Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Book Review: The 19th Christmas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club #19)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong main mystery
Cons: Weak sub-plot; little interaction for the women
The Bottom Line:
This Christmas entry
Features good main mystery
But still average

Can Lindsay Stop a Caper at Christmas?

It is becoming increasingly popular for the cozy mysteries I read to include a Christmas book.  As a Christmas lover, I don’t mind at all.  However, I was surprised to see that we were going to get a Christmas addition to James Patterson and Maxine Paetro’s Women’s Murder Club series this year since it doesn’t fit with some of the subject matter of the series.  The 19th Christmas is fast paced, but ultimately average.

San Francisco Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer and her partner Rich Conklin are using their lunch hour for a little holiday shopping, and they happen to be on hand when someone tries to do a snatch and grab.  Rich is able to apprehend the criminal, and the criminal immediately wants to talk deals.  He’s heard rumors that someone named Loman is planning some kind of big heist on Christmas Day.  As the tips begin to pour in, the police are left chasing their tails as they try to figure out what Loman really plans.  Or who he even really is.

Meanwhile, reporter Cindy Thomas has landed the story of an illegal immigrant accused of a murder.  He’s been in jail awaiting trial for a long time.  Cindy gets assistant district attorney Yuki Castellano involved in her attempts to free him.  And medical examiner Claire Washburn?  She’s left town to teach a course during Christmas week to college students down in San Diego.

And that right there represents one of my issues with the book.  I know colleges offer classes during semester breaks.  But what college would offer one during Christmas week itself?  And Claire is going to leave her family (except her husband) during Christmas week to teach this class?  Sorry, I’m not buying it.

Instead, it feels like a convenient want to get her out of the book since the main story takes up most of the pages.  Cindy and Yuki’s sub-plot is a brief and undercooked part of the overall book that is there more to preach to us than entertain us.  The four women and their families only interact for one scene, in fact.

The main story is quite thrilling, and I got caught up in the action.  However, I feel like it hinged on the criminal doing something very stupid, and we never really figured out why he would do this.  My guess is it was to taunt the police, but criminals so rarely do this it feels like a plot devise.

I was surprised at just how much I got the Christmas spirit from the book.  I was reading it around Halloween, and I got so in the Christmas spirit that I had to pull out some Christmas music.  First time this year, too.

Then there’s the epilogue, which seems to come out of nowhere.  Are they setting up the next book?  That’s all I could think while reading it.

While The 19th Christmas has flaws, I got caught up in the book while reading it.  Fans of the series will enjoy checking in with Lindsay over a busy Christmas.

Here are the rest of the Women's Murder Club books.

Monday, November 11, 2019

TV Show Review: The Big Bang Theory - Season 12

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs, perfect ending
Cons: The season started a little rough
The Bottom Line:
Final season laughs
Entertains and wraps up well
Show goes out with bang

“This is the Rest of Our Night, Huh?”  “No.  This is the Rest of Our Lives.”

Twelve years is a phenomenal run for a TV show, and that’s the run that The Big Bang Theory just ended.  While season twelve got off to a shaky start, I found overall I enjoyed the final season of this fantastic, funny show.

The season picks up where season eleven ended.  Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) have just gotten married.  While they are off on their honeymoon, the rest of the gang deals with Amy’s parents (guest stars Kathy Bates and Teller, who actually speaks in his guest appearances this season).  But once they get back, things begin to fall into mostly familiar patterns for these friends.

Raj (Kunal Nayyar), tired of being the only single member of the group, decides to let his father set him up with Anu (guest star Rati Gupta).  Penny (Kaley Cuoco) makes an announcement that shocks Leonard (Johnny Galecki).  Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) don’t get any major storylines this season, although Bernadette’s drug makes it to market with Penny as the head of sales for it.  Plus, they have to deal with the fact that Stuart (recurring guest star Kevin Sussman) now has a steady girlfriend, Denise (guest star Lauren Lapkus), who is staying over at their house quite a bit.  But it is still Sheldon and Amy who drive much of this season with their research on super asymmetry.  They keep pursuing the potential breakthrough they had at their wedding.  Is it a viable theory?  If it is, will they will a Nobel for it?

As I said, the season got off to a rough start.  Part of it is because the friends seem to spend more time sniping at each other than usual.  Yes, they are often unkind in search of a punchline, but it was a bit uncomfortable how much they were sniping at each other.  Honestly, another issue I had with the first part of the season was Raj’s arranged marriage.  Of all the characters, he’s been in love with love so long that to watch him appear to be settling for Anu was a bit disappointing.  And that’s not a slam on Anu, but how things felt between them early in the season.  However, watching how the writers played out this particular storyline was ultimately satisfying.

There were plenty of laughs to be had over the course of the season.  You might think we’ve laughed as much as we could at these characters, but I found myself laughing at their antics once again.  It amazes me how the writers can still find variations on themes to make us laugh after twelve years.  My hat is definitely off to them.

Of course, the actors are still in top form.  They bring these characters to life perfectly, milking every joke from the script.

As the season went on, the writers tied up a few plot threads that have woven in and out of the entire series.  They left a few open as well, but that’s okay.  That’s life.  And I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not finding out about those things.

Which brings us to the series finale.  Perfection.  It is hard to land a long running series, and I’m sure the writers felt the pressure for years.  I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.  There were lots of laughs and some tender moments.  It wrapped things up while leaving the door open for us to think about these characters’ lives continuing on even if we don’t get to check in on them anymore.  And trust me, I want to keep checking in on them.  That right there is the sign of a good finale to me – it left me wanting more.  If you can leave me wanting more about twelve years on the air, you’ve done something right.

Season twelve consisted of twenty-four episodes.  In addition to the episodes, this set consists has several special features on the final days of the series and its impact.  It also includes the half hour special that aired on CBS the night the show’s finale aired back in May.

