Monday, September 24, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Legions of Tomorrow - Season 3


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Acting, effects, mostly fun
Cons: Gets darker in a few episodes, recycled villain
The Bottom Line:
Protecting the past
To defeat a time demon
Dark at times; still fun





“Sometimes, We Screw Things Up for the Better.”  “That’s a Good Motto.  We Should Use That.”

When you travel through time, you have to worry about changing history.  Every single time travel book or show has already established that fact.  but no one has broken history more than the Legends of Tomorrow did at the end of season 2.  And that break continues to ripple through season 3 in a fun way.

The season picks up just where it left off with dinosaurs running wild in modern day Los Angeles.  Before the Legends even have a chance to fully react, the Time Bureau swoops in to correct the problem.  This is a new organization founded by Rip (recurring guest star Arthur Darvill) in order to protect history.  The Legends are the number one enemy of the Time Bureau, so the Legends go their separate ways.

Which is how Rory (Dominic Purcell) finally finds himself in Aruba where he finds another time anachronism.  It seems the Julius Caesar has appeared and is ready to take on the modern world.  When Rory gets in touch with Sara (Caity Lotz), she quickly uses this to bring the Legends back together in an attempt to restore their good name.

But even fighting anachronisms won't be enough this time.  A time demon has been loosed, and it is feeding off the errors in history, and an old enemy is back and behind it all.  Can the Legends figure out how to defeat him?

Along the way this season, Nate (Mick Zano) and Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) continue to fight their attraction to each other in light of her destiny in the past and we pick up Zari (Tala Ashe), a hacktivist who doesn't want to settle in at all.  In further crew shuffling, two of the crew members leave before the season is over (one as part of the major crossover event).

Of all the Arrowverse shows, this one continues to be the most fun.  Yes, they do have some more serious moments, but overall this is the one still most likely to elicit a laugh from me.  There's a certain camp to it all that just keeps it fun, and I love it for that.

Having said that, fighting a time demon definitely brings a darker tone to the season.  There are a couple of episodes in particular that revel in this, which I didn't enjoy.

Another things that really bothered me was the human behind the demon.  That old enemy I mentioned?  This is the third time we've face him in the Arrowverse, and the second on Legends.  Considering this is the show's third season, it seems like we could come up with some new big bads instead of constantly recycling other show's villains.  But maybe that's just me.  Having said that, he does make a good villain, so I can't complain there.

And you can't complain about the acting or special effects.  Yes, there is a certain level of camp to the show, but the cast is obviously having so much fun that it is hard not to enjoy the show as a result.  Considering the show is on a TV budget (and a CW budget), the effects are impressive as well.  I buy everything I am seeing here.

This show always has a shorter season than the rest of its Arrowverse siblings; here we are treated to 18 episodes.

While I definitely have some complaints this season, it is still fun.  If you have been enjoying the Arrowverse, season 3 of Legions of Tomorrow will continue to entertain.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Confessions of a Book Banner

The Bottom Line:
Freedom to read?  Good
So is freedom to object
Let's balance the two

NOTE: This is an essay/editorial I originally wrote for Banned Books Week back in 2011.  I have gone through and made some minor tweaks and added a couple of paragraphs.  The stats may be outdated now as well, but I didn’t have the time to try to update that section.  I certainly still stand by the spirit of this essay.

*******

Every year when Banned Books Week rolls around, my hackles go up.  It's because, according to some definitions, I am a book banner.

When I was a junior in high school, my high school had posters that were up in display cases for a month at a time on various topics.  One month, the topic was banned books.  I very carefully read those posters to see what was being said.

At this point, 25 years later, the details are fuzzy.  I do remember that the poster that gave examples of situations where books were banned infuriated me, and I went home and ranted about it to my parents.  As I recall, there were five stories on this poster.  Four of them were of parents who had objected to various books in classrooms or school libraries - you know, the standard stuff you hear about.  In all four of these cases, the parents lost and the book stayed in the school library or their child was given an alternative assignment while the rest of the class read the book.

So what about the fifth case?  If I made you guess, I bet you'd come up with the title within five guesses - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  There are two reasons this book was different from the other four.  First, the challenge was brought by a teacher.  Second, the book actually was removed from the classrooms of the school.

So right there, I learned that parents are ignored and teachers are listened to.  That double standard bothered me.  At least it was included with the parents in this list.

I'm also bothered by the terms used.  All five of these were presented on the poster as banned books.  Yet only one was really banned, the one brought by the teacher.  I realize that, if you read the fine print, you'll see that the list every year includes challenged and banned books.  But that's not what is headlined.  Instead, we only talk about banned books, whether the book was actually banned or not.

But here's the thing that bothered me even more.  In at least one of the instances where a parent objected to a book, they only objected to their kid being made to read the book.  They asked for and received an alternative assignment for their child.  And yet they were labeled a book banner.  No, I don't remember the book in question.  I wish I did.

Believe me, there were several books I wish I hadn't read in high school.  The one that immediately springs to mind is Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.  Even now, I am repulsed by some of the things in that book.  It's shocking for shock sake and filled with unlikable characters.  Honestly, if I had an inkling what was in it before I started reading it, I would have asked for an alternative assignment.  By the time I realized just how foul it was, it would have been a pain for me and the teacher, so I just kept going.

Does this make me a book banner?

