Friday, November 16, 2018

Book Review: Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mostly strong plot, interesting characters
Cons: Pacing in the second half is off
The Bottom Line:
Departure novel
That has some pacing issues
Worth it for his fans

"What Happened to You?"  "I Got the Wrong Number."

Michael Connelly is known for his police procedurals, and he is a master of the genre.  However, Chasing the Dime is a departure for him.  Not only is Henry Pierce, the main character, a complete amateur, but he runs a biotech company.  While I wouldn't call this book a complete techno thriller, but it definitely leans that direction.

As the book opens, Henry Pierce is just days away from the greatest triumph of his career so far.  The company he has founded is about to apply for patents for new nano technology that will change the way the human body is treated.  He has a potential major investor coming to view this new process with the possibility of funding his company and further research for a the next few years  However, his personal life has fallen apart as he has recently split from his fiancee and is moving into a new apartment.

With a new apartment comes a new phone number, and it is the phone number that gets him into trouble.  He keeps getting phone calls for someone named Lilly, and it quickly becomes clear that Lilly is a prostitute.  He begins to suspect that something has happened to Lilly and wanting to track her down consumes his thoughts.  He begins to follow a trail leading to her instead of spending this final weekend making sure everything is ready for the patent applications and the presentations.  Will he find Lilly?  Will he destroy everything he has built in the process?

While Pierce may be an amateur, this is definitely not one of the cozy mysteries I normally read.  Then again, this is Michael Connelly, so that shouldn't be any surprise to anyone picking up the book.  If you pick it up expecting the usual assortment of language, sex, and violence, you'll be fine.

The book starts out strongly.  I did have to question Pierce's motives to staying as involved as he was, but that is explained by the end.  Somewhere early in the second half, the book begins to lose its way as Pierce's work becomes a larger factor.  Yes, some of that is used again before the book is over so it needed set up, but my attention began to wander.  However, when things picked up again, the pace didn't slow down again until we reached the ending.

Pierce makes for a departure as a main character for Michael Connelly since he's an everyman.  He has no business getting involved in the criminal world as he does here.  He's a highly skilled chemist, and his approach to the world from his science background helps him piece some things together the police would have missed.  However, I feel like he made some stupid decisions over the course of the book.  I was actually yelling at him at one point to stop what he was doing, but he kept right on doing it.  However, when he pieced everything together at the end, I was impressed with how he did it, and how he survived the climax.

The rest of the cast of characters is strong.  As usual in one of Connelly's books, we get a wide variety of characters, and he pulls them all off easily.

I had to laugh at how poorly this book has aged.  It was released in 2002, and it shows.  Landlines and pagers are a large part of the plot, for example, and Pierce connects his computer to the internet via a landline as well.  It's amazing how much technology has changed in just the relatively short amount of time between when this book came out and now.  On the other hand, the technology that drives this book still hasn’t happened, at least to my knowledge.  If only that part would become fact.

This is considered one of Michael Connelly's stand-alones, and you can certainly read it as such.  However, any fan of his books will recognize some of Pierce's backstory ties into earlier books Connelly has written, and there is a very brief mention of something that happens at the end of City of Bones, the last Harry Bosch book to be published before this one came out.  If you aren't familiar with Connelly's earlier books, you'll be fine starting here, but if you are already a fan, these are cool Easter Eggs.

Once again, I listened to this book on audio.  Jonathan Davis does a good job with the story, although I felt he had some characters get irritated or angry with each other too easily.  If I'd been reading the book, I don’t think I would have interrupted the lines the way he did.  Heck, one character came across more as an annoyed teenager than I think she would have even with the lines she was given.  Overall, this was a very minor issue for me, however.

The pacing keeps this from truly being one of Connelly's best books, but it is still worth reading for his fans.  Eventually, they will want to chase down Chasing the Dime.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Book Review: Killalot by Cindy Brown (Ivy Meadows #6)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, lots of fun
Cons: Mystery is a little weak
The Bottom Line:
Accident at faire
Ivy searching for killer
The characters shine

Ivy Must Find a Killer Before There is a Renaissance in Crime

I've got to admit, I've only been to one Renaissance faire in my life, and that was when I was a kid.  Somehow, they never seem to cross my radar, although I do have friends who go and enjoy them.  That is the setting for the latest, Ivy Meadows Mystery, Killalot, and it made me want to go find a Renaissance faire to visit.  Okay, a much less lethal one.

Part-time PI and actress Ivy Meadows is enjoying a rare day off with her boyfriend, Matt, her brother, Cody, and Cody's girlfriend, Sarah, at the Renaissance faire currently located outside of Phoenix.  Thanks for Ivy's friend Riley, they are enjoying the day for free.  However, the day ends in tragedy when the group witness a jousting accident.  One man is critically injured, and the other rides off into the desert.  Riley was supposed to be in the match, and the rider who got away was on his horse and in his armor, but Riley claims to have been knocked out before the match.

When questions start to be asked about the incident, Ivy is hired to go undercover and learn the truth.  Meanwhile, Riley's horse shows up at the rental home of John Robert Turner, part of the Broadway team known for such modern musical hits as Hello Dolly Madison.  Ivy manages to find a way to get close to him as well, a chance that might mean a break for her acting career if Turner wasn't part of the incident.  Was it an accident?  Or was it something more serious?  Can Ivy piece together what happened?  Or will her undercover personas be discovered before that happens?

As you can see, there is a lot going on in this book, and Ivy rises to the occasion with her usual dedication.  I was entertained the entire way through the book as Ivy tried to balance the many aspects of the case with things going on in her personal life.

