Thursday, March 31, 2016

Monthly Reading Summary - March 2016

Another month gone!  Here's what I read in March with links to the full reviews.  And, as always, the index has been updated.

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

Ripe for Murder by Carlene O’Neal (Cypress Cove Mysteries #2) – 5
Penny and Antonia have been invited up to Napa County to look at a wine train.  The owner is thinking about creating one and wants to use some of their land for the track.  The trip on the train turns deadly when one of the investor’s wives is murdered, and the only logical suspect is Antonia’s daughter.  Penny might not like Chantal, but she knows Chantal isn’t a killer.  Can she prove it?

While I enjoyed the first in this series, I liked this one even better.  The book does a great job of setting up the new characters, and once we got to know them, we were off and running with a mystery.  The plot was fantastic, and I had missed the clues until they were pointed out at the end.  The returning characters are strong, and I enjoyed spending time with them again as well.  Pour yourself a glass of wine, pick up this book, and enjoy.

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

A Churn for the Worse by Laura Bradford (Amish Mysteries #5) – 5
The peaceful summer in Heavenly, Pennsylvania, is ruined when one of the Amish farmers is murdered.  Was he targeted because he is Amish?  Or was it part of a string of burglaries hitting that part of town?  Claire and Jakob will have to work together to find out.

Once again, we are transported to the town of Heavenly and get to spend time with characters we have come to love.  The growth in the characters and their relationships we see here is absolutely amazing.  The mystery is good as well.  I thought I had it figured out, but I only had a small portion of it figured out.  If you like this series, you’ll love this book.  And if you have yet to start this series, fix that today.

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

And Then There Were Nuns by Kylie Logan (League of Literary Ladies #4) – 5
When ten nuns arrive on South Bass Island, Bea agrees to help with their meals during their week long retreat.  However, when one of the Sisters doesn’t show up for dinner, Bea finds her dead body.  Is one of the other Sisters hiding a deadly grudge?  Or is someone out to put a killer end to this retreat?

I was thrilled to return to South Bass Island and Bea and her friends.  They are a delightful group, and I enjoyed spending time with them as always.  While borrowing nicely from the setup of the Christie classic, this mystery takes off in some fun new directions.  One aspect of the setup is never fully explained, although I can guess what happened as why.  That’s a small quibble and my only complaint with this wonderful book.

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

File M for Murder by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #3) – 5
Charlie Harris is delighted to have his daughter, Laura, in town for the semester teaching drama at Athena College.  He’s less excited about having Connor Lawton as the writer in residence since the playwright is nasty man.  However, it is still a surprise when Laura finds him murdered late one afternoon.  Who hated Connor enough to kill him?

Having Laura in town was wonderful since it gave us a chance to get to see a different side of Charlie.  We’re actually getting a rather large cast of characters already, but I truly love them all.  Yet the characters never slow down the plot, which builds steady to a logical yet surprising climax.

The Mystery of the Missing Millionaire by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #34) – 4
When Trixie and Honey find a wallet on the side of Glen Road, they don’t expect to find a mystery with it.  However, when a young woman shows up to claim it, she tells a story about her missing father.  Will Trixie be able to help find him?

Many fans of the series complain about the characters in this book, but that doesn’t bother me.  Trixie seems a bit off and easily hurt, which is where I think the comments from fans come from, but I recognize that tendency to take things personally that aren’t meant that way in myself, so I actually sympathize with what she works through here.  And I love the plot.  It surprised me as a kid; as an adult, I admire how it is put together.  Plus there are some lines and scenes that still make me laugh.

The Ambitious Card by John Gaspard (Eli Marks #1) – 3
Eli Marks is filling in for his uncle on a TV show.  His job is to watch a psychic and then debunk his act.  Eli recognizes several of the man’s tricks as variations on magic and says so.  What he doesn’t expect is to find himself the chief suspect in the man’s murder the next morning.  Can he conjure up the real killer?

I liked the idea of a magician as the sleuth, however, I felt the magic overwhelmed the mystery.  That’s a shame because the mystery was very good and kept me confused until the end.  Likewise, the characters were interesting.  Hopefully, the mystery/magic mix will be better balanced as the series goes forward.

NOTE: I was given a copy of the audio version of this book.  My thoughts are my own.

By Cook or By Crook by Maya Corrigan (Five Ingredient Mysteries #1) – 4
Val Deniston is hoping to turn her gig at the athletic club snack bar into a catering gig, but when she shows up to meet with Nadia, she finds the woman stabbed on her kitchen floor.  With the police focusing on Val’s cousin, she needs to sort through the suspects and find out who had the perfect recipe for murder.

What intrigued me the most about this book was the five refrain, I knew there would be five suspects and five clues.  I was wondering how the author would pull it off without having to fill page time.  She did it beautifully.  There was always something happening that kept me engaged, and the way she pulled things together at the end was brilliant. I did have a bit of a hard time warming up to the characters, and the data dump early on didn’t help, but by the end I had grown to like them.  I can’t wait to meet up with them again in another book.

Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #12) – 3
When Mrs. Pollifax’s friend Kadi gets a cry for help from their mutual friend Sammat in Ubangiba, the duo head out to find out what is happening.  They arrive to find that his fledgling government is in danger thanks to a series of lion killings.  The problem?  There are no lions in this part of Africa, and the rumors are flying that Sammat is really behind the attacks.  What is happening?

Unfortunately, the book is slow for much of the story with Mrs. Pollifax wandering around and things being introduced that have little bearing on the action.  Things definitely improve in the final third of the book as Mrs. Pollifax begins to really investigate.  Mrs. Pollifax leads a group of charming characters, and it is always pleasant to spend time with them.

Disney Lands by Ridley Pearson (The Return #1) – 4
The mission isn’t over.  Despite what the Kingdom Keepers want to believe, Wayne left them a final message, and Finn insists on following it.  What he quickly learns is that the Overtakers aren’t all gone.  But the reason surprise, is where he lands as he starts following the clues.  Can the rest of the Kingdom Keepers join him in their new mission?

While technically a new series, this is really a continuation of the Kingdom Keepers books and should be treated as such.  And fans of the characters will be delighted with this book that sets up an interesting new mission.  I had a clue where the book was going, but I still had a blast getting there.  The characters continue to be fairly flat, but that’s been a complaint since day one for me.

The Big Chili by Julia Buckley (Undercover Dish #1) – 3
Lilah Drake has a fairly successful business secretly creating dishes for clients to claim as their own.  When one of the dishes she created for a client is used to poison someone, Lilah must find the killer before her cover is blown.

