Saturday, April 17, 2021

April 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Batwoman – Got to admit, there were several developments I wasn’t expecting tonight.  Kane becoming addicted to Snackbite, for example.  Once he was injected, I knew you’d be going back for seconds.  Didn’t think Angelique would spill the beans, either.  Thought she might truly be in protective custody until we got the final scene.  That’s not going to be good.  I wonder what excuse they are going to use for not killing her right away.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – Lots of songs.  I think just about everyone sang.  And I love the singing, so I’m not complaining about that.  But I want to know what Emily was sad about.  But I really want to see the work crew singing “Anything you can do.”

The Flash – I suspected Mark had to be the villain of the week.  Such a shame they had to ruin such a perfectly good name.  But I figured they find a way to clear Killer Frost and then she would be free of her past.  I’m actually liking that she stood up for what she’d done and is pleading guilty.  Nice twist.

Supergirl – I’m ready for Kara to come out of the Phantom Zone now.  Glad they stopped the phantoms in our world.  And I hope that Lena finds what she needs by cutting Lex out of her life.  It definitely seems like the right decision to me, but I’m sure it won’t appear that way for a while.

United States of Al – We finally got to see the daughter!  Okay, so she only had one scene, but it was nice to finally meet the character.  Not sure how I feel about the episode overall.  It felt awkward.  And I find it hard to believe he truly wouldn’t have been able to concentrate.  Or maybe that’s just me.

Wipeout – I was rooting for the Frisbee team.  Hey, this is me.  Not too surprised with the fit team winning.  And wow, were they impressive in the final course.  They definitely deserved it.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – A mixed episode for sure.  Definitely could have done without the preaching scenes.  Now that they are finally gearing up for the climax, things are starting to come together and be more interesting.  All the pieces are in place for an explosive climax.  We will see if we get it.  With the slower pacing the series has had all along, I expect it will be mixed as well.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Book Review: The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (Jack McEvoy #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great thriller with strong characters
Cons: A bit more detail than needed in one scene; the obvious climax set up scene
The Bottom Line:
One last news story
Sends Jack on a thrilling ride
Page turning suspense

Will Jack End His Career in a Blaze of Glory?

While Michael Connelly has spent most of his career writing about LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, he has a few other characters he will revisit occasionally.  One of those is reporter Jack McEvoy.  The Scarecrow marks Jack’s second lead roll out of only three books, and it is a page turner.

For the last decade, Jack has been working at The Los Angeles Times, working the crime beat.  His time at the paper is coming to an end, however.  His just been given notice that his name is number ninety-nine out of one hundred the paper has to let go to cut costs.  He’s been offered the chance to stay an extra two weeks in order to train his replacement, an offer that he decides to take.

But Jack has his own motive for staying.  He decides he is going to write one last blockbuster story that will be an exclamation point on his career.  And it looks like that story might be the case of Alonzo Winslow, a sixteen-year-old drug dealer in prison for a brutal murder – a murder he might not have committed.  As Jack begins to investigate, his path once again crosses with FBI agent Rachel Walling.  Will the two of them track down the real killer?

When this book came out in 2009, it had been thirteen years since Jack’s first starring role, but he had made some cameos in other books that Michal Connelly had written.  Rachel Walling had had more prominent parts in a couple of the Bosch novels.  It’s one thing I’m enjoying going through all of Michael Connelly’s books in order is watching the characters pop in and out of each book.

This was the perfect story to team Jack and Rachel back up.  It naturally flows from Jack’s newspaper story.  While we can guess that the story is going to be bigger than Jack originally suspects early on, it is still fun watching it unfold and Jack follows each clue to the next.  I was quickly caught up in the twists and turns along the way to the suspenseful climax.

This book does fall into one of the traps I’ve noticed in other Michael Connelly books.  There are some scenes that are obviously nothing but setting up the climatic set piece.  In fact, it is painfully obvious data dump.  I’m not quite sure how to get us that information in a less obvious way, but this is a minor complaint overall.

I hadn’t realized how much I liked Jack and Rachel until we got another book focused on them.  They are wonderful characters, and they work well together.  Which worries me since Michael Connelly doesn’t have a habit of letting his characters have happy romantic lives.  The rest of the cast is just as strong.

We are dealing with some brutal murders in this book, which isn’t a surprise for another who has read Michael Connelly’s books before.  They are of a sexual nature.  I could have done with less detail, but there are only a couple scenes that crosses the line for me.  The foul language is kept to a minimum, which I appreciated.

I’m still listening to these books on audio, and Peter Giles was the narrator of the version I listened to.  I’ve enjoyed his narration in the past, and he did a great job again here.  The really oddity to me was when it came to reading an email.  We got the email addresses, time the email was sent, etc.  Detail that I don’t even pay attention to when I’m checking my email in real life much less reading a novel.  I get why it was included in an unabridged production, but it was still odd.

I know I’ve got one more visit with Jack ahead of me, but I’ve got quite a few books to get through first.  I’m looking forward to it.  If you haven’t yet read The Scarecrow, you are in for a great thriller.

April 16th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's Friday!  Starting off the day with Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Golden Gate by James Ponti.

This is the second in the City Spies middle grade series.  I loved the first one last year, and this one was just as good.

Here's how it begins:

It was just after dawn, so the black-clad hijackers were barely visible as they moved with military precision across the deck of the marine research vessel Sylvia Earle.

And here's from page 56:

It wasn't that Sydney wanted to be unhelpful.  It was just that, according to the United Kingdom Official Secrets Act, she was forbidden from disclosing her MI6 status to anyone.  So the lies continued.

I'll be reviewing this book on Sunday so I hope you come back then for my full review.  In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Book Review: Bones to Pick by Linda Lovely (Brie Hooker Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fun, hard to put down
Cons: Emphasis on events over investigations
The Bottom Line:
Bones found on aunt’s farm
Brie works to uncover truth
Book fun overall

I’m Glad I Picked This Debut

I’d had Bones to Pick, the debut in Linda Lovely’s Brie Hooker Mysteries, on my radar for a while.  I finally got it for my birthday this year, so I moved it to the top of my TBR pile.  I’m glad since I enjoyed it.

Brie Hooker has gone from a career as a vegan chef to helping her aunt Eva run her goat farm and dairy in South Carolina.  It may not be her first choice for what to be doing with her life right now, but she loves her aunt, and Eva needs the help.  This is especially true after the farm’s pot-bellied pig unearths bones – human bones.  The remains are quickly identified as that of Brie’s husband, who disappeared forty years ago.

