Thursday, August 31, 2023

Reading Challenge: COYER Chapter 3 - In the Beginning

It's time for Chapter 3 of this year's COYER challenge.  And this chapter takes us back to how it all started.  Since the goal is to clean out your ereader, only ebooks count.  And only books that you got at a discount.  ARCs count, which is fortunate given how busy I'm going to be with ARCs in October.  And most are eARCs since, you know, everything has to be an ebook.

I'll be listing reviews below as I post them.  It will be interesting to see how I do with this over the course of the next four months.

That's right, this runs from September 1st to December 31st.

1. Fahrenheit 501 by Diane Vallere
3. Sugar Plum Poisoned by Jenn McKinlay
4. Brush Up on Murder by Sybil Johnson
5. Hunters of the Dead by Steve Hockensmith
6. Mistletoe and Murder by Connie Berry
7. Murder by the Seashore by Samara Yew
8. A Nutcracker Nightmare by Christina Romeril
9. Barbecue Can Be Deadly by Ryan Rivers
10. Cheap Thrills by Wendall Thomas
11. Tulle Death Do Us Part by Diane Vallere
12. Calico by Lee Goldberg
13. The Proof of the Pudding by Rhys Bowen
14. Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge
15. City of Betrayal by Victoria Thompson
16. Keep Your Family Close by Annette Dashofy
17. Murder Under the Mistletoe by Erica Ruth Neubauer
18. Dearly Deleted by Sarah E. Burr

August 2023's Reading Summary

 We've reached the end of another month.  Time for another reading summary, right?  There were several books I really enjoyed, and I got caught up on a series I've been working on for years.

I did get the index updated this month as well.  Two months is a row!

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).  As always, the links take you to my full review.


A Sense for Murder by Leslie Karst (Sally Solari Mysteries #6) – 5

When Sally Solari hears about the farm-to-fork fundraiser that the new restaurant in Santa Cruz is hosting, she immediately volunteers to help with the cooking for the event.  As a result, she on hand when someone steals one of the auction items – a signed set of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking – killing a member of the restaurant’s staff as well.  Can Sally figure out what happened?

The book takes a bit of time setting up the suspects, but it isn’t too long before the body is found and things really pick up.  There were several puzzling twists on the way to the satisfying climax.  I was anxious to see how Sally’s relationship with her new boyfriend was going to go.  I appreciated that their storyline didn’t drag their conflict out too much.  The rest of the cast was great; we mostly focus on the suspects, and they kept me guessing.  The book touches on the issue of the homeless, and I felt it did a good job of presenting the concerns fairly, which I appreciated.  We also dabble a little with the sixth sense in this book, but it didn’t go so far that it bothered me or took this book out of the real world.  There are five gourmet recipes at the end to enjoy later.  This series was always intended to be a six book series, and if the author does stick with that, fans will be happy with where Sally winds up here.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Body in the Cattails by Catherine Dilts (Rose Creek Mysteries #1) – 5

Drew Brauner has been in Rose Creek, Oklahoma, for a couple of months now but has yet to really make any friends, so she decides to go to the new book club forming.  Before the meeting is over, the women have spotted a dead body floating in the creek behind the story.  As they begin to investigate, they begin to bond.  Will they figure out what happened?

Really, there are four main characters, and we get to see the story from all of their points of view.  They also have their own arcs.  But it is all balanced wonderfully.  It never becomes too much or overwhelming, and I loved every second of it.  This is all juggled with the main mystery, which kept me engaged before becoming a pager turner at the climax.  This is one of those books you don’t want to end because you don’t want to leave the characters behind.  I already can’t wait for book two to come out.  Get this utterly charming series debut today.  You’ll be glad you did.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Murder on Bedford Street by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #26) – 5

Frank Malloy is hired by Hugh Breedlove who is convinced that his niece, Julia, has been sent to an insane asylum because her husband is abusive and evil.  When Frank and his wife Sarah go to visit Julia, she certainly appears sane.  But can they prove it to a judge?

It’s always a pleasure to travel back to New York City in 1901 with this series.  I thought I knew where this story was going early on, but I turned out to be wrong.  Instead, I got a great story that turned into a thriller by the end.  It’s always wonderful to spend time with these characters, we even got to see a couple of the recurring characters and some of the regular characters played a different role than normal. The multiple view points are use perfectly to advance the story.  I get lost in the time period as I read this story, and that happened here again as well.  It’s a little hard to believe I’m caught up on the series, but I’m happy to see the next book in the series will be out in the spring, so I won’t have to wait too long to visit these characters again.


Death on the Grand Canal by M. A. Monnin (Intrepid Traveler Mysteries #2) – 4

Stefanie Adams has her first official assignment in her new job recovering stolen art for Interpol.  She and Thomas Burkhardt are trying to recover the Borgia Peacock, a pendant that was stolen over 100 years ago.  Stefanie has gotten an invitation from the countess selling it, but when they show up at the countess’s palazzo in Venice, they discover they have more competition than they originally thought they would.  One of their competition in a notorious fence, but then he is murdered.  Will Stefanie figure out what happened and still get the pendant?

The book took a little bit of time to get going, playing tourist on the way to the mystery.  But once the mystery started, the book was strong with lots of secrets and twists to keep Stefanie and Thomas from their objective.  I did find their personal sub-plot a mixed bag.  At times I felt for Stefanie, and at others I was frustrated by her lack of faith in Thomas.  On the whole, I liked both characters, however, and it was good to spend time with them again.  The rest of the cast come alive as the book progresses and we learn what they are hiding.  I’ve long wanted to visit Venice, and this book made me want to visit even more.  If you want a good mystery with an international flair, you’ll be glad you picked up this book.


