Friday, September 30, 2016

TV Show Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: The occasional good episode
Cons: The writing dragged everything down
The Bottom Line:
Poor writing this year
Killed my interest in the show
Three seasons, I’m done

The Mess that is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Continues

I almost gave up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. after season 2, but that final, cliffhanger scene worked to pull me in for at least one episode.  I wound up deciding to watch all of season 3, but the show just kept going downhill.  If there wasn’t one thing I was waiting to see, I would have given up on the show before the end of the season in fact.

The season opens with the aftermath of the cliffhanger.  Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) has vanished, pulled into an artifact.  However, Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) appears to be the only one who cares as the rest of the team is in a race to find as many inhumans, humans with added abilities, as possible.  Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Director Colson (Clark Gregg) are leading the charge to find them.

However, it appears that someone, or something, else is also after the inhumans, and the race is on to find and save as many of them as they can find before it is too late.  As Fitz makes progress on his mission to rescue Simmons, he attracts the attention of Ward (Brett Dalton) and H.Y.D.R.A.  What is their interest?  Can Simmons be rescued?  Who is after the inhumans?

And will the viewer care?  That’s the biggest question.  I’m still trying to figure out why it is exactly that I have had such a hard time connecting with these characters.  When they face something that affects them, I don’t feel anything. Usually, I will cry at the drop of a hat, too, so these characters are just too flat for me to truly care about.  Part of that is because there are too many characters, and we rarely get any kind of character development for any of them.

I’m not blaming the actors for any of this.  The acting is fine, and they do the best job they can with the material they have.

Instead, I’m blaming the writing.  The writers need to find a way to allow the characters to grow and develop.  Instead, they are focused on the next plot point or event.  However, as the characters sport dialog that moves the story forward, I find myself bored.  The action scenes are only so interesting as a result.  Every so often, they would be a good episode that would connect me to the characters, but they were few and far between.

I know part of it is me.  I am not steeped in the comics, and some of the storylines introduced here are a bit out there.  Yes, I know they are part of the Marvel world, but they seemed to pick the stranger stuff for this show.  I’m okay with the stuff we get in the movies, but this crosses a line for me, I guess.  But it also adds to my disconnect as I can’t remember all the details of what they’ve created from week to week.  Again, yes it is on me, but it does lower my enjoyment of the show.  However, it is one of the things the writers struggle with as they have to give the characters a lot of exposition, something that takes away from character development.

And then there’s Ward.  Honestly, he should have gotten his comeuppance by the end of season two.  They kept stringing his storyline along to the point of absurdity, just like Heroes did with Sylar.  I’ve got nothing against the actor, but it’s another case of poor writing.

All of this combines to explain why I am not returning for another season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Once I’ve stuck with a show this long, I usually stick with it until the end, but as far as I’m concerned, season 3 is the end of this show.

Season 3 Episodes:
1. Laws of Nature
2. Purpose in the Machine
3. A Wanted (inhu)Man
4. Devils You Know
5. 4,722 Hours
6. Among Us Hide…
7. Chaos Theory
8. Many Heads, One Tale
9. Closure
10. Maveth
11. Bouncing Back
12. The Inside Man
13. Parting Shot
14. Watchdogs
15. Spacetime
16. Paradise Lost
17. The Team
18. The Singularity
19. Failed Experiments
20. Emancipation
21. Absolution
22. Ascension

September 30th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome to the final Book Beginnings and Friday 56 of September.  Or the 3rd quarter of the year.  Hard to believe the year has gone by so quickly, isn't it?

To help get you in the Halloween mood (it's just a month away), this week, I'm featuring Masking for Trouble by Diane Vallere, the second in her costume shop series.  And yes, it has a Halloween theme, as you can tell from the cover.


I should finish this up today.  It's wonderful!  The book officially comes out on Tuesday, October 4th, and I will have a review and giveaway up next Friday, October 7th.
And here's how the book opens:
The last time I had been this close to an angry lab rat had been in high school.

I am really growing to appreciate Diane's way with first lines.  Isn't that one fabulous?

Jumping ahead to page 56, I found this gem:

"Ms. Tamblyn, I want to be very clear about one thing.  A man is dead, and your actions appear suspicious.  If you are hiding something, I will find out."

You know, that's never something you want the police to say to you, even if you aren't hiding something.

Hope you have a fabulous weekend.  I'm hoping for some time to go for a run and work on things for the blog.  That's after I go to Hallmark, of course.  This is debut weekend.  Got to check out the new ornaments and buy some of them!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Review: Artifact by Gigi Pandian (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun combination of treasure hunt with mystery and strong characters
Cons: All cons buried and forgotten
The Bottom Line:
Trail of bracelet
Lead Jaya into danger
In fast paced debut

Get Caught up in This Search for an Artifact

I am never lacking for books to read because when a book or series captures my attention, I am quick to grab it to my collection even if I don’t read it right away.  For example, Artifact, the first Jaya Jones mystery by Gigi Pandian has been sitting on my TBR stack for almost two years now.  I finally sat down and read it, and I wish I’d read it sooner.

Jaya Jones is a new professor specializing in the history of the East India Company working at a college in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She’s currently on summer break, and hoping to get the research for an article she needs to publish completed.

All that changes when she sees a news story telling her that her former boyfriend, Rupert, was killed in a car accident in Scotland.  While she is sad, she is shocked to get a package from him that evening containing a potentially valuable bracelet.  The note leads her to believe that the accident might have been murder.  When her apartment is searched, Jaya knows she needs to get to the bottom of whatever is going on.  But what had Rupert found?

Since this book has a treasure hunt theme, there is more going on here than just a traditional murder mystery.  I loved that aspect of thing.  In fact, it was a refreshing change for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love cozies (obviously), but I also enjoy it when there is that added touch.  The treasure hunt added a bit of a caper element to this book that felt a bit like the fun of the National Treasure movies, which I certainly love.

And thanks to the treasure hunt there is always something going on.  Whether it’s meeting suspects and looking for motives or trying to figure out what the story is behind the bracelet, Jaya is learning new information and piecing it together into a picture that makes sense.  I saw one twist coming before it happened, but there were lots of them that surprised me.

I must admit I know little about the history of India and the British involvement in the country, but I learned something in this book.  Yes, the book is absolutely fiction, and the story that Gigi Pandian spins here has completely made up people in it, but the author note at the end does point out the real history that she wove into the story.

The characters she created certainly felt real.  Jaya is a fantastic lead character - strong, independent, and just plain fun.  And yes, I love the fact that a couple of Indiana Jones jokes were made on her last name.  There are only a couple of characters I expect to see again (and I’m not spoiling who they are), and I liked them as well.  The rest of the cast are just as strong.

