Thursday, May 31, 2018

May 2018's Monthly Reading Summary

It's that time of the month again!  Here's my monthly reading summary for May.  I spent most of the month unemployed.  I'm working a temp job now, but you can tell I had some extra time to read by the number of books on the list, right?

Ironically, I haven't updated the index.  I completely forgot to do that until just now as I went to schedule this (less than 12 hours before it goes live.  I'll be sure to do it next month, however.

For now, here's what I read in May.  The links will take you to the full review.

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

A Date with Murder by Jessica Fletcher, Donald Bain, & Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #47) – 4
Labor Day in Cabot Cove, Maine, means the Wirth’s annual end of summer picnic, and Jessica Fletcher is there to enjoy the time with her friends.  The party ends in tragedy, however, when Hal Wirth dies of a heart attack.  Something feels off to Jessica about his death, and she starts looking for answers.  When she is warned off and another body turns up, Jessica knows she must be on the right track.  Can she prove it?

As big a fan of the show as I am, I have never picked up one of the tie in novels until now.  I’m glad I finally did because I really enjoyed this book.  The Cabot Cove episodes were always my favorite, and I enjoyed reconnecting with Mort and Seth as well as Jessica.  They were all in fine form, and it was comforting to be in their presence again.  The mystery was complex, with several surprises that kept me turning pages.  Unfortunately, I did feel that the ending was short changed, leaving one major plot point unaddressed.  Still, I’m glad I picked up this book overall.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book.

The Art of Vanishing by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila Maclean #2) – 4
Every spring semester, Stonedale University puts on an arts festival, and Lila has been roped into serving on the committee.  The big name for the week is author Damon Von Tussel, who has just released his second book decades after his critically acclaimed debut.  Lila is sent to interview him before the big event to gain some publicity, but before she can talk to him, he disappears.  Then everyone on the committee starts to get threatening e-mails.  What is going on?

I don’t read too many mysteries set in the academic world, so I enjoyed changing that with this book.  The internal politics of the college and Lila’s worries since this is her first-year teaching there overshadowed the mystery at times.  The mystery itself is a little different than many of the books I read, and I found it a refreshing break.  The characters are fun, especially Lila’s mother, and I am curious how some of these relationships will develop in the future.

A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #7) – 4
Former FBI agent Terry McCaleb is enjoying his new life on Catalina when he is asked to come back to the mainland and consult on a bizarre case.  He zeros in on a clue – a plastic owl.  Where will that lead him?  Meanwhile, Harry Bosch is working closely with the prosecution on a case that he investigated.  The defendant is a Hollywood director.  Is their case strong enough to win?

Fans of Michael Connelly will enjoy getting to see these two characters team up in one book.  We even get appearances by some characters from other Connelly books, which is a treat for fans, although not knowing the backstory doesn’t hamper anything if you start with this book.  The characters are sharp, both returning and new.  The pacing was a bit off as times since we can guess one twist early and Bosch’s scenes in court tend to slow things down, but overall, this is another great book with a fantastic climax.

Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs (Moon Base Alpha #3) – 5
When someone tries to poison Lars Sjoberg, no one is really surprised.  This trillionaire has rubbed everyone the wrong way since he arrived on Moon Base Alpha.  In fact, the real question becomes who didn’t want the man dead.  Dashiell Gibson is roped into helping with the investigation.  How did the poison get on base?  And who tried to kill Lars?

This is another fantastic mystery for kids of all ages.  The setting is creative, fun, and realistically handled.  The mystery is great with good twists and turns.  I did feel the pacing slowed down a little in the middle for a series long sub-plot, but that is a minor complaint.  The characters are still strong, and there are moments that are guaranteed to make kids laugh and cheer.  This is our final trip to the moon with these characters, and the series is wrapped up in a very satisfying way.

Pairing a Deception by Nadine Nettmann (Sommelier Mysteries #3) – 4
Katie Stillwell and her boyfriend, Dean, are out of town for the weekend, spending it at a food and wine festival outside of Santa Barbara.  Several times on opening night, they witness a woman who seems to be stalking festival emcee, Hudson Wiley.  When a dead body turns up, they begin to wonder what is going on.

With Katie and Dean out of town, they are the only two real returning characters in the series, but I loved getting to spend more time with them.  The new characters are good.  The mystery is a little light, but once we get past some set up, Katie uncovers some surprises before we reach the logical and suspenseful conclusion.  I’m not a wine lover, but the facts about wine certainly make me want to taste some and see if I can tell the differences that Katie talks about, and those who do love wine will enjoy the pairing suggestions at the beginning of each chapter.

Hair of the Dog by Carlene O’Neil (Cypress Cove Mysteries #3) – 4
Penny Lively’s cousin and best friend, Annie Moore, runs the animal clinic in town.  Normally, everything flows smoothly there, but trouble is brewing.  First, Annie has to fire Nicole, the clinic’s technician, for stealing medicine.  Then Annie is caught over the dead body of Brian, her business partner.  Naturally, the police start looking at Annie as their prime suspect, but Penny knows her cousin better than that.  Brian was such a nice guy; who would want to kill him?

It is so wonderful to be back in the town of Cypress Cove.  The characters are a lot of fun, and I enjoyed seeing some relationships grow here.  The new characters are just as strong.  The plot is good, although the pacing is a little off in the second half.  Still, things come together for a strong climax.  I really felt like I was transported to the area.  Penny, her town, and her vineyard were brought to wonderful life.

