Friday, November 30, 2018

November 2018 Monthly Reading Summary

Last day of November, so it must be time for the monthly reading summary.  And I'm not going to have time to get the index updated this month.  I seem to only update that every other month these days, don't I?

As always, the links will take you to my full review.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).

Killed on Blueberry Hill by Sharron Farrow (Berry Basket Mysteries #3) – 5
Summer may be winding down, but Oriole Point, Michigan, is getting in one more berry inspired festival to bring in the tourists.  The Blueberry Blow Out Festival includes carnival games, booths, and friendly competition between the various berry growers in the area.  At least it is supposed to be friendly.  Marlee Jacobs is shocked when she witnesses a fight between her fiance, Ryan Zeller, and Porter Gale, the owner of one of the biggest blueberry farms in the country.  Yes, there is bad blood between the two families, but this went much further than a rivalry normally would.  When Porter dies a few hours later, people think it is complications from his diabetes.  However, the police believe it is something more, and they are looking at Ryan as a suspect.  Can Marlee clear him?

I love this series, and this book is another example of why.  The characters are strong.  The series regulars are fun, and a couple even made me laugh, but we spend more time with the suspects, and they actually felt better developed to me than the regulars.  Not that I'm complaining.  The strong suspects helped drive a complex plot where the red herrings provided their own complications, not just as a distraction from figuring out who the killer is.  I enjoyed the book the entire way through, but the final third got so compelling I really didn't want to put the book down.  Throw in a few blueberry infused recipes, and you've got a fantastic book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

City of Secrets by Victoria Thompson (Counterfeit Lady #2) – 5
Elizabeth Miles is attempting to give up her former life as the female in a group of conmen and fit into high society in order to prepare for her marriage to young lawyer Gideon Bates.  Part of that involves attending church on Sundays, and it is at church that she has met Priscilla, a recent widow who is one of the few people Elizabeth considers a friend in her new life.  One day Priscilla comes to Elizabeth for help since she has just learned that her recently deceased second husband has left her broke.  Priscilla knows there should be more money.  Can Elizabeth figure out what happened?

If you haven't started this great new series, I do recommend you back up to the first since it sets up so much of Elizabeth and her life in 1910's New York City.  Since this is only book two in the series, it's still very easy to get caught up.  When you do, you'll find yourself caught up in another fun caper.  I did feel the pacing was a bit off early on, but it soon picked up and by the end, it was impossible to put down.  This isn't a traditional mystery, although it still firmly fits in the crime fiction family.  The characters are all strong, and they help make the final third of the book very compelling for us.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Skeleton Makes a Friend by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mysteries #5) – 5
Dr. Georgia Thackery has landed a summer job teaching a high school enrichment program on the campus of Overfeld College.  Even better, she's found a semi-private cabin on a nearby lake to rent, meaning that her daughter, Madison, and her best friend, Sid, are able to accompany her.  Even better, they are isolated enough that Sid, who is a living skeleton, can get outside the house occasionally.  Their solitude is interrupted when a teen shows up asking to meet Sid.  She is a member of Sid's clan in an online game, and she thinks a third member of their clan has gone missing.  Sid and Georgia haven't investigated for too long before they stumble over a dead body.  Can they figure out what is going on?

Those who love this series are in for another treat.  Drop everything and read this book now.  If you haven't picked up the series yet, you really should do so.  Yes, there is a slight paranormal element to the book, but it really is slight.  The characters are so strong that you'd swear they were fully fleshed out, yes, even Sid.  We don't have a large cast of recurring characters, but the new characters more than make up for it.  The twists keep us guessing up until the very end, when everything comes together perfectly.  But it is Georgia, Sid, and Madison that make up the heart of this book.  Their relationship is wonderful, and the bone puns and other jokes kept me smiling.  I truly enjoyed my time with the characters.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #17) – 4
Hercule Poirot is on vacation in Egypt, just looking to relax.  However, he quickly gets involved in the drama involving a young heiress on her honeymoon.  When a murder happens on board the ship they are all traveling on, Poirot finds himself drawn into the case.  Can he unravel what really happened?

This is classic Agatha Christie with an extremely complex mystery that seems so simple once Poirot unravels it all.  I did feel the book took a bit too long to truly get started, opening as it does a few months before the events really began.  But once it does, hold on.  Some of the supporting cast could have been stronger, but the main characters were all strong and kept me confused until the end.  Agatha Christie is still a master of the mystery genre, and this book shows exactly why.

Spy School Goes South by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #6) – 5
Spy in training Ben Ripley is shocked when Murray Hill asks to speak to him.  This junior SPYDER agent hasn't said a word since he's been captured several weeks ago, but now he has agreed to lead Ben to the evil organization's secret headquarters, but he will only reveal this location to Ben and Erica Hale after they have left.  Unfortunately, Ben's suspicion that it might be a trap are proved true, and he 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?

Those familiar with this series will know exactly what to expect from this book, and they won't be disappointed.  If you haven't found Ben's wonderful adventures, you are in for a treat.  The action is non-stop with plenty of twists along the way that keep the pages flying.  Yet there is still enough time for the characters to get some development.  There is definitely more to them than we see on the surface.  And there is plenty of humor; in fact, I might have been laughing out loud while reading one part.  If you are new to the series, you might want to back up and read them in order.  Trust me, you'll find yourself reading all of them and thinking of some kids you can pass these great books on to.

Reason to Doubt by Nancy Cole Silverman (Carol Childs #5) – 5
Radio reporter Carol Childs's daughter, Cate, is home for the summer, and she's brought a boyfriend with her.  Pete makes his living as a photographer, and the police begin to suspect him of being the Model Slayer, a serial killer who has been claiming victims in the Los Angeles area for the past several months.  Cate insists that Pete is innocent, and Carol doesn't find him a compelling suspect either, but then a phone call at the station sheds new light on the case.  Is Pete innocent?  Can Carol figure out who the killer really is?

