Monday, January 31, 2022

January 2022's Reading Summary

 And today, we close the cover on the first month of 2022.  Hard to believe it is over already, isn't it?  But it's that time of the month, so here's my reading summary for January.  As always, the links take you to my full review.

I finally got the Index updated again this month!!

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


Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers by Heather Weidner (Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries #1) – 3

Jules Keene is running the trailer park she inherited from her parents, and she’s really making it shine with the vintage trailers she’s renovated and now rents out.  She’s even gotten some long-term renters, including Ira Perkins.  Ira is writing a book, and is very cranky, so Jules isn’t too happy with his presence in the park.  Then two hikers find Ira’s dead body in the woods bordering the campground.  Can Jules figure out what happened before it negatively impacts what she’s build?

I grew up camping, so the setting for this series definitely appealed to me.  And that paid off.  I would love to visit a place like Jules runs for a relaxing vacation.  Unfortunately, the plot was weak.  Part of that was my perception based on how much time was passing.  However, I do feel like events were substituting for twists in the second half.  Still, it did keep my interest the entire way through, and that was partially because of the characters.  I loved Jules and the rest of the staff she’s got helping her run this campground.  There was enough I enjoyed that I am glad I picked up this book, but I do wish the plot had been stronger.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien (Noodle Shop Mysteries #3) – 4

It’s time for the annual Cleveland’s Best Noodle contest, and, as the new manager for her family’s restaurant, Lana Lee is really feeling the pressure even if she’s not the one doing the actual cooking.  The first day of the contest appears to be going well until the head judge reports a suspicious fortune in his cookie.  When he dies a few hours later, Lana can’t help but poke around.  Will she find out what happened?

The book does a good job of quickly setting up the suspects and getting the story moving.  I did feel like the pacing lagged a bit as the suspects just gave Lana the run around, but she was frustrated by that as well, so I was in good company.  I do wish the minor characters were given a bit more context when they popped up again, but that was a minor issue.  I appreciated the character development we got here, although I did feel like some of it was cliched.  Still, I do love Lana and enjoy seeing how her life is progressing.  Overall, I did enjoy this book and look forward to visiting Lana again in the future.


The Reversal by Michael Connelly (Mickey Haller #3; Harry Bosch #16) – 5

Michael Haller is surprised when he is asked by the LA District Attorney to retry an old case. A man convicted of kidnapping and murdering a 12-year-old 24 years ago needs to be retried because of new DNA evidence. He gets Harry Bosch as his investigator, and the two try to track down old witnesses and make their case stronger than before. Will it be enough?

This book is engaging from the first chapter with some surprise twists along the way. Seeing these two characters interact even more is very entertaining. I never wanted to stop reading and couldn't wait to get back to the story.  I first listened to the audio several years ago while reading only the Mickey Haller books, but now that I’m reading the Bosch books, I relistened to this one again.  I picked up on things I hadn’t noticed the first time about Bosch, and I got caught up in the action and twists all over again.


Knot What You Think by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #5) – 4

Martha Rose is looking forward to a typical Tuesday quilting session with her friends until Jazz, the latest member of the group, shows up.  As Jazz describes his morning, everyone begins to worry about the friend he was trying to see earlier in the morning.  When they go to investigate, they find the body of Dolleen Doyle on her kitchen floor.  Dolleen is the second wife of a man currently in jail for running a Ponzi scheme.  With the police looking at Jazz as their prime suspect, Martha begins to investigate.  Can she find the real killer?

Those familiar with the series will know what to expect here, and they won’t be disappointed.  The plot is complex with several twists before Martha pieces the clues together.  I do wish we hadn’t had the scenes with the psychic, but that’s a minor complaint.  I enjoy the characters since they are different for a cozy series, and I appreciate how their lives are evolving as the series progresses.  The suspects are just as sharp and interesting.  While the Los Angeles setting is unusual for a cozy, as a native, I enjoy it, and the book still feels cozy.  There’s a nice dose of humor as well, and I can’t wait to see how what happens next to Martha after the way this book ended.  If you are looking for a fun cozy series, this is definitely one to check out.


The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker (Revolutionary War Mysteries #1) – 5

It’s been six months since Rebecca Parcell lost her husband on a British prison ship, and the rumors in town that she is the one who turned him in to the British are only growing stronger.  So when she gets an offer from General Washington, she is quick to listen.  It seems that her husband was spying for whoever would pay him the most money, and Washington wants to know about his network, including the British spies he was going to identify.  In order to help Washington, Rebecca travels to New York City with Daniel Alloway, a man she barely knows but who was on the ship with her late husband.  Will they be able to find the network of spies in time to stop a plot?

This is definitely a shade darker than the cozies I typically read, but it is only just a shade darker.  I was delighted to find a mystery set during the Revolutionary War, and the book does a great job of bringing that time period to life.  The plot starts out well and only gets stronger as it goes.  By the end, I was racing to find out what would happen next.  I did find the romance between Rebecca and Daniel to be the weak point of the book, but that was minor.  The characters, real and fictional, are strong, and using both Rebecca and Daniel to tell the story is a real asset.  I’m glad I found this series, and I can’t wait to find out where the characters go next.


Cement Stilettos by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #7) – 4

It’s been a week since Samantha Kidd said yes to marring Nick Taylor, and the two are enjoying their newly engaged status.  They crash back down to earth, however, after Samantha finds a dead body in Nick’s showroom.  The victim is Nick’s assistant.  Samantha wants to help Nick, so she begins to investigate, but as she does so, she begins to learn some surprising things about her finace.  Even if Samantha can solve the case, will their relationship survive?

Nick doesn’t typically get a lot of page time in the series, so I was happy to see that change here.  I feel like we got to know him better, and I enjoyed watching both Samantha and their relationship grow as the book progressed.  The mystery was strong with several great twists.  I did feel like a few of the details didn’t quite work, but the ending was still completely logical.  Even though Samantha is maturing, there is still plenty of humor as the case unfolds.  Series fans will find much to enjoy here, and those new to the series will be glad they gave Samantha a chance.


On Thin Icing by Ellie Alexander (Bakeshop Mysteries #3) – 3

Jules Capshaw is thrilled to be catering the board retreat for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the Lake of the Woods center in the mountains above Ashland, Oregon.  However, the weekend doesn’t go nearly as smoothly as Jules hopes.  First, her estranged husband shows up, proving to be both a help and a distraction.  Then the center’s bar tender is killed and stuffed in a freezer.  Now, as a winter storm rages, Jules can’t help but wonder if she is catering to a killer.

