Monday, July 31, 2023

July 2023's Reading Summary

We're about to turn the corner to August, but before we do, let's take a look back at July and what I read.  Yes, I got the index updated this month.

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

The Last Orphan by Gregg Hurwitz (Orphan X #8) – 4

Once again, the US government is tracking down assassin Evan Smoak.  Only he doesn’t know it until it is too late. When he is given an ultimatum, he does his own research into the assignment. Will he find a reason to pursue it?

There’s enough background, you could jump in here, but I’ll always recommend you read a series in order. I’m a little vague in my plot teaser since the book takes a little time to set things up, and it’s best to watch things unfold. That’s not to say we don’t get action early and often, which is always page turning. I feel like we didn’t quite get as much growth for Evan, although there was still some. And I enjoy the added bits of humor that come in as the series progresses. The story ends with not quite a cliffhanger, but definitely setting up the next book. Overall, fans will enjoy Evan’s latest adventure 


Gone but Not Forgotten by C. Michele Dorsey – 4

Olivia has always wondered about her past, something her mother has kept hidden from her.  Now, her mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Olivia fears she might never learn the truth.  Then, her mother signs a legal document with a name that isn’t her own.  Is this the clue Olivia needs to find her past?

I’m a fan of the author, and the premise sounded intriguing, so I jumped in.  I was hooked early, and I enjoyed watching the story unfold.  I do feel like it has too many storylines, so a few things were rushed.  Still, I was satisfied when I set down the book.  This is almost a coming-of-age story wrapped in a mystery, so that means lots of growth for Olivia, which I enjoyed since I liked her from the beginning.  The rest of the cast, both friend and potential foe, were fun to spend time with.  This is intended as a standalone, and you’ll be glad you picked it up when you turn the final page.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Kinsey and Me by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone Mysteries) – 4

This book breaks down into two unequal sections.  The first roughly 70% is made up of nine short stories featuring Kinsey Millhone, PI in Santa Teresa.  She solves a murder with a disappearing body and a case of a man who fell off his roof.  She also gets involved when an actor gets kidnapped.

The back section featuring thirteen vignettes as author Sue Grafton reflects on her life growing up with a functioning alcoholic father and a destructive alcoholic mother.  While she admits they are autobiographical, she frames them around a character named Kit.

Fans of Kinsey will delight in these nine stories, all previous published, but decades ago so hard to track down outside this collection now.  Personally, I found the back section depressing, but I suspect these stories were theopoetic for Ms. Grafton to write, and I can see others benefiting from them, too.

Overall, fans of the series will enjoy the collection.  If you are new to the series, you can jump in here, too, and meet Kinsey without ruining any of fun of the novels.


“The Ghost of Christmas Granny” by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Ghost of Granny Apples Mysteries) – 5

This short story opens with Emma Whitecastle receiving a cry for help in the middle of the night.  She’s confused because it doesn’t appear to be coming from a ghost.  It sounds like a young child.  Can she figure out who is calling for her help?

This is a short story in the author’s Ghost of Granny Apples series.  Fans who want a quick check-in will be delighted with it.  If you are new, it would be a good way to sample the characters, too.  The characters are solid, and the mystery is wonderful, with plenty to keep me engaged as Emma and Granny follow a logical path to a suspenseful climax.  The Christmas setting is fun, too.  Being a short story, I read this is a little over an hour.  If you are looking for a fun, Christmas themed short story, you’ll be glad you picked this one up.

NOTE: I received a copy of this story.


Murder at the Majestic Hotel by Clara McKenna (Stella and Lyndy Mysteries #4) – 4

This book picks up a couple of days after the third book ended.  The newly married Stella and Lyndy have just arrived in York for their honeymoon, but they discover that, despite their reservation for the honeymoon suite, it has been taken by someone else for the night.  The interloper is Horace Wingrove, owner of England’s most popular chocolate company.  The next morning, Wingrove is dead, and Stella and Lyndy can’t help but worry that this might have been their fate had their reservation been honored.  But Stella sees a few things that don’t quite make sense to her.  Will she figure out what is really going on?

If you haven’t read this series yet, be aware that this book spoils some of the previous book in the series.  It only makes sense considering what happened and how close in time this book is to the previous one.  The plot seemed to wander a bit before it came into focus, but once it did, I was hooked, and things made sense at the end.  While I enjoyed seeing Stella and Lyndy’s relationship continue to grow, I did miss some of the other regulars and the complications they bring.  But the characters we did get to meet are good.  The multiple viewpoint narration is great at bringing us the story as always.  I also enjoyed the little bit of real history that is twisted into the plot.  Fans of historical mysteries will be glad they picked up this series.


Teacher’s Threat by Diane Vallere (Madison Night Mysteries #8) – 4

Madison Night needs cash to buy inventory to relaunch her decorating business.  After the banks keep turning her down, she hopes that getting an MBA will change their minds.  The only class she is finding helpful in the program is Radical Business Theory, even after the professor uses her as an example on her first day.  However, when the professor is killed in the parking lot, Madison wonders what is going on at her new school.  Can she figure out how to relaunch her business while also solving the murder?

This book really is focused on both parts of that question, and new comers to the series will definitely find the mystery slow as a result.  As a fan of the series who is invested in Madison’s life, I found the dual focus enjoyable.  It certainly helps that we have an ingenious murder method and a surprising yet logical climax.  The characters, both new and returning, are great as always.  Fans of Doris Day will laugh at the massive Easter Egg in this book, but if you haven’t watched the movies, you’ll be fine since the author uses the scene to advance the plot.  If you are a fan of this mystery series, you’ll be happy with this book.  If the series sounds fun to you, I recommend you start at the beginning.


Death in a Pale Hue by Susan Van Kirk (Art Center Mysteries #1) – 3

Jill Madison has returned home to Apple Grove to run the new art center named after her late mother.  She is trying to prove herself to the board as she gets it ready to open, but a late night burglary causes issues, especially when the only piece stolen was something of great personal value to Jill.  Then the contractors working on the renovation find a skeleton in the basement.  When Jill figures out she knew the victim, she steps up her efforts to try to figure out what is going on.  Can she do it without putting her job in jeopardy?

