Category Archives: review

Review: Doctor Who: The Blood Cell by James Goss

Doctor Who: The Blood Cell (New Series Adventures, #54)

After reading and enjoying The Crawling Terror, I was cautiously optimistic to see what the next installment from the Peter Capaldi era of Doctor Who novels would offer. Unfortunately, I may have had my expectations set a bit too high because I came away from The Blood Cell feeling a bit disappointed by the whole experience.

I read tie-in novels for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the desire to spend more time with some of my favorite characters. James Goss attempts to distinguish his Capaldi era novel by offering up a narrative from the first-person perspective of the head of a prison that’s just received a new prisoner. The prisoner in question is, of course, the Doctor. Clara is also on hand, showing up at intervals to protest the Doctor’s imprisonment and to warn our narrator that the Doctor isn’t likely to stay in prison long.

I will admit I was a bit apprehensive about these first three Capaldi era novels because they were set to hit shelves relatively quickly after the first few episodes of the season aired. I wondered if they could capture his Doctor on the printed page or if we’d be treated to a more generic adventures and take on the Doctor with a bit of Scottish brogue and crankiness thrown in to make us believe that this was the new Doctor. The Crawling Terror did a nice job of making it feel like Mike Tucker had a good handle on Capaldi and had either seen footage of the new Doctor in action or been granted access to the scripts. Goss’ novel feels a bit more generic and was, ultimately, a lot more disappointing.

Part of it is the choice of a first-person narrator. This can work in Doctor Who novels, but it doesn’t quite feel all that effective here. Instead, it makes the Doctor and Clara feel like minor characters in their own novel for the first half. Things do pick up a bit in the second half, but by that point, I had lost much of my enthusiasm for this novel.

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

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Review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl Alive

For the last decade, Tifani Fanelli has been working to reinvent herself. On the surface she’s got it all — great job, great fiance, a seemingly perfect life.

But just under the surface, events from her past still haunt her and attempt to shatter her seemingly perfect world.

To say more about what these events are would be to ruin several of the twists that Jessica Knoll sews in her debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive. When we first meet Ani (she drops the Tif), she comes across as a driven, slightly calculating and cold character. Asked to participate in a documentary about the events that took place at her private high school, Ani is determined to drop as much weight as possible and seemingly have it all before she appears in the documentary. Early on, it would be easy to dismiss her as a vain, spoiled child who is used to getting her own way. But Knoll wisely drops out nuggets of information from Ani’s past (in the form of alternating chapters in the past and present) to slowly begin to build understanding and maybe a bit of sympathy toward Ani.

Luckiest Girl Alive throws in a couple of well-earned curves that caught me by surprise. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, Knoll would throw in a new nugget that sent the novel in an entirely different direction. Take my advice and don’t let anyone else ruin this one for you. Part of the fun is discovering what really happened — and wondering if we can trust Tifani as the narrator of the story.

I will also say that this novel may require some patience. I initially found Ani an off-putting narrator, but as the story opened up and revealed more about her past, it helped her grow on me a bit. Don’t be off-put by her early brashness. A little patience is a good thing with this one.

Knoll’s debut novel is intriguing and compelling enough that I am looking forward to seeing what she offers next.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I Was Here

Looks like I’m 0-2 when it comes to Gayle Forman’s novels. And it’s looking less and less likely that I’m willing to give her a third strike to try and turn things around.

The problem is that both of Forman’s books I’ve read have had interesting hooks. The first chapter of I Was Here, where we get the devastating news that Cody’s best friend killed herself using an industrial cleaner but had a time-triggered e-mail that gave friends and family instructions on where to find her is haunting, tragic and the kind of thing you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

The problem is that it’s all downhill from there. A lot of my issues from this book come from how truly unlikeable Cody becomes over the course of the next hundred or so pages. Despite claims about being best friends with Meg (the girl who dies) and her family, Cody comes across as self-absorbed, petty and a person who has extreme issues with her mother. (Mom isn’t going to win mother of the year by any stretch of the imagination but it feels like Cody is far too disrespectful and dismissive of her mother at several points in the novel).

Cody and Meg had plans to go to college together, but those went awry for Cody, who now cleans houses to make ends meet and is flunking out of her local community college. Meg’s family asks Cody to head up to Meg’s college and pack up her dorm room for them, sending all of her personal effects back home. At this point, Cody meets some of Meg’s roommates and college friends as well as snooping into Meg’s life to see what might have led her down the path to suicide.
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Review: Alone Forever: The Singles Collection by Liz Prince

Alone Forever: The Singles Collection

As I’ve said in the past, one of the fun things about NetGalley is skimming through the comics and graphic novels section and finding treasures there I might not have heard of before or might have overlooked.

Liz Prince’s Alone Forever: A Singles Collection is one such collection. The series of comic strips examine Liz’s attempts to find love in the modern dating world that includes things like OK Cupid and texting your feelings to someone and then awkwardly waiting for a reply (this cartoon reminded me a lot of the Seinfeld episode where George tells his latest date that he loves her, only to not get a response.).

