Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 31st's Weekly TV Thoughts

We are in that two week break between the regular season ending and my USA Network shows coming back.  How can you tell?  By how few comments I have below.

American Ninja Warrior - I always enjoy watching these athletes attempt to complete the course.  Honestly, I can't imagine working all year to have your shot taken away with just one slip up.  I know I'd be beating myself up about it.  Anyway, the course is hard, but it was nice seeing some of the familiar faces make it through.  Their dedication is inspiring and challenging at the same time.

24: Live Another Day - A bit slower, giving us time for character development, but we still had plenty of time for tension.  I can't believe how stupid the son-in-law was.  If you are going against someone as ruthless as the villain, don't leave your post.  So nice to see Kate and Chloe working together even without Jack around.  And speaking of Jack, that scene between he and Audrey was so powerful.  See, not as much action, but still so compelling to watch.

Melissa & Joey - You know, I completely didn't recognize Matthew Lawrence in that episode.  Why was that?  Overall, I enjoyed them bringing back a couple of characters from the past.  I'm wondering how Ryder's career path will wind up working out for him.

See what I mean?

What about you?  Leave your thoughts on what you watched in the comments or leave me a link to your blog.  I'd love to read about it.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Armchair BEA: Wrap Up

And the week comes a close.  Already?  Armchair BEA has flown by.  But when you consider I had the daily posts plus two book reviews, two TV on DVD set reviews, and an ornament review go up this week, is it any wonder?

I was actually consider skipping a couple of day's posts because I wasn't sure if I could really add anything to say.  I'm still not sure I added much on short stories or Beyond Borders, but I'm glad I kept thinking about it.  Ironically enough, I was approached about accepting a short story collection to review after posting about short stories.  And I've said yes.  Watch for that in September, probably, since the book comes out in October.

Also ironic, neither of the book reviews I posted this week fell into the cozy mystery category I claim to usually read and post about.  I don't read that genre exclusively, and it just so happens this week fell outside of that realm.  Next week, I'm back to cozies.

I think I had the most fun with my post for today.  Not only do I enjoy talking about some of the MG books that are out there these days, but it seems many of you do as well.  Our Twitter chat tonight was the best one, and I made all but the one that started at 5AM Pacific Time.  (Really, most of them would have been impossible to get to if I'd been working this week.)

This week also got me on Instagram.  It paid off, too, since I won a prize by entering the challenge yesterday.  Only prize I won all week, but I'm very excited about it!

If you missed any of my posts, here they are:

Author Interaction
Novellas/Short Stories
Beyond the Borders
Middle Grade/Young Adult

I do hope you'll keep stopping by now that the week is over, and please join in on my Saturday Weekly TV Thoughts posts.  It will become an officially weekly Meme by the time the Fall TV season starts up again.  Possibly earlier if there is enough interest before that.

May 30th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday, so it's time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

I actually finished this book on Wednesday, and would you believe I got no reading in on Thursday?  Yikes!  So that means I will be using Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman for my book this week.

And yes, the cover is perfect for the book.

It begins with:

My husband wasn't in bed with me when I woke up that January morning.

Moving to page 56:

The police station was housed in a squat building high up on Roister Road.  Its best feature was a view of Lake Nancy, now a silver mirror.  Its worst was a sheath of vinyl siding, which I used to ask Vern if he would let me take down.

And if you are interested in reading more, you can check out my review.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Armchair BEA: Middle Grade/Young Adult

It's Friday already!  How Armchair BEA has flown by.  Hard to believe it's our last full day.

However, today's book topic is one I'm very excited about.  As I said back on Monday, while I normally read cozy novels, I am getting back into middle grade fiction again, and I've been having a blast doing it.

Of course, I read middle grade books when I was a kid, and I have fond memories of The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and Trixie Belden.  (See, my love of mysteries started earlier.)  I also read other genres.  I loved Elizabeth George Speare when I discovered her books in Jr. High.  While I never read them all, I did laugh at the Beverly Cleary books I read.  In 3rd grade, I was obsessed with Narnia.  Other favorites included Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and The Great Brain.  I also loved a sci-fi series written by Alfred Slote starting with My Robot Buddy.

Back then, my family went to the library every week, and I was always bring back more books than I could possibly read in the time we could check them out.  Not that it kept me from checking out even more the next week.

Not that I ever completely got out of middle grade.  When I was in high school, I got my younger brother hooked on The Accidental Detective Series by Sigmund Brouwer just because I'd heard great things about them.  Once he started raving about it, I started reading them, too, and I loved them.

And yes, I love Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.

But here are some of the others I've found in the last few years (with links to my reviews).

If you haven't found Michael Buckley, he has two great series out.  The Sisters Grimm (starts with The Fairy Tale Detectives) features Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, modern day descendants of the original Brothers Grimm.  They soon learn their family is tasked with keeping all the fairy tale characters we know and love in line, however it's not as easy as it sounds.  In his other series, we learn about a group of five NERDS who are tasked with keeping us safe from super villains.  Both are creative, fun, and addicting for all ages.

Last fall, I discovered Magic Marks the Spot, the debut from Caroline Carlson in her Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series.  It's got a feisty female main character, humor, pirates, humor, magic, twists, and humor.  I can no wait until the next one comes out.  And I mentioned the humor, right?

Shannon Messenger has a great fantasy series out called Keeper of the Lost Cities.  It has several staples of the middle grade fantasy genre these days, but she keeps it fresh and fun with pure imagination and great characters.  For the YA crowd, she also writes the Let the Sky Fall series.

In the fractured fairy tale genre, there's Half Upon a Time by James Riley which combines fairy tale characters in new ways with a nice twist of sarcasm.

Another series featuring pirates and crazy adventures is The Chronicles of Egg by Geoff Rodkey.  They start with Deadweather and Sunrise and are a fun ride.

I also have to give a huge shout out to Stuart Gibbs.  I've been a fan since his very first book, Belly Up.  He has something different - parents who are involved in the story without taking away from the main character being the hero.  It's nice to see.  He's just released a sequel to that book as well as The Last Musketeer trilogy and Spy School.

Last summer, I got to read The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher.  The twists and turns in this one were wonderful, and I had no clue what was coming until the end.

And there's a new series for kids with an interest in science or creating their own gadgets - Nick and Tesla.  They are co-written by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith.  The first is Nick and Tesla's High Voltage Danger Lab.  Each book includes some gadgets you can build on your own later.

