Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Book Review: May Day by Jess Lourey (Mira James #1)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Decent mystery
Cons: Weak characters, humor doesn’t work
The Bottom Line:
Dead boyfriend’s body
Lying in the library
Wanted to like it

Wasn’t What I Was Expecting

I’ve heard about Jess Lourey’s Mira James Mysteries for years.  And they’ve been on my radar as something I thought I’d enjoy just as long.  I don’t even know how long ago I bought May Day, and I have several other entries in the series in ebook.  So, it was with anticipation that I sat down to read this book.  You can understand why I am disappointed I didn’t enjoy it more.

Mira’s life in Minneapolis is falling apart, so when a chance comes up to be an assistant librarian and part time reporter in the small town of Battle Lake, Minnesota, she jumps at the chance.  She’s not expecting her love life to be super active there, but then she meets Jeff, and it is love at first sight.  At least it is for a week until she finds his dead body in the middle of the library one morning when she goes to open it.  Worried that she is a jinx, Mira decides to figure out what happened.  The fact that she can turn it into an article for the paper is an added bonus.  Will she figure out what happened?

The book starts right out with Mira finding Jeff’s body.  So far, so good, right?  The problem is, I felt a little off balance since I really didn’t have much context to who anyone was.  The book then does one of my least favorite things – going back in time to give us the background we need to understand what has already happened.  That made me struggle with the first quarter of the book until we got back to the action.  Yes, we needed some of that background to understand what happened, but it could have been given to us better.

Once we really got into the mystery, it was interesting.  I was confused by who might have done it until Mira figured it out, and there were enough twists to keep me entertained.

The characters were more types than true characters.  There are hints to some depth, but they feel like they are there more to be humorous instead of be true characters.

And I think that was part of my problem with the novel.  Instead of being funny, I felt like it was trying hard to be funny.  And when something is saying “Look at me, I’m funny,” I often don’t find it that funny.

Furthermore, some of the humor was supposed to come from some sexual situations that Mira found herself in and her thoughts about her love life.  This is most definitely not a cozy, but I wasn’t expecting that content in the book.  Those scenes felt forced, unfunny, and very jarring to me.  Instead of being funny, they were raunchy, and I didn’t appreciate them.

The book originally came out in 2006, so some of the technology is dated.  Keep that in mind if you pick up the book, and you’ll be fine.

I wish I had liked May Day more.  I’d be more tempted to give the series a second shot if I had the second book already, but since the books I have are later in the series, I may just move on.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

TV Show Review: Murder, She Wrote - Season 5

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: More fun mysteries with Jessica
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
New sheriff in town
Jessica still solving crimes
Abroad and at home

“I've Been Here One Year, This Is My Fifth Murder! What Is This, the Murder Capital of Maine?  Now Perfect Strangers are Coming to Cabot Cove to Die."

Murder, She Wrote is a perfect example of the way TV shows used to be.  Each week, we’d spend time with a character or characters we love, and each week was a new adventure.  But very little changed for the characters from one week to the next.  I can only think of two times that Jessica’s world changed over the course of the twelves seasons the show ran, and season 5 was one of them.

If you are new to the show, it features bestselling mystery author Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury).  Everywhere she goes, she seems to stumble into a murder mystery.  She travels quite a bit either researching or promoting her books or visiting family and friends, and those trips give her ample opportunity to encounter murders.  She can’t even get away from it in Cabot Cove, her hometown in Maine, which isn’t as idyllic as it might seem.

The change I mentioned?  This is the first season that Ron Masak recurs as Mort Metzger, the new sheriff in Cabot Cove.  He is very resistant to Jessica’s help in the murders that occur in town this season before becoming more open to her help in later seasons.  I always appreciated Mort more as a sheriff because he was competent unlike Amos Tupper, who was obviously supposed to just be comic relief.

So, just what kind of cases does Jessica solve this season?  She finds herself in jail in San Francisco after running into her friend Michael Hagarty at the airport.  When she is snowed in at a ski lodge with the US skiing team, she has to figure out who is trying to kill them.  Jessica tries to figure out what happened years ago when her late husband Frank is accused of a murder that happened back when he was in the air force.  We get the first appearance of Keith Michell as Dennis Stanton, here a gentleman thief who will become an insurance investigator in later seasons.  Jessica’ nephew Grady gets married, but first Jessica has to figure out why his in-law’s housekeeper was killed.  A trip to Montana to help with the final book by a famous author ends in murder.

And what about Cabot Cove?  We get five mysteries set there this season.  The first, with some major Arsenic and Old Lace vibes, involves strangers coming to town asking about a man who just moved there a year ago.  Scandal seems to be the theme of three of the episodes as a divorcing and philandering husband is killed, a 300 year-old-witch returns to town, and a book filled with gossip about the members of the town leads to murder.  Finally, in the two-hour season finale, a rival mystery writer comes to town and tries to steal Jessica’s thunder in solving a murder.

As I’m rewatching the show, I’m keeping track of the episodes set in Cabot Cove, trying to prove it isn’t quite as deadly as everyone makes it out to be.  Jessica still travels so much of the time.  Of the 21 murders Jessica solved this season, 5 took place in Cabot Cove, so just under a quarter.  Of those, two involves people from outside of town and three involved residents of the community.  Our totals after five seasons are 107 murders solved, twenty and a half having taken place in Cabot Cove.  Of those, twelve have involved residents and eight and a half have involved people from out of town.  Okay, so Cabot Cove is deadly, but there is plenty of murder taking place outside of town, too.

And yes, even though I still maintain that Cabot Cove isn't as deadly as it's reputation, I do love the quote from Mort I used as the title.  Always gets a laugh from me.

I was surprised that I didn’t really remember many episodes from this season.  Well, there were episodes where I’d remember the set up, but I couldn’t remember who done it.  And yes, I still get fooled quite a bit.  Jessica is just too observant, and I often miss the clue or what it means.  But that’s the fun of the show.

As always, Angela Lansbury shines.  She is kind, tough, and charming – somethings all in the same scene.  The show was popular because we love her and want to spend time with her.  I’d say we want to be friends with her, but considering how many of her friends have murder impact their lives, I’m not sure I’d really want to be friends with her in real life.