Claws of Death by Cathy Wiley (Fatal Food Festival Mysteries #1) – 5

After getting out of rehab, Jackie Norwood is looking for any way to rebuild her life, and professionally, she is taking her celebrity chef name on the road, judging food festivals.  Her first one is a crab festival in Texas.  She is horrified to realize that her fellow judge is her nemesis, Heather Curtis.  Then disaster strikes when Heather drops dead after tasting their first dish – a dish prepared by Jackie’s ex-boyfriend.  With the police looking at the two of them as suspects in Heather’s murder, Jackie has to jump in and find out what really happened.  Can she do it?

Author Cathy Wiley has introduced Jackie in some short stories in the Destination Murders series, and I’m thrilled to see Jackie get her own novel finally.  I liked getting to know Jackie better, and the rest of the cast, introduced here, are fantastic.  The story starts quickly and never lags.  I enjoyed how Jackie pieced things together at the end.  Throw in some humor, and this was a book I never wanted to put down.  It was over all too quickly.  Those who enjoy crab will be interested in the recipes at the end.  If you are looking for a fun new series, you’ll be thrilled you got your claws into this debut.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Birder, She Wrote by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #33) – 4

The NIMBYs (not in my backyard) are at it again, this time complaining about the bees that the farmer next to their neighborhood is keeping – something he’s had since long before their subdivision was created.  But before Meg Langslow can go over and attempt to play peacemaker, she is going to help her neighbor attempt to find a long abandoned African American cemetery.  Their expedition ends when they find a very modern dead body in the area – that of the NIMBY ringleader.  Since he wasn’t popular even among his neighbors, the suspect list in long.  Will Meg figure out what happened?

It's always a pleasure to drop back into Meg’s world.  Her family and friends make me smile, and this book was no exception.  The plot tries to work a bit too much into the story; it works, but it could have used a trim.  It doesn’t matter because I was along for the ride up until the end.  The suspects fit well into Meg’s world, and I got some laughs along the way.  This is a book that will please fans old and new.


Halloween Cupcake Murder by Carlene O’Connor, Liz Ireland, and Carol J. Perry – 4

Kensington is back with another Halloween anthology for us, this time featuring three different authors.  Up first, Carlene O’Connor takes us Home to Ireland as a trip trying to find Halloween decorations for Tara Meehan’s shop leads her to find a dead body.  Our next stop is the North Pole with Liz Ireland’s Mrs. Claus.  It’s the second Halloween in Santaland, and April Claus is dealing with missing candy corn, the themed ingredient for the bakeoff, and a murder in a bakery.  Finally, we travel to Salem to spend time with Carol J. Perry’s Lee Barrett.  The town’s favorite baker is missing, and Lee can’t help but get involved, especially when her visions show her where he might be.

As if often the case with these anthologies, I only read one of the authors.  I love the Mrs. Claus series, and this was easily my favorite in the book.  The other two were good, although they did leave me with some small questions I wish had been answered.  Still, they were good introductions to the characters, as I had no problem following who all the characters are.  All three stories kept me guessing until sleuth figured things out.  While there’s obviously a culinary theme to the collection, we only get one recipe at the end.  If you are looking for some new series, this is a fun way to try three new to you authors.  If you are already a fan of these series, you’ll enjoy these between books check ins.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver (Electra McDonnell #1) – 5

Electra “Ellie” McDonnell and her uncle supplement their income as locksmiths with the occasional burglary.  London in 1940 is ripe with opportunities, but after one late night robbery, they are caught and given a choice – jail or helping Major Ramsey.  Ramsey needs someone to break into a safe to retrieve some sensitive documents.  Ellie reluctantly agrees, but when she and Ramsey arrives, they are surprised by what they find.  As things spiral out of control, can Ellie still help?

When I first heard about this series, I knew I had to give it a try.  I’m so glad I did.  Obviously, there is a lot of set up needed, but the book moves through it quickly, creating characters along the way.  The characters are all sharp from the beginning but become more interesting as the book progresses.  We also get Ellie’s history is small doses, which sets up some storylines I can’t wait to read more about.  I saw a couple twists coming a few pages early, but every time something happened, I was more drawn into the story.  I was expecting a strong romantic sub-plot, but I wasn’t expecting the beginning of a love triangle.  The period came to life, and I appreciated that this really couldn’t have taken place at any other point in history.  I’ll definitely be back for more, and if you enjoy historical mysteries, you’ll be glad you picked this one up as well.


Murder in the Wine Country by Janet Finsilver (Kelly Jackson Mysteries #6) – 3

Kelly’s boss is bringing in others to get a vision of what he’s accomplished in Redwood Cove in the hopes of replicating it around the country.  Part of this is a wine tasting, and Eric is supposed to be assisting with it.  However, not too long after Kelly meets him, Eric turns up dead.  Could it have to do with the poachers in the area looking for a rare and expensive plant?

This teaser doesn’t even mention a storyline that starts part way into the book and really takes over.  I get why it does, but it makes the resulting story feel way more rushed than it should have been.  There was enough here for two books.  Plus, there’s a sub-plot that is resolved way too easily (and unrealistically).  But, as always, I loved the characters and watching their relationships grow.  I was smiling as I read about them.  Likewise, I enjoyed revisiting the setting.  If you are new to the series, don’t start here.  Fans will enjoy it even if it is the weakest in the series.


Fair Game by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers Mysteries #8) – 5

Zoe Chambers is spending the week at the county fair, showing her horse and working in the ambulance.  However, it’s not the relaxing week she’d hoped for as she keeps seeing people from her past in 4H, people she’d rather forget.  Meanwhile, Pete Adams is investigating the mysterious death of a woman who vanished after a drunken night out.  Except her friends all insist she wouldn’t have gotten drunk.  So what is really going on?

