Saturday, April 30, 2016

April 30th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Remind me who it was again who thought it was a good idea to go out of town just as May sweeps is starting?  I have a feeling when I get back I will never get caught up.  Just look at how few shows I got watched this week thanks to my trip.

Once Upon a Time – Am I alone, or did it seem a little too easy for Regina and Zelena to forgive each other and move on.  I get that they didn’t know about that bond from their childhood, but they’ve done some nasty stuff to each other.  I was looking forward to watching Zelena change, but this was too sudden for my taste.  On the other hand, that final scene was great, and I can’t wait to see how that plays out next week.

Dancing with the Stars – Got to admit I was not sorry to see Nyle brought down a couple of pegs in his scores this week.  Yes, he’s talented, but his bragging during the package was a bit much.  Maybe he was trying to be funny and it just didn’t come across right.  At least I hope that was the case.  Not surprised that Doug left.  Sorry to see him go, but he was the weak link at this point.

Castle – So how did that guy survive his first two murders?  I mean, it was a great premise to an episode, but they usually give us an explanation when they pull something like that.  I felt so sorry for the guy at the end, too.  Still, it was a fun episode, and they are obviously building toward the LockStat solution at the end of the season.  If only I felt I could trust the end of the season to be something I would like.

Flash – I do hope that’s the last we will see of Killer Frost.  I love Kaitlyn, and if they turn the real her into that villain, I won’t be happy.  I was good watching Barry work without his speed and still defeat the villain.  I loved Wally’s reaction to last week.  A bit more of the character stuff I loved from season one, although I think that’s what’s been missing overall this season.

Agents of SHIELD – It’s either Fitz or Simmons who is going to die before the season is over.  Seriously, could they have telegraphed it any more loudly?  And I don’t think the writers are creative enough to pull a switch like that on this show.  Not that this week wasn’t interesting, but really, I’m out when this season is over.

Rush Hour – Did not see that twist with his sister coming.  But I like it!  I’m glad to know she is really on the same side as her brother even if he can’t find out until her undercover case is wrapped up.  Definitely felt a bit darker overall, although it still had some light, comedic moments.

Friday, April 29, 2016

April 29th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Sneaking in this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56 while I have a few moments to myself.

This week, I'm reading Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz


The ironic thing?  This is a thriller, and I'm reading it while out of town for Malice Domestic, which is devoted to cozy mysteries.  Of course, I like to save Gregg's books for when I have long plane rides, which is why I am reading it now.
Here's how Chapter 1 begins:

After picking up a set of pistol suppressors from a nine-fingered armorer in Las Vegas, Evan Smoak headed for home in his Ford pickup, doing his best not to let the knife wound distract him.

Skipping ahead to page 56, we find this exchange.

"Wait! Evan!"
He turned to see Mia run-walking toward him in her midheel shoes, still dressed from work.
"Look, sorry, I know this is weird, but can I borrow your truck?" she said.

And there you have it for another week.  Have a fantastic weekend.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great character growth
Cons: Plot appears to wander at times
The Bottom Line:
New body with old
Why was his body hidden?
Good visit with friends

Modern Corpse in the Crypt

While I have found the series more uneven than many people seem to, I’ve been enjoying the characters and situations in the Flavia de Luce mysteries.  So when a recent road trip found me with a CD that wouldn’t play, I wasn’t too upset when I was able to substitute Speaking From Among the Bones as a last minute audio book.

This book finds us in 1951.  It’s late March, and the week before Easter.  Flavia’s oldest sister Ophelia is concentrating on her debut as the parish organist at the upcoming service.  But the big news in their small village of Bishop’s Lacey is the crew that has come to town to dig up the remains of their patron saint.  St. Tancred has been dead for 500 years, and they are going to honor him.

Naturally, the eleven-year-old Flavia is on the scene when the crew sets to work.  But they’ve just dug into the outer chamber of the crypt when they make a shocking discovery.  There’s a second body in the crypt, this one decidedly more recent.  In fact, everyone in town recognizes him as Mr. Collicutt, the village’s former organist who vanished six weeks ago.  Of course, Flavia begins to dig into the latest mystery, but can she find the killer?

My main complaint with this series has been that the mysteries can be weak.  This one starts out right away, but the book does appear to wander around for a while until we reach the climax.  Most of the pieces of the book are indeed needed to solve things, and the solution is wonderful.

The real charm continues to be the characters.  Flavia is one of the most unique main characters.  While at times I can be annoyed by her antics (something kept to a minimum here), at others she is rather funny in her reactions to things.  We get to know a bit more about the rest of her family here and make some interesting new friends along the way.  The characters are becoming deeper and richer with every book, something I really enjoy.

In fact, I’m quite curious about how an on-going series sub-plot is going to progress.  I care enough about the characters I need to know they will be okay.  Granted, the cliffhanger at the end of the book would be enough to make me want to read the next one soon anyway.

Jane Entwistle is the narrator once again for the audio book, and she is Flavia.  Her inflections as she does the first person narration are half the fun.  I don’t know that I would enjoy reading the books for myself now I’ve gotten so spoiled.

Because of the character growth, it’s probably best to go back to the beginning to enjoy these books.  But you’ll be enjoying Speaking from Among the Bones before you know it.

Need to go back to the beginning?  Here are the Flavia de Luce mysteries in order.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Malice Domestic

As you are reading this, I'm about 24 hours away from checking into the Malice Domestic convention for 2016.  I've wanted to go for years, and I'm so excited to actually be there.

If you are there as well, I do hope you'll look for me and say hi if you find me.  I'd love to meet you.

And if you aren't there, I hope you'll stop by.  I've got a couple of posts scheduled to run over the next couple of days.

Ornament Review: Santa Certified #3 - Rocking Horse - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Artistic touches make the ornament stand out
Cons: Series continues to have to grow on me each year
The Bottom Line:
Classy rocking horse
Made for some special children
Details will delight

Rock in Style with Santa’s Latest Creation

While I enjoy the many Hallmark ornaments I get, not all of them are true works of art.  However, the ornaments in the Santa Certified series certainly strive for that mark.  These are the supposed to represent the toys that Santa spends a little extra time on for the extra special boy or girl, and the results are always filled with great details.

This year’s offering is a rocking horse, but it’s not just any rocking horse.  The horse itself is white with a dark brown mane and tail.  The saddle and bridle are red with gold accents.  Instead of being surrounded but obvious springs, the horse is standing on a platform surrounded by a railing.  The platform is a deep red, and the railing is gold.  Carved into the railing are trees with bits of holly and even bells also visible.  And you can tell that Santa is happy with this ornament because he has put an SC on the saddle.

And one other detail to make it fun – the horse actually rocks.  Okay, rocks might be too strong a word (this is an ornament made of plastic, after all), but the horse does move back and forth when you press gently on it.

