Monday, February 28, 2022

February 2022's Reading Summary

 That time of the month again.  Can you believe February has already passed.  I mean, we know it is a short month, but still.  It went by awfully fast.

Anyway, it's time to look back at what I read this month.  As always, the links take you to my full review.  And the links will take you to my full review.  I got the index updated this month as well.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).

 



Murder in the Mountains by Various Authors (Destination Murders Collection #2) – 5

It’s murder and mayhem in the mountains in this collection of nine short stories.  We get mountains from all over the world and stories set in every season, not just ski season.  From a deadly hike or two to a hot chocolate contest with a dead body, there is plenty to keep you entertained.

Each story is from a different author, and each story is fun.  A couple are filled with enough other things going on that the mysteries are short changed, but those are the exceptions.  Many of these characters have appeared elsewhere, but that doesn’t truly matter as each story introduces you to the characters.  These stories are on the long side for short stories; they averaged about 45 minutes each for me to read, so there is plenty here to keep you entertained.  If you are missing a mountain vacation, this collection is perfect for you.  Personally, I’m going to stay home where it is safe and pick up another book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

 

The Twist and Shout Murder by Teresa Trent (Swinging Sixties Mysteries #1) – 4

It’s 1962 in Camden, Texas, and Dot Morgan is almost done with her secretarial schooling.  But she’s taking on helping her father with a run for the local city council.  However, the election hits a snag when her father’s opponent dies.  The police think it was a tragic accident, but Dot thinks something else is going on.  The trouble is, if she convinces the police that it was murder, will she and her father become the top suspects?

It did take me a couple of chapters to get fully into this book, mainly because I felt like I was trying to remember all the characters and their relationships to each other.  But once I got that sorted out, I was hooked.  There are plenty of complications for Dot to deal with, and I enjoyed seeing how she dealt with everything.  She is strong.  There are plenty of great characters, including a potential love interest.  That time in history is also brought to life, including the changes society was going through.  I already can’t wait to see these characters again.  If you are looking for a fun historical mystery, you’ll be glad you picked up this one.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

 


Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel (The Vinyl Detective #1) – 3

He joking called himself the Vinyl Detective, but that brought a beautiful woman to his door.  Her employer wants him to track down a very rare jazz record.  Considering the fee he would get, he quickly agrees to the job.  However, when a dead body turns up and someone starts following him, the question becomes will he find the record?  Or is it even worth it?

I was amused to discover after I’d finished the book that we never do get the main character’s name.  However, reading the book, it never felt awkward, especially with the first-person narration.  And that didn’t lessen the character at all.  In fact, he leads a great cast that I enjoyed spending time with.  Unfortunately, the plot was slow and repetitive.  There were some good twists and complications, but they were too few.  Plus, we were left with some questions that needed to be answered.  On the other hand, I really did enjoy the banter between the characters; this had me chuckling and laughing as I read.  I was curious about the series, but I doubt I will be back for more.

 

Murder in Morningside Heights by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #19) – 5

Frank Malloy’s new private investigation business has only been open a few months, but it hasn’t gotten him any interesting cases until the Northrups walk in.  Their daughter Abigail has just been murdered on the campus of the women’s college where she taught.  Her parents want to know what happened without the press getting wind of a scandal to ruin her reputation.  Soon, Frank’s new wife, Sarah, is helping him figure out what happened to Abigail.  With several competing motives, will they figure out the truth?

As always, this was an excellent trip back to 1890’s New York City.  The story was fast paced, so even when I was ahead of the characters, it wasn’t for that long.  And I still wasn’t sure about who the killer was until we reached the logical conclusion.  Of course, it’s always great to spend time with the characters, and I love how Frank and Sarah’s world continues to evolve.  I also enjoy the humor that the characters and their relationships provide.  It’s a nice balance to some of the more serious themes the series tackles.  This book will please fans of the series.  Believe me, it is worth the time invested in catching up if you are still behind on the series like I am.

 

FoxTrot Sundaes by Bill Amend – 5

This collection features just over two years’ worth of Sunday strips from the comic strip FoxTrot.  Originally released in 2010, this was the first collection since cartoonist Bill Amend semi-retired, only releasing new strips on Sundays.  This is the first collection since he made that switch, and it has all new material.

The jokes may be familiar with the fans of the strip since the characters really haven’t changed, but that doesn’t make them any less fun.  I actually haven’t read the strip much in recent years, and it was great reconnection with these old friends.  Even if I saw a punch line coming, I would laugh, and I smiled my entire way through the book.  A few of the strips may be dated since they refer to then current events, but that’s a minor issue for me.

 

A Deadly Bone to Pick by Peggy Rothschild (Molly Madison #1) – 3

Molly Madison and her dog have relocated to Pier Point, California, and she is looking forward to starting all over.  However, she has not completely unpacked before a dog she is dog sitting uncovered a hand in the sand of a nearby beach.  With the police looking at Molly as a suspect because of a scandal in her past, she has to figure out what is going on.  But if she doesn’t even know her neighbors, can she do that?

I picked up this book because of the Southern California setting, and I loved that.  Even though Pier Point is fictional, I could easily picture it.  I also enjoyed meeting Molly and the rest of her neighbors.  They are slightly eccentric, but not so over the top that they didn’t still feel real.  There are plenty of dogs, and they are equally charming.  Unfortunately, the pacing of the book is very off.  It was slow in the beginning, focusing on Molly settling into her new life.  The ending, while logical, was rushed.  That kept me from fully enjoying what was a promising debut.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

 

Nun But the Brave by Alice Loweecey (Giulia Falcone-Driscoll #6) – 5

Giulia Driscoll has been hired by a young woman to find her missing twin sister.  Joanne has been missing for a couple of months.  The police are sure that she is dead, but her sister refuses to give up hope.  Giulia starts by talking to Joanne’s friends and co-workers, and she find that Joanne had been acting differently the last few months before she vanished.  The trail leads Giulia to several internet dating sites, but where will the trail end?

