Tuesday, April 30, 2024

April 2024's Reading Summary

We've hit the end of April.  Time to look back at the books I read in April.  And yes, I got the index updated.

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


Molten Death by Leslie Karst (Orchid Isle Mysteries #1) – 4

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?

Author Leslie Karst lives part time in Hilo, so I wasn’t surprised that she chose this as the setting for her new series.  Her knowledge showed in how she brought the setting to life.  And who doesn’t want a Hawaiian vacation?  The plot was very inventive, and I appreciated Valerie’s good motive for getting involved.  We had some nice twists before a great climax.  I did struggle with Valerie’s relationship with Kristen because they were so at odds for much of the book.  I think if this hadn’t been my introduction to them, I would have been okay with this sub-plot.  Overall, I liked the series regulars by the end, and Valerie’s darker baggage made her an interesting character.  We do get some Pigeon and Hawai’ian mixed into the dialogue.  A couple times it was a bit overwhelming, but for the most part, I could figure it out from the context.  We get six Hawaiian recipes at the end.  The inventive plot will make this series debut a winner for mystery fans.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


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

Business is booming at Carly Hale’s grilled cheese restaurant this summer, thanks in part to Ross Baxter’s new cash delivery service.  He’s saving money for college this fall by delivering orders to seniors.  One, however, is giving him problems with her constant demands and complaints.  But when Ross discovers her dead body one day, the police think he could be the killer.  Can Carly clear him?

I’d fallen in love with this series, so I was happy to be back for book four.  With the victim being difficult, we had plenty of suspects, although we soon focused in on a smaller group.  They did their job well confusing me.  I had a few pieces figured out, but most of it was still confusing to me until I reached the end, when things made sense.  I appreciated other characters warning Carly about the danger of getting involved at first, but it felt a bit one note as the story went on.  Still, that’s a minor complaint.  All the series regulars have key parts in the story, and I loved getting updates on their lives.  The two gourmet grilled cheese recipes at the end sound delicious.  Fans will find themselves wishing for another book when they set this one down.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Fly on the Wall by Tony Hillerman – 4

John Cotton is working late one night at his job as a political reporter at the state capital when another reporter comes in bragging about having just gotten a huge story.  Just a few minutes later, that other reporter is dead.  John begins trying to figure out what the story might be, but when another reporter is killed, he can’t help but wonder if the story he’s pursuing is deadly.

Those most familiar with Tony Hillerman because of his books set on the Navaho reservation will find this political thriller is quite a departure.  Heck, it isn’t even set in the southwest, although we do get a memorable scene there.  As a thriller, it took a bit to get going, but once we did, I was hooked with several edge of your seat scenes.  John is the only character we truly get to know; it would have been nice to get to know some of the others better.  The book originally came out in 1971, and it shows.  Parts are definitely dated.  None of these complaints are reasons to skip the book.  If you pick it up and give it a chance, you’ll find yourself enjoying it.


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

Louise Faulk’s boring Thanksgiving shift at her precinct is interrupted when she is asked to go to a death scene.  A young woman has killed herself and one of her twins, or at least that’s what Louise’s fellow officers think.  But Louise thinks there is more to the story.  Can she find the while conducting an unofficial investigation?  Or will it get her fired?

This book is definitely darker than what I normally read, so keep that in mind when you pick it up.  Unfortunately, the plot wanders a bit before we reach the suspenseful and logical climax.  On the other hand, I did enjoy getting to spend time with Louise and the rest of the regulars.  We don’t get a nice wrap up for the ongoing storylines, but we do get some advancement on them, and there aren’t any cliffhangers.  The book is set at the end of 1914, and that provided a nice backdrop to the action of the book.  While not the strongest book in the series, fans will enjoy our last visit with Louise.


Yosemite by Sandy Dengler (Jack Prester #6) – 5

Jack Prester’s latest assignment is to take three CPA’s into the wilderness around Yosemite and hide them from the assassins after them so they can be witnesses at an upcoming trial.  Jack’s dad thinks it is doomed to fail, and with a new baby, the stakes for Jack are high.  But his agrees, with his parents and Ev staying nearby to provide support if needed.  Will he be able to keep everyone alive for two weeks?

It's been almost ten years since I read the previous book in the series, but I quickly slipped back into his world, and it was wonderful connecting with the characters again.  Because we get the story from multiple points of view, we get to see the tourist spots as well as the area Jack is traveling.  This also allows the tension to rise as we keep reading.  This isn’t a high-octane thriller with tons of action, but it was impossible to put down since I had to know how it would turn out.  I did feel like a couple of minor things weren’t tied up with a nice bow, but I’m being nitpicky here.  On the whole, I loved getting to spend time with Jack again, and I can’t wait to crack open the next in the series.


Under the Paper Moon by Shaina Steinberg – 3

Not content to stay home during World War II, Evelyn Bishop went to Europe and joined the OSS.  Now back in Los Angeles, she has settled into life as a PI.  But when the target of her latest case is murdered, Evelyn must join forces with Nick Gallagher, the man who betrayed her, to figure out what is going on.  Can they do it?

The premise and setting for this book intrigued me, and I dove in excited to see what would be happening.  We get some flashbacks to the war, but most of the book is set in the “present” of 1948.  The story was good with plenty going on to keep us engaged and a climax that makes sense.  But there are many things that didn’t work for me, including the relationship between the leads.  I also feel like the author forced a certain ending on Evelyn’s life.  But maybe it was just that I was rooting for other things to happen.  In the end, I was okay with the way Evelyn’s life turned out.  Maybe it was just that the film noir inspiration didn’t work for me here.  The narration got a little awkward at times as well, but most of the time it worked.  I’m not sorry I read this book, and I got caught up in the story, but I’ll probably pass on anything else from the author.