All good things come to an end.  While some grew tired of the show years ago, I am finding a Big Bang Theory sized hole in my TV viewing schedule this fall.  Fortunately, now that season twelve has hit DVD and Blu-ray, I can revisit any of the gang’s adventures any time I want.  And I will be revisiting them often.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Podcast Review: All Things Cozy

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun discussions of cozy topics
Cons: I’m too cozy to think up any cons
The Bottom Line:
A cozy podcast
Covering range of topics
And it’s always fun

Cozy Thoughts That Always Make Me Smile

Being an innovator who is always on the cutting edge of new technology, I finally started listening to podcasts this year.  (Yes, you can laugh at me now.)  (I'm talking entertainment type podcasts, not sermons recorded and released as podcasts when I say this.)  I only have a couple I am listening to at the moment, and I’m sure there are many out there I’d enjoy.  When I jumped full force into Instagram earlier this year (yes, you can laugh at me over this as well), I discovered the podcast All Things Cozy.  Not only have I been listening to the current episodes as they air, but I’ve done a deep dive into their past episodes.  And I’m loving every minute of it.

All Things Cozy is a bi-weekly podcast, releasing episodes on Sundays.  I’d tell you what it is about, but it is pretty much summed up in the title.  Each week, Matt and Gillian, our hosts, talk about a topic of the week, sometimes by themselves and sometimes with a guest.  As you might suspect (this is me recommending the podcast after all), they talk a lot about cozy mysteries.  I’ve enjoyed author interviews as they discuss the latest books by these authors.  Some are authors I’ve been familiar with, others are authors I haven’t read yet, but I’ve added them to my ever growing to be read pile.  (Honestly, it’s going to topple over any day now.)

But cozy mystery books aren’t the only things they discuss.  Every year, they have an episode devoted to Halloween.  They recently did an episode on making candles.  They’ve done one on comfort food.  Diving into the archives, they’ve discussed Hallmark mystery movies; Murder, She Wrote; and various non-mystery movies.  Plus, there’s the annual end of year cozy awards.

In addition to the main topic, each episode also features a segment on what is making Matt and Gillian (and any guests) feel cozy.  These are often shows or places.  Since our hosts live in Los Angeles, some of what they talk about is local to me, not that I’ve actually taken advantage of any of their suggestions.  Yet.  I fully intend to do so.  But don’t worry, not all of these suggestions are location specific, and their guests are from all over the country.  They end each episode by reviewing a candle they’ve been burning as they record that episode.  Due to my allergies, I don’t regularly buy or burn any candles, but I often have to remind myself of this as I listen to that part of the show.  I want to give in and sample some of these myself.

The show started in 2017.  Since they only release shows every other week, the backlog into overwhelming right now.  I’m enjoying going back and listening to the beginnings of the show and seeing how it has evolved over time.  And most of the topics are still interesting today.

The average episode is 50 or so minutes, some longer, some shorter.  Matt and Gillian have the occasional side trip, but they do a very good job of staying on topic without wandering too much off track.  And, their asides are usually quite a bit of fun as well.

I absolutely enjoy this podcast.  I can’t help but smile as I listen to the episodes.  The first thing I do when I wake up on a release Sunday is see if the newest podcast is uploaded yet so I can find out what they will be discussing.  Or, I should say we, so I am often talking back to them as I listen, trying to add to the discussion.

If you are looking for a fun podcast, I highly recommend All Things Cozy, which is available wherever you listen to podcasts.  You can jump in with any episode, or search through the archives to find topics and authors that interest you.  I bet you are soon as addicted as I am and just listening to all of them.

Oh, and be sure to join the official All Things Cozy Facebook group.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

November 9th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Batwoman – That was sad and disturbing.  I suspected it would be, but the reality was more than I was expecting.  I know the show and character are dark, but that’s a bit more than I was expecting.  And can we discuss how stupid Beth was for not running out the door and trying to make a phone call instead?

Supergirl – So, is Rojas bad or not?  Or just being manipulated.  I was beginning to think she was innocent until that final scene. I definitely didn’t expect the friend to be the guy with the arms.  I’m hooked on this storyline.  Lena and J’ohnn’s brother can just disappear as far as I am concerned – their scenes added nothing to the episode for me.

God Friended Me – It was kind of nice that they spent so much time figuring out what the problem was.  It was a break on the formula.  Having said that, I’m wondering if Kara’s stories being called formulaic is a warning they are about to radically change the show.  Now, I know I’m single, but I still feel I can offer some relationship advice.  If you want to prove to someone you can do a job without it bothering your relationship, don’t take the job without telling them.  I’m with Trish on this one for sure.

Dancing with the Stars – I’m sorry to see Kate leave.  I’ve really enjoyed watching her and how much fun she is clearly having.  And the first 10s and first perfect scores of the season!  Amazing dances.  Can we just award Shawn the trophy now and avoid the rest of the competition?

The Flash – Barry and Iris got a light week to help them get ready for the crossover.  It’s always obvious when they do that.  I just can’t believe they killed off Gypsy.  They are being brutal to characters this season on all these shows.  Now, what is Wells up to with saving Barry?

Arrow – As much as I’ve hated on the future storyline, I love having the kids in the present.  Watching them interact has been great.  Now, we need to find out that the future has changed because otherwise, it is all still very depressing.  I’m sure that Laurel won’t wind up betraying Oliver, but she is going to be mighty tempted.

This is Us – That was all kinds of awkward.  Both storylines.  I expected the good endings.  This is This is Us, after all.  But man, that was hard to watch for most of it.

Survivor – For the record, the reason people are thinking about a women’s alliance is because it is talked about almost every season on the show.  It’s not sexist.  It’s just how the women think.  Kellee’s move was absolutely amazing.  I can’t believe she pulled it off.  But how long until someone confesses what happened?

American Horror Story: 1984 – I’m really now sure how they are going to wrap this all up.  I’m ready for it to be over, however.  If this were going to drag out longer, I don’t think I would have stuck with it.  I’m hearing others who are fans of the series aren’t impressed with this season.  I know I won’t be back to the franchise.

The Good Place – Talk about your cliffhanger.  And we have just under half to season to go.  I wonder where they will go with the rest of the season.  I hope we don’t see as much of the new characters because I found them mostly annoying.  Tonight was an exception, however.  They were actually pretty funny.  That last scene was great.  It’s going to be a long week until we find out what happens next.

Carol’s Second Act – The show is getting better every week.  Still not a classic, but amusing.  It was nice to see a patient walk away from Carol’s advice to break the formula a bit.  And I’ve got to say, I hope that romance continues.  I’m really liking it.

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series – Confession time – I am a huge fan of the original movies.  I’ve got reviews of the movies and the soundtracks in the blog if you dig back far enough.  So I’d been curious about this take on the franchise.  It was…interesting.  I have a feeling I could get hooked on it if it were on network TV.  But since it is going to be on Disney+, which I still haven’t signed up for, I’ll give it a pass.

