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.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Movie Review: Jack Reacher - Never Go Back

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mystery and action, acting
Cons: The character of Samantha
The Bottom Line:
Trying to clear names
While they’re also on the run
Good combo again

“Welcome Back to the Army, Major.  You’re Under Arrest.”

Since I found both Jack Reacher movies airing on TV back to back, I recorded them both, figuring if I hated the first, I could always delete the second sight unseen.  Fortunately, I enjoyed the first one because I enjoyed this sequel, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, as well.

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) has just wrapped up a particularly nasty case, and he’s been working with army Major Turner (Cobie Smulders).  While he and Turner have never met, they’ve developed a great relationship over the phone, and Reacher decides to head to DC to take her to dinner.  Only, when he arrives, he discovers that Turner has just been arrested for treason.  The evidence is compelling, air tight, and Reacher doesn’t believe a bit of it.  Fearing both of their lives are in danger, he takes off  with Turner across the country, trying to figure out who is behind the conspiracy.  Can he do it?

Like the first movie, this one is a combination of mystery and action.  There is more to the plot than a simple action movie usually has, so you have to pay attention.  I appreciated how it came together at the end.  No, it isn’t the most intricate mystery of all time, but it was good.

Meanwhile, the action was also good.  It’s been ramped up a bit since the first movie, but it still serves the plot instead of being the driving force behind the movie.

With the first film, I complained about the overly serious tone.  I felt this movie’s tone was better.  It still took itself and the events seriously, but it wasn’t so serious that it was distracting.  Heck, the lighter moments actually worked to relieve the tension for a few moments before they started ramping up again.

In my mind, the biggest “What were they thinking?” in this movie is Samantha, as played by Danika Yarosh.  Samantha is a teen who gets caught up in the story when the bad guys start going after her.  She feels shoe horned into the movie, and she’s a typical teen caught up in an action movie trope.  Okay, so she’s a little smarter, but she still seemed forced into the story.  Having said that, her character leads to a wonderfully tense scene late in the film, and as the character grew, I started to soften toward her.

Let me be clear, the above paragraph has nothing to do with Danika Yarosh’s performance.  She did a great job with a thankless role.  In fact, I felt all the cast was strong.  I know fans of the Jack Reacher novels have issues with Tom Cruise as Reacher since he doesn’t fit the description of the character in the books, but since this is the only way I know the character, I think he’s fine.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a good combination of mystery and action that will keep you entertained.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Book Review: The Witless Protection Program by Maria DiRico (Catering Hall Mysteries #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great story, characters, and laughs
Cons: A couple of minor things with the climax
The Bottom Line:
First husband returns
Causing Mia more trouble
Sad to see the end

Mia’s Past Disrupts Her Future

There are some obvious tropes in cozy mysteries, and one of them is that past significant others will come back at some point to wreak havoc in the main character’s life.  Of course, it’s always about how an author uses that set up, and Maria DiRico does a fantastic job with it in The Witless Protection Program.

This is the fifth and, sadly, final book in the Catering Hall Mysteries.  Mia Carina is the main character, and she runs the Belle View Banquet Manor in Queens, one of the legitimate businesses that the mob Family her dad and brother have worked for runs.  As this particular book opens, she’s impatiently waiting for her boyfriend, Shane, to propose.

However, their future together hits a bump when Mia spots her first husband at a wedding expo she’s working.  Adam was supposed to have died in a boat accident years before in Florida, however his body had never been found.  Before Mia can confront him, he disappears, only to pop up again.  Why is Adam back?

Of course, as soon as I read about this part of Mia’s past in the first book, I knew we’d see Adam before the series was over.  Our patience was rewarded with this book.  The mystery is great since so many of Mia’s loved ones wind up as suspects.  There are so many surprises and twists along the way, yet the climax wraps everything up well.  A couple of things were handled a little abruptly, but that’s a minor complaint.

Meanwhile, we also have a couple of strong sub-plots that weave in and out of the main mystery perfectly.  In lesser hands, it would have been easy to find the mystery taking a back seat to the other goings on, but that was never the case.  I might be a little biased since I do love the cast, so I got caught up in all the storylines, but I really did feel like things wove together very well.

And the comedy!  This may be the funniest book in the series.  There were so many great lines and situations.

Yet, the characters come across as real, even the ones that are more comic relief.  It helps that we’ve really come to care for Mia and Shane, so we want to see them get their happy ending.

Speaking of ending, the author knew that this was the final book in the series when she set down to write it, and it shows.  We get a fantastic ending for the characters.  Okay, so maybe it was a little over the top, but it feels right.  I was grinning when I set the book down, although I am sad we won’t get to spend any more time with the characters.

