Books: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

I really liked Juliet, Naked, so it was unlikely any of Hornby's other books were going to touch my love for that one. But this one was near the mark. Maybe it's because I enjoy reading about "the biz."

I'll admit to having been a bit confused at first. See, I hadn't read the flap, so I didn't immediately realize the book was set in the 1960s. So for a while there—that first chapter or so before I looked at the flap—things seemed really strange. (An interesting lesson, since while writing Peter, my beta readers pointed out that they wouldn't have known it was set in the 60s if I hadn't told them. So I fixed that in the rewrites. But I guess all I really need is a book flap?)

Anyway, Funny Girl is about Barbara, who becomes Sophie when she becomes a television star. Barbara's big dream is to be a sitcom star like Lucille Ball. And thanks to her curvaceous body, her dreams come true. Now, I can't 100% love a book that's all about how being beautiful is the minimum requirement for wish fulfillment. Where does that leave the rest of us? But it's a cute book anyway.

Yes, Barbara is "discovered" by an agent, and then she changes her name to Sophie, and then she has a few flat auditions before hitting it off with a comedy writing team. And at this point the story branches out, and we see not only Sophie's life but the lives of those working with her, though it remains Sophie's story at heart. She's a likable enough character, a mixture of clever and naive, with sincerity to boot. But she's not the most interesting of any of them.

We see writers Tony and Bill: Tony in his awkward, asexual marriage; Bill in his rebellious anger at the system (it's the 60s and Bill is homosexual to boot). We see Dennis, the producer with the unraveling marriage as his snooty wife looks down on his work in comedy. And we see Sophie's co-star Clive, the poster boy for shallow actors everywhere, always worried about how the public perceives him.

It seems insane, of course, that Sophie lands a hit show on her first outing, but "the biz" is a strange place, and these things do happen. Funny Girl follows the show through three series (that's seasons in American), and the way the show affects all the interpersonal relationships of those involved. It is, all told, not a terribly complicated book. There's something very matter-of-fact about it, really. And it's a quick read.

We get a glimpse of what happens after the show ends, and we see a reunion, and . . . Yeah.

It's a sweet book that's mostly about the divisions between generations and the way those divisions are reflected in the media. Which sounds ridiculous given the plot I've just sketched, but believe me, that's the subtext. Do media follow trend or do media set trend? A little of both, I'd wager. Good media catch on early and ride the crest of the wave.

In any case, Hornby poses the discussion in an entertaining way.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Love in the Time of Hydra"

So Lt. Castillo (yeah, okay, most of you know him from Battlestar Galactica, and I'm showing my age here, but he'll always be Lt. Castillo to me) is out to get Coulson. And Mac and Bobbi are helping him do it. But Hunter refuses to play that.

Oh, and remember Grant Ward? That whole thing? He and his Agent 33 sidekick infiltrate Talbott's office to get Bakshi for themselves so they can get their vengeance on.

Well, first they get 33's face fixed. Kind of. She can scan up to three facial images and use the mask that's stuck to her face to look like those people. Thing is . . . shouldn't she only be able to change her face? But because they have to use different actors for each "face" change, apparently her body changes too. Hmm.

It's a small thing. Nitpicky. But whatever.

Meanwhile, Coulson semés Skye in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere. (Back home, "semé" is the word you use for abandoning someone—taking them out into the middle of nowhere and leaving them there. Which makes you wonder why we have a word for it, but there you go. The actual word means "to plant or sow" I believe.) Simmons has made Skye some special gloves that are supposed to help keep Skye from continuing to inflict fractures on her own bones when she tries to control the quakes. Meanwhile, Fitz points out to Simmons that she's the one who has changed the most in that she's distancing herself from people—once close friends—who have changed.

In all, not a terribly compelling episode. More like moving pieces around the board. Hopefully that will result in more interesting things to come.


Television: Scorpion, "Young Hearts Spark Fire"

I knew even from the title it wasn't going to be much of an episode. I was barely required—or compelled—to look up from my laptop while watching.

