finally picked up Booked 4 Murder, and I know I’ll be visiting Phee again soon.  If you are looking for a fun new cozy series, don’t wait any longer but pick this one up today.

Enjoy the rest of the Sophie Kimball Mysteries.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Book Review: Pumpkin Spice Peril by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries #12)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: A bit more serious than some entries, but it fits the book well
The Bottom Line:
An art opening
With mood dampened by murder
Another great book

Exhibiting a Murder

My favorite series are comfort food – much like cupcakes.  So I was very much looking forward to diving into Pumpkin Spice Peril, the twelfth Cupcake Bakery Mystery from Jenn McKinlay.

Over the years that best friends Mel Cooper and Angie Harper have run Fairytale Cupcakes, they have made friends with some of their customers.  Near the top of that list are husband and wife artists Peter and Rene.  Every Friday, Peter comes in to pick up cupcakes for Rene, who is currently putting the finishing touches on a major art installation to be unveiled in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Mel and Angie are providing the cupcakes for the opening night party.  However, the night before the big event, someone dies under suspicious circumstances.  Has Mel been pulled into another murder?

The book takes a little time introducing us to suspects and setting the story in motion before we get to the murder, but I didn’t mind because there was still plenty of conflict to keep us engaged.  And once the murder happens, we are given plenty of questions and twists as Mel tries to reach the climax.  There’s a great sub-plot related to the murder as well.  It added up to a book I couldn’t put down, and I breezed through it quickly.

Of course, the reason I love this series is because of the characters.  It was wonderful to spend time with all of them once again and see how their lives are advancing.  They are such fantastic characters.  The new characters are just as sharp.  I’d say wonderful, but some of them are suspects, so they can’t all be wonderful, right?

This book was more somber than some of the others in the series.  Mel feels this particular death pretty hard, and that comes through to us.  I appreciated how that was dealt with realistically.  The result isn’t a book that’s as light as some of the others in the series, although we do get a few laughs over the course of the book.

And, of course, there are cupcake recipes.  I’m sure it is no surprise when I say that one of them is pumpkin spice, but I’m most interested in trying the root beer float cupcake.  All told, there are four new cupcakes to try when you are done with the book.

Fans of the series are in for another treat with Pumpkin Spice Peril.  And if you aren’t a fan yet, you need to fix that today.  You’ll soon be addicted, but don’t worry, it’s a good addiction.

Enjoy more delicious mysteries with the rest of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Movie Review: A Fatal Romance - A Matchmaker Mystery

: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery
Cons: Not much for Nick to do, Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Romance writer dead
But matchmaker on the case
Enjoyable film

“Are You Using the Show as Cover for a Rogue Murder Investigation?”  “No, I’m…Multitasking.”

I know that Hallmark usually premiers movies on Saturdays and Sundays, but I haven’t seen a mystery movie premier on Saturday since I started watching them.  So I had to double check when I saw that A Fatal Romance, the second Matchmaker Mystery, had been set to premier this last Saturday.  I’m glad I saw that because I enjoyed the movie.

Angie Dove (Danica McKellar) has been invited to moderate a panel at a romance convention being held in town.  No, she hasn’t started writing books of any kind, but she is so well known locally for her matchmaking TV show, she is a natural fit.  This does put her back into contact with Ethan, her ex-boyfriend who has taken over a publishing company from his late mother.  Among his authors are Beatrice Penn (Anne Marie DeLuise), a best-selling author with a huge fan base.

Beatrice is on the panel Angie is moderating, but the panel gets off to a rocky start.  One of the authors never shows, Beatrice and the other author obviously hate each other, and someone from the audience yells at Beatrice.  When Beatrice gets up to read, she seems to be suddenly ill, and the panel comes to an abrupt end.  It’s only later that Angie learns from detective Kyle Cooper (Victor Webster) that Beatrice died and poison is suspected.  When he zeroes in on Ethan as the suspect, Angie jumps in to figure out what really happened.

