Sunday, February 7, 2016

Candy Review: Strawberry Milk Chocolate M&M's

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Classic flavor combination
Cons: Strawberry a bit overwhelmed by chocolate at times
The Bottom Line:
Combining two greats
Strawberry and chocolate
How can you go wrong?

Classic Combination in Bite Size Piece

I don’t know who first came up with the idea of putting chocolate on strawberries, but that person was a genius!  It’s a flavor combination I absolutely love.  M&M decided to jump on that bandwagon this year with Strawberry Milk Chocolate M&M's, a special flavor created just for Valentine’s Day.  While not perfect, they sure are good.

As you might expect, these are your classic milk chocolate M&M’s but with a twist.  Instead of just being chocolate, they have some artificial strawberry flavoring in them.  In fact, you can smell the strawberry as soon as you open the bag.  Despite that fact, the strawberry doesn’t overwhelm the candy at all.  In fact, it’s very subtle, and you might miss it at first.  It seems to build the more you chew however, and by the time you are done it definitely tastes like you’ve enjoyed a nice chocolate covered strawberry.

The color of the candy reflects that as well.  Instead of the normal bright colors, the bag is filled with three shades of red and pink.  It’s a little monochromatic, but the point of M&M’s is to eat it, not look at it, right?

This year, at least, this flavor of candy is a limited release, and you can only find it at Wal-Mart.  Depending on how popular it turns out to be, I’ll be interested in seeing if that changes next year.

I do wish the strawberry flavor was more pronounced, but overall these are a fun twist on some classics.  If you want to try something different that your taste buds will love, track down a bag of Strawberry Milk Chocolate M&M's.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ornament Review: Olaf - Art of Disney Animation #5 - 2015 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Different look for a fun character
Cons: All cons magically removed
The Bottom Line:
Olaf created
In swirl of magic captured
With fun ornament

Olaf Swirls to Life on Your Tree

I must admit, I rolled my eyes a bit when I saw they were doing an Olaf ornament as part of the Art of Disney Animation series.  I already have two ornaments of him from Hallmark, and as much as I love the character (and I do love him), I wasn’t sure I needed a third.  But, being a collector, I couldn’t bring myself to not get the ornament and therefore not have all the ornaments in the series from The Disney Store.  Turns out, it’s my favorite in the series to date.

See, instead of just being another ornament of Olaf, this ornament is actually Olaf as he is swirling into being.  As a result, we get a mostly finished snowman with a glitter filled clearish white plastic tube around him representing the magic that is creating him.  He’s finished enough it’s easy to tell who he is since his face is put together.  However, his buttons, his nose, and his right arm and foot are still in the swirl of magic and not attached yet.

And it’s the fact that he’s not quite finished that actually gives this ornament its charm.  It’s rare you get something captured in action like this for an ornament.  It’s easy to tell exactly what is happening, too.

Plus it’s just plain fun.

Like the rest of the series, Olaf is standing on a circular base, so you can set the collection out to be displayed year round with no problem.  This one is white glitter on top light blue with snowflakes on the side, which definitely gives it that Frozen feel.

But if you want to hang it on your tree (It is an ornament after all), you’ll find a white ribbon on the top of Olaf’s head.  When you hang it from a branch, you’ll find that it hangs ever so slightly to the left, but you aren’t likely to notice unless you are looking for it.  Most of the Disney Store ornaments come with red ribbons, so I appreciate the fact that they did something different for this one since it fits with the ornament to much more.

It’s rare to get Disney merchandise that shows a character in something less than the completed look, so that makes Olaf something special.  As a fan of this warm hearted snowman, I am thrilled to have this different look in my collection.

Original Price: 19.95

Be sure to check out the rest of the Art of Animation ornaments.

February 6th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Start out the week behind, went out for two nights, and I'm just now catching up on everything.  Yep, February sweeps is here.

Galavant – Loved it!  In fact, I really enjoyed this season so much more than the first season.  I seriously doubt we get any more, but I appreciate the fact that they didn’t leave us with major cliffhangers.  Yes, there are places they can go and not everything was wrapped up, but we don’t have to wonder at how they will all get out of the trouble they are in.

