Saturday, October 31, 2020

October 31st's Weekly TV Thoughts

 Happy Halloween!  Usually there are more Halloween episodes to talk about, but this is 2020.

Supermarket Sweep – As I expected, I enjoyed it more this week.  Knowing what to expect sure helps.  The winners of the first round didn’t do so well running through the store, but the team in the second group won it all.  What a swing!

Card Sharks – I kind of liked the longer run they had last season.  This season, all you need is one lucky run and you are the winner.  Of course, in the second game, they proved you can get lucky at any moment.  Still, the winner’s luck was switched both times in the bonus round (very lucky early on, not so lucky in the bonus round and vice versa).  (I hope that makes sense to anyone other than me.) 

LA’s Finest – I kind of forgot we had a case of the week.  That is until the very end.  Not that they resolved it at all.  Seriously, the writing on this show is all over the place.  I am getting into the bigger storylines, so I have a feeling I will keep watching.  And yes, I felt stupid as soon as they mentioned that the first wife was dead.  How could I have forgotten that last week?  I do hope they have worked through the worst of the daughter’s acting out story.  I get why she is doing it, I just don’t enjoy it.

Dancing with the Stars – Villains week certainly worked for most of the cast.  Those dances were inspired!  And a well deserved perfect score, too!  I loved Derek as Jekyll and Hyde.  I love the character in general, but I especially loved how he played with it all evening.

The Weakest Link – I believe that was the highest total I’d seen on the game yet.  I was pretty impressed by it.  I did pretty well in the first round getting answers right, too.  Of course, eventually they started stumping me.

Tell Me a Story – I definitely enjoying this season more than season 1.  Still dark and twisted, but the characters are easier to root for.  I really want to know what is driving the stalkers (and we’ve got a couple of them) to behave the way they are.

Amazing Race – I always hate seeing a team that is really far behind get U-Turned.  I get why it happens.  It’s good strategy.  I would have done it, too.  But as someone who likes to root for the underdog, it hurts.  I want a trip on that riverboat!

American Ninja Warrior – As I expected, this finals course is really what we would normally consider a semi-finals course.  But it’s a different season, so I’m only commenting.  I’m not complaining.  What I am complaining about was the fact that my cable service had some issues and froze in a few runs (never the commercials), so I missed a few moments.  Fortunately, I could piece together where the people went out based on comments made later.  Missed part of Jessie’s run, but I didn’t miss her finish.  Way to go!

Press Your Luck – The Wammys were rough tonight.  Really hurt both of the guys in the competitive part, and then the winner got all four in the bonus game.

Match Game – I would have said lips for the final question, too.  But there’s me thinking too literally again.  Speed bump was a great answer for the Prius question.  And the final match is a given so much of the time, it’s actually surprising when a contestant doesn’t get it.  And that happened both times in the episode.

Star Trek: Discovery – I liked how the episode ended, but it felt like it took too long to get there.  Probably because I knew it would be going there from early in the episode.  Nice but predictable character moments.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Short Story Review: Pumpkin Pied by Karen MacInerney

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, good story
Cons: None, as along as you expect a short story
The Bottom Line:
Harvest festival
Is the area haunted?
A fun short story

Halloween Hijinks

True confession time – I’ve had the short story “Pumpkin Pied” downloaded for a while now.  I kept meaning to read it during October, but it never seemed to work – until this year.  I’m glad it did because I enjoyed this short story.

The action takes place on Cranberry Island off the coast of Maine.  Bed and breakfast owner Natalie Barnes has a few down days with only one guest – her college roommate Lucy Resnick.  Natalie is planning to use the time to enjoy the annual Cranberry Island Harvest Festival, complete with a corn maze, Great Pumpkin Contest, and pie contest.

However, something else is happening on the island.  Rumors that the area around the festival is haunted start to grow, and Natalie sees some proof herself.  But as more begins to happen, Natalie has to wonder if a real person is behind the events.

