Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Book Review: Murder at Wedgefield Manor by Erica Ruth Neubauer (Jane Wunderly #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, engaging mystery
Cons: Modern attitudes stretched credibility
The Bottom Line:
Death at the manor
Secrets to be revealed
Engaging story

Stop Over in England Leads to Murder

Last year, I enjoyed meeting Jane Wunderly and traveling with her to 1926 Egypt.  Now, Jane is stopping in England on her way home to America, and I am pleased to say I enjoyed Murder at Wedgefield Manor, her second adventure.

Jane and her aunt Millie have stopped over at Wedgefield Manor, the home of Millie’s old friend Lord Hughes.  Jane doesn’t mind since it is giving her a chance to take flying lessons, something she is really enjoying.  The stay turns tragic when Simon Marshall, the mechanic for the manor, is killed in a motorcar accident.

Simon, like most of the staff, was a veteran of World War I.  He was suffering from the effects of the war, but he was mostly a nice young man.  It is quickly apparent that it was murder.  The question is, was Simon the target, or was it Lord Hughes himself?  When Millie asks Jane to investigate, she quickly realizes that everyone is hiding something.  Can Jane figure out the truth?

I must admit, I’m not usually drawn to British manor mysteries (despite loving cozies), so if this had been the first book in the series, I probably would have skipped it.  That would have been a huge mistake.  With all the secrets and strange behavior that Jane has to sort through, the plot kept me going the entire time.  The red herrings did a perfect job of keeping me off the scent until I neared the climax.  And what a climax it was – action packed and suspenseful.

We actually met Lord Hughes and several of the other supporting players in the first book, so it was nice to see them worked into this book seamlessly.  Millie is fun here.  I found her a bit over the top in the first book, but that wasn’t an issue this time.  Meanwhile, Jane does some growing of her own, which I really enjoyed.  For those who read the first book, yes Redvers, Jane’s love interest in back as well.  I love his character.

If you haven’t read the first book, there are some spoilers here for the characters and their backgrounds.  It would be impossible to have them continue on here without it.  So if you want to meet them unspoiled, read the first book before you start this one.

My one issue with the book was the modern attitudes that many of the characters seemed to have to certain issues.  Ironically, one of the reasons I love Redvers is because of his modern attitudes toward Jane.  But some other issues come up that I found the attitudes stretched credibility.

That issue aside, I still really enjoyed Murder at Wedgefield Manor.  I’m very curious to see where Jane winds up for her next adventure.

Enjoy more trips back in time with the rest of the Jane Wunderly Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Book Review: Death at the Salon by Louise R. Innes (Daisy Thorne #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot and characters
Cons: Pacing a bit near the beginning, but might just be me
The Bottom Line:
Death of customer
Puts Daisy in the spotlight
In great second book

Murder Hits too Close to Home

Thanks to the buzz that the first Daisy Thorne Mystery received, I read and enjoyed it a few months ago.  I was happy to revisit the characters with Death at the Salon, and it was just as strong as the first one.

The book opens on a dark and stormy night.  Daisy Thorne is closing up her hair salon in the small British village of Edgemead when she finds the dead body of one of her clients in the alley behind the shop.  Worse yet, Daisy’s scissors are sticking out of the victim’s back.  Naturally, suspicion falls on her, so Daisy has to figure out what really happened so she can clear her name.  The big question comes down to who had access to steal Daisy’s scissors.  Can she figure out who did it?

After the initial set up, I did feel like this book’s pace lagged a little bit.  Or maybe I’m just too impatient.  However, it wasn’t long because the pace picked up again, and there were plenty of twists, turns, red herrings, and clues to keep me engaged.  The climax was wonderful and kept the twists coming until the end.

The first book in the series involved one of Daisy’s good friends, and I felt that her employees at the salon hadn’t gotten that much page time.  At the time, I said we’d probably get to know them more as the series progressed, and that’s what happens here.  Yes, we do see Daisy’s friends again, but with the action centered on the salon this time, we get to really know the employees.  I enjoyed that.  The suspects were also wonderful.

Some time has passed for the characters between books one and two, and I was surprised at some of the changes for the supporting characters.  So often, characters seem to only have things happen in their lives when a book is taking place, it was nice to see this for a change.

If you enjoyed the first book in the series, you’ll be thrilled with Death at the Salon.  If you enjoy a British set cozy, you really need to check out this series today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Movie Review: Safety (2020)

: 5 out of 5
Pros: Uplifting movie
Cons: Felt a bit episodic, but that’s like life
The Bottom Line:
Family movie
About helping each other
That is uplifting

Emotional and Inspiring

I’m very slowly working my way through the items I flagged as things I was interested in watching when I got Disney+ earlier this year.  While I’ve never been the biggest sports fan, Safety was one of those films I put on my list.  It sounds like an uplifting and inspiring film, and I’m glad I watched it.

The movie is inspired by the true story of Ray McElrathbey (Jay Reeves), a freshman with a football scholarship to Clemson.  He’s busy with practices and classes and possibly trying to date Kaycee (Corinne Foxx).  That is until his world changes when he realizes that his younger brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson) is living mostly on his own since their mother has been arrested for drugs.  Again.

Not knowing what else to do, Ray sneaks Fahmarr into his dorm room and tries to hide him.  When it becomes clear that the situation is going to be longer term that Ray originally realized, he has to decide what to do for his younger brother.  But what will it mean for his future at Clemson?

Probably because this was based on a true story, but the movie felt a little more episodic than I was expecting it to be.  Life is episodic in nature, so I appreciate the film feeling that way.  But this is a minor point to me because I truly cared for Ray and Fahmarr and wanted to see them overcome the obstacles in their path.  And each time the story changed, it presented them with another obstacle.

Those obstacles just made each of the wins sweeter.  And there are wins.

I appreciated that Fahmarr wasn’t a brat.  Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t perfect, but he was a realistic eleven-year-old.  Overall, I found the relationship between the brothers to be sweet.

