Posted in Cozy Wednesday Giveaways Reviews 2011

Cozy Wednesday with Penny Warner (Giveaway too!)

Welcome to Cozy Wednesday. Before my accident in 2001, I was a casual reader, I read about 2 fiction books a month. My interests were more books filled with quilting patterns and books about stuff to do with my kids. Little did I know that now I would be enjoying cozy mysteries written by the same author that wrote books that were on my shelf for years. My “go to” source in kids party books.

So it is logical that the author who wrote those books would also write a Party Planning Mystery Series and I would come to really enjoy these books as well.

 

 

I am so happy she is here today, we should have a party. Everyone be sure to grab a big piece of virtual cake and some tea and help me welcome Penny Warner.

Hi Penny!!

Hi Everyone, I am happy to be here. I hope you enjoy my post.

DOING RESEARCH IN A HALLOWEEN-THEMED STORE

By Penny Warner

Thinking I might find inspiration for my latest book, How to Party with a Killer Vampire, in a Halloween-themed store—and pick up a few decorations—I headed to Spirit to check out what’s new in ugly masks and blood-spattered costumes. Wow. Halloween has really amped up—this wasn’t my grandma’s Halloween store.

Mixed in among a handful of wax lips, princess costumes and clown noses, were a plethora of Haunted House accessories. I found fog machines that cover your lawn in an eerie mist, Jack-in-a-box style monsters that pop out of crypts to startle the kids out of their wits, life-size tombs with life-size corpses for life-sized thrills. I even thought I saw some “dead people.” And they’re covered in blood and guts.

It’s strictly horror-movie genre now, with such evil creatures as the guy from Scream, the guy from Halloween, and the guy from XXX.

And those are just the guy costumes.

The girl costumes seem to come from X-rated movies, like “Cinderella the Skank,” “Snow White the Dominatrix,” and “Little Bo Peepshow.” I thought about trying one on, but I just didn’t have the courage—or the body.

As for cute costumes, these are apparently reserved for pets. Your cat or dog can now dress up as a “Super Pup,” “Cop Kitty,” or “Yoda.” Sounds like pet abuse to me—someone call the ASPCA.

Wandering through the store, past the Beheaded Corpse Bride, the Toxic Zombie in a Can, and the Electrocution Chamber, I found the Body Parts section. I had my choice of severed arms, bloody legs, chopped off hands and feet, loose eyeballs, a slimy brain, and what looked like a still-beating heart. Be still my own beating heart.

The next room held the must-have accessorizes to complete your creep show look. I could choose from a variety of hooks, blades, razors, hacksaws, chain saws, and buzz saws to go with every outfit. Or I could pick out a fright wig, a leather whip, a pair of devil horns, a glow-in-the-dark nose ring, or even a remote-controlled pet rat.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of Halloween—it’s my favorite holiday. I drive an orange car that looks like a pumpkin. I wear black t-shirts with rhinestone bats on the front. My ring tone is the theme from “Halloween.” I watch reruns of “Spiders 3” and “The Presidential Debates” on Chiller TV. And I manage to consume several bowls of Mounds bars and Malted Milk Balls before the doorbell rings.

But this year, there are some things too scary for even me this Halloween.

While the economy may cause a few restless nights, global warming may give me a chill, and the price of gas may occasionally stop my heart, it’s the thought that there are only 55 days left before Christmas that really gives me nightmares.

~Penny
To find out more about Penny please visit her web page at http://www.pennywarner.com.
How to Party with a Killer Vampire: A Party-Planning Mystery
Obsidian
Published by New American Library
A Division of The Penguin Group
4th in the Series

We are back on Treasure Island, home of Presley Parker’s event planning business. Her newest event is a wrap party for a vampire parody movie being produced by Lucas Cruz. He has requested the extravagant affair be held in an actual graveyard. Nothing is too daunting for Presley, she will decorate and accessorize and turn the usually solemn place into the perfect Killer Party venue.

She never planned on adding to the number of dead bodies in the cemetery. But even before the party can even get started a body is found. With her company’s reputation at  “stake” she has no choice but to investigate. She has to work fast and also be careful not to get “bit” by the killer herself.

