Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Book Review: A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley (Writer's Apprentice Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fun plot
Cons: A few issues near the end
The Bottom Line:
Writing with idol
Dead body on the lake’s beach
Recipe for fun

Chance of a Lifetime.  Plus Murder.

I’ve been a fans of the comic strip Peanuts and especially Snoopy’s failed writing career for years.  Naturally, that means that a book entitled A Dark and Stormy Murder would peak my interest.  I finally put it on the top of my TBR pile, and I’m glad I did.

No, the book doesn’t revolve around anything Peanuts related.  In fact, the book plays off Gothic tropes.  You see, the book centers on Lena London.  She’s long been a fan of the Gothic suspense novels of Camilla Graham, so she is shocked when her friend announces that she knows Camilla.  But when Lena, an aspiring novelist, gets the chance to work for Camilla, polishing her newest novel, Lena jumps at the chance.

And so Lena moves to the small town of Blue Lake, Indiana, and into the mansion that Camilla has inherited from her husband.  Lena arrives in town just before a bad rainstorm.  That afternoon, Lena finds the dead body of a local young man on the shore of the lake near Camilla’s home.  Why was he killed?

There is certainly a level of wish fulfillment in this book as Lena gets to work with her idol.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that.  Lena finds herself living a wonderful life, and it’s easy to slip into that fantasy.  I did feel that went too far too quickly near the end of the book, but it was a mostly minor issue.

Meanwhile, the plot is intriguing.  While I haven’t read many (if any) Gothic suspense novels, I could certainly recognize some of the things from that genre that author Julia Buckley was adding to the usual cozy elements here.  As a result, the story doesn’t evolve in a typical cozy manner, but that change of pace was fun.  My lack of knowledge of gothic novels might have made me miss a couple of things, but if so, I didn’t notice, and everything here made sense to me as presented.  A sub-plot involving the mysterious man next door adds to the fun.  The pacing and timeline were a little off near the end, but again, that’s a mostly minor issue.  The ending will definitely make you want to pick up the next in the series.

It’s hard not to like the characters.  I can only think of a couple that I hadn’t warmed up to by the end of the book.  Yes, Lena learns a lesson about judging a book by its cover (to steal an appropriate cliché) here.

To add to the fun, each chapter of this book opens with an appropriate excerpt from Camilla’s work in progress, the book that she and Lena are working on in this story.

A Dark and Storm Murder is fun debut.  I’m certainly looking forward to picking up the sequel soon.

You'll definitely want to pick up the rest of the Writer's Apprentice Mysteries.

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

Monday, February 27, 2017

What's on My Nightstand - February 2017

It's been a long time since I've done What's on Your Nightstand.  I just keep forgetting to do it!  But let's change that this month, shall we?

Of course, these days, what's on my nightstand is a teaser a long way out.  For example, I'm reading The Silence of the Flans by Laura Bradford.  The book doesn't come out for a week, and I won't be reviewing it until March 9th.  I like to give myself plenty of lead time in case something comes up and I can't read like I normally do.  But I've got three book reviews coming up between now and then, A Dark and Stormy Murder, Bitter Harvest, and Gone with the Twins.

After that?  I'm going to be working on the Agatha Award nominees I still want to read, including Say No More, Design for Dying, and The Semester of Our Discontent.  That should keep me busy for a few weeks.

Ornament Review: A Sweet Surprise - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great scene and fun magic elements
Cons: Really wish it were a Magic Cord ornament
The Bottom Line:
A gingerbread house
Complete with music and lights
Pleasing ornament

Light and Music Make This Ornament Sweet

I have self-control when it comes to Hallmark ornaments.  (Really, you can stop laughing now.)  I don’t buy every ornament I want as soon as it comes out.  In fact, in the case of 2016’s A Sweet Surprise, I waited until after Christmas and bought it for half off.

This ornament combines Hallmark’s recent rash of scene inside ornaments with the recently completed Noelville series.  Add in a magic element, and you have an ornament I ultimately fell for.

The ornament itself is a teardrop shaped ball with the point at the bottom.  It is blue on the bottom half and white glittery snow on top.  Inside, we see a scene of a gingerbread house sitting in the snow.  Next to it is a reindeer made from a roll cake.  There are two trees next to the house, but they are the only thing that doesn’t appear to be made of food.

As someone who was collecting the Noelville series, which featured a town made from gingerbread houses, I immediately caught the connection here.  But this ornament works well even if you didn’t collect that series.  After all, this isn’t an official series piece.  It’s very festive and beautiful looking.

And that’s before you add the light and sound.  When you press the button disguised as one of the stones leading up to the house, you get a second sound clip of “Deck the Halls” while lights inside the ornament flash along.  The clip is just over 20 seconds.  The house and trees themselves light up, and the background switches between green and blue lights.

Which brings me to my only real complaint about this ornament.  To get the show to play, you need to install 3 button batteries.  This is the perfect piece for Hallmark Magic Cord.  If this were a Magic Cord ornament, I probably would have bought it right away.  I would love to see this ornament interacting with others and their light shows.  It’s fun as an individual ornament, but it would be awesome as a Magic Cord piece.  And the price point certainly supports that since this is on the pricey side for a magic ornament but in line with what Magic Cord ornaments cost.

Since the point of the teardrop is at the bottom of this ornament, you have to hang it.  Fortunately, the ornament hangs straight.  That’s no real surprise since the ornament is a ball.  It is heavy, however, so you’ll want to make sure you put it on a sturdy branch.

Even though this is just a regular magic ornament, it is still very fun.  If you missed A Sweet Surprise, you might want to give it a second look.

Original Price: $29.95

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Music Review: Doxology by Aaron Shust

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Many of the songs are fun on their own
Cons: The songs sound too similar to each other; some repetitive lyrics
The Bottom Line:
Overall okay
Good individual songs
Sound too much alike

Sum Not Greater Than the Pieces

Sometimes, an artist I usually like releases a disc that I don’t like right away.  When that happens, I put the disc aside and come back to it later, and those new ears are often enough to make me like the disc again.  However, in the case of Aaron Shust’s Doxology, I’m finding my initial impression holds true.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really do love many of the songs on this disc.  “Always Will Be” starts things off strongly with an upbeat song about our God who has always existed.  “It Is Finished” has made my Easter playlist with this reflection on Jesus’s work on the cross.  God’s power over everything in life is the theme in “The Great Overcomer” and “Triumphant Conqueror.”  And there are songs of pure praise such as “Oh Praise (The Only One)” and “To the Only God.”

