Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book Review: The Miser's Dream by John Gaspard (Eli Marks #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters; great locked room mystery
Cons: Abracadabra, all cons are gone
The Bottom Line:
A locked room puzzle
Proves to be plenty of fun
In magical book

Eli Marks Must Solve a Looked Room Mystery

One of the staples of the mystery genre is the locked room mystery because they add such a great twist to the mystery.  I know I always find them intriguing.  And that’s exactly what we get with The Miser’s Dream, the third Eli Marks Mystery from John Gaspard.

Eli Marks lives in a third floor apartment above the magic shop he runs with his uncle in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  From his window, he can see into the projection booth of the theater next door, and he has long enjoyed trying to guess the movie based on the reflections he can see.  This night, however, he seems something completely different when he looks into the projection booth – the dead body of Tyler James, the projectionist.

Naturally, Eli calls the police, but they have to break into the projection booth since the door locks from the inside and there is no key for the outside.  When they do, they not only find the body, but also a gun and a large stack of cash.

Eli is perfectly content to sit this one out until an outside force begins to pull him in.  Accidents only make him more determined to solve the crime.  But can he figure out how Tyler died and why?

I really enjoy these books because of the bits of magic that show up in them.  Eli being a magician is a creative hook for the series.  In fact, there is an entire sub-plot involving Eli’s jealousy of a fellow magician that winds up playing into the main mystery.

And the main mystery is great.  Naturally, there is the question of how the murder took place as well as who the killer is.  I’ve got to say that both were so expertly explained at the end, I couldn’t believe I didn’t piece it together myself.

And the characters are wonderful.  We actually meet a fun assortment of people here.  They are a bit eccentric, but it fits the book.  The series regulars are as great as ever, and I enjoyed seeing the growth we got here in Eli.

The Miser’s Dream is the best book yet in the series.  Eli’s fans will be happy with it, and those new to his adventures will find themselves looking for more.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ornament Review: Frosting Friends - Making Memories #9 - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene of warm memories
Cons: All cons buried under frosting
The Bottom Line:
Gingerbread house built
What to do with leftovers?
Scene will bring out smiles

Memories Made of Frosting

We didn’t make gingerbread houses every year when I was growing up, but there were a few years in there when we did.  I had a lot of fun with it, even though mine didn’t turn out that well.  (I swear, I don’t have the creative gene.)  Still, I can’t help but think about that when I look at Frosting Friends, the ninth Making Memories ornament from Hallmark.

Yes, this year our snowman adult and child are making a gingerbread house.  It looks like they’ve put a lot of work into it already since the house is almost fully decorated.  There are peppermints for windows, a door, red and green shingles, and they’ve even almost got the peak of the roof decorated with red and green hard candies.  It looks like we’ve caught them in a discussion about what to do with the last hard candy.  The child is asking if they can put it in their mouth and the adult has one hand in their mouth as if they are laughing.  In their other hand is the icing container, and a drop of white icing is leaking out of it.  These snowpeople are wearing aprons and chef’s hats, and the child is sitting next to the house while the adult is standing.  I think they are on the floor since there is a dark blue pattern to the snowflake that forms the base of the ornament that looks like linoleum to me.  This is the first year in the series we haven’t seen either the dog or the cat that this snowfamily owns.  I guess they locked them up so they wouldn’t get into the treats.

As I said, this wasn’t an annual tradition in my family, but I enjoyed it the years we did it.  Looking at this ornament brings those memories back full force, and I can’t help but smile as I look at it.  It’s that cute.

The snowflake base I mentioned earlier gives the ornament the flat surface you need to be able to set it out to display.  You’ll also find the 9 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom of the snowflake.

Of course, an ornament is designed to be hung, and on this ornament you’ll find the ringing sticking out of the top of the adult snowperson’s hat.  The ornament tips forward ever so slightly, but it really isn’t an issue at all by the time you get a few tree branches around it.

This series never fails to make me smile as I think about some memory of Christmas tradition from my past, and Frosting Friends is no exception.  It is a cute addition to any Christmas ornament collection.

And enjoy more memories with the Making Memories series.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Review: Banana Cream Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #21)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting mystery
Cons: Pacing, characters could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Hannah’s latest case
More of the same – fans will like
Interesting end

Honeymoon’s Over – Time for a Murder

The last book in the Hannah Swensen series ended with the event longtime fans thought we’d never see – Hannah got married.  Banana Cream Pie Murder picks up not too long after this momentous event as Hannah and her new husband are returning from their honeymoon.

Unfortunately, while they are gone, Hannah’s mom Delores finds a dead body.  When she hears screaming and what sounds like a gunshot from her downstairs neighbor, Tori Bascomb, she goes to investigate and is horrified to find Tori’s body in her acting studio.  Tori was a retired Broadway actress who had settled in Lake Eden to be near her brother, the town’s mayor.

Of course, when Hannah returns, Delores wants her to find the killer and figure out what is happening.  Tori didn’t seem to have too many friends, but she doesn’t seem to have many enemies either.  The lack of suspects begin to frustrate Hannah.  Will she find anything that points to the killer?

Because not too much time has passed since the last time we saw Hannah and the gang, we don’t need too much catch up before diving into the murder.  All the talk of food and the various desserts that Hannah is making do still slow down the mystery a bit in the early stages of the book, but the further we go into the story, the more the mystery takes over.  I appreciated how the clues were sandwiched in with the red herrings.  Yes, I did figure things out before Hannah, but only a few pages.  And we get a strong climax.

Those who have been enjoying this series for a long time know there are a lot of characters, and I always enjoy spending time with them.  In fact, they are a draw of the series.  I’m not sure how it would feel jumping in here and not knowing them.  The development could be stronger, but that’s a minor issue.

And we can’t leave out the recipes.  By my count, we get 23 new recipes in this book, including the title recipe as well as orange fudge cookies, salted caramel bar cookies, and peanut butter cheesecake with chocolate peanut butter sauce.  Honestly, with all the talk of food in this series, it’s hard to believe all of the characters aren’t very overweight.  I know I gain weight just reading about all the delicious sounding food.

Hannah’s life takes an interesting turn in this book.  I have a feeling this is setting us up for something I’ve been dreading for a few books now, but I hope not.  While I am dreading the outcome, I do find the twist presented here intriguing, and I’m curious to see where things go in the next book.

At this point in the series, it would be hard for anyone to jump in and fully enjoy what is happening here.  However, diehard fans of the series who are interested in the next chapter of Hannah’s life will find checking in with their friends fun when they read Banana Cream Pie Murder.