We can see that the show is trying to change up the formula to give Angela Lansbury a less demanding schedule.  There are more scenes without Jessica in them, especially early in the episodes.  Don’t worry, she is still in every episode this season, and she is still heavily involved in each episode.

Being a mystery show with the main character on the road, we have very little in the way of other characters.  That means we have an impressive roster of guest stars each episode.  I’ll admit, I don’t always know who they are since my knowledge of old Hollywood is limited, but I always have fun looking for stars I recognize.  This season, we get appearances from John Rhys-Davies, Barbara Bain, Megan Mullally, Jared Rushton, Betsy Palmer, Stanley Kamel, Brad Dourif, Bill Maher, Dinah Shore, Mike Connors, and Jean Simmons along with many others I didn’t recognize.

Murder, She Wrote is still going strong in season 5.  If you are a fan of the show, it’s always great to revisit.  If you enjoy fun, light mysteries and haven’t watched this show yet, you need to fix that right away.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Book Review: Framed and Frosted by Kim Davis (Cupcake Catering Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters, mystery, fun setting
Cons: Climax a bit abrupt
The Bottom Line:
Party on the 4th
Ends in another murder
A great third entry

Murder Causes Fireworks

After reading the first two books in Kim Davis’s Cupcake Catering’s Mysteries, I was very anxious to find out what would happen next to the characters, so I was thrilled when I found out that Framed and Frosted was about to come out.  Fans of the series will be as thrilled as I was with it.

Emory Martinez is once again working with her sister, Carrie, helping to cater an elaborate Blanc themed Fourth of July diner party.  However, it isn’t going well, especially by demanding Orange County client standards.  Most of the problems are coming from the host, Mr. Jorgensen, who is being a racist, sexist jerk at every turn.  If Carrie didn’t need this job to try to revive her business, Emory would have quit, and Carrie would have backed her up.

The evening is supposed to end with some of Emory’s cupcakes and champaign during the fireworks, but instead it ends with Mr. Jorgensen dropping dead after taking a cupcake from the tray that Sal, Carrie’s new server, is holding.  Sal has been the brunt of Mr. Jorgensen’s behavior several times over the course of the evening, and all the guests are ready to believe that Sal killed the host.  But Emory doesn’t buy it, and she begins her own investigation into what happened.  Can she clear Sal?

Before we go any further, I want to issue one of my spoiler warnings.  No, I’m not about to spoil what happens in this book, but this book spoils events from the first two books in the series, particularly book two.  If you are a fan of the series, you get why.  There are some interesting things going on in Emory’s life, and if this book didn’t give us the next development there, we’d be disappointed.  Know that going into the book, and you’ll be fine.

There are actually several interesting developments in Emory’s life overall in this book.  I called one of the revelations early, but I enjoyed watching the rest of them play out.  They gave us a chance to get to know Emory better and several other characters grew as a result.  Speaking of development, I am really enjoying Emory’s relationship with her mother these days.

And the mystery itself?  It is solid.  It unfolds in some unusual ways, and it kept me engaged the entire time.  The climax was a bit abrupt, but it worked and all my questions were answered.

One thing I love about this series is that it is set in Orange County, California.  It’s not the typical small-town setting of books I read, and I enjoy dreaming about living Emory’s life among the rich.  Well, she can have the murders.

Of course, there are recipes at the end of this book.  By my count, we get ten recipes, and only three of them are cupcakes.  The rest are inspired by the fateful dinner that starts the book.

If you’ve enjoyed the first two books in this series, you’ll be happy with Framed and Frosted.  And if you’ve missed these books so far, you’re in for a delicious treat.

Enjoy the rest of the Cupcake Catering Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


I’m reviewing this book as part of a Great Escapes Book Tour.  I hope you’ll stop by here to find the rest of the stops.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Disney Pin Review: Stitch Crashes The Little Mermaid - Stitch Crashes Disney #4 - 2021 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Stitch plays Ariel well
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
An alien swims
As Stitch becomes Ariel
Good transformation

From Space to Under the Sea

I had hoped that Disney had things figured out for the distribution of their Stitch Crashes Disney series.  While it hasn’t proved to be as popular as last year’s Minnie Mouse series was, it has had a very erratic release schedule, just like that series did last year.  So I might be skipping around as I review these pins.  For example, I’m reviewing the fourth one out of order.  That means, it is time to go under the sea as Stitch takes on Ariel.

Stitch is definitely in the ocean for this pin.  He’s blue, pretty close to his original color.  Part of him is a light blue, and part has a pattern of stars and shapes on him.  He’s just a star flower in his hair like Ariel does at one point, although it is backwards from where Ariel wears it in the movie.  That’s because of how Stitch is seated and looking out at us.  If the flower were where it should be, it would cover his eye.

Once again, the card the pin comes on helps set the scene.  We can see some of the rocks that Ariel sat on at one point in the movie.  Even though you’d recognize Stitch without it, the background really does help complete the picture.

I definitely like this pin better than the Lady and the Tramp pin, the last one I reviewed.  It helps that Stitch looks a bit more like himself color wise, and the pattern isn’t overwhelming.

As a reminder, these are large pins, which helps explain the $24.95 original selling price.  I like them for the creativity they are showing, but they aren’t quite as popular as Disney expected them to be.

But I’m glad I’ve added Stitch as The Little Mermaid to my collection.  This is a cool pin to enjoy on dry land.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

June 26th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Legends of Tomorrow – Sara’s back!  I’m so thankful that the planet storyline is over.  Yes, I know we are still hunting aliens, but I’m glad that part is behind us.  I meant to go back and double check what happened to the alien woman character.  I’m guessing they left her behind?  If so, that stinks since she came back for everyone.  I’m assuming she died saving them from the aliens.  (Yes, I was watching while doing other stuff, which is my default.)

