Thursday, March 23, 2023

Movie Review: The Cases of Mystery Lane

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs, good mystery and characters
Cons: A few things didn’t quite work for me, but they are minor
The Bottom Line:
PI in training
Solves murder at wife’s office
With plenty of laughs

“Who Takes a Seven Dollar Bribe?”

When I started seeing previews for The Cases of Mystery Lane, a new Hallmark mystery movie, I marked the premier on my calendar.  The more I paid attention, the more I started to think this one could prove to be lots of fun.  And I was completely right.

This movie introduces us to Alden and Birdie Case (Paul Campbell and Aimee Garcia).  Birdie is a lawyer, working in the Boston law firm where her mother (Jacqueline Samuda) is her boss.  And her mother is driving Birdie to work harder to show she is partner material.  Meanwhile, Alden is taking a night school class to become a PI, something he is keeping secret from Birdie.  Not that they he is the only one keeping a secret in their marriage.  Yes, they are drifting apart.

Alden’s latest assignment for his class is to follow someone, and he chooses Kyle, one of Birdie’s co-workers that she seems too close to.  When Kyle makes a stop by the office and then runs out, Alden goes in to investigate.  That’s when he finds the body of one of the partners just before the police show up.

The police rule the death a suicide, but it doesn’t sit right with Alden and Birdie.  Reluctantly, Birdie starts helping Alden investigate.  Will they figure out what really happened?

Obviously, this is a familiar set up for a mystery story, at least the proving someone was murdered instead of a suicide.  But the movie keeps the pace moving and it isn’t long before Alden and Birdie are tracking down some real leads even though the victim doesn’t seem to have any enemies.  I’m not sure I completely buy the killer.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I get the motive, so I’ll let that go.

And there was one thing introduced early on that was dropped.  I hope it comes back in a later movie.

I did find it interesting that the set up felt similar to Hallmark’s Nikki and Nora: Sister Sleuths, which I actually finally watched a couple of weeks ago even though it premiered last fall.  Granted, I read lots of books with similar set ups and themes, but the fact that Hallmark introduced two potential franchises that are so similar in six months or so was interesting to me.

I don’t remember Hallmark attempting to do a comedic mystery movie before, or a comedy movie in general.  Oh, there are been a few laughs in the movies I’ve watched, but this was definitely intended as a comedy.  And, for the most part, it worked.  Yes, they tried a little too hard at times.  Overall, there were lots of great lines that had me laughing as I watched.

The character arcs were a little predictable, but I didn’t mind that much since I was happy with where things ended.  The actors all do a good job of bringing their characters to life.

Yes, the movie does have a little bit of the standard Hallmark cheese, but it is kept to a minimum.  For the most part, I was able to ignore it and get lost in the story and laughs.

From the way this movie ends, everyone is clearly hoping this becomes a new movie franchise for Hallmark.  I’m right there with them since I really enjoyed The Cases of Mystery Lane.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Book Review: Four Parties and a Funeral by Maria DiRico (Catering Hall Mysteries #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters, story, and lots of laughs
Cons: A couple things didn’t quite work for me
The Bottom Line:
Reality show
Brings murder, plenty of fun
Keeps pages turning

Reality Show Gets Real with Murder

While I don’t watch the soap opera tinged reality shows, I have heard enough about them and seen clips to get an idea of what they are like.  So, when a fictional one was the basis for Four Parties and a Funeral, the fourth Catering Hall Mystery from Maria DiRico, I sat back expecting a rollicking good time.

This series is a little different from a typical cozy mystery.  Mia Carina is our main character, and she works at Belle View Banquet Manor, a catering hall.  So far, it sounds like a cozy, right?  However, what if I told you that the catering hall was located in Astoria, Queens in New York City.  And what if I told you this was a legitimate business Mia is running for the members of a mob family.  And some of Mia’s immediate family members have been involved in the mob.  No, this might not fit your typical cozy definition, but it works wonderfully as a cozy anyway.

In this book, some reality show producers have come to the area to film the pilot for a new reality show, Dons of Ditmars Boulevard.  While Mia has no desire to be included in any way, Belle View has been booked for a few scenes, and they’ve been hired for catering.  Naturally, Mia knows some of those who are included in the cast, including Little Donny, the grown son of the Family that owns Belle View.

The drama the producers are looking for on screen is nothing compared to the drama happening behind the scenes.  The show has hardly started filming when someone is killed.  The police zero in on Little Donny as their chief suspect.  Mia has known him all his life, and knows that he couldn’t possibly commit murder.  But can she figure out what really happened?

As I said, I don’t typically watch these types of shows, but I certainly know enough about them to see the way the book is mocking them.  I laughed many times at the antics happening on stage and behind the camera.  I can only imagine that fans of the genre would get an even bigger kick out of it than I did.

Having said that, there were a few things that didn’t quite work for my logical brain.  An additional storyline in the book involves Mia’s friend Jamie’s wedding.  Jamie happens to be Little Donny’s younger brother, so it sort of made sense for the show to film at some of the events.  Yet, it didn’t completely work for me.  There were a few other things about the production that didn’t feel right.  But maybe if I watched this type of show, I’d see my nitpicks aren’t valid.

On the other hand, I was truly having fun as I read.  I mentioned I was laughing right?  So I mainly told that part of my brain to shut up and enjoyed the ride.

Despite all the storylines, the mystery was strong.  We get as many clues as we do antics along the way.  I was very impressed when Mia pulled everything together at the end with exactly how things fell into place and some of the twists we got along the way.

Since this is book four in the series, we’ve gotten to know some of the characters pretty well.  They give us some more great sub-plots here, a couple that add to the humor of the book and one that really helps develop the characters involved.  Some of the new characters are a bit caricature, but they work for the over-the-top antics they are supposed to be engaged in.