Fans of the series know to expect plenty of twists, and that’s what we get here.  Even though I knew something that was coming later on, I was pulled into the story and enjoyed watching everything unfold.  Zoe and Pete continued to shine as our co-leads, with us spending equal time in their third person points of view.  I was also happy to see Pete behaving in a way I could support in their relationship here.  The rest of the cast are all strong, and that included some supporting characters I was happy to see again.  These are a little darker than the cozies I typically read, but as long as you know that, you’ll be fine.  As I was reading this book, I realized how much I love the sense of community these books have.  If you are looking for a fast-moving plot with characters you’ll love, this is the book, and series, for you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Book Review: Fair Game by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers Mysteries #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and a fast-moving plot
Cons: I’m not playing games – no cons here
The Bottom Line:
Murder and the fair
Keeps readers entertained here
Series going strong

Murder is Never Fair Game

At one point this year, I had hoped to read two books in the Zoe Chambers Mysteries in an effort to get caught up on the series.  Based on what the next few months are looking like, I am doubting that this will happen.  But I’m very glad I worked in Fair Game, the eighth book in the series.

If you haven’t yet met Zoe, she is a paramedic and deputy coroner for Monongahela County in Pennsylvania.  She also happens to be in a relationship with Pete Adams, the chief of police for Vance Township.  Between the two, Zoe finds herself involved in some twisty cases.

While Zoe’s name is on the series, she and Pete really are equal characters.  We spend pretty much equal time in their third person points of view.  This is always used perfectly to increase the suspense as the book progresses.

And it’s Pete that really kicks off this story.  He gets a call about an abandoned car in the parking lot of a restaurant.  The waitress who calls it in knows who owns the car, and she says the woman was in the night before drunk.  Pete’s bad feeling is confirmed when the woman turns up dead.  But her family and friends insist she would never have more than a glass of wine.  So what happened to her?

Meanwhile, Zoe has been talked into spending the week at the county fair, showing her horse and manning the ambulance.  Spending time there brings back memories or time spent at the fair as a teen in 4H – for better or worse as some of the people from that time come back into her life.  Pete’s case keeps bringing him to the fair.  How are the people Zoe knows connected to what happened to the woman whose death Pete is investigating?

I had an inkling about a plot point that happened later in the book before I picked this one up.  Usually, when that happens, I find myself impatient waiting for the book to catch up to what I know.  That was not the case here.  Instead, I was hooked on the story as it unfolded.  Zoe’s scenes don’t appear to have much related to the plot at first, but it isn’t long before we start seeing how things are going to come together.  And then, it’s off to the races as we wait to see just what is going on.  As always, the plotting is fabulous, and things build to a satisfying climax.

In the last couple of books, I’ve complained about Pete and how much of a jerk he can be to Zoe.  I’m very happy to say that I didn’t find that to be the case in this book at all.  Yes, they have an issue to work out in their relationship, but both of them come across well here.

Of course, the rest of the cast is great.  We get to spend some time with various supporting characters, which is always fun.  The new characters are just as real, which is important to drawing us into the story.

In fact, as I was reading, I realized one reason I love this series.  Even with all the murder and some rather dark events, these books are about community.  Zoe especially, but many of the rest of the characters, do their best to help out those around them, trying to keep them from going down bad paths.  I love that.

Yes, these books are definitely a shade darker than the cozies I typically read.  That includes a bit more violence and language.  Still, none of this is excessive, so as long as you know this going into the book, you’ll be fine.

Fair Game is another great entry in this series.  If you are looking for a fast-moving plot and characters you’ll love, you’ll want to pick up these books today.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Zoe Chambers Mysteries.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Movie Review: Babylon 5 - The Road Home

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: A new adventure in the universe of my favorite show
Cons: Translation from live action to animation isn’t perfect (and I fully realize I’m being a fanboy about it)
The Bottom Line:
A franchise returns
Animation transition
Will delight its fans

Sheridan is Once Again Unstuck in Time…and Space

Despite all the mysteries I read, my favorite TV show of all time is Babylon 5.  (Okay, so mysteries are a huge part of the show.)  I have watched the show numerous times since I was introduced to it during season 4 of its original run, and each time, I’m reminded why I love it so much.  So, when I learned that we were going to get an all-new animated movie, Babylon 5: The Road Home, to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the show’s original release, I was excited.

If you’ve missed the show (and given how long it’s been since it aired and the small but loyal fan base even then, it’s not a surprise), Babylon 5 is a space station deep in neutral territory.  Its mission is to help bring peace among the various alien races.  However, when an ancient enemy returns, it might serve as our last best hope for victory.

The show itself was designed as a five-year story with a beginning, middle, and end.  And, while the realities of the TV business caused a few hiccups to the story over the years, it works remarkably well.  And on rewatches, you can appreciate the foreshadowing and set up we get, sometimes years before we get the payoff.

All of this was the vision of creator J. Michael Straczynski, or JMS as he became known to us fans.  The first thing you need to know about this film is that JMS is back as the writer.  If he hadn’t been involved, I know I wouldn’t have been that excited.  Also back are the surviving cast members to voice their characters.  As fans know, we have lost too many of the cast along the way, but those characters involved in the story are brought to life by new voice actors who do a good job of bringing them back to life.  And we get a nice tribute to the actors who have passed (whether their character was in this movie or not) at the end.

The story itself starts at the end of season 5 as Interstellar Alliance President John Sheridan (still voices by Bruce Boxleitner) and his wife, Minbari Ambassador Delenn (voiced here by Rebecca Riedy taking over for the late Mira Furlan) are leaving Babylon 5 to go to the alliance’s new headquarters on the planet of Minbar.  They’ve had a couple of weeks to settle in when Sheridan is asked to speak at the opening of a new power facility.  However, when they start it up, Sheridan is upset to learn that this new plant is powered by tachyon power.  This is the same thing that caused issues when he tried some time travel in the original series, and it comes back to haunt him as he starts jumping through time and even into alternative timelines.  Can he figure out a way to get home?

