Friday, June 30, 2023

June 2023's Reading Summary

The year is half over.  Let that sink in for a second.  Okay, that time is up.  Let's get to the June reading summary.

No, I didn't have time to update the index this month.  I barely got this up in time.

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


Passport to Spy by Nancy Cole Silverman (Kat Lawson #2) – 5

Kat Lawson’s first official case working undercover for the FBI sends her to Munich, Germany at Christmas.  While she is officially there to cover the season for a travel magazine, she is supposed to get close to gallery owner Hans von Hausmann who is suspected of knowing the location of a horde of art missing since the end of World War II.  After a slow start, Kat begins to make progress, but without knowing who to trust, can she complete her mission?  Or is she in more danger than she realizes?

This was a fantastic book in the series.  The world of Munich in December 1999 came to life, and I shivered from cold a few times as I read.  The plot kept me guessing as Kat had to deal with one thing after another.  The third act just ups the suspense, and I couldn’t put it down.  We really only see a couple of returning characters, which means that Kat doesn’t know who she can trust, which was a wonderful addition to the plot.  The characters are all strong.  This book will have you hooked from the beginning.  Enjoy it today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Hot Pot Murder by Jennifer J. Chow (L.A. Night Market #2) – 5

Yale Yee and her cousin Celine are celebrating Thanksgiving with a local association of Asian restaurant owners.  Since Yale’s father has been a member for years, she knows most of the members, but she’s still surprised at the tensions bubbling beneath the surface at the hot pot celebration.  Then the group’s president dies when he goes to plug in an extension cord.  The police start looking at it as murder, and Yale can’t help but get involved in trying to figure out what really happened.  If it was murder, can she prove it?

I enjoyed meeting Yale and Celine in the first book in this series, and I’m happy to say they were fantastic once again.  Not only does their relationship with each other grow, but they also grow individually, which I enjoyed watching.  While the suspects could be a tad stronger, it’s a minor point, and I enjoyed spending time with the rest of the returning characters.  The mystery is strong with several great twists, and I loved the way the climax played out.  While the majority of the action takes place in a fictional neighborhood in L.A., I enjoyed it when we visited some real parts of the city.  There are also two recipes at the end of the book.  If you are looking for a cozy with a bit of a different setting and strong leads, you need to check out this series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Murder on Madison Square by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #25) – 4

When Frank Malloy learns of an auto show happen in Madison Square, he is excited to go.  While there, he meets Alvin Bing, who is there trying to introduce his electric cars.  When one of those electric cars runs over Mr. Bing the next day, his widow hires Frank to find out what happened.  With the help of the usual characters, can Frank solve the case?

Yes, the core cast of characters are all here, and I loved spending time with them again.  The plot is one of the darker ones in the series, so the character’s interactions helped lighten things.  As always, the plot kept me turning pages, even when I figured out a key plot point early.  And yes, someone had developed electric cars as early as 1900, when this book is set.  I found that part of the history presented here fascinating.  While this isn’t the strongest entry in the series, fans will still enjoy visiting favorite characters.


Muddled Matrimonial Murder by Kim Davis (Cupcake Catering Mysteries #6) – 4

Not only is Thanksgiving approaching, and with it lots of orders for cupcakes that caterer Emory Martinez must fulfill, but she’s also working on the wedding of her best friend, Brad, to Gabe.  The road to the wedding is going to be rocky, however, as Gabe seems to be having the worst case of cold feet imaginable.  Then Brad and Emory find the body of a woman at the wedding venue.  The victim is Brad’s stalker, whom he hasn’t seen in years and didn’t even know was in the area.  With the police looking at the grooms as the prime suspects, Emory must add finding a killer to her to do list.

I’d kind of forgotten about Brad’s stalker until she became the focus of this storyline.  The plot was great since Emory, despite what she uncovers, keeps coming back to the grooms as the best suspects.  Yet when we reach the suspenseful climax, things make perfect sense.  There are some interesting developments that fans of the series will enjoy.  And yes, I do recommend reading this series in order.  That’s fine since the characters are so charming, and I enjoyed spending time with them again here.  There are another dozen recipes, including some twists on Thanksgiving favorites and lots featuring cranberries.  If you are looking for a fun cozy, you’ll be glad you picked this one up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


A Stolen Child by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Maggie D’arcy #4) – 4

Maggie D’arcy has completed her training and has officially joined the Garda in Ireland.  While she waits for an opportunity to be promoted to detective, she is on patrol and is called to the scene of a murder.  Not only does Maggie recognize it as an address she had been to a few days before after a domestic disturbance call, she also realizes that the victim had a toddler who is now missing.  On loan to the detectives for this case, can Maggie find the child in time?  Will her knowledge of the neighborhood help?

Maggie has been on quite a journey in this series, and it’s nice to see this natural step in her career.  The plot starts strongly.  While it does get a little uneven in the middle, things pick up when we get to several logical twists at the climax.  I liked how Maggie’s knowledge of the neighborhood where the crime took place played an important part of the plot.  The suspects come to life, and it is nice to see Maggie’s relationships grown, both personally and professionally.  As a police procedural, this is a bit darker than the cozies I typically read, but as long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.  If you are looking for a solid police procedural set in Ireland, you’ll be glad you picked up this book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Racing the Light by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #19) – 3

PI Elvis Cole’s latest client is a mother who insists that her son, Josh, is missing.  She sounds like a conspiracy nut, and it doesn’t help that Josh hosts a podcast about aliens and other out there topics.  But Elvis gives himself a day to figure out what he thinks of the case, and in that time he realizes that someone dangerous is very interested in where Josh is.  Can Elvis find him in time?

As usual, this book was a mixed bag for me.  The case was interesting, although some of the events were entirely predictable to anyone who has read this series on a regular basis.  While I do like Elvis and his partner, Joe Pike, I still find Joe to be a rather thin character.  The new characters are also definitely on the thin side, and many of them are annoying.  In fact, at times the plot seemed to be based on the characters doing the absolutely stupidest things they could do and Elvis trying to save them.  There’s also quite a bit of adult content in this book, more so than I really thought it needed.  There are lots of point of view changes, but I never had a hard time with them since they were clearly labeled and happened at chapter breaks.  Fans will be interested in the sub-plot here.  There are things I enjoyed, but once again, this is an average entry in an average series.


