Wednesday, August 31, 2022

August 2022's Reading Summary

 It's the last day of August, so it must be time for a reading summary.  I was actually a little surprised looking at the number of books I'm including in August, but a couple of them are carry overs from my cruise in July (this is really more about when I posted reviews than when I actually read the books).

Sadly, the index didn't get updated this month.  With working this weekend, I ran out of time.

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

Stuff to Die for by Don Bruns (Stuff Series #1) - 4

20-something friends James and Skip are starting a moving company, but in their first load of stuff, they find a severed finger with their high school class ring on it. It took me a while to get into the book because there is more language and drinking than I normally like, but I was soon hooked by the characters and intriguing story.  I originally read this book in 2010, but I reread it this month.


The Fragrance of Death by Leslie Karst (Sally Solari Mysteries #5) – 5

Thanks to a sinus infection, Sally Solari has lost her sense of smell.  While that would be bad enough under normal circumstances since it interferes with cooking at her restaurant, she is really struggling to prepare her dish for the Santa Cruz Artichoke Cook-Off.  However, that quickly becomes the least of the issues when the body of a fellow contestant, Neil Lerici, is found near the end of the day.  Sally had been friends with Neil’s sister, Grace, in high school.  As the two rekindle their friendship, she can’t help but poke around.  But is her old friend guilty of murder?

It's been a few years since we last visited Sally, but I am pleased to say she is back in top form.  It was great to catch up with her and her family and friends and see the next steps in some of her relationships.  The suspects were strong, which lead to a mystery that was hard to figure out.  It kept me engaged the entire time, and once Sally reached the solution, everything fell into place.  Each book has focused on a different of the five senses, and I thought the sense of smell was done wonderfully here.  Naturally, there are some recipes to enjoy after you’ve finished the book.  Fans will be pleased to visit Sally again and will join me in waiting for the next in the series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Murder of a Mail-Order Bride by Mimi Granger (Love is Murder #2) – 5

Long time bachelor Al Little has found a bride thanks to the internet, and he is thrilled that Svetlana is coming to town.  Lizzie Hale, owner of the romance bookstore in Tinker’s Cover, Ohio, gets roped into helping make sure their first meeting and their wedding is perfectly romantic.  But when Svetlana turns up dead in the middle of the reception, the question becomes, who would want to kill a new comer to town?

This is a strong second book.  The plot kept me engaged the entire time.  I did guess a couple of plot points early, but there were so many more I didn’t see coming, including the ending.  The book is focused on the new characters central to this mystery, and they are all strong.  We do have a small core cast of characters who are back, and they are fun.  I also enjoy watching Lizzie’s romantic life, which is a great romantic comedy sub-plot.  If you are looking for a slight twist on a cozy mystery set up, this is a series you will love.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Murder on the Iditarod Trail by Sue Henry (An Alaska Mystery #1) – 4

The Iditarod Race, the 1100 miles dog sled race between Anchorage and Nome, is a hard a grueling endurance event, but it has never been deadly for humans - until now. First, someone falls asleep on his sled and winds up crashing into a tree. State trooper Alex Jensen is brought in to figure out what happened, but before he can make a complete determination, another body turns up dead. He takes the offer of help from musher Jessie Arnold willingly. But will that be enough to keep anyone else from dying? 

I read this book on my recent Alaskan cruise, and I think that helped me get into the story. I found all the facts about the race and the various setting fascinating. Outside a couple of characters, I had trouble keeping everyone straight, but I really did care for Jessie and Alex. I did find some of Alex’s behavior unrealistic, but I do get the dramatic tension it was creating. The race takes over from the mystery as the main driver of the plot at times, but I got caught up in the action and the climax was a page turner. Overall, I enjoyed this one, and book two came home from my trip with me as a souvenir. Hopefully, I can get to it soon. 


A Dish to Die for by Lucy Burdette (A Key West Food Critic Mystery #12) – 3

Even when you live in paradise, you need a break.  That’s why Hayley Snow is taking a few hours with her friend Eric and their dogs and heading to a beach on one of the nearby islands.  However, the day takes a sad turn when Hayley’s dog finds a dead body half buried in the sand.  The man was G.G. Garcia, a Key West developer who had a bad reputation.  The local police think there is something suspicious about his death, and Hayley gets pulled into the investigation.  Will she figure out what really happened?

I’ve fallen in love with Key West thanks to this series, and I was happy to be back.  Sadly, the mystery was very weak.  Even the characters got frustrated by their lack of progress throughout the book.  Plus, the victim was a little too evil, with a few things that felt thrown in just to make other characters feel virtuous.  The book gets a little dark and edgy for a cozy as well.  Finally, there’s a subplot that comes across as half-baked, the characters involved definitely deserved better.  On the other hand, I really did enjoy the location and the series regulars.  Nathan, Hayley’s husband, gets some good development thanks to a visit from his estranged father.  If you are new to the series, this isn’t the book for you, but fans will enjoy catching up with the characters.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Murder on Trinity Place by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #22) – 5

In the final week of 1899, Sarah and Frank Malloy are invited to a dinner party given by their neighbors, the Ellsworths.  They are warned that one of their fellow guests, Mr. Pritchard, is likely to ramble on about his dairy, but instead he starts talking about how everyone needs to welcome in the turn of the century coming in just a few days.  On New Year’s Day, the man is found dead near Trinity Church where he was trying to convince the revealers the new century was starting.  Frank is hired to find out what happened to Mr. Pritchard.  Can he do it?

I’d felt the previous couple of books in the series had taken a dark turn, and I’m glad to say this one wasn’t nearly as dark.  Sarah also got to play a prominent role in the main mystery as well as a fun sub-plot involving a character from a previous book and the clinic Sarah’s recently founded.  I’m often about half a chapter ahead of the characters when it comes to solving the mystery, but this time, I was stumped until we reached the end.  Once again, it’s fabulous to spend time with these characters, and the new characters are just as sharp.  This is a strong entry that shows why the series is going strong after so many entries.


