Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 2016's Monthly Reading Summary

Another month come and gone.  Can you believe we are almost done with 2016?  And the final month is going to go fast with all the fun of Christmas added to the mix.  I'm sure you know how I feel about Christmas, after all.

But for now, here's my monthly reading summary for November.  And yes, the Index has been updated as well.

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

The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha by JoAnna Carl (Chocoholic Mysteries #16) – 5
Bunny Birdsong is the newest employee at TenHuis Chocolade, and she brings with her some baggage in the form of an almost ex-husband and an aunt-in-law that would like to get the two back together.  When Bunny’s aunt is found in the construction zone next door, Bunny becomes the prime suspect.  Can Lee Woodyard figure out what is really happening?

Like always, this book is a delight from start to finish.  It’s on the short size, which is usual for the series, but the book still packs in plenty of twists and turns.  We even get to see a bit more of some series regulars who usual have cameos, which I really enjoyed.  This series continues to be as addicting as always, and I can’t wait for the next books.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Good, the Bad, and the Guacamole by Rebecca Adler (Taste of Texas #2) – 4
It’s time for Homestead Days in the town of Broken Boot, Texas, and the big draw this year is up and coming country singer Jeff Clark, who happens to be the ex of Josie Callahan’s best friend Patti.  At the opening night concert, the two seem to be reconnecting, but the next morning, Josie finds Jeff dead in Patti’s living room.  Naturally, the police think Patti makes a great suspect, and with pressure to wrap the case up quickly, they aren’t looking for many other suspects.  That means it is up to Josie to clear her best friend.  But can she do it?

This is a fun second entry in the series.  I did find the book needed another pass to truly smooth out a few of the scenes, but it was still definitely worth reading.  The characters are unique for a cozy and truly so much fun.  The plot gives us great suspects and twists right until the can-only-happen-in-Texas climax.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Commander Toad and the crew of the Space Warts have been sent to a planet full of spies to retrieve Agent 007 1/2.  Their advantage is that this spy is Commander Toad’s cousin.  The disadvantage is that he is also a master of disguise.  Sure enough, soon after landing they meet several spies who could all be the agent.  Can they figure out which one he is?

This is another fun adventures with Commander Toad and his crew.  The book is very well done with a plot even the target early readers should be able to follow as they logically solve the problem at hand.  Throw in the best puns in the series to date and you have a real winner.

Stone Cold Blooded by Catherine Dilts (Rock Shop Mysteries #3) – 4
Morgan Iverson’s neighbor, a recluse, goes out in a blaze of explosions.  The police think he fell victim to one of his own traps, but Morgan isn’t convinced, especially since she heard yelling right before the explosions started.  Meanwhile, there are strange little creatures running around the area now, and people are congregating because rumor says they are aliens.  What in the world is going on?

I love Morgan and the other characters who populate this series, so I was happy to be able to revisit them.  There are a number of sub-plots, and they tend to dominate early on in the book, but that is typical for the series and since I love the characters I don’t care.  The mystery is strong, especially as it takes over in the second half of the book, and I was surprised by some of the twists and turns along the way.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #14) – 5
Mrs. Pollifax and her friend Farrell are off to Syria to try to find out what happened to Amanda Pym, who vanished after stopping the hijackers of a plane diverted from Egypt.  They are constantly being watched and much evade their followers before they can even make contact.  With the thinnest of leads, can they find the missing young woman?

This is Mrs. Pollifax, so that means we are off on another wild and fun adventure.  Set in the world of 2000, it’s interesting to read this take on the politics of the Middle East back then.  The plot features a couple of familiar plot points, but I didn’t care since it was so fantastic to be enjoying another adventure with Mrs. Pollifax.  Sadly, this is her last adventure, but I like to imagine she is still out there saving the day against overwhelming odds.

Lodestar by Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities #5) – 5
When the Neverseen make a startling move just as Sophie’s term break is beginning, she decides she needs to press for everyone to take action against them.  But what are their plans?  What do the strange symbols she keeps seeing mean?  And what is the Lodestar Initiative she keeps hearing mentioned?

Once again, we are off on a fantastic adventure in this fun fantasy series.  Sophie and her friends and family may be elves, but they are fully real characters, and I love spending time with them.  The story moves along at a brisk pace, and the book never drags in its 676 pages.  Kids or anyone who loves a good story should pick up this series.  It is best to start from the beginning, but you’ll be hooked and reading this book before you know it.  How long until the next one comes out?

Get Me to the Grave on Time by D. E. Ireland (Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mysteries #3) – 5
Henry Higgins is not looking forward to four weddings in four weeks, but things turn interesting at the first wedding when the groom is murdered.  Despite their success solving two murders, Eliza Doolittle and Henry don’t plan to get involved – until an incident at the next wedding hits too close to home.  Can they find the connection?

It was absolutely wonderful to jump back into this world inspired by My Fair Lady.  The characters are strong, and I love how the authors have grown them.  Fans will recognize them, but they are changing, and it feels like the logical next step.  The plot starts strong and never lets up until the fantastic climax.  Throw in a look at life in 1913 London and some great laughs, and you’ll start looking forward to the next as soon as you finish this one.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Rhythm and Clues by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Odelia Grey #11) – 5
Odelia’s mom is concerned because her neighbor, former rock star Bo Shank, is missing.  While Odelia is a bit star struck at the idea that her mom knows Odelia’s college idol, she figures the man left on a trip and forgot to let people know.  Still, she is poking around a bit when a dead body turns up.  What is really going on?

I was a bit disappointed at first when I realized that many of the usual supporting players were out of town for this book.  That didn’t last long as I got caught up in another wild and crazy ride.  The plot starts strong and never slows down.  Odelia’s mother is a fantastic sidekick, and she brought her usual laughs to the book.  The rest of the cast is just as strong and fun.  Fans will be delighted in this latest adventure for Odelia.

Paint the Town Dead by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson #2) – 4
Rory Anderson is thrilled about the decorative painting convention coming to Vista Beach, California, her hometown.  She’s looking forward to the classes and helping her mom, one of the vendors for the event.  However, she is shocked when her friend collapses and dies just as the week is getting under way.  The police think it was a tragic accident, but Rory is sure it was murder.  Can she prove it?

I love the beach, so the beach town setting is perfect for me.  The characters are good, although I did feel they could have been just a little stronger.  However, the plot was plenty strong with things progressing at a steady pace all the way to the climax.  I was sure I had it completely figured out multiple times only to change my mind a couple of chapters later.

E is for Evidence by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #5) – 5
A couple of days before Christmas, Kinsey is asked to investigate a fire for the insurance company she sometimes works for.  Everything looks routine until she is called in to defend her findings and sees pages that were not part of her original file.  Afraid she might find herself accused of insurance fraud, she starts investigating the situation.  But is she the target or an innocent bystander?

