Thursday, June 30, 2016

June 2016's Monthly Reading Summary

Who can believe that the year is half over already?  I certainly can't.  But here we are at the end of June, so it must be time for another monthly reading summary.  And yes, the index has been updated as well.

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

A Muddied Murder by Wendy Tyson (Greenhouse Mysteries #1) – 5
Megan Sawyer’s plans to revitalize her family’s farm and open a small store and café are constantly hitting the road block of Simon Duvall.  Simon is the head of the local zoning commission, and he keeps failing her on every inspection.  After the latest one, Megan finds Simon murdered in the farm’s barn.  Naturally, the police are looking at Megan as a suspect, but all Megan can wonder is why Simon was killed in the barn.

This is a wonderful debut!  There are some secrets in Megan’s family that come to light over the course of the book and add another layer to the story.  I can’t wait to see where that goes next.  The mystery of Simon’s murder is also very well done with plenty of surprises along the way.  Top that off with great characters.  I can’t wait to return for the sequel.

The Thank You Book by Mo Willems – 5
Piggie is thinking about all the people who have enriched her life, so she decides to thank them all.  While Gerald likes the idea, he worries she will forget someone important.  Will she miss anyone?

This is the final (sob!) Elephant and Piggie book from the talented Mo Willems, and it works well as a series finale.  Viewing it as another in the series, it will seem a little weird, but knowing this is the final one makes it very special.  There are some fun cameos, including one from Pigeon.  And the lesson about thankfulness is good but presented in a fun way.  In other words, it’s another great book in the series.

Éclair and Present Danger by Laura Bradford (Emergency Dessert Squad #1) – 4
On the day Winnie Johnson has to close her bakery due to a huge rent increase, she inherits an antique ambulance.  She decides to use it to reopen her bakery as a mobile business, rushing her desserts to those in need.  But when her neighbor is murdered, it puts a definite damper on her plans.  Who would kill an elderly man?

The mystery aspect takes a back seat at times to getting the new business up and running, but I find the concept of this business absolutely brilliant.  I’m wondering why no one hasn’t tried this in real life.  The mystery does reach a logical conclusion that wraps things up.  The characters are strong, and I’m looking forward to seeing where relationships go in future books.  Rush out and get this debut.

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

Grilled for Murder by Maddie Day (Country Store Mysteries #2) – 5
Robbie Jordan is keeping her restaurant open on a Saturday night for a special welcome home party for Erica Shermer.  However, not everyone is thrilled that Erica is back, as Robbie sees when Erica fights with several of the guests.  Still, she’s surprised when she comes down the next morning to find Erica dead in the restaurant.  What was Erica doing back at the restaurant?  And who killed her?

I fell in love with these characters when I read the first in the series, so it was great to be back spending time with them again.  The new characters are just as fun and make wonderful suspects.  One item introduced as part of the plot was left open, but I can easily see it being resolved in a future book.  The main mystery of who killed Erica is well done, giving us a steady dose of clues and suspects until we reach the logical and suspenseful end.

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

The Calamity Cafe by Gayle Leeson (Down South Cafe Mysteries #1) – 4
Amy Flowers is ready to follow her dream of opening her own cafe, and she’s hoping to do it by buying the local greasy spoon.  However, Lou Lou, the owner, is not at all interested in selling.  Amy stops by the cafe late one night and finds Lou Lou dead in her office.  Naturally, Amy knows she has a good motive.  Can she clear her name?

This is a fun start to a new series.  The book focuses a bit on Amy starting her café early on, but the mystery begins to be the focus as we gear up toward the logical climax.  Some of the characters could have been stronger, but I still came to care for them before the book ended, and I look forward to getting to know them better as the series progresses.

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

Desperate Housedogs by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mysteries #1) – 4
Caro has built a successful life in as a pet therapist, helping owners deal with their pet’s bed behavior.  Two hours after a session with Kevin trying to get his dogs to stop barking, the police find Kevin dead and start looking at Caro as a person of interest.  Why were his dogs barking?  Can Caro solve the murder?

This debut is a lot of fun.  The mystery starts out a little slowly as the book gives us some background on Caro and a few other characters, but once it gets going it delivers some great twists.  The character, while relatable, are a bit over the top, but that’s part of the fun.  They help contribute to the laughs and grins mixed into the murder and mayhem.

Voodoo River by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole/Joe Pike #5) – 2
Actress Jodie Taylor wants to find out about her birth parents, so she hires Elvis Cole to go to Louisiana and track them down.  She just wants medical history, so she is trying to keep the search quiet.  Cole is trying to keep his inquiries a secret, but he’s hardly started when someone starts following him.  What has he stumbled into?

Unfortunately, what he has stumbled into is a rather weak entry in the series.  The plot rambles all over the place before finally introducing us to a crime that Cole seems to care about.  By the time that happens, the book just has time for a rush to climax, and the climax is yet another weak dues ex machina.  The characters are interesting and save the book, although I can’t help but roll my eyes at the way women fall all over Cole.

Fatal Brushstroke by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson #1) – 5
Rory Anderson is shocked when the body of a well-respected tole painter, Hester Bouquet, is found buried in her backyard.  With a police chief who hates her, Rory knows if she wants to avoid going to jail, she needs to find the killer.  But who might it be?

This is a strong debut.  The plot was steady with interesting suspects and shifting clues and motives.  I thought I had it figured out a couple of times, but it turned out I was wrong.  The characters are fantastic as well, and I can hardly wait to visit the series regulars again.  Plus I loved the fictional coast town setting.

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #1) – 4
Midwife Sarah Brandt is returning to visit a mother and newborn when she learns there has been a death at the home.  A boarder was strangled during the night, and it turns out this is the younger sister of someone she knew years ago.  Determined to see justice done, Sarah teams up with the very reluctant Frank Malloy, the detective assigned to the case, to find the killer.

This book really does feature two detectives as both Sarah and Frank are active contributers to seeing justice done.  The hopping back and forth between them only enhances the story and gives us more twists.  All the characters are strong as well, and I truly liked spending time with them, especially the leads.  I did feel the climax was over the top, but that is my only complaint with this mystery.

Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower (Magical Bookshop #1) – 4
When Violet Waverly arrives in Cascade Springs, New York, she finds that her grandmother isn’t sick like she’d been told.  Instead, her grandmother needs to tell her some family secrets involving the old bookstore that she runs.  Violet isn’t interested in learning about them, however, and plans to leave the next morning.  Only in the morning, her grandmother’s beau is found strangled.  With her grandmother a suspect, Violet must stick around to figure out what happened, and she will get some help from a very unlikely source.

