Sunday, November 17, 2019

Book Review: The Last Dragon by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced fantasy story
Cons: A bit darker in tone that I normally enjoy
The Bottom Line:
Search for his father
Might lead Fort to last dragon
Fantasy, magic

Fort’s Continued Hunt for His Father

Earlier this year, James Riley introduced us to his newest magical world.  The Revenge of Magic is his third fantasy series for middle school students.  We get to return to this world in The Last Dragon.

I will be including a spoiler for that first book below since that spoiler sets up the action for this book.  Be forewarned as you read the review.

It’s been six months since the attack that rocked Fort’s world.  He and his father were visiting Washington, DC, when something rose from the ground and snatched his father before vanishing.  In the last few weeks, Fort has learned about magic and join a school in which kids are learning these skills.  Even more surprising, he’s learned there is a chance his dad might still be alive.  Since that day, rescuing his father is all he has thought about.

Now, Fort has a chance to get the magic book he needs to rescue his father from wherever he was taken.  He has enlisted his friends to help him steal the book as it is moved one night.  However, as always, complications ensue, including a new roommate that Fort is supposed to spend all his time with.  But as he practices the magic skills he needs, he keeps having nightmares in which the Old One promises him his father in exchange for the last dragon.  What does that even mean?  Should he make that exchange?  Or will his original rescue plan work?

For me, it’s been six months since I read the first book in the series, but this one does a great job of reminding us of the world that James Riley had created while propelling the action forward.  I was soon caught up once again in this world and ready to see where Fort’s adventures took him here.  They take him to some pretty unexpected places, and it’s a fun, fast paced ride that will keep kids reading.  It certainly kept me reading.

As I was reading this book, I was able to pin point what does bother me about this series.  It has a slight post-apocalyptic feel to it.  Or maybe that’s just me trying to put a word to the feeling I get from it.  Either way, it doesn’t have quite the same warmth and fun that James Riley’s earlier books have.  That’s not a favorite genre of mine, so this is a personal issue with the book, but those who like the genre will love this book.

After all, the characters are fantastic.  Fort is a very relatable main character, and he’s surrounded by a strong group of friends.  I really liked how these relationships played out here – they felt realistic for what Fort was dealing with and his actions.  That brought a realism to the fantasy that I appreciated.

While this series is not completely my choice of genres, I’m still anxious to find out what happens next to Fort.  How can I not be after how this book ends?  I’m glad I read The Last Dragon, and I think you will be, too.

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

Saturday, November 16, 2019

November 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

When two of your shows take the week off, it makes your TV watching much easier.  And this was the last week for American Horror Story for me forever, too, which will help going forward.

Batwoman – The more I watch, the darker this show becomes.  That’s what I expected, but I’m thinking I’m going to drop the show after the crossover event unless something big happens to hook me.

Supergirl – Another episode designed to give the leads time to work on the crossover.  Still, that was background we desperately needed on the understand what is going on between Lena and Andrea.  I’m very curious where they are going to go with her character now.

God Friended Me – They got me with this one.  I didn’t have any of the twists with the main story figured out.  Or the twist with the painting.  I still can’t figure out where they are going with the God Account storyline at all.  I’m sure we won’t get there until the series finale.  I just hope they have enough advanced notice to do it right.  Anyway, it was a bit more somber, but very good overall.

Dancing with the Stars – I honestly can’t believe that Shawn is gone.  I’m not surprised the judges didn’t save him; I knew all along the instant he was in the bottom two he would go.  And, as you know from what I’ve been saying, I believe he should have gone several weeks ago, so I’m not upset in the slightest.  The rest had some good dances.  The competition for the final two weeks is going to be very tight.

This is Us – Please don’t tell me that they are going to give Rebecca Alzheimer’s or dementia or something like that.  I don’t know if I can watch that play out.  Yes, I know it happens, but I don’t need to watch that on TV.  In other news, I liked Kevin’s storyline for the episode.  It was killing Kate to not tell Toby what was really going on, but I’m glad she didn’t.  And the story in the flashback was so touching.  Deja’s mom will be an interesting addition to things next week.  I expect fireworks, but that will really set some things off, I’m sure.

