Monthly Archives: April 2014

Review: Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel by Jonathan Morris

Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel

Following in the footsteps of the fiftieth anniversary re-release of original, printed Doctor Who adventures comes the Monsters Editions. Each of these reprinted stories features one of the Doctor’s classic adversaries from the printed page.

Representing the Weeping Angels is Jonathan Morris’ “Touched by an Angel.”

And just like the episode “Blink” that introduced the angels to Doctor Who lore, this novel is one that I’d consider a Doctor-light story. The eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory are present throughout much of the story, but the real star of this books is Mark Whitacker.

Mark is attacked by the Weeping Angels but sent back in time only a few years instead of across an entire lifetime. The Angels have identified Mark as having the potential to create a huge time paradox upon which they can feed and recharge. Mark is still hurting from the death of his wife a few years earlier and sees his being zapped back in time as an opportunity to save her from what he sees as her untimely death. Mark even went so far as to write himself a note detailing certain events and while he never crosses paths directly with himself, he does push his younger self along at certain points in his life (one instance involves a lost wallet in Rome).

The Doctor is forced to allow Mark to do this since what he’s done is already history and to go against it would create the paradox the Angels so desperately want to feed on. But Mark is hiding his ultimate agenda from the Doctor and his companions, who follow his exploits through time in the TARDIS, dropping in at pivotal occasions to hold Mark to his word and to keep history on course.

In some ways, “Touched by An Angel” feels like a Doctor Who take on The Time Traveller’s Wife. Morris makes Mark and Rebecca work well on the page and allows us to see inside Mark’s reasoning and desire to save Rebecca’s life, even if we agree with the Doctor that it can’t and shouldn’t be done. The creepiness of the Angels that worked so well in “Blink” is captured here on the printed page. In many ways, this feels like it could easily be adapted into a story for the new series, assuming they had the time and budget to do it.

I’ve read a lot of Doctor Who tie-in fiction in my life and I’ve got to admit that some of it is better than others. I’d put this one squarely in the category of the better stories told in the printed range.

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: Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick

Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick  (Sex Criminals #1-5)

Suzie and Jon have a superpower, but it’s not necessarily one that you can talk about out loud.

Whenever Suzie or Jon achieve *THAT* certain level of satisfaction, time stops around them. Both discovered this gift at an early age.

Suzie and Jon meet and decide that it’s time to put their superpower to good use — by robbing banks. Of course, what the two hadn’t considered is there might be a group of people with a similar power who want to put a stop to their hijinx — no, not the sex, but the robbing banks. It seems there is a group known as the sex police.

Unabashedly bawdy, frank and totally original Sex Criminals will have you laughing out loud one page and causing you to think on the next. One of my major complaints these days with comics is the over-stylized art used in them. Thankfully, Sex Criminals goes for a realistic art style that makes it easy to identify characters from issue to issue and allows for a lot of in-jokes and Easter eggs among its panels.

Jon develops his power at the local sex shop and the backgrounds there are full of in-jokes and little asides that will have you stopping to admire the humor and the art work.

This edition collects the first five issues of the Sex Criminals comic. And if you’re like me, once the last page is turned you’ll be curious and eager to see more of what develops for Jon and Suzie. Easily one of the most enjoyable comic collection I’ve read in a long time, this one gets high marks for its witty, unique take on its subject matter, without descending to what many of took as mature when we were in middle school (aka gratuitous nudity and swearing). Yes, there is nudity and there is swearing, but it never feels gratuitous.

Here’s hoping the next issue hits comic stores soon so I can enjoy the next chapter in Jon and Suzie’s adventures.

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: Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell

Expiration Day

While William Campbell Powell’s debut novel may be shelved in the young adult section of your local bookstore or library, Expiration Day is one of those books that can and should get a wider audience from brave readers who are willing to overlook shelf placement in making their reading selections.

In the near future, humanity is on the brink of extinction. As the birth rate drops, couples desperate for a child are turning to androids that look and act like children. Couples can raise the android as their child until his or her eighteenth birthday (androids are sent in each year for an “upgrade” which is disguised in their memories as going on vacation) to help ensure the android doesn’t become aware that he or she isn’t a “real” human child.