Fatal Fishes by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun #6) – 5
Joe’s trip for the Phoenix homicide department into the desert to meet an information was a trap, and Joe is lucky to barely be alive.  He’s sure that someone set him up, but he can’t figure out why that person is out to kill him.  He barely trusts his partner on the force, Tommy, but he brings him into the investigation.  With Joe in hiding, will Tommy piece together what really happened?

I first read this book years ago, and much of it stuck with me.  That didn’t hamper my enjoyment the second time around.  I still got caught up in the plot and had a hard time putting it down.  There were little things I had forgotten that fed into the overall plot; it really was masterfully put together.  The characters are strong, and this story shows us another side of the series regulars.  The Christian themes and sub-plots add to the richness of the characters without slowing things down.  Multiple viewpoints are used masterfully to give us a full picture of the story and heighten the tension at the climax.

Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman – 5
A new baby bird is about to hatch.  Knowing her baby will be hungry, the mother bird goes looking for food for him, but he hatches while she is gone.  He immediately sets out to find his mother.  Will he succeed?

This is a book my whole family remembers with fondness from when I was a kid.  The pictures are fun, and the story is straightforward and funny with a heartwarming ending.  Most of the words will be very easy for early readers, and a couple of the more unfamiliar words they should be able to sound out with a little adult help.

The 17th Suspect by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women’s Murder Club #17) – 4
Yuki has taken on a potentially explosive assault case in which a man is accusing his female boss of assault.  Is it as straightforward as it seems?  Meanwhile, Lindsay has been given a tip about someone killing the homeless in the city.  Unfortunately, the killings are outside of her jurisdiction, and her efforts to investigate start an inner department skirmish.  Can she figure out who is killing these people?

Fans of the series will be pleased with the latest outing.  There are plenty of twists and turns to keep them reading, and the cases are both compelling.  Of course, the usual weaknesses are there, including Cindy and Claire being under used and all the characters being thin.  Additionally, I thought the discussion of Yuki’s case was much more graphic than it truly needed to be.

Without a Doubt by Nancy Cole Silverman (Carol Childs #3) – 5
Reporter Carol Childs is in the right place at the wrong time when she witnesses a jewelry store robbery.  Since it is the start of awards season in Los Angeles, the store had plenty of jewels on hand.  With Eric, her FBI agent boyfriend, working the case, it creates issues in their relationship.  Carol is certain that socialite Carmen Montague is involved in some fashion.  Is she correct?

The book starts off quickly, and the pace never lags as the story continues.  I was turning pages as quickly as I could to keep up with the twists and turns of the plot.  The characters are strong, which includes the new characters.  I would have liked to see a bit more of the series regulars, but that’s a minor complaint overall.  There were a few minor editing issues in the book, but again they are minor and didn’t impact the story at all.

The Secret of the Old Mill by Franklin W. Dixon (The Hardy Boys #3) – 4
Fenton Hardy is hard at work on a top secret case.  When Frank and Joe go to pick him up from the train station, their friend Chet is passed a counterfeit bill.  Can the brothers find the counterfeiters?  What is their father working on?  And what is happening at the old mill outside of town?

While the big picture of the plot may be obvious to adults early on, I remember enjoying this one as a kid, and I got caught up in the action again.  It does help that the details still need to be filled in and there is plenty of action along the way to the climax.  The characters are shallow, but I didn’t mind as a kid, and I’m sure today’s kids won’t mind either.

Murder on Moon Trek 1 by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker Outer Space Mystery #1) – 5
Sylvia Stryker has hacked her way onto Moon Unit 5’s maiden voyage, and she is hoping to keep a low profile.  However, within hours of getting on board, she finds a body in the uniform closet.  Now she finds herself facing questions not only about whether she should be on the ship but about the murder itself.  Setting out to clear her name, she begins to wonder if something much bigger is going on.  Can she stop it?

I loved this mystery set in space.  It took me a little while to fully feel comfortable in Sylvia’s world, but that was a minor complaint.  The mystery starts quickly and the pace is steady until the end.  The characters we got to know were strong, and I can’t wait to see them again.  The setting really was creative and well done.

I Scream, You Scream by Wendy Lyn Watson (Mystery A-La-Mode #1) – 4
Tally Jones is trying to get her new ice cream shop off the ground, but business has been slow.  It’s so slow, she’s agreed to cater the dessert for Wayne, her ex-husband, at the picnic his company puts on each fall.  The morning after the picnic, Wayne’s new girlfriend is found dead in bed.  When gossip and the police begin to look at Tally, she knows she has to find the truth.  Can she clear her name?

I felt right at home with these characters within just a few chapters.  Tally is wonderful, and the rest of the cast of regulars are just as much fun.  The suspects were strong as well.  Unfortunately, the mystery wasn’t quite as strong, especially in the first half.  Still, it did pick up in the second half and provide some good surprises before we reached the logical climax.  Add in enough talk about ice cream to make me drool and you’ve got a perfect book to enjoy during the summer.

This book does just what the title says.  In ten chapters, it tells you exactly how to live like a perfect Christian.  Oh, we aren’t worried about the fruit of the spirit or holiness or anything hard like that.  We are talking about finding the perfect church (one that is focused on you), “doing life together,” serving without ever lifting a finger, looking spiritual online (I’m sure they left out reviewing this book in that chapter), and quarantining your home from non-Christian culture.

