Thursday, August 31, 2017

August 2017's Monthly Reading Summary

And here we are - time for another monthly reading summary!  As always, the links take you to my full review and the index has been updated.

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

Chime and Punishment by Julianne Holmes (Clock Shop Mysteries #3) – 4
With just two weeks to go until the town’s clock town starts ticking again, Ruth Clagan and her friends are busy getting everything ready to go.  In order to help offset the expenses, they are hosting a fund raiser.  However, Kim Gray, the town manager, is a no show until she is discovered crushed under the bell destined for the tower.  Obviously, someone hated her.  But who?

I was very surprised to see Kim was the victim, but pleasantly so since she’s been a pain in the previous books in the series.  We learn even more what a nasty character she is along the way to the satisfying climax, even if one small part of the mystery isn’t quite resolved.  The characters are charming as ever, and we get to know a few different supporting players this time, which I enjoyed.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Dressed to Confess by Diane Vallere (Costume Shop Mysteries #3) – 4
It’s time for the annual Sagebrush Festival, and this year, the theme is board games, inspired by the opening act, the Domino Divas.  This local group is reuniting after something broke them up 50 years ago.  But the reunion isn’t going that well.  After a bad rehearsal, group member Ronnie Cass doesn’t show up for their first performance.  That’s when costume shop owner Margo Tamblyn finds Ronnie dead in her trailer.  Did her murder have anything to do with what broke the group up 50 years ago?

As Margo investigates, she finds a bit of a conspiracy surrounding this murder, which just adds to the fun of the mystery.  A couple of things get glossed over in the climax, but for the most part, everything is wrapped up well.  I love this setting, a town that goes all out for every occasion, including throwing costume parties.  And the characters are fantastic, just like they are in the earlier books in the series.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The House on the Cliff by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #2) – 4
Frank and Joe Hardy are thrilled when their father, Fenton, gives them an assignment as part of his latest case.  He asks them to go up on the cliff and watch the bay for smugglers.  They find the perfect spot near an abandoned house.  Yet, they soon hear a cry for help from inside, have part of the telescope stolen, and witness an attempted murder.  What’s going on?

This book is a perfect example of some of the weaknesses of the series – characters always making the perfect deduction right away and the thin characters.  But even rereading it, I found it very fun.  It helps that there is plenty of action.  Kids today will get caught up in the story just as I did as a kid and rereading it as an adult.

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness #11) – 5
Georgie is off the Italy in the spring of 1935.  She is going to keep her friend Belinda company until she gives birth to her baby in secret.  However, when the Queen finds out about Georgie’s plans, she worms Georgie’s way into a nearby house party to Georgie can learn if the Prince of Wales has secretly married Mrs. Simpson.  When Georgie arrives, she finds a strange assortment of guests, which include her mother with another mission for Georgie.  Can she accomplish any of it?

I look forward to this series because they are always fun, and this book is no exception.  As Georgie is heading out to her ultimate destination, we get updates on everyone in her life.  This may slow things down for those new to the series, but fans will absolutely love it.  Once we reach Italy, things pick up and get very interesting quickly.  I love how the global politics of the day was woven into this book while still giving us an entertaining mystery and keeping the tone light as always.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Cat About Town by Cate Conte (Cat Café Mystery #1) – 5
Maddie James has returned to Daybreak Island as a result of her grandmother’s death.  While there, she learns that Frank O’Malley, head of the local chamber of commerce, wants to buy her grandfather’s house, a house that has been in the family for generations.  Frank is used to getting his way and is trying to scare Maddie’s grandfather into selling.  So when Frank turns up dead, Maddie and her grandfather find themselves as suspects.  Can Maddie clear their name?

I’ve been looking forward to this debut ever since I heard about it, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The tension starts early, and once Frank’s body is found, we are off and running.  I didn’t have things figured out until Maddie then, but then everything fell into place.  The characters, including Maddie’s new cat, are completely charming.  And the setting, a resort island off the coast of Massachusetts, is absolutely wonderful.  I can’t wait for the next in the series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett (Detective by Day #1) – 5
After one moderately successful commercial campaign, Dayna Anderson, Day to her friends, has given up on becoming an actress.  The problem is, she still has bills that need to be paid and parents who are in danger of losing their home.  So when she sees a billboard offering a reward for information on a hit and run and she realizes she and her friends were there, she figures she can provide the information.  How hard could it be?

This being a novel, it turns out to be plenty hard, but that’s a great thing for us.  The book provides some twists, turns, and dead ends, before Day pieces this together correctly.  Along the way, we get to know a wide variety of interesting characters I can’t wait to see again.  The overall tone is light with plenty of humor including some accurate observations about the area of the country I call home.  This truly is a wonderful debut.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Club Deception by Sarah Skilton – 3
This novel is a look at the inner workings of an exclusive magicians’ club in the Los Angeles area through the eyes of four very unlikely people: Claire, the current president’s wife; Jessica, the new wife of a long-term member; Kaimi, an art expert posing as a member’s girlfriend to sell some papers; and Felix, a young magician looking for his big break.

While billed as a mystery, this is more inner politics and character study with a crime occurring as a sub-plot late in the book despite being teased in the prologue.  I quickly realized this and adjusted my expectations accordingly, and I got caught up in the story.  The characters were always interesting, even when I didn’t necessarily like them or their actions.  I found a couple sub-plots felt extraneous and the ending a bit weak.  I don’t regret reading the book, but it needed a little more polish to truly be great.

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen – 1
Teen pop sensation Cherry Pye is about to release a comeback CD – her second.  Her entire future is riding on its success, however her partying is getting in the way of preparing for the tour.  In fact, her family has hired Ann DeLusia, a look alike, to fool the paparazzi.  Unfortunately, for Ann, she’s about to be kidnapped.  With everything spinning out of control, what will happen?

I’d been curious to try one of Carl Hiaasen’s books for a long time, and when I needed an audio book, I decided this was the best chance.  Sadly, I didn’t care for it. Outside of Ann, there weren’t any sympathetic characters.  Oh, I get that we are supposed to find them crazy, especially with how whacky some of them are, but I did.  Especially since several of them were self-destructing before our eyes.  The plot was interesting enough to pull me in, but the characters got on my nerves.  I won’t be revisiting this author.

The Bungalow Mystery by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew #3) – 4
While out of town, Nancy meets Laura, a recent orphan who is about to meet her new guardians.  However, when Nancy meets them, she thinks that something is off about these adults.  Meanwhile, Mr. Drew asks Nancy to help him figure out how bearer bonds have disappeared from a bank in town.  Can Nancy juggle these two cases?  Or is there a connection?

