Saturday, December 31, 2016

REVIEW: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan

Mary's world is a dark one. Her village is surrounded by a forest filled with flesh-eating undead. A fence separates the village from the dangers hiding in the trees. Nobody ventures into the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Mary wants more from her life than marriage or joining The Sisterhood in their Cathedral. She dreams of the stories told to her by her mother. Stories of the ocean and what life was like before The Return, when the dead began to prey on the living. Everyone tells her the stories are just fairy tales and nothing exists past the village fence but death.

One fateful day, the village is overrun by zombies. Mary and other survivors learn the truth about what lies beyond the fence, and must either learn to survive or die.

Too many dystopian or apocalyptic stories fall into the same pitfall -- the belief that there has to be some sort of silver lining, a happy ending. In reality, sometimes there is no magical shining light at the end of the tunnel. Ryan is not afraid to portray death, loss and despair in this book. She avoids the pitfall and offers up a story where the main characters have major flaws and don't necessarily survive. But, this isn't a depressing story. In the end, it's realistic. And the light at the end of the tunnel is sometimes within the characters themselves. In the beginning, I found the main character, Mary, to be childish, self-centered and foolish. In her defense, she was still a child. And aren't we all self-centered when very young? But over time, she grew up, gained strength and learned that there were things more important than herself.

The Forest Full of Hands and Teeth is not just a frightful coming-of-age tale. It's also an enjoyable zombie horror story. I'm always up for a good zombie fight - and this was a good one! Anyone who enjoys The Walking Dead or other zombie fare will enjoy this book. It is YA fiction, but given the subject matter, the story does deal with violent death and other themes best for ages 16+. I am a few decades past 16, and still found this book enjoyable. It's a well written tale that can be enjoyed by teens and adults. In fact, I think being written for a YA audience strengthened the plot because the story wasn't bogged down in unnecessarily vivid gore, sex or profanity. Sometimes the psychological horror aspects get lost amid spurting bodily fluids and all forms of the F-word in more adult renderings of the zombie apocalypse.

There are two other books in this series, The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places, plus several short stories. I'm definitely going to read the rest of the series.

Carrie Ryan is the author of several other books including Daughter of Deep Silence. Learn more about the author and her books at her website here

Friday, December 30, 2016

REVIEW: Sugar Cookie Murder

Sugar Cookie Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

"You have got to stop finding dead people, Hannah. People are going to get the wrong impression of you!''

Sugar Cookie Murder is the 6th book in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series by Joanne Fluke. Hannah owns a bakery in Lake Eden, Minnesota. In between baking cupcakes, cookies, pies and all things sugary and delightful, she also has a bad habit of finding dead bodies. In her sixth adventure, Hannah and many other residents of Lake Eden are gathered together for the annual Christmas Buffet. This year, the buffet is also the final test for recipes gathered for the Lake Eden Holiday Buffet Cookbook.

Festivities are in full force when a blizzard hits and Hannah discovers a dead body in the parking lot. It seems Martin Dublinski's new wife, a beautiful girl he married in Las Vegas after a whirlwind 5-day affair, has been stabbed to death with an antique cake knife. Everyone is trapped by the snowstorm at the community center.....and one of them is a murderer.

I love this series. It's cute and fun, plus the recipes are yummy. Sugar Cookie Murder is a fun, quick read. And, the book includes 200 pages of recipes ranging from appetizers, to desserts & even main courses. All the recipes mentioned in the book are included! :)

Hannah is funny and feisty, although I do wish she would make up her mind about her love life. She has been stringing along 2 men for six books now....and I do wish she would just choose one. I have several more Hannah Swensen books on my TBR shelf....I hope that further on in the series she makes up her mind! The love triangle thing is getting a bit old. I do love how Joanne Fluke portrays her small town characters with humor and love. The relationship between Hannah, her sister and her mother is hilarious and touching at the same time.

I do have to suspend all reality when reading most cozy mysteries. If one person continually found dead bodies all the time, I do believe they would find themselves interrogated and arrested, rather than being allowed to help the police with the investigation. But.....it's part of the fun of cozy mysteries to just forget about that fact. Jessica Fletcher found a dead body every week on Murder, She Wrote and nobody batted an eye. So it's ok for Hannah Swensen to discover a body in each of the 21 books in this series. Why not? :) I can ignore it if you can.

The Hannah Swensen series is currently being made into movies by Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. The series of movies is called Murder, She Baked. So far, they have adapted four of the novels: The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, The Plum Pudding Murder, Peach Cobbler Murder and Fudge Cupcake Murder. The movies don't follow the book plots completely, but are fun to watch just the same. As always, the books are better than the movies, in my opinion.

There are 20 books in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series, with the 21st, Banana Cream Pie Murder, scheduled for release on Feb 28th, 2017. There is also a collection of recipes, Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website here

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY: Freeks

Freeks
Author: Amanda Hocking



Welcome to the freak show! Come one, Come All! Step right up! No need to push...there's plenty of room and plenty to see!

Customers come in droves to see Gideon Davorin's Traveling Sideshow. But little do they know that not everything they see is a trick. The carnies that travel with Davorin actually have real powers. Necomancy. Telekinesis. Levitation. It's a very special show, starring extraordinary performers.

The show works like magic at every stop, every night. Until.....Caudry, Louisiana.

Something is very strange about Caudry. The troop can feel it as they pull into town. A force. A feeling. Something not quite right.And, immediately things start to go wrong.

Mara, whose mother is a fortune-teller, feels it too. Even though she has never shown even a hint of her mother's power, or any supernatural talent for that matter, she feels the strange, heavy feeling that surrounds the town.

The dark feelings turn into danger when an unseen monster starts stalking the performers. Mara is torn between her new feelings for a boy she met in town and wanting to protect her sideshow family.

The show has to stay in the town for the entire week in order to be paid. But something evil is stalking them. Will the show go on? Or will the evil in Caudry destroy them all?

I loved this book! The quirky characters amid the backdrop of an old-fashioned sideshow were intriguing from the start. Mara is torn between wanting a normal life and loving her nomadic life with the rag-tag band of travelling performers. She feels unnecessary sometimes because she doesn't share any of the abilities of her fellow performers. Her confusion about what she wants from life only deepens when she meets Gabe, a townie who shows interest in her. Should she allow herself to fall in love when she's only in town for a week? And how will Gabe react when he discovers she is a carnie, travelling with the show?

The tension built at the perfect pace, not revealing too much too soon. The ending is exciting with an interesting, unexpected twist. I did feel a momentary bit let down by a portion of the ending being seemingly a bit to quick, a bit too easy -- no spoilers from me -- but I was immediately re-energized by an even bigger surprise that Hocking had up her sleeve to reveal at the very end.

At times, I felt the author spent a bit too much time cementing the idea that the story was set back in the 80's. Lists of movies playing at the theater, mentions of songs on the radio, just too many nods to the decade. It seemed a bit forced. But, that really didn't detract from the story.

