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Friday, December 24, 2021

Review - Body and Soul Food

Happy holidays my dear readers.  I will have a holiday book next for review.  Today, from the author of the Ice Cream Parlor mysteries comes a new cozy mystery series.  "In this page-turning new mystery series, fraternal twins Keaton and Koby will pull double duty when they take down a killer while preparing to open their new bookstore and soul-food café, Books & Biscuits."  Here is a guest post from the author (click here.)  Read on to find out more about this new series.

Abby Collette

Copyright: Nov 2021 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 1st in Books & Biscuits Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, Amateur sleuth

Main Character: Keaton Rutledge, Co-Owner of bookstore and soul-food café, Books & Biscuits 

Setting: contemporary Timber Lake, Oregan

Obtained Through: Netgalley for an honest review

Book Blurb: "When Koby Hill and Keaton Rutledge were orphaned at age two, they were separated, but their unbreakable connection lingered. Years later, they reunite and decide to make up for lost time and capitalize on their shared interests by opening up a well-stocked bookstore and cozy soul-food café in the quaint Pacific Northwest town of Timber Lake. But this new chapter of their lives could end on a cliffhanger after Koby's foster brother is found murdered.

The murder, which occurred in public between light-rail stops, seems impossible for the police to solve. But as Keaton and Koby know, two heads are always better than one, especially when it comes to mysteries. With just a week to go before the grand opening of their new café, the twins will use their revitalized connection with each other to make sure this is the killer's final page."

Keaton Rutledge was the fortunate twin who got adopted by estabished and well-to-do parents.  Koby Hill, her fraternal twin, wasn't as lucky and went through the foster care system. He finally found Mama Zola as a foster mother and he flourished, never forgetting he had a twin out there to find.  Mama Zola, Koby's foster mom, is the break-out character I loved.  Imogene, Keaton's adoptive mother who is a psyhchologist, gets out of her head a little and shines as well.  Reef Jeffries, the murder victim, was flirting with Keaton and seemed an all around good guy who clearly liked her a lot.  Reef was also why Koby knew he had a twin because Reef (six years older) told Koby that a girl had come into the first group home with him.  Georgie Tsai, tattoed cooking assistant, and Pete Howers are the only employees.  Homicide Detective Daniel Chow suspects Keaton and Koby and pushs them a little but comes through in a pinch.  

My Thoughts: The plot was interesting and took some unraveling. I liked that the victim wasn't the usual horrible person but a good guy making his way (sad, too).  The fraternal twins having been separated at birth added a lot of depth to Keaton and her twin brother Koby.  The food descriptions are mouthwatering. The climax had some great tense moments as Keaton and Koby realize who the killer is at nearly the same time.  The writing is comfort food itself and enveloped me.  This is a new favorite series and I look forward to many books to follow.

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

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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Review - An Eggnog to Die For

I'm just now getting into some holiday themed mysteries that I had planned on reviewing a few weeks ago.  I am just going to roll with it, which means even after the 25th I will probably still be reviewing some to stretch out the holiday season!  First up is a foodie themed holiday cozy mystery, check this out.

Amy Pershing

Copyright: November 2021 (Berkley) 320 pgs

Series: 2nd in Cape Cod Foodie mystery series

Sensuality: mild, kissing

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, Amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Samantha Barnes, chef turned restaurant critic for Cape Cod Clarion

Setting: Contemporary, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Obtained Through: Netgalley for honest review

Book Blurb: "Professional foodie Samantha Barnes has a simple Christmas list: a quiet holiday at home with her dog and a certain handsome harbor master; no embarrassing viral videos; and no finding dead bodies. Unfortunately she’s got family visiting, she’s spending a lot of time in front of the camera, and she’s just stumbled over the lifeless body of the town’s Santa Claus.
Plus, Sam’s plans for Christmas Eve are getting complicated.  There’s the great eggnog debate among her very opinionated guests.  There’s the “all edible” Christmas tree to decorate.  And there’s her Feast of the Five Fishes prepare. Nonetheless, Sam finds herself once again in the role of sleuth. She needs to find out who slayed this Santa—but can she pull off a perfect feast and nab a killer?"