As I’ve noted with past books in the series, don’t let the fact that this book involves the Mob and is set in Queens bother you.  This is definitely still a cozy mystery.  The Family might be mob-light, but it works for these books.

Those looking for some Italian recipes will be delighted with the four we get at the end of this book.  There are a couple I’d be interested to try because they sound different, and I suspect I’d like them.

Those who have been following the Catering Hall Mysteries will be delighted with The Witless Protection Program.  While I’m sad to say goodbye to these characters, I have really enjoyed spending time with them.

Book the rest of the Catering Hall Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Movie Review: Cabaret

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Liza Minnelli wows
Cons: Most of the characters are too shallow to like
The Bottom Line:
Berlin musical
Great performances but has
Shallow characters

I Guess I Just Don’t Get It

Having heard about Cabaret for years, I decided to take a chance and watch the movie.  I was expecting to have some issues with it, which I did.  But the entire thing is so bizarre that I can’t see why it gets the praise it does.

The story centers around Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an American who has landed a job singing and dancing at a cabaret in 1930’s Berlin.  The story gets going when she meets Brian Roberts (Michael York), an Englishman who has just rented the room next to hers.  He’s come to Berlin to teach English to anyone who will hire him.  While he insists he is gay, the two slowly begin to fall in love.  However, their relationship is complicated when they meet Maximillian van Heune (Helmut Griem).  Meanwhile, we get glimpses of what is happening in Germany at the time as the Nazis grow stronger.  Meanwhile, we also see the acts at the cabaret as led by the Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey).

If, like me, you are used to all the main characters having songs they sing over the course of the story, be prepared to adjust your expectations.  All but one of the songs here is set in the cabaret, and some of the main characters don’t sing at all.  It makes for a different musical, and I had to adjust my expectations accordingly.  Having said that, much of the story takes place outside the cabaret, so many of the musical numbers felt forced. We’d go back to the cabaret for a number that was commenting on the action like a highly ironic Greek chorus, but it just didn’t work for me.  Or the song is playing while we are watching something else on screen with flashes to the performance back at the cabaret.

This musical was definitely pushing the envelope for the 1970’s.  If it were released today, I’m sure it would be rated PG-13.  There is lots of talk about sex and the innuendo is extremely thick in most of the songs.  I was expecting that going into the movie, so, while I didn’t like it, I know this is on me.

My biggest issues with the movie, however, is the characters.  I liked a couple of supporting characters and their sub-plot was nice.  However, the main characters weren’t really that likeable.  I started out liking them, but as the movie progressed and we saw just how shallow and self-absorbed they were, I grew to dislike them.  I was glad to be done with them when the movie was over.

Now, this isn’t the fault of the cast.  They are all fantastic at bringing their characters to life.  I have to give a special shout out to Liza Minnelli.  Wow!  I couldn’t look away when she was on the screen; her singing, dancing, and acting were also phenomenal.  Her song “Maybe This Time” is a highlight.

Once again, I find I’m the odd voice out on a popular musical, but Cabaret just isn’t for me.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Book Review: Secrets of a Scottish Isle by Erica Ruth Neubauer (Jane Wunderly #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and sense of place
Cons: Plot could have been stronger
The Bottom Line:
Joining occult group
Leads Jane to encounter death
Good for series fans

Undercover in the Occult

One thing I enjoy about the Jane Wunderly series is that you never know where she will land for each book.  So far, we’ve watched her solve cases in Egypt, England (twice, including the novella), the Atlantic Ocean, and Turkey.  Now, she is heading to an island off the coast of Scotland in Secrets of a Scottish Isle.

Jane is there undercover for the mysterious organization she and her fiancé, Redvers, work for.  Her assignment is to infiltrate the occult group Golden Dawn.  Many of them are on the Isle of Iona to perform a ceremony for the Spring Equinox.  Specifically, she is to find out if the Golden Dawn leader, Robert Nightingale, would be the asset he claims he would be when he applied to work for Jane’s organization.

Jane is posing as someone who has recently converted to the group.  But she’s just gone through the initiation when she finds the body of another female member in the middle of the moors.  It isn’t clear whether she was murdered or not, and Jane feels the need to bring the victim justice.  With only sporadic help from Redvers, who is trying to stay out of sight since Robert knows him, Jane must now balance the two investigations.  Can she figure out what is really going on?  Is Robert trustworthy?