Gone but Not Furgotten by Cate Conte (Cat Café Mysteries #6) – 3

Summer is in full swing, and that means Maddie James is busy with her cat café thanks to the tourists on Daybreak Island.  However, when her friend Cass informs her of a potential cat hoarding situation, Maddie readily agrees to help.  Sadly, when they arrive, they find Laurel at the bottom of her stairs.  It appears that her cats tripped her, but Maddie starts to notice a few things that don’t make any sense.  Can she figure out what happened?

This book can almost be divided into two parts.  Unfortunately, the first half is rather weak.  While a few threads of the mystery are set up, the focus is on rescuing the cats.  Meanwhile, some of the characters, including Maddie, over react to what they find.  Yes, the situation was bad, but their reactions were over the top.  However, the book gets stronger in the second half as the mystery becomes front and center.  There are some good twists and a logical solution even if a few pieces set up early don’t seem to quite be paid off.  Also, a bit of character development is rushed.  I do see that I’m in the minority in my reaction to this book, so if you are a fan of the series, give it a chance.  But if you haven’t started it yet, try some of the earlier books before jumping in to this one.


Salt Water Wounds by C. Michele Dorsey (Sabrina Salter #4) – 4

It’s been two months since Hurricane Irma devastated the island of St. John, and in that time, Sabrina Salter and her friends have been trying to figure out how they are going to rebuild.  Sabrina’s grandmother has some contacts back in the Boston area that will be able to help them get supplies, and she has asked Sabrina to join her so they can begin to search for Sabrina’s mother, who abandoned her as a toddler.  Meanwhile, two explosions on St. John leave behind a dead body and danger for the friends Sabrina is leaving behind.  Will they figure out what happened in the past and what is happening in the present?

If you are new to the series, know that this book will mean much more if you read it in order.  We are seeing developments in several storylines we’ve followed since the beginning.  While the two stories do start and end together, in many ways, we are seeing two parallel plots in this book.  Both were compelling for different reasons, and I had a hard time putting the book down, reading the last third when I really intended to be doing something else.  Elements of the climax are rushed, although that is a minor thing.  Sabrina gets some wonderful character development here, and it’s great to see the rest of the cast again.  This is a step away from the cozies I typically read, so keep that in mind before you pick up the book.  If you are a fan, you’ll be happy with Sabrina’s latest adventure.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Stardust Trail by J. R. Sanders (Nate Ross #1) – 5

PI Nate Ross is a rarity in 1938 Hollywood – someone who lives in the LA area but isn’t that interested in the movie industry.  Still, he’s willing to take on a case for one of the smaller studios.  The writer of a picture they are hoping will propel them into a more respected part of the market has gone missing, and they need him for rewrites.  As Nate begins investigating, he learns of other issues the film has been having, and soon he’s looking into the sabotage, too.  Are the two things connected?

I bought this book when the author gave a talk at my local library a few months back.  I’m glad I did.  As always, I enjoyed the Hollywood setting, but I especially enjoyed the scenes that took Nate to the area I live.  Granted, it has changed a lot since the time when the book was set.  The story itself is strong with plenty of action to keep us engaged.  I had a few things figured out, but I missed some other clues that Nate used to solve things.  The characters are engaging, as well.  This has the feel of a classic PI novel, so it has a bit more content than I would typically read.  It also means that Nate’s sense of humor made me laugh as I was reading.  Fortunately, I already have the sequel since I’m looking forward to visiting Nate again soon.


Death on the Set by Rose Kerr (Brenna Flynn Mysteries #1) – 4

After losing her husband and her job, Brenna is back in her hometown trying to rebuild her life.  Thanks for a friend who works at a temp agency, she’s landed a job as a production assistant on a cooking competition show being filmed in town.  On her first full day of work, she shows up early to find the dead body of one of the contestants on the set.  Since Brenna is a suspect, she starts investigating.  Can she figure out what really happened?

The book jumps into the main mystery pretty quickly, just giving a brief mention to Brenna’s backstory.  Yes, it is expanded on later, but I appreciated that we didn’t get a data dump, which would have been tempting.  Unfortunately, the pacing of the mystery was still off; we got more details about Brenna’s job than I really needed.  Still, there is a good mystery here, and I appreciated how the climax played out.  Also, I liked that Brenna was mostly quick to share with the police anything she learned.  There were a couple of continuity issues early on, but those disappeared as the book progressed.  Brenna was a charming main character, and she is surrounded by a cast I enjoyed spending time with.  There’s definitely potential for this to turn into a fun series.


“V” is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #22) – 3

Kinsey Millhone is in the right place and the right time to foil a shoplifter.  She is surprised to find that the shoplifter kills herself the next day.  But the surprises keep coming when the dead woman’s fiancé hired Kinsey to prove that the woman didn’t kill herself.  The fiancé doesn’t think she was a shoplifter either, so he and Kinsey have a contentious relationship from the very start.  But can Kinsey figure out what really happened?

This book started out mostly well.  There’s a subplot told in third person point of view chapters that really slowed the book down, but the chapters from Kinsey’s point of view were engaging.  The further I got into the book, the harder time I had putting it down.  Then we came to the climax, which turned out to be pretty weak, with one development I really didn’t like.  It’s a shame because I enjoyed spending time with Kinsey and the rest of the regulars as always.  This one is for series fans only.


Round Up the Usual Peacocks by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #31) – 5

Meg’s brother is getting married and their mother is working on turning it into the wedding of the century.  However, Meg’s nephew, Kevin, comes to her with a request for help.  Kevin and a friend have started a true crime podcast focusing on cold cases, and they think one of their episodes hit too close to home since someone has tried to kill Kevin’s friend.  Meg begins investigating the most likely cases.  But can she figure out what is going on before the wedding?

