Sunday, December 28, 2014

Book Catchup

It’s between the years, as we say over here, and I have been doing some catching up with my books - my e-books, to be more precise. I’ve been buying several cosy mysteries over the last couple of months and I didn’t always get to read them right away. At the moment, I have the peace and quiet and spare time, so I thought I might just as well get to it.

Caught Dead Handed (A Witch City Mystery) by Carol J. Penny

I couldn’t put this one down the moment I had picked it up. It was a spurt of the moment decision to buy this one, since it was the first of a new series and I read about it in the monthly review of new cosy mysteries over at the Cosy Chicks.
Lee Barrett is returning to her hometown of Salem MA, only to find herself in trouble when she leaves after not getting the job she wanted only to find another employee of the local TV station WITCH-TV dead in the water. Lee gets tangled up in the investigation after taking the late woman’s job on a whim and becoming the new medium/horror movie host of the station. The fact that after many years her visions are returning, doesn’t make things better, neither does that fact that the dead woman’s tomcat has decided to adopt her and her aunt.
The story is very well-written and fun to read. It’s a good balance between mystery and humour and has enough twists and turns to keep me interested and reading on.

Murder on the Half Shelf and Not the Killing Type (Booktown Mysteries) by Lorna Barrett

Murder on the Half Shelf has been the first Booktown Mystery I bought as an e-book, I have the prior ones as soft-covers. It took me some time to get around to it, after I had bought it, and I have to admit the series is running into a bit of a block with this one. Tricia and her sister Angela spend a night at the newly-opened Bed and Breakfast, only to stumble yet over another murder. It’s getting a bit of a stretch to have more crimes happening, since Tricia on the whole lacks the nosiness of Miss Marple, who stumbles over stuff, because she is actively searching for it (at least that’s my impression of her).
Not the Killing Type was a little better, then. This time, there is actually a link back to Tricia again, a logical reason for her to investigate, since her sister is among the suspects - and so is she. During a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, Angela is set to become the new head of the Chamber. Suddenly, though, a third party pops up, only to get murdered a little later. Everyone who was in the meeting is a suspect and Angela and Tricia even twice so. Finally, from my point of view, Tricia also breaks off with her on-off boyfriend, the local sheriff - a guy who every time something happens starts to treat Tricia as if he’d never met her before, just because she could always have been the one who done it in his eyes. Nobody needs a guy like that for a boyfriend and Tricia is putting up with too much, anyway.
I might still give the series another try, but if things don’t change to much, it might go the way of the Coffeehouse Mysteries, which I haven’t been reading any longer for quite a while now, too. After all, there’s a few interesting new series coming up, like the Witch City Mysteries above or the two following.

Iced Chiffon (A Consignment Store Mystery) by Duffy Brown

I took my sweet time with that one, admittedly, buying it quite a while ago, but never really starting to read it. I’d taken a look in the book at amazon and then decided I wanted to have it, but somehow always found other stuff to read first, despite the fact that it was on my Kindle the whole time.
At first, Reagan, the main character of the starting series, seems a bit of a letdown, since she’s sitting in her partially renovated home and feeling sorry for herself, since her ex definitely got the best of her (everything but the house) during their divorce. He’s got the company, all the money, the younger girlfriend, and even the Lexus. Reagan has a half-finished Victorian house and more bills than she can pay. And, after Reagan and her aunt found the corpse of Cupcake, her ex’s new girlfriend, in the Lexus, he even plans to sell her house, which he still hasn’t fully handed to her, in order to pay his lawyer who helped him cheat her out of everything she should have gotten during the divorce.
But Reagan grows quickly out of her misery, taking things into her own hands, investigating the murder of Cupcake (given name Janelle), so the lawyer won’t be able to run up that much of a bill. With courage, a little bit of luck, and a lot of snooping, she does her best to get to the bottom of it all. It doesn’t always help that Walker Boone, the lawyer, seems set on telling her to stay out of it, only to help her when things are getting tough. Or that the leader of a local gang is running a bet on who will find out first, Walker or Reagan.
At the same time, Reagan turns the ground floor of her house into a consignment shop called the Prissy Fox, in order to make some money and get her bills paid - plus the food for the dog which turned up under the porch and prefers hotdogs to premium food.
The story is full of interesting characters and the strange and colourful life of Savannah. It has twists, it has turns, it has oodles of suspects (since Cupcake was making some illegal money on the side), and it has a lot of witty barter between the gang-member-turned-lawyer and the temperamental consignment store owner. I’m looking forward to more of it.

