Sunday, December 4, 2016

Book Review: Death & the Brewmaster's Widow by Loretta Ross

Death & The Brewmaster’s Widow (An Auction Block Mysteries, #2)Death & The Brewmaster’s Widow by Loretta  Ross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book in this series and presents a wonderful mystery. One of the hardest things about this series to me is the main character’s name - Death, pronounced Deeth. But, once you get into the story, you know how to say the name and the oddness goes away a bit. There are plenty of wonderful things about this series, compared to others out there (and many that I enjoy). First, is the lack of antagonism from the local authorities with Death’s character - a wounded Warrior turned private investigator/bounty hunter and Wren, the auctioneer from the series title. Death is indeed a wounded warrior, which is the second refreshing thing about this mysteries. While I hate that he is wounded, it is true to the times we live in. Next is the closeness of the characters in this book, from Wren’s employers (it’s their auction company) to the police to other towns folk. Now, not all small towns may be like this, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were.

Next is the fact that Death learns to rely on Wren and not sell her short. He definitely considers an equal. He may not like his disability, but he’s not in denial about it either. He recognizes Wren’s strengths and adds those to his own. In this book, the support also comes from Death’s brother’s fire department and friends as he and Wren look in to the oddness of getting a badge that did not belong to Death’s brother, who died in a fire. The numbers on the badge don’t match. At first, it’s just a curiosity, but as they continue to look into it a mystery unfolds. I figured it out right about the same time the characters did, but that didn’t detract at all. In fact, it’s not a traditional mystery in the end, which makes it even better.

The final climatic scenes are among some of the best I have read, alternating between Wren and Death. Quite well done. The epilogue was also very satisfying. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series. I recommend reading these books in order as they do build upon each other. Recommended if you enjoy a good mystery with all likable people.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Recipe Review: Brown Sugar & Almond Biscotti

Brown Sugar & Almond Biscotti
I've taken to having a cup of tea in the evening while I read my book.  Sometimes, this calls for a little nosh to go with it.  It occurred to me that biscotti would be a great choice.  Nice with the tea, but not too much.

So, I cruised through the various biscotti recipes on Pinterest, pinning several.  I settled on Brown Sugar and Almond Biscotti from Food Gal to start.  It takes a little time between the baking and the toasting, but it is definitely worth it.  This is one tasty recipe. Next time, I won't toast it quite so long at the end as I like it a little softer, but that's my preference.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Review: A Ghostly Undertaking by Tanya Kappes

A Ghostly Undertaking (Ghostly Southern Mysteries, #1)A Ghostly Undertaking by Tonya Kappes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first book in the Ghostly Southern Mystery series by Tanya Kappes. While I enjoyed the book, I’m not sure I’d call it a mystery. More like Chick Lit with a little mystery thrown in. I liked the characters, but am not sure we really get to know them. We get to know the main character, Emma Lee, who runs the Eternal Slumber funeral home (and drives around in the hearse because she can't afford another car), and Ruthie, the dead person. We also get to know Jack Henry, the sheriff and Emma’s crush. Relationships are not well developed, though they aren’t non-existent. You know Emma is close to Granny, but you don’t really see it. She works with her sister, Charlotte, and there are hints of a relationship there, but that’s it.

The mystery revolves around who killed Ruthie. Emma can see Ruthie due to an accident she had a few months ago. Everyone thinks Emma is crazy and it’s the “Funeral Trauma.” Except Jack Henry, who believes her and doesn’t really bat an eye.

There was as much of Emma and Jack in this story as the mystery. I felt like the killer came out of nowhere, but there were hints. Honestly, the best part of the story was Emma’s growing friendship with Ruthie. Who disappears after her murder is solved. This book was equally split between Emma and Jack’s growing relationship as the mystery.

The one thing that drove me nuts was the almost universal referral to everyone by their first and middle names. I realize this is set in Kentucky and that the author is from there. I grew up in the South and while you see this sometimes, it’s not that prevalent and certainly not for an entire town. I also got a little tired of hearing the term "funeral trauma" as it kind of made it sound like everyone in the town was a little backward. This aside, I did enjoy this book and wouldn’t be averse to reading the next book in the series.

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Recipe Review: Breakfast Bowls

So, I recently gave up energy bars, which used to be my quick weekend breakfast.  What to replace it with?  Well, for a couple of weeks, muffins!  I love muffins and have a variety of muffin cookbooks and will continue to keep them on hand (in the freezer). Then, I spotted a recipe from Running with Spoons (site has been slow for me) for a Brownie Batter Breakfast Bowl.  
Brownie Batter Breakfast Bowl
It has chocolate and oatmeal and basically is one serving.  I'm one person and this was an opportunity for a hot breakfast that looked easy to do.  And, how can you turn down chocolate for breakfast? Better yet, baked in the oven, not the microwave, which for some reason is my preference.  So, I gave it a try one night (yes, it was dinner).  Tasty.  I made it again yesterday for breakfast, with more maple syrup (the recipe has a range based on preference) and using quick oats.  Very Tasty.

