Sunday, October 21, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Friends - Season 8

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Still plenty of laughs
Cons: More cringe worthy stories; Joey's crush on Rachel starts here
The Bottom Line:
Pregnancy, new crush
Series begins its decline
But still mostly fun

The One Where Rachel's Pregnant

My memory of Friends is that it slipped in the last few years it was on the air.  I've actually been surprised as I've been rewatching it to discover that seasons 6 and 7 were better than I remembered them being.  Then I hit season 8.  As much fun as some of the episodes are, there is no way to get over some of the problems with this season.

Things start off moments after the season 7 cliffhanger, which means that we are still at Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler's (Matthew Perry) wedding.  And it means that everyone still thinks that Monica is pregnant.  However, it isn't Monica, it's really Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) who is pregnant.  And the father?  No surprise there, it's Ross (David Schwimmer).  Rachel is going to keep the baby, and Ross is going to be involved, but the two of them are not going to get married.  In fact, Rachel continues to live with Joey (Matt LeBlanc) until late in her pregnancy.  And Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow)?  With everyone else going on this season, she doesn't get any juicy storylines.  She does have a couple of boyfriends who last a couple of episodes.  One who was engaged to her twin sister Ursula when they met, and the other who gets really enthusiastic about everything.

So where does this season go wrong?  The first way is the characters doing embarrassing things for laughs.  The writers just seem to be determined to make the characters do the worst possible thing.  From Chandler and Ross trying to recreate wedding pictures when the table cameras were lost to Monica trying to get people to cry during a toast at her parent's anniversary, we see more of this than normal this season.  Unfortunately, I find this embarrassment humor more cringe worthy than I do funny.  Of course, sometimes they manage to pull it off beautifully like when Ross gets trapped between Rachel's father and his new girlfriend about his relationship with Rachel.  That scene is a classic.

The other place they went off the rails is much more serious.  This is the season where Joey first develops a crush on Rachel.  As if the Ross/Rachel story wasn't soap opera enough (she's pregnant with their baby this season, remember), Joey suddenly finds himself in love with her.  Really?  If it had lasted a few episodes, I would have been okay with it, but they played it out over the rest of the series.  From listening to the audio commentaries, I gather the writers thought it was a brilliant idea, but at this point, the fans were beyond ready for Ross and Rachel to get together to stay, and this felt forced.

Now, this isn't to say that there aren't some wonderful episodes in this season.  In fact, it holds one of my favorites as everyone is trying to figure out who the father of Rachel's baby is and Joey comes up with a clue - a sweater.  The way the episode plays out is hilarious, and the final moments are classic Friends.  Unfortunately, it has the missing wedding camera sub-plot I mentioned earlier that does take away from my overall enjoyment.  Likewise, the way the episode comes together where we find out just what happened that night between Ross and Rachel is wonderful.  Another highlight is the Thanksgiving episode, which features Jennifer Aniston's then husband Brad Pitt as former high school friend (or enemy, depending on who we are talking about) Will.

My problems with this season are definitely with the writing.  The actors still are doing wonderful work with their characters.  It's some of the little moments they do that are the funniest.  And, as much as I hate Joey having a crush on Rachel, the actors all play those moments perfectly; I can't help but admire their work with the stupid storyline.

Season 8 consisted of 24 episodes in full frame and stereo sound, which is appropriate for a sitcom filmed in front of a live audience at the turn of the century.  (These episodes originally aired in 2001 and 2002.)  As is always the case, we get three audio commentaries from the creators and executive producers, although they don't seem to have the enthusiasm they used to have.  In fact, it sounds like they aren't even in the studio together, but they are still fun to listen to.  We also get a featurette on the famous faces who have guest starred on the show over the years, a gag reel, and Gunther's preview of next season.

Even though the show has definitely past its peak, fans will still enjoy hanging out with their Friends.  I know I still find plenty to enjoy in season 8.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

October 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

My final new show of the year premiered this week.  Less than impressed with it, but we'll get to that in a moment.  It looks like I will only pick up one new show this year, and I've dropped a returning show.  If Monday and Tuesday weren't so full, maybe I'd have time to do some serious TV rewatching like I keep talking about doing.

Supergirl - I knew J’onn would prove to be correct that it was a hate crime, but it sure wasn't looking at it.  And in some ways, that first attack wasn't.  I think they would have gone after any human who had access to that lab.  The fact that it was an alien was just a bonus for them.  So, now the world knows that the President is an alien.  I was wondering if they were going to bring that back up at all.  I guess that is how the VP is going to come into play in future episodes.

God Friended Me – I’m not surprised we have a lesbian character on the show now.  Disappointed about that, but not surprised.  I didn’t see the final twist in the main storyline coming, however, but I should have.  After all, we had two characters to help, surely there was a connection between them.

Dancing with the Stars - Are we in for a season where the person in jeopardy the week before is destined to leave the following week?  I hope not, especially since Joe needs to go.  He appears to be a nice guy, and he's having fun, but this is about dance and not either of those two things.

Arrow – Oliver needs to get out of prison.  Seriously, I’m over that storyline already, and I was when he got sent to prison last season.  Then again, I’m not a fan of characters I like in prison on any show.  I hope they don’t drag it out too long.  I’m ready to find out how everyone is going to go back to being heroes.  So, how far of a leap is the future William.  He’s grown up enough they got a different actor to play him.  I’m guessing Roy in the Green Arrow in the present day, but what does William finding him on the island have to do with him being in Star City now.  And what happens between Roy and Thea?  So many questions!

