Wednesday, October 31, 2018

And the Winner Is....

I'm a day late, but I have finally picked the winner for Six Cats a Slayin'.  And that winner is...


I've sent you an e-mail, so keep an eye out for it.

Meanwhile, I'll have another giveaway on Tuesday next week, so I hope you'll come back for it.

October 2018's Monthly Reading Summary

Happy Halloween!  That can only mean one thing - it's time for the monthly reading summary.

And yes, the Index has been updated.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).

The Spirit in Question by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila #3) – 4
Lila has been talked into working on a play that her university is putting on this semester.  The play is Puzzled: The Musical written by Tolliver Ingersoll, a fellow professor at Stonedale University, and it's being directed by Jean Claude Lestronge, who is visiting the college for the semester.  Putting the play on is proving to be a struggle, but things get more interesting when someone is shot during a planned blackout.  That's when Lila starts to hear some stories about the history of this particular theater.  Could that have something to do with what is currently happening?  Or is there a more modern motive for murder?

There is a lot happening in this book, and at times, the plot appears to ramble as a result.  The murder definitely takes a back seat to some of the other things going on, but I never found myself getting board since everything was entertaining.  And the various bits and pieces do begin to tie together the further we get into the book.  Because we get so many new characters, we don't see much of most of the series regulars, but the new characters are all developed enough to make us care about the outcome, and Lila continues to be a strong lead.  And the play!  I was laughing at the little bits we did learn about it over the course of the book.  Heck, the song titles alone are great.  It looks like a fun spoof of the mystery genre that I would go see if I could.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Mardi Gras Murder by Ellen Byron (Cajun Country Mysteries #4) – 5
Maggie Crozat's home town of Pelican was flooded out just three weeks ago, but the community is rallying together to repair and rebuild.  And they certainly aren't planning to let that curtail this year's Mardi Gras celebration.  Unfortunately, Maggie has gotten roped in to help with this year's Miss Pelican Mardi Gras Gumbo Queen Pageant, something she is definitely against.  However, when she finds one of the judges dead, she begins to wonder if she is in danger because she's taken on this job.  Or does it tie back to the body of the John Doe that was found during the flood?

This is a fantastic book with a creative mystery for us to solve.  A strong sub-plot only adds to the fun of the book, and the climax ties everything together perfectly, including a plot point or two I'd forgotten about.  The characters are fantastic as always; I truly love the large cast of series regulars.  The suspects are strong, although it took a bit to remember how all of them are connected at first.  The cast of characters at the beginning certainly helped with that.  I did find the timeline felt a bit off at a few points, but this was a minor complaint.  I love learning about a completely different region, and author Ellen Byron's love comes through.  The recipes at the end will satisfy the cravings you'll develop while reading the book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Designed for Haunting by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson Mysteries #4) – 5
It's a couple of weeks before Halloween, and Aurora “Rory” Anderson and the rest of her painting friends are working on the annual benefit they put on where they sell their work for charity.  That changes when Rory gets an e-mail from Zelena, a friend in her painting group that says the e-mail is being sent to Rory because Zelena is missing.  As Rory begins to investigate, she learns that no one has seen Zelena for several days.  A dead body just increases the stakes.  Can Rory figure out what is really happening?

This is a great mystery with several other mysterious happenings that help cloud the issue.  Yet as Rory sorts through what applies to the main mystery, she leads us to a clear picture of what happened.  It all comes together in a page turning climax.  The characters are strong; the new characters do their job of keeping us wondering what is really happening while Rory and the other series regulars were a delight to be around.  This book evoked a Southern California Halloween for me perfectly, complete with a potentially spooky sub-plot or two to add to the seasonal fun.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Death of a Russian Doll by Barbara Early (Vintage Toy Shop Mysteries #3) – 5
It's been a year since police chief Ken's wife Marya showed up, nipping Liz's romance with Ken in the bud.  She hasn't completely recovered from the shock and hurt, but when Marya shows up murdered in the barbershop next to Well Played, Liz knows she and Ken will both be suspects.  With her father stepping in as police chief, Liz begins to find an alternative suspect.  But who in town knew Marya well enough to kill her?

The plot spends equal time digging into Marya's past while also attempting to figure out how what we learn can bring us any suspects.  The result is a fast paced and fun mystery that leads to a logical solution.  The characters are strong as always, and provide plenty of fun.  I laughed at some of the situations and the puns we got over the course of the book.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Mark Baker return in a larger roll this time around.  Add in the Christmas setting, and you've got a winner will many layers of fun.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

A Dastardly Plot by Christopher Healy (A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem #1) – 4
New York City is gearing up for the 1883 World's Fair, and Molly Pepper is hoping her mother, Cassandra, will be able to snag a spot in the inventor's hall to show case some of her amazing inventions.  However, when the spot is given to a man - again - Molly and Cassandra devise a plan to break into the Inventory's Guild.  That's where Molly stumbles upon the plans to sabotage the opening ceremonies.  Who is the villain?  Can Molly stop them?

The book starts out a little slowly, some of which is introducing us to the new characters and new series.  Once the plot got going, the pacing certainly improved, and we got some fun twists that kept the pages turning.  The climax introduced some new threads, and I can't wait to find out what happens next as the series continues.  The characters are strong, and the real and fictional rubbed shoulders with ease.  I did feel the book stopped at times to lecture us on equality - an important topic to be sure - but it felt like it slowed things down briefly when it came up.  This new series has a slight Steampunk element to it, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it.  I also enjoyed the pages at the end that told us about some of the same real people and events that underpinned this fictional world.

Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney (Braxton Campus Mysteries #1) – 3
Kellan Ayrwick has returned home for a few days to attend a dinner in honor of his father's retirement from Braxton College.  While Kellan's there, he is supposed to meet up with a woman who has done some research for the true crime TV show that he works on.  However, Kellan gets distracted when, near the end of the dinner, he finds a dead body.  The victim was a professor at Braxton.  With everything swirling around the at college, Kellan is afraid that someone he loves will be arrested for the crime.  Can he figure out the truth before that happens?

