Monday, October 31, 2016

October 2016's Monthly Reading Summary

Another month come and gone.  I was very ambitious with my reading for the month, and I made it.  You'll find lots of books here, and most of them 5 stars.  Tends to happen when you are reading the latest books from favorite authors.

As always, the Index is updated as well.

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

Behind Chocolate Bars by Kathy Aarons (Chocolate Covered Mysteries #3) – 5
Michelle and Erica are getting into the Halloween spirit by helping create the annual haunted house to benefit the Boys and Girls Club.  But their time gets distracted when a murder happens out of town, and Dylan, a teen they know, becomes the prime suspect.  Can the duo find the time to help prove he didn’t do it?

It was fantastic to be back with these characters again.  The series regulars are fantastic, and the new characters were just as good.  This book was a little different because he didn’t meet the victim before the murder, but that didn’t hamper the plot at all with plenty of suspects and clues before we reached the logical end.

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

Tangled Up in Brew by Joyce Tremel (Brewing Trouble Mysteries #2) – 5
Maxine “Max” O’Hara and Jake Lambert are entering a local brews and burgers festival.  However, the festival takes a turn for the worse when notoriously nasty food critic Reginald Mobley signs on as a replacement judge.  However, no one expects him to be murdered.  Worse yet, he collapses right after eating Jake’s entry in the burger competition.  Can Max figure out what is happening.

I enjoyed the first book in this series, but I loved this one even more.  The characters we met in the first book are all back, and they are still fantastic.  The mystery is compelling with lots of secrets to be revealed before we reach a suspenseful and logical climax.  I’m already looking forward to the next in the series.

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

Masking for Trouble by Diane Vallere (Costume Shop Mystery #2) – 5
In a town that loves costume parties, Halloween is a huge deal, which means things are very busy for Margo Tamblyn in her family’s costume shop, Disguise DeLimit.  However, this year things are looking grim thanks to Paul Haverford, who has grand designs for the city, plans that include closing down small shops like Disguise DeLimit.  However, when Margo finds Paul’s body at the opening party, she finds herself as the prime suspect.  Can she find the killer and clear her name?

I loved the first book in this series because the characters are so wonderful.  It was great to see them again and watch their relationships grow and change.  The plot was fun and unique, and I enjoyed that as well.  Plus the book made great use of the Halloween time frame.

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

Death of a Toy Soldier by Barbara Early (Vintage Toy Shop Mysteries #1) – 5
Liz McCall is helping her father run Well Played, a vintage toy shop.  One day, a man walks in with a box of toys he wants appraised.  However, a couple of days later, the man is dead in their shop, killed by a lawn dart, and the box of toys is missing.  Liz’s father is a retired police man, and he begins to investigate the case unofficially with Liz helping him.  Will they be able to figure out what happened?

Toys and nostalgia as a setting for a new cozy series?  Sign me up!  And I was as delighted with his debut as I thought I would be.  The mystery is strong with some nice red herrings before we reach an ending that wraps everything up.  The characters are strong and so much fun.  If the store were real, I’d love to hang out for vintage board game night, but as it is, I’ll gladly return for the sequel.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Permanent Sunset by C. Michele Dorsey (Sabrina Salter #2) – 5
Sabrina and Henry have taken on a new villa, and the first event at this villa is a big wedding that they are helping coordinate.  However, when family strife turns to murder of the bride-to-be, Sabrina finds herself once again playing detective to prove that she isn’t negligent in the murder of another customer.

I enjoyed the first in this series only a couple of months ago, so the characters were still fresh in my mind.  It was absolutely wonderful to be back in their presence.  The new cast are just as strong, and the conflict they provide keeps the pages turning until we reach the logical end.  I read the book in two days, I just couldn’t put it down.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #8) – 4
It’s December 1951, and Flavia is back from her exile in Canada.  However, her welcome home doesn’t go as planned.  Her father is sick and in the hospital, and her older sisters and younger cousin are as obnoxious as ever.  However, she finds the perfect distraction when an errand to the next village ends with her finding the body of a wood carver hanging upside down from his bedroom door.

As much as I enjoyed Flavia’s adventure in Canada, it was good to be back in familiar surroundings with familiar characters.  The usual crew are up to their usual antics, which was fun.  I especially enjoy Flavia’s interactions with her cousin since she doesn’t see the parallels between that and her old sisters.  The mystery was good and a focus of much of the book, although I did figure a couple pieces of it out early.  Still, the ending surprised me.

Nate the Great Goes Undercover by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat - 5
The pint sized detective is back for his second case, this time trying to figure out for his neighbor Oliver who is breaking into Oliver’s trashcans every night.  Nate’s excited for his first night time case, but can he catch the culprit?

This is the second picture book to feature Nate the Great, and it is a lot of fun.  We are introduced to Oliver and Nate’s dog Sludge, who would become main characters in the series, here.  The mystery is good with Nate hitting a couple of dead ends before he reaches the conclusion.  The pictures might be a little dated, this is from the mid-70’s after all, but that’s my only issue, and it’s a very minor one.

Fatal Frost by Karen MacInerney (Dewberry Farm Mysteries #2) – 5
It’s December, and Lucy Resnick has her hands full because someone digging on her property, the local Christmas market and the protests against it, and her boyfriend’s ex-wife being in town.  Things get even more complicated when Lucy is on the scene of a house fire when a dead body is found.  Worse yet, the sheriff is certain that Lucy’s friend Molly is the killer.  Can Lucy clear her friend before the holiday?

It was wonderful to revisit these characters and get to see them grow over the course of the book.  The plot moves swiftly with the murder and various sub-plots expertly balanced to keep our attention focused.  The Christmas setting was a lot of fun as well and added to the book and influenced the recipes at the end.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

The Skeleton Haunts a House by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mysteries #3) – 5
Halloween is a perfect time for Sid, the skeleton best friend of Dr. Georgia Thackery, to leave the house since everyone is wearing costumes.  He’s especially enjoying the haunted house put on by the local college – that is until a real body is discovered in the house.  Now Sid and Georgia need to team up and figure out what happened to the young female victim.

The team of Sid and Georgia are always a delight, and this book is no exception.  The mystery is filled with suspects and motives, and keeps us guessing until the end.  Meanwhile, we get to see some growth in the characters and meet Georgia’s parents, which is a lot of fun.  The humor throughout the book adds a nice touch as the pages fly by.

Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks #6) – 5
When the Athena College library receives a donation of an old diary kept by a resident from the Civil War, Charlie Harris is thrilled.  However, before he can process them, he has two women demanding to see them immediately, and he is hearing claims that they might influence the current local election.  When the diaries go missing, Charlie is concerned, but when someone turns up dead, he is truly puzzled.  What exactly is in these diaries?

