Sunday, September 30, 2018

Movie Review: Smallfoot

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Some good laughs, good morals, creative premise
Cons: Story and laughs could be stronger overall
The Bottom Line:
Yeti, humans meet
Creative premise, some laughs
Mostly for the kids

Uncover the Legend of…Us

I probably would have skipped Smallfoot entirely if I hadn’t spent so much time in the theaters this year already.  The previews actually made me laugh and made me think this animated movie might be fun.  While it isn’t as much fun as it looked like it might be, it is a film kids will enjoy.

As the film opens, we are introduced to a village high in the mountains above the clouds.  Our guide to this village is Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum), who is thrilled to be living another day in this wonderful place.  And everything runs smoothly because everyone follows the laws set in stone – pieces of stone that is.  Migo has a crush on Meechee (Zandaya), their leader’s daughter, but he keeps his distance.  Oh, and did I mention that this is a village of Yeti?

Things change when Migo accidentally finds himself outside the village and encounters a smallfoot – you know, a human.  When he returns to the village, no one believes he’s seen one.  Well, almost no one.  The village weirdos happen to believe him, and with their encouragements, he sets off to prove he’s right.  And that’s when his path crosses with Percy (James Corden), a human nature documentary maker who has fallen on hard times and needs to make money any way he can.  What will happen when the two of them meet?

There are some fun moments in the film that snuck up on me and made me laugh out loud.  I wish there had been more of them.  There are some moments that younger audiences, including the kids in the theater when I saw this movie, will enjoy, but they don’t translate as well to adults.  There was one particular running gag that I enjoyed, and they used it to great effect for both laughs and storytelling numerous times, and the classic video gamer in me loved one site gag near the end.

The story is good, but not as epic as I thought it might be.  I was often a step or two ahead of the plot, but I was mostly having fun, so I didn’t mind.  This may not follow up the brilliant original idea with as brilliant a story, but it will keep the target audience entertained.

The songs fall into the same category.  They are catchy and fun, but they don’t really stand out in a way that makes me want to buy any of them.

The actors all do great in their rolls.  They allowed me to get completely caught up in the story.  The animation is fairly stylized, but it works for this film.  There aren’t any breathtaking shots, but what we get is fun.

A strong theme in the movie is about asking questions instead of just believing what you’ve been told.  I liked how this theme played out as well as the final scene.  That last scene is a powerful reminder that we as humans could always use, but seems especially appropriate right now.

I think Smallfoot is best for kids, and they will love it.  Adults won’t find it quite as much fun, but I think they will enjoy watching it once or twice.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

September 29th's Weekly TV Thoughts

The new season started this week.  Can you tell by how much longer my Weekly TV Thoughts have gotten?

Big Bang Theory (Monday) – I am going to mourn a little with every episode we see this season, I have a feeling.  The premiers are never the strongest episodes, and that was the case here as well.  Still, I loved Sheldon and Amy together.  Raj just made me cringe, although the shout out to Vroman’s in the tag was fun.  (That’s a real bookstore in Pasadena.)  I do wish that Leonard and Penny would have talked a bit more about their relationship because they could totally go that way in 30 years.

Dancing with the Stars (Monday) – Seems like just about everyone was off to a good start.  There were a few highs and lows, but just about everyone was bunched up together.  I can’t believe they are expecting two full nights out of everyone, however the first week.

Magnum, PI – I’ve never seen much of the original (didn’t grow up watching much TV), but I found this show to be promising.  It could be fun, or it could fall flat – it’s always hard to judge from a pilot, but I’m planning to give it another chance next week.  Unless it really hooks me, I’ll give it up when my Arrowverse shows return mid-October.

Dancing with the Stars (Tuesday) – Okay, so it was only the stars who were in jeopardy who had to dance again, although I’m sure everyone put in some practice time.  And they didn’t have to learn a new dance style, but still a new routine.  And that first hour?  So.  Much.  Filler.  Fast forwarded through almost all of it.  I’m surprised that a couple of the lower scorers were safe, at least for now.  Nikki probably wouldn’t have lasted long, although she would have been fun to root for.

Lethal Weapon – Yes, I did give the show a chance.  No, I didn’t like it any better.  It felt like another pilot in too many ways, and the relationship between the new partners definitely felt forced.  Plus he’s just too much a clone of Riggs.  And no, I wasn’t happy that they killed Riggs off either.  All around, a bummer start to season 3.  Debating about next week, but probably won’t be back.

This is Us – A little soap opera coming our way with Jack and Rebecca’s past.  I’m very curious to see how that all plays out.  I mean, we know the outcome, but still.  I wonder how much Deja’s dad will play into this season.  And how will Kevin and Zoe work out?  Only the first episode back, and so many great emotions.  I remember why I love this show so much.

