Thursday, November 30, 2023

November 2023's Reading Summary

Time to wrap up another month.  Between Thanksgiving and fiscal year end at work, I didn't get to update the index.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).  The links will take you to my full review.


Tulle Death Do Us Part by Diane Vallere (Material Witness Mysteries #4) – 5

Poly Monroe has been asked to close her fabric shop, Material Girl, for a private customer.  It makes sense when she realizes that the customer is Beatriz Rosen, a famous ballerina trying to hide from the paparazzi, and she is looking for material for her wedding dress.  Even with all the secrecy, a man shows up and picks a fight with Beatriz.  That evening, Poly witnesses the two of them fighting on the street.  A little while later, Poly finds the man dead.  It’s only then she learns her connection to the wedding.  Suddenly, Poly wants to figure out what is going on.  Can she do it?

It's been seven years since we last visited these characters, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed them until I was reading this book.  Yes, there is plenty of context given so if you are new to the series or haven’t read them recently, you’ll be in Poly’s world in no time.  While I was happy to see the characters again, I really appreciated the growth that came out of the story.  The mystery unfolds a little differently than a typical cozy, but that’s not a complaint since I was hooked the entire way through.  There were a couple of small timeline issues, although they were minor overall.  The worst made me chuckle.  There’s a fun shout out to one of the author’s other series in the pages.  Old fans will be happy to be back in Poly’s world, and new fans will be quickly hooked.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Calico by Lee Goldberg – 3

After a scandal forces her from the LAPD, Beth McDade lands a job as a detective in Barstow, California.  Nothing much happens in this middle of nowhere location until one night when a motorhome hits a vagrant.  It appears to be a tragic accident, only no one knows who the vagrant is.  And the autopsy turns up some surprising things.  Can Beth figure out what is going on?

Since I normally enjoy Lee Goldberg’s books, I picked this one up without paying much attention to anything about it.  As a result, I wasn’t aware it was a blend of Police Procedural, Science Fiction, and Western.  It was initially shocking when I realized where the book was going, but then I got caught up in the story, which unfolds in the present and the past.  It helped that I grew to enjoy the characters, although the raw nature of the first chapter made it a little hard for me.  This book definitely has more content than the cozies I typically read.  However, the book tried to do too much.  There’s a subplot that really doesn’t go anywhere, and some of the story set in the past gets summarized for us.  Meanwhile, the last couple of chapters have a bit too much exposition for me.  I appreciate the attempt to do something different, but the execution could have been better.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Proof of the Pudding by Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness Mysteries #17) – 4

Lady Georgie has hired a new chef from France, and he is a hit in the community.  In fact, Georgie’s neighbor, Sir Mortimer Mordred, has hired him to provide the dinner at the end of the open house he is hosting to show off his poison garden.  The next morning, a few of the guests are sick, and one dies.  Could Georgie’s chef be a poisoner?

As is usual for this series, the book takes a while to set the story in motion, but once it does, I was hooked.  Georgie gets a fun new sleuthing partner that I loved.  The climax, while a little unconventional, works well for this book and answers all of our questions.  It was great to see the series regulars again and see them continue to grow.  Meanwhile, the new characters are great.  We get some funny scenes and reminders of what was going on in Europe in the 1930’s.  While the two are very different in tone, they are balanced perfect.  I enjoyed this latest entry in the series, and fans will as well.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Final Cut by Marjorie McCown (Hollywood Mysteries #1) – 3

Costumer Joey Jessop is happy to be working on the latest big budget superhero movie.  However, the first day gets off to a rocky start with the director showing how horrible he can be, an electrical accident, and then a murder.  Joey is the person to find the victim, the second assistant director, who just happens to be dating Joey’s ex.  With Joey a person of interest, can she figure out what really happened?

Since I love the entertainment industry, this book immediately caught my attention.  We get behind the scenes information, sometimes a bit too much, but I did love the Southern California and entertainment settings overall.  The plot needed more focus, with the story being driven more by events than Joey’s investigation, which lead us to a climax that was weak on one hand and suspenseful on the other.  Several aspects of the plot don’t really get resolved.  There is a strong Me Too storyline, and I appreciated that it focused on Joey and her response to it all.  Joey and several of main characters came to life for me, and I did like spending time with them.  In the end, this one was a mixed bag for me.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Case of the Bleus by Korina Moss (Cheese Shop Mysteries #4) – 5

The Northwest Cheese Invitational has come to Yarrow Glen, and with it, some of Willa Bauer’s coworkers from her previous job.  She’s thrilled to show off her new cheese shop to them, but they are focused on the upcoming reading of the will of their boss, Max.  Max not only ran a cheese shop in Oregon, but he had developed an award-winning blue cheese.  When one of Willa’s former co-workers is killed, Willa wonders if the secret of the blue cheese was the motive.  Can she solve the murder and figure out where the cheese is?

Obviously, there is a lot going on here, and the two storylines weave around each other wonderfully.  I kept turning pages as quickly as I could to find out what was going to happen next.  The climax could have been a little stronger, but my questions were all answered.  It was wonderful to see the characters again.  I love the community that is building around Willa.  We get some updates in ongoing storylines, but if you jumped in here, you wouldn’t be confused.  And you’ll be happy to satisfy your cheese cravings with the three recipes at the end of the book.  The only reason I’m blue is that I have to wait for the next book in the series now.


The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman (Leaphorn and Chee #1) – 4

Anthropology professor Bergen McKee is going to spend the summer on the Navajo Reservation working on his book on witches in the Navajo culture.  That means reconnecting with his college friend Joe Leaphorn, who is a Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant.  Leaphorn is trying to track down a young man who is hiding on the reservation, and he uses taking McKee around to try to learn the man’s location.  Then the young man turns up dead miles from here Leaphorn thought he was.  Meanwhile, McKee finds danger he never imagined while conducting his research.  Is everything connected?