Fatal Fudge Swirl by Meri Allen (Ice Cream Shop Mysteries #3) – 5

Ice cream shop manager Riley Rhodes has been asked to create an ice cream cake for the upcoming wedding of Diantha Collins, the head of a prominent family in Penniman, Connecticut. However, the morning of the wedding, Diantha is found dead in her bed.  Something about the scene seems off to Riley.  Can she figure out how Diantha died?

The how done it in this book is a strong element of the plot, and I loved the creative murder method.  Of course, Riley also has to figure out the who and why, and those also kept me guessing until the end.  The suspects are all strong, and the series regulars are a lot of fun as always.  A storyline involving a movie being filmed in town leads to a sub-plot with some great laughs.  Meanwhile, the Halloween setting is used well for the mystery.  Add in a couple of hot fudge recipes at the end, and you have a winner.  Grab a dish of your favorite ice cream and enjoy this book today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Hidden Beneath by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #11) – 5

It’s another busy summer for the Snowden Family Clambake, but Julia quickly agrees when her mother, Jacqueline, asks Julia to join her for a memorial for a friend who vanished five years ago.  Since it’s been five years, Ginny has been officially declared dead.  Something about her disappearance feels off to Jacqueline, so she asks Julia what she can find out.  Will Julia find any answers after all this time?

As a long time reader of the series, I enjoyed that this book continued a couple of ongoing storylines.  I was satisfied with how things played out in them.  As always, the characters are fantastic.  I was smiling within pages of starting the book at getting to spend more time with these old friends.  The plot spends a little time laying a foundation before it really takes off, but I was hooked the entire time and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough by the end.  We get five recipes at the end as well.  This is a favorite series of mine.  If you enjoy it, you’ll be thrilled with the latest entry.  If you aren’t yet a fan, pick up a book today, and you’ll get hooked.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Happily Ever After by James Riley (Once Upon Another Time #3) – 3

Lena and Shefin are living in the Blessed City.  Everyone is happy and eagerly waiting for the fairy queen ball to take place that day.  Something in the back on Lena’s mind is saying that things aren’t right, but she does her best to ignore them since to go against the fairy queens means punishment.  But on her way to school that morning, she discovers a book lying on the road that seems to be for her.  What could it possibly mean?  And where in Jin?  Could he be the key to uncovering what is really going on?

I was anxious to see how this book would end since I’ve enjoyed the previous books so much.  It started strongly, with great actions and twists, plus dual points of view to help build tension.  It was fun to spend time with the characters again, and the meta comments on writing and books were making me laugh, although they weren’t a prevalent as in the earlier books.  Then we reached the ending.  It was way too rushed, with some twists that left me completely unsatisfied.  We do get a final chapter, but it wasn’t enough to make me feel better with the ending, especially since it changes what I thought I remember about a character.  (Maybe I need to reread book two.)  Fans will still want to read it, but it’s not as good as it could have been.


Hiss Me Deadly by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #15) – 3

Charlie Harris and his cat Diesel have been requested by Wil Threadgill, a musician coming to town to work with the music students at Athena College.  Wil grew up in Athena, Mississippi, but he left forty years ago.  He’s worried that something will go wrong on his return visit.  And he turns out to be correct when someone dies at his opening reception.  Will Charlie figure out what is going on?

It's been almost two years since the previous book in the series came out, and it was great to be seeing these characters again.  All the regulars are as fun as ever, including the four legged characters.  Fans will be happy with one development we get in the book.  Unfortunately, the plot was weak, with Charlie not as involved as he should be.  The ending is abrupt, but it does answer most of our questions.  There are also some timeline issues, with Charlie living the same time twice.  While the book could be stronger, fans will still be happy to see Charlie, Diesel, and the rest again.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Charlotte Illes is Not a Detective by Katie Siegel (Charlotte Illes #1) - 4

Growing up, Charlotte Illes gained fame as a child detective, solving cases everywhere she went. However, Charlotte is trying to put that behind her now that she is an adult. The trouble is, she doesn’t know what comes next job wise. When her brother’s girlfriend starts getting notes on their apartment door, Charlotte reluctantly agrees to investigate. The case takes an unexpected turn when kidnapping and murder get involved. Can Charlotte figure out what is going on?

Since I read about fictional child detectives as a kid, the premise of this one sounded like fun. I don’t think I was the target audience since many of the characters are queer Millennials, but for the most part, that wasn’t an issue. Still, there were a few moments that made me prickle a little. But that was minor. Charlotte and her two best friends make a fun trio, and I enjoyed watching them grow as the book progressed. The rest of the cast is great, too. The pacing was uneven in the middle, but we still reached a logical conclusion with several twists along the way. There was plenty of humor, quite often coming from the banter of the main trio. There are quite a few four letter words, but as long as you know that, you’ll be fine. Overall, this really was a fun debut, and I’m glad I picked it up. 

NOTE: I received and ARC of this book. 

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Book Review: Charlotte Illes is Not a Detective by Katie Siegel (Charlotte Illes #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Solid characters and mystery with plenty of humor
Cons: Several, most of them issues that others wouldn’t have with the book
The Bottom Line:
A child detective
Can she solve case as adult?
Overall, it’s fun

For a Non-Detective, Charlotte Sure is Busy Detecting

When Charlotte Illes is Not a Detective crossed my path, I couldn’t resist. I read and loved the child detective series as a kid, so the premise of a child detective all grown up and retired from detecting was just too much fun. While it wasn’t completely my cup of tea, I had fun reading it overall. 

Charlotte Illes is a twenty-five-year-old woman who is between jobs while going on a series of first dates. She is trying to put her past as Lottie Illes, child detective extraordinaire, behind her. Charlotte is NOT a detective - she’s retired. And that’s what she keeps telling herself. 