I wanted to like the book, but I felt it had some flaws to it.  It was overly wordy, especially with some rehashing of things we already knew and theories we'd already considered.  Additionally, there were several nitpicks, like this dinner several months before Kellan's father planned to fully retire.  The mystery, overall, was strong, however.  There were several believable suspects that kept me guessing until Kellan figured things out.  Likewise, I really liked the potential series regulars, and the book introduced several threads that will make for great future books in the series.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

I'm Your Venus by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker Space Case #2) – 4
Sylvia Stryker has landed a job on the new Moon 6.  Again, she's in charge of the uniform department, but this time she's legitimately on the ship.  Neptune is also on board this cruise, with the destination being Venus.  Everyone is determined to make things go smoothly for the passengers.  However, the ship has barely set out when Sylvia finds a dead body outside the uniform department's door.  Then Neptune comes to her with a surprising plea for help.  Can she figure out what is going on?

Yes, this book has a science fiction setting, but it is still mostly a mystery.  In fact, the setting is developed just enough for us to feel at home, but the story doesn't stop to explain every little detail to us.  Still, there are some fun nod to pop culture science fiction and some of the tech they do have in this book would be very cool.  There are a trio of characters we spent a lot of time with, and they are the best developed.  The rest of the cast is still strong enough for the parts they play in what happens.  The plot is quite a ride, with plenty of keep us engaged and the pages flying.  I read the book in just two days, in fact.  I do feel like some of the character's actions over the course of the book weren't completely explained at the end, but that is my only complaint.  I'm looking forward to getting to book three as soon as my schedule allows to see how some of the threads introduced here play out.

City of Bones by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #8) – 3
Harry Bosch doesn’t take the call about a human bone serious at first, but this time it turns out that a bone from a human skeleton has been found in a Hollywood neighborhood.  The skeleton is that of an abused pre-teen boy, and he’s been buried for 20 years.  Can Bosch figure out who he was and bring the killer to justice?

I was looking forward to seeing Harry tackle a cold case, figuring we’d get some interesting twists along the way.  Sadly, I was disappointed by the plot, which often gets overshadowed by the various sub-plots going on at the same time.  The mystery’s still okay, but it’s not one of the better books by Michael Connelly.  The characters are still strong, however, and much of what happens is working on Bosch, although I didn’t realize just how much character development we were getting until I reached the end of the book.  The book has the usual levels of foul language, sex, and violence that fans of the series would expect, although it is more than my usual reading choices.  Average Michael Connelly is still enjoyable, and I’m definitely anxious to find out what happens to Bosch next.

Six Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #10) – 5
Charlie Harris's feline family has grown quite a bit.  Someone left him a box with five kittens in it, and he's taking care of them while trying to track down the owner so he can figure out what to do with them next.  Fortunately, Charlie's Maine Coon cat, Diesel, has taken to the kittens and is helping take care of them as only a cat can.  That isn't the only problem Charlie is facing this Christmas, however.  There's also his new neighbor Geraldine "Call Me Gerry" Albritton.  Gerry is rubbing everyone the wrong way, including Charlie.  Charlie isn't prepared for murder, however, and when one happens, he begins to investigate.  What will he uncover?

Fans of this series know to expect a wonderful puzzle wrapped in a cozy shell, and that's just what we get here, with the Christmas setting only helping the cozy feeling.  The mystery of the kittens occupies much of the early book while the foundations of the main mystery are being laid.  Once the dead body turns up, we focus more on that with the kittens taking their place as a sub-plot.  The twists of the mystery keep the pages flying, and the story takes a more serious tone.  That tone provides a nice contrast to the Christmas season and the kittens, both of which keep the book from becoming too dark.  I was thrilled to get to spend so much time with the series regulars; I just love Charlie's family and extended family.  This book left me with happy tears in my eyes and Christmas carols in my head.  What more could you want?

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Dogged by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun #7) – 4
It starts with the discovery of a naked body in Camelback Mountain.  The victim, a female, had been discovered not too far from the hiking path by some early morning hikers.  The weirdest part is that all of the bones in her legs and arms had been broken before she died.  Phoenix homicide detectives Joe Rodriguez and Tommy Flaherty are assigned to the case, but while they are still tracking down the victim's identity, another body is found.  This one has the same broken bones, but it is several months older.  Joe is finding himself distracted by his concerns over his new relationship with Bridgid, Tommy's cousin.  Can he focus on the case long enough to solve it?

I was very pleasantly surprised earlier this year when I saw this book pop up.  This is definitely a book that falls into the traditional part of the mystery spectrum, but it doesn't get much worse than what I teased already.  The plot is strong and doesn't try to delve into the mind of the serial killer, just tries to catch the person, and we get a strong mystery as Joe and Tommy work to do that.  I did feel the ending was a bit weak since it hit two of my pet peeves, but they were minor overall.  The characters are absolutely wonderful, and it was fantastic to see them all again.

I Lost My Tooth! by Mo Willems (Unlimited Squirrels #1) – 4

Zoom Squirrel has lost one of his front teeth.  Once his friends understand his problem, they pitch in to help find it, especially when they learn it is a baby tooth!  Can they find this baby (tooth) before it gets too frightened?

Fans of Mo Willems won't be surprised at the first two thirds of this book.  It may introduce us to a new set of characters, but the storytelling, humor, and fun are classic Mo, including the easy to read dialogue driven action.  I was trying hard not to laugh in public as I finished it up.  The rest of the book consists of some fun jokes and a couple of sections that tell us about teeth and quiz us on some animal teeth.  It's actually quite interesting, and presented in a fun way, so kids will enjoy learning about it as well.  They might even get interested in learning more on their own, which is a good thing.  I didn't love it as much as I've loved some of his other picture books.  I think my issue is, this isn't an Elephant and Piggie book.  I certainly can't find another reason not to like this book, and I think kids will have so much fun they won't care.

