Review: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles — Council of War

Doctor Who: Council of War

For the first fifty or so minutes, Council of War is an entertaining, compelling story. Then suddenly, the entire story hinges on what can only be called a deus ex Doctor and the entire thing collapses under its own weight.

Benton is sent by the Doctor and the Brigadier to a town of Kettering to investigate ghost sightings and disappearances by members of the town council. Posing as just-appointed councilmember, Benton attends the council Christmas party, meeting Margery Philips, self-proclaimed feminist and recently elected fellow councilmember.

An alien ship appears above the town and before you know it, Benton and Margery are swept up to an alien world, where Margery is on trial for (as of yet) unexplained crimes. It appears that Margery’s career in politics was a successful one, leading to her writing a book heralding the value of peace and non-violence. The alien race in question stumbled across said book, adopted it as the cornerstone of their society and had a decade or so of peaceful existence. And then an alien race with weapons showed up and demanded their subservience. The original aliens blame Margery for this and have put her on trial for the alleged crimes against their species.

Margery and Benton (each takes turn narrating the story and, for the most part, it works) argue that whether or not she’s to blame is irrelevant and that the alien race needs to stand up for themselves. However, the only weapons they have are show pieces in a museum and Benton’s walther-PPK. Benton hatches a plan to use the museum pieces to distract the aliens while he uses a device the Doctor whipped up to stow away on board the alien craft and create some havoc.

To this point, the story is going well though I will admit I started to become concerned the longer the story continued as to whether or not there would be enough time to properly wrap up the story in an interesting, believable way. And, unfortunately, these fears are realized when the story takes the easiest way possible out of the situation and left me feeling a bit empty and like I’d just wasted an hour or so listening to the story.

At several points in the story, allusions are made to the Bond stories and movies (there’s even a reference to Benton looking a bit like George Lazanby). It seems like the authors may have been trying to go for a Bond-like feel to this entry in the Companion Chronicles range. I’m guessing that makes the Brig M and the Doctor Q on some level…but I digress. Like I said before, the story works well until the last five or so minutes where instead of sticking the landing, it feels like the authors realized that had five minutes left to wrap this all up and went for the most convenient, easy, get-out-of-alien-invasion-free card they could find.

I know that several single disc releases have run three episodes and perhaps Council of War might have benefited from a bit longer running time.

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Review: The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel

The Break-Up ArtistSixteen year old Becca Williamson has a unique business plan. For a hundred bucks (paid via Pay Pal, of course), she will break up any high school couple. Becca’s services are rendered in anonymity and she’s very good at what she does.

But when Becca is approached by a new potential client, she has some misgivings. The couple in question are the king and queen bee of her high school and seemingly the perfect couple. Nearly inseparable, there’s the added twist that Huxley is her former best friend and head of the school dance squad. When she’s offered triple her fee if she can break the two up before Steve has to commit to a college, Becca accepts the challenge and begins a long game to sew the seeds of discontent between Huxley and Steve.

In order to do this, Becca goes undercover, joining the dance team and rekindling her friendship with Huxley. As Becca starts gathering the dirt on both sides to try and break them up, she begins to question her methods, business plan and whether she should continue as “The Break-Up Artist.”

Philip Siegel’s novel is an anti-thesis of all your typical young-adult romance novels. Becca is cynical and jaded when it comes to romance, thanks in large part to her older sister. The older sister has been living at home since her fiancee called off the wedding just hours before the ceremony and refuses to reconnect with her old friends, who have gone on with their lives, family and careers.

Over the course of the story, we see Becca’s conflict played out on the page. The party behind the break-up and their motives does come to light at the end and it’s interesting to watch as Becca is exposed as “The Break-Up Artist” and the consequences to her and her new found relationships — not only with Huxley, but also a burgeoning romance with the boyfriend of her best friend, Val.

The novel walks a fine line of having us understand Becca and her motivations without making her completely unsympathetic. There is humor in the pages and there is some well realized and authentic teen drama found on these pages. Siegel wisely makes all of the characters three-dimensional and there are times you’ll like them and times you won’t like them. But you’ll always have a clear understanding of what drives them and what motivates them.

A refreshingly different take on the teen angst novel, “The Break-Up Artist” almost screams out for a sequel. Not every thread is resolved and it would be interesting to visit Becca and her world again soon to see what develops next.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Animated Star Trek Round-Up: Episodes Five Through Ten

startrekheaderSix more episodes down in my quest to watch all of the animated episodes of Star Trek.  And it feels like this half-dozen episodes contain a lot of sequels and call backs to classic Star Trek.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does lead to a bit of an exposition dump in certain installments.

One thing I’ve noticed in watching these episodes is that they’re lean and mean when it comes to the storyline.  With half the running time of original series installments, there is no time for side tangents, filler or padding.   This set also includes an episode I have vague memories of watching on a  Saturday morning growing up and thinking it was interesting.  At this time, my awareness of Star Trek came mostly from ads on the back of comic books for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and from the series of Power Records that were out at the time.*

* I think a whole post on the Power Records series could be coming in the near future since those really helped cement my early interest in all things Trek.

And so, here are my thoughts on the next six installments of animated Trek.

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Review: The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones

The Next Time You See Me

There were multiple instance while reading The Next Time You See Me that I had to pause and glance at the cover again to make sure I wasn’t reading the latest offering from Elizabeth George or Laura Lippman.

Like George and Lippman, Holly Goddard Jones isn’t only interested in solving the crime at the core of her debut novel but she’s also interested in the impact the crime has on the characters and community before and after the event occurs. In this case, the central mystery centers around the disappearance of Veronica “Ronnie” Eastman. Ronnie is considered a black sheep of her small Kentucky town and her family, but that doesn’t mean she’s quite the pariah that local gossip makes her out to be.

