Saturday, October 31, 2020

October 31st's Weekly TV Thoughts

 Happy Halloween!  Usually there are more Halloween episodes to talk about, but this is 2020.

Supermarket Sweep – As I expected, I enjoyed it more this week.  Knowing what to expect sure helps.  The winners of the first round didn’t do so well running through the store, but the team in the second group won it all.  What a swing!

Card Sharks – I kind of liked the longer run they had last season.  This season, all you need is one lucky run and you are the winner.  Of course, in the second game, they proved you can get lucky at any moment.  Still, the winner’s luck was switched both times in the bonus round (very lucky early on, not so lucky in the bonus round and vice versa).  (I hope that makes sense to anyone other than me.) 

LA’s Finest – I kind of forgot we had a case of the week.  That is until the very end.  Not that they resolved it at all.  Seriously, the writing on this show is all over the place.  I am getting into the bigger storylines, so I have a feeling I will keep watching.  And yes, I felt stupid as soon as they mentioned that the first wife was dead.  How could I have forgotten that last week?  I do hope they have worked through the worst of the daughter’s acting out story.  I get why she is doing it, I just don’t enjoy it.

Dancing with the Stars – Villains week certainly worked for most of the cast.  Those dances were inspired!  And a well deserved perfect score, too!  I loved Derek as Jekyll and Hyde.  I love the character in general, but I especially loved how he played with it all evening.

The Weakest Link – I believe that was the highest total I’d seen on the game yet.  I was pretty impressed by it.  I did pretty well in the first round getting answers right, too.  Of course, eventually they started stumping me.

Tell Me a Story – I definitely enjoying this season more than season 1.  Still dark and twisted, but the characters are easier to root for.  I really want to know what is driving the stalkers (and we’ve got a couple of them) to behave the way they are.

Amazing Race – I always hate seeing a team that is really far behind get U-Turned.  I get why it happens.  It’s good strategy.  I would have done it, too.  But as someone who likes to root for the underdog, it hurts.  I want a trip on that riverboat!

American Ninja Warrior – As I expected, this finals course is really what we would normally consider a semi-finals course.  But it’s a different season, so I’m only commenting.  I’m not complaining.  What I am complaining about was the fact that my cable service had some issues and froze in a few runs (never the commercials), so I missed a few moments.  Fortunately, I could piece together where the people went out based on comments made later.  Missed part of Jessie’s run, but I didn’t miss her finish.  Way to go!

Press Your Luck – The Wammys were rough tonight.  Really hurt both of the guys in the competitive part, and then the winner got all four in the bonus game.

Match Game – I would have said lips for the final question, too.  But there’s me thinking too literally again.  Speed bump was a great answer for the Prius question.  And the final match is a given so much of the time, it’s actually surprising when a contestant doesn’t get it.  And that happened both times in the episode.

Star Trek: Discovery – I liked how the episode ended, but it felt like it took too long to get there.  Probably because I knew it would be going there from early in the episode.  Nice but predictable character moments.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Short Story Review: Pumpkin Pied by Karen MacInerney

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, good story
Cons: None, as along as you expect a short story
The Bottom Line:
Harvest festival
Is the area haunted?
A fun short story

Halloween Hijinks

True confession time – I’ve had the short story “Pumpkin Pied” downloaded for a while now.  I kept meaning to read it during October, but it never seemed to work – until this year.  I’m glad it did because I enjoyed this short story.

The action takes place on Cranberry Island off the coast of Maine.  Bed and breakfast owner Natalie Barnes has a few down days with only one guest – her college roommate Lucy Resnick.  Natalie is planning to use the time to enjoy the annual Cranberry Island Harvest Festival, complete with a corn maze, Great Pumpkin Contest, and pie contest.

However, something else is happening on the island.  Rumors that the area around the festival is haunted start to grow, and Natalie sees some proof herself.  But as more begins to happen, Natalie has to wonder if a real person is behind the events.

As I said, this is a short story, and it took me under an hour to read from start to finish.  It was fun to visit the island and the characters since I’ve always loved them.  Fans of author Karen MacInerney’s books will recognize Lucy as the star of her Dewberry Farm mysteries.  This is definitely set before those books started, and it’s fun to meet Lucy for the first time.

The mystery?  Since this is a short story, there might not be the twists of a full novel, but it is engaging and fun.  What more could you want?

We even get a couple of recipes for delicious sounding pumpkin desserts.

If you are a fan of either series and have missed this short story, you owe it to yourself to take a quick trip to Cranberry Island with “Pumpkin Pied.”

Spend more time with these characters in the Gray Whale Inn Mysteries and the Dewberry Farm Mysteries.

October 30th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

 We did it!  Here's to another Friday and this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm back to mysteries with Puzzling Ink, the first in a new series by Becky Clark.

This is the first in a new series coming out on Tuesday.

And here's how the book begins:

The perfection of a pristine crossword puzzle grid always made Quinn Carr's pleasure center buzz.

Moving up to 56% into the book, we find this:

"Why didn't you tell me?" Loma put her hands on her hips.
"Because I thought you were going to murder me."
"I still might."

I've finished this one already, and I enjoyed it.  I'll be posting my full review on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back then.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Book Review: Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door by Barbara Ross (Jane Darrowfield #2)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Jane, strong mystery
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Jane helps a neighbor
Creative cozy story
Captivating book

Is Jane’s Neighbor Crazy?

Last year, I completely enjoyed the first book in Barbara Ross’s Jane Darrowfield series.  Not only was it well written, it offered something different to the cozy mystery genre.  I’m delighted to say that the follow up, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, is just as strong.

If you haven’t met Jane yet, she is a retired woman who has discovered her years in corporate America have trained her to help others solve their problems.  As a result, she has opened a business as a professional busybody.  People come to her with their problems, and she works to resolve them.  Simple as that – at least most of the time.

Jane’s newest client is Megan Larsen, her next door neighbor.  Megan is a single, mid-30s lawyer on track to become a partner in her firm.  However, she begins to suspect that something might be wrong with her.  She’s hearing voices and having blackouts among other symptoms.  Either she’s going crazy, or someone is out to make her think she is.

