Friday, March 31, 2017

Book Review: Mouse Trap by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mystery with robbery element; good characters
Cons: Too many suspects with similar names (that fit a clue)
The Bottom Line:
Justice for a cop
Turf wars and robbery, too
Satisfying book

Can Joe Catch a Cop Killer?

It’s amazing how some things stay with you from books.  It’s been over 20 years since I first read the Valley of the Sun Mysteries.  I could only tell you three character’s names from the series.  Yet I can also tell you the setup of each book in the series.  I couldn’t tell you much more than that about Mouse Trap before rereading it, and I found that I enjoyed my recent trip back to Phoenix.

Phoenix homicide detective Joe Rodriguez is called to the hospital on his day off.  Marsha, nicknamed Mouse, works in the robbery division, and a meet she had with an informant about an upcoming plot to steal Native American silver pieces went horribly wrong.  Joe is only able to get a partial name from the informant before both of them die.

Because Mouse was one of their own, everyone in the police department is working hard to catching the killer.  However, Pete, head of the robbery division, is taking the case personally since Mouse was his protigee.  Since Joe and his partner, Tom, aren’t officially the leads on this case for homicide, they are pursuing tangential leads, which find them crossing into the robbery spear of the investigation.  Will they piece together clues to find the killer?  Or will their investigation cause too many problems between divisions?

While I enjoy reading murder mysteries, I do miss the other crimes that come into play in mysteries aimed at kids.  I appreciated this book because the added robbery element recalled some of that.  Not that this narrows the suspects at all since Joe and Tom managed to uncover several collectors and museums with quality pieces that could be the target of the theft.  This sends them down several wrong paths before Joe pieces things together.

In Sandy Dengler’s mysteries, when we get a clue, it seems that it applies to all the suspects.  In this case, that clue is a partial name the informant manages to give out as he is dying.  Unfortunately, we wind up with too many suspects with that as part of their first or last name, which makes it hard to remember for sure who all of them are.  As we get to know the suspects better, it does become easier as their personalities become better developed.

This book was originally written for the Christian market.  In the first book, Joe became a Christian himself, and it is interesting watching him deal with some of what he knows he should be doing even if he doesn’t know much about his new faith yet.

His love interest is completely off the page in this book, yet she still adds an interesting sub-plot for Joe as well.

It’s fun revisiting Mouse Trap and looking at how these books stack up now that I’ve read so many more mysteries.  So far, I’m finding them as good as I remembered.

Enjoy the rest of the Valley of the Sun Mysteries in order.

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

March 31st's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday and the last day of March.  Must be time to celebrate with this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm highlighting Caramel Crush by Jenn McKinlay.


This is book nine in the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries.  It comes out on Tuesday.  I'll have a review and giveaway up on Tuesday.  If you are a fan of the series, you'll love it.  And if you aren't a fan of the series, you really should start it.
Here's now the book begins:

"Why are you hiding in the walk-in cooler?" Melanie Cooper asked her friend and business partner Tate Harper.
"I'm not hiding," he said.
It was hard to understand him as his teeth were chattering, making a sharp clacking noise that drowned out his words.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find this short and sweet sentence:

Tara starred at Joe as if her tongue had gotten stuck to the roof of her mouth.

Hope to see you Tuesday for my full review.  Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Movie Review: Dead Over Heels - An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery with a creative hook
Cons: Confusion on one relationship; usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Body falls from plane
Roe must work to clear boyfriend
Fun light mystery

“Next Time, Can We Do This in a Diner Cause This Feels Way Too Much Like a Spy Movie.”

When you read and watch a lot of mysteries, you start to appreciate creativity in the execution.  That’s exactly what we get in Dead Over Heels, the latest Aurora Teagarden mystery movie from Hallmark.

One night, after her shift at the library, Aurora, Roe to her friends (Candace Cameron Bure), finds Captain Burns (Craig March) waiting for her.  He is desperately looking for Aurora’s boyfriend, Martin (Yannick Bisson), but Martin is out of town overnight.  When Roe offers to help, Burns tells her to stay out of it, whatever it is.

The next afternoon, Roe and her friend Sally (Lexa Doig) are working outside of Roe’s home when a low flying plane goes overhead.  To their horror, they see someone fall out of the plane – Captain Burns.  While some people would react in horror, Roe takes this as a personal challenge.  When the hotshot new detective in town is determined to pin the crime on Martin, Roe begins to dig in to find the killer.  Can she do it?

The murder method really is creative, and that helped get my attention.  Of course, as the movie unfolded, I was drawn in to the investigation.  The story includes several good twists and it really did look like Martin was guilty before Roe figured everything out at the end.

Adding to the fun, we get some police department politics as a sub-plot that just add to the complication of the investigation, and since we know a few of the police officers involved, we actually care about that.

It’s been a year for the characters since we last visited them, and that is reflected in some of their relationships.  However, I am scratching my head over Roe’s mother (Marilu Henner) and her relationship with her significant other.  They glossed over what is happening with them, and since their relationship was a big sub-plot of the previous movie, that’s a disappointment.

This is a Hallmark movie, which means the acting is a bit off.  It’s not bad, and I certainly find myself getting lost in the story.  And yes, some of this is the writing as well.  As long as you remember this going in, you’ll be fine.

Both of those complaints are minor.  If you’ve been enjoying these movies, Dead Over Heels will keep you entertained and guessing until the end.  And isn’t that why you are watching it in the first place?

This movie is part of the Aurora Teagarden DVD Movie Collection.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ornament Review: A World Within #2 - Chruch - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun scene in a bell
Cons: Small (which can be a plus or a minus)
The Bottom Line:
This church in a bell
Small piece with small scene inside
Adds up to big fun

Gives Church Bells a New Meaning – in a Good Way

Last year, I caved and started the A World Within series at the last minute.  And I do mean last year, since I got it after Christmas 2015 when it came out.  Considering my new love of miniature ornaments this year, I’m very glad I did.  The reason I caved last year, however, was because of the second in the series, and this 2016 release is wonderful.

The ornament is shaped like a bell, but the front of the bell is open, and inside you can see a church.  While the church doesn’t have a belfry on it, it does have a cross at the top of the steeple.  It is surrounded by trees, including one in the foreground, and snow leading up to the door.  You can even see the sky behind it, which is rather dark.

 This ornament is missing just a bit of the detail that you would expect in a normal Hallmark ornament, but that’s because this is a mini ornament.  When you consider that the entire scene is captured inside an ornament that is an inch max top to bottom, that’s very impressive.  And this isn’t to say that the ornament lacks detail.  Heck, you can even see decorations on one of the trees, and those gold decorations tie in nicely to the overall gold of the bell.

