Thursday, April 11, 2024

April 12th's Friday Post

Welcome to this week's Friday Post.  As usual, I will be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

My teasers for the first three will be coming from A Murder Most French by Colleen Cambridge.

This is the second book in the American in Paris Mysteries.  I finished it earlier this week, and I enjoyed it.  The book is set in January 1950.  And here's how it begins:

I was just about to crack the second of two eggs into a bowl when I hesitated.
Now, what had Julia told me about scrambling eggs?

Yes, in case you are wondering, that is Julia Child.  She is the main character's neighbor and friend.

Meanwhile, on page 56, we find this:

I skipped out of joining Julia at the market the next morning, using the excuse that I had to go up to the 36 to give my fingerprints.

Why does the main character need to give her fingerprints?  I'll leave that for you to discover.

The book officially comes out on April 23rd, but I'll have my review up next Wednesday.

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

If you could live in any book, which one would you pick and why?

I'm going to go for my go to answers for this one.  Yes, more than one.

When I found Narnia in the 3rd grade, I fell completely in love.  As in checking the back of wardrobes.  Okay, so I knew it would never actually work, but I wished it would.  Getting to go and live in that magical realm sounds like so much fun.

As a teen, I wanted to slip into Sleepyside on the Hudson, New York, the fictional home of Trixie Belden and her family and friends.  I longed for her adventures and her calmer days of swimming in the lake (not much of a horse rider, but I'd give it a try with the rest of the characters, too).  Even more, I wanted to be part of the tight knit circle of friends she was part of.

Even as an adult, I think it's still a toss up between the two for me.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Book Review: Yosemite by Sandy Dengler (Jack Prester #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Gripping story with characters I love
Cons: A couple of minor things not wrapped up well
The Bottom Line:
Wilderness trekking
While hiding from assassins
Story pulls you in

Hiding in the Wilderness of Yosemite

I’ve been a fan of the Jack Prester mysteries since they were originally published in the 1990’s.  When author Sandy Dengler released them digitally ten or so years ago and put out a fifth book, I reread them.  In the last couple of years, she’s returned to the character and put out three new ebook stories in the series.  I really want to catch up on the series this year, so I picked up Yosemite, book six in the series.  It was wonderful connecting with old friends for a new adventure.

Jack Prester works as a special ranger in the American National Parks system.  He’s not assigned to any particular park.  Instead, he goes to any park that is experiencing an unusual issue to help resolve it.  Sadly for him (but happily for us) those issues usually seem to involve murder.

While it’s been almost ten years for me since I last read any of these books, it’s been two years for the characters since book five took place.  In that time, Jack and his wife, Ev, have had a son who is a few months old.  That complicates things for Jack’s newest assignment.  He’s been asked to help hide three key witnesses for an upcoming trial against organize criminals.  The idea is that Jack will take the three men, CPA’s with no outdoor survival skills, into the back country of Yosemite for two weeks so that no one else tries to kill them before the trial starts.

Jack knows the danger, but his father, also a park ranger, advises Jack against going now that he has a young family.  Still, Jack takes on the task with his parents and Ev staying in Yosemite Valley so they can be close if he needs any help.  Jack is in over his head trying to make sure the men survive the wilderness for two weeks, and the assassins who are out to get them are slowly figuring out where they are.  Will Jack succeed?  Or was his father right to warn him away?

As I said at the outset, it’s been roughly ten years since I read the previous book in the series.  I slipped into this book like no time at all had passed.  Granted, we don’t have a ton of recurring characters, but still, it was wonderful to be spending time with them again.  Since the story is told from multiple points of view, we get plenty of time with Ev as well, which I was happy about.  We also get to know Jack’s parents better.  And Jack’s humor made me laugh a few times.  Meanwhile, the men Jack is working to protect come alive as the book goes on.

And the story itself?  It’s a thriller of sorts.  This isn’t a high action book with lots of twists and surprises.  Yet, because we get scenes from the point of view of the villains, we have a growing feeling of dread as we read and we wait for the confrontations we know will happen to come.  It’s just a matter of when and where.  And that tension is wonderful.  I never wanted to put the book down because I had to know how things would turn out.

Now this isn’t to say we don’t get some twists.  This just isn’t one of those twisty thrillers with something on every page.  But it doesn’t have to be since it works perfectly the way it is.

I did feel like the end was a little rushed, meaning that a couple of things weren’t wrapped up in quite as neat a bow as I was hoping for.  But it’s a minor complaint since it’s easy to guess what happens in those situations.

Yosemite is probably the National Park I know best (and even then, it’s been too long since I was there), so when I first saw the premise of this book, I was disappointing, thinking we’d spend all our time with Jack in areas I don’t know.  Because of the multiple viewpoints, that turned out not to be the case, and I was happy to see plenty of references to the parts of the park that most tourists would know in addition to the parts most of us will never see.

I’m glad I already have the next two Jack Prester mysteries.  With as much as I loved Yosemite, I am ready to visit another park with Jack soon.

Travel to more National Parks with the rest of the Jack Prester Mysteries.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Excellent movie about Freddie Mercury superbly acted
Cons: Depressing
The Bottom Line:
Story of Freddie
Shows that fame, money, and sex
Still leave you empty

“I Can’t Think of Anyone More Outrageous Than Me.”

Over the last few years, I’ve developed an interest (if not a complete appreciation) for Queen and their music.  So, when I heard about Bohemian Rhapsody, I was intrigued.  Still, I wasn’t interested enough to go out of my way to watch it.  Fortunately, I ran across it on TV.