This movie was filled with suspects and motives, and it kept me guessing until the end.  I was impressed with the way this movie wove those motives and suspects around each other until Angie figured things out.  Naturally, all of our questions were answered by that point.

The movie was so full of plot that there wasn’t much room for the third member of the main character trio, Angie’s dad Nick (Bruce Boxleitner).  He gets a couple of scenes and a sub-plot, but his screen time is very small.  Since, of the main cast, he’s the actor I like the most, I hope they find more to have him do in future movies.

However, I did enjoy watching Angie and Kyle interacting.  We are still getting the slow tease in their romance, and I enjoy watching them deny their feelings for each other.

I also enjoyed watching the bits of Angie’s matchmaking show that were being filmed.  This actually was the strongest sub-plot of the show.

The actors and writers do a good job of keeping the Hallmark cheese to a minimum.  It is there, but if you know to expect it, you can pretty easily ignore it.

If you missed Hallmark’s schedule change, be sure to keep an eye out for A Fatal Romance.  I’m sure they will be reairing it soon, and it is an entertaining murder mystery movie.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Disney Pin Review: it's a small world - Crests of the Kingdom - 2019 Release

: 5 out of 5
Pros: Front is a fantastic crest for a favorite attraction
Cons: Inside borders on too cartoony
The Bottom Line:
Small world’s kingdom crest
Inside a bit cartoony
But front is classy

It’s a Small Crest After All

I’ve found that there is really no middle ground with the it’s a small world ride at Disney parks.  Either you love it or you hate it.  Personally, I’m in the love it camp thanks to riding it as a kid.  It’s one of my must do’s every time I’m in the parks.  I was thrilled it was included in the Crests of the Kingdom pin series.

These pins were released at Disneyland in 2019 and were themed around attractions at the original California park.  The pins are hinged, with the front creating an old-fashioned crest for the attraction while the inside features a cartoony picture inspired by the ride.

The front crest doesn’t surprise me too much.  It features the clock face surrounded by a couple of towers from the iconic front of the ride.  The Latin banner surrounding it say “Navigatio laetissimus circa mundi,” or “Sailing extremely happy around the world.”  Pretty much fits the attraction, right?  As usual, the front is pewter, so it is all one silver color, although the fact that it is 3D helps the details stand out.

The hinge is on the top, and when you swing it open, you’ll find a scene inspired by the Switzerland area of the attraction.  You’ve got a goat standing on a mountain with more mountains in the background.  There are some flowers by him.  It’s definitely cartoony, which can be a problem with some of the attractions, but in this case it works since the characters in the ride are stylized already.

Needless to say, I love this pin.  The front looks so classy and captures one of my favorite attractions so well.  The inside is good, although it is borderline on too cartoony.  Overall, I’m happy with it.

If you also have a big place in your heart for it’s a small world, you’ll want to hunt down this limited-edition pin.

If you'd like to see my pics, including the inside, please visit my Instagram post.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Evening Readathon Update

I did not get nearly as much reading done as I planned to today.  Somehow, I thought I'd get at least two books finished PLUS have time to start another and possibly read parts of a non-fiction book.  Instead, I just finished those two books.

Yes, I did finish With a Vengeance by Annette Dashofy.  As expected, it was great, and really pulled me in.  Then, I reread the middle grade my Sunrise at the Mayan Temple by Sigmund Brouwer, which was fun.

Of course, it didn't help that I did my weekly grocery run to Trader Joes, chatted with some friends online, and watched a Hallmark Mystery movie (watch for that review on Monday).  Skipping those things would have gotten a little more reading done.

Still, I had fun, and I'm glad I got those books in.  Now, for some sleep.

Dewey's Readaton - April 2020 Starting Line

Things may look a bit different around here today.  For the first time in years, I am participating in Dewey's Readathon.  It seems like there is always something going on the day of the readathon.  During the spring, there's beach ultimate Frisbee.  And I often have something else going on.  But this year?  Everything is cancelled.  So I have no excuse not to spend the day reading.  Well, most of the day.  I'll still go out and do my weekly shopping.  And Hallmark decided to premier a new mystery movie tonight, so I'll stop reading to watch that.