This sounded like a fun debut, but unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be.  The book needed another edit to put in more details or make them consistent.  I was constantly spending brain power on things like how the art center was supposed to work rather than the mystery.  I found the pacing of the mystery uneven and the villain easy to spot.  On the other hand, the climax was suspenseful.  And I loved the characters.  Normally, I’d be looking forward to spending more time with them, but the rest of the weaknesses are giving me pause about continuing the series.


Paint Me a Crime by Holly Yew (Rose Shore Mysteries #1) – 4

Jessamine Rhodes has worked hard to open a new community art center in Rose Shore, British Columbia, and is excited that opening day is here.  She’s honored that artist Gabriella Everhart has agreed to show one of her paintings and teach a class on watercolors.  But as the event is winding down, the lights go out briefly.  When they come back on, someone has stolen the painting, and an art collector is dead.  With her reputation and new business on the line, Jessamine tries to figure out what happened.  Can she do it?

The book jumps right in with the opening, so it isn’t too long before the plot gets rolling.  I was hooked the entire way through, thinking I had it figured out a couple of times only to be wrong when we reached the logical climax.  The characters are also charming, and I loved spending time with them, although the suspects could have had a little more page time to be fully developed.  The writing kept me a little outside the story at first until I adjusted, but it was a minor issue.  One of Jessamine’s friends owns a tea shop, so there is lots of talk about food – enough to make me hungry while I read.  This is a promising debut, and I’ll definitely be looking for more by this author.


Murder at a London Finishing School by Jessica Ellicott (Beryl and Edwina Mysteries #7) – 5

Brit Edwina Davenport and American Beryl Helliwell first met at Miss DuPont’s Finishing School for Young Ladies and forged their decades long friendship there.  But now they’ve been hired by Miss DuPont to find out what is going on at the school that is driving down enrollment.  The duo aren’t getting far with their investigation when they stumble on a dead body.  Have the pranks escalated to murder?

If you look for the dead body to drop early, you might be disappointed with this book.  I wasn’t.  Between the early investigation and meeting the new characters, there was plenty to keep me engaged.  Of course, things kick up a notch when murder enters the story.  The ending, while logical, did feel a little rushed, but that was a minor complaint.  We don’t see much of the series regulars, although a couple do make cameos.  The new characters more than make up for it, and I appreciate how complex they were by the end.  Beryl and Edwina grow as a result of visiting some place from their past.  The story is set in the 1920’s, and things going on in society infuse the book.  If you enjoy historical mysteries or mysteries set in England, you’ll be glad you picked this up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


A Fatal Groove by Olivia Blacke (Record Shop Mysteries #2) – 4

It’s the weekend of the Bluebonnet Festival in Cedar River, Texas, and Juni Jessup and her sisters are looking forward to fun while also selling coffee and introducing the bands on the main stage.  Their first customer of the first day is Mayor Bob.  When Juni goes to drop something off at his office a little later, she finds him dead.  With their reputations once again on the line, the sisters try to figure out what is happening.  Mayor Bob was popular because he didn’t make any waves, so who would want to kill him?

After an initial strong start, the book stalled a bit introducing some sub-plots before it really got started again.  I did guess the killer a little early, but I needed Juni to fill in most of the rest.  Once again, there are some odd uses of they/them pronouns, and Juni’s first-person narration comes across as judgmental a few times.  Overall, I do like her and I love her relationship with her sisters.  The love triangle is still in play, although it takes a back seat to the rest of the happenings.  There are lots of smiles and some laughs along the way as well.  If you enjoy music and are looking for a fun mystery, this is the series for you.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The House Guest by Hank Phillippi Ryan – 4

Alyssa Macallan’s life is turned upside down when her husband walks out of their house one day.  Facing a divorce she never expected, she finds herself drinking at a bar one Friday night, where she meets Bree Lorrance, who is also down on her luck.  The two hit it off, and Alyssa invites Bree to move into her guest house.  Helping Bree lets Alyssa forget her own problems, until her own problems heat back up.  Will the two be able to help each other?  Or do they have secret agendas?

I was hooked early on, although the book does take a little while to build up to the full plot.  Once it does, I couldn’t wait to see how things would resolve for the characters.  I appreciated the fact that no one seemed overly whiney here, although they could have repeated things less, giving the book more time to flesh out some of the late breaking twists.  While knowing I couldn’t fully trust Alyssa and Bree, I really did like them both and hoped things would work out well for them.  We get the book completely from Alyssa’s third person point of view which makes us question just what anyone else was thinking.  Even with the pacing issues with the plot, I enjoyed this book overall.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

July 30th's Sunday/Monday Post

One last weekend in July, so one last chance to share a Sunday/Monday post this month.  As usual, I'll be linking up to:

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

Not too much to report on this week.  I went into the office on Wednesday.  There were some meetings going on, and some people in from out of town, so we used that as an excuse to go into the office and go out to lunch.  It was a nice day, although I was happy to be back home for work on Thursday.  I really am spoiled working from home.

Other than that, it's been HOT.  The forecast is for low triple digits every day.  I'm not sure if is it quite reaching that or not.  Yes, it is a dry heat since I'm in Southern California, but that's still hot.  I was talking while I was out running errands today to a clerk, and we agreed how strange it has been since we went from cool barely in the 60's weather a month ago to this.  We missed the 70's and 80's we often get in late spring and early summer.

Really, not much else going on.  I didn't even write reviews much this week, but I caught up Friday night, which is a good thing since these are reviews that need to go up this coming week.

Blog Spam Comment of the Week:

Bad news.  This is the last one I've saved to share.  So this part of my post might have to go away for a while unless the spammers start hitting me again with fun comments worth sharing this week.

Again, this comment hit one of my book reviews.  And again, the quotation marks were part of the original comment.

"The blog's writing is not only informative but also emotionally resonant. The author skillfully weaves personal anecdotes and experiences, making the content relatable and connecting with readers on a deeper level."