The Flash – This is a very interesting Big Bad we’ve got this season.  I haven’t quite figured out what his power is or what his deal is.  I’m getting a little tired of Nora already, although her presence gave us that great Joe/Barry scene.  Honestly, I loved the villainess of the week.  Wouldn’t have minded seeing more of her.

This is Us – So how long was Jack’s brother in that one location that Jack could enlist, get sent over there, and eventually get to a place where he could reunite with his brother?  And all that talking while they were walking through the field?  So many clich├ęs in just the first few minutes.  I’m not a fan of the episodes where they spend all their time in the past as it is, but this one definitely was weak.

The Rookie – The only reason I gave this show a chance was because it stars Nathan Fillion, aka Castle.  (Not a big fan of Firefly, but I loved Castle.)  Unfortunately, it looks like it will be exactly the show I was expecting it to be.  We’re going to have a soap opera about a bunch of rookie cops.  I rolled my eyes so many times over the course of the pilot alone.  We’ve got the forbidden romance, the legacy that freezes, and training officers competing for promotion.  I’ll watch next week, but it will have to be something pretty spectacular to get me to watch more than that.

Survivor – Seriously, I need Natalie off my TV now.  Don’t make me come there and vote her off myself.  When I saw how the tribes broke down, I was concerned the Davids wouldn’t be able to pull it off.  They still might not make it, but after that vote, there is a chance.  And they just have to make it to the merge at this point, which is probably only another tribal or two away.

Big Bang Theory – Amusing, but I feel like we’ve seen these things before.  It is nice to see President Siebert again since he hasn’t been able to be on it for several years.  I definitely think the writers are out of things to do with the characters, so I think it is a good thing the series is ending when it is.

The Good Place – That was such a funny episode.  The little moments and the little lines were pretty good.  Everyone got their moment to shine, too.  But the explanation of time in the afterlife was probably my favorite scene.  So funny!  Yet it was Elinore who came up with the plan in the end.  No matter how much the show wants to paint her as a selfish person, she still winds up coming through and proving to be good deep down.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Book Review: City of Bones by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #8)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters
Cons: Plot gets too sidetracked
The Bottom Line:
Buried skeleton
Missing the usual sparks
Not Bosch at his best

Can Bosch Solve a Cold Case?

I took a break from my normal audio book authors this summer, partially to branch out a little, and partially because I was waiting for City of Bones to become available at my local library.  Fortunately, it came in while I still had some driving to do even if the long driving I’d done early in the summer was over, so I was able to get the book listened to.

LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch isn’t inclined to take the call seriously.  A citizen has called in saying his dog has uncovered a human bone.  Bosch has dealt with these calls before, and they always turn out to be an animal bone.  The difference this time is the citizen is a retired doctor, and he is correct.

It isn’t long before Harry and his partner, Jerry Edger, are working on a cold case.  The skeleton was that of a pre-teen boy who had experienced abuse all his life before he died roughly 20 years ago.  Can they find out who he was?  Will they be able to find a killer to bring to justice?

I was excited to see Bosch tackle a cold case, figuring that there would be some twists and turns to keep us engaged.  Sadly, I felt this book got sidetracked by the sub-plots Bosch encountered along the way, and some of the complications he did encountered along the way related to the case were predictable for fans of the series.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the mystery is still good.  Even an average book by Michael Connelly still has a good mystery.  But it’s not nearly as strong a mystery as he usually delivers.

The one thing the sub-plots do is allow Bosch to shine.  I hadn’t realized quite how much development we were getting for him until the end of the book.  Suddenly, much of what had happened in the book makes sense.  And now I’m anxious to find out what happens next to Bosch.  If only I didn’t have a stand-alone to listen to first.

Like Bosch, the rest of the cast gets their chance to grow.  I felt like Jerry had some strong moments here, something I haven’t always thought in the past.  There really wasn’t a bad character in the book.

And the book comes with the usual foul language, sex, and violence I’d expect in a Michael Connelly book.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone reading the series at this point.

The audio version I listened to was narrated by Peter J. Fernandez, who did a fantastic job.  The more audio books I listen to, the more I realize just how much talent and work goes into it.

Fans of the series who have missed City of Bones will need to pick it up to learn just what happens to Bosch here.  However, if you are new to Michael Connelly’s excellent books, start somewhere else since this isn’t one of his better books.

You'll definitely want to read the rest of the Harry Bosch novels.

This book is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

October 19th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome to another Friday, which means it is time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, let's get into the Christmas mood with Six Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James.

What, you were expecting something other than a murder mystery from me?  (Yes, I do something else occasionally, but not this week.)

Here's how the book begins:

I opened the envelope and read the enclosed invitation.  After the import of it had sunk in, I balled up the stiff card and threw it across the kitchen.  I muttered a curse to myself.

There isn't really a good quote from page 56, so I'm going to cheat and quote all of page 57 instead.  (Okay, so it's only a couple of paragraphs since it's the end of a chapter.)

About to close the door, I spied a folded piece of paper stuck to it with a tack.  I removed the tack and unfolded the note.  I immediately recognized the childish scrawl.
They're gone!  I thought you'd take care of them!  What did you do with them?  Where are they?

I've finished this book, which was fun like always for this series.  I'll be posting a full review, with giveaway, on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back and enter.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Movie Review: Darrow and Darrow - Body of Evidence

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun characters
Cons: Usual Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Wife killed her husband
Or was it an expert frame?
Fun twists in this film

“What Do You Say, Counselor, Feel Like Charging This Windmill?”  “You Know I Love a Good Windmill.”

As Hallmark gears up for their annual Christmas movie spectacular, they appear to be winding down their mystery movies for the year.  I believe that Body of Evidence is the final one of the year (but I'll be checking faithfully in case I'm wrong).  This is the third Darrow and Darrow mystery movie, and once again it was a lot of fun.