Finally, I have to give mention the books of Marlane Kennedy.  She's got a series coming out soon, but several years ago she wrote two stand alones that were outstanding - Me and the Pumpkin Queen and The Dog Days of Charlotte Hayes.

Just in case this wasn't overwhelming enough for you, I've got to give you one more link.  Shannon Messenger (mentioned above) hosts a weekly event - Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - on her blog.  It's a collection each week of new middle grade reviews, interviews, etc.  If you are looking for recommendations or post reviews yourself, this is a great weekly event to be a part of.

Book Review: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Atmospheric writing, great plot and characters.
Cons: Darker than my usual reading choices, but worth it.
The Bottom Line:
Book that draws you in
Characters, story are great
Prepare for winter

Pile on the Blankets for This Debut

Every so often, I hear about a book that is getting so much praise, I have to read it.  That was the case with Cover of Snow, the debut from Jenny Milchman.  This is definitely not my normal light cozy mystery, but the praise is well deserved.

When Nora awoke that morning, she noticed that her husband wasn't in bed with her.  A quick check of their house, however, brings her a horror she never expected - Brendan has committed suicide.  As the new, young widow attempts to make sense of it, she looks into his life to try to determine why he would do such a thing, and she begins to learn things about his past she never would have expected.  Will her digging help her make sense of it all?  What else might her digging uncover?

As I already said, this is not my normal cozy.  The secrets of the past are dark, and the effect all this has on Nora is realistically hard.  I found that mood seeping into me as I was reading - one reason I normally stick to lighter books.  Was it worth reading?  Absolutely.  Just be in the proper frame of mind when you pick it up.

Of course, the book wouldn't have affected me this way if I didn't feel for the characters.  Nora was a very real protagonist - her reactions to this huge tragedy and what she uncovered along the way were both perfect.  This is in many ways her book, but the rest of the cast is real too considering how little page time most of them get.

The plot was excellent.  Clues are slipped in early, but we can't figure out what they mean until Nora does.  By the second half, I was busy turning pages to find out what would happen and how Nora would be safe.

And the writing?  Perfect.  The opening chapters of the book feel slightly disjointed, but that's on purpose.  We're seeing the days after Brendan's suicide from Nora's point of view, and she's not coping with the world at that time.  Once we get past that, we are so pulled into Nora's world we can feel the endless snow she has to deal with during a harsh winter.  In fact, it was so cold I had to turn off the AC during a warm Southern California day I was shivering so much.  (Okay, I get cold easily, but still, I know the book wasn't helping me at all.)

Really, if I read this book without knowing anything about the person behind it, I would assume Jenny had many published books to her credit.  It's that good.

Yes, the tone is darker than I normally read, but Cover of Snow was so rich it was worth it.  Now I need to shake off the winter blues and enjoy some Southern California sun.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Armchair BEA: Beyond the Borders

I'm actually finding it kind of funny that I am blogging about Beyond the Borders for Armchair BEA today.  Believe me, it's only because I couldn't do a giveaway right now.

Why is it so funny?  Because I tend to read about books that are set in the US and feature ordinary people in ordinary situations.  Well, as ordinary as the situation can be when they are stumbling over a dead body or two, of course.

But that's not to say that an author can't create world that draws us into it - real of fantasy.  That was the appeal of the Harry Potter series, and I well know.  I was pulled in and enjoyed every page.

The topic, however, is more about a book that taught us something new and showed us life outside our normal world.  The only books that spring to mind for me are the books of Khaled Hosseini.  I must admit, I still haven't read his new one, but I did read A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner (in that order) back in 2008.  They were masterful books that showed us life in Afghanistan in a way that a news report never will.

Then again, I always feel a little wary reading a fiction book and assuming it is fact.  Who knows how much the author made up to advance their story?  It's something I always try to remember when I get pulled into a book - before I set about using it as fact, I need to double check against real sources of non-fiction information (which also leaves out Wikipedia.)

Of course, we can also be pulled into a story and as a result a culture not our own not that far from where we live.  A perfect example of this is Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara.  The main character in this mystery series debut is a young female bicycle cop here in Los Angeles.  She also happens to be half Japanese.  The world she opens up to us is very interesting and different from what I know while still being familiar.  The book takes place in areas I drive by but never visit.  And that makes it very interesting to me.  If the book intrigues you, here is my review.

TV Show Review: Suits - Season 3

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Compelling, twisty drama continues
Cons: I'll sue you if you list any
The Bottom Line:
The gang's back for more
Compelling and fun drama
In this lawyer firm

"If You Find Copy Rooms Interesting, You Need to Get Out More."

Over the course of the first two seasons, Suits has gone from cases of the week to bigger multi-episode cases.  That continued with season 3, as did internal politics and power struggle.  The result?  Another season I couldn't stop watching.

As the season opens, everyone is trying to figure out how to make the merger with a firm in England work.  Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) is committed to make it work out while Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) is still a little miffed that Jessica didn't take him on as the new named partner.

All that changes when this new partner, Edward Darby (guest star Conleth Hill) drops a new case in their lap.  Hessington Oil has been a long time client of Darby's firm, but the current Hessington, Ava (guest star Michelle Fairley) is in major trouble that could cost her the company.  Unfortunately, that soon becomes the least of her worries.  It also causes problems in the firm with Harvey and Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) clashing over how to handle the case.  Harvey's associate Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) does his best to help out while still trying to make things work with paralegal Rachel Zane (Meghan Markle).  And Donna (Sarah Rafferty)?  She's always there with a quip and a helping hand to make sure Harvey gets his way.

That story arc pretty much takes up the first 10 episodes of the season, and then the show heads into some new territory for the back 6 episodes.  I won't go into that since it involves some spoilers, but they left the characters in a very interesting place, meaning I can't wait for season 4 to start.

And that's the thing with this show.  The characters are the key.  Even when they are at each other's throats, I can't help but like them.  Yes, that even applies to slimy Louis.  He's not easy to like, but I have come to care for him as the seasons have gone on.  Most of the time, I still love to hate him, but I can at least see his side of things and feel for him even if I want his ideas to be foiled.

The writers do a great job coming up with complications and barriers to keep the characters from getting what they want.  It seems that each week, just as it looks like Harvey and Mike have things figured out, they get hit with another set back.  I just love watching and trying to guess their next move.