Friday, November 8, 2019

November 8th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's Friday!  Must be time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm taking a break from cozy mysteries and featuring a middle grade fantasy book.  Specifically, The Last Dragon, the second book in James Riley's The Revenge of Magic series.

We jump right in with this:

"President Forsythe Fitzgerald," Fort's father said, pointing at the spots where each word would go above the giant statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln.
This should have been a happy moment, seeing his dad again, but knowing what was coming, all Fort could feel was horror.

I mentioned this was the second book in the series, right?  Even though it's been six months since I read the first, I still remembered the opening enough to know this opening scene was going to pack a punch.  And it did.

Jumping ahead to page 56:

Sierra narrowed her eyes.  "Why are you avoiding my question?  You can't fool a telepath, Fort.  Why don't you want them along?"
He growled to himself, then sat up and glared at her.  "Because Cyrus told me if I brought anyone else with me, I'd lose one of them forever.  Okay?"

I've read the book, and I still think these are both good teasers.  What do you think?

Current goal for this review is November 17th.  Hope you'll come back and check it out.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Book Review: City of Scoundrels by Victoria Thompson (Counterfeit Lady #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun trip back in time
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Cheated war widow
Starts latest historic con
Travel back in time

Saving a War Widow from Scoundrels

We are only three books into Victoria Thompson’s Counterfeit Lady series, and I’ve already come to look forward to these trips back in time.  They are something a bit different for my reading diet.  Yes, they are still cozy, but they are capers featuring some conmen and a reformed conwoman who wind up using their skills to help those in need.  City of Scoundrels is plenty of fun, but tackles some serious topics along the way.

It’s the fall of 1918, and World War I is showing no signs of coming to an end.  That is upsetting Elizabeth Miles since her fiance, Gideon Bates, has been drafted due to the increased age of the draft.  Before he ships out, Gideon is focusing his efforts at his law firm at drafting wills for soldiers.  Most of these wills are simple since the soldiers don’t have much.  One of the exceptions is Tom Preston, part owner of Preston Shoes, which has made a fortune providing shoes to the soldiers.  Tom wants a new will leaving his share of the family business to his new wife and their unborn child – a wife the rest of his family knows nothing about.

Tom hasn’t been gone long before the unthinkable happens, and word comes back that he has died.  Then his new will goes missing and Tom’s family doesn’t want to acknowledge his widow at all.  Elizabeth is quick to jump in, getting her family, all conmen, to come up with a scheme to get this war widow the money she should have inherited.  But what complications might there be along the way?

Yes, there are complications.  Lots of complications.  The book could have gotten to them a bit sooner, but that’s a minor complaint since I was enjoying the trip back in time from the first page.  Once we get into the con and the complications, this book really picks up and I had a hard time putting it down.  I was satisfied with how things turned out, and I will leave my discussion of the plot there so I don’t spoil anything for you.

This book puts us in the middle of history.  No, we don’t leave the greater New York area, but the impact of the war and other events of the era really hit home for the characters and, as a result, us.  I loved this aspect of the book.  It does make the ending a bit elongated, but it works and I couldn’t put the book down until I reached the very last page.  It helps that the book pulled me so into the past I felt I was part of the action.

It also helps that the characters are so real.  Elizabeth, Gideon, and the rest leap off the page and pull us right into the story.  A few of the series regulars didn’t get quite as much page time as they have in previous books, but all of our favorites are there, and the new characters are just as strong.

If you aren’t taking these trips back in time, you need to do so today.  I’m not trying to con you, these books really are that good.  Only a scoundrel wouldn’t love City of Scoundrels.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Thursday, November 14th, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 11/14.  You will have until midnight on 11/19 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 11/20.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Amazing visuals, climax, fun
Cons: Michelle Willimas’s acting choices, some effects, predictable
The Bottom Line:
Oz prequel story
Does great job with backstory
Light, fun fantasy

“It’s a Good Thing Green is My Favorite Color.”

I have never been a super fan of Oz, and I’m not completely sure why.  I read some of the books as a kid, and I enjoyed them.  I like the story of The Wizard of Oz.  But I don’t line up for Oz related items.  Which explains why I am just now getting around to watching Oz the Great and Powerful.  I’m glad I finally got the movie watched because I enjoyed it.

The movie opens in Kansas in the 1900’s as Oscar Diggs, nicknamed Oz (James Franco), is about to go on stage for his magic show at a traveling circus.  When he must make a hasty exit, he escapes into a hot air balloon.  Unfortunately for him, a tornado is coming, and he is caught in the storm.

When his balloon lands, he is in a land he never would have dreamed possible filled with magical creatures.  Even more surprising, he learns some people think he’s the fulfillment of a prophecy.  As he travels the land, he finds himself caught up in the battle for the future of Oz.  Whose side should he be on?  And can a simple magician help in war at all?

If you are at all familiar with Oz, it’s hard to say there are too many surprises in this movie.  It is a prequel, set before Dorothy arrived in Oz, so we know how things have to end.  They still set things up well so that a couple of the reveals are well done, and there is still so much happening that it keeps your attention.  And I liked their explanations for a few of the things we know about Oz.

Likewise, the character arcs are pretty predictable.  Oz is not a good man at the beginning of the movie, but we slowly watch him change as he encounters new characters.  Again, since we know how the movie has to end, other character arcs aren’t surprises, but they are still fun to watch.

Borrowing from the conceit of the famous Wizard of Oz movie, the film starts out in full frame black and white before turning to wide screen and full color when Oz lands in his new home.  Once he does, the visuals are stunning with vibrant color that pops off the screen.  The film is heavy on the effects, and sometimes that shows, but for the most part I bought what I saw on the screen.

The acting is mostly good as well.  The only character I had an issue with was Glinda.  As portrayed by Michelle Williams, she just felt stiff and a little odd.  I have a feeling that was a directorial and acting choice based on how the character has been portrayed in the past, but it just didn’t work with the rest of the acting or the film overall.

The climax of the film is absolutely wonderful.  It wasn’t super surprising, but it was tons of fun, and wrapped things up perfectly.  I loved it!

