Monday, July 22, 2019

Book Review: Scone Cold Dead by Karen MacInerney (Gray Whale Inn #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and story
Cons: I’m not cold hearted enough to list any cons
The Bottom Line:
Lobstermen in stew
As conflict leads to murder
Always great visit

Can Natalie Find a Scone Cold Killer?

It’s always a pleasure to return to Cranberry Island.  Karen MacInerney has expertly brought it to life through the eyes of Natalie Barnes, the owner of the Gray Whale Inn bed and breakfast.  Of course, the island does seem to have a murder problem, as evidenced by the fact that Scone Cold Dead is the ninth book in the series.

It’s late spring, and trouble is once again brewing on the island.  There is tension boiling over in the lobster community as people are being accused of trying to skirt the laws to harvest more lobsters and therefore gain more money.  Since Natalie’s new nephew-in-law is one of the lobstermen, this naturally concerns her.  But when a dead body turns up, things get even worse.

Meanwhile, bookings at the inn have been down, and Natalie is hoping to gain some publicity by entering a scone recipe competition a newspaper on the mainland is holding.  And her niece, Gwen, has recently opened an artist’s commune on the island.  Will this distract Natalie from figuring out the latest murder?

As you can see, there are several sub-plots in this book, and they weave in and out of the main plot quite skillfully, sometimes influencing each other in the bargain.  The story is always moving forward, and I devoured the book as quickly as possible because I had to know what was happening.  The climax made perfect sense when we reached it, and it was very suspenseful.

I already stated I love the location, but one huge reason for that is the characters.  Natalie’s world is filled with characters we’ve all come to consider friends over the course of the series, and it was great to spend time with them again here.  A couple of the sub-plots directly involve them, and that helped pull me into the book faster than the murder would have all by itself.  Of course, the suspects are just as strong and compelling, making it hard to figure out what exactly is happening until Natalie pieces it all together.

There are several delicious sounding recipes at the back of the book.  Given this book’s theme, I’m sure it is no surprise that three of them are scone recipes.

Scone Cold Dead is another winning book from Karen MacInerney.  Grab your favorite scone and settle in to see what Natalie and the rest of the gang are up to now.

Be sure to book more time on Cranberry Island with the rest of the Gray Whale Inn Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Disney Mug Review: Jiminy Cricket - Disney Wisdom Collection #7

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Nice mug with another fun quote
Cons: Don’t like the color
The Bottom Line:
Another fun mug
Characters, quote are both great
Conscience glad I got

Don’t Prick Your Conscience.  Buy This Mug

I’m at the point I need to do some serious rearranging in my cupboards for the mugs I’ve been buying this year as part of the Disney Wisdom Collection.  Not that it has stopped me from starting the second half of the series with this mug inspired by the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio.

This month’s quote is “Always let your conscience be your guide.”  It is featured on one side of the mug in blue and red surrounded by doodles.  I love the way they’ve chosen to display the quote.  Of course, with it being a shorter quote, they can do more with it.  On the other side are the characters for the month, Jiminy Cricket and Figaro.

My biggest issue with this mug is the color.  Since Jiminy is the featured characters, they’ve gone with a yellow-green.  Now, I agree that it is appropriate for the character since crickets are close to that color.  I just have never been a fan of yellow-green.  So, as you can imagine, that takes away some from my enjoyment of the mug.  In person, the color is a bit more of a pea soup color, which is better but still not ideal for me.  As usual, the characters blend into the mug a bit, but they stand out better than Cogsworth and Lumiere did last month.

Like the rest of the set, I appreciate the fact that the bottom is notched so it is stackable.  I can fit more in my cupboards that way.  It is a little shorter than some mugs, but it is wider, so you get a 14 oz mug that is dishwasher and microwave safe.

Color aside, I do appreciate this addition to my Disney Wisdom Mug collection.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to figure out where it is going to rest in my cupboard.

Disney Pin Review: Jiminy Cricket - Disney Wisdom Collection #7

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun set and good quote
Cons: Not a fan of the color
The Bottom Line:
Pinocchio set
Overall these pins are great
Not fan of color

This is Your Conscience Speaking.  Buy This Pin Set

We are starting in on the second half of the Disney Wisdom Collection.  Hard to believe that the 2019 is flying buy so quickly, isn’t it?  But here we are with a Disney pin set featuring a quote from the movie Pinocchio.

The character being quoted is the Blue Fairy.  I must admit, it took me a minute to remember this was her quote.  Why?  I associate “Always let your conscience be your guide” with Jiminy Cricket’s song “Give a Little Whistle.”  But when he sings that, he’s just quoting the Blue Fairy who said it first.  Anyway, I do like this quote, and I’m not surprised it is included in the collection.  The one caveat I would add is that you need to make sure you are feeding your conscience with truth or it can and will lead you astray.  But God did give us a conscience to help lead us.

As usual, we have a three pin set.  One of the pins is the quote.  The second is Jiminy Cricket, which doesn’t surprise me.  He has his back mostly turned to us, and he is doffing his cap to someone.  I’m going to say it is the Blue Fairy as she sparkles out of the scene.  Rounding out the set is Figaro, the cat, who is smiling.

With the Blue Fairy not an official part of the pin set, this means that we have had the speaker of the quote represented in the set three times and not represented four times.  I suspect we will continue to drop below 50% in the months to come.

The color for the month is a yellowish green, which is no surprise since the main character of the month is Jiminy Cricket.  However, I’m not a fan of the color in general, so that part of the set bothers me.  Naturally, it looks great on the Jiminy pin, and the way the quote is arranged on its pin looks fantastic.  Sadly, Figaro looks a bit weird with this color, but I’m sure I will get used to him quickly as I have some of the others.

The color is the only drawback to the newest pin set.  For those, like me, who are collecting the series, it’s an overall good set.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

July 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Some scripted shows appear again!