I worried going into this how I would react to seeing characters I know and love animated instead of live action.  The trailer did nothing to help that.  I will say that I struggled at times.  This is stylized animation.  My mind kept telling me it wasn’t quite right.  This isn’t true for the backgrounds and ships, which are wonderfully animated and are immediately recognizable by any fan of the series.

The new actors stepping into the familiar characters were good.  Some were better than others, which isn’t a surprise.  I can’t fault them for their performances, especially since a couple of the returning cast didn’t sound quite right to me either.  And this is not to knock anyone in the cast.  I’m being a hypercritical fanboy here, and I know it.  They breathe life into these characters and make the script come alive.

And, taking a step back from hypercritical fanboy mode, this is the only way we could have ever gotten this story.  It’s been almost 30 years since we last saw these characters on a regular basis.  Even if everyone in the cast were still alive, there’s no way they would look like they did when the series ended.  Then factor in that so many characters had to be revoiced and it makes sense that the only way we’d get this story would be animation.  It doesn’t take away my issues, but it does help excuse them.  I would definitely rather have this story in animation form than to not get it at all.

The idea of a multiverse seems to be everywhere these days, but I was interested to see what would happen in a universe I know so well.  I wasn’t disappointed.  No, we don’t spend too long at any one stop, but it was enough to get a feel for what could have gone very wrong.  It also gives us a great chance to see characters we know again as Sheridan is always popping up next to friends.  And yes, some stops, especially at the beginning, are in our timeline.

The best part is, all of these stops make us feel something.  Yes, we get some big action and space battles, but we also get the heart the show always had.  And the philosophy.

And the humor.  I laughed multiple times at things that were either a call back to the show or new moments that were just perfect.  The cast is wonderful at bringing the humor with just their voice, leaving it for the animators to work out the rest, which they do admirably.

Obviously, this movie was created first for the fans.  As a fan, I truly do appreciate that.  But, as a fan, I don’t know how accessible it would be for someone who hasn’t watched the show before.  I think the story stands up well enough on its own, but you wouldn’t fully understand the implication of everything going on here.  But that’s what the series is for, and I highly recommend you check it out.

A word to other die-hard fans like me.  Yes, you heard my fanboy objections earlier.  However, overall, I really did enjoy it.  It was fantastic to be back in this universe seeing these characters again.  And if you need any more enticement – Zathras is in it.

The ending set things up for more adventures, and I’d be curious to see what would happen after the ending we saw.  And how that story could be told in any future animated movies.  (JMS has said if this sells well enough, that might be a possibility.)  I’d certainly be back to see where things go, but I’m just trying to imagine how the complex, rich story we already know could be adjusted to a multiple movie format.  Not that I’d expect an exact duplicate of the story.

In the way of extras, we get a featurette on the process that went into making this movie, including interviews with the voice cast and behind the scenes crew, including JMS.  There’s also a commentary with him, Bruce Boxleitner, and supervising producer Rick Morales.  You can tell how much love everyone involved put into this.

If you are a fan of Babylon 5, you owe it to yourself to watch The Road Home.  It was nice to revisit the characters again in a story that feels like it is part of that universe.  If you haven’t seen the show before, or only seen parts, this might just convince you it’s time to go back and watch the fabulous original show.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Book Review: Murder in the Wine Country by Janet Finsilver (Kelly Jackson Mysteries #6)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters we love and their relationships
Cons: Plot needed work
The Bottom Line:
Murdered wine expert
Meanwhile, plant poachers at work
Characters still shine

Too Much Going on

I’ve generally enjoyed the Kelly Jackson Mysteries.  I absolutely love the characters, and, since I grew up near the setting, I also love getting to read about an area I can picture.  So, I was looking forward to reading Murder in the Wine Country, the sixth book in the series.  Unfortunately, it tries to pack too much into the book.

If you haven’t met Kelly Jackson, she runs a bed and breakfast in Redwood Cove, a fictional town in the very real Mendocino County in Northern California.  She’s an unofficial member of the Silver Sentinels, a group of senior citizens who work to resolve issues in their community and band together to solve crimes when they happen, which they seem to quite frequently for this small community.  (As a cozy lover, I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

As this book opens, Kelly is getting ready for a conference her boss is hosting to show off the outreach that has been helping the community, especially the veterans, in hopes that this can be replicated across the country.  Part of this conference includes a culinary competition, and the chefs have arrived early to get a chance to forage for local plants to add to their dishes.  However, poachers have been stealing rare plants that grow in the area, so everyone is on high alert.

Another aspect of the weekend conference is a wine tasting, showcasing some of the local wineries.  Naturally, Kelly’s friend Phil is involved in that since he knows the local wines.  He’s got his friend Eric, another local wine expert, to help him.  But just after Kelly meets Eric, he is murdered.  Did he run afoul of the poachers?  Or is something else going on?

The set up is good, and I was wondering exactly what had happened to Eric.  Then, another story took over and crowded out that storyline.  Kelly, the Sentinels, and the rest of us got caught up in what was happening with that story.  I completely get why, but it was almost like Eric’s murder was forgotten.  I even felt like we were getting some wrap up scenes until suddenly we were talking about what happened to him again.  Oh, there had been mentions of it along the way, but not enough to keep it at the forefront of our minds.

Here's the thing.  Both of the storylines were interesting, and I feel like they should have been their own books.  Instead, what we got was rushed and a bit of a mess.

That doesn’t even bring up a sub-plot that I felt was resolved too easily and unrealistically.

At the same time, I was enjoying the book.  I love these characters and their relationships.  I was smiling as I watched their relationships grow again here.  And I really liked some of the characters introduced in this book as well.