I normally try to avoid magic in my mysteries, but this concept sounded like so much fun I had to give it a try.  I’m glad I did since I enjoyed the story very much.  Magic does play a part, but only a small part, in solving the mystery.  Most of the book is still spent following Violet around as she attempts to figure out what is happening.  The characters are strong, and I can see them feeling like old friends soon.  A couple of sub-plots felt predictable and slow things down a tad at times, but that’s a minor issue overall.

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

Presumed Puzzled by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady #16) – 5
Roger Martindale is missing, and his wife, Pamela, has received a crossword puzzle.  That evening, he returns home only to be hacked to death.  Chief Harper thinks that Pamela did it since she was found with the bloody knife in her hand, but the twists for Puzzle Lady Cora Felton are just beginning.

And twists there are.  Yes, Cora is right in the thick of things, and as the book progresses she gets even more involved.  The characters are a little thin, but they usually are in this series.  The real star here is the verbal battles the characters have, which are fun and funny as always.  The quick wit and the banter made me laugh several times before we reached the logical conclusions.

Reading Challenge Update: New Release 2016

Three months ago, I was surprised to realize I'd only read 13 books toward the new release challenge.  My update now is a bit more what I was expecting.

14. Killer Takeout by Lucy Burdette
15. Rest in Peach by Susan Furlong
16. Vanilla Beaned by Jenn McKinlay
17. Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen
18. A Girl's Guide to Landing a Greek God by Bill Fuller
19. Wedding Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke
20. Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs
21. All Murders Final! by Sherry Harris
22. Irish Stewed by Kylie Logan
23. Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
24. Sayonara Slam by Naomi Hirahara
25. The Final Tap by Amanda Flower
26. Let the Wind Rise by Shannon Messenger
27. Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
28. 15th Affair by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
29. Decanting a Murder by Nadine Nettmann
30. Murder Most Fowl by Edith Maxwell
31. A Muddied Murder by Wendy Tyson
32. Eclair and Present Danger by Laura Bradford
33. Grilled for Murder by Maddie Day
34. The Calamity Cafe by Gayle Leeson
35. Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower
36. Presumed Puzzled by Parnell Hall

My original goal was 45+.  I should have no trouble reaching that, right?

Here's my original post that lists all 36 of the books I've read for the challenge so far this year.

Reading Challenge Update: Mount TBR 2016

When it comes to the Mount TBR challenge, I always start out strong and then fade as the year progresses.  That's because, I start out with lots of books from the previous year yet to read, and then I get distracted by the current year's books or books I've heard about for the first time this year.  So I'm not too surprised to say that I've only read seven books for this challenge in the last three months.

And those books are:

14. No Comfort for the Lost by Nancy Herriman
15. A Gilded Grave by Shelley Freydont
16. Out of Circulation by Miranda James
17. The Skeleton Takes a Bow by Leigh Perry
18. Desperate Housedogs by Sparkle Abbey
19. Fatal Brushstroke by Sybil Johnson
20. Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson

Still, since my initial goal was 12 and I'm well past that, you can see that I'm doing well.  I'm still not worried about hitting 24 at all.  And if you counted the books I've read from the library (which this challenge doesn't, it's only owned books), the numbers are even better.

You can see my full list of books read over at my original post.

Reading Challenge Update: Audio Book Challenge

Since we are half way through the year, it's time to post an update on the Audio Book Challenge.

My goal has been to average one a month, and I'm well ahead of schedule, as you can see.

1. "C" is for Corpse by Sue Grafton
2. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
3. The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech by Kirsten Powers
4. The Ambitious Card by John Gaspard
5. The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly
6. Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
7. "D" is for Deadbeat by Sue Grafton
8. Voodoo River by Robert Crais

Those links will take you to my review of the book.

And I'm actually in better shape than that because I have two more books I've listened to, but I'm holding the review to fill in while I got on vacation this summer.  I've slipped in a couple I wasn't planning to listen to when the year started, and I've been working hard on my audio series.

I'm really getting hooked on audio books, can't you tell?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: Presumed Puzzled by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #17)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun and funny mystery
Cons: Characters a little thin (as usual)
The Bottom Line:
Be prepared to laugh
As Cora faces puzzles
Fast paced mystery




I Presumed I Would Enjoy This Book, and I Was Right

If you enjoy verbal sparring and word play, there is no better series than the Puzzle Lady series.  Yes, since we are on the seventeenth book in the series, it is getting hard to believe that there are still criminals in Bakerhaven, Connecticut, who would use puzzles when they commit their crimes.  But I’m glad they do because Presumed Puzzled is another rollicking good time.

It’s been a slow few months in Bakerhaven, but things are about to heat up again in a big way.  It all starts when Police Chief Harper calls Cora Felton, famed puzzle lady and part time PI, to go to see Pamela Martindale.  Pamela has reported her husband, Roger, missing, but it hasn’t yet been the 24 hours required to start an official police inquiry.  Cora reluctantly goes only to learn that Pamela received a crossword puzzle that day.  Cora knows she was played by the chief.

Things turn interesting that evening.  With the man now officially missing for 24 hours, the police get word that he is headed for home.  Cora and Chief Harper head over to the Martindale house to find out what happened only to discover Pamela holding a bloody knife and Roger dead on the living room floor.  Naturally, Chief takes Pamela into custody, but she maintains she is innocent.  What is going on?

And with that set up, we are off on another wild, wacky mystery.  This one takes place more in a courtroom than many in the series, but that doesn’t keep the twists from coming.  I was surprised by several of the events of the book.  But you can rest easy, we reach a logical conclusion before it is all over, and the book reads so quickly it will be over all too soon.

The characters have never been the strength of this series, and that continues to be true here.  Oh, they are developed enough for us to care about them, especially if we’ve been reading the series from the beginning, but they don’t have as much depth as many of the books I read.  Think of them more as characters in a sitcom – you love them, but you don’t see every side of them in every episode.

Having said that, Cora has taken a step forward with another of her nasty habits, something I was thrilled to see.

And as I hinted before, the humor is still flying fast and furious.  Yes, the verbal sparring gets to be a little harsh at times, but those scenes never last long.  Instead, I found myself chuckling and laughing all the way through the book.  Jennifer, Cora’s three-year-old grandniece, was especially funny here.