I truly enjoyed this book since it starts out with a great mystery that doesn’t involved a murder.  Of course, when murder does enter the picture, it only gets more compelling from there.  What few supporting characters there are in the series are mostly missing thanks to the Christmas time frame, but I found it a great way to develop Kinsey more, and the new characters were fabulous, doing their job as suspects perfectly.

One Foot in the Grove by Kelly Lane (Olive Grove Mysteries #1) – 3
After her second disastrous wedding happened without her getting married, Eva Knox retreated to her family’s plantation in Georgia.  She’s hardly been back a week before she stumbles over a dead body in the olive grove.  With the local gossip insisting she knows what happened, Eva starts poking around to figure out what really happened.  Can she clear her name?

This debut was definitely a mixed bag.  The plot had some nice twists and nice twists on the cozy formula, which I appreciated.  On the other hand, Eva sometimes was just handed the information she needed or acted very stupidly to get it.  Some characters were interesting while others are very cliche.  If the premise sounds interesting, give it a shot, but it won’t be for everyone.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Review: One Foot in the Grove by Kelly Lane (Olive Grove Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun plot at times; some interesting characters
Cons: Plot weak at times; some flat, cliched characters
The Bottom Line:
This olive cozy
Gets off to an uneven
Start in this debut

Debut Shows Promise, but Needed More Work

Since I’m always up for trying a new series, I was interested in One Foot in the Grove from the moment I heard about it.  After all, I do enjoy olives, and this series features a family that grows them.  But then I started hearing mixed things about the book, so I kept putting off reading it.  Sadly, those mixed things are accurate.

Eva Knox has returned home to Abundance, Georgia, something she thought she’d never do.  But after leaving a second man at the altar, she figured retreating home was the best solution.  She’s ready to dive in to use her PR expertise to help her family grow their new olive oil business as well as the bed and breakfast her older sister has also opened up on the family property.

A week after arriving back home, her family is shocked when their chef and their fishing guide vanish, leaving a note saying they decided to elope.  Going for a run in the rain, Eva stumbles over a dead body.  Since the current sheriff is the first man Eva left at the altar – eighteen years before, she is certain she won’t get a fair shake from the police or the local gossip mill.  So Eva decides to clear her name herself.  But can she do it?

As I was reading this book, I had a hard time deciding just how I was feeling about things.  Take the plot, for example.  On one hand, it includes some fun twists to the usual cozy formula that I enjoyed.  On the other hand, at times the information Eva needs falls into her lap or the plot advances because Eva does some crazy stupid thing.  I’m usually fairly forgiving of a main character acting stupidly, but even I was bothered a time or two here.  The climax, while creative and logical, was also rather abrupt.

Likewise, the characters are a mixed bag.  At times, I liked them, and I found a few very intriguing based on secrets they are hiding.  Others, like Eva’s oldest sister, are dangerously close to cliche territory.  I feel like there are more layers to some, but others are flat.

Of course, we get recipes in the back of the book for southern food rich in olive oil.  We get such things as tapenade, tomato toast, garlic smashed potatoes, and dreamy peach frosting.

It’s unfortunate this is such a mixed bag because I could see the potential for a fun series here.  If the premise interests you, pick up One Foot in the Grove.  You just might find you enjoy it.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Music Review: I'll Have Another...Christmas Album by Straight No Chaser

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun arrangements of familiar songs
Cons: A couple of the original tracks don’t work as well as they should
The Bottom Line:
Straight No Chaser brings
Brings us more Christmas magic
That’s sure to delight

Glasses Raised for Another Great Christmas Album from Straight No Chaser

Because a video of their comedic take on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” launched Straight No Chaser’s career, they seem to have a love of Christmas music.  I’ll Have Another…Christmas Album is their fourth release for the Christmas season, and fans will absolutely love it.

The disc starts out with a couple of more modern Christmas songs, “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “Mary Did You Know?” before delving into older classics like “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “Up on the Housetop,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Winter Wonderland.”  For all these tracks, we get their trademark a cappella harmonies.  Trust me, these songs sound wonderful.

They also work in some original tracks.  Jana Kramer joins the guys for “Feels Like Christmas,” a love song about every day feeling like Christmas when you are in love.  I really enjoy this one, although I’ve got to admit I struggle a bit more with the other one.  “The Greatest Gift of All” is about the fresh joy a new baby brings to the holiday.  Trust me, I get that.  While I am single with no kids, my niece and nephew have added a whole new level of delight to the season.  And yet, somehow this song doesn’t quite capture that for me.

Then there is their cover of Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights,” a song about a breakup (at least I think that’s what is happening here not being super familiar with Coldplay).  It’s a very sad song.  Again, the arrangement is wonderful, but it’s not something I really enjoy listening to at Christmas.

If you are looking for something unique that really works, check out “Joy to the World.”  This is a very different melody to the familiar hymn, and it works very well.  It’s fun and vibrant and a perfect example of the joy we get from Christmas.

When you release this many Christmas CD’s, you start to run out of the best known classics to cover.  Straight No Chaser digs a little deeper and comes up with some true gems.  I’m only familiar with “Sing We Now of Christmas” thanks to Michael W. Smith, so I’m thrilled to get another recording of this song.  “Coventry Carol” is another song that isn’t recorded too often, but I like it because of the dramatic nature of the song.  Their harmonies sound absolutely fantastic on this one.

And in a very fun track, they also cover “Mele Kalikimaka.”  With Randy Stine handling the main vocals, he manages to almost croon as well as Bing Crosby does.  They give it a great tropical feel that is perfect.  It may not replace Bing’s famous version, but it will come close.

Finally comes “To Christmas! (The Drinking Song).”  It looks at the countdown to Christmas from the point of view of your typical guy.  Now, I don’t drink, but I still find this take on things to be a lot of fun.  This is definitely one of their best original comedy songs to date.

With so many familiar songs, this disc feels like Christmas right away, and yet the fresh arrangements and lesser known tracks keep things interesting.  I have a smile on my face as soon as I start listening to it, and it doesn’t leave until I turn it off.

So if you are looking for another Christmas album to add to your collection, I highly recommend I’ll Have Another…Christmas Album.  Straight No Chaser will put you in the holiday spirit with no added help needed.

