Television: Doctor Who, "The Husbands of River Song"

WHY call for a surgeon and arrange for a massive live television airing of your husband's surgery if your real goal is to cut off his head and kill him?

I'm just throwing that out there.

And why didn't this Hydroflax want the surgery to begin with? He strikes me as the type who would insist on having this problem fixed.

Also, dialogue like, "I'll just stick my head around the door" is pretty clunky in its obvious play for double meaning.

I didn't find any of the emotional stuff very moving, either, though I thought River's rant in the restaurant (say that five times fast) was pretty good. I wonder how many takes it required to get it all out. And the Doctor's response of, "Hello, Sweetie," was perfect. So that was a nice moment.

It was stiff at first, but warmed up as it went along. I found River a bit over the top, even more so than usual, and the Doctor's reactions to her "husbands" a bit much as well, but then it seemed to even out. Once they got into a groove, it was more tolerable.

But I thought the story itself was pretty weak and wobbly. Though I find it incredibly optimistic to believe humans will still exist in any form come 5343. [Insert rant about our self-destruction here; I won't take up space in this post with my feelings about it.]

Overall, I'd say it was just okay, yet I found it better than most of this past season and most recent Christmas specials, so . . . Proximity bias gives it a boost, I suppose.

I wish I could summon enthusiasm for this show any more, but I feel like my love for it has been beaten down. Here's hoping it gets better. Some day.


Victorian Steampunk Tarot

Not to be confused with the Steampunk Tarot.

This one was a Christmas gift, and it was yet another deck I hadn't heard of. But it's lovely, made of interesting composite images. The cards are somewhat large in size but flexible enough that it's not a problem to shuffle them despite their size. Comes in a great box that you can keep to store the deck and accompanying booklet, too.

Major Arcana on top, Minor Arcana below
I will say a friend of mine who is a graphic designer and very visual didn't much care for the minor arcana in this deck because there aren't visual cues to the meanings of the cards. In the Victorian Steampunk Tarot, the suits are Dragonflies (Cups), Bees (Swords), Moths (Wands), and Beetles (Pentacles). And while there are cups, swords, wands (or, really, torches), and coins on the cards along with the silhouettes of the insects, there isn't much else. So if you don't know the 2 of Cups is a card about union or attraction, then the card isn't going to help you.

But there is a handy guide, and I actually really like the layout of the manual, which is less detailed than some but also much more interesting in some ways. For one thing, it gives a list of which cards in this deck are yes, no, or neutral. And it gives instructions for a yes-or-no reading. Also instructions for a 2-card reading that I really like.

And I do like the artwork. That same graphic designer friend mentioned it was somewhere between Dave McKean and Monty Python, but that's not a bad thing. There is both weight and whimsy here, largely depending on the card. And this mostly pertains to the Major Arcana, but I also like the tone of the minor cards as well.

I got along with these cards almost immediately, so I may be biased. But it is quickly becoming one of my favorite decks to work with.


Television: Elementary, "The Cost of Doing Business"

All right, let's look at this mid-season finale (since that's a thing now).

I've written before about how Elementary consistently views wealth and capitalism (big business) as bad. Holmes himself attempts to cut his personal strings to his father's money, often not wanting to be beholden to it or associated with his father, who he views as evil. And it really was only a matter of time before the show itself revealed this to be true. Because Elementary cannot allow a wealthy businessperson to not be evil and underhanded.

Ah, wait, so let's reverse this bus for a moment. The episode itself started with a sniper opening fire on a busy street or plaza or whatever. And then Morland Holmes turns up to help his son solve the mystery.

Um, what?

Yes, Morland offers to play along as an Irregular, using his considerable power to get Sherlock into the offices of high-flying CEOs and the like. We meet these other wealthy businessmen, get sidetracked into a story about a plumber, but of course come back to the wealthy businessmen being the bad guys. One of them hired a sniper to assassinate . . . Someone for something cuz money. ::shrug:: That's pretty much how every episode of Elementary goes.

Then we get that kicker. The one where Morland meets with someone who wants money or else he'll tell Sherlock what Morland is really up to. And Morland threatens the guy, suitably frightening him into submission so that the man all but walks backward while bowing and babbling his apologies. This is so we can see that (a) Morland really is evil, and (b) he's also really powerful. Which is supposed to make us think he'll be tough to defeat or something.