Samantha is 6-foot tall, extroverted, clever, sarcastic, and easily relatable with a relentless curiosity-but she does some risky things.  She has an overly large dog name Diogi, always a hit.  Friends include Helene Greenberg, her nextdoor neighbor and the town librarian, Jenny Snow Singleton is a friend since childhood,  Miles Tanner is an old high school friend and local organic farmer, and Krista Baker is the publisher of the Clarion and old friend.  Her parents, Robert and Veronica Barnes, were the prior Clarion editor in chief and senior journalist, burst into town for the holidays.  Dad is secretive about something he spends time on and Mom is asked to do an article on the murder who thinks there is promise in a mob angle--further complicating Sam's holiday.  Introverted Jason Captiva is her old and new boyfriend who is the town harbormaster.  Sam's extroverted ways are struggling with Jason's introverted tendencies.

The main plot is finding the killer who killed Santa.  There are several subplots including keeping her mother out of trouble as she writes an article on the murder for the local paper, hosting and cooking a multiple-course Christmas Eve dinner, and navigating her confusing relationship with Jason.  Bad Santa knew a lot of people's secrets and had plenty of victims lined up to stop with his sanctimonious "doing the right thing" ways.  So there were plenty of red herrings.  Sam takes risks with her suspected killer suspects, which is out of character for an otherwise smart woman.  She goes through a few people she is convinced is the killer before she hits on the real killer. 
The killer confrontation is an example of best laid plans going awry (Sam was going to confront the killer safely). This provided a few tense moments that I enjoyed.  The wrap up finished up with family and friends.  It left me feeling a bit empty without all the characters that filled the book

My thoughts: If you enjoy cozies with lots going on outside of the sleuthing, then this will be a good book for you.  There is the still developing relationship with the harbormaster and her visiting parents to juggle, holiday errands, baking cookies and decorating them for the tree with her friend and three boys.  Additionally, her working for the paper and trying to keep her mother from investigating the mob angle while planning the details for a big holiday feast with friends invited keeps her busy.  Then her parents are going through her house and attic cleaning and rearranging etc.  Foodie talk with cooking tips/hacks are interspersed throughout the book, which I suspect most readers will enjoy.  

The characters are well drawn and portrayed with a mystery that keeps you guessing who did it.  The only downsides are how I found I didn't like that Sam refers to her parents as her ‘rents which is very annoying to me.  Am I the only one who doesn't like "sich/sitch" short for situation and 'rents short for parents etc?  Sam does do some risky things with who she suspects as the killer, but I still enjoyed her character.  Overall, I am glad to have discovered this new series and I'm looking forward to the next installment.  

Rating:  Excellent - Fun and entertaining holiday mystery, give it a try.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - The Saint

Most people never knew that the Val Kilmer "The Saint" originated as a series by Leslie Charteris who was a British-Chinese author of adventure fiction, as well as a screenwriter.  The books were published from 1928-1963.  From 1963-1983 other authors collaborated on a few of the books and then after Charteris' death, continued to write the books.  There are 50 books in the series all told.  The books have Simon Templar very solidly British.  I have read a few of the books.


The Saint was a popular television series in its day.  I was fortunate to catch both the black and white 60s version and the color 70s version on classic TV reruns.

The Saint (1962–1969 – Roger Moore)

Return of the Saint (1978–1979 – Ian Ogilvy)

The character has also been portrayed in radio dramas, comic strips, comic books, and three television series.  Roger Moore, who later became the first James Bond, played Simon Templar on television which likely helped him get the Bond role.  Simon Templar was known as the "Robin Hood of modern crime".

Three of the actors to play Templar — Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvy on television and Simon Dutton in made-for-TV movies in 1989 — have been appointed vice presidents of "The Saint Club" that was founded by Leslie Charteris in 1936. It is still going strong more than seventy years later. Simon Templar is, of course, the President of the Club, with Leslie Charteris being the Vice-President until his death in 1993, when he was succeeded by Roger Moore, Ian Ogilvy and Simon Dutton. All proceeds from the membership fees and the sale of merchandise go to charities nominated by the Vice-Presidents.

The Big Screen

The big Hollywood movie was released in 1997.  Rated PG-13 for action violence, brief strong language, some sensuality and drug content.  I classify this as a thriller with espionage touches.

Starring Val Kilmer, Elizabeth Shue, and Rade Serbedzija. Directed by Phillip Noyce.

What it's about

Simon Templar (The Saint), is a thief for hire who was raised in an orphanage. Simon Templar isn't even his real name.  His latest job he is contracted to do is steal the secret process for cold fusion (a clean energy source) that puts him at odds with a traitor bent on toppling the Russian government, as well as kill the American electrochemist who holds its secret.  This Russian oligarch/mobster intends to keep this energy source for his own enrichment and powergrab to become a dictator.  Simon manages to develop feelings for the pretty electrochemist and must outwit the Russian mobster before the worst happens and it irreversibly crushes the US.