NOTE I received an ARC of this book.


A Murder Most French by Colleen Cambridge (An American in Paris Mysteries #2) – 4

When this book opens, Julia Child is excited about a demonstration that a famous chef is going to be doing that afternoon at Le Cordon Bleu, and she insists that her friend and neighbor, Tabitha Knight, go with her.  However, the demonstration ends abruptly when the chef dies after taking a sip of a rare and expensive wine he’d received just before the event started.  Despite vowing to stay out of it, Tabitha can’t help but wonder what is going on.  Can she figure it out?

As I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder why the characters, who are speaking French, are throwing French words into every line of dialogue.  But that writing quirk aside, this was another great book.  I loved getting to visit the characters again, and Tabitha was just as smart and resourceful as in the first book.  Meanwhile, the new characters lead us on a merry chase in a well-constructed mystery.  I was satisfied when everything was explained.  As with the first book, there is a smattering of foul language.  Once again, Paris in post the World War II era came to life, and I enjoyed this look at the time period.  Don’t read this book hungry since all the talk of food will make your mouth water.  I enjoyed getting to spend more time with Tabitha and Julia and look forward to their next adventure.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Ducal Detective by Sarah E. Burr (Court of Mystery #1) – 5

Jacqueline Arienta Xavier has just been crowned Duchess of Saphire after the death of her parents in an accident.  Since she is still mourning them, she is struggling to adjust to her new duties.  Then she gets word that her parents’ death may have been murder.  Not knowing who to trust, can she figure out what happened to them?

This is a fun novella that introduces a mystery series with a light fantasy setting.  Considering all that the novella has to do, it’s impressive how it balances it in the short length it has.  I was immediately drawn to Jacqueline, and I loved what we saw of her here.  I also really liked the rest of the characters.  The world was fun, and I hope we get to explore it further as the series goes along.  For the length of the story, the mystery was good with enough twists to keep us engaged on the way to a logical climax.  I appreciated the balance we got in tone between the sadness Jacqueline is experiencing and the lighter scenes.  I can’t wait to make a return visit to this series.


Torn Asunder by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #12) – 5

Julia Snowden is happy and nervous to be hosting the first wedding in years on Marrow Island.  The wedding is between her friends Zoey and Jamie.  The rehearsal dinner the night before has one man that Julia doesn’t recognize at it.  Part way through the meal, he collapses.  Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that he was murdered.  Fortunately, Julia’s detective boyfriend, Tom, is on hand.  But if no one knows who the man is, who would want to kill him?

Obviously, Julia begins to make connections soon, and this book gave me major Agatha Christie vibes.  I do mean that as a compliment.  The suspects were strong, and I had a hard time putting the book down until things came to a logical and surprising climax.  I love the characters in this series, and it was great to spend time with them again, even if some of the regulars only had cameos.  There are five more recipes at the end of the book to enjoy later.  I laughed and teared up a time or two as I was reading this book.  Series fans will put this one down very satisfied.  If you haven’t started the series yet, you need to fix that today.  This is a great series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Under the Radar by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers Mysteries #9) – 5

When Zoe Chambers is called to the scene of a shooting, she is surprised to find the shooter is Horace Pavelka, a friend from high school.  Horace has confessed to shooting Dennis Culp, a man who has bullied and abused him since they were in school together.  The evidence for self-defense is compelling, so Pete Adams lets Horace go.  However, Horace has only been out a couple of hours when another of his tormentors winds up dead and everyone on the case seems to go missing.  Can Pete find any of his suspects?  Will Zoe be able to prove her friend innocent?

This author has a way of pulling you in from the first page, and this book is no exception.  The book has several strong subplots that make for even more compelling reading.  There was one twist I didn’t quite feel was earned, but that’s a minor issue.  Things come together for a tense and logical climax.  The characters are strong as always, and I love watching Zoe and Pete’s relationship deepen.  This is a little darker than my typical cozies, but as long as you know this going in, you’ll be fine.  Once again, we spend equal time in Zoe and Pete’s heads, allowing the suspense to grow as they work on things from different angles.  Fans who haven’t read this one yet are in for a treat, and if you’ve missed this series, be sure to start it soon.


The Crossing by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #18, Mickey Haller #5.5) – 5

Harry Bosch is trying to settle into his second retirement from the LAPD, but he’s not finding anything to truly satisfy him.  Still, when Mickey Haller asks for help on one of his court cases, Bosch is reluctant to agree since it would be working for a defense attorney.  As Bosch begins to poke around, he thinks that the client could have been framed for murder.  But can he find the real killer?

The book spends as little time as possible getting Bosch, and us, hooked on the case.  And what a great case it was.  While we have an idea of who early on, the why remains a big mystery until near the end.  Meanwhile, we know the danger Bosch is in, and it makes for a great thriller.  I enjoyed seeing Bosch and Haller working together again, and we see some others from their lives as well.  As always, the foul content is higher than the books I typically read, but they are appropriate for the case.  If you are looking for a book you won’t be able to put down, I highly recommend this one.


Death Washes Ashore by Caleb Wygal (Myrtle Beach Mysteries #2) – 4

One morning Clark Thomas is awakened by a text from one of the detectives in town requesting his presence at a crime scene.  The body of Connor West has washed up on the local state beach.  Connor was the star of one of the local tourist attractions, a gladiator themed dinner and show.

Even after Clark is warned away from the case, he can’t help but dig into Connor’s life and his work at the Gladiator Games Dinner Show.  With a face from his past as his way into the lives of those Clark wants to interview, can he figure out what happened?