Unfortunately, I did feel like the mystery could have been better developed.  Yes, we do get a satisfying conclusion to the questions raised, but it could have been better seeded earlier in the story.  Again, this isn't to say I was ever bored.  There is so much happening in this book that it is impossible to not be having fun, but I felt those other things overwhelmed the mystery much of the time.

Part of that fun are the characters.  They are an eclectic bunch, but that is what we've come to expect from the Ivy Meadows series.  The new characters are a blast getting to know, and the series regulars are as strong as ever.

This series is usually billed as a comedic series, and I certainly agree with that.  However, there are some much more serious undertones to the series thanks in large part of Ivy's backstory.  This book takes a serious turn in the final quarter of the book, and it is so beautiful for it.  The character growth we get from several characters is good, but the growth we get in Ivy is outstanding.  Fans of the series will be very pleased with what happens here.  If you are new to the series, you'll still enjoy this book, but it won't mean as much to you if you haven't read the earlier entries.

While the mystery in Killalot may not be the strongest in the series, there is still much fans of Ivy Meadows will enjoy.  I definitely enjoyed it and look forward to seeing where Ivy goes from here.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Ivy Meadows Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

I'm reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  To visit the other stops, please go to this link.

And enter the tour giveaway via the Rafflecopter below.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Music Review: Christmas is Here! by Pentatonix

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun arrangements of some great songs
Cons: I don't like "Sweater Weather" or "What Christmas Means to Me."
The Bottom Line:
Pentatonix sings
Christmas songs; fresh arrangements
December delight

More Christmas Magic with Pentatonix

Every time I see that Pentatonix has a new Christmas release coming, I get very excited.  This year, we get Christmas is Here!, and fans won't be disappointed.

Over the course of this disc, they offer their takes on some traditional Christmas carols.  We get "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," and "Here Comes Santa Claus."  All three are full of upbeat fun as only Pentatonix can provide.  They also offer a version of newer Christmas classic "Grown-Up Christmas List" featuring an appearance by Kelly Clarkson.  They've even included non-lyrical tracks here for "Waltz of the Flowers" from The Nutcracker and "Greensleeves," which is the melody we all know from "What Child is This?"  The harmonies on this last song make it my favorite.

The disc opens with "What Christmas Means to Me."  If it feels familiar to you, there's a reason for that.  It reminds me in many ways of the track "That's Christmas to Me," which they recorded several years ago.  And my complaint about this one is the same I had then - it leaves out a huge part of my Christmas celebration - the birth of Jesus.  Those who don't celebrate that part will probably enjoy this track more than I do.

They also offer a couple of Christmas adjacent tracks.  The first of these is "Sweater Weather."  Honestly, I don't get this song yet.  It's talking about colder weather, the beach in Southern California, and some references to a couple in some intimate moments.  It's more a kaleidoscope about a relationship than anything else.  But what does it have to do with sweaters?  Needless to say, it isn't my favorite track.

But they follow it up with "When You Believe."  While not traditionally a Christmas song, the themes of faith certainly fit the season.  This track features Maren Morris and is so beautiful to listen to.

They also cover a couple of songs from movies here.  The first of these is "Making Christmas" from The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I've not a big fan of this movie, but I still recognized the song right away.  They do an amazing job arranging of singing it, and I think I find it so much funnier out of the context of the movie.  They also tackle "Where Are You Christmas" from the Jim Carrey version of The Grinch.  This is a beautiful ballad that I am thrilled to have in my Christmas collection.

They finish things off with "Jingle Bells," but this isn't a traditional take on the song, but the version I first heard sung by Barbra Streisand.   Their spin on it is delightfully fun.  They do have an orchestra helping them on the track, but it isn't overpowering; their vocal performances are still on full display.  It's a great way to end the disc.

There is a reason that Pentatonix continues to sell so well, and you'll find it on Christmas is Here!  This is a great addition to your Christmas music collection.

CD Length: 32:37
1. What Christmas Means to Me
2. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
3. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
4. Grown Up Christmas List (with Kelly Clarkson)
5. Greensleeves (Interlude)
6. Sweater Weather
7. When You Believe (with Maren Morris)
8. Waltz of the Flowers
9. Here Comes Santa Claus
10. Making Christmas
11. Where Are You, Christmas?
12. Jingle Bells (with Orchestra)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

City of Secrets Winner

I just pulled the winner for City of Secrets.  And that winner is...


Please be watching for the e-mail I just sent you so I can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: Reason to Doubt by Nancy Cole Silverman (Carol Childs #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters in page turning story
Cons: I see no reason to list cons
The Bottom Line:
Serial killer
And suspect hits close to home
Page turning story

Plenty of Reasons to Read This Book

When I heard the premise of the latest Carol Childs Mystery, I was immediately hooked.  Okay, so it helps that I've enjoyed the first four books in Nancy Cole Silverman's series, but this one seemed to have lots of promise to it, and Reason to Doubt delivered.

For those who haven't met her, Carol Childs is a radio reporter located in Los Angeles.  She's a single mother, with a daughter in college and a son in his teens.  As this book opens, Cate is home for the summer from college, and she's returned with a young man.  Pete is a photographer, and his shoots take him all over, which is why Cate met him down in San Diego even though he is living in Los Angeles.  Carol isn't so sure she likes the young man, but she can't put her finger on why.

Things take a dramatic turn when the police arrest Pete as the Model Slayer.  That's the name given to a serial killer who has been killing models in the area over the last seven months, a story that Carol has been breaking.  Naturally, this means she is front and center for his arrest and arraignment, something that drives a wedge between Carol and Cate.  Cate, naturally, is insisting that Pete is innocent.  Carol is inclined to agree with Cate, and a phone call she gets at the station makes her even more certain that Pete is innocent.  But what if she's wrong?  Can Carol find the truth?