Um, okay, youth group lost in the woods . . . Go find them except Santa Ana wind shears bring the copter down . . . And then the requisite forest fire. ::shrug::

We all know there's a second season. And we all know this isn't the kind of show where they kill of core characters. And none of us care enough about the helicopter pilot or youth group kids to care if any of them die. Sorry, but we don't.

End result: zero tension, zero interest.

One could argue the show is not about whether they get the job done (they always do) but how. But even by that metric, this episode was weak. Green smoke? Okay, whatever.

Usually, then, one can hope for something good to be happening on the interpersonal side, but all we got in this episode was (a) more of Toby and Happy mincing around one another, (b) Toby confronting Walter with the idea Walter has feelings for Paige (if it took Toby this long to notice, he's not the genius they want us to believe he is), and (c) more of Sylvester's phobias and pent up anger at his parents. Groan.

I'm worried that Scorpion is engaging me less and less each passing week. While I always knew it was going to be formulaic, the way it hearkened back to old favorites of mine gave me hope for its potential. But now it's beginning to flatline. We need a bit of a shakeup to keep things even moderately interesting.

Books: Of Blood and Sorrow by Christine Rains

I'm excited to be promoting Christine's latest novel Of Blood and Sorrow today!
Blurb: Erin Driscol works the perfect job consoling fellow demons by feeding off their grief at Putzkammer & Sons Funeral Home.

When fledgling vampire Nicolas Reese comes to Erin for help, she learns the truth behind the legends and hides him from his sire and the vampire hunters who seek him. But when the Putzkammers begin to die one by one, Erin is caught between her act of kindness and the need to save her adopted family. Only by facing her own personal demons can she stop the slaughter and still rescue Nicolas from his dark fate.
Sounds exciting, and I can't wait to read it!
Now let's learn a bit about a couple of key characters:


Brothers with the honored Blood of Ammut

Cort: The eldest son of Aleo and Bolona Putzkammer.
Paul: The second son.

Cort: Confident and focused. Handles the business side of the funeral home.
Paul: Introverted and quiet. A skilled mortician.

Cort: Built like a viking warrior.
Paul: Built like a bean pole.

Cort: Single and thoroughly enjoying seeing several women.
Paul: Single and would rather work.

Cort: Overprotective of Erin.
Paul: Overprotective of Erin.

Favorite line from Cort: “Hessa is the top vampire in this region. We can only imagine how powerful she is.” He rumbled deep in his chest. “And she threatened Erin. Holy shit isn’t going to do it tonight.”

Favorite line from Paul: “But please, leave for me. For Cort. That vampire, Hessa, she’ll come for us

Tidbit from the author: You might have noticed I have a very limited list of actors in my head. Though these two images don't look exactly like Cort and Paul, I just couldn't imagine casting anyone else in their places.

Tidbit from M: I can always go for the second fellow there. ;-P

Buy the book:
Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Sorrow-Christine-Rains-ebook/dp/B00U89TEGY
B&N - http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/of-blood-and-sorrow-christine-rains/1121327176?ean=2940151255875
Smashwords - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/524192
Kobo - https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/of-blood-and-sorrow-2

About the author:
Christine Rains is a writer, blogger, and geek mom. She's married to her best friend and fellow geek living in south-central Indiana. They have one son who is too smart for his parents' own good and loves to pretend he's Batman. Christine has four degrees which help nothing with motherhood, but make her a great Jeopardy! player. When she's not reading or writing, she's going on adventures with her son or watching cheesy movies on Syfy Channel. She's a member of Untethered Realms and S.C.I.F.I. (South Central Indiana Fiction Interface). She has several short stories and novellas published. Of Blood and Sorrow series is her first urban fantasy novel.
Please visit her website ( http://christinerains.net ) and blog ( http://christinerains-writer.blogspot.com )


The Return of The X-Files

FOX has confirmed a 6-episode return of The X-Files. I know because every newsfeed and my entire Facebook stream is filled with it.

