Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder - Joanne Fluke

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder
By: Joanne Fluke
Published: 2000
Audiobook Read by: Suzanne Toren
My rating: Delightful

After listening to Peach Cobbler Murder I decided to go back to the beginning and listen to this first book of the series. It is definitely a yummy start to these tasty mysteries!

Hannah Swensen is just a simple bakery owner, not a private eye! So how on earth did she end up smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation? Her brother-in-law, hopefully the newest Lake Eden sheriff detective, needs her help, that's how! There are just some things that a bag full of cookies can accomplish that all the police training in the world can't! Hannah jumps in head first never thinking about how it all might end up. Her main thought is for Bill and the fact that a solved murder investigation to his credit will go a long way to that promotion he wants so badly! Would she do it over again if she knew what kind of trouble she'd end up in?

This was a fun story but I kept feeling a little disappointed that Hannah is the one finding all the clues and solving the mystery when Bill is the one who is a trained sheriff deputy hoping to be promoted. He comes off looking a bit like Barney Fife instead of a qualified contender for a detective badge. Regardless of that flaw the rest of the book was great. I loved the quirky characters and the small town they live in. I especially liked the good-natured hostility between Hannah and her mother who is constantly badgering her to do things she doesn't want to do! As far as the mystery goes, there really wasn't much of a chance to try to figure out the solution ahead of time so I was just along for the ride. I didn't mind that too much since it wasn't really as much about the investigation as it was about Hannah's role in it.

I listened to the audiobook read by Suzanne Toren and was very pleased with her performance. As before, she expertly brought the characters to life for me.

Overall, this is a book that you should read, not for the mystery, but for the fun of the ride. If you're wanting a mind bending riddle to solve this won't satisfy you but if you just want to enjoy some fun, you'll be in good hands!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Ersatz Elevator - Lemony Snicket

The Ersatz Elevator
By: Lemony Snicket
Published: 2001
Audiobook Read by: Tim Curry
My rating: Delightful

I wish I could say that this book is the one where the Baudelaire Orphans finally defeat Count Olaf and live happily ever after but unfortunately that would make this an ersatz review. I suppose, despite the grief and agony it will cause you, I am duty bound to tell you the truth. This book is absolutely terrible, filled with awful and atrocious characters who should never be allowed to roam free, doing despicable and dastardly deeds that nobody should ever do, and bringing more misery and anguish on our beloved Sunny, Klaus and Violet! It's just plain bad!

You'll love it!

The children find themselves living in the lap of luxury with their new guardians, Jerome and Esme Squalor. The seventy-one room penthouse apartment at 667 Dark Avenue has everything they could ever wish for and it looks like there is at least a possibility of happiness there. Jerome is very kind and caring, and Esme, despite her indifference is at least civil to them. But doom and gloom invade this new abode in the form of Gunther the In Auction auctioneer. He is not someone they want to be around and after his appearance, everything goes down the tubes!

This was another really great installment in this fun series! We have been enjoying them very much and the kids have gotten in the habit of being ready to leave to go catch the bus as much as twenty minutes early so we have more time to listen! This book enforces my theory that there needs to be at least one nice character for the children to connect with for the story to be enjoyable. Jerome, despite his cowardice, cares for them very much and wants to see them taken care of. Under different circumstances he might have ended up being a wonderful guardian for them. Unfortunately this is not meant to be and we leave the Baudelaires waiting to see what new vile calamity will be waiting for them.

We listened to the audiobook read by Tim Curry and absolutely loved it! Tim does such a wonderful job with all the voices but his crowning glory has to be the evilness he can put into the villain's voices!

If you enjoy dark humor then this series is for you! Give them a try, I think you'll find that harrowing, ghastly misfortune has never been so much fun! :)

Old Dogs - Donna Moore

Old Dogs
By: Donna Moore
Published: 2010
My rating: Great

Well, after becoming friends with Donna here in blog-land I just had to give one of her books a try. Tammy and I read this one to each other and let me tell you, it has been quite an experience! :)

Two little golden dogs never had so much fun! Everyone wants to take them on a trip with them to somewhere! There's the three antique ladies with a young girl, the two strange guys who don't seem very bright, the young man who's head seems to be in a cloud, and the sophisticated gentleman who seems preoccupied with something else! Then of course there's the nice young woman who picked them up at the airport and graciously let them stay with her for a bit to catch up on their sleep and get over their jet lag, and that nasty, conceited, pipsqueak who pretends to be in charge of some kind of museum. Now, who should they go with? Choices, choices, what's a priceless jewel encrusted gold dog to do?