Survivor – Once again this season, I missed we were getting two episodes until I sat down to watch.  As soon as they made a big deal about Kellee finding two idols, I knew she was the one to go in the first hour.  Would have been nice to surprise me a little.  And what is up with the Dan storyline.  Seriously?  Do they need to have every social issue part of this season?  At least it made it easier to get through the episode faster.  And that was tricky having the note be the trap.

American Horror Story: 1984 – That was an interesting finale.  I was right when the season started about Brook being the final girl, but I’m glad she had some company.  Way too much disgusting stuff in this episode.  I definitely will not be back for any more seasons or going back to see what I missed.

The Good Place – I think I like where this show is ultimately going.  And, while I may not agree with their theology of the afterlife, I certainly agree that everyone can change.  God can change everyone at any point in their lives.  That’s the Gospel in a nutshell.  Not, if we can figure out a way to not kill humanity, that would be great, Chidi.

Carol’s Second Act – Pretty predictable main storyline.  Not saying I didn’t enjoy most of it, but you could write it from the start.  Then again, most sitcoms aren’t terribly original in their plotting.

Friday, November 15, 2019

November 15th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

It's Friday, so that means it is time for Book Beginning and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring Ghosts of Painting Past by Sybil Johnson

I actually finished this book over this last weekend, but since I will be reviewing it this coming Tuesday, publication day, I thought I'd tease it a bit.

Here's how the book opens:

The earthmover moved back and forth, tearing down the last remnants of a house on Seagull Lane, digging up all its secrets.

This is a mystery, so of course there are secrets to be unearthed.

Since I read an electronic arc, I'm jumping to 56% into the book for this:

They were thinking about what might have happened to the surfboard when two heads, one with white hair, one with gray, popped up over the wood fence that separated Rory's property from Mrs. Griswold's.

I really enjoyed this Christmas cozy mystery.  I hope you'll come back and read my review on Tuesday.  Until then, have a great weekend.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

City of Scoundrels Winner

I pulled the winner for the second giveaway this week.  The prize is City of Scoundrels, and that winner is...

... Celia!

I've sent you an e-mail, so please look for it and get back to me so we connect you with your prize.

Book Review: Murder at the Mansion by Janet Finsilver (Kelly Jackson #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, great location
Cons: Characters could be a tad stronger, some editing mistakes
The Bottom Line:
Kelly’s back in town
Just in time for a murder
Fun second entry

Redwood Cove Faces a Second Killer

I know I talk about how big my to be read pile is quite a bit.  Here’s a perfect example.  I read the first book in the Kelly Jackson series a couple of years ago now, and I’m just getting a chance to read Murder at the Mansion, the second in the series.  That’s not because I didn’t enjoy the first.  I just have so many books screaming for my attention.  I made a point of reading it this month, however, and I’m glad I did.

Kelly Jackson has returned to Redwood Cove on the Northern California coast after a brief trip home to pack up her things.  She’s thrilled to be back to become the manager of one of several bed and breakfasts that her boss owns in the area.  While her location is under renovations, she is helping out at Redwood Heights, a more upscale location.  Her boss is in the process of selling it, and Kelly is supposed to do an inventory of all the items on sight, some of which have some historical value.

Redwood Heights has also had some trouble with thefts; several valuable pieces of jewelry have gone missing from guest rooms.  Then, on Kelly’s first full day back, one of the guests is found dead in her locked room.  Along with the Silver Sentinels, a group of senior citizens who have formed a community watch group, Kelly begins to try to figure out what happened.  Can they solve the crimes?

It really was great to be back in this setting.  I grew up in Northern California, so trips to the redwoods were common, and I miss them here in Southern California.  While Redwood Cove itself is fictional, the location sounds divine with the redwoods so close to the ocean.  I’m definitely ready to visit.

And I can now that Kelly has caught the latest killer.  The plot starts out strongly and the pace is steady until you reach the end.  There are plenty of events, twists, and clues to keep you engaged and turning the pages all the way until the end. Plus, some of the developments are fun.