I can’t remember if I read this one as a kid or not, but I quickly got caught up in the fun as an adult.  There is plenty of action.  Some of the twists were a little obvious, but I couldn’t figure out how everything quite fit together until the end.  We still haven’t met Nancy’s usual friends, but with the emphasis on plot and action, the characters are thin anyway.

Sleeping Beauty, Borrowed Time by Maia Chance (Fairy Tale Fatal #4) – 5
After breaking her arm in a circus accident, Ophelia Flax finds herself in a fancy hospital in Switzerland.  Another patient there, Imogen Melchor, has been asleep for 8 days.  Her parents claim it is related to the Sleeping Beauty legend, which is strong in the area.  Meanwhile, Professor Gabriel Penrose is in the area, officially to track down local legends, but really in hopes of finding Ophelia again.  Will he succeed?  What happened to Imogen?

This is a novella written specifically to wrap up loose ends after the series was canceled.  As a result, it will appeal most to series fans.  With only 100 pages to work with, the story is fast paces with something always happening to move it forward.  The new characters are a bit short changed, but Ophelia and Gabriel are strong, and the plot kept me guessing until the end.

Gila Monster by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun Mysteries #4) – 5
When the head of the Venomous Animals Research Institute is found dead in the lab with a Gila monster next to him, Joe and Tom are called in to find out what is going on.  It might be an accident, but they don’t think so, especially when they realize just how few people actually liked the victim.  With more incidents happening, can the pair find the killer?

I’ve really been enjoying rereading these books, and this book was no exception.  I did remember who the killer was about half way through, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment at all.  I never wanted to put the book down.  The suspects are strong and become well developed as we get to further into the book.  There are really only three main characters, but I’m enjoying getting to watch them grow.

Gone Gull by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #21) – 4
Meg and various family members are spending the summer at the craft retreat her grandmother, Cordelia, is starting on some old family property.  While her grandfather is hot on the trail of some rare gulls that might be in the area, Meg is teaching the blacksmithing classes and trying to figure out who is out to sabotage the center.  But as the second week is starting, Meg finds the body of a fellow instructor.  Has the sabotage progressed to murder?  Or is there another motive?

Those who love this series will find much to enjoy here.  We once again get plenty of smiles and laughs, often at the way Meg’s grandparents interact with each other.  The characters are wonderful, although we do miss a few of the regulars since this book takes Meg out of town.  The mystery and Meg’s roll in it was a little weak, but the characters more than make up for this.  I also truly appreciated the family relationships that have been built in this series here.  That community is wonderful.

Scam Chowder by Maya Corrigan (Five Ingredient Mysteries #2) – 4
Val Deniston’s grandfather is hosting a dinner party with a secret agenda.  He’s hoping to confront Scott, a man who scams retirees out of their savings.  However, before the confrontation can take place, Scott gets sick and leaves.  The next day he is dead from poison.  With the other dinner guests as suspects, Val must figure out what happened before the police arrest her grandfather.

The mystery in this book is very strong.  I thought I could discount some of the suspects early on, but by the end, I felt they all could have done it.  Yet, when the killer was revealed, it made perfect sense with clues pointing to his or her identity.  I do wish that Val’s grandfather wasn’t so harsh to her, but the rest of the characters and their relationships are strong, and I’m anxious to see what happens to them next.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: Scam Chowder by Maya Corrigan (Five-Ingredient Mystery #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, mostly good cast
Cons: Val’s relationship with her grandfather.
The Bottom Line:
Poison at dinner
Val investigates again
A strong mystery

I Enjoyed This Book and that’s No Scam

I realized that over the last couple of months, I’ve started several new series.  Since I enjoyed the series, I don’t mind in the least, but I decided it was time to return to series I’ve enjoyed but I’m behind on.  The first step in that goal was reading Scam Chowder, the second Five-Ingredient Mystery.

Val Deniston is settling into her new life in Bayport, Maryland, where she lives with her grandfather and runs the café in the local country club.  Granddad has recently gotten a recipe column in the local newspaper despite not having a clue how to cook, so when he decides to host a dinner to impress his new girlfriend, Val gets roped into cooking for him.  But she is shocked to learn that the real purpose of the dinner is to confront Scott, a man who scams seniors out of their savings.

Before the confrontation can take place, Scott starts complaining about not feeling well and asks to leave.  The next day, he’s admitted to the hospital where he dies from poison.  Now Val has to figure out what happened at the dinner to keep her grandfather’s secret safe and keep him out of jail.  Can she do it?

If you aren’t familiar with this series, the series title comes from the fact that Val’s grandfather includes recipes that have five ingredients.   And that bleeds over into the mysteries, which each feature five suspects and five clues.  So I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that there were seven people present at the ill-fated dinner – Grandfather, Scott, and five suspects.  Oh, I thought I could eliminate a couple of them early on, but as the book went along, they all became viable suspects with real motives and secrets.  When the killer is finally revealed at the end, everything makes perfect sense, and we see what were the five real clues mixed in with the red herrings.

My issue with the book comes with Val and her relationship with her grandfather.  His newspaper column is called the Codger Cook, and he lives down to it.  His gruff demeaner crossed the line a time or two and really annoyed me.  There are some other scenes that almost redeem him, but he really needs to treat Val better.

I definitely want to keep reading the series because the mysteries are very well done.  The plotting is sharp and everything is there even if we don’t know what it means yet.  The rest of the regular characters are good, and I’m curious to see where some of the relationships are going to go in future books.

And yes, there are recipes in the back.  We get six five ingredient recipes here including clam chowder, rum cake, and an interesting sounding dip to name but three.

The needed character growth aside, Scam Chowder is still a good cozy that will keep you turning pages.  If you are looking for a strong mystery, pick up this book.

Check out the rest of the Five-Ingredient Mysteries.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Review: Gone Gull by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #21)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Family and community; tons of fun
Cons: Story a little weaker than it could be
The Bottom Line:
Sabotage, murder
And a hunt for a rare gull
Make page turning fun

Meg Works to Catch a Crafty Killer

Meg Langslow, the star of Donna Andrews’s delightful mystery series, is a blacksmith.  You may not know this because many of her cases seem to involve festivals and other activities that she’s been roped in to helping organize and take her away from this profession.  But it is because of blacksmithing that she is involved in the mayhem of Gone Gull.