The movie tells the story of the rise, fall, and rise again of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), the front man of the rock band Queen.  When we first meet him, he is a quiet young man living with his immigrant parents.  But when he auditions for a band playing in the local bar, his stage presence and talent begin to raise them to national and international fame.  With that comes new pitfalls, including egos among the band members, Freddie’s personal life, and those outside the group trying to use them.

Honestly, one reason I didn’t want to see the movie is because I could guess at the story with what very little I knew.  And, honestly, there isn’t much here you can’t already guess even if you aren’t familiar with the band.  It certainly shows how little fame, money, and sex really satisfy and the dangers that they can bring into your life if you aren’t careful.  As such, in many ways it is a depressing movie.

The movie takes place over roughly 15 years, so there is a lot that is compressed, and I’m sure there is lots that is taken out.  As a result, it is hard to get too involved in any one particular moment in time.  However, I was impressed with how well they did at telling us a compelling story that was easy for this Queen novice to follow.

The climax comes during the band’s reunion for the late 80’s worldwide benefit concert Live Aid.  As such, we actually get quite a bit of their performance.  It isn’t a traditional climax, but it works.

And, over the course of the movie, we get quite a few other Queen hits in the soundtrack.  No, this isn’t a musical as such, but it is a movie about a band, so it would be weird to not hear their music.

Rami Malek is phenomenal as Freddie Mercury.  Again, I don’t have the context to compare him to the real thing, but I could easily see in his performance that he was being someone completely different.  That’s not to take away from the rest of the actors, but he really is the focus of the movie.

The movie is rated PG-13 for the thematic elements I talked about earlier, sex more than anything else.  That includes Freddie’s indulgence is his gay lifestyle.  Keep that in mind when you go to watch.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a well-done movie that will appeal to fans of Queen.  The rest of us won’t get as much out of it, and with its often-depressing storyline, it might not be for us.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Book Review: An Orphan of Hell’s Kitchen by Liz Freeland (Louise Faulk #3)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting historical backdrop to time with characters we love
Cons: The pacing to the mystery doesn’t work
The Bottom Line:
Louise’s last case
Uneven pacing but nice
To see her again

Was it Murder or Suicide?

I’m making a conscious effort to finish off several series I know have ended this year, and one of those was the Louise Faulk Mysteries.  I only had An Orphan of Hell’s Kitchen, the third in the series, to go, so it was an easy one to meet my goal.  Sadly, it wasn’t the strongest ending to the series.

The series is set in the 1910’s where Louise is one of the first women in the NYPD.  Typically, that just means guarding the female prisoners, but Louise still manages to find herself involved in some murders.

This book opens on Thanksgiving 1914 when Louise is called from a boring shift to go with an officer to a crime scene.  A prostitute has been found dead in her apartment along with one of her twin sons.  The other one is still alive.  Her fellow officers are quick to rule it a suicide, but Louise is certain something else happened to the woman, so she starts an off-the-books investigation into what happened.  Can she figure it out without losing her job?

Obviously, this is a darker book than the cozies I read.  However, the worst of it is in the setup, so if the teaser intrigues you, you’ll be fine picking up the book to figure out what Louise uncovers.  Overall, I’d put the book squarely in the traditional camp.  Louise is enough of an amateur that this really isn’t a police procedural, but it’s got that gray to it that is evident in the set up.

Sadly, there the book really goes wrong in the pacing.  I get what the author was doing with the plot, but the problem is it didn’t work.  The middle turns into a bit of a slog along the way.  However, when we do get to the climax, we get a suspense scene and a wrap up that answers our questions.

Quite often, you can tell when an author knows the series is ending, and they wrap up any on-going storylines.  That wasn’t the case here.  Don’t worry, there aren’t any cliffhangers, but there were some things in Louise’s life that weren’t wrapped up in a nice bow.  I’m actually not complaining since it gives us a chance to fill in what happened to her.

If you’ve read the first two books, you’ll be glad to know that we do get to see the regulars again, and I enjoyed our time with them.  We did see advances in their lives even if things weren’t wrapped up for us.

Since this book is set in 1914, World War I has started, although the US hasn’t entered it yet.  This provides an interesting backdrop to much of the action, and I enjoyed that aspect of the story.

The majority of the book takes place in December, and it is fun watching some Christmas creep into the book as the story unfolds.

It’s a shame that Louise didn’t get a stronger send off.  Those who enjoyed the first two will still be glad they picked up An Orphan of Hell’s Kitchen.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Movie Review: One Bad Apple - A Hannah Swensen Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery with characters we love
Cons: I like the new character, but still not completely sold
The Bottom Line:
A dead professor
As we get new character
Fans will eat it up

“Never Underestimate a Baker.”

I’ve said since they started that I view the Hannah Swensen mystery movies as an alternative universe to the books.  Any fan of both has to do that thanks to the changes the books have made to Hannah’s personal life.  We get another deviation with One Bad Apple, the newest movie in the series.

Hannah (Alison Sweeney) has taken a job teaching a baking class at the local college thanks to a recommendation from Bradford Ramsey (Oliver Rice).  Bradford teaches English lit, and he has a reputation for being a harsh grader.

When Hannah and Bradford combined their classes, an accident in the kitchen leaves them and their students shaken.  However, when Hannah finds Bradford’s dead body, she can’t help but think it was no accident.  With the end of the quarter fast approaching, Hannah knows the clock is ticking to find the killer.  Can she do it?

So, what big change does this movie have?  They have written out Detective Mike Kingston since actor Cameron Mathison wasn’t available.  Not having Mike around for a Hannah adventure just feels wrong, but I get it.  In real life, actors aren’t always available the way characters are in a book.  Fortunately, they’ve left the door open for his return.

In his place, they have added Victor Webster as Chad Norton, the local DA.  I liked his character and look forward to seeing him again in future movies, but I’m not completely sure we really need him in the franchise.