I was a religious X-Files fan up until around 1999 or 2000. Somewhere in moving to Boston and becoming a grad student, and in David Duchovny leaving and Jason Patric stepping in, I lost the thread and didn't feel driven to pick it back up at any point.

But prior to all that, whoa boy, big fan. My best friend Tara and I would write "Memos to the Crew" back and forth—joke letters in which I pretended to be Chris Carter and she would be the crew, writing to complain about David and Gillian's antic behavior. I've still got them all somewhere . . . We also had an ongoing joke that Chris Carter and I were psychically linked because every time I suggested something might happen on the show, it did.

My final project at UT was an X-Files spec script. I remember working that summer on the Hope Floats set, and there was a FOX directory of course, and I called Chris Carter's office once but hung up when his assistant answer. (I assume it was his assistant.) Too shy for this biz, I suppose.

But anyway. I keep seeing the news of an X-Files return ("limited-run series"), and how they're touting the fact Duchovny and Anderson will be back, too. And I have to wonder: How much of them "being back" is part of a setup to pass the baton to other, younger agents? How much of it is designed to hopefully set up a new series?

I could be wrong, of course. But it seems like the logical move. Carry forward the old fans, bring in new ones.

Let's see if that old psychic link holds up.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "One of Us"

Are any of us actually worried S.H.I.E.L.D. will, like, do anything to Skye? No? Didn't think so. This sense of "peril" is manufactured and patently false, and therefore not at all compelling.

But I do like Blair Underwood as May's ex. How handy of him to be a psychiatrist and someone who has handled "gifteds" before. (I'm guessing this tangential relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. is how he and May met?)

Meanwhile, Hunter is not dead, just chained to a bathroom sink in a safehouse. For an inordinate amount of time given that, at the end of the episode, Mac simply hauls Hunter down to yet another random set building and declares that he and Bobbi work for "the real S.H.I.E.L.D." Whatever, dude. I feel like the show is making things needlessly complicated. Like, tension is one thing. But just tossing a bunch of plots in the air and shouting, "Look at all this stuff going on!" is not the same thing as good writing.

Speaking of random, Skye's dad is still roaming around, trying to gather a force of pseudo-freaks who have bones to pick with S.H.I.E.L.D. These are other gifted people who S.H.I.E.L.D. felt the need to curb or clamp down on. Skye's dad lures Coulson to, what, his old high school football stadium? I'll say it again: Whatever, dude. Gordon (aka Reader?) pops in and takes Skye's dad away to what appears to be the room young Gordon was in when Skye's mom was trying to help him after his transformation. "You're not one of us," Gordon tells Skye's dad before leading him away to meet . . . Someone who will decide his fate, I guess. Geez, why didn't they do this earlier and save everyone some trouble?

Based on previews for next week, Edward James Olmos will be on hand as a rival S.H.I.E.L.D. leader. I suppose it's not out of the question that, when it all fell apart, various remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. started their own chapters or factions or something. And now what? They'll fight one another for supremacy? Sigh.

On the whole, I like this show, but I find it very uneven. Some of it is very good and entertaining, and some of it . . . My mind wanders in the middle of it because it isn't as good or entertaining. They need to do a mite better at making me believe these characters might actually be in danger. It's not like Game of Thrones, where you really do feel anyone could go at any time. But maybe it ought to be. There are so many people to keep track of—maybe it's time to cull.

Television: Community on Yahoo! Screen

The first two episodes of Community's Season 6 are now on Yahoo! Screen. I'll admit I was nervous on a couple scores: (a) How easy was this platform going to be to use? and (b) What would losing Shirley and adding Frankie do to the show?

In regards to issue (a), it wasn't so bad. I mean, I'll admit to a fatigue with all these channels and streams of content. Netflix, Hulu, On Demand, and now I've got to add Yahoo! Screen to the list? Ugh. But then, Yahoo!'s whole goal was to put themselves on that list, and by picking up cult favorite Community, they've done the job. (Now pick up and produce my TV pilot, Yahoo! Seriously.)