Between the past and the present, we are presented with a strong mystery that pulls us in and keeps us turning pages.  I was always intrigued, wondering what Charlie would discover next.  The mystery is so strong it doesn’t leave room for sub-plots, and many of the series regulars are reduced to cameos, and I missed them.  However, the new characters are strong enough to make up for it.

Dying for Strawberries by Sharon Farrow (Berry Basket Mysteries #1) – 5
Marlee Jacob has settled nicely back into her home town of Oriole Point, and she is quite happy running her business, The Berry Basket.  However, she quickly finds herself in trouble when her good friend goes missing, a surprise announcement rattles all the local business owners, someone tries to kill her, and then she finds a dead body.  What is going on?

I enjoyed this book with how it played with some cozy mystery tropes early on while still providing us with a compelling cozy mystery.  There’s plenty happening to keep us entertained all the way through, and the twists of the plot come together for a logical climax.  Some of the supporting characters are still a bit thin, but we can get to know them better in later books.  Marlee herself is wonderful, and the rest of the suspects are also viable characters.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Eggnog Murder by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross – 4
A collection of three Christmas novellas set in Maine and starring the series sleuths by the authors.  We get two murder by eggnog, and one missing moving truck and winds up with a dead body.  Will these mysteries be solved by Christmas?

All three of these stories will get you in the Christmas spirit with a dead body along the way.  We do get some time enjoying holiday traditions (recipes included with all three stories), some of them unique to Maine, which is a lot of fun.  The mysteries are all good, although the first seems to wander quite a bit before it gets fully engaging.  If you are a fan of one of these authors, here is a good way or sample some others while catching up with your favorite sleuth at Christmas time.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunset Express by Robert Crais (Cole and Pike #6) – 4
Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are hired by the Big Green Defense Machine to help find evidence that Jonathan Green’s latest client is indeed innocent of killing his wife.  However, Cole soon begins to suspect that not everything is as it appears in this case.  Can he find the truth?  Or has he been played?

This is definitely one of the stronger entries in the series with an intriguing mystery that twists and turns until we reach a non- dues ex machina ending.  We get some appearances by characters introduced in earlier books, which is quite fun.  Things do slow down at one point, and there is one mostly pointless scene designed to increase the foul language content in the book (not that it was ever an issue).  Still, this is the strongest in the series yet.

Spy Ski School by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #4) – 5
Ben Ripley is thrilled to be officially called for his first field assignment.  He’s going to Colorado to learn to ski.  While there, he needs to befriend a girl so he can get close to her father and figure out his evil plans.  However, Ben soon realizes getting close to his target isn’t going to be as easy as he thought.  With the clock ticking, can he save the day again?

While the target audience might be middle graders, this is a delightful read for anyone.  The story is strong, the pace never lags, and we get some fantastic complications and nail biting action scenes along the way.  The characters are fun as always, and we get some good growth in a couple of them.  There’s plenty of humor as well.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Book Review: Spy Ski School by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #4)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great story, fun characters, laughs
Cons: All cons frozen in the snow
The Bottom Line:
Learning how to ski
Balanced with espionage
In delightful read




Join Ben for His First Official CIA Mission - Operation Snow Bunny

As anyone who has discovered the wonderful books of Stuart Gibbs know, when you pick up one of his books, you are in for a great story, fun characters, and a few laughs.  It’s why I can’t wait to read each book of his that comes out.  He’s returned to the field of espionage with Spy Ski School, the fourth tale about Ben Ripley, and it’s another great read.

Ben has been activated for his first official CIA mission, and he’s thrilled.  His mission is to learn how to ski.  Okay, so it’s a bit more complicated than that.  Chinese businessman Leo Shang has been on the CIA’s radar for years, but they have never pegged anything on him.  He’s going to be in Colorado so his daughter Jessica can learn to ski.  Ben’s mission is to befriend Jessica, gain her trust, and use that to learn what her father is up to.

Yes, there will be danger, but Ben is enthused by the assignment.  He’s never been skiing, and he’s never been to Colorado.  His friends from spy school are also going on the mission.  It sounds wonderful.  However, when he arrives, he realizes that Jessica is always surrounded by hulking body guards.  Can he get close to her?  Will he learn what Leo’s plans are in time to stop them?

Now, I should probably point out that Stuart’s books are aimed at middle schoolers.  Ben himself is a teenager attending the top secret CIA school for future spies.  So if you have a kid you are hoping to get hooked on a great read, be sure to pick these books up for them.  However, don’t you dare overlook them for yourself.

See, these books start out with a great story.  Oh, we may know that Leo has some evil plan and Ben will wind up stopping it, but the hows and the whys are enough to pull you in right away and keep you turning pages.  I couldn’t read the book fast enough to learn what was going on.  Furthermore, we meet some fantastic complications along the way that make things even harder for Ben and his fellow spies.  Naturally, we have some very suspenseful action scenes before we reach the nail biting climax.  This is far from a boring read, but this is a spy novel, after all.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Meanwhile, there are the characters.  Fans of the series will be glad to know that the regulars are all here and some of them get more page time than normal, which is a good thing.  We also get some surprising character development before things are over.

I know I can count on Stuart Gibbs’s books to give me some laughs along the way, but this had to be the funniest yet.  The laughs came perfectly from the characters and the situations they were in.  I was laughing all the way through the book, but one line in particular caught me so off guard that I couldn’t stop myself from laughing long and loud.

So no matter what your age, if you are looking for a book that in completely entertaining, drop everything and pick up Spy Ski School.  You’ll be happily turning pages and then looking for more books by Stuart Gibbs to enjoy.

Of course, to fully appreciate everything that happens here, it’s best to read the Spy School series in order.  Trust me, that’s no hardship at all.

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

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Ornament Review: The Nativity #3 - Shepherds - 2000 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: We get the shepherds
Cons: Details and lack of color make it hard to tell; major tip
The Bottom Line:
Shepherds come to kneel
But could use more detail, color
To make them look good




Shepherds Keeping Watch

When I started getting into Hallmark’s miniature ornaments this year, I bought all four ornaments in the Nativity series sight unseen.  Even if I’d bought them in order, I would have kept going since I like the first two in the series.  But with the third, which focuses on the shepherds, we switch to ornaments that are just okay.

This ornament features 3 shepherds who have come to worship the newborn King.  One is kneeling in front of the other two, who are standing.  Like the others in the series, it is made from pewter, and as a result, it’s all one shade of gray.  Being a miniature ornament, it’s only about one inch tall and one inch wide.

And this ornament definitely falls into the category where less is not more.  Honestly, you have to really look to determine that these are the shepherds.  I keep seeing three and thinking wise men.  It might help is they had a shepherd’s crook or a lamb with them.  As it is, we get three men with beards and robes.  If you didn’t know who they were supposed to be, there would be no way to know.