But really, it all feels done before. Didn't we do the thing where it was clear Mycroft was hiding something and might be bad too? Honestly, Mycroft was a more interesting character because he was not morally black or white but gray. His motives were more interesting, his behavior and choices, his relationship with his brother—all way more nuanced than what we're getting with Morland. I think Mycroft and Sherlock should get together and form BAD: Brothers Against Dad. Or something. Anything to make this more engaging to watch.

Thing is, I've enjoyed this season more than last. But on the flip side, it's getting a bit stale. The "we hate money and capitalism" stuff is tired. Find some other bad guys. A crime ring or something. A forger. That would be fun, right? I mean anything but another CEO or whatever. Which is all Morland amounts to either. More of the same. Please. Do something different.

Books: Very British Problems by Rob Temple

This book has been on my wish list for a while (along with Very British Problems Abroad, which seems currently unavailable where I am), and my in-laws bought it for me for my birthday. It's a quick and funny little read, the kind of book you leave in the loo for guests in case they didn't bring in their phones. (Hmm. That previous sentence correctly pluralizes subjects and verbs but also makes it sound as if more than one guest is using the loo at any given time . . .)

I was tempted to go through and check off each "problem" I suffer, but most of the book would have been marked up, and I cringe at the idea of defacing a book, especially a new one. As it was, I took pains not to bend the spine.

This isn't laugh-out-loud funny. It's more gravely nodding-in-agreement funny. And that only makes sense if you suffer from VBP. There is a handy quiz in the book to self-diagnose whether you do. I scored quite high though not perfectly.

Maybe you'll laugh out loud if you don't suffer from VBP? Because then you'd be laughing at people who do, I suppose. But I can't think about that too much; that way lies madness.

Seriously, though, a cute book and a fun read. And if you like the book follow the Twitter @SoVeryBritish too.


Universal Fantasy Tarot & Fairy Lights Tarot

More lovely decks for my collection!

Both of these come from the prolific Lo Scarabeo. The Universal Fantasy deck is colorful and bold; the Fairy Lights deck is softer, with misty gray borders to the cards.

I'll come right out and admit I prefer the Universal Fantasy deck. I find the images detailed and intriguing. I feel pulled in by these cards, and I made an almost immediate connection to them.

The Fairy Lights deck feels too amorphous by comparison. Almost as if I can't grasp their meaning. And it may be that they are suffering proximity bias—that because I connected so strongly with the other deck, they just can't live up to expectations. So I'll keep working with this deck to see if we can forge a stronger bond.

Above is a sample reading. The same three cards from each deck: 4 of Wands, 7 of Pentacles, 3 of Wands. The top row is the Universal Fantasy Tarot, and the bottom row is the Fairy Lights.

The art on both is beautiful. But they have very different vibes. The Universal Fantasy deck incorporates the four wands, the seven pentacles, the three wands. The Fairy Lights deck relies on the number at the top of the card and the symbol at the bottom for you to know which card it's meant to be.

However, I will say the meanings in the booklet for the Universal Fantasy deck seem only tangentially related to the cards' images, while the booklet for the Fairy Lights deck seems more in tune with the cards themselves. Also, the Fairy Lights booklet explains that the cards are meant to be laid next to one another to form a kind of story—the images should bleed into one another to create a portrait of your answer. There is a dreamlike quality to this, and I feel this deck requires you to sort of be in a dreamlike state to use it effectively.

I'll continue to work with both decks. I've found the trick is often choosing the right deck for the right moment and question. With so many options, I often have to close my eyes and meditate before selecting. But just as often I'll feel pulled to a particular deck or oracle before I even realize I have a question. I'm curious to learn where these two will insert themselves.


Movies: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and a bunch of people from Episodes IV–VI
Directed By: J.J. Abrams, making up for what he did to Star Trek
Written By: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, from characters by George Lucas
Lucasfilm/Bad Robot, 2015
PG-13; 135 minutes
5 [Death] stars (out of 5)


First I'm going to go into the requisite personal history I have with this franchise. My best friend was (is) a huge Star Wars fan. She was four and I was eight (Return of the Jedi came out when I was seven). And while I liked Indiana Jones and all things Sherlock Holmes more, I was cool with the Star Wars thing, too. We played it a lot. I always had to be Han, but I was fine with that because I knew Han was really Indy, so it was kind of the same thing.