Longtime fans of this series know this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Meg at weddings involving peacocks.  However, this isn’t a retread in any way.  And, if you are new to the series, you can jump in here and enjoy the antics.  With three cases for Meg to consider, there is plenty to keep her hopping.  I was hooked the entire way, even though I suspected where the stories were going.  For the record, I was right on some things and wrong on others.  The climax was a little weaker than I would have liked, but it was a minor issue.  We have the usual large cast of characters, and it was fantastic to spend time with them.  There may not be a laugh on every page here, but there are some classic moments that made me laugh.  This is a delightful book that will please Meg’s fans old and new.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Book Review: Round Up the Usual Peacocks by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #31)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters and a strong plot
Cons: Climax could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
A cold case killer?
Sleuthing around wedding prep
Delight for Meg’s fans

Will Killers Crash the Wedding of the Century?

When we first met Meg Langslow in 1999, she was the maid of honor in three weddings, and peacocks were playing a huge part in her life.  The thirty-first book in the series circles back around as it features Meg, peacocks, and a huge wedding.  But Round Up the Usual Peacocks is in no ways a retread.

Meg’s brother Rob is getting married, and he and his fiancée have agreed to let their mothers plan the wedding of the century.  Naturally, Meg, as matron of honor, is being pulled into various wedding related tasks.  That is, until her nephew, Kevin, comes to her with a problem.

Kevin and his friend, Casey, have started a true crime podcast focusing on unsolved cases in Virginia.  They think one of their episodes has hit a nerve since someone tried to run over Casey a few days ago.  Now, they want Meg’s help is figuring out what happened.  As Kevin points out, if they don’t track down the culprit, he or she might crash the wedding.  Kevin believes that one of three cases they’ve talked about led to the attack on Casey.  Can Meg find out what happened before it ruins the wedding?

If you are jumping into the series here or you’ve missed the early books in the series, have no fear.  While there are a couple of references to the first book, they are made in passing.  Honestly, it’s been probably close to 20 years since I read the book myself, so I couldn’t tell you much about what happened in it.  That’s no issue at all since this story stands completely on its own.

And what a delightful story it is.  With three cases for Meg to investigate, the plot is always hopping.  I had an easy time following what was happening as Meg tracked these cases, never confusing them.  I’ll also admit that I suspected where things were going early, but I wasn’t right about everything, and there were some things I hadn’t figured out yet.  Even so, I didn’t care because I was enjoying the ride along the way.  Also, the climax hit one of my pet peeves, but again, I didn’t care.

That’s because this book, like the series, is just so much fun.  Meg is surrounded by a great cast of characters.  At this point, I have so much history that just a mention of a character’s name is enough to make me smile.  Yes, some of them are reduced to cameos, but giving them more to do would slow down the story.  The suspects fit perfectly into this world.

For me, this book wasn’t as consistently funny as some of the entries in the series.  However, the funny scenes were some of the funniest we’ve had in a while.  And that’s not to say I wasn’t completely enjoying myself even when I wasn’t laughing.

I know I’m usually the one telling you to make sure you read a series in order.  Honestly, with this series, you could easily skip around.  Yes, we reference some events from previous books, but there is nothing of a spoilery nature in those comments.  There is very little you will not understand if you jump in here or anywhere you want.  You will definitely wind up reading all the books eventually no matter what order you read them in.

As any fan will tell you, this series is a delight, and Round Up the Usual Peacocks is no exception.  When you pick this book up, be prepared for another fun romp with Meg and company.

Laugh with the rest of the Meg Langslow Mysteries.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Music Review: Healer Deluxe by Casting Crowns

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 14 great tracks from Casting Crowns
Cons: 7 of them were released last year
The Bottom Line:
Full Healer release
Some new, some we got last year
Combined, a strong disc

Doubling Healer with Great New Songs

When I bought Casting Crown’s CD Healer earlier this year, I was a bit surprised to find out that it only had seven songs on it.  Then, a couple weeks ago, I saw that they were releasing a deluxe edition.  Often, when an artist releases a deluxe edition, there are two or three new songs, but in this case, we get seven new songs, bringing us to a total of fourteen great tracks.

If you’ve already bought the original, you know what good songs we have for half the tracks here.  And the seven songs we already have are mixed in with the new songs although they are stacked near the beginning.  I’m not going to go into all the detail about these tracks again to focus on the new songs.  I will direct you to my earlier review for that content.

So, what about the seven new songs we get here?  As I always said, I really like them.  Then again, that’s no surprise since I’ve been a big Casting Crowns fan since their debut.

First up, we get “Jesus at a Distance,” a song of recommitment to giving our entire lives to Him.  It’s a good midtempo track and convicting in a good way.

I really like the reminder of “The Devil is on the Run.”  This is a fun, upbeat track that talks about who is really going to win despite what we see around us.  It’s a great reminder, and the music gives it a triumphant feel.

“No Hurt” reminds us that Jesus is able to heal us no matter what emotions we are struggling with.  Again, it’s an upbeat song that helps us truly appreciate the message.  I also really like the placement since it is after the bittersweet song “Scars in Heaven.”  Combined, the two admit to feeling hurt but then reminding us of the source of our healing.

They slow things down a little for the anthem “All Because of Mercy,” a great reminder that God’s mercy is how we have been forgiven of our past.

“I’m Still Out Here” is a bit of a change as it is written from the point of view of someone dealing with pain and questions.  While so many of the songs here are reminders of the hope we have in Jesus, this is written from someone who has been crushed by pain or doesn’t believe.  But it is still a reminder that they need us to come into their lives and love them and show them Jesus.  It’s a mid-tempo song, and another powerful one.

The next track fits in perfectly.  “Song of a Broken Heart” is written from the point of view of someone reaching out to the person struggling.  Tempo wise, they fit together perfectly, too.

The disc ends with a cover of Michael Card’s “Gentle Healer.”  I was never a big Michael Card fan, so this song was new to me, and I really like it.  What makes it stand out is that it is a cappella.  Their harmonies are beautiful.