There is a boat load of interesting tidbits about the movie.  Here are a few from IMDB:

  • Elisabeth Shue was nomimnated Favorite Actress in Blockbuster Entertainment Awards for her role.  It won the BMI Film and TV Award for Film Music.
  • Val Kilmer turned down returning to the Batman franchise after the box-office smash Batman Forever (1995) due to his commitment to this movie.
  • Roger Moore (the first TV Simon Templar) features throughout in cameo as the BBC Newsreader heard in Simon Templar's Volvo radio.  
  • The poetry written by Simon Templar's long-haired artist character, Thomas Moore, was actually written by Val Kilmer.  Kilmer's S. African accent for this character was learned from a South African assistant with whom he worked on The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), the movie he completed before he started filming this movie.  
  • The last fourth of the movie originally had a very different outcome, but test audiences really didn't like it.  So they rewrote and reshot all those scenes.  
  •  There were rumors that Kilmer was difficult on set. But Elisabeth Shue and producer Mace Neufeld denied Kilmer's misconduct, praising his professionalism and dedication, eventually working seven days a week during re-shoots three months before this movie's release.  
  • A Volvo P1800 can be seen parked directly outside Simon's apartment building in London. This was the type of car driven by Simon in The Saint (1962).  
  • They used an updated version of the theme tune, and having appeared in numerous post 1960s television adaptations of the Saint, serves as one of the most frequently and longest lasting theme tunes of a media franchise.  
  • The nickname "Boris the Spider", used by Ivan Tretiak (Russian mobster) to communicate with the Saint, is a reference to a 1966 song by The Who, written by bassist John Entwistle.  
  • Sir Kenneth Branagh, George Clooney, Kevin Costner, Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down the role of Simon Templar.
  • When Val Kilmer does his southern voice, for one of his many voices, he sounded just like he did when he portrayed Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993).

Rotten Tomatoes 30% Although audience score is 63%

The critics didn't like the screenplay but credited Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue for their performances.

My Thoughts:

This is an example of when I disagree with Rotten Tomatoes and many of the critics.  I would have given this 80% personally.  It was never going to win an Oscar, but I don't think that was ever the goal.  The screenplay wasn't too far from the books in the big picture.  I will grant you that some of the dialog could have been better and there were a few attempts for humor that didn't ring true.  The Elizabeth Shue character,  electrochemist Dr. Emma Russell, comes across a little quirky and even naive at times but I felt that was endearing.  Also, the portrayal of Russia after the Soviet Union fell isn't far from the reality of the country being run by former KGB thugs taking over the energy industry (oil in reality) and being obscenely wealthy while the people scrape by.

I thought Val Kilmer, Elizabeth Shue, and Rade Serbedzija were especially good in their roles.  Rade Serbedzija is really good as the would-be dictator Tretiak.  I am so glad Val Kilmer did the role because I can't imagine any of the actors who turned down the role could have embodied Simon Templar like Kilmer did.  I give him major kudos.

If you are looking for an espionage-thriller for a fun two hours, grab the popcorn and Twizzlers because this is your movie.  If you saw it back in 1997, I suggest you revisit it.  

I have read several of the books and can't help but compare to the movie.  The movie takes some liberties, as they often do, leaving the source material behind.  Beyond updating Simon Templar, I think they did a good job of translating the idea/concept of the books into a large scale movie.  Here are some examples of the differences.