It hasn't been that long since we've last checked in with the Darrow clan since both Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and her mom, Joanna (Wendie Malick) are still in the beginning stages of their relationships with the new men in their lives, Miles (Tom Cavanagh) and Coach (Paul McGillion), respectively.

Miles is currently taking a leave of absence from his job as a prosecutor, and that turns out to be a good thing when Roy (Mitch Ainley) approaches Miles and Claire.  Roy is a rookie police officer, and he was there a year ago when Laura was arrested for murdering her husband, Tom.  In that time, no body has turned up, yet Laura has been tried and convicted of murder.  Roy thinks Laura was unfairly arrested and convicted based on what he saw that day.  Miles and Claire agree to look at the evidence and talk to Laura, and when they do, they reach different conclusions about whether she is guilty or not.  They begin to work together to prove things one way or another.  Who is correct?  Will they find proof either way?

The movies in this series set up impossible cases to be solved.  Yes, there are some holes in the case, so it is easy to see why Claire is doubting things.  Yet I can easily see why the jury would have come back with a guilty verdict.  Yes, I suspected a few of the things that were happening early on, but there were some great twists along the way that surprised me and made me question my conclusions.  The ending was a bit abrupt with Miles and Claire pulling out evidence to make their case that we hadn't heard even discussed before that scene, but their conclusions still made perfect sense given everything we'd seen before.

I was glad to see the growth that Joanna got in this episode.  Her distain for small town life after living in the City (that's New York City, of course) wore on me a bit in previous films.  I hope that in future movies, she isn't quite as much of a snob.

Having said that, I do love the characters here and how they all interact.  The teasing is wonderful, and I laughed a few times along the way to the climax.

Yes, the film does come with the usual Hallmark cheese warning, although this movie seemed to have a smaller dose than some of the others.  Still, just remember this is a Hallmark movie going in and you'll be fine.

Since we'll have a bit of a break in Hallmark's mystery movies, now is the time to catch up.  You'll certainly enjoy watching Body of Evidence and all the twists and turns it provides.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book Review: I'm Your Venus by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker Space Case #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced mystery in unique setting
Cons: Some character actions not fully explained at the end, but a minor detail
The Bottom Line:
Prize winner murdered
And Neptune has a secret
Fast paced and fun book

Sylvia’s Back on the Space Case

Diane Vallere thwarted my attempt to be up to date on at least one of her current series by publishing not one but two new books in the Sylvia Stryker Space Case Mysteries in the last couple of months.  But that's not really an issue when the books are as good as I'm Your Venus is.

In case you haven't started this series yet, it is a science fiction set mystery series.  Sylvia herself is a half human, half alien main character, and the cast of characters feature more aliens than humans.  Now, if this is starting to scare you off, don't worry in the slightest.  The books are still more mystery than science fiction.  We learn a little about some of these alien races, but the focus is on the mystery and what is means for Sylvia.

It's been three months since we last saw Sylvia, and she has gotten a new assignment on Moon Unit 6.  She is once again in charge of the uniform department, but this time it is legitimate.  After proving herself in the last book, she is now a full member of the crew.  Neptune is the head of security on this new ship as well.  The ship is heading to Venus, and everyone is looking forward to a pleasurable trip.

Things fall apart quickly, however, when Sylvia finds a dead body outside the uniform department.  The victim has clearly been murdered, but worse yet, the victim just won a contest to be on the ship.  Potential PR disasters are flying through Sylvia's mind when Neptune drops a bombshell on her, asking for her help to figure out what is happening.  Can Sylvia do that while keeping what is happening quiet?

Just like this isn't your typical location for a mystery, this isn't a typical mystery plot - at least not the kind that I tend to read with a victim and a limited number of suspects.  Yes, we do spend some time wondering who killed the victim and why, but we spend quite a bit of time dealing with the bombshell that Neptune drops and some of the fallout from that.  Not to worry, this kept me perfectly engaged, and I breezed through the book in just a couple of days.  I was always up for just one more chapter as I was reading.

When things came together at the end, I did feel like some of what the characters did along the way didn’t quite make sense.  It bothers me some, but on the whole, I enjoyed the book very much.

The cast of characters are a lot of fun.  We really only get to know three of them, Sylvia, Neptune, and Pika, all of whom were in the first book in the series.  It's just the nature of the book since these are the three we spend the most time with.  The rest of the cast are strong enough for the parts they play in the book, so this isn’t a complaint, just an observation.

And the setting is a lot of fun.  There are the occasional nods to pop culture science fiction that brought an extra smile to my face, although I'm sure there are some I missed.  While the book may be lower tech than a pure science fiction book would be, there are some cool things here that I wouldn't mind having in real life.  Heck, the ship itself sounds fantastic.  Then again, it is essentially a cruise ship in space, and who doesn’t love the idea of a good cruise.

Having finished I'm Your Venus, I'm not that sorry that book three is already available.  There are some threads left here I can't wait to see explored.  It's just a matter of finding the time to read that book.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Ornament Review: Season's Treatings 10th Anniversary - 2018 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delicious looking serving of hot chocolate
Cons: Under produced, even for a limited ornament
The Bottom Line:
Brings hot chocolate limited
That proved to be hot

Raise a Mug of Hot Chocolate in Honor of Season's Treatings' 10th Anniversary

Hallmark's Season's Treatings series proved to be a hit right out of the gate.  How can you go wrong with ornaments of sweets?  This year marks the series' 10th anniversary, and Hallmark released a limited edition ornament to mark the occasion.