Fans of the books are probably shouting exactly what I was when I heard Cameron Mathison was out.  We don’t need a new love interest.  We already have Norman (Gabriel Hogan).  I am happy to report that Norman does have a larger presence here than he’s had in the last couple of movies.  I really enjoyed getting to see more of him and hope that continues.

I was also thrilled to see that Lisa Durupt was back as Andrea.  The way the four Swensen women play off each other is wonderful.  We got some great scenes with them as the movie progresses.

So, how about the mystery.  I couldn’t remember which plot this was until I heard the name Bradford Ramsay, but then I knew exactly what the setup was in Apple Turnover Murder.  Of course, they really changed it, but I didn’t mind.  I didn’t have the killer pegged until exactly when Hannah figured it out.  And I had a lot of fun along the way.

As always for this franchise, the acting is fine.  I felt like it was better than a typical Hallmark movie.

I have to give a special shout out to star Alison Sweeney, who not only stars as Hannah but wrote the movie.

These movies are the longest running of Hallmark’s current mystery franchises.  I’m continuing to enjoy them.  If you enjoy the, too, you’ll like One Bad Apple.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

April 7th's Sunday/Monday Post

Welcome to the weekend and this week's Sunday/Monday Post.  As usual, I will be linking up to:

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

Not too much of excitement going on around here.  We completed month end close at work, but then I got pulled into a couple of things I wasn't expecting at the end of the week.  I have way too much to do before the end of April.

Health wise, I feel like I've pretty much kicked this disease to the curb.  I went for runs Monday and Wednesday this week, in fact, enjoying our mid-70's while we had it.  It really cooled down at the end of the week.  If it hit 50 on Friday, I'd be surprised.

Fortunately, it warmed up a little on Saturday since it was walking book club day.  Nice as always.

Anyway, the rest of my family is getting better.  I feel like I recovered faster than them, but they are better than they were a week ago.  I talked to my parents on the phone (I live several hours away from everyone else), and they are sounding better.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Movie Review: One Bad Apple
Tuesday - Book Review: An Orphan of Hell's Kitchen by Liz Freeland
Wednesday - Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody
Thursday - Book Review: Yosemite by Sandy Dengler
Friday - Friday Post
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

I got another four books this week.  At some point, I need to start reading twice as fast as I do, right?  It's my only hope of ever catching up.

The first book is actually non-fiction - I Sleep Around by Sue Ann Jaffarian.  Sue Ann has written mysteries in the past, and lived in the Los Angeles area before she retired.  When she did retire, she bought a small RV and started traveling the country.  And that's what this book is about.  I'm looking forward to reading it.  I have an ARC for the book, which comes out in June.

But no reason to worry about me.  The rest of the books are mysteries.

Next up is The Kitten Caper by Tara Lush.  This is a prequel novella to her new series.  She was giving it away free earlier in the week, and I snagged it.  Looks like it isn't widely available on the usual sites.  Anyway, the series sounds fun, so I'm hoping I'll get a chance to give this a read soonish.

The last couple are ebooks that went on sale at Amazon at the end of the week.  I'd been eyeing A Deadly Combo by Karen A. Phillips for a while.  The main character in this series is a boxer.  It sounds good, so hopefully, I'll enjoy it.

I feel like I might have a paperback copy of Site Unseen, the first Emma Fielding Mystery from Dana Cameron, around here somewhere.  I know the series has been on my radar for a long time, even before Hallmark turned it into a mystery series.  But when I saw the first book was on sale, I snagged the ebook.  If it's a duplicate, I don't know where the physical copy is.  And I know I never read it.  And at only 99 cents, I'm not feeling guilty about getting it again.

What I'm Currently Reading:

I'm in the middle of a couple of ARCs from Kensington at the moment.  I've recently finished Under the Paper Moon, a stand alone about two former spies who are brought back together on a case in Los Angeles in 1948.  Shaina Steinberg is the author.  I'm trying to figure out what I thought about the book.  There are things I liked, and things that didn't work for me.  I'm going to sleep on it at least once before I write the review.  Hopefully, that will help me bring my thoughts into focus.

Up next for me will be A Murder Most French by Colleen Cambridge.  This is the second in a series set in 1950 Paris.  The main character is neighbors and best friends with Julia Child.  I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to the characters here.

I think that does it for me this week.  Hope your week is good.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

April 6th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Tracker – Interesting to get to know a tiny bit more about one of the supporting characters.  And they reminded us of Colter’s backstory even if we still have learned nothing new about it.  It was also interesting to watch him in a city instead of the country, like normal.  Have to say, I was happy with the illegal immigrant plotline.  I mean, it would have been better without it, but if they had to put it in there, at least it was relatively mild.  Hopefully, this is the closest we get to political issues this season.

The Weakest Link – Some of that was downright painful.  I feel like the total wasn’t that far off from what some of the non-celebs get, but wow, those were some easy questions they were missing.

Survivor – I’m actually impressed that the team managed to make it so close during the challenge.  And for once I was rooting for the team with the advantage to win.  It wasn’t because I wanted someone on one team to go, I just kinda wanted it to end up with the team who was supposed to win to win.  Probably because I wanted the person who wasn’t playing to be safe.