While the monochromatic approach works for the first two in the series, it really doesn’t work out here.  Because one shepherd is kneeling in front of the others, you need some variety of color to truly see what is going on.  The ornament is too small for the details to show up otherwise.

Like the rest of the series, there is a nice flat base, so you could set these out together for a miniature nativity scene.  You’ll also find the 3 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of the ornament.

Of course, hanging the ornament is also an option.  The loop is actually on the back of one of the standing shepherds, so it hangs all kinds of crooked.  It’s got a very noticeable tip to the front left, which makes sense when you look at the ornament.

It’s too bad that the ornaments slipped in quality as the Nativity series went along.  It makes for an average third entry in the series.

If you want the complete miniature scene, be sure to check out the rest of the Nativity miniature series.

Original Price: $9.95

I'm Being Interviewed

Brooke over at Brooke Blogs is starting a series of posts spotlighting other cozy bloggers, and she's starting with me!  It's posted today, so if you want to get to know a little more about me, head on over and check it out.

October 29th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Would you believe I started watching another new show this week?  Does it count for anything that it is a half hour comedy?  And this is definitely my last new show of the fall.  Stop laughing - I mean it!  Of course, I'm already counting down until the new 24 premiers, so I'll have to add that into the mix come February, but I'll worry about that then.

Once Upon a Time – Even though it was the Evil Queen’s doing, I’m glad that Emma’s secret is out.  But will Hook use those sheers?  And what are the consequences for Aladdin?  Is Jafar still around somewhere?  I loved the references to the movie hidden in the episode.

Supergirl – I was a bit surprised that Lynda Carter didn’t have much to do in this episode, but with that revel at the end, it’s obvious she will be back at some point.  Plus there was the alien at the end.  Lots of good stories in the works for this season, I can tell.  But my favorite line of the night?  “You should see my other jet.”

Dancing with the Stars – I said Maureen would be one of the next to go.  I really fear for Ryan next week as well since I think he’s on the bottom, too.  But that’s next week, let’s look at this week.  I agree with the judges that it was nice to see a team dance that was all of the team dancing together, and Team Past did an outstanding job.

Odd Couple – Proving once again that predictable can still be fun.  Yes, I saw where Felix buying into the bar would lead, but it was a lot of fun seeing it actually happen.  The last scene between the two of them was very funny as they each tried to take credit for deciding to do what was thrust upon them.

Conviction – I’m intrigued with where they will go with her relationship with her brother and the DA.  I’m not too surprised by her melt down at the interview, and she’s right.  But the fallout from speaking the truth is going to be harsh.  And yes, this means I’m pretty hooked, at least for another episode.

The Flash – I do not like HW.  The guy is trying too hard to be hip and funny, or they are trying too hard to make him hip and funny or something.  His act is going to get very old in a big hurry.  And poor Kaitlyn is transforming.  The question is, will she be transforming for good or evil?  She’s definitely afraid of her transformation right now, and I can understand why.

Arrow – I can’t say there were any real surprises in the episode this week.  Not that it was a bad episode, but the character growth and plot points were fairly predictable.  About the only real surprise was that one of the new team members was kidnapped by the villain.  Still, a fun and entertaining hour.

Survivor – Now that was a surprise.  I mean, anyone with a brain would see you had to take out Fig or Taylor the first chance you got, but since we know more than the people on the island do at times, they aren’t always as smart as we are.  And Fig seemed to be the one calling more of the shots, plus she was in a key position to lose both parts of the challenge.  I wouldn’t want to be around Taylor, but things are going to get very interesting.

Designated Survivor – I’m not surprised that someone died on the mission, I was just surprised by who it was.  I figured it would be the guys we met who had a new wife and a kid on the way.  I was glad to be wrong.  Unfortunately, it looks like we are going to get some soap opera with the parentage of the First Son.  Not looking forward to that storyline, and we don’t need it.  I’m glad that the investigation has turned up proof so quickly.  And just as we are about to make that survivor the Vice President.  That’s not good.

Big Bang Theory – I did not see that coming at the convention.  I should have, but I didn’t.  So very funny.  Of course, the other two storylines were just as funny.  Poor Stuart just gets no respect.  And I loved Raj and Howard buying all that expensive baby stuff.

The Great Indoors – I’m not completely hooked yet, but I do like the pilot.  There were some pretty funny jokes, and the characters show promise.  So far, it’s pretty one note, but hopefully they can develop things more as the series progresses and be just as funny.  I’ll definitely be back next week.

Legends of Tomorrow – Where is Rip?  What was that message from Barry?  And how will the Atom get his suit back?  Okay, that last one is probably the easiest, he’ll just build it again.  Seriously, that was another fun episode.  I seriously love this show.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Book Review: Sunset Express by Robert Crais (Cole and Pike #6)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good characters and a strong plot
Cons: One mostly pointless scene filled with foul language
The Bottom Line:
Powerful lawyer
Is Elvis on the right side?
Builds toward great climax




Who Can Elvis and Joe Trust?

While I have had my issues with the Elvis Cole mysteries by Robert Crais, I’ve still found them enjoyable enough to continue listening to them on audio.  I’m glad, too, since Sunset Express is the best in the series to date.

It’s been three months since we last saw PI Elvis Cole and his partner Joe Pike.  They’ve been hired by Jonathan Green, something of a legend in the defense attorney crowd, as part of his latest case.  Teddy Martin, a rich kid who has gotten richer thanks to his restaurants, has been arrested for killing his wife, and the Big Green Defense Machine is trying to find anything they can to prove his innocence.  They initially hire Elvis to see if there is anything to the rumors that the cop who found the murder weapon plants evidence, but it isn’t long before Elvis is also tracking down tips that come into the tip hotline that’s been set up.

But something doesn’t feel right to Elvis, and the more he gets involved in the case, the more he feels that way.  Is he helping an innocent man?  Or is he being set up himself?

The plot of this book is a lot of fun.  Things slow down for Elvis and us a bit at one point, but that is the only issue with the pacing.  In fact, it builds to a wonderful climax that had me glad I had several hours in the car planned so I could see how everything played out.  Plus, he didn’t have to resort to a dues ex machina ending to resolve things this time around.

In addition to Elvis and Joe, we also get a couple of characters who return from the previous book in the series.  I was thrilled to see them, especially since it meant that, for once, Elvis didn’t have women throwing themselves at him.  That’s been an irritant for me in earlier books as every available woman seemed to want to go to bed with Elvis.  Anyway, we actually get several cameos from previous books, and that’s a fun touch.  We also get some great new characters here that were created just for this story.

Even with everything else firing on all cylinders, the author still can’t stop himself from putting in a scene that serves little purpose except to increase the foul language count.  Yes, I know people use it, but there is a scene where we didn’t need to hear it and does little more than pad the word count with swear words.  That’s my only real complaint with the novel.