We get several recipes at the end, including one that escaped from an earlier book in the series.  There are also a couple of party tips.

Four Parties and a Funeral is a fun and funny cozy mystery.  If you are looking for something that will leave you with a grin on your face, this book, and this series, are for you.

Book more fun with the rest of the Catering Hall Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Podcast Review: On Fire with Jeff Probst

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Enjoyable look behind the scenes at Survivor
Cons: All cons voted off the island
The Bottom Line:
Go behind the scenes
And learn about Survivor
With those who make it

The Tribe Listens

I’ve been watching Survivor since season 1 day 1 episode 1.  And in all these years, I’ve only missed one episode (stupid VCR didn’t record it, if that tells you how long ago it was).  So when I heard that CBS was doing an official podcast with Survivor host Jeff Probst, I knew I’d be tuning in.  After three episodes, I’m hooked on On Fire with Jeff Probst.

The podcast actually has three hosts.  Jeff is one of them, and he does a lot of the talking, as you might expect if you’ve watched the show.  The second is Brittany Crapper, who is a producer on Survivor.  Rounding out the trio is Jay Wolff, who is producing the podcast and is coming at the show from a fan perspective instead of someone who has been involved in creating the show.

While this podcast is being released weekly after the episodes of the current season of Survivor air, it is only marginally about the current season of the show.  Yes, they do talk about the events of the most recent episode, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve seen it before you listen to avoid spoilers.  They are also using the most recent contestants and season as examples of what they are talking about, although some classic players and moments get mentioned as well.  However, it is more of a behind the scenes show instead of a recap show.

So far, we’ve heard about what happens before they even get to the first day of filming, the ideas behind advantages and idols, and how they cast the contestants.  This coming episode is supposed to look at what goes into challenges.

As a fan of the show, I am enjoying it very much.  The biggest take away I’m getting is that they are constantly trying new things to see if they work or don’t.  And they tweak.  And they bring back what works well.

I also appreciate getting some of the why they do what they do.  I don’t always think it works the way they think it should be working, of course, but it is easy to judge that from my couch or if it impacts my favorite player.  Still, it makes me appreciate what they are trying to do and why much more.  It’s like how Jeff will love and talk up someone in interviews that I can’t stand.  And if you listen, you can tell who he really likes this season who is driving me batty.

They close out the show with a couple of fan segments.  The first is answering a few emails that have been sent in.  The second is a segment where one person gets to tell Jeff why he is lousy.  He seems to take that in stride.

The podcast does have a couple of commercial breaks, but they are very short, which is nice.  Like about a minute each.

If you are a fan of Survivor, you’ll definitely find On Fire with Jeff Probst worth your time.  I certainly am.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Book Review: Apprehend Me No Flowers by Diane Vallere (Madison Night #7)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and story
Cons: A few inconsistencies and editing snags
The Bottom Line:
Business is on hold
Shadow of Doris passing
Series entertains

Flowers for the Murdered

Doris Day’s death in May 2019 probably wouldn’t have been more than a footnote to me without the Madison Night Mysteries.  And I wasn’t surprised that the event was mentioned in Apprehend Me No Flowers, the seventh book in this series from Diane Vallere.

You see, Madison bears a resemblance to the famous actress.  As a result, she has had a lifelong love of the actress and her movies, and she has built her decorating business, Mad for Mod, around mid-century modern designs, using Doris Day’s movies as an inspiration.  Of course, being a mystery series, Madison also keeps finding herself around dead bodies, but that’s what makes it fun for us.

This book takes place in May 2019, and Madison has found herself in the local spotlight as a result of Doris Day’s death.  Since she has a level of celebrity in the Dallas area, reporters have come to her for reactions for articles.  Unfortunately, that’s not the only reason she’s been in the spotlight.  She’s being sued professionally and has had to close her business.  She hopes it is only temporary, but the lawsuit is dragging on.

But things take a deadly turn when she and her new boyfriend, police captain Tex Allen, meet in a local park for a picnic.  When Madison goes to throw away the trash, she finds a dead body in the garbage can.  Meanwhile, some hikers have found one in another part of the park.  When the bodies are identified, it captures the media, causing even more problems for Tex.  With time on her hands, Madison tries to figure out what is going on.  But will she just make things worse?

Obviously, Doris Day’s death isn’t the focus of the book, but I did find it interesting how it played into the overall untethering that Madison is feeling in her life as this book unfolds.  I continue to love how Madison grows as the series progresses.  Just like real life, things are messy, and there aren’t necessarily easy answers, but it is fun watching Madison struggle to figure out how to deal with the latest things that life has thrown at her.

This might not be a mystery in the completely traditional sense, and that’s great.  The plot is still extremely entertaining, and I was hooked the entire way through.  Obviously, there is a lot going on here, and, since I love Madison, I wanted to see just where she would be when she came out on the other side.  The climax was logical and answered my questions.

Unfortunately, I did find a few inconsistencies and other things like that in the book.  It’s not enough to ruin the story, fortunately.

Each title in this series is a play on a Doris Day movie, and it contains a few nods to that particular film.  As preparation for reading this book, I watched Send Me No Flowers, which I enjoyed.  However, as soon as I finished, I felt like the specifics didn’t stick with me.  I did catch a couple of obvious connections in this book, but I feel like there were probably a couple more I missed.  This is something fun for fans of the movies, but if you pick up this book without any knowledge of the films, you aren’t missing anything.

I’m also enjoying how a character I thought was going to be a minor one note character keeps getting more page time and more development as the series goes along.  I’m definitely interested to see how the character and Madison’s relationship to her grows next.

As usual, the ending of Apprehend Me No Flowers left me anxious to find out what happens next to Madison.  This series is different and fun, and if that appeals to you, I recommend it.