But then her brother calls. Someone is leaving weird sticky notes for his girlfriend on their apartment door. It’s probably nothing, but can Charlotte come down and figure out what is going on? She reluctantly agrees, only to find the case morphs into something that includes kidnapping and murder. Can Charlotte figure out what is really going on?

Not being on TikTok, I wasn’t familiar with Katie Siegel before I picked up the book. Apparently, Charlotte already has an audience since Katie first introduced her via that platform. I was a bit worried about how that might translate into a novel, but it works. Occasionally, we get a weird aside or a mental list that Charlotte is composing in her head, but it fits the tone of the book and I found them fun. 

However, I did have some other issues. I was a little worried when I spotted a content warning at the beginning of the novel. I get this was the author’s choice, but that made we wonder what I might be getting into. 

What I was getting into was a queer mystery. In fact, the queer characters felt like they outnumbered the straight characters, although I didn’t keep count. There were times a character would throw out a line or two that was definitely coming from a world view I don’t have and the characters would say something about me that definitely isn’t true, but this wasn’t an issue book. These moments were kept to a minimum, and the focus was on the mystery. 

I did feel at times that this book wasn’t really aimed at me. I’m not sure if it was the world view issues I just talked about or the fact that these characters are definitely Millennials that caused the issue, but again, these moments passed relatively quickly. 

I know, this is sounding like it is a negative review, right? Trust me, it isn’t. I want to be clear on what some of my issues with the book are, but they are minor overall because I had fun as I read it. 

In addition to Charlotte, we also meet her two best friends, Lucy and Gabe. They make a fantastic trio. Not only do they work well as a team, but we can feel the love and history between them. They all have their moments to shine, and they all have their moments to grow. There’s a lot of that in the book, in fact. The rest of the cast is just as strong. 

The mystery was solid as well. I was a step ahead of Charlotte a couple of times, but never by more than a few pages. The solution made sense and answered my questions. The pacing was uneven in the middle, but it was never long before it picked up again. 

And I can’t leave out the humor. I was smiling and laughing plenty as I read, usually at the antics between the friends. 

I do want to issue my own content warning. There are enough four letter words that this would be more traditional than cozy. As usual, as long as you know that going in, you should be fine. 

I think that Charlotte Illes is Not a Detective is going to be a huge debut. Now that I know what I’m getting with this series, I expect that picking up another book would be a smoother reading experience for me. And I am curious about what happens to Charlotte next. 

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

TV Show Review: Quantum Leap Reboot - Season 1

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun update that entertains me each week
Cons: One weak preachy episode
The Bottom Line:
Time leaping again
It honors original
Modern mix of fun

“I Know, Ziggy’s Running Slow.  If I Ever Start a Band, That’s What I Am Going to Name It.”

I was leery when I heard about the Quantum Leap reboot.  We’ve been getting so many of them, and they are more miss than hit.  But I was curious enough to give the show a try, and I’m glad I did.

Really, this is more of a requel than a pure reboot.  Set 30 years after the original Quantum Leap TV series, a new team has started up the project again.  Days before they are planning to officially launch it, Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) steps into the quantum accelerator and vanishes.  The problem is, he wasn’t the team member they were planning to send back in time.  It was his finacee, Dr. Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett).  Now, Addison is left to use holographic technology to guide Ben as he leaps from time to time on a mission to correct what went wrong.  The problem is, Ben has forgotten almost everything, including who Addison is and why he leapt early.  He mostly leaps within his own life time, leaping into San Francisco right after the 1989 earthquake or into the body of a bounty hunter.  However, he does leap outside of that upon occasion, like when he leaps into the old west of the 1870’s.

While Ben, with Addison’s help, attempts to survive each leap, the rest of the team, made up of Ian (Mason Alexander Park), Jenn (Nanrisa Lee), and Magic (Ernie Hudson) begin to suspect that there is something more to Ben’ leaps.  Can they figure out what it is in time to help?

I’ll admit, it took a couple of episodes to fully invest in the new characters and for the show to find its rhythm, but once everything clicked, I was hooked.  Yes, there is an ongoing mythology to the show, but it has what for me is the perfect mix.  The majority of each episode involves Ben’s leap and the challenge’s he’s facing.  But about a quarter to a third of each episode involve the rest of the team in the “present” trying to figure out why Ben leapt and trying to keep the fact that the project is running again a secret.  It’s a mix that works well for me.  It means that the twists in the story in the past come quick, and, while there is something to keep you coming back each week, there isn’t so much ongoing storyline that you get lost if you’ve forgotten something from week to week.

And make no mistake, the pace is fast.  I hadn’t realized how much I’d gotten used to the faster pace until I sat down to watch season 3 of the original and found it much slower than I remembered.

It’s obvious the team behind this show are fans of the original.  There are plenty of references to Sam (who is still leaping), and Susan Diol reprises her role as one of Al’s wives in a few episodes.  Meanwhile, Georgina Reilly recurs as Al’s daughter.  Sadly, Dean Stockwell, who played Al, has passed away, and Scott Bakula hasn’t agreed to come back as Sam.  Yet.  I’m still holding out hope.

Another reason I was nervous going into this show is that they touted the cast as having no straight white men in the main cast.  I was afraid we were in for a lecture show.  We weren’t.  In fact, an early episode where they could have gone for the lecture, they kept it to two lines, and those lines were understated.  The show is about entertaining.  Even when Ian’s personal life as a non-binary individual comes into play, it is presented as part of who they are.

Unfortunately, there is one notable exception to that.  “Let Them Play” takes on transgender athletes and the controversies surrounding them as Ben leaps into a coach of a girl’s high school basketball team and must deal with the fact that his trans daughter is on the team and not allowed to play.  And it falls into every single stereotype the left has on this issue.  I was rolling my eyes as the episode went along, including the magical ending.  Really, it had the weakest writing of the entire season.  I’d say skip it completely, except it does have some major advances in the season long storyline, so feel free to skip the parts in the past – just watch the contemporary storyline and you’ll be fine.