MY THOUGHTS
I learned a lot from this book. First don’t invite vampires and werewolves to the same party they don’t get along.

Seriously this book is fang-tastic delight!!

Penny Warner is an expert in party planning and cozy mystery novels. She wraps together the perfect amounts of mystery, a wild setting, crazy characters plus the characters we love, with a good dose of humor and a little romance that keeps us coming back for more. She even throws in real party tips as a bonus.

This edition will have you planning your next Halloween party at the local cemetery with all the guests dressing up as Dracula, Edward from Twilight or Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Except for a couple of dead bodies, some deep dark secrets, and the paparazzi the party was awesome.

Presley is a busy woman, juggling several balls in the air, include finding murders, but she can always find time for her mother. Her mother’s memories of the past are vast but the she struggles with more current ones. Presley never gets upset, she is so patient with her mom and will listen to the same stories she has heard time and again with hardly a sigh. That is why I love this character. Real, down to earth and caring. She is definitely the treasure of Treasure Island. I highly recommend this book and the entire series. They are fun and entertaining. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Obsidian. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Now For The Fun Stuff!!
Thanks to the people at Penguin
I have 2 copies of the fan-tastic book to giveaway!!!

U.S. and Canadian Residents Only
Since I lost all mt Google Friend Connect and Email Followers in the move.
Followers who follow anyway on the list will receive

5 Bonus Entries for each way they follow!

If you help me by Publicizing this giveaway or this new blog you will receive
an additional 5 Bonus Entries for each link you provide!

You will receive 5 more Bonus Entries if you leave a comment for Penny!

You do not have to be a follower or publicize to enter
but I hope you will see something you like here and join.

Contest will end November 2 at 11:59 p.m. CST

Winners will be chosen by Random.org

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Posted in Reviews 2011

The Chocolate Castle Clue by JoAnna Carl

The Chocolate Castle Clue: A Chocoholic Mystery
11th Book in the Series
Obsidian
Published by New American Library
A Division of The Penguin Group

Available Now

This series features Lee McKinney Woodyard, her Aunt Nettie, and TenHuis Chocolade. Lee manages the store for Nettie.

In this edition Lee finds an old trophy while cleaning out their storage garage. She can’t wait to share it with her Aunt. She found it at the perfect time since Nettie was hosting a reunion for her old high school singing group, The Pier-O-Ettes, the group that won the trophy.

But the trophy didn’t get the reaction Lee had expected. It seems to have brought back some terrible memories. The trophy was won at the old Castle Ballroom on the very same night that the ballroom owner was found shot to death. It was ruled a suicide but his wife didn’t believe that and neither did several other people. There were always questions about what really happened that night. The reunion and the trophy brought the whole event back to the forefront. Just how much does Aunt Nettie know? Before Lee can even wrap her head around what may have happened in the past someone turns up murdered in the present. Are these events connected? Well you know Lee is going to find out and put herself right in the middle of the sticky mess.

My Thoughts
This series is one of the first that made me fall in love with cozy mysteries. Set in a chocolate shoppe, full of tasty goodies, how could you go wrong?

The author is an expert at writing this genre. We fall more for the main characters with every installment and they just continue to put themselves in harms way. We keep turning the pages to make sure everyone is safe and settled by the final word. This story had a lot of additional characters due to the Pier-O-Ettes reunion and they added even more drama to quaint town of Warner Pier.

It was a very entertaining story. A delectable treat for the mind. The chocolate treats I consumed while reading it were an absolute must. I am proud to say I am a Chocoholic and these stories feed my craving perfectly.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Obsidian. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Posted in Giveaways Guest Posts Reviews 2011

COZY WEDNESDAY – With Author Linda O. Johnston (Giveaway too!!)

THIS WAS COPIED FROM DOLLYCAS’S THOUGHTS WHICH GOOGLE DECIDED TO TURN BACK ON TONIGHT!