The Amazing Race – I felt sorry for so many teams in this episode.  I would have struggled with the puzzle, too.  I’m actually happy the firefighters managed to come back from that one.  And I felt for the teams that struggled with the map.  That would have been me, too.  Not that surprised about the team that got eliminated.  I was a little surprised they didn’t go last week.  I am surprised the mother/son team is so high.  I had them pegged to go soon as well.  Maybe I’m wrong about that.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Book Review: The Fly on the Wall by Tony Hillerman

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: John Cotton; thrilling plot
Cons: Dated; other characters weak; uneven pacing, especially at beginning
The Bottom Line:
A reporter’s death
Some weak points but book still good
Standalone thriller

When a Reporter Becomes the Story

As much as I can, I try to read an author’s books in order.  For a series, it’s nice to see characters grow and change.  But for standalones like Tony Hillerman’s The Fly on the Wall?  I think it’s just me giving into my OCD.

This book originally came out in 1971, and was the second of Hillerman’s mystery novels to be published.  Since he is best known for his books set in the Navaho reservation, this is quite the departure.  None of his series characters are here, and the majority of this political thriller takes place in an unnamed midwestern capital city (although I have my suspicions that it might be supposed to be Illinois).

Our main character is John Cotton, a political reporter covering the state capital and all the going ons there for an afternoon newspaper.  He’s a columnist, and since his paper is an afternoon edition, he rarely gets to cover any breaking news.  So he’s intrigued when a fellow reporter comes into the press room one night claiming he’s landed The Story of his career and promising to share bits with John.

A few minutes later, that fellow reporter is dead, having fallen down the capital’s rotunda.  True, the man was drunk, but John isn’t quite sure it was an accident.  As he starts to figure out what the story the man was working on was, another reporter dies.  Is there a connection?

After an initial strong opening, the pacing becomes a bit uneven.  It doesn’t help that the book is really about government corruption, and some of those details get a bit too minutia for us to truly care about.  On the other hand, things really do pick up in the second half, with two fantastically suspenseful cat and mouse chase sequences that had me on the edge of my seat.

The characters could also have been a little sharper.  We do get to know John Cotton fairly well, and I liked the evolution we saw in his character.  However, many of the rest aren’t given enough page time to become true characters, even those who play a big part of the story.

There’s a reason I mentioned this book originally came out in 1971 when I started the review.  It is incredibly dated at this point.  I was almost laughing at the amounts of money that were being discussed.  Plus, there’s how John does his job (typewriter, anyone?).  That’s not a reason to skip the book, but be prepared for that when you sit down to read it.

I listened to the audio version, as read by Erik Bergmann.  He did a great job bringing the story to life without getting in the way of the words.

I realize as I’m writing this that it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book.  That’s completely untrue.  I did enjoy it despite the weaknesses.  When the political thriller really kicks in, it is hard to put it down.  There are some interesting questions about ethics in reporting that I wish reporters would wrestle over again.

So if you’ve skipping this standalone, I highly recommend you pick up The Fly on the Wall.  Overall, you’ll be glad you gave it a chance.

April 5th's Friday Post

After a couple of weeks off, I'm back with a new Friday Post.  I will once again be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

This week, I'll be pulling teasers for the first three from Yosemite by Sandy Dengler.

Yes, this is a mystery.  In fact, it's the sixth in her Jack Prester series.  Jack is a National Parks ranger who specializes in solving bigger problems, which often include murder, although in this case, he's trying to keep three witnesses hidden from people who want to kill them.

Knowing that, I'll admit, the beginning threw me a bit.  Here's how the book opens:

The bride pointed to the entry in the Visitor’s Guide to California. “It says here that it’s ‘a delightful historical inn in the midst of Chinatown, bustling by day but quiet at night.’ And there’s the picture. Black and white. It would be much better in color.”

Within a page or so, it made sense to me, but I was trying to figure out what that had to do with the story.

Meanwhile, at 56% we find this:

“While you’re doing that, I’m going to try to find ourselves someone useful as a hostage.“

That doesn't sound good.

I really enjoyed this one.  I'll be reviewing it this coming Thursday.

Now, it's time to switch gears for the Book Blogger Hop.  This week's question is:

In elementary school, did you participate in the Book-It! reading program?

Since it doesn't sound familiar, I'm going to go with no.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Book Review: Brie Careful What You Wish For by Linda Reilly (Grilled Cheese Mysteries #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters we love in a strong mystery
Cons: One aspect felt repetitive
The Bottom Line:
Mean customer dies
Carly must grill the suspects
Fans will eat it up

Murder of a Bad Customer

I’ve really enjoyed Linda Reilly’s first three Grilled Cheese Mysteries, so when she announced she found a new publisher to continue the series, I was among the many happy fans.  Brie Careful What You Wish For is the first book with the new publisher, and it’s another great book.

This series features Carly Hale, who has taken her love of grilled cheese and opened a restaurant in her hometown of Balsam Dell, Vermont, that specializes in this comfort food.  It’s proved to be popular with the locals, and as this book opens, business has never been better.  Part of that is thanks to Ross Baxter, an enterprising young man who has opened a cash-based delivery service for several of the restaurants in town to give him money for college when he starts this fall.

However, one of the regulars he delivers to is Octavia Gray, a retiree who never seems to be happy with his service.  Things take a turn when Ross arrives with her lunch one day to find her dead on the kitchen floor, obviously murdered.  With the police thinking Ross might have done something to Octavia, Carly jumps in trying to figure out what really happened.  Can she uncover the truth?

I always love it when the victim is a nasty person because the suspects are endless.  That’s the case here, although we quickly zero in on a smaller number who seem to have the best motive.  I’ve got to say, I found all of them compelling at some point.  I was starting to hone in on the truth, but there were still major pieces I was missing that didn’t get filled in until Carly figured things out.  This definitely means the suspects were developed well and were doing their job as red herrings.

Authors of cozy mysteries walk many fine lines.  One of them is the main character continually putting themselves in danger to solve cases and the reactions of family and friends.  This book has Carly’s loved ones constantly warning her about the danger.  While I appreciated this touch, especially since I found it realistic, I did feel it was a little one note.  But that’s my only real complaint with the book.