I did opt out of a book later that year - the infamous Cather in the Rye.  Yes, I did check the book out of the library and read the first few pages on my own before we were due to start it, so I had some clue what I was talking about when I objected to the language in it.  Instead, I read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which remains one of my favorite books read in high school.  I did sit in on class, so I got some of the themes of the book (although like several other books we read that year, I don't remember much anymore).

Does this make me a book banner?  According to some definitions, it does, as noted above.

Before we go any further, I want to be clear on something.  I have absolutely no problems with parents objecting to something their child is being exposed to in the classroom, and this goes for movies as well as books.  (Yes, I was shown R rated films in high school by teachers when I was not yet old enough to see them.)  A child has to be in the classroom, but ultimately, it is the parent's right and responsibility to raise the child however they see fit.  It is not the right of the teacher or school to raise the child.  That's why this issue always resonates so strongly with me.  When parents are being called banners or censors because they object to something for their own child and their child alone, that is wrong.

I am more conflicted about contents of school libraries.  A parent should be monitoring what a child reads at home, but a book could be checked out of a school library and left at school.  If that happens, then the parent would have no idea their child was reading it.  Since the book is still chosen by the student, I am less certain of how I stand on this one.

When it comes to public libraries, I feel most challenges should be just that, challenges.  Parents should be monitoring what their child reads and checks out from a public library.  Removing a book from a public library because it offends you does bother me, even in the case of books that I don't think should have been published in the first place.

And let's be clear on this point, too.  What you find objectionable, I might not.  I fully realize that if we let every parent pick every book used in a classroom, there might be nothing left (although that is a slippery slope argument, something I learned is a fallacy in my college logic class).  Still, just because a book is challenged doesn't make it a book worthy of being read.  It might be true that the book actually has no redeeming value.  Shocking thought.  Then again, it might be wonderful and something that could change the world for the better.

I think what I object to most about Banned Books Week is the tone the American Library Association takes when they promote it.  Firstly, they promote it as a fight for the First Amendment.  Hold on a second.  The First Amendment is about the government, not about individuals.  When the government stops books from being published, then I will absolutely be outraged.  That's when a book is truly banned.  Arguing that a book is questionable in a classroom or library is hardly the same thing.

After all, let's say that a book is pulled from a public library.  If I want to read it, I can still go to a local bookstore or on line to a bunch of sites and buy a copy for myself possibly for as little as 3 or 4 dollars.  Yes, there are some people who won't go to that trouble.  Yes, there are some people who can't afford to do that.  They can still borrow the book from a friend.  There are still copies out there.

And yes, libraries make choices all the time.  I've never been in a library that bought every book published in a year.  They don't have the space or the budget for that.  Recently, the libraries in my town have gone completely independent from all other libraries.  While there are still lots of choices, there are some books that I've wanted to read that they didn't have in their system.  I've had to go out of my way to go to the county library system to get those books.  So to argue that a library system is supporting all freedom is disingenuous just because size and budget already limit what they have.

Not that I am criticizing librarians for the choices they make at all.  I'm sure they put lots of thought into what is chosen for their branches and the system in general.  No matter what they chose, there will be people who object because book A wasn't bought or book B was.  I absolutely respect that.

But back to my original point.  According to stats on the ALA’s own site in 2011, 977 challenges out of 4,660 in the last 10 years were due to "unsuited for age group."  That's 21%.  So I am deemed a censor if I object to my 1st grader being exposed to Twilight or Harry Potter.  Okay, okay, so I haven't heard of any cases where that happened, and it is an extreme example.  But according to their definitions, it would be on the list.

Think I'm exaggerating?  On another page back then, they had a definition of terms.  Several of their terms make sense.  Oral complaint or written complaint make sense (someone challenging something verbally or in writing).  But then there are things like "Expression of Concern" which is defined as "An inquiry that has judgmental overtones."  And "Censorship - A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives.  Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade lever changes."  So if a parents objects to their child reading a book in 5th grade but is willing to let them read it in 7th grade, that is censorship?  If a parent successfully gets Twilight moved from the Children's section of the library to the Young Adult section, that's censorship?

Frankly, I find their definition of "expression of concern" highly ironic, too.  Everything I ever read from the ALA on Banned Books Week in any year I've looked is filled with judgmental overtones.  Honestly, I feel like they just want parents to shut up and go away, and are trying to bully them into doing that.  Yes, I said bully.  That is what this feels like to me.  If you don't shut up and let the ALA buy and display books however they see fit, they are going to call you names.

One more stat from the ALA site from 2011.  No numbers are given, but they tell us that "almost exactly 48%" of challenges come from parents.  They call this the majority of challenges, and I'm willing to give them that since the only other stat they give is 10% each for administrators and patrons, leaving the remaining 32% unaccounted for.  Again, however, I would argue that parents have the right to monitor what their child reads or is exposed to, especially if it is in the classroom.  Instead, the ALA is setting them up as evil people, "censors," for doing their job.  I think it could even be argued that the ALA is trying to censor parents with this annual week by embarrassing them into silence.

Honestly, the one thing I couldn't find in a quick internet search on banned or challenged books was the stories behind some of these challenges.  Yes, they list the top 10 and the reasons given, but who objected?  Was the book in a library or a classroom?  Did the book stay on the shelf/assignment or was it removed?  Those kind of details might actually help me understand the concerns about this.  And, since I have been called names because I objected to myself reading a book and never said anything about the rest of the class, I get interested in those details.  Maybe we'll find that the "censors" are really more reasonable than those promoting Banned Books Week are willing to admit.