The premise of this entry in the series intrigued me, and it didn't disappoint at all.  This case becomes very personal for Carol for a couple of reasons, and that helped drive the plot.  We got plenty of twists before reaching a page turning climax.  The plot also brings out a different side of Carol, which I enjoyed seeing.  The characters are all strong, and I loved seeing how Carol's love life progressed.  The series straddles the line between cozy and traditional, and the subject matter here makes this book no exception.  Just know that going in, and you'll be fine.  Once you start, you'll definitely be hooked and turning pages as quickly as you can.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Killalot by Cindy Brown (Ivy Meadows #6) – 4
Part-time PI and actress Ivy Meadows is enjoying a rare day off with her boyfriend, her brother, and her brother's girlfriend at the Renaissance faire thanks to free tickets from her friend, fellow actor Riley.  They are going to watch Riley's debut in the jousting event when a terrible accident ends with one jouster seriously injured and the other riding Riley's horse off into the desert.  Riley claims to have been knocked out, but was he?  Ivy finds herself undercover at the home of a Broadway writer and at the faire.  Will she be able to keep her undercover assignments straight?  Will she find out what happened?  Could this job land her a ticket to Broadway?

As you can tell, there is a lot happening in this book.  Unfortunately, it overshadows the mystery at times.  While things came to a satisfactory climax, I felt we could have gotten more development on the mystery earlier.  However, I was never bored.  So much was happening I was always reluctant to put the book down because I was having fun.  Part of that fun came from the characters; as usual for the series, we meet a wide variety of very fun people.  While the book has a comedic tone overall, things do get serious in the last quarter without getting dark.  This allows for some wonderful character growth in Ivy.  Fans of the series will be thrilled to see how she progresses here.  I can't wait to see where this leads in the next book.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly – 4
Henry Pierce is just days away from a patent and a huge meeting with a potential investor at the company he founded.  However, he's also just moved into an apartment since he has split with his fiancee.  That, of course, means a new land line, and Pierce starts to get phone messages for someone named Lilly.  Pierce quickly figures out that Lilly is a prostitute, but how did he get her number?  Why would she give it up?  Pierce isn't able to let the puzzle go, and he begins to spend his weekend obsessing over finding her instead of doing the last-minute things he should be doing for his company.  Will he find her?  Will he destroy everything he's worked for in the process?

This book is definitely a departure for Michael Connelly, featuring an everyman and bordering on a technothriller.  It starts out well with plenty of intrigue, but it gets bogged down in the second half.  The pace gets way too slow at one point before picking up again and racing to the climax.  Pierce's reasons for getting as involved as he does are reasonable, but we don't find out until the end.  He does make an interesting main character, however, and the rest of the cast are just as strong.  Since this book originally came out in 2002, it has some dated elements.  It's amazing how much our lives have changed in the last decade and a half.  This is one of Connelly's rare stand-alones, and you can read it as much, but fans of the Harry Bosch books will recognize some cool Easter Eggs, including a reference to the ending of City of Bones, the Bosch book that came out just before this book did.

Wreath Between the Lines by Daryl Wood Gerber (Cookbook Nook Mysteries #7) – 4
The town of Chrystal Cove, California is getting into the Christmas spirit, and Jenna Hart is busy with a bunch of Christmas themed events at the Cookbook Nook.  Her life is more complicated by the fact that her sister and her family are visiting, and Jenna gets pulled into their drama.  But things take a huge turn when her neighbor, Jake, comes over in a panic one night to report that a friend who had been staying with him has been murdered, trussed up with Christmas light and stabbed by a Christmas star.  Who would want to kill a visitor to town?  Or was Jake the intended target?

If you are looking for a cozy filled with Christmas spirit, you've come to the right place.  This book is filled with Christmas.  The mystery is a little weak since a couple of sub-plots crowd it out, but we do still get some twists before reaching a creative and fun climax.  The series regulars are all here, and it is wonderful to catch up with them again.  Once you've finished the book, you can keep the Christmas spirit with the many recipes for holiday goodies at the end.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover's Mysteries #1) – 5
Lindsey Norris is settling into her new life as the director of the public library in Briar Creek, Connecticut.  One of her many joys is working alongside her best friend Beth Stanley, the children's librarian.  Unfortunately, Lindsey has never warmed to Beth's boyfriend Rick Eckman, and spending more time with him doesn't change that at all.  So, Lindsey isn't upset when the two break up.  However, Beth gets some surprising news about Rick the next day just before she finds his body.  It's obvious that Rick has been killed.  With the police certain that Beth is guilty, Lindsey springs into action to clear her best friend.  Can she do it?

I'm finally getting around to starting this series, but I've loved the other books from Jenn McKinlay I've read.  I pretty much knew what to expect here, and I was right.  We get a fantastic cast of characters that I already can't wait to spend more time with.  The setting, both the library and the town, are charming as well.  I'd move to this town is it weren't for the murder rate (and the fact that it's fictional).  There is a bit of series set up that slows things down at the beginning, but the mystery is very strong once it gets started.  I was surprised by some of the twists along the way.  I also laughed several times along the way, and part of the climax made me want to cheer.

Just Plain Murder by Laura Bradford (Amish Mysteries #6) – 4
In the time that shop owner Claire Weatherly has been dating detective Jakob Fisher, she has never met Russ Granger, the man Jakob counts as a mentor and father figure.  Of course, it makes sense since Russ has retired and moved to Florida.  He is back in Heavenly, Pennsylvania, for a visit, but before Jakob and Russ can reconnect, Russ is murdered.  Distraught over the man's death, Jakob throws himself into solving the crime.  Can Claire help him come up with any leads?

