Tuesday, February 28, 2017

REVIEW: Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys

When I first heard of this book I was shocked that I had never heard about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff during WWII. The German Military transport ship was carrying more than 10,000 German civilians, military personnel and Nazi officers evacuating from East Prussia. The ship was sunk in the Baltic Sea on January 30th, 1945 by a Russian submarine. 9,400 passengers died making the sinking the largest maritime disaster in history. Only 1,252 passengers were rescued.

After finishing this book, I asked a question of several friends who enjoy studying history like I do. I asked "Without using the internet or any outside sources, what do you know about the Wilhelm Gustloff.''  They all had the same answer. "Nothing.''

I find that chilling. It truly is correct what they say: History is written by the victors. While it is true that the Wilhelm Gusloff and its passengers were victims of war and millions died during WWII, how can the deaths of thousands of civilians be virtually forgotten because it was a German ship that also carried Nazi officers and German soldiers?

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a historical fiction novel about a group of evacuees who walk many, many miles in the bitter cold to the port at Gotenhafen and board the Wilhelm Gustloff. The story shifts between the points of view of four characters: Joanna, a nurse; Emelia, a 15-year old Polish girl; Florian, a Prussian; and Alfred, a German soldier. There are also several colorful supporting characters: a boy they find wandering alone, a cobbler who says shoes tell the story of a person, and a large, very outspoken woman. As the characters trek to the port and then board the ship, they relate not only the story of the evacuation, but also reveal parts of their past, the effects of war, and thoughts of friends and family they have lost.

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel. It was full cast, and the production value was wonderful. As I listened, I felt that I got to know each character. I sympathized with all but one of them. And I found myself dreading the moment when they were all going to face possible death at sea.

The story is amazing.....and deeply disturbing. I can't believe I never had any clue that this disaster even occurred. I can only imagine how horrible it was for the thousands of men, women and children who believed they were being taken to safety, only to drown in the freezing cold ocean.

While Sepetys book is based on the true event, the characters in the book are fiction. But, it does paint an emotional picture of what evacuees went through and how frightened they must have been. Many died, freezing to death in the snow, before they even made it to the port to be evacuated. They were afraid of the approaching Russian troops, so they trudged through freezing temperatures and snow to get to the port, hoping to get a spot on a ship. The Wilhelm Gustoff was crammed with more than 10,000 passengers when it was only designed for about 1,900 maximum. I can't even imagine the sheer terror they must have felt when the 3 torpedoes slammed into the ship. Less than 40 minutes after it was struck, the ship sank. Only 1,252 survivors were rescued.

Salt to the Sea is an emotional, eye-opening story. So many lives lost....and then virtually forgotten.

I'm glad I learned the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Salt to the Sea is beautifully written and a wonderful tribute to the people who lost their lives in this tragic event.

Monday, February 27, 2017

REVIEW: The Wicked Will Rise

The Wicked Will Rise
Author: Danielle Paige

Emerald City is burning. The Order of the Wicked has disappeared. And Dorothy isn't dead.

Amy Gumm's journey to return Oz to its former glory continues in The Wicked Will Rise, the second book in the Dorothy Must Die series. Accompanied by the magically confused Ozma, Amy continues her quest, while fighting to control the magic growing within her. The lines between Good and Wicked are blurred, leaving Amy unsure who to trust. But she knows she must gather the tin man's heart, the Lion's Courage, and the Scarecrow's brains.....and then kill Dorothy.

There was less action in this book than the first one. But, there was a lot of character development and some cool revelations about what is actually going on. Interesting......but I do have to admit being a bit disappointed that nothing was really resolved in this book. Nice plot development.....but not a lot of progress towards the ultimate goal.  I think perhaps this is a case where the plot was stretched because the series had to continue for more than just 1 or 2 books. So book two is like an extended travelling montage.....we're off to kill Dorothy, but we need a book or two of development before we can actually do that. Not that I mind development, interesting side quests and the addition of quirky, cool new characters....but in the end, very little really happened.

All in all, I like this series so far and I'm going to continue reading. It seems in each book Dorothy gets one more piece she needs to defeat Dorothy. So book 3 must be the quest for scarecrow's brain....then book 4.....bye bye Dorothy? I'm a sucker for anything Oz.....so I'm happy to continue reading. The books are entertaining, quick reads...so there's no harm in things being stretched out a bit. I'm glad I waited to read this series until most of the books were already released. If I had read this book as a new release, the slow pace and months of waiting for a new book would have been annoying. I am not a patient person. :)

On to book 3 - Yellow Brick War! And book 4, The End of Oz, is set to release in mid-March! I think I started reading this series at just the right time! :)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

REVIEW: American Gods

American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman

I listened to the digital audiobook version of the 10th Anniversary edition of this book. At first, I really doubted I would listen to the entire book. A 20-hour audiobook just seemed a bit excessive. A book would have to be outstanding for me to spend almost an entire day listening to it. But, the production value was superior, and I was engrossed in the story almost immediately.

Those who enjoy Gaiman's lighter writing such as The Graveyard Book and Stardust might not like this darker and much more involved tale. This book is not light reading. It's truly a commitment, but well worth the time. The story of Shadow, recently released from prison, accepting a job from the enigmatic stranger, Mr. Wednesday, is the backbone of this book. Many legends and tales of both ancient and new gods are intertwined around the main story. It makes for an awesomely complex, involved plot. American Gods is not just one story, but a combination of many.

The audiobook is great! With a full cast of voice actors, the production value is excellent. I think I enjoyed the story more as an audiobook than I would have reading the massive paperback. For the 10th Anniversary edition Gaiman added and tweaked the story a bit....I'm not sure exactly how this version differs from earlier editions, but if it's Gaiman's favorite version that's good enough for me.

It took me a little over a week to finish listening to this book. I loved it! There was a twist at the end that I didn't see coming. It brought the story full-circle. Great ending!

HBO is going to do a series based on American Gods. I hope that they do justice to Gaiman's book and don't change it substantially or add in ridiculously excessive nudity. Not that I have a problem with nudity -- there will be some required to tell this tale correctly. But, it should be used to further the plot, not just to show tits and ass.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

REVIEW: Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph
Author: Robin LaFevers

Dark Triumph is the 2nd book in the His Fair Assassin series. This story was much darker than the story of Ismae related in book one, Grave Mercy. Sybella serves the God of Death, Mortain, as an assassin in 15th century France. The convent where she was trained has sent her on a mission back to her father's household. Her father is the evil and barbaric Count d'Albret. As she spies and murders those marked for death within her father's household, she discovers that a prisoner held in the dungeons is an ally who will help fight for the Dutchess Anne. Can she help the prisoner escape and fulfill her destiny?

The story of Sybella is much more personal and dark. She has grown up victimized by the violence of her father. She feels abandoned by her god, Mortain, and worries that she will be unable to unleash the revenge she craves against her father. There is a lot of violence and difficult subjects in this book....infanticide, incest, rape, the subjugation and murder of women. The story was fabulous, but delves into some pretty serious topics that might be a bit traumatic for younger readers. Even though it is classified as Young Adult literature, I think it would be best for readers who are at least 16.

I liked Sybella as a main character. She has been through so much in her life and came through it stronger and more determined. She is fierce! It's nice to see female characters who can hold their own in a fight, and who aren't just cowering and waiting to be saved by men. She fights alongside the men and is a formidable warrior in her own right.