Enjoy the rest of the Madison Night Mysteries.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Disney Pin Review: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Mickey Mouse the Main Attraction #9 - 2022 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great details for Big Thunder Mountain
Cons: Mickey’s still in the same pose
The Bottom Line:
Railroad visit
Finds Mickey in western duds
For a fun entry

Maybe Not the Wildest Pin in My Collection, But I Like It

Mickey Mouse is visiting several of the famous Disneyland mountains in his tour for the Mickey Mouse the Main Attraction series, and his latest stop is to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  This classic attraction in Frontierland is honored with a fantastic pin.

The reality is that this is a pretty standard roller coaster.  Even a tame one.  Which makes it perfect for kids looking for their first roller coaster.  It was my first coaster, and I loved it.  Anyway, what makes it special is the theming.  The fact that we are racing by a very detailed western backdrop is why it is memorable.  Honestly, I bet there are all kinds of details I’ve never noticed on this ride.

Anyway, this pin brings in that western theme, and makes it truly stand out.  Mickey’s in his standard pose, one leg out with his arms behind his back.  For this pin, he’s wearing tan chaps, and a western style hat.  He’s got a red bandana with the BTMR logo that Disney uses on it.  And his shirt has the red mountains that Disney often uses for this attraction on it.

The result is lots of fun.  It’s easy to immediately recognize which attraction Mickey is representing, and the little details I mentioned make it stand out.

Those who have been collecting the series will be delighted with the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad pin.  In fact, any fan of the attraction will want to add this to their collection.

March 19th's Sunday/Monday Post

 Hope you're having a great weekend.  Time for my Sunday/Monday post, where I will be linking up to:

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

Anyone participating in March Madness?  One of my co-workers organized a competition, so I have a bracket going for the second year in the row.  There's a reason that I wouldn't have participated if he had wanted to charge to enter.  I'm in fifth out of six, which is higher than I started out, which was sixth.  And I'm still losing to the person who already completely had her bracket busted, too.  I read instead of watch sports, can you tell?  Or at least pay attention to the sports I have on.

In book related news, I went to a signing today.  Stuart Gibbs was out promoting his two newest books.  I went with a couple of friends, which was a lot of fun.  Not only did I not drive, which was nice, but the conversation was wonderful.

After the signing, the three of us went to lunch.  We wound up at the location of the old Mystery Bookstore near UCLA.  It was fun to be back in the neighborhood since I went to a lot of signings in that bookstore back in the day.  But it also made me miss it.  Obviously, a dedicated mystery bookstore would get a lot of business from me.  We used to have several in the greater LA area, but they've all closed now.  I found so many authors I still enjoy either from book signings or just browsing the shelves in those stores.  Not that I have any trouble building my to be read mountain range these days, but I still miss those stores.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Nope, no theme to my reviews this week.

Sunday - Disney Pin Review: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Mickey Mouse the Main Attraction
Monday - Book Review: Apprehend Me No Flowers by Diane Vallere
Tuesday - Podcast Review: On Fire with Jeff Probst
Wednesday - Book Review: Four Parties and a Funeral by Maria DiRico
Thursday - Movie Review: The Cases of Mystery Lane
Friday - Book Review: The Christie Caper by Carolyn Hart
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

It was a four book kind of week.  But I only bought one of them, which always makes me feel a little better.

I started off with two more June ARCs.  I still don't have ARCs for most of the books I'm planning to review in May, but I'm getting the ARCs for June already.

The first is Passport to Spy by Nancy Cole Silverman.  This is the second in her Kat Lawson series, which features a former investigative reporter turned FBI asset who works on art crimes.  I'm looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

The second one is Fatal Fudge Swirl by Meri Allen.  We're already getting into Halloween books, which is crazy to think about.  This is the third Ice Cream Shop Mystery, and I enjoyed the first two, so this one should be good as well.  Besides, how can you go wrong with a title like that?

Then comes The Ghost of Christmas Granny, a novella in the Ghost of Granny Apples series from Sue Ann Jaffarian.  This novella actually came out last year right before Christmas.  I didn't have a chance to get to it back then, but she offered me a copy of it this week.  Since I'm never one to turn down books I plan to read but haven't bought yet, I jumped at the chance.

The final book for the week is Whale Done by Start Gibbs.  I know you were waiting for me to include what I bought today.  I only bought one of the books he was promoting, the newest in the FunJungle series.  I have the other one, a graphic novel, on my radar still, but I didn't pull the trigger and buy it today.  Anyway, I love the FunJungle series, and can't wait to get to it.

Which brings us to....

What I'm Currently Reading:

No, I'm not reading Whale Done, at least not yet.  My plan is to read it next.  I might be starting it as early as Monday.

It all depends on how quickly I get through The Clairvoyant Countess by Dorothy Gilman, my current read.  As much as I love her Mrs. Pollifax series (Carstairs came from the series), this is only the second of her non-Mrs. Pollifax books I have read.  Her books are shorter than the books I typically read, but I didn't get nearly as much reading time in today as I thought I would.  I'd originally hoped to finish it tomorrow, but now I'm thinking it might be Monday before we finish it.  We'll see.

Have a great week!

Saturday, March 18, 2023

March 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Quantum Leap – A very interesting episode.  I love the way they switched things up.  Did I miss something or were they just hinting at Jenn’s past for a reveal down the road?  Or have they told us and I’m not remembering it?  Anyway, the mystery/legal thriller aspect of the book was a great hook for me, obviously, with my love of mysteries.  So much going on, and I loved how things came together at the end, although it would have been nice for Ben to see his win.

Night Court – This show is very uneven.  When it is on, it is funny.  When it isn’t, we get episodes like this one.  I feel like it could have worked, but it just never clicked for me.  There were a few funny lines, but that’s about it.