I loved the idea behind this mystery, but the execution wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be.  The characters are a bit on the cartoony side early on, although they do get fleshed out as the book progresses.  On the other hand, the story slows down before we get the satisfying climax.  Also, the romantic sub-plot feels clumsy.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in hopes I would review it.

Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron (Cajun Country Mysteries #1) – 4
Maggie and her family are delighted to have a full house at their bed and breakfast as summer is coming to an end.  However, the elderly couple is a real pain, so no one is too upset when they both die within minutes of each other.  The sheriff is sure that one of them was murdered, and since he has a vendetta against Maggie’s family, she’s going to have to find the killer.  Can she do it?

This is a fun mystery with a great setting in Louisiana Cajun country.  Maggie a great main character, and her Gran makes a fantastic sidekick.  I did feel the mystery slowed down a time or two, but the clues were all there and it reached a great climax.

Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss – 5
When Horton the elephant hears a small cry for help coming from a speck of dust, he immediately does what he can.  However, the other animals in the jungle think there is nothing there and try to destroy that speck of dust.  Can Horton prove to them that there is someone that needs to be protected?

Rereading this as an adult, I was struck by how strong the themes of standing up for what you believe and those who need your help are.  But those themes never slow down the story, which features constant danger for the Whos.  I actually found myself caught up in the story once again, hoping they’d be heard in time.  Add in Seuss’s rhymes and illustrations and you’ve got a wonderful book.

Macdeath by Cindy Brown (Ivy Meadows #1) – 5
Ivy is hoping that landing the part of one of the witches in a local production of Macbeth will kick start her acting career.  Instead, it lands her in danger when one of her costars dies on opening night.  The police are quick to rule it an accidental case of alcohol poisoning, but Ivy is certain that Simon had stopped drinking.  Can she find out what really happened to him?

This is a wonderful start to a series.  Ivy is a great character, and there are enough quirks in the rest of the cast is make it fun.  The plot is strong with great twists.  The humor kept me smiling throughout as well.  I can’t wait for more of Ivy’s adventures.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Ornament Review: Operation - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great game ornament with fun buzzes
Cons: All cons buzzed away
The Bottom Line:
The Operation
Was successful with this fun
Christmas ornament

It’s No Operation to Like This Ornament

I love board games, so I am enjoying both of Hallmark’s game based ornament series.  There’s the official Family Game Night series, and then there’s the unofficial games series.  2015’s Operation was part of that unofficial series, and it’s a lot of fun.

I must admit, I never owned Operation or played it that much as a kid, which was probably a good thing.  The idea behind the game was to remove items from the man who needed surgery.  The large tweezers you were supposed to use were metal, and if you hit the sides of the opening, the man’s nose would light up and a buzzer would go off.  Whenever I try to do something requiring a steady hand, my hands shake like crazy.  I would set the buzzer off every time.

But I’m not reviewing the game, I’m reviewing the ornament.  The main part of the ornament is a faithful replication of that board game operation table.  It’s a giant rectangle with the various compartments with his body parts that need to be removed.  The game board is red around the sides and yellow on the front.  And yes, we even get the fun names for the body parts like “Adam’s Apple,” Charlie Horse,” or “Writer’s Cramp.”  Those parts are not actually removable in this case, but you can still see the spaces around them.  Attached to the board is the tweezers used in the game, although in this case they are stuck together and don’t actually work as tweezers.

This is one of Hallmark’s magic ornaments.  While it doesn’t play a song, when you touch the tweezers to the sides of the openings, you’ll hear the buzzer and see the man’s nose light up.  And here’s the best part to me.  In the ornament, that’s what you are supposed to do!  The ornament does require three button batteries to work, and your first set in included for you.

Being a rectangle, this ornament has a flat surface for year round display.  There are feet on the bottom of the ornament just like on the game, but it is best to set it up on one end so you can actually see the top.  The sides are wide enough that it is surprisingly stable like that as well.

You will find the loop for hanging the ornament on the top side.  Slip a hook through there, and you’ll find that hit hangs straight.  The tweezers hangs off the side and just barely past the bottom of the ornament, so they aren’t an issue either.

The games Hallmark has picked have been wonderful pieces of nostalgia, and Operation is another perfect example.  Having these games to hang on my tree makes me smile, and anyone else who enjoyed them as a kid will feel exactly the same way.

Here are the rest of Hallmark’s board game ornaments.

Original Price: $17.95

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book Review: Macdeath by Cindy Brown (Ivy Meadows #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great plot, fun characters, dash of humor
Cons: A tad more language than a typical cozy
The Bottom Line:
Ivy does Shakespeare
Murder and mayhem follow
Great series debut

While the Scottish Play Might Be Cursed, This Debut Sure Isn’t

I love live theater, even participating in a couple of plays while in college.  So as soon as I heard about the Ivy Meadows series, I knew I had to give it a try.  Macdeath, the first in the series, lived up to my hopes.

Ivy Meadows is an actress living in the Phoenix area.  She’s hoping that she will finally get her career going when she lands a part in a local production of Macbeth.  Okay, so giving the classic a circus setting might be a bit strange, but some of her costars are well-respected Shakespeare actors, so she’s hoping it goes well.

Simon Black, one of her costars, is trying to quit drinking, and he asks Ivy to help keep him accountable while they are at the theater rehearsing.  Disaster strikes on opening night when Ivy finds Simon dead in his dressing room during the second act.  The police are quick to label it a tragic accident due to alcohol poisoning, but Ivy is certain they are wrong since she thinks Simon had stayed sober.  Is she sharing the stage with a killer?  How can she see behind the façade of her fellow actors to learn the truth?

I must confess, I’ve only seen or read a few of Shakespeare’s plays, and Macbeth is not one of them.  But that gives me a chance to tell you that not being familiar with the play is no reason to skip this book.  Yes, references and allusions are made to the play, but anything we need to know is explained to us.

The book gets off to a quick start, and the pace never lags.  There are some nice twists and surprises before we reach a suspenseful conclusion that wraps everything up nicely.

The characters are wonderful.  As you might expect with actors, a few of them are a little over the top, but I found it fun and completely believable in the context of the book.  Since actors obviously go wherever the play is, I wonder how many of the characters we met in this book will become series regulars, but I look forward to finding out.  A few, like members of Ivy’s family, are definitely going to be strong series regulars.

