Thursday, November 28, 2013

Book Review: Red Velvet Cupcake Murder by Joanne Flue

Red Velvet Cupcake Murder (Hannah Swensen #16)Red Velvet Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the 16th book in this series and the second one I’ve read.  I wasn’t sure what I would think of other books in this series after I finished the first, but I really enjoyed this book.

The mystery centered around finding who killed Dr. Bev.  I was at a little disadvantage as I skipped the 14 books in between this one and the first and was not familiar with Dr. Bev, who apparently was introduced in a previous book and was a rival for Norman’s affections.  Thus, because Hannah found the body (apparently she does this a lot) and because of the “rivalry” and because apparently they thought Hannah’s baked goodies might have been the method of death, Hannah was a suspect.  Thus, her involvement.

I thought the mystery was very well done and clues were strewn fairly evenly throughout the book.  The characters from the first book were still all there, with some new ones (again, I suspect introduced in previous books) and I still liked them all.  Hannah’s mother is now dating someone, which apparently makes her a much better person as she was much improved from the first book.  Likable, in fact.

There is a “triangle” between Hannah and Norman (the dentist) and Mike (the cop).  Frankly, I found it weird.  Several times they all sat down to dinner as if they were all just buds and not trying to figure who was coupled with who.  Speaking of dinner, food is front and center is this book.  It might have been in the first one as well, but it seemed like whole chapters were devoted to dinner and what was cooked and who did what.  The recipes placed throughout the book were a bit distracting as well.  However, I did try one of the recipes (the Chicken Tetrazzini Hot Dish) and liked it.

Even with the distractions and relationship weirdness, I enjoyed this book and will read others in the series.  Recommended.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Recipe Review: Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
The past week or so has seen a giant jump in my baking.  I've shared a good portion of what I've baked, but some is just for me.  These muffins fall in the just for me category.  I'm always on the lookout for a good chocolate muffin.  I've tried a lot of recipes from various cookbooks and have so far only run across one that was really good and it made just two large muffins (I tried making four smaller ones and they just weren't the same as the large ones).  Anyway, I came across this recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Muffins from Oh She Glows (one of my favorite blog sites) on Pinterest.  Since I've also recently discovered the joy of zucchini, I had to give them a try.

I'm so glad I did.  They were well worth the effort.  I particularly like the recipes from this blog as they are dairy free.  The flour came out a bit strong to me, but mine could have been on the cusp of needing to be replaced.  Next time, I may go with just unbleached flour or a mix of unbleached with whole wheat pastry flour.  And, I'll use a finer grate on the zucchini, but that is just my personal preference.  Overall, I'm happy to have found a chocolate muffin recipe that is good and has some good for me stuff in it (mostly referring to the zucchini).  Give them a try.

Recipe Review: Coconut Loaf

We had a meet and greet for a new employee in my department at work and I decided that it should be a morning breakfasty kind of thing.  I made Poppy Seed muffins from Mostly Muffins, a wonderful little cookbook I got years ago and have used so much it is literally falling apart.  I have many muffin cookbooks, in all shapes and sizes, and this recipe is one of my favorites.  Most poppy seed muffins have lemon.  This one doesn't.  It does have sour cream, which gives it a very moist texture.  I made mini-muffins rather than full size and as always they were wonderful.

Coconut Loaf
I also wanted to take something else.  I toyed with a blueberry coffee cake or a pound cake or some type of nut bread.  I was going through a little Taste of Home Muffins and Quick Breads cookbook, you know, the ones that you get at check-out registers, that I came across this Coconut Loaf  recipe. I'd wanted to try it for some time, but never had any coconut.  Well, I had coconut, so I gave it a try.  It's simply wonderful!  It's more like a pound cake with a bit of coconut -- the coconut is not overwhelming at all.

I did make a couple of modifications - I used margarine (really not a huge change) and almond milk, leaving this version dairy free.

It sliced fine after it cooled, but the following day it was a little crumbly when sliced.  Not sure why.  Still, it's a wonderful recipe and I'll probably bake it again

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Recipe Review: Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

Slowly, but surely, I've been cooking a bit more.  Lunch is heartier these days, so dinner is light.  This past week,  I tried Blueberry Baked Oatmeal from So, How's it Taste?, which I found on Pinterest.  I'm not a fan of traditional oatmeal, though I love baking with oatmeal.  So, I gave it a try.  Overall, I enjoyed it and will do it again, though I will make some modifications.  If I line the bottom with bananas again, they will not be overly ripe.  If I use ripe bananas, I'll mash them and add them to the liquid portion of this recipe.

However, I'm looking forward to trying it with peaches or an apple rather than the banana as well.  Some commenters even suggested lining the bottom with applesauce, though I'd probably also add that to the liquid.  At any rate, it made for a nice light dinner.

Book Review: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the first book in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series.  It’s been on my “To Read” list for awhile.  I won the latest book (Red Velvet Cupcake Mystery) and wanted to read the first book in the series before reading Red Velvet.

