Sunday, January 31, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Snow White - Windows of Magic - 2020 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great window for Snow White
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
One last window pin
Honors Disney’s first princess
Great close to series

The Fairest Window of Them All

I was expecting a Snow White Windows of Magic pin to come out near the end of 2020.  After all, all of the original Windows of Evil pins got a Windows of Magic companion.  I still almost missed the release of Snow White in November, but I’m glad I was able to snag her.

Snow White is the most prominent feature of this pin, taking up most of the faux stained-glass window.  She’s wearing her princess dress and holding an apple in her hand.  Behind her you can see the pattern of a stained-glass window.  It absolutely feels appropriate for her.  It’s in pastels and doesn’t overwhelm the foreground at all.  Down at the bottom are seven diamonds, a great way to honor the dwarfs without trying to work all of them into the pin.  Up at the very top is a bluebird, representing all of Snow White’s animal friends.  The border has some fun pattern details to it.

I love the creativity in this window.  Okay, so for the most part it’s just Snow White, but I can’t help but smile when I see the diamonds down at the bottom.  Those are the kinds of details that made this series such fun.  The window itself looks good, and would look amazing if we could just get light to shine through it.  You know, if it were a real stained-glass window and not a pin.

Since Snow White was the first princess, I’m glad they honored her with a pin in the Windows of Magic series.  Those who were collecting this series might have missed it originally, but they will be happy they tracked it down.

Disney Pin Review: The Evil Queen - Windows of Evil - 2019 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great pin for the first villain
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
A surprise release
Pay tribute to Evil Queen
In classic window

Is This Surprise Window of Evil the Fairest of Them All?

Over the course of 2018, Disney released twelve pins in their Windows of Evil series.  In 2019, they released the companion Windows of Magic pins.  So you can imagine fans’ surprise when they released a bonus Windows of Evil pin in December of 2019.  They went back to the beginning to release The Evil Queen, Disney’s first movie villain.

Like the rest, this pin is designed to look like a stained-glass window.  The Evil Queen is front and center.  There is no sign of her Hag disguise here.  The green smoke from her spells is circling in the background.  In the foreground, we’ve got the box that was supposed to contain Snow White’s heart.  On either side of the box are two apples – one looks delicious, but the other is clearly poisoned with the skull showing on the surface.  Up at the very top is the magic mirror.  The frame of the window has a crown at the top.

This is the kind of window I love in the series.  The detail is wonderful and there are hidden things that make me smile as I look at it.  While this isn’t really a stained-glass window, the design for it is perfect and it reflects enough light that it looks like one.

I was among those very surprised by this release.  Yet I really wanted to get it.  It’s nice that they are honoring the first villain this way.  And it is a great pin.  While some of the ones that took risks worked well, there is something to be said for a classic window entry in this pin series, and that’s what this is.

If you happened to miss this pin in the series, it is worth tracking The Evil Queen down.  And if you like the character, you’ll be thrilled with the pin as well.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

January 30th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Batwoman – As much as has changed this season, I still love Alice.  Is it wrong of me that I am rooting for them to keep her on the show even though she is a psychopath that everyone wants to kill?  (And I understand why they want her dead, don’t get me wrong.)  I don’t know that I’d be sticking around if it weren’t for her.  They are doing a good job of building up the new Batwoman and slowly working her into the show as well.

Card Sharks – I have to give the contestant props for trying to guess all of her cards herself.  And she made it much further than I thought she would.  I’m impressed with how much that guy one.  I understand why the contestant in the second game made her opponent go for it.  The odds really were pretty even that he’d miss.  The odds were in his favor then, but clearly not in his favor during the money cards.  Can’t believe all the bad breaks he had.

Ellen’s Game of Games – I try.  I really do.  But the maze just doesn’t translate to good TV.  I found it funny how much they were going back and forth in the hot potato game.  I felt sorry for the one family in Stink Tank who were out so quickly.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – For some reason, I was surprised that George was one of the people Zoey had to fire.  But I’m not sorry to see the character go, and I’m kind of surprised that I’m surprised.  I’m interested to see where they go with the brother’s story now that he’s not working.

Call Me Kat – Very interesting episode that they would go there.  I mean, I can see that actually happening in the real world – someone gets upset over a misunderstanding and starts a smear campaign that is a lie.  But I’m rather surprised that they would float that as a scenario on the show.  Definitely better than last week, so I’ll keep watching, at least for now.

Star Trek: Discovery – It’s hard to say there were any real surprises in this episode.  But the scenes were well written and executed, so it is okay.  And they were needed scenes to either deal with the emotional fallout from the previous few episodes or to set up the season finale.  And seriously, I don’t see how they are going to wrap anything up in the episode that is left.  I’m expecting a bad cliffhanger, too, which will be an issue since I don’t have access to any of the other season – well not without paying, and I’m not willing to do that.

WandaVision – Glad to get a little bit of a “what’s really going on episode.”  It was kind of fun to see what was causing the stuff that has seemed odd to us.  So now we know the other side of the story.  But what is really going on?  Is it Wanda trying to create a happy life for herself?  Or is it really someone else?  I’m guessing one of the people she grabbed to create her town was the witsec person that got the FBI involved?  We shall find out I’m sure.  Are the episodes going to be back in Wanda’s world now?  Or a split between the two?  So many questions.

Friday, January 29, 2021

January 29th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to another Friday.  We are enjoying some much needed rain here in Southern CA.  I'm enjoying hearing it come down from inside my condo.  Since I'm working from home, I know I don't have to be out in it tomorrow, which is a wonderful feeling.

But enough of that.  Time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring The Sharpest Needle by Renee Patrick.

This is the fourth Lillian Frost and Edith Head mystery, set in 1939 Hollywood.  It's available in ebook form, and comes out in hardcover on Tuesday.  I'll have my review up on Tuesday.

Here's how the book begins:

The camel was preparing to spit.

And, jumping head to 56% into the book, we find this exchange:

"There must be a phone in this mausoleum," he said, wincing at his word choice.
I fought through the fog in my head.  "What?"
"Time to call the police."
The thought took me a moment to articulate.  "No.  I'll call them.  You were never here."

So many questions.  Why was he never there?  Will they get away with it?  Why are they calling the police in the first place?

As I said, my review will be up on Tuesday, so I hope you'll stop back by then to read what I thought of the book.