There is a wonderful sense of humor weaving its way through the book as well.  Ivy’s first person narration made me laugh at times, while some of the events she found herself in were just as funny.

I should point out there is a tad more language than in the normal cozies I read, which is one reason it jumped out at me.  It was believable, but keep that in mind when you pick up this book.

One thing I really appreciated is how Ivy’s backstory is handled.  We are given hints early on, but we don’t get the full story until the second half.  It’s important since it is reflected in her drive to solve the mystery, but we were not given the data dump that often slows down the pace early on in books.

I am completely hooked on Ivy Meadows and can’t wait to see more of her murderous theater career.  Macdeath is a fun debut that promises more wonderful adventures to come.

Looking for an encore?  Here are the rest of the Ivy Meadows Mysteries in order.

Monday, March 28, 2016

TV Show Review: Friends - Season 7

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Many funny moments; the wedding
Cons: More embarrassment humor than in previous season.
The Bottom Line:
Big wedding season
Filled as always with laughter
Fans love time with Friends

The One Where Two Friends Get Married

A couple seasons of Friends revolved heavily around the relationship between two of the characters.  No, I’m not talking about Rachel and Ross but about Monica and Chandler.  Season seven was one of those seasons.  Yes, the other characters still get plenty of screen time, and the laughs are still plentiful.

Season seven opens moments after season six ended with the proposal.  That’s right, Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) are engaged!  As a result, much of the season revolves around the two of them and the plans for the wedding, especially near the end of the season as we gear up for the season finale wedding.  And those episodes are wonderful.  We get plenty of laughs from control freak Monica while also seeing just how much this couple cares for each other.  There are some truly touching moments between them here.

Season six was also one of the few seasons not to end with a Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) cliffhanger.  But the writers quickly fix that in the season opener as Rachel suggests they sleep together one last time.  The rumors that swirl around as a result upset Monica who wants that night to be about her engagement.  But no, the two of them aren’t about to really get back together since Rachel quickly falls for her new assistant, Tag (guest star Eddie Cahill).  Elsewhere over the course of the season, Joey’s new cable show bombs, and he winds up back on Days of Our Lives when his character gets a brain transplant, and Phoebe’s apartment is ready after the fire from last season, but she moves back in alone when the wall making a second bedroom is taken out during the renovations.

But as I said earlier, everything leads up to the wedding in the season finale.  We finally meet Chandler’s father, but then the groom gets cold feet.  And someone learns they are pregnant before the final blackout of the season.

There aren’t quite as many ongoing storylines this season.  There’s the wedding, Joey getting back on the soap, and Rachel’s relationship with Tag.  Other than that, we have more standalone stories this year.  But that’s okay because there are still plenty of laughs.  As always, the Thanksgiving episode is wonderful as Ross’s big mouth gets him into trouble trying to name all 50 states.  An episode where Joey and Ross are both dating the same woman also has some outstanding laughs.  And in another episode, Ross, Monica, and Chandler start trying to out embarrass each other.

These are tempered by a number of subpar episodes.  Some of these come from the characters acting stupidly for laughs.  I know that embarrassment humor has been a staple of the series for years, but there seems to be more of it this year, and it leads to some very cringe worthy moments.  And some of the episodes just don’t quite work, like this year’s Christmas episode, “The One with the Holiday Armadillo.”  Another subpar episode is “The One with All the Cheesecake” which finds Chandler and Rachel stealing a neighbor’s delicious cheesecake.  The only funny bit from “The One Where They’re Up All Night” involved Phoebe fighting with a fire alarm that won’t stop making noise.

February sweeps found Friends facing off with powerhouse Survivor, and to counteract that, NBC rolled out supersized episodes of their shows.  These ran just a little longer than the traditional episodes ran, and we get that extra footage in the set.  They also features some great guest stars such as Jason Alexander as the suicidal supply manager Phoebe calls and Susan Sarandon as an actress on Joey’s soap.  The season features several appearances of Elliot Gould and Christina Pickles as Monica and Ross’s parents, and the season ends with Morgan Fairchild and Kathleen Turner guest starring as Chandler’s parents.

And of course, the regular cast does a great job with the material.  While I am not a fan of all the writing, the cast still hits it out of the park each week.

The four DVD set contains all 24 episodes of the season in their native full frame and stereo sound.  Extras include three audio commentaries (although the one on “Holiday Armadillo” is worth skipping) interviews with some of the notable guest stars, and a gag reel.  Gunther’s preview on next season and the quiz about the wedding are completely skippable.

While season seven isn’t the best of Friends, it still contains plenty of laughs.  Fans of the show will enjoy watching these episodes over and over even if some of the best are behind us.

Season 7 Episodes:
1. The One with Monica’s Thunder
2. The One with Rachel’s Book
3. The One with Phoebe’s Cookies
4. The One with Rachel’s Assistant
5. The One with the Engagement Picture
6. The One with the Nap Partners
7. The One with Ross’s Library Book
8. The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs
9. The One with all the Candy
10. The One with the Holiday Armadillo
11. The One with All the Cheesecake
12. The One Where they’re Up All Night
13. The One Where Rosita Dies
14. The One Where They All Turn Thirty
15. The One with Joey’s New Brain
16. The One with the Truth about London
17. The One with the Cheap Wedding Dress
18. The One with Joey’s Award
19. The One with Ross and Monica’s Cousin
20. The One with Rachel’s Big Kiss
21. The One with the Vows
22. The One with Chandler’s Dad
23 & 24. The One with Monica and Chandler’s Wedding

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Book Review: Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun story and characters with a great moral
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Horton must defend
A small civilization
Still a great story

“A Person’s a Person No Matter How Small.”

Dr. Seuss released many wonderful books in his long career, but there are a few that are more well-known than the rest.  One of those is Horton Hears a Who!  Rereading it recently, it is easy to see why.

This is actually the second book Dr. Seuss wrote to feature the elephant Horton.  This time around, Horton’s sitting in a pool when he hears a noise coming from a speck of dust blowing by.  It’s a cry for help, so he plucks it out of the air and puts it on a clover to protect it.

However, the other animals around Horton think that he is hearing things.  Rather than leave him alone, they decide to destroy the clover and the speck of dust on it.  Will Horton be able to prove that there are living people who deserve to be protected on that speck?