Survivor – Wow!  To go out first due to a rough boat ride.  That completely stinks.  Sounds like his team had really come to love him, too.  At least they didn’t have to vote anyone else off the team, and I’m glad he recovered.  This season will be interesting to see how the teams wind up doing.  I wonder if they will mix up the teams mid-way through before the merge like they usually do these days.

A Million Little Things – I watched this right after watching the season premier of This Is Us.  The comparisons are there for a reason, and the two of them back to back was very rough.  This show isn’t as well written or acted, but I can feel the heart.  I think I could like the show, although the soap opera of the one guy having the affair already is bothering me.  For now, however, I think I will be sticking with this one.

Big Bang Theory (Thursday) – I figured out what Leonard and Penny were up to before they officially told us.  I loved how that played out.  So, if Raj going to find his dream girl this way?  And it looks like they will be playing up Stuart’s romance as well, at least for a few episodes.  I’d love to see both those guys happily in a relationship before the series ends.

The Good Place – Oh, how I have missed this show!  Delightfully silly.  Yes, there was some set up, but now that we’ve got the gang together again, I’m sure it will get better from here.  And Trevor is going to add the complication this season really needs to ramp up the laughs.  I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Murphy Brown – The original Murphy Brown aired in the years when I wasn’t watching that much TV, but I caught quite a few episodes over the years.  Yes, it was a liberal show, but I still found it funny.  I’ve been worried that this new interaction would be too liberal for me.  And I was right.  I laughed a couple of times, but not nearly as much as I was annoyed by the sermonizing we got from the characters.  A lot of the jokes seemed rather obvious.  I wonder how I would feel going back and watching the original show these days.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Ornament Review: Stockings Hung with Care - Once Upon a Christmas #8 - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great scene, fun sound and light
Cons: Slight tip forward
The Bottom Line:
Filling the stockings
Next step in Santa's journey
Magic makes it fun

Santa's Filling Stockings with Care

We've been following Santa's journey on Christmas Eve for eight years now with the Once Upon a Christmas series.  I suspect we are getting near the end for a couple of reasons, one of them being that Santa is delivering presents with Stockings Hung with Care.

This ornament finds Santa standing before the fire place in a home.  There's a cozy looking fire going, but Santa's already come down the chimney.  In fact, he's got a stocking in one hand and there's a doll in the other, which is hanging from the mantel.  Both stockings have peppermint candies in them.  Santa's got a toy soldier in the other hand, and he's ready to add it to the stocking he’s holding before getting back on his way.  Observing the entire thing is a white cat.

Like the rest of the ornaments in the series, this ornament attaches to Hallmark's Magic Cord (not to be confused with their new Power Cord).  As soon as you attach the ornament to the cord, you'll notice that the fire in the fire place lights up and the base flashes in red and green.

When you press the button, this ornament will take over the lights on any other ornaments you've got on this Magic Cord while it puts on a show.  In this case, we get to hear Santa talk about how good the kids he is visiting have been and the soldier and doll he is leaving for them.  The touch I love is that the cat actually meows as Santa is finishing.  At that point, the music takes over and we get to hear "Home for the Holidays" play.  All told, the sound lasts just over a minute.  Meanwhile, the fire and the lights in the base are synched to the dialogue and music we hear, and the other ornaments attached to the string also flash their lights in time.  It's fun, and Santa's voice still sounds wonderful.

And that's why I have enjoyed this series so much.  Listening to Santa talk about his trip always brings out the kid in me, and the music that plays is delightful.  Plus, the artists take advantage of the larger size and really put a lot of detail to the ornament.  I absolutely love the fire flickering effect, which we really get to see when the show is going, although it does flicker a little even when the ornament is just plugged in.

These ornaments are really scenes, and as a result, each one has a large base.  This one is no exception, so if you wanted to set the ornament out some place, you could easily do that.  You'll also find the series marker on the bottom of the ornament.  Or you can hang it on your tree.  The loop is in the front of the fire place, which is a little off center, so it tips forward slightly.  I don’t see any place that would be better for the ornaments to hang, however.  The base is so large that this will hit tree branches anyway, so those will probably change how it hangs anyway.

Last year, Hallmark introduced their new Power Cord, which allows ornaments to interact in new ways.  As a result, I suspect that they will be phasing out their Magic Cords and the ornaments that work with it.  That's the other reason I suspect that this series will be ending soon.  Plus, I'm not sure what we haven't seen Santa do yet.  Although it would be cool for this series to make it to 10 entries.  We just need two more.