In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Book Review: A Pairing to Die For by Kate Lansing (Colorado Wine Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters that grow, great mystery
Cons: Pacing starts to slow in the middle, but not for long
The Bottom Line:
Boyfriend in trouble
Parker juggles wine and crime
In great second book

Can Parker Pair the Victim with the Correct Killer?

While I will moan starting a new series every so often, there is a reason I can’t resist the temptation – you will be missing out on wonderful new series if you don’t try any debuts.  One of the new series I tried last year was the Colorado Wine Mysteries, and I loved that debut.  A Pairing to Die For is just as much fun as the first one was.

Reid Wallace’s estranged family has come for a visit to Boulder, Colorado, and Parker Valentine is hoping to make a good impression on her boyfriend’s family.  However, things aren’t going well as Reid’s family is constantly judging everything she says as not being up to their standards.  Never mind their opinions of her wine.  They have several more days in their visit, and Parker isn’t looking forward to any of them.

The visit is interrupted when Reid is arrested for murder.  Oscar, the sous chef at Reid’s restaurant and his long-time friend, was murder behind the restaurant, and the police are certain that Reid did it.  Parker doesn’t believe that Reid is capable of murder and sets out to figure out what really happened.  Can she free her boyfriend from jail?

I love a book with lots of conflict, and this book delivers.  There’s the conflict with Reid’s family in addition to the murder.  I did feel like the pacing was slowing down a little in the middle, but that may have been me.  Things definitely picked up as we neared the climax, and I didn’t want to put the book down.

One thing I appreciated in the first book was how rich the characters were.  That continues here, and some of those relationships grow as a result.  We meet quite a few new characters as well here, and they fit perfectly into Parker’s world.

If you are reading for the wine theme, don’t worry, there are still plenty of scenes in Parker’s winery – Vino Valentine.  Not being a wine guy myself, I still enjoyed what we learned about the process here.

If you haven’t read the first book, you should know that there are some minor discussions about the first book.  They are vague enough that it shouldn’t spoil anything for you.  However, if you want to completely avoid the risk, read them in order.  You’ll appreciate the character growth more if you do.

I had forgotten that these books are written in present tense.  It always takes me a minute to adjust when I read a book written that way, but once my mind makes the switch, it’s fine.

There are three recipes at the end of the book, and they sound delicious.  Since this is a wine themed series, each recipe comes with a suggest wine pairing.

It’s always a pleasure when the second book in a series lives up to the promise of the debut.  That’s the case with A Pairing to Die For.  If you’ve read the first book, you’ll enjoy this one.  If you have yet to start this series, fix that today.

Raise a glass with the rest of the Colorado Wine Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Movie Review: The Boss Baby

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs, creative premise
Cons: Some jokes questionable for kids
The Bottom Line:
Baby with secrets
Creative and fun movie
Questionable jokes

“Can We Talk About This Over a Juice Box?”

Of the recent animated movies I have missed in the theater, the one I was most intrigued by was The Boss Baby.  To me, this one looked like it could be fun, but I didn’t make a trip to the theater a priority when it came out in 2017.  I finally got a chance to watch it when it was on TV, and I was right.

When we meet Tim (voiced by Miles Bakshi), he is a seven-year-old who has enjoyed his life as an only child.  He has his parents’ complete devotion and a very active imagination.  All that changes when his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) introduce him to his new baby brother.  Tim isn’t pleased as the baby keeps everyone up all night and take all his parents’ attention.

Then he discovers the unthinkable – his baby brother is talking (and is voiced by Alec Baldwin).  Tim thought something was off about his brother, but now he needs to prove it to his parents so life can go back to normal.  But what if returning life to normal can only happen by working with his baby brother?

This is the kind of movie I love.  It takes a creative premise and then brings this new world to life with all kinds of details that are just perfect.  There are so many sight gags and things that take on a different meaning in this world that are delightful.  Kids and adults alike will get these jokes.

The laughs and plot points come fast and furious.  You barely have enough time to accept what is going on before you are on to the next thing.  Kids will absolutely love this fast pace.  I thought it was a little frenetic, but that was only a slight problem for me.

Some of the jokes are definitely more adult in nature.  I’m sure kids won’t get what is funny about them, but I thought they were a little over the line.  Parents will definitely want to keep that in mind before they let their kids watch.

While the premise is unique, the plot was fairly obvious once it got set in motion.  Mind you, I’m not complaining.  I was laughing and enjoying myself the entire time.

This movie definitely falls into the cartoony animation style as opposed to the super realistic style, but it works for the movie.

Likewise, the voice cast is perfect at bringing their characters to life.  I forgot who they were and got into the characters they were playing.

I wish I could recommend this movie wholeheartedly, but I do have some reservations about content for kids.  Having said that, I do still recommend The Boss Baby as long as you know what to expect.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Book Review: Crime of the Ancient Marinara by Stephanie Cole (Tuscan Cooking School Mysteries #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, good mystery
Cons: Slow pacing, language barrier, one major editing miss
The Bottom Line:
The first tourist group
Brings a murder to villa
Wanted to like more

Good Mystery Smothered

When I read the first Tuscan Cooking School Mystery last year, I definitely saw the weaknesses, but I also saw promise, so I decided to give the second one a try.  Sadly, Crime of the Ancient Marinara didn’t improve on the flaws of the first.

Nell Valenti has now been in Italy for a month, and in that time, she’s made tremendous progress in getting Villa Orlandini ready to welcome Americans to a cooking school where they can learn the secrets of Chef Orlandini’s recipes.  In fact, the first group of tourists is just about to arrive for a class in marinaras, including the one that made Chef famous.  Unfortunately, Chef breaks his right arm while playing bocce ball the day before everyone arrives.  Nell is hoping that will be the worst of her problems.

However, when the guests arrive, they aren’t what she expected.  While some seem eager to learn, others just complain or have their own agenda.  Then one of the guests gets sick, and it appears that Chef’s marinara is the culprit.  Can Nell figure out what is going on?

The fact that this book takes place in Tuscany and not the USA or England was one of the things that appealed to me about the series.  However, it also proves to lead to one of the problems.  Nell just speaks a little bit of Italian herself, so she has trouble communicating with the others helping her run the cooking school.  While that is realistic, it is also frustrating to read.  At times, we also get summaries of conversations as Nell cuts out the back and forth with translators.  That serves to push us out of the story.  Fortunately, the suspects are all Americans in this book, so Nell is able to talk to them easily.