While the motion does add to the fun, it’s the little details that truly make this ornament stand out.  The red and gold combine well to make for a beautiful look, and it seems like every time I look at it, I notice something new and fun.

As much as I do like the ornament now, it seems like each year’s offering in this series has to grow on me.  When I first see the picture, I’m not too impressed, but as I continue to look at it in the store before I buy it, I wind up loving it.

The little details continue to the series marker.  Instead of just being a triangle to represent the Christmas tree, we actually see the branches.  It’s bigger, which makes the 3 easier to read, too.  Like in previous years, Santa has signed this piece as well.  All this is hidden on the bottom of the ornament.

Speaking of which, the bottom is flat enough that you can set this piece out in any display with no worries about it tipping.  Give this series a few more years, and I’m picturing a wonderful display of Santa’s workshop featuring these toys.

But if you want to hang it on your tree, you will find the hook on the horse.  Slip a loop through it and you’ll find that it hangs straight.  Would Santa accept anything less?

Pictures truly don’t do this ornament justice.  To fully appreciate Santa Certified, you need to look at the ornament in person.  That will allow you to appreciate the artistry yourself.

Enjoy more of Santa's special creations with the rest of the Santa Certified series.

Original Price: $14.95

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Book Review: All Murders Final! by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
: Strong mystery filled with strong characters
Cons: Climax a bit rushed, but a minor issue overall
The Bottom Line:
A virtual sale
Turns up a real dead body
Pages fly by quickly

You’ll Enjoy This Mystery to the Final Page

There are so many cozy series out there right now that it seems there’s always a book about to come out I’m really looking forward to reading.  After how much I enjoyed the first two books in the Sarah Winston Garage Sales Mysteries, All Murders Final! was definitely a book I was looking forward to reading, and it didn’t disappoint at all.

The book finds Sarah in the middle of a mild Massachusetts February winter, but even so, winter in New England is not a time to be hosting garage sales, so Sarah has turned to running a virtual garage sale website for the town of Ellington to make some money.  In addition to being the admin, she’s also a member of the site, buying and selling things herself.

One morning, Sarah goes to pick up some things from Margaret More, a rich and powerful local woman.  Only when she arrives, Sarah finds Margaret dead in her car with a table cloth stuffed in her mouth, the same table cloth that Sarah had been fighting with another woman over on the garage sale sight the nite before.  While she is waiting for the police, someone sends Sarah a picture – of Sarah waiting for the police.  What in the world has Sarah stumbled into?

When I write my teasers for my review, I always try to tease as little of the plot as I can.  Here, I’ve teased just the opening few pages of the book.  When a story starts that strongly, I’m always hopeful that this portends a strong story to follow, and in this case it definitely does.  There is always something happening, whether it is Sarah learning something new or some new event that keeps her on her toes and us turning pages.  I did feel that the climax was a little rushed, but when thinking it over, everything did make sense in the end.

The characters in this series have always been strong, and this book is no exception.  We see plenty of the regulars as well as meet great new characters.  All of them felt real to me, and I’m already ready to go back and visit them again.  I hope a few of the characters introduced here pop up again as well because that would be awesome.

There’s been a love triangle so far in this series as Sarah struggles between CJ, her ex-husband, and Seth, the most eligible bachelor in the area.  We got some nice advancement of this story arc here, and I was very happy with how things ended, although I want to see more of both of them in future books.

I can’t review this book without mentioning the humor.  There are a couple of scenes that made me laugh near the middle of this book and several more great scenes and lines throughout.  They were wonderful at easing the tension a little before we started the climb back to the climax.

At the end of the book, we get a few tips for garage sales, real and virtual.  I really need to start taking advantage of some of these tips, and if you saw my condo you’d understand why I say that.

I was disappointed to reach the final page of All Murders Final!, and I’m already looking forward to Sarah’s next adventure.  If you want a fun mystery that will keep you reading, be sure to pick up this book today.

Don't miss any deals!  Here are the rest of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries in order.

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

TV Show Review: Royal Pains - Season 7

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Characters we love in mostly good stories
Cons: Two storylines really bugged me
The Bottom Line:
Two bad storylines
Mar otherwise fun season
Hank Med fans enjoy

A Step Down, but Still Royally Fun

It always pains me when a favorite show takes a step down from the level of excellence it had been on.  That was the case with season 7 of Royal Pains.  Don’t get me wrong, the show was still mostly fun, but a couple of the storylines were just too much to swallow.

The show picks up from the surprise announcement that Boris (recurring guest star Campbell Scott) has purchased Hamptons Heritage hospital and wants the HankMed gang to run it.  While Evan Lawson (Paulo Costanzo) and Divya Katdare (Reshma Shetty) are definitely on board, it’s actually Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein) who wants to keep things simple and just keep doing the concierge medicine he has come to love.

Evan’s adjustment to the temporary hospital administrator is a bit rough as he attempts to befriend everyone in his overly enthusiastic way.  Meanwhile, everyone finds a way to balance their new jobs with that of keeping HankMed afloat.  Over the course of the season, Hank must treat a triathlete while helping Boris with a top secret patient.  Meanwhile, Dr. Jeremiah Sacani (Ben Shenkman) takes a step that he thinks will help only to cause major problems.

So, what are the storylines I didn’t care for?  Let’s start with Divya.  This single mother has found herself in a custody fight for her toddler.  And what does she do?  The absolute worst things she could possibly do, and in several episodes in a row.  It left me cringing because I could always see the consequences of her bad actions coming a mile away.  The thing is, Divya is way too smart for this behavior, and the writers didn’t really sell it to me.

Then there’s Evan and his wife Paige (Brooke D’Orsay).  They’ve bought a house and are working on getting it remodeled while they work on starting a family.  Sounds great, right?  However, in the course of this season, they discover they are having problems conceiving and look toward adoption.  Now, there was nothing wrong with this storyline at all.  In fact, I was finding this storyline enjoyable until everything suddenly felt rushed in the second half of the season.  I know things are compressed on TV, but everything they went through in the eight episodes here was too much.  It would have felt better spread out over a normal TV season of 22 episodes or even if this story were finished up in the next season.

Now, that isn’t to say I wasn’t enjoying the show still.  I love these characters.  (I’m going to be so sad when the show goes off the air after the upcoming eighth season.)  And even when a storyline made me roll my eyes, I still enjoyed the show overall.  After all, there are always several things happening each episode, so no episode dwells on one story for too long, and most of the storylines were wonderful overall.  The medical mysteries seem to be taking more of a backseat to the lives of the characters, but they are still there and still enjoyable.

Any issues I have with this season I blame solely on the writers.  The actors continue to do a fantastic job of bringing their characters to life.  They were just let down by the writing.