Jane quickly comes up with a diagnosis, but then something happens that makes Jane question everything she thought she knew.  Is Megan in danger?  Or is Jane really living next to a madwoman?

You can see why I view this is different from a typical cozy.  And, as much as I love cozies, it’s nice to read a twist on the genre.  And what a great twist this was.  Just about the time I thought I knew where things were going, a twist would come that would make me question everything I thought I knew.  Yet by the time everything was resolved, everything made sense.

The last book was rather humorous with the antics that Jane had been hired to solve.  This book was more serious in tone.  What Megan is dealing with is serious as is what Jane uncovers along the way to helping her.  Those subjects are handled beautifully, just don’t expect quite as many laughs this time around.

Jane is a fantastic main character.  Obviously, she is another way this series stands out from many cozies because she is older than your typical cozy heroine.  She has a wisdom about her that I love.  Her friends aren’t super developed, but they don’t have that much page time again here, so that makes sense.  Megan, however, comes alive, as do the others that Jane encounters along the way to the solution.

I really did enjoy my second visit with Jane.  Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door is a fantastic mystery that kept me engaged from start to finish.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

NOTE 2: Like the first in the series, this is a Barnes and Nobel exclusive for the first year, and only available as a physical book from them until late in 2021.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ornament Review: Central Perk Couch - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great clips, perfectly captures the couch
Cons: Does tip a little to the left
The Bottom Line:
A tribute to Friends
Couch reconstructed and shrunk
With sound clips added

Invite Your Friends to Sit on Your Tree

I must admit, even as a fan of the TV show Friends, I’m still a little surprised at just how popular it continues to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy laughing when I catch a rerun of the show.  But the fact that we are still getting merchandise for the show twenty-six years after it debuted surprises me a little.  Not that it kept me from adding Hallmark’s Central Perk Couch to my wish list to make sure I got it.

Any fan of the show will immediately recognize the couch.  It is a perfect replica of the orange couch the gang would sit on when they were visiting their favorite coffee place – Central Perk.  (Yes, the ornament’s name kind of gives it away).  What did surprise me about the ornament is that it is covered in fabric, much like a real couch would be.  Honestly, I was rather expecting plastic until I saw it in person.  Instead of legs, the couch is sitting on a tan box with Friends written on in just like the logo of the show.

That box is important since it holds the workings for the magic element of the ornament.  It does require two button sized batteries to work, and your first set is included.  I will say that it took more work than normal to get the batteries in mine.  The spring just didn’t want to go back.  I’m guessing it is just mine.  At least I hope so.

When you press the button on the side of the ornament, you’ll hear six different clips from the show.  Some are short, some are longer, but all of them make me smile if not laugh.  The clips are coming directly from the show, so for the longer ones, you can hear the audience laughing.  Yes, you do hear all the friends at least once, although some appear more than others.  All six clips total to about a minute and a half, so there is an impressive amount of content for the magic portion.

Naturally, this ornament will sit out anywhere to be displayed.  Since this is a pop culture ornament, you really could enjoy it year round.

The loop to hang the ornament is sticking out of the back, which would make it mighty uncomfortable for the friend sitting in the middle of the couch.  Unfortunately, when you go to hang it, you’ll find it does tip slightly to the left, although that should be easy enough to hide with tree branches.

Fans of Friends will love Central Perk Couch.  I know I am glad I got it and looking forward to enjoying it for many seasons to come.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Book Review: Murder Comes to Call by Jessica Ellicott (Beryl and Edwina #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot, characters, and setting
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Two cases, much crime
Keep these pages turning with
Beloved characters

Thefts and Murder

Mismatched main characters are familiar in fiction, but they aren’t quite as common in mystery fiction.  But that’s what Jessica Ellicott has created in the Beryl and Edwina Mysteries, and she uses these odd couple sleuths perfectly once again in Murder Comes to Call.

If you have yet to meet them, Edwina Davenport is British and has inherited her family’s home outside the village of Walmsley Parva.  Beryl Helliwell is American, famous for her dare devil stunts, and a friend of Edwina from their school days.  Now middle aged, these two women are working on setting up a new business as private inquiry agents in the early 1920’s.

Beryl meets their newest client while she is court, accused of reckless driving.  She immediately takes a shine to Declan O’Shea, an Irish immigrant trying to start a life in Walmsley Parva despite the prejudice against him, which is making it difficult.  When Declan finds himself under suspicion for a string of thefts taking place in the village, he asks Edwina and Beryl to help clear his name.

The stakes are only raised when a dead body turns up at the scene of the latest burglary.  Couple that with another client who needs his case solved right away, and Edwina and Beryl have their work cut out of them.  Can they figure out what is really happening?

If you haven’t started this series yet, you could certainly jump in here.  However, I don’t advise it.  One of the charms of this series is watching the characters grow and their relationships deepen.  You’ll miss out on some of that joy here.  Series fans will be delighted to find out what is happening in the lives of these characters we’ve grown to know and love.  I really do appreciate the development we are seeing in all the characters and their relationships.

The plot appears to be wandering a bit early on, but I suspected it was building toward something, and I was right.  The further into the book you go, the easier it is to see how all those various threads are weaving into a whole.  I closed the book impressed by how well plotted it was.

The book is set between the World Wars, and I love how the time and place are incorporated into the story.  It doesn’t deal with any major events of the time, but it does use the details of life then in an English village to transport us to Edwina and Beryl’s world.  As it does, it incorporates issues of the day into the story without slowing things down in the slightest.

Murder Comes to Call is an excellent trip back in time.  I was fully absorbed in another time and place as I read.  If you are looking for a fun historical mystery, you’ll be happy you picked up this book.

Enjoy more trips back in time with the rest of the Beryl and Edwina Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, October 26, 2020

TV Show Review: Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and drama mixed with excellent music
Cons: Mo’s big episode, some of the choreography
The Bottom Line:
Accident at test
Leads to singing, dancing thoughts
Very addicting

“With Great Power Comes a Whole Lot of Nasty Conversations.”