There were a few hiccoughs in getting the show to work the way we wanted. For one thing, it wouldn't cast to our Chromecast. Sigh. It didn't load so easily on the laptop or mobile phone, at least not the first time. We did finally watch the first episode on the laptop, but so many ads! Compared even to Hulu Plus, which limits ads to only a couple per break. Blech. We finally went into the guest room and used the Apple TV for the second episode, and that worked much better (and eliminated the ads).

As for issue (b), well, the writers did the work for us. Basically, they played to the audience, hitting everything on the nose. Changes to Greendale?! And of course everyone hated Frankie for coming in and making those changes, at least at first. But, as needs must, the end result was a reluctant acceptance of both Frankie and those changes. Because both Frankie and those changes were necessary to Greendale, just as they were necessary to the show itself.

Community is different, yes, but based on these two episodes, it's none the worse for the move to Yahoo! and changes to the cast. And the codas to the episodes are a riot, too. Here's to Season 6, and maybe that movie . . .


Movies: Whiplash

I went into this one knowing nothing except J.K. Simmons took home the Academy Award for it. Now I know why. Though I guess the Academy thinks Miles Teller needs to pay a few more dues, but honestly, he did a fabulous job as well.

Teller plays Andrew, a driven, first-year music student at supposedly the finest conservatory in the nation (which means, of course, it's in New York). Andrew is a drummer, and he's picked out by Fletcher (Simmons) to join the Studio Band, which is the elite performance group for the school. Fletcher's teaching methods are extreme to say the least; he is, as some would call it, a "pusher" in the sense that no matter how good a student is, it's never good enough. To keep Andrew on his toes, Fletcher brings in another drummer so that Andrew is ever under threat of being replaced, ever required to prove himself and earn his spot on stage. Andrew drops his girlfriend and focuses solely on becoming "one of the greats."

Fletcher pushes Andrew so far that at one point Andrew stumbles away from a car accident with only the thought of getting to the performance on time. He tries to play while half covered in blood, and when Fletcher orders him off stage, Andrew attacks him.

Turns out that Andrew isn't the first of Fletcher's students to come unraveled; a prior student had recently committed suicide, and the parents blame Fletcher. So Andrew "testifies" (for lack of a better word), supposedly anonymously, against Fletcher and his tactics. Andrew has already been expelled after attacking Fletcher physically, so he has little left to lose.

But then Fletcher invites Andrew to play at a local jazz festival . . .

I'll leave the rest to your imagination, or for you to go and watch for yourself.

It's a simple film but marvelously done. Brutal in places, and raw, which is the point. I only wish some of these talented filmmakers would come make 20 August. I think they could lend some real beauty to it.

Movies: Cinderella

Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Chris Weitz
Walt Disney, 2015
PG; 112 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


A solid enough take on the fairy tale, if lacking anything fresh.

It's the same old story: Happy young Ella has two loving parents. Her father is an upper middle-class merchant. But then Ella's mother takes ill and dies, and in time the father remarries. Then he, too, dies and Ella is left to the harsh abuse of her stepmother and stepsisters. Ella strives to be kind and courageous—a lingering promise she made to her mother—in the face of overwhelming cruelty.

And why are the stepmother and stepsisters so cruel? Jealousy, one supposes, or simply because they can be and like to exercise power whenever possible. We do see the stepmother eavesdrop as Ella's father tells Ella he loves her and still misses her mother. This certainly must put some spike in stepmama's punch. I guess it's a nod to there being a reason for this woman to behave so badly; in the fairy tale, and even in the animated classic, the ruling presumption is that some people are just bad. Though one might at least be left wondering why Ella's father, by all accounts a kind and loving man, married this woman in the first place.

As for the stepsisters, one assumes they're going by example.

Some of the touches from the 1950s cartoon are on display: fat little Gus the mouse, and the cat Lucifer, and even the stepsisters retain the names Drisella and Anastasia, and the family name remains Tremaine. We're also treated to a fair share of Mickey Mouse designs in the house.

