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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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Review: The Not So Nice List by Sally Kilpatrick

The Not So Nice List

Audrey and Cole share her grandmother’s home (she co-inherited it, and her brother is renting his part of the home to Cole) and while the two have always been attracted to each other, neither has acted on it. But when Audrey’s current dead-end job lands her on Santa’s “Not So Nice List,” she needs three selfless acts by Christmas Eve to avoid a year of bad luck and consequences.

Cole needs a bit of a Christmas miracle himself as he looks for the elusive contract rider that will win a big-time celebrity endorsement.

Could these two be exactly what the other needs, if only they’d be willing to take a little holiday risk? You can’t help but root for Audrey and Cole to finally get together in this sweet, warm Christmas novella.

Sally Kilpatrick’s The Not So Nice List is like a Christmas cookie right out of the oven – warm and satisfying. And like the best cookies, it’s just enough to be satisfying without being overly sugary.

All that and references to a few classic Christmas movies and specials along the way.

This novella would be perfect if adapted as a movie for the Hallmark Channel’s marathon of Christmas-centered movies. If anyone over there is listening, get on it!

Highly recommended.

In the interest of full disclosure, the author gave me an ARC copy of this novella in exchange for an honest review.


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Top Ten Tuesday: Scary Stuff

Trick or treat! Time again for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl). To celebrate Halloween, I’m offering some of the scarier pop-culture experiences of my lifetime. Some are books, and some are other media.

  1. Cujo by Stephen King. One of the first Stephen King novels I read, and still one of the scariest. The moments of horror when our heroes are trapped in a car while Cujo rages outside are among the most frightening. This is also why I’ve never watched the movie version of Cujo — not sure anything could be as scary as I conjured in my imagination.
  2. Pet Semetary by Stephen King. Yes, there’s the whole living coming back part that is pretty blood-chilling. But I’d argue that the scariest moment of this book is the sequence in which Louis tries to stop young Gage from getting run over and the immediate aftermath. It scared the fool out of me when I first read it and my re-read a few years ago (after becoming a dad) chilled me even more.
  3. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Recommended by Stephen King, this is a story about a typical family torn apart by their daughter’s apparent possession. Seriously, if you want to be seriously unnerved by a story, you need to try this one.
  4. The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward. This one gripped me and held me. Shifting unreliable narrators (including the cat!) make for an unsettling reading experience. Add in some well-crafted, subversive horror elements and you’ve got one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.
  5. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. A classic for a reason. The story itself if superbly chilling. I had a version of the story, performed by Vincent Price, that added a layer of chilling horror to it. Price did a great job of portraying our narrator’s descent into madness.
  6. “Dead Ernest,” Suspense. Ernest suffers from catalepsy, a condition in which he appears dead but isn’t. He’s got a note he carries with him explaining this but one day gets into an accident. The story builds suspense and tension as Ernest is moved slowly closer to being embalmed — all while being alive.
  7. “The Boogeyman,” Quantum Leap. Not so much scary, as it is a clever as heck Halloween story in which the devil apparently manipulates Sam by posing as Al. One of those episodes you want to watch twice to see all the clues you missed that maybe Al isn’t Al.
  8. “The Satyr” Buck Rodgers. This one goes back to my childhood when I saw this episode. Buck arrives on a planet where a mother and son are tormented by a half-man/half-beast creature. At some point, Buck tangles with it, gets bitten, and starts to become a satyr himself. It bugged me as a kid — to the point I’ve not rewatched it since. Part of it is I expect it’s nowhere near as scary as I thought it was back then, given how cheesy Buck Rogers was.


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TV Round-Up: Quantum Leap, July 13th, 1985

quantum-leap-key-artQuantum Leap came along at a formative time in my pop culture fandom, hitting all the right notes for five seasons.

So, when news came along that NBC was restarting the project, I was both intrigued and hesitant. Intrigued to see what the show might look like in the age of “premium television” and hesitant because a big part of me was worried they might not be able to capture the lighting in the bottle from the original.