David Stuart took over as the narrator on this audio book.  I must admit I had to adjust to his take on things and the characters, especially Joe Pike.  But as I got into the story, I noticed the changes less and less.  If you go into this book with no preconceived ideas, you won’t notice at all because he really did a great job with the narration.

When Robert Crais is on, his books are great.  Sunset Express is a fantastic PI novel and addition to the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series.  Here’s hoping the next is just as strong.

If you are looking for more PI adventures, here are the rest of the Cole and Pike books in order.

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

October 28th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome to the last Friday before Halloween, and this week's edition of Book Beginning and Friday 56.

If you are expecting a spooky title from me, you'll be disappointed.  Instead, I have Spy Ski School by Stuart Gibbs.  It's a middle grade book with lots of humor, and yes, a few dangers along the way.




When I picked up the book and read the first line, I knew I had to use it this week.

The summons to the principal's office arrived in the middle of my Advanced Self-Preservation class.

Stuart always offers some of my favorite first lines.

Moving ahead to page 56, we find:

"We'll look less suspicious if we're eating," Erica explained.  "Like two kids who just went out for pizza, rather than two spies on a recon mission."

Okay, not as pithy, but if you know Erica from the series, that is still rather fun.

I'm reviewing the book on Sunday, so I do hope you'll come back by and see what I thought of it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book Review: Eggnog Murder by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Christmas traditions and murder
Cons: A couple of minor things, but nothing to really worry about
The Bottom Line:
Three Christmas stories
Mix tradition and murder
For Christmas delight




Enjoy a Deadly Sip of Eggnog

Nothing says Christmas like murder, right?  If you go based on my reading list this year, that’s definitely the case since I’ve already read several Christmas themed cozy mysteries and I’m just getting warmed up.  Eggnog Murder is actually a collection of three Maine set Christmas novellas, and they will definitely get you in the murderous holiday spirit.

Opening things is the title novella written by the headline author – Leslie Meier.  This story stars her series sleuth, Lucy Stone, a reporter in the small town of Tinker’s Cove.  During the annual holiday stroll, a woman drinking eggnog in the newspaper office suddenly dies.  What was in the eggnog?  Was she the intended victim?

While I’ve only read one book in the series, this is the third Christmas novella I’ve spent with Lucy, her husband, and her family of kids and one grandson.  I must admit I found this the weakest story of the collect since it seemed to wander around a bit before getting to the point.  This is especially true of a sub-plot involving Lucy’s family.  However, by the time the story was over, I really had enjoyed it.

Next up is “Death by Eggnog” by Lee Hollis.  This was my introduction to Haley Powell and her family and friends in Bar Harbor.  Everyone in town is looking forward to the annual Restaurant Association Christmas Dinner, however things that a deadly turn when the town librarian eats a too spicy wing, follows it up with some eggnog, and dies.  The librarian had made many enemies over the years, but this looks like a tragic accident.  Was it?

It’s always hard to jump into a story, especially one this short, when you don’t know the series regulars.  Fortunately, most of them were kept in the background, so I was able to get to know the characters important to this story.  The plot was good, and I enjoyed getting to know the characters we met here.

Finally comes “Nogged Off” by Barbara Ross.  This novella is the reason I picked up the collection since I just love Julia Snowden and her group of family and friends in Busman’s Harbor.  This book finds her taking a quick day trip to New York City to pack up the rest of her belongings so she can permanently move to Maine.  When she arrives, she finds her sub-tenant to be upset about some setbacks in her personal life, and Julia winds up inviting Imogen home for Christmas.  However, Julia’s Christmas gets more complicated when her moving truck is stolen after they arrive in Busman’s Harbor.  What is going on?

I was able to get fully lost in this story right away since I already know the series characters and the setting, and I enjoyed spending Christmas with them.  The plot was fun with some good twists before we reached the end.

And all three stories will help get you in the Christmas spirit.  Each story features some holiday traditions that are unique to Maine, which is lots of fun.  Heck, even with all the murder and mayhem, I really wanted to sit back and sip a glass of eggnog, and I’m not usually a fan of the traditional holiday drink.

Speaking of which, you’ll also find plenty of recipes in this book.  Each novella features some recipes for Christmas goodies to make once you’ve finished reading.  We’ve got everything from eggnog to ghost pepper wings, eggnog muffins, and pecan puffs.  Truly something for every taste.

Whether you are reading this book during Christmas or want a holiday fix year round, you’ll enjoy your time spent with the stories in Eggnog Murder.  Clever murder stories mixed with Christmas traditions and topped off with some recipes.  Plus you might just find a new series to try as you read.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

If you enjoy meeting Julia here, check out the rest of the Maine Family Clambake Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pin Review: Pecos Bill - Storybook Classic #2 - 2016 Disney Store Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Two great scenes of Pecos Bill
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Pin for Bill and horse
Capture two movie moments
Collectors will love

A Pin for Pecos Bill and Widowmaker

When I realized that the pins in the Storybook Collection series would have the same characters but not feature the same pose as the ornament, I began to really look forward to them to see what they would be.  Pecos Bill, the second pin, has two fun scenes.

The front of these pins features simple lines on a single color background.  In this case, we’ve got a drawing of Pecos Bill riding his horse Widowmaker through a desert landscape.  We can see some spires and a cacti behind them, but the focus is on the two characters, who are riding hard.  Pecos Bill even has a lasso above of them.  We can’t see what they are chasing since there isn’t room in the scene.  Above the top, we have Pecos Bill written like the title of a book.  All of this is presented with a yellow background and simple red or green lines.

And just like a storybook, this ornament opens.  Inside, we get a full color picture of the Pecos Bill and Widowmaker with their faces next to each other smiling and singing.

Now I’ll freely admit that I’m not super familiar with the movie Melodytime that featured a segment on Pecos Bill, but I did rewatch it after getting the pin and ornament for the month.  I appreciate the fact that they picked two different scenes from the movie to highlight here.  While there was nothing wrong with the ornament that just featured the three main characters, I like it more then they focus on an actual moment from the film.

Being a slightly heavier pin, this one has two posts on the back to help hold it in place.  Considering there are two pieces of metal connected by the hinges, it’s no surprise to me that it’s heavier and needed that added fastener.

It’s nice to see some lesser known characters getting a chance in the spotlight again, and I love this Pecos Bill pin for that reason.  Any pin collector and fan of Disney’s rarer films will snap this one right up.

And be sure to check out the Storybook Classics ornament and pin series.

