Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Movie Review: Haunted Mansion (2023)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good characters and nods to the attraction
Cons: Familiar story and mixed special effects
The Bottom Line:
A new ghost story
Based on classic attraction
It is just okay

“I’m Going to Light a Vanilla Candle and It Will be a Game Changer.”  “Will It, Though?”

I realize I’m the minority, but I actually enjoy Disney’s first stab at a Haunted Mansion movie.  I feel it hits just the right notes of comedy with spooky suspense and is perfect viewing for families for this season.  However, I know lots of people were hoping for a Haunted Mansion remake, and the rumors have been swirling pretty much since the first one came out that we’d see a new one.  Now the new one has come out, and I found it less fun than the original.

This movie takes us to Louisiana where single mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) has just moved into a mansion she’s bought for her and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon).  However, something is wrong in the house.  In an effort to figure it out, she brings in a priest (Owen Wilson), a tour guide specializing in ghost walks (LaKeith Stanfield), a psychic (Tiffany Haddish), and a local historian (Danny DeVito).  Can they help her?

I’ve got to admit, part of my issue with the movie was the set up.  My teaser was what I was expecting to see when I sat down to watch the movie.  Instead, we spend a lot of time with LaKeith Stanfield’s Ben before the story really gets going.  That makes sense later on since this is really his story, but I was trying to figure out exactly how he was related to the mother and son I was expecting to see.

As you’d expect, there are plenty of nods to the popular attractions.  I also love the fact that, while the majority of the action takes place around a mansion that looks like the attraction at Disneyland, they do get a mansion that looks like the one at Walt Disney World incorporated at one point.  Those kind of details are fun.  However, I will say that the original did a better job of working in those details.  I feel like there were more cameos and nods than we got here.

I also appreciated the characters.  It really does take all the characters I mentioned to save the day here.  Some play a bigger part than others, but it was nice not to see one character dominated things.  And the growth that a few characters got was nice as well.  The actors all did a great job bringing those characters to life, too.

Having said that, I wasn’t that drawn into the story.  It felt like it was checking boxes.  Maybe that’s because, while it did offer a bit of a twist on the Haunted Mansion mythology we’ve gotten over the years, it wasn’t anything terribly original.

While the original is a fun movie that could be appropriate for kids (it can get intense a few times), this one is much spookier.  I know that’s one thing that adult fans of the attraction have been rooting for, but this isn’t a movie for kids.  Parents will want to take the PG-13 rating seriously.

And the special effects were a mixed bag.  Some of them, especially when there are only one or two on screen, look good.  But in the big group scenes, like the climax, they look cheap and obvious.  It amazes me in this day when that happens.

I was curious enough that I’m glad I watched the new Haunted Mansion.  But, from now on, I’ll be sticking with the original for my Halloween viewing.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Book Review: Cheap Trills by Wendall Thomas (Cyd Redondo #4)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in a charming location
Cons: Pacing could have been better
The Bottom Line:
Hoping to help Mom
Danger among the beauty
The pacing is off

Uneven Trip to Bali

I’ve enjoyed the first three of Cyd Redondo’s adventures, so I was looking forward to seeing what kind of trouble she could get up to in Cheap Trills, her fourth adventure. Unfortunately, I found it uneven. 

If you’ve missed them, these book takes place in the 2000’s (as in that decade, so about 15 years ago). Cyd lives in Brooklyn and has taken over the family travel business. Ironic since she hasn’t travelled much herself. That’s started to change, for better or worse. Each trip Cyd takes finds her dealing with all kinds of danger. 

This book opens in 2007, and Eat, Pray, Love is all the rage. Cyd’s clients are all looking for trips to Bali, inspired by the book. However, Cyd is shocked when she discovers her mother is on such a trip, a trip she won from Cyd’s rival travel agent. An incompetent travel agent. So Cyd races to Bali to help her mother. What will she find when she gets there?

As usual, this book started with an extended section about what is happening with Cyd and her family in Brooklyn, while also setting up the trip. Yes, some of this carried over even after she left for Bali in subplots and character growth. Since I’ve read the other books, I was expecting this and I wanted to see how the characters were doing so I don’t mind too much. 

The books in the series work best when it is an even mix of travelogue, screwball comedy, and mystery. Unfortunately, this book didn’t have that balance, even after Cyd arrived in Bali. There were hints of intrigue, but it was a little heavy on the other two for too far into the book. 

But once the plot kicked into high gear, things really picked up. In fact, the twists were coming so fast, it was easy to get whiplash. Yet, I was satisfied when I reached the end, and I never struggled to follow what was happening. 

I also appreciated the character growth we got. Cyd especially has some issues to face, and I enjoyed seeing some of her relationships grow. Plus, I really want to know what happens after the way this book ends. 

The book also made me want to visit Bali. Okay, so it presents a realistic view of the dangers tourists could face, but it sounds so beautiful. 

And I did laugh multiple times at the predicaments that Cyd found herself in. 

While I do wish the pacing had been better, I’m glad I picked up Cheap Trills. As long as you know what to expect when you pick it up, you’ll enjoy it, too. 

Here are the rest of the Cyd Redondo Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

October 29th's Sunday/Monday Post

Time for this week's Sunday/Monday Post.  As usual, I'll be linking up to:

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

It was a fairly quiet week.  It's time for another month end close at work, so I was busy getting ready for that.  I need to write reviews.  As in, I have no reviews written for this week yet.  Yikes!  I know what I'll be doing the rest of the day.

About the only thing out of the ordinary was Tuesday night.  I got a last minute invite to a game night with some friends, which was lots of fun.  I guess this means I really have no excuse for being this far behind on my reviews, do I?