Batwoman – So much I liked about the episode.  The parole officer seeing the truth in what Ryan was saying (granted, it took men trying to kill her, but still, I’ve seen shows where they still wouldn’t get it).  The others apologizing to Ryan and her accepting it quickly.  And they trying to tell Ryan that she has made Batwoman her own.  Yes, I actually enjoyed scenes that didn’t involve Alice for a change.

American Ninja Warrior – Well, I’m bummed.  I love Grant and Nick, and I’m sorry to see them both leave so early.  I’m still so impressed with the teens who are on the show this season.  They are so emotional, too.  They are happy to be there; they want it.  They’ve worked for it for years, and it shows.  I think it’s the years of training that really are helping them and making them go further than I was initially expecting.  They’ve been taking this seriously, and it is paying off.  I mean, a sixteen-year-old topping the mega wall?  Very impressive!

Lego Masters – And that’s why I’m not on the show.  Not only could I not build something out of Legos like that, but designing a hat?  My hat is off to them (pun always intended) for what they were able to build.  Yes, even the teams who were in the bottom two.  I wasn’t attached to the team that was eliminated, but they did seem nice.  Honestly, I’m still rooting for all the teams, which I like.  It’s nice to have a competition show where you want every team to win.

The Flash – I always wonder when Barry isn’t in an episode why that is.  There’s no crossover to prepare for, so that can’t be it.  Iris wasn’t in it at all, but it seems like everyone is taking some episodes off this season.  Maybe that’s all this was.  But I’m not complaining since it allowed the newer characters to shine.  Obviously, there is some history there I would recognize if I went back and rewatched the earlier seasons.  I wish I remember them better.  Still, it was a good episode with some interesting development in both stories.

Superman and Lois – They are leaving us THERE?  For THREE WEEKS?  I believe that is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment.  This episode cemented for me what I have been feeling all along – these relationships are wonderful!  Lois and Clark.  Even Kyle and Lois this week.  And, of course, Lois and Lana.  They are making these characters and their relationships so strong.  I hope that continues.  And yes, I did like the look back at their version of the more familiar Superman and Lois story.  Nicely done to get the flashbacks like that.

Loki – Again, I’m just not connecting with this series.  It feels long and drawn out.  Like, what was the point of this episode.  Since I clearly enjoy other episodic stories and shows, why are these Marvel shows such a struggle for me.  I feel like this week was pointless.  Yes, I am curious how they are going to get out of that cliffhanger, but we all know they will, so what was the point of the episode?

Press Your Luck – What a difference from last week.  Lots of Whammies still, but lots of money and prizes given away.

Card Sharks – It’s really back!  I was disappointed when it got bumped last week.  That first round was crazy.  It was over as soon as it started.  The second round was a blowout as well, but at least there were a few rounds before they had a winner.

United States of Al – I think part of the reason I don’t find the show super funny is that they tackle some serious subjects.  Okay, so the “jokes” are mostly expected.  I hope they can up the comedy factor in season 2, but I’m willing to stick with it because I’ve really grown to like the characters, something I didn’t think I’d say in the first few episodes when I almost gave up.

Holey Moley – That winner was fierce!  She was the first to get past the corn and the joust.  Okay, so we aren’t that far into the season, but I was still very impressed.  Heck, she almost got past the fish, too.  But did you see the breath coming out at one point.  They fill this during the winter, and it is way too cold to be that wet.  No thanks.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Movie Review: Luca

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters, plots, animation, pretty much everything
Cons: “Silenzio Bruno!”
The Bottom Line:
Curious Luca
A creative adventure
Sure to entertain

Touching Story of Unlikely Friendships

I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t that intrigued by the original artwork we were seeing for Luca.  But, since it was a Pixar movie, I knew I’d see it at some point.  Then came the first trailer, and I was hooked.  It looked like it could be another classic Pixar movie, so I couldn’t wait to watch it.

This movie tells the story of Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay).  He just happens to be a sea creature, who spends his days tending his family’s flock of fish.  Despite warnings from his family, he dreams of life above the surface and is fascinated by the human monsters.  (That’s us.)

His life changes when he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer).  Alberto is another kid about his age, but he lives part of the time above land, where both of them are able to appear like the human monsters when they are dry.  Alberto lives on an island, and he and Luca quickly bond over dreams of getting a Vespa and traveling the world.  Their only hope of actually doing that, however, is venturing into the human village on the mainland.  That’s when they meet Giulia (Emma Berman) and learn about an Italian triathlon that might give them the prize money they need to buy a Vespa.  Will they be able to win?  Or will Luca’s parents find him first?

I will start by getting the one thing that bothered me out of the way.  Luca disobeys his parents and runs away from home and it is essentially what starts him on this adventure.  It’s nothing new in a kid’s film, and I get that there is a need to give the kids a chance to star in the story.  Additionally, Luca’s father seems pretty clueless much of the time.  I’m noting these things only in passing, however.

Because, on the whole, I loved this movie.  As you’ve probably noticed from my teaser, this has some bits that are classic Pixar.  You know what I mean, those things that you would never have thought of, but fit perfectly in the world they are creating, like the way Luca’s life under the sea works and mirrors our own.  It’s those little things that make a Pixar movie so special.

And the animation is beautiful.  Yes, the main characters are stylized, but the setting is richly detailed.  There are some shots that show off just what animation can do.  Not every shot is that way, but the ones we get are gorgeous.

Of course, a movie is really only as good as the story.  Here, again, the movie shines.  There are several conflicts that run through the movie, and that always keeps us engaged.  I loved how those conflicts came together for a spectacular ending.

But it is the friendships among the main characters that are the heart of the film.  They are what make the climax perfect.  It couldn’t have ended any other way and been as satisfying.  I might have teared up as I watched it.

Not that the film is all emotional.  There are plenty of laughs along the way as well.  We’ve got funny lines and sight gags, so the usual for a Pixar movie.

The voice cast is wonderful.  I’m not familiar with them, but that just allowed me to get fully engrossed in the story that much faster.