It's been two and a half years since we've been able to visit this community, and I hadn't realized just how much I missed it until I was reading the first page.  I was immediately swept back into the peaceful state I find while reading this series.  In keeping with a town next to an Amish community, the pace in this series has always been a bit on the slow side, but I did feel this book's pacing was slower than normal.  Still, when the pace does pick up, we get a well-done plot.  The real star has always been the characters, and I was thrilled to be able to visit them again.  They are as wonderful as ever, and I enjoyed some of the developments happening in their lives.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Coloring Crook by Krista Davis (Pen & Ink Mysteries #2) – 4
The Georgetown bookstore Florrie Fox manages has added a weekly coloring group, and Florrie has enjoyed getting to know the regulars.  One of them, Dolly Cavanaugh, also enjoys bargain hunting at estate sales, and one week she comes in excited about her latest find, a copy of The Florist, a rare adult coloring book from the 1700's.  However, later that night, Florrie finds Dolly dead with a corner of a piece of paper in her hand.  That's all that can be found of book Dolly just bought.  As secrets begin to come to light, Florrie is left to wonder how well she really knew Dolly.  Was the book the motive for Dolly's murder?  Or did a secret from her past catch up with her?

I was charmed by the first in the series, and I enjoyed this one just as much.  The setting may be a neighborhood in the Washington DC area, but by sticking to the neighborhood, it still feels like a traditional cozy setting.  And what a setting!  I'd love to spend hours browsing in this bookstore.  Florrie is a great lead character, and she heads up a cast of equally fun characters.  It's hard to picture most of them as killers, in fact.  The plot is filled with twists and complications.  I began to suspect a few things, but I still had huge gaps I hadn’t figured out before I got to the end.  I do feel the ending was a bit rushed, and a few things got glossed over as a result, but that's my only issue with the book.  As with the first, the cover can be colored, and there are five recipes at the end.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Book Review: The Coloring Crook by Krista Davis (Pen & Ink Mysteries #2)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Setting, cast, twisty mystery
Cons: Ending is rushed
The Bottom Line:
Rare coloring book
Did it lead to a murder?
Story filled with fun




Coloring Can Be Profitable…and Deadly

I completely enjoyed the first in Krista Davis' new Pen & Ink Mystery series, so I was thrilled when we got to revisit Florrie Fox and the rest of the characters in The Coloring Crook.  I wasn’t surprised to find that this is a fun sequel.

Florrie spends her days as the manager of the bookstore Color Me Read in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC and her nights creating adult coloring books.  She's also heading up a club at the bookstore for adults to come and color together.  It's through this club that she's gotten to know Dolly Cavanaugh, who owns a brownstone in the neighborhood.  In addition to coloring, Dolly loves to hunt for bargains at garage sales.

One day Dolly arrives for the weekly coloring club meeting thrilled with her latest bargain.  She believes she has found a rare copy of The Florist, an adult coloring book from the 1700's.  There are very few of them left, so this could be Dolly's ticket to wealth.  However, the evening, Florrie finds Dolly's dead body.  The book is missing, only a piece of torn paper left in Dolly's hand.  As secrets begin to come to light, Florrie is left to wonder how well she really knew Dolly.  Was the book the motive for Dolly's murder?  Or did a secret from her past catch up with her?

Normally, we don't think of big cities as the setting for cozies, or at least modern cozies, but the Georgetown neighborhood works wonderfully here.  The action all takes place in the area; in fact, Florrie walks much of the time.  This feels like a cozy.  Florrie has a great guest house she lives in, and the bookstore sounds like one I would gladly spend a day browsing in.  An appealing setting is much of what draws me to a series, and this one has it.

I've also got to love the characters, and I certainly feel that way about this bunch.  Florrie is wonderful, and I love spending time with her.  Various members of her family and friends bring out different sides of her that I enjoy seeing.  Even the suspects are a nice bunch.  Yes, there are one or two characters we don’t like, but they are the exception.

As I alluded to above, this book isn't quite as simple as the rare coloring book being the motive, and I enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot.  I did begin to piece things together early, but I only had a few pieces of it.  While the solution is logical, I did feel that the ending was rushed, leading to a few things being glossed over.  That's my only complaint with the book, however.

Since adult coloring books are the theme of the series, this book offers a cover you can color when you are pondering the latest twists and turns of the case.  And, since Florrie loves to bake, you'll find five recipes at the end.

With a charming setting, great cast, and involved plot, The Coloring Crook is well worth reading.  Personally, I'm already looking forward to a return visit.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Ornament Review: Inside Story #3 - Santa and Squirrel - 2018 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene creatively displayed
Cons: It's the last in this series
The Bottom Line:
Santa gives present
As series comes to an end
Goes out with cute piece




Santa's Inside the Final in this Series

For better or worse, Hallmark has started announcing how many years some series will run.  The idea behind it being that someone might start a series if they know it will only run a certain number of years.  However, those of us who fall in love with a series are always disappointed when the series ends.  That's me this year.  Inside Story was always supposed to be a three year series, and it is ending with another fun ornament this year.

The ornaments in this series all feature a scene inside a traditional ornament shape.  I'm honestly not sure what the shape of this year's ornament is called.  I know I've seen it before.  It has a round center with pointed ovals on the top and bottom of the piece.  The outside is a sea green; it's pretty, and it won't blend into your tree too much.

The scene is in the middle circle, and features Santa.  He's standing next to a decorated Christmas tree.  The scene is outside, and the ground and tree and both covered in snow.  In front of the tree is a squirrel, and Santa is holding a present for the squirrel – a sack of nuts.