This ornament features a treat we haven't seen in the series yet - hot chocolate.  In fact, this is the first time we've seen a liquid treat for the series at all.  The hot chocolate itself is being kept warm in a Santa teapot.  It's mostly red and white, and Santa looks extra jolly.  There are two mugs filled with hot chocolate and little marshmallows floating on top.  The mugs themselves are red with green polka dots and a gold trim.  Next to the mugs are a couple of candy canes in case you want to turn your hot chocolate into peppermint hot chocolate and a green bowl filled with marshmallows.  All of this is sitting on a green and gold tray.

All the ornaments in this series can be deadly to your waist line, and this one is no exception.  I mean, who doesn't love hot chocolate?  And adding peppermint and/or marshmallows?  My mouth is watering just thinking about it, and it isn't yet what passes for cold weather here in Southern California.  The red and green colors make it feel Christmassy, and it is mostly red, so it will stand out on your green Christmas tree.

My only complaint, and it is a minor one, is that I prefer the anniversary ornaments that reference some of the releases in the rest of the series.  But trust me, that is a very minor complaint.

I'm not the only one who loved this ornament.  It sold out instantly when it was released this month.  It doesn't help that Hallmark really underproduced it.  Frankly, that surprises me since this is such a popular series.  I get the desire with limited ornaments to create buzz and get people into their stores for the release events.  However, when something is really under produced, that just leaves collectors feeling frustrated.  I think they could have double production, and they still wouldn't have come close to meeting half the demand for this ornament.  So if you want it, I suggest you snag it as soon as you find one you can afford.

Since this ornament features a tray as a base, you can easily set it out to be displayed on any flat surface.  If you are looking to hang the ornament, you'll find that it tips forward a little.  Normally, that might bother me, but the ornaments in this series are all designed to have tilt, and this one looks like it fits with the rest perfectly.

My guess is this will become a much sought after ornament on the secondary market for years to come, and with good reason.  I am happy I was able to snag a copy of it for my collection.

Here's the rest of the delicious Season's Treatings series.

Original Price: $12.99

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney (Braxton Campus Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Solid mystery, good characters
Cons: Several logical niggles, slow pace
The Bottom Line:
Back home to murder
Kellan must clear family
Uneven debut

Kellan Faces One of Life's Curveballs – Murder

Because I need more authors to read and follow, when James J. Cudney reached out to me about reviewing his new book, a cozy mystery, I had to give it a chance.  After all, my to be read pile isn't high enough already.  In all seriousness, I don't read very many academic mystery series, so I was excited to visit Academic Curveball.

Kellan Ayrwick is just home for a visit.  His father, Wesley, is retiring from his job as president of Braxton College, and Kellan is in town for a few days to be part of the dinner given in his father's honor.  Kellan's day job is working on a true crime TV show, and this visit works out well since Kellan can also meet with Abby, a woman who has offered some research for the second season of the show, while he is in town.

Kellan's plans get derailed when he finds the dead body of a professor as the party for his father is winding down.  With several odd things happening at the college, Kellan begins to worry that someone he knows is going to be arrested for the murder.  Can he figure out what has happened?

This is a hard book to review.  I wanted to like it, and there was much to enjoy.  But there were also some serious flaws.  The biggest for me was the pacing.  While there were some good twists and clues, Kellan spent a bit too much time for my taste going over theories and trying to connect the clues and events together.  Several of these scenes were just rehashing things and theories we'd already had, which made the book feel too wordy.

Meanwhile, there were several nitpicks for me.  I could be very wrong on this, but a few of the events felt implausible to me, starting with the fact that this dinner to honor Wesley is being held near the beginning of the semester when he is retiring at the end of the semester.  Wouldn’t it be right before graduation even with a transition to his successor taking place?  That's just one of several things that made me scratch my head as the book unfolded.

But, as I said, there was much to enjoy.  The plot overall was solid, with several viable suspects and a climax that made perfect sense.  I definitely was drawn into the mystery and needed to know who was responsible for what was happening.  There were some good red herrings as well that made it harder to figure everything out.

And I liked the characters.  Kellan is a strong series lead.  In a departure from many of the series I read, he is a widower with a young child, a couple of changes I enjoyed, although we haven’t seen much of his daughter yet.  Over the course of the book, he reconnects with a couple of old friends and we got to see him interact with several members of his family.  These series regulars are fun, and I can see plenty of conflict in the books to come.  The suspects were strong and kept me guessing until the end.  And the last chapter dangled some very interesting developments to be explored in future books in the series.

This is why I found Academic Curveball a mixed bag.  At the heart of the book is a solid debut cozy mystery, but it has enough issues to keep me from fully recommending it.  I'm hopeful these kinks get worked out as the series goes along.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Book Review: A Dastardly Plot by Christopher Healy (Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, intriguing plot
Cons: Slow starts; moralizing
The Bottom Line:
Steampunk series starts
Strong characters, fun story
Look forward to more

Plenty of Peril to Keep the Pages Turning

Having enjoyed all three books in the Hero's Guide series, I've been anxiously waiting to see what Christopher Healy would write next.  The wait is over as his new series, A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem, has finally kicked off with A Dastardly Plot.

This time, he is taking us to 1883, but a Steampunk 1883.  He's populated the world with many real and fictional people, and made many of the cast inventors.  While some things, like electricity and the telephone, were really being used to improve everyday life during that time, this book also includes some fun sounding inventions that, sadly, we are still waiting for.