Obviously, this is a classic mystery set up, but it failed to fully deliver for me.  The mystery was too thin, and the book covers with too many cooking scenes.  Still, Jules does piece things together, and the ending is logical.  I also appreciated the time spent on Jules’s relationship with her husband since that’s been in the background in the first two books in the series.  Obviously, we don’t get all the series regulars, but everyone at least gets a cameo, which makes me happy since I do like them.  We get seven recipes at the end, and they range from dinner options to plenty of pastries and desserts.  I hope the plot in the next in the series is stronger.


The Self-Working Trick (and Other Stories) by John Gaspard (Eli Marks #8) – 5

For the eighth book in the Eli Marks series, author John Gaspard decided to present a short story collection.  While two have been previously released, the rest of the twelve stories here are new.  Over the course of this collection, Eli must help his ex-wife and her new husband figure out what happened in a bizarre murder/suicide case.  Eli finds himself being questioned by the police when someone who gave him a one-star review is found dead.  Eli finds himself being sent in by the police to perform magic for a man who refuses to come out of his house.  And Eli and his uncle Harry figure out what happened to a man shot in front of a crowd on Halloween night.

While a couple of the stories don’t feature a crime, they still give us a great chance to see Eli in action and let us get some insight into his character.  The rest of the stories feature a crime, often with a perfect puzzle that only makes sense when Eli uses his knowledge of the principles of magic to solve it.  If you want to be fooled by magic, you’ll be happy to know that these principles are discussed in such a way that the solution to the mystery makes sense, but the specifics of how a trick works aren’t ruined.  I love that.  Fans will love getting these small glimpses of what else Eli has been up to between the big cases we’ve already read about.  If you are new to the character, you’ll find the information you need to follow these cases with nothing from the regular novels spoiled.  Most importantly, these stories are fun, with a few laughs along the way as well.  This is a completely enjoyable short story collection.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


A Quiet Undertaking by Penny Warner (Connor Westphal #4) – 4

Deaf reporter Connor Westphal is hot on the trail of another scandal in her small Gold Country town for her weekly newspaper.  A storage locker full of human ashes has been found near the town of Flat Skunk, California.  The ashes were supposed to be scattered at sea by Jasper Coyne, but before anyone can question Jasper, he is found dead near his houseboat.  With the scandal impacting Connor’s friend, Del Rey, Connor has an extra motive to investigate.  But with Del Rey hiding secrets of her own, will Connor ever figure out what really happened?

This was an inventive mystery that kept me guessing until the end.  There were plenty of surprises on the way to the logical climax.  Unfortunately, Connor did make some pretty stupid moves as she was investigating, which is a bummer since I like her overall.  She leads a strong cast of fun characters.  I love how her deafness is worked into the book and how it makes certain scenes even more suspenseful.  There are more four letter words than usual in a cozy mystery, so know that going in.  The book was first released over 20 years ago, so some of the technology is dated, but keep that in mind as you read it, and you’ll be fine.  Overall, this was another fun, confusing mystery.  I’m glad I’m finally reading this series.


Crimes and Covers by Amanda Flower (Magical Bookshop Mysteries #5) – 3

Bookshop owner Violet Waverly is thrilled to be marrying police chief David Rainwater in just a few days.  She’s distracted, however, when a woman comes into Charming Books wanting to sell an autographed mint condition first edition of Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  Violet doesn’t feel comfortable with the transaction, so the woman leaves in a huff.  A few days later, the woman’s body is found floating in the river.  Violet can’t help but wonder what happened to the book.  Is that the reason the mystery woman is dead?

I don’t tend to read supernatural tinged cozies, but I’ve made an exception for this.  Honestly, what reader can resist a magical bookstore?  Between that and Violet’s pets, there is plenty to charm fans once again here.  Likewise, the characters are strong, and it is great to spend time with them again.  Christmas gets a light touch in this book, but I enjoyed getting to indulge my love of Christmas just a bit longer.  It’s the plot where this book really struggles.  I was willing to forgive the slow start given everything else happening early in the book.  Once it got going, I definitely got caught up in it even though I figured out the big brushstrokes early on.  However, the climax left me with a couple of rather big questions that really should have been resolved.  Fans of the series will enjoy it, but I do wish this visit had been stronger.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Disney Pin Review: Ken Anderson Bait Co. - Windows of Main Street - 2021 Release

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun pin filled with Disney history
Cons: I’m not dopey enough to list cons
The Bottom Line:
Window to the past
Honors a Disney legend
Dopey Cameo

I Was Baited by This Series

Every time I visit Disneyland, I swear I’m going to pay more attention to the windows on Main Street.  And every time, I walk right by them, looking at the shops as I walk through as quickly as possible to get to the rides.  Even so, as soon as I heard about the 2021 Windows of Main Street series, I knew I had to get these pins.

As many people know, the names on the windows of Main Street in the Disney parks are actually there to honor various Disney legends.  I love that they do this in the parks, and I wanted to have a bit of that in my pin collection.

These pins were originally alternated their release between Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  Thanks to the internet, I’ve been able to get them all. 

I’m starting off with one of the later pins in the series (mainly because that was the one I grabbed when I went to pick a pin to review).  The pin is for the Ken Anderson Bait Co.  The pins in this series are a bit thick because they have two layers to them (more on that in a moment).  This one features bricks around the outside with an arched window in the middle.  The window has a brown and tan striped shade over it.  We can see the name on the window in the bottom half.  I looked up pictures of this window online, and it looks very much like this, right down to the design of the logo on the window itself.

Who is Ken Anderson?  He started at Disney in 1934 as an animator.  He worked on many of the films over the years before starting to work on Disneyland.  He involved in both the original and the updated look to Fantasyland.  He was an avid fly fisherman as well, so the fact that he got a bait company on his window is a bit of a joke.

I mentioned the dual layers to the pins earlier.  That’s because the windows in each pin move to reveal a classic Disney character behind the glass.  In this case, the window slides up, and we can see Dopey behind it.  Why Dopey?  Ken had the ability to wiggy his ears, a trait he passed on to Dopey when he was animating that character.