The cover art is amazing!! The minute I saw the cover, I knew I just had to read this book!

Freeks is the first book by Amanda Hocking that I've read.  The story is so creative and inventive...I can't wait to try more by this author!

Freeks releases January 3 from St. Martins Press. Amanda Hocking has written several other books including the Trylle Trilogy, the My Blood Approves series and Hollowland. To learn more about the author and her books, check out her website here.

GIVEAWAY:  I am giving away one hardback copy of FREEKS!! TO ENTER: 1. Follow me on Twitter (@JuliWyant), 
                       2. Retweet Twitter Blog Tour post:    https://twitter.com/JuliWyant/status/814092042527707136 
                       3. Leave a comment on this blog post below with your Twitter name. 

US ENTRIES ONLY. Winner chosen randomly from all entries on January 3, 2017 at noon EST. The book will be mailed to the winner by the publisher!! :) 


Amanda Hocking

AMANDA HOCKING Q&A

1.     Your characters are sent into the Hunger Games. Who wins?

If it’s just the characters from FREEKS, and only one could win, I would put my money on Luka or maybe Roxie. Luka because he can heal from injuries, which gives him a crazy advantage, but Roxie is smart and she’s a survivor. Plus, she has the power of pyrokinesis, which I think I would come in handy in a battle to the death.

2.     What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence?

I almost always listen to music when I write, unless I’m writing a really difficult scene. Sometimes the silence helps me focus, but most of the time, I prefer music. For FREEKS, I got to make a really fun 80s playlist, so I especially enjoyed working to that.

3. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?

There are sooo many things. For FREEKS, I had to do fun stuff like, “What does a dead body smell like?” and “How much blood can a human lose?” And then after those macabre questions, I did a bunch of googling on fireflies and tarot cards. My search history when I’m working can be pretty exciting like that.

4. What was your favorite part of writing FREEKS?

I love Southern Gothics and I love pulpy 80s horror movies, so I was excited to be able incorporate those things in FREEKS. But my favorite part was actually Mara and Gabe. I think they complement each other well, and it was fun writing their banter and flirtations.

5. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from FREEKS?

For Mara, I envisioned Cassie Steele from the start. I used to be a hardcore Degrassi fan, and I loved Cassie Steele on that. For Gabe, I like Ryan Guzman. I saw him in a Jennifer Lopez movie, and I was like, “Yep. That could be Gabe.”

6.  Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I usually write between 11 am and 7 pm. I’ve tried to write earlier in the day and have more of a 8-5 type schedule, but I am not a morning person. My brain just doesn’t want to work much before noon.

7.   Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

I usually have a goal in mind before I start writing, but it varies. Some days, it’s slow going and I hope to get at least 500 words out. Other days, I fly through with thousands of words. So it depends on where I’m at in the book, when it’s due, and how I’m feeling about the whole thing.

8. When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?

With all my main characters, I have a really good idea of who they are, and it’s just a matter of showing that to the readers. With the side characters, they tend to be rather one-dimensional, and they grow into the story as they’re needed.

9. How did writing Freeks differ from your writing your previous novels?

FREEKS was the first thing I had written in awhile that was started out just for me. For most of the past ten years, I have been writing my books with the intention of publishing them, with the audience and readers and trends in mind. I think I had gotten a little burnt out on trying to make everyone happy (mostly because it is impossible to please all readers all the time), and I just wanted to write something that for the sake of writing it.

And that turned out to be a gothic love story about a teenage girl travelling with a band of misfits in the 1980s. It was a very cathartic writing experience for me, and it reminded me of exactly why I loved writing in the first place – I love getting lost in the world, with the characters.

10. If Freeks had a theme song what would it be?

Either “Hush” by Limousines or “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears.

11.   Can you please tell us a little bit about Freeks and where you got the inspiration to write it?

I was going through a rough patch, creatively speaking, and so I just sat back and tried to think of my favorite and what I loved most that I would want to write about.

When I was a kid, I used to get old books at garage sales all the time, and I distinctly remember getting Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King and a few old V. C. Andrews novels, which are pulpy Southern Gothic-esque novels. I also watched The Lost Boys and Pretty in Pink over and over again (I think I literally ruined the old VHS of The Lost Boys from watching it too much).

So I basically threw all those things together in a soup, and I picked apart the things I liked and wanted to explore more. That became a travelling sideshow in the 80s stopping Louisiana, where a supernatural monster is afoot, and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is smith with a local boy with secrets of his own.

12.   Freeks is full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?

Mara and Gabe are my obvious favorites, since they’re the main characters because I was drawn to them and their story the most. Both of them of them have complex feelings about family and personal identity, and their instant chemistry was fun to write.

But I think Gideon – the namesake and head of sideshow – was actually the biggest surprise, which made him fun in a different way. In the original outlines of the story, he was much a different character – very one-note and cruel – but he completely changed and evolved as I was writing. 


13.   The book is based off of a type of traveling circus that is full of many mysterious acts. If you were to attend a Freekshow, which act would you want to see most?

My favorites are usually the acrobatics, but I think if I attended Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, I would be most excited to see Gideon’s magic act. With his skills and knowledge, I think it would be a really amazing show.

14.   What do you hope readers will take away from FREEKS after reading it?

With some of my other novels, I deal with heavy themes like life and death, identity, honor, mortality, classism, and family. And while I do definitely touch on those themes in FREEKS, I mostly wrote it as an escape for myself, and that’s what I hope it is for other readers. Life can be hard and frustrating, and I just wanted to write a fun book that readers could get lost in for awhile.

15. What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Probably how chronically shy I am. Writing is a weird profession, because a good 90% of it is perfect for introverts – you sit alone by yourself and make up imaginary friends to go on adventures. But the last 10% – which involves introducing the whole word to your imaginary friends – is the most exciting and rewarding part, but it’s also the most difficult when you’re as shy as I am.



Buy Links:




Social Links:


Twitter @Amanda_Hocking





Saturday, December 24, 2016

REVIEW: Still Life With Crows

Still Life with Crows
Authors: Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Gruesome murders are occurring in a small Kansas town. The first victim is found scalped, mutilated and displayed in a cornfield surrounded by authentic Indian arrows. Each subsequent killing gets more bloody and bizarre. A strangely pale, soft spoken FBI agent appears to investigate the case. Local authorities don't like Agent Pendergast. He asks too many questions and points out their inadequacies. But, Pendergast, with his slow southern drawl and finicky eating habits, is an almost supernatural sleuth. If anyone can figure out what's happening in southern Kansas, it's Pendergast and his local goth teenager side-kick.

I love this series! Preston and Child's books are beautifully creepy! I grew up in Kansas. In the late summer, we used to wait til dark, wander out into the corn and have a blast trying to find our way out again, scaring the crap out of each other as we ran through the rows. The whole time I was reading this macabre story about something lurking out in the fields, I kept thinking about how freaking creepy it is to be lost out in the middle of row after row of corn. Definitely creepy as hell.