Ironically enough, the only case of a book truly being banned happened a couple of years ago.  Someone wrote a picture book about George Washington’s slaves making his birthday cake.  Seriously.  It has bad idea written all over it, right?  Yet it somehow almost got published.  A few days before it was do to come out, someone started an internet campaign against the book, and the publisher pulled it.  I’d be curious to read it, but there are only a very few copies there were sold pre-release floating around out there and I never have tried too hard to get my hands on a copy.  At the time, this was touted as a wonderful thing that the book was pulled.  And I’m sure I would be agreeing with them if I had read the book.  But I was never given the chance.  Yet this book isn’t one of the ones brought up during banned book week.

While she didn’t talk about this week in particular, my reaction to everything surrounding the week is perfectly summarized in Kristen Power’s book The Silencing.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it (here is my review).  Her premise is that certain parts of American culture are more interesting in shouting down those they disagree with than trying to find common ground for compromise.  That to me is exactly what Banned Books Week as currently observed feels like.

Now here is where I might shock and surprise you.  I could see myself supporting Banned Books Week with a change of emphasis and tone.  What if we treated the week not as it is now but as a week to open a dialog on banned and challenged books.

How about a forum of some kind where people can open a dialog about the banned and challenged books?  This could be local or over the internet.  Those who object to the book can say why without fear of being attacked or name called, something that is lacking from every Banned Books Week to date.  Those who support the book can say why they like it, again without being attacked by the other side.  Maybe no minds will be changed.  But by actually discussing the book in question from both sides, maybe we can reach an understanding and a mutually agreed upon solution.  I would ask that both sides actually read the book first.  It is only fair to object to or defend something you are familiar with.  After all, I love Huckleberry Finn and think that those who object to the dated racial language don't get what Twain was trying to do with the book. (I get into that more in my review of the book.)

After all, do we have anything to fear from an open and honest debate?  I would argue no, but the way Banned Books Week is celebrated now, we don't have that or the chance to have that.

And why do we have to be adversarial?  Why must this week be one side attacking the other?  Again, that does little to truly examine what is going on with this issue in our country.  Maybe the other side of the issue isn't as evil as we are making them out to be but has genuine concerns that can be addressed without keeping others from enjoying the book.

More than anything, I would argue that as it stands now, Banned Books Week does little to nothing to actually help with the true problem, people's different standards for their kids (and to a lesser extent themselves).  So how can we go about addressing those in a mature, responsible way?  I welcome your comments.  In fact, I would love to see what you have to say.  Just keep in mind that all name calling will be ignored.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

September 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

You can tell the summer is winding down.  Not only does the regular TV season kick into high gear on Monday (the only Monday of the year you'll find me looking forward to), but the few shows I watched this summer that hadn't wound down yet wound down this week.

TKO (9/14) – That last one was impressive.  Can’t believe he was so fast.  There was quite the spread of times this week, too.  I’m curious how they are going to make it harder for next week’s finale.  And the competition is going to be fierce.

Castaways (Monday) – It took Matt 14 days to go back?  I couldn’t believe it when that came out.  I would have been back in a day or two, depending on how long a rest I needed.  I get why the other two were upset with him, but I’m glad they moved beyond that quickly.  Meanwhile, I am amazed at the one woman who has hung on as long as she has by herself.  And those other two guys are still coming across as complete jerks.

Castaways (Tuesday) – Terry was so close.  So very close.  I do wish she could have made it, but my hat is definitely off to her for making it so close on her own for most of the time.  41 days, so just two days longer than Survivor.  I am glad everyone made up by the end, and it became very powerful as everyone was talking about how much people need others.  I liked the updates on the 5 who made it to the end, but I’d really like to know how the rest of the cast is doing now as well.

Suits – Okay, that was a bit of a cheat.  Both of them becoming name partner at the same time was exactly what we were fighting against all season long.  However, I do feel that Alex did the right thing.  And I sure hope this means we won’t have quite this level of strife any more at the firm.  Louis in charge and expecting a baby will be funny in the winter.  (Let’s face it, Louis is going to be much funnier as an expectant father than Sheila will be as expectant mother.)  And the look on Samantha’s face when Zane suggested a group hug made me laugh so hard.

TKO – I was expecting close finishes, and that’s exactly what I got.  Wow!  And I feel for the guy who hurt his wrist.  I hope it’s okay long term.  Not sure I will be back if the show returns, but it was diverting this summer.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Book Review: Murder on Marble Row by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #6)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
An office bombing
Is our portal back in time
Engrossing again




Frank and Sarah have an Explosive New Case

I'm seriously still kicking myself for not starting the Gaslight Mysteries sooner.  Of course, the upside of that is that I can indulge in a trip back in time whenever the mood strikes (and my to be read pile allows).  I was certainly glad to be back to return for Murder on Marble Row, and the book was over all too soon.

When a bomb goes off, killing wealthy businessman Gregory Van Dyke, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy is surprised to find himself put on the case.  He's even more surprised to find out that Felix Decker, Sarah Brandt's father, has specifically requested that Frank handle the case.  He's afraid he is being set up to fail, but he is going to do his best to learn the truth.  Everyone thinks it is anarchists, but is it that simple?

Meanwhile, midwife Sarah Brandt is shocked to hear the news when returning home after a late-night delivery.  Since the Van Dykes have been family friends for generations, she immediately goes to offer her condolences.  Naturally, Frank isn't happy to see her, and he's even less happy when he finds Sarah working her way into his investigation.  Will he figure out what really happened?  Will Sarah's friendship with the family be a help or a hindrance?