This series has always flirted with the line between cozy and traditional.  After all, it's rare that we have a serial killer in a cozy mystery.  Likewise, a few of the plot points here get into some areas we don't see in typical cozies.  Just be aware of that when you pick up this book.  It may be a shade of gray, but it is still several shades away from the heavier PI and police procedural books.

And you definitely should pick up this book.  The plot starts out quickly and it never lets go.  Between Cate's involvement with the police's prime suspect and some other twists, this one hits very close to home for Carol, and those personal stakes helped make the book hard to put down.  The plot includes some great twists and surprises before we reach a suspenseful climax.  Trust me, you won't be able to get through the pages fast enough to find out what is truly happening.

We have really only seen Cate in one other book in the series, but it was nice to see her again here.  While I found her annoying at times, I did like how having her so involved in this mystery brought out another side of Carol.  Meanwhile, Carol's love life continues to be complicated, and I found those complications fun.  We see plenty of the other series regulars, and they help enrich Carol's world.  Throw in some great suspects, and you've got a strong cast of characters.

Reason to Doubt delivers another fast moving, enjoyable mystery.  Whether you've been following Carol's career since book one or are just now finding her, it will definitely leave you wanting to read more.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Carol Childs Mysteries in order.

I am reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  Please check out the rest of the stops.

And use the Rafflecopter below to enter the tour wide giveaway.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

TV on DVD Review: The Librarians - Season 4

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: More fun fantasy episodes
Cons: This is the end (but it wraps up well)
The Bottom Line:
Last dose of magic
Fans will be happy as show
Wraps up its run well

“There’s Something I Need to Tell You.  I’m a Librarian.”

All good things come to an end, and sadly, that is the case for The Librarians.  This show never had a huge following, so I've always treated each new season as a bonus.  And now we can enjoy their final adventures on DVD with the release of season 4.

As season 4 opens, Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn) and Flynn Carson (Noah Wyle) are getting ready for the binding ceremony that will permanently bind them to each other and the library, which will anchor it.  As Jenkins (John Larroquette) warns, if this ceremony doesn't go off perfectly, the library could begin to drift, causing all sorts of problems for the world.

Of course, that isn’t all that is going on.  A secret sect of the Vatican has a lead on the four pillars of the Library of Alexandria, and them getting all four of these pillars could spell doom.  And then a surprising face from the past appears.  Nicole (Rachel Nichols) was Noah's first guardian when he first joined the library, and he thought she'd been killed on their first mission.  He is surprised but happy to have her back in his life.  However, she comes with a warning that there can only be one librarian, and the fact that Jake, Cassandra, and Ezekiel (Christian Kane, Lindy Booth, and John Harlan Kim) are also librarians means that something bad is going to come.

This news sends Flynn off on his own, but it begins to haunt all of the actions the others take this season.  As they save Santa’s sleigh or get caught up in the movies, they also wonder if any of them should step down.  But they all love their job.  Meanwhile, Jenkins is warning that the tethering ceremony still needs to take place.  Where will this all end?

With the binding ceremony and the worry about only having one librarian, this season seems a bit more unified than some of the earlier ones do.  Don't get me wrong, there are still some fun stand-alone episodes, but they all have moments that connect to the season long story.  Just an observation worth noting in passing.

We do still get plenty of fun moments, however there are definitely some darker episodes this season.  Things always turn out okay by the end, so this isn’t a major issue overall.  And the characters are still growing as the season progresses.  As always, the actors are in fine form bringing the words they are given to life for us, and the special effects help keep us in the world as well.

TNT didn't announce that they were going to cancel The Librarians until right before the series finale ended.  Fortunately, this show never worried much about season ending cliffhangers, so we were treated to an ending that feels like a good series finale.  I'm curious how things would have ended if they had known this was it, but I’m not complaining.

This season consisted of twelve episodes, and they are all present in this set in their native widescreen and full surround sound.

I'm sorry to be saying goodbye to this fun show, but I'm glad we were able to follow The Librarians for four seasons.  I can imagine them continuing to have wonderful adventures without us.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Book Review: Spy School Goes South by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action, twists, characters, laughs
Cons: All cons self-destructed
The Bottom Line:
Trip to Mexico
Plenty of twists and danger
Can't put it down fun

Spring Break in Mexico - Spy School Style

I never miss a Stuart Gibbs book.  Yes, his target audience may be middle grade readers, but he has everything anyone would be looking for in a fun book.  So I eagerly picked up Spy School Goes South, looking forward to seeing what Ben, Erica, and the rest of the gang are up to now.

If you've missed this series, Ben Ripley is our hero.  He's a student at the Academy of Espionage, a school run by the CIA to train future spies.  Now, you might think that this would be more training than actual field missions, but in Ben's case, he's been in the field quite a bit.  That's because the evil organization SPYDER has tried to recruit him in the past, and when he's thwarted their evil plans, they've now made killing Ben a priority.  Fortunately, he has the help of Erica Hale, a "legacy" since her family has been spies for generations going back to Nathan Hale.

As this book opens, Ben gets the surprise of his life when Murray Hill, a young SPYDER agent who has been captured, asks to talk to Ben.  In the weeks he's been in custody, he hasn't said a word, but now he has agreed to lead Ben and Erica to SPYDER's newest secret headquarters.  He's not willing to tell anyone where it is until everyone is in the plane.  Seeing this as a chance to stop SPYDER once and for all, Ben reluctantly agrees to go along.