I also enjoyed spending time with these characters again.  Even though it has been a while since I read the first, I was able to reconnect with them pretty quickly.  I do feel they still need a bit of development to be fully realized characters, but that’s something that will come as the series continues, I’m sure.  I didn’t have a hard time keeping the characters straight, which is impressive given a cast of regulars that is on the larger side, not to mention the suspects.

Likewise, I felt like the book needed one more polish.  Occasionally, something wasn’t quite clear from earlier in the book or a character said or did something that made me stop and reread.  This wasn’t a major flaw, but it was noticeable and a bit distracting.  While annoying, this is mostly worth noting in passing.

While this book doesn’t have any recipes, there is plenty of talk about food.  From the wine and cheese guys, to the baking and raw foods that are prepared, this book left my mouth watering.

I’m glad I finally got to revisit Kelly and solve the Murder at the Mansion.  Hopefully, I will be able to sneak a trip to Redwood Cove into my reading plans soon again.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Ornament Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - 2019 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun take on a classic book cover
Cons: Harry is slightly off
The Bottom Line:
Second book cover
Turned into good ornament
As if by magic

Help Harry Escape from the Chamber of Secrets

When Hallmark released an ornament of the first book in the Harry Potter series last year, I hoped this was going to be the start of a new unofficial series.  Obviously, I was thinking along the same lines as Hallmark since we are getting Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this year.

The ornament itself is a faithful recreation of the classic book cover, just shrunk down to ornament size.  This cover shows Harry hanging on to the tail of Fawkes the Phoenix as he escapes from the chamber of secrets.  While it looks like the cover of the book, what makes it fun is that Harry and Fawkes are coming off the book cover.  It gives the ornament just a bit more of a 3D effect while still being an obvious book.  The book lover in me loves the combination.

Unfortunately, I do have to comment on the same issue I had with last year’s book cover ornament.  Harry doesn’t quite look like Harry in this ornament.  He’s close, but he’s off.  It’s definitely a disappointment, but not enough to keep me from buying the ornament.  Yes, I am comparing the ornament to the book cover, and he is still slightly off.  Although I think some of it is expecting Daniel Radcliffe Harry instead of cover Harry, which is definitely on me.

The book part of the ornament is rather thin, definitely thinner than the real book (and this is one of the shorter books in the series).  You could set the book out, but it isn’t super stable, so it could get knocked over easily.

But ornaments are made to hang on your tree, right?  Fortunately, this ornament looks great when hung.  The loop is on top of the ornament, and it hangs straight.

I do wish Harry looked a bit more like the book over, but that’s my only complaint.  I love having Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to hang on my tree.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Chocolate Shark Shenanigans Winner

We've got two winners this week.  The contest that ends Thursday is still open, but I've pulled a winner for The Chocolate Shark Shenanigans.  And that winner is...


I just sent you an e-mail, so be on the look out for it.

Book Review: The 19th Christmas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club #19)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong main mystery
Cons: Weak sub-plot; little interaction for the women
The Bottom Line:
This Christmas entry
Features good main mystery
But still average

Can Lindsay Stop a Caper at Christmas?

It is becoming increasingly popular for the cozy mysteries I read to include a Christmas book.  As a Christmas lover, I don’t mind at all.  However, I was surprised to see that we were going to get a Christmas addition to James Patterson and Maxine Paetro’s Women’s Murder Club series this year since it doesn’t fit with some of the subject matter of the series.  The 19th Christmas is fast paced, but ultimately average.

San Francisco Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer and her partner Rich Conklin are using their lunch hour for a little holiday shopping, and they happen to be on hand when someone tries to do a snatch and grab.  Rich is able to apprehend the criminal, and the criminal immediately wants to talk deals.  He’s heard rumors that someone named Loman is planning some kind of big heist on Christmas Day.  As the tips begin to pour in, the police are left chasing their tails as they try to figure out what Loman really plans.  Or who he even really is.

Meanwhile, reporter Cindy Thomas has landed the story of an illegal immigrant accused of a murder.  He’s been in jail awaiting trial for a long time.  Cindy gets assistant district attorney Yuki Castellano involved in her attempts to free him.  And medical examiner Claire Washburn?  She’s left town to teach a course during Christmas week to college students down in San Diego.