And these are the types of details I love.  So many hidden jokes for us to learn about.  Yes, I bought the pin not knowing that, but doing the research to learn has made me like this pin even more.

I’m sure this series will appeal mostly to DisNerds like me, but if that is you, I highly recommend you start tracking down the Windows of Main Street pin series.  There is much more to learn about Disney Legends in this fun way.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

January 29th's Weekly TV Thoughts

 Around the World in 80 Days – Just got to get those little digs in.  Having said that, I did like the character development we got in this episode.  I’m very interested to see how they are going to wrap all this up.  And yes, we’ve got several more episodes to go before we find out.

Legends of the Hidden Temple – That was a painful legend.  Seriously, I was fast forwarding through some of the retelling because I was cringing at the pain so much.  I’m surprised the green team made it across the mode since he has to eat twice as much stuff.  My hat is off to him.  Of all the times for them to do it, too.  The only time teams had to eat.  The final team was so close to the item.  Just didn’t quite get there.

Superman and Lois – They are bringing the intense already.  I love it.  Those scenes with Clark losing it were wonderful.  That scene between Lois and her father was long overdue (I can tell, not necessarily in the series since this is only the second season).  I’m trying to reconcile this Lucy with the Lucy we met briefly on Supergirl, but maybe I just don’t remember some backstory we were told.  I believe it is the same actress coming back.  And I love how much Lana’s husband is being supportive right now, especially after all they went through last season.

Naomi – Good for her parents punishing her (or at least trying to) when she starts getting so out of hand.  And I’m glad they aren’t keeping any secrets from her any longer either.  The fallout is going to be bad, but I expect they will work through it.  Eventually.  It won’t be easy – this is a TV show after all.  Things are definitely getting interesting.

Wipeout – I was laughing pretty hard at the comedy during the qualifiers.  Pretty classic stuff.  I was rooting for the parents, so I was disappointed they lost by such a little bit.  Okay, I was hoping the Disney loving couple could pull it off, but I wasn’t expecting them to.  I was just disappointed that they walked away.

The Book of Boba Fett – While it was nice to catch up with Mando and find out what’s been going on with him, did he seriously need his own episode?  And so much of it was boring.  I mean, how much time did we need building his new ship?  That’s the kind of thing you do in a montage, not for that long in an episode.  I see others enjoyed this episode, and I enjoyed it to a certain extent, but it was a weak point in the show so far for me.

Legends of Tomorrow – I really could have done without the lectures, especially the scenes between Gwen and Ava.  But the rest?  So much fun!  With time ticking down, I could see the cliffhanger coming.  Now I’m wondering if next week’s episode will take place in real time.  I can’t wait to find out!

Batwoman – Alice had a classic line (the one about the lemon zester).  Very much felt like some lectures alone the way.  I’m kind of surprised they wrap up so many storylines in the episode, although I’m not sure where else they could have gone with them.  But I’m excited to see where they go from that cliffhanger.  And Mary is going to have quite a bit she is going through as a result of her time as Poison Ivy.

The Amazing Race – They let them stew about doing this jump for two and a half hours?  Seriously?  That was just cruel!  As someone who hates heights, I can’t imagine what they went through.  At least I can understand why Sheri wound up doing it, safety reasons.  I was wondering about that from the preview last week.  At least there were no major meltdowns at top.  Not sure I would have done as well as they did.  You knew the flight attendant were lost as soon as they started talking about navigational skills.  Not surprised that this was a non-elimination leg.  The new rules about how and when the teams leave is definitely going to help those at the end of the pack catch up to the front.  I do appreciate that since it makes it more of a race that way.

United States of Al – Al is usually the smart one.  I was actually a little surprised at how stupid he was when it came to his part of this episode.  Or romance in general, actually.  On the other hand, I really enjoyed Riley and Hazel’s storyline.  That had the best laughs of the night for me.

Friday, January 28, 2022

January 28th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

 We have made it to Friday again, and I'm back with another Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  I know, two weeks in a row.

Also, two weeks in a row, I'm using a short story collection for my post.  This time, the book is a multi-author short story collection, Murder in the Mountains.

This is the second in the Destination Murders series of short story collections.  Each book in the series will feature short stories that take place at different types of vacation destinations.  Many of the authors from the first book are back, but some new ones rotated in for the authors who couldn't come back.

For Book Beginnings, I'm taking the beginning of the first story.  That story is "Double Bluff" by Gretchen Archer.  I'm just going to let this quote speak for itself.

On any given night when I call it a day, I go to bed with thousands of overnight guests.  Total strangers under my roof.

I'm reading an eARC, and 56% into the book takes us to the story "The Lyin' Witch in the Wardrobe" by Eleanor Cawood Jones.  It involves a group of friends who go to a resort in the mountains themed around The Wizard of Oz.  Oh, and did I mention that there's another group where our main characters are staying, and they show up dressed as the Wicked Witches from the Oz story?  So, with that context in mind, I had to pull this quote.

"How did this turn into a witch hunt?" I wondered aloud.

Yes, there are lots of great witch jokes in the story.

The book officially releases next Tuesday on the 1st, and I'll have a full review up then.  Until then, have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Book Review: Crimes and Covers by Amanda Flower (Magical Bookshop Mysteries #5)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters and setting charm as always
Cons: The plot is weak
The Bottom Line:
Pre-Christmas wedding
Murder over a rare book?
Plot could be stronger

Christmas Wedding Complicated by Crime

I’m always reluctant to say goodbye to Christmas each year.  I was proud of myself this year when I got my decorations taken down by the middle of January.  So I was happy to get just a little bit of Christmas cheer with Crimes and Covers, the fifth Magical Bookshop Mystery from Amanda Flower.

This is one of the few cozies I read with an element of the supernatural to it.  The main character of this series is Violet Waverly, the latest in her family to become the caretaken for a magical tree that is in the heart of Charming Books, the family’s bookstore.  The magical essence from the tree has infused the bookstore, helping customers find the perfect book each time they enter the store and helping Violet with the murders she seems to find herself involved in.

As this book opens, we are days away from Violet’s pre-Christmas wedding to Cascade Springs’s police chief, David Rainwater.  Since her Grandma Daisy and her best friend are doing the planning, Violet doesn’t have much to do except worry that they might have done more than she and David will be comfortable with, although she thinks she’s talked them out of the most over the top things.