In keeping with the bell theme, the round part of the bell is at the bottom of the ornament, which means it tips if you try to set it out.  That’s not a problem, however, since the ornament hangs straight.  Plus, it’s so small, it would be hard to find a place to set it out safely.  The 2 in a Christmas tree series marker is on the back of the bell.

Hallmark is doing many of these scenes within a shape type ornament right now, and I am loving all of them.  The creativity and fun are in top form for the second A World Within ornament.

Be sure to check out the rest of the A World Within series.

Original Price: $7.95

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Book Review: When the Grits Hit the Fan by Maddie Day (Country Store Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightful hook combined with fun characters and a good puzzle
Cons: Robbie’s restaurant isn’t real
The Bottom Line:
A hard to like prof
Meets cold end leaving Robbie
To track down killer

Robbie Gets into the Nitty Gritty of another Murder

Every series I love includes a great premise, strong characters, and compelling plots.  But sometimes, one of those stands out to me more than others.  In the case of the Country Store Mysteries, I absolutely love the setting, so I was thrilled to be visiting Robbie Jordan again in When the Grits Hit the Fan.

You see, Robbie owns a breakfast/lunch restaurant in a small Indiana town.  Right there, you have me hooked.  I’d absolutely love to visit a place like this.  She also has some vintage kitchen items that she displays and even sells, but that restaurant is the main part of her business.

This book opens in February, and Robbie’s business has taken a hit with the cold winter.  While her regulars are still faithfully coming in, the lack of tourists is making things a little slow.  In order to supplement her winter income, she’s agreed to host a twice monthly gathering of the sociology department from the nearby college.  However, this particular Friday, things end on a contentious note as two people get into fights with one of the professors, Charles Stilton.

The next day, Robbie is looking to get some exercise, so she heads out with her friend Lou, one of the attendees at the dinner the night before.  They are snowshoeing around the nearby lake when they find Charles frozen under the ice.  After Lou’s fight with Charles the night before, the police naturally consider her a person of interest.  The thing is, very few people actually liked Charles, so surely there is someone with a better motive.  Can Robbie find that person and clear Lou’s name?

I already raved about the setting, but I really do like how author Maddie Day makes use of it in her plotting.  Robbie’s restaurant is gossip central in town, so she can often gain information while she works.  And since she serves breakfast and lunch only, it gives her plenty of time to sleuth in the late afternoon and evening.

As the police lament at one point, the difficulty with this case is the large number of suspects and the lack of clues.  This means I never once got bored since something was always happening to move the story forward.  As we near the climax, we do start to eliminate some suspects, so by the time Robbie figures everyone out, it makes perfect sense.  The climax?  It’s a page turner.

And yes, I love the characters, too.  Robbie is a strong main character who tries to balance her nosiness with common sense.  We were introduced to a new love interest for her in the last book, and I really like him.  Robbie’s employee is still just as charming, too.  A couple of the supporting cast weren’t around as much as in previous books, and I found I missed them, but that’s a minor issue.  The new cast of suspects were strong and kept us guessing until the end.

There’s a very fun inside wink at one point in this book.  It helps to remember that Maddie Day is a pen name for author Edith Maxwell.  That’s the only clue you’re getting from me.

My mouth was drooling the entire time I read this book.  If you are like me, you’ll be happy to find recipes at the end of the book.  They range from grits with cheese to an omelet, an Italian soup, and pork chops with Sorghrum Sauce.

When the Grits Hit the Fan is another delicious mystery.  I devoured it all too quickly, leaving me hungry for my next visit.  If you haven’t started this series yet, you need to meet Robbie.  And if you already like the series, you’ll enjoy this third visit.

Enjoy more helpings with the rest of the Country Store Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Music Review: Love Made a Way by Aaron Shust

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great worship music
Cons: A couple of choices seem odd, but they are minor
The Bottom Line:
Live worship CD
Three classics; the rest new tracks
Combine for great disc

Aaron Shust Goes Live

For most of his career, Aaron Shust has walked the fine line between the worship and the pop sides of Christian music, so it’s not really a surprise when he decided to release a live worship project.  Love Made a Way is a great disc to lead you in worship.

I never really know what to expect when I pick up a live disc.  Some of them feature lots of talking that doesn’t hold up well to repeated listens.  That’s not the case here.  In fact, this is just Aaron singing.  If you take away the crowd singing behind him and the applause between songs, you’d never know it was live.  While that doesn’t really capture a live event, it makes it perfect for repeated listens.

One thing that tries to set this apart is the use of guest singers.  In almost every song, Aaron is joined by someone else, Christy Nockels and Matt Hammitt are the two that repeat, but 8 of the 11 songs feature someone else joining Aaron..  Honestly, I must admit I miss the point of this.  Only if I am really listening for it do I hear the other person doing the duet.  They tend to blend in with the chorus that is backing up Aaron.  It’s not bad, but it’s not noticeable so it winds up being weird.

If you’ve been a fan of Aaron’s career from the beginning, you should still get this disc.  There are only three repeats here, “”My Hope is in You,” “Cornerstone,” and “My Savior, My God.”  Honestly, I love all three of these songs so much, I am thrilled to have a second version of them.  While “My Hope is in You” sound very much like the original recording, he has tweaked the arrangement on “Cornerstone” and “My Savior, My God.”

Of the eight tracks Aaron hasn’t previously recorded, the only one I already recognized is “God of Brilliant Lights.”  I hadn’t not heard the lines from the way he started it before, but the rest of the song is definitely familiar.  I didn’t have any other recordings of it before, and I’m glad to have it.

Some of these tracks are definitely new.  For example, the disc opens with “Heartbeat.”  This song is an up tempo opener that offers God our all with every heartbeat.  It’s a great way to pull us into the disc.  Another new track is “Lead On (King Eternal),” another song of surrender.

One of the tracks I really love is “Death Was Arrested.”  This song, which lends a line to the disc’s title, focuses on what Jesus’s death and resurrection really means for us.  This one is going straight to my Easter rotation, but obviously it is something great to reflect on year round.

And there’s the first single from this disc, “You Redeem.”  This is a great celebration of all God has done for us by forgiving our sins.

While never leaving the contemporary worship realm, this disc has enough variety in style and rhythm to keep you from getting bored.  The songs are simple, mostly keyboard, guitar, and drum, which allows us to focus on God.