Of course, one reason I loved this movie was seeing a community come together to help someone in need.  That is always inspiring and this movie is no exception.  I will say I hope that the meeting at the climax was changed for dramatic effect.

After watching the movie, I did a little research on Ray and Fahmarr.  It sounds like the movie took a bit of poetic license with their story, but they got the spirit right.  Even more inspiring was to find out how they are doing today.

Make no mistake, this is a drama.  But it is an inspiring movie that is ultimately uplifting.  As such, I’m glad I watched Safety.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Robin Hood Archery - All Star Trading Cards #3 - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: A rarer character in a perfect sports fit
Cons: Face partially hidden
The Bottom Line:
Robin, archery
Logical choice for series
Catch him in action

This Pin Almost Hits the Bullseye

There are many obvious Disney characters connected to sports.  One of those is Robin Hood and his expertise in archery.  So, it wasn’t surprising that he received a pin in the All Stars Trading Cards series.

The pin itself is rectangular, so it looks like a sports trading card.  Robin Hood is raised in a pin on pin technique, and he is pulling back his bow, ready to aim at a target we can’t see.  And yes, this is the animated Robin Hood, represented by a fox, and he’s dressed in green.  Behind him, we see a bit of foliage, and he’s signed the top of the card for us.  I love how his signature includes an arrow hitting the target of one of the O’s.  Down at the bottom, we have Archery written in glittery blue.

Robin Hood is a character we don’t get too many pins for, so I like the pin from that standpoint.  And, since he is so good at archery, he needed to be included here.

However, the pin could be better.  He’s in action, pulling back his bow to shoot, and his eye is lined up to aim.  That means that his face is hard to make out.  I wish they would have found a way to make it easier to see his face.

Still, I’m glad I got this pin.  It’s a fun addition to the limited edition series.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

March 27th's Weekly TV Thoughts

 Batwoman – I’ve had some issues with this season, and one of them being the “What happened to Kate storyline.”  I figured she was dead.  If they were going to recast her, it would have happened at the start of the season and then they moved on, right?  I guess I was wrong based on the ending of the episode and the articles I’ve seen since.  I’ll have to see how it all plays out.  Meanwhile, I wasn’t too invested in Ryan’s plight.  I knew she was going to survive.  The show is named after her.  I just didn’t see the connection to the plant coming.  I should have, but I didn’t.

Ellen’s Game of Games – They had a good streak going for a while on Know or Go.  But then the questions got very hard very quickly.  I was wondering how they’d settle the tie on the Slime game.  I didn’t see anyone loading the camera in 14 seconds, let alone 4.

The Flash – I’m glad they were dealing with the emotional impact of the previous story.  My favorite scene was the one where Barry and Iris talked.  Hard to believe they killed the villain right after redeeming him.  Yes, he was only a villain of the week, but still.

Superman and Lois – On hiatus for six weeks?  Just as the show is beginning to build momentum.  We’ve been going away from a traditional TV season for a while, but I wonder if this will officially kill it.  Anyway, not surprised that Jonathan’s girlfriend broke up with him.  But I feel sorry for him.  The flashbacks were interesting.  I like the fact that, while at times the characters lash out in bad ways, we can understand where they are coming from at any given time.  That means they are doing a great job building the characters, at least the Clark family, into real characters.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Much better episode.  It helped that we actually saw the two title characters together.  I’m also not hating the new Captain America as much as I thought I would right off the bat.  I’m still fearful that the show will turn preachy.  It feels like they want to but are just holding back a little for some unknown reason.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Ornament Review: Trying out the New Trike - Making Memories #13 - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Captures a classic Christmas memory
Cons: Something missing from trike…. (but it’s minor)
The Bottom Line:
Riding a new trike
A memorable present
Charming ornament

Snowbody is Getting a Trike This Year

A traditional Christmas gift for a kid, at least in my family, is a bicycle.  Hallmark captured that moment for 2020’s Making Memories entry – Trying out the New Trike.

Yes, yes, it’s a trike not a bike.  But the idea behind it is still the same.  The Snowparent and Snowchild that star in this series are outside enjoying the present.  The child is sitting on the trike and the adult is right there helping.  The parent is standing on one foot, and I see that the child’s legs are sticking out.  I guess it makes sense since this trike doesn’t have any peddles.

Actually, despite having this ornament on my tree this last December, I just spotted this when I went to write my review.  I get it, you can’t stick everyone on an ornament because there isn’t room.  I suspect we get a trike instead of a bike because it sat on the ornament better.  Anyway, I’m laughing at myself for not nothing the missing peddles sooner.

Anyway, back to the ornament.  The trike has a nice, red bow on the front.  I’m betting that the child got a helmet for Christmas as well since he is wearing a blue helmet instead of his usual cap.  The helmet has snowflakes on the sides, of course.

As usual, the base of this ornament is a snowflake, so you can set it out to enjoy.  The ornament does tip a little when you go to hang it since the hook is on the front of the adult’s hat.  Because of how the figures are placed, there is no good spot to put it so they balance perfectly.  I’m sure once you get a few tree branches around it, you won’t notice.  I didn’t this last December.

The 13 in a Christmas tree series marker is on the bottom of the ornament.

Like so many others in this series, this ornament makes me smile because it captures memories of Christmas long past.  And I know I’m not the only once since I’ve seen other kids out enjoying their new bikes right after Christmas if not on Christmas day.

This series continues to have broad appeal with the memories they choose to highlight.  It’s why Trying out the New Trike will be an honored part of my collection for years to come.

Make more memories by hanging the rest of the Making Memories ornaments on your tree.

March 26th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's been over a month since I participated in Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  I think it's time I fixed that.

I will be highlighting Murder at Wedgefield Manor by Erica Ruth Neubauer.

This is the second in a historical mystery series set in 1926.  As you might guess from the cover and title, we are at a stately home in England for this entry.

Here's how the book begins:

One wheel of the biplane slammed into the ground, the wings tipping precariously, before the second wheel made contact and the little plane righted itself, hustling along the soft dirt track before coming to an untidy stop.  The engine roared, the propeller a blur before my eyes.