There was no love lost between Eva and her husband, and he was part of the most prominent family in the area, so it isn’t a surprise that suspicion in his murder falls on Eva.  With so much time passing, it’s hard to even tell for sure when he died, so it is hard for Eva to provide an alibi.  Brie starts to investigate, hoping to clear her aunt.  When another dead body turns up, however, Brie finds herself getting more scrutiny as well.  Are these two murders, decades apart, related?  If so, can Brie figure out what is really going on?

It was the characters that really drew me into this book.  Brie may be a vegan, but no one else around her is.  She takes some ribbing about that (pun always intended), but she takes it in good humor and dishes it back as well.  Brie’s parents, Eva, a childhood friend, and two potential love interests complete the main cast, and I really liked all of them.  Yes, this book sets up a love triangle.  I hope it gets resolved sooner rather than later (I am getting tired of them), but I like both of these guys, so that’s a plus.

The mystery starts strongly, with the bones turning up within the first few pages.  And there is lots going on.  Every few pages, something happens that complicates Brie’s life, which made it hard to put the book down.  However, this is a book that confuses events for investigations.  I got a bit tired of not feeling like we were getting anywhere in the investigation despite all the events happening.  Still, the climax resolves everything without feeling rushed.  In fact, the suspense of the climax was wonderfully handled.

I hinted at this earlier, but the book does have some great humor in it.  The characters love each other, and that comes out as they tease each other.  Brie has taken to using some pretty funny meat and cheese curses, as well.  Those were definitely a highlight.

This book does boarder the PG/PG-13 divide, especially with some of the teasing that Brie gets about her love life.  Keep that in mind if you think it might bother you before you pick up the book.

I’m definitely curious what Brie uncovers next.  I’m looking forward to revisiting her, her family, and her friends.  If you enjoy humor in your mysteries, you’ll be glad you picked Bones to Pick.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Movie Review: Riddle Me Dead - A Crossword Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery, characters
Cons: Usual light dose of cheese
The Bottom Line:
A quiz show murder
Sets up this light mystery
A charming movie

“He’s So…”  “Phony.”  “I Was Going to Say Full of Himself, But That Works, Too.”

I’ve been watching more game shows than usual this past year.  They’ve been one of the few things that have been produced during the pandemic.  That made the setting for Riddle Me Dead, the latest Crossword Puzzle Mystery from Hallmark, even more fun for me.

Tess Harper (Lacey Chabert) has been asked to provide the video clues for a category on the popular game show Riddle Me This for an upcoming episode.  She is thrilled to do it, especially since her aunt Candace (Barbara Niven) is a huge fan of the show, and they’ll both get to go to a taping.  It’s all be arranged by Tess’s ex, Hunter (Jon Cor), a writer on the show.

Things take a deadly turn, however, when the extremely popular host of the show, Aiden (Lane Edwards), is found dead on stage after the taping.  Detective Logan O’Connor (Brennan Elliott) on the case, and Tess can’t help but poke around.  With Hunter back in her life, what will that mean for Tess’s love life?  Or will Logan arrest him for murder?

Aiden proves to be the perfect murder victim since there are plenty of people with motive.  The investigation hits a few dead ends before Tess and Logan figure it out.  I had a suspicion where the case was going to wind up, but the how kept me guessing.  And that didn’t mean I knew who was ultimately responsible for the crimes either until Tess and Logan figured it out.

While Tess, Candace, and Logan are the main trio in this franchise, there are some other supporting characters that I enjoyed catching up with again here.  All the main characters are fun, and I enjoyed watching their various relationships growing.  Meanwhile, the suspects do their job of acting suspiciously perfectly.

You know what comes next – the Hallmark cheese factor.  Yes, it is a fairly light dose (or I’m keeping more immune to it all the time), but it is here.

Riddle Me Dead provides another light mystery.  If you are looking to be entertained for an hour and a half, you’ll enjoy this film.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Book Review: Cozy Up to Murder by Colin Conway (Cozy Up #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Owen, good plot, fun
Cons: Stretched credibility quite a bit
The Bottom Line:
Character on run
Once again caught in murder
Entertaining; flawed

Murder is Not Music to Owen’s Ears

Last year, I read the first book in the Cozy Up series.  While I found parts of it hard to swallow, I was intrigued enough that I knew I wanted to find out what happened next to the main character, so I picked up Cozy Up to Murder.  I had much the same response I did to the first book.

Our hero is a man in hiding.  It started out that the Feds were just hiding him from his old motorcycle gang after he testified against them in exchange for a reduced sentence.  But now he needs to hide out from the east coast mob as well.  So he’s been given a new name, Owen Hunter, and set up as the owner of a used music store in the coastal California town of Costa Buena.

Owen is determined to make good on his second second chance, but he quickly begins running afoul of the locals.  After run ins with several of his new neighbors, the owner of the rival music store turns up dead.  The local detective thinks that Owen makes a wonderful suspect, but Owen can’t let that happen for fear that his true identity will get out.  Can he solve the murder and keep his identity secret?

This is a cozy with an edge.  It’s not quite as edgy as the first book in the series, but this is still not a typical cozy.

Part of that is the lack of recurring characters.  While Owen (under a different name) was in the previous book, the majority of the cast here weren’t.  A couple of agents also reappear, but they are minor supporting players.  I miss some of the characters we got to know in that first book.  Owen does, too, which makes me feel a little better.

Owen himself is a draw to this series.  He’s a well-developed character who is trying to change his ways despite the circumstances he constantly finds himself in.  I really like him.

The citizens of Costa Buena are quite colorful.  One minute they are amusing, the next they are causing us to wonder just what they might be hiding.  In other words, they make wonderful suspects in the mystery.

And there is much in the mystery to keep us guessing.  I wasn’t sure how everything would be resolved until I reached the end.  The climax was a bit rushed, but it worked and wrapped up the story nicely while also setting up the next installment in the series.

Like with the first, I found parts of the book to be unrealistic.  Owen’s involvement in the witness protection program, for starters, feels more fictional than reality.  While the citizens were colorful, at times they felt a bit like cliches.  Maybe I’m more sensitive to that because I live in California, and I saw some stereotypical characteristics in them.  It’s a book where I have to turn off some of my logic to enjoy.

And yet I do.  It really helps that I like Owen and want him to find a way to succeed in his new life despite the obstacles he finds himself facing.

This was a very fast read.  I read it easily in two days when most books take me three days to read.

