Saturday, October 21, 2017

October 21st's Weekly TV Thoughts

I did a much better job of keeping up with TV this week.  It did help that The Orville wasn't on, but it helped that life wasn't completely crazy this week as well.

Once Upon a Time (10/13) – I had heard rumors that Emma was pregnant, but I wasn’t not expecting THAT twist.  We have Other Hook on the show, and not the Hook we already know and love.  Very interesting.  And I like it.  I really do.  I like the idea of Emma and Hook have a happily ever after.  Regina is still Regina, and I get why she came along for the ride.  So now we just need to figure out why Gold is here, and what his goals are that have aligned with Victoria’s.

Supergirl – So the new villain’s powers are gone?  I did not expect to see that coming.  Will they only turn on if her daughter is in danger?  At first, I thought Lena was going to be a great boss, but I think I can see where James is going to find her annoying.  I can definitely see both sides of their issues.  And can we just get Mon-El back already?

Dancing with the Stars – Sasha’s out.  Bummer!  There are a couple who probably should have gone before her, but her weeks were definitely numbered.  So enjoyed Disney night, as always.  It’s one of the weeks I look forward to most all season, and it didn’t disappoint again.

The Big Bang Theory – The episode had its moments, but it was a bit weak overall.  The scene with Leonard and Amy was pretty funny, as was the scene with Leonard and Beverly, and the tag scene with Sheldon getting the ticket.  In other words, I was a slow burn with some decent pay off.

The Flash – I can definitely see where Barry and Iris would have some issues to work out, and I’m glad they addressed them head on instead of letting them fester for half the season.  That climax was pretty funny with Barry’s new suit malfunctioning.  In fact, the tone was pretty fun all over.  I do wonder what is up with Caitlyn.

Lethal Weapon – Can we say “Daddy Issues.”  They were everywhere in the episode.  I’m glad the daughter didn’t get dragged into the case as a suspect more than she did, although I’m sure being kidnapped helped.  And how fun are things with this new chief?  She is adding some great comedy to the show.

Legends of Tomorrow – Not quite as funny as last week, but still lots of fun.  Was I the only one who didn’t buy the conjoined twins outfit, however?  I can’t see how anyone, even then, would buy it.  And we’ve got Amayra back on board, too.  Her powers being out of control seems like Caitlyn’s storyline on The Flash, so hopefully they go someplace different with it.

This is Us – As I was watching this, I couldn’t help but think that Rebecca treats Kate much like her mother did her.  Consider how much Rebecca hated it, that is sad.  Of course, the racism thing is obviously new.  Kevin obviously originally hurt his knee right before Jack died, so that’s part of what Kevin is going through.  And Kate is pregnant!  That is a surprising development for her.  I was expecting her story this season to be all about her singing.  Obviously not.

Survivor – Well, that didn’t go as I had hoped.  I was hoping the Joe wouldn’t actually play his idol, but he was smart to do so.  He was driving me up a wall tonight, so I wanted him gone.  Oh well.  Oh, and if it isn’t your secret to share, don’t go around talking about what other people have received in the way of advantages.  It will get you voted out.

The Good Place – Okay, admittedly a little gross, but so freaking funny!  There were a couple of really great lines and the idea that Michael was actually torturing Chidi was just great.  I’m very concerned about what Janet’s change is going to mean for the neighborhood.

Arrow – So Oliver is, what?  Going to take a step back?  I get why he’s doing it, and I applaud it.  You know it won’t last all season, but it’s going to be an interesting storyline for a few episodes, that’s for sure.

Friday, October 20, 2017

October 20th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Yes, I missed last week, but I'm back for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm highlighting Pillow Stalk by Diane Vallere.

Our main character in this book is Doris Day fanatic and mid-century modern decorator Madison Night.

Here's how the book begins:

"Mr. Johnson, I'm calling to discuss the disposition of your mother's estate," I said into the yellow donut phone.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we get this:

That's when I saw the headline:
Unsolved Twenty Year Old Homicide in Lakewood Back in Public Eye

I've finished this book, and I really enjoyed it.  I hope you'll stop back here on Tuesday for my review of the book.

But for now, have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review: Twelve Slays of Christmas by Jacqueline Frost (Christmas Tree Farm Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong, warm characters; Christmas spirit
Cons: Plot could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Murder on tree farm
Mystery, Christmas spirit
Great holiday read

Murder on a Christmas Tree Farm

Given my love of Christmas, it’s hard to resist when a new cozy mystery series starts up with a Christmas theme, which is why I knew I’d be reading Twelve Slays of Christmas pretty much as soon as the title crossed my radar.  A series set at a Christmas tree farm?  Sign me up, please.

The farm in question belongs to the White family, and has been operating for four generations just outside of the town of Mistletoe, Maine.  Holly has returned home after a broken engagement in the middle of December.  While she figures out what to do next, she knows she can help around the farm since they are not only selling trees, but they have a café, gift shop, and host the Reindeer Games, different holiday themed games on the twelve days leading up to Christmas.

However, things take a decided un-merry turn when Margaret Fenwick shows up on the farm.  She is from the historic society, and she has been making everyone’s lives miserable recently in her desire to get every single building up to code.  After a fight with several people in the café, including Holly’s father, Margaret leaves.  A few minutes later, Holly responds to a scream to find Margaret dying in one of the rows of trees.  In an effort to focus the investigation away from her family and the farm, Holly starts poking around.  But what secrets might she uncover?

If you are looking for a warm, cozy Christmas book, you’ve come to the right place.  There is Christmas atmosphere in spades.  And the games that the farm hosts?  I want to play them, too!  Okay, so maybe the last one wouldn’t be my cup of peppermint hot chocolate, but I would watch that one.

Speaking of food and drink, there are so many delicious sounding treats in this book, I think I gained weight just reading it.  There aren’t any recipes in the back, which might be a good thing for my scale.

Unfortunately, this did come at the expense of the plot, and at times, the Christmas spirit overshadows the mystery.  Holly also spent some time reacting to events (which is understandable) instead of actually detecting.  She does piece things together in the end, however, and the climax is very suspenseful.

The characters are outstanding.  Holly may not have lived in the area for a few years, but she still has obvious strong ties to the community.  I felt the love coming through in her interactions with the various characters.  They provided much of the warmth and Christmas spirit I felt.  Even though this book is set in Maine and there is all kinds of snow, I would love to hang out with these characters in real life.  Maybe I should plan my visit for summer when it would be warmer.