Oz the Great and Powerful has some flaws, but none of them are serious.  On the whole, this is a film that will entertain fans of the Oz tales or anyone looking for some light fantasy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Review: The Chocolate Shark Shenanigans by JoAnna Carl (Chocoholic Mysteries #17)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong, fast moving mystery you can’t put down
Cons: The usual minor cons for the series, but I truly don’t mind
The Bottom Line:
Lee and co. are back!
In another fast-paced book
Over all too soon

Lee Must Solve a Flipping Murder

It’s been a couple of years since we last got a chance to visit Lee Woodyard in the Chocoholic Mysteries, so I was quite glad when I saw The Chocolate Shark Shenanigans pop up for pre-order.  As a long time series fan, I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Much to Lee’s dismay, her husband, Joe, and her uncle, Hogan, have bought the house next to Lee and Joe.  They intended to flip it, but Lee doesn’t like the idea of having to borrow money until the house is renovated and sold.  Still, she’s going along with it, even meeting with Digger, the local plumber, for an estimate on the work that will need to be done.  While looking down in the basement, Digger makes a shocking discovery, a gun wrapped in rags

But it’s not as shocking as the one that Lee and Hogan make the next day.  You see, Hogan is the local sheriff, and he’s asked Lee to walk him through what happened when Digger found the gun.  Only the duo make an even more shocking discovery while doing that – a dead body in a cabinet.  The victim was known as Spuds, a nickname he got as a teenager 20 years ago when he was part of a gang that called themselves the Sharks.  Spuds had also wanted to buy the house, but Lee can’t help but wonder what got him killed.  Will she uncover the truth?

Since we are seventeen books into the series, fans will already know what to expect, and they won’t be disappointed here.  These books are focused on the plot, and it is always moving forward.  Occasionally, we get some needless teases, but it is hard to complain when we have a new clue or red herring to distract us from the information we almost got but didn’t yet.  The ending does rush a bit to tie everything up, but it isn’t too bad.  I was hooked and along for the ride the entire way, not wanting to put the book down once I’d picked it up.

These books are a tad shorter than the majority of cozies published, and the result is a book focused on the twists and turns of the plot.  It doesn’t add any sub-plots, and this leaner storytelling approach really works for the series.  In fact, I find myself extremely impatient early on to figure out what is really happening, which drives me to keep reading.

The other things that suffers are the supporting characters.  There is a core cast, and we get to see them in action again, but Lee’s friends are usually reduced to cameos in favor of the new characters and story.  Again, this is nothing new.  Would I love to see more of the supporting players?  Yes.  But I am used to it by now.

And this isn’t a slight on the characters.  I love Lee and Joe.  The new characters are strong as well, helping keep us engaged as we work our way through the book.

We get the usual chocolate trivia as we work our way through the book, and the book ends with a delicious sounding recipe, something we don’t always get in this series.

Something we do always get are delicious descriptions of chocolate.  Lee eats many pieces of chocolate along the way, and my mouth waters each time she goes to describe it.

I’ve been a fan of the Chocoholic Mysteries since the first book game out, so getting to revisit the characters was a treat almost as tasty as the chocolate Lee eats along the way.  The Chocolate Shark Shenanigans will satisfy series fans and leave new fans anxious to track down the rest of Lee’s adventures.

Looking for more tasty adventures?  Here are the rest of the Chocoholic Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


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

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Tuesday, November 12th, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 11/12.  You will have until midnight on 11/17 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 11/18.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Music Review: Firm Foundation by Selah

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great songs of encouragement
Cons: Not quite as strong as normal
The Bottom Line:
Selah offers praise
To God Who is foundation
In newest CD

Selah Builds on Their Firm Foundation

Over the past two decades, Selah has become known in Christian music circles for their encouraging music.  Since I’ve become a fan (and yes, I was late to the game), each new release has become a must buy.  So, naturally, I pre-ordered Firm Foundation.

Longtime fans will notice two things missing from this disc.  The first is well known hymns.  Their first few releases were almost all new arrangements of hymns, but they have slowly been including more original songs (or at least non-hymns) on their releases.  This isn’t that surprising because they have already covered most of the well-known hymns.  I’m sure there are some out there they have touched yet, but none are springing to mind.

The other things missing is a song partially in Kituba, the African language that group founder Todd Smith grew up speaking as a missionary kid.  I’ve enjoyed that offering over the years, so I missed that.

Now that I’ve covered what isn’t on this new release, let’s take a look at what is.

The disc opens with “Let the Saints Sing,” an upbeat song of praise.  Simple praise to God has been a repeated theme in their songs, and that is true here again in other songs such as “I Belong to Jesus (Oh Hallelujah)” and “No Sweeter Name.”  “Jesus is King” is another such song, and it is a fun song to sing along with.

The title track is the closest they get to one of their soaring anthems.  It makes sense sing these anthems have been the title tracks of their last few releases.  “Firm Foundation” at once reminds us that our hope needs to rest in God as well as celebrates what that means when the floods of life come.

The most fun you’ll have on this disc is “Always Gonna Be.”  It’s also the song most likely to get stuck in your head.  Here, the trio is singing about the fact that hard times will come into every life, but God will always be there to help us through it.  It is a very comforting reminder.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel the disc is as good overall as their last few discs.  The problem comes in the second half that features several slower songs in a row.  Granted, this is Selah, a disc known for their contemplative songs.  No, they aren’t a contemporary worship group as such.  They are one of the few holding down the inspirational sub-genre of Christian music these days.  But I find myself struggling to focus on these songs when I get to this point in the disc.

Which is a shame since there are some great lyrics here.  “Yet Not I but Through Christ in Me” is a song packed with theology.  While it is a modern song, it feels like a long-forgotten hymn.  However, it really takes some concentration to follow the thoughts presented.  “He Will Hold Me Fast” fits in thematically with the title track.  “Benediction (As You Go)” is nice.

I think the heart of my problem is expectations.  I have come to set some pretty high expectations when it comes to a new release from Selah.  This CD is good, but since it isn’t as great as their normal releases, it feels like more of a letdown.

While Firm Foundation isn’t quite the home run I’ve come to expect, from the group, it is still good.  Their many fans will find more songs of encouragement here, which is why we continue to love their music.