While there are other characters who pop in and out of these books, Jane and Redvers are the only ones who are in every book.  Fortunately, I’ve really come to care for them over the course of the series.  They pulled me right into this story, and I couldn’t help but root for the two of them to figure things out.  They are joined here by a good cast of suspects who kept me guessing as to what was really going on.

Sadly, the mystery could have been stronger.  Jane spends lots of time pondering the events unfolding around her, which slows down the pace.  Don’t get me wrong, there are interesting developments, but there could have been more of them.  The ending, while logical, is a little abrupt.

However, the setting came wonderfully to life.  I actually got to read this around the Spring Equinox, which is fun.  While our weather in Southern California wasn’t nearly as cold as it was in Scottland in this book, every time I picked up the book, I wanted to crank up the heat.  I could feel the cold that Jane was experiencing.

This book is set in 1927.  William Butler Yeats is one of the characters.  While I’m not super familiar with him or his work, I still found it fun recognizing his name when he first appeared.  As to other historical events, I’ll leave it for you to discover when you read the author’s note after you’ve finished the book.

Fans of the series will be happy to catch up with Jane and Redvers in Secrets of a Scottish Isle.  If you want to enjoy some historical travel, you’ll be happy you picked up this series.

Enjoy the rest of the Jane Wunderly Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Palm Sunday's Sunday/Monday Post

 Welcome to 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

Greetings from even further Southern California than normal!  My family has all been in San Diego for the last week.  My parents rented a condo right on the beach, and we've been enjoying some family time together.  In addition to enjoying the location they rented, we also went to Sea World and the San Diego Safari Park.

Unfortunately, we've also been sick.  I was just getting over whatever I had, but my cough came back on Thursday.  Various other family members have been sick with other things as well.  I don't think we've been sharing our germs.  I think we've been sick with different things.  Not everyone got sick, but it's been enough to put a damper on things.

Even so, we've had fun all being together.  And playing lots of games.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Secrets of a Scottish Isle by Erica Ruth Neubauer
Tuesday - Movie Review: Cabaret
Wednesday - Book Review: The Witless Protection Program by Maria DiRico
Thursday - Movie Review: Jack Reacher - Never Go Back
Friday - Book Review: Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret by Teresa Trent
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

It's been two weeks, so of course that means I have 5 books to tell you about.  (Okay, it should be more, but my mail hold means I will have to wait until next week to tell you about the others.)

I had a discount at Target, so naturally, I used it for books.  The first of those was Under the Radar by Annette Dashofy.  This is book nine in her Zoe Chambers series, and it is the next book in the series I need to read.  I really hope to get a couple read in the series this year, so I need it.

I also got The Key to Deceit by Ashely Weaver.  This is the second in her Electra McDonnell series set in England during World War II.  The main character is a lock picker/thief who gets roped into helping the fight against the Axis.  I enjoyed the first one last year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to the characters next.

I also snagged a couple of Kindle freebies in the last couple of weeks.  The first is no longer free, but it is Marigolds, Mischief, and Murder by Erica Wynters.  I knew nothing about it, but it sounds fun.  Yes, a flower shop is the setting for this cozy mystery series.

Just on Friday, I snagged Something Deadly on Desert Drive by Kris Bock.  The series sounds fun.  I have the first and haven't read it yet, but this book was free.  It's the second in the series, so if I enjoy the first, I'll be ready to dive right into the second one.

Finally, I snagged an eARC for Brie Careful What You Wish For, the fourth Grilled Cheese Mystery from Linda Reilly.  The series has moved to a new press that doesn't give much lead time.  The book comes out on April 9th, so I'm glad I had room for it in my April schedule.

What I'm Currently Reading:

As I type this Friday night, I'm actually only in the middle of my audio book.  As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my current audio book is The Fly on the Wall by Tony Hillerman, one of his two stand alones.  I only have about half an hour left to listen to, so I should finish it up no problem driving home on Saturday.

I just finished up Molten Death by Leslie Karst, the first in her new series set on the Big Island of Hawaii.  It was very well done.  I'll be reviewing it on release day, which is April 2nd.

Next, I'll be diving into Brie Careful What You Wish For.  I'm thinking I'm going to review it April 4th to help get the word out that it is coming.  Since I enjoyed the first three, I'm looking forward to it.

That's it for me.  Hope you have a great week.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

TV Show Review: The Company You Keep

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Addicting story with characters we want to root for
Cons: Charlie and his family; a few things that didn’t work for me, but minor overall
The Bottom Line:
Con and an agent
Pair up for a fun series
Enjoyed what we got

“Now Tell Me Something True.”