But that’s one episode out of eighteen.

I enjoy the cast each week as they work to bring these characters to life.  The wardrobe is great as Ben spends time in different time periods.  There are some special effects that work as well.

I know audiences seem to be split on this show, with plenty of fans of the original hating this one.  Obviously, I’ve been enjoying the new Quantum Leap.  If you are on the fence, I say give season 1 a shot and see what you think for yourself.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Book Review: Hiss Me Deadly by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #15)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Charlie, Diesel, and the rest of the characters
Cons: Plot is weak
The Bottom Line:
Musician in town
But he brings danger with him
Weaker than normal

Don’t Hiss at Me, but This Was a Weak Entry

When I first started reading the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries, it quickly became a favorite series.  The characters were great, the cats were charming, and the mysteries were complex and kept me engaged.  We’ve had to wait almost two years for Hiss Me Deadly, the fifteenth in the series.  Sadly, it wasn’t really worth the wait.

If you haven’t started the series yet, it features Charlie Harris, part time librarian for the Athena College Library, and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel.  They go just about everywhere together and are quite the famous duo in their small town of Athena, Mississippi.

In this book, the college is getting ready to welcome Wil Threadgill back to town.  Wil left Athena before he even graduated high school, but in the years since he’s left, he has become a famous, Oscar nominated composer.  He’s coming back with his band to work with the music students at the college.  While he hasn’t kept in touch with many people in the last forty years since he left, he has corresponded off and on with Charlie’s friend Melba.

In his most recent letter, Wil’s asked to meet Charlie and Diesel.  Something has happened to make Wil uneasy about his return to town, and he’s hoping that Charlie can help him.  It turns out Wil does have something to worry about because before his welcome reception and concert is over, someone is dead.  Will Charlie find out what happened?

As a fan of the series, it was wonderful to be back in Athena.  All the regular characters get at least a cameo (although a couple of recurring players are just mentioned in passing).  One subplot involving some of Charlie’s family seemed a little stretched out, but there are some other developments that fans will be happy with.  Anyway, it was great to see these old friends again and get to spend more time with them.

Unfortunately, the main plot was weak.  After a good opening quarter or so, things go downhill and never really recover.  Charlie hears about so much of what is happening second hand instead of being an active participant.  We get more speculation than actual investigation.  And the climax, while answering most of the questions I had, felt very abrupt.  There was one minor thing left unexplained at the end, but it was minor.

Charlie also seems to have found a time turner since he manages to repeat time twice over the course of this book.  Since I read an ARC, maybe those were caught and corrected before the final version got published, but that would require some rewrites, not just fixing typos.

On the other hand, Diesel is charming as always.  I’m allergic to cats, but this series always makes me want to get one of my own.

I’m hoping this is a temporary slip in quality and that the next book in the series will be up to the normal high standards I expect from this series.  Fans will still want to catch up with Charlie, Diesel, and the rest of the characters in Hiss Me Deadly.  If you haven’t started the series yet, I recommend you start with the earlier books.

Here are the rest of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Movie Review: Teacher's Pet (1958)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: A fun romantic comedy
Cons: Some plot points haven’t aged well
The Bottom Line:
Reporter, teacher
Plenty of laughs with romance
But some things dated

“How Did He Die?”  “I Haven’t Decided Yet.”

Sometimes, I forget just how old some tropes in genres can be.  Part of that is tropes come in and out of fashion.  I’m not familiar with all the tropes of romantic comedies, but watching Teacher’s Pet, I found a couple of them.  Not that it kept me from enjoying this film.

The movie follows James Gannon (Clark Gable), the city editor for a newspaper.  He never attended college and is proud of it, so when he is asked to come speak to a college journalism class, he sends back a rather snide letter.

However, the paper’s owner isn’t pleased with his decision, so James is sent to the class to apologize to the professor, Erica Stone (Doris Day).  However, he misses his chance before the class starts, partially because he is distracted by just how beautiful Erica is.  Using a fake name, he signs up for the class.  Can he keep up the deception and win over Erica?

While I didn’t include this as a part of the teaser, James and Erica definitely have a meet cute, at least for James.  Erica really hasn’t noticed him yet, so some people might not count it.  And there’s the entire James keeping who he really is secret from Erica.  As I said, there really is nothing new when it comes to genre stories (and as a mystery reader, I acknowledge this).

This movie mostly manages to surpass anything familiar.  It is told from James’s point of view, which I found an interesting change for a romantic comedy.  Yes, we can easily follow Erica’s feelings as the movie progresses, but we never see her when James isn’t around.  I thought that was a fun change.

However, I will say that parts of this movie don’t age well.  James really becomes obsessed, and at one point crashes what he thinks is a date Erica is on.  Now, I will say the results were very funny, but I was looking at the screen cringing a little as the scene was set up.

I think part of this is because of the age gap between Clark Gable and Doris Day.  We’re just supposed to ignore that fact, which makes it even creepier to me.  They rewrote the part a little when Clark Gable was cast, but it wasn’t enough for me viewing the movie in 2023.

And this isn’t the fault of any of the actors.  I think this is the first Clark Gable movie I’ve seen, and I enjoyed watching him.  Doris Day is charming as always.  The rest of the cast is fantastic as well.

I realize that this might sound like I didn’t enjoy the movie.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes, there are several things that didn’t age well, but this movie still has plenty of funny moments and some great banter as it goes along.  Even if you know a joke is coming, you can’t help but laugh.

An interesting thing I noticed, the movie was filmed in black and white.  That’s not a reason to avoid the film.  That’s more something to note in passing.