And if you aren’t familiar with The Babylon Bee, it is a fantastic satire site that looks at Christian culture and the world from a Christian perspective.  I’ve become addicted to their articles, so when I saw this book was coming out, I had to get it.  I’m not kidding when I saw there is a laugh on every page as the book mercilessly mocks what many Christians in modern day America focus on.  And there were times that the book convicted me since I live a little too much like the person they are mocking.  At least some portions of this book have appeared in shorter form on the site, but everything here blends together perfectly for a comprehensive and very funny whole.

Bear Witness to Murder by Meg Macy (Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mysteries #2) – 4
It’s October, and the town of Silver Hollow is getting ready for their Oktobearfest, a teddy bear themed Oktoberfest event for the entire family.  Things are kicking off with a kid and teddy bear friendly tea that Sasha Silverman is helping with.  She’s trying to avoid her high school nemesis, Holly Parker, when Holly’s assistant Gina interrupts the tea to announce she is suing the mayor.  The next morning, Sasha finds a dead body.  Despite vowing to stay out of it, she finds herself pulled into the investigation.  Will she learn the truth?

There is a lot going on here, and it really pulled me into the story.  I finished the book in just a couple of days, in fact.  I kept switching what I thought was going on, but when we reached the climax, everything made perfect sense.  I did catch a major timeline issue, however, something that always annoys me.  The main characters, both series regulars and suspects, are strong and really drew me into the story as well.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Fifth Shades of Greyhound by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mysteries #5) – 5
Pet therapist Caro Lamont is attending a fundraiser for a local greyhound rescue organization.  However, the evening ends unexpectedly when a man crashes into Caro and then falls down dead at her feet.  No one seems to know who he was, but someone must.  Who was he?  Why did someone want him dead?

This book wastes little time jumping into the murder, and it really doesn’t slow down after that.  The book is filled with laughs, coming from some absurd situations and some eccentric characters.  Yet the core cast of characters are still serious enough that we can care about them and the outcome.  Caro finds plenty of clues and red herrings on her way to a logical solution to yet another fun mystery.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Greyhound by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mysteries #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightfully fun, complex mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Fundraiser murder
Did anyone know victim?
Enjoy laughs and clues

Who Was Killed at the Party?

While I have enjoyed all the titles in the Pampered Pets Mysteries to date, I think Fifty Shades of Greyhound might just be my favorite.  Why?  You should have seen people’s reactions when they asked what I was reading.  I got some great double takes and laughs.  Fortunately, the book is as great as the title.

Pet therapist Caro Lamont is enjoying a night off at the Fifty Shades of Greyhound fundraiser, which is raising money for a greyhound rescue group.  The evening takes an unexpected turn when a man stumbles into Caro’s arms and then dies at her feet.

Unfortunately, Caro is getting used to being around murder victims.  However, this time there is an added mystery – who was the dead man?  No one claims to recognize him.  But if that’s the case, why would someone want to kill him?

The book wastes no time in dropping this mystery man at Caro’s feet, and it doesn’t really slow down from there.  Yes, a time or two it appears we are getting distracted by the various pets Caro works with, but then something happens to give Caro a piece of the puzzle.  Or a red herring.  She does figure it all out in the end, however, for a wonderful climax.

The characters in the series tend to be a tad on the eccentric side, which fits since this is definitely a comedic mystery.  They are definitely real enough for us to care for Caro and the people in her life, but you never quite know when someone will say or do something that will make you laugh.  I was disappointed that April Mae wasn’t in this book, but Betty puts in an appearance, and she more than makes up for it.

And believe me, I laughed plenty.  There are some very funny scenes in this book in addition to the fun characters.  This is definitely a book that will leave you smiling.

If you are new to the series, these books alternate between Caro and her cousin Mel.  It’s unique for a cozy series, but it really works, partially because the two women are feuding over a brooch that their grandmother left to “her favorite granddaughter.”  That adds a through line for the series and keeps me hooked, waiting to see just what will happen with it next.

I really can’t believe I let so much time lapse between reading books in this series.  Fifty Shades of Greyhound reminded me just how much fun they are.  I can’t wait to pull the next one off my stack and see what trouble Mel gets into.

Follow the antics in the Pampered Pets Mysteries.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Book Review: Bear Witness to Murder by Meg Macy (Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mysteries #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong main cast and mystery
Cons: Major time line issue
The Bottom Line:
Murder at a fest
Bears and plenty of suspects
Couldn’t put it down

Oktobearfest is Off to a Murderous Start

What is cozier than a teddy bear?  These stuffed animals just scream cute and cuddly, but just like real bears, there can be a slightly darker side to them.  (I say slightly because this is a cozy mystery we are talking about.)  Meg Macy has found that balance with Bear Witness to Murder, the second in this series.

October has settle on Silver Hollow, and like many places around the country, they are ready to celebrate that great holiday of the month – Oktoberfest.  However, since Sasha Silverman and her family’s teddy bear factor is in this small town, they have rebranded it Oktobearfest and included teddy bear themed events so all ages can enjoy together.

The first of these is a tea party featuring kids, their teddy bears, and even a few adults.  Sasha is helping with it, and doing her best to avoid unpleasantries, like her high school nemesis Holly Parker.  Holly’s returned to town and opened up a combined children’s bookstore and teddy bear shop, aiming at Sasha and her cousin.  However, it is Holly’s assistant Gina who really makes a scene when she serves the town’s mayor legal papers over work she did on his reelection campaign but he is refusing to pay for.

The next morning, Sasha finds a dead body behind a local restaurant.  After the murder she got involved in last month, she swears she is going to not get involved in this one.  But try as she might, Sasha finds herself pulled into the case.  Will she learn the truth?

