Thursday, June 30, 2022

June 2022's Reading Summary

We are half way through the year.  Rather hard to believe, isn't it?  2022 is just flying by.  But, since it's the end of June, that must mean it is time for my reading summary for the month.  I feel like the books were a bit more all over the place than normal.  Or, I was just being a little pickier.  Or both.  It's completely possible that it is both.  I also read a lot of first in series - more than I typically would.  I started a couple of series I've been meaning to try and a couple of favorite authors started new series.

Anyway, here is what I read in June.  And the index is updated.

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


Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #21) – 4

Frank and Sarah are upset to learn they can’t legally adopt Catherine, the little girl that Sarah has been caring for for several years, because, in the eyes of the law, Parnell Vaughn is her legal father.  Fortunately, the actor is willing to sign his rights over to Frank and Sarah, but his fiancée wants some money from them.  When Frank goes back to deliver the payment and get Parnell’s signature, he finds the actor dead in his dressing room.  With Frank accused of the crime, he and Sarah have to clear his name.  Who really murdered Parnell?

It's always a pleasure to pop back in on Sarah and Frank in 1899 New York City, and this book was no exception.  I love the characters.  As is often the case these days, we get parts of the story from four different points of view, and it is always easy to tell when we switch from one to the other.  I did feel the plot wasn’t quite as good as usual for this series.  There are a few twists and a strong climax, but it got bogged down in the middle.  Still, fans will be happy to spend time with these characters we love.  I know I did.


Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan – 3

Lily Atwood is living a charmed life.  A TV reporter with awards and millions of fans by day, she is a devoted single mother to a charming seven-year-old daughter by night.  Her fans think she has it all, and Lily works hard to project that.  Things take a turn when her latest anonymous source starts feeding her secrets from her own life.  Can Lily keep her perfect life?

The book started well, and I was quickly pulled in.  The use of multiple narrators and a large chunk back in the past was easy to follow thanks to headings at the start of every chapter.  However, as I got further into the book, I started to get more frustrated.  A whiney character was annoying, and I felt like some of the book was driven by manufactured suspense.  If the characters would just listen to each other, they’d get the answers they wanted.  Having said that, one twist got a gasp out of me near the end.  The ending was a bit of a letdown since it left me wondering what the point was.  All told, this was a mixed bag.


Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron (Vintage Cookbook Mysteries #1) – 4

Ricki James-Diaz is looking to start over in New Orleans, and her interest in opening a vintage cookbook store is a perfect match for the Bon Vee Culinary House Museum.  As she gets to know her new coworkers, she quickly realizes just how much of a grump Franklin Finbloch is.  Still, the man isn’t fired until he is caught trying to steal from Ricki’s new gift shop.  Then his body turns up in what Ricki thought was a trunk of books donated to Bon Vee.  With the suspicion falling on people Ricki was beginning to consider friends, she jumps in to figure out what really happened.  Will she solve the case?

As is often the case with a series debut, the beginning was a little slow as it set up the premise of the series and began introducing us to the characters.  The ending was a bit abrupt, although everything that happened did follow logically from what came before.  And what came before?  It was wonderful, with plenty of twists to keep me engaged.  The sub-plots helped as well.  Ricki has quite the interesting background, and I appreciated how it was doled out as we needed it.  Being a series debut, the potential series regulars also serve as suspects, and that made me care about the outcome that much more.  Naturally, there are recipes at the end, but in a twist that fits this book, all six are from vintage cookbooks.  This is a fun series debut.  I’m already looking forward to revisiting Ricki again soon.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Navigator’s Daughter by Nancy Cole Silverman (Kat Lawsone Mysteries #1) – 4

When Kat Lawson’s father gets a letter from the DOD that someone has found the wreckage of his downed plane from World War II, he asks Kat to go to Hungary and take pictures of it for him and find out what happened to the people who rescued him.  Since Kat’s personal life is in a state of flux, she agrees.  What she finds when she gets there are people who are almost too willing to help her.  Are they up to something?  What will she learn about her father’s past?

This book takes place in 1996 and the setting just after Russia had left Hungary makes for an entertaining read.  It allows us to get caught up in not only what happened to these characters during World War II, but also in the decades since.  Honestly, if the book had stayed focused on that, I would have been completely satisfied with it.  There is a crime fiction element, but it came across more as a sub-plot, and I felt it was a little forced into the book.  However, it appears to be setting up future books in the series, and I will definitely be back for them.  I enjoyed getting to know Kat and watching her grow as the book progressed.  The other characters helped pull me into the story.  This is a promising debut that I enjoyed.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Tuesday Night Survivors’ Club by Lynn Cahoon (Survivors’ Book Club Mysteries #1) – 4

After surviving cancer, Rarity Cole moves to Sedona, Arizona, and opens a bookstore.  One of her ideas for connecting with the community is to start a book club for other cancer survivors.  However, when Martha, one of the members, misses a meeting, Rarity becomes concerned.  Can she and the other members figure out what happened to Martha?

I’ve been meaning to read one of Lynn Cahoon’s books for years, and I figured the start of a new series was a great time to do just that.  Overall, I did enjoy the book.  I did find the characters’ motivation for investigating the crime weak.  On the other hand, I really liked the four main characters.  The rest of the cast could be stronger, but that will come as the series progresses, right?  I did find a few unfortunate errors in the book that should have been caught with good editing – a timeline issue and something setup that was dropped.  I did get pulled into the plot.  I pegged the killer a little early, but I didn’t have the motive figured out until Rarity put it together.  I completely enjoyed the setting and I’m ready to go visit Sedona.  The cancer survivor hook was good as well.  I’ll definitely be back to visit these characters again.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Up to No Gouda by Linda Reilly (Grilled Cheese Mysteries #1) – 4

After losing her husband, Carly Hale has moved back to Balsam Dell, Vermont, and followed her dream by opening Carly’s Grilled Cheese Eatery.  Her new business is threatened when the building it is in is bought by her high school boyfriend, Lyle Bagley.  Lyle wants her to move out so he can turn it into a clothing boutique for his fiancée.  The day after Lyle makes his announcement, he is found behind Carly’s restaurant.  When her server becomes the prime suspect, Carly starts investigating.  Can she figure out what really happened?