CD Length: 47:10
1. Let the Saints Sing
2. Jesus is King
3. Firm Foundation
4. Always Gonna Be
5. My Soul Be Satisfied
6. Yet Not I, but through Christ in Me
7. The Sound of Love
8. I Belong to Jesus
9. He Will Hold Me Fast
10. No Sweeter Name
11. Benediction (As You Go)

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Book Review: Who Is the Mystery Reader? by Mo Willems

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Encourages reading; good for young readers ready for something more.
Cons: Not as creative and fun as some of Mo’s other books; different parts can be disjointed
The Bottom Line:
Encouraging reading
And meet Mystery Reader
In easy reader

Reading is a Superpower!

Last year, Mo Willems started a new series for beginning readers.  Who is The Mystery Reader? is the return to the world of Unlimited Squirrels.  Unfortunately, it has confirmed that this series doesn’t have the charm for me that some of his other books do.

These books are broken up into many parts.  The main story involves Zoom Squirrel who gets some help in reading for The Mystery Reader, a costumed superhero.  But who is the masked man?  And can Zoom enter the world of masked superheroes?

As a story designed for beginning readers, it is decent.  It encourages young readers to sound out big words to grow their vocabulary.  And, with how superhero obsessed our culture seems to be right now, making reading into a superpower adds a lot of fun.

However, this story seems to lack the charm and humor of some of Mo’s other work.  As an adult, I think that is what I am looking for.

I mentioned other parts to the book.  We get a couple of terrible (and by that, I mean delightful) puns and jokes related to reading.  There’s also a section where we see the work that goes into creating a book.  As an adult and avid reader, I already knew most of this, but it is nice to see it explained to kids.  The format works for kids who are ready for something a little extra and beyond the easy picture books, but it can make it a little harder to read to a larger audience.

I am trying to look at this book as both an adult fan and as a young reader might.  I can see them completely loving this book, but as an adult, I don’t see a need to rush out and read the Unlimited Squirrel books.  While I appreciate what Mo is doing here, I think Who is The Mystery Reader? will be my last venture into this world without a child to enjoy it with me.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

November 2nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

God Friended Me – I was a step ahead of the show this week in just about every storyline.  Not that I’m complaining because I still enjoyed it.  It was nice to see Jia again.  I love her character, although this storyline of dating in secret is going to be a disaster.  But will Miles’s dad take on the job as Bishop?

Batwoman – Is that the first real villain of the week story we’ve had?  It just goes to prove how scared I am that Alice, the best part of the show, will be gone by the end of the season – most likely by the crossover.  I am loving how over the top and villains are.  They are the best part.  And at least we now know how Alice’s death was faked all those years ago.

Supergirl – I thought James was sticking around through the crossover, but obviously I was wrong.  Anyone else feel like that was a backdoor pilot?  It’s not, but it felt like it.  Lena is gone.  It’s a shame, but she is now a Luthor for sure.  Rojas is a villain?  I wasn’t expecting that.

Dancing with the Stars – It’s time for Shawn Spicer to go.  But he’s going to wind up winning.  It will be even worse than last year because of the politics involved.  Keep in mind I’m as conservative as they come, and I feel this way, but he needs to go.  And the fact that the only person who defended him being on the show this season is now gone while he is still there is ironic.

The Flash – They are playing up Barry’s impending death for all it is worth.  Mind you, I get it, and these character’s reactions are perfect.  But we know he won’t actually die.  Anyone else getting Jekyll and Hyde vibes from our villain of the season?  And I knew our new Wells was up to something (when isn’t Wells?), but I wasn’t expecting it to be related to the Crisis.

Arrow – So glad we got to see Thea again.  I’ve really missed her.  And the set up for next week is definitely interesting.  The rest of the episode?  Forgettable as ever.

This is Us – Fairly predictable episode.  And so many stories going on, it was hard to get invested in any of them.  Maybe that was also because I suspected where most of them were going.  But adult Randall as a hustler?  Definitely a new aspect to his character.

Survivor – I’m glad Aaron didn’t flip.  I thought with the way Jeff was reading the votes he hadn’t, but it was great to have that confirmed.  I can’t believe how the four who lost the vote behaved however – like they deserved to win.  Sorry, but that’s not how the game works.  It will be interesting to see how that plays out next week.  Oh, and Sandra during tribal was hilarious!  Loved her reactions to things.

American Horror Story: 1984 – It was a camp, of course it had to have a Friday the 13th back story.  I’m not completely sure we needed it, although I’m sure that will be the key to understanding how we end things.  The hitchhiker was just there to slow things down, however.  I liked how they dealt with him, however.

The Good Place – A time jump.  It makes sense they would put one in since they need to move the story forward at some point.  Overall, it was an okay episode, but that point about being a little better every day was a very good one.  Also, I hope we don’t see Bad Janet for a bit.  I much prefer Good Janet.

Friday, November 1, 2019

November 1st's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome to November and Friday all rolled into one.  Can you believe it?  Certainly doesn't feel like it should be November already to me.

Anyway, we are here for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring City of Scoundrels by Victoria Thompson.

This is the third Counterfeit Lady novel and takes us to New York City in 1918.  I finished it earlier this week and really enjoyed it.

Anyway, this is how the book begins:

"I hate this stupid war!" Elizabeth cried in frustration.

And if you can't understand that sentiment on page one, you certainly will by the time you finish the book.

Meanwhile, over on page 56, we find:

Elizabeth blinked furiously, determined not to cry as she rushed up the stairs to the one room into which she knew Gideon would not follow her.

The book comes out on Tuesday, and I will be hosting a review and giveaway on Thursday, so please come back for my full review.

Until then, enjoy the first weekend of November.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Ornament Review: Prince of the Forest - Noble Nutcrackers #1 - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Beautifully crafted with lots of detail
Cons: Seems a bit pricey for what it is
The Bottom Line:
Nutcracker series
Starts with many great details
A bit expensive

This Nutcracker Series is Off to a Princely Start

Hallmark has my number.  Every year, I promise myself I won’t start any new series, and every year I find one that I absolutely must start.  For me this year, it is the Noble Nutcrackers.  Prince of the Forest was just too good to pass up.

This series advertises itself as featuring a royal representative of a different enchanted nutcracker kingdom.  As such, I don’t expect there to be any traditional looking nutcrackers.  This one certainly isn’t.  As the title suggests, our nutcracker this year is representing nature.  He’s very green with some red for accents.  His coat is trimmed with vines and berries, and his belt is a wreath.  In one hand, he’s holding a bird feeder that is currently home to a couple of birds.  His crown?  It’s a miniature fir tree, of course.

