Friday, July 31, 2020

Book Review: Echo Park by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #12)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters and plot
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
A case from the past
Is it solved with confession?
Another great book

Does the Confession Solve the Cold Case?

I’ve missed Harry Bosch.  It’s been way too long since I was able to visit him via one of the books in the series, and I quickly remembered why I love these books so much as I fell under the spell of Echo Park.

Since Harry Bosch joined the open unsolved squad of the LAPD, he has been actively working on one of his own unsolved cases, that of a young woman who vanished thirteen years earlier.  He has a suspect, but it is just based on gut feeling.

Then he gets a surprising call.  A man who was recently arrested with dead bodies in his car has reached a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.  He’s going to confess to several other crimes, including Bosch’s cold case.  Is the confession credible?

 As I already said, it was great to be back with Bosch.  He’s a wonderful character, and once again author Michael Connelly does a fantastic job of bringing him to life.  Rachel Walling, an FBI agent who has been in some of Connelly’s non-Harry Bosch novels, appears in this one, and she is a great compliment to Bosch’s character.  There are other characters we’ve gotten to know in this book, and it’s wonderful to see them again.  Of course, we’ve got new characters, too, and I appreciated how vividly they came to life as well.

And the case?  Well, it wouldn’t be a Bosch case if it didn’t twist all over the place.  I knew to expect them but I was still surprised by what happened as the case unfolded.  Yet, each one was completely logical given what had come before and leads up to a fantastic climax.

Since this isn’t one of my typical cozies, there is more language, sex, and violence than I would normally read.  However, these elements are kept to a minimum and are never used gratuitously but always further the story or characters.

I did listen to the audio book.  The version I listened to was narrated by Len Cariou, who did a great job reading the book without getting in the way of the story.

There is a reason why Michael Connelly has so many fans, and I definitely count myself as one of them.  Echo Park is another outstanding book from a master of mystery.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Harry Bosch series.

July 31st's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday!  That means it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Killer Chardonnay by Kate Lansing.


This is the first in the Colorado Wine Mystery series, and the first novel from Kate Lansing.  It's wonderful!

Here's how the book begins:

I arrange open bottles of wine behind the hard maple countertop from lightest to heaviest.

The opening sets the stage, but this from page 56 will definitely make you wonder what is going on:

We continue our sibling banter, but there's something simmering below the surface, a forced nonchalance emanating from Liam that sets me on edge.

I really enjoyed this book.  I'll be publishing my review on Thursday next week, so I hope you'll come back and read my review then.

In the meantime, have a wonderful week.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Book Review: A Chorus Lineup by Joelle Charbonneau (Glee Club Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, compelling mystery
Cons: Weird pacing in the last quarter
The Bottom Line:
Sabotage, murder
At show choir competition
Good series wrap up

Competitions Are Murder

I really did intend to return to the Glee Club Mysteries sooner.  After all, I enjoyed the first two and it was obvious the series ended with A Chorus Lineup.  But somehow, I let years go by before picking up this book.

If you missed this series or it’s been a while since you visited the characters, Paige Marshall is our main character.  While she dreams of being an opera singer, she also needs to pay the bills, so she took a job teaching her local Chicago high school’s show choir.  It’s been rocky with two murders along the way, but as this book opens, things are looking good for Paige and the choir.  They’ve been winning regional competitions, and now the choir is heading to the national competition in Nashville.  The biggest complication that Paige can foresee is the audition of a lifetime she’s been offered back in Chicago that’s in the middle of the competition week.

The choir arrives a few days before the competition itself, taking advantage of some master classes and time to rehearse on the stage where the competition will take place.  The first morning, however, one of the mothers from one of the other teams makes a horrible discovery – someone has destroyed the costumes of most of the teams and even sabotaged band instruments.  The woman immediately starts to publicly and repeatedly blame Paige for the sabotage.  When a murder happens, the stakes are raised.  Is the event safe?  Can Paige figure out what is happening?

Since it had been so long between books, I was fuzzy on all the details of the characters, however, it wasn’t long before I was remembered who people were and their relationships.  It helped that there are plenty of references to events from the previous books.  Some of them are spoilery, so if you are interested in the series, I recommend starting from the beginning.

Thanks to those references triggering my memory of the earlier books, I was able to appreciate the character growth we’ve seen in Paige and some of the supporting characters in early books and again here.  The care and support they show each other is wonderful.  Naturally, the book is filled with new characters, all of whom come across as well.

The plot was strong for most of the book.  I was kept guessing who could be involved in the events unfolding, and couldn’t wait to see how that would end.  Then, in the final quarter of the book, we take a pause in the action for a sub-plot to take over.  It completely killed the momentum.  However, when the we got back to the mystery, it was kicked into high gear for the rest of the book, and the climax answered all my questions.

Even with the weird pacing, I still enjoyed A Chorus Lineup.  This book does a great job of wrapping up the characters and their lives, so fans of the series will close the book with a huge sense of satisfaction.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Movie Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Stars: 2 out of 5
: Acting from the cast
Cons: Overly dark and disturbing
The Bottom Line:
Batman, two villains
Focus on wrong characters
Leaves this film darker

Tim Burton Must Have Been Given More Control with Batman Returns

When I watched Batman, I was surprised that it didn’t feel much like a Tim Burton film.  Yes, there were touches of his trademarks here and there, but it wasn’t nearly as bizaar as some of his films can be.  So I went into Batman Returns hoping the same would hold true here.  Sadly, this movie was much stranger than the original.