So if you want a fun romp that entertains from start to finish, pick up Artifact.  I guarantee that I will be digging up the sequel soon.

Hunting for more?  Here are the Jaya Jones Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ornament Review: 'Tis the Seasoning #3 - Popcorn and Soda - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great looking salt and pepper duo
Cons: No connection to Christmas; final in the series
The Bottom Line:
Series ends too soon
With no tie in to Christmas
Still a cute duo

‘Tis the Seasoning Ends too Soon on an Off Note

My efforts to resist Hallmark’s ‘Tis the Seasoning series melted last year.  If only I’d held out a little longer, I might have never started the series since 2016 marks the end after only three entries.  While I am disappointed by that, I am a bit puzzled about this year’s addition to the series.

Each entry features a salt and pepper shaker combination.  The earlier entries featured Christmas themed duos.  This one, however, features a box of popcorn and a cup of soda.  They are brightly colored, with the popcorn coming in a red and white striped “box” and the soda cup have a red and blue stripe on it.  Additionally, they have faces painted on them.  They look like something you would get in a movie theater.

A part of me really likes them.  They are fun and different.  I’ve got to admit that this series has gotten me interested in different types of salt and pepper shakers.  (Just what I need – something else to collect.  Must resist.  Must resist.)  From the pure salt and pepper shaker point of view, these ornaments are great.

However, I’m left puzzling over what they have to do with Christmas.  Yes, there are Christmas movies, but that’s not enough for me.  And they certainly don’t feel like they fit with the rest of the ornaments in the series or even the series name.  Of course, if you do have an all movie tree or section of your tree, these would fit right in.  If the series continued and they were other fun non-holiday duos in it, I would feel differently about this set as well.  But as it stands, they really stand out.

Just like salt and pepper shakers, you’ll find these have nice flat bottoms, so you can set them out to display year round.  The series marker is on the bottom of both of these ornaments.  And in one of those little touches I love, you’ll also find the nob used to add the salt and pepper to the shakers - you know, if these were real salt and pepper shakers.

Each piece has a loop for hanging the ornament.  Since the hooks are near the back of both ornaments, you’ll find that they both tip forward.  You’ll definitely want these near the top of your tree so you can enjoy them despite the tip.

I think these are fun salt and pepper shaker ornaments, however I don’t think they fit the ‘Tis the Seasoning theme, and since these are supposed to be Christmas ornaments, that’s too bad.  It’s even worse that the series is ending so soon. I was looking forward to seeing more creative salt and pepper duos.

Looking for more holiday themed duos?  Here are the earlier entries in the 'Tis the Seasoning series.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Book Review: The Baker Street Jurors by Michael Robertson (Baker Street Letters #5)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting court case and fun characters
Cons: Makes little of the Holmes premise/tie in
The Bottom Line:
Nigel on jury
Sherlock ties are weak at best
Average entry

Deadly Jury Duty in England

While I’ve read very few of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, I’ve enjoyed many of the modern takes on his legacy.  One of the most creative is the Baker Street Letters series, which features two brother lawyers in England who have to answer the letters people write to Sherlock Holmes.  The Baker Street Jurors is the latest in the series, but it doesn’t live up to its potential.

With Reggie and Laura on their extended honeymoon, this book focuses on Nigel, which is only fair since he was absent for most of the last book.  He’s back in London full time now since his girlfriend in Los Angeles has broken up with him.  He’s actually living in the law offices since he has nowhere else to go yet.  The trouble begins when the Crown sends two jury summons to the law office – one for Nigel and one for Sherlock Holmes.

While Nigel dismisses the one (even going so far as to turn it into a paper airplane), he has to show up and winds up on the trial of the century.  Cricket star Liam McSweeney is being tried for murdering his wife.  There have already been two mistrials, and Nigel is seated as an alternate for the third trial.  With an international cricket match coming up, the media is crying for Liam to be allowed to play and acquitted of the crime he couldn’t have possibly have done.  Or could he?

The books in this series have wonderful premises, and the idea of Sherlock Holmes getting a jury summons thanks to a clerical error is another fantastic one.  Sadly, the book doesn’t really deliver on that premise.  It’s fairly obvious to us early on what is happening, and there are no twists along the way, and even what is set up in under used.

However, we get the actual mystery of the trial.  Even though the main characters are lawyers, this is the first time in the series that we spend much time actually in court, and that was fun.  The way the case unfolds and the events happening outside the courtroom are actually quite fun and engaging.

Nigel is almost completely surrounded by new characters in this book.  No, we don’t get to know all the jurors, but we do get to know several of them, and I really liked them.  The book is about the jurors as much as the case, but we get some insights into the players involved in the crime as the book unfolds as well.

If this were a book in a different series, I would have enjoyed it more.  But since The Baker Street Jurors didn’t really capitalize on the premise, the result is only average.

While this book wasn’t the best, don’t miss the fun of the earlier books in the Baker Street Letters series.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Music Review: The Very Next Thing by Casting Crowns

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of fun, encouraging tracks
Cons: The worship service oriented tracks are just okay
The Bottom Line:
Casting Crown’s next thing
Is one their fans will enjoy
Uplifting and fun

Make The Very Next Thing You Listen to Casting Crown’s New CD

Like many, I’ve been a Casting Crowns fan since their first CD came out.  While I do think they have a couple of weak releases, the majority always minister to me.  Their latest release is The Very Next Thing.  While it isn’t one of their best, there are still some great songs on it.

If you are expecting the disc to start out with a fast upbeat song (like most discs do), you’ll be surprised by “Hallelujah.”  It’s a slower anthem.  But give it a listen or two, and you’ll love it.  It’s a song that celebrates three sun rises – creation, Resurrection Sunday, and the morning of the second coming.  By the time you get to the chorus, which is just hallelujahs, you’ll see it really does work as a disc opener.  Someone, the melody perfectly captures that idea of sunrises and new beginnings.  I can’t picture this song anywhere else on the disc.

The title track comes next.  “The Very Next Thing” is about finding what God wants you to be doing with where you are now, not when you hits your goals further down the road.  It’s a wonderful mid-tempo track that will challenge you.  This idea is echoed in “What If I Gave Everything,” about the struggle between our dreams of following God and our comfort with the life we currently have.

Over the years, Casting Crowns has offered some amazing songs of encouragement, and “One Step Away” continues that great tradition.  It’s a reminder that all we need to do is turn to God, and He will be there to welcome us back.  It was reminding me a bit of Matthew West’s songs (which is a good thing), and there’s a reason for that – he helped Casting Crowns front man Mark Hall write it.  It’s a fun upbeat song that will have you smiling as you listen to it.