Ornament Review: Pecos Bill - Storybook Classic #2 - 2016 Disney Store Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great ornaments of three lesser done characters
Cons: Pose not from the movie
The Bottom line:
Sue, Bill, and his horse
Lesser characters combined
For fun ornament




Western Folk Hero Comes to Your Tree

I’d kind of forgotten how many of the American folk heroes that Disney used for their package animated films in the 1940’s until I started looking at the offerings for the Storybook Classics series that The Disney Store is releasing right now.  The first of those folk heroes was the September offering – Pecos Bill.

Pecos Bill is a cowboy in Texas, responsible for such things as the Lone Star, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Rio Grande.  You know, minor things like that.  For this ornament, he’s joined by his lady love, Slue-Foot Sue, and his horse, Widowmaker.  Pecos Bill and Sue are facing each other sitting on Widowmaker’s back.  Everyone is smiling and happy.

And why wouldn’t they be?  This completely captures the characters, at least as drawn by Disney animators in the movie Melodytime.  The color and detail is great as well, capturing the old west feel of a larger than life old cowboy.  Okay, so Widowmaker didn’t care for Sue at all, so this doesn’t fit from a story point of view, but it is a fun ornament.

Widowmaker is standing on a platform painted to look like the top of a rock formation, giving him a nice base to support the ornament.  That’s right, you can set this out to display year round is you so desire.  After all, there is really nothing Christmassy about the ornament or the characters.

However, if you want to hang this ornament from your tree, you’ll find Disney has attached a red ribbon for you.  The ornament does tip slightly when you hang it, but not enough to be that noticeable.

While Pecos Bill and his friends may not be Christmas characters, I obviously enjoy having a wide variety of characters on my tree.  That’s why I’m so thrilled to be able to add Pecos Bill to my tree.

And be sure to check out the Storybook Classics ornament and pin series.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Book Review: Dying for Strawberries by Sharon Farrow



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Marlee; well-done mystery
Cons: Supporting characters left to develop fully in future books
The Bottom Line:
Marlee finds trouble
Complicated by murder
In fun new series




Berry Enjoyable Debut

As far as true confessions go, the fact that I love berries is hardly a shocking one.  I think most people do.  But it’s why the Berry Basket Mysteries appealed to me – a shop that sells nothing but berry related stuff?  Sign me up.  And the first one revolves around Strawberries, so what could be better?  When it comes to Dying for Strawberries, it turns out that the book lived up to my hopes.

Marlee Jacob has been back in Oriole Point on the shores of Lake Michigan for a couple of years now, and her store, The Berry Basket, is beginning to really take off.  The shop, which sells everything from berry smoothies to berry desserts to items decorated with berries, has become hugely popular with locals and tourists alike, and Marlee has big plans for the future of her business.

However, a sudden string of bad news might be the end of her new life.  First, her friend Natasha disappears after a fight with her abusive husband.  Then the local business owner’s association meeting is rocked by several major announcements.  Marlee’s past involvement in a murder is hitting the news again just before someone tries to kill her.  When Marlee stumbles upon a dead body, it’s just one more thing to add to the mess her life is becoming.  The police think they’ve found the killer, but Marlee knows they are wrong.  Since she thinks the murder and the attempt on her life are related, she investigates before the killer gets a chance to target her again.  But can she figure things out?

I really enjoyed this book because it plays with some of the tropes of cozies, especially first in series books.  Yes, Marlee has returned to her home town, but it’s been long enough that her business is established, and she already has a fiancée.  Likewise, as you might have figured out from the above, the plot has more going on than the typical cozy mystery does.  As a result, Marlee doesn’t find the murder victim until about a third of the way into the book, but there is still plenty happening to keep us entertained.  Once motives and suspects are set up, we get to watch as Marlee works her way through them until she identifies the killer.  The climax is logical and suspenseful, and I really enjoyed it.

Because Oriole Point is Marlee’s home town, she has a large collection of friends and family in town.  As a result, we meet a plethora of supporting players here.  I did feel like they were a tad overwhelming and we didn’t get to know them super well, but that’s what further books in the series are for, right?  It’s my only complaint with the book, and it’s a minor one.

Marlee herself is a strong main character, and we definitely get to know her over the course of the book.  I’m very curious where some of the relationships set up here will go in future books, and can’t wait to see Marlee grow as a result of developments in those relationship.  The suspects were also strong characters, and it made figuring out the killer harder as a result.

While the store sells things related to all berries, the theme of this book is strawberries, as emphasized by the Strawberry Moon Bash near the beginning of the book.  As a result, we have four strawberry themed recipes at the end of the book, including a smoothie, a salad, muffins, and a strawberry nut bread.  Since strawberries are my favorite berry, all I can say is yum!

If you are looking for a delicious new series, look no further than Dying for Strawberries.  A strong main character and a fast moving mystery will leave you hungry for more.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, October 24, 2016

TV on DVD Review: Newhart - Season 6



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, funny situations
Cons: Um, Um…
The Bottom Line:
Return to the inn
More laughs with great characters
Timeless 80’s fun




“I Think I’ll Wait Until the Yelling Stops.”  “Will That Be Before or After Happiness Reigns?”

I keep saying that someday I need to go back and watch more of Bob Newhart’s 1970’s sitcom.  And every time I think that, I get sidetracked by a new season on DVD of Newhart, his wonderful comedy from the 1980’s.  Season 6 is another strong, hilarious season with these characters I love.

If you’ve missed this sitcom, you are really missing out.  Bob Newhart stars as Dick Loudon, do-it-yourself author who runs the Stratford Inn in Vermont along with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann).  Dick also has a local weekly talk show produced by ultra-yuppie want to be Michael Harris (Peter Scolari).  Michael also happens to be dating the Loudon’s maid, spoiled but cut off heiress Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy).  Rounding out the staff at the inn is handyman George Utley (Tom Poston), whose family has been taking care of the bed and breakfast for generations.  Then there are the neighbors, who run the Minute Man Café next door – Larry (William Sanderson), his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss), and his other brother Darryl (John Volstad).

Over the course of this season, Michael and Stephanie hit a snag in their relationship - they start to feel bored.  And they come up with a surprising way to try to get the spark back.  Larry makes a startling discovery – he’s not the oldest in the family.  Meanwhile, he also takes a vacation and leaves George in charge of the Darryls.  The entire town gets alien fever on Halloween.  George decides to pursue his lifelong dream of being a used car salesman.  Dick gets his dream of working with one of the best illustrators in the how do business while Joanna takes on the job of giving the local history speech.

In other words, it’s a pretty typical season of fun with the gang.  We do get to see more of the townspeople this season, and they are always a delight.  While I complain that most the characters edge toward over the top caricature in the later seasons, they haven’t slid too far in that direction yet, and they are still just delightfully over the top here.

Most of the stories this season center around the main cast and the townspeople with very little time devoted to guests.  Having said that, watch for early acting jobs for Bill Maher and Jason Alexander as guests during the season.