And the characters are great.  I do enjoy the characters who came back from the first book.  They can be fun and provide some grins if not outright laughs.  The suspects grow as the book progresses, so don’t judge them by your first impression.

The mystery takes a long time to set up.  Yes, some of the time is used to set up suspects and motives, but I was still very ready by the time it really got going.

Which is a shame because there is a good mystery in there.  I was impressed with the way the clues and red herrings were sprinkled through the book.

Adding to my frustration was some poor editing that had a character in two places at once.  Fortunately, it didn’t wind up impacting the mystery.

All the talk of food in this book made me crave Italian food.  If that happens to you as well, you’ll be pleased with the recipes at the end.

As I said at the start, I wanted to like Crime of the Ancient Marinara.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me.  If you enjoyed the first, you’ll enjoy this one, but if you struggled with the first one, there’s no reason to pick up this book.

NOTE: I received an advanced review copy of this book.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Ornament Review: Christmas Window #18 - Waiting for Santa - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute reminder of waiting up for Santa on Christmas Eve
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Waiting for Santa
Captured in cute ornament
That is magical

Watching for Santa through a Christmas Window

The first ornament in Hallmark’s Christmas Window series was a home scene.  Ever since then, we’ve enjoyed how stores decorate their windows for Christmas.  But the series is coming full circle with the eighteenth ornament, released in 2020.

This ornament features a little girl looking through a window.  In fact, she’s pointing at something she’s seen in the sky.  Is that Santa’s sleigh she has spotted?

As always, this is an ornament with stuff on every side.  On one side, we see the front of the window.  We can see the girl and her finger pointing up to the sky.  There’s a bunny out front looking up as well, while a cardinal sits on the roof.  Rounding out the front of the ornament is a small Christmas tree and the address, which just happens to be 2020.

When you turn the ornament around, you get more of the scene inside the house.  The girl is kneeling on a window seat, and we can see the shudders of the window.  Her little stuffed pig is next to her.  There’s a table with cookies and milk left out with a “for Santa” sign next to it.  Finally, we see her slippers, which look like Santa.

Truly, this ornament is extremely cute.  I get why we haven’t had too many houses in this series, but I’m glad we’ve gotten a second one.  This is the kind of ornament that, even if you don’t collect the series, you’d enjoy since it captures that magic of waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve perfectly.

The ornament has a nice, flat base, which isn’t a surprise since the rest of the series does as well.  You can easily set it out with the rest to create a village scene.  The 18 in a Christmas tree series marker is on the bottom.

I had mine on my tree this past month.  I’m happy to report that when you go to hang it, it hangs straight.

2020’s addition to the Christmas Window series is a cute and magical ornament.  I’m glad I have in my collection.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Christmas Window series.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Plan for a Vacation Day - Celebrate Today #1 - 2020 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun pin to start series
Cons: The irony
The Bottom Line:
Goofy plans a trip
Reminding us to do same
Ironic timing

Starting the Year with an Ironic Celebration

Oh 2020.  Little did we know a year ago what the year would bring.  In fact, a year ago, I was planning a vacation of my own.  But it makes the first pin in Disney’s Celebrate Today limited edition series, released in 2020, especially ironic.

Each pin in this series was made to celebrate the random holidays that people have made up and celebrate on various days during the year.  You know, those fun days that you see popping up every so often.  The first pin in the series was themed for Plan a Vacation Day, which is the fourth Tuesday of January.

The pin itself is a squarish shape.  It shows a picture of Goofy and his son, Max.  Max is wearing a vest of some sort.  It looks like it is inflated and very uncomfortable.  Goofy has his arm around Max, and they are looking at a map to plan out their road trip.  In the bottom right corner is a small square with the date January 28 on it, which was the date that Plan a Vacation day was in 2020.  For those keeping track, this year it will be January 26.

I have to laugh at the irony of them picking this day to represent January in a pin series for 2020.  I get it, they had no way to know, but considering how the year turned out, this is funny.

But I get why they chose this day.  Vacationing on Disney property is a big deal for many people, so this is a very Disney thing to celebrate.

And the pin itself looks great.  I love the idea of Goofy and Max planning a road trip together, and the fact that Max doesn’t look so sure about the idea actually makes it even funnier to me.  I do wish the date were a little easier to see.  It’s silver and shiny, so it reflects the light.  Actually, this is a problem I have with all of the pins in the set, so it’s not just this pin.

Fortunately, these pins can be enjoyed any year, not just in 2020.  So track down Plan a Vacation today so you can be reminded to celebrate today every year.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

January 23rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Batwoman – They did a decent job of introducing the new Batwoman and giving her a reason to want to take down Alice.  And they last few people who didn’t know now know about Kate.  They’ve also set it up nicely so she can be dead if they need her to be or come up with a way for her to still be alive.  I doubt they were planning to get ride of “Bruce” so quickly, but with other stories to tell this season they had to get rid of that cliffhanger.  Be curious to see where it goes.

Card Sharks – That first round was very close, with people freezing and not getting too greedy.  I appreciate the fact that the person who lost did try to go on and win herself instead of making the other person do it.  And the winner won lots of money.  The second game couldn’t have been more different.  A run away first round and then lots of wrong guesses in the money cards.  Funny how that works sometimes.

Ellen’s Game of Games – At least Ah Snap was a bit closer this week, but still fairly lopsided.  They did lots of spinning games this week and none where anyone got messy.  And yes, after my comments last week, I have to comment that not only did we have a guy on Know or Go, but he wound up winning the top prize.  Can’t remember the last time someone won the $100K, honestly.

The Weakest Link – That was a bad performance all around.  Everyone seemed to struggle with questions, and there were quite a few misses in the final round.  Clearly, they were all pretty nervous.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – They put Zoey and Max on a break already?  I’m actually rather surprised by that.  Although I suspected Max was the cause of her singing.  Max’s song at the end was perfect, but my favorite performance of the night was “Hard Knocks Life.”  What can I say – I love Annie.  And they did a great fun arrangement of it.

