Monday, January 30, 2017

REVIEW: Plum Pudding Murder

Plum Pudding Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

It's Christmastime again in Lake Eden, MN and Hannah Swensen is busy baking cookies to supply the Crazy Elf Tree Lot. Larry Jaegar and his fiance Courtney run the tree lot. It seems to be doing good business, but Mayor Bascomb tells Hannah that Larry is losing money. He's selling the trees too cheaply and Bascomb is worried he will lose his investment in the business. The books don't balance either. There are several people upset with Larry, but one person is angry enough to kill. Hannah and her sometimes-boyfriend Norman find Larry shot to death in the office at the tree lot. Was he killed over money? Or something else? Hannah and her friends are on the case again. What's Christmas in Lake Eden without a murder?

Plum Pudding Murder is the 12th book in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series. There are 20 books so far, with the 21st, Banana Cream Pie Murder, coming out on February 28th! To get the full background on all the main characters it might be advisable to start at the beginning of the series, but it's definitely possible to jump into things in the middle of the series and still enjoy the mystery. There is enough background sprinkled here and there so a new reader could follow and understand the book without having read all of the ones before it.

The Hannah Swensen series is my favorite cozy mystery series. I like the characters. They remind me of people I knew growing up in a small town. I am getting a bit weary of a love triangle with Hannah's two main love interests....Mike and Norman. In this book, that situation is in the background and not integral to the plot....but it is still there. Hannah needs to make up her mind and stop stringing them along. It really does seem like she is just hanging on so she isn't alone while waiting for a better man to come along. Mike is a bit of a jerk, and Norman is a push-over. Because I am still 8 books behind, I'm being very careful to not accidentally read any spoilers about what happens between Hannah and her men. I'm going to catch up with this series and find out ASAP.....I am really beginning to hope that they both dump her and she finds someone else better suited to her. If either Mike or Norman was what Hannah needed, she would have made a decision a long time ago. It's like a soap opera. I dislike her stringing two men along for 12 books..... but I can't stop reading because I want to find out what happens. So, while I roll my eyes each time she has both men making goo-goo eyes at her and complain that I'm getting tired of that subplot......I secretly really really want to know who Hannah ends up with. Maybe she will in the next book -- Apple Turnover Murder!

The recipes in Plum Pudding Murder are all holiday dinner or party related, ranging from entrees and side dishes to desserts and biscuits.

Plum Pudding Murder and 3 other Hannah Swensen stories have been made into movies by Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. The movie version of this book differs from the book a little bit, but not much. The Hannah Swensen movies are fun to watch! Cozy mystery fans will definitely enjoy all four of them. But, as usual, the books are better than the movies.

Joanne Fluke has also written several thriller/suspense novels. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: www.murdershebaked.com


Sunday, January 29, 2017

REVIEW: Very Important Corpses

Very Important Corpses
Author: Simon R. Green

Ishmael and his sidekick, Penny, return in Very Important Corpses, book #3 of the Ismael Jones series. This time, The Organization is sending them to investigate the death of another agent during a top secret meeting in Scotland. The agent was murdered at Coronach House at Loch Ness, and The Organization wants Ishmael to investigate and protect the members of the Illuminati-like group holding the meeting. There are 12 members of the Baphamet Group. That number is quickly reduced to 11 when one of their number is ripped to shreds just after Ishmael arrives on the scene. Is the killer a man or a monster? Can Ishmael and Penny solve the mystery before more people die?

I love this series! It mixes military, spies, supernatural and alien beings, horror and mystery all together to come up with something creepily thrilling. I am not new to Simon Green's writing. The Nightside series is a favorite of mine. Reading Ishmael Jones makes me want to also read Green's Ghost Finders and Secret Histories series.

The main characters are intriguing. I like how Penny loves Ishmael, even though at times she has difficulty dealing with the part of himself that he keeps hidden. Ishmael is an enigma. He doesn't age. He isn't exactly human. But, he has a moral code that he never waivers from. And, he totally kicks ass. Gotta respect a man for that....or a whatever-he-is. I like the humor that Green sprinkles into the mix. A couple times off-handed remarks from the MCs made me laugh out loud while reading.

The setting of Loch Ness for a supernatural/monster/violent killing story has been done a zillion times. But, this wasn't a tired, old, recycled plot. A plesiosaur didn't jump up out of the Loch and eat people.  The setting just added to the eeriness of the manor house, and added in the possibility of a monster. Green went beyond the old legends, only using Loch Ness as a backdrop.

This was book #3 in this series. It isn't totally necessary to read the books in order, but there are some details about the characters that will be more readily understood if you start at the beginning. But, it isn't absolutely necessary. Enough background is given in this book to understand who the main characters are without having read the first two books. Events in this book are stand-alone,  not a continuation of a story line from prior books.

Very Important Corpses will be released on March 1st. Fans of mysterious secret agent tales, supernatural stories, science fiction or horror would love this series!

For more information on Simon Green and his books, check out his website: http://simonrgreen.co.uk/

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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

REVIEW: Death in Advertising

Death in Advertising
Author: Laura Bradford

Tobi Tobias is worried. Her fledgling ad agency is not doing well, the bills are piling up and she's just received a 14-day notice to pay her overdue rent or be evicted from her apartment. Just when things look darkest, a new client comes to her office. Zander Closet Company needs a new ad campaign and a great slogan to make their company stand out from the competition. Tobi comes up with a great idea, but just as the campaign gets off the ground, a dead body falls out of one of the Zander closets during a home showcase event. Suddenly Tobias Ag Agency is getting bad press because of the new ad, exactly the opposite of what Tobi needed. The only way to save the situation and her company is to discover who killed Preston Hohlbrook and stuffed him in a closet.

Death is Advertising is the first book in the new Tobi Tobias series by Laura Bradford. The characters are interesting and a bit quirky in a fun way. Tobi is a great main character. She has spunk, intelligence, and a good sense of humor. Her bestie Mary Fran and her teenage son, Sam, are great sidekicks. The story flowed well with excellent pacing, several suspects and a few twists and turns. I figured out a few parts of the subplot quickly, but I didn't figure out the final outcome before it happened. Excellent mystery! Excellent first book! I will definitely be reading more of the Tobi Tobias series!

Laura Bradford writes romances and cozy mysteries, including the Amish Mystery and Emergency Dessert Squad Mystery series.

Death in Advertising will be available February 7th. I definitely recommend this book to anybody who enjoys mysteries and cozies. A fun, quick read!

To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.laurabradford.com/

Friday, January 27, 2017

REVIEW: Cream Puff Murder

Cream Puff Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

Hannah Swensen has to go on a diet. Her Regency era costume is a bit too small and she has to fit into the dress before the release party for her mother's romance novel. So, she and her sister join the local gym, Heavenly Bodies, to help whip Hannah into shape quickly. Fitness Instructor Ronni Ward has a reputation for tempting the men of Lake Eden, even married ones. Hannah and Andrea's opinion of Ronni isn't improved when they start taking her fitness classes at the gym. The athletic, pretty woman likes to berate and embarrass the women who take her classes, while heaping praise on the men. But, Hannah's dislike for the woman doesn't tone down her horror when she discovers Ronni's dead body floating in the Jacuzzi at the gym. Who killed the beautiful yet nasty fitness instructor? Hannah once again bands together with her family and friends to solve the case!

Cream Puff Murder is the 11th book in the Hannah Swensen series. I enjoy the characters in this series. Hannah is sweet, funny and dedicated. Her family doesn't like the fact she keeps finding dead bodies, but they all band together to help her investigate each time. I like Hannah's love interests, Mike and Norman, but I really do wish the ever-continuing love triangle would just get resolved and be over with. There are 20 books in the Hannah Swensen series.....and #21, Banana Cream Pie Murder is coming out in March. I'm sure the love triangle resolves itself somewhere in the 10 books I haven't read yet. I am working hard to catch up with this series before I accidentally see any spoilers about how things work out.

The recipes included between the chapters in Cream Puff Murder sound yummy! This book has a recipe for egg salad that I'm going to make for my husband....he will love it!

For more information on Joanne Fluke and her books, check out her website: http://www.murdershebaked.com/


Thursday, January 26, 2017

REVIEW: A Short Time to Die

A Short Time To Die
Author: Susan Alice Bickford

The Harris clan controls Charon Springs, New York. Anyone who crosses them ends up beaten or dead. In 2000, Marly Shaw is attacked by her step-father Del Harris and his father, Zeke. The event is terrifying and at the end, Del and Zeke are dead. Marly runs from her hometown knowing the Harris clan will find out the two men are dead and blame her, even though it was not her fault. She thinks she has escaped, but nobody ever really escapes the Harris family.