I’m already looking forward to visiting Holly and my new friends again.  Grab your favorite warm beverage, cuddle up by the fire, and slip into Twelve Slays of Christmas.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ornament Review: Luigi - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Looks just like Luigi
Cons: Very similar to the Mario ornament
The Bottom Line:
You’ll jump for a coin
When you collect Luigi
Nice pop culture piece

Jump at the Chance to Own Luigi

As a fan of the Mario Bros. (regular or super), I was thrilled to see them showing up in Hallmark’s 2017 line.  Luigi was a limited edition ornament, but that didn’t limit my desire to own him, and I’m glad I have him.

If you look at the Mario and Luigi ornaments side by side, you’ll find they look very similar.  The pose is an obvious similarity since both are jumping to hit a question mark.  Coming out of that question mark is a coin.  While I wouldn’t call Mario in his ornament truly short and stout, Luigi definitely looks taller and leaner just the way he should.  And they are jumping off with different hands raised in the air and different legs behind them.  Finally, there is the color difference – Luigi is wearing his traditional green shirt under his coveralls.

It is easy to argue that you don’t need both since they are similar.  But can you really have one and not both of the Mario Bros?  I don’t think so.  I will repeat what I said on my review of the Mario ornament, however.  I wish one of the brothers had gotten a mushroom from their box – that would really set the ornaments apart.  Overall, that’s a minor complaint.  These ornaments are fun, and anyone who spent happy hours playing these games will be happy to add these ornaments to their collection.

Like with Mario, Luigi won’t stand on his own.  He’s jumping, he isn’t supposed to stand.  However, the ornament is balanced, so he hangs straight.

So if you have fond memories of Luigi and the rest of the gang, this is an ornament to hunt down.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Book Review: The Skeleton Paints a Picture by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mysteries #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Sid, Georgia, and a clever mystery
Cons: My only bone to pick – ending a bit rushed
The Bottom Line:
Accident in snow
Sid, Georgia on the case
Could it be murder?

Sid Finds a Body in the Snow

It is always nice to see a series I have enjoyed find a new publisher.  That’s the case with the Family Skeleton series by Leigh Perry.  The Skeleton Paints a Picture marks a slight shift in the series, and it will be interesting to see if it will continue.

Adjunct English professor Georgia Thackery has found a new job teaching at Falstone College of Art and Design.  In fact, the majority of the department is made up of adjunct since the main focus of this small college is art.  She took the job for the spring semester and moved up by herself, leaving her daughter with Georgia’s parents to finish off the school year where they’d been living.  However, Georgia is starting to feel lonely and isolated, so she is thrilled when she finds that Sid has mailed himself to her.

Sid takes a little explaining.  You see, he’s a living, breathing skeleton.  Well, not actually breathing, but you get the idea.  He and Georgia have been best friends since he saved her as a girl.  All of this is set up in the previous books in the series, and if you’ve missed them, I do recommend them since they are a lot of fun.

One of Sid’s traits is that he never sleeps, so after Georgia goes to sleep that first night, he decides to go for a walk.  They are isolated enough he isn’t worried about being seen, but he doesn’t expect to find a woman dead at the scene of an accident.  He quickly goes to get Georgia, who calls the police.

The victim worked in the writing lab at the college, but Georgia didn’t know her well.  The police think Georgia is hiding something when she answers their questions, but they have no idea that she is covering for Sid.  So Georgia and Sid begin to try to figure out if this is more than the accident it appears to be.  What will they discover?

Obviously, when you have one half of a sleuthing duo who needs to keep his identity hidden, it makes things a little more challenging.  Leigh Perry does a great job of writing around that, finding jobs for Sid to do and ways for him to get out of the house without freaking people out.

Between Sid and Georgia, we do get a great sleuthing duo faced with a good puzzle.  The mystery heads off in some surprising ways.  The ending seems a bit abrupt and rushed, but it does make sense based on what has come before.

The shift I mentioned earlier comes in the way of recurring characters.  While Georgia’s family members are mentioned, Sid and Georgia are the only characters who have appeared in previous books.  Fortunately, they are very real characters.  Yes, even the skeleton.  I don’t know if this is a sign of things to come with future books just featuring the two of them, but they are strong enough to carry the series.

Of course, they aren’t the only characters in this book.  Georgia’s co-workers make wonderfully strong suspects.

I did find a couple of pages in the middle of the book annoying as just a taste of PC is shoved in.  It felt forced, which was ironic because I can see how it could have been handled much better based on some of the characters in the book.

This is more than made up for by the humor.  We get lots of bone puns and jokes over the course of the book.  I love these, and the way that Sid and Georgia interact.  These books really are a lot of fun.  I normally avoid paranormal cozies, but I’m so glad I made an exception for them.

Make no bones about it, if you enjoy a good mystery, you’ll enjoy The Skeleton Paints a Picture.  This is a fun book that will leave you hoping Sid still has a very long life ahead of him.

Have more fun with Sid in the rest of the Family Skeleton Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, October 16, 2017

TV on DVD Review: The Good Place - Season 1

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightful afterlife comedy
Cons: Takes a couple of episodes to build; theological issues
The Bottom Line:
Funny afterlife
As Eleanor tries to stay
Surprisingly fun

“Why Do Bad Things Always Happen to Mediocre People Who Are Lying About Their Identities?”

Despite being a fan of Kristen Bell, I decided I wasn’t going to watch The Good Place.  I wasn’t interested in a comedy about the afterlife, and my experience with single camera comedies has been decidedly mixed.  Yet I finally gave in over the summer and started watching the first season on demand.  It wasn’t long before I was hooked.

We meet Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) on the day she died.  She finds herself being greeted by Michael the Architect (Ted Danson).  He explains that she has been good enough to make it to the Good Place.  It’s not exactly anything she’s heard about while she was alive, but only one human really got the afterlife right.  Michael is excited since she is part of his first neighborhood.  It is filled with frozen yogurt shops and people who have all been good.  Everyone there even has a soulmate, and Eleanor quickly meets hers, Chidi (Willian Jackson Harper).  She also meets her new neighbor, Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Tahnani’s soulmate, Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), a Buddhist monk who is keeping his vow of silence even into the afterlife.  They even have a robot personal assistant, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), at their beck and call.

There is just one problem – Eleanor is not qualified to be in the Good Place, and she knows it.  She confides to Chidi, who begins to help her in her attempts to become good.  But can they keep her secret?  Will she be able to continue fooling people about who she really is?

Now, let me be clear from the outset that, as a Christian, I have huge theological issues with the premise of this season.  That was the reason I wasn’t planning to start watching the show, and I was completely correct about that.  In no way is my endorsement of this show an endorsement for a merit based view of the afterlife.  However, viewed as a fantasy comedy, this show is pretty funny.