American Ninja Warrior – The Japanese have really been underperforming in these world competitions, at least as I remember.  I would have expected them to dominate since the show originated there.  I wonder why that is?  Not that the show was boring.  Edge of your seat until the very last second/leap.

Supergirl – With Lord in “prison,” there are going to be some major issues coming at them soon.  I doubt they can just lock him up like they’ve done with some of the others.  Sorry to see Adam go so soon, although I knew he wouldn’t last long.  We’ve already got a love triangle going on, after all.

Team Ninja Warrior – So many photo finishes in this episode, it was amazing.  I just wish Evan had made it further since I really like him from his Gladiator days.

The Flash – I am so glad that Wells is no longer hiding his deeds and that Barry stood up and said they need to help him.  This is going to make for an interesting rest of the season.  Besides, if they sent him back to Earth 2 and sealed everything up, what would we do for the rest of the season?  And I like what happened with Wally this week as well.  Glad to see at least a crack in his behavior.

The Muppets – Definitely a transition episode.  I like where they are heading – back toward the classic Muppets.  Plus, it looks like they are going to forget that whole Piggy and Kermit broke up thing.  Sorry, that’s just not working for me.  Still not completely sold, but I’m willing to give it another chance.

Agent Carter – Someone is embracing her new powers.  That’s going to lead to quite the showdown before the season is over.  And the villains definitely have their hands in way too many things.  On the other hand, there were some very funny lines, especially the one about the super strong cold.  Intrigued to see where this goes before it is all over.

Arrow – Felicity’s dad is a villain?  And I guess I’m misremembering because I thought she had no clue who he was.  But that will be an interesting reveal going forward.  And it was fabulous to see Roy again.  Wish he were around for longer.

Baby Daddy – Okay, so my favorite bit was that final scene with Reba popping up.  Long live the sitcom Reba!!!!  That was quite the ride with the characters and so much going on.  Decent laughs, but I’m curious where Ben’s new love interest is going to go.

Suits – Louis’s ex was the one who turned in Mike?  I wasn’t expecting that reveal at all, but it makes perfect sense.  The prosecutor is plain evil, but that’s no surprise since all their villains are.  Of course, in this case, she is in the right since Mike did do it and everyone else went along with it.  I really have no clue how they even hope to get out of this, but it sounds like we won’t find out until next season from what I’m hearing.

Legends of Tomorrow – So many characters, but everyone is getting their moments to shine.  Fascinating look at our villain this time, too.  Glad we are leaving 1975 behind (although I am attached to that year) and I’m looking forward to a look at the 80’s next week.

Big Bang Theory – Yes, I gasped when Memaw let out the secret of the ring.  Now that Amy knows, how will that play out going forward?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Book Review: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #4)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Charming characters, Christmas atmosphere
Cons: Plot drags for first half.
The Bottom Line:
Film crew in mansion
Too much set up slows down this
Murder at Christmas

Film Crew at Christmas Means Murder

Had I realized that the fourth Flavia de Luce novel was set around Christmas, I would have crammed it into last year in an effort to listen to it at Christmas time.  The next best thing was to listen to I Am Half-Sick of Shadows in January while Christmas was still fresh in my mind.

If you have yet to meet Flavia, she is an eleven-year-old sleuth who lives in a small British village in 1950.  Oh, and she is obsessed with chemistry, most specifically poison.  Her fascination with death and murder has gotten her involved in several mysteries already, and she has done a good job of piecing things together.  And yes, despite the main character’s age, the series is aimed at adults and not middle grade readers.

As this book opens, it is the week before Christmas, and a film crew is arriving at Buckshaw, the de Luce family mansion.  They are going to be filming a movie starring Phyllis Wyvern, a huge movie star.  Flavia’s father has done this in order to bring in much needed money to pay off the taxes owed on the estate.  Unfortunately, this does mean a quieter Christmas this year since any decorations would get in the way of the filming of the movie.  Still, Flavia has one thing on her mind, the sticky substance she’s been brewing in her laboratory in order to catch Father Christmas on their roof and prove once and for all if he exists or not.