Flash ahead to 2013. Two members of the Harris clan are found dead in California. Detectives Vanessa Alba and Jack Wong are on the case to discover what happened. They travel to Charon Springs, discovering the power of  the Harris family and Marly's story. Vanessa and Marly finally meet at the thrilling end of the story.

The story is fast-paced, exciting and filled with strong female characters, good and bad. The tension builds at a steady pace til it hits the thrilling end. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. I wanted to find out what was going to happen!

A Short Time to Die will be released by Kensington on January 31st. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys crime thrillers or police procedurals. Such an exciting story!

This is Susan Alice Bickford's first novel. For more information on the author, check out her website at www.susanalicebickford.com

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

REVIEW: The Lost City of the Monkey God

The Lost City of the Monkey God
Author: Douglas Preston

I'm a late-comer to the writing of Douglas Preston, but I'm definitely hooked. Before reading The Lost City of the Monkey God, I had read only the first three fiction novels about Agent Pendergast penned with Co-author Lincoln Child. When I found out Preston was publishing a non-fiction book about an archaeological expedition in Honduras, I jumped right on it!  I hadn't felt such joy since I discovered that Dirk Pitt author Clive Cussler was actually a larger-than-life oceanic explorer in his own right. It was sweet to find out that Douglas Preston wrote for National Geographic and was an explorer, not just a co-author of exquisitely creepy fiction.

I have always been fascinated in archaeology and discoveries about ancient peoples in the far reaches of the world. I wanted to major in archaeology and anthropology in college, but my father put a stop to that idea. "My daughter will not go around the world digging up skeletons and dusty pot shards,'' I remember him telling me as I tried to fill out my college applications. I had to settle for a major in English Literature. I guess reading classic literature is much more ladylike than finding out about ancient people. My heart has always been with history and archaeology, however. I just have to live that dream vicariously through others who explore and discover.

Before reading this book, I must caution readers that this book is NOT one of the usual exciting fictional adventure stories written by Preston. This book is a non-fiction book about an expedition into Honduras to find the mythical Lost City of the Monkey God. There are no gun fights, explosions, terrifying supernatural events or anything like that. I've seen several poor reviews of this book from readers who expected something like Preston's fiction. This isn't that sort of book!! If you want to learn about using LIDAR to document ruins on the floor of a dense jungle, the hoops you have to jump through to get permits to explore in Honduras, close calls with snakes and jaguars, and detailed descriptions of trekking through the Honduran jungle, then read this book.

The one problem I have with this book is really a problem with the trip in general. I felt that the exploration group, backed by millions of dollars from a wealthy backer, was somehow just further exploitation of Honduras. Preston does point out clearly that the country has been used by fruit companies and the US government for decades. This well-funded group of white men tramping through their jungle in search of a ruin doesn't really do anything to make up for this exploitation. It's just another chapter in the same tale. For example, the group hired a shady, fat, white man, Bruce Heinicke, to threaten, bribe and deal his way through any problems the group encountered. As Preston described Heinicke, it left me wondering if this just wasn't another culture-rape on top of all the other ones Honduras and its people have endured through the years. Over hundreds of years, many groups of explorers have been to their country looking for this mythical city for their own glory, not for the benefit of the Honduran people. Hiring local guides, buying their way past local government and trampling their way through the country looking for the prize and glory reminds me a lot of what has happened at Mount Everest in Nepal. Rich, white people decide they must climb to the highest point on the earth, so they hire expensive guides and pay exorbitant amounts of money, crap all over the Nepalese and Sherpa people and their culture, and leave trash and dead bodies all over the mountain just because it's there. The Honduras exploration group's intent may have been to solve a historical mystery....but the financiers and leaders of the initial expedition were NOT scientists but wealthy adventurers seeking excitement and the glory of being The One to finally discover the lost city. Preston was along for the ride, documenting the trip for National Geographic, and scientists provided the LIDAR and expertise needed to ground-truth what the radar showed. I felt a little better about things once Preston started writing about the second expedition to the site. Scientists and archaeologists set the rules for the second visit, the actual trek into the jungle. Nothing was excavated without express permission from the Honduran goverment and the site was treated with respect.

My initial misgivings aside, this book documents both trips and is very well-written and interesting.

The first half of the book documents the initial trip to use radar on several potential sites.  I didn't know much about LIDAR and how it works. Preston includes many details about how they picked the sites, the flights over the jungle in a plane equipped with LIDAR, issues with getting fuel and supplies, how difficult it is to work with such new technology, and the joy of finding favorable results after all the work required. It took two weeks to use LIDAR to map the four areas chosen. Then there was a two year hiatus between the discovery of the site and the actual trip into the jungle to see first-hand what was on the ground.

 The second half of the book is about the return trip - the actual trek into the jungle. A new group, comprised of survival experts, soldiers, scientists and documentary crew, were gathered for the ground work at the site. This time, the group and the trip itself was handled more professionally. There was no bribery, thinly veiled threats or thug behavior used to protect the group. This time, trained experts were hired to help the expedition operate safely in the jungle and soldiers accompanied them to lend protection. The group had to deal with poisonous snakes, biting insects, rain, quicksand and mud everywhere, not to mention lingering physical effects and even disease the group dealt with after returning home.

All in all, despite my misgivings about the expedition itself, the story of the events and site was very interesting and well-written. The Advance Readers Copy of this book that I read had no pictures or illustrations. I hope the finished book has photos from the expedition and maybe some illustrations showing a map of the entire site.

I hope to read updates on this ongoing project! I can only imagine how wonderful it felt to be one of the first people to see a city that had been abandoned for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

REVIEW: A Woman Tenderfoot

A Woman Tenderfoot
Author: Grace Gallatin Seton-Thompson

Grace Gallatin Seton-Thompson was truly a woman before her time. Famous for founding the Camp Fire Girls, she was also a world-traveler, author and outspoken suffragist. She was the first western woman to travel alone into India and China. She wrote several best-selling books about her travels through the Rocky Mountains, China, Egypt, Hawaii, Indochina, Japan and South America. Her husband was a famous naturalist and writer, Ernest Seton-Thompson.

A Woman Tenderfoot was first published in 1900. My copy (found at the bottom of an old box of grungy paperbacks in a thriftshop....treasure!!) was a reprint published in 1987.

This book gave me no end of joy. I expected a travelogue sort of book about her travels with her husband. I wasn't familiar with either her or her husband before I read this book. I have to be honest and say I expected the book to be filled with the trials and tribulations of a spoiled Victorian woman unwillingly dragged along on multiple trips to the wilds. I was pleasantly surprised......this was not a book of complaints and sob stories from the spoiled, wealthy wife of a famous outdoorsman. It was exactly the opposite. This is the tale of a strong, capable and athletic woman who wanted other women to accompany their husbands on trips to the west, as long as they could learn to behave properly, pack the right gear and not act like spoiled simpletons. Her personality, strength, wit and intelligence came shining through on every page!

Grace writes simple instructions for Victorian women who wish to accompany their husbands on lengthy mountain or hunting trips. She even includes a basic pattern for a riding outfit that would allow them to maintain modesty while riding astride a horse. She cautions women not to join a mountain trek if they can't handle riding astride a horse. Riding side-saddle, Grace writes, causes undue delays for the entire party and is also too cumbersome, painful and frightening for the horse. In the case of an accident where a horse slips on a mountain trail, riding side-saddle might also cause both the horse and woman to die if she is unable to dismount quickly. She also states that women should bring only what they really need, providing a basic list and packing tips. She gives a diagram showing the proper way to lash bedrolls and small trunks to pack animals. And, she states that a woman must bring an exact duplicate of her camping pack (containing a rubber air mattress, silverware, aluminum plate, cup, etc) along for her husband, brother, father, etc or the men will be "constantly borrowing yours.''  Above all, she pretty much lays it out plain: Victorian women should be willing to accompany their men on hunting trips or other expeditions because the exercise is good for them, it will improve their relationship with their menfolk and the wilds are beautiful. But she also cautions that women must be prepared for the trip, not delay the group, and not complain.