As you can see, I really do like all the new tracks on the disc.  If you’re a fan of this band, I definitely recommend that you get it, especially if you didn’t get the earlier half release.  Honestly, I’ve noticed more artists doing stuff like this.  Some are releasing singles well before they release a new disc that collects those songs.  I’m probably one of the few odd balls out there who still buys physical media, so it probably isn’t as much of an issue for others who buy digital.  If you do that, it is easier to buy the new tracks here.  I was able to pre-order my disc for a good discount, so I’m definitely not complaining in this case.  If you can still get the good discounted price, you’ll definitely want to jump on this right away.

But that’s a discussion for another time and place.  As I said, if you like Casting Crowns, you’ll be pleased with the songs here whether all of them are new to you or half of them are new to you.  And if you are looking for songs to encourage and challenge you, this is a disc you’ll enjoy.

I hope this doesn’t become a pattern, but it’s hard to complain about the deluxe version of Healer since it has so many great songs.

CD Length: 49:56
1. Desert Road
2. Healer
3. Jesus at a Distance
4. The Devil is on the Run
5. Scars in Heaven
6. No Hurt
7. Crazy People
8. Anything but Easy
9. All Because of Mercy
10. 2nd Opinions
11. The Power of the Cross
12. I’m Still Out Here
13. Song of a Broken Heart
14. Gentle Healer

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Disney Pin Review: Iwerks and Iwerks Stereoscopic Cameras - Windows of Main Street - 2021 Release

: 4 out of 5
Pros: Oswald included in window to honor two Disney legends
Cons: Writing on bottom half of window a little hard to read
The Bottom Line:
Oswald and Iwerks
Both rightfully honored here
Hist’ry in pin form

Dual Honors in this Main Street Windows Pin

If you’ve paid attention to the windows on Main Street in the Disney parks, you’ve picked up on the fact that they sometimes honor more than one member of the same family.  That’s the case with the pin I’m looking at this month in the Windows of Main Street pin series.  It is honoring Ub Iwerks and his son Don Iwerks.

I recognized Ub’s name immediately.  He was one of Disney’s early animators, working on some of the earliest animated shorts as well as helping create Disney’s famous multi-plane camera.  I wasn’t familiar with his son Don.  Don worked for Disney as well, focusing on cameras.  And he was responsible for the technology that created the Circle Vision films they used to have in Disneyland and still have in Epcot.

Once I learned that, it wasn’t a surprise to me that their window advertising a specialty camera shop.  In the upper part of the window is says “Iwerks and Iwerks Stereoscopic Cameras.”  Their names are at the bottom of this pane.  The bottom half of the window says “Repairs.  Modifications.  No two exactly alike.”  There’s a drawing of an old-fashioned camera on this pane as well.

As always, there’s a Disney character hiding behind part of the window.  In this case, the bottom half of the pane slides up to reveal Oswald.  I love that he got included here, and it makes sense because Ub worked on the Oswald shorts.

Unfortunately, the bottom pane is a little lighter than it could be, making it hard to read some of the writing.  It’s not as bad as some of the others in the series, and the upper part is very easy to read.  As usual, it is a perfect replicant of the window at Disney World, which is located above the bakery.

It’s wonderful to see Oswald and the Iwerks get recognized in this series.  As a result, I’m glad I have this pin in my collection, and I suspect that other Disney fanatics will be glad they got it as well.

August 28th's Sunday/Monday Post

Hi, everyone.  It's time for another Sunday/Monday post, which I will be linking up to:

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

It's been a couple of weeks since I did this, and I have a very good excuse.  Last weekend, I was in Buellton with family.  Haven't seen any family since March, so it was wonderful.  My parents drove down in their trailer, and they brought my niece and nephew with them.  No, the location wasn't the draw, although we did go into Solvang for a few hours one afternoon.  The draw was just getting to hang out.  We played games at the trailer (I may have finally learned how to play Pinochle - we'll see what I remember later), and visited with some family friends who have moved to the area.  Nothing fancy, but it was a wonderful break.

Because work has exploded into a nightmare.  I worked five hours on Saturday, and I'm thinking I might have as many hours to work Sunday as well.  I'm already thinking I'm going to have to work all three days next weekend, and full days, not partial days like I'm doing this weekend.  Which is seriously cutting into my reading time!

I did take this morning to myself, however, and went paddle boarding with a couple of friends.  It was great to be out on the water, as always.

This Past Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Disney Pin Review: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - Cuckoo for Disney Pins
Monday - Book Review: Stardust Trail by J. R. Sanders
Tuesday - TV Show Review: Naomi - The Complete Series
Wednesday - Book Review: Death on the Set by Rose Kerr
Thursday - Ornament Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Friday - Friday Post featuring Round up the Usual Peacocks
Friday - Book Review: "V" is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Disney Pin Review: Iwerks and Iwerks - Windows of Main Street
Monday - Music Review: Healer (Deluxe) by Casting Crowns
Tuesday - Book Review: Round up the Usual Peacocks by Donna Andrews
Wednesday - August 2022 Reading Summary
Thursday - Book Review: Union Jacked by Diane Vallere
Friday - Friday Post
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

It's been a couple of weeks, so that means I've got several books to talk about.

First up is a collection of the Pot Thief Mysteries by J. Michael Orenduff.  They've been on my radar for a while, so when I saw a Kindle collection of the first three on sale, I snagged them.

Likewise, when The Art of the Decoy by Trish Esden went on sale, I grabbed that one, too.  I've heard good things about it, so I am looking forward to it.

From the library, I snagged Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery in audio.  I listened to about half of it driving to and from the visit with my family last weekend, and I finished it up this week.

I signed up for a blog tour of Buttercream Betrayal, the fifth Cupcake Catering mystery from Kim Davis, so I got an ARC of that book.

Finally, my pre-order of Six Feet Deep Dish by Mindy Quigley arrived this week.

That ought to keep me busy for a while, right?  Especially since I don't know when I will get to most of them.