Looking for more delicious reads?  Here are the rest of the Hannah Swensen Mysteries in order.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Music Review: Lifer by MercyMe

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Plenty of upbeat, fun songs with thoughtful lyrics
Cons: “Ghost;” could use more style variety.
The Bottom Line:
MercyMe rocks here
Giving fun songs, good lyrics
Needs variety

This Disc Just Might Turn Out to be a Lifer After All

My first run through of MercyMe’s new release, Lifer, didn’t really impress me.  But, to be fair, I wanted to listen to it several more times, and I even spread those out over a few weeks.  The more I did, the more it has grown on me.

My problem with this disc is that many of the songs sound the same.  On a first listen, especially, the songs are all upbeat rockers.  To be fair, this isn’t a new problem for MercyMe.  Their discs have often lacked variety even as their overall sound has traveled from adult contemporary and pop to the rock sound they have today.  There’s nothing wrong with their modern rock sound, although at times they play with the vocals a bit too much for my taste.  I just find variety helps.

However, as I have listened, I’ve found there is more subtle variety with a few mid-tempo tracks thrown in.  I still wish it didn’t sound quite so similar, and this is certainly a case where the songs work better individually than together, but it isn’t as bad as I first thought.

And the songs themselves?  There are some fun ones here.  The disc starts out with the title track, which talks about how our relationship with Jesus isn’t something we can turn on and off.  We are lifers.

Grace is a strong message on the disc, and one I always love.  I don’t care for the rap bridge on “Grace Got You,” but the rest of the song is fun.  I really enjoy “Best News Ever” which looks at a few false clich├ęs about God and contrasts them with the truth of the Bible.

And for pure fun, it’s hard to pass up “We Win,” which will have you shouting the refrain along with the band.  Then there’s “Happy Dance.”  While a bit silly, I find it fun, maybe because I am picturing the guys of MercyMe doing some rather silly dance moves as I listen to it.

Things are certainly more serious in “Even If.”  This is more of a mid tempo track as the band sings about their faith that God can remove any pain from our lives and yet they promise to keep following Him even if He doesn’t.  It’s a pretty powerful song.

Ironically given my opening comments, I find the slowest track on the disc to be my least favorite.  “Ghost” stands out from the rest the most musically since it is a slow ballad.  On this track they try to celebrate the influence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and contrast it to the ghosts of ghost stories.  For me, it doesn’t work, and it almost feels irreverent, which I am sure wasn’t their intent at all.

On the other hand, there’s “Hello Beautiful.”  This song celebrates our freedom over regrets and mistakes of the past.  The lyrics and melody and fun.  This was my favorite from the very first time through the disc, and that hasn’t changed at all.

More stylistic variety would certainly have helped out this disc, but on the whole I find I am enjoying Lifer.  Fans of MercyMe will be happy with their latest release, although it probably won’t win them any new fans.

CD Length: 34:58
1. Lifer
2. You Found Me
3. Grace Got You
4. Best News Ever
5. Even If
6. Hello Beautiful
7. We Win
8. Happy Dance
9. Heaven’s Here
10. Ghost

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ornament Review: Hans K. Woodsworth - Snowtop Lodge #11 - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Creative idea
Cons: A bit plainer than rest of series; tips
The Bottom Line:
Wood crafts are featured
But ornament little plain
Still good overall

Wood You Like This Ornament?

For the second ornament in a row, Snowtop Lodge is taking us indoors with a snowman that prefers to spend time crafting rather than outside in the cold weather.  (I can certainly understand.)  Hans K. Woodsworth is ready to help make a child’s Christmas merry.

You see, Hans is a wood carver (as I’m sure you guessed from his name).  In fact, he’s holding his newest creation, a wooden horse with wheels, that some child will be delighted to find under their tree Christmas morning.  He’s wearing his wood working apron around his waist, and it has two tools sticking up from pockets.  On his head, he’s wearing an elf hat instead of a Santa hat, and it is green with some red trim.  That elf theme is carried over to the scene painted on his bottom snowball since we get a picture of a wood shop with other elves working away on more toys.

Unfortunately, this isn’t one of the stronger ornaments in the series.  Part of it I know is me.  I didn’t have many wooden toys as a kid, so this doesn’t inspire the nostalgia in me I’m sure it is supposed to.  I could still appreciate it, however, but overall the ornament just feels a little plain.  For example, Hans doesn’t have any buttons.  Some of the others in the series have buttons that tie into their theme, but Hans doesn’t have any at all.  He’s good, but he’s missing the special touches that would make him great.

Like his brothers and sisters in the series, he has a nice flat base, so you can set him out to enjoy anywhere.  Since he is made from porcelain, you’ll want to be careful and place him on a surface where he won’t be bumped.

Of you can hang him on a sturdy branch on your tree.  You’ll find the ring almost hidden by his elf hat.  Since it is off to one side, it’s not surprising that he tips slightly to the left and forward.

Since Hans in part of a series, you’ll find an 11 in a Christmas tree on his bottom as well.

While Hans K, Woodsworth isn’t the best in the series, he’s still got a charm to him.  He might not have as great appeal outside the series, but those who collect the series will be glad to have him in their collection.

Enjoy the rest of the Snowtop Lodge series.

Original Price: $19.95

Saturday, May 20, 2017

May 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

It was upfronts week this week, when the networks announced their fall line up.  Not surprising, all of my main shows are back, so I'm not looking at the new shows.  I don't have room for anything new.  No, really, this year I mean it.  Okay, so there were a couple of shows I was looking at, but existing shows moved into that time slot, so that's out.

Speaking of which, I think this season has some of the most surprising moves for my schedule.  After six seasons, Once is moving to Fridays.  After 5 seasons, Arrow is moving to Thursdays at 9.  This is going to take some serious adjustment on my part since I really do have a feeling for the day of the week based on what shows I'm looking forward to that night.  I know, I know, only a TV addict like me, right?

But enough about next season, here's what I thought about my shows this week.

Once Upon a Time – I know they were trying to parallel season 1 with this finale since they were treating it as a season finale of sorts, but there was too much of Emma now knowing who she was.  I enjoyed it, but it felt repetitive.  However, they finally gave Gold a backbone and they undid the Gideon as an adult thing, but of which I loved.  The final act with us seeing everyone’s happy endings?  That was fantastic!  I was smiling at the end.  And the final scene?  Adult Henry needs to come back to help his family?  I’ve very intrigued by what is going on.  I was planning to watch season 7 reluctantly, but now I’m on board and ready to go.  Is it next season yet?

Supergirl – So let me see if I have this right.  Those who have been opposing the aliens are evil because they are thinly disguised Trump supporters.  Now the aliens are evil with their promise to “Make Earth Great Again?”  Please.  You can’t have it both ways.  I was excited for Cat to come back, but she was so political it was hard to enjoy.  Still, I was laughing so hard when she recognized James right off the bat.  I just wish they could give us this alien invasion without preaching to us.