What lover of culinary cozies could resist a book featuring grilled cheese as the hook?  Not me!  I’m glad I picked it up.  The cast is filled with some unique characters for a cozy mystery – or at least a slight twist on the normal characters we’d see, and I really enjoyed that.  Carly herself is an entertaining and engaging lead character.  The pacing was slow a few times, but overall, this was a solid mystery with plenty of suspects and a couple of nice twists on the way to a surprising conclusion.  And yes, you’ll find three grilled cheese sandwich recipes at the end to satisfy your cravings.  I will definitely be returning to find out what Carly gets up to next.


Island of Thieves by Glen Erik Hamilton (Van Shaw #6) – 5

Van Shaw has been hired by an eccentric businessman to assess the security of the art gallery on his private island during a several day business meeting being hosted there.  Van isn’t sure he believes the story he’s been given, but the money is good, so he agrees to the job.  When he arrives, he finds the man’s normal security forces more hostile than expected.  Then he finds a dead body on the beach.  What has Van stumbled into this time?

I picked up this book expecting another thrilling adventure, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The plot was a little slow in the set up, but once it got going, there were plenty of twists and action to keep us engaged.  I was surprised to see the book switch to third person point of view, which made it a little harder than I expected to connect with Van again, but the multiple points of view we had for the climax made it clear why this book needed that switch.  And the changes from one point of view to another were always easy to follow.  I did have a little trouble connecting the characters to which side they were on, but that might be me.  We do see some of the other series regulars, and I love how they bring out other sides in Van.  Overall, this is another great entry in the series.  If you are a fan of thrillers and you haven’t started these books yet, do so today.


The Drowning Sea by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Maggie D’Arcy #3) – 3

After quitting her job, Maggie D’Arcy is spending her summer in Ireland with her daughter, her boyfriend, Conor, and his son, as they get serious about Maggie and her daughter moving to Ireland.  They’ve rented a cottage on a West Cork peninsula, but their vacation hits a snag when the body of a young man who disappeared months ago washes ashore.  Even though Maggie isn’t a cop, she can’t help but ask questions.  Where has he been for the last few months?  Who would want him dead?  Can Maggie find the answers even without her badge?

Since I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this series, I was curious to see where the series was going to go in this book.  Once again, the writing was atmospheric and made me feel like I was there with Maggie.  The characters are well drawn, although I did have a little trouble keeping all the relationships of the villagers straight.  Still, I loved getting to spend time with the core cast again.  Unfortunately, the pacing of the book was off, lagging at times in the middle and leaving us with a weak climax, although the climax did answer all our questions.  The book is written in present tense, and it took my brain a bit to adjust to that.  Most of the story is told from Maggie’s first-person point of view, but we do get some chapters from other characters’ points of view to help flesh things out.  Fans of the series will be glad they picked up this book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Scone Cold Killer by Lena Gregory (All-Day Breakfast Café Mysteries #1) – 4

Gia Morelli is trying to put her ex-husband’s financial scandal behind her as she moves from New York City to central Florida.  Not only is she closer to her best friend, but she’s opening her own diner, the All-Day Breakfast Café.  Her first day ends horribly, however, when she finds her ex in the dumpster behind the restaurant.  What was he doing in Florida?  Who killed him?

I love breakfast, so the hook of this series definitely appealed to me.  While Gia’s phobias were a little over the top for me, I loved the character’s overall.  The relationships Gia is forming are strong, and I can’t wait to spend more time with everyone.  The story starts quickly, but it could have been a little stronger overall.  Still, I couldn’t put the book down, finishing it in just a couple of days.  Sadly, we don’t get any breakfast food recipes here, but the food talk definitely made me crave breakfast while I was reading.  Overall, this was a solid debut, and I would definitely enjoy spending more time with the characters in the future.


22 Seconds by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women’s Murder Club #22) – 1

With the crackdown in cities all across the country on guns, things are tense, and San Francisco is no exception.  San Francisco Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer is doing her part to collect the now illegal guns until she starts hearing rumors about a coming shipment of illegal guns and drugs coming into the state from Mexico.  Soon, she is working on this, hoping to stop it before the guns and drugs are disbursed throughout the entire country.  Can she stop it?

I realize I can’t blame the authors that this book felt ripped from recent headlines with guns once again being at the forefront, but that timing was off-putting to me from the start.  Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.  The rest of the women were given very little to do, one of them just getting a glorified cameo.  The characters are two dimensional at best, which is nothing new.  The star of the book is supposed to be the story, but it’s just a mess.  There are too many angles, and the conclusion does a poor job of tying things together.  Worse yet, a character in danger early on is suddenly fine with no explanation of what happened.  Another plot point is dropped in a similar manner.  Then there’s the geography errors that 5 minutes research would have fixed for them.  We’ll see how I am feeling next spring, but I’m thinking this may be my last visit with the ladies.


Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra by Stuart Gibbs (Charlie Thorne #3) – 4

Charlie Thorne is once again on her own, and she’s decided to find out what Cleopatra left behind over two thousand years ago.  To do so, she needs to slip into the apartment of a rich Egyptian playboy.  Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and Charlie finds herself being chased by not only the man’s security, but several different countries’ agents.  Can she dodge them and still find what Cleopatra left behind?