The problems come when you start looking at this disc as a whole.  And I could tell the problem right away.  “Always Will Be” finishes up with an upbeat, guitar driven sound and bleeds into “It Is Finished.”  If it weren’t for a few seconds of silence between the songs, you might think they were part of the same song.  They sound the same stylistically and they even sound like they are in the same key.  There are some minor changes in other songs, like the Gospel flavored “Come Quickly,” but the disc needed more style variety since most of the songs sound like these two.

Aaron Shust is a worship artist, and he has always walked that border between that genre and the contemporary Christian genre I love.  This disc heads more to the worship side of the genre, which means it lacks a certain depth.  Even worse are the repetitive lyrics, like on “Come Quickly” or the six and a half minute “Nothing More.”  Songs like that turn me off to a disc, and I start zoning out.  Couple that with songs that all sound similar, and there’s a real problem.

Which is a shame because there are many songs on here I do like individually.  I’ve added those songs to my iTunes library and always smile when one of them pops up to be played.  But when I listen to the disc together, it starts to lose its appeal.

So I recommend that you sample Doxology before you buy the entire thing.  This is definitely a case where finding and buying your favorite songs is the best way to go..

CD Length: 45:15
1. Always Will Be
2. It Is Finished
3. Oh Praise (The Only One)
4. The Great Overcomer
5. Never Gonna Let Me Go
6. How Majestic
7. Come Quickly
8. Nothing More
9. Triumphant Conqueror
10. To the Only God

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ornament Review: Freddy F. Freestyle - Snowtop Lodge #6 - 2010 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great skiing themed snowman
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Snowman and skiing
Great combination again
For this series piece

Freddy Takes His Skiing Seriously

What snowman wouldn’t love skiing?  It’s such a natural fit that of course we had to get an entry for it in the Snowtop Lodge ornament series from Hallmark.  Freddy F. Freestyle fills the bill with style.

Freddy is ready to hit the slopes.  He’s holding his skis with his left arm.  In an effort to fight off the cold, he’s got a red scarf around his neck, and he’s wearing a green vest.  And he has his ski goggles on his forehead so he can lower them into place just as soon as the sun’s glare hits him.  He’s excited for the day to come since he is smiling.

Or maybe he’s thinking about the day that’s been.  Either way, he is not actually skiing.  However, the snowpeople in this series all feature a scene painted on them, and Freddy’s shows some people who are currently enjoying the slopes, most on skis but one snowboarding.  There appears to be snow coming down right now to make the skiing even better.  Behind the skiers you can see some trees and more mountains.

Like the rest of the series, Freddie has a nice flat base, so you could set this collection out to enjoy together.  They are porcelain, so you’d want to make sure they were in a place they wouldn’t be bumped if you did that.  You’ll find the six in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom of the ornament.

Or you can hang Freddy on your tree.  If you want to do that, you’ll find the loop on top of his head.  He does tip forward a little, but it’s not too bad, so you can easily hide it with branches on your tree.

Even though I’m not a skier, it is easy to appreciate Freddy F. Freestyle.  The work and detail in this ornament make it another winner for the Snowtop Lodge series.

Collect more of these fun snowmen with the rest of the Snowtop Lodge series.

Original Price: $18.95

February 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

And here we go - thoughts on what I watched this week.

24: Legacy – So is the kid dead this time?  Seems like he would be, but I thought he was dead two hours ago.  I’m a little surprised, I figured they’d drag that out and make him a throne in the side before he died.  I’m also surprised the father confessed so quickly, although you know he’s not going to cooperate in the future at all.  His motives?  I can almost see it except for how he just wrote off those deaths.  At that point, I was done with him.  And we have a soon to be fire CTU analyst.  Could they have made that any more obvious?  I’m curious what the wife’s storyline is going to be going forward.  That’s about the only cliffhanger we don’t have.

Supergirl – That was fun.  It also really should have aired last Monday, but that’s beside the point.  Any episode I’ve ever seen with that villain has been fun, and the way they trick him into saying his name backwards…yes, I knew what Supergirl was having him do there at the end, but it was still so much fun when he figured it out.

American Ninja Warrior – The All Star episode is always fun just because we get to see what those people can actually do.  Wow!  Pretty impressive.

The Flash – Is it just me, or the more they try to change the future, the more it seems to be happening.  Although it looks like Grodd had something else up his sleeve at the end and didn’t need them anyway.  I’m not a fan of Grodd in general or Planet of the Apes type stories, so I didn’t care for this week’s episode.  Not looking forward to next week, but I’m sure then we can get back to normal.

Legends of Tomorrow – This show can be so funny.  Yes, we are fighting an epic battle of good and evil, but there were so many funny lines, especially from Nick.  Considering Arthur is more legend than history, I liked their explanation for it, but it was still fun to visit.

This Is Us – So what does it say about me that this is the episode that affected me the least of the entire run so far?  Maybe it’s that we’ve known William was going to die since the very first episode.  I’ve never really liked his character, but maybe that was me protecting myself since we knew this was coming.  I was very wrong in my prediction that it would happen in the season finale.  I should have seen it coming at this point, however, because it gives us a couple of episodes to see Randall react to all of this.

Arrow – We’re playing with Oliver’s secret again.  And now the press has wind of the “cover up.”  This is going to get very interesting.  And I enjoyed the fact that we were back to regular Arrow and not a political hot button Arrow.

Lethal Weapon – The college may have been fictional, but I loved seeing the Rose Bowl pop up.  I know this show is set in LA, but still.  And how much cheaper was the actress to just use her voice instead of actually show her?  That’s what I want to know.

Suits – That was a bit of a surprise.  I was expecting a twist/cliffhanger on the Mike storyline, not on Louis and his fiancée.  Everyone is all in on Mike getting into the bar.  How will Harvey react when he learns Mike doesn’t intend to come back to their firm?  That’s going to make him furious.

The Big Bang Theory – That was the funniest episode of the season.  So many great lines and funny stories.  I loved Howard actually doing chores, poor Stuart and how he was being treated, and Penny and Leonard trying to stick with something they didn’t want.  Plus their compromise at the end was hilarious.  However, the best line of the night was Leonard’s “We don’t know.  His mother didn’t have him tested.”  Way to play on an old running gag.

The Great Indoors – Strongest episode of the season.  That party was hilarious in how many ways it went wrong and just kept going wronger.  Of course, it helped to know the characters, but really, that was great stuff.

Powerless – Obviously, I was looking for laughs or these three shows were all great Thursday night.  Dating a henceman was a brilliant plot idea, and the computer screen (yes, I paused my DVR) was pure comedy.  They played it out perfectly.