Jones weaves the story of how Ronnie impacted various members of the community throughout the novel. And while the reader may suspect that they know what’s happened to Ronnie long before the reality sets in for various characters, Jones takes time to explore the events preceding and proceeding from her disappearance.

Chapters center on her married sister, who is feeling unfulfilled in her role as mother, teacher and wife to a devoted high school band director who neglects her during band season. We also get a glimpse of the awkward teenage girl who is confused by the world and a popular teenage boy who treats her at times with tenderness and at others with disdain. There’s also the older, lonely guy who makes the mistake of going to a local dive bar with some of the younger guys from the office one Friday evening.

All of these various threads intersect with Ronnie and we get various views of her and her fate. The Next Time You See Me isn’t just interested in how Ronnie met her fate but also as to why she met it and how it impacts her friends, family and the members of the town. Some of them are direct, while others are not. The novel sets up a nice romance between the older gentlemen from the plant and his nurse (they met on the night at the bar in question), giving hope to both before it’s torn away in the novel’s final chapters. And I’ll give Jones a lot of credit for not allowing her characters to do cliched things in the interest of the plot.

All in all, this is a satisfying, emotionally rich novel. It was over far too soon and it leaves me wondering what Jones has up her sleeve for her next book.

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man: Mark of the Tarantula by Roger Stern

Spider-Man: Mark of the Tarantula

Dropping by the local comic shop these days, it’s easy to criticize the work currently being done as “not quite up to par with the good old days when I was reading.”

That is, of course, until you get hold of a run of comics from your “good old days” and you realize that those comics weren’t exactly setting the world on fire either.

That’s pretty much the case with this collection of eight issues from the early ’80′s run of The Amazing Spider-Man. I had a few scattered issues from the various Spider-Man titles up to this point, but somehow it was these issues that I was able to collect and read in consecutive order. Looking back at the covers alone, I’m shocked my family a)purchased and b)let me read the issues collected here.

Many may complain the comics today are unduly violent or filled with graphic imagery. But I defy you to find a current cover that features Spider-Man taking on a giantnormous man-turned spider whose mouth is dripping with venom and the title of “Death Knell” in big bold letters across the cover.

236-_Death-Knell_

Putting aside my fond memories of this run of comics and the fact that I read them umpteen times in my pre-teen and early teenage years (often imaging how the stories might be transformed into an animated version on my television screen), I’ve got to say that this run of stories isn’t necessarily what you’d refer to as a classic run (that was yet to come in the next run of issues which introduced the Hobgoblin) but I’ll still admit I enjoyed visiting them again all these years later. The main thread tying these issues together is the corrupt Brand corporation. The company is up to no good and the Daily Bugle is determined to bring their dark deeds and experiments to the light of day.

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Reviews: The Silent Wife, The Innocent Sleep and Apple Tree Yard

The Silent Wife

With the success of Gone Girl, it seems like a lot of “he said, she said” suspense thrillers are jumping on the bandwagon, hoping to be the next big seller. A recent book review column in Entertainment Weekly offered up a couple of novels that are attempting to follow in Gillian Flynn’s footsteps with novels featuring unreliable narrators and potential twists and turns as the story unfolds.

Intrigued by the list, I picked up a few of the novels and came away with some interesting thoughts on each one. Of the five novels reviewed, I was only able to get my hands on three of them easily via the library and the good folks at the Amazon Vine program. And while each of these novels contains a cover blurb comparing it to Gone Girl, I think that it’s unfair to all three of these books and to Flynn’s novel to compare them all. These books can and should rise and fall on their own merits — and one of them doesn’t even follow the same story telling structure of alternating first-person points of view that Gone Girl does.

First up was A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. With a cover blurb from Elizabeth George (one of my favorite authors) I was probably a bit biased toward the book even before I turned the first page or read the first chapter. The good news is the novel lives up to the praise given to it by George (and a host of other literary thriller writers who also tout its virtues on the back cover). And yet, this novel isn’t necessarily what I’d consider a standard mystery. It’s more a psychological examination of the relationship of Jodi and Todd.

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Review: The X-Files: Season 10, Volume 2

X-Files Season 10 Volume 2

If the first collected volume of the tenth season of The X-Files was a blockbuster, mythology based two-parter, then this second set of stories is more focused on being your “standard” monster-of-the-week type of stories.

Except that these monster of the week stories offer call backs to some of the most memorable and well-regarded monster-of-the-week stories from the original nine year of the series. Starting off with a sequel to the Flukeman story, this collection does a nice job of settling into how the day to day running of the newly reopened X-Files will go. Calling back to Flukeman and then to the cockroach episode is a solid way to draw fans into the more standalone stories that will make up part of season ten. I found these stories a bit more enjoyable and entertaining that I did the mythology heavy story that opened up season ten.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m entirely sold on this series just yet. As with the previous volume, the biggest drawback is the artwork. It’s well-done for the two-part Flukeman returns story but the other two included arcs are hit or miss. My main criticism is that in these final three issues included in this volume, everyone isn’t necessarily easily recognizable. I realize that artistic license can and will be used in comic books and that each artists brings something different to the table. But I still prefer the more realistic take on the characters and artwork from the first two installments to be what I was looking for. The other three had decent stories but the artwork left me a bit cold.

It will be interesting to see if this series follows the pattern of most seasons of the show and if the next collection with be a heavily mythology driven arc or more of the monster of the week arcs as we see here. So far, I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed the monster of the week arcs a bit more.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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