I wasn’t planning to jump into Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist when it premiered at the beginning of the year.  I have tried a few musical shows over the years, and I felt like they either didn’t work or didn’t last long.  But after a friend recommended I give this one a try, I did – in September, months after she recommended it to me.  Never let it be said that I rush into things.  But I’m glad I gave it a shot because I was quickly hooked.

The show focuses on Zoey (Jane Levy), a computer programmer in San Francisco, who has been experiencing weird headaches recently.  When she goes to get an MRI to try to see what is happening, an earthquake causes things to go haywire.  The result is that now Zoey can hear what people are truly feeling, but she gets these revelations in the form of full out song and dance numbers.

This new ability comes in handy in helping Zoey get a promotion at work.  She is even able to use it to bond with Simon (John Clarence Stuart), the cute new guy at work that she’s been crushing on.  Of course, that’s before she learns that Simon has a fiancée.  Then again, it might not matter since it turns out that her best friend, Max (Skylar Astin), has been silently nursing a giant crush on her.  Meanwhile, her father, Mitch (Peter Gallagher) is slowly dying, and her new ability helps her entire family, including her mother Maggie (Mary Steenburgen) connect with him better despite his limitations.  When Zoey has a problem with her newfound powers she turns to her neighbor Mo (Alex Newell).

Clearly, there is plenty going on here, and I haven’t even gotten into some of the other sub-plots the season presents as it goes along.  As I said, I was hooked early.  The show is a great mix of comedy and drama, sometimes in the same scene.  One episode is particular made me laugh so hard.  Other scenes made me tear up, and the season finale is appropriately heavy.

This show works because of the cast.  Not only can they act wonderfully and bring their characters to life, but they can also sing.  I know that shouldn’t be a surprise in a musical show, but some of the performances are absolutely beautiful.  I suspect we will see much more of these stars in other musical productions.  At least I hope so.  This even applies to the guest stars, who have some standout numbers.  The choreography is from Emmy winner Mandy Moore.  At times it works perfectly, and other times, it feels a bit overdone.  But that’s a minor complaint.

My bigger issue is with the character of Mo.  Mo is gender fluid.  Clueless viewer that I am, I didn’t pick up on that for several episodes even as a character that usually presents as female was being referred to as “he.”  It wasn’t too long into the season that we got an episode focused on Mo, and it fell into typical anti-Christian stereotypes.  I found that truly disappointing.

But that was the only disappointing episode out of a truly entertaining show.  For the first season, we got 12 episodes.  Since the show was intended as a mid-season replacement, that was all that was intended for the first season, so the story arcs introduced here reach the conclusions the writers intended and weren’t shortened by the pandemic.  Of course, not everything is resolved, since the show will be back next year for season 2.  I can’t wait.

Yes, there are definitely connections to Eli Stone, a very similar show (both are even set in San Francisco) which I also enjoyed.  But it’s only the most superficial set up that is the same.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is something different on TV that is completely enjoyable.  This mix of comedy, drama, and music is addicting, and you’ll find yourself caught up in the story and rooting for the characters.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Book Review: The Timeless One by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great story advancement, fun
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Story moves forward
While setting up final book
For fans.  They’ll be hooked

Sets the Stage Well for a Climactic Battle

When a book series is building to an obvious climax, sometimes the middle books can suffer.  They have a job of do – set up what happens in later books – and sometimes that overshadows what actually happens in the current book.  I’m happy to say that isn’t the case with TheTimeless One, the fourth in James Riley’s The Revenge of Magic series.

If you are new to the series DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES START HERE.  In fact, I’m tempted to say you shouldn’t even read this review because it’s hard to talk about this book without offering spoilers for what has happened in the previous books.  I’m not saying that James Riley doesn’t try to introduce readers to this world as he writes this book.  But there are twists that are spoiled by picking up this book.

A quick recap – this series follows Fort Fitzgerald who lost his father in an attack on Washington DC by monsters who came from underground.  It is then that Fort learns about magic, and joins a school that teaches it in an attempt to find and save his father.

As this book opens, Fort is home for the first time in months, separated from all the new friends he’s made.  He, Rachel, and Jia have one year to re-find Excalibur and train to fight the Timeless One.  Meanwhile, Fort also has a baby dragon he not only has to try to hide from his guardians but also from someone who has been sent to find it.

And that’s all I am going to say because any more would spoil something.

When I reviewed the last book, I mentioned that I normally don’t read post-apocalyptic books, and that’s definitely how that book felt.  I’m thrilled to say that this book took a step back from that and instead read more like a fantasy book.  It certainly helped that we aren’t trying to stop an imminent attack or dealing with the aftermath of one.  Some scenes in this book almost felt normal, and there were some funny scenes as well, which I really enjoyed.

This isn’t to say that the pace was slow.  I was engaged from the first page and Fort is trying to balance several different things at once.  There are some secrets, but they aren’t as prevalent as in the last book, and do come out in their own good time.  Meanwhile, the characters continue to be strong and make us care about the outcome.  While Fort has always been the star of the series, this is more his book since we don’t see as much of the other main characters.  However, their absences work for the book and they shine when they are on the page.

I mentioned at the beginning that this book sets things up for a climatic fifth book (coming in the spring).  Even with that set up, this book still has a definite beginning, middle, and end all its own, so I set it down satisfied.  Well, except for the cliffhangers.  Yes, plural.  Is the next book out yet?

Fans who have been reading The Revenge of Magic will be very happy with The Timeless One and be left eagerly awaiting the final book in the series.  If you haven’t started this series yet, I recommend backing up to earlier books before trying to jump into this page turner.

Here are the rest of books in The Revenge of Magic series.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

October 24th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Supermarket Sweep – They need to tone it way down.  Way way down.  The over enthusiasm was way too over the top for me, at least Sunday night.  Now that I know to expect it, we’ll see if I enjoy it more going forward.  I’ve noticed that happens to me with some shows.