It takes a couple of episodes to lay the groundwork for the show, but once it does, the show makes me laugh.  This isn’t a laugh a minute sitcom, but takes some time delivering some of the jokes.  When it does, however, it really delivers.  The situations are outright hysterical at times as things continue to spiral out of control for Eleanor, Chidi, and the others.  And that’s not to say that the characters don’t get witty lines as well.  There are plenty of jokes in the dialogue.

Unlike many half hour sitcoms, or at least the half hour sitcoms I watch, this one had a definitely story arc for the first season.  That leads to some great cliffhangers at the end of the episodes as things get worse for our characters.  Remember, I was watching this via On Demand after the first season had finished, and I was trying to watch just one episode a night.  If I had the time, I often found myself watching more than one because I had to know what would happen next.

We do get flashbacks to our character’s lives before they died, and they provide some interesting background to what we are seeing now.  Still, I actually found these to be a weak point of many of the episodes, mainly because I found Eleanor after death to be sympathetic, while the Eleanor before death was a royal jerk.  This definitely proves she is correct that she doesn’t belong in the Good Place.  The other characters weren’t as funny before they died, either.

Obviously, Ted Danson is best known for his comedy over the years, and I knew Kristen Bell could be funny from her work on Veronica Mars.  I wasn’t surprised that they pulled off the comedy in this show perfectly.  I wasn’t familiar with the rest of the cast, but they are just as perfect.  Even when things take some seemingly strange turns, everyone’s performances keep things real for us, and their reactions are some of the funniest things in the show.

Since this show deals with the afterlife, we get more special effects than we would normally think of for a TV comedy.  While a couple are obvious computer effects, for the most part, they work to further pull us into this world.

The creator of the show had mapped out a thirteen episode arc for the first season, and that is exactly what we got.  (Considering the ratings could have been better, I don’t know what the network might have gone for.)  That means there really is no filler, each episode propels things forward to the season finale, which wraps this first season up perfectly while leaving us dying to know what happens next.  Trust me, I was thrilled I only had to wait about five weeks for season 2 to start, and since we are fast approaching the half way point of season 2 (NO!!!!!!!), you can watch this and then jump into season 2 with no waiting.  Trust me, you’ll be glad about that.

The thirteen episodes are included in this two-disc set.  They are wide screen and full surround, which is how the show originally aired.  In the way of extras, we get two commentaries with two actresses, the creator, and one of the executive producers, a look at the special effects, a gag reel, and a table read.

I’m glad I gave this comedy a chance.  The Good Place is delightfully funny and surprising.  I hope more people find the show so we can get many more years laughing at these characters.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Pilot
2. Flying
3. Tahani Al-Jamil
4. Jason Mendoza
5. Category 5S Emergency Doomsday Crisis
6. What We Owe to Each Other
7. The Eternal Shriek
8. Most Improved Player
9. …Someone Like Me as a Member
10. Chidi’s Choice
11. What’s My Motivation
12. Mindy St. Claire
13. Michael’s Gambit

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Movie Review: Gourmet Detective - Eat, Drink, and Be Buried

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, character development
Cons: Hallmark cheese, but a light dose
The Bottom Line:
Reenactment death
Puzzling, fun mystery
That is fun to watch

Deadly Birthday Party

People often mocked Murder, She Wrote because, no matter where Jessica Fletcher showed up, a murder would take place.  However, as any cozy mystery fan knows, that’s a normal part of the sub-genre.  Henry Ross discovers this in the latest Gourmet Detective movie – Eat, Drink, and Be Buried.

You see, Henry Ross (Dylan Neal) is serving a dual part in his friend David’s birthday.  He’s been asked to supervise the meal, but he and his girlfriend, San Francisco homicide cop Maggie (Brooke Burns) are also guests.  Despite some miscommunication about whether it was a costume party or not, they are having a wonderful time.  Well, a mostly wonderful time.  David’s children and step-children are constantly fighting, and they have hardly taken the party off.

As a surprise for his guests, David has talked his son, Doug and step-son, Ken, into reenacting the dual that helped launch his family’s fortune.  However, the dual ends in tragedy when it is discovered that Ken isn’t faking his death scene - he was shot with a real bullet.  It is quickly apparent that this isn’t a tragic accident.  But who wanted Ken dead?

See what I was talking about?  Even birthday parties aren’t safe when an amateur sleuth is around.  Not that I’m complaining since this is a fun mystery.  The plot kept me guessing until the end, and the twists were strong.

We also get to know Henry better when his estranged father shows up unexpectedly.  His father is played by Bruce Boxleitner.  I’m a huge Babylon 5 and Scarecrow and Mrs. King fan, so seeing him in this role was a lot of fun.  Couple that with a sub-plot involving Henry’s own birthday and we get some real insight into this character.

The cast does a good job here.  Yes, there is still the usual Hallmark cheese, but it isn’t as bad as it can be.  Honestly, I got so caught up in the story that I hardly noticed.

These Hallmark mystery movies continue to be fun, and Eat, Drink, and Be Buried is no exception.  If you are looking for a couple of enjoyable hours of mystery, you won’t go wrong here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

October 14th's Weekly TV Thoughts

This has been a very long week with very little TV watching.  I've watched most of this stuff today and last night after work, which is why it is so late.  But here you are:

Once Upon a Time (10/6) – That went about as I expected it to go.  Which isn’t good or bad.  It definitely felt been there done that.  I mean, we have a curse and no one knows who they are.  Only a kid believes the truth.  I’m intrigued to find out exactly why this curse was cast, and I do want Henry to get his happy ending and why the other characters we know got caught up in the curse, but it’s not nearly as captivating as previous seasons have been.  Hopefully, I’ll get into it ore as the season progresses.

Dancing with the Stars – Anyone else notice that so many of the dancers seem to get their best scores this week of the competition.  Is it a break through?  Or is it just connecting with the dance because it is so personal?  Not that there weren’t great dances happening this week.

Supergirl – I’m on board.  Obviously, we somehow accidentally created the villain with all that activity at the beginning of the episode.  That’s a bummer because I liked the little bit we saw of her.  But the new developer we just met is interesting, and Lena running CatCo is a good way to keep her involved.  I could have done without the obvious political jabs, but at least they were kept in the background this time.

Big Bang Theory – While Sheldon isn’t quite as good as the humorous monologue as Howard (see the season 5 episode where he’s at NASA training for one of the funniest scenes on the show period), he wasn’t still pretty funny here.  June wedding?  Really?  I’m predicting a May wedding myself.  I just wonder if it will be outside or not.

The Flash – I was not expecting crazy Barry to come back.  Glad we’ve got regular Barry back now.  Anyone else think the Speed Force could realize the problem?  Say for the mid-season break?  And they’ve shown us the villain right away.  No more surprise reveal that he’s part of the inner circle this time.  They’ve promised lighter this year, and I hope they deliver, but so far, it was fairly serious, which this episode had to be.