Joke of the Week:

Tablets were replaced by scrolls.  Scrolls were replaced by books.  Now we scroll through books on tablets.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Cheap Thrills by Wendall Thomas
Tuesday - Movie Review: Haunted Mansion (2023)
Wednesday - October Reading Summary
Thursday - Book Review: Tulle Death Do Us Part by Diane Vallere
Friday - Friday Post
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

Would you believe I only have three books to tell you about this week?  Okay, so that's up from last week by one, but still, hard to believe I kept the haul down for two weeks, isn't it?

Up first is Tulle Death Do Us Part by Diane Vallere.  Yes, if you are paying attention, you'll see it is one of the books I need to write a review for to post this coming week.  No, I would normally not accept a book this close to review, but I am a fan of Diane's books and was aware it was coming, so I was saving a place for it.  We'd already been talking.  (So authors, don't think I can squeeze you in this fast, too.)

Next comes a preorder.  Murder on Mistletoe Lane is a Christmas entry in Clara McKenna's Stella and Lyndy Mysteries.  This is another one I'm saving for December, but I'm really looking forward to it when the time comes.

Finally, I got an ARC.  Easter Basket Murder is the latest novella anthology featuring stories by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross.  It comes out at the end of January, and I'll be reading it then.  These anthologies are always a mixed bag for me, but I'm a fan of Barbara Ross's Maine Clambake series, so I keep reading them.

What I'm Currently Reading:

Obviously, I've been reading Diane Vallere's Tulle Death Do Us Part.  I finished that Friday night and enjoyed it.  More on that to come on Thursday.

I've just barely started Calico by Lee Goldberg.  As in, I'm one chapter in.  So far, it's been a little rough.  I've learned way more about the main character's love life than I want to know, and we are one chapter in.  I'm hoping once the plot really kicks in, that will fade into the background.  I do usually enjoy Lee's books, so I'll keep going.

Have a great week!

Saturday, October 28, 2023

October 28th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Dancing with the Stars – A lovely tribute to Len, and one he would have loved.  It was such a traditional dance!  I was happy to see the scores improving, although the leader board isn’t really changing.  A bit surprise at who went home because she wasn’t as close to the bottom as the other two, but I don’t feel like any of them are going to be around too much longer.

Press Your Luck – Been a while since we’ve seen someone get four whammies in the first half.  And he never seemed to gain any momentum, either.  It wasn’t quite as bad as getting two in a row, but it wasn’t much better.  I did love how the contestants comforted each other.  I’m impressed with what the winner was able to collect with the two post whammy spins she got in the bonus round.

Quantum Leap – The lowest stakes we’ve had in a while on this show (going back to last season).  Felt a bit like an original series show.  But the emotional stakes were real and very well done.  Ben made the right call no matter how Addison feels about it.  And, as much as I am rooting for them to get back together, Ben trying to move on is the healthy thing to do.  But yes, it is becoming much more of a soap opera this year, which is where I feared it would go.

The Challenge – Because I don’t have enough I’m watching, I decided to give the regular Challenge a try for this season.  Obviously, I only recognize one of the players since no one else has been on the USA version.  Definitely some twists on what I’ve seen before in the two seasons I’ve done.  I’ll be interested in how it will play out.

Survivor – I totally would have gone with food at that journey, too.  Those powers are pretty much worthless, especially pre-merge.  And who knows when the merge is coming.  (Yes, we know since we saw the teaser for next week, but that’s what was going through my mind at the time.)  I don’t know who I could have believe if I were Emily.  And I wasn’t surprised that things were awkward at the other camp after the vote from last week.  I would expect nothing less.  I wonder who he fake idol will come into play, if it does.

The Amazing Race – I was bummed the sisters weren’t eliminated.  They hadn’t really bugged me before, but I was very annoyed by them in this episode.  They ability to fight under pressure is amazing.  The doll challenge was definitely the better one to do.  The picture one looked impossible.  Of course, we’ve had many detail oriented challenges this season.  And, as a veteran of doing the bottle dance in Fiddler on the Roof, that road block was tough.  My hat is off to all those teams for getting it done no matter how many times it took.

Loki – Well, that was interesting.  I’m definitely curious to see where things are going to go next week.  And I guess I need to watch these shows closer together since I really have a hard time remembering who all the various minor characters are.  Like the group that was being held prisoner.  Oh well, I’m getting the gist of it.

Buddy Games – I’m on Team OK’s side here.  Was glad to see them pull it off.  Although I’ve got to admire Team Pride for their massive come from behind to take second place.  With my lack of balance, being on the teeter tauter would have been very hard.

Lego Masters – I’d wondered part way through if no one was going to go home.  Since they had the banner, I’m not sure I believe that the judges really were at an impasse.  I will say I agree with their winner.  And I’m really not sure who the loser would have been.  The Sun/Moon didn’t impress me quite as much, but I still don’t think it was bad enough to send anyone home.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Book Review: Mint Julep Murder by Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand #9)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun subplot
Cons: One poor character among others that could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
A book festival
Provides drama and murder
Another fun book

Murder at the Book Festival

I’ve included a few other audio books in my rotation this year, so I haven’t gotten as many books in the series I am reading that way as normal.  That means it was longer than normal between books in the Death on Demand series, but I was happy to revisit the characters again with Mint Julep Murder.

If you aren’t familiar with this series, it features Annie Darling who owns a mystery bookstore on an island off the coast of South Carolina.  Being the ninth in the series, Annie’s gotten plenty of chances to put the knowledge she’s gained from the books she reads and sells to good use.

This book finds Annie on nearby island Hilton Head for the Dixie Book Festival, which focuses on southern literature.  This year, Annie’s agreed to be the official author liaison for the five medallion winners.  It’s been rocky so far, with the authors being demanding even before they show up.  But then, just as the weekend is getting started, a publisher drops the bomb that he is planning to publish a “novel” that will reveal the secrets of these five authors.  Naturally, they don’t take it well, and somehow it falls to Annie to sort things out.