No matter how much longer the series goes, those who have been enjoying the journey will want to add Stockings Hung with Care to their tree.

Journey along with Santa with the rest of the Once Upon a Christmas series.

Original Price: $29.99

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book Review: Til Death Do Us Party by Vickie Fee (Liv and Di in Dixie #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery, fun characters
Cons: Pacing is off, one sub-plot annoys
The Bottom Line:
Wedding in Vegas
Comes complete with a murder
Fun for series fans

That's Not an Elvis Tribute Artist.  That's a Corpse!

I must confess that I don't see the draw of Las Vegas, but then again, I don't like to gamble.  I can think of other things to spend my money on - books for example.  But that didn't stop me from enjoying Til Death Do Us Party, which takes Liv, Di, and the rest of the gang to Vegas for a wedding.

The happy couple are Liv's mother and her fiance, Earl, who have decided to elope to Vegas for an Elvis themed wedding at the Burning Love Wedding Chapel.  They are also happy to reconnect with Liv's cousin, Little Junior, who is living in the city and trying to make his living as an Elvis impersonator (sorry, Elvis tribute artist), even trying to get a job at the chapel where the wedding will take place.  Until that happens, he is driving a cab to make a living, and he's acting as a very willing tour guide.

Unfortunately, the wedding hits a major snag when the Elvis performing the ceremony drops dead before he can get to the "I Do."  When the police decide that it was murder, they start looking at Little Junior, who had a fight with the dead Elvis a few days before.  While already a semi-working vacation, Liv finds herself pressed to clear her cousin of the crime.  Las Vegas is bigger than her home town of Dixie.  Can she do it?

Since the majority of the book takes place outside the normal setting of Dixie, Tennessee, we don't see as much of a few of the series regulars and locations we've come to love.  However, a sub-plot involving a high school reunion that Liv's party planning business is putting on while Liv is out of town gives us a chance to check in with a few of those left behind, which is nice.

The book does have the pacing issues that I have mentioned in earlier books in the series.  This time, they are more pronounced since the murder takes place a bit late in the book.  Yes, we get some set up, but we also get more of the sub-plots.  When Elvis does drop dead, the murder takes center stage and offers us several good suspects and keeps us guessing.  The ending was fun, logical, and a surprise.

I need a moment for a rant.  There is a sub-plot involving Liv's best friend Di and her boyfriend, Dave, both of whom are on the trip.  Both of them acted stupidly here over the course of the book, and both of them were too stubborn to see it.  It drove me crazy, especially since I want to root for them to get together.  They need to get over their communication issues.

Because of the prominence of the sub-plots, including one that carries over from the last book, I highly recommend this book for fans of the series.  With the background of earlier books, you'll best appreciate what happens here.  I'm not saying you won't enjoy the book without the background, but it will certainly help.

If this book leaves you in the mood to party, you'll be glad to learn there are some tips for planning a couple of different themed parties at the end of the book as well as a some recipes to help you plan the perfect party.

I've discovered I don't mind visiting Las Vegas through the pages of a book.  Til Death Do Us Party offers a fun trip to the famous city that will leave you smiling.

Here are the rest of the Liv and Di in Dixie Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

TV Show Review: Deception

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of fun, magic, and mysteries
Cons: Cliffhanger ending; uneven acting
The Bottom Line:
Magician solving
Crimes is fun premise for show
Warning: Cliffhanger

“We Aim to Deceive.”

Since I enjoyed Castle so much, I am constantly on the lookout for a replacement.  The previews for Deception made it look like it could fit the bill, and the added magic element was also a draw, so I gave the show a try when it came on in the spring.  I was one of the few people who did, but I found it enjoyable.

Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott) is one of the most celebrated magicians around.  On his TV specials and live on stage, he pulls off the seemingly impossible.  However, after a particularly spectacular show, his career comes to a crashing halt when his identical twin brother Jonathan, and the secret behind some of his best tricks, is arrested for murder.  However, Jonathan has been framed, but no one is listening.

Finally, Cameron finds a sympathetic ear in FBI agent Kay Daniels (Ilfenesh Hadera), and the two form an unlikely partnership.  Cameron and the team that helped him with his illusions begin helping Kay and the FBI on cases in exchange for helping track down what really happened the night Jonathon was arrested.  They get involved in such cases as a murder hidden by a reality show, an art docent being help hostage, and the theft of a stained glass window.  But will they find the evidence they need to clear Jonathan?

