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Comic Book Review: Spider-Man: Bloodline by J.J. & Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli, Dave Stewart

Spider-Man: Bloodline

Well, it appears that J.J. Abrams’ son Henry has inherited his father’s ability to start off a story well but has no idea how to stick the landing.

This five-issue mini-series event is a bit of a disappointment on the writing side. A new villain called Cadaverous kills Mary Jane and a bunch of other superheroes, sending Peter Parker into exile. A decade or so later, Peter is estranged from his fifteen-year-old son Ben and has left Ben in the hands of Aunt May as he travels the globe for the Bugle. But Ben is starting to have strange occurrences in his life, like sticking to walls and the ability to take out bullies with a single punch. Before you know it, Ben has discovered he’s got Spidey powers and Cadaverous is alerted that Spider-Man is back on the scene and can be used to complete whatever the hell plan it is that Cadaverous has dreamed up.

Bloodline feels like an extended mini-series based on the MCU more than the comic-book storylines surrounding Spider-Man — and that’s not a bad thing, per se. If there’s one thing Into the Spider-Verse showed us, it’s there can be multiple variations of Spider-Man without necessarily wrecking things.

But as I started out saying, the big issue here is Henry Abrams’ writing. It’s all over the place, pulling in things like Tony Stark, the Avengers, and other MCU items without necessarily thinking things through. If you’re all about a big reveal that doesn’t require much thought or internal continuity, this is the mini-series for you. However, Spider-Man has always been about something more than just big reveal after big reveal for me — it’s about investing in the character of Peter Parker — or whoever is taking up the Spider-Man mantle. And that’s where this mini-series ultimately fails. Yes, Ben Parker is Peter and MJ’s son, but beyond that, there is little or any character arc in play to give us a reason to care about. And since Peter turns into a distant father, there’s little, if any reason, to invest much in him either.

The story does try to go for a huge emotional twist in the final issue with mixed results. Again, I hadn’t invested enough in the characters to really feel anything more than a shoulder-shrug when said reveal takes place.

And the ending is all over the place. So, maybe J.J. wrote this with his son.

Putting the plot aside, the artwork for this miniseries is superbly done. I grew up reading reprints of the Steve Ditko and John Romita eras, and those will always be my favorites when it comes to Spider-Man. But the art by Sara Pichelli for this mini-series event evokes the best of Ditko and Romita. It’s colorful and easy to distinguish each character over the course of the five issues. There are a few striking panels in here that made me pause to just enjoy them before turning the page and continuing to roll my eyes at the plotline.

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Review: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

The Wife UpstairsI’ve never read Jane Eyre, so I can’t speak to how faithful to the original Rachel Hawkin’s updated retelling, The Wife Upstairs is or isn’t. What I can speak to is that sense that this novel never quite connected with me.

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is on the run from her past. Working as a dog-walker for the city’s elite, Jane meets Eddie Rochester. Eddie’s wife disappeared (along with her best friend) under mysterious circumstances and is presumed dead.

So, of course, these two begin dating and their relationship moves rather quickly from dating to living together to engaged. Jane doesn’t want a big wedding for fear of publicity bringing unwanted questions from her past life, but her old roommate is more than willing to blackmail her to keep those pursuing her at bay. Jane works to keep one step ahead of her past, teasing readers with what it may or may not be for far longer than I had much patience for.

That really sums up my disappointment with The Wife Upstairs. It teases us for far too long (though we know a bit about what Eddie is up to early on) without giving sufficient answers to the questions raised until I’d long since lost most of my interest in Jane. I suppose if I’d cracked open a copy of Jane Eyre at some point in my life, I’d already know a lot of what is revealed in the final third of the book. But that might have ruined some of the “thrill” of discovering all this for myself.

Another issue with The Wife Upstairs is that it attempts to be a domestic suspense thriller without offering much in the way of thrills or suspense. I found myself more relieved to finally be done with the novel than satisfied with the overall reading experience once I turned the final page.

Overall, a disappointment.

