Monthly Archives: March 2014

Reviews: The Silent Wife, The Innocent Sleep and Apple Tree Yard

The Silent Wife

With the success of Gone Girl, it seems like a lot of “he said, she said” suspense thrillers are jumping on the bandwagon, hoping to be the next big seller. A recent book review column in Entertainment Weekly offered up a couple of novels that are attempting to follow in Gillian Flynn’s footsteps with novels featuring unreliable narrators and potential twists and turns as the story unfolds.

Intrigued by the list, I picked up a few of the novels and came away with some interesting thoughts on each one. Of the five novels reviewed, I was only able to get my hands on three of them easily via the library and the good folks at the Amazon Vine program. And while each of these novels contains a cover blurb comparing it to Gone Girl, I think that it’s unfair to all three of these books and to Flynn’s novel to compare them all. These books can and should rise and fall on their own merits — and one of them doesn’t even follow the same story telling structure of alternating first-person points of view that Gone Girl does.

First up was A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. With a cover blurb from Elizabeth George (one of my favorite authors) I was probably a bit biased toward the book even before I turned the first page or read the first chapter. The good news is the novel lives up to the praise given to it by George (and a host of other literary thriller writers who also tout its virtues on the back cover). And yet, this novel isn’t necessarily what I’d consider a standard mystery. It’s more a psychological examination of the relationship of Jodi and Todd.

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Review: The X-Files: Season 10, Volume 2

X-Files Season 10 Volume 2

If the first collected volume of the tenth season of The X-Files was a blockbuster, mythology based two-parter, then this second set of stories is more focused on being your “standard” monster-of-the-week type of stories.

Except that these monster of the week stories offer call backs to some of the most memorable and well-regarded monster-of-the-week stories from the original nine year of the series. Starting off with a sequel to the Flukeman story, this collection does a nice job of settling into how the day to day running of the newly reopened X-Files will go. Calling back to Flukeman and then to the cockroach episode is a solid way to draw fans into the more standalone stories that will make up part of season ten. I found these stories a bit more enjoyable and entertaining that I did the mythology heavy story that opened up season ten.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m entirely sold on this series just yet. As with the previous volume, the biggest drawback is the artwork. It’s well-done for the two-part Flukeman returns story but the other two included arcs are hit or miss. My main criticism is that in these final three issues included in this volume, everyone isn’t necessarily easily recognizable. I realize that artistic license can and will be used in comic books and that each artists brings something different to the table. But I still prefer the more realistic take on the characters and artwork from the first two installments to be what I was looking for. The other three had decent stories but the artwork left me a bit cold.

It will be interesting to see if this series follows the pattern of most seasons of the show and if the next collection with be a heavily mythology driven arc or more of the monster of the week arcs as we see here. So far, I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed the monster of the week arcs a bit more.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Star Trek: The Animated Series Round-Up: The First Four Episodes

startrekheaderThese days there’s a lot of Star Trek out there.   At last count, there were over 700 episodes from the various series plus a dozen movies.*

*If you add in the fan-made productions, it only increases the number.

I guess you could say that if you’re a Star Trek fan, you have a lot to choose from.   Given the size of the buffet, it’s easy to get caught up in only going back for your favorite course again and again — in my case, this would be the original (and still the best) Star Trek.   Even within the original three year run, there are  certain runs that I’m more familiar with or re-visit more often than others.**  And as with an smorguboard, there are going to be some areas that you neglect, don’t visit or maybe overlook.

**To combat this, I did a re-watch of the third season a few years ago and found I enjoyed it.

One of those blind spots in my Star Trek fandom is the Animated Series.   I’ve seen a sampling of episodes in repeats and from picking up the commercial VHS releases on clearance back in the day.  And like the completist that I am, I’ve purchased the DVD set and have it sitting on my shelf with the rest of episodic Trek.   When it first came out, I had every intention of watching the entire run, though that quickly got sidetracked.

I’ve read a smattering of the Alan Dean Foster adaptations of the episodes and found them a bit more satisfying than than the actual episodes themselves.

And so, I’ve had this gap in my Trek fandom for a while now.

Enter the Mission Log Podcast, which for the past year and a half has been turning a critical eye to every episode of the original series and determining the morals, messages and meanings as well as looking at whether or not the episodes stand the test of time.    With the original series in the books, the podcast has turned to looking at the animated series and it’s given me a good excuse to sit down and finally take in the animated series.