CD Length: 40:02
1. All I Want for Christmas is You
2. Mary, Did You Know?
3. Feels Like Christmas (Featuring Jana Kramer)
4. Do You Hear What I Hear?
5. Joy to the World
6. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
7. Run Run Rudolph
8. The Greatest Gift of All
9. Up on the Housetop
10. Sing We Know of Christmas
11. Mele Kalikimaka
12. Christmas Lights
13. Lully Lullay (Coventry Carol)
14. Winter Wonderland
15. To Christmas! (The Drinking Song)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Ornament Review: The Nativity #4 - Angel - 2001 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: We get an angel to complete the series
Cons: Why a shepherd boy and sheep?
The Bottom Line:
Unfocused final
Tries to put too much in piece
Could have been better

Angels Bring this Series to a Close

At the turn of this century, Hallmark released a miniature ornament series of The Nativity.  It only lasted four entries, and I’ve found that some pieces worked well, and others didn’t work out as planned.  Unfortunately, it went out on a weaker note.

This fourth entries features a few firsts.  This is the first time we get angels, or I should say one angel.  It’s also the first time we get any livestock, in this case we get several sheep.  However, it also includes another shepherd, which were the subject of the previous entry.  This time, I think it is supposed to be a shepherd boy.

The main focus is on the angel, who has his hands raised and wings out behind him.  In front of him and to the right side are the sheep and the shepherd boy.

This ornament, like the others in the series, is made out of pewter.  It is just that metallic silver color with no other paint or coloring to help us figure things out.  The sculpting is okay, but it really needs more size to fully show us what is going on here.

Yes, I am complaining about the size in a mini ornament, but when you are creating something just under an inch in size, you have to make sure you’ve got the space to create the detail you need, and in this case, I don’t think they quite pulled it off.

Additionally, I’m wondering why they included the shepherd boy and the sheep with this ornament.  Sheep would have been a great touch for the previous entry, since it was hard to tell for sure they were shepherds.  I think this ornament would have worked better with just one angel.

Like the earlier entries in the series, this piece has a flat bottom, so you can set the series out to create a scene if you want.  You’ll also find the series marker on the bottom.  It’s very small, but it is there.

The loop for hanging the ornament is on the back of the angel’s head.  When you go to hang it, you’ll find that it hangs straight.

The first two ornaments in the series worked well, so it’s a shame that the series ended on a piece that is confusing.  It’s not truly bad, but I do wish it were clearer and just focused on the angel.

Looking for more of this set?  Here are the rest of the Nativity series.

Original Price: $9.95

Saturday, November 26, 2016

November 26th's Weekly TV Thoughts

With Thanksgiving this week, I'm out of town with my family and enjoying some non-TV time.  Yes, I'll have to catch up on some shows when I get back, and I'll post about them next week.  But for now, here is what I did watch.

You'll notice that Shooter isn't on the list.  I knew I wouldn't have time to watch it before I left, and I decided to just let it go.  It probably got better after the pilot, but I don't need another show, and the pilot was so slow that I felt it wasn't worth trying to follow it.

Girl Meets World (11/18) – Yeah, I know, I missed this one.  But with this being a short week, that worked out okay.  I was actually surprised with where they went with the episode, having the actress being Katie’s former best friend.  It’s important to remember that people are more important than anything else.  And the guys auditioning to play themselves was hilarious.  Heck, the screenwriter’s scenes in the classroom were hilarious as well.

The Librarians – It’s back!  I really do enjoy this show.  And it sounds like we are in for a ton of fun as we start fighting Chaos in the ultimate battle of good and evil.  Of course, that does leave me wondering where we will go next season.  Still, it was fun to have everyone back and the comedy, especially with the sub, was great.

Supergirl – We saw Jeremiah!  So, the question is, what will the reprocutions of him helping Kara be?  You know there will be some.  As much as I’m not enjoying Alex’s storyline, I am glad she stood up for herself.  And she already knows who Guardian is.  That will be interesting, especially when Kara finds out.  Then again, they didn’t really have Kara keep her secret from many people in season one, so I like the fact that they are mirroring that with James/Guardian this season.

The Odd Couple – I saw where the two plots were going at least at first.  I certainly didn’t see the speeches turning out like they did.  And Felix’s meltdown was very funny.

Dancing with the Stars – The redemption dances were good, but those freestyles were amazing!  I always enjoy those so much because of the creativity that everyone puts into them.  I get the pressure, but I love the results.  I must admit I was really rooting for James, so I’m a little disappointed with the outcome.  Not that Laurie didn’t deserve to win and isn’t a sweetheart, but I was just hoping for James.  But as the judges said, all three of the finalists were awesome.  I would not have been truly upset with any of them winning.

The Flash – Just when I think the show has forgotten it’s heart, they offer an episode like this, where we get to see so much of all the characters and who they are, and it makes me fall in love with this team all over again.  I’m worried that we haven’t seen the last of Killer Frost and that Wally is going to have a hard time because of what his dad did.  I knew that Julian was involved somehow.  Seriously, can we get a new “twist” on this show?  Please?  And it was fun to see Greg Grunberg pop up here since I’ve been a fan since his days on Alias.

Team Ninja Warrior College Edition – I was hoping the ultimate Frisbee player would do better on the course, so that was disappointing.  On the other hand, it was fun seeing where the Georgia students were fun.  I recognized the towns from work.  Some of them were very good.  I bet we’re going to see them on the main show and doing well on it in a couple of years if the show stays around.  I’m looking forward to seeing what other colleges show up in the next few weeks.  Although Katy needs to come up with a different question when a woman tops the warped wall.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Book Review: E is for Evidence by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #5)

: 5 out of 5
Pros: Entertaining, creative mystery; strong characters
Cons: A couple very small niggles near the end
The Bottom Line:
Kinsey caught in web
And she must clear her own name
In fun fifth novel

A PI with Herself as a Client

I think one thing I’m enjoying about the Kinsey Millhone series is that, as a PI, she gets involved in mysteries that don’t start out as murder mysteries.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, a murder happens, but there is so much mystery beforehand that E is for Evidence doesn’t really need it.

It’s right before Christmas when the case file lands on Kinsey’s desk.  While she does work for herself, she still takes on quite a few cases for California Fidelity Insurance, where she rents some office space, and they’ve hired her to look into a fire.  She heads out on Christmas Eve and everything appears to be routine.

However, after the holiday, she is called into explain her report in person.  As she looks over the file, she sees pages that are different from what she based her report on.  When words like insurance fraud and accessory start being thrown around, Kinsey realizes she needs to find out what is happening before she finds herself arrested.  Is it a case of insurance fraud?  Is Kinsey the target for something?  Or is she an innocent bystander?

See what I mean?  We’ve got a great mystery on our hands even before murder enters the picture.  Of course, it does complicate things before we reach the end, and I was drawn into the book even more when that happened.  The plotting is tight, although I did have a small niggle or two with how things unfold near the end.  The climax, on the other hand, is absolutely wonderful.