My first experience with today’s guest was reading her romance novels for Harlequin Intrigue and when I started this blog I realized she wrote cozies as well.  Her new Pet Rescue Mysteries have captured my heart. I am so happy she is here today to tell us all about this series and it’s latest edition.

Welcome Linda!!!

Hi.  I’m delighted to be guest blogging on Dollycas’s Thoughts.

Saving Animals – Fictionally and Otherwise

 

Let me tell you a little bit about myself.
I kill people for a living.  Fictionally, of course.
I also save animals fictionally.  In real life, I help to save them by volunteering at a private pet shelter.
When I started the Pet Rescue Mystery Series for Berkley Prime Crime, I’d been writing the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mystery series for a while.  In the eighth in the series, HOWL DEADLY, I introduced a character in a subplot, Lauren Vancouver, who really captured my attention.  She was the administrator of a private, no-kill pet shelter in LA’s San Fernando Valley, and it was clear that she was a real animal advocate.  She’d do nearly anything to save the lives of pets.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who really liked Lauren.  She became the protagonist of my new spinoff series.
Her shelter, HotRescues, is funded by Kendra’s latest squeeze, Dante DeFrancisco, a rich mogul who made his money from a chain of pet stores.  That meant HotRescues is in a much better situation than most similar organizations, since it has no money issues.  As I said, this is fiction.  But that gives Lauren a lot of latitude in what she does to save animals.
Cover Illustration

by Paper Dog Studio

Cover Design

by Rita Frangie

The second book in the series, THE MORE THE TERRIER, became officially available yesterday, October 4.  In it, Lauren is faced with a dilemma.  She discovers right at the beginning that her former mentor, Mamie Spelling, has become an animal hoarder!
If you’ve seen those shows on TV featuring animal hoarders who usually see the light and reform, you know what a sad situation hoarding really is.  Like Mamie, many real hoarders don’t set out to harm animals but to save one, then ten, then dozens.  The problem is they don’t have the room to do it, nor the money to keep the animals well fed, nor the resources to keep the environment clean.  Lauren is horrified when she visits Mamie’s shelter and sees how awful it has become.  She calls the authorities–as she must under LA policy–and has the animals taken away.  Mamie, too, although officials real and fictional generally realize how fruitless it is to prosecute hoarders for animal abuse since they often have mental issues and they’re almost always recidivists –they do it all over again.
In my story, none of the animals is too sick to survive.  Lauren is able to save all of them, even though they’re taken into custody by LA Animal Services, a public system where overcrowding can result in euthanasia.  But even though Lauren doesn’t have room for them all, she has friends running other private shelters, so every one of the animals is picked up and taken to those shelters till they can be adopted.
Once again, this is fiction.  And since it’s a cozy mystery, someone–a person–has to die.  Mamie is the primary suspect, since the victim is someone who has been hounding her about her hoarding.  So here is Lauren’s dilemma: she despises the fact that Mamie has abused animals–but can she allow her aging, confused mentor to be prosecuted for a crime against people that she most likely didn’t commit?
You know the answer.  As I said, it’s a cozy mystery.
And you can be sure that, in the Pet Rescue Mysteries, “no-kill” means pets, not people!
Since starting to write the Pet Rescue Mysteries, I’ve become a lot more conscious about the dilemma of so many pets needing good homes.  It started as research, and has become a pet cause (pun intended) of mine.  I’m proud to say that I’m a dog adoption counselor at Pet Orphans of Southern California, which means I help introduce people interested in adopting a dog to their potential new family member.  I also do the initial screening of possible adopters, since the idea is to attempt to ensure that the pets will go to good, and appropriate, homes.
The Pet Rescue Mysteries started in March with BEAGLEMANIA.  It begins at a puppy mill rescue, where Lauren meets her love interest, Captain Matt Kingston of Los Angeles Animal Services.  He’s a great contact to have, since he keeps Lauren notified of animals in need of rescuing before being put down by the public shelter.  The next one will be HOUNDS ABOUND, which will be published in April 2012.  It features a very special pet rescue facility that takes in hard-to-adopt animals such as the disabled and seniors.
How about you–are you an animal lover?  Are you a fan of pet rescue?
Please come visit me at www.LindaOJohnston.com and at www.KillerHobbies.blogspot.com on Wednesdays.  Friend me on Facebook.  I’d love to hear what you think of pet rescue–and THE MORE THE TERRIER !