American Ninja Warrior – When they started announcing the Power Tower and prize for the city finals, I was thinking that those who won it in the first round would be disappointed they couldn’t win it this time.  Then we found out they would still get to run to try to get the prize.  That made me happy, as I’m sure it did them.  I suspected the Kevin Bull wasn’t going to finish, but I’m glad he at least made it to the national finals.  Glad to see Sweet T advance as well.

Suits – Can people really come in and take over a firm like that?  I mean, it makes great drama, but it isn’t right if it is true.  I’ll be interested to see how they play this out over the rest of the series.  Loved the shout outs to Mike and Rachel.  Man, I still miss those characters.

Pearson – I had hopes for this episode since we already had a backdoor pilot a year and a half ago on Suits.  But this felt like more of a TV pilot than I was expecting.  I’ll stick with it for now, but I am not completely sold on it.  I think part of my problem is realizing that her boyfriend is just a guest star character.  I love him and their relationship, so I didn’t want to see more drama between them.  And, I still had the tease and then flashback style of storytelling, and we got that in what I guess is a tease from the season finale.  I’ll give it a few episodes, however, before I decide anything for sure.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Movie Review: The Lion King (2019)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Looks great
Cons: Adds nothing to the story we already know
The Bottom Line:
This faithful remake
Brings nothing new to story
But looks amazing

Stunning Visuals in a Pointless Remake

25 years ago, I went to my first opening night of a movie to see the original version of The Lion King.  I loved it then, and I still love the movie.  And the Broadway show.  So, I was intrigued by the new remake of the film enough to go see it on opening night.  (Oh, Thursday night might be considered a preview night, but with as many showings as they are doing, it was opening night.)

If you aren’t familiar with the story, it takes place completely in the animal kingdom.  We meet Simba as a young cub (voiced by JD McCrary).   He is the crown prince of his lion pride, the son of Mufasa (James Earl Jones).  However, his uncle, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), wants the throne and he will do anything to claim it.  What will the outcome of his actions be?

Now, let’s get one thing straight from the beginning.  No matter how Disney may be marketing this, it is NOT a live action remake.  It is a highly realistic CGI remake – a different type of animation, but animation none the less.  And let’s give full credit to the visuals – this movie looks amazing.  These look like real animals on the screen interacting with a real background.  It’s easy to let your mind go and believe everything you are seeing on the screen.  Yes, a few insects look fake, but that’s a minor complaint when you are looking at an almost two-hour movie.  And some of the actions the characters do at times helps make it seem like these are real animals.  They not only look like real animals, but they move like them and at times behave like them.

On the other hand, in all the glut of Disney remakes, this one is the most pointless to date.  It isn’t a shot for shot remake of the original animated version, but it is close, and some scenes certainly are.  They have added about half an hour to the original story, and there are bits and pieces snuck in throughout the movie.  A couple of sequences are obviously expanded, but there is no scene that is clearly added just for this movie.

But that also means there really is nothing new to the story.  As much as some of the recent remakes have been retreads of the main story, they have still added character background or a new sub-plot.  Here, we really get nothing new.  We are watching this movie purely for the stunning visuals.

Now hear me out.  I’m not saying this movie is bad.  The story is still powerful, and it is easy to get into the events as they unfold yet again.  While a few of my favorite lines aren’t here, there are some new ones that are great – especially a joke at the beginning of the climax that had the audience I saw it with laughing hard.

The voice cast does a good job overall.  There are a couple of scenes where things feel a bit off, but that’s probably just my take on it because I’m so used to the original.  James Earl Jones reprises his role as Mufasa, and it is hard to imagine anyone else’s voice bring the character to life.  He’s the only returning actor.  In addition to the ones I already mentions, we get the likes of Donald Glover, Beyonce, Penny Johnson Jerald, Seth Rogan, and Bill Eichner.

All the song we love from the animated film are here, and they are easily a highlight of the film.  Fans of the Broadway version will recognize some of the songs from that version in the soundtrack as well.  Honestly, I wish they had fully put them in the film because they are powerful songs that add so much to the characters, but that’s a minor complaint.

I really did enjoy the remake of The Lion King.  It would be nice if the filmmakers had put their own spin on things, but even as it is, this is a visual feast that retells a great story.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

And the Winner is....

I just pulled the winner of The Pawful Truth.  And that winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail, so if you can please confirm your address, I'll make sure you get your prize.

Book Review: The Tell Tail Heart by Cate Conte (Cat Cafe Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Complex plot, great characters, atmosphere
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Murder, coming storm
And someone claiming her cat
Complex and fun book

Off Season Murder and an Approaching Storm

All of us have vacation destinations we love, and we dream about living there full time.  One reason I love cozy series is because we get to do just that – at least in fictional locations.  But what is a location like when the tourists aren’t as prevalent?  We get a peek at that in The Tell Tail Heart, the third Cat Café Mystery from Cate Conte.

Things on Daybreak Island have gotten quieter now that it has entered November and the season is officially over.  Maddie James is using the time to work on renovations to her cat café to make it even better for guests when the tourists return in the spring.  There are still a few locals who drop in, but she’s really surprised about the man who came in, paid for a week in advance, and spends most of his time working on his laptop despite the noise of the renovations.

However, things get interesting when a woman shows up and announces that she believes JJ, Maddie’s cat, is really her cat.  Naturally, the encounter upsets Maddie, but it is soon pushed to the back of her mind when a body is found floating in the water next to the yacht club.  With a Nor’easter approaching the island, will that interfere with the investigation into the death?

Actually, I loved that storm.  It helped give the book some wonderful atmosphere.  Even though I started the book over the 4th of July, I still felt the cold rain and wind as I was reading.  It also made the island feel even more isolated, kind of like a classic Agatha Christie setting.  I also got a kick out of Maddie’s thoughts about not being used to cold weather after living for several years in California since I often talk about the exact same thing.

My teaser just scratches the surface of what is happening in this book, and I love how the events conspired to keep Maddie and ourselves guessing about killer and motive until the end.  By the time we reach the end, it all makes sense, and we get a great climax.