Then a woman comes into Charming Books with a rare book that she wants Violet to buy – a mint condition signed first edition of Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  Since Violet did her doctorate on Thoreau, she is naturally tempted, but the woman’s pushy manner sends up red flags, so Violet reluctantly declines.  When the woman is found dead in the nearby river a few days later, Violet can’t help but wonder what happened to the book.  Was this mysterious woman killed for it?

As I said earlier, I typically avoid the paranormal themed cozies, but how can a book lover resist this premise?  A bookstore where the perfect books pick you?  And where the bookstore gives the main character clues view classic literature?  What’s not to love?  Plus, Violet has a couple of charming pets who are constantly getting into the action.

Not to mention, but this point, I love the characters.  They are such fun to be around.  Grandma Daisy, especially, is a hoot.  Violet is a smart protagonist.  It’s always a pleasure to visit them.

Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t work for me.  It started a little slowly, which I understand given everything else that was going on in the beginning of the book.  Once it really gets going, I got caught up in the story even though I figured out the big picture early on.  Still, there were some twists to the solution that I didn’t see coming.  Sadly, the solution left me with a couple of questions – big questions that really should have been explained.

As I mentioned earlier, the book does take place during the days leading up to Christmas.  While Christmas wasn’t a huge presence in the book, I did appreciate the nods to the season.

As much as I enjoyed visiting the characters once again, the problems with the plot are enough to keep Crimes and Covers only average.

Here are the rest of the Magical Bookshop Mysteries.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Book Review: A Quiet Undertaking by Penny Warner (Connor Westphal #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong, unique mystery with a unique main character
Cons: Some stupid behavior from the main character
The Bottom Line:
Ashes in locker
Complications for a friend
Some flaws, but still good

Scandal in Flat Skunk

When I was looking at a January with plenty of open spots on my reading schedule, I started looking at the series I’m behind on I haven’t read for a while.  One that immediately jumped back onto my radar was the Connor Westphal series from Penny Warner, so I put A Quiet Undertaking on my nightstand.

If you aren’t familiar with this older series, Connor is a reporter for a weekly paper in the California Gold Country town of Flat Skunk.  You’d think that this would be a quiet place to run a paper, even a weekly paper, but Connor keeps finding herself getting to exercise her investigative reporter skills when murder pops up.

But I haven’t mentioned the thing that sets Connor apart from the other sleuths I read about – she’s deaf.  Fortunately for the story, she is good at lip reading, so she is able to conduct her own investigations.

Even Connor is shocked when she learns about a disturbing discovery at a nearby self-storage facility.  The owner has discovered that one particular storage space contains human ashes that were supposed to be scattered at sea.  Jasper Coyne had been hired to carry out this duty, but before he can answer any questions on what he was doing with the ashes and why, he is found dead near his houseboat.

Many of the ashes found were sent from the mortuary owned by Connor’s friend, Del Rey, so Connor uses getting the story for her paper as an excuse to help her friend get clear of the scandal.  However, Del Rey has a few secrets of her own that make her look guilty.  Can Connor find out what is really going on?

This was a premise that grabbed me from the first chapter and made me want to keep reading to find out what was going to happen next.  There are lots of surprises and complications in this inventive plot along the way to the logical and suspenseful solution.

However, I do have to say, I was bothered by Connor’s behavior at times in this book, especially near the climax.  I’m usually pretty forgiving of to stupid to live moments since how else are amateur detectives going to solve the case?  Connor crossed that line in this book.  Ultimately, it did help solve the case, but I couldn’t believe she’d do some of what she did here.  That is balanced by plenty of times she did the right thing, which I appreciated.  On the whole, this was a minor issue for me, but you might feel differently.

It’s a shame I felt that way because I do love Connor overall.  She has not let her disability slow her down, and she is such a positive example of living life to the fullest.  Her silent world is brought to life for us with wonderful writing, and it makes several suspenseful scenes even more suspenseful since Connor can’t hear what is going on around her.

The book is filled with colorful characters.  I enjoyed getting to know the regulars better, and the suspects were memorable and fun.

While I do still consider this book a cozy, I do need to point out the foul language is more plentiful than usual, even by the standards of some of today’s cozies, which are pushing the envelope.  Know this going in, and you’ll be fine.

I read the original paperback published in 2000 (yes, this book has been sitting on my to be read pile for quite a while), and there is a line early in the book that actually contained a spoiler for an even that we didn’t learn until later.  It threw me since I couldn’t figure out how Connor came to that conclusion.  Hopefully, that has been corrected for the ebook version.

Speaking of the date, yes, this book does take place over 20 years ago.  While some characters have cell phones, Connor isn’t one of them yet since they were just phones back then.  Talk about almost ancient history.

While I obviously have some nitpicks with this book, overall, I enjoyed A Quiet Undertaking.  I’m glad I’m finally catching up on Connor’s adventures.

Enjoy the rest of the Connor Westphal mysteries.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Book Review: The Self-Working Trick (and Other Stories) by John Gaspard (Eli Marks #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Twelve magically fun short stories
Cons: All cons vanished as if by magic
The Bottom Line:
Eli and magic
Short stories collected here
Delightful for all

Eli Faces Lots of Crime in This Short Story Collection

After seven full length novels in the Eli Marks series, author John Gaspard decides to collect the short stories he’s written with the character, sprinkle in a few new stories, and release them as the eighth book in the series.  The result, The Self-Working Trick (and Other Stories), is a great place for fans old and new alike.

If you haven’t met Eli yet, he is a magician who also runs the magic store opened by his uncle, the famed magician Harry Marks.  And, this being a mystery series, he also finds himself involved in quite a few tricky real-life mysteries where his skills as a magician come in handy helping the police figure out what really happened.

While this book is being sold as the eighth book in the series, it’s actually a great place to jump in and meet the characters.  These stories don’t rely heavily on knowledge of the series characters and their relationships.  Anything you do need to know is included in the stories, and there is nothing that would really spoil anything from the novels.  These will give you a feel for the series without ruining the pleasure of watching things unfold.

This book consists of twelve stories, two of which have been previously published and the third was released as an exclusive for the author’s newsletter readers.  That means the rest are brand new for fans.

What will you find here?  Eli must help his ex-wife and her new husband figure out what happened in a bizarre murder/suicide case.  Eli finds himself being questioned by the police when someone who gave him a one-star review is found dead.  Eli finds himself being sent in by the police to perform magic for a man who refuses to come out of his house.  And Eli and Harry figure out what happened to a man shot in front of a crowd on Halloween night.