Yule Log Murder by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross – 4
This book contains three Christmas mystery novellas by three different mystery authors featuring their main sleuths.  Up first is the title story by Leslie Meier as Lucy Stone tries to figure out how a young woman died on the set of a movie being filmed in town.  Next comes "Death by Yule Log" by Lee Hollis.  In this story, Hayley Powell meets her daughter's new boyfriend.  While she is less than impressed with him, she begins to poke around when he is accused of murder.  Finally comes "Logged On" by Barbara Ross.  Christmas is approaching, and Julia Snowden is determined to make a great yule log to impress her boyfriend's family.  She's so desperate she gets help from Mrs. St. Onge, an unpleasant neighbor everyone agrees makes the best yule log cakes around.  Only, something seems off.  Can Julia figure out what is going on?

Fans of any of these authors will want to pick up this book.  All three feature strong mysteries.  Each story is around 100 pages, yet still feature some good twists and surprises that kept the pages flying.  I did find the characters in the Lucy Stone story annoying, but that is my only complaint with the book.  I don't read Lee Hollis, but I am tempted to with how much I enjoyed the story here.  I love Barbara Ross's books, so it was fabulous to get another story with them.  You'll get plenty of Christmas spirit while reading this book, and each author includes some recipes you can make after you've finished the book, including three different recipes for yule logs.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Book Review: Yule Log Murder by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Three fun Christmas mystery novellas
Cons: Lucy's family annoyed me
The Bottom Line:
Christmas mysteries
Filled with holiday spirit
And plenty of twists

Put on a Yule Log and Curl Up with this Novella Collection

Over the years, I've read a few of Kensington's novella collections, and I've always enjoyed them.  In fact, they are pretty much a given for me if an author I enjoy is included.  And that's exactly why I found myself picking up Yule Log Murder, a collection of Christmas themed mysteries featuring Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross along with their series sleuths.

Opening the collection of "Yule Log Murder," which features Leslie's heroine Lucy Stone.  This story opens to news that a major Hollywood movie is going to be filmed just outside of town, and many of the townspeople are going to be used as extras.  Lucy manages to snag one of those spots, but her joy turns to sorrow when a young woman dies on the set.  The police seem quick to settle on a killer, but Lucy suspects that something else is going on.  Can she figure things out?

I must admit that I haven't read many of Lucy's adventures, sticking mainly to the novellas featuring this character and her family.  As a result, I don't have the history with Lucy's family that long time series readers do.  That may be why I found them a little annoying.  The mystery itself was very strong, however, with a solution I didn't see coming.

Up next is "Death by Yule Log" featuring Lee Hollis's Hayley Powell.  This Christmas, Hayley's daughter is coming up to Maine for Christmas and she's bringing her new boyfriend.  Hayley does her best to greet Connor with an open mind, but something about him just rubs Hayley the wrong way.  However, when a young man is found murdered after getting into a fight with Connor, it begins to look like Connor is the prime suspect.  Hayley may not like him, but she doesn't want to see Connor accused of a crime he didn't commit.  Can she figure out what is going on?

Again, I don't read this series, but this story made me rethink that.  If only there weren't so many books already in the series.  Anyway, while I obviously didn't understand all the character history, I certainly got enough to fully enjoy what was happening here.  The mystery was strong and kept me engaged until the end.

Finally comes the reason I picked up this book.  "Logged On" by Barbara Ross takes us back to Boothbay Harbor as we check in with Julia Snowden.  She's become obsessed with creating a perfect Yule Log cake to impress her boyfriend's family when they come for Christmas, but her efforts aren't turning out well.  She is so desperate that she goes to a neighbor, Mrs. St. Onge, since her cakes were legendary.  Mrs. St. Onge is an older lady, but as Julia begins to spend more time with her, Julia begins to wonder wonders about the many people from Mrs. St. Onge’s past and present who seem to disappear from her life around the holidays.  Is Julia in any danger herself?

I love this series and these characters, and it was great fun to pop in for a Christmas visit.  The mystery on this one really drew me in.  It is the shortest of the three, but it had me turning pages the fastest to find out if my suspicion on what was happening was true or not.

These stories are just over the 100 page mark each, and all three comes with festive Christmas recipes you can make after you've finished reading the book.  Yes, that includes three different yule log recipes as well as hot chocolate, snowman pizza, and jewel brooch cookies.

And all three are guaranteed to put you in the Christmas spirit.  It may be October as I write this, but I was ready to start decorating my Christmas trees myself when I was done with the book.

So if you want to get into a festive mood, pick up Yule Log Murder.  In addition to three fun holiday tales, you just might find some new friends to visit year-round.

And if you are looking for more of Julia's adventures, here are the rest of the Maine Clambake Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Movie Review: Happy Death Day

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good acting from the lead, fun story
Cons: Light for a true slasher film (which can be a pro as well)
The Bottom Line:
A light slasher film
Tree solves a murder – her own
Surprisingly good

Can Tree Solve Her Own Murder?

Despite my fascination with slasher movies, it’s been a while since I saw an advertisement for one that intrigued me enough to actual sit through it.  As soon as I saw the preview for Happy Death Day, I was intrigued and knew I had to see it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it in the theater, but I did finally catch it.

When Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday, she is embarrassed to realize she is waking up in a dorm room of Carter (Israel Broussard), a complete stranger.  Tree goes about through her usual day, avoiding her father’s phone calls and being her normal self.  Only, that night, someone wearing her college’s baby mascot mask kills her.

And Tree wakes up again in Carter’s room.  As things repeat themselves, Tree realizes she needs to solve her own murder to keep from dying and keep the day from resetting.  Can she do it with Carter’s help?