I’d forgotten just how funny this series was until I picked this book up.  I loved the banter between Giulia and those in her life.  Some of the humor was on the crude side, but it was still handled as delicately as possible.  The plot was good.  She made a couple of leaps of logic early on, but, I was willing to let that slide.  The plot holds up well on, and everything is resolved with evidence Giulia finds along the way by the time we reach the climax.  The characters are wonderful.  They may make us laugh, but there is depth to them that makes us care about the outcome.  If you are looking to laugh as you read, be sure to check out this book.

 

“U” is for Undertow by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #21) – 5

When Michael Sutton comes into Kinsey Millhone’s office one afternoon, he comes with a tale about two men he’d seen burring something in the woods twenty-one years earlier.  As a six-year-old, he believed their story that they were pirates digging for treasure, but after seeing an article about a kidnapping that took place about the same time, Michael is certain there is a connection.  The catch?  He doesn’t know where he was at the time.  With very little to go on, Kinsey agrees to take the case.  Will she find anything?

This is an excellent book in the series.  While we know more than Kinsey does for most of the book, watching Kinsey figure things out keeps the pages turning.  We spent time in the past as well as Kinsey’s present of 1988 to fully understand how things played out, and it always works.  Kinsey is a fun main character, and a recurring series storyline comes back into play in this book, allowing for some growth for her.  The rest of the cast are just as strong.  I knew going in that this book would have more content than I typically get in the cozies I read, but there was some stuff in the final quarter of the book that could have been trimmed without it impacting anything.  Still, overall, fans of this long running series will be happy with this book.

 

Grounds for Murder by Tara Lush (Coffee Lover’s Mysteries #1) – 4

Lana Lewis has moved back home to Devil’s Beach, an island off the Florida coast, and taken over running her late mother’s coffee shop.  One of the best and worst things about her new life is her employee, Fabrizio "Fab" Bellucci.  Fab is a great barista, but his shameless flirting gets on Lana’s nerves, especially since Fab has a reputation as a lady’s man to go along with it.  When Fab quits without any warning, Lana has a public confrontation with him.  The next morning, she discovers his dead body.  The police are saying it was a tragic accident, but Lana thinks something else happened to him.  Can she prove it?

After a bit of a slow start, this book picks up and presents some interesting twists along the way to a logical conclusion.  There are plenty of suspects, and they are well-drawn enough to keep us guessing.  I did wish that we learned a little less about Fab’s love life and that Lana’s attraction to the police chief were turned down a notch, but both are minor issues overall.  I feel like we have a small core of regulars here, but I really like them.  As a non-coffee drinker, I didn’t find the talk of coffee went too far, and I’m sure that coffee lovers will find this book makes them reach for their favorite mug.  This is a fun debut, and I hope to visit Lana again soon.

 

Singing in the Dark by Ginny Owens – 5

Christian recording artist Ginny Owens presents ten chapters that take us to Scripture to look at the songs we can sing to God no matter what our circumstances are.  No, these aren’t all taken from Psalms.  Yes, she does stretch the definition of song a bit (which she acknowledges).  But as we look at songs of praise and victory, laments, and a song for the plodding path, you will be encouraged and challenged a time or two.

Each chapter focuses on the person and story behind the passage we are studying, but Ginny makes these familiar elements fresh and brings out new insights.  She also shares openly about her own struggles, including what she still struggles with.

The chapters around 15 to 20 pages each, and could be done as devotionals.  I read the book over a couple of days, and I still found it encouraging.  I plan to go back and revisit it at a slower pace soon.  There is a lot to unpack here.

If you need encouragement in your life, you’ll be glad you picked up this book.

 

Forbidden City by James Ponti (City Spies #3) – 5

While on a recent mission, Paris discovered some bonus intel, and that turns out to be a valuable find.  It leads MI6 to believe that the evil organization Umbra is going to kidnap one of North Korea’s nuclear scientists.  If MI6 wants to get him to defect first, they need to find a way to approach him.  Given North Korea’s secrecy and security, that won’t be easy.  However, the scientist’s son is a top chess player, and he is planning to enter a couple of international tournaments.  So Paris tries to upgrade his own chess skills so he can join the tournaments.  Will Paris and the rest of the team be able to make contact with the scientist?  Is he even interested in defecting?

Having enjoyed the first two in this series, I was looking forward to this book, and I wasn’t disappointed.  This book is Paris’s time to shine, but all the other characters get their own smaller moments, and I continue to love their relationships.  We get some surprising advancement on one series plot thread, although others are only mentioned in passing.  I do feel like the other books in the series had a bit more action, but with all the angles the teams uses to approach their mission, I was never bored.  We get a few laughs along the way, and even when we aren’t laughing, it’s just fun to be around the characters.  Fans will enjoy this latest book.  I’m already looking forward to their next mission.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Book Review: Forbidden City by James Ponti (City Spies #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun story with great characters
Cons: All cons forbidden
The Bottom Line:
Chess is the mission
In globetrotting third entry
The fun continues



Spying and Chess

When I found the City Spies series a couple years ago, I immediately became a fan, eagerly awaiting each new adventure for MI6’s youngest agents.  Once I got my hands on the third book in the series, Forbidden City, I snuck it into my reading list as soon as I could.

If you have yet to meet the team, they are a group of five teenagers who each have extraordinary talents.  They are being trained in a facility in Scotland, and they attend a nearby private school.  That is, when they aren’t out on missions.  Each of the teens go by a code name based on a city near where they were recruited, hence the name of the group.

While on a recent mission, Paris discovered some bonus intel, and that turns out to be a valuable find.  It leads MI6 to believe that the evil organization Umbra is going to kidnap one of North Korea’s nuclear scientists.  If MI6 wants to get him to defect first, they need to find a way to approach him.  Given North Korea’s secrecy and security, that won’t be easy.  However, the scientist’s son is a top chess player, and he is planning to enter a couple of international tournaments.  So Paris tries to upgrade his own chess skills so he can join the tournaments.  Will Paris and the rest of the team be able to make contact with the scientist?  Is he even interested in defecting?