  • The book Simon would never have taken a job to steal a cold fusion (energy source) equation from the scientist who developed it.  That is the basis of the movie and it isn't in character for the Saint of the books.
  • At one point Kilmer's Saint is in a hand-to-hand fight and is forced to flee; this would never have been allowed in the books. Although it does make Simon more realistic which was a must for modern audiences.
  • Although the Saint in the books did go up against powerful criminals and corrupt governments, even Nazis in three books, he was primarily a thief with a penchant for the underdog.  That gets lost in the movie.
  • The original Saint resorted to aliases that had the initials S.T. as a subtle reference to Simon Templar, but the screenplay's character used Christian saints, regardless of initials.  This ties into the movie backstory of his being an orphan and in a Catholic orphanage with the name John Rossi.  The book's Simon Templar (his real name) had very little backstory.  The movie goes a long way to flesh out Simon's character and the orphange helps, but the saint tie-in seemed like they were stretching to connect the nickname "The Saint" with the character.  In the books, the nickname is because he was a Robin Hood meets Equalizer archetype.
  • The movie Simon didn't kill during his mission, and even his main enemies lived, but the book's Simon had no issues about taking another life when push came to shove - like the Equalizer.  I must clarify that the book's Simon picked his jobs carefully and they were usually against very unsavory people to begin with. 
  • Also, in the books, Simon had a girlfriend, Patricia Holm, who was adventerous and knew, in general broad strokes, of Simon's activities.  This is nothing like the scientist he is romantically involved with in the movie.
  • In the book the stick figure with a halo is Templar's logo that is on his "calling card" he leaves behind after one of his jobs.  The movie has this being a stylized stick-pin gifted to him at the end of the movie.

This is one of my "just for fun" movies to kick back and watch.  I have lost count of how many times I've seen it. Enjoy.

Here is the movie trailer:

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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Review - In the Company of Witches

I found this when I was gathering Halloween-ish reads and didn't finish it soon enough.  But this book doesn't need the spooky holiday to read it.  The author, Auralee Wallace, also wrote the Otter Lake mystery series with St. Martin's Press that I will have to dive into now.   I am delighted to share my review of this new mystery series with you.

Author: Auralee Wallace

Copyright: Oct 2021 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 1st in Evenfall Witches B&B Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal Cozy mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Brynn Warren, Widow and witch who can commune with ghosts 

Setting: Contemporary, Evenfall Connecticut

Obtained Through: Netgalley for an honest review

Book blurb: "For four hundred years, the Warren witches have used their magic to quietly help the citizens of the sleepy New England town of Evenfall thrive. There's never been a problem they couldn't handle. But then Constance Graves--a local known for being argumentative and demanding--dies while staying at the bed and breakfast Brynn Warren maintains with her aunts. At first, it seems like an accident...but it soon becomes clear that there's something more sinister at work, and Aunt Nora is shaping up to be the prime suspect.

There's nothing Brynn wants more than to prove Nora's innocence, and it hurts her to know that even two years ago that might have been easier. Brynn, after all, is a witch of the dead--a witch who can commune with ghosts. Ghosts never remember much about their deaths, but Constance might remember something about her life that would help crack the case. But Brynn hasn't used her powers since her husband died, and isn't even sure she still can. Brynn will just have to hope that her aunts' magic and her own investigative skills will lead her to answers--and maybe back to the gift she once thought herself ready to give up forever."

Brynn Warren, has withdrawn from the world ever since she lost her husband, not really dealing with her grief. As a result, her ability to speak with the dead has left her.  Aunt Nora (Evanora) Warren is a garden witch, bold, rebellious, opinonated, and stubborn.  Aunt Izzy, is a kitchen witch, is nurturing, and kind.  Then there is Uncle Gideon who can see both the past and the future but it overwhelms him so he stays indoors like a hermit.  Nixie is a witch hunter who attempts to make friends with Brynn, claiming she just wants to be friends and see magic. Then there is the contentious family of the deceased Constance. Faustus is the family's Maine Coon cat and Dog is the crow that hangs out with the family.  They are fantastic additions.

Ivywood Hollow B&B is a lovely victorian home, yet Constance's Graves House, while being nearly a mirror of Ivywood is creepy and dilapidated.  The homes provide great settings for the story to unfold. Small town Evenfall sees its residents picking sides with either the Warrens or the Graves family as the finger points to Nora.  This does feel like a small town indeed.

The mystery is well done and unfolds amid Brynn dealing with her grief and anger over never getting to see her husband's ghost to say goodbye, and Nora's stubborness digging her hole deeper. Brynn's investigation moves forward as tensions rise in town.  Everything happening keeps the pages turning.

 The killer confrontation was simple but effective and showed the Warrens sticking together.  The wrap-up was touching and bittersweet.

My thoughts: There is a subtly presented drama about family and the difference between a supportive and nurturing family verses destructive interpersonal problems. This gave the cozy a bit more depth, along with Brynn dealing with her grief, without becoming too serious.  The witchy aspects are more like a lighter version of the movie "Practical Magic" if you removed the scary haunting. This is a great example of the character driven cozy mystery.  It's a delightful and well written story that demonstrates cozy mysteries are developing into a genre with more to contribute than solely a fun read.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

Here is a very short introduction to the author.

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