books

REVIEW: “Doctor Who: All Flesh is Grass” by Una McCormack (Time Lord Victorious)

So far, the Time Lord Victorious event has been a bit of a mixed bag. The first novel, The Knight, The Fool, and The Dead, set up a solid premise but didn’t explore any of its ideas with the depth needed to make them memorable. The two comics were well-written and illustrated but short and seemingly-disconnected from the larger story. And, as of this review, I haven’t listened to any of the Big Finish audios, so I can’t speak on them. But those parts of Time Lord Victorious that I have consumed have left me conflicted. I really want to enjoy Time Lord Victorious—I like a lot of the ideas and many of the stories are solid on their own, but the whole event hasn’t felt like it was coalescing into anything yet. So, I hoped that this second (and final) novel, the conclusion of the storyline, All Flesh is Grass, would tick those boxes. And it sort of does—it deftly ties together the seemingly disparate elements of the story into an explosive conclusion. However, it also maintains all of the flaws of the first book and wastes the intriguing premise set up in that novel by devolving into another Doctor vs Dalek story. (3 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There will be some spoilers for the book within. I wouldn’t consider any of them to be major ones, but your mileage may vary. Read at your own risk.)

Doctor Who: All Flesh is Grass by Una McCormack
A wasteland. A dead world… No, there is a biodome, rising from the ash. Here, life teems and flourishes, with strange and lush plants, and many-winged insects with bright carapaces – and one solitary sentient creature, who spends its days watering the plants, talking to the insects, and tending this lonely garden. This is Inyit, the Last of the Kotturuh.

In All Flesh is Grass we are transported back to The Dark Times. The Tenth Doctor has sworn to stop the Kotturuh, ending Death and bringing Life to the universe. But his plan is unravelling – instead of bringing Life, nothing has changed and all around him people are dying. Death is everywhere. Now he must confront his former selves – one in league with their greatest nemesis and the other manning a ship of the undead…

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REVIEW: “Song of Spider-Man” by Glen Berger

It has been a decade since Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark first began previews, accompanied by endless reports about injured actors and workplace safety hazards. With a budget exceeding sixty million dollars, an endless barrage of reported injuries, and suggestions that the plot was nigh incoherent, the musical had all the makings of a colossal train wreck. And, for a while, it delivered on that promise, with continued reports of technical mistakes and feuding creatives. But, eventually, it just fizzled out. After months and months of previews, the ousting of its director, and endless lousy press, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark opened on June 14, 2011. But what happened? Glen Berger, co-writer of the musical’s script, seeks to answer this in his account of the musical’s creation, Song of Spider-Man. While reading as more of a gossipy, biased memoir than an objective, neutral account, Song of Spider-Man is an entertaining and revealing look at how Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark went from being an anticipated Broadway spectacle to a “sixty-five million dollar circus tragedy.” (4 out of 5 wands.)

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History (by Glen Berger)
As you might imagine, writing a Broadway musical has its challenges. But it turns out there are challenges one can’t begin to imagine when collaborating with two rock legends and a superstar director to stage the biggest, most expensive production in theater history. Renowned director Julie Taymor picked playwright Glen Berger to cowrite the book for a $25 million Spider-Man musical. Together—along with U2’s Bono and Edge—they would shape a work that was technically daring and emotionally profound, with a story fueled by the hero’s quest for love…and the villains’ quest for revenge. Or at least, that’s what they’d hoped for.

But when charismatic producer Tony Adams died suddenly, the show began to lose its footing. Soon the budget was ballooning, financing was evaporating, and producers were jumping ship or getting demoted. And then came the injuries. And then came word-of-mouth about the show itself. What followed was a pageant of foul-ups, falling-outs, ever-more harrowing mishaps, and a whole lot of malfunctioning spider legs. This “circus-rock-and-roll-drama,” with its $65 million price tag, had become more of a spectacle than its creators ever wished for. During the show’s unprecedented seven months of previews, the company’s struggles to reach opening night inspired breathless tabloid coverage and garnered international notoriety. Through it all, Berger observed the chaos with his signature mix of big ambition and self-deprecating humor.

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REVIEW: “Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway” by Michael Riedel

There’s nothing quite like Broadway drama. Between the divas who star in shows and the even bigger ones who write and produce them, there is never a dull moment behind the scenes of a Broadway show. This was especially true during the 1990s and early 2000s—the era of Broadway’s resurgence in American popular culture, which makes this time period the perfect topic for Michael Riedel, longtime theatre columnist for the New York Post, to write about. His latest book, Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway, often reads like more of a gossip column than a historical account, but is a quick, devilishly entertaining read for all Broadway lovers. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.)

Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway by Michael Riedel
The 1990s was a decade of profound change on Broadway. At the dawn of the nineties, the British invasion of Broadway was in full swing, as musical spectacles like Les MiserablesCats, and The Phantom of the Opera dominated the box office. But Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard soon spelled the end of this era and ushered in a new wave of American musicals, beginning with the ascendance of an unlikely show by a struggling writer who reimagined Puccini’s opera La Bohème as the smash Broadway show Rent. American musical comedy made its grand return, culminating in The Producers, while plays, always an endangered species on Broadway, staged a powerful comeback with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. A different breed of producers rose up to challenge the grip theater owners had long held on Broadway, and corporations began to see how much money could be made from live theater.

And just as Broadway had clawed its way back into the mainstream of American popular culture, the September 11 attacks struck fear into the heart of Americans who thought Times Square might be the next target. But Broadway was back in business just two days later, buoyed by talented theater people intent on bringing New Yorkers together and supporting the economics of an injured city.

Michael Riedel presents the drama behind every mega-hit or shocking flop, bringing readers into high-stakes premieres, fraught rehearsals, tough contract negotiations, intense Tony Award battles, and more. From the bitter feuds to the surprising collaborations, all the intrigue of a revolutionary era in the Theater District is packed into Singular Sensation. Broadway has triumphs and disasters, but the show always goes on.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who – Adventures in Lockdown”

The pandemic has been exceptionally hard on the entertainment industry. It’s been difficult for everyone, but industries that rely on large groups of people gathering together to do or watch something have been hit particularly hard. Still, many individual pieces of entertainment found creative and innovative ways to continue making content during this time. Doctor Who might have found one of the more fun ways of doing things—publishing short stories and videos created by people involved in the making of the show. What started as a series of short stories posted on the Doctor Who website has turned into an anthology of 16 stories published in support of the Children in Need charity. Doctor Who: Adventures in Lockdown is not only a fun read for a good cause, but an example of how creative and varied the show can be. (4.5 out of 5 wands)

Doctor Who: Adventures in Lockdown (by Chris Chibnall, Steven Moffat, Russel T. Davies, Neil Gaiman, Joy Wilkinson, Vinay Patel, Pete McTighe, Paul Cornell, and Mark Gatiss)
While staying home was a vital safety measure in 2020, the freedom of the TARDIS remained a dream that drew many – allowing them to roam the cosmos in search of distraction, reassurance and adventure. Now some of the finest TV Doctor Who writers come together with gifted illustrators in this very special short story collection in support of BBC Children in Need.

Current and former showrunners – Chris Chibnall Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat – present exciting adventures for the Doctor conceived in confinement, alongside brand new fiction from Neil Gaiman, Mark Gatiss and Vinay Patel. Also featuring work from Chris Riddell, Joy Wilkinson, Paul Cornell, Sonia Leong, Sophie Cowdrey, Mike Collins and many more, Adventures in Lockdown is a book for any Doctor Who fan in your life, stories that will send your heart spinning wildly through time and space…

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who – The Knight, The Fool, and The Dead” by Steve Cole

Time Lord Victorious, the first Doctor Who multimedia crossover event, has begun. Promising to chronicle how the Tenth Doctor tries to become the master of death, it looks like a fun and creative way to tell a truly expansive Doctor Who story. With the event fully underway, what better place to begin my coverage than with the first novel – The Knight, The Fool, and The Dead. Written by Steve Cole, it’s a pretty solid Doctor Who story and lays some intriguing groundwork for the Time Lord Victorious event, but as a stand-alone story, it’s a bit lacking. It’s got great characters, a great premise, and some solid writing, but the whole thing is undercut by a criminally low page count that prevents Cole from examining any of his ideas with the depth they deserve. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: There are mild spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.

Doctor Who: The Knight, The Fool, and The Dead by Steve Cole
The Doctor travels back to the Ancient Days, an era where life flourishes and death is barely known… Then come the Kotturuh – creatures who spread through the cosmos dispensing mortality. They judge each and every species and decree its allotted time to live. For the first time, living things know the fear of ending. And they will go to any lengths to escape this grim new spectre, death.

The Doctor is an old hand at cheating death. Now, at last, he can stop it at source. He is coming for the Kotturuh, ready to change everything so that Life wins from the start.

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REVIEW: “Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown” by Anaïs Mitchell

Hadestown is one of my favorite musicals from the last few years. It moved me in a way that many musicals fail to do. I found the whole thing utterly captivating and gorgeous. It’s one of those rare musicals where the entirety of the show is delivered through its music and lyrics. Sure, the staging plays a large part in the deliverance of the story, but there is no spoken dialogue. Everything that’s said on stage comes from the music – all of which came from the mind of Anaïs Mitchell. And that’s what makes Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown so appealing. It’s widely known how difficult writing musicals is. So, when it was announced that a book exploring the lyrics of Hadestown was due to be published, along with extensive commentary from Mitchell, I was immediately curious to see what all she’d talk about in the book. And, man, if you’re looking for insight into how composers and lyricists craft musical, this is the book for you. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

In this book, Anaïs Mitchell takes readers inside her more than decade’s-long process of building the musical from the ground up—detailing her inspiration, breaking down the lyrics, and opening up the process of creation that gave birth to Hadestown. Fans and newcomers alike will love this deeply thoughtful, revealing look at how the songs from “the underground” evolved, and became the songs we sing again and again.