And the laughs!  Many of the episodes can make me smile just thinking about them and the fun we have in the time we spend with the characters.  Of course, it helps that by this point these are old friends.  Granted, they are friends we enjoy because we see them on TV (much like Dick, I’d be annoyed by some of them in real life), but still, it’s hard not to love the characters and enjoy spending time laughing with them.

Naturally, this is another case where the actors and the writers are perfectly in sync.  Everyone know the characters, and they do a brilliant job finding ways to get us to laugh whether it is a new joke or a variation on a running gag.

Season 6 consisted of 24 episodes, and they are preserved here on 3 discs.  There’s nothing in the way of extras, but I will gladly take the episodes as they are.  The episodes are full frame and stereo, but this was the 80’s after all.  Each disc has a disclaimer that the episodes are from the best source material available.  They may not be as sharp as newer shows, but they are certainly watchable.

In fact, I dare any fan of Newhart to find fault with this set.  Season 6 is delightful laughter at its finest.  Pop in a disc, sit back, and enjoy.

Season 6 Episodes:
1. Here’s to You, Mrs. Loudon
2. Prima Darryl
3. Inn This Corner
4. Me and My Gayle
5. Reading, Writing, and Rating Points
6. Vintage Stephanie
7. Take Me to Your Loudon
8. Till Depth Do Us Part, Part One
9. Till Depth Do Us Part, Part Two
10. Telethon Man
11. Laugh at My Wife, Please
12. Support Your Local Shifflett
13. My Three Dads
14. A Friendship That Will Last a Lunchtime
15. Presence of Malice
16. Would You Buy a Used Care from this Handyman?
17. The Buck Stops Here
18. Attention WPIV Shoppers
19. The Big Uneasy
20. Draw Partner
21. A Midseason Night’s Dream
22. Newsstruck
23. The Gleeless Club
24. Courting Disaster

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #4 - Ice Skating - 2001 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute ornament with more winter fun
Cons: Tips forward when hung
The Bottom Line:
Winter skating fun
Snoopy, Woodstock show us how
Mini series piece




Snoopy and Woodstock Will Skate Their Way onto Your Tree

As much as I am a summer/warm weather person, I am quickly realizing how much fun there is to be had during the winter thanks to looking at the Winter Fun with Snoopy ornaments.  The fourth entry highlights another fun activity – ice skating.

Being a miniature ornament, it’s simple, but it gets the point across.  Snoopy and Woodstock are skating on a small piece of light blue plastic, representing the ice.  They have their hands clasped behind them, and they are both gliding on one foot.  Snoopy is wearing skates and a blue hat.

Yes, you read that right, Snoopy is wearing skates while Woodstock is skating on his bare feet.  When I think of Snoopy skating, I picture the opening scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas where Snoopy was skating on his bare feet as well, but I can’t remember whether he skated on ice skates in the strip.  But that’s really not an issue for me since we need something to know what he is doing.  It might be hard to figure it out without those skates on Snoopy’s feet.

Since this is a miniature ornament, there isn’t a great amount of detail, but the detail we have is good.  It’s easy to tell who we have and what they are doing.  It’s actually amazing they have that much detail here since I couldn’t create anything like this if I tried.  One of the details they do have is the groove in the ice behind where Snoopy and Woodstock have just skated, which is a fantastic detail that I love.

The ice is flat, so you could set it out to be enjoyed somewhere.  Due to the size, it might easily get swept away or lost if you don’t set it some place safe, of course.  The series marker is on the bottom of the ornament as well.

Of course, the idea with an ornament is to hang it, and you’ll find the loop in the top of Snoopy’s hat.  They tip forward, which makes sense because the loop isn’t centered.  It’s enough to be noticeable, but hopefully you can disguise it with a tree branch or two.

Never having grown up where it gets cold enough to freeze, I must admit I associate ice skating most with indoor rinks, which you can enjoy year round.  And, when you get cold enough and want to warm up, you just go outside.  Works wonderfully for me.

Still, I do think of ice skating in winter, and it makes a wonderful addition to the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.  It’s a small but cute ornament.

Be sure to check out more ornaments in the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

Ornament Price: $6.95

Saturday, October 22, 2016

October 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Hi all.  If you are here to see what I'm doing for the readathon, keep scrolling down.  I normally use Saturday to post my thoughts on the TV shows I watched during the week.  If you'are interested in those thoughts, just keep reading below the jump.

And Book Two Finished

I didn't really intended to be gone so long from updating, but I must admit I kept getting distracted.  If I stopped reading, it was hard to get back to picking up the book.  But I did indeed finish The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha!!

It's just a really good thing I didn't pick up the book I thought I was going to read today, which is twice as long.  I wouldn't have had time to finish it off today considering how little I did or didn't get read.

Of course, I had hoped to sneak in a couple of quick rereads, but that didn't happen either.  Oh well.  I still had lots of fun today.

And I know the fun is continuing for some, but I'm calling it a night and heading to bed.  Hopefully, with a little extra sleep I can kick this sickness I am fighting.

Book One Down

I finished my first book of the day!  Okay, so I actually finished it about an hour ago, but I took a break to draft a review, eat some lunch, and general let that book digest.  But I'm ready to get on to my next book of the day.

I decided to skip the thriller I was considering, at least for today, and instead read at least one cozy mystery since that is what I normally read.  So up next is The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha, the latest Chocoholic Mystery by JoAnna Carl.  These are always fast, fun reads, and I'm looking forward to diving it.

Of course, I'm also feeling like a nap might be in order soon.  Generally, I will doze off when reading in the afternoon, so we shall see how it goes.  I bet I sleep more than read for the next hour, but when I wake up, I'll be fresh and ready to get more pages under my belt.

Readathon: Reading Memories

For a mini-challenge, Midnight Book Girl has asked us about our reading memories.  I've got many of them.  I can think of many times and places connected with books.

The first time I read The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, I hit the final third, and I couldn't put the book down.  I stayed up that night until I finished reading it.

Then there was reading Owls Well that Ends Well and trying not to laugh out loud so I didn't wake my roommate, who had already gone to sleep.

It's been 20 years since I listened to And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, but book will forever be linked to my car breaking down and me dying to know what was going on but not being able to continue listening because of that.

Then there's The Mystery on the Mississippi, my first Trixie Belden book.  I read it out at the beach while my family was camping out there for a month or so.  I really enjoyed it and knew I wanted to read more, but I had no idea who hooked on that series I would become as I got to know the characters more.

That's it for a trip down memory lane at least for now.  Back to my current read, Spy Ski School.  75 pages to go!

Finally Ready to Start!