Of course, he's not sure he trusts Murray.  His suspicion is proved accurate within a few hours, and Ben and his friends find themselves stranded in Mexico.  Is SPYDER really nearby?  Can Ben stop their newest plan?  Or will they even make it back to civilization?

When you pick up a novel in the Spy School series, you know to hold on tight for a wild ride.  This book is no exception to that rule.  The action is non-stop as Ben and his friend face overwhelming odds.  The twists and turns will keep you glued to the page until you reach the explosive climax.

That doesn't mean the characters suffer in the slightest.  Those who have been following the series know that the exteriors we see at first hide deeper characters, and we get to see more of that here.  There are some developments in the character's relationships in this book that will make fans of the series anxious to find out what happens to the characters next.

And there's plenty of humor.  Yes, you can be gasping at the latest plot twist in one sentence and then laughing at the ridiculous situation one of the characters is facing in the next.  I might have been laughing uncontrollably a couple of times while reading this book, in fact.  I’m just glad I wasn’t in public at the time.

My only caution is that it is best to read this series in order to fully enjoy what happens here.  There are plenty of references to past adventures as well.  But considering how enjoyable this entire series is, that's something you'd do anyway once you read one of the books, so you might as well go back to the beginning anyway.  And if this is the first book you read in the series, you’ll definitely still enjoy it.

If you or your child is already a fan of this great series, you'll love Spy School Goes South.  And if you haven't discovered this series yet, you really need to fix that today.  After you've read it, you can figure out which child in your life to give it to first.

Need more of Ben's adventures?  Here are the Spy School novels in order.

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

Saturday, November 10, 2018

November 10th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another busy week in real life, so it was nice that none of my Tuesday shows were on this week.  It also means this list is shorter than normal this week.

Supergirl – Shows how much I am tracking this season; I thought Fiona was already dead.  Not surprised they got the atmosphere cleaned up.  I wonder how Superman was dealing with it.  President Baker is clamping down on the DEO because they are succeeding in fighting the humans out to destroy the aliens.  Yep, he’s evil.

God Friended Me – I feel like the happy ending this week was the least realistic one we’ve had yet.  Oh, I know the show is contrived, but this felt more so.  Not that I didn’t enjoy it completely, mind you.  I’m very curious what is up with his uncle, but it looks like that will be covered next week.  I’m happy they aren’t dragging that out too long.

Dancing with the Stars – I was okay with John going this week.  He’s about reached the end of his dancing ability.  But how is Joe still in it?  He’s having fun and he’s fun to watch, so that must be part of it because the others are definitely the better dancers.

Arrow – So what exactly happened between the present and the future.  And please tell me we can fix it because otherwise, knowing what happens to Star City, this is really going to be bad.  I think Oliver is faking his breakdown; at least I hope he is.  And I’m really enjoy Laurel this season.  She is the only real bright spot in the show.

Legends of Tomorrow – So what happened to the tiger?  Other than that, so much fun again.  And it’s nice to know how they are working Amarya, or at least her actress, back on the show.  I think that is going to be a very fun storyline as things go along this season.

Survivor – Wow!  All that drama at tribal and then everyone, Davids included, vote for the same person.  Not only did her plan not work to save her, but it doesn’t seem to have done much with her teammates.  All the alliances and backstabbing, or plans to backstab, already.  This season just jumped into high gear.

Big Bang Theory – I didn’t enjoy most of Raj’s storyline, but I did find the final scene kind of sweet.  However, the sub-plot of Sheldon trying to bond with his in-laws was so fun.  From Teller being so impressed by magic to all the stuff with Amy’s mom.  It made the episode for me.

The Good Place – I have missed the neighborhood.  It was so nice to be back there and see Michael trying to torture them again.  So many funny lines and moments, plus a great discussion of free will to boot.  Those final moments make me very anxious to find out what happens next, too.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Review: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #17)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Outstanding mystery, good main cast
Cons: Supporting cast could be stronger; slow start
The Bottom Line:
Deadly honeymoon
Poirot there to solve the case
Excellent myst'ry

Murder Visits Egypt

Several years ago, a friend spotted a local theater doing the play version of Death on the Nile.  I completely enjoyed it, although I knew that Agatha Christie made some changes to the story when she adapted it for the stage.  (For one thing, she took out Poirot completely!)  When I learned that Kenneth Branagh was planning to turn it into a movie next, I decided that listening to it would be a great idea, so I check an audio version out of my local library.

This book finds a retired Hercule Poirot taking a trip to Egypt.  He's on vacation, so even when his fellow travelers recognize him, he tries to change the subject when they want to discuss his old cases.

Among his fellow passengers is Linnet Ridgeway, the wealthiest woman in Britain.  The young heiress is on her honeymoon, but all is not going according to plan.  Against his will, Poirot finds himself drawn into the drama surrounding the newlyweds.  Then the unthinkable happens, and someone is murdered in the middle of the night.  Can Poirot figure out what happened?

I know that pacing today is not what it was when Agatha Christie wrote this book, but even keeping that in mind, this book starts slowly.  There is a long part that introduces us to some key players months before the events truly start in Egypt.  Things do get better once everyone arrives in Egypt since we are getting a much clearer picture of suspects and motives at that point.

Once the murder happens, things really pick up.  This is classic Christie with a plot so complex it takes Poirot to unravel it.  When I reached the end, I was in awe over how it was all done.  There is a reason she is still so revered as a mystery writer to this day.  And remember, I had the play to help me figure it out.  Honestly, I didn't remember enough about the plot from the play to truly help me here, although what little I did remember fit perfectly with the ultimate solution in the book.