I love nutcrackers, so I was tempted by this series as soon as I heard the name.  However, the price point made me reconsider for a while.  (Yes, really.)  At $22.99, this is the most expensive non-magic ornament I’m aware of.  I’m hearing it is because of the intricate detail in the ornament, but it still is a hard price point to get past for a piece of carved plastic.  Yes, I know that’s what most of the ornaments I buy from Hallmark are, but they aren’t usually this expensive.

However, it was that detail that won me over.  This really is a work of art with lots of great detail to look at.  It is beautiful, and I just couldn’t pass it up.  I love how the ornament is crafted such that it looks like it is carved from wood.  I might be more selective with this series overall, but I had to get this one.

Like all nutcrackers, this one has a strong base, so you can display him on any flat surface.  In this case, his base is a tree trunk.  That’s another of those details I love.  While his mouth itself doesn’t open up, there is an area in his chest that opens like a regular nutcracker would.

The loop of hanging the ornament is on the very tip top of the tree on top of his head.  No surprise, he hangs straight.  What is a surprise is that the ornament comes with a rope for hanging the ornament – something Hallmark rarely does.

Being the first in a series, you’ll find a 1 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of the ornament.

Yes, I still think the price is a bit higher than it should be, but overall, I do love Prince of the Forest.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

October 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

Yes, I'm a little early this month, but today was looking like the best day to post my monthly reading summary, so here it is.

I may be early, but the index has been updated.

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

Finding Zelda by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Zelda Bowen #1) – 5
We first meet the Bowen family at Easter as Zelda and her two sisters, Norma and Bea, are arguing over who will wear the bunny costume that year for the kids.  Normally, that is something their father would do, but he has vanished without a word to anyone.  Even though the three women are grown, two of them with families of their own, his absence has repercussions in all of their lives and in their family overall.  As the year progresses, how will they deal with what happened?

I was excited to see this novel come out.  It started life as four short stories in a series called Holidays from Hell.  Those stories, plus some additional scenes to help fill in the gaps, make up the first half of the novel, and I was anxious to find out what happened to Zelda.  I wasn’t disappointed.  While author Sue Ann Jaffarian is best known for her mystery novels, this isn’t a mystery.  Instead, it’s a dysfunctional family dramedy.  And yes, there are scenes that will make you laugh and scenes that will make you feel for the characters and what they are going through, especially Zelda.  As our main characters, she is the most sympathetic, but all the characters have their moments as the book unfolds and all of them are great.  This book definitely falls into the PG-13 realm with a smattering of foul language and some scenes that discuss characters’ sex lives.  I could have done without those elements, but they are worth noting only in passing.  Despite the fact that the book takes place roughly over the course of a year, we get a clear plot and only the scenes we need for the story.  While originally conceived as a standalone novel, we are going to get more of Zelda’s adventures.  I’m not sure where things can go from here, but I’m looking forward to visiting her again.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

“O” is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #15) – 5
PI Kinsey Millhone is surprised to get a phone call from a guy claiming he found some of her stuff in an abandoned storage locker.  Most of it is old school papers she left behind when she moved out on Mickey, her first ex-husband.  But among those things is some mail – it’s mostly junk, but she finds a letter to her in the stack.  Reading the letter shocks Kinsey.  It sheds new light on her marriage to Mickey and the events that led to her leaving him fourteen years before.  As Kinsey begins to hunt for Mickey to learn exactly what happened, she also begins to look into the murder that lead to her leaving Mickey.  Will she learn the truth about what happened all those years ago?

I wasn’t burning with desire to learn about Kinsey’s first marriage, but that changes pretty quickly when I started this book.  We are given the information we need from that time to understand what is happening in an interesting way that doesn’t slow things down.  The past and present are meeting, and both drive the story forward.  I was hooked until we reached the climax, which expertly wrapped everything up.  The characters spring from the page fully formed the instant we meet them, which is nothing new for this series.  We spend the most time with Kinsey, however, and she is a strong lead.  I enjoyed seeing how these events impacted her.  Fans of the series will enjoy seeing the background, and if you are new to the series, this book will show you why it has been so popular for so many years.

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs (Charlie Thorne #1) – 5
Meet Charlie Thorne.  She is highly intelligent, a great athlete – and twelve-years-old.  She is attending college, if you can call only showing up on test days to be attending college, just biding her time until she is legally an adult.  Until the day the CIA shows up and strong arms her into helping them on a mission of critical importance.  It is believed that Albert Einstein developed an equation in the 1930’s that rivals his theory of relativity in importance, but he hid it to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.  While people all over the world have been looking for it for decades, the race to find it has heated up, with the fate of the world potentially in the balance.  Because Charlie is so smart, they think she can more easily decode the clues that Einstein left behind.  Will Charlie be able to follow the clues to find it?

I was excited to dive into a new series from middle grade author Stuart Gibbs.  It takes a little time to set up the characters and the story in the first half, but the second half is packed with action.  When I got here, it was nearly impossible to put down.  The main characters got some nice character growth over the course of the book.  The rest of the characters aren’t quite as sharp, but they are developed enough to keep us engaged in the book.  This doesn’t have quite as much humor as some of Stuart Gibbs’s other books, although I did laugh some.  The more serious tone is reflected in the more serious nature of the story.  There isn’t anything that isn’t appropriate for the intended audience, but there is more violence off the page than in his previous books.  Only the most sensitive kids will be bothered by what happens here, however.  The ending of this book will leave you ready for Charlie’s next adventure.  I know I’m anxious for it.

A Legacy of Murder by Connie Berry (Kate Hamilton Mysteries #2) – 4
Kate Hamilton has traveled to the small village of Long Barston in England.  Her daughter, Christine, is spending her semester break working at Finchley Hall as one of several college aged interns who work on the premises, and Kate can visit Christine and her new friend Tom Mallory, a policeman she met in Scotland and is falling for, before heading back home to Ohio to spend Christmas with her mother.  On her first day, Kate is taking a tour of Finchley Hall.  The guide is talking about the murders that have taken place on the estate when a scream interrupts her.  Kate and several others run to find one of the interns dead.  The police are quick to label it murder.  With Tom on the case, it is cutting into the time Kate thought they would have together.  But she can’t help but worry.  Is Christine in danger since she is an intern?

