Book Review: Spenser Goes To The Club

Someone To Watch Over Me is a recent addition to the Spenser series created by Robert B. Parker. Ace Atkins has been continuing the series for the past ten years.

Let’s see if you can figure out where Atkins got this story idea. Spenser has taken on a protégé in this one. He had helped Mattie Sullivan find her mother’s killer several years ago, and she has now been working at the Boston PI’s office to pick up some lessons in sleuthing. She has come to Spenser with a problem of her own. An underage girl was sexually assaulted at an elite club. Actually, some overly aroused man decided to relieve his tension in front of her. The girl had left her backpack behind. Spenser decides to look a bit further into this issue. He and Mattie find that there is a connection to an eccentric billionaire with a very disturbing proclivity in sexual partners. The rich weirdo even has his own island and a henchwoman who helps recruit the young girls. Just when Spenser is starting to understand the challenges of his latest caper, he learns that a very dangerous adversary from his past is lurking in the shadows.

Yeah, Atkins borrowed some elements from the Jeffery Epstein debacle. I could get a little annoyed at the lack of originality, but it does sort of stoke the imagination over how someone has tough and sardonic would respond to someone like this. Hawk is drawn into this as well, and he is not too keen on this pervert’s proclivities either. Part of Spenser’s appeal is his sharp wit and his apparent indomitability.

Mattie Sullivan is kind of fun to see again. She is able to hold her own when it comes to witticisms which she readily slings at Spenser. Fortunately, Spenser’s ego is quite durable.

Even though it is obvious what inspired Atkins to this particular plotline, it ended up being a solid entry into the series. Spenser has yet to close his casebook, so his next adventure is around the corner.

It has been a while since I have read a new Doctor Who novel, but Steve Cole has one ready for me to read….The Knight, The Fool and the Dead, from the Time Lord Victorious saga.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The TARDIS Breaks Down

Doctor Who: Stranded 1

Stranded is a Doctor Who audio boxset from Big Finish Production with four episodes starring Paul McGann. This collection is directed by Ken Bentley. McGann is joined by Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan as Liv Chenka and Helen Sinclair, respectively.

The TARDIS has been completely disabled on twenty-first century Earth. The Doctor and his two companions have taken up residence at his place on Baker Street in London. They find that someone from the Doctor’s past had turned the house into a small apartment complex. The Doctor has become an unwilling landlord as he attempts to get his TARDIS up and running. Just when the Doctor is getting more frantic to get back to his travels and the dangers, the trouble comes to him.

The guest cast includes Tom Baker, Rebecca Root, Tom Price, and Clive Wood. Rebecca Root has the distinction of being one of the first transgender actors in this series. Her character Tania Bell becomes a love interest for Liv. Fortunately, there are more interesting things going on as well.

Matt Fitton starts off with his story entitled Lost Property. Liv and Helen encounter a peculiar old man who says that he is a Curator of a rather unique museum exhibit. Tom Baker reprises the role he had from the fiftieth anniversary special that aired on BBC in 2013. This is a pretty slow one, but it does introduce the other residence competently enough. It also has Tom Baker, so that raises the appreciation significantly.

Wild Animals is written by John Dorney. The Doctor has a mission when Liv Chenka is wounded in an armed robbery, and a new friend is murdered. The Doctor is becoming more stir crazy being stuck in one place and time, so this random crime becomes more an obsession. Also, it seems that the Doctor, Liv, and Chenka are not the only ones with secrets.

Must-See TV is penned by Lisa McMullin and introduces a peculiar new resident named Mr. Bird. It seems that there is some extraterrestrial surveillance going on. Tania seems to have a connection to an organization that becomes very important to the Doctor’s future. The Doctor is getting closer to more familiar territory when an alien presence is becoming more pronounced.