One episode into the new Quantum Leap and I feel like a lot of my fears haven’t really been addressed yet, but that the show is still staying true enough to the fundamental premise that it could (eventually) be as good as the show I remember.

Starting off by acknowledging that Sam Beckett still hasn’t returned home after leaping into time thirty years ago and that the original project was abandoned, the new Leap introduces us to Dr. Ben Song and his fiancee, Madison. At an engagement party, Ben receives a mysterious text, prompting him to step into the accelerator and vanish into time. Ben finds himself in the year 1985, participating in a robbery that will kill one of the participants and send his family down a negative path.

Madison serves as Ben’s Al in the show, trying to guide him in the past and determine what Ben is there to do.

The first mission Ben faces feels like the kind of low-stakes in history, high-stakes to the character’s mission that Sam faced on a regular basis in the original. A lot of stories felt like Sam was there to stop someone from dying, which he usually did by the end of the hour. The original was also a bit of a copycat, paying homage to popular movies and shows of its era with various episodes. So it is here with the first episode feeling like a Quantum Leap spin on Baby Driver.

For the most part, the elements set in 1985 work well enough and do a nice job of establishing Ben and Madison as the new team.

However, while the original rarely glanced into the future, a lot of things are unfolding there for this new Quantum Leap. We meet the team behind Madison and it appears this is where the show wants to set up its procedural arc. In the course of the hour, we meet the team and learn that there is more going on here than meets the eye. Ben had a reason for lying to everyone about leaping into time, there is someone else involved in his leaps who could be one of Al’s daughters and we still don’t know exactly how to bring Ben home.

I assume we’re going to have a bit of a bigger conspiracy/arc story unfold over the season as we determine what the forces are that sent Ben back in time and what his goal is. The original QL really leaned heavily into a higher power being behind Sam’s leaps (especially in season one), but I’m going to assume we won’t get as much of that here. And since it appears that one of Al’s daughters is behind this, I can’t help but think that Ben’s mission is to somehow find Sam, who is lost in time.

Scott Bakula has denied he will be part of the new QL, but then again Andrew Garfield and Toby McGuire denied they were part of the last Spider-Man movie. In the day and age of SPOILERS and having to work harder to surprise audiences, I feel like Bakula is coming but just not yet.

The chemistry between Ben and Madison works. The nature of the missions in the past works.

The new team in the current timeline – I will have to wait and see where this goes. Again, we only got hints of it the future Sam left behind in hints from Al and a few episodes that showed us the future. The original wasn’t the most continuity-heavy show (the debate over is it actually Sam in the past or just his soul as well as did Al see Sam or whoever he replaced was one that varied from episode to episode based on the script’s requirements). It will be interesting to see how QL works in today’s more continuity-heavy era of TV storytelling.

And yes, I understand that the amount of time available to tell a story is shorter than it was thirty years ago. But man, part of me wishes they’d found a way to include the original theme tune in there somewhere….

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Review: Daughter by Kate McLaughlin


Drawing inspiration from Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, Kate McLaughlin asks the question of what would it be like to be the teenage daughter of a notorious serial killer.

As Daughter begins, Scarlett has never known her father and her mother isn’t too keen to give her any details. As Scarlett balks at what she sees as her mother’s overly restrictive rules, she worries about the things many teenagers worry about — school, relationships, etc. Until one day when the FBI shows up at her house with news that Scarlett isn’t really her name and that she’s the daughter of a notorious serial killer who is dying and will only share details of some of his victims with his daughter. Suddenly, Scarlett’s life is less about the question of whether she should sleep with her potential new boyfriend and is about the question of if and how willing she is to help the FBI, all while being thrust into the media spotlight.

The portions of Daughter that detail Scarlett’s being thrust into the role of a reluctant celebrity and how the media wants to shatter her and her mother’s life (mom was married to said serial killer while he did the killings and even brought her home trinkets from his various victims) are among the novel’s more compelling. However, the novel falters a bit when Scarlett makes her decision and decides to meet with her father in prison to try and get any information she can in order to give the victims’ families some peace and closure. At this point, Scarlett seems far more mature than the character we’re presented with early on in the story and almost unnaturally calm n the face of a guy that McLaughlin wants us to buy as Hannibal Lecter if he had kids.