I slept later than I thought I would this morning.  Obviously, I needed it.  But I am finally ready to start reading.  I'm off to go save the world with Spy Ski School, so I will see you in 130 pages.

Welcome to the Readathon

If I've done my calculations right, Dewey's 24 hour readathon is kicking off right about now.  And for the first time in a long time, I'm signed up to participate.  It seems it rare works out for me, but I had a free Saturday today, so I figured if I was ever going to do it again, this was the time.

Of course, at the moment, I'm still in bed asleep.  I live in California, and it is 5 AM.  Sorry, but I'm not getting up that early to start reading.  All that would happen if I did is I would fall back asleep.  I know I'll take a nap or two along the way, but let's not start out asking for it.

There's another reason.  I'm actually feeling a little under the weather right now, and I know I need the sleep.  Of course, I a day of lying around and reading will also be good for me, right?  So this came at an absolutely perfect time for me.

I will update things when I get up and start reading.  And I can tell you my first book is going to be Spy Ski School, a middle grade comedic spy mystery by Stuart Gibbs.  I'm actually about 130 pages away from the end, so I will be able to start another book not too long after I get up.  I'm thinking that will be a longer thriller (for adults this time) I'd love to be able to read in a day.  Perfectly opportunity right?  My only hesitation is it would probably take me most of Saturday, and there are other, shorter books I've also been thinking about reading.  Decision, decision.  If you have any advice to give on that front, I'm all ears.

Until I join the land of the awake, happy reading all!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Book Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #6)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Another strong mystery with plenty of twists
Cons: Would have enjoyed more of the supporting characters
The Bottom Line:
These diaries cause
Plenty of trouble in this
Fast paced and fun read




Politics, a Diary, and Murder

I read to escape from real life.  It’s nice to escape into a world where things make sense at the end of the story and the hero makes a big difference in the outcome.  So you can imagine my feelings when I discovered that last year’s entry in the Cat in the Stacks series, Arsenic and Old Books, involved, at least in part, a local political race.  Yet that didn’t stop me from digging in and enjoying the book.

This book was the hardcover debut for the series, but is the sixth overall.  The series focuses on Charlie Harris, who works part time in the library archives at Athena College in Athena, Mississippi.  Charlie owns a Maine Coon cat named Diesel who goes everywhere with him.  Whether you have been following the series for years or are thinking about jumping in here, you’ll enjoy the book completely.

As this book opens, Charlie has just been given a donation for the archives – four diaries written by a local woman who lived during the Civil War.  Naturally, he is thrilled to have these volumes, but before he can even process them, he has two different women demanding to look at them immediately.  One of the women, Marie Steverton, thinks these diaries might be the key to her finally getting tenure at the college, while the other, Kelly Grimes, thinks they might have some baring on the current local election for state senate.

Things get even more bizarre when the diaries go missing from Charlie’s office.  Then someone turns up dead, and it looks like murder.  What exactly is in those diaries?  And how could it lead to this modern mayhem?

I love it when a book can include things from the long past in a present mystery, and this book does a great job of it.  Between the mysteries of the past and how it influenced the present, the book grips us quickly and never lets go.  I was pulled in and turning pages to figure out how the latest twist was going to play into the solution.  By the end, everything makes perfect sense.

I mentioned earlier that this would be a good book for those new to the series to jump in, and that’s because we get little of the supporting characters.  Honestly, they are mostly reduced to cameos here.  We do get some updates on them, and their scenes are fun, but I found I missed them.  On the other hand, the plot was so strong, we didn’t need any sub-plots.  Instead, anything with them would have just slowed down the mystery, and I didn’t want that at all.

Not that we are lacking for good characters.  The characters we meet here are all strong and keep us engaged with the mystery.

When this book was released in paperback, it included a bonus short story, “When Charlie Met Diesel.”  Set before the series started, it’s the story of how exactly Charlie found Diesel.  It’s nothing we haven’t heard in earlier books in the series, but it’s still a fun read if you can get your hands on a copy.

Yes, I missed seeing more of the supporting characters, but that’s a minor point.  Arsenic and Old Books is strong with plenty of twists and turns to keep you entertained until the very last page.

Once you get hooked, you'll definitely want to check out the rest of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries in order.

October 21st's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it to another Friday, so let's celebrate with this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This weeks' book is Dying for Strawberries, the first in the new Berry Basket Mysteries by Sharon Farrow.





The book officially comes out on Tuesday, but I got to read an ARC this week.  I really enjoyed it.

Here's how the fun begins:

"I was buried in strawberries up to my neck!"

Personally, I think that sounds quite lovely.  And on page 56, we find these couple of sentences.

Muffin Mike buried his head in his hands.  We all knew what was coming.

So I just noticed a bury theme in the quotes I chose.  I never would have picked up on that otherwise.

My review of the book will be up for release day on Tuesday.  I hope you'll come back and take a look.

Hope everyone has a great weekend.  I know I will.  I'm participating in the readathon!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ornament Review: Death Star Tree Topper - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Light and music show is a blast!  Star pun
Cons: Details could be a little better; not enough supply to meet demand in 2016
The Bottom Line:
Star for Star Wars fans
Light and music add to fun
Pricey but worth it




I Finally Have a Star for the Top of My Tree.  A Death Star, That Is

I feel like it’s time for another issue of true confessions.  With all my Christmas ornaments, I have never bought a tree topper.  Of course, there is a reason for that.  My artificial trees are small and on the cheaper side of things, and I haven’t trusted them to hold the weight of a tree topper.  But I had to change that this year for the Death Star Tree Topper that Hallmark released in 2016.

Yes, it is pretty much what you’d expect from that name.  We have a round ball that is made to look like the Death Star from the original Star Wars movie.  It’s gray with the pattern of the original raised on it.  There’s the trench at the diameter mark, and the circle in the front where the weapon fires.  The only real change is the hole in the bottom so you can stick it on the top of your tree.

First, as a lover of puns, can I say how much I love the idea of a Death Star as the star on the top of your tree.  Yes, it is a completely geeky thing, but it is so much fun.

The pattern on the Death Star is slightly raised.  I think it would look better overall if it were a little more raised, but when you have it in a dark room on a lit Christmas tree, it will look just fine.

In addition to the hole, there is a stick that goes in the bottom of the Death Star.  You can use this and the Velcro attached to the stick to help attach this topper to your tree.  Of course, my big fear is my weak branches tipping over under the weight, but this is nice to help make sure the Death Star stays in place.

But I have yet to get to why this tree topper was a must get for me.  It’s a Magic item.  It connects to Hallmark’s Magic Cord (sold separately) or the power cord supplied.  When you plug it in, you find that it lights up, flashing red, white, green, and blue.  The two hemispheres, the trench, and the weapon region all have their own lights, and they flash in various patterns.

