Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Review: Force of Habit by Alice Loweecey (Giulia Falcone #1)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong main character; decent mystery
Cons: Pacing a time or two; needlessly graphic details in second half
The Bottom Line:
A strong character
Faces interesting case
A bit too graphic




Giulia Debuts

Earlier this year, I read my first book by Alice Loweecey, and I completely enjoyed it.  I immediately wanted to back up and see where it all began for her characters with Force of Habit.

This is the book that introduced us to Giulia Falcone, a former nun who has left the convent and is now trying to figure out how to make her way in the world.  She’s 29, been out of the convent for 10 months, and been disowned by her family.  She’s landed a job working for PI Frank Driscoll.  Things appear to be going well, although she does have to fight her attraction to her boss.

Then they land the case of a stalker.  Someone is leaving notes for Blake Parker, a former high school friend of Frank’s.  Because Blake doesn’t want his reputation to suffer, he comes to Frank instead of going to the police.  Blake is getting notes with Bible quotes from Song of Solomon while his fiancée is getting threatening notes with quotes from the prophets.  As part of her job, Giulia interviews Blake’s ex-girlfriends since they are the most likely suspects.  She doesn’t get anywhere, but suddenly, she finds herself the target of the notes as well.  Can she and Frank figure out who the stalker is?

The first book I read to star Giulia was edging toward the darker side of the cozy genre, but it featured some very funny bantered that helped keep the book light.  This book does have the banter, although not nearly as much of it.  And it is definitely dark.  I definitely wouldn’t classify this book as a cozy since there is some language and quite a bit about sex here, both as Giulia struggles with her life outside the convent and because of this case.

Now, that’s not to say that this book is bad.  Far from it.  It’s just a warning before stepping into this book.  Having said that, I do feel that the book went too far in the second half.  I think we could have gotten the point without all the details that were provided, but maybe that’s just me.

Part of the content flows out of Giulia and where she is at this point in her life.  She is truly struggling with who she is after having left the convent.  It made her a very human character, and I identified with her even though I’ve never gone through anything similar myself.  That’s great writing and character development.  While this book is definitely Giulia’s story, we do get to know some series regulars here, and I like what I saw of them.

And the mystery?  It appears to get bogged down a time or two, but never for very long.  Still, things could be a bit tighter.  It’s a first mystery, and I know that Alice does get better with her plotting as things go along.

I wish this book hadn’t included the details it did, but I don’t regret reading Force of Habit.

Check out more of Giulia's cases.

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

June 23rd's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's that time of the week again, time for Book Beginning and Friday 56!

This week, I'm almost half way through Counterfeit Conspiracies by Ritter Ames.




This is a fun caper as the main character is trying to track down a relic and everyone, it seems, is after her.

Here's how the book opens:

Clouds shrouded the moon.  The Dobermans, Zeus and Apollo, snoozed by the rose bushes after devouring the tasty treat I had offered.  Waves crashed in the distance and gave the crisp sea air a taste and smell of salt spray.  The estate's showplace lawn ended a hundred yards away at a private beach.

I'm cheating a little on the 56 this week.  You see, page 57 is the end of a chapter, and it ends like this:

"One last thing.  Have you ever seen this person before?"
She took the phone and stared for a moment at the screen.  Then she pointed toward the middle monitor.  "You mean that man?"

I just couldn't pass up that ending for my second teaser.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Murder, She Wrote - Season 1



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Angela Lansbury is a delight in these mysteries
Cons: Look at the number of stars for a clue
The Bottom Line:
Come meet Jessica
Famous writer solves murder
Still delightful show




"My Occasional Exploits Are Grossly Exaggerated, Believe Me."

Not too long after I got out of college, A&E started showing reruns of Murder, She Wrote.  Being the good mystery fan I am, I started recording and watching them, and I was quickly hooked.  But that’s been years, so I was curious to see what would happen when I sat down to rewatch season 1.  Within minutes, I was smiling and remembering just why I love this show so much.

In the pilot movie, we are introduced to Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury).  When her nephew Grady (guest star Michael Horton) finds a mystery she’s written for her own amusement and submits it, she finds herself an instant bestselling author.  By the next episode, she’s written another couple mysteries, all of which just increase her fame.

Unfortunately, her life as a mystery author isn’t all glamor and book signings.  It seems everywhere she goes, someone is murdered, and more often than not, a friend or relative is accused of the crime.  Between her sharp mind and her observation skills, Jessica winds up solving the mysteries.  Over the course of the season, she clears her nephew-in-law to be of killing his boss in San Francisco, solves the murder of a jazz musician down in New Orleans, figures out who killed a friend on his island off the Greek coast, and solves the murder of a movie producer who wants to turn her first book into a slasher.

You’ll notice I’ve said nothing about Jessica’s home town of Cabot Cove, Maine.  In fact, this show is famous for what has been dubbed Cabot Cove syndrome, an impossibly small town that has more murders than your average large city.  I always maintain that the show gets a bad rap since most people forget how much Jessica travels.  Rewatching this season, I was actually surprised at how many episodes start with Jessica in town until she is called out for some reason.  However, there are really only two and a half episodes that truly focus on Cabot Cove in this season, and only one involved any citizens of Cabot Cove.

With all the traveling Jessica does, she really is the only main character on the show.  That means this is really Angela Lansbury’s show.  And she is fantastic.  I’d forgotten just how much fun she is to watch.  She is charming and delightful, everyone’s favorite aunt.  She has no problem with letting someone under estimate her.  She just keeps going and proves her point.  It really is a shame that Angela Lansbury’s 12 nominations for this role didn’t land her one Emmy.  Since she carried the show by herself, they were well deserved.

That’s not to say that we don’t have some recurring characters here.  Jessica’s nephew Grady appears in two episodes.  Back in Cabot Cove, we’ve got Tom Bosley as Sheriff Amos Tupper, and Jessica’s friend, captain Ethan Cragg (Claude Akins).  Longtime fans of the show will get a kick out of seeing William Windom, who would recur as Dr. Seth Hazlitt starting in season 2, and Ron Masak, who shows up as the new sheriff after Tom Bosley left the show at the end of season 4, playing different characters here.  Each episode features a long list of guest stars to play the suspects.  Among the famous faces that pop up here, we have Martin Landau, Lynn Redgrave, a very young Joaquin Phoenix, Robert Reed, Jo Anne Worley, Leslie Nielsen, and Linda Blair.