As I mentioned earlier, this season consisted of only eight episodes, and all eight of them are present in this two disc set in their native full surround and wide screen.

Long term fans will still enjoy watching the HankMed gang in season 7 of Royal Pains.  But this isn’t the strongest season of the show, so if you aren’t familiar with the characters, don’t jump in here.

Season 7 Episodes:
1. Rebound
2. False Start
3. Playing Doctor
4. The Prince of Nucleotides
5. Voices Carry
6. Secret Asian Man
7. Lama Trauma
8. Lending a Shoulder

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book Review: Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs (Moon Base Alpha #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, outstanding mystery, just plain fun
Cons: All cons have gone missing in space
The Bottom Line:
Vanished on the moon
Delightful mystery here
Great for all readers

How Can Someone Vanish in Space?

Sometimes when I hear the premise of a book, I’m hooked before I read word one.  That was the case with Spaced Out.  Of course, since it came from Stuart Gibbs, it was already on my must read immediately list, but the premise made it even more irresistible.

However, before we go on, I need to issue a MAJOR spoiler warning.  You see, this is the second book in his Moon Base Alpha series, and before the first chapter is over, the first book in the series is spoiled.  We get the solution to the mystery there as well as a major twist at the end.  Granted, there’s no way to avoid spoiling part of the first book, but you will have much more fun if you read these books in order.  And they are well worth reading in order.

This series is set on the moon in the not so distance future of 2041 on the first settlement on the moon.  There are only 24 people living up there, scientists and their families, including twelve-year-old Dash Gibson and his younger sister Violet.  Now, if you think that living on the moon would be exciting, Dash will quickly set you straight.  These 24 people are all living in a base the size of a soccer field, and they can’t go outside without major planning.

But it also explains why it is so mysterious when Nina Stack, the station commander, suddenly goes missing.  There is nowhere really for her to go or hide.  She is not in the base, and there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of her outside the base either.  What happened to her?  Is she in danger?  If so, can Dash figure things out in time to save her life?

See what I mean?  A vanished person on the moon – I’ve been looking forward to this book for months.  And the book didn’t disappoint at all.  The mystery was very good, and how the solution unfolded was completely logical.  In fact, the clues and how Dash figures them out are better than in some of the adult mysteries I read.

But there’s so much else going on that it was always hard to put the book down.  There’s a good sub-plot involving the Sjoberg family, an extremely rich family who is there for a six month vacation as the first space tourist family.  Plus we get some great humor sprinkled throughout the book.

And I can’t leave out the death defying danger that Dash faces a few times in the book.  Trust me, your heart will be racing right along with his.

The characters in this book are also strong.  While there are a limited number, they are all distinct people, or as distinct as they can be based on their amount of page time.  It’s quite easy to care for them and the outcome of the mystery.  Well, most of them.  There are a few we just love to hate.

The book is aimed at middle graders and is a fantastic blend of mystery and science fiction.  The target audience will absolutely love it.  But don’t let the fact that you might be beyond the target audience stop you.  This truly is a fantastic book that anyone who loves a mystery will gobble up.

So don’t wait another second to book your trip to Moon Base Alpha.  Spaced Out will keep you turning pages and leave you breathless for more.

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

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Ornament Review: Cantina Band - 2014 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Completely fun mix of music with characters
Cons: Nothing special to look at; tip
The Bottom Line:
Cantina band plays
On your command, on your tree
Brings smile to your face

Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy some Music from the Cantina Band

Each year, Hallmark releases a large, expensive Star Wars related ornament.  And every year, I manage to resist.  In 2014, I was tempted more than normal by their offering that year, Cantina Band.  And I finally broke down and bought it discounted after Christmas.  It’s just too much fun!

This ornament is inspired by the original Star Wars movie and the band playing in the Cantina where Luke and Obi-Wan hire Han Solo and his ship to take them off the planet.  The ornament isn’t that exciting to look at.  It’s essentially a long rectangle with the four members of the band standing on it holding their various instruments.  Of course, these aren’t humans but humanoid aliens, and their instruments don’t quite look like instruments we’d recognize.

No, what makes this ornament so much fun is the magic aspect.  This band plays a very fun, upbeat song, and that quick scene with them in it is the only place we hear it in the entire Star Wars franchise.  It’s also very distinctive, and the instant you press the button to start the song, you know what you are listening to.  Just pressing the button is enough to put a smile on my face, and it stays there for the full 30 seconds the song clip plays.  Of course, the magic does need a little help, and that comes in the form of the 2 button batteries that slip into the compartment on the bottom of the ornament.

Honestly, based on looks alone, I would completely skip this ornament.  It’s not that special or exciting.  But press that button and everything changes.  It was what made me give in and get it at the last possible moment.

Actually, I was lucky to find one (a friend tracked it down for me).  I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t resist this ornament because it proved to be more popular than the normal magic Star Wars ornaments that Hallmark releases.

When it comes time to put this ornament on your tree, you’ll find that there is a hook in the head of one of the band members.  The ornament isn’t quite balanced as it tips slightly to the right, but it’s a very small tilt easily disguised with tree branches.

Of course, this would be a fun ornament to have out on a desk or in a display year round.  And since there’s nothing tying it directly to Christmas, there’s no reason not to enjoy it.  The base of the ornament is nice and flat, so you can do that without worrying about it falling or tipping at all.

No, I don’t feel the need to back collect any of the similar ornaments.  I think Cantina Band will be a unique ornament in my collection.  It really is too much fun to pass up.

Original Price: $34.95

April 23rd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Like everyone else, I feel the need to weigh in on the Castle situation.  I love that show, and I have loved it since season 1.  While I must admit the first couple of years I didn't care as much about the relationship, they slowly won me over on that front as well, and the character growth we've seen from Castle and Beckett is amazing.  So now they are going to throw that all away and expect me to keep watching Castle without Beckett?  Seriously?  When the show has been as much romantic comedy as mystery show?  Sorry, not going to happen.  Need to cut costs?  There are plenty of other actors you could have started with.  Honestly, I'm debating if I want to finish out this season or just stop watching now since I know I won't like how they write Beckett off the show.  My only hope is that they decide to cancel the show so we get a happy ending.  If not, my collection of season DVD sets will stop with season 7 when we did get a nice ending, and I'll pretend this never happened.  Plus I'll stop reading the Nikki Heat books, too.

Okay, deep breath.  Now, shall we get to watch I watched this week?  Heck, my first season finale of the year is on my list.

Once Upon a Time – Well, I guessed the lesbian romance wrong, until this episode started.  But I’m most intrigued by Belle.  Will her plan really work?  And what does it say about her relationship with Gold that she knew he couldn’t awaken her.  Will there be a battle in Storybrooke now?  Or is Snow White going on maternity leave?  (She and Belle were pregnant in real life while this was filming.)  Not super surprised with the twist there, but I still like how it was done.