How you feel about some of the dated elements will determine how you feel about Teacher’s Pet.  While those elements did bother me, they didn’t bother me enough to ruin the film.  I laughed as I watched and had a smile on my face when it ended.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Book Review: Happily Ever After by James Riley (Once Upon Another Time #3)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Action, suspense, humor
Cons: Rushed ending doesn’t satisfy
The Bottom Line:
Fairy tale ending
Doesn’t satisfy: too rushed
Expected better

Rushed Ending Keeps Me from Being Perfectly Happy with This Book

I was anxiously waiting for Happily Ever After, the third book in James Riley’s Once Upon Another Time trilogy.  After all, the last book left us with some interesting twists and a great cliffhanger.  However, ultimately, I found this ending disappointing.

Since this is the third and final book in a trilogy, I’m not going to recommend you start here.  Technically, there’s even another trilogy before this one (Half Upon a Time) that is also set in this world.  While some of those characters have supporting roles here and tease what happened in those earlier books, you don’t need to have read (or remember) what happened to enjoy this trilogy.  But I do recommend you read the first two books before you think about reading this one.

A little context if you are new – as the titles teased, these are fairy tale adjacent stories.  You won’t see as many characters you already know in the Once Upon Another Time books, but a few of them will occasionally make cameos.  We’ve been focusing on Lena, a giant who is normal human size; Jin, a genie in training; and Shefin, a Lilliputian that the pair met along the way.

As this book picks up, Lena and Shefin are living in the Blessed City.  Everyone is happy and eagerly waiting for the fairy queen ball to take place that day.  Something in the back on Lena’s mind is saying that things aren’t right, but she does her best to ignore them since to go against the fairy queens means punishment.

But on her way to school that morning, she discovers a book lying on the road that seems to be for her.  What could it possibly mean?  And where in Jin?  Could he be the key to uncovering what is really going on?

The book started out great, like normal.  While I wish I’d had time to reread the ending of the last book before I jumped in, I was soon remembering where the characters were and caught up in the journey to fix what has gone wrong.

This series has also always had a fun sense of humor, partially because of it’s meta references to writing.  Those were present again as well, and I got a kick out of them, although they were a little toned down from previous books.

Plus, I do like the characters, and I was enjoying seeing them fighting against some of the worst odds they’ve had yet.  Trust me, it was hard to put the book down.

Part of Lena’s journey in this book involved her coming to terms with her size difference from regular giants, including her parents.  I struggled a bit with this section of the story.  While I agree with what was written on the surface about learning to accept who you are, reading it with the lens of today’s world, I felt like it was an allegory that treads on some dangerous territory that can do more harm than good.  It’s a shame because I can agree with part of the sentiment behind it.

Then there’s the ending.  It was like author James Riley ran out of room in the book and had to rush things.  The result was pretty unsatisfying, especially with what he did to a main character from the series.  In many ways, it felt like a gut punch.

Then comes the coda, which is supposed to make us okay with how things ended.  Again, it was too little and too rushed, and I felt like I was getting whiplash.  I also felt like one character’s ending didn’t fit what had come before for that character.  Maybe I would feel different if I had time to go back and reread the earlier books, but it didn’t sit right with me as it was written here.

As always, this book is told from a couple of different points of view.  The changes happen at chapter breaks, and they are used well to ramp up the suspense.

I really wish I had enjoyed Happily Ever After more.  Having read the author’s other books, I expected more.  While the characters are happy with the ending, I was left dissatisfied.

Here are the rest of the Half Upon a Time and Once Upon Another Time books.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

June 24th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – I feel like we are cramming too much into these one-hour episodes.  We only get to see a few runs, it’s more recaps and bios than anything else this season.  Granted, we were getting a lot of that before, but it wasn’t as obvious with two hours installments.  Having said that, it was fun as always with some amazing performances and great stories.  I’m just ready for the director’s cut with no commercials so I can really watch it.

The Weakest Link – Wow!  They really seemed to struggle more so than normal this game, especially at the beginning.  $47K is on the low end, but I was kind of surprised they made it that far, actually.

Superman & Lois – I knew that the situation with Jonathon wasn’t going to go well.  But let’s talk Jordan.  He’s right, and Lois and Clark are right, too.  That’s what I love about this show.  No one is completely wrong or right the way things are written.  But oh man, are we in for trouble next week.  And is Bruno coming back?  I will say the whole things in Lex in prison and out of prison was just so confusing.  I don’t get why they had to have those scenes or show it the way they did.  It’s not like we needed to know how evil he is.  This is Lex.  We know he’s evil.

Gotham Knights – When I got to the final commercial break, I was surprised to see I had more show.  That felt like a cliffhanger.  Nope, that was nothing on where they left the show.  I have no idea how they will wrap this up in one week, but I feel like they can now.  A bit sudden, but I buy it.

Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge – I wasn’t surprised at who the winner was.  Both were creative, but I knew the skateboarding car didn’t have a chance.  I mean, if the other were truly horrible, maybe, but it just didn’t seem like a hot wheels to me.  Still, I appreciate that the judges find good and bad things to say about all the cars.

Secret Invasion – I’m going to have a problem with this show.  Any time we have a show where anyone can shape shift, much less a whole group of people, it just becomes ridiculous.  And that’s what we’ve got going on here, I can already tell.  And I either need to rewatch the movies or give up on Marvel so things that happened like this episode mean something to me.  As it is, I only remember the major characters, so things like this just don’t mean anything.

Friday, June 23, 2023

TV Show Review: Stargirl - Season 3

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Acting, effects, when the show was on, it clicked
Cons: Pace was off, leading to some slow episodes
The Bottom Line:
Murder mystery
Still uneven overall
But it could be good

“How Scary Do I Look?”  “No More Scary Than Usual.”  “That Hurts!”

I found the first two seasons of Stargirl to be uneven.  When it was on, it was great, but when it wasn’t, it was very slow.  Despite a great set up that really appealed to me, I found that to hold true with season 3.

As this season opens, Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) and her family have returned from a vacation to find that the newly resurrected Sylvester Pemberton, aka Starman (Joel McHale), has made himself at home while they’ve been gone.  Courtney is thrilled he has chosen to stick around.  She’s hoping to really learn how to use the staff and its powers from the man who wielded it before her.  Her step-father, Pat (Luke Wilson), is less enthused since he has enjoyed bonding with Courtney over her training.  Plus, there’s the fact that Sylvester seems to be much more reckless with Courtney’s safety than Pat is comfortable with.