The story itself centers on Molly Pepper, the daughter of a female inventor named Cassandra.  With the 1883 World's Fair coming in their native New York City, Molly is hoping that Cassandra will get a spot to exhibit some of her many great inventions.  Sadly, the Inventor's Guild has snagged all the spots for their members, who are all men.  Even a last-minute invitation to show some of her inventions to a panel of judges is rescinded when a new member of the guild is admitted.

This frustration drives Molly and Cassandra to break into the Inventor's Guild to try to change things.  However, once inside, Molly stumbles on some plans that make her think someone is planning to sabotage the opening of the fair in just over a week.  Is she right?  Who is the villain?  Can she stop it?

When I picked up this book, I was ready to be swept away in another fun adventure.  Eventually, that did happen, but the book took a little while to get going.  Yes, some of that was set up, but even so the early part of the book was a little slow.  By the time we reached the end, I was fully engaged, however.  The climax is wonderful, and some of the lines and events along the way elicited laughter as I was reading although overall this book isn't as funny as the Hero's Guide trilogy.

As I already mentioned, we meet a wide variety of characters over the course of the book, some real and some fictional.  I thought they all came to life.  Even at the beginning, these characters helped pull me into the story and make me care what would happen next.

Please pay close attention to what I'm about to say.  My biggest issue with the book was the way it handled the sexism of the time.  As I've already noted, Cassandra was left out of a group because she was a woman.  That is wrong.  I felt like this point was preached at us at times instead of incorporated well into the story.  Honestly, this preaching at us is part of why I felt the beginning was so slow, but it pops up again later in the book.  I'm sure the target middle age audience would have picked up on the theme if it were subtler.  And yes, there is some talk of the racism of the time, but it wasn't pounded on nearly as much. None of these passages went on too long, but they did slow down the flow of the story.  Discrimination is wrong, but this can be shown to us without preaching it to us when we are reading fiction.

And this book really did provide that mostly fun world.  As I already said, some of the inventions that were discussed would be wonderful to have in our world today.  If only there were a way to really create some of them.

One thing I really appreciated as a few pages at the back where Christopher Healy separated some of the fact from the fiction.  I actually learned something just from reading those three pages.

I'm intrigued about where this series is going to go since we were teased several things at the end of this book that will be fodder for further adventures.  A Dastardly Plot has kicked things off with a fun start.

This book is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

October 13th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I made some cuts in my TV viewing in anticipation of the full #Arrowverse coming back in the next couple of weeks.  The only new show I still have is God Friended Me, and I don't think I'll be giving that one up any time soon.  The others just weren't grabbing me.  And with all the drama behind the scenes of Lethal Weapon, I'm out of that one as well.  But since I've got two shows starting up again this coming week, I'll be way too busy watching TV shows as it is.  Plus I still want to check out The Rookie.

God Friended Me – I’m still intrigued.  The episode’s story wasn’t too surprising, but it was sweet.  I like what they appear to be doing with the characters.  It looks like the ratings really dropped off with week two, so we’ll see how long it sticks around, but I think I’m in.

Dancing with the Stars – I always forget how powerful this night can be.  So many moving stories, and a few bits of trivia I didn’t know, like Mary Lou’s knee surgery so close to the Olympics.  Wow!  My hat is off to her for doing that.  And Evanna being pen pals with J.K. Rowling yet getting cast in the movies all on her own.  (I still stand by what I said when that movie came out, too – they found Luna and got her to play herself.  She was amazing in the roll!)  So hard to see someone go after a night like this.

The Flash – I hadn’t realized just how much I had been missing this show.  So good to have it back, and Barry’s scenes with Nora when he learned about disappearing were heart breaking.  The show does that so well.  I’m glad we are finally dealing with his whole vanishing act.  I hope we get some answers on that this season even though it obviously isn’t supposed to happen for a few years.

This is Us – Oh, I know what they were doing with Kate’s visions, but that certainly hasn’t been my experience with my surgeries.  Maybe it’s me, but when they put me under, I am out, and nothing registers until I wake up again.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Kate and Jack meeting is very interesting.  Do they go off to LA together?  We know where they wind up, of course.  Randall and Beth are going to have to get some stuff figured out.  Now is not the time to be running a campaign no matter how important the cause is, and it is pretty important.

Survivor – The Davids won!  And the Goliaths didn’t vote out Natalie?  I’m shocked.  Okay, I can understand them seeing Jeremy as a threat, although this early in the game you have to keep the strong around.  You need to win challenges.  (Although the tribe switch coming up does change that some.)  And I can’t stand Natalie.  I’m ready for her to be gone.

The Big Bang Theory – I watched just enough of Young Sheldon last year to have seen Tam’s first appearance.  It was nice to close that loop on him, plus we get to see George again.  Although I must say, his appearances in the past filling in for Leonard weren’t nearly as good as the original scenes.  Still curious where they are going with the Raj storyline.

The Good Place – Enjoyed this one much better than last week.  I don’t feel like we really got to see much change in the characters, but this is a comedy, so I’m willing to take their word for it.  I wasn’t sure how they’d work Michael and Janet into this season, but in many ways I’ve felt they’ve been the main characters this time around.  I’m wondering if that will mean anything down the line for the season.  And that cliffhanger?  Next week will be interesting for sure.

Friday, October 12, 2018

October 12th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

We've made it to another Friday, which means it is time for this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week's book is I'm Your Venus by Diane Vallere.

Yes, it's still a mystery, just a mystery set in space.  I just finished it a few hours ago, and it is a lot of fun.  Look for my full review this coming Wednesday.

But in the mean time, here's how the book begins:

Moon Unit 6 was twice the size of the last spaceship the company had in rotation, and, thanks to the wonders of technology, half the weight.