Dancing with the Stars – I always find it interesting when they do the switch up.  It shows us as much about the pros as the stars.  The results were a bit more mixed this time around, although the scores were closer than the judges’ comments were.  But I definitely think we’ve proved the deaf guy is the best dancer this season.

Supergirl – Love the season finale.  Okay, so it wasn’t anything super unexpected, but there were so many wonderful character moments it was just fantastic.  Wondering what was in the pod for the cliffhanger for sure.  CBS had better renew this show.

Castle – So it was Hayley’s turn for a focused episode.  Very interesting and a nice twist on their normal formula.  However, the whole Beckett dream thing?  Not that original or fun.  Heck, Newhart did it better in the 80’s.

The Flash – Well, I knew that we wouldn’t defeat Zoom this week.  After all, what would we do the rest of the season.  Still, Barry without his speed?  Again this season?  And Caitlin kidnapped?  This is going to be very interesting for the rest of the season.

Agents of SHIELD – Daisy was the last person I suspected of being the infected mole.  I thought it was Lincoln as soon as they said there was a mole, so they definitely got me.  This must have been my enjoyable episode for the month, so sorry that the next few will be lacking.

Survivor – Tai is done.  No one will trust him now, especially with how that went down with Scott.  Frankly, that’s okay with me because I never really liked him.  But who knows.  I sure can’t second guess this season at all, so we will see if the big alliance has the power or not.

Legends of Tomorrow – That was as much fun as I hoped it would be.  Meeting the younger selves provided a few laughs, although the more serious moment between Jefferson and his dad was the true highlight.  And young Rip killing the villain was a great touch.  Plus they’ve upped the stakes on the mission, although I’m wondering how they can possibly make this last the four episodes left in the season with the ticking clock they’ve just put on things.

Big Bang Theory – I really figured that Penny would be siding with Leonard now after having to put up with Sheldon as a roommate, and as much as I do love their relationship, it was nice to see someone call them out on it.  That final scene was the best, however.

The Odd Couple – Kind of saw Oscar’s storyline coming.  However, the ending with Felix took me completely by surprise.  I love it.  They seem to focus more on Oscar, but I’m really loving Felix so far this season.

Rush Hour – Another fun episode.  Characters are only so so, but the action is absolutely wonderful and the stories are great.

The Amazing Race – Brodie, I’m rooting for you most on your team.  You are going to have to really step it up if the rest of the Road Blocks are on you.  At least they weren’t eliminated this week, so they have a chance to start climbing back next Friday.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Review: No Comfort for the Lost by Nancy Herriman (Mystery of Old San Francisco #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting characters, great setting, good mystery
Cons: Plot slows down a few times along the way to the climax
The Bottom Line:
Travel back in town
Mystery in old San Fran
Promising debut

No Need for Comfort – This is an Enjoyable Debut

Since I always say I want to read more historical mysteries, I have actually starting paying more attention to the ones that cross my radar.  That’s why I gave No Comfort for the Lost more than a passing glance.  Couple that with it being set in 1867 San Francisco, and I decided I had to give it a try.  I’m glad I did because it was a good debut.

Celia Davies has served as a nurse in the Crimean War before settling in San Francisco with her husband, a man who has now gone missing.  She has opened a free medical clinic serving any women in need in the city.  Thanks to her young cousin Barbara, who is half Chinese, she can even serve in the Chinese portion of town, which is how Li Sha crosses her path.  This former prostitute has bought her freedom and is trying to make a new life for herself.

Which is why Celia and Barbara are both upset when Li turns up murdered.  With the hate against the Chinese growing, many people aren’t concerned about the murder.  Fortunately, the case crosses the desk of detective Nicholas Greaves, a Civil War vet.  He is determined to find Li’s killer no matter where it leads, and Celia is determined to help.  Was it a random act of violence against a Chinese woman?  Or was there a more sinister motive behind the killing?

The book does a good job of introducing characters and setting as we go along.  There is no data dump, but within the first few chapters, we get the information we need to understand the characters, their background, and how they came to be in San Francisco.  These characters grow as the book progresses, and I really came to like them before the book was over.

That means that the plot gets off to a good start.  We are hardly introduced to the main characters before we get to the murder.  Unfortunately, I did feel like the story dragged a bit at times, but it was never for very long.  Just a slight edit would have picked up the pace overall.  Still, we reach a logical climax; I figured it out just pages before Celia did.

The world of 1867 San Francisco is brought to life in these pages, and it’s easy to get lost in another time and place.  Sadly, it appears some of the issues they were facing then are still issues we need to struggle with today.  It looks like my wish to have an adult conversation about the issues facing our country are too much to hope for.

The narration alternates between Celia and Nick’s points of view.  It’s a great way to open up the story and provide some additional conflict in the path of solving the murder.  And the switches are always easy to follow.

No Comfort for the Lost in the start of a promising new series.  If, like me, you are looking for more historical mysteries, check out this debut.

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

April 22nd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

I really need to be getting to bed, but I must do this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56 first.

This week's book is All Murders Final!, the third Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery by Sherry Harris.


I actually finished the book on Wednesday for review this coming Tuesday, it's official release date.  It's absolutely wonderful.  I figured it would be based on the opening line.
I didn't expect to start my Saturday with a cup of Dunkin's coffee and a dead body.

That just promises a great mystery, doesn't it?  Of course, the fact that I loved the first two books in the series also helped.

Since I read this as an eARC thanks to Netgalley, let's skip ahead to something at the 56% mark.

Pellner narrowed his eyes and pointed toward the chairs, so Stella and I walked over to them.
Officer Awesome stopped by Pellner's desk.  "Are you sure you want the two suspects sitting together?  They could be getting their stories straight."

This quote is killing me.  It's pretty funny in context, but out of context?  I feel like it is letting the book down.  Am I wrong that it doesn't translate well?  Or does it intrigue you?  Let me know in the comments.

And yes, there really is a police officer nicknamed Awesome in this book.  Yes, we do learn why.  No, I'm not going to explain here.  It's just one of the reasons you need to read this book.

I do hope you'll come back on Tuesday for my full review.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ornament Review: Season's Treatings #7 - Tree Cookie Stack - 2015 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Creative and fun display of festive cookies
Cons: Tip doesn’t work as well as it does in others in the series
The Bottom Line:
Creative stacking
Turns cookies into a tree
Standout ornament

The Presentation of These Cookies is the Real Star

So far, the most popular entries in the Season’s Treatings series from Hallmark have both involved cookies.  There was the first year, which featured sugar cookies on a baking sheet.  And we’ve returned to cookies for the 2015 entry, but this time they are on a plate and ready to serve.  But what a wonderful way they are presented.

