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Friday, January 27, 2023

Review - Murder at an Irish Castle

The promotion for this new series claims "Fans of Hannah Dennison and Carlene O’Connor’s mysteries are in for a treat with Ellie Brannigan’s captivating debut cozy mystery, complete with a sharp and endearing protagonist."  That along with the Ireland setting got me to give it a try.  This is a new-to-me author so I wasn't sure what I was getting into.  Read on to find out about this new cozy mystery series and my thoughts.

Author: Ellie Brannigan

Copyright: February 2023 (Crooked Lane Books) 313 pgs

Series: 1st in Irish Castle Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: cozy mystery, amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Rayne McGrath, Upscale bridal gown designer

Setting: Modern day, Utah's Heritage National Monument

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review, Netgalley

Book Blurb: "Rodeo Drive bridalwear designer Rayne McGrath expected her thirtieth birthday to start with a power lunch and end with champagne, lobster, and a diamond engagement ring from her fiancĂ©. Instead, flat-broke [fiancĂ© stole all her money]  and busted, she’s on a plane to Ireland where she discovers that she’s inherited a run-down family castle. Uncle Nevin’s will contains a few caveats—for example, if Rayne doesn’t turn McGrath Castle around within a year, the entire village will be financially destroyed.

 With the fate of the town in her hands, and rumors that Rayne’s uncle’s death wasn’t actually an accident, she can’t possibly go back to her old life in L.A. As the devastating truth about her uncle dawns on Rayne, it’s not just her reputation that’s on the line, it’s her life.

Featuring a sharp and endearing protagonist, a colorful and quirky locale, and replete with twists and turns befitting an old Irish village, the first in Brannigan’s mystery series transports us to a milieu as romantic as it is deadly." 

My Thoughts:  This book features: Rayne McGrath who is a down-on-her-luck bridal dress designer used to California glitz thrown into the low-tech Irish world; Uncle Nevin, who passed under questionable circumstances, left his castle to be run by Rayne-but she has to live there; Cousin Ciara, an out-of-wedlock daughter of Uncle Nevine, is to co-own the castle and run the livestock and land; Hunky Amos who works on the castle grounds and immediately likes Rayne; plus the adorable dog Blarney.  

The castle and people are great and I felt like I was there with them.  The plot really got going when Ciara insists that Nevine was killed-it was no accident.  I really felt Rayne's distress with all the dramatic events in her life and being in a foreign county.  I was glued to the book and sped through reading it.  The killer confrontation was short but effective.  I really liked the wrap-up that left me wanting the next book.  This was an enjoyable mystery filled with delightful characters.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Musings - Book Themed Party

I recently went to a birthday celebration for an adult where her children honored her love of reading with a book theme.  I loved the idea and wanted to share it with all of you.  

Step 1 - Find Your Theme

The party I attended had the general theme of books/reading, but you could pick a specific genre, like mysteries, Sci-fy, romances, or history,

You could use a specific book for the theme, like The Great Gatesby, if the party's guest of honor is a fan of the book.  Imagine a Dune, Hunger Games, or Harry Potter themed party.   Just make sure the book has lots of recognisable content for your guests. 

Perhaps focus on the favorite author who has a lot of books the guest of honor loves, like Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Stephen King, Tolkien, Dan Brown, or Anne Rice as a few examples.

Or you could go with a BYOB (Bring Your Own Book) theme where guests can dress up as a character or bring something representative of their favorite book.  At some point everyone can try and guess what is each guest's book.

Step 2 - Invitations 

Once you have your theme the invitations can be designed to follow that theme either with book covers or a prominent key item from the story/author.  An example might be for a Harry Potter themed invitation having white owls on the front.  Get creative but stick to recognizable items from your theme to use on the invitations.  Don't forget to include the place, time, and dress code.  The invitations I received were done with pages to a book as part of design and a photo of the birthday lady when she was a child. 

Canva and Crello can also be used for party invitations that you can download and print out on card stock yourself or find a print shop.

I found this website that has a few that you can download and print (click here).  Also look at Etsy for more downloadable invitations that will fit your theme.

Step 3 - Get Planning 

The cake or cupcakes (edible cupcake toppers) can follow your theme at the very least.  But if your theme (book, author, genre) has recipes featured in the books you may want to make some of those.  For example, mystery authors have done a few recipe books with dishes featured in their books such as the cook books I featured in these blog posts (click here, here, and also here.)  Check and see if there may be a cookbook that coincides with your theme in some way.  See all the cakes that are fashioned like books below.

Besides food, think about a few book-themed activities.  Two to four will keep things moving and provide some laughter and fun.  I found these on some blogs about party activities and adapted for book themes.  

Book Trivia/Charades

Trivia or charades are classics and easy to play.  If you have a lot of guests, split them into teams.  Do a google search from quizzes on your theme to easily put your trivia together on a master sheet.   For charades, think of things from your theme that could be acted out and write on strips of paper to be picked out of a hat. 