Once again, this is a very cute scene.  The tree is tall enough that it goes from the bottom to the top of the space, but is still skinny enough that the rest of the scene fits okay.  Like others in the series, the fact that it is inside a round ball makes the back of the scene slope up, but it doesn't distort the scene this year at all.

Since the ornament has a pointed bottom, you have to hang it.  That's no issue, however, since the bottom hangs straight.

My sadness at seeing this series end is lessened by the fact that they do have a few other similar series that I collect and enjoy.  Still, it is great that Inside Story goes out on such a nice note.

You can now get the complete Inside Story ornament series.

Original Price: $19.99

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Book Review: Just Plain Murder by Laura Bradford (Amish Mysteries #6)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful to visit these characters again
Cons: Mystery could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
A mentor murdered
Brings us back to these old friends
Sit back and enjoy




It was Heavenly to Visit These Characters Again

It's been two and a half years since we were last able to visit the residents of Heavenly, Pennsylvania.  I hadn't realized just how much I missed these characters until I picked up Just Plain Murder.  By the end of the first page, I felt like I'd come home, and we'd only seen three of the series regulars.  I was smiling the entire way through the book.

If you haven't found this series yet, it is set in the Amish country.  Claire Weatherly, our main character, isn't Amish herself, but the gift shop she runs sells many items made by the Amish, and through that she has made friendships in both parts of her community.  She is dating Jakob Fisher, the local police detective, who has his own at times painful ties to the community.

As this book opens, Jakob's old mentor has come back to Heavenly.  Russ Granger was the policeman who inspired Jakob's interest in police work when he was a boy, and he became like a father to him when Jakob became a police officer.  Russ has long retired and moved to Florida, but he is back to visit his grown daughter.

However, before Jakob and Russ can reconnect, Russ is found murdered.  Distraught over the man's death, Jakob throws himself into solving the crime.  Can Claire help him come up with any leads?

Throughout this series, people talk about how peaceful the town is, especially the Amish side of the community.  That comes through in the books.  Just picking one up brings a sense of peace I don't get from any other of my favorite series.

The pacing of these books has always reflected that more peaceful setting.  Even so, this book seems a little slower paced than most.  There is a lot of focus on Jakob and how he is dealing with the loss, and it doesn't feel like we make significant progress on the mystery until the final third.  However, the end result is well worth reading.  I was highly satisfied when I was done.

The real star of this series has always been the characters, and they shine here.  All your favorites get at least a scene if not several.  There are some interesting developments for a couple of them as well.  They have been friends since the first book in the series, and it was absolutely fantastic to be able to visit them again.

There are a few references to things that have happened in previous books that come close to spoiling events, but if you haven't read those earlier books, you can still jump in here.  However, to fully appreciate the characters, you'll want to read the series in order.  That is a journey well worth taking.

It is always wonderful to check back in with our fictional friends, and I was so thankful to be able to do that with Just Plain Murder.  Whether you are new or old to this series, you'll be glad you picked up this book.

Enjoy more visits to Heavenly with the rest of the Amish Mysteries.

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 Tuesday December 4th, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 12/4.  You will have until midnight on 12/9 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 12/10.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Music Review: Don't Look Back by Josh Wilson


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 5 fun new songs backed with spiritual truths
Cons: It’s only 5 new songs!
The Bottom Line:
New EP release
Five enjoyable new songs
For fans old and new




Josh Wilson’s Back with a Great EP

I don't buy as much new music as I used to, but there are still a few artists whose new releases I look forward to.  Josh Wilson is definitely one of them.  His honest lyrics have a way of making familiar truths relatable and fresh.  It's been a few years since his last new release came out, but when I saw he was releasing an EP this year, I was thrilled.  Don't Look Back is as good as I had hoped it would be.

I will admit, it took me a couple of listens to fully appreciate this new release.  And part of the problem was the first track.  "Self Less" reminds us that following the two greatest commands “Ain’t about thinking less of myself, it’s thinking about myself less."  As the bridge says, "Love God, love people/It’s so hard and so simple."  Okay, so the lyrics are convicting, but my issue is more the style.  Josh almost chants the chorus, and it’s definitely a stretch from his usual soft rock style.  But the more I’ve listened to it, the more I’ve enjoyed it.

Stylistically, the next track is very similar, but I liked this one right away.  "Borrow (One Day at a Time)" comes straight from the Sermon on the Mount, reminding us that we aren't supposed to worry about tomorrow, instead focus on today.  Considering I am always worrying about things I will need to be doing in the future, it’s a reminder I need to hear.  I really appreciate Josh's honesty here since he makes it clear this is something he struggles with as well.

Things slow down for "OK," which is a more classic Josh Wilson song both stylistically and lyrically.  Josh has written songs before about leaving the past behind, including our guilt and shame over our confessed sin.  That's what the first verse of this song focuses on here.  The second verse expands it to anyone struggling with life.  This song is a clear and powerful reminder that Jesus came for us as we are, so "It's okay not to be okay."

I don't have a good Christian music radio station to listen to (probably one reason I don't get as much new music as I used to), so I hadn't heard "Dream Small" yet.  This song was actually released months ago to radio, but I fell in love with it right away.  It is a song about the little things in life that are truly important for eternity, things like spending time with your kids or visiting widows.  Josh makes it clear he isn’t saying we can’t dream big, just don’t miss the small things God wants us to do daily.  As he points out, "With His great love, a tiny rock can make a giant fall" and "The God who does all things makes oceans from rivers."  This is an important perspective to have in life.  Plus, it's a catchy song that is fun to sing along with.

The EP wraps up with the title track.  "Don't Look Back" is again about God's forgiveness and our need to leave what has happened to us in the past and move forward secure in God's grace and mercy.  Yes, it is echoing themes of "OK," but I need to be reminded of this simple truth quite a lot myself, so I welcome it here.