David K Barnes wraps up this set with Divine Intervention. Now, the aliens have arrived, and they are on a mission to kill the Doctor for something that occurs in his future. Of course, that could create the dreaded time paradox. The residents of Baker Street are about to get an up close and personal look at what the Doctor actually does when his TARDIS works properly.

This new series was actually more enjoyable than I anticipated, but it does take a little patience especially during the first two episodes. Paul McGann seems to have lost none of his enthusiasm for this role. Some of the character moments actually managed to be interesting. Overall, this latest turn in the Doctor’s journey has been quite interesting, but I hope to have him out among the cosmos quite soon.

Film Review: Family, Fashion, And A Dash Of Murder

House of Gucci is a crime drama centered on Gucci fashion dynasty. Ridley Scott directed the film from a screenplay by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivenga. It is based on a book written by Sara Gay Forden which was published in 2001. The impressive cast includes Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, and Salma Hayek.

This film starts off as a bit of a love story. Patrizia Reggiani meets Maurizio Gucci, the heir apparent to the fashion empire started by his grandfather. It does not take long for Patrizia to become enamored with the riches and luxury that such a family connection can provide. She ends up marrying Maurizio, however that starts them on a path which leads to murder and ruination.

Lady Gaga is quite good. Apparently there is some question as to the authenticity of the Italian accent, which does sound sort of Russian, but her performance was quite captivating otherwise. Driver was actually pretty engaging as Maurizio, and they both displayed a fair bit of chemistry. Unfortunately, some of the other performances ended up coming off as somewhat more of caricatures. Pacino was particularly distracting as Uncle Aldo. Jared Leto played Paolo Gucci and was pretty unrecognizable in his prosthetic makeup. His portrayal was even more over the top than Pacino’s. The film was also a bit too long and dragged at times. The murder of Paolo came toward the very end, but I wonder if the more interesting story would have been the aftermath. The film did have some bright spots occasionally, but I expected a little better consistency from someone of Ridley Scott’s acclaim. Basically, this was another film that left me with some mixed reactions. It’s not terrible, but it could have been so much better.

Book Review: A Most Peculiar Adventure

The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols is written by Nicholas Meyer, who purports to be finding a long lost manuscript penned by Dr. John Watson. Meyer has a pretty distinguished career in pop culture in the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek.

This tale takes place in 1905. Sherlock Holmes has gotten a bit older. Watson is on his second marriage or something like that. His marital history is a bit of a muddle, to be honest. They are summoned by Mycroft Holmes to the eccentric yet distinguished Diogenes Club. Holmes and Watson are tasked with determining the origins of a manuscript entitled The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which supposedly outlines some Jewish plot for world domination. Of course, the documents are later found to be fraudulent, but they caused quite a stir back then. They are joined by a Russian activist who has some historical significance and board the Orient Express to Russia for their investigation.

This is one of those novels where a lot of history is blended into the world of 221 B Baker Street. Many of the guest characters are actual historical figures such as Chaim Weizmann, who later becomes the first president of Israel. There is some intrigue on board a train, which is something that always pulls on my macabre heart. There is kidnapping, murder, and torment which always adds some spice to Sherlock Holmes. The novel turns out to be solidly entertaining. I imagine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would not find Meyer’s efforts here to objectionable.

This one has lots that history buffs and Sherlockians can debate, discuss, or cheer over.

Several years ago, the world of crime fiction lost one of the heavy hitters, Robert B. Parker, but his estate has refused to allow his creations to languish without some new adventures of their own. Ace Atkins has been writing new capers for Boston PI Spenser and continues that effort with Someone To Watch Over Me.

Book Review: A Return Home Marred By Murder

Every Heart A Doorway is a dark fantasy novel by Seanan McGuire, and it was published in 2016. According to McGuire, there are times when a child can go their a portal and spend time in another world can either be wondrous or terrifying. When these children return, they can be sent to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. A new resident is named Nancy, and once she arrives, she is greeted by murder not long after meeting the other residents.