Despite the flaws, I did enjoy Cozy Up to Murder.  I know this book isn’t for everyone, but I’m glad I picked it up.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Ornament Review: Dumbo Takes Flight - 2021

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute pose of a great moment
Cons: Does tip slightly to the left
The Bottom Line:
Time for Dumbo’s flight
Captures the moment before
In cute ornament

Dumbo is Ready to Plunge Down Your Tree

I love Dumbo, so it is no surprise that I have several ornaments of him.  I was going to skip 2020’s Hallmark release, Dumbo Takes Flight, but somehow he landed in my basket.  I’m glad he did.

This is Dumbo as he is at the climax.  His face and trunk are all clowned up.  He’s wearing his orange hat and has a yellow bow tie on.  He’s standing on the platform the clowns put him on to jump out of the fiery building, although we don’t see the building.  How do I know it is the climax?  Dumbo has his lucky feather in his trunk.

It’s a cute ornament.  How can it miss, since Dumbo himself is so cute.  He looks so happy and sure of himself, too.  The only comment I have on the looks is that Dumbo is leaning down like he’s about to jump.  As a result, if you put him low on your tree, you won’t really see his face.  But, since he’s about to jump from a tall building, higher on your tree is better anyway, right?

Speaking of your tree, when you go to hang the ornament, you’ll find that Dumbo tips slightly to the left.  I’m a bit surprised by that since I would have guessed that the ornament was balances, but you can easily disguise it with some branches on your tree.  I don’t remember noticing this in December when the ornament was on my tree.

Dumbo’s platform means the ornament has a nice flat base, so you can set this ornament out to enjoy year-round if you want.

As I said, there are lots of Dumbo ornaments, so I’m not the only one who loves this character.  I don’t remember seeing this moment from the movie as an ornament before, so that makes me glad I added Dumbo Takes Flight to my ornament collection.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Podcast Review: Murder Book Season 2 - The Women Who Stopped Sam Little

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good look at the work that went into stopping a brutal serial killer.
Cons: Details are horrific (when shared), some recordings hard to hear
The Bottom Line:
Stopping a killer
Makes sometimes brutal podcast
Still worth listening

Bringing a Serial Killer to Justice

When true crime podcast Murder Book started releasing season two this last fall, I kept saving the episodes for some time when I’d be driving.  Not sure why, since I was listening to a couple other podcasts around the condo.  Anyway, I just now decided it was time to listen to the season in its entirety.  While it was good, I think it might have been a little too intense to listen to all at once.

Season two focuses on the case of Sam Little, a man the FBI has named the most prolific serial killer in America’s history.  He has confessed to just under 100 kills in a decades long crime spree that spanned the country.  I hadn’t heard about him until this season of the podcast was released, but apparently, he is becoming the focus of many documentaries and specials.

However, this podcast comes at things from a different perspective.  The host, best-selling author Michael Connelly, labeled this season “The Women who Stopped Sam Little.”  It focuses on LAPD Mitzi Roberts, who started the investigation in 2012 with a DNA match on two cold cases from the 1980’s.  She then tracked Sam across the country, attempting to build a case that DA Beth Silverman could use to convict him.  Late in the season, we meet writer Jillian Lauren who becomes part of the investigation thanks to interviews with Sam Little as she attempts to match his confessions to actual unsolved cases in LA and across the country.

Because of the brutal way Sam killed his victims, mostly prostitutes and drug addicts, this season is often hard to listen to.  I binged it in about a week, and that definitely made it hard.  At times, I had to get away.

One reason why this season is so frustrating is that it does talk about how Sam slipped through the justice system many times over the years.  Although, honestly, I’m not sure how things could have gone differently.  Much is made of how juries and the system viewed the victims, but there were other things going on that made the prosecution’s cases very hard to win.  Still, knowing how close he came to justice in the past and how that might have saved lives is frustrating.

Like with the first season, the show tries to use recordings of interviews as much as possible.  And, like the first season, those are of mixed quality, especially if the person being interviewed was mumbling.  Fortunately, Michael Connelly does help us at times with what we were supposed to hear.

One thing I did appreciate was that the podcast took an even look at law enforcement.  Without making excuses, it does explain some of the reasons, good and bad, that Sam Little was able to evade law enforcement for so long.  And it does an excellent job of giving praise where it is due to the women (and men) who finally brought the killer to justice.

There are a total of twelve episodes to this season, including a two-part Q&A with the women I mentioned above.  Each episode is somewhere in the 40-minute range, some going a little longer and some a little shorter.

While not always easy to listen to, “The Women Who Stopped Sam Little” does a good job of focusing on the victims and the work that went into finally stopping this serial killer.  It doesn’t glorify him or what he did in the slightest.  Be in the right frame of mind when you sit down to listen, and you’ll enjoy.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

April 10th's Weekly TV Thoughts

The Equalizer – Didn’t especially care for that one.  I am surprised it was a progressive candidate who was employing the predator.  I would have expected it to be a conservative candidate.  But other than that, it felt like a cliché.  I think I actually enjoyed the sub-plot with the daughter more in this one.

Ellen’s Game of Games – So close.  The winner was just one question away.  But once she missed the final question, I knew she wouldn’t make it back up to the top.  Just not enough time.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – I’m discovering I don’t have much patience for love triangles these days.  That’s making me frustrated with this show.  It looks like we resolved it early in this season only to completely flip flop now.  Seriously?  I knew where the song the band did at the party was going to go as soon as they started singing.  Awkward!  I hope her brother finds something good now that the band has fallen through.

The Flash – Oh THAT Nora.  For some reason, I was thinking the speed force was supposed to be Barry and Iris’s daughter, not Barry’s mother.  I’d forgotten that was her name, too.  Now it makes more sense.  Normally, I’m not a fan of the talking the villain into giving up their plans resolution, but in this case, it worked.  I loved seeing Chester connect with his dad, even if it was predictable.  But seriously, what was up with those outfits?  They were early 90’s, not late 90’s fashion.

Supergirl – I get it – this is a TV show.  But I was laughing so hard at that trial.  It took place in a day?  And it was so unconventionally handled?  I’m not talking about the jury (which is obviously a nod to pandemic times/needing to keep the extras away from each other), but the entire way it was handled.  I would have been surprised if they got Kara back from the Phantom Zone in one episode.  Intrigued by finding her father there.  Didn’t remember what was supposed to have happened to him.  Oh, and the phantoms?  Definitely creepy.

United States of Al – I really do want to like this show.  And it has the potential to be so much fun.  But I’m just not there yet.  Part of it is because Al makes me cringe.  You just know he is going to keep sticking his foot in it.  That flashback scene at the end was great.  I would love to see the alternative show where the two couples were living across the street.  That would be a fun sitcom.  Which, I know, is so many classic sitcoms back in the day.