My brother and I both loved this book as a kid, and I remembered a lot of it when I went to reread it.  It’s easy to root for Horton, especially since we know he is right early on in the book.  Even knowing what is happening, I got caught up in the suspense of Horton proving it when I reread it as an adult, and I remember feeling that way as a kid as well.  This is a good story, and it holds up well years after it was first written.

The book is illustrated in Seuss’s classic cartoony style.  There is nothing like his art work, and you’ll delight in it again here.  While the illustrations usually only have a few colors and are even black and white at times, the detail is always fun.

But what struck me most on this reread is the messages in the book.  The book shows how important it is to stand up for what you believe is true, even if everyone else around you disagrees with you.  It places value on human life.  And it shows how destructive bullies can be.  The best part is, the book does all of this without preaching to us once.  Instead, these morals are all an outflow of the story.  I’m sure I picked up on them as a kid, but the power of them really hit me as an adult.

The story is told in classic Seuss rhyme.  A few times, the rhythm doesn’t seem to work, but I don’t remember noticing that before.  Maybe I just needed to read it aloud.  This isn’t one of Seuss’s easy readers since some of his imaginative words show up here.  While they certainly add to the fun of the story, they would be hard for the easiest readers to sound out correctly.

Horton Hears a Who! really is a classic picture book.  Pick it up for the kid in your life today and enjoy a great tale well told.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

March 26th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another week shortened due to March Madness.  But that works out well to me since I'm currently out of town for Easter.  I was able to wrap up my TV watching by Wednesday, so here's what I watched.

Once Upon a Time – Poor Mirah.  I was looking forward to seeing her move on.  I was hoping that pattern would continue.  And then to be thrown into the River of Lost Souls?  We have Hook now, but we’re in even greater trouble.  And Belle’s pregnant?  I guess that’s how they will get her involved in this second half story.  But I wonder just how Rumple is going to get out of this one.

Supergirl – That cheer you heard?  That was from the revelation that Alex and Kara’s dad is still alive.  I was hoping he was, although I must say I’d kind of given up hope.  Still, I can’t wait to see where they go with this.  Meanwhile, I knew the other assistant was going to be a villain, but that reveal was pretty incredible at the end.  I certainly can’t wait for next week, and that’s not factoring in the Flash crossover.

Dancing with the Stars – So I need to stop even pretending I’m not going to watch this show, don’t I?  But between Jodie Sweetin and Derek not being there to steal the trophy, I had to watch.  This is the most diverse range of scores I can remember in a long time.  A couple of standouts, but some pretty good potential in lots of the stars.  It will be interesting to see how this goes.

Castle – So glad they are back on the same team and working to bring down Lockstat.  They are always best when on the same team, and it’s about time they recognized that.  Nice little shout out to Montgomery in there as well.

The Flash – So based on a vibe they know the truth.  I thought they might set up the crossover with Supergirl next week, but they didn’t do that.  Anyway, I’m really curious how they are going to pull off this Jay was Zoom thing, and for that matter, how we are going to go about beating him.

Agents of SHIELD – There’s been rumors for a while that they were going to spin those two off into their own show.  I guess this is how they are writing them off.  I hadn’t heard that ABC had picked up the show, but I guess I missed something or at least a strong lean in that direction.  Not a fan of the flashback storytelling, so I could have done without that.  However, that final scene in the bar was very touching.

Arrow – I knew how the episode would have to end – Felicity and Oliver still would be broken up.  And yet watching that final scene hurt so much.  I’m still leaving like the Captain is going to be the person in the grave, especially now that he’s testified against Dark.  And it would be something that would bring Felicity back into the fold.

Survivor – I can feel for Peter.  He tried something since he knew he was low man on the pole, and it backfired.  I think he did the right thing, but it cost him in the end.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ornament Review: Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: It’s Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman!  With the theme song!
Cons: Only if you don’t like the 70’s show
The Bottom Line:
Fighting for your rights
Hanging on your Christmas tree
For pop culture fun

Hallmark Gives Fans of TV’s Wonder Woman a Wonderful Ornament

Hidden back there in my archives, I have reviews of the old Wonder Woman TV show.  Oh, the show may be cheesy and corny and a product of the 70’s, but I absolutely love it.  That’s why I knew I would be buying Hallmark’s 2015 Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman ornament.  Anyone else who loves this version of the character will want to snap it up as well.

The ornament features Wonder Woman as portrayed for those three seasons by Lynda Carter.  She’s got her red white and blue costume on and is wearing her red boots.  Her arms are up in the air, to block some bullets with her bracelets, and the lasso of truth is hanging at her side.

This really is an iconic look for the character, and any fan of the show will not exactly who it is based on right away.  Yeah, maybe a detail or two of the face could be a little better and there are noticeable seams where her arms attach to the rest of the ornament, but those are minor issues.  The instant I saw it, I knew I had to have it.

Of course, that “need” was fueled by the magic quality of the ornament.  No, it doesn’t have super powers, but it has a sound clip from the theme song of the show.  Just put the two button batteries in the base and press the button on the side to hear about 30 seconds of the iconic TV theme.  Yes, this is another reason why fans of the show will love having this ornament.  I know it was a selling point for me.

Wonder Woman is standing on a grey base with the gold double W logo on it and gold stars across the top.  This is needed to house the magic portion of the ornament, but it adds to the appeal of the ornament, at least to me.  It also gives the ornament a nice, flat base, so you can set it out year round if you so desire.  After all, superheroes don’t necessarily tie in to the holiday.

However, if you want to hang it on your tree, you’ll find the loop in Wonder Woman’s hair.  Slip a hook through it, and you’ll find that she hangs straight.

This ornament proved to be popular last year, so if you missed it, you might have some trouble tracking it down.  But if you are a fan of Wonder Woman and especially the TV show, you’ll be very glad you did.

Original Price: $17.95

March 25th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

I should be packing because I drive out in the morning to spend Easter Weekend with my family.  But instead, here I am post my Book Beginnings and Friday 56 for the week.  (I swear, I don't know where this evening went.  It's like we skipped an hour in there somewhere.)

This week's book is Delivering the Truth by Edith Maxwell.



This is the first in a new series set in 1888 and featuring a Quaker midwife.  I actually finished it this week, and I really enjoyed it.

Here's how the book begins.
Minnie O'Toole screamed again, a long piercing wail.  Her eyes bulged and her round face shone as red as hot coals.  "I'm going to die," she whimpered.

Since I read this as an electronic arc, I'll jump ahead to 56% into the book, where we find this quote:

"Oh, Miss Carroll, what am I to do?  I need to tell detective Donovan.  But what if he arrests my Nellie?"