This is the first in a series by McGuire. Apparently these portals appear, and many of the children want to return to these worlds, but this isolated school is supposed to help them readjust to their home base.

It’s a fairly imaginative idea, but I had a hard time really connecting here. McGuire’s has won some writing awards, and she is not without talent, but I didn’t feel this enthralled me in any significant way.

Anyway, I don’t consider this to be anything that anyone should feel compelled to read, but I also don’t need to advise any real effort to avoid it. It probably just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Next on the unending path of literary indulgences is a return to a character I do have a great deal of affection for. Nicholas Meyer has found a new journal belonging to one Doctor John H. Watson, who has a new Sherlock Holmes story to relate in The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Vicki And The Psychic

Doctor Who - The Companion Chronicles: Starborn

Starborn is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is another episode in The Companion Chronicles range. This episode was written by Jacqueline Rayner and directed by Lisa Bowerman. Maureen O’Brien returns to the role of Vicki and is joined by Jacqueline King as a psychic named Violet.

Violet has a message for Vicki warning her that her next journey in the TARDIS will lead to her demise. Vicki gets the warning from what she is told a future version of herself. She is told the story of a world where the inhabitants literally turn to stars and ascend to the sky. Vicki has to determine if this message is genuine or if a dangerous trick is being played.

This had an interesting premise and was well performed. I don’t find this to be the most memorable of episodes, but at least I won’t remember it to be awful. This story is supposed to take place during the era of William Hartnell. It’s kind of fun to be hear how these other actors portray his dialogue. This is just two seasoned performers bringing to life a script that was interesting but not unusually so.

Book Review: King Arthur, Merlin, and Hank Morgan

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is the time travel, satirical novel by Mark Twain that was first released in 1889. Hank Morgan is a 19th century factory worker who wakes up in the 6th century Camelot after a nasty blow to the head. Morgan decides to update his new surroundings with some of conveniences of his home century. He ends up in a battle of wits and spells with Merlin. He and King Arthur take a trip among the populace. Morgan finds that an improvement in material goods does not translate to improved cultural morality.

Every now and then, I try something that is considered classical, but I just don’t have a 19th century mind. I got the gist of what was happening, but I had trouble picking up the jokes that is supposed to be littered throughout this thing. It also seems to be one of Twain’s longer works. Anyway, it was a tough read at times, but it was worth the effort I think. I may try this again at some point. Anyway, it may not be one of my favorite reading experiences, but I am resistant to the notion of turning others away from an American classic.

Well, there isn’t much more I can express about this particular literary indulgence, but I am moving on to Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor Takes Some Calls

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures - Respond to All Calls

The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Respond To All Calls is a Doctor Who audio boxset which has Christopher Eccleston back in the studio playing the Doctor. The set is directed by Helen Goldwyn. There are three stories in which the Doctor answers some call of distress. Big Finish Productions does it again.

Girl, Deconstructed is the first story in this set and is written by Lisa McMullin. Pearl Appleby, Mirren Mack, Forbes Masson, and Benjamin Davies make up the guest cast. The Doctor answers the cry for help from a teen-age girl whose molecules have been separated and is alive in spite of the transformation. He learns of other youngsters who have disappeared mysteriously over many years. He and a police detective must find a way to arrange some family reunions. This turned out to be a strong start to the series. There is a bit of unexpected family drama. Eccleston sounds fantastic here. This may actually be my favorite out of this collection.

Fright Motif is written by Tim Foley with Damian Lynch, Gemma Whelan, and Adrian Schiller joining Eccleston. The Doctor finds an alien creature in Paris just after the Second World War that feeds on the musically gifted. There is plenty of that sort of sustenance in that time and place. It’s a pretty good story and also deals with a musician who has lost his ability to play. It’s a solid middle of the road sort of tale. The performances and the post-production work is good. It doesn’t have the same punch as the previous episode, but it works well enough.