The novel also seems a bit unfocused in the second half when Scarlett meets up with the hot teenage son of the FBI profiler working on the case and the two seem to start hitting it off. McLaughlin has a lot of threads running through this one, though I honestly found the parts focusing on Scarlett’s turmoil of who her father is and what he did more compelling than the pages that feel grafted out of a young adult novel.

In the end, it all adds up to a solid start let down by a finish that doesn’t quite stick the landing.

I received a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Vintage SF Month Review: Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein

vintage-sf-badgeIn a way, I was participating in Vintage SF Month before it became an Internet sensation a couple of years ago.  I attended a local book club devoted to sci-fi and fantasy and one of the founders insisted that we kick off the new year with a work from Robert A. Heinlein.

So, this year as January approached, I decided that one of the books I’d read Vintage SF Month would be a new (to me) novel by Heinlein.  And so, I picked this one…and I’m not sure it really worked out all that well.

Podkayne of Mars

A decade or so ago, I participated in a local real-world sci-fi and fantasy book discussion group and each January, we’d kick-off the new year by reading an offering from Robert K. Heinlein. I first “discovered” Heinlein in high school when I attempted to read To Sail Beyond the Sunset simply because the cover featured a naked woman with her long, flowing red hair strategically covering up the “naughty” bits. (This was in the days before the Internet and nudity was harder to come by).

I never quite finished Sunset, though it sat on my shelves for years. Thankfully, the Internet came along and, in addition to making it easier to find nudity, it helped me understand a bit of the order that one can and should read Heinlein novels in order to fully understand and possibly enjoy them. I’ve gravitated toward the big names from Heinlein in my attempts to read his stories and slowly found that I prefer his “juvenile” offerings to some of his doorstop-sized tomes. Continue reading


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Audiobook Review: You Can Thank Me Later by Kelly Harms

You Can Thank Me Later: A Novella

Each Thanksgiving the Dickinson siblings gather together for a traditional meal and watching of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles on VHS. Little do they know that their gathering in the fall of 2016 will see their yearly gathering begin to profoundly change. Whether it’s the oldest brother Pete and his wife expecting their first child soon or middle brother Charlie’s wife’s latest diagnosis (it’s not good) or youngest sister Sophie and her tradition of naming the turkey after her disastrous previous Thanksgiving date from the year before, the next four years of the Dickinson’s lives are going to be a roller coaster ride.

You Can Thank Me Later is a bittersweet slice of the ups and downs a family faces over the course of four years. Checking in every two years at the Thanksgiving gathering, Kelly Harms weaves together a profoundly moving story that never fails to tug at the heart strings. There are moments of great hope, moments of great sadness, and lots of potential disasters for the three siblings. But all along the way, Harms never hits a wrong note nor does she allow her story to become too maudlin or melodramatic.

There were multiple points during the story that I found a bit of a lump in my throat, while at other I couldn’t help but grin with glee and hope.

Like a great Thanksgiving dinner, this one left me feeling completely sated but somehow wishing I had just a bit more room for just one more bite of everything. I wouldn’t be averse to Harms checking in with the Dickinson family again at some point in the future if only to see how certain developments in Sophie’s life pan out.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Adapt These Please

Today’s prompt for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is our choices for books or series that should be adapted for television. Of course, if these were all to be adapted, I’d probably immediately be behind on watching all of them.