Wipeout – Talk about a close finish at the end!  I was glad to see the legacies win.  I liked them, and they had a story worth rooting for, so I was rooting for them all along.  My hat is off to the woman who was out there doing it afraid of heights.  She made it much further than I would have, that’s for sure.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – I feel like I’m the only one, but I still find this too long and drawn out.  Or maybe it’s because I just don’t care enough about the characters.  Are they trying to do too much?  I don’t know.  I’ll finish it out, but it’s not connect with me.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Disney Pin Review: National Unicorn Day - Celebrate Today #4 - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Rare character to celebrate today
Cons: Doesn’t connect with me quite as much
The Bottom Line:
It’s a fantasy
As unicorns get their day
Minor character

Today, We Celebrate Fantasy

If you’ve never looked at some of the lists of national holidays, you might be surprised that there is a day for just about everything.  I’ve been looking at the lists off and on for years, and still I’m surprised at some of the ones that pop up.  For example, April’s entry in the Celebrate Today pin series from Disney is National Unicorn Day.

National Unicorn Day?  Yes, it is a thing, and it is celebrated April 9th every year.  As the official description says “Why? Because if we don’t take time out to celebrate a beautiful, horned, rainbow–printed mythical creature then we’re most definitely missing a trick. The unicorn is a symbol of happiness, fantasy, and wonder. It’s an icon of color, of childlike splendor and magic.”  It’s kind of hard to argue with that, isn’t it?

Disney obviously agreed since they picked this day to highlight for April in this limited edition pin series.  The character they picked is Rainbow Unicorn.  I must admit, I had to really search my brain for this one.  Must mean it is time to rewatch Inside Out.  Yes, Rainbow Unicorn is a minor character from that movie.

The pin features Rainbow Unicorn looking out at us.  While she is mostly white, we can see her colorful mane.  Behind her is a pink heart.  National Unicorn Day is written down at the bottom with a cloud around it, and Unicorn is written in a rainbow of colors.  In the bottom right-hand side is the date, Apr 9, in a brass pin on pin.

It’s nice that they picked a minor character to highlight with this pin series.  Inside Out fans who are trying to get more of the characters from that pin will definitely want to track it down.  As will unicorn fans.  While I might not appreciate them as much as some, I do like this pin for what it is.

This might not be one of my favorite days to celebrate, but I’m still glad Disney chose to celebrate a minor character and National Unicorn Day.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Book Review: The Tell-Tale Tarte by Maya Corrigan (Five-Ingredient Mysteries #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters, mystery, Poe tidbits
Cons: Ending could have been stronger
The Bottom Line:
Poe centric story
Modern writer at center
A fun mystery

Impersonating Danger

I feel like I should know more about Edgar Allan Poe, maybe read a few more of his books and stories.  After all, many people credit him with creating the modern detective story.  Imagine how much great reading I’d be missing out on if it weren’t for him.

All that is just a way of introducing The Tell-Tale Tarte, the fourth Five-Ingredient Mystery from Maya Corrigan.  It is a loving tribute to the master writer, and I enjoyed it.

A new year has started, and Val Deniston’s grandfather appears to be making some changes in his life.  He’s updated his look, including a new haircut and new outfit.  He claims it is for a new job he’s landed for his investigations business.  Then Val is on the scene when a man dies at a nearby shopping center – a man who looks just like Grandfather does now thanks to his new look.

The case soon points to Rick Usher, a local author who has made a career writing tales inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.  Is Grandfather the next target of the killer?  How does Rick play into the mystery?

There’s plenty of intrigue here, and I appreciated how Poe lore played into the case.  I learned plenty about the author as Val tried to solve the case and protect her grandfather.  A sub-plot involving the café she manages also helped keep things going.  I did feel like the ending wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but it did wrap things up satisfactorily.

The characters in this series are good.  Val and her grandfather are continuing to grow as characters, which I always enjoy.  Some other relationships are growing as well, and I’m anxious to see where those relationships go next.  There are some intriguing possibilities set up here.  The suspects get the most page time, and they come to life as a result.  I really liked them, which made figuring out the killer that much harder.

Of course, we do get some five-ingredient recipes at the end of the book.  This time around, we get six of them.  They range from a bean dip (with fewer than five ingredients, actually) to Cornish hens and two different types of tarts.

Whether you are a fan of Poe or not, The Tell-Tale Tarte will keep you guessing until you reach the end.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Five-Ingredient Mysteries.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Christmas #9 - Mailing a Letter to Santa - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene inside a Santa’s hat frame
Cons: The bird is odd; slight tilt
The Bottom Line:
Mailing a letter
Creates a cut cutter scene
Inside a hat frame

What Do Mice Ask Santa For?

Cookie Cutter Christmas remains one of my favorite Hallmark ornament series.  (I know I say that quite a bit, but I really mean it.)  The scenes are so cute, and the cookie cutter frames are perfect for the scenes inside.  2020’s addition to the series was no exception.

The cookie cutter this year is a Santa hat.  Now, I’ll admit, it took a discussion with other fans of the series for me to see it.  But as soon as someone said it, I couldn’t believe I missed it.  I probably didn’t get it because it’s not a cookie cutter shape I normally think about or see.

And it goes perfectly with the scene inside.  Our mouse friend who is the star of the series is mailing his letter to Santa for the year.  I’m sure there is lots of cheese on his list, but I wonder what else he is asking for?  Anyway, he’s about to put a green envelop in the red mailbox.  He’s got another envelope, red, in his other hand.  He’s bundled up for the weather.  There’s a bush sitting next to the mailbox, and there’s a bird sitting on top of the mailbox.  In the background, you can see some trees with snow on them.  You can even see his footprints in the snow in the foreground of the scene.

I need to talk about that bird for a moment.  I know that sometimes, the scene inside the cookie cutter includes things made out of candy, which is a fun touch I love.  In this case, that bird is thin and looks like a cookie of a bird stuck in the snow on top of the mailbox.  The result is…weird.  I just don’t get what they were going for, especially since there aren’t other candy or sweets inspired items in the scene.  Okay, so the bush is obviously some candy, but it’s small and it fits in.  But the bird?  They would have been better off leaving it out or making it a more realistic looking bird.

That issue aside, I do like this ornament.  It’s a cute scene, and the choice of the Santa hat frame is perfect for the scene inside.

The ornament has a flat base, which is nice if you want to set it out to display.

The 9 in a Christmas tree series symbol is located on the back along with the handle.  This is a cookie cutter, after all.  I love that they include those types of details.