So if you are a fan of Aaron’s music or worship music in general, I definitely recommend Love Made a Way.  It’s a great combination of new and old that will focus you on God.

CD Length: 51:28
1. Heartbeat (with Matt Hammitt)
2. My Hope is in You (with April Geesbreght)
3. Belong
4. You Redeem (with Matt Hammitt)
5. Ever Be (with Emily Hamilton of For All Seasons)
6. God of Brilliant Lights
7. Cornerstone (with Jillian Linklater)
8. Death was Arrested (with Christy Nockels)
9. Resurrecting (with Molly Reed of Grayson/Reed)
10. My Savior My God (with Christy Nockels)
11. Lead On (King Eternal)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ornament Review: Albert H. Almstead - Snowtop Lodge #8 - 2012 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Some nice touches
Cons: Doesn’t fully embrace the theme like others in the series
The Bottom Line:
Has some nice touches
But theme not carried throughout
Lesser of series

I Feel Like a Scrooge for Not Loving Albert

Hallmark’s series can be good or bad, especially if you have that obsessive collector gene.  You find yourself buying ornaments even if you don’t love them to fill in your collection.  It’s why I have Albert H. Almstead.  But I’m afraid that my dislike might say more about me than him.

Albert was the 2012 release in the Snowtop Lodge series, which features snowpeople dressed up for various holiday events.  As Albert’s last name suggestions, he is out collecting donations for the poor.  One hand is holding a pail to collect the donations while the other is holding a sign that reads “Season’s Givings!”  He’s wearing a red Santa hat and has a red scarf tied around his neck.  The scene painted on him is of a village with the snow gently falling down.

I think the reason I don’t find this ornament as appealing as some of the others in the series is because it isn’t as special.  Others in the series feature touches that tie into their name and theme, and this is especially true in the picture painted on the snowman.  That village really could be any village.  It does look like it is showing a mission, but it’s a stretch to tie it into the giving theme.  Don’t get me wrong, it looks like, but it could fit many other themes.  The one touch that ties into his theme wonderful is his button, which look a bit like coins.  I love that, and I think of the painting on him tied into the theme better I’d like the ornament more overall.  Not that I know what scene I’d paint on him.

At least that’s my hope.  The other option as to why I don’t like this ornament as much is that I’m not happy being reminded to give to those in need.  Definitely something for me to think about.

Like the others in the series, Albert was designed to stand on his own.  You’ll also find the 8 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom.

Albert does tip forward ever so slightly when you go to hang him, something that is often the case with this series.  It’s not too bad, however.  Think of it as him leaning forward to make it easier for you to give.

Now don’t misunderstand – it’s not that I hate Albert H. Alstead.  He just doesn’t have the same appeal as most of the rest of the series.  Obviously, I have to rotate my collection, but I think that Albert will have less tree time than his brother and sister snowpeople.

Collect the rest of the village with the Snowtop Lodge ornament series.

Original Price: $19.95

Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 25th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here we go - this week's TV post.  I'm glad two of my shows weren't on this week since I spent most of the week behind on TV.  Well, and all my Thursday shows were off as well.

I just watch too much TV.

Once Upon a Time – I didn’t even think about the Evil Queen and the anti-magic potion until that final scene.  With her teamed up with not-Robin Hood, we are in for a wild ride.  I don’t like seeing Bae give in to the magic even in a flashback (and the older actor or different actor was really bugging me, too).  But what is Gold’s end game with Gideon.  I’m sure he has a plan, but I don’t see what that could be.

Dancing with the Stars – I’ve long said that if there was a season without any stars I was super anxious to see, I’d give the season a pass.  Yet here I am watching.  That’s right, I have no one I am really rooting for.  The judges seemed to think everyone was pretty similar, and I agree with their scores.  The best and worst were easy to spot, and they were scored appropriately, too.  I think I know who is going next week, the comedian who did so poorly early on, but we’ll see if I’m right.

24: Legacy – There’s always at least one super torture episodes per season, and this was obviously it.  So who is this new bad guy we will now be tracking down?  I don’t think I remembered his name.  And was it just me, or did it look like no one actually died in the drone strike.  That was a complete waste.

Supergirl – Once again, this show isn’t really part of any crossover, it’s just the final scene that sets up the musical episode of The Flash.  However, that’s not to say this was a bad episode at all.  In fact, I really enjoyed the two stories and how they played off each other.  Winn is too easy to forgive, but Kara is too stubborn.  And I’m loving Teri Hatcher as Mon-El’s Mom.

The Flash – Loved it!  Okay, so they were mostly covers of songs, but still, it was so much fun.  A bit hokey being the alternative world, but very much the delight I thought it would be.  My favorite was definitely the Super Friends numbers.  I was laughing so much at it.  And Barry’s second proposal was beautiful as well.

Legends of Tomorrow – That can’t be good.  The ending?  I mean, I can only imagine the trouble that the Legion is going to unleash on us.  I’m not a Lord of the Rings fan at all (I agreed with Nick in his long about Tolkien loving long stories), but I still know enough to enjoy all the references they made to the story.  These cameos they are putting in this season are truly delightful.

Arrow – Even after five years, I’m still not a fan of the flashbacks, so a flashback heavy episode is not going to be an episode I enjoy.  Couple that with the torture and Oliver’s “secret” (come on, we all knew he enjoyed this too much) and we had an episode I didn’t enjoy.  Hopefully, this will bring some growth for Oliver, but I’m not holding my breath.

Survivor – No!!  Not Malcom!!!  I really, really wanted him to win or at least go far.  And I’m ready for Sandra and her arrogance to go.  I don’t know why Jeff was so surprised at everything that’s been going on since they set up two tribes to vote one person off.  It was an interesting twist, but I don’t think it was necessarily in anyone’s best interests to do it this way – even the producers since fans love Malcom so much.

Designated Survivor – So what is Aaron’s deal?  I’ve assumed all along he was a red herring, but that meeting at the end sure made me suspect otherwise.  And why was Hannah on to him at the end?  Are the kids safe at Camp David?  I hope so.  That was a hard scene to watch as they flew away.  So much intrigue.  So many twists in one episode.  I love this show!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review: L. A. Requiem by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #8)

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Background on Joe; overall good mystery
Cons: Some clinches creep into character and story
The Bottom Line:
Background on Joe Pike
As related case unfolds
Turns out mostly good

Finally Time to Learn About Pike

One of the complaints I have had about the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books has been the lack of development of the leads, especially Joe Pike.  L. A. Requiem addresses that, giving us background on the PI as we delve into a case that hits close to home for him.

