Monthly Archives: July 2013

Movie Review: The Smurfs 2

smurfs-2-posterFans of the original Smurfs will probably eat up the Smurfs 2 like a bunch of Smurf-berries.   Detractors of the original will most likely want to lob the Smurf-berries at the screen.

The Smurfs 2 isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen this year (that distinction still goes to the Evil Dead reboot), but it certainly won’t make my top ten either.  It’s a pleasant enough way to spend ninety or so minutes, but the film must doesn’t’ work as well as other family-targeted summer fare like Despicable Me 2 or Monster’s University.

Thanks to the power of YouTube, Gargamel has become a world-famous magical act, packing in audiences across the globe.   There’s just one problem – his act’s magic is power by Smurf-essence and he’s running low.

In order to replenish is supply, Gargamel plots to kidnap Smurfette and force her to reveal the formula that turned her into a real Smurf at the end of the last movie.  His plan is helped by the fact that in their enthusiasm to plan a surprise party for her, the entire Smurf village has made Smurfette feel unappreciated.

He’s helped by his two grey-skinned “Naughties” who were created at the same time as Smurfette.  The trio bond and Gargamel seeks to exploit this to move forward his nefarious plot.

In order to rescue her, Papa Smurf, Clumsy, Vanity and Grouchy all head back to the real world (first New York, then Paris) to convince her to come back home again.

And hilarity ensues.

There’s nothing patently terrible about The Smurfs 2, but there’s nothing patently great about it either.

Of course, I say this having only had to see the movie once and not having children who will demand to watch it over and over again when the film eventually hits home theater.

There were a few amusing moments peppered throughout the script, most of them involving Azrael the cat being smarter than Gargamel.  The film’s theme about family is nicely done though a bit heavy-handed at times.

As I said before, not the best movie of the year, but certainly not the worst.

Leave a comment

Filed under movie reviews

Review: Star Wars: Crucible by Troy Denning

Crucible (Star Wars)

I gave trying to keep up with the extended chronology of the Star Wars universe a couple of years ago when I realized I was far too many books behind to ever fully catch up.

That doesn’t mean that every once in a while I’m not browsing the local library or bookstore and come across the latest Star Wars novel and I don’t feel a twinge of wanting to spend some time with old friends again.

In many ways, reading the extended universe novels, I feel like that person who moved away from a group of friends but has dropped by again after a couple of years for a visit. I recognize them but I don’t really know them anymore. They’ve continued to grow and have a certain code that I can’t or don’t understand simply because I wasn’t there to experience things with them.

That’s kind of how I felt about Star Wars: Crucible.

I recognized my old friends, but we’d grown apart. And while they were willing to fill me in on the broad strokes of what had happened since we last visited, there were still nuances I was missing. And that led to my not necessarily enjoying this novel as much as I could or should have had we kept up a bit better.

There’s some interesting stuff going on here with Luke, Leia and Han all stepping in to help out Lando. But so much of the backstory went over my head that I got frustrated and ended up skimming large chunks of the novel. There are some nicely written action sequences and the story moves at a brisk pace. But I couldn’t help but feel a bit left out of things.

I also am not sure how much of an incentive I feel to catch up on what’s gone before now simply because I have a feeling a lot of this continuity will be tossed aside when the new movie opens in 2015.

Leave a comment

Filed under review

Review: Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Kiss Me First

We’ve all seen or heard those commercials warning us about predators just waiting and luring on-line to steal our identity.

But what if instead of stealing your identity, you wanted someone else to assume your identity to protect your family and friends from the truth that you’d decided to shuffle off this mortal coil?

That’s the premise of Lottie Moggach’s fascinating novel Kiss Me First. An avid World of Warcraft fan, Leila is used to the idea of on-line role playing. After discovering the philosophical discussion forum The Red Pill (referencing The Matrix trilogy), Leila begins to make a name of herself in the on-line community and is approached by its mysterious founder and podcaster with an opportunity. Leila will assume the on-line identity of Tess, a young woman who wants to take her own life but doesn’t want to cause her family or friends any pain or suffering. Leila’s task is to study Tess in every detail and then assume her identity on-line — Facebook, e-mails and other social networking connections — all while Tess removes herself from the world. The idea is that Tess will move far away and Leila will provide status updates and responses to friends and family to help put their mind at ease that Tess is alive and well.

Leila accepts and spends several months trying to get to know all about Tess. Then, Tess decides it’s time to go and Leila steps into the role of playing Tess.

All goes well for a while, until a romantic entanglement from the past resurfaces — one that Tess didn’t give Leila many details about. As Leila and the long-lost boyfriend connect, Leila slowly begins to take more and more chances in connecting with members of Tess’ life, leading to some fascinating consequences.