Well, blacksmithing and family.  You see, her grandmother, Cordelia, is opening up a craft retreat on some old family land.  Meg has signed up to teach blacksmithing classes all summer, and various family members are also helping out with their expertise, including her grandfather, who is helping teach a nature photography class.

This is the first summer the center has been open, and the first week has some unexpected hitches.  Someone is attempting to sabotage the center, leaving windows open in the rain, breaking things, throwing paint on canvases.  There are suspicions as to who is behind it, but no proof yet.

However, things take a huge turn when Meg discovers the body of a fellow instructor one morning early in the second week.  Has the saboteur turned to murder?  Or, since no one liked this instructor, could it be unrelated to the sabotage that has been going on?

Wondering about the title?  There is a sub-plot involving Meg’s grandfather, a world-famous naturalist and conservationist, trying to track down an incredibly rare gull.  It adds quite a bit of humor to the proceedings as does his interactions with Cordelia.  Personally, I found this funnier than some of the antics of the crafters.

The antics of the characters can often overshadow the mystery.  If you look back at older books, you’ll see this is the case as well.  I’m afraid it did here again as well.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are twists and suspects.  However, Meg doesn’t seem to uncover as much as she has in books past, and I found the climax a bit weaker than it could have been.  Suspenseful and creative, but weaker in other ways.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy every page.  There’s a reason that this series is still going strong after 20 books in the series.  The books are full of fun and characters we love.  Since this book is set outside of Meg’s hometown, we don’t see all of the series regulars, but that’s okay because the new characters we get to meet here are more than up for filling in any holes.  I wouldn’t mind seeing some of them again.  The returning characters that are here are a delight as always.  Time with them is never wrong.

But I had a revelation while reading this series.  Yes, I enjoy the mysteries and the humor, but I have also fallen in love with the family community that Donna Andrews has created in these books.  This was really driven home to me late in the book when the characters face a crisis (no spoilers, don’t worry), and they figure out a way to support each other despite what is going on.  No, it wasn’t sappy, but I really enjoyed seeing it.

So fans of Donna Andrews and her character Meg Langslow will find much to enjoy here.  Pick up Gone Gull today and be swept up in another entertaining tale.

Enjoy the rest of the Meg Langslow Mysteries series.

Monday, August 28, 2017

TV Show Review: Designated Survivor - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mostly interesting storylines
Cons: Gets predictably preachy at times
The Bottom Line:
Terrorist attack
Struggling new President
Flaws, but mostly fun

“You Had a Change of Circumstance in a Summer Blockbuster Kind of Way.”

As a longtime fan of both 24 and the most recent Nikita, there was no way I could pass up Designated Survivor.  Kiefer Sutherland and Maggie Q in a political thriller?  How could it go wrong?  So the first season didn’t quite live up to all my hopes, I did enjoy it overall.

The show opens on the day of the State of the Union Address as we meet Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland).  He’s a political independent serving under a Democrat President, and that day President Richmond (Richard Bekins) has two requests of him – one step down as Secretary and two, be the designated survivor.  He wants Tom to skip the State of the Union and instead stay in a bunker just in case there happens to be an attack on the Capital during the speech.  This way, there is someone in the line of succession to take over as President.

This particular night, the unthinkable does happen and the Capital blows up during the middle of the speech, leaving Tom as the President.  He, along with his wife and kids, move into the White House, and he starts trying to run a government in the middle of a crisis.  He leans heavily on Aaron Shore (Adan Canto), Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci), and Seth Wright (Kal Penn) to help him do this.

Meanwhile, the FBI start to investigate the bombing.  Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) lost her boyfriend in the attack, and she is taking it personally.  She also finds some things that don’t line up with the official explanation.  Is there a conspiracy?  Where and when might they strike again?  What is the ultimate goal?

I’ve already mentioned 24, and I think any show with this plotline starring Kiefer is going to get compared to his earlier show.  Those looking for a conspiracy thriller will find episodes in this season to enjoy.  Hannah Wells is driving most of the investigation, and it features some twists and turns and close calls over the course of the season.  We wrap up a good portion of it here, although there are still things that could be explored further in season 2.

The other show that is an appropriate comparison is The West Wing.  When the conspiracy isn’t moving forward, we are seeing just how the new President Kirkman is handling his job.  To say he is overwhelmed at first is an understatement, yet I enjoyed seeing him navigate these waters.  The way he came up with solutions to problems was often very well done.  His instincts and willingness to learn are spot on.

Of course, this part of the show is the part that could annoy me the most.  The show makes no bones about political parties of the politicians involved.  At times, these political skirmishes are fun to watch, but at times I feel that they created stereotypical Republicans to be the bad guy of the moment.  Honestly, that’s one reason I only made it through season one of The West Wing.  And don’t get me started on the episodes that brought up gun control or some of their other politically correct preaching.

One thing I really appreciated about this show was the President’s family.  While he and his wife Alex (Natascha McElhone) didn’t always see eye to eye, they basically had a solid marriage, and worked hard to keep it that way.  Early on, it looked like the teenage son was going to get a Kim Bauer storyline (I can’t stop the 24 references), but they fortunately dropped that after a few episodes.  When he did get a significant storyline later in the season, I loved how it was handled and how it played out.  And the young daughter?  She was just there for an adorableness factor, and she always delivered.  Honestly, these characters truly helped humanize Kirkman, which was important to his character.

The show had quite a few changes behind the scenes, going through three show runners over the course of this one season.  That helped make the show seemed even more fractured and the duality even more apparent as different people emphasized different aspects and some storylines got dropped or changed.  The show has been picked up for season 2, and we will get yet another new show runner this season, so we shall see what the show becomes when it starts up again next month.

All of this gives the actors quite a bit to deal with, and they handle it all very well.  I didn’t find a weak one in the bunch.

Season 1 consisted of 21 episodes, and they are preserved here in their native wide screen and full surround sound.  Extras consist of the entirety of Kirkman’s first speech as President (basically an extended scene), a tour of the White House set, and behind the scenes featurette.

