Author: Michael Cook

A theatre kid dabbling in the art of reviewing the things he reads, watches, listens to, and sees.

REVIEW: “Bent Heavens” by Daniel Kraus

bent heavensI don’t normally review YA novels for the sheer fact that they so rarely appeal to me. I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the typical fare they cover (teenage drama, lots of romance, etc) so I tend to stay away from them. But I’ve read some of Daniel Kraus’ previous work, the most recent being his adaptation of The Shape of Water, and really enjoyed it. So, when I saw that he had a new book coming out and read the book’s synopsis, I was definitely intrigued. It sounded like the kind of thing that might be right up my alley (being an avid lover of Science Fiction and Horror), so it seemed like a fun book to look into. Having now finished it, I can say that it was a good decision on my part. It’s a really well-written story that does its damndest to defy the normal constraints of its genre. I really enjoyed it and I think it’ll be a good read for a number of different audiences – including, but not limited to, the YA crowd. (Mild spoilers may follow.)

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus
Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.

But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.

Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who” S12E09 – Ascension of the Cybermen

1209 finalIt feels like we just started the season, but we’re already nearing the end. This week begins the first half of the season finale and my excitement levels are through the roof. The most interesting episodes this season have been the ones that have revolved around the multiple overarching plotlines – what is the Timeless Child?; who is the Ruth Doctor?; what does the Lone Cyberman want and how will the Doctor defeat it? Plus there’s been the promise of a glimpse of the Great Cyber War. Following any one of those threads would lead to an interesting story, but the promise of all of them? That’s something exciting. Of course, this first half was never really going to answer all of those questions, but it certainly would begin to tie together all of this season’s various strands into something exciting, right? Thankfully, this first half of the two-part finale does everything a first half should do: it sets up the stakes, deepens the mystery, and leaves us desperately wanting to see how it all is resolved. (Spoilers ahead!)

Season 12, Episode 9: Ascension of the Cybermen (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Jamie Magnus Stone)
The aftermath of the Great CyberWar. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) arrives in the far future, intent on protecting the last of the human race from the deadly Cybermen. But in the face of such a relentless enemy, has she put her best friends (Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh) at risk? What terrors lie hiding in the depths of space, and what is Ko Sharmus?

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REVIEW: “An Act of God” (Play & Audio Drama) by David Javerbaum

an act of godI read this play, and the “memoir” it was based on, a few years ago, when the Sean Hayes production was making its way (back) to Broadway. It was a delightfully charming play; short, effective, hilarious. As is often the case when I read a good play, I found myself longing for it to be filmed and released in some manner – just so I could see and hear Sean Hayes reading this engaging dialogue. Imagine my surprise when, three years later, I heard Audible was going to turn it into one of their Audible Originals, bringing Sean Hayes back into the fold and finally recording this fantastic play so those who couldn’t make it to Broadway (or LA, where Hayes had previously done the show) could hear his take on it. And, I gotta say, it’s so nice getting to hear these words read aloud. (This review will cover both the script itself and the Audible adaptation.)

An Act of God (by David Javerbaum)
The One with the first and last word on everything has finally arrived to set the record straight. After many millennia, and in just 90 minutes, God (assisted by his devoted angels) answers some of the deepest questions that have plagued mankind since Creation.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who – At Childhood’s End” by Sophie Aldred

At Childhood's EndI love it when elements of Classic Who and New Who are combined to tell a whole new story. With a history this vast Doctor Who is a franchise that’s perfect for such a mashup of the old and new. Especially given how much of a mixture of old and new this current era is – what with its female Doctor and its throwback to a three-companion TARDIS team. So, when the news broke that Sophie Alfred, the actress who played Ace (companion of the 7th Doctor and the prototype for the modern Doctor Who companion as we know them), would be writing a book detailing an adventure where Ace meets the current Doctor and her companions, I was totally on board. And, I gotta tell you, it’s a really good book. In fact, it’s so good that I wish it could be adapted into an episode or two of the show itself. (Mild spoilers follow.)