Oatmeal Cookie Dough Breakfast
This morning, I tried another breakfast bowl - Oatmeal Cookie Dough Breakfast Bake.  Tasty as well.  I do believe, I've come upon my weekend breakfast solutions.

If you know of similar recipes, please share.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Recipe Review: Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blender Cake

I came across this recipe, Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blender Cake, from Averie Cooks via Pinterest.
Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate
Chip Blender Cake

I have never tried baking anything flourless and couldn't really wrap my head around baking without flour.  I love to bake, and as mentioned in previous post, am now baking my own bread.  This one caught my eye though, partly because I had bananas I needed to use and partly because it's mixed in a blender.  I have to say, I'm very happy with the results.

Next time (yes, there will be a next time), I will let my batter cool a bit before mixing in the chocolate chips (my blender got the batter a bit warm).  Other than that, it was easy to make. I did let it cool before eating (per the directions), but I'm liking it better after overnight in the fridge.

I definitely plan on giving some of her other flourless, blender recipes a try.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Review: Swan Dive by Kendel Lynn

Swan Dive (An Elliott Lisbon Mystery #3)Swan Dive by Kendel Lynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a hard review to write. Because the mystery was good, I went with three stars rather than two. Over about a seven day period, I read all three of the Elliot Lisbon mysteries, starting with the third book, Swan Dive, then moving to the first book, Board Stiff, then Whack Job. Elliot Lisbon is the Director of the Ballantyne Foundation in Sea Pine Island. As part of her job, she frequently handles minor “problems” for Ballantyne Board members and donors and is thus working toward her PI license. She’s 40 and single and trying to get through life, which I appreciate. Apparently, not a model, but average, which, again I like. That’s about all that I liked about Elliot.

The mysteries were good, with Swan Dive probably being the best. I chose it to start with it because I wanted a Christmas themed mystery for the holidays. This book revolved around the murder of Lexie Allen, Sugar Plumb Fairy in the Sea Pine Island production of the Nutcracker, which is about the only thing that was Christmasy. Turns out, she had a passion for food and was in the process of becoming quite the chef, rather than a dancer. However, that is not what led to her death. The clues lead everywhere, but the author pulled in quite another story line related to Lexie’s mother that ended up being the root cause. I never would have pegged the killer, but it tied up nicely and wasn’t over the top.

While the mystery was well done, there were problems. The characters weren’t well developed, she should run from both potential boyfriends, especially the detective. The detail on driving around the island, complete with every street she went on anytime she went anywhere, drove me batty.  What do I care about the streets she drove on? Unless it ties into the mystery, which it didn't.  The writer also had a thing for expensive cars, including having the boyfriend drive a half million dollar car I've never heard of and several others drive high end cars.  Elliot drives a Mini Cooper, which you will never forget because she's always referring to it as the Mini.  Most people refer to their cars as their car.  Elliot was also always grabbing her "hipster" before heading out.  It's a purse and it's okay to call  it that.  In fact, it's okay not to always have the character tell you she got her hipster/purse before leaving. If the author had dumped these not needed details, maybe the characters could have been a little more developed.

I think Elliot is supposed to be smart, but she just comes across as a scattered dingbat. Add in that no one, I mean absolutely no one, at the police department appears to want to work with her and there was very little that I found engaging about these characters.

In addition, her personality is incongruent with someone who wants to be a private investigator. She hates blood and is a germaphobe. She also hates guns. Seriously? She doesn’t like going online to do research. I’m assuming that includes databases that would allow her to really research her suspects. She drives all the way to a neighboring town because she thought she’d get better information in person. They referred her online. She breaks the law (i.e. breaking and entering, but believes she should be allowed, because she’s investigating). She claims to be discreet, but everyone knows what she’s doing. Nothing she does is smart -- she just bumbles about, but thinks she's better than the police or more specifically her former boyfriend, who apparently she’s carried a torch for for over 20 years (personally, I don’t think he was worth torch carrying), who is now a detective with the Sea Pine Island Police.

She is working toward her PI license and has about 4000 hours left to go. Because the police are so anti working with her, yet they “sign off” on her hours, I looked up what it would take to be a PI in South Carolina. I doubt this would meet the requirements. The point would be to work with the police in a training capacity, not just signing off on her “investigation.” And, since they don’t want her investigating anything, I can’t see why they would sign off on anything. Yet, apparently they do, which makes no sense to me.

I do like her friend Sigrid (Sid). Sid appears to be very involved in various activities and charities on the island, which made me wonder why the Director of a charitable foundation wasn’t. That's about her only close friend.  While, she claims that she misses the close friendship she had with her friend Matty before they started dating, you don’t see any evidence of the friendship.  I also like that it's set in South Carolina, near Charleston, with Savannah, GA thrown in.