It all starts when Elvis and Joe are asked to find a missing woman.  It just happens that Karen Garcia and Joe dated years ago when he was still an officer with the LAPD.  Karen has only been missing for a day, but her father is certain that something bad has happened to her, and since the police aren’t taking it seriously yet, He wants Elvis and Joe to find her.

Unfortunately, the police find her first when someone calls in about a dead body at Lake Hollywood.  Since the police didn’t take him seriously before, Karen’s father insists that Elvis and Joe are kept in the loop on the case, and he has the power to make that happen.  Naturally, that doesn’t sit well with the police, especially considering the circumstances when Joe left the department.  Can the duo gain any trust with the LAPD?  Can the two of them solve the case?

We know we are in for a Joe centric book from the very first page since it actually starts out with a flashback to a portion of the incident that ended Joe’s LAPD career.  Throughout the book, we are treated to glimpses of Joe’s past from various points in his life as well as some scenes from the third person point of view of Joe and others involved in the present day case.  Most of the book is still narrated by Elvis in first person, however, complete with his asides and sarcasm.  These point of view changes are easily marked, so we can always follow what is happening.

Make no mistake about it, this is definitely darker in tone than the normal books I read.  We are in full hard boiled mode here.  That was something I had to remind myself as I read, especially in the final pages as things really turned dark.  Elvis’s humor does lighten things at times, but it is toned down from previous books.

In a case of be careful what you wish for, I must admit I was disappointed with Joe’s backstory.  It felt too familiar.  Yes, the book was written in 1999, so it is close to 20 years old at this point, but I still think that we could have had a few surprises in Joe’s backstory that might still explain why he is the way he is.  I definitely felt like we got to know Elvis better as a result of the events in this book, which is good, and the other characters are interesting.

The plot started strong and held my attention throughout.  However, the climax was rushed with a key piece of the story – the motive – being all but glossed over.  Again, the plot suffered from a couple of clich├ęs as well, but again that might be because I’m looking at it with eyes that have seen 20 years more of detective fiction.  Meanwhile, a few of the pesky details of the plot get glossed over at the end in a fashion that I didn’t find completely believable and bordered on Crais’s trademark due ex machina. 

At this point, you’d be expecting me to talk about the audio version since that’s how I’ve been reading this series over the last couple of years.  Sadly, I can’t do that this time since neither of the libraries I have access to have the audio book.  I actually had to read the book itself.  (Talk about your first world problems.)  I found myself reading certain lines in the way the various narrators have does it in the past, but overall it was interesting seeing how the characters, especially the new characters, came across to me solely from the page.

This also allowed me to really savor the final chapter.  It really is a love letter to Los Angeles, and as a resident of the area, I truly enjoyed it.  It also found that it ended the book on a slightly more positive note than the final few chapters had been giving us.

L. A. Requiem is considered one of the highlights of Robert Crais’s career.  While I didn’t find it quite as good as others seem to, I certainly enjoyed it and look forward to seeing where these characters go from here.

Looking for more books in the series?  Here are the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Mysteries in order.

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

March 24th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

It's Friday once again, which means it is time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring When the Grits Hit the Fan by Maddie Day (aka Edith Maxwell).


This is the third is a series I love, and it is so much fun.  I just finished it earlier today.  Watch for my review on Tuesday, which is release day.
Keeping in mind that this is a murder mystery, don't you just love this first line:

Who knew people could be so nasty to each other?

Unfortunately, that's true in real life, not just in murder mysteries, isn't it?

Since I read this from NetGalley, I'm jumping to 56% into the book for the Friday 56 this week.  Don't worry, I won't spoil anything:

"Hang on there, Paul.  I'm a few steps behind you and can't see too well back here."

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Music Review: Followers by Tenth Avenue North

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good reminders in fun songs
Cons: Repetitive lyrics in a couple of the tracks
The Bottom Line:
More Biblical truths
Wrapped up in musical fun
In this pleasing disc

Their Latest Project Will Keep Tenth Avenue North’s Followers Happy

Sadly, I’m out of the loop of much of Christian music these days, but I did discover Tenth Avenue North about the time their debut reached critical buzz.  I enjoyed that disc and I’ve kept up with their career over the years.  Followers is their latest release, and it’s excellent.

The title for the disc comes from “What You Want,” a song of surrender to God.  I’m sure it’s no surprise that the theme here is to be a follower of God.  This is a very fun, upbeat song that is also very likely to get stuck in your head without you even knowing it.  Trust me on this.  My co-workers might have caught me singing it without knowing it a time or two.

The theme of surrender also plays out in “One Thing” and “Control (Somehow You Want Me).”  I especially like that second one since it marvels at how the God who spoke the universe into place wants to use us.  It’s truly mind blowing, isn’t it?

Another theme on the disc is not letting the world affect our attitude.  Unfortunately, both of these songs suffer a bit from repetitive lyrics, which is a shame because I do enjoy them.  “Afraid” actually starts off the disc stating “I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”    Later on we are reminded that “No One Can Steal Our Joy.”

For me, there is always one song on any Tenth Avenue North disc that seems to be exactly what I need to hear.  This time around, that song is “Sparrow (Under Heaven’s Eye).”  The song plays on the idea that God delights in watching his children, but then wonders about those who are struggling with sin.  The chorus reminds us:
You see the sparrow
You see me here
With the pain of my past
And the depth of my fears
You see my future
One day I’ll rise
My hope is secure
Under Heaven’s eyes
And yes, the song does include the chorus of the hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” as the bridge, a touch I love.  It starts out sounding like a ballad, but they up the tempo for the driving chorus, and it’s a mix that really works.

Right behind it in my list of favorites is “I Confess.”  While one of the lines put me off originally, the more I listen to it, the more I am captivated by this song of confession.  It’s a lyrical ballad that truly shows a broken heart.

And we get a great reminder that God is on our side no matter what we are facing in “Fighting for You.”  This song aims the first verse at those who feel alone and the second at those who have wandered away, but then reminds us that Jesus died for us and is still fighting for us.

Musically, Tenth Avenue North maintains their soft rock sound.  Many of these tracks are upbeat and catchy, yet when they do slow things down, it still works just as well.  The variety helps make this disc stand out.

Other fans like me will be delighted with Followers.  And if you haven’t started listening to Tenth Avenue North yet, it’s definitely time to follow us fans and do just that.

