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 cal...moreFor 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. (less)
Sixteen 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 cou...moreSixteen 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. (less)
Dropping by the local comic shop these days, it's easy to criticize the work currently being done as "not quite up to par with the good old days when...moreDropping by the local comic shop these days, it's easy to criticize the work currently being done as "not quite up to par with the good old days when I was reading."
That is, of course, until you get hold of a run of comics from your "good old days" and you realize that those comics weren't exactly setting the world on fire either.
That's pretty much the case with this collection of eight issues from the early '80's run of The Amazing Spider-Man. I had a few scattered issues from the various Spider-Man titles up to this point, but somehow it was these issues that I was able to collect and read in consecutive order. Looking back at the covers alone, I'm shocked my family a)purchased and b)let me read the issues collected here.
Many may complain the comics today are unduly violent or filled with graphic imagery. But I defy you to find a current cover that features Spider-Man taking on a giantnormous man-turned spider whose mouth is dripping with venom and the title of "Death Knell" in big bold letters across the cover.
Putting aside my fond memories of this run of comics and the fact that I read them umpteen times in my pre-teen and early teenage years (often imaging how the stories might be transformed into an animated version on my television screen), I've got to say that this run of stories isn't necessarily what you'd refer to as a classic run (that was yet to come in the next run of issues which introduced the Hobgoblin) but I'll still admit I enjoyed visiting them again all these years later. The main thread tying these issues together is the corrupt Brand corporation. The company is up to no good and the Daily Bugle is determined to bring their dark deeds and experiments to the light of day.
Of course, this brings in a bunch of what could be considered second or even third tier villains to do battle with Spidey. The first two-part arc features the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, who have the bad fortune of being tied to a Brand informant named Nose Norton. Spidey gets caught in the middle of trying to rescue Nose and keeping various Daily Bugle employees out of the line of fire. Meanwhile, Mr. Hyde has an axe to grind with the Cobra and Spidey is squarely in the way.
The storyline is probably most memorable for the cliffhanger to issue 231 with Hyde standing over Spidey, threatening him if he doesn't hand over the Cobra immediately. Back then I didn't know where and if I'd be able to find the next installment, but I did know I was determined to find it somehow.
The next arc features the title villain of this collection, the Tarantula. A third-tier villain who kicked off the run of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, the Tarantula is a South American mercenary for hire with spikes in his gloves and boots. It's when the Brand corporation offers him the chance to have powers equal to or greater than Spidey's that things begin to go a bit awry -- resulting in the Tarantula transforming into a big honkin' spider (as depicted on the cover above). If you were a long time Spider-Man fan, there was some precedent for this back when Spidey was battling Morbius and grew extra arms. But I don't ever recall our hero ever becoming a big honkin' spider (though to be fair this does happen in the 90's cartoon retelling..that may owe something to this storyline.) Add in fellow axe-to-grind-with-Brande villain the Wilo-the-Wisp and you've got three issues of mayhem, battles and changing allegiances. It's not great comic book writing, but damn if it didn't have my younger (and older) self turning the pages and eagerly looking for the next installment in the series.
It even ends on a rather dark note with the Tarantula committing suicide by cop rather than facing being a giant spider with a thirst for flesh for the rest of his life.
The next two installments in the collection aren't really anything to write home about and after the epic battles and chaos of the first several installments here, they seem a bit disappointing. One features Spidey battling a guy who wears metallic stilts (he wants to make a name for himself by killing Spidey) and the other is an annual with the origin of Ms. Marvel.
I'd re-read each of these issues a couple of years ago in an Essential Amazing Spider-Man collection. But that collection lacked something this one does -- namely being in color. The essential collections will give you a taste of the story but the arcs really come to life when they feature the full color as they were originally intended to be read. Drooling monsters aside, there are just some moments and panels that are far more striking and memorable when rendered in color. (less)
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 tho...moreWhile 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. (less)
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 mor...moreIf 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. (less)
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 st...moreWhile 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.
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...moreWhy 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. (less)
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 th...moreThere 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. (less)