Lethal Weapon – I didn’t think that Riggs was going to have a girlfriend so soon, but that breakup scene at the end was so hard to watch.  Fun case overall and great scene at the end.  I wonder what the new boss will do now that she realizes this isn’t an act.

Legends of Tomorrow – Yes, this is still my favorite show of the Arrowverse.  Yes, it’s corny, but I like the fact that they don’t take themselves so seriously all the time.  I was laughing at so many of the lines.  And yet when they give the characters a few tender moments, those work so well, too.  So what is coming?

This is Us – I’m so over this whole Jack’s death thing.  Just rip the Band-Aid off and tell us already!  Other than that, it was a solid episode.  For once, I didn’t think that they did an apology well enough on this show, but I think Kate will bring that up again later based on how she was looking there at the end.  And I think Randall is in a great place to help their foster daughter.  It’s going to be rough, but so far, he seems to have more of a handle on it than I thought he would.

Survivor – It’s really simple.  If you want to be the star of a challenge, make sure you are actually the star.  If you cost your team the challenge, you’d better be prepared to go home.  And I’m sorry, but the reaction?  Sour grapes.  No alliance is going to save you this early in the game if you mess up that badly.  However, I do know red heads I trust.

Designated Survivor – I was more impressed with the statue storyline than I thought I would be.  I do sympathize with the business man in some ways, but lives are on the line.  Is anyone really, truly that heartless?  That part made me the maddest at the writers.  Not sure where they are going with the potential scandal storyline, but I am curious about that.

The Good Place – That party?  It sounds like so much fun.  I get why it was supposed to be torture, but only for one of them.  Michael was pretty funny going through his crisis.  And the twist at the end?  That’s unexpected.  I wonder where they will go next.

Arrow – So the only person to actually die was William’s mother?  Actually, I’m not too surprised since I already knew most of the cast was coming back, but still, that somehow seems like a bit of a cheat.  What are evil Laurel’s true motives?  I don’t buy the revenge for shooting her thing.

The Orville – At times, I feel like this show is Mystery Science Theater 3000 itself.  It’s saying exactly what we are all thinking, and I love it for that.  A bit surprised we didn’t see more from the rest of the crew this week, but a good episode that shows the heart of the characters.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Winners!

I am very late in pulling the winners of the contests that closed this week.  Well, I'm very late on one of them anyway.  But I've pulled both winners tonight.

The winner of A Room with a Brew is Kay!

The winner of Fixing to Die is Laura!

I've sent you both e-mails, so please be looking for them so I can make sure you get your prize.

Book Review: Murder on the Toy Town Express by Barbara Early (Vintage Toy Shop Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, good mystery, fun
Cons: All cons run over by a toy train
The Bottom Line:
Deadly toy expo
Case filled with many questions
Strong characters, fun

A Bully Takes a Plunge

Just in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I never really grew up, so you can imagine how quickly I jumped at a cozy mystery set around a nostalgic toy shop.  The first in the series was great, and I’m happy to report that Murder on the Toy Town Express is even better.

The Toy and Train Expo has come to East Aurora, New York, and Liz McCall and her father, Hank, have set up a booth for their vintage toy shop, Well Played.  Liz’s isn’t super happy when they find their location and discover they are located next to Craig McFadden’s comic book booth.  Craig and Liz had gone to school together, and Craig has bullied her.  She has done her best to avoid him as an adult, but the little bit they have interacted has shown that he hasn’t matured a whole lot.

However, for this weekend, he’s buzzing about some big announcement he plans to make that morning.  And he’s wearing a superhero costume that no one seems to recognize.  Before he can make his announcement, he climbs up the scaffolding in the convention center and then plunges into the middle of an elaborate train display.  No one else was up there, but something feels off to Hank, the retired chief of police.  It appears that Liz’s family and friends are potentially connected in some way to the case, so she begins to investigate.  But can she make sense of all that is happening?

There really is a lot going on here to keep us entertained.  There’s always some plot point or twist, and the various elements that come into this book are fun.  We also get a strong sub-plot.  The climax is well done and wraps everything up logically.

The characters are great.  Liz and Hank are the ones we see the most, but the rest of the supporting players are also strong.  We are introduced to quite a few new characters here, and I really liked them.  We don’t get to know all of them super well, but that’s just a function of how much page time they get.

The first book of the series set up a romantic triangle.  There are significant developments in it, here, and they also played into developing Liz better, which I loved.  While the love triangle has gotten a bad name in cozy mysteries, this is one series where I think it is being handled well.

I can’t leave out the humor.  Hank loves puns, as you might have guessed from the name of the toy store.  Since I love puns, the scenes where he uses some always made me laugh.  There are some other funny events in this novel, and I laughed out loud several times while I was reading.

Murder on the Toy Town Express is just plain fun, with a good mystery and characters you quickly come to love.  Don’t hesitate to visit Liz today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ornament Review: Clue - Family Game Night #4 - 2017 Hallmark Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: It’s Clue!!!!!!
Cons: Board looks weird, tilts forward
The Bottom Line:
Board game that I love
Now shrunk to ornament size
And I am so thrilled!

I Doubt You Need a Clue to Figure Out How This Mystery Lover Feels About This Ornament

When Hallmark first announced their Family Game Night series, I immediately said my number one wish for the series was a Clue ornament.  And Hallmark came through with the fourth entry in the series.

As you can imagine, I spent many happy hours playing Clue as a kid.  I even tried to come up with ways to play it by myself that sort of worked.  (Okay, not really, but it didn’t stop me.)  A mystery to solve and clues to gather?  I’ve always been a mystery reader, so this was right up my alley.

And this ornament is wonderful.  Like others in the series, we have the board sticking out of the box.  The game and the game box has gone through many versions over the years, but they went with the one from the 80’s.  Sitting on the board are the six weapons, and two of the tokens, Miss Scarlet and Colonel Mustard.  They even include the confidential case file folder that holds the solution to the mystery.  It looks more like a traditional file folder than the envelope that was really in the game, but it’s still a wonderful touch.

Being a child of the 80’s, this is the version of the box cover I still have, so I am absolutely thrilled to see it here.  Since I love green, I always played as Mr. Green.  Yes, I would have preferred if he had been one of the tokens chosen, but that’s being nitpicky.

However, I do have some critiques.  The rope is more of a yellow plastic than the white used in the game.  And yes, I pulled out my game to double check on this.  This is especially obvious since it is sitting next to the yellow Colonel Mustard token.  In the earlier entries in this series, they just tried to include a portion of the game board.  This time, they tried to include all of it, but the result looks distorted.  They should have just used half the board.