Doctor Who: At Childhood’s End (by Sophie Aldred, with Steve Cole and Mike Tucker)
Once, a girl called Ace travelled the universe with the Doctor – until, in the wake of a terrible tragedy they parted company. Decades later, she is known as Dorothy McShane, the reclusive millionaire philanthropist who heads global organisation A Charitable Earth. And Dorothy is haunted by terrible nightmares, vivid dreams that begin just as scores of young runaways are vanishing from the dark alleyways of London. Could the disappearances be linked to sightings of sinister creatures lurking in the city shadows? Why has an alien satellite entered a secret orbit around the Moon?

Investigating the satellite with Ryan, Graham and Yaz, the Doctor is thrown together with Ace once more. Together they must unravel a malevolent plot that will cost thousands of lives. But can the Doctor atone for her past incarnation’s behaviour – and how much must Ace sacrifice to win victory not only for herself, but for the Earth?

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who” S12E08 – The Haunting of Villa Diodati

dw1208Mary Shelley + The Doctor + Gothic Ghost Story = genius idea. I mean, what else could you want? It’s such a good idea that it’s genuinely surprising the show has never done something like this before. To be fair, Big Finish Productions have done some audio adventures featuring Mary Shelley teaming up with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, but never has the show itself taken us on a trip to this particular part of history. And what better night for a Doctor Who story to take place on than the night Mary Shelley purportedly came up with the idea for her classic, Frankenstein. So, this would all seem like a pretty good set up for a great episode of Doctor Who. And, to be fair, it is – but not for the reasons you’d think. At the end of the day, it’s kind of a Frankenstein of an episode – pun intended – in the best possible way. (Spoilers ahead!)

Season 12 Episode 8, The Haunting of Villa Diodati (written by Maxine Alderton, directed by Emma Sullivan)
‘Nobody mention Frankenstein. Nobody interfere. Nobody snog Byron (Jacob Collins-Levy).’ Should be easy, right?

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her gang (Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill) arrive at the Villa Diodati at Lake Geneva in 1816 on the night that inspired Mary Shelley’s (Lilli Miller) Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats, but the ghosts are all too real, and the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: Star Tales”

star talesI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: short stories are a great medium for Doctor Who tales. They provide authors with a nice ability to tell the kinds of stories that maybe wouldn’t quite work as an episode of the show and are too short to support an entire novel. Some of the most creative Doctor Who adventures have come from these collections of short stories (see the recently published Target Collection for examples) and I always look forward to them when they come out. Star Tales is no exception, especially as it finally unveils some of the stories behind the Doctor’s frequently referenced encounters with celebrities. This go ’round, we get our first collection of stories that primarily focuses on the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions – Ryan, Yaz, and Graham – save for one story, early on. How are the stories in this collection? They’re pretty good and definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of this era of the show. (Mild spoilers for the stories within Star Tales.)

Doctor Who: Star Tales (by Steve Cole, Paul Magrs, Jenny T. Colgan, Jo Cotterill, Trevor Baxendale, and Mike Tucker) 
The Doctor is many things – curious, funny, brave, protective of her friends…and a shameless namedropper. While she and her companions battled aliens and travelled across the universe, the Doctor hinted at a host of previous, untold adventures with the great and the good: we discovered she got her sunglasses from Pythagoras (or was it Audrey Hepburn?); lent a mobile phone to Elvis; had an encounter with Amelia Earhart where she discovered that a pencil-thick spider web can stop a plane; had a ‘wet weekend’ with Harry Houdini, learning how to escape from chains underwater; and more. In this collection of new stories, Star Tales takes you on a rip-roaring ride through history, from 500BC to the swinging 60s, going deeper into the Doctor’s notorious name-dropping and revealing the truth behind these anecdotes.