“Oh My Soul” grew out of Mark Hall’s recent diagnosis of cancer.  It’s a song written from the valley as he sings of the struggles of the times of trial and doubt.  Yes, it does remind us that “there’s a place where fear has to face the God you know.”  But this anthem is still a wonderful song for those times of trial because it is so honest about the struggle.

I must admit it took me a time or two to fully get into “When the God-Man Passes By.”  The fiddle on it gives it just a tad of the country vibe, but that just makes it more fun.  The lyrics put a spin on the life changing experiences that Zacchaeus and the woman in John 8 had with Jesus.  The idea, of course, being that things are never the same after an experience with Jesus.  It’s such a fun, upbeat song that you can’t help tapping along when you listen to it.

Another fun song is “Song That the Angels Can’t Sing.”  It’s built around the idea that the angels haven’t been saved from sin, so, while they spend all day praising God, the song of the redeemed is something uniquely human to sing.  Again, it has that note of country to it, is very upbeat, and just at ton of fun to listen to.

The problem comes with the rest of the disc.  I’m not a fan of many worship oriented songs – you know, the songs that are aimed at Sunday morning worship services.  They just seem a bit weak to me.  Casting Crown’s attempts at those songs are no different, and they fill out this disc.  It’s not that they are bad songs, but they just don’t match the rest of what this group can put out.

Still, there are plenty of songs in The Very Next Thing to keep fans of this group happy.  Their discs always get plenty of play time from me.  While this might not be quite as heavily rotated as some of their others, I will still be listening to it plenty.

CD Length: 54:04
1. Hallelujah
2. The Very Next Thing
3. One Step Away
4. Oh My Soul
5. What If I Gave Everything
6. God of All My Days
7. When the God-Man Passes By
8. For All You Are
9. Song That the Angels Can’t Sing
10. Make Me a River
11. No Other Name
12. Loving My Jesus

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Book Review: Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Timeless story filled with fun
Cons: All cons stolen by monkeys
The Bottom Line:
Peddler loses caps
To a tree filled with monkeys
Book of timeless fun

Monkeying Around with Caps

I was reminded of this book from my own childhood recently, and I immediately knew I had to reread it.  Sometimes, when you do pick up a childhood favorite, it doesn’t hold up to what you remember.  Fortunately, with Caps for Sale, that wasn’t an issue at all.

The story is fairly simple and follows a cap salesman.  This man walks around the village all day selling the caps he keeps stacked on his head.  On this particular day, he isn’t have any luck selling caps, so he walks into the country and finds a tree to lean up again to rest.  When he awakes, he’s refreshed, but all but one cap is missing.  They’ve been taken by monkeys who were in the tree while he napped.  How can he get them back?

I had remembered the book was fairly simple, and I found when I reread it that I was correct.  Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  This is a picture book after all, and the storyline is easy enough for kids to follow.  I remember as a kid, I easily understood why the monkeys gave back the caps at the end, and I found the story fun and funny.  I still enjoyed it just as much as an adult.

The book is written and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina.  The book was originally published in the 1940’s, and that explains some of the details in the illustrations, especially the man’s wardrobe.  Yet there is an elegance to them that is timeless.  Kids will still love them.

While this isn’t typically classified as an easy reader, I think it would work for those ready for a slightly more challenging book.  Words like monkey and peddler are about the hardest words you’ll find here.

So if you have fond memories of Caps for Sale, don’t hesitate to introduce it to your kids.  The timeless fun is still there waiting for a new generation to discover.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ornament Review: The Nativity #1 - The Holy Family - 1998 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Captures Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in a great statue pose
Cons: Some details lost due to size.
The Bottom Line:
Classic artist pose
Of Mary, Joseph, Jesus
Starts mini series

The Holy Family Kicks Off This Miniature Series

I’ve become something approaching obsessed with Hallmark’s miniature ornaments this year.  (I know, me obsessed over something is shocking.)  Naturally, being the series person that I am, I started off looking at the old mini series.  That’s how I found The Nativity, which kicked off in 1998 with the Holy Family.

As you’d expect, this ornament features Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.  Mary and Joseph are looking down at Jesus, who is in the manger.

These ornaments are made out of pewter.  This surprised me because it’s not something that Hallmark uses on a regular basis, especially in the last few years.  This gives the ornament a bit more of a sculpted look.  While the ornament is all one color, you can still see the folds of the garments, the straw in the manager, and the faces on Mary and Joseph.  Between the pose and the material, I could almost picture this as a statue is a museum somewhere.

Of course, this does play into my old prejudice against the miniature ornaments.  In a museum, a piece like this would be larger than life, so you could see the details on the people.  With it being a miniature ornament, some of those details get lost.  Still, I do like this one overall.

This figure has a flat base, so you can set it out to create a Nativity display somewhere if you want.  You’ll find the 1 in a Christmas tree craved into the bottom as well since this is the first in a series.

If you do want to hang it, you’ll find the loop in Joseph’s head.  Slip a hook through there, you’ll find that it tips slightly toward Mary, which isn’t too surprising since the loop is off to one side.  Since this ornament is pewter, you’ll definitely find that it is heavier than you’d expect, but being a miniature ornament, it’s still not too heavy to hang on your tree.

Overall, this is a good start to the Nativity miniature series.  More details would have been nice, but the effect is still enjoyable on its own.

For the complete Nativity, you'll want the rest of the Nativity miniature series.

Original Price: $9.95

September 24th's Weekly TV Thoughts

And the new TV season is officially off and running!

Remember how I wasn't going to start any new shows this fall?  Yeah, I fell for that line in the spring as well.  I tried three new shows this week, and I'm thinking two of them are going to stick.  One more is probably going to be cut, although I might give it one more week.  We'll see how I'm feeling next time it's on.

And here's what I watched.

Big Bang Theory – Normally, I’m not a fan of this show’s season premiers.  They just don’t feel as good to me as the rest of the season.  I loved this one, probably because at the end we got the wedding we should have had a year ago.  Penny’s family didn’t do much for me, but the continuation of the conflict from last season was pretty funny.

Dancing with the Stars – TV theme night came early.  And I’m once again reminded how few theme songs I really know.  I did have fun with the ones I recognized, of course, and now I really want someone to do “Darkwing Duck.”  I’m with the judges that the stars stayed pretty much the same week to week.  Most of them are good and have potential, but there are a couple of shining stars.  I really did expect Rick Perry to go home first.  Sorry to see Jake go, although he was near the bottom as well.  Probably would have happened soon if not this week.