Okay, so maybe not the best opening sentence ever, but still an intriguing opening, at least for me.

Moving on to page 56, we find:

"Council Chambers?"
"It's the closest soundproof room."  She put her hand on my arm.  "You're a highly valued member of the crew, Lieutenant.  Nobody here doubts that."
She wouldn't have said that if she hadn't know what had happened last time I was there.

Okay, I'm bad.  I fully admit it.  See, this is a double teaser since it actually references something that happened in the first book in the series, originally released as Murder on Moon Trek 1, but now republished as Fly Me to the Moon.  You can read my review of that book here.

That's it for me this week.  Hope you have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Book Review: Death of a Russian Doll by Barbara Early (Vintage Toy Shop Mysteries #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery, lots of fun
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Liz must find killer
Before she becomes suspect
Many layered fun

The Body Nesting Next Door

Being essentially a kid at heart, I have loved the previous two books in the Vintage Toyshop series from Barbara Early.  I couldn't wait to dive into Death of a Russian Doll, and I'm thrilled to say I loved it.

Before we go further, I do want to issue a spoiler warning.  No, I will not be spoiling anything in this book, but because of the set up for this book, it spoils the cliffhanger ending of the previous book in the series.  If you don't want that to happen, then just know I can't recommend this series highly enough and go enjoy the earlier books.  If you are up to date or you don't care about a spoiled cliffhanger, then keep reading.

It's been a year since we last checked in with Liz McCall and the gang at Well Played, the vintage toy shop that Liz's father started when he retired from the police force in East Aurora.  Time hasn't healed the wound caused by the sudden appearance of Marya, Ken's estranged Russian wife.  Liz was just finally ready to stop casually dating Ken and take their relationship seriously when Marya appeared.  Naturally, the fact that they live in such a small town means the two women see each other whether they want to or not, but the fact that Marya works in the barber/beauty shop next to Well Played isn't helping matters either.

Liz and her father, Hank, live above Well Played, and one night, they awaken to find the police next door.  Someone has killed Marya in the barber shop.  With Ken sidelined from his job as the police chief by the investigation, Hank steps back into his old job.  Liz realizes that she makes as good as suspect as Ken does, so she begins to quietly investigate as well.  But it appears that she and Ken were the only ones with motive to kill Marya.  Can Liz figure out what really happened?

The book doesn’t wait too long before Marya dies and Liz jumps into action to figure out what happened.  We spent time digging into Marya’s past as well as looking for suspects in town, and the result is a book that moves forward at a brisk pace.  The climax was logical and wrapped things up perfectly.

Meanwhile, Liz's love life gets some complications as well.  I knew how I wanted things to turn out early on, but I’ll leave it for you to discover exactly what happens there.

The characters continue to be strong.  There are quite a few series regulars here, and they all pop up at some point.  The new characters introduced are a complete hoot.

And that's another thing I appreciate about this series is the humor.  There are scenes that made me laugh as I was reading, and we get treated to more of Hank's puns on a couple of occasions as well.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the return of Mark Baker.  Those who have read the second book might remember him as a very minor character in that book.  He's much more prominent this time around.  No, I didn't love this book just because a character was named after me, but it certainly didn't hurt.

Since we've skipped a year since the last book, it is once again Christmas, which also adds to the fun.

Just in case you couldn't tell, I loved this book.  Death of a Russian Doll has many layers of fun.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Ornament Review: Chutes and Ladders - Family Game Night #5 - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfectly captures the game from the 1980's
Cons: All cons down the chute
The Bottom Line:
Game of ups and downs
All ups for this ornament
One more fun entry

Climb a Ladder by Buying This Ornament

I have been a fan of the Family Game Night series since the first ornament came out.  Each year, the ornament perfectly captures a fun game that I've played in the past.  At some point, I'm sure they will hit one I don't have fond memories of, but that hasn't happened yet.  This year, they are featuring Chutes and Ladders, and I love it again.

I must admit, I don't know if this game has gone through any design changes to the board or box.  I'm sure it has, I just haven't paid much attention.  But this ornament captures the game just as I had it in the 1980's.  (In fact, my parents still have this copy of this game at their house.)  As usual, a corner of the game board is sticking out of the box cover.  In this case, it is the start corner.  Two pieces are on the board as if someone is not too far into a game.  And, if you have the same version I did, you'll recognize the look immediately.  There’s a picture of kids climbing up a ladder and then sliding down a chute, although in this case the chute comes out of the box lid and it almost looks like one of the game pieces has just slid down the chute and landed on the board.

And recognizing the look is what makes this ornament so much fun for me.  It's that nostalgia factor that makes me love this ornament so much.  I can picture hours spent playing this game as a kid.  And I've even played it a few times with my niece and nephew.

Because the base of this ornament is half of the game board, it has a very nice, solid base, so you could set this out to be displayed year-round.  With past ornaments in the series, I've had to point out that the ornament tips forward slightly.  That isn't the case here because they've moved the loop to the front of the box cover.  Just that little adjustment appears to be all they needed, and it is still up high enough that it really doesn't interfere with the look of the ornament.  We are up to the fifth ornament in this fun series, and you'll find the series marker on the back of the ornament.

The ornaments in this series really are a lot of fun.  It's just great to see well-loved pieces of my childhood populating my tree.  I can't wait to do that with Chutes and Ladders this year.

Check out the rest of the Family Game Night ornaments.