As I said, this is a short story, and it took me under an hour to read from start to finish.  It was fun to visit the island and the characters since I’ve always loved them.  Fans of author Karen MacInerney’s books will recognize Lucy as the star of her Dewberry Farm mysteries.  This is definitely set before those books started, and it’s fun to meet Lucy for the first time.

The mystery?  Since this is a short story, there might not be the twists of a full novel, but it is engaging and fun.  What more could you want?

We even get a couple of recipes for delicious sounding pumpkin desserts.

If you are a fan of either series and have missed this short story, you owe it to yourself to take a quick trip to Cranberry Island with “Pumpkin Pied.”

Spend more time with these characters in the Gray Whale Inn Mysteries and the Dewberry Farm Mysteries.

October 30th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

 We did it!  Here's to another Friday and this week's Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm back to mysteries with Puzzling Ink, the first in a new series by Becky Clark.

This is the first in a new series coming out on Tuesday.

And here's how the book begins:

The perfection of a pristine crossword puzzle grid always made Quinn Carr's pleasure center buzz.

Moving up to 56% into the book, we find this:

"Why didn't you tell me?" Loma put her hands on her hips.
"Because I thought you were going to murder me."
"I still might."

I've finished this one already, and I enjoyed it.  I'll be posting my full review on Tuesday, so I hope you'll come back then.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Book Review: Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door by Barbara Ross (Jane Darrowfield #2)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Jane, strong mystery
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Jane helps a neighbor
Creative cozy story
Captivating book

Is Jane’s Neighbor Crazy?

Last year, I completely enjoyed the first book in Barbara Ross’s Jane Darrowfield series.  Not only was it well written, it offered something different to the cozy mystery genre.  I’m delighted to say that the follow up, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, is just as strong.

If you haven’t met Jane yet, she is a retired woman who has discovered her years in corporate America have trained her to help others solve their problems.  As a result, she has opened a business as a professional busybody.  People come to her with their problems, and she works to resolve them.  Simple as that – at least most of the time.

Jane’s newest client is Megan Larsen, her next door neighbor.  Megan is a single, mid-30s lawyer on track to become a partner in her firm.  However, she begins to suspect that something might be wrong with her.  She’s hearing voices and having blackouts among other symptoms.  Either she’s going crazy, or someone is out to make her think she is.

Jane quickly comes up with a diagnosis, but then something happens that makes Jane question everything she thought she knew.  Is Megan in danger?  Or is Jane really living next to a madwoman?

You can see why I view this is different from a typical cozy.  And, as much as I love cozies, it’s nice to read a twist on the genre.  And what a great twist this was.  Just about the time I thought I knew where things were going, a twist would come that would make me question everything I thought I knew.  Yet by the time everything was resolved, everything made sense.

The last book was rather humorous with the antics that Jane had been hired to solve.  This book was more serious in tone.  What Megan is dealing with is serious as is what Jane uncovers along the way to helping her.  Those subjects are handled beautifully, just don’t expect quite as many laughs this time around.

Jane is a fantastic main character.  Obviously, she is another way this series stands out from many cozies because she is older than your typical cozy heroine.  She has a wisdom about her that I love.  Her friends aren’t super developed, but they don’t have that much page time again here, so that makes sense.  Megan, however, comes alive, as do the others that Jane encounters along the way to the solution.

I really did enjoy my second visit with Jane.  Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door is a fantastic mystery that kept me engaged from start to finish.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

NOTE 2: Like the first in the series, this is a Barnes and Nobel exclusive for the first year, and only available as a physical book from them until late in 2021.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ornament Review: Central Perk Couch - 2020 Hallmark Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great clips, perfectly captures the couch
Cons: Does tip a little to the left
The Bottom Line:
A tribute to Friends
Couch reconstructed and shrunk
With sound clips added

Invite Your Friends to Sit on Your Tree

I must admit, even as a fan of the TV show Friends, I’m still a little surprised at just how popular it continues to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy laughing when I catch a rerun of the show.  But the fact that we are still getting merchandise for the show twenty-six years after it debuted surprises me a little.  Not that it kept me from adding Hallmark’s Central Perk Couch to my wish list to make sure I got it.