One reason I love these books is how quickly they pull you into another time and place.  I always have to take a few minutes to adjust to modern life again when I set a book in this series down, and this book is no exception.  I feel like I am in New York City in late 1896 as I read.

The plot also helps the pages fly by.  I never want to put the book down since it seems like something is always happening.  This includes updates on some on-going stories involving Sarah's late husband's murder and Frank's son.  I am as invested in these stories at this point as I am the current murder.

And I was very impressed with the mystery presented here.  I was only a page or two ahead of Frank and Sarah as they pieced things together, and there were plenty of twists and red herrings to keep me guessing.

It certainly helps that I love the characters.  Frank and Sarah spend equal time as our third person narrators, and both are strong characters.  The usual supporting characters put in at least one appearance over the course of the book.  Sarah gets a surprising sidekick for a portion of the book – her mother.  Those scenes were lots of fun.  The suspects are just as real, with plenty of secrets to flesh them out and confuse us until the very end.

Just how hooked was I on this book?  I stayed up late to finish this book instead of waiting until the next day to finish it, something I never do.

I'm already plotting when I can visit Sarah and Frank again and get the next chapter in their lives.  Whether you jump in here or go back to the beginning, you'll get lost in time while reading Murder on Marble Row.

Looking for more trips back in time?  Here are the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries.

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

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ornament Review: Mine! Mine! Mine! - 2018 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Captures a very fun moment from a great film
Cons: Sound clip could be shorter
The Bottom Line:
Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!
Finding Nemo fans will love
Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!





Hands Off This Ornament.  It's….

One of my favorite moments in the Finding Nemo movie is when we meet the seagulls and find out what they are really saying.  It makes me laugh every time I see the movie (which hasn't been recently enough).  I've bought a mug with them on it, and I always chime in along with them when I am waiting in line for the Finding Nemo Submarines at Disneyland.  So the instant I saw this ornament, I knew it would be Mine! Mine! Mine!

The ornament features three seagulls as rendered in the movie.  They are standing on rocks on shore, and we can see waves crashing into one side of the rock.  Two of the seagulls have their beaks closed, so one of them has their beak open.

Okay, if that was all there was to the ornament, I'm not sure I would have been that excited about getting it.  Yes, I do love the way it looks, but it's not that exciting.  For one thing, the ornament perfectly captures the look of the birds from the movie, and they were highly stylized.  No, based on looks alone I wouldn't have fallen in love with this ornament.

However, this is one of Hallmark's magic ornaments, which in this case means we get sound.  If you put in the two button batteries in the base, you get a clip of the seagulls saying "Mine" from the movie.  It lasts about 10 seconds, and the instant I hit that button, I start smiling.

The rocks the birds are standing on provide a wonderful base for the ornament, so you can set this out to be enjoyed at any time of the year.  After all, there isn't anything especially Christmassy about it.  Of course, you can hang it on your tree.  The loop is on the middle bird, but it does tip slightly to the left.  It’s not bad, and you can easily disguise it with some branches from your tree.

I'm a little surprised this ornament hasn't been more popular yet this year.  It was one I had to buy the instant it was available in July.  Still, I wouldn't be surprised if, as we get closer to Christmas, more people see it and decide that it must be Mine! Mine! Mine!

Original Price: $17.99

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Lethal Weapon - Season 2


Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: A few episodes capture the first season charm
Cons: Very dark, too little chemistry between the leads, Murtaugh too stupid
The Bottom Line:
Major shift in tone
Took away first season fun
So disappointing




“What’s Wrong with Him?”  “Lack of Banter.”

I was surprised last year by just how much I enjoyed the first season of the TV show version of Lethal Weapon.  The characters and their relationships were wonderful, and the banter between the leads was great as well.  So imagine my disappointment when everything I loved about season 1 went away and we were left with a mess in season two.

The season opens with Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford) in Mexico pursuing a lead in his quest to  get revenge on those who killed his wife and unborn son.  Before that is completely wrapped up, Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) goes down south to help him out.  But it isn't long before the two are back in Los Angeles where they continue to get assigned cases that seem to put them in danger.  Among their cases are a robbery at 20,000 feet, a dead body guard, and a jewelry heist.

But dealing with his wife's murder doesn't mean that Riggs has dealt with all of his past.  His father begins to harass him from prison in Texas, and some childhood friends come back into his life, complete with new baggage.  Meanwhile, in the present, Murtaugh must deal with his son going off to college and his wife, Trish (Keesha Sharp) beginning to think he is taking too many risks.

So what went wrong this season?  Multiple things.  First up is Riggs.  I get that he is a dark character with a dark past.  I've seen the movies.  However, they went really dark with his new backstory this year, and parts of that were a little on the disturbing side.  Honestly, it got too depressing.

But the show has some humor to balance things out, right?  Unfortunately, that fell flat this year.  The banter between Murtaugh and Riggs that I loved last season was much harder to find this season.  Riggs was mostly drama all the time, which was very hard to watch.  And Murtaugh?  He was much more comedic than last year, but on his own.  And how did they manage that?  They gave him sub-plots with his family that went something like this - Murtaugh overreacts to something, making a fool of himself in the process.  Eventually, he comes around to seeing things the way the rest of his family did all along.  In other words, his storylines became a Damon Wayans sitcom.  I never watched his sitcoms for a reason.  With a few exceptions, I don't like shows where the husband and father is constantly making an idiot of out himself week after week after week, which is exactly what we got here.  Even worse, this isn’t how the Murtaugh family was portrayed last year.  Last year, Murtaugh was a good family man more often than not, and he and Trish were a great team.

