Book Review: Fly With The Witches

Night Witches is a non-fiction historical account written by Bruce Myles. It was first published in 1981 and was then republished some years later by Academy Chicago Publishers. This tells the story of Russian female pilots who fought in the Second World War. Myles actually interviewed many of the surviving pilots for this during that time. The reader gets to know such figures as Katya Budanova, Nadia Popova, and Lily Latvik, These women were involved in many missions that rivaled those of their male counterparts.

I am not sure that many people have even heard of this squadron dubbed the Night Witches. What is also striking is that term hardly shows up in the text. There are a few times when the historical background is presented somewhat dryly, however that may not be able to be helped. It’s still a fascinating piece of little known world history. I was reminded of the movie Hidden Figures, which told the story of a group of black female mathematicians who worked for NASA during the dawn of the United States space program. Also, the women who worked as code breakers at Bletchley Park during World War II in England is something that is not common knowledge. I am not someone who could readily be described as a feminist, however these contributions from these extraordinary women should be acknowledged and celebrated. Even though we have plenty of reason to be skeptical of the Russian government these days, that country were allies during one of the most horrific periods in world history. The women who flew in the Russian air force may not have worked directly with US forces, however their contribution to the overall effort to defeat Adolf Hitler is nothing to dismiss either.

So I am coming back to more familiar territory with my next read with a fictional female heroine created by Dean Koontz. It is time to see what secrets and threats await Jane Hawk as she opens The Forbidden Door.

Doctor Who Audio Review: If Only The Doctor Could Remember…

Doctor Who: Colony of Fear

Colony of Fear is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and was written by Roland Moore. It was directed by John Ainsworth. Colin Baker and Miranda Raison lead this episode as the Doctor and Mrs. Constance Clarke. Joining them as the guest cast are Nicholas Asbury, Rachel Atkins, Misha Malcolm, Leighton Pugh, and Andrew James Spooner. I have heard none of these people, but they all did quite well considering this was recorded during COVID lockdowns in the United Kingdom. Baker and Raison always do well, and Mrs. Clarke has become a favorite of mine among the original Big Finish companions. So More Mrs. Clarke please!

The TARDIS answers a distress call which brings the Doctor and Mrs. Clarke to a human colony on a planet known as Triketha. The colonists are being menaced by a swarm of wasp-like beings which places them in a coma after their sting. The colonists recover after about three days, but something may have been left behind which will have more permanent effects. As the Doctor works to discover the origins of these insects, he finds that someone from his past has also appeared. The problem for the Doctor is that he has no memory of this person and would need to submit himself to the hive mind of the alien insects to learn the truth.

This episodes presents some interesting mysteries and threats here for the Doctor. There are some familiar elements such as ravenous alien insects and isolated colonies or bases under siege. It feels like no new ground has really been broken here, however the story still works. The mystery of the character known as Tarios and his connection to the Doctor was quite compelling. The Doctor has a rare moment of facing up to the consequences of his sometimes haphazard way of treating those in his company. Whatever new ground was broken is pretty subtle and intriguing. The performances were solid as expected. I enjoy the banter between the Doctor and Constance Clarke. Mrs. Clark was known as a WREN during World War II and has a pretty strict demeanor which plays well against the Doctor’s sometimes brash approach to various challenges. Mrs. Clarke is not just strict though. She does have the courage and compassion needed to cope with the Doctor’s various adventures.

Anyway, this particular episode did have plenty of intriguing elements and not all of the questions get answered regarding the Doctor’s relationship to Tarios. Moore displayed a talent to tantalizing the audience’s imagination and curiosity. This story apparently had gone through several revisions, and it seems that Roland Moore and the script editors landed on a very satisfying version.

Book Review: The Auction Of Death

The Crusader’s Curse is the latest entry from Titan Books into their range known as The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Stuart Douglas, long-time Holmes pastiche contributor, penned this latest effort.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are asked to attend the auction of an estate known as Thorpe Manor. There ate many secrets and legends swirling around the legacy of the Thorpe family. A cursed heirloom known as the De Trop Diamond has been missing for years. A ghost is said to be wandering the grounds. Not long after Holmes and Watson arrive and meet the various character there to make their bids, a murderer takes down one of the guests.

I enjoy reading these pastiche works featuring one of my favorite fictional sleuths, however I have often groused about the repetitive tendencies these authors tend to share. Once again, Holmes is having to find some cursed trinket and deal with some legendary curse. Once again, his adherence to the rational and scientific is challenged by some apparent supernatural entity lurking about the grounds of a sprawling manor. Douglas is another writer who seems to take elements that may have only appeared once or twice in the original Arthur Conan Doyle canon and somewhat inflate them. It gets a little irksome.