There are a couple of stories that don’t involve a crime.  They were still compelling, and I enjoyed seeing a little different side of Eli in those stories.

And there were stories that involved Eli (and Harry) talking to the police and solving a case while sitting in a bar.  I had an Encyclopedia Brown vibe with these stories.  And, considering how much I loved Encyclopedia Brown as a kid, that’s a compliment.

What I really enjoyed about these stories is how, in each case, what appears to be a perfect crime comes down to a principle of magic that Eli recognizes and is able to use to solve the case.  We’ve got locked rooms and other types of puzzles that seem so simple once Eli has figured things out.

If you are like me and don’t want to know too much of how magicians do their tricks, don’t worry.  We get the principles of magic explained to us, but not the specifics of any of the tricks that come up, so we can still be amazed when we see a magic act again.

There’s some humor thrown into the stories as well.  Eli narrates with a wry observation on the world around him that is fun.  Occasionally, there’s the perfect line of dialogue as well to make you smile or laugh.

The final story in the collection is the longest.  “The Self-Working Trick” involves an audience member being killed during the opening night of a play.  For this story, John Gaspard included a crossover with the Como Lake Players Mysteries he writes as Bobbie Raymond.  This story made me want to dive into those mysteries.  I have the first, so it’s just a matter of making time to enjoy them.

I keep saying this short story collection is fun, and that’s because it is.  If you are looking for some short mostly mystery fiction that will thoroughly entertain you, you’ll be glad you picked up The Self-Working Trick (and Other Stories).

Once you've met Eli, you'll want to check out the rest of the Eli Marks Mysteries.

Included Stories:
1. The Invisible Assistant
2. The Trick That Cannot be Explained
3. The One-Star Review
4. The Vanishing Man (Redux)
5. The $100 Gift Certificate
6. The Crazy Man’s Handcuffs
7. The Secondary Convincer
8. Magician in Trouble
9. The Death of the Black Knight
10. The 38 Steps
11. The Last Customer
12. The Self-Working Trick

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book

Monday, January 24, 2022

Movie Review: Zoolander 2

Stars: 1 out of 5
Pros: Um…um…a couple of laughs?
Cons: Just about everything else
The Bottom Line:
Stupid comedy
Emphasis on the stupid
So not worth watching

I Should Have Known Better

I don’t know what I was thinking.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the first Zoolander, but for some reason, I decided to go ahead and watch Zoolander 2.  At least I didn’t spend any money to watch it.

The movie starts with some assassins chasing Justin Bieber.  Just before he dies, he says, “We will never reveal the chosen one.”  It turns out this isn’t the first music star who has been killed recently.  European police are wishing that they had help from some another source to figure out what is going on – a source like Zoolander.

At that point, we get caught up on what has happened to Zoolander and Hansel in the 15 years between movies.  They have gone their separate ways and given up modeling, living away from civilization.  However, an offer to model for the current hit designer in Italy is enough to lure them out of their self-imposed obscurity.  Will they accomplish their personal goals?  Or is it a trap?

The plot was just an excuse for some rather outlandish comedy.  Oh, the story holds together okay.  It’s over the top and a tad on the stupid side, but that fits the movie.  For the world they’ve build in these movies, it certainly works.

What really didn’t work for me was the comedy.  Oh, I get it was supposed to be a so stupid it is funny movie.  In fact, I get where it was supposed to be funny.  Here’s the thing – it wasn’t.  Oh, a few of the gags were funny, but most of the movie was just so painfully stupid I couldn’t laugh at all.  In fact, I felt brain cells dying as I watched.

Of course, that’s no surprise since Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller are best known for those kind of comedies.  And they are good here bringing those characters to life.  I just didn’t find their characters, or the rest of the characters, that entertaining.

Fortunately, I caught this movie on TV, so all I wasted was my time.  Lesson learned – if they make a sequel to Zoolander 2, I will most certainly be skipping it.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Music Review: Healer by Casting Crowns

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Several great new songs of encouragement and challenge
Cons: “Scars in Heaven” is more bitter than sweet for me
The Bottom Line:
Seven track release
Encouragement and challenge
Good for this group’s fans

Facing Hard Time by Looking at the Healer

New music from Casting Crowns is an automatic purchase from me, so as soon as I saw Healer on release calendars, I made a point to get it.  I was a bit surprised to see it was going to be only seven songs, but they still brought their usual mix of challenge and encouragement.

This release starts off with two power anthems of encouragement.  Up first is “Desert Road,” which is about facing adversity with God by our sides to help us.  Then comes “The Power of the Cross,” a wonderful reminder that no matter what is in our past, God has forgiven it.

Next comes “Scars in Heaven.”  This is a very bittersweet song, reminding us that the only scars in Heaven will be on Jesus after all the results of sin have been erased.  That sounds encouraging right?  That was my first thought until I really listened to the verses, which are about a recent loss.  The grief is very raw here, and it is enough to make me start crying.  While I can see it being an encouragement to some, for me this song is way more bitter than sweet.

“Anything but Easy” brings us to the challenge section of the disc.  This song is about love being anything but easy, as we consider witnessing to a great friend who isn’t a Christian.

“Crazy People,” comes next.  As you might have guessed if you know Casting Crowns, this upbeat soft rock song is about how the world views us Christians.  I love their take on classic Bible stories in the first verse, and it’s a good reminder that’s also a bit of a challenge that we should stand apart from the world.

Next up we get the title track.  This is again a combination of challenge and encouragement.  The theme is that what this world needs is Jesus, the “Healer.”  Why do I say challenge and encouragement?  It’s encouraging to remember that Jesus is the answer, but it’s a challenge when I think about what I am looking at to help our country and world instead of Jesus.

Finally comes “2nd Opinions.”  I’ll admit, I’m of two opinions about this song.  (I’ll take the pun, although I wasn’t trying for it, honest.)  I get what they are going for – calling us to return to God’s word and not pop psychology in the world or social media.  It seems like a weird song to end the disc with, and the slightly country ting to the song is a little weird as well.  I also have to laugh that Pinterest is the only social media platform they call out even though I find much more dangerous stuff on the others.  (Or maybe I just use Pinterest differently.)

