Sunday, February 19, 2017

Book Review: Terror on Kamikaze Run by Sigmund Brouwer (Accidental Detectives #10)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and story; plenty of fun
Cons: Kids being at the resort seems a little iffy
The Bottom Line:
Haunted ski resort
Ricky tries to find answers
Fast paced mystery

Ghostly Accidents

Okay, so I have many favorite mystery series, but the Accidental Detectives is definitely one of them.  These books have some of the best mysteries I’ve ever read, feature strong characters, and are just plain fun to read.  The fact that they are aimed at a middle grade audience doesn’t matter in the slightest.  Terror on Kamikaze Run is a perfect example.

It all starts because of Miss Avery.  She is one of the elderly people that Lisa Higgins’ aunt takes care of, but Miss Avery isn’t concerned for herself.  She’s gotten a suspicious letter from her brother that has her convince that all is not right at the ski lodge he runs in Colorado.  Since her health is failing, she wants to send Ricky Kidd, Lisa, Ralphy, Mike, and even Ricky’s younger brother Joel there to check it out and report back to her to ease her mind.

Ricky and his friends have hardly arrived when there is a fire in the building where they are staying.  It’s just the latest in a series of accidents, all of which is foretold by the ghost of a long dead woman who appears the night before each accident.  The Accidental Detectives try to poke around when they aren’t learning to ski, but what do the clues they turn up mean?

Reading this book this time, I did wonder about the parents sending these kids off to a resort where something strange is going on under the supervision of a man they didn’t know.  But this is a middle grade mystery, and we need some way for the twelve-year-olds to solve the mystery.  As a teen the first time I read this book, I certainly didn’t care, and this is worth noting only in passing.

The mystery itself is strong.  We have clues that don’t seem to add up to anything until Ricky begins to put it all together in the end.  I remembered the vague outline of the mystery in this one as I was reading it, so it was a pleasure to see how everything was laid out along the way.

The characters are good and are definitely stronger than the characters we get in many kid’s books.  Each one has their own personality, and the adults are good adults, not the weak ones we often see in the genre.

Then there’s the humor.  The book opens with a short story that introduces a few characters who will play a role in the book, and it starts things off with a laugh.  There are other laughs along the way thanks to how Ricky and his friends tease each other.  This is another example of their personalities being such fun.

This is a Christian novel, and it incorporates a Christian theme and world view into everything that happens along the way.  Yet it does that without ever once preaching at us, something I truly appreciate.

The Accidental Detective series is a little harder to track down, but if you have kids in late elementary school, it is well worth the effort.  Even if you are an adult mystery reader, you’ll appreciate the story told here.  Strap in and enjoy the wild ride that is Terror on Kamikaze Run.

You'll find more fun with the rest of the Accidental Detectives mysteries.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #12 - Exchanging Presents - 2009 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Another cute Christmas scene
Cons: Noticeable tip
The Bottom Line:
Exchanging presents
Snoopy, Woodstock in cute scene
Worth a second look

What’s More Fun than Presents?

Hallmark has done a good job of mixing in general winter activities with Christmas related activities for their Winter Fun with Snoopy series.  The twelfth in the series is definitely Christmas related as we find Snoopy ready to give his friend Woodstock a present.

Snoopy has shown up at Woodstock’s nest.  Woodstock is sitting on one side and his tree is taking up most of the nest.  Snoopy is looking in, and behind his back, he’s holding a wrapped box.  Both of the friends are smiling as they talk, Woodstock doesn’t even know he’s about to get a big surprise.  I mean, the box has to be as big as he is.

This was one of the first miniature ornaments I bought when I first started collecting Hallmark ornaments.  (It came out in 2009, and I started in 2010.)  Back then, I didn’t care for it that much.  I was expecting the details you’d see on a full size ornament.

Something has clicked for me this year, and I’m enjoying the miniature ornaments a lot more (which is why I back collected this series this year).  Taking a second look at this one, I can appreciate it more.  While Woodstock’s tree doesn’t really have any decorations, the glitter for the snow adds a nice touch.  We can’t see all the details to his nest, we can see some, and that just amazes me with something this small.  It’s about an inch side to side and an inch tall, so there isn’t a ton of space for the details we do get.