I already can’t wait to watch Luca again.  This is a movie destined to be another Pixar classic.  Don’t wait to enjoy it.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Book Review: S'more Murders by Maya Corrigan (Five-Ingredient Mysteries #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Val, twisty plot
Cons: Rushed feeling ending
The Bottom Line:
Recreated meal
Man overboard ends evening
Enjoyable book

Val is on a Collision Course with Murder

I’ve got to admit, I don’t quite understand the fascination with the Titanic.  It’s a tragedy, and thinking about it depresses me.  But I know there are people obsessed with it, and one of them helps create a great set up for S’more Murders.

Val Deniston has gotten another client for her fledgling catering business.  Otto Warbeck wants her to recreate the full ten course meal that the first-class guests were served the final night on the Titanic.  And he’s planning for this dinner party to be served on his yacht.  Val knows it will be lots of work, but when Otto keeps offering more money, she eventually agrees.

When the guests arrive the night of the event, Val realizes that not all is as it seems.  Several of the attendees seem to hardly know each other.  A fight breaks out before the first course is even served.  But disaster hits half way through the evening when Otto disappears off the yacht.  Was it a tragic accident?  Or was it murder?

Before we get any further, I do want to talk about the title.  Yes, the main dinner that Val is preparing is Titanic themed.  No, they didn’t serve S’mores on the Titanic.  Yes, the title does make sense once you’ve started the book.  That’s all I am going to say about it.  Well, I will also say that, being the punny guy that I am, I absolutely loved that title, especially for a fifth book in the series.

The mystery is good.  The book takes about the right amount of time for the set up – giving us initial impressions of the suspects and introducing possible motives – before Otto disappears.  There are some good twists along the way, as well.  I do feel like the ending was a little fast, but those final clues couldn’t have been planted earlier in the book since they are what lead to the logical climax.  Well, mostly logical.  When I was thinking about the book after I set it down, I did have one question about what happened, but it was minor and could be something I missed.

The characters are good.  Val, her grandfather, Bethany, and Gunner are the main recurring characters.  Other characters we’ve met before make cameos, but it was nice to get to spend more time with the core characters and the suspects.

As we’ve come to expect with this series, there are some five-ingredient recipes at the end of the book.  This time around, we get six of them inspired by the food talked about in the book.  And yes, that includes a classic S’more and a savory S’more that sounds intriguing.

S’more Murders is a fun addition to this series.  Fans will be happy to find out what Val and her family and friends are up to here.

Indulge in the rest of the Five-Ingredient Mysteries.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Movie Review: To Catch a Spy

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: Some threads introduced and went nowhere
The Bottom Line:
A trip to Malta
International myst’ry
Hope to revisit

“Remember When You Said ‘I Owed You One?’”  “Am I Going to Regret That?”

As soon as I started seeing previews for Hallmark’s new mystery movie, To Catch a Spy, I started to get excited.  It looked like something fun and different, and I was really hoping it would deliver.  I’m happy to say that it did.

Chloe Day (Nathalie Kelley) is a travel writer for Destination Traveler Magazine, and she and three of her co-workers have been offered a chance to cover the reopening of Hotel Optima in Malta.  Chloe’s friend Elias (Sean Buhagiar) has been renovating it for his family.  She’s looking forward to a few days learning about the hotel and other areas of interest for articles for the magazine.

Her first night there, Chloe is having a hard time sleeping, especially since she is hearing a fight in another room via the air duct.  Then, she sees someone falling past her hotel room window.  She immediately goes to get help, enlisting a fellow guest she met earlier.  That guest turns out to be FBI agent Aaron Maxwell (Colin Donnell).  When Chloe finally gets someone to let her into the area where the body fell, there’s no body.  With no one but Aaron taking her seriously, Chloe tries to figure out what is going on.  Can she solve the mystery?

This mystery was everything the ads I’d seen promised it would be.  It isn’t long before we figure out who the victim must be, but that only drives Chloe even harder to make sure justice is done.  With the FBI involved, this case takes on high stakes, which made it even more compelling.  And everything is wrapped up satisfactorily at the end as we get a suspenseful climax.

Since this is the first movie with any of these characters, it does need to set up everyone and their relationships.  I felt it did a good job of that without slowing things down.  I really liked Chloe, Aaron, and their co-workers, although the two of them were the main focus of the movie.

I was expecting a romance between our two leads, but it was hardly hinted at, even by Hallmark mystery movie standards.  If there are additional movies in the franchise, this will be a very slow burn romance.

I haven’t heard anything yet about this being a potential franchise, but I hope it is.  I could see problems getting Chloe and Aaron in the same locations regularly, but I think there is potential for some great stories with these characters.  There were some potential threads introduced in this movie that were just dropped, so I’m hoping those are things that will be explored in future movies as well.

This movie had a bit more of the Hallmark cheese than some of the new ones we’ve seen recently.  I’m sure the actors were still feeling out their characters, although some of the issues were from the writing as well.  It’s a minor issue for me or I wouldn’t keep watching Hallmark movies.

If you missed To Catch a Spy, be sure you catch it when it airs again.  Even if this doesn’t become a new franchise, it is a fun addition to Hallmark’s mystery movies.  But I really do hope we get to visit these characters again soon.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Book Review: A Distant Grave by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Maggie D'Arcy #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, compelling mystery, great writing
Cons: All cons buried in a distant grave
The Bottom Line:
Dual locations
Work in well plotted story
I couldn’t put down

Maggie Faces a Case that Crosses the Ocean

Last year, I was delighted to read a new book by Sarah Stewart Taylor.  The only question that book left me with was where she was going to go with her new heroine, Maggie D’arcy.  I got my answer in A Distant Grave, and it was another winner.

Maggie is a homicide detective on Long Island.  Her latest case involves a man on one of the beaches.  He’s been shot and robbed, making identifying him the first priority.  It is looking like a random homicide, which are always difficult to solve, when Maggie gets an ID.  The man is an Irish national.  Maggie begins to wonder why the victim was on Long Island in the middle of February.  With a trip to Ireland already planned to visit her boyfriend, Conor, Maggie decides to do a little digging.  Will she uncover a motive for murder across the Atlantic?

My biggest question when I picked up this book was how we were going to get a crime that allowed Maggie to be involved in solving it from home and in Ireland.  The set up was genius, and yes, there are important clues that Maggie has to uncover in both locations.

