Twenty Books of Summer Challenge 2015

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So, I stumbled across this challenge a week or so ago and thought — I’d really like to participate.  I then promptly forgot to sign up for it.

But better late than never, right!  (And you can join too because the challenge runs until September 14!)

The Twenty Books of Summer Challenge is hosted by Cathy at 746 Books.   In previous summers, I’ve come up with a list of books I wanted to read that summer, which by mid-July I’ve read about half of and then picked up a few others.  This summer, I’m going to try and follow my list, but I make no promises.  I say this because I can be easily distracted by new shiny books either on the library or store shelf or arriving on my e-reader.   Continue reading

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Re-Opening The X-Files: The Host

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Mulder: Success in our work is imperative, Scully. Reinstatement of the X-Files must be undeniable.
Scully: That came from Skinner?
Mulder: No. We have a friend in the FBI.

The Host

Outside of Tooms, I’d argue the Flukeman from “The Host” is one of the most recognizable and iconic monsters from the first two seasons of the X-Files.  

“The Host” is an important episode for a couple of reasons.  It introduces us to Mr. X (only heard, not yet seen), it gives us an hour of solid gross-out scenes (I’d argue that only “Home” is as unnerving as this one) and it brings Darin Morgan into the series.   Morgan (if you don’t know it) is the guy in rubber suit that is the Flukeman.   He would go on to join the writing staff for a season and a half, penning some of the definitive episodes of the series.

But first up is “The Host,” an episode clearly designed to not be watched while eating.   From the autopsy scene to the sanitation worker coughing up a flukeworm to Flukeman escaping and getting back into the sewer system, there are so many disturbing and creepy visuals in this one.  And yet the episode understands that less is more.  We get a lot of looks at the Flukeman, but we also keep him hidden in the dark shadows of this show.  And he’s far more creepy and effective that way.   Continue reading

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Re-Opening The X-Files: Little Green Men

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I wanted to believe. But the tools had been taken away. The X-Files had been shut down. They closed our eyes. Our voices have been silenced. Our ears now deaf to the realms of extreme possibilities.

Little Green Men

While season three is probably my favorite season of the show, I can’t help but have a soft spot for season two.   Part of that comes from the run of the first seven or eight episodes that find the X-Files trying to work out of the cliffhangers from season one.  We’ve got to re-open the X-Files and get our heroes back together again.  The journey to that point won’t be easy and it’ won’t be resolved by the end of second episode of the season.

The pregnancy of Gillian Anderson only heightened this.  It forced the creative team to be even more creative — possibly keeping Mulder and Scully separated longer than was originally intended.  But it also set into the motion several key components of the on-going mythology that will pay huge dividends over the rest of the show.

This stretch of episodes is also why I have hope that the upcoming mini-series can be a good thing.  If those episodes can channel just some of what the start of season two had with its opening arc, it could be a wonderful thing.

(OK, yes, there is one clunker in there, but we’ll get to it.  And I tend to overlook “3” when I look at how great this run of episodes is). Continue reading

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Re-Opening The X-Files: The Erlenmeyer Flask

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Mulder: They’re shutting us down. It’s over, Scully.
Scully: What are you going to do?
Mulder: I’m… not going to give up. I can’t give up. Not as long as the truth is out there.

The Erlenmeyer Flask

Easily one of the best episodes of season one, this is where the mythology for the show kicks into high gear.  And yet from the very beginning of the episode, there’s a feeling that things will be different and strange over the course of the hour, starting with the “Trust No One” title card in the credits.

Deep Throat comes to Mulder with information on a recent car chase in Baltimore.  Giving little more than cryptic clues, he hints that if Mulder can find the threat in the case, he’ll be closer than ever to his goal — proving the existence of extra-terrestrial life.   Mulder and Scully begin to look into the case but quickly run into some roadblocks and dead ends, making both of them begin to question where Deep Throat’s loyalties are and if he’s leading them down the primrose path again.

Turns out he’s not and the episode puts in the groundwork for a lot of the mythology stories to come.  Alien/human hybrids, green blood, toxic effects if the alien is punctured — all of these come into play.  As does the first proof that aliens are here and among us.   For a season finale and a mythology episode, it’s interesting to see that both Mulder and Scully get a look at the truth — and are forced to come away with little or no proof.   Mulder finds the room full of alien/human hybrids in tanks only to see it swept clean when he brings Scully back.  And Scully finds an alien fetus from the down Roswell UFO but is forced to trade that proof for Mulder’s life. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals

Cassie’s mother taught her a lot of things — including how to read people. But Cassie’s ability is far more than just figuring out clues about a person in order to give them a psychic reading. She has a natural ability as a profiler — something the FBI is aware of and wants to take advantage of.

Recruited to a team of fellow teens with natural abilities (Dean can profile, Lea can read if you’re lying, Sloane is gifted in reciting facts and figures and Michael can really, really read people), Cassie is promised that she’ll get to enhance her abilities and maybe use the FBI resources to finally track down who killed her mother.