I’ve just teased the first couple of chapters, so things obviously get off to a fast start.  However, the pace is uneven, especially early on in the story.  I know part of that is me since Kate loves England much more than I do, and her wonder at spending time there didn’t translate to me.  However, there is a good mystery here, with some decent twists and surprises.  The climax is page turning and perfect logical.  The characters are absolutely wonderful.  We have a rather large cast, but I never had any issue keeping everyone and their relationship to the events unfolding around Kate straight.  While the book is set in December, there is so much going on we don’t get lots of scenes directly related to Christmas, although I certainly enjoyed the references to the season we did see.  This book isn’t quite as strong as the first one, but I’m glad I read it.  This is a series that anyone who loves the British Isles needs to pick up today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Read It and Weep by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover’s Mysteries #4) – 3
This fall, Lindsey’s friend Violet La Rue is directing a local theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and she is encouraging everyone to try out for it.  Lindsey is more interested in working behind the scenes on the costumes, but many of her friends land parts in the play.  The one non-community member cast is Violet’s friend, Robbie Vine, a celebrated actor.  He brings with him his wife and his girlfriend, but he still is immediately smitten with Lindsey, and he starts flirting with her, which does nothing but irritate Sully, Lindsey’s ex.  However, Lindsey’s romantic troubles aren’t the biggest issue on the stage.  Instead, a series of increasingly more serious accidents seem to be happening in the theater.  Is someone out to destroy the production?  Is any one person the target?  Will Lindsey get to the bottom of things before someone dies?

Since I’m behind on this series, I knew that Lindsey was going to have some serious issues with her love life, and that is the case here.  In fact, it feels more like the focus of the book with the mystery being a sub-plot.  I’m a guy, so I don’t tend to read romances, and I stir clear of many romantic comedies because they aren’t my thing.  The romantic comedy aspect of this book certainly bothered me.  While there are some mysterious occurrences, it wasn’t really until the second half when the mystery really got going and even then, is often overshadowed by the romance.  There is a good twist to the mystery, however.  And I adore the series characters.  We get to see a different side of a couple of them and finally spend some time getting to know Violet.  On the other hand, the suspects were rather weak.  I’ve read enough of author Jenn McKinlay’s books to know this is a blip from an author I usually adore.  If you are a fan of her books, you’ll still want to see what happens here.  If you are new to her books, you’ll be better served starting with a different book and coming back to this one later.  Personally, I am looking forward to visiting Lindsey again soon.

The Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet – 5
Katy is a caboose, but she doesn’t like traveling at all.  She longs for peace and quiet and a stationary life.  Then she is presented with the joys of her current life.  Will she realize her dream?  Will she enjoy life until then?

I hadn’t read this picture book for years until I picked it up recently, and I was immediately struck by the moral of the story.  It’s complex, about enjoying your life while you dream of something else, so kids might not fully grasp it, but that doesn’t make it any less good.  Of course, kids are mostly going to be interested in the story and pictures.  As with all Bill Peet’s books, the pictures are detailed and colorful.  The story, told in rhyme, will keep kids’ attention as well although the vocabulary might be a bit too complex for those just learning to read to read on their own.

Over the course of the book, we get a well-researched look at the sitcom Friends and the impact it has had on the US and the world in the 25 years since it premiered.  We learn about how the creators met and came up with the show, the path the actors took before they landed on the show, and some of the bumps and growing pains that everyone experienced during the 10 years the show was on the air.  There is also talk about the impact the show has had on fashion, trends, and overall pop culture the world over.

Author Kelsey Miller starts out by talking about her own connection to the show, and at various times in the book she talks about how she gained insight into the show (and vice versa) while talking to her real-life friends about it.  As I said, the book is well-researched, but that is part of the problem – it has too much research, rehashing stories we can find elsewhere with little new insights from the cast and crew.  I did find her commentary on a few episodes and arcs to be interesting.  I had already thought of some of her comments myself, and the rest make perfect sense to me.  My biggest issue with the book is the way she works modern social issues into a look at a comedy from 25 years ago.  Now, I’m not saying that the issues on the show aren’t worth talking about.  This is the only part of the book where she did her any original research, reaching out to people to get reactions to the show’s handing of diversity, etc.  However, her experts all seem to be of the opinion that it would be nice if the show had done a better job, but that was TV in the day, and it is a funny comedy that wasn’t trying to push an agenda.  It is clear she wasn’t happy these people didn’t agree with her more since she obvious thinks these are major issues in the show.  She even spends much of the last chapter talking about the lawsuit a writer’s assistant brought for a hostile work environment and speculating how it would have been handled in the current environment.  These complaints aside, I found the book very readable, and when I picked it up, I was hooked.  I was even choking up as I read about the taping of the final episodes.  This would probably appeal most to die hard Friends fans, but most of the material here they probably already know.

Wicked Harvest by Karen MacInerney (Dewberry Farm #6) – 3
The town of Buttercup, Texas, has decided to host an Oktoberfest event this year.  Naturally, farmer Lucy Resnick will have a booth selling wares from her farm, but the kickoff event is at the Sweetwater Brewery, and Lucy is going to be there as just a guest.  The brewery is planning to reveal a new recipe at the event, but that reveal doesn’t quite go as planned.  However, things take an even worse turn a little while later when Lucy and her boyfriend, Tobias, start to take a brewery tour and instead find a dead body.  It is pretty obvious that it was murder, but who did it?

Not only do we have the murder, but we have several sub-plots, so this book is constantly moving and kept my attention the entire time.  Things come together for a logical and satisfying conclusion.  This series has always had a bit of a paranormal element to it, but it is much stronger here, and I felt the book was a bit weaker since it relied on that more to drive the plot.  There’s also a major editing issue, with a scene with Lucy going over clues with a friend before she’s received them.  The characters are wonderful as always.  Since this is a quick read, we didn’t get a lot of new character development, but I still enjoyed the time with them I had, and the suspects are strong enough to keep us guessing.  There are six recipes at the end that sound delicious, too.  Fans of the series will enjoy this latest outing.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Murder’s No Votive Confidence by Christin Brecher (Nantucket Candle Maker Mystery #1) – 4
This Memorial Day Weekend is going to be busy for Stella Wright.  Not only is it the start of tourist season for her native Nantucket Island, but, thanks to her best friend, she has landed a job providing candles for a wedding taking place over the weekend.  This job includes a large and elaborate unity candle, but before the couple can walk down the aisle, Stella finds the candle broken next to the body of the bride’s estranged uncle.  When the police are quick to arrest a local bartender, Stella is certain they have the wrong suspect.  Can she use the fact that she’s helping with the wedding to find the killer?