Card Sharks – I think I’m hoarse after listening to the screaming from the first set of contestants.  I’m amazed by the contestant in the second set.  What a run!  I’m happy she won so much for her new house, too.  I like having the losing contestants and their families there cheering the winners on in the money cards.  I don’t remember if that happened last time or not, but it doesn’t make the stage feel quite as empty with no audience there.

Ducktails – I don’t normally watch the show (never got into the original either), but I had to watch this episode since it was going to include Darkwing Duck characters.  I LOVE Darkwing.  And I had a blast with it.  It was essentially a take on the original pilot with a few twists (like the fearsome foursome) thrown in for good measure.  Not sure how I feel about the actor turned Darkwing angle, but overall, it was as much fun as I had hoped it would be.

Dancing with the Stars – Seriously, what was up with Carrie Ann’s hair?  That just looked odd to me.  The dancing, on the other hand, was great.  I was surprised to see Johnny in the bottom two.  Not surprised he was saved since the other guy was in the bottom two last week.  I’m actually surprised the vote by the judges was as close as it was, in fact.  That’s the first tie since the first elimination this season.

LA’s Finest – That was a better episode.  I think because they went with sub-plots related to the core characters and not trying to have a case of the week.  I’m glad the drugs are in real police custody, but I fear this is far from over for them.  But the real burning question is, who is Alice?  Her mother?

The Weakest Link – Naturally, I was rooting for Mark all along, but I’m surprised he made it.  Not because I thought he was the weakest link a whole lot, but because I thought everyone was ganging up on him.  He did survive two ties, after all.  And he won!

Tell Me a Story – We aren’t waiting at all.  Going straight for the kidnapping in the second episode.  Very curious why he is so obsessed with her.  If I didn’t know the singers story would turn dark, I’d be enjoying the romance right now.  That’s the only story I’ve really connected with so far.  I couldn’t even remember who the woman who lost her father was until her “prince” showed up at the hotel.  That’s not slightly creepy.

The Amazing Race – I hate heights, and I have no balance, so I would have struggled with that Road Block.  None of the teams fully read the clue.  As the one team pointed out – rookie mistake.  I’m surprised the Olympias didn’t last longer.  I figured they do well, but they just ran into bad luck.  I was surprised to see the teams can have their phones.  I remember people asking about borrowing phones in the past.  Is that a rules change?

American Ninja Warrior – Not nearly as many finishers in this round.  Thrilled that Joe made it to the end, and that the two guys he brought made it farther even though they aren’t moving on.  Wish I liked cake as much as the Cake Ninja and friends do – I might stand at chance at the course.  Although I don’t think cake alone is their winning strategy.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Book Review: Hot Enough to Kill by Paula Boyd (Jolene Jackson #1)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: The main characters
Cons: Condescending tone, weak mystery
The Bottom Line:
Jolene helps her mom
The tone of book does not work
Pace drags in middle

Not as Hot a Debut As I Had Hoped

Earlier this year when looking at the book I had on my Kindle app, I discovered that I had purchased both a physical and an ebook of Hot Enough to Kill over the years.  It’s rare I buy duplicate books (and honestly, I don’t know where the physical book is), so I figured it must mean I was anxious to read this book at one point.

This book introduces us to Jolene Jackson.  A native of the small town of Kickapoo, Texas, she has lived in Colorado all of her adult life and only comes back when she absolutely has to.  Like right now.  The mayor of Kickapoo has been murdered, and her mother, Lucille, has been brought in for questioning.  Jolene rushes down to try to help out.

Her mother had been dating the mayor, who was separated from his wife.  It’s obvious that Lucille is hiding something from everyone, but she claims to have been home alone.  As events unfold, Jolene finds herself reconnecting with her high school sweetheart, Jerry Don Parker, who just happens to be sheriff now.  As events make it clear that Lucille is in danger, Jolene begins to investigate.  Can she figure out what happened?

The book sounds promising, and it started out well.  Somewhere around the middle, however, the pace sagged.  The issue was that the story became a series of events, but no real investigation was going on.  I was interested in what was happening, but I didn’t feel like the book was really moving forward.

Unfortunately, most of the characters were thin.  Jolene, Jerry, and Lucille were all strong, and I liked them.  Lucille could have been over the top annoying, but she walked that fine line of being entertaining without being annoying.  It was the rest of the cast where I had the issues.  Most of them were very thin with just one of two notes to them at best.

The thin characters also contribute to another issue I had with the book.  Jolene narrates the book first person, and she has a very condescending attitude toward her hometown.  It is clear that we are supposed to be laughing at the hicks from Kickapoo.  Couple that with a stereotypical hypocritical Christian character and some needless political commentary, and I was turned off.  I am sure it was supposed to be funny, but it didn’t work for me.

The book was originally published in 1999, but I read the updated ebook version from 2012.  It kind of feels like it is stuck between the two time periods, so keep that in mind if you pick up the book.

Obviously, I wanted to enjoy Hot Enough to Kill.  But the result wasn’t nearly as good as I hoped it would be.

October 23rd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday, so that must mean it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

I'm taking a bit of a break from my usual cozy mysteries this week with some middle grade fantasy.  Specifically, The Timeless One, the fourth book in The Revenge of Magic series by James Riley.

It's a bit of a challenge with this book.  I don't want to spoil this book, obviously, but I have to pick things that won't spoil the earlier books in the series either.

Of course, I don't have much choice what I take from the beginning of the book:

Fort Fitzgerald had traveled to other dimensions, flown with dragons, and fought off ancient horrors.  He'd saved the city of London from a boy under the spell of Spirit magic; he'd held the sword of King Arthur - one of the Aurthurs, at least - and made deals with the queen of the faeries.

One thing he'd never done, though, was raise a pet.

And I found a good quote from page 56 as well:

He blinked.  "Um, thank you.  I...I actually really appreciate that."

"You can owe me," she said, and grinned far too evilly for Fort's liking.