In fact, the way the book unfolded was wonderful from beginning to end.  The clues kept the story moving forward, sometimes leading us in the right direction and other times leading us, and Maggie, in the wrong direction.

Since I read the first book when it came out last year, I was fuzzy on some of the details how that ended.  This book did a good job of reminding us enough that we could reconnect with the characters.  But that also comes with a spoiler warning.  If you haven’t read the first book yet, this one will spoil some key events of that story.  It is best to read them in order.

The characters growth here is wonderful and builds on the previous book.  Maggie and her daughter, especially, are dealing directly with the changes in their lives, and I appreciated that.  It was fun to see some of the other characters back from the first book as well.  And the new characters were just as strong.  I will say that some of what is going on in Maggie’s life was fairly predictable, and yet it was still compelling.

Yes, as I have hinted at before, this book is darker than the cozies I would normally read.  It’s more of a traditional mystery with a tad more violence and language than you’d expect in a cozy as well as the darker tone.  But if this intrigues you, you’ll be glad you picked it up.  These elements are sprinkled in judiciously to realistically tell and story and never overbearing.

One thing that makes this book so great is the atmospheric writing.  It brings the world to life, fully immersing us in the story, without slowing it down.  The majority of the story is told from Maggie’s first-person present point of view with the occasional part told in third-person past tense.  But it is always easy to tell when we are switching.

Just how into this book did I get?  It’s longer than the books I typically read, and I tried to factor that in when I figured out how long it would take me to read it.  But I got so drawn in I finished it faster than I’d planned.  The closer we got to the climax, the harder it was to put down.

A Distant Grave is an excellent second mystery.  I suspect I know where the series is going from here, and I can’t wait to find out if I am right or not.

Enjoy the rest of the Maggie D'Arcy Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Disney Pin Review: National Selfie Day - Celebrate Today #6 - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute pin with Mickey and Minnie
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Taking a picture
To celebrate a selfie
Mickey, Minnie, cute

Say Cheese!

I’m not sure how long we’ve had these different national celebrations for every day, but I’m sure some are older than others.  One I’d bet is a more recent invention is National Selfie Day.  After all, selfie’s haven’t been around that long.  It is also the day Disney chose to highlight for June’s entry in the Celebrate Today pin series.

National Selfie Day comes around every June 21st, and it is celebrated by taking a selfie and posting it on social media.  Mickey and Minnie are showing us how it is done.  They are standing close together.  Minnie has her arms around Mickey, and Mickey has his arm out with his phone in it.  They are both smiling as they look at the camera.  Mickey’s camera has a black case with a Mickey head on it, naturally.  The pin itself is square with black in the corners like how an old-fashioned photo would be held in a picture album.  I know, we’re really talking old school here.  In the bottom right corner is the silver square with June 21 written on it.  National Selfie Day is written in red in the upper left corner.

I must admit, I’m not that big on selfies.  I’m okay when others take them, but I don’t do it much myself.  Maybe it’s because my arm doesn’t seem quite long enough to take them well.  Or maybe I’m just too critical of my own.

However, I get why Disney would choose to highlight this day.  How many people take tons of selfies at Disney parks?  This is another very natural fit.

And the pin itself is great.  Mickey and Minnie look so cute together.  I do find the references to older pictures funny, but it’s a charming addition to the pin.

If I hadn’t decided to collect this series, I don’t know that I would have bought it, but it is charming.  I’m glad I’ve added the National Selfie Day pin to my collection.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Short Stories Review: Nowhere to Go and All Day to Get There by Gar Anthony Haywood (Joe and Dottie Loudermilk Mysteries)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Joe, Dottie, two fun stories
Cons: Only if you are looking for a novel
The Bottom Line:
Danger on the road
In these fun fill short stories
Take two quick road trips

Short Trips with the Loudermilks

One big advantage of digital publishing world is an author’s ability to repackage their work for a new audience.  That’s what Gar Anthony Haywood has done with Nowhere to Go and All Day to Get There.  This is really a collection of two short stories he has written with Joe and Dottie Loudermilk, the stars of two earlier novels.  As a fan of those novels, it was fun to check in with them again.

If you haven’t met Joe and Dottie before, they are sixty-something retirees who decided to sell everything and hit the road in a trailer once they retired.  That means each story finds them in a different location, which is part of the fun, at least for me since I’m longing to travel again.  I should also point out that the stories originally came out in the 1990’s, and so there may be some dated elements.  Just know that going in.

The first story, “A Mother Always Knows” finds Joe and Dottie making a pit stop in Amarillo, Texas.  Joe runs inside a convenience store for a quick sugar fix, and that means both of them are present when someone tries to rob the store at gun point.

Meanwhile, in “Better Dead Than Wed,” the couple get involved in an abusive relationship when they stop at a rest stop in the middle of the night on their way to Salt Lake City.

Again, I will point out that these are short stories.  How short are they?  I read both of them in half an hour combined.  These are not complex tales.  But they are quite fun.  I laughed a few times while reading these stories.  A good short story will have a twist of some kind.  In this case, I guessed one of the twists, while the other caught me off guard.

Joe and Dottie are the only characters that are in both stories, but we got a good sense of who the other characters are in each story.

Both of these stories are fun.  The fun usually comes from Joe and Dottie themselves, especially their reactions to each other.  The situations help add to the fun as well.

If you need a quick trip, I definitely recommend you get Nowhere to Go and All Day to Get There.  If you haven’t met Joe and Dottie yet, it’s a good introduction to them.  And if you already know the characters but haven’t read these stories yet, you’ll be glad you visited a couple of old friends.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

June 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Legends of Tomorrow – They got me.  I must admit, I did not see that ending coming.  So, if Sara is a clone now, what will that mean?  Or will we bring back the “real” Sara at some point?  The show is certainly getting weird again this season.  It’s lost the pure fun it used to be.