And we get a couple of crossword and Sudoku puzzles to solve over the course of the book.  Or if, like me, you just want to know what happens in the mystery, you can read on until the characters solve it for you.

I’ve found that, for most people, this is either a series you love or you hate.  Personally, I enjoy my time with Cora.  If you are like me, you’ll enjoy Presumed Puzzled.

And if you haven’t met Cora yet, here’s a list of the Puzzle Lady Mysteries in order.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Movie Review: Murder, She Baked - A Deadly Recipe

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery with delightful characters
Cons: Usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Death of a sheriff
Gives us fun mystery as
Hannah must clear Bill

“What Did You Put in Those Cupcakes?”

While I have become addicted to Hallmark’s cozy mystery movie franchises, my favorite remains the Murder, She Baked movies since they are based on the Hannah Swensen books, a series I’ve been reading since the very first book came out.  A Deadly Recipe is the latest movie, and it is once again very fun.

Things are heating up in the little town of Lake Eden, and Hannah (Alison Sweeney) is caught in the middle.  Sheriff Grant (Ty Olsson) is up for reelection, and Hannah’s brother-in-law, Bill Todd (Toby Levins), is running against him.  This is causing quite a bit of friction in the department.  While no one likes Grant, he is throwing his weight around and making people more miserable than normal.  For example, Bill has been working on a string of car jackings, and just as he is getting close to cracking the case, Sheriff Grant takes the case away from him.

Fortunately, Hannah does have a project that she is using to distract her.  She’s in charge of compiling the Lake Eden Cookbook with recipes from everyone in town.  She’s been given a well-loved recipe for fudge cupcakes that is unfortunately missing a key secret ingredient.  She’s working on a batch to find that secret ingredient at a meeting of the cookbook committee when Sheriff Grant stops by, snagging a cupcake on the way out.  When Hannah and her sister Andre (Lisa Durupt) leave a little while later, they find Grant dead, the cupcake still in his hand.  With Bill a natural suspect, Hannah has to step in and solve the case.

Since I love these characters so much, I’m having a great time revisiting them in the movie version.  Yes, there are some differences from the book (for starters, this is the fifth book but fourth movie), but I don’t care.  I find myself smiling the entire way through.

Speaking of the books, I’m not sure why, but this movie was given a different title than the book.  While the movie is A Deadly Recipe, fans of the series will immediately recognize the plot as that of Fudge Cupcake Murder.  But the title doesn’t matter at all.

While I am able to remember details of the character arcs from the books, I must admit I was rather hazy on the who-done-it before I started watching the film.  All I could remember was who the victim was, for example.  But parts of the plot started to come back to me as I watched as the various suspects were introduced.  Still, I found the ending a surprises.

This series is known for its love triangle, and that is heating up in the movies as well.  Both Detective Mike Kingston (Cameron Mathison) and dentist Norman Rhodes (Gabriel Hogan) are great guys (as they still were at this point in the books as well), and it’s hard to say who I am rooting for, assuming the movies stay away from the resolution we just got in the books.

About the only thing that the movie is missing the book has are the recipes.  However, some of the items featured in the book gets prominent mentions in the movie, especially the Apple Orchard Bars (which are absolutely delicious, by the way).

Of course, this does come with my standard cheese warning since this is a Hallmark movie.  But I’m finding it less and less of an issue the more of these movies I watch.

So if you are a fan of cozy mysteries, sit down and enjoy Murder She Baked: A Deadly Recipe.  It’s fun to watch and will leave you hungry for more.

If you've missed the book, here's my review of Fudge Cupcake Murder.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Review: Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower (Magical Bookshop Mysteries #1)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, fun setting, good mystery, light magic
Cons: A couple of sub-plots slow things down a little
The Bottom Line:
Magical bookstore
Will leave you under its spell
After this debut




New Series Off to a Poetic Start

This has turned into a month of first in series.  That wasn’t my goal, and I’ve got plenty of in progress series I should be working on, but there were too many new series I was dying to try.  The latest of these is Crime and Poetry, the first in the Magical Bookshop series.  I was planning to pass it by, but I’d heard so many good things about it, I had to pick it up.

When Violet Waverly gets the word that her grandma Daisy is sick, she rushes to Cascade Springs, New York, to be by her side.  Only when she arrives, she learns that Daisy is in perfect health.  Daisy really wanted Violet to visit so she could reveal some family secrets involving the bookstore and the role Daisy needs to take on.

Violet has no desire to move back to Cascade Springs, however.  She left the town twelve years ago and plans to head back to Chicago the next morning.  Only when she gets up the next morning, she finds Benedict Raisin dead in her grandmother’s driveway.  Benedict and Daisy had been dating, and Benedict is found strangled with one of Daisy’s scarves.  Violet can’t leave with a cloud of suspicion hanging over Daisy’s head, so she starts looking into the crime, getting help from a most unexpected source.  Can she interpret the clues she is getting to find the killer?

Since I usually avoid the paranormal, I was going to skip this series since it is the Magical Bookshop series.  (And yes, I’ve now spoiled a couple of things I left vague in my plot teaser.)  However, I actually find the idea of a bookstore where the books choose you to be quite fun.  Yes, the bookstore also plays a part in solving the crime, but it fits in with the world that author Amanda Flower has created, and it’s a minor part of the mystery.

The majority of the mystery still involves Violet talking to suspects and weighing what she learns against the other clues she is getting.  There is a lot going on in this small town, and that keeps us guessing who the killer is until the end.  I thought I had it figured out about half way through, but it turned out I was wrong.

Because Violet grew up in Cascade Springs, she has a history with some of the people there, a history that plays out over the course of the book without slowing things down.  Instead, it gives her a bit of depth that I enjoyed.  There are plenty of characters that we are meeting for the first time right along with Violet, and I really liked them as well.  I can see this group of characters becoming friends in a hurry.

The fictitious village of Cascade Springs is located a few miles upriver from Niagara Falls.  Frankly, I found this location to add to the charm of the book.  Maybe it’s because I’ve visited Niagara Falls a couple of times so I could picture the area, but I felt right at home in this touristy town.

While the book had some needed set up, especially with the bookstore, I did feel this slowed down the story at times.  Likewise, there is Violet’s conflict over her plans to leave versus the desire to stay she is denying.  We all know how that will end since this is the first in a series.  Overall, these were minor issues to me, however.