This series has a couple of issues for me.  One is Charlie, who can come across as a perfect character for far too long.  Eventually, we do see some weaknesses, but it takes a while.  I suspect this is something that adults will pick on more than kids do.  Then there’s the data dumps.  We need some of that information to have the context for the action, but it can get to be a bit much.  However, overall, I do like these books, and this one in particular.  There are plenty of action sequences and twists.  I’m curious where the series is going to go from here.  I like the core cast, yes, even Charlie.  And I mentioned the action, right?  Fans of good stories will enjoy this book.


Muddled Through by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #10) – 5

Spring usually means that Julia Snowden is trying to get ready for the busy season with her family’s clambake, but this year, she is being distracted by local politics.  Specifically, there is the heated debate in town about turning the downtown area into a pedestrian mall on Friday and Saturday nights during the tourist season.  On opposite sides of the issue are business neighbors Zoey Butterfield, who owns the pottery story where Julia’s sister works, and Phinney Hardison.  When Zoey’s story is vandalized, the only motive she can think of is this controversy.  Then a dead body is found.  Is local politics the motive for the violence?  Or is something else going on?

I’ve been anxiously waiting for this book since the last one came out.  Yes, we do get to the storylines left open from the previous book, and I was actually impressed with the growth in Julia that came out of them.  Of course, the book left me wondering where we were going to go next, but that’s a good thing.  Yes, if you are new to the series, you could jump in here, but you’ll appreciate the growth better if you’ve read the earlier books.  This is such a great series you’ll be glad you did.  As always, Julia leads a great cast of new and returning characters, and I loved spending time with them.  The mystery for this book is strong, and I was once again amazed at how everything was plotted when I reached the end.  Fans will be happy with this book.  If that isn’t you, fix that today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


A Test of Wills by Charles Todd (Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries #1) – 3

Ian Rutledge has returned from the Great War, and is back at his old job at Scotland Yard.  However, he is still dealing with the horrors of what he saw and did during his five years away.  His first case back takes him to a small village that has asked for help after a beloved colonel was shot on his estate.  Rutledge quickly realizes the political ramifications of the case, but can he figure out really happened?

I’ve heard about this series for a long time.  I suspected it would be too dark for me, but I decided to try it anyway.  Sadly, this is definitely darker than my normal choices.  Rutledge and several other characters are dealing with some serious consequences of war.  It’s realistic, but dark.  On the other hand, Rutledge is an interesting character, partially because of this darkness.  Where the novel really fails is the plot.  After a good start, it bogs down in the middle before giving us a whiplash climax.  It is logical, but too abrupt.  I’m glad I gave the series a try, but I doubt I will be back.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Reading Challenge: COYER Seasons Summer 2022

 The season has changed, and that means it is time for another COYER Seasons reading challenge.  Since we've turned the corner to summer, that means it is a free for all.  During July, August, and September, any book you read counts.  Any format.  Any price.  Sounds super easy, right?  I mean, how can I resist?

As always, I'll list the books below as I finish them.

1. A Perilous Pal by Laura Bradford
2. Death by Bubble Tea by Jennifer J. Chow
3. The Drinking Gourd by Katherine Fast
4. Poison Pen by Sheila Lowe
5. Movieland by Lee Goldberg
6. The Pajama Frame by Diane Vallere
7. The Drop by Michael Connelly
8. Murder Through the English Post by Jessica Ellicott
9. Mint Chocolate Murder by Meri Allen
10. An Almost Purrfect Murder by Jacqueline Vick
11. The Fragrance of Death by Leslie Karst
12. Murder of a Mail-Order Bride by Mimi Granger
14. A Dish to Die for by Lucy Burdette
15. Murder on Trinity Place by Victoria Thompson
16. Gone but not Furgotten by Cate Conte
17. Salt Water Wounds by C. Michele Dorsey
18. Stardust Trail by J. R. Sanders
19. Death on the Set by Rose Kerr
20. "V" is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton
21. Round Up the Usual Peacocks by Donna Andrews
22. Union Jacked by Diane Vallere
23. Murder in the Piazza by Jen Collins Moore
24. Death in the Aegean by M. A. Monnin
25. Murder at Keyhaven Castle by Clara McKenna
26. Buttercream Betrayal by Kim Davis
27. Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian
28. Deadly Director's Cut by Vicki Delany
29. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
30. Seams Like Murder by Dorothy Howell

Book Review: A Test of Wills by Charles Todd (Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting main character
Cons: Darker than I wanted; weak plotting
The Bottom Line:
War hero’s murder
Gives us a dark first entry
That has weak plotting

I Don’t Believe I Will Read More in This Series

I’ve heard of the mother/son writing team Charles Todd for years, and I’ve heard their books praised.  I suspected their books weren’t for me, but I finally got curious enough that I decided to give A Test of Wills, their first, a change.

The year in 1919, and Inspector Ian Rutledge has returned from his time leading soldiers in the Great War.  Before the war, Rutledge was good at his job solving crime for Scotland Yard, but things have changed after the war, and he is unsure of himself now.

Still, he’s been assigned to his first big case back.  Colonel Harris was shot on his estate in the English countryside, and the local police have asked for Scotland Yard to come in and take over the investigation.  When Rutledge arrives, he quickly learns that the most logical suspect is another war hero with ties to the Royal Family.  Despite the potential political ramifications of the case, Rutledge does his best to investigate.  However, no one in the community can find any negative words to say about the colonel.  Will Rutledge find the truth?

I had suspected these books might be darker than my normal choices.  I was right.  This isn’t a slight on the authors, however, there were some things that really bothered me.  Rutledge has returned from the war damaged.  We learn that early on, but we don’t learn the reason until later in the book in a powerful scene.  There are some other characters we meet along the way who are reacting horribly to tragedy.  All of this is realistic, but it gets to be a bit much as the book goes along.  However, there was one character whose damage was too much for me.