Friday, February 24, 2017

TV Show Review: Newhart - Season 7

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mostly good episodes and laughs
Cons: Definitely going over the top
The Bottom Line:
The laughs are still there
As characters go broader
Fun if not the best

“Because of You, I May Have to Eat Beetle Tonight.”

I’ve longed believed season 3 through 6 were the sweet spot of Newhart.  Those seasons have some of my favorite episodes of the show period (yes, even better than the famous series finale in my opinion).  That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy some of the episodes from season 7, something that was confirmed for me as I watched the recent DVD release of the show.

The setup of the show is the same as it has been for years.  Dick and Joanna Loudon (Bob Newhart and Mary Frann) own and run the Stratford Inn, a bed and breakfast in Vermont.  Naturally, they have two employees, George Utley (Tom Poston), who has been the handyman at the inn all his life, upholding a long family tradition, and Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) a spoiled rich girl who has been forced to become a maid.  In addition to running the inn, Dick also writes how to books and hosts a weekly TV talk show at the local television station.  His producer on the show, yuppie Michael Harris (Peter Scolari), is also Stephanie’s boyfriend.  While these are the five main characters, we also regularly see Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl (William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss, and John Voldstad).  These backwoodsmen also run the Minute Man Café next door.

Over the course of these 22 episodes, Stephanie winds up with appendicitis and gets blood from the last person she wants.  Joanna starts a new career as a realtor.  The love of George’s life, a former maid at the inn, shows up again.  Larry and the Darryls throw a surprising dinner party.  And in one of my favorite episodes, Dick tries his hand at fiction writing with a murder mystery with thinly disguised characters based on all the people in his life.

This season actually introduces a story arc for the first time in the show.  Early in the season, Michael loses his job at the TV station and spends time trying out various careers before winding up in the mental institution.  Meanwhile, he breaks up with Stephanie to protect her from having to deal with what he is facing.  Naturally, we gets episodes that focus on this and some that spring off this while others completely ignore it with Michael just having a couple of scenes.

And, honestly, this is one of the things that hurts the show this season.  The story arc itself is very uneven.  Some of the episodes are actually pretty funny; others border on the painful.  It does provide a bit of interesting growth for the characters, although I’m not sure it was worth it.  Then again, this arc does give us “A Message from Michael,” which is one of my favorite episodes of the season.

Not that all the bad episodes of the season are related to this arc.  For example “The Nice Man Cometh” is absolutely painful as Dick becomes a nightly target for an insult comic, with the rest of the town getting into the act.  Seriously, this episode is painful to watch and there is nothing funny about it.

The uneven nature of the humor is coupled with the characters going over the top, something they’ve been flirting with for a couple of seasons now.  This is most notable with Michael, whose use of alliteration and cutesy nicknames finally crosses a line at times.  Again, at times it is fun and other times it is overbearing.

Because this season isn’t as strong as the last four, the flaws are more pronounced.  However, there are still plenty of laughs in this season.  And we do love these characters, so it’s hard not to enjoy spending time with them.

The acting is still fine.  Yes, there is some overacting in a few episodes, but it feels like the acting is following the writing and not the other way around.  Kathy Kinney shows up as Miss Goddard for the first time in this season, which surprised me.  I was thinking she was a season 8 invention.  Her character isn’t too bad yet.  I definitely didn’t care for some of her episodes next season.

This DVD set features all 22 episodes in full frame and stereo sound.  The picture isn’t the best quality all the time, but they are watchable.  We don’t get any extras, but we haven’t since season 1, so that’s no surprise.

While the glory days of Newhart was clearly behind it, there are still plenty of laughs in season 7.  Pop this in with the proper expectations and you’ll find yourself entertained.

Season 7 Episodes:
1. Town Without Pity
2. Apples, Apples, Apples,
3. This Blood’s For You
4. I Married Dick
5. Goonstruck
6. I Came, I Saw, I Sat
7. Twelve Annoyed Men…And Women
8. Home for the Holidays
9. Shoe Business Is My Life
10. George and the Old Maid
11. Hi, Society
12. Cupcake on My Back
13. Another Saturday Night
14. The Nice Man Cometh
15. One and a Half Million Dollar Man
16. The Little Match Girl
17. Buy, Buy Blues
18. Message from Michael
19. Homes and Jo-Jo
20. Georgie and Bess
21. Murder at the Stratley
22. Malling in Love Again

February 24's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Another Friday, which means it is time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm highlighting Bitter Harvest by Wendy Tyson.


I just finished the ARC of this book yesterday, and it is fabulous!  My review will be up on Thursday of next week, and the book officially comes out March 7th, although I see Amazon is already shipping it.

The first line is very evocative, isn't it?
The harvest moon glowed bright overhead, a burnt offering to the demons plaguing Megan's peace of mind.  

I often share a large teaser for the Friday 56, but today, I'm got a short one:

"And if he hasn't done something, and I make his life even worse - "

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Review: Oliver Twisted by Cindy Brown (Ivy Meadows #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, great plot, plenty of fun
Cons: I am not currently on a cruise
The Bottom Line:
Thief on a cruise ship
Ivy acting and sleuthing
Readers will find fun

Ivy Must Solve another Twisty Case

I really didn’t intend to go so long before I returned to the Ivy Meadows series.  After all, I enjoyed the first two books in the series, and I know that book 4 is coming soon.  In fact, it was that knowledge that prompted me to pick up Oliver Twisted, the third adventure of this part time actress and part time PI.

Her worlds are combining perfectly for this adventure as Ivy and her uncle Bob, her PI mentor, are taking on an assignment together.  They are going undercover on a Get Lit! cruise to find a thief.  People have been robbed of items on multiple cruises recently, and the owners want the thieves found.  Ivy and Bob are boarding the S.S. David Copperfield, a ship that is themed around the works of Charles Dickens.  Bob is going under cover as a rich rancher and Ivy is joining the cast of the current show – Oliver!  At Sea!

However, the ship has barely left the port when Ivy discovers her new roommate’s body stuffed into a closet in their room.  Meanwhile, Uncle Bob is sidetracked by a woman he’s met – a woman Ivy doesn’t trust because she is sure the woman is hiding something.  Have the thieves escalated to murder?  Is Uncle Bob in danger from his new friend?

Things really do jump in that quickly, and the pace never lags until we reach the climax.  There are some fun distractions along the way that Ivy has to separate from the clues that actually pertain to the case.  As things come together at the end, I was left in awe at how author Cindy Brown wove everything together.