I'm sure part of this change was the well-publicized feud that started behind the scenes between the leads.  The writers, in an attempt to save the show, started coming up with ways to fill the show without the leads having to be on screen more often than they had to be.  But here's the thing, we tune in to watch the duo in action and their chemistry is one of the big reasons we enjoy it.  Take that away, and you take away much of the show's charm.

Honestly, it was only as I learned about what was happening behind the scenes that everything began to make sense.  I knew why I wasn't enjoying the show nearly as much as before this season, but it was only when I figured out why the writers had to change things so much that it truly made sense to me.  On screen, the actors are all doing a good job with their rolls, but the behind the scenes drama bleeds through again, helping to confirm my theory that when actors are enjoying their jobs, we all benefit.

And don't get me started on the end of the season.  SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!  Since Clayne Crawford won't be back next season, based on the cliffhanger, I know how they are going to write him out, which makes me sad.  I would much prefer to see him get a happy ending.  Instead, what will happen when season 3 premiers will undo two years worth of growth for the character.

Now don't misunderstand, there were still a few enjoyable episodes this season.  Unfortunately, most of them were at the beginning of the season.  Still, the show did occasionally get the first season chemistry and make for a fun hour.  Those moments were just too few and far between.

I spent most of season two debating whether I would be back for season three of the show.  Honestly, I'm still debating just to see if the change they made would be enjoyable although it also goes completely against the Lethal Weapon franchise.  I'm leaning toward not watching since there is so much else on I want to try, and I just didn't enjoy this season that much.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Book Review: Sunny Side Up by Daniel Stallings (Li Johnson Mysteries #1)


Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Complex mystery
Cons: Liam faces too much to be enjoyable
The Bottom Line:
A cruise ship murder
Just one thing Liam must face
Becomes way too much




Cruise of Murder and Bullies

This past spring, Sunny Side Up crossed my path.  Since I'm always on the lookout for a cozy or traditional mystery written by or starring a man, I snapped it up.  Besides, a mystery set on a cruise ship sounded like fun.  Unfortunately, it wasn't as much fun as I hoped it would be.

Liam Johnson has landed a job as a waiter on a ship on the prestigious Howard Line.  He needs this job to support himself after his family has gone through multiple hardships over the last few years, so he is trying to deal with a boss who hates him and passengers who seem to delight in tormenting him.  Anything for the paycheck, right?

What Liam wasn't expecting is to find one of the passengers dead on the Sunbathing Deck, but that's exactly what happens at the end of the first day.  The ship's doctor is quick to rule it an accidental case of sunstroke turning fatal, but too many things about the scene don't sit right with Liam.  Can he prove it before the cruise is over?

I have to give the writer credit for creating a complex mystery.  He is a self-proclaimed fan of the Golden Age mysteries, and this falls firmly into that camp.  There are connections and motives we know nothing about until late in the book, which further complicate things.  I do think that the plot was a little more complex than it needed to be, but the clues and signs are all there, so I didn't feel cheated when Liam put it together.  And I have to say I loved seeing such a unique murder method in this book.

My real issue with the book came from the characters.  They are great suspects, but they aren't great people.  Liam is bullied by several of the people he encounters over the course of the book, repeatedly.  Even hoping for the bully to get his comeuppance wasn't enough to redeem some of those scenes.  Liam does have a friend on the ship, but that relationship is strained, and the two men fight as often as Liam has other unpleasant encounters.  It was just rough to read.

This book definitely falls into the traditional side of the spectrum.  There is a smattering of foul language (that lessens as the book progresses) and talk about sex (although it is just that, talk).

While most of the book is narrated from Liam's third person point of view, we do get scenes from various other characters as well.  I enjoy a book told from multiple viewpoints when it is done well, and it certainly was done well here.

Ultimately, I found Sunny Side Up to be anything but sunny.  The problems heaped on Liam kept me from enjoying the book as much as I had hoped.

Monday, September 17, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Supergirl - Season 3


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Entertaining the entire way through
Cons: Lots of angst, eye rolling liberal agenda moment late in the season
The Bottom Line:
This angst filled season
Has entertaining stories
So still fun to watch




“I’ve Saved Your Life!”  “To Be Fair, So Has Everyone Else Here.”

I've noticed that the shows in the Arrowverse have a tendency to start out light and happy and slowly go darker with each passing season.  That certainly happened with Supergirl in season 3, although I wouldn't call all of it darker as much as I would call it more angst filled.

I'm sure some of that won't come as a surprise to fans of the show considering how season 2 ended.  Yes, some time has passed, but Kara Danverse, aka Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), is still mourning the loss of her boyfriend Mon-El (Chris Wood), who had to leave Earth at the end of last season.  Meanwhile, her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) is planning her wedding to Maggie (Floriana Lima).  Kara has decided that it is her human side that is causing her pain, so she is going to focus on being Supergirl.  Meanwhile, Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) adds to her business empire by buying CatCo, making herself Kara and James' (Mehcad Brooks) boss.  She also hires Samantha (Odette Annable), a single mother with a huge secret of her own that even she doesn't know about – yet.  At the DEO, J’Onn (David Harewood) is about to make a startling discovery and Winn (Jeremy Jordon) continues to provide comic relief.  But there is a new mysterious powerful person in the city.  And what about the ship that crashed into the nearby ocean?