I had to smile when she talked about the one demand that a woman must make before such a trip. She wrote that a woman needs to be sure that one of the guides is also being paid to cook. She did not recommend that a woman try to cook over an open fire, or try her hand at cooking trail foods. Then she cautioned that a woman along on a trip must be willing to eat the food prepared for the men without complaint. If there is dirt or any contaminants in the food, a woman should quietly and without comment flick the offending item off her plate or push it to the side, without making any comment. And, at no time, should she express disgust at the abilities of the cook and demand to cook the food for the group herself.

Her stories were wonderful. She talked about hunting elk, getting lost on the trail, capturing a skunk and other small animals for her husband to draw, her impression of their cook who was actually a convicted felon and multiple-murderer, and her tales of all the people they met on their travels through the Rocky Mountains. They were in the area that is now the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park, near Jackson Hole. It's beautiful country! I can only imagine what it looked like before paved roads and modern conveniences.

She offers many tips and suggestions for early 1900's women who want to make a trek to the Rocky Mountains. She reiterates many times that the mountains are "not New York,'' cautioning that the people, supplies and accommodations will be very different from a city woman's normal experience. She gives suggestions for fashion on such trips, tips for how to behave or handle problems, and tells stories about times when she could have handled danger, stressful events or her own mistakes with more calm strength, rather than panic or fear.

All in all, this book was awesome. I loved her more than 100-year old advice for women. In an era where women couldn't even vote, she was definitely before her time. She married a naturalist, so she learned to ride a horse like a man, fire a gun and trek for hundreds of miles without any undue discomfort. She also challenged women to get out and really experience the outdoors and to live their lives outside of the city, hotels and the constraints of society.

The 1987 reprint from Nick Lyons Books that I found contains both the original text and illustrations.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in history, the Rocky Mountains, the Victorian era, feminism or the suffragist movement. Such a great read! I wish I could have a time machine just for an hour or two so I could go back in time and have one conversation with Grace Gallatin Seton-Thompson. I imagine she was quite a pistol and would be so much fun to join in conversation!


Monday, January 23, 2017

REVIEW: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes vs Dracula

Holmes Vs. Dracula
Author: Loren D. Estleman

I am not usually a fan of classic movie remakes or books "based on the original.'' In my experience, most are a disappointment. But, I am also a fair person for the most part. That makes me willing to give new slants on classics a chance before slamming a book shut or shutting a movie off.

Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters from classic literature. Over the years I have enjoyed his original exploits with Dr. Watson many times, loving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's antiquated turn of phrase and Sherlock's slightly snobby banter with Watson. And I've seen the characters portrayed in many movies and television shows. Sometimes I have loved these film versions (Sherlock) and others I have not enjoyed (Elementary). I always hesitate to read stories featuring Sherlock that are not penned by Conan Doyle himself. I automatically doubt that a revisit could match the feel and style of the original.

Well......

I am also able to admit when I'm wrong.

Finding The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes Vs Dracula as an offering on my local library's digital site, I must admit chuckling that I would need a bottle of wine to go with the cheese. But my determination to not act like a book snob overpowered my inclination to click right past this book. I did wonder how many eyerolls I could manage during a fight between Holmes and a bloodthirsty Transylvanian vampire. The minute I started reading, however, I must admit discovering my preconceived notions had been unfair. Loren D. Estleman actually is quite masterful at writing in the style and manner of the original. I couldn't stop reading! The story is a mirror of events in Bram Stoker's Dracula, starting with the wreck of the Demeter, with the addition of Sherlock Holmes investigating the matter. Beautiful!

I am sorry that I assumed it would be a cheese-fest. Estleman's writing is not a litany to dairy products, but rather a really good homage to Sherlock and Dracula! And....even better....there are several books in this "Further Adventures of'' series, two of them written by Estleman. I'm going to read Estleman's second Sherlock adventure first before delving into the other writers in this series, but I'm willing to have an open mind and try more new Holmes adventures! Estleman has also written a book of short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes, The Perils of Sherlock Holmes. Most of his books are westerns or crime novels. I will definitely be reading more of his work!

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes Vs Dracula is a quick read at 224  pages. It was originally published by Penguin in 1978. It was republished by Titan Books in 2012 as part of the "Further Aventures'' series.  The pacing is great. The writing style is very authentic. I'm impressed! Estleman also wrote Dr Jekyll and Mr. Holmes in 1980. This book has also been re-released as part of the Futher Adventures series of books. It's definitely on my wish list!

There are 25 books in the Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series published by Titan Books. The paperbacks are high quality and the cover art is awesome! Their homepage also lists several other series featuring Sherlock, Mycroft and even Moriarty. I must investigate further! To find out more about The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the authors writing the series and the other Sherlock related offerings from Titan, check out their website: www.titanbooks.com 

The game is afoot!! Much reading ahead! (The postman just delivered my brand new copy of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Holmes! I am so excited.....must start reading!!!!)




Sunday, January 22, 2017

REVIEW: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death
Author: M.C. Beaton

In this first book in the Agatha Raisin series, Agatha has just taken early retirement, buying a cottage in the Cotswalds. She is used to the hustle and bustle of the advertising world in London. Village life seems alien to her, so she tries to fit in. She joins a baking competition, entering a quiche she purchased from a shop in London, attempting to pass it off as her own. When Contest Judge Mr. Cummings-Browne drops dead after eating her quiche,  Agatha is not only a murder suspect but also a known cheater (at baking contests anyway). She feels her chances of fitting into village life might be completely ruined. Not willing to give up, Agatha decides to do a bit of investigating to find out who might have poisoned stuffy old Cummings-Browne.

I listened to the audio book version of this book. I don't usually like audio books. Listening in fits and starts while I'm driving or not busy just hasn't ever appealed to me. I think maybe it's because I get distracted and have to backup to listen to sections again, and the fact that I have partial hearing loss. Some narrators are just too hard for me to hear and understand properly.

This time, the audio version was my only choice. My local library consortium didn't have the actual book, but offered the audio online. If I wanted to enjoy the first Agatha Raisin book I was going to have to listen to it.  With a momentary feeling of disappointment, I decided to give it a whirl, I'm glad I did!! I listened in the car when I was by myself, and put my headphones on at home so I could easily hear the narrator. I very much enjoyed the audio book version! Penelope Keith did a great job as narrator. I liked her voice and she was easily understood, even with my hearing problem. To combat my tendency to get distracted, I listened only when I was alone and could concentrate on the story. It made my time in the school car line much more entertaining! I also got in a few minutes of listening time while doing the dishes, folding laundry and little tasks like that. I still had to back the story up a few times, but not nearly as often as before.

As for the story, I am a huge fan of M.C. Beaton's Hamish MacBeth series. Agatha Raisin is a completely different sort of character, but I also enjoyed this book. Agatha was a bit rough in the beginning, acting a bit snobbish and having a tendency to be rude and thoughtless. But, over time, she softened up a bit and made friends in the village. The character grew on me as the story progressed. I think I will definitely enjoy reading the rest of this series!

There are 27 books in the Agatha Raisin series, with the 28th, Agatha Raisin and the Witch's Tree, due out in 2017. I'm not sure if I will read all 28 books....but I'm definitely going to read more in this series! I will also be trying more audio books. I think I can work around my hearing loss for the most part, and it's a way to enjoy a book while driving or doing housework. :)

The BBC has made an Agatha Raisin television series. In the US, it airs on PBS and it's also available on Acorn TV (that's where I'm going to watch). I have heard good reviews of the show, with the usual comments on how it does differ from the books. Agatha is younger in the television show (What is wrong with having a female character in her 50s?? I don't understand why she had to be younger. I hope they don't re-do Miss Marple....she will end up 35 with a slinky figure.), and I was told some plot points and characters were changed for the TV version.  I'm going to watch the first episode...which is Quiche of Death, of course....and see what I think of it! :) I will watch the rest once I've read more of the books. :)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

REVIEW: Carrot Cake Murder

Carrot Cake Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

Old family secrets are boiling just underneath the surface when a long-lost relative shows up at the Beeseman-Herman family reunion in Lake Eden, MN. Gus Herman reappears after 25 years, showing off very expensive clothes and jewelry and telling tales of his huge success. Obviously emotions are still raw, even decades after his disappearance in the middle of the night with no explanation. Hannah Swensen's business partner, Lisa, is a member of the family so The Cookie Jar is catering the event. To her mother's chagrin, Hannah discovers Gus' dead body in the pavillion. The prodigal family member has been stabbed with an ice pick.

There are more than 100 family members at the reunion. Who killed Gus? Why did he disappear all those years ago? With the help of friends and family, Hannah is on the case once again to track down the killer.