  1. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Yes, I know SciFi did a version of this one a decade or so ago and it had its moments. But as I was finishing up “Peace Talks” earlier this week I couldn’t help but think a well-done urban fantasy like this one could be a great idea.
  2. The Robot Series by Issac Asimov. We’re finally get a Foundation series and while I’m intrigued by that, I can’t help but think the Asimov’s robot mystery novels might not be just as fertile a ground for adaptation. Maybe if Foundation is a success, we can get these for when these novels eventually tie-in.
  3. Spider-Man. I love the Marvel movies as much as the next person. But to really capture the essential angst that is Peter Parker, I can’t help but think a live-action series would be a great way to go. And the idea of a season-long build-up to a huge showdown with a big bad ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer is something that intrigues my inner comic book reading self.
  4. Villains series by V.E. Schwab. Seems like we’re awash in anti-heroes these days on various shows, so why not go for the ultimate anti-hero in a supervillain? Schawab’s novels seem perfect for adaptation and would be a ton of fun to see unfold over the course of a season or five.
  5. The Dark Tower by Stephen King. The shared universe series of movies and limited run series never got off the ground and it appears the latest attempt to bring this series to screens won’t happen at Amazon. Which is a doggone shame because this is a rich universe just ripe for adaptation. I do think it would require a good sized budget though.
  6. Golden Arrow series by Megan Scott Molin. If you’re looking for a great blend of geek-references, romantic triangles, opposites attractions, and suspenseful mysteries, this two book series is definitely one to pick up and give a try. And that’s all reason why I think this might work well as a series in the right hands.
  7. Book of the Ancestor by Mark Lawrence. A kick-ass heroine, a fascinating world and three books packed with epic fantasy action that often gets completely turned on its head. This could be better than a certain big name fantasy series that didn’t end well.

I’m sure I’ll think of a few more within five minutes of posting this. But I think this would be a great start!


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Movie Thoughts: The Invisible Man (2020), Scoob

The Invisible Man (2020)

The_Invisible_Man_(2020_film)_-_release_posterWatching Blumhouse’s latest take on The Invisible Man after watching the latest installment of HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Night probably wasn’t the best idea.

Or maybe it was because after seeing an hour focusing on the quest to find a real-life sociopath that (until recently) came up empty, spending two hours watching a fictional sociopath get caught in the end was a bit more satisfying.

The Invisible Man is a fascinating, suspenseful film that delights in making you pay close attention to every scene.  Every bit of apparently empty background could have the titular character hiding it, ready to spring out and terrify our heroine, Cecilia.   The movie even toys with the audience a bit, giving us long, lingering shots of empty rooms or hallways, almost as if daring you as a viewer to see if you can spot some clue that the Invisible Man is lurking there.

Escaping from her abusive and manipulative boyfriend, Cecilia is shocked when the boyfriend apparently kills himself and leaves behind a large sum of money to her.  However, before long, Cecilia begins to suspect that Adrian is still alive and trying to pull her strings in an attempt to either win her back or force her to return to him by cutting all her means of support.  Continue reading


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Movie Thoughts: John Wick

johnwickThe unwritten code of Westerns is that you don’t ever, under any circumstances, harm a man’s dog.

This code also applies to the retired hitmen.  At least, that’s what John Wick tells us.

An elaborate revenge story is kicked off when a trio of guys break into John Wick’s home to steal his car and end up killing his dog as well.   Little did these guys know that Wick is a retired hitman who recently lost his wife to cancer and that the dog was a gift from her so he would have something to care about besides his grief and pain.

What follows is an hour plus of John pursuing the ringleader of this gang of idiots through multiple layers of organized crime and the use of a large amount of ammo.  One area I’ll give John Wick credit for is that the movie occasionally sees our hero running out of ammo and having to reload.

The film gives us a good backstory for John, detailing how he was one of the most feared hitman out there and the circumstances that led to his retirement.  An early, memorable scene finds John digging up his basement to unearth a suitcase full of gold coins that he will use to finance and pay-off various figures during his long vendetta.   The coins are even used to pay a cleaning service to remove the bodies of half-a-dozen or so men who come to John’s home after the mafia puts out a bounty on his head.

John Wick is a clever, entertaining revenge flick that has superbly choreographed action sequences and just enough character insight to make us root for its central anti-hero.  I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen it before watching a few weeks ago.  But after watching it, I can see why the movie has garnered a following and prompted two sequels and an upcoming fourth entry.

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