I have to highlight two episodes in particular – “Tough Guys Don’t Die” not only introduced Harry McGraw, a PI played by Jerry Orbach who would show up again and star in a short lived spin off, it is also an obvious tribute to The Maltese Falcon.  (And trivia fans will also note that Jerry was Lumiere to Angela’s Mrs. Potts in the original Beauty and the Beast.)  Meanwhile, “Murder Takes the Bus” feels the most like an Agatha Christie tribute as a passenger on a bus full of strangers is killed.  Slowly, Jessica pieces together just how most everyone is actually connected to the victim.

Some people say they can identify the killer as soon as they walk on screen.  I’m not that sharp and never have been.  Heck, I can’t remember who the killer is most of the time, and I usually can figure out what the important clue is, but I can’t piece together who it points to until Jessica reveals all.  Or, if I can remember the killer, I miss the clues.  Either way, I know this show influenced my take on mysteries since its fair play is exactly what I look for in the books I read today.

This season premiered in the fall of 1984, and it is definitely dated in a few references and fashion.  However, as long as you expect that going into the show, you’ll be fine.

Season one consisted of 21 regular one hour (less commercials) mysteries plus the two hour pilot.  They are all preserves here in their native full frame and stereo sound.  (Remember the date I just mentioned.)  You won’t find anything in the way of extras here, but the shows look and sound good for their age.

Okay, I’ll stop gushing now.  Obviously, I enjoy Murder, She Wrote just as much today as I did when I first started watching it.  If you haven’t seen the show or want to revisit an old friend, I highly recommend you catch up with season 1.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. The Murder of Sherlock Holmes (2 hour pilot)
2. Deadly Lady
3. Birds of a Feather
4. Hooray for Homicide
5. It’s a Dog’s Life
6. Lovers and Other Killers
7. Hit, Run, and Homicide
8. We’re Off to Kill the Wizard
9. Death Takes a Curtain Call
10. Death Casts a Spell
11. Capitol Offense
12. Broadway Malady
13. Murder to a Jazz Beat
14. My Johnny Lies Over the Ocean
15. Paint Me a Murder
16. Tough Guys Don’t Die
17. Sudden Death
18. Footnote to Murder
19. Murder Takes the Bus
20. Armed Response
21. Murder at the Oasis
22. Funeral at Fifty-Mile

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Summer - Cookie Cutter Through the Year #5 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great scene in a fun shape
Cons: No summer blues here
The Bottom Line:
Great shaped ornament
Summer fun captured inside
Collectible smiles




It’s Fun in the Sun with this Summer Ornament

It’s officially summer!  This is my favorite season of the year.  Even as an adult with no ties to the school year, there is something relaxing about the season.  I feel like I have extra time for things.  If only my boss would agree with me, right?  That feeling is captures in Cookie Cutter Summer.

The cookie cutter this month is a butterfly.  Doesn’t that feel like summer right there?  And for the scene inside the butterfly frame, our mouse friend is riding a bike.  He’s just ridden past a tree.  There’s a fence behind him and the butterfly motif is carried through in the scene since there is a butterfly in front of him.  There are a few puffy white clouds in the blue sky in the background.

If you start looking closely, you’ll see some fun candy references in this ornament.  The wheels of the bike are obviously peppermints, and the red frame of the bike looks a bit like licorice to me.  The stones in the wall could be hard candies.  And the path he is riding on is soda crackers.  Maybe I’m reading too much into a couple of these objects, but that’s what I think of when I look at them.

Whether they are candy inspired or not, this whole ornament is fun.  While I haven’t ridden a bike in years, the freedom of riding a bike through a scene like this is irresistible.  I can’t help but smile when I look at it.  (I do that a lot with Hallmark ornaments, don’t I?)

Because of the depth of the cookie cutter shape, this ornament does actually stand up on its own, so you can display it that way if you want.  It’s staple enough that you’d have to be trying to knock it over.

If you want to hang the ornament, you’ll find that it tips forward ever so slightly.  This isn’t a huge issue, but it is something to note.  It’s a little odd since it seems like the ring could have been moved forward slightly and it would balance better.

On the back of the ornament, you’ll find the 5 in a Christmas tree series marker.

Cookie Cutter Summer captures those nostalgia feelings of carefree summer days, and it does it perfectly.  That makes it worth owning.

Enjoy more holidays with the rest of the Cookie Cutter Through the Year ornaments.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review: First Degree Mudder by Kate Dyer-Seeley (Pacific Northwest Mysteries #4)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Series regulars shine, interesting developments in Meg’s life
Cons: This book’s mystery overshadowed by other developments
The Bottom Line:
Body in steam room
Meg’s life gets complicated
Series fans will like




Meg Faces a Muddy Mess

My love of mud runs has come full circle.  I first heard of them when a mystery author I read did one, and now I’ve read First Degree Mudder, set during the training for a mud run.  (And yes, I even timed it so that I was reading it the week between doing the Camp Pendleton Mud Run and the Irvine Lake Mud Run this month.)

Meg Reed’s newest assignment for Northwest Extreme magazine is to participate in Mud, Sweat, and Beers, a mud run coming to Portland in three weeks.  But before that, she’s signing up for Mind Over Mudder, a training course that meets every morning to whip people into shape for the run.  The drill instructor running the course is Billy, and he takes his job very seriously.  Some might even say too seriously, and after two weeks Meg is seriously questioning her decision to sign up.

The Saturday before the race is the first time Meg and her team actually crawl through the mud as part of their training.  It doesn’t go well, and Meg sneaks out early instead of completing the rest of the run.  However, when she arrives back at the barracks the company uses as their headquarters, she discovers Billy’s body in the steam room.  What is going on?

First, I’ve got to say that author Kate Dyer-Seeley is much nicer to Billy than I would have been.  When I heard mystery set at a mud run, I was expecting the dead body to show up in a mud pit.  But that’s completely beside the point.

This is now Meg’s fourth mystery, and I really don’t recommend you jump into the series here.  In fact, if you do, I think you’ll be disappointed.  The mystery of what happened to Billy and why is more of a sub-plot than the focus of the book.  Instead, we get stories of Meg’s life changing and some serious twists in the plot of her father’s murder, a series long plot thread.

Here’s the thing.  As someone who has been following this series since the beginning, I want to know this information.  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what happened next.  But without that background, I don’t think I would have been as engrossed in this book.  Believe me, with the way this book ends, I’m already looking forward to finding out what happens to Meg next.  (Can we say cliffhangers?)

