Sunday, May 24, 2015

Book Review: Book of the Dead by Michael Northrop (TombQuest #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong action
Cons: Set up is a little slow
The Bottom Line:
Ancient doors open
Danger, excitement come out
Slow start leads to thrills

The Mummy for Kids

At the LA Times Festival of Books last month, I only bought a few mysteries.  However, I bought a lot of Middle Grade Books thanks to two panels I attended.  One of those new to me authors was Michael Northrop, and Book of the Dead gets his new TombQuest series off to a great start.

Alex Sennefer has been sick all of his life, but it is getting worse.  In fact, after a particularly rough couple of days, he is rushed to the hospital, where the prognosis is not good.

And then Alex makes a miraculous recovery.  But he wakes up to strange stories happening all over the world.  Might it have to do with the recently found artifacts in the Egyptian exhibit his mother was setting up?  Can Alex and his best friend, Ren, help stop the evil that has been unleashed?

Based on the cover and plot description, I was expecting something along the lines of The Mummy (the new one from 2001), and I wasn’t disappointed at all.  The set up was a bit slow since it was obviously fairly early on just what would happen, but once we got past that set up, it turned into an exciting ride.  A couple of the scenes got my heart pumping and gave me sweaty palms.  The easily frightened might not want to read it, but kids looking for an adrenaline rush will absolutely love it.

The characters weren’t yet fully developed, but I wasn’t that surprised since this is a 200 paged action heavy story.  I cared enough for them to care about the outcome, and I am sure we’ll see more development as the series progresses.

Most of the book are told from Alex’s third person point of view, but we get a few parts from the point of view of Ren and even Alex’s mom.  They helped flesh out the story and rounded out those characters as well.

The ending of this book sets up the next one, and I’m expecting it to be another exciting thrill ride.  If you want a page turning read based on Egyptian mythology, Book of the Dead is definitely for you.

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

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Weekly TV Thoughts - May 23rd

It's like May sweeps ended on Wednesday or something.  It's actually been weird the last couple of days without a lot of TV to watch.

Dancing with the Stars – I pretty much agree with the judges and the results.  As much as I loved Noah (and what wasn’t to love?), he just isn’t quite as good as the other two.  I honestly couldn’t decide between Ryker and Rumor, so I would have been happy with either of them winning, and Rumor’s win was great.

The Flash – Wow.  Just wow.  I don’t know why I was expecting anything less from the show, which has been amazing all season.  There were so many emotional moments, and the cast pulled them off brilliantly.  But that last act, between Barry and his mom and Eddie’s sacrifice.  Just wow!  And that’s the worst cliffhanger of the season, too.

Young and Hungry – I must admit, I was surprised at this.  I expected Cooper to be around another few episodes.  And, since I’m new to the show, I didn’t know about the event that Cooper used against Josh in the cliffhanger.  Interesting development for sure.

Survivor – I’ll admit, I’d gotten so I was rooting for Mike after my comment about no one being worthy of winning a few weeks back.  I’m so thrilled to see him win.  Yep, still rooting for the underdog, I guess.  And what does it say about me that I don’t remember who most of the people are who are on the second chances cast next season?  Oh well, I’ll remember who most of them are fairly quickly, I’m sure – at least the most memorable ones.

Friday, May 22, 2015

May 22nd's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Well, it's about that time in the week - time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'll be pulling quotes from my current read - Assaulted Pretzel by Laura Bradford.

This is the second in her Amish Mystery series.  I'm fast approaching the half way point, and it's as great as the first.

But the review will come next week.  For now, let's get to the quotes.  Here's how the book begins:

Claire Wheatherly was just reaching for a slice of Ruth Miller's second-to-none Shoo Fly Pie when she heard it - the slow rolling rumble of an approaching storm that threatened to put a kibosh on the treat she'd been hankering for all week.  Shielding the plate with her body, she dove her fork into the gooey goodness and - ...

Yes, that is actually how the first paragraph ends.  So maybe I'm being a little mean, but there you have it.