You see, they aren’t just placed on a plate.  They are stacked and arranged to look like a Christmas tree.  All the cookies are shaped like stars, and their points stick out in alternating patterns to look like the branches on a tree.  The frosting on these cookies is green, which helps make things look like a tree as well.  The size of the cookies grows smaller as it goes to the top, and there is a star frosted in yellow on top of the stake of cookies.  In front of our cookie tree is a decorated snowman cookie and a red star cookie cutter.  All of this is sitting on a red plate with white decorations.

This is a very creative ornament, and it’s easy to see why it was so popular last year.  I never would have thought about stacking cookies like this, but the result is wonderful.  It’s a festive ornament that will look great on any tree.

This is the only ornament in the series so far that would really work to be displayed apart from a tree.  That’s because it is the first ornament to truly be three dimensional since the rest have been the treats laid out on a tray or platter.  Fortunately, the plate these cookies are sitting on provides a nice flat base so you can set it out to display.  And you’ll find the 7 in a Christmas tree on the bottom since we are already up to the seventh in the series.

Unfortunately, this ornament tips forward some when it hangs.  All the ornaments in this series hang at an angle, and they usually look great doing it.  I’m sure the tip on this ornament was by design to fit in with the rest of the series, but unfortunately, it looks crooked instead of like it was done on purpose.  Fortunately, the tip isn’t that much, so you can easily disguise it with a few branches on your tree.

Still, that’s my only complaint with this ornament.  It’s creative and fun.  Obviously, it appealed to the non-series collector as well as those that love the series since it sold so well.  If you want the 2015 Season’s Treatings, I suggest you track it down quickly as I bet prices will only rise.

Looking for more delicious ornaments?  Here are the rest of the Season's Treatings ornaments.

Original Price: $9.95

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Review: Wedding Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #19)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, decent mystery, a wedding!
Cons: Food talk, while relevant, still overwhelms at times
The Bottom Line:
Wedding, cooking comp
Complicated by murder
Fans will eat it up

Hannah Must Solve a Murder Before She Can Get Married

I’m going to start this review with a spoiler warning.  No, not because I’m going to spoil Wedding Cake Murder in my review.  But the fact that Hannah Swensen is getting married is big news for fans of the series, and I will be discussing her choice of groom in my review, so if you don’t know and you don’t want to know, stop reading now.

We’re good?  Then let’s move on to discuss this book.

Hannah has a busy few weeks ahead of her.  Not only is she getting married in just three short weeks, but the dessert competition she’s entered on the Food Network has been moved up and will now take place just before her wedding.  Fortunately, her mother and sisters are running with the wedding planning, so all Hannah has to focus on is the dessert challenge.

However, that’s not as sweet as it sounds since there is tension between the contestants and the judges that involves more than just worry over the scores.  While Hannah and her sister Michelle are having their practice round one morning, they stumble over a dead body connected to the competition.  Will the murder distract Hannah from the competition?  Can she solve the murder before the suspects all leave town?

Obviously, with the baking competition, there is lots of talk of food.  Unlike some books where I feel this gets in the way of the story, it feels like a part of things, so I enjoyed it.  After all, Hannah and Michelle do need to decide what they are baking and test it out.  I did still feel like it over shadowed the murder a bit at times, but it wasn’t as much of an issue as in some books.

Yes, there is a murder, and there are a viable number of suspects.  I didn’t figure out who the killer was until Hannah did, and I must say the climax was a nice twist on the traditional killer confrontation scene, although Hannah was fairly stupid for part of it.

With the baking competition set up, we don’t see quite as much of some of the series regulars, but they do get at least cameos.  It’s always fun to hang out with these friends again.  The new characters are interesting and viable suspects in the murder.

Which brings us to the wedding.  (I didn’t realize I’d take this long to get to it.)  Yes, there is a wedding in this book.  And those who were upset by the love triangle being resolved with a none of the above choice will probably still be upset.  Mike and Norman are both in the book, and I must say I found their part in the book to be a bit laughable.  On the other hand, I really do like Ross, Hannah’s fiancĂ©e.  In fact, since Hannah obviously couldn’t decide between Mike and Norman, this was a great way to go.  Yes, the wedding is definitely rushed, but I am looking forward to seeing their relationship grow as the series continues.

Of course, there are recipes – more so than any other book I’ve found in the culinary cozy realm.  By my count, we get 18 (not counting the frostings separately).  Since Hannah is a cookie baker, we get plenty of those, but we also get other dishes and desserts.  They all sound mouthwatering.  The ones I made from earlier books were as delicious as they sounded, and I really need to get motivated to start baking again.

I think series fans will be happy overall with Wedding Cake Murder.  If you are new to the series, back track and work your way up to this lovely addition.

And if you need to back track, here are the Hannah Swensen Mysteries in order.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vanilla Beaned Winner

Time to announce the final winner of the month.  The winner for Vanilla Beaned is...

... PT Clayton.

I just sent you an e-mail, so please be looking for it so I can send you your prize.

Movie Review: And Then There Were None (2015)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful story, lavish production, fine acting
Cons: Atmosphere and suspicion shots just do not work
The Bottom Line:
Strangers stalked again
Atmosphere slows down story
But still worth watching

A New Take on an Agatha Christie Classic

There are some stories so classic that each generations seems destined to remake them.  One of those is Agatha Christie’s masterpiece And Then There Were None.  The latest version of it was a miniseries released late last year by the BBC.  With almost three hours to tell the story, there is plenty of detail, but it overshadows the story at times.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is set in 1939 and centers around 10 strangers who have been invited to a house on a remote island by a mysterious couple with the same initials - U. N. Owen.  After dinner, the 10 people are accused of having previously committed murder.  And then one of them drops dead.  The deaths continue, and they follow an old nursery rhyme.  Since they are trapped on the island, can they figure out who the killer is before all of them are murdered?

When done right, it is a creepy, engrossing story with an absolutely fantastic ending.  And I never tire of it.  While it’s been 20 years since I “read” the book (I listened to the audio version), I’ve seen the play multiple times and watched an earlier movie version of it over the years.  Each time, I’m mesmerized by the intricate plotting that takes place here.  Okay, so a few of the things only work out because of an author making them work out, but it is still a completely joy to watch unfold.

So, as you can imagine, I was looking forward to this new version.  It boasts an outstanding cast with the likes of Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill, Aidan Turner, and Anna Maxwell Martin to name but a few.  They all do amazing jobs bringing these characters to life once again.

And, as you can imagine from the earlier comment, I had no issue at all with the plot.  It is the same story I already know and love.  There are actually two endings to the story, both created by Agatha Christie herself.  There’s the ending of the book, and a slightly different ending she created for the play when it was produced a few years later.  I’m not going to giveaway which one this has, I’ll only say it is my favorite.