Original Price: $15.99

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: Designed for Haunting by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson Mysteries #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun characters
Cons: Nothing that can't be painted over
The Bottom Line:
Rory's missing friend
A Halloween mystery
Fun for all readers

Designed for Your Halloween Reading Pleasure

While I'm not the biggest Halloween fan, every year a book or two in a series I read comes out set around this holiday.  I get it, Halloween lends itself perfectly to a mystery.  I'm not complaining since I often find myself enjoying these offerings, and Designed for Haunting is no exception.

Aurora “Rory” Anderson is shocked when she goes to open her e-mail and finds one from her friend Zelena Alvarez.  The e-mail claims that Zelena is missing and begs Rory to find her before something worse happens.  Rory begins to investigate and sure enough, no one has seen Zelena since the last meeting of their decorative painting club several days ago.

Rory begins trying to find her friend, but this isn't the only thing on her plate.  Her decorative painting club is putting on their annual boutique house, and that is taking a lot of Rory's time.  Then there are the rumors of the town ghost putting in appearances down on the beach.  At least, they sounded like rumors.  When a dead body turns up, Rory kicks her investigation into high gear.  What will she find?

As you can see, this book has multiple things going on for Rory to investigate, and that keeps the pages flying.  Some turn out to be red herrings, but some actually do play a part in the main mystery.  Either way, they kept me engaged the entire way through.  The climax is very suspenseful and perfectly wraps everything up.

The characters were strong in this book, strong enough that I had no issue keeping everyone straight.  Considering how the various plot elements weave in and out of Rory's life, that's important.  Of course, Rory and the other series regulars are fun to spend time with.  She has a great relationship with her best friend Liz, with Liz sometimes pushing her to do something she's hesitating to do.  A couple of the regular supporting cast were kept more in the background of this book, and I missed them, but that's a minor complaint.

Since Rory spent more time selling things she and others in her club had already painted, I didn't find this book giving me the desire to paint that previous books in the series have.  However, I would have gladly bought several of the items that were talked about in this book.  My wallet is thankful they weren't real.

This book makes great use of the Halloween time period.  As a Southern California resident, I especially loved seeing what October can be like for us reflected here.  It helped put me in the mood for fall.

If you are looking for a fun book to read this October, Designed for Haunting is perfect for you.  It will have you turning pages as you settle into the season.

Missing one of Rory's cases?  Here are the Aurora Anderson Mysteries in order.

I'm reviewing this book as part of a blog tour.  Check out the rest of the stops.

And enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Movie: Freaky Friday (2018)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun musical numbers
Cons: Too rushed overall
The Bottom Line:
Switch up comedy
Now with music!  But it's rushed
Result is frenzied

Singing and Dancing, but a Rather Bland Movie

I've seen all three versions that Disney had made of Freaky Friday before 2018, but I must admit that the only one I truly enjoyed was the 2003 remake starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis.  Still, when I'd heard they had created a version of the story as a stage musical, I was definitely intrigued.  So, when it showed up as a Disney Channel Original movie, I had to watch it.

We join the Blake family on a very hectic day.  Mom, Katherine, (Heidi Blinkenstaff) is about to get remarried to Mike (Alex Desert).  Meanwhile daughter Ellie (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) wants to join her friends in an all-night scavenger hunt taking place in the city that night.  When Katherine puts her foot down, Ellie rebels.  But the next thing they know, the two of them have switched bodies.

This couldn't have come at a worse time.  Not only is the wedding tomorrow, but Katherine is catering the entire thing herself and a prominent magazine is going to feature it as a cover article.  Katherine really needs this to go well, or the entire company might go bankrupt, with disastrous consequences for the family.  Meanwhile, Ellie is one unexcused absence away from being expelled from school.  With the two of them having to live each other’s lives until they figure out how to switch back, how will they do?

If you've seen any version of the story before, you know the broad beats of the story.  Even if you haven't, I'm sure what happens over the course of this movie will come as no surprise to you.  That's never a deal breaker for me if I am having fun, however.

In this case, the movie didn't quite work for me, and it took me a while to figure out why.  The problem is that the movie is too short.  Yes, it is about an hour and a half, but many stage musicals are longer.  Yes, a good musical has songs that advance the plot, and we get that here, but I can't help feeling that they cut out parts of the story in order to fit everything into the time allowed instead of taking the time they need to tell the story.  As a result, everything feels rushed.  Yes, we get the emotional beats we need, but we don't get the time to truly feel everything.  Instead, it feels frantic.

Need more proof?  They cut out at least half the songs from the stage musical version.  Yes, I know tinkering happens to fit different formats, but that's quite a lot.

Which is a shame because I suspect I would like the full musical if I ever got the chance to see it.  The songs we got here are plenty of fun as was the dancing.  The acting was fine, as well.

I'm still curious to see the full musical sometime.  This version of Freaky Friday will entertain kids, but it would be much better if they hadn't tried to condense it.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Cookie Review: Limited Edition Mickey Mouse Birthday Cake Frosting Oreos

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Limited cookie designs to honor Mickey
Cons: I don't like the frosting center
The Bottom Line:
Celebrate Mickey
With frosting centered cookie
Happy ninetieth!

Celebrating Mickey with … Oreos

Mickey Mouse is turning 90 next month.  While Disney is celebrating, other companies want to get in on the act.  One of those is Nabisco, which has issued a limited edition of their Birthday Cake Frosting Oreos.

Like a traditional Oreo, the outside cookies are chocolate.  Inside is a cake frosting center instead of the traditional Oreo middle with bits of sprinkles to add some festive color.  One side of each cookie has the traditional Oreo cookie design.  However, the other side has been changed to honor Mickey, and there are three different designs.  One has a profile of Mickey wearing a party hat and surrounded by confetti, one has a huge 90 on it, and one has a party hat.  These last two are surrounding by the three circle Mickey symbol.