Plus, the setting was wonderful as always.

While there are no recipes at the end of the book, there is plenty of talk of food, more than enough to make you hungry as you read.  I still consider this a culinary cozy.

If you haven’t read the series, I don’t recommend starting here.  Murder in the Wine Country is definitely the weakest in the series.  However, fans will still enjoy spending time with the characters.  I know I did.

Do check in for the rest of the Kelly Jackson mysteries.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

August 27th's Sunday/Monday Post

It's the weekend, so that must mean it is time for another Sunday/Monday Post.  As usual, I will be linking up to:

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

I took last week off from this post, and yes, that was completely planned.  My parents came down to visit, and I wanted to be able to spend time with them.  After all, that is why they came down, right?  And we had a great visit.  Lots of games played, which was fun.

Of course, their visit just happened to coincide with Tropical Storm Hilary hitting Southern California.  We didn't have any plans to do anything big on Sunday.  We even stayed home and joined church online.  It rained steadily all day here, but it didn't get as heavy as they predicted it would be.  Heck, it didn't even get as windy as they say it would.  We never lost power.  I have seen some road shoulders and sidewalks that crumbled due to the rain, but that's about it.  Nothing too major, which is a great thing.

Of course, there was the earthquake Sunday as well.  We definitely felt it, although there wasn't any danger in my area.  A pretty big one, too.

The temps have been cool enough, I went for my runs at lunch time this week.  I got borderline sunburned by doing that, however.  Got to be more careful if I have a chance to do that again in the next month or so.  Of course, it's going to be too hot to do that, at least this coming week.

Blog Spam Comment of the Week:

Yes, I've got a couple of these again.  Here's one you know is spam just from the user name, which is nothing but a list of companies with "Cash Back Offer" included every so often.  Yeah, that's really trust worthy.  Then we get this great comment (again, just copied and pasted):

HI,NIce post greate information thank you so much,Really Very Useful Information,best blog post really great…

Got to love all those typos.  Yes, the ellipses was part of their comment.  And after the comment were about two dozen links to other sites.  Yeah, like I'm going to click on any of those.  Thanks but no thanks.

This Past Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Disney Pin Review: Elliott the Dragon
Monday - Book Review: Halloween Cupcake Murder by Carlene O'Connor, Liz Ireland, and Carol J. Perry
Tuesday - Movie Review: Mystery Woman - Oh, Baby
Wednesday - Book Review: A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver
Thursday - Ornament Review: Halloween Party
Friday - Novella Review: Halloween Party Murder by Leslie Meier
Friday - Novella Review: Death of a Halloween Party Monster by Lee Hollis
Friday - Novella Review: Scared Off by Barbara Ross
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Murder in the Wine Country by Janet Finsilver
Tuesday - Movie Review: Babylon 5 - The Road Home
Wednesday - Book Review: Fair Game by Annette Dashofy
Thursday - August 2023 Reading Summary
Friday - Friday Post
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

It's been two weeks.  Of course I've got plenty of books to tell you about.

We can start out with a graphic novel, something unusual for me.  But Bruce Wayne - Not Super was written by Stuart Gibbs, so it's not that big a surprise that I got it.  Especially since a friend was his editor for it, and she gave me a copy.

Up next is an ARC I got from the author.  Cheap Thrills is the fourth in Wendall Thomas's Cyn Redondo Mysteries.  It looks like this time we are going to India.  These are always lots of fun, so I can't wait.  The book comes out the end of October, so I will be reading it then.

As an aside, can we talk about how crowded October is this year?  Anyone else noticing that or is it just me?

Also from the author, I got Final Cut.  Marjorie McCown was gracious enough to wait until I had an opening to read the book and sent it to me.  So look for me to read this one soonish.  It's a murder mystery on the set of a major Hollywood blockbuster, so it definitely sounds like something I would enjoy.

Marilyn Meredith put the prequel to her Tempe Crabtree Mysteries on sale to celebrate her birthday this last week.  Author give the best presents, right?  It looks like the sale on Deadly Trail is over now, however.

Finally, I got my pre-order of Nine Lives and Alibis this week.  This is the seventh in Cate Conte's Cat Cafe mysteries, and it's a Halloween themed book.  I'm looking forward to reading it.

What I'm Currently Reading:

As I'm typing this, I'm about 70 pages from the end of Pink Lemonade Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke.  I'm planning to finish it up later today.  It's going about how you'd expect for a recent book in this series.  Maybe a little worse than the previous one.  I'll just leave it at that for the time being.

Next up with be Bring the Night, the third Nate Ross Mystery from J. R. Sanders.  I'll be going from ultra cozy to a PI novel set in Hollywood in 1939.  I've enjoyed the first two, so I'm looking forward to seeing what Nate gets up to in this book.

Have a great week!

Saturday, August 26, 2023

August 26th's Weekly TV Thoughts

The Challenge (8/20) – Amanda is finally gone!  I didn’t have anything against her, but I’m curious to see who everyone will hate now.  I’m sad one of the Amazing Race vets is gone as well.  They must not get much interest from the people who did that show since they have had the lowest numbers both seasons.  Now, to see if the green team can turn things around.  Also, Josh is a jerk who needs to be reminded he isn’t running things.

American Ninja Warrior – Joe made it!  You know me, does anything else really matter?  Actually, it’s interesting that they are letting the top 24 move on this year.  I guess they need enough people to race.  I’ll be happy if that means a few more of my favorites will move on, but we’ll see how it really shakes out next week.

Ahsoka – I wasn’t sure what to expect since I know nothing about these characters.  It was a decent beginning.  I feel like it took them two episodes to get through the set up.  Considering that’s a quarter of their entire episode count, that seems a little excessive.  But hopefully now that the set up is behind us, it will continue forward well.

