Saturday, April 17, 2021

April 17th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Batwoman – Got to admit, there were several developments I wasn’t expecting tonight.  Kane becoming addicted to Snackbite, for example.  Once he was injected, I knew you’d be going back for seconds.  Didn’t think Angelique would spill the beans, either.  Thought she might truly be in protective custody until we got the final scene.  That’s not going to be good.  I wonder what excuse they are going to use for not killing her right away.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – Lots of songs.  I think just about everyone sang.  And I love the singing, so I’m not complaining about that.  But I want to know what Emily was sad about.  But I really want to see the work crew singing “Anything you can do.”

The Flash – I suspected Mark had to be the villain of the week.  Such a shame they had to ruin such a perfectly good name.  But I figured they find a way to clear Killer Frost and then she would be free of her past.  I’m actually liking that she stood up for what she’d done and is pleading guilty.  Nice twist.

Supergirl – I’m ready for Kara to come out of the Phantom Zone now.  Glad they stopped the phantoms in our world.  And I hope that Lena finds what she needs by cutting Lex out of her life.  It definitely seems like the right decision to me, but I’m sure it won’t appear that way for a while.

United States of Al – We finally got to see the daughter!  Okay, so she only had one scene, but it was nice to finally meet the character.  Not sure how I feel about the episode overall.  It felt awkward.  And I find it hard to believe he truly wouldn’t have been able to concentrate.  Or maybe that’s just me.

Wipeout – I was rooting for the Frisbee team.  Hey, this is me.  Not too surprised with the fit team winning.  And wow, were they impressive in the final course.  They definitely deserved it.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – A mixed episode for sure.  Definitely could have done without the preaching scenes.  Now that they are finally gearing up for the climax, things are starting to come together and be more interesting.  All the pieces are in place for an explosive climax.  We will see if we get it.  With the slower pacing the series has had all along, I expect it will be mixed as well.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Book Review: The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (Jack McEvoy #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great thriller with strong characters
Cons: A bit more detail than needed in one scene; the obvious climax set up scene
The Bottom Line:
One last news story
Sends Jack on a thrilling ride
Page turning suspense

Will Jack End His Career in a Blaze of Glory?

While Michael Connelly has spent most of his career writing about LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, he has a few other characters he will revisit occasionally.  One of those is reporter Jack McEvoy.  The Scarecrow marks Jack’s second lead roll out of only three books, and it is a page turner.

For the last decade, Jack has been working at The Los Angeles Times, working the crime beat.  His time at the paper is coming to an end, however.  His just been given notice that his name is number ninety-nine out of one hundred the paper has to let go to cut costs.  He’s been offered the chance to stay an extra two weeks in order to train his replacement, an offer that he decides to take.

But Jack has his own motive for staying.  He decides he is going to write one last blockbuster story that will be an exclamation point on his career.  And it looks like that story might be the case of Alonzo Winslow, a sixteen-year-old drug dealer in prison for a brutal murder – a murder he might not have committed.  As Jack begins to investigate, his path once again crosses with FBI agent Rachel Walling.  Will the two of them track down the real killer?

When this book came out in 2009, it had been thirteen years since Jack’s first starring role, but he had made some cameos in other books that Michal Connelly had written.  Rachel Walling had had more prominent parts in a couple of the Bosch novels.  It’s one thing I’m enjoying going through all of Michael Connelly’s books in order is watching the characters pop in and out of each book.

This was the perfect story to team Jack and Rachel back up.  It naturally flows from Jack’s newspaper story.  While we can guess that the story is going to be bigger than Jack originally suspects early on, it is still fun watching it unfold and Jack follows each clue to the next.  I was quickly caught up in the twists and turns along the way to the suspenseful climax.

This book does fall into one of the traps I’ve noticed in other Michael Connelly books.  There are some scenes that are obviously nothing but setting up the climatic set piece.  In fact, it is painfully obvious data dump.  I’m not quite sure how to get us that information in a less obvious way, but this is a minor complaint overall.

I hadn’t realized how much I liked Jack and Rachel until we got another book focused on them.  They are wonderful characters, and they work well together.  Which worries me since Michael Connelly doesn’t have a habit of letting his characters have happy romantic lives.  The rest of the cast is just as strong.

We are dealing with some brutal murders in this book, which isn’t a surprise for another who has read Michael Connelly’s books before.  They are of a sexual nature.  I could have done with less detail, but there are only a couple scenes that crosses the line for me.  The foul language is kept to a minimum, which I appreciated.