I’ve been feeling like several new CDs I’ve gotten recently are coming out of the struggles we’ve gone through as a world in the last two years, and that’s the case again here.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and it makes the lyrics all the more powerful.  These truths are both timely and timeless.  Which means I will be listening to the disc for a long time to come.

And yes, while I have a couple of tracks that don’t quite work for me, overall, I know I will listen to the rest regularly.  Casting Crowns is one of my favorite groups, and I’m always happy to get new music from them.

If you are also a fan, you’ll be glad you picked up Healer.  While I wish it were longer, there is much to think about over from these seven songs.

CD Length: 25:57
1. Desert Road
2. The Power of the Cross
3. Scars in Heaven
4. Anything but Easy
5. Crazy People
6. Healer
7. 2nd Opinions

Saturday, January 22, 2022

January 22nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

A new show enters this week, and I make a decision on one of the new shows I started last week.  (Think I've decided on the other as well, but I'm less certain of that decision.)  All this and more on this week's Weekly TV Thoughts!

Around the World in 80 Days – Rather predictable main story this week.  And it’s ironic since my brother was preaching on the dangers of listening to “You deserve to be happy no matter what” and this real woman pops up in the show who did just that, abandoning her kids in the process.  I wonder just how much of what was presented here was true.

Legends of the Hidden Temple – I called this one early.  I knew the circus performers had the advantage, so I’m not surprised they made it to the temple.  I’m only surprised they actually won because everyone has had such a hard time getting the items from the temple, but I’m happy for them that they won it all.  Definitely didn’t need that political comment early in the movie, especially since it doesn’t make any sense – at least at whom they were aiming it.  He has plenty of moral failings, but that particular comment wasn’t one of them.

Superman & Lois – I called a couple of those plot twists early on.  This storyline with Lois’s old story was how we were going to get Lucy to Smallville.  I wasn’t that shocked about Sarah’s kiss; I thought she would have completely decided she was a lesbian over the summer with the way she was reacting.  And I knew Lana was going to run for mayor.  I’m still not sure what is in the mine, but it can’t be a good thing.

Naomi – I think I’m in.  This was a much better episode without all those quick cuts.  The mystery of who/what Naomi really is was intriguing as well.  If the show finds its footing, I’ll gladly continue on.  I found it interesting that Naomi pretty much ditched her glasses already.  Considering she was supposed to wear them to protect her eyes, I find it funny no discussion has been made about her not wearing them – even with her parents.  Speaking of whom, her dad is going to have an interesting job working on an anti-alien task force even while having an alien daughter.

Wipeout – I was hoping that the cat parents would lose, but they were good.  And when I saw how long the twins took to finish, I was surprised that the cat parents won.  I was rooting against them mainly because they don’t need any more 15 minutes of fame.  Shallow, I know.  Probably as shallow as their fame.

The Book of Boba Fett – I’ve caught up on all four episodes this past week.  I’ve never been a die-hard Boba Fett fan, so I wasn’t excited going into this, but I feel like this is moving slower than The Mandalorian does.  Part of it is the endless flashbacks.  I’m more interested in the here and now than in what happened in the past, but with the newest episode, that was once again the majority of it.  I hope the pacing picks up soon.

Legends of Tomorrow – And the winner of best sitcom this week goes to this show.  Seriously, I was laughing so hard at this episode with so many little bits.  I don’t know how the writers came up with all of this, but it was brilliant with so many great little moments.  And the episode allowed for some great characters growth, too.

Batwoman – Clearly, Pam isn’t going to kill Mary.  So what will happen now that the two of them have met.  Did Mary kill the man in the woods?  Or was that Pam?  Why was Diggle in this episode?  He was mostly irrelevant as far as I was concerned.  Yes, he was in the B story, but it felt like he wasn’t really needed even then.

The Amazing Race – I thought they might bring back more than the two eliminated teams since, by my count, they are still down more than they should have been.  I’m glad they were invited back.  But I guess it didn’t make any difference since the two eliminated teams came in the bottom two slots, and the first team was the first team eliminated again.  And is the race really the time to face your fears if you don’t have to?  What was Sheri thinking doing that challenge on the mountain side.  I do think with my fear of heights I might have been okay with that one since they had the ropes they were attached to.  Wouldn’t have been in the front of the pack, but I think I would have been faster.

United States of Al – The story of Al and poker was pretty predictable, but there were so many great laughs along the way.  Like that final line from Hazel.  The  B story with Lizzy and her new relationship were great.  Frankly, I’m loving that two of The Big Bang Theory occasional actors are showing up here regularly.

Pivoting – I didn’t laugh.  I didn’t smile.  I cringed most of the episode.  That’s it.  I’m out.

Friday, January 21, 2022

January 21st's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

 I'm back this Friday with another Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm featuring The Self-Working Trick and Other Stories by John Gaspard.

While this book is being called the eighth in the series, it's also a collection of short stories.  As such, my two teasers are from two different stories this week.

As you've probably figured out, the main character in this series is a magician.  Yes, it is a mystery series (because this is me and I read lots of mysteries).  However, both of these teasers focus a bit more on the magic side of things.

Here's how the opening story, "The Invisible Assistant," begins:

"Now for my next effect, I'm going to need another volunteer."

Short and sweet.  I've got a longer teaser from 56% of the way into the ARC I read, which is from the story "Magician in Trouble."

Usually, this point in the trick gets a bit of a reaction from the audience; an 'ooh' or an 'aah' as they realize their card has disappeared entirely from the deck.
Leon, as the situation had already made clear, was not my typical audience.
"You lost the card?" he said, sounding frantic.  "You don't know where it is?"

This book actually comes out the first of February, but I'll be reviewing it on Tuesday.  I hope you'll come back then to see what I thought of it.

In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Book Review: On Thin Icing by Ellie Alexander (Bakeshop Mysteries #3)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters in a classic mystery set up
Cons: Plot is too thin for the novel
The Bottom Line:
Retreat in the snow
Catering to a killer?
Mystery is thin

Thin on Plot

I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy reading books near when they are set.  I discovered that I had done that twice this month without even meaning to.  The second time was On Thin Icing, the third in the Bakeshop Mysteries from Ellie Alexander.

Jules Capshaw is hoping to expand the catering portion of Torte, her family’s bakeshop, so when she is asked to cater the off-season retreat for the board of directors of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, she doesn’t hesitate.  The meeting is taking place at the Lake of the Woods retreat center in one of the mountains around Ashland, Oregon.  Jules expects to work hard, but to have a successful weekend.