Pendergast reminds me of The Shadow, a character from old radio and movie serial fame. His almost supernatural appearance and detective skills make him almost as creepy a character as the monsters he investigates. There are 16 Agent Pendergast novels. Still Life With Crows is the fourth. Readers who enjoy creepy, supernatural thrillers will love this series!

It isn't completely necessary to read the series in order, but the story does refer back to some prior occurrences from the first 3 novels. I really recommend starting at the beginning and reading forward, but the references aren't major plot points. It would be possible to start with this book without reading the prior books.

For more information on the authors and their books, check out their website here.




Friday, December 23, 2016

REVIEW: Towhee Get Your Gun

Towhee Get Your Gun
Author: J.R. Ripley

The community theater in Ruby Lake, NC is putting on a production of Annie Get Your Gun. But the rehearsals are plagued with freak accidents.When two of the performers are injured by a falling stage curtain, Amy Simms is pressured into taking over one of the parts. It's a small part, but Amy is busy running her shop Birds & Bees, arguing with a new neighbor and trying to save her business from the local planning commission. The production's string of bad luck escalates when a cast member is found murdered in a locked dressing room. Who doesn't want the show to go on? Amy is on the case to find the killer before anyone else dies.

I like this series. Towhee Get Your Gun is the 2nd book in the Bird Lover's Mystery series. Amy Simms is a likable main character, and the quirky side characters give the stories a  sweet charm. The side plots just round out the bird theme and don't get in the way of the mystery. Accidents plaguing the cast of the local theater group's production of Annie Get Your Gun was a fun backdrop to the murder plot. I don't really care for the cantankerous boarder Amy got stuck with when she bought her shop building. Esther Pilaster, is incredi-annoying. But....she is supposed to be! So the character is effective if her behavior in the story makes me wish I could jump into the book just to tell her off. Amy doesn't call her "Esther Pester" behind her back for no reason. :)

It isn't necessary to read the series in order. There is background about the shop and the characters in the first book, but a reader could start with book 2 and still enjoy the story. Book one, Die Die Birdie, takes place when Amy is first opening her shop.

All in all, a fun cozy mystery! Towhee Get Your Gun will be available January 3rd.

I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

 J.R. Ripley is the pseudonym of Glenn Meganck, writer of the Tony Kozol and Maggie Miller Mystery series. He also writes the Kitty Karlyle Pet Chef mystery series under the pen-name Marie Celine. Check out his website here: www.glennmeganck.com 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

REVIEW: The Dark Side of the Road

The Dark Side of the Road
Author: Simon R. Green

Ishmael Jones works for The Organization. He keeps to the shadows, never wanting to be noticed. It's his job to blend in and slip through society unseen and under the radar. When his boss, The Colonel, calls on him to investigate mysteries, dangerous people, or strange situations he does exactly as he's told. His job is to protect those who deserve it, and hunt down those who don't. When The Colonel tells him to join his family at Belcourt Manor for the Christmas holiday, Ishmael follows orders as usual, despite the fact that a blizzard is quickly making even main roads impassable. He arrives at the manor house,only to find that his boss has disappeared. As the snow storm effectively cuts the manor house off from the outside world and guests start turning up dead, the holiday festivities quickly disintegrate into a strange, locked room mystery.

Agatha Christie is my favorite author. I've loved her mystery novels since I was 9 years old and read The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The Dark Side of the Road reminded me quite a bit of Christie's style. The plot is very Christie-esque - a group of wealthy people gather together at an out of the way estate when one of them is found dead and a detective, who just happened to be invited, is there to puzzle out which guest is the murderer. This whodunit, however, is by Simon R.Green, so there are supernatural elements and strange twists added into the mix.

I didn't know exactly what to expect from this book. As a big fan of Green's Nightside series, I like his quirky writing style and strange plots. I was immediately on-board for this first book in the Ishmael Jones series, mostly out of curiosity to discover what Green could do with a murder mystery. I wasn't disappointed. The Dark Side of the Road is like a warped Agatha Christie novel. A classic style whodunit with a supernatural glow about it. Green makes multiple references to Christie's characters and book titles throughout the book, so the similarities are not accidental. As a classic mystery fan, I understood the sometimes cheesy character names and dialogue -- that comes with the territory. It made me enjoy the story even more. Once I got a couple chapters in and figured out where Green was headed with his story, I was hooked and couldn't put the book down.

There are two books in the Ishmael Jones series, with a third scheduled for publication in March 2017. Christie fans who also love a dip into the supernatural realm will love this series.

For more information about the author and his books, check out his website here






Tuesday, December 20, 2016

REVIEW: White Night

White Night
Author: Jim Butcher

My husband has been bugging me to hurry and catch up with the Dresden Series. Our reading styles are different. I take an established urban fantasy series and enjoy it slowly, reading one book at a time and not hurrying through to the end. I read one Dresden novel and then take a break for awhile, moving on to Kevin Hearne, Simon Green & other fantasy writers before meandering back for another dose of Dresden.

This drives my husband insane. He is vikingesque in his reading.....he finds a series he loves and battles through to conquer it like a warrior to the very final word, then waits with bated breath for a new book. Sometimes this bites him in the butt. George R. R. Martin and the long winter between Game of Thrones novels is an example of butt-biting incidents for my husband. Whereas, until there is an established publication date for the next GRRM book, I'm going to happily remain a book behind in the GOT series. When I can pre-order the new book, I will read A Dance With Dragons. The Song of Ice and Fire is paused for me. I refuse to be left hanging.

So...I digress. Back to Dresden.

I just finished Book 9 of the 15 Dresden books. White Night was an enjoyable read. Dresden was his usual wizardly self. Bob is still a perv. Cop sidekick Murphy continues to kick ass. Mouse is beyond awesome in his huge doggie way. And Thomas is still a mysterious character that seems untrustworthy and loveable at the same time. White Night was a lovely, humor filled, enjoyable romp through Dresden's world.

I wasn't quite sure what to write in my review, until I read a few reviews left by other readers. Many voiced complaints that Dresden plots are similar and the character doesn't change much, etc.

If I read the books one after another with no break, I might feel the same way. The characters are pretty set in their particular idioms, but as I take a pretty lengthy break between each book (Again, I refuse to be left hanging, and there is no pub date for Book 16 Peace Talks....and Butcher took a break to write book one of a new steampunk series a couple years ago. I'm not catching up to the end anytime soon only to be left waiting for months and months for the next book. I'm impatient. So spreading it out to last until I see a pre-order button for Peace Talks.) I don't notice as much that the plots don't vary a lot. I read one book....then move on to other series for awhile before I return to the Chicago Wizard-For-Hire. There are changes ahead for Dresden - I know this because my husband sometimes slips with spoilers. So, I'm not too worried about the characters being in a rut or the repetitive plots with wizard council disagreements, vampires, ghouls and the like. My best advice for those who find the series getting stale.....either read to the end and enjoy the break before the next book. Or, do what I do and read slowly.....then the plots seem fresher and less recycled.