Unlike some series I’ve started this month, this is a series I’m now up to date on since Crime and Poetry just came out in April.  However, I’m looking forward to revisiting these characters as soon as the sequel finds its way into my hands.

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ornament Review: North Pole Tree Trimmers #3 - Glitter Elf - 2015 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute elf doing a fun job
Cons: Shaking glitter into the middle of the ornament?
The Bottom Line:
A cute ornament
But with confusing image
I do still like it




Cue the Sparkle

Sometimes, Hallmark ornaments don’t photograph well, so I learn early on not to judge an ornament until I had seen it in person.  That’s the case with the third North PoleTree Trimmers ornament.  Yes, this 2015 release is fun, yet the pictures didn’t quite do it justice.

This series focuses on the elves who help Santa create decorations, and this elf has a fun job.  He gets to shake the glitter on and in the ornaments.  And I do mean shake.  He’s actually holding a salt shaker filled with glitter and he’s shaking it until the middle of a purple ornament.  He’s very particular about his job, as you can tell by the look of concentration on his face as he works.

Yes, you did read that right.  He is putting the glitter into the middle of the ornament.  Honestly, this is one reason why the ornament looks so odd in pictures.  It doesn’t make complete sense even in person.  Why would you put glitter into the middle of an ornament when you want the sparkle to shine on the outside of the ornament?  Makes little sense to me.

While that’s an issue, it is a minor issue to me.  The elf is cute as always, and I love the idea behind the ornament overall.  Maybe there’s something I’m missing, like a diorama that is going to go into the ornament by the elf in the next step of production?  Yeah, we’ll go with that as what is happening here.  This isn’t the final elf to work on the ornament.  Or maybe, since I’m not super familiar with the old fashioned ornaments, this is just a particular kind and it’s supposed to look like this.  It certainly doesn’t look bad this way, and the glitter in the opening is lots of fun.

Whatever the story is, the elf and the ornament do provide a nice, steady base, so you can set this ornament out to enjoy is a display if you so wish.

The series marker, a 3 in a Christmas tree, was in the third place I looked for it, which seems appropriate somehow.  I’ll let you have fun finding it, but know it is there.

The loop for hanging the ornament is on the glitter shaker.  Slip a hook through it and you’ll find that it tips slightly toward the ornament.  But that’s okay because it still looks good that way.

The ornament does look very cute in person, so I was happy to add 2015’s North Pole Tree Trimmer to my collection.  I’m not completely sure the idea behind the ornament translates, but I do still like it.

Looking for more elves?  Here's the North Pole Tree Trimmers series.

Original Price: $12.95

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Movie Review: Three Bedrooms, One Corpse - An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery
Cons: Hallmark production
The Bottom Line:
Corpse at house for sale
Who would kill the realtor?
Follow as Roe solves

Sorry, the Body is Not Included with the House

This probably goes without saying, but I’ve really gotten hooked on the Hallmark mystery movies.  I’ve watched and reviewed how many of them since the start of the year?  So I was anxious to visit with Aurora Teagarden again when Three Bedrooms, One Corpse premiered.  This is another fun mystery.

Aurora “Roe” Teagarden (Candace Cameron Bure) is a librarian, but when her mother Aida (Marilu Henner) is running late for a showing, Roe agrees to let in the client and start the tour.  After all, the home for sale is one that Roe’s childhood friend lived in, so she is familiar with the property.  In fact, Roe is so familiar with the house that something seems off to her about the living room, but she can’t quite put her finger on what it is.

Something is definitely off in the backyard, however.  When Roe and Martin Bartell (Yannick Bisson), the client, wander back there, they find the body of the last realtor to show the property.  Since Aida keeps the keys in a drawer in her office, the police quickly begin to look at Aida and her co-workers as suspects.  Yes, the victim was from another firm, but the competition wasn’t that deadly, was it?  But Roe’s biggest concern is that Aida might be next.

The mystery in this movie is very strong.  There are some great clues that set Roe on the right path.  There are no shortage of suspects, but when the killer is revealed at the end, everything makes perfect sense.  I would expect nothing less since the movie is based on a novel by Charlene Harris.

The one thing that the movie could do better is character.  There is so much story to get in that the characters are a little short changed.  We know them well enough to care about the outcome, but I’m sure they are all richer in the book.  It’s a minor complaint, however.

If you’ve been reading my review of these movies, you know what comes next – my disclaimer about the Hallmark cheese.  The actors do a decent job, but there is something about the entire production that screams Hallmark.  But I get so involved in the plot that I really don’t care.

While I haven’t read these books, I have read plot descriptions, so I know a bit about how Roe’s live evolves over the course of the series.  As a result, I found the introduction of Martin Bartell quite interesting.  I know the next movie has been filmed, and I’m very curious to know if it will follow the path their relationships take in the books or not.  And that’s all I’m saying, I promise.

And that’s truly the secret of these movies.  They are fun, and fans of light, cozy mysteries will absolutely fall under their spell.

So I definitely recommend Three Bedrooms, One Corpse to mystery fans.  They will find it an enjoyable film in their favorite genre.

June 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Just as I was getting used to this schedule, they are really starting to shake things up.  Not too much different this week, but next week.  Oh well, I'll figure it out, I'm not worried about that.

America Ninja Warrior – There were several shocks tonight.  The Cowboy Ninja going out so early.  And Brent and Kacy broke up this year!  Yes, you can tell how much I’m getting to know the big names when I actually follow news like that.  Of course, the various shows they have during the rest of the year have helped me with that for sure.  Still, we’ve got a good group moving on to the city finals.

Spartan (Monday) – No, I’m not surprised about who won at the end of the night.  But yes, I was rooting for the farmers.  They did very well for themselves, that’s for sure.

Angie Tribecca – Well, that was a bit of a strange ending.  It felt like there was more to the story, but it just ended.  However, the blowing hair gags were wonderful.  And the removing of the masks in the park was great as well.  As I’m sure is no surprise given the show I’m about to talk about, I especially liked seeing the true Ghostface mask.

Scream – What a weird episode.  All those drug induced nightmares were something else.  And the truth is finally out there.  It’s about time, too.  Although the logical part of my brain is wondering where all the blood came from and why his body didn’t just fall apart when he landed.  I guess Jake has been dead for less than a week, but still, he looks pretty good for a mutilated corpse if you know what I mean.

