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Book Review: The Body in the Gravel – Sexy Cozy Mystery

The Body in the Gravel

A Jazzi Zanders Mystery

By Judi Lynn

Cousins Jazzi and Jerod, along with Jazzi’s fiancé Ansel are house flippers. They do most of the work themselves. They depend on others for things that are not in their wheelhouse, such as delivery of gravel and concrete as well as furnace replacement. Luckily they have a close friend, Thane that happens to be living with Jazzi’s sister Olivia, who is a whiz when it comes to heating and AC. But when Thane and Darby, the cranky old buzzard that delivers their gravel meet up at the reno house, Ansel and Jazzi discover a long lasting feud between the two men. They didn’t know that Thane’s best friend, Walker is Darby’s son. Walker and his mother fled from the abusive Darby two years ago without a trace. Thane thinks Darby killed them.

When Darby ends up dead in a load of gravel dumped at the house Ansel and Jazzi are working on, Thane is at the top of the list. But soon the list of suspects is broadened to the guys that worked for him, family members and all of his friends – who are more like enemies due to Darby’s volatile nature. When another person connected to Darby is found dead, and a presumed dead person is found alive the case becomes even more complicated.

Jazzie is determined to help Detective Gaff find the murderer. He is more than willing to have her input, as they have worked several cases together in the past. But she has more than a murderer to worry about. She and Ansel are getting married in a few weeks and she doesn’t even have her wedding dress yet!

I love cozy mysteries. Of course they are not War and Peace, but no one wants them to be. They are fun, fast reads with interesting elements. The house flipping factor is fun, especially if you are a fan of HGTV like I am. Another element that I love is the delicious foods Jazzi and Ansel cook and bake. They are a couple of foodies, sharing their love of food with us. As a bonus to the readers, a few of their recipes are included.

The other element that was a bit different from most cozy mysteries is the romance between Jazzi and Ansel. Most cozies have the on again/off again boyfriends that never seem to be resolved. The sexy but never explicit interactions between the main characters was not frustrating or irritating to me like the traditional cozy plot lines of never committing in the relationship. Kudos to Ms. Lynn for having her characters have a happily ever after – with a side of murder.

This is the third book in the Jazzi Zanders cozy mystery series and the first one I have read. It works well as a stand-alone novel. The only time I was confused was the first few chapters as there are several characters that are introduced from the previous novels. But I soon knew who everyone was and the role they played in the plot.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review – Cut & Assemble Haunted House – Must Have for Halloween

Cut and Assemble Haunted House

By: Matt Bergstrom

Who wants a detailed three story Haunted House for Halloween this year? Matt Bergstrom and Dover have teamed up to create a paper masterpiece for your home. With scissors, glue and a craft knife, adults or teens can create an entire Victorian Mansion complete with furnishings, fences and a dinner table laden with food.

There are ghoulish guests and creepy cooks to add to the fun. Monsters and bats are sprinkled throughout to amuse and entertain everyone that creates it and enjoys the finished product. Be sure to read the detailed instructions to ensure the success of your project. Pay special attention to the “Avoid bloodshed” section – it outlines safety as well as gives tips on how to embellish your Haunted House with spooky extras like spider webs and dead plants.

Even though the thermometer is 90 in the Midwest, all too soon it will be time for sweatshirts, crunching through autumn leaves and trick or treaters. According to www.statista.com/, Americans spent just over 9 billion dollars on Halloween in 2018 and 2.9 billion of those dollars were on decorations. My advice is to pick up your very reasonably priced copy of Cut and Assemble Haunted House now so that you have time to get yours ready in time for the festivities. I can almost hear the oohs and ahhs from all of your friends and trick or treaters now!

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Blood on the Chesapeake – Page Turning Mystery

Blood on the Chesapeake

By Randy Overbeck

Darrell Henshaw is new to the Chesapeake Bay area. He needs a new start from the ghosts of his past as well as distance from his former fiancé that apparently thought monogamy was an option, not a requirement of their relationship. Much to his delight, he is hired at the local high school as a history teacher and the football coach. He is settling in just fine until he starts getting the familiar prickling in the hairs on the back of his neck. There are spirits in the school that are not at rest searching him out. He tries to ignore the feelings and strange happenings, but the restless ghost needs Darrell’s help and isn’t going away any time soon.

Meantime, he is really enjoying connecting with the kids in his history class. It isn’t easy, the diverse group doesn’t really like the newcomer and most of them dislike history in general. But Darrell brings a spark of life to the classroom they cannot ignore. By assigning a report that will delve into the local area’s past the students begin to engage, but strangely enough the community and school leaders seem reluctant to participate. Could they be hiding something? Darrell may be flying too close to the flame to notice he might ignite something that cannot be extinguished. And he might die trying.

But Darrell is far from all work and no play. He has found a new friend to hang out with, Al. Also a teacher at the school, Al lightens up the mood by telling bad jokes that make you groan and chuckle. Most of them are rated G so you can tell them to your kids. And then there is Erin. Darrell is not looking for love again, but she has caught his eye and just might be the one to thaw his heart.