And we can't leave out the humor.  While Donna gets all the best lines, the rest of the cast has their moments to lighten things up with a one liner that will make you smile if not outright laugh.

The cast, both regular and guest stars, do an amazing job of bringing this all alive every week.  I always feel exactly what the characters are going through as we go along.  Special praise has to go to Rick Hoffman who has added the depth needed to make Louis work as a full fledged character and not just a cartoon foil.

All sixteen episodes are preserved in this four disc set.  The native wide screen and full surround are wonderful.  Extras include deleted scenes, a couple of alternative takes with commentary, two episode commentaries with various cast and crew, and a gag reel.  There is also a trio of fun behind the scenes featurettes.

The characters are the real stars of Suits, and season 3 continues the trend.  Sit back, relax, and be prepared to be sucked into this great show.

Season 3 Episodes:
1. The Arrangement
2. I Want You to Want Me
3. Unfinished Business
4. Conflict of Interest
5. Shadow of a Doubt
6. The Other Time
7. She's Mine
8. Endgame
9. Bad Faith
10. Stay
11. Buried Secrets
12. Yesterday's Gone
13. Moot Point
14. Heartburn
15. Know When to Fold 'Em
16. No Way Out

TV Show Review: Covert Affairs - Season 4

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action, suspense, and character development - this season has it all
Cons: Needless tease to open season
The Bottom Line:
Action, tension mounts
As show finally hits its stride
In must watch season

"This is a Bribe."  "It's a Latte."

The one thing I have long lamented with Covert Affairs is their lack of good story arcs.  Oh, they try, but they never quite seem to pull it off.  All that changed with season 4.  In fact, it was very focused on story arc and I could hardly take my eyes away from the screen.

The season picks up where the last one left off, which means that our favorite couple, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) and Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham) have finally gotten together!  However, it's not all good news since Henry Wilcox (Gregory Itzin) has been released from prison and has vowed to take down the people he holds responsible for the death of his son.  That would be Annie and Auggie as well as Joan and Arthur Campbell (Kari Matchett and Peter Gallagher).  The results will be a roller coaster ride as Annie tries to walk the line between getting Henry to believe she is on his side while still really working with the others.  Meanwhile, Arthur has a few skeletons in his closet and Joan learns she is pregnant.

Believe me, this season is one wild ride after another.

While many shows on the USA Network have gone with case of the week and story arc, that's not the case here.  Almost every one of these episodes ties in to the Henry story line.  But that's a good thing.  With the show actually focused on it, they do a remarkable job of upping the stakes and keeping us guessing until the very end of the season.  Believe me, I didn't want to miss a single moment, and I was thrilled that we had a very short break between the first part and the back half of the season.

I will, however, mention one complaint.  They start the season with an exciting scene and then flashback to show us how we got there.  Not only do I hate this narrative technique, but it wasn't needed.  The action was exciting enough with out.  Not to mention that we don't get that scene in context until multiple episodes into the season.

The acting is uniformly great.  The core cast knows their characters, and they do a wonderful job of bringing them to life.  The new recurring characters and guest stars are just as interesting.

We also still get the exotic locations we've come to expect.  Annie does work for the CIA after all.  We get episodes set in Columbia, Germany, and China to name a few.

The story plays out over sixteen episodes, and they are all here in this four disc set with wide screen picture and full surround sound.  Extras include a few deleted scenes, a gag reel, an action reel, and a prequel about Auggie's life before the series started.

While Covert Affairs has never topped the list USA Network shows, season 4 made me glad I've been watching.  I'll be curious to see where the show goes from here.

Season 4 Episodes:
1. Vamos
2. Dig for Fire
3. Into the White
4. Rock a My Soul
5. Here Comes Your Man
6. Space (I Believe In)
7. Crackity Jones
8. I've Been Waiting for You
9. Hang Wire
10. Levitate Me
11. Dead
12. Something Against You
13. No. 13 Baby
14. River Euphrates
15. There Goes My Gun
16. Trompe Le Monde

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Armchair BEA: Novellas/Short Stories

I've spent the last two days on the blogging topics, so for today's Armchair BEA, I thought I would go with the book topic for today - Novellas and Short Stories.

And now's the point when I start to laugh because I have to admit I don't tend to read short stories or novellas much.  One author I love has released two novellas to compliment one of her series, and I've read them.  I have read a couple of short story collections by various authors, but I found those to be very uneven.  Some authors get telling a good story in a shorter format.  Some just cram the conclusion into the end and it is obvious they really weren't planning to wrap it up at that point.

One author that really does get it is Steve Hockensmith.  I started reading him via his Holmes on the Range mysteries which feature cowboy brothers solving mysteries in the 1890's.  He actually first created the brothers for a short story and wrote a series of short stories around them before and during the novels.  I've read a collection of those stories and really enjoyed them.  You can read more of my thoughts at Dear Mr. Holmes.  He also has a collection of comedic Christmas crime stories that I just loved called Naughty: Nine Tales of Christmas Crime.

Of course, this is also the part where I make a confession that is bad for a mystery lover.  While there are some novels, most of the Sherlock Holmes stories are short stories.  And I've honestly read very few of them.  Likewise, I know Agatha Christie has written many short stories, but I've read very few of them.  I have them around my condo, but I seem to be drawn to currently published books, missing out on some classics of the genre I love.

Speaking of classics, I went through a time in high school when I fell in love with O. Henry's short stories.  They have such fun twists to them at times.  He's best known for "The Gift of the Magi," with good reason, but another that stands out to me was "The Ransom of Red Chief."  They could be serious or funny.  Now I've got to pull my collection out and reread a few.

I do find my attention span for short stories isn't always the best.  I can read a novel just fine, but if you tell me I am reading a short story, after 10 minutes I am itching to be done.  I have to constantly remind myself how long they really are and set my expectations accordingly.

What about you?  Any good short story authors out there?  Do you enjoy the genre, or do you tend to stick to novels?

Book Review: The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly (Mickey Haller #2, Harry Bosch #13.5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in a complex, twisty plot
Cons: None when considering the genre
The Bottom Line:
Mickey has big case
While deal with friend's murder
Superb legal plot

The Lincoln Lawyer Rides Again

When I read the first Mickey Haller novel before the movie came out, I really did intend to read more.  Yet someone, the books slipped down my to be read pile until a friend started reading and raving about them.  That bumped The Brass Verdict back up my list, and a recent trip home allowed me a chance to listen to the audio version.