Dancing with the Stars – I had figured Dave would be going home this week, so I think I was as shocked as they were.  And Simone leaving on a week when she finally has her breakthrough and gets two perfect scores?  She was very gracious, and she seemed almost happy to be going, or maybe that was just me.  Either way, it makes next week much more interesting.

Angie Tribecca – Yes, I called several of their jokes, but that didn’t make them any less funny.  It was nice to take the act on the road.  The serial killer story is a bit predictable, but it is still fun.  So what was up with the gravestone at the end?  Was it a message from the killer?  A sign that her father is still alive?  Both?  Just something random?  Knowing this show, probably the last one, but we’ll find out in the weeks to come, I guess.

The Flash – Whoa.  I’m just whoa.  They actually went there.  I was expecting a last minute save.  Of course, I was also expecting the final confrontation to be last week, not this week, so I’m very curious where they are going to go next week.  One theory I’ve had is that they will undo the entire Flashpoint thing somehow, but I hope they are careful in how they do it so it isn’t a Dallas “It was all a dream” cheat.  I just can’t imagine that they are getting rid of Iris.

Team Ninja Warrior – I really like Joe, so I’m always rooting for him and his team.  Naturally, that means the results here had me very happy.  They had me worried for a while there because there were plenty of twists and turns, but the end result is me happy.

Arrow – Not nearly as surprised by the events of this episode as I was The Flash.  You knew Chase wasn’t going to stay in prison for two episodes.  Something had to happen.  It was pretty much just set up for next week, but it was enjoyable set up, and I’m anxious to see where it is going to lead, especially with the people Oliver is recruiting for his team.

Survivor – It’s been a while since they had two tribal in one hour long episode, so when I realized they were opening with an immunity challenge, I was surprised.  This season continues to surprise with the alliances that form and reform.  I can hardly keep track of who is playing with whom from one week to the next.  Makes it a lot more fun, too.

Designated Survivor – They wrapped up quite a bit, which I appreciate, while still leaving us with a monster of a cliffhanger.  This is going to set things up for a fun season 2.  Having said that, I feel like there was too much wrap up.  Some of those things happened too fast.  They really should have spread them out to a few more episodes instead of all in one.  And yes, this is coming from the 24 fan.

The Amazing Race – I really have to hand it to Becca.  She was obviously frustrated at the Road Block (and understandably so), but she let it out before Floyd got back.  And she had the right reaction when he collapsed – she was concerned about his health over the race.  I found them annoying at times, but I didn’t want to see them go out this way.  Brooke?  Why couldn’t you be the one to leave tonight?  So frustrating!  Scott’s asides to the camera are pretty funny, but even so, they aren’t enough to make up for her.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Review: Yip/Tuck by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mysteries #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and a fun mystery
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Surgeon is strangled
Leading Mel on merry chase
A pleasure to read

Plastic Surgeon Strangled

I must admit, I’ve fallen in love with the pop culture based puns of the Pampered Pets Mysteries, but I also love how the title pun truly does tie into the mystery of the book.  I hadn’t really thought about what the title of the fourth book might be hinting at, but when I realized that the murder victim in Yip/Tuck was a plastic surgeon, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t figured that out sooner.

The plastic surgeon in question is Dr. Jack O’Doggle.  He’s one of the most sought after plastic surgeons in the Laguna Beach, California, area.  He also happens to be dating Tova, one of Melinda Langston’s enemies, but since Jack and Tova are constantly buying items in Mel’s shop, Bow Wow Boutique, she’s not complaining.

However, one morning, Mel and her friend, Darcy, find Dr. Jack sitting on a bench outside of Bow Wow Boutique.  Unfortunately, he’s not waiting for her to open her shop.  Instead, he’s been strangled by a leash that Mel sells in her store.  Despite warnings to stay out of it, Mel can’t help but take the murder personally and start looking into things.  What secrets might Jack have been hiding that got him killed?

And once again, we are off on a wild ride through the world of Laguna Beach as brought to life by the team of Sparkle Abbey.  These books definitely feature the rich and slightly absurd, and that is one of their delights.  Yet the comedy blends well with the mystery, where we get many good suspects and clues before Mel figures it all out.

The characters walk that fine line between caricature and character, but it works for this series.  A sub-plot here involves Mel looking for some help in her shop, and the two people she interviews prove to be two of the funniest characters.  Yet they don’t seem completely wacky, which is a testament to that balance I mentioned earlier.

Those who have been following the series know that the odd numbered books focus on Mel’s cousin Caro.  The two are feuding over a broach, and that once again provides some amusement, although the development from the previous book doesn’t get as much play here as I was hoping for.

The book seems a little on the thin side.  This is certainly the shortest in the series so far.  However, I think anything else added would have felt just like what it would have been – padding, which makes this worth noting only in passing.  This is a satisfying mystery just as it is.

This book was set during the early part of December, so the references to Christmas were an added bonus as far as I was concerned.  I do love that holiday, after all.

This is a fun tale that kept me turning pages until I reached the end.  Yip/Tuck is the kind of book that will make you forget everything else going on in your world.  And isn’t that what reading is really all about?

Check out more of the Pampered Pets Mysteries.

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

May 19th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

This for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm highlighting my current read, which is The Miser's Dream by John Gaspard.

Yes, this is a mystery, with a magician as the main character, and the title refers to a trick that comes up multiple times over the course of the book.  I'm still reading it, so I'm not sure how it all plays out yet, but I'm enjoying it.

Here is how the book opens:

"I'm a hack."
Holy crap, did I just say that out loud?  My intention had been to whisper those three words silently to myself, but apparently my brain hadn't properly communicated that goal to my mouth.

Moving on to page 56, we find this:

At the sound of this name, Harry lowered the book.  "Clifford Thomas?  You're going to talk to Clifford Thomas?  The Clifford Thomas?"

And there you have it for this week.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Movie Review: Rush Hour 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Comedy and action as driven by the stars
Cons: Stars and their strengths overshadow other elements of film
The Bottom Line:
Comedy, action
Combine again in sequel
Mindless yet still fun

Action and Comedy Go Global

While I know I saw the original Rush Hour in theaters back in the day, I know I have never seen the sequels.  Thanks to TV, I’ve been able to fix that by watching Rush Hour 2.  While not the original, it is a fun movie.

This film picks up not too long after the original as Los Angeles detective Carter (Chris Rock) is in Hong Kong visiting his new friend Hong Kong detective Lee (Jackie Chan).  Carter is on vacation, but Lee is back to work, or at least trying to work.  Carter’s insistence on being a tourist is making it hard to focus on anything.