Author Cate Conte used this book to dig deeper into one of the island characters introduced in the first couple of books.  I don’t think this character has had more than a handful of scenes in the earlier books, and I just thought he was just there to provide a little color.  I enjoyed getting to learn more about him as the events of the story unfolded.  There are plenty of new characters introduced to be suspects as well, and I found them interesting.

Naturally, we see the core cast as this book unfolds, although a few of the recurring characters don’t get much page time here.  I love this cast, so it was fun to spend more time with them.  And I’m quite anxious to visit them again after the ending of this book.

The Tell Tail Heart is another great addition to this already fun series.  Pick it up today and be prepared to be charmed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Ornament Review: Nine Ladies Dancing - 12 Days of Christmas #9 - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful coloring on the lady dancing
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Elegant dancing
As series keeps spinning on
A delightful piece

Elegant Lavender Lady Dancing

We have firmly turned the corner in Hallmark’s current 12 Days of Christmas series this year since this is our second year with humans.  It only makes sense since this year we get Nine Ladies Dancing.

Okay, so we really just get one lady dancing, but she elegant.  She is wearing a very pretty lavender dress and shoes.  Around the bottom of her dress are the notes and words for her verse of the song.  In her hand, she’s holding a gold heart with nine on it, the substitute for the dangle element we got with the birds.  Her hair is up in a bun, and she has a hint of a smile on her face.

I do miss the almost decoupage feel of the earlier ornaments in this series, but that is a minor complaint.  This ornament looks so elegant.  With her on her toes, she feels like she is in the middle of dancing for us, and the heart she is holding would become a prop in the dance.  Imaging eight more dancing with her would be quite the show.  While the majority of the ornament is plastic, there is a real ribbon tied around her waist.

Because she is on her toes, she wouldn’t stand up on her own, but none of the series would stand on their own, so that’s no real surprise.  Fortunately, she is perfectly balanced, so when you hang her on your tree, you’ll find she hangs straight.

No, the 9 on the heart she is holding is not the series marker on her.  It’s hidden where you’d expect it to be, on the underneath part of her dress between her feet.

The color also blends well with the light blue that was used last year for the Maid a Milking.  The two will be pretty together side by side.  It makes me look forward to seeing the color we will get for next year’s ornament.

While the style of the series might have changed a little, I am still quite happy with the look of this year’s Nine Ladies Dancing.  I can’t believe we only have three years left in the series.

Missing earlier entries?  Here are the rest of the 12 Days of Christmas series.

Original Price: $12.99

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Review: Ripe for Vengeance by Wendy Tyson (Greenhouse Mysteries #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters make for a compelling story
Cons: None ripe enough to discuss
The Bottom Line:
Friends from Denver’s past
Bring tension, murder to town
In compelling book

Corporate Volunteer Event Leads to Murder

Obviously, I enjoy a wide range of tones in my books, from comedic to the more serious.  Wendy Tyson’s Greenhouse Mysteries definitely fall into the more serious side of the spectrum, but the depth of character makes them so good.  Ripe for Vengeance is no exception.

Megan Sawyer is excited because some of her boyfriend’s friends are coming to Winsome, Pennsylvania, and she’s looking forward to seeing a different side of Denver Finn.  They all work for BOLD Pharmaceuticals, and have been volunteered to mentor students at a nearby private school for troubled teens, starting with a weekend camping trip in the local state park.  They have arrived in town a day early, and Megan and Denver are joining them for dinner the night before.  However, the dinner doesn’t go the way that Megan expects, with tensions just barely hiding below the surface.  Even Denver seems uncomfortable around his old friends.

Unfortunately, the trip ends with the death of one of Denver’s friends, and the police are absolutely certain that it was murder.  Among the teens going on the trip is Dillon, the foster son of Denver’s aunt, and he was the one who found the body.  Given Dillon’s horrible past, the police think that he snapped and committed the murder, but Denver’s aunt is certain that the teen is innocent, and Megan herself has her doubts.  Instead, she thinks the focus should be on the remainder of Denver’s friends.  Can she figure out what really happened in the woods?

I mentioned the characters already, so let’s start there.  For the first time, the book doesn’t focus on Megan’s past and her own mixed up family.  Instead, it explores Denver more.  But that didn’t make it any less compelling.  I enjoyed getting to see more of Denver since I love his character.  We do get to see many of the characters we’ve already met in the series, although we don’t spend much time with them.  Instead, the focus is on the new characters involved in the current murder and how the unfolding events are affecting them.

While brings us to the plot.  This may not be a page turning book filled with twists and turns, but it is still page turning.  Because the characters are so real, they draw us into the story quickly and we need to know how the events unfolding around them will impact them when all the dust settles.  Now, this isn’t to say that the book has no twists or surprises – this is a mystery, after all.  The clues and red herrings are in place, and I was confused as to who the killer might be until Megan figured it out.  Then, it made perfect sense.

This series definitely falls a bit more on the traditional side of the spectrum.  There is a very light smattering of foul language as the book goes along, and the more serious tone keep this from feeling fully cozy.  But if you enjoy a solid story that will pull you in, you need to read this serious.  Just make sure you are in the mood for something more serious so the book is a good match.

Not that the book is all dark.  There is a very fun sub-plot involving a pig, and enough animal cuteness to keep the book from getting too dark.

Ripe for Vengeance is a character driven page turner that will hook you quickly and pull you into Megan’s world.  Plan to set aside quite a bit of time when you open this book because you won’t want to stop reading.

Enjoy more great mysteries with the rest of the Greenhouse Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Ornament Review: Golfer Snoopy - Spotlight on Snoopy #22 - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Snoopy, Woodstock, Golf.  What’s not to love?
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Ready to hit ball
Great moments for these two friends
Fore golf, Peanuts fans

There’s Just One Word for 2019’s Spotlight on Snoopy Ornament.  Fore!