And that right there represents one of my issues with the book.  I know colleges offer classes during semester breaks.  But what college would offer one during Christmas week itself?  And Claire is going to leave her family (except her husband) during Christmas week to teach this class?  Sorry, I’m not buying it.

Instead, it feels like a convenient want to get her out of the book since the main story takes up most of the pages.  Cindy and Yuki’s sub-plot is a brief and undercooked part of the overall book that is there more to preach to us than entertain us.  The four women and their families only interact for one scene, in fact.

The main story is quite thrilling, and I got caught up in the action.  However, I feel like it hinged on the criminal doing something very stupid, and we never really figured out why he would do this.  My guess is it was to taunt the police, but criminals so rarely do this it feels like a plot devise.

I was surprised at just how much I got the Christmas spirit from the book.  I was reading it around Halloween, and I got so in the Christmas spirit that I had to pull out some Christmas music.  First time this year, too.

Then there’s the epilogue, which seems to come out of nowhere.  Are they setting up the next book?  That’s all I could think while reading it.

While The 19th Christmas has flaws, I got caught up in the book while reading it.  Fans of the series will enjoy checking in with Lindsay over a busy Christmas.

Here are the rest of the Women's Murder Club books.

Monday, November 11, 2019

TV Show Review: The Big Bang Theory - Season 12

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs, perfect ending
Cons: The season started a little rough
The Bottom Line:
Final season laughs
Entertains and wraps up well
Show goes out with bang

“This is the Rest of Our Night, Huh?”  “No.  This is the Rest of Our Lives.”

Twelve years is a phenomenal run for a TV show, and that’s the run that The Big Bang Theory just ended.  While season twelve got off to a shaky start, I found overall I enjoyed the final season of this fantastic, funny show.

The season picks up where season eleven ended.  Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) have just gotten married.  While they are off on their honeymoon, the rest of the gang deals with Amy’s parents (guest stars Kathy Bates and Teller, who actually speaks in his guest appearances this season).  But once they get back, things begin to fall into mostly familiar patterns for these friends.

Raj (Kunal Nayyar), tired of being the only single member of the group, decides to let his father set him up with Anu (guest star Rati Gupta).  Penny (Kaley Cuoco) makes an announcement that shocks Leonard (Johnny Galecki).  Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) don’t get any major storylines this season, although Bernadette’s drug makes it to market with Penny as the head of sales for it.  Plus, they have to deal with the fact that Stuart (recurring guest star Kevin Sussman) now has a steady girlfriend, Denise (guest star Lauren Lapkus), who is staying over at their house quite a bit.  But it is still Sheldon and Amy who drive much of this season with their research on super asymmetry.  They keep pursuing the potential breakthrough they had at their wedding.  Is it a viable theory?  If it is, will they will a Nobel for it?

As I said, the season got off to a rough start.  Part of it is because the friends seem to spend more time sniping at each other than usual.  Yes, they are often unkind in search of a punchline, but it was a bit uncomfortable how much they were sniping at each other.  Honestly, another issue I had with the first part of the season was Raj’s arranged marriage.  Of all the characters, he’s been in love with love so long that to watch him appear to be settling for Anu was a bit disappointing.  And that’s not a slam on Anu, but how things felt between them early in the season.  However, watching how the writers played out this particular storyline was ultimately satisfying.

There were plenty of laughs to be had over the course of the season.  You might think we’ve laughed as much as we could at these characters, but I found myself laughing at their antics once again.  It amazes me how the writers can still find variations on themes to make us laugh after twelve years.  My hat is definitely off to them.

Of course, the actors are still in top form.  They bring these characters to life perfectly, milking every joke from the script.

As the season went on, the writers tied up a few plot threads that have woven in and out of the entire series.  They left a few open as well, but that’s okay.  That’s life.  And I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not finding out about those things.