The first evening, the publisher behind this book drops dead at a party he is giving, and all the evidence seems to point to Annie.  In order to clear her name, Annie and her husband, Max, jump into the investigation.  Annie is sure one of her authors is behind the murder.  But can she prove it before she lands in jail?

The plot in this one is strong.  I kept moving from one to another of the suspects as my prime suspect until Annie figured things out at the end.  I definitely wouldn’t have figured out that ending, but when Annie lays things out in front of all the suspects (yes, the series uses that trope for every climax), it makes perfect sense.

I will say the characters tend to be thin in the series.  Annie and Max are the best characters, although even they can be one note at times.  Still, I like them and enjoy spending time with them.

The thin characters were really driven home to me by one of the authors, a Rush Limbaugh want to be.  He was such a cliché it was very painful.  Okay, so I’m conservative, but I would think even liberals would have issues with how this character is presented here.  The rest of the suspects are better developed than he is, fortunately, but they still feel like they could be more fleshed out.  Still, they are strong enough to pull me into the story.

There is a fabulous subplot involving three of the regular supporting characters attempting to get books published.  These characters always make me laugh, but they were in top form here.  I got quite a few laughs out of their antics.

This book came out in the mid-90’s.  The series is known for its references to other writers and their books.  There are lots of references to the classics, but it is fun to see references to then new books.  As I get further into the series, I’m sure I’ll start recognizing more and more of these, but there were some in this book I recognized.  There’s also discussion about those new cell phones.  It’s interesting to remember that, not that long ago, we didn’t have the technology we do now.

As I said at the beginning, I read this book via audiobook.  Kate Reading is once again the reader, and she does a great job as always.

Overall, Mint Julep Murder was another fun visit with Annie and Max.  There’s a reason this series was popular for so many years.

Check out the rest of the Death on Demand Mysteries.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Movie Review: Child's Play (1988)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great acting and effects bring a creepy story to life
Cons: Light on scares for a true horror fiend
The Bottom Line:
Meet the killer doll
Some scares but more mystery
Still entertaining

Low Key but Effective Late 80’s Slasher

At this point, I’ve seen all the entries in the main three slashers franchises of the 1980’s, but I had yet to really dip into the Child’s Play franchise.  I’ve heard that it gets extremely bizarre the further you go into it, but I at least wanted to watch Child’s Play, the original from 1988, so when I spotted it on TV, I gave it a try.

The movie introduces us to Charles Lee Ray, a killer, who is about to die after a shootout with police.  He’s taken refuge in a toy store, and as he is dying, he invokes an incantation that transfers his soul into something else – one of the Good Guy dolls in the store.

At this point, we meet single mother Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) who is doing her best to raise her six-year-old son, Andy (Alex Vincent).  Andy is a fan of the Good Guy cartoons and really wants a doll for his birthday.  When Karen gets a deal on one that is too good to pass up, she snags it.

It’s obvious where this is going, and the movie doesn’t really waste much time going there.  Yes, this doll, who says his name is Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif), is the one with the killer’s soul in it.  Can Andy get anyone to believe him?

I thought the movie did a good job of telling us an origin story without slowing the pace down at all.  I’m sure the marketing made it obvious what was going on back in the day, but at this point, we all know what Chucky is and have a good idea what is going to happen.  The movie doesn’t skip any plot points, but it doesn’t belabor them, either.  The result is a story that moves along well and engaged me in the action despite the predictable plot.

One thing that really helps is that the cast is fantastic.  Slashers have an often well-deserved reputation for being filled with actors who aren’t as strong as they could be.  That’s not the case here.  Catherine Hicks is fantastic as the lead.  Chris Sarandon plays the detective involved in the story, so between the two, you have adults who can make their characters and their reactions believable as the action unfolds.  They perfectly cast Alex Vincent as well.  He’s young, but he makes Andy come to life wonderfully.  The same holds true for the rest of the cast.  I’m sure it helps that the majority of the cast are adults playing adults instead of the typical teen cast.

Those looking for a high body count slasher will be disappointed.  This one does have a few good scenes of suspense, but it plays out a bit more like a mystery than a slasher, which is fine by me.  Maybe that’s one reason I enjoyed it.  I can see complaints that this isn’t super scary for a horror film, and I can’t argue with it.  What’s here works, but don’t sit down expecting a super intense jump-fest and you’ll be fine.

And how effective is Chucky at being creepy?  Very.  It may seem ridiculous that this oversized doll would be able to kill adults, but they make it work.  And the puppetry involved in bringing him to life is very effect, even all these years later.

Having said that, this movie does have late 80’s vibes, from the fashions and hair to the soundtrack, some of the editing, and special effects.  I got over that in a few minutes and found that to be part of the movie’s charm.

This is an R rated film, so keep that in mind if you choose to watch it.  Since I watched it on TV, some of that content was cut down, which I appreciated.

Child’s Play is a little dated and a little light on true scares, but it still works and it’s still an entertaining movie.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Book Review: Barbecue Can Be Deadly by Ryan Rivers (Bucket List Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and laughs
Cons: Pacing in the first half could be better
The Bottom Line:
Competition death
Mystery filled with great laughs
Characters I love

Brisket and Deadly Tension

Last year, I fell in love with the characters in Ryan Rivers’s Bucket List Mysteries. I hadn’t realized just how much until I sat down to start Barbecue Can Be Deadly, the newest entry in the series. 

If you’ve missed it, the series stars Sho Tanaka, an ICU nurse on extended leave after he develops a prescription drug addiction. Needing to get away, he heads to Bluebonnet Hills, Texas, to visit his sister, Jenny, who has just opened a cafe in the area. There he meets former child star Levi Blue, best known for his work on Tween of the Crime. Together, the two seem to find themselves getting involved in murder investigations. 