Like most ornaments in this series, there is a flat base, so you can easily set it out if you have a good space to do so.  Again, remember the size.  You’ll find the 12 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of the ornament.

Unfortunately, this ornament does have a tilt to it.  It tips to the right and to the back.  It’s fairly noticeable, and it’s harder to disguise it with a tree branch since this ornament is so small.

The tip is disappointing, but the scene is cute overall.  I’m glad I’ve taken a second look at the twelfth Winter Fun with Snoopy ornament.

There's plenty more fun with the rest of the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

Original Price: $8.50

February 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

It's very rare that I have shows take a week off during sweeps, but the CM preempted both The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow this week.  Oh well, it gives me time to do other things, like watch these shows.

24: Legacy – I’m sticking with the wife’s storyline being the worst of the season and her being the Kim of the season, but it looks like she may have some competition with those two guys in CTU.  Please tell me they aren’t going to preach to us.  Meanwhile, we got out of the police station way too easily.  That had plot contrivance written all over it.  However, I was shocked that the kid is still alive.  I wonder how much longer that will be the case.  That whole storyline this week had some of the best suspense of the night.

Supergirl – I’m still on the fence about Lena.  Obviously, we are supposed to think she is evil since she is a Luthor.  And that smile at the end made it seem that way.  Yet it would be the ultimate fake out to have her be good.  Very curious where they will go with it.

This is Us – I knew what Kevin was going to do there at the end.  Seems like he could have sent his mother or Kate, but it made such an amazing final scene.  Amazing.  The flashbacks have me very worried.  I think we are working up to Jack’s death, and I don’t know if I can handle that.  I’m a bit surprised since they really did leave a lot open there at the end, more so than usual anyway.  Still, Kevin holding Randall like that – what an amazing finish.  (I’ll just pretend that Jack’s dinner alone wasn’t the final scene.)

Arrow – When I realized we were going to have the gun debate on the show, I cringed.  Turned out they did a decent job presenting both sides.  I’m curious what the outcome was since they left that vague, but I appreciate the episode more than I thought I would.  Heck, it even made me like Renee a little better.  By far not my favorite episode of the series, but better than I thought it would be.  I just hope this isn’t a trend to preach at us instead of entertain us.  Certainly felt like a very special episode and not our regular Arrow.

Lethal Weapon – How fun to see Felix from The Odd Couple in something else.  He made a good Leo Getz for this show, slimy yet fun and funny.  Definitely bringing more of the fun again and some impressive stunts.  I was really happy they didn’t go with someone else flying the helicopter down to the ground and instead had them jump.  Not really a realistic ending there either, but it was nice to see them getting rid of that cliché.

Suits – Of course it isn’t easy for Mike and Harvey.  We wouldn’t like this show if it were.  I’m shocked if it is true that Mike still doesn’t want to go back, but I love how he is mentoring this other lawyer.  What Rachel learned was pretty fantastic, too.  Two episodes left this season?  Why do I think it is going to get crazy for these two episodes?

Big Bang Theory – Sheldon has a driver’s license?  What?  Raj is no longer going to be living on daddy’s money?  Wow, that was a pretty major episode.  I’d love to see Sheldon actually drive some time.  I bet it would still be funny.  And I wonder what other secrets he’s keeping from everyone.

The Great Indoors – Maggy Lawson from psych was in the episode!  I actually enjoyed that episode.  Some surprising character growth and some pretty funny stuff as he was trying to fit in.  I’m not saying the show has found itself, but it might be getting there.

Powerless – Again, a better episode.  Looks like I will be sticking with this one as well, at least for the time being.  And how funny that Corbin Bernsen from psych was in this episode.  The boss is an annoying character.  I think if it weren’t for him, I’d completely enjoy this show.  Tone him down, and I’d be fully on board.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Trunk Music by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters; overall entertaining mystery
Cons: Pacing and a couple of predictable twists; audio book narrator
The Bottom Line:
Bosch is back to work
In entertaining story
That fans will enjoy

Producer in the Trunk

While I enjoyed my time with one of Michael Connelly’s other characters a couple of months back, I was glad to get back to Harry Bosch with Trunk Music.  Harry is a great character, and I was glad to slip back into his world.

