Thursday, July 18, 2024

Book Review: A Very Woodsy Murder by Ellen Byron (Golden Motel Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Charming setting and characters; good mystery
Cons: I didn’t read this in the mountains
The Bottom Line:
Murder in mountains
Delightful, charming debut
You will enjoy it

A Sitcom Writer’s Death Isn’t a Laughing Matter

I’ve been a fan of author Ellen Byron for a long time now, and I’ve enjoyed seeing how she works her background into each of her books.  She’s finally tapping into her former career as a sitcom writer for her new Golden Motel Mysteries, and the debut, A Very Woodsy Murder, is a delight.

Dee Stern has watched her career as a sitcom writer slowly die.  While on a trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains, she stumbles on the Golden Motel on the outskirts of Majestic National Park.  The motel needs some attention before it can be reopened, but Dee is inspired by the idea and talks her best friend, Jeff Cornetta, into investing in it together.

Their first customer is a former colleague of Dee’s, and she’s not that happy about it.  Michael Adam Baker was a jerk when they worked together on Dee’s first sitcom, and his reputation hasn’t gotten any better since then.  Still, Dee doesn’t expect to find Michael’s dead body.  Not only are Dee and Jeff suspects, but the murder is hurting their fledgling business.  Can Dee solve the murder in time to save the motel?

As you can see, being a sitcom writer is more Dee’s backstory than her current job.  However, we get to hear some about her career, and, honestly, those are some of my favorite laughs in the book.  As a Hollywood junkie, I got such a kick out of it.  And it does inform Dee and how she approaches the investigation at times, which I really appreciated.  The hook may be the hotel, but it was still a fun background.

And I’m ready to book a room at the hotel right now.  Yes, it and the area where the majority of the action takes place are all fictional, but anyone familiar with California will know the inspirations behind the fiction.  I’m ready to hop in my car and enjoy some fresh mountain air myself.  The hotel sounds charming, too.

Yes, this is a mystery.  The book takes a little time setting up the premise, but no more than it really needs to.  It isn’t that long before Michael Adam Baker is introduced, and we get some hints at who suspects might be before he turns up dead.  From there, we are off and running as Dee tries to save herself and the Golden.  I didn’t identify the killer early, but everything was logical once Dee figured it out.

And the characters are wonderful.  Yes, they are eccentric, maybe a little more than normal even for a cozy.  But that just added to the charm of the series as far as I was concerned.  Dee is meeting everyone here along with us, and I can tell that there are going to be some strong friendships formed as the series goes along.  I already can’t wait to visit everyone again.

While not technically being released as a culinary cozy, this is Ellen Byron.  She slips a couple of easy looking recipes at the end along with some road trip tips.

As I said, I’m booking my room now for the next Golden Motel Mystery.  If you want a fun debut for the second half of the summer, pick up A Very Woodsy Murder today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Movie Review: Caribbean Summer

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good acting, fun story
Cons: A couple things with the plot and a bit of low budget issues
The Bottom Line:
A last minute trip
Will mix-up lead to romance?
A light, fun movie

Booking Mix-up Leads to Love

Back in the summer of 2022, Hallmark’s Caribbean Summer looked good to me, so I recorded it when it was on.  And there it sat on my DVR for a long time until I finally sat down to watch it.  I’m glad I recorded it because I enjoyed it.

Jade (Heather Hemmens) is a producer for a news station in New York City.  She is very committed to her job to the point that she drove her most recent boyfriend away.  But an on-air mistake leads to her being forced to take a vacation.  She has one of her assistants book her a vacation rental on a Caribbean Island.

There’s just one problem – it wasn’t a real vacation rental but a scam, as Jade finds out when the owner returns home that night.  Ford (Ser'Darius Blain) is very understanding and lets Jade use his guest room.  Jade tries to find another place to stay, but as they get to know each other, will something more develop?

Even though I knew where the story would go, that premise intrigued me enough to want to watch the movie.  I found it was an enjoyable set up with charming characters to draw us in.  And I’m not just talking about the leads (who were absolutely charming), but the rest of the characters are fun as well.  Ford’s best friends play an important part in the story and have a sub-plot of their own that I got invested in.

I also appreciated how a storyline that becomes important in the second half was set up early on.  I wasn’t expected that to mean anything when it was planted, so I was impressed.

On the other hand, there is a storyline that gets completely dropped.  Since it drove parts of the first half, it would have been nice to see it conclude in some fashion.

I get that these are romantic movies, so we are supposed to be happy when the couple profess their love and kiss.  Don’t get me wrong, I was.  But I felt like in this case, they had more they needed to work on to really make their relationship work.  I think they can, but it would be nice to see some acknowledgement of that before the film ended.

But this falls into the realm of me being nitpicky.  Overall, I did enjoy the story.

And who can complain about the scenery.  The island looks wonderful.  I’m definitely ready to head down there to visit.

The acting is good, especially for a Hallmark movie.  There are some other choices that are made purely for the need of a budget that were a little obvious, but that is typical with their movies.

If you are looking for a light romantic movie, Caribbean Summer will make you happy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Book Review: Joshua Tree by Sandy Dengler (Jack Prester #7)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in a page turning mystery
Cons: A couple, but they are minor
The Bottom Line:
Case is not simple
Which means a great read for us
Could not put it down

Being Window Dressing Can Be Dangerous

When I reconnected with Jack Prester and the rest of the characters in the Jack Prester Mysteries earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get back to them in Joshua Tree, the seventh book in the series.  When I picked it up, I was immediately under its spell and enjoyed every page.

If you are new to the series, Jack is part of a special unit of the National Parks that travels to various parks to assist them with investigations.  Either these are high profile cases or are cases where an outside viewpoint is needed.  His wife, Ev, is also a part of the unit; in fact, they first met on the job.