Lethal Weapon – I really enjoyed this show.  No, it’s not the movie franchise, but I feel like we’ve got some character depth already, I liked the chemistry between the leads, and the comedy was fun, offsetting the darker aspects.  The mystery was just an excuse to introduce the characters, but I don’t have any real complaints.

Survivor – Who here called the Millennials not building a shelter even after Jeff’s warning?  Yep, that predictable.  I hope Dave calms down on Gen X, or I will be rooting for him to go since he’s getting on my nerves already.  Although I did like him at tribal.  I will definitely be interested to see how this season develops.

Designated Survivor – And I’m hooked on another new show.  This was a very compelling first episode that did a great job of introducing the characters and the story without tons of exposition.  The teenage son is the weak link, but hopefully they fix that soon.  I could see it spinning out of control, but I’m hoping they keep this up all season long.

MacGyver – That wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be.  The way they show exactly what he’s getting rather weakens things.  Plus the twists with the girl were rather poor.  I might give it another chance next week, but probably not.  It will depend on how I’m feeling next Friday.

Girl Meets World – Not one of their better episodes, but it had a few laughs like the last scene.  The message about not being able to control the world around you was good, although boy would I like to control the world around me like all the time.  Maybe I need this more than I realize.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review: Murder at Redwood Cove by Janet Finsilver (Kelly Jackson Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great main characters; intriguing puzzle
Cons: Writing needs a tad more polish in places.
The Bottom Line:
Very good debut
In a setting that I loved
With fun characters

Kelly Fills in for a Dead Man

While I love living in Southern California, the one thing I miss from my growing up years in Northern California is redwood forests.  Naturally, that meant when I spotted a book called Murder at Redwood Cove, I knew I had to read it.  It was a wonderful trip to a hidden part of California.

Kelly Jackson is out on her first solo assignment for Resorts International, a company that owns a number of bed and breakfasts.  She’s flying into Mendocino County in northern California to take on the day to day running of Redwood Cove until a replacement manager can be found for Bob Phillips.  Bob’s been running the location for years until a tragic accident left him dead at the bottom of one of the nearby seaside cliffs.

However, not long after Kelly lands, she begins to question whether Bob’s death was an accident.  Then she meets the Silver Sentinels, a group of retired people who have formed a community watch of sorts for the local community.  Bob worked with them occasionally, and he was working on something they didn’t know about.  The more Kelly pokes around, the more certain she is that Bob was murdered.  But can she prove it before something else happens?

Since this is a murder mystery, we as readers know that Bob was killed right away.  However, the book doesn’t really spend much time debating that fact.  Kelly is certain that something strange is going on pretty much from the beginning, and the Silver Sentinels back her up in that belief.  Of course, there’s proving it to the authorities and figuring out exactly what is going on, both of which drive the plot.  The book is filled with events and Kelly’s efforts to use them to narrow down her suspect list.  The climax was a tad rushed, but everything was tied up at the end.

I absolutely loved the characters.  They were rich and sharp right from the start, and I came to truly care for several of them before the book was over.  I can’t wait to spend more time with them.  There’s quite a range of characters, too, from the kids of the employees at the bed and breakfast to the Silver Sentinels, but the author pulled them all off perfectly.  Ironically, I did feel the suspect characters were a tad thin, but that’s a minor issue.

My bigger issue was with the writing.  This is a debut novel, and it was a bit rough near the beginning.  I’m talking about things like a couple missing scene transitions and thing like that.  The entire book was still very readable, and the writing smoothed out as the book progressed, I’m certainly going to read the next one.

And I loved the setting.  While Redwood Cove is fictional, I had no trouble picturing it and the coastline where the small town and the bed and breakfast would be located.  In fact, it made me long for some time up in that area.

Because this is set at a bed and breakfast, we get lots of delicious sounding descriptions of food.  Trust me, there is something here to make everyone’s mouth water.  Unlike many culinary cozies, we don’t get any recipes at the end of the book, but this is worth noting only in passing.

I’m definitely planning a return visit to Redwood Cove.  There may be a few flaws in Murder at Redwood Cove, but any cozy fan will still enjoy this debut.

Enjoy the rest of the Kelly Jackson Mysteries.

September 23rd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday again!  And that means it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

My book this week is Artifact by Gigi Pandian.


I finished this book up on Wednesday, and I loved it!  Look for my review on Thursday of next week.  But for today, how about a couple of teasers.

Here's how the book begins:
The door of the house swung open before I had a chance to knock.

And how's this for a quote from page 56:

"Can I help?" he asked a few moments later, his mouth only a few inches from my ear.

This book adds a treasure hunting aspect to the cozy mystery I normally love, and that added bit was a fantastic element that really made the book stand out.  But that's for my review.

For now, I will wish you a happy weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ornament Review: Skylar A. Woolscarf Miniature - 2016 Hallmark Limited Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun ornament just as fun shrunk
Cons: What’s up with that umbrella?
The Bottom Line:
Snowtop Lodge start is
Redone as a mini piece
Differences are fun

Skylar Shrinks to New Effect

While Hallmark has placed a renewed emphasis on miniature ornaments for 2016, they have gone to many of their popular series for inspiration.  A perfect example of that is Skylar A. Woolscarf.  The original ornament was released in 2005 as a full sized ornament and the first in the Snowtop Lodge series.  But in 2016, they released a miniature size version of him as a limited edition ornament.

While this year’s Skylar is not a perfect representative of the original, he’s certainly close enough that you’ll recognize him.  As with the original, he’s made of porcelain, but this time, he’s completely porcelain, including his scarf and vest.  His pocket watch is there, but it’s attached to the ornament instead of swinging free like on the original.  His scarf is shorter, which allows us to see a star button.  And the cityscape painted on the original is much more a water color impressionism piece here – instead of showing actual buildings, you can see colors that vaguely resemble buildings and trees.

And yet, it works.  It really does help to have an idea of what the original looks like, but I love the watercolor effect on this ornament.  While the original is fun, this one works well, too.

About the only thing that doesn’t work is the umbrella.  It looks nothing like an umbrella.  In fact, it looks like a triangle attached to his side.  I know this is a small ornament, but with everything else working, I find the finished effort here odd.

While this may be a small ornament, Skylar is still a snowman, so you can easily set him out as part of a display on his flat base.  He’s look good in a village scene, for example.

But if you want to hang him, you’ll find the hook on the top of his top hat.  He hangs straight, which isn’t really a surprise given his size and the location of the hook.

I have no clue if this is now going to be an unofficial mini series from Hallmark, but even if Skylar A. Woolscarf is the only Snowtop Lodge mini they do, I’m still glad I got him.  He’s a cute and fun take on the original.