I had an issue with how Clark got involved in the mystery here, but I put that aside and kept reading.  The mystery was good with several strong suspects and twists along the way to a logical climax.  I appreciated how Clark went about things in the climax, too.  We also got to know him and a couple of characters better, although I feel like we have many who hardly had any page time.  The writing could have used polish in several spots, but most of the time it was fine.  There is a little advancement on the cliffhanger from the previous book, but we’ll have to keep reading to see where it goes next.  Overall, this is a fun second book in the series.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Book Review: Death Washes Ashore by Caleb Wygal (Myrtle Beach Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Connor and a solid mystery
Cons: Writing a few times; the opening of the mystery
The Bottom Line:
Gladiator dies
Will Connor find the killer?
Overall, it’s fun

Death of a Gladiator

Caleb Wygal’s Myrtle Beach Mysteries are yet another series I fully intended to return to earlier.  Too many books to keep up with, right?  I did grab several books in the series when the ebooks were on sale last year, and I finally sat down to read Death Washes Ashore, the second in the series.

One morning Clark Thomas is awakened by a text from one of the detectives in town requesting his presence at a crime scene.  The body of Connor West has washed up on the local state beach.  Connor was the star of one of the local tourist attractions, a gladiator themed dinner and show.

Even after Clark is warned away from the case, he can’t help but dig into Connor’s life and his work at the Gladiator Games Dinner Show.  With a face from his past as his way into the lives of those Clark wants to interview, can he figure out what happened?

Yes, my biggest issue with the book was right there in the first sentence of the teaser.  There was no reason for Clark to be called to the scene of the crime.  He owns a bookstore.  He’s solved one murder, at this point.  I’ve got to say, it felt like the police swung the other way for much of the book, being harsher with him than necessary to keep him from investigating.  It’s a tension in cozy mysteries, and I’m usually quite willing to go along with however the author chooses to handle it, but this didn’t quite work for me.

But if you can let that go, you’ll find a good mystery here.  I really enjoyed the behind the scenes look at the fictional show.  I enjoyed imagining exactly how this show would work.  And it provides us with plenty of suspects and some good twists along the way.  I was always engaged, wanting to find out more about what would happen next.  The climax made sense, and I appreciated how Clark went about things.

Like with the first book, I did feel that the writing could have used a little polish.  Most of the time it was fine, but there were occasional sentences that were off.  I’m sure I would have similar writing moments if I were trying to write a story, so I get it.  But it did stop me when I ran across them.

We are getting to know the characters better.  Many of the supporting characters still stayed in the background, but we saw a different side of Clark here, and I appreciated that.  There were a few others that got more page time, and I enjoyed their scenes.  The suspects were strong enough to keep me guessing as I read.

This book does spend a little time on the cliffhanger from the previous book.  In fact, that’s where we begin in this book.  There isn’t a ton of advancement to that ongoing storyline, but that’s what the next book is for, right?

My critiques aside, I am glad I made the time to visit Clark again.  Death Washes Ashore is a fun second book.

Book your stay with the rest of the Myrtle Beach Mysteries.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

April 28th'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?

The week started off with a visit with a couple of friends.  They were passing through town on Sunday and we got together for lunch.  As always, it was way too little time with them, but I was so glad I got to see them.

Thursday was interesting.  Someone entered my phone number in one of those websites that requests insurance comparisons.  I found out when my phone starting blowing up with people trying to give him quotes.  I had to turn off my phone for a while so I could concentrate at work.  I finally got them to leave me alone.  Or they are taking the weekend off.

Our weather was cool this week.  As in we didn't even reach 60 at one point.  Sorry, but that's winter weather!  It's the end of April, I want my 70's and 80's, which it looks like we should have starting tomorrow.

Saturday morning was walking book club, and the weather was very pleasant for that.  I've been a lazy bum since I got back.  I've got a review to write, but I've been reading and napping and putting off working on this post.  It's been nice, but I'm finally working on this post early Saturday evening.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Death Washes Ashore by Caleb Wygal
Tuesday - April's Reading Summary
Wednesday - Book Review: The Bootlegger's Daughter by Nadine Nettmann
Thursday - Movie Review: Foiled Plans - A Curious Caterer Mystery
Friday - Book Review: Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

Settle in, I've got seven ebooks to tell you about this week.  Yikes! I got out of control.  Although, as you will see, most were free or on sale.  (And I'm saving some physical books for next week's post.)

We'll start with the eARCs.  Up first is Murder on Devil's Pond by Ayla Rose.  This is the first in a new series set around a bed and breakfast.  It's also a new pen name for Wendy Tyson, and I enjoyed her earlier cozy mystery series, so I'm looking forward to this one.  (Okay, the earlier series was a bit more traditional than cozy, but I still really enjoyed it.)  The book comes out in early July, so I will be reading it then.

I also got Murder on the Med by Nancy Cole Silverman.  This is the third is her Kat Lawson series and takes place on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean.  The main character works with the FBI on art related cases and uses travel writing as a cover.  The first two were good, and I'm looking forward to this one.  I'm actually part of a blog tour and will be reviewing it in early June.

Then there were all kinds of Kindle deals this week.  Some I think were officially part of a stuff your Kindle promotion, and I think others were just the timing.  Either way, I snagged quite a few ebooks for free or very good deals.  Many of these deals may have ended, unfortunately.

Birth of the Black Orchids by M. R. Dimond has been on my radar for a while, and I snagged it for free.  Looks like it still is, if you are interested.

I really enjoyed the first of Alyssa Maxwell's Gilded Newport Mystery when I read it earlier this year, so when the second, Murder at Marble House, went on sale, I snagged it.   I hope I can get to this one soon.