What I'm saying is, I was very familiar with the Star Wars universe, but I didn't have the attachment that so many fans have. I enjoyed it, and I remember Empire being my favorite of the three films, though Jedi was a close second. I didn't have much feeling for the first one at all.

And when those prequels came out? I went because, again, I have a lot of geeky friends who were very into that stuff. And I was underwhelmed and they were absolutely deflated. So I had fears going into this. Fears that the movie wouldn't be as good as the hype, fears that my friends were going to be sobbing again, and that the little bit of my childhood that is wrapped in Star Wars would be stomped on for a fourth time.

Now I say to doubters: Fear Not.

This is a terrific movie.

It really does bring back all the great things about the original trilogy. Not just Ford and Fisher and so on, but the tone and aesthetic. The fun.

I'm not going to go into details because I don't want to be a spoiler. I will say Adam Driver plays angry and sullen very well. (I was going to write "rebellious teen" but he's, like, in his thirties. Yet his tantrums in this movie were worthy of my six-year-old, and that's saying something.) And while this story feels like it's been told before, well, there's a reason myths and legends have lasted as long as they have, and a reason we go back to certain archetypes again and again. Check in with Joseph Campbell on that.

One might argue the writers went back to this well because it's what worked in IV–VI. And that could be true, too. But if moderate plot repetition is all I can hold against this movie, well . . . Honestly, it's entertaining enough that I'm willing to overlook that. In Rey (Ridley) and Finn (Boyega), we have worthy successors to the Star Wars mantel. And in the cast as a whole, we have solid performances and good chemistry.

In short, they did this well. They did it right.

In fact, they did it so well that I've gone back to that place in my childhood that makes me want to buy toys and t-shirts. Which I'm sure was part of the plan. Those of us old enough to remember the first three movies, the good ones, we're also now old enough to buy ourselves things. And those of us with kids to boot, well, we can buy them things, too. We're being prompted to shower ourselves and our offspring with nostalgic glee, to share that bit of happy memory with those younger than us so they can build happy memories, too.

Well, there are worse things.

Okay, one spoiler. If you haven't seen the movie yet, don't read beyond this line.

During the last scene of the movie, my daughter leaned over and asked, "Momma, who is that?"

And I whispered, "That's Luke Skywalker, baby."

And you know, I'm notoriously difficult to make cry. It's nearly impossible unless there's an animal or small child involved. But when Rey held out that lightsaber? I teared up. I'll admit it.

It's that good a movie.

Or, at least, it's that good a movie for someone bringing a little bit of history into the cinema with them.

But I do think it's also good enough to capture a fresh generation, too. My kids came home and were ready to play Star Wars, each of them shouting out who they were going to be. My youngest son: "I'm BB-8!" My daughter: "I wanna be Chewie!" And my 10-year-old: "I'm Luke Skywalker."

Which leaves me as Han. As usual.


The Raven's Prophecy Tarot

Every year around this time I'm inundated with new tarot and oracle decks. This is because we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, and my birthday is also the week before Christmas, so . . . Once a year I basically am showered with presents. (And I don't mind admitting I love it!)

So here's a deck that was given to me for my birthday: The Raven's Prophecy Tarot. I love ravens and crows and blackbirds in general, so this is a great deck for me. There aren't ravens on every card, though. At first I found that kind of confusing. I was like, Where are the ravens? There are several, of course, but they aren't pervasive. It makes sense if you think about it. Too many ravens would feel forced, like the cards were a slave to the theme. Instead, this deck feels very natural and organic.

And I really love the artwork. My guess is it's done with pastels, but I don't really know. It's colorful and contrasts beautifully with the black backgrounds on the cards. Vivid.

Each suit has a motif. The Cups feature the ravens and/or feathers. The Coins (Pentacles) are roses, which speaks to that suit being the Earth suit, all about nurturing and growing things. The Sword cards have hands on them. The Wands are naturally lights and fires, being that Wands represent the element of Fire. And the Major Arcana use various of all these images. It's quite beautifully done.