Our story actually opens in the past as a family, horrified by their newborn, send him out one winter night into the sewers.  This baby grows up to become Penguin (Danny DeVito).  When Penguin begins his reign of terror on the streets of Gotham during the city’s tree lighting ceremony, he is just searching for answers to who he is.  He says he even understands why his parents sent him away.  However, his path has crossed that of business man Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), who thinks he can use Penguin for his own purposes.

Meanwhile, Shreck’s administrative assistant Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is frustrated with her life, or lack thereof.  Working late one night, she runs afoul of Shreck, who tries to kill her.  She takes on a new persona, Catwoman, and begins to go after Shreck to get her revenge.  How will Batman (Michael Keaton) deal with these two villains?

Yes, there is a reason I mentioned Batman last in a Batman movie.  Honestly, this isn’t his film.  This film is about the three villains.  Yes, there are three.  Even this casual fan had heard of Penguin and Catwoman.  I’m not sure if Max Shreck was invented for this movie or if he is in the comics, but he is definitely a villain of this piece with his own agenda.  Anyway, we get plenty about the villains, their backstory, and what makes them tick.  I would guess that the two famous villains get as much screen time as Batman, if not more.  They definitely have more if you combine the time the villains have against the time Batman has.  I get that it is important to know your villain, but this is definitely too much.  Honestly, Batman doesn’t have any real character growth, and you don’t feel any attachment to him.

And this isn’t the fault of the actors at all.  Michael Keaton does a good job.  He’s just let down by a script that gives him nothing to work with.  He’s really playing a straight man to the villains, who are all obviously having fun.  They are almost over the top without actually going there.

Then there are the other Tim Burton touches.  Penguin is disturbing.  I’m not talking about his looks, but his actions are psychotic.  Selina/Catwoman is a much more sympathetic character.  In fact, I’d say she’s the most sympathetic character in the film.  And there are the clowns.  Clowns everywhere.  Tim Burton loves circuses, and he works them in here.  Overall, this has significantly darker themes and scenes than the last film does.  It’s not The Dark Knight dark, but it’s heading in that direction.  Add in the overt sexuality of the film, and it is disturbing.  I’m not talking about fun double entandres, either.  Some of the comments made me uncomfortable, and I was watching by myself.  I can’t imagine watching this in mixed company.

The story itself isn’t bad.  It would help if we spent a little less time with the disturbing and given that time to developing Bruce Wayne/Batman more.

This movie came out three years after the first one, and it is amazing how much film making had advanced in that time.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still dated elements, but it doesn’t feel nearly as dated as Batman does.

Ironically, this movie takes place during the Christmas season.  It’s definitely the anti-Christmas film, which is probably why there isn’t a campaign to consider it a Christmas film like there is with Die Hard.

I’d expected to like Batman Returns after enjoying Batman, but this one left me very disappointed.  I definitely don’t plan to watch this film again any time soon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: From Beer to Eternity by Sherry Harris (Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and setting, solid mystery
Cons: Minor pacing and timeline issues
The Bottom Line:
New series starts with
Death outside a beach side bar
Look forward to more

Cheers to a New Series

Sherry Harris is one of many authors whose books I can’t wait to read, so when I learned she was planning a new series I was excited.  I might not have picked up a book set in a bar otherwise, but I’m very glad I did since I enjoyed From Beer to Eternity.

Chloe Jackson has taken a leave of absence from her job as a children’s librarian in Chicago to keep a promise to a friend.  Before Boone left with the National Guard, he asked Chloe to help his grandmother, Vivi, with her bar down in Florida if anything should happen to him.  So when Chloe got the tragic news of his untimely death, that’s just what she did.  However, when she arrives, she finds that Vivi is quite capable of taking care of herself.  While Chloe tries to figure out what Boone thought Chloe could help with, she starts picking up shifts in the bar in Emerald Cove on the Florida Panhandle.

That’s how Chloe meets Elwell, a local who is a bit eccentric but mostly harmless.  One morning, Chloe finds him dead behind the bar.  As the police begin to focus on Vivi, Chloe begins to poke around, hoping to figure out what really happened.  She doesn’t know Vivi well, but she doesn’t strike Chloe as a killer.  Can she clear Vivi of the crime?

I love the beach, but I haven’t been so far this year.  With Emerald Cove being a beach community and the bar opening right up to the sand, this was the beach vacation I needed.  Okay, so there might be a bit more murder and mayhem to this book than I would personally want for a day at the beach, but it’s fiction.

In this case, the mystery did seem to get off to a slow start.  Or maybe I was just impatient.  Either way, we got quite a bit of information early in the book introducing us to the characters and the location.  It’s certainly information we need, but I was ready when the plot picked up.  Once that happened, I was completely hooked.  We got the expected twists and surprises.  The climax was a bit rushed, but we did get all of our questions answered.

I do have to comment on some timing issues.  There were several times in the book that I felt like Chloe was blessed with more than 24 hours in her day, and one chapter in particular where timing issues were obvious.  Overall, these issues were minor but annoying, especially since it is one of my pet peeves.

Because Chloe has worked as a children’s librarian, we get some references to classic children’s books, which I greatly enjoyed.  It also provided her with some needed skills to help navigate her new life.  She’s a strong main character, and I enjoyed meeting her here.  Since she is completely new to town, we are meeting everyone at the same time she is.  There’s an interesting cast of characters, and they are all strong, whether series regular or suspect.  And yes, I’m fairly certain we’ll see some of the suspects show up again in later books.