As I said, it took me a couple of listens to fully appreciate this disc, but that has proved to be a thing of the past.  (And I'm not going to look back.)  These are five fun songs packed with spiritual truth.

And yes, that is still my biggest complaint.  I wish this were a full release, although it is priced accordingly, so I really can't complain.  I'm just greedy.  I want more music.

If you are a fan of Josh Wilson's music already, you'll love Don't Look Back.  And if you haven't found this artist yet, now's the time to jump in.  You'll soon be looking back to get the rest of his music and then joining me looking forward to what he releases next.

CD Length: 17:49
Tracks:
1. Self Less
2. Borrow (One Day at a Time)
3. OK
4. Dream Small
5. Don't Look Back

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Candy Review: Hershey's Hot Cocoa Kisses


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Delicious combination of milk chocolate and marshmallows
Cons: Only occasionally really taste like a mug of hot chocolate
The Bottom Line:
Delicious candy
Doesn't quite live up to name
But still worth trying




Not Quite a Mug of Hot Chocolate in Candy Form, but Still Good

On a recent trip to the store, I wandered by the candy aisle.  In my defense, they were putting out Christmas candy, and I needed my packages of Christmas mint candies for the year.  But I also spotted the Hot Cocoa Hershey's Kisses.  Intrigued, I had to buy a package and give them a try.

These are a milk chocolate candy with a soft marshmallow center.  Seriously, what's not to love about the combination?  I think if they had called it that, I would have tried it.  But I was curious to see if they would taste by hot chocolate.

The first one I popped into my mouth did.  Okay, so it wasn't hot, but it certainly tasted like a nice mug of hot chocolate when you get a mouthful of melting marshmallows.  Yum, right?  However, the next one didn't taste quite that way.  In fact, they began to taste more like milk chocolate around a marshmallow center.  Every so often, one captures that mug of hot chocolate magic, but it certainly doesn't happen with every piece.

Now, I'm not complaining; these are delicious candies.  I love chocolate and I love marshmallows, so how could they miss?  But it does seem like a candy labeled hot chocolate should be able to capture that hot chocolate magic every time.

So yes, I do recommend you give them a try.  I have a feeling that they will continue to be a holiday treat offered for many years to come even if the Hot Cocoa Hershey's Kisses don't quite live up to their name.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

November 24th's Weekly TV Thoughts

As is tradition Thanksgiving week, this is a little shorter than normal since I'm out of town with family.  I'm only missing Survivor, but I will catch up for next week.

Supergirl – At least we have an alien who is evil.  Oh, we aren't going to see it that way at the end, but his motives for going after the humans (they killed his fiancee) is about as strong as this group's motives are.  I'm wondering how the new leader at the DEO is going to play into all this by the end of the season.

God Friended Me – I did not see the pregnant woman coming back into the episode.  In fact, I'd kind of forgotten about her until she opened the door.  I'm glad she didn't take the guy back right away.  I'm going to believe they do work things out and live happily ever after, but they have a few things to work through first.

Arrow – Well, that wasn't a magic bullet to get Oliver out right away last week.  And it appears that Oliver is quite out by next week.  I'm surprised we caught Diaz.  Again, looks like he is still going to be trouble going forward, and we still have the longbow archers, but having him behind bars is a major development I wasn't expecting yet.  Still not happy about the future storyline, however.

Legends of Tomorrow – Nate's dad has his own agenda?  I should have seen that coming, but I didn't.  Nora's supposed to be a series regular this year, so I'm curious how she is going to factor in going forward.  The sub-plot with the monsters at the office turned out to be pretty funny, and I had forgotten about Rory's writing.  Enjoyed them bring that back into things.

Dancing with the Stars – Clearly this was the season where the people’s votes made the most difference.  That’s the only way Bobby wins.  He was fun to watch, but he wasn’t the best dancer.  After last week, I wasn’t that surprised when he won.  Of the finalists, Milo was my pick to win.

The Flash – I was not expecting the revelations about Caitlin’s father and Killer Frost tonight.  So her father has an evil cold twin as well, and he created Killer Frost.  I was glad to see that this side of Caitlin returned.  I liked what they were doing with her and Caitlin’s character through her.  I’m assuming this is very different from the comic books since I know Killer Frost was a villain, but I think I like their version better.

This is Us – We finally got to see more of Miguel’s family.  I’m sorry to see they treat him so horribly still.  I can get being upset at the time, but I would hope a family would grow beyond that.  I’m sorry to see they are making Tess a lesbian, but I know they needed some character to be one on the show.  Kevin got short changed, but there was so much else going on, I completely understand how that happened.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Book Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lovers Mysteries #1)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, great mystery
Cons: Set up slows down mystery at the beginning, but a minor point overall
The Bottom Line:
Library setting
With the best friend as suspect
Fun series debut




In Which I Finally Start Jenn McKinlay's Library Lover's Series

By the time I finally started reading Jenn McKinlay's books, she was starting her third cozy mystery series.  And, while I got up to date on the Hat Shop Mysteries and the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries, I never even started the Library Lovers Mysteries.  It wasn't that they didn't appeal to me; it was just a matter of other books calling to me a little bit louder.  But I decided it was time to fix that, so I bumped Books Can Be Deceiving to the top of my to be read mountain range.

This book takes us to the tiny community of Briar Creek, Connecticut, where Lindsey Norris has become the director of the public library.  She's only been on the job six months, but she's beginning to settle into it and her new community.  One of the joys of the job is being able to work alongside her best friend, Beth Stanley, who is the children's librarian.

Beth has been in the area longer, and has been dating picture book author Rick Eckman for several years.  Lindsey doesn't see the attraction at all, so when Beth breaks up with him, she is quite happy for her friend.  However, Beth gets some surprising news about Rick the next day just before she finds his body.  The police quickly make Beth their prime suspect.  Lindsey knows her friend isn't a killer, but can she prove it before Beth is arrested?