I'll be reviewing this book on Sunday, so I hope you'll come back to see what I thought.  In the mean time, have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Candy Review: Witch's Brew Kit Kat

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Marshmallow flavored wafers for the win
Cons: A little on the too sweet side
The Bottom Line:
Halloween Kit Kat
Marshmallow twist on classic
Sweet but very good

These Kit Kats Have Put a Spell On Me

Internet research can be hazardous to your waistline.   That’s the moral of this review.  I was poking around recently and discovered that there was a specialty Kit Kat for Halloween called Witch’s Brew.  I might not have pay them any attention until I discovered that they were marshmallow flavored.  Instantly hooked, I had to check them out.

The base of the Kit Kat is the familiar wafer.  However, instead of being surrounded by chocolate, these wafers are smothered in a marshmallow flavored crème.  That crème has been dyed a light green because witches.  I’ll admit I had to think about this one for a bit, but I’m sure it has to do with the color that cartoon witches are typically painted.

And the taste?  Yum!  They remind me of the premade Rice Crispy Treats you can buy.  That’s a good thing.  It means they can be a little on the too sweet side, but I feel that way about the premade Rice Crispy Treats, too, so they are in good company.

The bag I bought was snack size.  This means that the Kit Kats are a little on the short size compared to a full-sized bar, but there are two wafers side by side.  It’s like they’ve been magically shrunk.

I really didn’t need to know about these.  Now I will need to resist the spell of the Witch’s Brew Kit Kats every year at Halloween.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Book Review: Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien (Noodle Shop Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun characters
Cons: Some of Lana’s relationships need growth
The Bottom Line:
Death of a new friend
Sends Lana looking for clues
Strong second entry

Fear Not, This is a Fun Book

Just because I don’t return to a series quickly doesn’t mean I don’t want to.  It just means there are too many books out there calling my name.  Take Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mysteries as an example.  I enjoyed the first book when I read it two years ago enough to want to read the sequel, but I’ve just now been able to pick up Dim Sum of All Fears.

For our protagonist, Lana Lee, it’s just been a few weeks since she solved her first murder, and she’s hoping to move on with her life.  In that time, she’s started to form a friendship with the newlyweds who have opened a souvenir store next to Ho-Lee Noodle House, Lana’s family restaurant.  Isabelle, especially, has become a good friend of Lana’s very quickly since the two have bonded over their mutual love of mystery novels.

Which makes it very personal for Lana when Isabelle and her husband, Brandon, are found dead one morning.  Something about the scene feels off to Lana.  Despite warnings, she begins to poke around to see what she can figure out.  Will she wind up solving the murder?

The mystery in this book is very strong.  Lana’s personal connection definitely makes the deaths feel very real, so that does make the book feel a little more serious than some of the cozies I read, and I liked that.  As Lana begins investigating, she finds multiple surprises along the way, and I couldn’t wait to see where they were all going to lead.  This is a well plotted mystery that kept me guessing until the very end.

I also liked the characters.  Lana is a relatable, sympathetic protagonist.  Her friends are also wonderful.  I get that her family annoys her, but they are my biggest issue with the book.  I hope those relationships mature soon since I find how they treat Lana very frustrating.  Likewise, I hope that Lana and detective Adam Trudeau, also her love interest, manage to work through some of their issues soon.  Still, these are minor complaints.  I really did enjoy the book for the most part, and if these issues improve as the characters grow over the course of the series, I’ll be perfectly fine with it.

A quick word of warning, there are brief discussions about the first mystery that Lana solved, including a spoiler.  So if you want to read the first book in the series unspoiled you’ll have to either read the series in order (always my recommendation) or let enough time go after reading this book that you won’t remember who done it.

Dim Sum of All Fears is a great second book.  Reading it, it is easy to see why this series has such a loyal following.

Need more noodles?  Here are the rest of the Noodle Shop Mysteries.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Movie Review: Reunited and It Feels So Deadly - An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun, twisty Hallmark mystery
Cons: Usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
High school reunion
Ends early with a murder
Fun mystery film

“I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About, But I Don’t Like That Look in Your Eyes.”

Some people remember their high school days with fondness.  Others remember then with dread.  Maybe that’s what makes high school reunions so fascinating and a popular setting for cozy mysteries.  We visit one with Aurora Teagarden in the newest Hallmark Mystery Movie – Reunited and It Feels So Deadly.

Aurora (Candace Cameron Bure) is looking forward to her 20th high school reunion.  While she’s kept in touch with some friends, like Sally (Lexa Doig) and Arthur (Peter Benson), there are others she’s hasn’t seen in a while.  Naturally, her new fiancé, Nick (Niall Matter) is going with her.

Since the high school football team won a championship that year, there are plans to honor them.  Riding into the reunion in that twenty-year-old glory is Jack, one of the stars of the team that year.  However, it quickly becomes obvious that not everyone still thinks Jack is wonderful.  When it comes time to honor the football team, Jack can’t be found.  A search turns up his corpse.  Aurora is in the perfect place to try to figure out what happened, but she and Nick disagree over who the most likely suspect is.  Will Aurora figure out the killer without ruining her relationship with Nick?

This is another strong mystery with plenty of suspects to keep us guessing.  I honestly had no idea who it might be until the last few minutes when Aurora figured it out.  Admittedly, I think it would have been hard to figure it out with more than a guess until those last few minutes, but I still appreciated the twists of the story.

One of the suspects is Aurora’s high school boyfriend, and his presence makes Nick very jealous.  I actually liked seeing that side of him and how Aurora tried to navigate that.  Some of those scenes were pretty funny, but I feel like their relationship was stronger by the end of the movie.

The rest of the regulars are here as well, and I loved seeing them.  I did feel like Miranda Frigon’s police captain character was in and out of the movie at random.  At one point, her character’s husband mentioned she was at a conference, but then she showed up later with no explanation.  I’m guessing the actress wasn’t available for the entire shoot, and they tried to write around her.

I do have to mention the usual Hallmark movie cheese, although I felt we got a light dose this time.  Still, it is there, so keep that in mind before you sit down to watch.

