Monthly Archives: December 2022

Review: The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series by Jessica Radloff

The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series

As an early adopter of The Big Bang Theory, it seems strange that the series not only thrived but is also ubiquitous in syndication today. And while I may not love it in quite the same way I do Seinfeld, I was intrigued by the opportunity to peak behind the scenes with this oral history of the show’s twelve seasons.

The first half of the book which details the early days of the show and examines how the show came together and developed is fascinating reading. Hearing the various parties offer little tidbits and bombshells of what happened in the early days (the network originally wanted Raj’s character recast and/or cut) makes for fascinating reading, as well as how the original cold open is dropped from syndication these days makes me want to fire up HBO Max and revisit the early days of the series. However, as with many DVD commentaries, I find that the more time has passed, the greater the perspective of those involved to critically examine their creative process and output. Once we get to chapters on later seasons and the decisions to end the series and it feels a bit more like everyone saying “Oh, we were so good” and doing a victory lap.

It made the second half of the book a little less intriguing than the first half, but overall, it’s still worth reading.

Jessica Radloff assembles just about everyone who ever worked on the show for interviews here and weaves their reflections together into an imminently readable story about one of the most popular sitcoms of the last two decades. I have a feeling that my grandkids may be watching this one and asking me to explain some of the pop-culture references at some point. And I’ll probably be trying to convince them that Seinfeld is better (it is, but that’s not the point of this review).

I will warn you that a lot of the more intriguing tidbits of this oral history have been given away by various industry outlets when the book was first published. This just reinforces my sadness that pop culture these days is treated more like a contest with who can spill the biggest details first and forget about the ordinary mere mortals out here who can’t or don’t have time to consume everything within the first two hours of it being out on the market. However, there are still some details and context those kiss-and-tell articles didn’t get into or spoil.

If you love The Big Bang Theory, you’ll love this book. I did walk away from it feeling like an oral history of Two and a Half Men might also be intriguing, given the references to that show peppered in this book and the differences between the two. But I have a feeling all the participants from that one aren’t as likely to get together and spill the beans as the participants from this one are.

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A Festivus for the Rest of Us!

In case you want to watch the episode via streaming, it’s “The Strike” from season 9, episode 10. Enjoy!

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Holiday Audiobook Reviews: The Twelve Dates of Christmas and The Upside Down Christmas

The Twelve Dates of ChristmasThe Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss

With the title The Twelve Dates of Christmas, I expected Jenny Bayliss to do more with each of the holiday-themed blind dates than this novel ended up doing. Instead, it’s a friends-to-lovers romance between a local coffee shop owner and the girl who moved back to town to take care of her father.

Bayliss earns all the tension and undercurrent of attraction between coffee-shop owner Matt and newly returned to town Kate. She even throws in a few speed bumps for the two — they slept together once in their teens but never talked about it, Matt has a girlfriend, Kate is meeting twelve potential suitors that could steal her heart away. My big issue with the book is that the speed bumps are easily removed with little or not subtlety of foreshadowing. The biggest is when Kate goes on a date with Matt’s girlfriend’s ex and he admits he still loves his ex. So, we can all see where that is heading.

And yet despite being somewhat predictable, I still kept listening. Odds are that was due to the English accent of the narrator Elizabeth Knoweledon (the irony that her name sounds like Noel and this is a holiday romance isn’t lost on me).

Overall, a predictable romance that doesn’t quite live up the promise or premise of the title.

The Upside Down ChristmasThe Upside Down Christmas by Kate Forster

Following the death of her mother and her father remarrying, Marlo moved from England to Australia to start her life again.

Five years later, she’s living with flatmate Alex, working as a legal secretary, and dating a nice enough guy. Well, until the guy leaves a Halloween party with someone else, and Marlo is suddenly left questioning all her life choices.

Oh, and she’s also seeing a growing romantic interest in her flatmate, Alex, rearings it’s head.