~Linda
Thank you so much Linda!!! I am so happy that we have the internet and Facebook so that we can actually contact our favorite authors and let them know how much we love their books!!

A Berkley Prime Mystery
Published by The Penguin Group
Available Now
I have fallen hard for Lauren and her enormous heart.  She not only bends overs backwards to save dogs but even fights for an old friend she hasn’t been in contact with for years looking beyond the fact that she was abusing animals. Linda gives Lauren such a powerful voice on pet rescues at the same time making her the friend we would all want to have.  

The story is exciting with a very current topic of hoarding.  I have to admit until I read this book I never thought about someone hoarding pets and it really opened my eyes. 

This series is really packs more of a one-two punch, they stories are fun and entertaining but they also make us aware of a huge over population of pets in the United States.  I almost feel we should have a Bob Barker moment to remind ourselves “to have your pets spayed or neutered”.  I also feel that adopting and giving pets “forever homes” is an uplifting experience.  We have 3 rescued kitties under our roof.  If you are looking for a pet to love, start out at a shelter and save a life that will love you unconditionally immediately.

Like cozy mysteries, like animals, you will love this book! Your invisible tails will be wagging with delight!!!!

Your Escape With A Goof Book Travel Agent

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Berkley Prime Crime. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 


 

 
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Posted in Giveaways Reviews 2011

GIVEAWAY REDO

Google decided to turn my accounts back on tonight so I am adding entry forms here. No matter how you enter all entries will be counted with the exception of all the bonus entries. If you entered at Dollycas’s Thoughts or at the original WordPress Blog through the form in the sidebar you do not need to enter again. I will manually be sure all entries are compiled and use Random.org to choose winners.

You all have been amazing through this entire upheaval in my blog life. You know if I would have done nothing, my accounts never would have been turned back on. This has been a roller coaster ride I would not wish on anyone. The good thing that came out of this is that I have this new site without the problems of Dollycas’s Thoughts that were causing many of you headaches. The old WordPress was up just 5 days and you found it but here we can use Google Friend Connect and for now Google Forms for giveaways, so good definitely came out of bad.

 

We should be good to go now.  You can check, one, two or all 3 giveaways.  I am really sorry about that.

Thanks to my Google fiasco we will have to start over the giveaways that were in progress when Dollycas’s Thoughts disappeared from the blogosphere.

Below you will find parts of the posts I was able to rescue and then these will be an easy, no frills,  bare bones, giveaway entries.  There will be an entry form in the sidebar for each giveaway.  Simple, FULL NAME, EMAIL, MAILING ADDRESS.  Each entry will be assigned a number chronologically as received and Random.org will be used to chose the winners.  All 3 contests will end October 28 at 11:59 p.m. CST Winners will be emailed and the results will be posted here.

GIVEAWAY #1

Button Holed (Button Box Mystery)
A Berkley Prime Crime Mystery
The Berkley Publishing Group
Published by The Penguin Group
A Brand New Series

Josie Giancola is known as a button expert for all kinds of buttons and has even worked in Hollywood. Today she is opening her new button shop, The Button Box, set up in a Chicago brownstone. She also has an appointment with a well known Hollywood starlet who wants to find the perfect buttons for her perfect wedding dress. Josie arrives extra early on her opening day to make sure everything is ready for her appointment only to find that her store has been broken into and ransacked. There are buttons everywhere. Buttons she had spent many days sorting and categorizing and displaying with flawless precision.

Things don’t get any better when the next day the starlet is found dead right in the middle of The Button Box. The homicide detective seems to be looking for clues in all the wrong places and the murderer has now set his sights on Josie. She has no choice but to follow the clues she has and get this murderer all buttoned up before she finds herself “Button Holed”!

My Thoughts
This story could not have been more perfect. Wonderful characters, a delightful complex plot, and thoroughly engaging humor.