I'm actually going to skip to page 58 for the next quote.  Not really anything good on page 56.  But on page 58, there's this:

The more formal greeting died on her lips at the sight of Jakob standing just inside the shop's front door with a camera in one hand and a pair of gloves in the other.

So there you have it.  I'm hoping to finish this book on Saturday, and with how quickly it is going, I don't see that being a problem.

Hope you have a great long weekend, even if that means a few hours doing nothing but reading.  That's definitely in my plans for the weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: As Gouda as Dead by Avery Aames (Cheese Shop Mysteries #6)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Colorful characters and a good mystery
Cons: Characters can spend a bit too long spinning theories
The Bottom Line:
Bar owner murdered
Makes stakes personal for all
Another great read

As Gouda as Ever

I spent some reading time last year catching up on the books of Avery Aames, and when As Gouda as Dead, the latest Cheese Shop Mystery came out, I intended to read it right away so I could stay up to date.  Here it is three months later and I’m finally getting it read.  Yes, someday my TBR problem will be conquered.

For those unfamiliar with the series, they are set in a small Ohio town and feature Charlotte Bessette, the owner of a cheese shop in town.  The crime rate in town seems to be going up since this is the sixth in the series, and Charlotte has the unfortunate habit of getting involved in the growing number of murders in town whether she wants to or not.

It’s days before Charlotte and Jordan Pace are to finally wed when tragedy strikes.  Tim O’Shea, the well-loved owner of the Irish bar in town, is found drowned in the cheese vat on Jordan’s cheese farm.  Many of their friends are deeply impacted, and it bothers Charlotte and Jordan enough that they decide to postpone the wedding.  With the added free time, Charlotte decides to dig in and find the killer.  But who would have motive to kill Tim?

I was actually surprised when I realized who the murder victim was going to be in this book since Tim has been a supporting player in the series.  We usually only see him for a scene or two, but it’s unusual to have someone like that be murdered in a series like this.  I found it gave me more of an emotional stake in the outcome, which I really liked.  Yes, there were still the fun sub-plots to help lighten the mood overall.  All told, the tone balanced out perfectly.

There is a large cast of characters.  Honestly, if I hadn’t read most of the series last year, I’m not completely sure I would have them all straight only because there are so many of them.  We got to see some interesting growth in some of them, and another couple were shown in a different light.  Of course, the book is filled with suspects in the latest case, and all of them are interesting as well.

As can often be in the case, the characters throwing out theories can overwhelm the clues and red herrings.  Yes, we talk to the suspects, but then the wild speculation starts.  However, that’s a minor complaint.  Overall, the plot progresses well to its logical and suspenseful climax.

And there are the recipes.  We get a half dozen new recipes that feature cheese – everything from Cheese Pops to Goat Cheese Cookies.  That’s a good thing because reading the book makes your mouth water for cheese.  I’m even thinking about visiting my local cheese shop and trying a few new varieties.  (No really, I mean it this time.)  And in the non-cheese department, there’s a Triple-Chocolate Pudding that sounds amazing.  

For fans of this series, reading As Gouda as Dead is an easy decision.  Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next to Charlotte and her friends and family.

New to the series?  You'll want to read the rest of the Cheese Shop Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ornament Review: 1950 - Treasure Island Premiers - Moments That Made Disney #9 - 2015 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Details and base make the ornament fun
Cons: Bust of a pirate not exactly Christmassy
The Bottom Line:
A live action first
Ornament is not a bust
Thanks to the fun base

This Ornament is More of a Treasure Than Expected

While Disney had dabbled in live action film making his entire career (his early Alice shorts combined a live action girl in an animated world and much of Song of the South was live action after all), but it wasn’t until 1950’s Treasure Island that he produced his first full length live action film.  That’s a true milestone, so it was obvious that Treasure Island's premiers would be one of the Moments that Made Disney ornaments.

But I’m sure those behind the ornament series wondered just how to represent it.  What they finally hit upon might seem a little odd, but it really does work.  We get a bust of Long John Silver.  He’s wearing his black hat and red jacket.  He’s looking slightly to his right, and he’s got his green parrot perched on his right shoulder.