I already love these characters and this setting, so I will definitely be back for the next round.  From Beer to Eternity is the first in what promises to be a great new series.

Have another round with the rest of the Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Ornament Review: Happy Halloween! #8 - Frankenstein - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute Frankenstein themed ornament
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Frankenstein, pumpkin
Combine in cute ornament
Light decoration

This Ornament?  It’s Alive!

I keep thinking that Hallmark will run out of ideas for their Happy Halloween! series.  After all, how many monsters can there be?  But each year, they release a new ornament that surprises me in a good way.  This year is no exception.

Our monster for 2020 is Frankenstein’s Monster.  (And yes, I’ll just be calling him Frankenstein the rest of the time.)  As always, the outside of this ornament is a pumpkin.  The pumpkin has got a scar on its forehead and its mouth is wide wide open, allowing us to see the scene inside.

Inside, we’ve got Frankenstein just getting up off the table that he was lying on when he was brought to life.  The table is shiny and looks metal.  Pasted to the back and sides of the pumpkin are items from the rest of the mad scientist’s lab.  Frankenstein himself is sitting up with his arms in front of him and a smile on his face.

Now, I’ll admit I’ve never read the book or seen any movies versions of Frankenstein, but I don’t picture him smiling at any point in the story.  However, it is perfectly in keeping with this series, which presents these classic monsters in cuter, more friendly formats.

And that’s why I started this series.  It is fun to have something to put out at Halloween, and these are cute.  This ornament is no exception.  I also love the way the pumpkin changes to reflect the monster, in this case, that scar.  Something about the way he has his mouth open seems like Frankenstein, too.

Naturally, as a pumpkin, this ornament has a nice, flat base, so you can set it out as part of a display if you wish.  As an ornament, it is designed to be hung as well, and you’ll find that it tips back ever so slightly when you go to hang it.  That actually works out okay since it allows you to see the scene inside the pumpkin a little easier.

Since this is part of one of Hallmark’s series, you’ll find the series marker, in this case an 8 in a Christmas tree, on the bottom of the ornament.  And yes, I still maintain they should have switched things up for this series and made it a pumpkin instead of a Christmas tree.

If you are looking to add something fun to your Halloween decorations, I definitely recommend this year’s addition to the Happy Halloween! series.  It’s mostly cute with just a touch of scary, so perfect for a light hearted display.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Happy Halloween! series.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Disney Pin Review: Space Mountain - Crests of the Kingdom

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great pin to celebrate Space Mountain
Cons: No cons found in the known universe
The Bottom Line:
A flight into space
Celebrated with this crest
Makes for a fun pin

A Spacey Crest

We are moving into the second half of the Crests of the Kingdom pin series, which means it is time to hit one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland – Space Mountain.

As you’d expect, the crest features the iconic white outside of the attraction.  Okay, so here it is gray since the entire front of the pin is made from pewter, but you can definitely see the outline of it.  Circling the crest is the trail of a shooting star, and a few other stars are around the edges.  The Latin phrase this month is on the trail from the main shooting star.  It’s “Eamus ad astra,” which means “Let’s go to the stars.”  Once again, that’s perfect for the attraction.

When you flip the crest open, you’ll see the cartoon picture inside.  There are no recognizable characters this month.  Instead, we get a picture of two astronauts sitting in their spaceship, which looks remarkably close to the vehicle we ride in for the attraction.  Around them, we see the bottom of another space ship, stars, and planets.

As much fun as it would be to have a Disney character in this picture, it doesn’t diminish my love of the pin.  And I feel like the outside is perfect.  It’s a fun variation on a theme, and I always love that kind of creativity.

I’m not surprised that Space Mountain received a crest during this pin series last year.  Since the attraction is so popular, I’m happy it was such a great release.

If you'd like to see a picture, please visit my Instagram page.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

July 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Cannonball (7-19) – That ball challenged looked hard.  Yes, you had to swing, but the balls might not be there when you swung.  I was very impressed with those who did well on that challenge.  And yes, after my comment last time, I have to acknowledge that they completely changed up their editing just to fool me.

Titan Games – Ouch!  I felt so sorry for the competitor who had to stop because he was hurt.  I was rooting for the returning Titan, but I didn’t want him to go out like that.  Meanwhile, the women’s Titan stayed the same, too.  It will be interesting if they stay the entire time.

Stargirl – The conversation with Barbara went about as well as could be expected.  But then she is recording the conversation?  And email Courtney’s dad?  What is she really up to?  I couldn’t believe the ending of the episode.  I’m also kind of wondering where they plan to go next season.  It’s obvious they are going to finish up this arc this season, but this fight has been so personal for everyone, I can’t see what will make it so personal next season.

United We Fall – That was a bit of a disappointment.  Yes, I was still laughing, but the scenes with the brother weren’t funny.  They were pretty disgusting, actually.  Hope next week is better.

Killer Camp – I’m not surprised they got rid of one of the guys.  I was sorry it was Warren.  I liked him.  No clue who the killer is.  I’m sure there is some small thing I’ve missed that would tell me, but I’ll just wait until the end.

Cannonball (7/23) – The guy who won did better than I thought he would.  Just goes to prove in a competition like that, the only round you need to win is the final one.  As long as you keep advancing, you are fine.

Friday, July 24, 2020

July 24th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We made it to Friday, which means it is time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring From Beer to Eternity by Sherry Harris.


This is the first in a new series from a wonderful writer.  It doesn't officially come out until Tuesday, but I've been lucky enough to read an ARC.

And the story begins like this:
Remember the big moment in The Wizard of Oz movie when Dorothy says, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore?"  Boy, could I relate.