The ornament does tip slightly to the left front, but it isn’t a bad tilt.  You can easily hide it with the branches of your Christmas tree if you so desire.

Cute has always defined the Cookie Cutter Christmas series, and this ornament is no exception.  It’s a fun addition to my trees.

Check out the rest of the Cookie Cutter Christmas series.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Book Review: Grand Theft Retro by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Story, characters, fun
Cons: Cons are so outdated
The Bottom Line:
Missing retro clothes
Start Samantha’s latest case
A wild and fun ride

When Retro Fashions Become Criminally Hot

I’m woefully behind on Diane Vallere’s Samantha Kidd mysteries, but I’m enjoying catching up on them.  They seem to be getting stronger as they go along, and Grand Theft Retro, the fifth, is no exception.

Samantha Kidd has finally landed a new, full time job.  For the last few months, she’s been working at Retrofit Magazine, an online only fashion magazine devoted to incorporating the styles of the past into modern fashion.  The publication is a perfect fit for her, and she is enjoying the work, not to mention the steady paycheck and benefits.

Samantha’s boss has an idea on expanding their brand to print publications, with each edition covering a different decade.  Up first will be an issue devoted to the 1970’s, and there’s a nearby collection that will be perfect for them.  However, after Samantha sees it, the collection is stolen.  Then she receives threats aimed at her and her friends.  Trying to work on her own to protect those she loves, Samantha has to figure out what is really happening.  Can she do it?

I love it when a mystery keeps going in all kinds of unexpected directions, and that’s exactly what we got here.  There were so many twists that I was always a little off balance, but in the best way possible.  I never wanted to put the book down, and I loved the climax, which tied everything up perfectly.

Meanwhile, the characters are strong.  Samantha spends a lot of time by herself in this book, but she is more than capable of carrying the action.  Now that isn’t to say we don’t see some of the regulars (although not all).  I enjoyed their appearances and the growth in Samantha’s relationships with them.  And the new characters?  They are wacky enough to fit into Samantha’s world perfectly.

Yes, I did say wacky.  This may be a page turning mystery, but it has a great sense of humor.  I laughed multiple times at Samantha’s adventures and misadventures.

As I always say when I review this series, I’m not into fashion.  I’d read some of the author’s other books, so that made me want to try this one.  I’m glad I did because the fashion is only the setting for the great mystery.  It never overshadows, and I’m never lost due to not knowing fashion.  Heck, at times, I’m laughing at how seriously Samantha takes fashion.

Grand Theft Retro is another delightful mystery.  Pick up the book and hold on tight for all the twists and turns to come.

Enjoy the rest of the Samantha Kidd Mysteries.

Monday, April 5, 2021

TV Show Review: Star Trek Discovery - Season 1

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters (eventually), effects, makeup, acting
Cons: Very slow storytelling makes it hard to get into the show
The Bottom Line:
Something new for Trek
Takes a while to get into
So it’s average

Uneven but Interesting

Since I’ve watched Star Trek shows off and on over the years, I paid attention when Star Trek: Discovery premiered a few years back.  But since I wasn’t interested in any streaming services at the time, I didn’t watch it until CBS put the first season on the air in the fall of 2020.  I can certainly understand the mixed reactions the show has received.

The show centers around Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green).  Michael is a young Star Fleet officer who was raised by a Vulcan, so, while being human, she is very Vulcan in her approach to life.  After a disaster of her own making, she finds herself sentenced to prison for life only to get a second chance on board the Discovery, a ship with new technology.  She is serving under Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) and alongside Saru (Doug Jones), an old shipmate who is decidedly not happy to see her again.

However, things are not going well for Star Fleet.  The Klingons are on the war path, and they are winning battles.  The technology on the Discovery might be the only hope of beating them.  Will the ship turn the tide of the war?

I’m just giving a very brief teaser here, and am leaving out several of the main characters.  The show is actually very different from a traditional Star Trek show in that we don’t meet all the main characters immediately.  I really felt like it was three episodes in before we were done with the set up of the show, in fact.  Even then, we were meeting key characters in later episodes.

Unfortunately, that does make the show rather slow.  And that’s the charge I remember hearing most about it from when it was first released.

I think the biggest problem is that the decision was made to focus on character over plot.  Don’t get me wrong, I love characters, and I love seeing them being developed.  But I also need something to be happening to fully be drawn into the show.

Yes, there are some twists to the show, most coming late in the season.  I certainly enjoyed those.  Meanwhile, there are action and fight scenes, but they don’t seem to lead anywhere, at least for a while.  I guess it’s a case of the payoff coming too late to keep me fully engaged.

This was a show that I watched every week, but I wasn’t anxious to find out what happened next, and it would often take me half an episode to be fully back in the world of the show.

I think another part of that is because Michael, our entry into the series, shows so little emotion for so long.  I need to feel something for the main character, and since she doesn’t show emotion, it’s hard to bond with her.  Spock is an iconic character, but he was not Kirk, the lead; here they tried to recreate that with the main character.

The show looks amazing.  The visual effects are outstanding, as you’d expect.  The makeup is remarkable as well.  The Klingons look more alien than they ever have, which is pretty funny since this is set 10 years before the original Star Trek.  After the explanation they gave in Enterprise for why the Klingons makeup has changed, they’ve changed it again.  I’ve got to repeat myself – it really does look great.

Likewise, the acting is all fine.  My issues with character and acting decisions are not a complaint against the actors or the acting itself.

Would I continue Star Trek Discovery?  If I could do it without any effort on my part, probably.  But I’m not willing, at this point, to pay any money to continue beyond season 1.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Book Review: The Chosen One by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, great series climax
Cons: Pacing could be better early on
The Bottom Line:
Fort’s final battle
Slow start builds to great climax
With strong characters

The Final Battle Against the Old Ones

There were so many twists in the final pages of the fourth book in The Revenge of Magic series I couldn’t wait to pick up The Chosen One to see how James Riley was going to wrap everything up.

If you haven’t picked up this series, don’t start here.  Seriously.  Why would you want to, anyway, since it’s the final part of the series?  Plus, you’ll have all the twists of the series spoiled for you.  Heck, if I’d had the time, I would have reread at least the ending of book four so I could remember all the twists we got along the way.  As it was, it took me a little time to fit fully back into Fort’s world.

A quick crash course – the series centers around Fort Fitzgerald who is on hand in Washington DC when creatures come from below ground and attack it.  It’s only then that he learns that magic books have been found and he joins a school to try to learn magic himself in order to fight these monsters.