Lily James does a nice enough job, though there were moments she reminded me a bit of Jessica Lange for some reason. Cate Blanchett as the stepmother wields her proficient screen power in the same way as Bette Davis of old, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Sir Derek Jacobi in the role of the king. Richard Madden, too, does a nice job with the little he's given. And Nonso Anozie has quite a presence as a captain in the king's guard; I look forward to seeing him in Pan.

My daughter and all the little girls filling the cinema were suitably impressed with the film; in particular the transformation scenes of pumpkins becoming carriages and, later, returning to pumpkin form. The power of big, beautiful dresses cannot be denied. But afterward my daughter declared, "But all that death and dying! I didn't like it!"

The upshot of the film, if one bothers to think about it much, must be that kindness will be rewarded (eventually) . . . Rather a sense of karma, or "what you put out into the universe comes back to you" or something. And that true royalty is something internal rather than external, not something you're born to but something you project. This gives hope to all the little girls who visit Disneyland and Disney World, for even as Ella in the movie says, "But I'm not a real princess!" she is told to enjoy it [the ball, which may as well be an allegory for the Disney amusement parks] while she can.

Today you may be a Disney princess, but tomorrow it may be back to the attic with you . . . Just keep faith and keep being kind, bear up under terrible odds, and some day it may pay off when a powerful man sees your worth. Or something.


Television: Elementary, "T-Bone and the Iceman"

A needlessly complicated story in which a young woman accidentally hits (t-bones) a white van and pays for it by being murdered with a crowbar. Seems the van was carrying "stolen" refrigerant. This plot thread leads to Cryo NYC, a sketchy company that freezes dead people with the idea of bringing them back at some future date. (And, hey, it's Mark Margolis again, just a few weeks after his Gotham turn. That guy is making the rounds. And he's still not the fool you take him for.)

At this point I knew the engineer at Cryo NYC was the perp. (I'm pretty sure they called him "Scott Resnick" in the episode, though IMDb has the character as "Terrence Resnick"?) A conspiracy involving a leukemia sufferer and a bizarre coverup pertaining to Manos: The Hands of Fate ensues, but I was really just waiting for them to get around to Resnick. Which they did.

There is also a painful subplot regarding Watson and her mother. It just felt very sudden to drop Watson's family back into the show after only having introduced them a couple times early on (and where have Watson's friends gone, either?). With a couple lines of dialogue we discover Watson has a standing date to eat lunch with her mother once a month, but this lunch has been moved up from its regular day. Watson's mother Mary believes Watson's brother is having an affair, but the deeper concern is that Mary might be showing early signs of dementia; she's been forgetful and sometimes confused, and it's pretty plain what she "saw" of Watson's brother kissing another woman might actually be a flashback to when her own husband was having an affair. Of course Watson fails to convince her mother to see a doctor. But at the end of the episode, Holmes arranges for Mary to get the help she needs. In his underhandedly helpful way, he convinces Mary she forgot Watson's birthday (she hadn't) and prompts Mary to see a doctor. He tells Watson, "That's how we do it in my family."

So while this subplot was awkwardly shoehorned into the episode, the ending almost saves it: Holmes has adopted Watson's family in his own way.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Who You Really Are"

Lots of people with amnesia. Not very exciting, really. But at least they didn't drag out Skye's secret for too long. (I'm going to keep calling her Skye, since that's more or less how they've established her.)

Lady Sif turns up but can't remember who she is, only knows she must find "Cava." At first her accent made everyone think she was looking for "Carver" or something (and by "everyone" I mean "me"). But then Coulson et al. hear she's being held in Portugal, and they go pick her up, and Coulson conveniently remembers Sif was looking for someone before, and so maybe she's still doing that?

I don't know. Whatever.

The "key" Sif seeks is another alien who is on Earth looking for, basically, Skye and/or any other people who evolved. Skye is able to sort of pass it off that he must be looking for Raina, but since she keeps causing earthquakes, it becomes impossible to continue hiding the fact that she's mutated.

Then comes the big discussion of whether Skye should be allowed to stay with Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. since it's really dangerous to have her around. But of course Sif eventually relents, and they make the key guy forget, and all go on their merry ways.

