Friday, April 28, 2017

Book Review: Murder on St. Mark's Place by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #2)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and setting with interesting plot
Cons: Nothing worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Murder in ally
Starts this great trip back in time
That brings past to life




Murder of a Charity Girl

I didn’t plan it this way, but in April I’ve read three historical mysteries.  I’m not complaining because I enjoy getting some history with my mystery.  That was the case with Murder on St. Mark’s Place.  It plunges us into a sad side of society in 1896 New York City.

Midwife Sarah Brandt is called to the tenement apartment of a client only to find that the woman isn’t in labor.  Instead, she is crying because her sister, Gerda, has been murdered, bludgeoned to death in a nearby ally.  While the shock does send her into labor shortly after Sarah arrives, Sarah feels compelled to help her more after the baby is born.

Knowing that the family is too poor to bribe the police into solving the murder, Sarah calls on her friend, New York Police Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy.  However, Sarah soon realizes just how hard finding the killer is going to be.  Gerda would go out every night to meet men at dances, often trading “favors” for nice things.  The number of men that could have motive to kill Gerda seems overwhelming.  But then Frank and Sarah make a connection to several other women who have died in similar ways in the last few months.  With the stakes raised, can they find the killer before he strikes again?

Like the first book, this one flirts with the line between cozy and traditional mystery since it is a tad darker in tone that the usual cozy.  However, it still doesn’t get too graphic.  The details we do get are enough to be heart breaking.  I wasn’t aware of these so called “charity girls” before reading this book – essentially prostitutes who took goods instead of money for their services to supplement their wages, thereby trying to keep everyone’s consciences clear.  It’s sad, and this book makes you feel just how trapped these women felt.

The mystery itself is strong, with a steady pace.  I did figure out a few things before the characters did, but I was surprised by twists up to the end of the book.  Sarah finds herself in some harrowing situations as she works to uncover the killer.

The characters drew me further into the book.  This is especially true for Sarah and Frank, who both have some developments in their private lives that helped bring them to life.  The story is told in third person point of view from both of their perspectives, which also helps us get to know them better.  And I’m enjoying the slow burn romance that neither one of them is willing to admit to yet.  The supporting players are just as strong.  In fact, one provides some nice laughs at the end of the book.

All of this really helps bring the time and place to life.  When I was reading, I felt like I was in summer of 1896 in New York City.

Since Murder on St. Mark’s Place is the second in the series, I obviously have a long way to go to catch up.  But based on the two I’ve read so far, I’m looking forward to doing just that.

Continue the journey back in time with the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries.

This is an entry in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Music Review: Open Hands by Laura Story



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: 11 songs to lead us in worship
Cons: I wouldn’t mind a couple more upbeat numbers
The Bottom Line:
Focus in on God
As Laura sings from her heart
On these songs of praise




Laura Story Continues to Offer Great Worship Songs

Laura Story is quietly making a name for herself as a worship artists.  Her lyrics are focused on God and it’s hard not to focus on Him when listening to one of her CD’s.  That’s a great thing.  Open Hands is her latest release and another perfect example of what Laura does best.

The disc opens with “Death Was Arrested.”  This song is apparently a couple of years old, but I don’t remember ever hearing it before until I bought two CD’s with the song on it in March.  I’m not complaining in the slightest because I have quickly grown to love this song.  Laura’s version is slightly more laid back than the version Aaron Shust did, but I love these lyrics that take a fresh look at the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

Next up in the title track, where Laura is joined by Mac Powell of Third Day.  Not surprisingly, the song is about surrendering everything to God.

Laura offers two tracks in a row in what I like to call the updated hymns genre.  These are songs that take familiar hymns and infuse them with a new chorus.  “For the Love of My King” is a new take on “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” while “Awake My Soul (A 1000 Tongues)” updates “O for a Thousand Tongues.”  Since I enjoy hymns, I love these modern takes on the classic songs.

Other highlights include “You Came Running,” which reminds us that God is quick to respond when we need him, “Give You Faith,” a very personal prayer that Laura will pass on her faith in God to her kids, and “Grace Abounds,” which marvels in God’s gift of grace to us.  Honestly, this disc is full of songs with strong lyrics that focus us on God, one of the things I really look for when buying music.

My only complaint with the disc is a minor one.  Laura has a mid-tempo style that she loves.  If you look at her previous releases, you’ll find that they are the majority of the songs on each disc.  However, I have enjoyed some of her more upbeat songs in the past.  This disc falls completely into the mid-tempo category.  There is enough variety in these piano lead tracks to keep your attention and differentiate one track from another, but I do find myself wanting something more upbeat along the way.

Still, if you are looking for fresh songs to focus your spirit on God, you’ll be glad you picked up Open Hands.  Laura’s heart is wonderful to see in these songs.

CD Length: 42:57
Tracks:
1. Death was Arrested
2. Open Hands
3. You Came Running
4. Give You Faith
5. For the Love of My King
6. Awake My Soul (A 1000 Tongues)
7. Whisper
8. Every Word You Breathe
9. Majesty
10. Extraordinary
11. Grace Abounds

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ornament Review: Santa Certified #4 - Noah's Ark - 2016 Hallmark



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great looking Noah’s Ark
Cons: Too many people don’t connect to it
The Bottom Line:
Fancy Noah’s Ark
An ornament that looks great
But has small market




Great Example of a Noah’s Ark Toy.  But I Don’t Connect with It.

Maybe it was me and the era or location where I grew up, but I don’t remember ever having a Noah’s Ark toy.  In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one even today.  But they must be a thing since Hallmark always releases an ornament of one every year.  In 2016, they made the Noah’s Ark ornament part of the Santa Certified series.  While it’s not a bad looking ornament, I wish it weren’t part of the series.

The ornament itself is shaped like a big boat.  No surprise there, right?  It is painted tan and brown with a red roof.  There are a pair of elephants on one side and lions on the other.  Up on the very roof we have a pair of doves and a pair of ravens.  On the bottom are three sets of wheels and out the front is a rope.

Those wheels actually do turn, and that gives us a very fun bonus.  When the middle wheels turn, the lions and elephants bob up and down like they are on a seesaw.  It is a nice bonus that makes me smile.  Those middle wheels are larger than the rest, and are painted to look like fish jumping out of the water when they turn.  Well, actually, based on the rope at the front designed for a child to pull, the fish are jumping backwards into the water when pulled.  The picture on the box shows them jumping forward into the water, so mine at least was put together backwards.