I received a digital ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Audiobook Review:The Effort by Claire Holroyde

The Effort

An updated take on Lucifer’s Hammer, Claire Holroyde’s The Effort speculates that it (still) wouldn’t take much for civilization as we know it to collapse and our world to descend into chaos. In the case of The Effort, it’s a large comet that is on a collision course with our planet. Holroyde bounces between multiple characters in the story, from members of a team, tasked with finding a way to save the planet from destruction to those dealing with civilization as we know it falling into chaos as some of humanity’s more base tendencies toward self-preservation kick in.

Like Lucifer’s Hammer, I found myself slowly starting to root for the cosmic calamity to befall the planet and start getting rid of certain characters, chief among them the head scientist Ben. Ben’s worst tendencies include not allowing members of his team to manifest any physical appearance that time is passing and his lack of consideration for those he doesn’t consider of immediate benefit or impact to the group trying to find a last-second way to save us all from destruction. Continue reading

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Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes

Have you ever got to the end of a book and wondered — what the heck did I just read?!?

If not, then you might want to pick up Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes because it’s got one of the most WTF endings I’ve read in quite some time. In fact, the ending is so WTF, that any conversation about the book is going to naturally have to go into detail about it. You are suitably warned.

When single-mother Louise meets David in a bar, the chemistry between them is electric. But, he’s married, so Louise ends up not pursuing more than a semi-drunk flirtation with him. Things get a bit more awkward when it turns out that David is the new doctor at the counseling clinic where Louise is employed part-time. Despite a conversation in which both of them declare that seeing each other is a bad idea, the chemistry continues to be there.

Things get even more complicated with Louise runs into Adele, David’s wife. The two strike up a friendship, though Louise conveniently omits that she flirted with Adele’s husband and that she and David have started an affair (apparently behind Adele’s back, though the first-person chapters from Adele’s point of view make it clear that she not only knows about this, she’s also manipulating both sides for….well, more on that later).

If you’re thinking we’ve even reached the depths of the WTF, we aren’t even in the same zip code yet.

Through flashbacks, we find out that Adele has an interesting past — her parents died in a fire, she’s wealthy but she’s signed over all her money to David, and she spent time getting mental help while David was in college. It’s at the institution that she meets Rob, who she gets close to during her time. They get so close that Adele invites him to come to stay with her should Rob’s family kick him out if and when he backslides from his drug habit.

If you’re wondering who Rob is and why Behind Her Eyes keeps flashing back to him and turns over a good bit of the novel’s real estate to him, the answer becomes clear in the final pages. And it’s once the answer becomes clear that the question of whether or not you love the novel or want to throw it against the wall in frustration will be answered. Continue reading

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Some Quick Reviews: All Systems Red, The Thursday Murder Club, All Creatures Great and Small

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells

I’ve been hearing a lot about the Murderbot Diaries from people I trust within the literary community, so I decided it might be finally time to get the series a try.

Murderbot is a half-human/half-cyborg creation that has hacked its own software to give itself freewill. Murderbot turns around and uses that free will to begin binge-watching daytime television. Quite frankly, Murderbot would rather watch TV than help the human survey team explore the planet they’ve been assigned.

Turns out that in the future, the government still goes with the lowest bidder and may not always be upfront about the dangers involved. So, the human team is facing some unusual dangers out there.

The premise of a killing machine gone rogue to binge-watch TV seems uncannily relevant as we continue to face the pandemic. Murderbot’s snarky sense of humor and first-person narration are well done. The novella suffers a bit when it comes to giving us a fully realized crew — there are only about two crew members who get any character development. And the novella is just long enough so the fun doesn’t wear off.

I’m intrigued enough to want to read the second installment and see what happens next. Continue reading

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Review: Trial and Error by Robert Whitlow

Trial and Error

When I first read Robert Whitlow, I was impressed by the authenticity of his novels — not just the legal thriller aspect, but also the journeys and arcs he put his characters through. Over the last two decades, I’ve read just about everything Whitlow has written. While I’ve enjoyed watching him stretch himself as a writer, there’s still something comforting about him returning to his roots with his latest novel. Trial and Error.