Oh, but Simmons does confront Fitz over not being forthright about Skye's DNA tests, and when Fitz tells her it was because Simmons was on a kill-them-all kick, she says, "Skye's different! She's a friend!" And Fitz points out that he was her friend, but when he changed, she ran away and began treating him differently, too. So that round goes to Fitz.

And then something is going on with Mac and Bobbi—not affair like, more secret conspiracy like—and when Hunter demands Mac tell him what's up, Mac . . . strangles him to death? (I'm totally assuming Hunter is dead there, but shows like these have not a great track record in dead people staying dead, so . . .) This was possibly the most interesting thing to happen in the entire episode, and it was, like, the last minute of show.

It was a passable episode. It set up a few things, and sometimes you need episodes like that. And every now and then you need something lighter and a little funnier, too. I do think S.H.I.E.L.D. could do with a few more of those.


Television: Scorpion, "Once Bitten, Twice Die"

So our clan hosts a peace talk for three Eastern European presidents, and of course Paige is the only one to have done her homework. She smooths things over time and again by appealing to what she's learned of the cultural history and heritage, basically showing up the people whose job it is to facilitate the talks. That's Paige: natural mediator. Isn't that what she does for Team Scorpion anyway?

But of course one of the presidents is poisoned during a toast, so things go south anyway.

Now there are two problems: 1. Find out what poison was used so an antidote can be administered. 2. Find out who did it.

For Problem 1 we're back to Paige and her studies. Something about a snake and some long-winded story about a leader's child once being bitten, and the funeral started a fight amongst the countries, etc. Whatever. Point is: snake. Venom. Go find the same kind of snake at the local reptile center.

Problem 2 is tackled with Sylvester's ability to patch into people's cell phones. He intercepts a message that shows who did it and why: a weapons manufacturer stands to make a lot of money if a war breaks out. Same old story.

Here's where things get stupid, though. Toby has Sylvester send a false reply, which tips the bad guy off that someone is reading his texts. Why fake an answer? Why not continue to monitor? Or just arrest the guy outright? The false response gives the bad guy a chance to run away, which he does, and then Cabe gets him later, so . . . Was this just to stretch the story? Give Cabe something to do?

Meanwhile, Walter, Happy, and Paige go to the reptile center to get an adder. Again, though, why take Paige when she was being most useful back at the peace talks? I feel like a lot of bad choices were made in this episode.

They get the adder, save the day, and end up with a pet weasel. Oh, and Happy kisses Toby.

By the way, I'm pretty sure Walter would have heard of Ferris Bueller. May not have seen it, but would at least get the reference. He didn't grow up and never see the movie poster or hear other kids talking about it. Like, I've never seen Edward Scissorhands, either, but if someone makes a pop culture reference, I know enough to nod my head. (And I only saw Ferris Bueller under duress. Didn't enjoy it. But that's neither here nor there, I suppose.)


Gong Hee Fot Choy

I've had a rough couple weeks and decided to try out this book/"game" for a bit of a break. I found it at Half Price Books for, like, six bucks, and it seemed to fit in with my love for Tarot and Lenormand. Hey, I'm always on the lookout for new cards to "read."

Gong Hee Fot Choy is a book and (what they call) a game board; you have to supply your own playing cards. Anyway, I don't know if there are a lot of different versions of this, but for the record, mine is the Third Edition by Margarete Ward.

So here's what you do: Get some playing cards and remove the jokers, twos, threes, fours, fives, and sixes. You should have 32 cards left. Then lay out the board, which is really just a folded sheet. Shuffle the cards and make a wish. Then place a card on each "House" on the board.

It'll look something like this:

You'll notice the cards don't quite lie flat, which is kind of a nuisance; in fact, that is my one main complaint about this whole thing. The "board" won't lay flat, so the cards kind of slide around when you lay them out.

The book that accompanies the board gives detailed meanings for each card in each of the Houses. For example, in the spread above, that Ace of Spades (the death card) in my House of Compass means: "someone who has passed on is trying to contact you. Relax and call to name in silence each person that you love that is on another plane. You will greet them and they will be very happy."