Batwoman – Still lecturing us some.  Really enjoyed getting to see Diggle.  I’m wondering what they are going to do with Jake Kane.  I thought we might be turning a corner with Alice (for better or worse), but then they went and killed Ocean – again.  Makes sense – can’t have her happy.  But that’s going to really send her off the deep end again.  At least Jake publicly apologized to her.

Lego Masters – I wanted Tim and Zach to go far.  They were a fun team and I was enjoying how they worked together.  Not that I wanted any of the teams in the bottom three to go.  I’m so impressed with how the mothers did.  They were so far behind, yet they wound up in the top three.  I’m not sure I see them going all the way, but they are proving that they deserve to stick around a while longer.

The Flash – That was a weird episode.  Then again, any time a show goes inside a character’s head like that, it gets weird.  Nice to see that they are writing in Sue for a few episodes.  I felt sorry for the actress when they wrote out Ralph earlier this season.  And her dance with the lasers was so fun.

Superman & Lois – I’m surprised.  I was expecting them to play some of this stuff out for another few episodes.  I can’t imagine how this is going to go for the rest of the season, but I can’t wait to see it.  I feel like we are close to the end of the season than we truly are.  And I’m still loving the dynamic with Lana and Lois and Clark.  Very mature relationships, which I feel like we don’t get to see very often.  I just wonder if Lana is going to figure out who Clark really is as a result.

Press Your Luck – Wow!  No money given out at all.  None.  That’s amazing.  Everyone had a great attitude about it, but I’m sure it was disappointing.  The guy sure had the right strategy in the initial rounds – make the person with 3 Whammies take all the chances.  It’s just too bad that he didn’t get anything in the bonus rounds.

Loki – That’s an interesting twist.  Where is Loki going?  What is the ultimate plan?  Is our Loki really in on it or not?  The pacing could be a little better.  Again, I feel like they are stretching things out that don’t need to be stretched out.  But overall, I am having fun.

United States of Al – I knew the dog wasn’t going to be a permanent part of the family.  It was an obvious plot point.  But I like how they brought out by Riley and Vanessa’s perspectives on things and how they are both right and both wrong.  I like how they are building the characters and bring out some deeper issues.  I do wish the jokes were funnier, but overall, I like the show.

Holey Moley – Lots of new holes this season so far and some serious upgrades.  I thought Corn Hole might be a replacement for Hole Number 2, but then they showed that was back with an upgrade.  Loved the Christmas connections the first time they showed that hole.  I was worried that the twerker would go on to the season finale, so I was glad to see her eliminated.  And that proposal in the second episode!  I loved it!  So sweet.  I wonder if that hole will always have couples on it.  We’ll have to watch and see.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

June 18th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

 Welcome to Friday!  Must be time once again to dive into Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring A Distant Grave by Sarah Stewart Taylor.

This is the second book in a series about homicide detective Maggie D'arcy.  And, like the first book, it partially takes place on Long Island and partially in Ireland.

With that out of the way, shall we get to how the book beginnings?  I'm actually offering two teasers this week, one from the prologue and one from chapter one.  Up first, the prologue:

The cold was different here.
It got inside you, the raw knife edge of it slipping beneath your clothes at your collar and your cuffs, taking your breath and setting your nerves to alarm.  The skin on his face and neck stung; his hands and feet were going about the business of going numb, but until they did, they were going to do their best to warn him.

Isn't that wonderfully evacuative?  Now, from chapter one:

Marty is waiting for me in the parking lot.  I know he's nervous because he can't keep his hands off the buttons of his coat and even from across the parking lot I can see that hsi forehead is creased with worry.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find this.  To get the scene, Maggie is talking to her daughter, Lilly:

"Lil?  One thing I need to tell you.  Marty wants us to be a bit careful the next few days, until we go.  So that means keeping doors locked and alarms on.  You know the drill.  Okay?"
"What happened?"  Lilly's used to periodic upgrades to our home security because of something going on with my work.  She's not overly concerned.
"Nothing specific.  Just a precaution, okay?"

This book is great.  It officially comes out on Tuesday, and I'll have a review of it ready to go that morning, so I hope you come back then.

In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Book Review: Murders and Metaphors by Amanda Flower (Magical Bookshop Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good characters, engaging mystery, fun premise
Cons: All cons magically vanished
The Bottom Line:
Deadly book signing
Violet tries to clear friend
Glad to revisit

Local Author Returns to Murder

While I enjoyed the first two books in the Magical Bookshop Mysteries, I didn’t make the jump when the series moved to a new publisher.  It was simply a matter of too many books calling my name.  But I finally made the time to read Murders and Metaphors, and I’m wishing I’d read it sooner.

Violet Waverly is mostly thrilled that Charming Books has been asked to provide the books for Belinda Perkins’s book signing taking place at Morton Winery, just outside of Cascade Springs, New York.  Violet’s past with the Mortons is her only hesitation, but she is determined to do her part to make the event great.

Belinda grew up in the village, and has gained great success as a sommelier.  However, not everyone is happy to see her.  Violet finds Belinda’s body in the vineyard, stabbed with a grape harvesting knife.  Belinda was estranged from her sisters, including Violet’s friend Lacey.  Unfortunately, Lacey’s attempts to reconcile had led to a huge scene during the signing.  Violet knows that Lacey is going to be the prime suspect.  Can she figure out what really happened?  And why does the bookstore keep putting copies of Little Women in her path?

It’s been quite a few years since I last visited Violet, and I remembered who she and a few of the characters were, but I didn’t remember many of the particulars.  There was enough background that I was able to jump back in pretty quickly with some teasers about the events of the first two books.  I really wish I remembered more about them, but that’s on me for letting so many years go between books.

And yes, this is one of the few series I read with some supernatural elements to it.  Honestly, I love the idea of a bookstore that tries to communicate with the owner and where the store helps the reader select the perfect book.  I want to visit in real life.  If only it were real.  It’s a charming set up that really appeals to this reader.

Of course, we do have to have a murder in these cozy mysteries, and Belinda makes a wonderful victim.  I say that because, as Violet investigates, she begins to find plenty of suspects.  I was kept guessing until Violet pieced it together at the end, but once she did, everything fell into place.  The suspects were great at their job of confusing me.

