REVIEW: “The Halloween Moon” by Joseph Fink

To this day, my favorite kinds of horror stories are those aimed at a family-friendly audience. Films like Hocus Pocus and books like Coraline, Bunnicula, and Goosebumps. Stories that are scary without being traumatizing. Horrific, but in that safe kind of way that family-friendly horror usually is. And Joseph Fink’s The Halloween Moon slots in perfectly alongside those other stories. One part coming-of-age story, one part fantasy adventure, and one part family-friendly horror, The Halloween Moon is a delightfully spooky read from start to finish. Though occasionally hampered by the restraints of middle-grade novels, The Halloween Moon is sure to delight readers young and old alike.

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REVIEW: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” Play Script – adapted by Joel Horwood

Of all of Neil Gaiman’s novels, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is probably the one most suited for a stage adaptation. While stuffed full of magic and monsters and other such fantasy, it’s more of a quiet story at heart. Introspective, even. A story about what we choose to remember and what we don’t. About a boy who has to grow up a bit too quickly. And it’s these elements that Joel Howrood’s adaptation, the basis for the critically acclaimed National Theatre stage production, focuses on. Perfectly capturing the feeling of wading through an ocean of memories, Horwood’s script faithfully adapts Gaiman’s novel with all of the adventure and emotion you’d want. I haven’t seen the play yet, but the script is a breathtaking piece of writing all to itself. And I can only imagine how brilliantly it translates on stage.

NOTE: This review contains mild spoilers for both the original novel and Joel Horwood’s adaptation of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Adapted by Joel Horwood
Returning to his childhood home, a man finds himself standing beside the pond of the old Sussex farmhouse where he used to play. When he meets an old friend, he is reminded of a name he has not heard for many years: Lettie Hempstock. And is transported to his 12th birthday, when Lettie claimed that this wasn’t a pond at all, but an ocean…

Plunged into 1983, our young protagonist struggles with the ripples of a disturbing event that makes him question his deepest assumptions about his fractured family. Striving to come to terms with his newly unknowable world, together with his new friend Lettie he must reckon with ancient forces that threaten to destroy everything and in turn learn to trust others to find his own feet.

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My Sundance Festival 2022 Recap

(Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)

This year, I covered the 2022 Sundance Film Festival for Geek Vibes Nation. As part of my coverage, I had the opportunity to watch a total of eighteen films – some of which I reviewed in full, others of which I only briefly shared. The movies ranged in genres, tones, and enjoyment. But the experience, as a whole, was unlike anything else. So, without further ado, here is my personal recap of all the films I watched at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

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REVIEW: “Reopening: The Broadway Revival” (Great Performances)

Courtesy of Frank DiLella / PBS

For a year and a half, Broadway was dark. There were no shows, no audiences, no live theater at all. Until the fall of 2021, where almost as quickly as it shut down, Broadway came roaring back to life. But how do you even go about reopening a Broadway show after all of that time? PBS’s latest Great Performances documentary, “Reopening: The Broadway Revival,” answers just that. Featuring rehearsal footage from several shows and a host of interviews from Broadway actors and creators, “Reopening” follows a handful of Broadway musicals from their initial closure in March 2020 to their grand reopening in the fall of 2021. It’s an uplifting, hopeful watch – even if it never quite goes into as much detail as you might like. (4 out of 5 wands.) 

Great Performances: Reopening: The Broadway Revival
Go behind the scenes of Broadway as shows reunite, rehearse and re-stage for their long-awaited reopening nights while the theater industry learns how to turn the lights back on after its longest hiatus in history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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REVIEW: “They Stole Our Hearts” by Daniel Kraus

If you loved They Threw Us Away, the first book in Daniel Kraus’s Teddies Saga, then you’re gonna love They Stole Our Hearts. As the second part of this series, They Stole Our Hearts offers everything that made the first book so intriguing alongside a healthy helping of world-building, character development, and big answers. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced, and quick read. And I dare you to stop yourself from reading the whole thing in a single sitting. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received a review copy of They Stole Our Hearts from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) and NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

They Stole Our Hearts
Written by Daniel Kraus; illustrated by Rovina Cai
The teddies—clever Buddy, brave Sunny, sweet Sugar, and wise Reginald—have managed to find a child. Life with Darling is far better than any they’ve known. But something’s not right—the promised bliss of Forever Sleep hasn’t come. And they are kept a secret from Darling’s mother, hidden underneath the child’s bed in the dusty darkness.

Then the inevitable happens: Mama discovers the teddies. And like all adults they’ve met thus far, she responds with fear and anger. The teddies must watch as one of their friends is destroyed. The remaining trio barely escape, thrust back into a world that does not want them.

Disillusioned and lost, the teddies embark on a journey back to the factory where they were created. En route, they find a civilization of discarded teddy bears. The comfort of a town of teddies has its allure…but the need for answers weighs heavy. And there’s something definitely off about these new teddies. Will our heroes accept their strange rules? Or must they dig deep for one more grand adventure to finally learn why they were thrown away?