Jumping ahead to 56% into this book, we find this:

"But obviously, I've done something.  Struck a nerve, hit a chord, stirred up a wasp's nest.  Pick your cliche."

I hope you'll come back on Tuesday to see what I thought of the book.  (Spoiler alert: I enjoyed it.)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Book Review: Dead Body Language by Penny Warner (Connor Westphal #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong, unique character, good plot
Cons: Foul language, a niggle with the ending
The Bottom Line:
Connor faces crime
A unique main character
In still strong debut

Unexpected Body in the Cemetery

Dead Body Language was my introduction to Penny Warner’s books.  I read it years ago – so long ago I don’t have a review of it anywhere, and I started reviewing every book I read in 2001.  Since I never moved on to the rest of the series (although I did enjoy the other series she wrote over the years), I decided it was time to go back and revisit Connor.

Connor Westphal has taken her journalism degree and moved from San Francisco to the town of Flat Skunk, a mostly tourist town in California’s Gold Country.  She’s running the Eureka!, a weekend paper she inherited from her grandparents.  Mostly, it is filled with articles about the various events planned for tourist and ads for sales the stores are holding.

A huge part of her business is want ads, so when Lacy Penzance comes in wanting to place an ad looking for her long lost sister, Connor thinks little of it.  Later that same day, Lacy decides to cancel her ad.  The next morning, Lacy’s body is found on her recently departed husband’s gravestone.  It looks like suicide at first, but the sheriff isn’t so sure.  In the guise of writing a tribute to Lacy, Connor begins digging into the case herself.  Will she find the killer?

As I already said, I read this book years ago.  The paperback version I read came out in 1997 and is long out print, but it has been rereleased as an ebook.  I don’t know if any changes were done to update the book in the new version, but I will be commenting on the original 1997 copy.

So far, one thing I haven’t mentioned about Connor is that she is deaf.  That was a twist that originally intrigued me when I picked up the book, and it is handled expertly.  Obviously, I don’t know what being deaf is like, but this felt real to me, and as I was reading, I felt like I couldn’t hear right along with Connor.  We get some discussion about what lip reading is really like early on and how Connor has to fill in the blanks on what most people say, but we slowly get to the point that this is dropped in favor of advancing the story.  Still, I was thinking about that element as I read.  We learn a bit about TTY phones (this is the days before everyone had a cell phone that could text), and the climax is much more suspenseful because Connor can’t hear.

The mystery itself is very good.  When I reached the climax, I was impressed with the clues that Connor picked up on that I completely missed.  There were enough twists to keep me engaged.  I’m a bit on the fence about the killer’s identity.  I’m not completely sure it works, but maybe that’s just me.

I really do like Connor as a main character.  She is strong and resourceful.  Yes, she has made friends who help her out as needed, but she is pretty self-sufficient.  These friends are also real, and I look forward to getting to know them better as the series progresses.

Going back to this book now, I was surprised at the foul language in the book.  There are some four-letter words scattered throughout the book, more so at the beginning and end than the middle.  Also, I felt like Connor’s week stretched longer than five days, but it is possible I lost track of the days as I was reading.  The timelines issues also play into some of my quibbles about the ending – I’m not sure when the villain had time to do part of the plot.

I really did enjoy meeting Connor again after all these years.  I already have the rest of the series, and I plan to move on from Dead Body Language soon.

Check out the rest of the Connor Westphal Mysteries.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Movie Review: Charlie's Angels (2019)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Action was fun
Cons: Weak plot, thin characters
The Bottom Line:
The action is fine
Held together with thin plot
And weak characters

“Who Am I?  I’m Just the Decoy.”

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed Charlie’s Angels when I’ve caught reruns, and someday, I will get to the rest of my DVD sets.  So, I was intrigued by the new movie that came out last year.  But between the busy holiday season when it was released and the mixed reviews, I waited to see it until I could get it from Redbox.  I wasn’t missing much.

We first meet Sabina (Kristen Stewart) while on a mission with Jane (Ella Balinska).  She appears to be on a date, but we quickly learn her date is the bad guy they are after.  Sabina and Jane don’t necessarily get along, but they are part of a much bigger organization, the Townsend Detective Agency still run by Charlie.  While still headquartered in Los Angeles, both Sabina and Jane work out of the Europe office.

Sabina and Jane soon find themselves on a new mission working alongside Boz (Elizabeth Banks).  This new mission?  Elena (Naomi Scott) thinks the new product her company is testing in dangerous, possibly deadly, but no one is listening to her, so she’s turned to the Townsend Detective Agency.  However, it is soon clear that the wrong people have been listening to Elena.  Will the women be able to figure out who is behind the plot in time to stop them?

Now, let’s be honest here.  The original was never great TV, even by 1970’s standards.  Instead, it was campy and therefore lots of fun.  This movie does nothing to try to capture those feelings.  Instead, it feels like a generic action movie just with female leads instead of male leads.  The opening scene, while fun, almost comes across as a lecture a time or two, but once the main story gets going, we focus on the action.  There are a few nods to the TV show, but none that are enough to make it feel like it is connected to anything the franchise has produced before.  Since it was designed to appeal to nostalgia for the show, I find that a bit odd.  The exception to that is a fun cameo at the end of the movie.

As an action movie, it is okay.  The action scenes themselves are good, but the plot holding them together needed work.  I’m still not entirely clear what the device does, but it hardly matters since it is just designed to drive the plot.  They telegraph a plot twist that sets up the third act way too far in advance, so when we learn what is happening, I was rolling my eyes.