I’d been interested in starting this series for a while, and I’m glad I finally did.  It took a bit to get fully immersed in the book, especially since it didn’t unfold like I thought it would.  McKee is more of the main character and the better developed of the two, although I did like Leaphorn and want to learn more about him.  The plot also seemed a little disjointed at first, although it came into focus before too much time had passed.  Once I did get invested, I was truly hooked with plenty of suspense to keep me interested.  I enjoyed learning a bit more about Navajo culture.  While definitely a cross between a police procedural and a thriller, it still doesn’t have much of the content I would associate with the genres.  The book came out in 1970, so keep that in mind when you go to start it.  I’m glad I finally started the series, and I’m looking forward to getting to know Leaphorn better as the series goes along.


Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge (An American in Paris Mystery #1) – 4

Tabitha Knight has decided to live with her grandfather in 1949 Paris as she tries to decide what to do with her life after the end of the war.  One of her new neighbors is Julia Child, and the two quickly become friends.  After a party at Julia’s apartment one night, one of the guests is killed with Julia’s chef’s knife.  Naturally, the police think she did it, but Tabitha knows it had to be someone else at the party.  Can she prove it?

While I know little about Julia Child, I did feel what we saw here rang true to her personality.  But she is just one of many enchanting characters we meet here, and I can’t wait to see them again.  The suspects were strong, and the mystery kept me guessing.  I thought I’d picked up on a clue early on, but it turned out to be a red herring that got me.  I did feel one aspect of the plot was left up in the air, but the rest was explained to my satisfaction.  While there are no recipes in this book, there is tons of talk about food.  You’ll definitely be hungry when you read.  I’m glad I finally read a book by this author, and I’ll be looking for more.


Dead Man's Hand by Penny Warner (Connor Westphal #7) – 4

The cold, snowy weather that Flat Skunk, California is having this January doesn’t hide a dead body, especially since the body is found hanging in front of one of the stores in town. While it would be easy to rule it an obvious suicide, the sheriff finds evidence that leads him to believe it is murder. Naturally, Connor Westphal sees the chance to get a big news story for her paper, but she can’t get a handle on the story. What is the meaning of the chip from the nearby Indian casino found in the victim’s hand? Or does the victim’s drug dealing have anything to do with his death?

This book didn't have quite the feel of the other books in the series, and some of the regulars were absent or weren't around much.  Having said that, I did still enjoy seeing Connor one last time.  She makes an interesting and strong main character.  I also enjoyed getting to see more of her service dog.  The plot was strong and I didn't see the ending coming at all.  I enjoyed seeing how things had changed for deaf people even in the short time between when the series started and this book, which came out in 2007.  There is much more foul language than is typical for a cozy.  This is the final book in the series, and I really liked where Connor wound up.  I'm sure that other fans of the series will be happy as well.


Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh! by Mo Willems – 4

Santa needs to go wrap a few presents, but he leaves us with one request.  You guessed it, don’t let the Pigeon drive the sleigh.  And as soon as Santa leaves, Pigeon shows up trying to wheedle his way into driving the sleigh.  Will he get his wish?  Or will reality be different than his dreams?

Those familiar with Pigeon will love this Christmas entry in the series.  It felt a little too familiar at times, but it was still fun overall.  If you aren’t familiar with these books, the dialogue to us and stylized pictures will take a bit to get used to, but once you do, you’ll find the fun.  I once again love that Pigeon sees his wish isn’t all he thought it might be, but this lesson is filled with humor.  I can see this becoming a Christmas hit that is possibly requested year-round.


Over My Dead Blog by Sarah E. Burr (Book Blogger Mysteries #1) – 5

Winnie Lark has moved to the other side of the country from her family and found a new life she loves in Copper Bay, Massachusetts, while she runs a hugely successful book blog.  When her twin brother, famous actor Strider Lark, comes for a visit, Winnie is nervous since their relationship has been strained in the last few years.  But she doesn’t expect him to be suspected of murder after just one night in town.  A local reporter has been killed, and Strider was the last one to see her alive.  Can Winnie clear him of the crime?

As a book blogger, the hook for this cozy series immediately caught my attention.  I’m glad it did since I enjoyed the book.  Winnie and Strider’s relationship is a strong element to the book, and I appreciated that the author made it complex.  Winnie takes a little while to get a line on what is happening with the murder (she is an amateur, after all), but once she does, she then worries about proving her case, a nice change from many cozies.  I loved the characters we met, especially Winnie’s relationship with her two best friends.  I can’t wait to spend more time with all of the characters.  I also smiled at Winnie’s cute, cozy swears.  There’s a fall vibe to the October set story.  This book blogger can’t help but recommend this fun debut.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


The Body in the Cornfield by Catherine Dilts (Rose Creek Mysteries #2) – 4

Drew Brauner has taken a part time job working for the historic Rose Creek outdoor amphitheater helping with their upcoming live streamed production of Oklahoma!  However, the lead actor is causing problems, not the least of which is the fact that he always shows up for rehearsals drunk.  However, when Drew’s friend Makenzie Selkirk goes to learn more about a windmill being set up on a nearby farm, she finds the body of the actor in the cornfield.  Soon, the other members of their new book club are drawn into the case.  Will they figure out what happened?

I loved the first book in the series and couldn’t wait to dive into this one.  I missed the group scenes and the scenes building the friendships between the four leads.  However, I did love spending time with all of them again and watching the characters grow.  Each of them contributes something to the case, and I appreciate how the author balances the four lead characters.  That also includes giving them various motives to investigate the case.  We have plenty of suspects but not very many clues, yet the story never drags.  I did find the climax a little weak, but it did answer all our questions.  Overall, I did enjoy this book, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with the characters.  If you are looking for a series with a strong group of main characters, this is one to check out.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Book Review: The Body in the Cornfield by Catherine Dilts (Rose Creek Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters I already love and a good mystery
Cons: Climax a little weak, wanted to see more of the characters together
The Bottom Line:
Actor dead in field
Not quite as many group scenes
But still a fun book

Actor Dead in an Oklahoma Cornfield

I fell in love with the characters when I was reading the first book in the Rose Creek Mysteries from Catherine Dilts, and I couldn’t wait to see them again.  As a result, I was excited when I picked up The Body in the Cornfield, the second book in the series.