Jumping ahead, here's a fun exchange from page 56:

"Is someone having a picnic today?"
Martha went still for a moment, before turning her thin frame toward the sink.  "Why would you ask that, Mrs. Wunderly?"
"Erm ... because of the picnic basket."

This book comes out on Tuesday, but I'll have a review of it on Wednesday.  Spoiler alert - I loved it.

Have a fantastic weekend.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Book Review: Word to the Wise by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover's Mysteries #10)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters, strong plot
Cons: Plot is a bit edgy for a cozy, but still works for the series
The Bottom Line:
A creeper is killed
Cozy with a thriller edge
It worked for this fan

Stalking Lindsey

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover.  I know this.  And yet, sometimes, I still do.  For example, when I looked at the cover of Word to the Wise by Jenn McKinlay, I focused on the roses and assumed there would be lots of romance.  While there was romance, the roses were much more sinister.

It all starts innocently enough.  Lindsey Norris is more than happy to help out Aaron Grady when he walks into the library asking for help with his roses.  But when he begins to show up with roses to offer to her as a thank you, she begins to grow concerned.  Despite repeated confrontations, Aaron doesn’t take no for an answer and shows up in places he doesn’t belong.  Until he turns up dead behind the library.  Lindsey’s fiancé, Sully, quickly becomes the prime suspect.  Lindsey knows that Sully wouldn’t have killed Aaron despite the growing evidence.  So, what is really going on?

Obviously, this book delves into some serious subjects, and I appreciated how they were handled.  For the most part.  A couple of characters were out of line with how they reacted to Lindsey’s situation, and, honestly, I found their attitudes a bit unbelievable.  Or maybe it’s just because I would never have reacted to the situation the way they did.

For a cozy, this book really ramps up the suspense.  No, it isn’t a full on thriller, but it is certainly edging there without giving us the language, violence, or sex you would expect in a thriller.  Just know this going into the book and you’ll be fine.

Obviously, the book is very suspenseful.  I did think it was belaboring the point a bit near the beginning, but just as I was about to get impatient, things jump started, and it didn’t stop until the end.  You do have to pay close attention at the end as the twists are coming fast and furious, but things are logical.

All the series regulars make appearances here, and it is fabulous to see them.  We get to know a few new characters here, too, and they fit in well.

Believe it or not, this book does have some humor in it.  It balances out the serious plot perfect.  The story is taken seriously, but the humor helps lighten the mood.

Those familiar with the series will know what to expect at the end.  We’ve got the usual discussion questions, craft project, and recipes.

Word to the Wise will keep series fans turning pages until they reach the end.  It may be a bit of a departure for the series, but fans will still be satisfied with it.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Library Lover's Mysteries.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Movie Review: Mystery 101 - Killer Timing

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters and still fun and charming
Cons: Plot didn’t work for me, usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
There’s explosive start
Is Travis killer’s target?
Still love characters

“Do I Need to Give You to Stay Out of Harm’s Way Speech Again?”  “I’m the One Who Told You to be Careful.”

Of Hallmark’s original mystery franchises, I have enjoyed Mystery 101 the most.  That’s why I am disappointed to say that I found the newest movie, Killer Timing, to be the worst in the franchise to date.

As the movie opens, Detective Travis Burke (Kristopher Polaha) has returned to Chicago to testify in one of the biggest cases he solved just before moving away.  He’s testifying against the serial killer Wolf Man.  It’s a short and productive trip, and when he gets back, he sets up a dinner date with Amy Winslow (Jill Wagner).  However, when they are meeting up at the restaurant, an explosion at a nearby house injuries Travis.

Word has just come out that the Wolf Man escaped on his way back to jail.  Worried that the explosion was an attempt by the serial killer on Travis’s life, FBI Agent Kate Colson (Erin Cahill), who happens to be Travis’s ex-wife, comes to help protect him.  Is someone out to kill Travis?

Obviously, there’s a lot going on in this movie, and this is just the initial set up.  There were plenty of twists to keep me engaged for the first half of the film, and I was enjoying watching the plot unfold.

But then came the second half.  I get what they were going for thematically, but it didn’t make for a satisfying story for me.  It also didn’t help that I was calling all of the plot points in this movie early.  I wish there had been a twist I didn’t see coming.

This isn’t the fault of the actors.  They do a decent job with the material they have.  Yes, it’s still a Hallmark movie, so there is still that cheese element to take into account, but it isn’t overwhelming.

Clearly, there is another movie coming in the franchise with how this one ends.  I’m looking forward to it since I do still love the characters.

And it was the characters that made this one worth watching.  Yes, Travis and Amy are another very slow burn romance in a Hallmark mystery franchise, but I love their relationship and chemistry.  Amy’s father, Graham (Robin Thomas) is another fantastic character.  We don’t see much of the other supporting cast, but it’s really these three I watch the movies for.

Fans of the franchise will still enjoy Killer Timing.  But if you haven’t met the characters yet, don’t start with this Mystery 101 movie.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Puppy Day - Celebrate Today #3 - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute Disney puppies
Cons: A bit cartoony
The Bottom Line:
A day for cuteness
Disney puppies fill this pin
For all dog lovers

Today, We Celebrate Cuteness

I’ve stated time and time again that I’m not a big animal person because of my allergies.  That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them.  So when it comes to celebrating cuteness, I’m all for it, as long as there is some distance there.  And that is what Disney is celebrating with the third release in the Celebrate Today pin series.

March 23rd each year is Puppy Day.  And Disney is featuring a plethora of their puppies on this pin.  We’ve got five of them.  There’s Copper, the Hound of The Fox and the Hound.  We’ve got one of the Dalmatian puppies (my guess is Rollie).  Front and center is Bolt with his carrot chew toy.  At risk of losing my DisNerd status, I don’t recognize the other two puppies.  I guess I need to brush up on my Disney dogs.  In the bottom right hand corner is a little brass square with the date of Puppy Day.