I also struggled keeping some of the minor characters straight.  They could have been better developed to truly help me remember who they were, but it was never an issue for long when they walked on the page.

The audio version I listened to was narrated by David Suchet, best known for playing Poirot in the TV adaptations for years.  I must admit, I had some issues with his narration.  Some of the voices he gave the characters, especially that of Colonel Race, Poirot’s assistant in figuring things out, is very annoying.

That complaint aside, I'm still extremely glad I listened to Death on the Nile.  This is a master of the mystery genre at work.  If you've missed this book, fix that now.

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Book Review: The Skeleton Makes a Friend by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mysteries #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: I have no bones to pick with this book
The Bottom Line:
Sid's missing friend leads
To another twisty plot
Filled with laughs and heart

Sid's Friends Draw Georgia to Murder

While I generally avoid paranormal books, there are a few exceptions, and one of them is the Family Skeleton series.  It is just too much fun, and I found The Skeleton Makes a Friend to be a worthy addition.

If you've missed the series, it features Dr. Georgia Thackery, an adjunct English professor, and her best friend, Sid.  It just so happens that Sid is a skeleton.  As in a walking, talking, everything but breathing skeleton.  Naturally, they do their best to keep this hidden from the rest of the world, although they have come across some ways to get Sid out of the house without revealing his existence to the world.  Sid's existence really is the only paranormal element to the series, so this is really paranormal light, and Sid comes across as a very real character.

This book finds Georgia, Sid, and Georgia's daughter Madison spending the summer in a cabin by a lake.  No, they aren't spending the entire summer relaxing since Georgia has a job teaching at Overfeld College.  She's part of an enrichment program for high schoolers the college is putting on.  Sid and Madison stay at the cabin during the day, and it is secluded enough during the week and Sid is able to get out and join his two human friends swimming.

However, the trio get some unexpected visitors one night.  Sid has been spending time playing an online game, Runes of Legend, and one of the friends he's made through the game shows up unannounced.  Jen has tracked Sid down because she thinks he's a detective and she is worried about another member of their questing group.  He hasn't been on line in almost a week, even missing some of their planned missions, which isn't like him at all.  Georgia and Sid begin to track down this player, only to stumble upon a dead body in the middle of their search.  Can they figure out what is going on?

Because Georgia is an adjunct, these books have had several different settings, and I've enjoyed this.  It also means that there is a small number of series regulars, but that's not an issue with characters this strong.  Georgia, Sid, and Madison are all fantastic, and I loved spending time with them.  Fans of the series will be happy to know that Charles is around for this book as well; he's a fantastic supporting character.  We also get some brief appearances from other characters we've met along the way.  Of course, with the action taking place in a new location, that gives us plenty of new characters who are suspects.

And they help drive a great plot.  Georgia and Sid spend quite a bit of time bouncing back and forth between suspects and motives, with each twist sending them in a new direction.  Yet when things do come together, everything makes sense.  In fact, I can't picture the book ending any other way.

I want to circle back to Georgia, Sid, and Madison.  They really do form the heart of this series and this book.  Their relationships are so much fun to watch grow and change, and this is still true here.  If you didn't know better, by the time this is over, you'd swear that Sid was a fully fleshed out character, which he clearly can't be since he's nothing but bones.  The fact that it is Sid that draws them into this mystery certainly helps make him real.  In fact, I love how giving Sid friends, of sorts, develops him here.

Once again, the humor is fantastic.  Yes, we get plenty more bone puns, but the general teasing and joking around by the characters at time is also very fun to read.

Clearly, I recommend this book and this series.  Pick up The Skeleton Makes a Friend, and you'll have some new friends before you know it.

Need more Sid?  Here are the rest of the Family Skeleton Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I'm reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  For more stops, please visit the tour page.  And be sure to enter the tour wide giveaway by clicking on the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Ornament Review: Off We Go! - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great sculpt, song, lights
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Heigh-ho from the mine
So many great elements
Come together well

A Diamond in Hallmark's 2018 Line

I am finding it very hard to resist Hallmark's Disney song ornaments.  I must not be the only one since they seem to offer more of them each year.  The easy winner of this year's offerings is Off We Go!

The ornament captures Grumpy and Dopey, the most popular dwarfs, in one of the mine carts from the dwarfs' diamond mine.  And this one is filled with diamonds, so clearly the two are on their way back to the entrance.  Grumpy is in the front of the cart with a disgusted look on his face, while Dopey is behind him with his hands on his head and a delighted smile on his face.

Alone, it would be fun, but as I said earlier, this is one of Hallmark's magic ornaments, which features light and sound.  When the three button batteries are installed and you press the button, you set a clip of the dwarfs singing "Heigh-Ho," and the diamonds themselves light up.

And I love it!  The light element puts this one over the top for me, but overall it is a fantastic.  The sculpt is fun and captures Grumpy and Dopey well.  The music and lights last for almost 30 seconds, which means we get plenty of show without it becoming too much.

Despite the fact that the dwarfs are in a cart, this ornament doesn't role since the wheels are locked in place.  However, the wheels do provide a nice, even surface to allow the ornament to sit out and be enjoyed all year.

When December rolls around and you are ready to put the ornament on your tree, you'll find that it tips forward slightly.  I’m willing to give it a pass since that actually makes Grumpy’s displeasure and Dopey’s delight even more fun since it is easy to picture then riding the cart of the rails in the mine.

Off We Go! is just so much fun.  I knew as soon as I saw it that I had to get it.  I wasn't the only one since the July shipments sold out pretty quickly.  It's back in stock in the stores by me, but I suggest you act quickly because I suspect it will sell out before Christmas and start climbing in the secondary market.