Given this, I’m sure it will be no surprise when I say that the characters introduced in this book are good, but not given enough page time to be fully developed.  However, the series regulars are more than up to the task of carrying this book.  Meg especially continues to grow as the book unfolds.

And at the end of the book, we get the usual adventure tips and tour guide if you’d like to go to some of the real places where this book is set.

If I sounded overly harsh earlier, let me be clear, the mystery here has some good twists and definitely holds together.  It’s just overshadowed by some other developments in Meg’s life that will only mean something to those who already care about Meg.

So if you are up to date on Meg’s adventures, you’ll definitely want to read First Degree Mudder.  If you are new to the series, I recommend backing up before you dive into these murky waters.

If you need to back up, here are the rest of the Pacific Northwest Mysteries.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Movie Review: Cars 3



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Heartwarming story
Cons: One inconsistency with the first film in one scene
The Bottom Line:
Lightning back on track
Sequel lives up to first film
Race out to watch it




“Race Cars Don’t Have Cell Phones.”

While I loved the original Cars, it took me a couple of viewings to warm up to Cars 2.  When they first announced Cars 3, I wasn’t sure whether to be excited or not.  Then came the preview with the cliffhanger, and I knew I had to see it.  I’m pleased to say that I also loved it.

Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is in the middle of another winning racing season when the unthinkable happens – he starts losing.  His new biggest competition is Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a sleak newly designed race car that is not only younger but is more aerodynamic.  Jackson is breaking the 200 mph barrier, something that Lightning has never quite reached.

In the last race of the season, something even worse happens – Lightning is in an accident.  While he recovers during the off season, he has to wonder if it is even worth trying to come back.

Yes, I know.  I’m doing the exact same thing that preview I complained about did.  But there’s a reason that preview was so effective.  It really is worth it to watch this movie and let the story unfold.

What we get is another heartwarming story.  The focus is once again on Lightning.  In fact, most of the Radiator Springs crew have very small parts here.  Yes, that includes Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater.  While I missed those characters, many of them do get a moment or two to shine, and those moments are enough to make you smile.  They are just perfect.

With the focus once again on racing, this movie definitely feels like the first movie.  There’s no spy story or international intrigue.  Instead, it’s Lightning learning more about himself.  Don’t worry, this isn’t a repeat of the first film.  In fact, as much as I miss those Radiator Springs characters, seeing so little of them allows us to get a fresh story.  Okay, so it was predictable, but I was having so much fun I didn’t mind.

The movie is slow in parts, and the kids in the theater where I was watching it seemed to get bored a time or two.  Of course, those slow parts are the character development that makse this movie so good.  I’d argue that adults will appreciate those scenes even if kids don’t.

The voice cast is absolutely fabulous.  Yes, all the old characters are once again voiced by the same people.  The new cast member who gets the most screen time is Cristela Alonzo who voices Cruz Ramirez.  She and the other new cast members slip into this world seamlessly.

And the animation is outstanding.  Some of the nature shots in the original Cars are still among the best computer animation has to offer, but this movie has some shots that rival those.  You won’t be disappointed in that department.

However, I do have a nit to pick with them.  They forgot one things they established for Lightning in the very first film.  It’s only for a minute or two, and it doesn’t really matter, but it still bugged me.  This is especially true since it is the reason that Sally calls Lightning “Stickers,” somethings she still does here.

Before the film, we get a new short – “Lou.”  At first, this short seemed like it was going to be a retread of a scene from Toy Story, but it quickly grew into something more, and it became something really touching.  Definitely arrive in time to see it.

And if you stay through the credits, there is a fun throw away scene with Mater as well.

If you were disappointed with Cars 2, put that movie out of your mind and go see Cars 3.  If you were a fan of the first, I think you’ll find that this film is just as wonderful.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Book Review: The Mystery of the Galloping Ghost by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #39)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: It’s Trixie
Cons: Few regular characters; mystery, while interesting, has weaknesses
The Bottom Line:
Final mystery
Finds Trixie facing a ghost
Weak, but kids will like

For Trixie’s Final Case, She Faces the Galloping Ghost

Sadly, all good things come to an end.  The thirty-ninth book in the Trixie Belden series would prove to be the last in the series.  Most fans hate The Mystery of the Galloping Ghost, but I must admit I enjoy it despite its issues.

This book finds fourteen-year-old Trixie Belden, her best friend Honey Wheeler, and the Wheeler’s groom Regan traveling to a horse ranch in Minnesota to observe their training techniques with the pure bread Arabian horses they own.

However, the first night they are there, Trixie sees a strange horse and rider out the window that then vanish.  It’s the next day she hears the local legend of the galloping ghost.  When she meets a ghost hunter and strange things start happening around the ranch, Trixie begins to think there might actually be a ghost haunting the place.  Can she figure out what is really happening?

As I said earlier, many fans of the series don’t like this book (or any of the final five).  They have some legitimate complaints, too.  This is the final book in the series, but the only regular characters we get are Trixie, Honey, and Regan.  Of course, when this book came out, it wasn’t supposed to be the final book in the series.  In fact, book forty was being written when the series was canceled.  (And it would have finally brought Trixie to California, too!)  They also complain about Honey’s crush on a character we meet in this book when it’s been established earlier in the series that Honey has a crush on Trixie’s older brother Brian.  Honestly, this one bothers me, but not too much.

One reason these issues stick out to people is that they read this book as an adult and as the final book in the series.  In fact, this book was in print for such a short amount of time that it can draw a large amount of money on the secondary market.  I think one reason I feel the way I do about this book is because I read it as a teen while I was reading the rest of the series, and I probably had about half the series still to go when I read it for the first time.  Additionally, I paid cover price.  I’m sure if I paid a much higher price for it and read it as an adult, I’d be disappointed in it as well.

Not to say that the book is perfect.  The mystery is flawed.  It didn’t bother me as a teen when I first read it, but now reading it as an adult, I can see some serious flaws with it.  It works, and I think kids won’t mind, so I’m willing to let it pass.  It certainly has some interesting elements to it.

I actually kind of like the characters in this book.  Trixie actually seems more aware of people’s feelings, something that is often missing in other books in the series.  Honey reverts to her fraidy cat persona at one point, but that’s actually understandable considering what is happening.  The characters aren’t as rich as they are in earlier books in the series overall, but they aren’t at their worst either.

I certainly don’t recommend paying a high price for this book, however.  It isn’t the worst in the series, in my opinion, but it isn’t worth paying much money to read, either.

