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Friday, January 28, 2022

Review - Death of an Italian Chef

 I usually like to start with the first, maybe second book in a series.  But this time I am jumping into a well established series from Kensington Cozies.  In fact, I didn't realize how far into the series this book was and but I had no problem not having read the prior books.  Please check out my latest review.

Author: Lee Hollis

Copyright: June 2021 (Kensington Cozies) 222 pgs

Series: 14th in Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Hayley Powell, food and cocktails columnist for the Island Times 

Setting: Contemporary - Bar Harbor, Maine

Obtained Through: Netgalley for honest review

Book Blurb: "As the food and cocktails columnist for the Island Times, it’s Hayley Powell’s job to stay on top of the latest eateries in town. Just in time for the summer tourist season, Chef Romeo, a successful restaurateur from New York City, has opened an establishment called—naturally—Romeo’s. But between his over-the-top temperament and his no-holds-barred diet, Chef Romeo may not live through the grand opening.

 When the chef actually does suffer a mild heart attack, he ends up sharing a hospital room with Hayley’s brother Randy, who’s there for gall bladder surgery. Chef Romeo has tasted Hayley’s cooking and asks her to take over his restaurant while he’s laid up. But this temporary gig may turn permanent, after the chef dies from complications. Only thing is, Randy tells a different story. He might have been sedated, but Hayley’s bro swears he saw someone come into their room and put Romeo out of his misery. Now it’s up to Hayley to find the person who had no reservations about killing the chef . . ."

My Thoughts:  Chef Romeo is quite the character and had a lot of potential, that sadly didn't get utilized.  He is rather a stereo-type of a big and loud Italian.  Hayley is a well developed character that was easy to relate to.  Hayley’s brother Randy came across spoiled and I'm sad to say, complaining. I found his flirting with a nurse when he is in a relationship not cool.  The mystery itself had plenty of suspects and the reader is along for the ride, piecing it together pretty much the same time as Hayley with the way motives and information are doled out.  The killer reveal was exciting, which I always love.  There was one feature in the book I didn't care for.  Interspersed throughout are little micro-stories, unrelated to the current mystery, that introduce a recipe.  I found that practice would distract me from the main story and it didn't work well for me. If you are looking for something light, this is a good bet.  Overall I would say it was enjoyable, enough so that I will probably go back to the first book in the series and catch up.

Rating:  Good - A fun enjoyable read. Maybe read an excerpt before buying.

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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Book Review - Have a Holly, Haunted Christmas

One more holiday read that I didn't get reviewed sooner.  Lynn Cahoon's Kitchen Witch Mysteries.  This is part of the Lynn Cahoon's Kitchen Witch world and characters, but not officially part of the series because it is a novella.  I have placed it roughly after the second book (Two Wicked Desserts), although I could be wrong.

Author: Lynn Cahoon

Copyright: Oct 2021 (Kensington)

Series: 2.5 in Kitchen Witch Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy paranormal mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Mia Malone, owner cook school and dinner delivery business 

Setting: Contemporary--Magic Springs, Idaho

Obtained Through: Netgalley for honest review

Book blurb "For all its merriment, Christmas can also bring melancholy—and in Magic Springs, Idaho, Mia finds that the season has brought her an unhappy ghost who’s pulling poltergeist-style pranks to get her attention. When she demands an explanation, the ghost just sends a message: Ask Mary Alice—that is, Mia’s beloved Grans, who’s been training her to develop her witchy talents. If anyone can figure this out, it’s Grans . . . even if she still hasn’t managed to free Mia’s cat from a previous spell that she cast.

The restless spirit turns out to be Magic Spring’s most well-known ghost, Dorothy, who supposedly died peacefully in her sleep. Now Dorothy claims she was murdered, and she wants her killer brought to justice. And she doesn’t have much patience about it, so the pressure is on Mia—with some help from her boyfriend, Trent, and a strangely secretive Grans. There aren’t many dicing-and-chopping days till Christmas—but this year, the most important gift Mia can give is to cheer up this troubled spirit . . ."

This was my first of this series and it stands well on its own as a complete story.  Mia is a powerhouse of energy and drive.  I enjoyed her relationship with her grandmother and boyfriend, Trent. This is a short and light mystery that heavily features the preparations for a big holiday open house for Mia's business. Dorothy's ghost keeps talking about a deadline that she has to get the killer caught by, which provides a little surprise at the end.  This was well rounded even though a novella.  The ghostly elements aren't scary but provide the impetus to investigate.