Geared for the Grave (A Cycle Path Mystery) by Duffy Brown

Also by Duffy Brown (who also wrote Iced Chiffon), but the start of another series. I haven’t finished this book, so I can’t tell where it will lead me and what will happen, but I can already tell that the heroine will be interesting and the setting is very promising, too - Mackinac Island, full of bikes and horses, but empty of cars. Evidently also having at least one murderer present, but it can’t go out to the tourists.

Scandals, Secrets, and Murder (The Widow and the Rogue Mysteries) by Maggie Sefton

This one I’ve had on my hard disk (the Kindle app on my computer at any rate) for a while, but I haven’t found the peace to read it so far. It’s not set in the present, unlike the other books in this post, but in the past of Washington DC. A senator who cheats people out of money gets murdered in a brothel, the girl who was with him is almost killed as well. The wound, luckily, isn’t fatal, since the man was quite heavyset and the weapon didn’t pierce her body deep enough.
The book brings together two unlikely allies, a widow, doing good work with her husband’s money, and the relative of a young man suspected of the murder, who had to leave England for a while. Where the widow and the rogue are going to end up, I don’t know, but I still think I will get into this one, once I can devote the time to it.

I’m enjoying catching up on my books, having the time and the peace for reading to my heart’s content. Of course, I also enjoy playing multiplayer games against friends from Challengers, even though I usually get defeated.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Back to Sleepy Hollow

Recently, a sub-station of Pro7 started to air the first season ofSleepy Hollow.” That means people over here can finally see one of the best supernatural series made recently. I, however, have moved on already and took the chance to get the second season at iTunes yesterday. As with the first on, once I had started watching the episodes, I was caught and just had to go on and on and on. Which meant, with only 11 episodes, I have managed to watch the season in about a day (split between Friday evening and Saturday morning/afternoon).

It’s always a certain danger when a series is going into another season. I remember being completely taken with the first two seasons of “Warehouse 13” and finding the third so uninteresting I almost didn’t watch the final two seasons, which are great again. I did fear a little that the series, once in for a new season, might lose the things that made it so interesting to me: the close connection of mythology, history, conspiracies, and magic. I was afraid they would put some of that aside to boost other stuff. I was afraid action might take over, or the visible attraction between Ichabod and Abbie may.
Instead, they continued down the road they had chosen before. Yes, there is more action in the second season, but that is only to be expected, as the End of Days draws nearer and both sides get more desperate. They also expanded the pool of main characters a little. But they kept more than they changed. Just as in the first season, it pays to pay attention to the details of every episode. The situation can change from one moment to the next and what you thought you knew can suddenly be all wrong again. There is no such thing as a ‘monster of the week’ episode in “Sleepy Hollow,” either. With merely 11 episodes, there is no space for one. Even seeming ‘monster of the week’ episodes like “Heartless” or “Mama” include vital information and drive the main story. Often it takes one or two more episodes to realize the real impact another episode has had on the full story. “The Weeping Lady” seems to be a ‘monster of the week’ episode at first glance, since the ‘lady’ in question targets women around Ichabod and tries to drown them. The episode is important for the season in the long run, though, because of the outcome and the new information on both Ichabod and Katrina it delivers.
As in the first season, the monsters are not just creations of the show’s writers, either. Even though they might have taken some liberties with the material, all monsters have a solid foundation in mythology, history, or at least literature. They are very well-made (the Gorgon in the next-to-last episode took my breath away, once it was completely visible) and the writers know how to introduce monsters correctly: by not immediately showing them off.