However, things get complicated when a former enemy of Courtney and her friends turns up dead.  All the evidence points to someone Courtney thought was a new ally, and it splits Courtney’s group of friends over whether this person can be trusted.  As more attacks happen in town, can Courtney find out what is going on?

A murder mystery – how perfect is that for me?  And I was excited when the discovery of the body ended the first episode of the thirteen episode season.  However, we had the usual distractions and sidelines as the season progressed.  Some of them were great at showcasing the various characters and advancing their storylines.  But some were just too slow.

I did feel that Courtney had matured some this season and didn’t just do things her way regardless of what anyone else thought, which was nice.  Yes, she still made some foolish choices, but at least they were new bad choices.

For a superhero show, this show saved their budget for a few big episodes.  We might get light action in every episode, but there were a couple of episodes where they went all out.  Those episodes were spectacular, and they would keep my attention every second.  The special effects were also good, as well.

When this show was on, it was great.  There were some strong twists along the way that I enjoyed.  The climatic battle was great as well.

It’s just that half the episodes are great, and half are a struggle to get through.

None of my complaints should be aimed at the actors.  They brought the scripts to life wonderfully every week.

Seeing the writing on the wall with all the changes going on at the CW, this show decided to wrap up things at the end of the season and even give us a few minutes set in the future as the final moments of the show.  I was satisfied with the way the show wrapped things up, and I suspect most fans will be, too.

While the first two seasons were released on DVD and Blu-Ray, this season has only been released on DVD.  Fans of the show are disappointed by this development, but I’m sure it has to do with the sales on physical media of the first two season sets.

I wasn’t disappointed when it was announced that season 3 would be the last we’d see of Stargirl, or at least this version of her.  Yes, there was enough I enjoyed to keep me coming back, but the hit or miss nature of the show kept it from ever being a favorite.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Book Review: Hidden Beneath by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #11)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Another strong entry in a great series
Cons: All cons hidden for me
The Bottom Line:
A disappearance
Five years later, what happened?
Strong book, strong series

What Happened to Ginny?

As much as I read a mystery for the plot, I read a series to find out what happens next to characters I love.  That means, I enjoy it when an author weaves several stories in and out of multiple books in the series.  We see a couple of those pay off in Hidden Beneath, the eleventh Maine Clambake Mystery from Barbara Ross.  And we get a great mystery, too.

For those new to the series, it features Julia Snowden who lives in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and helps run the Snowden Family Clambake.  Since she returned home several years ago to keep the family business from failing, she has gotten involved in a number of mysteries.

With a business like that, summer is an extremely busy time, and we don’t have as many books set during the high season in this series.  This book is an exception.  Summer is just getting going, but Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, is heading to a nearby island off the coast of Maine to attend the memorial for a friend from her childhood, Ginny.  Ginny vanished five years ago, and right before she vanished, she’d reached out to Jacqueline.  Jacqueline feels guilty for not being able to get back to her before Ginny vanished.

Now, five years later, Ginny has been officially declared dead, and Jacqueline is going to attend a memorial that her friends have put together.  She asks Julia to accompany her, and so Julia meets this close circle of friends.  Something doesn’t sit well with Ginny’s disappearance, so Julia starts poking around.  Can she figure out what happened?

One thing that we’ve been watching over the last several books is the restoration of the old mansion on the island where the Snowden Family Clambake is held.  Now, for the first time, Julia and Jacqueline have moved into their finished apartments on the second floor of the mansion.  I loved getting to see that payoff.  Don’t worry, there is a logical reason why Julia is getting off the island to investigate what is going on in this book, but I liked seeing her new home base.

The other on-going storyline that progresses here?  I’m not going to spoil that other than to say that I liked where things went.

Obviously, both of these stories will mean more to you if you’ve been following the series.  Not that you couldn’t jump in here and enjoy the book, although some spoilers for past books happen by default.  No, the main mystery of the past books is never spoiled, but some of the personal storylines are.

And the reason we care about these stories is because we love these characters so much.  Honestly, I was smiling within the first couple of pages of the book as I was just so happy to be spending time with them again.  All of the series regulars get at least a cameo, and it was fabulous to check in and see how they are all doing.  The suspects are strong and helped pull me into the story.

Don’t let all this talk make you think the mystery was weak.  Yes, it took a bit of time to be fully set up, but even then, I was intrigued by what was happening and how Julia would figure anything out.  And the foundation for the case was being laid here, so when things really pick up, we are fully invested in the story.  By the end, the pages couldn’t turn fast enough for me as I needed to know what was really going on.  As always, the solution made perfect sense.

We also get some recipes at the end.  There are five in this book, only one of which involves seafood, so there is plenty for the non-seafood lover like me.

This continues to be one of my favorite series.  If you are a fan like me, you’ll be very happy with Hidden Beneath.  If you haven’t started it yet, you need to dig in today.

Be sure to reserve a spot with the rest of the Maine Clambake Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Ornament Review: Lil' Mater - 2022 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mater looks mostly good as a miniature ornament
Cons: What’s with how weird his wrench looks?
The Bottom Line:
A mini Mater
One element that looks weird
Overall, it’s good

Call Mater for All Your Lil’ Towing Needs

Hallmark seems to be releasing miniature pop culture ornaments in pairs.  I guess they don’t want these characters to get lonely.  2022 saw them release a miniature version of Lightning McQueen, so, naturally, they also shrunk his best friend, giving us Lil’ Mater.

And fan of Pixar’s Cars movies will immediately recognize this ornament.  He may not be much longer than an inch, but we’ve got the iconic the tow truck with the missing hood and a couple of buck teeth.  He looks a little more tan and a little less rust, but that’s a minor issue.

The larger issue for me is his wrench.  For some reason, they decided to have it flying up over his top and out in front of him like he’s about to snag a car that needs help.  It makes him look weird from the front.  I think the ornament would have been stronger without that.  You know, the way he typically looks in the movie.