As I’ve mentioned several years when reviewing the Spotlight on Snoopy series, I grew up in Santa Rosa, where Charles Schultz lived for most of his career.  But what I haven’t mentioned is that took golf lessons at one point when I was in Jr. High.  (No, I haven’t played in years.)  The pro shop had a signed Peanuts strip about golf.  Why am I bringing this up?  Because it all came flooding back to me when I saw that this year we were going to get Golfer Snoopy.

The ornament is pretty much what you’d expect from the title.  Snoopy is decked out as a golfer with a red visor, blue collared shirt, and brown golf shoes.  He’s holding a wood and is about to tee off.  There’s just one complication – Woodstock is sitting on the ball looking up at his friend.  If he doesn’t move, he’s about to go on an unplanned flight.

Obviously, this ornament makes me smile.  While I haven’t played golf in ages (outside of miniature golf), I did enjoy the golf I played as a kid.  (Then again, the fact that I was playing with my grandpa and my uncle and other family members may have had something to do with that, too.)  This brings those memories back in a rush, especially with the connection to the strip in my memories.

As a Peanuts fan, I appreciate this ornament as well.  Snoopy played plenty of golf in the strip, so there is the obvious tie in.  Woodstock and Snoopy look great, as always.  Fans of the characters, especially golfers, will feel like I do about this ornament.

Snoopy is standing in grass, and that grass provides a nice, flat base, so you can easily set the ornament out to be displayed.  You’ll find the 22 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom of the ornament as well.

Or, you can hang this ornament on your tree.  The hook is in the top of Snoopy’s head coming out of his visor.  While Snoopy is on one side of the ornament, he is the heaviest part, so the ornament almost hangs straight.  Honestly, you have to be looking for it to see the tilt.

A lot of the Hallmark ornaments I enjoy inspire nostalgia in me, and Golfer Snoopy captures that perfectly for me.  I’m thrilled to have it in my collection.

Love Snoopy?  You won't want to miss any of the Spotlight on Snoopy ornaments.

Original Price: $14.99

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Book Review: The Secret of Shadow Ranch by Carolyn Keene

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action packed, fun mystery
Cons: Weak characters, dated language, one massive coincidence
The Bottom Line:
Arizona trip
Mystery on haunted ranch
Fun Nancy story

Is the Ranch Haunted?

I know I read some Nancy Drew books as a kid, but I’m finding I have a hard time remembering which ones I read.  I feel like I read The Secret of Shadow Ranch, but I didn’t remember any of the details at all as I was reading it this month.

It’s summer, and Nancy has been invited to spend it with her best friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne on the ranch their uncle Ed and aunt Bet have just bought in Arizona.  However, she has barely landed when she learns that things aren’t going well on the ranch.  Someone is trying to drive the new owners off the land with acts of sabotage, most of which are foreshadowed by a phantom horse.  There is a legend that an old outlaw cursed the ranch, but Nancy thinks the culprits are more modern and very real.  Can she figure out what is going on and why?

This may be the fifth book in the series, but this is the first time that Bess and George show up since Nancy had a different sleuthing partner in the first four books.  I find it funny that, at least in the edits, we don’t get much of an introduction to Bess and George here, but I’m not surprised.  Ned and his friends are still absent, although Ned does get a mention in passing, which is funny since Nancy hasn’t met him yet.

The mystery itself is fine.  While I didn’t remember any of the specifics (if I’d read it in the first place), it is fairly easy to predict where things are going if you are familiar with the series, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.  There are a few twists and turns I wasn’t expecting along the way which helped keep my interest.  I had to roll my eyes at one mighty huge coincidence in the book even though I saw it coming early on, but that’s just how this series is.

Likewise, I always forget how thin the characters are in these books until I pick them up.  The emphasis is on the action and story, with very little time put into the characters.  Still, we do care about them.  It’s a testament to how they are written that we can like them so quickly.  I always find it funny how Nancy has the skills needed for any story.  Fortunately, Nancy and her friends are expert horse riders since that comes into play here.  I never really notice my issues with the characters as a kid, but it is obvious reading these books now.

Obviously, it is easy to notice the flaws as an adult, but I still zoomed through the pages as quickly as possible to figure out what happened.  I’m sure kids today will do the same.

This book was last updated in the 1950’s, so some of the language used is certainly dated.  Heck, a phrase or two stopped me.  There’s nothing bad here, but I suspect that this is what will throw kids the most who pick up this book today for the first time.

But I suspect that, like me, they will find themselves flying through The Secret of Shadow Ranch to find out just how Nancy pieces things together.  Flaws and all, this is still a fun mystery.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

July 13th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Thanks to a marathon burn off of a six episode season, I had quite a busy week of TV watching.

American Ninja Warrior – I love how the Ninja community supports each other.  Mike’s story and the other supporting him on the sidelines and in the last year was so touching.  A rookie made it to the mega tower again, which is great to see.  And I’m thrilled that Grant hit the buzzer.  I really want to see him make it to Vegas this year.

Scream: Resurrection – Yes, I watched all six episodes of the “season,” story, whatever this week.  I am a Scream fanatic, so seeing it with Ghostface and Roger Jackson’s voice was wonderful.  The writing and acting could have been sharper.  I should have seen a couple of the twists coming.  They made it so obvious we were supposed to suspect other characters that I figured it wasn’t them.  They sort of tied up most of my plot holes in the finale.  And some of those kills were absolutely brutal.  I still wish they’d wrapped up the original characters with this TV series, however.  I want to know what or who was ultimately behind everything there.

Friday, July 12, 2019

July 12th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's been over a month since I last did book beginning and Friday 56?  I should fix that.

I'm going to feature some teases from The Tell Tail Heart by Cate Conte.

I finished this book a couple of days ago, and I enjoyed it.  Look for my review next Thursday.

Here's how the book begins:

"How do you suppose he can work with all this noise?"

Jumping ahead of page 56, we find:

"If you indulge, I'll join you," he said.