The readaton is kicking off right about now.  But I am not even going to try to read at 5 in the morning.  I'd just fall back asleep.  So I am sleeping right now, but I will be off and running once I wake up.

I'm not sure how much I will be posting here today.  I'll probably stop in with a post or two, but most of my talking about it will be over on my Twitter and Instagram accounts, so if you'd like to see how I'm doing, stop by there.

I can tell you I will be starting with With a Vengeance by Annette Dashofy.  I started it on Friday, so that will be my first read.

Feel free to join in today.  And you'll definitely learn about what I read one way or another.  I'll be reviewing those books here on the blog starting in May.  (Next week's reviews are already written.)

April 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Two shows back with their final runs of episodes for the season.  With more coming on Sunday.

God Friended Me – The show rarely goes for subtle, so the parallel between the friend suggestion and Miles and Cara’s relationship was obvious.  Adam took the hint that he would never wind up with Cara pretty well.  But how will Cara react.  I was cringing for most of the episode since I knew the friend suggestion would do something stupid.  But I’m very curious what is happening to the God account.  I’m surprised Miles wants to fix it since he wanted to end his participation with it since it started.  I guess he knows it is good, just wants to pass it on to someone else.

The Beauty and the Baker – I’m definitely more into the romance than the family sub-plots.  I get they need those characters and need to keep them busy.  I like the characters.  But they feel like what they are – filler.  And the storyline with the sister who hasn’t come out yet is going to be painful.  On the other hand, the romance continues to be sweet.  I feel for Noa for sure.  I still don’t quite see why the rest of Daniel’s family hates Vanessa like they do, but she is definitely coming across as a bit pushy and demanding.  Yes, I get she is fighting for the guy she loves, so I am giving her slack, but I do see glimpses of what every is finding annoying.

The Flash – With a break that long, I must admit, I’ve lost a bit of the plot.  Maybe that’s a good thing since it is just going to stop here in a couple of weeks.  Still, it was nice to be back.  Joe’s gone again?  For how many episodes?  And if that wasn’t a wake up call for Barry I don’t know what will be.  Because that’s not Iris.

Legends of Tomorrow – This season is such a mixed bag.  The loom of fate story is dark, but there are still fun moments.  I’m glad Zari finally learned the truth, but I’m not at all happy about what happened to her brother.  I hope they can reverse that.  I really, truly do.

Survivor – I was laughing so hard at Tony.  He was so excited when he thought he could extort someone, then so mad when he found out it was being played on him.  See the hypocrisy much?  Still, a very funny moment.  It’s nice to see even the best be ousted when they have an idol.  Not that it doesn’t sting, but I’m sure it makes others feel better.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Book Review: Hunting for Hidden Gold by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Action, fast moving plot
Cons: Thin characters, as always
The Bottom Line:
Trip to Montana
Hunting thieves and some lost gold
Action packed story

Thieves and Gold Out West

I always wanted to read Hunting for Hidden Gold.  I mean, who doesn’t want to go on a treasure hunt?  And when the Hardy Boys are leading the treasure hunt, all the better.  I didn’t get my hands on a copy as a kid, but I was able to snag one as an adult.  It’s a Hardy Boys book, but it’s a fun one.

Frank and Joe Hardy are on an expedition with their friends when they get a summons from their father.  He’s been working on a case out West, Montana to be specific, and he needs their help.  Before they leave, they learn about a fortune in gold that was lost there years ago.

They quickly book tickets to join their dad, but the journey itself is filled with danger.  When they arrive, they learn that their dad was on the trail of a gang of thieves, and there is a suspected mole in the nearby town.  Who is it?  Where is the gang hiding out?  And what about the gold?