I’m still listening to these books on audio, and Peter Giles was the narrator of the version I listened to.  I’ve enjoyed his narration in the past, and he did a great job again here.  The really oddity to me was when it came to reading an email.  We got the email addresses, time the email was sent, etc.  Detail that I don’t even pay attention to when I’m checking my email in real life much less reading a novel.  I get why it was included in an unabridged production, but it was still odd.

I know I’ve got one more visit with Jack ahead of me, but I’ve got quite a few books to get through first.  I’m looking forward to it.  If you haven’t yet read The Scarecrow, you are in for a great thriller.

April 16th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's Friday!  Starting off the day with Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Golden Gate by James Ponti.

This is the second in the City Spies middle grade series.  I loved the first one last year, and this one was just as good.

Here's how it begins:

It was just after dawn, so the black-clad hijackers were barely visible as they moved with military precision across the deck of the marine research vessel Sylvia Earle.

And here's from page 56:

It wasn't that Sydney wanted to be unhelpful.  It was just that, according to the United Kingdom Official Secrets Act, she was forbidden from disclosing her MI6 status to anyone.  So the lies continued.

I'll be reviewing this book on Sunday so I hope you come back then for my full review.  In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Book Review: Bones to Pick by Linda Lovely (Brie Hooker Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fun, hard to put down
Cons: Emphasis on events over investigations
The Bottom Line:
Bones found on aunt’s farm
Brie works to uncover truth
Book fun overall

I’m Glad I Picked This Debut

I’d had Bones to Pick, the debut in Linda Lovely’s Brie Hooker Mysteries, on my radar for a while.  I finally got it for my birthday this year, so I moved it to the top of my TBR pile.  I’m glad since I enjoyed it.

Brie Hooker has gone from a career as a vegan chef to helping her aunt Eva run her goat farm and dairy in South Carolina.  It may not be her first choice for what to be doing with her life right now, but she loves her aunt, and Eva needs the help.  This is especially true after the farm’s pot-bellied pig unearths bones – human bones.  The remains are quickly identified as that of Brie’s husband, who disappeared forty years ago.

There was no love lost between Eva and her husband, and he was part of the most prominent family in the area, so it isn’t a surprise that suspicion in his murder falls on Eva.  With so much time passing, it’s hard to even tell for sure when he died, so it is hard for Eva to provide an alibi.  Brie starts to investigate, hoping to clear her aunt.  When another dead body turns up, however, Brie finds herself getting more scrutiny as well.  Are these two murders, decades apart, related?  If so, can Brie figure out what is really going on?

It was the characters that really drew me into this book.  Brie may be a vegan, but no one else around her is.  She takes some ribbing about that (pun always intended), but she takes it in good humor and dishes it back as well.  Brie’s parents, Eva, a childhood friend, and two potential love interests complete the main cast, and I really liked all of them.  Yes, this book sets up a love triangle.  I hope it gets resolved sooner rather than later (I am getting tired of them), but I like both of these guys, so that’s a plus.

The mystery starts strongly, with the bones turning up within the first few pages.  And there is lots going on.  Every few pages, something happens that complicates Brie’s life, which made it hard to put the book down.  However, this is a book that confuses events for investigations.  I got a bit tired of not feeling like we were getting anywhere in the investigation despite all the events happening.  Still, the climax resolves everything without feeling rushed.  In fact, the suspense of the climax was wonderfully handled.

I hinted at this earlier, but the book does have some great humor in it.  The characters love each other, and that comes out as they tease each other.  Brie has taken to using some pretty funny meat and cheese curses, as well.  Those were definitely a highlight.

This book does boarder the PG/PG-13 divide, especially with some of the teasing that Brie gets about her love life.  Keep that in mind if you think it might bother you before you pick up the book.

I’m definitely curious what Brie uncovers next.  I’m looking forward to revisiting her, her family, and her friends.  If you enjoy humor in your mysteries, you’ll be glad you picked Bones to Pick.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Movie Review: Riddle Me Dead - A Crossword Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mystery, characters
Cons: Usual light dose of cheese
The Bottom Line:
A quiz show murder
Sets up this light mystery
A charming movie

“He’s So…”  “Phony.”  “I Was Going to Say Full of Himself, But That Works, Too.”

I’ve been watching more game shows than usual this past year.  They’ve been one of the few things that have been produced during the pandemic.  That made the setting for Riddle Me Dead, the latest Crossword Puzzle Mystery from Hallmark, even more fun for me.