Likewise, the characters never grow beyond two dimensional characters.  Even then, I feel like I’m being generous.  I’m not blaming this on any of the actresses involved, who do the best they can with the material they have.  Nope, this is firmly on the script, which was so focused on story that it didn’t spend any time on the characters.

I wanted this movie to be better – I really did.  But Charlie’s Angels just didn’t work for me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Book Review: Quiche of Death by Mary Lee Ashford (Sugar and Spice Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, unique setting
Cons: Mystery could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
A family cookbook
Leads Sugar to a murder
In light, fast, fun read

Murder in the Family

It’s been a year since we last visited the ladies of Sugar and Spice Cookbooks, so I was excited to see Quiche of Death hit my radar a few months ago.  This is a light, fun mystery series, and the latest was no exception.

If you are new to the series, it focuses on Sugar Calloway and Dixie Spicer, two friends who have started a company that creates cookbooks for small groups to use as fundraisers.  They are located in Iowa, an often-overlooked setting for mysteries.  This book finds them working for the Arbor family.  The Arbors own a business creating frozen foods, and they are looking to produce a book that will preserve family recipes, including the quiche that made their food company famous.

The family is spending a couple of weeks together at the family home turned bed and breakfast, and Sugar and Dixie have been invited for the weekend to get a jump on the project.  At dinner the first night, they are trying to get to know everyone when Theo, the only grandchild in the family, arrives with his fiancée, Collette.  This is the first time everyone is meeting her, and the introduction is rocky, to put it mildly.

The next morning, Sugar goes for a walk and discovers Collette’s dead body.  The police aren’t sure whether her death was a tragic hunting accident or if it was murder.  If so, who could have wanted Collette dead?

I really do enjoy spending time with Sugar, Dixie, and the rest of their friends.  The characters are warm and wonderful, and I suspect I’d be right at home if I found myself in their town in real life.  Yes, we do get to see all the regulars even though we start out away from home.

We meet the Arbor family, aka the suspects, rather quickly, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at first.  However, as the novel went along, I found it easy to remember who all the family members were and how they fit into the story that was unfolding.

Unfortunately, the mystery was a bit undercooked.  There’s one plot point that was never fully explained, and the pace was uneven.  On the other hand, Sugar uncovers several interesting pieces of information as the book went along, and I was engaged the entire time I was reading.

I mentioned earlier that the setting is unique.  I can’t think of any other series I read set in Iowa; much of the middle of the country is overlooked, in fact.  I don’t know enough about the state to place where the books are set, but I still enjoy getting to read about a different part of the country.

And, just to be clear, I had fun reading this book.  The characters truly are charming, and the setting is wonderful.  This is a fast read, and I was sorry to leave the characters behind when I reached the end.

Naturally, we can’t talk about recipes with having a few at the end.  In addition to a quiche recipe, we get two more tasty sounding recipes.

If you are looking for a light, fun, fast read, Quiche of Death will fit the bill.  I was glad to get to revisit Sugar and Dixie and hope we learn what happens to them next soon.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Ornament Review: Ten Lords-a-Leaping - 12 Days of Christmas #10 - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great looking ornament
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Start final quarter
With one of the leaping lords
With great looking piece

Let This Ornament Leap onto Your Tree

We are entering the final quarter of the 12 Days of Christmas ornament series from Hallmark.  This year, we get Ten Lords-a-Leaping.

The ornament features a young man leaping over a gold ball.  No real surprise, right?  He’s dressed in blues, aqua-greens, and whites.  He is dressed like an old-fashioned lord in tights and a vest with sleaves.  His cape, flying out behind him, features a bit of his verse from the song, including lyrics and music.  Topping things off is the gold feather in his cap.

I do worry a bit about this ornament blending in with a tree since it is green and blue, but that is a minor complaint.  I love the colors, and they look great together.  I do also miss the hodgepodge look of the birds, but I think the look we’ve gotten for the humans in the series has worked perfectly for them.  I’m also quite impressed with this young man’s flexibility.  I don’t think I could have ever jumped over something like this, even when I was younger.

Since this man is leaping over a ball, the ornament doesn’t have a flat base and won’t sit up on its own.  But this isn’t a surprise to fans of the series – none of them have been able to sit out.  That means you have to hang him.  Fortunately, that’s not an issue at all since he hangs straight.

And yes, you’ll find the series marker on him.  It was the second place I thought it would be, but no, I’m not going to tell you where it is.

I’m thrilled with Ten Lords-a-Leaping; it is a great addition to the series.  I’m looking forward to having the final two entries in the series since I can’t wait to see them all together.

Be sure to check out the rest of the 12 Days of Christmas series.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Book Review: "Q" is for Quarry by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #17)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Intriguing cold case mystery
Cons: In my quest for cons, I couldn’t find any
The Bottom Line:
Kinsey on cold case
Can she learn who Jane Doe is?
You’ll love finding out

“Q” is for Quality

Before I picked up “Q” is for Quarry, the seventeenth Kinsey Millhone mystery from Sue Grafton, I knew that the book was inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery.  Naturally, that intrigued me and made me want to see just how Ms. Grafton would handle the case.  I wasn’t surprised to find that I loved the book.

If you are new to the series, Kinsey Millhone is a private investigator living in Santa Teresa, California, a thinly disguised Santa Barbara.  As this book opens, she is feeling restless.  All that changes when homicide detective Lieutenant Conrad Dolan walks into her new office.  He’s out on medical leave, and he thinks this is a great time to reopen a cold case.