White Night opens with Harry and Murphy investigating the deaths of several practitioners of magic. All are lesser magic users. Some have disappeared and others appear to have committed suicide. But Harry notices messages left for him at some of the death scenes and knows these were not suicides. The evidence points to Harry's half brother, Thomas, being a murderer. Harry wants to clear his brother's name and jumps headlong into an investigation that will reveal corruption, danger and a power struggle within the White Council.

For new readers, it is pretty important to read the series in order. Go back to the beginning and start with Storm Front. For established Dresden fans, White Night is another visit to the shitty wizards in the Council and their penchant for wickedly plotting all sorts of nasty things. But even with that being a recurring theme, this installment in the series was filled with action and magic, even if isn't anything really new.

I highly recommend the Dresden series for anyone who likes urban fantasy or steampunk. The mix of humor, magic and the supernatural makes for an enjoyable read!

I'm moving on to book 10, Small Favor, to placate my husband. He's happy the closer I get to catching up with this series so he can talk about it with me. :) I will be more apt to inch closer to book 15 when I see that Peace Talks has a set publication date. I'm not going to complain about the wait -- Jim had a bit of an upheaval in his personal life that put his writing on hold for a bit. Divorce, meeting someone new, getting remarried......it's understandable that Peace Talks went on hold for awhile to give him time to regroup and enjoy his new marriage.

As an aside, Jim's new steampunk series, The Cinder Spires, is outstanding. Book one, The Aeronaut's Windlass, came out in 2015 and is well worth a read for those waiting for the next Dresden book.

To learn more about Jim Butcher and his books, check out his website here.

Monday, December 19, 2016

REVIEW: Falling Down the Aether Sky

Falling Down the Aether Sky
Author: Sekji Ani

The human race has become addicted to 'Space. The internet has morphed into the all-encompassing super virtual reality of 'Space, leading to a dystopian sociey where people spend most of their time in the fake, stimulating cyber world pumped directly into their brains via ports rather than living a real life, limited by flesh.

Ruby becomes a courier, carrying data through 'Space. Lin is held in a secure compound in Wyoming, hacking his way to cyber weaponry, people and information. Add in other side characters who also flit between fleshly lives and the fantasy world in 'Space until all collide in a single event that will change the world.

It didn't take me long to get sucked into this intriguing, interesting trip into a dystopian, disfunctional world created by extreme virtual reality. Society changes. People change. Everything has evolved, widening a breach between Flesh and 'Space. The characters are engaging. The thoughts the plot evokes are intriguing. I thoroughly enjoyed this story!

The book was definitely written a sequel in mind. There is no final resolution at the end, and the last  line is "End of Book 1.'' The second book, Approaching the Well of Still Time, will be forthcoming soon.

This is Sekji Ani's first book. Learn more about the author and her book here.

**I won a copy of this book on Goodreads.com. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Sunday, December 18, 2016

REVIEW: Where I Can See You

Where I Can See You
Author: Larry Sweazy

Hud Matthews leaves behind  his career as a Detroit cop after being shot. His grandmother has died, leaving her lakeside cottage to him. So he returns to Demmie Lake where he spent his childhood. The lakeside town holds good and bad memories for Hud. He remembers summers spent on the lake helping his Grandmother run her shop selling trinkets and t-shirts to tourists. But still haunting him is the memory of his mother's disappearance. One night when he was 8-years old she got dressed for an evening out, kissed him goodbye....and never came home.

Hud returns to Demmie Lake to recouperate, then joins the local police force. His boss warns him to just do his job and not start digging into his mother's disappearance. When a young woman's body is found on the shore of the lake, Hud's detective skills are needed and he rises to the occasion. But, he never forgets the cold case that haunts his every day....what happened to his mother?

The setting and the tone of this book are very dark. It's off-season at the lake. Rainy, cold and depressing. Hud's mood is also cold and depressing as he investigates shocking murders in the small lakeside community, and also looks into the disappearance of his mother.

The pace was a bit slow for me. The story is well-written for the most part, just slow to develop. And, I have to admit that I didn't like the ending. Was it realistic? Probably. But just a bit of a letdown. After reading all the build-up to the end, I expected a thrilling close. It never really materialized. The tone and pace was low key to the very last page. And the last page....... Well. No spoilers from me......read it, and see what you think. I found myself talking back to the book as I shut it and logged in to write my review.

Good book. Well-written. Interesting plot. Just not my cup of tea.

Readers who enjoy police procedurals and murder mysteries will enjoy this book.

Larry Sweazy also writes the Marjorie Trumaine mystery series. Find out more about the author and his books here.

**I won an Advance Readers Copy of this book on Goodreads.com. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**


2017 Book Goal: Going Walkabout in Discworld!

The Color of Magic
Author: Terry Pratchett

When Author Terry Pratchett passed away in August 2016, I made the decision that in 2017 my main book goal will be to re-visit Discworld. The last time I visited, it was the 80's, and I was happily enjoying my high school and college days. I loved Terry Pratchett's British wit, irreverent humor and brilliant satire from the start. But then I entered The Real World where things like inn-sewer-ants and reflected-sound-of-underground-spirits took over. I never came back to discover all the new adventures going on in Terry Pratchett's wonderful world!

But I'm back now! I see that while I was expanding my horizons, my family, my debt and disillusion, Pratchett was very busy expanding his fantasy world. What  used to be a series of 6 or 7 books back in the late 80s is now 40 books! I definitely have a lot of reading to do!

Required disclaimer for first-time Discworld tourists: Don't panic! 40 books does NOT mean that this is a ponderous series and too great an undertaking for all but the most committed travelers. Most books in the series are stand-alone stories with just a few that should be read together to complete an entire story arc. So for the most part visitors can pick and choose from the series, without reading in any particular order or reading all 40 books. It's like booking a vacation....you can take a short weekend jaunt or a 3-month backpacking, hostel-staying epic journey. It's all up to you!

As for me,  I'm a bit OCD in my reading habits and always have to start with Book 1 and go forward. :) Yes, I know there are websites with suggested reading order lists that meander from here to there, enjoying the stories in a completely tourist-friendly manner (such as this one here.) I'm hard-headed though and must travel from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 from The Color of Magic straight through to The Shepherd's Crown with no turns or getting off the path. I'm just weird like that.

I just finished book one: The Color of Magic. Re-reading the book as a 48-year old, rather than a fresh-faced high school student, I found that I enjoyed it even more. It's akin to that first time you watch a children's movie and realize it contains thinly veiled adult humor you didn't notice as a munchkin.