All of these dogs are presented as puppies even if they are more famous as grown dogs.  But this is Puppy Day, so that makes sense.  Still, it might explain why I don’t recognize the other two dogs.  It would also help is they were quite so cartoony.  Yes, even for animated characters, they appear to be cartoony.

Still, this pin is cute.  The bush and sky behind the dogs help make it nice to look at.

If you love puppies, you’ll be glad you got this pin to remind you to celebrate Puppy Day every March 23rd.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Book Review: Murder by Page One by Olivia Matthews (Peach Coast Library Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fun setting
Cons: Pacing in the middle
The Bottom Line:
Book signing murder
Trying to clear the owner
Makes charming debut

Murder of a Debut Author

I watch a lot of Hallmark mystery movies.  I know they’ve started publishing a few mystery novels as well, but I hadn’t picked one up yet.  I decided to change that with Murder by Page One by Olivia Matthews, and I’m glad I did.

Marvey Harris has just relocated to Peach Coast, Georgia, and joined the staff of the local library.  She’s only been in town a few months, but she’s already starting to make friends, including Jo Gomez, the owner of the local bookstore, and Spence Holt.  Jo is hosting a book signing for the local authors group, and Marvey and Spence are there to support her and the authors.

Fiona Lyle-Hayes helped organized this group author event, and she is planning to promote her debut mystery.  However, when she doesn’t return from the storeroom, Jo, Marvey, and Spence go to investigate.  That’s when they find Fiona dead on the floor.  Despite the fact that Jo hardly knew the victim, the police are certain she killed Fiona.  Marvey sets out to prove her friend’s innocence.  But can she do it?

I felt right at home as soon as I started reading this book.  Peach Coast sounds like a charming town.  I’d definitely be up for a visit.  And it helped that the book opens in a bookstore and our three lead characters are book lovers.

Marvey is clearly the main character of the book, but Spence, and to a lesser extent, Jo, are just as important to the plot.  Spence investigates just as much as Marvey does.  Not that I’m complaining since I enjoyed all three of them very much.  Their friendships might be new, but you can tell they really do care about each other.

The rest of the cast isn’t quite as well developed.  Don’t get me wrong, they are good characters, but they don’t stand out as much as the three leads.  I’m sure we will get to know them better as the series progresses, however.  I certainly did like what we saw of them.  The exception to this is Fiona.  While we never meet her alive, we get a complete picture of her as the story unfolds.  I always like it when the victim is fully fleshed out.

The mystery started off quickly, but the pacing did become uneven in the middle.  There were still enough clues to keep me engaged, however.  The climax was logical and suspenseful.

While not a culinary cozy, there is a recipe for peach cobbler at the end.  Trust me, when you read the book, you’ll understand.  I had quite a craving for the dessert as I was reading.

With a charming setting and book loving characters, I’m already anxious for my next visit.  If you are looking for a new series, I definitely recommend Murder by Page One.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Book Review: Charlie Thorne and the Lost City by Stuart Gibbs (Charlie Thorne #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action and laughs
Cons: Charlie too perfect; for me, stance on evolution
The Bottom Line:
Charlie, Amazon
Darwin featured scientist
Plenty of action

Tracking Darwin Through the Amazon

When I learned that the scientist that inspired Charlie Thorne and the Lost City was Charles Darwin, I was concerned about how he would be handled.  As I expected, there were some aspects of the book that I didn’t care for, but I’m sure won’t bother most people.  On the whole, the book is enjoyable for the target middle grade audience.

It's been a few months since Charlotte “Charlie” Thorne has gone missing.  While she was initially presumed dead, she took advantage of the confusion of the situation to slip away.  She’s currently hiding out in the Galapagos Islands, which turns out to be very fortunate.  One day, she is approached by Esmerelda, a researcher from the Darwin Institute who thinks she’s found a message left behind by Charles Darwin almost 200 years ago.  Unfortunately, it’s in code, and Esmerelda needs Charlie to help her figure it out.  Suddenly, Charlie finds herself on another wild ride that will take her deep into the heart of the Amazon pursued by people out to get the treasure first.  But what did Darwin leave behind?

As a Christian, I don’t believe in macroevolution, which is different from the microevolution that Darwin clearly did document on his trip.  However, this book doesn’t differentiate between the two and labels people like me anti-science.  It was what I expected going into the book, but it still bothered me.

Setting that aside, I’m struggling to get into this series, which is surprising since I usually love Stuart Gibbs’s books.  Part of the problem is Charlie herself.  She is supposed to be a genius.  I get it.  But she comes across as just a little too perfect.  Fortunately, there are some supporting players who are a bit more realistic, but I do have to roll my eyes at some of Charlie’s exploits in the book.  I have a feeling that is me as an adult, and the target middle grade audience won’t mind as much.

We spend a lot of time traveling up the Amazon in this book, and it provides a bit of a sense of dread as the tension builds.  I appreciated how that built.  And I was reminded why the Amazon isn’t on my list of places to visit any time soon.  I enjoy nature in small doses, and it just sounds like it would be too intense for me.

If you buy into the complete premise of the book, the story is good.  There are some page turning action scenes and surprises along the way, which is exactly what you’d expect from Stuart Gibbs.  There are also some developments that set up future entries in the series, and I can’t wait to see where they lead.

And, of course, there’s the humor.  You have to laugh at some of the situations Charlie gets into and the banter between the characters.

I suspect most people will enjoy this book more than I did.  If you are a fan of Stuart Gibbs, pick up Charlie Thorne and the Lost City today.

Solve more scientific mysteries with the rest of the Charlie Thorne series.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

March 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Batwoman – I get that we need the information we got in the episode.  But seriously?  That had to be the most boring way to get the information.  I feel like we got five minutes of story development and character development for our hours’ worth of entertainment.

Ellen’s Game of Games – I felt sorry for the guy who made it to the end.  He just couldn’t seem to get any momentum going.  Oh well.  It was still a fun episode.