Naturally, this time, Jack is off to Joshua Tree.  He is asked to look into the death of a ranger who died of a drug overdose while riding a bull.  All the investigators, from the park to the local authorities, have declared it an accident, but the man’s family is threatening to sue.  Jack’s assignment is to poke around and confirm the official findings.  Essentially, he’s window dressing.  Should be an easy assignment for a change.

When Jack arrives, he begins to see some things that aren’t adding up for him.  Including things that make him think something is going on in the park itself.  Will he figure out what really happened?  How much danger is he in?

The mystery intrigued me right away, and I was happily pulled into the story.  I was caught off guard by a few of the developments, and I always had a hard time putting the book down.  There were a couple of things that I might have complained about, but author Sandy Dengler pulled it off in such a way that those things became minor issues at best.  And one thing in particular was explained to my satisfaction at the end.

Yes, this book does start out focused on Jack.  However, some of the other characters come into play as the story unfolds.  I figured that would happen, and I was thrilled to be right.  It’s always fun to see them in action together.  The new characters we met along the way are just as interesting.

I will say I found the use of profanity I little off-putting.  Not so much that it was used, it just didn’t seem to be needed the majority of the times it popped up.  It’s just a smattering of times, so it’s not a huge issue.

On the other hand, I have long loved this author’s use of language.  Her writing can be almost poetic at times.  Not only does it transport me to the locations and bring the characters to life, but it can make me smile and chuckle.  All this without slowing down the story in the slightest.  It’s well worth reading for that alone.

I enjoyed getting lost in Jack’s world again with Joshua Tree.  If you are looking for a fun story set around this National Park, you’ll be glad you picked it up, too.

Enjoy the rest of the Jack Prester Mysteries.

Monday, July 15, 2024

Ornament Review: Surfs Up! - Spotlight on Snoopy #27 - 2024 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Snoopy surfing makes for a fun ornament
Cons: Surfing isn’t exactly Christmassy
The Bottom Line:
Snoopy catching waves
Might not fit Christmas spirit
Still fun ornament

This Ornament is Rad, Dude!

This year’s Spotlight on Snoopy ornament is one I’m surprised we haven’t had before.  Yes, it is number twenty-seven in the series, so we’ve had a few repeats or similar entries, but when I saw Surf’s Up! I couldn’t believe we haven’t seen it already.

Yes, Snoopy’s surfing for this entry.  He’s standing on a board in red trunks.  His arms are out and his ears are back, blown by the wind.  He’s got a big smile on his face.  The ornament is designed so we can see bits of the water splashing around his board.  Woodstock is with him as always.  The little yellow bird is standing on the front of the board leaning forward and smiling as well.

And I love it!  No, I’m not a surfer myself, but I love anything and everything have to do with water.  This captures that magic summer feeling for me.  It makes me think of warm summer days and fun at the beach.

So maybe this isn’t the best fit for a Christmas ornament?  No, I need something to make me think of summer when the cold rolls around.  I love it too much to even think about that.

The ornament is designed to sit flat, so you can leave it out year round to enjoy.  Or maybe put it out during the summer instead of hanging it on your tree.

If you do decide to hang it on your tree, you’ll find that it tips forward – and that’s a good thing.  It actually tips at such an angle that it adds to the illusion that Snoopy is actually surfing.  I love it.

And yes, you’ll find the twenty-seven in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom of the ornament.

I’m sure that Surf’s Up! Will be popular with Snoopy fans whether they’ve been collecting the Spotlight on Snoopy series or not.  And I can see it appealing to surfers as well.  I know I’m happy to have it in my collection.

Enjoy the rest of the Spotlight on Snoopy series.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Book Review: Encyclopedia Brown Shows the Way by Donald J. Sobol (Encyclopedia Brown #9)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: 10 fun short mysteries to try to solve
Cons: Short stories, so few twists and little character development
The Bottom Line:
These ten short stories
Give you a chance to match wits
Dated but still fun

Ten More Mysteries with the World’s Smartest Ten-Year-Old

It’s been several years since I last matched wits with Encyclopedia Brown.  I decided to spend a little time rereading one of the books I have around the condo, so I picked up Encyclopedia Brown Shows the Way, which happens to be the ninth book in the series.

While not quite as well known as The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, this is another classic middle grade mystery series.  And yes, the series is an older series.  This particular book has a copyright of 1972.

The main character is Leroy Brown, but most people call him Encyclopedia Brown because of his encyclopedic knowledge.  Each book in the series features 10 short mysteries for you to solve along with Encyclopedia.  There’s some little detail that solves the case, and you have to pick up on it.  Then, you can turn to the back of the book to see if you were right or not.  While he will often help out his father, the chief of police, in a couple of stories (almost always the first one in the book), he usually spends the rest of the book helping his friends solve cases around the neighborhood.  Often, these cases involve Bugs Meany, the neighborhood bully, or Bugs’s gang The Tigers.  And at least once we run into Wilford Wiggins, who is attempting to swindle kids out of their money.

What cases does Encyclopedia take on this time around?  He helps his father prove who stole an electric drill.  He helps a kid get his harmonica back from Bugs.  When a girl wants to figure out who got her kicked off a baseball team, Encyclopedia Brown takes the case.  He figures out who stole a rattlesnake rattle from a display at a museum.  And he helps a friend who thinks he saw a ghost.

Obviously, there are more stories in the book, but this should give you some idea of what we deal with here.  As I said, each story is short – easy to read in just a few minutes.  Then, I often find myself pondering what I missed for a few second before I flip to the back.  Even all these years later, I often miss the vital clue, although sometimes I know I’m on the right track.  I just can’t pick up on the detail.  So I’m proud when I solve any before turning to the end of the book.  This time around, it was three and a half, which is a little above average for me.

Given how short the stories are, there aren’t really any twists to the story.  We learn the problem, Encyclopedia gets a few minutes at the scene, and then he solves things.  But for this story, that’s all we really need.  It works well, and it will give kids with short attention spans something to enjoy.