I can certainly appreciate this ornament as a piece of art.  It looks wonderful, as all the ornaments in this series do.  The details are great, and the colors, while not super bright, do look good.  But I just don’t feel connected to it.  I wouldn’t have bought it if it weren’t part of the series, and I’m not alone since this was the piece most left over after Christmas of any in the series so far.

The special touches continue on the bottom where Santa has signed it.  The series marker is fancier, too, with branches on the tree outline.  It’s still easy to see the four in the tree.  The year is painted on one side of the boat as well.

The ornament rests easily on the wheels, so you can set it out to be displayed.  As is befitting a piece that Santa has taken special care designing, this ornament also hangs straight.

Sadly, this Santa Certified piece had a much more limited audience than the rest of the series.  If you are in that market, you will love it.  If you aren’t, you definitely won’t notice it missing in your collection.

See what else Santa has paid special attention to with the rest of the Santa Certified series.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book Review: A Good Day to Buy by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #4)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and compelling plot
Cons: A couple of niggles, but nothing major
The Bottom Line:
Her brother returns
Complicating Sarah’s life
In fast paced story




Today is a Good Day to Read This Book

I hadn’t realized just how addicted to the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries I’d become until a few days before I sat down to read A Good Day to Buy, the fourth in the series, and realized I couldn’t wait to dive in.  The book didn’t disappoint me at all.

Spring has arrived again, which means that Sarah Winston is in full garage sale mode.  This particular Saturday, she is running a garage sale for the Spencers, an older couple who are looking to downsize before they move to Florida to be closer to their son and his family.  Part way through the morning, Sarah goes behind a curtain she’s set up in the garage to find the couple lying on the garage floor.  While Mrs. Spencer is only unconscious, Mr. Spencer is dead.

When Sarah finally gets home, she has another surprise – her younger brother Luke shows up at her door.  She hasn’t heard from or seen Luke in years.  He says he’s undercover and needs a place to lay low for a few days.  Sarah quickly agrees, hoping to get more information from him and work on repairing their relationship.  However, hiding Luke turns out to be more difficult than she expected, and then he disappears again just when the police want to question him in Mr. Spencer’s death.  Why is Luke a suspect?  Where did he go?  What is he doing in town?  And can Sarah clear his name?

Obviously, Luke’s presence adds a nice layer to this mystery, and it really drew me into the book.  I needed to know what he was really up to and how it contributed to the disaster of a garage sale that opened the book.  I couldn’t put it down, and I finish the book in just a couple of days.  I had a couple of niggle with the climax, but they are very minor things.

The reason I couldn’t wait to get to this book is the characters.  I absolutely love them, and it was wonderful to be spending time with Sarah and her friends again.  It was interesting watching her relationship with CJ, her ex-husband and current boyfriend, taking another step forward.  And for those wondering, Seth does also have a presence in the book, although the love triangle isn’t the strong element it was in the earlier books.  We meet some interesting new characters in this book as well.

Another aspect I love is the nearby air force base.  As an air force wife herself, Sherry Harris knows the life she is portraying, and it adds a great unique element to this series.

With how this book ended, I am anxious to find out what happens next to Sarah.  But even without that ending, I’d be back as soon as the next book was released.  A Good Day to Buy is another fantastic read that will leave fans of the series satisfied.  And if you aren’t among the series fans yet, you’ll find no better bargain for your money than fixing that today.

Need more of Sarah’s adventures?  Here are the rest of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, April 24, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Fuller House - Season 1



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun to reunite with characters; good laughs
Cons: Seems forced a bit in first half
The Bottom Line:
Nostalgia in spades
As we revisit Tanners
For next gen of laughs




“I Knew There’d Be a Hug.”

It was just over a decade ago that I first discovered Full House, but I was soon watching every episode I could.  The announcement of Fuller House, a reunion/continuation of the story on Netflix, absolutely got my attention.  I wasn’t curious enough to subscribe to Netflix to watch it, but I did buy the season 1 DVD set as soon as it came out.

This show picks up in the present day as DJ Fuller (Candice Cameron Bure) is facing a new chapter in her life.  After her husband died, she moved back into her old house with her father Danny Tanner (guest star Bob Saget) so he could help her raise her three kids.  However, things are changing.  Danny and his long time co-host Aunt Becky (guest star Lori Loughlin) have gotten a nationally syndicated morning show and are moving to LA, meaning that DJ is going to have to be a full time single mother.

But just as things are getting over whelming, her sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and best friend Kimmie Gibbler (Andrea Barber) volunteer to move in to help DJ out with her kids.  While Stephanie has become a successful DJ (as in disc jockey), Kimmie is recently separated from her husband Fernando (guest star Juan Pablo Di Pace).  When she moves into the house, she brings along her daughter Ramona (Soni Bringas).

Naturally, there are some growing pains as the extended family learn to live with each other and their new circumstances.  For example, twelve-year-old Jackson (Michael Campion) has a hard time realizing he has to live with his younger brother, seven-year-old Max (Elias Harger).  Stephanie finds herself needing a job and having a hard time adjusting to her new life since she is no longer globetrotting all over the world.

But it’s the romance where things really get interesting.  Fernando is determined to win Kimmie back, and she begins to wonder if she should take him back.  And DJ, finally ready to start dating again, finds herself torn between high school boyfriend Steve (guest star Scott Weinger) and her boss’s son at the veterinary clinic Matt (guest star John Brotherton).

This season breaks down easily into two halves – or at least it seemed that way to me.  The first half tries a bit too much to capitalize on the nostalgia with recycled storylines and recaptured scenes done with a wink and a nod.  A little bit of that was okay, but I got a tired of it.  Plus the writing and acting seemed a bit off.  Oh, I know the original was never award worthy in either department, but this felt a bit like a Disney Channel or ABC Family show.

But then I hit the second disc, and I fell in love with the show.  It could be that I got used to the cheese factor, which I am sure was a part of it.  But the show also started creating new storylines, like playing up Kimmie and DJ’s love lives.  Honestly, the adult characters get more screen time than the kids, which still plays into the nostalgia factor for us, but I didn’t truly mind.  I found myself laughing more at the jokes, and it felt the writers and actors weren’t forcing things – the material was just coming out funny without it appearing the cast and crew were trying hard.

Heck, my favorite episode of the set comes from this second half as a huge delivery of roses arrives at the house, and no one knows who they might be from.