Any fan of the show will immediately recognize the couch.  It is a perfect replica of the orange couch the gang would sit on when they were visiting their favorite coffee place – Central Perk.  (Yes, the ornament’s name kind of gives it away).  What did surprise me about the ornament is that it is covered in fabric, much like a real couch would be.  Honestly, I was rather expecting plastic until I saw it in person.  Instead of legs, the couch is sitting on a tan box with Friends written on in just like the logo of the show.

That box is important since it holds the workings for the magic element of the ornament.  It does require two button sized batteries to work, and your first set is included.  I will say that it took more work than normal to get the batteries in mine.  The spring just didn’t want to go back.  I’m guessing it is just mine.  At least I hope so.

When you press the button on the side of the ornament, you’ll hear six different clips from the show.  Some are short, some are longer, but all of them make me smile if not laugh.  The clips are coming directly from the show, so for the longer ones, you can hear the audience laughing.  Yes, you do hear all the friends at least once, although some appear more than others.  All six clips total to about a minute and a half, so there is an impressive amount of content for the magic portion.

Naturally, this ornament will sit out anywhere to be displayed.  Since this is a pop culture ornament, you really could enjoy it year round.

The loop to hang the ornament is sticking out of the back, which would make it mighty uncomfortable for the friend sitting in the middle of the couch.  Unfortunately, when you go to hang it, you’ll find it does tip slightly to the left, although that should be easy enough to hide with tree branches.

Fans of Friends will love Central Perk Couch.  I know I am glad I got it and looking forward to enjoying it for many seasons to come.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Book Review: Murder Comes to Call by Jessica Ellicott (Beryl and Edwina #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot, characters, and setting
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Two cases, much crime
Keep these pages turning with
Beloved characters

Thefts and Murder

Mismatched main characters are familiar in fiction, but they aren’t quite as common in mystery fiction.  But that’s what Jessica Ellicott has created in the Beryl and Edwina Mysteries, and she uses these odd couple sleuths perfectly once again in Murder Comes to Call.

If you have yet to meet them, Edwina Davenport is British and has inherited her family’s home outside the village of Walmsley Parva.  Beryl Helliwell is American, famous for her dare devil stunts, and a friend of Edwina from their school days.  Now middle aged, these two women are working on setting up a new business as private inquiry agents in the early 1920’s.

Beryl meets their newest client while she is court, accused of reckless driving.  She immediately takes a shine to Declan O’Shea, an Irish immigrant trying to start a life in Walmsley Parva despite the prejudice against him, which is making it difficult.  When Declan finds himself under suspicion for a string of thefts taking place in the village, he asks Edwina and Beryl to help clear his name.

The stakes are only raised when a dead body turns up at the scene of the latest burglary.  Couple that with another client who needs his case solved right away, and Edwina and Beryl have their work cut out of them.  Can they figure out what is really happening?

If you haven’t started this series yet, you could certainly jump in here.  However, I don’t advise it.  One of the charms of this series is watching the characters grow and their relationships deepen.  You’ll miss out on some of that joy here.  Series fans will be delighted to find out what is happening in the lives of these characters we’ve grown to know and love.  I really do appreciate the development we are seeing in all the characters and their relationships.

The plot appears to be wandering a bit early on, but I suspected it was building toward something, and I was right.  The further into the book you go, the easier it is to see how all those various threads are weaving into a whole.  I closed the book impressed by how well plotted it was.

The book is set between the World Wars, and I love how the time and place are incorporated into the story.  It doesn’t deal with any major events of the time, but it does use the details of life then in an English village to transport us to Edwina and Beryl’s world.  As it does, it incorporates issues of the day into the story without slowing things down in the slightest.