Seventeen years ago, Buddy Smith became a father. He got to spend a few days with his daughter before she and her mother vanished. Buddy’s spent the last seventeen years trying to find his daughter, all while building a legal career in his home of Milton County. Buddy’s passion is renewed when he finds evidence his father was supporting the mother of his child financially for years but kept it a secret from Buddy and his mother.

Clerk of the court and local softball team coach, Gracie Blaylock is on her own journey. She’s been Buddy’s friend since high school and she’s been praying for Buddy and his family for years. With the introduction of a new sheriff’s deputy who specializes in missing persons, could Gracie’s prayers be finally answered in ways she does and doesn’t expect?

Whitlow’s early legal thrillers centered on good people who have to make difficult choices. The one thing that always stood out about Whitlow’s novels was the authentic journey his flawed characters go on during the course of the novel. Whitlow does feature the story of a person’s conversion, but it’s not presented as a moment in which all of that person’s problems are swept away. There may be a peace that comes over that person and a new perspective, but it’s not like waving a magic wand to make all the issues and problems go away. (I’m looking at you LeftBehind novels).

Of course, part of the secret is that Whitlow gets you to invest in his characters so when the pivotal moment comes, you feel it along with the character. Whitlow also doesn’t have everyone magically gets saved on the same timeline. There’s a character of a visiting judge who is challenged by Gracie and begins to examine his life, but we don’t see a conversion from him. (It may happen off-screen, but Whitlow doesn’t tell us one way or the other)

Whitlow’s characters shine through as do his legal storylines. There are multiple stories going on and Whitlow expertly weaves them together. I found myself turning the last page of this one feeling fully satisfied with Trial and Error as a stand-alone story but that I wouldn’t mind going back to the world of Buddy and Gracie again, should Whitlow be so inclined.

This is one of the best novels Whitlow has written in a long time. Highly recommended.

I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Every Last Secret by A.R. Torre

Every Last Secret

Being naked in Cat’s bed was a fantasy I was already entertaining, and I ran my hand along her white marble countertop, making a silent vow to christen that surface, also.

Cat Winthrope seemingly has it all — the perfect husband, William, the gorgeous home, the social standing among the who’s who of their California community.

Enter Neena, the life coach who can help put William’s company over the top. But Neena is harboring deep-seated jealousy of everything Cat has — and Neena is willing to do whatever it takes to set herself as the next Mrs. Winthrope.

Filled with dark, duplicitous characters, A.R. Torre’s Every Secret Thing will have you questioning your allegiances and changing “sides” in the ongoing struggle between Cat and Neena throughout the course of the book. Neena and her husband, Matt, buy the house next door to Wiliam and Cat, insinuating themselves in the lives of the Winthrope’s at every opportunity — both professionally and personally. But neither side knows the other is playing a long game, leading to a suspenseful, “I can’t believe she’s doing this” final third of the novel. Be warned that once you get past a certain point, odds are you won’t be able to stop turning the pages in order to see what happens or develops next.

Part of that hook is Torre’s telling the story from the alternating viewpoint of Neena and Cat. Seeing how each views the other and the mounting frustration and conflict between the two makes for a rich, rewarding payoff in the final pages. The final third of the novel is rich with melodrama – but it’s all earned by some Torre’s laying a solid foundation for it early in the story.

As I said earlier, don’t be shocked to find your allegiances changing — or that you’ll at least understand what motivates each side in the ever-escalating conflict. There is a final twist or two that had me raising an eyebrow a bit, but at that point, I’d just decided to go with the crazy and enjoy what was unfolding.

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Review: Forget This Ever Happened by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Forget This Ever Happened

Learning that Cassandra Rose Clarke was penning a couple of Star Trek tie-in novels, I decided to sample some of her back catalogs. The first book that hit my library reserve pile was the young-adult urban fantasy, Forget This Ever Happened.

The town of Indianola, Texas is off-the-grid, even in the early ’90s. That’s because there are monsters who live out by the old power planet who live in a tentative alliance with the town’s humans. And anyone who leaves town forgets about the monsters and details of their lives in the small town.