Call Me Kat – I think I might be tiring of this one already.  While I appreciated them bonding during therapy, she is still so over the top harsh I don’t find her fun.  And I didn’t appreciate the “Mary Jane” storyline either.  Usually, I don’t find that kind of thing funny.

Star Trek: Discovery – Was it just me, or did much of that final fight seem fake.  Everyone looked computer generated.  That was really throwing me off.  Glad we’ve left this alternative universe behind, but it is going to be very interesting to see how they resolve things with only two episodes left in the season.  And yes, I am going to have to prepare myself for a cliffhanger I’m never going to get resolved.  I’d watch more for free, but I don’t see myself paying for the rest of the show.

WandaVision – I’m sure they were just going for something weird with the twins since they introduced so much weirdness, but I was getting extra laughs out of the show since so many times on TV people’s pregnancies aren’t remotely realistic.  I got a big kick out of that.  They really ramped up the mysteries.  Oh, and I loved the clothes and hair and sets.  The 70’s details were spot on.

Friday, January 22, 2021

January 22nd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

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

This week, I'm featuring A Pairing to Die For, the second in the fun Colorado Wine Mysteries by Kate Lansing.

I really enjoyed the first in this series, and this one was just as fun.

Here's how it begins:

I should have brought flowers.  A pacifying bouquet of lilies, hydrangeas, and daisies.  Instead, foolishly, I brought wine, and left myself open to a world of criticism from my boyfriend's judgy family.

Jumping ahead to 56% into the book, we've got this:

"You should be more careful who you sneak up on," she says, her focus entirely on the task at hand.
"I tried to holler so I wouldn't spook you."
"It'll take more than that to catch me off guard."  There's a twinkle in her gray eyes.

The book comes out on Tuesday.  My review won't be up until Thursday, but don't wait until then.  It's a great book.  (But come back Thursday to read my full review.)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Book Review: Blood Alone by James R. Benn (Billy Boyle #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Rich historical detail, great characters, strong mystery
Cons: Detail do cause pacing issues at time
The Bottom Line:
Missing Memory
With a mission to complete
Another rich book

Can Billy Recover His Memory in Time to Complete His Mission?

Last year, I started a series I’d heard about for years, the Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries.  I have a lot of catching up to do, and I got started on that with Blood Alone, the third mystery in the series.

As this book opens, Billy Boyle is waking up in a field hospital.  He can’t remember who he is or what he is doing there.  Slowly, he begins to piece together things like his name and the fact that he is in Sicily in the summer of 1942.  He also believes he has an important mission to carry out for his uncle, General Eisenhower.  But he can’t remember what that mission is.  However, he knows he has to keep moving, especially when he stumbles upon a dead body.  Following the only clues he has, he sets out across the island, soon joined by a local doctor.  Will he recover his memory in time?

Amnesia as a plot device can be good or bad, but here it works well.  It isn’t long before Billy is remembering what we as fans of the series already know, but it comes slowly enough that if you are new to the series, you aren’t getting long passages of exposition early on in the story.  Once Billy does remember his mission and what happened, we are fully engrossed in the story.

I will issue a warning to you if you haven’t started the series yet.  There are some pretty major spoilers for the first two books in the series here.  That’s because there are major events in the books that shape who Billy and others in the cast are.  Those events also shape how the characters are developing in this book.  As a fan, I fully appreciate that character development, so it is a great thing.  But if you want to experience the twists of Billy’s life completely unspoiled, I definitely recommend you start at the beginning.

Once again, we are fully immersed in Billy’s world.  Author James R. Benn does a fantastic job of bringing Sicily to life for us.  We also get to see the aftermath of the war both on Billy and others in the army but also on the civilians of Sicily.

But this comes with a tradeoff for us.  At times, the plot gets sidetracked by these details.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a strong plot that compels us through the entire book.  But there are some scenes that distract Billy and us from the overall story of what is going on.  I am conflicted by this because on one hand, they make the characters and setting richer, but on the other hand the pacing could be better.

Don’t misunderstand, there is plenty of action.  There are some action hero vibes here, in fact.  As long as you are willing to suspend disbelief at how much Billy goes through, you’ll be fine.

This is definitely a step away from the cozies I normally read and review with a smattering of foul language and violence.  That is kept to a minimum, however.

I do want to go back to the plot for a minute.  Behind all the action there is a solid mystery with plenty of twists and red herrings.  When I reached the end, it all made sense, and I was surprised by some of the events along the way.

Blood Alone is definitely a book to be savored.  If you enjoy historical mysteries, you’ll be glad you picked up this series.

Get lost in time with the rest of the Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Movie Review: Ships in the Night - A Marth's Vineyard Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, great characters
Cons: A light dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Return to Vineyard
With entertaining movie
That fans will enjoy

Art Gallery Murder

The first of this year’s new mystery movies from Hallmark was released this past weekend.  I actually feel like it is a little late this year, especially since we don’t get our next new movie until next month.  Another sign of the year we’ve had, I’m sure.  Anyway, we returned to Martha’s Vineyard with this new movie – Ships in the Night, and it was fun.

There’s an upcoming fundraiser in Martha’s Vineyard, and one of the local art galleries has agreed to donate a painting to be auctioned off.  However, there seems to be some miscommunication, and when retired Boston cop Jeff Jackson (Jessie Metcalfe) agrees to pick up the painting as a favor, it isn’t ready.  The next day, Zee Madieras (Sarah Lind) shows up at the gallery to clear up the confusion to find a dead body in the middle of the floor.

Despite the fact that he is retired, Jeff once again finds himself investigating the latest murder in Martha’s Vineyard, helping out Zee’s father, the police chief (Eric Keenleyside).  They quickly find several motives, but which one actually lead to the murder?

I really enjoyed the first two movies in this franchise that we got last year, so I was thrilled that our first movie of the year was a return to these characters.  There is more set up than I’ve described here, and the mystery does a great job of confusing things with multiple potential motives until Jeff and Zee narrow things down.

In you are new to the franchise, Jeff and Zee were friends in their teens and have the requisite slow burn romance.  Zee is a doctor and the local medical examiner, so her involvement in the case makes some sense.  Okay, so she wouldn’t really go out and question suspects with Jeff, and he wouldn’t be out following leads on his own.  But we’ll ignore that break from police procedure because the movie is fun.