If this sounds to you like there is plenty of drama in this mystery, you’d be correct.  On top of this, there are a couple of strong sub-plots.  In fact, at times, the sub-plots seemed to overwhelm the main mystery, but these do keep the pages turning.  In fact, I got so caught up in the story that I finished it in just a couple of days.  I kept switching who I thought the killer was and what the motive was, but it all made perfect sense once we reached the climax.  Like the first, there is some gravity to the events of the story as well.

I do have an issue with the timeline, however.  I know, I know, I’m a stickler for this, but there is a mistake here that really did bug me.

The characters in the book are good.  I will admit to having a bit of a hard time keeping some of the minor characters straight, but maybe that goes back to how quickly I read the book.  I had no trouble with the main characters, however, which includes Sasha and her family as well as the suspects.  They were all strong and helped pull me into this world.

Timeline issue aside, there is much to adore about Bear Witness to Murder.  Get a copy of this book and sit back and enjoy your return visit with Sasha.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Second Note: I spared you the bear puns I put in my review of the first book, which took more strength than you can imagine.  You’re welcome.  ;)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Ornament Review: Christmas in Kansas City - Snowtop Lodge Companion Piece - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun variation on a favorite ornament
Cons: Bottom picture not as distinct as I would like
The Bottom Line:
New take on old piece
Local released ornament
Good, parts not distinct

It’s a Bright Night in Kansas City

I’ve become a huge fan of the Snowtop Lodge ornaments in the last couple of years, so when I learned that Hallmark was producing a local compliment to the series entitled Christmas in Kansas City, I had to get my hands on it.

This ornament is a repaint of sorts based on Louie D Lightly, which is one of my favorites in the series, which was another reason I wanted this piece.  Like Louie, this snowman is holding a string of Christmas tree lights and his buttons are also lights.  He has a red garland scarf, but unlike the original, he is wearing a Santa hat.

The biggest difference is the scene on the bottom of the snowman.  The original features some houses with lights on them.  This one features more of a city scene.  The buildings are supposed to be all lit up, but the effect is a bit more washed out.  It definitely fits the city motif better, but I do miss the more distinct houses of the original.  This one is at night, with a dark outline to this scene, so maybe the buildings are supposed to be lit, and that is one reason why the buildings aren’t as distinct.  Don’t get me wrong, I do still like this one.  The scene just looks like it was done in watercolor as apposed to the sharper picture of the original.

As much as I’ve talked about lights, I do want to point out that this ornament doesn’t light up at all.  I actually think lights would ruin the look here, so I’m happy about that.

Like the rest of the series, this ornament stands on its own, so you can easily set it out to be displayed anywhere.  He does tip forward a little bit when you go to hang him, but it’s not enough to look bad, especially when he is nestled in tree branches.

Christmas in Kansas City is a fun variation on a great ornament.  While not quite as good as the original, I’m still glad I added him to my collection.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Snowtop Lodge series.

Original Price: $19.95

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Movie Review: That Touch of Mink

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs in the first half.
Cons: The second half drags quite a bit
The Bottom Line:
60’s comedy
With a wonderful first half
But bad second half

“His Car Almost Ran Me Down This Morning.”  “What a Way to Go.”

While I don’t know when I will get to it, the second Madison Night book is on my radar.  And since these book titles borrow from Doris Day movies (the main character herself is a huge Doris Day fan), I am trying to watch the movies first.  That’s what brought me to That Touch of Mink.  I thought it started out well but went downhill in the third act.

As the movie opens, Philip Shayne (Cary Grant), is being driven in his car.  He accidentally splashes a woman, Cathy Timberlake (Doris Day).  Cathy is already having a bad day since she is unemployed and heading to a job interview later that day.  While Philip isn’t able to apologize at the moment, he sends his financial advisor, Roger (Gig Young), when they spot Cathy later.  Cathy is insulted and sets out to give Philip a piece of her mind…until she sees him.

The two set out on a whirlwind first date that ends with a proposal…to take a vacation together.  There’s just one problem, Cathy is waiting for marriage, and Philip isn’t at all interested in marriage.  Cathy’s roommate Connie (Audrey Meadows) is constantly telling Cathy to be careful.  But will she go on the trip?

The movie actually starts out very well.  The banter between the leads is fun, and I really enjoyed a scene with the Yankees.  I was smiling, laughing, and rooting for the leads to figure things out.

But about half way through, the film took a turn, and I can’t quite figure out what went wrong.  Maybe the humor had just worn out its welcome or I was looking for character growth I didn’t see.  That leads up to a rather ludicrous climax.  Again, I see how it is supposed to be funny, I just didn’t find it funny.

This is the early 1960’s, and attitudes and standards were changing.  There are some innuendos and jokes in this film that were daring for the time but mild by today’s standards.  It is amazing how times have changed, in both good and bad ways.  Heck, the whole premise of the movie wouldn’t work in a movie today.  Cathy would be mocked mercilessly for her idea of waiting until marriage, and Philip would never think about leaving her alone because of her standards.

Despite my issues with the second half, the actors are all fantastic.  They bright these characters to life perfectly and capture the tone of each scene.  Whether it’s banter or physical comedy, they never miss a beat.

It’s a shame the charm of the first doesn’t hold true the entire way through.  If it did, That Touch of Mink would be a fun time capsule to a different era.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

May 26th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Things are about to get very quiet on this post.  We are officially entering summer season, and the shows I watch in the summer have been dropping off.  More time for TV on DVD sets and reading, right?