All that in a review of a book.  I really need to go back and reread some of my reviews, I guess, since I never knew I packed so much into them.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - July Reading Summary
Tuesday - Book Review: A Sense for Murder by Leslie Karst
Wednesday - TV Show Review: Secret Invasion
Thursday - Book Review: The Body in the Cattails by Catherine Dilts
Friday - Friday Post
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

When I made my post last week, I wondered if I'd have any books for this section this week.  Well, I was waiting on one from NetGalley, but would I have any others?

I had three books by the end of the day Sunday.  I have a total of six this week.

As I was reading through other's posts last week, I saw a couple of people had gotten Outside the Lines by Sheila Lowe while it was free.  I'd originally passed since I've only read the first in the series and this is book six.  But I gave in after seeing it mentioned twice.  I mean, really.  How could I pass up free?  (Sadly, the sale is over.)

Then I got an email notification that Death Washes Ashore by Caleb Wygal was on sale very cheap.  (Again, the sale is over.)  I read the first, and I've been meaning to get to the second, so I couldn't pass it up.

Then my friend Cathy Wiley sent me an ecopy of her new mystery, Claws of Death.  She's introduced this character in the Destination Murders short story anthologies she's helped create, so I'm anxious to read a full novel with the character.

And that's just what I had by the end of the day last Sunday.

I did get my approval for Mistletoe and Murder by Connie Berry.  Yes, another Christmas mystery.  This time, it's a novella in her series with features antiques and England.  I really enjoy the series, so I'm looking forward to this story.  I'll read it closer to release day, which is in October.

Last weekend, when I was at the book signing, one of the women I was chatting with mentioned that she was reading and enjoying a series by Eryn Scott.  The first book in the series, Steeped in Suspicion, happened to be free on Kindle for a couple of days this week, so I snagged it.  (I keep bragging about books I got that aren't on sale any more.)

Finally, there was a one day sale yesterday on A Socialite's Guide to Murder by S. K. Golden.  Since I'd been curious about this historical mystery, I snagged it while I could.

That's a lot of reading for cheap.  And all of them were ebooks, too.  At least they aren't taking up room in my condo.

What I'm Currently Reading:

Ironically, I'm not reading any ebooks at the moment.

Friday night, I finished The Body in the Cattails by Catherine Dilts.  I posted teasers from it Friday as part of my Friday post, and I'll have my full review up this coming Thursday.  For now, just know that I loved this book and I'm already looking forward to the sequel.

As I'm typing this, I'm 10 pages into my next book - Murder on Bedford Street by Victoria Thompson.  This is the most current book in the Gaslight Mysteries.  I'm struggling a little with the fact that I'm going to be all caught up on the series after this.  Well, until the next book comes out next spring, that is.  I've been so far behind for so long, it's a little hard to believe I've caught up.  And I'm going to be sad to only visit these characters once a year now.

After that, I'll be traveling over to Italy for Death on the Grand Canal by M. A. Monnin.  The first book in the Intrepid Traveler Mysteries made my favorite books of the year list for 2022, so I'm looking forward to the sequel.

That does it for me.  Hope you have a great week.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

July 29th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – There were a lot of finishers this week.  Quite possibly the most of a single episode all season.  And someone took down the mega wall as well, which is always nice to see.  Now on to the semis.  I’m with holding judgement on how this racing is going to work until I see it.  I’m hoping they’ve thought it through and it isn’t the disaster I’m feel like it is going to be.

 Hot Wheels Ultimate Challenge – Within a couple of minutes, I knew we were in for a lecture episode, and I was right.  Both contestants had an ax to grind.  I definitely disagree with the judges this week.  I thought the butterfly was the better car.  Not sure it would sell as a hot wheel as well, but that doesn’t matter as much in this round.

 Secret Invasion – I suspected a couple of the twists, but some others caught me off guard.  And I’m still not sure what the point of a couple of the scenes were.  Overall, this was still a decent wrap up to another show that should have been a movie.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Book Review: The House Guest by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters to root for, twists
Cons: Pacing of the plot could have been evened out
The Bottom Line:
Taking in house guest
Does she have an agenda?
Overall, good book

Will Helping a House Guest Hurt Alyssa?

For years, I had roommates, and quite often, they moved in before I knew too much about them.  I was fortunate because I got along with most of them, but what if the new person you invited into your life had some other agenda?  That’s the premise of The House Guest, and author Hank Phillippi Ryan weaves another good tale with this premise.

Alyssa Macallan is going through a nasty divorce after her husband shocks her by walking out the door one day.  All of her so-called friends won’t have anything to do with her either.  She’s lonely and depressed, which is why she is in a bar on a Friday night drinking.

A casual conversation with the woman next to her brings a spark of friendship with a woman named Bree Lorrance.  Bree has her own troubles with a bad boss and an almost ex-boyfriend.  Alyssa invites Bree to stay in her guest house, and she finds that the company and focusing on Bree’s problems makes her feel better.  But Alyssa’s problems are about to step up a notch.  Will she be able to trust Bree as things get much more complicated?

The book took a little while to set everything in motion, but there was plenty to keep my interest even before that last piece of the plot kicked in.  And once it did, I was very invested in exactly what was going to happen next to Alyssa and Bree.  I do think the book had one too many twists, leaving me with a feeling of whiplash at the end, not to mention a question on why some of the characters did what they did at the end.

With the last of the author’s standalone thrillers, I’d noticed a trend of at least one character who was really whiney and manipulative in trying to get her way.  (Yes, it was always a woman.)  I’m happy to say that this wasn’t the case in this book.  Yes, there are lots of conversations about what the characters should do next (a few could have been cut out to help the pacing), and the characters push for their point of view, but I feel like they were being reasonable instead of whining.

Of course, much of this goes to Stephanie Willing, who does the narration of the audio book I listened to.  It really is true that a narrator can make or break an audio book, and in this case, she did a great job of reading life into the words without getting in the way of the story.  It’s a fine balancing act.

As the book went along, I really did grow to like the characters.  Of course, I knew better than to let my guard down completely because in a story like this, you never quite know who is doing what to whom, but I wanted everyone to reach a happy ending.