Then two American translators are killed when a bomb is delivered to the American embassy.  That sets Lee off on a trail that leads him to an old foe.  Meanwhile, he is dragging Carter around on the investigation without Carter knowing they are working a case.  Will the two solve this case?  Where will it lead them?

Honestly, we’re watching these movies to see Jackie Chan’s impressive martial arts skills and hear Chris Rock’s funny lines, and that’s a good thing since the plot is little more than an excuse for the two to shine.  Yes, the plot gets better as it goes along, but if you are looking for action and laughs, you’ll get plenty.  At times both overwhelm the story, but in the end the story does make sense and pulls you in.

Since the movie is really a star vehicle, the success of the movie really rests on Chris Rock and Jackie Chan.  Fortunately, they do a good job with the material.  I did find that Chris Rock started to annoy me a time or two, but then something would happen to propel the story forward and I’d be enjoying the movie again.  And Jackie Chan’s fights are so impressive and fun.  I would watch the movie for that alone.  The rest of the cast is good, but they are basically there to make the stars look good, and they do that well.

The result is a movie filled with action and comedy.  And action comedy.  After all, Jackie Chan’s movies are filled with action sequences that make you laugh with their creativity and unexpected bits.  Think of it as mostly martial arts with a dash of slapstick.  Honestly, it’s why his movies are so popular – he’s just plain fun.

Rush Hour 2 isn’t great cinema, but it is entertaining.  Since that’s all it set out to do, it succeeds.  Turn it on when you want to watch a mindless action film, and you’ll enjoy.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ornament Review: Season's Treatings #8 - Cinnamon Roll Reindeer - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Creative idea
Cons: Execution just slightly off
The Bottom Line:
These cinnamon rolls
Make Christmas morning taste great
Needed tweak or two

Festive Cinnamon Rolls for Christmas Morning

Some ideas work a bit better on paper than in execution.  That’s the case with the eighth entry in the Season’s Treatings series from Hallmark.  The idea of a display of cinnamon rolls shaped to look like a reindeer is smart, but it just doesn’t quite work out.

The background for this ornament is a silver baking tray.  Someone is hard at work on it, too, since there are a lot of cinnamon rolls here.  There are six that make up the main part of the reindeer face.  Two cinnamon ovals form his ears, and some cinnamon sticks form the antlers.  There are three smaller rolls, one to form the nose and two more for the eyes.  I think these might be Danishes or just mini cinnamon rolls.  These three pieces have frosting on them, and the two eyes have red centers.  Around this creation is a measuring cup full of frosting, a rolling pin with 2016 on it (the year of the ornament’s release), and a clean looking knife for spreading the frosting.

This is one ornament that definitely looks better in person than in the picture.  The picture doesn’t capture the way the nose and eyes pop off the rest of the face.  That added dimension really does help sell the face.  Of course, there is the fact that they are giving the reindeer red eyes, just like the snowman cake from a few years back.  I think it works here, but many people found that an issue in both ornaments in the series.

As I said earlier, this is a great idea that doesn’t quite work.  I think making the eyes and nose more distinct would have really helped sell the illusion.  Don’t get me wrong, I really do like this ornament.  It’s just not quite as good as it could have been.

Because these rolls are on a sheet, you can easily set it out on any surface.  The downside?  It easily blends with other things since it is mostly a flat piece.  It just cries out to be hung.

You’ll find the loop for doing that in one of the corners of the pan.  It hangs at a fun angle, however, I’m a bit surprised that the year on the rolling pin isn’t straight when you hang the ornament.  That’s a detail they’ve gotten right in years past, but here, it’s upside down.

Since this ornament is part of a series, you’ll find an 8 in a Christmas tree on the back of the baking tray.

While not the best entry in the Season’s Treating series, I still find the eighth entry to be fun.  A few small tweaks would have made it absolutely perfect.

Enjoy more delicious ornaments with the rest of the Season's Treatings series.

Original Price: $12.95

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review: Ivy Get Your Gun by Cindy Brown (Ivy Meadows #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Funny mystery and characters with true heart
Cons: All cons shot away
The Bottom Line:
Ivy and Old West
Are perfect combination
In delightful book

Ivy Finds Herself Acting as PI in a Ghost Town

For a theater junky like me, the Ivy Meadows series has really been a thrill.  Ivy is a part time PI working under her uncle and a part time actress still trying to find a way to make a living on the stage.  The antics she finds herself in are always fun, and Ivy Get Your Gun is no exception.

This book finds Ivy going under cover once again, this time at Gold Bug Gulch.  She’s been hired by her friends Marge and Arnie to find out just what is happening there.  A son Arnie didn’t know he had has shown up and gotten the couple to invest in this ghost town turned tourist attraction.  However, one of the two actors who participates in the gun fights for the tourists was really shot.  So Ivy goes in to attempt to figure out if it was an accident or if someone wanted to kill the man.

Not that Ivy’s life is simple outside of this case.  She’s auditioning for a roll in Annie Get Your Gun with a regional theater company, something that would be a huge step forward in her career.  Of course, she’s also learned the truth about the real Annie Oakley, which means her feelings about the musical are mixed at best.  Her boyfriend, Matt, is anxious to take their relationship public, putting extra pressure on Ivy.  Can she deal with these problems in her life and still find out what is going on in Gold Bug Gulch?

Ivy is quite obviously facing quite a bit in this book, but the focus is on the mystery.  The sub-plots pop in and out and help develop her character, but they are never the focus of the book.  The mystery provides us with many good clues and suspects before the ultimate showdown.  Ivy is still a little slow piecing things together at times, but that is a minor issue, especially since she recognizes this flaw in herself.

Those who have been reading this series since the beginning will be pleased to know that the main cast is back and as wonderful as ever.  We get quite an eclectic group of suspects out at Gold Bug Gulch, and as we get to know them, we begin to see the human side of them as well.

Which is quite an accomplishment since this is a comedic mystery.  The comedy comes from the situations Ivy finds herself in as well as the characters she meets.  Not only is author Cindy Brown balancing the laughs with murder and the very real danger Ivy is facing, but she is also walking a fine line with comedic characters who are funny yet come across as real.  She pulls it off perfectly.

This is obvious at the end of the book as we see some real growth in many of the characters.  Some of these scenes will mean more if you’ve been reading the series from the beginning, but that’s no burden at all.  All four of these books are a worth reading.