This also means the characters are fairly thin.  There just isn’t time for more than one or two traits.  But that’s okay.  They are developed enough to have fun with them.  And the kids who are reading it won’t care.

Being a middle grade series, you can read these books in any order.  The little background you need is provided for you.

I do wonder just how dated today’s kids will find the stories.  Heck, for most of them, what is an Encyclopedia?  Most of the clues and stories themselves aren’t dated, but a world without computers or cell phones might seem foreign to many of today’s kids.

It was a pleasure to spend a little time again with Encyclopedia Brown Shows the Way.  I hope he’s not too dated for today’s kids to enjoy.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

July 13th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – So many people close, but no one fast enough to officially take on the mega wall.  Not too many surprises this week.  The big names did well, the people new to it struggled more.  I am surprised that so many people struggled with the first obstacle.  We don’t see that happen very often, especially more than one per episode.

Race to Survive: New Zealand – I had assumed the issue was about food.  But I figured they would show us what it was when it happened, not in flashbacks.  So I was thinking it was some of the food gathering from this leg, not from a previous survival camp.  I get why it happened, but I’m glad they enforced the rules.  But wow, my money was on them to win.  Now, I’m betting on the fire jumpers.  But we’ll find out.  Sounds like a crazy final race.

The Acolyte – Seriously?  A second flashback?  While it was sort of interesting the first time, what did we really learn in these 40 minutes?  About two minutes worth of information.  It would have been much more interesting to have Sol say that in a scene.  Heck, we could have covered it in the last episode.  Maybe some scene with narration.  But this was a waste of an episode.  Yes, the lightsaber fight was cool, but that wasn’t enough to justify it.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Book Review: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #19)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and intriguing mysteries
Cons: One storyline’s ending gets short changed
The Bottom Line:
Even retired
Bosch’s cases entertain
A gripping entry

Trying to Juggle Two Cases

Retirement can’t keep a good character down.  I love seeing how author Michael Connelly has been able to extend the Harry Bosch series beyond Bosch’s second retirement from the Los Angeles Police Department, where he worked for most of the books in the series so far.  The Wrong Side of Goodbye has its challenges, but overall, it’s good.

Due to budget cuts, the San Fernando Police Department has been looking for creative ways to get crimes solved.  One of those is to bring in axillary officers, essentially retired cops who want to volunteer a few hours a month.  Bosch is more than happy to jump into one of those roles, and he is easily exceeding the minimum requirements.  That’s how he’s gotten involved in the Screen Cutter case.  He’s working with another detective to try to find a man who has been attacking multiple women in the area in their homes.

Meanwhile, Bosch is also working on private cases as a licensed PI.  His newest client is a reclusive billionaire who is about to die.  He has no heir to leave anything to…or does he?  Years ago, he got a young woman pregnant, and he wants to find out if that means he has an heir now.  Bosch doesn’t have much to work with, but he manages to pick up a trail.  What will he find?

Both of these cases intrigued me from the start, and I appreciated how Michael Connelly kept upping the stakes for both of them, making it obvious why Bosch was switching his focus from one to the other when he did.  The further I went along, the more I was hooked on the story and didn’t want to stop when I had to.

However, I didn’t feel the payoff for both stories was good.  One got a great climax, but I think Michael Connelly realized he’d run out of room to properly wrap up the other storyline.  Don’t misunderstand me, we did get a conclusion to both stories that was logical.  I just felt like some things in the second story were rushed or abruptly put into the story so we’d feel satisfied.  I didn’t get the closure I was supposed to, however.

Even though he’s retired, Bosch is still Bosch.  To a certain extent I love that.  I mean, it’s great seeing him relentlessly pursue a case.  However, at some point, I’d really like to have him not dealing with stupid bureaucracy.  Or maybe learn to navigate it a little better.  But I don’t expect we will ever really see that.  We do get to see just a little bit of his daughter, and Mickey Haller also appears.  Other than that, we get all new characters.

That’s not a bad thing since the cast is all strong.  They really do feel like real people with pasts that lead to the events of this book.

As always, keep in mind that these are police procedurals.  There’s a bit more content as a result.  A couple of scenes could have been trimmed as far as I was concerned, but this is a minor complaint as usual.

This book is Titus Welliver’s third time as narrator.  Again, I thought he did a great job at bringing the story to life without getting in the way of the events unfolding on the page.

Overall, The Wrong Side of Goodbye is another Harry Bosch book that fans will enjoy.  I know I did.

Be sure to enjoy the rest of the Harry Bosch Mysteries.

July 12th's Friday Post

We've made it to Friday again.  Time to celebrate with a Friday post.  I'll be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

This week, I'll be featuring teasers from A Very Woodsy Murder by Ellen Byron.

Ellen is a favorite author of mine, and this is the first in a new series set in California.  Here's now the book begins:

Dee watched her best friend check out the potential gold mine across the narrow country road from them.

Yep, just one sentence this week (I feel like I usually share more than that).  I'll leave it to you to discover more of the context.

Meanwhile, on page 56 of my ARC, we find this:

"He stole everything about my new life, including that."
Jeff's eyes narrowed. "I'm gonna kill this guy. He's not gonna get away with this."

Pro tip - Never say something like that in a murder mystery.  Unless you want to become a suspect, that is.

I had a lot of fun with this one.  It doesn't come out until the 23rd, but I'll be back next Thursday with my review.  Assuming I finish writing the review.

Let's turn to the Book Blogger Hop.  This week's question is:

July is the month for reading by the pool or on the beach. What's your favorite summer beach book, and why is it suitable for a sunny day?

I've always been a little unclear about what exactly a beach read is.  Is it one set at the beach?  Something light and fluffy?  Something that will hook you with the twists?  If that's the case, is it dark?