What I'm Currently Reading:

My original goal was to finish up Death in the Aegean by M. A. Monnin on Saturday.  That's not going to happen.  In fact, after all the time I spent working, I'll be lucky if I get much read at all.  Which is a shame because I'm really enjoying the book and I need to know what happens next.

Hopefully, I will get it finished on Sunday because I have Murder at Keyhaven Castle by Clara McKenna waiting in the wings.  I'm really looking forward to diving into the third in that historical mystery series.

That's a wrap for this week.  Hope you have a good week.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

August 27th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – So happy for Flip.  And happy to see so many people finishing stage 2 in general.  Felt sorry for the couple of guys who fell early.  Sounds like we’ve got quite the season final next week.  And it sounds like the course will be harder next year if multiple people make it through to the end.

The Challenge USA – I felt so stupid.  No, I haven’t seen The Challenge before, but I have watched Survivor enough that I should have seen the fact that it is now individual coming.  Poor Leo.  He’s been down in the elimination so much.  Sooner or later his luck was going to run out.  Not that he’s the most spirited player, but still.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law – Better episode without the lectures.  Still not seeing tons of comedy, but this new case she has is going to be very interesting going forward.  I’m going to side with the people who say the CGI is iffy, however.

Press Your Luck – From getting no spins in round 1 (don’t think I’ve seen that before) to winning the game and all those prizes without a whammy.  I’m impressed.  Feels like a small number of whammies overall tonight, too.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Book Review: “V” is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #22)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Kinsey and the cast; plot at times
Cons: Weak sub-plot; poor climax
The Bottom Line:
Trail of shoplifter
With weak subplot and climax
Series fans only

Stumbles at the End

I have long maintained that to truly judge a story you have to experience the entire thing.  Sometimes, what you are finding annoying clicks into place late in the story and makes up for the annoyance.  And, sometimes, a book suffers from a weak climax.  Sadly, “V” is for Vengeance falls into that second category.

This is the twenty-second book in Sue Grafton’s famous Kinsey Millhone mysteries.  I’ve been listening to these in order and mostly enjoying them.  Kinsey is a private investigator in the town of Santa Teresa, a very thinly disguised Santa Barbara, California.

This book finds Kinsey in the right place and the right time to foil a shoplifter.  She is surprised to find that the shoplifter kills herself the next day.  But the surprises keep coming when the dead woman’s fiancé hired Kinsey to prove that the woman didn’t kill herself.  The fiancé doesn’t think she was a shoplifter either, so he and Kinsey have a contentious relationship from the very start.  But can Kinsey figure out what really happened?

One thing I’ve noticed in the last few entries in this series is chapters written from other character’s third person points of view.  Sometimes, they take place in the past and help pull us into the story by giving us details that Kinsey doesn’t have yet.  In this case, they take place in the present.  They introduce a sub-plot that I truly couldn’t care any less about and slowed down the main story.  The plot would have been stronger if these chapters were completely removed from the book, and we wouldn’t have missed a thing.

It's a shame the book has these chapters since the main mystery was good.  The chapters written from Kinsey’s first person point of view were fantastic and really drew me in.  I got so invested that the further I got into the story, the harder it was to stop.  In fact, there was a moment about two thirds of the way into the book where I had a very hard time stopping for the rest of the story.

And then I came to the climax.  It’s actually weak overall.  I understand why Kinsey did what she did, but events would have happened the same way without her.  There are other aspects to the climax that were disappointing, and one character’s actions didn’t ring true at all.

Which is a shame since I enjoy spending time with Kinsey and her friends.  After spending so much time with them, just hearing their names can make me smile, and that happened again here.

As always, I listened to the audio of this book.  Judy Kaye continues to do a good job of bringing the story to life.

Fans will still want to read “V” is for Vengeance.  If you are new to the series, I definitely recommend you give it a try.  The early books make it obvious why the series has amassed the loyal fans it has.

Check out the rest of the Kinsey Millhone Mysteries.

August 26th's Friday Post

Friday is upon us once again!  That means it is time for a Friday post.  As usual, I'll be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

The book I will be highlighting this week with teasers for the first three is Round Up the Usual Peacocks by Donna Andrews.

This is the thirty-first book in her popular Meg Langslow series.  It's a favorite series of mine that I've been reading for roughly 20 years now.  Here's how this particular entry opens:

"We need more peacocks!"
I glanced up from my notebook-that-tells-me-when-to-breathe, as I call my combination to-do list and calendar.  Dad was standing just inside the back door.  He worse elbow-length white leather gauntlets and a pith helmet with heavy netting thrown back to reveal his face.  His beekeeping outfit.
"If you're looking for peacocks in the beehives, that's probably why you're not finding any," I said.

Moving to page 56, we find this:

The whole system sounded completely unbusinesslike to me.
But then, it wasn't about business, was it?  It was about money.
And power.

Yes, this is a mystery, but it has a liberal dose of humor and a bunch of fun characters.  I will be reviewing it on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back then to read my review.

Meanwhile, let's jump into this week's Book Blogger Hop.  This week's question is:

If you receive a request from an author to read his/her book and you don't have time, do you suggest another way to help the author?

I guess this is where I have to give a true confession.  I only respond to authors if I'm interested in their book.  I don't feel guilty about not responding to the ones that are clearly spam and having paid any attention to what I review.  But I do feel guilty about the ones I am interested in but don't have the time.  I'm bad about email.  So no, I don't make any suggestions if I can't review the book.

And on that note, have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Ornament Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - 2022 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun representation of the fifth Harry Potter cover
Cons: The candles look a little odd sticking out of the cover
The Bottom Line:
Fifth Harry Potter
Candles don’t quite translate well
Overall still good

The Order of the Phoenix is Ready to Hang on Your Tree

Five years ago, Hallmark started releasing ornaments based on the Harry Potter book covers.  While I had pretty much given up collecting Harry Potter ornaments by that point, these ornaments spoke to the book lover in me, so I started them.  We are now at the ornament for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and it’s another winner.