All the teens are in this book, and they all get their moments to shine.  However, this is really Paris’s book since so much of the action revolves around his part of the mission.  I enjoyed this chance to get to know him better.  Again, that’s not to say that the other characters don’t get their moments of growth.

That’s one thing I love about this series.  Yes, there are conflicts within the group.  However, you can tell these teens, and the two master spies training them, really do care for each other.  And the resolutions to those sub-plots are touching if predictable.  The great relationships between the characters are definitely something I keep coming back for.

What about the story?  It’s fun.  Chess may play an important part in it, but we don’t spend a lot of time sitting around watching Paris play.  Indeed, the book involves much more than just Paris as the team attacks the problem on several fronts.  Plus, we get to visit a couple of different countries in these pages.  I didn’t feel this book had quite as many action scenes as earlier books in the series, but the plot moved forward quickly and I was never bored, so that’s a minor complaint.

There are several threads running through the series.  While one of them was only mentioned in passing, another got some interesting developments.  I’m curious to see if more happens with that in the next one.

One thing that makes this series so good is that it is fun.  There are moments of humor that comes from the characters, and I did laugh and smile multiple times as I was reading.  Even when I wasn’t laughing, I was enjoying hanging out with these fictional friends.

Forbidden City is another book that kids of all ages will read as quickly as possible.  I am already looking forward to meeting up with the team again.

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

Saturday, February 26, 2022

February 26th's Weekly TV Thoughts

With the Olympics off, many of my shows are back this week!  But I'll be seeing season finales for some of them next week already.

But for now, here's what I watched this week.

Around the World in 80 Days – I knew the time twist, so I was expecting that.  I still enjoyed watching it play out.  Despite all I’ve said, I truly did love the characters, so I was smiling at the end.  Plus, I did love the nod to another Verne classic.

Superman and Lois – I’ll admit it took me a bit to get back into the flow of the show.  Too many weeks off, I guess.  But I was back in by the end.  Am I forgetting something?  Did Kyle really have an affair?  Did we know that and I’m forgetting about it?  If so, that’s going to be disappointing.  I liked how that family was starting to come together.  Drugs are about to be a problem.  And what is this cult leader really going to be after?

Naomi – I feel like we just watched a Halloween episode.  I get it, this show is airing just in the spring, but it definitely had that vibe about it.  I knew the general wasn’t buying Naomi’s parents story.  I’m wondering what that name at the end of the episode meant.  And the bounty hunter is in the Phantom Zone?  So how connected is this Earth to the Superman mythos?

Wipeout – That was close.  Much closer than I thought it would be, honestly.  It does seem like the second time almost always wins.  Since they have the first team standing there watching, I can’t accuse them of editing it that way.  Unless they film the reaction after the fact.  Anyway, we also had another team quit because of the fear of heights.  I wonder what happened with the other team.  I didn’t quite see.

Legends of Tomorrow – If I didn’t know any better, I would have said that was the series finale.  But we’ve got a new episode coming next week, as t’d up by the cliffhanger.  But what happened to Gary?

Batwoman – You know I love Alice, so the fact that she got so much screen time was great.  But I loved all the little moments.  They were really working on bringing everything together toward the season finale.  I’m worried about where they are going to go with Alice next season, of course.  But I’m very worried about what they are going to do next week.  Things are very bad for our heroes.  But something tells me that buzzer will make Marcus forget everything he now knows so the secrets will be safe.  We’ll see if that happens.

The Amazing Race – I am so glad there was one last non-elimination leg!  Especially after one of those needle in a haystack challenges.  I hate those.  And, while the teams still finished in their groupings (just reverse order), they really did all have a shot after the rock challenge.  Not really surprised everyone went with the plates.  I can see how that would be therapeutic after the first part of the day.  I’ve got to say, I’m getting tired of the dad.  He needs to calm down when talking to his daughter.

United States of Al – I’ve missed this show.  Some fun laughs in all three stories and some nice character moments, too.  I wouldn’t say it is hilarious, but it is warm and fun.

Friday, February 25, 2022

TV Show Review: Around the World in 80 Day (2022) - Season 1

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: The main characters, looks amazing
Cons: Slow story with an emphasis on lectures
The Bottom Line:
Race around the world
Turned into more of a plod
With lectures each week


“What Do You Think?  Be Completely Honest.  Unless You Hate It, Of Course, in Which Case, Please Lie Profusely.”

I’ve always enjoyed the various versions of Jules Verne novels I’ve seen over the years, but one I had never experienced in any way was Around the World in 80 Days.  When I heard that the BBC had a new version that was going to air on Masterpiece here in the States, I decided it was time to watch it.

Our story begins in 1870’s London where we meet Phileas Fogg (David Tennant) one afternoon in his gentlemen’s club.  He and some of his friends are discussing a recent article that claims, thanks to advances in technology, a person could travel around the world in 80 days.  When Fogg announces he thinks he could do it, his friend Bellamy (Peter Sullivan) suggests a wager.  Suddenly, Fogg finds himself racing around the world with her new valet Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma) and Abigail Fortescue (Leonie Benesch), the daughter of a friend who is planning to cover their journey as a reporter for her father’s paper.  Will the three of them make the trip?  Or will outside forces, or the dangers they meet along the way, keep them from completing it in time?

I sat down hoping for an exciting adventure story each week.  Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.  Oh, yes, there was some adventure along the way.  However, instead of being focused on telling us good stories each week, we were treated to lectures.  Just about every episode featured some storyline that played into modern politics.  Now, I’m not saying I necessarily disagreed with what was being said or the moral that we were supposed to learn (although there was one I definitely disagreed with).  My objection is twofold.  First, it was obvious we were being lectured, and good storytelling was sacrificed for these lectures.  Heck, if they hadn’t tried to work in the lectures, we could have had more of the action the show needed.  Second, the attitudes our characters had were definitely modern and not realistic for the 1870’s.  It kept throwing me out of the story and made me roll my eyes.  Heck, Abigail and Passepartout, as portrayed here, couldn’t have been in the book at all.