When you pick up a Hardy Boys book, you know you are going to get plenty of action.  That’s certainly the case here.  In fact, I was a little surprised at how quickly it started and how much danger the Hardys faced.  I’m not complaining; I was along for every twist and turn of the plot.  I was even impressed that there was a bit of a mystery as to who the mole was for most of the book.  Normally, the Hardys figure things like that out fairly quickly, so it was a nice change.

Of course, the characters are thin, which is common in the series.  Most of the regulars, even their father, only have cameos.  This is really Frank and Joe’s show.  I had trouble keeping a few of the supporting players straight, and it would have been nice if they had more personality, or easier to differentiate names, but that’s a minor complaint.

As a kid, I never really noticed the dated elements, but they are very obvious to me now.  Of course, there’s also been more time since I read them as a kid.  A few things or references might confuse kids, but I suspect most of them won’t notice as long as they know going in.

Overall, this is another fun book that kill entertain middle graders.  Even adults will enjoy the nostalgia of Hunting for Hidden Gold.

April 24th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Booked 4 Murder by J.C. Eaton.


This book has been out for several years, but I'm just now reading it.  I wish I'd read it sooner, it was a lot of fun.

Here's how the book kicks things off:
"I'm telling you, Phee, they were all murdered.  Murdered by reading that book."

Want to know more about that curse?  Well, of page 56, we find this:

"Do either of you know how that rumor got around about the book being cursed?"
They shook their heads.

Want to know more?  I'll be reviewing it on Wednesday next week, so I hope you'll stop back by then.  Meantime, have a good weekend.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Book Review: The Beckoning Ice by Joan Druett (Wiki Coffin #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good characters, interesting history and mystery
Cons: Pacing is slow at times, but book always interesting
The Bottom Line:
A dead midshipman
Expedition rounds Cape Horn
Fun historic tale

Murder Approaches the South Pole

I’m trying to make a conscious effort this year to get to books I have had for a while but haven’t read.  One of those books is The Beckoning Ice, the fifth Wiki Coffin Mystery.  I’ve had this book for several years and am glad to finally learn about his latest case.

If you are new to the series, Wiki is a half Pacific Islander/half American who has joined the US Exploring Expedition of 1838 to 1842.  The mission of this expedition was to chart the Pacific and Antarctica regions and get scientific samples of the plants and animals found along the way.  Wiki officially joined as the linguist since he can already speak several languages and has a knack for learning foreign tongues.  Before they left Virginia, he was also commissioned to act as an arm of the law, which is a good thing considering the murders that keep happening.  This is book 5, and we are finally heading to Antarctica in February of 1839.

As the book opens, the expedition is approaching Cape Horn.  While many of the sailors are looking forward to their first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, Wiki has other concerns.  A crewman on the ship he is currently on has slit his own throat.  It was well known that Midshipman Dove was unhappy with the life of a sailor, but Wiki doesn’t believe he committed suicide, and he soon begins to find evidence to back up his theory.  But who committed the crime?

Looking back at my reviews, it appears to have been at least 7 years, probably longer, since I last read a book in this series.  However, I had no difficulty jumping back into Wiki’s world.  We are given enough background to remember who all the key players are, both real and fictional, as the story gets going.

There are a lot of characters to keep straight.  Fortunately, we are given hints to remind us who everyone is as the book progresses.  I didn’t have many issues remembering who someone was the instant they walked on page, which I appreciated.  It helps that the characters are developed enough to stand out from each other.

Author Joan Druett is fascinated by naval history.  She’s written many books outside of this series on the subject, both fiction and non-fiction.  That comes through in the book, and if you are interested in the subject, you’ll love these books.  I have a love of all things nautical, which is one reason the series appealed to me in the first place.

However, that does tend to get in the way of the story at times.  When that happens, it isn’t too long before the mystery picks back up again, fortunately, and I’ve become fascinated with this expedition, so I enjoyed learning a bit more about what was happening with the ships at the time.  So, while the mystery was uneven, I was rarely bored as I read.