Royal Pains – They are definitely settings things up to send the characters off in new directions for the series finale.  I usually like it when they leave you with characters staying together for many more adventures, but I can’t complain too loudly about where they seem to be sending everyone.  What intrigues me most is Evan and Eddie.  Evan’s always been the one to believe in Eddie, so this is quite a change.  I’m not saying I don’t understand where he is coming from, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it changes in the last couple of episodes.

Spartan (Thursday) – Someone listened to me, and they are starting to spread my shows around!  I was rooting for the Muddy Minglers all along since they could be me.  Well, if I exercised more and paid attention to diet.  So glad to see them win, although it was fairly obvious with their editing that they would win.

Girl Meet World – I saw that cliffhanger coming, but I was not expecting to have to wait two weeks to find out what happens next.  Two fully weeks!!!  Not happy about that at all.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Book Review: Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #1)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and mystery
Cons: Ending a bit over the top
The Bottom Line:
Travel back in time
Twisting, compelling story
Strong main characters




Step Back in Time and See Just Why This Series is So Popular

When you buy two or three books for every book you read, you wind up with books you fully intend to read but haven’t gotten around to yet.  (And now with my blog, it’s even worse.)  One such book is Murder on Astor Place.  I don’t know for sure when I bought it, but I figure I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for at least a decade, probably longer.  After meeting the author, Victoria Thompson, at Malice Domestic this year, I finally dusted it off and dove in.

This is the first book in the Gaslight mysteries, set in New York City 1896.  That’s just a few years earlier than Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy series started, and it was fun stepping into a city I know (fictionally) just a few years earlier.

Sarah Brandt is a midwife working in the city.  One night, she is called out to deliver a baby for a family that has turned most of their home into a boarding house to pay the bills.  She sees a young woman living there who reminds Sarah of a friend she hasn’t seen in years.

When Sarah goes back to check on the mother and new born, she discovers that the young tenant had been murdered.  Sarah identifies the victim as Alicia VanDamn, the younger sister of her friend.  Frank Malloy is the detective assigned to the case, but Sarah doesn’t trust the police to solve the case so she starts trying to find clues herself.  Can the two of them solve the case?

This really is a book with two detectives.  Despite the corruption of the police at the time (Teddy Roosevelt is trying to reform things as the book opens), Frank investigates as well.  The book splits time between the two in third person narration, giving us great clues and twists.  When Frank and Sarah come together and share information, we aren’t treated to rehash, but the two of them brainstorm what the clues mean.

Now, if this is sounding like the police are purposefully involving a civilian in a murder investigation, don’t worry.  Frank is actually less than impressed with how Sarah inserts herself into the case early on.  And their first scenes are almost funny with how the tension unfolds.

The plot really is strong with a steady pace of twists and surprises.  I did guess a couple of the twists early on, but I didn’t have the killer worked out at all.  I did find the climax a bit over the top and sad, but that is my only complaint about the book.

The characters are already strong.  Sarah and Frank are from two different worlds in New York society, which gives them access to different people.  It’s a great way to show just how fractured society was at the time.  Both characters have their own backstories, which we get over the course of the book.  The other characters are just as memorable.

Being a historical novel, there are plenty of details that transport us to not only another place but another time period.  And yet, they never slow the book down.  The characters and plot are first, just the way it should be.

So I now need to find the time to read the rest of the books in this long running series.  It is popular for a reason.  Pick up Murder on Astor Place and you’ll be swept back in time and left wanting more.

Get your next fix with the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries in order.

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

June 24th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Another Friday, another Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week's book is Presumed Puzzled by Parnell Hall.




This is a fun series that features lots of rapid fire back and forth, as you'll see in a few minutes.

Before we get there, here's the opening line.

"I need a client."
"Of course you need a client," Cora said.  "You're a lawyer.  Lawyers need clients."

But here's the real rapid fire quote.  To set this up, Cora is the main character in the series.  This scene finds her talking to an ex-boyfriend named Crawley who also happens to be a NYPD cop.  Stephanie is his current girlfriend.

Crowley looked up from his desk.  "Oh, hi, Cora.  Good to see you.  You tell Stephanie you were stopping by?"
"Do I have to?"
"No, I was just asking if you did."
"No, I came to see you."
"I figured that, since you're here.  This business or social?"
"If it was social I'd have called Stephanie."

I'll freely admit the humor in this series is for a certain sense of humor, but I happen to love it.  I finished the book yesterday, and it is wonderful.  I'll be reviewing it next week.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ornament Review: Chillin' Together - Making Memories #8 - 2015 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
A skating lesson
Makes another memory
In fun ornament




Warm up the Ice with Some New Memories

As cute as I think many of the Hallmark ornaments are, there is something especially heartwarming about the Making Memories series.  Each year, I love seeing what this pair of snowpeople are up to.  Chillin’ Together was the 2015 addition to the series, and it’s another winner.

Each ornament in this series features an adult snowman and a child snowman.  They are both generic enough that it could be any combination of adult and child, which is something I love.  This year, the pair are ice skating.  The child is just learning, and the adult is standing behind holding one hand and helping the child stand.  Both are on ice skates, obviously, and the child has one leg in the air, either as they try to balance or as they glide over the ice.  Their pet dog is with them as well, and his legs are sliding just a bit out from under him on the ice.  The ornaments in this series always have a snowflake as their base, and this time, instead of being pure white, the top of the snow flake is blue, representing the ice they are on.

As always, it’s those little details that I absolutely love about the Hallmark ornaments.  I never would have thought about making the snowflake into ice.

But even if they had missed that detail, I would still love this ornament.  While I have done very little ice skating in my life, I have done some.  The idea of the two of them doing something together, and the adult passing on the knowledge to their child is thrilling.  I can’t help but smile as I look at the ornament.  Another smile comes from the child, who is wearing a jacket here, something that usually doesn’t happen in the series.  Really?  A snowman needs to wear a jacket?  It’s a bit silly, but it’s also fun.  The adult is just wearing a hat, scarf, and the ice skates, which is normal for the series.

Thanks to that ice flake, there is a nice flat bottom, so you can set this ornament out anywhere you want to display it.  You’ll also find the 8 in a Christmas tree series symbol on the bottom.

The loop for hanging the ornament is on the adult’s hat.  Slip a hook through the hat, and you’ll find that it tips slightly to the right, but you can easily disguise that with branches on your tree.