In 2017 I'm going to see just how far I can read through the series. I have the next 3 books in the series waiting on my TBR shelf and will acquire additional books as needed. My local library has some of the series, their online offerings have more in ebook format and I can order the rest online. Finding all the books just adds to the adventure. :)

Basics from the tourist brochure for new visitors: Discworld is a magical land that travels through the astral plain on the backs of four giant elephants who ride upon A'Tuin, the Ancient Turtle. The Color of Magic is the first story in the series. The city of Ankh-Morpork has its first tourist. Nobody knows quite what to think about Twoflower, a tourist from a distant land travelling with an imp-inhabited camera and attack luggage. Failed wizard Rincewind becomes his guide, and hilarity ensues.

In 2008 a 2-part mini-series version of The Color of Magic was made for television. Although it doesn't completely follow the book, it is an enjoyable adaptation. There are also movie versions of Hogfather and Going Postal. But, as is the case most of the time, the book versions really are better. The movies are enjoyable, but leave out details here and there and change some portions of the plot.

Anyone who enjoys British humor and the fantasy genre would love this series. I highly recommend it! And for those who have visited Discworld before, it's definitely worth reading again!

Just to show A'Tuin and the beginning of the story, here's a clip of the first part of the mini-series:






Saturday, December 17, 2016

REVIEW: Pouncing on Murder

Pouncing on Murder
Author: Laurie Cass

I always love a visit to Chilson, Michigan and my favorite Bookmobile Cat, Eddie.

Mrr. :)

Pouncing on Murder is the 4th book in the Bookmobile Cat Mystery series by Laurie Cass. This series is by far my favorite cozy series, so I knew from page 1 that I was going to like this book. As usual, I was not disappointed. I sat in my comfiest chair with a cup of hot tea nearby, my fat cat Festus on my lap, and this book -- perfect way to spend a cold, crisp December evening.

In Pouncing on Murder, Librarian Minnie Hamilton is enjoying the thought of spring returning to Chilson. During the winter, she lives in her aunt's boardinghouse but when the weather warms up, she moves back to her houseboat. So, she's busy moving, cleaning her boat and planning the library's book fair. Her happy spring thoughts get interrupted, however, when local sweet-at-heart curmudgeon Henry Gill is killed by a falling maple tree. His death is pretty much declared an accident,but Minnie doesn't think so. When she meets Henry's friend, Adam, who was with the old man when he died, her thoughts that Henry might have been murdered are confirmed, especially when someone starts trying to kill Adam as well. Once again, Minnie is on the case, trying to catch a killer before anyone else ends up dead.

Minnie is a delightful main character. I enjoy her sense of humor and the fact that she talks to her cat. And Eddie's antics and delightful "mrr'' in answer to his zany owner just make me smile.

The mystery portion of the plot kept me guessing with several suspects and twists. The humor and subplots didn't detract from the mystery but added to it. This is a cozy series, so don't expect sex, spurting blood and cursing. It's a light mystery.....good humor, a pretty much bloodless murder, and a lot of Eddie's kitty antics. For those who enjoy cozies, this is a perfect read for a cold, winter's night.

There are five books in the Bookmobile Cat Mystery Series and a sixth book, Wrong Side of the Paw, coming out in July 2017. Since this is my favorite series, I have book 5 waiting on my TBR shelf and the 6th book is pre-ordered. I highly recommend this series to cozy lovers and cat enthusiasts alike! :)

Laurie Cass also co-authors the Victoria Square mystery series with author Lorraine Bartlett. For more information on Laurie Cass and her books, check out her website: http://catmystery.com/

Friday, December 16, 2016

REVIEW: Murder on the Mullet Express

Murder on the Mullet Express
Authors: Gwen Mayo & Sarah E. Glenn

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from Mystery & Horror LLC via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

In 1926, a drive south to Florida with their elderly uncle turns deadly for former war nurses Cornelia and Teddy. Both women learned how to take care of themselves during WWI. Cornelia never travels without a sidearm and Teddy knows showing a bit of leg can get them out of a jam quickly, even if her hair has gone to grey. Travelling to look into buying land from a development company so their uncle can live in the warmer Florida climate, their car breaks down on a lonely stretch of the Dixie Highway, and they end up having to catch the local train, The Mullet Express, to get to their destination. They are barely chugging along again before a fellow passenger is murdered with poison, and a second corpse is discovered stashed in ice with mullet fish.

I enjoyed this book! Gun-toting Cornelia and tippler Teddy are such fun characters. The cantankerous uncle with his love of steam engines and movie cameras is a hoot as well. Surround these plucky folks with land speculators, nefarious dealings and murder and the end result is an engaging, quirky mystery! Murder on the Mullet Express is a fun, quick read with plenty of suspects, twists and turns. It seems like their trip to re-locate their uncle is destined to be one fiasco after another, but the girls take it in stride, as they learned during the war. The backdrop of 1920s Florida gives great color to the story, painting a picture of fast development, desperate land speculators, and all the crime and greed that comes with them.

Murder on the Mullet Express will release January 16th by Mystery and Horror, LLC, an independent publisher.

Gwen Mayo is the author of the Nessa Donnelly Mystery series and several other novels. Sarah E. Glenn has also penned several novels including Strangely Funny and History and Horror, Oh My! Check out their websites at: www.saraheglenn.blogspot.com and http://www.gwenmayo.com 

The Fish are in the Cowboy Hat, Bert.

I finally took the air conditioner out of my bedroom window. In NC where I live, it doesn't really get cold until this time of year. So I waited as long as possible. The darn thing is heavy, unwieldy and just a pain in the butt to move. But when my room started feeling a bit chilly I knew I couldn't procrastinate any longer.

Over the 8 months or so that the AC was in the window, I had unfortunately filled its off-season home, my closet shelf, with what I call my "creative materials". A plastic tote filled with yarn. A box of odds and ends of clay, modeling tools and the like. A huge box of buttons. Sewing notions. Art paper. Miscellaneous paints. And all of it was in the way.

The entire project started with me making room in the closet. I moved all the creative materials to my bed. Then it was time to call The Hubby. The Hubby is much stronger than me, so he flexed his muscles and man-handled the AC unit out of the window and to the floor. Then I got the joy of dusting, vacuuming and cleaning it so it could live in peaceful harmony near my clothes. It was Hubby time again. He lifted the AC up onto the closet shelf. I closed the deal by clunking the magnetized AC remote to the side and securing the cord.

The heavy lifting part was done. The storm window and heavy sash was now closed, cutting off that lovely December crispness that had been creeping into my room. But....I was now left with a rather large stack of creative materials that had no place to go.

Crap.

Anyone who sews, knits or creates art knows that any artist has to have a stash of supplies. It's a requirement. Just comes with the territory. I can't create children's clothes, knit toys, or draw those silly cartoons I love without my stash of supplies.