If you are familiar with the original American covers for the series, you won’t be surprised at what we get here.  The cover is blue.  The front features Harry with a wand surrounded by candles.  He’s looking sideways so he’s looking out at us.  The title is up at the top.  If you continue on around, the rest of the cover appears on the sides and back.  The ornament isn’t as thick as the real book is, but that’s okay.  We want this to settle into the branches of our tree, not stick out so far from it, right?

As usual, elements of the front cover are coming out at us.  Harry is one of them, as are some of the candles that are in the foreground of the picture.  Honestly, that threw me for a bit.  I honestly thought they were skeleton fingers at first.  I had to look at the book’s cover again to see what it really was.  Obviously, this is a case where two-dimensional art didn’t quite translate to three-dimensional art.

The other thing I just noticed is that J. K. Rowling’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on the ornament.  I’m not sure if I just haven’t noticed in the past or if this is the first time they took it off.  If you look at the original cover, it makes sense that they couldn’t include it here.  Her name is down at the bottom, and that would just be awkward since what it is written over is now popping out of the ornament at us.  I suspect this was the case with the earlier ornaments in this unofficial series and I just never noticed.

Since this is a book, you could set it out to be displayed.  I don’t think the candles would be too likely to break if it got knocked over.

I plan to hang this one on my tree.  It does tip forward ever so slightly when you hang it, but you have to be looking for it to notice that.

For the book lover who is a Harry Potter fan, these ornaments are so much fun.  If that’s you, grab Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while you can.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Book Review: Death on the Set by Rose Kerr (Brenna Flynn Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; good mystery
Cons: Continuity issues early; pacing
The Bottom Line:
Temp job on a show
Complicated by murder
Mostly good debut

Cooking Competitions are Killer

Being the TV fan I am, I was immediately interested when I heard about Rose Kerr’s Death on the Set.  A murder mystery set around a reality cooking competition?  Sounded like something I would really enjoy.

After her husband of a few years dies and she loses her job, Brenna Flynn returns to Bayview City and takes on any job she can find.  Fortunately, she has a friend who runs a temp agency, so when a job as a production assistant at Bayview Cooks! comes up, Brenna finds herself with a few weeks of steady income.

Her new job comes with early hours, so she is the first one on set her first full day on the job.  And that’s a problem when she finds the dead body of Chef Mike, one of three local restaurant owners competing on the show.  With the police looking at her as a suspect, Brenna begins trying to figure out what is really happening at her new job.  Can she find the killer?

Brenna’s backstory is a bit more complicated than I’ve made it out to be here, but I really appreciated how quickly the authors gave us what we really needed to know and moved into the main mystery.  Yes, we get more details as the books goes along, but they never felt like a data dump.

I do wish I could say the pacing was always that swift.  I feel like the book got bogged down in the details of Brenna’s job at times.  Yes, we would get some clues or red herrings, but I didn’t always feel like the info we got balanced out the details.

However, as the book neared the climax, we started to focus a bit more on the mystery.  We did have some good twists that would keep me engaged.  I also appreciated how Brenna pieced things together at the end and how the climax played out.

The book also needed a continuity edit, at least near the beginning.  There were a couple of things that were brought up and then dropped.  They ultimately had no bearing on the mystery so that’s not an issue, but it was annoying to me.  Fortunately, once the book really got going, these issues disappeared.

I really did like the characters.  Brenna is a strong protagonist who is working hard on rebuilding her life.  She is surrounded by some fun family and friends.  They feel like real characters already, and I can see how they have plenty of room to grow as the series progresses.

Another thing I really did like was that Brenna did a good job of sharing what she learned with the police.  No, she wasn’t perfect, but she does a better job than many cozy sleuths do.

The hook of this series is going to be Brenna working a variety of temp jobs and finding murder and mayhem wherever she goes.  While this book was a culinary cooking show setting, this isn’t necessarily a culinary cozy series.

There is definitely promise in Death on the Set.  If you are looking for a new series, consider getting this one today.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

TV Show Review: Naomi - The Complete Series

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong, fun characters and acting
Cons: Story weak overall; cliffhanger that felt forced
The Bottom Line:
New superhero
In uneven first season
Wanted to like more

“My Motto is Start Small.”  “You Had Me Jump Off a Bridge.”

I’ve pretty much decided to give any superhero show on the CW a chance, so I planned to watch Naomi as soon as I heard about it.  I kept going, but it didn’t grab me like I had hoped it would, and I wasn’t that sorry when it was cancelled.

Naomi (Kaci Walfall) is a pretty typical teenager.  She and her adoptive parents, Jennifer and Greg, (Mouzam Makkar and Barry Watson) have moved quite a bit thanks to Greg’s career in the Air Force, but Naomi has made some great friends in their current town, including Annabelle (Mary-Charles Jones).  About the only thing that sets her apart from your typical teenage girl is her obsession with all things related to the pop culture character Superman.

And then something strange happens.  After blacking out during a stunt where someone tries to impersonate Superman, Naomi starts discovering she has powers.  At first, she tries to hide them from everyone, including her parents, but they don’t stay secret for too long.  Where did these powers come from?  Why do some people seem very interested in her and her powers?

This isn’t necessarily an original premise for a superhero story, but it definitely had promise.  I wouldn’t say I was hooked at the end of the pilot, but I was certainly intrigued and wanted to see where they were going to go.

Sadly, as the series progressed, the story didn’t.  I felt like each week was some shade of the same story over and over again.  It is amazing how we’ve gotten used to stories that advance these days, isn’t it, when in the 1980’s, we essentially watched the same story over and over again.  I think here, part of the frustration was it felt like the story should have been moving forward but it wasn’t.

And don’t even get me started on the main villain of the season.  Turned out to be very underwhelming, and we were left with an anticlimactic climax and a cliffhanger that really didn’t fit the show.