As this book opens, Bosch is finally back working homicides after 18 months in the wilderness of forced time off and then working robbery.  He’s still working out of Hollywood and the leaders of a three person team.  His team is the first one called in when a body is found in the trunk of a car.  The car had been abandoned in a vacant lot next to the Hollywood Bowl, which is currently hosting a concert, making working the scene tricky.

The scene looks like a mob hit, yet organized crime doesn’t appear to want to take the case.  Bosch isn’t complaining too much since he is anxious to get back to solving murders, his true passion.  The victim is a producer of low budget borderline pornographic films and appears to have connections in Las Vegas.  Is that what got him killed?

As always, this book starts strongly, and following Bosch around as he solves the case is plenty of fun.  I did feel the pacing of this book was a little off, and I did figure out a twist or two before Bosch did.  But overall, these are minor issues.

The characters are wonderful.  There are a few returning characters, and it is nice to catch up with them again.  Bosch is a very fascinating main character, and I like getting to know him better.  He never backs down from anyone, adding some conflict to the story, but it’s easy to root for him.  Plus a face from his past shows up again here, which I enjoyed.  He has a new lieutenant in this book, and I absolutely love her.  I hope she’s around for several books at least.  And the characters we meet here are fully developed as well, making for strong suspects.

Dick Hill is still doing the audio books for this series.  He’s getting better, but there are times he still gets in the way of the story.  Honestly, we don’t need him to yawn when the characters are tired.  He throws in a few other things like that which are annoying.  And there’s one character he completely ruins with the way he brings the character to life.  Fortunately, it’s a minor character with only a couple of scenes here, but it is bad.  Overall, his performance works, but I will be glad when the series moves on to another reader.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Harry Bosch continues to grow as the series progresses.  While Trunk Music wasn’t the best mystery so far, it is still a very strong book.

No matter where you jump in, you'll be hooked and want to read more Harry Bosch novels.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

February 17th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It is once again time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm still going with a mystery, but it's a middle grade mystery - Terror on Kamikaze Run by Sigmund Brouwer.

This is actually a reread for me, and the book is a lot of fun, as you can tell from the opening paragraph.

There is nothing funny - no matter what Lisa Higgins says - about answering the doorbell with a gray wig twisted sideways on your head and a red dress over your blue jeans and T-shirt.  Nothing funny at all.  Especially when your lipstick is smeared.

But the book also has some suspense, as you can tell from the final paragraph of page 56.

A faraway scream reached my ears.  I realized it was mine, and that the scream seemed so far away because already the wind pulling it from my throat was the wind caused by going far faster than any human body was designed to go.

I'll be reviewing the book on Sunday, so I hope you'll stop by and see what I thought.  In the meantime, enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Movie Review: Cinderella (2015)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun take on Cinderella that fills in the story
Cons: Pacing at times
The Bottom Line:
A tale comes to life
In mostly magical take
On Cinderella

“Midnight.  That’s More Than Enough Time.”

I’m a bad DisNerd.  I have been slacking on watching Disney’s live action versions of their animated movies.  And with how excited I am about Beauty and the Beast next month, I need to fix this oversight.  I did finally get a chance to watch 2015’s version of Cinderella, and I found that it grew on me.

We first meet Cinderella as a young girl as she is raised by a well off family.  Her father (Ben Chaplan) is a merchant, traveling the world to find his goods.  She has a loving mother (Hayley Atwell) as well.  But life soon deals her a horrible blow when her mother gets sick and dies.  Her father eventually remarries, and her step-mother (Cate Blanchett) brings with her two step-sisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger).  Sadly, Cinderella’s (Lily James) father then dies while on one of his trips.

Meanwhile, Prince Kit (Richard Madden) has grown into a young man, and his father (Derek Jacobi) wants him to marry.  Naturally, a princess is being sought, but the prince has other ideas and wants to invite all the ladies of the realm to a ball.  What will happen there?

The biggest thing this movie adds to the familiar fairy tale is allowing us to see Cinderella’s background.  It was interesting, but I did feel it slowed down the beginning.  We also get to see more about the prince.  Heck, he even gets a name here.  I also appreciated the fact that they attempted to give Cinderella’s step-mother some motive for her hatred and horrible behavior.  Don’t misunderstand, they don’t excuse it at all, but we can see a reason for her actions.  The step-sisters?  They’re just rotten. 