So if you haven’t started this series yet, do so today.  Time spent in Ivy’s presence is always a delight, as Ivy Get Your Gun proves once again.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I'm reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  Check out the rest of the stops.  And enter the giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, May 15, 2017

Music Review: Unbreakable by Selah

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: All the tracks offer great lyrics and fun music
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Disc encourages
As Selah reminds us of
Timeless promises

Selah Continues to Uplift Our Spirits

Of the new releases I got in March, the one I was looking forward to most was Unbreakable, the newest release from Selah.  I enjoy their new takes on hymns and the other inspiring songs they sing.  Their CDs are such refreshment for my soul, and this newest release did not disappoint.

This disc starts out with the chorus of “Got Any Rivers” before the trio transitions to “Carry You.”  You can feel the beat increase when that transition takes place.  The song itself is a great reminder that God will carry us through any struggles we might face in life.

Up next comes the title track, which is about the love of God.  It’s a fun upbeat pop piece that reminds us that God’s love is “Unbreakable” and He will never give up on us.  I dare you not to have a smile on your face when you are done listening to this track.

Other highlights in the non-hymn tracks include “Set Free,” which has a delightfully fun rhythm to it.  I fell in love with “Broken Ladders,” which is a slower ballad reminding us that God wants us as we are, not after working hard to build things for him.  They also cover Point of Grace’s “Jesus Will Still Be There.”  The keyboard and strings on this one are fantastic.

The theme for the hymns seems to be resurrection.  I was delighted to get “He Lives,” a hymn I grew up singing.  They’ve paired it with “Because He Lives,” and that medley couple with the guitar backdrop really works well.  They focus on Heaven with “In the Sweet By and By” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/I’ll Fly Away.”  The one hymn that doesn’t fit the theme is “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” not that I’m complaining since I love it.  As always the arrangements on these songs are perfect; they breathe a bit of new life into the familiar songs yet still make it possible to sing along on the very first listen.

Selah often has songs that remind us of the persecuted church.  That is the inspiration behind “People of the Cross” and “Lord, I Trust You.”

When I looked at the track life, I predicted “This Little Light of Mine (He Will Shine)” would be the track that included some Kituba, the tribal language that member Todd Smith learned as a kid growing up on the mission field in Africa.  I was right, and I wasn’t disappointed in the track.  Adding a bit of an African feel to the song makes it so much fun.

Really, it’s hard to come up with a bad track on this disc.  They are all encouraging and delightful to listen to.

So if you are a fan of Selah, don’t hesitate to pick up this disc.  And if you are looking for some encouragement in your life, Unbreakable is just the disc to give that to you.

CD Length: 50:08
1. Got Any Rivers/Carry You
2. Unbreakable
3. I Got Saved
4. Set Free
5. He Lives/Because He Lives
6. Jesus Will Still Be There
7. This Little Light of Mine (He Will Shine)
8. People of the Cross
9. Lord, I Trust You
10. Broken Ladders
11. In the Sweet By and By
12. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/I’ll Fly Away
13. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #17 - Building an Igloo - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Snoopy and Woodstock are having a great time
Cons: How many people can relate to this ornament?
The Bottom Line:
Building an igloo
More limited winter fun
Will still make you smile

Snoopy and Woodstock Celebrate some Rarer Winter Fun

I’m constantly amazed at the creativity Hallmark artists show in the various series.  I couldn’t come up with the variety they do on a theme, but I love having it for my tree.  Every so often, they do hit an idea that makes me wonder, however, and that’s the case with the 2014 entry in the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

This winter, Snoopy and Woodstock are building an igloo.  They’ve almost finished it, since Snoopy has only one more block of ice to place in the dome of the main structure.  I’m not sure if Woodstock is helping or hindering, however, since he is sticking his head out of the opening where that block goes.

This makes me wonder just how many people have built an igloo for the fun of it.  Everything else that the series has highlighted has made sense to me, but this one has me scratching my head a little.  Maybe it’s just because I don’t live where it snows, but I don’t see this as a usual winter activity.

Not that I don’t like the ornament.  Woodstock popping out of the igloo brings a smile to my face.  It’s fun, and fans of the series will definitely like it.  And since this is the first time in seventeen entries I’ve reacted this way, that’s saying something as well.

Yes, this also means you’ll find a 17 in a Christmas tree on the base of the ornament.  You’ll have to look hard for it because this is a miniature ornament, and there isn’t much room on the base for the marker, but it is there.  That base also means there’s a flat surface, so you can set it out to enjoy.

Of course, it was designed to hang on your tree.  You’ll find that loop on the top of Snoopy’s green hat.  The ornament tips back slightly, but that’s a minor issue because only the most observant would notice.

Woodstock and Snoopy are obviously having fun, so maybe my questions about this ornament just make me a grump.  Frankly, it really is hard not to like the seventeenth Winter Fun with Snoopy ornament.

Check out the rest of the Winter Fun with Snoopy ornaments.

Original Price: $7.95

Saturday, May 13, 2017

May 13th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Next week is a big week.  Many of my shows have their season finales and the networks will announce their line up for next season.  I'm trying to think if there are any shows I'm still waiting to hear about.  I think everything I plan to watch has been renewed already, in fact.  (Powerless was canceled, but I was done with it, and The Great Indoors is still up in the air, but I'm done with it as well.)  Which means I hope none of the new shows sound any good because I'm not in the market for anything new.

I'm not sure how I feel about Once Upon a Time's renewal.  Without Emma or most of the characters we already know, it will be a very different show.  I think it will tank in the ratings next year.  But I will tune in and watch it to see what they do.  Hopefully, it will be something worth watching.

But that's next week and next year.  Here's what I watched this week.

Arrow (5/3) – Very interesting episode.  I don’t feel like Oliver and Felicity really dealt with all their issues, but it was still good to see them actually talking through their relationship.  And you knew William was going to come into play since they’ve now brought him up twice.  That can’t be good at all.

Once Upon a Time – I must admit I was a little disappointed.  It was fun, but I felt like it could be better.  I love how the one song included winks and nods to songs from Snow White and Pinocchio.  Nice wedding.   Too bad the latest curse had to interrupt it.

Supergirl – So that was the plan.  Something tells me things are going to go from bad to worse.  But I wonder if Marcus’s race can help us at all.  We are going to have big final couple of episodes this season.  Just the scope of what they are going to have to do is blowing my mind and we haven’t seen any of it yet.

Dancing with the Stars – I think the scores told the story – it was time for Bonner to go.  Like the guy, but he was definitely the weakest one left.  Considering his injuries (that they reminded us of every week), he really was amazing.

The Great Indoors – Typical season finale in a lot of ways.  Teased us with things we want yet ultimately walked them back.  It was almost enough to make me curious where they would go if they came back for a second season.  Almost.  I really am done with this one.