Taste wise, these taste just like regular Birthday Cake Frosting Oreos.  Which is my problem with them.  Don't get me wrong, I love regular Oreos, and I have enjoyed many of the other varieties they have released over the years.  But I'm not a fan of frosting, so I tend to avoid the Birthday Cake Frosting Oreos.

And yes, I knew what I was getting when I bought the package of Oreos.  And I know why they went with this particular flavor for these limited edition cookies.  They are extremely fitting.  I'm just not a fan of the flavor.

Yet I don't regret buying them.  I'm enough of a DisNerd that I had to get some to honor Mickey Mouse.  After all, Mickey lead to so much else for Walt Disney and the Disney Company.

Your desire to buy these particular limited edition Mickey Mouse Oreos will be partially determined by how much you love Mickey and how much you love the cookies.  Personally, it is fun to have one package of them, but one is more than enough.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

October 6th's Weekly TV Thoughts

One new show for me this week, and it might be a keeper.  But one show is definitely dropping, and I think two more are likely to drop soon.

God Friended Me – Color me intrigued.  I’m definitely curious where they are going to go with this show, but I was impressed by the pilot.  So far, they are doing a good job with the characters and not making them caricatures on either side of any debate.  Of the new shows I’ve tried this year, so far I think this one is my favorite.

Dancing with the Stars (Monday) – The first song that popped into my head for New York night was “NYC” from Annie, but they didn’t do it.  Not that I have a problem with any of the songs that were done.  The two tiers of dancers are starting to emerge, those who are taking it seriously and will go far and those who will be eliminated early.  Hopefully, some of those who had big gains this week will stay at their new level.  All those guests tomorrow night?  I’m assuming they will be performing while the couples are dancing because I can’t see how they will squeeze everything in other wise.

Magnum PI – I don’t think I’m going to have any difficulty giving this show up in a couple of weeks.  If I had nothing else I watched on Mondays, I’d stick with it since, at least for now, it looks like it will be fun.  But I’ve got too much else at the start of the week.  I was wondering how they would sustain an episode about a fish, but it twisted in some fun and surprising places.

Dancing with the Stars (Tuesday) – This time they did have to do two different dances.  All of them.  I’m glad the hosts and judges discussed how hard they are making things this season.  The scores were pretty consistent between nights, which isn’t a huge surprise since the couples obviously working on both dances at the same time.  I’m sorry to see Danielle go, although I doubt she would have gotten much further.  Not for lack or trying or heart – I was amazed at what she did even though she couldn’t see.  Truly inspiring.  And I will give everyone is the cast credit for working hard and improving from week one.

This is Us – Kate and Rebecca’s interactions were fairly predictable.  But I did not see the issues that Kate’s comments were going to have on Randall or Kevin coming.  Of course, I would have if I thought about it at all.  And that last scene with teenage Randall?  Heartbreaking.  I wonder how that all plays out.

Lethal Weapon – As I’m watching Tuesday night’s episode on Wednesday, news comes through that Damon Wayans is going to quit.  Seriously?  So we are going to have a Lethal Weapon show without the two main characters of the franchise?  Meanwhile, Cole’s ex has a live-in boyfriend he knew nothing about?  Okay, I can see that being realistic, but it also feels like something from left field to me.  Made for a few fun moments, but ultimately, it just feels off to me.

Survivor – And the David’s lose again.  Honestly, it doesn’t look like it was even close, but that was a brutal puzzle.  There’s no way I would have wanted to do that.  Blind side right from the start, which is very interesting.  I hope it plays out well for the Davids.  But I think the drama at the Goliath tribe is ultimately going to be more fun this season.

A Million Little Things – I’m still unsure about this one.  I think it’s the affair.  That is going to be the bomb that blows up this group, and I’m dreading it.  Not to mention the fact that I really took like us rooting for a marriage to fall apart, which is what we are doing right now.  I’ll give it another shot, but it might be going away soon.

Big Bang Theory – “Our babies will be smart and beautiful.”  That’s from the pilot.  You can’t just take that away from us, I mean Leonard.  On the other hand, this might actually give Penny and Leonard a storyline this season, something they’ve been lacking since they got married.  Although the best reaction was Amy’s.  And I’m very curious where they are going to go with Raj and Stuart’s love lives.

The Good Place – I thought Trevor would be fun mixing with the humans, but he was just annoying.  However, we’ve gotten rid of him and Michael and Janet are now on Earth, so that’s good.  I wonder how Michael will be able to stir things since everyone knows him as someone different.  And Janet without her powers.  I can see those jokes being fun as the season goes along.

Murphy Brown – I’m out after two episodes.  That rant was painful to watch since it was so partisan.  And it just wasn’t funny leading up to it.  I really wish I could remember if the show was funnier when it was on before or if my tastes has changed this much.

Friday, October 5, 2018

October 5th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Well, I pretty much dropped off the Book Beginning and Friday 56 train this summer, didn't I?  But it's time to hop back on.

You know, that sentence would go perfectly with the second in the Vintage Toyshop Mysteries by Barbara Early, which was Murder on the Toy Town Express.  But that was last year's book.  This year, we are up to book three, Death of a Russian Doll.

Thanks to Netgalley, I've already read this book, and I loved it!  Full review to come on Thursday.

Let's get to some teasers, shall we?

Here's now the book starts:

I never should have opened the box.

Love that first line!  Jumping head to 56% into the book, we find:

I avoided his eyes and dug into my lunch.  "Mark Baker has those records now."

Yes, there is a character named after me in the book.  But I would have loved it either way, I swear.

Have a great weekend, a long weekend for those of you up in Canada.