Another issue I had was with Fogg himself.  It wasn’t until a friend pointed it out that I put my finger on it.  Considering he is the one who has the most on the line, he seems pretty passive at times.  It’s the other two who drive the story more than he does.  Yes, I can see how they are trying to give his character an arc, but the writers seem to forget any growth he might have had at every opportunity and make him who he was again and again.  Abigail and Passepartout had much better character arcs, so this was clearly bad writing.

Which is a shame because I wanted to like Fogg and root for him.  And, despite what I’ve said about Abigail and Passepartout being very different here than they would be in the original book, I really liked them.  It was these three characters who kept me coming back.  Well, that and knowing that there were only eight episodes.  I probably would have given up if there had been more than that.

This isn’t a slam on the acting, which is always great.  And the cinematography and costumes are outstanding.  It looks absolutely amazing.

I’ve heard that the show has been renewed for a second season, and the writers are currently working on what it will look like.  Honestly, I doubt I will come back for a second season.  I think going Around the World in 80 Days once was enough for me.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Book Review: Singing in the Dark by Ginny Owens

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Scriptural encouragement for all seasons
Cons: Didn’t hit any sour notes for me
The Bottom Line:
Singing to our God
Through all the seasons of life
Encouraging book



Speaking, and Singing, Hope into the Darkness

In the late 1990’s, I was in love with a record label.  Rocketown Records released music by several artists that quickly became favorites, and Ginny Owens was one of them.  While I didn’t keep up with her career after the label folded (but I’m fixing that), I was very intrigued when I saw she’d written a book.  I had to get Singing in the Dark, and I’m so glad I did.

If you are not familiar with Ginny, she is a singer-songwriter who also happens to be blind.  Her lyrics have always spoken to me, and I expected nothing less from this book.

The sub-title of the book is Finding Hope in the Songs of Scripture, so I was expecting a book focused on the Psalms.  Makes sense, right?  However, Ginny doesn’t do that.  Yes, we do have chapters taken from the Psalms, but she also picks up songs from Moses, Isaiah, Deborah, and so many others.  I will say that some of the passages she picks aren’t really songs (something she acknowledges), but that’s a very minor issue.

There are ten chapters here, and each one focuses on a different passage and a different type of song.  We get songs of praise and victory as well as laments, and a song for the plodding path.  Each chapter amplifies the passage and the story behind it.  Admittedly, there was little here I didn’t already know, but Ginny’s insights and way of telling the story made me look at it in a different way.

Each chapter also contains stories from Ginny’s life that show what she is talking about.  She is honest with us about the struggles she has experiences over her life, but she shares how the truths of these passages have helped her overcome her struggles.  Not that she comes off as proud of where she is.  She is honest that she still struggles with many of these things.

And maybe that is one thing that hit me anew here.  It is a process.  This isn’t just something that can be flipped on and off.  While I know that, I really felt like I was being given an example of it with Ginny’s vulnerability.

The book was released in 2021, so there are some references to the pandemic since Ginny was living in New York City as the events of 2020 unfolded.  It helped make what she was saying here more powerful.

As I said, the book is ten chapters, and each one is roughly 15 to 20 pages.  While I read the book over a couple of days, it is more designed to be used as a devotional with some time to write responses to what Ginny is sharing.  The book touched me, challenged me, and encouraged me just with how I read it.  I’m thinking of spending more time with it in the near future.

Honestly, there is so much here that rereading it in a few months will be beneficial.  I’m sure I missed some things.  And these truths are good to mediate on more than once.

And I can’t tell you how encouraging this book was.  I feel renewed after dwelling on the truths that Ginny presents here.  It’s why I know I need to spend more time with this book.

If you need encouragement and hope in your life, I can’t recommend Singing in the Dark highly enough.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Movie Review: Haunted by Murder - An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters we love in a good mystery
Cons: Bits of cheese, but little that will bother fans
The Bottom Line:
Body from the past
Hidden rooms and haunted house
Makes a fun entry




“You Know I Found Frank Brunelli’s Body When I Was in High School.”  “Who Don’t You Find?”

Halloween came early this year.  Honestly, I’m very surprised that Haunted by Murder premiered on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel this past weekend.  With the haunted house theme, it felt like it should have been an October release.  That timing aside, I did enjoy the latest Aurora Teagarden Mystery.

When her mom, Aida (Marilu Henner) buys the old Enshaw place, it brings back memories for Aurora (Candace Cameron Bure) and her best friend, Sally (Lexa Doig).  The house has been abandoned for decades and had a reputation for being haunted.  As teenagers, the two of them went into the house on a dare, and they discovered a body in a secret room.  The police ruled it an accidental death, but Aurora can’t help but use this as an excuse to poke around again.  Will she find proof that a murder took place all those years ago?

Yes, we spend plenty of time in the house, and it really does appear to be haunted.  There’s a spooky atmosphere to much of this movie, but it’s a fun spooky.  This is still a Hallmark movie after all.  I watched the movie at night with no lingering issues that kept me from sleeping as soon as I turned off the movie, so don’t let that scare you off.

And the mystery was good.  I think I enjoyed it because it was different.  That’s all I will say on the subject, but I was satisfied with the twists along the way and how it all played out.

Another reason I enjoyed it is because all the supporting players were around.  It seems we often have one or two missing in a movie, but everyone was present this time, and I loved the dynamics that gave the film.  There were many wonderful jokes and a surprise about one of them.

The main cast also did a great job bringing their characters to life.  I did feel there was some cheese from some of the supporting players but it was lower than normal for a Hallmark movie, which I appreciated.

The movie starts out with teenage Aurora and Sally on the night they went into the house.  In a fun bit of casting, they got Candace Cameron Bure’s and Lexa Doig’s real life daughters, Natasha Bure and Mia Shanks, to play the teenage versions of the characters.  I love things like that.

I do have to mention Niall Matter’s beard.  Sometime between filming the last movie and this one, the actor grew a fill beard.  I’ve got to admit, I didn’t recognize him with it.  I knew he was still playing Aurora’s husband, Nick, but if I didn’t know he was in the film, I would have wondered if they recast the part.  I’m sure, if he keeps it, we’ll get used to it.