A bust of a pirate as an ornament?  I’m not sure I’d normally pick it up, and this wasn’t one of the series I was really looking forward to purchasing, but I also can’t picture what else they’d do.  A ship would be too boring.  It was going to have to be a figure of some kind, and I’m picturing an ornament that would be slightly small if they went with a full person.  As a bust, this ornament seems about right.

As to character, could they have picked a better one to represent the film?  Everyone knows Long John Silver, and his behavior has influences our stereotype of pirates for decades.  Including the parrot and the sneer on his face are fun touches.  On the other hand, the size of the bust makes it a little large for a Christmas tree.  It’s not like some of the other pop culture ornaments you can hide in your tree.  This one jumps out and demands your attention to something non-Christmassy.

But it’s the base that really makes this ornament work for me.  The bust is on a circular base that has Treasure Island written on it.  And that base?  A tan sand color.  In the base, there are little bits of sparkles and glitter as well as gems and gold pieces to catch the light.  That detail makes the ornament so much better than it would have been otherwise.

That base is also flat, so you can set the ornament out for Talk Like a Pirate Day or any other time you want.  There is a red ribbon slipped through the loop on Long John’s head, and if you use it, you’ll find the ornament hangs straight.

No, this isn’t the best ornament in the series, but the little details make it so much better than it could have been.  This is the way to mark the milestone that is Treasure Island's premiers.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review: Death by the Dozen by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery and sub-plots populated by great characters
Cons: Pacing a little off at one point, but minor
The Bottom Line:
A killer contest
Mel, Angie baking for lives
Mouthwatering read

Enjoyable as a Dozen Cupcakes

With so many wonderful series out there, I know a few slip through the cracks.  I’m working hard on catching up on Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery mysteries.  With each book I read, I can see why I hear such good things about it.  Death by the Dozen was another great read.

It’s time for the annual food festival in Scottsdale, and that includes the chef’s challenges.  This year, Melanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura have entered in the pastry division.  Their competition includes their rival, Olivia Puckett, who has won for the past few years.  Among the judges are several people that Mel knew from culinary school.  The egos on the judging panel remind Mel why she didn’t like these people back when she was taking classes from them or with them.  The exception is Vic Mazzotta.  True, he is a demanding man, but he also helped Mel through a difficult time, and she is willing to put up with him because of that softer side.

The morning of the first round of the competition, Vic is nowhere to be found.  When he does turn up, he’s dead in an ice truck.  How did he get in there?  Which of his enemies killed him?  Or was it even murder?

The murder took place a little later in the book than normal for the books I’ve been reading lately, but I didn’t mind in the least.  The time was used to set up suspects and motives, and I actually liked the change in formula.  Once Vic’s body was found, we were able to jump in and work on figuring out which of the suspects actually did it.  I did feel the pacing was a little off in the middle with the competition slowing things down, but a late twist ramped things up again for the great climax.  Because of Olivia, I actually cared more about the outcome of the chef contest than I might have otherwise.  I think I’m going to have to skim that first book again to remember why she hates Mel and Angie so much.

The characters in this series are quite fun.  In another break from formula, the main character’s romance is not the most complicated.  Instead, it’s her best friend Angie and their mutual friend Tate who cause most of the romantic sub-plot issues.  And yes, it is kept to a sub-plot.  While I had hoped that Marty, a character we met in the last book, would be back, instead we got Oz, a great new character.  Now I want both of them back in future books.

There is a delightful sense of humor in the series that I love it so much.  And I was thrilled to get a couple of the movie quotes that Mel, Angie, and Tate are always trading.

All the unique recipes that Mel creates for the contest are in the back of the book.  While I never thought I’d hear myself say this considering the ingredients involved, a couple of them actually sound good enough to try.  Now, I just need to get motivated to actually bake again.

I’m already looking forward to my next stop by Mel and Angie’s bakery.  If they are all as enjoyable as Death by the Dozen, I have a lot more great reading in my future.