I fell for Josie on the very first page. I come from a family of seamstresses and they all had button bowls and boxes. As a child I spent hours sorting, stacking and separating my favorites. I have my own button box around here somewhere from my sewing days and I know there are some buttons in there from my ancestors as well. Button Holed (Button Box Mystery) and The Button Box brought back some wonderful memories. Thankfully none of my memories include a dead starlet.

There is also a very interesting thread throughout the story about some very special buttons that I really enjoyed.

I was truly entertained from the first page to the last! I am patiently waiting for Kill Button, the next book inThe Button Box Mystery Series coming soon, but never soon enough!!

I have 2 copies to share!!

GIVEAWAY #2
Laurel Dewey Giveaway

Detective Jane Perry is on the case.  In Promissory Payback she is investigating the gruesome death of a woman with not many friends and a whole lot of enemies.  “Karma is a bitch” is very true in this case.

Unrevealed contains 4 short Jane Perry stories.
ANONYMOUS: One of Jane’s first AA meetings leads her to an encounter with a woman in need of her detection skills…and a secret she never expected to uncover.

YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER: Forced by her boss to speak at a high school career day, Jane meets a troubled boy and finds that his story is only the beginning of a much more revealing tale.

YOU’RE ONLY AS SICK AS YOUR SECRETS: An early-morning homicide call introduces Jane to a mystery as layered as it is unsuspected.

THINGS AREN’T ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM: Jane finds herself sharing a 2:00 am conversation at a downtown bar with an old acquaintance. Will the bloody night that proceeded this moment complicate Jane’s intentions?


My Thoughts
I really enjoyed these stories. Don’t let the small number of pages fool you.  These are well written short mysteries that still pack a punch with sharp dialogue, a gritty leading lady and plots that play out a break neck speed. They are the perfect quick reads to get your mystery fix.  There are even more Jane Dewey novels/novelettes to enjoy and the author will be starting a new series next year with a whole new star. Keep your eye on this author!!

I have one set of these books to giveaway!

GIVEAWAY #3

India Black and the Widow of Windsor
The Berkley Publishing Group
Published by The Penguin Group
A Madam of Espionage Mystery
Second book in the series.

India Black is back and on a new mission with her friend French in Scotland.

Queen Victoria attended a séance where she is contacted by her dearly departed husband, Prince Albert, where he insists she break tradition and spend the Christmas holiday at Balmoral, their Scottish castle. The Prime Minister believes that Scottish nationalists are planing to assassinate the Queen and calls on his friend and British spy, French, who invitesIndia to join him undercover at the castle.  French poses as one of the guests, while India’s assignment is to be the maid to the eccentric Dowanger Marchioness of Tullibardine.

It doesn’t take long for India to realize the Prime Minister was exactly right in his assessment of the situation.  For the next few days Indiaand French will be running themselves ragged to find the Queen’s enemies and assure her safety.

My Thoughts
Like the first book in this series, India Black, I loved this story.  I adore where the author took this character on this adventure. Balmoral is a fascinating setting and I don’t know how true the author’s descriptions are of the castle, but I felt like I was right there sneaking through the hallways with India.

The story also contains a wonderful mystery with plenty of twists but what really captured by heart in this story was the humor.  India has a quick wit and keen intelligence and while not at all happy with her job in this adventure she continues to entertain us with her observations and quips. The Lady India serves sets up several instances that had me laughing out loud.

Carol K. Carr is an amazing storyteller.  I love her writing style. In her case, her words are worth a thousand beautiful pictures.  I have absolutely no problem “escaping” far into her books and don’t want to leave after the last words are read.  I want to follow India on her next adventure.  Please Carol don’t make me want too long for my next trip abroad.

I have 2 copies to share!!!

Your Escape With A Good Book Travel Agent
Posted in Reviews 2011

Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks
Viking
Published by The Penguin Group
Jacket Illustration by Rachel Ross
Jacket Design by Roseanne Serra
Available Now!