Minor issues aside, Haunted by Murder was a fun mystery movie.  Fans of the franchise will enjoy catching up with everyone and watching Aurora solver her latest case.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Book Review: Grounds for Murder by Tara Lush (Coffee Lover’s Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lana and the other regulars, good mystery
Cons: A few elements could have been dialed back
The Bottom Line:
When barista dies
Lana tries to prove murder
Entertaining start



Buzz Worthy Debut

While I don’t drink coffee (I’ve never liked the taste), Grounds for Murder immediately caught my interest when I first heard about it.  A coffee shop on a touristy island in Florida?  Definitely sounded like a setting I would enjoy.  And I’m certainly glad I read it.

After her life in Miami fell apart, Lana Lewis moved back home to Devil’s Beach, an island off the coast of south Florida.  She’s running the coffee shop her late mother started, and in the couple of months she’s been there, she’s begun to make it her own.  Business is good, especially thanks to Fabrizio "Fab" Bellucci.  Fab is a wonderful coffee maker and a shameless flirt, which helps draw customers into the shop.

When Fab doesn’t show up to work one day, Lana is shocked to discover that he has quit with no word and is now working for the competition.  Lana has words with him – very public words.  The next morning, Lana finds Fab’s dead body as she is going to open the coffee shop.  His death looks like a tragic accident, but Lana’s crime reporter instincts tell her something else is going on.  Can she figure out the truth?

Fab is quite the lady’s man, which is helpful since it gives us a strong pool of suspects.  On the other hand, we get a tad more detail about his love life than I would have liked.  Couple that with Lana’s constant first person thoughts about her attraction to the police chief, and there were some things I wish had been tone down a little.  Don’t worry, we’re not talking about anything too bad, but it still could have been toned down.

The plot did get off to a bit of a slow start, but once it really got going, I was hooked.  I appreciated how the plot unfolded since it was a bit different from a typical cozy.  Those subtle differences were refreshing.  There were enough suspects and clues to keep me engaged, and the ultimate solution was satisfying.

And I really did love the cast of characters.  I feel like we’ve got a small group of series regulars at this point, but they are all fun, and I liked hanging out with them.  The suspects were real enough to keep me guessing, and I wouldn’t mind updates on one or two of them as well.

As a non-coffee drinker, I didn’t find the coffee parts of the book overwhelming.  There was enough talk that it will have coffee lovers reaching for their favorite mug, but it wasn’t enough to make me feel bored.  Meanwhile, the treats that Lana bakes made my mouth water.  If you are looking for recipes, you won’t find any here, but that’s a small issue.

Overall, I did enjoy Grounds for Murder.  Lana’s amateur sleuth career is off to a fun start.  I’m sure I’ll be back visiting her again soon.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Ornament Review: Alice in Wonderland 70th Anniversary - 2021 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Unique scene colorfully done
Cons: Blush on Alice’s cheek, tip
The Bottom Line:
Anniversary piece
Puts Alice among flowers
Pretty, but it tilts



It’s Almost a Golden Afternoon with This Ornament

2021 was the 70th anniversary for Alice in Wonderland.  As Hallmark does, they created an ornament to celebrate.  While I like it, it could have been a little better.

The ornament features Alice talking to the flowers she meets along the way.  It’s a scene that I enjoy that doesn’t get as much love as some of the other scenes and characters do, so I was happy to see it.  Alice is leaning over to talk to one flower while three smaller flowers are brushing up against her dress.  Alice is standing on the grass the flowers are coming up from.

At first glance, this is a great looking ornament.  The colors of the flowers are vibrant, and everyone is captured like they look in the movie.  However, when I looked closer at Alice’s face, I noticed that her rosy cheeks are a bit too rosy.  I don’t know if I just got a bad paint job or what, but they look bad.  The flowers also have rosy cheeks, and they look natural, so that’s what leads me to believe it might be my ornament.  Either way, it is a minor issue.

Since Alice and the flowers are in the grass, the ornament has a nice flat base, and you can use it with any display you would like year-round.

The loop to hang the ornament is on top of Alice’s head.  Unfortunately, when you go to hang the ornament, you’ll find that it tips toward the largest flower.  It’s quite noticeable, too.  I’m not sure where else they could have put the loop to keep the ornament straight when it hangs.  It’s hard to hide it with tree branches, but if you get creative you can do it.

It’s a shame the ornament tips like it does because I like the ornament overall.  If you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland, you’ll be glad you tracked it down for your collection as well.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Disney Pin Review: Coats & Co. - Windows of Main Street - 2021 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great version of a Disney window
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Coats in the window
Mr. Toad along for ride
A legend honored




It’s No Tall Tale or Wild Ride to See Why I Like This Pin

For my second Windows of Main Street pin review, I’m once again picking a pin that premiered at Disneyland.  Can you tell I went to Disneyland recently?  Yes, this is another pin I bought in person instead of buying off the internet secondhand.  But that’s beside the point.  The Coats & Co. window pin is another great tribute to a Disney legend.

This window is located on Main Street in Disneyland above the Emporium.  The company is Coats & Co., Claude Coats, Proprietor.  Who is Claude?  He is a Disney artist known for his work on backgrounds in Disney animated movies, most prominently Pinocchio, although he worked on many others.  When Disney started working on Disneyland, he switched over to the park.  He worked on the dioramas you see on the train as you travel between Tomorrowland and Main Street.  He also worked on such classic attractions as Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  He was also 6 ft 6 inches tall.  While the window doesn’t say it, Coats & Co. is a big and tall shop.  Makes sense, right?

On Main Street, this window has green shutters next to it, and that has been capture with the pin version.  At first glance, the pin is just showing the closed green shutters.  However, the shutters are hinged, and you can open them to reveal the window.  The upper portion has the stenciling that advertises the company.  In the parks, the shutters are closed on the bottom half of the window, but here they open as well to reveal Mr. Toad in his motor car, a tie in to the Mr. Toad ride that Claude worked on.