Joan does an excellent job of weaving history and fiction together.  An author’s note at the end helps us separate fact from fiction, which I appreciated.  Once again, I am wishing I could find a nice non-fiction book on the subject to learn what really happened for the entire length of the voyage.

I love it when an author takes a little known subject they love and brings it to life for us.  That’s what we’ve gotten with the Wiki Coffin series.  Based on how long it has been since this book came out, it appears that The Beckoning Ice may be the end of the line for Wiki.  If you find the subject remotely interesting, I definitely recommend you check the series out.

Enjoy the rest of the Wiki Coffin Mysteries.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Movie Review: Trolls

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Grew on me in second half
Cons: Will really only appeal to kids
The Bottom Line:
Weird little movie
Will mostly appeal to kids
Adults will suffer

Weird Movie that Grew on Me

When I first saw the previews for Trolls, I wasn’t remotely interested.  It didn’t help that I never had a troll doll growing up.  Yet, when I found out the film did well enough to earn a sequel, I became a little curious.  I probably wouldn’t have watched it if I hadn’t stumbled across it on TV over Easter weekend.  It was…interesting.

We are quickly introduced to two different societies, the Trolls, who are always happy and loving, and the Bergens, who are anything but.  Their societies live side by side until one day when a Bergen eats a Troll and discovers that it makes him happy.  Suddenly, the Bergens have declared a national holiday around eating Trolls.  All that changes one day when the Trolls make a daring escape, setting up a new settlement far away.

All that is prologue.  Our story really starts 20 years later when Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) is hosting a party to celebrate 20 years of freedom from the Bergens.  She ignoring the warnings about the party from Branch (Justin Timberlake), and the results are disastrous.  Suddenly, Poppy and Branch find themselves on a quest to rescue their friends.  Can they do it?

The opening backstory is disturbing, especially for an animated kid’s movie.  I almost turned it off in the first fifteen minutes.  It didn’t help that I had the plot pretty much figured out by that point.  You know I’m not necessarily against predictable movies if I’m having fun, but in this case I wasn’t.

Many animated movies are films that can be enjoyed by all ages.  This isn’t one of those films.  Despite the setup, this seems mostly aimed at little girls.  The singing and cuteness are over the top.  I’m not saying this is a criticism, but to explain that I am clearly in the wrong demographic for the film.  Once they get past the opening, I can see little girls enjoying this one.  I think boys will be turned off by the cuteness, although the Bergen and the ideas of the plot would most appeal to them.  But parents will want to leave the room when this one is on.  There won’t be anything to appeal to them.

However, as the movie went along, I found myself getting drawn in.  Yes, it was still ridiculous, but I wanted to see how it would all play out.  It helped that the action picked up as we got closer to the climax, and a sub-plot was introduced that I got interested in.

The voice cast is fine.  There are quite a few big names that leant their voices to the movie, including their singing voices.

The animation is very stylized, which makes sense because the movie is based on a plastic doll.  It works for the story and the characters.

Since I was curious about the movie, I’m not sorry I watched it.  I’m glad I watched it via TV and didn’t pay money for it.  As I said, I can see kids enjoying parts of Trolls, but adults are going to want to find something else to do.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Book Review: The Murder Pit by Jeff Shelby (Moose River Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun
Cons: Weak characters, poor homeschooling
The Bottom Line:
Explore house, find corpse
Story’s characters are weak
But the plot is fun

Body in the Coal Chute

Several years ago, I read the three books in the Stay at Home Dad Mysteries by Jeff Allen and really enjoyed them.  I’d always intended to go back and read more books by Jeff under his real name, Jeff Shelby.  I finally did that with The Murder Pit, the first in his self-published Moose River Mysteries.  Sadly, it wasn’t as good as it could have been, but I still enjoyed it.

Daisy Savage is happy with her life.  Recently remarried, she and her husband are settling into their old fixer upper with their blended family.  Daisy fell in love with the house the minute they saw it, but it is turning out to be one repair job after another.  Case in point, this particular cold winter day, Daisy and her husband, Jake, are in their basement’s crawl space trying to thaw frozen pipes before the they burst.