And the biggest issue?  It tilts forward quite noticeably.  Of course, this is an issue the series has as a whole since the loop for hanging the ornament is on the top of the lid, and most of the ornament sticks out in front.  There’s no real way to balance it well.

The game board does provide a nice flat surface, so you can easily set it out to be displayed year-round if you want.  And you’ll find the series marker on the bottom of the board.

No, the ornament isn’t perfect.  However, I still absolutely love it.  Clue will bring smiles to my face for years to come.

It’s your turn to find more ornaments in the Family Game Night series.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review: A Cajun Christmas Killing by Ellen Byron (Cajun Country Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Businessman victim
Maggie’s family, friends suspects
Southern Christmas cheer

Will the Bonfires Light the Way to a Killer?

As I have said time and time again, I read to be entertained.  However, if I can learn something new along the way, I don’t complain at all.  What I don’t know about Louisiana fills volumes, but I get glimpses into some of their unique traditions via Ellen Byron’s Cajun Country Mysteries.  That’s the case once again with A Cajun Christmas Killing.

The book actually opens with a tradition I was not familiar with, bonfires.  Each year, people build elaborate bonfires along the Mississippi River that they set off on Christmas Eve.  Maggie Crozat’s family is no different, although her father, Tug, has decided to scale things back this year.  Still, he and some friends are working on it when he collapses.  The diagnosis is stress induced high blood pressure, and he has good reason for it.  Someone is out to sabotage the Crozat family bed and breakfast, a business they’ve built out of the family’s plantation.

As negative reviews begin to appear on travel websites, Maggie learns that a businessman is trying to take over the family’s plantation.  When that man turns up dead, naturally Maggie and her family find themselves on the suspect list.  However, even Maggie’s boyfriend, detective Bo Durand is a suspect.  With more suspects popping up every day, can Maggie and an officially sidelined Bo figure out what is really going on?

Before the murder happens, the focus had been on what the victim was doing to Maggie and her family, but as the book goes on, the number of suspects and motives increases.  I always enjoy it when the victim is a nasty person because it makes it harder to find the killer, and that’s the case here.  Yet Maggie manages to make sense of it all and finger the right suspect.

The characters in this series are strong, and this book is no exception.  A couple of relationships seem to have changed more quickly than I was expecting, but I enjoyed seeing the new dynamics, and I completely buy the reasons these relationships changed.  In fact, there is one character we get a completely new view of in this book.  Maggie really does have a great network of friends and family, and I love seeing them all again.  As the list of suspects grows and we get to know these characters, we really do begin to believe any of them could have done it.

There are several sub-plots that keep things interesting.  More importantly, they also really help sharpen the main characters.

Since the Crozats run a bed and breakfast, we get some recipes featuring Cajun specialties.  These are definitely not the recipes you’ll find in other culinary cozies, and they sound intriguing.

Author Ellen Byron also takes a few pages at the end to expand on some of the things she’s introduced in the book.  I really enjoy that added glimpse into the real world she is using as a backdrop for her stories.

And if the last few pages don’t fill you with Christmas cheer, I don’t know what will.  Although I do wish we had gotten to know a bit more about the Cajun Christmas carols she references.  I guess I will have to do my own research on those.

We really are getting a strong community of characters in this series, and A Cajun Christmas Killing is a chance to pop in and visit them for the holidays.  You’ll get swept up into another delightful story before you know it, turning pages quickly until you reach the end.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, October 9, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Newhart - Season 8

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some of the episodes are funny; “The Last Newhart”
Cons: Some episodes are painfully unfunny; “The Last Newhart”
The Bottom Line:
We say goodbye to
Characters we love in this
Uneven season

“If It Weren’t for People Throwing Stuff at My Head, I Wouldn’t Even Know I Exist.”

They say all good things come to an end.  In the case of many TV shows, that often happens before a show ends.  As much as I love the 1980’s sitcom Newhart, its best days were definitely behind us by the time the show entered its eighth and final season.

We pick up six months after the last season ends with a big change coming.  Yes, Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) and his wife Joanna (Mary Frann) are still running The Stratford, their bed and breakfast in Vermont.  George Utley (Tom Poston) is still there as their handyman.  The big change is that their maid Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) and longtime boyfriend turned husband Michael Harris (Peter Scolari) are returning from their six month honeymoon cruise around the world.  Oh, and Stephanie is six months pregnant.

Naturally, this drives many storylines over the course of the season as the duo try to come up with names and figure out how they will afford stylish baby items on their salaries.  Things change when Stephanie’s extremely rich father buys the baby a present – WPIV, the local TV station where Michael used to work.  Suddenly, Dick’s show might be cut since it doesn’t make baby Stephanie happy.

Other stories this season?  An anniversary cigar sets a fire.  George’s past in a gang gets exposed on Dick’s TV show and George creates a board game that takes the town by storm until people discover the fatal flaw (I came up with at least two more).  A needy guest decides that Dick is his new best friend.  Joanne thinks she will win the poetry contest in town when Dick becomes the judge.  And don’t worry – while they don’t have any stories themselves this season, Larry (William Sanderson, his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss), and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad) are around to comment on the action and create a few plot points.  And the Darryls actually do get a line of dialogue this season.

In my mind, season three through six of this show are the gold standard.  By season eight, Stephanie and Michael had become more caricatures than characters.  Of the five main characters, they remain my favorites, so you can imagine how difficult this makes things for me.  Michael especially is hard to understand this season with his over alliterations.

The stories themselves are hit and miss this season.  While some work well like, surprisingly enough, the reunion of George’s gang, the Hooligans, others are a disaster.  I’m looking at you, “Seein’ Double,” the episode that revolves around Michael’s idea of a sitcom pilot starring Stephanie as identical twin teenagers.  Oh, I get what the joke is supposed to be.  I just find it painful instead of funny.  It’s my least favorite episode of the show ever.  Others don’t work like they think they will either, like Michael’s dreams of his daughter grown up, or Tim Conway’s appearance as part of a poker game.  Or any episode that Kathy Kinney appears in as oversexed librarian Miss Goddard.  I don’t find her funny, only painful.

Now all of this is squarely on the shoulders of the writers.  The actors are doing the best they can with the scripts they get.  They just aren’t as funny as previous material.

Then there’s the series finale.  (SPOILER WARNING IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.  SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH!!!)  I’m of two minds about it.  It is a very funny episode all the way around, from the Fiddler on the Roof jokes to the premise and the surprise ending that reveals the entire series was a dream of Bob Newhart’s character on his earlier The Bob Newhart Show.  Heck, it helps explain this wacky and uneven season.  There’s even a line a couple of episodes before that takes on new meaning given the ending of the series.  I also get that they were spoofing other TV shows at the time.  However, I love these characters and this show, and the idea that it was all a dream of a show I haven’t really watched doesn’t sit well with me.  I want them to be real.