Angie Tribecca – A rare episode that fell flat for me (pun only partially intended).  Yes, there were some good lines and good gags, but we also had the lecture that was the 1960’s NASA.  I guess this one was just more uneven than the usual episode for me.

The Flash – I had hopes this would be a good episode, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Barry’s memory wipe had some far reaching consequences I did not see coming.  And I like how they really played with his character.  I do miss the lighter Barry we had in season one.  While still not as dark as Arrow, this show has definitely gotten darker over the years.

Team Ninja Warrior – Another epic episode with plenty of surprises.  It really is fun watching them compete head to head.  And it almost really is anyone’s game when that happens.

Arrow – Why do I have a feeling that Chase intended to be caught?  And what is up with Wild Dog missing the custody hearing?  Not happy about that at all.  That video for Thea?  Wow!  Very powerful moment for sure.

Survivor – I’ve lost who the alliances are, so I don’t even know if this was people staying on the same side for an episode or not.  I agree with Jeff, we are in for a wild ride for the last couple of episodes.  And the loved one visits?  They got me more than they usually do this time.

Designated Survivor – Wow!  If that’s where they leave us for the next to last episode of the season, where will they leave us for the season finale?  So interesting watching the conspiracy playing havoc with the politics.  Kirkman is right, but I certainly understand where the others are coming from.  And I loved his phone call with his wife.  Their relationship is such a strength to the series.

The Big Bang Theory – I was not expecting that ending at all!  I figured that we’d get Sheldon torn between two women for the cliffhanger, not the proposal he was thinking about doing a couple of seasons ago.  Love it!!

The Amazing Race – Goodbye Michael and Liz.  So glad to have you off my TV.  Your constant bickering at everything and carrying a grudge was so annoying.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Book Review: 16th Seduction by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club #16)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot keeps the pages turning
Cons: Pacing is very uneven
The Bottom Line:
This explosive book
Will keep you glued to story
Better than the last

Did Lindsay Just Solve Her Easiest Case?

I made no secret of how disappointed I was by the previous book in the Women’s Murder Club series.  But after investing this far, I wasn’t quite ready to give up on them yet.  It does help that I get them from the library and they are fast reads.  But it was with some trepidation that I sat down to read 16th Seduction.  I’m glad I gave the series another chance because I really enjoyed this one.

The main action of this book opens six months after the previous book ends.  San Francisco homicide detective Lindsay Boxer is still separated from her husband Joe, but she has agreed to go to dinner with him on their wedding anniversary.  The two are enjoying their meal on one of the many piers in the city when there is an explosion at a neighboring pier.  When Lindsay and Joe rush over to investigate, Lindsay finds a man standing watching the destruction.  Something about him seems off, so she heads over to talk to him, and he confesses to setting the bomb.

Naturally, after a night in jail, the suspect has not only recanted his confession, but he’s denying it ever happened.  While Lindsay and Joe both witnessed the confession, neither one of them recorded it.  As Lindsay leads the investigation to find evidence to convict their suspect, he demands a speedy trial.  Will he be convicted?  Is he even guilty?

And just like that we are off and running on another compelling read.  I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, so I was hanging on for every twist and turn of the case.

My biggest complaint about the previous book was Lindsay and Joe’s split.  I’m glad to report that things happen here that make Lindsay think through her feelings, and we got to see some growth in her as a result.

What about the rest of the women in the Women’s Murder Club?  Claire finds a dead body she thinks fits the pattern of a serial killer that has been flying under the radar.  Yuki returns to the DA’s office in order to try the bombing case.  And Cindy gets the least amount of page time here although she does get more time near the end.  The friendships are strong here, and what little conflict these friends have is resolved in an adult manner.

My typical complaint with the series holds true here – pacing issues.  In this case, it was pretty bad with the case Claire brings up not really getting any page time until the second half of the novel, which it takes over, sidelining the bombing case until the end.  There are a few other hiccups in the storytelling, but all told this is a compelling read from start to finish.

I wish this series weren’t so uneven, but when the books are good, they are well worth reading.  That is certainly the case with 16th Seduction.  Any fan of the series will be happy they read it.

Check out the rest of these lady's cases with the Women's Murder Club series in order.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Pin Review: The Three Little Pigs - Storybook Classic Collection #9 - 2017 Disney Store Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Captures the pigs happy after victory
Cons: Something different for the inside scene would have been nice
The Bottom Line:
Celebrating Pigs
Captured in these two great scenes
In one book shaped pin

No Wolf to be Afraid of Here

Disney’s first mega hit song didn’t come from Snow White.  Instead, it came from The Three Little Pigs, one of the shorts in the Silly Symphony series.  “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” became a rallying cry in the face of the Great Depression.  However, for the pin that celebrates this short as part of the Storybook Classics Collection, the focus is on the title characters of The Three Little Pigs

Like all books, there is a cover which opens to reveal a second scene inside.  The cover is a recreation of the cover from a book that Disney released years ago.  It shows the pigs celebrating the wolf running away at the end.  (If only they knew sequels were coming.)  The cover is simple, with a pink background and a black outline of the characters with the title in black.

Inside, we get a full color picture.  This time, the pigs are in a circle dancing around because the wolf has gone away.  This looks close to the actual scene in the short where they celebrate the wolf running away at the end except that pig who built his house of bricks is playing a harmonica instead of his piano and all three of them are outside.

I do wish we could have gotten something else for the inside scene.  Essentially, the ornament released as part of this series and the cover of this pin are the same, and the inside is very similar.  Something with the wolf would have been fun.  Granted, they don’t have a huge space to work with, but I’m sure they could have done something.  Maybe the part where he landed in the pot after coming down the chimney.

Because of the two parts to the pin hinged together, this is a heavier pin than most Disney pins.  To help compensate, this has two sticks on the back to help hold it in place.

While I would have liked to see something different inside, that’s overall a minor complaint.  This continues to be a fun series, and it’s wonderful to see The Three Little Pigs recognized with a pin.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Storybook Classic Collection.

Ornament Review: The Three Little Pigs - Storybook Classic Collection #9 - 2017 Disney Story Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Captures the Three Little Pigs perfectly
Cons: Major tilt forward
The Bottom Line:
Pigs in classic pose
Nice to see this ornament
Of early classic

The Three Little Pigs are ready for a Celebration

If you are doing a storybook related ornament series based on Disney animation, you have to include The Three Little Pigs.  This Silly Symphony cartoon was one of Disney’s biggest hits of the 1930’s, so it really is a natural addition to the series.