Now, this isn’t to say I completely hated the show.  I really did like how close Naomi was with her parents.  Yes, that gets tested over the course of the series, but I liked how close they started out.  That’s sadly rare on TV.

I also really liked Naomi and her friends.  Their relationships were fun and felt real to me.  Her relationships with potential love interests Nathan (Daniel Puig) and Lourdes (Camila Moreno) were also interesting.

I have to praise Kaci Walfall.  She brought an earnestness to Naomi that seemed very real without being hokey.  And when the script called for her to have fun, she was able to do that well, too.  The rest of the cast played their parts perfectly.  The special effects were good, too.

The show was enough of a mixed bag that I was leaning toward giving it up at the end of season one, but then it was part of the bloodbath at the CW this past season, making the decision easy for me.

With the weak final episode and the cliffhanger, I only recommend this show if you are really interested in it and missed it when it aired.  The good in Naomi didn’t quite outweigh the flaws in this superhero show.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Book Review: Stardust Trail by J. R. Sanders (Nate Ross #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and fun plot
Cons: All cons moseyed on down the trail
The Bottom Line:
Tracking down writer
In historic Hollywood
A fun PI tale

Searching for a Missing Writer

A few months back, author J. R. Sanders came to my local library to talk about the books in his Nate Ross Mysteries.  I enjoyed listening to him, so I bought the books afterwards.  I’m glad I got them both since I really enjoyed the first, Stardust Trail.

Nate Ross is a PI in Hollywood in the 1930’s.  He’s not especially interested in the film industry, but he’s also not willing to turn down clients, so when he is asked to find the writer of a picture currently in production, he takes the case.  David Prince has been missing a couple of weeks, not the first time the author has vanished, but the studio needs him to work on some rewrites.

Nate’s search turns into more when he finds out that someone seems to be sabotaging the picture.  Since the studio is putting serious money into this picture, this is becoming a major issue for them.  Is the author’s disappearance part of the sabotage?

Yes, the Hollywood setting was part of the draw for me, but I was even more intrigued by the fact that the case takes Nate to my town north of Los Angeles proper.  Obviously, things are very different now than they were in 1938, when this story takes place, but I still enjoyed seeing a few place names I’m extremely familiar with pop up in the action.

The action was strong.  The plot started quickly and kept moving.  I picked up on a few things early on, but there was still plenty I hadn’t caught.  However, when Nate explained things, I actually felt a little foolish I hadn’t figured them out myself.  I always love it when that happens.

The characters were fun.  Nate has a past, but we get it in bits over the first third of the book, so there’s no big data dump.  There’s an extended cameo by a real life up and coming star of the day that I really enjoyed.  The rest of the cast was great and kept me engaged as I read.

This book is a bit of a throwback to the private eye books of the era.  As such, it does have a bit more foul language than in the cozies I typically read.  However, Nate also has a sense of humor that I truly loved.

I really did enjoy this debut.  As I said at the start, I’m glad I already have the sequel.  If you’re looking for a throwback to a classic PI novel, you’ll enjoy Stardust Trail.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Disney Pin Review: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - Cuckoo for Disney Pins - 2021 Release

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Little used ride in immediately recognizable pin
Cons: Creepy; a bit simple
The Bottom Line:
Mr. Toad gets pin
With good representation
But it is creepy

Slightly Creepy Cuckoo Clock

Even after years of going on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, I still haven’t quite figured it out.  Okay, I get most of the ride, but what’s with the ending?  That comes out of left field even after having seen the movie and read the book.  I must not be the only one since it isn’t normally included in various pin series that Disney releases, but we did get an entry for it in the Cuckoo for Disney Pins series.  And it is appropriately creepy.

The face of the clock is a good representation of the front of the ride, which is supposed to be the front of Toad Hall.  We’ve got the doors, with the face of the clock itself above a banner that announces Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  Dangling from the pin we have a silhouette of Toad standing up on a car, trying to get it to go faster.

The part that makes this pin a little creepy is that we have two demons hanging on to the top of the clock.  They also add the only real bit of color the pin has.  Most of the pin is shades of gray or tan, but they are red.

While I do appreciate them including this ride in the series, it’s not one of my favorites.  Part of it is that it seems a little too simple.  It’s just the front of the ride building.  There really isn’t much of anything to fancy it up.  And yes, I do find the demons being on it creepy, although that does help establish what the pin is.  On the plus side, any fan of Disneyland would instantly recognize which attraction this pin represents.

On the whole, I feel like this pin is a bit average.  Still, fans of the ride or those collecting this series will be glad they have it in their collection.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

August 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – I’d heard about Joe not being part of the finals before I watched the episode, but you can imagine how disappointed I was since I root for him so hard.  A few shocking falls, but at lot of the ninjas did pretty well.  Hope we get some more finishers next week.  I always enjoy seeing lots of ninjas make stage 2.

The Challenge USA – What is up with Leo?  He really doesn’t seem to want to be there.  And I’m not just talking about after the call this week.  But he does come through when it matters.  And Tyson and Sarah were partners just one week too late.  Oh well.  Not as much drama as I thought there might be.  Both challenges were something else.  I wouldn’t have done well at either one of them.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law – Well, it was a pilot.  It was mostly set up, and mostly things we previously expected them to cover.  I think the final regular scene is going to set up some interesting things are we go forward.  Hope we don’t get too many more of those lecture scenes, but I fear they will be a regular feature as well.

Press Your Luck – I didn’t recognize any of the contestants until they showed the clips of their first appearance.  Even then, I only really remembered the ultimate winner.  I think this may be the first time the winner didn’t get any prizes in the bonus round.  But it’s hard to be disappointed with that kind of cash.

Friday, August 19, 2022

August 19th's Friday Post

We've made it to Friday!  That means once again, I'll be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

For the third three, I'll be pulling quotes from Stardust Trail by J. R. Sanders.

Yes, this is a mystery, but it's not one of my typical cozies.  It's a historical mystery set in 1938 Hollywood, and the main character is a former cop turned PI.