Memories of things done together are wonderful, and this series continues to delight.  Chillin’ Together will be an honored part of this series.

Need more memories for your tree?  Here are the rest of the Making Memories ornaments.

Original Price: $14.95

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Review: Fatal Brushstroke by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson #1)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Intriguing mystery, good characters, fun setting
Cons: All cons painted over
The Bottom Line:
Body in backyard
Someone out to frame Rory
Delightful debut




Paint This Debut a Winner

This month, I seem to be finally getting to some of the books I bought at Bouchercon when it was in Long Beach.  It’s only taken me, what, a year and a half to get to them?  I wish I had gotten to Fatal Brushstroke sooner since it is a fantastic mystery debut.

One morning, Aurora “Rory” Anderson hears her neighbor’s dog barking in Rory’s own backyard.  Going outside to find out what is disturbing the dog, she discovers a hand buried back there.  She quickly calls the police, but even before they dig up the body attached to the hand, Rory has made the connection.  The body is that of Hester Bouquet.

Hester is a well-respected tole painting instructor and pattern designer.  Rory hadn’t seen Hester since she took an intensive weekend long class a couple of weeks before.  However, with a chief of police who has a grudge against Rory, Rory knows she has to find the killer herself.  However, it seems like the evidence that turns up points to her.  Can Rory clear her name?

Hester’s body is discovered on the very first page.  You don’t get any faster of a start than that.  The book keeps a steady pace from there until the end of the book with clues and complications sprinkled throughout to keep us guessing.  I thought I knew what was happening a couple of times before we reached the logical end.

We are introduced to an intriguing group of characters in this book.  Rory and the other series regulars are fun characters, and I enjoyed spending time with them.  The suspects were all intriguing and perfectly believable, which is important to keep us guessing.

Like with most of the hobby/cozy series out there, tole painting (aka decorative painting, which features painting on wood, fabric, or some other medium like that) is a great hook, but for those of us who don’t have this hobby, you won’t find so many details that it bogs down the story.  In fact, I found just enough information to make me want to pick up the hobby, which always happens in the best of series.  (Now to quickly pick up another book so the desire passes.)

The book is set in the fictional town of Vista Beach along the coast in Los Angeles County.  I loved the setting.  Okay, so it helps that I love the beach, but I want to move to the town and settle in myself.

The consolation for waiting so long to read Fatal Brushstroke is that the sequel is already out, so I can revisit these new friends soon.  Don’t put off picking up this artistically done debut.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

This Week's Winner

Time to announce another giveaway winner.  The winner for The Calamity Cafe is...


...Karen!

I've sent you an e-mail to confirm your address.  Please get back to me ASAP so I can connect you with your prize.

TV on DVD Review: Smallville - Season 9



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, great acting, plenty of action
Cons: Chloe underused
The Bottom Line:
Face off against Zod
As show returns to its strengths
And characters shine




“I Was Beginning to Think Your Family Lived on Some Distant Planet.”

Summer has rolled around, and that means it is time for my annual season of Smallville.  I started watching this show on DVD years after it started, and I’ve finally made it to season 9.  While I had been a bit disappointed with last season, I found this one to be quite fun.

The season starts off three weeks after the season eight cliffhanger.  Lois Lane (Erica Durance) has been missing for 3 weeks, and her cousin Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) is doing everything she can to find her.  Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Tom Welling) has decided that his attachments are holding him back from his mission to save humanity, so he has gone off on his own and increased his training.  And Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) is going into a self-destructive spiral over his guilt for the events of last season.

When Lois does show up with an assassin in tow, she has no clue where she has been or even that she was gone.  Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman) is extremely interested in where Lois has been, leading Clark to return to his old life in order to protect Lois as her memories return.

Tess has her own agenda, however, helping the Kryptonians who have just appeared thanks to an artifact that she found.  They are led by Zod (Callum Blue), and they don’t seem to have the powers that Clark does.  Has Clark found some people like him?  Or do they bring a new threat to the planet that Clark loves?

Even though I am not super familiar with comic books, I do know Zod, so it was easy to see the villain from the very beginning.  However, I really appreciated how they developed him over the course of the season.  He was more than just a power hungry guy.  Of course, they had a full season to develop him instead of a couple of hours in a movie, so that certainly helped.

Really, the season was filled with great development overall.  The season long story arc was well thought through and developed in a logical manner, answering some of the great questions we received early on before setting up a final showdown.  Meanwhile, we also got some standalone episodes that entertained.

The core cast had some great material to work with as well.  The early episodes that show Oliver/Green Arrow’s growth are fantastic.  I still can’t figure out what Tess is up to.  I do know which side she is on, however – hers.  She makes an interesting foil for our heroes since she’s not quite hero and not quite villain.  Sometimes in other shows, that waffling can be annoying (Sylar in Heroes, for example), but the writers make it work well here.

Of course, the biggest advancement of the season comes to Lois and Clark, who start dating during the season.  This leads to some very funny moments and some more serious moments as Clark toys with letting Lois in on his secret.

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about Chloe.  That’s because she often gets the least amount to do.  She converts the tower she got at the end of season 8 into a super high-tech computer center, and then she is used to give out plot information in the form of stuff she’s taken from surveillance cameras or research she’s found on the internet.  Essentially, she’s the data dump for information to advance the story, a job she’s always had, but that seems to be about all she’s good for this season.  Chloe does get some fun stuff late in the season, and Allison Mack makes the most of it, but the writers left her out of the main action for the most part.

Like Allison, the rest of the cast is wonderful once again.  They bring every moment to life perfectly, whether it’s comedy, drama, or some subtle shade in between.  The effects are still perfectly believable, too.

As I’ve been watching the current DCverse on TV, I’ve been commenting on the perfect timing between those shows and my seasons of this show.  Once again, that happened here when Smallville introduced the Justice Society of America in a two parter mid-season that introduced us to Hawkman, among others.  I hadn’t even heard of this hero until this season’s Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, and I enjoyed getting a new take on him.

Late in the season, Annette O’Toole returned for an episode as Martha Kent, bringing her real life husband, Michael McKean, back to reprise his role as Perry White.  It was a powerful episode that I really enjoyed.

The season is listed as having 21 episodes, but since one of them was a two hour episode, this really was a normal length season.  All the episodes are here on six discs looking and sounding great in wide screen and full surround.  Extras include a smattering of deleted scenes, two interesting commentaries on episodes early in the season, and two featurettes, one on Zod and one of the Justice Society two parter.

