books

REVIEW: “The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home” (A Welcome to Night Vale Novel) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

fowI love Night Vale. A lot. It’s one of those ideas that is eternally malleable. There’s so much that can be done with these characters and the setting and novels are a really good way for the authors to push the boundaries of the world. It’s what they did with the first two novels, Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours! and it’s obviously what they’re seeking to do here with their third, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home. The Faceless Old Woman is the perfect character for a book devoted to her, much like the Man in the Tan Jacket was a perfect character to explore in the first novel, and the promise of finally learning her story was one that immensely interested me and got me really pumped to give this book a read. Having read it, I can safely say that it does not disappoint. For long time fans of the podcast and previous books, this one might take some getting used to, but the story it tells does complete justice to the character while still spinning a story that’s full of surprise and pathos. (Mild spoilers may follow.)

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
In the town of Night Vale, there’s a faceless old woman who secretly lives in everyone’s home, but no one knows how she got there or where she came from…until now. Told in a series of eerie flashbacks, the story of The Faceless Old Woman goes back centuries to reveal an initially blissful and then tragic childhood on a Mediterranean Estate in the early nineteenth century, her rise in the criminal underworld of Europe, a nautical adventure with a mysterious organization of smugglers, her plot for revenge on the ones who betrayed her, and ultimately her death and its aftermath, as her spirit travels the world for decades until settling in modern-day Night Vale.

Interspersed throughout is a present-day story in Night Vale, as The Faceless Old Woman guides, haunts, and sabotages a man named Craig. In the end, her current day dealings with Craig and her swashbuckling history in nineteenth century Europe will come together in the most unexpected and horrifying way.

Part The Haunting of Hill House, part The Count of Monte Cristo, and 100% about a faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home.

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REVIEW: “Star Trek: Picard – Countdown” Comic

Star Trek Picard - CountdownI’ve never read a piece of Star Trek fiction before. Well, unless you count that weird crossover comic with Doctor Who from 2012/2013. In fact, my only real exposure to Star Trek, in general, comes from a handful of episodes of The Next Generation, the first two JJ Abrams movies, and general cultural osmosis. But when the trailers for Star Trek: Picard started dropping, I found my interest piqued. It looked like the kind of show I’d be interested in, so I made a point of watching it. At this point, several episodes have aired and I’m really enjoying the show, so I went and looked to see if anything had been released to tie into the show. And lo, and behold, there was this three-issue prequel comic from IDW, written by Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson and illustrated by Angel Hernandez, that promised to reveal some of the events that happened prior to the start of the show. It sounded like the kind of thing I’d be interested in, so I picked up the issues and gave them a read and, I gotta say, it’s really solid. Though a bit short, Star Trek: Picard – Countdown tells a really good story that shines a bit of light on Picard’s history before the beginning of Star Trek: Picard(Mild spoilers may follow.)

Star Trek: Picard – Countdown (written by Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson, illustrated by Angel Hernandez) 
Witness the events leading to the new CBS All Access series Picard in this graphic novel where new characters are introduced and secrets will be revealed. Before he retired to his vineyard, Jean-Luc Picard was the most decorated admiral in Starfleet. Then one mission changed his life forever. The Countdown starts here!

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REVIEW: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – The Journey” by Jody Revenson

hpcursedI am one of the (seemingly) few people who really liked the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I felt it had a lot of really interesting ideas and it explored some themes that I thought were worthwhile to explore in a Harry Potter story. But more than that, it seemed like the kind of story that could only work on stage; the kind of production that would have taken countless amounts of people and manhours to pull off. As someone who is literally in university studying theatre, the making of a play as huge as this one was always going to be of interest to me, especially as there’s little chance I’ll be able to make it to Broadway anytime soon to actually see this show staged. So, when Scholastic decided to publish this book all about how the play was created and initially staged, I jumped at the chance to read it. It’s exactly up my wheelhouse, and I have to say that the book does prove to be a really interesting and informative look at the making of this show – even if I do wish it went into a bit more depth.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey by Jody Revenson
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is one of the most celebrated stage productions of the past decade. Opening in London’s West End in 2016, on Broadway in 2018, in Melbourne in 2019 — and with more productions worldwide still to come (including San Francisco later this year) — the play has smashed records, collected countless rave reviews and awards, and captivated audiences night after night. Now readers are invited behind the scenes to experience the show’s journey to the stage — from the earliest phases of development with producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, to the crafting of the eighth Harry Potter story with J.K. Rowling, director John Tiffany, and playwright Jack Thorne, to the gathering of an extraordinary team of artists and actors together to bring this new part of Harry Potter’s story to life.

With stunning photography, insightful interviews, and never-before-seen sketches, notes, candid backstage photos, and more, this full-color deluxe edition offers readers unparalleled access to this unique production, and is a beautiful gift for Harry Potter fans and theater lovers alike.