The reviews for this book are all good, which baffles me. I’ve read the previous two books and can’t really recommend them. Since, I’m in the minority, if you’re into mysteries set in the South, give it a try, but be prepared.  I don't plan on reading any other books in this series, unless they're free.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016


It's a new year and with that come resolutions.  We all make them, though it's hard to keep them.  I'm starting out easy.  Sorta.  I joined a challenge at a gym to get back in shape and that is working.  More weight lifting/strength training, which I enjoy.  It also has the added benefit of giving me an "appointment" in the evening, so I leave work on time.  Fortunately, it's not far from the house, about 10 minutes, so that's good.  While the days are getting longer, it's still dark when I drive home and I don't see well at night, so short drive and street lights make it easier.

Another resolution was to bake my own bread.  A while ago, I found a recipe for English Muffins, which was something I'd never thought to bake/make myself.  But, I wanted to try it.  I got the English Muffin rings for Christmas, plus a mix.  I did them about two weeks ago and they were good.  This weekend, I'm will be making them totally from scratch.
Toasted English muffin (home made)

English Muffins (home made)
Based on the success of the English Muffins, I decided to start baking my own bread.  Quite a leap.  A while ago, I got the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion.  In addition to recipes, it gives the how's and why's of baking just about anything, which prompted the decision to bake bread.  So, today, I gave it a go and am pleased to say it was a success.

Vermont Oatmeal Maple-Honey Bread
The bread I chose was Vermont Oatmeal Maple-Honey Bread.  Based on the advise in the book, I used the bread machine to knead, then used the traditional method to bake.  The first rise was okay, but the second rise in the pans took a little longer than their estimate.  I suspect this was because the weather is cooler and so was the house.  Still, I let it rise to where it needed to and then baked it.  I will probably never go back to store bought bread.  The big challenge now is slicing.  Even with a guide, I can get a crooked slice.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book Review: A Skeleton in the Family by Leigh Perry

A Skeleton in the Family (Family Skeleton Mystery #1)A Skeleton in the Family by Leigh Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, this was an enjoyable mystery. The story centers around Georgia Thackery, who has returned to her home town to be an adjunct faculty member at one of the local universities, where her parents are tenured. She is staying in her parents house while they are on sabbatical, with her daughter, Madison, and Sid, the skeleton. Who is “alive.”

I’ve been reading a lot of paranormal mysteries lately and a “live” skeleton is different. Georgia’s theory is that Sid is haunting his own skeleton, however, no explanation is ever really given for Sid and I’m not sure there is one.

There are two murders in this mystery - Jocasta Kirkland, a Zooarcheologist, at the other university, which is current, and Sid’s murder, 30 years ago. Jocasta Kirkland is someone Sid (in disguise) recognizes on a outing with Georgia. They decide to try and talk with her and head to her house, where they find her dead.

The odd thing about this mystery is that the focus is not on finding who killed Dr. Kirkland, but who is Sid? His recognition of Dr. Kirkland makes him wonder who he is -- after 30 years of being a “living” skeleton. Georgia then takes Sid in to be “evaluated” and learns that he is indeed a he, in his early 20’s and that he was most likely murdered.

There were things I liked about this book. Georgia uses resources from her fellow adjuncts and university faculty and online newspaper archives to gather information. When needed, she does visit a few people. She did not call in the murder. She and Sid got out, then she called in a tip. Georgia seemed to get along with her fellow faculty members and, of course, she gets on well with Sid. There are a couple of chapters after the resolution that wrap up some other threads of the story, done well, and what I wanted.

There were a few things that were a little odd. Georgia has no close friends. Except Sid. Granted, she seems to move a lot, but she seems to be pretty much on her own. Her sister Deborah doesn’t like Sid, though that resolves. Sid didn’t want Madison to know about him; that too resolves. While we learn who killed Sid (and the Doctor), it’s almost anti-climatic and we are given the impression that there will be no charges in Sid’s murder and it seems that the police didn’t really care about a 30 year old missing person’s case, which turns out to be a 30 year old murder. After learning who Sid is, Georgia talks to Sid’s college roommate, who seemed like he’d really like to know what happened if she figure’s it out; it would have been nice to know if Georgia let him know.

Madison almost seems secondary to this story, but it’s not unique to this book. Though she has a good relationship with Madison, she is mostly on the periphery of this story. Same for her sister, Deborah. And, finally, it seems truly odd that someone’s best friend would be a Skeleton. Oddly, I’m not doubting the friendship, but that there wouldn’t be any other friends. I’m hoping some develop in future books as I do plan on reading at least the second book in this series. I also wasn’t sure about Fletcher, who Georgia seemed to like and who seemed like a good guy and then, eh, not really. Georgia and Sid are the best developed characters - the rest are just kind of there and not really developed. I hope this changes in future books.

The one thing that was a little annoying was the constant thread about how poorly adjuncts are paid, how badly they are treated, etc. I work in academia and I know the adjuncts life is not easy, but it bordered on preachy after a while.

If you are looking for a mystery that’s a little different, give this one a go.

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