If you like this ornament, you'll want the full size Snowtop Lodge series.

Original Price: $9.95

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Book Review: To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton (Dangerous Type Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful characters
Cons: Characters overshadow mystery
The Bottom Line:
A strangers with a
Typewriter obsession drives
Average debut

Who Killed the Stranger?

Among the authors I’ve been meaning to try is Paige Shelton.  And, as I like to do, I decided that a new series was the perfect place to try her books, which is why I picked up To Helvetica and Back.  Sadly, the book wasn’t the ringing endorsement of this author I was expecting.

After years following her grandfather, Chester, around his shop, The Rescued Word, Clare Henry fell into joining him.  Together, the duo repair old typewriters and old books as well as sell pens and stationary.  Because of the diversified nature of their business, they manage to do well as the times change, and they’ve carved out a place in the touristy town of Star City, Utah.

One of their most loyal customers is Mirabelle, who happens to be Chester’s friend.  She’s just brought in her old typewriter to be repaired, but she’s quickly followed by a stranger who demands to buy that typewriter.  Not a similar one, but Mirabelle’s exact typewriter.    He only leaves when Clare calls the police.  The next morning, Clare and Chester find the stranger dead behind their shop.  Why did he want the typewriter?  Did that lead to his murder?

The characters in this book are wonderful.  Clare has lived in Star City all her life, and she has some good friends in the area.  Those relationships make the book much richer.  Additionally, the book doesn’t fall into the character cliches of many of the series I read, which was refreshing.  These are already real people, and I loved spending time with them.  We get several sub-plots related to the characters, which really helps us get to know them.

Unfortunately, those sub-plots overwhelm the main mystery.  Don’t get me wrong, there is always something going on, and I was gleefully turning the pages to find out what would happen next.  However, as I neared the end, I realized that the main mystery had suffered under all the stuff with the characters.  This was confirmed as we reached the climax, which was very very rushed.

If this were a later book in the series, I probably wouldn’t mind the weak mystery since I would love spending time with the characters.  However, as an introduction to the author, I found To Helvetica and Back weak.  It was still an enjoyable read, but I wish the mystery had been stronger.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

TV Show Review: Scream Queens - Season 1

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Emma Roberts, Jamie Lee Curtis, fun mix of black comedy and slasher
Cons: Raunchy sex jokes went too far for me.
The Bottom Line:
Black comedy show
Red devil, sorority
Results a mixed bag

“We Can Make it Fun.  Like a Friends Episode, but Somebody’s Trying to Murder All the Friends.”

It seems there were two reactions to last season’s show Scream Queens – people either loved it or hated it.  Of course, there were exceptions to that rule, and I was one of them.  One minute, I’d be fully on board and enjoying the show, and the next I’d be turned off by what I was seeing in season one.

The show is black comedy/spoof of the slasher genre.  The season is set at the Kappa sorority at Wallace University.  20 years ago, a young girl died there after giving birth during a party.  The baby was spirited away, and no one knows what happened to it.

Of course, this makes the perfect motive for a masked killer.  This time, the killer dresses up as a red devil and goes after the member of the sorority and a related fraternity and anyone else who gets in the way.  In the present day, the sorority is ruled by Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) and her henchwomen, Chanel’s 1-5.  Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) hates the Greek system, but the Kappas in particular, so she dictates that they must accept all pledges this year, which is why they have to accept such people as Zayday (Keke Palmer), Hester (Lea Michele), and Grace (Skyler Samuels).  But as the carnage continues, will anyone survive?  Who is the killer?  And will all this murder upset Chanel too much?

Before the show even premiered, we were promised that, being a slasher series, there would be at least one death in each episode.  And they were very consistent with that over the course of the 13 episodes.  Naturally, some episodes included more than one death, but each episode had at least one.  However, there were times that the episode’s death was a guest star or even a walk on.  That lessened the impact and felt like a cheat in some ways.

As I said, the show was a black comedy.  At times, it was also social satire.  Some of Chanel’s lines and actions are hysterical.  Everybody gets their laughs, but I found her to be the funniest.  Dean Munch was a pretty close second.  Ironically, I didn’t find Niecy Nash, who played a security guard, as funny as the rest.

This show is the brain child of Ryan Murphy, the man behind Glee and American Horror Story.  I haven’t watched either of those shows, but I knew enough to know that there would be plenty of sex jokes.  Honestly, those were the moments that really made me uncomfortable.  I’m surprised they got the jokes by the standards boards.  They were crude and unfunny.

How did the show do as a slasher?  Being a TV show, they didn’t have time for the elaborate stalk scenes each week, but they got a few good ones in over the course of the season.  As I said, often the death of the episode was pretty inconsequential, but they had some clever kills before the season was over.

Which brings us to the mystery aspect.  I was completely shocked when we got to the end and found out who was behind everything.  The twists in this part were enough to keep me coming back week after week.

Based on the characters I loved, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that I thought Emma Roberts and Jamie Lee Curtis were great in the show.  Honestly, I looked forward to their scenes each week because they sparkled.  Not that the rest of the cast was bad, but these two stood out.  Considering how the cast had to switch from horror to comedy and back, I thought they were all fine, in fact.

However, the content is enough to keep me from coming back to watch more of Scream Queens.  I enjoyed parts of season one of the show, but the parts that made me squirm are enough to keep me from finding out what happens to the survivors next.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Pilot
2. Hell Week
3. Chainsaw
4. Haunted House
5. Pumpkin Patch
6. Seven Minutes in Hell
7. Beware of Young Girls
8. Mommie Dearest
9. Ghost Stories
10. Thanksgiving
11. Black Friday
12. Dorkus
13. The Final Girl(s)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Book Review: The Bullet Catch by John Gaspard (Eli Marks #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, engaging story
Cons: Eli’s fear of heights inconsistent
The Bottom Line:
Eli must juggle
Two compelling cases that
Keep pages turning

Be Sure to Catch This Sequel

Earlier this year, I listened to the audio version of the first Eli Marks book, and I didn’t find it as gripping as I thought I would.  At least at the time.  I couldn’t get the characters out of my head, however, and I kept thinking about going back and reading the sequel, so when I won the audio version of The Bullet Catch in a contest, I was absolutely thrilled.

For those new to this series, Eli Marks is a magician.  In addition to performance gigs, he also helps his uncle with a magic store located in Minneapolis.  His ex-wife is an assistant district attorney, and her new husband is a homicide cop, which makes his forays into murder problematic at best, but he can’t seem to help himself.