There aren’t a ton of series regulars in the book since Kinsey is a loner.  However, even those that are in her life hardly show up because of the after Christmas setting of much of the action.  It was actually interesting seeing how that impacted Kinsey and her thoughts about her life; I enjoyed that character development.  Of course, we get some great new characters here that entertain while also providing the misdirection they need to as suspects.

Once again, I listened to the audio production of the book.  Mary Peiffer did another outstanding job bring the characters and story to life.  I love her narration, and I look forward to it as much as revisiting the characters.

So if you’ve missed E is for Evidence, I highly recommend it.  It’s an engrossing mystery with a strong cast of characters sure to keep you turning pages until you reach the end.

Interested in more of Kinsey's cases?  Here are the Kinsey Millhone mysteries in order.

This book is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

No new review today, but I do want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful for those of you who stop by and read my blog every day, once a week, or even occasionally.  You make the time and effort I put into this worth it.  And, while I know I'm bad about responding to comments, I appreciate all the comments you leave as well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Christmas #5 - Ice Skating - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene creatively displayed
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Our mouse ice skating
Series continues to shine
Cute and creative

The Fifth Cookie Cutter Christmas Ornament Will Skate Its Way Into Your Heart

While Hallmark has several series of scenes within a shape right now, the most popular and the cutest is definitely Cookie Cutter Christmas.  Honestly, I’m a bit surprised when I realized we have reached the fifth ornament in the series this year.  It’s another winner.

The ornament this year is in the shape of a mitten.  Now personally, a mitten is not something I think of when I think of cookie cutters.  Maybe it’s my lack of experience with cookie cutters or lack of imagination that are to blame for this, but either way, this is my only issue with the ornament and it’s a very minor one.

And a mitten does fit the scene inside.  Our little mouse friend is ice skating, something you definitely want to wear mittens for.  He’s got his arms spread, his scarf is flying out behind him, and he is obviously enjoying himself.  In the forefront of the scene are two gumdrop bushes.  Behind the lake are snow topped mountains and trees with snow on them.  They work in food to these ornaments as much as possible, which is why the trees have red dots on the top, making them look slightly like ice cream sundaes.  And the skates the mouse is skating on?  Candy canes, of course.

The word I have most often used to describe this series is cute, and it still applies here.  This is a very cute scene that is so much fun to look at.  There’s also the creativity of putting a complete scene instead the shape of the mitten cookie cutter.  I really do love this ornament.

And sometimes it’s the little details that make me smile.  In this case, the ice that the mouse is skating on is clear.  No, we don’t see anything in it – in fact, we see what looks like snow through it.  Still, it’s a bit of fun.

Some of the ornaments in this series will stand on their own, but this isn’t one of them.  That’s because the bottom of the ornament is the rounded part of the mittens.  However, it hangs perfectly straight, which isn’t surprising since the loop is in the top part of the cookie cutter.  And yes, you’ll find the series marker on the back of the ornament.

The creativity and cuteness of Cookie Cutter Christmas is still front and center for the fifth entry.  Fans of the series will be delighted, as will anyone looking for a cute ornament.

If you need more cuteness (and who doesn't), here are the rest of the Cookie Cutter Christmas ornaments.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review: Paint the Town Dead by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery with lots to keep you guessing
Cons: Characters could be a little stronger
The Bottom Line:
Painting convention
Takes a deadly turn in this
Complex mystery

Be Sure to Paint This Book Read

The blessing of having a huge to be read pile is you never are hurting for books to read.  The curse of having a huge to be read pile is it sometimes takes much longer than you intend to get to books you fully intend to read.  That was the case with Paint the Town Dead, the second Aurora Anderson mystery.  When I enjoyed the first back in June, I had hoped to read the sequel before now.  I still wish I’d read it sooner since I did enjoy it.

Aurora “Rory” Anderson is excited about the decorative painting convention that is coming to her seaside town of Vista Beach in Los Angeles County California.  She is taking some of the offered classes and helping out her mother who is one of the venders for the week-long event.  Even better, her friend Jasmine has recently returned to town.  As a fellow decorative painter, she is part of the convention as well.

Not that the week gets off to a smooth start.  The convention is being held at a new hotel in town, and building it has led to quite a bit of controversy.  In fact, there are picketers around when Rory shows up to help her mom set up.  However, nothing prepares her for Jasmine to collapse and die during the first class of the convention.  The police think it was a horrible accident, but Rory isn’t buying it.  Can she find proof that her friend was murdered?

It was great to be back in Vista Beach and with these characters again.  I love this small town setting, and I love the beach, so that’s definitely a plus.  While I like the characters, I felt they weren’t quite as developed as they could be.  Don’t get me wrong, I did care about them and I cared about the outcome.  They just need a little something more.  This applies to the series regulars and the suspects equally.

However, the plot more than makes up for any deficiency with the characters.  Things get off to an exciting start in the very first sentence, and events just keep happening as the book progresses.  Each of the suspects were so viable I thought I had it completely figured out several times before the end, yet when the real villain was revealed, it once again all made sense.  I truly enjoyed trying to figure it out with Rory.

So if you are looking for an exciting mystery that will keep you guessing until the final page, pick up Paint the Town Dead.  You’ll be happy you did.

Enjoy more art mixed with murder in the rest of the Aurora Anderson Mysteries.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Music Review: A Pentatonix Christmas by Pentatonix

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Coventry Carol” top a list of great songs
Cons: Two tracks seem out of place; repeated lyrics on a couple of others
The Bottom Line:
Christmas vocal fun
From quintet Pentatonix
Sure to please their fans

It’s Another Fun Pentatonix Christmas

When I found myself surprised by how much I loved Pentatonix’s last Christmas release, I vowed to pay attention to any future Christmas CD’s from this talented a cappella group.  So when A Pentatonix Christmas crossed my radar, I immediately made plans to add it to my Christmas collection.  I’m glad I did because it’s good.

If you are new to the group, this is a five person a cappella group featuring four guys and one woman.  But if you are thinking you know what they sound like because they are a cappella, don’t stick them in a box.  They are musical chameleons, blending in various styles to entertain and delight us.

Take the first two tracks.  “O Come All Ye Faithful” opens things up with a fairly traditional first verse.  But as the song progresses, it gets more and more African sounding.  Now if you are worried that this means they get disrespectful to the lyrics, don’t.  It works beautifully, and will leave you smiling with a different take on this classic carol.

The group completely switches times and locations with the next track, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” giving it a very proper Victorian feel.  Again, as the track goes on, they have some fun with it.  This is very easily the highlight of the disc and well worth the price of the disc all by itself.