It was great to get to spend more time with the characters.  We are getting quite a large cast of regulars, and they are all back and given plenty of page time.  I really do love them and the relationships they have with each other.  There are some fun sub-plots involving them, and I loved the updates.

And if you love cheese, be prepared to be hungry as you read.  There are plenty of scenes in the diner, so there is constant talk of grilled cheese.  We get two new interesting sounding recipes for gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches at the end.

It really was delightful to be back with Carly in Brie Careful What You Wish For.  Fans will find themselves wishing for another visit as soon as they put this book down.

Because you can’t enjoy just one, here are the rest of the Grilled Cheese Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Movie Review: Central Intelligence

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Decent story, fun action, good acting
Cons: Too awkward for me to really enjoy
The Bottom Line:
Two old high school friends
Reunite for laughs, spy games
Too awkward for me

“Spoiler Alert: I’m in the CIA.”

I had been intrigued by Central Intelligence, but I hadn’t gotten around to seeing it.  However, after a friend raved about it, I found it on TV and decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I didn’t pay money for it because I didn’t wind up enjoying it.

The movie tells the story of Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart).  Twenty years ago, he was the most popular guy in his high school with his entire life seemingly before him.  Now, he’s an accountant who has just gotten passed over for a promotion facing his twenty-year high school reunion.  He just can’t summon the enthusiasm to go.

Then he gets a Facebook request from Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson).  He doesn’t recognize the name, but he doesn’t want to seem rude, so he accepts it.  Turns out that Bob is a friend from high school who was abused by some of the other students.  Calvin agrees to meet Bob for drinks, but that quickly spirals out of control, culminating in the CIA showing up at Calvin’s house looking for Bob, claiming that Bob is a CIA agent on the run.  What is going on?

Quite obviously, with these two leads, this is a comedy.  Oh, it has action and a spy plot, but the emphasis in on the comedy.  However, that is where the movie failed for me since I spent more time cringing then I did laughing at the antics taking place on the screen.  Bob is awkward, and I just don’t find that funny.  I did find Calvin’s reactions to things fun, but I was still cringing more than I was laughing.

The action and overall plot did help to save the movie.  The action scenes were creative and in keeping with the overall tone of the movie.  Yes, they were over the top, but they were intentionally over the top and plenty of fun.  And the plot holds together.  Oh, I saw some things coming, but I was still intrigued enough to keep watching.

And I’m not blaming the actors.  Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson are great at bringing their characters to life, and I bought their performances completely.  It was just the script that I didn’t like.  As a Veronica Mars fan, I found it fun to see Ryan Hansen in one of the supporting roles playing his usual character.

So Central Intelligence wasn’t for me.  I can see why some people, including my friend, find it funny.  As long as you can find the comedy in awkward people and situations, you’ll be fine with this film.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Book Review: Molten Death by Leslie Karst (Orchid Isle Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Inventive mystery, good characters, fun setting
Cons: Main characters’ relationship for part of the book
The Bottom Line:
Body in lava
Interrupts Valerie’s trip
Creative story

Valerie Runs into a Hot Problem on Vacation in Hawaii

Author Leslie Karst splits her year between Santa Cruz, California, and Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.  She set her first series, the Sally Solari Mysteries, in Santa Cruz, so it makes sense that she’d follow it up with the Orchid Isle Mysteries, based in Hilo.  This new series gets off to a good start with Molten Death.

Valerie Corbin and her wife, Kristen, are spending a couple of weeks in Hilo, staying with Kristen’s friend Isaac.  They have arrived just as a lava flow is really gaining steam, so they decide to go out and see it early their first Saturday morning on the island.  When Valerie wanders away from the other two, she sees part of a body being buried in the molten lava.  She can’t get anyone to take her seriously, even Kristen and Isaac.  Certainly, the police aren’t taking it seriously without any proof.  Can Valerie figure out what really happened?

The plot presented us with quite the puzzle, and I was hooked early wondering just how Valerie would figure it out.  I was impressed with how Valerie was able to piece things together at the end, and everything did add up.  Plus, there were some great twists along the way.  I also appreciated that Valerie had a very good reason to be making sure justice was done.  As much as I love cozies, I realize that an amateur getting involved with a murder like the main characters usually do is a huge stretch.

My biggest issue with the book, and pay close attention to what I’m saying here, is Valerie and Kristen’s relationship.  They are going through a rough patch when this book opens, and Kristen is not happy with Valerie’s detecting.  If this were a couple books into the series, I think this sub-plot would have worked.  Instead, it actually made it hard for me to like Kristen for part of the book.  And I didn’t feel like this particular sub-plot was paid off well.

Valerie is older than the typical cozy mystery sleuth, and I enjoyed seeing that.  She’s also dealing with some recent trauma, which made for some dark background material, but I appreciated that.  Just be aware that this has a darker tinge than some cozies when you pick it up and you’ll be fine.  By the end, I really did like all the characters I’m assuming will be series regulars.  The suspects are well developed as well.

There is some Pigeon and Hawai’ian scattered throughout the dialogue.  For the most part, it worked well to give the story an authentic island feel.  I will say a few times it went a little overboard for my taste, but that seemed to happen most at the beginning.  There is a glossary at the end to help us non-Islanders figure out the words if the context doesn’t give you the clues you need.  Personally, I was able to figure it out, although I had to read a little slower than normal a few times.  This really is something to note in passing.

I also really enjoyed the setting.  I was on the Big Island a couple years ago with two friends.  While I didn’t go all the places the characters did, I certainly recognized a few landmarks, and that made me smile.  And who doesn’t want to take a Hawaiian vacation?