Murder Comes to Call is an excellent trip back in time.  I was fully absorbed in another time and place as I read.  If you are looking for a fun historical mystery, you’ll be happy you picked up this book.

Enjoy more trips back in time with the rest of the Beryl and Edwina Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, October 26, 2020

TV Show Review: Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and drama mixed with excellent music
Cons: Mo’s big episode, some of the choreography
The Bottom Line:
Accident at test
Leads to singing, dancing thoughts
Very addicting

“With Great Power Comes a Whole Lot of Nasty Conversations.”

I wasn’t planning to jump into Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist when it premiered at the beginning of the year.  I have tried a few musical shows over the years, and I felt like they either didn’t work or didn’t last long.  But after a friend recommended I give this one a try, I did – in September, months after she recommended it to me.  Never let it be said that I rush into things.  But I’m glad I gave it a shot because I was quickly hooked.

The show focuses on Zoey (Jane Levy), a computer programmer in San Francisco, who has been experiencing weird headaches recently.  When she goes to get an MRI to try to see what is happening, an earthquake causes things to go haywire.  The result is that now Zoey can hear what people are truly feeling, but she gets these revelations in the form of full out song and dance numbers.

This new ability comes in handy in helping Zoey get a promotion at work.  She is even able to use it to bond with Simon (John Clarence Stuart), the cute new guy at work that she’s been crushing on.  Of course, that’s before she learns that Simon has a fiancĂ©e.  Then again, it might not matter since it turns out that her best friend, Max (Skylar Astin), has been silently nursing a giant crush on her.  Meanwhile, her father, Mitch (Peter Gallagher) is slowly dying, and her new ability helps her entire family, including her mother Maggie (Mary Steenburgen) connect with him better despite his limitations.  When Zoey has a problem with her newfound powers she turns to her neighbor Mo (Alex Newell).

Clearly, there is plenty going on here, and I haven’t even gotten into some of the other sub-plots the season presents as it goes along.  As I said, I was hooked early.  The show is a great mix of comedy and drama, sometimes in the same scene.  One episode is particular made me laugh so hard.  Other scenes made me tear up, and the season finale is appropriately heavy.

This show works because of the cast.  Not only can they act wonderfully and bring their characters to life, but they can also sing.  I know that shouldn’t be a surprise in a musical show, but some of the performances are absolutely beautiful.  I suspect we will see much more of these stars in other musical productions.  At least I hope so.  This even applies to the guest stars, who have some standout numbers.  The choreography is from Emmy winner Mandy Moore.  At times it works perfectly, and other times, it feels a bit overdone.  But that’s a minor complaint.

My bigger issue is with the character of Mo.  Mo is gender fluid.  Clueless viewer that I am, I didn’t pick up on that for several episodes even as a character that usually presents as female was being referred to as “he.”  It wasn’t too long into the season that we got an episode focused on Mo, and it fell into typical anti-Christian stereotypes.  I found that truly disappointing.

But that was the only disappointing episode out of a truly entertaining show.  For the first season, we got 12 episodes.  Since the show was intended as a mid-season replacement, that was all that was intended for the first season, so the story arcs introduced here reach the conclusions the writers intended and weren’t shortened by the pandemic.  Of course, not everything is resolved, since the show will be back next year for season 2.  I can’t wait.

Yes, there are definitely connections to Eli Stone, a very similar show (both are even set in San Francisco) which I also enjoyed.  But it’s only the most superficial set up that is the same.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is something different on TV that is completely enjoyable.  This mix of comedy, drama, and music is addicting, and you’ll find yourself caught up in the story and rooting for the characters.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Book Review: The Timeless One by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great story advancement, fun
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Story moves forward
While setting up final book
For fans.  They’ll be hooked

Sets the Stage Well for a Climactic Battle

When a book series is building to an obvious climax, sometimes the middle books can suffer.  They have a job of do – set up what happens in later books – and sometimes that overshadows what actually happens in the current book.  I’m happy to say that isn’t the case with TheTimeless One, the fourth in James Riley’s The Revenge of Magic series.