As with most series, the first book pretty much sets up the main characters.  It was how Hannah came to be involved in the mystery of who killed the milkman (a modern day version of one) that threw me for a loop.  She knew him and she found the body, but that’s not what drove her involvement.  What drove her involvement was her desire to help her brother-in-law, who has recently passed the Detective’s exam, solve the case.  At his invitation.  Seriously?  I’m still not sure what I think about this except I don’t think a lot of the brother-in-law for asking in the first place.

The mystery itself was well done and had a gradual, but not too slow, build up to the finale, but I did it figure it out toward the end.  I liked the characters - especially Norman (the local dentist), Andrea, Hannah’s sister, and Lisa, Hannah’s assistant at her cookie shop.  I did not like Hannah’s mother and wondered why she would move back to her hometown knowing she’d have to put up with that woman on a daily basis.  (This seems to be a theme in a lot of cozy series - daughters moving back to small home towns with absolutely dreadful mothers).  However, it was balanced by Hannah’s basically good relationship with Andrea and with the other folks she knew.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, though it was overshadowed by what I thought was a ridiculous reason for Hannah’s “snooping” and “helping.”  Having said that, I’m looking forward to reading the Red Velvet Cupcake Mystery.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: Every Perfect Gift by Dorothy Love

Every Perfect Gift (Hickory Ridge Romance #3)Every Perfect Gift by Dorothy Love
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this as Goodreads First Read and was very excited as the book really appealed to me, more for what seemed to be the mystery aspect (Sophie’s “shadowed past”).  I knew it was a romance, but I didn’t realize it was a Christian romance.  I do enjoy Christian fiction, however, the Christian aspect of this book doesn’t really flow.  It’s not really integral to the story -- it’s just there.  The author tried to bring it front and center, but it almost seemed to just be stuck randomly in the story and almost always in relation to attending church.

The book centers on Sophie Caldwell, who has returned to Hickory Ridge, TN to run a newspaper.  There she meets Ethan Heyward, who is overseeing the building of a resort that is sure to revive Hickory Ridge. Each has a “secret.” It is one of the best written books I’ve read lately -- the mechanics were nearly flawless.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters.   I liked Sophie and Ethan, but it seems like their relationship sprung full blown.  I felt like I missed the in-between of the developing relationship as it it seemed to go from introduction to “I hate keeping secrets” to we’re destined to spend the rest of our lives together.  And, there’s another relationship between Gilly (a friend of Sophie’s who wants to be a nurse and open a clinic) and a beau that comes out of nowhere at the end.

While the story was supposed to be the romance of Sophie and Ethan and their secrets, Gilly’s push for a clinic seems to share as much of the story as Sophie and Ethan (and came across a tad preachy to me).  Sophie’s “secret” is resolved pretty much in the middle of the book and is anti-climatic.  Ethan’s secret is also resolved around the same time in an overly dramatic way.  And, I had a hard time finding the “romance.”

I liked the setting of Hickory Ridge and the people, but I couldn’t connect with any of them.  This may be because this is the third and final book in this series and I hadn’t read the previous titles.  However, each book focuses on a different one, though one of those did introduce the reader to Sophie as a child.  My disconnect could also be because I don’t read a lot of romance and even less Christian romance.

Having said all of that, given how well written this book is, I would recommend it for those that enjoy Christian romance, but with the caveat to read the other two books first.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves

Tall Tales and Wedding VeilsTall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve read by Jane Graves and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I don’t normally read Romance, but I’d say this is more chick-lit than romance.  No matter, it was a fun read.

The premise is straight laced Heather impulsively weds future bar owner Tony.  Copious amounts of liquor were involved.  They set out to dissolve the whole thing, but Heather’s family is so excited over the marriage, that Tony offers to ride out the “marriage” until the annulment comes through, letting Heather be the one to end it all and thus save face.  It goes from there.

The characters in this book were well done and believable, though aspects of the story were totally cliche.  For example, Heather isn’t exactly a twig, though she’s not super heavy.  She also not a beauty though she’s not plain.  Average would be a good description.   Tony is gorgeous and somewhat of a ladies man and maybe a tad shallow.  What I loved most about this book is Tony could have been a complete cad, however, he was a good guy to start with and by the end, he had certainly learned to look beyond the surface.  Heather also grew in similar ways.

As someone who’s lived in Plano, Texas, I also enjoyed the setting.  Overall, while this is a bit of a fluff read, it was an enjoyable read.  Recommended for anyone who’s looking for a super good, light read.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: The Fleet Street Murders by Charles Finch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the Charles Lenox series and was a thoroughly enjoyable read.  A good part of this book focused on Charles’ run for Parliament.   I wasn’t sure whether I wanted him to win his seat or not and am not sure I’m happy with the results, but we’ll see.