Since I'm already familiar with Jenn's books, I pretty much knew what to expect when I picked this one up even though it is a series debut.  First, I was expecting a strong group of friends, and that's what I got here.  Lindsey might have only been in town for a few months when the book opens, but she is already feeling at home and recognizing the bonds she is making.  I loved this cast, and I can't wait to spend more time with them.

In fact, the whole setting is charming.  The library is one I would love to visit, and Briar Creek is one the beach.  Honestly, I'm ready to up and move there myself.  On the other hand, the murder rate looks to be pretty high, so maybe I should stay away after all.

The book was a tad slow to get started, but much of that time was being used to set up the characters and location for this new series.  Since I already felt so much at home, I really didn't mind.  Once the plot gets started, we are treated to a winning mystery with several good twists along the way.  The climax was wonderful as well.

Another trademark of Jenn's books is the humor.  No, this might not be a laugh a minute book, but there are some moments that made me laugh.  And I wanted to cheer at the climax.

Not only do we get a great mystery, but there are plenty of extras.  We get information about starting a crafternoon club.  Not sure what that is?  You'll have to read the book to find out.  There are also discussion questions from The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene, which is mentioned several times in the book, a knitting pattern, and two recipes.

I don't need any new series to read.  In fact, it would be nice if I could get caught up on some of the series I've already started.  But I don't regret picking up Books Can Be Deceiving for a minute.  I'm looking forward to stopping by my new favorite library again soon.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

No new review today since it is Thanksgiving Day here in the US.  I do want to take a moment to wish everyone celebrating today and Happy Thanksgiving.  I am thankful for all of you who stop by to read my ramblings.  I truly do appreciate you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Ornament Review: Ralph and Vanellope - 2018 Hallmark Ornament


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Ralph and Vanellope look great
Cons: We didn't have this ornament sooner
The Bottom Line:
Ralph, Vanellope
Finally team up for your tree
Fans will be happy




Ralph and Vanellope Together Again

Sometimes, I just scratch my head at what Disney movies do or don't get ornaments.  For example, Wreck-It Ralph never got an ornament despite being such a huge hit.  But with the sequel set to come out today (can't wait to see it!), Hallmark seized the opportunity to correct that oversight with this ornament of Ralph and Vanellope.

Technically, this ornament is a tie in to the new sequel, but there is nothing to make that official.  After all, the ornament is just the two characters.  Ralph is a big guy all set to destroy stuff.  After all, that's his job in his video game.  He's dressed in his reddish/orange shirt and brown overalls.  Vanellope is much smaller since she comes from a racing video game.  In fact, she's small enough to sit on Ralph's shoulders.  They are both smiling out at us and have their arms up like they are showing off their muscles.

I'd never really thought about it, but between Ralph's red shirt and Vanellope's sea green outfit, they almost fit in perfectly with traditional Christmas colors, and they aren't even trying.

But that's not why I love this ornament so much.  I'm thrilled to have these characters to hang on my tree.  I really loved this movie when it first came out, and I still really enjoy it when I rewatch it, so it is wonderful to have someone from it to hang on my tree.

The fact that it came out this year is actually a huge bonus for me.  Several of my co-workers and I dressed up as these characters for Halloween last month.  I was Fix-It Felix, so an ornament of him would be even better, but still, it is perfectly time to remind me of the fun we had together.

Because Ralph is so big, his feet are large enough to allow this ornament to stand on its own.  However, Ralph wants to pitch forward, so if you do set this ornament out, I recommend you set it on a very sturdy surface that won’t get bumped.

Meanwhile, the ornament is also perfectly balance, so when you go to hang it on your tree, you'll find it hangs straight.

It's a shame it took a sequel to give us these characters, but if that is what it took to get this great ornament, I'll gladly take it.

Original Price: $15.99

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Book Review: Wreath Between the Lines by Daryl Wood Gerber (Cookbook Nook Mysteries #7)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, plenty of Christmas spirit
Cons: Mystery side-tracked by sub-plots
The Bottom Line:
Murder at Christmas
Who was intended victim?
Festive cozy book




Killer at Christmas

With as much as I love Christmas, reading cozies set at Christmas is one thing I look forward to each year.  More and more series seem to be offering Christmas entries, too, which makes me happy.  Wreath Between the Lines is the latest in this trend, and lets us visit Jenna Hart and her Cookbook Nook.

It's a couple of weeks before Christmas in the town of Crystal Cove on the coast of California, and just about everyone is getting into the spirit.  The shops in town are putting wreaths on all their doors since that is the theme of this year's Christmas festival, and many residents are going all out in decorating their houses.  Jenna has several themed events planned for the Cookbook Nook as well.  Dampening the Christmas spirit is a visit from her sister, brother-in-law, and niece, bringing family drama with them.

However, the Christmas spirit is truly dampened when Jenna's neighbor, Jake, comes to her one night in a panic.  His visiting friend has been murdered at his house, trussed up with Christmas lights and stabbed in the back with a star.  Jake once saved Jenna's father's life, so Jake has been close to Jenna's family for years.  What worries everyone is that Jake might have been the intended target.  Can Jenna figure out who the killer is before he or she gets a chance to strike again?

If you are looking for a book with plenty of Christmas spirit, this is the book for you.  Between the talk of Christmas themed cookbooks, Christmas decorations, Christmas carols, and Christmas treats, you'll find lots of, well, Christmas between the covers of this book.  Even though it is still November, it was enough to wish I'd spent a little more time this weekend decorating for Christmas so I could enjoy the book surrounded by my own Christmas decorations.