Rating: Good - A fun quick read

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Saturday, January 15, 2022

Book Review - God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen

One more holiday themed mystery, just in case you are missing all the holiday movies and such!  You have to ween yourself!

"Georgie is back and hanging the stockings with care when a murder interrupts her Christmas cheer in this all-new installment in the New York Times bestselling Royal Spyness series from Rhys Bowen."  See what I thought of the newest in this historical cozy mystery series.

Here are the reviews I have posted of prior books in the series. 
#14 The Last Mr. Summers (click here)
#8 Queen of Hearts (click here
#7 Heirs and Graces (click here)
#6 The Twelve Clues of Christmas (click here)
#5 Naughty in Nice (click here
#4 Royal Blood (click here
Author interviews and guest posts:
2017 (click here
2016 (click here
2010 (click here

Rhys Bowen

Copyright: Oct 2021 (Berkley) 302 pgs

Series: 15th in Royal Spyness Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: historical Cozy, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Lady Georgianna, 35th in line for the throne, cousin to the prince 

Setting: 1935, Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, England

Obtained Through: Netgalley for an honest review

Book Blurb: "Georgie is excited for her first Christmas as a married woman in her lovely new home. She suggests to her dashing husband, Darcy, that they have a little house party, but when Darcy receives a letter from his aunt Ermintrude, there is an abrupt change in plans. She has moved to a house on the edge of the Sandringham estate, near the royal family, and wants to invite Darcy and his new bride for Christmas. Aunt Ermintrude hints that the queen would like Georgie nearby. Georgie had not known that Aunt Ermintrude was a former lady-in-waiting and close confidante of her royal highness. The letter is therefore almost a royal request, so Georgie, Darcy, and their Christmas guests: Mummy, Grandad, Fig, and Binky all head to Sandringham.

Georgie soon learns that the notorious Mrs. Simpson, mistress to the Prince of Wales, will also be in attendance. It is now crystal clear to Georgie that the Queen expects her to do a bit of spying. There is tension in the air from the get-go, and when Georgie pays a visit to the queen, she learns that there is more to her request than just some simple eavesdropping. There have been a couple of strange accidents at the estate recently. Two gentlemen of the royal household have died in mysterious circumstances and another has been shot by mistake during a hunt. Georgie begins to suspect that a member of the royal family is the real target but her investigation will put her new husband and love of her life, Darcy, in the crosshairs of a killer."

Georgiana is still self-conscious as she tries to be more mature as a married woman, but she can't change her sleuthing ways. Especially when the Queen asks for her to investigate.  Darcy and his rather carefree single days raise a specter that he and Georgie must deal with in this addition to the series.  Georgiana's brother "Binky" and his wife "Fig" invite themselves along and Fig is still insufferable.  Darcy's Aunt Ermintrude is an eccentric artist and was once part of the Queen's retinue and close confidante who has fallen on hard times since her husband's death.  Georgiana's mother, a former actress who is now the steady girlfriend of a German businessman, joins the festivities and has less of a role than usual.  Queenie, the walking disaster zone, is working in the kitchen for the most part when she isn't ruining some lady's dress or other mishap.  The Prince (Georgiana's cousin) and Mrs. Simpson, the American Divorcee, are present and part of the reason why Georgie and her group have been invited.  

My Thoughts:  
I enjoyed this addition to the series.  The accidents that were really murders are well done for creating a suspicious environment where everyone could be the killer.  Were the victims the intended target, or were they mistakes trying to kill the Prince?  This kept me reading and guessing.  The 20,000 acre Sandringham estate (where the royal family spends every Christmas) was a great location and felt isolated and eerie at times.  Georgie has developed well in her deductive skills and that is tested as well as how secure she feels with Darcy.  The characters are all real-feeling, the setting is shared faithfully, the mystery isn't easy to figure out, and I didn't realize who the killer was until Georgie did and it will surprise many.  This is a delightful mystery that provides a great escape with an interesting tableau and puzzle to solve.

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

Here is a short video of Sandringham House 
from a tourist.

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Monday, January 10, 2022

Mystery Movie Review - In the Heat of the Night

The incredible Sidney Poitier (the first Black actor to win an Oscar for best actor--for the movie Lilies of the Field) died a few days ago.  This is a perfect time to review one of the best 1960s mystery/thriller movies that stared Poitier. Some people may remember the telelvision police series that ran 1988 – 1995 starring Carol O'Connor, but the movie came first.  Of course it all started with the 1965 Novel In the Heat of the Night by John Ball which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America. It's hard to find his novels, but I have read a few and loved them.  Here is a link to the book that the movie is from and inspired a television series (click here).