The first book took us to a small town in Oklahoma and introduced us to the four women who met when they went to create a new book club but stumbled over a dead body.  They bonded during the investigation, and now they are about to take on their second case.

Drew Brauner had thought her new job at the historic Rose Creek outdoor amphitheater would be a dream come true, especially since they are planning on doing a one night only live streamed production of the musical Oklahoma!  While a few local actors are in the production, there are several famous actors in the mix to help draw an audience.  Unfortunately, the actor who is playing the lead constantly shows up drunk, making rehearsals difficult at best.

Meanwhile, chemist Makenzie Selkirk is trying to learn more about the windmill going up on a local farm when she stumbles over a dead body.  Yes, the lead actor in Drew’s production.  With the case potentially impacting other members of the book club, Drew, Makenzie, and the others once again pitch in to help gather some clues.  Can they figure out what is going on?

One of the things I loved about the first book was meeting these four women and watching their fledgling friendships get started.  While all four of them investigated on their own or in pairs, we got lots of scenes with the four of them together.  That dynamic was missing here.  Yes, all four of them are important characters, and they also all have their ongoing storylines, but I wanted to see more of the community aspect I’d enjoyed in the first book.

Again, that doesn’t mean we are short changed on the characters.  All four of them grow again here as we get to know them better.  I’m still wondering where some of their stories are going to wind up, and we got some great complications in their personal lives here.

And the mystery was sharp.  We have plenty of suspects but not a ton of clues.  Often, I find that frustrating, but that wasn’t the case here.  There was plenty going on to keep me engaged, and I did feel like the investigation was moving forward.  The climax was a little weak for my tastes, but everything did made sense when I turned the last page.

So many cozies focus on one lead character.  I enjoy the fact that this one features a team working together to solve the mystery.  It adds a balancing act, and author Catherine Dilts pulls it off well.  I was also impressed that she was able to spread out motives to investigate to the group.

Overall, I did enjoy The Body in the Cornfield.  I will be back to see what happens to these characters next.  If you are looking for a cozy with a strong group of lead characters, you’ll want to pick up this book.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Movie Review: Scrooged

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Much of the cast is great
Cons: The over-the-top acting leaves the jokes flat
The Bottom Line:
Reworking classic
A modern Christmas Carol
For me, it falls flat

Way Too Over the Top

Since I love A Christmas Carol, I’ve always thought about watching Scrooged.  I saw a clip at one point that led me to believe I wouldn’t enjoy it, but I was still curious.  When it was on TV last year, I finally gave in and recorded it.  Yep, I didn’t enjoy it.

The movie follows Frank Cross (Bill Murray), who is the executive at the IBN Network.  He’s currently working on promoting their Christmas programming, which includes a live version of Scrooge.  But Frank has more in common with Scrooge than he’d be willing to admit, and when the ghost of his former boss and best friend (John Forsythe) shows up to try to warn him, he doesn’t take it seriously.  Until other ghosts start showing up.

I get the idea behind it.  I truly do.  It was supposed to be a funny spoof on the Christmas classic.  However, it doesn’t work.  And there’s a simple reason why, Bill Murray is ramped up to an 11 the entire way through the film.  His behavior is so over the top that it isn’t funny.  It isn’t annoying either.  You can’t look away from it, but you also aren’t enjoying it.  He’s not the only one.  The ghosts are just as over the top.  I get what the jokes are supposed to be, but they really aren’t funny.

In between the appearances of the ghosts, we see Frank going about his day.  His disappearances and reappearances are clever, but the result of this is that the scenes with the ghosts are short changed.  Since that’s the emotional heart of the story, it robs the movie of any of that.  Frank’s change at the end feels like a change because the story dictates it rather than a change because of anything he’s seen and learned.

For those familiar with the original story, there are some nice nods to it.  Yes, they changed quite a few things, but those nods were fun, and I appreciated them.

Not all the actors were over the top.  Those who were trying to play things straight were good, and I enjoyed watching them.

This is definitely a case of, I see the jokes, but the jokes don’t work the way they are supposed to.  If you want to watch a comedic take on the story that works, I can’t recommend Muppet Christmas Carol enough.  But I don’t recommend you watch Scrooged.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Book Review: Over My Dead Blog by Sarah E. Burr (Book Blogger Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Engaging story and wonderful characters
Cons: Nothing major
The Bottom Line:
Visiting brother
Winnie finds her first murder
Happy to meet her

Debut I Had to Read.  And I’m Glad I Did

I’m always on the lookout for new cozy series with a hook that appeals to me.  Having been a book blogger for over 10 years now (and a hobby online reviewer for over a decade before that), I was immediately drawn to Sarah E. Burr’s Book Blogger Mysteries.  I quickly made room in my reading schedule for Over My Dead Blog, the first in the series, and I’m glad I did.

This book introduces us to Winnie Lark.  Several years ago, she moved across the country, settling into the small coastal town of Copper Bay, Massachusetts, and anonymously started the extremely popular book blog What Spine is Yours.  Not even her family knows she is the person behind the blog, which is the way Winnie likes it.  She is an introvert who is happy to have escaped the limelight of her family’s many accomplishments.

The move has strained her relationships with her family, so she is both excited and nervous when her twin brother, popular actor Strider Lark, decides to come for a visit for two weeks before flying to Europe to shoot his next movie.  His first night out, they go to a popular restaurant, where he hits it off with Kelsey, a local reporter.  The next morning, Kelsey is found dead at the bottom of the cliff near Winnie’s home, and the police look at Strider as their prime suspect since he was the last one to see Kelsey alive.  Winnie has read plenty of mysteries.  Can she use those to help her solve this real-life case?