Likewise, Shelia Lowe put her second Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting Mystery on sale this week.  I have read the first and have a couple of the later ones in the series, so I jumped at a chance to get Written in Blood.

The Cooper Harrington Detective Novels by Tammy L. Grace recently crossed my radar, and I couldn't pass up the first being free.  We will see what I think of Killer Music.  And since this series is set in Nashville, that's a great title, right?

Finally, there was the impulse buy for 99 cents - S'More Murder by Josephine Beintema.  I would love to find a good series set around camping or a campground.  I've actually tried two and neither worked for me for various reasons.  I have a few more I haven't read yet, and now I've added this one to the TBR Mountain range.

Yikes!  I'd better get to reading.

What I'm Currently Reading:

Friday, I finished Malibu Burning, the first in a new series from Lee Goldberg.  I've let myself get behind on his books, so I've got to catch up.  This one involves fire investigators and several wild fires in Southern California.  This is the review I've been putting off today, not because I didn't enjoy the book, but because I've been lazy.  But I need to get it written since I plan to post it on Friday.

I'm currently about a third of the way into Love Me or Grieve Me, the tenth Madison Night mystery from Diane Vallere.  This one has an interesting premise - a newspaper accidentally runs Madison's obituary when someone with a similar name passes.  Naturally, we've now got murder in the mix.  I'm enjoying it as always.

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

Saturday, April 27, 2024

April 27th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Tracker – The first episode I haven’t loved.  Okay, the cracks about home schooling put a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.  But overall, the outcome to the cast felt rushed and weird.  Why was she kept alive all this time but her friend killed?  It’s too bad since I felt like the initial set up was great, and I was even intrigued by the ghost/witch part of it, knowing it would turn out to be fake (like it was).  At least we got reminders about Shaw’s backstory.  No advancement, but proof they haven’t forgotten about it.

Deal or No Deal Island – What was Stephanie thinking?  Lying like that was bound to catch up to her?  Rob lies, but he wouldn’t have lied like that.  It was too easy for it to blow up in the liar’s face.  I did feel bad for Nick.  His first offer was dangerous, and then this one was really fifty/fifty.  Although any offer would have been that with only two cases left in play.

The Weakest Link – They managed to get a decent amount of money in the end.  Considering how rough the early rounds were, I wasn’t so sure that would happen.  Really thought the other guy would wind up winning based on how the rounds went, but it’s all about the questions you get.

Survivor – Ugh!  It’s one thing when it is a blind side.  But I thought Hunter was safe as well.  He’s got to still be kicking himself.  I know I would be.  Yet another reason why I could never play the game.

The Amazing Race – There was actually movement this time around.  Okay, so overall, there wasn’t much movement in the ranks.  A couple of teams made major swaps, but that’s about it.  But it was still exciting to see teams passing each other.  We haven’t seen much of that this season.  The nurses either need to figure out how to communicate or they need to leave the race.  Or both.  I’m ready for them to be eliminated.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Book Review: The Crossing by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #18, Mickey Haller #5.5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong thriller with characters we love
Cons: Crossing all cons off the list
The Bottom Line:
Bosch for the defense
Is the client innocent?
Spell binding thriller

Detective Bosch Crosses the Aisle

When you are far behind on a series, you can get a sense for where the characters are going by looking at plot descriptions for future books in the series.  As a result, I knew that The Crossing would be the first book for Harry Bosch after his second retirement from the LAPD.  I was anxious to see what he’d get up to after his career was over, and I was well rewarded.

It’s been months since Bosch retired from his job, and he’s growing restless, not that he is willing to admit that to anyone.  Then, his half-brother, defense attorney Mickey Haller, calls.  Haller’s main investigator has been injured, and he needs to hire Bosch to work a case.  Bosch is reluctant since he’s always felt his calling was to put murderers behind bars.  But Haller insists that this client is truly innocent, and Bosch agrees to take a look at the evidence so far without making a decision one way or the other.

The case involves a woman who was brutally murdered in her bed.  A former gang member turned family man has been arrested for it based on some pretty strong evidence.  But Bosch sees a few holes, so he starts poking around.  What will he find?

The book doesn’t waste any time getting Bosch into the mystery, which is good because we all know he’s going to take the case.  If he doesn’t, there wouldn’t be a book, right?  While we have a pretty good idea early on who is behind what is happening, we have no idea why.  Watching Bosch put together what happened and why is compelling.

As is the fact that we know Bosch is being watched.  Yes, this is definitely a thriller, and that tension increases as the book goes along until we reach the explosive climax.  By that point, all the pieces have fallen into place and we are just hanging on to see if Bosch can survive.

It is interesting to watch Bosch navigate a case without his badge.  Yes, we did see that earlier in the series after his first retirement when we worked a couple of cases as a PI.  But it’s been a while, and he has to be creative to get information without the authority that his badge gave him.  I really liked that aspect of the book.

Plus, it’s just always great to see Bosch in action.  He works best as a loner, so the fact that he was without a partner here is fine, although we do see a couple characters from his past pop up.  We also see a couple of characters from Mickey Haller’s orbit, although Haller really does take a back seat to Bosch.  Instead of being co-leads like they were the last time they officially teamed up, Haller is a supporting player.  Still, I enjoyed getting to see him here.  I wish the two characters would work together more often because they do have a great dynamic.

As is usually the case for these books, they have more foul content than the books I typically read.  They don’t get overly graphic, but they don’t shy away from the details of the case, either.  Know that when you sit down to read this book, and you’ll be fine.

This is the second audiobook in the series I’ve listened to narrated by Titus Welliver, who has famously played Bosch on the TV shows.  I found his narration better here than I did in the first book, and I was able to get lost in the story.