This book finds them getting involved with a local barbecue competition when Jenny decides to enter. Sho immediately notices all the tension between the other professional contestants. But he isn’t prepared when he and Levi stumble over a dead body. With the evidence pointing to Jenny, Sho is quick to jump into the investigation. Who is cooking up more than barbecue?

As I said at the start, I hadn’t realized just how much I was looking forward to reading this book until I sat down to start it and got a big smile on my face before I even got to page one. That’s how much I have truly come to love these characters and their relationships. They can be over the top in a good way, but they are also grounded, and I love spending time around them. We spend a lot of time with the new characters in this book, and they are just as real by the end.

Quite often when I start a book, I have a pretty good idea who the victim will be fairly quickly. With this book, I could have seen the victim being one of several people in the first couple of chapters. I loved that. I did find the pace a little uneven, with the murder happening a little later than it should have. A few minor things seemed a bit overly complicated at the end, but the main mystery is wrapped up satisfactorily. 

I mentioned that Sho is fighting a prescription drug addiction earlier. In addition to that, Levi is worried about having inherited early onset dementia from his father. Both are handled well, and it really lets us get to know the characters better. 

But this is a comedic mystery. Honest! The author does a fantastic job of balancing the laughs with the more serious character elements. This book didn’t seem quite as funny as some of the other stories with the characters I’ve read, but I still got plenty of laughs along the way. 

I’ve got to admit, I’m already missing the characters. It’s going to be a long wait until the next book comes out. If you are looking for a fun mystery, be sure to check out Barbecue Can Be Deadly

NOTE: I received and ARC of this book. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Christmas #12 - Shoveling the Walk - 2023 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene of a winter activity
Cons: Nothing major
The Bottom Line:
Shoveling the snow
Overall, cute ornament
Cold activity

Home is Where You Shovel the Walk

Living in Southern California, there are some parts of winter that I (thankfully) don’t get to experience.  Like snow, and all the things that come with it.  One of the lesser pleasant winter chores is the subject of this year’s entry in Hallmark’s Cookie Cutter Christmas series – shoveling the walk.

Each ornament in this series featuring a wintry (if not Christmassy) activity in a related cookie cutter silver frame.  This year, the frame is shaped like a house, and you can easily see the eaves and chimney.  Inside, we see our mouse friend cleaning off the walkway to his front door after a recent snowfall.  He’s actually making good progress as we can see part of the path under his feet.  There’s some snow on his shovel, as he gets ready to throw another batch to the side.

As always, I love the sweet details in the ornament.  The bush beside his front door is a cupcake with lots of frosting on top.  The weather over his door looks like a bundt cake.  In fact, it looks like he’s living in a gingerbread house.  And his shovel?  It’s striped like a candy cane.

I thought about ending the series, depending on what I thought of this year’s piece.  I really do find this one cute.  It’s got those little details I love, and the scene and frame just work so well together.

The frame really is designed to look at a cookie cutter.  That includes a lip around the bottom of the ornament.  That means it doesn’t sit quite level if you set it out; it tips back slightly.  It’s still steady enough that you don’t have to worry about it falling over.  And it really doesn’t look that bad tipped back.

When you go to hang the ornament, you’ll find that it hangs perfectly flat.

On the back of the ornament, you’ll find the cookie cutter handle.  And, next to the handle (as always), is the series marker.

No matter how you feel about snow or shoveling snow, you’ll find 2023’s entry in the Cookie Cutter Christmas series to be cute.  I might not enjoy it as much if I had to shovel my walk, but, since I don’t, this is one I’m glad I added to my collection.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Cookie Cutter Christmas ornaments.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Book Review: A Parfait Crime by Maya Corrigan (Five-Ingredient Mysteries #9)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery with great nods to a classic
Cons: Ending, while logical, was a little weak for my tastes
The Bottom Line:
Involved with a play
Original star was killed
Strong story again

Val is Trapped in Another Mystery

When I heard the premise for A Parfait Crime, the ninth entry in the Five-Ingredient Mysteries, I knew we were in for a treat.  It had the potential to be fun, and author Maya Corrigan has proved she can pull of something like this before.  And I was right.

A brief introduction – the series features Val Deniston.  Val is a former cookbook publicist who has left her job and moved to a town on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.  She’s living with her grandfather, who has a recipe column in the local newspaper featuring recipes with five ingredients or less.  Val herself runs the café at the local health club and caters on the side.  The two have found themselves involved in quite a few mysteries over the last couple of years.

This one kicks off with Grandfather joining a local reader’s production of Agatha Christie’s classic play The Mousetrap.  The cast is just planning to read the play for the audience instead of doing a full production with a set and movement on stage.  However, a house fire kills the woman who was going to play the lead.  Even stranger, the firefighters find a dead body hidden in a freezer elsewhere in the house.  Val is drafted to fill the dead woman’s place in the play, and it gives Val and her grandfather perfect access to others who knew the victim.  What will the duo uncover?

A mystery around a production of The Mousetrap.  What could be better?  As I expected, the execution was wonderful, with some clever nods to the play over the course of the book.  Since I’ve seen the play multiple times over the years, I really got a kick out of seeing those Easter eggs worked into the story.

But, if you haven’t seen the play, don’t worry.  Anything you need to know is mentioned, so what happens in this book will still make sense to you.  And there are absolutely no spoilers for the play.  In fact, there is very little in the way of discussing the specifics of the play over the course of the book.  It’s actually very impressive how the author was able to pull this off.  But seriously, what are you waiting for?  The play is fantastic.  Go out and see it as soon as possible.