Which brings us to the series regulars.  I really felt like only a few had enough page time to become fully developed here, but I loved them.  I especially appreciated the growth we got in Violet.  And the ones that didn’t spend much time on the page felt real, just not as rich as the others.

I’m glad I dipped my toe back into the Magical Bookshop Mysteries.  I already have the next in the series, and, now that I’ve met everyone again in Murders and Metaphors, I’m anxious to find out what happens next to Violet and her friends.

Let the rest of the Magical Bookshop Mysteries choose you.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Movie Review: 'Til Death Do Us Part - An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters, mystery, wedding
Cons: The obvious budget issues for the wedding (which are universal to TV weddings)
The Bottom Line:
Roe and Nick’s big day
But must solve a murder first
Great movie for fans

“Why Do I Bother with Pleasantries?  I Should Have Known You Two Would Be Up to Something Ghoulish.”

We have reached a major milestone for me – this is the first time I am watching a wedding in a Hallmark movie.  Granted, I tend to stick to the mystery movies, but this is the first time a mystery franchise has lasted long enough to get the main couple down the aisle.  Even then, it took Aurora Teagarden two boyfriends and sixteen movies to get there.  Naturally, Roe and her fiancĂ©, Nick Miller, have to solve a murder before they can get to the wedding in ‘Til Death Do Us Part.

As the movie opens, it is four days before the wedding, and the guests are beginning to arrive.  Roe (Candace Cameron Bure) is thrilled that Nick (Niall Matter) is finally going to meet her father, Charles.  Meanwhile, Sally (Lexa Doig) and Aida (Marilu Henner) are still trying to nail down the final details of the wedding, not always agreeing on what they should be.

In the middle of all of this comes word that a human skeleton has been found buried under concrete in a warehouse that is being renovated.  One of Aida’s clients has just bought the warehouse, and the previous owner was one of Charles’s friends from when he lived in town.  When the remains are identified as belonging to Sam Woods, Charlies realizes he knows the victim.  With her dad now caught up in a twenty-four-year-old murder, Roe can’t help but try to figure out what is going on.  Can she solve it before her wedding?

If you are at all familiar with this Hallmark movie franchise, you won’t be surprised to learn that Roe gets clues and hunches at the absolutely worst time given all that is involved in a wedding.  That adds some comedy to the movie, and I’m not complaining in the slightest.

We get a fabulous mystery here.  The suspects are good, and the twists kept me engaged.  I wasn’t sure what was going on until we reached the end.  Because the suspects are people Roe knows, it seems to hit a bit closer to home, which contrasts with the happy subject of a wedding, yet the movie balances the two perfectly.

Because of the wedding, the movie doesn’t focus exclusively on the mystery.  I’m happy about that.  If it had we wouldn’t have been satisfied as fans.  Newcomers to the franchise might not be quite as invested as long time fans are, but it is a minor issue, and the mystery does still take up the majority of the running time.

Which brings us to the wedding itself.  I am of two minds about it.  The first is a complaint that I have had with many TV weddings – the lack of a budget to do the wedding right.  Oh, I’m not complaining about the looks of the wedding, which was wonderful.  But poor Nick didn’t even get his brother to come be his best man?  Seriously?  And I’m not buying that excuse they gave.  It just always feels like the budget constraints are an issue.  I’m just picking on this movie, but I have felt that way about most weddings I watch on TV, even on hit TV shows.  Also, what was up with Aida’s purse?  She looked awkward carrying it as she walked up and down the aisle.

On the other hand, when we got to the ceremony itself, it was wonderful.  No, we didn’t see the entire thing, but I absolutely enjoyed what we got to see.  It fit the characters and the franchise perfectly.

If you’ve been following the Aurora Teagarden movies for a while, you’ll be satisfied with ‘Til Death Do Us Part.  Catch it as soon as you can.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Book Review: A Treasure to Die For by Terry Ambrose (Seaside Cove Bed and Breakfast Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, interesting main characters
Cons: A few things early on that I got used to as the book progressed
The Bottom Line:
Dead guest on the rocks
Rick must sift through lies for truth
Interesting start

Finding the Truth in a Hunt Filled with Lies

Try as I might, I don’t hear about every series that comes out, which is why Terry Ambrose’s A Treasure to Die For just cross my radar last year.  The story and the characters had to grow on me a bit, but I was definitely enjoying the book by the end.

When Rick Atwood inherits the Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast from his grandfather, he is looking to start his life over, so relocating to the town on the California coast with his ten-year-old daughter, Alex, seems like a great idea.  He’s still learning the business with the help of Marquetta, who used to work for his grandfather, when a group of treasure hunters book a weekend stay.  They are there to try to find a long sunken ship, but something seems off about the group.  They are constantly fighting for starters, so Rick wonders just how good a team they will wind up being.

His questions appear to be answered when one of the members of the group is found dead on the rocks near the B&B.  The local police are not used to handling a murder, and the mayor asks Rick to brush off his reporter skills and help with the investigation.  Even Alex gets into the mix, much to Rick’s dismay.  His guests seem to lie to him every time they open their mouths.  Will Rick figure out what is really going on?

Rick and Alex are both central viewpoint characters in this book.  Most of the book is written from Rick’s third person viewpoint, but we get some chapters from Alex, either writing in her diary or in first person present narration.  These changes happen at chapter breaks, and it is always clear who we are following for that chapter.  I’ll admit, having Alex so involved in the book took some getting used to, and I wasn’t quite sure about her character early on, but she grew on me as the book progressed.

It took me a while to keep the suspects straight.  It probably didn’t help that sometimes, they were referred to by their first names and other times by their last names.  However, as the book progressed, I was able to remember who was who.

Now, if it sounds like these were major issues, they weren’t.  They were definitely things I was noticing as I was getting into the story.  If they had continued the entire way through the book, it would have been a problem.  But as I got caught up in the story, these issues began to fade away.

And this book does have a wonderful mystery.  As I teased earlier, everyone is lying, and it takes Rick quite a bit of work to figure out where the truth really lies.  I loved how the story unfolded and really got caught up in trying to figure it out with Rick.  When he reaches the solution, it makes perfect sense.