Donna's mother says this book has too much foul language and I have to agree. But aside from that, this was a hilarious romp that kept us in stitches all the way through! We laughed and laughed at the comedy of errors that is portrayed. The ridiculous chain of events is so very unlikely that it is just believable. We liked Kyle the best, with his complete naivety and innocence, he was a delight to follow. He was the source of most of our biggest laughs. This book had so many faces that in the end it was hard to decide what kind of ending I was hoping for, but I was surprised to find one final twist awaiting me!

Donna's style is different from anything else I have read and I found it very entertaining. The story flowed nicely and the rotating view of events gave an interesting perspective on the whole plot. Each set of characters had their own appeal and most of them were actually likable even if they were in the act of committing a crime! The only struggle we had was caused by our uneducated American brains which didn't understand some of the Glaswegian dialect! :) However, we were able to follow the plot without any trouble and roughly figure out the meaning of the strange words and phrases we came across! I would love to find an audiobook read by someone who could do an authentic Glaswegian accent!

Overall, this was a great book and was so much fun! Just be prepared for a lot of bad language.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tipperary - Frank Delaney

By: Frank Delaney
Published: 2007
Audiobook Read by: Frank Delaney
My rating: Great

This was another random selection that turned out to be a wonderful choice!

Michael Nugent has a tale to tell, one that in the beginning simply appealed to his curiosity about Irish history, but in the end he finds that he himself is deeply entwined with the story!

Charles O'Brien grew up near Tipperary Castle and never tired of imagining himself as it's lord and master. As an adult his fantasy took a new turn when he met the apparent heir to the estate, the lovely, young, April Burke. But destiny did not seem to be on his side when April flatly and cruelly rebuffed his advances. Charles was not one to give up so easily. Despite twenty years of failure, he never gave up on his love of April.

Not only is this a story of love, but it is a story of Ireland's struggle for independence. We follow Charles and April as they feel the devastating effects of war. They love their country and are willing to sacrifice for it. However, the question is not will they sacrifice, but rather how much will they sacrifice?

This was a fascinating look at the Irish culture of the early 1900s. I was fascinated by the tale of revolution and the story of men and women who gave so much of themselves to win freedom. Even though the book itself is fiction, it draws much from true history and piqued my curiosity to learn more about this chaotic time in Ireland. I love stories about Ireland and the picture of life there. This book is full of love and laughter, fear and tragedy, sacrifice and courage, and a cast of characters who captured my imagination and carried me away to that long ago time and place!

I also loved the description of Tipperary castle and the enormous task of restoring it to it's former magnificence! I have always loved old buildings and the idea of an ancient castle with all the trimmings was a joy for me!

I listened to the audiobook read by Frank Delaney who turned out to be a wonderful exception to my conclusion that authors should not read their own books. Frank was absolutely wonderful! I loved his accent and he did a phenomenal job with all of the different characters!

Overall this was a great book and I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in history. It will also appeal to anyone who loves a good romance but don't expect your normal love story!

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Unfinished Parable

Did you know that Jesus told a parable with no ending?

Well, my wife and I came across it in our devotion time last night. Here it is:

Luke 13:6-9 (NIV)
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
   8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Now, once we had read this, my wife said "It seems like there should be more." I answered, "Yeah, I know, it doesn't tell what happened the following year!"

We began to discuss the parable and decided that the owner of the vineyard was God and the caretaker was Jesus. We as humans are represented by the fig tree. God watches us to see if we are bearing good fruit and when we don't, he passes judgment on us. This is when Jesus steps in, interceding for us, and asks for grace and mercy for us. He tells His Father that we may not be a total loss, and asks for more time to work on us to help us become productive members of the Body of Christ. If we choose to give our lives to Him and serve Him faithfully we are rewarded with eternal life. However, at the end of our "year" (i.e. our lifetime), if we have failed to accept the gift Jesus offers, we are cut down and cast into the eternal fires of Hell.

Now, the reason there is no ending to this parable is because each one of us contains an ending to it. Every day we are writing the ending on the pages of our lives! I imagine God having a book with this parable on the cover, and everyone of us has a page that is being written as we live. When we reach the end of our lives and God puts the final period on the last sentence, the ending will be clear. It is up to us and nobody else what that ending is in our own lives! Will God find fruit on us when He comes back to look?

How will the parable end for you?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dowsing The Dead - Ali Sparkes

Dowsing The Dead
By: Ali Sparkes
Published: 2007
My rating: Delightful

We were excited to start this fourth book in The Shapeshifter series! It was not a disappointment!