Everyone from the original show shows up here except for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.  Michelle still gets a few shout outs, however.  Nicky and Alex only show up for the pilot, but the rest of the adults make two or more appearances.  And yes, that does include John Stamos as Uncle Jessie and Dave Coulier as Joey.

This show is also a little more adult than the original.  It’s usually only a line or two an episode – a reference to Stephanie’s special brownies or a double entendre like Uncle Jessie’s sea man line in the pilot.  Most will probably sail over kid’s heads, but parents will want to be aware of it.

The DVD set itself is barebones.  It’s just the 13 episodes presented on two discs.  However, they look and sound great.

Fans of the original will definitely come to Fuller House for the nostalgia, and it is fantastic to be spending time with these characters again.  But as you watch season 1, you’ll start to find the charm that this show is bringing to the franchise all by itself.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Our Very First Show, Again
2. Moving Day
3. Funner House
4. The Not-So-Great Escape
5. Mad Max
6. The Legend of El Explosivo
7. Ramon’s Not-So-Epic Party
8. Secrets, Lies, and Firetrucks
9. War of the Roses
10. A Giant Leap
11. Partnerships in the Night
12. Save the Dates
13. Love is in the Air

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Review: Panda-monium by Stuart Gibbs (FunJungle #4)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: More fun and intrigue at FunJungle
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
A kidnapped panda
With Teddy in thick of things
Fantastic again




Li Ping is in Trouble!

When you right a series about zoo animals, you have to include pandas.  In fact, it almost surprises me that it took Stuart Gibbs until the fourth book in the FunJungle series to write Panda-monium.  Whether you are a fan of the series or picking up the book because you love all things panda, this book will definitely entertain.

If you’ve missed these books, they are a middle grade mystery series set in FunJungle, a combination zoo and amusement park in the middle of Texas.  Okay, so the rides are still being built in this book, but the zoo has some wonderful sounding exhibits.  Our main character is Teddy Fitzroy, whose parents both work for the park.  He also happens to be friends with Summer, the park owner’s daughter.  Honestly, if this place really existed, I’d love to go visit it, and I’m not much of a zoo person.  And don’t let the middle grade target audience fool you.  These are some fantastically plotted mysteries with strong characters all ages will enjoy.

It’s the big day for FunJungle.  They have been granted the privilege of adding a panda to their many zoo animals.  As always, they’ve gone all out to create the perfect environment for Li Ping.  And they’ve taken every precaution they could to help her arrive in comfort via a custom built truck.  While they’ve tried to keep her arrival a secret, word has gotten out and the front gate is crowded with panda fans.

Of course, Teddy Fitzroy is on hand as well, although he’s inside the park thanks to his connections.  It’s why he is on hand when the back of the truck is actually opened to reveal nothing inside.  Li Ping and the veterinarian assigned to travel with her are nowhere to be found.  With the threat of an international incident, the FBI quickly swoop in, and Teddy figures this is one mystery in FunJungle he won’t be solving.

That is until Large Marge corners Teddy.  While he and the security guard have had a contentious relationship (to put it mildly), she wants Teddy to investigate the panda’s disappearance, and she isn’t above using blackmail to get Teddy to do it.  But with the FBI involved, will he find any clues without getting into trouble?

Of course, this plot teaser leaves out a very fun sub-plot involving the dolphins at FunJungle.  The two are perfectly balances to keep readers engaged the entire way through the book.  And when I got to the end, I couldn’t believe the clues I had missed along the way.  Yes, once again, the mystery is perfectly put together with clues and red herrings that keep us guessing until the very end.

The characters are growing and changing as this series goes along as well, something that can be rare in a middle grade mystery, but I find refreshing.  The cast is fantastic, and I just love them.

Stuart Gibbs uses these books to point out the very real dangers facing some of the endangered animals on our planet.  Yet, that is never the focus of the book but an aspect to it.  The story never slows down for a lecture, and it never forgets that it is a mystery first.  It’s a fantastic way to highlight some serious issues in our world.

After all, I can’t forget the fun.  Yes, the FunJungle setting lives up to its name.  Who wouldn’t want to have almost free reign of a zoo/amusement park.  Plus we get great humor coming from the characters and some of the situations they find themselves in.  Believe me, you’ll find plenty to laugh out in between the danger and the clues.

So settle back and get ready for some Panda-monium.  This book will delights fans of the series and create plenty of new ones.

Find more animal related mystery and fun with the rest of the FunJungle series.

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ornament Review: Otis J. Muffinstuff - Snowtop Lodge #10 - 2014 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creativity for an indoor scene
Cons: Very significant tip forward.
The Bottom Line:
This baking snowman
Brings the Snowtop Lodge series
A fun indoor scene




A Baker Joins the Snowtop Lodge Family

With all the outdoor activities that the Snowtop Lodge family of snowpeople have been highlighting so far, I’m sure they get quite hungry.  That’s why it is a good thing that the tenth in the series features a baker.  Otis J. Muffinstuff is there to whip up the tasty treats his fellow snowpeople will need to replenish their energy for the next day.

Otis is also the first ornament in the series not to feature a scarf or other form of outdoor apparel.  Instead, he is wearing a white chef’s hat on the top of his head and a very short white apron around his middle.  That apron is short enough to allow us to see a scene painted on his bottom snowball.  In keeping with this theme, we get to view a bakery with people inside picking out treats from the display cases inside.  His buttons are small cookies.  And he’s whipping up some treat.  He’s got a mixing bowl in one hand, and a wooden spoon with a bit of the batter on it in the other.

And he is delightful.  With all the outdoor scenes and activities we’ve had so far, it’s nice to see something representing indoor winter fun and traditions represented.  So we don’t normally think of snowmen as indoor things, but that’s a minor point.  The scene looks like fun, and Otis is likely to make you hungry.  Either that, or I think about sweets way too much.

You’ll find the 10 in a Christmas tree series marker on Otis’s flat bottom.  And since his bottom is flat, you can set it out to display year round.

Or you can hang him on your tree.  The loop is actually on the back of his head since his chef’s hat is made from material and isn’t strong enough to support the weight of the ornament.  As a result, he really tips forward, must so than any of his fellow snowpeople do in this series to date.  It’s noticeable enough to be a problem, but not a fatal flaw.

It is nice to see this series taking a break from the outdoor activities.  The variety keeps things fresh after ten entries.  So if you are looking for a fun snowman, check out Otis J. Muffinstuff.

Here are the rest of the snowpeople in the Snowtop Lodge series.

