Monthly Archives: August 2013

Review: 13 Gifts by Wendy Mass

13 Gifts

After a failed attempt to steal a stuffed goat from the vice principal’s office ends in the vice principal getting pepper-sprayed and soon-to-be-thirteen-year-old Tara suspended for the final two weeks of the year (in an attempt to fit in with other kids her age, Tara refuses to give up her accomplices), Tara is exiled to the small town of Willow Falls to spend her summer. This is instead of going with her parents to Madagascar to study the lemur, something she had been looking forward to doing.

Tara’s luck goes from bad worse to when she’s robbed of the money her parents gave her for the summer and her mother’s prized iPod while on the train to the Willow Falls. Not wanting to admit the failure to her parents or her aunt and uncle, Tara takes matters into her own hands, stealing a rare issue of The Fantastic Four from her uncle’s collection and trying to sell it at the local curiosity shop. The mysterious proprietor refuses to buy it because she can’t pay what the comic is worth and she’s the one who sold to her uncle. Instead, Tara is forced to accept a deal where she collects 13 different items from the people of the town and brings them to the store before her thirteenth birthday. If she does that, all will be forgotten. If not, her uncle will be made aware of her theft.

Until this point, Tara has been the kind of girl who is willing to shrink into the background. Since her only experience of trying to fit in involved the theft of a goat, she’s not exactly eager to try fitting in again. But she soon finds a group of friends in Willow Falls who are not only willing to stand by her but also to help her find all thirteen items on the list and even to pull off something a bit more magical for the small town and Tara.

13 Gifts is a fun young adult novel with an intriguing first-person narrator and some interesting twists and turns. I listened to this one as an audio book and it helped the miles go by a bit more happily as I jogged and helped pass the time as I did chores around the house. Wendy Mass throws in some intriguing mysteries to Tara’s visit to Willow Falls and pays all of them off by the novel’s end.

From my understanding this is the third in a series of novels set in Willow Falls. And while there are callbacks to previous novels, the novel is self-contained enough that you can read it without feeling lost if you missed the first two. I will say that having listened to this one, I’m intrigued enough by the characters and the setting to want to try another in the series.

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Comic Book Thoughts — Spider-Man

Spider-Man: Dying Wish

So I’ve apparently missed a lot of issues leading up to the ones collected here in Dying Wish. But from what I can gather, in an arc before this one, Doc Ock and Spidey had yet another epic battle with Spidey narrowly defeating Ock.

Now, Ock is dying and his last wish is to somehow switch bodies with Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. Using some kind of mind-swapping technology (it’s a comic book, so you’ll just have to go with it), Ock does just that. Trapped in Ock’s dying body, Peter must escape prison and try to find a way to reverse things before time runs out.

Reading this collected set of issues from The Amazing Spider-Man, I found myself wondering how the experience would be different if I’d read the story month to month instead of all in one sitting. I can’t really say, but these are the things that cross my mind while reading collected comic book runs these days. It’s probably less of an issue these days when there seems to be less recapping taking place within the action of the comic itself. As opposed to the old days when the first couple of pages of a comic were designed to bring new and old readers up to speed on what was happening in the life of our hero.

I also have to wonder while reading this just how long these new changes to Spider-Man will last. The Marvel universe has effectively eliminated Peter Parker in not only the main line but also the Ultimate line. Or at least Peter Parker as we knew him, since (SPOILER ALERT!) Doc Ock gets away with his plan to eliminate Parker, but there’s a twist. Turns out Peter is still in there and Ock has not only his memories but also Peter’s.

I fully expect that at some point in the narrative, the Peter half will fight for and assume control of his body again. The cynical part of me says that will probably happen sometime around when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hits theaters.

The Superior Spider-Man, Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy

And so dawns the new era of Spider-Man!

After ending the long run of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel relaunches the character in a different way.

Doc Ock has swapped his dying body for that of Spider-Man. But what Ock didn’t count on was Peter fighting back and part of his consciousness taking up residence inside. This includes all of Peter’s memories and morals.

So, the new Spider-Man has Ock’s intelligence with Spider-Man’s moral center and code of conduct. It’s The Odd Couple inside of one body!

And surprisingly enough, it works for this collected set of comics. Oh sure, this isn’t the Spider-Man I grew up with and it’s probably only a matter of time until we hit the reset button on all of this. But, for now, it’s kind of amusing and there are some interesting avenues opened up.

And yet even in all of that Dan Slott is clearly sewing the seeds for someone close to Spidey to put two and two together about what’s really going on sooner or later.


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And the new Doctor is…

Peter Capaldi Doctor WhoEarlier today, I tuned into the BBC’s world-wide extravaganza, celebrating the revelation of the actor who will play the 12th Doctor.

In many ways, the event reminded me of the season finale of a lot of reality shows — lots of celebratory clips and looks back, all the while keeping the reason for tuning in under wraps until the last possible moment.*

*I enjoyed the reflections by Peter Davison and the first set of panelists.  The second set, not so much.  But then again, I grew a bit tired of Wilf in the overbaked “The End of Time.”  And while it would be easy to go Comic Book guy on the Who fan on the panel, I can’t honestly say that I’d do any better, knowing every word and utterance would be broken down and dissected by a world-wide fan boy audience.

And then finally, the news broke that it’s Peter Capaldi is taking on the role.

At first, my thought was “Who?”  (no irony intended).  Thanks to the power of the Internet, I was able to do some research and find out a bit more.  And, so far, I’m sold on Capaldi as a solid choice to follow-up my favorite Doctor of the modern era.**

**He’s got a Scottish accent…as does my all time favorite Doctor.   Already in good company there!

As I thought about the half-hour celebration and revelation, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a time years ago when I found out that Colin Baker had given way to Sylvester McCoy.  I recall that it was mentioned during a pledge break on the local PBS station and I was completely shocked by the news.  Part of it was because I’d just read an interview with Colin Baker days before saying he wanted to break Tom Baker’s seven-year tenure as the Doctor and part of it was that was in the days before the Internet and connecting with fellow Who fans wasn’t as easy as it is today.

I also recall that my local PBS station (KTEH in San Jose) quickly got hold of a press conference with McCoy, John-Nathan Turner and a couple of other Who dignitaries and aired it one evening as part of a pledge break special.  (I think it took the place of or pushed back an interview with Patrick Troughton, but this was over 25 years ago and my memory is probably not all that reliable).

The difference between then and now struck me.  Back then, the press conference was relatively low-key with little or no production values.  Today’s announcement was over the top with all the bells and whistles.  The McCoy reveal was done early, while today it took 25 minutes of build-up to get to the reason everyone was tuning in.

It’s the difference between fandom then and now.   Back then, I never thought I’d see young people wearing t-shirts proclaiming their love of the show nor did I think there would be all the sheer plethora of tie-in items that I see on the market today.   I see these fans with a mixture of envy because it’s cool to like Doctor Who these days and bitterness since I was a fan when being a fan wasn’t cool.  I also wonder how many of them will be fans of the show ten years from now or a couple of years after it retires again.    Or how many of them will abandon the show with an older actor in the role who isn’t young, hip and fits the profile of sexy?

Oh I’m sure they’ll continue to swoon over David Tennant (the most overrated Doctor of all time) but I wonder how long that will continue and when they’ll move on to the next flavor of the month….

Update:  A quick search of YouTube turns of this video, which I think is the interview/press conference in question.


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