Mickey Haller has taken a year off from practicing law for personal reasons, and he's just about to come back when he gets an unusual phone call.  His friend and colleague Jerry Vincent has been murdered, and Mickey has inherited his practice.

While the police, lead by LA detective Harry Bosch, think that one of Vincent's cases might have gotten him killed, Mickey's focus is on picking up the 31 cases that have fallen into his lap, including this year's "Trial of the Century."  Walter Elliot, chairman of Archway Studios, is accused of killing his wife and her lover.  Mickey is happy with the high profile case and the income, but he's surprised by just how much Elliot wants to run the case, right down to not delaying the trial at all.  Can he will the case?  Is he in danger from Vincent's killer?

Despite the several years off between books for me, I had no problem jumping back into Mickey's world.  Everyone is introduced again, and I was back up to speed very quickly.  I loved the characters.  Mickey is a great lead character, but he's surrounding by a supporting cast that are just as charming.  It's easy to root for all of them to succeed.

In an interesting twist, author Michael Connelly includes Harry Bosch, the star of his other series, in this book as a supporting player.  Honestly, I'm not quite sure why he decided to do that, but it works.  This was my introduction to the character, and I must admit he didn't come across that well.  I'll be curious to read books where he's the main character to see if my impression of him changes.  Part of it is because he spends so much of the book as an antagonist to Mickey, which probably doesn't help my impression of Harry here.

The plot?  The murder mystery and the court case twist and intertwine in unique and entertaining ways.  I was never quite sure what I thought would happen next or even when I wanted to happen next.  I did find some of the court scenes a little slow, but I know that's a matter of taste.  Besides, complaining about court room scenes in a legal thriller is like complaining that an amateur solves the mysteries in a cozy.

The audio version I listened to was narrated by Peter Giles, who did a great job.  I got lost in the story, and the miles flew by, exactly what I wanted for the long car trip I was facing.

So yes, I am thrilled I revisited Mickey Haller.  I'm curious what happens to him next, so you can bet I'll get the sequel to The Brass Verdict very soon.

More courtroom drama can be found in the rest of the Mickey Haller series.  You'll also want to read the Harry Bosch mysteries.

What's on My Nightstand - May 2014

This is a busy week around here.  Not only am I trying to keep up with my normal reviews while participating in Armchair BEA, but it's also the fourth Tuesday for the month, which means it is time for What's on Your Nightstand as hosted by 5 Minutes for Books.

It's a funny week to run this for another reason.  I feel like my nightstand is all over the place right now.  I've got a review posting today for an audio book I listened to two weeks ago.  The book I finished yesterday is for a blog tour next week, so I'm not reviewing it this week (although if I were smart I'd write the review).  Meanwhile, I've started another.  As I said, I'm all over the place.

So let's get to some specifics.

Last week, I read two cozy mysteries by two of the Wicked Cozy Authors - Boiled Over by Barbara Ross and 'Til Dirt Do Us Part by Edith Maxwell.  You can read the reviews by following the links, but the short version is I enjoyed them both.

Posting today is my review of The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly.  It's a legal thriller and definitely different from what I normally read.  I enjoyed listening to the audio book very much.  (UPDATE: It's now posted here!)

And I just finished A Sense of Entitlement by Anna Lois-Wilsey.  This is the third in a series of historical mysteries.  My review (with giveaway) will be up next Tuesday.  Again, it was an enjoyable book.

Which leaves me with the book I just started - Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman.  So far so good.  I'm hoping to have my review of it up this week, although it's going to be a busy week, I can tell already.

What's next on the horizon?  Probably Wicked Eddies by Beth Groundwater followed by the latest Monk tie in novel, but you just never completely know.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Armchair BEA: Author Interaction

Today for Armchair BEA, I'm going to talk about author interaction.

Because believe me, if you think authors don't pay attention, they do.

As I shared yesterday, I've been reviewing a long time.  I started back in 2001 reviewing solely at Amazon (I do still post reviews there.)  I learned right away that authors read the reviews.  I got a few not so nice e-mails from authors, but most have been very pleasant.  One author who impressed me was Ted Dekker.  Back in 2002, I left a mostly negative review of his very first book on Amazon.  He replied with an e-mail to me admitting all the flaws I'd named in my review.  He then said he thought he'd improved since then, and he hoped he'd give me a second chance with one of his newer books.  I never have read any more from him, but that's just a case of the towering To Be Read Mountain Range.  His e-mail was a class act, and I really did intend to give him another try - at least at that point.

Really, most of the author interactions I've had have been pleasant.  Then again, I do tend to stick mostly to authors I know and like, which helps.  If I don't care for an author, I won't read them again unless there is a compelling reason to do so.  Why waste my time?

Back in the early days, it actually threw me when an author would know who I was from my reviews.  I can remember the shock of a "Thanks for your review" when I would introduce myself at a book signing.  Now, I don't get quite that shock any more.  I don't expect them to know who I am, but I also am not surprised when I do.

I should point out that I have been going to author signings for just a bit longer than I have been reviewing, so I have had many author interactions face to face.  Unlike many people who listen to the talk, get their book signed, and leave, I like to stay and chat with the authors a bit afterward.  If it is a small signing, that's even more possible.  Over the years, I've become friends with some of my favorite authors, like Joanne Fluke (who gave me posters for most of the books in her best selling Hannah Swensen series), Laura Levine, and Sue Ann Jaffarian (who I and some other fans/friends get together with for brunch a couple times a year).

In fact, it was Sue Ann Jaffarian who got me into mud runs.  About the time I finally started reading her books (I mentioned Mountain Range To Be Read, right?), she was training for the Camp Pendleton Mud Run.  It sounded like fun, but it also sounded very daunting.  I debated for a while, but I decided that if she could do it, I could do it.  So I did my first mud run in 2010.  This Sunday, I'll be doing my fifth Camp Pendleton Mud Run in a row, plus I've done many others throughout the year.

Of course, interacting with authors can increase the challenge if you find you don't like a book they've written.  I find myself breathing more easily when I find myself enjoying the latest from authors I normally like.

What about you?  Have you found that reviewing has opened up authors to you in new ways?