Original Price: $19.95

April 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

I so appreciate 24: Legacy finishing up this week.  They timed it perfectly for me since Supergirl returns next week.  I don't have three shows on Mondays at 8 this way!  (I'm sure they did that for me, right?)

Once Upon a Time – Both the flashback and the scene at the end where the curse was broken were so powerful.  Honestly, if you love these characters I don’t know how you could watch that and not be touched.  Interesting revelation about Tiger Lily.  I wonder if that will come into play at all during the final battle.  And Gideon found a way to disobey even while the Black Fairy had his heart.  Very interesting.  I hope Gold tells the others so at least they know what they are dealing with.

24: Legacy – Somebody had to die, and I must admit my money was on Rebecca.  Once again, they kept their 12 hour fast forward until the end, and they gave us an interesting coda to the show.  I was glad to see Carter’s wife come around to his new job, but I am wondering if he really spent 12 hours at the hospital.  I also think they had more story than would work for real time, so they fudged the travel times among other things.  All in all, still a fun season.

Dancing with the Stars – Yes, they are fast running out of Disney songs to do, but it’s still a favorite night.  I agree with the judges pretty much, but it is always fun to see the Stars getting into the spirt of the night.  There were some amazing performances.  The one I disagree with two of the judges on was the Frozen inspired dance.  That fit the song in the movie to a T, and I couldn’t imagine a better dance to that song.

Angie Tribecca – A show so dumb it is funny.  They seriously didn’t recognize the killer because he was going by a different name?  Not that I tune into the show for the well plotted mystery.  I tune in for the silly laughs, and I continue to get those in spades.  (And if you watch the show, you can probably guess what just popped into my mind.  Yes, a joke book being delivered to someone via spade.)

Team Ninja Warrior – I’m a bit sorry to see the defending champions defeated so soon.  But when you think about it, the odds of any team making it to the finals are small.  Thrilled to see the team that made it in the finals, however.  Those guys are just so much fun!

Survivor – I had missed this was going to be two hours until part way through watching hour one.  I would have planned my night differently had I known.  But anyway….  Not Ozzy!  I would really like to see him win some time because I like him.  On the other hand, I get why he needs to be voted out because he would win if he made it to the end.  As both halves of the episode showed, I think there is a lot of fluidity to the alliances at this point.  Honestly, I’ve felt that way much of the season.  Oh, and it really would be fun to have Sandra on the jury.

Designated Survivor – Not nearly as much in your face politics this go around, and I liked the solution for the Supreme Court.  This is more the politics I enjoy from the show.  Who wants the reporter to know about the conspiracy?  And what have we found in Montana?  That part of the show definitely ramped up this week, which makes me happy.

Powerless – Seeing Emily angry and telling the truth was funny, and I enjoyed seeing the team’s attitude toward her change in the end.  Something tells me that won’t stick when next week’s episode starts.  Overall, not the best episode, however.  I just felt like they were trying too hard to be funny, and it fell flat.

The Amazing Race – I knew this was two hours, unlike Survivor this week.  What I find funny is that they ended it with a To Be Continued instead of making that the end of the first hour.  Of course, since the second hour had the non-elimination leg, it’s understandable.  Not sorry to see the team with the whiner on it leave in the first hour.  I was growing to like the team that was saved by our first non-elimination leg this time, but now that they are fighting, I’m over them.  Still liking “the Boys.”  I even didn’t find Team Fun to be too annoying this week.  In fact, I felt sorry for them using the Fast Forward and still coming in third.  I wonder why that took so long.

Friday, April 21, 2017

April 21st's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Time to kick off Friday!  Yes, it's time for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm spotlighting a middle grade mystery - Panda-monium by Stuart Gibbs




Stuart has some of the best opening lines.  This book is no exception, and as soon as I read it, I knew I had to use this book this week.

I almost missed all the mayhem with the giant panda because a dolphin stole my bathing suit.

Isn't that great?

Meanwhile, here's a teaser from page 56:

"What's going on?" Summer asked.
Kevin seemed start struck by Summer.  "Er...Ah...This woman claims she knows Teddy."

This book really is fabulous, and I will have my review up on Sunday if you want to come back and read more about it.

Meanwhile, I hope you have a great weekend.  I'll be spending Saturday at the LA Times Festival of Books.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review: In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Rich characters, good story, WWII brought to life
Cons: It ended
The Bottom Line:
Mysterious death
Gateway to World War II trip
Via this great book




Is the Body a Dead Spy?

One of my go to authors is Rhys Bowen; I know I will not be disappointed with her books.  So when I learned she was releasing In Farleigh Field, a standalone novel, getting it wasn’t even a question in my mind.  The fact that it was set in World War II, a period of history I enjoy, was just an added bonus.

It is May 1941 in the village of Elmsleigh in England.  While they are not living with the nightly bombing raids like they do in London, everyone is feeling the effects of the war in one way or the other.  However, when two children in the area discover a dead body, it is a shock to all.  The dead man quite obviously died when his parachute failed to open.  He’s wearing the uniform of the squadron being housed nearby, but none of those soldiers are missing.  And none of them would be parachuting.

Ben Cresswell is called in to investigate.  While he’s been working for MI5, this is his first real chance to prove himself, something he doesn’t want to blow.  He is given this case since he is from Elmsleigh, and the higher ups are hoping that his knowledge of the area will help him.  The theory is that the dead man is a German who was supposed to parachute into the area to meet a German sympathizer.  But these are Ben’s friends and neighbors he is looking at.  Is there a plot afoot?  Can he find the enemy from among these people he knows so well?

I’ve actually simplified the plot a bit in my teaser.  It is a wide ranging story that incorporates the code breakers at Bletchley Park as well as action in occupied Paris before things are done.  At times, it felt like the plot was wandering a bit, but it all comes into play before the story is over.  The climax is a page turner with a surprise or two as well.

The real star here is the setting.  You will be transported back to another time and place in these pages.  It was a great look at life on the home front during a very difficult time in history, and it makes me appreciate the sacrifices that everyone made to defeat evil.

Because of the sweeping nature of the story, we have multiple third person point of view characters.  It’s always easy to follow whose head we are in, and technique really helps bring the story to life since it really does cover so much ground.

This also helps us get to know the characters better, not only the viewpoint characters, but also the secondary characters as we get different views of some of them depending on who the viewpoint character of the scene is.  I was a bit worried since we had a list of characters at the beginning of the book.  Sometimes, that means there are so many characters thrown at us so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of them all.  I never once had to refer to that list as I was reading.  Everyone was so distinct and crisp they all stood out in my mind.