But, unfortunately, my stash has outgrown my available storage space. Mostly because I also have the inventory for my ebay business on shelves lining the walls of my room. It's only right that the income that pays for my supply stash also lives in the same space as the creative materials it funds....with a bit of room left over for me, a bed, and a few personal items. Plus, enough blank wall space for my flat screen TV, of course.

So, I had to move some ebay stock to another shelf to put away the buttons and notions. I had to re-situate some books to make room for the ebay items. The books had to be stacked on the small sewing table, forcing me to move my lamp. The lamp took over the coffee table at the end of the bed, forcing me to move my stack of shipping boxes. The shipping boxes went on top the yarn tote that had already forced me to move my laundry hamper. The hamper had to go beside the door, making me move the shelf where my Funko Pop figures were sitting. The Funkos moved to the top of the dresser, which was the former home of my headphones, laptop bag and DVD collection.... You get the idea.....  It was like watching dominoes fall.

Finally, everything was re-situated. I know I will not be able to find anything for the next few days until I get used to the new organization.

On the positive side of things, I found some yarn and vintage thread I forgot I had. And I found some molds I had misplaced.

As I sat on my bed for a few minutes, happy with the end result of the winterizing project, I was reminded of an old Bert and Ernie sketch from Sesame Street.



The fish are in the cowboy hat, Bert. :)





Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Meet my daughter, Siri

Two years ago as a prank my son borrowed my phone and instructed Siri to call me "Idiot." The next day while driving, I asked Siri to send a text for me. Her voice calmly said "I have sent the text to Billy, Idiot'' I called my husband and we both agreed it was the funniest prank Josh had pulled so far. We had a good laugh and then I switched Siri back to using my name. No big deal.

But, even after all this time, periodically Siri reverts to calling me Idiot.

Today out of the blue, she popped back to old habits. I asked her to turn a timer on for me, and Siri said in her familiar monotone, "Ok, Idiot, I have set the timer for 10 minutes.''

After chuckling about the return of my nickname, I tried to switch it back. Here is how the conversation went:

"Siri, call me Juli."

"Ok. I will call you Goolie."

"No! call me Juli!"

"Ok. I will call you Hoolie. It has a nice ring to it."

"No. Siri please call me Joo-lee (over-enunciating in frustration)"

"Ok Hoolie. Thanks for letting me know."

I hit the cancel button at this point.

Siri's response?

"Ok. I will continue to call you Idiot."

*facepalm*

I don't know which is worse. I could continue to let my phone call me an idiot or decide that Hoolie or Goolie is a perfectly acceptable variation of my name.

I'm surprised that suddenly Siri seems to have lost the ability to pronounce a J. I think she's mocking me.

I accidentally dropped my phone on the next try, getting very close to a complete melt-down when Siri then asked to confirm my new name as "Damn it.'' At that point I gave up.

My son took over and tried several times to fix the problem. Unfortunately, all he could get was Hoolie, Goolie, and a new variation, Doolie.

So, he made another choice.

Siri now calls me Mom.

Sigh.




Tuesday, December 13, 2016

REVIEW: The Private Lives of the Tudors

The Private Lives of the Tudors
Uncovering the Secrets of Britain's Greatest Dynasty
Author: Tracy Borman

**I received a copy of this upcoming book from Grove Atlantic via NetGalley in exchange for a fair, honest review.**

This book is not just about the drama and intrigue of the Tudor Dynasty that has been the subject of countless books and television shows. Instead, Tracy Borman delves into the daily life of a Tudor, both pomp-free facets of a normal day and all-out royal special events.

The Private Life of the Tudors describes daily life for the Tudors from the beginning with Henry VII to its close, Elizabeth I. Borman includes tidbits about all sorts of subjects, ranging from care of the royal wardrobe, hygiene, hobbies, personal interests, rules for dress and behavior at court, and which servants and courtiers were allowed to actually touch the royal person.

I especially enjoyed the information about royal dinners. The amount of food and kitchen staff needed to prepare for a special event was astounding. The list of meats prepared for just one royal dinner event was unbelievable! A royal state dinner would have been a wondrous event, with formal place settings, up to 35 courses laid out and lasting for hours. Some dishes were shaped into the form of animals or other decorations and paraded about the room before being set out for guests. Guests at formal events were seated by importance with the number of special courses they were allowed to eat also limited by station. A cardinal at table could sample up to 7 courses, while a lower person might only be offered 3. So much food was provided that some dishes would go untouched. Uneaten foods were not wasted but passed down the line to servants in the household and the poor following the dinner. A 200+ person kitchen staff was needed to keep the royal court fed. A royal privy kitchen was located below the privy chambers for times when the king or queen wanted a small meal in quarters, special favorite foods, or a meal/snack delivered just to them. Not all meals were extravagant feasts. And, kitchen staff that pleased the king or queen would often be rewarded. For example, King Henry VIII liked one of his pastry cooks so much that he gave her a house in reward for her quality work.

How each monarch differed in the running of their household is so interesting! I enjoyed reading about the differences in wardrobe requirements, servants, advisors, religion and other day-to-day needs.

I very much enjoyed this book because it was more about the actual daily lives of these most famous rulers, instead of just another tiptoe through their bedroom antics and exploits. Watch episodes of The Tudors online to get the tabloid version of the era. Come to Historian Tracy Borman for what real day-to-day life at court was like -- who washed the king's underclothes, what sports Henry VIII liked to play, where did Elizabeth I get her facial makeup, who raised the royal children, and daily life at court.

Anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes daily life for the Tudor Dynasty should read this book! There are facts of interest for those new to the era and those already knowledgeable.  The Private Lives of  the Tudors releases today from Grove Atlantic! 

Tracy Borman is a well-known historian and has written several other books on this era including Elizabeth's Women and The Story of the Tower of London. Find out more about the author and her books at her website: www.tracyborman,co.uk

Saturday, December 10, 2016

REVIEW: Death at St Vedast

Death at St Vedast
Author: Mary Lawrence

I'm a sucker for anything set during the reign of Henry VIII and also a big mystery fan. So, I was instantly drawn to the Bianca Goddard series.

Death at St Vedast is the 3rd book in the series by Mary Lawrence. The two prior books, The Alchemist's Daughter and Death of an Alchemist, give the background of Goddard's early life with her alchemist father and her knowledge of alchemy and medicinal plants. But it isn't necessary to read the series in order. This was the first book in the series that I read and I was able to understand the characters and enjoy the story. As soon as I finished Death at St Vedast, I went back and read the first two books, as I found the series inventive and intriguing.

Both the historical fiction and mystery genre can easily get into a rut with the same basic plots being recycled again and again with just a change of scenery and niche in history. This series is more than a romp through history with historical characters solving murders. It delves into the forbidden art of alchemy, the darkness of some elements of society and politics during King Henry VIIIs reign, and life during that period. The mystery portion of all 3 books is interesting, well-paced and engaging. In this 3rd installment, Bianca Goddard moves to a better area of London because her husband is employed by Bosivert the Silversmith. But, events turn bad almost immediately. First, a pregnant woman seemingly goes insane, screaming nonsensical things and jumping from the roof of St Vedast. Then Bosivert is accused of murder when his betrothed drops dead at the wedding feast. Bianca has to step in quickly and use her knowledge of forensics and her detective skills to discover what evil is afoot.