With the right expectations, I still find The Mystery of the Galloping Ghost enjoyable.  While not Trixie’s best case, it is still a fun mystery for kids.

Here are the rest of the Trixie Belden Mysteries.

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

June 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

It's still proving to be a quite summer.  I'll have a little more TV starting up in the next month, but I'm enjoying the slower pace.  Not that I seem to have more time at home, but it is nice to have a less to watch when I am home.

American Ninja Warrior – Okay, I have to rant for a minute first.  (I promise I will only do this about this issue once all season.)  Right after talking about how women are really increasing their presence in the competition, they then announce that they are going to move five women on to the finals in each city automatically.  What?  If women are stepping up and making their presence known, they shouldn’t need the boost of getting in because they are women.  In fact, one thing I have always loved about the show is that the women advance because they earn a spot.  It showed true equality.  And my hat is off to the women who earned the spots tonight.  At least they are still having the same number of finishers plus however many they need to have five women in the finals, so they aren’t taking away spots from the top 30, they are adding on to the number of people going to the next round.

Okay, now let’s talk LA.  There were a couple of surprises, but they glossed over them.  Instead, we got to see the usual crowd finish the course.  This was definitely the course they used a couple of weeks ago for the celebrities, which was fun.  I really liked the football player and I hope he makes it to Vegas.  Always happy to see Flippy, I mean Flip, make it as well.

Spartan – I’m not as impressed with the set this year.  It’s all about the obstacles.  I much preferred the outdoor course from last year.  How could you not root for Heart of Texas?  What a story!  And Little Giants won, too.  Honestly, that surprised me since size is such an issue for some of the obstacles.  Looking forward to seeing what happens when these teams face off.

Angie Tribecca – I have a low standard when it comes to the mysteries on this show, but even by my standards this one just didn’t make sense.  It created a couple of great jokes, but with everything else that happened, I just truly don’t buy it.  Plus it feels like a cheat because everything that happened this season was a lie.  The cliffhanger is certainly interesting, however.  I wonder where they will go with that next season.

Team Ninja Warrior – Well, if the Superhero Squad is going to lose to anyone, it’s hard to argue with them losing to the godfather.  Seriously impressive second showdown there to top off a night of twists and surprises.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Review: Blood Work by Michael Connelly



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; outstanding mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Retired agent
Leads us through a twisty case
Hang on and enjoy




Pulls You in as Story Gets More Complicated

While I still have a long way to go to get caught up on Michael Connelly’s books, I’ve already learned to buckle up when I start one because you can never predict where the story will go based on how it starts.  There is no better example of that than Blood Work, a mostly standalone novel from the late 1990’s.

This book introduces us to Terry McCaleb, a former FBI agent who was forced to retire early due to heart problems.  Against all odds thanks to a rare blood type, he gets the heart transplant he needs.  The book opens two months after the procedure.  Things are looking good that his body will accept this heart.  Of course, it helps that he is taking it easy – spending his days fixing up the boat he inherited from his father.

Things change one day when he returns from his morning walk to find Graciela Rivers waiting for him.  She is there asking Terry to solve her sister’s murder.  Gloria was killed in a convenience store robbery.  Terry tries to explain that he isn’t interested until Graciela pulls him in with one final revelation – his new heart was Gloria’s heart.

Naturally, the police aren’t that interested in talking to an outsider, much less a former FBI agent.  Still, Terry manages to get enough information to start his own investigation.  Is there more to Gloria’s death than there first appears?  Can Terry figure out what happened?

Obviously, since this is a Michael Connelly book, there is much more to the case than it first appears.  If I told you where the book wound up (don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything), you’d probably never believe me.  Yet each piece of the puzzle leads logically into the next one.  In fact, my mind was blown a couple of times by where the book went and how it was set up.  The plotting is wonderful, and the pacing is superb.  The book held my attention the entire way through.

All of the characters in this book are brand new, but they are all strong.  By the time the book is over, I felt like we’d gotten to know them very well.  A couple of the supporting players come across as cliché, but I’m sure that’s a factor of how much page time they get, and if they’d gotten more, they would have been more fully fleshed out.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is pretty much still a standalone.  However, it still fits into the overall work that Michael Connelly is creating.  Since Terry is a former FBI agent, there is reference to The Poet, which involved that agency.  While he has yet to appear anywhere on page, we get another reference to Mickey Haller.  Terry McCaleb himself would pop up as a supporting characters in a Harry Bosch novel that would come out a few years later.  I can’t wait to get to that one for an update.  (At least I hope it’s a good update.)

I listened to the audio book while traveling over Memorial Day.  I was actually a bit disappointed when I saw that Dick Hill was the narrator since I find he can be annoying at times.  However, this time he behaved himself outside of one or two overly acted lines.  For the rest of the book, he did a fantastic job bringing the characters to life.

It really is easy to see why Michael Connelly has the reputation and fan base he does.  If you have missed Blood Work, fix that today.  This is an outstanding mystery that will keep you turning pages.

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

June 16th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's another Friday, which means it is time again for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Force of Habit by Alice Loweecey.




This is the book that introduced us to Alice's character.  I was going to tell you about her, but the opening does a good job of that.

Giulia Falcone - formerly Sister Mary Regina Coelis - popped a tangerine Life Saver in her mouth to stifle a curse.
No wonder the client was desperate.  She would be too if a stalker had sent her notes that escalated from adoring to obsessive.  Given the choice, she'd rather be chased by a rabid Doberman.

Yes, we have a former nun turned PI, and she's a wonderful character.

Jumping to page 56, we find:

Blake waved a hand in Giulia's direction.  "Fine.  Whatever it takes to get us out of this mess."

That's all for this week.  Hope you have a fabulous weekend.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

French Fried Winner

I am behind this week in pulling the winner for a copy of French Fried.  But I just took care of business, and the winner is...

...Katherine!

I've sent you an e-mail, so please watch for it and get back to me as soon as you can.

Ornament Review: Snow Angel Memories - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute mini tie in to Making Memories
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Snowchild makes angel
Cute miniature ornament
Ties to large series




Snow Angel Fun

When Hallmark went big with their miniature ornaments in 2016, they tied several of them into some of their series.  Naturally, that encouraged those of us who are fans of the series to buy the ornament.  It certainly worked for me with Snow Angel Memories, and I’m glad it did.