On the other hand, it does make for some fascinating characters.  I was drawn into the story because Rutledge is an intriguing character.  We want to see him succeed, and spending time with him, even with his issues, is interesting.  Or maybe it is interesting because of his issues.  As the investigation progresses, we slowly begin to learn more about the suspects, and we can’t help but care for many of them as well.

Which brings us to the plot.  Honestly, this is the biggest weakness of the book.  After an initially interesting setup, the investigation stalls.  Even though Rutledge also feels the frustration, it really doesn’t help us.  We’re stuck in place for a while until Rutledge finally begins to piece some things together.  I was impressed with his deductions, but the climax, when it comes, is too abrupt and rushed.  While it does make logical sense, it also induces whiplash.

Since I was curious about the series, I’m glad I gave A Test of Wills a chance.  However, I don’t plan to return and find out what happens next to Inspector Rutledge.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Book Review: Muddled Through by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #10)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Character growth and great mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
A good mystery
And some great character growth
Will thrill series fans

Did Town Politics Lead to Murder?

A new book in Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake Mystery series is always a reason to celebrate.  I was especially interested to see where she was going to go with some storylines in Muddled Through.  As always, the book was wonderful.

Spring has sprung, and Julia is beginning to work toward opening the Snowden Family Clambake for the year.  However, she keeps being distracted by the big controversy in town - the proposal to turn the downtown shopping area into a pedestrian mall on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer tourist season.  On opposite sides of the controversy are Zoey Butterfield, owner of the Lupine Design pottery studio and her neighbor, Phinney Hardison.  This is just the latest in their ongoing disputes.

So when Julia’s sister, Livvie, finds Zoey’s shop vandalized when she goes to open one morning, Phinney is the obvious suspect.  However, before the police can make their case, someone is murdered.  Julia has questions, and she can’t help but investigate.  Is the pedestrian mall the motive for the violence?  Or is something else going on?

Fans of the series will note that this book takes place almost a year after the events of Shucked Apart, the previous book in the series.  I found that interesting when I realized it and wondered how that would impact those storylines I was talking about earlier.  Don’t worry, we get the logical next steps in those stories.  I’m still curious to see just how those stories play out in future books.

What I really appreciated about these storylines is how they contributed to some real growth for Julia.  She’s always been a strong character, but I can definitely see how what she is dealing with is making her grow.  Of course, she leads a great cast of characters, and I enjoyed seeing a bit more of some of the regulars then we’ve seen for a few books.  And the new characters are good as well.

No, all this isn’t to say that the mystery of this book takes a back seat to the stuff I’ve been talking about so far.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  The plot is strong, and the pacing is steady.  As if often the case, I found myself in awe at the end as I realized just how the clues had been layered into the story along the way.

With all the talk about the storylines that carry over from the previous book in the series, I am going to put in a plug for reading the series in order.  You could easily jump in here since the background you need is explained.  However, what happens will mean more to you if you have the full background.  And, since this is such a great series, you are going to want to read them all anyway, so why not go back to the beginning.

As always, we get some recipes at the end of the book.  This time, there are half a dozen, and they range from soup to a cocktail.

Fans who have been waiting impatiently for Muddled Through will be very happy with this book.  I can’t wait to visit Julia again.

Here are the rest of the Maine Clambake Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, June 27, 2022

TV Show Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong story overall
Cons: Some weaknesses in the first couple of episodes
The Bottom Line:
An untold story
Action filled fun for this fan
After a weak start

"You’re Bleeding All Over My Floor.”  “Well, Everybody Bleeds.”

Of the Star Wars projects that had been announced for Disney+, the one I was most excited about was Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Having mostly watched the movies that hit the big screen, those are the characters I know best, so I wanted to see what they would do with this previously unknown chapter of the saga.

The story starts ten years after the events of Revenge of the Sith.  Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) is hiding out on Tatooine while keeping an eye on Luke from a distance.  Keeping who he is, both his name and the fact that he is a Jedi, as secret is of upmost importance since the Empire is hunting the galaxy to kill Jedi.  This effort is led by the Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) and Inquisitor Reva (Moses Ingram).

However, Obi-Wan is drawn out of hiding when someone kidnaps Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair).  Reluctant at first because he fears it is a trap, Obi-Wan soon sets out.  But can he keep who he is a secret while rescuing the ten-year-old?

I will be the first to admit that the show started out a little rough.  And I’m not talking about pacing.  There was so much laughable about the first couple of episodes.  Take, for example, the scene where Leia is kidnapped.  The way it is staged, it looked like someone’s home video movie, not a professional production.

Then there’s the fact that Leia is a brat, at least at the beginning.  Honestly, I would have been tempted to leave her behind a couple of times.  Fortunately, she quickly starts maturing and then I was able to enjoy the show.  In fact, by the end, it was easy to see the character we know and love from the original trilogy.  She’s still got spunk, but she is mature enough to know when to use it.

It was like the writers and the cast really found their groove with episode 3.  That’s when things started to click for me.  The characters were beginning to show growth and the story kicked into high gear.  There are lots of great moments of character, suspense, and action over the course of the series (yes, even those first two episodes), and as the show progresses, the stakes continue to rise for the characters.

I’ll admit I’m not a super fan of Star Wars, but I didn’t spot any potential continuity issues for the movies caused by this show.  In fact, it might help explain a couple of small moments that happen in the later movies.

Outside the one scene I mentioned earlier, the production values are good.  We get plenty of exotic planets, and they look amazing.  One or two special effects didn’t quite come off, but the majority of them did.

And the acting was uniformly good.  While I complained about Leia early on, this was the fault of the script and not the young actress who played her.  As I said earlier, we could easily see a spark of A New Hope’s Leia is her portrayal in the last episode.