As Expiration Day begins, Tania Deely believes she is the daughter of a small town minister and his wife. Journaling to future alien visitors to our planet, Tania relates details of her every day life and her struggles to become a normal teenager. She also discovers that she’s not a human being as she originally thought, but that she is also an android as well.

This throws Tania for a loop because there’s a catch to the androids. Each one has an Expiration Date on their eighteenth birthday. At that time, each android is returned to the robot corporation, its memory wiped and the body recycled as a lower model service droid. Androids develop emotionally and intellectually as a human teenage would though there are certain drives that are suppressed (for example, while androids enjoy kissing, they don’t necessarily have any interest in becoming more physically intimate).

Tania’s developing interest and talent for music as well as other factors begin to make her question whether or not the self-imposed expiration day is right, fair or if there is anything she can do about it. She has to keep her interest and questions on the downlow though — the state closely monitors her Internet searches and certain searches bring swift, harsh consequences.

Expiration Day draws on the influences of other, sci-fi works including the robot novels of Issac Asimov and Logan’s Run. But it’s the voice of Tania and her relating of her life’s events and her growing up that set this novel apart and make it something special. In most ways, Tania is a normal teenager — questioning authority, having crushes and conflicting with her parents. She’s just a teenager who has a date looming when she’ll be turned off and lose all of what make up who she is.

Told in journal entries, the novel allows the reader to really get to know and relate to Tania.

Simply put, this is one of the more enjoyable, thought provoking and compelling books I’ve read — not only this year, but in a long time. Powell as a gem of a first novel and one that will linger with you long after you’ve read it.

Pick it up, give it a try. I think you’ll love it.

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Review: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles — Council of War

Doctor Who: Council of War

For the first fifty or so minutes, Council of War is an entertaining, compelling story. Then suddenly, the entire story hinges on what can only be called a deus ex Doctor and the entire thing collapses under its own weight.

Benton is sent by the Doctor and the Brigadier to a town of Kettering to investigate ghost sightings and disappearances by members of the town council. Posing as just-appointed councilmember, Benton attends the council Christmas party, meeting Margery Philips, self-proclaimed feminist and recently elected fellow councilmember.

An alien ship appears above the town and before you know it, Benton and Margery are swept up to an alien world, where Margery is on trial for (as of yet) unexplained crimes. It appears that Margery’s career in politics was a successful one, leading to her writing a book heralding the value of peace and non-violence. The alien race in question stumbled across said book, adopted it as the cornerstone of their society and had a decade or so of peaceful existence. And then an alien race with weapons showed up and demanded their subservience. The original aliens blame Margery for this and have put her on trial for the alleged crimes against their species.

Margery and Benton (each takes turn narrating the story and, for the most part, it works) argue that whether or not she’s to blame is irrelevant and that the alien race needs to stand up for themselves. However, the only weapons they have are show pieces in a museum and Benton’s walther-PPK. Benton hatches a plan to use the museum pieces to distract the aliens while he uses a device the Doctor whipped up to stow away on board the alien craft and create some havoc.

To this point, the story is going well though I will admit I started to become concerned the longer the story continued as to whether or not there would be enough time to properly wrap up the story in an interesting, believable way. And, unfortunately, these fears are realized when the story takes the easiest way possible out of the situation and left me feeling a bit empty and like I’d just wasted an hour or so listening to the story.

At several points in the story, allusions are made to the Bond stories and movies (there’s even a reference to Benton looking a bit like George Lazanby). It seems like the authors may have been trying to go for a Bond-like feel to this entry in the Companion Chronicles range. I’m guessing that makes the Brig M and the Doctor Q on some level…but I digress. Like I said before, the story works well until the last five or so minutes where instead of sticking the landing, it feels like the authors realized that had five minutes left to wrap this all up and went for the most convenient, easy, get-out-of-alien-invasion-free card they could find.

I know that several single disc releases have run three episodes and perhaps Council of War might have benefited from a bit longer running time.

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Review: The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel

The Break-Up ArtistSixteen year old Becca Williamson has a unique business plan. For a hundred bucks (paid via Pay Pal, of course), she will break up any high school couple. Becca’s services are rendered in anonymity and she’s very good at what she does.

But when Becca is approached by a new potential client, she has some misgivings. The couple in question are the king and queen bee of her high school and seemingly the perfect couple. Nearly inseparable, there’s the added twist that Huxley is her former best friend and head of the school dance squad. When she’s offered triple her fee if she can break the two up before Steve has to commit to a college, Becca accepts the challenge and begins a long game to sew the seeds of discontent between Huxley and Steve.