As I said, the idea of using magic to solve crimes intrigued me, and it was a lot of fun and added a great element to the show.  Who knows if what I learned about magic watching the show is real or not but I enjoyed it.  The cases themselves were strong and kept me intrigued until the end.

Also enjoyable was the banter.  No, this wasn't a heavy banter show, but there were some quips and exchanges that made me smile if not laugh.  Cameron and Kay quickly develop an attraction for each other that complicates their working relationship, but also added to the fun of the show.  As you can see, I made that comparison to Castle earlier for a reason.

Jack Cutmore-Scott does double duty in every episode as Cameron and Jonathan, and we get to see Jonathan's reaction to life in prison as well as everything happening on the outside.  While I wanted to smack him more often than not, I could certainly understand why he did what he did.

Over the course of the show, we get to see more about Cameron and Jonathan's years growing up, and that comes into play with what is happening to them now.  This part felt a little cliché, but it was a minor issue.

Because the show was a midseason replacement that was canceled late, the episodes had been filmed before we got to see any of them and before the writers knew if the show would be canceled or not.  That means we get a dozy of a cliffhanger and the end of the thirteen episodes presented here.  The arc for the first season is wrapped up, but it definitely left me wanting to know exactly what would happen next.  Keep that in mind as you watch.

Honestly, I'm not sure how long the show could have continued.  Even with the direction they took things in the finale, it feels like there are only so many ways magic can help with a crime.  But I'm not a writer or creative enough, so I would probably have been proven wrong had the show been a hit.

The acting was a bit uneven across the board.  I didn't mind since I was having fun with the show, but keep that in mind as well as you sit down to watch.

If you can't stand a cliffhanger ending, then you should definitely skip this show.  But if you are looking for something fun, then check out Deception.  Personally, I'm sorry to see it end here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Book Review: Murder Flies the Coop by Jessica Ellicott (Beryl and Edwina Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong leads, wonderful mystery
Cons: All cons left in the past
The Bottom Line:
When man vanishes
Odd couple find their next case
Great plot, lots of fun

Can Edwina and Beryl Catch a Flighty Killer?

While I tend to prefer American setting for my cozy mysteries, I will follow an author I enjoy anywhere.  That's why I started the Beryl and Edwina series by Jessica Ellicott, and I'm so glad I did.  This dynamic duo return for their second case with Murder Flies the Coop, and it is another wonderful book.

It's been a few months since we last saw childhood friends Beryl Helliwell and Edwina Davenport.  While they have settled into Edwina's house outside the village of Walmsley Parva in Kent, things haven't improved for them financially.  It is while they are trying to come up with a way to make more money that they stumble into the idea of opening their own enquiry agency.  And they have their first client, too - the village vicar.

Vicar Wilfred Lowethorpe actually wants to hire Edwina and Beryl because of his involvement in the local pigeon racing club.  Mr. Cunningham, the club treasurer has vanished with club funds and several member's birds.  He was supposed to be on his way to that day's race when he vanished.  Did he run off with the birds and the money?  If so, where did he go?  Can Edwina and Beryl solve the case and prove their value as detectives?

Edwina and Beryl are very mismatched, but they make fantastic series leads.  Edwina is a proper English lady, while Beryl is an American with several divorces in her past who is well known for her adventures all over the globe.  But this makes them a force to be reckoned with when it comes to solving mysteries.  Beryl has the experience with the darker side of the world while Edwina can handle the local politics required to get the answers they need.  The two of them both provide clues and make deductions at various times, and the book makes excellent use of both of them as our leads.  The third person narration bounces between them and does a great job of highlighting both of them.  I do feel that Edwina's growth as a character is easier to spot than the growth Beryl is making as she fits into her new life with her lifelong friend, but that is a very minor complaint.

The plot is fast paced with multiple suspects and motives to what is happening.  Believe me, my teaser just scratched the surface of what all is involved in the case.  The solution is logical when Edwin and Beryl piece everything together.

The book is set in spring of 1921, and it goes a great job of evoking the feel of the time.  It also works in what people of the time were dealing with.  Not only do we learn about pigeon racing, but the investigation takes us to a nearby coal mine as well.  We are reminded just how awful conditions were for the minors without ever be lectured.

And the entire thing is wrapped up in fun.  The many characters we meet along the way are a delight, and some of them are sure to bring a smile to your face.  Edwina and Beryl seem to both have a zest about them that easily comes through the page and infected me as I read.  Really, it was hard to put the book down.

Getting to visit Beryl and Edwina again was wonderful, and I was sorry to see Murder Flies the Coop end.  I'm already looking forward to their next adventure.

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

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Monday, September 24, 2018

TV Show: Legends 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 Show 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 Show 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.