Superman and Lois – Interesting episode.  Definitely set up some arcs for the third season.  I wasn’t sure if they were going with a pregnancy for Lois or not, but now I’m worried about what is going on with her.  And I don’t know how I feel about Chrissy and Kyle.  At least when Lana showed up, she wasn’t showing up to try to get back together.  Although, honestly, I wish they would get back together.  I get that we need the soap opera, but I really liked them in season 1.

Gotham Knights – I’m intrigued by the storyline.  I want to know who is behind everything (if it isn’t Harvey Dent, is he not always Two Face?).  This Court of Owls sounds a little more sinister than we needed to hook me in the premier, and it got a little gruesome at the end.  My biggest eye roll is how diverse the characters are.  I know it’s not popular to say, but it felt like they were ticking check marks off than building true, interesting characters – at least at this point.

The Mandalorian – Someone needs to tell then that going off and spending an entire episode with characters no one remembers seeing is not good TV.  Wow was that predictable and boring.  The beginning was good, but by the time we got to the final scenes, I didn’t care that much any more.

The Flash – I wonder why they didn’t have Barry and Iris around for most of the episode.  Usually, they do that during the big crossover events.  But either way, it was a fun episode.  I’d forgotten the meta they featured, but I liked how it all played out.  It helped that it was a comedy heavy episode.

Survivor – I feel so sorry for Claire.  I would have been right there with her – “Sit me out.”  But I can’t understand why it would lead the team to vote her out.  I feel sorry for Matt with his fake idol.  I know the odds are stacked against them, but I really want to see both he and his love interest go pretty far.  I like them.

Lingo – I thought the second set of teams were better overall, but clearly that wasn’t the case when we hit the final showdown.  They just couldn’t get anything together.  Not that I do much better watching from home.  Most of the time, I’m drawing blanks as I watch.

True Lies – The show’s a little less fun each week.  It has it’s moments, but the wit of the pilot seems to be gone, and it’s a little predictable.  Still, I’ll stick with it, at least for now.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Movie Review: Unexpected Grace

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, satisfying story
Cons: Several issues with the plot
The Bottom Line:
Looking to make friends
With expected results
Good despite plot flaws

Ultimately Hopeful Look at Loss

I’m not completely sure why I decided to watch Unexpected Grace.  I am expanding my Hallmark movie viewing a little, but I could tell this one was going to be sad from the commercials.  Honestly, I think the biggest draw for me was Erica Durance in the lead role.

As the movie opens, we meet mother and daughter Noelle and Toni (Erica Durance and Sophia Powers) in the local tea room.  While Toni is clearly entering early adolescence, we can tell the two are close.  Toni is looking for a best friend, and Noelle decides to help out.  They buy a helium balloon, Toni attaches a note to it, and they let it fly.

Two years later, the balloon is found by Grace (Erica Tremblay).  She and her dad, Jack (David Attar), have recently moved to Ashland, Oregon.  Grace is desperate for friends, so she reaches out to Toni, and is thrilled to hear back from Noelle.  What will their new relationship bring everyone?

The way the previews were cut, I guessed one plot point before I even started watching the movie, yet the film kept teasing it until about the half way point.  Honestly, I’m not sure why since it is very obvious what is going on.

There’s also a rather big plot hole – why Noelle keeps emailing Grace.  I get it, to drive the plot.  They try to explain it later in the movie, but it never made much sense to me.

And there’s the completely unneeded sub-plot involving Jack and Grace’s neighbor.  It does nothing but slow things down early on.

Yet, the story itself was rather compelling.  Despite all these things that were jumping out at me, I was drawn into it.  I wanted the characters to reach a level of peace with what is going on in their lives.  I found the climax satisfying.

It helps that the main characters are all likeable.  Yes, Grace acts out at times, but underneath it, we can see why (usually), and it allows for some growth for her character.  The script is strong in this area – it’s just the plot that could have been better.

Praise here also goes to the actors.  Everyone is strong, bringing the words to life and fully inhabiting the characters.  It had a bit of the Hallmark effect to it, but it was kept to a minimum.

If you are looking for a light, fluffy movie, this isn’t for you.  But if you are looking for something a little heavier, albeit with some plot issues, you will want to check out Unexpected Grace.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

St. Patrick Day's Friday Post

 Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Let's kick the day off with a Friday post, featuring:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

For the first three, I'll be sharing teasers from Apprehend Me No Flowers by Diane Vallere.

This is the seventh in her Madison Night series.  Madison is a huge fan of Doris Day movies, hence the play on Send Me No Flowers in the book's title.

And flowers come right into play in the first line:

The flowers were a nice touch.

And no, I'm not giving you any more context than that.  Meanwhile, at 56% into the book, we find this:

Nate’s face reddened. “I know who you are. Get out of my showroom. I don’t want your business.”

I enjoyed this book.  I'll be back Monday with my review.

Let's end things with the Book Blogger Hop.  This week's question is:

Do you post every day on your blog and/or social media?

I do on my blog.  I don't always on my social media.  And, for some of them, I might not post blog stuff on days I post.  My Instagram, for example, is a mix of blog and personal.  I also don't tend to promote these posts and my Sunday/Monday posts on the social media.

Hope you have a great St. Patrick's Day and weekend.

Book Review: Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman (Crochet Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; overall, a good story
Cons: Pacing could be much stronger
The Bottom Line:
Good deed gets punished
So Molly must clear her name
Some promise in book

I Wasn’t Quite Hooked on This Debut

Last spring, I discovered that the Crochet Mysteries were set in Southern California.  Since I always enjoy a cozy set in an area I know, I decided to give the debut, Hooked on Murder, a chance.  I liked the characters, but it wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped it would be.