As a page turning thriller, Kiss Me First delivers in spades. The chapters are divided between Leila’s search for where Tess really went and the truth behind her disappearance and flashbacks to Leila’s work to assume Tess’ on-line identity. Questions of just how well we can really know someone we only interact with on-line abound and in the light of the reality series Catfish and the real-world situation with former Notre Dame player Manti Te’o last year, there are some fascinating questions raised and implications pondered.

My one grip is that while the novel explains the title and its significance, the cover art isn’t fully explained or justified by the novel. With this novel and The Shining Girls hitting the market and my shelf this summer, I couldn’t help but wonder if having flies on the cover of your novel is the latest trend in publishing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Amazon Vine Program, ARC, review

Summer Reading Review: Joyland by Stephen King


Stephen King’s latest offering to the Hard Case Crimes series feels more like an episode of Scooby Doo than it does a noir novel.

But it makes absolutely no difference because Joyland is an absolute joy to read.

Seeking to escape the memories of his first love, Devin Jones signs on for the summer at the Joyland theme park in North Carolina. Jones quickly finds himself immersed in the park, making new friends and curious about the history of one of the rides that is reportedly haunted.

Part coming of age story, part supernatural story, part mystery, King’s Joyland is a pure, character driven delight. As with the best King stories, everything is foreshadowed early and paid off before the novel’s final page is turned.

Joyland is one of the most compelling and page-turning novels I’ve read this summer. It’s King doing what King does best — telling a hell of a story, making you want to read just one more page, one more chapter and then feeling a twinge of regret when you reach the end. One of the most satisfying novels I’ve read in a long time and it only goes to show that King hasn’t lost that magic touch.

1 Comment

Filed under review, Summer Reading 2013

Review: Taking Chances by Molly McAdams

Taking Chances (Taking Chances, #1)

Every once in a while my lovely wife encourages me to read something outside my comfort zone.

She’s a big fan of romance novels and is always extolling their virtues to me, trying to encourage me to pick one up and give it a read.

And while I didn’t want a bodice ripper or a paranormal romance (I found myself wishing in later installments of Twilight that Buffy would please show up and just stake every single supernatural creature in the novel already), I decided I would follow her advice and give a romance novel a try.

Browsing my local library’s e-book selection, I stumbled across this novel by Molly McAdams, which is advertised as a coming of age romance story. The cover blurb sounded relatively painless and the cover photo seems to indicate that the standard cliche of a romantic triangle will be at the front and center of the book. It all seemed harmless enough so I decided to take a chance on Taking Chances.

Boy, do I regret that decision.

After growing up under the thumb of her military officer father, Harper decides that for college she wants to move as far away from dear old dad as possible. So, she decides that since he’s on the East Coast, she’ll go to college on the West Coast in sunny California. And so it is that Harper packs her bag and goes west.

She arrives at school knowing no one and being a bit sheltered. Thank goodness she meets roommate who instantly takes Harper under her wing and helps her embrace her inner wild side. A bit of shopping and a quick make-over and Harper is the new hottie on campus, attracting the interest of several suitors including her roommate’s brother, Chase and his frat buddy, Brandon. Of course, Chase is a bad boy, love ’em and leave ’em type of guy while Brandon is…well, pretty much defined by being a)hunky and b)a participant in the local MMA ring.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under review

Review: Ask Bob by Peter Gethers

Ask Bob

Reading Ask Bob, I couldn’t help but think that writer Peter Gethers was tapping into the same pool as Jonathan Tropper. Tropper’s novels are about flawed men and the people who love them. With Gether’s novel, the people who love them is extended to not only those of the human variety but also Dr. Bob’s animal companions — both those who helps cure and those who are an intimate part of his life.

Living in New York City, Robert Heller has a thriving veterinarian practice and is the popular writer of a weekly newspaper column (think “Dear Abby” for pets). But unlike the works of James Herriot, Ask Bob is less focused on the animals he treats as it is on Dr. Bob himself — his life, his loves and his family.

Each chapter begins with a column from the syndicated newspaper feature, which will reflect on and foreshadow some of what is to come in the proceeding chapter. And as the novel expands the circle of Bob’s universe, several chapters also some with an essay on a person or pet that Bob encounters in his New York practice.

And while Dr. Bob may seem to have it all together in his newspaper columns, perception is not necessarily reality when it comes to his personal life. It’s not that Dr. Bob is a mess by any means. It’s just that he’s human with all the quirks and foibles that comes with it.

The novel is divided into two halves, reflecting on Bob’s life and his family before and after a life-changing event. To reveal more about the event would be to give too much away, though sharp-eyed readers may deduce the event long before Gethers get to it on the printed page. Whether you figure it out early or not doesn’t make a huge difference because Ask Bob is a character study — and a compelling, amusing, funny and fascinating one at that.