Once you get started, you'll want to read the rest of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries in order.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Second Winner of the Week

Yes, I didn't get the winner of One Foot in the Grape posted last night.  I had too much else going on to get it done.  But I have a winner now.

And the lucky recipient is...


I'm off to send you an e-mail, so please be checking your inbox for it.

Weekly TV Thoughts - May 16th

Phew, I made it.  Between season finale and The Disney Channel's week long season premier of Girl Meets World, there was a lot of TV to be watched this week.  Glad I got it all in.  But seriously, why couldn't they have scheduled the all week premier for next week?  Consult me next time, okay?

Once Upon a Time – That was just as much fun as I’d hoped it would be.  Seeing everyone switched was great, and the actors obviously had fun playing against type.  I also enjoyed watching where the characters we already knew were going to pop up.  But that ending!  Wasn’t expecting that at all.  It will be interesting to see where they go with this next season.  You can read my full recap here.

Dancing with the Stars – Wow, all of those performances were incredible.  Seriously, anyone could win it.  I expected Noah to be the one to leave, so I was surprised that he stuck around.  Instead it was Derek and his partner.  While I love them, it’s actually nice not to see Derek in the finals for a change.  I don’t know who I’m rooting for to win.  They’re just all so good.

Girl Meets World (5/11) – The best part of that may have been the opening scene talking about Mr. Feeny.  The first scene was pretty funny as well.  Not as impressed with the bakery scenes, although the last scene was very touching.  And I like that Maya’s mom is working there now, too.  I hope we see more of her character.

Castle – I would have been okay with that as a series finale.  Of course, I’m thrilled the show is coming back, however.  And we got a little Castle backstory, which was interesting.  You can read my full recap here.

Girl Meets World (5/12) – Much funnier episode.  I think Maya stole the show with her reaction to the diamond ring, although Riley and Lucas’s awkward date was pretty funny as well.  And what is with Auggie and his weird friends?

The Flash – I’m surprised by what they did with that episode.  What does it mean for next week’s season finale?  And what kind of consequences is Barry about to unleash by trying to save his mom?  So we have the metahumans back out and two people rode in to save the day with Barry.  I’m curious where they will go with this next season and next week.

Agents of SHIELD – Yeah, they have too many characters.  I found myself caring about what happened about half of the time.  I’ll give the show a few episode next season to see if it improves, but I might not stick around.  After all, I’ve got plenty of shows to watch next year. It’s not that the show is bad, it’s just not that great either.

Arrow – So how are they going to come back next year?  Because I could almost feel that being a series finale.  What happened to Ray at the end there?  And how is that going to play into the spin off series?  Can’t wait to hear more about all of that.

Young and Hungry – I’m sorry, but I can’t get over the name of the guy.  Rueben, who makes his living as a sandwich.  Cheesy, but I like it.

Girl Meets World (5/13) – Best episode of the season so far.  Hilarious, and they give Lucas an interesting backstory.  Not completely sure how that fits in with what we learned about him last season.  They really appear to be working on making him an interesting character this season, and I’m very glad to see it.  Still, my favorite scene were the ones at the house.  Everyone had me in stitches.

Survivor – Yes, I feel a little bad for Dan, but only a little.  Mike is a lot more powerful than anyone is giving him credit for being.  Okay, he’s also getting luckier, but still.  And Carolyn definitely knows which side she stands on at this point.  But really, I want whiney Rodney to go next.  Pretty please with a reward on top?

The Odd Couple – So where is Felix going to go from here?  It would be interesting to see him in a relationship.  Was not expecting that this soon into the series.  I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed this show.  Definitely looking forward to it coming back in 2016.

Girl Meets World (5/14) – Oh the tears.  I’m interested to see what they do with Shawn this season since I know Angela is coming back.  They’d better not break Maya’s heart.  That’s all I’m saying.