This ornament ties in loosely to the Making Memories series.  Being a miniature ornament, it just features one of the snowpeople that the other series features, specifically, it features the snowchild.  And the child is flat on its back ready to create a snow angel.  You can help along by pulling the string on the bottom of the ornament, which makes the arms and legs go.  The child is wearing a blue hat, red scarf, and green shoes and is covered in glitter.

I called this a miniature ornament, and that’s how it is classified, but it looks just a little bigger than the rest of Hallmark’s mini line.  No, it’s not full size, and if you buy it expecting a full sized ornament, you’ll be disappointed, but it does have an extra inch over most of the other miniature ornaments.  It’s still half the size of a regular ornament, but it looks about the size of the showchild from the regular Making Memories ornaments, which makes it seem bigger to fans of the series.

Size aside, this is a fun ornament.  While the title is the only official tie in to the Making Memories series, it is easy to tell with how the snowchild looks that it ties in to the series.  And the grin on its face is certainly enough to make you smile.  The added action (rare for a mini ornament) adds to the fun, although you want a sturdy branch before you start pulling on it.  (Personally, I like to grab the hook through the top ring as well.)

You’ll definitely need to hang this ornament since there’s no way to make it stand.  But that’s no issue since you’ll find that it hangs straight.

I know that miniature ornaments are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve found I really enjoy them.  If you are like me, you’ll definitely enjoy Snow Angel Memories.

Enjoy more memories with the full size Making Memories series ornaments.

Original Price: $9.95

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Book Review: Killer Cocktail by Tracy Kiely (Nic and Nigel Mysteries #2)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and a good mystery
Cons: Flashbacks slow things down a little at first
The Bottom Line:
Behind the scenes tapes
Lead to a modern day crime
Book filled with laughs, clues




Sip and Savor this Killer Cocktail

When I finally read the first Nic and Nigel Mystery earlier this year, I immediately fell in love.  It’s hard not to when you are laughing at the banter between the characters.  As a result, I was looking forward to revisiting the characters in Killer Cocktail, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

If you’ve missed this series, Nic, short for Nichole, is a former NYPD detective who left her job when she fell in love and married Nigel Martini, an obscenely rich man who runs a video restoration business in Hollywood.  They have a large dog, a Bullmastiff named Skippy.  And if you are seeing connections to the classic The Thin Man, that is completely intentional.  While you don’t need to have read the book or seen the movies to completely enjoy this modern day set homage book, catching those in jokes and nods are tons of fun.  (And the original movies themselves are worth watching.)

As this book opens, Nic and Nigel have just found some home movies made during the filming of A Winter’s Night.  This movie from 20 years ago made the career of Christina Franklin, who stepped into the lead after the tragic death from an overdose of America’s Sweetheart, and the film’s original star, Melanie Summers.

Naturally, these tapes are the talk to the town during the Oscars, and Nigel is very willing to talk them up.  He and his company are working on editing them into a new behind the scenes documentary.  However, a break in during the Oscar after party makes Nic and Nigel wonder just what might be on those tapes that someone wants to keep hidden.  Can they figure it out?

This book cuts between the mystery today and excerpts from the tapes of 20 years ago.  Because the people involved in those tapes are the suspects of today, these flashbacks really do help us get to know the characters.  They do feel like they are slowing down the story in the beginning when there are more excerpts, but that’s a minor issue.

Once the modern day portion of the mystery kicks into high gear, things really take off.  I thought I knew where the book was going early on, but I turned out to be wrong.  However, when the villain was revealed, everything made perfect sense.

The only characters from the first book are Nic, Nigel, and Skippy.  They are still great characters, especially Skippy.  I’m not a dog person, but I find his antics funny.  The new characters we meet here are quite fun as well and fit perfectly into this book.  There are a couple we love to hate, but I found there scenes funny as a result.

If you enjoy comedy, you definitely should pick up this book.  Nic and Nigel banter their way through this book, and some of their exchanges are absolutely delightful.  Some of their lines push the boundaries of a PG rated book, but we are talking about a married couple here.  I don’t mind at all.

There are a few four letter words scattered through the book as well.  Yes, I could have done without them, but they are easy enough to ignore.


Killer Cocktail is a fast read, and I was done all too soon.  Fortunately, the third book is already out, so I will be able to revisit Nic, Nigel, and Skippy in the near future.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Movie Review: Pete's Dragon (2016)



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good acting and effects; final act
Cons: Very slow first two acts
The Bottom Line:
Boy and his dragon
Story moves very slowly
Not original




Easily Skippable Remake

I seem to be one of the exceptions around, but I don’t necessarily mind a remake.  Yes, you have to go in with the right expectations, but if you do that, I quite often find the results to be fun.  So it was with guarded optimism that I finally sat down to watch last year’s remake of Pete’s Dragon.  Sadly, in this case, I was disappointed.

The movie tells the story of Pete (Oakes Fegley).  At a young age, he was orphaned in a car accident and lost in the woods where he finds a dragon who helps him survive.  He might have stayed in the woods forever if not for an encounter with Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard).  Grace is a forest ranger who is trying to stop some logging from happening in the area.

Grace is surprised to find Pete since she thought she knew everything that was in the woods.  She is even more surprised to hear that Pete has survived all these years thanks to a dragon.  However, Pete’s description matches a story that Grace’s father (Robert Redford) tells.  Is there really something out there?

Okay, let me start by saying I am a huge fan of the original movie.  Yes, it is filled with 70’s cheese and the animated dragon doesn’t fit in super well with the rest of the movies.  Yet, I watched it enough times as a kid that I just love it.  The songs are fun, and it gets me smiling.

If you are like me, you have to forget everything from that movie.  Heck, I kept looking for them to make any nod or reference to the original film.  They had several good times to slip in a fun reference without interrupting the new story they are creating, but they pass them all up.  Really, if they hadn’t used the names Pete and Elliot, they could have called this movie something else and we never would have known better.

However, even viewing this as a standalone movie it isn’t that good.  The first two thirds of the story are very slow.  We know where things are going to go, and we just have to wait for the movie to tell us that part of the story.  In fact, I was watching this with some friends and their four kids, and the kids were bored.  I’ve often said I don’t mind predictable stories if I am having fun along the way, but that wasn’t the case here.  The obvious environmental message didn’t help at all, either.

Things do pick up when we hit the final act of the movie, and the kids got engrossed in the movie at that point as well.  I even felt some emotion near the end of the film.  But it was so slow getting there that I barely cared.

Now I’m not faulting the actors.  With Robert Redford in the cast, you know the caliber of acting is going to great, and you wouldn’t be disappointed at all.  Everyone makes even the most obvious moments come to life.