I was intrigued as soon as I heard about The Company You Keep, a TV show that ABC aired in the first half of 2023.  I thought it sounded promising, and they were heavily advertising that it was starring Milo Ventimiglia, and actor I’ve enjoyed in a couple of shows now.  I’ll admit, it took a couple of weeks for me to get fully invested in the show, but once I did, I was hooked.

When we first meet Charlie (Milo Ventimiglia), he is completing a business deal.  It just so happens, that the business deal is with Patrick Maguire (Timothy V. Murphy), the leader of a drug syndicate.  Oh, and Charlie happens to be a con artist, who has just taken Maguire for $10 million.  That is, until his fiancée double crosses him and takes the money for herself, leaving Charlie alone in a hotel bar.

Meanwhile, we meet Emma (Catherine Haena Kim), a CIA agent who is hot on the trail of a new drug trafficker.  However, her day ends when she is called to a hotel in time to catch her boyfriend cheating on her.  They break up, and Emma finds herself in the hotel bar where she sits next to Charlie.  After a few drinks, the two of them head up to the room that Charlie had booked for himself and his fiancée before she took off.

Eventually, the two have to return to the real world where Charlie finds out that Maguire is now after him and his family to return not only the money that they stole from him, but even more.  That means that Charlie is going to have to keep in touch with Maguire and his syndicate.  Meanwhile, Emma’s drug target?  Maguire, of course.  Will the two of them be able to build their relationship?  Or will their real jobs drive them apart?

Normally, I don’t find myself rooting for criminals.  And yes, I knew that Charlie was a con artist before I started watching the show.  That was my biggest hang up with the show in its first couple of episodes even while I found myself rooting for Charlie and his family to complete their cons, get money for Maguire, and avoid being spotted by Emma.  Emma, meanwhile, has her own family drama to deal with, and that helped me get to know her better.

But it only took a couple of episodes before I was fully on board.  I loved these characters.  It helped that Charlie and his family were targeting bad guys, so we had some Robin Hood vibes going on.  And all of the characters feel very real.  Even those that start out cliches (like Emma’s family) become more real as we get to know them.

It certainly helps that there are some wonderful twists and turns to the story.  I expected some of them from the pilot, but the timing and fall out was always a surprise.  While I didn’t always feel like the characters were behaving in realistic ways (or at least in ways I’d behave), these were minor issues as the writers did a good job of moving us quickly into more believable behavior.

Ultimately, this was a slick show, with a fast pace and lots of fun fantasy with the world the characters inhabited.  Was it really realistic?  Probably not.  Was it a fun show to escape into?  Absolutely.

That is helped by the characters.  The writers put them through a lot, and the actors rose to every challenge.  Even when the behavior didn’t feel quite true to me, the actors did their best to sell it, which is probably why I was able to move on quickly.

And the stunts and other technical aspects of the production were flawless.  There are lots of perfectly timed misses that I just loved watching.

Season 1 only consisted of 10 episodes.  Fortunately, the main storyline we were following was wrapped up satisfactorily here, although the final episode definitely set up places for the story to go if it had been renewed.  Unfortunately, the ratings were poor almost the entire way through the show’s run, so it wasn’t a surprise that it was cancelled.  I would have been back for more if it had been renewed.

The show was quickly pulled from streaming as well, so it will be hard to track down to watch.  However, if you run across it, I think you’ll get caught up in the fun that was The Company You Keep.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Novella Review: Death by Eggnog by Lee Hollis (Hayley Powell #8.5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery and characters
Cons: Still a bit disorienting if this is your introduction to the series
The Bottom Line:
Christmas novella
Short but engaging story
Worth reading for fans

Death of the Town Librarian

Kensington’s novella anthologies are designed to let readers meet authors they’ve haven’t started reading yet.  For me, so far, those anthologies are the only introduction I’ve had to Hayley Powell and the rest of the characters from Lee Hollis.  In fact, Death by Eggnog was my first trip to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Everyone in town is looking forward to the annual Restaurant Association Christmas Dinner, however things take a deadly turn when the town librarian eats a too spicy wing, follows it up with some eggnog, and dies.  The librarian had made many enemies over the years, but this looks like a tragic accident.  Was it?

It’s always hard to jump into a story, especially one this short, when you don’t know the series regulars.  Fortunately, most of them were kept in the background, so I was able to get to know the characters important to this story, which I enjoyed.  The plot was good and kept me engaged as I was reading.  That’s pretty good for a story that’s only around 100 pages.

Those familiar with the series won’t be surprised to learn we also get some delicious sounding recipes scattered throughout.