The COLAs have now settled in to life at Fenton Lodge and resumed their lives with some semblance of normalcy. However, with the fate of Luke and Cathrine being questioned, the government is back on the defensive. Using every means at their disposal, Owen, Mrs. Sartre, and the rest of the government staff, are determined to uncover the fate of Gideon's siblings once and for all. As they get closer to the truth, Dax begins to find himself drawn into a chain of events that puts him and many others in grave danger. Can his powers stand the test?

This was definitely another great book in the series. It wasn't quite as good as the first three but well worth reading. There were few real surprises in this one and the underlying plot that was eluded to in the last book didn't seem to be developed much farther. I still loved the flow of the story and the wonderful imagination that went into it. This is a great series and we are very excited to get started on the fifth and final book!

Overall, if you like a little bit of supernatural, mixed with adventure and fun, you'll love these books! Make sure you read them in order though, you'll get a much better picture that way!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fate Of The Jedi; Abyss - Troy Denning

By: Troy Denning
Published: 2009
Audiobook Read by: Marc Thompson
My rating: Great

I have been looking forward to this book but have been forcing myself to wait since the last three books of the series have yet to be published. I am trying to space them out so I don't have to endure Star Wars withdrawal too badly while I wait for them!

Once again Ben and Luke are dropped smack in the middle of some pretty strange stuff! As they continue their quest to find out what caused Jacen to turn to the Dark Side, they find themselves faced with a visit with the "Mind Drinkers". Ben is less than enthusiastic about their prospects as they enter an area of space that holds some pretty dark memories for him.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, more Jedi are succumbing to the strange madness that has been holding them all in terror. With answers in short supply the Masters are scrambling to figure out a course of action. The GA is demanding more than they are willing to give but it seems they may have no choice but comply, no matter how unpleasant that may be.

There is also the little matter of the new breed of Sith that seems about to make a move. What are their plans and just how powerful are they? If two Sith can cause unimaginable damage to the peace and prosperity of the galaxy, what will happen when an entire civilization of them comes out of hiding?

This was a wonderful continuation of the Fate Of The Jedi series. I am not sure how long I can wait to break out the next book! I am impressed with the continuity of this series and how well each volume carries on the plot line from the last. As a fan of Star Wars, these books have been wonderful!

I listened to the audiobook read by Marc Thompson. I fear I may be repeating myself but he is absolutely wonderful! I love all the voices he does and how he brings the book to life! His narration helps to build a mental picture so vivid I feel as though I am watching a movie!

Overall this is another great book in the Star Wars franchise! I am loving every installment. If you are a Star Wars fan, you definitely won't be disappointed in this collection! I would recommend you read the Legacy of The Force books first or else you will have a lot unexplained actions in this series.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Playing with my new toy

I am a life member of the Handyman Club Of America and actively participate in their product test program. I recently was chosen to evaluate a new time-lapse project cam. It's really cool and I have been having lots of fun with it! I thought I'd share this video of me refinishing the top of one of the tables from the breakfast area at the hotel I work for. This is a compilation of the different steps performed over several days.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Picasso, Van Gogh, Eat Your Hearts Out!

My kids are amazing artists!

This is one of the walls in our bedroom, the one I see when I wake up in fact! :)
I have been wanting to blog about this for a while and never got around to it. But my friends Darlene and Nancy inspired me to get it done!

I hate to throw away the art projects the kids bring home but sometimes there are just too many to keep! So I started hanging them up on the walls of our bedroom. When I run out of room, I'll start taking down the lower quality ones and replace them with new ones. I figure that way, I'll eventually end up with nothing but masterpieces of the finest art from the worlds two best artists! :)

So anyway, I want to share the wonderful views I have in our room!

This is my view when I wake up on my right side! :)

I love to wake up and look around at all the little things they have given us. It is so amazing to see the creations their minds have come up with! I love it!

Here are my favorites from each of them:

Cheyenne made this in Kindergarten. She is in 6th now! She forgot to finish that last line though, It is supposed to say, "She loves me" I think it just adds to the appeal! :)

Wesley gave me this one, I love it so much! If you can't make it out, it says "Daby i love you." This will never be replaced by anything "better"!! :)

So there you have it, the work of the two best artists I know! I love my "shrine" and wouldn't trade it for all the fine art in the world! I look forward to hanging each new piece and dread the time when I have to start replacing any of them! I haven't had to do it yet but as you can see, the walls are starting to get pretty full! :) I'm not complaining though!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Water For Elephants - Sara Gruen

Water For Elephants
By: Sarah Gruen
Published: 2006
Audiobook Read by: David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones
My rating: Good

Jacob is 90....or is it 93? Well, he's old either way, right? It doesn't really matter any more anyway, his days are spent sitting around wondering what's for lunch, or dinner as the case may be. He looks at himself in the mirror and can't find anyone he recognizes. Who is that gnarled old fossil anyway? What happened to the young healthy man who had so many adventures? Why, do you know, that antique looking out of that mirror used to work in a circus? You didn't? Well, sit back and listen to the story of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show in Earth and the events leading up to it's demise!