Tess Harper (Lacey Chabert) has been asked to provide the video clues for a category on the popular game show Riddle Me This for an upcoming episode.  She is thrilled to do it, especially since her aunt Candace (Barbara Niven) is a huge fan of the show, and they’ll both get to go to a taping.  It’s all be arranged by Tess’s ex, Hunter (Jon Cor), a writer on the show.

Things take a deadly turn, however, when the extremely popular host of the show, Aiden (Lane Edwards), is found dead on stage after the taping.  Detective Logan O’Connor (Brennan Elliott) on the case, and Tess can’t help but poke around.  With Hunter back in her life, what will that mean for Tess’s love life?  Or will Logan arrest him for murder?

Aiden proves to be the perfect murder victim since there are plenty of people with motive.  The investigation hits a few dead ends before Tess and Logan figure it out.  I had a suspicion where the case was going to wind up, but the how kept me guessing.  And that didn’t mean I knew who was ultimately responsible for the crimes either until Tess and Logan figured it out.

While Tess, Candace, and Logan are the main trio in this franchise, there are some other supporting characters that I enjoyed catching up with again here.  All the main characters are fun, and I enjoyed watching their various relationships growing.  Meanwhile, the suspects do their job of acting suspiciously perfectly.

You know what comes next – the Hallmark cheese factor.  Yes, it is a fairly light dose (or I’m keeping more immune to it all the time), but it is here.

Riddle Me Dead provides another light mystery.  If you are looking to be entertained for an hour and a half, you’ll enjoy this film.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Book Review: Cozy Up to Murder by Colin Conway (Cozy Up #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Owen, good plot, fun
Cons: Stretched credibility quite a bit
The Bottom Line:
Character on run
Once again caught in murder
Entertaining; flawed

Murder is Not Music to Owen’s Ears

Last year, I read the first book in the Cozy Up series.  While I found parts of it hard to swallow, I was intrigued enough that I knew I wanted to find out what happened next to the main character, so I picked up Cozy Up to Murder.  I had much the same response I did to the first book.

Our hero is a man in hiding.  It started out that the Feds were just hiding him from his old motorcycle gang after he testified against them in exchange for a reduced sentence.  But now he needs to hide out from the east coast mob as well.  So he’s been given a new name, Owen Hunter, and set up as the owner of a used music store in the coastal California town of Costa Buena.

Owen is determined to make good on his second second chance, but he quickly begins running afoul of the locals.  After run ins with several of his new neighbors, the owner of the rival music store turns up dead.  The local detective thinks that Owen makes a wonderful suspect, but Owen can’t let that happen for fear that his true identity will get out.  Can he solve the murder and keep his identity secret?

This is a cozy with an edge.  It’s not quite as edgy as the first book in the series, but this is still not a typical cozy.

Part of that is the lack of recurring characters.  While Owen (under a different name) was in the previous book, the majority of the cast here weren’t.  A couple of agents also reappear, but they are minor supporting players.  I miss some of the characters we got to know in that first book.  Owen does, too, which makes me feel a little better.

Owen himself is a draw to this series.  He’s a well-developed character who is trying to change his ways despite the circumstances he constantly finds himself in.  I really like him.

The citizens of Costa Buena are quite colorful.  One minute they are amusing, the next they are causing us to wonder just what they might be hiding.  In other words, they make wonderful suspects in the mystery.

And there is much in the mystery to keep us guessing.  I wasn’t sure how everything would be resolved until I reached the end.  The climax was a bit rushed, but it worked and wrapped up the story nicely while also setting up the next installment in the series.

Like with the first, I found parts of the book to be unrealistic.  Owen’s involvement in the witness protection program, for starters, feels more fictional than reality.  While the citizens were colorful, at times they felt a bit like cliches.  Maybe I’m more sensitive to that because I live in California, and I saw some stereotypical characteristics in them.  It’s a book where I have to turn off some of my logic to enjoy.

And yet I do.  It really helps that I like Owen and want him to find a way to succeed in his new life despite the obstacles he finds himself facing.

This was a very fast read.  I read it easily in two days when most books take me three days to read.

Despite the flaws, I did enjoy Cozy Up to Murder.  I know this book isn’t for everyone, but I’m glad I picked it up.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Ornament Review: Dumbo Takes Flight - 2021

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Cute pose of a great moment
Cons: Does tip slightly to the left
The Bottom Line:
Time for Dumbo’s flight
Captures the moment before
In cute ornament

Dumbo is Ready to Plunge Down Your Tree

I love Dumbo, so it is no surprise that I have several ornaments of him.  I was going to skip 2020’s Hallmark release, Dumbo Takes Flight, but somehow he landed in my basket.  I’m glad he did.