In spite of my little rant in the previous paragraph, I have to say this is still not a bad novel. Holmes and Watson seemed pretty close to how Doyle originally presented them. I do have an almost automatic affection for stories with claustrophobic settings where a small group of diverse characters have to contend with dark machinations of one of their member. Douglas does provide some effective red herrings in his plot and lets Holmes work for the solutions a bit. Although this novel does have some elements that triggers some mild exasperation when it comes to these pastiche efforts, Douglas is a talented enough writer to keep a curmudgeonly reader such as myself pretty well engaged.

A few years ago, I became aware of a rather interesting piece of World Ward II history through a Doctor Who audio play. A family member gave me a small small book concerning a squadron of Russian female fighter pilots known as the Night Witches. It is time for a departure from my usual reading preferences and see what Bruce Myles could tell us about this extraordinary group of women in “Night Witches”.

Film Review: The Titans Are Ready To Rumble

Godzilla vs. Kong' Review | Hollywood Reporter

Godzilla vs. Kong brings two gigantic cinematic icons together finally. It is the latest addition to Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse. This film is directed by Adam Wingard. The screenplay is written by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein. Just when you think I am done with this part, they story was apparently conceived by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields. Starring alongside the giant lizard and the big ape, there are a number of human to mention. Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Eiza Gonzalez, Kyle Chandler, and a young hearing impaired girl named Kaylee Hottle. There are several other people in this cast, but quite frankly, it is time to move on.

King Kong is found to be under surveillance in a dome on Skull Island. Godzilla suddenly appears in Florida and attacks a factory for some unknown reason. In this series, the giant creatures are known as Titans and apparently come from realm within the Earth known as Hollow Earth. A group of scientists are furnished with vehicles capable of reaching this place and have Kong act as their guide. However, it seems that Kong has some ancient beef with Godzilla going which comes to light. The two of them go at it ferociously on water and on land. Then, MechoGodzilla makes an appearance, and then it goes even crazier.

Unsurprisingly, the special effects are fantastic. It’s pretty fun to watch Godzilla and Kong go at it in the couple of fight scenes they have. It was rather a neat to have two groups of humans tackling the mysteries of the corporations behind the aggravation of the monsters. One group was with Kong trying to get him to lead the way to Hollow Earth while the other was trying to find out the reasons for Godzilla’s seemingly inexplicable attacks. Although the movie is pretty entertaining overall, it is not without some flaws. The plot could seem a little more convoluted than necessary at times and some of the dialogue caused an occasional wince.

The actors were well chosen. I think Millie Bobby Brown has a real distinctive presence for a teen-ager to go along with her great name. Kaylee Hottle is also quite a find as the deaf Iwi native who develops a friendship with Kong. I am not sure how old she is since she has yet to get a Wikipedia page, but she may be around 10 years old. This apparently is her film debut and is already a bit of a scene stealer. Brian Tyree Henry is quite good as the half-crazy conspiracy theorist who is actually more clever and courageous than he appears. I only know Rebecca Hall from a couple of other films, but I thought she did very well here as well. Really, no one let the side down when it comes to performances.

Basically, it’s an enjoyable popcorn flick that works better when not following the plot too closely. This is one series of films I would not object too strenuously if it were to continue a while longer.

Classic Film Review: Charlie Chan Knows All

Charlie Chan's Secret (1936) - Rotten Tomatoes

Charlie Chan’s Secret is a mystery film released in 1936 and was directed by Gordon Wiles. The screenplay was written by Robert Ellis. The character of Honolulu detective Charlie Chan was first created by novelist Earl Derr Biggers. Warner Oland stars on the lead role. The cast includes of Rosina Lawrence, Henrietta Crosman, Jonathan Hale, and Charles Quigley.

The film starts off with Charlie Chan looking into the sinking of a boat which supposedly had the heir of a large fortune aboard. Chan is not sure that Allen Colby, the heir in question, in fact did perish below the sea waves. His investigation to the mainland where he finds a troubled family, a vast estate with secret passages, and murder. In fact, Colby does appear again but his death subsequently becomes more certain.

Warner Oland was one of several Caucasian actors during that time who was heavily made up to appear Asian. He puts in a solid yet stereotypical performance as a Chinese immigrant. The plot ends up getting rather absurd with quite a bit of overacting from much of the cast. Oland had played Chan in several films and does fairly well, although it goes without saying that an actual Chinese actor would have been a much better choice. But Hollywood studios did not operate that way back in the early days. This film is almost ninety years old, which is rather remarkable to realize.

Anyway, the film is a bit dull and does not really hold together when it comes to the plot. It’s not terrible but it feels typical of the movies being made at the time. In spite of the numerous flaws and reasons for exasperation at Oland’s performance of a Chinese protagonist, it was kind of fun to revisit Charlie Chan. I had not seen a film in this series since I was very young.

Hopefully, there are better Charlie Chan films. He is still a somewhat intriguing concept in detective fiction. On the whole, the movie isn’t great, but it is still worth a look since Charlie Chan was a rather iconic piece of cinematic history.