Original Price: $22.99

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Review: City of Secrets by Victoria Thompson (Counterfeit Lady #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters; fun, creative plot
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Out to help a friend
Trying to make justice done
Engrossing story

Can Elizabeth Uncover Secrets to Help a Friend

While I'm obviously trying to catch up on Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries, I jumped at the chance to read her Counterfeit Lady series from the very beginning.  I enjoyed last year's debut, and I was anxious to see trouble the characters would get into next.  That answer comes in City of Secrets, which is another fun book.

If you haven't yet met Elizabeth Miles, you are in for a treat.  She lives in 1910's New York City, and so far, she's made her living via a less than ethical profession – as the only female in a group of conmen.  Through a series of events, she met Gideon Bates, a young lawyer in the city, and the two fell in love with each other almost immediately despite their different lives.  Now, Elizabeth is trying to give up her former life and learn to live in proper society.

Part of that is going to church, something Elizabeth isn't particularly fond of.  It is at church that Elizabeth meets Priscilla, one of the few people in her new life she considers a friend.  One Sunday, Priscilla asks to see Elizabeth as soon as possible.  When Elizabeth goes to visit, she learns that the recently widowed Priscilla has discovered that her second husband has left her penniless.  Priscilla knows she should have been comfortably off, so she suspects that something underhanded happened.  Can Elizabeth figure out what happened to the money?  Even if she does, can Elizabeth get the money back?  Or will Gideon's ethics cause a problem?

As you can see, this book is a crime novel, but it doesn't follow the typical mystery plot.  I enjoyed the book for that reason since it is nice to take a break for the formula every so often.  I do feel like the first third is a tad uneven, but when it slowed down, that never lasted for long.  The further I got into the book, the more hooked I became, and by the time I was in the final third, I didn't want to put the book down so I could see how everything that had been set in motion played out.

The characters are wonderful.  There's quite a diverse mix here, at least for New York society at the time, and I enjoyed getting to know all of them better.  Those we met in the first book get some nice growth here, and the new characters are equally strong, helping pull us into this world.

I will issue a word of warning - this book by necessity spoils some events of the first book in the series.  Honestly, you need to read that book first anyway to get the complete background on everything.  Since it was such a great book as well, that won't be an issue for you at all, and you'll be glad you have this book to dive into once you are done.  Frankly, I wish I had the time to reread the first book before picking up this one just to remember who all the main characters are and their relationships, but I did get fully pulled back into Elizabeth's world within a few pages.

If you are looking for a different mystery series, this is a series you need to read.  City of Secrets will keep you awake turning pages to find out if Elizabeth can succeed.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Tuesday November 13th, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 11/13.  You will have until midnight on 11/18 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 11/19.

Monday, November 5, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Timeless - Season 2

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fun story
Cons: All cons left in the past
The Bottom Line:
More time traveling
That keeps us glued to TV
Losing track of time

“What Do We Have Here - The Prodigal Princess and Her Boy Toys.”

There is definitely an advantage to getting hooked on a TV show after a couple of seasons have aired; I didn't have to wait long to start season 2 of Timeless since it has already hit DVD by the time I had finished season 1.  While I spaced it out more than I had season 1 (thanks in part to the new TV season having started by that point), I was still hooked, often watching two or three episodes over a weekend.  And season 2 was just as strong as season 1.

The action picks up a few weeks after the cliffhangers that ended the first season.  In that time, Lucy (Abigail Spencer) has been with her mother, Carol (Susanna Thompson) being trained in the ways of Rittenhouse.  She's not given in to their indoctrination, however, much to the announce of Emma (Annie Wersching).  Meanwhile, the rest of our characters have been reduced to hiding out in a bunker attempting to stop Rittenhouse from destroying history.  When they meet up in World War I, Wyatt (Matt Lanter) and Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) quickly help Lucy escape back to their side, where she is welcomed back to the bunker by Agent Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey), Connor (Paterson Joseph), and Jiya (Claudia Doumit).

Even with the gang back together, things aren't all fun and saving history.  Jiya is having visions of the future, visions that scare her since one involves Rufus's death.  Meanwhile, they have to deal with Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic), now is prison, as he seems to have information they need to stop Rittenhouse.

And yes, Rittenhouse is still out to destroy history and take over the world.  This season, we make stops in Old Hollywood, the Salem Witch Trials, and 1981 as we attempt to keep history on track.  Will our heroes succeed?

If this isn't making much sense to you, that's a clear sign that this season isn't for you – yet.  You just need to go back to season 1 and start there.  As much as I am burning out on long, drawn out conspiracy shows, this one actually works, but for it to work best, you really need to start from the beginning.  Trust me, it is worth it.

If you've enjoyed season 1, you'll be happy to jump in here.  I'm sure the budget for this show must be high based on the special effects the show calls for and the expert way they bring the past to life on screen each week.  Costumes, locations, effects, everything is absolutely perfect.  And since we hit a different time period each week, they can't reuse much.  In an effort to cut costs, I feel like the modern settings are a bit simpler this season, but maybe that is just me.  And, since much of the modern sets are an underground bunker where the majority of our heroes are hiding out, it sits the story perfectly.  Likewise, I feel like we've cut down on recurring characters.  Not that it hurt the show at all.  It just allows them more time to develop the characters we have.

And character development we get in spades.  I feel like the core four (Lucy, Wyatt, Rufus, and Jiya) are given some nice arcs to work through as we jump back and forth in time.  The other characters are strong, but they are definitely supporting players who are given episodes or moments to shine instead of season long arcs.  It all comes together to bring us strong characters we truly come to care for.  The actors deserve much of the credit here since they pull off their roles perfectly.