Ornament Review: Christmas Windows #7 - Chocolate Shop - 2009 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Details.  Plus it's a Chocolate Shop
Cons: A bit more Christmas would be nice
The Bottom Line:
Munching chocolate
Enjoying window display
Could use more Christmas

My Mouth is Watering for a Visit to the Chocolate Shop

Chocolate goes with many holidays.  While it might not be the first thing you think of when you think Christmas sweets, it's definitely a part of that holiday as well.  So visiting a Chocolate Shop makes a great choice for Hallmark's Christmas Windows series.

Since this is one of Tammy Haddix's entries in the series, there is a boy looking in the window.  He's obviously already been in the store since he's eating a candy bar and holding a box of chocolates behind his back.  There's a tag on that box that says "For Mom."  Next to him outside the store is a small Christmas tree with bits of snow on it, garland wrapped around it, and a star on top.

The boy is looking in the window at the display, which features two shelves.  On the lower shelf, there's a snowman and a box of chocolate much like the one he's bought.  On the upper shelf is a train holding various chocolate.

If you turn the ornament around, you can see the chocolate in the train better.  You can also see boxes of chocolate for sale on the shelves behind the window.

Compared to some of the others in the series, this one seems a bit simple.  (Then again, I think I said that about the last one, too.)  It would be nice to see something besides the snowman for the window's Christmas decorations.  After all, that is what the series is about, right?

On the other hand, the detail is still there.  These chocolates are small, yet you can see each one.  I can't tell what kind they are, but they look scrumptious.  I'd gladly sample them.

This is a Christmas ornament, so there is a small brass eyehook on the top of the roof.  With the nice, big flat roof, it's no surprise that hook is positioned such that the ornament hangs level.

I like to display this series on a flat surface, usually under one of my Christmas trees.  That's easy because the display is as flat as the top.  You'll also find the 7 in a Christmas tree on the bottom since this is the seventh in a Hallmark ornament series.

A bit more Christmas would really make this Chocolate Shop ornament stand out, but I still enjoy it.  Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go grab some chocolate.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Christmas Windows series.

Original Price: $20.00

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Armchair BEA: Introduction to Me

Hi and welcome.  I'm excited to be participating in my first Armchair BEA.  I should say excited and nervous.  But let's get to it, shall we?  First up?  My introduction.

Hi, I'm Mark, and I'm a book blogger.  Oh wait, wrong introduction.  Let's go through a few of the questions that the organizers of Armchair BEA have created for us.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

You think that's a simple question?  Unfortunately, it's not.

I have a blog, Random Ramblings from Sunny Southern CA, that I started in 2002.  (It also gives away that I live in Southern California.)  It's more of a journal type blog, but I do still try to post in it a few times a week.  Likewise, I started reviewing at Amazon in 2001, adding the now defunct site Epinions in 2005.

I started this blog in 2013 and spent the first six months copying over all my reviews from Epinions, which was no easy task.

As to who I am, I'm an accountant currently looking for my next job who loves to consume books in my free time.  When I'm not reading, working, or blogging, I play ultimate Frisbee and go on mud runs as well as watch TV and movies.

Why did I get into reviewing?  I've always loved to talk about the book I am currently reading and enjoying.  (Just ask my parents.)  This gave me another outlet to do so while also helping the sales of the authors I love.  Don't worry, it's a selfish motive.  If the author's sales go up, they'll get contracts to write more books, so I'll be able to read their books for a long time to come.  See?  Selfish.

Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details -- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. -- so we can connect more online.

I think the tag I've got at the top of my blog says it best - "Reviews from a collector and media addict."  If I had to say it another way, it would be something like, "My thoughts on whatever I am currently enjoying."  I do cover more than just books here.  I also review movies, music (mostly Christian music), TV shows and Hallmark Christmas ornaments with the occasional food or game review added for good measure.  Really, anything I feel like reviewing.  Now don't laugh; ornaments are some of my best hit getters come November and December, and I find that reviewing them refreshes the muse.  As far as TV shows go, I write full recaps of a few shows in addition to TV on DVD reviews.  And I'm gearing up to start the Weekly TV Thoughts meme when the fall TV season starts up again.

Believe it or not, I don't have a Facebook page for my blog.  Honestly, I'm trying to decide if that is a good idea or not.  Thoughts?  I just signed up for Instagram, so I don't have much there yet.  You can also follow me on Twitter, Google Plus, and Pinterest.

I would like to take this time to plug a page I do run on Facebook, however.  Over on First Line Monday, readers share the first line of whatever book they are currently reading - all genres are welcome as are articles, non-fiction, etc.  It's not a place to plug reviews, just post the first line of your current read, title, and author.  I hope you'll come check us out and join us.

What genre do you read the most? I love to read because ___________________ .

I mostly read mysteries, specifically cozy mysteries.  These are mysteries with an emphasis on the who done it over anything else.  There is minimal language, sex, or violence in them.  Think of Agatha Christie or Murder, She Wrote.

I've also gotten a bit more into Middle Grade books again.  Here, I will read anything from mystery to fantasy.  I've found some very fun stuff doing that which I will highlight later in the week.  I also participate in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, hosted by Shannon Messenger, herself a middle grade author, on her blog.

If you want a better feel for what I read, you can check out my recently completed Index.  (Yes, I'm thrilled to be done with it and showing it off every chance I get.)

I love to read to be entertained.  If you tell me a good story with characters I like, I am yours.  Escape is part of it, but just the simple joy of a great story is another part of it.  (Which also explains why I love movies and TV - good stories, at least in most of the shows I watch.)

What does your favorite/ideal reading space look like?

Quite often, my favorite reading spot is the passenger seat of my car.  I find my best reading happens on my lunch hour.  I go out to my car and sit and read.  I often doze off for a few minutes, but then I am back at it.  During the summer, it often gets too hot to do that, so I find some other spot in the shade to read.

Here at home, I will often read on my couch if my roommate isn't using the living room.  Otherwise, it is on my bed.

Share your favorite book or reading related quote.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.  Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."  Groucho Marx.

That's it for my intro.  I look forward to getting to know many of you better over the course of the week.  And if you have any questions for me, feel free to ask.  I do reply to all comments.

Music Review: Project by Michael W. Smith

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Classics like "Friends" and "Great is the Lord."
Cons: It was released in the 80's.
The Bottom Line:
Smitty's first release
Provides us two classic songs
In full 80's sound

The Project that Launched Michael W. Smith’s Career

When Project was released in 1983, most people hadn't heard of Michael W. Smith.  He was best known as the keyboardist on Amy Grant's Age to Age tour.  But this release proved to be popular and launched the career of a Christian music legend.

