Category Archives: review

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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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.


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: Grimm Fairy Tales: Oz

Grimm Fairy Tales: Oz

Retelling timeless fairy tales with an harder edge and some darker themes is nothing new — either on the printed pages or other popular media outlets.

What attracts me to a retelling is is those crafting the reboot have a new take on the material or offer a different way of thinking about a familiar story or tale. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Unfortunately, Grimm Fairy Tales: Oz is one of the cases where it didn’t work for me.

A modern, darker re-telling of the popular story of The Wizard of Oz, this six-issue comic book series gives us a new, harder edged Dorothy, who is whisked away to the land of Oz and plopped down into the middle of a power struggle between various characters.

And, of course, this new take includes enhancing (ahem) every female character to the Barbie-doll-like measurements and having them all dress in outfits that emphasize said enhancements. Unfortunately, making the women of Oz “sexier” doesn’t necessarily enhance the shortcomings in the plot or the feeling that I got mid-way through this collected edition that the storyline was being stretched out from a couple of issues concept to six.

It all adds up to a disappointing retelling of the familiar Oz story. I walked away feeling like the series had squandered its potential and instead of offering us a new take on Oz, all we got was a “sexier” one full of female characters ready to fall out of their outfits at a moment’s notice.

I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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YA Reviews: Don’t Even Think About It and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

It’s sometimes interesting how you’ll read certain novels relatively close to one another.

I recently picked up two young adult novels — one by an author I’d read before and enjoyed her work and another by an author who was new to me. I was remarkably surprised by one of them and remarkably disappointed by the other.

Don't Even Think About It

Reading Sarah Mlynowski’s Don’t Even Thing About It, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the third season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Earshot.”

Both start with the premise of a character or characters developing ESP and the consequences of it. And I have to admit that I really feel like “Earshot” did a better job with the concept than Mlynowski’s novel did.

Don’t Even Thing About It centers on a group of teens in the same home room, most of whom develop psychic powers as the side effect of their annual flu shot. Some of the students use the powers to cheat on tests by sitting near the smartest person in the class while others use it to find out if that person they’ve always had a crush on feels the same way about them. Of course, there are some for whom having these new found powers is not good news because now everyone in a certain group of people knows your deepest, darkest secret — as in the case of Mackenzie, who has been cheating on her boyfriend Cooper with the hot guy who attends a private school in her building.

Like the Buffy episode this very clearly reminded me of (and there are other cases of genre shows featuring characters developing the ability to read minds), there is some amusement gained by certain characters getting inside the mind of the authority figures in their life. One girl learns just how attracted to each other her parents still really are, much to her chagrin. There’s also the case of Cooper, who in addition to being cheated on, finds out that his parents’ marriage is on the rocks due to his father’s cheating ways and his mother seeing a divorce lawyer.

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Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian\

Andy Weir’s The Martian starts off with a memorable (and not quotable in polite company) opening line, establishing that our hero and narrator Mark Watney is a bad situation — and one that isn’t likely to get better any time soon.

Watney is the first man marooned on Mars. Believed dead by his fellow research team, Watney has been marooned on the Red Planet and is outlook is looking fairly bleak. No one will be coming back for a good long while and his radio is dead. But instead of giving up, Watney determines how he can and will survive on Mars, using the supplies left to him and his own ingenuity.

The details of how Watney survives are told via his journal. Watney relates how he overcomes the need to create water and food (it’s interesting to watch how he breaks down exactly how many calories he needs per day and then goes about trying to find a way to get to that calorie level, for example) as well as how he keeps from going crazy. Seems that his fellow crew members brought along digital copies of bad 70′s TV and Agatha Christie novels that were left behind when they had to abandon the station.

The promotional material for this book describes The Martian as a cross between Castaway and Apollo 13. That isn’t far off and should Hollywood ever get around to making a blockbuster adaptation of this book, it’s easy to imagine Tom Hanks in the lead role.

Weir’s story works well when centering on Watney and his struggle to survive until help can come. Eventually the novel does shift focus to Earth and how various NASA scientists and crew members figure out that Watney is alive and determine if and how he can be helped and/or saved. These sections don’t work quite as well as those focusing on Watney on Mars. The characters aren’t as well drawn as Watney is and as the novel moved toward its conclusion, I found myself growing less interested in these sections and more curious about events on the Red Planet.