As far as I know, this is still intended to be a standalone, however with how this book ends I certainly see the possibility of more stories with these characters, and I wouldn’t complain if Rhys Bowen decided to revisit them in the future.

Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this book.  In Farleigh Field will propel you back in time and get you caught up in the lives of wonderful characters as they work to unravel a plot.  You won’t want to put it down until you reach the end.  So be sure to pick it up today.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ornament Review: Peppermint Swirl - Christmas Cupcakes #7 - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Drool worthy decorated cupcake
Cons: Now I want peppermint!!!
The Bottom Line:
Peppermint cupcake
Decorated perfection
Get ready to drool




The Taste of Christmas Gets a Cupcake (Ornament)

I love all things peppermint, so I go a little overboard with Christmas candy.  It also means that I was excited for Peppermint Swirl, the 2016 release in the Christmas Cupcakes ornament series from Hallmark.

This entry in the series features a very Christmas color cupcake.  The cupcake liner is green, and we can see plenty of red peppermint flavored frosting on top of a chocolate cupcake.  There are white shavings on top of the frosting and green highlights on top of that.  Sticking out of the top is a red and white swirled peppermint piece.  Topping it all off are large flakes of glitter meant to represent powdered sugar.

Like the rest of the series, the decorative parts of the cupcake are felt while the cupcake liner is plastic.  However, that doesn’t mean my mouth isn’t watering looking at it.  And I’m wondering how this cupcake would taste?  If they used peppermint extract in the frosting with a chocolate cupcake, that would mean chocolate peppermint flavor, and I would be in heaven while eating it.  Just yum!  Obviously, the cupcake does its job looks wise if I am drooling over it this much.  And while the peppermint Swirl is covered in fabric, it is still stiff enough that it would collapse after just a few years of use.

Being a cupcake, you have a nice flat base for setting this ornament out in any Christmas food related display.  The 7 in a Christmas tree series marker is also on the bottom of the piece.

There’s a red string attached to the top so you can hang the ornament on your tree.  You’ll find that it hangs perfectly straight, which is no real surprise.

I really should have reviewed this ornament back in December.  Now I’m craving some of the December only peppermint treats I get every year, and I’ve already finished my stash.  Oh well.  I guess I will just have to drool over Peppermint Swirl a bit longer instead.

Enjoy the rest of the deliciousness that is the Christmas Cupcake series.

Original Price: $12.95

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review: Whale of a Crime by Karen MacInerney (Gray Whale Inn #7)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery with characters I’ve missed
Cons: Needed a final edit
The Bottom Line:
Its anchors away
For guest at inn.  So good to
Visit characters




Oh Captain, Dead Captain

I’ve been reading and loving Karen MacInerney’s Gray Whale Inn series book one came out.  Over the last few years, she’s taken a break from Natalie and crew for a couple of new series, which are also great.  But when she announced that Whale of a Crime would return us to Cranberry Island, I was thrilled.

If you’ve missed this series, Natalie runs a bed and breakfast on an island off the coast of Maine.  The only way on and off Cranberry Island is by boat, although the island does have a small community made up mostly of artists and fisherman.  But that remoteness doesn’t keep murder at bay since this is the seventh novel in the series.

It’s summer, and the Gray Whale Inn is bursting.  A tour group is using it as their home base, and Natalie has agreed to provide lunch and dinner in addition to the usual breakfast for these guests.  The group is led by Captain Bainbridge, who seems to have issues with his first mate, Martina, and the naturalist, Alex, who has been hired to help lead the group.

When no one can find the captain one morning, the first mate decides to take the group out on her own.  However, when the ship’s anchor is raised, they find Captain Bainbridge.  He’s been tied to the anchor.  The police immediately zero in on Alex, who maintains his innocence as does his new girlfriend, Natalie’s best friend Charlene, the post mistress and general store owner on the island.  Natalie is inclined to believe Alex is innocent as well, but then does that mean she has a killer staying at the inn?  Or is one of the other island residents a murderer?

The book also has several sub-plots, the strongest being a visit from Natalie’s sister, Bridget.  Natalie’s niece, Gwen, has been a main character through the series, and she has made a life for herself on the island.  Bridget is there to talk some sense into Gwen since Bridget doesn’t approve of Gwen’s plans to marry a local and stay on the island.

I bring this up because I did feel the sub-plots were a tad stronger than the mystery early on in the book, but as we went along, that easily switched and the mystery became the main focus.  Not that I minded.  As I said, I love these characters, so I was intrigued by the sub-plots and this next chapter in their lives.  The way Natalie puts everything together at the end is wonderful, and the climax is perfect for this book.

Of course, any series that would pull me in for seven books has to have characters I love, and that is certainly the case here as I think I’ve already mentioned.  I was delighted to be back in the presence of Natalie, her new husband, Gwen, Gwen’s fiancĂ©, Charlene, Eli, and the rest of the regulars.  The new characters are distinct and memorable as well.

Sadly, this book needed a good final edit.  I know my grammar isn’t perfect (and let’s not get started on my spelling), so I am willing to forgive a few lapses in the book.  This had more than the handful I’m willing to let slide.  The book is definitely still readable, and fans of the author and series will be more than willing to overlook these mistakes.

With all of Natalie’s baking and cooking, this book will have your mouth watering.  Fortunately, we get seven recipes at the end of the book, including recipes for things such as beef stroganoff, blueberry cobbler muffins, and salted caramel chocolate chip bars.

It truly was a delight to be back at the Gray Whale Inn, and Whale of a Crime was over all too quickly.  Here’s hoping that Karen finds the time to work in another visit to her already busy writing schedule sooner rather than later.

If you haven't met Natalie, you really need to read the rest of the Gray Whale Inn Mysteries.

Monday, April 17, 2017

TV on DVD Review: The Librarians - Season 2



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun fantasy show
Cons: All cons magically erased
The Bottom Line:
Magic continues
As fictional comes to life
Fun show all around




The Librarians Take On Fictionals

Most of the shows I watch are on the major networks.  I just don’t have time to watch the rest of the shows out there.  One of the exceptions is The Librarians.  This show airs short seasons usually around the holidays on TNT, and it is completely fun.  Season 2 is a perfect example of that.