The set itself is of the same quality we’ve come to expect.  There are no extras, just the 24 episodes of the season on three discs in full frame and stereo sound, their native formats.  The audio is fine on these episodes, but the picture could be better.  Close ups are fine, but in wide shots tend to be fuzzy.  It’s not a huge issue, but definitely worth noting.  Disclaimers on every disc remind us that this is the best available source material, and I’d rather have this set in this condition rather than not at all.

Fans of Newhart will be happy to have all eight seasons in their collection.  I know I am.  But there are more skippable episodes in this season than any other season of the show.  I’ll be doing more picking and choosing as I rewatch season eight.

Season 8 Episodes:
1. Don’t Worry Be Pregnant
2. Get Dick
3. Poetry and Pastries
4. Utley Exposed
5. Ramblin’ Michael Harris
6. Meet Michael Vanderkellen
7. Good Lord Loudon
8. Cupcake in a Cage
9. Attack of the Killer Aunt
10. I Like You, Butt
11. Jumpin’ George
12. Lights! Camera! Contractions!
13. Beauty and the Pest
14. Good Neighbor Sam
15. Child in Charge
16. Seein’ Double
17. Born to be Mild
18. Daddy’s Little Girl
19. Georgie and Grace
20. Handymania
21. Dick and Tim
22. Father Goose
23. My Husband, My Peasant
24. The Last Newhart

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Book Review: Pick the Plot by James Riley (Story Thieves #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Creative and fun way to advance series
Cons: Two parallel paths at one point.
The Bottom Line:
Owen and Kara
Need help escaping prison
Please pick correct path

Can You Carefully Guide Owen Back to Bethany?

One reason I’ve been enjoying the Story Thieves books is that each entry in the series takes on a different genre.  However, I was a bit concerned when I realized that Pick the Plot, the fourth in the series, was going to have a Choose Your Own Adventure vibe.  Since this is part of an ongoing series and storyline, how would that work?  It turns out that I was worrying for nothing because it worked remarkably well.

If you are new to the series, the book actually starts with a brief reminder of what just happened at the end of book three.  Even though it’s been a few months, I appreciated it as well.  Here’s a quick crash course for new readers (that include minor spoilers).  Our main characters are Owen and Bethany.  Bethany is half fictional, which allows her to pop in and out of books.  Bethany has been doing this for years in an attempt to find her father, a fictional character who disappeared years ago.  But the two have now found themselves as pawns of the mysterious Nobody, who is tired of the non-fictional people (that’s us) controlling the lives of the fictionals.  He’s trying to form a permanent break between the two worlds.  When we last saw our heroes, Bethany had turned into a beam of light and started shooting off in to the future.  Meanwhile, Owen, not aware of what Bethany has done, was trapped in the pages of a book….

Confused?  It’s hard to summarize three books in a paragraph.  You’ll just have to believe me when I saw that this series is highly creative and a ton of fun.

As this book opens, Owen finds himself waking up in a room.  That room is a prison – the Jules Verne Memorial Time Prison.  He’s trapped there with a bunch of time criminals, including one Kara Dox, who seems to know who he is.  And did I mention that this prison is in the past?  Surrounding the building are dinosaurs.  There are three tasks that Owen must complete to get a code to escape, but of course, there are complications that might keep him from doing so, including the other prisoners.  Can Owen and Kara figure out how to escape in time to rescue Bethany?  Can Bethany even be rescued?

And can you help him?   Or do you want to help him?

For those not familiar with the Choose Your Own Adventure books, each book in the series set You in the middle of some adventure.  Every page or two, You are given two choices, and what happens next depends on what you choose.  Yes, the books are written in second person, and each book has a host of different endings, some good, and some bad.

You can see how this format might be problematic for the middle part of an on-going series.  However, author James Riley made some tweaks to the format and service his purposes well.  First of all, Owen is still our third person point of view character.  However, Owen quickly realizes he is in a Pick the Plot book, so he uses his thoughts to communicate with us at times.  Admittedly, the correct choice to move the story forward is usually pretty obvious, but if you do want to pick the incorrect choice, you are looped back to either the beginning of the story or the correct choice.

So really, there is one correct path through the book that does indeed advance the series story forward.  Unlike previous books, we stick with Owen for the entirety of this book.  Kara is a new character introduced here, and we don’t see much of the other characters we’ve met.  However, there was so much going on, I didn’t miss the other characters, and since reuniting with them was Owen’s driving motivation, knowing where they were would ruin some of the suspense.

There are a couple of things we need to keep track of as we attempt to help Owen navigate the story, so be prepared for that.

There is one point where the story branches off into two parallel threads before coming back together.  Honestly, I’m not sure why that happened since they both provide interesting background to the ongoing series story.  I’m glad I went back and read the other path, and I recommend you do the same.

Which brings me to my other issue with the book.  Since we are jumping all over the book, it is hard to tell how far into the story we truly are.  Okay, this is probably just a me issue since I try to read a certain percentage of the story each day.  I was actually a bit surprised when I reached the end, which means the book was a faster read than I was expecting.

Minor complaints aside, James Riley set a monumental task for himself, and he managed to pull it off.  Pick the Plot advances the Story Thieves story nicely in a very creative fashion.

Enjoy more of Owen and Bethany's story in the rest of the Story Thieves series.

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

Saturday, October 7, 2017

October 7th's Weekly TV Thoughts

You'll notice one omission from my list.  No, I am not giving up Once Upon a Time.  But it doesn't work for me to get together with the friends I always watch the show with on Fridays, so we will keep watching on Sundays.  Yes, it's killing me!  So I will be talking about those episodes one week late this season.

Dancing with the Stars – That was a very fun night.  I can see where the judges were coming from – at times the fun got in the way of the dancing.  But I was smiling the entire way through.  And yes, I agree that Sasha’s dance could have been better, but again, I was smiling.  And ultimately, that is why I watch.

Big Bang Theory – I feel like they didn’t actually resolve anything.  Does Leonard have a job?  Are Amy and Bernadette still fighting?  Okay, that second one is a no, I’m sure, but they could play with Leonard’s job for a while, give him a good storyline.  And how long has it been since the original cast and only the original cast got some scenes together?

Lethal Weapon – As I have said, when the show is working, it is wonderful, and this was one of those episodes.  The humor was top notch, but the sub-plot with the son going to college was pitch perfect, too.  And the action at the end was great.  They’ve left plenty of room for more conflict with this new supervisor.  What is her deal?  Teasing Roger or something more?