Having said that, I usually go with the Jaine Austen Mysteries from Laura Levine.  These are typically set in LA, so the beach is close by.  And they are very light, funny mysteries.  Nothing too serious, but they will keep you turning pages.  I also have them on my mind since I reviewed the newest in the series, book 20, this week.

And, honestly, I think you could make a case that A Very Woodsy Murder, where I got my teasers, would work as a beach read.  It's set in the mountains, but still has that light, fun feel to it.

That's it for me.  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Movie Review: Guys and Dolls

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of fun, great songs and dances
Cons: Slow beginning, two leads aren’t strong singers
The Bottom Line:
A big musical
Lots of fun along the way
Overcomes slow start

“If You Can’t Attract Sinners, No One Can.”

Thanks to a friend who loves musicals and a local theater we both enjoy, I’ve started seeing more musicals on stage in the last few years.  One of those was Guys and Dolls, but I must admit I didn’t remember much of it.  I did remember enjoying it, so I decided to sit down and watch the movie version.  I’m so glad I did.

The movie takes place in New York City and revolves around two couples.  Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) and Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) have been together for years, even though Nathan won’t marry her.  He keeps putting it off in favor of running his underground craps game.  The problem is, he has to keep moving the location so the police don’t find him and shut him down for illegal gambling.  Enter Sy Masterson (Marlon Brando), who is willing to bet on anything and everything.  Nathan needs money to rent the location for his latest game, and he hopes to get it by making a bet with Sy.  That bet?  That Sy can’t get a woman to go with him to Havana for dinner.  But it’s not just any woman.  Nathan picks Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons), a woman who has dedicated her life to savings sinners, like Nathan and Sy.

Naturally, Sarah wants nothing to do with Sy when he comes into the mission where she works.  Will Nathan win the bet?  Will he and Adelaide ever get married?  Will Sarah’s view of Sy soften?

I’ll admit, it takes a little bit for the story to get going as the movie introduces the main characters and the various sidekicks.  However, once the story gets going, it is a very fun ride.  There are quite a few funny lines that made me smile and laugh.  The story itself is fairly predictable, but this is definitely a case where I was having so much fun I really didn’t care that I could guess where the story was going to wind up.

Part of the reason I was having so much fun is the music.  There is plenty of singing and dancing here, and those numbers are wonderful.  While this movie may feature the most unique craps game ever filmed, it fits the movie, and the choreography is wonderful.  That’s just the highlight of several other great numbers over the course of the film.

And the cast is fantastic.  They doing a great job at bringing their characters to life and drawing us into the story.

This is despite the fact that Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons aren’t singers.  Yet, in a surprising move, they still did their own singing.  It works, but that is definitely a weakness of the film.

I was a bit concerned about the fact that Sarah is a Christian trying to save sinners.  This could have been turned into a case of mocking Christians.  I didn’t feel that film crossed the line.  It could have been more respectful, but it could have been much worse as well.

I’m glad I’ve now watched the movie version of Guys and Dolls.  No matter how you see it, this is a fun musical I definitely recommend you see.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Book Review: Murder Buys a One-Way Ticket by Laura Levine (Jaine Austen Mysteries #20)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs and fun
Cons: Mystery could have been a little stronger
The Bottom Line:
Murder on a train
Filled with usual hijinks
A great funny read

Your One-Way Ticket to Fun

As any fan of the Jaine Austen series will tell you, a new book is always a reason to celebrate.  Book twenty (hard to believe) just came out, and I dropped everything to see what she was up to in Murder Buys a One-Way Ticket.

Jaine is a freelance writer living with her cat in Los Angeles.  She will take on any job to make ends meet.  Sadly, those jobs often lead her to murder.  Maybe if her clients weren’t always so difficult.  Meanwhile, she often seems to find herself involved in some crazy situations thanks to her neighbor, Lance.  And her parents send her emails about their latest exploits in their retirement community in Florida.

Jaine’s new client is wealthy gym owner Chip Miller, aka Iron Man, who is looking to have Jaine ghost write a book on fitness.  Considering all Jaine knows about fitness is how to avoid it, she’s a little surprised she’s getting the gig.  Even better, she’s invited along with his family as they travel from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara and back on Chip’s private train.  What could be better?

Actually, a lot.  Chip is a bully, and Jaine gets to see that in full force along the way.  But just as they are pulling back in LA, she finds Chip’s body in his compartment.  The police consider her a likely suspect, so Jaine once again puts on her sleuthing hat to figure out what really happened on the train.  Can she do it?

In other news, her father has decided he’s related to Elvis.  And, in typical fashion, he’s decided that dressing up as Elvis and making a grand entrance at an upcoming party is just the thing.  And Lance enlists Jaine’s help in gaining membership into an exclusive club in West Hollywood.

As always, the book juggles the three storylines well.  The focus is the mystery, but when these sub-plots pop up on the page, it’s a delight to see them.  They really add to the comedy of the book.

Yes, this is a comedic mystery.  Author Laura Levine used to write for sitcoms, and it shows.  There are plenty of laughs from the situations Jaine finds herself in as well as her observations on events.

Not that the book doesn’t take the puzzle seriously as well.  I did figure out one key thing early, but I was waiting for a few more blanks to be filled in as I read.  By the time I turned the final page, all my questions were answered satisfactory. 

Remember I talked earlier about sitcoms?  That flows over to the characters.  They’re all just a bit exaggerated, more caricature than full on character.  And yet, that works for this series.  As long as you know what you’re getting when you start, you’ll be fine.

If you are looking for a light, funny mystery, Murder Buys a One-Way Ticket is just what you need.  Sit back, laugh, and enjoy today.

Be sure to laugh your way through the rest of the Jaine Austen Mysteries.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

TV Show Review: Murder, She Wrote - Season 8

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Jessica back in action in all 22 episodes
Cons: Lacks some of the charm of the earlier seasons
The Bottom Line:
Move for Jessica
She is in all shows again
Still fun to rewatch

“Crime Solving is Something I’m More Than Happy to Leave to the Professionals.”