I was a little worried that, with this book set on a cruise ship, we would miss some of the characters I’ve already come to love from Ivy’s life.  They managed to make some nice appearances mostly via texts and phone calls as Ivy tried to stay on top of a sub-plot taking place in her native Phoenix.  (Having gone on my first cruise last summer, I’m not sure I bought the cell phones working even sporadically at sea thing, but I was willing to let that go since I enjoyed the rest of the book so much.)

Since Ivy spends the book on the ship, we get to know her cast mates very well.  Those cast mates are, conveniently, the suspects, which makes the plot strong.  They are wonderful suspects as they kept me guessing until the end.

And really, how can you go wrong with the cruise ship setting?  It’s the next best thing to actually being on a cruise.  (If only I didn’t have to work to earn money for fun things like vacations, right?)

I can’t leave out the humor.  Ivy manages to get herself into some interesting situations over the course of the book that keep the story fun.  You’ll smile if not outright laugh at several of the situations.

Author Cindy Brown does a wonderful job of juggling all the elements of the plot and bringing them in for a satisfying ending.  If you haven’t met Ivy yet, be sure to do so today.  And if you already love Ivy, be sure to check out Oliver Twisted.

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pin Review: Mary Poppins - Storybook Classics Collection #6 - 2017 Disney Store Release

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Captures images from a book
Cons: Really should tie better to the movie than an out of print book
The Bottom Line:
Pin features fun scenes
Characters too cartoony
If you don’t know book

Over Stylized Pin

The Storybook Classics Pin series is basing the images off the books that the Walt Disney Company released many years ago.  I get that.  And for most of them, that works out just fine.  However, for the Mary Poppins pin, it really doesn’t work well.

Like the others in the series, the pin looks like a book.  There are even hinges, so it can open.  The cover has Mary Poppins written on it in red on a dark pink background.  We can see lavender outlines of Mary Poppins and Jane and Michael Banks as they float around during the tea party on Uncle Andrew’s ceiling.

When you open the book pin, you’ll find a full color illustration of the three character’s walking to the tea party.  They are smiling, but there is nothing behind them but white.

Here’s my problem with the pin – the characters look nothing like anything I’ve seen with them on it.  That’s because I have never seen the book that was the inspiration for this pin.  All I see are three cartoony characters.  Because I know this is Mary Poppins, I can easily figure out who they are, but if I saw them out of context, I’d have no clue.  Yes, it is unfair since they are basing it on something I haven’t seen.  And yet, it might have been wiser to make the characters look a bit more like they do in the movie.  I’m not asking for perfection, but something closer to the actors would help a lot.  Since the rest of this series is based on animated films, they don’t seem to fall into this flaw.  Additionally, the writing on the top of the cover blends in so well it’s next to impossible to read.

Because of the hinges and the two parts to the pin, it is heavier than the average Disney pin and comes with two points to hold it in place.  You’ll definitely want to use both of them if you wear this one.

Mary Poppins is the only pin I’m not completely happy with in the series.  I get what they were trying to do, but for me, it just doesn’t work.

If you are interested in more, here are the rest of the Storybook Classics ornaments and pins.

Ornament Review: Mary Poppins - Storybook Classics Collection #6 - 2017 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Colors and details look wonderful
Cons: Character is over stylized; some sloppy painting on the many small details
The Bottom Line:
Mary on her horse
Great colors yet stylized
Overall, it’s nice

Stylized and Stunning

When I figure saw pictures of the Mary Poppins entry in Disney’s Storybook Classics ornament series, I was less than impressed.  It doesn’t look anything like Julie Andrews.  And yet, when I saw it in person, I must say I was impressed.

The ornament features Mary Poppins sitting on one of the carrousel horses from the animated segment.  Her feet are over to one side, and she is looking the other way.  Her expression is almost demur.  It’s not a pose I really picture for the character expect for that one moment when she was the horse race, so it works here.  What makes the ornament look lovely is all the colors and designs on it.  It is mainly lavender on the horse with some rose and peach tones on her dress.  The result really is beautiful.

And yet, I can’t completely get past the stylized look of the piece.  It takes a little time to warm up to it, but once you do, you’ll appreciate it for what it is.  And let’s be honest, it’s hard to capture an actual actor in an ornament.  Still, this looks much more like a cartoon than I picture for Mary Poppins.  It does fit in well with the rest of the series, however, since those are all cartoon characters.  The paint job seems a little sloppy on this one when you really start to look at it, unfortunately.  There are just too many details, and they didn’t quite hit them all.

This is an ornament that must be hung.  The bottom of the piece is the pole for the carousel horse.  It’s not big enough to even think about balancing the ornament on, and you really wouldn’t want to.  It would be a shame for this to tip over and break.

While the Disney Store usually used red ribbons for hanging their ornaments, this one is a light green, which compliments the piece nicely.  The ribbon attached to Mary’s hat, and it hangs straight, which is nice.

I really am impressed with how this piece turned out, and I think the look is amazing.  However, I can’t completely get over the stylized look of Mary Poppins.

If you are interested in more, here are the rest of the Storybook Classics ornaments and pins.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book Review: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery; delightful characters
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Face from Charlie’s past
Murdered at a convention
Delightful again

Murder at the Librarian Convention

I spent last year working my way through the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries, and I loved every minute of it.  By catching up, it meant I was ready for Twelve Angry Librarians, the eighth in this series, and the series is still going strong.

As this book opens, Charlie Harris is still working as interim director for the Athena College library.  The college is hosting the annual Southern Academic Libraries Association convention, and as part of his job, Charlie will be involved in the weekend event.  Unfortunately, that means interacting with Gavin Fong, the keynote speaker.  Gavin and Charlie were in graduate school together years ago, and Gavin was an arrogant jerk back then.  Unfortunately, Gavin hasn’t changed a bit in the intervening years.

Charlie is hearing rumors of Gavin’s bad behavior before the keynote address, but the last thing he expects is for Gavin to fall over dead after taking a sip of water during his speech.  Charlie doesn’t want to be involved in yet another murder case, yet he finds himself drawn in again as he learns more about people who might have wanted Gavin dead.  Can he figure out the truth?

I have praised the books in this series for the fast paced, tension driven plots, and this book is no different.  I was captivated from the first chapter and always had a hard time putting the book down until I reached the end.  The murder happens after several motives and suspects are set up, and the author does a wonderful job of building the tension from the very beginning.  The solution to the mystery is wonderful.  It was completely logical, yet I never saw it coming.

The reason I love this series are the characters.  I will always complain that we could see more of the supporting cast, but that’s a minor issue.  We do get a sub-plot involving Charlie’s daughter Laura and her husband Frank.  I loved the scenes we did have with the series regulars.