While this was designed as a one off, they did leave some doors open for further adventures with Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Based on this first season, if they do decide to come back for more, I will definitely come along for the ride.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Book Review: Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra by Stuart Gibbs (Charlie Thorne #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great action, interesting story
Cons: Charlie at times; data dumps throughout book
The Bottom Line:
Charlie in Egypt
What did Cleopatra leave?
Overall, it’s fun

Charlie’s Following Cleopatra’s Footsteps

When I hear the name Cleopatra, I don’t necessarily think of scientific discoveries.  (To be honest, I think more of Shakespeare than anything else.)  So I was a bit surprised that she was the subject of the third Charlie Thorne adventure from Stuart Gibbs.  However, Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra proved what a good choice that was.

If you have yet to meet Charlie, she is not only the world’s smartest thirteen-year-old, but she is one of the world’s smartest people period.  After her brother, Dante, recruited her to help the CIA uncover something that Einstein had left behind, Charlie has discovered that there are other treasures out there from other scientists, and she is on a mission to recover them.

As this book opens, Charlie is once again on her own, and she’s decided to find out what Cleopatra left behind over two thousand years ago.  To do so, she needs to slip into the apartment of a rich Egyptian playboy.  Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and Charlie finds herself being chased by not only the man’s security, but several different countries’ agents.  Can she dodge them and still find what Cleopatra left behind?

Of Stuart Gibbs’s series, I will admit Charlie Thorne is my least favorite.  As I was reading, I figured out what the reasons are.  The first is Charlie herself.  She is just a little too perfect – smart, physically able to handle many things, etc.  This isn’t to say she doesn’t have some flaws, but they are small compared to these strengths.  Of course, as a kid, I love the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, which are even more perfect characters than Charlie is, so I am sure this is something I will notice more as an adult than the target audience will be bothered by.

Then there’s the data dumps.  We get multiple ones over the course of this book as Charlie shares the history and background on where each clue she uncovers is taking us.  Yes, we absolutely needed some of the information to understand the plot.  And, some of it gives us more information on Cleopatra.  I will definitely be looking at her in a different light going forward, which is a good thing.  However, they seemed to go on a bit longer than they needed to.

But this is Stuart Gibbs, and the story is still overall enjoyable.  We get several great action sequences and a couple of twists to the story.  With how he left the characters here, I am very anxious to see where he is going to take them next.

Charlie’s brother and a few other recurring characters are a part of the action again, and I appreciated what they bring to the story, and to Charlie as a character as well.  Honestly, I was reminded how much I like the core cast again by the time the book was over.  The things I mentioned above are minor issues.

Which means that Stuart Gibbs has another winner on his hands.  Fans of good stories will enjoy Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra.

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

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

June 26th's Sunday/Monday Post

Happy Sunday!  Shall we start the week with another Sunday/Monday Post?  As usual, I will be linking up to:

Sunday Post
Sunday Salon
Stacking the Shelves
Mailbox Monday
It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It was another typical week for me work wise.  I did take Friday off again.  I was ALMOST as productive as I wanted to be with my day off.  Still need to edit my reviews for this week.  This coming week, I'm going to have to work all five days!  I'm not use to this torture.  :)

I played ultimate Frisbee a couple of times this week - Tuesday here in town and then Friday night about half an hour away.  This is the first time I've played in a couple of months, and it was nice to be out there throwing the disc again.

Other than that, I went out paddle boarding Saturday morning.  It's hot here in So Cal this weekend, so I stopped part way through and took a swim break.  Just beached my board and swam in the swim lagoon portion of the lake.  I was pretty much dry by the time I got back to the dock.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Book Review: Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra by Stuart Gibbs
Monday - TV Show Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi
Tuesday - Book Review: Muddled Through by Barbara Ross
Wednesday - Book Review: A Test of Wills by Charles Todd
Thursday - June 2022 Reading Summary
Friday - Friday Post
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

Once again, I got four new books this week.  I'd won Death on the Set by Rose Kerr from the author during her appearance on The Bookish Hour, and it arrived.  I am working on back collecting the non-Mrs. Pollifax books by Dorothy Gilman, and I got two of those - The Tightrope Walker and Uncertain Voyage.  Finally, I got Death in the Aegean by M. A. Monnin.  I keep meaning to start some travel related cozies, and this one looks great with the Greek Isles setting.

Of course, the problem is, I don't know when I will get to any of these since my July reading schedule is pretty much set already.  That's my problem.  I buy books because I truly do want to read them, but I buy more than I read.  It's a vicious cycle that took years to perfect.  Oh, who am I kidding.  It happened without me trying at all.

What I'm Currently Reading:

I'm just about done with The Drop by Michael Connelly, the audio book I started last weekend.  I should be able to finish that up this weekend.  It's been very good.

I'm working on two eARCs as well.  My goal is to finish A Perilous Pal by Laura Bradford on Sunday and start on Death by Bubble Tea by Jennifer J. Chow on Monday.  They both come out the first week of July, and I need to be read to review them.  I'm a big fan of Laura Bradford, and I've been enjoying this book.  I haven't read anything from Jennifer yet, but I'm looking forward to it since I know she has lots of fans.

Hope you have a fantastic week!

Saturday, June 25, 2022

June 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – That was scary with Chris at the beginning, but glad to see he and Jessie moving on.  Actually, a lot of the regulars did well, although we didn’t get to see much of their runs.  Hopefully, we see a little more of them next time they are on.

The Weakest Link – That last vote was predictable.  Yes, I was shouting GREAT PUMPKIN at the screen for the first question in the final round.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t hear me.

Superman and Lois – Wow!  Just wow.  I really don’t know what to say.  I know last new episode, I said I didn’t know how they were going to drag this out for two more episodes.  Now, I don’t know how they are going to fix this is one.  This episode was slow in a few ways, but that didn’t make it any less good.  The conversations the characters were having were outstanding.  Character arcs were great.  This was a top notch episode of TV.