The book is told completely from Alyssa’s third person point of view, the first time that this author has used a single point of view in years.  It helped build the suspense since we never knew what anyone else was thinking.  I also appreciated the fact that we just had one timeline instead of jumping back and forth in time.

Overall, I enjoyed The House Guest.  If you are looking for a thriller for what’s left of the summer, pick this one up.

July 28th's Friday Post

We've made it to Friday again!  Although, it's going to be a crazy busy day at work since it's the start of our month end process tomorrow.  So I'd better get going on a Friday post.  I'll be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

My teasers for the first three for this week are coming from The Body in the Cattails by Catherine Dilts.

It's been several years since Catherine Dilts had a new book come out.  This is the first in a new series from her.  It's set in Oklahoma, and I'm LOVING it.  I'm about 2/3 of the way through, and I'm dreading finishing because I'm not going to want to leave these characters behind until book 2 comes out.

Here's the opening:

"Mom, did you leave the door open?"  Parker was tall for eight, but thin as a reed.  He look vulnerable with his curly dark hair backlit by light seeping through the crack in the door.  A door that had been closed.

Isn't that a great opening?  It definitely grabbed my attention.

I want to share a longer quote from page 56.  I really do.  But it hits spoiler territory (although I wouldn't call anything there that surprising for a cozy mystery), so I'll just share this one sentence:

To Makenzie, the burglary represented a violation of the sanctity of small-town life.

The plan is to finish this book on Friday and then review it next Thursday.  Of course, I've written none of my reviews for next week yet.  You can guess what I'll be doing this weekend.  Will I have my review written in time?  Stop by next week to find out!

But let's end this post with the Book Blogger Hop.  This week's question is:

Do you enjoy reading memoirs?

Obviously, if you've spent any time here you've seen that I mainly read mysteries.  Having said that, I have enjoyed the memoirs I've read, and there are several more I want to read.  I just need to find the time to read them.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Movie Review: A Christmas...Present

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Overall, an uplifting movie
Cons: Cheese and early cringe
The Bottom Line:
Spend Christmas with a
Disconnected family
I grew to like it

“Nobody Does Math in the Real World.”  “We’re in Santa’s Workshop, and I’m Wearing Reindeer Antlers.  How Is This the Real World?”

I’ve watched Candace Cameron Bure in quite a bit over the years, but I had never watched any of her Christmas movies.  I decided it was time to change that, so when I spotted A Christmas…Present on the schedule at Great American Family, I decided that was the one to start with, especially since her co-star was Marc Blucas, another actor I’m familiar with.

The movie introduces us to the Larson family.  Maggie (Candace Cameron Bure) is a real estate agent and Eric (Marc Blucas) is a lawyer.  Between their careers and their teenage children (Claire Capek and Caleb Reece Paul), they are constantly on the go.  Maggie is not having any luck getting the four of them into the same room for any Christmas traditions.

Then Maggie, feeling guilty that she hasn’t been there for her brother, Paul (Paul Fitzgerald), decides the family should go spend the holiday with him and his daughter (Keilah Davies).  Paul has lost his wife in the last few months, so Maggie expects this holiday to be hard for him.

In typical Maggie fashion, she starts to fill every second of their visit.  But what will time away show her about herself?

I sat down to watch this movie knowing nothing about it, so when I realized what the plot was going to be, I was surprised.  This wasn’t a typical Christmas romance movie.  Yes, there is some romance, but that isn’t all there is to it.  Now, this isn’t to say the movie isn’t completely predictable.  I had most of the story figured out early on.

And part of that was the very painful to watch early parts.  Maggie decides what should happen, and then plows ahead with it whether that is what anyone else wants to do or not.  And she is sure she is right about everything.  Yes, I get it, that is the beginning of her character arc, but it still made me cringe plenty of times.

But as the movie went along, I found myself enjoying it more.  For a Christmas movie, the story touches on some rather deep subjects, and it does so credibly for a movie that clocks in at under and hour and a half.  Oh, it’s not anything new or original, but it’s good to be reminded of what should really matter in our lives.

I was also surprised to find a very heavy Christian theme to the movie.  Yes, I know Candace is a strong Christian, but I just didn’t expect to find it in the film.  I’ll admit, parts of it seemed forced, but as the movie went along, it felt like more of a natural part of the story.  Maybe it was just that I was getting used to it being there.  As a Christian myself, I certainly appreciated that it was included and what the Christian characters were saying.  I found that part of the climax a cop out, but that’s probably all I could expect from this movie.

Unfortunately, the film did have some low budget cheese.  It came through in the writing and the acting.  Honestly, I can see how the actors could have done better with some of the lines, but even so I felt like some of the scenes were just awkward anyway.  Other moments completely worked for me.

Speaking of working for me, I also really enjoyed some of Eric’s dad jokes.  Then again, I do love a good pun.

And, as we reached the climax, I found the pollen really was getting strong in my condo.  With all the windows closed.  It was the strangest thing.  I mean, I couldn’t have possibly been tearing up over the movie.

While the movie definitely has it’s weaknesses, I’m glad I watched A Christmas…Present.  If you are looking for a different plot for a Christmas movie, this is one to consider.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Book Review: A Fatal Groove by Olivia Blacke (Record Shop Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery and characters mixed with fun
Cons: A few moments that kicked me out; starts a little slowly
The Bottom Line:
Death at festival
Fun characters; uneven
Pace; and some good laughs

Murder is Anything but Groovy

I enjoyed the first book in Olivia Blacke’s Record Shop Mysteries, so I was looking forward to seeing where the characters would go next.  Turns out, they were headed for death at a festival with A Fatal Groove, the second in the series.

If you missed the first, it revolves around Juni Jessup.  She and her older sisters have reopened the record store that their grandparents had originally opened in Cedar River, Texas, a small town outside of Austin.  In order to help draw in customers, they have added a coffee bar, and Juni is enjoying creating daily specials.

As this book opens, the Jessup sisters are getting ready for the Bluebonnet Festival, which the town is holding this weekend.  They will be selling coffee – simple coffee, not their normal specialty drinks – as well as playing music between bands on the main stage.