Now if you are picturing a show about people sitting around talking about books, you couldn’t be further from the truth.  You see, these librarians are connected to a library that houses magical artifacts and keeps them from falling into the wrong hands.  They are a different bunch.  There’s thief Ezekiel Jones (John Harlan Kim), super math genious Cassandra Cillian (Lindy Booth), and history expert Jake Stone (Christian Kane).  They are protected by their guardian, Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn).  Finally, there’s Jenkins (John Larroquette), who keeps the library running smoothly.  This series is a spinoff of a three made for TV movie series that starred Noah Wyle as librarian Flynn Carsen, and he guest stars on a regular basis as well.

When this season opens, the various librarians have been out on their own for months, using their individual skills to round up artifacts.  However, the library brings them all back together as a new magical threat begins to emerge.  Prospero (guest star Richard Cox)) has figured out a way to escape from the pages of his Shakespeare play, and he is determined to take over the real world with the help of other Fictionals, that is fictional characters.  Naturally, the librarians have to band together again to keep this new magical threat from taking over our world.

Not that this is the only thing they fight this season.  Over the course of these episodes, they face a creature that grows stronger with each lie told, investigate college students vanishing, and find themselves fighting for their souls with the Devil.

Obviously, there’s a lot of fantasy involved in these stories, and I love them for it.  The creativity the writers show in creating these episodes is always a lot of fun.  Even when something appears familiar, they still manage to put their twist on it.  While there is a big villain of the season, the standalone episodes are just as entertaining.  Frankly, it’s a relief not to have to track everything happening every second.  Yet the overarching story comes together for a wonderful climax at the end of the season.

Most importantly, it’s fun.  There is plenty of humor to go along with our fantasy.  It’s rare that I don’t laugh at least once an episode, usually at Ezekiel, although all the characters are given their moments to shine.

And the actors take full advantage of those moments.  The acting is perfect and the cast balances the special effects, comedy, and action of each episode with the quieter moments.  While this may be a smaller TV show budget, they make every penny stretch to maximum effect.

As I mentioned earlier, this show has short seasons.  Season two consisted of 10 episodes, and this set has all of them in their native wide screen and surround sound.  Extras include a gage reel, seven behind the scenes featurettes, and a director’s featurette for every episode.

The Librarians is a throwback to the type of show that isn’t as popular on TV right now – a show that is about having fun.  If that’s what you are looking for, you’ll want to be sure to check out season 2.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. And the Drowned Book
2. And the Broken Staff
3. And What Lies Beneath the Stones
4. And the Cost of Education
5. And the Hollow Man
6. And the Infernal Contract
7. And the Image of Image
8. And the Point of Salvation
9. And the Happily Ever Afters
10. And the Final Curtain

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ornament Review: Happy Easter, Cookie Cutter Mouse! - Cookie Cutters Through the Year #3 - 2017 Hallmark Release



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun way to combine Easter traditions in one ornament
Cons: Not quite as much to the scene as others in series
The Bottom Line:
Chocolate bunny
Inside egg shaped ornament
Fun if not the best




Eggs and Chocolate Mix for this Fun Easter Ornament

When thinking about the non-Christian side of Easter, three things immediately spring to mind – eggs and bunnies and chocolate.  Hallmark has done a great job of combining them for the third Cookie Cutter Through the Year ornament, Happy Easter, Cookie Cutter Mouse!

The cookie cutter for this ornament is, naturally, an egg.  The copper cutter is an oval shape with just enough stretch to it to suggest egg.  Inside, our mouse friend is standing on a stool in order to finish applying some decorative paint to a giant chocolate bunny.  There’s a small egg in the foreground of the floor as well.

Honestly, this one is a bit disappointing for the series.  While the scene of the mouse painting the chocolate bunny is nice, it is also simple.  This is underscored by the background, which is yellow with pink and light blue dots.  The background is a piece of paper glued to the background, and if you look closely, you can see the edges.  The others in the series have more to them that this one seems to be missing.  It’s not bad; it’s just not as outstanding as the others.

If you tried to predict my next sentence you’d be wrong.  Despite this being an oval shaped ornament, you can set it out to be displayed.  There is just enough of a flat bottom to the piece that you can get it to balance.  If you are going to do that, I highly suggest you find a place that isn’t going to be knocked at all because even jumping up and down will make it tip over.  So, while you can set it out, it’s probably not the recommended way to display the ornament.

When you go to hang the ornament, you’ll find that it tips forward just ever so slightly.  You’ll truly only notice it if you are looking for it, it is that minor.

And you’ll find the series marker on the back next to the handle for the cookie cutter.

While not the best ornament in the series, I do still really like it.  So if you are looking for a fun Easter decoration, be sure to consider Happy Easter, Cookie Cutter Mouse!

And if you are looking for more cute holiday cookie cutters, check out the rest of the Cookie Cutters Through the Year series.

Original Price: $15.95

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #15 - Bringing Home a Tree - 2012 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Small ornament captures warm memories
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Snoopy dragging tree
Brings to mind warm memories
From my childhood




Fresh Cut Trees.  Oh the Memories

I have two artificial Christmas trees I use in my condo.  (I need more, I just don’t have the space and the time for more.)  I love them because I can put them up in November and take them down in January without having to worry about them drying out.  However, there are things I do miss about having a real tree like selecting and cutting down a live tree.  That’s the memory that Snoopy and Woodstock are recreating with the fifteenth Winter Fun with Snoopy ornament.

Actually, this ornament finds Snoopy and Woodstock just after having cut down their tree.  You can see it sitting on the red sled Snoopy is using to pull it out of the grove.  Woodstock is riding backwards on the sled next to the tree.  Snoopy’s got his red Santa hat on, so he’s definitely in the Christmas spirit.

Actually, looking at the ornament closely, I’m wondering if this tree is for Woodstock.  It looks like it would be smaller than Snoopy if it were standing up.  Or maybe I’m over thinking this.  It is a mini ornament after all, so all of this takes up no more than an inch in any one direction.  Considering that, it’s actually impressive how much detail they’ve got here.  And it does make me smile as I think about the Christmases my family would go out and select a tree from a farm in the area where I grew up.

The ornament does stand up on its own quite nicely.  And, if you turn it over, you’ll find the 15 in a Christmas tree marking its official spot in the series.  Yes, it is hard to read that number, but it is there.  And the ornament hangs straight, so if you want to put it on your own tree, you’ll be quite pleased with how it looks.

This series packs a lot of fun memories in a small size, and the fifteenth in the series is another prime example.  Fans of the series who have missed this one will want to get it today.

More winter memories can be found in the rest of the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

Original Price: $7.95

April 15th's Weekly TV Thoughts

And here are this week's TV thoughts.