So far, we’re two Mission Logs into the lookback at animated Trek and four episodes into the animated run.

And, of course, I’ve got a few thoughts on things.

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Thoughts on A Couple of Big Finish Doctor Who Releases

Doctor Who: The Final Phase (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures, #2.7)Doctor Who: The Final Phase by Nicholas Briggs

Why must every run of Big Finish stories end with the Daleks?

When the range first brought the Doctor’s greatest nemesis back in audio form all those years ago, I was excited, intrigued and couldn’t wait to hear them. Now I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “The Daleks again?!?”

Perhaps the classic series knew what it was doing when it operated under the less is more theory of Dalek stories. Having a bit of space in between stories featuring the Daleks (or even the perception that there is some space between them) helps make the Dalek stories seem a little more special.

I get that Nicholas Briggs loves the Daleks and I get that he’s really good at doing their voices. I just find myself wishing that every Big Finish arc I listened to didn’t all end up with the Daleks somehow behind the plot.

And so it is that we end the latest round of Tom Baker audio dramas with a whimper and not a bang. I can see what the stories are trying to do by trying together a lot of threads from the course of the seven installments that make up the Tom Baker/Mary Tamm season together. But honestly, looking back over the stories the ones I enjoyed the most were the stand-alone titles and not the ones that attempted to give the season an overall theme or arc. Baker quickly settles back into his role as the Doctor with a flourish and Mary Tamm does a fine job as the first Romana. This comes as little surprise me to me since I’ve listened to the two bounce off each other on the DVD commentaries for season 16 and they’ve still got chemistry in spades).

“The Final Phase” tries hard to wrap things up but I can’t help but feel like it would have been better served if this story and the preceding “The Dalek Contract” had been done as either an extended run two-part story or possibly three episodes. The events that take place here feel padded at four episodes and like there’s a lot of verbal running up and down corridors taking place to fill time. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t necessarily find the a verbal sparring match with the Daleks all that interesting. (Terry Nation was on to something when he realizes that long exchanges of dialogue by Daleks can become inherently uninteresting after a certain point. Hence why he have Davros and the superlative “Genesis of the Daleks.”)

Tying in threads from the earlier two-disc release, this two part story doesn’t have anything revelatory or new to say. The Daleks are going to betray Cuthbert and their alliance? Check and saw that coming. The Daleks want to lure the Doctor into a trap and will hold various people prisoner to do so? Check and again, saw it coming. In the end, this wrap up to the season feels more like “been there, done that” that in really bringing any closure or wrapping up the season.

It’s a shame that this is the final time Tamm will reprise her role as the original Romana. As I said before, Tamm is great. It’s just the material that lets her down.

Doctor Who: The King Of Sontar (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.01)Doctor Who: The King Of Sontar by John Dorney

While I was disappointed by how the previous season of fourth Doctor adventures ended, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued the start of a new run of fourth Doctor and Leela stories. I guess since John Dorney is behind the script for the first installment, “The Kings of Sontar,” that shouldn’t come as too big a surprise. Dorney is one of the most consistent writers for the Big Finish range and this latest story continues his streak.

The fourth Doctor and Leela are sent by the Time Lords to Dowcra base, where an elite group of Sontarans led by augmented Sontaran Strang has aspirations of ending the war with the Rutans and setting about conquering the universe. There’s a threat to the universe as we know it with the Doctor squarely caught in the middle, trying to figure out if and how he can and should stop it.

The story itself unfolds in a fairly expected fashion for the first fifty or so minutes. And then characters make a few decisions that lead up to a electric scene in the TARDIS and some intriguing conflict between the Doctor and Leela. Dorney builds on some of the established conflicts between these two from their television days and gives this run of stories the potential to be something interesting and special. Whether or not the range can pay-off what’s put in place here remains to be seen but it certainly has this listener intrigued and interested in a way I haven’t been since the initial excitement of Tom Baker coming to the range wore off.

Baker and Louise Jameson slip easily back into the familiar roles of the Doctor and Leela and it’s nice to hear David Collins back in Doctor Who.

I can only hope that Dorney will be on board to help wrap up this run of Big Finish stories. Or that maybe, just maybe we can have a run of stories that don’t feature the Daleks as the pivotal enemy behind things. AT this point, I’m scared to look ahead at the upcoming installments and art work for fear of having things given away — or being disappointed to see a season-ending Briggs story.

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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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