Their first customer on Saturday is Mayor Bob who is looking for his caffeine fix.  When Juni stops by city hall a little while later to drop something off for him, she discovers him dead in his office.  Concerned that rumors they served him poison in his coffee will harm their business, the three sisters jump in to investigate again.  Mayor Bob was popular because he didn’t do much, not making too many waves.  So why would someone want to kill him?

Despite the book jumping in pretty quickly, it seems to stall for a bit before it really gets going.  The book is spending some time introducing elements of the story and sub-plots.  I get what the author was trying to do, but I felt like how it was done slowed this early part down.

The further I went into the book, the better the plot got, however.  I did figure out the identity of the killer a little before Juni, but I needed her to help me piece together many of the details.

The book is narrated from Juni’s first-person point of view.  With the first book, I did complain about the way they/them pronouns were used since Juni didn’t indicate she knew the person she was using them for.  That happens again here; I was expecting it, so it didn’t throw me as much as it did in the first book, but it still seems odd.  Additionally, we get some commits from her in the narration that comes across as judgmental and really don’t add anything to the story.  I have a feeling we are supposed to be impressed with her, but it was the opposite for me.  Worse yet, it threw me out of the book.  If we added all of these instances up, we are talking about a page, maybe two, out of the entire book, but they are enough to stick in my mind.  I’m sure this is a me thing, and most people won’t be bothered by it, but this is my review, so I’m including it.  And it probably says more about me than it does about the book.

Overall, I did like Juni.  She and her sisters are very different, yet they complement each other well, and I love seeing how they come together once again to figure out what is going on.  There is a love triangle here, but it is mostly in the background.  I hope it doesn’t drag on too long, especially since it is clear who Juni should choose.  And no, my opinion on who she should choose hasn’t changed from the first book.

We get a light dose of humor as well.  This isn’t a laugh a page kind of book, but there is plenty of fun watching the sisters and some of the other characters interact.  We get some puns with Juni’s drink specials.  And there is one scene that really had me laughing.  I’m not going to say more so as not to spoil it.

Overall, A Fatal Groove is an enjoyable second book.  If you are looking for something fun and enjoy music, you’ll be glad you picked it up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

TV Show Review: Diagnosis: Murder - Season Seven

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of fun mysteries with a cast we love
Cons: A few episodes that don’t quite work
The Bottom Line:
Doctor detective
Still bringing us fun cases
Season worth watching

“You Don’t Have to be Stogey.  But You Don’t Have to be Charlie Chaplin Either.”

I have not watched the Diagnosis: Murder seasons in order since the show ended (I’ve caught random episodes in reruns) until I started watching the show on DVD several years ago.  All of that is a long way of saying that I hadn’t watching season season all together since it originally aired in 1999 and 2000.  I remembered not being that impressed by it, but overall, I enjoyed this season on my rewatch.

Not much has changed on the show this season.  We are still following the adventures of Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) a doctor with a talent for solving murders.  As a result, he helps his son, LAPD officer Steve (Barry Van Dyke).  He often brings coroner Dr. Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell) and Dr. Jesse Travis (Charlie Schlatter) into the investigations.  All three of these doctors work at Community General, a teaching hospital.  And this allows us to meet a couple of recurring characters this season.  Joanna Cassidy recures as Madison Wesley, who comes in to run the school.  Meanwhile, we also meet Alex (played by Barry’s son Shane Van Dyke), a medical student.

What kind of cases do they face this season?  When Mark’s visiting brother Stacy (guest star Jerry Van Dyke) starts sleepwalking at the hospital, he comes under suspicion for a murder that happens.  A friend of Steve’s from his days in the military shows up and dumps his daughter on Mark and Steve before vanishing again.  A gangster moves into the neighborhood who just happens to be a dead ringer for Mark.  A “free” cruise in exchange for working as the ship’s doctor turns out to be anything but relaxing when a guest vanishes at sea.  Something’s heating up at a cooking channel besides the food.  Is a security system going haywire or is someone behind the deadly accidents?  And Steven’s appearance on a dating show ends with a dead date.

As you can see, there are lots of great cases here.  In total, we get 24 episodes this season.  I actually remembered more of these episodes than I thought I might.  I definitely didn’t remember many of them in their entirety, but there would be scenes that stood out in my mind, and sometimes I’d remember the climax part way through.

And the cases are mostly good.  We get the usual mix of cases where we know who did it and watch Mark figure it out and cases where we have no idea and have to solve it along with Mark.

I also really liked the addition of Madison and Alex, and I found myself happy when they’d show up in an episode.  Sadly, Madison is only in this season, which is awkward given where they left things with her character.  I’m trying to remember how they explained her absence in the final season.

Speaking of explaining absences, one strike I had against this season is that the new show runners wrote out Jesse’s girlfriend, Susan Hillard, this season.  I loved her character, so this always bummed me.

Outside the first episode (where Mark is roasted by a group of comedians), the show has gotten away from the themed stunt casting episodes.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t faces and names I recognized this season.  I mean, we start off with Steve Allen, Ruth Buzzi, Tim Conway, Julia Duffy, Dick Martin, and Tom Poston is that first episode.  As the season goes along, we get the already mentioned Jerry Van Dyke plus Michelle Phillips, Ray Wise, Donny and Marie Osmond (as themselves), Joyce Brothers, Scarlett Pomers, Charlotte Rae, and Helen Reddy.

As we neared the end of the season, I could see some of the things that I remembered being issues, but they weren’t as big an issue here as I remembered them being.  One reason I loved this show was the ensemble cast and their friendships.  The show begins to focus a bit more on certain characters each episode without nearly as much collaboration between them.  I miss it when the characters aren’t sharing as much screen time together.

Also, the final three episodes are a bit off putting.  “Swan Song” is more of an issue episode instead of the typical episode, and it is depressing and hard to watch.  Then we get the two part season finale which doesn’t quite work the way the writers wanted it to work.  It’s two cases that aired back to back with a little bit that connects them, but it just feels odd.  The show has always had the odd episode, but they didn’t usually end the season, so these stand out a bit more.