As time marches toward Christmas, the snow begins to fall, but that doesn’t keep much of the village from coming to Buckshaw for a performance put on by Phyllis to raise money for the parish roof.  Unfortunately, the storm is bad enough that it traps everyone in the mansion, and that night someone is murdered.  With all the suspects in her own home, can Flavia figure out who the killer is?

With this being winter, certain elements of the series like Flavia riding her trusty bike, Gladys, all over the countryside aren’t to be found.  Instead, the residents of the village come to her for their cameo appearances.  Speaking of cameos, we also see a friendly face from the second book again, something I loved.

Unfortunately, the mystery was very slow to get started.  We’re almost half way through the book before the murder takes places, and only some of the story time before that was truly setting up suspects.  Yes, the book is filled with Flavia’s ramblings, asides, and rabbit trails.  They are charming at times, but only when commenting on the action of the mystery.  Early in the book, everything was just too slow.

Once the murder takes place, the action does pick up considerably.  There are some good twists and revelations on the way to the end.  The fact that we are snowed in to the family mansion for much of the book never seems to be an issue.  Flavia has access to all the suspects and clues she needs, and I never started to feel claustrophobic at being in one place so long.

In the last book, Flavia was annoying me, mainly because she was acting her age.  I’m glad to say that she was much better behaved in this book.  Yes, she still acted her age, but it wasn’t nearly as annoying.  We came close to getting some much needed character development for her two older sisters, and I hope that comes in the next book.  I’m ready for their relationship to evolve.  The rest of the cast continued to be strong no matter how big or small their part was in the overall book.

While the Christmas atmosphere isn’t on every page, I did enjoy it when it came into play in the story.  There is plenty of it to make reading this book in December an added joy.  I just didn’t want to wait that long since I had just missed Christmas.

What I find interesting is how the author keeps working the time period into these books.  Flavia may live in a small village, but the two wars that had been fought recently continue to influence her world.  Being eleven, she probably doesn’t completely understand everything that had happened, but it is interesting to the adult audience of the books.

Once again, I listened to the audio book, and once again Jayne Entwistle. provided wonderful narration.  She brings Flavia, our first person narrator, to perfect life, and at times I can’t help but laugh at the enthusiasm she breathes into the words.  She’s just as talented as bringing the rest of the cast to life without getting in the way of the story she is reading.

Which is why I wish the plotting were stronger in the series.  The characters are charming and the setting is wonderful, but the slow plot keeps me from completely recommending I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.

February 5th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it to another Friday!  So here is this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

I must confess I had a hard time finding a book to use this week.  Two of the books I considered had good openings but very boring 56's.  And the book I'm currently reading?  There are major spoilers on page 56, and I couldn't find a way around them.  But I found a way around that, so I am going with my current read, which is Dark Chocolate Demise by Jenn McKinlay.

And yes, the book does open with a party after a zombie walk, hence the cupcakes on the cover.

And here's how the book begins:

"He looks really good in there," Angie DeLaura said.  "Peaceful even."
"You can't say that about every," Melanie Cooper agreed.
"It's all about the casket," Tate Harper said.  "You want to choose a lining that compliments your skin tone in the postmortem."

And now, in order to avoid the spoilers, I'm jumping ahead to page 54, not 56.  (You won't turn me in to the non-existent Friday 56 police, right?)

The world tilted sideways and Mel felt woozy.  She blinked and tried to suck in enough air to stay conscious.  She couldn't faint.  Angie needed her.  Tate needed her.

And that's it for this week.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to get a chapter in before I go to sleep.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review: Scene of the Brine by Mary Ellen Hughes (Pickled and Preserved Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great plot and characters
Cons: A bit slow to start
The Bottom Line:
Accountant murdered
Sets in motion a strong plot
Characters we like

The Accountant’s Number is Up

I’m an accountant by day, so I took note when it came to the murder victim in Scene of the Brine, the latest mystery from Mary Ellen Hughes.  Accountants are good people, right?  No one would ever want to harm one of us.  Of course, this accountant turns out to be a complete and total jerk, which made reading the book lots of fun.