As I said earlier, this was originally released in an anthology back in 2016.  If you’ve already read the Eggnog Murder collection, you don’t need to pick up this ebook.  But if you are a fan of the series and have missed it somehow, you’ll be glad you snagged it.

While I still haven’t actually read any of the full novels, I have enjoyed the anthologies enough to buy the first book.  That makes me glad I read Death by Eggnog.

Novella Review: Eggnog Murder by Leslie Meier (Lucy Stone #23.5)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting mystery
Cons: Pacing slowed by sub-plot that didn’t interest me
The Bottom Line:
Deadly sip of nog
Story wanders for non-fans
But fans will enjoy

Deadly Eggnog in the Newspaper Office

I know that Leslie Meier’s books are famous for being themed around various holidays, at least at the beginning of the series.  Since I pretty much know the characters from the holiday novellas that have been released, I also associate the characters with holidays.  For example, the Eggnog Murder novella was the fourth time I’d dropped into Tinker’s Cove, Maine, for Christmas.

This story involves a tragedy that takes place during the annual holiday stroll when a woman drinking eggnog in the newspaper office suddenly dies.  What was in the eggnog?  Was she the intended victim?

Since this is a novella, it really only has 100 pages to give us the story.  Even so, I found that the story meandered quite a bit before we got down to the murder.  Part of that was taken up with a sub-plot involving main character Lucy Stone’s family, but since I’m not familiar with them, it didn’t interest me that much.  The mystery did wrap up well, however.  And I’m sure fans of the series will be more invested in the sub-plots.

Those looking for some seasonal treats will be happy with the included recipe.

This story was originally the headliner in an anthology of the same name that was released back in 2016.  If you’ve read the anthology, you don’t need to pick it up again here.  But if you are a fan and have missed it, you’ll be glad you took a sip of Eggnog Murder.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Book Review: Stark Raving Mod by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #13)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, Samantha, lots of fun
Cons: Some editing issues, but minor overall
The Bottom Line:
Old trunk of singer
Who wants it enough to kill?
A fun romp with Sam

It’s a Mod Mystery

Whenever I pick up a Diane Vallere book, I know I’m in for a great time.  No matter the series, the characters will be sharp, there will be laughs, and the mystery will keep me engaged.  I found all those things in Stark Raving Mod, the thirteenth Samantha Kidd Mystery.

If you haven’t yet met Samantha, she is a former buyer for a big New York City department store who has moved home to Ribbon, Pennsylvania.  Over the course of the series, she’s had a variety of jobs, and, at the moment, she’s a fashion columnist for the local paper.

And her current assignment has been related to the auction of a singer.  Boyd Brighton was the lead singer of the Modifiers, a British band that had some success with their first release in the 1960’s, but never recorded a second record.  A local auction house won the bid for his estate, and Samantha has won a locked trunk for hardly any money.

However, she quickly realizes that others are very interested in it.  Before she can even open it, someone steals it from her cubicle at the paper and someone else offers much, much, much more than she paid for it to buy the trunk from her.  Then, when she decides to sell, the new owner is dead just a few hours later.  What is going on?

The book plunges us right into the mystery, and I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next.  We got plenty of twists and turns.  The ending seemed a little abrupt, but it did answer my questions.

Unfortunately, Diane’s books often need a timeline polish, and that was the case here.  We had an entire day that people seemed to forget about after it happened.  Not what happened during that day, mind you.  There were also a few more spelling and grammar typos than typical, although those were mostly concentrated near the beginning of the book.  Either that, or I didn’t notice when I got pulled into the story.

But these were more minor annoyances than anything else.  I was having such fun getting to the end that I just shrugged it off and kept moving forward.

Part of that is because of the characters.  Samantha is a fantastic main character.  She’s sympathetic and just pushy enough to make the plot work.  I also appreciate how she continues to grow in each book.  A couple of the supporting players aren’t in this book much, but it gives another couple more of a chance to shine.  I’m very curious where one of them is going to go from here.

Speaking of which, we get quite the surprise at the end.  I need to know what the ending of this book is going to mean for the series going forward.

As I mentioned earlier, this book has plenty of laughs.  There are the situations Samantha gets into, the banter with the others characters, and her first-person commentary.  While the stakes of the mystery are very real, there is plenty of fun to be had along the way.

Overall, Stark Raving Mod is another delightful romp with Samantha.  Whether you are a new fan or have read all of the books to date, you’ll be happy you picked this book up when you turn the final page.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Samantha Kidd Mysteries.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Movie Review: Tremors II - Aftershocks

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Laughs
Cons: Weak story and pacing
The Bottom Line:
The Graboids strike back
Like characters and the laughs
Story weaknesses

“Stuff Like This Only Happens in the Middle of Nowhere.”