A remote control also comes with this ornament, and when you press the button on the remote, the show really begins.  It alternates between “The Imperial March” or “The Star Wars Theme.”  During the 45 seconds that the music lasts, the lights put on a show in time to the music.

The instructions recommend that you plug the Death Star into both the power source that comes with the topper and the Magic Cord.  I figured out why very quickly.  While either alone is enough to power the topper, there isn’t enough power to run a show with any other ornaments you have plugged into the Magic Cord if you are just using that cord.  However, with the Death Star drawing power from both, the rest of your Magic Cord ornaments will also participate in your show.

As soon as I saw this, I knew it would be a hot item despite the $99.95 price.  It seems that Hallmark didn’t have as much faith in it, and I’m hearing that some stores didn’t even get enough to cover those who pre-ordered it on wish lists.  Prices on the secondary market are rising rapidly as a result.  While I make no promises, based on past performance, I would guess that Hallmark will release this next year.  If not, the secondary prices will continue to rise, so it is a gamble if you want to wait or buy it now.

However, I am glad I was able to get the Death Star Tree Topper.  I have a feeling I will be setting it next to my tree, but I will be smiling every time I press the button on the remote to start the show.

Original Price: $99.95

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Review: The Skeleton Haunts a House by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mysteries #3)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightfully fun mystery and characters
Cons: I have no bones to pick with this book
The Bottom Line:
Corpse in haunted house
Tough case for Georgia, Sid
Boney fun for all




Murder in a Haunted House

When you write a series with a living skeleton as a main character, there are some logistics on how to get him out of the house and involved in the mystery.  Of course, Halloween is a perfect time to do that, and that’s just what we get with The Skeleton Haunts a House, the third Family Skeleton Mystery from Leigh Perry.

Each year, McQuaid College, where Georgia Thackery is teaching English as an adjunct, turns over an abandoned building on campus to create a haunted house.  The funds from the house, dubbed McHades, are used as a scholarship.  It’s a huge deal, and this year, Georgia’s sister, Deborah, is in charge of the house and her teen daughter, Madison, is working inside.

Sid, Georgia’s best friend who just happens to be a skeleton, is looking forward to going through the house.  He’s dressed up as Scooby Doo this year, so no one will be freaked out by, well, him.  Sid is on his second trip through the house when a real dead body is found in the midst of the fake carnage.  Suddenly, Sid has to make himself scarce so the police don’t learn his secret.  Meanwhile, Deborah asks Georgia and Sid to find the killer to clear anyone from the haunted house staff from involvement in the murder.  While the victim is identified easily, can they find a motive and the killer?

Honestly, once the book got started, I forgot about the logistics of Sid getting in and out of the house and just got lost in the story.  There are a good number of suspects and motives, and Georgia and Sid are kept busy trying to track down alibis to figure out who actually committed the murder.  We get some fun twists along the way before reaching the climax, which both shocked me and kept me glued to those last few pages to find out what was going to happen next.

The book is filled with richly developed, real people.  And yes, I’m including Sid in that equation.  He truly feels as real as all the flesh and blood characters, and he’s a fun addition to this series.  We get to meet Georgia’s parents in this book, and considering we’ve just heard about them before, I enjoyed getting to see them.  They add to the dynamic of this story.

Now, if you have a book with a living skeleton as a main character, you have to expect humor, right?  You certainly get that in spades here.  From Georgia’s asides as the narrator about Sid’s condition to the swear word alternatives that Georgia and Sid use to the occasional bone pun, the humor will keep you entertained as well as you move through the book.

Sid and Georgia make an excellent team, and they prove it once again with The Skeleton Haunts a House.  I’m anxious to see where things go from here for this dynamic duo and their friends and family.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Movie Review: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some good stalk and kill sequences
Cons: Too many brainless parts
The Bottom Line:
Rushed slasher sequel
With a plot that falls apart
Turn off brain to watch




“All I Know is This Island Didn’t Have a Murder Rate Until You People Showed Up.”

One of the staples of the slasher genre has been the quick turnaround for a sequel.  While the 90’s resurgence in the genre tried to change many things about the genre, the quick sequel was not one of them.  That’s why, a year after the first came out, we got I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.  It needed more time to iron out some serious plot issues (and considering this is a slasher, that’s saying something).

As the movie opens, it’s been a year since fisherman Ben Willis (Muse Watson) stalked Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Ray (Freddie Prinz, Jr.)  and their friends and two years since the four friends hit Ben with their car and left him for dead.  Julie is still struggling through all that has happened, which is why she finds herself struggling with grades while in summer school again and having recurring nightmares.

Things are looking up when her friend and roommate Karla (Brandy) wins a trip for four to the Bahamas over the 4th of July.  When an invited Ray doesn’t show, Julie’s friend Will (Matthew settle) joins Carla, Carla’s boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer), and Julie for this trip.  They arrive on the island just before the first storm of the season hits, leaving them stranded as the only guests on the island.  But a message for Julie leaves her convinced that they and the skeleton staff are in danger.  Is she right?  And what happened to Ray?

The film actually gets high marks right away for addressing the tag from the previous film and trying to give us some character development for Julie and Ray.  Unfortunately, in an effort to increase the tension, we get several painfully obvious false scares before we get to the island and the movie really begins.

Now here’s the part where I’m going to be painfully stupid.  One of my problems with this film is all the people who are killed when Julie and Ray are the real targets.  I get that this is a slasher film.  I truly do.  That means lots of people have to die.  But I don’t get why we are going after the people who do die.  In the first film, the collateral damage victims make a little bit of sense, but not quite as much here.  And this doesn’t bother me in the Scream films like it does here, either.  Go figure.

So leaving my personal issues aside, we do get some decent stalk and kill sequences and a mix of sympathetic and annoying characters to be eliminated.  This part is all well done, and when the storm hits and the killing starts, it’s easy to feel the tension building.

Which brings me to the part that feels rushed.  In an effort to provide a twist to the story (required of all slashers, especially during the 90’s), we learn a bit more about Ben, but none of that makes sense.  Even watching the movie knowing what will unfold, it feels like it is forced into the film.

And, despite efforts to set things up earlier, the climax still feels a bit du ex machina for my tastes.  Then there’s one character’s fate, which makes no sense.  Plus don’t get me started on the final scene.  What worked in the first film definitely doesn’t work here.

The acting is still decent, and I don’t find anything to pull me out of the film.  That’s impressive considering the script the cast had to work with.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the accident that started the whole rampage was actually two summers ago now, so the title really doesn’t work either.

The thing with 90’s slasher movies is they tried to be more intelligent than the ones that had come during the slasher mania of the 80’s.  Sadly, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer fails in those efforts.  There are still some decent death and chase sequences, so die hards of the genre will want to check it out.  But be sure to turn off your brain before you start watching it.