Meanwhile, there is some backstory to the characters that is teased here.  I’m curious to find out where those threads will go.

Since this is a bed and breakfast set mystery, we get a couple of delicious sounding breakfast bread recipes at the end.

A Treasure to Die For sets up what looks to be a promising cozy mystery series.  I’m going to have to book a return visit soon.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Ornament Review: Linus - 2020 Hallmark Mini Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Captures Linus perfectly in a miniature ornament
Cons: Only if you aren’t expecting a miniature ornament
The Bottom Line:
Linus goes skating
Miniature ornament
Perfectly captures

Linus is Securely Skating

One thing I enjoyed about the miniature ornaments of the Peanuts gang skating that Hallmark released last year was that the character’s personalities came through.  Nowhere was that more evident than with Linus.

If you know Linus, you know what to expect.  Yes, he’s skating, and he’s in his typical orange coat and green hat.  And what else does he have with him?  His trusty security blanket, of course.  He’s holding it in his left hand, and he’s sucking the thumb on his right hand.  And yes, he’s skating out on the ice confidently.

Linus, in many ways, is the character who just goes with the flow the most in the Peanuts comic strip, and that’s what I feel is captured here.  And I love it for that reason.  He’s doing his thing and enjoying it.

Once again, I will point out this is a miniature ornament.  Linus is only about an inch in size.  When you consider that, it makes it even more outstanding that they so expertly captured not only Linus’s looks but personality.

Linus is gliding on one of his skates, so this ornament won’t stand on its own.  Given the size, you might not want to set it out anyway.  It’s not a problem since it hangs perfectly straight.

If you like Peanuts and miniature ornaments, you’ll want to track down Linus.  I know I’m glad I have him in my collection.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Cookie Review: S'mores Oreo

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Graham cracker outside cookies are good
Cons: The insides are sweet with no distinctive flavor
The Bottom Line:
A summer flavor
Recreated favorite?
Does not work for me

Not too Surprised with My Reaction, but I Wanted to Like These S’more

I’ve learned that there really is no substitute for Marshmallows.  I’ve tried many things that are supposed to have those flavors in them over the years, and I always feel like the taste is artificial.  I still had to try the new Limited Edition S’mores cookies from Oreo.  They were about what I expected.

These cookies are a twist on the classic Oreo.  The outside cookies are tan graham cracker flavored cookies.  The inside has two layers - one chocolate, the other marshmallow.  Or, at least that is the way it is supposed to be.  The reality is that the inside is just sweet.  There isn’t quite enough of either flavor to really taste them individually.  And yes, I know that the s’more combines the chocolate and marshmallow flavors as well, but this just doesn’t work.

I think part of the reason it doesn’t work here is that the marshmallows in a s’more are hot.  That gives them a different flavor, and it warms up the chocolate as well.  Here’s they taste sweet, but it’s a fake sweet.  Sometimes, if I really concentrate, I can get a bit of chocolate flavor or marshmallow flavor, but that isn’t enough to recommend them.

The best part is the graham cracker cookies.  They taste pretty much like real graham crackers.  But I’d rather have the originals, either with real chocolate and marshmallows or on their own.  (I know they are considered a kid’s snack, but graham crackers on their own really are good every so often.)

I can’t say I’m disappointed because this is what I was expecting when it came to the S’mores Oreos.  But I can’t recommend them either.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

June 12th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Before we get to what I watched, I have to comment on Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist being cancelled.  I'm not surprised since the ratings weren't that great, but I'm bummed.  While I have some nits to pick with the season, it was overall a light, fun, enjoyable show.  Yes, even with the heavy subjects they dealt with.

Legends of Tomorrow – I’d forgotten this was the animation episode until it happened.  Loved the “all animated princesses know how to sing” line.  So true; so funny.  Not getting the Sara storyline at all at this point.  I’m hoping she is back with the rest of the crew again soon.  I’m more than ready.

Batwoman – That wasn’t quite as painful as I thought it would be.  Yes, there were lecture moments, but it wasn’t all lecture.  Hopefully, they will concentrate on major storylines since we are drawing close to the end of the season.

American Ninja Warrior – The teens are killing it again.  I’m surprised but I’m not, if that makes any sense.  Thrilled, as always, to see Joe make it to the buzzer.  I’ll be rooting him on once again as the season progresses.

Lego Masters – I loved it!  So many epic scenes and so many epic explosions.  I’d have no idea how to build things like that, so the fact that so many got it right really impressed me.  I’m sorry to see Jack and Dawn go because I like them.  I’m not surprised they were one of the first to go, and I understand why the judges picked them.  But I will miss them.

The Flash – A nice send off for Cisco.  I’m going to miss him; I hope this means that Cisco-light will get more time and I’ll get to like him more.  I figured out what Barry and Caitlin were doing early on, but that scene where they finally all really talked was the one that made me tear up.

Superman and Lois – The reveal with Kyle was expected.  It was cool how they did it, but I still pretty much expected it.  And the conversations with General Lane were very long overdue.  I was cheering for both of them.  However, that ending reveal?  I did not see that coming at all.

Loki – So far, this seems like Marvel’s version of Legends of Tomorrow.  Not that I’m complaining.  Definitely intrigued by the revelations at the end, but the set up was pretty slow.  Hopefully, the show will pick up now that we’ve established the world the show will be set in.

Press Your Luck – Obviously, there have been people who have Whammied out of the game before.  But I don’t remember seeing anyone Whammy out with four Whammies in a row.  I feel for you.  It was rather obvious the guy was going to hit a Whammy there at the end.  He didn’t have any, and it was down to the wire.  And what a roller coaster ride in the bonus rounds.  She made the right decision to walk away when she did.

United States of Al – The characters are really growing on me each week.  And I love how they are treating the serious and the funny and making it work together.  I’m not sure this is a must watch show for everyone, but I’m truly enjoying it.  And I loved the Frisbee scene, although I’m not so sure either of them had played too much before.  Then again, I’d look funny trying to throw it in a very small and controlled space.