As I said earlier, much of this novel reminded me of what Jonathan Tropper does with his flawed male protagonists. Gethers does a great job of making Bob and his world feel authentic and lived it. There are times when we love Bob and times we’re disappointed in him, but as the story unfolds we’re shown that Bob is uniquely human and flawed — just like the rest of us.

Told with warmth and humor, Bob’s story is one that will enthrall you and may even tug on the heart strings a bit. It’s got humor and it’s got pathos and all of it is equally earned.

Ask Bob is a low-key, enjoyable novel. I’m glad I got the chance to meet Dr. Bob and spend a couple of hundred pages with him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Amazon Vine Program, ARC, review

Summer Reading: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1)

One of the more intriguing trends in the publishing world is authors from one targeted demographic attempting to crossover and target another demographic. For example, J.K. Rowling recently published her first “adult” novel with The Casual Vacancy while Elizabeth George went after a young adult audience with The Edge of Nowhere.

And while I’m not one who judges a book by the section of the bookstore or the library where it’s shelved, it’s intriguing to see what happens when an author gets out of his or her comfort zone.

You can add to the list of best-selling authors who are looking to expand their audience writer Brandon Sanderson (who given how much output he has and the sheer length of his novels, I am beginning to wonder if he somehow has figured out a way to write a novel using telepathy and while he’s asleep). Every publisher is looking for the next big fantasy series along the lines of Harry Potter and given Sanderson’s pedigree in the fantasy genre, a young adult series from him seems like a good idea.

Enter The Rithmatist.

All of the strengths of a Sanderson fantasy novel are on display — a magic system that has clearly defined rules and limitations so it can’t be used to write himself out of any situation or peril that comes up as well as having characters have different degrees of ability within the magical system. Like all talents or traits, there are some who have a better grasp of some elements of the system while others have a better grasp of others. In this case, the magical system is one that brings chalk drawing to life and they do battle. There are various ways in which battles can be won and there is a skill and a strategy to it. Sanderson spends a lot of the novel laying out the rules and strategies of his new magical system, but he also allows them to play out on the printed page and for the reader to see the system in action.

Continue reading


Filed under fantasy, review, Summer Reading 2013

Audio Book Reviews: Doctor Who

Doctor Who and the Visitation: An Unabridged Classic Doctor Who NovelDoctor Who and the Visitation by Eric Saward, read by Matthew Waterhouse

Eric Saward’s adaptation of his own fifth Doctor script is very much in the mid-level Terrance Dicks mode of transcribing the television story with little or no embellishment.

In the day and age in which the Doctor Who novels were originally published, I suppose this is good enough. But thirty years out when we can easily stream the episodes of this popular story or pick it up brilliantly remastered on DVD, it only makes “The Visitation” as a novel that much more disappointing.

That means heading into the audio release of the story, it had a strike against it. Strike two comes from Matthew Waterhouse’s rather uninspired reading of the story. Waterhouse’s choice for the voices of Richard Mace and the Terraleptils is uninspired at best and distracting at its worst. I’m not saying that an audio reader has to exactly capture the performance given by another actor on screen, but doing a complete 180 of the performance in the case of Mace and the alien invaders really takes you out of the story. Add to it that Waterhouse puts little or no effort into distinguishing the voices of the rest of the main cast and you’ve got a disappointing release in what is generally a great line of audio books.

Doctor Who: The GunfightersDoctor Who: The Gunfighters by Donald Cotton, read by Shane Rimmer


“The Gunfighters” is not one of the more well-regarded serials from the first Doctor’s era.

So this could be why I skipped Donald Cotton’s adaptation of the serial in my Target novel collecting days.

I will also admit it’s been a long while since I’ve seen the original serial, though it sits on my DVD shelf. Call me a slave to my completest tendencies.

When I saw that the story was coming out as an audio book, I decided I’d take the plunge on it, figuring it would be a nice way to spend a few hours while working out or working around the house.

Unfortunately, the old saying that “the horses get the best lines” in this story is further evidenced by Cotton’s adaptation of the story.

Seeking a cure to a toothache, the Doctor sends the TARDIS to the wild, wild west, around the time of the historic gunfight at the OK Corral. Before long, the Doctor, Stephen and Dodo are caught up cases of mistaken identity and the events leading up to the infamous gun battle.

On the printed page, Cotton is freed from the limitations of a TV budget and allowed to let the story roam a bit more freely. And thank heavens he doesn’t try to incorporate the infamous song from the television serial into his novel. But the novel does tend to ramble a bit and while some of the asides and alleys are humorous, often times I found the humor falling a bit flat.

The novel is read by Shane Rimmer, who was part of the guest cast in the original serial. His deep Western drawl gets a bit tedious and quickly wears out its welcome.

Leave a comment

Filed under Doctor who, review

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

despicable-me-2-gru-is-kidnappedRetiring from a life of nefarious plots, Gru is content to focus on raising his three adopted daughters and having his formerly evil minions develop a new line of jams and jellies.