While the preaching annoyed me, I still mostly enjoyed season 1 of Designated Survivor.  Here’s hoping that season 2 will keep the entertainment without resorting to preaching.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Pilot
2. The First Day
3. The Confession
4. The Enemy
5. The Mission
6. The Interrogation
7. The Traitor
8. The Results
9. The Blueprint
10. The Oath
11. Warriors
12. The End of the Beginning
13. Backfire
14. Commander-in-Chief
15. One Hundred Days
16. Party Lines
17. The Ninth Seat
18. Lazarus
19. Misalliance
20. Bombshell
21. Brace for Impact

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ornament Review: The Band Concert - Mickey's Movie Mousterpieces #6 - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful sculpt of a classic short
Cons: All cons blown away by tornado
The Bottom Line:
Conductor Mickey
From classic wind-blown concert
Captured perfectly

Strike Up the Band for the Latest Mickey’s Movie Mousterpieces Ornament

Hallmark’s Mickey’s Movie Mousterpieces series seems to be doing a good job of picking shorts to highlight from both the well-known and the rarer of Mickey’s career.  Okay, so maybe the definition of familiar would be different outside of diehard DisNerd circles, but I like having the mix of both.  We definitely have one of the more familiar shorts this year with The Band Concert.

If you aren’t familiar with this 1935 classic cartoon, it features Mickey and his group of friends, including Horace, and Clarabelle, as they attempt to put on a concert in the park.  Just as Mickey, the conductor, starts leading them through the William Tell Overture, mayhem ensures in the form of Donald, a bee, and ultimately a tornado.  And one reason this short stands out is that it was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon done in color.

What we have here is Mickey before the madness begins.  He’s holding the baton in his right hand and is about ready to start conducting the song.  He’s looking up and smiling.  And he’s wearing a hat and the long red coat he wears in the piece.

In fact, anyone familiar with this short will immediately recognize which cartoon is being featured.  It’s an iconic look for Mickey, and the ornament captures it perfectly.  I can’t think of a better ornament of Mickey from his short.

Mickey’s coat trails out behind him, so you’d think that would give him a nice flat base.  It doesn’t.  The way his feet are positioned makes him balance on just one small area.  He does stand up, but if you set him anywhere that is going to be bumped, he will fall over rather quickly.  You will find the six in a Christmas tree series marker on the bottom as well as the name and year of the short.

The loop for hanging the ornament is on the top of Mickey’s head, and it is perfectly placed, because Mickey hangs straight.

This ornament seems to be popular because The Band Concert flew off the shelves here when it premiered in July.  If you want it, I suggest you snag it if you find it in your local store.  And any fan of Mickey will definitely want to add it to their collection.

Collect more moments from Mickey's career with the rest of the Mickey's Movie Mousterpieces series.

Original Price: $12.95

Saturday, August 26, 2017

August 26th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Another short week of TV.  Got to enjoy these before the onslaught of fall TV hits me.

American Ninja Warrior – Wow, the pipe obstacle was a horrible one.  Not that I can say much since I have no sense of balance.  Even if the pipe didn’t rotate, I’d fall off.  Still, you know it’s a hard course when you can finish the salmon ladder and make it to Vegas.  And only one person came close to finishing.

Hollywood Game Night – That duet game was hard.  Okay, so I don’t know a ton of popular songs since that’s not what I normally listen to, but yikes!  The second team did finally begin to get things together near the end of their run.  And the winner should have passed a bit more often in the final round.

Suits – Wow.  Just wow!  I’m so glad to know what Alex’s role in all this is.  As horrible as it is, I’m glad he’s not guilty of anything.  Oh, we can parse what he should or shouldn’t have done, but I get his fear and where he’s coming form.  But I want them to take these company’s down.  I’m glad to know Mike won’t take it lying down, but I’m wondering what they will do.  And if this is season 7, wouldn’t seven years ago (which is what they said at the start of the flashbacks) been about the time the show started?  I think they need to back it up longer than that.  Minor issue, of course.

Battle of the Network Stars – So that wasn’t really a surprise.  Oh, I was surprised at how close it was until the tug of war, but the decide all tug of war went the way I thought it would.  Just in case you missed it, the show is on ABC, and they are the only network to get their own team this summer.  I’m surprised they didn’t get more current stars to do it.  And TV variety seemed a stretch to me.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Book Review: Gila Monster by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun Mysteries #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, good characters
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
A death by Gila
Monster starts creepy, fun book
I enjoyed again

Deadly Academia

I read to be entertained, as should be obvious by the books I read and review.  However, you can occasionally pick up something even in fiction novels.  For example, it was reading Gila Monster for the first time 20 plus years ago, that I learned that Gila monsters are actually venomous.

Phoenix homicide detectives Joe Rodriguez and Tom Flaherty are called to the Venomous Animals Research Institute lab of Tempe State University.  Dr. Victor Corello, the head of the institute, has been found dead in the middle of the lab, and there’s a Gila monster next to him on the floor.  It might be a case of Corello not handling these animals well, but Joe and Tom don’t think so, especially when they begin to find out just how many enemies their victim had.  Can they narrow the suspects down to find the killer?

If you have a reptile phobia, this book will definitely get to you.  Even rereading the book, I felt my skin crawl a few times and found my heart pounding others.  Fortunately, I was just reading about the experiences; I’m not sure how I would have done having to live them.

With the plethora of suspects, Joe and Tom are kept hopping as they try to figure out exactly what happened.  Between that and some new incidents, this book never drags.  While I didn’t remember who the killer was when I started reading the book, I did figure it out about half way through.  At this point, I couldn’t tell you if it was because it was obvious or because my sub-conscious remembered.  Either way, it is a logical solution, and I was so caught up in the story I didn’t want to put it down.

We are introduced to the suspects in a quick fashion early on, but as the book goes on and they get better developed, it’s easy to remember who they all are.  Joe, Tom, and Gretchen, a lab tech, are really the only characters who return in this book, and I enjoyed getting to see their relationships grow.  I truly love them and am really enjoying spending time with them again.

This mystery was originally written for the Christian market.  No, it doesn’t preach, but that world view permeates the book.  Keep that in mind when you pick it up and you’ll be fine.

I’ve really enjoyed going back and rereading this series with so many more mysteries under my belt than when I originally read them.  Gila Monster is a fun mystery that kept me turning pages, even on a second read.

Read the rest of the Valley of the Sun Mysteries.

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

August 25th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

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

This week, I'm featuring Scam Chowder by Maya Corrigan.


I'm just over the half way point and enjoying it.  Hoping to finish it off by the end of the day.

Here's how the book begins:
"Blech.  Ugly appetizer.  I could add chopped roaches to it, and no one would notice."

Not exactly complementary, now is it?  And here's what we find on page 56:

She winced.  "You missed your cue.  You were supposed to tell me not to worry."