As this book opens, the final fight is coming.  Fort and his friends have one week until Damian has promised to return and unleash the Old Ones on the Earth.  Damian thinks he can defeat the Old Ones, but Fort believes that Damian will fail, unleashing the Old Ones on the Earth.  Fort thinks his only hope is to find a way to destroy magic once and for all.  But can he figure out how to do that in time?

While I do enjoy James Riley’s books, at times he can drag things out too long.  I felt like that was the case here.  While the back half of the book was good and provided the action and twists I was expecting, we could have gotten there faster instead of Fort debating about his decision.  Maybe I’m just an impatient adult, however.  I suspect that most kids won’t care and will devour this book from beginning to end.

One reason why they will be invested in the story is the characters.  Fort and his friends are fantastic, and I can’t help but root for them to successfully save us from the Old Ones.  Everyone we’ve met over the course of the series shows up again here – yes, even *spoiler*.  Some just have cameos, while others have enough page time for some real growth.  I loved seeing where everyone wound up.

The Chosen One brings another fantastic fantasy series to an end.  Fans who have been reading these books will not be disappointed.

Need the backstory?  Here are the Revenge of Magic books in order.

This entry is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

April 3rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

 New shows!  And I almost forgot about them, too.  If I hadn't seen my DVR was recording something, I wouldn't have watched them.  I was planning other things with my Thursday evening before that point.

Batwoman - What were they burying if they didn’t actually recover Kate’s body?  An empty box?  I thought Gotham City didn’t have any police – that’s why Jake Kane’s Crows were there – they were essentially the police.  Now we’ve got corrupt police we need to defund?  Yes, I’m sure those weren’t the questions I was supposed to be leaving the episode with, but they were the biggest ones on my mind.

The Equalizer – We come back to that – which is probably my least favorite episode of the series so far.  Then again, I have a hard time helping people who are constantly lying.  It was fairly straightforward for most of the episode.  I did think the twist at the end was pretty cool, although I did guess it not too long before the reveal.  And I suspect they will be playing up the lying to the family thing more in coming episodes.

Ellen’s Game of Games – Ellen is right, hanging around near the ceiling does look like fun.  Of course, to hang around the longest, you have to lose first, so I’m not sure I want to do that.  I was laughing at the winner since she was hitting the button but not saying anything.  I’m laughing because that would be me.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – Much better episode.  In fact, it reminded me why I love this show so much.  If I didn’t trust them, I would have worried as Zoey was obviously going to miss the meteors, but I could tell we had a happy ending coming.  Great songs along the way as well.

The Flash – That was a freaky episode.  The first scene with Cecile was the worst, but the rest of the scenes, even when I knew they were fake, were rather frightening.  So what is up with the Speed Force now?  I was hoping we were done with that drama.  (Or is it a grown-up Nora?  I didn’t follow that.)

Supergirl – Just like with The Flash’s premier several weeks ago, I really wish I had rewatched the last episode again.  It was the climax of so much that was going on, and I couldn’t really remember where everyone was.  Still, Lex had some good lines, and I am so happy that Lena and Kara are mending their friendship.  That would have been one fantastic cliffhanger if that was where they ended last season.  It’s an interesting cliffhanger for us for the next week as well.

United States of Al – There was lots of charm here, and I love the characters and the friendship between the leads.  But I can see this going two ways.  It can be fun, charming, and funny, or it can start really preaching at us.  And I can see it going either way from the pilot.  I’ll be back next week, but we will see where it goes from there.

Wipeout – Eliminated one of the rounds from the original show, but I think with the teams, that makes sense.  I felt like they really cut up the qualifiers.  We used to at least see one team go through there all the way, but not this time.  I’m just impressed with the team that came in second.  I kept counting them out, but they almost won.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – At least they didn’t have any blatant politics in this one.  Or maybe I just missed it since I kept zoning out.  I get that they are advancing the story, which has to be done, but I didn’t feel like much happened.  Or maybe it is because they focused on a storyline I haven’t been that invested in yet.  Hopefully, things will pick up over the next three weeks.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Ornament Review: Darth Vader Mini - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great miniature Vader
Cons: All cons banished to the dark side
The Bottom Line:
Mini Darth Vader
Turns into great ornament
This fan is happy

The Dark Side Has Shrunk

As Hallmark has slowly reinvigorated their miniature ornament line, they’ve started including more pop culture ornaments.  Since that is a lot of what I collect, I’ve been happy with that.  It’s why I got 2020’s Darth Vader miniature ornament.

If you are familiar with Star Wars, you’ll definitely recognize the ornament.  It is black, as is appropriate for the character.  His cape is behind him.  The electronics that are keeping him alive are clear on his chest.  His helmet is firmly on his face.  And he has his red light saber out in front of him.

Considering the ornament is only about an inch and a half tall (I mentioned this was a mini ornament, remember), the amount of detail is pretty impressive.  It would be easy for the ornament to look like a black blob, but any fan will recognize him in a heartbeat.  I love that about these mini ornaments.

Between his legs and his cape, this ornament actually does stand on its own, which is always hit or miss with the mini ornaments.  He’s pretty solid, too.  Because of his size, I would recommend you put him in a spot where he won’t get easily lost.

I also want to issue a warning about the lightsaber.  Yes, it’s plastic like the rest of the ornament, but I feel like it would be easily broken if he lands wrong or you aren’t careful packing him away.  Hopefully, I’m just being paranoid.

When you go to hang him on your tree, you’ll find he hangs mostly straight.  He does tip forward ever so slightly, but you have to be looking for it to notice.

This ornament paired wonderfully with the Luke Skywalker ornament also released in 2020.  I got and enjoyed both of them this past Christmas.

I’m not sure if we will get other Star Wars characters in mini again going forward (I think they’ve done the droids at a minimum in the past), but I’m happy with Darth Vader.  I like having eclectic ornaments on my trees, so it makes me happy seeing my miniature trees going that direction as well.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

March 2021's Reading Summary

This is not an April Fool's joke.  I really am posting my reading summary for March today.  And yes, this does mean we are already a quarter of the way into 2021.

And would you believe for the third month in a row that the index is updated?  Yeah, I'm kind of surprised myself.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).  Links take you to my full reviews.


Murder in Chelsea by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #15) – 5

Sarah Brandt is devastated to learn someone is trying to locate Catherine, the little girl she’s taken in.  When Sarah goes to meet this woman, her story seems genuine, but it could mean that Catherine is in danger, so Sarah asks Frank Malloy to help her figure out what is truly going on.  However, Frank goes to meet the woman who is asking after Catherine only to find her dead.  Is Catherine in danger, too?