The town of Cloverdale, New York, is abuzz about the Porter family who has just moved into town.  Jeremy Porter is a very successful realtor, and he’s bought an old mansion on the edge of town and his mother and sister have moved in with him.  Unfortunately, his accountant, Dirk Unger, has moved into town as well.  Dirk is a mean man who seems to have all the dirt on people and uses it to destroy them and help Jeremy.

Piper Lamb, the owner of Piper’s Picklings, sees just how devastating Dirk can be when her friend Sugar Heywood, a caterer in town, is crushed after Dirk destroys her personal life over something that happened years ago.  While much of the town is at a party, Dirk winds up dead from poison, and suspicion turns to Sugar’s son, Zach.  With Sugar in a panic, Piper begins to dig in to find out who else Dirk had destroyed.  Can she clear Zach’s name?

Since I’ve read and enjoyed the first two books in the series, I was a bit surprised to find that it took me a few chapters to fully get into the book.  It has a bit of a slow start with a sub-plot that is used to introduce new characters, and Piper is told about some things that happen off page instead of witnessing them.  However, when the murder does happen, this information is used in the rest of the book.

Looking back at the book, it doesn’t take too long for the murder to happen, and once it does, things really do pick up.  In fact, it got so interesting I read almost half of it in one day – I just had to know what in the world was going on.  There were some nice twists I didn’t see coming that kept me confused.  I did figure out the killer before the end, but I had missed several logical clues.  The climax was creative and kept those pages turning while tying up all the red herrings.

The characters in the series are good, and I enjoy spending time with them.  We see some nice growth in a couple of the regulars, and the new characters are fleshed out with some secrets of their own.  They are a great group, and it’s hard not to root for them to have a happy ending.  Well, all except the murderer, or course.

Circling back around to the opening of my review, I want to be sure to point out that the accountant was a vile man.  He was one of those murder victims you loved to see wind up dead.  It actually made me think how seldom accountants really play a role in the cozies I read, which is probably one reason why the profession of the victim stuck out to me here (in addition to my day job as an accountant, of course).

And for those wondering, a plot thread opened in the last book in the series appears to be wrapped up successfully here.  At least I hope it is.  That’s all I will say on the subject to avoid any further spoilers.

Of course, we get two recipes at the end of the book, Brandied Cherries and Spicy Carrot Pickles.  I’ve got to admit, I still haven’t tried any different pickled vegetables, which I always say I’m going to do after reading a book in this series.  I guess I’m just not adventuresome enough.

In the end, any complaints I have about the book are truly minor.  For those who have been enjoying their visits with Piper and her friends, Scene of the Brine provides another fun trip.  And if you’ve missed this series, pick up one today.  You’ll find it well worth your time.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Thursday, February 11th, so please leave your comment before 12:01AM Pacific Time on 2/11.  You will have until midnight on 2/16 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 2/17.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Movie Review: Grease Live!

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun songs and dance numbers, great production, nostalgia
Cons: The moral of the story
The Bottom Line:
50’s nostalgia
Great song, dance numbers ruined
By shaky moral

There Was a Reason I Had Been Avoiding This Musical

There is a long list of classic American musicals I had never seen or hadn’t seen until the last few years.  One of those was Grease.  I’d avoided it because of some of what I’d heard about the storyline.  But I couldn’t pass when I saw that Fox was joining the live musical bandwagon and producing Grease Live!  With people I am familiar with in the cast, I figured this was as good a time as any to watch the movie.  Sadly, it was pretty much exactly what I was expecting.

The musical takes up back to 1959 and tells the story of Sandy (Julianne Hough) and Danny (Aaron Tveit), high school seniors who had met the summer before on the beach.  They figure they are going their separate ways until Sandy’s family moves from Salt Lake City and she attends a new school, the school where Danny just happens to go.

Of course, they can’t just get back together.  Sandy’s a good girl with strict parents.  Danny’s a greaser.  Sandy makes friends with a group of girls lead by Rizzo (Vanessa Hudgens), who seems to have a bit of a crush on Danny.  Will their very different backgrounds keep them from making their relationship work in the real world?