I am planning to review this book next Friday, so I hope you'll come back then to see my review.  Meanwhile, have a wonderful Easter weekend.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Book Review: Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron (Cajun Country Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Gran, Maggie, and the rest of the cast
Cons: Mostly strong plot does slow down a time or two
The Bottom Line:
Old newlyweds die
Kicking off this new series
Settle in, enjoy

Nothing to Shudder About with This Debut

While I always pay attention to the Agatha Award nominees, I don’t always wind up reading the books.  This year, I am determined to fix that and read the ones that sound good to me, which is how I picked up Plantation Shudders from the library.  This is the debut mystery from author Ellen Bryon, and she is off to a great start.

Maggie Crozat has returned to her home in Louisiana.  And it’s not just any home but Crozat Plantation, which has been in the family for generations.  In an effort to keep the property, her parents run it as a bed and breakfast.  Late summer is their busy season as people come to a local festival in the nearby town of Pelican trying to get in one last trip before fall.

This year is no exception, and the B and B is completely booked with everyone from three frat boys, a family from Australia, and some newlyweds among others.  It turns out the newlyweds are actually senior citizens, and they are not at all pleasant to be around.  Maggie is dreading putting up with them for a week until they both drop dead within minutes of each other.  Shock turns to horror when the police determine that one of them was murdered.  With a local police chief who has a personal grudge against Maggie’s family, she knows she will have to find the killer.  But can she do it?

The set up for this mystery is wonderful, and it kept me guessing until the end.  I did feel that the plot dragged a time or two along the way to the climax, but it definitely picked up as we neared the end.  The clues were all there and the solution made logical sense.  Plus the climax was a lot of fun.

And I loved the characters.  Maggie has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth, something I definitely identified with.  In fact, most of the time her comments were exactly what I was thinking.  Sometimes, this can make the character unlikable, but I actually found her more likable as a result.  However, my favorite character was Gran.  Maggie’s grand’mere was a hoot!  Feisty and fierce and unpredictable, I always loved it when she was on the page.  And since she is Maggie’s sidekick quite often, we got to see her plenty.  The rest of Maggie’s family and friends are equally strong, and I enjoyed them.  I did find the suspects a little weak, but that was a minor complaint.

Since this is a bed and breakfast, we get several southern style recipes in the back as well.  Since Maggie’s family is serving dinner as well as breakfast, these three recipes cover a wide variety including Crawfish Crozat, Chulanes, and a Bourbon Pecan Bread Pudding.

If you haven’t met Maggie yet, now’s the time to do so.  Plantation Shudders is a fun mystery that will leave you booking your next trip to Plantation Crozat.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Cajun Country Mysteries.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Movie Review: Zootopia

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Creative world building, lots of great laughs
Cons: Uneven pacing; moral preached at one point
The Bottom Line:
Creative world made
Of civilized animals
Is setting for laughs

“It’s Called a Hustle, Sweetheart.”

I love previews for movies.  They help get me excited for upcoming releases.  Watching the previews for Zootopia put it on the top of my watch list, although real life kept me from going to see it as soon as it came out.  I have finally gotten to see it, and I definitely enjoyed it.

The movie is set in a world where animals live and work just like humans.  In fact, there are no humans in the film at all.

Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) has dreamed all of her life about being a police officer.  When her chance finally comes, she enters her first day with enthusiasm, only to be put on parking duty.  She’s less than enthused, but she is determined to do her best and prove to them she can be a great police officer.

There have been a number of strange disappearances of animals, and through a twist of events, Judy finds herself assigned to find one of them.  With her career on the line, her only clue causes her t0 team up with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) a fox she met her first day on the job.  Can she find the missing animal, or will she have to turn in her badge and go home in defeat?

The world that the animators have created for this movie is absolutely wonderful.  There are so many fun details and hidden jokes that will make you grin or laugh as you watch.  I’m sure I missed many of them, and I look forward to watching it again to find them.  It’s these kind of details that used to make Pixar movies so wonderful, and I fully credit John Lassiter, former director at Pixar and now head of Disney Animation, for it.  While kids might miss some of them, adults will love them.

The story is a bit slow, especially at the beginning.  There is a lot of set up before Judy and Nick team up on the case.  I’m not sure how it could have been shortened, but once the mystery begins in earnest, the film really picks up.  The jokes keep coming just as quickly, but the twists and surprises of the plot add to the fun.

The film has a good moral about judging others, however at one point it seems to me to slow down the story in order to preach at us.  Once the story picks back up, the film heads toward a wonderful climax that I absolutely loved.  I saw pieces of it coming, but I didn’t mind because the execution was just so fun.

The voice cast is fantastic.  I’m a fan of Ginnifer Goodwin from her work on Once Upon a Time, and it was fun to hear her voice as the lead.  Jason Bateman is fantastic is the sly fox Nick.  There are a few other well-known actors in the cast, but there are as many I wasn’t familiar with.  Whether you recognize the voice or not, you’ll definitely get lost in the fun of the story.

And the animation is fantastic.  The detail is amazing, and helps bring all the jokes and fun of this new world to life.  It truly does amaze me what animation can do these days, and I love getting to enjoy the results.

Parents will want to know that a few scenes could be frightening and intense for young or sensitive kids.  I probably wouldn’t have liked them as a kid.  Another scene finds Judy and Nick at a nudist colony.  No, we don’t see anything, and I actually found it very funny, but parents may want to be prepared beforehand.

Oh, and watch for a great line that totally mocks much of the Disney canon.  I was the only person laughing at the line in the theater when I saw it (granted, it was a very small crowd on a weeknight), but it was easily the best line in the film for me.

Creativity and fun are truly the stars of Zootopia.  While it does have some flaws, it is another wonderful film that will be enjoyed for years to come.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: The Big Chili by Julia Buckley (Undercover Dish #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, unique set up for mystery
Cons: Plot slow at end; romantic sub-plot doesn’t work
The Bottom Line:
Lilah must clear food
She secretly created
Promising but flawed

Who Poisoned the Chili?

I couldn’t pass up on the idea behind the Undercover Dish series.  Actually, I’m a bit surprised that we haven’t seen it done before with all of the culinary cozy series out there.  However, I unfortunately found that The Big Chili wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped it would be.