Obviously, this movie takes inspiration from Groundhog Day and the many similar stories that have been told over the years.  It’s an intriguing premise, and the main reason I wanted to watch the movie.  We never find out why Tree’s day keeps repeating, but apparently, there are clues to that in the movie if you know what to watch for.  I’m a bit surprised to find that this was a minor point for me.

This movie is rated PG-13, so those looking for the graphic deaths of the classic slashers will be disappointed.  Having said that, there are some creative kills along the way to the climax.  Likewise, there are a couple of minorly tense scenes, but nothing that will get your heart rate pumping for very long.

What really intrigued me about this movie is the mystery.  To put it mildly, Tree is not a nice person at the start of the story.  Yes, that gives us plenty of suspects, and it was fun watching her eliminate them over the course of the movie.  They even surprised me with the mystery along the way, which I loved.

What didn’t surprise me was Tree’s character growth.  I mean, we’ve seen this kind of story before, right?  I was surprised, however, at how happy I was with where she ended when things resolved themselves.

Make no mistake about it, this really is Jessica Rothe’s movie, and she is fantastic as Tree.  She goes through a lot over the course of the days, and I bought every note of her performance.  Israel Broussard is equally good, although Carter isn’t given nearly as much to play.  The rest of the cast is fine, but Jessica really does stand out.

I’m actually quite pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed Happy Death Day.  If the premise or previews intrigued you at all, you need to watch this light slasher flick.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Book Review: I Lost My Tooth! by Mo Willems (Unlimited Squirrels #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun story and interesting related science
Cons: It's not Elephant and Piggie!!!!
The Bottom Line:
Missing baby tooth
Starts fun looking new series
Mixes fiction, fact

Unlimited Fun and Learning with Mo Willems' New Series

Even though I have no kids, I've become a fan of Mo Willems' picture books.  They are very creative with some wonderful laughs, and I've given them as gifts to new parents and my niece and nephew.  So when I saw that Mo was starting a new series with I Lost My Tooth!, I was quite anxious to see what he was up to now.

This new series is Unlimited Squirrels, and it is a departure for Mo's picture books and picture books in general.  But it's a good departure that I think kids will enjoy.  And yes, our main characters this time around are squirrels.  Since the series is just starting, I am unsure how many of the characters we met in this book will be around for the entire series.  After all, if there are unlimited squirrels, we could see an entirely new cast each time, right?

Two thirds of the book feature the main story.  In it, Zoom Squirrel has lost one of his front teeth.  Once his friends understand what has happened, they are willing to help him look for it.  But they begin to panic when they find out it is a baby tooth.  Can they find the baby (tooth) before it gets too frightened?

Obviously, things take a wacky turn in this book, and I was all I could do not to start laughing out loud while reading it in the bookstore.  The story is once again told exclusively with dialogue and pictures, so if you are familiar with most of Mo's other books, you know exactly what to expect here, which includes the easy to read vocabulary.

But there's more.  We get three corny jokes told by a couple of squirrels.  Each joke acts as a buffer between the longer sections.

So what is a tooth?  You'll be able to learn all about that as the squirrels begin the discussion.  Then Quiz Squirrel shows up to give us a quiz on animal teeth.  These sections are fun and interesting.  I can see kids enjoying them as well, and they are learning something as they read.  We don’t often see pictures books with non-fiction and definitely rarely see any that combine the two.

I must admit that something seemed a little off to me about the book, but I think that is just me.  I think it is because I miss Elephant and Piggie and I want more of their adventures.  Kids won't be nearly as picky as I will, and I suspect my hesitation will disappear as the series progresses.

After all, what's not to love about the format?  You get a funny, creative story and then learn some related science.  It's a great idea for kids of all ages.

So, my hesitation aside, I still definitely recommend I Lost My Tooth!  I have a feeling that we will be enjoying unlimited books in the Unlimited Squirrels series for some years to come.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

October 27th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Supergirl – I was pleasantly surprised last week when the show wasn’t a lecture, but this week’s certainly was.  I mean, the President has to be a citizen of the US from birth.  It is in Article 2.  And that’s just for starters.  I’m afraid I’m going to find this show more frustrating than entertaining.  If I weren’t watching with friends, I’m not sure if I’d be sticking with it.  Plus, I’m worried that the new President, President Baker, is going to turn out to be a bad guy, which is going to be doubly hard since I love the actor and, well, his last name is Baker.  On the other hand, I did love Kara trying to get away from Lena so she could turn into Supergirl.  That was a very fun sequence.

God Friended Me – I felt like both “twists” in this episode were fairly obvious.  Or at least should have been obvious.  Yet we still had a feel good ending, which is what I think is drawing people to this show.  I have quite a few friends who seem to be enjoying it as well.

Dancing with the Stars – I love Disney night!  (Really, is that a surprise?  I didn’t think so.)  It’s so much fun with the great costumes and songs.  And the stars seem to rise to the night with some of them having their best performances of the season so far.  Plus, all the couples were saved by magic.  I bet two go home next week, but for this week it was magic.

Arrow – Okay, I’m a little less frustrated by the Oliver in prison storyline now, although they still can’t drag it out too long.  I can understand Felicity’s impatience, although I thought they did a great job of keeping the relationship with Diggle intact.  And I enjoyed seeing Laurel apologize, although it does seem like she has changed quite a bit since the end of last season.  How close is she to the old Laurel now?

Legends of Tomorrow – There was certainly some fun in the episode, but it was more gruesome than I really wanted it to be, too.  Still, the fun outweighed the dark.  I hope they keep the mostly light tone as we fight these others monsters this season.

The Flash – Long live Vibe!  And can I say I hate the new Wells.  But I’ve felt that way about him before, and grew to like him, so hopefully that will happen again.  And no, I’m not going to feel sorry for the villain because of a sick daughter.  Okay, at least not right now.  I’m curious what that exchange between Nora and Wells was all about at the end.  It obviously meant something much more to both of them.