Overbeck’s characters are interesting and engaging. Darrell has a bit of OCD going on, reminding me of the Monk series by Lee Goldberg. It is endearing and a bit comical, but the reader will quickly know that Darrell has to wash his hands twice and dry them on precisely three paper towels. His newfound girlfriend Erin, is much more carefree. She is the perfect balance to the baggage Darrell brings into the relationship but she is ready for the challenge. The other character that stands out for me is the medium/lady of the evening, Natalia – I hope to see more of her in the next book in the series.

I loved this paranormal mystery by new author Randy Overback. True to his main character, the events taught to the class about the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are factual, but the places and dates are not per the Author’s note at the beginning of the book. So technically it is a paranormal historical mystery – but whatever box you want to check about this book, be sure to include it on the must read list.

A prolific writer of trade journals and professional texts, Overback’s first novel, Leave No Child Behind is the 2011 Silver Award for Thriller of the Year winner. It would not surprise me one bit to see Blood on the Chesapeake winning awards in the near future also. The title page of Blood on the Chesapeake, adds “The Haunted Shores Mysteries”. Because this is Mr. Overbeck’s first novel in the series, we can assume there will be more to hear from Darrell and Erin in the future. The Chesapeake area is rich in history, therefore, must be rich in ghosts that need their help. I am excited to add this new series to my list of must reads, and recommend picking up your copy today.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Impostor – Find and Color Activity Book – Fun for All Ages

Find & Color – The Impostor Activity Book

By: Diana Zourelias

This fun activity book makes me want to sing one of my kid’s favorite Sesame Street Songs – “One of These Things is Not Like the Other”.  The bonus is, this book is challenging enough to be enjoyed by adults and easy enough to be loved by children. It takes the adult coloring book rage to a new level by adding the challenge of finding the one picture on each page that is a little bit different from the rest. And kids have been doing this with Sesame Street for ages.

The detailed pictures are whimsical and fun. Coloring them will give children and adults many relaxing hours coloring them either all alike or each differently. Finding the one different picture either before or after coloring can change the difficulty of the task.

Each page has three to twelve images that seem identical but one is an impostor. The first half of the book is based on fairy tales such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and The Princess and the Pea. The second half of the book is titled “Awesome Animals”. Here you can find fun furry friends doing crazy things like a kiwi bird eating kiwi fruit, platypuses dancing and zebras playing checkers. Each unique page is detailed and fun.

Young and old will enjoy coloring the pictures and finding The Impostor. Grab your colored pencils or crayons and spend a little down time from TV and other electronics. This book would make a long car ride seem much shorter and a boring plane ride smooth sailing for kids and adults. I suggest surprising your kids with a new box of crayons and The Impostor Activity Book on your next trip. It will make travel fun and more relaxing for you and your kids.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Delicate Crochet – Beautiful Crochet Patterns for Experienced Crocheters

Delicate Crochet

By Sharon Hernes Silverman

Crochet can be many things. All of which are beautiful, useful, warm and cozy. It is art made with a crochet hook and usually yarn. When I think of crochet I think of warm blankets, hats and mittens. I have crocheted each of these items over my years of enjoying the art of crocheting.

Delicate Crochet has introduced me to a whole new kind of crochet. Light, lacey, feminine crochet that is delicate and elegant. Of course I have seen the lace doilies my grandma made with cotton thread. They are beautiful and I have many of them she made over the years. But I have never seen shawls, scarves and other garments made of soft, lightweight yarns.

In Elegant Crochet, eleven designers created lace crochet patterns using traditional crochet stitches that any experienced crocheter would have no problem following at home. The projects vary from wraps to mitts to a Tunisian crochet cardigan. Each of them has detailed instructions, with charts as needed. There are full color pictures that highlight each project.

If you feel more comfortable working with patterns that remind you more of traditional crochet, the v-neck cardigan may be your first choice. It is created with openwork motifs (read beautifully lacy granny squares) and raglan sleeves. This is the perfect take along project with beautiful results.

At the end of the book, basic crochet techniques are spelled out completely with accompanying pictures. That being said, as comprehensive as they are, this book is not filled with patterns that are for beginners. But I you are ambitious and have never picked up a crochet hook in your life but feel you want to start on a delicately beautiful shawl or sweater, I will not be the one to rain on your parade – go for it. Conversely, experienced crochet crafters might be challenged by some of the patterns but all of them are so beautiful, they are worth the time and effort to use a lusciously soft and delicate yarn instead of sturdier worsted so often called for in crochet patterns.

As soon as the dust settles from the holidays, I plan to start making the Iced Silver Fox  Sweater designed by Kristin Omdahl. It is worked with a size F hook and features a delicate diamond motif on the front and back. It is meant to be worn over a solid top or turtleneck that will showcase each stitch.