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REVIEW: “The Matrix Resurrections”

I can’t believe The Matrix Resurrections exists. And I mean that in the best way possible. I mean, how often do we see blockbusters that are in direct conversation with themselves about whether or not they should even exist? Sure, you’ve got the Deadpools of the world that make snide, ironic comments about the derivative nature of Hollywood. But it’s exceedingly rare to see a multi-hundred-million-dollar film directly questions its very existence. Yet that’s exactly what Lana Wachowski does with The Matrix Resurrections. At times, it feels less like a sequel to The Matrix and more like a criticism about the need for sequels at all. And it’s fascinating to see the way that Wachowski weaves this idea alongside a film that, for all intents and purposes, acts exactly like most reboots/sequels do. It’s a dichotomy that shouldn’t work at all. And yet it does work. Brilliantly, in fact. (4.5 out of 5 wands.) 

NOTE: Mild spoilers for The Matrix Resurrections follow.

The Matrix Resurrections
Directed by Lana Wachowski
Written by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon
To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. And if Thomas…Neo…has learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of—or into—the Matrix. Of course, Neo already knows what he has to do. But what he doesn’t yet know is the Matrix is stronger, more secure and more dangerous than ever before. Déjà vu.

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REVIEW: “Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond, 1977-2020” by Barry Singer

Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in a single book is a monumental task. Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in less than 500 pages is a nearly impossible task. And yet that’s exactly what Barry Singer’s Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond attempts to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really hit the mark. For those hoping for a glimpse behind the scenes of their favorite musicals, Ever After isn’t the book for you. It’s less of a historical account and more of a collection of reviews. In that context, it’s not too bad. However, the first half of the book is particularly hard to power through and the book’s general lack of depth hinders much of the enjoyment. (3 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received a review copy of Ever After from the publisher. All thoughts are my own.

Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond, 1977-2020
Written by Barry Singer
Before Ever After appeared in 2003, no book had addressed the recent past in musical theater history—an era Singer describes as “ever after musical theater’s many golden ages.” Derived significantly from Singer’s writings about musical theater for the New York Times, New York Magazine, and The New Yorker, Ever After captured that era in its entirety, from the opening of The Act on Broadway in October 1977 to the opening of Avenue Q Off-Broadway in March 2003. This new edition brings Ever After up to date, from Wicked, through The Book of Mormon, to Hamilton and beyond. Once again, this the first book to cover this new, pre-pandemic age of the Broadway musical.

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REVIEW: “Under the Whispering Door” by TJ Klune

What happens after you die? Is there a Heaven? A Hell? A whole lot of nothing? It’s a question that we’ve been asking ourselves for as long as we’ve known what death was. And in TJ Klune’s Under the Whispering Door, Reapers and Ferrymen usher the recently deceased from the world of the living to whatever form their afterlife takes. For most, this transition happens without a problem. But for some, like Wallace Price, it’s quite a difficult affair. Under the Whispering Door is a gorgeously written, expertly plotted, and deeply emotional read. Perfectly balancing humor, melancholy, and deep sadness, Under the Whispering Door dives deep into what it means to be a good person. It’s a thrilling fantasy, a sweet romance, and an emotional exploration of grief. All in all, it’s a must-read.

NOTE: I received a review copy of Under the Whispering Door from Macmillan/Tor and NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead. And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead. But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale – The Final Chapter” by Russell T. Davies and Ben Cook

With Russell T. Davies set to return as the showrunner of Doctor Who in 2023, it seemed like the perfect time to finally read The Writer’s Tale. Published in 2010, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale explores the final two years of Davies’ original run of Doctor Who – from the earliest days of season four to the final days of filming the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration special. Told through emails sent back and forth between Davies and Doctor Who Magazine writer, Ben Cook, The Writer’s Tale chronicles the good, the bad, and the in-between of producing these episodes. It’s less of a how-to-write book and more of a book about writing. And for that, it stands apart from the crowd of various behind-the-scenes books for TV shows and movies. (4.5 out of 5 wands)

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale – The Final Chapter
Written by Russell T. Davies and Ben Cook
When The Writer’s Tale was published in autumn 2008, it was immediately embraced as a classic. For this extensively revised and updated paperback edition, Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook continue their candid and in-depth correspondence to take in work on the last of Russell’s 2009 specials – and the end of David Tennant’s era as The Doctor – while also looking back to the achievements of the first three seasons. With over 300 pages of all-new material, including new photos and original artwork, The Writer’s Tale is a fitting tribute to Russell T Davies’ phenomenal achievement in bringing Doctor Who back for a new generation of fans.

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REVIEW: “You Feel It Just Below the Ribs” by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson

Imagine an alternate twentieth century. One that’s been plagued by a deadly pandemic, a multi-decade-long war, and a ton of social upheaval. Imagine that in the wake of all of this chaos, a unifying global government rises to power. And imagine that you’ve played a part in the development of one of that government’s key policies. That’s the world of Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson’s You Feel It Just Below the Ribs. Taking the form of an in-universe memoir, You Feel It Just Below the Ribs explores the history of this New Society through the eyes of a scientist who worked for them, Dr. Miriam Gregory. At times, it’s a bit meandering. The pacing is all over the place, and there’s often a lack of urgency. But at its heart, it’s an emotional, thought-provoking reflection on the fragility of memory and the importance of trying to do the right thing. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received a review copy of You Feel It Just Below the Ribs from Harper Perennial/HarperCollins and Edelweiss+. All thoughts are my own.

You Feel It Just Below the Ribs
Written by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson
A fictional autobiography in an alternate twentieth century that chronicles one woman’s unusual life, including the price she pays to survive and the cost her choices hold for the society she is trying to save.

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