The plot of the book is good.  We have multiple suspects and plenty of clues and red herrings to keep me guessing about what was really going on.  While the series has gotten away from pointing out the five suspects and five correct clues that are layered into every book, I felt like we had more than enough of both to keep me engrossed.  I did feel the climax was a little abrupt.  I get what the author was going for, but it didn’t quite work for me.  But I’m a little picky when it comes to climaxes, so this is a personal preference.  The book did wind everything up successfully, and I felt like the identity of the killer was logical.

And I do love the characters.  Over the course of nine books, I’ve really come to care for them.  I appreciated the character development and the advancement in several relationships we got here.  The suspects were just as good, and made me question just what they were up to the more we got to know them.

As always, we get some five-ingredient recipes at the end of the book.  In fact, we get five of them, with a variety of offerings.  You’re sure to find something to enjoy after you’ve finished reading the book.

If you enjoy a well plotted mystery, you’ll be glad you picked up A Parfait Crime.  Fans of The Mousetrap will be even more entertained by this book.

Here are the rest of the Five-Ingredient Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Candy Review: Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Caramel Squares

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delicious combination of pumpkin spice and chocolate
Cons: Only if you don’t like pumpkin spice
The Bottom Line:
A seasonal treat
Pumpkin spice, chocolate – Yum!
Enjoy these squares this fall

A Seasonal Chocolate Treat to Get

When I was wandering the seasonal candy aisle at Wal-Mart recently, I stumbled on Ghirardelli’s Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Caramel Squares.  Being a lover of pumpkin spice, I had to try them.  I’m so glad I did.

If you are familiar with Ghirardelli’s chocolate squares, you’ll know exactly what you are getting here.  These are squares that are roughly an inch from side to side.  The outside is chocolate, in this case milk chocolate, and the middle has some kind of flavoring.  I’ve tried quite a few and enjoyed them, but the pumpkin spice was a new one to me.

As soon as you take one of out the wrapper, you can smell the pumpkin spice.  It is that strong.  It’s a little stronger than the caramel that is also there.  I can taste it, mostly as a pleasing after taste.  But when I’m eating one, I mostly taste the pumpkin spice and the chocolate.

And that is a delicious combination.  Not that I’m at all surprised.  I was immediately hooked as soon as I had my first one.  I’m been trying to slowly eat the package I bought to savor them, but it is hard.

Obviously, if you don’t like pumpkin spice (and I know there are people out there), you’ll want to avoid these.  Sadly, these are a seasonal variety.  But this is something more to look forward to in the fall.  And since I prefer summer to fall, I need all the excuses to look forward to fall that I can get.

I’m so glad I gave these Ghirardelli’s chocolates a try.  If you like pumpkin spice, you will be, too.

October 22nd's Sunday/Monday Post

Time for this week's 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 had my first physical therapy appointment for my shoulder this week.  The therapist was very encouraging.  He worked on it for a bit and sent me home with some new exercises to do.  I had already noticed a big improvement with the exercises I was doing, but after that appointment, I'm seeing even more of an improvement.  I'm really hopeful that I can avoid surgery for it.  As I've said, if I have to have surgery to fix it, then I want it.  But if I can avoid the surgery, then I want to do that.

Saturday, I went to a library in a city about half an hour from me for what they call a walking book club.  We walked for about 40 minutes and talked about books.  Books we've read recently.  Books we want to read soon.  That kind of thing.  It was fun.

After that, I headed down to Santa Monica.  I had one goal, to go to the beach.  I hadn't been down there in quite a while, and it was nice to just get away.  I sat and watched the waves.  I read.  I walked.  I read some more.

Joke of the Week:

I went to the butcher’s the other day, and I bet him fifty bucks that he couldn’t reach the meat on the top shelf.  He said, “No, the steaks are too high.”

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Candy Review: Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Caramel Squares
Monday - Book Review: A Parfait Crime by Maya Corrigan
Tuesday - Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Christmas #12
Wednesday - Book Review: Barbecue Can Be Deadly by Ryan Rivers
Thursday - Movie Review: Child's Play (1988)
Friday - Book Review: Mint Julep Murder by Carolyn Hart
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

I only have two books to tell you about this week.  I know!  I can't believe it either.

Up first is Spoon to be Dead by Dana Mentink.  My preorder arrived early since it isn't due out until October 31st.  This is the third is her Shake Shop Mysteries.  It's got a Christmas theme, so I will be holding the book until December.  I enjoyed the first two, so I'm really looking forward to it.

The other book is Irish Milkshake Murder, a novella anthology set around St. Patrick's Day.  This time, the stories are from Carlene O'Connor, Peggy Ehrhart, and Liz Ireland.  I'm reading it for Liz's story since I love her Mrs. Claus series.  It will be out right after Christmas, so I will be reading it in December as well.

What I'm Currently Reading:

As I type this, I am 25% into Cheap Thrills by Wendall Thomas.  This is the fourth in her Cyd Redondo Mysteries.  Actually, I'd say they are more capers than traditional mysteries.  Either way, I'm not complaining since I enjoy the series.  Cyd has just landed in Bali, where the majority of the book will take place, and I'm looking forward to the action picking up.  Based on how the chapter I just finished ended, I'm sure it's about to take off.

Have a good week!

Saturday, October 21, 2023

October 21st's Weekly TV Thoughts

Dancing with the Stars – I don’t remember Disney night coming so early in the previous seasons, but maybe I’m just forgetting.  I get why it was this week since this is the week of Disney’s actually 100th anniversary as a company.  And it was nice to see so many big classics back in the mix.  I get it, we’d get tired of seeing the same songs every year if they didn’t mix it up some, but these are classics for a reason.  As to the competition, I feel like we are setting those at the top now, and I don’t think things will really change.  It’s just a matter of how long the stars at the bottom will hang on before they get eliminated.