Scavenger Hunt

A classic that may take a little more coordination and is always good no made the ages of participants.  Of course you hide items related to your book theme or maybe books that coordinate with your theme and  provide a few clues to help teams/individuals get started in the correct direction.  You can have a prize for the winning team/person.  This blog gives some good directions for setting up a scavenger hunt (click here.)

Bookmark Making 

You can make bookmarks fairly easily with some heavy cardstock cut into 2” x 6” and print out theme-related graphics or from magazines (remember those?).  Affix with craft glue (click here) or double-sided tape, punch a hole and thread a ribbon or tassle through to finish.  For an extra touch, attach a theme-related charm to the ribbon. 

Book Balance 

This is a very basic idea, balancing books on your head while walking.  But you can make it more challenging by balancing while doing an activity, like doing five squats or walking a line. Kick it up a notch by making it a race, or a relay.

Costume Competition 

If you had guests show up in costume in accordance with your theme, a simple competition is natural.  

Step 4 - Decorations  

Check your local party supply for things that may fit with your theme.  The collage above shows a large wreath that was made with book pages and a basket of party favors in pockets made from book pages.  The wall hanging is available on Amazon (click here).

Here too Etsy may have some creative items that can fit your theme.  Check out images related to your book through a google search and print out and hang around.  Other ideas for decorations include book pinwheels (click here), book banner flags (click here), book page paper flowers (click here), book page paper chain garland (click here and here), or book page paper treat bags (click here).  If you don't want to use actual books, photocopies of pages can work too.  

Step  - Party Favours  

Naturally a physical book related to the theme is a good idea, and if you can find copies second hand-even better.  

I hope you enjoyed this overview of throwing a book themed party.  You can make it as simple or elaborate as you like, but these resources and ideas will give you a starting point for creativity to run with.  Enjoy.

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

Review - The Omega Factor

International bestselling author Steve Berry gives us a new main character. Nicholas Lee is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) investigator working in the CLIO (Cultural Liason and Investigative Office.)  When Publishers Weekly says "Dan Brown fans will want to check this one out," I just had to see for myself. 

Author: Steve Berry

Copyright: June 2022 (Grand Central Publishing) 465 pgs

Series: 1st in Nicholas Lee Thriller (maybe a stand alone)

Sensuality: Some action violence scenes

Mystery Sub-genre: Suspense Thriller 

Main Characters: Summer Westin, Wildlife biologist for Save the Wilderness Fund

Setting: Modern day, Utah's Heritage National Monument

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Book Blurb: "The Ghent Altarpiece is the most violated work of art in the world. Thirteen times it has been vandalized, dismantled, or stolen. Why? What secrets does it hold?  

 Enter UNESCO investigator, Nicholas Lee, who works for the United Nations’ Cultural Liaison and Investigative Office (CLIO). Nick’s job is to protect the world’s cultural artifacts—anything and everything from countless lesser-known objects to national treasures. 

When Nick travels to Belgium for a visit with a woman from his past, he unwittingly stumbles on the trail of a legendary panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, stolen in 1934 under cover of night and never seen since. Soon Nick is plunged into a bitter conflict, one that has been simmering for nearly two thousand years. On one side is the Maidens of Saint-Michael, les Vautours—the Vultures—a secret order of nuns and the guardians of a great truth. Pitted against them is the Vatican, which has wanted for centuries to both find and possess what the nuns guard. Because of Nick the maidens have finally been exposed, their secret placed in dire jeopardy—a vulnerability that the Vatican swiftly moves to exploit utilizing an ambitious cardinal and a corrupt archbishop, both with agendas of their own.  

From the tranquil canals of Ghent, to the towering bastions of Carcassonne, and finally into an ancient abbey high in the French Pyrenees, Nick Lee must confront a modern-day religious crusade intent on eliminating a shocking truth from humanity’s past. Success or failure—life and death—all turn on the Omega Factor." 

My Thoughts:  I am used to Steve Berry's series featuring Cotton Malone but this is a new series with Nicholas Lee as the main character.  Nicholas Lee started in the army as an MP, tried to get into Magellan Billet at the Justice Department but didn't get hired on.  That's when he got into UNESCO as an investigator.  He is an official UN representative which grants him access during investigations to preserve the world's art treasures.  Nicholas Lee pushs the envelope in this investigation because it involves a very special nun, Kelsey, who was the love of his life-until she left him for a convent. Kelsey is not just a nun, but a talented art restorer and she is the one who asks Nicholas to help.

The action starts with the building on fire where he was supposed to meet Kelsey.  The pacing is on target with just enough breaks between action to catch your breath and understand more of the plot before more action. I loved the various settings, I always travel vicariously and these were great. The climactic confrontation had twists as well as high tension.  The wrap-up explained all the events, the history, and how it all ties together.  

I recommend for political/conspiracy thriller fans and I vote for this new character to be an ongoing series.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

Here is a Steve Berry interview about this book: 

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Monday, January 16, 2023

Mystery Movie Review - Enola Holmes 2

I reviewed the first movie in this Netflix movie franchise (click here).  While Sherlock pureists won't like this for the few liberties taken to fit a younger sister into the Holmes canon, this is still a great Sherlock-adjacent mystery/adventure.  Originally based on the books by author Nancy Springer with 6 books in the series thus far at this writing.