There's a bit of a learning curve in immediately identifying patterns and messages in the cards, but the more I've worked with this, the more quickly it comes. For example, I now have it fixed in my brain that the Ace of Hearts is the abode card, and in the above spread it lands in the House of Undertaking. Even without the guide book, I can hazard a guess that means there may be a home project afoot at some point. Or, since I work from home, some new project of mine will become a major undertaking.

A passing knowledge of Tarot helps in some cases but not all. The Nine of Hearts = the Nine of Cups in that each are the "wish card." But the Ace of Spades, aforementioned as the death card, is not exactly the same as the Ace of Swords here. There are some similarities, then, but it's not an exact correspondence.

I like this; it's fun. But I would recommend one include an element of timing in one's wish or reading, since otherwise it feels rather open-ended. To wish for something to happen, and then have a reading that suggests it will, naturally leaves one wondering, "When?" So maybe wish for something to happen within a certain time frame. Or, if doing a general reading, make it for the week or month or something and see how that plays out for you. Since I've only just started this myself, I can't attest to the accuracy. But it did give me some encouragement, so I'm hoping it's at least somewhat on the mark.

Television: Elementary, "For All You Know"

Remember, remember the 7th of December . . . 2011, that is*. Except Holmes can't because he was still in the throes of his drug addiction. So when he's accused of murdering a cleaning woman on that date, he can't 100% be sure he didn't do it.

Watson is, of course, convinced of Holmes's innocence, and so begins the push-pull of contention: Watson so sure Holmes is a good person, even when drugged up, and Holmes insisting she does not know the person he used to be.

The episode itself poses an interesting problem, and there's never anything more compelling than (a) exploring characters' depths while (b) putting them in jeopardy. Too bad it was pretty clear who did it the moment the murderer appeared on the screen. So I spent my time waiting for them to get around to it. In the meantime, though, I was suitably entertained by the personal conflict.

And I liked Oscar. I know I'm probably not supposed to, but . . . I dunno. I feel like he's a character who could become semi-regular and add an interesting new dimension to the show. An updated version of Doyle's street urchins. (If you're wondering, Oscar is a junkie Holmes used to hang with back in his drug days. Oscar now sells knock-off handbags on a street corner.)

I won't go through the intricacies of the plot, but I think it's safe to say that Holmes, of course, is not a murderer. At least not in this instance. Maybe there's something we still don't know? . . .

*I do actually remember this date because I was in London at the time and lost my voice.


Books: Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian L. Weiss, M.D.

My aesthetician recommended this book to me, knowing that I have a passing interest in past lives and the spiritual. It is, apparently, a cornerstone book in reincarnation literature. And anyway, I recognized Dr. Weiss' name from those Past Life Oracle Cards.

This book in particular is Dr. Weiss' story of a patient named Catherine who came to him with many severe phobias (he's a psychiatrist), and when traditional therapy was not working, hypnotic regression was tried. These regressions revealed not only Catherine's childhood but past lives as well. And sometimes "Masters" would come through and tell Dr. Weiss things about life beyond this one.

I honestly don't know what I think about all this.

On the one hand, I have a natural resistance (or maybe it's a resistance that has been bred into me by my religious upbringing and the world at large). But then, Dr. Weiss exhibits this same hesitancy when he writes about what was happening with Catherine. He goes through the logical possibilities and can find no other explanation than: It's true. Reincarnation is real, and there are spirit guides and Masters on another plane that are there to help us and teach us.

Of course, this is just one woman. She could have been a fluke. But Dr. Weiss claims at the end of this book to have since regressed others into past lives as well.

These past few years, I've been plumbing the depths of my own spirituality and intuition. I can put myself into a trance state, and I've experienced some interesting things that may have been past lives. I guess there's always that iota of doubt. As a writer, I sometimes wonder if I'm "making stuff up." But these things look and feel different from my imagination. And I've had many psychics tell me I should trust what I'm seeing and feeling and sensing. (I've also had them tell me that sometimes, the stories I'm writing that just have to come out, may be based on past life experiences. Um . . .)