Press Your Luck – That was a crazy run there in the contest round.  I felt sorry for the third guy since he was pretty much irrelevant.  He would have had to get both of them to hit Whammys to have a chance to winning.  Somehow, I wasn’t surprised the guy went home from the bonus round without any additional money.  But it’s hard to complain after how well he did earlier.

Quantum Leap – I figured it wasn’t going to be aliens (not matter how much Ian hoped it would be), but I wasn’t sure what was going on at first.  I like how things were wrapped up.  I also like what they are doing with Ben.  That is definitely a realistic reaction for what he is going through.  It’s also what was needed for this leap.  I may not be a fan of the three year gap still, but I do like how they are handling things character wise.

Survivor – You can knock my over.  I just don’t get why Sean suddenly gave up like that.  I feel like he was in a good position.  I thought all the talk at tribal was just the normal talk leading up to a blindside and then he is asked to be voted out.  Which really confuses me since he doesn’t get to go home until the game is over either way, right?  Or has that changed somehow?  I truly do not get it.  And once again, the tribe was ready to vote out their strongest player because he may be a threat down the road.  I get that, but at least one person was saying what I’m always saying, to get down the road, you also need to avoid going to tribal in the early stages.

The Amazing Race – Not being a fish eater, I don’t know which part of the detour would have been worse.  Carrying those mattresses and going up the stairs would have been horrible.  Then, trying to match tiles in the middle of the heat.  I always hate it when a team goes from leading to elimination on a challenge like that, so I was rooting for that not to happen.  I am sorry for the team that lost, however.  They really tumbled.  At least he was the one doing the challenge.  I don’t know that he would have handled it as well as she did if things had been switched.

Loki – That was … interesting.  We’ve once again reached the part of a Disney+ show where we are expanding things just to fill some time.  This could have easily been at least 10 minutes shorter.  So much stuff that should have been shortened.  Where they left things is interesting, but it took too long to get there.

Buddy Games – That was disappointing.  I really liked the Derby Girls.  They were a fun, supportive team.  Really sorry to see them gone.

Lego Masters – Being the non-creative person that I am, I would have struggled with that challenge.  But as soon as the teams started to describe what they were building based on their sound, I couldn’t picture anything else.  They’ve got some very creative teams.  And the mother/son team that just lost the golden brick got it back again.  Not too surprised, but I do wonder if they will use it properly this time.  Wasn’t surprised that Tim and Tim left, but I am sorry to see them go.

The Challenge USA – I am so happy Chris won!  And that Bananas came in third.  His ego was driving me crazy.  As was Tori’s so the fact that she got eliminated early made me happy as well. 

Friday, October 20, 2023

Book Review: A Nutcracker Nightmare by Christina Romeril (Killer Chocolates #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Decent mystery, characters we like
Cons: Takes some work to get into the book
The Bottom Line:
Christmas reunion
Who finally took out bully?
Overcomes slow start

Class Bully Gets Murdered

Between chocolate and Christmas, I found the Killer Chocolate Mysteries hard to resist. I felt the first had some room to grow, so I went into A Nutcracker Nightmare, the second in the series, hoping things would have improved. Sadly, it was about the same. 

It’s been almost a year since we last checked in on twin sisters Hanna and Alex, co-owners of Mystery and Mayhem, a mystery bookstore and chocolate shop. That means December has rolled around again, and this year, Harrison High School is planning a reunion weekend for all of their alumni. While Hanna and Alex just moved to town a couple of years ago, they are still involved in helping with the activities. 

That means they have the displeasure of meeting Kyle, the star quarterback of his class and the class bully. Kyle takes an interest in Hanna and will not take no for an answer. The first night’s dinner dance ends when Alex find Kyle’s body. Unfortunately, the only fingerprint found on the nutcracker that was the murder weapon was Hanna’s. Surely, someone who knew Kyle longer had a better motive to kill him, right?

A big part of the problem for me was that the writing style keeps us at arm’s length from the events. The book is written in third person, and I do find those books a little harder to get into because I’m used to first person. So that much is on me.

It also made it hard to get to know the characters, especially the suspects. They are introduced fairly early, and then we don’t get much context for who they are again. I could have used some reminders on their connections, especially early on. By the end, I did have all of that straight in my mind.

There is a good mystery here, and the further I got into the book, the more I was hooked. There are some good twists and surprises on the way to the logical and suspenseful climax. 

And, as I got to know the main characters again, I remember how much I enjoyed their relationships. 

Hanna makes fancy chocolates for their store. That means we get a couple of recipes at the end of the book. The process is definitely more than I want to get involved with, but they sound delicious. 

When you pick up A Nutcracker Nightmare, be patient with it. It takes some work to get into the book, but the end result is worth it. 

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

TV Show Review: Ahsoka - Season 1

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Good acting, pacing, and visuals
Cons: Story stops with no resolution
The Bottom Line:
New Star Wars story
Meeting characters went well
But then it just stops

“We Almost Died.”  “Multiple Times.”  “Ah, Yes.  Standard Operating Procedure.”

There are a lot of Star Wars shows I haven’t watched.  As a result, I wasn’t familiar with the characters of Ahsoka until she popped up in an episode of The Book of Boba Fett.  Without any of that background, I jumped into the Disney+ series.  Despite not having the background on the character, I mostly enjoyed it until the final episode.

The series is set during the time period of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.  Ahsoka is a Jedi Knight who had apprenticed under Anakin Skywalker before he turned to the dark side.  As this story starts, Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) is searching for a hidden map.  She wants to find it since it could lead to the place where her friend Ezra has been stranded.  But it’s a race to find it since the map might also hold the key to finding where Grand Admiral Thrawn was banished.  That is, if rumors that he is still alive are to be believed.  Can she find the map?  Will it fall into the wrong hands?