But again, overall, this season continues the fun mysteries we’ve come to expect.  You’ll smile and occasionally laugh as you watch.

And the four leads are still outstanding.  They pull off the scripts they get and make it look easy.  I have no idea how they got along in real life, but they certainly make the friendships seem very real.  The guest stars always brings their characters to life as well.

Since there were twenty-four episodes this season, the DVD set I have contains six discs.  They are all full frame picture and stereo sound, which was the norm for TV shows of the era.  There are notes about the picture as the discs are loading, but I don’t remember seeing anything that didn’t look good for a show that is over 20 years old.  There is nothing in the way of extras, but I’m just happy to have the show.

I’m glad I gave season seven of Diagnosis: Murder a second chance.  While there are some flaws, the majority of the season is lots of fun for fans of the show.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Book Review: Murder at a London Finishing School by Jessica Ellicott (Beryl and Edwina Mysteries #7)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and story infused with the time period
Cons: Ending a little rushed; missing most of the regulars (both minor issues)
The Bottom Line:
Going back to school
Things escalate to murder
Enjoyable book

Returning to Their Alma Mater Means Murder

I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot recently, but it is always fun when an author uses a book to dive into some backstory they’ve mentioned in passing before.  That’s exactly what Jessica Ellicott does in Murder at a London Finishing School, the seventh in her Beryl and Edwina Mysteries.  The result is a winner.

For those new to the series, it is set in 1920’s England.  Edwina Davenport has lived most of her life in a small English village, but she became friends with American adventuress Beryl Helliwell when they both went to Miss DuPont’s Finishing School for Young Ladies as teens.  The two have remained friends, and have recently reconnected when Beryl moved in with Edwina.  Together, the two have also started an enquiry agency that has handled some local problems that always seem to lead to murder.

Thanks to some articles that have been written about their cases, Miss DuPont has heard about their new business, so she reaches out to them when the school starts having problems that have been enough to drive away some of the girls.  And enrollment was too low to begin with.  Miss DuPont asks them to come and find out what is happening.

When they arrive, they are delighted to reconnect with some of the staff they remember from their time there.  They are even surprised to find a couple of their fellow students are there as well.  They aren’t finding many clues as to the problems the school is having, however.  Then they find a dead body.  Has the prankster escalated to murder?

If you are someone who wants the body to drop early on, you might find this book’s beginning slow.  I didn’t feel that way.  There was enough going on with introducing the characters and the initial investigation to keep us entertained.  In fact, I wasn’t expecting the body to show up until right before it did.

And once that happens, things kick up another notch.  There are plenty of viable suspects and secrets to keep Edwina and Beryl confused and us guessing about what was really going on.  I did find the ending a little rushed, but when I stopped to think about what the duo had uncovered, it all made sense.

Since the book almost completely takes place outside of the normal series setting, we don’t see very many of the regulars.  A couple have cameos, but the rest are only mentioned.  That means you could jump in here and not miss much as far as ongoing storylines.

But Edwina and Beryl revisiting this school from twenty years ago gives them a chance to reflect and grow as characters.  I enjoyed the insights we got into them.  And the new characters are more complex than they first appear, which I appreciated.

The time period also finds its way into the book.  While this isn’t a book where real historical events are playing a direct part in the story, the things that society is dealing with overall work their way into the book and infuse the characters and story.  It’s an interesting look at the changes happening in society at the time.

All of this makes Murder at a London Finishing School well worth reading.  You’ll enjoy your trip back in time with Edwina and Beryl.

Enjoy the rest of the Beryl and Edwina Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

July 23rd's Sunday/Monday Post

 I know, two weeks in a row!  Based on the last few weeks, that's shocking, isn't it?  But time for a 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?

Summer has definitely arrived.  While I have yet to see it hit triple digits here despite their predictions that we will, it is consistently hitting the upper 90's.  It's noticeable when you step outside.  But I'm not complaining.  I love summer and the hot weather.  Of course, I'm very thankful for my AC, but I would rather have the heat than the cold.

Tuesday, I had a friend invite me over to join a group for dinner and games.  We played Monopoly Deal, which is a card game inspired by Monopoly.  It was fun even if I lost every game we played.  (Yes, the games go much faster than traditional Monopoly.)

Saturday, I went to the book launch party for Joanne Fluke's new book.  It officially comes out on Tuesday, but they were selling it a few days early to those who went.  I wound up sitting at a table with a couple of fans, and we chatted for quite a while since we all love cozy mysteries.  It was lots of fun.

And I worked a couple of hours on Saturday.  It was one of those weeks where I was constantly interrupted and couldn't get everything done I needed to get done.  There's still more it would be good if I did, but the jump I have makes me feel like this coming week might be manageable.

Blog Spam Comment of the Week:

I was in too big a hurry to add one of these last week, but it's back today!  Here's a comment I got last month:

"I appreciate the practical advice provided in this blog. It's not just about theories; the author offers actionable tips that can be implemented in real life. It's incredibly helpful!"

And yes, the quotation marks were included in the post.

I'm so glad they found one of my book reviews helpful (actually, if I remember right, they posted this on two of my reviews, but I only kept one of them).  I never thought about a review as theory or actionable tips, but what do I know.  I just write the reviews, right?

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Murder at a London Finishing School by Jessica Ellicott
Tuesday - TV Show Review: Diagnosis: Murder - Season 7
Wednesday - Book Review: A Fatal Groove by Olivia Blacke
Thursday - Movie Review: A Christmas...Present
Friday - Book Review: The House Guest by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

I already mentioned one of this week's books - Pink Lemonade Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke.  I will admit, I don't enjoy this series as much as I once did, but I still want to check in and see what is happening with the characters.

My other two books of the week are ARCs from Crooked Lane.  I'm still waiting for approval for one title, but I'm expecting it to come in this week.  Both of these come out in October, so I will be reading them closer to release date.