Those looking for a great thriller will be glad they picked up The Crossing.  Be prepared to stay up late once you start it.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller novels.

April 26th's Friday Post

 Welcome to Friday.  Time for another Friday Post, where I will link up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

My teasers for the first three will be coming from The Bootlegger's Daughter by Nadine Nettmann.

This is a stand alone novel from an author I've read previously.  It is set in 1927 Los Angeles.  It was also written in present tense, which always takes me a couple of chapters to adjust to, but it was worth it.

Here's how the book begins:

This is the first time we’ve had intruders, though I’ve been waiting for them for years.

Yep, that definitely caught my attention.  Meanwhile, at 56% into the ARC, we find this:

“Stay here. I’ll take care of it. You don’t have to know.”
My mother shakes her head and opens the door of the truck. “As long as this isn’t dangerous.”
“This part? Not yet.”

The book will be out on May 1st (how did that get to be next week already?), and I'll be back with a review then.  For now, know that I enjoyed it.

Okay, let's move on to this week's Book Blogger Hop.  The question is:

You are in a dilemma: stream your favorite TV show or movie, or read your favorite book. Which one do you pick?

I know what answer I should give.  Read my book, of course.  But the honest answer is, it would depend on my mood.  I enjoy TV and movies as much as reading.  Sometimes, I prefer to read.  Sometimes, I prefer to watch something.

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

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Movie Review: Ferdinand

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Entertaining for kids, the target audience
Cons: Little that will grab adults
The Bottom Line:
The bull who won’t fight
From picture book to the screen
A movie for kids

“Looks Like Weird is the New Normal.”

I vaguely remember the picture book Ferdinand.  The cover sticks out to me more than the content, although I could have given you a one sentence summary if I had to.  When I saw it was turned into a movie a few years back, I was curious about it, but I waited until I could catch it on TV.

For those who aren’t familiar with the character, Ferdinand is a bull (voiced by John Cena as an adult and Colin H. Murphy as a youth).  While he is at a ranch that raises bulls for the nearby bull fight, Ferdinand is more interested in stopping and smelling the flowers.  So he is happy when he finds a way to escape and settles into life on a flower farm.  However, when he grows, he accidentally causes a catastrophe and winds up back at the ranch.  Will he be able to escape?  Or is it his destiny to enter the bull fight?

This movie faced a hurdle that any movie faces that takes a picture book and turns it into a movie – how to fill an hour and forty-eight minutes with a story that was initially told in a book that takes five to ten minutes to read.  One obvious way is to introduce new characters and give us backstory.  This movie does both, and uses them to good effect.  While I know that the movie was expanding a storyline, I didn’t feel like much of the action was blatant padding.

On the other hand, much of the action was aimed at kids.  I get it, this was an animated movie based on a picture book.  I’ve definitely been spoiled by the animated movies that aim at the entire family audience.  There’s nothing wrong with aiming this movie more at kids, but I didn’t find the movie as funny as I wanted to.

I can well imagine kids loving this movie and begging to see it over and over again.  Ferdinand’s side kick would appeal to them.  I did find a wild chase through town to be fun, and I’m sure kids will love that, too.

The voice cast isn’t filled with names I recognized, but sometimes that can be fun because it allows you to more fully get lost in the story.  That’s certainly the case here.  Likewise, the animation is perfect for this film.  It’s cartoony, but considering the subject matter, it works.

Ferdinand is a fun movie for kids.  There is little here to make this a must see for adults, but I can see it being one kids will enjoy over and over again.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Book Review: Under the Radar by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers Mysteries #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strongly plotted mystery with great characters
Cons: One twist wasn’t earned, but it’s minor
The Bottom Line:
Friend caught in danger
Or is he really guilty?
Another great book

Can Zoe and Pete Target the Right Killer?

When I’m finding breaks in my reading schedule, I’m turning to series I’m trying to catch up on.  While I don’t expect to get caught up on the Zoe Chambers Mysteries this year, I’m hoping to get a couple of books closer.  Of course, with wonderful books like Under the Radar, that’s a complete pleasure.

This is book nine in the series.  If you aren’t familiar with it, Zoe Chambers is a paramedic and deputy coroner in a rural community in Pennsylvania.  She is engaged to Pete Adams, the local sheriff.  Between the two of them, they managed to find some pretty compelling mysteries.

When Zoe is called to the scene of a shooting, she is surprised to find the shooter is Horace Pavelka, a friend from high school.  Horace has confessed to shooting Dennis Culp, a man who has bullied and abused him since they were in school together.  The evidence for self-defense is compelling, so Pete lets Horace go.  However, Horace has only been out a couple of hours when another of his tormentors winds up dead and everyone on the case seems to go missing.  Can Pete find any of his suspects?  Will Zoe be able to prove her friend innocent?

If you haven’t read any of Annette’s books, you are in for a treat.  She pulls you in right away and makes it impossible to put the book down.  Between the main mystery and several other equally compelling subplots, I was hooked.  There was never a good break in the story, which always made putting the book down hard.  I did find one twist a little too coincidental, but it’s a minor point.  There are plenty of other twists that worked, and the climax was wonderful.

Being book nine in the series, we’ve really grown to love Zoe and Pete and several other series regulars.  That’s one reason why this book works – we deeply care about all the subplots, even the ones that are personal.  Don’t worry, the book knows it is a mystery and that is the focus.  You could jump in here if you wanted, but it will be much richer if you’ve been reading all along and already know the characters and their relationships.

The characters are just as strong here as always.  I love spending time with Zoe and Pete, and watching their relationship continue to grow is always a delight.  The rest of the returning characters charm, and the new characters are equally compelling.