However, she’s hardly arrived when she is shocked to find her estranged husband is right behind her.  He’s hoping to work through their problems, and Jules finds his presence distracting.  Then, Jules finds the dead body of the center’s bar tender in one of the freezers.  The bar tender had made a nuisance of himself the night before, but Jules didn’t think anyone would have wanted to kill him.  As a storm rages, cutting them off from the rest of the world, Jules wonders who she is stranded with on the mountain top is a killer.

Obviously, this is a classic set up.  I love it when the author uses the characters to acknowledge it, which we get here.  As much as I don’t like snow, I was ready to pull up a blanket and settle in for a cold read.  The fact that Carlos, Jules’s husband, showed up meant we should have had plenty of plot to keep us interested.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case.  Way too much time is spent in the kitchen cooking.  I wouldn’t have minded if we had gotten story advancement during those scenes, but we didn’t.  Yes, I get that this is a culinary cozy, and I certainly expect some of those scenes, but here it really slowed things down in the first half.

Things did get better in the second half.  Even then, the mystery seemed a sub-plot to us finally getting more of what happened with Carlos and Jules and seeing them confront their issues.  It’s interesting to finally see that happen, so fans of the series will be pleased.  We also do get a solution to the mystery.  It is logical, and Jules does get the clues that lead to the solution.  I just felt like that portion of the book really should have been a short story.

Which is a shame because I do like the characters.  Even Carlos, who I was determined not to like when he showed up, wormed his way into my good graces.  I’ve very conflicted about the romantic arc for this series, which I’m sure I’m supposed to be.  Obviously, we don’t see all the main characters of the series here, but they at least all get cameos.

Naturally, we get seven delicious sounding recipes at the end of the book.  While most are pastry and dessert themed, we do get a few others since Jules was cooking as well as baking in this book.

On Thin Icing could have been better with a stronger plot.  Here’s hoping that’s the case with the next in the series.

Mouth watering for more?  Here are the rest of the Bakeshop Mysteries.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Movie Review: John Wick

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: A few individual moments of laughs and action
Cons: Overall, the movie is a poorly written mess
The Bottom Line:
He’s out for revenge
Extremely poorly written
You can pass on it

“How Good Is Your Laundry?”  “No One’s That Good.”

I had no real interest in watching John Wick.  I don’t do revenge movies as a general rule (a few slip in that I wind up enjoying), and this one just didn’t appeal to me.  But when my two friends both decided to watch it, I gave in to peer pressure.

The story follows John Wick (Keanu Reeves) a former assassin who gave up everything to marry the woman he loves.  But when she dies and John is still grieving, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) goes after him to steal his car, killing the new dog John just got from his late wife in the bargain.  Now John is out for revenge.  The people who he is gunning for know what to expect since Iosef’s father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), used to be John’s boss.  Will John get his revenge?

I have issues with the premise of revenge movies in general.  It’s one thing if someone is out to rescue a family member, but to root on someone killing people to get revenge goes against so much morally.  So right away, I wasn’t on board with that.  And, as much as John was grieving, to go after these people for stealing his car and killing a puppy?  I get it, the puppy is cute, and he was a gift from John’s late wife.  But still.  There really is no justification for the violence to come.

Leaving that aside, this is just a ludicrous movie.  Very little thought was put into the script.  Honestly, as I was watching the film, I couldn’t believe that, out of the thousands of movies that get submitted and reject by Hollywood, this one somehow got beyond the gate keepers to get made.  The dialogue was so horrible.  It was beyond laughable to cringe worthy at times.  It makes the Hallmark mystery movies I watch seem like well written, award worthy masterpieces by comparison.

Then there are the characters.  To say they are cardboard is to insult cardboard.  We know very little about them, and we just follow John around as he goes about getting his revenge.  I don’t need a complicated backstory, but a little bit of connection to something or someone would help.  Or maybe emotion from John.

Yes, part of that problem might have been the actors, but that would mean the entire cast was acting robotically.  I know there are some good actors in the cast, but they just didn’t have much to work with.  Still, I do feel that Keanu Reeves could have given us a little more emotion at times.  I have a feeling this was an acting choice, but if so, it was one that didn’t benefit the movie.

If you want mindless action, you’ll find this movie is perfect for you.  As I was watching with my friends, we had to keep reminding each other to not ask the obvious questions that the screen writers ignored as the plot unfolded.

It should also be pointed out that this movie gets its R rating from this almost constant violent action, although there is some foul language as well.

The movie does have great individual moments and stunts.  However, most of the time, the action is so large and over-the-top that it gets ridiculous.

While there are some pretty obvious unintentional laughs in the movie, there are also some fun moments that made us laugh on purpose.

And my friends and I had some fun mocking the movie, so I definitely enjoyed that part of it.

Still, the fact that John Wick has started a franchise is beyond me.  I just don’t see the appeal.  But I will be finding out if the franchise gets better as it goes along.  It’s hard to imagine it getting worse.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Book Review: Cement Stilettos by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #7)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, great character development, fun
Cons: A few of the details didn’t quite mesh for me
The Bottom Line:
Body in showroom
Samantha tries to help Nick
A fun case for us

A Case Samantha Can’t Refuse

As much as I’ve been enjoying the Samantha Kidd Mysteries, one thing I have noticed is that her love interest, Nick Taylor, is one of the least developed characters in the series.  It makes sense because he hasn’t gotten too much page time.  That changes in a great way in Cement Stilettos, the seventh in the series.

It’s been a week since Samantha said yes to Nick’s proposal of marriage, and they have been floating ever since.  However, they are about to crash back down to reality when Samantha finds a dead body in Nick’s showroom.  His assistant has been murdered and stuffed into one of the cabinets.  Then Samantha gets a phone call that hints Nick isn’t all he seems to be.

Despite the usual warnings from the police, Samantha can’t stay out of this.  She wants to help Nick.  But Nick is being very silent.  As Samantha begins to investigate, she uncovers surprises that makes her question if she knows the man she’s agreed to marry.  Can Samantha solve the case?  Will her relationship with Nick survive is she does?