While I did feel the prologue was a bit slow, I did enjoy the movie the further along it went.  They definitely expand on the relationship between Cinderella and Prince Kit, which is fun.  These scenes follow typical romantic comedy tropes, but they work well.  You can feel the chemistry between them, and there are a couple of very romantic moments.

This isn’t a musical, although fans of the animated version will recognize allusions to the songs.  Consider them Easter eggs.  We do get two of the songs sung over the closing credits.

Of course, the big scenes are done thanks to CGI, and those scenes are wonderful.  They add some humor to the film while staying completely believable.  I was easily able to stay in the fairytale world the film was creating.

And the acting was great.  It was a bit stylized, but it worked here and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.  I will admit to being a bit worried when I heard that Helena Bonham Carter was playing the fairy godmother since I’ve only ever seen her play over the top, strange characters.  I was worried for no reason since she was easily a highlight of the film.

The pacing is really the biggest issue with the film, but when it works, it is magical.  So if you are a fan of the Cinderella story, be sure to give this version a chance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

War and Peach Winner

I realized as I was going to bed last night that I forgot to pick the winner of War and Peach.  I fixed that today.  And the winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail so reply to that so we can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: A High-End Finish by Kate Carlisle (Fixer-Upper Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong cast of main characters; eventful story
Cons: More a series of events than a true mystery
The Bottom Line:
Shannon as suspect
After attacker is killed
Events but weak plot

There’s Promise, but this Debut is a Fixer Upper

After watching the first Fixer Upper mystery movie on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries last month, I got a renewed interest in the books of Kate Carlisle.  I know I read her first one when it came out years ago, but I couldn’t remember why I’d never gone on to read more.  Still, I decided to jump into her Fixer Upper mystery series with the first book A High-End Finish.

This series features Shannon Hammer, a contractor in the small Northern California community of Lighthouse Cove.  She has taken over her father’s construction business and specializes in restoring old Victorians, something that is in abundance in this town.

Shannon is single, something that doesn’t sit right with her married friend, who is always trying to set her up on blind dates.  Shannon has finally agreed to one with Jerry Saxton, and dinner is very pleasant.  However, their after dinner walk on the beach turns horribly wrong when Jerry won’t take no for an answer.  Shannon is forced to defend herself, and she quickly gains fame in her town as a result of how she fended off the attack.

A couple of days later, Shannon stumbles over Jerry’s dead body in the basement of one of her construction sites.  Jerry has been bashed over the head with one of Shannon’s tools.  Given her recent public fight with the man, Shannon finds herself the police’s prime suspect.  But given Jerry’s history, there are plenty of other suspects in town.  Can Shannon build a case against one of them and clear her name?

I was well into this book before I realized why I was struggling with the plot.  I wanted to like it.  I mean, the murder victim is a complete jerk, which always creates plenty of great suspects.  There are plenty of mysterious things happening, and the case against Shannon gets stronger as the book goes along thanks to some good twists.  Heck, even Shannon admits that to a casual observer, she would look like the prime suspect, which was a refreshing admission.

But I realized my problem was that this book was just a series of mysterious events.  While we are introduced to a collection of good suspects, Shannon spends little time collecting clues or being distracted by red herrings.  Instead, she is constantly reacting to another event.  Don’t get me wrong, I was never bored.  But I like to learn some secrets along the way, and I felt like we weren’t really moving forward much, just reacting to the latest event.  The book does come to a suspenseful climax that logically wraps everything up.

It’s a shame I didn’t like the plot better because I love these characters.  Shannon is a strong character, and she’s got a wonderful group of friends since she grew up in this town.  There is a hint of a love triangle in this book, although I think I can already tell which way that is going to go.  Both men are certain good characters as well.  Because we spent so little time with the suspects, they are on the thin side, unfortunately.

Maybe this was why I hadn’t gone back to read more of Kate’s books before now.  I can certainly see why she has a following because there are elements of A High-End Finish that I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, it winds up just being average overall.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ornament Review: Be Mine, Cookie Cutter Mouse - Cookie Cutter Through the Year #1 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene kicks off a limited run series
Cons: I love it too much for cons
The Bottom Line:
Valentine’s Day gets
Cookie cutter treatment in
Piece hard not to love

Fall in Love with this Valentine’s Ornament

While many of Hallmark’s series have a limited appeal of one kind or another, some seem to be universally loved.  One of those is their Cookie Cutter Christmas series.  Naturally, they want to capitalize on that popularity all they can, which is why they are starting the six part Cookie Cutter Through the Year series.  This series is going to highlight the special times from the first half of the year, and the series is off to a great start with Be Mine, Cookie Cutter Mouse!