Delicate Crochet is a book that will give you many patterns to choose from. Accept the challenge that might put you out of your comfort zone but will expand your crochet skills. Either way, this is a great book to have in your library as well as the perfect gift for the crocheters on your list.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and Stackpole Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: A Christmas Revelation – A New Holiday Novella

A Christmas Revelation

By Anne Perry

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

London 1868. Nine-year-old Worm knows what hunger and cold feels like. His life has gotten a bit better, he no longer lives on the streets but in a free clinic for women of dubious occupations. Squeaky, the bookkeeper, has a past that will forever haunt him, but for some reason has a soft spot for Worm that he tries hard not to let show. But when Worm comes home and tells him a beautiful girl has been taken by a couple of ruffians, he gets drawn into the mystery and danger that he worked so hard to get away from.

Squeaky tried to dissuade Worm from searching for the taken girl by telling him that Christmas was in a few days. The boy has heard the church bells on Christmas day, but did not know anything else about the celebration. Squeaky pulled out old memories, and successfully convinced Worm that they could pull off a celebration for the staff and current residents of the clinic. The good news was Worm was very excited to help with decorations and the tantalizing descriptions of the Christmas feast made his mouth water. But the bad news for Squeaky is that Worm is still determined to help the girl and cannot let it go.

So begins a journey for the both of them, winding through the worst parts of London in the darkest of winter nights. First they have to find her, which was not an easy thing to do. Against all odds they locate her and even manage to speak with her. She claims she is not being forced to remain with the two men, but Worm does not believe her. In order to free her, the unlikely duo has to pull in favors from unsavory characters, go places no child should ever see and risk their lives.

Perry’s characters come alive on the pages. Victorian Christmas traditions are masterfully woven throughout the mystery of the beautiful woman to lighten up the intensity of the story. Squeaky and Worm, along with the rest of the staff of the clinic decorate, plan the menu and even have time to search out a special gift for the special day.

The story is one of hope and redemption, even in the toughest of times. The characters are scruffy and often thought of as lower class. They may not have money but they do have the important qualities that matter most. They care about each other and strangers, share what they have even if it isn’t much and find happiness within the world they live in.

This is an unusual Christmas story, but one that will become a favorite.  I am a fan of all things Christmas and it was refreshing to read a novel with a new twist on the age old story of love and redemption.

Internationally renowned, award winning author Anne Perry is best known for her Historical novels; most noted are the Monk Series and Pitt Series. She began writing annual Christmas novellas in 2003, and has written one every year since, including The Christmas Revelation available November 9, 2018. This is the first Christmas novella I have read by Perry, but have enjoyed many of her other books. I encourage you to read A Christmas Revelation; it is a quick and thoughtful Christmas tale that will leave you thinking about the story and characters this holiday season.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: A Very Vintage Christmas – Nostalgic Look at Christmas Past & Present

Very Vintage ChristmasA Very Vintage Christmas

Holiday Collecting, Decorating and Celebrating

by Bob Richter – Foreword by Christopher Radko

Rowman & Littlefield
Globe Pequot

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher in connection with NetGalley in return for my review. Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

Bob Richter has always been enchanted with all things Christmas. As a very young boy his father gave him a box of vintage Christmas ornaments with the comment, “It’s time you started collecting something…and I know you like Christmas.” Little did his father know this would be the beginning of a lifelong love and devotion to all things Christmas.

Richter begins with the history of Christmas decorations. From candles to lights was an expensive leap for most Americans. The earliest lights needed their own generator. Only the wealthy could afford them. He includes fun facts like the first year the White House had an electrically lit tree and the cost of the colored lights that the president and his visitors enjoyed.

He continues with decorations both inside and outside of homes. Ornaments, trees and decorating inside and outside the home are highlighted.

Most of the early Christmas ornaments were from Germany until the mid-1920s. Ornaments back then were of two categories; either imported mercury glass ornaments, glittery die cut paper ornaments or homemade. Strings of popcorn and cranberries and hand-cut paper ornaments were popular.

Advertising for Christmas became popular in the early 1930s. Books, movies and magazines were and still are popular ways to celebrate the holiday season. Richter gives many examples, along with delightful pictures that will bring back many happy memories for readers of his book.

Christmas doesn’t have to be expensive, but can be. Richter gives decorating and gift options for all price ranges. He suggests flea markets and even lists the top US Flea Markets for Christmas items. I love the fact that he encourages purchasing vintage gifts for friends and family. If it is the perfect gift for someone, it doesn’t have to cost a lot or be brand new.

Full disclosure, I am and always have been crazy about everything Christmas. I love the lights, the decorations, the shopping (especially finding someone the perfect gift), the food, the fun and the love. This book fed my addiction with luscious photography and words that took me back to my childhood.

Many of the decorations, wrappings and pictures are of items I have in my basement. The storage tips Richter gave will be used this year when we put everything to bed after the holidays. The nostalgia and vintage feel of A Very Vintage Christmas was like a warm Christmas hug the whole time I read it. While I don’t do posh decorations, I do have one tree with only glass ornaments, many of which are my grandmother’s and mother’s. One of the ideas to showcase the ornaments that don’t fit on the tree was to put a few of them under a glass dome. This would solve my worry over a few of the more fragile ornaments I worry about falling off of the tree onto the hardwood floors.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Christmas. It would make a perfect holiday gift and if your copy is left on a side table during holiday gatherings, I am sure your guests would love the pictures and bits of Christmas trivia and traditions that are waiting to be discovered within the pages.

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