Back in high school, Eli and Jake weren’t close friends, but they moved in the same circles since Eli performed magic and Jake was an actor.  Now, fifteen years later, Jake is back in town having made a name for himself in Hollywood starring in a controversial sitcom.  But Jake’s time in town is business rather than pleasure since he is filming a movie about a magician who died during the always dangerous bullet catch trick.  Only Jake thinks that someone is going to kill him when they film the pivotal scene to gain publicity for the movie, and he asks Eli to use his expertise as a magician to keep that from happening.

Jake also talks Eli into attending their high school reunion.  While there, Eli runs into his old high school crush.  Trish has married the bad boy of their class, the one that everyone thought would be in prison by graduation.  However, after they all leave the reunion, Trish’s husband is killed.  With Eli’s connections to the police, he finds himself drawn into what is happening.  Can he figure out who the killer is while keeping Jake safe?

My complaint about the first book was the pacing, but that isn’t an issue here at all.   With two plots keeping Eli busy, there is never a moment for things to slow down.  The murder is the main story, and it provides some great twists and surprises along the way, but the story with Jake is just as much fun and manages to build some great suspense.  Both stories reach fantastic and surprising climaxes as well.

I realized how much I had come to care for the characters when I started in on this book.  It was great to see them again and get to know them better here.  Of course, we meet some well developed new characters as well, and they all get their moments to shine.

And Eli’s knowledge of magic adds a great touch to the mystery.  I loved his unique take on things based on his expertise.  Quite often, the hook of a series is just that, a hook (and I don’t mind it when that is the case), but this time the hook really does add to the mystery.

Unfortunately, there is still one flaw here.  Eli has developed a huge fear of heights between, a detail I actually loved since I am afraid of heights myself.  However, he lives on the third floor, yet his crippling fear of heights never seems to bother him at home.

Jim Cunningham is the narrator once again, and he is wonderful at bringing the characters to life.  This is especially true of Eli and his various reactions to things.

It’s rare I revisit a series that didn’t hook me right away, but I’ve very glad I did with The Bullet Catch.  If you are looking for a fun mystery with a unique hook, be sure to pick it up today.  I’m definitely hoping to move on to the third in the series soon.

It's no magic trick.  Here are the rest of the Eli Marks Mysteries.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ornament Review: Miniature Keepsake Ornament Tree - 2016 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great looking, miniature artificial tree
Cons: All cons shrunk too small to see
The Bottom Line:
This mini tree is
Great for mini ornaments
And festive small space

A Small Tree for Your Mini Ornaments

One reason I have resisted Hallmark’s miniature ornaments before this year is that I was afraid they would get lost in my tree.  I must not be the only one who felt this way because Hallmark released a miniature tree this year specifically for their mini ornaments.  Being the easy target I am, I snapped one up right away.  But it truly is wonderful.

This is an artificial tree, which is no surprise.  It’s small, only about nineteen inches tall and sixteen inches around.  And, since we are looking for something to hold mini ornaments, that makes it the perfect size.  There are two logs on the base that hold it up.  The tree doesn’t come with lights or anything, it’s just the branches and the stand.

But it doesn’t need anything else.  Personally, I love starting with a blank tree like this and adding whatever I want to decorate it.  Heck, I’m the guy who hunts for non-pre-lit trees when he has to buy an artificial tree.  (And they are not easy to find, trust me.)  I do think a strand of lights will probably be longer than this tree needs, but that’s okay.  You can’t have too many lights, right?

And there are plenty of branches to add your mini ornaments.  If you’ve just started collecting, there may be more tree than you have miniature ornaments.  However, I have a feeling that I will fill this tree up pretty quickly.  I’ve been looking at mini ornaments pretty seriously these days and finding some I enjoy.

The proportion is perfect for these little guys, too.  They will still show up without being so overwhelmed by everything else.  And when all your ornaments are in the same scale, they won’t look quite so out of place.

Because the tree is a smaller size, you can easily put it up on a table or other place that needs a little Christmas spirit.  It’s self-sufficient, so it’s easy to set up and move around until you find the perfect spot.  Personally, I’m planning to set mine up in my cubicle at work this year.

It looks great, too.  Artificial trees look so great these days, and this one really is no exception.  The trunk even looks like it is wood instead of an aluminum pool.

I may be a sucker for things like this, but I don’t regret them for a minute.  This Hallmark Miniature Tree will be great this year and for many Christmases to come.

Original Price: $19.95

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #2 - Skiing - 1999 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Snoopy having fun skiing
Cons: Tilt to sell Snoopy skiing would have been fun
The Bottom Line:
Snoopy skis down hill
Looks like he is having fun
Miniature done right

Ski Season is Open

I tried skiing once.  My lack of athleticism and balance made it into an interesting experience.  (Fortunately, I didn’t break anything.)  It looks like Snoopy has better luck at the sport, or at least he does in the second Winter Fun withSnoopy ornament from 1999.

Yep, you guessed it.  This ornament finds Snoopy skiing.  He’s standing on the skis with his poles tucked under his arm.  His red and green cap is sticking out behind him, and Woodstock has hitched a ride on his hat so he can experience the thrill of speeding down a mountain.

This series is a miniature series, so it’s much smaller than a normal Hallmark ornament.  We might be missing some detail on the figure, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you for sure what we are missing.  It’s a simple ornament of a simple activity, but it captures that perfectly, and I really do like it as a result.

Snoopy’s skis actually provide a nice flat base, so you could set this out if you wanted to.  Again, it’s a miniature ornament, so it could easily get lost if you do.  You’ll find the 2 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of the skis if you squint.  It’s small, but it’s there.

The loop for hanging the ornament is on the top of Snoopy’s hat.  The ornament hangs straight, which is actually a missed opportunity.  If it tipped forward slightly, it would help sell the illusion that Snoopy was skiing down a hill.  That’s a minor complaint, however.

Am I embarrassed about being out skied by a dog?  In this case, no.  Snoopy as a skier is so much fun, and this ornament captures this idea perfectly.

Collect all the ornaments and enjoy more Winter Fun with Snoopy.

Original Price: $6.95

September 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

One final quiet week before the craziness of the fall TV season starts.  Although it won't truly get crazy until my Superhero shows start up in October.