The Flash – It always drives me crazy when we can talk a villain into surrendering/changing their plans.  Yes, I’m glad that story is over the done with.  Hopefully we can move on to bigger and better things.  I wish I remembered when Barry started to lose his speed – was it when Iris went into the Mirrorverse?  And they brought back Wells only to write him off again?

Superman and LoisThe Smallville vibes just keep getting stronger.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but I just can’t turn off the comparison when I watch this show.  I loved the “fight” that Lois and Clark had after he missed the meeting.  Lois’s responses to everything was so perfect.  She knew it was wrong, but she was able to express her feelings so well.  And I loved Lois and Lana’s girl’s night.  Seriously, they had better not mess up Lana and her family’s relationship with the Clarks.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Outside that 15-minute action sequence at the beginning, a rather slow start to this miniseries.  Especially considering they only have 6 episodes.  I get we needed to see where the characters are, but this was a bit too much.  And why do I feel like we are going to get real world political with this new Captain America?

Friday, March 19, 2021

Candy Review: Key Lime Pie M&M's

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Flavor combo really works well
Cons: A little sweet white chocolate after taste
The Bottom Line:
A delicious change
Captures key lime flavor well
Catch them while you can

Surprisingly Tangy M&Ms

When I was walking down the seasonal candy aisle in Wal-Mart recently (I know, I know, I shouldn’t even do that if I don’t want to buy sweets), I spotted the new to me Key Lime Pie M&M’s.  Intrigued, I decided I had to give them a try.  I figured they’d either be very good or very disappointing.  Turns out they are pretty tasty.

These are some of the white chocolate M&M’s, which is why they work.  Sometimes, that can mean the candy is overly sweet, but here it provides a nice canvas for the tangy citrusy taste of key lime pie.  Really, that is what you can taste the most when you eat some of these.  Occasionally, I’ll get notes of pie crust or whipped cream, but mostly it’s delicious key lime flavor.

There is a hint of sweet white chocolate taste at the end.  However, it still doesn’t overpower the key lime flavor.

The M&M’s come in three colors, cream, lime green, and a darker green.  As usual, they are all mixed together in the bag.  They look nice – not nice enough to keep me from eating them, of course.

I suspect these M&M’s will only be available during the spring and Easter season.  If you are interested, I suggest you snag a bag now and try them for yourself.  Me?  I need to resist buying more Key Lime Pie M&M’s.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Book Review: Wild Horses by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun Mysteries #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and fun characters
Cons: Joe’s wedding as a ticking clock is a bit unbelievable
The Bottom Line:
Wedding is coming
But murders to solve before
Overall, it’s fun

Will Wild Horses Keep Joe from His Own Wedding?

Every so often, I check on Amazon to see if my favorite authors have new books out.  It’s one way I make sure I don’t miss anything.  And it’s how I found out about Wild Horses, the ninth Valley of the Sun Mystery from Sandy Dengler.

Joe Rodriguez is getting married!  While his fiancée is busy planning the wedding over in Ireland, Joe is trying to clear up his cases as a Phoenix homicide officer before he flies over.  Unfortunately, his cases aren’t cooperating.  The department has been tasked to keep a federal witness safe, and it is clear that someone knows he is in town and is anxious to kill him.  Not that this is the only case he is trying to wrap up.  And a friend keeps dragging him away to help save a heard of wild horses from poachers.  Will anything be resolved before he has to fly to Ireland?

Okay, this is fiction.  I get it.  But I had a hard time swallowing that Joe would stay to wrap up cases as his wedding is getting closer.  Oh, the story tries to explain it, but I just didn’t buy it.  I’m willing to forgive it since it does provide great dramatic tension.

And this is another well plotted mystery in the series.  Unlike some of the books, the focus really was on Joe and his cases with occasional glimpses of what is going on in Ireland.  In other words, the focus of the book isn’t split too much.  I thought we might be getting one too many sub-plots in Phoenix, but I actually loved how things tied together thematically by the end.

Being the ninth book in the series, we know the main characters, and I loved spending time with them again.  Some of the supporting characters, mainly Joe’s kids, are really growing up, and I enjoyed seeing that.  Joe and his co-workers are always fun, too.  The suspects fit right in to this world.

I’ve got to admit, I’ve struggled with the way Joe’s love life has gone in the series, mainly because I started with the original books in the 1990’s.  I was worried that this would impact my feelings on the book.  But I must be softening to that storyline since I loved what we got here.

Speaking of the 1990’s, the author hasn’t changed the time of the stories.  It is still very clearly set in the 1990’s.  It’s amazing how much our lives have changed in that time.

I’m really glad I picked up Wild Horses.  There’s one more in the series, and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Valley of the Sun Mysteries.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Movie Review: How to Con a Con - an Aurora Teagarden Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun characters
Cons: Wedding planning sub-plot
The Bottom Line:
Mysterious loan
Starts this engaging story
The twists kept me hooked

“Roe and I Have a Theory.”  “And She Isn’t Here to Sell it Herself?  Did Pigs Being to Fly and I Didn’t Notice?”

So far, in 2021, it looks like Hallmark is spacing out their movies, releasing two a month and from different franchises.  I quite like this strategy and hope it continues.  Anyway, our first movie for March premiered this past Sunday.  We checked in with Aurora Teagarden for How to Con a Con.

Aida Teagarden (Marilu Henner) has a new client.  The Averys are looking to sell their home and move to Hawaii to enjoy their retirement.  However, when Aida does the standard check on the house for loans, she comes back with one that the Averys didn’t expect.

When her daughter, Aurora (Candance Cameron Bure) hears about it, she begins to poke around to see what she can learn.  Then Mr. Avery is murdered, and Aurora’s interest really heats up.  Along with her fiancé, Nick Miller (Niall Matter), Sally (Lexa Doig), and the rest of the Real Murders Club, Aurora tries to see what she can figure out.  Is his murder related to the bogus loan?

Maybe it was the accountant in me, but I really got into this plot.  I thought the financial aspect was handled very well.  Don’t worry, it wasn’t technical; I’m sure anyone who has bought a home will understand what was involved here.  It did provide a fun complication to the mystery that kept us guessing until the end.  I was definitely confused and intrigued the entire time.