Here's how the book begins:

In Hollywood, anything can happen, and usually does.  If I'd hunted up a pastrami on my own side of Vermont, maybe none of this would have happened.  Maybe it would have happened to someone else.  Either way would have been fine by me.

Meanwhile, on page 56, we get this short and sweet quote:

"I can stick around," I told Okel.  "Might improve my education."

I really enjoyed this one.  Lots of fun and plenty of action to keep me reading.  I'll be reviewing this one on Monday, so not too long to wait to read my full review.  I hope you'll come back to read it.

Meanwhile, let's take a look at this week's Book Blogger Hop.  The question is:

Do you run your reviews through editing software before posting?

I write my reviews in Word.  It will catch some of my typos and errors.  I then save my reviews and go back through later, usually a day or more later, and edit them myself.  Even with those steps, I'm still embarrassed at what I see later when I'm looking at old reviews.

That's it for me this week.  Hope you have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Book Review: Salt Water Wound by C. Michele Dorsey (Sabrina Salter #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Sabrina and company in two strong stories
Cons: Plot could be flushed out a bit better
The Bottom Line:
Secrets from the past
Deadly danger on island
Diff’rent but good book

Facing Wounds from the Past and Danger in the Present

I’ve been enjoying the Sabrina Salter Mysteries since the beginning.  After the events of the third book in the series, I was thrilled to hear the author was working on Salt Water Wounds, the fourth in the series.  It is one that longtime fans will enjoy.

If you are new to the series, Sabrina and her business partner, Henry, own a property rental business on the island of St. John.  The third book in the series took place in September of 2017 as Hurricane Irma was bearing down on the island.  This book picks up two months later as Sabrina, Henry, and the rest of the gang are trying to figure out how to deal with the after math of the storm.

And, if you are new to the series, I don’t recommend you start with this book.  This book involves plot threads from the previous books in the series.  Yes, enough information is given to follow what happens here, but it will mean so much more to you if you are coming to the book having already met the characters.

As I said earlier, this book opens two months after Hurricane Irma decimated the island of St. John.  Sabrina and her friends have spent the time trying to survive on an island that is having trouble getting the basic necessities of life and trying to figure out how to rebuild their lives.  Sabrina’s grandmother has the resources to purchase the supplies the group will need to rebuild, and she has asked Sabrina to go with her to the mainland to gather them.  While they are off the island, they are going to start searching for Sabrina’s mother, who disappeared when Sabrina was a toddler.

However, before they can get off the island, two explosions rock the group.  One of the explosions leaves behind a dead body.  Sabrina may be off the island, but the investigation into the explosion takes some dangerous turns that impact those closest to her.  Will she find out what happened to her mother?  What is happening on the island?

This book really has two storylines.  It does a great job of balancing the two of them, keeping us interested in both.  The series has always featured scenes from several different characters’ third person point of view, but that technique is put to excellent use here.  Don’t worry, the point of view changes always happen at the chapter breaks, so it is easy to follow.

While Sabrina’s portion of the book involves her following a trail of clues, the events on the island unfold more like a thriller.  Since I know and care about all the characters, I cared about both parts of the story equally.

I’ve got to admit, I went back and forth on Sabrina’s behavior in this book.  At times, I felt she was being too harsh on others.  But then, I’d fully put myself in her shoes and understand exactly where she was coming from.  I actually appreciated that and in the growth I saw in her as the events in this book unfolded.  I thought the final scene in the book was perfect.

And the events on the island?  I got so caught up in them that I read the final half of the book in one day when I really should have been doing other things.  I had to know how the book ended.

I know this almost sounds like it was two different books.  And in some ways it feels like that at times.  Yet, the stories start together and converge before the book ends.  This isn’t a traditional mystery story, but it works well and gives us the answers we’ve been looking for about Sabrina’s past.  Parts of the book do feel a bit rushed, especially as we near the climax, but it’s a small complaint overall.

I’ve focused a lot of Sabrina because she gets so much of the spotlight here, but the rest of the cast get some interesting developments in their lives as well.  I’m curious to see where the series goes from here.  And yes, the author is working on the next book in the series.

This isn’t one of the cozies I typically read, and it’s a bit more of a PG-13 read as a result.  As long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.

If you’ve already met Sabrina, you’ll definitely want to find out what happens to her in Salt Water Wounds.  If you haven’t started this series yet, you’ll be ready for this book before you know it.

Enjoy the rest of the Sabrina Salter Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of the book.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Ornament Review: Hades - 2022 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Expertly captures Hades
Cons: Slight tip forward when hung
The Bottom Line:
Hades ornament
Captures personality
And looks great also

We Dance, We Kiss, We Schmooze, We Go Home Happy, and You Put Me on Your Tree.

I have collected a lot of Disney character ornaments over the years, but I’m not sure I have any of the characters from Hercules.  I fixed that this year with this limited-edition ornament of Hades, which Hallmark released to celebrate the movie’s 25th anniversary.

This ornament captures Hades perfectly.  He’s standing with his hand extended like he’s just made a point.  His hair is a blue flame, although it’s small at the moment.  And around him are the puffs of smoke that he glides on.

Looking at this ornament, I can hear James Woods’ voice as the character.  Even without sound or motion or anything, they’ve captured the look and personality of the character perfectly, and I love it.

This ornament is on the bigger size.  However, it isn’t quite as heavy as it first appears.  You’ll want to pick a medium sized branch to hang it on at a minimum, but it doesn’t have to be the largest branches you have.  He does tip forward ever so slightly when you go to hang him, but that’s no surprise since the ring is on the back of his neck.  And it’s mostly noticeable if you are watching for it, so it’s no big deal.

All the smoke that Hades is coming up from makes for a nice base.  As a result, you can set him out to enjoy anywhere you want all year long.

While I’m not the biggest villain fan in the world, I am definitely glad that I bought this Hades ornament.  It’s a fun addition to my Disney character ornament collection.