Meanwhile, the special effects are outstanding.  No hokey dragon here.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was real.

There are a couple of moments that might frighten some children, so if your child is especially sensitive, you might want to preview it before you let them watch it.  Most kids should be fine, however.

Ultimately, this remake of Pete’s Dragon doesn’t work on its own, and if you have found memories of the original, you really won’t like it.  It’s not bad, but it’s really not good either.  Personally, I’ll be sticking with the original in this case.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review: Designer Dirty Laundry by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #1)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and mystery, fun overall
Cons: A few niggles here or there, but nothing major
The Bottom Line:
First days are murder
In this fun author debut
Fashionable read




Starting Over is Murder

The joy of finding an author with multiple books out already is you know you have some great reading in front of you.  The bad part is finding the time to read those books.  Even though I’ve had Designer Dirty Laundry for over a year, I’ve just finally made the time to read Diane Vallere’s very first novel.

Samantha Kidd has just left a job as a buyer for a prestigious store in New York City to become the trend specialist for Tradava, the department store in her home town of Ribbon, Pennsylvania.  She’s even buying her childhood home from her parents, who have moved to California.  She is very excited about this new chapter in her life.

However, her first day turns into a nightmare when she finds Patrick, her new boss, dead in an elevator in the store.  By the time the police turn up, his body is missing.  Furthermore, Tradava has no record of her working there, and her mortgage company is a little worried about the fact that she has quite the job she listed on her application.  In order to prove to everyone that she isn’t crazy, Samantha has to figure out what is going on.  But can she do that?

What at first looked like sub-plots turned out to be motivation for Samantha to be involved in the case, and I appreciated seeing how everything upped the stakes for her.  There is plenty happening here, but at times it felt a bit like Samantha was reacting more than actually investigating.  Still, the bits that needed more polish are a minor complaint since I was never bored with the proceedings.  Once we reach the climax, it is completely logical.

Samantha is a wonderful main character.  You can really see how she grows via what happens here.  She’s got some interesting sidekicks, and in a world where she doesn’t know whom to trust, they all fall under suspicion at some point.  I actually liked that since it really kept me guessing.  It also helped that everyone felt fully developed, which made figuring out the mystery that much harder.

Obviously, fashion isn’t my thing.  (And if you saw my wardrobe, you’d really know that.)  That wasn’t a detriment to enjoying the book.  I’m sure there are some things I missed as a result, but I didn’t feel like it was much, and certainly nothing that was important to the plot.

Even with the huge stakes and the fact that we are talking about murder, there’s quite a bit of humor threaded through the book.  Between some of what happens and Samantha herself, you’ll be smiling if not laughing as you read this book.

So I’m glad I finally made the time to meet Samantha.  If Designer Dirty Laundry is any indication, I’m sure I’ll enjoy the rest of the books in this series.

NOTE: While I am reviewing this book as part of a blog tour, I bought the book last year.  As always, my opinions are my own.

This review is part of the #Samanthapalozza Blog Tour.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #19 - Christmas Caroling - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Snoopy, Woodstock, and Christmas carols
Cons: Did you not read the list of pros?
The Bottom Line:
Christmas caroling
Snoopy, Woodstock enjoying
In cute ornament




Caroling, Caroling Now We Go

Hallmark’s Winter Fun with Snoopy series has attempted to mix in Christmas activities along with general winter activities.  It’s been a few years since we saw something related to Christmas, but that changed with the 2016 addition to the series.

You see, this year, Snoopy and Woodstock are going caroling.  They are both wearing red scarves, and Snoopy is wearing a red hat to match.  He’s also holding a green book that says “Christmas Carols” on the cover.  And in one of those touches at I just love from Hallmark, when you turn the ornament around, you’ll see music on the pages of the book.  This is especially impressive since the ornament is less than an inch tall.  It is a miniature ornament after all.  You can’t read the music, but you can tell it is supposed to be there, which in this case is all you really need.

This has proved to be a more popular entry in the series than the last few, and I certainly like it.  It is simple, but it is fun.  I can actually picture Snoopy howling in tune to Christmas carols, and Woodstock’s chirps would be the perfect accompaniment.  Plus, I love Christmas music, so anything that celebrates that gets an added bump in my mind.

Snoopy and Woodstock are standing in the snow, so this base does give the ornament a flat surface you can use to set it out if you want.  Again, remember the size.

Or you can hang the ornament.  The loop is on Snoopy’s hat, and when you slip a loop through it you’ll find that it tips forward ever so slightly, but not enough to be an issue.

While I haven’t gone caroling very often, I’ve always found it fun.  2016’s Winter Fun with Snoopy captures that fun perfectly.

Here's the rest of cold fun with the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

Original Price: $7.95

Saturday, June 10, 2017

June 10th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Even for summer, this week is low.  Considering all the reading I got done, I'm not complaining at all.  But the list itself is short and sweet.

American Ninja Warrior – You can tell how much having obstacle experience helps.  I really felt sorry for the Latin America team since they weren’t much of a factor.  Of course, even having obstacle experience doesn’t mean anything – look at Jessie Graff in stage 1.  However, she overcame that quite nicely in stage two.  That was certainly a gamble, but it paid off in points and in her completing the stage.  How awesome is that?  It was tight there at the end, with two new Americans completing stage three.  So happy for the win.  I do think that knowing the exact course gives us an advantage, but it was so close.

Angie Tribecca – Yuck!  That episode was just nasty in so many ways.  Yes, there were some fun moments, like the hall of mirrors, but I could have done without so much of the gross out jokes in the episode.

Team Ninja Warrior – I was very happy with this.  I love Jamie, so I was rooting for him the entire time.  I was a bit surprised that some of the other big names that had lost weren’t in this.  Paul was, but that was about it.  Here’s hoping that Jamie’s team pulls it out next week and makes the finals.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review: The Last Dinosaur by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun Mysteries #3)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in a fast moving, twisty mystery
Cons: A couple of things don’t quite get explained
The Bottom Line:
Deadly movie prop
Opens Joe’s next twisty case
Fun if slightly flawed




That’s One Old Murder Weapon

It seems to be a plot used in many murder mystery series – a Hollywood movie comes to the area and someone associated with it is murdered.  It works for two reasons – we are fascinated by Hollywood, and, more practically, it brings a bunch of new people to town to either die or be suspects.  Sandy Dengler used this device in The Last Dinosaur.  The result doesn’t quite work as well as her books usually do, however.