However, the lack of Christmas decorations around me didn't keep me from getting fully involved in this book.  We had yet to spend much time with Jenna's sister or her family, so it was nice to see them and get another side of Jenna as a result of these relationships.  Of course, we get to see plenty of the various series regulars as well, and it is always great to spend time with them.  The suspects are strong and easy to keep straight, which always helps with the mystery.

I did feel the mystery was a little on the thin side.  We had several sub-plots that kept crowding in on the main mystery, slowing it down at times.  Having said that, we did get some good surprises and complications on the way to a fun climax.

If all the talk of food and recipes leaves you craving a Christmas treat, you'll be happy to find the wealth of recipes at the back of the book.  There are recipes for such things as Brownie Reindeer or Christmas Trees, Christmas Wreath, White Chocolate Crackle, and a Yule Log. We also get some gluten free alternatives to a few of these recipes as needed.

If you are looking for Christmas spirit mixed with some murder and mayhem, look no further than Wreath Between the Lines.  Grab a mug of peppermint hot chocolate, curl up next to your Christmas tree, and savor.

Looking for more?  Here are the rest of the Cookbook Nook Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I'm reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  Check out the other stops here.

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

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Music Review: One Shot by Straight No Chaser


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great harmonies, lots of fun music
Cons: The first track isn't to my taste.
The Bottom Line:
A cappella songs
Tight harmonies; lots of fun
Listening brings smiles




Exudes Fun

One reason that people immediately fell in love with Straight No Chaser is the fun they exude.  That comes through in their videos on YouTube.  I haven't had the privilege to see them in person yet, but it's a safe bet that is part of their stage show.  It also comes through on their various releases, and One Shot is no exception.

This disc features sixteen new recordings from the a cappella group.  I was smiling from almost the moment I started listening to it the first time, and that's continued as I've continued listening to it.  How can it not with such tracks as "Livin' La Vida Loca?"  Okay, so I've never really listened to the lyrics, and they are on the strange side, but the song itself is lots of fun.  Other highlights include "No Roots," "Lean on Me," and "The Boys are Back in Town."

They even include a couple of tracks recorded from their live shows.  "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I've Been Everywhere" capture the fun I talked about earlier.  Yes, you'll be laughing as you enjoy their impressive harmonies.  Both of the songs are fun in their own right, but the creativity the group is known for adds to the fun of the lyrics and music.

Between many of the tracks, we get the guys talking about their story and their lives on the road.  As they talk through the humble beginnings when they were all in college to their "one shot" at landing a recording contract to life on the road, we get a feel for how much they enjoy where they've been and where they are now.  These stories are all less than a minute long, so they are more vignettes than anything else.

Truly, the music here is outstanding.  The harmonies are perfect, and whether the song is an upbeat, fun number or a slower song, every note they hit is perfection.

About the only track on here I'm not in love with is the first one.  "MotownPhilly/This is How We Do It" is too hip hop for my taste.  But one track I don't like out of sixteen isn't too surprising, really.

One Shot only needed one shot to prove itself a winner to me.  This will get lots of play time.

CD Length: 57:16
Songs:
1. MotownPhilly/This is How We Do It
2. Livin’ La Vida Loca
3. Go Your Own Way
4. Working for the Weekend
5. When a Man Loves a Woman
6. The Boys are Back in Town
7. Whatever It Takes
8. No Roots
9. Just Like We Rehearsed
10. We’re an American Band
11. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (Live)
12. I’ve Been Everywhere (Live)
13. Homeward Bound
14. Changes
15. Our House
16. Lean On Me

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Movie Review: Celebrating Mickey


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 13 Mickey Mouse shorts
Cons: Nothing new if you already have these shorts
The Bottom Line:
Celebrate Mickey
With collection of his shorts
From his long career




Mickey Debuts in Blu for His 90th

Mickey Mouse is turning 90 today!  Yes, DisNerds around the world are celebrating the birth of the icon that truly launched the Disney Company to where it is today.  And Disney is also recognizing the birth of this icon with Celebrating Mickey, a collection of 13 shorts from his long career.  This also marks the first time that these shorts have been released on Blu-Ray.

These shorts represent much of Mickey's career as a star of the short animated film, something that Pixar is known for and Disney has returned to a little.  Back in the early days of cinema, these short features, each running less than 10 minutes, were a staple before every movie shown in the theater.  That's how Mickey, and Disney, got their starts.

And there are many classic shorts in this collection.  It starts with the one that started it all, "Steamboat Willie."  From there, we get such classics as "The Band Concert," "Thru the Mirror," and "The Simple Things," the final appearance of Mickey and Pluto in the golden age of the animated short.  While Mickey's longer performances like "Sorcerer's Apprentice," "Mickey and the Beanstalk," or "Mickey's Christmas Carol" are not included, we do get his most recent theatrical role in "Ride a Horse," which debuted in front of Frozen just a few years back.

While all the shorts included have been released to home video before, this is the first time they've been released in a long time.  (Personally, I have most of them from the Walt Disney Treasures sets, which was roughly 15 years old.)  This alone will get many newer Disney fans lining up to buy the release.

Couple that with the fact that these are some classic shorts.  When you think of Mickey's best moments, these are the ones that come to mind.  I love many of them.  Yes, I have favorites that aren't included, but these are a wonderful representation of Mickey's 90-year career.

And yes, they have been restored for their new release.  To the average consumer, the difference between a DVD and a Blu-Ray release for animation this old is probably minimal if noticeable at all.  However, those who want some Mickey on Blu-Ray will be happy with the results.  And you can't beat the price.  Suggested retail price is $17.99, and that gives you just over an hour and a half of Mickey shorts on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital.  Truly, that's not too bad a deal, comparable with movies running the same length.  With no other extras, it is hard to argue you need this if you already have these shorts in your collection, but if you are missing them, then this is a wonderful way to get the highlights of Mickey's career.