Holey Moley – Fun third host this week, but not as great as Kermit.  The opening where Rob tried to be the sportscaster was pretty fun.  Actually, they took him a step back this week, which was nice.  He’s funny when he’s not so over the top.  I’m just trying to figure out if that was actually ice they were putting on for The Distractor, or if that was just a white surface.  Quite a few impressive puts overall, too.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – They did it.  They wrapped everything up.  It was predictable in parts, but I appreciated what they did overall, and the journey the characters went on.  After a rough couple of early episodes, this one grew stronger.  Best Star Wars series to date.

Ms. Marvel – I’m struggling with this one more than I thought I would.  I think part of it is I find many of the characters annoying.  Not the main characters, but the supporting characters.  And we have a villain now, but I feel like the lack of patience came on way too quickly.  I might have bought they more in the next episode.

The Flash – I don’t believe that cliffhanger in the slightest.  I mean, Nora and Bart would be gone if that were true.  They’ll find some way to reverse it.  Frankly, it just feels very weird.  The vibe from this season has been all wrong.  You can tell they wrote this thinking it was a series finale.  I’m wishing it were.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Book Review: 22 Seconds by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women’s Murder Club #22)

Stars: 1 out of 5
Pros: Um…I read a library book
Cons: Sloppy story, political angle, flat characters, geography errors
The Bottom Line:
This is Lindsay’s show
Overly sloppy story
The book is just bad

A Disappointment - Needed Lots More Focus

Sometimes, I wonder why I keep reading the Women’s Murder Club novels.  I think it has to do with why people watch train wrecks.  I just have to see how bad the latest book in the series is.  Plus, the occasional good book comes along and surprises me.  Sadly, 22 Seconds was not one of them.

With the crackdown in cities all across the country on guns, things are tense, and San Francisco is no exception.  San Francisco Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer is doing her part to collect the now illegal guns until she starts hearing rumors about a coming shipment of illegal guns and drugs coming into the state from Mexico.  Soon, she is working on this, hoping to stop it before the guns and drugs are disbursed throughout the entire country.  Can she stop it?

Where did this book go wrong?  Let me count the ways.

Okay, so maybe the fact that guns are so big in the news right now helped turn me off to this book right away.  I know that the timing isn’t the authors’ fault since they finished this book long before it came out.  However, I didn’t really want to read about second amendment issues since I grab a book to escape the news of the day.  And I was irritated that the second amendment supporters were caricatures of how liberals always portray conservatives.  Honestly, this book adds nothing to the discussion but just comes across as propaganda.

Then there’s my normal complaint with the Women’s Murder Club novels.  Yuki gets a glorified cameo.  Claire gets her own sub-plot, but it starts and ends rather quickly.  Honestly, it was more like a short story inserted early into the book.  She does get some nice scenes later in the book, but her presence was minimal.  Cindy’s story is at least tied into the main story.  But combined, these characters get less than a quarter of the book.

On the plus side, we do get to see more of Lindsay’s husband, Joe.  I like Joe, so that’s always a good thing.

Not that any of this matters because the characters are as two dimensional as always.  We haven’t gotten any real character development for any of them for a while now.  They are just props for the plot.

Given my irritation, I’m fully aware I might have been looking for nits to pick, but the more I think about the story, the more I realize just how flawed it was.  There are multiple prongs to this story, and I see what the writers were trying to do with the scope of it.  However, they failed miserably.  The connections they make at the end are random, and there isn’t enough time left to weave everything together into something that is a satisfying conclusion.

Worse yet, at least twice, the authors drop plot points.  Once, characters are in danger, and the next time we see them, they are home safe with nothing ever mentioned again.  We can guess what happened, but a reference to it in passing would be nice at a minimum.  Then there’s a plot point that happens later in the book that is never resolved.

It’s clear the authors aren’t familiar with San Francisco, but I don’t remember them being this clueless in the past.  Near the beginning, Lindsay is helping with the gun buy back program (a completely pointless scene, but that’s another issue), and she takes her shift in Daly City.  As anyone familiar with the area would know, this is outside of the San Francisco Police Department’s jurisdiction.  It’s a different city and a different county.  I could see them maybe possibly partnering up to help out, but that’s not mentioned.  Then, twice, they make some pretty major geography errors, having Lindsay drive north to get home from a location north of San Francisco.  I mean, it is possible, but it would take a long, long time.  Then, she leaves San Francisco and crosses the Golden Gate Bridge driving south.  Sorry, not happening.  These kinds of things irritated me, and in a book I already wasn’t enjoying, it just made things worse.

Several cases that we’ve followed in previous books come up again here.  You don’t need to have read the previous books to follow what happens in this book, but I did enjoy that aspect of things.

At least I got this book from the library, so I didn’t waste any more than reading time.

This book needed a serious editing if nothing else before it was released.  We’ll see how I’m feeling when the next book in the series comes out, but 22 Seconds may be my final visit with the Women’s Murder Club.

Here are the rest of the Women's Murder Club books.

June 24th's Friday Post

We've made it to Friday!  And, once again, I'm taking it off to make a three day weekend, so I'm already in weekend mode.  But, before I get there completely, I'm going to create a Friday post.  I will be linking up this week to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

This week, I'll be pulling quotes from Muddled Through by Barbara Ross.

This is the tenth book in the Maine Clambake Mysteries.  I finished it earlier this week, and I loved it, which is no surprise since this is a favorite series.

This book jumps right into the action, which makes for a great Book Beginnings and First Line Friday:

I spotted the whirl of blue lights the moment I left my mother's house.

Doesn't that make you want to read on to find out what is happening?

Jumping ahead to page 56, we get this quote for Friday 56:

If Dr. Simpson, a family practitioner and our part-time ME, couldn't handle the situation, it meant cause of death wasn't either natural or obvious.  The call to the state police Major Crimes Unit could only mean one thing - murder.