Carrot Cake Murder is the 10th book in the Hannah Swensen series. The recipes fit the plot....great potluck fare ranging from casseroles and Mexican hotdish  to decadent desserts like chocolate fudge cake and red velvet cookies. And, of course, there is a recipe for carrot cake!

The mystery is engaging with plenty of suspects and lots of sleuthing by Hannah and her friends. The strange love triangle between Hannah and her two love interests, Mike and Norman, continues...but it really isn't an integral part of this story. It's in the background, but not really important. That was a nice change. It's the one thing about  Hannah that annoys me.....she can't make up her mind which man she wants but she gets ridiculously jealous if either of them even look at another woman. I don't believe any self-respecting, intelligent man would put up with that sort of treatment for such a long time. But I also recognize that I have been pulled into this series partially because I want to know which man "wins,'' I'm reading the books as fast as I can -- and avoiding spoilers as best I can -- so that I can find out what happens. I have a guess....prompted by the ending of Carrot Cake Murder.....but I'm not saying a word.

Wanting to know the outcome of Hannah's love life isn't the only reason I enjoy the Hannah Swensen series. I like the characters, the recipes are amazing, and I like the setting. It reminds me of the town I grew up in. There are lots of culinary themed cozy mystery series out there today, but the Hannah Swensen series was one of the first. I read the first couple books when they came out and loved them.....then life happened (darn adulting taking up all my time!) and I never got to read the rest. Now that I only have one child at home,  I have more time for reading. So, I came back to the series and can't get enough of it! I've had the books on my shelf just waiting for me to have time to enjoy them -- so happy to finally be catching up on what's been happening in Lake Eden! :)

The Hannah Swensen series has 20 books, with #21, Banana Creme Pie Murder, coming out in late February. There is also a cookbook, Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook, and two holiday themed short story/novella collections that include Hannah stories. I highly recommend the series to anyone who enjoys cozy mysteries or loves to bake -- the recipes are awesome! :)

Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel has made four Hannah Swensen movies starring Allison Sweeney. There are some differences between the books and the movies, but they are fun to watch! So far, they have filmed movie versions of: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (Book 1), A Plum Pudding Mystery (Book 12), Peach Cobbler Mystery (Book 7) and A Deadly Recipe (Fudge Cupcake Mystery - Book 5). Hopefully more are to come! Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel also has movies from several other cozy series -- check them out!

For more information on Joanne Fluke and her books check out her website:  http://www.joannefluke.com/

Friday, January 20, 2017

REVIEW: And the Trees Crept In

And the Trees Crept In
Author: Dawn Kurtagich

This book is a brilliant nightmare....one of those late night terrors where muscles are paralyzed and there's something lurking in the darkness. A monster comes closer. Dragging steps scrape across the floor, coming up next to the bed. The nightmare feels.like being awake and asleep at the same time, aware of danger but unable to get away. That feeling....remember it? That's how this book will make you feel.

What a wonderful, creepy read!

Silla and Nori come to stay with their aunt, escaping from abusive parents. For awhile, they are happy. But then Silla starts to notice the house is getting darker. There are strange noises. Weird smells. And the trees in the forest -- the forest they have been warned never to enter -- appear to be getting closer to the house. The Creeper Man is coming and there is nowhere to run.

Kurtagich's writing is masterful and she shapes this tale using every tool at her disposal. I love the handwritten passages, font changes and word art. It adds to the creepy, horrific atmosphere of this story. The build up and pacing are perfect.  The story builds slowly at first and then tumbles down a cliff of WTF to slap the reader right in the face at the end.

The ending is nothing new, but the journey to get there was creative, new and engrossing. So, I didn't bat an eye or mutter "This has been done before.''  This makes an old plot device or two seem new.

Dawn Kurtagich is also the author of The Dead House, another creepy read. I've had it on my TBR for quite awhile....reading it next!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.dawnkurtagich.com




Thursday, January 19, 2017

REVIEW: Candy Cane Murder

Candy Cane Murder
Authors: Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine, Leslie Meier

The three stories in Candy Cane Murder add a little homicide to the holiday season. The 3 stories, by talented cozy mystery authors Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine and Leslie Meier, are all candy cane themed.

The first selection, Candy Cane Murder by Joanne Fluke, features Hannah Swensen. Hannah's Christmas holiday starts out a bit rough. First she's stuffed into a unflattering elf costume to hand out candy and gifts to kids, then she discovers Santa Claus dead in the snow.  She's on the case again (to the consternation of her mother & her two love interests) to find out who killed local businessman Wayne Bergstrom before he even had a chance to take off his santa costume.

An enjoyable quick read, the novella was filled with the usual humor of the Hannah Swensen cozy series. The mystery was fast-paced and interesting, with a couple surprises I didn't see coming.

Laura Levine is up next with The Dangers of Candy Canes. The novella features Jaine Austen, a freelance writer who also dabbles in mysteries. A man fell to his death from his roof while decorating for Christmas. His house was recently re-shingled. The roofing company is being sued for wrongful death because the fall was caused by loose shingles. Jaine steps in to investigate at the request of the roofing company owner. She discovers that the fall was not an accident. Someone wanted Garth Janken dead.

There were some hilarious moments in The Dangers of Candy Canes. Two of my favorite moments were when Jaine gets stuck while trying to escape through a bathroom window and when she gets in a food fight with a moody teenager. The humor really made this story so much fun to read! Between guffaws, the mystery was entertaining as well. :) This is my first experience with a Jaine Austen story. I now want to read the cozy series! Who can resist a character with a pet cat named Prozac? I definitely want to read more!

And closing out this fun holiday cozy collection is Leslie Meier's Candy Canes of Christmas Past. Meier writes the Lucy Stone cozy series. Each novel is based on a holiday or special celebration. This novella, of course, is Christmas themed. Lucy and her husband Bill's home in Maine is filled with family for the holidays -- children and grandchildren all gathered around the fireplace. She finds herself reminiscing about a holiday years before in 1983 when she and her husband had just moved to Maine. That winter, Lucy had met Mrs. Tilley, a local librarian, and helped her solve the mystery of her mother's death.

Candy Canes of Christmas Past was a a sweet story. I liked it the best of the 3 tales in this book. I did find one little mistake though....the story supposedly occurred in 1983, but there is a reference to the Charles Stuart murder in Boston. Stuart shot his pregnant wife and then shot himself to cover up the murder. He blamed the crime on a non-existent black assailant. The only problem is the incident occurred in 1989, six years after the setting of this story. I can overlook a little editing boo-boo though. The story was endearing and an interesting read. I've read one of the Lucy Stone novels.....this story made me like the characters even more. I'm definitely going to read the rest of the series!

All 3 tales in this Christmas theme cozy novella collection were great! They are quick reads at 120 - 140 pages each. I highly recommend this story collection to anyone who likes cozy mysteries and wants to try out these 3 talented authors. It's easy to follow these stories even for those who have never read any of the books written by Fluke, Levine or Meier. Enjoyable stories and a great way to try out the Hannah Swensen, Jaine Austen and Lucy Stone cozy series!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

REVIEW: Midnight Crossroad

Midnight Crossroad
Author: Charlaine Harris

Midnight is a small town. Just a few buildings and homes at the intersection of  Witch Light Road and Davy Road in rural Texas. There's a diner, 24-hour pawnshop, convenience store & gas station, plus a church. The residents of Midnight, Texas are....unusual. Special. Different. Newcomer Manfred Bernardo is about to discover just how different they are. Moving to this podunk Texas backwater nothing of a town is going to change his life. Forever.

I enjoyed Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series (the books more so than the television version) so I was happy when I came across this supernatural series. Midnight Crossroad is book 1 in the Midnight, Texas series. There are 3 books in the series so far.

The characters are so interesting. Every resident of Midnight is hiding secrets, but they have a strong bond with each other. In this new series, Harris mentions some characters from some of  her other books like Harper Connelly and Lily Bard. Even a main character, Manfred, was actually a minor character from the Harper Connelly series. I'm sure if I went back and re-read the Sookie books that I would discover even more references. I enjoyed seeing names that I recognize!