So yes, we have two very diverse styles in just those first two tracks.  And yet, the changes we go through as the disc progresses are never jarring.  Pentatonix manages to blend everything together into a cohesive whole that is thoroughly entertaining and fun to listen to.

They even have a couple of original tracks on here.  “The Christmas Sing A-Long” is fun as it celebrates the joys of the season.  “Good to Be Bad’ finds member Kristin Maldonado singing about the things that might get her on the naughty list.  But will Santa let them slide?

The disc does have a few missteps.  Repeated lines in the hip hop infused “Up on the Housetop” and in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” can be a bit annoying.  Don’t get me wrong, I do like both of these tracks; I just wish they’d cut down on repeating certain lines.  Then there’s “Hallelujah” and “Coldest Winter,” which feel out of place to me on a Christmas disc.  Don’t get me wrong, I love both of these covers as they are expertly done.  I just question what exactly they are doing here.

On the other hand, there’s “White Christmas.”  This song goes from very mild jazz to a fun slightly tropical feel.  Manhattan Transfer joins for this song, and it is a delight.

And I can’t leave out “Coventry Carol.”  I got super excited when I saw this on the song list.  I just knew that Pentatonix would do a fabulous arrangement of this lesser recorded song.  Even with such high expectations, they blew me away.  This is right up there with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” for favorite song on the disc.

While A Pentatonix Christmas may not be quite as good as the other Christmas disc of theirs I have, it still have lots of great moments, and I’m thrilled to have it in my Christmas collection.  If you are looking for more great Christmas music, don’t hesitate to pick it up.

CD Length: 34:28
1. O Come, All Ye Faithful
2. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
3. White Christmas (Featuring Manhatten Transfer)
4. I’ll Be Home for Christmas
5. Up on the Housetop
6. The Christmas Sing-Along
7. Coventry Carol
8. Hallelujah
9. Coldest Winter
10. Good to be Bad
11. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #6 - Snow Angels - 2003 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Snoopy having fun making a snow angel
Cons: Some might not like the fact that it is a clip on
The Bottom Line:
Snow angel Snoopy
Ready to clip on your tree
Miniature fun

Unique Snow Angles Fun with Snoopy

After all the things I’ve been talking about I’ve never done thanks to the Winter Fun with Snoopy series, for the sixth entry, we’ve finally gotten to something I have done – make snow angels.  However, this ornament is unique in the miniature series.

The ornament itself is what you’d expect from the description.  We have Snoopy lying back in the snow flapping his arms and legs to make a snow angels.  His faithful companion Woodstock is standing on Snoopy’s feet watching the fun.  As Hallmark usually does, they’ve sprinkled their “snow” with glitter, which is always a nice touch.

Now I know what you are expecting me to say.  With Snoopy on his back, that means we have a nice wide base for setting this ornament out if you want.  And that’s wrong.  Additionally, you won’t be hanging this ornament.  Why is that?  Because it’s a clip on ornament.  The bottom features a clip you would use to attach it to a branch.  Fortunately, the clip is strong because it allows Snoopy to stay upright and not slip upside down on the branch.

I only have a couple of clip on ornaments, and it’s definitely something I have to think hard about.  Ornaments hang on your tree, right?  And yet, I think it works well in this case.  We don’t have a hanger attached to Snoopy’s stomach interrupting the look of the ornament.  With Snoopy flat on his back, it makes an obvious choice as well.  And it lets you sneak an ornament someplace you might not have room for one otherwise.

Once again, I will point out this is a miniature ornament, and I do mean it is small.  We’re talking about an inch at its biggest points.  And yet we still manage to get some good detail for the size in here, and it is easy to smile at Snoopy’s snow angel.

So if you are looking for something a little different for you tree that will make you smile, look for the sixth Winter Fun with Snoopy.  This 2003 ornament is a little different but it is still great.

And don't miss your chance to have more Winter Fun with Snoopy.

Original Price: $6.95

Saturday, November 19, 2016

November 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Apparently, I misunderstood what was happening with Conviction.  It aired like normal on Monday night.  But I decided to cut ties with it, so I didn't watch it.  I guess you could say I didn't feel convicted to watch it any more.  (Sorry, my brain thinks that is funny now but it will probably cringe when I read it again.)

Meanwhile, here is what I did watch this week.

Once Upon a Time – This may be my favorite episode of the season so far.  No flashbacks, but there wasn’t time with so many things going on.  They touched on and advanced so many of the stories, even bringing in Aladdin, Jasmin, and Henry’s girlfriend.  Lana is killing it as Regina and the Evil Queen, and the scenes with Snow and David were top notch as well.  Not having a plot like the last few seasons has been wonderful for the show this year because it truly does let us see all the main characters instead of sometimes stretching to include them in things.

Dancing with the Stars – It’s hard to argue the right person went home with the scores she got this week.  Yet I can’t think of who should have gone home.  Such a talented group of finalists.  I can hardly wait to see what they do next week.

Supergirl – Could they have sermonized any more?  Alex’s coming out was so clich├ęd.  Sorry, but that’s how it felt to me.  And then we get the lectures about Global Warming.  Yes, I know that guy was the villain, but still.  Things I did enjoy?  Seeing Lt. Disher from Monk very briefly.  Very intrigued by what happened via the blood transfusion.  How long will it be before Kara figures out who Guardian is?  Lots of interesting stuff to come, it just wasn’t a good episode overall.

The Odd Couple – On the other hand, I rather enjoyed this episode of the show.  The grandson was the biggest surprise.  Well, I’m shocked that Felix and Emily broke up.  I wonder how long that will last.  I like the potential of growth for her character, but I’m still a pick shocked about that.  And I’ve gone from being ready to give it up to being willing to keep watching.

The Flash – A cliffhanger!  Yikes, I can’t wait to see what happens with all of that.  And maybe I’m not that upset with them creating this alternative timeline since it is allowing for quite a bit with the characters.  Any thoughts that Julian is going to turn out to be Chronos?  That’s my current theory.  And just say no to Killer Frost, please.  I like Caitlin the way she is.  (Although I still want Diggle’s daughter back on Arrow.)

Shooter – I am coming to this show not having seen the movie on which it is based.  Frankly, I think I should just watch the movie and call it a day.  The pilot was only exciting in the last couple of minutes, and we knew that was coming from the very beginning.  And with Designated Survivor on now and 24 coming back in February, I really don’t need another conspiracy show of this kind.  I may give it another chance, but I probably will pass.

Survivor – The Millennials could have taken this easily.  But they are clearly imploding.  I’m all for that.  Go GenX!  Of course, stealing food like that?  How stupid can you be?  And I’m wondering what the fallout of the reward advantage is going to be?  People didn’t seem as upset over that as they were supposed to be at this tribal.