And maybe my "Masters" are represented by the weird little pantheon of celebrities that turn up in my dreams to tell me things.

I'd like to maybe have a professional regression some day. Just to see what that's like and how it differs, see if anything different surfaces.

I'm not going to rule on this one way or another. At the very least, I think Dr. Weiss has written an interesting book, one that is food for thought. And if it makes people a little less frightened of death and "what comes after," he's done the world a service.

I know he's written a number of other books since. Don't know if I'll read them. It's a lot to chew over, so I'm not ready for another big meal just yet. (And then again, if it's more of the same, I'd rather eat something else in the meantime.)

Television: Gotham, "RedHood"

I've fallen behind on some of my television viewing. And I can't say much about this episode of Gotham because my DVR went wonky and wouldn't show me the end. So the last thing I saw was Alfred getting stabbed.

In truth, I didn't find the episode all that interesting. Oswald (Penguin) was having trouble getting booze for his club. Fish Mooney used a spoon to take out one of her own eyes when the guy running whatever "facility" threatened her. An old military friend of Alfred's turned up and, as always happens, while staying at Wayne Manor began to steal things. They should just not have guests. It's when Alfred caught him that the guy stabbed Alfred.

Meanwhile, Jim and Harvey were following a band of bank robbers, the leader of which wore a red hood. Except the other robbers kept killing whoever had the red hood and then a new leader would take it for himself . . . Makes them difficult to catch when they keep changing, I guess. But despite the episode title, there wasn't much story here, nor was a lot of time devoted to it.

Meh. I can at least hope my DVR will let me watch all of the next episode, if and when I get around to it.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Aftershocks"

For as excited as I was for this show to come back, it sure didn't hold my attention for very long.

You may or may not remember that we ended with Skye and Raina "evolving" while Tripp died in that underground temple. So we pick up with Skye in quarantine and Simmons piloting a team to clear the rubble, possibly find Raina's body (though we all know that's not going to happen). Meanwhile, with Whitehall dead, the leaders of Hydra are looking for Bakshi to possibly take Whitehall's place. And Skye's dad is still out there being crazy, too.

We get a flashback of Skye's mom helping a young man named Gordon who also evolved, it seems, but ended up with no eyes. But, hey, he can teleport! He just can't see where he's going! (I'm guessing in the long run there's an ESP element to him "seeing." I don't know much about these things, though, since I didn't read the comics.) Since he grows up to be Jamie Harris/"Reader" per IMDb . . . ::shrug::

Anyway, Raina is upset that she's ended up with thorns all over her body. Evolving made her ugly, and that makes her mad and sad and stuff.

And Skye can make earthquakes happen. This is somehow really underwhelming.

Other plot points involve the systematic murder of all those Hydra heads. But . . . When you cut off the head of a hydra, don't lots more grow back? You have to set fire to the stumps or something, right?

And then there's the whole Skye-isn't-normal thing. This is where the show skews off a bit in my opinion. Simmons gets it in her head that these people with powers are diseased and need to be put down. Her argument is that too many people have already lost their lives because of this "contagion." Which just goes against her character so much that I have trouble swallowing it. She's a scientist. And I can understand that she's finally reached the point where she's tired of losing people she cares about, but she must have known when joining S.H.I.E.L.D. that this was what she was signing up for. Genocide? Simmons? I don't buy the shift in her perspective.

More realistic, and much better handled, was Fitz's anger at Tripp's death. Fitz is quickly becoming one of the best characters on the show. And his shielding (har!) Skye by swapping the DNA results with old samples was completely in character, and it was touching, and it forms a nice bond between the two of them.

But honestly, though I absorbed a lot of what was happening, the show on the whole did not command my full attention. So I'm sure I'm missing some stuff. Thing is, none of it feels important enough for me to care that I'm missing any of it. I don't know what can be done to change that, on my part or that of the show's writers. But it's always a bad sign if a show isn't holding one's interest.