Overall, I felt that season 9 of Smallville brought the show back to its strengths, characters we love and fun superhero action.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this particular take on Superman wraps up in the final season.

Season 9 Episodes:
1. Savior
2. Metallo
3. Rabid
4. Echo
5. Roulette
6. Crossfire
7. Kandor
8. Idol
9. Pandora
10. Disciple
11. Absolute Justice (double episode)
12. Warrior
13. Persuasion
14. Conspiracy
15. Escape
16. Checkmate
17. Upgrade
18. Charade
19. Sacrifice
20. Hostage
21. Salvation

Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: Voodoo River by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole/Joe Pike #5)



Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Good characters, interesting parts to the plot
Cons: Plot pacing way off overall
The Bottom Line:
Searching for parents
Plot pacing too uneven
To be a good book




Cole and Pike in the Bayou

I was on a mystery message board 15 or so years ago when some of the regulars started reading the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike mysteries by Robert Crais.  I remember them raving about Voodoo River, so when I realized that was the next in the series for me to read, I was jazzed.  Turns out I had a very different reaction to it.

Private Investigator Elvis Cole is hired by actress Jodie Taylor, the star of a very successful TV show, to find her birth parents.  No, she has no desire to meet them and she doesn’t want anything from them.  She only wants to find out about her medical history.  Jodie was born in Louisiana, so Cole catches the next flight out.

Since Jodie’s adoption files are sealed and Jodie wants all of this kept quiet, Elvis has to figure out a way to find her birth parents without anyone else knowing what he is doing.  He’s hardly started his investigation when someone starts following him.  Why would someone else be interesting in his investigation?

This seems like an interesting case, and the book starts quickly.  I was intrigued and settled back for a great ride.

Unfortunately, the book is very disjointed and never really develops into a decent mystery.  There are long passages that barely contribute to advancing the story.  Even when we do finally get to a crime that Elvis starts to care about, things don’t pick up until we get to the climax.  That leaves us with hardly any time for a well thought out climax.  Instead, we rush through it, and Crais uses his favorite technique, dues ex machina, to get the characters out of the jam he’s put them in.  It’s not quite as bad as in some books since he does a little set up for it, but he’s not completely successful at hiding it.

Fortunately, the characters do help to carry the novel.  Elvis is a fun main character, and his wise cracks help liven up the book.  His partner Joe Pike isn’t in much of the book, but I felt he was more of a character here, too.  That leaves the new characters, and there are a wide variety of them, most of whom are quite entertaining, although I must admit I had to wonder for a while just which of the female characters Elvis was going to bed, and when.  The constant rotation of females in his bed is certainly another thing I could do without in this series.

I listened to the audio book narrated again by Mel Foster.  He does a good job bringing all the characters to life without getting in the way of the story.  My problems with the pacing of the story have nothing to do with his narration.

I’m not sure what I’m missing in this book, but it certainly isn’t the best of the series.  Voodoo River needed another edit to pick up the pace of the plot and smooth out the climax.

Looking for more books in the series?  Here are the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike mysteries in order.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Save our Cozies Readathon

If you haven’t yet heard, Berkley, which is an imprint for Penguin/Random House, is cutting their cozy mystery line way back.  Not only are cozies my favorite genre to read, but I read a lot of Berkley Prime Crime titles.  Right now, they are usually about half of the books I read every month.  In fact, the books that I review and host giveaways for every month are all Berkley titles.  So, as I’m sure you can imagine, this is bad news.  Not just for me, but for the writers I love.  After all, the reason I started reviewing years and years ago was to help readers find authors I love so that they’d buy the books and the authors would get contracts for more books.  (See, it was selfish all along – I just wanted more books by my favorite authors.)

Cozies readers are doing everything we can to raise awareness and hopefully get Berkley to see that there is a huge market for the cozy mystery.  Obviously, sales are the most important thing, but there are other things we can do to raise awareness.

One such brainstorm is the Save Our Cozies Readathon.  It’s just like other readathons out there – set aside a day, or a portion of a day, to read.  However, there is a specific focus to your reading list – cozy mysteries, but specifically cozies from the list of series that are either in jeopardy or have been canceled.  Authors of canceled or endangered series are even getting involved offering prizes to the participants.

Interested in learning more?  Here’s the official web site.  Sign up and spread the word.

Personally, I will have to miss it.  I will be reading that day; I’ll even be reading for several uninterrupted hours.  I just won’t be able to participate in blog updates and social media posts since I will be traveling that day.  Honestly, I’m jealous because I think this sounds like a fun way to raise awareness for the issue.  So I hope you sign up and have a ton of fun.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

June 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

You'll notice all by two of these shows were on Monday night.  And since I was out Tuesday night, it took me most of the week to catch up.

America Ninja Warrior – They focused so much on the race car drivers that the Wolf Pack got edited down to almost nothing.  That’s a bit of a surprise.  In fact, there weren’t as many big names as normal competing.  Meghan was an obvious exception, and seeing her finish was wonderful as always.

Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge – I’ve done one Spartan race, and this kind of reminds me why I only did one.  It’s not nearly as much for the weekend almost warrior like me.  The editing left a bit to be desired for this show.  They only showed up one of the two heats?  And between the video at the beginning and which heat they focused on, it was obvious which team would win in the end.  Still, it’s interesting enough I’ll keep watching.

Angie Tribecca – Another very funny episode.  You almost feel for Giles with the love triangle.  I certainly love how open and honest everyone is in that series of relationships.  And the twist at the end?  That was pretty funny as well.

Scream – A second murder this season, and one that doesn’t mean as much.  I feel like we might finally be getting to know the new kids as well.  My money is on the cousin to be the first of that batch to die, but we shall see.  Definitely some good twists, too, with Emma’s dad.

Royal Pains – They are certainly moving quickly with the pregnancy story, but if they are going to have her pregnant by the end of the series, that’s important.  The video was so sweet and so these characters, I absolutely loved it.  I didn’t remember Hank’s friend until the end of the episode, I must admit, but that wasn’t really bothering me much.  And they are definitely getting ready to wrap things up.  Heck, Hank is looking for a house, after all.