The corresponding book gives nice 1–2 page descriptions for each card including 3–4 keywords for each as well. I will say I don't always entirely comprehend the written "stories" for each of these cards (they're a tad flowery and artistic, and I sometimes just want something plain and direct), but my working understanding of tarot + the keywords is enough for me. And I overall like the way these cards feel in my hands. They're a good size and weight, easy to shuffle. I also like the way they read. They aren't stark—there is depth to the readings—but they are also not vague or obscure, which was my fear with something so artistic. Again, that might be because I'm bringing a few years' worth of understanding of tarot to the table with me; I don't know how these cards might work for a beginner. But for an intermediate reader like me, they're just different enough from the traditional to keep things interesting. I would certainly choose them for situations in which I need depth of insight but also want some kind of answer rather than just a signpost, because I think this deck is capable of both.


Chakra Wisdom Oracle & Osho Zen Tarot

More birthday goodies!

I like that my dear friend sent these, and though they aren't necessarily the kinds of decks I normally go for, I'm enjoying playing with some new and different energies.

The Chakra Wisdom Oracle has 49 cards separated into (you guessed it) seven sets of seven, color coded by chakra. Now I don't know a whole lot about chakras. I know there are seven of them and they have different colors. That's about it. So lucky for me there's a really nice, full-color guide that comes with these cards to explain things.

When I first looked through the deck—I always go through a new deck and familiarize myself with it, get to know it a bit—I was a little confused by the images. They didn't seem to always match the name of the card. And when I read the descriptions of the cards in the book, they were sometimes not what I would immediately expect either. Which is to say this is not a quickie oracle. This is one you have to take time to get to know, and you do better if you go with intuition over trying to reason things out logically.

sample Chakra Wisdom Oracle reading
I mean, look at that Recovery card up there. It's like, "What now?" But that's because each card has a story. So reading about the card in the guidebook is a must.

I do like these cards. It will take me a while to get the hang of them, perhaps, but so far I've enjoyed the bit of work I've done with them. They've been consistent and direct but also gentle.

The same dear friend also sent the Osho Zen Tarot. (This friend is a Buddhist Reiki master.) What struck me when I opened these cards was that the cards were not pre-sorted in a natural order. Normally when I receive a deck, the cards are packaged by suit. These were just . . . random. And I feel like that says something about this deck in general.

sample 3-card Osho Zen Tarot reading

The tarot suits are all there. Kind of. They're different in that the court cards are not people, per se, and the four suits are Fire: Action, Water: Emotions, Clouds: The Mind, and Rainbows: The Physical. I'm not sure how I feel about the somewhat cutesy "Ice-Olation" (what we would think of as the 3 of Swords), but on the whole I do find the changes to the traditional deck interesting. There's a different feel to these cards; they answer less directly because they want you to work for it. They want you to go deeper and really examine the situation—what you're asking, why you're asking, and so on. There's a sense these cards want to say, "You know the answer if you just stop and think about it. So we're going to throw some signposts up but it's on you to follow through to the destination."

In short, if you want a quick answer, something surface, don't ask Osho Zen. But if there's something you need to get to the root of, these cards are going to be great for that. I look forward to exploring further with them.

I Wrote a Book!

As if you didn't know.

But you can listen to me talk about my Sherlock Holmes stories, and my novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, and even a little bit about the YA novel I'm working on here. It's Lena Anani's "She Wrote a Book" podcast. Check it out!


More About Peter

I'm featured on author Suz Korb's blog today, talking more about where my ideas for The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller came from. Is it possible I was a gay British spy in a previous life? Click here to find out more.


Television: Elementary, "The Games Underfoot"

Remember when Atari buried all those ET cartridges in the 80s? Whoever wrote this episode sure does! A year or so ago those game cartridges were unearthed and went for big money, thus spurring this episode of Elementary.

An archaeologist named Eddie is murdered and his apartment set on fire. The winding path of investigation leads to the fact Eddie had a secret dig—namely in search of buried cartridges of the game Nottingham Knights. He hoped to find them and sell them.

Instead he found hazardous waste.

Without going too far into the details, Elementary stays true to form in that the culprit in this case is the rich guy. That's the show's favorite kind of bad guy. And I'm not saying capitalism and corporations can't be bad, or that rich people can't be self-interested bullies, I'm just saying Elementary falls on that pretty regularly. I'd like to see them do something different.

B plot involves Alfredo trying to reconnect with Holmes and Holmes seemingly avoiding him. But Holmes has valid reasons for attending new meeting sites. Like most achievers, he shies from the haunts that remind him of failure. Progress, for him, means moving on to new pastures. It's a flaw—being unable, unwilling to face people and admit you're less than perfect—but an understandable one. And in this case he's praised for being selfish when it comes to his rehabilitation.