Short and sweet this week, but I hope you enjoyed.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Movie Review: Garage Sale Mystery - Murder Most Medieval

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun story with characters we love
Cons: Weaker mystery; Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Body in armor
Weaker mystery movie
But still fun for fans

“I’ve Heard About You and Mysteries.”

We’ve now reached the third Garage Sale Mystery that Hallmark is releasing in August, and we’ve finally reached one that has a true connection to the theme.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining since most cozy mysteries branch off from their theme, but since Murder Most Medieval has a definite connection to Jennifer’s love of garage sales, I was impressed.  It becomes hard to tie into a theme after a certain point in time.

Jennifer Shannon’s (Lori Loughlin) newest client is Bill Wallis, an eccentric rich man who belongs to a club that practices medieval fighting for fun.  He also collects antiques, or well-done reproductions as long as he knows what he is getting and pays the appropriate price.  So when Jennifer finds a full set of medieval armor at an estate sale, she naturally thinks of Bill and buys it to resell to him.

Jennifer wasn’t the only one to spot the armor, and a few days later she receives a visit from Robert McNary, a professor at the nearby college.  He wants to buy the armor for use in his classroom, and when Jennifer states that she’s already sold it, Robert insists she call the buyer and try to get it back.  Naturally, Bill isn’t interested.

When Jennifer goes over to deliver a chair she’s found for Bill, she stops to admire the armor, only to discover that it is dripping blood.  Inside is Robert, dead.  How did he get in there?  Who would want to kill him?

This isn’t the tightest mystery in the series.  The plot has a noticeable hole in it.  They try to fill it, but I still don’t buy their explanation fully.  And I did figure out the villain and the motive fairly early as well.  That’s not to say that I didn’t have fun watching Jenn try to solve the case, but as a puzzle it could have been better.

And let’s face it, those of us who are hooked on these movies watch them for the characters.  That means the sub-plots are just as important as the mystery.  In this movie, Jenn’s daughter Hannah (Eva Bourne) is running for senior class president at college.  (Wasn’t she a senior already?)  And Jenn’s best friend and business partner Dani (Sarah Strange) is debating about attending her high school class reunion.  Both of these are fun and a great way to show off the supporting cast.

This does come with the usual Hallmark cheese warning, but I find the more of these movies I watch, especially in a row, the less I notice.

While not perfect, Murder Most Medieval is still a lot of fun.  Fans of the franchise will definitely enjoy it.

This movie is part of the Garage Sale Mysteries Collection Three DVD set.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ornament Review: Mario - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Captures Mario in action
Cons: Wish it featured a mushroom instead of a coin
The Bottom Line:
Jumping for a coin
Mario, ready for tree
Video game piece

Mario is Leaping onto Your Tree this Year

While I don’t play a lot of video games these days, I loved them as a kid.  In fact, I had an Atari 2600 and an original Nintendo.  As a result, I’ve been a fan of Mario and Luigi since they were just the Mario Brothers.  (Anyone else remember the original game that featured both of them?)  And yes, I’ve followed their adventures through their various Super incarnations as well.  So when Hallmark announced they had the license to do ornaments based on these characters, I was thrilled.  Naturally, I snapped up Mario as soon as I could.

The ornament captures Mario in action.  He’s dressed in his traditional red shirt and blue overalls.  He’s wearing a red hat with an M on it.  And he’s jumping.  You see, he’s under a question box, and he’s jumping to hit it.  What did he get?  Why it’s a coin coming out of the top of the box.

While I do like this ornament, I do wish they had changed one thing.  Why isn’t it a mushroom coming out of the box?  Yes, coins are more frequent, but a mushroom would be better, especially since they are doing Luigi as a limited ornament in October, and he has a coin as well.  Since they are doing both brothers, they could have done both a coin and a mushroom.  That’s my only complaint.  Anyone who has spent many happy hours playing these games will be as glad as I am to get this ornament.

As I mentioned earlier, Mario is jumping into the air to hit the box.  As a result, he won’t stand on his own.  However, the hook is perfectly places so that he will hang straight on your tree.

I will be curious to see how many of these characters they do over the next few years.  But they’ve started off with a winner.  Mario is a wonderful ornament.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Book Review: Sleeping Beauty, Borrowed Time by Maia Chance (Fairy Tale Fatal #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good story, Ophelia and Gabriel
Cons: Other characters could be stronger, which is a result of short length
The Bottom Line:
One last fairy tale
Gives us twists, brings us closure
In short novella

Awaken to This Concluding Novella

One of the many casualties of the cozy mystery purge going on at Berkley right now was the Fairy Tale Fatal series.  Since it left the two main characters’ future up in the air, many of us fans didn’t consider that a good thing.  Author Maia Chance listened to us, however, and she decided to give us a self-published novella, Sleeping Beauty, Borrowed Time, to wrap things up.

The story opens six months after the previous book as Ophelia Flax breaks her arm in a circus accident and finds herself in a fancy hospital in Switzerland to recover.  Another patient there is Imogen Melchor, she has been asleep for 8 days.  The story this young woman’s parents tell is of her pricking her finger on a spindle while they were touring a nearby monastery.

Meanwhile, Professor Gabriel Penrose is using his summer break from teaching at university in England to visit Switzerland.  His official purpose is to research local legends.  However, he’s really there hoping to track down Ophelia in hopes of convincing her to marry him.  What will he make of this modern day Sleeping Beauty?  What is really happening with Imogen?  And will Ophelia believe that Gabriel didn’t show up because of the local connection to the Sleeping Beauty legend?

That’s quite a lot of questions for a novella, so I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you it moves quickly.  With only 100 pages or so to tell this story, there isn’t much time for dead weight or many sub-plots.  Yet we do get a decent mystery that had me going until the very last page.

Meanwhile, it was great to see Ophelia and Gabriel again.  I like these two characters, and since the story is told once again from both of their points of view, we get to know them, and what they are currently thinking, very well.

On the other hand, the new characters could be better developed.  They are developed enough for the story to work, but there just isn’t space for fully realized characters.  This is 100 pages, after all.

As a final chapter for two characters I love, I thought Sleeping Beauty, Borrowed Time worked perfectly.  It provided closure while still giving us an entertaining story.  I think other fans of this series will enjoy it just as much.

Enjoy more magical mysteries with the rest of the Fairy Tale Fatal series.

Monday, August 21, 2017

TV Show Review: Supergirl - Season 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mostly good action and characters
Cons: Interjection of politics
The Bottom Line:
Supergirl still flies
Political messages
Do undercut fun

“I Am Not a Redshirt.  I Am Not a Redshirt.  I Am Not a Redshirt.”