Likewise, the costumes are magnificent and the setting is lovely.

So what went so horribly wrong?  The need to expand the story to fill three hours just doesn’t work here.  There are lots of shots that are supposed to add atmosphere and create suspense, but they just don’t work.  Instead, they slow things down.  We do get flashbacks to the crimes the characters are accused to having committed, and that part actually works.  This is an important part of the story, and it’s always hard to make it work in a visual media, but I thought it worked brilliantly here.  Likewise, the ending, another tricky thing to handle, came off well.  But the atmosphere and suspense shots?  Pointless and boring.

What’s too bad is that, as the story progresses and the characters get (understandably) more and more paranoid, that doesn’t translate to what we are seeing on the screen.  If they’d spent more time working on that and less time setting up the atmosphere shots early on before the characters know just how much danger they are in, it would have been much better.

Additionally, the additional time could have been used to help develop the characters so we care more when another one meets their untimely end.  A couple of the characters I was actually happy to see die (and that’s fine in a murder mystery, too), but some I felt rather blah about.  I’m not blaming the actors here, but instead blaming the writing and directing that spent more time on visuals over these important mechanics of character development.

The lavish visuals and the wonderful plot make And Then There Were None well worth watching once.  However, it’s not the definitive take on this classic story.  We will have to keep waiting for that.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Book Review: A Girl's Guide to Landing a Greek God by Bill Fuller (Mythmaker's Trilogy #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting modern take on Greek mythology
Cons: Slow first half
The Bottom Line:
Greek gods and romance
Combine well in this fun book
Glad I picked it up

Mythological Romance

I got tricked!  I was browsing at NetGalley a couple of months back and saw A Girl’s Guide to Landing a Greek God under the publisher Midnight Ink.  Since I’ve enjoyed their books in the past, I took a closer look.  The description didn’t talk about a mystery, but since I thought that was all Midnight Ink published, I decided to give it a try.

We meet Angie on her wedding day.  True, she’s not over the moon in love with Nick, but they’ve been together for years, and she feels comfortable with him.  She’s all set to say her vows when she hears laughter that no one else does.  Convinced it is a sign, she runs out of the church.

When Angie doesn’t know is that the laughter came from Milos.  He’s been in love with her for half of her life.  Oh, and he happens to be a Greek god, a son of Poseidon.  When Angie’s grandmother sends her to Greece to get her life back on track, will the two of them finally be able to meet?

As you can see, there is no mystery to the book, or at least no mystery in the sense I normally read.  There are some revelations about Angie’s past that come to light over the course of the book, and they make for some fun twists and surprises.

Romance is not my preferred genre, but I decided to go into this book with an open mind and see how the book developed.  After all, the Percy Jackson books have made me interested in Greek mythology, so a fresh take on it sounded like fun.  (And why is Poseidon the god of choice for the heroes in these books?)

I must say that the first half reminded me why I don’t normally pick up the genre since it was slow.  Part of that was set up for the universe that is being created here.  After all, we have to be introduced to the gods and what they’ve been doing for the last few hundred years.  However, some of that was just slow story.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some fun parts, but the tension wasn’t really there.  Yet.

That changed in the second half.  That’s where we get some revelations and also where we get more conflict outside the romance.  In fact, as the story evolves, I got very caught up in the world that was being created.  It’s an interesting modern take on the Greek gods, and I’m quite curious to see where things go.

The characters grew on me, too.  Angie and Milos are wonderful leads, and it’s easy to root for them to be happy.  Most of the cast are just as strong and interesting, although I must say I really hate Zeus.  The guy’s a power hungry jerk.  And since that’s how he comes across every time I run across the guy, I’d say that’s the character and he’s done well here.

I tend to try to stir clear of books with excessive amounts of sex, and that worried me going into the book.  There was only one chapter I felt the need to skim quickly.  The rest was fine.

The narration switches between Angie and Milos’s third person point of view, but it stays with one of them per scene.  I hate random head hopping but love it when it is done well, so I was happy to see it done well for dramatic effect here.

And with how A Girl’s Guide to Landing a Greek God ended, I’m definitely ready to know what happens to these characters next.  I’m going to have to pick up the next two books in this planned trilogy when they are released.  After all, it’s nice to take a break from mysteries every so often.

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

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Disneyland Review: Paint the Night Parade

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Visual feast with creative use of lights
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Lights dance down Main Street
In one of a kind parade
That’s not to be missed

Vivid Colors, Music, and Fun Paint the Night

As much as I love Disneyland, I do my best to avoid the parades and shows.  In my mind, they are nothing but a pain if you are trying to navigate from one side of the park to the other, and if you want good seats, you have to line up hours in advance.  However, I’d heard such good things about the Paint the Night parade that I was curious enough to make an exception on my most recent visit.  I’m glad I did because I loved it.

This is the new nighttime parade, and the floats are designed to light up with so many lights you won’t miss a thing.  The parade starts with Tinkerbell and a Neverland inspired float before moving on to floats inspired by other Disney and Pixar movies.  That’s right, we see characters from both side by side.  There’s are floats for Monsters Inc., Cars, and the Toy Story gang along with ones for The Little Mermaid, Frozen, and other Disney Princesses before the parade closes out with Sorcerer Mickey and the rest of Mickey’s friends.  In between the floats come some pretty impressive solo walkers.  Some are giant characters, others are just cool things to look at.

Although, really, everything here is cool to look at.  This parade really is a feast for the eyes.  All of the floats are absolutely covered in lights, but these lights are often blinking or twisting in some cool fashion.  I just had to stare in awe at some of the floats as they passed by.

Accompanying the floats down the parade route is the soundtrack.  The music is always appropriate to the float passing by, usually a song from the movie or at least something from the soundtrack for the Pixar movies light on songs.  The songs have been given a slightly modern pop/rock update that allows them to all blend together seamlessly.

It’s easy to view this as an update of the Main Street Electrical Parade from the 70’s.  However, the technology evolution since then allows this to be a completely different parade unlike anything you’ve seen before.

For once, I was actually sorry to see the parade end.  I will definitely make a point to watch the Paint the Night Parade next time I am in Disneyland, and I highly recommend you do, too.  It is worth missing out on some lines and rides to enjoy.  Save me a spot at the curb.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

April 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Right now, I'm hoping that none of next year's shows appeal to me.  I'm at my TV limit right now.

Once Upon a Time – I am loving what they are doing with Belle and Gold right now.  They are having conversations where both of them are right, and it seems to be growing the characters.  I need to take back my worries that Gold becoming the Dark One again would be pointless and repetitive.  Why did I ever lose faith in the writers?  Of course, I’m dying to know what Ruby is doing down in Hades.  Is she dead?  Did that storm bring her (which is my guess)?  How?  Why?