I was a little surprised when my friends decided they wanted to watch Tremors II: Aftershocks.  I knew they’d enjoyed the first movie, but I didn’t think we’d continue on with the franchise.  But I didn’t put up any resistance to the idea.

The action moves to an oil field in Mexico.  Production has halted because of a Graboid attack.  Because of his expertise, the owners go to Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) because he survived the original attack from these giant underground worms.  He reluctantly agrees, even getting roped in to including Grady (Chris Gartin) as his assistant.  However, things are not as simple as they seem, so he calls in Burt (Michael Gross).  Will they be able to deal with these monsters?

While I enjoyed this movie more than the first one, it is a worse movie.  Let me explain.

My problem with the first movie was that I found so many of the characters unlikeable.  It helps that Earl and Burt are the only survivors from the first one to come back.  While Grady is annoyingly dumb, he grew on me.  Honestly, they have a very small cast in this film, and the only other one we really get to know is Helen Shaver’s Kate Reilly.

The comedy is played up here, with some great lines and situations.  My friends and I were laughing the entire way through at the jokes.


While the first film had a few jumps and some intense moments, this one never really put me anywhere near the edge of my seat.  Yes, I cared about the characters and how they were going to get out of this situation, but it was lacking the suspense the first one had.

The pacing was way off.  Honestly, the first third of the film was fairly plodding.  Even then, it didn’t really get good until the final third.

And, while the action may have increased with the final third, it fell into the sequel trap where we had to create some more mythology around the creatures.  It was actually a little ridiculous and it didn’t feel like it really fit with the creatures we knew from the first movie.

Speaking of which, we see less of the creatures, and I feel like they changed their design some, too, between movies.  Overall, the special effects are a little better, which only makes sense when you realize this one came out six years after the original.

Overall, the acting is good.  There are a few moments of cheese, but most of those comes from the scripts.  There are several times where the actors take some good lines and make them classics by their performance.  I’m thinking especially of one of Burt’s lines.

While I enjoyed Tremors II more than the original, it is still a B-movie monster flick.  It’s still only average at best, and my view might have been skewed by viewing it with my friends.  If you are looking for something silly, this might do it for you, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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

 I've got something a little different today.  I'm happy to present a spotlight on Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret by Teresa Trent.

This is the third book in the Swinging Sixties Mysteries, set in a small Texas town in the middle of the 1960's.

Everyone has a secret, and in 1964, Dot Morgan’s new job at KDUD Radio is filled with them. Her boss, Holden Ramsey, is a terrible flirt, but he’s also engaged to a beautiful socialite. When Dot finds out he’s hiding involvements with other women, these secrets lead to a grisly murder. Can Dot figure out who is murdering the women in Holden’s life before she finds herself next on the hit parade?

Here's an excerpt:

February 9, 1964

"Hurry, Ellie. It's about to start," Al called out.

"I'm just putting the popcorn in the bowl, Al. Keep your shirt on," Ellie yelled back. The jaunty theme song to "My Favorite Martian" played in the background as it capped off the adventures of everyone's favorite Uncle Martin.

"You're not even married yet," Ben said, "and you already sound like an old married couple."

"Yeah, well," Al said as Ellie squeezed in next to him, reaching for a handful of popcorn. "I don't have to report to prison until June." He gave us a smile, cheeks bulging with popcorn. "Isn't that right, sweetie?" He looked like a mischievous squirrel.

Ellie gave him a sour grin and then playfully hit his shoulder. "You're the luckiest man in the world." She lowered her nose slightly, giving Al a piercing, no-nonsense gaze. "Go on and admit it."

"Yes, dear," Al responded automatically. I loved the way they bantered back and forth. You could tell they loved each other dearly.

Ben reached out and took my hand on the crowded couch, and I lay my head on his shoulder. What we had was different, but that was because we hadn't been dating as long as Al and Ellie had. I tried to keep that in mind. Meanwhile, Ed Sullivan appeared in front of the gray-toned curtains. When they panned the audience, it was filled with women. Young women, and they all looked like they were about to witness the second coming. There were so many expectant looks to the stage. One girl had her fists clenched and held to her chin. I had seen the Ed Sullivan show for years, but never had I witnessed such awe-filled excitement.

"Just look at them all." Ellie squinted at the television. "Do you see any men?"

Instead of answering her question, Al added, "Do you see anyone over thirty?"

Ed Sullivan looked somewhere between excited and terrified. "Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles," Ed Sullivan yelled, and the screams rose to a feverish pitch.