This is Us – Sorry, Randall, but I’m with the residents of that neighborhood.  You may own the building, but you really shouldn’t be trying to run for office in an area where you don’t live.  Sorry, but that is a pet peeve of mine.  Poor, Beth, crying during a job interview.  I get what she is feeling, however.  Not super impressed with Zoe in this episode, although she has a very cool last night.  Randall is in serious trouble, but we knew that already.  So many intriguing stories going on here.  Much better than last week.

The Rookie – This episode wasn’t quite so bad.  Although I wasn’t missing the injured TO.  He is horrible!  Not sure if I am going to stick around for the entire season, but I will give it a look again next week most likely.

Survivor – Natalie’s gone!  I can’t tell you how happy that makes me, although I’m sure you can guess from my comments last week.  And we’ve got an even game again, which will make things very interesting come the merge.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if the merge happened next week?  Doesn’t look like it is, however.

The Big Bang Theory – That was the best episode of the season so far.  Gives me hope for the rest.  Yes, they were mean to each other, but they came to an understanding at the end.  And their spoofing of each other was spot on.  The costumes were outstanding.  And that last scene?  Brilliant!

The Good Place – Jason is my least favorite character, so having three of him this week wasn’t the best.  Still, got a few laughs out of his story.  However, Chidi and the simulator was hysterical, especially when Elinore hacked in.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Movie Review: I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer

Stars: 2 out of 5
: Attempts to tie into first two films
Cons: Nothing else really works
The Bottom Line:
More teens with secret
In predictable, boring
Final in series

A Yawn Inducing Slasher

I’ve always been curious to watch I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer.  Yes, the fact that it was released straight to DVD told me to keep my expectations low.  Plus, it involves a completely new group of teens with a 4th of July secret.  Even with low expectations, I was disappointed.

The action this time takes us to Colorado and a small town in the middle of a July 4th celebration.  We meet a group of friends, who are enjoying their evening at the fair when they start talking about the legend of the Fisherman who stalks his victims with a hook.  Next thing they know, a prank they are trying to pull goes horribly wrong, and one of their friends is dead.  Even though it was an accident, they decide to keep the truth about the prank a secret.

When next we see them, it’s a year later and the secret has torn the group apart.  However, they are going to have to come together when Amber (Brooke Nevin) receives a whole slew of texts from a hidden number.  The texts just have one line.  “I know what you did last summer.”  Who knows their secret?  Are they in danger?

Even though this doesn’t directly tie to the events of the previous movies, I was impressed with the way they acknowledged those events and characters.  It was more than I was expecting, and it’s nice to see them at least try to tie things together.  The title even makes a little sense if you think about what they do here.

Sadly, the fact that they have to start from scratch with a new group of teens doesn’t help the movie.  We know where things are going, and we have to wait for the characters to get there.  Yes, that was the case in the original as well, but that movie had more tension all the way through before the real blood bath began.  Here, it feels more like we are just hitting the familiar notes until the deaths can start.

And once they do, we are almost at the end.  Even then, we don’t have time for any suspense or good stalking scenes or creative deaths.  The editing makes it even worse as it is hard to follow the action.  I guess it saves on special effects that way.  Speaking of which, what we get are good.

The acting is passable as well.  The actors do what they can with the shallow characters they’ve been given, but there isn’t much they can do with the material.

Now, maybe my issues would have been helped if I had tracked down a DVD copy instead of finally catching it on TV, but I don’t think so.  Surely not that much could have been cut out, right?

While the original was never a masterpiece, it is certainly better than I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer.  There’s really no reason to watch this film.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Book Review: Dogged by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun Mysteries #7)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful characters; strong mystery
Cons: I have issues with the climax
The Bottom Line:
Return to Phoenix
So great to see characters
Most enjoyable

Joe and Tommy must Doggedly Track Down Another Killer

I knew that Sandy Dengler had released several books she's written over the years that had never been published to Kindle, but I was surprised when I saw she's released a brand new book in the Valley of the Sun series this year.  As soon as I saw Dogged, it motived me to get the earlier books in the series reread so I could read this new chapter in the lives of Joe Rodriguez and Tommy Flaherty, the Phoenix police detectives this series follows.

It starts with the discovery of a naked body in Camelback Mountain.  The victim, a female, had been discovered not too far from a hiking path by some early morning hikers.  The weirdest part is that all of the bones in her legs and arms had been broken before she died.  Joe and Tommy are assigned to the case, but while they are still tracking down the victim's identity, another body is found.  This one has the same broken bones, but it is several months older.  What kind of serial killer do they have on their hands?

Joe is trying to focus on the case, but his thoughts keep straying to Bridgid, Tommy's cousin Joe met on a recent trip to Ireland.  He's definitely attracted to her for many reasons, but the fact that she is 15 years younger than him bothers him.  Will he be able to focus on the case?

I was surprised when I started this book and realized it was going to be a serial killer mystery since the earlier books in the series were more traditional mysteries with only a couple of victims.  But this book doesn't delve too much into the standard serial killer tropes where the heroes attempt to figure out the mind of the serial killer, etc.  Instead, we get some good police work as they track down leads and interview potential suspects.  I will say I found the ending a bit disappointing as it hit not one but two of my soap boxes, but it does wrap things up successfully.

I definitely feel this book still falls into the traditional side of the mystery spectrum.  The book doesn't get much more graphic than what I've mentioned in my teaser, and these things are mentioned in a matter of fact way without dwelling on them.

The original four books in this series came out in the 1990's, and I must admit I wondered if the series had been updated any before the author epublished them since I reread those four in my original paperback copies.  I hadn't found any real hints in the others about time period, but this one answers the question firmly early on when one of the characters is thinking about the potential computer issues that are upcoming with Y2K.  Yep, we are still firmly in the 1990's, and I actually found some of that fun as characters are discussing how big cell phones are or the fact that not everyone carries them everywhere.  How times have changed.