Each ornament in this series will feature a scene inside a differently shaped cookie cutter.  Since the first one is themed for Valentine’s Day, the shape is a heart.  (Shocking, I know.)  Unlike the original series, the cookie cutter borders are copper this time around.

Of course, the real joy is what we see inside.  The scene features a mouse standing in front of a house.  He’s holding a candy heart that says “Be Mine” on it, and in the other hand, he has a couple of lollipops including a heart shaped one.  He obviously lives in a warm climate since there is grass visible around the house.  And the house?  It’s gingerbread of course, with a red and pink roof and a cupcake acting as a bush next to the door.

What makes the original series so much fun is the creativity and cuteness in each piece, and that’s exactly what we get here.  I love how treats are incorporated into the scene as much as possible.  Plus how can you not love getting a complete scene framed in a shape?  Top that off with the cute scene of the mouse declaring his true love to someone, and you have a winner.

The downside to this series does come from the shape.  Being a heart shaped ornament, it has to come to a point down at the bottom.  That means you really can’t set it out to display it – you have to find a way to hang it.  I’m still figuring out just how I will do that, but I didn’t let that stop me from buying it at all.

The loop on this ornament is located in the valley between the two parts of the heart.  The result is a little hard to get hook into, but the effort is rewarded with an ornament that hangs straight.

Even though this isn’t a Christmas series, it still uses Hallmark’s traditional series marker.  In this case, you’ll find a one in a Christmas tree on the back next to the cookie cutter’s handle.  (They really do think of everything, don’t they?)

While displaying this ornament will be tricky, I knew that Be Mine, Cookie Cutter Mouse had to be mine.  This is a cute piece I will enjoy for Valentine’s Days to come.

Original Price: $15.95

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review: Death in Advertising by Laura Bradford (Tobi Tobias Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong cast of characters in a strong mystery
Cons: No cons to advertise
The Bottom Line:
Killer ad slogan
Starts promising new series
Delightfully fun

Don’t Advertise the Body in the Closet

It is always a delight to see a new series come out from a favorite author.  I didn’t need to know anything about Death in Advertising other than the fact that it was written by Laura Bradford to know I had to give it a try.  And the fact that I loved it wasn’t really a surprise either.

This book introduces us to Tobi Tobias who is trying to open her own advertising agency in the St. Louis area.  She’s having just one pesky little problem – lack of clients.  That’s why she is working at a friend’s pet shop part time so she can try to pay her bills.  Naturally, she is ecstatic when a potential new client walks into her office.  The Zander brothers own a closet company, and they are looking for a slogan and a campaign that will stick out since they are already at the bottom of any alphabetical listings.  Tobi comes up with a real winner, and it catches the city by storm.  It’s looking like a win for Zander Closet Company and Tobi’s agency as well.

Then the unthinkable happens.  While shooting a closet for the brochure, a dead body falls out of a storage space.  The media immediately connects it to Tobi’s slogan, and what looked like a win suddenly turns into a nightmare.  Now, Tobi has to find the real killer to save her business.  Can she do it?

As motives for an amateur getting involved in a murder investigation, this one is a winner.  Naturally, as Tobi begins poking around, she finds out secrets and motives, but she also finds that the victim was a sympathetic man.  The author walked a fine line in making us like the victim without making the book too sad, and I appreciated that.  Naturally, things come together for a logical climax.

One thing you can count on in any of Laura’s books is a strong cast of characters who truly care for each other.  Tobi has a wide and varied assortment of friends, neighbors, and family who all support her throughout this book.  I already love this cast of characters and can’t wait to see them all again.  The suspects are just as strong as the series regulars.  And I wouldn’t mind if one or two of them popped up again in future books.

If you are already a fan of Laura Bradford’s books, don’t hesitate; you’ll love this new series, too.  And if you haven’t read one of her books yet, Death in Advertising is the perfect way to fix that.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I'm review this book as part of a blog tour.  For more checks, check out the tour page.

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