While Valerie is retired, she has a background in the food industry, and there is plenty of talk about food.  The six recipes at the end will tempt anyone who wants to enjoy some island cuisine.

An inventive plot makes Molten Death a great read for mystery fans.  Now that I’ve met these characters, I will be looking for their next mystery.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, April 1, 2024

March 2024's Reading Summary

 I'm not fooling around.  Time to kick off April with my reading summary for March.

I've got the index updated.

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

Black List, White Death by Steven Hockensmith (Part of the Holmes on the Range Series) – 5

The book features two novellas featuring cowboy detectives Old Red and Big Red.  Up first, the two travel to the Arizona territory to try to find a list of names related to a murder that happened years before.  Then, they go undercover at a tuberculosis sanitarium in Colorado where patients have died of unnatural causes.  In between, we get a short story involving Big Red’s first solo case in which a package pickup goes wrong.

When you combine the three stories, you get a full-length book.  And all three stories are filled with fun.  I laughed multiple times while reading.  But they are solid mysteries, and I’m always amazed at how Old Red pieces things together.  As always, the brothers’ interactions are fun, and I really do enjoy spending time with them as they navigate cases in the 1890’s.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Knot Ready for Murder by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #9) – 4

Martha Rose has finally agreed to marry her long-suffering fiancé, but Crusher has a shock for her.  He’s just learned that a marriage he thought was annulled decades ago never was.  Even worse, his wife is coming to LA to visit.  When Hadas arrives, she quickly makes it obvious that she is not going to let Crusher go easily.  But then she is kidnapped.  Can Martha figure out what is going on?  Or is Crusher now a widower?

The previously unmentioned spouse is a trope I hate for being too much like a soap opera, but once we get past that, this proves to be a good mystery.  There are plenty of surprises along the way to a great climax.  While we do get a new over the top character here, the rest of the cast have been toned down some, which I appreciated.  On the other hand, I wish we’d seen more of some of them, especially since this is the final book in the series.  Fans who have read the entire series will be delighted with the final chapter, which sends the characters out well.  As always, I enjoyed seeing towns I recognized pop up, but I really enjoyed seeing a local pizza place show up.  I’ll miss spending time with these characters, but I was smiling when I set the book down.


In Sunshine or in Shadow by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles (Molly Murphy #20) – 5

Summer of 1908 finds typhoid hitting New York City.  At the insistence of her husband, Molly heads to visit his mother in Westchester, taking the rest of the family with her.  But soon, she is bored and decides to visit her friends Sid and Gus in the Catskills.  They are making a reluctant visit to Sid’s family only to have murder crash the reunion.  With the police reluctant to let anyone leave until the case is solve, Molly starts investigating.  Can she find out what happened?

The book spends only as long as needed getting the characters into position before the story starts.  From there, we get some set up, so by the time the victim is found, we have plenty of suspects.  I loved watching the investigation unfold, and the solutions was perfectly logical.  The suspects get plenty of time to shine, and I grew to like them.  And Daniel is on his best behavior here, too.  I found it interesting to visit the Catskills just as they were beginning to turn into a summer destination.  Meanwhile, some very nasty prejudice is displayed without turning the book into a lecture at any point.  Molly’s fans will be rewarded with a fantastic twentieth book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Lone Wolf by Gregg Hurwitz (Orphan X #9) – 4

Evan Smoak is trying to deal with some emotional baggage when he gets a phone call asking for his help.  It’s a girl looking for a lost dog.  Normally, this isn’t the kind of case he would take, but because of who she is, he agrees.  When he does find the dog, he also finds himself in a situation much more up his usual alley.  Can he figure out how to stop what he has found?

Because of the set up for this book, it starts a little slower than normal, but then the plot gets jump started with a bang and an extended action scene, and we are off and running.  The plot touches on AI and social media, and I found it interesting to think about what Evan was seeing here, especially in light of what’s been going on in the world recently.  We see a lot of Joey, Evan’s protégé, and I found her annoying at times.  On the other hand, I loved the growth we got for her and Evan over the course of the novel.  A couple of my favorite supporting players weren’t in this one, but I did like the new characters, and there is a great subplot involving Evan’s neighbors.  As expected, there is more language and violence in a thriller than the cozies I normally read, although I did find the language to be excessive, even for the genre.  Overall, the writing continues to be lyrical, and I get lost in it as I read.  If you are looking for a smart, fun thriller, you’ll be glad you picked up their series.


Stark Raving Mod by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #13) – 4

Samantha Kidd has just purchased a mysterious trunk from the estate of a former British singer.  She’s planning to use the contents for her style column for the local paper, but before she can get it opened, someone tries to steal it and someone else offers to buy it for way more than she got it for.  When Samantha does sell it, the new owner is dead a few hours later.  What is going on?

As always with this series, we are in for a delightful romp.  We do have some editing glitches and timeline errors, but they are minor overall.  I got caught up in the mystery, which had some great twists along the way.  The climax was a bit abrupt, but it did answer my questions.  As always, Samantha is a great lead, and I enjoyed watching her grow again here.  Meanwhile, I’m curious what the developments here, especially at the end, will mean for the characters going forward.  There were plenty of laughs to be had as I read the book.  Fans old and new will enjoy this entry in the Samantha Kidd series.


Secrets of a Scottish Isle by Erica Ruth Neubauer (Jane Wunderly #5) – 4

Jane Wunderly is on the Isle of Iona off the coast of Scottland.  She’s joined the Golden Dawn, going under cover in an attempt to learn if their leader would be a good asset for the organization she and her fiancé, Redvers, works for.  But Jane has just barely joined the group when she finds the body of another female member on the moors.  Jane is driven to get justice for the victim.  But what exactly happened to her?  And what about Jane’s official investigation?