The writers get full credit for crafting stories that hook you and cliffhangers that leave you anxious to find out what is going to happen next.  I purposely spread this season out over several weeks instead of binging it all in one weekend.  It took every ounce of self-control I have to do that, too.  I could have easily binged this in one weekend if I really wanted to.

I'd heard the season ended with a doozy of a cliffhanger.  Even expecting that (but not knowing specifics), my jaw hit the ground in the last few minutes of the season.  I'm now anxious for the two-hour movie that will wrap up the series, currently scheduled to air December 20th.  I just don't see how they can wrap everything up in two hours.

Season 2 consisted of 10 episodes, and they are all in this three disc collection.  We get the show in wide screen and full surround sound.  In the way of extras, we get deleted scenes for each episode and a gag reel.

This show really is a fantastic adventure through time.  Buckle in for the fun ride that is Timeless season 2.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Snack Review: Goldfish - Mickey Mouse Special Edition

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun twist on Goldfish crackers to celebrate Mickey
Cons: I'm not the biggest fan of Goldfish crackers
The Bottom Line:
Mickey shaped crackers
Adds magical touch but they're
Still Goldfish crackers

The Snack that Smiles Back Now More Magical

I am enjoying how a couple companies are getting into the celebration for Mickey's 90th birthday.  The second I'm aware of is Pepperidge Farms, who released a special version of their popular Goldfish crackers in honor of this monumental occasion.

No, these aren't a package of all Mickey shaped crackers.  Instead, they've incorporated red Mickey Mouse head crackers in the middle of the regular orange goldfish shaped crackers.  I’d say the Mickey Mouse crackers are maybe a quarter of the crackers inside the package.  I don't buy very many Goldfish crackers, so I was surprised to learn they've recently started offering more options when it comes to flavors, but these are only being released in the original Cheddar flavor.

How do you know if you've bought one of these special packages?  The outside clearly states this, and it has Mickey Mouse on the front.  In fact, there are three special packages, so you can collect all three, or at least buy your favorite.

I must admit, I'm not the biggest fan of Goldfish crackers.  I like them well enough, but they seem to lose their flavor after a few handfuls.  At least that's been my experience with them.  Still, the flavor for those first few handfuls are good.  And yes, the Mickey crackers may be a different color, but they taste the same.

If you are looking for your own package, I've got good news and bad news.  The bad news is these are a Target exclusive item, so you'll have to go to your local Target to get a package.  The good news is, they plan to sell these for 12 months, so you've got plenty of time to get a package.  I'm sure they'll be around through next summer at least.

There is just enough of a magical twist to these crackers to make me go out and buy a package.  Since I don't usually buy Goldfish crackers, I doubt I will get another one, but the Disnerd in me enjoyed the one package.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

November 3rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

A bit busier than normal, but I still got through everything.  Of course, I got through a chunk of this list last night.

Supergirl – They did a good job of making us understand where the villain is coming from.  Oh, I’m not saying he is right, but we can understand where he would reach the hatred he would.  And, I’m sorry, but there should be more done about the stuff his family has been through.  Of course, being nothing but a flashback, it certainly made for a rather dull episode as well.

God Friended Me – I was curious how the disappearance of the God account would play out.  Yes, I get that it allowed Miles to realize how much he likes having the account, but I feel like it was a bit anti-climatic in some ways.  I hope we have turned a bit of a corner now that he has friended “God.”  I’m shocked that Jaya is heading out of town.  I guess she was a guest star and not a series regular like I assumed.

Dancing with the Stars – I’m sorry to see Mary Lou go.  I was hoping she would stick around for a few more weeks, although I’m not surprised she didn’t make the finals.  Meanwhile, is John going to be gone next week?  Joe’s big improvement should keep him safe again since he hasn’t been in jeopardy yet.  I would be surprised if he makes the finals, although he clearly has a large fan base that is keeping him going.

Arrow – This season is going about how I expected it to.  I’m not happy we are fighting Diaz for a second time.  And I’m really bored with Oliver in prison.  At least we didn’t have any flashforwards to make things even worse.

Legends of Tomorrow – Nate staying in the present is an interesting development.  I wonder just where they are going with his relationship with his father.  Ava is still driving me insane.  I really want her to get smarter very quickly.  However, this fairy godmother demon was a hoot.  Obviously taking some jabs at Disney there, and I was laughing at every one of them.

The Flash – When Nora first showed up, I figured she was cold to Iris just because she was so happy to have her dad in her life.  Yes, it was beginning to seem like more than that, but I never expected something like this.  I love how Barry is being supportive.  Was Iris just trying to keep Nora from getting hurt and losing her after Barry vanished?  Or is there something else?  Tech with powers will make for an interesting twist this season.  And the new Wells grew on me a bit this week, as he usually does.

This is Us – Several developments I was expecting.  Glad Beth came clean about how she is feeling.  Not surprised that she is going to work with Randall.  Toby is slowly getting better, or at least I think he is.  Loved Kate’s phone calls with Rebecca.  And, of course, Kevin was going to head to Vietnam.  I’m really wondering where that story is going to go.

The Rookie – The soap opera is still getting to me, but I am coming to like the characters.  I think if I were hurting for shows, I would probably stick with this one, but since I don’t have time to keep up with everything anyway, I’m going to stop this one here.