I was actually excited that they were bring Thrawn into the shows since the few Star Wars novels I read revolved around him.  Granted, that was over twenty-five years ago, so I remember nothing about them, but I still found it very fun to have a character from the extended Star Wars universe pop up that I’d at least heard of.

Based on how some of the characters interacted, I’m guessing if I were more familiar with Ahsoka from her previous appearances, I’d probably know them.  Like her former apprentice Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) or Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).  I’m definitely interested in their backstory, but I don’t feel like I missed too much not knowing it going in.

I’ve complained in the past that many Disney+ series have pacing issues.  I sat down for this show prepared for that.  However, that wasn’t the case.  Each episode moved the story forward in some way.  We had action to keep us entertained, too.  I never felt like we were just marking time.

However, I’m still scratching my head over the point of the series.  As of my typing this, they haven’t announced a season two or how these events might play into some of the other Star Wars shows.  Given that, the eight episodes we have just…ended.  While they didn’t actually say it, you could definitely feel the “To be continued…” on the final scene.

And until we know more about what is to come for the threads introduced here, it’s extremely unsatisfying.  In fact, I’m wondering what the point of these eight episodes was.  While the episodes were entertaining, what we had wasn’t a story.  It was a set up for something that ended extremely abruptly.  The writers blew it.

Which is a shame since I enjoyed the acting.  Everyone brought their characters to life perfectly.  In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, I have to give a shout out to David Tennant who voiced Ahsoka’s droid Huyang.

And the show looked spectacular.  The visuals were fantastic, which is something the Star Wars shows seem to have going for them.

I’ll reserve the right to revise my opinion of Ahsoka’s first season if we ever get more of the story.  For now, know that it will leave you hanging, and therefore, unsatisfied story wise.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Book Review: Murder by the Seashore by Samara Yew (California Bookshop Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery, delightful characters and setting
Cons: Plot, while good, is more event driven than I prefer
The Bottom Line:
Customer murdered
Why is Scarlett a suspect?
Enjoyed this debut

Murder Under the Pier

Despite the fact that my bookshelves are overloaded with books I haven’t read yet, I can’t help but look at upcoming first in series for new series I might enjoy.  While I was doing that, Murder by the Seashore caught my eye.  A cozy mystery set in a beach side bookstore in Oceanside in Southern California.  Could this have been targeted any more for me?  I had to give the book a try, and I’m glad I did.

Scarlett Garner has recently opened Palm Trees and Page Turners bookstore on the beach in Oceanside.  While a bad breakup with her boyfriend has put a damper on it, she is loving her new store and her new life living by the ocean.  Since it is May, she is looking forward to the influx of tourists that will be coming to town over the summer.

When she arrives early to work one Monday morning, she decides to walk down to the town’s pier and back before she has to open the store.  However, when she gets to the pier, she finds a dead woman.  Scarlett recognizes her as the last customer of the day the day before, but she doesn’t even know the woman’s name.  After she gives her statement to the police, she assumes that her involvement is done.

But the next day, Scarlett gets the surprise of her life – a surprise that makes her the prime suspect in the case.  Can she prove her innocence?

I felt right at home within just a few pages.  Scarlett is an appealing protagonist, and I immediately liked the supporting cast as well.  These are characters I already know I want to read about for a long time to come.  I’m sure we’d become friends if they were real and I could meet them.  (Stupid reality!)

The mystery could be a little stronger for my tastes.  Don’t get me wrong there is a lot happening, and I quite often found myself reading more than I should have.  I just felt like this was a book more driven by events than investigating.  Ideally, I prefer a book that is driven by both.  As I said, this is a matter of taste.  I was absolutely hooked.  While I did figure out the solution before I reached the end, it was only a couple of chapters early, and I was proud of myself.  The suspects are strong and kept me guessing most of the way.

Oceanside is located just south of Camp Pendleton, a Marine base where I did mud runs ten years in a row (and hope to get back to do one again at some point in the future).  It’s always more fun to read about a setting I know, even if I don’t know it well.  In this case, I do know exactly where the police department is, so it was always fun when a scene was set there.  (The Pit Stop Diner, which I love, is right next to the police department.  That’s why I know.  Honest!)  I really want to explore the real town a bit more now to see how fictional or how real the setting is.

Murder by the Seashore is a delightful debut.  I will definitely be back to find out what kind of trouble Scarlett can get into next.  If you are looking for a fun new series, pick this one up and get in at the very beginning.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book


I’m reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  Please visit the other stops and enter the tour wide giveaway below.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Movie Review: Fatal Vows - A Curious Caterer Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery sprinkled with laughs
Cons: These are based on books?
The Bottom Line:
Wedding disaster
Tom in the hot seat this time
Overall, it’s fun

“Welcome to the Club.  Everyone in Elk Park Has Been a Suspect in Murder in the Last Year.”

Hallmark is about to switch over to Christmas movies for the rest of the year, but before they do that, we got one last mystery movie – Fatal Vows.  This is the third in their Curious Caterer series based extremely loosely on the Goldy Bear Mysteries from Diane Mott Davidson.  As usual for these movies, I enjoyed it.

This movie finds Goldy Berry (Nikki Deloach) (yes, they changed her last name for the movies) catering the social event of the season in Elk Park – the wedding of Jessamyn and Sterling (Amanda Khan and Kareem Malcolm).  Jessamyn happens to be the ex-wife of Detective Tom Schultz (Andrew W. Walker), Goldy’s love interest.

But the fireworks happening at the rehearsal dinner have nothing to do with any exes.  There seems to be bad blood among several people at the dinner, and that is before Sterling gets drunk.  Everyone manages to get through the event, but the next morning, Sterling is found dead in the hotel lobby and Jessamyn is missing.  The police think Tom was involved, so he and Goldy team up to prove his innocence.  Can they do it?