Murder, She Wrote is a classic example of TV the way things used to be.  Back in the days before streaming or DVRs, it used to be that very little if anything changed for characters on shows from week to week.  However, season eight sees a big change for Jessica Fletcher.  Really, about the only change for the character or the show over its twelve season run.

You see, this is the season that mystery writer Jessica Fletcher (played wonderfully by Angela Lansbury) moves part time to New York City.  She moves there in order to teach a criminology class at Manhattan University.  She’s only supposed to be in the big city three or four days a week.  The rest of the time?  She’s still in Cabot Cove when she’s not out traveling visiting friends and family.

The season starts out with several of the New York City episodes.  When Jessica goes to move into her new apartment, she discovers that the previous tenant was just killed in the building’s garage.  A mugger on the university campus escalates to murder.  Jessica gets a computer (another change), but, naturally, that also leads to murder.  There are a couple that just take place in the city without the university connect as well.  A gossip writer is killed, and the finger points to a good friend.  Then there’s the club that Jessica does a reading for just before a member is killed.  And in the season finale, Jessica is working on creating a mystery game for a company when an executive is murdered.  These episodes also give us a chance to meet a new recurring character in Ahmed, the doorman in Jessica’s New York building.  He’s played delightfully by Andrew Johnson.  I’m just sorry his only appearances are in four episodes this season.

But don’t worry, Jessica does plenty of traveling in this season.  She solves a twenty-year-old case in New Orleans.  She saves a friend from being accused of murdering her husband in Santa Barbara.  She has back-to-back cases in Europe, one in Monte Carlo and one in London.  And, of course, she gets caught up in international intrigue when she bumps into Michael Haggerty (Len Cariou) at an embassy party.

This is also the season where Jessica solves a murder on the Universal lot.  Since that is where the show filmed, it’s a fun nod, although I will admit that the actual mystery, involving the set for the movie Psycho, isn’t one of my favorites.

There are only four episodes in Cabot Cove this season.  (I’m not counting the brief introduction in Cabot Cove at the beginning of the season premier since the case takes place in New York City.)  Up first, Sherif Mort Metzger thinks his brother, an ex-con, has committed a murder in town.  When a mysterious woman arrives in town and gets the part of a witch in the community theater, the towns people think she might be a real witch.  Seth Hazlitt is facing malpractice claims, unless it was really murder.  Finally, Seth’s army buddy comes to town and is accused of murder.

And can I just say how nice it is to have William Windom back as Seth this season?  I really missed him since he was only in one episode last season.  Ron Masak is fantastic as always as Sheriff Metzger.  This season also marks the debut of Louis Herthum as Deputy Andy Bloom, a character who would stick around for the rest of the series.

With four new murders in Cabot Cove this year, it’s time to update my stats and percentages on how deadly the town really is.  There have been 34.5 murders in the town (yes, that makes sense if you watch season one), 24 involving residents of the town in some way and 11 involving no residents whatsoever.  By the end of season eight, Jessica has solved 160 murders.  We’ve dropped down to 21.6% of Jessica’s cases take place in town.  That’s less than a quarter.  See, Cabot Cove is a perfectly safe place to live.

While Jessica is the sleuth in every episode here, they are continuing with the slightly lighter schedule for Angela Lansbury.  The murder often takes place later in the episode, and we get scenes that don’t feature her character that highlight the conflict for us.  I understand where she is coming from, being in every scene of every episode was very draining for her, as it would be for any actor.  But the show does lose a little of its spark without her in every scene.  However, I do prefer this format to the episodes without her in them at all (not that I thought those episodes were horrid).

I remember more of these episodes than normal.  I’m not completely sure why, but as I’m watching I’ll be several plot points ahead of the characters because something will trigger my memory.  Having said that, a couple of the episodes are overly complicated, and a few have some rather clumsy clues in them.  This is also the second season where we don’t meet any of Jessica’s family.  Maybe they’ve all learned to stay away from her because if her status as a murder magnet.  Her friends are still happy to see her visit, however.

There’s a behind the scenes change this season I have to highlight.  I’m a huge fan of the TV show Babylon 5.  Before he created the show, J. Michael Straczynski was a co-producer and writer for this season of the show.  I always smile when I see his name pop up on the credits. It’s also fun to see Babylon 5 actors pop up this season.  While there are been some in the last couple of seasons, there are more here.  We get to see Tim Choate, Andrea Thompson, Marjorie Monaghan, and Andreas Katsulas.

The guest cast is also great, and I seem to recognize more people each time I watch these episodes.  Among those I recognized this season are Alan Oppenheimer, Mary Pat Gleason, Barbara Bain, Jessica Walter, Douglas Barr, Amy O'Neill, Theodore Bikel, Mitchell Ryan, Ron Glass, Marcia Cross, and Kate Mulgrew.  Finally, Angela Lansbury’s real life nephew David Lansbury appears in the season finale.

The DVD set has been out for a while now.  It features all 22 episodes of the season in its native full screen (as opposed to wide screen) and stereo.  There aren’t any extras on the set.

While my favorite seasons of the show are behind us, I still enjoy season eight of Murder, She Wrote.  If you are looking for a light mystery TV show, you’ll find yourself enjoying the episodes no matter how many times you’ve watched them.  It’s always fun to see Jessica in action.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Book Review: Murder on Devil’s Pond by Ayla Rose (Hummingbird Hollow B&B Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and story pulled me in
Cons: Took a couple of chapters to fully grab me
The Bottom Line:
Friend murdered at pond
Hannah digs into the past
In this strong debut

Murder of the Town Recluse

I knew early on that I wanted to read Murder on Devil’s Pond by Ayla Rose.  Yes, the bed and breakfast theme appealed to me; I do love my culinary cozies after all.  But I also learned that Ayla Rose was a new pen name for Wendy Tyson, and I loved her earlier cozy series.  So I picked up this book expecting to be entertained.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

This book takes us to a small town in Vermont where Hannah Solace lives.  She has returned as an adult to run the Hummingbird Hollow Bee and Bee for her sister.  Since returning to town, Hannah has only really made friends with one person, the eighty-year-old Ezra Grayson.  Despite having lived in the same house in town most of his life, Ezra doesn’t seem to have many friends in town either.  In fact, most people are trying to get him to move to a retirement community.  Some just want to buy his land for profit or to get rid of the eye sore the house has become.