Season 2 of Supergirl brought a huge change to the show – it moved from CBS to the CW.  Honestly, I had been surprised that the show didn’t start out on the network like its brethren did.  Naturally, that meant a few changes to the show, and the result was certainly weaker than season 1, although the biggest weaknesses weren’t because of the change.

The season opens with Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), aka Supergirl, making a huge decision.  She’s no longer going to be an assistant at CatCo., but she’s going to become a reporter.  All this comes as Cat Grant (guest star Calista Flockhart) decides to go out and travel the world, leaving James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) in charge of the media company.  While Kara’s desires to fight for justice and her knowledge as Supergirl sometimes get in the way of her job as a journalist, she begins to grow as a writer.

Other developments this season?  Winn (Jeremy Jones) is now working for the DAO.  We learn who was in the space ship at the close of season one – Mon-El (Chris Wood), an alien from the neighboring planet to Krypton, and Kara takes him under his wing to help him adjust to life on Earth.  Speaking of aliens, Hank (David Harewood) learns he isn’t the only Martian hiding out on Earth.  And Kara’s sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) makes a major discovery about herself and comes out as a result.

But there’s a growing fight looming as Lillian and Lena Luthor (Brenda Strong and Katie McGrath) move to town.  Despite her cousin Clark’s battle with Lex, Kara starts building a friendship with Lena.  However, Lillian is definitely up to no good.  Plus there’s the group that wants all aliens removed from Earth.  Can Kara survive the coming upheaval?

More than any other show this season, this show wound up embroiled in controversy.  Some of it was just with fans.  Lots of people seemed to hate Mon-El.  I will freely admit, I found him annoying in the beginning of the season, but he really grew on me, and I loved him by the end.

I have friends who have stopped watching this show because of the political bent the show took.  Just look at the titles of the final two episodes of the season as a perfect example.  The alien storyline was a not so thinly condemnation of anyone who is against immigration of any kind even just illegal immigration.  I don’t watch a superhero show to be lectured at.  Ironically, I found the show to be making the exact opposite point when it comes to immigration in the final couple episodes of the season.  Meanwhile, while some praised Alex’s storyline as brave this season, I found it completely predictable early on, although it did get better in the second half of the season.

Despite all of this, I still found much to enjoy.  James got an interesting storyline as he becomes the superhero Guardian.  While he wasn’t in every episode, this tweaked the dynamic of the show for sure.  I also really enjoyed Lena and Kara’s friendship.  I have no clue where they are going with the character, and I like it that way.  Most of the episodes didn’t get too preachy and still managed to entertain.  But when they wanted to preach, boy did they.

Because the show needed to cut its budget due to the network change, production moved to Vancouver from Los Angeles, and as a result Calista Flockhart didn’t stay on full time.  I really did miss her Cat Grant, and she brought a lot of fun to the episodes she was in, the first two and last two of the season.

Those episodes also feature the first appearance on this series of Tyler Hoechin as Superman.  He was excellent in the role.  If they brought him on full time, I wouldn’t complain at all.

Those looking for connections to older Superman shows will be interested to know that, in addition to the actors we’ve already seen, Terry Hatcher, Lois of Lois and Clark, shows up here late in the season for multiple episodes.

Since the show was on the CW for the season, there was more effort to work it into the larger Arrowverse.  Kara was part of the big crossover event a third of the way into the season, although it was hardly mentioned on this show.  Later in the season, more characters do crossover to The Flash for a fun musical episode, although again, not much of the action for this crossover happens on this show, although the episode on The Flash does play out many of the storylines happen on Supergirl at the time.

While I didn’t like all of the choices the writers made this season, I did still find the actors all did a great job.  There’s not a weak link in the cast anywhere.  Meanwhile, the special effects also continue to impress.

The season consisted of 22 wide screen and full surround episodes, and they are all on this disc.  Extras include video from the 2016 Comic Con panel, an audio commentary, and three featurettes and some trivia.

The good of Supergirl Season 2 definitely outweighed the bad.  I do hope that the show can get away from politics and focus more on the super as it moves to season 3.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. The Adventures of Supergirl
2. The Last Children of Krypton
3. Welcome to Earth
4. Survivors
5. Crossfire
6. Changing
7. The Darkest Place
8. Medusa
9. Supergirl Lives
10. We Can Be Heroes
11. The Martian Chronicles
12. Luthors
13. Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk
14. Homecoming
15. Exodus
16. Star-Crossed
17. Distant Sun
18. Ace Reporter
19. Alex
20. City of Lost Children
21. Resist
22. Nevertheless, She Persisted

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: The Bungalow Mystery by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced and fun
Cons: Weak characters; obvious plot points
The Bottom Line:
Stolen bonds, orphans
Give Nancy next mystery
Fast paced page turner

The Mysterious Guardian

While I can remember certain Nancy Drew mysteries I read as a kid, I am not sure if I read The Bungalow Mystery before or not.  A couple of scenes seemed vaguely familiar to me, but the rest of the plot was completely unfamiliar, so I probably did read it but it didn’t make much of an impression on me.  If that’s the case, I’m not sure why because I enjoyed it as an adult.

The story starts on a dark and stormy afternoon when Nancy and her friend Helen get caught in a sudden storm on a lake.  They are rescued by Laura, a teen who has recently become an orphan.  She’s in the area to meet her new guardians.  However, when she does meet them, something seems off, and Nancy and Helen agree with that assessment.

Meanwhile, Nancy’s father, Carson, is helping a friend by trying to figure out how bearer bonds disappeared from a bank.  He’s in and out of town as a result, but when he is in town, he asks Nancy to help him investigate.  Will she find any clues in this case?  What is going on with Laura’s new guardians?

And once again Nancy is off on another exciting, fast paced adventure.  It is amazing just how much happens to Nancy and what she pieces together in these 180 pages.  Some of the twists are a little obvious, but I wasn’t completely sure how everything would fit together or how Nancy would prove it until the end.

We still haven’t met Nancy’s usual crew in this book.  Helen, who is older and getting married soon, is around near the beginning but isn’t really part of the action here.  A potential boyfriend character is around in the second half of the book.  I can’t remember when Bess, George, and Ned show up, but I miss them.

Not that the characters in this series are super strong.  With only 180 pages, the emphasis is on plot with characterization being fairly basic.  Still, I remember not caring as a kid, so I’m sure today’s kids won’t mind either.