As we celebrate the birth of Mickey Mouse, Celebrating Mickey is a great way for all of his fans to enjoy the best from a 90 year career.

Included Shorts:
  1. Steamboat Willie (1928)
  2. The Band Concert (1935)
  3. Mickey’s Rival (1936)
  4. Thru the Mirror (1936)
  5. Boat Builders (1938)
  6. Brave Little Tailor (1938)
  7. Mickey’s Trailer (1938)
  8. Tugboat Mickey (1940)
  9. The Little Whirlwind (1941)
  10. Mickey’s Birthday Party (1942)
  11. Pluto’s Party (1952)
  12. The Simple Things (1953)
  13. Get A Horse (2013)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ornament Review: Mickey's 90th - 2018 Disney Store Release


Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Creative idea
Cons: Execution doesn’t let us truly see everything
The Bottom Line:
Celebrate ninety
Good idea, poor result
Wish it were better




Mickey Looks at His Past as He Celebrates 90 Years

Naturally, with Mickey turning 90 this year, Disney has been doing quite a bit of celebrating.  While I haven’t bought most of what they’ve released, I couldn’t resist getting the Legacy ornament they released to celebrate this milestone.

Each ornament in this series features a different Disney movie or franchise that is celebrating an anniversary this year.  This was the only ornament I bought.  It features a modern-day Mickey Mouse looking at a picture of how he looked 90 years ago.  And yes, he is smiling as he is looking.  The picture itself is in a gold frame and Mickey looks like he is about to hang it on the wall.

I love the idea of this ornament.  Mickey has changed so much over the years, and it is nice to have a way to memorialize that.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out the way I thought it would from the pictures on the Disney Store’s website.  The problem is that the picture of old Mickey is see through.  Now, they had to do it that way so we could see current Mickey holding the picture.  However, the result is that we can’t see the picture of original Mickey that well.  Current Mickey is a little easier to see, but it’s still not quite as clear as you’d expect for the actual figure in the ornament.

Which is a shame because I love the idea of this ornament.  It’s just that the execution doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the piece.  I get what they were trying to do with the image of Mickey past shadowing Mickey present, but it just doesn’t quite work.

The ornament is a little front heavy, but Mickey’s feet are big enough that you can set this ornament out to be displayed.  However, when you hang it by the red ribbon threaded through the ornament, you’ll find Mickey definitely tips forward.  In a touch I like, there is a charm connecting the ornament to the ribbon with “Celebrating 90” on it.

As soon as I saw this ornament, I wanted to get it, but I’ve been disappointed by the final result.  It’s a shame that the final product didn’t match the idea since this would be a great way to celebrate the legacy of 90 years of Mickey Mouse.

November 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here are thoughts on what I watched this week.

Supergirl – Each week, they are getting more and more preachy.  I honestly don’t know how much more of the show I can handle.  I wasn’t expecting the General to be such a good partner, so that last scene didn’t surprise me that much.  James isn’t going to go to the dark side, too, is he?

God Friended Me – I feel like this had the least happy ending we’ve seen so far.  However, I liked that since it was so personal, and since we were dealing with some crimes and not just rocky relationships.  Of course, since the uncle wasn’t arrested, that is a major happy ending to things.  So cool to see Michael Vartan!  (I was a huge Alias fan back in the day.)  I did find that sub-plot to be the most predictable, and I felt Kara overreacted a little.  Then again, I’ve never been in her position (thankfully), but it seems to me like her dad did the right thing back then because he didn’t know he could trust her mom.  Yes, he was protecting himself, but he was definitely protecting her as well.

Dancing with the Stars – Joe finally went this week.  The only surprise there was that he hadn’t gone sooner.  However, I’m shocked that Juan Pablo went.  Watching him, I was certain that he was going to win it all.  Now I’m less certain who will win it all next week since there are three strong contenders to win.

Arrow – Please let that be a true way to get Oliver out of prison.  Please.  Although the two sides working together without knowing it proved to be pretty entertaining tonight.  Definitely one of the better episodes this season.  But I’m ready for Oliver to be on the outside.

Legends of Tomorrow – This episode sounded like fun, and it truly was.  It had the campy horror movie vibe I was expecting, although a lot less horror than I thought it might.  A little surprised they set it in the 90’s instead of the 80’s.  Either way, I completely enjoyed it.

The Flash – I’m glad that Nora and Iris have finally started bonding.  I’m curious what lead her to the decision in the future.  I wonder how they will tell us.  And I loved Cecil’s way to getting Nora to listen.  That meta was super creepy.  His look was straight out of a horror movie.  These shows do know we are in November, right?  And how wonderful was the Spiderman homage this week of all weeks with Stan Lee’s passing.

Survivor – Double idols.  Wow!  I don’t know that I’ve seen that before in quite that fashion.  And they were played for people who actually needed them played for them, too.  I honestly thought they might have to go for a revote, but they didn’t.  Davids still behind, but they are closer.  It will be interesting to see what happens here.  And for the record, I like Christian, I’m rooting for him, but they were right to try to get rid of him because he is a major threat.

Big Bang Theory – They finally seem to have found their stride this year, and I’m enjoying the show again.  Sheldon and Amy’s reaction to the news was priceless.  I even found Bernadette’s sub-plot to be fun as well.  Let’s hope they continue these strong episodes for the rest of the season.

The Good Place – As I have raved about this show, I have always said I disagreed with the show’s theology.  I’m very curious where they are going with the idea that earning points to get into the real good place is a bogus system.  I doubt it will be a Christian answer to the afterlife, but I’m still intrigued.  Janet’s fight was awesome!  And, as a Mark with a brother named Michael, I loved the slip of the name scene, too.