Meanwhile, it is only two months until Aurora and Nick’s wedding.  Naturally, that means wedding planning is part of the movie.  I appreciated how it was woven into the main mystery at times.  On the other hand, the parts of the wedding planning that made up the sub-plot were the movie’s real weakness.  It also provided the worst moments of Hallmark cheese.

I’m mostly blaming that cheese on the writing.  The main actors are all back and do a good job of bringing their characters to life.  I do miss some of the earlier characters who have left the franchise, but I am really enjoying the current cast.

How to Con a Con was a fun, engaging mystery movie.  If you turn it on looking for light entertainment, you won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Book Review: Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz (Orphan X #6)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful character development…
Cons: …At the expense of pacing at times
The Bottom Line:
Evan meets his mom
The characters are strong here
Thrills suffer a bit

Will Orphan X’s Retirement Last?

The previous book in the Orphan X series ended with a couple of shifts for the character.  I knew one wouldn’t last, but I was very curious to see how the other would play out in Prodigal Son.

When this book opens, it’s been a couple of weeks since Evan Smoak, aka Orphan X, agreed to go into retirement.  However, he is struggling.  He has nothing to fill his days, and he is missing the rush of his off the books assignments to help others in need.

Not that his phone has stayed silent.  The woman, Veronica, claiming to be his mother continues to call him.  He finally decides to go investigate.  How can it hurt?

Veronica asks Evan to help out a man named Andrew Duran who is in hiding for his life.  He’s still not certain he wants to return to his life of helping people given what that would mean for him personally, but he begins to poke around in Andrew’s life to try to find him and find out what kind of danger he’s in.  Can he help?  And what does having Veronica in his life mean for him?

If you aren’t familiar with this series, I don’t recommend you start here.  There is lots of background you’ll need to fully understand and enjoy what unfolds in this book.  Yes, there is enough background given so you will follow what happens, but it won’t be nearly as rich.

Because this book is all about character.  Each book in the series does a great job of developing Evan, and this one is no exception.  Since he is dealing with a part of his past he thought he would never get answers to, he really has to face some of his own behaviors and lack of ability to form relationships.  Of course, this also means he is growing in his relationships to the other characters, which is a great thing as well.  I love the supporting players, so seeing Evan building stronger relationships is another reason I read this series.

Unfortunately, all of this character growth came at the expense of plot.  Yes, there is a plot, but it isn’t as thrilling as the best books in this series.  When author Gregg Hurwitz is at his best, he is giving us heart stopping plots with the character development.  This book has a good plot, but it isn’t as strong as some of the others.  At times, the story gets bogged down in details, too.  Don’t misunderstand, we do get some great action sequences, and some creepy moments.  It’s just spread out a bit more than normal.

And don’t misunderstand me.  I enjoyed this book.  I just didn’t think it quite match Gregg’s normal excellent standards.

Since this is a thriller, it has the higher level of language and violence to go along with it.  Know that before you pick up this book.

Having said all of that, it is going to be a very very long wait until the next book comes out.  I need to know what happens next and I need it now.

Fans of the series will be glad they picked up Prodigal Son.  If you haven’t yet met Orphan X, you really need to fix that today.  This is an excellent thriller series.

Catch all of Orphan X’s adventures.

Monday, March 15, 2021

20 Years!

No new review today, but I wanted to take a moment to mark a milestone.

20 years ago this month, I started reviewing online.

Yes, I do have some older than March of 2001, but I decided that year I was going to take it seriously.  I started over at Amazon, and my goal was to make it to the top 1000 (back when that was more realistic than it is today).  I eventually made it to the top 100 before I started drifting back down again.  Now, I'm somewhere in the 2000's.

My next stop was an now defunct website called Epinions in the fall of 2005.  It was a rough introduction, but I stuck with it and owe much of my current reviewing style (for better or worse) to that site.  Made some good friends along the way.

As that site was coming to an end in 2013, I decided to move all my reviews over here to my blog.  If you dive into the achieves from 2013, you'll find I posted a lot of reviews until mid-July.  I was posting all those old reviews.  That was quite the project, and I was so thrilled when I finally got caught up.

No, I don't have 20 years worth of reviews on the site.  There are still a few things that never did migrate over from Amazon, but I have reviews of stuff from 2001 onward on the blog.  Just don't go looking for some of those old ones.  They were pretty bad (which is why I am glad I stuck around at Epinions).

The fact that I started out at Amazon and Epinions is why this blog features such a variety of items reviewed.  And the fact that I review so many different things is one reason why I am still doing this all these years later.  Every time I start to get a little bored, I find something new to review, and it sparks my interest again.

I never would have guessed that I'd still be reviewing 20 years later.  Seems crazy to me.  But at this point, I don't know if I could turn it off.  Even if I watch something not intending to review it, my brain starts composing the review as I'm watching it.  Honestly, it's hard to turn off at this point.

I started reviewing to help authors I love get more readers.  I figured the more readers they have, the greater the likelihood they will get contracts for more books, so I'll have more great books to read. See, purely selfish.  Naturally, over the years, some authors have stopped writing, but I've found some great new authors I've enjoyed just as much.  And some of the authors I was reading back then are still writing today.  I guess that means my strategy worked.

Thanks so much to all of you who read my blog.  I know I'm horrible at responding to comments, but I do read them all and appreciate them.  It is motivating knowing that I'm not just talking to myself.

Here's to the next 20!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Fireworks at the Castle - Minnie Mouse the Main Attraction #12 - 2020 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great look, colorful set
Cons: Nothing worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Explosive final
Pin set is a lot of fun
A fitting farewell

Minnie’s Visit to the Disney Parks Comes to an Explosive Finale

The one entry in last year’s Minnie Mouse the Main Attraction collection I had the hardest time picturing was the final one.  All we were told early on was that it would be related to the castle.  I was picturing the actual castle as it appears during the day, and I just didn’t see that as being a great way to close out the set.  Of course, when they revealed the design, I felt stupid for not having guessed what they were going to do sooner.