Eighteen years before, in 1969, Conrad Dolan and his friend Stacey Oliphant were on a hunting trip when they found the body of a young woman who had been murdered and dumped in a quarry an hour north of town.  Stacey is retired from the county sheriff’s department and was one of the investigating officers.  The body was never identified and the case was never solved.  The two men would like to take another look at the case and hire Kinsey to do their leg work.  Will the three of them find any new leads?

Of course, it’s no surprise to say that yes, they manage to find a fresh lead or two.  It would be a pretty boring book if they didn’t.  As usual for this series, the plot progresses nicely.  I was sure I had things figured out a couple of times before I reached the end only to have more information come along that made my theory obsolete.  Yet when we reach the end, everything is wrapped up nicely.

I was also happy to see a recurring series sub-plot pop up again in this book, and I enjoyed how it advanced here.

The characters in this series are as sharp as always.  Kinsey leads the pack – she is strong, resourceful, determined, and smart.  Oh, things don’t always work out the way she thinks they will, but she never jumps in completely blind.  Conrad and Stacey could get annoying with their bickering, but overall, I liked them.  Rosie has a couple scenes that are absolutely hilarious, and I’m very curious to see what happens next with Henry.  The new characters fit perfectly into the world that is being created here.

Yes, I finally listened to another audio book!  It was nice to be revisiting listening to stories and this series.  Judy Kaye is the narrator of these later books in the series.  While it was a little rough when she took over the series, I’ve gotten used to her take on the characters now.

This isn’t one of my cozies, so there is slightly more language and violence than I would normally enjoy, but I was expecting that going into the book.  As long as you are expecting it, you’ll be fine.

There is an epilogue from Sue Grafton talking about the real case that inspired this book and how she got interested in it.  As of the writing of the book, it remained unsolved.  A quick internet search makes it look like the real Jane Doe is still a mystery.

It’s always a pleasure to see a long running series that is this strong so far into the series.  “Q”is for Quarry will please Kinsey’s many fans.  While you will get the most out of the series if you read the books in order, you could easily jump in here and see just why so many readers love the series.

Once you read one, you'll want to read the rest of the Kinsey Millhone Mysteries.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

July 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Cannonball (7/12) – It appears I can watch this twice a week, although at some point I will hit repeats, I’m sure.  This was a better episode than the one from last week.  The commentary was much less annoying.  Mostly different stunts, too.  I’m with those who struggled with the heights but very impressed with how well the winner did.

Press Your Luck – Wow!  So close to winning it all.  And if he hadn’t hit a Wammy, he definitely would have.  What an impressive amount of cash and prizes he got along the way.

Match Game – I would have matched all six celebrities with the dog question.  I would have matched quite a few with the other question that round, but not all since the panels didn’t all have the same answer.  As a fan of Joanna Garcia Swisher from her days on Reba, how fun to get to see her husband on the panel.

Titan Games – Again, both handpicked Titans were out right away.  Duane isn’t good at picking them, I guess.  Not that I’m complaining because I was rooting for both of the people who won.  Okay, I liked all the contestants, but I was more impressed with those two.  Especially after the guy forced the tie breaker so quickly.  That was very impressive.

Stargirl – A double cliffhanger.  Mom is about to find out one way or the other.  But they didn’t go back to that for the final scene.  Instead, we get a surprise at the hospital.  I wonder how that final scene is going to play into the rest of the season.

United We Fall – In search of a new sitcom, I decided to give this one a try.  I’m not completely sold yet.  It feels a bit too frenzied.  The writers need to give us and the characters time to take a breath and the characters to act like real people occasionally.  Still, it was very funny and pretty relatable.  I definitely plan to keep watching.

Killer Camp – Mystery show with a slasher twist?  Of course I’m in.  That is hokey as could be.  Almost painful to watch at times.  But I will be back to see how it plays out.  I just hope the person who “died” first was in on it from the start.  I’d hate for someone to leave before it all really started.

Cannonball (7/16) – I suspected who was going to win as soon they let us know what he would do with the money.  My third episode and I’m already predicting the show.  Still, I was already rooting for him, and he was impressive.  Actually, all of them were, especially in the semi-finals.  I couldn’t believe how close they all got to the target.

Holey Moley – So many incredible puts this time.  And several close calls, too.  It’s hard to believe we didn’t have a hole in one this week.

Don’t – That’s the latest they’ve introduced the Don’t Push button.  Makes it rather hard for the family to pick a perfect game to use it on.  They were doing well at the final challenge until suddenly they went downhill.  Three in a row right, three in a row wrong.

Friday, July 17, 2020

July 17th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

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

This week, I'm featuring Dead Body Language by Penny Warner.


This is actually my second time reading the book.  I first read it over 20 years ago.  I'm circling back around and hoping to get to the rest of the series this time.

Anyway, here's how the book begins:
I licked the tip of my murder weapon, then hesitantly sipped my mug of coffee as if it were strychnine.

And jumping ahead, we find this at the bottom of page 56:

"Don't you think it's kind of weird that she supposedly killed herself when - " I paused.  Maybe I shouldn't say too much.

That's a tease and a half, right?

My review will be up next Thursday, so I hope you'll come back.  In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Book Review: A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette (Ice Cream Parlor Mystery #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Some great characters, good mystery
Cons: Some over the top characters, slow start to mystery
The Bottom Line:
Slow opening day
Even before the murder
Promising debut

An Opening Scoop of Murder

Yes, I have a massive sweet tooth, but one of my biggest weaknesses is ice cream.  So, naturally, A Deadly Inside Scoop caught my eye.  This is the first in the Ice Cream Parlor Mysteries by Abby Collette, and it was a mostly delicious debut.