One evening, Hannah is out on the pond near the B and B for a paddle when she finds Ezra’s dead body.  It’s quickly determined that it was murder, but Hannah is surprised to find herself a suspect in the crime.  The investigation also points to some people close to Hannah in addition to Ezra’s relatives, who are currently staying at the B and B.  Can Hannah figure out what is going on?

It took me a few chapters to fully get into the book.  We were meeting characters and seeing the beginnings of the plot, but for some reason I couldn’t quite keep all the characters straight.  However, that quickly went away as I got further into the book and got caught up in the story.

The mystery is strong.  There are a variety of motives, and the more Hannah digs into Ezra’s life, the more she questions exactly what is going on.  I was fully hooked by this point wondering where the story was going to wind up.  I saw one thing coming early, but it was minor.  The actual ending?  I was very surprised, but it all made perfect sense.

And the characters grew on me quickly as well.  Hannah has some complicated relationships in her past, and we got that backstory as the book unfolded without any data dumps, which I truly appreciated.  There is plenty more to explore here, and I look forward to returning to the characters in future books.  Meanwhile, the suspects were just as real to me.

Make no mistake, this book is a cozy.  But it’s a grayer cozy than many I read, edging to the traditional side of the spectrum.  The resulting depth of character and plot is well worth reading.  But know that this is a deeper book that will stick with you.

Those who read the Greenhouse Mysteries that the author wrote as Wendy Tyson won’t be surprised to see some of the environmental themes that are woven into the book.  For example, Hannah has surrounded the B and B with gardens that will attract pollinators.  All of this weaves in and out of the story seamlessly without ever slowing things down.  And there’s a recipe for Bean and Veggie Chili at the end as well.

Murder on Devil’s Pond is a fantastic debut.  If you are looking for a new cozy series to dig into, you’ll be happy you picked up this book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

July 7th's Sunday/Monday Post

That time of the week again.  Welcome to the Sunday/Monday Post.  As usual, I'll be linking up to:

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

I finally broke down this week and went into urgent care.  What finally pushed me over the edge was a my throat had started to really hurt.  The doctor took one look at me and said, "You must have a high pain tolerance."  She tested for a couple of things, which came back as negative, but the prescriptions kicked in right away.  I stayed home on the 4th, but I'm feeling much better.

In fact, I went out paddleboarding this morning.  First time I'd been out since I injured my shoulder a year ago May.  So about 14 months.  My shoulder let me know I hadn't done it in a long time, but I think it was just out of practice and not leading to a new injury.  As I type this Saturday afternoon, I don't feel it at all.  We'll see how I'm feeling tomorrow.

Other than that, it was monthly close at work, so we were busy.  Yes, we had Thursday off, but I was back to work on Friday.  That does help me remember what day of the week it is.  Thursday felt weird, but with working yesterday, my sense of the day of the week was back to normal.  Well, mostly back to normal.  I did keep thinking yesterday was Monday for a while.

Joke of the Week:

Be thankful it's not snowing outside.
Imagine shoveling snow in this heat.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Murder on Devil's Pond by Ayla Rose
Tuesday - TV Show Review: Murder, She Wrote - Season 8
Wednesday - Book Review: Murder Buys a One-Way Ticket by Laura Levine
Thursday - Movie Review: Guys and Dolls
Friday - Book Review: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

Oh boy, did I get a lot of books this week.

Sarah E. Burr made all of her independently published books free on Smashwords for the month of July.  Well, how can you pass up free?  While I'm not interested in her slightly paranormal series (I typically avoid them with a few exceptions), that included all of her Court of Mystery books.  I only had the first five, so I snagged the other eight.  I mean, you can't turn down free, right?  I highly recommend you check our her books if you are looking for some fun mysteries.  The link will take you to the free ones on Smashwords.  I've already enjoyed the Book Blogger Mysteries, which are free this month as well.

No, those books weren't enough.  I also got One Wrong Word by Hank Phillippi Ryan.  This is one of her stand alone suspense books, and I got the audio version free from the library.

Finally, my local used bookstore was having a sale on the 4th - half off everything in the store.  Believe it or not, I only came away with one book.  Yes, I saw some other things I could have bought, but I have no idea when I would read them.  The book I did buy was And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss.  They actually had quite a few copies of that particular book on the shelves.

What I'm Currently Reading:

As I type this Saturday afternoon, I'm about 15% into One Wrong Word by Hank Phillippi Ryan.  It's been set up so far, but I think we are about to get to the first big twist.  It will be interesting to see where this book goes.

Friday night, I finished Joshua Tree by Sandy Dengler.  This is book seven in her Jack Prester Mysteries, which feature an investigator for the National Parks.  Obviously, he's in Joshua Tree for this one, and I really enjoyed it.  Honestly, it's kind of nice to be visiting the characters period since I thought the series had ended years ago.

Now, I'm reading A Very Woodsy Murder by Ellen Byron.  This is the first in a new series from her.  I'm two chapters in so far.  It's been set up, but I'm enjoying it.  I definitely love the setting, a run down motel outside a fictional National Park in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains.

That's it for me this week.  Hope you have a fantastic one.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Reading Challenge Update - 2024 Audiobook Challenge

 We're halfway through the year, so it's time to check in on the Audiobook Challenge, as hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer and That's What I'm Talking About.