Okay, so maybe that quote isn't exactly shocking.  I mean, I read murder mysteries so is it really a surprise that a murder took place?

I enjoyed this book as always.  The official release date is this coming Tuesday, and I hope you'll come back then for my full review.

Let's close thing out with the Book Blogger Hop.  This week's question is:

What is your reading preference - fiction or nonfiction? 

Definitely fiction.  Specifically, mystery.  More specifically, cozy mystery.  Although I do read some harder mysteries and some middle grade mystery and fantasy.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Ornament Review: Merry Lil' Goofy - 2021 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Goofy in a small ornament
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Mini’ture Goofy
Small, but still filled up with fun
His fans will enjoy

Goofy May be Small, but He’s Holding a Big Present

The final of the Disney characters who got the miniature ornament treatment in 2021 was Goofy.  While I found some of the other ornaments a little too miniature, I really do like Merry Lil’ Goofy.

Yes, this is a miniature ornament.  Goofy is just over an inch tall.  But since he’s bigger than Mickey and Minnie in general, he doesn’t look too small here.  He’s dressed in a green shirt and shoes with red pants.  And he’s holding a red package with yellow ribbon and bow.  Just how big is this present?  It’s bigger than his head!  I’m honestly not sure if he is carrying it to give to someone or is shaking it to try to figure out what is in it.  I could see it going both ways.

Goofy can stand on his own two feet; I know because it got it to happen for about five seconds.  Like the rest of the ornament, his feet are small, so he doesn’t balance super well.  The slightest bump or breeze will knock him over.  Given how easy it would be for him to get lost, it’s best to just hang the ornament.

When the ornament is hanging, he tips back ever so slightly.  He still looks pretty good that way, like he’s trying to balance a heavy package, so it isn’t really an issue.

Overall, I do like this ornament.  Then again, I love Goofy.  Just remember that this is a miniature ornament, and you’ll be fine.

If you love Goofy, you’ll be happy you snagged Merry Lil’ Goofy as well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Book Review: Scone Cold Killer by Lena Gregory (All-Day Breakfast Café Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: The characters are wonderful to spend time with
Cons: The plot could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Trying to start new
When past leaves a dead body
Solid characters

Gia Finds Trying to Outrun Her Past is Murder

I love breakfast foods, so I have been eyeing The All-Day Breakfast Café series for several years now.  I’ve even had the first one for over a year.  I finally sat down to read Scone Cold Killer, and I enjoyed it.

Gia Morelli is moving from New York City to a small town in central Florida.  She’s running from the fall out of her ex-husband’s financial scandal, but she’s picked this town because her best friend, Savannah, lives there.  And she’s turning her love of breakfast into the new All-Day Breakfast Café.  She’s ready for a little quiet after all the drama the scandal has brought to her life over the last year.

Unfortunately, she’s not going to get that quiet just yet.  As Gia is taking the trash out to the dumpster after her first day opened, she finds a dead body in it.  It’s her ex-husband.  Why had he followed her to Florida?  And who killed him?

A premise like that caught my interest right away.  And we don’t spend too much time before Gia finds the body.  I quickly got caught up in the story, and I had a hard time putting the book down.  While there are plenty of events to keep us engaged, I felt like it was a bit more of an incident driven book instead of a deduction driven story.  The ending is a little weak as well, although it does answer all of our questions.

But I loved the characters.  Gia really only knows Savannah when the book starts, so we are meeting characters at the same time she does.  The bonds that are already forming with the cast is wonderful.  I loved spending time with them, and I look forward to seeing them again.  In fact, I feel like it was the characters who really drew me into the story.

I did find Gia a bit annoying a few times.  She’s a city girl in the country for the first time, and I felt like some of her reactions were over the top stereotypical.  I’m sure they were supposed to be funny, but that’s not quite what it felt like to me.  But this was a very minor irritant.  Overall, I really did like Gia.

Oh, and her puppy?  I’m ready to get one myself.  If only I weren’t allergic to dogs.

This is a quick read.  I easily breezed through it in a couple of days, although I did make some extra time to read it one evening.  I wanted to spend more time with the characters.

Sadly, there are no recipes at the end of the book.  I would definitely love to know what are in some of the dishes talked about.  The food will have your mouth watering as you read.

All told, Scone Cold Killer is a solid debut.  I would definitely enjoy spending more time with the characters in the future.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Movie Review: Jurassic World - Dominion

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great action, fun, wraps up arcs from franchise
Cons: Ignores story possibilities in favor of familiar story lines
The Bottom Line:
A franchise wrap-up?
If so, it’s satisfying
This fan enjoyed it

“What’s the Plan?”  “Whatever Happens – That’s the Plan!”

I consider myself a fan of the Jurassic Park/World franchise, although I have found them to be wildly uneven over the years.  I absolutely hated the previous film in the franchise, but I was curious enough with where they were planning to go with the story to see Jurassic World: Dominion.  Plus, the news that they were bringing back the original trio made me curious as well.  I’m glad I went to see it because I really enjoyed it.

I’m going to do something I rarely do.  I went into this movie knowing nothing more than it was going to bring back Ellie, Ian, and Grant while continuing the story of Claire and Owen.  I enjoyed watching how the movie reintroduced the characters and brought everyone together again.  If you want to go into the movie blind like I did, skip the next three paragraphs and just go down to my thoughts.  I’m just doing my usual plot catalyst teaser below, but if you want to skip it, feel free.  I’ll have a header when I get to my commentary.

It's been four years since the events of the previous movie.  In that time, humans have tried to figure out how to live with dinosaurs.  Most of the dinosaurs have been relocated to a remove valley in Italy where Biosyn oversees them.  Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is spending time trying to stop illegal dinosaur breeding while Owen (Chris Pratt) is trying to help round up some of the animals.  The two of them are living in a remote cabin, trying to keep Maisie (Isabella Sermon) hidden from those who might be seeking her, whether Maisie wants to stay hidden or not.