Of course, this does leave us plenty of time to get to know the suspects in the case, and they are strong.  I never had a hard time keeping everyone straight, and I could see several of them as the killer at one point or another in the book.

Then there’s Diesel, Charlie’s Maine Coon cat.  Because so much of this takes place at a convention, Diesel isn’t in every scene like usual.  Don’t worry, he still has plenty of page time, and he is as charming as ever.  His many fans (and I’m one) will be pleased.

I’ve gotten so used to visiting these characters every couple of months that I am going to go through serious withdrawals now that I am up to date.  If you haven’t started this series, you need to fix that today.  And if you are anxiously awaiting your next visit with Charlie and Diesel, you’ll find that Twelve Angry Librarians hits the spot.

Once you are charmed by Diesel, you'll want to read the rest of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner next Tuesday, February 28th, so please leave your comment before 12:01AM Pacific Time on 2/28.  You will have until midnight on 3/5 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 3/6.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pin Review: Once Upon a Wintertime - Storybook Classics Collection #5 - 2016 Disney Store Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Captures two fun scenes from an obscure short
Cons: Won’t appeal to the broadest base of Disney collectors
The Bottom Line:
Ice skating couple
Star in two scene, charming pin
Fans of rare will want

Pin Your Love for this Almost Forgotten Winter Romance

As big a DisNerd as I am, there are still some things I must admit I’ve forgotten about.  In the case of "Once Upon a Wintertime", I know I had seen it since I’ve seen Melody Time, the movie that included this short.  But it’s been years since I’ve watched that film, so this had slipped to the back of my mind until it was included as part of the Storybook Classics series.

This pin features the couple of the short as they are skating.  The cover shows them skating over the ice.  The woman has her hands inside her hand warmer while the man is looking on adoringly.  The rabbit couple who mirror the humans are at their feet, skating along with them.  The cover is simple with just dark blue ink on a light blue background.  "Once Upon a Wintertime" is written over the top.

But this is the Storybook Classics pin series, and that means that this pin opens.  Inside, we see the couple bending over to share a quick kiss.  Beneath them, the rabbits are looking on and smiling.  It’s a very cute moment in the short, and it is just as cute here.  As a bonus, the inside picture is in full color.

Because this is such an obscure short from an obscure film, I’m not sure that it has a huge audience outside those of us who are trying to complete this pin series.  Fans of the short (or who remember the book from years back) will certainly appreciate it.  The artwork is wonderful since it captures the characters just as they appear in the short.  The two pins in the back will help hold everything in place for you, too.

It’s nice to see Disney shining the light on something obscure from their archives.  Any pin collector who does fondly remember "Once Upon a Wintertime" or anyone who likes collecting the more obscure will appreciate this pin.

If you are a Disney fan, you'll want to check out the rest of the Storybook Classics Collection.

Ornament Review: Once Upon a Wintertime - Storybook Classics Collection #5 - 2016 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute ornament captures the flirtation well
Cons: Very limited appeal, but if you want it, you’ll love it
The Bottom Line:
Rarest characters
Get ornament to flirt on
DisNerds will love it

Romance Blooms Once Upon a Wintertime

Thanks to The Disney Store’s Storybook Classics ornament series, I’m rediscovering several shorts or stories I’d forgotten about.  "Once Upon a Wintertime" is one of those, but it was a very appropriate choice for the December release in this series.

If you are like me and don’t remember it at all, it is the opening piece in the Melody Time movie Disney released in the late 1940’s.  It features a human couple who go out ice skating on a date.  They flirt as they skate before things take a dangerous turn.  (Hint: If you are going to storm off in anger, watch for “Danger: Thin Ice” signs.)  There’s no talking from any of the characters, but there is some singing that talks about romance blooming during December.  Suddenly, this ornament coming in December makes perfect sense.

The ornament captures the fun of the early part of the short perfect.  Our couple are on the ice skating next to each other.  The man is looking at the woman adoringly.  She isn’t looking at him, but the look on her face says she is enjoying it as well.

Honestly, the couple spend so much time flirting in the short that it’s hard to think of a better way to capture the short.  The look on their faces says it all.  They are clearly having fun and enjoying each other’s company.  The ornament captures the two characters perfectly as well.  It might have been fun to have some of the animal couples from the short in the ornament, but that’s a minor complaint.

But here’s the part of the piece I love.  The base of the ornament, made to look like the ice of the lake where they are skating, is shaped like a heart.  How perfect is that?

That heart shaped base is flat, so if you want to display it year round, you certainly can do that.  However, the ornament does have a red ribbon attached already, making it easy to hang.  It does hang slightly to the left, but you can disguise that easily enough with the branches on your Christmas tree.

My only hesitation with this ornament has nothing to do with its looks but with how obscure the short is.  I honestly didn’t remember anything about it before the ornament was announced.  Yes, Disney did release a Golden book based on the short, which is why it ended up here, but how many people will have heard of it?

That limited appeal is the only downside for the ornament.  If you want something tied to a very rare Disney piece, look no further than "Once Upon a Wintertime."

If you are a Disney fan, you'll want to check out the rest of the Storybook Classics Collection.

Original Price: $19.95

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Book Review: Terror on Kamikaze Run by Sigmund Brouwer (Accidental Detectives #10)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and story; plenty of fun
Cons: Kids being at the resort seems a little iffy
The Bottom Line:
Haunted ski resort
Ricky tries to find answers
Fast paced mystery

Ghostly Accidents

Okay, so I have many favorite mystery series, but the Accidental Detectives is definitely one of them.  These books have some of the best mysteries I’ve ever read, feature strong characters, and are just plain fun to read.  The fact that they are aimed at a middle grade audience doesn’t matter in the slightest.  Terror on Kamikaze Run is a perfect example.

It all starts because of Miss Avery.  She is one of the elderly people that Lisa Higgins’ aunt takes care of, but Miss Avery isn’t concerned for herself.  She’s gotten a suspicious letter from her brother that has her convince that all is not right at the ski lodge he runs in Colorado.  Since her health is failing, she wants to send Ricky Kidd, Lisa, Ralphy, Mike, and even Ricky’s younger brother Joel there to check it out and report back to her to ease her mind.

Ricky and his friends have hardly arrived when there is a fire in the building where they are staying.  It’s just the latest in a series of accidents, all of which is foretold by the ghost of a long dead woman who appears the night before each accident.  The Accidental Detectives try to poke around when they aren’t learning to ski, but what do the clues they turn up mean?

Reading this book this time, I did wonder about the parents sending these kids off to a resort where something strange is going on under the supervision of a man they didn’t know.  But this is a middle grade mystery, and we need some way for the twelve-year-olds to solve the mystery.  As a teen the first time I read this book, I certainly didn’t care, and this is worth noting only in passing.