As a reminder, if you want to join us, we'd love to have you at the Audiobook Junkies Group on Goodreads.

I'd originally signed up for the Stenographer Level, which is 10-15 books.  It looks like I will be making that no problem, since I'm at 8 books for the first six months of the year, and I have a feeling I will knock several more out this summer.  I'm not officially saying I will hit the next level, Socially Awkward, which is 15-20 books.  But I think there's a good chance.

Anyway, here's what I've listened to so far.

1. The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
2. Yankee Doodle Dead by Carolyn Hart
3. The Fly on the Wall by Tony Hillerman
4. The Ducal Detective by Sarah E. Burr
5. The Crossing by Michael Connelly
6. White Elephant Dead by Carolyn Hart
7. A Feast Most Foul by Sarah E. Burr
8. Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman

July 6th's Weekly TV Thoughts

American Ninja Warrior – In both rounds, I had someone I was rooting for lose in the races.  And so hard to see Nate go out early, too.  Happy that James saved his run, and thrilled as always to see Joe move on to the next round.

Race to Survivor: New Zealand – I’m surprised only one team pushed through.  I would have bedded down for the night, but I’m surprised that the river guides did.  And I’m glad we are finally getting to the rules violation.  I’ve been dying to know what that was since they teased it at the beginning of the season.  I’m wondering if the hedgehogs are what it was.

The Acolyte – The beach planet was beautiful.  I wouldn’t mind visiting that.  But the rest of it?  We could have covered that in five minutes if a good writer were working on things.  And I’m wondering if Sol really didn’t know it was Mae with him the entire time.  At least that’s all out in the open now.

Friday, July 5, 2024

July 5th's Friday Post

Happy 5th of July!  Wait, you mean that's not a holiday, too?  I guess that means I need to work today.  But before I do, let's look at this week's Friday Post.  I'll be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

My teasers for the first three will be coming from Murder on Devil's Pond by Ayla Rose.

This is the first in a new series set in a B&B in Vermont.  Here's how the books begins:

Ezra Grayson may have felt the presence of his late wife in the old Victorian house, but all Hannah Solace sensed there were smoke-tinged air and the lingering haze of grease from Ezra’s breakfast.

The first line might not grab you from a plot point of view, but I really felt like it pulled me into that first scene.

Meanwhile, at 56% into the book, we find this:

Reggie and Peach showed up at 6:45. “Will you watch Peach?” Reggie asked Hannah.
“Sure, she can help me serve the hummus you wanted so badly.”
“You’re funny. She has a project she needs to finish for science camp.”
“This is feeling like a setup all around.”
It was hard, because at 56%, we didn't have very many good quotes that didn't spoil things.  But I found this quote fun.

The book is out on Tuesday, but I will be back with my review on Monday.  I hope you'll come back to see what I thought.

Meanwhile, let's close things out with the Book Blogger Hop.  This week's question is:

Can you suggest a book that you think is inspiring and that examines concepts like freedom, liberty, or individual independence?

I'm going to go with The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.  This Newberry Award Winner is a coming of age tale set in Maine before it was a state.  And, of the course of the book, the boy who is the main character learns to live off the land on his own.  Such a great book.  I need to find time to reread it (and some of the authors other books).

That's it for me.  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Movie Review: Camp Nowhere

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun fantasy about summer without parents
Cons: Predictable, a few rushed plot bits
The Bottom Line:
Kid run summer camp
Fun if predictable film
Light summer viewing

“Who Would Think That Something Like That Would Happen from Harmless Flares and Roman Candles?”

I don’t remember hearing of Camp Nowhere until it came up for the first time on Pod Meets World.  Since they decided to recap it in more detail recently, I gave it a watch.  I think if I’d seen it when I was younger, I would have enjoyed it more, but it was still certainly fun.

Summer is coming, and Morris “Mud” Himmel (Jonathan Jackson) is facing the prospect of computer camp.  Again.  He really doesn’t want to go, he just wants to have fun with his friends.  Friends who are also being sent off to various camps.  As the four of them are talking, they find the perfect solution – find a way to get their parents to send them to fake camps so they can spend the summer doing whatever they want.  Enter Dennis Van Welker (Christopher Lloyd), an actor who could use a chance to get out of town and some money.

Just as the four friends think they’ve pulled it off, the word gets out, and they have to include more kids from their middle school.  With the larger group, will they be able to keep their secret all summer?  Or will the locals figure out what is going on?

Let’s be honest, this movie isn’t terribly original.  You can pretty much guess where things are going early on.  Yeah, a sub-plot or two might surprise you when they are introduced, but the overall story goes places you’d expect them to go.  And that’s okay as long as you are having fun.

And this movie is fun.  As I said earlier, I think it would be more fun if I had seen this as a kid and could get into the fantasy, but I still enjoyed it as an adult.  It helps that there are plenty of great lines and funny situations for us to enjoy.

It also helps that the four kids who lead the story are well developed.  Again, nothing crazy original, but we really do like them.  Props for this goes to the actors, Jonathan Jackson, Andrew Keegan, Marnette Patterson, and Melody Kay.  The other kids aren’t as well developed.  I’m not blaming any of the actors for that, it’s the script that doesn’t give them as much to work with.  After all, the supporting kids include Hillary Tuck, Allison Mack, and Jessica Alba.

Let’s take a minute to appreciate the performance of Christopher Lloyd.  He takes a part that could have been over the top and keeps it grounded.  He easily switches from the out there sequences to the more serious moments without missing a beat.  He isn’t the only adult I recognized in the cast.  We’ve also got Burgess Meredith, Kate Mulgrew, Peter Scolari, Tom Wilson, and Jonathan Frakes in an uncredited cameo.

Considering places they could have gone with this film (a bunch of unsupervised young teens), they keep it very tame.  I appreciated that, although I did feel bothered by some of the things that they did, specifically the scene where they tried to buy beer.  Most of these were very brief scenes, but parents should be aware of them.  Additionally, the ending needed some consequences to it.