It helps that we really like all the main characters.  They are a fun bunch and the chemistry between the actors is wonderful.  It’s easy to buy all the relationships we see on screen.

Of course, there is the Hallmark cheese factor.  There is a slight dose of it here; fans of these movies might not even notice it at all.

There are still some dangling plot threads in the character’s lives, so I hope we get another visit to Martha’s Vineyard this year.  Fans of the franchise and Hallmark’s mysteries in general will enjoy Ships in the Night.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Book Review: The Broken Spine by Dorothy St. James (Beloved Bookroom Mystery #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Some good twists on the cozy in this debut
Cons: I’m keeping all cons a secret
The Bottom Line:
Tru hiding secret
Solve murder to protect books
Strong start to series

Uncovering Secrets to Keep Her Own

When The Broken Spine crossed my radar, I knew I had to read it.  The idea of a secret bookroom appealed to me, and that plays a large part of the mystery.  I’m so glad I picked up this series debut since I enjoyed it.

Tru Beckett has always lived her life playing by the rules.  However, when she learns that the books in her library are all going to be removed to make way for a modern, bookless “technology center,” she decides she has to do something.  So, she sets up a secret room in the library’s basement and hides as many of the books as she possibly can.

Tru enlists a couple of friends to help her one night, but as they are finishing up the next morning, the unthinkable happens.  A shelving unit filled with DVDs falls over and kills the town manager, the very person behind the change in the library.  Since Tru found the victim, the police start with her as their first suspect.  They can tell she is hiding a secret, but that secret is her bookroom.  She quickly decides the only way to keep her secret is to solve the murder herself.  Can she do it?

I always love it when a cozy comes up with an additional motive for the main character to investigate a murder.  In this case, not only does Tru want to clear her name, but she has to keep her new bookroom a secret.  That added layer to her motivation was great.

And the mystery was good.  A couple of times I thought the pacing might be slowing down, but then something would happen to kick the plot into high gear again.  The result was a book I never wanted to put down.  There are some great twists along the way, and the solution makes perfect sense.

Since this is the first book in the series, it’s not always easy to tell suspects from potential series regulars.  Not that it matters because all the characters are strong.  I like Tru, and her friends are just as great.  A few of the minor characters really make an impression with only a couple of scenes.  I’m definitely looking forward to spending time with all of them again soon.  They don’t all fall into typical cozy mystery categories, too, something else I appreciated.

As a reader, the idea of a bookless library truly bothers me.  I get that libraries offer so much more than books, and I’m thrilled that they do.  I’ve borrowed movies and ebooks and audiobooks from my own library.  But getting rid of books all together?  Naturally, that part of the premise made me sympathize with Tru that much more.

The Broken Spine is a delightful debut.  I already can’t wait to visit Tru and her friends again.  If you are looking for a fun new series to start the new year, this is one to check out.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Movie Review: psych 2: Lassie Come Home

: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun to spend more time with Shawn, Gus, and the rest of the gang
Cons: Mostly minor, but fans won’t mind
The Bottom Line:
Hospital mys’try
psych gang together again
Great fun for their fans

“This Lassie Thing is the Perfect Reason to Not Think About Anything Real at All.”

I was a fan of psych during its original run, so I always had psych 2: Lassie Come Home on my radar.  Since I am finally getting over my aversion to streaming, it took me a little longer to watch it than I might have originally, but I’m glad I finally got to watch it.

The action mostly takes place back in Santa Barbara, the location where the series was set.  The town’s current chief of police, Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson), has been shot multiple times, and then suffered a stroke while in surgery.  While someone has been arrested for the shooting, his old partner, Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson), doesn’t believe the confession and is conducting a secret, off the books, investigation.

But that’s not the only secret being kept.  You see, Lassiter thinks he is seeing stuff at the posh medical facility where he is recovering.  And that’s where Shawn Spencer (James Roday Rodriguez) and Burton Guster (Dule Hill) come in.  They are sneaking down to Santa Barbara from their new home in San Francisco as well to help him figure out what is going on.  Does it have anything to do with his shooting?

Let’s be honest here, fans never turned in to psych to watch a well plotted, complex mystery.  The mystery was always the excuse for Shawn and Gus’s antics.  And for that reason alone, fans will be happy to watch this movie again.  It perfectly recaptures the relationships we loved, and not just Shawn and Gus.  I will say that Shawn and Gus can get a bit tiring at times, but most of the time I was laughing at their antics.

Now, this isn’t to say that the mystery is irrelevant.  It does draw us in and reach a logical conclusion.  A couple of the twists are a bit abrupt, but it does all hang together.

Another thing this show was famous for was pop culture references.  Once again, they have worked them in perfectly.  Some are in your face meta (which is fun) and some are more subtle, but they are always fun.  The show used to focus on the 1980’s, but they had plenty of more recent ones here.

I made a point of mentioning earlier that the action takes place back in Santa Barbara.  Most of the characters are still living in San Francisco.  I will freely admit to rolling my eyes at how everyone acted like it was a couple hour drive instead of the multiple hour road trip required to drive between them.

This is the second reunion movie that has been done since the series ended.  Timothy Omundson had real life health problems just before the first one started filming.  It was great to see him back in action here, and I appreciate how they wrote his real life health issues into the mystery.

And the gang is all here.  They even work in Buzz McNab and Woody Strode as well as Karen Vick and Henry Spencer.  It truly is fantastic to see everyone again.

The chemistry from the entire cast is still amazing.  You can believe that the character’s relationships have continued off screen, and the cast appears to be having fun working together again.  There’s an impressive roster of guest stars as well, and they fit right in to the chaos that is psych.

Having said that, it would have been nice to have a few more reminders of where the characters are in their lives.  The movie assumes we remember how the series ended and what happened in the last movie.  I was always struggling to remember those details.  Yes, it’s on me, but it was a minor issue overall.

If you are a fan and trying to track the movie down, it is available on Peacock, NBC's streaming service.  I was able to watch the movie for free.  There were three minutes of commercials at the beginning, and then the movie uninterrupted.

Minor issues aside, it was fun to revisit the psych gang.  If you were a fan of the series, you’ll be glad you watched psych 2: Lassie Come Home.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Stitch Surfing - All Star Trading Cards - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun pin of Stitch surfing
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Stitch going surfing
Started a new pin series
As is lots of fun

An Out of This World Start to one of 2020’s Pin Series

I have been working collecting on a couple of different limited edition Disney pin series from 2020.  I decided to jump into both of them late, so I’m still trying to track all the pins down.  The first of those series is the All Star Sports Trading Cards series, and it got off to a fun start with Stitch surfing.