CD Length: 38:25
1. Afraid
2. What You Want
3. Overflow
4. I Have This Hope
5. One Thing
6. Sparrow (Under Heaven’s Eyes)
7. No One Can Steal Our Joy
8. Control (Somehow You Want Me)
9. Fighting for You
10. I Confess

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ornament Review: Tea Time! #1 - Santa - 2016 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun pot and cup set
Cons: Santa is a bit too squat so a bit off.
The Bottom Line:
This festive tea set
With jolly Santa himself
Makes for fun debut

Tea Time Officially Kicks Off with Santa

In 2015, Hallmark released an ornament that teased a new series debuting in 2016.  Tea Time, a five part series, will feature a festive holiday tea pot and matching tea cup.  Naturally, the official series kicks off with Santa.

Santa actually makes a good tea pot.  Think of that childhood song.  He’s short and stout.  And he has his arms in the classic pose we’d do as children, too.  One arm is forming the handle while the other one is sticking out to form the spout.  This hand seems to be at an odd angle, but that’s so his hand will better form the spout.  The matching cup?  Santa’s toy bag, naturally.  It’s just a bit larger than a mini ornament.  It’s green with a handle on one side and has a candy cane sticking out of the top.  Based on the color of the liquid inside, I’d guess that this is actually peppermint hot chocolate and not tea.  Not that I’m complaining.  Pass a cup, please.

Now, I know Santa is supposed to be short and stocky.  Yet somehow, this seems to go beyond that.  As a result, this looks good, but it doesn’t have the wow factor of most Hallmark ornaments.  Yes, I’m glad I got it, but I waited until half off to get it.

Naturally, being a tea pot and a cup, you can set these ornaments out to display.  Their flat bottoms also hold the 1 in a Christmas tree series marker, and yes, it shows up on both pieces.  You’ll want to find a safe place for them is you set them out since they are made of porcelain, so they are more fragile than your typical Hallmark ornament.

Likewise, you’ll want to find a sturdy branch for hanging them on your tree.  Fortunately, both pieces are perfectly balanced, so they hang straight.

I wish Santa were quite so squat because this looks to be a fun series.  Even so, I’m glad to add the first official Tea Time set to my collection.

You'll definitely want to visit the rest of the Tea Time series.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Review: Design for Dying by Renee Patrick (Lillian Frost & Edith Head #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, history, and a fun mystery
Cons: How the police treat Lillian is a little unbelievable at times
The Bottom Line:
Murder set in old
Hollywood combines real and
Fictional for fun

Renee Patrick Has Designed a Fun Debut

I’ve long been fascinated with Hollywood and the movies, so any time a mystery set in old Hollywood crosses my radar, I take note.  I don’t read them, but I take note.  I changed that with Design for Dying, the debut mystery from Renee Patrick, and I’m very glad I did.

It’s November 1937, and Lillian Frost has landed a job at a department store in Los Angeles.  She came to Hollywood from New York thanks to winning a contest for a screen test.  Her acting ability was about what she expected, but she is determined to stay in California.

Trouble walks into her store one day in the form of two homicide cops.  They are investigating the death of Ruby Carroll, Lillian’s former roommate.  When Lillian recognizes the dress that Ruby was wearing as a costume from a movie, she finds herself crossing paths with Edith Head, the costumer at Paramount Pictures even if her name isn’t on the big office in the department.  The two women are curious what happened to Ruby.  Might Lillian’s knowledge of Ruby and Edith’s knowledge of Hollywood help the police solve the crime?

Having lived in Southern California for the past 20 years, I thought I’d feel right at home in the setting right away.  It took me a few chapters, but that’s just because of how much the area has changed in the last 80 years.  It wasn’t long before I was fully immersed in this place at that time.

And make no mistake this is a book set in Hollywood.  Real people rub elbows with our fictional characters.  I don’t know as much about Hollywood history as I would like (for example, I’d never heard of Edith Head before), especially this period, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a few cameos, but that doesn’t matter because I had fun reading these fictional appearances of the people I did know.

But this book isn’t just Hollywood.  In fact, it never forgets that it is a mystery first.  The book actually starts with Lillian finding out that Ruby is dead, and we then get to know Ruby via a few memories that Lillian shares and the investigation.  It works well to pull us quickly into the story.  There are a couple of nice twists to things before we reach the end.  While I had my eye on the villain, I loved how the clues came together, and the climax was a lot of fun.

As I stated earlier, I can’t state for sure who in the cast of characters is real and who is fictional, but I honestly don’t really care.  Everyone came alive on the page for me, and the real and fictional rubbing elbows was much of the fun for me.  Lillian is our first person narrator for the book, and while she uncovers a few of the clues and is involved in the majority of the action, at times she is the sidekick for Edith.  It’s a good sleuthing partnership that brings to mind some of the classic pairings of the genre.

My only hesitation is how the police treated Lillian.  Yes, they explain it in the course of the story, but it still doesn’t quite ring true for me.  But I was having so much fun this was a very minor point.

Design for Dying bring Hollywood history to life while weaving a fun and tangled mystery.  I’m completely hooked and can’t wait to visit this dynamic duo again.

Enjoy more mystery from the Golden Age of Hollywood with the rest of the Lillian Frost and Edith Head Mysteries.

Monday, March 20, 2017

TV Show Review: Home Improvement - Season 4

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and fun with all the characters
Cons: No cons were built into this season
The Bottom Line:
Spreading spotlight wealth
Build more laughs for audience
Delightful season

“Installation Will Be a Breeze.”  “That’s What You Always Say, and then the Breeze Turns Into a Tornado.”

I must admit that I came to Home Improvement on the tail end of its original run, and I’ve been slow to catch up via the DVD set I bought several years back.  I’d also noticed while watching the first three seasons the show was much more formulaic than I remembered it being.  That formulaic tendency went away when I saw down to watch the season 4 DVD set, and I found myself ending season 4 more than season 3.

Yes, the set up for the show is still the same.  It follows Tim Taylor (Tim Allen), host of the local home improvement show Tool Time alone side Al Borland (Richard Karn).  At home, he’s married to long suffering wife Jill (Patricia Richardson), and they have three boys – Brad (Zachery Ty Bryant), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and Mark (Taran Noah Smith).  Rounding out the regular cast is their neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman), who often offers Tim advice to help him navigate his relationships.  Not that Tim ever remembers it correctly.