The Upside Down Christmas is light and frothy enough –and that may be the biggest issue I have with the story. Marlo feels like she’s just sitting back, waiting for things to happen in life, rather than having any kind of motivation to make strides herself. Even when she decides to go back to school and pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer, it feels like good things just fall into her lap because she’s a nice person.

And while the roommates to more storyline is solid enough, it just’s a hair too predictable for its own good.

All in all, this is one that should have taken a queue from the title and maybe made Marlo’s life a little more upside down before giving her (inevitable) happy ending.


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Review: Something to Hide by Elizabeth George

Something to Hide (Inspector Lynley, #21)

After twenty-plus books and more pages than I care to think about, any new offering by Elizabeth George in her Inspector Lynley series is going to garner my attention. As I’ve said before, it’s not only the solid mysteries that hook me, but it’s also the opportunity to check in on my old friends in the universe and see what’s happening in their lives.

An unusually warm summer in London is creating all kinds of tension and drama for Thomas Lynley and the usual inhabitants of this universe. Lynley is acting as superintendent while Barbara Havers continues to fend off Dorothea Harriman’s well-intentioned desire to find Barabra a significant other. When a female detective from the police force is discovered to have been murdered instead of died accidently, Lynley, Havers, and Nkata are assigned the complex case.

The complexity comes from questions about the detective’s private life and her history, much of it stemmed from an immigrant community that practices FGM. George introduces readers to another family facing questions about FGM and its potential impact on a young girl — her father wants to improve her value for marriage while her brother violently objects.

Throw in a subplot with Deborah St. James freelance photographic subjects for an upcoming documentary and book on FGM, and things quickly come to a boil.

As with much of George’s prolific output, Something to Hide is equally interested in solving the mystery of who killed the police detective (and there are plenty of suspects, as usual) and understanding the root causes of the crime. George’s attempts to look inside the minds of characters who find the process of FGM to be simply part of their lives and the raising of girls to be married is troubling and chilling at times and eye-opening at others.

Of course, there are also the typical character-building elements of the previous novels as Lynley struggles with the nature of his new relationship with Deidre. Much of what takes place here echoes other elements of the central mystery as various sides question expectations of a relationship and the impact that not being entirely forthcoming can be on various parties. Of course, there are some more profound than others — while Lynley struggles with if Deidra will ever love him in the way he wants/needs and if he’s really moved on from the death of his wife and unborn child, others in the story struggle with the expectations of their culture and the impact it has on young girls’ lives.

All in all, it’s another winning novel from George. I’ve seen reviews that complain the story is a bit slow, though I think these criticisms miss a bit of the point of the novel and the series. And given that it takes several years between installments as George researches and writes her novels, I am not going to complain about the extra time I get to spend in this world.


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Reading with Shortcake: Super Farty Pants & Super Farty Pants and the Alien by Paul Wennersberg-Løvhole

Super Farty Pants and the Alien

Any book with the word “fart” in the title is probably going to be put on the to-be-read list for my daughter. And this series seemed to check off a couple of requisites for great bedtime reading — a female superhero and farting.

Amelia is a regular kid who is gifted with super farts that can help her fly and defeat various threats. The books spend a long time setting up the premise (especially book one where I kept thinking, “Get to the fart powers already”) only to then quickly dispatch the threats off-screen. There’s a potential message in there that eating the foods that give you gas is good for you because it fuels Amelia’s farting powers, but I feel like I was really looking for something positive to say.

The big issue I had with both installments in this series comes down to poor grammar. I noticed multiple grammatical errors that ended up flummoxing us by reading aloud both installments as bedtime stories. These are things that feel like another pass by an editor would have helped things and maybe caught these errors. I’m not one to necessarily cast dispersions here since many of my reviews include typos and grammar errors.

However, these errors were enough to reduce my scores for both books. And yes, if a third book shows up on Kindle Unlimited, odds are we’ll read it. But it may not be my first choice for bedtime reading.


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Review: The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham

The Boys from Biloxi

I’ve been reading John Grisham legal thrillers for thirty or so years now and one of the best things I can say about him is he never writes the same story twice. Yes, there’s a feeling of hearing the same voice telling the stories, but Grisham rarely repeats himself.