The Last Dinosaur also happens to be the name of the movie being filmed a couple hours outside of Phoenix.  And the murder victim is the assistant direct.  Melissa Baugh was killed while the rest of the crew was in a meeting.  She was trampled to death by the animatronic star of the film.  But this dinosaur doesn’t run wild.  In fact, it only works when someone is running the controls.  So who had it in for Melissa and why?  That’s what Phoenix homicide detective Joe Rodriguez and his partner Tommy Flaherty have to find out.

Obviously, this murder is a bit on the grisly end, although the violence is discussed in vague terms in passing.  The focus really is on how and why Melissa was killed.  The trail Joe follows leads in some surprising directions, too.  A sub-plot involving a visiting preacher who may or may not be involved in a burglary scheme helps keep things interesting, too.

Which is why I’m sorry that a couple details of the mystery don’t quite come together.  Oh, the big picture works well.  We know who the killer is and why, and that makes sense.  There are a couple of niggles over the how Melissa died that don’t get answered.  I first read this book over 20 years ago, and I didn’t remember many of the details of the plot, but as I reread the book, I remembered a few things that didn’t quite get explained.  I felt the same way this time.  Trust me, they are minor overall, and you can piece together what must have happened.

Which is a shame because I love the characters in this series.  Joe and Tommy make a fine investigative pair, and the rest of the supporting players are wonderful.  The suspects are strong and keep you guessing until Joe puts things together at the end.  Joe’s ten-year-old son Rico really gets a chance to shine here, which I enjoyed.

This book was originally published for the Christian market.  Now don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you’ll get any lectures.  Instead, it influences how Joe looks at life and the case.  As a Christian myself, I enjoy this aspect of the book, but it is easy enough to ignore if you aren’t a Christian yourself.

Even with the flaws in the mystery, I still recommend The Last Dinosaur.  The story is still strong enough and the characters are wonderful to spend time with.  The couple of small things left unanswered won’t bother you too much.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Valley of the Sun Mysteries.

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

June 9th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

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

This week, I'm pulling quotes from Designer Dirty Laundry by Diane Vallere.




This is the first book in the Samantha Kidd mystery series, and I'll be reviewing it Monday as part of the #Samanthapalooza blog tour.  (There's a giveaway as well!)

But that's Monday.  For today, let's take a look at the opening line:

When you wear fishnet stockings to the grocery store, people tend to stare.  Women look at you like you're affiliated with the sex trade.  Men pretend they're not staring, doing so all the while.  It's probably because they're thinking the same thing.

Jumping ahead to page 56, you find this:

His choice of words hammered an ominous refrain inside my brain.  No one will know we're here.  I'll kidnap you.  You're coming with me.  Insurance.

I hope you'll come back on Monday to see my review.  Meanwhile, have a great weekend.  I'm doing the Camp Pendleton Mud Run on Saturday and really looking forward to it!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Movie Review: Site Unseen - An Emma Fieldling Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Delightful main character; puzzling mystery
Cons: Usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Fresh body at dig
Emma’s troubles beginning
In charming movie

“Bits and Pieces are My Specialty.”

Ever since Hallmark announced their newest mystery I’ve been asking myself just one question – do I have the book?  I know that Site Unseen, the first Emma Fielding mystery by Dana Cameron, was on my to buy list back in the day, I just can’t remember if I ever actually bought it or not.  (And if I did, I have no idea where it might be in my condo.)  Frankly, that was just an academic question for me since I knew either way I was going to watch this movie.

Emma Fielding (Courtney Thorne-Smith) is an archeologist, and she’s spending the summer trying to prove an idea her father had championed when he was alive – that there was an earlier colony than Jamestown.  In fact, she’s leading this dig on the land where he always thought it was, the land owned by her step-mother.

Since Emma spent summers in this town, she knows some of the locals, and when she’s not leading her students at the dig, she’s reconnecting with old friends.  Some people aren’t glad to see her back, and after threatening her, one of them turns up dead – buried in her dig.  As more and more things start going wrong, Emma must figure out who is behind it all before her dig is shut down for good.

There’s a lot happening in this movie.  After an opening scene that really introduces Emma, the movie never slows down at all.  The movie could have used another suspect or two, but that’s a minor issue.  Everything does make perfect sense when Emma figures it out in the end.

The characters make for a very charming bunch.  Emma is a strong lead character you want to spend time with.  One thing that makes her appealing is the bond she obviously shares with her step-mother and how much her students look up to her.  Yes, the suspects aren’t as charming, but that’s to be expected in a story like this.

Of course, the movie does come with my usual Hallmark cheese warning.  This is a low budget movie, and the acting and writing mirror that.  However, if you can remember that, you’ll get swept up in the charm and mystery.

And I definitely recommend you watch Site Unseen.  This is a delightful puzzle with a strong main character that will keep you interested until the final scene has aired.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Pin Review: Johnny Appleseed - Storybook Classics Collection #10 - 2017 Disney Store Release

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: The cover looks great
Cons: The inside picture looks weird
The Bottom Line:
This pin of Johnny
Has a great looking cover
But strange inside pic

Maybe I’d Like this Pin Better if I Knew the Book

I’ve found my reaction to the pins in the Storybook Classic Collection to be more mixed than I’d hoped for when they started the series.  That’s because the pins are based more on the books Disney release years ago than the animated features, and since I didn’t have those books growing up, I’m not familiar with them.  That can leave me scratching my head, like in the case of the Johnny Appleseed pin.

The cover of this pin is actually very good.  While not a shot from the animated short, I get what it is capturing, and it is a great scene.  It features Johnny Appleseed as he is setting out to plant the apple orchards he is most famous for.  He’s got his pot on his head, his seed pouch over one shoulder, and his Bible tucked under his arm.  You can see trees behind him, and there are even a couple of rabbits and a squirrel looking on.  This is a very detailed scene, made even more impressive by the fact that this is captured just with simple lines.  The background is yellow, and the drawing is outlined in black.  The title is across the top in red, and they used red to fill in apples on the trees as well.  As I said, this looks wonderful.

The trouble comes when you open the pin to the inside picture.  Usually, these are my favorite since they are in full color.  Here, that doesn’t work at all.  I have a feeling they are trying to do a forced perspective picture with apples in the foreground and a barn in the back.  However, the apples are off to the side and just look so big that it doesn’t make any sense at all.  In fact, if I saw this without the context of knowing this was about Johnny Appleseed, I’d think they had a giant pumpkin next to a giant something else.  I can’t even identify what I think the fruit or vegetable that is sliced open is supposed to be.  There are no humans or animals in this picture at all.  I’m sure it is a page from the book, and maybe it works well in the context of the book, but here it is just strange.