Lilah Drake works part time for her parents at their realty office.  However, her real dream is to be working with food, and she supplements her income with a quiet catering business.  She makes dishes for clients and lets them pretend that they made it themselves.  While it doesn’t allow her to gain a well-deserved reputation for her hard work, she has a loyal client base that is extremely happy with her work.

One of those happy clients is Pet Grandy, who has become well known for “her” chili, which she always brings to the parish’s bingo night.  However, the latest batch has some poison in it, and a woman dies before the bingo night begins.  Now Lilah has a dilemma – should she break her client’s confidence and make herself a suspect to the police.  Or should she find the killer herself so her secret doesn’t matter?

As I said, this book has a unique premise and a fun twist on the motive for the main character to get involved with the investigation.  The murder happens fairly early in the book, and the plot moves forward at a steady pace for most of the book.  I did feel it got bogged down as we were approaching the end, which is a bit surprising, although we do get a logical and satisfying climax.

The book is populated with a variety of fun characters.  They are a bit on the caricature side, especially at first, but as the book progresses and we get to know them better, they are fleshed out and feel more real.  They are always fun, and I enjoyed spending time with them.

Unfortunately, I felt the romantic sub-plot weakened the book.  I was okay with what was happening and where it was going until the end.  Heck, I’m even okay with what happened at the end since I found one character’s reaction to things perfectly believable.  However, I felt the other character overreacted to things.  The effect was that the entire thing felt rushed and forced to me.

Of course, we get some delicious sounding recipes at the back.  They are mainly for casserole type dishes, the chili of the title being an obvious exception.  They sound delicious, so if you are looking for some new choices to try, you’ll love them.

I wanted to like The Big Chili, and I liked it for the most part.  Unfortunately, the flaws kept me from liking it as much as I thought I would.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in hopes I would review it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ornament Review: A Home for Wren - Marjolein's Garden #2 - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful ornament
Cons: Doesn’t look much like Christmas; tips
The Bottom Line:
Artistic birdhouse
In beautiful ornament
Great for all year round

Prepare a House for the Spring’s Returning Birds

I generally don’t do much outside of decorating for Christmas, however I am starting to slowly change that thanks to Hallmark’s decorations.  For example, I keep saving the Marjolein’s Garden series for spring.  A Home for Wren is the second in this beautiful series.

As you might expect from the title, the ornament features a bird outside a birdhouse.  The birdhouse itself is round, made from birch bark (or at least painted to look that way), and decorated with a thatch roof and flowers and holly.  There is a small bird sitting on the perch outside.  The house is surrounded by plants.

As you can see, there is nothing super Christmassy about it, which is why I almost passed on this series to begin with.  But I kept being drawn back to the beauty of the ornaments.  It’s no surprise that they are stunning since they are based on the artwork of Marjolein Bastin, who has created some wonderful cards and artwork for Hallmark over a very long and successful career.  This ornament doesn’t have stunning colors, but the subtle and realistic color is actually part of what makes it more beautiful.

Now you’d think being a birdhouse, you’d be able to set this ornament out and enjoy it year round, but that’s not the case.  One of the flowers sticks down below bottom of the bird house, so the ornament actually tips back slightly if you try to set it out.  Personally, I wouldn’t leave it set out to avoid any potential of breaking that flower pedal. 

When you slip a hook through the loop at the top of the ornament, you’ll find that it tips forward slightly.  It’s slight enough you might be able to disguise it depending on where you hang it, but it is certainly noticeable.

You’ll find the 2 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom.

Whether you use this for Christmas, spring, or both, you’ll find that A Home for Wren adds a beautiful touch to your decorations.

Check out more nature themed ornaments with the rest of the Marjolein's Garden series.

Original Price: $17.95

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Review: Disney Lands by Ridley Pearson (The Return #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Page turning, imaginative, and fun
Cons: Characters could still be better
The Bottom Line:
Mission continues
As Finn follows Wayne’s message
To surprising place

The Kingdom Keepers Land in the Middle of More Disney Trouble

When I learned that Ridley Pearson was going to start a sequel series to his popular Kingdom Keepers books, I was hesitant to start it.  After all, the original series was uneven, and I loved how that series ended.  I wanted that to be the happily ever after for the characters.  Eventually, I gave in to temptation and bought Disney Lands, the first book in The Return.  I’m glad I did because now I’m hooked.

If you’ve missed the Kingdom Keepers series, I wouldn’t recommend you start here.  Yes, this is the first in a new series, but in many ways it doesn’t feel like it.  The characters are all the same, and they are still referencing the events of the previous books, so having that background is vital.  So if you want to jump into the magic, go back to the beginning.

And magic is the right word.  The Kingdom Keepers are five teens who cross into the Disney Parks in their sleep as holograms.  No, it’s not all fun and games, however.  They are on a mission to fight the Overtakers, a group of Disney villains determined to rule the park and destroy the magic.  The books are filled with narrow escapes and dramatic action that will leave you turning pages in the fun setting of the Disney parks we all think we know and love.  (Trust me, this series will make you look at a couple of rides differently.)

This new series opens a few months after the battle in Disneyland where the Kingdom Keepers finally defeated the Overtakers once and for all.  All of the teens are getting ready to go to college and are trying to move on.  Well, almost all of them.  Finn is certain that the last message they received from Wayne is a clue to something more they have to do.  No one wants to believe him, certain he is just mourning their friend and mentor while also not wanting to let go of their importance as the Kingdom Keepers.

And yet, he gets Philby to let him cross over to Disneyland just one time.  What happens to him while he is there shocks him and convinces him that not only is he right there is more they need to do but also that the Overtakers aren’t completely gone.  Can he convince the other Kingdom Keepers when what he’s found sounds crazy?  Can he figure out what all the clues he is finding mean so he can lead the mission?

Now I will admit, I knew where this book was going.  There is a between the series book called The Syndrome that tells the story of what happens right after this novel ends.  It was released a couple of weeks before this novel came out, so I read them in release order.  Honestly, I can’t tell you which order is the best.

What I can tell you is knowing where this book was going to end up didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this book at all.  Yes, I was ahead of the characters at times, but watching them get there was fun, and some of the reveals and discoveries made along the way were cool surprises.  Plus, there are still some page turning action scenes as we face some villains.  There aren’t quite as many of them as in the previous series, but the ones that are there are fun.  And I think if you read this book before reading The Syndrome, you’d be saying the same thing about that book.

And for fans of Amanda and Jess, they are still involved in the action.