Meanwhile, a new, giant species of locusts have appeared in the US, and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) is trying to prove that Biosyn is behind them.  That means going to Biosyn’s facility in Italy.  Fortunately, she has an in thanks to Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and she recruits Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to help her.

While they are in route, someone nabs Maisie, sending Claire and Owen to Biosyn’s facility as well.  Naturally, chaos is going to ensue.  But what will happen at the facility?


Okay, everyone back?  Then let’s get to it.

Because this movie had to set up two parallel stories and catch us up on the original trio, the movie took a little bit of time getting the story moving.  But just about the time I was thinking “It’s time for something major to happen,” something major happened, and from there the movie didn’t slow down.  We certainly have a faster start than we got with the first movie.

And the action?  Hold on to your seats.  While it isn’t nonstop thrills, there is plenty of action to keep you engaged.  And the attacks are varied enough that we don’t get bored.  Yes, it is usually pretty obvious when the dinos are going to show up, but that’s a minor issue.

We get a wide variety of species, too.  However, we don’t get lots of exposition about them and how scary they are, and that’s a good thing.  We get a little information about them, but mostly, we get to watch them in action.

In the middle of all that, we get a little character development.  Okay, so it isn’t much since the priority here is action.  This is still a monster movie franchise, after all.  But we get some moments that will make fans happy.  Honestly, I was impressed with how they wrapped up a few plot threads from previous movies.  They’ve been talking about this movie ending the franchise, but come on, this is Hollywood.  It’s quite possible they will give us another movie sooner rather than later.  But, if it does end here, I can walk away satisfied.

They even fixed one of my biggest complaints about the last movie.  Well, at least they did the best they could with what they were given to work with.  Still, it was enough that I might give Fallen World another shot at some point.

The actors rise to the challenge and give us great performances.

Likewise, the special effects are outstanding.

Actually, I have to praise the cinematography in general.  This is the most beautifully shot film in the franchise.  While much of the action takes place at Biosyn’s complex, we get action in other parts of the world before everyone arrives there.  And the shots are outstanding.  The fact that they worked dinosaurs into these shots is even more impressive.

Then there are the one liners.  I laughed several times as the movie progressed.

Even so, the film isn’t perfect.  The ending of the previous film and the beginning of this one seem to set up a story about humans the dinosaurs living in the same world together.  We don’t get that story.  In many ways, the real story of this movie is one we’ve seen before, just with some different trappings to it.  Then again, it is a sequel.  What do you expect?

I can see an argument that at least part of what is driving the plot feels like something that belongs in a different monster movie franchise.  In fact, the dinosaurs seem a bit irrelevant to parts of the story.  But this is something that came to me later.  While watching the movie, I got caught up in the action and had fun.

I did appreciate that the emphasis was a bit more on the humans rather than new, wild dinosaurs.  I wasn’t tempted to roll my eyes at how the newest was worse than anything we’ve seen before.  And, no, the raptors still aren’t speaking, despite my joking about that happening since the third movie.

I’ve heard some people who were really disappointed with this movie, but I completely enjoyed it.  If you are a fan of the franchise, you’ll pretty much know what to expect, and that is what you get in Jurassic World: Dominion.  Walk in with those expectations, you’ll enjoy this one, too.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Book Review: The Drowning Sea by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Maggie D’Arcy #3)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, atmospheric writing
Cons: Pacing makes the mystery weaker than it could be
The Bottom Line:
Ireland summer
Unofficial murder case
You’ll feel like you’re there

Maggie May Have Quit Her Job, but She’s Still Finding Mystery

The second book in the Maggie D’Arcy series ended with Maggie’s life up in the air.  While I was pretty sure where her life would go big picture, I was interested in learning the particulars, so I eagerly picked up The Drowning Sea.

As this book opens, Maggie has not completely decided what the future holds for her, although she is determined to move to Ireland to live with her boyfriend, Conor, and his son.  If only Maggie’s daughter would adjust to the idea.  In an effort to help with that transition, the four of them are spending the majority of the summer in the West Cork area.

However, their peaceful summer vacation gets interrupted when a body is found in the water.  Lukas Adamik disappeared months ago.  Even though Maggie is not a working homicide detective any more, she still can’t help the questions that come to mind.  Like where has he been all this time?  Who would want to kill him?  Will Maggie find out the truth with her unofficial investigation?

Anyone who has read the first two books in the series will know to settle in for a vivid trip to Ireland.  The writing is atmospheric, and the result takes you to the remote peninsula where the story is set.

I also do really love the characters.  Maggie is a strong lead character, and investigating unofficially doesn’t dampen that at all.  I also enjoy her relationships with Conor and their kids.  They are all complex.  I did have a bit of a hard time keeping all relationships of the people in live in the village straight, but I really came to like some of them as well.

Since this is the third book in the series, there are some other characters we’ve gotten to know in Ireland, and we see them again as well.  I found the complication we learned about one of them very interesting.

Unfortunately, the plot itself was weaker than it could have been.  We get an interesting sub-plot or two, but it feels like the story stalls out a few times over the course of the book.  Then, we hit the final 100 pages, and the payoffs start coming, and I was hooked as the twists finally started coming.  While the climax did answer all our questions, it was definitely weaker than it could have been overall.

The book is written in present tense.  That always throws me a bit when I pick up a book written that way, but it wasn’t long before my brain had adjusted.  While most of the book is written from Maggie’s first-person point of view, we do get some chapters from other character’s third person point of view to help flesh things out.

While this book wasn’t the strongest entry in the series, I did still enjoy checking in with Maggie.  If you’ve read the first two, you’ll want to read The Drowning Sea.  I definitely plan to be back to find out what happens to her next.

Enjoy the rest of the Maggie D'Arcy Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.