At the end of the first season, the audience is left with no less than five cliff-hangers, every main character has their own. Ichabod is buried in his son’s former grave, Abbie is caught in purgatory, Katrina is in the hands of the headless horseman, Captain Irving has been arrested for the murders his daughter committed while possessed by a demon, and Jenny (Abbie’s sister) may be dead or still alive after a car accident. During the first episode of the second season, not only is a full story of a ‘possible future’ told, but all five cliff-hangers are resolved, too. And as much as there’s different threads running through the whole season (for both seasons out so far), they all get tied up nicely towards the end of each. It’s almost as if the show’s writers wanted to do a ‘how to’ about handling the story arcs right.

I really loved the second season of “Sleepy Hollow,” even though there’s less cliff-hangers at the end of it. I will definitely hope there will be a third one.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

End of the Year

Another year is approaching its end and the last few weeks - about one and a half months - have been quite stressing for me, at least health-wise. Things are looking up again and I’m sure the next year will start better than this one has been approaching its end.

Looking back at 2014, I see a very mixed year. I finished my evening courses in accounting, which is good. I have written quite a bit and expanded my list of stories over at Feedbooks (more about that in my Writer’s Blog), which is good as well. My years of not really taking care of my health have caught up with me early in November, which was bad. I got myself an account at Facebook, mostly to chat with a good friend in New York City in peace. We chat a lot and that is good, too. In addition, I have found Facebook to be a good way to while away some time and to find pictures and inspirations, which is also good, at least for me.

What will 2015 bring? To be honest, I have no real idea. I hope my health will improve again. I’m rather sure of it, actually. I know I will continue to write, so new stories will appear on Feedbooks. I hope to find a new job, too, something that pays well enough to keep my expenses covered, but allows me to spend my spare time writing. I hope to find the courage to approach some publishers with my work, perhaps find one that will publish some of my stuff. Not for the money, just to get a foot in the door and expand the reach of my work. I hope to lose some more weight, too, but it’s no high priority for me.

Another year is almost over and my Christmas spirit and End-of-the-Year good mood are making an appearance. Goodbye 2014. Hello 2015.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dire Grove 2 - Sacred Grove

It’s the week before Thanksgiving in the USA and so we get a new Mystery Case Files game. To be honest, after several dupes in a row, starting with the abysmal “13th Skull,” I wasn’t really hyped any longer, even though the very first HOG I ever played was an MCF game: “Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst.” By now, the series has redeemed itself in my eyes and the newest one, out today, has even endeared it to me again.

A little MCF history first, even though I’m not going to go into details. “Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove” was the first Collector’s Edition BFG ever did. It wasn’t like the ones you get today, with bonus game-play and additional stuff, it had one extra area and two extra hidden object games so you got what you needed to get there. Most people were not impressed, but it obviously sold well enough to make BFG produce more CEs and make all following MCF games CEs first, too. A lot of people complained about the production costs for the videos with real people in the game (not realizing that there had been such videos in the one before, “Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst,” too). Apart from that, though, the game was very good. It had a haunting atmosphere, good puzzles, a good story. As a matter of fact, I played it again a couple of months ago and enjoyed it as much as the first time I ever played it a long while ago, when it came out.
Two years ago, BFG decided to get rid of their own game developing and so they needed a new studio to make their MCF games (the only series BFG had been doing themselves). They decided on Elephant Games, luckily. The first game from the new developer was “Mystery Case Files: Fate’s Carnival,” a sequel of sorts to “Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate.” Fate’s Carnival was a good game overall, it only suffered from one big problem: it was too long. Just like a movie that would be perfect, if it took 70 minutes to watch, but was artificially blown up to last 120 minutes, just because ‘that’s how long movies take these days.’ There was a huge map with loads of locations and quite often you had to move from one end to the other for the next step. There were times when you had to go from location to location to find ‘x of something.’ The game wasn’t bad overall, but like its predecessor, it was just too long and felt like it.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to try out a survey version of the new MCF, Dire Grove 2, and realized soon that this time Elephant Games had found their feet with the new series they were making. Since then, I have been looking forward to the new game.
Today, it was released, on the Tuesday before US Thanksgiving, just as every MCF game in the MCF history. And I grabbed it immediately and played it in one afternoon, which should show just how much I enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, I might just start over again later and play it once more right away. They have toned down on hidden object scenes (I do play IHOGs for the adventure part, the puzzles and the item-usage, not for the hidden object searching as a such) and made them quite diverse. They have incorporated nice dialogue. They have incorporated the Rube Goldberg puzzles which made Ravenhearst such a great game. (Admittedly, those have been in Fate’s Carnival, too.) They have a wonderful art that makes you shiver with the unusual cold that has come over Dire Grove (again) and make you want to take a holiday there, nevertheless. They have a good bonus game, too. They have added loads of achievements and a lot of stuff to pick up, which means I will have to play again, since I’m still missing some miniature houses and puzzle parts.