Arrow – Well, at least one of the new Team Arrow people isn’t in it for the long hall.  That’s too bad.  But who is this new vigilante?  I do hope that Lance once again gets the help he needs.  It’s hard to see him imploding like this.  I get why, but it’s hard.

Lethal Weapon – I found that I missed Murtog’s family.  I always enjoy the spark they add to things.  However, it was interesting to see Riggs having a bit of a spark with someone.  I know it won’t last since she’s a guest star, but still, I enjoyed that.  And a few good action scenes, too, especially in the very beginning.

Designated Survivor – Wow!  This show took a turn for the intense.  Kidnapped son.  Spotting the killer.  A VP pick in on the conspiracy.  And that’s just the FBI portion of the show.  I’m actually finding myself enjoying the Kirkman’s son sub-plot this episode.  I love that he knew and married his wife anyway since I love their relationship.  I hope their son doesn’t flip out too much.

Legends of Tomorrow – Maybe it’s because I don’t know the comics or I forgot something from last time, but what is going on with Jonah’s face?  That was seriously creeping me out.  Loved how they moved several things forward, but I’m most curious about these flashes that Martin is having.  And I got some excited to see the last few moments.  The crossover is coming!!!!  I can’t wait for that.

Big Bang Theory – Usually, they don’t have the A and B stories come together, but the way they did at the end was absolutely brilliant.  And both stories had some great moments this week.  Heck, we even got to see Barry, something I wasn’t sure would happen since he has his own show on ABC this year.  (Well, the actor, not Barry.)  All in all, another fun episode.

The Great Indoors – Definitely their best episode yet, and that was because they went with character and story over trying to force generation vs. generation jokes.  Having said that, I was dying at the 90’s jokes.  Still, if they can continue to grow the characters and the jokes from them, I’ll be more willing to stick around.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Gourmet Detective - Death Al Dente

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, laughs, mystery
Cons: Characters stupid at the climax
The Bottom Line:
A foodie murder
Provides more fun for viewers
Enjoyable flick

“What Are You, One of the Hardy Boys?”  “Hey, the Hardy Boys Solved Every Case.”

I got caught up on The Gourmet Detective movies just in time for Hallmark to premier the third in the series, Death Al Dente.  Frankly, I’ve been really enjoying this mix of romance, mystery, and food, and I’m thrilled to say that the third continued to entertain.

Renowned San Francisco food expert Henry Roth (Dylan Neal) and San Francisco Homicide Detective Maggie Price (Brooke Burns) are among the guests to celebrate a local Italian restaurant receiving the best of the city award for the year.  Henry is good friends with the owners, Leo (Ben Wilkinson) and his wife Claudia (Jordana Largy).  During the evening, Leo mentions that someone broke into the restaurant the week before, but nothing had been stolen.

However, the next morning, someone breaks in again, and this time, Leo is shot.  Claudia finds him, and Leo is rushed to the hospital where Leo is in a coma.  While technically not a homicide, something doesn’t feel right to Maggie, and she works her way into the case with Henry as a consultant.  Can the two figure out what is happening?

Once again, we are presented with a good mystery filled with viable suspects.  The plot manages to weave in some surprising and interesting ways before we reach the climax.

Of course, I have to rant about the climax for a minute.  Henry and Maggie get very close to the too stupid to live threshold by what they do.  No, I’m not going to spoil anything, but you’ll know it when you see it.

The romance heats up here as both Henry and Maggie’s ex’s pop into the picture.  I actually found some of these scenes to be extremely funny, and I loved it.  Honestly, their relationship and the banter between the characters still reminds me of Castle, the early years.

Of course, the movie does still have that Hallmark feel to it, although with each movie I watch, I’m finding it less and less.  The acting is fine for a Hallmark movie, and as long as you remember what it is when you sit down to watch it, you’ll be fine.

These movies are based on books written by Peter King in the second half of the 90’s and early 2000’s.  I’ve never read the books, but I do have to wonder about the changes they’ve made as they bring the books to the big screen.  It seems that everyone has a smart phone, and they even talk about Facebook apps in this movie.  This particular books was published in 1999, so I doubt it was part of the original story.  I’m just thinking out loud at this point because it certainly doesn’t hurt the movie version of the story in the slightest.

I really do need to read some of Peter King’s books.  But until that happens, I’m going to keep enjoying the movie versions of his characters because they continue to entertain.  If you are a fan of light, cozy mysteries, be sure to check out Death Al Dente.

This movie is part of the Gourmet Detective DVD Collection.

November 18th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Here it is - Friday!  And you know what that means, time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week's book is Paint the Town Dead by Sybil Johnson.


Are you looking for a book that jumps right into the action?  This book is definitely for you.  Here's the opening:
The rock crashed through the window, barely missing Rory Anderson's head, and slammed into the bookcase behind her.

Yep, that definitely got my attention.

I'm cheating a little with the Friday 56 this week.  I'm going with the Friday 57 because I liked this paragraph that closes out a chapter best, and it happens to be on page 57:

Rory pressed her ear to the door and listened.  A faint sound of reminiscent of a drawer sliding open came from behind the locked door.  "Someone's inside."  She slipped the key card in the lock and turned the handle.

I actually finished the book yesterday, and I will be reviewing it on Tuesday.  I hope you'll stop back by and see what I thought.

And I hope you have a great weekend.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book Review: Rhythm and Clues by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Odelia Grey #11)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fast moving mystery, strong characters, fun
Cons: Most supporting players aren’t active, but book so fun you don’t really miss them
The Bottom Line:
A missing rock star
Leads to deadly adventure
Always delightful

Intrigue in the Retirement Community

Normally, you think of a retirement community as being a peaceful place with little noise, making it nice and relaxing.  Of course, when Odelia Grey’s mother lives in one, it is anything but peaceful.  That’s what we learn in Rhythm and Clues, the eleventh in the long running series, and it’s another great read.

Odelia’s mother, Grace, lives in Seaside Retirement Community, a collection of condos in Long Beach for the 55 and older crowd.  She’s made only a few friends in the community thanks to her prickly personality, but one of those friends is Boaz Shankleman.  Odelia is very surprised to learn that Boaz is actually Bo Shank, the lead singer of Acid Rain, a band that Odelia loved when she was in college in the 80’s.

Of course, this comes out when Grace comes to Odelia for help because Boaz has disappeared.  He’s been gone for two weeks, and no one knows where he is.  Odelia agrees to nose around a little just to satisfy her mom.  She doesn’t think there is anything seriously wrong – until the dead body turns up.  Suddenly, Odelia and Grace find themselves in a puzzle where nothing makes sense.  What is going on?