Again, I didn’t necessarily know this history when I bought the pin.  I just liked the idea of having this version of a window I’ve walked by many times on Main Street.  However, now that I’ve done the research into who Claude was and why he was being honored, I love it even more.

If you want some Disney history in pin form, you’ll be happy you go Claude Coats’s Windows of Main Street pin.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

February 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another week without too many TV programs.  Which is fine since I was busy watching as much of the Olympics as I could.  But here's what I did watch.

Around the World in 80 Days – I wish I weren’t so cynical.  I just feel like what we aren’t seeing isn’t that close to the original book.  This last episode felt very much like a lecture, and I have a hard time believing that the book would have had an African American sheriff.  I’m not saying I disagree with anything our heroes did or said (well, a few moments, but overall).  But it came across as more of a lecture than the next chapter in their adventure.

Wipeout – And they were back to the original obstacles.  I’m bummed.  I can certainly feel with the woman who got so scared of heights she couldn’t continue on the Wipeout Zone.  That would be me, although I’m not sure I’d even make it that far.  I do have to wonder why she did that half and not her partner since it seems like the second half wouldn’t be quite as scary.

The Amazing Race – The father/daughter team managed to stay in the race!  I’m surprised.  I feel for the twins, finding the pitstop too early.  That must be super frustrating.  I thought the guys were doing well, but they stayed in third overall.  I’m impressed with the teams that got the spelling part of the sandwich order right away.  I’m such a bad speller I would really struggle with that. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Book Review: “U” is for Undertow by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #21)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and plot
Cons: A couple scenes in the last quarter that could have been trimmed
The Bottom Line:
An old kidnapping
Will Kinsey get break in case?
Overall, strong book


Is There a Clue Underground?

I’ve found the last few books in the Kinsey Millhone series to be uneven.  While I still love Kinsey herself, the plots, and the contents, haven’t held together as well as the early books in the series.  I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case with “U” is for Undertow.  This was an expertly plotted book that captivated me the entire way through.

If you’ve missed the series, Kinsey is a private investigator in Santa Teresa (a thinly disguised Santa Barbara) on the coast in California.  The series started in the 1980’s, and author Sue Grafton kept the character there.  For this book, it’s April of 1988, although we spend quite a bit of time in the past.

When Michael Sutton comes into Kinsey’s office one afternoon, he comes with a tale about two men he’d seen burring something in the woods twenty-one years earlier.  As a six-year-old, he believed their story that they were pirates digging for treasure, but after seeing an article about a kidnapping that took place about the same time, Michael is certain there is a connection.  The catch?  He doesn’t know where he was at the time.  With very little to go on, Kinsey agrees to take the case.  Will she find anything?

This book unfolds mostly from Kinsey’s first-person point of view in the present, but we do get chapters from some other characters and several from back in the 1960’s that help fill in the gaps.  As I went along, I was impressed with how the story unfolded.  We knew more than Kinsey did, but the suspense came from wondering just how she’d figure it out.  And there were some great twists along the way that kept that suspense going.  I was never bored for a minute.  As the book drew to a close, I was impressed at the little details that tied it all together.

Of course, readers stick with long running series because we love the characters, and that’s certainly the case with Kinsey.  She’s a fantastic lead character, and she carries the book mostly by herself.  A long running thread through the series comes to the forefront again here, and it allowed for some good growth for Kinsey.  There are a few other regulars, but they are in the background, as if often the case.  This is Kinsey’s show, and she shines.

That isn’t to say the characters we meet here aren’t equally good.  I’ve long marveled at Sue Grafton’s ability to craft characters with just a few words, and that is on full display here once again.

This isn’t one of my typical cozies, so know that there is a little more language, violence, and sex than what I typically read.  I was okay mostly with that, but there were a few scenes in the last quarter of the book that could have been trimmed back without the book losing anything at all.

As always, I enjoyed the audio version.  Judy Kaye has made these characters her own, and she does a good job of breathing life into the story without getting in the way.

Fans of the series will be rewarded with “U” is for Undertow.  If, like me, you are behind on this great series, you’ll be rewarded when you pick up this book.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Kinsey Millhone series.

February 18th's Book Beginnings, First Line Friday, and Friday 56

Welcome to Friday!  It's time for some weekly posts with Book Beginnings, First Line Friday, and Friday 56.

I'm taking a break from mysteries this week (shocking, I know), and instead featuring Singing in the Dark by Ginny Owens.


Ginny is a Christian singing, and this is a devotional subtitled Finding Hope in the Songs of Scripture.  I finished it earlier this week, and I really enjoyed it.  I read it straight through instead of using it as a devotional, but I plan to go back and revisit it at a slower pace soon.

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

I was a senior in college when I first witnessed music bringing light into darkness.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we are looking at Moses as background for one of the songs he sang in the Scriptures:

I've often wondered what it must have been like for Moses, that prince, scholar, and bold proponent of justice turned outlaw turned shepherd.  He was probably resigned to the idea that he would spend the rest of his life sheep-tending in the desert.  But at eighty, at the point when most folds are slowing down, God came to Moses, singing of the detour that would become his new road.

I'll be reviewing this book next Thursday, so I hope you'll come back to see my full review.

In the meantime, have a great weekend, especially if you have a long weekend here in the US.  I'm happy to have President's Day off again this year.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Book Review: Nun But the Brave by Alice Loweecey (Giulia Falcone-Driscoll #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and plot; lots of humor
Cons: A few of the things Giulia encounters are rather crude.
The Bottom Line:
A missing woman
Can Giulia bring her home?
Good mystery, laughs



Giulia Bravely Tackles a Missing Person Case

Among the more unusual protagonists I read about is Giulia Driscoll, the former nun turned PI.  The creation of Alice Loweecey, herself a former nun, this series keeps me laughing as I see what Giulia has gotten herself into.  That stayed true for Nun But the Brave.