Okay, so there wasn't anything super interesting on page 56, but I do find that first sentence a little intriguing.

Wishing you a great weekend.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book Review: The Pawful Truth by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #11)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Charming characters we love to see
Cons: Plot a little weak for this series
The Bottom Line:
Charlie takes a class
Student becomes history
Charming characters

As the Campus Turns

It’s hard to go wrong with a visit with Charlie and Diesel the stars of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries.  The books are filled with charming characters and cute pets.  The Pawful Truth is another such wonderful visit.

It’s the start of the semester, and Charlie Harris has decided to enroll in a class.  No, he’s not considering leaving his job working in the Athena College library archives, but he’s decided to indulge his love of history with a course in medieval history taught by one of the most popular professors on campus.  In his first day in class, Charlie can see why Dr. Carey Warriner is so popular.  Yes, the man is handsome which is an obvious draw for some of the ladies, but his passion for the subject comes through in his lectures, and Charlie is fascinated by all he has already learned.

However, as Charlie leaves class that first day, he hears part of an angry exchange between Dr. Warriner and Dixie Bell Compton, the only other non-traditional student in the class.  He doesn’t intend to give it much credence, but he begins to hear rumors about Dr. Warriner and his relationship with his wife, a professor in the English department.  When Dixie turns up dead under mysterious circumstances, Charlie can’t help but wonder if his professor is also a murderer.  Will his position in the class give him an opportunity to come up with a clue?

Now, I know I haven’t mentioned Diesel, Charlie’s Maine Coon cat, in my recap at all.  While Diesel isn’t attending class with Charlie, trust me, he is still very much an active part of the book as always.  If you are a fan of this cat (and who isn’t if they’ve read any of the books in the series), you’ll be quite satisfied with his antics here.  I have to give a special shout out to Ramses, the newest kitten in Charlie’s life, who steals quite a few scenes of his own and made me laugh a few times as I was reading.

And the human characters?  They are just as real and charming.  We’ve got a large cast of characters, and they all put in appearances, with extra page time for Charlie’s two grandchildren.  Since this is now the eleventh book in the series, it’s hard not to feel like these are all close friends, and getting to spend time with them is a delight.  And yet they don’t take away from the suspects.  There are only a few of them, but they are as fully realized as the series regulars.

Unfortunately, I did feel the plot was a little weak.  In some ways, it felt a bit more like a soap opera than a usual cozy mystery plot.  And we spent a bit more time speculating than we do uncovering any helpful information, although we do reach a logical conclusion in the end.  Now, this isn’t to say I wasn’t entertained – see my above comment on the characters.  I just feel like some of the twists we normally see were missing here.  Still, I don’t regret my time with this book in the slightest.

Eagle-eyed readers will spot some clues about the next book in the series, coming early next year.  I thought that was a fun bit buried in the book.

The Cat in the Stacks is one of the coziest series out there, and The Pawful Truth is another delightful visit with Charlie, Diesel, and the rest of the gang.  Fans will savor every page and be left anxious for their next visit.  And if you haven’t started this series yet, don’t wait another minute to meet these wonderful characters.

Need to catch up?  Here are the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries in order.

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 Thursday July 18th, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 7/18.  You will have until midnight on 7/23 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 7/24.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ornament Review: North Pole Tree Trimmers #6 - Garland Maker - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute expression on a fun ornament
Cons: Green, so will blend in with your tree
The Bottom Line:
Creating garland
Takes some good concentration
Expression so cute

I Won’t String You Along – I Like This Ornament

While Santa gets all the glory, his elves do a lot of the work.  They are getting their due in the North Pole Tree Trimmers series from Hallmark, and the 2018 entry was another cute winner.

This year’s elf is working on a decoration – specifically a garland.  He’s stringing together cranberries and popcorn.  He’s currently adding a kernel of popcorn to the string and there’s a cranberry at his feet that he’ll add to the garland next.  As usual, he’s decked out in a couple shades of green with red socks and a gold bell on the top of his hat.

For me, the detail that truly makes this ornament, however, is the look on this elf’s face.  He’s concentrating very hard; you can tell because he has his tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth.  My guess is he doesn’t even know he’s doing it.  It’s so cute; I just love it.

The elf is standing on his feet, with the part of the garland he’s already completed around one foot.  That gives him some extra stability, so he does stand on his own.  As long as you don’t set him on a surface where he will be regularly bumped, he should be fine.

Of course, you can hang him on your tree.  You’ll find a loop on the front of his hat.  He tips ever so slightly to one side, but you’d have to be looking for it to notice.  Even if you do, he doesn’t look bad at all.

With the elf being mostly green, he will tend to blend into your tree.  I’m torn on this.  On one hand, elves wear green, and for the entries where the elves are working on trees, it was fun to pretend they are camouflaged.  However, in this case it would be nice if he stood out a bit more.  Overall, I do prefer the uniform look of this series, so I’m okay with it.

If you’re expecting me to point out that the series marker is on the bottom of his feet, you’ll be disappointed.  The 6 in a Christmas tree is actually on his back.  I know, I was surprised as well when I discovered this.

That concentration from the elf makes this ornament for me, probably because it’s exactly what I would look like if I were in his position.  I’m glad I added the 2018 North Pole Tree Trimmers to my collection.

If you like this ornament, be sure to check out the rest of the North Pole Tree Trimmers.

Original Price: $15.99

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Book Review: Risky Biscuits by Mary Lee Ashford (Sugar and Spice Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, food, setting
Cons: Plot takes a little while to come into focus
The Bottom Line:
Organizer killed
Leaves Sugar scrambling in
Charming second book

Sugar Will Need to Take Some Risks to Solve This Mystery

It’s obvious I love culinary cozy mysteries since I read so many of them.  But it is always fantastic when something about one of them makes the book stand out to me.  That’s the case with Risky Biscuits, the second Sugar and Spice Mystery from Mary Lee Ashford.