Supergirl – Is it next week yet?  I mean, how many cliffhangers did they leave us with?  I don’t see how they can resolve any of them in one hour, much less most of them.  It is going to be a wild ride next week, and I already can’t wait.

Dancing with the Stars – Once again, Disney night was pure magic (although what was up with that version of “Circle of Life?”)  Sad to see Marla go, and I think Doug should be next.  Nyle’s ability to dance so well while deaf is just blowing me away.  And considering how much of the dance they were doing side by side this week, I’m doubly impressed.

Castle – Definitely one of the more fun episodes of the season.  I always love Castle’s wild theories and how they play on them.  Although Ryan and Jenny can’t seem to have good luck with having their kids.  This was dramatic, but nothing like when he was trapped when their daughter was born.

Agents of SHIELD – I’m in it until the season ends because I want to see them defeat “Ward” once and for all.  But then I’m out of there.  And if they don’t defeat Ward?  I’m still so out of there.  Seriously, Ward has become the Sylar (from Heroes) of this series and should have been defeated by the end of season 2 at the latest.  It’s clear the writers feel the need to keep him around but don’t really know what to do with him, and that devotion to the character/actor is hurting the show.  Honestly, I don’t get why since he isn’t the big breakout star that Sylar was.

Survivor – Debbie’s gone!!!  And there is much rejoicing around here.  She was so obnoxious and arrogant.  I’m glad that others saw through her and got rid of her when they did.  And does this mean the women’s alliance is in trouble?  Not that I’m rooting for the guys.  At first, I thought their antics might be funny, but I was cringing through most of the episode since they were being such poor sports.  That’s not how you change minds, it’s just going to make everyone else agree you need to go.

Legends of Tomorrow – I haven’t watched a lot of Westerns, but I still found that lots of fun.  And they still managed to advance things a little bit, especially for Hawkgirl.  But next week looks incredible.  Can’t wait for it.

The Odd Couple – So neither storyline was exactly original or surprising.  Although I did find them both fun.  The best line?  Definitely the last line of the episode.

Rush Hour – I’m finding this show fun.  It’s not terribly original, especially for a CBS procedural, but it’s fun.  Wendie Malick doesn’t quite seem to fit in, however.  It’s not that she’s bad, but I can’t picture the few times I’ve seen her doing other things out of my head to picture her as a police captain.  Enjoy her scenes, but they somehow seem to be out of something non-related to the rest of the episode.

Amazing Race – Again?  Not only are the rest of the teams going to be sorry to still see them, I’m sorry to still see them.  It’s not that they are a bad team, but they are obviously the weak link.  Why prolong the agony?  Let’s get them out and get it over with.  Meanwhile, the slide was making my heart race from the couch.  Yes, I could do it if I were in that situation (I’ve done some scary slides before but nothing like that), but seriously, that was crazy!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Movie Review: Garage Sale Mystery

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good characters, fun
Cons: Predictable mystery, Hallmark production values
The Bottom Line:
Finding crime at sale
Fun characters cover for
Weaker mystery

Not a Rare Fine, but a Fun Movie

Of the Hallmark Mystery and Movie Channel franchises, the one that seems to be doing the best features a woman who loves garage sales.  I find that ironic since it is based on a series of books I haven’t heard of.  In fact, best I can tell, there are now more movies than books in the series.  But since I am a fan of star Lori Loughlin thanks to her days on Full House, I sat down to watch the first, Garage Sale Mystery.  I found it entertaining but lacking.

Jennifer Shannon (Lori Loughlin) loves garage sales, heading out every Saturday hunting for any bargain she can find.  Most of those bargains she then sells at her second hand shop.  Since she is out every week, she often sees the same people over and over again.

Which is why she becomes curious when she hears of a string of robberies in the area she usually shops.  Some of the houses that have sales are being hit the next week.  When she finds an old friend dead a couple of days after another sale, Jennifer really becomes concerned.  Is another regular a killer?

My main issue is that the mystery is fairly light.  Yes, there are a couple of cool connections that are made, but I had the main plot pretty much figured out before the half-way point.  That never happens since I tend to over think things, so I found that disappointing.

Add to that the usual Hallmark original movie syndrome.  There are a couple of jumps that the movie made I had to struggle to follow, and a romance between the detective in charge and Jennifer’s daughter, while certainly cute, felt a bit rushed.

Having said that, I did enjoy watching this movie.  It was nice to see a mystery with a main character who is happily married and who is old enough to have a daughter in college and a teenage son.  Most of the time, the main characters in the books I read are late 20’s or early 30’s and single.  While the romance with the daughter felt forced, the scenes between her and the detective were very cute and made me laugh.  And I absolutely love how Jennifer and her husband interacted and the obvious love between them.

I don’t know what it is about Hallmark productions, but they exude a certain atmosphere both in the production and the acting.  That certainly creeps into the acting here as well; it’s not that the acting is bad, but it isn’t the best it could be either.

While Garage Sale Mystery wasn’t an outstanding beginning, I certainly did enjoy it and the characters enough to be willing to revisit them.  Since I have the rest of the films on my DVR, I’m sure I will be doing that soon.

April 15th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to Friday and another edition of Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

I'm back to mystery this week, but I'm switching it up a little with a historical mystery.  The book is No Comfort for the Lost by Nancy Herriman.


The book is set in 1860's San Francisco, which is ironic because this is the second historical book I've read set in that city this month.  In fact, I've been reading a lot of historical mysteries this month, which isn't a genre I read super often.  Not complaining since I like historical fiction, just something I found interesting.
Anyway, here's how the book begins:

The Chinese believed that some days were inauspicious, the ill tidings written in the passage of the heavenly bodies.  Celia Davies gazed down at her patient, a delicate Chinese girl whose skin displayed more bruises than unblemished flesh, and wondered if today would prove to be one of those days.

Page 56 is the end of a chapter, and here is how it ends:

He stepped around her, bound for the door.  When she did not immediately make a move to follow, he glanced over his shoulder.  "I thought you were coming."
She rummaged through her reticule, left money on the table, and hastened to his side.  "You will not be sorry."
"I sure hope not, Mrs. Davies," he said, frowning.  "I sure hope not."

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Rest in Peach Winner

Time to announce another winner here on the blog.  The book is Rest in Peach, and the winner is...

... Cathy!

I've sent you an e-mail, so please get back to me as soon as possible so I can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen (Molly Murphy #16)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: History brought to life
Cons: Mystery overwhelmed by history at times, still plenty of plot
The Bottom Line:
Travel cross country
San Francisco set story
More delight for fans

Molly to the Rescue

While I’ve always enjoyed reading the books in the Molly Murphy series, I’ve never been to any of the cities where the stories are set.  So you can imagine the special thrill that I found out that Time of Fog and Fire was going to be set in San Francisco.