The Amazing Race – I’m so glad the right team won.  Actually, I would have been okay with the Truck Drivers as well, although they had to keep the streak of the saved team still getting eliminated.  Not that it was there fault at all.  They just had horrid luck with cab drivers.  But the other teams sniped at each other so much, okay, the women did the sniping.  So glad it was Hayley who lost them the race, too.  She so deserved that.

Girl Meets World (5/15) – How could I not see the point they were going for in that episode earlier?  Maybe because I was too busy laughing.  Eric was over the top stupid (I don’t remember him being that stupid before, even in season seven), but it was still so funny.

Friday, May 15, 2015

May 15th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome again to Friday, which means Book Beginning and Friday 56.

I've got to admit, I'm in a bit of a quandery this week.  While both books I could have pulled from had great openings, their pages 56 were only okay from a teaser quote perspective.  I decided to go with my current read, As Gouda as Dead by Avery Aames, which I hope to finish up today.

The book jumps right in:

"Where are you taking me?" I asked.  "And don't 'Hush, Charlotte' me again."

That's definitely an attention grabber, right?

Page 56 is the beginning of Chapter 9, and I'm going to use the first couple of lines from that chapter:

"What?" Tyanne and Rebecca shrieked in unison.
I held my hands in a T for timeout while glancing around the shop.

So, tell me, how does that second quote grab you?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: The Final Reveille by Amanda Flower (Living History Museum Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun setting for a complex mystery
Cons: A tad slow to start; Kelsey’s early reaction to one character
The Bottom Line:
The heir gets murdered
With battlefield of suspects
Promising debut

Current Death in Living History

I’ve always enjoyed history, so I always enjoyed the various living history museums that my family visited over the years while I was growing up.  A new mystery series set at one seemed like a perfect series to tempt me, and The Final Reveille was as fun as I’d hoped it would be.

Kelsey Cambridge run the Barton Farm in northern Ohio.  Normally, the museum is a collection of houses and shops with various interpreters who demonstrate what life was like during the early 1800’s.  However this weekend, the museum is hosting a Civil War reenactment on the empty fields adjacent to the museum’s town as an added draw.

While all this is happening, Cynthia Cherry and her nephew Maxwell come for a visit.  She’s a patron of many things in the area, but her generosity has helped Kelsey make many needed improvements to the museum.  During the visit, Maxwell pulls Kelsey aside and tells her that he is taking over Cynthia’s charitable foundation, and he intends to cut back on many of the causes that Cynthia has supported over the years, including the museum.

When the reveille coming from the reenactor’s came awakens Kelsey the next morning, she quickly discovers one of the soldiers bending over the dead body of Maxwell.  Just as quickly, the police zero in on Kelsey as a suspect.  With her freedom on the line, she must find out what really happened to Maxwell.  Can she do it?

I felt like the book started a little slowly, but that was needed time to introduce us to the museum and the characters.  Things were definitely happening, however, and it wasn’t too long before the plot picked up the pace, giving us some nice clues and motives for the murder.  While I did suspect the killer before the end, I wasn’t completely sure until everything was revealed.  Even so, there were a couple of details that weren’t explained, but it took me almost 24 hours after finishing the book to realize that.  That’s how small they are.

I’m so used to young single protagonists that it was a nice change of pace to follow Kelsey around.  She’s divorced with a five-year-old son, and that added a new layer to the book and some interesting sub-plots.  The story was filled with great people who came fully to life as the book progressed, and I can’t wait to see many of them again in future books.  I did feel that Kelsey was too harsh toward a new potential love interest early on in the book.  I get that she didn’t trust him at that point, but her reactions still seemed too harsh.  That didn’t last long, and it is my only complaint where characters are concerned.

This is not Amanda Flower’s first book, and it shows.  The writing was great at setting the scene and making Kelsey’s love of history contagious.  In fact, I’m wishing I had a historical fiction book lined up next on my To Be Read pile (another favorite way to experience history).

Any issues I had with this book are truly small.  Overall, I enjoyed this first book with a great new protagonist.  The Final Reveille will not be the final book I read in this series.

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