The mystery itself is strong.  We have clues that don’t seem to add up to anything until Ricky begins to put it all together in the end.  I remembered the vague outline of the mystery in this one as I was reading it, so it was a pleasure to see how everything was laid out along the way.

The characters are good and are definitely stronger than the characters we get in many kid’s books.  Each one has their own personality, and the adults are good adults, not the weak ones we often see in the genre.

Then there’s the humor.  The book opens with a short story that introduces a few characters who will play a role in the book, and it starts things off with a laugh.  There are other laughs along the way thanks to how Ricky and his friends tease each other.  This is another example of their personalities being such fun.

This is a Christian novel, and it incorporates a Christian theme and world view into everything that happens along the way.  Yet it does that without ever once preaching at us, something I truly appreciate.

The Accidental Detective series is a little harder to track down, but if you have kids in late elementary school, it is well worth the effort.  Even if you are an adult mystery reader, you’ll appreciate the story told here.  Strap in and enjoy the wild ride that is Terror on Kamikaze Run.

You'll find more fun with the rest of the Accidental Detectives mysteries.

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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #12 - Exchanging Presents - 2009 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Another cute Christmas scene
Cons: Noticeable tip
The Bottom Line:
Exchanging presents
Snoopy, Woodstock in cute scene
Worth a second look

What’s More Fun than Presents?

Hallmark has done a good job of mixing in general winter activities with Christmas related activities for their Winter Fun with Snoopy series.  The twelfth in the series is definitely Christmas related as we find Snoopy ready to give his friend Woodstock a present.

Snoopy has shown up at Woodstock’s nest.  Woodstock is sitting on one side and his tree is taking up most of the nest.  Snoopy is looking in, and behind his back, he’s holding a wrapped box.  Both of the friends are smiling as they talk, Woodstock doesn’t even know he’s about to get a big surprise.  I mean, the box has to be as big as he is.

This was one of the first miniature ornaments I bought when I first started collecting Hallmark ornaments.  (It came out in 2009, and I started in 2010.)  Back then, I didn’t care for it that much.  I was expecting the details you’d see on a full size ornament.

Something has clicked for me this year, and I’m enjoying the miniature ornaments a lot more (which is why I back collected this series this year).  Taking a second look at this one, I can appreciate it more.  While Woodstock’s tree doesn’t really have any decorations, the glitter for the snow adds a nice touch.  We can’t see all the details to his nest, we can see some, and that just amazes me with something this small.  It’s about an inch side to side and an inch tall, so there isn’t a ton of space for the details we do get.

Like most ornaments in this series, there is a flat base, so you can easily set it out if you have a good space to do so.  Again, remember the size.  You’ll find the 12 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of the ornament.

Unfortunately, this ornament does have a tilt to it.  It tips to the right and to the back.  It’s fairly noticeable, and it’s harder to disguise it with a tree branch since this ornament is so small.

The tip is disappointing, but the scene is cute overall.  I’m glad I’ve taken a second look at the twelfth Winter Fun with Snoopy ornament.

There's plenty more fun with the rest of the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

Original Price: $8.50

February 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

It's very rare that I have shows take a week off during sweeps, but the CM preempted both The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow this week.  Oh well, it gives me time to do other things, like watch these shows.

24: Legacy – I’m sticking with the wife’s storyline being the worst of the season and her being the Kim of the season, but it looks like she may have some competition with those two guys in CTU.  Please tell me they aren’t going to preach to us.  Meanwhile, we got out of the police station way too easily.  That had plot contrivance written all over it.  However, I was shocked that the kid is still alive.  I wonder how much longer that will be the case.  That whole storyline this week had some of the best suspense of the night.

Supergirl – I’m still on the fence about Lena.  Obviously, we are supposed to think she is evil since she is a Luthor.  And that smile at the end made it seem that way.  Yet it would be the ultimate fake out to have her be good.  Very curious where they will go with it.

This is Us – I knew what Kevin was going to do there at the end.  Seems like he could have sent his mother or Kate, but it made such an amazing final scene.  Amazing.  The flashbacks have me very worried.  I think we are working up to Jack’s death, and I don’t know if I can handle that.  I’m a bit surprised since they really did leave a lot open there at the end, more so than usual anyway.  Still, Kevin holding Randall like that – what an amazing finish.  (I’ll just pretend that Jack’s dinner alone wasn’t the final scene.)

Arrow – When I realized we were going to have the gun debate on the show, I cringed.  Turned out they did a decent job presenting both sides.  I’m curious what the outcome was since they left that vague, but I appreciate the episode more than I thought I would.  Heck, it even made me like Renee a little better.  By far not my favorite episode of the series, but better than I thought it would be.  I just hope this isn’t a trend to preach at us instead of entertain us.  Certainly felt like a very special episode and not our regular Arrow.

Lethal Weapon – How fun to see Felix from The Odd Couple in something else.  He made a good Leo Getz for this show, slimy yet fun and funny.  Definitely bringing more of the fun again and some impressive stunts.  I was really happy they didn’t go with someone else flying the helicopter down to the ground and instead had them jump.  Not really a realistic ending there either, but it was nice to see them getting rid of that cliché.

Suits – Of course it isn’t easy for Mike and Harvey.  We wouldn’t like this show if it were.  I’m shocked if it is true that Mike still doesn’t want to go back, but I love how he is mentoring this other lawyer.  What Rachel learned was pretty fantastic, too.  Two episodes left this season?  Why do I think it is going to get crazy for these two episodes?

Big Bang Theory – Sheldon has a driver’s license?  What?  Raj is no longer going to be living on daddy’s money?  Wow, that was a pretty major episode.  I’d love to see Sheldon actually drive some time.  I bet it would still be funny.  And I wonder what other secrets he’s keeping from everyone.

The Great Indoors – Maggy Lawson from psych was in the episode!  I actually enjoyed that episode.  Some surprising character growth and some pretty funny stuff as he was trying to fit in.  I’m not saying the show has found itself, but it might be getting there.

Powerless – Again, a better episode.  Looks like I will be sticking with this one as well, at least for the time being.  And how funny that Corbin Bernsen from psych was in this episode.  The boss is an annoying character.  I think if it weren’t for him, I’d completely enjoy this show.  Tone him down, and I’d be fully on board.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Trunk Music by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters; overall entertaining mystery
Cons: Pacing and a couple of predictable twists; audio book narrator
The Bottom Line:
Bosch is back to work
In entertaining story
That fans will enjoy

Producer in the Trunk

While I enjoyed my time with one of Michael Connelly’s other characters a couple of months back, I was glad to get back to Harry Bosch with Trunk Music.  Harry is a great character, and I was glad to slip back into his world.