Survivor – Wow, that last challenge wasn’t even close.  But I’m surprised at just how the Davids have managed to not only hang on but make this close.  The odds were definitely stacked against them, but it isn’t going to be a blood bath.  Or, at least if it is a blood bath, it will be because of lost of twists and turns and not a predictable next few weeks.

Big Bang Theory – That was a pretty good episode.  Leonard’s decision was fairly obvious in hindsight.  Can’t believe I didn’t see it coming.  But I loved the ending of Bernadette’s storyline.  Sweet and funny at the same time.

Good Place – Tahani got the line of the night, the one about chocking her sister, and I laughed way harder at it than it deserved.  I actually liked seeing how she figured out what was wrong with her relationship with her sister.  I also liked seeing Elinore help her mother on this new, better path.  So, what will come of Michael’s revelation at the end?

Friday, November 2, 2018

Ornament Review: Thru the Mirror - Mickey's Movie Mousterpieces #7 - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Captures a fun moment from a classic short
Cons: Too big
The Bottom Line:
Early Mickey short
Captured larger than should be
Overall still fun

Mickey's Sporting Quite the Peacock Card Tail

I've been enjoying the trip through Mickey's many movie roles thanks to Hallmark's Mickey's Movie Mousterpieces ornament series.  We get another classic with this year's Thru the Mirror ornament.  I just wish it weren't quite so big.

For those unfamiliar with this 1936 black and white short, it features Mickey in the role of Alice in Through the Looking Glass.  Okay, so the seven-minute cartoon doesn't have the entire book, but it does pick a few key moments from this lesser known sequel, and near the beginning, Mickey is dancing with a deck of cards.  They fan out behind him and we get this wonderful image that has been captured in the ornament.

Now, before you are worried I'm going to be talking about a black and white ornament, never fear, this ornament is in full color, which really just means that red and yellow have been added.  This is Mickey, after all, and his is mostly black, white, and red with yellow shoes.  Likewise, the cards fanning out behind him are mostly white with red or black symbols on them as appropriate.  We don't need more color than this, and it looks perfect just as it is.

However, it's not perfect overall.  It is too big for my taste.  This is an issue I had with the Disney/Pixar Legends series as well.  Just reducing this ornament overall by a quarter would make a huge difference in how it looks to me, especially when lined up next to the rest of the series.  But that is my only complaint with the ornament.

The cards make Mickey back heavy.  If you try to set Mickey out to be displayed, you’ll quickly find that he tips backwards.  The loop for hanging the ornament is attached to the front of one of the cards, and it shows that the ornament is ultimately well balanced since it hangs straignt.

Yes, you'll find the series marker on one of Mickey's feet.  But this series also includes a little extra - you'll find the name of the short and the year it was released in theaters on the bottom of the other foot.  This is painted on and fairly easy to see, but it isn't in a spot where it will be too obvious when hanging on your tree.

Even though I think the ornament is too big, I am still glad to have Thru the Mirror in my collection.  I just hope the series is a little smaller going forward.

Original Price: $12.99

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Book Review: Killed on Blueberry Hill by Sharon Farrow (Berry Basket Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: Listing cons would make me blue
The Bottom Line:
Death at festival
Marlee must clear fiance
Compelling reading

Death Leaves Marlee Blue

Since I've enjoyed the first two books in the Berry Basket Mystery series so much, I was looking forward to catching up with Marlee Jacob and finding out what is going on with her.  Killed on Blueberry Hill lived up to all my expectations.

Summer is winding down, but the residents of Oriole Point, Michigan, aren't ready to let things go without one last festival designed to bring in the tourists.  In this case, it's the Blueberry Blow Out festival, and it includes a week-long event at the fairgrounds, including carnival games and booths.  Naturally, Marlee has set up a booth for her store, the Berry Basket, and between trying to keep both the store and the booth open, she and her small staff are hopping.  And that doesn't count the contests that her fiance, Ryan Zeller, has signed her up for, like the blueberry pie eating contest.

It's after the tug of war that things get heated when Ryan gets into an argument with Porter Gale, the owner of one of the biggest blueberry farms in the country.  There is bad blood between the two families, but even given that, Marlee is shocked at what she observes.  Even more shocking is the fact that Porter is dead only a few hours later.  He appears to have died of complications from his diabetes, but the police aren't so sure.  Naturally, thanks to Ryan's fight, the police want to talk to him.  Marlee is certain Ryan is innocent.  Can she prove it?  What might she uncover along the way?

One reason I really enjoy this series is that the plots offer a bit more than a typical cozy mystery.  Yes, the set up I've teased might sound familiar, but once you get into it, you'll discover that the red herrings are more than just other people with motives but provide their own conflicts and complications without taking away their status as a red herring.  Honestly, it takes the last few clues that Marlee gathers before everything comes into focus for her and us.  Oh, I may have guessed one or two plot points early, but I didn't have nearly everything figured out until the very end.

Naturally, to pull this off, the characters have to be strong.  I would argue that some of the suspects are better developed than some of the series regulars here just because of how much time we spend with the suspects.  Oh, don't get me wrong, we do see the series regulars, and I loved spending time with them again.  In fact, a couple of them provided me with some great laughs.  But we spend so much time with the suspects that we truly get to understand them, which again keeps us guessing until the end.

I was enjoying the book the entire way through, but when I reached the final third, I could barely stand to put the book down.  The twists and complications for Marlee were so compelling I had to know what would happen next.

Being a book about blueberries, you're probably expecting me to mention recipes at this point.  And you'd be right.  We get several blueberry infused sweets including a coffee cake and baked French toast.

Like a good berry, this book has just a bit of kick to go with the sweet cozy trappings.  Fans new and old will enjoy reading Killed on Blueberry Hill.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.