Recently widowed Molly Pink has landed a job as the events coordinator at a local independent bookstore.  Part of that is overseeing the crochet group that meets in their event space.  When one of their members, Ellen Sheridan, leaves behind her crochet needles, Molly decides to run them home.  Unfortunately, she finds Ellen’s dead body, and the police are right behind her.  Molly has more of a connection to Ellen then she lets on at first, and the police think that makes her a great suspect.  Can she figure out what really happened?

I’d originally passed on this series because the hook, crocheting, didn’t appeal to me as much as so many of the other cozy themes out there.  In recently years, I’ve started expanding my interests a little when it comes to theme, and I’ve found some crafting themed cozies that I’ve really enjoyed.  While crocheting was definitely a part of the book, and at times, I didn’t quite feel like I was following the discussions about it, it didn’t overwhelm the story.

However, the pacing of the mystery was off.  At the center of the book was a good mystery, which some nice clues, a couple of great red herrings, and a fantastic ending.  However, there was lots of filler with some sub-plots and lack of progress with the story that made the book seem slower.  Things needed to be unraveled a bit and tightened up.

I did really like the characters.  Molly is middle aged, widowed, with two grown sons.  I found that dynamic interesting since it isn’t the typical series lead.  There are some (fictional) celebrities and plenty of other interesting characters in the cast, and they came to life.  I’m also curious about how Molly’s love life develops since this book looks like it is setting up a love triangle.

Part of my issue was the writing, which was a bit vague on things.  I couldn’t follow how much time was passing, for example.  It felt like I was on the outside looking in more often than not.  I sometimes feel this way at the beginning of a book and begin to feel more closely involved as the book goes along, but that wasn’t the case here.

For those who are learning how to crochet, there is a project at the back of the book.  You’ll also find a delicious sounding recipe.

If the plotting had been better, I’d definitely be picking up the sequel to Hooked on Murder.  Since I liked the characters so much, I am still debating about giving the series another try.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Ornament Review: Carl and Ellie - 2022 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Captures a great moment from Up
Cons: Slight tip back
The Bottom Line:
Love story captured
Moment that Up fans will love
In great ornament

Capturing the Love Story of Up

Up is one of my favorite movies of all time.  So I immediately planned to add the Carl & Ellie ornament to my collection.  It captures such a great moment from early in the movie that I had to have it.

If you aren’t familiar with the movie, Carl is one of the main characters of the movie.  For most of the film, he’s an old man, but for the first few minutes of the film, we meet him and the love of his life, Ellie, and watch the ups and downs of their life together.  One of those ups was getting their house and painting their names on their mailbox.

And that’s the moment that is captured here.  Ellie is kneeling in the grass just having completed the task.  Carl is leaning on the mailbox looking at her.  They are both smiling, and the love captured in their faces is perfect.

Which is why I wanted to get this one.  Their relationship is such a key component of the movie and this moment helps define that.  Looking at the two of them together like this makes me smile.

Since this is a scene, it has a nice flat base, so you could set this out and enjoy it year-round.  After all, there isn’t anything Christmassy about the scene.  It is a little bigger than your average Christmas ornament, but not that much bigger, and it makes sense given the fact that we’ve got two adults with some space and a mailbox in between them.

The ornament is as balanced as it can be given the design.  It does tip back ever so slightly when you go to hang it, but it really isn’t that bad.  When you get it around tree branches, you definitely won’t notice.

Those who want to celebrate the love story that kicks of Up will be glad they added Carl & Ellie to their collection.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Book Review: All That is Hidden by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles (Molly Murphy #19)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Molly and the rest of the characters, interesting story
Cons: Pacing in the mystery
The Bottom Line:
Major announcement
Politics mixed with murder
Good historical

Politics Turns Molly’s World Upside Down

When Rhys Bowen resurrected her Molly Murphy series last year with the help of her daughter, Clare Broyles, I was among the many who were happy to once again return to Molly’s 1900’s New York City.  All That is Hidden is their second collaboration and the nineteenth book in the series overall, and it will again have fans happily getting lost in the past.

Molly Murphy Sullivan is shocked when her husband tells her that he has quit his job with the New York City police department to run for New York Sheriff on the Tammany Hall ticket.  And this means that they will move out of their modest house on Patchin Place and into a much larger house, with servants, on Fifth Avenue.  Not only is she angry that he is making these changes without consulting her, but she also worries about what this means.  Tammany Hall is notorious for bribery, something Daniel has always been against.  He tells her to trust him, but she can’t help but worry.

The move happens a few days later, and Molly finds herself struggling to adjust to her new life as the lady of a house.  But everyone else seems to be adjusting just fine; even Molly and Daniel’s ward, Bridie, makes a friend as a result of the move.  But then Molly and Daniel are on hand when a murder takes place.  What will this mean for their new life?  Can Molly figure out what is going on?

As is often the case with one of Rhys Bowen’s books, this one takes its time getting to the plot.  We have to check in with the other characters before the story can really begin.  I could feel some of the plot threads developing early, but they still could have cut out a little more before things really got going.  There is a decent mystery here, however, and I was impressed with how most of the story was paid off in the end.  I did feel one aspect was wrapped up a little abruptly, but that was minor.

I have a love hate relationship with Daniel, despite the fact that he’s been around since the beginning of the series.  I actually liked him here.  Yes, his announcement at the beginning was horrible and in keeping with his typical personality, once we got past that, he was a great partner for Molly.  I hope that this personality is back in the next book in the series.

Molly herself is charming, smart, and resourceful as always.  I do enjoy spending time with her.  The rest of the supporting characters are here and are lots of fun.  We meet some interesting new characters in this book as well, most of whom double as the suspects.  Since I liked them, it make the stakes in solving the mystery that much more important.

This book takes place in October 1907.  I felt like I was with Molly in that time and place on every page.  It’s interesting viewing what they see as new and exciting things that we take for granted now.