Winnie and Strider have lots of baggage in their relationship.  Normally, I’d be impatient as that strong sub-plot was introduced early instead of the book focusing on setting up the mystery.  Here, I didn’t mind in the slightest.  In fact, I found the scenes between the two of them some of the strongest in the book.  I thing I especially liked was that both of them had made assumptions about the other and the other’s life that turned out to not be true.  It is nice to see a book that recognizes the complexity of a strained relationship and how all involved can be partially responsible without meaning to hurt anyone else.

But yes, this is a mystery, and the book doesn’t take too long before it kicks off.  Winnie does seem to struggle for a bit trying to get a handle on suspects or motive, but she is trying.  And she follows a logical path to reach the right conclusion.  I also appreciated that Winnie worked hard to figure out how to prove her case, not just blundering along and not worrying about that aspect.

Winnie has made a couple of good friends since she moved, and I loved meeting them here and watching their friendship.  We meet some other characters along the way whom I look forward to seeing grow more as the series progresses.

Then there’s the book blogger aspect of the story.  While I can only dream of the success that Winnie has had, I did find it relatable.  If only I could pursue it full time like Winnie does.  Alas, that’s what fiction is for, right?  I can dream and ignore that my bills demand a day job.

I also must comment on the cute way that Winnie swears.  I think any book lover will be smiling at it like I was.  And yes, it is completely cozy.

This book takes place during October with the town getting ready for a harvest festival.  If you want to hang on to some fall vibes, this is a great book to pick up.

But no matter what time of the year you pick up Over My Dead Blog, you’ll be glad you did.  This book blogger recommends this delightful debut.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Book Review: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh! by Mo Willems

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun Christmas entry for Pigeon
Cons: Feels a little recycled, but a minor complaint overall
The Bottom Line:
Wishing to drive sleigh
Pigeon gets a Christmas book
With holiday laughs

The Pigeon Gets a Christmas Book

Since I don’t have any young kids I am buying books for right now, I’m not paying too much attention to picture books.  But I did happen to see that Mo Willems released a new Pigeon book for Christmas this year, and I had to check out Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh!

If you aren’t familiar with Pigeon and his adventures, each book in the series finds Pigeon wanting something that he really shouldn’t have or be able to do.  Each story is presented through a series of stylized drawings and dialogue directly to us.  It’s a different approach, but it works well.

Santa needs to go wrap a few presents, but he leaves us with one request.  You guessed it, don’t let the Pigeon drive the sleigh.  And as soon as Santa leaves, Pigeon shows up trying to wheedle his way into driving the sleigh.  Will he get his wish?  Or will reality be different than his dreams?

If you are familiar with the Pigeon books, you know exactly what to expect here.  In fact, that was my only real complaint as I was reading it.  This felt very familiar to other books, especially Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  Yes, it’s got a holiday theme to his arguments, but I wished for a little more creativity.

However, that is a minor complaint over all.  I laughed at Pigeon’s antics and the illustrations within the book.  The target audience will be delighted to have a Christmas book with Pigeon, and I can see it being asked for year-round.

I also like the fact that, once again, Pigeon finds that his wish isn’t going to be as great as he thought it was.  It’s an important lesson for kids to learn and adults to remember.  But it is presented with humor so it never feels like a lecture.

If you need some holiday Pigeon in your life, you and your kids will be happy to add Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh! to your bookshelf.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

November 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

A very short list this week since I am visiting my family.  I'll catch up next week, or at least work on catching up.

Dancing with the Stars – I like Harry.  He seems nice.  But it was time for him to leave.  I feel a bit badly since he had a breakthrough week and got his best scores.  It was nice to see him make such a great leap forward on his way out the door, however.  You could see how shocked Alyson and Sasha were.  They clearly thought they were going home, which isn’t that surprising based on the past few weeks.

Wipeout – I cringed when we first saw the pastor’s kids.  And sure enough, I cringed any time they were on screen.  I thought the country guys would make the finals, but the rockers proved me wrong and did great.

Press Your Luck – TJ sure wasn’t having any luck.  The guy who won did.  Yes, he lost his prizes, but he still wound up with some money at the end of the bonus round.  I am impressed with how many of his prizes would have been for others.  I really wish he’d won them.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Ornament Review: Baker Mickey - All About Mickey #2 - 2023 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mickey as a baker is cute
Cons: Doesn’t stand well on his own
The Bottom Line:
Mickey has some treats
In cute second ornament
Disney fan series

Mickey Has Baked Us Some Delicious Looking Cookies

As much as I love Mickey, I’m still on the fence about collecting the All About Mickey ornament series from Hallmark.  I have so many ornaments I don’t put on my trees every year, so it’s just a matter of not needing any more ornaments, not how much I love Mickey.  But when I saw the theme for the second, I knew I had to buy Baker Mickey.

As a reminder, this series is about Mickey as a regular person, and it shows him enjoying life and hobbies much like the rest of us would.  And one thing that Mickey enjoys is baking.  He’s got a chef’s hat on his head and a white apron on over a light green shirt and blue pants.  He’s also wearing red oven gloves and holding a tray of delicious looking cookies on them.  Chocolate chip cookies, so you know they must be good.

As much as I love culinary cozy mysteries, I’m not much of a baker in real life.  Too many books to read.  But with a last name of Baker, I had to get this ornament.

Even if I didn’t have that connection, this would have been a hard ornament to not purchase.  I do love my sweets after all, and it’s a cute ornament.  Mickey might not be wearing his signature colors, but he still looks great.  And the cookies, while small, look delicious.  Plus, baked goods at Christmas are a great match.

This is the second ornament in the series, so you’ll find the series marker on Mickey’s foot.

Mickey almost stands on his own.  His feet are at such an angle that he really only stands on his right foot.  And he needs his tail to fully balance.  That always worries me since his tail is thin plastic that could easily break if you aren’t super careful.  And any little bump will make him fall over.