I had never witnessed mass hysteria, but was sure I was seeing it on Ellie's new Phillips television set. "This is unbelievable. Those girls are going insane." The camera went from the audience to John, Paul, and George. Ringo was set up on a raised platform with his drums. They knocked out "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and with each measure the crowd screamed even more.

"I can barely hear the song for the caterwauling going on in the background," Al said.

"I wonder if they can hear each other." Ellie popped a handful of popcorn into her mouth.

"I told you the Beatles were big news." Ben was the room's professional reporter.

I couldn't get over how excited the fans were. I considered myself a bit of an expert in popular music since I landed my job at KDUD, The Smile on Your Dial. I wasn't spinning records, but I was answering the request line. We were getting more and more requests for the Beatles. Unfortunately, my boss chose Perry Como over John Lennon and Montavoni over Paul McCartney. Sometimes it felt like I was spending my days in a department store, listening to never-ending soulless melodies. Sales were down, and our listenership was too. If my boss would only switch to the popular music of the day, we'd be playing in everyone's kitchen.

It was more than these girls' crazy behavior in the presence of the Beatles. They bought the records. This was a big industry, and these four kids from England were taking America by storm. The rival station across town, KOOL, was playing them nonstop, and that's who people were listening to on their radios. Ellie told me they even made jokes about our station. We were oldies for the oldies. As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief".

I needed to count my blessings. I had a job I enjoyed. I just hated to see how they were missing an opportunity with their choice of music.

Book Details:
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: January 2, 2024
Number of Pages: 230
Series: A Swinging Sixties Mystery, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

About the Author:

Teresa Trent is the author of the Swinging Sixties Mystery Series published by Level Best Books featuring The Twist and Shout Murder (2022), If I Had a Hammer (2023), and Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret (2024). She has been writing and publishing mysteries since 2011 starting with the Pecan Bayou Mystery Series and followed by the Piney Woods Mystery Series. When Teresa isn't writing novels and short stories, she spends her time creating narrated excerpts on her podcast, Books to the Ceiling, where she gets to use all that community theater experience from her teens and twenties along with a little audio editing she learned from her daughter. Teresa is a former English teacher, but also spent many years teaching music to preschoolers working with children of all abilities. Teresa makes her home in Texas with her husband and son.

Catch Up With Teresa Trent:

Monday, March 18, 2024

Movie Review: Killer Clutch - A Crime of Fashion Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery, great leads
Cons: Heavy French accents required more concentration
The Bottom Line:
Paris fashion week
With body at fashion show
Fashionable fun

“I Can Assure You This Has Nothing to Do with a Crime of Fashion.”

When I saw who was starring in Hallmark’s newest mystery movie franchise, I was very excited since I was familiar with both of the leads.  It was fun watching them in Killer Clutch, the first Crimes of Fashion Mystery.

Lauren Elliott (Brooke D’Orsay) is a psychologist who specializes in working with the fashion industry.  After her best friend, Charlotte (Paloma Coquant) brings her in to help with a designer, Lauren finds herself hired to help out with fashion week – in Paris.  She’s never been, so she is excited.

However, the first fashion show Lauren works ends in tragedy when Charlotte discovers a dead body.  Worse yet, Charlotte also becomes the prime suspect.  Lauren knows that her friend didn’t do it, so she starts investigating herself, much to the annoyance of Inspector André Duvreuil (Gilles Marini).  Can Lauren prove her friend innocent?

I was a huge Royal Pains fan, and I loved Brooke’s character on that show, so it was fantastic to see her in something else.  I’ll admit I only knew Gilles Marini from his time on Dancing with the Stars, so I was happy to see him acting in something.  Both of them did a great job of bringing their characters to life.  You could feel the chemistry between them, and his slow thawing to her character was perfectly played.

The rest of the cast was good, as well.  However, my biggest issue with this movie did come into play with the rest of the cast.  This is a movie set in Paris, so most of the actors have French accents, which makes sense.  That meant you really had to concentrate to understand some of them.  Also, I’m not sure if some of the actors that seemed a little stiff were because of my issue with the accents, because of how they chose to play the character, or something else.  I’ll choose to blame myself for it.

The mystery was good.  We got some nice twists, and plenty of complications along the way to the climax.  Unfortunately, the climax was weaker than it could have been.  The ending made sense, which is always nice.

I do have to call out their use of my least favorite storytelling technique, however.  I will never understand why writers seem to think they need to start with a suspenseful scene from the climax and then flashback to how the story begins.  Sorry, it’s just lazy.