The season starts out with Jill making a huge decision – to go back to school to get a master’s degree in psychology so she can become a counselor.  This leads to her trying to balance her family with her homework for the rest of the season, and this change doesn’t sit well with Tim at first.  Meanwhile, Al becomes a partner in the local hardware store and is named one of Detroit’s most eligible bachelors.  On the home front, Brad gets a paper route, Randy’s birthday party ends in disaster thanks to an over waxed dance floor, and Mark starts having trouble in school.  It’s not a good year for Tim and cars as he destroys one and sells the hot rod he’s been working on – a decision he soon regrets.  Even Wilson gets into the act of having episodes devoted to him as he considers selling his home and later is set up on a blind date by Jill.

As you can see, there is plenty going on with the entire cast.  This is a wonderful change from the old formula of Tim does something that annoys Jill, she gets mad, Tim makes it worse, Wilson sets him straight, and Tim and Jill make up.  Yes, there are still some episodes along those lines, and even when the focus is on someone else, Tim is just as likely to make things worse at first than help, but breaking away from this formula is very welcome.

And the change gives us some great laughs.  The writers are definitely on the top of their game, not only giving us some good storylines but also great jokes.  When this show is really working, I can picture myself saying some of the things these characters say in these situations.

For those keeping track, this season also features the first appearance of Tim’s younger brother Marty (William O’Leary), who shows up in several episodes here and would pop up from time to time for the rest of the series.

The actors are also in fine form this season.  They are able to milk every laugh out of the material.  It certainly helps that they know each other at this point and are able to play off each other perfectly.  The kids have not only grown up but grown as actors, so they are able to handle the spotlight perfectly when it shines on them.  With Wilson in some scenes outside his backyard, it’s fun to see how they stage things so that we still don’t see all of his face.  You can catch some glimpse, especially if you are ready with the pause button, but the joke is still great.

The season consisted of 24 new episodes and an hour long clips show of previous segments from Tool Time.  All of them are presented in this three disc set in their native full screen and stereo surround.  The only extra is a six minute long outtakes reel that features some bits that aired during the credits and some new material.  Unlike the episodes themselves, the outtake reel picture and sound quality isn’t the best, but it is still worth a few laughs.

It’s nice to see Home Improvement shining the light and laughs on all the character.  This easily makes season 4 the best season to date.

Season 4 Episodes:
1. Back in the Saddle Shoes Again
2. Don’t Tell Momma
3. Death Begins at Forty
4. The Eyes Don’t Have It
5. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s Just Irresponsible
6. Borland Ambition
7. Let’s Got to the Videotape
8. Quibbling Siblings
9. My Dinner with Wilson
10. Ye Olde Shoppe Teacher
11. Some Like It Hot Rod
12. ‘Twas the Night Before Chaos
13. The Route of All Evil
14. Brother, Can You Spare a Hot Rod?
15. Super Bowl Fever
16. Bachelor of the Year
17. It’s My Party
18. A House Divided
19. The Naked Truth
20. Talk to Me
21. No, No, Godot
22. Tool Time After Dark Part 1
23. Tool Time After Dark Part 2
24. Sisters and Brothers
25. A Marked Man
26. Wilson’s Girlfriend

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ornament Review: Winter Fun with Snoopy #14 - Tubing - 2011 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Colorful and fun
Cons: Wish the year weren’t written on it.
The Bottom Line:
Tubing down a hill
Friends having more winter fun
In miniature piece

Winter Time for a Little Tubing

I’d never really thought about how many winter sports involve letting gravity pull you down the snow until I started reviewing the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.  The fourteenth ornament in the series is the fifth time we’ve had Snoopy and Woodstock sliding down snow in some form, yet this 2011 release is still original.

See, in this ornament the friends are using an inner tube to head down a hill.  And this isn’t a black inner tube either.  It’s painted a fun blue-green on top with red underneath.  I’m actually a little surprised that it isn’t pure red and green, but I like this better since it sticks out a bit more from the typical Christmas ornament and looks more realistic.  Snoopy, decked out in a hat, is holding on to the handles on the tube, and Woodstock is sitting on the very front.  On the top layer, there is 2011 written on it and the white outline of flames.

As I already said, this ornament looks great since it looks like a tube you’d rent or buy specifically for going tubing.  The way it captures that look makes me smile.  I do wish they hadn’t included the year on it.  That works on buildings, but this is seems out of place to me here.

Since this is a miniature ornament, you probably would only want to display this in a scene with other small pieces.  By itself, it would be easy to get lost.  Of course, a tube has a nice flat base, so it’s no surprise you can set it out on any flat surface.  You’ll also find the 14 in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom.

This ornament does have a bit of a tip to it, but it is perfect that way.  See, it tips forward, making it look like we’ve caught Snoopy and Woodstock in the middle of their run.  I love that!

Tubing, especially with brightly painted tubes like Snoopy and Woodstock use here is newer than some of the other snow sports that we’ve had in the series to date, and I am happy to see it included in the series.  It’s a colorful and fun addition to the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

You'll find more fun with the rest of the Winter Fun with Snoopy series.

Original Price: $7.95

Saturday, March 18, 2017

March 18th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I can't remember the last time I had a season finale in March, and I had two of them this week.  At least I will have an easier next few weeks with two shows off the air.  I'll definitely be ready for them to be back in September.

(Now that I think about it, the last time I had a show end early was the final season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  That's been well over a decade.)

Once Upon a Time – I did not see that ending coming.  Just as Hook has finally won David over, his past comes back to bite him, literally.  He has changed.  David saw it for himself.  Yet that’s going to get in the way of things for sure.  Other thoughts – when did we get Dr. Hopper back?  Last we knew, the Evil Queen had turned him into a cricket again.  Did you catch the candlestick and the clock in Rumplestiltskin’s home?  And that scene where Hook talked David out of killing the king was so powerful and so well done.

24: Legacy – I still can’t quite see where they will go from here.  Like everyone else, I think our main characters are on a suicide mission.  And one marriage is about to get very messy.  Tony hasn’t done much – yet.  I don’t think they’d bring him back for anything less than a game changer.  And we are in the second half of the season and have yet to skip any hours.  I wonder if that will change at all.

The Flash – Jay is stuck in the speed force.  Yikes!  I hope they get him out of it soon.  Of course, I knew they’d get Wally out of there somehow.  And I knew Jessie couldn’t stay forever.  The cast is already about as large as it can get.  But Barry and Iris break up?  How does that make sense?  The writers didn’t quite sell me on that one.

Legions of Tomorrow – A night of characters sacrificing themselves.  Plenty of fun with this riff of Apollo 13 before that happened, however.  Now that we have one part of the spear, what will happen next?  That’s what I want to know.  And the outtake/extended take of Victor Garbor singing instead of a teaser for next week, too.  I’m so glad he’s going to be in next week’s Flash musical episode.