Like a few other ornaments in the series, this one relies more on the book Disney released after the cartoon than the cartoon itself.  We get the three little pigs celebrating after the wolf is defeated.  We see this exact scene nowhere in the short, but it still feels like an iconic shot of our three heroes.  From left to right, they are in order of the houses the built, and the Piggy who built a house of straw is playing his flute.  The Piggy who built his house of sticks is playing his fiddle and he’s actually jumping in the air.  On the first right we get the Piggy who build his house of bricks.  His piano is a bit too big to actually carry with them, so he is the only one without his instrument.

As I said, we never get this shot in the short anywhere, but I was actually surprised when I realized that while rewatching it.  We’ve seen this pose of the characters so often it feels right.  And for that reason, I like it.  The characters look great, with the details of their clothes being perfect.

And the three are standing on a round base that looks like a field.  Fans who want to display this year round will be happy since they can do just that.

There is a light blue ribbon attached to the top, so you can hang the ornament.  However, you’ll find that it tips forward some.  The way the characters are posed helps disguise it a little, but as soon as you look at the base you’ll discover just how much they are tilted.

Even though this ornament tilts, I do still like it.  It’s not often we get merchandise for The Three Little Pigs, and it’s nice to see Disney honoring this classic.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Storybook Classic Collection.

Original Price: $19.95

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review: The Final Vow by Amanda Flower (Living History Museum #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters in a strong mystery
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Wedding planner falls
But it looks like she had help
Fun third mystery

Taking the Plunge – Literally

The previous book in the Living History Museum Mysteries set up this book perfectly, and I’ve been waiting a year to find out what would happen.  No, it wasn’t a cliffhanger, but we were promised plenty of conflict for TheFinal Vow, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

If you are new to the series, it features Kelsey Cambridge, the director of Barton Farm, a living history museum in Ohio.  She lives on the farm with her son.  This book revolves around the wedding of her ex.  You see, her ex-husband’s fiancee, Krissie Pumpernickel, has decided that the church at Barton Farm is the perfect place to have her wedding, and she expects her every whim to be met, including Civil War reenactors, Abraham Lincoln, and lights up in the steeple of the church.  Kelsey has put her foot down on the lights, but only because it is a safety concern.

That doesn’t stop Vianna Pine, the wedding coordinator, however.  She sneaks into the steeple in the middle of the night to hang the lights.  Unfortunately, she plunges to her death.  Only neither Kelsey nor the police think that Vianna had an accident.  Instead, they think she had some help falling out of the steeple.  But everyone the police interview comes to Kelsey asking her to clear them.  If everyone is innocent, who could have done it?

I hadn’t realized just how much I’d fallen for these characters until I started reading the book and smiled every time one of the regulars appears on page.  They are a varied group, but that makes them all the more entertaining.  Then there are the characters like Krissie, who make Bridezillas look tame.  While I have no affection for her, I do love to hate her.  We meet some new characters along the way who are just as interesting and fun as the main cast.

And the plot is strong.  In fact, it shoots off in some unexpected directions, and I couldn’t wait see what Kelsey would uncover next.  I did have a couple small niggles with the ending, but they were very small.  The climax had my heart pounding, and I had to keep reading to make sure everyone was safe.

Those who have been reading the series from the start will especially enjoy some character growth we get here.  You’ll still enjoy it if you jump in here, but those who have watched relationships grow through three books will find it more meaningful.

This really is a fun addition to a fun series.  I promise, if you pick up The Final Vow today you’ll be happy you did.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Death in Dark Blue Winner

I just pulled the winner for Death in Dark Blue.  And the book is heading to...


I just sent you an e-mail, so be sure to get back to me.

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good acting and effects; story when it picks up in final third
Cons: A bit too mystic for me, and too much an origin story
The Bottom Line:
Strange introduction
Takes a while to get into
Marvel fans only

I Can’t Say They Didn’t Warn Me with the Title

Marvel has perfected their marketing.  Why do I say that?  Because the only reason I wanted to see Doctor Strange is because I knew it would be part of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.  If I didn’t see it, I would be lost when his character showed up in other movies.  Based on the previews, I couldn’t get a good grip on what it was all about, and it just looked…well, strange.  Turns out, there was a reason for that.

Our hero this time is Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant neurosurgeon who has an impressive success rate with his patients.  Of course, that is because he picks cases where he knows he can do something to help.  With his abilities has come a fame a wealth that has completely gone to his head.  All that changes when he has a horrible car accident that leaves his hands too damaged to do the work that made him famous.  Obsessed with regaining his former ability, he searches everywhere.

His search eventually leads him to a secret compound under the leadership of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).  What he hears at this compound sounds like nonsense to his scientific mind.  But is it?  Or is there something here that could heal him?  Might what he finds here lead him to an entire new world?

One strike against this movie is that it is an origin story.  Yes, for those of us who have never heard of the character before, we need the background.  But at the same time, we have heard this story before, including the character development.  Oh, the details may have changed, but the basic notes are the same.

While all the superhero movies have some kind of fantasy element to them, in this one it was stronger than most.  For some reason, that didn’t make it feel like a superhero movie since there was so much mysticism involved.  That could be a good or a bad thing, I guess, but for me it was a negative, and it took me a while to get into this part of the Marvel Universe.  I was on board by the end, and I fully realize this is on me.  If it weren’t a Marvel movie, I would have skipped it because these elements don’t appeal to me.

Or maybe it was just a combination of the two, because I found myself really getting into the film in the final third.  That’s when the background has finally been laid and we get to see Dr. Strange engaging in battle with the villain of the film.  Yes, we’ve seen the villain before, but only briefly.  We get most of his story via exposition, which was a little clunky, but given the slow pacing earlier, I think cutting to scenes with him would have slowed things down even more.

Visually, this movie is incredible.  Think Inception.  This is a movie that couldn’t have been made before computer graphics.  No, I don’t think that the effects took over and pushed out character and plot since they are used only to tell the story.  And they just look amazing.  I believed the twisted world they showed us, and I loved every second of them.

And the actors were wonderful.  They brought the right notes to the characters to make them come alive.

Honestly, I think the problem here is mostly superhero origin burnout.  That was confirmed to me while watching the two teaser scenes in the credits.  One sets up Doctor Strange being in the next Thor movie, and the other sets up the conflict for the next film to feature Strange.  Both of those scenes intrigued me, so I am definitely on board with this character now.

Still, I’m happy I waited to see Doctor Strange until it was out on Blu-ray.  If you are keeping up with the Marvel movies, you’ll definitely want to watch it, but it’s not a must see otherwise.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Review: Uncorking a Lie by Nadine Nettmann (Sommelier Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in a strong mystery; wine tie in well used
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
An expensive fake
Starts this fun wine mystery
Sit back and savor

Is That Wine Really Valuable?