Timothy X. Atack wraps up this collection with Planet of the End. The cast providing their voices is made up of Margaret Clunie, Akshay Rhanna, Jan Francis, and Nick Fletcher. The Doctor finds himself trapped on a planet with an unusual AI he dubs as Fred. An alien corporation has their own plan for the Time Lord. This one took a little bit of time to really get into, but it ended up turning out pretty well.

All three episodes actually turn out pretty well. I mentioned that the first one was probably the strongest for me, but the others were not disappointing by any means. It is great that Eccleston has returned to the role in this way. I appreciated the variety in the writer selection in this one. I don’t think they are first timer to the Big Finish Doctor Who range, but they don’t appear to be the more regular contributors, which I appreciated. I have nothing against the more prolific scribes in this range, but it’s nice to to see some new blood show their stuff. I am glad that I responded to the call to purchase this latest set.

Film Review: Remember Who To Call

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a supernatural comedy that is another sequel to the original 1984 film that starred Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson. They all show up in this new version, but this one focuses on the descendants of Egon Spengler. Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman co-wrote the script in which Reitman ends up directing. Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, Celeste O’Conner, and Bokeem Woodbine are also included in the new cast.

Strange things are happening in a small Oklahoma town where Egon Spengler spent his remaining years. After his death, his daughter and her two children leave their problems in New York and take on new challenges when they decide to stay in Egon’s dilapidated house on the outside of town. Grace plays the genius granddaughter, Phoebe, who starts to figure out that her estranged grandfather was not just the mad old kook. She finds the equipment used by the Ghostbusters and starts repairing it. Wolfhard’s Trevor manages to get an old strange car the resembles an old hearse working again. There are unexpected earthquakes and an old abandoned mine that seem to have been the focus of Egan’s studies. When it becomes more obvious that an ancient evil is returning to the land of the living, the youngsters may the need the help of a legendary team that saved New York City decades ago.

Well, this was better than the previous attempts at sequels and reboots, however it still had some problems. In spite of the vastly different setting, there still remained that sense of “been there, done that”. The young cast members were charming and well cast. Phoebe became the catalyst for the others to get involved in this latest round of ghostbusting. The film ended up being a rather moving tribute to the late Harold Ramis, who actually died five years ago. The story gets pretty wobbly toward the end, but there is some fun to this latest addition. Although it does bring up some welcome nostalgia at times, my only real reaction to this film is that “it could have been worse”.

Animated Film Review: Some Holiday Cheer With Batman

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Batman: The Long Halloween is a two part animated superhero film directed by Chris Palmer and written by Tim Sheridan. It is based on comic book storyline written by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. The talent lending their voices include Jensen Ackles, Josh Duhamel, Katie Sackhoff, Billy Burke, and Titus Welliver.

Someone is murdering various Gotham mobsters on holidays, and Batman is called in on the case. The first murder is committed on Halloween, and the scares bleed over to other holidays throughout the year. During the course of his investigation, Batman encounters his old adversaries.. The Joker escapes yet again from Arkham Asylum. This also retells or reboots the origin of Two-Face. who is really former DA Harvey Dent. Batman also tries to navigate his complicated relationship with Catwoman during the whole bloody affair.

The animation is fine, and the cast performs well enough. The story gets a little jumbled when there is a mass escape from Arkham after the Joker breaks out. It is kind of fun to watch this series, but this one does drag a bit in the middle. Warner Bros does tend to like adapting long ranges of comic series. It may do better to come up with original plots foe the Dark Knight. I am sure there is plenty of enjoyment to be found for the diehard Batman fans, and I didn’t seeing it overall. It just gets a little long and predictable at times. Ackles has an appropriately creepy voice to pull off Batman. Troy Baker does well enough voicing the Joker, but there did not seem to be anything too fresh in his rendition. There is plenty to appreciate in these two films, but the story seems to lose focus, and the rogues’ gallery ends up being a little distracting from the mystery surrounding the Holiday Killer.