Of course, Michael got big help right out of the gate with the super song "Friends."  This ode to the enduring legacy of deep friendships is still popular almost 30 years later.  To this day, I can't hear it without thinking about close friendships of my own over the years.  And, in a fitting note, Amy Grant sings background vocals on this piano ballad.

These days, Michael is equally well known for his worship and pop music, and even that seed was planted here.  A late track on the disc is "Great is the Lord" which I have sung at church for years.  It's a simple yet wonderful praise song.

Michael has always been an instrumentalist at heart.  For this release, he wrote the music and his wife wrote all the lyrics.  And you'll find that three of the tracks are completely instrumental.  He starts with a classically inspired "Sonata in D Major" and ends with a bit more pop mixed with classical in the "Alpha Overture."  (Shouldn't an overture be at the beginning?)  Finally, mid-way through we get "Looking Up" which is very pop in nature.

Anyone listening to Christian music in the 80's will recognize many of the classics here.  "You Need a Saviour" is a fun, fast song.  "Could He be the Messiah" looks at the attitude of those in the first century to Jesus.  And I will always associate "The Race is on" with races at the roller skating rink.

Probably the one song that isn't super familiar outside this disc is "Too Many Times."  Another quiet piano ballad, this one is a great plea to God to work in our lives.  I wish it were better known since the lyrics are just so honest as he sings about our struggles to live for God while fighting sin.

So, I've mention the 80's several times in this review already.  But if you stuck this disc in, you wouldn't need me to point it out to you.  Almost all the songs are powered by synthesizer.  (Who ever thought those things were cool, anyway?)  Even the quieter songs that are mostly piano can't resist bringing it in occasionally.  Granted, Michael did get worse in 80's product later, but you can't deny it here, especially when listening to the upbeat pop numbers.

There are a total of 11 tracks here, and the disc clocks in at just over 41 minutes.  Considering most records of the day were shorter, that is pretty good.

While Project is definitely dated stylistically, there are truly timeless songs on this disc.  There's a reason Michael W. Smith's career took off from this point.

CD Length: 41:21
1. Sonata in D Major
2. You Need A Savior
3. Could He Be The Messiah
4. Too Many Times
5. Be Strong And Courageous
6. Looking Up
7. The Race is On
8. First Light/Love in the Light
9. Friends
10. Great Is the Lord
11. Alpha Overture

Saturday, May 24, 2014

May 24th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Welcome to another week's Weekly TV Thoughts.  Feel free to post your thoughts on your own shows here or to post them on your blog and link back here.  I know things are quiet for the next few weeks, but summer shows will be upon us soon.

Last week, it was scripted shows ending for the season.  This week, it's reality shows.  As always, major spoilers start immediately.

The Amazing Race - The right team won!!!  I was rooting for Dave and Connor so much.  And how about that final race to the finish line?  It was one of the best they've ever had.  I had eased up on Brenchel earlier in the season, but I was actively rooting against them at this point.  Talk about rude, obnoxious, and jerks.

24: Live Another Day - Definitely an every second counts episode.  I was on the edge of my seat a few times, and completely had to look away when the villain started attacking her own daughter.  This show is definitely on the edge of what I enjoy, but I do so enjoy it.

Dancing with the Stars - The right couple won again!  Yes, you can say what you want about Meryl having an advantage, the truth is she was the best dancer of the three remaining.  Heck, I'm even okay with the order they finished in.  Now, if we can just get Cheryl an awesome partner next season…  (Why yes, Meryl is right that the pros are as much celebrities if not more than the celebrities these days, why do you ask?)

Survivor - Unfortunately, I think the right person won here, too.  Yes, I've been actively rooting for Tony to be gone for weeks.  However, of the two left standing at the end, he played the better game to get there.  He was a jerk and a liar, but he was actually doing something.  I just wish people had woken up to it earlier and voted him off.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ornament Review: Patriotic Pals - Happiness is Peanuts All Year Long #12 - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Decent sculpt, great colors for the theme and time of year
Cons: Simple; would have been nice to see a different character
The Bottom Line:
Snoopy waves the flag
Ending series in summer
Patriotic time

Snoopy and Woodstock Close Out the Year with a Patriotic Moment

A year sure goes by quickly.  Hard to believe we are already at the end of the Happiness is Peanuts All Year Round series.  Since the series started mid-year, we close things off with Patriotic Pals for the early summer time of year.

This ornament is fairly simple.  It's Snoopy holding a flag.  Okay, there is a bit more to it than that, but not much.  He also has a red top hat with white stripes on his head.  Woodstock is standing on the brim of Snoopy's hat (this is called Patriotic Pals, after all), and is wearing a similar top hat of his own.

Now I don't have an issue with the simple ornament.  Yes, it would be nice if it had a little more, but I'm not quite sure what it would have in addition to what is already there.  It would be nice, however, if they included a different characters here.  This is Snoopy's fourth time and Woodstock's third.  There are so many characters we never got to see who could hold the flag and wear some red, white, and blue, you know?

If you bought the optional stand, the background for this ornament is actually quite fun.  It's a dark blue with fireworks of all different colors going off in the background.  I like it and find it really does add something to the ornament.

Unlike many ornaments in the series that have larger bases, this base is just Snoopy's two feet.  He's not quite as steady as some of the others as a result, but he will stand upright.

And that's a good thing because you don't want to hang him.  Once again, the loop is turned wrong to hang him from the optional stand.  As a result, I'll be standing him upright.  Then again, with where the brass loop is, it would be hard to hang him from the stand period - it's located in the front of Snoopy's top hat.  If you do hang him, you'll find that he tips back slightly, but it's not enough to be an issue.

A bit of trivia - this isn't the first time that Hallmark has used this name for a Snoopy and Woodstock ornament.  They also did it back in 2008 for the 11th entry in the Spotlight on Snoopy series.  That time, Snoopy was dressed up as the Statue of Liberty and Woodstock was Uncle Sam.  I generally use that one as a Christmas ornament, but I might dig it out to display these two side by side some year.

As I said at the beginning, this is the final ornament in the monthly series.  You can find a 12 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of Snoopy's feet, but you have to look closely.

I really do wish they had given someone else a chance to shine as they closed out Happiness is Peanuts All Year Long.  Even so, the simple Patriotic Pals is a fun ornament for the patriotic time of year.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Happiness is Peanuts All Year Long series.