Bronwyn “Win” Crewse is ready to reopen Crewse Creamery, the ice cream parlor founded by her grandparents in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.  It’s been closed for a few months as Win remodeled the inside, returning it to its former glory.  Unfortunately, the renovations took longer than originally planned, so she missed the summer season.  Even worse, the day of the reopening in October coincides with the early first snowfall of the season, keeping all the customers away from the shop.

However, Win’s day gets even worse when she stumbles upon a dead body after she’s closed the shop for the day.  The man turns out to be someone who crossed paths with Win’s family years ago, and not for the better.  Before Win knows it, the police are looking at her father as the killer.  Now, Win needs to figure out what really happened so she can clear him of a crime she knows he didn’t commit.  Can she do that and get customers into the ice cream parlor?

Before you pick up this book, you need to have ice cream handy.  Yes, you will crave it that much.  I’m glad Win’s shop isn’t in town because I’d be in multiple times a day sampling all the flavors and I don’t need that kind of temptation.  There are some recipes in the back to enjoy, and they sound delicious.

Unfortunately, the mystery’s pacing was off.  It seemed to take a while to get to the point where Win was actively trying to investigate things.  Once she does, there are some good surprises and suspects before she figures everything out at the end.

The characters were also a bit of a mixed bag.  I loved Win and her family.  In fact, just before I picked up this book, I was thinking how rare it was to find a series with a main character who has good relationships with her parents and grandparents.  It seems to be usually one or the other.  Here’s we get to meet three generations of Win’s family, and I loved all of them.  Her best friends, on the other hand, were more caricatures than true characters.  They provided some laughs for me, but they could also annoy me at times.  Hopefully, they will be better developed as the series goes along.  The suspects were good and did their part keeping me confused as I read.

A Deadly Inside Scoop was still a tasty treat.  There is plenty of promise in this debut, and I can see this growing into a series that becomes a favorite for many.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Movie Review: The Call of the Wild (2020)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong, fun first part
Cons: Depressing ending; CGI inconsistent
The Bottom Line:
Dog in the Yukon
First part filled with adventure
Ending lets it down

Will Buck Survive the Yukon?

I was intrigued when I saw that a new version of The Call of the Wild was being released.  I didn’t try to see it in the theater, but I did decide to rent it from Redbox.  While it started well, it went downhill as it went along.

The story follows Buck, a dog who has a good life living with a judge and his family in California in the 1890’s.  However, his life changes when he is dognapped and sold to a dogsledding team in Alaska.  While he takes to this life and serves his new masters, Perrault and Francoise (Omar Sy and Cara Gee) well, his life is destined to change again.  What will ultimately happen to him?

I know I read this book as a kid, but it’s been years since I did, so I don’t really remember the story.  As a result, I can’t talk about how well this movie version sticks to Jack London’s classic.  I’m kind of interested in rereading the original now because I don’t remember having the reaction I did to the story as presented here.

The movie starts out well, and it is easy to root for Buck.  While none of the animals in the movie talk, we do get a voice over narration that helps us get to know Buck as a character.  For the first half of the movie, I was rooting for Buck, and it was easy to find the story heartwarming and uplifting.

In fact, my only complaint in the first part was the CGI.  All the animals in the movie are completely computer effects.  I get it, considering some of the things the animals have to do in the film.  But it also looks fake at times.  Most of it looks fine, but every so often there is a moment that is clearly CGI.

The locations are gorgeous.  Of course, considering how much CGI is used in this film, I’m wondering how much of the locations were real and how much of them were computer generated as well.

You’ll notice that, so far, I haven’t talked about Harrison Ford, but he’s the main human cast member that was discussed in the promotion for the film.  He’s the narrator I mentioned earlier in the film, but he does play a part as well.  His character pops up early in the film but doesn’t really become important to the film until the second half.

Unfortunately, it’s the second part where the movie begins to fall apart.  Mind you, this isn’t Harrison Ford’s fault; this is the result of the story that is being told.  The story takes a depressing turn, and the climax is really sad.  I really do feel that the first half was promising an uplifting story and then the second half gave us something else.  This is what makes me want to go back and reread the story to see what how the original ended.

The end result is a mixed bag.  The Call of the Wild isn’t nearly as good as I hoped it would be, but it isn’t as bad as it could have been.  If you are interested, by all means check it out, but I won’t go out of my way to watch it again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Book Review: Sowing Malice by Wendy Tyson (Greenhouse Mysteries #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, compelling mystery
Cons: No cons were sown into this book
The Bottom Line:
Disappearance, death
Megan must investigate
In great mystery

Reaping Another Great Mystery

I was excited when I saw that Wendy Tyson had a new Greenhouse Mystery coming out.  I really enjoy this series, and Sowing Malice was another great entry.

When the von Tresslers moved to town, they didn’t make the residents of Winsome, Pennsylvania, very happy.  They’ve mostly kept to themselves except when they were hiring the contracts in town to build their giant mansion.  They caused some contractors to break their previous agreements, including the contractor that Megan Sawyer had hired to do the renovations she planned on the neighboring farm she recently purchased.

Now, David von Tressler has died, and most of the mourners are from out of town.  That includes three women that Megan runs into at the local nursery.  Shortly after Megan meets them, one of the women disappears.  Then a body turns up at Megan’s farm.  What is going on?