The first is the first in a series.  Murder by the Seashore is the first California Bookshop Mystery from Samara Yew.  I enjoy cozies set in California.  I love books.  I love the beach.  This one has been calling my name since I heard about it.  Hopefully, it lives up to my expectations.

Then comes another Christmas cozy mystery.  It's getting to be that time of year where the ARCs start to be available.  A Nutcracker Nightmare is the second Killer Chocolate Mystery from Christina Romeril.  I'm looking forward to seeing where the characters go in this one.

What I'm Currently Reading:

As I'm typing this on Saturday night, I'm actually between books and have been for several hours.  Before I went to the signing, I finished up A Fatal Groove by Olivia Blacke.  Good thing since I'm planning to review it Wednesday, right?  I really don't like being this close to release day, but it's how life is going right now.  Anyway, I enjoyed it.

Up next will be A Sense for Murder, the sixth Sally Solari Mystery by Leslie Karst.  I'll be reviewing it as part of a blog tour, but the review isn't due until release date, which is August 1st.  I've got a little bit of time, fortunately, but not that much.

That wraps things up here.  Have a great week.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

July 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – I didn’t feel like there were too many surprises.  I’m also noticing more and more how many of the runs are summarized for us.  I feel like as many people are running in a night, but we get it in one hour instead of two.  But maybe it just feels shorter because we only get an hour.  Either way, I was rooting for the teen from the campground to make it further.  It was hard though, since she took out the sister of another contestant.  I wouldn’t have minded both members of the family moving on either.

The Weakest Link – I’m impressed with how well they did.  Twice they could have run the chain, and I feel like that was a higher total than normal.  I just can’t believe people didn’t gang up on the trio earlier.  They pretty much let them walk away with it.

Hot Wheels Ultimate Challenge – Looking at the finished products, I could easily predict the winner.  I mean, the monster truck was fun, but it wasn’t nearly as cool as the other one.

Secret Invasion – We’ve got the pieces in place for the climax.  I can definitely tell that.  But I’m just not quite sure what those pieces mean as far as how they are going to handle things.  I’m sure if I were more familiar with Marvel, I could figure out what they are setting up.  I guess I’ll wait until next week to find out.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Movie Review: A Kindhearted Christmas

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: The leads, charming story
Cons: Low budget production overall
The Bottom Line:
Secret Santa gifts
As new romance develops
Low budget with charm

“What’s Your Next Mission, Agent S.S.?”

I seem to have finally gotten into the Christmas movie trend this year (which probably means it is just about over).  Granted, I’ve been watching more Christmas movies on Great American Family than Hallmark.  Ironic, I know.  Anyway, the latest movie I watched was A Kindhearted Christmas, a movie I chose because of the leads.

This movie takes us to Cooperville and introduces us to Jamie (Jennie Garth), who runs a local tourist company.  It’s been a hard year for the town, and the community is looking like it is going to have to cut back on the Christmas festivities this year.  Jamie has some very specific Christmas traditions to honor her late husband, but she is challenged this year to try something new.  She does that by doing some secret acts of kindness to those she finds out about around her.

These acts of kindness attract the attention of the local TV station, including reporter Scott Morris (Cameron Mathison).  Jamie has long had a crush on Scott, so she is awkward when the two first meet.  However, the two quickly begin to fall for each other.  Can Jamie keep her secret from Scott?  Does she even want to?

For the most part, you probably pretty much know where this story is going from the beginning.  About the only real surprise for me is that neither character is really a Scrooge.  I kind of expected Scott to be a cynical reporter, but we quickly see that this isn’t the case.  So in this movie, we get to watch two kind people fall for each other.

The acts that Jamie preformed were truly heartwarming.  I enjoyed seeing how that evolved, although I did have to wonder how she had the money to do all she did.  Sorry, I’ll turn off the accountant part of my brain.

The chemistry between Jennie Garth and Cameron Mathison was strong.  It was a pleasure watching them spend time together.

However, I feel like the obstacles the movie put in their way, especially at the end, felt forced.  And I felt like something Scott did didn’t make sense with how he was behaving elsewhere.

Overall, the acting and writing was just okay.  You can tell this was low budget in just about every department.

But if you are looking for a light and charming Christmas movie and you don’t care as much about the production values, you’ll find you enjoy A Kindhearted Christmas.

July 21st's Friday Post

I'm getting a late start on my Friday post, but I wanted to do two in a row.  I'll be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

For the first three, my teasers are going to come from Murder at a London Finishing School by Jessica Ellicott.

This is the seventh in the Beryl and Edwina Mysteries.  Obviously, it is set in England, and it is a historical series, set in the 1920's.

Here's how this book opens.

The day was just exactly the sort that Edwina Davenport most loved.  The air was fresh and a rose-scented breeze floated in through a pair of windows opened onto the back garden.  She had nothing marked down in her diary for the day and had decided to allow herself the pleasure of a few hours spent working on her novel.

Given that this is the opening paragraph of the book, you know she's going to be interrupted.  It's not the most gripping of openings, but it does welcome you into the story, especially if you already know and love the characters.  It worked for me since I've read the previous books in the series.

Meanwhile on page 56, we find this quote:

Edwina glanced at the airplane and felt her stomach lurch.  Beryl's driving had been quite enough motorized excitement for one week.

I finished the book yesterday, and I really enjoyed it.  It comes out on Tuesday, but my review will be up on Monday.  I hope you'll come back and read it.

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

Which plot twist is your favorite?

Considering I mostly read mysteries, I love it when I get to the end, and I am completely surprised by the killer.  However, for it to be my favorite, all the clues have to have been there, but they were worked in so well I didn't pick up on them.  In other words, I like to feel stupid when I get to the climax for missing the obvious.  When I put it that way....

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Book Review: Paint Me a Crime by Holly Yew (Rose Shore Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; interesting plot
Cons: A couple of minor things
The Bottom Line:
Series kicks off with
An opening disaster
That will hook readers

Grand Opening Murder

The thing that makes reading fiction so fun is the variety that can come from a similar premise.  As an example, both of the books I’m reviewing this week involve art centers that are connected to a robbery and murder around their grand opening.  I’m being simplistic since there are differences even in that description, but my point is, the stories that spin from that premise are different in both cases.  Paint Me a Crime, the first in Holly Yew’s Rose Shore Mysteries, uses this set up to create a good mystery.