If you are new to the series DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES START HERE.  In fact, I’m tempted to say you shouldn’t even read this review because it’s hard to talk about this book without offering spoilers for what has happened in the previous books.  I’m not saying that James Riley doesn’t try to introduce readers to this world as he writes this book.  But there are twists that are spoiled by picking up this book.

A quick recap – this series follows Fort Fitzgerald who lost his father in an attack on Washington DC by monsters who came from underground.  It is then that Fort learns about magic, and joins a school that teaches it in an attempt to find and save his father.

As this book opens, Fort is home for the first time in months, separated from all the new friends he’s made.  He, Rachel, and Jia have one year to re-find Excalibur and train to fight the Timeless One.  Meanwhile, Fort also has a baby dragon he not only has to try to hide from his guardians but also from someone who has been sent to find it.

And that’s all I am going to say because any more would spoil something.

When I reviewed the last book, I mentioned that I normally don’t read post-apocalyptic books, and that’s definitely how that book felt.  I’m thrilled to say that this book took a step back from that and instead read more like a fantasy book.  It certainly helped that we aren’t trying to stop an imminent attack or dealing with the aftermath of one.  Some scenes in this book almost felt normal, and there were some funny scenes as well, which I really enjoyed.

This isn’t to say that the pace was slow.  I was engaged from the first page and Fort is trying to balance several different things at once.  There are some secrets, but they aren’t as prevalent as in the last book, and do come out in their own good time.  Meanwhile, the characters continue to be strong and make us care about the outcome.  While Fort has always been the star of the series, this is more his book since we don’t see as much of the other main characters.  However, their absences work for the book and they shine when they are on the page.

I mentioned at the beginning that this book sets things up for a climatic fifth book (coming in the spring).  Even with that set up, this book still has a definite beginning, middle, and end all its own, so I set it down satisfied.  Well, except for the cliffhangers.  Yes, plural.  Is the next book out yet?

Fans who have been reading The Revenge of Magic will be very happy with The Timeless One and be left eagerly awaiting the final book in the series.  If you haven’t started this series yet, I recommend backing up to earlier books before trying to jump into this page turner.

Here are the rest of books in The Revenge of Magic series.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

October 24th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Supermarket Sweep – They need to tone it way down.  Way way down.  The over enthusiasm was way too over the top for me, at least Sunday night.  Now that I know to expect it, we’ll see if I enjoy it more going forward.  I’ve noticed that happens to me with some shows.

Card Sharks – I think I’m hoarse after listening to the screaming from the first set of contestants.  I’m amazed by the contestant in the second set.  What a run!  I’m happy she won so much for her new house, too.  I like having the losing contestants and their families there cheering the winners on in the money cards.  I don’t remember if that happened last time or not, but it doesn’t make the stage feel quite as empty with no audience there.

Ducktails – I don’t normally watch the show (never got into the original either), but I had to watch this episode since it was going to include Darkwing Duck characters.  I LOVE Darkwing.  And I had a blast with it.  It was essentially a take on the original pilot with a few twists (like the fearsome foursome) thrown in for good measure.  Not sure how I feel about the actor turned Darkwing angle, but overall, it was as much fun as I had hoped it would be.

Dancing with the Stars – Seriously, what was up with Carrie Ann’s hair?  That just looked odd to me.  The dancing, on the other hand, was great.  I was surprised to see Johnny in the bottom two.  Not surprised he was saved since the other guy was in the bottom two last week.  I’m actually surprised the vote by the judges was as close as it was, in fact.  That’s the first tie since the first elimination this season.