His latest novel The Boys From Biloxi is another example of how Grisham continues to challenge himself and his readers. Set in Biloxi, the book tells the story of two rival families on the Gulf Coast. The first third of the novel is spent establishing the two families and then introducing the two main rivals who will clash over the course of the rest of the book. From the baseball fields of their youth to the courtrooms in their adult years, the story unfolds at a good pace, though I did find myself wishing things might kick off a bit quicker. The first third is a great foundation, but it’s once both boys become adults that things really begin to take off.

Watching each side battle is entertaining and having the early character foundation helps propel much of the middle third of this novel. I wouldn’t exactly call it a page-turner along the lines of The Firm, but it does feel a bit like some of the more recent Grisham novels, where he’s content to take his time and allow things to unfold a bit.

It’s in the final third that things settle back down a bit as the chickens come home to roost. And it’s here that the novel reaches a quieter, calmer resolution than you might typically expect from a Grisham novel.

While this isn’t one of Grisham’s absolute classics, it’s still an entertaining read — especially the middle third when things are really bubbling.


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Audiobook Review: Resting Scrooge Face by Megan Quinn

Resting Scrooge Face

Nola and Caleb were quite the item in their small town years ago but broke up when Nola wanted to pursue her dreams in New York City and Caleb wanted to stay in town.

As the Christmas season approaches, Nola is back in town following a break-up and trying to avoid Caleb, the boy who broke her heart. In a town full of the Christmas spirit, neither is really feeling it and starts putting down those feelings on paper in the form of anonymous letters that get passed back and forth by the town mailman.

Meghan Quinn’s Resting Scrooge Face (the name Caleb assumes for his letters to Ho Ho No) is a perfect holiday confection — sweet and a bit sugary. Quinn allows us just enough time to invest in the characters (I understand Nola features as a supporting character in other stories) but wisely doesn’t make us spend too much time doing the “will they or won’t they” rom-com dance. A diverting audiobook.


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Top Ten Tuesday: Winter TBR

With the changing of the seasons, I continue to add books to my TBR list — both physical and e-books. This ties in well with this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl). Here are the ten books I hope to read this winter.

  1. Fairy Tale by Stephen King
  2. 1979 by Val MacDermid
  3. It’s One of Us by J.T. Ellsion
  4. Blood Trail by C.J. Box
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
  6. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
  7. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  8. Alone With You in the Ether by Olivie Blake
  9. Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks by John Peel (audiobook)
  10. Class Mom by Laurie Gelman


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Top Ten Tuesday: Pop-Culture Christmas

No prompt this week for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by the That Artsy Reader Girl). With Christmas coming up, I thought I’d share my top ten pop-culture celebrations of this special time of year.