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REVIEW: “Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)”

birds of preyBirds of Prey is one of those comic properties that know very little about. While I’ve always been more of a DC fan, and Batman has always been my favorite of the DC heroes, I’ve rarely ventured too far outside of his main title. Of course, I’ve seen some of his various animated films and shows, so I’m familiar with characters like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya, but I’ve never been introduced to Huntress or Black Canary. So, going into this movie I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The DCEU has a historically uneven track record, with only Wonder Woman and Shazam being particularly good and this film is technically a sequel to the atrocious 2016 Suicide Squad film, so there was certainly no guarantee of quality here. Couple that with the slightly-unusual way the film was promoted and it became quite hard to predict just what kind of film Birds of Prey would be. Luckily, the film is an utter delight from start to finish and ranks among the best entries of the DCEU to date. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Written by Christina Hodson and directed by Cathy Yan
You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” is a twisted tale told by Harley (Margot Robbie) herself, as only Harley can tell it. When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz (Chris Messina), put a target on a young girl named Cass (Ella Jay Basco), the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya’s (Rosie Perez) paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who” S12E07 – Can You Hear Me?

DOCTOR WHO: SERIES 12: EPISODE 07This week’s episode of Doctor Who was another one of those episodes where I had no idea what to expect before watching it. The BBC’s promotional efforts for the episode played things very close to the chest, revealing only that it would be a fairly creepy episode and the villain, Zellin (Ian Gelder), would be doing something involving dreams and nightmares. Aside from that, it was super unclear what to expect from the episode. And, frankly, I think it really worked out in this instance because Can You Hear Me? is one of those episodes that has to be seen to be truly appreciated and understood. So, did I like the episode? For sure, though I think it could have benefitted from being a two-part story. (Spoilers follow!)

Season 12, Episode 7: Can You Hear Me? (written by Charlene James and Chris Chibnall, directed by Emma Sullivan)
From ancient Syria to present day Sheffield, and out into the wilds of space, something is stalking the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her friends. As Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) return home to see friends and family, they find themselves haunted by very different experiences. Who is the figure calling from beyond the stars for help, and why? And what are the fearsome Chagaskas terrorising Aleppo in 1380? To find the answers, Team Tardis embark on a mission that forces them to face their darkest fears.

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REVIEW: Green Day – “Father of All…”

foamfI’ve been a fan of Green Day since 2006. I was 11 and they were one of my first exposures to mainstream, contemporary rock music. To say they had a major impact on my taste in music would be just as big an understatement as saying that musical theatre had a major impact on my taste in music. Green Day was a major deal to me all throughout my youth. Every new album was something to get unbearably excited over. This changed some in the wake of the release of the “Trilogy” – ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tre!. Like many, I wasn’t a big fan of this album and my ongoing obsession with Green Day never quite recovered. When 2016’s Revolution Radio came out, I was certainly relatively excited and, on the whole, I did enjoy it – but very little of it has stuck with me. Still, my first music love will always be Green Day and there will never be an album release that I won’t look forward to. Which brings us to 2020’s Father of All…, an album that I initially was eagerly anticipating and slowly stopped anticipating as time went on and more songs were released. Now that it’s out, was the five-month wait between its initial announcement and its long-awaited release worth it? Is the album good? Yeah, it’s solid. (more…)

REVIEW: “American Gods Volume 3: The Moment of the Storm”

american gods vol 3As evidenced by my weekly coverage of the American Gods TV series when it airs, I adore the book, originally written by Neil Gaiman. It’s one of those books that’s super weird and truly hard to explain and honestly just needs to be experienced. But, sometimes it can be hard to find a swatch of time with reach to read a 600+ page novel. Which is where visual adaptations come in. Obviously, they can, and should, never be replacements for reading the original text, but they can often be a great way of experiencing a story you might otherwise not have the time to experience. Unfortunately, Starz’s television adaptation continues to both stray from the source material and be plagued by behind-the-scenes troubles. Luckily, Dark Horse Comics’ has an adaptation of their own. Helmed by P. Craig Russell, these three volumes have been a very faithful adaptation of the novel and an utter joy to read as they’ve released. Now, with the publication of the third and final volume of the adaptation, it’s nice to have a fully-completed, semi-visual adaptation of the novel – if you consider a graphic novel to be a visual adaptation; I do. (Mild spoilers for both the original novel and the graphic novel.)

American Gods Volume 3: “The Moment of the Storm” (by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell, illustrated by Scott Hampton) 
The new and old gods agree to meet in the center of America to exchange the body of the old gods’ fallen leader–heading towards to the inevitable god war in this final arc to the bestselling comic series! (Collects American Gods Volume 3: The Moment of the Storm #1-#9.)

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