It’s been a while since I really enjoyed a HOG, I’ve been a bit tired of them recently. But both the newest Dark Parables (“Dark Parables: The Little Mermaid and the Purple Tide,” not a HOG, but a FROG) and Dire Grove 2 were fun to play, so perhaps I’m over that now. I had a wonderful afternoon with Dire Grove 2, enjoying my return to the place (with that ‘oh, I know that place, it still looks the same’ feeling) and enjoying the new stuff they have incorporated. I enjoyed the story, enjoyed walking the snow-covered place. I liked the diverse hidden object scenes and the puzzles. I liked the dialogue and finding clues to find out what was going on.

I fully approve of this Mystery Case File and it makes me hopeful for next year’s episode. Only one thing is clear: if Dalimar is in it again, I will take something heavy and beat him - ghost, spirit, non-human being, whatever - into bloody pulp. I’m so tired of that guy by now, I don’t have any words left for that.

Friday, November 07, 2014

What's it with all those shoes?

How come everyone, including the people that make ads and commercials, thinks women are completely, absolutely addicted to shoes? Why not clothes (eh, okay)? Why not books?

I’ve often wondered about that. It seems a given that a woman might own a few more pairs of shoes than a man, simply because her clothes may be more varied (not me, I have some sneakers for good weather, some ankle-high leather sneakers for bad weather, and some boots for winter/snow). A woman with a more varied wardrobe than mine might need some different pairs of shoes. To go with dresses and skirts, to go with pants, for winter and summer use. Even so, in most cases that would be what? Ten pairs? Twelve? Fifteen? Even if she has some shoes that only go with one outfit (because they’re colour matched), she would also have pairs that go with a variety of outfits (black pumps, for example, go with nearly every dress - and pants as well). Even if she also has shoes with various heel heights, she could hardly fill a whole wardrobe with them, could she?
Yet marketing people and screen writers (both for the big and the small screen) seem to think that every woman is at every time hunting down new shoes. Why? What would be the use of having two hundred pairs of shoes? You’d never wear them all. There would be at least one hundred pairs that you never wear or so rarely you could just as well not have them. (The same, in my opinion, goes for clothes, but they’re not the main topic.)

The woman who will do everything for shoes has become a trope by now. I, personally, think that “Sex and the City” is to blame, since at least one of the main characters had a serious shoe addiction. It might also be to blame for the many women who think that you should always wear high heels, despite the terrible things they do to your feet and body. Not to mention how often I have seen women hobble along in those shoes and thought ‘what made you think wearing those heels was a good idea?’
Heels on women’s shoes have been a little raised for a long time (since it became a fashion item for women to wear heels, the first heeled shoes were actually worn by men). But a little raised means an inch or two, not eight, ten, or twelve inches. Personally, I don’t wear heels at all, I usually wear flat shoes, but I don’t think wearing slight heels is that bad for a person’s health.

Women’s shoes come in a lot more variety than men’s shoes and that is not a surprise. But that doesn’t mean every woman wants or ‘needs’ to own a pair each of all the shoes out there. Yet you will find a lot of commercials which only seem to rotate around the fact that women always want shoes and can never get enough of them. And that’s outright stupid and might only make young women think they have to be like that to be ‘real’ women.