This is a wonderful book.  It captured me from the first chapter, and the twists and turns kept me engaged until I reached the last page.  The events and twists all kept me puzzled until Megan figured it out, yet the ending made perfect sense.

Over the course of the series, we’ve gotten to meet a great cast of characters who work on the farm and the café in town that Megan also owns.  All of them appear here, although Megan, her grandmother, and her boyfriend get the majority of the character development.  I loved spending time with all of them again.  The suspects come across as real and helped me continue to care about the outcome.

Just how engrossed in this book was I?  I finished it in just two days.  Okay, so some insomnia might have helped with that, but these characters and this story was a great companion during those late hours when I couldn’t sleep.

This series leans toward the traditional side of the spectrum.  While this one isn’t quite as serious as some of the earlier books in the series, it still isn’t quite as light as a typical cozy.  Just know that going in and you’ll be fine.

This is the sixth book in the series, and we get to see the next chapter in the lives of characters we know and love.  However, there isn’t anything here that spoils earlier books in the series, so you could jump in here if you so desire.  Of course, I’ll always recommend you start a series from the beginning, since I love seeing how characters and their relationships grow.

Whether you let this be your introduction to the series or you are already a fan, you are in for a great mystery when you pick up Sowing Malice.  Set aside some time to enjoy our latest visit with Megan.

Looking for more?  Here are the rest of the Greenhouse Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Ornament Review: Doctor Snoopy - Spotlight on Snoopy #23 - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Snoopy as a doctor
Cons: No real cons diagnosed.
The Bottom Line:
Medical Snoopy
Great ornament overall
And very timely

Make an Appointment for this Ornament

Sometimes, it is easy to see where Hallmark planned an ornament for a certain event, like the Olympics.  However, there are times that the ornament just happens to be perfect timed.  That’s definitely the case with 2020’s Spotlight on Snoopy ornament – Doctor Snoopy.

The ornament is pretty much what you’d expect from the title.  The ornament features Snoopy, and he’s wearing green scrubs and a green doctor’s hat.  He’s also wearing a stethoscope, and he’s using it to give his good friend Woodstock a checkup.

Since I’ve been collecting this series for years, it would have been an automatic buy this year, but the timing really is perfect.  In a year when we’ve been celebrating medical professionals for their heroic work, this is a great ornament.

As with the others in the series, Snoopy does stand on his own.  He’s mostly stable, but he does run the risk of falling over if he gets bumped too hard.

You’ll find the series marker on the bottom of his feet.  Considering this is number 23 in the series, I find it hard to believe we haven’t seen Snoopy as a doctor before.  Yet that’s certainly the case.

Of course, a Christmas ornament is supposed to be hung.  This ornament does tip slightly to the right, but unless you are looking for it, I doubt you’ll notice.

I suspect given this year that Doctor Snoopy will fly off the shelves.  So if you want him, I suggest you get him sooner rather than later.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Spotlight on Snoopy ornaments.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

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

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: The window looks great
Cons: A bit simple overall
The Bottom Line:
Tiana looks great
Overall, this pin’s simple
But looks elegant

Tiana Gets a Kiss of Magic

Tiana takes her turn in the spotlight with this Windows of Magic pin.  Like it’s Evil counterpart, this one is a bit simple, but it is beautiful.

Tiana herself takes up a good portion of the window.  She is dressed up as she was for the parade with hints of her green dress and the tiara.  However, blending in with the dress are lily pads, and off her right shoulder is a frog.  I’m guessing this is Prince Naveen in his cursed form.  Behind her is a night sky with a moon in it and in the foreground is water.

I really do like what we have here.  It captures the movie well, and the stained-glass details are fantastic.

However, as I mentioned, this is a bit too simple.  They could have at least worked in some fireflies, and it would have been fun to have Louis is here as well.  The frame has some nice design details to it, but none of it is related to any characters.  Up at the top of the frame is a lily pad with the suggestion of a frog, which is the only extra detail there.

While I do like what we have, I can’t help but wish that Tiana’s window held just a bit more magic for us to find.

If you'd like to see a picture, I hope you'll stop by my Instragram account.

Disney Pin Review: Dr. Facilier - Windows of Evil - 2018 Release

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Dr. Facilier and his evil magic captured
Cons: Creepy and a bit simple
The Bottom Line:
A voodoo doctor
Becomes encased in stained glass
Effect is creepy

Dr. Facilier Makes a Creepy Window

This month for my Windows of Evil and Magic pin reviews, I’m looking at the pair done for The Princess and the Frog.  Up first?  Dr. Facilier’s Window of Evil.

This is one of the simpler faux stained-glass windows in either series.  About half of the window is Dr. Facilier’s face with his hat going up to the top.  But his face is split it two.  On the right side, is his normal face hidden under the skull mask he wears at one point.  On the left is the evil green face he turns into at another time.  Near the bottom of the window are three of his tarot cards.  Rising from them is green smoke.

But it’s the face.  The way it looks is downright creepy.  In fact, it’s almost hard to recognize him.  Yes, I’d know who he was without seeing a name attached, but still, it’s not as easy as some of the others.

In addition to being creepy, this pin doesn’t have some of the extras the others do.  Then again, Dr. Facilier doesn’t have any sidekicks to hide in the background.  His walking staff is worked into the frame of the window and a mask is up at the top.

Between the creepy look and the simpler window, Dr. Facilier isn’t one of my favorite Windows of Evil.

If you'd like to see a picture, I hope you'll stop by my Instragram account.