Dancing with the Stars – A couple of big standouts, but most of the stars were in the middle of the pack.  Not a bad place to be for weak one, and I see plenty of potential.  Did one of them say they only had a week and a half?  That’s very impressive for a week and a half, in that case.  I do want to take a moment to talk about the incident.  First, ABC handled it perfectly by not showing us what was happening.  Secondly, this is what happens in our society when we feel we have the right to say or do whatever we want without consequences.  Sorry, but even booing Ryan Lochte wasn’t right.  The man made a mistake (although I think the incident is much more complex than NBC wanted to make it out to be).  Yes, it’s a recent mistake even.  But Carrie Ann is completely right – none of that should matter in the ballroom.  Sadly, I think Cheryl is going to have a hard road with him as her partner, and that isn’t fair to either one of them.

American Ninja Warrior – I gave them a pass this week, but I’m back to my mantra of “Why must they make things so hard?”  I don’t like to see person after person fail.  It’s no fun.  In fact, it gets a bit boring knowing that this person is most likely going in the water.  Still, it is amazing to watch the athletes compete and attempt to do the impossible.  My hat is off to them for the hard work they put in year after year for this one shot to do it.

Suits – I knew that Gina Torres had been cast on another show – a show that wasn’t picked up, but I wasn’t expecting her to leave.  The show just won’t be the same without her.  However, I loved how they sent her off.  It was a great all around show.  I’m curious to see how things go when the show comes back, of course, but this would have made an awesome series finale.

Girl Meets World – I wasn’t sure what to expect with a show about cultures, especially this show, but they got it right.  As Americans, we are a mix of all the people who have immigrated to our country.  A melting pot, if you will.  And the ending with Farkle was powerful.  Certainly didn’t see it coming.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Digging Up the Dirt Winner

I know, I know, I'm a day late.  But I do have a winner for Digging Up the Dirt.  And that winner is...


I'm just sent you an e-mail, so please be watching for it and get back to me.

Movie Review: The Gourmet Detective

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery and leads
Cons: It is a Hallmark movie
The Bottom Line:
Death at a party
Henry, Maggie must solve crime
In this fun movie

“In a Murder Mystery, This Would be very Concerning.”

When I started Hallmark’s cozy mystery movies earlier this year, I didn’t start The Gourmet Detective movies.  Honestly, I’m not sure why since it is the only series starring a man, so you’d think it would have peaked my interest.  Plus I love culinary cozies.  But I decided to fix that recently, and I’m glad I did because this first movie was a lot of fun.

Henry Ross (Dylan Neal) is a consultant in the food world.  He will help find substitutes for key ingredients, writes a weekly blog, and is friends with many of the owners of five star restaurants in his native San Francisco.  One of his closest friends in the community is Peter Duquette (Bill Dow).  Someone has been sabotaging Bill’s restaurant, and he wants Henry to investigate to figure out what is happening.

Chez Duquette is hosting a dinner for the San Francisco foodie community.  It is filled with the normal squabbling between the various members of the group, but it takes an unexpected turn when investigative reporter Oliver Paige (Tobias Slezak) stands up to make an announcement.  He’s found something out about someone in the group.  But before he can say more than that, he dies.

The death brings in SFPD detective Maggie Price (Brooke Burns).  She is less than impressed with Henry and everything he’s already found, so she is even less thrilled when her captain wants Henry to consult on the case because of his connections to the suspects.  Can the two of them work together to find the killer?

These movies are based on a series by Peter King written twenty years ago.  I’ve never read them (although I do have the first in another series he wrote around the condo somewhere), so I came to this movie with no preconceived ideas about the characters or the plot.  However, I really enjoyed it.

The plot is strong, with a variety of suspects and motives.  As Henry and Maggie start their investigation, Henry learns quite a few secrets that he didn’t know about the group of people he thought he knew.  I didn’t have any idea who the killer would turn out to be until the duo pieced things together in the end.

And it was both of them.  Henry and Maggie wind up making a great team, and they both contribute to the solution of the mystery.  Meanwhile, there are definitely romantic sparks between the bachelor and divorced single mother.  Honestly, their chemistry and some of the writing reminded me of Castle and Beckett from Castle, and considering how much I loved that show, that’s quite a compliment.

Yes, the movie has the typical Hallmark movie cheese, but that’s my only complaint.  The cast is all great in their roles, and I had a lot of fun watching it.

So if you haven’t checked out The Gourmet Detective yet, now’s the time to fix that.  It’s a fun romp that will leave you guessing until the end.

This movie is part of The Gourmet Detective DVD Collection.

September 16th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's getting late, and I'm getting tired, so let's get to this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week's book is Murder at Redwood Cover by Janet Finsilver.


I finished this book on Wednesday, and it was a lot of fun.

Let's get to it.  Here's how the book begins:
What a horrible way to die - falling forty feet and landing on jagged rocks in the swirling ocean.

Yeah, that will grab your attention.  As will this bit from page 56:

A violent blow was delivered between my shoulder blades, and I catapulted forward.  I slammed into the floor, and a sharp pain erupted as my head grazed the side of the desk.  The door closed.  I felt like I was suffocating.  I couldn't breathe.  I willed my arms to move.  Nothing.

And no, that's not even half way into the book yet.  It's not all that gripping, it's a typical cozy, but we got two good teasers, right?

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Book Review: Get Fluffy by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pet Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mystery filled with fun
Cons: Having too much fun to look for cons
The Bottom Line:
Murder in mansion
With fun pet antics to spare
A page turning read

One Good Turn Deserves a Murder

As I mentioned when I reviewed the first Pampered Pets Mystery, the idea behind the series really intrigues me.  The books in the series flip flop between two cousins who live in Laguna Beach, California.  I can’t remember a series quite like this, and I wanted to revisit the series as soon as I could for Mel’s turn in the spotlight in Get Fluffy.

The book opens with the gala that Mel’s cousin Caro was busy planning in the first book in the series.  While the cousins are not speaking, Mel is there along with anyone who is anyone.  Mel is looking forward to a night of supporting a great cause when she is accosted not once but twice.

The confrontation with Mona Michaels might have gotten a little out of hand, but Mel is not ready to apologize the next day, which makes it a little awkward when she winds up with Fluffy, Mona’s famous dog.  Heading out to Mona’s mansion to return the dog, Mel is shocked to find her lifeless body instead.  She has no plans to follow in her cousin’s footsteps by getting involved in the investigation, but can she help it if she happens to talk to people who knew Mona and learns things relevant to the case?

Any doubts I had (and I really didn’t have any) that this switch off could work were shed as I read this book.  At least so far, the two characters and their circle of friends are separate since the cousins are feuding.  Yet there are still references to each other that I love.  The voice of the first person narration is just different enough to be a different person but still feels like part of the series.

Of course, none of that would matter if there wasn’t a good mystery.  There’s nothing to worry about there since there are enough secrets to keep you guessing until the end.  I did figure things out a little before Mel did, but only a chapter or two before, so I’m not complaining in the slightest.