If you look carefully at the badge that Aurora gets at her reunion, you’ll see a picture of Candace Cameron Bure from her Full House days.  I’m sure they used a high school picture for everyone, but, since her high school days are so recognizable, I loved that touch.

This coming weekend, Hallmark turns to Christmas movies full time.  I’m pleased we got one more visit with Aurora in before that happened.  Fans will enjoy being reunited with her and the rest of the cast in Reunited and It Feels So Deadly.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Book Review: Hard Cold Winter by Glen Erik Hamilton (Van Shaw #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, can’t put down story
Cons: A bit dark for my tastes
The Bottom Line:
Van’s out of Army
Finding Seattle danger
Dark, enjoyable

Bodies at a Cabin

I enjoyed the first novel featuring Van Shaw earlier this year, and I was looking forward to seeing just how author Glen Erik Hamilton would continue his story in Hard Cold Winter.  The result was as gripping as I expected it to be.

It’s been ten months since we last saw Van, and he is now back in Seattle permanently, having finished his time as an Army Ranger just weeks ago.  Van hasn’t settled into a new job yet, so when Willard, one of his grandfather’s old friends, asks for a favor, Van is more than willing to do it for him.  Willard’s niece went off with her boyfriend to a cabin in the woods for a night, and no one has heard from her since.

When Van arrives at the cabin, he makes a horrific discovery – two dead bodies.  It appears to be a murder suicide, but Van doesn’t quite buy it.  As he tries to figure out what happened, he discovers more danger than he bargained for.  Will his Ranger training keep him alive?  Or are the forces at work too great for him?

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that Van was trained in the family business, which involves crime, as a boy.  That gives him a different skill set and a different outlook on the conflict.  It also makes him a different character from what I normally read.  I enjoyed getting to know him in the first book, and I enjoyed catching up with him again here.  A few of the characters from the debut are back, and we meet some interesting new characters here as well.  All of them are well developed.

And the story?  It starts out well, but it builds in intensity as each chapter goes along until it reaches an explosive and page turning climax.  You won’t want to put the book down.

This is definitely darker than the cozies I normally read.  Know that before you pick up the book.  That includes more language and definitely more violence.  The themes are also a bit darker.  Even knowing this, it got to me at times, and lessened my enjoyment a little.  Yes, this is completely a personal issue.  I recognize that.  If you enjoy darker books, you’ll definitely love this one.

One thing that I did appreciate is the spotlight the book shines on the struggle that vets have when they leave the service.  It’s not something I normally think about, but this is worked into the novel in a natural way, and I suspect will be a recurring theme as the series progresses.

Once again, I listened to this book on audio.  The series gets a new narrator here, R. C. Bray.  He does a much better job of bringing the characters and story to life.  If you enjoy audio books, I would definitely recommend this one.

While Van’s adventures are darker than I would normally pick up, I am enjoying getting to know him.  I plan to move on from Hard Cold Winter soon.

If you are interested in more, here are the rest of the Van Shaw novels.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Disney Pin Review: Haunted Manion - Crests of the Kingdom - 2019 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun tribute to a fan favorite ride
Cons: No cons haunt this pin
The Bottom Line:
All foolish mortals
Will welcome attraction pin
Celebrating haunts

Haunted Crest

It’s really no surprise that the Haunted Mansion popped up in the Crests of the Kingdom pin series that was released in Disneyland last year.  It’s a fan favorite attraction with tons of other merchandise.  It would have been more surprising if it hadn’t been included.

The front of the pin is a three-dimensional gray pewter.  It’s got lots of little things hidden in it, like ghostly figures.  The main items you’ll notice are the bird and the gargoyle candelabra.  The Latin phrase is only two words this time, “Mortalim stultum,” which means “Foolish man.”  I know, I know, let the jokes begin.  I bet that they are really playing on the phrase the Ghost Host greets us with “Welcome, foolish mortal.”

When you open this pin up, you’ll find a cartoony picture of the three hitchhiking ghosts.  I figured it would be either them or Madam Leota.  It’s a fun shot of the three of them, and I guess it means that all three have followed me home.  I may have to take that up with the Ghost Host since he promised only one ghost was going to follow me home.

Clearly, this is a fun crest that will please the fans of the ride.  While not one of my favorite rides in the park (I know, shocking to find one I admit to not loving), I still appreciate this pin and appreciate the nods to the classic attraction we get here.

If you are a fan of this attraction, you’ll enjoy having tracked down the Haunted Mansion Crests of the Kingdom pin.  If you were collecting the pin series, you’ll also be thrilled with this addition to the series.

If you'd like to see pictures of this pin, stop by my Instagram account.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

October 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Dancing with the Stars – Not Jesse!  He was one of my early favorites, so I’m sorry to see him go.  I couldn’t tell you where he was placing in the rankings normally, but I felt it was higher than this.  But one bad week really can be the end of a run on this show – not the first time we’ve seen that happen.  It is nice to see someone bounce back from being in the bottom two and get high scores the next week.  And it shows how little I know the 80’s – I hardly recognized any of the songs.

American Ninja Warrior – I would have been more surprised if The Kid had made it further.  In fact, I was a bit surprised he made it as far as he did.  The first one out of the gate rarely does well.  Yep, they need to change their editing.  Some of those new obstacles looked hard.  Still, happy to see so many favorites advancing.  I’m curious what they will do for the finals.

The Weakest Link – They did so well in the first round, I thought they’d bank more than they did overall.  They fell victim to being greedy and not banking much later on.  And, of course, they started missing questions, too.

Tell Me a Story – Yes, I decided to go ahead and come back for the second season.  Surprised?  I’m sure not.  Looks like we are dealing with three princess stories this time around, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast.  Of course, they are going to be massively twisted.  I think I’m missing a few of the connections, but they also seemed to be a bit more blatant about connecting everything right away.  I don’t feel like any of the characters are being blatantly stupid, at least right now.  Well, the stalker guys are, but they are supposed to be stupid.  They’re the villains.  No stupid heroes, at least at the moment.