Deception – Having the ex back proved to be a lot of fun.  Pretty good twists to the mystery as well.  And the final scenes.  What exactly is going on?  This villain seems to have a mighty big reach if she could orchestrate things to get into the FBI that way.

Supergirl – I could have done without the racial lecture.  I’m really wondering if we are going to be able to save Sam, or if this is going to be a waste of time.  I wasn’t expecting the cult to come back, but they proved an interesting way to advance the story.

Dancing with the Stars – No real surprise there that Adam won.  As I said last week, it was his to lose.  I was surprised at his freestyle.  I agree with Carrie Ann and Len that it was … different.  Although I felt like they were too easy on the other two in the freestyle.  And why was it that Adam got Contemporary last week and Jazz this week?  He’s had some easy dances on his way to winning.

The Flash – I think I understood that.  DeVoe was really just using Ralph’s body, so Ralph himself was still alive.  Kind of like how the others were still alive until he jumped to the next meta down the line.  So that’s how he was able to come back.  I’m glad since I’d really gotten to like that character.  It took reading a recap to fully understand the finale, but I think I got it now.  And what a cliffhanger!  What did Nora do?

Survivor – I’m really not surprised with the final three in this season.  I’m glad Wendall won since Dom really did come across as a jerk early on in the season.  Glad he has worked things out with the other guy, however.  How crazy that they had a tie for the first time!

American Ninja Warrior – The celebrities get some nice help along the way.  If I could get some of that help, maybe I could do it, too.  Oh, who am I kidding, I’d still fall on the first obstacle.  Still, it was fun seeing them compete this year.  I definitely noticed the NBC bias of the celebrities.

Hollywood Game Night – Wow, Kelly Clarkson is obnoxiously competitive.  I mean, seriously, that was over the top right there.  However, it was funny when she identified the picture of herself.  Love the game in the ball pool.  That looks like so much fun to me.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Book Review: How to be a Perfect Christian by The Babylon Bee

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfectly satires modern Christian culture
Cons: Only if you follow it
The Bottom Line:
Guide to “perfection”
Perfectly funny satire
Laugh every page

Perfection is Within Your Reach

While I was aware of them before, I didn’t really start reading The Babylon Bee until earlier this year.  I immediately fell in love with this website, which writes satire from a conservation Christian perspective, mocking American Christian culture as well as national and world events.  So when I saw they were releasing How to be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living, I knew I had to get it.

This book does just what the title says.  In ten chapters, it tells you exactly how to live like a perfect Christian.  Oh, we aren’t worried about the fruit of the spirit or holiness or anything hard like that.  We are talking about finding the perfect church (one that is focused on you), “doing life together,” serving without ever lifting a finger, looking spiritual online (I’m sure they left out reviewing this book in that chapter), and quarantining your home from non-Christian culture.

One reason I love the site is because it is an equal opportunity satirist.  Nobody is safe, and their satire almost always lands perfectly.  Parts of this book are from their website; I know because I recognized a few passages.  However, they are stitched them together perfectly, and this book reads like everything was written originally to be included here.

Obviously, the guide is complete and total satire.  Nothing in the book is to be taken seriously.  I’m sure my neighbors were wondering what was making me laugh so hard as I read because it is pretty spot on.  The book focuses on the appearance of holiness that many Christians have adopted over the actual becoming holy that God truly wants.  Basically, they are describing modern day American Pharisees. 

Of course, good satire is supposed to make you think as well, and this book does that, too.  In fact, there was one chapter that was pretty convicting to me even as I laughed my way through it.  That might have had something to do with the fact that I have said some of those same things myself in the last couple of years.  Ouch!

But mostly, the satire here makes you laugh.  And it is unrelenting.  They never once truly break character, which has got to be quite hard.  I am very sarcastic myself, but I can’t pull it off for this long.  It works here, however, as I completely enjoyed the book.

If you want to take a laugh filled look at Christian culture in twenty first century America, How to be a Perfect Christian is the way to do it.  You’ll be laughing so hard, you might not even notice when the conviction hits until it is too late.

May 25th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Time one again for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Bear Witness to Murder by Meg Macy.


This is the second book in the Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mystery series.  It comes out on Tuesday, but I've already read and enjoyed the ARC, so I'll be reviewing it on release day.
Here's how the book begins:

"She's so furry!  I love her."  The little girl hugged the brown bear dressed in a striped orange sweater.  "Can I keep her, Mom?  Please?"

The DisNerd in me couldn't resist this bit from page 56:

"I thought you preferred Sesame Street and the Disney Channel."
"If I hear that song 'Let It Go' one more time..." Mary Kate sighed.

Okay, not the most suspenseful tease, but I just couldn't resist.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Review: I Scream, You Scream by Wendy Lyn Watson (Mystery A-La-Mode #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, talk of ice cream
Cons: Pacing could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Ice cream and murder
Make for a delightful mix
Delicious debut

You’ll Scream for This Debut

I am an equal opportunity dessertetarian, but ice cream is my favorite.  So, I’m a bit baffled that it has taken me so long to read I Scream,You Scream, the first in the Mystery a la Mode series.  After all, I bought the book when it first came out, so it’s been sitting on my shelf for nine years now.

Tally Jones has just poured everything into an ice cream shop in her home town of Dalliance, Texas.  However, people aren’t exactly flocking to Remember the A-la-Mode, so she has agreed to take on a catering job for Wayne, her ex-husband, and Brittanie, his new girlfriend.  Her bank balance is forcing her to swallow her pride.