Unlike some Hallmark ornaments, Mater’s wheels don’t spin.  However, they are level, so you can display him on a flat surface.  When you go to hang him, you’ll find he tips forward slightly, but nothing too bad.

I’m going to mention again this is a miniature ornament.  As long as you are expecting that when you get him, you’ll be fine.  Considering the size, the detail is pretty impressive.  Also, keep the size in mind if you want to have him as part of a display.  It would be easy to lose the smaller pieces like this.

The issue with the wrench keeps this from being a perfect ornament for me, but I do still like Lil’ Mater.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Book Review: Fatal Fudge Swirl by Meri Allen (Ice Cream Shop Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, creative mystery, Halloween setting
Cons: I’m not ready to think about Halloween yet!
The Bottom Line:
Wedding morning death
Could it turn into murder?
Creative story

The Bride’s a Corpse

As I’m writing this, not only have we not hit the first official day of summer yet, but it’s also been unseasonably cool for Southern California.  It’s more like winter for us than even spring.  And yet, Fatal Fudge Swirl, the third in Meri Allen’s Ice Cream Shop Mysteries, is set at Halloween.  I may not have been ready to think about that holiday yet, but it made a great setting for this mystery.

If you’ve missed this series, it features Riley Rhodes.  A former CIA librarian, she was let go after trusting the wrong person led to a theft.  So, she’s returned home to Penniman, Connecticut, and is helping her friend by running Utterly Delicious, the ice cream stand the friend inherited from her mother.

This book opens just a couple of days before Halloween.  Normally, that would be the end of the season at Utterly, but, thanks to a late leaf season, Riley has decided to stay opened another week to take advantage of the tourists in the area.  In addition to serving tourists, Riley has always been asked to provide the ice cream cake for the Halloween wedding of Diantha Collins.  The Collins have been a prominent family in town for generations even if Diantha and her adult children are living elsewhere.

Riley is on hand when Diantha’s body is found the morning of the wedding.  The circumstances are suspicious, but Riley can’t quite put her finger on what is off.  With the police looking at a friend, Riley takes advantage of a need for help at the inn where the death took place to poke around and see what she can learn.  Will she figure out how Diantha died?

I’m not going to say more about the murder method other than to say I thought it was creative and fun.  It’s definitely not something that we see on a regular basis, which I appreciated.  Naturally, the how is only part of the plot, and Riley also has to figure out the who and the why.  There are plenty of suspects to keep her, and us, guessing.  I didn’t figure out the solution before Riley pieced it together, yet it made sense.

With everyone else going on, there is also a movie production in town filming for a Hallmark like movie company.  That lead to a very funny sub-plot that I really enjoyed.

The suspects in the mystery are all strong, and they kept me guessing until the end.  There are a variety of motives and I appreciated that creativity as well.  Meanwhile, the series regulars are all back and as strong as ever.

Warning: this book will have you craving ice cream.  That’s perfect as we go into the summer months, right?  And if you are a fan of hot fudge, you’ll be interested in the recipes at the end that give us a couple of different versions to try.

I talked about the Halloween setting at the beginning.  The book really leaned into that, and I enjoyed it.  I may not be ready for that holiday (or fall in general) yet, but this book used the holiday setting well without going the spooky route.

Fatal Fudge Swirl is another winning entry in the series.  Grab a bowl of your favorite ice cream and enjoy Riley’s latest case.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Movie Review: Halloween Ends

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: A few good moments
Cons: Tries to do something new and fails
The Bottom Line:
Final Halloween
Wanders too much before end
Left unsatisfied

“Are You the Psycho or the Freakshow?”

Yes, I’m a glutton for punishment.  Despite not particularly enjoying either of the previous films in the recent Halloween trilogy, I watched Halloween Ends.  I was curious enough to see how they were planning to wrap up the storylines and what the fates of the characters would be.

After a prologue in 2019, the main action picks up in 2022, four years after Michael’s rampage from the last two films.  Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is attempting to move beyond her obsession with Michael Myers even though no one knows what happened to him that night four years ago.  She’s even writing a self-help book to help others grow beyond trauma in their own lives.  She’s bought a house in the middle of town and she’s sharing it with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak).

Things take an ominous turn after Laurie and Allyson meet Corey (Rohan Campbell), a young man who accidentally killed a boy back in 2019.  The town treats him as a pariah, but Allyson quickly falls for him.  However, the killings are about to start up again.  Is Michael back?  Or is something else going on?

At this point, I’m a broken record when it comes to these films.  I completely get what the film makers were going for and what they were trying to do.  The movie is a look at what trauma does to a person and a community.  It also wants to discuss if evil is born or made.  Both of those are interesting things to explore, and both of them would be interesting to explore in a horror franchise.  This was not the movie to explore them, however.

This is a Halloween movie, and we are here to see Michael Myers stalking and killing people.  Since Jamie Lee Curtis is in this one, we are here to see Laurie facing off against Michael.  It really is that simple.  And what are the elements we don’t get?  Michael or a face off.  Oh, we get them, but they are rushed into the ending instead of actually building to it over the course of the film.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that some of the earlier movies in the franchise have slow first halves.  That’s actually one thing I like about them.  The tension builds until we get one long chase scene in the final act.  Here, there is very little tension building.  We’ve got the themes the writers want to explore, but everything that is happening is right out in the open.  There is no mystery; no tension.  About the only thing we are wondering is “Where do they think they are going with this and where is Michael Myers?”

Part way through act three, the writers remember they are writing a Halloween movie, and we suddenly get what we wanted to see, Michael and Laurie facing off again.  (Yes, I’m exaggerating some, but only slightly.)  The result is the storylines we’d been following get a sudden and illogical wrap up so we can rush a final confrontation between Michael and Laurie.  And I do mean rushed.  Honestly, if they had found a better way to wrap that stuff up, I would have cut them more slack.  But as it was, they once again made the worst story choices they could, something that has been a theme for the new movies.