This series is well-written and enjoyable. Any fan of historical fiction, the Tudor era and murder mysteries would enjoy reading this series.

This latest book, Death at St Vedast, will be published December 27th by Kensington.

For more information about the author and her books, check out her website: www.marylawrencebooks.com

Friday, December 9, 2016

REVIEW: The Elusive Elixir

The Elusive Elixir
Author: Gigi Pandian

**I voluntarily read an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from Midnight Ink via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

What a fun, magical series!

The Elusive Elixir is the 3rd book in the Accidental Alchemist Mystery series. Zoe Faust is an alchemist, living in Portland, OR. Her friend, Dorian, happens to be a 3 1/2-foot tall gargoyle brought to life by the magic of alchemy.

Unfortunately, the magic used to animate Dorian is back-firing. He is turning back to stone. Zoe is searching desperately for a cure before her pal turns back to stone, while investigating a decades old crime that might be linked to alchemy.

I just love the creativity in this series! Dorian is a gargoyle and an accomplished French chef, taught by a master who was blind and had no clue he was teaching a gargoyle. Zoe is a delightful character as well. She is centuries old and her life as an alchemist must be kept secret. The series just has such creativity and magic!

In order to follow the story better, I would recommend reading the books in order. The other two books in the series are: The Accidental Alchemist and The Masquerading Magician.

The Elusive Elixir will be published by Midnight Ink on January 8th, 2017. Discover the magic of alchemy!!

Gigi Pandian also writes the Java Jones Treasure Mystery series. Discover more information about the author and her books on her website: www.gigipandian.com

Thursday, December 8, 2016

REVIEW: A Fatal Twist

A  Fatal Twist
Author: Tracy Weber

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this upcoming book from Midnight Ink via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.**

As if Yoga Instructor Kate Davidson's life wasn't already busy enough, now she is training to be a Doula for her pregnant best friend and fostering two foundling puppies. Even more chaos arises when Kate discovers the body of a local fertility doctor and sees one of her yoga students fleeing the murder scene. Believing her student to be innocent, Kate starts investigating the dead doctor, discovering he is a real cad, juggling several mistresses, a wife and family, and some less than savory business dealings.

This is an enjoyable, nicely paced, cozy mystery. There were several suspects, a few twists and turns and a sub-plot about puppy mills, backyard breeders and animal abuse. This is the fourth book in the Downward Dog Mystery series. This time, the usual yoga theme was a bit overtaken by Doula information and childbirth, but it was an enjoyable combination.

A Fatal Twist releases January 7th from Kensington Press. Any cozy mystery lover or yoga enthusiast will enjoy this book!

For more information on the author and her books (plus yoga tips!) check out her website: www.tracyweberauthor.com

Monday, December 5, 2016

REVIEW: Victoria

Victoria
Author: Daisy Goodwin

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from St. Martins Press via NetGalley. The opinions in this review are my own.**

Alexandrina lives a very protected, sheltered life at Kensington for years. Her mother and Sir John Conroy control every moment of her life, protecting her reputation and molding her life into what they want it to be. But, at age 18, with the death of her Uncle, King William IV, Alexandrina becomes Queen Victoria. She would rule England for 63 years. This book is about the early days of Victoria's reign.

Once I started this book, I couldn't put it down. Goodwin's tale of an 18-year old innocent, inexperienced girl being crowned Queen of England is totally engrossing. Victoria learns hard lessons about politics, royal responsibility, and the effects of power while still just a child. At first, I really felt torn over her immature, impulsive and often resentful behavior. I felt sympathy for Victoria at times due to the domineering behavior of her mother, but I also felt annoyance at her constant petulant, resentful, sulky behavior. Before I got halfway through the book I came to realize that she was just being a teenager. Any girl assuming the throne at 18 would go through the same rough lessons and stormy moods. Teenagers are self-centered because they haven't crossed the line into adulthood - that magical moment when every person discovers they aren't the center of the universe. Imagine being a teenager suddenly thrust into a world where your every whim and order would be carried out? Victoria has to learn that she can't rule by emotion, that she has to stop acting like a child and learn to be a responsible ruler, and that at times duty comes before all else. She has to learn to let go of childish resentments and begin to act like a queen deserving of her people's respect. It's difficult for any young person to find their path in life. Those lessons are even more painful and confusing when you are the newly crowned Queen of England.

Daisy Goodwin also wrote the script for the Queen Victoria television mini-series starring Jenna Coleman. She based this book and the mini-series script on Queen Victoria's actual diaries, which is why I think Goodwin's writing brings to vivid life Victoria's raw emotions of excitement, fear, anger, resentment, and confusion. Victoria acts immaturely and overly emotional at times because she has to instantly transform from a sheltered child into a queen,without having any experience at even the basics of life. I can only imagine how frightening, yet empowering, that was for an 18-year old girl. It's bittersweet as well because just as she realizes she can be free from the absolute control of her domineering mother, she learns that she is always going to be controlled and under the restraints of duty and responsibility. It's a lesson we all learn, but how much more intense a lesson it must be for a crowned queen.

Any fan of  historical fiction will enjoy this book!

Daisy Goodwin has also written several other historical fiction books and poetry collections. Find out more about the author and her writing on her website: http://www.daisygoodwin.co.uk/



Sunday, December 4, 2016

REVIEW: The Off Season

The Off Season
Author: Colleen Thompson

Dr.Christina Paxton is troubled. Her life is unraveling. But then again, her life started out rocky. She and her infant sister were abandoned outside in the winter by their mother. Afterwards, she suffered nightmares for years. The freezing cold. Her sister's unmoving body. Her mother never coming back for them. Christina recovered enough to become a doctor, marry and have a daughter. Her life was happy for a short time until her husband passed away unexpectedly. Now she has returned to her childhood home on the New Jersey Shore, staying in a large,empty house as a housesitter until her mother returns from an extended trip to Europe. Just as she starts to relax and think she can start her life over again, strange things start to happen. A disembodied voice speaking from the monitor in her young daughter's room. A nasty messaged carved into her car door. Terrifying phone calls from a woman claiming to be her biological mother. When her daughter starts calling Christina by another, almost forgotten name and babbling about murder, Christina is truly terrified. The local police chief heads the investigation to discover who is threatening Christina's life, but he's a part of her past. A part Christina wishes she could forget. Who can she trust? Who is trying to kill her?