The only truly amusing moment in this episode is when Watson bests Holmes at a video game. I feel like the episode could have used more of that.

I also wasn't sure I fully bought into Alfredo and Holmes "hanging out." But maybe that's a guy thing that I just don't get. In fact, there was sufficient awkwardness that maybe it's a guy thing Holmes doesn't get either but feels obligated to try or do. If that's the case, it was actually quite well done.

I wanted more from this episode. I thought Holmes + video games could have been really fun, but it ended up not really being about the games and therefore not being as much fun. It was a solid episode but failed to live up to my hopes and expectations.


Books: Secrets & Lies: Military Intelligence by Jeremy Harwood

So I was roaming around a Barnes & Noble because I had time to kill before going to a movie, and I found this book in the bargain section. It was published by Metro Books in New York. I picked it up at first because I thought it might be the kind of thing my 10-year-old son would like, and then I kept it because I thought it might have interesting info to help me plan my next Peter Stoller novel.

Now when picking up a remaindered book, one hardly has high expectations. I planned to flip through this and then hand it off to my son. But I've found myself surprisingly engaged.

That's kind of sad. No publisher (at least none that I know of) puts out a book with the idea that they just want it to be a bargain leftover. I mean, there are so many authors out there trying to get published, and publishers are ostensibly selective, choosing only the best. But there are no guarantees. And maybe this book was just too niche. But the fact I'm surprised it's any good—that's what's sad. Because I'm sure the author and publisher put some real effort behind it.

For one thing, it's a nicely made book. (I know because I worked in publishing, and I remember dealing with the manufacturing people.) Good paper stock, lots of photos. This wasn't cheap to produce.

And the author did his job, too. He's written profiles of famous spies and operations, and these articles are far from dry. They're very readable and interesting while also being concise.

But now I'm going to get nitpicky. There are some editorial problems, by which I mean typos and the like, which is just a shame in an otherwise well-written book. And there is one thing about the paper I don't like. They've used a kind of image on the background to make the pages look . . . old, I guess. I'm not entirely sure what effect they were going for. But it just makes the book look beat up and scratched up, and I find it a tad distracting. I like my books to be tidy. I take care of my books, so when they come to me already looking damaged, it puts me off a bit.

These are small things. (Well, the typos and punctuation problems are a pain, but they're not on every page or anything. It's just that I've noticed more than a couple, so I do wonder about this publisher's editors and proofreaders.) They haven't prevented me from reading the book or enjoying it.

A good find.

Podcasts: Pop Culture Happy Hour

Once again, I'm really late to the party. I've only recently begun listening to podcasts at all because early on I couldn't find any I enjoyed and sort of assumed they all must suck. But I finally got around to this one, and I can say it's what's making me happy this week.

I've been jumping around from recent ones to ones from the past summer, just clicking on whichever ones sound even remotely interesting. And they've all turned out to be good, even if the topic isn't one I have strong feelings about. (Also, I'm glad to learn I'm not the only one in the world who wasn't a fan of Big. I didn't hate it, it just wasn't my thing. You and me, Glen.) The hosts are engaging and funny. They talk a bit fast, so if that bothers you, beware. But they give you good food for thought each week, too. Like this week it was about visceral reactions—what makes you cry, laugh, cringe? And I'm notoriously difficult to make cry. I'm too aware of being emotionally manipulated, and it ends up making me angry rather than having the [desired?] effect of making me cry. But if it's an animal, oh my God . . . The Fox and the Hound, Where the Red Fern Grows, Lassie, Come Home, The Cat That Overcame, The Cat Who Went to Heaven . . . I'll sob over those. If there's an animal involved, you've got me by the heartstrings.

Talk radio isn't my thing, so I'm not sure why I'm cool with all these NPR podcasts. Maybe talk radio has gotten better over the years. I think in the back of my mind it's still all sports and politics, and I just can't be bothered with listening to people carry on about that stuff. That kind of radio is like a never-ending Thanksgiving gathering for all the wrong reasons.

But on PCHH we're doing books and movies and all the stuff I like, stuff I feel I know enough to participate in. I may not have seen Creed, but I did see Rocky . . . a long time ago . . . And I still didn't need to know much about the film series to enjoy listening to the podcast. Because it's not just about the film. It's about reactions and why men feel the way they do about sports and sports movies. And this is the kind of media studies stuff my undergraduate degree was all about.