I can certainly see the appeal of the musical.  Even today, 1950’s nostalgia is strong, and it was certainly strong in the 1970’s, when this musical was first written.  The music is fun, and the dancing is top notch.  This is an example of the best in the genre from that standpoint.

And NCB could learn a thing or two from the production here.  Yes, it was all done on soundstages live, but that didn’t mean it was anything less than glorious.  The costumes and the sets were both wonderful.  The effects shots, pretty much reserved for a drag race late in the movie, were top notch.  This was a huge step up from the three NBC efforts.  There are also some awesome costume changes that compare to the best of Broadway.

Likewise, the acting was better.  Oh, I’m not comparing it to any of the performances from the classic movie since I’ve never seen that.  Again, I’m comparing it to the NBC live shows we’ve gotten so far, which have featured acting that can be a bit stiff.  And it was a blast watching the cast, which included such people as Boys II Men, Carlos PanaVega, and even Eve Plumb as the female mechanics teacher at the school.  I felt everyone did a great job.

I think one different was the live audience, which gave the performers someone to react against.  Of course, it was a double edged sword when they used the audience as part of the action.  For some scenes it work, but for others, it left me scratching my head.  One scene in particular with two sets of bleachers on front lawn of the school springs immediately to mind in the head scratcher category.

No, my issues with the movie are more with the story.  First, there’s the question of the timeline.  I guess the story takes place over the course of a school year, but it felt to me like maybe a month had passed at most.  Either I didn’t follow the story as much as I thought I did or they weren’t clear on the passage of time in this version.

But that’s not nearly as big a deal to me as the moral of the story.  All the conflict goes away when Sandy changes herself and her values to match Danny’s.  What relationship will last when you change that much for someone?  What’s even worse is that from the very beginning, Danny and his friends are shown as shallow teens who degrade women.  Trust me, they will not have a healthy relationship.  And we even get an object lesson in how they treat women with a storyline involving Rizzo.  Considering I hear “Never change for a man” preached to teenage women, I’m surprised this is such a popular musical since it has the exact opposite moral.

So I guess I’m one of the few who will never be a fan of this story.  For a new generation, this product is fun, but the moral keeps me from fully recommending Grease Live!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book Review: A Disguise to Die For by Diane Vallere (Costume Shop Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fully fleshed out characters; fun setting; wonderful mystery
Cons: Any cons have been disguised
The Bottom Line:
New series debuts
Outstanding characters and
Page turning story

I Won’t Disguise My Love of This Debut

Months ago, Diane Vallere told me about her upcoming Costume Shop Mystery series, and I immediately started looking forward to it because it sounded like a fun setting for a mystery series.  Now that I’ve read A Disguise to Die For, I can tell you it exceeded my expectations.

Margo Tamblyn has returned to her home town of Proper, Nevada, and the family costume shop, Disguise DeLimit.  It’s supposed to be temporary until her father has recovered from a heart attack.  It’s a good thing she is there to help out since Blitz Manners has just placed a rush order for 40 detective costumes for his upcoming birthday party.  The costumes cover the range from books and TV and include many famous detectives.  Blitz himself has reserved the classic Sherlock Holmes costume.

The party has just gotten into full swing when Margo walks into the kitchen to find Blitz dead on the floor and Margo’s friend Ebony standing over the corpse with a knife in her hand.  Naturally, the police begin to look at Ebony as their chief suspect, and a secret in Ebony’s past might be her motive.  However, Margo knows Ebony and knows her friend couldn’t have done it.  Can Margo use detective costumes to bolster her own abilities and figure out which of the other detectives is a killer?

Since I’ve previously read two of Diane’s books, I knew to expect a puzzling mystery with plenty of suspects and red herrings.  On that front, the book delivered perfectly.  I had no clue what was happening until Margo figured it out at the end, yet the ending was perfectly logical with great clues along the way.  I do think one red herring wasn’t completely resolved, although it is a very minor issue that doesn’t truly matter.  And there are some masterful red herrings along the way.