Once Upon a Time – Hook is back in Neverland.  Somehow, that seems poetic to me.  When it was revealed that the Black Fairy had stolen Gideon’s heart, everything fell into place for me.  Although I do still whether he would be fully against her if he had his own heart.  Was the look on his face one of acknowledgement?  Or was it just what she wanted to think and could get since she had his heart.

24: Legacy – No wife or brother in the jam packed out.  Proving once again that they were the weak storyline of the season.  Definitely introducing some wild new storylines for the last couple of episodes, but I can’t wait to see how it all ties together next week.

Dancing with the Stars - The right person went home again.  I like Mr. T, but he was clearly one of the weaker dancer.  Isn’t it amazing how everyone steps up their game in Most Memorable Year week?  The cream is definitely rising to the top, and we got a nearly perfect dance, too.

Angie Tribecca – How I have missed this show!  Not sure I’m on board for a season long serial killer storyline, but I guess I will have to be.  So many gags and so much fun, I don’t think I will care that much.

Survivor – I’m writing this a couple of hours after I watched this episode, and I’m still trying to figure out what Jeff Varner was thinking by outing Zeke as a trans man.  Seriously, what would he gain by it?  I could have told him the reaction would be exactly what it was, and he deserved the reaction he got.  What he did was despicable.  Everyone else handled it perfectly.  Zeke was a much stronger and classier person than I think I would have been.  You could tell Varner regretted it, and not because it got him voted out of the game but because it was the wrong thing to do.  A perfect example of why you think long and hard before you speak.

Designated Survivor – I knew the vote would come down that way, especially when we went to commercial in the middle of it.  And we are giving up the conspiracy storyline for political lectures on gun control?  Seriously?  Please, can we leave the real life politics out of this and get back to the fun of watching Kirkman attempted to build a government and we also learn about this conspiracy?

The Big Bang Theory – They’ve done the gold digging woman before, but by using Bert, they managed to find a new angle to the story.  Sheldon getting time outs and having to raise his hand was pretty hilarious.  And Halley going into daycare and the three adult reactions were all pretty good as well.  All in all, a fun episode.

The Great Indoors – When I heard the premise of this one, I hoped it would be good.  It was very funny.  Secrets coming to light always has great comic potential.  Yes, the best lines were in the previews, but I still laughed a few times at this episode.

Powerless – This one, on the other hand, was rather weak.  While I never find the show over the top funny, usually there are a couple of really good laughs, but this time the jokes just seemed to fall flat for me.

The Amazing Race – When there is a U-Turn, I almost always root for the team that was U-Turned to pull off the impossible and make it to the next leg.  The Boys did that with flying colors.  The other team unfortunately fell short.  And the same team won back to back legs.  I never would have guessed that of them.  Meanwhile, never lose track of your passport.  Ever.  I’m surprised Team Fun was eliminated as a result.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Book Review: "G" is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #7)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Two interesting cases
Cons: Pacing in the middle lags
The Bottom Line:
Search for a woman
As Kinsey hunted herself
Middle little slow




Missing Mother and an Assassin

What happens when a PI becomes a target?  Especially when she is working on another case?  That’s what we find out in “G” is for Gumshoe, the seventh entertaining Kinsey Millhone Mystery from Sue Grafton.

At the beginning of May, Kinsey is hired by Irene Gersh.  While Irene lives in Santa Teresa with her husband, her mother lives out in a community near the Salton Sea with no phone or addresses.  The mother and daughter usually talk once a month, but Irene hasn’t heard from her mother recently, and she wants Kinsey to drive out there and find her mother.

Meanwhile, Kinsey receives a call from a man she’d done a job for in the past.  The criminal she’d helped track down is vowing to get his revenge on everyone he feels wronged him, and he’s hired a hit man to kill them, including Kinsey.

Kinsey doesn’t take the threat too seriously and heads out to find the mother.  Will she be able to track her down?  Is someone out to kill her?

Sometimes, when an author has two parallel plots, they add up to a great plot as the two build off each other.  In this case, I really felt like these were two ideas that the author couldn’t quite flesh out into a full book each.  This was especially driven home in the middle when the pacing really slowed down.  It felt like we were waiting for some event to kick off both storylines again.  Once the stories got the added push they needed, we were off on a fun ride through the climax.

We are slowly getting to know some supporting characters in Kinsey’s world, and part of the middle of the book involved a sub-plot with one of them.  I do love getting to know supporting characters better, especially because they are helping us get to know Kinsey better as well.  We don’t have too many new characters this time around, but they are given plenty of page time to become real and make us care about the outcome.

I’m continuing this series on audio, and Mary Pfeiffer’s narration is outstanding as always.  She capture’s Kinsey’s attitude in the first person narration perfectly, and I really enjoy listening to them as a result.

While “G” is for Gumshoe isn’t the strongest entry in the series, there is still plenty here to entertain Kinsey’s fans.  If you are new to the series, you might want to back up to the beginning to fully enjoy this book.

Once you get hooked, you'll definitely want to read the rest of the Kinsey Millhone Mysteries.

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

April 14th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome to another Friday, which means another edition of Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week's book is Whale of a Crime by Karen MacInerney.




This is the seventh in the Gray Whale Inn series, and it was the first book in the series in a couple of years.  It was so wonderful to be back!

Being set on an island off the coast of Maine, it's no surprise the book starts off with a sailing reference.

"Red sky in morning, sailor's warning."  I'd heard it a thousand times, but as I stood staring out at the cloudless sky suspended like a blue bowl over the Gulf of Maine, I reflected that the day had turned out perfectly after all.
Boy, was I wrong.

Page 56 finds us witnessing a fight between Natalie, our main character, and her sister Bridget about Bridget's grown daughter Gwen.

Bridget said, "That's why I've decided Gwen's coming back to California with me."
I looked up from the chocolate-chip-studded batter.  "What?"
"I'm taking Gwen home with me," she said.
"Have you talked to her about that?"

To find out the answer, you'll have to read the book.  I do have a review coming up on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back and take a look then.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Movie Review: Deadly Estate - A Hailey Dean Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun kidnapping mystery
Cons: One part of timing doesn’t seem to quite work; Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
A friend goes missing
Hailey suspects something wrong
Fun mystery flick

Hailey Investigates When a Friend Vanishes

Hallmark is getting quite a few cozy mystery franchises rotating now, and I’m enjoying all of them.  One of their newer ones is the Hailey Dean series, based on books written by Nancy Grace.  Deadly Estate is the most recent, and it’s another great ride.