Kathleen Flinn returns from Paris where she studied at Le Cordon Bleu. Back in the Seattle she is unsure what to do with her new culinary degree until a trip to a local grocery store give her an epiphany.  Seeing a woman’s cart filled with boxes of “ultraprocessed products” kicked her “chefternal” instincts into overdrive.  As she talked to the woman she realized this woman was afraid to cook things fresh because she thought it would be too hard or wouldn’t taste right.  She spent some time traveling with her around the store and convinced her to put the packaged food back on the shelf and try cooking with real food. This made her start to wonder if she had found what to do with her degree.

This led Kathleen to gather a group of volunteers who felt the same as the woman in the grocery store.  She enlisted the help of other culinary professionals, rented kitchen space and started a class on cooking fundamentals from making simple Alfredo sauce to proper chopping techniques and even weekly taste testing of things like olive oil and salt.  This book tracks the volunteers through the classes and includes common sense recipes and details for the reader as well.

My Thoughts
I enjoyed this book. My husband is the “chef” in our family and have inserted several post it’s within the pages of things I want to share with him.

This book really reads a lot like fiction, taking peeks into these people’s lives with wonderful lessons and recipes as an added bonus. While very instructional it is entertaining and humorous. The author has a delightful writing style.

With fast food quickly becoming the common way to eat these days, this book will teach you that fast food can be nourishing, tasteful and does not come from a drive thru lane.  I was actually stunned how easy it is to make dishes that I thought could only be found in a restaurant, with wonderful flavor and none of the preservatives found it the prepackaged dishes found on the grocery shelves. This may be a book to add to your cookbook shelf after reading the story of the volunteer’s journey at the The Kitchen Counter Cooking School.  It could change your life.

To find out more about Kathleen Flinn check out her webpage at kathleenflinn.com You may even be able to catch her on tour!

Your Escape With A Good Book Travel Agent

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Viking. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Cozy Wednesday Guest Posts Reviews 2011

Cozy Wednesday With Jennie Bentley (Great Giveaway Too!)

Welcome to the first Cozy Wednesday at Escape With Dollycas.  I am so excited Jennie is here to kick things off! The second book in her Do-It-Yourself Mystery Series, Spackled and Spooked was one of the first books I reviewed over at Dollycas’s Thoughts.  I have loved this series from the start and Flipped Out has quickly become my favorite.

Please help me give a warm welcome to Jennie Bentley!

Hi Jennie!

Hi Everyone, I am happy to be here as Dollycas settles into her new home, a major DIY project!

ONE CHANCE TO MAKE A GREAT FIRST IMPRESSION. . .
EIGHT TIPS THAT’LL DO IT!

Last week, the fifth installment in the Do It Yourself home renovation mysteries was released by Berkley Prime Crime. It’s called Flipped Out a title it shares with the fictitious television show in the book, the one my main characters – designer Avery Baker and handyman Derek Ellis – are filming a segment of.

In real estate terms, a ‘flip’ is a house you buy and sell in quick succession, often without even closing on the sale before passing it off to someone else. It’s also used to describe a quickie renovation job; as Derek puts it: “Slapping lipstick on the pig.”

With five days to whip the house into shape for the cameras, Avery and Derek are applying a whole lot of ‘lipstick’ – and you can, too!

Whether you’re thinking of selling your house – the way Avery and Derek are – or you just want to a do a few updates while you’re living there, curb appeal is super-important: what someone sees when they walk or drive up to your place can make or break a sale, or totally demolish someone’s first impression.

Here are eight easy, inexpensive DIY fixes that can pump up the volume of an otherwise ho-hum exterior for little or no money.

1. First things first: Mow grass and tidy up landscaping.
It costs little to nothing (except for time clocked) to trim overgrown hedges, edge walkways, pull up weeds and cut out dead growth. Transplanting is free, too: Move those gorgeous dahlias from the back to the front yard, where they’re sure to be noticed. Mulch is another winner: Spread a layer of grass clippings (free, collected from a lawnmower), straw, or tree bark-based mulch at the bases of trees and flowerbeds. Doing so not only protects plantings and improves soil quality, but beautifies your yard. Use an online calculator to figure out how much you’ll need.