What I think surprised me most about this book was the characters.  There was a depth to them that I don’t usually see in the books I read, and certainly not in the first in a series.  Usually, a debut is just worried about introducing the characters and the setting of the series, and deeper development comes later.  This book delved much deeper than that, yet that development was completely organic to the story and didn’t slow things down at all.  Heck, the victim was even a much fuller character than normal by the time the story was over.

And, of course, the costume aspect was a complete blast.  I’m not much of a costume guy, but that’s because I’m not super creative when it comes to pulling things together like that.  I got a kick out of the detective name dropping that happened in this book, everyone from Sherlock Holmes (obviously) and Miss Marple to Shaft, Columbo, Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Frank and Joe Hardy, Veronica Mars, and Trixie Belden.  Yes, that last one is a huge bonus for me since I’m still a huge Trixie Belden fan.  At the end of the book, we get a complete list of the detective costumes mentioned in the book as well as some suggestions for recreating four of them yourself.  Not to mention Margo regularly dresses in costumes, and I always got a kick out of seeing what she’s pick from day to day.

Plus there are also a couple of recipes in the back.  One is guaranteed to give you a great laugh.

I never wanted to put this book down, and the pages flew by all too quickly.  When you pick up A Disguise to Die For, you’ll lose yourself in the costumes and pages.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Tuesday, February 9th, so please leave your comment before 12:01AM Pacific Time on 2/9.  You will have until midnight on 2/14 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 2/15.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Monthly Reading Summary - January 2016

Wow!  Can you believe that we are already a month into 2016?  I'm still not used to writing it yet.  But we are, so it's time to post my monthly reading summary.  And yes, the Index has been updated.

As always, the link will take you to my full review.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).

The Tiara on the Terrace by Kristen Kittscher (Young and Yang #2) – 5
Like most teens in Luna Vista, Sophie Young and Grace Yang are working on the floats for the upcoming Winter Sun Festival.  This is the 125th anniversary of the parade, and the town wants to make an especially good impression.  Sadly, the work is interrupted one day when the festival president is found dead on one of the floats.  Certain it wasn’t the accident the police think it is, Sophie and Grace begin to investigate.  But when their pool of suspects could also be the next victim, can they solve the crime?

I really enjoyed the first book starring these two thirteen-year-olds, and I enjoyed this one just as much.  They are realistic characters who just happen to solve crime.  There is a large cast of other characters, but I was soon able to keep them all straight thanks to their distinct personalities.  The clues were buried under red herrings, but as the solution came to light, it all made perfect sense.  Definitely recommended for middle grade readers or anyone who loves a good mystery.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Death of a Bad Apple by Penny Pike (Food Festival Mysteries #3) – 5
Darcy, Aunt Abby, and the rest of the crew head up to Apple Valley for the annual apple festival.  However, when they arrive, they find themselves in a not so festive atmosphere when a fire breaks out down the road from the B&B where they are staying and a fellow guest is murdered.  What have they gotten themselves into?

Despite the change of location from San Francisco (the setting for the first two books in this series), all the regular characters are still present, which is a great thing since I love them all so much.  Nothing about that has changed here, and I enjoyed watching their relationships continue to grow.  The plot is great and kept me guessing until the end when everything came together for a logical climax.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

A Second Chance at Murder by Diana Orgain (Love or Money Mystery #2) – 5
Georgia and Scott are back to compete on a second reality show, this one a race across Europe with challenges along the way.  But the night before the race even begins, Scott disappears and a woman is murdered.  With the police certain that Scott is a killer, Georgia must find him and prove his innocence.  Can she do it?

This was a wonderfully creative cozy.  The mystery kept me guessing until the end, and the disappearance added a nice element to the story.  The characters were strong as well.  The race aspect was kept as a sub-plot, and the location in Spain was brought to life so much that I now want to visit.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

“C” is for Corpse by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #3) – 5
While working out at the gym, PI Kinsey Millhone is approached by a young man who was in a horrific accident 10 months ago take took part of his memory.  He doesn’t think it was an accident but attempted murder and he wants Kinsey to find out why someone would want to kill him.  She just begun when tragedy strikes.  Can she solve this 10 month old puzzle?