But things go from bad to worse when Brittanie dies the next morning.  Tongues in town start wagging, and both Wayne and Tally are on the top of the suspect list as far as the police are concerned.  While Tally doesn’t think Wayne could have done it, she knows she is innocent, and she begins poking around to figure out who killed Brittanie.  Can she find the truth?

This may be a series debut, but I felt like I knew these characters within just a few pages.  I especially loved Tally’s interactions with her cousin Bree and Bree’s teenage daughter Alice.  I might have laughed a few times.  Okay fine, more than a few.  Tally’s high school boyfriend has just returned to town, and I’m very curious where that relationship will go in future books.  And, of course, there are the suspects, who are just as strong.

Unfortunately, the mystery wasn’t quite as strong as the characters.  Early on, the book seems focused on Tally’s life and several interesting sub-plots.  The mystery does grow stronger in the second half, and I appreciated the twists we got then.  Likewise, the solution was perfectly logical and satisfying.

And, of course, there is plenty of talk about ice cream.  My mouth might have drooled a time or two as I wished I could taste the flavors Tally was describing.  At the end of the book, there are instructions for creating a tropical sundae, including a special topping that sounds delicious.

Just a quick note.  Henery Press has recently republished this book and the next two in the series.  I am linking up to that edition, however, I read the original mass market paperback released back in 2009.  Trust me, I’m kicking myself for having this book on my shelf that long without reading it.

Now that I’ve met Tally, you can bet I won’t be waiting so long before I visit her again.  With summer coming, now is the perfect time to dish up some ice cream and setting in with I Scream, You Scream.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Ornament Review: North Pole Tree Trimmers #5 - Hydration Department - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute looking ornament
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Thirsty Christmas tree?
This elf coming to rescue
In cute series piece

Is Your Christmas Tree Dry?  This Elf to the Rescue!

While I have found all of the North Pole Tree Trimmers fun, some leap off the tree at me with just how creative they are.  2017’s entry in the series in one of those.

This series focuses on the elves that help Santa with decorating or other Christmas preparation.  The elf we get for this entry in the series is responsible for keeping Christmas trees watered.  He’s decked out in green, like most of the elves in this series are.  He’s holding the nozzle at the end of a tube that connects to the water pack in his backpack.  There is some writing on the water pack as well as the year the ornament came out.

And above all, he’s cute.  There’s a great smile on his face, and he looks like he really enjoys his job.  I’m glad someone does, because I would always forget to water my trees when I had live ones.

This elf does stand on his own two feet, but just barely.  The water pack on his back wants to pull him back, so I recommend leaving him in a very sturdy place if you are going to set him out.

That water pack also changes his center of balance ever so slightly when you go to hang him on your tree.  Fortunately, it is such a small amount that he actually still looks like he is hanging straight.

And yes, there is a 5 in a Christmas tree hidden on the ornament since this is the fifth in the series.  I’ll let you find it for yourself.

This is such a creative addition to the series that I’m glad I have this elf.  If you are a fan of the North Pole Tree Trimmers, you’ll be glad to have it in your collection, too.

You'll want more elf help with the rest of the North Pole Tree Trimmers.

Original Price: $15.95

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review: Fly Me to the Moon by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker Outer Space Mysteries #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great use of setting to tell a fun mystery
Cons: Took me a while to feel fully at home in the world, but a minor complaint
The Bottom Line:
Trek to outer space
For creative mystery
Sure to delight all

Murder on a Space Ship

As much as I love cozy mysteries (and I obviously do), I will confess that they can be very similar, so I’m always looking for something new in the genre.  That’s why Diane Vallere’s Fly Me to the Moon caught my attention – it’s a murder mystery set in outer space, specifically, a space ship.

Sylvia Stryker’s first day on Moon Unit 5 isn’t going as she planned.  She was hoping that her position as uniform inventory manager would allow her to fly under the radar (pun intended) since she hacked her way on board the space ship.  However, that plan evaporates almost as soon as the ship has taken off when she finds a dead body in the uniform closet.

Not only is her cover blown, but Sylvia finds herself facing suspicion of killing the man herself.  However, she begins to suspect that something much more sinister is going on; something that could spell disaster for the entire ship.  Can she clear her name and find the truth before it is too late?

The book plunks us right down in the middle of the action, which normally I would love.  Here it was a bit disconcerting only because of the science fiction setting.  Sylvia herself isn’t fully human but part Plunian, for example.  However, the more I read, the more comfortable I felt with Sylvia’s science fiction world, and the way we were introduced to things as we needed to know them is certainly better than a giant data dump, so really this is minor.

Sylvia finds the body in the second sentence; that’s how quickly the story starts.  There’s a lot going on here that keeps our interest the entire way through the book, with several twists and complications before we reach a logical climax.  The book is a fast read, but even so, I was turning pages as quickly as I could to figure everything out.

The characters grew on me as well.  There are only a few we get to truly know well, but they are outstanding, and I can’t wait to spend time with them again.  And yes, Sylvia tops that list.  She is a great lead character.

This book does a fantastic job of mixing the cozy mystery genre in with the science fiction genre.  I do enjoy science fiction, and I caught several winks and nods to some of the classics, although my knowledge of the genre is lacking enough that I’m sure I missed plenty more.  And readers who pick this up looking for a mystery won’t be disappointed in that aspect of the book either.

It’s always wonderful to find a writer who takes a risk that pays off, and that’s exactly what we get with Fly Me to the Moon.  Sit back and enjoy this fantastic debut today.