I only read the first book in the series, and that was over 15 years ago, so I know very little about the books, but I know enough to know that pretty much they’ve borrowed a few character names, and that’s it.  Nothing else is the same.  Case in point?  This movie is supposed to be based on The Last Suppers, the fourth in the series, but in the book, Goldy and Tom are getting married, and Tom is the one who goes missing.  Yeah, nothing alike at all, are they?

But, since I haven’t read the books, I can sit back and enjoy this movie solely on its own merits.  And I did enjoy it.  I find missing person cases pull me in since there’s added suspense, so I was anxious to find out if they’d find Jessamyn or not.  Meanwhile, we have several strong suspects that kept me guessing.

I was surprised to find more humor than I remembered from the first two movies.  The detective brought in to replace Tom because of the conflict of interest (even before Tom becomes a suspect) provides some laughs, as does the rookie detective.  Meanwhile, we get some great scenes between Goldy and Tom.

In fact, we get to see lots of them together since they are working together to solve the case this time.  I really enjoyed that.  They make a great pair.

The cast is all great here.  I didn’t find nearly the notes of low budget cheese I often see in Hallmark movies, which I appreciated.

I know fans of the novels are disappointed with these movies.  And, as a huge reader, I get the frustrations.  But, if you are coming to these movies without any preconceived ideas of what they should look like, you’ll enjoy Fatal Vows.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Book Review: Mistletoe and Murder by Connie Berry (Kate Hamilton Mysteries #4.5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and great updates on characters we love
Cons: A couple of very small things, but nothing major
The Bottom Line:
A Christmas wedding
Can Kate solve mystery first?
Ebook fans will love

Christmas Wedding Faces Criminal Complications

I’ve fallen in love with Connie Berry’s Kate Hamilton Mysteries, so I wasn’t about to miss the ebook only Christmas novella released this year.  Mistletoe and Murder might be shorter than a full-length novel, but it is a fantastic visit fans will love.

It’s five days before Kate Hamilton and her fiancé, Detective Inspector Tom Mallory, are getting married on Christmas Eve in the small English village that Kate has started to consider home.  She is feeling that everything is in hand until family and friends coming from the states start experiencing travel delays and a case Tom is working on starts to heat up.

Then there’s Sheila Parker.  Kate and Tom had met her months before when she was peripherally involved in a case that Kate had gotten involved in.  Now, Sheila is coming to see Kate to get an appraisal on some coins she is looking to sell.  While these coins don’t look to be that valuable, she spins a tale of a coin handed down in the family that might be extremely valuable.

That night, Sheila’s house is searched by someone unknown.  Then, the next day, she disappears.  Kate can’t help but worry that someone was after the coins thinking they might be valuable.  Or maybe they were after the heirloom.  Either way, can Kate and Tom find her in time to walk down the aisle?

Yes, I am wondering exactly why something we’ve been waiting for, Kate and Tom’s wedding, is featured in a between the novels novella.  However, that is a small issue for me.

As you can see, there is lots going on here.  And, yes, it does feel natural that Kate keeps digging into what happened to Sheila instead of focusing on her wedding.  Part of that is because Kate cares about others, something I admire.  I find that missing person stories pull me in more than a typical murder mystery, so I was very glad this wasn’t a full-length novel.  The suspense was killing me as it was.  I did figure a twist or two out before Kate and Tom did, but there was plenty I didn’t see coming before the suspenseful climax.

This book features quite a few characters we’ve met before over the course of the series, and I was thrilled to see them again.  We also get to meet some new ones, and I like them as well.  There are some references and developments in on going storylines as well, so series fans will be happy with these updates.

Plus the ending sets up the next book, coming in 2024.  I already can’t wait to see what happens there.

While the book is set in the week before Christmas, this isn’t a Christmas heavy book.  There is so much else going on, we don’t have time for that.  Then again, we have already had a book set at Christmas in the area, so that’s not a huge loss.  And it’s a very minor complaint.

Fans will be delighted with the story we get in Mistletoe and Murder.  I know I was.  If you haven’t started the series yet, I don’t know that I’d recommend you jump in here just because there is so much that won’t mean as much to you.  But I definitely recommend you start this series soon.

Enjoy the rest of the Kate Hamilton Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of the book.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Book Review: Bruce Wayne - Not Super by Stuart Gibbs with art by Berat Pekmezci

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs in this alternative Batman tale 
Cons: Too super for cons
The Bottom Line:
New take on Batman
Filled with plenty of great laughs
A quick yet fun read

Fun Middle School Origin Story

I’ve not read many graphic novels, but, being a fan of Stuart Gibbs, his Bruce Wayne: Not Super caught my eye. It helped that a friend also worked on the book, so I had to give it a try. I’m so glad I did. 

Bruce Wayne stands out at his middle school, Gotham Preparatory School for the Really, Really Gifted. No, not because of the wealth he’s inherited from him parents but because he’s the only one without any powers. But when he sees a student bullying another kid, he decides he has to do something. Will he come up with a plan?

Yes, this is a Batman origin story. Not being super familiar with the comic books, I’m not sure how this compares to anything else, although I suspect it was fairly original. But I don’t care. I was having fun with the story. Yes, I figured where it was going, but there were still plenty of great details and surprises along the way. 

And lots of laughs. That’s no surprise since Stuart Gibbs always makes me laugh.

I have to give full props to Berat Pekmezci, the artist. Some of the best jokes come from the visuals, so be sure to take the time to appreciate them. 

One area where I know this book takes license with comic lore is that all the other students at the school are future superheroes and villains. I recognized most of them, and I got a kick out of seeing how they were portrayed. The main characters are all from Batman, although I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the others have larger parts if there are future releases. 

This is a fun take on young Batman. If you want a twist on this familiar character, be sure to pick up Bruce Wayne: Not Super

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.