As this book opens, Bosch is finally back working homicides after 18 months in the wilderness of forced time off and then working robbery.  He’s still working out of Hollywood and the leaders of a three person team.  His team is the first one called in when a body is found in the trunk of a car.  The car had been abandoned in a vacant lot next to the Hollywood Bowl, which is currently hosting a concert, making working the scene tricky.

The scene looks like a mob hit, yet organized crime doesn’t appear to want to take the case.  Bosch isn’t complaining too much since he is anxious to get back to solving murders, his true passion.  The victim is a producer of low budget borderline pornographic films and appears to have connections in Las Vegas.  Is that what got him killed?

As always, this book starts strongly, and following Bosch around as he solves the case is plenty of fun.  I did feel the pacing of this book was a little off, and I did figure out a twist or two before Bosch did.  But overall, these are minor issues.

The characters are wonderful.  There are a few returning characters, and it is nice to catch up with them again.  Bosch is a very fascinating main character, and I like getting to know him better.  He never backs down from anyone, adding some conflict to the story, but it’s easy to root for him.  Plus a face from his past shows up again here, which I enjoyed.  He has a new lieutenant in this book, and I absolutely love her.  I hope she’s around for several books at least.  And the characters we meet here are fully developed as well, making for strong suspects.

Dick Hill is still doing the audio books for this series.  He’s getting better, but there are times he still gets in the way of the story.  Honestly, we don’t need him to yawn when the characters are tired.  He throws in a few other things like that which are annoying.  And there’s one character he completely ruins with the way he brings the character to life.  Fortunately, it’s a minor character with only a couple of scenes here, but it is bad.  Overall, his performance works, but I will be glad when the series moves on to another reader.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Harry Bosch continues to grow as the series progresses.  While Trunk Music wasn’t the best mystery so far, it is still a very strong book.

No matter where you jump in, you'll be hooked and want to read more Harry Bosch novels.

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

February 17th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It is once again time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm still going with a mystery, but it's a middle grade mystery - Terror on Kamikaze Run by Sigmund Brouwer.


This is actually a reread for me, and the book is a lot of fun, as you can tell from the opening paragraph.
There is nothing funny - no matter what Lisa Higgins says - about answering the doorbell with a gray wig twisted sideways on your head and a red dress over your blue jeans and T-shirt.  Nothing funny at all.  Especially when your lipstick is smeared.

But the book also has some suspense, as you can tell from the final paragraph of page 56.

A faraway scream reached my ears.  I realized it was mine, and that the scream seemed so far away because already the wind pulling it from my throat was the wind caused by going far faster than any human body was designed to go.

I'll be reviewing the book on Sunday, so I hope you'll stop by and see what I thought.  In the meantime, enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Movie Review: Cinderella (2015)

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Fun take on Cinderella that fills in the story
Cons: Pacing at times
The Bottom Line:
A tale comes to life
In mostly magical take
On Cinderella

“Midnight.  That’s More Than Enough Time.”

I’m a bad DisNerd.  I have been slacking on watching Disney’s live action versions of their animated movies.  And with how excited I am about Beauty and the Beast next month, I need to fix this oversight.  I did finally get a chance to watch 2015’s version of Cinderella, and I found that it grew on me.

We first meet Cinderella as a young girl as she is raised by a well off family.  Her father (Ben Chaplan) is a merchant, traveling the world to find his goods.  She has a loving mother (Hayley Atwell) as well.  But life soon deals her a horrible blow when her mother gets sick and dies.  Her father eventually remarries, and her step-mother (Cate Blanchett) brings with her two step-sisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger).  Sadly, Cinderella’s (Lily James) father then dies while on one of his trips.

Meanwhile, Prince Kit (Richard Madden) has grown into a young man, and his father (Derek Jacobi) wants him to marry.  Naturally, a princess is being sought, but the prince has other ideas and wants to invite all the ladies of the realm to a ball.  What will happen there?

The biggest thing this movie adds to the familiar fairy tale is allowing us to see Cinderella’s background.  It was interesting, but I did feel it slowed down the beginning.  We also get to see more about the prince.  Heck, he even gets a name here.  I also appreciated the fact that they attempted to give Cinderella’s step-mother some motive for her hatred and horrible behavior.  Don’t misunderstand, they don’t excuse it at all, but we can see a reason for her actions.  The step-sisters?  They’re just rotten. 

While I did feel the prologue was a bit slow, I did enjoy the movie the further along it went.  They definitely expand on the relationship between Cinderella and Prince Kit, which is fun.  These scenes follow typical romantic comedy tropes, but they work well.  You can feel the chemistry between them, and there are a couple of very romantic moments.

This isn’t a musical, although fans of the animated version will recognize allusions to the songs.  Consider them Easter eggs.  We do get two of the songs sung over the closing credits.

Of course, the big scenes are done thanks to CGI, and those scenes are wonderful.  They add some humor to the film while staying completely believable.  I was easily able to stay in the fairytale world the film was creating.

And the acting was great.  It was a bit stylized, but it worked here and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.  I will admit to being a bit worried when I heard that Helena Bonham Carter was playing the fairy godmother since I’ve only ever seen her play over the top, strange characters.  I was worried for no reason since she was easily a highlight of the film.

The pacing is really the biggest issue with the film, but when it works, it is magical.  So if you are a fan of the Cinderella story, be sure to give this version a chance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

War and Peach Winner

I realized as I was going to bed last night that I forgot to pick the winner of War and Peach.  I fixed that today.  And the winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail so reply to that so we can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: A High-End Finish by Kate Carlisle (Fixer-Upper Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong cast of main characters; eventful story
Cons: More a series of events than a true mystery
The Bottom Line:
Shannon as suspect
After attacker is killed
Events but weak plot

There’s Promise, but this Debut is a Fixer Upper

After watching the first Fixer Upper mystery movie on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries last month, I got a renewed interest in the books of Kate Carlisle.  I know I read her first one when it came out years ago, but I couldn’t remember why I’d never gone on to read more.  Still, I decided to jump into her Fixer Upper mystery series with the first book A High-End Finish.

This series features Shannon Hammer, a contractor in the small Northern California community of Lighthouse Cove.  She has taken over her father’s construction business and specializes in restoring old Victorians, something that is in abundance in this town.