I'm enjoying this series so far. So far there are 3 books, but Goodreads lists two more possible books without titles. I researched a bit to see if I could dig up any information about whether there will actually be more books in this series, but was unable to find any information. So, for now, I will be happy with reading the third book and calling the series a trilogy until I see a title and publication date for another book.

I definitely recommend this series for older teen readers who like fantasy and action.

Friday, February 24, 2017

REVIEW: The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10
Author: Ruth Ware

Laura Blacklock - Lo to her friends - is attacked by an intruder in her apartment. The attack leaves her afraid and unable to sleep. Luckily, as a reporter for a travel magazine, she has an assignment to go on to take her mind off the attack. The maiden voyage of the new luxury ship, Aurora Borealis, will be her chance to move up in her career with Velocity magazine. The ship is almost obscenely luxurious and she sets out to schmooze with the passengers to get great copy for her article. Following a late night of drinking and socializing, she returns to her cabin and almost instantly falls asleep. She's awoken early in the morning by a scream from the cabin next to her, and a loud splash as something falls into the ocean. Lo swears she witnessed a murder, but nobody will believe her. She's on a ship in the middle of the ocean....with a killer.

This book is a well-written, perfectly paced, chillingly terrifying thriller. I was sucked totally into the story in the first chapter, and it held my attention until the very last word. I can only imagine how terrified I would be on a ship at sea, knowing there was a murderer on board. Lo tries repeatedly to get the ship's crew and others on board to listen to her, but they all think she is paranoid and imagining things. That would be so frustrating! The build-up to the exciting end of the story kept me on the edge of my seat. Wonderful book!

Ruth Ware has written two other thriller novels, In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Lying Game. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website at www.ruthware.com

Thursday, February 23, 2017

REVIEW: Brimstone

Authors: Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

From the wealthy mansions of the Hamptons to crumbling ancient castles in Italy, Agent Pendergast investigates the strange Faust-like death of Art Critic Jeremy Grove. Grove's body, discovered in a locked room, is strangely burned, as if it burned from the inside out. Pendergast joins forces with two police officers he has worked with before: Vincent D'Agogta and Laura Heywood. As other bodies are found, similarly burned, the three investigators try to unravel the mystery. Is the devil himself coming to Earth to claim these men? If not, how are the bodies being burned, and who is behind the killings?

I love the Agent Pendergast series. Each novel is creepy and thrilling. Brimstone is the 5th novel in the Pendergast series. I listened to the audiobook version of this book. The narrator was Actor Rene Auberjonois. He did a wonderful job, reading clearly and using proper accents for Pendergast (New Orleans southern drawl), the east coast, and Italian characters. I have hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand all parts of this audiobook.

This story was another awesome Agent Pendergast thriller. The idea that Satan himself might be coming to collect on debts owed by nefarious, greedy characters was intriguing. The mystery had many twists and turns. I didn't see the ending coming....the tale ends on a wonderfully chilling final twist.

I'm definitely going to be reading more of this series. It's creepy-cool without being overly gory or cheesy. The books are well-written and the plots are complex but entertaining. I recommend this series for readers who like supernatural thrillers and action/adventure.

There are 16 books in the Agent Pendergast series. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are also the authors of many other books. To find out more about their collaborative novels, check out their website at www.prestonchild.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

REVIEW: A Different Truth

A Different Truth
Author: Annette Oppenlander

In 1968, Andy Olson and his best friend, Tom, are sent to a military boarding school, Palmer Military Academy. As they try to assimilate into life at the academy, they face hazing and bullying. Set in the Vietnam era, this coming-of-age story also touches on the cultural upheaval of the time while it also delves into greed, class-structure, and love.

I enjoyed this book. The story-line really wasn't anything new....there have been many similar stories. But, Oppenlander did a great job of writing and creating characters that readers will identify with and feel sympathy for. As a mother, I had a bit of a hard time reading some of the hazing scenes and other content, but none of it was overly graphic or inappropriate. Just rough, as a parent, to read about boys being abused by their peers at a boarding school. Despite those few rough patches that were a bit of too realistic for me to read easily, the story pulled me in from the start and kept me reading. I was right there with the boys sharing their experiences and emotions. All in all, an excellent coming-of-age story!

Annette Oppenlander is also the author of the Escape from the Past series. To learn more about the author and her books, check out her website at www.annetteoppenlander.com

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay
Author: JK Rowling

Unfortunately I missed seeing the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them while it was still in theaters. After enjoying the recent book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child which was in script form, I decided that I would read the recently released original screenplay of Fantastic Beasts. I figured it would tide me over until I can purchase the movie on DVD in March.

Oh. My. God.

I absolutely LOVED this book! I didn't care that it was in screenplay format....it was still so much fun to read! I can't wait to see the film!

Newt Scamander and his collection of magical creatures come to New York, where Newt plans to purchase another creature to add to his collection. But, unfortunately his creatures escape from the case he keeps them in. Chaos ensues. With the help of a couple witches and a muggle (called a No-Maj in the United States), he tries to elude the local Magic Authorities and capture his escaped creatures. The story is a prequel to Harry Potter and is set in the 1920s.

Newt really is a sweet man. He loves all of his magical creatures, and really does try to do the right thing. The supporting characters are all awesome as well. The film doesn't release until March 28th but I'm glad I got to read the story!

The only thing that really bothers me is I don't like the term No-Maj at all. Bleck. Yeah yeah yeah....I know some terms are always different between here in the states and the UK...but No-Maj? Really?? Yuck. Sounds like some sort of paste floor cleaner.

I hope that more stories are forthcoming about Magic and the Wizards school on this side of the pond. That would be an awesome continuation of the Harry Potter universe. I feel like I just got an awesome Harry Potter fix, and the DVD is on preorder!

I definitely recommend this to all Harry Potter fans, even those who don't normally read screenplays or who saw the movie when it came out. I checked out a digital copy from my local library,but I'm definitely going to be purchasing a nice hardback copy of this for my keeper shelf. Delightful read!

Monday, February 20, 2017

REVIEW: Fantastic Creatures

Fantastic Creatures
Author: Various

Fantastic Creatures is the perfect short story anthology for lovers of mythical or magical creatures of all types. From popular favorites like dragons, mermaids and lake monsters to the more unusual such as the Pacific Tree Octopus, fire fairies and spotted wyvern, this 20-story collection offers a little bit of everything for the fantasy creature lover.

I liked the fact that the stories are a mix of humorous and dark. Not all of the creatures are out for blood....some just want to play. Others are just....well, evil.

My favorite tale was The Kappa by Lelia Rose Foreman. Sometimes rescuing a hungry, wet kitten can bring unforeseen blessings. The story is short, but made me smile. I foster rescue kittens, so the subject was near and dear to my heart. Another favorite was Absolutely True Facts about the Pacific Tree Octopus. While on a weekend trip to the Olympic Peninsula, Leisel is bound and determined to prove the Pacific Tree Octopus is a real animal. What she learns is astonishing and heart-warming. Quite the adventure for an 8 year old!