Yes, this book is more traditional than a cozy.  However, the language and violence are kept to a minimum.  As long as you know this going in, you’ll be fine.

Zoe and Pete really are co-leads in this series, and we spend equal time in each of their heads.  This is used to great effect since it allows us to see the story unfold while increasing the suspense.  These switches are always obvious.

If, like me, you are behind on this wonderful series, you’ll be hooked when you do pick up Under the Radar.  And if you haven’t met Zoe and Pete yet, you’ll want to fix that today.

Here are the rest of the Zoe Chambers Mysteries.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Movie Review: The Philadelphia Story

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs in the fun first half
Cons: Story falls apart in the second half
The Bottom Line:
Laughs at beginning
Give way to a rushed ending
Not classic for me

“What’s This Room?  I Forgot My Compass.”  “This Would Be South South West Parlor by Livingroom.”

I’ve heard about The Philadelphia Story for years, and I’ve heard it pretty much universally praised.  I know it’s considered one of the best romantic comedies of all time.  So I was looking forward to a fun time when I finally sat down to watch it.  Sadly, I was left disappointed.

Two years after her divorce, Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is set to remarry.  Her new groom is George Kittridge (John Howard).  He’s not quite as high society as she is, but she is happy.

However, her ex-husband isn’t happy about the idea of her remarrying.  So, the day before, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) shows up with a reporter and photographer, Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie (James Stewart and Ruth Hussey).  Tracy doesn’t want any press at her wedding, but she doesn’t have any choice.  But as Tracy spends time with these wedding crashers, what will happen?

This movie is based on a play that was highly successful at the time.  It had been written for Katherine Hepburn, and she was able to play her role in the movie version, too.  I can see the bones of the play in the first half.  Oh, we get more locations than I’m sure they did in the play, but it was all there in the set up and the initial interactions between the characters.  There were lots of great lines, I was laughing, and I was generally enjoying myself.

It's the second half where things fell apart.  We can start with two of the characters getting drunk and staying drunk for much too long.  I’m usually not a fan of watching drunk characters, and that was the case here.  I certainly didn’t find their antics funny.

Then comes the third act.  I get what we are the audience were supposed be rooting to happen.  But none of it felt earned.  In fact, I had whiplash with how quickly certain characters changed to get us there.  It was almost like the writer looked at the screen time left, threw up their hands, and just ended it.

Between these two things, I was left scratching my head at why the characters decided to do what they were doing.

This isn’t the fault of the actors.  They are all fantastic, and their performances are all perfect at getting every laugh they can out of the script.  I must praise Virginia Weidler who is an absolute delight as Tracy’s younger sister Dinah.  She is a scene stealer.  The second half definitely could have used more of her in it.

Since the film is from 1940, it was filmed in black and white.  Even so, the sets look wonderful.  I can see the appeal of being part of Philadelphia society via this movie.

The first half is fun, but I wish the entire movie lived up to that promise.  I don’t quite see why The Philadelphia Story has become such a beloved classic.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Book Review: Torn Asunder by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #12)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters we love in a can’t put it down mystery
Cons: Nothing related to the story itself
The Bottom Line:
Death of a stranger
Who was he and who killed him?
Another great book

The Murder of the Uninvited Guest

Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake Mysteries have been one of my favorite series for the past decade.  I’ve enjoyed watching the characters and their relationships grow and change, and the mysteries are always top notch.  Torn Asunder, book twelve in the series, is another fantastic entry in the series.

Those who have been following the series know that Julia Snowden and her family have been working on Morrow Island, the private island where they have their summer clambake business, in hopes of adding weddings to the rest of their business.  Now, the first wedding is about to take place, the wedding of family friends Zoey Butterfield and Jamie Dawes.

The rehearsal dinner is also taking place on the island.  While Julia knows most of the guests at this event, there is one man she doesn’t recognize.  In the middle of the meal, the stranger collapses.  At first, it is assumed that he had an allergic reaction, but soon it looks like he was murdered.  Fortunately, Julia’s detective boyfriend, Tom, is on hand, but no one seems to know who the victim was.  If he was a stranger, who wanted to kill him?

Of course, it isn’t long before Julia and Tom begin to make progress.  I’ve got to say, I had definite Agatha Christie vibes from the story.  It seems that everyone actually had a connection to the victim once Julia starts to dig.  Additionally, there is a storm that traps them on the island and disconnects them from the internet for part of the book.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing.  In fact, I had a hard time putting the book down, which isn’t a surprise with this series.  There were so many revelations on the way to the logical climax.

As always, it was great to spend time with the characters.  Some of the townspeople we’ve gotten to know had more cameos than anything else because of how the book played out.  Yes, that was disappointing, but I was still happy to see them.  Julia and Tom just started dating in the previous book, so it was nice to see them as a couple in this one.  And the suspects are all strong, which made it hard to figure out what was going on.

Sadly, this is the final book in the series; Barbara Ross decided to end the series here.  There is some nice symmetry given how the series started.  While I am sad I won’t get to visit these characters again, fans of the series will be happy with how this book wraps things up for the characters.  There are some laughs along the way, and I may have teared up a time or two as well.  Truly, you couldn’t ask for a better final book.

We get another five recipes at the end of this book.  There are even a couple for non-seafood lovers like me.

Long time fans will be rewarded with Torn Asunder.  If you haven’t started this series yet, I envy you.  You have many fantastic books ahead of you.  Make a point of starting it today.

Check out the rest of the Maine Clambake Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

April 21st'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?

I'm writing this Saturday night, and I just spent the day at the LA Times Festival of Books, which was held again on the USC campus in downtown LA.  The highlight from a book perspective was getting to talk to several authors I've become friends with over the years.  I only bought one book during the day.