While crawling around, Daisy notices a space they didn’t previously know about – a coal chute.  It’s not empty, however – it has a dead body in it.  Worse yet, Daisy recognizes the man as someone she met once.  The small-town rumor mill kicks in and Daisy find herself being judged by others as a suspect.  Who killed the victim?  And why was he dumped in their basement?

The mystery gets off to a great start, and I liked the added piece of the puzzle it added with the question of why the victim was dumped in the basement.  There are a couple of good twists along the way.  Although I did begin to figure a few things out early, I was still entertained as I kept reading to see if I was right.

My issue was more with the characters.  This was designed to be a humorous mystery, so I’m okay with some of them being a bit caricature than full on character.  Even so, they seemed weaker than they could have been.  I think part of it was because Daisy’s kids seem young for their stated ages, especially her son, Will.  All of them act like they are about six or seven at times, when the two older are twice that age.  On the other hand, I did enjoy Daisy and Jake, so they helped keep me grounded in the book.

Daisy homeschools three of her kids.  As a former homeschool kid myself, I was excited to see what I hoped would be a positive portrayal.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t it.  The kids spend no time actually doing school work.  Instead, they seem to spend quite a bit of time playing.  Just a few references to them actually working on assignments would have worked for me.  I don’t expect things to be completely realistic; Daisy needs to be able to spend time solving the murder, after all.  But most cozies at least pretend the main character is running their business occasionally.

The timeline was…creative.  The book starts on a weekend, but then Daisy and her family enter an endless week where we get at least seven days with no weekend.  As you know, timeline issues bother me, so I had to point this out.

There was some humor, so, I had a lot of fun reading this book.

And that’s the thing, it’s not that the book is bad.  I was just expecting it to be better.  I’m not sorry I read the book, but the issues keep me from being able to fully recommend it.

I enjoyed this one enough that I’ll definitely be back for more of Jeff Shelby’s books.  Hopefully, The Murder Pit is a rare misstep for him.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Ornament Review: Mickey's Circus - Mickey's Movie Mousterpieces #8 - Hallmark 2019 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great colors, great looking ornament
Cons: Does tip forward when hung
The Bottom Line:
The circus master
Welcome us to the show
More fun with Mickey

And in the Center Ring…Mickey!

Mickey has played so many different rolls in his movie career, it is always fun to see which one that will get picked for Hallmark’s Mickey’s Movie Mousterpieces ornament series.  For 2019, they went with the 1936 short “Mickey’s Circus” as their inspiration.

The short itself features Mickey and Donald putting on a special performance of their circus for a crowd of orphans.  After the introduction from Mickey, Donald takes over with his performing seals, but it is the seal pup that steals the show – and the fish.  From there, Mickey and Donald accidently get caught up in a high wire act with the orphans trying to make it more dangerous for them.

But this ornament comes from the beginning as Mickey is welcoming everyone to the show for the day.  While Mickey is his usual black and white self, his circus master costume is a red, blue, and yellow primary color outfit and looks great.  His hat is in one hand and his baton is in the other.

Between Mickey’s feet and his coattails, there is plenty of surface touching, so you can set this out on any flat surface and enjoy it year-round.  The eight in a Christmas tree series marker is on the bottom of Mickey’s feet.  He does tip forward noticeably when you go to hang him, but a few well-placed Christmas tree branches will hide that.

Mickey’s Circus makes a nice addition to the ornament series.  The colors help him stand out on your tree, and you can’t help but smile as you look at him.  Any Mickey fan will be glad to have this in their collection.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Disney Pin Review: Simba - Windows of Magic - 2019 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: So many great details add to this Simba pin
Cons: Simba’s eyes look a little weird
The Bottom Line:
Simba in window
With so many fun details
Make this a winner

A Pin to Remember

When you have a villain and hero who look similar, it might be hard to create distinct pins for them.  That was the thought that crossed my mind when I first thought about Simba getting a Windows of Magic pin to balance out Scar’s Windows of Evil pin.  However, the artists who create Disney pins easily rose to the challenge.