The weakness continues to be the characters.  As always, there is some development, but it is minimal.  Two or three of the characters shine and the rest are just developed enough to make us care, but that’s about it.  Still, I know as a kid this wouldn’t have bothered me and I’m sure today’s kids won’t notice at all.  They’ll be swept up in the action.

I have a first edition hardcover, and there are some mistakes in the printings.  The worst is the last line from one page repeated on the top of the next page several times.  I’m not normally someone who notices or comments on typos, but this is painfully obvious.  Hopefully, that has been fixed in later editions.

Complaints aside, Disney Lands is a fun, page turning fantasy book that will appeal to anyone who loves Disney no matter what their age might be.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this latest mission takes the Kingdom Keepers in the next book.

Need more magical adventures?  Here is the complete Kingdom Keeper and Return saga in order.

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

March 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Wow!  Thanks to March Madness and some shows in reruns, this week was very light on TV.  And next week is looking almost as light.  It's kind of nice to have a bit less to watch every night, not that I'm looking to voluntarily give up any of my shows.

Once Upon a Time – So that’s why we will only see Hercules and Meg in one episode.  I was beginning to wonder if Meg was in it or not, but then I figured out who she was just before they told us (literally moments before).  Cruella popping up again is very interesting, and I can’t wait to see how the sub-plot goes.  And they are in serious trouble of Hades has his way with how many of them stay, but I’m sure they will figure out some way around it.  After all, he is the villain of the season.

Supergirl – The story was going along fairly predictable routes until the final quarter.  Hank outted and in a cell?  No one trusting Supergirl?  Natural consequences of the story, and I’m proud of them for going there, but I’m already anxious to see what happens with all that next week.

Agents of SHIELD – So that was an interesting twist in Talbot in the second half, and I’m curious to see where they go from here as far as the two agents out on their own.  The stuff with Ward’s shell is just bizarre, however.

Of Kings and Prophets – So I paid more attention this week, and I got caught up in it a bit more.  However, I’m still have a hard time telling some of the characters apart.  It tanked in the rankings, so I'm not surprised that it's been canceled.  Oh well, I wasn't super attached, so that's no big deal, really.

Survivor – I feel so sorry for the beauty tribe in this.  By having one of their members out by herself, they pretty much guaranteed that they’d lose a member at tribal no matter what.  Next week could get very interesting, however, since they tribes are essentially even on members of the other tribes.  I think that is a first after a tribe swap like that, so watching it play out could be very interesting.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Book Review: Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #12)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters are charming as always
Cons: Plot is slow until the final third
The Bottom Line:
Back to Africa
Book with a slow beginning
Still keeps fans reading

Mrs. Pollifax Faces a Killer

While the Mrs. Pollifax series is classified (correctly) as mystery, the books aren’t the traditional dead body and five suspects that I normally read.  Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer comes the closest to that formula, and the book actually suffers for it.

If you aren’t familiar with the series, you really should meet Mrs. Pollifax.  She is a grandmother, garden club member, and part time CIA agent.  While the books were written over the span of several decades, she’s always taking part in whatever were current global affairs at the time.

This is a rare book in the series that is a direct sequel to the book that came before.  Most of the time, the books are mostly standalone adventures with few characters crossing over.  Here, we get many characters from the previous book returning.

And that includes a set up that doesn’t involve Carstairs and the CIA at all.  While Carstairs is mentioned a few times, this is all Mrs. Pollifax.  Given the name of my blog, you can imagine how I feel about that.

Mrs. Pollifax’s young friend Kadi Hopkirk has summoned back to Ubangiba in the African desert.  Kadi’s childhood friend Sammat is going to be crowned king of this small country soon, but he is facing problems he is hoping Kadi, who grew up in the country, can help him with.  Fearing that Kadi might be in danger, Mrs. Pollifax goes with her.

The duo arrive to learn that there have been several deaths recently where the victim has been mauled by lions.  The problem?  There are no lions in Ubangiba.  Rumors are going around the country that these are the works of sorcery, and Sammat is that sorcerer.  Can Mrs. Pollifax and Kadi get to the bottom on the mystery before Sammat’s fledging government is overthrown?

While the CIA might not be involved, this does sound like the set up for another exciting Mrs. Pollifax adventure, right?  And it easily could have been since there is much political intrigue in this small, fictitious country.  However, the pacing is off and the book plods along at time introducing a sub-plot that does little to advance the story.  Things definitely pick up in the final third of the book, and then it feels like a classic Mrs. Pollifax adventure.  The difference?  Mrs. Pollifax goes from passive to active and starts driving the plot.

Fortunately, the characters are their normal charming selves.  Mrs. Pollifax is a pure delight, and it’s hard to be having too much of a bad time when you are in her presence.  Kadi and Sammat are both returning characters from the previous book, and it’s great to see them both again.  The book is filled out with fun, fresh characters, although there are some I wish we’d spent more time getting to know.

These two books are the only time in the series that we are dealing with a fictional country.  When the books were written in the mid-90’s, it felt like a time of relative peace for the US with the cold war behind us, so it makes sense that we’d break away from that part of the series formula.  Honestly, that part of this book doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  Frankly, I wish it had delved more into the politics of this country and the changes that Sammat was trying to make there.

Fans of Mrs. Pollifax will want to journey with her back to Ubangiba in Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer.  However, if you haven’t yet found this charming series, I don’t recommend you start here.  There are better adventures that will hook you on this great series.

Need to find those earlier books?  Here is the Mrs. Pollifax series in order.

This review is part of Friday’s Forgotten Books for the week.

March 18th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday, and you know what that means.  It's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week's book is Macdeath by Cindy Brown.


I've just started this book.  In fact, I haven't made it to page 56 yet.  However, the quotes I have are so great I couldn't resist.
Here's how the book starts:

Like every actor, I knew Macbeth was cursed, that death and destruction and all manner of bad things happen during the show.  You'd think I wouldn't remembered this the day of my audition.

When I was debating about using this book this week, I looked at page 56.  It's the beginning of a new chapter, and this is the first paragraph of that chapter.

After an hour at Uncle Bob's office, I was done.  Not as in "done with my work," or even "done with this job," but done as in "stick a fork in me, I'm done."  Cooked.  I was used to the heat (keeping your apartment at ninety degrees will do that for you), but boy oh boy.

I just started the book this afternoon, and so far I'm only 40 pages in, but I'm loving it!