So I love it. It's like having a really good conversation with smart and interesting people. Even though, yeah, I'm not actually participating in the discussion. Except in my head. I've decided I'm kind of a Glen. There's probably an online quiz for that somewhere . . .


Television: Scorpion, "The Old College Try"

. . . In which our team goes undercover at a college.

It should have been funnier.

I really wanted it to end with Happy being accepted into that sorority (as unlikely as that seems).

But it was still a pretty solid episode.

The plot was, pshaw, something about a computer program that would do something to the stock exchange I think? I wasn't even paying that much attention to that part of the show. And somehow it didn't actually matter all that much. It hardly ever does in this show because you can generally rely on the notion the team is "doing something," and whatever it is will be important in some way, and it will be dangerous and/or difficult, and whether you know exactly what the circumstances are or not, you can watch any given scene and see they are using their collective brain capacity to full measure and trying not to blow something up or . . . whatever.

So last night they went into the basement of a college building and had to "do something" to a special computer, and if they didn't do it correctly everything would blow up or catch fire or whatever. See? I didn't have to know anything more than that. Because I know they're going to either (a) succeed, or (b) fail and have to come up with another plan. But none of them is going to die, so even if they fail, they will escape before the explosion.

That pretty much sums up every episode of Scorpion, actually. Which may make one wonder what's the point in watching? I guess to see what bizarre circumstances they face, and maybe because of the interpersonal character stuff (though I find most of that annoying).

I mean, I kept watching MacGyver as a kid because (a) I had a crush on Richard Dean Anderson, and (b) I actually learned stuff. Seeing Mac find ways out was most of the fun. It's not quite as much fun watching the Scorpion team do it, but that's only because none of them have as great a personality as MacGyver did. Maybe Cabe. I do like Cabe.

Anyway, this episode gets extra credit for the Shakespeare, and for having Walter set those drama snots in their places. I've done my share of theater, and just . . . No. I could go on a complete spur about how workshops fail aspiring writers, actors, etc. by stroking their egos and giving them false hope, but I'll just say: No.

So, yeah, an okay episode that maybe could have done a bit more with the material. They tried to cram in a lot and so didn't do much with any one piece of it. But maybe that's better than lingering too long on anything either.

Television: Doctor Who, "Hell Bent"

So in the end we're supposed to believe the Doctor does it all to save Clara.

And it just . . . It doesn't work for me.

It worked with the whole Rose story line. The bond between them, his inability to save her and the universe at the same time, the great sorrow at their having to part. So why not now?

Maybe because it has been done already, in a way (and better). Maybe because it becomes ridiculous to believe every companion has this impact on the Doctor. And we did the forgetting thing with Donna, too, only the other way around. So it just doesn't feel fresh at all. In fact, it feels a bit like a messy stew of ideas that didn't get fully cooked properly.

I won't even bother with the details. There was Gallifrey and there was the American Southwest again. There was the Doctor getting shouty and some convoluted logic in taking Clara out of the moment of her death and whatever. They failed in the key point: making me care. With Rose I cared, with Donna I cared, even with Amy and Rory I cared, but this one felt sloppy from the start.

So I'm hoping, just a bit, for some kind of fresh start after all this? Can we be done? Has this been settled? I don't even care if it hasn't been settled at this point, I just want to start over and hope for something better. Like a reset button.

Moffat does small stories very well. His solo episodes like "Girl in the Fireplace" and "Blink" are solid, largely considered some of the best since the show rebooted in 2005. But when he tries to paint a bigger picture, it's just a mess. RTD did it so well, and so even if Moffat were good at it, he'd probably still suffer by comparison. But he's not good at it, so the contrast is even greater.

At the end of the day, out of this entire season (or first half of the season, or whatever it is), I only actually enjoyed the two-parter about the lake. That's a terrible batting average.

And I so want to like this show. I want it to be good again. It's starting to be painful, and if it doesn't turn around, I may have to abandon it. Which I really don't want to do. But sticking it out 'til the bitter end is devolving into hate watching, and I don't want to do that, either.

It's so difficult, watching a show you love wither on the vine. Let's get some irrigation going, stat.