This Is Us – I’m not always a fan of Toby, but he had the perfect response after Kate and Rebecca’s fight.  He is team Kate for life.  Absolutely correct.  I get their conflict.  Rebecca is trying to help, but it comes across wrong.  She doesn’t see it or hear it.  But hopefully this will start their communication.  And how amazing was her voice?  She seemed to really improve from last week.  Not that I thought she was really bad last week.  Sophie is good for Kevin.  And Kevin’s scene with Beth was wonderful.  Mix and match this cast, and you get great scenes no matter what.  But the scenes at The Manny were a little painful with so few cast members.  They got the point across, but it felt like they didn’t have the budget for any more guest cast members, and it really hurt those scenes.

Survivor – I don’t think the right person went home, but I do understand the vote.  It’s always easiest to get rid of someone who isn’t fitting into the tribe AND cost you the challenge.  So not too surprised, but I think there are some people left who could flip and cause more problems down the read.

Designated Survivor – That’s it?  The big bad is killed by a bomb in the second episode?  Yeah, the new show runner wants to do their own things for sure.  But it looks like we have some interesting plot points left over to drive the conspiracy portion for the season.  Hopefully, they are worth following.

The Good Place – So we finally learned how Tahani died.  Definitely worth the wait as I laughed so hard at that.  There are just so many little jokes and moments that the cast plays perfectly for laughs.  I’m very curious to see how this whole “Team Cockroach” thing works out for everyone.  Or is this Michael’s newest plan to actually torture them more?  I’m thinking that could be it now, but we shall see.

The Orville – I knew Pria was up to no good, but what exactly she was doing was a surprise.  And I knew the practical jokes would go too far, but I just about died when the leg fell down in the middle of the big confrontation scene.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ornament Review: Caramel Apple Goodness - Seasons Treatings Companion - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Celebrates delicious fall treats
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Caramel apple
Headline fall treat ornament
Fun Halloween piece

A Fall Seasons Treatings

Hallmark has slowly pulled me into their Halloween ornaments by featuring Halloween or fall companions to series I collect.  Darn their brilliant marketing!  At their biannual event for collectors this year, they released Caramel Apple Goodness.  Even though this isn’t a favorite treat of mine, I still wanted it.

While not officially named as a companion to the popular Seasons Treatings series, it obviously is.  We’ve got the treats on a silver baking tray, just like many in the series.  As the title suggests, the main treat is a caramel apple.  We can tell it’s a Granny Smith apple since a little bit of green is peaking out of the caramel topping that covers most of the three apples on the tray.  A stick for holding this treat is sticking out of the apple as well.

But that isn’t all we have on the tray.  There are three sugar cookies decorated to look like candy corn.  Then there are two black spiders.  Honestly, I’m not sure if they are pure decorations or treats as well, but they help give the tray a Halloween feel.

Now I’m not a caramel apple fan.  Yes, I love caramel, but I don’t like raw apples, so in my mind, this is a perfectly good way to ruin good caramel.  Having said that, I do like this ornament.  With the colors and the spiders, it just screams out fall and Halloween.  Even though this isn’t my favorite treat, it does make my mouth water a little, just like the rest of the Seasons Treatings series does.

While the ornament does have a flat base, it really isn’t designed to be set out since it has little depth.  Instead, it’s designed to be hung.  Like the rest of the series, when you hang this, you’ll find that it hangs at a fun angle.  In this case, the tilt is on purpose, and it looks better for it.

Several of the ornaments in the official Seasons Treatings series have the year somewhere on the ornament.  That’s not the case here, although it is painted on the back with the copyright information.

I’m thrilled to have this ornament to add to my Halloween collection.  Caramel Apple Goodness is worth tracking down for anyone who enjoys fall treats.

Check out the rest of the Seasons Treatings ornaments.

Original Price: $12.95

October 6th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome to Friday and this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week's book is Murder on the Toy Town Express by Barbara Early.

This is the very fun second book in the Vintage Toyshop Mysteries.  I'll be reviewing it Thursday next week, but know that it comes highly recommended.

For now, let's get a couple of teasers, shall we?

Here's how the book starts:

"I swear the My Little Ponies reproduce when we're not looking."

Since I read an eARC, here's a teaser from 56% into the book.

"And I'm glad I don't have to keep your secret any more."
Her eyes got big.  "What do you mean?"

What secret?  You'll have to read the book to find out.

Hope you have a fantastic weekend.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Book Review: Fixing to Die by Miranda James (Southern Ladies #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong and delightful characters
Cons: The plot, while good, could have been stronger
The Bottom Line:
A friends haunted house
Embroil us in mystery
Charming characters

Is the House Haunted?

Even though I don’t go for the supernatural as a general rule, my mind does turn to spooky stories in October.  That’s why Fixing to Die is a perfect release for this month.  It’s the fourth entry in Miranda James’s Southern Ladies series, and it finds the main characters traveling to a supposedly haunted house.

The house in question belongs to Mary Turner Catlin, the granddaughter of the Misses An’gel and Dickce Ducote’s friend.  When they receive a letter from Mary Turner asking them to come and help figure out what is really happening with the strange things that are happening, they quickly agree and set out with their ward Benji and their two pets.

They’ve hardly arrived in the house before they start to see strange things happening.  Something is definitely going on in the home.  Then some uninvited guests begin to arrive, and the tension level increases.  What are the Ducote sisters in the middle of now?

The way the book is set up, with the old house and what the ghost is doing, I felt shades of the Nancy Drew book The Hidden Staircase.  It might have helped that I know the author is a huge fan of the old teen sleuths as well.  So naturally, I had to laugh when the characters make that connection early on as well.  Does that book play into more than the set up?  I’m not going to spoil that for you.

I will say the plot could have been a little stronger.  Don’t misunderstand, there are some good twists and surprises along the way, but the pacing was off overall.  Miranda James is one of my favorite authors, and I certainly enjoyed this book, so this is a very minor issue overall.

Of course, part of that is because I absolutely love these characters.  While elderly, An’gel and Dickce don’t let that stop them at all.  They are feisty, and I love them for it.  I’m also a fan of Benji and Peanut and Endora, their pets, who are as enjoyable as always.  While most of the book is told from An’gel’s third person point of view, the passages from Dickce and Benji’s point of view not only help flesh out the story but also develop their characters.

The rest of the cast is made up of people we meet in this book, and they are strong, which is no real surprise.  They keep us guessing until the end and reveal some different sides of themselves as the story moves along.