Grace has easily become one of my favorite additions to the series.  She is always delightfully funny and boasts any book where she has major page time.  That’s definitely the case again here as she is Odelia’s main sidekick.  I laughed my way through the book at her antics and the responses they drew from Odelia.

Actually, many of the supporting characters are out of town for much of the book, so we don’t get to see them.  Don’t worry, all your favorites have cameos, but they aren’t around as much as you might expect.  And yet, as the book progressed, I realized I wasn’t missing them.  The characters we do have, including one of Odelia’s nieces and a series recurring character, more than make up for any missing regulars.  Add in the suspects we meet along the way, and you have a book filled with memorable characters.

The other reason I didn’t miss the regular gang is because the plot is so strong.  We jump right in to conflict, and things never slow down.  The entire book takes place in just a few days, with no real time or space for major sub-plots.  And with the twists and turns we get along the way, I never wanted to put the book down.

If you are new to Odelia or a longtime fan, you’ll find this book to be a wonderful read.  Sue Ann Jaffarian continues to be one of my favorite authors, and Rhythm and Clues is another fabulous example of why that is.

Once you meet Odelia, you’ll want to read the rest of the Odelia Grey Mysteries.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ornament Review: 12 Little Days of Christmas Days 7-9 - 2016 Hallmark Ornament Set

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 3 more delightful mini days
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Transitions in set
But quality is still great
Set worth collection

Entering New Territory with the Third 12 Little Days of Christmas Set

This the third set of the 12 Little Days of Christmas series, we’ve definitely entered new territory in two ways.  See, this miniature series is based on the popular 12 Days of Christmas series Hallmark started in 2010 and which released its sixth entry this year.  That’s right, all of these ornaments are based on designs we haven’t seen full sized versions of yet.  Plus we have the transition from birds to humans in the set as well.

Each set in this miniature series includes three mini ornaments, so it covers three days.  Here, we get days 7 through 9.  Up first is the final bird, the swan-a-swimming.  This swan has an elongated neck and his bill is actually touching his neck.  The crown in his head is gold as is where his wings attach to his body.  The rest is white, in keeping with the white and gold theme for the rest of the series.  There is a dangle under him that is a 7 in a heart.

The other two ornaments in this set are ladies.  The maid-a-milking is wearing a nice, white dress with gold accents and a gold bow in the back.  She has pretty gold hair, and she’s holding a golden pail in front of her with the 8 on it.  That’s right, the people seem to be holding the number, so we don’t have dangles for the last two days.

Finally comes our lady dancing.  She is highlighted by a golden tie for the bun on top of her head, gold sleeves and hems on her dress and golden shoes.  Her number, 9, is once again on a heart, and this time she is holding it beside her like a prop she is dancing with.

I am loving these sneak peeks at the rest of the series.  Obviously, designs can change and we don’t know what the colors on the final ornaments will be, but it is still very fun to see what they are thinking for the rest of the series as of right now.

And I like these ornaments as they are.  The white porcelain and gold combination is still wonderful together, and they use just enough gold to highlight certain things and help us know exactly what each item is.

The ornaments in this series, full size and mini both, have all had dangle elements so far, so setting them out has not been an option.  Even though we’ve dropped the dangle elements with days 8 and 9, they still don’t stand on their own before their feet are so small.  You can lean the maid-a-milking, but the lady dancing’s feet are at such an angle she will never stand.

But that’s no problem because when hanging, these ornaments look great.  All of them are balances so that they hang straight.

These sets are so much fun.  Now that days 7-9 have been released, we are just one set away from having the complete 12 Little Days of Christmas, and I can’t wait to add it to my collection.

Need to get them all as well?  Here are the rest of the 12 Little Days of Christmas.

Original Price: $24.95

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book Review: Get Me to the Grave on Time by D. E. Ireland (Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong, growing characters in a fun mystery
Cons: All cons buried in the grave
The Bottom Line:
Wedding day murder
Henry, Eliza are back
Series is still strong

Four Weddings and a Murder

It’s always heart breaking when a series you love gets canceled.  But when another publisher picks it up, that is cause for rejoicing.  So when the writing team of D. E. Ireland found a new home for their delightful Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mysteries, I definitely rejoiced, and I jumped at a chance to read Get Me to the Grave on Time.  The series may have changed publishers, but fans will still absolutely love it.

If you are new to the series, it picks up after the events of Pygmalion, more famous as the musical My Fair Lady, and features all the characters you love.  As a result, the series is set in 1913 London society, and with the various character’s backgrounds, we get quite a view of the world at that time.

As this book opens, linguistics professor Henry Higgins is disappointed at the prospect of four weddings in the next four weeks.  It seems various friends and relatives are getting married and expecting Higgins to show up.  On the other hand, Eliza Doolittle is delighted since it gives her a chance to show off some new dresses she’s bought.  Her only worry is that Freddy Eynsford Hill, her boyfriend, will view this as an opportunity to propose.  Again.

But the unthinkable happens at the first wedding they attend.  After the guests have left the church, the groom is found dead – poisoned.  Why would someone kill the groom on his wedding day?  Despite their past success finding killers, Henry and Eliza don’t want to dig into this one.  However, an incident at the next wedding they attend makes it personal, and they begin trying to find the connection.  What could it be?

Those new to the world of this series can jump in here.  We get enough background on the characters that even if you haven’t seen the plays or movie that first introduced us to these characters, you’ll understand what has happened before.  And they certainly don’t spoil the previous mysteries, although anything we’ve learned in the previous books relating to the characters and where they are now is explained as well.

But all this explaining doesn’t slow down the mystery.  Things get off to a quick start, and that pace continues for the entire book.  The plot weaves in some interesting themes and suspects before we reach the climax.  And what a climax!  I’m not going to spoil anything about it; I’m just going to say that I loved it.

Over the course of the first two books, the authors have done a great job of making these characters their own.  They’ve fleshed them out and added to what we know of them from the original source material.  That continues here, and I truly love how they have evolved everyone.  They’ve taken the edges off of Henry, which is important since I actually find him rather annoying in My Fair Lady (to put it mildly).  They’ve given Eliza more self-confidence.  All of this character growth feels natural for the characters.  The supporting characters from the play have been getting the same treatment.  Of course, the characters introduced for this mystery are just as strong and real.

The book does a great job of exploring the various social issues happening in England in 1913.  Over the course of the book, we get a good look at a wide range of social groups, and it’s an interesting glimpse into life back then.

Not to say that the book is all serious.  There are some truly laugh out loud moments that are completely delightful.

The author continue to use limited third person narration to tell their story, switching between Eliza and Henry to convey the action.  It’s a wonderful technique that they use to perfect effect.