This is Dumbo as he is at the climax.  His face and trunk are all clowned up.  He’s wearing his orange hat and has a yellow bow tie on.  He’s standing on the platform the clowns put him on to jump out of the fiery building, although we don’t see the building.  How do I know it is the climax?  Dumbo has his lucky feather in his trunk.

It’s a cute ornament.  How can it miss, since Dumbo himself is so cute.  He looks so happy and sure of himself, too.  The only comment I have on the looks is that Dumbo is leaning down like he’s about to jump.  As a result, if you put him low on your tree, you won’t really see his face.  But, since he’s about to jump from a tall building, higher on your tree is better anyway, right?

Speaking of your tree, when you go to hang the ornament, you’ll find that Dumbo tips slightly to the left.  I’m a bit surprised by that since I would have guessed that the ornament was balances, but you can easily disguise it with some branches on your tree.  I don’t remember noticing this in December when the ornament was on my tree.

Dumbo’s platform means the ornament has a nice flat base, so you can set this ornament out to enjoy year-round if you want.

As I said, there are lots of Dumbo ornaments, so I’m not the only one who loves this character.  I don’t remember seeing this moment from the movie as an ornament before, so that makes me glad I added Dumbo Takes Flight to my ornament collection.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Podcast Review: Murder Book Season 2 - The Women Who Stopped Sam Little

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good look at the work that went into stopping a brutal serial killer.
Cons: Details are horrific (when shared), some recordings hard to hear
The Bottom Line:
Stopping a killer
Makes sometimes brutal podcast
Still worth listening

Bringing a Serial Killer to Justice

When true crime podcast Murder Book started releasing season two this last fall, I kept saving the episodes for some time when I’d be driving.  Not sure why, since I was listening to a couple other podcasts around the condo.  Anyway, I just now decided it was time to listen to the season in its entirety.  While it was good, I think it might have been a little too intense to listen to all at once.

Season two focuses on the case of Sam Little, a man the FBI has named the most prolific serial killer in America’s history.  He has confessed to just under 100 kills in a decades long crime spree that spanned the country.  I hadn’t heard about him until this season of the podcast was released, but apparently, he is becoming the focus of many documentaries and specials.

However, this podcast comes at things from a different perspective.  The host, best-selling author Michael Connelly, labeled this season “The Women who Stopped Sam Little.”  It focuses on LAPD Mitzi Roberts, who started the investigation in 2012 with a DNA match on two cold cases from the 1980’s.  She then tracked Sam across the country, attempting to build a case that DA Beth Silverman could use to convict him.  Late in the season, we meet writer Jillian Lauren who becomes part of the investigation thanks to interviews with Sam Little as she attempts to match his confessions to actual unsolved cases in LA and across the country.

Because of the brutal way Sam killed his victims, mostly prostitutes and drug addicts, this season is often hard to listen to.  I binged it in about a week, and that definitely made it hard.  At times, I had to get away.

One reason why this season is so frustrating is that it does talk about how Sam slipped through the justice system many times over the years.  Although, honestly, I’m not sure how things could have gone differently.  Much is made of how juries and the system viewed the victims, but there were other things going on that made the prosecution’s cases very hard to win.  Still, knowing how close he came to justice in the past and how that might have saved lives is frustrating.

Like with the first season, the show tries to use recordings of interviews as much as possible.  And, like the first season, those are of mixed quality, especially if the person being interviewed was mumbling.  Fortunately, Michael Connelly does help us at times with what we were supposed to hear.

One thing I did appreciate was that the podcast took an even look at law enforcement.  Without making excuses, it does explain some of the reasons, good and bad, that Sam Little was able to evade law enforcement for so long.  And it does an excellent job of giving praise where it is due to the women (and men) who finally brought the killer to justice.

There are a total of twelve episodes to this season, including a two-part Q&A with the women I mentioned above.  Each episode is somewhere in the 40-minute range, some going a little longer and some a little shorter.