Original Price: $12.95

May 23rd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've made it to another Friday.  Even better, this is the Friday of a holiday weekend!  How's that for exciting?  Anyway, if it is Friday, that must mean it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'll be pulling quotes from 'Til Dirt Do Us Part by Edith Maxwell.  This is the second in her Local Foods Mystery series, which features a farmer in Massachusetts as the main character.

The books starts with:

"Are we holding a dinner here or not?"  A peremptory voice resounded from the wide doorway of the barn at Produce Plus Plus Farm.

Jumping to page 56, we find:

"Do you want their deaths on your head?"

(No, I'm not playing fair with that second quote at all, but it's too good to pass up. Just know I quoted it completely out of context.)

Interested in knowing more?  While the book doesn't officially come out until Tuesday, I've been reading an ARC this week, and my review went live yesterday.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Announcing The Index!!!!

For the last two months, I have been working on some behind the scenes stuff on my blog.  The last part of that is getting the index up and running.  You'll notice it at the top of the page clearly labeled "The Index."  Or you can just follow this link.

Actually, that page just gives you links to the pages with the actual links.  Make sense?  Say you want to see all the culinary cozies I've reviewed.  You would hit Culinary Cozies on the Index page, and it would take you to the list.  Otherwise, the list gets way too overwhelming for me.

I will be trying to update the individual pages once a month or so, usually about the time I post my monthly reading summaries.  The indexes are currently current through today.

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have this project finished!

Book Review: 'Til Dirt Do Us Part by Edith Maxwell (Local Foods Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery filled with real characters
Cons: One sub-plot slows things down early on
The Bottom Line:
These strong characters
Keep mystery intriguing
As the veggies grow

Get the Dirt on a Local Murder

I'm a city boy through a through (despite the fact that I like mud runs).  I'd never make it as a farmer - too much manual labor.  But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy reading about a farmer, and I certainly enjoyed 'Til Dirt Do Us Part, the second in a series that stars a farmer.

Fall is descending on Massachusetts, which signals that Cameron Flaherty's first season as a farmer is coming to an end.  To thank her shareholders for their support, Cam hosts a Farm-to-Table dinner featuring items from her farm and neighboring farms.

The event goes reasonably well despite the presence of Irene Burr.  Irene is a local business woman who has made lots of enemies, many of whom confront her at the dinner.  However, when she turns up murdered at a neighboring farm the next morning, the police zero in on Irene's step-son as their chief suspect.  Bobby is a friend of Cam's, and she doesn't think he could have killed anyone.  With a harvest to finish bringing in, can Cam find time to dig up the real killer?

Normally, I like to read series in order, but I've been making exceptions recently for books I've been asked to review.  While there were references to the events of the previous book, I didn't feel that there were any spoilers, so I hope to go back and read it soon.

The murder happens fairly early in the book, and I was settling in for a great mystery, and then things slowed down a little for a sub-plot.  Actually, this sub-plot was tied in to characters from the first book, and I think I might have appreciated it better if I had read the series in order.  However, it wasn't long before this new murder took center stage and I was once again full engaged.

There are plenty of suspects, so trying to figure out the killer was fun.  My top suspect changed a time or two before everything was resolved.  Ultimately, the killer was a logical choice, and it left us with a satisfying ending.

The characters were wonderful.  As the book unfolded, I felt like I got to know many of them well - flaws and all.  I was especially impressed with how one sub-plot was handled.  It showed a side of Cam that made her very human.  The rest of the locals are just as great.  Since this was my first visit with Cam, I wasn't sure who might be series regulars and who were just suspects for this book (although I do have a few ideas), but I felt that all the characters were equally well developed for their place in the story.

And you can't have a food themed mystery without some recipes, right?  At the back there are two recipes from the dinner that starts out the book.  These are definitely healthier than you often see in mysteries since they feature vegetables instead of desserts, but they both sound delicious.

Cam proves to be a great guide not only to local based farming but also to murder solving.  I'm certainly glad I picked up 'Til Dirt Do Us Part and recommend it for those looking for another cozy series to enjoy.

Be sure to read the rest of the Local Foods Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I was sent an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

TV Show Review: Nikita - Season 4

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great action, twists, and characters conclude
Cons: While not as bad as they could be, the use of doubles bothered me
The Bottom Line:
Double come to play
Rest of final episodes
Top notch for the fans

"You Know What Would Help Me Right Now?  Turn Off the Spinning Blades of Decapitation!"

The TV landscaped has changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years.  Gone are the days when many shows were episodic, so canceling them without notice wouldn't be that big a deal.  Instead, we get story arcs that last entire seasons if not years.  Fortunately, many times networks recognize what that means to a show's fans, so we get a "last season" renewal to wrap things up.

That is how we got season 4 of Nikita.  Honestly, I was a bit surprised the show had lasted this long with how low the ratings always were.  While I wasn't a fan of season 3, after the cliffhanger ending, I was glad to hear it was coming back for a final six episodes.

And yes, I will be spoiling some things from season 3 as I discuss season 4.  There's no way around it.

Especially since this season picks up with the aftermath of the cliffhanger.  Yes, it's been a few months, but during that time, Nikita (Maggie Q) has been on the run, trying to find a way to clear herself of killing the President.  While she is on her own, she is not alone in her quest since Michael (Shane West), Birkoff (Aaron Stanford), and Ryan (Noah Bean) are using a plane as their base, not only trying to track down Nikita but also hoping to find some evidence that clears her.  The plane is financed by Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) who is using her fame, money, and charitable work as a cover.  The biggest wild card is Sam (Devon Sawa), the operative formerly known as Owen. 

With everyone working toward the same goal, it is inevitable that the group would reunite.  Are their emotional wounds too deep to keep them from working together to clear Nikita?  Especially when they realize they are up against The Shop and The Shop's newest mastermind - Amanda (Melinda Clarke).

With only six episodes to work with, you'd better believe they wasted no time in telling their story.  These episodes are packed with all the action and twists you'd expect.  I was certainly on the edge of my seat several times.  Still, it's a coherent story that makes sense.

My biggest complaint with the season is the introduction of doubles.  Yes, it was introduced as part of last season's cliffhanger, but it's a plot device I am wary of.  Fortunately, the few times I was beginning to roll my eyes at that particular plot point, they pulled back.  It would have been stronger without that element at all, but they did a good job of balancing things.