For this last pin set, Minnie has made the sort trip from The Jungle Cruise in Adventureland to Main Street USA and a great location to view the castle.  She might have had to camp out there for a little bit of time.  Or maybe Mickey has been saving a spot for her.  Why do I say that?  Because she is there for the fireworks.

Of all the things that were released as part of this series, I only collected the pins, and we get another three pin set.  The first set is the icon.  In this case, it’s the castle.  It’s in bronze, and it is a little raised, so it looks great.  There is a circle around the castle, and that is where we see the fireworks.  It must be the climax of the show because they are lighting up the dark sky.  There’s even a mickey in the fireworks.

The second pin is Minnie herself.  Her dress has fireworks on it, as does the ears she is wearing.  She’s got her hands raised and one foot off the ground.  I can just picture her saying “Ta da!”

The final pin is the Minnie ears pin.  It’s a bit straight forward, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.  There are fireworks on both sides (no hidden Mickeys this time).  The bow in the middle is black with sparkles that make it look like stars.  And in the middle is a castle like shape.  It’s a bit small, so there aren’t a lot of details, but it is pretty easy to figure out what it is.

All told, the set is fantastic.  It’s colorful and fun, which makes it a great way to close out the year long series.

I hesitated at the beginning of 2020, and getting the collection turned out to be a little…bumpy thanks to the pandemic, but I’m glad I stuck with it and got all of these pins.  These castle fireworks pins are a great way to say goodbye to Minnie’s visit to the parks.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

March 13th's Weekly TV Thoughts

 Even less TV than normal this week.

Ellen’s Game of Games – That was double fun.  I was surprised at how quickly everyone dropped in the sudden drop round.  And the poor final winner couldn’t string together more than two correct questions in a row.  Still, a fun episode overall.

The Flash – I was enjoying Spock Flash for a while, but by the end he got too annoying.  And, outside of the officer screaming, I am not sure I got any of what happened in the last few minutes of the show.  Everything after Iris came out of the mirror just didn’t make much sense to me.  Hopefully, it will be explained next week.

Superman and Lois – Big stories in Smallville.  Who would have thunk it?  Lois has to have something to investigate.  Speaking of the location, anyone else getting TV show Smallville vibes?  Not that this is a bad thing, but that’s certainly what the show feels like.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Book Review: Every Day Above Ground by Glen Erik Hamilton (Van Shaw #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, exciting story
Cons: A bit too dark at times, but never for very long
The Bottom Line:
Long forgotten gold
Sets off exciting thriller
Darker choice for me

Greed is a Trap

Last year, I made the acquaintance of ex-army range Van Shaw, and I enjoyed both of the first two books in the series.  I was expecting another thrill ride when I picked up Every Day Above Ground, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Van is struggling to make ends meet while rebuilding his grandfather’s house.  That’s why the offer from Mickey O’Hasson is just too good to pass up.  Mickey was an associate of Van’s grandfather and has just gotten out of jail where he learned about a stash of gold in an abandoned office building about to be torn down.  Mickey was hoping to get Van’s grandfather, a thief, to help him take the gold.  Van has sworn off his grandfather’s profession, but this offer is too good to pass up, and Van is too desperate for funds.

Van does his best to prepare, trying to avoid any complications.  However, he and Mickey still walk into a trap, and Mickey winds up captured by people unknown while Van barely escapes.  Not even knowing who is involved, Van starts to figure out how he can rescue Mickey and possibly recover the gold at the same time.  But who is he up against?

In case you didn’t figure it out, this is not one of my usual cozies.  Make no mistake, we get plenty of story appropriate language and violence in these pages.  I do wish the violence were toned down a bit, but only one or two scenes get too much for me.  It’s always realistic, never gratuitous, but I still could have done without it.

What has hooked me on this series is Van himself.  He is a very sympathetic main character.  In the first two books, I felt like when he crossed lines, it was because he had to help someone else.  This is the first time that his ethics really come into question for me.  If this were the first book in the series I picked up, I might have had a bigger problem with Van’s decisions that set the story into motion, but I was willing to give him more leeway since I already know him and like him.  And it helps that it is easy to understand the temptation.  Too easy, in fact.

It was obvious from the beginning that things were not going to be as easy as they first appeared.  I mean, if they were that easy, we wouldn’t have a book, right?  I enjoyed watching things unfold, and a few of the twists along the way surprised me.  I got a kick out of some of the locations Van used in his attempts to save himself and Mickey.

It really is the characters that draw me into the series.  And I said earlier, Van is immensely likable.  I want him to succeed.  Along the way, we get to know some other sympathetic supporting characters.  I enjoyed checking in with the other series regulars as well.  We don’t have a long list of them, but I like the ones we have.  The rest of the cast comes to life, which is pretty remarkable given the amount of page time some of them have.

I’m continuing the series on audio.  R. C. Bray is back as the reader for the second time, and he does a fantastic job of bringing the story to life without getting in the way.  I’m realizing what a tricky balancing act that is for narrators, and he does a great job of it.

Every Day Above Ground is a thrilling mystery that kept me entertained from start to finish.  If you want something darker, give this series a chance.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Van Shaw novels.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Book Review: On the Lamb by Tina Kashian (Kebab Kitchen Mysteries #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters and mystery
Cons: Some items that didn’t seem logical to me
The Bottom Line:
A night on the beach
Ends with finding dead body
Fun spring mystery

Bonfire Body

I was debating between several books to pick up recently, but when I discovered that On the Lamb took place in the weeks before Easter, I knew I had my next book.  I always get a kick out of reading a book around the time of the year when it is set if I get a chance.

Spring is in the air in Ocean Crest, New Jersey, and with it, changes are coming.  After nearly a year back in town, Lucy Berberian has decided to get her own place.  She’s found the perfect apartment, near the beach but still walking distance to her family’s Mediterranean restaurant, which she is now managing.  Her new landlady is a bit eccentric, but the worst part is dealing with her landlady’s nephew, Gilbert, who is determined to get his aunt into a retirement home so he can get his hands on the valuable piece of land.