It truly was wonderful to visit these characters again.  I felt right at home slipping into their world, and I enjoyed seeing how the characters are growing and their lives moving forward.  There's quite a cast here, and we get to see all of them at some point.  While most of the book is told from Joe's third person point of view, we do get a few scenes from other characters that help us get to know them better as well.

While my issues with the climax did annoy, I still found them minor, overall.  Dogged is a wonderful fresh visit with a group of characters I didn't think I'd get to visit again, but I’m very thankful we got this visit.

Be sure to check out all of the Valley of the Sun Mysteries.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Movie Review: Halloween 2018

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Final act, Laurie
Cons: Brutal, dropped storylines, stupid character
The Bottom Line:
Michael, Laurie back
In this big slasher sequel
That is just okay

Michael and Laurie Return, but the Suspense Doesn’t

So, if you follow my blog enough, you'll discover that I have a dark side.  Yes, I have a love/hate relationship with slashers.  No, I haven't reviewed every slasher film I've watched, but I have reviewed a few, mainly from the late 90's.  I haven't seen all the movies in the Halloween franchise, but I have watched the first one several times (and a variety of the sequels), so when I started hearing about the 2018 Halloween movie, I was intrigued.  The previews got me fully on board, and I made a rare trip to a theater to see a horror film.  (Most of the time when I do watch these movies, it's on my couch in the middle of the afternoon.  Yes, I'm a wimp.)  I fail to see quite why the film has received the raves it did.

This movie picks up after the first movie, pretending all the other sequels, reboots, etc., didn't happen.  (Think of all those people who died in vain!)  We first meet two podcast journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) who are working on what happened 40 years ago when Michael Meyer stalked and killed 5 people with Laurie Stode alone surviving.  They first visit the asylum where Michael has been since being recaptured that night and try to get a rise out of him, even showing his mask to him.  When that gets no reaction, they go to visit Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), who now lives alone in a survivalist compound out of town.  She's estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), son-in-law Ray (Toby Huss), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matickak), who is a senior in high school.  It seems that Laurie's obsession with being ready to stop Michael once and for all has made her crazy, at least in most people's eyes if not in fact.

Michael is scheduled to be transferred to another facility right before Halloween.  And we all know where this is going.  There's a bus crash, and Michael is the only one of the inmates that they aren't able to recapture.  Soon, he's heading back to Haddonfield.  Will anyone survive his latest attack?

Now, let's be honest here, this is a slasher film.  Going into them, my expectations are reasonably low.  I mean, the genre isn't known for outstanding filmmaking.  Even so, the film has some rather obvious flaws.

Now, the formula for a slasher movie isn't that shocking.  We meet a group of characters, usually teenagers.  One by one, someone in a mask goes about killing them until there is a final confrontation.  How successful the movie is comes down to how well the characters are defined before they die and how well the tension is built as the film progresses.  We don't need a lot of extras in the way of storytelling.  But that's what we get here.  There are characters and at least one sub-plot that simply disappear as the movie goes along.  Maybe they hit the chopping block when the film was cut down by half an hour, but if so, it was a poor editing choice.

In that first movie (which is the only one we are saying exists now), Michael was in and out of the film early on, but we didn't know why.  And some people had close encounters with him that they walked away from.  That helped build the tension since we didn't know when and where he would strike.  All that is forgotten about here and Michael leaves a trail of brutalized corpses behind him.  I can't emphasize this enough - he is brutal.  There are only a couple of scenes that had any kind of suspense.  Instead, it's attack and brutalize.  All this left me not happily terrified but wishing things were over sooner.

And let's not even get started about the beyond stupid plot twist just before the third act.  Seriously, we get a character who is too stupid to live, and it made me want to scream at him.

So far, it's sounding like I didn't care for the film.  That's not entirely true.  I certainly enjoyed the call backs to the original and how some of them were flipped on their ear here.  That was a lot of fun.

I loved Laurie.  Even though they've changed their relationship from brother and sister to two random people, I still found Laurie and her connection to Michael the heart of this film, and her struggle to get anyone to take her seriously compelling.  I also loved Allyssa.  I must admit that Karen had to grow on me, but I grew to like her by the end.  Likewise, the acting is pretty good across the board, although these three women are definitely the stars of the film.

And that third act?  The best part of the movie.

There are attempts to break the tension with some laughter as the movie goes along.  Personally, I thought it worked, and I enjoyed most of those moments.

Usually, I wait for a slasher film to hit TV or at least Redbox before I indulge.  I was tempted to do that with Halloween 2018, and I wish I had.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Book Review: Six Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #10)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Christmas setting, strong mystery, great characters, cute cats
Cons: No cons hiding under this Christmas tree
The Bottom Line:
Litter of kittens
And a Christmas murder in
Strong seasonal book

Kittens and Murder at Christmas

Fans of the Cat in the Stacks series know these books are prime examples of the cozy mystery.  Even though the murders and plots can touch on some serious topics, the books themselves always have a warmth to them, thanks in large part to Diesel, the Maine Coon cat the series is named after.  Add in the Christmas season, and my expectations for Six Cats a Slayin’ were high for a pleasant book.  I was not disappointed.

Charlie Harris's feline family has grown quite a bit.  Someone has left him five kittens, bringing the total cats in the house to six.  As cute as the kittens are, Charlie doesn't think his household can support all five of them, but he is taking care of them until he can track down the owner.  Once he finds out the story behind the kittens, he will decide if he needs to find new homes for them or can give them back.  Fortunately, Diesel seems to be in love with the kittens, acting like a parent to them.