Midnight, Texas is currently being made into a television show by NBC. I couldn't find any dates for the show, but an article did hint that it might be on the Fall 2017 lineup. I will definitely be watching! I do hope it follows the books more closely than the TrueBlood series did. The HBO version of the Sookie Stackhouse stories veered so far away from the books that I stopped watching before the final season. My hopes are high that the TV version of Midnight, Texas will be better. *fingers crossed*

For those who enjoy supernatural tales and mysteries, I definitely recommend the Midnight, Texas series. Book 1, Midnight Crossing, gives an introduction to the residents of Midnight and there's a murder mystery thrown in for a bit of suspense as well. The pacing of the story was great, and the characters are magical and believable at the same time. I'm not sure which character is my favorite....I'm just going to say I like them all. Or, I might choose the cat. Yes, the cat was awesome!

For those who have been missing Sookie Stackhouse, this series is a pretty good replacement. Give it a try!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

REVIEW: Cherry Cheesecake Murder

Cherry Cheesecake Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

Hannah Swensen, professional baker and amateur detective, is on the case again in the 8th book in this fun culinary cozy series. This is my favorite cozy series, so when snow was in the forecast here in NC, I went right to my best cozy pal to help me weather the storm. Fuzzy socks. Hot tea. And Hannah Swensen. Perfect snowy weather combination for me.

In Cherry Cheesecake Murder a movie is being filmed  in Lake Eden. The entire town is excited about the production. Hannah is hired to provide special desserts for the director and snacks for the production crew. She quickly learns that director Dean Lawrence is a letch and an all-around jerk. She tries hard to put up with his condescending and inappropriate behavior since the movie is important to others in Lake Eden. Things are going really well, right up until the point that Dean acts out a suicide scene during a dress rehearsal. His acting is perfect, right up until he pulls the trigger of the prop gun -- and shoots himself in the head.  Who switched the prop gun for a real one? What motive is there to kill Dean? Sure, he's a jerk.....but is that a reason to make him shoot himself?

As usual, Hannah promises not to investigate......and then promptly investigates anyway. This is an enjoyable visit to Lake Eden, but most of the book is about the filming and background subplots because the murder doesn't happen until page 223. The book kept my interest pretty well despite Dean not kicking the bucket til the last third of the book. Hannah's little love triangle is still going on......Norman and Mike are still hanging around hoping Hannah will choose between then. Plus an old college friend, Ross Barton, is part of the film crew. Add him into the mix because he starts hanging around Hannah too. Geez, Hannah.....make up your mind already! At one point, all 3 men were at her house when she came home.....and she said she was tired and went to bed. LOL. Kinda rude? I hope she makes up her mind soon.....or that the constantly mopey males are shuffled to a less-more minor subplot. With the new book, Banana Creme Pie Murder, coming out in March, there are now 21 books in this series. Having just finished book 8, I am trying my best to avoid spoilers so I don't find out what her choice is, or if the guys just get sick of it and walk off, until I get to that particular book. It's rough avoiding reviews and comments that might tell me too much! :) I have most of the rest of the books on my shelf.....so I'm reading like a wild woman to get caught up so I know how her love life turns out. I am sort of hoping that both Norman and Mike grow a set and start dating someone else -- hopefully NOT the same woman this time. Hannah either needs to reel someone in or cut bait. After 8 books....either pick.....or cut 'em loose.  No real man would ever put up with this......why should book boyfriends be expected to??

Personally if I was in her shoes, I would have a rough time picking too.  Nice dentist.  Good looking cop.  Hmmmm.  I think I would go for the nice dentist who really loves me. The handsome cop would work really long hours, his job is dangerous, and Mike seems to have a bit of a wandering eye. While Norman is totally in love with Hannah and is more stable. He is a bit of a momma's boy, however.  Best choice might be to just pass on both of them, and see what else comes along. More fish in the sea and all that. Maybe the reason why Hannah can't pick is she really doesn't love either of them.

Oh well.....she will do what she does. I'm just along for the ride. On to Book 9 -- Key Lime Pie Murder!  My favorite desssert!!

For those who haven't read any of the Hannah Swensen series, it really isn't necessary to read the series in order. Enough background is given in each book for a reader to just jump in and enjoy. But if you want the whole story on how she got the dentist and cop following her like a couple of puppies, better start at the beginning. The books are about 250-300 pages long.....but quick reads. There are lots of recipes and cooking tips included. All in all, fun reads!!

On to Key Lime pie!! mmmmm.

Monday, January 16, 2017

REVIEW: Great Ghost Stories

Great Ghost Stories
Selected by: John Grafton

I love ghost stories. Ever since I was a kid sitting outside on summer nights telling scary stories with my friends by the dim glow of a flashlight, I have loved creepy tales of all sorts. These days I listen to a lot of creepiness on my phone -- ghost story podcasts, Old Time Radio like Suspense and CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and Creepypasta stories. I am also a sucker for every haunted house or creepily awesome book I come across.

My favorite sort of ghostly tale is classic.....slow-building psychological terror that often ends with that surprise stab....that shudder inducing da-dah-dahhhhh moment. No weird steamy sex, spurting arterial blood or blood-curdling Wilhelm screams. Just suspenseful, old fashioned, oh-my-god-what-is-that horror.

Great Ghost Stories is a collection of 10 classic ghost stories published in England and America between 1864 and 1912 - the golden age of ghost tales. Most of the authors in this anthology are power-hitters - authors who wrote masterpieces of classic literature. Others are masters of the ghost story. It's a collection of great examples of the classic ghost story!

The lineup:

The Phantom Coach - Amelia B. Edwards
To Be Taken With a Grain of Salt - Charles Dickens
Dickon the Devil - J.S. LeFanu
The Judge's House - Bram Stoker
A Ghost Story - Jerome K. Jerome
The Moonlit Road - Ambrose Bierce
The Monkey's Paw - W. W. Jacobs
The Rose Garden - M. R. James
Bone to His Bone - E.G. Swain
The Confession of Charles Linkworth - E.F. Benson

I found this book by chance on the shelf at a thriftstore. I think I paid a quarter for it. So glad I did! The stories were all awesome and enjoyable. A few I had read before, and several were new to me. I can't really pick a favorite. I enjoyed them all.

This book is a Dover Thrift Edition, so it's inexpensive but awesome. Any reader who enjoys classic literature and scary stories will love this little, but hard-hitting, anthology.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

REVIEW: A Boy from Botwood

A Boy from Botwood
Authors: Bryan Davies, Andrew Traficante

**I voluntarily read an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Dundern via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

At 83-years old, Arthur Manuel bought a dictaphone and recorded his memories of serving in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment during World War I from 1914-1919. He never spoke of his war experiences with anyone. His recordings and notes were lost amid other family records until 2011 when they were discovered by his grandson, David Manuel. By the time his narrative was discovered, Arthur Manuel was long dead, but because he recorded his memories, the story of the soldiers from Newfoundland that he served with 100-years ago still survives.

A Boy from Botwood alternates between Manuel's first person accounts of his experiences in the war and background information supplied by authors Bryan Davies and Andrew Traficante. Manuel starts his tale by talking about Newfoundland in the early 1900s. Many young men eagerly joined the war because they wanted to escape the poverty and desperation of home and explore the world. Little did they realize what horrors they would experience. And none of them realized that a large percentage of them would die and never return home. Manuel talks of horrific conditions, illness, life in the trenches, the terrors of battle, and his experiences as a POW.

I am so glad that this book was published. Not only does it bring to life the extreme conditions and violence of World War I, but it preserves a first-person account of what it was like to be a soldier at Gallipolli, The Battle of the Somme and other key historic events. Manuel gives more than just a recollection of events. He describes his anger and disappointment in allied leadership, his sadness at the loss of so many of his comrades, and the extreme stress, fatigue and fear each soldier felt on a daily basis.

Bryan Davies and Andrew Traficante did an excellent job of organizing Manuel's memoir from his recordings. They added in background information explaining the events, locales, troops and military leaders Manuel discusses so that readers get a deeper understanding of Manuel's experiences. His hatred of war and the immense destruction it caused did not diminish with time. Manuel states in his narrative that after the war he never again owned or fired a gun.

This is a powerfully moving book. Anyone interested in World War I history would definitely enjoy this memoir.

A Boy from Botwood will be published by Dundern on February 14, 2017.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

REVIEW: Deck Z - The Titanic

Deck Z: The Titanic
Authors: Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon

I've read a lot of books about the Titanic disaster. Factual books. Fictional narratives. Murder mysteries. Action and exciting adventures involving the cargo and even raising the damaged ship from the depths. But, I can honestly say, this is the first time I've read a story that placed zombies on board the doomed ocean liner.

I loved it!