This case kicks off when Giulia is hired by a young woman to find her missing twin sister.  Joanne has been missing for a couple of months.  The police are sure that she is dead, but her sister refuses to give up hope.  Giulia starts by talking to Joanne’s friends and co-workers, and she find that Joanne had been acting differently the last few months before she vanished.  The trail leads Giulia to several internet dating sites, but where will the trail end?

Yes, this is a comedic mystery despite the very serious subject matter at hand.  And no, the humor doesn’t come from Giulia fumbling around as she solves the case.  It quite often comes from the banter between Giulia, her husband, and the employees of her PI firm.  There are also Giulia’s observations as she interviews suspects.  I laughed and smiled my way through the book, enjoying every page.

I will say that some of the things Giulia finds as she investigates push this one out of the cozy category, at least for me.  We’re talking about some of the messages she gets on the dating sites, for example.  Most of this is crude humor and is played for laughs and handled as delicately as possible, so it’s a minor issue overall.

Giulia does make a couple of leaps in this case by following her gut.  This might normally bother me, but they were leaps I was already making since I had the advantage of knowing I was reading a book.  It actually felt nice for a character to be with me, even if I question whether someone in the real world would have made those connections.

The other reason I’m willing to let this slide is because the plot does hold up.  Giulia may move on instinct at times, but she finds evidence that backs her up before the story ends.  The climax is suspenseful, and all the loose ends are wrapped up before we put the book down.

And the characters are great.  While they make me laugh, there are depths to them that make me care about them and the outcome of the story.

Nun But the Brave was fun from start to finish.  If you are looking for a light mystery, I highly recommend you pick it up.

Be sure to book more cases with Giulia Falcone-Driscoll.  (Link includes all books with her as the main character from both series.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

TV Show Review: The Book of Boba Fett

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Acting and effects
Cons: Slow story that wanders
The Bottom Line:
Focus on Boba
Well, in early episodes
Show needed focus





“I’m Not a Bounty Hunter.”  “I’ve Heard Otherwise.”

I’ve never quite understood the fascination with Boba Fett from the Star Wars movies.  Heck, as far as I’m concerned, he’s a bad guy since he captures Han Solo.  But I wasn’t surprised that the creative minds found a way to resurrect the character.  Easy way to draw in the fans, right?  I was even less surprised that they gave him his own spin off from The Mandalorian.  I am surprised that The Book of Boba Fett wasn’t better.

The story focuses on Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) as he returns to Tatooine to claim Jabba the Hutt’s territory on the planet.  Boba Fett wants to be more benevolent than Jabba was, but even with Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) by his side, he finds that there is danger all around him.  There are others who want Jabba’s territory.  Plus, there are the spice traders who operate on the planet.  Can he establish himself?  Or will he be driven out, or worse yet, killed?

And are you wondering how he survived what appeared to be his death in Return of the Jedi?  Don’t worry, we get flashbacks here that show us how he survived and his trials on Tatooine immediately after.

And that’s my first problem with this show.  Yes, flashbacks can be good when done well like they were in Lost and Once Upon a Time.  However, they have become overdone, often interrupting the flow of a story with stuff we don’t care about.  Arrow was a prime example of that for me.  This show is another.  Yes, a few flashbacks in the first episode were good to help us fill in that gap in Boba Fett’s story.  However, after that, we should have stuck with the story in the present.  I found that much more compelling.  Instead, we got flashbacks in the first four episodes, sometimes taking up much of the episode run time.

The results made the show feel slow.  Yes, story was advancing, but it wasn’t advancing that fast.  I wasn’t the only one who found the early episodes slow.  Granted, I found that the case with The Mandalorian at times, so I was surprised to find myself agreeing with others on this show.

Then come episodes 5 and 6.  Boba Fett hardly appears in these episodes.  Instead, we get episodes that really could have been the start of season 3 of The Mandalorian.  Many fans loved these episodes because we got to see beloved characters again.  Me?  I was watching to see what was going to happen to Boba Fett.  Again, it felt like it stopped the flow of the story.  And, they were once again slow with hardly anything of significance happening.  I feel like the writers were so in love with these characters, they just wanted to spend time with them even if it was on throw away stuff.

Which brings us to the seventh and final episode.  The plot threads do come together, which I appreciated.  And, we get action.  In fact, we get too much action.  Yes, there is such a thing.  The action was repetitive.  They could have shaved off ten minutes of the episode and no one would have missed it.  If they’d done that, I would have been cheering the episode.  As it was, I was bored.  We knew what the next plot point was going to be, but they showed us the characters fighting against overwhelming odds while we waited for that plot point to happen.

It's a shame because, from a technical standpoint, this show is good.  The acting is great.  The special effects are top notch.  The show is lovely to look at.  The characters have fun moments.  It’s just that the episodes were stretched out longer than they needed to be.

I feel like this would have been a good two, maybe two and a half hour, movie.  Instead, it got stretched out to seven episodes that average 45 minutes or so.

You definitely need to know what happened here before you watch season 3 of The Mandalorian.  But that’s the only reason to watch the disappointing The Book of Boba Fett.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Book Review: A Deadly Bone to Pick by Peggy Rothschild (Molly Madison #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong, fun characters; lovely setting
Cons: Very uneven pacing in the plot
The Bottom Line:
Sandy Discov’ry
Charming characters and dogs
But uneven plot



Unfortunately, I Have a Bone to Pick with This Debut

When I was looking over the new authors debuting this year, Peggy Rothschild caught my eye.  Her book is set in a small but fictitious Southern California beach community, and I immediately was drawn to the premise, so I agreed to read A Deadly Bone to Pick.

Molly Madison is starting her life over again in Pier Point, California, with her faithful Golden Retriever, Harlow, in tow.  She’s hoping to leave some of pain in her past behind, so she needs this move to work out.

All that is put into jeopardy when a dog she is dog sitting uncovered a severed hand on the beach early one morning.  Despite Molly doing the right thing and calling the cops, the cops still think that Molly makes a great suspect, especially given her past.  Can Molly dig up the truth?

The cast of characters is charming.  They are eccentric enough to be memorable, but they aren’t so over the top that they feel less than real.  I loved meeting them and getting to spend time with them.