As a fan of the series, I was delighted to spend time with Jane and Redvers again.  They are a great pair.  We get plenty of new characters, and they are well developed, too.  Sadly, the plot was uneven, with Jane spending lots of time contemplating what was happening in between the twists.  This led to an abrupt but logical climax.  The writing brought Iona in March to life, and it made me shiver as I read.  It’s fun to see a poet from 1927 show up in the book, and be sure to read the author’s notes at the end to see where she got the inspiration for the tale.  Fans of the series will enjoy Jane’s latest adventure.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Witless Protection Program by Maria DiRico (Catering Hall Mysteries #5) – 5

Mia Carina is impatiently waiting for her boyfriend, Shane, to propose, but her life gets turned upside down when she catches of glimpse of her supposedly dead first husband, Adam.  She thought he had died several years ago in a boating accident.  Why is he back?  What will this mean for Mia’s future?

When Adam was mentioned in the first book in the series, I knew he’d pop back up at some point, but as is always the case in something like this, it’s how the story is executed that matters.  This one was great, with plenty of twists to keep us engaged.  A couple of things get rushed in the climax, but that is minor.  Meanwhile, we get a couple of strong sub-plots that weave in and out of the mystery perfectly.  The characters are strong, even if over-the-top at times.  Mia and Shane keep things grounded for us, and we get plenty of laughs along the way.  Sadly, this is the final book in the series, but the author wraps things up well.  We even get another four delicious sounding recipes at the end.  Fans will be happy with how this book ends the series.  If you’ve missed reading these, don’t hesitate to pick up this delightful series.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret by Teresa Trent (Swinging Sixties #3) – 2

Dot Morgan has been the secretary at a local radio station for several months.  She enjoys the job, although she’d be happier if they played top ten hits like the Beatles instead of the old crooners.  Then one day, a strange woman comes in and accuses Dot’s boss of killing his first wife.  When that woman is murdered a couple of days later, Dot can’t help but wonder if it was true.  Can she find the truth?

This sounded like an intriguing mystery, and I enjoyed the first two, so I was looking forward to reading this one.  Sadly, it disappointed.  The mystery was very underdeveloped, and the climax just left me with a new question.  Instead, the book felt more like a soap opera, focusing on the love lives of the characters, both series regulars and new.  While I did like the sub-plots involving returning characters, the other storylines didn’t really interest me.  Meanwhile, we also got some lectures on how things were at the time.  A little bit would have been appropriate, but it got to be too much.  In the end, unless you are a diehard fan of the series, I recommend you skip this one.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Easter Sunday's Sunday/Monday Post

Welcome to this week's Sunday/Monday post.  I'll be linking up to:

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

He is risen!  Happy Easter!

I'm doing better health wise than I was last week.  Still have a bit of a cough occasionally, still a bit congested.  It's that last lingering part that takes forever to go away.  Sounds like my family has been hit much harder.  And those who weren't sick last week got sick this week, too.  I'm very fortunate compared to them.

Other than that, it was a quiet week.  Didn't really go anywhere until Friday night when I went to my church's Good Friday service.  Not that I had anything planned I skipped because of being sick.  We started month end at work this week.  Hard to believe the month is over already, right?

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - March Reading Summary
Tuesday - Book Review: Molten Death by Leslie Karst
Wednesday - Movie Review: Central Intelligence
Thursday - Book Review: Brie Careful What You Wish For by Linda Reilly
Friday - Book Review: The Fly on the Wall by Tony Hillerman
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

Got four books to tell you about this week.

The first two are the two I teased in last week's post.  I had the post office hold my mail while I was on vacation, and so I didn't actually get these until this week anyway.

The first is Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife by Skye Alexander.  This series is set in the 1920's and featuring a jazz singer as the main character.  I've been eyeing it for a while and finally took the plunge.

Meanwhile, I also go my preorder of A Midnight Puzzle by Gigi Pandian.  This is the third Secret Staircase Mystery.  With how much I loved the second in the series when I read it in January, I'm really looking forward to diving into this one.

Speaking of books I enjoyed earlier in the year, I also got the second Bee Keeper Mystery from Jennie Marts - Kill or Bee Killed.  This book will be out at the beginning of June, and I'm looking forward to it.

Finally, I snagged Ready to Fumble by Christy Barritt.  This book has been on my radar for a while, so when I noted that it was free for Kindle, I snagged it.  Sounds like a fun fist book in a series.  We'll see when I get a chance to read it.

What I'm Currently Reading:

As I type this on Saturday, I just finished An Orphan of Hell's Kitchen by Liz Freeland.  It's the third and final book in a series set in the 1910's New York City.  The main character joins the police department as one of the first female officers.  This one wandered a bit, but I am glad I read it overall.

That means I've just barely started Yosemite by Sandy Dengler.  Yes, it is a mystery.  In fact, it's book six in the Jack Prester series set in various National Parks.  I've enjoyed the others in the past, so I'm looking forward to catching up with the characters.

That's it for me.  Have a great week!

Saturday, March 30, 2024

March 30th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Since I didn't post any TV thoughts last week, I've got a double dose for you this week.

Tracker (3/17) – Another great episode and case.  I really wasn’t worried for any of the characters, I suspected that Shaw would succeed with everyone alive.  But how that would happen was the big mystery to me.  I thought we might get more of his backstory.  So far, that has been very scant.  I’m not complaining, but I feel like we should know more soon.

Night Court (3/19) – When I realized what the plot was going to be of this episode, I thought it might be fun to see Gurge’s boyfriend actually show up.  They should have kept him off screen.  Outside of a few great one liners, the episode wasn’t that funny at all.