This is Us – Really?  That’s the season finale?  We hardly got anything on the kids as adults, it was all about Jack and Rebecca meeting and their big fight.  It felt like a letdown in so many ways, especially since it was all in the past.  A separation and cooling down period, I get.  I hope they don’t break them up but show us how they work through their differences.  And Jack as thief?  Sorry, I don’t like that either.  Easily, my least favorite episode of the season.  Hope this isn’t a foretaste of things to come next season.

Arrow – I thought they might play around with us knowing Chase was the villain for a couple of weeks before Oliver found out, but I was definitely wrong about that.  The conversations they were having with each other were fantastic, too, as they were flitting around the truth out in the open.  What is Oliver planning to do with his ultimatum on the Green Arrow turning himself in?  Not that he can right now since he’s been captured.  I must say, I did not see that coming.

Lethal Weapon – I was expecting that episode to pack a punch, and boy did it ever.  Definitely took that storyline and went in their own direction with it.  So many great moments and so many great performances.  I’m glad to know it is coming back next season because I have to know what happens next.

Survivor – Poor Caleb, out on day 9 both times.  He seemed to have a good attitude about it during his exit video, however.  This isn’t the first time they’ve gone from two tribes to three, but doing it this early is certainly unexpected.  It seems like the tribes are pretty lopsided, which means the votes won’t be super exiting next week either.  And then the fireworks can start.

Designated Survivor – Luke?  No!!!  I’m not surprised, but I’m still pretty upset by it.  And the VP dead as well?  I did not see that one coming at all.  How do we go forward from here?  And the First Lady is not going to be happy about being sidelined like this.  She’ll understand eventually, I’m sure, but this is going to make for some good drama as the season goes along.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ornament Review: Cookie Cutter Leprechaun - Cookie Cutter Through the Year #2 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfect shape and very fun scene
Cons: This ornament is lucky enough to have no cons
The Bottom Line:
Irish ornament
Looks great and plenty of fun
No luck required

The Luck of the Irish is with this Cookie Cutter

When you are designing a cookie cutters for holidays, many shapes are obvious.  For example, what else would you do for St. Patrick’s Day than a shamrock design?  That’s exactly the route that Nina Aube took for Cookie Cutter Leprechaun, and the result is a winner.

Each ornament in this Cookie Cutter Through the Year series focuses on a holiday or fun event from the first half of the year.  This ornament features a bronze colored shamrock cookie cutter.  But the fun of the ornament is what is inside.  That’s where we find a scene depicting our mouse friend dressed in a green leprechaun outfit sliding down a rainbow to find the gold at the end.  There’s a grassy hill behind him, and that includes a couple of four leaf clovers.  You can just make out the sun peeking out from behind the hill in the perfectly blue sky.

One element I love about this and the mother series (Cookie Cutter Christmas) is the way candy is used in the series.  In this case, the only evidence of candy I see is the gold.  They sure look like gold foil covered chocolate coins to me.  Yum!

But that’s not to suggest I don’t like this ornament.  I really love it, in fact.  It helps that I love green, and there is a lot of it here.  The mouse’s hat and the rainbow are both covered in glitter, so they sparkle, which adds to the fun.

The stem of the ornament almost provides enough of a base to allow you to set the ornament out to be displayed.  Almost.  It’s not stable enough to stay standing if there is any bump or bounce nearby, so I don’t recommend actually displaying it this way.

However, we are still in luck because this ornament hangs straight.  That’s not too much of a surprise given the balanced nature of the shamrock shape.

And yes, you’ll find a 2 in a Christmas tree on the back of the cookie cutter since this is the second in the planned six piece series.  I do wish they’d come up with some other shape for these year round pieces, but that’s obviously not going to happen.

This series is so creative and fun, you’ll definitely want to add it to your collection.  Cookie Cutter Leprechaun will be perfect to display every March for years 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

March 17th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  No, I don't have an Irish book to share with you for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  Instead, I'm spotlighting Design for Dying by Renee Patrick.


This is a mystery set in 1937 Hollywood.  And if you think that sounds like fun, you'd be right.

Here's how the book begins:
The hem of the dress was drenched in blood.  I could only hope no one would notice.

Jumping a head of page 56, we find this quote.

"Always look your best up to the limits of larceny."

Short and sweet this week, right?  I'll be reviewing the book on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back then to learn more about it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Silence of the Flans Winner

I just pulled the second winner of the week.  The prize is The Silence of the Flans, and the winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail, so please get back to me so we can connect you with your prize.

Book Review: The Semester of Our Discontent by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila Maclean #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and setting, good mystery
Cons: Pacing a little off in the plot at times
The Bottom Line:
A first semester
Filled with lots of death, danger
In this good debut

Lila Starts Teaching – to Murder

Over the years, there have been several mysteries set at colleges that have crossed my radar, but I’ve never picked one up.  I finally enrolled in one with The Semester of Our Discontent, and I’ve learned my lesson – I should have done this sooner.

Lila Maclean has just gotten her PhD in Literature and is excited to be settling into her first semester teaching at Stonedale University in Colorado.  She’s extra please since her cousin is also on the English department faculty.  She’s not so happy with her department chair, Dr. Roland Higgins, however.  When she suggests a course in detective fiction, he not only shoots her down but essentially tells her to be quiet.

Lila and her faculty mentor are walking into a department meeting just hours after Lila’s ill-fated meeting with Dr. Higgins only to find him stabbed to death on a table in the department library.  When the rumors start flying that she knows more than she is letting on, either to protect someone or because she herself is the killer, Lila begins to try to find the killer.  But the clues she finds appear random, and no one seems willing to help her.  Can Lila find the killer?

The book gets off to a fast start with Lila finding the dead body by the end of the first chapter.  However, I did feel the book had some pacing issues as we went along.  We do get some very interesting clues and the secrets the Lila uncovers are good, and the climax does resolve all the plot threads and wraps everything up nicely.

Lila is a wonderful main character.  Her natural curiosity is perfect for getting involved in a murder, and her motive to keep poking around is very strong.  We are introduced to a great group of characters as well.  Some of them already feel like friends, and the rest will provide some interesting sub-plots as the series progresses now that they aren’t suspects in this case.

The setting came alive for me.  This may be a fictional college, but I felt like I was really there.  And as the semester wore on, I could feel the crispness in the air as late summer turned to fall as well.

This is a debut mystery, but the writing is strong.  That’s hardly a surprise since author Cynthia Kuhn is an English college professor herself.