While not always easy to listen to, “The Women Who Stopped Sam Little” does a good job of focusing on the victims and the work that went into finally stopping this serial killer.  It doesn’t glorify him or what he did in the slightest.  Be in the right frame of mind when you sit down to listen, and you’ll enjoy.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

April 10th's Weekly TV Thoughts

The Equalizer – Didn’t especially care for that one.  I am surprised it was a progressive candidate who was employing the predator.  I would have expected it to be a conservative candidate.  But other than that, it felt like a cliché.  I think I actually enjoyed the sub-plot with the daughter more in this one.

Ellen’s Game of Games – So close.  The winner was just one question away.  But once she missed the final question, I knew she wouldn’t make it back up to the top.  Just not enough time.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – I’m discovering I don’t have much patience for love triangles these days.  That’s making me frustrated with this show.  It looks like we resolved it early in this season only to completely flip flop now.  Seriously?  I knew where the song the band did at the party was going to go as soon as they started singing.  Awkward!  I hope her brother finds something good now that the band has fallen through.

The Flash – Oh THAT Nora.  For some reason, I was thinking the speed force was supposed to be Barry and Iris’s daughter, not Barry’s mother.  I’d forgotten that was her name, too.  Now it makes more sense.  Normally, I’m not a fan of the talking the villain into giving up their plans resolution, but in this case, it worked.  I loved seeing Chester connect with his dad, even if it was predictable.  But seriously, what was up with those outfits?  They were early 90’s, not late 90’s fashion.

Supergirl – I get it – this is a TV show.  But I was laughing so hard at that trial.  It took place in a day?  And it was so unconventionally handled?  I’m not talking about the jury (which is obviously a nod to pandemic times/needing to keep the extras away from each other), but the entire way it was handled.  I would have been surprised if they got Kara back from the Phantom Zone in one episode.  Intrigued by finding her father there.  Didn’t remember what was supposed to have happened to him.  Oh, and the phantoms?  Definitely creepy.

United States of Al – I really do want to like this show.  And it has the potential to be so much fun.  But I’m just not there yet.  Part of it is because Al makes me cringe.  You just know he is going to keep sticking his foot in it.  That flashback scene at the end was great.  I would love to see the alternative show where the two couples were living across the street.  That would be a fun sitcom.  Which, I know, is so many classic sitcoms back in the day.

Wipeout – Talk about a close finish at the end!  I was glad to see the legacies win.  I liked them, and they had a story worth rooting for, so I was rooting for them all along.  My hat is off to the woman who was out there doing it afraid of heights.  She made it much further than I would have, that’s for sure.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – I feel like I’m the only one, but I still find this too long and drawn out.  Or maybe it’s because I just don’t care enough about the characters.  Are they trying to do too much?  I don’t know.  I’ll finish it out, but it’s not connect with me.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Disney Pin Review: National Unicorn Day - Celebrate Today #4 - 2020 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Rare character to celebrate today
Cons: Doesn’t connect with me quite as much
The Bottom Line:
It’s a fantasy
As unicorns get their day
Minor character

Today, We Celebrate Fantasy

If you’ve never looked at some of the lists of national holidays, you might be surprised that there is a day for just about everything.  I’ve been looking at the lists off and on for years, and still I’m surprised at some of the ones that pop up.  For example, April’s entry in the Celebrate Today pin series from Disney is National Unicorn Day.

National Unicorn Day?  Yes, it is a thing, and it is celebrated April 9th every year.  As the official description says “Why? Because if we don’t take time out to celebrate a beautiful, horned, rainbow–printed mythical creature then we’re most definitely missing a trick. The unicorn is a symbol of happiness, fantasy, and wonder. It’s an icon of color, of childlike splendor and magic.”  It’s kind of hard to argue with that, isn’t it?

Disney obviously agreed since they picked this day to highlight for April in this limited edition pin series.  The character they picked is Rainbow Unicorn.  I must admit, I had to really search my brain for this one.  Must mean it is time to rewatch Inside Out.  Yes, Rainbow Unicorn is a minor character from that movie.

The pin features Rainbow Unicorn looking out at us.  While she is mostly white, we can see her colorful mane.  Behind her is a pink heart.  National Unicorn Day is written down at the bottom with a cloud around it, and Unicorn is written in a rainbow of colors.  In the bottom right-hand side is the date, Apr 9, in a brass pin on pin.

It’s nice that they picked a minor character to highlight with this pin series.  Inside Out fans who are trying to get more of the characters from that pin will definitely want to track it down.  As will unicorn fans.  While I might not appreciate them as much as some, I do like this pin for what it is.

This might not be one of my favorite days to celebrate, but I’m still glad Disney chose to celebrate a minor character and National Unicorn Day.