I’m not alone in loving the books by Miranda James, and if you are already a fan, you’ll want to read Fixing to Die.  If that isn’t you, you’ll want to fix that today by trying this book.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Southern Ladies Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Thursday, October 12th, so please leave your comment before 12:01AM Pacific Time on 10/12.  You will have until midnight on 10/17 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 10/19.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Music Review: All In by Matthew West

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Many great new songs
Cons: A couple that I don’t quite connect with
The Bottom Line:
More encouragement
New music from Matthew West
Sure to please his fans

Go All In on Matthew West’s Newest CD

Over his last three releases, Matthew West has released songs inspired by stories and e-mails he’s gotten from fans.  Now that this trio is over, he is returning to writing some songs based on his own life.  All In still provides lots of songs with encouragement as well as the more personal songs.

The disc starts out with the title track.  It actually reminds me of Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Dive” as Matthew sings about going “All In” in living for God.  It’s a fun upbeat anthem to start things off.

We get a couple of tracks of encouragement next as Matthew reminds us that God uses “Broken Things.”  From there he sings that “Mercy is a Song.”  Both songs are great since they focus on the fact that God’s mercy and grace are what makes us valuable to Him.  It’s a reminder I need more often.  Plus they are both fun, mid-tempo tracks.

But for pure fun, it’s hard to top “Amen.”  I’m sure I’m getting strange looks at stop lights while listening to this song, but I don’t care.  You can’t listen to this song and not move.  Seriously.  We are still talking about the grace of God here, and between the lyrics and the upbeat music, you will be smiling, I guarantee it.

Several songs on this disc are taken directly from Matthew’s personal life, and “The Sound of a Life Changing” is one of them.  This song talks about the call on his life he heard at a Steven Curtis Chapman concert and how he hopes his music is now changing lives in the same way.  It really is a great song to remind us that you never know how God is using you.

Unfortunately, some of the songs don’t work as well as they could.  In many cases, I want to like them, but they just don’t work for me.  One of these is “Jesus & You,” a tribute to his wife.  It’s probably because I’m single, but it just doesn’t connect with me.  I do connect a bit more with “Becoming Me,” a tribute to moms, but it’s still not the strongest song on the disc.  His daughter Lulu sings near the end of the song, and she’s got a great voice.  It’s the real highlight of the song.  (And no, this isn’t the only time his kids appear on the disc.)

I really truly had to look at the lyrics to “Power Love Sound Mind.”  I love the idea behind it, taken from the scripture that say God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear but of “Power Love Sound Mind.”  He speaks/sings the verses and the chorus is a hard rock driving song that fits the reminder.  At first, it felt like the chorus was making light of the problems talked about in the first verse.  Don’t get me wrong, God will help you to overcome PTSD and anxiety and grief.  It just feels a bit like “if you have enough faith, you’ll get well” without trying to show God’s power and love in these situations.  However, looking at the second verse, which talks about the choice of trusting God despite our circumstances helps put it in perspective for me.  Then there’s the bridge, “The power that conquered death/Is now alive in me.”  That also puts it in perspective.  Of course, that fact that this was the theme of my pastor’s sermon this week, also helped put it in perspective.

I was fully on board with “Dream Again” early on.  It’s a typical Matthew West encouragement track that reminds us God isn’t through with our story just because bad things have happened in the past.  Then we got to the bridge, which is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.”  As comforting as those words are, they are usually taken completely out of context, and that’s what Matthew West has done here.  However, the rest of the song?  Absolutely amazing!  And the fact that he quiets it down for the final lines of the song is absolutely perfect.  I do like the rest of the song except for the bridge.

He does close things out on a strong note.  “You Are Know” reminds us that, even when we feel like we are being overlooked, God still knows and loves us.

Stylistically, this fits well with Matthew’s other releases.  It’s got the up tempo pop/rock vibe that his fans, including me, love.

There are 14 tracks here, so a couple of missteps don’t take away from the disc overall.  I always enjoy Matthew’s releases, and All In is no exception.

CD Length: 51:56
1. All In
2. Broken Things
3. Mercy is a Song
4. Amen
5. The Sound of a Life Changing
6. Something Greater
7. Jesus & You
8. The Beautiful Things We Miss
9. 1 Song
10. Power Love Sound Mind
11. Never Ever Give UP
12. Dream Again
13. Becoming Me
14. You Are Known

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Book Review: A Room with a Brew by Joyce Tremel (Brewing Trouble Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters we love and a compelling mystery
Cons: None to be found
The Bottom Line:
Mysterious past
Drives compelling present plot
Fast reading delight

Leave Room on your Bookshelf for this Well Brewed Mystery

When you are a beer brewer who studied in Germany, you have an annual Oktoberfest celebration.  And when you writing a cozy mystery series about such a brewer, you find a way to set a mystery around this celebration.  That’s just what Joyce Tremel has done in A Room with a Brew, and the result is the strongest book in the series.

The book opens as Maxine “Max” O’Hara is working on the final preparations for the weekend celebration, which is still a couple of weeks away.  She wants to listen to the band she’s hired to provide the German music and make sure they are what she is looking for, so she grabs some friends and heads down to where they are performing that night.  While she and her friends enjoy the music, the evening ends on a weird note when Felix, a member of the band, insists that he knows Candy, Max’s neighbor and the owner of the neighboring Cupcakes N’at.  Candy absolutely denies it and goes outside when Felix won’t take no for an answer.

The next day, Max receives a call from a member of the band that he wants to tell her something, but it has to be in person.  Is this related to the weird encounter between Felix and Candy?  Candy promises to tell Max what that encounter was all about, but before she does, a body turns up.  What secret is Candy hiding?  Did it lead to murder?

Before we go further, I do need to warn you that this book spoils much of the first book in the series.  All that means is you should read the series in order.  Trust me, that isn’t a hardship at all since all the books in this series are lots of fun.

This book continues the trend.  The plot was very well done, and I was hooked from the beginning.  I could hardly wait to find out what was happening.  The pages flew by, and I read the book in two days instead of my usual three days to read a novel.  That’s now engrossed in the story I was.  We get some twists and surprises before we reach a climax that explains everything.

I realized how much I love the characters in this series as I started reading it.  Max comes from a close-knit family.  While we don’t get to know all of them well, it is wonderful to see a family that loves each other this much.  And they are always expanding to welcome neighbors and friends.  While Candy has been a presence in the earlier two books in the series, we obviously get to know her better here.  And Max’s relationship with her boyfriend Jake is wonderful as well.  The characters introduced to be suspects here are strong and kept me confused until the end.

No, we don’t get any beer recipes in the back of this book, but we do get some recipes for things like a beer soaked brat and German potato salad.  Personally, I’m most intrigued by the Pittsburg Pretzel Salad.

With endearing characters and an engaging plot, A Room with a Brew is a fantastic read.  Grab a favorite beer or other beverage of choice and cozy up with this book.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Tuesday, October 10th, so please leave your comment before 12:01 AM Pacific Time on 10/10.  You will have until midnight on 10/15 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 10/16.