Hailey Dean (Kellie Martin) is a former prosecutor turned therapist who can’t quite seem to stay out of crime.  Of course, when the case hits close to home, it is impossible to resist.

Hailey’s friend Pam (Michelle Harrison) lost both of her parents in a car crash a couple of months ago.  Pam is dealing as best she can, but she is struggling to sell her parent’s house.  She’s finally ready to take that step.  It might help that she’s dating her realtor, Ryan (Jim Thorburn).  Ryan surprises Pam with an impromptu getaway right after the open house, and she quickly agrees.

However, Pam misses a therapy session with Hailey’s partner the morning she is supposed to leave with Ryan.  That doesn’t sit right with Hailey, and she goes to Pam’s house only to find more things that don’t fit.  A phone call from Pam only makes Hailey more suspicious.  When another attack happens, Hailey has finally convinced the police that something fishy is going on.  But can she work with them to find Pam before it is too late?

I found this mystery very intriguing.  I also appreciate the fact that we were investigating a disappearance and not a murder.  Variety is wonderful.  I’m not completely convinced that the timing of things the police pieced together at the end works, but maybe I missed something there.  Even so, the who and why certainly make sense when we reach the suspenseful climax.

We briefly got to meet Hailey’s family in the previous movie, and I was a bit disappointed we didn’t see more of them this time around.  However, I did enjoy seeing the characters who did return like her new boyfriend and a homicide cop and DA’s investigator.  The relationships there are a lot of fun, and I enjoyed spending time with them.

This does have the usual Hallmark movie quality to it, giving us some cheesy dialogue and acting.  It’s not too bad, and as long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.

Hailey lost her fiancĂ© in a shooting several years before we met her.  That storyline is touched on again here, and based on what we learn, I can’t wait to see where they go with this particular storyline in future movies.

So turn on Deadly Estate and settle in for a couple of hours of fun and intrigue.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Caramel Crush Winner

I completely forgot to pull the winner for Caramel Crush last night.  But I took care of that tonight, and the winner is...

...Sandy!

I just sent you an e-mail, so please be sure to get back to me as soon as you can so you can get your book.

Book Review: Blown Away by Clover Tate (Kite Shop Mysteries #1)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lovely location, good twists for mysteries
Cons: Emmy’s anger issues, some pacing
The Bottom Line:
A lovely setting
And a mostly strong debut
Make this worth reading




Opening Day Does Not Turn Out as Emmy Hoped

It always amazes me when a new theme for a cozy mystery emerges, and I think to myself “Why haven’t we seen that before?”  That was the case with Blown Away, which starts the Kite Shop Mysteries.  While I didn’t fly kites too much as a kid, I certainly was interested in reading this debut.

Emmy Adler has moved from Portland to the small town of Rock Point on the Oregon coast to open Strings Attached, a kite shop.  She’s even living in the home that her friend Avery Cook owns right on the beach.  She’s super excited about starting this new chapter in her life.

In fact, she’s so excited that she wakes up super early on the day her shop is supposed to open.  Taking her dog, Bear, to the beach for a walk, they make a grisly discovery – a dead body washed up on the rocks.  Being new to town, Emmy doesn’t recognize the man, but the identification is quick – Miles Logan, who was the chef as the gastropub in town.  He also used to date Avery, making her the prime suspect.  Emmy knows her friend couldn’t have done it, but no one seems willing to listen and the evidence seems to be piling up against her.  Can Emmy find the killer despite everything going on?

I fell in love with the setting in the first chapter.  Rock Point is one of those small coastal towns that thrives on tourists – the kind of place where you want to settle in and live when you pass through them on vacation.  I was smiling as Emmy was describing the place to us.

Not that we had too long before the body turned up.  Emmy’s discovery ends the first chapter of the book, and the drama starts right away.  I did feel the pace was slightly off at times, but there were some good twists before we reached the climax.  Everything made perfect sense at the end, too.

Emmy was an interesting main character.  She seemed to get angry at other characters easily, especially one or two nemeses.  At times, I could certainly understand her frustration since it seemed no one was willing to believe her that Avery was innocent.  Other times, it seems very over the top.  The other characters are varied and well developed, which helped keep my interest as I was reading.

Overall, the strengths made this book soar, at least in my mind.  I’m looking forward to visiting Emmy and my new friends in Rock Point again, soon.  If you haven’t met them yet, read Blown Away soon.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ornament Review: Toymaker Santa #17 - Train Table - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun ornament of Santa working on a train
Cons: We already have Santa and two other trains in this series
The Bottom Line:
Santa and a train
Third pairing in this series
Needs variety




Santa Returns to the Train Well a Third Time

I love Hallmark’s series ornaments because they showcase creativity by introducing variations on a familiar theme.  Unfortunately, I’m beginning to tire of the Toymaker Santa series for a lack of creativity.  While I did buy the 2016 entry, I was tempted to skip it for that reason.

There is nothing wrong with the ornament itself.  Santa is kneeling by a table train track.  There is a black train car on the track, and he is holding a red engine in his left hand.  Instead of his trademark hat, he’s wearing a red engineer hat.  Like much of the rest of this series, he’s wearing a green shirt and red pants under a tan work apron, and he’s got a hammer hanging from his side.

If this were the first time that Toymaker Santa had worked on a train, I’d be thrilled with the ornament.  But this is the third time we’ve seen Santa with a train.  Oh, they’ve all been different.  In 2000, the train was big enough for him to ride on.  In 2006, it was an electric train that, while not electric, did go around the track.  So they’ve all been different and fun, but with all the toys out there to choose from, how come we are getting trains again?

This is the seventeenth in the series, and the series marker is on the ornament.  Well, we have to trust that it is there.  It is hiding behind Santa’s right knee on the train table.  I can see the distinctive Christmas tree shape, but I can’t tell if the 17 is written in there or not.

With Santa kneeling and the train table itself, this ornament has a sturdy base, so you can easily set it out to be displayed.  If you want to hang the ornament, you’ll find that he tips slightly to the right.  Honestly, you have to be looking for it to notice it, and with tree branches around him, you’ll never notice.

I really do hope that Santa starts working on a greater variety of toys in the near future.  If he doesn’t, I may start skipping entries in this series.  If you don’t have the earlier trains, by all means track down the 2016 entry in the series.  But if you do, you might want to skip this one.

Here are the rest of the Toymaker Santa ornaments.

Original Price: $15.95