The setting in this case is British Columbia as Jessamine Rhodes is about to open the community art center she’s bought in the small town of Rose Shore.  In celebration of the opening, she’s thrilled to get artist Gabriella Everhart to come and teach a water color class.  Gabriella has even agreed to exhibit her masterpiece Tranquil.

Things are winding down when the lights suddenly go out.  They aren’t out too long, but when they return, the painting has disappeared and an art collector who was there is dead.  Jessamine knows her new business and reputation are on shaky ground thanks to the event, so she starts poking around a little herself.  Can she figure out what happened?

While I couldn’t help but notice the similarities I talked about in my opener, that didn’t mean I was any less hooked as I read.  Things start out quickly, and I wanted to know exactly what was going on here and what Jessamine would uncover along the way.  The story moves quickly, and I guessed wrong a few times before we reached the logical climax.

Jessamine is still fairly new to town, but she has a great group of friends, and I quickly fell in love with them, too.  These characters are fun and charming, and I loved spending time with them.  There’s also a great budding romance, which I enjoyed.  The suspects get enough page time for us to care, although not enough to be fully developed.  Still, they work for the way the story is presented here.

As much as I did enjoy the book, it took me a little bit to get fully into the world being created for us.  Something about the writing style kept me just outside.  Mind you, I was still enjoying the story and characters, so this was minor.

While this isn’t a culinary cozy, one of Jessamine’s friends runs a tea shop, and the food she serves had my mouth watering as I read.  There are lots of scenes with food, so don’t pick up this book hungry.

Paint Me a Crime is a promising first novel.  I will definitely be looking for more books by Holly Yew.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Ornament Review: Pirate Snoopy - Spotlight on Snoopy #26 - 2023 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Lots of fun with Snoopy as a pirate.
Cons: All cons walked the plank
The Bottom Line:
Snoopy as pirate
Goes all out on the costume
The result looks great

Hear Me Out, Matey, As I Tell Ye About This Year’s Spotlight on Snoopy Ornament

It always amazes me when I see the themes that are picked for each year’s Spotlight on Snoopy series.  I mean, this year is the twenty-sixth in the series, how many more years can it go?  But we’ve got a fun one this year with Pirate Snoopy.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that Snoopy is decked out as the pirate captain.  He’s got a blue pirate’s hat on his head with a scull and crossbones on it.  He has an eye batch on his left eye.  I’m not sure what happened to his left side, because he’s got a hook in place of his left hand, too.  His right hand is holding a sword.  He’s wearing a blue captain’s coat with a fancy shirt on underneath it.  Woodstock is getting into the act by wearing a red kerchief on his head and a red and white striped shirt.  And Woodstock is showing off part of their treasure since he is holding a gold doubloon.

Hallmark did release an ornament with Snoopy as a pirate a couple years ago as part of that year’s Halloween line.  I didn’t get it since I generally don’t get the Halloween ornaments.  For that one, Snoopy was dressed more as an average pirate (like Woodstock in this ornament) instead of the captain.  That makes this different enough that Snoopy fans will want to get both.

Of course, nothing about this is Christmassy.  You could display it at Halloween or year round if you wanted.  Then again, that’s true of many of the ornaments in this series.  You will be happy to find that Snoopy stands firmly on his own two feet if you want to display him that way.

Or you can hang the ornament on your tree.  There’s a very slight tilt to the ornament, but if you aren’t looking carefully for it, you’ll never know it was there.

And the series marker is on the bottom of Snoopy’s boots.

If you are only interested in ornaments with a strong Christmas theme, you’ll want to pass this ornament up.  But if you love Snoopy, you’ll be happy you picked up Pirate Snoopy.

Light up your collection with the rest of the Spotlight on Snoopy series.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Book Review: Death in a Pale Hue by Susan Van Kirk (Art Center Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters; suspenseful climax
Cons: Details not obvious, but killer was
The Bottom Line:
Body in basement
The characters are great here
But weak overall

Unfortunately, This Was a Pale Debut

I know you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes, they really do catch my eye.  That was the case with Death in a Pale Hue, the first Art Center Mystery from Susan Van Kirk.  The colors and paint brushes caught my eye, and I loved the idea of an art center at the heart of a cozy mystery.  Sadly, it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be.

Jill Madison has moved home to Apple Grove to run the community art center in town The center is being named after her late month, so she’s throwing herself into the project, hoping to impress the board, some of whom don’t think she has enough experience at thirty to oversee the entire thing.  Which means Jill is trying to be extremely careful to make sure everything is ready for the opening of the center.

So a break in during the night is the last thing Jill wants.  Worse yet, one of her mother’s sculptures, which has meaning to Jill, appears to be the only thing stolen.  Then the crew hired to renovate the building finds a skeleton buried in the basement.  When Jill figures out she has a connection to the bones, she attempts decides to help figure out what really happened.  Will she be putting her job in jeopardy?

My first issue with the book is that it still needed another edit.  I really had a hard time getting lost in the story since the details were either missing or contradicted themselves later on.  The opening, which I loved, was contradicted by the rest of the book, for example.  I kept trying to figure out details of the art center, too.  Things like that.  It might be minor to most people, but it kept me from fully enjoying the book, and a few more details sprinkled into the book would have fixed the problem.

I could have lived with that if the plot were stronger.  Unfortunately, the pacing was uneven, and I figured things out early.  I rarely figure things out early despite the number of mysteries I read.  Sometimes I feel proud of myself when I pick up on something, but this wasn’t one of those cases.

The fact that I figured out the killer didn’t keep me from getting caught up in the climax.  It was extremely suspenseful, and I had a very hard time putting the book down when I got there.

Additionally, I loved the characters.  Jill has family and good friends in town, and I could feel the love in those relationships.

I would enjoy spending more time with the characters, but I’m hesitant to pick up another book in the series.  A good edit would have made Death in a Pale Hue work better for me.