I will be the first to admit that it’s been years since I watched Lilo & Stitch.  (I really should rewatch it).  But I do remember that surfing plays a part in the movie, and Stitch takes to surfing right away.  That’s what makes this pin and the series overall so much fun – it takes characters in action doing something that do in their movies.

The pin itself is a rectangle with a white boarder.  It looks just like the sports cards that people can buy and collect.  The picture shows Stitch on a surfboard riding a wave.  Stitch and the board are attached to the pin, giving it a tiny pit of 3D.  Stitch has signed his name is at the top of the card, and at the bottom in sparkly blue it says “Surfing.”

While I’m not the biggest Stitch fan, I certainly appreciate this pin.  It fits with the movie and gets the series off to a promising start.

Since Stitch is a popular character, this pin is a little more expensive on the secondary market than some of the others in the series.  If you are interested, you’ll have to be patient or spend a little bit more than you would have if you bought it when it first came out.

But I found it worth it.  Stitch got this pin series off to a wonderful start at the beginning of 2020.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

January 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

 My first streaming show appears on the list.  Not that anyone besides me cares to know about this milestone.

Ellen’s Game of Games – The problem with Ah Snap was perfectly illustrated by what happened in this episode.  It is usually one person who dominates so it isn’t fun.  And they made such a big deal about the all female Sudden Drop, but they only had one male contestant on at all.  Not complaining, but it was just the odds.

The Weakest Link – Not surprised that Jack left at the end.  I would have voted him off, too, since he is crazy good.  I’d love to see him show up on Jeopardy!  John was impressive at the end, getting all the questions right.  I was impressed with how many of the questions I got right over the course of the show, although I definitely would have missed a few of the ones everyone considered easy.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – So you have this friend that you’ve suddenly decided to build a different relationship with, and you just jump into bed right away.  And you act like you’ve wanted this for years?  I was having a hard time with that part of the episode.  Having said that, I truly did enjoy the medley scene near the end of the episode.  So funny.

Call Me Kat – Still more amusing than truly funny.  I did like the idea of her staying in town but trying not to let her mother know about it.  Even so, I feel badly for her not getting to go on that trip.  And I’m very glad they didn’t play her as drunk for more than that one scene.

Star Trek: Discovery – Got to admit, I didn’t see most of that episode coming.  Glad that Paul is out of his comma.  Hopefully that will help them get home.  Can they extract the Klingon completed from Ash’s mind?  What will remain?  But I think the biggest surprise is that Lorca is really from this universe.  I did not see that coming at all until I was supposed to, ie. just a couple of minutes before they officially told us.

WandaVision – I was amused, and I am intrigued.  As a fan of classic sitcoms, I did love the nods to them, but I felt like they were trying just a bit too hard with the jokes at times.  Definitely intrigued by where they are going with this because there are definite hints there is more to the story (as you’d expect).  But the detail, from the black and white to the aspect ration was lots of fun.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Book Review: The First to Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and twisty plot
Cons: One annoying character; a few minor nits to pick
The Bottom Line:
Lies and deception
Create a twisty thriller
That’s hard to put down

Who Do You Trust When You Are Surrounded by Lies?

Last year (still trying to grasp that 2020 is last year already), I spent some time listening to Hank Phillippi Ryan’s first two stand alone suspense novels.  When The First to Lie came out, it was extremely popular at the library, so I didn’t even try to get it until now.  I knew I was in for another wild, twisty ride, and I enjoyed it.

As this book opens, we meet two women.  Nora has just taken a job as a sales rep for a Boston based pharmaceutical company.  However, she is not that interested in selling the product.  Instead, she is keeping her identity a secret so she can try to find some kind of dirt on the company.  Meanwhile, Ellie is a reporter who has just gotten a job at a Boston news station that is about to relaunch itself.  She is planning a story on the same pharmaceutical company, but she is having trouble getting sources to go on the record.  But in a world where everyone is lying, who can be trusted?

It's hard to describe much more of the plot than that without risking giving away spoilers.  This is a book that is best to go into as blindly as possible anyway.  I did pick up on a few twists before they were revealed, but there were others that caught me completely off guard.

Most of the characters were great.  I could sympathize with them and it was easy to root for them.  However, in all three of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s stand alones, she has had one character who just annoys me to no end.  I get that the character is supposed to be one we aren’t sure if we can trust or not, but I really had a hard time when that character in this book was on the page.

There were also some issues that a good edit could have taken care of.  The timeline seemed off to me, although I might have missed something since I listened to the audio.  There was definitely one continuity error, however.  Overall, these were minor, but they did annoy me.

As I said, I listened to the audio version.  Cassandra Campbell was the narrator.  She was good, but it took me a bit to really begin to distinguish some of the characters from each other.

There are multiple view point characters in this book and even a couple of different timelines.  Each chapter is clearly marked as to who and when the scene fits into the story.  I had no problems following the narrative even while listening to the book.  I only specify that because I couldn’t flip back to the beginning of a chapter if I got confused.

This is one of those books where there were several nits to pick.  However, don’t be fooled into thinking I didn’t enjoy the book.  Overall, this is a great story of suspense that kept me very entertained while on a long drive recently.  I wouldn’t have minded an even longer drive because I had to know what was going to happen next.

The First to Lie is a suspenseful page turner, and that’s no lie.  Set aside plenty of time when you pick up this book because you won’t want to put it down.

January 15th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've made it to Friday again!  That means it is time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I have the first in a new series, The Broken Spine by Dorothy St. James.

This debut was a lot of fun.  I'm already looking forward to book two in the series.  It officially releases on Tuesday, and my review will be up then.

Meanwhile, here's now the book begins:

No one in the moderately sized rural southern town of Cypress would ever suspect their stalwart assistant librarian of breaking into the library where she worked.

I read an eARC, and when I got to 56% into the book, this was the first sentence:

"Mrs. Farnsworth didn't come in this morning.  I have alerted the police.  They're looking for her."

I normally read over and see what the best teaser is for the Friday 56, but I figured I couldn't top that, could I?