Enjoy more out of this world mystery with the rest of the Sylvia Stryker Mysteries.

NOTE: In August of 2018 Diane decided to change the name of the book.  It was originally released in 2017 under the title Murder on Moon Trek 1.  The title may have changed, but the contents remain the same.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Movie Review: Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Chemistry between leads, special effects, second half
Cons: Pacing is off, which is usual for the franchise
The Bottom Line:
Spin off franchise starts
Uneven pacing in film
Laying new groundwork

Laying the New Groundwork

Like any fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I was interested when they announced plans for a new franchise set in the Harry Potter universe.  And then I didn’t actually get around to watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them until this year.  While I found it lacking, I am still hopeful for the rest of the movies.

We travel back to 1926 and meet Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in New York City.  He’s carrying a suitcase that seems to have a mind of its own.  You see, Newt is a wizard, and his suitcase actually contains all kinds of fantastic beasts he’s found in his travels all over the world.

He hasn’t been in New York long before he spots an anti-witch and wizard group and been spotted by Tina (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol).  Meanwhile, he’s also bumped into Jacob (Dan Fogler), a No-Mag (as us Muggles are called here in the states) who wants to become a baker.  But when the unthinkable happens and some of Newt’s beasts get lose, what will happen next?

My complaint with this movie is the same one I’ve had with many of the Harry Potter books and movies – the beginnings are slow.  J. K. Rowling, who wrote the screen play, spends a lot of time with world building before the real story begins.  Oh, we can see where the conflict is going to come from early on, but it takes a while for that to really get going.

Now that’s not to say we don’t get some great moments before then.   There’s a sequence where we get to see some of the beasts that Newt is carrying that is a triumph of special effects and imagination that is sure to make you smile.  The four main characters are a lot of fun, and their scenes together are great.  The chemistry between these actors is fantastic.  In fact, the acting and special effects all the way through are wonderful.

When we get into the second half and the story really begins to gel, things pick up significantly.  The climax is wonderful with a couple of good twists to the story.

And here’s why I am still looking forward to the sequels even though I found this movie a little lacking.  This movie is laying the groundwork for the stories to come.  Think about the first Harry Potter book.  It’s very slow as it introduces us to his magical world.  While we already know about the universe, we still need to meet the characters and the conflict that is going on during the 1920’s.

I do wish that J. K. Rowling’s pacing would get better, but I trust that the story that ultimately springs from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be worth the wait.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Book Review: The Secret of the Old Mill by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Eventful and fun plot
Cons: Characters are weak
The Bottom Line:
Counterfeit money
Start the Hardys on new case
Fun for young readers

The Hardys Take on Counterfeiters

I know I read The Secret of the Old Mill years ago when I was a boy, but I didn’t remember much about the story until I started reading the first chapter.  Suddenly, the big picture of the plot came back to me.  Not that it kept me from enjoying the book a second time.

Frank and Joe Hardy’s father Fenton Hardy, the famous detective, is returning to town, and they’ve gone to the train station with their friend Chet to pick him up.  While they are waiting for his train, Chet is passed a counterfeit bill.  Naturally, Frank and Joe become interested in trying to find the counterfeiters.

Meanwhile, Fenton is working on a case he can’t discuss with his sons, and something strange is happening out at the new factory on the edge of town.  Things only get more interesting when Fenton receives a threatening note.  But which case is the note warning him away from?

As you can see, there is plenty here to keep young readers interested.  While a few of the bigger plot points are obvious to adults early on, watching how the Hardys piece things together is still fun.  Kids will certainly be hooked to find out just what is going.  Plus, there are several exciting events that happen along the way toward the climax.

I never noticed as a kid, but the characters in these books are rather weak.  The emphasis is on action over realistic characters or character development.  Honestly, I never minded as a kid, and I’m sure today’s kids won’t mind either.

The biggest issue might be how dated elements of the plot are, starting with Fenton Hardy traveling by train.  Who does that anymore?

The Hardy Boys books are fast reads, but they are still fun.  The Secret of the Old Mill is a book that fans of the brothers will gobble up and be left wanting to read more.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

May 19th's Weekly TV Thoughts

A big series finale this week.  Spoiler alert - it's down at the bottom.

Once Upon a Time (5/11) – Well, everyone is in a jam for sure.  Can’t believe Henry was so stupid as to get the pen.  And Gold blew it with the squid ink.  I wasn’t surprised that the big returns were all in the wish realm.  I just can’t figure out how they will give anyone their happy ending on Friday.

Deception – So the team helped both brothers this week.  I enjoyed him taking down the warden in prison.  The secret society storyline was a bit much, but it appears we’ve gotten another clue to the conspiracy.  With the show canceled, I wonder if we will get any resolution to anything.  I’m trying to think how they would have played both brothers out of prison, so I’m rather doubting it, actually.

Supergirl – Why do I feel that Reign isn’t subdued?  I’m really worried about what will happen when she does get out again.  Heck, I will be surprised if we ever truly get Sam back.  Lena talking to Kara like that at the end hurt as well.  She’s right to be hurt, and I hope they work this out and Lena isn’t our villain next year.  I was really like having a Luthor who was an ally for something different.  I get it if it doesn’t last.  So, is Mon-El going to stay after the threat is really over?  My guess is yes, although that will make me think less of him, even though he has his wife’s permission to stick around indefinitely.