The basic premise: An unknown plague rips through China, killing thousands. A German scientist manages to get samples of the contagion and takes it back to his homeland to find a cure. Others want to use the disease as a weapon. So, the scientist steals the only vial of the contagion and boards Titanic for America. Unfortunately, a spy follows him onboard with the intention of stealing back the plague-filled metal vial so he can return it to Germany, but not before testing it to be sure it contains the correct vile pathogen. The last days of the Titanic are filled with an epic battle below-decks to contain the infected.

This is a action-packed, tension-filled zombie tale! The authors used the names of well-known crew members and passengers to battle zombies. The action continued right up until Titanic slipped beneath the waves, heading to the bottom.

Anyone fascinated by the Titanic story, or who just likes zombie tales, will enjoy this book. It's a relatively quick read at 225 pages. Definitely worth reading!

Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon also collaborated to publish The Giant Smugglers in 2016.

REVIEW: Key Lime Pie Murder

Key Lime Pie Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

In the wintertime when it finally gets chilly here in the South, I love to spend a Sunday afternoon on the sofa with my chihuahuas, a warm blanket & fuzzy socks, a cup of hot tea, and a cozy mystery novel. Cozies range from cute kitschy stories with sleuth dogs and cats to more serious mysteries, but they all follow some basic rules: keep it light...no hard core spurting blood or profanities; make it fun; and the good guys always win in the end.

Basically, a cozy is a nice afternoon murder mystery that leaves you feeling energized not traumatized.

One series that I have been reading off and on for years is the Hannah Swensen Mysteries by Joanne Fluke. The main character runs a dessert bakery and the books are filled with recipes from her shop, The Cookie Jar. Hannah is from Lake Eden, a small town in Minnesota. She has not one, but two, love interests (one of which is a cop, of course), a nosy mother who is trying desperately to marry her off, a sister who is married to the police chief.....just a great setup for a cozy series!

The books are light reads....a perfect distraction for an afternoon or two. No sex, no cursing, and no blood spurting (and yummy recipes!)....formula cozy mystery. Key Lime Pie Murder is the 9th book in the series. There are 20 books in the series so far, with #21 Banana Creme Pie Murder coming out in March. If you know which love interest she finally decided to marry....don't tell me! I still have many more books to read! :) No spoilers! Dentist or Detective. So hard to choose!

In Key Lime Pie Murder, Hannah is judging the baking contest for the county fair when a fellow baking contest judge is murdered on the Midway. Soon Hannah is sifting through suspects and looking for clues. A fun read!

I like Joanne Fluke's writing. Her characters are engaging and fun, without being over-developed. Just the right amount of fluff and no plodding or extra padding to weigh down the story. Cozies are supposed to be light, easy reads....and that is what Fluke delivers. The books are fun romps just like they are meant to be. She doesn't go short on the recipes either. Key Lime Pie Murder includes 16 recipes ranging from the required Key Lime Pie recipe to instructions on how to make deep fried candy bars (I gained a pound just typing that, by the way).

Hallmark Channel has made 4 of the books into made-for-television movies called Murder, She Baked (yes,they went there -- and it's cute). The movies are on their new Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. I've watched all of them  -- the Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (book 1), A Peach Cobbler Mystery (book 7) Fudge Cupcake Murder (Book 5 - the movie is called A Deadly Recipe) and A Plum Pudding Mystery (Book 12). They star Allison Sweeney, who used to be the host on Biggest Loser (and she also portrayed Sami Brady on Days of our Lives). She does a great job in the role of Hannah, although in the books Hannah has red hair and is slightly overweight.

All in all, a fun cozy series! Give it a try! It will make you want dessert though!! :)

Friday, January 13, 2017

REVIEW: Scheduled to Death

Scheduled to Death
Author: Mary Feliz

As a disorganized person struggling to reform, I feel drawn to the Maggie McDonald Mystery series, mostly because the main character is a professional organizer. The idea of a highly organized person as an amateur detective is intriguing. Plus, I figure I might pick up a few organizational tips while reading.

Scheduled to Death is the 2nd book in the series. I haven't read the first book yet, but there is enough background information sprinkled in with the new plot to easily figure out the different characters and enjoy the mystery. Maggie is building her new professional organizing business. She's helping a professor organize his life. Linc wants to get married, but he's got to clean up his act first. Maggie arrives one bright cheerful morning to help him continue his progress, only to find something much worse than a messy desk. Linc's fiance and Maggie's good friend, Sarah, is dead on the floor. Something isn't quite right about the situation. Maggie finds herself teaming up with local police to find out what caused Sarah's death.

Each chapter of the book opens with an organizational tip from Maggie - a nice extra touch. The pace of the story is spot-on, and the subplots (organization, community gardening, etc) don't overwhelm the mystery. In fact, the organizational background of the main character helps to further the plot, rather than getting in the way of it. Romance is not a distraction in this cozy. Maggie is happily married with teenage children. I like all of the side characters. It's interesting to see how Maggie handles being friends with a suspect and the investigating officers. The way they all come together to help each other solve the case is another refreshing change from formula cozies where the police continually warn or even threaten anyone who tries to investigate. Nice change! I can't say there is no "dumb'' or annoying cop....but he is a side character that even the other officers can't stand. While reading, I found myself continually thinking if the characters were real people they would be enormously enjoyable as friends.

All in all, a great cozy mystery! There are plenty of suspects, interesting clues and plot twists. The idea of community gardening is intriguing. I'm glad that was a subplot intertwined with the mystery. The organization tips were helpful and I'm going to try to implement some of the suggestions.

Scheduled to Death will be released by Kensington on January 17th! Organized or disorganized, cozy mystery lovers will enjoy this one!

A third Maggie McDonald Mystery, Dead Storage, is coming out in July!


Thursday, January 12, 2017

REVIEW: Story Time With Grandma

Story Time With Grandma
Author: Mary Elizabeth Yoder

I collect old books. Any sort. There is nothing more relaxing than curling up on the sofa on a winter's night with hot tea, my dog, and an old book for company.

I found an old paperback copy of Story Time With Grandma on the shelf at a local thriftshop recently. Published in 1979 by Christian Light Publications, the book contains little short snippets of wisdom for children from the Mennonites. While this isn't the sort of book I usually read, the very fact that it was different and unusual made me buy it and bring it home to read. Why not? I think, at times, everyone can use a bit of simple wisdom, even adults.

Because the book was published by the Mennonites, I was not surprised that the stories are from a Christian perspective and for the most part, quite old-fashioned and dated. But, that doesn't mean the simple wisdom in the book's 158 pages isn't still true. Ranging from lessons about lying to being kind, the book offers very short morality tales. A few of the stories in the very back of the book are Bible stories, but most are generic in nature. Most are basic lessons parents should teach their children -- to listen to their parents, to behave and treat others with kindness.

My copy of this book dates from 1979, but I did discover that the book was updated up until 2005. Perhaps later editions offer updated versions of the stories. I didn't mind the old-fashioned stories. A few made me smile, and some were a bit preachy. But, all in all, this was an enjoyable read. But, in all honesty, I really don't think most children today would enjoy these stories at bedtime. The world has become a different place since 1979, but the lessons about behavior, manners and how to treat other people are still relevant.

For anyone interested in reading this endearing book filled with simple wisdom, it is currently out of print, but I did notice that used copies are readily available online. Mary Elizabeth Yoder also published a sequel: More Story Time with Grandma. The sequel is also available for purchase online.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

REVIEW: Kolchak: The Night Stalker - The Lost World

Kolchak: The Night Stalker - The Lost World
Author: C.J. Henderson

Carl Kolchak. The Night Stalker. Reporter. Supernatural investigator. Loveable slob.

I am a huge fan of the 1970s television show starring Darren McGavin (before you ask, I am not even going to mention the shit remake that got almost immediately cancelled....that was dreck. What were they thinking? Same writers who attempted to put Dresden on television??? Ugh. Shoot...I said I wasn't going to mention it....and then I mentioned it. But I digress....back to the review....). Even though it only lasted one season, I have happily watched those few episodes over and over again since then. And I have eagerly read every Kolchak novel and comic book I've come across. I love the character and the concept. Maybe it has something to do with the fact I was a reporter for many years? Not sure. I never had the joy of covering anything even remotely supernatural. The murders, crimes and othe rmayhem  I covered were all too real and not committed by anything but normal, although horrific, human beings. I think I love the Kolchak character because he's normal. He's not heroic, larger-than-life and anything above average that would stick out of the crowd. He's just a slobby reporter on the night beat in a wrinkled seersucker suit and an ugly hat, who just happens to be a magnet for all things creepy that go bump-in-the-night. Vampires. Ghosts. Animated suits of armor. Angry pagan gods. He's seen it all.