Of course, the book opens in New York City in spring of 1906.  It’s been a long, hard winter and winter doesn’t quite seem to want to let go.  Meanwhile, Molly’s husband Daniel is still facing problems at work.  So when Mr. Wilkie of the secret service shows up and recruits Daniel for a secret mission to parts unknown, he agrees to go.  Molly is less than enthused about him being gone and the danger he might face, but he assures her that everything will be fine.

Daniel’s been gone for a couple of weeks when Molly gets a letter from him.  At her first reading, Molly finds it rather infuriating.  But then she begins to think it was really a secret message.  Does Daniel want Molly to join him in San Francisco?  Determined that this is exactly what the letter was all about, she sets out.  But what danger will she find when she gets there?

This book has a different feel than many of the books in the series.  While there is a mystery, it isn’t the strongest element in the book.  Having said that, there is a strong mystery that truly begins to unfold once Molly reaches San Francisco.

However, this book is more about the history.  We get a bit about what cross country travel was like during that period, and it is fascinating.  And always in the back of our minds as we read is why is Daniel sending for Molly?  He’s never encouraged her detective work in the past, so something major must be happening here.

Once Molly arrives, she once again finds herself caught up in some history that complicates her life.  I loved how this whole thing unfolded and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Without slowing things down, we still get time with the series regulars before Molly leaves, and it’s always wonderful to meet up with them again.  Since most of the book takes place away from home, we get a nice collection of memorable new characters, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of them popped up again in the future.

And the parts in San Francisco?  I loved it!  It was wonderful to visit a city I know now but as it was back in 1906.  While obviously things were different back then, I was still able to picture the parts of the city that Molly visited, which was tons of fun.

The Molly Murphy series has always been a fun way to experience bits of history while enjoying a mystery.  Time of Fog and Fire keeps that tradition alive.  Fans of the series will love their visit to the west coast with Molly.

Enjoy more time in turn of the century America with the rest of the Molly Murphy Mysteries.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ornament Review: Nest Sweet Nest - Keepsake Cupcakes #10 - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful combination of colors and subject
Cons: Only a birdbrain would find cons
The Bottom Line:
Spring, bird on cupcake
Gorgeous colors, perfect mix
Delightful pastel

The First Bluebird of Spring

While all of the Keepsake Cupcakes are fun, the two spring oriented ornaments are the most beautiful.  The colors and subject matter just came together perfectly.  The first of those is the release that represents May, Nest Sweet Nest.

As you might suspect, this ornament features a bird.  While the robin is traditionally associated with spring (at least in my mind after hearing about the “first robin of spring”), this is a blue bird.  Actually, the bird is almost purple.  She is sitting on a nest made of cream colored frosting.  Underneath this decoration is a hint of the chocolate cupcake below and the light green cupcake liner.  Tying it all together are a couple of flowers and a leaf attached to the front of the nest.

The overall effect is very pastel and beautiful.  It just screams spring.  It’s a perfect blend of color and subject and is absolutely too pretty to eat.  Good thing it’s plastic, right?

Since this is a cupcake, you can easily set this out to display year round or in a spring display.  You’ll also find the 10 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom.  (Can you believe we are almost done with this series?)

If you do want to include this in a hanging display, you’ll find the hook on the bird’s neck.  Everything’s perfectly balanced because the ornament hangs straight.

While a bird connected with spring might be a bit familiar, Nest Sweet Nest proves that something wonderful can come from the familiar.  It will help you welcome in spring for many years to come.

Check out the rest of the seasonal sweetness of the Keepsake Cupcakes.

Original Price: $12.95

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Killer Takeout Winner

It's time to start giving away some books here for the month of April.  Up first is Killer Takeout, and the winner is...

...Karen B!

Karen, I just sent you an e-mail.  Please be looking for that so we can be sure to connect you with your prize.

Book Review: Vanilla Beaned by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
: Fast moving story with delightful characters
Cons: Any cons lost in the sugar rush of cupcakes
The Bottom Line:
Danger in Vegas
Road trip with fun characters
Pages turn too fast

Bet on Enjoying this Book

Last year, I decided I needed to catch up on Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery Mystery series.  I had originally figured I’d spread them out over two years, but I quickly got addicted and read them quicker than that, which meant I was ready for Vanilla Beaned, the latest in the series, when it came out this month.

If you’ve missed the series, it focuses on Mel Cooper and her two best friends, Angie DeLaura and Tate Harper.  The three own Fairytale Cupcakes in Scottsdale, Arizona, but it’s turning out to be a bit more deadly than they planned on.  We are up to the eighth mystery in the series, after all.

This book finds the trio headed to Las Vegas on business.  Tate has been trying to get Mel to franchise the bakery, and the three friends are heading there to meet their first potential franchise owner.  Mel’s first impression of Holly isn’t good, and the meeting goes further downhill when the location for the bakery blows up when they open the door.

Through the crisis, Mel begins to see another side of Holly, a side she likes.  However, it is quickly obvious that someone is out to destroy the franchise before it even gets off the ground.  Is it someone from Holly’s life who doesn’t want her to try something new?  Or is someone out to get Mel, Angie, and Tate?

As you can imagine, I have fallen in love with these characters, and it was wonderful to spend more time with them.  As any fan of the series knows, there are quite a few supporting characters, and almost all of them manage to show up in Vegas before the book is over.  The arcs we’ve been following over the last few books continue to advance as well.  About the only thing I didn’t like about the characters in this book is that I don’t see how Holly can be in future books as easily.  I absolutely loved her, and she’d make a fantastic addition to the series.

The mystery in this book is more about the why of the attacks in order to figure out the who.  That sets up a different type of plot, but I enjoyed that for a change of pace.  The mystery does slow down a bit at times for the character arcs, but fans of the series won’t care at all.

If you aren’t already a fan of the series, you might not fully appreciate all that happens with the characters here.  There’s a fun solution for that, however.  Head back to the beginning and get that history.  The books themselves are fast reads, and you’ll be so hooked you’ll be on this one before you know it.  I’m speaking from experience here, so trust me.

We’ve got four new cupcake recipes here, including the title recipe, Snickerdoodle, Cherry Cola, and the Elvis.  Hey, it was set in Vegas after all.  Just the titles make my mouth water.

I fully expect to go into withdrawals now that I’m up to date on this delightful series.  Fans will love this latest visit with Mel, Angie, Tate and the crew.  And if you haven’t met them yet, what are you waiting for?  Trust me, you’ll rush to find out what happens to them in Vanilla Beaned.

Need more sugary goodness?  Here are the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries in order.

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


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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Tuesday, April 19th, so please leave your comment before 12:01AM Pacific Time on 4/19.  You will have until midnight on 4/24 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 4/25.