So trust me, you’ll be discontent if you skip this book.  Your homework assignment is to read The Semester of Our Discontent.  But don’t worry, this is one homework assignment you’ll enjoy.

Study up with the rest of the Lila Maclean Mysteries.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Movie Review: Moana

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Funny and adventure filled movie
Cons: A few nitpicks, but nothing major
The Bottom Line:
Journey to islands
Fun filled adventure story
Great animation

“If You Wear a Dress and Have an Animal Sidekick, You’re a Princess.”

Despite the good things I’d been hearing about Moana, I missed it in the theater.  However, I still pre-ordered it, so I was able to watch it over the weekend on Blu-Ray.  I can certainly understand the buzz because this is a fun movie.

The story takes us to the South Pacific where we meet Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho).  She is the chief’s daughter and as such destined to become the next chief.  Her tribe thrives on the coconut trees that grow on their island and the fish they can gather from the nearby water.  They have but one rule – don’t sail beyond the reef that surrounds their island.

Yet Moana longs to go exploring.  And her grandmother (Rachel House) believes that the ocean has chosen Moana for a mission to restore something that was stolen years ago by the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).  Will Moana venture beyond the reef?

The movie takes a bit of time to get going.  Naturally, this is partially set up since we need know the background to Moana’s adventure.  But since we know that Moana is going to head out to sea, it ultimately seems a bit slow.  However, once the adventure picks up, the movie really becomes fun.  There are several great actions scenes that will definitely keep your attention.

What I wasn’t expecting was the humor.  I was laughing the entire way through.  Whether it’s at dialogue, character reactions to things, or Heihei, Moana’s dimwitted pet rooster (yes, dimwitted even for a chicken), there is plenty to make you smile.

Since I know so little about Polynesian culture, I found that part interesting as well.  Oh, I know it’s Disney, so it’s hardly something to take as a reliable source, but it added a nice touch to the film.  Much of this does come early in the film, which adds to that set up and slow down I mentioned earlier.

The animation is wonderful, as expected.  Water plays a huge part in the film, and there are a couple of shots that look absolutely amazing.  The rest of the animation might not blow you away, but it is completely enjoyable.

The songs are a bit of a mixed bag.  “How Far I’ll Go,” the song Moana sings, is a souring ballad that fits well in the Disney cannon.  They try to go for comedy with another couple of songs, “You’re Welcome” and “Shiny.”  They won’t work quite as well as they could.  They aren’t bad, but they aren’t that much fun out of context.

On the other hand, the voice cast is uniformly great.  The supporting characters are fun, although this movie really belongs to Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson.  They spend much of the film as the only two characters, and they pull it off admirably.

That’s not necessarily an easy job as Maui is more of an anti-hero than a true hero or even a reluctant hero.  Moana is constantly have to use any means necessary to convince him to do the right thing.  It creates a bit of a different dynamic for the film, which I ultimately enjoyed.

This is also the rare Disney animated film that doesn’t feature romance of some kind.  There isn’t even a hint of it.  I found that refreshing, especially since I wouldn’t have wanted to see it between Moana and Maui at all.

There are definitely some scary moments in this film that will upset the easily frightened.  Most kids should be able to take it in stride, but if your child is easily frightened, you’ll want to preview it first.

Despite some nitpicks here and there, this is a fun film that will please fans of Disney animation.  If you haven’t seen Moana yet, fix that today.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Gone with the Twins Winner

I just pulled the first winner of the week.  The book is Gone with the Twins, and the winner is...


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

Book Review: Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Jane Ryland #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and a strong plot
Cons: Jane trying to get out of testifying
The Bottom Line:
Murder, hit and run
Two elements in story
That keeps you reading

I’ve Got Plenty to Say about This Book

When I pick up one of Hank Philippi Ryan’s books, I know I am in for a fun ride.  Her Jane Ryland series skirts the end of the cozy side of the mystery spectrum, and I enjoy this slight break in genre.  Say No More is her latest, and it’s another compelling read.

Jane Ryland has landed a new job as a reporter for a TV station in Boston.  However, instead of reporting on the news, she’s responsible for creating hour long documentaries.  She and her new producer are working on a story about campus rape aimed to coincide with the start of the fall semester.  However, on the way to an interview, they witness a hit and run.  Jane gets the license plate of the drive and a good look at his face, but reporting that to the cops might be more than she bargained for.

Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Boston homicide cop Jake Brogan, is called to the scene of a suspicious death.  A woman has been found floating in her backyard pool.  The call came in from a next door neighbor, but it seems that everyone connected with the crime is trying to hide something.  Can he figure out what clues actually pertain to his case?

We actually bounce between Jane, Jake, and three other characters over the course of the book.  Don’t worry, each point of view change is clearly marked.  It creates a fun way to get fully into the story as we wait to see how everything will come together for in the end.  The various plots intersect every so often, and not just when Jane and Jake are sharing page time.  I’ll leave the rest up for you to discover as you race through the book.

Hank makes good use of the various points of view to pull us into the story quickly and keep us engaged.  No, we don’t have cliffhangers every time the view point shifts, but I was usually thrilled to get back to each character to find out how things were progressing.

And all of the characters are strong.  Jane and Jake lead a very small cast of returning characters, and I enjoy seeing them and their relationship evolve.  That leaves plenty of room in the book for new characters, and they come alive before our eyes.  There was one view point character I especially found myself rooting for, and I love how that person developed.  All three of the new viewpoint characters had strong arcs that I enjoyed.  (Yes, I might have been cheering at what happened to one of them.)

All this said, I do have one complaint with the book, and it is a rather big one.  Throughout the book, but especially at the beginning, Jane resists getting too deeply involved as a witness to the hit and run.  She tries to use her position as a reporter to stay out of it, citing her desire to report the news, not be the news.  Sorry, but that’s baloney!  Yes, the accident happened during work hours, but it wasn’t related to anything she was doing for work – simply a case of wrong place, wrong time.  She has no privilege that any other ordinary citizen wouldn’t have, and the fact that she kept trying to get someone else to agree with her on this really rankled me.  If she were protecting a source for a story, I’d be on her side, but she was clearly in the wrong here.  On the other hand, I did find her realizations on how her sources might feel as a result of how she feels here to be wonderful character development.

That’s a long rant for something that is actually a minor point in the book.  Overall, I completely enjoyed this story.

In fact, I’m already looking forward to visiting Jane and Jake again.  If you haven’t read this book yet, you really should pick it up today.  And so I don’t spoil anything, I will Say No More.

Looking for more of Jane's adventures?  Here are the Jane Ryland Mysteries in order.