But Christmas ornaments are supposed to be hung, right?  There’s no issue there since Mickey is perfectly straight when you slip a hook through the loop on his head.

The cuteness factor makes me happy that I added Baker Mickey to my collection.  Any Disney fan will also like having it in their collection.

Be sure to check out the rest of the All About Mickey ornaments.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving!

For those of us in the US, today is Thanksgiving Day.  I'm busy celebrating it with my family, so no new review today.  If you are here in the states, I hope you have a great day with your family.

I am thankful for those of you who read my reviews on a regular basis.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Book Review: Dead Man's Hand by Penny Warner (Connor Westphal #7)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Connor and a good mystery
Cons: Missing a little charm of the earlier books
The Bottom Line:
The hanging body
Connor’s final mystery
Will leave fans happy

The Chip in the Dead Man’s Hand

The Connor Westphal Mysteries have been on my to be read like for decades while I read other books by the author. It feels good to finally be reaching the seventh and final in the series, Dead Man’s Hand

If you haven’t met Connor yet, she is the owner and reporter for the Eureka!, a weekly paper for the town of Flat Skunk, California in gold rush country. She also happens to be deaf. The books give an interesting look at life for a deaf woman living in a hearing world. 

This book finds the town in the middle of winter. The cold, snowy weather doesn’t hide a dead body, however, especially since it is found hanging in front of one of the stores in town. While it would be easy to rule it an obvious suicide, the sheriff finds evidence that leads him to believe it is murder. Naturally, Connor sees the chance to get a big news story for her paper, but she can’t get a handle on the story. What is the meaning of the chip from the nearby Indian casino found in the victim’s hand? Or does the victim’s drug dealing have anything to do with his death?

The book doesn’t waste much time before the body is discovered, and there is plenty to keep us guessing, including multiple motives. I didn’t guess who the killer was until the end, but things did make sense. 

I was a bit surprised that one of the series regulars wasn’t in this book, and a couple of the others weren’t around much. In fact, I felt like we were missing some of the sense of place we had in earlier books in the series.

But it was nice to spend time with Connor again. She’s a strong woman who handles her hearing loss well. It was interesting to see that her signal dog, Casper, was a stronger presence in this book. I liked seeing that dynamic, and it makes me wonder why she wasn’t as involved in the earlier books. 

The series started in the late 90’s, and I’d been thinking as I read those first books about how advances in technology would change Connor’s life for the better. We saw that with this book, which was originally published in 2007. It was nice to see early versions of cell phones coming into play here. Of course, through the magic of fiction, Connor and the others haven’t aged in real time while technology has advanced. 

I was also a bit surprised by one of the subplots. I had to go back and read the ending of the last book again. When I reread the ending, I could see it was a bit more open ended than I thought it was, but it wasn’t the impression I had when I read that book.

As always with this series, there is much more foul language than you’d expect in a cozy. Keep that in mind when you pick up the book.  

All told, this was a nice send off for Connor. Fans will be happy with where Dead Man’s Hand leaves her. 

Be sure to read the rest of the Connor Westphal Mysteries

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

TV Show Review: Loki - Season 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Satisfying resolution to a fun show
Cons: Still some pacing issues, but much less than season 1
The Bottom Line:
Continue story
A satisfying ending
Glad I watched season

“I Have No Memory of Having My Memory Wiped.”

I was less than impressed with the first season of Loki, mainly because of where the show left us.  Since this was the first (and so far only) of the MCU shows to earn a second season, I didn’t know to expect that they would be coming back to tell more of the story.  That’s why I decided to give the second season a try, and I’m glad I did, since I enjoyed it much more than the first.

This season picks up where the first season left off.  He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) has been killed.  While Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) is happy with the results, it’s Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who faces the consequences as he keeps popping in and out of various timelines.  Once he is able to stabilize himself, thanks to help from Mobius (Owen Wilson), they both learn that their problems are just beginning.  By allowing other timelines to grow, the machine at the heart of the TVA is now unstable.  Somehow, Loki has to convince Sylvie to join him in a hunt of a variant of He Who Remains to stop what they’ve started.  Will they save the universe as we know it?

If half of what I just posted makes no sense to you, that means you aren’t ready for season 2.  As much as I struggled with season 1, there is no way to enjoy season 2 without that part of the story.  Very little of what happens here has been brought up in the MCU elsewhere (at least so far), so you can’t possibly understand what is going on.

The good news is that, once you struggle through season 1, you’ll be rewarded here.  Yes, the show still has the pacing issues it did in season 1, although it’s not nearly as bad as it was then.  I can really only think of one episode that needed some editing, in my mind.  The rest keep the story moving forward.

Now, this isn’t to say that I always saw how the story was moving forward.  I was scratching my head with some of what they were doing, especially early in the season.  But it does all build somewhere if you are patient.

And what does it build to?  I’m not going to spoil anything, but I will say that I was very satisfied with how this season ended.  If the show ends here (and I kind of feel like it will), this is a great end to things.

The acting is always on point.  I especially enjoyed the interactions between Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston, and they shared a lot more screen time this season than the first season, which was a bonus.  Ke Huy Quan joined the cast this season (he’s everywhere now, isn’t he?), and I enjoyed his character, too.

The show looked great visually as well.  The special effects worked, and the practical sets were great to look at.  The sets are not usually something that stands out to me, but it did here, in a good way.

If, like me, you struggled with the first season of Loki, you’ll be much happier with season 2.  If you enjoyed the first, you’ll be very happy to see what happens next in this season.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Book Review: Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge (An American in Paris Mystery #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and great characters, including Julia Child
Cons: One aspect of plot a little unclear at the end
The Bottom Line:
Death after party
Julia is a suspect
In this fun debut

Chef’s Knife of Crime

I’ve collected several first in series from Colleen Cambridge since all her historical mysteries have sounded good to me.  I finally decided to dive in with Mastering the Art of French Murder, the first American in Paris Mystery.  I’m glad I picked it up.