Another strong entry makes it easy to see why this long running series is so popular.  The characters are sharp; in fact, it is a pleasure to see how easily the author creates characters with just a few sentences.  The plot moves along well, although I did figure things out a bit before Kinsey did.  That’s a minor issue in this enjoyable novel.

The crew of the Star Warts is exploring a new part of space when they see a black hole off in the distance.  While it makes them reminisce of the holes they grew up in, they suddenly find their ship stuck on something.  What is it?  Can they break free?

This alternative take on black holes is a lot of fun, although I do feel the book started a bit slowly.  Still, the pictures are great, the puns are present, and the ending provides a great moral that everyone can learn from – don’t sing with your mouth full!

Copy Cap Murder by Jenn McKinlay (Hat Shop Mysteries #4) – 5
Scarlett Parker is thrilled to be going to her first Bonfire Night hosted by her friend Harrison’s firm.  However, when the time comes to burn the straw man of Guy Fawkes, the group realizes it is actually Win, Harrison’s office rival who had come on to Scarlett earlier that night.  Harrison becomes a suspect, and Scarlett must figure out what is happening to keep her friend from taking the fall.

This is another fun entry in a great series.  The characters and their relationships continue to grow, and I love seeing the next chapter of their lives.  The multitude of suspects made for a great mystery, and I was surprised when everything was revealed at the end.  And yes, we do get some news on the cliffhanger at the end of the last book as well.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Don’t Look Back by Gregg Hurwitz – 4
Eve Hardaway takes a trip to the jungles of southern Mexico in order to rediscover herself.  Instead, she discovers something truly horrifying, a mad man bent on killing her and everyone else at the remote camp where she is staying.  With the weather conspiring against them, will they be able to get out to safety?

The book took a little while to set up the story, introducing us to the characters and the landscape we’d spend the rest of the book in.  But once it gets going, this is another page turner from a talented thriller author.  The villain was a bit over the top early on, but he became more human as the book progressed – not that I ever liked him.  The rest of the characters are interesting to watch as they rise to the challenge or cave under the pressure.

Murder Most Finicky by Liz Mugavero (Pawsitively Organic Mysteries #4) – 5
Stan has been summoned to Rhode Island to work with a group of master chefs.  Sheldon Allyn is hoping to put together an impressive dinner that will convince investors who give his business money, and if he succeeds, Stan will get the money to expand her gourmet pet food business.  When Stan and the others arrive at their secret location, they find out of the chefs beat them there only to be murdered.  As the weekend begins to fall apart, can Stan figure things out?

Since this book takes place in Rhode Island instead of Stan’s usual local, many of the series regulars only get cameos.  That was my only complaint with this great book.  The new characters are lots of fun, and even the brief time we spend with the series regulars seems some growth in them.  The mystery is very strong with lots of moving pieces.  I didn’t have it all put together until the end myself.

Mother’s Day Out by Karen MacInerney (Margie Peterson #1) – 5
Margie’s looking for work to help pay for her kid’s pre-school.  Her first week on the job ends with her finding a dead transvestite in a restroom.  What’s even more shocking is what Margie discovers while waiting for the police.  Can she solve a case that has become very personal?

This is a definite departure from the author’s normal cozy mysteries, most along the lines of a Stephanie Plum book in content and tone.  That includes the humor; this book had me laughing many times.  The characters are very strong and easy to remember, and the plot kept me guessing until the logical and suspenseful end.  I did have one problem with one aspect of the plot as a Christian, but that is my only hesitation.  This is a very solid book overall.

Better Homes and Corpses by Kathleen Bridge (Hamptons Home and Garden Mysteries #1) – 4
Meg Barrett thinks that getting a job looking at the antiques in the estate of Caroline Spenser is the boost her interior design company needs.  After all, Caroline is one of the biggest names in the Hamptons.  However, when Meg arrives at the appointment, she finds Caroline dead on the floor and Caroline’s adult daughter Jillian next to the body in shock.  Could Jillian be the next victim?