The mystery was almost overshadowed by the campaign for Parliament, but it was blended well into the overall story.  This I’m sure was helped by likable townsfolk and Lenox’s true passion for being a member of Parliament.  I liked that Charles did not let his unexpected sudden run for Parliament overshadow everything.  His protege (of sorts), Dallington, seeks his help when an acquaintance is accused of murder, and while Lenox seems torn, in the end his need to investigate comes to the front and he does lend his help and direction to Dallington.  Up until the resolution, which was well done, Charles solution almost had overtones of obsession with a particular criminal, however, the ending took it out of the obsession realm and tied up everything nicely.

The main characters are back - his brother, Sir Edmund, McConnell and his wife, Toto, and of course, his manservant, Graham, who is invaluable with his campaign.  This book also introduced some great characters in the town he was campaigning to represent in Parliament.  A side story involved Lenox engagement to Lady Jane Grey, which added a bit of tension on that end, but blended well with the overall story.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it and the series.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book Review: Gem of a Ghost by Sue Ann Jaffarian

Gem of a Ghost (A Ghost of Granny Apples Mystery, #3)Gem of a Ghost by Sue Ann Jaffarian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*** Spoiler Alert *** This is the third book in the Ghost of Granny Apples Mysteries featuring Emma Whitecastle and Granny Apples (the ghost). While I enjoyed this book, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous books.

The story revolves around the ghost of a young woman who died in the late 1800’s and who did not have an easy life. Since her death, she has haunted a ring, with less than nice intentions. Emma is drawn to the mystery when the ring affects one of the friends of her daughter, Kelly. The mystery takes Emma to Pennsylvania, where the the ghosts of some of the Molly Maguires play a role, albeit a very small role.

This mystery didn’t quite live up to it’s potential and in some ways wasn’t resolved. In fact, the last half of the last chapter seemed to be out of order to me; it just seemed to throw off the flow of the book a bit.

In the previous books, we got to know the ghosts and their story a little more than here. This book introduces a new man, an archeologist, Quinn Keenan. It was almost like a romance competing with a mystery and both suffered from it. While I understand Emma not being sure about whether or not a permanent relationship with the first man she met after her marriage ended, I like Phil and felt like the potential romance with Quinn and Emma’s emotions around the whole thing leaned toward the drama queenish side. It took away a little from the mystery.

The mystery was good and the ending unexpected. However, it was only a partial ending as I hope we’ll know what the true end result of the last act of the ghost in the next book, though I doubt it. While I understand on some level why the end of the mystery was left a little hanging, I found it unsatisfying. I also found the Emma/Quinn ending unsatisfying. And, if I admit it, a little annoying. I read these books for the mystery, but I very much enjoy Emma and Phil’s relationship and I don’t really care to have soap opera elements thrown in. Though I do like Quinn, I hope this potential romance does not continue in future books. Because, yes, while I found this one a bit unsatisfying, I did enjoy the book and do plan to read the next one.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Charming Crime by Tonya Kappes

A Charming Crime (Magical Cure Mystery, #1)A Charming Crime by Tonya Kappes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first Goodreads win and I’m happy to say that, overall, I enjoyed this book.  This is first in the Magical Cures series featuring June Heal, a novice spiritualist.

As the book opens, June is carrying on her mother’s business of selling herbal remedies.  Through her best friend, Oscar Park, she learns of Whispering Falls -- a place full of interesting people.   She is invited to open a shop there for her cures and learns that she will basically be re-opening her Mother’s shop.  Turns out, in her early childhood, June lived with her mother and father in Whispering Falls, a town populated by Spiritualists and with a lengthy and convoluted set of rules on who can run a shop and who can live there.

I will admit that I had gaps in reading this book due to the holidays, but I felt like the characters were introduced at a rapid pace and I had a hard time keeping track of them.  Personally, I didn’t get a really good feel for the people in the town or even the main characters.  At times, the telling of the story felt rushed.  However, as I became more immersed in the book again, I was drawn into the story; the ending was climatic and had a twist.  So, a decent little mystery.

My biggest pet peeves with this book had to do with the formatting and the lack of editing.  The formatting was double spaced throughout, which was a bit distracting to me.  And, while the grammar was fine, the editing left a little to be desired.  There are numerous instances of the wrong words being used.  The words weren’t mis-spelled, they were simply the wrong words.  For the most part, I could figure out the word and move on.  The worst offender was "Freight and share agony pierced my soul.”  I’m pretty sure it was meant to be “Fright and sheer agony pierced my soul,” but it took me a bit to figure out the sheer part.  I will note that this could have been a pre-publication copy and the errors may not be in the final cut.  

One other thing that drove me a little nuts was June’s obsession with Ding Dongs.  I finally got past that, but there was one scene where she fed some to her cat and chocolate is toxic in cats.  As a cat owner, that totally distracted me from the main story, but fortunately it was only the one time.

Other than the pet peeves mentioned above, I thought this was a good mystery with a very interesting premise.  I do plan on reading future books in this series and would recommend it to those who enjoy a bit of the mystical in their mysteries.

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