However, the real highlight was getting to hang out with a friend of mine all day.  Angelique and I have been going to the festival for decades.  We enjoy many of the same writers, so it's always fun to hang out and compare what we've been reading recently.  In fact, we spent quite a bit of time just sitting and talking instead of wandering around looking at the booths.  Although, we did cover all the booths, too.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Torn Asunder by Barbara Ross
Tuesday - Movie Review: The Philadelphia Story
Wednesday - Book Review: Under the Radar by Annette Dashofy
Thursday - Movie Review: Ferdinand
Friday - Book Review: The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Book Haul:

As I said, I only bought one book at the festival today.  But that's okay since I haven't read any of the books I bought last year yet.  Yeah, I need to stop buying books and read some of the ones I already have around here.

Anyway, the book I did buy was Perilous Waters by Terry Shames.  This is the first in a new series from the author.  It involves a diver in the Bahamas.  Sounds great to me!  Hopefully, I can get to it soonish.

Meanwhile, I had a book waiting for me when I came home.  My copy of 'Til Death by Annette Dashofy arrived.  This is book 10 in her Zoe Chambers series.  Yes, I was reading book 9 in the series last week (and the review is coming up on Wednesday).  I want to at least get this book read in the series this year as I keep trying to catch up on it.

Finally, I got my copy of Torn Asunder by Barbara Ross this week.  The publisher is only sending finished copies of their mass market paperbacks now, so I got it about a week before release date.  Closer than I would normally have liked, but I love this series, so I'm squeezing it in.

What I'm Currently Reading:

In fact, I've finished Torn Asunder.  Now, I need to get the review written so I can post it on Monday.  (If I don't, I'll just swap it in for Wednesday.)  So good.  Fans of the series will really enjoy it.

Since I was gone all day being around readers and authors, I haven't made much progress in my new book.  There's still some time this evening, and definitely time on Sunday to change that.  My current read is The Bootlegger's Daughter by Nadine Nettmann.  This is the first book from her in a few years, and her first historical.  It's set in Los Angeles in 1927.  So far, I'm enjoying it, but I'm only two chapters in.

That's it for me.  Have a great week!

Saturday, April 20, 2024

April 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Just as a heads up, I am spoiling which team got eliminated when I talk about The Amazing Race below.

Tracker – I love how this show can present one thing that you know isn’t going to be true and make it some believable.  A sign of great writing for sure.  I wasn’t too worried at that last commercial break, but it was still nice to see how everything turned out.

Deal or No Deal Island – I started this one last week and I am now caught up.  I’m really surprised that Rob is still around.  Why people don’t target him early and often at this point is beyond me.  The Survivor aspect of the show makes the Deal or No Deal part tolerable.  Still not one of my favorite games, but it doesn’t take up much of the episode.  And some of what they’ve had to do is epic.

The Weakest Link – I admire the final two for slowly getting out the people from left to right until they were the only ones left.  Nothing personal at all in their voting.  Quite the prize the winner walked away with, too.  I’m surprised she did since I felt like he did better during the rest of the game.  Just shows that the questions you get matter.

Survivor – So what was the point of all that drama at tribal?  In the end, the same person went home they were planning to vote for earlier.  What was Q up to?  Was he serious about wanting to go but got talked into staying?  Or did he do this to help cover the plan?  Speaking of Q, he needs to go.  His ego and Robfather like attitude was getting on my last nerve.

The Amazing Race – I’ll admit, I got a little more distracted than normal while watching this one.  How did the alliance fall behind?  I completely missed the other teams passing them.  Not that it made any difference today, but it will on when teams leave.  I feel sorry for the SPOILER ALERT grandparents since they never had a chance to catch up.  They started the season strong, but have slowly fizzled as it’s gone alone.  And it was nice to another team win a leg.  We will see if that lasts since the boyfriends are proving to be a strong team.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Novella Review: The Ducal Detective by Sarah E. Burr (Court of Mystery #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and mystery in a fun setting
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Enter a new realm
With mystery novella
Promising series

Jacqueline Starts Her Reign Solving a Murder

I’ve really enjoyed both of Sarah E. Burr’s series that I’ve read so far, which are contemporary cozy mysteries, so I was intrigued by her Court of Mysteries series.  I got a chance to read The Ducal Detective recently, and I’m hooked on this different set up for a cozy.

This novella introduces us to the Realm of Virtues.  Essentially, this is a fantasy realm, although it is light on the fantasy here.  Outside a mention of a mythological creature, this really could be any medieval type setting with royalty and knights.

Here, we meet Jacqueline Arienta Xavier who has just been crowned Duchess of Saphire.  Jacqueline is still morning the loss of both of her parents in a carriage accident, and is struggling to take on her new responsibilities.

Then she gets word that her parents might not have died in an accident but instead were murdered.  Suddenly, Jacqueline’s world is turned upside down as she hardly knows who among her staff and advisers she can trust.  But she knows she must get to the bottom of it or her own life could be in danger.  Can she do it?

This novella really has a lot to do.  It must introduce the characters and start to create the world while also give us a compelling mystery.  That’s a lot to do in 120 pages.  Yet this book succeeds in spades.  It helps that we immediately can identify with Jacqueline.  And we watch her grow quite a bit here.  We like her, and we want to see her succeed.  We get to know several other characters as well, and I liked them.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of them as the series progresses.

The mystery itself is strong.  Since this is a novella, the mystery is appropriate for the length.  I was entertained the entire time, and I couldn’t wait to see exactly what was going on.  The ending was logical, and I appreciated how Jacqueline figured things out and how she handled the entire situation.