If you haven’t read this series yet, I really can’t recommend it highly enough.  Whether you start from the beginning or jump in with Get Me to the Grave on Time, you’ll find yourself swept to another time and place and loving every page of it.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Music Review: Tennessee Christmas by Amy Grant

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Many fun Christmassy tracks
Cons: “Melancholy Christmas” and “Another Merry Christmas”
The Bottom Line:
More Amy Christmas
Mostly simple yet fun tracks
Worth buying for fans

More Christmas Joy from Amy Grant

Amy Grant’s previous Christmas releases have a prominent place in my Christmas music rotation each year in December, so when I learned she was releasing Tennessee Christmas, I jumped to get it.  While there are some great tracks on here, it’s not quite as strong as her best.

The disc opens with a new version of the title track, which has become a classic since she originally recorded it in 1983.  This is a simplified, almost acoustic version of the track.  Don’t worry, you’ll still recognize this tribute to spending the holiday with family, but the subtle differences are fun.

This song sets the tone for much of what follows.  Many of the tracks are just Amy with a guitar, a keyboard, and some percussion.  It’s simple, yet it works.  And when she does layer in the other instruments or the background singers, the songs sound just as good.

Spending time with family is another constant theme of the disc.  It pops up in the mid-tempoed “To be Together.”  And if you are looking for a bit of fun, check out the upbeat “Christmas for You and Me.”  I guarantee that song will give you a smile or two.  Likewise, “Still Can’t Sleep” captures my joy and excitement of the season.

Amy does throw in a couple of very somber moments.  “Melancholy Christmas” is written from the point of view of someone who is lonely during the holidays.  Meanwhile, “Another Merry Christmas” is about those who struggle during the season.  I get that it is important to remember people like she sings about in these songs, but they are pretty depressing pieces, and I definitely will be skipping them on a regular basis.

While there are plenty of new tracks or at least less recorded tracks, like the 70’s vibing “December” and the Broadway feeling “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” the disc has very view traditional tracks.  I guess that happens when you are on your fourth Christmas release.  Still, Amy Grant provides us with a light jazz cover of “White Christmas” and a slow version of “Joy to the World.”  I must admit that it took me a couple listens to get into this one, but I do find myself enjoying it.

Amy also does a cover of “Christmas Don’t Be Late.”  Yes, it’s the lyrics of the Chipmunk song, but she never does Chipmunk voices.  Instead, she does talk a bit in between choruses, and I find that I enjoy that.  (Talking can get old at times.)  The last time through, her daughters join her, and the quartet sounds amazing together.

She is also joined with a group of family and friends for the final track, “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  She starts by introducing the song and doing the last verse just her and a guitar.  It’s nice, but when the choir comes in, it sounds amazing.

No, this disc doesn’t reach the levels of Amy Grant’s first couple of Christmas releases, but Tennessee Christmas is still enjoyable.  I will be listening to it for years to come.

CD Length: 42:21
1. Tennessee Christmas
2. To Be Together
3. Christmas for You and Me
4. Melancholy Christmas
5. December
6. White Christmas
7. Joy to the World
8. I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
9. Baby, It’s Cold Outside (with Vince Gill)
10. Christmas Don’t Be Late
11. Still Can’t Sleep
12. Another Merry Christmas
13. O Come, All Ye Faithful

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Book Review: Lodestar by Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters; fast moving and fun plot
Cons: I have to wait how long to find out what happens next?
The Bottom Line:
Searching for Lodestar
Keeps Sophie and friends busy
As we turn pages

Can Sophie Solve the Mystery of the Lodestar?

A chance meeting five years ago led me to discover the books of Shannon Messenger, and I am so thankful.  I am completely hooked on her Keeper of the Lost Cities series.  They may be fantasy books aimed at kids, but they are outstanding for any age.  Lodestar just came out, and I bumped it to the top of my to be read pile because I absolutely had to know what happened next.

Now if you have not yet met Sophie Foster and her family and friends, DON’T START HERE.  Seriously, I can’t emphasize that enough.  I am going to attempt to write my review in such a way that it doesn’t spoil not only this book but also the previous books, and considering the cliffhanger the last book left us with, that’s going to be hard.  Plus, you won’t truly appreciate all that happens here if you jump in with book five of the series.  Trust me, you won’t be sorry you headed back to the beginning.

The series is set in a world parallel to ours that contain all those creatures you thought were mythical.  They just withdrew from our world.  Sophie Foster, a young teen elf, is our main character.  She’s found herself caught up in the changes happening to her world, including a fight with a group who call themselves Neverseen and are out to gain power for themselves.

This book opens just a few weeks after the previous book ended.  Sophie and her friends have returned to school in time for mid-terms, but as the break starts, the Neverseen make a move that shocks everyone.  Sophie isn’t content to remain on the sidelines and begins to press for things she thinks will help figure out the Neverseen’s next move so they can be stopped.  This especially hits home when Sophie gets a warning that her family might be a target for the group.

But through all their efforts, Sophie and her friends keep finding a symbol and a reference to the Lodestar Initiative.  What does the symbol mean?  And what is Lodestar?  Can Sophie find a way to stop the Neverseen’s latest plan?

Phew, avoiding spoilers of previous books was harder than I thought.  Hopefully, this still gives you a feel for the plot because once again it is a wonderful ride.  The book is 676 pages, but it never feels like it is dragging.  There is always something happening to advance the story.  Granted, it helps that the story is advancing on several different fronts, but each piece of the puzzle leads us somewhere interesting.  And watching how everything comes together at the end was wonderful.

Meanwhile, the characters are just as strong as ever.  All the regulars are back, and they all get a chance to show some growth.  (Yes, even that character.  Fans of the series will know who I mean.)  I love these characters, and it is always fantastic to spend time with them, and this book was no exception.

As I mentioned, the last book ended with a cliffhanger, but I wasn’t that concerned about what would happen next.  This book has a cliffhanger as well.  I was shocked by it, and I am definitely anxious to find out what happens next.  I’m starting the countdown to the release date for book six even though we don’t have a release date for the book yet.  That’s how anxious I am.

As much as I’d love to reread the books in the series before starting the new one, I don’t have that kind of time.  I appreciated the little hints and reminders of earlier events that the author included in this book to jog my memory about things that happened previously.  I still don’t recommend jumping into the series here.  Sophie’s adventures and the characters are too good to do that to yourself.

So if you have already met Sophie, don’t hesitate to pick up Lodestar.  You’ll love it every bit as much as the previous books in the series.  And if you haven’t started yet, fix that today.

If you need to meet Sophie or catch up on her adventures, here are the Keeper of the Lost Cities books in order.

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