That's not the only thing that Charlie is struggling with this Christmas.  He's finding it hard to extend the Christmas spirit to his new neighbor, Geraldine "call me Gerry" Albritton.  Gerry has just moved in across the street, but she has rubbed Charlie and Diesel the wrong way from the moment they went over to introduce themselves.  Others in the neighborhood are having their issues with Gerry, but it's at a party Gerry is throwing that tragedy strikes.  Even though Charlie doesn't intend to get involved, he finds himself once again caught up in a murder.  Can he figure out what has happened?

If I'm making it sound like there are two storylines in this book, there's a reason for that.  The mystery of the kittens is more center stage early in the book, while we get some of the background we need on Gerry.  Once the murder takes place, the focus shifts to that being the main mystery, with the kittens becoming a sub-plot.  Honestly, I didn't mind because I suspected the focus would switch at the appropriate time, and I got caught up in the story of these kittens myself.

Fans of the series know to expect some good twists along the way to the ultimate solution, and this book is no exception.  The foundations for the mystery are laid down before the murder takes place, and once it does, we get plenty to keep us guessing until Charlie figures it all out.  The mystery definitely has a somber element to it, which contrasts with the Christmas setting, but it manages to pull it off without pulling the book too dark.  The suspects are real enough to make us fully invested in what we learn along the way.

The kittens help keep things from getting too dark, as well.  They are so cute!  Even though I'm not a pet person (mostly due to allergies), I couldn't help but smile at them and how Diesel was interacting with them.  And yes, he is still as much a character as ever in the series.

With the Christmas setting, we get to see plenty of Charlie's family and extended family.  I love these series regulars, so I was thrilled to spend time with them.  And yes, that includes Charlie's two grandchildren.

The book left me with Christmas carols in my head and tears in my eyes, the good kind, as I turned the last page.  Six Cats a Slayin' is sure to make Diesel and Charlie's many fans happy and will win this duo new fans as well.

Need to catch their other cases?  Here are the rest of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Tuesday October 30st, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 10/30.  You will have until midnight on 11/4 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 11/5.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Ornament Review: Queen of Hearts - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderfully captures a fun scene
Cons: Noticeable tilt
The Bottom Line:
Another villain
Gets limited ornament
Croquet with the Queen

A Croquet Game for Your Tree

Last year, Hallmark released a Disney villain as a limited ornament in October, and Disney fans jumped to get it.  At least I'm assuming they did since they followed up that release last year with Queen of Hearts.  By all accounts this ornament sold well again this year.

The Queen of Hearts is represented with her first appearance in the movie where she tries to get Alice to play croquet with her.  She standing with her feet apart, a flamingo in her hand, and a hedgehog ball in front of her.  She's just about to start her backswing to hit the "ball," and she's got a huge grin on her face.

Fans of this nonsensical story will be thrilled with this ornament.  Honestly, I love the croquet scene, and this ornament captures it perfectly.  The only way it could be better is if it had Alice in it, but the ornament is big enough as it is.

In fact, the ornament is a bit oddly shaped, thanks to the scene that it is depicting.  It has a bit of a triangular shape to it.  But if the result is capturing this entire scene, I have no complaints.  It also provides a large base, so you can easily set it out to be displayed.

This is one of those ornaments that has a slight tilt to it but still looks okay.  Ironically, it tilts back toward the queen, but she is bending over enough that it still looks like the scene is straight when you go to hang it.  Add a few Christmas tree branches, and you’ll never know.

But I do have a rant.  Since when is the Queen of Hearts a villain?  Yes, I know she orders people's heads off at the drop of a hat (or anything else), but I picture a villain as being someone the protagonist fights against the entire way through a story and not just near the end.  I know Disney has decided she is a villain since she is part of other villain things Disney releases.  I also have this issue with the Cheshire Cat, which they've also decided is a villain.  But that's a side issue, and not really related to this ornament.

Again, you can easily consider this an unofficial compliment to the Unforgettable Villains series that Hallmark had almost 20 years ago now.  I'm glad they are continuing it in some capacity and hope we see more ornaments like it.

The Queen of Hearts wasn't the most popular of Hallmark's limited ornaments released this October, but she is still getting hard to find in stores.  If you are interested, I suggest you snag one as soon as you can.

Original Price: $15.99

Sunday, October 21, 2018

TV Show Review: Friends - Season 8

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Still plenty of laughs
Cons: More cringe worthy stories; Joey's crush on Rachel starts here
The Bottom Line:
Pregnancy, new crush
Series begins its decline
But still mostly fun

The One Where Rachel's Pregnant

My memory of Friends is that it slipped in the last few years it was on the air.  I've actually been surprised as I've been rewatching it to discover that seasons 6 and 7 were better than I remembered them being.  Then I hit season 8.  As much fun as some of the episodes are, there is no way to get over some of the problems with this season.

Things start off moments after the season 7 cliffhanger, which means that we are still at Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler's (Matthew Perry) wedding.  And it means that everyone still thinks that Monica is pregnant.  However, it isn't Monica, it's really Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) who is pregnant.  And the father?  No surprise there, it's Ross (David Schwimmer).  Rachel is going to keep the baby, and Ross is going to be involved, but the two of them are not going to get married.  In fact, Rachel continues to live with Joey (Matt LeBlanc) until late in her pregnancy.  And Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow)?  With everyone else going on this season, she doesn't get any juicy storylines.  She does have a couple of boyfriends who last a couple of episodes.  One who was engaged to her twin sister Ursula when they met, and the other who gets really enthusiastic about everything.

So where does this season go wrong?  The first way is the characters doing embarrassing things for laughs.  The writers just seem to be determined to make the characters do the worst possible thing.  From Chandler and Ross trying to recreate wedding pictures when the table cameras were lost to Monica trying to get people to cry during a toast at her parent's anniversary, we see more of this than normal this season.  Unfortunately, I find this embarrassment humor more cringe worthy than I do funny.  Of course, sometimes they manage to pull it off beautifully like when Ross gets trapped between Rachel's father and his new girlfriend about his relationship with Rachel.  That scene is a classic.