FYI, this is reportedly the favorite film of actor Danny Glover.  Besides Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger and Lee Grant also stared in this early color movie released Aug 2, 1967.

What it's about
It's the 1960s in Mississippi.  Detective Virgil Tibbs (Philadelphia PD's number one homicide expert) was simply waiting for his next train at the station in Sparta, Mississippi when he is arrested after the murder of a prominent businessman. Upon discovering who he actually is, the police chief and Tibbs very reluctantly work together. The murdered man, Mr. Colbert, had come to Sparta from the North to build a new factory and his wife and business associates immediately point the finger at the most powerful man in the county and the one who had the most to lose if a major new employer comes to the area. Tibbs' life is clearly in danger but he perseveres in a highly charged and racially explosive environment. 

Rotten Tomatoes 95% 
Critic Jeff Beck "Thanks to its compelling narrative, memorable characters, and above all, a towering performance from the legendary Sidney Poitier, In the Heat of the Night continues to resonate with audiences over 50 years after its release."

Critic Wanda Hale "It's a pleasure, all too rare, to watch two splendid actors pitted against each other with equal force such as Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger in the exceptional murder mystery, In the Heat of the Night."

The Oscars presentations in 1967 (in which this won) was postponed for two days due to the assassination of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968.  This film won the Oscar for Best Picture and received multiple other award nominations and wins.  This was the only film directed by Norman Jewison to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

--The movie's line "They call me MISTER Tibbs!" was voted as the #16 greatest movie quote by the American Film Institute.

-- Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) was ranked Hero #19 in the Heroes category on the American Film Institute's 100 Heroes and Villains list.

-- In 2007 the American Film Institute ranked this as #75 Greatest Movie of All Time.

Trivia (mostly from IMDB)
-- This was reportedly the first major Hollywood film in color that was lit with proper consideration for an actor with dark skin. Haskell Wexler recognized that standard lighting used in filming produced too much glare on dark complexion. He toned down the lighting to feature Sidney Poitier with better results.

-- Sidney Poitier insisted that the movie be filmed in the North because of an incident in which he and Harry Belafonte were almost killed by Ku Klux Klansmen during a visit to Mississippi. That's why Sparta, Illinois, was chosen for location filming.  The filmmakers and actors did venture briefly into Tennessee for the outdoor scenes at the cotton plantation, because there was no similar cotton plantation in Illinois that could be used. Poitier slept with a gun under his pillow during production in Tennessee. He did receive threats from local racist thugs, so the shoot was cut short and production returned to Illinois.

-- The town's name in the story was changed to Sparta so that local signs would not need to be changed. The greenhouse was added to an existing house and filled with $15,000 worth of orchids.

-- Ray Charles sings the theme song and the song played on a little transistor radio, "Bow-Legged Polly", was written and performed for the film by Glen Campbell.

-- Rod Steiger was asked by director Norman Jewison to chew gum when playing the part. He resisted at first, but then grew to love the idea, and eventually went through 263 packs of gum during shooting.

-- According to Sidney Poitier, Tibbs' retaliation slap to Endicott (Larry Gates) was not in the original script nor in the novel on which the film is based. Poitier insisted that Tibbs slap Endicott back and wanted a guarantee that the scene would appear in all prints of the film.

-- The movie is set during a hot Mississippi summer, but filmed during autumn in Illinois, so many of the actors had to keep ice chips in their mouths (and spit them out before takes) to prevent their breath from appearing on camera during the night scenes.

My Thoughts:
The movie is stellar and makes an impact from the beginning to the end.  But it makes me uncomfortable because, like many of us today, the in-your-face racism of the day is on full display.  It completely transports you so you feel the character's fear and frustration as well as determination to uncover the truth.  

The mystery in the tale is solid and the red herrings cause serious complications.  The atmosphere created by the expert direction and camera work is pervasive.  The dialog snaps and crackles, even with the 60s slang thrown in.  This is taut and gritty and Poitier/Stieger play off each other masterfully.  Yes, racism in the South is clearly at the forefront, but it is also distrust of "outsiders" on full display in a small town that ratchets tension ever higher.  

Considering the headlines of the last years, this movie doesn't seem 55 years old as its message is still relevant today.  The script, plot, acting and character development, dialog, and camerawork are top notch (particularly when shooting in color was new) and work to make this a stellar police procedural movie and tremendous drama.  

If you haven't seen this movie, consider watching it and see the talented and incomparable Sidney Poitier and one of his best performances.

Here is the movie trailor:

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