Yes, there is plenty going on this season, and plenty to keep us tuned in from week to week.  In fact, they managed to surprise me with the on-going storylines this season.  I really thought they moved forward too quickly on some of them, but they had enough plot to keep me tuning in each week and a wonderful climax to the season.

The angst I was talking about earlier?  It seems like just about every character this season had a storyline that was filled with grief in some way.  This is especially true of Kara, Alex, J’Onn, and Samantha.  Some of the others might have only gotten one or two episodes of grief, or they interacted with those who were dealing with some heavy stuff.  I'm not going to spoil what that was, but be prepared.

But, with the angst comes hope.  These storylines all had some measure of hope to them, or at least beauty in the pain.  While certain episodes or moments might be painful since we love the characters so much, overall, I found them worth watching.

This also seems like the show in the Arrowverse that showcases the liberal agenda the most, flirting with the line between entertainment and preaching.  This is nothing new, but it reached new lows late in the season when J’Onn made a ludicrous proclamation to the DEO.  I'm sorry, but it was laughably stupid.  I'm hoping they show how stupid it is as season 4 unfolds, but I have a feeling that it will be quietly forgotten about.

The actors are still in top form here.  They get quite a bit of meat to play with here, and they all do wonderful jobs with it.  Also, for those keeping track, they have recast Kara's Kryptonian mother, and she is now played by Erica Durance, best known to comic book fans as Lois in Smallville.

Overall, the 23 episodes that made up season 3 were entertaining.  Supergirl has never been my favorite of the superhero shows that I watch, but it continues to be entertaining.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Book Review: Jennifer and Josephine by Bill Peet


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute story, wonderful illustrations
Cons: Might drag a little in the middle
The Bottom Line:
A car and a cat
Original odd couple
In charming story




The Story of a Stray Cat and Her Car

One of the things that makes Bill Peet’s books so much fun is that you never quite know what you will find when you pick one of them up.  For example, who would have ever expected a story about the friendship between a car and a cat?  But that’s what we get in Jennifer and Josephine.

Okay, so the car doesn’t really behave any differently than a car would normally behave, so we get most of the story from the point of view of Josephine.  Josephine has always been a stray cat, but when she finds Jennifer in a junk yard, she begins to think of Jennifer’s back seat as her home.  She even raises a litter of kittens there.  Jennifer is so old, Josephine assumes her days of driving are over.

So you can imagine their surprise when a traveling salesman comes along one day and buys Jennifer.  Unfortunately, he’s always in a hurry and takes huge risks with his driving.  How will this end for Jennifer and Josephine?

Since Josephine, the cat, is really our hook into this story, we come to care about Jennifer because of her.  And that does make us care during some scary moments.  No, they won’t frighten your kids, but this salesman does take some unnecessary risks.

And if there is any moral to this story, it’s about taking risks.  Or maybe it’s about the value of friendship since that does come into play in the climax.  Or maybe it’s just a story to enjoy with no need for a moral at all.

Bill Peet always created wonderful illustrations in his books, and this one is no exception.  They are detailed and help tell the story.  They are also filled with bright colors.  Kids will easily enjoy looking at the pictures as the book is read to them.

Since Bill Peet was writing and illustrating starting in the 1950’s, some of the styles in the illustrations are dated.  There’s also a reference to the 1930’s that will probably go over most kid’s heads.

Ironically for a story about a car and a fast driver, I do think this story drags a little in the middle, but that may just be me.  These books certainly do represent a slower time.  The slightly larger vocabulary will be a good challenge for kids.  No, there’s nothing here that will be too difficult, but there are some words that will expand the words they know.

Ultimately, Jennifer and Josephine will charm kids, so it is well worth tracking down.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

September 15th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Once again, I wasn't able to watch TKO on Friday, so I will have to include it next week.  But here's what I did watch this week.

American Ninja Warrior – They have made this so hard these days.  Of course, it’s not that unusual for only a few people to make it to stage 3, so maybe it’s not quite as hard as I was thinking it was.  Of course, I knew not that many people would make it when we were doing all three of the final stages in one night.  Congrats to Drew.  Not surprised he made it, especially once Joe went out.

Castaways (9/11) – Three more gone, or at least we found out about three more gone for sure this episode.  I wasn’t surprised the lady with the injured leg left.  As hard as it was, she certainly did the right thing.  Tim really surprised me at the end.  At this rate, will there be anyone left when it comes time to rescue?  And yes, the group of three guys is still driving me up a wall.

Suits – Definitely building for next week’s summer finale.  It is going to be explosive.  I was surprised they brought the prison case back, and I think I’m even more surprised about how it ended this week.  I suspect it will play into next week’s finale in some way.  Meanwhile, I’m very sorry with Katrina’s storyline.  I truly hope that Brian and his marriage isn’t harmed when everything shakes out.

Castaways (9/12) – So is she out or not?  It was sounding like the singer was ready to pack it in, not that I blame her, but I felt like they left us hanging.  My guess is she left.  Meanwhile, why the guy would go back to the other two who have no interest in helping him?  And those two are acting like they would be upset if he doesn’t come back.  My hat is really off to the woman who is all by herself.  I don’t think I could survive alone as long as she has.