The other place they went off the rails is much more serious.  This is the season where Joey first develops a crush on Rachel.  As if the Ross/Rachel story wasn't soap opera enough (she's pregnant with their baby this season, remember), Joey suddenly finds himself in love with her.  Really?  If it had lasted a few episodes, I would have been okay with it, but they played it out over the rest of the series.  From listening to the audio commentaries, I gather the writers thought it was a brilliant idea, but at this point, the fans were beyond ready for Ross and Rachel to get together to stay, and this felt forced.

Now, this isn't to say that there aren't some wonderful episodes in this season.  In fact, it holds one of my favorites as everyone is trying to figure out who the father of Rachel's baby is and Joey comes up with a clue - a sweater.  The way the episode plays out is hilarious, and the final moments are classic Friends.  Unfortunately, it has the missing wedding camera sub-plot I mentioned earlier that does take away from my overall enjoyment.  Likewise, the way the episode comes together where we find out just what happened that night between Ross and Rachel is wonderful.  Another highlight is the Thanksgiving episode, which features Jennifer Aniston's then husband Brad Pitt as former high school friend (or enemy, depending on who we are talking about) Will.

My problems with this season are definitely with the writing.  The actors still are doing wonderful work with their characters.  It's some of the little moments they do that are the funniest.  And, as much as I hate Joey having a crush on Rachel, the actors all play those moments perfectly; I can't help but admire their work with the stupid storyline.

Season 8 consisted of 24 episodes in full frame and stereo sound, which is appropriate for a sitcom filmed in front of a live audience at the turn of the century.  (These episodes originally aired in 2001 and 2002.)  As is always the case, we get three audio commentaries from the creators and executive producers, although they don't seem to have the enthusiasm they used to have.  In fact, it sounds like they aren't even in the studio together, but they are still fun to listen to.  We also get a featurette on the famous faces who have guest starred on the show over the years, a gag reel, and Gunther's preview of next season.

Even though the show has definitely past its peak, fans will still enjoy hanging out with their Friends.  I know I still find plenty to enjoy in season 8.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

October 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

My final new show of the year premiered this week.  Less than impressed with it, but we'll get to that in a moment.  It looks like I will only pick up one new show this year, and I've dropped a returning show.  If Monday and Tuesday weren't so full, maybe I'd have time to do some serious TV rewatching like I keep talking about doing.

Supergirl - I knew J’onn would prove to be correct that it was a hate crime, but it sure wasn't looking at it.  And in some ways, that first attack wasn't.  I think they would have gone after any human who had access to that lab.  The fact that it was an alien was just a bonus for them.  So, now the world knows that the President is an alien.  I was wondering if they were going to bring that back up at all.  I guess that is how the VP is going to come into play in future episodes.

God Friended Me – I’m not surprised we have a lesbian character on the show now.  Disappointed about that, but not surprised.  I didn’t see the final twist in the main storyline coming, however, but I should have.  After all, we had two characters to help, surely there was a connection between them.

Dancing with the Stars - Are we in for a season where the person in jeopardy the week before is destined to leave the following week?  I hope not, especially since Joe needs to go.  He appears to be a nice guy, and he's having fun, but this is about dance and not either of those two things.

Arrow – Oliver needs to get out of prison.  Seriously, I’m over that storyline already, and I was when he got sent to prison last season.  Then again, I’m not a fan of characters I like in prison on any show.  I hope they don’t drag it out too long.  I’m ready to find out how everyone is going to go back to being heroes.  So, how far of a leap is the future William.  He’s grown up enough they got a different actor to play him.  I’m guessing Roy in the Green Arrow in the present day, but what does William finding him on the island have to do with him being in Star City now.  And what happens between Roy and Thea?  So many questions!

The Flash – This is a very interesting Big Bad we’ve got this season.  I haven’t quite figured out what his power is or what his deal is.  I’m getting a little tired of Nora already, although her presence gave us that great Joe/Barry scene.  Honestly, I loved the villainess of the week.  Wouldn’t have minded seeing more of her.

This is Us – So how long was Jack’s brother in that one location that Jack could enlist, get sent over there, and eventually get to a place where he could reunite with his brother?  And all that talking while they were walking through the field?  So many clich├ęs in just the first few minutes.  I’m not a fan of the episodes where they spend all their time in the past as it is, but this one definitely was weak.

The Rookie – The only reason I gave this show a chance was because it stars Nathan Fillion, aka Castle.  (Not a big fan of Firefly, but I loved Castle.)  Unfortunately, it looks like it will be exactly the show I was expecting it to be.  We’re going to have a soap opera about a bunch of rookie cops.  I rolled my eyes so many times over the course of the pilot alone.  We’ve got the forbidden romance, the legacy that freezes, and training officers competing for promotion.  I’ll watch next week, but it will have to be something pretty spectacular to get me to watch more than that.

Survivor – Seriously, I need Natalie off my TV now.  Don’t make me come there and vote her off myself.  When I saw how the tribes broke down, I was concerned the Davids wouldn’t be able to pull it off.  They still might not make it, but after that vote, there is a chance.  And they just have to make it to the merge at this point, which is probably only another tribal or two away.

Big Bang Theory – Amusing, but I feel like we’ve seen these things before.  It is nice to see President Siebert again since he hasn’t been able to be on it for several years.  I definitely think the writers are out of things to do with the characters, so I think it is a good thing the series is ending when it is.

The Good Place – That was such a funny episode.  The little moments and the little lines were pretty good.  Everyone got their moment to shine, too.  But the explanation of time in the afterlife was probably my favorite scene.  So funny!  Yet it was Elinore who came up with the plan in the end.  No matter how much the show wants to paint her as a selfish person, she still winds up coming through and proving to be good deep down.