In the summer of 1993, Claire is exiled to Indianola, Texas to care for her aging grandmother. When a monster shows up in her yard, taunting her, Claire calls the local exterminator to remove the creature back to the power plant. That’s how she meets Julie, whose family owns multiple local businesses. Claire’s grandmother is convinced that Julie’s family “stole” their family home out from under them years ago and is less than pleased with Claire and Julie’s strike up a friendship. Claire’s grandmother would rather she spent time with Audrey, the girl who is almost too good to be true.

The first third of Forget This Ever Happened builds the world of Indianola and the budding relationship between Julie and Claire. Pieces of the larger mystery of what’s happening in town and the connection to everyone are slowly sewn and established. Once the pieces are in place, the novel proceeds at a slow-burn toward the final revelations of just what’s going on in the town and why. Clarke earns each of the reveals, all while giving us a good dollop of teen angst. This angst comes in the form of Claire’s rising attraction to Julie and her feelings about it.

To say too much more would probably ruin some of the developments of the novel’s last third. Forget This Ever Happened is an intriguing treat with strong, female protagonists that earn most of the surprises from the novel’s final third. Given that Clarke’s upcoming TNG novel will focus on Dr. Crusher from season seven, I can’t help but look forward to that book arriving on my shelf later this year.

Until then, there are more novels from Clarke to explore — something I’m looking forward to doing.

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TV Round-Up: WandaVision, All New Halloween Spooktacular

Wandavision-Season-1-Episode-6-RecapWell, that escalated quickly, didn’t it?

After a couple of weeks of wondering just how the people trapped in Westview were faring if not in Wanda’s immediate sphere of influence, we found out this week, thanks to the Vision. The answer is — not well. They appear to be stuck but with an awareness of what’s happening to them. I’m going to assume based on the tear rolling down the cheek of the woman apparently stuck forever hanging laundry, that they’re all in some type of pain — whether it’s physical or emotional. I imagine it’s frustrating for them to be stuck in the perfect for her only town that Wanda has (apparently) created around her.

The more we see, the more I wonder just how much control over this scenario Wanda actually has. Last week, she told the kids she can’t resurrect the dead — but she’s done that with Vision and now her brother. Despite being the center of this universe, I can’t help but wonder how much control she really has over things. She can apparently expand that power and the sphere of the universe a bit. But what would she have done if pulled Hayward in there with her? Would she enact some type of revenge on him for attacking her home and family? While we met Wanda as a villain, it’s hard to imagine (at this point) that she’d hurt someone. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos by Philip Martin

Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos: 6th Doctor NovelisationThanks to the quirks of KTEH’s (a bastion of Doctor Who in the U.S. back in the day) scheduling of Colin Baker’s first season as the Doctor, I saw season 22 of classic Who a lot during my first decade or so as a fan. That kind of explains why it’s been a hot minute since I dusted off that particular season on either my VHS or DVD collection. It’s probably been at least a decade since I really dabbled in season 22 in a serious way — and boy, did revisiting Philip Martin’s adaptation of his script for “Vengeance on Varos” show that.

Martin takes a page from the master of the Doctor Who adaptation, Terrance Dicks, and gives us essentially the same story we get on-screen. Though to Martin’s credit (and Dicks in the early days before they chained him to a typewriter and he churned out eight novels in a year), he does at least try to make the story feel like it unfolds over a longer duration of time than what we got on-screen. Martin makes it feel like the Doctor, Peri, Jondar, and Arata spend a bit more time wandering around the punishment dome, trying to find a way out and escape. He even extends things out enough so it appears the Doctor has passed away for longer than five-minutes than we see on-screen.

There is an extended sequence where we pull back the curtain and see how the Governor truly lives when he’s not negotiating with Sil or being sprayed with death rays. And don’t forget that part where he has Sil fall into the vat of liquid that he’s constantly being sprayed with on-screen.

But despite all these flourishes, it’s the story of “Varos” that continues to shine through and where the success or failure of this particular story lies. Continue reading

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