This was a very interesting picture of circus life and I enjoyed that part of it very much. However, my enjoyment of the story was severely hampered by several very explicitly narrated sexual situations. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a little sex and romance in a book but it should be done tastefully. These scenes were like watching a XXX movie and felt like they were added just because the author felt it would be what people wanted to read rather than serving to further the story. As I said, I did enjoy the rest of the story. It was very entertaining to hear about the insanity of circus life.

The other facet to the story was the picture of old Jacob and his life in the nursing home. It was a very moving picture of the discouragement one might feel in a place like that as well as a very entertaining look at one crotchety old man's view of life! I loved the determination he exhibited as he made the decision to attend the circus show down the block. Finally, it was very touching to see an old man revisiting his youthful adventure of running off with the circus! So do you think 90....or 93, is too old to run off with the circus?

I listened to the audiobook performed by David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones, both of whom did a wonderful job. I especially liked Randolph Jones who portrayed old Jacob. His voice was wonderful in it's frailness, perfectly suiting the age he was portraying, while still exhibiting the fire of an indomitable will!

Overall this was a good book but I wouldn't recommend it unless you feel you can ignore the explicit parts and just focus on the story itself. It really is a great story otherwise!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Death Of A Dustman - M. C. Beaton

Death Of A Dustman
By: M. C. Beaton
Published: 2001
Audiobook Read by: Graeme Malcolm
My rating: Great

Well, Hamish is at it again! When the local dustman gets himself murdered it seems there is no shortage of suspects! Of course Hamish has to butt heads with CI Blair but that never held Hamish back before! He goes out and starts asking questions and making guesses until he has figured out exactly what he knows....absolutely nothing! Will knowing nothing stop Hamish from solving this case? Of course not! Hamish doesn't need clues and facts to solve a case, his Highland instinct is quite enough. So, armed with intuition, wild guesses, and a few questionable clues, Hamish brings the culprit to justice!

This is yet another book in Beaton's wonderful series. I have come to love Hamish and really look forward to my visits to Lochdubh! All the characters in this little town are so much fun and have such unique personalities. I also look forward to finding out what Hamish's latest romantic conquest is going to be. He is such a ladies man but has the worst luck in love!

I listened to the audiobook read by Graeme Malcolm and once again I absolutely loved him! I can't imagine a better voice to bring these books to life!

Overall, this is a wonderful series and I have loved every one of them so far! They are quick little tales with an engaging mystery but I think the picture of life in Lochdubh is really what I enjoy the most! Don't hesitate to give them a try! :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shepherds Abiding - Jan Karon

Shepherds Abiding
By: Jan Karon
Published: 2003
Audiobook Read by: John McDonough
My rating: Wonderful

I was looking through the audiobooks on the shelf at the library, trying to find an author for each letter of the alphabet. There weren't very many Ks but I thought I'd give this one a try. I'm so glad I did!! :)

Father Tim has a surprise for Cynthia. It is supposed to be a secret project but it seems that in Mitford, one can't expect anything to remain a secret! As Christmas approaches, more and more people seem to know what is going on! But Father Tim isn't the only one with surprising things coming their way. It seems that Christmas holds many surprises this year in Mitford! As the weeks progress closer and closer to Christmas, everyone has something to be thankful for! When the blessed day finally arrives, there are a lot more gifts received than just the ones wrapped in pretty paper and placed under the trees.

This was a wonderful heart warming story of joy and happiness! Mitford is just the kind of town we all dream about living in where everyone cares about their neighbors and nobody is left behind. This was also a very humorous book! Many times throughout the book I found myself laughing out loud! Some parts I had to go back and listen to again so I could enjoy the laugh even more! The flow of the story was so pleasant and easy to follow and the characters were all likable and fun to get to know!

I listened to the audiobook read by John McDonough and thought he was wonderful, despite my wife saying he shouldn't try to do young girls' voices! :) He really did bring the story to life for me!

Overall, this is a great book and since this is the eighth volume in the Mitford Years series, I am getting the first one so I can go back to the beginning and get to know everyone even better! If you would like a great feel good story, this is a perfect choice!