In The Lost World, Kolchak is his usual wrinkled, slightly unkempt self, just trying to make a living and escape his reputation as a weird-magnet. He is unable to do so, of course. Kolchak finds himself on a trip to the jungle to cover the story of a feud between major drug dealers. He soon finds out that the drug war is not just a war, but a fight over a mysterious group of men: The Seventy-Two, and the secrets they protect.

The story is short, but packed with action and the usual Kolchak creepy-weird happenings. The book is well-written, and true to the character I love. The action and tension is well-paced, packing a great punch into the 124 pages of this novelette. This is an updated Kolchak, not 1970's retro. He is internet savvy, a knowledgeable modern reporter, yet still lovably slobby and funny.

This is a great read for Kolchak fans, or anyone who loves a quick adventurous, weird read. This is a update of the character that Kolchak fans will approve of.....and not like that show-attempt-that-shall-not-be-mentioned-again.

C.J. Henderson has written two other Kolchak novels: A Black & Evil Truth and The Lovecraftian Horror. The Lost World is the first one I've read....I have definitely added the other two to my wish list!

For those fans of action/adventure retro-style who have never experienced Kolchak, you can find the old episodes on YouTube. It's an old show worth watching. Supernatural action/adventure with a bit of cheesy humor thrown in. :)


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

REVIEW: Raven Song

Raven Song
Author: I.A. Ashcroft

After civilization is destroyed by nuclear war, the planet is poisoned by radiation. Survivors live inside a barrier protecting the remains of New York City. For more than 100 years, The Coalition has controlled their dark existence. Jackson is a smuggler who has strange visions, but keeps it to himself so others don't assume he's crazy. Then he meets Anna, a woman who has somehow flashed 100 years forward in time. She remembers the world before the war. Together, they discover they have strange powers and that they are both missing memories about their past. The Coalition knows about their visions and abilities, but so do other sinister forces hiding in the shadows of the ruined city. Jackson and Anna fight to regain their lost memories, to discover who and what they are. The truth will be much more shocking than they ever imagined.

I enjoyed Raven's Song. The story is interesting and the characters engaging. The villains in the story were just amazingly cool. It was a bit hard to dislike the bad guys -- they were beautifully horrific. I thought the first half of the book moved a little slowly, but the plot got more exciting mid-way through. For the last half of the book, I couldn't put it down! I had to know what happened next.

Raven's Song is the first book in the Inoki's Game series. The second book, Eclipse of the Sun, will be coming out soon. For more information on author I.A. Ashcroft and the world of Inoki's Game check out his website here




Monday, January 9, 2017

REVIEW: The Bone Witch

The Bone Witch
Author: Rin Chupeco

When her brother is killed in battle, young Tea surprises everyone, including herself, when she accidentally raises Fox from the dead. While there are many types of witches in Odalia, Bone Witches -- those who can wield dark magic and raise the dead -- are feared and distrusted. With Fox accompanying her as a familiar, Tea begins training to become an asha. As a dark asha, she faces many challenges, given the open distrust of her kind. The fact that Tea's powers are wild and uncontrollable at times doesn't help make her path easier.

The world described in this tale is intriguing and interesting. Asha are like geisha....trained to entertain, dance, sing, and provide interesting conversation.  But asha also wield magic and are trained warriors, fighting evil faceless ones and monstrous daeva that threaten the land.

At times the story got bogged down in too much background information or detailed explanation of asha training, dancing and clothing, slowing the pace of the action. The first half of the book held pace pretty well...action well balanced with detail. But in the second half, there were a few times that background details overwhelmed the plot. For example, an entire chapter was mostly explanation of an asha ceremonial dance, rather than anything actually happening. While I did enjoy the geisha-like atmosphere, at times the background details took too much time away from the main plot. I wanted less talk, more action. *cue Elvis music*

The ending of the story seemed a bit abrupt to me. Chupeco does plan a sequel, so perhaps the second book will pull the unresolved plot points together.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. I like the idea of magic-wielding geisha and a hierachy of magic users, ranging from more mundane powers to epic warrior magical fighting skills. Tea was an engaging and multi-faceted main character. Her brother Fox was a great supporting character. Some plot twists and turns caught me by surprise....very well-executed!

The Bone Witch will be published by SOURCEBOOKS Fire on March 7th. I definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy YA science fiction and fantasy. Rin Chupeco is also the author of The Girl From the Well series. To find out more about the author and her other books check out her website: http://www.rinchupeco.com/




Sunday, January 8, 2017

REVIEW: Wintersong

Wintersong
Author: S. Jae-Jones

Wow. It's not often that a book leaves me speechless. But, this one did. All. The. Feels.

Wintersong is a lyrical, beautiful re-telling of a fairy story. The old-as-time story of love conquering the wild unobtainable beast, the Goblin King in his Underworld. The Goblin King needs a wife from the land of humans above. He must marry a woman who willingly offers herself. There have been many. And, the tale is always the same. Living in the underworld takes its toll, and the women slowly die. All except one long ago. The one he let go.

Liesl is growing up. She loves music. Composing music is in her soul. But it is her younger brother who will receive the education at the hands of a master. He is a boy. And, she is a girl. Education and a life as a musician is not for her. She might marry and have children. But perhaps not. She is not beautiful like her sister. She is plain. And often forgotten, even by her own family. She feels the injustice, the jealousy, the anger at being blocked from following her heart.

She has forgotten that long-ago she met the Goblin King. Many years ago when she was a little girl they played, they talked, they were friends. And he asked her to marry him someday.

Now he's back. His magic changes the very world around her. She must face her own faults, her own emotions, her very soul in order to save the life of her sister, whom he has taken. But, is defeating the Goblin King really winning?

I read this book in one night, as it snowed outside. I couldn't put it down. The story is beautiful. Raw emotions. Wildness. Abandon. Love. Sorrow. Loss. Growing up hurts. Love hurts. But it is also gloriously beautiful.

I couldn't help but compare this story to one of my favorite films of the 80s: Labyrinth. In fact, the author even states she wrote this story as a more passionate re-telling of the Labyrinth tale. In my mind's eye the Goblin King looked like a young David Bowie. I couldn't help it. Talented, musical, free, wild, unusual. I was saddened at Bowie's death in 2016. He was such a gifted musician and performer. This tale brought him back to life for me, if only for a moment. Back as the Goblin King. But this time, the story isn't a children's tale. This story is much more than a child's story. Love. Passion. Real Decisions. The choices we all have to make when we cross from child to adult. The decisions that set our life-path and make us what we Become.

It's all in the Becoming. That point in life where you give your absolute all to something. The time when you gift your soul. The moment when you value someone or something more than yourself. It's painful, beautiful and truly freeing. That's what this story is about.

Becoming.

Wintersong is a truly beautiful book, inside and out. The cover art is the best I have seen in a long time.

Releasing February 7th from St. Martin's Press, Wintersong is S. Jae-Jones' debut novel. To find out more about the author and her book, check out her website at http://sjaejones.com/

I voluntarily read an Advance Reader Copy of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

REVIEW: Strange Magic

Strange Magic
Author: James A. Hunter

Yancy Lazarus is a drifter, roaming here and there fixing problems for clients. In fact, he's known as The Fixer. He uses his wits and Vis, magic that uses the energy of the universe, to solve problems for his clients. But this time, someone doesn't want him solving anything. He has been told about a situation in California, but he's attacked twice before even making it out to LA. The case turns out to be quite a doozy -- Rival gangs. a massacre. Body snatchers. Monsters. Demons. This story has a little bit of everything. Think Dresden with a bit more grit, driving a souped-up El Camino rather than a VW bug.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. There were some spots where I felt it could have used a bit more editing. But, the rough patches here and there didn't really dampen my enjoyment of the tale. There was plenty of magic-slinging action, sprinkled with a bit of cheesy humor.

I have to admit that I didn't find myself really connecting with the characters in this book. The story was ok. The characters were ok. The humor was good. But.....it was all just....ok. I think the main characters just lacked depth. I was never drawn in and made to care about them in any way. The story was just a bit on the superficial side.....not really delving into the whys and motivations of the characters. Sort of like an action movie that is all shooting and special effects but no background or foundation as to why the shooting is necessary. There is very little world-building and not much in-depth characterization to draw readers into the meat of the story. It just lacked....substance.