There are a few dated references and expressions in the book, but I think the biggest thing that will date these books for today’s kids are the pictures.  Still, I doubt most kids will care.

It’s fun every so often to revisit friends from your childhood.  While most of the usual cast wasn’t here, I still enjoyed spending time with her in The Bungalow Mystery.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Movie Review: Garage Sale Mystery - Murder by Text

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: It’s a Hallmark movie
The Bottom Line:
Suicide, murder?
Question about band member
Light but fun movie

“So My Air Tight Locked Up and Done Suicide is Now a Murder?”  “Not Yet.  But Can We Take a Closer Look?”

As a fan of cozy mysteries, you quickly forgive stories that involve your main characters but only partially pertain to the theme.  That’s what happened in the second Garage Sale Mystery that Hallmark is premiering this month – Murder by Text.

You see, this mystery revolves around the local modern country band Dalton.  Yes, Jennifer Shannon (Lori Loughlin) gets involved with this mystery when members of the band come into the shop she co-owns with her best friend Dani (Sarah Strange).  But that’s about the only connection to Rags to Riches or garage sales we really have in the movie.

It turns out that Dani is a huge fan of the group, so much so that when she meets front man John Dalton (Kurt Teixeira), she can hardly speak.  Dalton is releasing a new CD and about to launch a new tour, but they are starting off with a sold-out concert for members of the group’s fan club here in town.  When Jenn and Dani get invited to the sound check, they jump at the chance.

However, the sound check doesn’t go as planned when the base player, Lita, doesn’t show up.  Then she sends a text message to everyone in the band that looks like a suicide note.  Two band members rush over to her home to find her dead from an apparent suicide.  But is something else going on?

Once again, Jenn faces a good puzzle because there are very few clues that this isn’t what it appears to be, a tragic suicide.  Watching Jenn piece it together is entertaining as always, and I was engaged the entire way through.  The clues were great, and I didn’t figure out the killer until the final 15 minutes.

The rest of the cast gets some interesting sub-plots.  Dani is dealing with a visit from her sister, Beth Anne (Gabrielle Miller).  The two don’t get along super well and haven’t had much contact in years.  Why is she visiting now?  Meanwhile, Jenn’s husband Jason (Steve Bacic) and daughter Hannah (Eva Bourne) are fighting over an old building in town.  Jason’s company has just gotten a contract to tear it down and put in condos but Hannah is fighting to save it as a historic building.  Neither sub-plot is exactly original, but they do add some fun and give us a chance to see the rest of the main cast, which isn’t a problem since I love them.

Yes, my usual cheese warning applies, although it doesn’t seem as bad this time around.  Still, there are moments where the acting or the writing are less than they could be.  Honestly, I was caught up in the story so much I didn’t really mind.

So even though this didn’t have as much of a connection to garage sales, Murder by Text is still a fun chance to hang out with characters we love and watch Jenn solve a great mystery.  Fans of the series will be delighted with it.

This movie is part of the Garage Sale Mysteries Collection Three DVD set.

August 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Here's what I watched this week.

American Ninja Warrior – It was so hard watching James struggle through the course and come so close to making it and yet not making it.  On the other hand, Jamie and Joe were incredible finishing it.  The women were amazing, and I feel sorry for Michelle going so far and still not making it to Vegas.  The female superstars of this sport are truly amazing.

Hollywood Game Night – Naturally, as a fan of This is Us, I was rooting for the cast to win.  That was an amazing come from behind win by the other team.  Carson was so annoying.  But the cast of This is Us was having such a fabulous time together.  You can tell they’ve really bonded because that sure looked like so much more than acting.

Suits – I’m glad to see Louis maturing again.  I certainly hope that lasts.  I’d feel sorry for Mike but it is actually nice to see him get what he deserves.  Still, I am very curious to know what exactly Alex is up to.  And I am rooting for them to find a way to get justice for these prisoners.  What has been happening is very wrong.

Battle of the Network Stars – Knowing how important the tug of war is, my money was on sci fi for the win, but I didn’t expect them to dominate all day like they did.  Wow!  Funny watching Jill actually do an obstacle course, although it was nothing like the ones on Wipeout.  Nothing at all.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Book Review: Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Stars: 1 out of 5
Pros: I liked Ann
Cons: The rest of the book didn’t work for me
The Bottom Line:
A falling starlet
Dysfunctional characters
I just couldn’t like

Fallen Stars

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I have three authors I rotate on audio, and if the next in one series isn’t available from either of the library systems I have access to, I’ll switch to a different author in the rotation and circle back around when the audio book is available.  I recently had the horror of not being able to snag books by any of these authors the weekend before a trip, so I spent some time looking in the library for something else to listen to.  That’s when Star Island caught my eye.  I’d been curious to try the books of Carl Hiaasen for years now.  I know many people find him hilarious, but I was concerned I wouldn’t enjoy him.  Turned out, I was right.

Cherry Pye is getting ready to release a comeback album, her second.  And her career hangs on this album and the related tour doing very, very well.  The problem with that is that Cherry has gone the way of too many teen celebrities.  She’s been a pop star since she was fourteen, and at twenty-two has only increased the partying.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad that her family has hired a double to cover for when Cherry is too strung out on drugs to appear in public.  Ann DeLusia. fools people from a distance, and that’s all the family cares about.

However, things are about to go off the rails.  Without much time before the tour starts, Cherry is heading to rehab and Ann is about to be kidnapped.  As things spin out of control, we meet a slightly deranged paparazzo who thinks that Cherry is his meal ticket, a former governor of Florida who left office and vanished decades ago, and a bodyguard with a very unusual prosthetic to name but a few of the oddball characters in this novel.  Where will it all lead?

Carl Hiaasen’s books are often lumped into crime fiction, and I can see that since several crimes do occur over the pages of the book.  However, this isn’t mystery in the truest sense of the word.  Instead, I would classify it as over the top comedy.

If you haven’t picked up on it from my description, these characters are definitely out there.  About the only one who seemed normal was Ann.  Trust me, you don’t know anyone like this group.  (And if you do, you have my deepest sympathies.)

But that’s where the book failed.  Ann was the only character I truly liked in the bunch.  The rest?  If there had been a big shootout and they’d all died, I probably would have cheered.  Many of them are people I’d attempt to avoid in real life, and spending time with them fictionally wasn’t any more pleasant.  It didn’t help that these characters were swearing so often I was actually cringing at times.  It lost all effectiveness very early on in the book and just kept right on going.