If you are looking for an engrossing trip back in time, you’ll enjoy All That is Hidden.  Fans old and new will be happy that Molly is back.

Enjoy more trips back in time with the rest of the Molly Murphy Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Movie Review: Nikki and Nora - Sister Sleuths

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting mystery and backstory
Cons: Acting could have been better
The Bottom Line:
Strange inheritance
Followed quickly by murder
Could start a franchise

“I Spent Three Years Studying Law.”  “Great!  You Could Tell Us What Laws We’re Breaking.”

Despite regularly watching for new Hallmark mystery movies, I somehow missed Nikki and Nora: Sister Sleuths when it premiered late last year.  And it’s taken me until now to catch a rebroadcast of it.

Nikki (Hunter King) and Nora (Rhiannon Fish) are fraternal twins, but after a tragedy in their past, they haven’t seen each other in a decade.  Nikki has pursued a career in acting, with mixed results, while Nora has become a lawyer at a firm in their native Chicago.

Nikki has recently moved back to the city, but she hasn’t reached out to Nora until she is approached about a surprise inheritance from someone named Charles Porter.  Charles has left her everything, including his detective agency.  Just one catch, he’s left it to both Nikki AND Nora.

Since Nikki desperately needs the money, she approaches Nora, but their reunion doesn’t go well.  However, murder complicates their reunion when they find Nora’s mentor at her law firm dead in his living room.  The police are quick to rule it a suicide, but Nora insists something else was going on.  Will they figure out what happened?

Obviously, with that amount of set up, they are hoping to turn this into a new franchise.  I mean, there’s a lot of backstory.  I was able to view it through that lens, and as a result, I enjoyed it.  Yes, this backstory is fairly predictable, but the execution is fine.  And with how the movie ended, I’m definitely curious to see where the story is going to go.

It helps that the mystery doesn’t take super long to get going, and we have some decent surprises along the way to the ending.  I am conflicted a little on the ending, but that’s all I will say about it.

My biggest issue with the film was the acting.  Yes, I hold Hallmark movies to a different standard than other movies I watch, but even by that standard, I felt like this one needed a step up in the acting department.  Or maybe it was the directing since this issue inflicted the cast pretty much equally.  And no, I don’t feel like it was the writing in this case.

Yes, this movie is clearly paying homage to The Thin Man with some of the character names.  And yes, the characters do acknowledge that at one point in a fun way.

Fans looking for a new Hallmark mystery movie will want to catch Nikki and Nora: Sister Sleuths.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Book Review: The Shimmer by Ridley Pearson (Kingdom Keepers Inheritance #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action and Disney magic
Cons: Characters, and their connections, could be a little stronger
The Bottom Line:
Magic in future
Facing evil once again
Good start for saga

Danger Shimmering into Disney Parks

When Ridley Pearson announced he was returning to his Kingdom Keepers world with Inheritance, a new series that looks at what happens to the kids of the characters we know so well, I naturally paid attention.  After all, I enjoyed those earlier books.  What Disney fan wouldn’t love spending time in the various Disney parks at night?  The first in this new series is The Shimmer, and we are off to a fun start.

If you haven’t read the original series, it involves young teens who were hired to be holographic hosts.  But they discovered a weird side effect – they would cross over into the Disney parks as they slept.  In reality, they had been unknowingly recruited to fight against Disney villains who were trying to take over the Disney parks.  They are fun and imaginative filled stories that appealed to the Disnerd in me.

In the near future, Eli Whitman lives in the newly built EPCOT.  It is outside the original park and been designed to fulfill Walt Disney’s original dream for a community that live, work, and play together.  His birthday coincides with a solar eclipse, which will be passing right over Walt Disney World.  Naturally, everyone is excited.

However, Eli’s party doesn’t go as planned.  First, his parents are called away for a secret meeting the day before, and they aren’t back in time as promised.  Then, the video game he is playing with his friends comes to life and he is pulled through a shimmer in the air.  Who took him?  And where did he wind up?

I’m going to leave the teaser there since there is so much fun stuff to discover in this book, and it is best to find it on your own.  The book twisted in a couple of places I wasn’t expecting it to, and I enjoyed that.  I’m still a little unclear exactly where the threat is ultimately coming from, but the characters aren’t sure about that either, so it is okay.  The plot has a couple of nods to the original Kingdom Keepers stories but forges its own path.

Part of that is the time.  Since our new heroes are the kids of the original Kingdom Keepers, these books are set a couple of decades into the future.  That allows Ridley Pearson to have some fun imaging how technology will change in that time, and I loved living in those dreams.

I was a little overwhelmed when the book started with all the characters we were meeting.  Fortunately, there are a core cast who step to the front of the action once the story gets going, and I was able to remember who they were easily.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite connect them to their parents as easily; it’s been too long since I read the earlier Kingdom Keepers books.  But that doesn’t impact the story that much.  The characters could be a little stronger, but that’s a minor complaint.

Speaking of the original characters, they are minor characters here who have more than just a cameo, which I appreciated.  I get that it isn’t their story any more, but I enjoyed getting to see them in action a little.

And yes, there is plenty of action here.  You’ll be turning pages quickly several times as you read this book.

While the action here is resolved, this book obviously serves to introduce a larger story.  And I will be here for every book in the new saga.  If you fell under the spell of the original Kingdom Keepers books, you’ll be glad you started the Inheritance series with The Shimmer.

Enjoy all the Kingdom Keepers books.

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

March 12th's Sunday/Monday Post

Time to start another week, which means it is time for another Sunday/Monday post.  I'll be linking up to:

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

It was a busy week at work with the ending of quarter 1 reporting.  Lots of work and fast deadlines.