Extended Family (3/19) – I was getting ready to cringe when everyone book on the virtual reality glasses, but it turned out to be pretty funny.  Still rolled my eyes at some of Jim’s reactions to things, however.

Wild Cards (3/20) – I knew we were getting our happy ending too early so Max was up to something else.  I was just wondering what was so important to her to get her to come back.  I really hope the show gets renewed (and the CW airs it), so we can find out what happens next.  Yes, I’ve gotten very hooked on these characters.

Survivor (3/20) – It is getting to be a cliché in Survivor.  You’ve got one team always losing.  They manage to pull it together for a reward challenge, but then they fail again at the next immunity challenge.  Okay, so it probably hasn’t happened all that often, but I knew where the episode was going long before it went there.  Not that I’m upset by the results.  I’m glad he’s gone since he was always making me cringe.  Heck, I had to fast forward through the last couple of segments because I couldn’t take him any more.

The Amazing Race (3/20) – I knew from the first few minutes that the father/daughter team wasn’t going to be around too long.  I’m not surprised they are out, but I would have liked to see them hang on for another leg or two.  I did love how supportive she was when he started having heat exhation, and it was obvious they were so far behind.  No change in the top four teams between the legs.  But wow were there some shake ups in the others.  It will be interesting to see if that continues.

Tracker (3/24) – Having the other tracker on this case was interesting (especially know the actress is the lead’s real life wife).  I really didn’t see the ending coming as to who the villain was, but it made sense as they laid it all out.  I also like the show works hard to give us happy endings.  This was another great one.

Night Court (3/26) – Well, they got me with that ending.  But that’s because of the guest stars since I’m a fan of Ryan Hansen and Julia Duffy from their work elsewhere.  Honestly, I might have cared about the wedding if I’d known Roz from the original, but without that connection, I couldn’t care less about the main story of the episode.

Extended Family (3/26) – You knew where the episode was ultimately going, and I wanted to like it.  I certainly laughed at some of the jokes along the way.  But they brought up some serious stuff that needed to be talked through, and they just swept it under the rug in the rush to a happy ending.

Survivor (3/27) – Finally, another team had to go to tribal.  And it was the team that hadn’t lost anyone yet.  It is hard to see someone go home with an idol, especially someone who had been playing the others so much like she had.  But in this case, it would have been very hard to see it coming.  I honestly didn’t see it coming.  So it’s not as bad as some of them where they should have had a little clue they were a target.

The Amazing Race (3/27) – And I thought I was the world’s most indecisive person.  You can’t change detours that much and survive.  Having said that, I’m surprised anyone even thought about the trucks.  The cooking seemed way easier to me.  In fact, they’ve had lots of one sided detours this season.  I hope they get more equal detours going forward.  Not really as many opportunities to get ahead in this leg, which is what I expected since we are back to this format.  It's not my favorite format of the race, but it’s still better than no race.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Reading Challenge: COYER Spring 2024

Now that April is here (okay, two days away), it is time for the Spring quarter of COYER to start.  It's not quite as strict as the first quarter was, but we still have some rules.

Any format counts.  Considering how many physical books I'm reading in April, that's wonderful.  However, they still have to be very cheap if not free.  Fortunately, ARCs count, as do library books.

So, we'll see how I do at reading books that comply this quarter.  I suspect I'll do better than the first quarter.

1. Molten Death by Leslie Karst
3. The Fly on the Wall by Tony Hillerman
4. Yosemite by Sandy Dengler

Book Review: Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret by Teresa Trent (Swinging Sixties #3)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Dot and the rest of the regulars
Cons: The mystery doesn’t work
The Bottom Line:
Characters still fun
But mystery is too light
Disappointing book

Listen, This Secret is Disappointing

I enjoyed the first two books in Teresa Trent’s Swinging Sixties Mysteries.  As a result, I was looking forward to reuniting with the characters again in Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret.  Sadly, this book was very disappointing.

This series has introduced us to Dot Morgan, a young woman in a small Texas town in the 1960’s.  When we first met her, she was just about done with secretarial school.  But she’s finding that keeping a new job with her skills isn’t as easy as she had hoped, especially since she is finding herself involved in murder.

As this book opens, she has been the secretary at KDUD, one of the local radio stations, for a few months now.  If the station would play current hits, like The Beatles, she would absolutely love the job.  Even so, listening to the crooners all day while taking requests isn’t a bad way to spend her days.

Her boss, Holden, who also happens to be the D.J. during the day, is engaged to a beautiful socialite in town.  But all that is threatened when a woman comes into the station one day accusing him of killing his first wife years before.  When that woman is found murdered a couple of days later, Dot can’t help but wonder if there is truth to the rumors.  Is she working for a killer?

This sounds like a great setup for a mystery, right?  Based on the first two books in the series, I was expecting it would be.  But, sadly, it really wasn’t.  Instead of Dot investigating and finding clues to what really happened, we get more soap opera about what is going on with Holden’s relationship (and the fact that he’s a womanizing slimeball), Dot’s cousin’s wedding, and even Dot’s love life.  The mystery takes a back seat to all of this.

Then, when we do reach a climax, it just leaves us with more questions than it answers.

The night D.J. at the station is African-American.  That sets things up for us to see the racism in the country, especially Texas, in 1964.  When this aspect of the book started, I was fully on board.  However, as it went along, there was little in the way of advancement, and it felt like this was turning into a lecture.

Having said all this, I did enjoy catching up with Dot and the other series characters.  There were some interesting developments in their lives, and I liked how their storylines played out throughout the book.

But that isn’t enough to make me recommend Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret.  It’s a shame the mystery was so underdeveloped.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.