Obviously, since I was finding the characters disgusting, I missed the humor.  Oh, I get that we were supposed to find all of their antics funny.  They weren’t at all funny.  I laughed a couple of times, but not nearly as often as I was supposed to laugh.

And maybe that’s because we are supposed to be laughing at characters self-destructing.  Sorry, I don’t find that funny.

Despite not liking the characters, I did get caught up in the plot enough to want to know how it ended.  The point of view shifts to many of the characters at various times, which gives us a very clear picture of everything happening, a technique I always enjoy.

Stephen Hoye was the narrator for this audio book.  He did a great job bringing the story to life without getting in the way.

Obviously, I’m not in the market that Carl Hiaasen aims for.  I’d been curious for enough years that I’m glad I enjoyed Star Island, but I won’t be picking up any more of his books in the future.

August 18th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've made it to Friday again, so it must be time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm highlighting Gila Monster by Sandy Dengler.


This is the fourth in a Christian mystery series that features two police officers in the Phoenix area.
I just love how this book begins:

Joe Rodriguez, at five-feet-eleven, weighed just over 160 pounds and almost none of it was fat.  Beside him stood his partner, Tom Flaherty.  Tom, six-feet-one, weighted maybe 155 if he let his unruly red hair grow really long and then soaked it.  Before them crouched a thickset lizard about fourteen inches in length, weighing in at maybe two pounds.
The lizard, outweighed 157 to 1, was winning the standoff hands down.

That last line makes me smile.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

A kid stuck his head in the doors at this end of the hall.  "Mayday!" he yelped and disappeared.

That's it for this week.  I hope you have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ornament Review: Where's Waldo? - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfectly captures Waldo
Cons: Won’t blend on your tree like he does in the books
The Bottom Line:
Waldo has been found
He’s hiding out on your tree
In fun ornament

Where’s Waldo?  Hiding on Your Tree This Year

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become aware of some traditions of hiding things in the days leading up to Christmas.  There’s the Elf on a Shelf.  There’s the German tradition of hiding a pickle.  Not having any kids, I don’t get into any of those.  But when Hallmark introduced a Where’s Waldo? ornament this year, I jumped at a chance to get it.

For those who aren’t familiar with this character, he’s the star of several children’s books.  Each book features multiple two-page spreads with very busy illustrations.  You mission?  Find Waldo wherever he is hiding on those pages.  With his distinctive blue pants and red and white striped shirt, you’d think it would be easy, right?  You’d be very wrong since those are the predominate colors in each illustration.

The ornament just features the character, but they’ve captured him perfectly.  He’s wearing his iconic costume including the red and white hat and glasses.  He’s turned his face to look at us, and he has a cane in his left hand.

And anyone who knows Waldo will immediately know exactly who this ornament is.  And that’s the appeal.  If you love the character and want him on your tree, you won’t find a better chance ever again.  The ornament is simple, but in this case simple definitely works best because you really don’t need anything else.

Of course, the thing that made finding Waldo such a challenge was always the fact that everything and everyone else around him was dressed so similarly.  On a Christmas tree, he will tend to stand out.  But I can still see family members trying to hide him around the tree for fun.

And you’ll definitely need to hang him on your tree.  The ornament captures him mid-step, which is how he usually is in the books.  But it means that you can’t set him out to be displayed.  That’s not a problem, however, since he hangs straight.

For fans of the books, this Where’s Waldo? ornament is a delight.  As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to add it to my collection.  Now, to figure out how to hide him in my tree.

Original Price: $15.95

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Her Majesty's Winner

I just pulled the final winner for the month.  The copy of On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service goes to ...


I just sent you an e-mail, so please get back to me so I can pass have the publisher send you the book.

Book Review: Club Deception by Sarah Skilton

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, interesting story
Cons: Weak sub-plots and ending
The Bottom Line:
A magicians’ club
Politics behind the scenes
Fun, could be stronger

Pay Attention to the Woman Behind the Magician

Every year, my local library puts on a local author day, and this last January, I met author Sarah Skilton there.  She had her first adult novel coming out in July, and since it involved magic, I thought it sounded like fun.  Unfortunately, Club Deception didn’t live up to my expectations.

The book follows four characters as their lives begin to intertwine in the world of Club Deception, an exclusive club for magicians in Los Angeles.  There’s Claire, the wife of club president Jonathan.  Jonathan has long cheated on Claire even though she is the mind behind his act and the real person who keeps the club running smoothly.  Then there’s Jessica, the new wife of traveling magician Cal.  Now that they are married, Cal is ready to return to Los Angeles after a three-year absence.  Meanwhile, Kaimi has been hired to sell some pages from a rare manuscript by the master of card tricks.  Finally, there’s Felix, a former baseball player interning with Jonathan in hopes of becoming a world class magician.

Now, this book touts itself as a mystery.  Despite the fact that was are told in the prologue (before we back up six weeks for chapter one) that one of the characters has been poisoned, it really doesn’t fit my definition of a mystery.  Heck, that portion feels like sub-plot because even when we do catch up to the point of the murder, the book focuses on how it impacts the characters and less on the who done it.

And that’s okay because this book is more of a character study than anything else.  I quickly realized that and adjusted my expectations accordingly.  Now this isn’t to say that the book didn’t have an interesting story going on.  There are some secrets from the past, betrayals, and complications for the characters to deal with, and I found myself getting caught up in their stories.  It helps that the inner politics of the club is fascinating, and it features into the story quite a bit.

And this was despite the fact that the characters weren’t always likable.  Mainly, it was Claire I had a problem with.  She is manipulative at times, but at others we see a human who is hurting.  The rest of the cast make some choices I would disagree with at various times, but for the most part I liked them the entire way through.  All four of the characters I mentioned earlier take their turns as our third person point of view narrator, and that gives us amble opportunity to get to know them.  It also gives us different takes on some of the other characters, which is always interesting.

Still, when I got to the end, I felt like it was missing something.  Maybe it’s because I am used to the tropes of the mystery genre instead of general fiction, but I felt like a couple of the storylines didn’t go anywhere.  And I get what the author was trying to do with the ending, but I felt like the characters hadn’t really learned anything from what had happened before and there was more to the story as a result.  Again, maybe that is me.

This is definitely a departure in another way from the mysteries I normally read – the amount of sex on the page.  But it is in keeping with the harder mysteries I listen to, however.

Am I sorry I picked up Club Deception?  No.  There were certainly parts I enjoyed.  I think a little more focus on what the novel wanted to say would have made it stronger, however.