The Challenge (8/24) – Interesting to see various strategies come into play.  Not quite sure who I am rooting for at this point.  I usually go for the underdogs, which would be the vets, but I’m kind of rooting against them at the moment because of their arrogance.  Natural to root for Survivor, although I’m not sure I remember any of these contestants from the show.  Same with the one guy remaining from The Amazing Race.  Anyway, Green’s strategy on the challenge certainly paid off.  With their numbers, they needed the win.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Novella Review: Scared Off by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #9.5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters I love in a fun mystery
Cons: All cons scared off
The Bottom Line:
Teen party murder
Great to see characters here
In fun mystery

While the Parents Are Away, a Corps Turns Up

I love Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake series, so I enjoy visiting the characters any chance I get.  That includes the novellas, like Scared Off.

Julia Snowden responds to a panic call from her niece, who was supposed to be spending the night with two friends but needs help when a party breaks out.  The police have been called, and, while they are making sure everyone is gone, discover a dead body in the shed outback.  Was Julia’s niece spending the evening with a killer?

If you are also a fan of this series but haven’t read, Shucked Apart, a word of warning that this story contains spoilers for that book.  As I said earlier, it’s always great to spend time with the characters.  It’s also hard to believe how old Julia’s niece is getting.  I always lose track of book time in the series I read.  Anyway, the mystery was great; I enjoyed the way it unfolded.  As a bonus, there’s a recipe for you to enjoy at your own party.

This novella started life in the anthology Halloween Party Murder.  If you’ve read that collection, you don’t need to read this story again.  But if you haven’t read it yet, you’ll be happy to pick it up on its own.  Since it’s a novella, is much shorter than a typical release for the series, so keep that in mind when you pick it up.

If you are a fan of the series, you’ll be thrilled to read Scared Off.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Maine Clambake Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of the original novella collection.

Novella Review: Death of a Halloween Party Monster by Lee Hollis

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in an engaging mystery
Cons: I’m not partying with any cons
The Bottom Line:
Restaurant opens
But night ends with a cold corpse
Great read for season

Cold Costumed Corpse

I don’t remember there being quite as many Halloween parties even a decade ago as I am aware of now.  Not that I’m complaining.  Any chance to get together with people is great, right?  That is, until a murderer shows up.  That’s just what happens in Death of a Halloween Party Monster.

This story features Lee Hollis’s series star Hayley Powell, who is hosting a Halloween party at her new restaurant.  However, the night ends in horror when the body of the high school music teacher is found in the freezer.  Is one of Hayley’s friends a killer?

I don’t read this series, just the novellas when they are part of an anthology I want to read, but I found myself feeling right at home partying with these characters from the beginning of this story.  I did figure out one aspect of the story early on, but there were several more, including the identity of the killer, that I hadn’t pieced together until Hayley did.  It’s a twist on a locked room mystery, which is always fun.  The ending was great and kept me turning the pages.  There are also some recipes to enjoy while you read or at a party you are hosting this Halloween.

This novella started life in the anthology Halloween Party Murder.  If you’ve read that collection, you don’t need to read this story again.  But if you haven’t read it yet, you’ll be happy to pick it up on its own.  Since it’s a novella, is much shorter than a typical release for the series, so keep that in mind when you pick it up.

I’ve enjoyed these novellas featuring Hayley Powell enough to pick up the first in the series.  Fans will definitely want to read it to see what happens to their favorite characters here, but even if you are new to the characters, you’ll find Death of a Halloween Party Monster a fun, fast story to read in October.

NOTE: I received an ARC of the original novella collection.

Novella Review: Halloween Party Murder by Leslie Meier

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting mystery
Cons: Politics that feels like lectures
The Bottom Line:
Death after party
Novella for Lucy’s fans
I found it okay

After Party Murder

Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone mysteries were always set around holidays.  But since she’s started headlining holiday mystery anthologies, Lucy has had even more holidays to find dead bodies on.  Halloween Party Murder is now being released on its own as an ebook, and fans who haven’t read it yet are in for a spooky read.

Lucy is helping plan a haunted house fund raiser at the home of relative new comers Ty and Heather Moon.  However, when Lucy finds a dead body during the after party, things take an unexpected turn.  Will she figure out what is going on?

I don’t normally read this series, so I was thrilled to actually recognize the characters of Ty and Heather since they also featured prominently in the previous Halloween novella collection Leslie headlined.  This novella focuses mostly on the mystery at hand, and doesn’t bring in sub-plots involving Lucy’s family.  Again, since I don’t read the series, this was a good thing for me since I don’t have the connections to all the supporting characters.  The mystery was good, and I enjoyed watching Lucy’s efforts to figure out what was happening.  The element I struggled with the most was the politics brought into this story.  There is a local election happening, and the campaigning does play into Lucy’s motives to solve the case, but I still felt like we were being lectured during many of those scenes.

This novella started life as the headliner in the anthology also called Halloween Party Murder.  If you’ve read that collection, you don’t need to read this story again.  But if you haven’t read it yet, you’ll be happy to pick it up on its own.  Since it’s a novella, is much shorter than a typical release for the series, so keep that in mind when you pick it up.

Not being a fan of the series colors my judgement of this story, I’m sure.  Fans will be glad to pick up Halloween Party Murder.  If you don’t already know Lucy, you can probably skip this novella.

NOTE: I received an ARC of the original novella collection.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Ornament Review: Halloween Party - Season's Treatings Special Edition - 2023 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun party food that looks wonderful
Cons: No cons at this party
The Bottom Line:
A brew and sweet treats
The colors look wonderful
Ready to party

Sweets for Your Halloween Party

Somehow, I missed the Halloween Party ornament when I was browsing through Hallmark’s Dreambook this year.  Granted, I rarely pay much attention to the Halloween ornaments, so that’s probably how I missed it.  But when I was in the store in July, I spotted it and immediately knew I had to add it to my collection.