Included in the anthology are:

Three Steaks and a Box of Chocolates - A.R. Silverberry
Snapdragon - Lee Doue
The Golden City Captives - Julie C. Gilbert
Seekers - Intisar Khanani
Mystery of Asgina Lake - Caren Rich
Skin Deep - Morgan Smith
The Last Chronicle of Pete Mersill - Cave Yates
Priscilla, The Magnificent Flying Squid - L. Palmer
An Adventurer's Heart - Nicole. Zoltack
Destiny's Flight - Frank B. Luke
The Kappa - Lelia Rose Foreman
Celebration - Arthur Daigle
The Netherlands - Cave Yates
Talori and The Shark - Jessica L. Elliott
Reviving the Sword - Kandi J. Elliott
Mother's Night Out - D.J Driver
The Mage and the Spotted Wyvern - Craig J. Price, Jr
The Very Last Dragon - Katy Huth Jones
The Adventures of Zero: The Quest for Wormsroot - Vincent Trigilli
Ishkah's Garden - Bokerah Brumley
Absolutely the True Facts about the Pacific Tree Octopus - H.L. Burke

I definitely recommend this story anthology to fantasy fans and animal lovers. :) I enjoyed all 20 stories! Each tale was the perfect length. All are well-written. There is nothing in any of the stories that a middle school aged child couldn't read....no sex, nothing too gory or traumatizing. Definitely PG-13. All in all, a great anthology!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Sunday, February 19, 2017

REVIEW: Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers

Ismae is 17 years old, and dreads her upcoming marriage to a much older local farmer. She has no choice. Her father has arranged the wedding -- sold her, really. Three silver coins. But on the day of her wedding, Ismae's new husband takes one look at the red scars that run down her body and abandons her in fear. The red scars, caused by burns from the herbal poison her mother used in an attempt to abort her before she was born, signifies to the villagers that she was sired by the God of Death himself. A local priest arranges for her to go to the Convent of St. Mortain where she will learn to serve the God of Death as an assassin. Ismae is trained in the use of poisons, various weapons and garrotes to carry out the will of Mortain. After months of training, she finds herself in the Court of Brittany surrounded by political intrigue and treachery. It is here that Ismae learns what it truly means to serve Mortain, the God of Death.

I enjoyed this book. Ismae is a complex and interesting main character. She knows her duty and follows orders, but she makes some decisions based on her own moral compass. I liked the fact that she doesn't just blindly follow orders, but reasons things out and learns to think for herself. Plus, she's a real badass with a crossbow! The concept of a convent dedicated to serving Death and an assassin order of nuns was an intriguing premise. The story is well written and perfectly paced.

Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin series. There are three books in the series so far, with two more books coming out in 2018 and 2019. I enjoyed this first book so much that I immediately checked the other two books, Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart, out of the library so I could read them right away.

Robin LaFevers has also published several middle grade books under the name R. L. LaFevers. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website at: www.robinlafevers.com

Saturday, February 18, 2017

REVIEW: Double Fudge Brownie Murder

Double Fudge Brownie Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

Ever got what you asked for......and then didn't want it anymore?

This book made me feel like that.

For the last several books in the Hannah Swensen series I have been eye-rolling and wishing that Hannah would make up her mind and finally choose between her two boyfriends. Well, in Double Fudge Brownie Murder she does finally make up her mind. But.....her choice seems to be incredibly un-Hannah-like. In fact, Hannah doesn't act like herself for this entire book. As I was reading, I kept thinking that something seems different about this book....Hannah is snarky and quick to offense. The stand-offish "I must be absolutely sure before I make a decision about my love life'' woman makes a huge decision in too short a time. And the whole thing just seemed......off. Not to mention an entire huge plot point that took up the entirety of the previous book, Blackberry Pie Murder, just sort of evaporated. Poof. Gone. Replaced by a rather lame murder mystery that seemed dropped into the hole created by the sudden disappearance of a major plot point.

So yeah.....it's a double edged sword. She made up her mind....but I'm left wondering WTF.

The basics: Hannah goes to Las Vegas for her mother's wedding. Then when she gets back to Lake Eden to face her vehicular homicide trial. But before anything can happen with the court case, the judge is murdered. The gang gathers as usual to help find who killed Judge Colfax.

Hannah does not act like an adult in this book. She hides information from both Mike and Norman just to save herself a confrontation. After 17 books, she does a complete about face and makes a huge decision following a single weekend in Las Vegas. She oversleeps every morning and her sister and business partner end up doing most of the prep work at the bakery.

Now, I will admit that I am glad that she has finally made up her mind. I'm glad Hannah seems to be on her way to behaving a little bit like a 30-something year old woman regarding sex, relationships, love, etc.  But I am unimpressed with the continuation of her inability to be truthful and honest with men, and her penchant for stringing along nice guys so that she doesn't have to have difficult conversations.

The writing also seemed off in this one. A huge plot point suddenly gone with a ridiculous explanation. The main character totally doing an abrupt personality change and suddenly becoming swooningly romantic when she has never been that way before. A murder being neatly plopped into the plot about 1/3 of the way through the book like an after thought. It felt like "oh yeah...this is a murder mystery so better kill somebody, and hey....we can get rid of this massive plot problem at the same time.'' And why did an 8 year old child have to explain to Hannah how to use a smart phone?? For heaven's sake, she's 30-something, not 85. And the child, Tracey, doesn't talk like any 8 year old I have ever encountered. She speaks like an adult. And a stuffy adult at that. No 8 year old is going to use the language this little girl was using, not even one raised around very intelligent adults.

I wish I could say I liked this book. But I didn't. For me, it was a dud. I am still a Hannah fan.....I have the other three books in the series and I'm going to read them. I've invested a lot of time in reading 18 books now....not going to stop. But, I sincerely hope that Wedding Cake Murder is much, much better than Double Fudge Brownie Murder. But, if I get to book 21 and the writing hasn't improved......I'm going to have to wave goodbye to Hannah Swensen.

Maybe it's like television series that go on a season too long?? Maybe it's time for Hannah to have a final book and be finished with it.

I'm keeping an open mind....and moving on to the next book.

Friday, February 17, 2017

REVIEW: Doctor Who - Gaze of the Medusa

Doctor Who - Gaze of the Medusa
Titan Comics

I discovered Doctor Who in middle school. I was a nerd in an age before being nerdy was cool in any way. I always had my nose in a book and took a lot of crap for being a straight A student. Most likely I was one of only 3 kids in my class that realized PBS showed more than Sesame Street and Electric Company. Doctor Who showed on PBS every weekday afternoon at 4:30. In the days before VCRs to tape shows (and definitely way way way before the awesome wonder that is DVR and satellite television), this left me in a rush to get home after school in time to see that day's episode. For whatever reason in the early 80s, PBS only showed episodes with one Doctor -- Tom Baker. #4. I rushed home every day for my dose of the fuzzy haired, scarf wearing awesome doctor and his companion, Sarah Jane.

I adored Tom Baker.

I saw the episode where the third doctor (Jon Pertwee) dramatically fell to the ground and morphed into Doctor #4. Then for months, the daily showings meandered their way through all of Tom Baker's exploits, ending with the episode that left me sad and pissed - the Fourth Doctor's regeneration into number five (Peter Davison). The station would show one or two Peter Davison episodes (which just made me madder....I wanted Tom Baker back. I remember being absolutely livid. I was a kid. At 12, I did not accept change readily. And I had never encountered a show that suddenly changed the main character like that with no warning.) and then bounce back to the first Tom Baker episode again. There were no Jon Pertwee episodes. There were only one or two Peter Davison episodes. Just Tom Baker on repeat.

I didn't mind. I loved Tom Baker.

Doctor Who was my secret nerd time every day. None of my friends watched Doctor Who. My parents didn't watch Doctor Who. My siblings didn't watch Doctor Who. I was a lone nerd, enjoying my little dose of Brit nerdery in secrecy. It was awesome!

I didn't discover all the rest of the Doctor Who Universe until years and years later. In college, I was much more accepting of change. My anger wore off. These days I don't even get upset when I think of  the episode where my scarfed, strange, absent-minded doctor turned into a blonde, tall stranger.

I still adore Tom Baker though. I have a replica of his scarf. I own his Funko pop figure. I have a stuffed K9 that talks. I even have a Tom Baker keyring. I like the other incarnations of the Doctor...but #4 will always be my favorite. He was my first doctor.....and that's just a special thing.

When I heard that Titan Comics was doing a 5-comic series featuring The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane, I knew I had to read it! Unfortunately, I heard about it too late to get the whole 5 comic run...so I waited for the hardback compilation book to be released right before this past Christmas. The book was my Christmas present to me.

I waited until after the holidays were long over and life had calmed down to read it. I wanted nothing to interrupt my Classic Who time.

The story is classic. The doctor and his companion travel back to Victorian London on a lark, where they encounter aliens who want the secret of time travel. Sarah Jane is captured, and the doctor must get her back.

Brian Williamson's artwork is amazing! The cover of the hardback compilation is beautiful! The story line is classic. Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby did an awesome job of bringing my favorite doctor back in all his absent-minded glory.

I loved it! For a little while it was like being back in the 80s, sitting down in front of the television after school to see what sort of trouble was going to unfold for The Doctor and Sarah Jane.

I highly recommend Gaze of the Medusa to any fan of classic or new Doctor Who!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

REVIEW: Christmas Caramel Murder

Christmas Caramel Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

Christmas Caramel Murder is the 20th book in the Hannah Swensen series. This story is a novella of only about 200 pages or so, including the recipes sprinkled throughout the book.

Hannah's new husband, Ross, asks her why The Cookie Jar won't be selling Christmas caramels for the holidays. Hannah replies that she and Lisa, her business partner and good friend, believe the candies they made last holiday season are bad luck. When she made them last Christmas, she found a bag of them near a dead body. Then she settles in to tell Ross the whole story of the murder case and a Christmas spirit that appeared to her.

This story at first reminded me a lot of a prior Hannah Swensen holiday novella, Candy Cane Murder. Hannah saw something in the snow and walked through the drifts down into a ditch and found a body. Both stories started out the same with a naughty Claus dead in the snow, but in Christmas Caramel Murder, it's the local slut who was playing Mrs. Claus in the Christmas play who got iced.

This story was short, but enjoyable. It's pretty much fluff with lots of recipes and subplot like what they are baking for the holidays, the broken popcorn machine at the high school and Norman's new huge television. The mystery is simple and not that involved. But, this is a cozy mystery....so fluff and light mystery is ok. That's how it's supposed to be. This would be a great cozy to read in front of the nice fire on Christmas Eve.

I can't help feeling a little disappointed in this book. Mostly because it's so short. If you leave out the subplot unnecessary-to-the-mystery portions and the recipes, the mystery itself is maybe 50 pages tops. The rest is fluff stuff. And I found some parts of the plot to be just too cheesy -- like Hannah's father appearing as a ghost visiting her to help solve the murder. Really? At one point he told her to throw a pen at him to prove he was a spirit. Ummmm.....yeah. A bit too hokey for me. Plus, this story is told to her new husband, Ross, as a flashback. The parts with Mike and Norman still acting all in love with her were just a bit weird and uncomfortable. I dunno....just seems like maybe Joanne Fluke wrote this hurridly without paying too much attention. I was left feeling like she took the basic plot of Candy Cane Murder, replacing the victim with a woman and making little tweaks here and there to form a new story on the fly. After 21 books, the series might just be getting a bit stale.

I'm surprised this wasn't another holiday collection like Candy Cane Murder that also included stories by Linda Levine and Leslie Meier. I could have justified the $20 price tag of the hardback book a little more if it had more than just the short, fluffy Hannah Christmas tale. But, it was an enjoyable read. I checked it out of the library, rather than buying it.

A new Hannah book, Banana Cream Pie Murder, is coming out February 28th! I have a soft spot in my heart for Hannah because this series is the one that started my love for cozy mystery novels. 21 novels later, I still enjoy reading about the gang from Lake Eden. :)

On to Banana Cream Pie murder -- then I'm caught up with this series and awaiting Joanne Fluke finishing another book! :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

REVIEW: 206 Bones

206 Bones
Author: Kathy Reichs

I have been a fan of Temperance Brennan for many years....the book version mostly. The TV version is ok, but really only shares a name and similar career with the character in the books.

 In 206 Bones, Tempe is investigating the deaths of several elderly women in the Montreal area. The case starts to get more complicated, then someone starts to sabotage her cases and starts rumors that she mishandled an autopsy. Then the threat becomes more personal....Tempe wakes up disoriented, tied hands to feet, in complete darkness. Where is she? How did she get there? Can she escape?

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. The narrator, Lorelai King, did a great job of reading. At first I had a hard time with the accents she used for some of the male characters, but only because it sounded different than I imagined the characters would sound. I am still pretty new to audio books. I avoided them up til now because I would always lose focus and constantly have to back-up and listen to sections again. Some books at my local library are only available in digital audio format....so I'm trying to change my opinion. I listen for 20 minutes or so at a time, and only when I can focus on the story. I have discovered that audiobooks are great while I'm stuck waiting in car line at the grade school, while doing dishes and in the evening right before bed when I have a few minutes to myself. I still have to back track once in awhile when I space out and miss things....but not as much as I used to.

The story was typical Temperance Brennan. The plot is exciting, flashing back and forth from the investigation Tempe was working on to her ordeal stuck in the dark, tied up and not remembering what happened. The end was unexpected and caught me by surprise. Definitely a great crime thriller!

For more information on Kathy Reichs and her books, check out her website: www.kathyreichs.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

REVIEW: Wedding Cake Murder

Wedding Cake Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

Wedding Cake Murder is book #19 in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series. After not really liking book #18, Double Fudge Brownie Murder, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The writing was better. The characters were back to their usual behavior for the most part, and the plot was well-structured and more interesting.

Hannah Swensen is gearing up not only for her wedding but also for the Food Channel's Dessert Chef Contest. Hannah has a bit of stage fright in the first round of the competition, but still manages to win so the entire production comes to Lake Eden for the rest of the contest. She is hoping to really wow the head judge, Alain Duquesne, but it turns out that won't be an issue. Hannah's sister discovers the difficult judge stabbed to death inside a walk-in cooler. So, family and friends gather around Hannah to help her complete the contest and investigate Duquesne's murder.

Just as with every other Hannah Swensen book, Wedding Cake Murder has a lot of fluff. But...this is a cozy mystery and it's supposed to be a light read with fluff. There are lots of yummy recipes and quite a bit of subplot....Hannah's wedding, the cooking contest, and Hannah's personal relationships with her friends and family. I didn't like the last book because I felt like the characters were just off....not behaving like they had for 17 previous books. And the writing and plot just weren't Joanne Fluke's usual style, in my opinion. But...now that I really think about it, Double Fudge Brownie Murder dealt with a major subplot issue that had been a long time coming. And it was a surprise. I think it was a tough book to write after so many years of the characters acting in certain ways. (I'm not going to throw out any spoilers). Wedding Cake Murder finishes out some new plot points and paves the way for the series to head in a new direction. Bravo!! Finally!!

This book is sweet and back on track, as far as I'm concerned. The mystery was light, cozy fare, which is what I like about the Hannah Swensen series. And, all is wrapped up nicely just before it's time for Hannah to be married. :)

Just two more books to go! Christmas Caramel Murder is next, and then Banana Cream Pie Murder, which will be released February 28th. I've had a review copy awaiting my arrival at the end of the series....I can't wait to read it!!

Monday, February 13, 2017

REVIEW: Wicked Witches

Wicked Witches
Author: Various

What a wonderfully wicked short story and poetry anthology!

Wicked Witches gathers 22 stories about witches. The New England states have been rich in Witch lore for hundreds of years. This anthology gathers new modern tales of witchery, ranging from misunderstood crones to evil satanists.

I enjoyed every story in this collection. Some were humorous, others chilling. But all were delightfully witchy and wonderful.

My favorite tale is T.S. Eliot Burns in Hell penned by GD Dearborn. A reporter searches out a long-missing former rock star, only to find he has gotten himself into real trouble. From the setting -- a crumbling, old farmhouse filled with cannibalistic cats -- to the slow build of terror, the story was fantastic! Sometimes things that disappear should best be left to the shadows where they belong. The story was just awesomely horrific! It left me staring at my cats with awe and major distrust for the rest of the day.

Included in the anthology are:

That Witch We Dread - Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert
In Agatha Craggins' Defense - John McIlveen
Welcome to the D.I.V. - Errick A. Nunnally
The Witch's Apprentice - Morven Westfield
Going Home - James A. Moore
White Witch - Catherine Grant
Baskets - Paul McMahon
The Saint of Regret - Nick Manzolillo
Witch - Trisha J. Wooldridge
Run in the Widow's Hell - K.H. Vaughan
Portrait of an Old Woman with Crows - Peter N. Dudar
Tilberian Holiday - Izzy Lee
To Dance the Witches Circle Again - Morgan Sylvia
Another Plane - Patrick Lacey
Access Violation - Jeremy Flagg
T.S. Eliot Burns in Hell - GD Dearborn
Black Forest, Black Heart - Joshua Goudreau
The Jatinga Effect - Doug Rinaldi
The Place of Bones - Barry Lee Dejasu
Creaking Through Salem - Ogmios
Blessed Be & Kick Ass - Jan Kozlowski
Moving House - Rob Smales

The wicked cover art was designed by artist Mikio Murakami. The anthology's introduction was provided by Penny Dreadful, hostess of Penny Dreadful's Shilling Shockers.

I definitely recommend this collection of witchy writings for anyone who enjoys horror and dark fantasy!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review: Cinnamon Roll Murder

Cinnamon Roll Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

What do you serve when the jazz band Cinnamon Roll Six is coming to play at a weekend festival? Cinnamon Rolls, of course! In Cinnamon Roll Murder, Hannah Swensen is busily baking goodies for the festival when an accident occurs. The band's tour bus wrecks, injuring the keyboard player, Buddy Neiman. Buddy's injuries are minor and he's recovering in the hospital when someone decides he should take a turn for the worse. Hannah's mother discovers Buddy's dead body in his hospital room.  The keyboard player has been stabbed repeatedly with a pair of surgical scissors. Once again, Hannah, her family and several of her friends are on the case to discover a killer.

There's no delicate way to say this....so I'm just going to blurt it out. The best part of this entire book was when Norman (Hannah's sort-of-love-interest- kinda-boyfriend-whatever-he-is) finally grew a set. Instead of being a push-over and not standing up for himself, Norman took care of a situation he was in with manly strength and determination. Go, Norman! Finally!!

The Hannah Swensen series is definitely a "cozy'' mystery series.....the plot is a light mix of humor, murder mystery and small town drama. There is no spurting blood, cussing, steamy sex or graphic violence. This book is just perfect for a few hours of relaxing reading. The book is just under 300 pages...so it's a quick read. Most of the recipes included in Cinnamon Roll Murder are desserts but there are also some main courses and appetizers, too.

Cinnamon Roll Murder is the 15th Hannah Swensen Mystery. There are 20 books, with #21, Banana Cream Pie Murder, coming out later this month!

Anyone who enjoys cozy mysteries and baking will love these books! :)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

REVIEW: The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic
Author: Terry Pratchett

Rincewind and his tourist buddy, Twoflower, return in The Light Fantastic, book #2 of the Discworld series. Rincewind is still an inept wizard, and Twoflower is still a sweetly bumbling visitor, snapping photos of everything, even Death himself.

This time, the spell Rincewind carries in his head is needed to save the Disc from doom. Everyone is searching for him, but his usual ridiculous exploits make him incredibly difficult to find. From falling off the Disc to finding flying rocks in the sky, this book is a continuation of the glorious and horrible exploits of the worst wizard in the world and the first tourist with his ever-present attack luggage.

I first read this book when I was in college in the 80s. I loved the humor and sarcastic social commentary. Then life intervened spiriting me away from Discworld for a couple decades. I come back now to discover that Pratchett increased the few books that existed back then into 40 books! I am in heaven! I wish I had read these when they first came out...but you know....marriage, kids, divorce, work....things happen.  I'm just very happy to be able to re-read the books I enjoyed in the 80s and discover all the lovely tales I missed!

It isn't often that a book makes me laugh out loud. But this lovely book had me doing just that constantly. Pratchett was a wizard of words, and created such a wondrous, funny world for us all to enjoy. I hope somewhere his soul is joyously sitting at a table playing Bridge with Death, who still doesn't understand bidding conventions.

I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre. It's a hoot filled with intelligent, witty humor!

Friday, February 10, 2017

REVIEW: Blackberry Pie Murder

Blackberry Pie Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

Hannah Swensen is having a bad time. Her mother is getting married soon but is rejecting all suggestions for the reception menu, and then during a thunderstorm she accidentally runs over a man standing in the road. Nobody recognizes the man. He's a stranger in Eden Lake. Why was he standing in the roadway in the middle of a violent thunderstorm? When Hannah is arrested for vehicular homicide and thrown in jail, her family and friends rally around her to help investigate the case. The investigation leads to the seedy world of prostitution and drugs in the Twin Cities. Hannah wonders what sort of nefarious criminal she ran over with her cookie truck....and what was he doing in Lake Eden?

Well, Hannah definitely managed to get herself into hot water this time. I never thought Hannah would end up in a jail cell....but it was definitely a new plot line for this series. This time Hannah still found a body....but she ran the victim over with her truck. Yikes! lol.

Blackberry Pie Murder is the 17th book in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series. Lots of recipes are included, as usual. Most are cookie recipes because Hannah owns a bakery, but there are some others as well including fettuccine, salmon, pate and two blackberry drink recipes.

A weird love triangle between Hannah and her two love interests, Mike and Norman, is still ongoing. Sigh. This time, Norman does Hannah several huge favors and really steps up to help her.....but yet she still can't make up her mind or really fully return the love he feels for her. And, every time they try to have a private dinner at Hannah's condo, about six other people, including Mike, show up. You would think just once Hannah would understand Norman wants to spend some time with her alone....and she would tell everyone to just come another time. But no....Norman always ends up shoved aside. How on Earth has this man gone through 17 books now without losing his temper or at least telling Hannah that it bothers him? Hannah is even starting to acknowledge that it's weird. She calls the Norman-Hannah-Mike awkward moments at dinners and public events as The Hannah Sandwich. Come on, honey -- either make up your mind or break up with both of them.

I enjoyed this story. I always enjoy Hannah Swensen books. But, I do have to say that having the gang investigating a case involving prostitutes and drugs really seemed like it was pushing it a bit. The story line was a bit more edgy and dramatic. The finding of the body was definitely different. Plus, Hannah finally got into trouble, not directly because she constantly finds bodies, but because she sort of....created a dead body. oops. But....the more edgy plot was done within the confines of a cozy mystery. It seemed a bit out of place. For example, when Hannah and her mother went to the city to interview a prostitute, they offered her a box of cookies. It made me laugh. But hey, everyone loves chocolate cookies, right? Even hardened prostitutes who need interviewed for a case.

So, I did like the fact that this book went a completely new direction, but at times it just didn't work. It felt like Mister Rogers guest starring in an episode of  Law & Order.

The best part of the story? Moishe the kitty discovering the joy of using a treadmill. Made me smile.

I'm almost caught up with this series! Just 3 more books, plus the new one coming out in February! I hope that the Norman-Mike conundrum has an answer by the time I get to the new book, Banana Cream Pie Murder.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

REVIEW: Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must Die
Author: Danielle Paige

This ain't your mama's Wizard of Oz.

I didn't expect to like this book. Frank L. Baum's classic Oz books have been favorites of mine since I was a young girl. I had them all, and I loved Oz, Glinda, Dorothy, Jack Pumpkinhead, Tik-Tok... I loved every book and every character. Re-tellings and modernizations of the Oz stories have never been my thing. I'm one of the few who absolutely hated Wicked.

But, I made a promise to myself to start trying new things. Starting with one of my biggest pet peeves -- re-tellings. So far, I have been genuinely surprised by most of the ones I've tried. So....I decided to take a deep breath, put my big girl panties on, and try a Wizard of Oz re-visit.

It only took two chapters. The story sucked me in, and I found myself enjoying Dorothy Must Die. Kansas girl, Amy Gumm,  is struggling through school in Kansas where she is bullied on a daily basis and deals with her alcoholic mother. Then one night, a tornado changes all that  -- her trailer is whisked away and lands in Oz. Suddenly the Kansas girl is faced with the knowledge that none of the characters she remembers are like they are in the storybook. Good characters act bad. Bad characters seem good. And Oz is falling apart. Why? It's all because of Dorothy.

The story was great! I couldn't stop reading! By the time I was halfway finished, I was already putting a hold on book 2 at the library. Must. Keep. Reading.

There are 3 books and several prequel short stories in the Dorothy Must Die series. The fourth book, The End of Oz, will be published in March.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

REVIEW: The Best Mistake Mystery

The Best Mistake Mystery

Author: Sylvia McNicoll

The fantastic cover art for this book is what first 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.

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

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

REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman

When I saw that this audiobook featured Neil Gaiman reading his own story, I jumped right on it. Hell yeah!

I'm glad I did. It was great!!

I have hearing loss. Some narrators are just impossible for me to understand, even using headphones. But this recording was perfect. Gaiman read well and I could easily understand it all. I am beginning to understand the value of listening to a book while driving, doing housework, etc. This story was just so enjoyable to listen to. I think I enjoyed it more as an audio recording than I would have just reading it on my own. Gaiman's inflections and tone really helped get the story's intent across. I was totally engrossed in the story from the beginning.

The story begins with a 40-something year old man returning to his hometown to attend a funeral. He feels lost and sad, so he travels to the street where he lived when he was 7. The house has been torn down, but the neighbor's farm at the end of the lane is still there. He goes to visit and wanders to the pond on the property. Memories from his childhood flood back. He remembers long forgotten memories of a magical time with his friend Lettie Hempstock, her mother and grandmother. A suicide started the darkness flowing into his 7-year old world, but Lettie had promised to protect him. He was always safe with her, no matter what. The darkness builds...a danger threatening his very existence...but Lettie and her family are there, standing between him and the darkness.

On the surface, this story is a magical tale of a boy and his friend battling evil. At heart, this tale is about the adult world encroaching on the innocence of childhood. Cracks form....and darkness starts to come through....deaths, betrayals, jealousies, the knowledge that our parents are human and not perfect. It's all part of growing up and slowly but surely the darkness breaks through and we all have to join the adult world where magic doesn't exist and wonder is subjugated by responsibility.

I loved this story. It's beautifully written and just a fantastical journey back to a boy's first loss of that magical, unsullied childhood innocence.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

REVIEW: The Whole Art of Detection

The Whole Art of Detection
Author: Lyndsay Faye

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

I have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was a little girl. I can remember the stormy afternoon I discovered the magic of Arthur Conan Doyle. It was Sunday and every Sunday we visited my uncle. He was a bachelor with no children, so most Sundays I spent the whole day playing outside because there was nothing at his house for kids to do. But this Sunday was horrible -- rain came down in sheets outside. No playing outdoors. So, I ventured upstairs to his library. For that entire afternoon, I lay across the bed in the guest room reading Sherlock Holmes stories. Instant love.

In my circle of family and friends, I'm the one who usually dislikes Hollywood remakes of classic movies, new covers of songs, any Disney movie with a 2 in the title, and tinkering with classic literature.  I like my classics left alone, with very few exceptions. But, I am learning to expand my horizons and give revisits, retellings and remakes more of a chance instead of just shutting down before even attempting to engage. The above 3 Rs are not intrinsically evil. I need to relax and let my classic horizons expand sometimes. In the past few years, I've discovered many retellings and new stories starring classic characters that I like. I'm finding that loving books means learning that new authors tinkering with beloved classic characters sometimes has a wonderous, joyful outcome! But I do have to admit that while I now give revists to classic characters a better chance, I am still very picky. I can't help it. In this case, I was quite pleased and enjoyed my return visit to Baker Street.

The Whole Art of Detection is an homage to Sherlock Holmes written by a long-time big fan of Sherlock who also discovered the character as a young girl just like I did. I'm so glad that Lyndsay Faye wrote these stories!! I absolutely LOVED this book! I felt the same way about this book that I did when I first discovered Sherlock while draped over an old 4-poster bed in my uncle's drafty, old house on a rainy afternoon all those years ago.

The book is divided into several sections: Before Baker Street, The Early Years, The Return and The Later Years. Faye's stories encompass the entirety of Holmes' career from the time he was just learning to apply his detecting skills as a young man to the years following his faked death. Faye grabs the essence of the characters, the language, wit and humor of the original and runs with it!

For me, the most enjoyable thing was Faye's ability to capture the nature of the relationship of Sherlock and Dr. Watson. Those feelings of annoyance, frustration, yet strong love and friendship are essential to both characters.

The stories are all well-written, mostly true to the style of the originals and entertaining to read. It was so nice to read more exploits by one of my all-time favorite characters.

Any fan of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle will enjoy this book. I read an Advanced Readers Copy of this book for review, but have a finished copy on my pre-order list. It will go on my keeper bookshelf with my 2-volume set of the complete Sherlock Holmes. This book will release March 7th, 2017. Mystery and Holmes fans should definitely get a copy and enjoy the return to Baker Street!

Lyndsay Faye is the author of several other Holmes novels and the Timothy Wilde series. I plan to read them all! Definitely a fan! To discover more information about the author and her books, check out her website: www.lyndsayfaye.com

Monday, February 6, 2017

REVIEW: Red Velvet Cupcake Murder

Red Velvet Cupcake Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

The Albion Hotel in Lake Eden, MN is hosting a grand re-opening. The hotel has been totally remodeled and anybody who is anybody in Lake Eden is at the ceremony. Hannah Swensen has baked her famous Red Velvet Cupcakes for the occasion. With the arrival of Doctor Bev - a woman that Hannah hates because she tried to hurt her friend, Norman - gossipy whispers start passing from one guest to another. But, the whispers stop when Barbara Donnelly falls from the roof of the hotel. As the Lake Eden Police Department scrambles to find out why Barbara fell from the roof, Doctor Bev falls back into her witchy ways, informing Hannah that she could steal Norman back from her with little effort. Hannah barely has time to stop being angry before she finds Doctor Bev's car submerged in Miller's Pond. Ding, Dong with witch is dead. Only it wasn't a Ding Dong that killed Doctor Bev. Local authorities believe it was Hannah who caused Doctor Bev's death by spiking her cupcake. Things don't look good for Hannah. The only way she can prevent her own arrest is to investigate and find out who actually killed the nasty Doctor Bev.

I enjoyed Red Velvet Cupcake Murder, the 16th book in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series. The mystery was a bit more involved this time. There were more suspects (even Hannah herself) and a bit more substance to the investigation. I didn't like the fact that Doctor Bev was the murder victim. Not that I didn't feel the venomous, slutty doctor didn't deserve it....but this is the 4th time this particular plot device has been used in this series. Two prior murder victims were women that dared to date Hannah's other love interest, Mike Kingston. Then a jerk ex-boyfriend of Hannah's was killed.  And now, the female dentist who was really horrible to Norman Rhodes is murdered. After awhile, deaths surrounding this on-going love triangle would start to make the authorities a little suspicious. How many boyfriends/girlfriends can drop dead around these people? I rolled my eyes at this one....not that part of me wasn't elated that Doctor Bev wouldn't be coming back in any of the future books.....I think Joanne Fluke needs to start murdering people who have never dated Mike, Norman or Hannah. It's a bit over-used after 4 times.

The recipes in this book all looked yummy. Mostly desserts this time, with one hotdish recipe.

All in all, the story was interesting, well paced, and an enjoyable Hannah Swensen mystery. But, it did nothing to get closer to a solution of the Mike-Norman-Hannah issue. The love triangle has gone on long enough.....and it's getting a bit annoying. The series has 20 books...with #21 coming out at the end of February. I'm trying to catch up with the series so I can find out if the weird love trifecta was ressolved before I accidentally read a spoiler somewhere that gives it away. I guess, even though it is annoying, the plot device of having Hannah indecisive in her love life is working if it has me reading through a 20 book series just to find out if she makes up her mind! The minute I start thinking she has decided on Norman.....Mike pops back up. Then I think maybe she's going to choose Mike...then she's back onto Norman. Maybe she just needs to dump them both and find someone else entirely.

I have to say......I'm finding myself pretty much siding with Team Norman. But, my guess is that most likely a dark horse will appear to steal her heart from both of them. Hopefully I find out soon! I'm tired of reading all the way through a novel and finding her not even one step closer to making any sort of a decision. Frustrating! :)

I receommend this series for anyone who enjoys light, cozy mysteries. There is no cussing, sex, spurting blood or graphic violence. Hannah runs her bakery with her friend Lisa, and seems to have a knack for discovering dead bodies. The supporting characters are fun and quirky. And, the recipes included are definitely yummy!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

REVIEW: Devil's Food Cake Murder

Devil's Food Cake Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

Devil's Food Cake Murder is the 14th novel in the Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series. The books are quick, light reads with lots of recipes included. Hannah, the main character, owns a bakery specializing in cookies and other desserts. Each book is named after a dessert. At least one recipe that ties into the storyline appears at the end of most chapters.

I like this series. The characters are fun and a bit quirky. The mystery plotlines are not that in-depth, but still fun to read. These are cozy mysteries, meaning that there is no graphic sex, no spurting blood, no cussing....it's pretty light fare. It makes for a great read at the beach, a light story for the waiting room at the doctor's office or for recreational reading. I love to read this series while curled up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea, my chihuahua sidekick and a fuzzy blanket. :) Perfect winter's evening reading.

In Devil's Food Cake Murder, Hannah's friend Claire is preparing to go on her honeymoon with her new husband, Reverend Bob Knudson. A replacement minister is coming in to take over services at the church while they are on their trip. Matthew Walters is a childhood friend of Bob's and he's happy to fill in while the couple is gone. But, plans go astray. Hannah finds Matthew slumped over the desk in the rectory office. He's been shot in the head.

Hannah seems to  have a knack for finding dead bodies. I always smile when one of the other characters jokes with her about her "slay-dar.'' In reality, I think that she would end up under investigation. If I went around finding dead bodies every month or two, the local police would have a field day. I'd be in big trouble. Especially if a couple of the dead bodies were women who tried to steal my boyfriend. But, then again, cozy mysteries are not meant to be realistic. They are meant to be fun, light, mysteries with cute subplots and minimal blood and guts. So, I suspend reality and just enjoy the books.

I think the love triangle subplot might be approaching its climax finally. No spoilers from me. But I do see some light at the end of the tunnel of Hannah's love life. I don't think it's going to be the ending I expected....but really...isn't that the way life usually goes? We expect one thing.....and something else happens. Que sera, sera.

I enjoyed this book. The mystery was well paced and there was a twist I didn't really see coming. There was a little bit more substance to this book than the last two. There is a bit of a cliffhanger ending....that was a nice touch. Luckily I have the next book sitting on my shelf and I don't have to stew about it for long!

This cozy series is perfect for light reading. I've tried many of the recipes.....never had one that wasn't an instant hit with my family. Devil's Food Cake Murder has a recipe for welsh rarebit. I've always wanted to try that! I think it might be a great experiment for Sunday breakfast this week!

There are 20 books in the Hannah Swensen series so far. The 21st book, Banana Cream Pie Murder, is coming out February 28th. I'm doing my best to catch up. I don't want to accidentally read a spoiler about how Hannah's lovelife comes out.....so I'm spending every evening with Hannah until I catch up! :) Getting closer!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Banana Cream Pie Murder

Banana Cream Pie Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

Banana Cream Pie Murder is the 21st book in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series. This new book will be published February 28th!

Hannah isn't even back home from her honeymoon before she gets news that a famous resident of Lake Eden has been murdered. She arrives home and immediately starts trying to figure out who killed the director of the Lake Eden community players. Hannah's family and friends join in as usual. And sprinkled in among the chapters are lots of yummy recipes.

I enjoyed this book! Hannah was on the case immediately. There were plenty of suspects and a few twists and turns before the murderer was caught. The book ends on an exciting cliff-hanger that I didn't see coming. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book! I sincerely hope I don't have too long to wait! :)

I loved the pie eating contest subplot. Mayor Bascomb, after all of his shenanigans in most all of the prior 20 books, deserved a little pie on his face and a few jokes at his expense. Fictional character or not, the man is truly an ass!

Readers who are new to this series don't necessarily have to start at the beginning. Dive in at book #21 if you like -- you will still enjoy the mystery! If you want to see the development of the personal relationships between all the key characters from Lake Eden, it's best to start at the beginning though. But, it's not a requirement to enjoying the books.

This is a cozy mystery, which means there is no cussing, spurting blood, graphic sex. It's light reading, with a cute subplot (Hannah owns a bakery and discusses dessert recipes throughout). She lives with her cat Moishe, her husband and her family and friends stop by her condo all the time for dinner or to assist Hannah in her amateur sleuthing. The ability to suspend reality is necessary because Hannah finds more dead bodies than any other baker I've ever heard of. It's like Jessica Fletcher finding all those dead bodies in Murder She Wrote.....nobody ever batted an eye, unless it was intrinsic to the plot that she be a suspect. Hannah's slay-dar is still in full force after 21 books. :)

For lovers of cozy mysteries and the Hannah Swensen series, this book will be an enjoyable, relaxing read. Those readers looking for a more in-depth police procedural with graphic gore and realistic investigation, then cozy mysteries are not the right fit. This is a perfect mystery to read by the fire place with fuzzy socks on and a cup of coffee. Relaxing, cute and enjoyable. With lots of ideas for yummy things to bake!

I'm looking forward to the next book!!

For more information on Joanne Fluke and her books, check out her website: www.murdershebaked.com.There are also recipes on her site!

FYI: Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel has made 4 Hannah Swensen movies starring Alison Sweeney. They are cute and really enjoyable! There are some plot changes and character differences (Moishe isn't a ginger cat but a striped tabby and doesn't have the mangled ear, etc that he does in the book, and Hannah is a beautiful blonde instead of a slightly chunky redhead with frizzy hair, etc), but that's something to be expected in nearly every film adaptation of books. The newest movie, Strawberry Shortcake Mystery, will premiere March 26th!!

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

REVIEW: Apple Turnover Murder

Apple Turnover Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

My husband saw me reading this book last night and stopped, standing in front of me with a grin on his face. "Hey, are those the books you read that have recipes in them?'' I nodded, and he walked off still grinning. "I guess this means you are baking apple turnovers this weekend!''

Sure, why not! :)

Apple Turnover Murder is the 13th book in the Hannah Swensen series. I like this cozy mystery series. It's light reading, sprinkled with recipes throughout the story. I like to "visit'' Hannah in the evening with a cup of hot tea, my dog in my lap, fuzzy socks keeping my toes warm....just a nice, light before-bed read. The plots are never too complex, and the books are usually quick reads at under 300 pages. Cozy mysteries offer a bit of escape......light reading, some humor, a cute subplot or two, quirky characters, and a murder mystery thrown in. No sex. No cussing. No spurting blood. Think Hallmark Channel movies (which is perfect because Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel has made 4 of the Hannah Swensen books into made-for-television movies).

Sometimes I just need a story where I like the characters and the plot is just light and easy to read. Comfort reading. It's a lot like comfort food for avid readers.

I have to admit I didn't like Apple Turnover Murder as much as I've liked the other books in this series. This book seemed a bit too simplistic, or maybe like it was rushed? I'm not sure exactly. Something was just a bit off for me this time. Hannah is baking a lot of goodies for a large charity gala in Lake Eden, MN. More than 1000 cookies and just about as many apple turnovers are just too much for her to tackle alone, so she gets her business partner, Lisa, and her mother-in-law to help her out. Hannah is, as usual, mulling over her relationship difficulties and losing sleep from overwork and stress. Add in former boyfriend, Professor Bradford Ramsey deciding to be a lecherous jerk, and Hannah definitely has a lot going on. Just when she thinks nothing else could possibly go wrong, at the talent show, Hannah discovers Bradford Ramsey dead backstage.....just after she told him she wanted to kill him. Hannah is back on the case to discover who killed the promiscuous professor.

The mystery portion of the plot seemed hurried this time. The investigation was lackluster, and the ending just seemed staged to me. The interaction between the main characters was obviously building up to something....but the reveal was a bit ho-hum for me. I still enjoyed the book...don't get me wrong. This particular book just seemed a bit meh to me.

I still love Hannah Swensen. And this book was a good build for what I think it going to happen in the rest of the series. I'm forging ahead with the rest of the series. Not every book in a long series can be monumentally exciting. And this is entirely my own opinion. To some, this book may have been awesome. I think I'm just ready for this series to head in a different direction.....the love triangle sub-plot was getting old five books ago. I think there might be light showing at the end of the tunnel though......

The recipes in Apple Turnover Murder sound SO yummy!! I think I need to bake this weekend! My husband excepts apple turnovers!

There are 20 books in the Hannah Swensen series, with #21 Banana Cream Pie Murder coming out February 28th!

As soon as I catch up with Hannah, I think I'm going to check out some of Joanne Fluke's suspense novels. I have heard good things about them. I'm curious to see what her non-cozy books are like! The cover-art looks delightfully creepy on her suspense books! I can't wait to try a couple of them! For more information about Joanne Fluke and her books, check out her website: www.murdershebaked.com

Thursday, February 2, 2017

REVIEW: Haunted Christmas

Haunted Christmas:
Yuletide Ghosts and other Spooky Holiday Happenings
Author: Mary Beth Crain

I have loved ghost stories ever since I was a little girl. When I saw this book filled with Christmas related spooky stories, I just had to read it. I'm glad I did!

I was familiar with some of the stories (the Bell Witch, The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, Anne Boleyn's ghost), but some were completely new to me (the sinking of the Christmas tree ship, Epworth Rectory, the death coach). The 30 tales are varied. Some are from modern times, others from centuries ago. The book includes tales from all over the world - Ireland, Canada, the United States, Germany, France, England, Scandinavia, and other countries. All are well-written and spooky, but not too scary. A middle grade age child should be able to read this book without being overly frightened. I also enjoyed the introduction where Mary Beth Crain tells a supernatural tale of her own. And the first chapter explains the ghostly history of the holiday season. Some of the stories are frightening, but some are also tales of blessings and unexplained miracles that occurred at Christmastime.

At 195 pages, this book is a quick read. It was perfect entertainment for me on a cold, rainy winter afternoon! The cover art is great!

Mary Beth Crain is also the author of several other books including Haunted U.S. Battlefields, Haunted Pet Stories, and a memoir, A Widow, A Chihuahua, and Harry Truman. I will definitely read more of her work. This book was a fun, spooky read!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

REVIEW: The Fearless Travelers' Guide to Wicked Places

The Fearless Travelers' Guide to Wicked Places
Author: Pete Begler

You will get lost. 
You will be scared.
You will fall.
You will flee.
You will fight.
You will learn.
And without a doubt,
You will find your way home. 

Nell Perkins is 12-years old. She loves her mom and her brothers, and lives a relatively normal life. Until a strange storm hits. A weird purple cloud shaped like a skull appears in the air, chasing her and her mother. What happens next sends Nell and her two brothers on a magical journey through Dreamland -- witches kidnap their mother and turn her into a bird.  With the help of a Fearless Traveler, the children battle supernatural killer clowns, bird witches, and other ethereal creatures in Dreamland in an attempt to return their mother to human form.

This is a beautiful, imaginative, amazing story!! I couldn't stop reading -- I just kept seeing the story unfold like a movie playing in my head. Dreamland is scary and hauntingly beautiful at the same time. The adventure to return their mother to her human form teaches the children to rely on themselves, to work together and to believe in their skills and intelligence. The tale is also sprinkled with witty humor and interesting supporting characters. I think my favorite side characters are the skeletons the children meet while riding on the bus.

The author, Pete Begler, works in television. I can honestly say that I would LOVE to see a film version of this story! It would be beautiful!! Surely Tim Burton or someone similar could take this and make a hauntingly beautiful movie or television show from it! The world-building is exquisitely creative, the characters are wonderful, and the action is intense. What a fun read! I couldn't put it down!

The Fearless Travelers' Guide to Wicked Places will be published March 1st by Capstone. This is Pete Begler's first novel.