Ellen’s Game of Games – I’m very surprised they brought the Maze game back.  It just doesn’t translate well to TV since we can’t really follow what is happening.  I like the new game, although it is the only game where the winner doesn’t get anything bad happening to him or her either.

The Amazing Race – I’m so happy this show is back!!!  Of course, I also hate to see a sympathetic team I love leave first.  I wanted those friends to last for quite a while.  I was hoping when they were still racing that no one was going to be eliminated, but I guess that wasn’t to be.  Love to visit that beach.  I probably would have struggle with the steal drum challenge more than I’d care to admit, but I feel like it would have been fairly easy especially compared to some of the other challenges.

Star Trek: Discovery – This felt a bit more like a regular episode of something.  I mean, we were finally through all of Michael’s backstory.  I’m curious where they are going with some things, but it still seems to be moving rather slowly.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Book Review: "R" is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #18)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mostly entertaining story; sub-plots
Cons: Some characters’ choices
The Bottom Line:
Helping parolee
With unexpected danger
Good, could be stronger

Tries for Something Different, but Disappoints a Little

Authors like to try new things.  I get it.  They get bored when they write the same book in the same way each time.  And, if they are bored, then we are bored as readers as well.  However, sometimes, what they try leaves us feeling disappointed.  That was the case for me with “R” is for Ricochet, one of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books.  I still enjoyed it overall, but it could have been stronger.

As the book opens, private investigator Kinsey Millhone is given what she thinks will be a simple assignment.  Reba Lafferty is about to be paroled after serving twenty-two months of a four-year sentence for embezzlement.  Her father wants to hire Kinsey to pick her up at the prison and bring her home to Santa Theresa and spend time with her over the next few days helping her get off on the right foot so she doesn’t wind up going back.  Reba herself is friendly enough, so Kinsey isn’t expecting any trouble.

However, trouble is just what she finds when Reba has an encounter with someone from her former life.  Then Kinsey is asked by Federal agents to talk to Reba about a case they are working on.  Suddenly, Reba’s life seems to be very uncertain, and Kinsey is being pulled into the drama.  Will Kinsey be able to help Reba?

The book started out well, with the usual build up that introduces us to complications that quickly become much more than Kinsey bargained for.  It’s one thing I love about these books, and I was happy to see that happening once again here.

However, as the book went along, I began to get frustrated.  Part of that was Reba, who made some pretty dumb choices and dragged Kinsey along with her.  Part of that was Kinsey who made some dumb choices of her own.  Sometimes, she had no choice, but others she did, and I found her actions frustrating each time.

That led into my biggest frustration – I felt like Kinsey spent most of the book reacting to things instead of actively trying to resolves the issues.  That didn’t feel like Kinsey to me.  This is where I feel like Sue Grafton was trying something new, but I didn’t like it.

On the other hand, we get some enjoyable romantic sub-plots.  This book really could have been called “R” is for Romance.  Not that I’m complaining because I enjoyed seeing these stories play out and what they showed us about the characters involved.  I’m a sucker for learning more about series regulars, and that’s what happens here.  I look forward to seeing how this growth and these relationships continue in future books.

And, all this isn’t to say that the story told here isn’t interesting.  I was certainly engaged the entire way through.  I just felt like the story could have been stronger if different choices were made along the way.

As always, I listened to the audio version narrated by Judy Kaye.  I’ve gotten used to her take on the characters by this point, and I enjoyed listening to the story.

There is enough good to recommend “R” Is for Ricochet, but this is not the strongest entry in the series.

Be sure to check out the rest of Kinsey Millhone's mysteries.

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

October 16th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to Friday and Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Dim Sum of All Fears, the second Noodle Shop Mystery from Vivien Chien. 

I finished the book up earlier in the week.  I'd read the first one a couple of years ago, and I enjoyed finally getting back to revisit the characters.

Shall we get to it?  Here's how the book begins:

"Ai-ya!" my mother bellowed from across the crowded restaurant.  She stood up from the table, her hands squeezing her hips.  My sister and father turned in their chairs to see what she was looking at with such disdain.

It was me.  Lana Lee.

Meanwhile, on page 56, we get this:

"I know that face.  Whatever is going on, Adam can figure it out," I assured her.

"Are you trying to convince me of that?  Or yourself?"

I'll be reviewing the book on Wednesday, so I hope you'll come back and see what I thought of the book.

In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Book Review: Murder Goes to Market by Daisy Bateman (Marketplace Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Claudia; strong mystery; humor; for me, the setting
Cons: Took a bit to get into the book
The Bottom Line:
Body in market
Freedom, livelihood on line
Grows into good book

To Market, to Market, to Find…A Corpse?

The instant Murder Goes to Market crossed my radar, I knew I had to read it.  Not only does it involve food, something I tend to gravitate to, but it is set in Sonoma County, California, the area where I grew up.  I’m definitely glad I read the book because I enjoyed it.

When Claudia Simcoe needed a change in her life, she moved up to San Elmo Bay, California.  She bought a large building and turned it into a market where local vendors can go to sell their wares.  While most of the tenants sell their locally made food, Claudia did rent out one space to Lori Roth, who sells bags and other merchandise.  Everything is going well until Claudia learned that Lori was buying her items online to resell instead of making them herself, forcing Claudia to terminate her lease.

Claudia is unprepared the next morning to find Lori’s dead body in the middle of the market.  Since Claudia was the last person to see Lori alive and they had fought, the police think Claudia makes a very good suspect.  With the market shut down until the case is solved, she has a double motive to figure out what really happened to Lori.  The problem is Lori was a very private person.  Can Claudia figure out what got Lori killed?

I’ll admit I did struggle a bit to get into the book.  The early chapters walk a fine line between giving us a data dump and starting the story.  Lori dies very early on, but I still thought we were getting exposition that helped set up the story, especially Claudia’s character.  The writing style also kept me at a distance.  I’m not saying it was poorly written, it just was in third person and kept me slightly outside the story.

However, by the time I hit page 50, I was fully hooked on the story.  Lori’s death was a very good puzzle.  Claudia’s sleuthing began to turn up more of Lori’s life, but I couldn’t figure out how any of it was going to play out.  The climax was perfectly logical but surprised me, and I loved how it wrapped everything up.