As this book opens, it’s been a few months since we last checked in with “Sugar” Calloway and her business partner Dixie Spicer and their Sugar and Spice Publishing company which helps small organizations put together cookbooks for fundraisers.  They’ve taken on a cookbook for the St. Ignatius Crack of Dawn Breakfast Club which is raising money to restore a shelter in a park where they hold many of their all you can eat biscuit and gravy breakfasts.  Things are going along well, thanks in large part to Alma, one of the leaders of the group who is super organized.  She also happens to be a friend and neighbor of Sugar’s landlady Greer.

However, one morning, Greer calls concerned because Alma has vanished.  Sugar goes to the retirement community where they both live to help search, but the search ends when the police announce that they’ve found Alma’s dead body.  Now, not only is the cookbook project in chaos, but Sugar has to wonder what exactly happened to Alma.  Since St. Ignatius is a small town, news and gossip seems to travel fast.  Will Sugar learn something to help her solve the mystery?

So what makes this book stand out to me?  St. Ignatius is in Iowa.  I know, not exactly a common setting for mysteries.  However, author Mary Lee Ashford makes it come to life with her descriptions.  I’m dying to go visit this state to enjoy some of the land where she’s set these books.  Oh, I realize that much of it is fictional, but I’m sure there are still plenty of beautiful spots.  St. Ignatius itself is a great small town setting for a cozy.  Everyone knows everyone else, and the town has a charm that makes you want to settle in for a nice long visit even if the murder rate happens to be higher than average.  (I’ll arrange my visit between murders, please.)

The book takes a little while to focus in on the plot, with several things introduced that don’t seem related to each other.  Yes, the reason for these elements does become obvious as the book progresses.  I thought I had things figured out fairly early, but I turned out to be completely wrong.  Yet the solution does make sense when Sugar pieces everything together.

Equally as charming as the town are the characters.  When I was talking about the town earlier, I almost said something about being safe to visit as long as I didn’t meet Sugar and Dixie, but the truth is their office would be the first place I would want to visit.  They are such wonderful people that I am sure we’d be great friends.  The same is true of the rest of the cast.  We’ve already met quite a large cast of characters, but they are unique and easy to keep straight.  The suspects are strong characters as well, and it is easy to be left pondering which of them could have actually done it.

And, yes, there is plenty of talk about food.  Another reason I want to visit the Sugar and Spice Publishing office is to sample whatever Dixie is testing out that particular day.  Some of the food made me drool as I was reading.  Fortunately, we get four recipes at the end for such various things as biscuits (no surprise) to a decadent sounding chocolate cake.

If you haven’t yet visited St. Ignatius, I definitely recommend you book a trip today.  Risky Biscuits will entertain and leave you hungry for delicious food and another trip to this charming small town.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, July 8, 2019

TV Show Review: Diagnosis: Murder - Season 3

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: 18 great mysteries
Cons: A bit somber at times; continuity issues
The Bottom Line:
Doctor back on case
There are changes this season
And great mysteries

“Look, I Don’t Have to Tell You Anything.  You’d Just Some Snooping Doctor.  You’re Not a Cop.”

As I keep saying, I didn’t start watching Diagnosis: Murder until half way through its run.  I’ve caught various episodes from the first half of the series in reruns over the years, but I am most familiar with the way the show was set up in those later years.  And the show takes giant steps in that direction in season 3.

The basic set up is the same.  The series features Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke), a doctor at Community General hospital in Los Angeles.  He regularly stumbles into mysteries, where he works alongside his son Steve (Dick’s son Barry Van Dyke), a LAPD homicide detective.  Also usually getting involved are Dr. Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell), the coroner at Community General, and a new resident, Dr. Jesse Travis (Charlie Schlatter).  Rounding out the cast this year is Michael Tucci as hospital administrator Norman Briggs, who is usually involved in a comedic sub-plot as the main mystery unfolds.

What kind of cases do the gang get involved in?  Dr. Sloan thinks a teen killed her father when the police rule his death a suicide.  Mark finds himself on the jury of a mobster who is killed by a car bomb soon after he is acquitted.  A homeless man turns up murdered.  Steve’s latest girlfriend might be a cop killer.  A young friend of Mark’s is out promoting her new book when her co-authors start dying one by one.  Amanda’s cousin dies in a motorcycle accident And Jesse develops a crush on a psychic who keeps getting visions of a murder – only no body has turned up.

The show has never been big on continuity.  The show famously changed location from California to Colorado in the middle of season 1 with no explanation.  They do explain the absence of Jack (former co-star Scott Baio) by sending him to open his own practice in Colorado, which I thought was a nice touch, and is a rare attempt to have some continuity.  Not fairing so well is Delores Hall’s nurse/administrative assistant who has just vanished this season with no explanation.  In an effort to incorporate Victoria Rowell’s real life pregnancy, Amanda Bentley was suddenly married and pregnant, with her husband being overseas in the military.  I don’t remember hearing much about the baby or her husband by the time I was watching in season 5.  (And I swear, the season finale was filmed before Victoria gave birth even though her character had given birth before that.)  Between seasons, the Sloans moved as well, not that it is acknowledged.  But Mark and Steve are now sharing a beach house, with each of them living on separate floors for some privacy, instead of living apart like they had in the first two seasons.

Obviously, it is easy to nitpick these items, and I do wish the show tried a little more to cover these continuity issues. However, the show is really about the mysteries, so in the end, these are minor issues to me.

The show does a mix of open and closed mysteries.  What do I mean by that?  In some episodes, we know who committed the murder, and we then watch Mark solve what at first appears to be a perfect crime.  In others, we know a murder has taken place, but it takes Mark to figure out which of the suspects could have done it, and we don’t know until Mark figures it out.  I enjoy both styles, and I think the mix helps keep the show fresh.