As much fun as I was having, there were moments I felt like the plot either glossed over something or there was a small plot hole.  Most of those were at the end of the film.  And they are minor overall.

Is Camp Nowhere a classic that I will be watching again soon?  No.  But is it a fun movie I’m glad I took the time to watch?  Yes, it is.  If you are looking for a light movie to watch this summer, you’ll be glad you sat down to watch it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Book Review: Mother-Daughter Murder Night by Nina Simon

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Story pulls you in
Cons: Mystery could have been stronger overall; misandry
The Bottom Line:
Murder distraction
Three generations bonding
Could have been stronger

I Enjoyed the Book, but I Wanted to Like It More

When I figure heard about Mother-Daughter Murder Night, I knew I had to get a copy and read it.  The story behind the book was compelling, and the premise sounded like fun.  Sadly, it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be.

The backstory of this book really is part of the story.  Nina Simon started working on the manuscript when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.  The story became the distraction that pulled both of them through the surgery and the treatments.  I love that the two of them found something like this to help them cope with the dark days.  And it does shed some light on the set up for this book.

You see, when we first meet Lana Rubicon, the Los Angeles based real estate mogul has just been diagnosed with cancer.  And so, she reaches out to her daughter, Beth, who is a nurse at a rehabilitation center in a town in the central coast of California.  Soon, Lana is living with Beth and Beth’s daughter, Jacqueline, aka Jack.

Lana and Beth have a strained relationship, and all of this isn’t helping them.  But things change when Jack finds a dead body.  Jack, while only fifteen, is a guide for a local kayak company, and her Sunday morning tour ends when a member of a group finds a body floating on the slough where they’ve been paddling.  The police seem to think that Jack knows more than she is telling, and Lana jumps in to solve the case.  Is this the distraction they need?  Can they solve the case?

I know we say we shouldn’t judge a book from the cover or title, but the fact is, we do.  And, in this case, I was expecting something a little on the comedic side.  It quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to be the case.  Instead, we get a serious look at family relationships combined with a murder mystery.  Oh yeah, and there’s cancer, too.

In fact, the murder was a little late to get going as we saw Lana’s initial diagnosis and then caught up a few months later.  Once the murder is introduced, I felt the plot is pretty well balanced.  We have several different things going on, but I never felt the murder took a back seat to the other storylines.  It just took us a bit longer to get there than in the books I typically read.  I did pick out the killer pretty early, but I was still entertained as I read, and I had to see if I was right and what the motive was.

I already said the book was pretty serious tonally.  Overall, I would describe it mostly as traditional.  It’s a little hard around the edges to be a cozy.  It’s definitely more laid back than a thriller.  Keep that in mind as you read.

Over the course of the series, we get scenes in the third person point of view of all three of the women in the Rubicon family.  However, we spend most of our time in Lana’s point of view, which makes sense.  She is the one driving the story the most, no matter which storyline we are talking about.  That was a problem for me since she has a lot of hard edges on her.  Eventually, I did grow to like her, but it took a while.  I actually sympathized with Beth quite a lot as a result.  And I really did like Jack.

Now hear me out on what I am going to say next.  I felt the book had a misandrist bent to it.  Very few of the male characters come off in a positive manner.  Now, I get that this is a mystery and we are supposed to distrust the characters.  This goes beyond that.  Part of it is definitely Lana’s edge toward anyone who stands in her way and her dismissive attitude toward others.  But some of the men in this book are just awful.  That turned my stomach as well.

And yet, there was something about the book that kept drawing me in.  I would get caught up in the world and the story that was being spun.

So, I’m not sorry I read Mother-Daughter Murder Night.  I do wish it had been a stronger debut, however, and I will be hesitant to read any more books by this author.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Book Review: Murder in Rose Hill by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #27)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great time with characters we love
Cons: Mystery could be a little stronger
The Bottom Line:
Death of reporter
Time spent with great characters
Plot a little weak

Death of a Muckraker

Since I caught up on Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mysteries last year, it’s been longer than usual since I caught up with Frank, Sarah, and the rest of the characters.  I’ve definitely missed them, so I was happy to see them again in Murder in Rose Hill.

For those new to the series, this is book 27 in the series.  At this point, it is 1901.  Frank Malloy retired from the New York City police department when he came into money, and he married Sarah.  Together, they continue to solve any cases they come across including those for clients to come by Frank’s private investigation business.

This book opens on September 6, 1901, when Sarah meets a young woman named Louisa who is researching an article she is writing for a magazine on patent medicine.  A few days later, Louisa’s father hires Frank.  Someone has killed Louisa, and he wants to know who did it.  As Frank and Sarah begin their investigation, they learn that little of what Louisa told Sarah was true.  But did those lies lead to her death?

It was fabulous to be back with these characters again.  Yes, Gino and Maeve are helping out as always, and we even get to see Sarah’s parents.  I always like it when all the supporting players are part of the book.  We finally got back to an ongoing storyline that I felt had backtracked in the last few books, and I enjoyed that.  I continue to love the bits of humor as the characters interact as well.

The mystery itself isn’t the strongest in the series.  Don’t misunderstand, it was still very entertaining.  But it didn’t have quite the twists and turns I expected.  Or maybe that was because I honed in on the killer early on and had to wait for the characters to catch up.  The suspects didn’t seem quite as sharp as normal, either.  Again, none of it was bad, but I know the series can be better than this.

Even though this is a historical fiction series, the books are sometimes a little vague on the exact year and date.  That’s not the case here since the book opens on the same day as a very specific historical event.  I’ve known this would have to be featured at some point if the series ever got to this date.  Long term readers will know why.  I’ll be interested to see if this impacts any future books in the series.

This series has many loyal readers after all these years, and they will be happy to lose themselves in Murder in Rose Hill.  I know I was.

Travel back in time with the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries.