Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving - 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! For the second year, a friend and I ate Thanksgiving dinner at one of the nicer local restaurants. Last year was somewhat of a disappointment with what appeared to be almost a "line 'em up and knock 'em out" type of experience with a different local restaurant that's very good and very popular. They took reservations for certain times, put out a buffet and there you go. Good, but we sorta felt like we were on a conveyor belt and missed the peacefulness of a meal out in a nice restaurant.

This year, we tried a restaurant recommended by another friend and it was a great recommendation. The atmosphere was great. No buffet. Adding to the dining experience for me was dietary restrictions (low fat) due to surgery last week. (This was only my second true outing since the surgery, so that made for an extra nice day for me). The waiter was awesome when I explained my restrictions. He helped modify the traditional dinner to remove items that wouldn't work and even put my gravy on the side. All this rounded out by a small piece of pumpkin pie for dessert.

In the past, Thanksgiving has been a "me" day -- something I've always enjoyed and many years looked forward to. However, dinner out these past couple of years with my friend has been really enjoyable. Especially this year, with the surgery and having limited contact with people for the past week. Makes one realize just how much there is to be thankful for.

We rounded out the day with a short walk to take advantage of the nice weather and look at the houses in the neighborhood around the restaurant.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review - A Killer's Christmas in Wales by Elizabeth J. Duncan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was looking for a Christmas mystery and came across this title. I found the Wales location and the introduction of a spa interesting. This is the third entry in the series; I haven’t read the first one and didn’t really feel that it mattered.

The mystery solver is Penny Brannigan, one of the owners of the future spa located in Llanelen, Wales. She’s likable as is her business partner, Victoria Hopkirk, and boyfriend, DCI Gareth Davies. The book opens with a mystery, the body of a young woman and dog found during the renovation of their future spa. It’s starts out as just background and pretty much stays there, however, she does play into the mystery a bit.

The story really revolves around Mrs. Lloyd and her infatuation with Harry Saunders, who is eventually murdered (something you sort of see coming). Shortly after Harry’s demise, another member of the village, a relative new comer, is also murdered. Throw in some petty thefts at the local second hand store and there is the mystery. Mrs. Lloyd and her house mate, Florence, through as series of bad decisions and circumstances come to be somewhat suspect in Harry’s murder. They ask Penny for help. Penny doesn’t just jump in and help, but she does offer to do what she can while encouraging the two ladies to take what they know to the police. As she was near the scene of the murder at the time that it occurred and because some things don’t really add up to her, she does offer to help where she can.

The mystery isn’t fast moving, but it’s enjoyable. I did figure out one of the relationships in this book, but I didn’t figure out who the killer was. In fact the story is set up so that you think it could be any number of people.

I enjoyed Penny’s relationship with her boyfriend and the fact that she was a very low key sleuth. She wasn’t all over the place, sneaking into rooms or around properties. She did sleuth, but it was all very natural and it wasn’t her overriding goal. She was curious and happened to pick up on things and in the end, she connected the dots. And, she called her cop boyfriend when she did rather than trying to round up the killer herself.

I liked the town, the people and the relationships. I also liked that various Welsh names were used, it was a welcome change of pace. And, as I did pick this up for a Christmas read, I enjoyed Christmas in this book. It wasn’t all about the gifts or the shopping. It was about church and dinner with friends... the things that truly matter.

The one thing that bothered me was that while the body of the woman was identified, her death wasn’t resolved. She disappeared many years ago, but her death and how she came to be buried in the spa was not explained. Future mystery maybe?

Not sure if I’ll read more in this series, but I might.

Book Review - Buzz Off by Hannah Reed

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I debated between 2 and 3 stars for this book, but because the mystery was basically well done, I gave it 3.

This mystery follows Story Fischer, recently divorced and living next door to her cad of an ex-husband, Clay. She’s recently opened a small market with an emphasis on honey products as she is into honey and learning about bee keeping. Her friend and teacher in the beekeeping business, Manny, dies at the beginning of the book, apparently from bee stings from his bees, and from there the mystery starts. Something just seems off to Story, like the fact that he died from yellow jacket stings, not bee stings. However, with no autopsy, the town is all aghast and raring to get rid of all bees. An entire town that comes across as small minded and uninformed, if not a tiny bit dumb. Next thing you know, Faye, Clay’s current girlfriend (apparently he really goes through them) shows up dead in Story’s kayak.

I was drawn to this mystery because of the beekeeping aspect and the mystery itself was well done. However, I didn’t really like any of the characters (except, Ben the dog) all that well, including Story, who apparently at one point in her life was a not so nice person, though to be fair, a lot of us aren’t at our peak in high school. Still, you’ve got a Sheriff who is apparently holding a grudge from high school and thus bullies Story still. Seriously, the head law enforcement officer, in this day and age, is a bully, though, he somewhat redeems himself at the end. Then, there is Story’s family, in particular her Mother. The whole relationship left me wondering what possessed her to move back to the small town she grew up in, given that there didn’t appear to be a completely decent person in the lot and Story herself mentions she has no friends. At least in most of the books of this genre there is a friend, even if it’s a cousin or other relation. Really, nothing like that here. Basically, a main character without anyone to support her.

The beekeeping aspect. Well, it was a disappointment as Story made so many stupid mistakes doing things with and around the bees, that I wondered if Manny was really the supreme beekeeper or if Story just wasn’t a good pupil.

The other thing that got tiring after a while with this book was the author's use of bullet lists. They are throughout the book for everything from conversation re-caps to information on the rustic roads of Wisconsin. Not sure if the author just didn’t like writing conversation or just thinks bullets are more concise. It didn’t really work for me.

Things resolve nicely in the end (with a bullet list, of course), but I don’t think I’ll be reading any other books in this series.