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REVIEW: “Bottle Grove” by Daniel Handler

Bottle GroveI have never read a Daniel Handler book. This is half-true. I grew up reading and loving A Series of Unfortunate Events, written by Handler under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket. But I have never read one of Handler’s novels written for adults, under his own name. With that in mind, I really didn’t know what to expect when approaching Bottle Grove, his most recent novel. The synopsis promised something along the lines of magical realism, and I was definitely intrigued to see how Handler approached writing for adults versus writing for children – would he still have lots of fun wordplay and interesting prose? Unfortunately, I didn’t love Bottle Grove. I don’t know that I’d say it’s a bad book or anything, but it definitely wasn’t what I expect and I’m not sure it’s what I wanted, either. (Mild spoilers for the novel follow.)

This is a story about two marriages. Or is it? It begins with a wedding, held in the small San Francisco forest of Bottle Grove–bestowed by a wealthy patron for the public good, back when people did such things. Here is a cross section of lives, a stretch of urban green where ritzy guests, lustful teenagers, drunken revelers, and forest creatures all wait for the sun to go down. The girl in the corner slugging vodka from a cough-syrup bottle is Padgett–she’s keeping something secreted in the woods. The couple at the altar are the Nickels–the bride is emphatic about changing her name, as there is plenty about her old life she is ready to forget.

Set in San Francisco as the techboom is exploding, Bottle Grove is a sexy, skewering dark comedy about two unions–one forged of love and the other of greed–and about the forces that can drive couples together, into dependence, and then into sinister, even supernatural realms. Add one ominous shape-shifter to the mix, and you get a delightful and strange spectacle: a story of scheming and yearning and foibles and love and what we end up doing for it–and everyone has a secret. Looming over it all is the income disparity between San Francisco’s tech community and . . . everyone else.

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REVIEW: “Star Wars – Dooku: Jedi Lost” by Cavan Scott

dookuI haven’t read a single Star Wars novel since 2016’s Bloodlines (which was genuinely one of the best Star Wars stories, in general, and should be read by all Star Wars fans). It’s not that I don’t have any interest in them, although I did find it a little frustrating that so many of them were being published in the eras of the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy instead of during the era I was more interested in reading about – the Sequel Trilogy. It’s just that I didn’t really have the time to read these books that might get invalidated in a few years by another canon overhaul alongside all the other books I wanted to read. So, many Star Wars books fell by the wayside. But when I heard about Dooku: Jedi Lost, I was immediately interested. I love audio dramas and I have really enjoyed Cavan Scott’s work on various Doctor Who titles, so I was definitely intrigued. Unfortunately, having read the script and listened to the audio drama, Dooku: Jedi Lost feels more like a lost opportunity than a truly good audio drama. It’s got a good plot but the story doesn’t work well in this medium. (Spoilers follow!)

Star Wars – Dooku: Jedi Lost (by Cavan Scott)
Darth Tyranus. Count of Serenno. Leader of the Separatists. A red saber, unsheathed in the dark. But who was he before he became the right hand of the Sith? As Dooku courts a new apprentice, the hidden truth of the Sith Lord’s past begins to come to light.

Dooku’s life began as one of privilege—born within the stony walls of his family’s estate, orbited by the Funeral Moon where the bones of his ancestors lie interred. But soon, his Jedi abilities are recognized, and he is taken from his home to be trained in the ways of the Force by the legendary Master Yoda.

As he hones his power, Dooku rises through the ranks, befriending fellow Jedi Sifo-Dyas and taking a Padawan of his own, the promising Qui-Gon Jinn—and tries to forget the life that he once led. But he finds himself drawn by a strange fascination with the Jedi Master Lene Kostana, and the mission she undertakes for the Order: finding and studying ancient relics of the Sith, in preparation for the eventual return of the deadliest enemies the Jedi have ever faced.

Caught between the world of the Jedi, the ancient responsibilities of his lost home, and the alluring power of the relics, Dooku struggles to stay in the light—even as the darkness begins to fall.

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REVIEW: “Doomsday Clock”

doomsday clockI really wish Doomsday Clock was better than it is. I love Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen and I really enjoy the DC Universe; I even thought much of the lead up to this series was very good – or, at least, intriguing. But then the actual series came out and it was plagued by so many delays in its publication that it genuinely became difficult to follow the story as it went on. Unfortunately, rereading the whole series upon its completion didn’t really make it much easier to follow. But, I suppose, that’s in line with the original Watchmen graphic novel. (This review covers all twelve issues of Doomsday Clock and may contain mild spoilers.)

Doomsday Clock (written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Gary Frank)
Seven years after the events of Watchmen, Adrian Veidt has been exposed as the murderer of millions. Now a fugitive, he has come up with a new plan to redeem himself in the eyes of the world. The first step? Finding Dr. Manhattan. Alongside a new Rorschach and the never-before-seen Mime and Marionette, he follows Manhattan’s trail to the DC Universe, which is on the brink of collapse as international tensions push the “doomsday clock” ever closer to midnight. Is this all Dr. Manhattan’s doing?

Spinning out of Watchmen, DC Universe: Rebirth,  and Batman/The Flash: The Button, Doomsday Clock rewrites the past, present, and future of the DC Universe.

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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: “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: 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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