The characters are strong as well.  I didn’t feel like they were as over the top funny as the characters in the first book, but they were certainly still amusing.  The subdued tone make them seem more real to me, however, which helped pull me into the book.

But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of humor.  Being the Pampered Pets series, there are plenty of animals in the book, and their antics are quite fun.  One of the things that Mel and Caro are feuding over is a brooch that one of them inherited from their grandmother – they just both think it was them.  The back and forth on that was a ton of fun as well.  While I do hope the two bury the hatchet at some point in future books, for now I am enjoying their antics.  (And personally, I have a theory on who their grandmother really left the brooch to, but maybe that’s just because of a running joke in my family.)

Since Get Fluffy features a different main character, you could easily jump into the series here, but there are fun nods to the first book for those who are reading them in order.  Either way, be sure to check out this delightfully fun series.

Once you read one book, you'll want to read more of the Pampered Pets Mysteries.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ornament Review: Santa's Workbench - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great details in a fun piece
Cons; Tool sticker
The Bottom Line:
Where Santa builds toys
Collaborative design
With lots to look at

Get a Peak at This Year’s Toys with Santa’s Workbench

After several years looking at Mrs. Claus’s items in the house, the Keepsake artist team went back to Santa for their 2016 studio piece.  Santa’s Workbench is another truly delightful piece.

This unofficial series features items in the Claus home.  All of the Keepsake artists work together, creating one tiny part of the overall ornament.  That means these pieces are slightly bigger than the average Hallmark ornament, but I don’t mind in the least.  In fact, I absolutely love it.  Why?  Because there are so many little things to see and enjoy, and I can spend hours doing just that.

We’ve caught Santa as he’s working on a train.  The train is front and center on the bench.  It’s mostly green, but there is plenty of red on it.  Be careful since the red paint must still be wet, judging from the open can of red paint on the bench.  Around the train, you’ll see the plans for the train, a hammer, a paintbrush, a snowman tool holder and a penguin brush holder.  On the upper shelf, there’s Santa’s snacks, a plate of cookies and a mug of hot chocolate.  A kitten is leaning over the upper shelf as well.  Maybe it’s because she knows there is a cute little mouse hiding on the bottom shelf.  Down there, we see a wood plane, a rocking horse, a pull duck toy, and three nutcrackers in progress.  Off to the side, we see Santa’s toolbox.

There are some fun touches to this piece.  For example, Santa has left his snowman pipe on his bench.  And his mug?  Why, it’s Santa, of course.  There’s a small snowflake on the can of paint.  It’s things like that I love looking for.

Unfortunately, there is one downside to the ornament this year.  Behind the work surface, we see several tools hanging so they are easy to grab.  However, those tools are really just an illustration on a sticker.  It actually looks tacky when you see it in good light.  It’s a little less obvious if the ornament is a little in shadow, like in a dark room with only Christmas tree lights to illuminate.  While I still love this ornament overall, it is disappointing.

Being a piece of furniture, it’s really no surprise that this ornament stands up with no issues.  It’s sturdy enough that you can set it out as a display, like with the other pieces of furniture, and enjoy it that way.

Or you can hang it on your tree.  There is a loop for doing just that on the top shelf just to the left of the mug.  That makes it a little tricky to get the hook in there, but once you do, you’ll find that it tips ever so slightly to the right.  I’m a bit surprised since it looks like the loop is in the center of the ornament.  However, the tip is so small that you will only find it if you are looking for it, and you are definitely not going to notice it when you have the ornament hanging in the middle of tree branches.

I have truly come to love these collaborative pieces of furniture.  Santa’s Workbench is another fine piece you’ll want to add.

Original Price: $39.95

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Whispers Beyond the Veil Winner

It's time to announce the first of two winners this week.  The prize is Whispers Beyond the Veil, and the winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail, so be on the look out for it.  Please get back to me so we can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: Body on the Bayou by Ellen Byron (Cajun Country Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Character growth and a fun mystery
Cons: All cons lost in the bayou
The Bottom Line:
Wedding guest murdered
Leaves Maggie scrambling to solve
As characters shine

Return to the Bayou for a Second Murder

While I always pay attention to the Agatha nominees, this is the first year I’ve actually read several of them because they were nominated.  That’s what lead me to the Cajun Country Mysteries by Ellen Byron.  The first was enjoyable, and I knew I wanted to read the follow up, Body on the Bayou, which I loved.

Somehow, Maggie Crozat has found herself drafted as maid of honor for the wedding of her co-worker Vanessa Fleer to Crozat family nemesis Police Chief Rufus Durand.  As if that weren’t bad enough, Vanessa is eight months pregnant and has turned into a horrid bridezilla.  Maggie is almost afraid to answer her phone because it is usually Vanessa adding to the “maid of honor to do list.”

Which is why Maggie immediately gets a sense of dread when Vanessa reacts negatively to learning Vanessa’s cousin Ginger is a last minute addition to the wedding guest list.  Since Ginger and two of her employees are coming early and need a place to stay, they wind up at the Crozat bed and breakfast.

The first night, they seem pleasant, but the next morning, the nastiness starts from the trio of guests.  The longer they are around, the more people in town they annoy.  But Maggie isn’t prepared to find Ginger’s dead body one morning on the bed and breakfast property.  Suddenly, she finds herself with a new item on her to do list – find a killer.  Can she do it?

I found myself quickly slipping back into the lives of these characters.  They are an entertaining bunch that are so much fun to spend time with.  Of course, the new characters introduced for this book are just as sharp and entertaining.

We are given a little time to get to know Ginger before the murder takes place, but all that does is increase the list of suspects and motives and make us hate her all the more.  When her body does turn up, Maggie is able to jump right in and start learning secrets and uncovering lies.  The plot never slows until we reach the logical conclusion.

But I have to go back to the characters for a moment.  What really grabbed me about this book was the character growth we saw in several of the characters introduced in the first book.  I found the end very moving, in fact.  I dare you to read this without your heart melting.

I’ve never been to Louisiana (but I really want to go).  However, I feel like I’ve visited thanks to this book.  The setting comes to life as we read, and I felt like I was there in the bayou right next to the characters.  The author obviously loves this region, and it shows.

What’s a book set at a bed and breakfast without a few recipes?  We get four of them here, from Turkey Dinner in the Braid to Bananas Foster Coffee Cake a la Ninette and two different takes on Jambalaya.

If you were a fan of Ellen Byron’s debut, don’t hesitate to pick up Body on the Bayou.  And if you haven’t started this series yet, now’s the time to jump in.  You’ll definitely enjoy.

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

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