I hope you'll come back Tuesday to read my review.  In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Book Review: A Batter of Life and Death by Ellie Alexander (Bakeshop Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters we love, good plot
Cons: Pacing a bit off at times
The Bottom Line:
Competition show
Brings a murder to Ashland
Need to read more soon

Murderous Contest

When I was perusing my bookcase, I realized I never had gotten back to the Bakeshop Mysteries.  It’s actually a little embarrassing how long it’s been since I read the first one.  So, I decided it was time to return to Ashland, Oregon, with A Batter of Life and Death.

It’s autumn, and that means the Shakespeare Festival that Ashland is known for is wrapping up for the season.  Jules Capshaw is looking forward to catching her breath for a bit, although she is hoping that Torte, her family’s bakeshop, will still have enough customers that they can keep saving money for the upgrades they need.

A potential answer comes in the most surprising way.  The Pastry Channel has come to town to film the new season of Take the Cake, a baking competition show.  They want to use Torte’s kitchen for some of the contestants and they want Jules to be a contestant on the show.  While initially reluctant, Jules agrees to compete.

However, even before filming can begin, Jules finds one of the contestants dead on the set.  Chef Marco had made plenty of people angry, but who was made enough to kill him?

Obviously, a baking competition isn’t a new set up for a culinary cozy mystery, but author Ellie Alexander does a good job of using the set up to create her own mystery.  The pacing was a little off in the middle, but there are a good number of secrets and lies that Jules has to sift through before she can find the killer.  The other contestants make for wonderful suspects – they become a bit more developed as the book goes along so we care about the outcome.  The climax is suspenseful and logical.

Because it has been so long since I read the first book, the characters weren’t fresh in my mind when I picked up the book.  However, I was eased back into Jules’s world very quickly.  Jules is still dealing with some personal issues, and I appreciated the growth she got here.  Several other characters had good growth as well, and I’m interested in seeing what happens next to all of them.

I’ve never actually been to Ashland, but the book definitely made me want to visit.  Since I love the theater, that would be a huge draw for me as well.  Someday.

The book ends with 7 recipes you can enjoy any time.  They range from vegan butter to a delicious sounding chocolate cake and a pumpkin cream latte.

I know I am far behind on this popular series.  A Batter of Life and Death shows just why so many people love it.  I need to revisit Jules again soon.

If you are behind like me, check out the rest of the Bakeshop Mysteries.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

TV Show Review: L.A.'s Finest - Season 1

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters and strong second half of season
Cons: Hard to get into show, especially at a one episode a week pace
The Bottom Line:
LA detectives
Show overcomes a slow start
For fun second half

“Are You Still in the Doghouse?”  “I’m in the Pound.”

I wasn’t that interested in L.A.’s Finest when I first heard about it.  I’ve never seen any movies in the Bad Boys franchise, and this show is spinning off one of the characters from one of those movies.  However, when Fox picked up the first season this last fall, I decided to give it a chance.  It took me a while to get into it, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

The show centers on two LAPD detectives – Sydney Burnett (Gabrielle Union) and Nancy McKenna (Jessica Alba).  Not only are they work partners, but also friends.  Nancy even tries to include Sydney in things with her family, including Nancy’s husband Patrick (Ryan McPartlin) and step-daughter Isabel (Sophie Reynolds).  Patrick happens to be one of the DA’s in LA, so law and order definitely run in the McKenna family.

However, things are about to get very complicated for these partners.  What appears to be a routine case ties in to a drug cartel that Sydney was investigating back in Miami.  Not only is this cartel the reason she moved to LA, but the fresh lead begins to dig up bad memories for her.  Meanwhile, Nancy is about to have parts of her past come back into her life, complicating the new life she has made for herself.  With the help of another set of detectives in their department – the Bens, that is Ben Baines and Ben Walker (Duane Martin and Zach Gilford), can Sydney and Nancy figure out what is happening and find a way to stop it?

This show was originally created to stream for Spectrum cable customers (and I’m one of them), so it definitely feels different from a show that would air on a traditional network.  Naturally, there is a bit more language, violence, and sex, although thanks to watching most of the season on Fox, the worst of that was cut out, I’m sure.

Another way that this show is different is the way stories progress.  There is a strong season long storyline, and it is at the forefront of many of the episodes of the show.  There are smaller cases that the detectives have to solve along the way, but instead of being the main focus of any given episode, they are often the sub-plot.  Not only that, but these smaller cases wind up being spread over two or three weeks.  It’s obvious that the show was designed to be binged instead of spread out over many weeks.  With how Fox kept preempting it, it was longer than the 13 weeks I expected it to be.

I think that is part of what kept me from getting into the show right away.  I had to adjust my expectations, but it is also harder to get into this story when it has been a week or two since we last saw the characters.

But I stuck with the show, and I eventually did get hooked on the story that was being told.  The characters don’t always do the smartest things, but there are consequences for their actions.  As I invested in the characters, I had to know how they would get out of this situation – that is if they would at all.

This may share some DNA with a police procedural TV show, but there is more action.  Okay, so it’s TV show scale action rather than a big budget movie action, but I still appreciated the action and suspense we got along the way.

And the actors were all great.  They pulled me into each episode, so I was always sorry to see it end.  That’s what kept me coming back from week to week.

In the end, I’m glad I watched season 1 of L.A.’s Finest, and I’ve already started watching season 2 on demand.  It was worth the extra effort to get into this show.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Book Review: Quicksand by Gigi Pandian (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, engrossing plot
Cons: It took me so long to start reading this book
The Bottom Line:
Mysterious trip
Sends Jaya on adventure
Can’t put this one down

Get Sucked into Quicksand

It’s a common lament among readers – so many books so little time.  But that’s the reason I am just now getting to Quicksand, the third Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery from Gigi Pandian.  I enjoyed the first two in the series, but finding the time to get back to Jaya’s world proved to be tougher than I wanted it to be.

When this book opens, it’s been five months since we last checked in with Jaya.  In that time, she hasn’t heard anything from Lane Peters.  She’s not sure if she should be worried or hurt by his silence.  That changes when she gets a plane ticket to Paris along with a note from Lane saying he’s found something connected to the East India Company that he thinks she’d be interested in.  Intrigued, she arranges for some time off work and heads over to France.  Only, when she arrives, nothing is as she thought it would be.  What has Jaya gotten involved in now?