LA’s Finest – That was a better episode.  I think because they went with sub-plots related to the core characters and not trying to have a case of the week.  I’m glad the drugs are in real police custody, but I fear this is far from over for them.  But the real burning question is, who is Alice?  Her mother?

The Weakest Link – Naturally, I was rooting for Mark all along, but I’m surprised he made it.  Not because I thought he was the weakest link a whole lot, but because I thought everyone was ganging up on him.  He did survive two ties, after all.  And he won!

Tell Me a Story – We aren’t waiting at all.  Going straight for the kidnapping in the second episode.  Very curious why he is so obsessed with her.  If I didn’t know the singers story would turn dark, I’d be enjoying the romance right now.  That’s the only story I’ve really connected with so far.  I couldn’t even remember who the woman who lost her father was until her “prince” showed up at the hotel.  That’s not slightly creepy.

The Amazing Race – I hate heights, and I have no balance, so I would have struggled with that Road Block.  None of the teams fully read the clue.  As the one team pointed out – rookie mistake.  I’m surprised the Olympias didn’t last longer.  I figured they do well, but they just ran into bad luck.  I was surprised to see the teams can have their phones.  I remember people asking about borrowing phones in the past.  Is that a rules change?

American Ninja Warrior – Not nearly as many finishers in this round.  Thrilled that Joe made it to the end, and that the two guys he brought made it farther even though they aren’t moving on.  Wish I liked cake as much as the Cake Ninja and friends do – I might stand at chance at the course.  Although I don’t think cake alone is their winning strategy.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Book Review: Hot Enough to Kill by Paula Boyd (Jolene Jackson #1)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: The main characters
Cons: Condescending tone, weak mystery
The Bottom Line:
Jolene helps her mom
The tone of book does not work
Pace drags in middle

Not as Hot a Debut As I Had Hoped

Earlier this year when looking at the book I had on my Kindle app, I discovered that I had purchased both a physical and an ebook of Hot Enough to Kill over the years.  It’s rare I buy duplicate books (and honestly, I don’t know where the physical book is), so I figured it must mean I was anxious to read this book at one point.

This book introduces us to Jolene Jackson.  A native of the small town of Kickapoo, Texas, she has lived in Colorado all of her adult life and only comes back when she absolutely has to.  Like right now.  The mayor of Kickapoo has been murdered, and her mother, Lucille, has been brought in for questioning.  Jolene rushes down to try to help out.

Her mother had been dating the mayor, who was separated from his wife.  It’s obvious that Lucille is hiding something from everyone, but she claims to have been home alone.  As events unfold, Jolene finds herself reconnecting with her high school sweetheart, Jerry Don Parker, who just happens to be sheriff now.  As events make it clear that Lucille is in danger, Jolene begins to investigate.  Can she figure out what happened?

The book sounds promising, and it started out well.  Somewhere around the middle, however, the pace sagged.  The issue was that the story became a series of events, but no real investigation was going on.  I was interested in what was happening, but I didn’t feel like the book was really moving forward.

Unfortunately, most of the characters were thin.  Jolene, Jerry, and Lucille were all strong, and I liked them.  Lucille could have been over the top annoying, but she walked that fine line of being entertaining without being annoying.  It was the rest of the cast where I had the issues.  Most of them were very thin with just one of two notes to them at best.

The thin characters also contribute to another issue I had with the book.  Jolene narrates the book first person, and she has a very condescending attitude toward her hometown.  It is clear that we are supposed to be laughing at the hicks from Kickapoo.  Couple that with a stereotypical hypocritical Christian character and some needless political commentary, and I was turned off.  I am sure it was supposed to be funny, but it didn’t work for me.

The book was originally published in 1999, but I read the updated ebook version from 2012.  It kind of feels like it is stuck between the two time periods, so keep that in mind if you pick up the book.

Obviously, I wanted to enjoy Hot Enough to Kill.  But the result wasn’t nearly as good as I hoped it would be.