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REVIEW: “The Crossroads at Midnight” by Abby Howard

Something about the late summer/early autumn months makes me crave spooky stories. There’s nothing better than curling up and reading a scary story or watching a scary movie on an early autumn afternoon. It’s a nostalgic feeling for me and I am constantly on the lookout for new and unique spooky stories to read. So, naturally, I adored Abby Howard’s The Crossroads at Midnight, a graphic novel collecting five short stories. Feeling both classic and contemporary, it’s the perfect fix for horror-lovers looking for something new to sink their teeth into. Plus, the artwork is gorgeous. (5 out of 5 wands.) 

(NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own.) 

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard
An old woman living alone on the edge of a bog gets an unexpected — and unsettling — visitor, throwing her quiet life into a long-buried mystery. An isolated backwoods family stumbles into good fortune for a time with a monstrous discovery in the lake behind their house, but that time is running short. And a misfit little girl, struggling to make friends, meets an understanding soul one day at the beach: but why will he only play with her alone at night? All these lonely souls — and more — have reached out into the darkness, not knowing what they might find.

Around the dark edges of reality lurk unknown beings with unknowable intentions — ordinary objects can become cursed possessions, entities who seem like friends can become monstrous, and those who seem monstrous can become the truest companions. In this collection of evocative, unnerving slice-of-life horror, five stories explore what happens when one is desperate enough to seek solace in the unnatural, and what might be waiting for us at the Crossroads at Midnight.

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REVIEW: “The Last Halloween: Children” by Abby Howard

Halloween is right around the corner, which means now is the perfect time to find some new and interesting spooky tales. Some of my favorite spooky stories are those aimed at younger audiences. I love a good horror movie or novel, but so often those stories aimed at adults go into such extreme corners of horror that they just aren’t fun. This isn’t the case with horror stories aimed at younger audiences. These stories rely on creating scary atmospheres and balance their spooks with clever ideas and a sense of fun. This is exactly what the first book of Abby Howard’s webcomic, The Last Halloween, does. The Last Halloween is in the same vein as many classic spooky stories. It balances interesting and unique characters, scares, and a sense of adventure, spinning an atmospheric tale that is as addicting as it is fun. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, there may be mild spoilers ahead.)

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard
It’s a lonely Halloween night for ten-year-old Mona. While everyone else is out having a ghoulishly good time, she’s stuck inside without so much as a scary movie to watch. Just when she figures this evening can’t get much worse, a giant monster appears in her living room, proving her very, very wrong. Running for her life, Mona quickly sees that she’s not alone; trick-or-treating’s been canceled due to monster invasion! A barrier keeping billions of monsters at bay has broken and the horrific hordes have descended upon humanity, wreaking bloody havoc everywhere they stomp, slither, or squish. She may not be equipped for it, but it’s up to Mona to save the world with a team of fellow weirdos by her side. Perhaps they will succeed. Or perhaps this will be . . . The Last Halloween.

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REVIEW: “Tenet – The Complete Screenplay” by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s films are always a bit hit-or-miss for me. When they work, I enjoy his dramatic tendencies and his sense of scale and spectacle. But when they don’t work, they really don’t work. To this day, Inception remains one of those films that I can watch repeatedly without growing bored. But I haven’t liked a Nolan film since The Dark Knight Rises. It’s with this level of trepidation that I approached Tenet. With movie theaters in my state closed for the foreseeable future, I can’t see the film anytime soon. But I can read its recently published screenplay. Based on the writing, alone, Tenet is weak. It’s devoid of any meaningful characters, hampered with a premise that never fully makes sense, and reads less like a film and more like a collection of loosely related set pieces. (2 out of 5 wands) 

(NOTE: There are mild spoilers for Tenet ahead. Read at your own risk.)

Tenet: The Complete Screenplay (written by Christopher Nolan)
Tenet is a global thriller whose action stretches across time zones, and stars Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington. The film displays Nolan’s preoccupations, especially how Time can shift from one moment to the next.

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REVIEW: “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” by Christopher Paolini

I never read The Inheritance Cycle as a kid. I tried reading Eragon a few times and I made it partway through the film, but it was never something I could get into. I’m very picky about what kinds of fantasy books I like – the higher the fantasy and the more complex the world, the less likely I am to like it. Which is exactly what happened with Christopher Paolini’s beloved books. It was a classic case of it’s me not them. In that context, I was unsure what to expect when approaching To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Paolini’s first book for adults, and his first foray into science fiction. While I love a lot of sci-fi, would I like this? Would this novel connect with me in the way I wanted his others to? In short: yes. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a masterclass in genre storytelling. Intricately plotted, stuffed with multidimensional and endearing characters, and filled with enough action to make Hollywood jealous, it is a thrill from start to finish. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: I won an advance copy of this book from BookishFirst. All reactions are my own. Additionally, there may be mild spoilers.)

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

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