This book is set in December 1949 and introduces us to Tabitha Knight.  She spent the war working in a factory, but now that the war is over, she’s found herself at loose ends.  So, she accepted an invitation to go live with her grandfather in Paris.  It just so happens that one of her neighbors is Julia Child, and the two have become close friends.

Julia’s younger sister, Dort, is also living with Julia and her husband.  Dort works at a local theater that puts on plays in English, and she often brings home members of the cast and crew for late night parties.  Tabitha is at one of them since Dort is trying to set her up with one of the crew.

But the next morning, Tabitha and Julia discover that one of the guests never made it home.  Instead, she’s been murdered in the building’s basement.  The murder weapon was Julia’s prized chef’s knife.  It quickly becomes obvious that one of the members of the party must be guilty, but the police think Julia might have had something to do with it.  Can Tabitha find the truth?

I will admit, I’m not extremely familiar with Julia Child except by reputation, meaning I’ve never watched her show or read any of her cookbooks.   Still, the Julia I met in this book felt like the Julia I was picturing in my mind from clips I have seen over the years.  Yes, she is a supporting character, but I really enjoyed it when she was on the page.

But she is just one of the cast of characters, and they are all great.  I really enjoyed Tabitha, and I feel like there is a lot to explore with her character in future books.  The other supporting players are fun, and the suspects kept me guessing.

In fact, I thought I had picked up on a subtle clue at one point.  I was so proud of myself only to discover at the end I’d fallen for a red herring.  Yes, this means the mystery was well done, with enough twists to keep me engaged until the ending.  I did feel like one aspect of the plot got lost in the climax, but it didn’t bother me too much.

There was some mild swearing in this book, which I wasn’t really expecting.  As long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.

As you’d expect in a book with Julia Child as a character there is lots of talk of food and scenes set in a kitchen going over the details of the case.  If you aren’t hungry when you pick up the book, you will be when you are done with it.  No, there aren’t any recipes at the end of the book, but it is definitely still a culinary mystery.

I will have to dig into the author’s other series soon.  But in the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next in this series, coming this spring.  Mastering the Art of French Murder is a fun debut that will keep you turning pages.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

November 19th's Sunday/Monday Post

Welcome to this week's Sunday/Monday Post, where I will be linking up to:

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

What was I up to this week?  What wasn't I up to this week?

Monday started with a physical therapy appointment.  I saw a different person this time.  She was encouraging with my progress, and gave me some new exercises to make even more progress.  I was very happy about that.

Thursday night, my small group through church met for dinner, which was nice.  The normal hosts hosted us, and grilled some burgers, which were delicious.  We got lucky since at one point they were predicting rain on Thursdays.  We got some rain on Wednesday, and not much else.  Even the rain they were predicting for Saturday fell through.

Friday night, I went to see Pod Meets World Live in downtown LA.  This podcast is a rewatch podcast where three of the stars of the 90's sitcom Boy Meets World go through the show.  I've been enjoying it.  I'd skipped out on two earlier chances to go in the area, but I decided to go to this one.  The actor who played Mr. Feeney was there as well.  Plus, as special guests, were the two hosts of How Rude Tanneritos, a rewatch podcast for Full House that I've also been enjoying.  I had a blast.  I think I was laughing almost the entire two hours.

Blog Spam Comments on the Week:

Yes, you read that right.  Comments.  I woke up Wednesday morning to three spam comments from two different accounts on one blog post.  The two from the same account were identical, but these other two were nearly so.  They were so close, I had to laugh.  And then save them to share.

Here's the first:

Brilliantly presented! Your post is both insightful and thought-provoking. Appreciate you sharing your valuable perspective.

And the second:

Thank you for the interesting and thought-provoking perspectives presented in your blog posts.

I mean, two people found my blog post brilliant and thought-provoking.  I feel so honored.

Got to love spam comments.  They are so good for the ego.

This Last Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge
Tuesday - TV Show Review: Loki - Season 2
Wednesday - Book Review: Dead Man's Hand by Penny Warner
Thursday - Happy Thanksgiving!
Friday - Ornament Review: Baker Mickey
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

Just three books to tell you about this week.

Up first is "Y" is for Yesterday, the final Kinsey Millhone Mystery from Sue Grafton.  I got this as an audio book from my local library.  This is a series I've been working on for a while, and it's hard to believe I'm going to finish it.

Then I snagged a couple of Kindle freebies.  As of my writing, it looks like they are both still free.

The first was Dead Letters by Sheila Lowe, the eighth in her Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting Mysteries.  I've only read the first, and I don't have the second.  But I've got books six and eight now.  Guess I need to get book two and read it soon.

The final book is Jingle Bells, Rifle Shells by Bruce Hammack.  It was recommended in an author newsletter this week, and I decided to snag it.  We've got a blind PI main character, so it will definitely be something different.  We will see when I get to it.

What I'm Currently Reading:

If you've been paying attention to my Book Haul the last couple of weeks, these are going to look very familiar.

Let's start with "Y" is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton.  I'm almost to the half way point in the book, which is great since I'm hoping to finish it when I drive up to visit my family for Thanksgiving.  It's a long audiobook, so I need to get a good jump on it.  I have some traditional things I listen to on the way home from Thanksgiving to kick off the Christmas season, so I don't want to have this book take up the entire drive home.

Meanwhile, I'm currently between books.  Earlier today, I finished up Over My Dead Blog by Sarah E. Burr.  This is the first book blogger mystery, and I enjoyed it.  I'll be reviewing it after Thanksgiving, so I've got a bit of time to get my review written.

I had hoped to start The Body in the Cornfield today, but I'm being very lazy.  (Had hoped to get a couple of reviews written, too, but I don't think that's going to happen.)  This is the second in Catherine Dilt's Rose Creek Mysteries.  I loved the first, and I'm really looking forward to reading this book.