2. Wash dirty siding and dingy decking.
You can pressure wash any type of siding (save for wood shingles) quickly and easily with a rented power-washer. Or you can use some good old-fashioned elbow grease, your garden hose (on a medium-spray setting), a long-handled scrub brush and a bucketful of water mixed with a few squirts of dish soap. For wood porches and decks, oxygen bleach is the way to go. It’s nontoxic to you, and to pets and vegetation. Mix a few scoops into a bucketful of water, dip the brush and scrub away.

3. Invest in some cool house numbers.
Switch out those tired old digits and give your address a makeover. House numbers can be screwed in or easily glued on with adhesive—and there’s a vast array of styles and materials available. For even more oomph, paint or stain a tall newel post the same color as your front door or shutters, then attach some new, stylized numbers and sink it into the ground either at the end of your driveway or near your home’s entry. (Best to expect some neighborly copycatting on that one.)

4. Upgrade the mailbox.
Wobbly, dented mailboxes are unsightly. Changing the box is a great way to add personality. Installation of a bold door-side mailbox requires only some simple drilling. A good-looking, durable freestanding mailbox just needs a hole dug for the post. Or if your existing mailbox is serviceable but drab, you can paint it or buy a seasonal wrap.

5. Repaint or stain a wood door.
If you’re not ready to spring for a new door, this is the way to go. There’s no excuse for the front door looking anything but shipshape because paint and stain are so inexpensive (and potentially free if you have some paint or stain sitting around from another job). Remove any hardware first (or you can tape around hinges and knobs if you’re feeling confident and have a steady hand). Surfaces need sanding (fine, 180-grit sandpaper should suffice), dusting, priming and two to three coats of paint. Go with the grain; follow the same procedure with stain and varnish.

6. Upgrade the front door hardware.
Basic front door hardware is easy to replace. You’ll find a wide array of bells, doorknockers and escutcheons (plates surrounding bells, keyholes, knobs) at hardware stores and flea markets. A doorbell upgrade is also easy, as there’s often no need to replace the actual chime, just the hardware surround. (If you do want to switch out the entire doorbell, there’s minor rewiring involved.) A kick plate, typically made of polished metals like rustic pewter, aged bronze, or satin nickel, boosts a door’s wow-factor while shielding it from stains and scuff marks. Switching the lockset is the most costly change you’ll make to the entry. Protection is your first priority: choose a lockset that isn’t just pretty, but that will protect your home from intruders. For a cohesive, stylized look, choose accents with the same finishes, and be sure they’re stylistically similar to your home’s design.

7. Replace old light fixtures.
Match the style and finish of new lights to other elements in your entry and you’re generally good to go. For lighting the yard, you can opt for solar-powered lights, which have three significant advantages over their hard-wired electric counterparts: There’s no assembly required, they save energy, and you can move them around with little effort. Sink a few attractive lantern-style lights into the soil that flanks walkways and the driveway. You’ll be amazed at how good this actually makes a home look.

8. Clean and dress up windows.
Mullions, moldings and decorative brackets can really make your exterior pop, and installation is as easy as clicking in a PVC grid over existing windows, or screwing wooden brackets into existing structures. Sometimes, the act of simply cleaning the windows—inside and out—is all you’ll need to massively improve the view. Dish detergent (or plain old vinegar) and a microfiber rag (or a piece of newspaper!) should do the trick. For hard-to-reach windows, use a cleaner formulated for outdoor use that attaches to your garden hose. It should dry to a smudge-free finish, and there’s no need to remove screens. Just wash on a cloudy, non-windy day, as breezes and sunlight dry panes too quickly, leaving unsightly streaks behind.

These and other tips abound in “Flipped Out,” There are directions for how to customize a doormat, how to build your own batten-board shutters, and how to build your own window boxes and planters, among other things. And you don’t want to miss out on how to make your very own Swiss Cheese Adirondack chair! So go ahead, get yourself a copy today. You know you want to!

~Jennie
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