In order to do this, Becca goes undercover, joining the dance team and rekindling her friendship with Huxley. As Becca starts gathering the dirt on both sides to try and break them up, she begins to question her methods, business plan and whether she should continue as “The Break-Up Artist.”

Philip Siegel’s novel is an anti-thesis of all your typical young-adult romance novels. Becca is cynical and jaded when it comes to romance, thanks in large part to her older sister. The older sister has been living at home since her fiancee called off the wedding just hours before the ceremony and refuses to reconnect with her old friends, who have gone on with their lives, family and careers.

Over the course of the story, we see Becca’s conflict played out on the page. The party behind the break-up and their motives does come to light at the end and it’s interesting to watch as Becca is exposed as “The Break-Up Artist” and the consequences to her and her new found relationships — not only with Huxley, but also a burgeoning romance with the boyfriend of her best friend, Val.

The novel walks a fine line of having us understand Becca and her motivations without making her completely unsympathetic. There is humor in the pages and there is some well realized and authentic teen drama found on these pages. Siegel wisely makes all of the characters three-dimensional and there are times you’ll like them and times you won’t like them. But you’ll always have a clear understanding of what drives them and what motivates them.

A refreshingly different take on the teen angst novel, “The Break-Up Artist” almost screams out for a sequel. Not every thread is resolved and it would be interesting to visit Becca and her world again soon to see what develops 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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Animated Star Trek Round-Up: Episodes Five Through Ten

startrekheaderSix more episodes down in my quest to watch all of the animated episodes of Star Trek.  And it feels like this half-dozen episodes contain a lot of sequels and call backs to classic Star Trek.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does lead to a bit of an exposition dump in certain installments.

One thing I’ve noticed in watching these episodes is that they’re lean and mean when it comes to the storyline.  With half the running time of original series installments, there is no time for side tangents, filler or padding.   This set also includes an episode I have vague memories of watching on a  Saturday morning growing up and thinking it was interesting.  At this time, my awareness of Star Trek came mostly from ads on the back of comic books for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and from the series of Power Records that were out at the time.*

* I think a whole post on the Power Records series could be coming in the near future since those really helped cement my early interest in all things Trek.

And so, here are my thoughts on the next six installments of animated Trek.

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Review: The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones

The Next Time You See Me

There were multiple instance while reading The Next Time You See Me that I had to pause and glance at the cover again to make sure I wasn’t reading the latest offering from Elizabeth George or Laura Lippman.

Like George and Lippman, Holly Goddard Jones isn’t only interested in solving the crime at the core of her debut novel but she’s also interested in the impact the crime has on the characters and community before and after the event occurs. In this case, the central mystery centers around the disappearance of Veronica “Ronnie” Eastman. Ronnie is considered a black sheep of her small Kentucky town and her family, but that doesn’t mean she’s quite the pariah that local gossip makes her out to be.

Jones weaves the story of how Ronnie impacted various members of the community throughout the novel. And while the reader may suspect that they know what’s happened to Ronnie long before the reality sets in for various characters, Jones takes time to explore the events preceding and proceeding from her disappearance.

Chapters center on her married sister, who is feeling unfulfilled in her role as mother, teacher and wife to a devoted high school band director who neglects her during band season. We also get a glimpse of the awkward teenage girl who is confused by the world and a popular teenage boy who treats her at times with tenderness and at others with disdain. There’s also the older, lonely guy who makes the mistake of going to a local dive bar with some of the younger guys from the office one Friday evening.

All of these various threads intersect with Ronnie and we get various views of her and her fate. The Next Time You See Me isn’t just interested in how Ronnie met her fate but also as to why she met it and how it impacts her friends, family and the members of the town. Some of them are direct, while others are not. The novel sets up a nice romance between the older gentlemen from the plant and his nurse (they met on the night at the bar in question), giving hope to both before it’s torn away in the novel’s final chapters. And I’ll give Jones a lot of credit for not allowing her characters to do cliched things in the interest of the plot.

All in all, this is a satisfying, emotionally rich novel. It was over far too soon and it leaves me wondering what Jones has up her sleeve for her next book.

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