I didn’t get as much reading time as I am used to when I picked up this book, but I felt like the book started off a little slowly.  That might just be me, however.  Things definitely picked up in the second third of the book, and I was impressed with some of the twists we got as we neared the super fun climax.  The characters really grew on me, especially Stella.  There are hints we might be in for a love triangle, but I think it is clear who Stella’s love interest should be, and I really liked him, too.  The suspects are good characters and strong as suspects.  I felt the island could have come to life a bit more, but again, that might have been my lack of reading time to fully immerse myself into the story.  Overall, I enjoyed this debut and I’m definitely planning to visit Stella again.

Death of a Gigolo by Laura Levine (Jaine Austen Mysteries #17) – 5
Freeland writer Jaine Austen has landed a new job, this time for Bel Air heiress Daisy Kincaid.  Daisy hires Jaine to write a romance novel entitled Fifty Shades of Turquoise.  Jaine is working at Daisy’s house each day, so she is there for the arrival of Tommy, a young man who quickly worms his way into Daisy’s heart while alienating everyone else in Daisy’s life.  To everyone’s horror, it isn’t long before the two announce their engagement.  But when Tommy is murdered the day before the wedding, Jaine finds herself trying to figure out what really happened.  Can she do it?

Yes, there are some strong sub-plots as well.  Jaine is back with an ex.  Will the romance bloom this time?  Or will Jaine’s cat, Prozac, derail everything.  Meanwhile, in a series of e-mails, we learn about the latest saga her parents are going through.  All I will tell you is it involves a bad haircut and a sculpting class.

Those familiar with the series know what to expect, and they won’t be disappointed.  Yes, the murder takes place a little late in the book, but the time isn’t wasted as everything is set up.  Once Tommy dies, we are off to the races with plenty of twists and turns.  Meanwhile, the two sub-plots weave in and out perfectly.  There are tons of laughs along the way as all the stories build to their climaxes.  The characters are more caricatures, but they fit this book perfectly.  More realistic characters wouldn’t work here.  Author Laura Levine used to write sitcoms, and that really is the best way to look at this book – as if your favorite sitcom characters were involved in a murder mystery.  The result is light, fun, and delightful.  So next time you need to smile, pick up this book.

“Nogged Off” by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #4.5)
This story finds Julia Snowden taking a quick day trip to New York City to pack up the rest of her belongings so she can permanently move to Maine.  When she arrives, she finds her sub-tenant to be upset about some setbacks in her personal life, and Julia winds up inviting Imogen home for Christmas.  However, Julia’s Christmas gets more complicated when her moving truck is stolen after they arrive in Busman’s Harbor.  What is going on?

I love this series, and I enjoyed getting to visit Julia at Christmas.  I was able to get fully lost in this story right away since I already know the series characters and the setting.  The plot was fun with some good twists before we reached the end.  Barbara Ross includes some fun Christmas traditions that are unique to Maine without slowing down the story, and they give us that all important Christmas feeling.  There are a couple of recipes at the end of the story, as always, to enjoy during the holiday season.

NOTE: This story is a novella, roughly 100 pages, and was originally part of the novella collection Eggnog Murder.  If you have that book, there is no need to buy this ebook.  If you haven’t read the story, now is the time to sit back and enjoy this Christmas trip to Maine.

Murder Cuts the Mustard by Jessica Ellicott (Beryl and Edwina #3) – 4
Walmsley Parva is facing yet another murder.  It’s now June of 1921, and the body of Hector Lomax has been found in the graveyard.  Hector was not a well-liked or respected man in town, and that holds true for Simpkins, Edwina’s elderly gardener.  Simpkins was Hector’s brother-in-law, and they shared a house, so naturally, he becomes a suspect in Hector’s death.  However, that isn’t the only surprise the day has in store for Simpkins and, by extension, Edwina and Beryl.  It quickly becomes clear the pair of friends need to get to the bottom of what is happening for their own sake as well as that of Simpkins.  Can they do it?

I love this duo.  Edwina and Beryl complement each other perfectly, and with the book’s excellent use of limited third person, we get to know both of them.  The growth in them continues here as well.  The rest of the cast is just as strong.  I did feel the plot got a little sidetracked in the middle, but I was always entertained and the book ramps up again for a logical climax.  Since the story is set in 1921, we get an interesting look at the changes that were going on in the larger society at the time.  I had never given these changes much thought, but I enjoy seeing how the characters are reacting to them.  If you haven’t started this series yet, you really should.  If you are already a fan, you’ll love our third visit with Beryl and Edwina.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Apple Cider Slaying by Julie Anne Lindsey (Cider Shop Mysteries #1) – 3
The apple orchard that Winnie Montgomery calls home, along with her Granny, is having financial issues, and she is looking for ideas to save it.  The idea she is most excited about is turning a barn on the property into a cider shop.  She just needs a loan from the bank to be able to do the renovations.  However, the meeting with the loan officers doesn’t turn out well when they find the body of Nadine during their tour of the facilities.  The police are looking at Granny as their prime suspect since she and Nadine fought on a regular basis.  With Granny’s freedom and the fate of the family orchard on the line, can Winnie figure out what really happened?

I always pick up the debut in a new series with hopes for a great read.  I had more of a mixed reaction to this book.  The plot was uneven, with what should have been sub-plots taking over for pages at a time and leaving me wondering when we’d get back to the mystery.  The mystery was driven more by events than Winnie uncovering clues, but those events did draw me into the book, especially since I had come to care for the characters.  I loved Winnie, Granny, and the rest of the cast.  This was really driven home to me in the second half when an event made me gasp and read a little longer than I had intended that day.  The timeline was fuzzy, which always bugs me.  However, the book is set during the beginning of the Christmas season, and I loved how that season added to the coziness of the book.  The four recipes at the end sound delicious, and yes, one of them is for cider.  Julie Anne Lindsey also writes under the names Jacqueline Frost and Bree Baker, and I know she has a large fan base under all of those names.  While I find this book uneven, I think this fantastic case of new characters will draw in many readers to this series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.