I think that wraps things up here.  If you are in the US, have a happy Thanksgiving!  Hope everyone has a fantastic week.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

November 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Dancing with the Stars – It’s past time for Harry to go.  He seems like a nice enough guy, and he really is trying.  But he’s clearly the weakest of the dancers left.  Barry probably wouldn’t have been there more than another few weeks, but I was sorry to see him go.  He’s been fun to watch.

Wipeout – Please tell me those sisters really weren’t arguing about who goes first while their timer was running.  That it was deceptive editing for humor since they didn’t finish anyway.  Either way, how embarrassing.  Was so happy the one couple got engaged even though they didn’t win and get the money for a ring.  Looks to me like no one lost in the Wipeout Zone this time.

Press Your Luck – Wow, that one guy in the opening rounds had no luck.  I wasn’t surprised he got eliminated, but he had to keep pressing at that point.  And for someone with only one spin left in the bonus round, the winner sure did get a nice prize after all.

The Santa Clauses – Not quite as funny as the two from last week, but there were some good lines.  It’s the middle of the story, so I get it, they need to show how big the problem is, but I didn’t feel like things moved forward as much as I was expecting.  Until the end.  Things definitely got interesting at the end.  I’m very anxious to see what happens next.

Quantum Leap – I was wondering when we’d see Hannah again.  I also thought we were building toward a romance between her and Ben, but it moved a little faster than I was expecting.  Still wondering where they are going with Tom and Addison, but I do like how they are developing things.  They are building it up, so if there is a twist later, we will feel it.

The Challenge – So much drama!  I really don’t need all of that.  An hour episode is more than enough.  Not sure I like the former champs coming back and taking money with them.  But it will create chaos for sure.

Survivor – I’m not sure if I am fully on board with rooting for Jake or not, but you’ve got to love his reactions to things.  Especially when he realized he wasn’t going home.  “They’re actually playing Survivor.”  And I liked the auction being back, twists for the new era and all.  Made it very interesting.  I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t that upset with when it ended.  Yes, they’ve turned me against Bruce, but his lack of trying to get money made me want to see him shafted like that.

The Amazing Race – I’m sorry the father/daughter team made it through to the next leg.  She is driving me crazy.  I’m not sorry to see the sisters leave, however, since they are bugging me, too.  Slovenia looked beautiful!  I want to go visit.  And I really want to do that zipline.  At least they let the father/daughter do that after they missed the signs for the Express Pass.

Lego Masters – I am impressed with what the teams managed to do with the limited number of bricks.  I also agree with the team that went home.  As always, I hated to lose the team, but their build wasn’t as good as the others.  I’m really torn on Christopher.  He’s can be a little fun, but there are times he goes too far.  He’s having fun but the other teams aren’t.  I felt that was with the way he was behaving in the racing.  Yet I was happy for him with how thrilled he was that their build was making it in the video game.  I really do feel like his team could go all the way.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Book Review: The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman (Leaphorn and Chee #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery with interesting characters introduced
Cons: Took a bit for me to get into the story
The Bottom Line:
Well loved series starts
Takes us to reservation
I’ll be back or more

Interesting Debut

I’ve long been interested in trying the Leaphorn and Chee Mysteries from Tony Hillerman.  The setting of the Navajo Reservation sounded interesting, and the covers appealed to me.  Yeah, so I do judge books by their covers sometimes.  Anyway, I’d heard lots of good things about them, but I just didn’t have time to dive in until I was looking for a shortish audio book recently, so I snagged The Blessing Way, the first in the series.  I’m glad I finally started the series.

Bergen McKee is a professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico.  He’s been working on a book on the superstitions of the Navajo, specifically the legends of witches in the tribes.  He’s using the summer to conduct more interviews on the reservation, which also means connecting up with his college friend, Joe Leaphorn, a Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant.

McKee arrives as Leaphorn is trying to track down a young man, Luis Horseman, who has gone into hiding somewhere in the desert for fear he has killed a man.  While McKee starts his initial investigations, Leaphorn goes with him to spread the word that the other man in the attack was only injured.  But then, Luis Horseman turns up dead miles from where Leaphorn thought he would be.  Meanwhile, McKee gets a lead on a suspected witch on the reservation that summer.  Are these things connected?

For a series debut, this is very interesting.  After I finished the book, I saw that McKee was originally the main character and Leaphorn’s role was expanded later.  That actually makes sense to me since McKee is on the page without Leaphorn for much of the book.  Meanwhile, the other lead character of the series is still a few books away from showing up.  Mainly, I find this interesting trivia and a glimpse at how characters and a series can evolve over time.

However, this background is needed to understand one reason why it took me a little while to get into the book.  There’s some set up to get McKee to the reservation that I’m not completely sure we needed.  Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out who all the characters were and how they fit into the series.

It also means that Leaphorn doesn’t feel like a fully realized character yet.  He was interesting enough that I will be back for the next in the series, but McKee and some of the other characters McKee spends most of his time interacting with felt the most real.

One thing I was expecting was an interesting look at Navajo culture, and I got that.  This was one aspect that I really enjoyed.  While Leaphorn and McKee both have different takes on the beliefs that impact the case, they still treat the beliefs with respect.

And no, there isn’t anything supernatural going on here, even with the talk about witches.  So if, like me, you generally avoid books with heavy supernatural elements, you can rest easy when you pick up this book.

Once the plot did get going, I was engrossed.  And yes, I also saw how some of the characters who appeared on the periphery fit into the story.  Leaphorn has some interesting questions to puzzle out as he works on his case.  Meanwhile, McKee finds himself in some unexpected danger, which completely hooked me.

The book originally came out in 1970, which means some elements are dated.  It also means that the characters are missing some technology we take for granted now.  I think that might have changed the story some.  Then again, depending on how remote they are, it might not.  Either way, this is good background to have when you start to read the book.