The further I got into the book, the better I felt I got to know Claudia as well.  She’s definitely a strong yet sympathetic character.  The rest of the cast could be a little stronger, but I’m sure that will come as the series progresses.  I certainly enjoyed what I saw of them here and want to spend more time with all of them.

Since the setting was a special draw for me, I have to comment on that as well.  I’ll admit, it’s been years since I spent any amount of time in the area of Sonoma County where the fictional San Elmo Bay is set, however, I had to smile as author Daisy Bateman was describing the setting and the weather.  It is obvious she knows the area and loves it, too.  And any reference to the real towns in the area also brought a smile to my face.  I love seeing places I know pop up in the books I read.

I also enjoyed the humor of the book.  Claudia has a sarcastic streak, which I loved.  There are also some lines of narration that were pretty funny.  This isn’t a laugh a page book, and some of it might be subtle, but for me it worked well.

I will definitely be back to visit Claudia and San Elmo Bay again.  Murder Goes to Market grew into a fun book, and I’m very glad I picked it up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Movie Review: Exit Stage Death - Picture Perfect Mysteries

: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: Light dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Opening night death
Leads to some backstage intrigue
Fun mystery film

“If You Think That’s Bad, You Should See My Search History.”

With everything shut down for so much of this year, we didn’t get nearly as many Hallmark mystery movies as we normally would.  And I have realized that I missed them.  Okay, maybe we don’t need more than one or two a month, but still, they are fun and enjoyable.  So I was thrilled to see Exit Stage Death, a new Picture Perfect mystery, premier this past weekend.

Allie (Alexa PenaVega) has been hired to take backstage photos for publicity for a new play from an award-winning playwright that is debuting in her town.  This playwright hasn’t had a hit in years, so he has a lot riding on this.  Backstage on opening night is filled with nerves, especially for Allie’s friend Maya (Sunita Prasad), who has a small part in the play.

Cassandra (Pauline Egan), the actress playing the lead, arrives just minutes before the curtain is supposed to go up, delayed due to car trouble.  They delay the curtain for her, but even then, when her cue comes, she doesn’t appear on stage.  Allie discovers the reason why, Cassandra is dead in the costume room.

Sam (Carlos PenaVega) is quickly on the case for the local police, but Allie can’t help but nose around.  With plenty of backstage intrigue, there are plenty of suspects and motives.  Can Allie and Sam figure out what really happened?

Obviously, murder at a play isn’t a new plot idea, especially for Hallmark mystery movies.  I can think of at least two other franchises who have done a similar set up before.  However, the thing I enjoy about mysteries is that even with a similar initial premise, you can weave a different plot each time, and that’s exactly what the writers do here.  I was confused by the plot, in a good way, until everything started coming together for the climax.

As much as I enjoy the mysteries, I do come back for the characters.  I really like Sam and Allie, and their slow romance is a lot of fun.  Their chemistry is wonderful, which isn’t a surprise since the actors are married in real life.  I did miss Sam’s uncle, but we got to see several other supporting players again, which is always fun.

Of course, this movie does come with my usual Hallmark cheese warning.  It’s a light dose here, so as long as you know to expect it when you sit down to watch, you’ll be fine.

Hallmark is transitioning full time to Christmas movies later this month, but I’m glad they had time for another Picture Perfect Mystery before they did.  Fans of the franchise will be delighted with Exit Stage Death.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Book Review: The Dogfather by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mysteries #10)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Funny characters, good mystery, great wrap up
Cons: Ending a bit rushed
The Bottom Line:
Mel must clear her ex
In funny pet-centric book
Wraps up series well

Exes, Handbags, and Murder

As I’ve been reading the Pampered Pets mysteries, I’ve gotten caught up in the lives of the main characters.  There is more than enough plot threads to keep you coming back for each book.  So I was thrilled to catch up with the gang once again with The Dogfather.

If you are new to the series, it is a bit different.  The books in the series alternate between feuding cousins Caro and Mel.  But both of the cousins are very involved in the pet loving community of Laguna Beach in Southern California.  This book focuses on Mel, who owns the Bow Wow Boutique, which features high end pet products.

Mel Langston is surprised when she gets a request from Grey Donovan.  Mel and Grey have been off for the last eight months, and this time, she thought their relationship was over for good.  But Grey, an undercover FBI agent, wants to use Mel’s store as cover for an assignment.  Reluctantly, Mel gets talked into it, but she wants to maintain their distance while it happens.

Then the owner of the high-end handbag store down the street is murdered.  The day before, Mason had had an argument with Grey, so the police are looking at Grey as a suspect.  Mel knows that too much time in the spotlight from the police will ruin his career, so she begins to investigate.  What will this mean for their relationship?  Will Mel figure out what happened?

If you are familiar with the series, you know to expect a wacky ride on the way to the solution, and this book is no exception.  While the murder and the mystery are treated seriously, there are some funny characters along the way.  The highlight is Betty, Mel’s assistant in the shop, who walks the fine line here of making us laugh without wearing out her welcome.  That’s always a good thing.  Some of the others are also much more caricature than we would normally see in a cozy, but they work for this series.

And the mystery?  It is well done with enough clues and red herrings to keep us engaged.  I did feel like the climax was a bit rushed, but everything was wrapped up.

Speaking of wrapping things up, this appears to be the final in the series – at least for now.  Fans who have been along for the entire ride of the series will be happy to see how some of the on-going storylines are wrapped up.  However, if the authors do ever revisit the characters, I will gladly jump on board to see what happens to them next.

While not a traditional culinary cozy, this book does feature two recipes at the end, one for pets and one for their owners.

If The Dogfather is the final Pampered Pets Mystery, it will leave fans very satisfied with the journey we’ve been on over the course of these ten books.  If you haven’t started the series yet, it’s not too late to jump in and enjoy these funny mysteries.

Need to back up?  Here are the Pampered Pets Mysteries in order.