This ornament is a companion to the Season’s Treatings series and features some festive goodies ready for Halloween.  The main feature is some kind of punch.  It’s obvious a witch’s brew drink since it has green bubbles coming out of the top of the cauldron.  There’s also a mug off to the side with some of this drink in it.  In front of the cauldron, we have a plate with a bat and ghost cookie and three cupcakes decorated to look like pumpkins.  All of this is sitting on a purple tray with candy corn accents on the side.

This isn’t the first time we’ve gotten a Season’s Treatings Halloween themed piece, but I like this one much better.  The first one was themed around caramel apples and candy corn, and I’m not a fan of either of those, so it’s mostly about the treats than the looks of the ornaments.

Plus this one is just fun.  I don’t know what the drink is, but I want to try it.  And I don’t think I’d be able to resist the cupcakes or cookies.  Plus, the colors work well together and really scream Halloween.

Since this ornament has a tray as a base, it lays nice and flat, so you can display it anywhere you want.  As a companion piece, this ornament doesn’t have any series markers on it.

If you go to hang your ornament, you’ll find it does tip forward a little.  Most of the ornaments in the series do this, and it is a design feature instead of a flaw, so I’m assuming it was done on purpose here, too.  It certainly looks great that way, allowing us to see the cookies and cupcakes a little better.

I’m glad I spotted Halloween Party, especially since it has proved to be popular.  I’m looking forward to displaying it in October and for many more years to come.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Season’s Treatings ornaments.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Book Review: A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver (Electra McDonnell #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Story characters and historical story
Cons: No combination of cons for me
The Bottom Line:
Pressed into service
But job gets complicated
Hooked on this debut

A Winning Combination

The first time I heard about the Electra McDonnell series, I knew I had to give it a try.  The premise was unique, and it just sounded like a lot of fun.  I picked up A Peculiar Combination, the first in the series, with high expectations, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it.

The book takes us to London the summer of 1940.  Electra, Ellie to her friends, and her uncle are locksmiths.  Since business has always been uneven, they’ve supplemented their income with the occasional robbery.

However, the night the book opens, things go wrong and the two are caught.  They are given a choice, go to jail or join Major Ramsey with a mission to help the war effort.  While Ellie takes an instant dislike to Ramsey, she doesn’t see where they have a choice.  Besides, the mission is easy enough – break into a safe and switch out some papers with fakes.  However, when Ellie and Ramsey arrive on the scene, they are met with some unexpected complications.  Can Ellie still help?

Since this is the first book in the series, the book must set up the premise.  I knew as much as I teased above before I picked it up.  I was impressed with how quickly the book moved through this without feeling like it was rushed.  That’s a testament to the writing.

As this part of the book was unfolding, we were also getting to know the characters, especially Ellie and Ramsey, who are the leads.  They leap off the page and only get sharper as the book progresses.  The same is true with the supporting characters.

There were several times I saw a twist coming a few pages before it happened, but it didn’t matter because, I was along for the ride.  Naturally, this isn’t a traditional mystery, and I loved it for that.  There was plenty here to keep me interested, and the twists only made me more invested in the story.

The book also makes great use of the historical setting.  I immediately felt like I was living in London in 1940.  While real history doesn’t show up on the pages, this story also couldn’t have taken place any other time.

I expected the book to have a strong romance sub-plot when I picked it up, and I was right.  As I expected, we get a will they/won’t they plotline.  What I wasn’t expecting was a love triangle.  While I’m hoping it doesn’t go on too long, I’m intrigued by it now and very curious to see where the romance goes.  I haven’t even decided who I am rooting for yet.

The book does a good job of sprinkling in Ellie’s backstory over the course of the book.  Some of this is going to come into play in future books.  I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads.

Now that I’ve met Ellie, I’m very anxious to visit her again.  A Peculiar Combination is a book historical mystery fans will be glad they picked up.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Movie Review: Oh Baby - A Mystery Woman Mystery

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: A different premise, entertaining moments
Cons: Weak mystery; Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Babysitting sleuth
Must juggle his care with case
Fun, weak mystery

“See, You Do Know About Babies.”  “I Read a Lot.”

When a series is established, writers will try something different to make a story stand out from the rest.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.  The writers of Oh Baby, the ninth Mystery Woman movie, tried something new, but it didn’t really work out.

While Samantha (Kellie Martin) and her friend Cassie (Nina Siemaszko) are finishing up a round of golf at the country club, a murder takes place.  However, Samantha doesn’t have time to get too involved since that afternoon, Suzi (Vicki Davis) comes into the Mystery Woman store.  Suzi was a friend of Samantha’s uncle, and she was hoping to get some help.  Naturally, Samantha offers to help instead.

Suzi has a newborn with her, baby Josh.  However, the next day, Suzi disappears, leaving Josh with Samantha for safe keeping.  As Samantha begins to suspect that Suzi and her husband, Johnny (Richard Lee Jackson) are involved in the mess at the country club, she has to juggle sleuthing with caring for the baby.  Can she figure out what is going on?

A sleuth having a baby distracting them from gathering clues isn’t necessarily a new plot device.  I do appreciate that the writers here tried to be realistic about it, with Samantha suffering from extreme sleep deprivation at one point.  The added humor from the situation was fun.

However, it is really padding for a thin mystery.  We can figure out early on that Johnny and Suzi are involved in what is going on somehow.  And the rest of the characters involved are pretty obvious as well.  With so few characters, we can get most of the way to the solution early on, and it’s only a matter of watching Samantha until she has the time to solve the rest of it for us.

This isn’t to say I didn’t have fun with the movie.  I did.  But the mystery was weak.