Girl Meets World – No real surprises with the message, but the comedy was still pretty good.  The Chewbacca bits were the best by far.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Music Review: Where the Light Gets In by Jason Gray



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Sound, encouraging lyrics and fun music
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Jason continues
To offer music of hope
We can all enjoy




Let the Light of Hope In with Jason Gray’s New Release

It’s been a decade since I discovered Jason Gray’s music, and I have become addicted to it.  His discs are always infused with such hope and encouragement wrapped in catchy pop music.  Where the Light Gets In is his newest release and it’s another wonderful addition to my music collection.

The disc starts right off with the toe tapping “Learning.”  The song is built around the idea that what others might consider failure isn’t failure if we actually learn from it.  It’s a reason to shake off fear and follow God’s love anywhere, learning for anything that happens along the way.  And if the words of encouragement don’t make you smile, the fun up-tempo beat will definitely put a smile on your face.

The idea behind “Sparrows” is nothing new.  It centers around Jesus’s comments from the Sermon on the Mount about why we shouldn’t worry.  Yet Jason proves that even the familiar can have new life breathed into it with this song about how we have no need to worry because “If He can hold the world He can hold this moment.”  But it’s the music that really makes this one.  Again, it’s got a catchy upbeat melody that makes it a blast to sing along.  And if we are reminded of a timeless truth, so much the better, right?

Starting over in the face of disappointment or sin is a huge theme of the disc.  There’s the determined “I Will Rise Again” that is an anthem of determination in the face of the dark places of life.  Then there’s “Resurrection” which talks about the second chances we get because of God’s grace and forgiveness in the face of our sin.  This song is another toe tapping upbeat song that is just a blast to listen to.  This is a theme that is driven home even more in “Where We Go From Here,” which marvels at how God continues to use broken things to make broken things beautiful things.

Much of this disc is filled with upbeat songs that really boost the themes of hope and redemption that Jason is singing about.  Yet they are all different enough that they don’t blend together.

The slowest track on the disc is, appropriately, “Death Without a Funeral.”  This is a song of mourning for what might have been in a failed relationship.  Violin comes in and provides a nice counterbalance to Jason’s vocals and guitar.  And the lyrics are haunting as they deal with the struggle of a death that isn’t physical.

The lyrics to “More Yours” struck me because of their honesty.  Here’s how it starts:
How many times have I said you can have my life?
How many times have I said you have it all?
Just to take it back another time?
Yeah, that’s me.  So as the song builds to the driving chorus, I have to pray along with Jason:
I’m gonna give you my life, my life
As many times as it takes, it takes

The title of the disc comes from “The Wound is Where the Light Gets in,” which talks about how God uses the hard times in life to remind us of His love and make us more like us.  It’s on the slower side with a beautiful melody and some lyrics that really make you stop and think.

There are a total of 13 tracks on this disc, and every one of them is a winner.  Jason’s lyrics are sharp as always, yet filled with hope and encouragement, reminding us of God’s grace and mercy plus His strength to get us through life.  His guitar driven pop is just as fun to listen to as ever.

So if you need a balm for your sole, pick up Where the Light Gets In.  It fill you with reminders that God is right there with you in songs that are fun to hear.

CD Length: 44:37
Tracks:
1. Learning
2. Sparrows
3. I Will Rise Again
4. Stolen
5. Resurrection
6. More Yours
7. Death Without a Funeral
8. The Wound is Where the Light Gets In
9. Where We Go From Here
10. Learning to be Found
11. Glow in the Dark
12. Celebrate
13. Thank You for Everything

June 17th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it to another Friday, which means it is time for another book beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson.




I must confess, I've had this book for years, and I'm just now getting around to reading it.  And I finished it within the last half hour, too.  I'm aiming for the review to be up on Friday of next week.

But for today's purposes, we are going with a couple of teasers, starting with the first line:

At first Sarah thought the tinkling of the bell was part of her dream.

And jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

But Sarah couldn't imagine why Alicia VanDamn, a child of wealth and privilege, had seemed to troubled.  Now she might never find out.

That's it for this week.  Hope you have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Review: Desperate Housedogs by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mysteries #1)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Tons of fun in a good mystery
Cons: Starts a little slowly
The Bottom Line:
Why are dogs barking?
Is it a clue to murder?
Find out in fun book




You’ll Be Desperate to Finish This Book

Okay, I confess, I wasn’t at all interested in the Pampered Pets Mysteries based solely on the pen name used by the authors.  Sparkle Abbey?  But then I met the two lovely ladies behind the pen name and learned about the origin of the name – their own pets.  They were so charming and lovely that I had to give their books a try, so I bought Desperate Housedogs, the first in the series.  I won’t admit how long it’s been sitting in my TBR pile, but I finally dusted it off and gave it a chance.

Carolina “Caro” Lamont is a Texas transplant living in Laguna Beach, California.  She runs a pet therapist business, which really means she works with pet owners to identify the reason for a pet’s bad behavior and comes up with ways for the owner to train the pet to behave better.

Caro has worked with Kevin Blackstone and his two German Shepherds in the past, but she is surprised when Kevin calls her up saying her dogs just won’t stop barking.  She heads over to his house in an exclusive gated community and spends some time trying to figure out what has upset the dogs.  Two hours after leaving Kevin, the police find him murdered.  Suddenly, Caro is a person of interest, and she must find a way to clear herself.  Does the dogs’ behavior have anything to do with Kevin’s death?

The book did start out a little slowly, establishing characters and some of their backstory before we truly got into the twists and turns of the mystery, but once the mystery got started it was a lot of fun.  I wasn’t sure what was going on until we reached the very end, but once we reached the end, it all made sense given the twists and clues we’d had along the way.

The characters are strong.  They are a bit over the top, but it works in this book.  Their personalities are all different enough that it is easy to keep them straight.  I definitely see room for the series regulars to grow as the series progresses, and I can’t wait to see what happens to them.

The characters being a bit over the top is definitely on purpose.  This book is filled with humor, and these characters go a long way toward providing that.  The way they react to things is much of the fun of the book, in fact.  Caro’s first person narration also provides some great smiles and laughs along the way.

While this is part of the series, it’s a non-traditional series.  The books alternate between Caro and her cousin Mel.  Mel really only gets a cameo here along with multiple mentions from Caro.  I’m looking forward to setting to know Mel in the next book in the series, which I actually bought the same time I bought this book.

So learn from my mistake.  If you haven’t started this fun series yet, don’t put it off another day.  You’ll be through Desperate Housedogs before you know it.

Believe me, once you read one book, you'll want to read more of the Pampered Pets Mysteries.