These pins are designed to mimic stained glass windows, including a silver frame and silver lines through the design.  That can make some of the details hard to do, but the artists seem to have done a good job with that here.

As you’d expect, Simba is the focus of this window, although he doesn’t take up quite as much of it as you might expect.  At first glance, he appears to take up more, but if you look closely, his mane blends in with flames from the climax of the film.  About the only detail in Simba that looks weird are his eyes, but given the limitations of the medium, I understand.

Down at the bottom, they’ve added Timon and Pumba.  I’m not sure I would have figured out Timon is down there without seeing Pumba first, but once I spotted them both, I can’t stop seeing them.  They aren’t super detailed, but they look good given their size.  There are even a couple of lion prints above them.

Above Simba is a night sky.  You can spot a few stars below the vision of Mufasa in the clouds.  Yes, they even worked him into the window.  I think when I spotted him was when I fell so much in love with this pin.

The sides of this frame represent the grasslands where the story mostly takes place.  And up at the top of the frame is the lion that Rafiki draws to represent Simba.

Yes, this pin is that loaded with items.  You have to look closely to see them all, but they are there, and they are delightful.  I really enjoy spotting things.  I also appreciate that even at a glance you can tell the pins apart since Simba and Scar are distinct and look like themselves.

It’s those details that make this Windows of Magic entry, well, magical.  I’m so glad I was able to add Simba to my collection.

If you'd like to see a picture, I have one up on my Instagram account.

Disney Pin Review: Scar - Windows of Evil - 2018 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Scar looks good; fun details
Cons: Hyenas could be better
The Bottom Line:
Scar gets his window
Most details are very good
Some could be better

Be Prepared for this Villain Pin

When Disney chose their movies for the Windows of Evil and Windows of Magic series, they did a good job of covering a wide range of films.  They did several princess movies as well as older classics and renaissance era films.  It’s not too surprising that they included The Lion King in that group since the movie has proved to be so popular.  As so we got a Scar entry in the Windows of Evil pin series.

Once again, this pin is designed to look like a stained-glass window.  With the solid back, you can’t actually shine light through it, but that’s the only downside with the design of the pin.  And, it is a pin, after all.

As I said, this pin is of Scar.  His head and mane take up most of the window.  We do get the green smoke from the “Be Prepared” scene around him, and at the very bottom of the window are the hyenas.  At the top of the window frame is an elephant skull, and there are some bones at the bottom of the frame as well.

I realize they are trying to put a lot into these pins, but this one just seems to lack a little detail to me.  Yes, you can tell who it is, but the hyenas are a bit indistinct.  If you just saw that part of the window, you’d never be able to guess what it is without the context.

On the other hand, I do like that they are included, and I love the green smoke.  The details on the frame are perfect as well.

While Scar makes a fun Windows of Evil pin, this isn’t the best pin in the series.

If you'd like to see a picture, I have one up on my Instagram account.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

April 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

News came out this week that CBS has cancelled God Friended Me.  I'm not surprised.  Bummed, but not surprised.  And their season was shortened because of everything going on, too.  I'm hearing the finale in just over a week will wrap things up.  I certainly hope so.

And we'll start with that show in the weekly wrap up.

God Friended Me – Yep, they got me with the emotional scenes again.  Yet I was also laughing at them trying to take care of the baby.  I didn’t see all the twists and turns of the plot coming, but I loved how it ended, as I always am.  It’s frustrating that we are going to be left hanging by the God Account story because you know they are building to something.  But what?????  And when will Cara give up this new guy and go back to Miles?

The Baker and the Beauty – I decided to give this new series a try.  It sounded like it could be fun, and I certainly enjoyed the pilot.  The poor boy/rich woman romance has been done before (other way around, too, obviously), but I like the characters.  You can see where some big issues are being set up.  I feel like it is more a movie storyline, not an entire series, but we will see how they develop it.  I’m definitely going to be back next week for more.