For the most part, Liz’s observation are self-deprecating, witty and amusing. I can’t help but hope she’s exaggerating some aspects of these stories, if only for her own sake. But having been out there in the dating world once upon a time, I have a feeling that some of the more extreme quirks aren’t necessarily all that exaggerated.

This collection was a quick, pleasant read and it’s one that makes me curious to see what else Prince has to offer. I may have to seek our other collections by Prince or just surf over to her web site and see what other observations on life she has to offer.

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: Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

Heir to the Jedi

In his introduction to Heir to the Jedi, Kevin Hearne says that the inspiration for his first novel set in “a galaxy far, far away” was a question that many Star Wars fans of a certain age may have pondered when The Empire Strikes Back made its debut — how did Luke Skywalker go from a novice in the Force to being able to pull his lightsaber to him in the ice cave on Hoth?

The movie series doesn’t give us any answers or explanation, but Hearne’s novel does. Narrated by Luke, Heir to the Jedi takes place between A New Hope and Empire and not only gives looks at how Luke developed his Jedi powers before he headed off to Degobah for training but also some of the realities of the day to day running of a rebellion. Hearne lets us spend some time with a few old favorites and introduces a few new characters for this novel that quickly grow on Luke and the reader.

I’m sure that fans who read every single page of the Extended Universe novels will be annoyed to learn that LucasFilm and Disney have rebooted the novels. But as a reader who fell behind on the EU and increasingly felt like the cool kids were having a party that I wasn’t invited to, I’m happy to see the novels get a reboot and start fresh. And if Heir is any indication, these novels are in good hands and headed in an interesting direction as we all count down to later this year when Episode VII arrives on our movie screens.

The combination of one of my favorite genre universes with one of my favorite genre authors is pays off extremely well here. Hearne quickly settles into the Star Wars universe and you can tell he’s having a great time answering a question that has consumed his curiosity over the years. He ties in enough continuity to keep Star Wars fans happy but still keeps the novel accessible and entertaining enough that a casual reader can drop in and enjoy a well done tie-in novel.

This is a solid example of a tie-in novel done right.

And I hope that Star Wars fans who haven’t dipped their toes into the wonderful urban fantasy universe that Hearne has created will like what they read here and pick up one or more the Iron Druid Chronicles.

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

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Comic Book Friday: Star Trek: The Q Gambit

Star Trek: Ongoing, Volume 9: The Q Gambit

IDW’s re-imagining of classic Star Trek installments in the rebooted timeline takes a break for a couple of issues with the ninth collection, “The Q Gambit.”

After debating with Picard about the reality of a “no-win” scenario, Q decides to put the one man who didn’t believe in the “no-win” scenario to the test. Q arrives on the Enterprise in the rebooted universe and after some spirited debate with Kirk, Spock and others sends the ship and crew forward in time to the Deep Space Nine era and a very different outcome to the Dominion War.

Seems that the Enterprise‘s vanishing threw the time line in an entirely different direction — one where the Federation fell and the Dominion had an easy time conquering the Alpha Quadrant.

On paper, this seems like it should be a fun, entertaining little “what if” story. But I found the story overstayed its welcome a bit as it worked a bit too hard to make sure we got a check-in with every character from DS9 and got to see them pair off with various members of the rebooted original series crew.

An interesting little twist comes late in the narrative, but by this point my interest had really waned.

I’ve enjoyed much of what IDW’s done in re-imaging some of the original episodes in the rebooted universe and their lead-up stories to both movies really offered some new and interesting shadings for the two films. “The Q Gambit” represents the first significant mis-step I’ve seen in this series. Hopefully the series will get back to the elements I enjoy in future installments and the next collection.

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: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please

My 2014 reading year was book-ended with offerings from the stars of Parks and Recreation. One of those books I loved and the other I was a bit disappointed in.

I hate to admit it but I didn’t much care for Nick Offerman’s book, despite loving his character of Ron Swanson on the show. But I was pleasantly surprised at Amy Poehler’s autobiography Yes Please.

Part of this could be that I chose to listen to the audio version of the book. Poehler narrates her book and has a number of guest stars stop by the audio booth to lend a hand. This helps the book take on a conversational style and made me feel more like I was sitting across from Poehler as she related each of these stories. (It also helps that the final chapter is read in front of an audience and comes across feeling less like an essay and more like a testing out of new stand-up comedy material).

Having Poehler relate her life’s story helped me to understand why she bragged about some things and why she was reluctant to talk about others. But over the course of the several hours I spent listening to this, what I came away with was a feeling like Poehler and I were now old friends who might hang out and grab waffles sometime at J.J.’s Diner (wait, that’s Leslie Knope…but you get the idea).

An entertaining, fun listen on audio book. And one that doesn’t overstay its welcome and left me wanting just another few minutes with it.

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