Take Two – Seriously?  They are going to leave us with a cliffhanger after getting the two of them together?  And what is going to happen with the movie?  It really seems like they only need one more episode because how can Deacan not get sent to prison after framing Eddie.  I wouldn’t mind if I felt the show had any hope of coming back to tell us what happened next, but I’m afraid we will be left with this horrible cliffhanger until the end of time.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Book Review: The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mysteries #6)


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and fun with good mystery and characters
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Death at the races
Twists and turns balanced with laughs
Result is pure fun





Clearing Betty Depends on Finding the Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo

If you are looking for fun and humor in your mystery, you need to be reading the Pampered Pets Mysteries from the writing duo of Sparkle Abbey.  These books delight and deliver on their fun titles.  The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo is another perfect example.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, they feature cousins Caro and Mel who have both relocated from their native Texas to Laguna Beach, California, and both make their living from catering to the pet obsessed residence of this Orange County community.  The books alternate - the odd numbered books feature Caro while the even numbered books feature Mel.  Since this is book six in the series, it is Mel's turn in the spotlight.

This weekend, the Dachshund Dash has come to town, and Mel has closed down her Bow Wow Boutique to be there.  Not only does she have a booth, but she is also providing the official racing jerseys for the contestants.  While she isn't familiar with the backstage drama associated with this racing circuit, she quickly gets a crash course when Lenny and Richard, the owners of the dogs expected to finish in first and second, get into an argument right outside her booth.  A little while later, her assistant, Betty, gets into an altercation with Richard, even brandishing a gun at him.  So, naturally, when Mel finds Richard's dead body after he's been shot, Betty becomes the prime suspect.  Only Betty claims that someone, a girl with a dachshund tattoo, took the gun away from her.  Why is Betty being so secretive?  Where is her gun?  Who shot Richard?

The book jumps into the action pretty quickly, giving us several conflicts with Richard at the center.  So, when he turns up dead, we already have a couple of suspects in mind.  Not only are they developed further, but Mel finds another couple suspects to keep us confused until the logical ending.  Not to mention the fact that Betty is definitely hiding something.

The alternating main characters is unusual in the series I read, and it really gives us two sets of series regulars.  Yes, the town is small enough that the characters will often have cameos in the other cousin's books, but it's not a full update on everyone we know in this series each time.  At times, this does make it frustrating when you know it will be a couple of books before you can learn what happens next to a character, but that's a minor complaint overall.  For example, I am dying to know what will happened next in Mel's personal life after how this book ends, but I doubt I will get the full story about that until book eight.

The characters in this series walk a fine line.  They are real enough to make us care about them.  This is especially true of Mel in this book, which helps ground everything for us.  Other characters are a bit broader and wackier, and Betty is a prime example of that.  Oh, we care that she is cleared of any wrong doing in the crime, but she is such a hoot that we spend more time laughing at her antics than being concerned about her future when she is on the page.  The suspects introduced in this book are more on the fun side, but it works for this series, and they are real enough to keep us involved in the story.

Are you getting the sense that this series will make you laugh?  I hope so.  I certainly do when I read the books.  I was grinning and chuckling when I wasn't laughing outright.  This book is fun, pure and simple.

When you are looking for a series mystery, this is not the series to pick up.  But when you are looking for something light with a puzzling mystery, The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo is definitely the book to pick up.

Looking for more of the series?  Here are the rest of the Pampered Pets Mysteries in order.

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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ornament Review: Tasty Tannenbaum Mini - 2016 Hallmark Ornament



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great mini version of a fun ornament
Cons: Tips forward noticeably
The Bottom Line:
Christmas tree cupcake
Shrunk down to a mini size
Fun in small package





Tasty Winner for Your Mini Tree

Over the past couple of years, Hallmark has done several mini versions of series ornaments in attempts to get people to take a look at the miniature ornaments and potentially start collecting them.  And I’m proof that it has worked.  It’s why I got 2016’s Tasty Tannenbaum, after all.

This ornament is a miniature version of the previous year’s entry in the Christmas Cupcake series.  The biggest difference is that this one is made completely from plastic, while the full-sized ornament was mostly made from fabric as is the case for the rest of the full-size series.  Like the full-sized version, we get a red cupcake foil with a hint of a vanilla cupcake peeking out of the top.  The focus of the ornament, however, is the tower of green frosting made to look like a Christmas tree.  It comes complete with red heart decorations and a red star on top.  Add on some glitter, and you’ve got a great ornament.

I loved the idea of the original, however, I found the tree was too high for the fabric to fully support.  I like this version because, being plastic, the tree stands up straight with no tip or slump.  But I have mentioned this is a mini ornament, right?  Because make no mistake about it, it is.  It is just an inch tall from top of the star to bottom of the cupcake liner.

Of course, this size will change how you display it.  While you can set it up, it does tend to get lost quickly in a display because of the size.  I find it looks great on Hallmark’s mini trees.  However, when you go to hang it, you’ll find the hook is just behind the plastic star at the top of the tree, so it tips forward a little bit.  That takes away from the ornament overall.

Even with the tip, this is a fun compliment to the Christmas Cupcakes series.  If you collect mini ornaments, you should definitely check it out.

Original Price: $7.95

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

TV on DVD Review: This is Us - Season 2



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful characters and relationships
Cons: Growth seems to stall in the middle of the season
The Bottom Line:
Drama continues
Next chapter for the Pearsons
Still much watch TV



“I Love It When You Guys Talk Twin in Front of Me.”

After being surprised by just how much I enjoyed the first season of This is Us, I was looking forward to seeing how season two developed.  While it wasn't quite as strong as the first season, it still provided plenty of drama and heart felt moments.