Which brings us to the series finale.  Perfection.  It is hard to land a long running series, and I’m sure the writers felt the pressure for years.  I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.  There were lots of laughs and some tender moments.  It wrapped things up while leaving the door open for us to think about these characters’ lives continuing on even if we don’t get to check in on them anymore.  And trust me, I want to keep checking in on them.  That right there is the sign of a good finale to me – it left me wanting more.  If you can leave me wanting more about twelve years on the air, you’ve done something right.

Season twelve consisted of twenty-four episodes.  In addition to the episodes, this set consists has several special features on the final days of the series and its impact.  It also includes the half hour special that aired on CBS the night the show’s finale aired back in May.

All good things come to an end.  While some grew tired of the show years ago, I am finding a Big Bang Theory sized hole in my TV viewing schedule this fall.  Fortunately, now that season twelve has hit DVD and Blu-ray, I can revisit any of the gang’s adventures any time I want.  And I will be revisiting them often.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Podcast Review: All Things Cozy

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun discussions of cozy topics
Cons: I’m too cozy to think up any cons
The Bottom Line:
A cozy podcast
Covering range of topics
And it’s always fun

Cozy Thoughts That Always Make Me Smile

Being an innovator who is always on the cutting edge of new technology, I finally started listening to podcasts this year.  (Yes, you can laugh at me now.)  (I'm talking entertainment type podcasts, not sermons recorded and released as podcasts when I say this.)  I only have a couple I am listening to at the moment, and I’m sure there are many out there I’d enjoy.  When I jumped full force into Instagram earlier this year (yes, you can laugh at me over this as well), I discovered the podcast All Things Cozy.  Not only have I been listening to the current episodes as they air, but I’ve done a deep dive into their past episodes.  And I’m loving every minute of it.

All Things Cozy is a bi-weekly podcast, releasing episodes on Sundays.  I’d tell you what it is about, but it is pretty much summed up in the title.  Each week, Matt and Gillian, our hosts, talk about a topic of the week, sometimes by themselves and sometimes with a guest.  As you might suspect (this is me recommending the podcast after all), they talk a lot about cozy mysteries.  I’ve enjoyed author interviews as they discuss the latest books by these authors.  Some are authors I’ve been familiar with, others are authors I haven’t read yet, but I’ve added them to my ever growing to be read pile.  (Honestly, it’s going to topple over any day now.)

But cozy mystery books aren’t the only things they discuss.  Every year, they have an episode devoted to Halloween.  They recently did an episode on making candles.  They’ve done one on comfort food.  Diving into the archives, they’ve discussed Hallmark mystery movies; Murder, She Wrote; and various non-mystery movies.  Plus, there’s the annual end of year cozy awards.

In addition to the main topic, each episode also features a segment on what is making Matt and Gillian (and any guests) feel cozy.  These are often shows or places.  Since our hosts live in Los Angeles, some of what they talk about is local to me, not that I’ve actually taken advantage of any of their suggestions.  Yet.  I fully intend to do so.  But don’t worry, not all of these suggestions are location specific, and their guests are from all over the country.  They end each episode by reviewing a candle they’ve been burning as they record that episode.  Due to my allergies, I don’t regularly buy or burn any candles, but I often have to remind myself of this as I listen to that part of the show.  I want to give in and sample some of these myself.

The show started in 2017.  Since they only release shows every other week, the backlog into overwhelming right now.  I’m enjoying going back and listening to the beginnings of the show and seeing how it has evolved over time.  And most of the topics are still interesting today.

The average episode is 50 or so minutes, some longer, some shorter.  Matt and Gillian have the occasional side trip, but they do a very good job of staying on topic without wandering too much off track.  And, their asides are usually quite a bit of fun as well.

I absolutely enjoy this podcast.  I can’t help but smile as I listen to the episodes.  The first thing I do when I wake up on a release Sunday is see if the newest podcast is uploaded yet so I can find out what they will be discussing.  Or, I should say we, so I am often talking back to them as I listen, trying to add to the discussion.

If you are looking for a fun podcast, I highly recommend All Things Cozy, which is available wherever you listen to podcasts.  You can jump in with any episode, or search through the archives to find topics and authors that interest you.  I bet you are soon as addicted as I am and just listening to all of them.

Oh, and be sure to join the official All Things Cozy Facebook group.