Outside of work, the big news was my birthday on Wednesday.  Not that I did much.  I worked (see last paragraph), and I talked to my family that night.  Grabbed a slice of cake from the farmer's market they hold down the street for me on Wednesday's.  Low key day, but it was nice.

Honestly, it's been a fairly quiet week.  It rained again Friday, and I didn't try to go paddleboarding Saturday morning.  But it's game day, so I'll be having fun hanging out with friends later today (Saturday), assuming I get this post finished up.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Last week, I talked about having a theme of record shop mysteries for my books.  This week, I have another theme, albeit a coincidental one.  Both of the mysteries I am reviewing this week have a main character named Molly.

Sunday - Book Review: The Shimmer by Ridley Pearson
Monday - Movie Review: Nikki and Nora - Sister Sleuths
Tuesday - Book Review: All That Is Hidden by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles
Wednesday - Ornament Review: Carl and Ellie
Thursday - Book Review: Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman
Friday - Friday Post
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

It was another three book week.  No, I didn't get any books for my birthday, which considering how few of my Christmas books I've read yet really isn't that bad.  Instead, I got some movies and music I wanted, which is great.  But I still got new books.

Diane Vallere put Stark Raving Mod on sale.  This is book thirteen in her Samantha Kidd mysteries.  Somehow, I still need to get twelve, but I snagged this one while it was on sale.  Still a couple behind, but I'm working as hard as I can to catch up.  It's still on sale if you are looking for a fun mystery series.

My other two books are ARCs.  For April, I snagged Digging Up Daisy, the first in a new series from Sherry Lynn.  It sounds like a fun book, so hopefully, it will be good.

And I have another June ARC.  Hidden Beneath by Barbara Ross arrived this week.  Since I love this series, I can't wait.  This is book eleven in the series.

What I'm Currently Reading:

Friday, I finished another Diane Vallere book, Apprehend Me No Flowers, which is in her Madison Night series.  I'm trying to catch up on both series at the same time instead of my usual one series at a time approach.  Anyway, I enjoyed it.  Now I need to write the review, but I'm not planning to review it until the 21st, so I've got a little time.

Which means I've barely started on Four Parties and a Funeral by Maria DiRico, the fourth Catering Hall Mystery.  I love this series, so I can't wait to get fully lost in the pages.  I'll be working on this one this weekend and finish it up early next week.

Hope your week is a good one.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

March 11th's Weekly TV Thoughts

 Yes, I got to start True Lies this week, and it is fun.

True Lies (3/1) – That was as much fun as I’d hoped it would be.  I had missed (or didn’t remember) that Steve Howey was playing the male lead.  Fun to see him in something else again.  Anyway, this had exactly what I was hoping for – action and comedy.  On the whole, it was a pilot, and they had a lot of story to tell in this first hour to really set things up.  I’m anxious to see where they go from here, but it’s looking like something I will enjoy.

The Company You Keep – As soon as I realized the mark was Ava from Legends of Tomorrow, I didn’t want her to be conned, so I was thrilled with that twist.  This show is getting stronger every week.  I am enjoying watching the con in action.  Did not see that cliffhanger coming.  Disappointed we have to wait two weeks to find out what happens next.

Quantum Leap – It was nice that we got to learn a bit more about Addison and her family in this one.  Plus, it was another thrilling episode.  And the mysterious leaper showed up again, too.  They only have a few episodes left, and they’ve promised to explain the mysteries they’ve started so far.  I don’t see how we have nearly enough pieces to put it all together, yet, however.

Night Court – Not as good as last week’s episode, but still fun.  I didn’t see that ending coming.  Could have done without quite so much bathroom humor, but it was a good ending overall.

The Mandalorian – I’m shocked.  What we saw happen in this episode I expected to be the season finale.  I figured we’d be having adventures along the way.  So now I’m really wondering what they intend to do for the rest of the season.  Maybe if I’d been paying better attention I would have picked up on some other plot threads.  And yes, I jumped near the end.

The Flash – Did I miss something, or did they not tell us where Batwoman has been all this time?  Since the real one was missing.  I was expecting some kind of explanation, but there wasn’t one.  Glad Grogg wasn’t a bigger part.  Hope they got him out of their system.  Obviously, we are on to another arc next week.  So who is the new villain going to be?  And what a way to announce the news at the end, I give them credit for finding a new way to do it.

Survivor – Can we please get Carolyn off my TV?  I find her annoying at one hour a week.  I can’t believe people would want her to stick around.  I am impressed with her getting the idol and not being anyone suspect, however.  Good for her.  I have a feeling that Jeff and the producers think we all love her, so we will be seeing lots of her this season.  And I’m betting she goes far as well.

Lingo – Okay, here’s the scary thing.  I wouldn’t have gotten Baker when that was the word either.  I was looking at it trying to figure out what in the world it could be.  (In case you’ve missed it, that’s my last name.)  I wasn’t surprised at who the final winners of the night were since they were easily the better team.  I felt like they were the best team of the night, in fact.

True Lies – The stuff with the exes was just okay, but they managed to finally get some of the witty dialogue I was looking for near the end.  Not quite as good as the pilot, but still enjoyable.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Movie Review: Scream VI

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Screams and laughs with characters we love
Cons: All cons stabbed to death
The Bottom Line:
Ghostface in New York
Brings everything that fans love
For Screaming good time

“Do Either of You Have Anyone Who Might Want to Target You?”  “Not Anyone Who’s Still Alive.”

I’ve got to admit, I have mixed feelings when a new Scream movie comes out.  I love the franchise, so I can’t wait to see it.  But on the other hand, I always worry about who won’t make it out of this film alive.  And I worry that I won’t wind up enjoying it.  But it’s Scream, so of course, I went to see Scream VI last night.  And I might have been counting down until I got to see it.