And that includes the dogs.  While I am allergic to dogs, it is the relationships portrayed here that make me wish I could get one.  They are charming, and their antics made me smile.

Meanwhile, I loved the setting.  While Pier Point may be fictional, I could easily picture it.  I always enjoy reading books set in Southern California since I’m familiar with the geography, and this was no exception.

Unfortunately, the plot was slow.  Things kick off fairly quickly, but then the book focuses on Molly settling into her new home and meeting neighborhood dogs for far too long for my tastes.  Eventually, the mystery does take over Molly’s focus, and we reach a logical but rushed climax.

I wish I had enjoyed A Deadly Bone to Pick more.  There is much potential here, but the slow start kept me from being as engaged as I would have liked.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Ornament Review: Merry Lil' Minnie - 2021 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great details in this mini Minnie ornament
Cons: Seems a little too tiny even for a mini ornament
The Bottom Line:
A tiny Minnie
That’s featuring a cute pose
A little too small



Minnie Has a Little Gift for You

When I buy miniature ornaments, I know to expect them to be small.  Even so, I feel like Merry Lil’ Minnie is small.  I’m not saying this is a bad ornament, but the size does matter in this case.

This ornament was one of four that Hallmark released in 2021 featuring classic Disney characters.  Yes, DisNerd that I am, I bought all four of them despite the size issue I had with Mickey and Minnie.  They are still cute ornaments.

For this pose, Minnie is holding a wrapped present.  She’s standing with one foot on the ground and the other tipped up next to it.  She’s looking back over her shoulder.  Instead of her traditional red dress, she’s wearing a solid red dress with white fringe to look like Mrs. Claus’s dress.  Her ears are sticking out of her Santa hat, and there’s a little bit of holly on her hat.

The detail on this ornament is impressive.  It truly is.  Heck, we can see her eyelashes.  As I’ve been saying, even for a miniature ornament, this one feels mini.  I’m not quite sure why that is since the ornament is just under an inch tall, which is just under standard size for Hallmark’s miniature ornaments.  Maybe it’s because the ornament seems skinny.  I just worry about losing this one more than I do some of the other miniature ornaments I have, and she definitely felt smaller than the others when on my mini tree this last year.

Because of how Minnie is standing in her shoes, this ornament won’t stand on its own.  When you go to hang the ornament, you’ll find that the ornament hangs straight.

A little more size would have made Merry Lil’ Minnie a great ornament.  As it is, I’m glad I added her to my miniature ornament collection, but she won’t be a favorite.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Book Review: FoxTrot Sundaes by Bill Amend

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs with the Fox Family
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
The Fox family
Some Sunday strips collected
Plentiful laughs here


Our First Dose of Sunday Fun with FoxTrot

I’ve been a fan of the comic strip FoxTrot since I discover it while I was in college.  The antics of the Fox family made me laugh for years, and I was disappointed when cartoonist Bill Amend made the decision to semi-retire, only releasing new strips on Sundays.  That means that the collections of his books are also coming out less frequently.  I’ve been buying them, but for some reason not reading them.  I finally fixed that with the first of the Sunday only collections – FoxTrot Sundaes, and I immediately remembered why I loved this strip so much.

If you have yet to meet the family, there are five members of the Fox family.  In addition to the parents, we have high school junior, Peter, high school freshman, Paige, and fifth grader, Jason.  The kids (and parents for that matter) fall into a bit of your typical stereotypes, maybe with the exception of Jason, who is super smart and your typical geek.  And yet, they still manage to be real characters and make us laugh, even after all these years.

This book originally came out in 2010, and it collects almost two years’ worth of comics in full Sunday color.  We can easily follow along with the seasons as first days of school and holidays help us pinpoint where in the year we are.  While the strip when it was daily had quite a few great strips around new pop culture movies or TV shows, this one isn’t quite as pop culture dependent.  However, there are a couple of references to current events that definitely date the strips.  But that’s a minor issue (and the strips are still funny).

Fans of the series will definitely be glad to hear that nothing has been lost by cutting down to just Sundays.  Yes, the jokes might be familiar – Jason tormenting Paige, Paige being obsessed over guys, the mom’s awful vegan cooking as examples – but they are still funny.  There are enough twists to the jokes to make me enjoy them all over again.  Okay, so the time I spent away from the characters might help as well.  These strips were collected here for the first time; nothing from this book was also in the previous collections I’ve read.

I’ve got all but the most recent book.  Now that I’ve reacquainted myself with the Fox family, I am hoping to make a point to revisit them again this year.  Any fan of family comic strips will enjoy FoxTrot Sundaes.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

February 12th's Weekly TV Thoughts

It's almost like we have Olympics going on or something.  My TV viewing has cut itself in half, which is a good thing.  I've had so much else going on I haven't had time to watch TV like I normally would.  Haven't watched as much Olympics as I thought I would either.

Around the World in 80 Days – I’m not too surprised at where this episode went.  I was expecting, with them stranded on an island, that it was finally time to face the various arcs we’d been building.  I’ll be interested to see how they build on this going forward since I am impressed with the character development we’ve gotten.  The romance has me very curious as well, given the time when the series was set.  So, a predictable episode (again), but a good one.

Wipeout – They changed the course!  I really liked some of these new obstacles, or maybe it was just that we got to see something new.  John was a good sport at the end, and the running gags with the team that run were really entertaining.

The Book of Boba Fett – I know I’ve been complaining about the show being slow and lacking action.  This episode was almost all action, and it was still slow.  There is such a thing as too much action, which can be boring if it gets repetitive.  That was the case here.  At least you won’t have to hear me whine too much more about it (after I review it next week), right?

The Amazing Race – I’m skipping the cheese, but the rest of the island still looks gorgeous.  The father/daughter team once again struggled when they had to drive, although they weren’t as far behind as they have been in the past.  Harder to get lost on an island, I guess, especially when everyone was pretty bunched up the entire time.  Loved the bit with the glasses.  I was surprised the ship was leaving for a trip around the bay with no one on board.  I figured it would be waiting unless teams were already on it.