I did struggle some getting into this book, but I quickly got into the story.  It helped that the characters came alive the more time I spent with them.  The theme of this cozy, interior design and antiques, overwhelmed the story at times, but I loved the Hamptons setting.  And the plot was wonderfully constructed and kept me guessing until the end.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in hopes that I would review it.

The Mystery of the Vanishing Victim by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #33) – 3
The Bob-Whites are beyond thrilled when they get an antique car for their rummage sale, until the car breaks down.  But when the stranger who helped them fix it is the victim of a hit and run, Trixie thinks she’s found another mystery.

And she has.  Unfortunately, the mystery is buried under plans for the rummage sale, and it is resolved in a ton of exposition at the end of the book.  All the characters are involved and are themselves, but the slow mystery keeps this from being one of the better entries in the series.

Edgar Allan Cozy by Various Authors – 5
Five cozy authors present their spins on classic Edgar Allan Poe tales.  We get two poems, including a modern take on “The Raven,” and four short stories.  All of the contributions are fun.  I haven’t read much Poe, so I’m sure there are references and parallels I missed, but I still completely enjoyed the tales here.  The compilation is short, took me about an hour to read, but you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this compilation in exchange for my honest review.

Slayed on the Slopes by Kate Dyer – Seeley (Pacific Northwest Mysteries #2) – 3
Meg is hoping that a feature on the winter training of the new Ridge Rangers will impress her editor at Northwest Extreme.  However, when she arrives high up on Mount Hood, she finds tension in the group.  As she is wondering if she will even have a story, and a murder occurs.  Suddenly, she wonders if she will even survive the weekend.

The problem with the book is it takes too long for the weekend to even start.  The beginning was slow, and the ending dragged on too long as well.  Some of the series regulars felt shoehorned into the book, but I was happy to see them since I like them, and I appreciated the advancement on the series storylines.  Honestly, I do love the characters, and once the mystery got going it was pretty good.  I just hope that the pacing issues are ironed out as the series progresses.

Classified as Murder by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #2) – 5
Charlie is surprised when James Delacorte asks for his help cataloging his private library since the two hardly know each other.  But James fears that someone is stealing his rare books.  Returning from his lunch break his first day on the job, Charlie finds James dead.  Who killed him?  Are there really missing library books?

I let too much time pass before I got back to this series, but I was thrilled to see Charlie and his cat Diesel again.  They are great main characters, and I liked how Charlie and several relationships around him grew in this book.  The mystery was a bit slow to get started, but once it did, the tension was strong and the ending was great.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Candy Review: Strawberry Shortcake M&M

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Delicious strawberry flavor; look great
Cons: Too much white chocolate flavor at the end
The Bottom Line:
A bold new flavor
With too much white chocolate
To be next classic

Shorter than I’d Hope For in the Taste Department

I have a serious weakness for candy, and I love trying out new favorites from brands I like, so when I found out that M&M’s were creating two new flavors for Valentine’s Day this year, I had to give them a shot.  Target got the exclusive right to sell the White Strawberry Shortcake M&M's, which aren’t bad, but they aren’t that good either.

The first thing you notice when you open the bag is the smell.  The strawberry is very overwhelming, and I was afraid that it would be too much.  So I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t.  Yes, it is artificial strawberry flavoring, but it tastes pretty good.  What is a disappointment is the white chocolate base of the candy.  That aspect of the candy overwhelms at the end, and it just doesn’t work with the strawberry flavor we got earlier.  It’s not so bad I’d never have these again, but I also wouldn’t rush out and buy them next year.  I think they were trying for the cake and whipped cream part of strawberry shortcake, but they missed.

I’ve got to say the color pallet of these M&M’s is wonderful.  The bag is filled with little pink, cream, and white candies, perfectly capturing the idea of strawberry shortcake.

I do like white chocolate, but in this case, it just doesn’t quite work with the candy.  White Strawberry Shortcake M&M's aren’t truly bad, but they aren’t all that great either.