What it's about:
"Fresh off the triumph of solving her first case, Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) follows in the footsteps of her famous brother, Sherlock (Henry Cavill), and opens her own agency -- only to find that life as a female detective-for-hire isn't as easy as it seems. Resigned to accepting the cold realities of adulthood, she is about to close shop when a penniless matchstick girl offers Enola her first official job: to find her missing sister. But this case proves to be far more puzzling than expected, as Enola is thrown into a dangerous new world -- from London's sinister factories and colorful music halls, to the highest echelons of society and 221B Baker Street itself. As the sparks of a deadly conspiracy ignite, Enola must call upon the help of friends -- and Sherlock himself -- to unravel her mystery. The game, it seems, has found its feet again!" IMDB

Millie Bobby Brown as Enola Holmes
Henry Cavill (Superman) as Sherlock Holmes
Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown as Princess Margaret, The King's Speach, Harry Potter as Bellatrix Lestrange) as Eudoria Holmes -Enola's mother
Louis Partridge as Tewkesbury
David Thewlis (Prof Lupin in Harry Potter, Wonder Woman)
Susan Wokoma

Rotten Tomatoes and critics reviews:
Rotten Tomatoes score: 94%

"These Enola Holmes films are just great, striking an excellent balance of action, witty humor and a dark edge." Tim Cogshell, FilmWeek (KPCC - NPR Los Angeles)

"The plot hitches up its skirts and races along from the very first scene and the style and tone very much echo the original with Enola’s occasional cheeky fourth wall breaking..."  Paul Mount, Starburst

"Enola Holmes 2 triumphantly builds on the first film with added layers of charm, action, empowerment, and even a bit of romance." Kristen Maldonado, Pop Culture Planet

"While much of writer Jack Thorne’s screenplay copies tropes from the previous film, the additional Sherlock Holmes lore that is expanded in this film, and the return of the characters we love, make this adventure well worth taking." 
Josh Flanders, Chicago Reader

"Even though it’s a sequel, set in a familiar world with characters who have appeared on screen in countless iterations, Enola Holmes 2 still manages to feel fresh."  Kimber Myers, Crooked Marquee

My Thoughts:
Pure entertainment and a fresh character in Enola. Millie Bobby Brown provides us with a determined, smart, and capable young woman with just enough comedic touches and vulnerable moments to make her endearing. This second outing is a challenge for a movie to try to replicate the magic of the successful first movie.  But, this second Enola may be even better than the first with so many twists and non-stop action (you might need a nap after watching it!)  I love this second movie, I recommend for a fun movie with plenty of action.

Movie Trailor:

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Saturday, January 14, 2023

Review - A Trip with Trouble

If you like a more "mature" heroine for your cozy mystery, this is the book for you with a 50 year old starting the next chapter in her life after a divorce.  I reviewed the debut novel is this new series and now I'm happy to review the second.  Read on to find out the details.

1) Getaway With Murder (click here)

Author: Diane Kelly

Copyright: October 2022 (St. Martins) 297 pgs

Series: 2nd in Mountain Lodge Mysteries

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery

Main Characters: Misty Murphy, new owner of the Mountaintop Lodge

Setting: Modern day, Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review (Netgalley)

Book Blurb: "When the ladies of the Dangerous Curves Motorcycle Club take over the Mountaintop Lodge for their annual autumn ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Misty Murphy couldn’t be more thrilled. Every room is full and the adventurous women even invite Misty and her assistant Brynn to join them on a ride to admire the colorful fall foliage. Hotel handyman Rocky Crowder is happy to keep an eye on the lodge for the day, and the ladies set out for a fun ride on the scenic road.

The skies are clear, the air is crisp, and the leaves are gorgeous. But what starts as a perfect ride turns worrisome when the tail gunner – the last rider in their group – fails to show up at the Craggy Gardens overlook. Cell phone service is spotty in the remote, mountainous area, and the group is unable to connect with their friend. Might the missing woman have simply run out of gas? Or is something far more sinister afoot?

The ladies are determined to locate their ride or die, and Misty is equally determined to help them. But will they be able to solve the mystery when the scenic route seems intent on hiding its secrets?" 

My Thoughts:  Features heroine Misty Murphy as a newly divorced and just turned fifty woman who is  independent, resourceful, organized, and good with people heroine, Rocky is the hunky handyman interested in her and is daughter visits in this story, Brynn is her new-age housekeeper, and Patty is the diner owner from across the road and her new best friend. The characters were all fun and relatable. The delightful animals: dog named Molasses and cat called Yeti.  The women's biker club staying at the lodge provide interesting characters and plenty of drama.

The lodge setting amid the Smokey Mountains is excellent and the murder mystery has plenty of twists and viable suspects.  The book flows smoothly and kept my interest, it is a delight to read. The killer confrontation is short but exciting and while I had run through all the suspects so it wasn't a complete surprise, it wasn't my top guesses.  Well done.  

This series provides a more mature sleuth that has been around the block and is in her second chapter of life which is a welcome lead. I highly recommend this cozy mystery. 

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

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