The mystery of Catherine’s past has been brewing for several books now, and I was thrilled to see it finally fully explored.  While you could jump in here, you’ll enjoy it more if you are already familiar with the characters.  That includes some humor coming from how the regular characters interact with each other – I am loving how these relationships are developing.  The plot is compelling and drew me in.  These books always transport me to the world of New York City in the 1890’s, and I love visiting.  I did have to question the series’ timeline as I read this book since it suddenly seemed to be compressed, but maybe that’s just me.  I’m also very happy with some of the events that happened in the main character’s lives in this book.  The series gets better with each book, and I can’t wait to get to the next entry in the series.


No Way Home by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers #5) – 4

A rare warm Sunday in November sends Zoe to the stable for a trail ride through her area of Pennsylvania.  However, that trail ride ends early with the discovery of County Commissioner Dale Springfield’s body.  It appears he fell off his horse in a tragic accident, but Zoe doesn’t think that explanation quite makes sense.

However, her hopes of being involved in the investigation get sidelined when her best friend, Rose, demands Zoe’s help.  Rose’s son has disappeared in the New Mexico desert, and the police think he is a person of interest in a murder.  So Zoe joins Rose in New Mexico.  Can she help find Logan and figure out what really happened?

Since this series really has two main characters, Zoe and police chief Pete Adams, we are able to follow the progress on both cases even though Zoe is a thousand miles from home.  However, that makes the beginning of the book slow since, just as one story is picking up the pace, we have to slow down for the other to be set up.  My patience was rewarded with a satisfying resolution and several tense scenes.  The divided focus keep some of the supporting players a bit thinner than they might otherwise be, although Zoe and Pete are still as sharp as ever.  Since Zoe is a paramedic and deputy coroner, this series is a bit darker than my usual choices.  As long as you expect a more traditional mystery when you pick it up, you’ll be fine.  This is not the book to jump into the series with, but fans will certainly be glad they read it.


Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss – 5

This book contains four stories that Dr. Seuss had published in magazines early in his career but were never released in book form.  One features Horton, while two others take us to Mulberry Street.  The final, which is just two pages, features a very slick salesman.

I was leery of this book since it was released after Dr. Seuss’s death, but I found I enjoyed all four stories.  By themselves, they are short, but together, they are quite fun.  It certainly helps that these were polished and released by Dr. Seuss himself instead of cobbled together from abandoned notes after his death.  The illustrations and rhyme are classic Seuss.  Kids and their parents will be glad they gave this collection a chance.


Phantom Outlaw at Wolf Creek by Sigmund Brouwer (Accidental Detectives #15) – 5

Ricky Kidd is on a month long vacation with his friends Mike and Ralphy at Mike’s uncle and aunt’s ranch in Montana.  When he arrives, he hears the legend of a bank robbery that happened decades ago and the phantom of the outlaw that still haunts the nearby canyon.  Or is it a legend?  Mike and his visiting cousin, Sarah, insist on investigating, and Ricky sees evidence with his own eyes that the legend might be true.  Can Ricky uncover the truth of what is going on?

This is another wonderful book in a favorite middle grade mystery series.  The characters are sharp and provide some wonderful laughs.  Sometimes their antics slow down the mystery in the first half of the book, but parts of the plot are being worked in to the fun, and the second half pays off the questions wonderfully.  The suspense at the end is great, and the way Ricky works everything out is perfect.  These books were written for the Christian market, and they work Ricky’s faith in organically without ever once preaching.  The books are a bit dated now since they were originally released in the 1990’s, but as long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.  It might take a bit to track down this mystery, but it is worth it.


Murder in Greenwich Village by Liz Freeland (Louise Faulk #1) – 4

In the summer of 1913, Louise Faulk is enjoying her new life in New York City until one evening when she and her roommate, Callie, return to their apartment to find Callie’s cousin, Ethel, dead.  Ethel had been staying with them for several weeks, but was from out of town and hardly knew anyone.  The police focus on someone that Louise knows would never commit murder, so she starts to investigate.  But who could have motive to kill Ethel?

The book starts off quickly, but I did feel the pacing was a bit uneven as the story unfolded.  There was one thing that I wasn’t satisfied with at the end of the book as well, but only because I disagreed with Louise’s conclusion.  Overall, the plot is interesting and held my interest all the way until we reached the logical climax.  Louise is a wonderful main character, and I’m very interested to see where the series takes her next.  The suspects are strong, and the rest of the cast is interesting.  The book was a little darker than I was expecting, more a traditional than the cozies I normally read.  As long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.  I will definitely be visiting Louise again.  I’m anxious to find out what happens to her next.


On the Lamb by Tina Kashian (Kebab Kitchen Mysteries #4) – 4

Spring is in the air in Ocean Crest, New Jersey, and with it, changes.  Lucy Berberian has gotten her own place, and it’s near the beach and her family’s Mediterranean restaurant, which she manages.  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.  A rare Saturday night to enjoy a bonfire on the beach ends when Lucy and her friends find 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 she clear her friend?

It had been a while since I read the previous book in the series, but it wasn’t long before I was caught up with Lucy and the rest of the cast again.  I was happy to see relationships and characters continuing to grow.  The mystery is good, with several viable suspects and plenty of secrets for Lucy to uncover.  The climax was logical and suspenseful.  I did have some problems with logic in other places, like character’s ages.  I can make it work, but it would have been nice having things like that actually spelled out for us.  I would love to visit Ocean Crest if it were real.  Even at the down time of Spring, when this book is set, it sounds like a fun town.  We get another three delicious sounding recipes at the end of the book.  If you’ve enjoyed the previous entries in the series, you’ll be happy you to catch up with Lucy and the gang again here.


Every Day Above Ground by Glen Erik Hamilton (Van Shaw #3) – 5

Former army ranger Van Shaw is in desperate need of money, so when one of his late grandfather’s former associates, Mickey, comes with a story of long forgotten gold, it is too much for Van to resist.  Teaming up with Mickey, Van goes to the abandoned office where the gold is only to find they’ve walked into a trap.  Mickey is captured by persons unknown and Van barely escapes.  In order to get Mickey back, Van will have to figure out who laid the trap and what they want.  Can he do it?

This is very different from my normal cozy reads, both in the inclusion of language and violence, but also because Van is really an anti-hero.  This is the most he’s slipped into that role, however, and knowing him from the previous two books helped me still root for him.  It really helps that I do like him and the other regular characters and I want to see them succeed.  While a few of the events of the book are expected, there were still some twists I wasn’t expecting along the way, and I loved the creativity of some of the locations Van used over the course of the book in his attempts to defeat the villains and come out on top.  This is a fun, fasted paced thriller that will keep you turning pages.


Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz (Orphan X #6) – 4

In the few weeks since Evan Smoak retired, he’s found that adjusting to normal life is more of a struggle than he anticipated, especially since he has nothing to fill his time.  The phone calls from Veronica, the woman claiming to be his mother, aren’t helping.  He finally decides to meet her, and she asks for his help protecting Andrew Duran from the people trying to kill him.  Evan begins tracking down Andrew just to see what his situation is.  Will he help Andrew?  What might having Veronica in his life mean for him?

If you are new to these books, I don’t recommend you start here.  Yes, the background you need is given as events unfold, but to fully appreciate the growth in Evan and his relationships with others, you need the full background the earlier books give you.  As a fan, I loved those growth moments in this book.  Unfortunately, they did come at the expense of the pacing.  Normally, author Gregg Hurwitz is a master at keeping the thrills going while developing the characters for us.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some great action scenes, and the book always held my interest.  It’s just not quite on par with his others.  The scenes spent giving us technical information didn’t help with the pacing.  Having said that, it’s going to be a long wait until the next book comes out so I can find out what happens next.  Being a thriller, this does have more language and violence than my normal selections, so be prepared before you pick it up.  Fans will definitely enjoy this book, and if you haven’t started the series yet, I recommend you do so today.


Wild Horses by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun #9) – 5

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?

I’ll admit that Joe’s wedding as a ticking clock was a bit unrealistic, but it did provide some great scenes, so I’m willing to overlook it.  While there are several storylines, the focus was still mostly in Phoenix, so this book didn’t feel as scattered as some in the series have.  I loved how the cases wove around each other and how they tied together thematically.  The main characters are fun as always, and the suspects fit wonderfully into the story.  I must be softening to Joe’s fiancée since I actually enjoyed the parts related to the wedding.  The series originated in the 1990’s, and the author has kept that time frame for these new cases, which provides some interesting comparisons for the reader on how much life has changed.  There’s one more in the series, and I hope to get to it soon.


Charlie Thorne and the Lost City by Stuart Gibbs (Charlie Thorne #2) – 4

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?

When I realized that Charles Darwin was going to be the featured scientist in this book, I was worried.  As expected, there are some jabs taken at people like me, Christians who believe in microevolution (which Darwin clearly observed) but not the theory of macroevolution.  I realize that will only be an issue for some readers.  The rest will be thrilled with the action, danger, and twists that Charlie finds herself caught up in once again.  I do struggle a bit with Charlie’s characters since she comes across as too perfect, but there are others in the book who are more realistic.  I appreciated the rising tension we got while traveling through the Amazon as well as the humor that helped lighten the mood at times.  There are some great seeds planted, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they pay off in future books.  Fans of Stuart Gibbs will certainly enjoy this book.


Murder by Page One by Olivia Matthews (Peach Coast Library Mysteries #1) – 4

Marvey Harris has recently relocated to Peach Coast, Georgia, to take a job in the local library.  Among her new friends is Jo Gomez.  Jo owns the local bookstore, and this Saturday, Marvey is at the store to support Jo, who is hosting a book signing for the local authors group.  When one of the authors fails to return from the storeroom, Jo and Marvey find her dead body on the floor.  With the police looking at Jo, Marvey steps in to figure out what really happened.  Can she find the killer?

This may be the first in the series, but I already feel right at home.  Peach Coast sounds like a great town, and I love Marvey, Jo, and Spence, the third member of their trio.  We never meet the victim alive, but I liked how well we got to know her as the story progressed.  The rest of the cast could be a little better defined, but I’m sure that will come as the series progresses and they get more page time.  The story starts quickly, but the pacing does slow a little in the middle.  Still, the climax is logical and suspenseful.  There’s a recipe for peach cobbler at the end.  While not a culinary cozy, you’ll definitely be craving it by the time the book is over.  I’m looking forward to returning to Peach Coast soon.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Word to the Wise by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover’s Mystery #10) – 5

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?

This book is definitely a cozy with a thriller edge to it.  It worked for this fan, and kept me glued to the book until I reached the very end.  I did have a problem with how a couple of minor characters reacted to Lindsey’s situation, mainly because I found it unbelievable given their position.  Then again, maybe it’s just wishful thinking that they’d react like I would in that situation.  I did feel things were slowing down a tad at one point, but then the plot kicked into high gear and didn’t slow down again.  All the series characters are here and are just as charming as usual.  The new characters fit in well.  We have the usual assortment of extras at the end of the book.  This may be a more serious book, but we get some humor, and the two were balanced perfectly.  Once again, this is a book that fans will enjoy.


Death at the Salon by Louise R. Innes (Daisy Thorne #2) – 5

Daisy Thorne is closing up her hair salon in the small British village of Edgemead one Saturday 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?

I enjoyed the first book in this series, so I was looking forward to revisiting the characters.  I’m happy to say I found this one just as engaging.  Because the action focuses on the salon this time, we get to know her employees better, and I really enjoyed that.  The rest of the cast is back, and the suspects are strong.  I also appreciated the fact that it is obvious the characters’ lives were progressing between books, a fun change from most series I read.  I’m not sure if it was just me, but I did feel like the pacing was a little slow early on, but once the plot really got going, there were more than enough twists and surprises to make up for that.  The climax was wonderful and kept those twists coming.  If you enjoy a cozy set in England, you need to check out this series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Murder at Wedgefield Manor by Erica Ruth Neubauer (Jane Wunderly #2) – 5

Jane Wunderly and her aunt Millie are spending some time at Wedgefield Manor as the guest of Lord Hughes on their way home to America.  Jane is enjoying the quiet after their trip to Egypt, but she’s especially enjoying learning to fly.  However, things get complicated quickly when the estate’s mechanic, Simon, dies in a motorcar accident.  It is quickly ruled a murder, and Millie asks Jane to investigate.  It seems everyone she talks to is hiding a secret.  But who is the killer?

I enjoyed the first visit to 1926 with Jane, so it was a pleasure to meet up with her again.  Jane is a strong lead, and I was impressed with how many of the characters from the first book were logically included here.  All the characters are fun with great growth.  The many secrets kept the plot moving and did a perfect job of keeping me confused until we got near the end.  I did feel that the characters had some modern attitudes to some situations that came up, but it was a minor issue for me.  If you haven’t read the first book, some of the character’s backstories are spoiled here, so if you care about that, you’ll want to read the books in order.  I enjoyed my second visit with Jane, and I’m curious to see where she will wind up next.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.