Monthly Archives: April 2013

Review: He’s Gone by Deb Caletti

He's Gone

Had it not been for Gone Girl, I think I might have liked Deb Caletti’s first “adult” novel He’s Gone a great deal more.

Dani Keller wakes up on a typical Sunday morning to find her husband has gone missing. They had a mild argument the night before and Dani had a bit too much to drink at a party for her husband’s company. Initially not concerned, she assumes he’s out blowing off steam and will come back soon. However, as the hours stretch on and he won’t answer his cell phone and she discovers his car and his car keys have been left behind, Dani slowly begins to worry something more is going on than meets the eye.

Comparisons to Gone Girl are probably inevitable and I think that’s a bit unfair to both books. But it’s going to happen given that the two share a similar starting point for the narrative. He’s Gone works well when it’s filling in the details of how Dani and her husband met (they were both married to someone else at the time and began an affair) and we are slowly given glimpses of their life together. Where the novel tends to grinds its gears a bit too much are in the present situation as Dani reflects on their current life and marriage and the implications of whether her husband has left her or something more sinister is in play.

It all leads up to an ending that I found rather anti-climatic. I can see what Caletti is trying to achieve, but I’m not necessarily sure He’s Gone achieves it. A lot of this comes down to the fact that as a first-person narrator, Dani is a bit too reflective and honest with us. There’s a lot of telling us things that have happened or are happening.

In short, He’s Gone was good, but not great. I was hoping it would be something more.

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Review: If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

If You Were Here

While pursuing a lead about a young man pulled from the subway tracks by a mysterious woman, lawyer turned journalist McKenna Wright uncovers more than she bargained for. A video shot on a cell phone reveals the identity of the woman — someone who looks a lot like McKenna’s old friend Susan, who went missing five years before under mysterious circumstances. Not content to let sleeping dogs lie, McKenna begins to slowly peel back the layers of the current story and discover just how much of a connection is has to the disappearance of her friend all those years ago.

For the past couple of years, Alafair Burke has given readers some of the more entertaining, character driven legal thrillers that don’t have the name John Grisham attached to them. But with her newest novel If You Were Here, Burke tries something different from the legal thriller (though there are links to McKenna’s legal past and her time in the district attorney’s office) and goes in for a full-blown suspense thriller. Using short chapters, Burke keeps the surprises coming at a good clip that you’ll keep turning the pages and wondering just what the next dramatic revelation could or should be. It makes the novel a page turner, but not one that necessarily holds up well to scrutiny if you start to think too much either while taking a break from reading or once the entire picture is revealed.

It’s interesting that this novel is headed for shelves in time for the summer season because as I read it, I kept thinking just how well it would work as a beach or poolside read.

And while Burke’s previous works have taken a page from the legal thriller column and the works of Grisham, this one seems a bit more to take a page from the thrillers of Lee Child and his Jack Reacher series. (Eagle eyed readers will spot several homages to Reacher, though thankfully no one in this book is obsessed with coffee and that the fold-up toothbrush is the single greatest invention in the history of humankind).

This isn’t necessarily my favorite offering from Burke, but it’s a nice stand-alone novel that may open the door to readers discovering her other novels and enjoying those.

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Review: Doctor Who — The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter

Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice

I’ve got to give the tie-in line of Doctor Who novels credit — at least the line is willing (once a year or so) to take a risk and give the fans something different from the standard tie-in novel.

First it was Michael Moorcock playing in the Doctor Who sandbox and now it’s Stephen Baxter. And the line is even willing to allow the big-name sci-fi and fantasy authors to play with other Doctor/companion teams besides the ones currently seen in the latest batch of episodes. That alone intrigues me enough that I’m willing to put aside my preconceptions and at least give these annual offerings a chance.

In the case of The Wheel of Ice, I have to admit I wondered how Baxter’s usual hard-SF style would fit with the less-than-hard-SF style of the classic series and, specifically, the second Doctor’s era. For the most part, it’s a successful hybrid. The result is a hard-SF based base-under-seige story in which Baxter comes closer than many other writers in the Doctor Who fold have come to capturing the second Doctor on the printed page.

The Wheel of Ice feels like a six-part Patrick Troughton era story, with all the strengths and weaknesses. The TARDIS trio of the Doctor, Jaime and Zoe come across well on the printed page and while the central dilemma and threat facing the TARDIS crew and a group of isolated humans is a bit more modern feeling, it all still works well enough to keep the pages turning. Baxter even throws in some continuity references to the second Doctor era to make fans happy.

All that said, the story isn’t perfect. There’s a lot of shuttling back and forth between various locations. And while that might work on the TV screen, in the novel it becomes a bit tedious. Add in that Baxter tries to translate Jaime’s Scottish accent to the printed page and there were moments that the novel became a bit frustrating.

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TV Thoughts: The Walking Dead Season Three

Warning: If you haven’t seen the entire third season of The Walking Dead and don’t want to know any details, do not read the following review.  It’s got a LOT of SPOILERS!

For the most popular, scripted series on television, you’d think The Walking Dead would be a lot better than it is.  Or maybe I should say you’d think the series could be more consistent.   A solid stretch of episodes to start season three were ultimately let down by the back half of the season.

It’s hard to recall that in the fall, The Walking Dead did some solid work.  Establishing the Ricktatorship and introducing Woodbury and the Governor all worked well.  The show may have issues with characters (such as making them consistent) but it tried (and for the most part succeeded) in covering that up with unexpected deaths and an overriding sense of dread and tension as the two groups (the prison and Woodbury) headed toward their inevitable clash.

And then the second half of the season happened and things slowed down a bit.   The big complaint lobbied at the show last year was that once we got to the Farm, things slowed down a lot.  That complaint can also be leveled at the second half of season three that spend way too much time treading water as we waited for the inevitable clash between Rick and the Governor.   A clash, I might add, that felt pretty anti-climatic once we got to it.

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Orphan Black: Pilot

BBC America’s new original series Orphan Black kicked off Saturday evening, paired with Doctor Who as part of the channels Supernatural Saturdays.   As a viewer, I admit I was intrigued to go from the more family-oriented sensibility of Doctor Who to the more adult sensibility (including a little language and equal-opportunity nudity) of Orphan Black. 

When Sarah witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks just like her, she seized on the opportunity to leave behind her own life and take on the life of the other woman.  Taking on the identity of Beth, a police officer facing a disciplinary hearing, Sarah tries to scam her way out of Beth’s savings and to vanish. But Beth’s boyfriend and her police officer partner, Art, won’t let Beth/Sarah easily vanish into the ether nor will a set of birth certificates and another copy of Beth.

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Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John

stjohnsComparisons between classic Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes and current series runner Steven Moffat have been inevitable ever since Moffat’s first story “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances.” But these comparisons were even more inevitable (at least for this fan) on a weekend in which BBC America aired both “The Bells of Saint John” and the classic third Doctor serial “Spearhead from Space.”

Both stories find Earth under threat of invasion by aliens who are willing to use something mundane and turn it into something scary. In the case of Holmes, it was using plastics. In Moffat’s case, it’s wi-fi.

Of the two, I can tell you I vastly prefer the Holmes invasion story and not just because I’ve seen it multiple times.
It’s because the Holmes story didn’t feel like a mash-up of greatest hits from other successful installments of Doctor Who.

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