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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Book of Apex Blog Tour: Guest Post by Tim Susman

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Last week, I reviewed The Book of Apex, Volume 4.

Today, as part of the Apex of Blog Book Tour, I have a guest post by one of the authors represented in the collection, Tim Susman. Tim wrote one of the most intriguing stories in the collection, “Erzulie Dantor” and in this post, he talks about some of his process behind penning this particular story. And the good news is that if you haven’t yet read the story, you can check it out for FREE!

Orders of Magnitude

In the last year, I wrote a couple thousand-word flash fictions, a few 10K-word short stories, and two hundred-thousand word novels. If pressed, I would probably say I enjoy novels the most. There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes with completing a long project, and of all the things I’ve written, the novels are the ones that have the most permanence. Still, I enjoy getting a flash-fic-sized idea, something I can write and hone in a couple days, something that gets a point across and then goes away; a short story can be an enticing visit to a world. In ten thousand words (technically a novelette, though I did write several short stories as well), you can introduce a world and a character and a problem and see the problem through to its resolution.

The way I approach each of these is necessarily different, and it doesn’t start the way you might think. When I have the idea for a story, usually the length is encoded in the idea. For the recent series of flash fics inspired by James Bond movie theme song titles (yes, that’s a thing), I tried to write the flash fics as spontaneously as possible, and that meant that I had to search for a flash-fic length idea. Sometimes they grew a little long—“Goldeneye” I think could be a bigger story if I wanted to expand it—but sometimes they ended up being neat little “what if” vignettes.

One of the dangers with flash fic is the allure of the “gotcha” ending. “‘My name is Jesus,’ the alien said.”—you know the kind of story. It’s a particularly tough ending to pull off in flash fiction because a twist ending depends on the reader having an investment in or expectation of the story, and a thousand words is often not enough to build up enough to make the twist worthwhile. What’s more, people are used to shorter pieces having twist endings, so if you telegraph that it’s a twist story, people will often outguess you, and then the story loses its punch. Of course, it could also be that I’m just not good at twist endings.

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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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Review: Star Trek: Allegiance in Exile by David R. George II

Allegiance in Exile

Lately I’ve been revisiting the Star Trek universe via a combination of DVDs, Blu-Rays and streaming video as well as listening to the great Mission Log podcast.

All of that, plus reading a few heavier books (both in terms of content and page count) put me in the mood for a light, fun palate cleanser tie-in novel. And so it was that after a year of languishing on my to-be-read pile, I finally decided it was time to give David R. George III’s Allegiance in Exile a look.

Set in the final year of the original five year mission, the novel finds Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise discovering an apparently deserted planet that holds a deadly cache of self-defense weapons. After the ship and landing party are attacked (including the destruction of a shuttle or two), Kirk and company discover a way to detect and disable the installations.

While Kirk struggles with what the future could hold and the next step in his career (he’s not ready to leave the bridge of the Enterprise just yet), Sulu meets and falls for a member of the crew, who was part of the landing party with him. Of course, this can only mean one thing — the crew member in question’s life span is reduced to about twenty or so minute (or in this case about 100 pages).
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