There are four books in the Yancy Lazarus series. My guess is that the author gained momentum with world-building and characterization in the subsequent books. Yancy has great potential as a magic slinging badass....it just didn't really come out in this first book.  '

Those who like urban fantasy would enjoy this series. For me, the first book seemed a bit lackluster. In the end that's just my opinion and others might really enjoy Yancy's debut adventure. I would definitely love to have his car! :) Nothing like a badass El Camino!




Friday, January 6, 2017

REVIEW: Two Old Women

Two Old Women
Author: Velma Wallis

Two Old Women is based on an Alaskan legend. In a time of famine, two old women are abandoned by their people during a brutal winter. Left alone in the woods with minimal supplies, the women must remember skills from their youth in order to survive.

This is a beautiful, well-written re-telling of a native legend. The depiction of the cold winter and utter aloneness the women face abandoned in the Yukon is written masterfully by Wallis. The women grow strong, fueled by their betrayal and abandonment at the hands of their own people. In the end, they learn the power of friendship and forgiveness.

I loved this story. It's a quick read at only 140 pages. The adventurous tale of two elderly women surviving in the wilderness alone is beautiful and heart-warming. Plus, they learn so much their own strength and worth, while discovering the value of friendship, community, trust, forgiveness and cooperation. As with most legends, there is a deep truth at the foundations of this tale. Elders have a huge value to their families and should be treated with respect and kindness. And, the elderly should not just becoming complainers who expect to be served. The elderly should remember that they have strength, responsibilities and the power to inspire and teach those around them, especially children. This is just a lovely re-telling of a traditional Athabascan Indian tale.

Velma Wallis has also written two other books based on Alaskan lore: Bird Girl & The Man Who Followed The Sun, and Raising Ourselves: A Gwitch'in Coming Of Age Story From The Yukon River.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

REVIEW: Peach Cobbler Murder

Peach Cobbler Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

I don't often read cozy mysteries with a dessert theme because it always makes me crave food I can't eat (I'm on a limited sugar/carb restricted diet for medical reasons). But I make an exception for the Hannah Swensen series. There might be a lot of cookie-talk in the books because Hannah owns a bakery...but the series is so fun to read, that I don't mind reading about all the foods I can't have. Most of the recipes included in the books are desserts (I've made a few yummy selections for my family), but there are also usually some main courses and appetizers included as well.

Peach Cobbler Murder is the 7th book in the series. The Basics: The Cookie Jar is in financial straits when a new bakery opens up just across the street. Shawna Lee Quinn and her sister Vanessa run the Magnolia Blossom Bakery. Hannah can understand business...competition is the way things work. But, she doesn't have to like Shawna Lee flirting with Mike Kingston, local cop and one of Hannah's love interests. Hannah's business partner Lisa is getting married and Shawna Lee never shows up with the cobbler for the reception dessert table. Mike is a no-show as well. Later that night, things go from bad to worse when Hannah discovers Shawna Lee dead in the Magnolia Blossom Bakery. Hannah finds herself a suspect in the murder. Can she prove that she didn't kill Shawna Lee? And...who did?

I enjoyed this book, as I have the rest of the series. The mystery is engaging, not too obvious and the pacing is good. The recipes looked quite yummy as well. Hannah continues to be caught between two love interests though.....she can't make up her mind between Mike the Cop and Norman, a local dentist. After reading 7 books with her still being wishy-washy (especially after reading the last chapter in this book), I hope that Hannah is either going to choose one very very soon or just dump them both and get a new love interest. I have avoided reading any reviews of books later in the series as I don't want any spoilers. There are 20 books in this series....with a new book coming out in February. So I have a lot of reading to do! :) The books are fun, quick reads so don't be intimidated by the thought of 20 books.....they really are fun to read, light-hearted, and fast paced enough to keep a reader's attention from the beginning to end of the series. While it isn't completely necessary to read the books in order, some of the character interactions and relationships would be better understood by starting with book 1. But, someone could jump in at any point in the series and have enough background information to understand events just fine.

I'm moving on to book 8 now to see if Hannah gets any closer to answering the Mike/Norman conundrum. My goal is to catch up with this series. Only 13 books to go...ha ha!

Peach Cobbler Murder was made into a "Murder, She Baked'' movie on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. I enjoyed the movie -- but there were a few changes in the plot. Sometimes I'm not quite sure why they change plot points when they adapt a book for film. The changes were not huge....just minor differences here and there. None seemed like they were really necessary changes though. But, the directors know that business much much better than I do.....I just enjoyed the movie and told myself to stop comparing the book to the movie. The book is always better than the movie version....that doesn't mean that the movie can't be enjoyable! There are 4 Murder, She Baked movies based on the Hannah Swensen series. I highly recommend them! Very well done and enjoyable, even if there were changes made to Joanne Fluke's story.

Joanne Fluke also writes suspense novels in addition to the Hannah Swensen cozy series. To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website here.  And if you like cozy mysteries, check out the Murder, She Baked movies on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries!


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Taming my chaotic library! 2017 Reading Project

Last year I set a goal to read my own books, mostly because I was running out of shelf space after years of avid book collecting. If I'm honest about it, I must admit that my collecting was far outpacing my reading. My bookshelves were stacked to their capacity and disorganized, making my favorite pastime stressful rather than relaxing.

My first step was gleaning nearly 500 books off the shelves, donating most to a local charity thriftshop and trading others for used books I actually wanted to read. I then set a monthly limit on new book purchases. I could buy up to 4 new books, but only if I had donated/traded at least that many during the month. And, I vowed to make better use of my local library and digital resources.

My intent was to clear shelf space so that my library could be organized, neat and functional.

I spent the last week of 2016 scanning my books into the Goodreads app with my phone so I could inventory my progress. The end result? I both succeeded and failed.

During 2016, I read 69 books from my local library, plus 72 of the new releases I read were digital review copies. So that's a total of 141 books that I read, but did not buy. Good progress toward my goal!

Paring down my collection to an estimated 1000 books is also a success. At the start of last year I had my floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves filled to capacity. Books were double-stacked and it was impossible to find anything. As I scanned my books into Goodreads, I re-organized my shelves by genre and author. The shelves are no longer double-stacked. Wasted, disorganized space turned into useful shelf space! Huzzah!

In 2016, I exchanged 133 used books online. I traded books I didn't want for ones I would actually read.  But, looking over my stats at the end of the year, I noticed that I ordered a total of 176 used books throughout the year, bringing in 43 more than I sent out. I also bought 33 new books online, and an estimated 20 more at bookshops during the year. That in-and-out flow alone would leave me 96 books ahead at the end of 2016. But taking into account the 500 pulled from my shelves at the start, I ended the year with about 271 fewer books. Not too bad.

This is where the results start to pale, however. 

During 2016, I read 193 books. This number includes digital review, kindle books and library books. So if I remove those from the mix....I read a whopping 42 books from my own shelves. Only 42. While that is the answer to the ultimate question of the universe, life and everything.....it's a pretty bad showing when it comes to clearing my bookshelves through reading. 

I did a great job clearing out unwanted books by boxing them up and shipping them off. I used the library and digital resources like a pro. I took inventory and reorganized my shelves. But, when it comes to actually reading the books I already own, the results are lackluster. 

So, I'm continuing my Reading Project in 2017 with a few tweaks. 

My personal library is pared down to books I really want to read. I have no excuse not to read them! This year, for every review book I read, I will read at least one physical book from my own shelf.

I am continuing the maximum limit of four new books per month with the stipulation that I have to donate/trade that many books off my shelves first. This year, that one-to-one requirement also applies to used books. I can have more than 4 used books during a month, but I have to trade/donate at least the same number. I can't order more used books than I send out on my favorite paperback trade site. No more paying for credits to order used books! The only trade credits I can have in 2017 must come from actually sending out a book. No cash transactions!

 I will not buy any books from thriftshops, garage sales or the like. I have enough. I don't need to purchase more.

I will continue to read many books from the library and kindle unlimited rather than buying. I support a lot of authors during the year by pre-ordering and buying their books, but I can't buy every book I want to read. Some authors will be supported through reviews and social media rather than purchases.

Physical ARCs that I have on hand will be read and then traded to other reviewers. 

All in all, I am happy with the end result of my 2016 Reading Project.  I have nice, neat shelves and my library only contains books I  want to read. This year with planning and mindful acquisitions, I can end the year with more open shelf space and a greater percentage of my own books read.

On to 2017!!! I have so many lovely books to choose from & look forward to reading my collection!