Yes, I’m being very vague in my plot teaser.  That’s because this is a book best experienced as it unfolds.  The twists and turns are fantastic, and they kept me off balance in the best possible way.  Since these books involved treasure, the plot doesn’t follow a traditional murder mystery plot, and they are richer for it.  The climax was exciting and answered our questions perfectly.

While we do get a few scenes with the people in Jaya’s life back in San Francisco, Jaya and Lane are really the only returning characters in this book.  They are strong enough to carry the story and make us care about the outcome.  Of course, we meet some colorful characters along the way, and they are highly entertaining as well.

Author Gigi Pandian and her character, Jaya, are both of Indian descent.  As a result, these books also involve the history of India.  I love that additional aspect since I learn something along the way.  The notes at the end help us separate what is real history from what Gigi made up for the purposes of the plot.

I’m glad I finally got to check in with Jaya Jones again.  If you want a great adventure, then you’ll be thrilled you picked up Quicksand.

If you want more, here are the rest of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Cookie Review: Chocolate Marshmallow Oreos

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good chocolate taste
Cons: Very hard to taste the marshmallow flavoring
The Bottom Line:
A mixed Oreo
Delicious chocolate taste
Missing marshmallow

Hint of Marshmallow Isn’t Enough to Make Me Love These Oreos

I am a sucker for anything marshmallow.  (Ironically enough, I don’t buy regular marshmallows very often.  Probably because the entire bag would be gone in one sitting.)  So when I spotted the Chocolate Marshmallow variety of Oreos, I had to give them a try.

Like a traditional Oreo, these have two chocolate cookies.  This time, the filling is a dark brown color and it is supposed to be flavored like a chocolate covered marshmallow.

The problem is the marshmallow flavor is mostly swallowed by the chocolate.  Now, this isn’t to say that the flavor is bad; I do like chocolate after all.  But I was looking for more marshmallow flavoring.  You can taste it a bit more if you eat the crème in the middle by itself.  However, the cookies overwhelm it if you just pop the whole thing in your mouth.

As I said, the taste isn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.  Which is probably a good thing since I don’t need more junk food to tempt me in the store.  I wouldn’t turn down Chocolate Marshmallow Oreos if someone offered them to me, but I won’t be buying them again for myself.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

My Favorite Books Read in 2020

 We are already ten days in 2021.  Can you believe it?  That might make me the last person to get a list of their favorite books read during 2020 published, but I'm going to fix that today.

As a reminder, I list these books in the order I read them.  And these are the books that stood out to me as I went over all the books I read during the year.  There were plenty of 5 star books I read this year that almost made the list, so feel free to browse through my book or monthly summary categories over on the left hand side to see what all I read.  While most of these books were published in 2020, there are a couple of older books on my list.  If I read it for the first time in 2020, it qualifies for this list.

With that out of the way, here's the list.  The link will take you to my full review.

Cozy Mysteries

Murder on Bank Street by Victoria Thompson

I read several of the Gaslight Mysteries this year in an attempt to catch up, and I rated all of them 5 stars.  But this one stood out to me since it wrapped up a major storyline we'd been following for 10 books, and it did it in a very satisfactory manner while developing the characters.

Microphones and Murder by Erin Huss

The first of several books by new to me authors on my list this year.  I loved the characters, and the mystery kept me guessing until I reached the end.  Plus the podcasting aspect was something different from other cozies I read.  The second was just as much fun as the first.

Here Comes the Body by Maria DiRico

A cozy set in New York City with some characters who are in the mob.  Yes, you read that right.  It works in this delightful series debut.  You have time to read this one before the sequel comes out in February.  I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes next for these characters.

The Secrets of Bones by Kylie Logan

This series sits on the line between cozy and traditional.  The first one made my list last year, and this year's entry was just as strong.  The main character owns a cadaver dog, which sets the series apart from many I read.  I loved the premise of this one and how it unfolded.

Killer Chardonnay by Kate Lansing

A debut author to watch.  This book had a great mystery and complex characters brought to life by sub-plots that never took the spotlight from the mystery.  I have an ARC of the second on my review list this month, and I have very high hopes for it.

The Falcon Always Wings Twice by Donna Andrews

Donna and her character, Meg Langslow, are familiar entries on my list.  This is book twenty-seven in the series, after all.  And it is the series at it's best.  A strong mystery, charming characters, and plenty of laughs.  There are a lot of things going on in this book, and they are all balanced perfectly.

Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay

I read several of Jenn's books this year, but this one stood out to me.  Yes, I am still behind in the Library Lover's series, but I had such a blast watching the characters from all three of her mystery series interacting here.  If you are a fan of Jenn's and you haven't read this book yet, you need to fix that just for the cameos.

Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings by Liz Ireland

A cozy mystery set at the North Pole at Christmas?  I couldn't pass that up.  It delivered everything I was hoping it would.  There's a bit of fantasy (we are dealing with Santa and elves, after all), but the author does a great job of bringing it all to life.  I'm looking forward to the second book coming later this year.

Cake Popped Off by Kim Davis

This is the second book in a series, and it took the set up from the first book and paid it off in spades here.  I'm really growing to love the characters, and I'm dying to know how what happened in this book is paid off as the series continues.

Absence of Alice by Sherry Harris

Sherry Harris is another regular on my list.  Her latest Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery is not to be missed.  This is a cozy with a thriller edge that grabbed me and didn't let me go.  Meanwhile, we've got the usual cast of fantastic characters we love.

Other Mysteries

Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg

I've been reading Lee's books for years.  This is the most serious book from him I've read, but that didn't make it any less good.  As always, he captures me with the plot and brings his characters to life expertly.

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz

Each book in the Orphan X series gets better, and 2020's book was no exception.  This is a thriller with fully developed characters you can't help but root for.  I seriously can't recommend this series strongly enough.

Middle Grade

City Spies by James Ponti

I'm so glad I stumbled upon this book this year.  Action, mystery, and wonderful characters.  The book is filled with heart, and I am looking forward to the sequel this year.

Spy School Revolution by Stuart Gibbs

The previous book in this series wrapped up a major arc, so I was curious to see how Ben's life would advance.  This one throws in a conspiracy going back to the days of the Revolution and incorporates the humor and thrills fans expect.