Shannon is single, something that doesn’t sit right with her married friend, who is always trying to set her up on blind dates.  Shannon has finally agreed to one with Jerry Saxton, and dinner is very pleasant.  However, their after dinner walk on the beach turns horribly wrong when Jerry won’t take no for an answer.  Shannon is forced to defend herself, and she quickly gains fame in her town as a result of how she fended off the attack.

A couple of days later, Shannon stumbles over Jerry’s dead body in the basement of one of her construction sites.  Jerry has been bashed over the head with one of Shannon’s tools.  Given her recent public fight with the man, Shannon finds herself the police’s prime suspect.  But given Jerry’s history, there are plenty of other suspects in town.  Can Shannon build a case against one of them and clear her name?

I was well into this book before I realized why I was struggling with the plot.  I wanted to like it.  I mean, the murder victim is a complete jerk, which always creates plenty of great suspects.  There are plenty of mysterious things happening, and the case against Shannon gets stronger as the book goes along thanks to some good twists.  Heck, even Shannon admits that to a casual observer, she would look like the prime suspect, which was a refreshing admission.

But I realized my problem was that this book was just a series of mysterious events.  While we are introduced to a collection of good suspects, Shannon spends little time collecting clues or being distracted by red herrings.  Instead, she is constantly reacting to another event.  Don’t get me wrong, I was never bored.  But I like to learn some secrets along the way, and I felt like we weren’t really moving forward much, just reacting to the latest event.  The book does come to a suspenseful climax that logically wraps everything up.

It’s a shame I didn’t like the plot better because I love these characters.  Shannon is a strong character, and she’s got a wonderful group of friends since she grew up in this town.  There is a hint of a love triangle in this book, although I think I can already tell which way that is going to go.  Both men are certain good characters as well.  Because we spent so little time with the suspects, they are on the thin side, unfortunately.

Maybe this was why I hadn’t gone back to read more of Kate’s books before now.  I can certainly see why she has a following because there are elements of A High-End Finish that I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, it winds up just being average overall.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ornament Review: Be Mine, Cookie Cutter Mouse - Cookie Cutter Through the Year #1 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute scene kicks off a limited run series
Cons: I love it too much for cons
The Bottom Line:
Valentine’s Day gets
Cookie cutter treatment in
Piece hard not to love

Fall in Love with this Valentine’s Ornament

While many of Hallmark’s series have a limited appeal of one kind or another, some seem to be universally loved.  One of those is their Cookie Cutter Christmas series.  Naturally, they want to capitalize on that popularity all they can, which is why they are starting the six part Cookie Cutter Through the Year series.  This series is going to highlight the special times from the first half of the year, and the series is off to a great start with Be Mine, Cookie Cutter Mouse!

Each ornament in this series will feature a scene inside a differently shaped cookie cutter.  Since the first one is themed for Valentine’s Day, the shape is a heart.  (Shocking, I know.)  Unlike the original series, the cookie cutter borders are copper this time around.

Of course, the real joy is what we see inside.  The scene features a mouse standing in front of a house.  He’s holding a candy heart that says “Be Mine” on it, and in the other hand, he has a couple of lollipops including a heart shaped one.  He obviously lives in a warm climate since there is grass visible around the house.  And the house?  It’s gingerbread of course, with a red and pink roof and a cupcake acting as a bush next to the door.

What makes the original series so much fun is the creativity and cuteness in each piece, and that’s exactly what we get here.  I love how treats are incorporated into the scene as much as possible.  Plus how can you not love getting a complete scene framed in a shape?  Top that off with the cute scene of the mouse declaring his true love to someone, and you have a winner.

The downside to this series does come from the shape.  Being a heart shaped ornament, it has to come to a point down at the bottom.  That means you really can’t set it out to display it – you have to find a way to hang it.  I’m still figuring out just how I will do that, but I didn’t let that stop me from buying it at all.

The loop on this ornament is located in the valley between the two parts of the heart.  The result is a little hard to get hook into, but the effort is rewarded with an ornament that hangs straight.

Even though this isn’t a Christmas series, it still uses Hallmark’s traditional series marker.  In this case, you’ll find a one in a Christmas tree on the back next to the cookie cutter’s handle.  (They really do think of everything, don’t they?)

While displaying this ornament will be tricky, I knew that Be Mine, Cookie Cutter Mouse had to be mine.  This is a cute piece I will enjoy for Valentine’s Days to come.

Celebrate the first six months of the year with the rest of the Cookie Cutter Through the Year series.

Original Price: $15.95

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review: Death in Advertising by Laura Bradford (Tobi Tobias Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong cast of characters in a strong mystery
Cons: No cons to advertise
The Bottom Line:
Killer ad slogan
Starts promising new series
Delightfully fun

Don’t Advertise the Body in the Closet

It is always a delight to see a new series come out from a favorite author.  I didn’t need to know anything about Death in Advertising other than the fact that it was written by Laura Bradford to know I had to give it a try.  And the fact that I loved it wasn’t really a surprise either.

This book introduces us to Tobi Tobias who is trying to open her own advertising agency in the St. Louis area.  She’s having just one pesky little problem – lack of clients.  That’s why she is working at a friend’s pet shop part time so she can try to pay her bills.  Naturally, she is ecstatic when a potential new client walks into her office.  The Zander brothers own a closet company, and they are looking for a slogan and a campaign that will stick out since they are already at the bottom of any alphabetical listings.  Tobi comes up with a real winner, and it catches the city by storm.  It’s looking like a win for Zander Closet Company and Tobi’s agency as well.

Then the unthinkable happens.  While shooting a closet for the brochure, a dead body falls out of a storage space.  The media immediately connects it to Tobi’s slogan, and what looked like a win suddenly turns into a nightmare.  Now, Tobi has to find the real killer to save her business.  Can she do it?

As motives for an amateur getting involved in a murder investigation, this one is a winner.  Naturally, as Tobi begins poking around, she finds out secrets and motives, but she also finds that the victim was a sympathetic man.  The author walked a fine line in making us like the victim without making the book too sad, and I appreciated that.  Naturally, things come together for a logical climax.

One thing you can count on in any of Laura’s books is a strong cast of characters who truly care for each other.  Tobi has a wide and varied assortment of friends, neighbors, and family who all support her throughout this book.  I already love this cast of characters and can’t wait to see them all again.  The suspects are just as strong as the series regulars.  And I wouldn’t mind if one or two of them popped up again in future books.

If you are already a fan of Laura Bradford’s books, don’t hesitate; you’ll love this new series, too.  And if you haven’t read one of her books yet, Death in Advertising is the perfect way to fix that.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

I'm review this book as part of a blog tour.  For more checks, check out the tour page.