Have a great weekend, all.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

TV Show Review: Mickey Mouse - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Creative, fun shorts with Mickey and friends
Cons: Style a little odd; a couple shorts don’t quite work
The Bottom Line:
Mickey in new shorts
Filled with wonderful sight gags
Will please all his fans

Mickey Makes a Wonderful Return to Shorts

While short animated pieces are beginning to make a bit of a comeback before Pixar and Disney animated features, they don’t have the audience they once did.  Disney is looking to change that with a series of shorts on The Disney Channel focusing on their original star, Mickey Mouse.  The first group of those cartoons are collected in Mickey Mouse Season 1, and any fan of the classic Disney characters will love it.

Now, if you sit down expecting a TV show, you will be disappointed.  These harken back to the golden age of the shorts, the late 1930’s.  There is no continuity between shorts, and there is no attempt to create any.  In one, Mickey is making a delivery of croissants in Paris.  In the next, he’s climbing the Swiss Alps.  Goofy is a friend in one, running a lunch counter in another, and a spooky character in a third.  Treat each as its own story, and you’ll be fine.

And you’ll want to treat each one separately because there are some great shorts here.  For some of them, Mickey is on his own, such as the short that finds him trying to take a picture of a baby panda at a zoo.  Others involve him and Minnie, such as the one where he is trying to avoid causing an avalanche in the Alps while he climbs up to meet her.  The rest of the gang can get into the act, such as one where Mickey and Minnie try to fix Donald and Daisy’s relationship and cause more problems.  Then there’s poor Goofy who comes along on a date and becomes a third wheel.  Speaking of Goofy, he finally has to act like a dog when taking Pluto’s place at a dog show.

There are a couple of these shorts that are just weird, or end weirdly, but they are the exception.  I find most of them to be fun and creative.  Like the old shorts, they aren’t necessarily dialogue heavy.  You need to be watching to follow the story and catch all the gags.  There are some wonderful sight gags in these shorts you will absolutely love, too, worthy of the classics.  They do include brief gags that include jabs at characters from Disney animated movies or the parks, and these Easter eggs are always fun to spot.

About the only thing that doesn’t work for me is the style.  They designed it to harken back to the 30’s animated shorts, but they’ve also included a bit more modern feel to it.  Even after watching all of these shorts, it still doesn’t quite work for me.  I can’t completely place my finger on why, but it’s a small issue.

This first “season” consisted of 19 shorts, and they are all included in this collection.  All but one are 4 minutes long.  That exception is “Potatoland,” which is close to 8 minutes long.  This one finds Donald and Mickey going to great lengths to make Goofy’s lifelong dream of visiting the potato themed amusement park come true.  Fans of Disney parks will absolutely love it.

Because these are shorts, everything is on one disc.  In the way of extras, we get a five minutes behind the scenes featurette with interesting info from the people behind the scenes on how they came to create this new series.

I’m now thinking I need to pay more attention to watch the new shorts when they appear on The Disney Channel, and I hoping we get more releases from the series.  Mickey Mouse Season 1 is a delight.

Included Shorts:
1. Croissant de Triomphe
2. No Service
3. Yodelberg
4. New York Weenie
5. Tokyo Go
6. Stayin’ Cool
7. Ghoul Friend
8. Bad Ear Day
9. Gasp!
10. Panda-monium
11. Third Wheel
12. Dog Show
13. ‘O Sole Minnie
14. Sleepwalkin’
15. O Futebol Classico
16. Potatoland
17. The Adorable Couple
18. Flipperboobootosis
19. Tapped Out

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

And Then There Were Nuns Winner

I'm a day late announcing the final winner for the month.  I'd love to say I had a great excuse for it, but I just plan forgot.  But I have a winner today, and that winner is...


Please check your e-mail and get back to me so we can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: By Cook or by Crook by Maya Corrigan (Five-Ingredient Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery with well-done clues
Cons: Characters take a little bit to grow on you
The Bottom Line:
A gimmick of fives
Underpins strong mystery
Will keep you reading

Five Things You Need to Know About the First Five Ingredients Mystery

I was quite intrigued by the idea behind the Five Ingredients Mysteries.  Each book will have five suspects and five clues that helped the main character solve the case.  I had to see how that would work out in a novel, so I picked up By Cook or by Crook, the first in the series.  And here is what I thought of the book in five points for you.

1 – Story Teaser:

Val Deniston has fled NYC and moved to the town of Bayport, Maryland, on the Chesapeake.  She’s living with her grandfather and running the café at the local athletic club where she also plays tennis.  There’s she’s met Nadia, a realtor and fellow tennis player, who wants to help Val getting a catering gig in exchange for sending realty referrals to Nadia.  But when Val arrives for the meeting, she finds Nadia dead – stabbed by a wooden tennis racket that’s been whittled down to a stake.  The police are focusing on Val’s cousin, so Val dives in to find the killer.  Can she do it?

2 – Plot:

I must admit that I was a bit worried that having five clues and five suspects might make for a repetitive story as Val would spend the book rehashing things to fill pages.  That wasn’t the case at all.  Instead, this was a fast paced story that moved from suspect to suspect and clue to clue, constantly keeping me guessing what was really happening.  The way things came together at the end was brilliant; the clues were all there, but they weren’t easy to figure out.  The climax was wonderful and tied everything up well.

3 – Characters:

Unfortunately, the characters took me a bit to warm up to.  The book is narrated third person from Val’s limited point of view, and for some reason, that kept me a bit out of the story.  As I kept reading, I did feel I got to know the characters and warm up to them.  It also didn’t help that we got some back story dump in the first couple of chapters.  Again, the more I read, the more I grew to like the characters, and I am looking forward to getting to know them better in future books.

4 – Recipes

Of course, being a culinary cozy, there have to be recipes.  We get 8 of them, for such various things as crab cakes, potatoes, and apple crisp to name a few.  And - you guessed it - all of them have only five ingredients.  Well, one of two of them cheat with a couple of optional spices, but we won’t mention that.  They do sound delicious and super easy, which is nice.

5 – The 5 Gimmick

As I hinted at before, I didn’t find the gimmick of five suspects and five clues to be an issue at all.  Despite being a numbers guy (I’m an accountant in my day job), I wouldn’t have known if the characters hadn't discussed it in these terms a few times.  It’s fun, but it never gets in the way of telling a compelling mystery.

So, as you can see, there are lots of reasons to read By Cook or by Crook.  The mystery is strong and the characters grow on you.  I hope this series goes for 5 times 5 books.

Looking for more?  Here are the rest of the Five-Ingredient Mysteries.