I love thrillers, especially ones that drag out the suspense til the last possible moment. This book fit that description perfectly! I wasn't sure what was going on until the very end....and even then the end caught me by surprise. Kudos to the author for fooling me until the bitter end. :) The pacing of the plot was perfect. Several subplots, including a touch of romance, did not get in the way of the suspense, but added to it instead. The story is well-written. The characters are developed enough to further the story without bogging it down in unnecessary details. When I won a copy of this book on Goodreads.com, I was a bit worried before I started reading. The book is categorized as "romantic suspense.'' Sometimes in similar books the suspense gets sidetracked by the kissy-face subplot. But not in this case. Big on suspense, with just a sprinkle of romance. Perfect.

All in all, a very suspenseful, enjoyable read!! Colleen Thompson has written several other suspense  novels including Beneath Bone Lake and Touch of Evil. I am definitely interested in reading more of her writing! To find out more information about the author and her books, check out her website: www.colleen-thompson.com

Saturday, December 3, 2016

REVIEW: Fatal Fiction

Fatal Fiction
Author: Kym Roberts

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from Kensington Books via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. **

Fatal Fiction is the first book in the new Book Barn Mystery series. I loved the idea of a book store in an old historic barn!

The basics: Charli Rae Warren left her small Texas hometown years ago, with no plans to ever return. But, you know what they say about best laid plans. After receiving a call from a local realtor alerting Charli to her father's present financial crisis, she has returned to Hazel Rock, angry and annoyed. She expects her father to make lame excuses about the horrendous, tacky renovations he recently made to the barn. But what she doesn't expect is to find Realtor Marlene Duncan hanging in the back storeroom, dead as a doornail. Her father isn't making any excuses - he has disappeared.

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, so I was instantly charmed by this book. The supporting characters are funny and quirky. I kept comparing the characters to actual people I knew in my own hometown. The mystery was well-written and paced, with plenty of suspects and twists. I don't often enjoy cozies written in first person because the point of view can quickly get old, but not this time. Roberts did a great job telling the story from the main character's point of view. Her annoyance at being called back to her hometown that morphed into a fierce determination to protect her childhood home really added to the likability of Charli as the main character. I couldn't help but like her.

I will definitely be reading more books in this series as they come out. The second book, A Reference to Murder, will be published in May 2017.

Kym Roberts has written several other mystery novels. To discover more about the author and her books, check out her website at http://kymroberts.com/

Friday, December 2, 2016

REVIEW: Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking

Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking
Author: Masahuru Morimoto

I was both ecstatic and apprehensive when I won an Advance Readers Copy of this cookbook on Goodreads.com. I was excited because I love "real'' Japanese cuisine and would love to learn how to cook it properly myself. But, I also approached the book with caution. Masahuru Morimoto is an Iron Chef after all. I really expected the recipes in this book to call for ingredients I couldn't possibly find and to be too advanced to be cooked properly in my small home kitchen.

This book was a pleasant surprise. Morimoto states in the introduction that he was looking to gather together recipes for staple dishes that would highlight Japanese home cooking. And, he promised the ingredients would be readily available at Asian markets in the United States. I was pleasantly surprised when I picked out three dishes to try, and found all of the required ingredients easily.

From the simple (stocks and sauces) to the more complex (stir fry and pickled foods), Morimoto gives simple, concise instructions, detailed ingredients lists and an ingredient glossary in the back of the book. There are lots of photographs throughout, as well. Because I'm reviewing based on an ARC copy of this book, the photos were black and white in my copy. But I assume the final published version has beautiful color photos.

I was able to make a delicious, authentic Japanese meal for my family using my home kitchen with very little fuss. It did require a trip to the Asian market for some basic ingredients: miso, sea weed, spices, etc. At no time did I feel like the recipes were ridiculously complex or required ingredients that were too obscure or expensive. I didn't have to have any specialty cooking utensils either. So, the book lives up to its title -- you can make these meals at home with great results!

Now, as with any cookbook, there are a couple recipes that I will not try, just because they are not to my personal taste. I'm not going to be slow-cooking pork bellies anytime soon or simmering sweet seaweed, but for the most part the book is filled with recipes I will make for my family!

The cookbook is well-organized into several categories: basic Japanese stock, Rice, Soups, Grill/Broiled/Seared, Steamed, Simmer, Stir-Fry, Noodles, Fried, Dressings and Pickled foods. At the back of the book is an ingredients glossary that gives detailed information on certain ingredients, advice on finding the right items at an Asian market and pointers on how to pick just the right ingredients. Then there is a list of online sources for kitchen equipment and ingredients, followed by an index. My ARC did not contain the index pages, so I can't comment on the organization or usefulness of the index.

All in all, I am impressed with this cookbook. I will definitely be using it often to cook Japanese meals in my home!

Masahuru Morimoto is a Japanese Chef made famous on the television shows Iron Chef and Iron Chef America. He has published several Japanese cuisine cookbooks including The New Art of Japanese Cooking.

**I won an Advance Readers Copy of this book on Goodreads.com. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.**

Thursday, December 1, 2016

REVIEW: The Best Mistake Mystery

The Best Mistake Mystery
Author: Sylvia McNicoll

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from Dundurn via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

At first, the cover art for this book is what made me want to read The Best Mistake Mystery. Bright, colorful and interesting, the cover pulled me in and got me started on the tale of Stephen Nobel, middle schooler and overly anxious dog walker extraordinaire. As I got into the story, the funny, sweet and anxious main character kept me reading until the end.

Prone to being anxious about most everything, Stephen counts the mistakes he makes each day. His inherent need to analyze all things around him has a calming effect on him. He also takes pride in his dog walking skills. But, unfortunately, one day his observational habits, pro dog walking skills and mistakes all meet up to create quite a problem. Someone commits a crime at Stephen's school and thinks Stephen can identify them, so they kidnap his two favorite dog walking buddies, Ping and Pong. A friend's brother is accused of the crime. So not only is Stephen working to clear his friend's brother, but he's searching for the evil dognappers too.

This book was such a funny, sweet and enjoyable read. The story is told from Stephen's point of view so you feel the anxiety with him as he goes down the list of his daily mistakes and the consequences.

The mystery is simple but engaging and not overly obvious. Stephen is a humorous, sweet main character who stays on the case to help his friends, both human and canine. I've read a lot of middle grade mystery books and this one was totally creative and fun. Stephen definitely was  having an unusual week at school -- exploding backpacks, VWs driving into the school building, making friends with a girl, threatening text messages and dognapping. My 5th grader agrees. I asked him to read the first two chapters and let me know what he thought. I have yet to get my kindle back. He is reading the whole book!

The book is a perfect middle grade length in my opinion - about 160 pages. My son is a slow reader, so it's a perfect length for him to read comfortably over a couple of days. Obviously the book appeals to 9-12 year olds, if my son's total immersion in the story since he absconded with my Kindle this morning is any indication.

This book will be available from Dundurn in March 2017. The kindle version will be available in January.

Sylvia McNicoll is the author of several YA and middle grade books. Learn more about her books on her website www.sylviamcnicoll.com