I grew up in Sonoma County, California, a wine region that has been eclipsed by our neighbor, Napa County, when it comes to famed California wine.  However, I was thrilled when I learned that Sonoma County would provide part of the setting for Uncorking a Lie, the second Sommelier mystery from Nadine Nettmann.  Fans of the first will be thrilled to be back for the sequel.

Our main character is Katie Stillwell, who is an expert on wine.  She works at a restaurant in San Francisco where she recommends wines to the customers.  However, this book finds her invited to a private dinner party.  Paul Rafferty, one of her regular customers who has become a friend, has purchased a rare and expensive bottle of wine, and is having some friends over to enjoy it.  Katie is thrilled to be invited to join the group.

However, as soon as she tastes the wine, Katie knows that something is wrong.  The wine looks and tastes too modern to be the rare bottle Paul had spent so much money to buy.  When the evening ends in a disastrous death, Paul asks Katie to find out what is really going on.  Will her knowledge of wine lead her to the solution?

Hold on when you pick up this book because you are in for a delightfully wild ride.  It seems that everyone Katie talks to is hiding a secret of some kind, and she has to figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth.  The clues, red herrings, and twists kept me gleefully turning pages as I waited to find out exactly what was going on.  The climax was creative and very fun while also tying up all the loose ends.

Katie is a good main character.  While she makes a couple of mistakes, they seem logical at the time.  Her knowledge of wine makes her the perfect sleuth for this story since it involves clues only she would pick up on – yet she always explains them to us.  Even this complete wine novice understood exactly what was going on.  A couple of the characters from the first in the series only got cameos here, but some other got interesting character development, and I’m looking forward to seeing where those relationships go.  And the new cast was wonderful, making us care about the outcome.

As I just mentioned, I’m not a wine guy despite growing up in the heart of California wine country.  However, that didn’t keep me from enjoying this book at all, and I learned something along the way.  So if you are like me, don’t let that stop you from picking this book up.  If you do like wine, you’ll really love this book, and the wine pairings for each chapter will just add to the fun, although you might want to save some of these 36 recommendations for later.

Uncorking a Lie builds well on the first book of the series and delivers a complex mystery all its own.  Wine lover or not, you’ll savor every page.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Spring - Cookie Cutter Through the Year #4 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Gorgeous scene invokes spring
Cons: Maybe a tad on the simple side
The Bottom Line:
Spring flowers blooming
Inside tulip shaped cutter
Spring delight for all

Cookie Cutter Mouse, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Spring universally means flowers.  Whether it is bulbs or new plants in a flower garden or wildflowers.  And Hallmark has captured that well with Cookie Cutter Spring.

This entry in the Cookie Cutter Through the Year series finds our mouse watering his garden.  We can see three flowers, and the mouse with his watering can.  Behind him is a blue sky with just a few clouds and a white fence.  There isn’t much in the way of candy hidden in the scene like in some ornaments, but it does appear that the flowers have a hard candy center.  And the cookie cutter that serves as the frame?  A tulip, of course.

With last month’s I complained that the scene seemed a bit simple.  When you really look at this ornament, it is rather simple as well.  However, it works better for me, I think because the blue sky gives the illusion of a much deeper ornament than we actually get.  It also helps that the flowers aren’t right next to each other and there is the fence behind everything.

Either way, this scene is wonderful at capturing the look and feel of spring.  The colors on the flower centers are fantastic, and it is enough to almost bother my allergies.  Or maybe that is the real pollen in the air.

The rounded base of the tulip is flat enough to allow you to set this ornament out without it immediately tipping over.  However, it isn’t completely steady, so I recommend hanging it.  When you do to do that, you’ll notice that it does tip forward ever so slightly, which makes me wonder why the loop is so far back.  Seems to me they could have fixed this easily by moving the loop forward slightly.

And yes, there is a series marker on the back next to the cookie cutter’s handle.  In this case, it’s a 4 in a Christmas tree.

The promise of spring flowers is always worth celebrating.  With Cookie Cutter Spring, you’ll have a great way to do that with none of the pollen.

Check out the rest of the Cookie Cutter Through the Year ornaments.

Original Price: $15.95

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Ornament Review: Douglas J. Spruce - Snowtop Lodge Companion Ornament - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful ornament that invokes a warm feeling
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Snuggle in for Eve
With this charming offering
Series compliment

Douglas Wishes Us a Warm Christmas Eve

When Hallmark knows they have a popular series of ornaments on their hands, they like to offer compliments to fans.  That’s why Douglas J. Spruce is the second ornament with obvious ties to the Snowtop Lodge series that started out as Keepsake Ornament Club originals.  If you weren’t a member of the club or weren’t collecting the series when it came out, it’s worth tracking down.

Like the ornaments in the official series, Douglas is a snowman.  More than any of the others in the series, he evokes a warm and snowy Christmas Eve for me.  He’s wearing a black top hat that says Merry Christmas on it.  His red and white striped scarf is tied around his neck, and he’s got a cardinal on one arm.  In his other hand?  A Christmas tree, or course.  I mean, how could he not have one based on his name?  His buttons have a snowflakes design.

All the ornaments in this series have a scene painted on them.  In this case, we have a village.  There’s snow on the ground and stars in the sky.  There are plenty of people out and about.  And what makes me think it is Christmas Eve?  If you look up in the sky, you can see Santa and his reindeer are flying in for a visit.

All told, this ornament is charming.  As I said earlier, it evokes the traditional feeling of cold snow outside with warmth inside as you wait for Santa to arrive.  Heck, I’ve never had a white Christmas (a privilege of living in California, and yes, this is me bragging), and I get the appeal.

But I’m not done yet.  There are two holes in the bottom of this ornament that you can use to insert Christmas tree lights into the bottom of the ornament.  The entire thing glows when you do that, although it really glows in the scene, further invoking that warm feeling.  It’s a delightful added touch.

Douglas is easily able to join his brethren in any display you’d create with the rest of the series since he has a nice, flat bottom.  The only problem with this is you won’t get the glow effect since he can’t sit on a cord.  Of course, you’ll notice he doesn’t have a series marker since he’s not officially part of the series.

Or you can put him on your tree, which is the best way to take advantage of the option lighting effect.  The loop for hanging the ornament is on the top of his top hat.  Slip a hook through there and you’ll find that he hangs straight, although putting lights in his base might effect that.

This really is a special ornaments that fans of the series will want to track down.  So if you are missing Douglas J. Spruce from your collection, I suggest you find it down today.

Check out the rest of the official and unofficial Snowtop Lodge ornaments.

Original Price: $19.95