As I said earlier, Nick hasn’t gotten much page time over the course of the series.  He’s a shoe designer, and he is quite often in Italy for work.  However, with him being the focus, it gave us a real chance to get to know him better.  I enjoyed that, and I also enjoyed seeing Samantha grow as their relationship grew.  I can see how she is maturing as the series goes along, and I am enjoying the journey.

It’s no surprise to fans of the series that the mystery is filled with twists and turns.  While the book does reach a logical conclusion, I did feel like a few of the details didn’t quite mesh along the way to the ending.  It’s a small issue for me.  Overall, the case and the solution make perfect sense.

I’ve talked before about enjoying reading a book in the season when it is set if I can.  I didn’t even plan it, but this book takes place in January.  That was a nice bonus for me.

While Samantha might be maturing, that doesn’t mean the comedy is going away.  Yes, there are some serious moments and themes, but on the whole this book is fun, with plenty of smiles if not outright laughs along the way.

The Samantha Kidd Mysteries continue to be completely fun and entertaining.  If that’s what you are looking for, be sure to give them a chance.  Whether you start with Cement Stilettos or go back to the beginning, you’ll be hooked before you know it.

Enjoy the rest of the Samantha Kidd Mysteries.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Ornament Review: Super Soaker - 2021 Release

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Memories of a Super Soaker shrunk for your tree
Cons: The water stream is a bit odd
The Bottom Line:
Ready to get wet?
Warm memories with this piece
Water stream is weird

Is This Ornament All Wet?

Somewhere in my garage, I have a Super Soaker.  I never used it too much, in fact, I’ve rarely used water guns period, but it was a blast the few times I did use it.  So, when I spotted the Super Soaker ornament from Hallmark this last year, I jumped on it.

This ornament was released to celebrate the Super Soaker’s 30th anniversary.  (And now, we all feel old, right?)  If you are familiar with these squirt guns, you’ll know exactly what to expect.  The majority of the gun in yellow, but the tank is a lime green.  The ornament even has the decals on it, so you know this is an Air Pressure Super Soaker 50.

The one thing that seems a little weird about the ornament to me is the water shooting out the front.  There’s a good-sized stream, and I guess there is a strong wind blowing because it is actually going backward from the nozzle and looking like it is about to hit the shooter.  I’m of two minds about this.  On the one hand, it looks very cool.  On the other, it doesn’t seem like something that would happen very often.  The water is represented by a clear plastic.  As I said, it looks cool, especially with Christmas lights reflecting on it while it is on the tree.  Honestly, I didn’t even think about how odd the direction of the water was until I started working on this review.

The water aside, this ornament looks perfect.  Anyone who saw these water guns would know immediately what they are, and the ornament will bring back lots of happy memories.

Since the ornament is just the gun, you can’t set it out to be displayed.  In fact, because of the water, it is very awkward when you set it on a flat surface.

The ornament does tip forward a bit when you go to hang it.  It’s not bad; it looks pretty natural that way, in fact.  I didn’t notice when it was on my tree last month.

I know I keep saying I want to cut back on ornaments, but the instant I saw the Super Soaker ornament, I knew I wanted it.  Just don’t think about the weird water too much, and you’ll be glad you got it, too.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

TV Show Review: The Mandalorian - Season 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Amazing visuals, good story
Cons: Story can be slow at times
The Bottom Line:
Keeping The Child safe
Searching through the galaxy
Can be slow, still good

“Wherever I Go, He Goes.”  “So I’ve Heard.”

I really didn’t intend to wait so long to get back to season 2 of The Mandalorian.  I enjoyed the first season, but I figured I’d let a few months go before I moved on.  Suddenly, I found the new year starting and I hadn’t watched season 2, so it was definitely time to fix that.

If you aren’t familiar with this series, it is a Disney+ original series set in the Star Wars universe, specifically a few years after The Return of the Jedi.  Our main characters, who goes by The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), is a bounty hunter who was raised by the refuges of the planet Mandalor and lives his life according to their code.  In the first season, his bounty was The Child, but instead of turning him in, he went on the run, trying to get this baby of Yoda’s species to safety with people who will know how to raise him.

Season two picks up in his quest to find some place where The Child will be safe.  His attempts to find others of The Child’s species take him all over the outer reaches of the galaxy.  His biggest clue is to find other Mandalorians who might have an idea where The Child might be safe.  But each stop along the way finds him facing more danger from ice monsters or sea pirates as two examples.  Will he ever succeed in his quest?

There isn’t a large main cast in this series with only The Mandalorian and The Child appearing in each episode.  Of course, we do have some recurring characters, like Gina Carano’s Cara Dune and the main villain so far, Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon.  This fits The Mandalorian’s character since he is a loner, but it is weird since I’m used to more characters in a series.

My main complaint with the show, however, is the pacing.  While all of the episodes feature action at some point, there are some pretty slow moments, especially early in the episodes.  Maybe my attention span is just too short.  But by the end of each episode, I’m caught up in the story.

This does go away as the season goes along.  I felt like, more than season 1, this one was telling us part of a story, with each episode one chapter of the whole and leading us to someplace in particular.

Along the way, Star Wars fans will be pleased to see who pops up.  A couple of characters from other Star Wars properties show up this season, one as a live action character for the first time.  Honestly, I also felt like the series was more anchored in the larger Star Wars universe this season, and I’m only a casual Star Wars fan.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that I missed a bunch of other cool references.

Visually, this show is amazing.  Each episode features exotic locales that make it feel like we are on a new planet.  I can’t imagine the challenges of filming this to get so many new planets.  Yet the sets feel like they are part of the Star Wars universe, as do the aliens we meet along the way.  And the special effects work as well.

I have a friend who has complained about the climax of the season.  (No spoilers to follow.)  He maintains that the climax involves a Deus ex machina.  I was watching for that, and I can almost see his point.  I would maintain that the climax was set up part way through the season, so I’m willing to buy it.  Most fans were thrilled with it.

Speaking of which, I’m curious to see where they are going to go in the third season.  It feels like it will have to be something different, but we’ll see.

The acting is mostly good.  The Mandalorian never takes off his helmet, but we still manage to care for someone whose face we don’t see and who rarely seems to show emotion with his voice.  The one weakness for me was Katee Sackhoff, who appears in a couple episodes here.  I’ve never been a fan of her acting, and nothing here changes my mind.

While I don’t find that I love The Mandalorian as well as most people do, I did still enjoy season 2.  Now, I can enjoy the first spin off and be ready when we get season 3.