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — The older I get, the more I understand what motivated Clark Griswold. He wants to give his family the “perfect” Christmas, only to see it all go completely sideways. The line “You have expectations no holiday could live up to” sums it all up perfectly. That’s why it hits me in the funny bone and the sentimental side.
  2. Happy Days, “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas — Produced at the time the show was transitioning from a focus on the dynamic of Richie with his family and friends to Fonzie, this Christmas episode always makes my small heart grow three sizes. Fonzie has nowhere to go for Christmas, but is too proud to tell anyone. When Richie susses it all out, he’s invited to the Cunningham’s Christmas Eve celebration (though Howard isn’t as enthusiastic as everyone else). In the end, Fonzie even leads the family blessing by saying, “Hey God, thanks.” Gets me every single time.
  3. A Christmas Carol Book with the Disney Players LP. My dad gave me this when we started learning about tenses in elementary school. I still have it. Produced before the animated, it hits most of the same beats but it’s got better songs. You can hear it here if you’re interested. The lyric, “We don’t have everything we want, but we have all we need” really hits home.
  4. Doctor Who, A Christmas Carol. If Russell T. Davies established the Christmas special for my favorite show, Steven Moffatt took it to the next level with his first one. The Doctor plays the Ghost of Christmas past, present, and future via time travel in an episode that combines time travel with the Christmas spirit.
  5. Christmas lights timed to music. I know where multiple homes exist in my area and drive by them each year. I can lose hours on YouTube seeing them all across the world. Not ready for this at my house yet, but soon…
  6. How The Grinch Stole Christmas — Both the original animated special and book, please. The movie versions extend the story too much for this guy. But that half-hour special is just the right length.
  7. A Christmas Story — Christmas told through the eyes of a kid, with all the wonder it brings. The Mom is the real hero of this movie.
  8. Seinfeld, “The Strike.” A festivus for the rest of us! I may or may not quote this one liberally all December. May be Frank Costanza’s finest episode.
  9. Old Time Radio comedy Christmas episodes. Thank goodness these are all public domain and easily searchable these days. I love so many of the routines used ala Jack Benny or Burns and Allen. I find the comedies hit home a bit more than the dramatic shows.
  10. It’s A Wonderful Life — When George runs down the street, shouting hello to everything and everyone, I get a lump in my throat every darn time. A great movie.

Of course, I’m always looking for something new to add to my list. Any suggestions? Or do you have a cool YouTube video of Christmas lights to music? Let me know!


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Movie Thoughts: A Christmas Story Christmas

christmas-story-christmas-csc-01969626Your enjoyment of A Christmas Story Christmas is going to depend on your fondness for the original. If it’s part of your holiday movie-watching rotation each year, the opportunity to check in on some old friends alone will probably carry the movie for you. If you’re not a fan of the original, odds are you’re not going to suddenly become one after watching this movie.

And if you’re someone who still has managed to avoid the original all these years – get thee to TBS and enjoy! It’s bound to start any time now.

Set thirty-three years after the original, A Christmas Story Christmas finds Ralph Parker returning to his hometown following the passing of his father. Ralph has spent the last year trying to write the great American novel and is down to the last two publishers for his two-thousand-page plus sci-fi epic (he’s got a sequel in the works as well). Returning home with his wife, son, and daughter, Ralph is tasked with stepping into his dad’s shoes to create the perfect Christmas for their family.

maxresdefaultOver the course of just over ninety minutes, A Christmas Story Christmas revisits most of the beats of the original. Flick owns the local bar, where Schwartz is a regular with an unpaid bar tab, the Bumpus family lives next door and still has hounds and there are still bullies out there, only now they’re equipped with a snowmobile. There are callbacks to the original, including a one-upping of the “triple-dog dare” you scene, though not all of them are nearly as memorable on first viewing as the original.

The throughline of this one is Ralph’s desire to become a published writer – there’s even a fantasy sequence in which he wins a Nobel prize over other esteemed genre writers, that works pretty well. Just as the Red Rider BB Gun was Ralph’s driving force in the original, his belief in his sci-fi novel drives this one – even if said novel distracts him from working on the obituary of his dad.

Along the way, there are a few narrative threads I wish the movie had done more with, including a bit more texture to Ralph’s mom (who is the hero of the first movie in many ways). She gets to enjoy a few cocktails and offers wisdom to Ralph, but I kept expecting something more, especially given that her husband of so many years has just passed away.

In many ways, I’ve always considered Ralph a younger version of Clark Griswold from Christmas Vacation – both have that kind of absolute belief in the power of Christmas and family during the season and neither shies away from making sure that power isn’t diminished no matter what the world throws at them. A Christmas Story Christmas underlines this feeling in all the right ways, even if it borrows a beat or two from Christmas Vacation, especially when it comes to a few jokes about the size of the tree.

As I said to start things off, your affection for this one will vary depending on how much you like the original. I happen to love the original and have watched it more times than I can count, so I was right in the wheelhouse for this one. It’s not likely to replace my yearly visit to Ralph and his family in the original, but it’s a sweet coda to the story and a nice way to see what happened to Ralph when he grew up.


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