Since this isn’t one of my usual cozies, I went in expecting a little more content than I would normally get.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that we didn’t really get any of that.  Yes, this is more of a police procedural thriller combo than a cozy, but it does it without adding in the content we usually find in those genres.  We’ll see if that continues as the series goes along.

I mentioned at the start that I read this via audiobook.  George Guidall is the narrator who read it to me, and I was quite excited when I saw his name.  I’m familiar with his work on another series, and I like him as a narrator.  I wasn’t disappointed with his performance here.

I’m glad I’ve finally started this series and look forward to seeing what all lies ahead of me as I read more about Joe Leaphorn.  If you haven’t started the series yet, you’ll be glad you made time to read The Blessing Way.

Check out the rest of the Leaphorn and Chee Mysteries.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Movie Review: True Lies (1994)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs and over the top action
Cons: One scene goes on too long
The Bottom Line:
A secret spy life
Family complications
Filled with action, laughs

“If You Need to Talk, Speak into the Purse.”

I’ve had True Lies on my to watch list for years.  It always looked like fun.  I bumped it up thanks to the awful TV series attempt at the franchise.  At least one good thing came out of that series – I finally watched the movie and really enjoyed it.

The movie introduces us to Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger).  While his wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) thinks he works for a computer sales company, he really works for Omega Sector, a top-secret government spy agency.

While in the middle of trying to track down a terrorist threat, Harry begins to think that his wife is having an affair.  Naturally, he uses Omega Sector resources to track her every movement.  What will happen now that his two worlds have collided?

I knew the basic premise going into the movie (even before watching the TV series).  I also knew it was billed as an action comedy.  I wasn’t prepared for just how much I would enjoy it.  Oh, it is obvious early on that this movie isn’t going to be realistic.  The opening scene ends with an over-the-top chase scene.  And you know what?  I didn’t care.  I was smiling at how ridiculous it was.  It was just plain fun.

And that continued over the course of the movie.  There are lots of great scenes that had me laughing.  Not to mention the one liners.  And yet, the action still had me on the edge of my seat since they did plenty with heights, one of my fears.  Were these actions scenes remotely realistic?  No.  Did I care?  Not in the slightest.  I was so caught up in the story I was able to enjoy the ride and not really worry about it.

I will say I was bothered by the hotel room scene.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about.  It features Helen dancing around in her underwear.  It went on a little too long for my tastes.  We just didn’t need that much of it.  (Okay, seems like they could have done something else period, but that’s a different discussion.)

I watched the movie on TV, and I suspect it was highly edited based on run times alone.  There might have been more content that would bother me that was edited out, and I’m a little nervous to find out.  Keep in mind that this is an R rated movie before you decide to watch it.

One reason this movie works is the cast.  They all played their part of the hilt.  This was especially true for me of Jamie Lee Curtis.  I’ve seen plenty of her movies, but I really felt she nailed this role.  It’s easy to see why she won an award for it.  But again, the entire cast was great.  Their chemistry made everything work, and the way they reacted to what was happening or delivered their lines really made the humor work.

This movie did come out in 1994.  That means that we have some rather obvious green screen at times.  But most of the time I was so caught up in the action I wasn’t noticing.

True Lies is an over-the-top action movie in all the best ways.  If you are looking to sit back and just enjoy a film, this is one to consider.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Book Review: Case of the Bleus by Korina Moss (Cheese Shop Mysteries #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters we love in a page turning mystery
Cons: Climax could be a little stronger
The Bottom Line:
Clues to a rare cheese
Compete with clues to murder
In can’t put down book

You’ll Get the Bleus if You Skip This Book

I’ve been working at getting caught up on several different series this year, and one of those is Korina Moss’s Cheese Shop Mysteries.  The fourth came out a few weeks ago, and I made it a priority to get it read before the end of the year.  I’m glad I did because I enjoyed Case of the Bleus.

These books center on Willa Bauer, owner of Curds & Whey in Yarrow Glen in Sonoma County, California.  It’s now been about a year since Willa opened the shop, and she is enjoying her new life and the friends she’s making in the community.

She’s also thrilled that the Northwest Cheese Invitational is being held at the new convention center just outside of town.  That means she gets to show off her shop to her former co-workers, who are in town for the event.  Sadly, their boss, Max, has recently passed away, leaving behind the secret of his award-winning Church Bleu cheese.  Everyone is hoping when the will is read that they will be the one to inherit the secrets behind the valuable cheese.  Well, everyone but Willa.

Unfortunately, one of Willa’s former co-workers is killed within hours of the will being read.  Did the secret of the cheese lead to her death?  Can Willa figure out what the cryptic clue that Max left behind means?

Really, this book has dueling storylines, the murder and the hunt for the cheese.  Both are equally compelling, and they weave in and out of each other since one provides a possible motive for the other.  The result was a book I never wanted to put down because I had to know what was going to happen next.  And the suspects that kept me guessing.  The climax was a tad weaker than I would have liked, but it did answer all my questions.

But what I really found as I read this book was how much I love the characters and the community that they’ve formed.  Yes, I knew I liked them, but I was smiling so much at getting to spend more time with them here.  There are some sub-plots involving their personal lives that make me anxious for the next book to come out so I can find out what will happen to them next.

Which does bring up that fact that this is book four in a series.  You can jump in here since anything you need to know about the characters and their relationships is explained.  Yes, that does mean there are some minor spoilers for the previous books, but they are minor.  Naturally, I’d advise you to read the series in order, but if you want to jump in here, you won’t be too lost.

As always, I have to give a shout out to the fact that these are set in Sonoma County, where I grew up.  It’s always a delight to read about the area even if Yarrow Glen is fictitious.

If this book leaves you hungry for cheese (and it will), you’ll be happy with the three recipes we get at the end.

Case of the Bleus left me anything but blue.  Fans of the series will be delighted to catch up on Willa and the gang’s latest exploits.

Be sure to grab the rest of the Cheese Shop Mysteries.