Honestly, that was my favorite thing in the story.  Jacqueline faces several nearly impossible situations, and I enjoyed watching her deal with them diplomatically.  We get a sense for the kind of ruler she is going to be here, and I’m looking forward to seeing her in action again.

Given the fact that Jacqueline is working on solving her parents’ murder, this book has a more melancholy tone at times than the cozies I typically read.  It’s mixed with some truly lovely scenes.  That balance is handled just right.

I actually read this via audio.  Melissa Green is the narrator, and she makes the story lots of fun, including narrating with a British accent.  I’m glad I’ve got the next few in audio already.

I always enjoy it when I can read a mystery with a creative setting and hook.  I’ve found that with The Ducal Detective.  If you are looking for something different, you’ll be happy you checked out this introductory novella.

 I'm looking forward to the rest of the Court of Mystery stories.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

April 19th's Friday Post

Time for this week's Friday Post.  I will be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

I'll be pulling quotes for the first three from Torn Asunder, the newest Maine Clambake Mystery from Barbara Ross.

This has long been a favorite series of mine.  Here's how it begins:

I walked my friends Zoey Butterfield and Jamie Dawes through the first-floor function rooms of Windsholme, the mansion built by my mother's ancestors on Morrow Island. My stomach fluttered with equal parts excitement and anxiety. I cared so much what they thought.

Meanwhile, the plot has really kicked in on page 56, where we find this:

"We shouldn't have moved him," Pete said.
"We thought it was an allergic reaction." Tom was unapologetic. "Besides," he looked at the dark windows, the wind-driven rain thrumming against them, "the medical examiner will be glad we got him out of the storm."

I'm about half way through it, and I'm completely hooked.  It's a much tighter turn around than I like, but I am hoping to have the review ready to go on Wednesday.  Will I make it?  You'll have to come back to find out.

Meanwhile, let's take a gander at this week's Book Blogger Hop.  The question is:

Do you think contemporary book covers lack originality?

Like most things in life, it depends.  I mean, look at the cover I shared.  Those are lobsters in place of the bride and groom on the top of the cake.  That's pretty original.

Certain genres and subgenres certainly have styles.  I get it, that's to help you know what it is you are looking at when you are browsing in the bookstore.  And there are definitely some subgenres that are very repetitive.  But others can be pretty creative within their subgenre.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

TV Show Review: Home Improvement - Season 7

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs with the Taylor family
Cons: Tim still too stupid overall (although it’s better than earlier seasons)
The Bottom Line:
The laughs continue
With characters that fans love
In family sitcom

“You’re Taking Apart Our Dryer?” “I’m Taking Apart Our Dryer for You.”

I hadn’t intended to take so long between seasons of Home Improvement.  I have them all on DVD, so I have no excuse.  But I finally sat down and watch season seven of this classic 90’s sitcom.

There is little new in this season of the show.  It still stars Tim Allen as Tim Taylor, the star of the local TV show Tool Time, where he and his assistant Al (Richard Karn) show how to do home improvement products.  Scratch that – they should how NOT to do products since Tim’s insistence on more power often creates disasters.

On the home front, Tim’s wife Jill (Patricia Richardson) is finishing up her masters in psychology.  Oldest son Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan) is getting over being dumped by his girlfriend.  Middle son Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) continues with his job for the school newspaper and gets his driver’s license.  Meanwhile, the youngest son, Mark (Taran Noah Smith) enters his goth phase.  And next door, Wilson (Earl Hindman) continues to offer advice.  His niece, Willow (recurring guest star China Kantner) also decides to move in.

What else happens in these twenty-five episodes?  Tim decides to buy a lodge on a lake for the family to move to.  A college is interested in offering Brad a soccer scholarship.  Tim finds some pot hidden in his yard.  Meanwhile, he buys a house as an investment and Al becomes his tenant.  The family goes to the Lion’s game for Thanksgiving.  And it’s brother against brother when Brad’s puff column pumps Randy’s investigative piece off the front page of the school paper.

My biggest problem with the series remains – Tim really is an idiot.  I know, I know, that’s the premise of the series, and I enjoy it in small doses.  But it wears on me when, episode after episode, he makes some pretty basic mistakes.

On the other hand, the writers do a good job of throwing stories around this season.  It helps that the boys are now grown enough to handle being the focus of an episode.  I appreciate it when we get to see Tim and Jill working together on an issue they are facing raising their sons.  Tim’s actually less of an idiot in those episodes than in earlier seasons, which I like.

I do appreciate that, at the end of the episode, the characters have resolved their issues and hopefully grown a little as a result.  Okay, they probably haven’t grown too much since this is 90’s TV where characters didn’t change that much from week to week.  Watching these episodes back to back, we don’t see huge continuity errors, but there is very little growth, either.  But that’s okay; that was TV in that era.

The cast all knows their characters at this point, and they do a good job of bringing them to life each week, milking every joke they can from the script.

And I truly appreciate the pacing of the comedy in these episodes compared to the sitcoms of today.  Not every line is a joke.  Or a set up.  Sometimes, the lines are just there to tell the story.  It’s the rare episode that goes too long between jokes (there are a couple of special episodes), but they don’t force in laughs for the sake of laughs.  They still work on giving us a good mix of laughs and story to keep us entertained.  (Today’s sitcoms feel like they try to make every line a laugh line, and it wears.  But that’s a conversation for another review.)

As I said earlier, season seven consisted of twenty-five episodes.  Each of them is preserved here in this three disc set.  They are in full frame and stereo since that is how they were originally broadcast.  In the way of extras, we get an extended gag reel with mostly outtakes we hadn’t seen during the closing credits.

While this may not be one of my top sitcoms, it does still make me laugh.  For that reason, I’m glad I made it back for season seven of Home Improvement.