The world that Jennifer Lynn Barnes has created for her The Naturals series is a fascinating one. The idea that there would be five teens who would come together as a kind of Criminal Minds for the younger set works very well. It also creates a very bizarre household where there are body outlines in the swimming pool, a test lab in the basement and a library full of cold cases for Cassie to train on.

When The Naturals sticks its procedural aspects, it works very well. I’ll give Barnes a lot of credit — she was able to put in enough red herrings as to who the central villain of this novel was to keep me guessing (wrongly as it turns out) over the entire run of the book. Continue reading

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Re-Opening The X-Files: Born Again, Roland

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Mulder: Why is it still so hard for you to believe, even when all the evidence suggests extraordinary phenomena?
Scully: Because sometimes …
Mulder: What?
Scully: … looking for extreme possibilities makes you blind to the probable explanation right in front of you.

As we enter the final stretch of episodes for season one, what strikes me most about these two installments is their commonalities.  Both deal with someone or something coming back from beyond the grave to seek revenge on the people who allegedly wronged that person and led to the end of their life.

Born Again

Or you could call is Chekov’s aquarium.

The episodes goes out of its way to have a shot that focus on the aquarium and Mulder’s interest in it.  This virtually assures us that the aquarium will play an important role in the stories resolution.

And it does.

Turns out a corrupt cop was killed at the exact same moment that the little girl in this episode was conceived.  He was able to leap over into her body and from time to time he can control her and use psychic powers.  From time to time he uses these to hunt down and hurt his three partners who betrayed him, including a Detective Fiore who just happened to have married his widow.

Now, I couldn’t help but think there was going to be something more made of the fact that Fiore and the wife were married now and this played into the revenge factor.   The script never really explores this avenue — probably because we have time better spent watching Mulder and Scully use some kind of new technology to pull an image off the videotape that appeared when the attempted to use regression therapy on the little girl. Continue reading

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Review: Alive by Scott Sigler

Alive (The Generations Trilogy, #1)

With all apologies to our future dark overlord Scott Sigler, but I found his latest novel Alive to be the least enjoyable to date. Maybe I’m not the target audience for this one or maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood, but I found myself struggling to get into the book from the outset and it never really hooked me in quite the same way that previous Sigler novels have.

And yet I should have liked it. It’s a young adult novel that’s not driven by a love triangle or supernatural romance. It has teenagers working together to solve problems and a sense of mystery and paranoia to it.

But it still never quite added up to a complete story.

A group of young adults wake up inside mysterious enclosures. Getting free of them, they find they’re stuck inside a room with no memories of their lives before and vague ideas about who they are and were before.

In a lot of ways, the early chapters of this one felt like a mix of the old Infocom game Zork and certain episodes of Star Trek. Given that I like both of these things, this should have begun to push my buttons. But instead of doing that, it only created a sense of deja vu in me that never quite went away. Too many times I felt like I’d been where Sigler was taking us before — and despite my waiting for a twist or something unexpected, it never quite materializes.

I was hoping this might be a young adult novel (and start of a series) that would drive a stake through the sparkly vampire phenomenon. Instead, it’s a book that didn’t quite gel and never quite got going for me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Review: The Fold by Peter Clines

The Fold

Trying to find a new way to travel, a group of scientists may have made the breakthrough of a lifetime — a machine that allows you step from one distant point to another in the blink of an eye (think the Stargate from the movies on TV show). But the new technology may have some unintended side effects.

Enter Mike Erickson, a school teacher with a photographic memory and friends in high places. During his summer break, Mike is convinced by his highly placed friend to look into the new device and make sure that everything is on the level and that our government should continue funding.

Several times as I read The Fold, I found myself reminded of vintage works by Stephen King or Richard Matheson. I also found myself thinking this could have made a great installment of The X-Files back in the day (that may be my current re-watch of the series as well). Peter Clines creates a group of well imagined characters, spending the first half of the novel on character building and slowly foreshadowing what’s really going on with the fold. If you’re a science-fiction fan, you may be able to piece bits and pieces of what’s really going on here together but I will give Clines credit that while I pieced together part of what was happening, I didn’t quite think through the impact and consequences of it as well as he and his characters did.

The Fold is a suspenseful, mystery thriller that works on just about every level. Clines wisely allows us to have time to invest in the characters for the first half so that when things start to go awry and answers begin coming our way in the second half, there is an impact to it beyond the raised eyebrow. Clines has created an interesting character in Mike, especially in the way that Mike sees his photographic memory working. The ability to recall everything he’s seen or done is compared to ants, all swarming about with various pieces that Mike needs to solve the problem. Like ants, they can be organized or disorganized, depending on what Mike (and the plot) needs.

The Fold is a fun, entertaining novel that had me hooked from the first page and kept my interest for the entire story.

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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