In the seasons I know the best, the show found a good balance between fun and serious.  Obviously, murder is serious, but with Dick Van Dyke as your star, you can have lots of fun.  That is mostly missing in this season, as some of the episodes take on very serious subjects.  Others do have more fun, especially with Amanda’s pregnancy, but those are often kept to the sub-plots, which definitely lighten the mood.

The actors are all great this season, and Charlie Schlatter meshes well with the rest of the cast.  His first few episodes are a bit stiff, but I blame that more on the writing than anything else.  I don’t know this for sure, but I feel like the writers had to add his character at the last minute, and the process was a bit awkward.  Not as many guest stars stand out to me this year, a young Jeri Ryan being a noticeable exception.  Since I’ve been watching the Father Dowling Mysteries, I found it fun that Tracy Nelson, the co-star on that series, popped up in a late episode this season.

Season 3 consisted of eighteen episodes, and they are all preserved on 5 discs in their native full frame and stereo sound.  While obviously not as sharp as shows produced today, they do look good.  There’s nothing in the way of extras, but it is nice to watch these episodes themselves.

While the show hasn’t hit the peak for me, I am enjoying catching up with the earlier episodes of Diagnosis: Murder.  Season 3 provides some great cases that entertain us.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Cookie Review: Oreo - Marshmallow Moon Limited Edition

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Nice designs, cool packaging
Cons: Middle has no real flavor
The Bottom Line:
This special cookie
Has some fun design changes
But taste underwhelms

Big Historical Event Celebrated with an Average Cookie

I don’t seem to be able to resist Oreo special edition cookies or anything marshmallow.  (Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I bought a regular Oreo cookie, but I’ve bought several special editions over the last few months.)  When I spotted the Oreo Marshmallow Moon Cookie, released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon walk this month, I had to try a package.

Like a traditional Oreo, the outside is two chocolate cookies.  One side of the cookie features one of three different designs to celebrate the moon walk, one is an astronaut planting a flag, one is a rocket flying, and the third is a crescent moon and three stars in the sky.

The inside of this book is light purple, almost lavender.  And it’s the part that is disappointing.  The middle is supposed to taste like marshmallow, and there is a light marshmallow flavor to it.  However, the chocolate cookies overpower the flavor, making it hard to really taste.  I even tried some of the middle by itself, and it tasted weak.  Since I love marshmallows, I was hoping for more of their flavor here.  Although, since marshmallow flavor seems to be weak in just about everything I try, I’m beginning to think I must like the texture just as much as I do the taste or real marshmallows, and maybe that’s my problem.

Now, don’t misunderstand.  It’s not that these cookies taste bad.  It’s just that they are underwhelming.

In a fun twist, even the packaging gets into the act with these special edition cookies.  The white part of the package glows in the dark.  It’s not very bright and doesn’t last too long (it “charges” by being in light), but it is a fun extra.  There are also three stickers on the bottom of the package that also glow in the dark.

I was curious, so I’m not sorry I tried the Oreo Marshmallow Moon Cookie, but one package was definitely enough.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

July 6th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Last week, I joked about commenting on some of the game shows I'm watching just so I'd have more to comment on.  Turns out, they are reruns this week, so the only thing new I had to watch is American Ninja Warrior.

American Ninja Warrior – I had guessed that the weather must be messing with the mega wall before they confirmed my hypothesis.  Too bad that it kept some of the superstars from finishing.  I’m especially sorry that Joe didn’t hit the buzzer again.  However, it was nice to see a couple of new faces in the race at the end, and I especially enjoyed seeing the King of the Walk Ons earn the fast pass to Vegas.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Book Review: The Wanted by Robert Crais (Elivs Cole & Joe Pike #17)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Thrilling ride from beginning to end
Cons: Reliance on a few clichés; characters are thin
The Bottom Line:
Saving wayward teens
Who are in over their heads
Fun, thrilling story

Can Elvis Save the Wanted?

Obviously, I’ve decided to go ahead and catch up on the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series this year.  When I realized how close I was with a new book coming out this summer, I decided to skip my normal audiobook rotation and instead quickly catching up on this series.  Which brings me to The Wanted, the last one I need to be up to date until the new one comes out next month.

Elvis Cole thinks his current assignment will be easy.  Single mother Devin Connor has hired him to find out where the money, clothes, and fancy watch that her teenage son, Tyson, have are coming from.  She thinks that Tyson has started selling drugs, but it isn’t long before Elvis determines that Tyson is part of a trio that is robbing houses in the LA area.  While Devin isn’t happy with the news, she’s preparing to deal with it, and Elvis thinks the assignment is over.

However, that night, Tyson disappears and a frantic Devin asks Elvis to find him.  As Elvis once again begins to hunt for the teen, he discovers that someone else is after the teen and his friends, someone leaving dead bodies in their wake.  Will Elvis be able to find Tyson in time?

If you pay attention to my reading habits, you’ll notice that I don’t tend to binge read authors or series.  Even when I find a series I love that I am behind on, I will space the books out.  Yes, part of that is to savor the books, but part of it is because if I read too many books by an author too close together, I begin to notice some of their tricks and plot devices, which make them less enjoyable to me.  I definitely noticed that here.  Of course, I don’t think added time would have helped with these particular issues since I’ve been aware of them for a long time.  There’s Joe Pike acting like a deus ex machina, something we’d gotten away from over the last few books.  I will say that here it isn’t quite as bad as in some earlier books in the series.  And the plot hinges on some characters doing the stupidest thing possible.

Having said that, I was certainly caught up in the story.  Author Robert Crais knows how to spin a story and weave elements together to give us quite a thrill ride.  We get most of the book from Elvis’s point of view, but a few third person sections from various other characters help increase the tension.

Unfortunately, the characters suffer.  I feel like most of the cast are stock characters with little to truly make them stand out.  Heck, I never could keep the two villains stalking our heroes straight, and a long passage designed to give them some character development didn’t help.  The majority of the characters are developed enough to make us care, but there are a couple that I was rooting against as the book progressed.