That isn’t to say that this isn’t a good book. It’s a very enjoyable, entertaining first novel from Weir and one that makes me curious to see what he’ll offer us 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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Review: Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

Natchez Burning (Penn Cage, #4)

After a five year absence, Greg Iles is back with the first of a trilogy of novels centering on his prosecutor turned best-selling novelist turned small town mayor Penn Cage.

The good news is that Natchez Burning is not only one of the longest books of Iles’ career, but it’s also one of the best — and it was certainly worth the wait.

When former nurse Viola Davis returns to Natchez, her arrival stirs up memories, undercurrents and long-buried secrets in not only the town but also in Penn’s father, Dr. Tom Cage. When Viola dies, apparently the victim of assisted suicide, local district attorney Shad Johnson can’t wait to bring Dr. Cage in on charges.

Staunchly believing his father to be innocent, Penn’s world is undermined when he figures out there are a lot of secrets his father isn’t telling him — not just about Viola, but also about how and why she left town so many years ago. But Penn isn’t the only one looking for answers — his fiance Caitlin and local journalist Henry are also digging for answers that certain members of the community and those in power would rather stay buried. And they’re willing to go to any means necessary to keep the truth from coming to light.

Iles takes us back to the small town of Natchez for his most explosive novel so far. Weighting it at 800 pages Natchez Burning is part thriller and part character study. Reading as Penn tries to determine if and how his father is involved in the situation gives the novels its drive and page-turning quality. While the book is a thick one, it doesn’t feel like one with the pages rushing by and you may get the feeling that the story is over far too soon.

And since this is the first of a trilogy, while some issues are resolves, there are still undercurrents, secrets and issues enough to make me eager to pick up the next installment, whenever Iles delivers it. I’m hopeful that it won’t take five years this time between new books from one of my favorite authors.

Natchez Burning is easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this year and I’m eager for more. Welcome back, Greg Iles.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of Natchez Burning from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. And also in the interest of full disclosure, when I saw that I could get an ARC of this novel, I couldn’t click fast enough to try and get my greedy hands on one.

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Review: Doctor Who: Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time

When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.

After reading Stephen Baxter’s Second Doctor tie-in, I wasn’t sure the melding of a big-name genre writer with the universe of Doctor Who could be very successful.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that within twenty pages of Reynolds’ The Harvest of Time that not only had he captured the spirit of the Jon Pertwee era on the printed page, but that I was also enjoying the book immensely.

Set at the height of the Pertwee era, The Harvest of Time takes place before the on-screen events of “The Sea Devils” and finds the Doctor and UNIT trying to fend off an alien invasion brought about by the Master. But instead of the season eight cliche of the Master bringing a group of aliens to Earth and rapidly losing control of the situation, Reynolds makes this alien invasion one unintentionally triggered by the Master. Seems that our favorite Time Lord villain was sending out a signal to himself across the timelines to help his present self escape his Earthly prison. However, his signal is picked up by an alien race who has already destroyed one world and has now set its sights on Earth and gaining the Master as part of their nefarious plot.

Harvest of Time feels like a story that could have been made during third Doctor’s tenure — assuming they had the budget and special effects technology that help bring the new series to life on our screens. All of the UNIT-era regulars are on hand and it’s clear from Reynolds use of them that he is not only a fan of classic Who but also a fan of the Pertwee era. And while this novel feels like it could easily take place during that era, it still has a scope and scale that simply couldn’t or wouldn’t work as well on our TV screens. Examining the nature of time and the implications of time travel, the story is one of the most entertaining novels — tie-in or otherwise — that I’ve read this year.

It even made me year to dust off some of my old third Doctor era DVDs and give them a viewing (again). It also made me want to run out and read more of Reynolds’ non-Who offerings.

Easily the best of the big name genre author tie-in novels, The Harvest of Time gives me hope that the editors of this line would be willing to try this experiment again with some other more recognized authors. And hope that Reynolds might have another Doctor Who story in him because if he does, this is one fan who’d love a chance to read it.

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