Television: The Leftovers, "I Live Here Now"

This was the Season 2 finale. We may or may not get a Season 3. But that's okay, but this ended in a satisfying spot. [spoilers ahead]

I'll admit to getting a tad annoyed with the Lost-like stuff. More purgatory/afterlife. Yes, it was true to the story that had been set up (rather than being somewhat random as it was in Lost), but it felt like a re-tread. A we-did-this-once-before kind of thing. Because we'd seen Kevin die and come back, like, just a couple episodes ago. Never mind seeing all the afterlife stuff on Lost a few years back.

That aside, however, I was pleased with the way things played out. Though I did wonder about why one would bother with a countdown clock. Doesn't that just give law enforcement time to thwart your plan? If you're going to blow something up (and yeah, I know, they weren't), you just do it. You don't give people time to act against you.

Not that it seemed like anyone was doing much to stop it from happening anyway.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this season more than the first. It simply had more of a coherent story. It had the supernatural element turned up a bit, too. Some people might not enjoy that, but I felt like there was just the right amount of it. The kind of "weirdness" you might run into once or twice in life without being able to explain it. Well, except coming back to life. You don't run into that much (in my experience).

While I can hope for more, I simultaneously worry they'll ruin it if they push it too far. You know how it is when a really good show that you like tries to squeak out a couple more seasons. It sours. We don't need this to go X-Files or anything. But if they can get another great story pulled together, well, that could be something to look forward to.

The Story Behind the Story of Peter

I was given the opportunity to write an article about my inspiration for The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller for the literary magazine upcoming4.me. Click here to read it!


Books: The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller

It's now available for pre-order! At a huge discount, so don't wait.

You can pre-order for your Amazon Kindle, or on Smashwords. Apple, Nook, and Kobo coming soon.

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Games: Buffalo and Cinelinx

Our family is trying to institute a game night, or just play more games in general rather than watching television all the time. Some games are for all of us (two adults, three fairly young children). Some are just for the two grown-ups. Buffalo and Cinelinx are the latter.

Both are card games. Buffalo has two stacks of cards with random nouns and modifiers, and you have name someone who fits both categories. If you can't think of anyone, two more cards get set out and you have to name someone who fits at least two of the cards, if not more. You get to take the cards you "use," and the person with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner. One rule is, though, that you can't use the same person twice.

I'll admit, this game stumped us a few times. But what made it especially tricky is the subjectivity of a lot of it. For example, two cards were: "Secret Society Member" and "Skinny." I said, "George Bush?" Then came the debate over whether he counts as skinny. "He's not fat," I reasoned. And so I was allowed to take the cards, but there's this sort of uneasy feeling that permeates the game. A lot of, "I guess so . . ." and shrugging.

Buffalo was okay, but I enjoyed Cinelinx a lot more. To be fair, I'm a movie buff and have a film degree, so this game might not be for everyone. There are a variety of cards with genres, actors, directors, quotes, and movie titles on them. Each person gets ten cards, and a genre is laid in the center of the table. Then you have to connect your cards, kind of like dominos. Like, if the genre is Drama, and you have A Few Good Men, you can connect the two. Or you can put Steven Soderbergh down as someone who directs dramas. Or a quote from Rain Man or whatever.

The game requires a fairly extensive working knowledge of movies. The quote cards don't say which movies they're from, so if it's something you don't recognize . . . Or if you have a movie card for something you've never seen . . . Luckily, there's an option to swap out cards, but it means losing a couple turns.

Ultimately, the goal is to have no cards left.

Both are good games. I think I'll come to enjoy Buffalo more with practice; it requires quick thinking. With Cinelinx, I feel more adept, plus you're taking turns, so you don't feel as rushed. It's not a matter of "who shouts first" like with Buffalo.

In any case, I would recommend either game as an addition to anyone's collection.


Romantic Tarot & Energy Oracle Cards

Received a couple new decks in advance of Hanukkah/Christmas/my birthday!

The first is the Romantic Tarot by Lo Scarabeo. So far I'm really enjoying it. I love the artwork and the conceit of having each suit set in a different romantic city. The little book has great descriptions for each card, too, which usually I find Lo Scarabeo's card descriptions (or the translations of them) a tad weak, so this one is a nice surprise. It gives each card a sort of name—for example, the 3 of Cups is "The House of Love." Then it gives a short explanation. Continuing with the current example: "The body is happy when it has what it wants." Finally there is a single keyword, in this case: "Happiness."