As easy as it is to point out the weaknesses, let me be clear – I definitely enjoyed this book.  The plot more than makes up for the weaknesses and kept me glued to my seat as I listened.

Luke Daniels was the narrator once again.  Fortunately, he pulled back from some of the issues I had with his performance in the previous book and did a great job bringing it to life.

I know the upcoming book is going to be a Joe-centric book, but I hope we still get enough information about Elvis in it since this book left me wondering just what was going to happen in his personal life.  Or maybe I’m just reading too much wishful thinking into the last few scenes.

If you are a fan of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike and haven’t yet read The Wanted, you’ll certainly enjoy it.  Read it now, and you can be ready for the next new book when it is fresh off the press.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Mysteries.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Book Review: Murder with a Cherry on Top by Cynthia Baxter (Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters, talk of ice cream
Cons: The pacing is off, especially at the beginning
The Bottom Line:
A rival murdered
Delicious ice cream, murder
Mix in this debut

Rival’s Murder Cools Off Opening Week

Years ago, Cynthia Baxter was a prolific cozy mystery author.  I read and enjoyed a couple of her books, and I always intended to read more, but I never got around to it.  She stopped writing for a few years, but I was pleasantly surprised to see her name pop back up again with the new Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mysteries.  Since I love ice cream, reading the first, Murder with a Cherry on Top, was a no brainer.

Kate McKay hadn’t planned to return to her home town of Wolfet’s Roost, but when her grandma needed help, moving back seemed the right thing to do.  And now that she’s back, she’s discovered how much she missed this small, Hudson River Valley town where she grew up, so she’s decided to stick around and open an ice cream shop in downtown.  She’s found a great location with one downside, it’s across the street from the bakery owned by Ashley Winthrop.  The two have known each other all of their lives, but have never gotten alone.  Kate is hoping that now that the two are adults, they can learn to get alone, but only a few days after she’s opened, she sees that Ashley is now selling ice cream in her bakery.  That leads to the two having a very public fight.

The next morning, Kate is awakened by the police at her front door.  Ashley was murdered in her bakery the night before.  Several people have reported the fight the two had, and so Kate becomes a suspect.  Fearing she might take the fall for the crime, she begins to look for the real killer.  Can she figure out what really happened to Ashley?

First books in series walk a fine line.  They need to introduce us to the characters while still giving us a compelling mystery.  Unfortunately, this book fell into the trap of wanting to give us Kate’s backstory early on.  Yes, we definitely needed at least some of the backstory to understand her and her relationships with the characters we meet, but it also really slowed down the first quarter of the book.  The mystery begins to take hold after that, and by the second half we are fully immersed in the plot.  I really didn’t suspect where things were going until Kate began to piece things together near the end, but things make sense when we reach the climax.

The characters are fabulous.  Kate, her Gran, and her niece Emma are a wonderful trio.  I’m intrigued to see where Kate’s love life is going to go as the series progresses.  Some scenes involving that actually brought tears to my eyes.  We don’t get to know many of the suspects too well, but in the little bit of page time they have, I feel like they come across as real, and if they had more page time we’d definitely get to know them better.

Then there’s the ice cream.  We get plenty of talk about it as Kate dreams up new flavors and talks about some delicious sounding creations.  Trust me, you are going to want to have access to some ice cream while you read.  Although, I will say, some of the flavors sound weird to me, and it would be nice to see a few more traditional flavors on her menu.  We get four recipes at the end of the book, so you can bring a bit of Kate’s shop to your home.

Cynthia’s new series is off to a solid start.  If you are looking for a sweet new series to help you cool off as the summer heats up, Murder with a Cherry on Top is for you.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ornament Review: Christmas Window #17 - North Pole Creamery - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute ice cream shop
Cons: I’m too busy eating ice cream to find any
The Bottom Line:
Christmas and ice cream
Make a delicious and cute
Ornament combo

Cold Treat for a Cold Winter Day

My condo is being overrun by ornaments.  I need to cut back.  Yet I just can’t seem to do that.  I have stopped a couple of Hallmark’s series, and I was thinking about stopping the Christmas Windows series this year, but the instant I saw the ornament, I knew I had to get it.

This year, we are visiting an ice cream shop.  A little boy is standing out front with ice cream cones in both hands, and his dog is on his back legs trying to get a lick of the cold treat.  Yes, it is winter, as we can tell by the snow on top of the roof and the way the boy is bundled up, but he doesn’t seem to care since he is all smiles.  The outside of the shop evokes a 50’s diner type of place with green and white tiles in a checkerboard pattern on the bottom.  While the decorations might not scream Christmas from the outside, the name of the store helps give it that Christmas feel.  Its name?  North Pole Creamery.  The sign is part way up the window, and it has an ice cream cone on each side.

As usual in this series, we can turn the ornament around and see the backside.  In this case, we get to see the ice creams sitting in their freezer with their names up above the window.  These names really help promote the Christmas theme since we’ve got such ice creams as Reindeer Ripple, Peppermint Swirl, and Vanilla Snowdrift.  On the shelf below the window are various toppings like sprinkles or nuts to put on any sundaes the place might create.  There’s even a sundae off to the side.

I love ice cream, and this ornament makes me drool.  I want to sample all of those ice cream flavors and sit back and enjoy the cold, sweet treat inside the store.  I am usually more of a warm weather ice cream person, but that doesn’t dampen my enjoyment of this ornament in the slightest.

Like the rest of this series, the ornament is sitting on a nice base, making it easy to set out as part of a display.  When I put mine out, this is just what I do, putting them around the bottom of a tree.  You’ll also find the series marker on the bottom of the ornament – in this case a 17 in a Christmas tree symbol.

Or you can hang this ornament on your tree.  You’ll find the loop on the ornament’s roof, and you’ll find that it hangs perfectly straight.

The North Pole Creamery was just too cute to pass up.  I love it!  Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to grab a dish of ice cream while I enjoy looking at the ornament.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Christmas Window ornaments.

Original Price: $15.99