I’m not that into fashion, but I did mostly enjoy the styles.  There were one or two that were over the top, but they were supposed to be.  I also enjoyed the locations for the movie, which was filmed at least partially in Paris.

If Hallmark decides to go forward with more Crimes of Fashion, I will definitely be back to see where the characters go from here.  If you are a fan of their mystery movies, you’ll be glad you watched Killer Clutch.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Candy Review: Easter Sundae M&M's

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Pleasant sweet flavor
Cons: Doesn’t really taste like a hot fudge sundae
The Bottom Line:
Attempted flavor
Candies are enjoyable
But nothing special

Pleasantly Sweet, but Still Lacking

I was wandering down the Easter candy aisle recently (big mistake) when I spotted the new seasonal Easter Sundae flavor of M&M’s.  I was intrigued, so I picked up a bag.

As the name and the picture of a hot fudge sundae on the front implies, these candies are designed to invoke a classic ice cream sundae.  The candies themselves are a white chocolate center with a dark chocolate layer all inside a classic candy coating.  And the colors are a red, brown, and light tan.

When you grab a handful and eat them, you’ll find they taste pleasantly sweet.  Please hear me out, they taste good.  But they don’t have any ice cream sundae flavor to me.  They definitely don’t have a hot fudge sundae flavor to them.  If anything, I’d say they taste a bit more like marshmallow.  I like marshmallows, so I’m not complaining.  But they aren’t what I was expecting from the name or picture.

And I do have to question what a sundae has to do with Easter.  Obviously, they were just going for the pun.  As a lover of puns, I can’t complain, but it isn’t anything I’ve ever had to celebrate Easter.

So I’m not sorry I gave the Easter Sundae M&M’s a try.  But I won’t be buying a second bag.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

March 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Night Court – Obviously, I don’t have the history with the guest stars that I should have if I were familiar with the original series.  But I still found it pretty fun.  The stories flowed well together.  The jokes weren’t so out there it felt forced.  I did see the ending with Dan coming from a mile away, but it was still good overall.

Extended Family – As episodes of the show go, that was decent.  I actually liked the resolution of both storylines, and I do like how they are building the relationships with the characters.  I often find people lying to impress others cringe worthy, but they managed to make it funny here.  And Trey’s actions were pretty funny.

Wild Cards – Hostage episodes always get my blood bumping.  Even when I know everyone will be okay, like I figured here, it was very hard to watch without my adrenalin pumping.  Not surprised that they are finding a way to extend the premise.  But that cliffhanger?  Definitely curious what that’s all about.

Survivor – I always hate to see someone pulled from the game for medical reasons.  But I get why they did it.  And I was happy with the update that he is healthy.  I was really hoping the one tribe would pull out the win at the challenge.  I feel so sorry for the guy who thought he was going home.  That would be me if I were ever on the show.  Which is why I enjoy it from my living room.

The Amazing Race – My broadcast fritzed, so I really want to know how the siblings got out of the parking job they’d done with their car.  I think we’ve got some low hanging fruit with some other teams that seemed to get very lost.  Glad the pilot came back after they got themselves lost.  And, honestly, they needed it.  Their early bragging was bothering me, and I want to root for them.  So far, none of the teams are too annoying.  We’ll see how the season progresses.

Friday, March 15, 2024

March 15th's Friday Post

We've made it to Friday!  This week, that means another 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 Stark Raving Mod by Diane Vallere.

This is book 13 in her Samantha Kidd series, which has a fashion theme.  Of course, they are mysteries.  I mean, this is me, after all.

I just love how this particular book opens:

There’s nothing quite as exciting as a padlocked trunk.

Isn't that a great opening?  It definitely made me want to read more.

At 56% into the book, we get this exchange.  Samantha is talking to Detective Loncar, the retired police homicide inspector who is now working as a PI.  She's sort of hired him/working with him at this point in the book.  She starts off this snippet by saying:

“I know you want me to leave, but we need to talk about last night. While you were polishing off a flight of whiskey, I was chasing a lead, fending off an attack, getting you out of there safely, and discovering a new clue.”
“I’m on the edge of my seat.”

That pretty much captures their relationship.

I enjoyed the book as always.  I'll be reviewing it next Thursday.

Meanwhile, here's this week's Book Blogger Hop:

On average, how long do you spend writing a review?

For a book review, I figure an hour on the writing of the review itself.  If I sit down and really truly focus, I can get it done in less than that.  But I get distracted, and that's about how long it takes me to draft the review when you factor in that.  Fortunately, my reread to edit only takes a few minutes, as does my scheduling of the review.