Survivor – Everyone got loved one visits!  Even the people at Edge of Extinction.  I loved that; I really did.  And I loved that final scene with the jury going to hugging Jeff.  It was heartwarming, and much needed right now.  The idol almost worked.  So close.  Would have been a tie otherwise, right?  Or did I miscount.  But Tyson is out of the game.  Again.

LegoMasters – I’m not too surprised that Tyler and Amy won.  They had the best builds consistently, and they seemed to be the favorites of the judges.  Imagine if they had gone home last week.  I don’t envy the judges because those final three builds were all wonderful and all great in their own ways.  I mean, banana table legs?  Paint brush that turns things around?  All amazing details.

Disney Family Singalong – That was so much fun!!!!  Not that I’m surprised since I love Disney music, but seriously, how much fun was that?  I was smiling the entire way through, and I may have saved it to watch again.  The only thing that would have made it better is Zac singing on “We’re All in This Together,” but at least he was able to introduce the song.

Friday, April 17, 2020

April 17th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday again, and I'm back with this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm pulling quotes from The Murder Pit by Jeff Shelby.


This is a fun book, as you can tell from the beginning.

I wanted an old house.
I did not want an old house with a dead body in it.

It certainly made me smile.

Moving on to the 56% point in the book, we find this:

"So, did she finally get the hint?"
He was silent for a minute.  "Yes."
"And so she left?  Just decided to leave him alone?"
"Yes and no."

I'll have a review up on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back then.  In the mean time, have a good weekend.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Book Review: Second to Nun by Alice Loweecey (Giulia Falcone-Driscoll #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mystery, characters, humor
Cons: Pacing issues
The Bottom Line:
A ghost at the inn?
Giulia investigates
In fun mystery

Mystery of the Haunted Bed and Breakfast

It’s taken me longer than I planned to get to Second to Nun.  After reading and enjoying the first Giulia Driscoll Mystery, I decided to backtrack and read the earlier series about Giulia, ex-nun turned private investigator.  But now I am back, and I am thrilled to say it was worth the wait.

Giulia’s newest client is MacAllister Stone, aka Mac.  Mac runs a bed and breakfast in her family’s old non-working lighthouse on a nearby lake.  Lately, something sinister seems to be at work at the bed and breakfast.  Mac is wondering if someone in particular is behind it, or if the legend she tells of the family ghost isn’t a legend after all.

Giulia and her husband, Frank, go undercover as guests of the inn.  But this job is turning out to be rougher than it sounds as the strange events seem to be increasing in frequency.  Before Giulia finds the culprit, she will have to determine if she is looking for a ghost or a flesh and blood villain.

The book actually starts off with Giulia trying to wrap up a couple of smaller cases before she sets off to the bed and breakfast.  That gives us a chance to spend a little time with the rest of her staff, which I enjoyed, but it did feel like it was slowing down the start of the real mystery.  Once Giulia arrives at the inn, the pace does pick up as we start to meet the suspects and events start to happen.  Everything led up to a logical and suspenseful climax.

The characters are wonderful.  It’s hard to complain about the slower start since I love Zane and Sydney, the other two employees of Driscoll Investigations.  Frank is a fantastic character as well, and I loved getting to spend so much time with him in this book.  The new characters became stronger the more we spent time with them, and I enjoyed their company as well.

But what really makes this series fun is the humor.  Giulia and the rest of the regulars have a lot of fun joking around and teasing each other, which is part of what makes their relationships seem so wonderful.  I was smiling if not outright laughing through much of the book.

This book does have a smattering of foul languages, including some four-letter words.  It isn’t much, but it is more than in books I normally recommend, so keep that in mind as you read.

If you are looking for a getaway, Second to Nun is the perfect book to pick up.  It’s a fun read that will leave you anxious for more of Giulia’s adventures.

Read one, and you’ll be back for the rest of Giulia’s adventures.