Once again, the season kicks off on the big three's birthday, this time their 37th.  And it's a year of changes for all three of the Pearson siblings.  Kevin (Justin Hartley) has returned to Los Angeles to star in that Ron Howard film he was cast in last season opposite Sylvester Stallone.  However, an injury on the set puts him on a path of self-destruction.  Meanwhile, Kate (Chrissy Metz) works on planning her wedding to Toby (Chris Sullivan) as well as pursuing her own dream of becoming a singer.  And back in New Jersey, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) welcome the newest addition to their family, a foster teenager named Deja (Lyric Ross) who has a chip on her shoulder and sets out to make life for the family difficult.

Meanwhile, in the flashbacks, we continue to get glimpses of these characters growing up.  We go back as far as seeing when Randall is officially adopted.  But the main focus of the flashbacks is their father Jack's (Milo Ventimigila) death.  Yes, we actually do find out just how he died this year, and even spend an episode mostly in the past as we watch his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and the kids deal with the immediate aftermath.

Those episodes are absolutely heartbreaking, as you might expect.  And yet they are beautifully written and acted.  This show has a real artistry to it, and the writers craft some amazing scenes and moments in the midst of the on going larger stories.

Having said that, I do have a bone to pick with the writers.  Some storylines seem to get bogged down in the middle of the season as characters repeat the growth we saw in the previous two or three episodes.  Considering the show has shorter, eighteen episode seasons, this is especially annoying.  The worst offender to me was Kevin, who seems to take a few weeks spinning his wheels.  Even Randall seems to get stuck at times in goofy adult mode.

Overall, this is still a strong show with amazing characters, however.  The last couple of episodes do show the growth I was looking for and really tie everything together wonderfully.  And there are some great moments in every episode.  Yes, the show will still make you tear up just about every week, but it will also make you smile and laugh, just not as frequently.

This season even managed to change my mind on Toby.  I found Kate's finance annoying in the first season, but he was much stronger here.  In fact, I found him to be one of my favorite characters.

One thing I still love about the show is the strong bond the characters share.  The couples on the show have wonderful, strong relationships.  They may disagree, but ultimately, they have each other's backs.  And, while the characters may have their issues with each other, they are there when someone else needs them.  And the show doesn't make anyone the villain.  While a character may make the wrong decision, causing pain to someone else, we understand why they did it, and they usually recognize the consequences of what they've done.

I definitely do recommend you watch the first season first.  What happens here is an outgrowth of that first season, and to fully appreciate what happens here, you need that background.

As I already mentioned, there are eighteen episodes in this season, all of which are included here in wide screen and full surround.  Extras include the after show, where various members of the cast talk about what their characters went through in that particular episode.

Even with all the drama, and this show heaps on the drama, it is nice to watch a show where the characters truly do love and care for each other.  I think it's one reason that This is Us continues to pull in strong ratings for season two.  Fans will enjoy revisiting these characters again, and those new to the show will get caught up in the lives of the Pearson family.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Book Review: Toucan Keep a Secret by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #23)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters and a solid mystery
Cons: A couple of terms needlessly incorporated into the mystery
The Bottom Line:
Body in the crypt
Brings up mystery from past
Overall, it's fun




It's No Secret - I Think You'll Enjoy This Book

August was filled by so many books by authors I love that I'm still trying to read them all.  Believe me, if I had time, I would have snuck in Toucan Keep a Secret in August since I've enjoyed Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow books for years.

As the book opens, Meg is taking a turn locking up the Episcopal Church in town.  She's part of the brigade helping out since Reverend Robyn Smith is out on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy.  Meg just about has everything taken care of when she hears a pounding coming from the columbarium.  When she goes to investigate, she finds several of the crypts have been opened, and the dead body of Junius Hagley on the ground.  Mr. Hagley was a grouchy old man who Meg and her mother secretly call one of the Muttering Misogynists, but Meg didn't wish him dead.  What has Meg stumbled into now?

Let's start with my biggest complaint, and something that you can probably guess based on my plot description above.  I really could have done without the name calling by Meg in this book.  Fortunately, it tapers off by the time we've hit a third of the way through the book, but every time that Meg used misogynist to describe the victim, I rolled my eyes.  She even accuses him of mansplaining at one point, another term that bothers me.  What's worse is that it is clear early on that this aspect of the character doesn't play a large part in the mystery at hand.  In fact, he could have been the nicest person around and I don't think the plot would have changed at all.  So I felt like this part of the book was purely there to lecture us and made Mr. Hagley a caricature.  Considering we never met him alive, that just makes him less human.

Which is a shame because the mystery itself is wonderful.  It is fairly clear early on that the modern mystery has ties to something that happened in the past, and I enjoyed seeing how it all tied together.  I really didn't know who was behind the modern mystery or what had happened in the past until Meg pieced it together at the end.

Those who know the series know that Meg is surrounded by a large group of family members.  While a couple of the regulars aren’t around for this book, the rest put in their usual appearances.  Of course, the main focus is on the mystery, which gives us a chance to meet a large group of colorful new characters, and I enjoyed them all immensely.

And yes, there are some moments that made me laugh out loud as I was reading.  I wasn't laughing the entire way through, but a few scenes really are laugh inducing in a good way, and I truly enjoyed them.

So, there really is much to recommend about Toucan Keep a Secret.  Fans of light mysteries will be delighted with the latest entry in this long running series.

If you need more light mysteries, check out the rest of the Meg Langslow series.