Don’t worry, this review will be spoiler free, starting with the teaser.

It’s been a year since the latest Ghostface attack in Woodsboro, and the newest survivors have moved to New York City.  Tara (Jenna Ortega), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy-Brown), and Chad (Mason Gooding) are all in college, while Sam (Melissa Barrera) is there trying to keep an eye on everyone.  But their past catches up with them when someone else dons the Ghostface mask and comes after them.  When the news breaks, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), jumps in to cover it and help out, something that is easy since she is still based in the city.  It even brings Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) to town.  But who is after them?  And who will survive?

Let’s start by talking about the noticeable absence.  Neve Campbell declined to return for this movie over a salary dispute.  It’s a shame that things couldn’t be worked out.  However, I will say that I am of two minds about this.  I LOVE her character, Sidney Prescott.  However, at some point, the franchise needs to move on to new blood.  Having said that, I was thrilled that Gale and Kirby were part of this movie, so I like seeing the legacy characters again and would have been thrilled is Sidney had been there.  I appreciated the nods that Sidney got.  I do hope Neve comes back in the future, but that’s for future movies.  Let’s look at this one.

I will admit, I was a little worried going into this movie.  I was hearing about how they were going to make this one gorier.  And have more action so it was a non-stop thrill ride.  And all I was thinking was, “But I don’t want too much gore.  And I like the quieter moments that allow us to get to know the characters.”  Especially since my first viewing of the last one left me feeling like the beginning was too rushed.

I needn’t have worried.

Yes, there are lots of great action and suspense scenes.  There are a couple that could turn into classics of the franchise, although I’m going to have to watch it another couple of times and see how they hold up.  I was definitely on the edge of my seat while they were playing out.

And there are some great twists on things as the movie progresses.  I won’t say more since I’m avoiding spoilers.  But boy do I want to.

However, we still get the non-action scenes we need to get to know the characters.  Granted, the new characters don’t get a ton of development, but there is plenty of time for us to learn what has happened in the year between to the characters who come back.  I’ve always loved that the returning characters continue to grow as the franchise progresses, and that’s the case again here.

As much as I loved last year’s film, I did feel that there were a couple of weaknesses in it.  As I already alluded to earlier, the beginning felt rushed to me.  Additionally, a couple of the actors weren’t as good as the rest in that film.  Everyone seems more confident here.  The acting was universally great from everyone, new and returning actors alike.  And the writers did a great job of keeping all the threads going without making it seem like it was rushed.  There was still plenty of time for the set pieces and the character development without feeling like we needed to get to the next scene.

I have seen some people who had issues with the third act, especially the reveal.  I’ll just say that it worked for me.  And once again, the monologue had some cutting things to say about our society today.

There does seem to be a plot hole, but I won’t get into the spoiler territory.

As always, this is an R rated film with language and horror violence to go with it.  I was wincing a few times as I watched.  Keep that in mind before you decide to go see it.

Like the last one, there was also plenty of nods and call backs to the earlier movies.  It is obvious that these film makers are huge fans themselves, and they want to honor the legacy and what the fans love.  Yes, they also are out to make money and tell new stories, but it isn’t at the expense of the roots of the franchise.  I loved these call back moments.  Some were funny, and some were touching.

And that includes comedy.  We still get the laughs and meta discussions the franchise is known for.

Yet this isn't just a rehash of what we've seen before.  I've heard quotes saying this is a complete reinvention of the franchise.  I don't think I'd go that far – there are still enough of the familiar things from the franchise that fans will feel at home.  But they did try some new things, and it worked well.

The cast and crew have been talking about how setting the movie in New York made for a great way to increase the tension since Ghostface could be anyone.  They did a great job of taking advantage of that in several sequences.  It certainly helped that the film was set at Halloween (although they could have referenced that more explicitly), meaning that people walking around in Ghostface masks didn’t seem out of place.  And watch for other horror icons in the background of many scenes.

I also love how the movie takes on fan theories a couple of times.  I laughed hard at that.

On the other hand, I’m already tired of the “this Ghostface is unique” angle.  We’ve had that in the last two movies.  Honestly, they didn’t feel that different to me.  We can leave that out if we get another sequel.

Oh, and do stay through the credits.  I’m just saying.

Yes, I could gush about the movie more, but I’m afraid if I do, I’ll start getting into spoiler territory.  If you are a fan, you’ll love Scream VI.

March 10th's Friday Post

We've made it to Friday!  Let's celebrate with a Friday post.  I'll be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

For the first three this week, I'll be pulling teasers from Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman.

This is the first in her Crochet Mysteries.  It actually came out in 2008, so I'm very late in picking it up.  I think you'll see why I'm using it for my teasers this week when you see how the book begins.

When I stopped by Ellen Sheridan's house to drop off the crochet hooks she'd left at the bookstore, I expected to be in and out with maybe a thank-you and a few brownie points.  I certainly didn't expect to end up in handcuffs.

Isn't that a great opening?

On page 56, we are at the reception after the funeral, and Molly, the main character, is observing Ellen's widower.

I wondered about Lawrence.  As I'd watched him walk through the room, he has seemed too in control, too distant.  I wondered whether he really was that cold, or whether he was a master of shutting off uncomfortable feelings.

I did have some mixed reactions to the book.  I'll have more for you next Thursday when I post my full review.  I hope you'll come back then to read it.

Let's turn to this week's Book Blogger Hop.  This week's question is:

Do you listen to audiobooks with earbuds or headphones?

Very little.  When I started listening to audiobooks, it was in my car while driving.  The pandemic made me more of a hybrid listening - car and around the condo.  Since I live alone, I will just let the book play if I am in my condo.  However, I have started listening to audiobooks some during parts of my walks.  (There's too much traffic to listen the entire time.)  When I'm doing that, I listen with my earbuds in.