But as Despicable Me 2 begins, Gru finds himself thrust back into the world of evil-doers when a top secret base is stolen from the Arctic Circle. Gru is recruited to go undercover and try to discover the true perpetrator who is hiding out at the local mall.    His trio of girls are delighted that he’s been teamed with Lucy, who may be the antidote Gru needs for his loneliness and fear or dating.

The good news is Despicable Me 2 has everything in it that made the first one such a delight – Gru, the girls, Minions and, of course, the fart gun.

This animated summer film is a pure delight from beginning to end.  I haven’t laughed out loud this much or this often at movie all summer long.

Despicable Me 2 is just as delightful as the first one and while it may lack the edge the first one did (watching Gru go from evil genius to father figure was a nice arc), it fills that void with lots and lots of Minion jokes.  And just about all of those jokes hit home.

This is an animated film that you won’t mind sitting through with the young ones in your family.  Odds are there are a few jokes in there that will hit home for the older members of the audience and will go right over the younger audience members heads.

As to whether or not you’ll want to see the film in 3-D, I can say that while the film doesn’t have a sequence that takes advantage of all that 3-D can do like the original’s roller coaster sequence, there is still at least enough 3-D tomfoolery going on during the film’s ninety or so minutes that you won’t feel like the surcharge isn’t justified.   Like many CG animated films of recent years, this one was designed to be viewed in 3-D and, for the most part, it works.

Despicable Me 2 has energy, laughs and a heart.  Easily one of the best movies of the summer season.  And make sure you don’t get up to leave as the credits start to roll.

And did I mention the fart gun is back?!?

One small note:  At the screening I attended, several small children were a bit frightened by the ending sequence in which the Minions are turned evil.    Parents of younger kids (I’m thinking five and under) may be want to be ready to hold some hands, wipe some tears or take kids out when the Minions start turning purple.


Filed under movie reviews

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

LONE-RANGER_510x317The combination of Johnny Depp, Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer struck cinematic gold with the re-invention of the pirate movie, Pirates of the Caribbean.  The movie spawned a franchise for Disney, so it’s easy to see why the studio would be eager to team up with the trio again.

This time around, they’re trying to re-invent the Western and establish a new franchise for Depp in the form of The Lone Ranger.

Unfortunately, it appears that the trio isn’t quite as successful at capturing lightning in a bottle the second time around.

The Lone Ranger has its enjoyable moments, most of them confined to the last half hour of the film when it fully embraces its over-the-top, summer action blockbuster status. But between an opening action sequence and the Ranger fully accepting his calling and his destiny, the film lacks focus and runs on too long.   At close to two and a half hours, The Lone Ranger definitely overstays its welcome, regardless of how much fun Depp appears to be having playing Tonto in the film.

The story is told in a framing device with Depp as an older Tonto relating the legend of the Lone Ranger to a young man.  The framing device is revisited on occasion, delightfully pointing out some of the plot-holes in the film (for example, the kid is quick to note that Tonto gives no explanation for how he gets from a jail cell to free to help the Lone Ranger find his true path).    The Ranger in question is John Reid, who is returning to his frontier home after getting his degree.   John has lived in the shadow of his brother, who stayed at home and got the girl they both apparently had feelings for.  She apparently still has feelings for him as well.

When gang leader Butch Cavendish is sprung while on the way to face justice, John insists on being part of the part that goes along to recapture him.   The group is ambushed and everyone is apparently killed – except John.   With Tonto helping him, Reid assumes the mantle of the Lone Ranger, putting on a mask that was created by the two bullets that were meant for him.

There’s also an entire plotline about the coming of the railroad and the connection of a ruthless railroad baron to the Cavendish gang that helps propel the plot of the film.  The problem with the plotline is that it’s fairly apparent who the bad guys are long before the movie reveals each character’s motivations and plots.   We also find out that Tonto’s backstory is tied to this nefarious scheme as well, making the entire course of events feel a bit too coincidental for its own good.

At times, the Lone Ranger is clearly trying to evoke the spirit of the classic John Ford Westerns.   There are several shots in the film that feel like they’re lifted directly from Ford’s masterpiece The Searchers as well as some thematic similarities.  The thread of a love triangle involving brothers and the kidnapping of settlers by Native Americans feel like an attempt to pay homage to that classic film.  And while there are some stunning new shots of Monument Valley in the film, if you want a great Western, you would probably be better served to hunt up a copy of The Searchers.

If you want Depp channeling Captain Jack Sparrow as Tonto and Armie Hammer doing his best to be the stoic but conflicted Ranger, then The Lone Ranger may work.  As a summer action movie, it has its moments but as I said before the movie definitely overstays its welcome with the middle third of the film feeling like its treading a lot of water to get to the inevitable showdown between our heroes and the forces of evil in the film

1 Comment

Filed under movie reviews