They also manage to conclude things at the end of the six episodes.  While not everyone gets a happily ever after, most of the characters get a resolution that is just perfect for them.

That is important to me since we know and love these characters.  The writers do a great job of helping them grow in the midst of all the action, which I loved.

And the acting is still great, too.  The actors keep the characters grounded through the plot twists so we are able to but in to what is happening.  The stunts and effects are still top notch as well, which is important for this series.

Since there are only six episodes, this is a one disc set, and the price is appropriate.  We don't get any extras, just the episodes in their native wide screen and full surround sound.  While something in the way of extras would have been nice, I wasn't expecting anything else.

The final season of Nikita pulled the show back up from the depths of season 3.  I'm glad I came back for the last wild ride since it was a lot of fun.  Fans of the show will definitely be happy.

Season 4 Episodes:
1. Wanted
2. Dead or Alive
3. Set-Up
4. Pay-Off
5. Bubble
6. Canceled

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ornament Review: The Little Window-Shoppers - 2008 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Rich detail makes the scene come to life.
Cons: Tips toward the tree side
The Bottom Line:
Enjoying display
Of a decorated tree
In Hallmark window

Window Shopping by a Decked Out Hallmark Store

One tradition I love with Hallmark ornaments is the event piece.  These are a combined work of all the Hallmark artists.  Each works on a specific part that comes together to make a whole.  These are slightly bigger than most Hallmark ornaments and definitely more expensive, but they are also cute, creative, and fun.

In 2008, the artist event piece was The Little Window-Shoppers.  While not officially part of the series, it certainly fits in with the Christmas Windows series of ornaments.  Again, it's bigger, and it's so much fun.

Like the others in the series, it features two kids looking through a window.  In this case, they are looking into a Hallmark store.  No, you won't find rows of cards.  Instead, you'll find a giant Christmas tree with decorations on it.  There's even a train going around the track under the tree and wrapped boxes are part of the display as well.  On the outside, there's a boy and a girl looking through the window.  Next to them is a purple Hallmark bag with a couple of small boxes in it.  They are under an awning with some festive garland also outlining the window.  And how do we know this is a Hallmark store?  Because Hallmark Gold Crown is embossed on the window in their distinctive font.

Currently, the event pieces are themed around items in the Claus's house, which are fun, and I'm really enjoying.  However, one thing I really like about this particular ornament is that some of the artists were able to put in touches related to things they are known for.  Nina Aube and Tammy Haddix, who do the official Christmas Windows ornaments that inspired this piece, sculpted the kids.  Don Palmiter created the houses and shops on a display above the window of the store, and he designed them after ornaments in his popular Nostalgic Houses and Shops series.  Kris Kline-Gaughran has an unofficial series of penguin ornaments going, and the penguin ornament on the tree definitely looks like one of her creations.  Ken Crow even got to design the train under the tree.

And yet, with each artist designing certain elements, things still come together for a nice overall ornament.  All it means is the detail is present in spades, so this is an ornament you can enjoy looking at for hours.

Since the ornament covers outside the window (the kids) and inside the window (the tree), it's hardly surprising that this ornament has a nice flat base.  I find I enjoy setting this one out under my tree every year.

Yes, you can hang the ornament, but you should know that it is heavy.  You'll definitely want to find a nice, sturdy branch to use to make sure it doesn't fall part way through December.  The little brass ring is located at the top of the window's arch.  Since the window is slightly off center in the ornament, it's not that surprising that the ornament tips slightly back toward the side of things.  It's not too bad, but it is noticeable.

Even with the tip, this is a work of art.  Whether you collect the Christmas Windows series or not, you'll be proud to have The Little Window-Shoppers decorating your house for Christmas.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Christmas Windows series.

Original Price: $28.00

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Boiled Over by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
: Well developed characters in a fun mystery
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Baking more murder
Julia pulled in again
Winning read for us

Founder's Day Weekend Kicks off with a Murder

Since I don't like seafood, a clambake is not something I would enjoy experiencing in real life.  However, the joy of fiction is getting to go on one without having to eat the food.  The downside when it is a clambake in a mystery series is that there is a murder to go with the fun.  In the case of Boiled Over, we get the added fun of great characters and a strong plot as the mystery is solved.

This is our second visit with Julia Snowden, who has returned to her home town in Maine to help get her family's struggling clambake business back on its feet.

In addition to helping run the family's clambake business, Julia Snowden has gotten roped into being on the planning committee for the first annual Founder's Day Weekend in Busman's Harbor.  However, the weekend gets off to a sour start when a human foot is found sticking out of the fire that Julia's brother and an employee, Cabe Stone, have been using to warm up the meal they were planning to serve to the tourists.

Cabe flees the scene almost as soon as the body is discovered, so naturally the police focus on him.  Meanwhile, Julia figures out the victim owned the local RV park and served on the committee with her.  He seemed like a nice man, but Julia soon learns the victim wasn't who he appeared to be.  Was that why he was killed?

I felt the first book in the series started off a little slowly, but that wasn't the case here.  The body is found almost right away, and Julia is off trying to track down the killer almost as quickly.  Naturally, we meet several viable suspects.  While I figured out a secret or two, the killer's identity at the end was a surprise to me.

Meanwhile, the characters are just as strong as they were in the first book.  Julia, as our narrator and main character, is likable and relatable.  There is a depth to her that I don't always find in the books I enjoy, and I like that.  In fact the growth in her here was something I really enjoyed.  Her family is just as richly drawn.

What about the suspect characters?  I'm glad you asked.  They also felt real to me, even Cabe who actually doesn't spend much time on the page.  But through the way Julia and others talk about her, we really care that Julia proves him innocent.

Naturally, there are recipes in the back; I counted 10.  While the ones involving lobster obviously won't appeal to me, there's a blueberry pie that sounds delicious.  And I can't pass up blueberry pancakes either.  I might need to fire up the oven.

So just how into this book did I get?  I had an afternoon with nothing to do, and I wanted to make sure I got 100 pages read.  Instead, I finished the book for a total of 200 pages read that day (about two thirds of the book), making myself late to an activity I had planned that evening.  I just couldn't put it down.

Obviously, I loved Boiled Over.  If you are looking for a cozy with wonderful characters and a plot that will keep you turning pages, you will, too.

And then you'll rush out to read the rest of the Maine Clambake Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.