Lucy and some friends take a rare Saturday night off to enjoy a bonfire on the beach.  Everyone is having fun until they discover Gilbert’s body in the sand.  Lucy’s friend Melanie becomes the prime suspect, and she begs Lucy to figure out what is going on.  Can Lucy clear her friend?

It’s been a while since I read the third book in the series, but it didn’t take me long to feel at home once again in Ocean Crest.  This is definitely the kind of place I’d love to visit in real life – I just love resort towns.  I think I would enjoy a week or so here every year.  Of course, I’d time my visits to avoid the murders.

Lucy quickly finds that Gilbert is hiding quite a few secrets, and those secrets point her to some viable suspects.  I was kept guessing until Lucy figured everything out, and the climax was quite creative.  I really did love it.

Meanwhile, it was fun to check in with the series regulars again.  I’ll admit, I had forgotten where a few of the relationships were, including Lucy’s love life.  Again, that wasn’t an issue for very long, and I was glad to see that many relationships are moving forward as the series progresses.

My biggest issue with the book was some logical issues that just didn’t work for me.  Things like character ages in relation to each other, and some events happening on weekdays that I would expect on weekends.  They aren’t deal breakers for me, especially since I could figure out how these things could have worked, but they did kick me out of the story occasionally.

The book ends with three delicious sounding recipes featuring items that Lucy and Azad, her boyfriend, prepare for the Easter dinner Lucy hosts.

Speaking of Easter, that fact that Easter is coming doesn’t play a huge part in the story.  So you really can pick up the book any time and enjoy it.

It was nice to be back in Ocean Crest with On the Lamb.  If you’ve enjoyed the previous entries in the series, you’ll want to see what happens next to Lucy and the gang.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Kebab Kitchen Mysteries.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Ornament Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Third Harry Potter cover in book form
Cons: Very slight tilt
The Bottom Line:
Third Harry Potter
Cover is slightly 3D
Delightful for fans

Don’t Keep This Ornament a Prisoner – Display it on Your Tree

We’ve reached the third in Hallmark’s unofficial series of Harry Potter book cover ornaments.  That means the ornament is of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and it’s another winner.

The ornament is inspired by the original American cover for this third book in the series.  (I believe the British cover was similar if not the same, but I don’t know for sure.)  If you are familiar with the books, you know what to expect.  Harry and Hermione are riding on the back of Buckbeat, the hippogriff.  If you turn the ornament around, you’ll see that the back cover is there, and it includes a rat scurrying away and a dementor.

What makes these ornaments fun is that the front cover is semi-3D.  In this case, Harry, Hermione, and Buckbeat are rising out of the cover.  And Buckbeat’s wing and tail, which are too big to fit on the cover of the novel, are sticking out to the right of the ornament.

The book lover in me is thrilled with these ornaments.  I don’t have a ton of ornaments representing books themselves, but I do enjoy the ones I have.  The fact that these are of the cover in 3D makes them even more fun for me.

The ornament is thick enough that you could set it out on it’s own.  And, while it is stable, I would not want it to be set out anywhere where it could be knocked around.  It could still tip over fairly easily.

Which is why I will be hanging mine on my trees.  When you go to hang it, you’ll find that it tips slightly to one side and back.  Okay, so you really have to be looking for it to see the tipping.  By the time you hang it among tree branches and lights and other ornaments, you’ll never notice.

I mentioned earlier that this is an unofficial series.  Hallmark has released three Harry Potter book cover ornaments in three years.  However, they aren’t an official series with series markers on them.  I’d be shocked if we don’t get the next four books over the next four years, however, since these seem to be popular with Harry Potter fans.

I know I certainly am enjoying these ornaments.  Any Harry Potter fan will be happy to have Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in ornament form on their tree.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Book Review: Murder in Greenwich Village by Liz Freeland (Louise Faulk Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, interesting mystery
Cons: One niggle, pacing
The Bottom Line:
Murder in the past
What happened to the roommate?
Intriguing debut

The Murdered Roommate

Last year, one of my favorite books was by Liz Ireland, a new to me author.  As I was investigating this author, I realized she’d written three historical mysteries under the pen name Liz Freeland.  Intrigued, I picked up the first, Murder in Greenwich Village.

It’s the summer of 1913, and Louise Faulk has been living in New York City for six months.  She’s enjoying life in the big city after growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania.  She’s got a job at a publishing company thanks to her aunt, and she’s renting an apartment with Callie, a model who is trying to break onto Broadway.

One evening, Louise and Callie return home to discover that Callie’s cousin, Ethel, who had been staying with them for several weeks, has been murdered in their apartment.  When the police bring in a friend of Louise’s from home for the crime, Louise sets about trying to figure out who really did it.  But why would anyone want to kill Ethel?

The book doesn’t waste much time jumping into the story, introducing us to Louise and Callie not too long before they find Ethel dead.  However, the pace was a bit off at times.  Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a good book.  As Louise investigates, she finds a few surprises about Ethel along the way to the climax.  I did feel like one thing was never quite resolved to my satisfaction.  Louise had reached one conclusion, but I don’t buy it as being the right one.  But that could just be me.

Louise is a great character, and I enjoyed getting to know her here.  The book set up quite an interesting character arc for her, and I’m curious to see where things go from here.  The suspects were just as intriguing, and the rest of the regulars are a fun and entertaining bunch.

The book is more serious than I was expecting.  It fits given where the story goes, but I just wasn’t expecting it so it threw me a bit at first.  Know that the book does delve into some topics that the cozies I normally read avoid.  This is more a traditional mystery than a pure cozy.  As long as you are expecting it, you’ll be fine.

Someday, I will get to visit New York City in real life.  When I do, I will feel like I know the history thanks to several historical mysteries I’ve read set there over the years.  This is another great one that brings the city of 1913 to life.

I will definitely be visiting Louise again.  I loved the characters I met in Murder in Greenwich Village, and I want to know what happens to them next.