Dancing with the Stars – It’s Adam’s to lose at this point.  No disrespect to the other two who are still in it, but he’s by far the best.  His only competition was the skater he was dancing against during the battle.  Although I have to ask why, in a shortened season like this, two of the skaters got to do Contemporary dances.  They were beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but they are so different from anything else that it gave them a huge advantage.

American Ninja Warrior: Ninja Vs. Ninja – Two new obstacles, and I mean completely new.  I don’t remember ever seeing them before.  Made for some interesting battles along the way.  And so many close races this time around, too.  At this point, it’s hard to know who to root for.  I really want all of them to win.

The Flash – Cecil taking on other personalities was lots of fun.  I wonder if they will be using that to defeat the Thinker next week.  I can’t imagine how, but I don’t feel like they’d add that in this week just for laughs.  I’m worried about Wells.  Maybe fixing the Awakening will fix him as well?  And what did Caitlyn see in her past?  Is Killer Frost not a meta power after all?  Will she be going full evil next season?  (I hope not.)

Survivor – Considering last week, I’m not too surprised at who left, although it really could have been Donathan.  Honestly, how is he still there?  I had him pegged as an early casualty from the beginning, so I’m surprised he’s stuck around this long.  I’m betting on who the final three will be, but we shall see what happens next week.

Designated Survivor – I was kind of expecting some cliffhangers.  Yes, I am curious where the show would have gone from here, but I don’t think I’m curious enough to be upset the show was canceled.  They wrapped up most of the major storylines that had been going on well except for the charges against the President.  Those seemed to be forgotten, but they probably intended to pick them up again next season.  Oh well.

Arrow – As frustrated as I’ve been with this season, this episode was good.  I knew where the show was going as Oliver was making his amends with everyone.  But I can’t believe he didn’t talk to Felicity at all.  Seriously?  She has a right to be angry with him.  The scene between Evil Laurel and Sara was so well played, and Lance’s goodbye scene with Oliver was heartbreaking.  It will be very interesting to see how they get Oliver out of this next season.

American Ninja Warrior All Star Special – This is always such a fun special to watch.  I mean, how fast the Papal Ninja went up the salmon ladder.  And the distance they were flying at the wingnuts.  Not surprised we got to see Kacy again.  I said in the fall she’d pop up every so often.  I’m sure it will happen again.  And congrats to Team Christine for winning two years in a row!

Once Upon a Time (5/18) – Yes, I did watch this Friday night instead of a couple of days later like I have been all season.  I’m torn about the ending.  Emotionally, it was great.  Regina becoming the Good Queen and getting the love and respect of the others is fantastic.  I truly do love that.  And Rumpelstiltskin’s sacrifice was moving on so many levels.  And yet, I’m still trying to figure out timing and timelines and how we got two Henrys and two Hooks but only one of everyone else.  To me, this perfectly encapsulates the season.  Characters I loved to root for in a story that doesn’t quite hold together if you stop and think about it.  Unlike the first six seasons that held together so much more.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Ornament Review: Swingin' Sax - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun Sax for the jazz band.
Cons: Doesn’t play well on its own, biggest tip of the three.
The Bottom Line:
Jazzing up the halls
Not quite as good on its own
But great with the band

The Leader of the Band is on Sax

The ornaments in the Merry Music Makers series from Hallmark all theoretically could stand on their own.  However, when you plug them in to their power cord, you’ll notice they all play a few seconds of “Deck the Halls.”  I think that makes Swingin’ Sax the leader since that is the song this ornament plays.

Like the others, this ornament features a penguin sculpted by Kristina Gaughran playing an instrument.  And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, this penguin is playing a saxophone.  The saxophone itself glows when the ornament is plugged in.

Plugged into what?  Hallmark’s new Power Cord, which not only allows the ornaments to play a song, but it also allows the other ornaments of the set to play along when any of the ornaments are playing.  You can buy just one, but you get a better song when you have all of them.

As I already said, this ornament leads the others in “Deck the Halls.”  The sound clip goes for about 24 seconds, and it has some fun, jazzy rifts on the song.  However, I noticed something as I was listening to it by itself – it doesn’t stand that well on its own.  There are a couple of places where it is obvious you are supposed to have the others as they fill in the melody and this one cuts out to allow them to have it.  It doesn’t sound bad on its own, but it doesn’t sound as good as the others do solo.

Of course, if you buy all three, that’s no issue at all.  The three ornaments really do compliment each other, and it is that fun that made me want to buy all three of them.

The other thing I noticed about this ornament is the tip.  Yes, the others tip as well, but this one has the worst tip of the three.  It still has a solid base, so if you want to set it out to be displayed, that isn’t an issue at all.

While Swingin’ Sax isn’t my favorite in the series, it is still fun.  And combined with the other two, you’ll definitely be glad you bought it.

Curious to see them in action together?  Check out my Youtube video.

Original Price: $24.95

May 18th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We've made it to another Friday, which means it is time again for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I have a cozy mystery.  Shocking, right?  But there's a bit of a twist since the title is Murder on Moon Trek 1 by Diane Vallere.


Yes, that's right.  This mystery has a sci fi setting.  It's a lot of fun.

Here's how the book starts:
When Moon Unit 5 kicked off its inaugural trip from my home planet of Plunia, I expected the uniform closet to be stuffed to capacity.  I just hadn't expected it to be stuffed with a body.

Moving on to page 56, we find:

"Need I remind you that you're still in my custody?"
No, you needn't," I said, with a trace of annoyance.

This is the first in a series, and it's a lot of fun.  My full review will be coming Tuesday.

Have a great weekend!