As with the previous films in this trilogy, they go for gore over suspense.  There’s little stalking, just pop out and someone dies in an overly brutal manner.  The couple of times they do try to create some suspense don’t quite work either.

Just a reminder that this is an R rated film, so there is plenty of language to go along with the graphic violence I was just talking about.

There are some moments that fans of the franchise will enjoy, and anyone who has followed these characters for the last 40 plus years are going to want to see what happens here.  But I wish that Halloween Ends was a good ending for the franchise.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Disney Pin Review: Fireworks at the Castle - Mickey Mouse is the Main Attraction #12 - 2022 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun and creative final pin
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Fireworks, castle
Great way to wrap up series
As a visit ends

Mickey Has an Explosive Finale to His Visits to the Parks

How do you end your day in the Disney Parks?  Okay, fine, I end it by trying to get in one last line a few minutes before the park closes, but for many visitors, it’s by watching the fireworks.  And that’s how Mickey ended his visit for the Mickey Mouse the Main Attraction series.

As usual, I just got the pin from this collection.  Mickey is in his standard pose with one foot out and his hands behind his back.  He’s dressed up for the fireworks, however.  He’s wearing a coat with tails and a sparkly bow tie.  There’s a hat on his head as well.  The colors are a deep purple and black, capturing night time.

And the other aspect that makes it obvious that he’s watching fireworks?  It’s all the fireworks on his coat.  There are even a couple of his right ear which is the only one we can really see.  And his hat has the castle on the band, which is fun.

I find the way they capture the fireworks and the castle to be great.  It’s completely what I expected, but that doesn’t make it any less delightful.  I also like that Mickey is so dressed up.  It is completely fun.

The final pin in the Mickey Mouse the Main Attraction series sends it off in style.  If you’ve been collecting the pins, you’ll be glad you enjoyed the fireworks at the castle with Mickey before ending the series.

Father's Day's Sunday/Monday Post

Hi everyone.  Time for another Sunday/Monday Post.  As usual, I'll be linking up to:

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

Before I move on, Happy Father's Day to the fathers who are reading this, including my own.

We actually hit the upper 80's today!  For a warm weather lover like me, this is a huge deal.  I feel like summer might finally be around the corner.  Earlier in the week, it was cloudy and mid-60's, which is winter weather as far as I am concerned.

Yes, I am spoiled living in Southern California, why do you ask?

It's going to cool off again starting tomorrow, but we should be in the 70's or 80's all week.  That will be a very nice change of pace.

I started the week with another play.  The theater here in town is doing two plays at the same time, and I went to see the other one.  Last Round-Up of the Guacamole Queens was light and silly and completely fun.  I was glad to went to see it.

Other than that, it was a quiet week.  My church has started having an extra time of worship on Wednesdays, and I went to that.  Then my small group met Thursday night.  Other than that, I worked.

I can tell I am struggling with burn out.  Today, I had four reviews I wanted to get written, and I wrote two of them.  Honestly, I'm not sure how it got to be so late so early.  I didn't feel like I was wasting time, but here we are.  Oh well, there's always tomorrow, right?

Blog Spam Comment of the Week:

Spam comments can make you feel so good about yourself, right?  I mean, look at this gem:

Really I am very impressed with this post. Just awesome, I haven’t any word to appreciate this post.

Obviously, this could have been on any of my blog posts (because they are all that awesome), but it happened to be on a travel review, and after the comment was a link pushing a travel website for another country.  So it makes a little sense in the algorithm way why they picked that post.  But I just have to look at that and glow in how awesome a blogger I am.

Okay, I'll get serious now.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

These are all assuming I get my act together and get them all written and edited....

Sunday - Disney Pin Review: Fireworks at the Castle
Monday - Movie Review: Halloween Ends
Tuesday - Book Review: Fatal Fudge Swirl by Meri Allen
Wednesday - Ornament Review: Lil' Mater
Thursday - Book Review: Hidden Beneath by Barbara Ross
Friday - TV Show Review: Stargirl - Season 3
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

 Book Haul:

For a while, I was wondering if I would have any books to talk about this week.  Then Thursday happened, and I bought some ebooks.  Bought another one today.  All of them were on sale, so that makes it okay, right?

Actually, these first two had been on sale for a while, but I finally snagged them.  Blurb Your Enthusiasm by Louise Willder is all about blurbing.  I definitely feel like I could up my game there, so I have had this on my radar for a while.  Will I get it read any time soon?  We'll see.

I've also had my eye on Jove Brand is Near Death by J. A. Crawford for a while.  An actor accused of killing the actor who replace him in a role.  How could it be anything less than fun?  I hope it lives up to how fun it sounds.

Thursday night was a new episode of The Bookish Hour, and the guest was Marcy McCreary.  I was very intrigued by her talking about her mysteries, especially the first one, The Disappearance of Trudy Solomon. I checked out Amazon, and low and behold, the Kindle version was on sale.  How could I pass it up?

Finally, this morning, I got word that the Kindle version of Florida Happens, a short story collection from Bouchercon several years ago was on sale.  I always think I'm going to get short story collections read, and then I never do.  But, it was on sale!  And I couldn't pass it up.

What I'm Currently Reading:

Among the things I didn't get to today was reading.  I can't even say I was doing that.  I wanted to, especially since I'm reading Hiss My Deadly by Miranda James, and it's been a couple of years since we had an entry in the wonderful Cat in the Stacks Mysteries.  I was really looking forward to getting lost in the new entry in the series.  And I'm enjoying it so far.  I just need to sit down and read.

I'm also not as far along as I thought I would be in Kinsey and Me by Sue Grafton.  (Sensing a pattern here?)  This is my current audio book.  There's a chance I might not get it done by the return date, in fact, which would be very surprising for me.  But I won't have any trouble getting it out of the library again if that happens.  And, even if I can't get it out again right away, it's not that big a deal since it's short stories and essays.  I don't have to worry about forgetting something that happened early in the book that becomes important at the climax.  Anyway, I'm only one story in, and it was fun.

Have a great week!