This movie, and the franchise in general, has a higher dose of cheese than modern Hallmark movies.  It’s in the writing (a couple of the scenes made me cringe) and the acting as well.  As long as you are expecting this, you’ll be fine.

Oh Baby will entertain fans of the Mystery Woman franchise.  But anyone else can easily skip it.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Book Review: Halloween Cupcake Murder by Carlene O’Connor, Liz Ireland, and Carol J. Perry

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun introduction to three popular authors
Cons: A few questions left at the end of a couple of the stories
The Bottom Line:
Sweet treats and murder
Three Halloween novellas
Fun for the season

Grab a Treat to Read with These Three Novellas

I love summer, so it always bums me out a little to see Halloween cozies start to come out, which signals that fall is on the way.  This year, Kensington has another Halloween themed novella collection featuring three of their authors – Carlene O’Connor, Liz Ireland, and Carol J. Perry.  As is often the case, I picked up Halloween Cupcake Murder for one of those authors, but I’m glad I did since I enjoyed all three stories.

Up first is the title story from Carlene O’Connor.  This story takes us to Ireland, where it’s a week and a half until Halloween, and Tara Meehan is looking for some decorations for her shop in Galway.  At her uncle’s recommendation, she visits a curiosity shop, and she meets the eccentric owner.  An hour later, she happens back by his shop only to find him murdered with the remains of a cupcake on his body.  Later, Tara receives a cupcake of her own and a cryptic phone call.  What is going on?

I’m not familiar with Carlene’s work, and I see that she is highlighting one of her newer series here, the Home to Ireland series.  I was meeting the characters for the first time, but I didn’t have any issues getting to know them.  I also like how Irish lore played a huge part in the story, which really helped capture the spirit of the holiday.  I did feel like the mystery was a little underdeveloped, with a few things being glossed over.  Still, fans of these characters will be delighted to catch up with them, and new fans will enjoy meeting them.

Our next stop is the North Pole, where Liz Ireland’s delightful Mrs. Claus mysteries take place.  Mrs. Claus and the Candy Corn Caper is the reason I picked up this anthology, in fact.  Santaland is getting ready to celebrate their second Halloween and April Claus has been asked to pick the theme ingredient for, and judge, the bakeoff.  She chose candy corn, a new concept to the elves, and the samples that were ordered have been stolen.  Unfortunately, that crime takes a backseat when an elf is found murdered next to a half-eaten cupcake.  He’s recently left one bakery in town to work for another across the street.  Will April figure out what happened?

I love this series and can easily get lost in the creative world, and this novella was no exception.  The details are magical, which is important since this is part fantasy, obviously.  Yet, the characters are sharp and fun.  The plot is strong, keeping us guessing until we reach the end.  And the humor is sharp as always.  Fans of the series will be delighted with this story, and if you haven’t started the series yet, this is a great chance to meet the characters.

Finally, we make a stop in Salem, Massachusetts for A Triple Layer Halloween Murder, Carol J. Perry’s contribution to the book.  Halloween is a popular holiday in Salem, Massachusetts, and a local bakery gets into the act with their triple layer cupcakes.  Lee Barret, station manager at WICH-TV, gets involved when the bakery owner’s cat needs to be rescued from a tree.  But the problem is, the owner is missing.  He left his wallet and phone behind; he even left a batch of cupcakes in his oven.  Will Lee’s visions help the police find the man?

This was my introduction to the characters since I typically don’t read paranormal cozies.  I had no trouble jumping in here and meeting the characters for the first time.  I found them to be a fun bunch, and I enjoyed the TV station setting as well.  The mystery was strong and kept me engaged.  I thought I had things figured out early, but that turned out not to be the case.  However, there are some big why questions left opened at the end of the story.  This story is the only one to give us a recipe, the triple layer cupcake that gives the story its name.

Each story in this book is roughly 100 pages, so they don’t require a lot of commitment.  If you aren’t familiar with the authors, this is a good way to dip into their series and see if they are something you’d like to read.  If you are already a fan of these characters, it’s nice to check in between books.

With the book coming out now, you’ll have plenty of time to get it before Halloween.  Or, you can read and enjoy it now.  Either way, you’ll be glad you picked up Halloween Cupcake Murder.

If you like what you read here, you’ll want to read the rest of the Mrs. Claus Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Disney Pin Review: Elliott the Dragon

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 3 pins featuring Elliott the dragon on a great card
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Triple Elliott
With great three pin collection
This fan is happy

A Pin Set a Pete’s Dragon Fan Couldn’t Resist

You might have noticed I haven’t been keeping up with the pins in the Disney Decades collection.  I just haven’t found them that exciting for the price they were charging.  However, when I saw the July release, I bought it without any hesitation.

By July, the releases were up to the 1970’s.  For the pins, they released a three pin set featuring Elliott, the dragon from Pete’s Dragon.  Like many others, I’m a huge fan of the movie, so I immediately wanted it.

Two of the three pins are close ups of Elliott’s face.  In one, he’s looking happy with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.  In the second, he’s looking perturbed.  His mouth is closed for this one.  Finally, we have a pin of the full dragon.  He looks upset in this one, with his wings out behind him.

All three of these pins are on a card that looks like an animator’s sketchbook.  We see seven other looks for Elliott.  This is cardboard so it’s a little stiff and will hold up to some handling, although you’ll still want to be a careful with it.

As a fan of the movie, I just couldn’t resist.  Elliott is such a fun part of the movie, and part of that is his expressions.  They are captured so well on the pins in particular and on the card in general.  Any fan of the movie will be delighted to have it.

I also felt a little better about the price for three pins than for one pin.  Yeah, some of the others had some nice looking bonuses to them, but I would have bought them just to buy them.  In this case, I really did want to get the set because I love the character.

If you are a fan of Pete’s Dragon, you’ll want to make sure you get this Elliott pin set as well.