3 of Cups, Knight of Wands, Judgement, Strength

The cards cleverly include symbols that show the suit and number, but they are also clearly marked with the number at the top and the suit depicted at the bottom. For the Major Arcana, only the Roman numeral is used, so you may want to have a passing knowledge of the cards, though the book will also clearly tell you what each card is.

NOTE, however, that though the VIII card depicts Strength, in the booklet VIII is listed as Justice (similarly, card XI is clearly Justice though the booklet names it as Strength). A minor mixup, but one that might be a problem for those not better versed in the cards.

In short, I enjoy the stories these cards suggest and very much like the art and, well, romanticism of them. Verdict is still out on how well they read; we're still getting to know one another. But I did feel almost immediately friendly with them.

Now the Energy Oracle is a fairly well-known deck, I think. I see it around a lot online, and I've wanted it for ages. So I'm very excited to have it.

These are 53 cards that cover a number of situations, including the seven chakras. Unlike some oracles, I feel like this one is pretty clear and plain-spoken. I appreciate that when I draw a card the answer makes sense rather than feeling obscure.

The guidebook also expounds on whatever message the card(s) you draw might be trying to give. It is, in short, a fabulous deck, and I can see why so many like it.

One tiny beef I have is in its production values. The laminate on the deck I received is streaky, and in some cases damaged and peeling away from the backs of the cards. So points deducted for poor manufacturing.

Television: Limitless, "Arm-aggedon"

This show is just so . . . It amuses me no end. Sock puppets? Sure, I think in sock puppets. Actually, I think in stuffed animals, which I keep strategically situated throughout the house so that I can pretend I'm talking to someone other than myself. But whatever.

Whoever writes this . . . It's so tight, and funny, with just the right amount of pathos. For example, in this episode Brian must (a) figure out how and who is hacking prosthetic arms and causing their users to do things they don't want to do, and (b) admit to his dad that he doesn't want to sue the FBI and quit working for them because, hey, he likes it!

Also, sock puppets. And kittens. I mean, how can you say no to that?

Limitless is a well-made show in a very different way from something like Fargo or The Leftovers, not least because it's a network show. These days, being held to network standards can feel like something of a handicap—you can't swear as much, you can't be as graphically violent. At a time when cable shows get all the attention and accolades, doing network television can feel like a losing battle. But Limitless manages to entertain me as much as those other shows, and in a very novel way. Plus it's great when I don't feel like watching something heavy. So in my book it wins.


Television: Elementary, "All My Exes Live in Essex"

This episode touches on, then shies from, marriages involving multiple partners. By which I mean two men married to the same woman, or two couples married to each other, or so on.

In this case, the central mystery is the death of an infertility/IVF doctor whose skeletal remains are discovered in the organ donor part of the hospital. Whoever killed the woman (Abby Campbell) knew how to strip and reassemble a skeleton.

And then it turns out Abby is married to two men in a triangular relationship. But she'd previously been part of a six-way relationship, and there was some bad blood regarding Abby having put the down payment on the house they all shared.

Then other tidbits crop up, including the fact Abby was giving embryos to a friend doing stem cell research. And was collecting blood from members of her cancer support group.

Truth is, though, it's pretty clear from early on whodunit. So despite all the herrings, I wasn't surprised by the reveal.

A secondary plot involved a police officer named Cortes making inquiries about Watson. When Watson confronts her, Cortes first blows her off then admits she doesn't like consultants. The police should do their own jobs in Cortes' opinion. (Watson also discovers Cortes didn't get a promotion because Gregson didn't take the job he was offered last season, and Cortes may blame Watson's research for that.) Cortes hints she may look into the reason Holmes and Watson were suddenly allowed to start consulting again. Holmes tells Watson to settle the feud the old-fashioned way, and so Watson boxes Cortes. We don't see the fight, but Watson returns pretty beat up yet tells Holmes she landed the last punch.

I can admire the desire to up the tension by throwing in a new adversary, but I wasn't wowed by the Cortes thing. Her fixation on Watson in particular is a bit off-putting, which it's meant to be, but . . . I don't know. Something about it didn't flow for me.

Also, Jonny Lee Miller has been making a lot of strange faces lately. I feel like he's exaggerating his expressions more than usual. It's distracting.

Still, a fair episode overall. I'm enjoying this season a bit more than the last.