Like the rest in the series, this pin has two sticks in the back to make sure it attaches securely if you go to wear it.  After all, with two scenes on two different layers, this is a heavy pin.

That inside picture really does prove disappointing, especially since I love the cover.  Unless you are looking for a Johnny Appleseed related pin for some particular reason, you can skip over this one.

Enjoy more rare Disney characters with the rest of the Storybook Classics Collection.

Ornament Review: Johnny Appleseed - Storybook Classics Collection #10 - 2017 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfectly captures rare Disney character
Cons: None to be found here
The Bottom Line:
Johnny Appleseed
Captured in wonderful piece
Please fans of the rare

Bushels of Apples for Johnny

Disney really has been pulling from their rare characters for the Storybook Classic Collection, and I’ve been loving it.  The latest release in this series is Johnny Appleseed, and the ornament is wonderful.

The cartoon this ornament is based on is from the Melodytime movie and tells the story of folk hero Johnny Appleseed who traveled much of the mid-west planting apple orchards.  Of course, I’m sure the short is highly fictionalized, but Johnny was a real person.

The ornament comes from early in the short when Johnny is gathering apples from his own orchard before he leaves home to travel west.  He’s got three bushels of apples balanced in his wheelbarrow as he takes them to storage.

And anyone who loves the Disney animated version will love this ornament.  You can actually point to the moment they’ve decided to capture here, and it looks wonderful.  There is no mistaking who this character is or what he is doing.  For a rare character to get any merchandising for at all, this is very special.

Since this ornament came from the Disney Store, it has an apple red ribbon through it all ready to hang on your tree.  Okay, so the Disney Store usually uses red ribbons, but the tie in here is perfect.  The ornament tips to one side ever so slightly when you pick up the ornament by the ribbon, but it’s hardly noticable.  That’s a good thing – we wouldn’t want to spill any apples.

But you might want to display Johnny year round, or maybe during harvest season.  If you choose to do that, you can easily set him out since Johnny and his wheelbarrow are on a nice, flat base painted to look like grass.

If you are a fan of the rarer Disney offerings or Johnny Appleseed in particular, you need this ornament.  It’s absolutely wonderful.

Enjoy more rare Disney characters with the rest of the Storybook Classics Collection.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Book Review: French Fried by Kylie Logan (Ethnic Eats Mysteries #2)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Interesting mystery with strong leads
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Who would kill Rocky?
Search for motive makes great book
Delightful reading




Can Laurel Find a Motive for a Shocking Murder?

As much as I enjoy mysteries, I will freely admit there is a certain formula to them, which is why it is always refreshing to find a book that puts a twist on that familiar formula.  That’s what we get with French Fried, the second in Kylie Logan’s Ethic Eats Mysteries.

As this book opens, the residence of Hubbard, Ohio, are getting ready to celebrate the 130th birthday of the Statue of Liberty.  Terminal at the Tracks is getting into the spirit by offering French cuisine in addition to their normal greasy spoon food.  Laurel Inwood has been working hard at developing the menu for her foster aunt Sophie’s restaurant, and she’s turned to Sophie’s friend Raquel “Rocky” Arnaud for advice and the herbs that Rocky grows on her farm.

Rocky grew up in France, although she’s lived in Ohio for decades, but she is excited for all the events celebrating her heritage.  At least she is until the events start; then she starts acting strangely.  When Rocky doesn’t show up for the fireworks show, Laurel heads to her place to investigate only to find Rocky dead.  The police think it was suicide, but Laurel knows that Rocky would never kill herself.  The trouble is, who has a motive to kill the woman?

As you can see, this book focuses a bit more on the why than the who.  If we can find the correct motive, maybe that will lead Laurel to the killer.  As she begins to dig into Rocky’s past, Laurel uncovers several motives for murder.  Yes, that means that the story never lags but keeps us moving from one motive and the corresponding suspect to another.  The solution was very well done, and like the rest of the book, the satisfying climax didn’t fall into the usual clichés.

We’d met several members of the staff at the Terminal in the first book.  They really didn’t have much more than cameos in this book, but that’s okay because it really gave us a chance to get to know Laurel, Sophie, and Laurel’s potential love interest Declan better.  These three leads are fantastic, and I especially enjoyed a sub-plot that allowed Laurel to grow.  Of course, the suspects are strong.  We’ve got a varied group of characters introduced here, and I found them a lot of fun.

The back of the book includes a recipe for a simple Cassoulet and general directions on creating Tartines.  Both of these sound delicious, and are perfect if reading this book has put you in the mood for French food.

French Fried is a satisfying mystery that will have you savoring every page.  Don’t hesitate to pick up this delightful mystery today.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Giveaway!

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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Tuesday, June 13th, so please leave your comment before 12:01AM Pacific Time on 6/13.  You will have until midnight on 6/18 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 6/19.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Candy Review: Caramel M&M's



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great idea
Cons: Chewy center
The Bottom Line:
Brilliant idea
But just doesn’t quite work out
Average candy




The Promise Isn’t Quite Delivered On

I usually fast forward through commercials when I’m watching TV (who doesn’t these days, right?), but a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t quite quick enough on the draw and saw an ad for the new Caramel M&M’s.  Now, I love caramel just as much as I love chocolate, and this was a combination I couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen before.  I was tempted to run to the store and buy them that night, but I waited until the next day.  Sadly, they aren’t as good as I hoped they’d be.

The candy is just as promised.  The outer layer is M&M candy coating, followed by a layer of milk chocolate.  The core of these candies is caramel.  Nothing really surprising about that, right?  Like many of the flavored M&Ms, they are a little on the large size to allow for the layers.

The caramel core is where these candies don’t quite work out as I hoped they would.  The core is chewy instead of a more liquid caramel.  I’m not a huge fan of chewy caramel, but here it really doesn’t work since you’ve got the crunchy outer layers and this chewy just doesn’t work with it for me.  The caramel flavor does mix well with the traditional M&M candy and chocolate flavors, so it’s more of a texture thing than a flavor things for me.

This is disappointing.  It’s not that the candies are bad, they just aren’t as good as I hoped they’d be either.

So I will probably pass on buying more of the Caramel M&M’s.  I wouldn’t completely avoid them, but I also won’t rush out to buy them again.