Book Review: Bourdain Can Cook Up Some Stories As Well As Good Food

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly is an autobiography written by the late Anthony Bourdain. It was first published in 2000 and has probably had an update or two over years. Bourdain had died by suicide in 2018, which is very unfortunate. I am no student of the culinary arts, and I really followed Gordon Ramsay because I find his explosive temper rather entertaining. I have missed out on most of the Bourdain experience and only read this book since I am in a book club that chose this one for the month of March 2021. It turns out that I actually found quite a bit to appreciate about this selection in spite of my lack of kitchen expertise.

Bourdain uses his words to paint very vivid imagery of the restaurant culture, particularly of the 1970’s and 1980’s. He throws out very creative analogies as easily as one would expect him to whip up a uniquely delicious omelet or something. There is also the unflinching account of his struggles with drug addiction during his early years in the biz. He did manage to avoid a lot of detail about that and how is was he finally lay that demon to rest, at least back then. Bourdain obviously had plenty of demons which led to his tragic decision to end his own extraordinary life, and the book sort of opens one’s eyes a little to some of those struggles. Assuming of course there is not a ghostwriter, I am going to consider Bourdain as talented a writer as he was a chef. I will take the word of others when it comes to judgment on his gifts as a presenter. His colorful and complicated personality was easy to detect in this book and I am sure those who are more familiar with his television presence will recognize his voice easily enough throughout the many tales. I know that he has other literary examples out there, so I may try out some of those as well in my own efforts to add a bit more diversity in my reading indulgences.

Even for those of us with no culinary talent or ambition, I will say Kitchen Confidential does contain plenty of wisdom and entertainment within its pages. It also deepens my sense of sorrow that such a talented man who had such an impact on a culture and apparently helped and influenced individuals with their own troubles to a more constructive path could not find any reason to stay in this world a little longer.

Even though I do strive for newer and more unfamiliar pastures in my literary choices, I am not abandoning my old favorites. I think I have earned a visit back to familiar furnishings of 221 B Baker Street where Sherlock Holmes has another cursed diamond or trinket to find in The Crusader’s Curse by Start Douglas.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Welcome Aboard The Future

Doctor Who - Time Lord Victorious: Genetics of the Daleks

Time Lord Victorious: Genetics of the Daleks is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions. Tom Baker stars in this episode which was written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Jamie Anderson. Joining the formidable Mr. Baker is Pippa Haywood, Clive Mantle, Nina Toussaint-White, Andrew James Spooner, Joseph Kloska, and of course, Nicholas Briggs. Briggs of course provides the voice of the metallic and dreaded Daleks. This episode is part of this rather ambitious saga known as Time Lord Victorious and serves as a prequel of some sort to an escape room somewhere.

The Doctor arrives aboard a starship known The Future in which many humans were in suspended animation on the way to colonize somewhere. At some point, the few crew that were awake at one time take in a lone and apparently empty Dalek found in space. Yeah, notice I said “apparently empty”. Anyway, the lone Daleks is enough to cause some lethal mischief, and the Doctor typically will be the only one able to help out. However there are traitors and criminals aboard to further complicate matters.

It’s Tom Baker in this one, so it would be hard to be critical here. However, this episode turns out to be quite good, so I don’t have to be all that harsh. Actually, Baker is still quite good, but Morris provides a bit of intriguing foreshadowing here since the Dalek reveals he has already met a future incarnation of the Doctor, which kicks this adventure into higher gear. I think there are elements or stories from the Time Lord Victorious series I have yet to get to. There are novels and comics tied to this particular saga as well.

The performances are pretty good, but I really enjoyed the challenges and revelations between the Doctor and the Dalek. This Doctor is still as irreverent and imposing as ever. The guest characters are compelling. There are some pretty good twists. There is a pretty chilling moment when one of the characters gets mutated and transformed in to a Dalek. It’s a good thing I was not driving in the dark when I was playing this one.

Just about every element here works quite nicely. Tom Baker still does a very capable and compelling performance. It is still easy to tell how much he enjoys being in the role without all of the physical demands.

This a solid, claustrophobic sort of romp at which Doctor Who excels at so thoroughly.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Sisters Of Doom

Doctor Who: Wicked Sisters

Wicked Sisters is a Doctor Who audio boxset with three stories written by Simon Guerrier for Big Finish Productions. Lisa Bowerman serves as director with Peter Davison starring as the Fifth Doctor. He is joined by Louise Jameson as Leela. Ciara Jansen and Laura Doddington play the Graceless sisters known as Abby and Zara. The guest cast is comprised of Tom Mahy, Pandora Clifford, Dan Starkey, Anjli Mohindra, Nicky Goldie, Paul Courtney Hyu, and the director herself playing the Smoke Creatures.

Leela has recruited the Doctor to find a pair of sisters with whom he had met during previous audio series which had him reassemble the Key to Time once again. Anny and Zara were initially created to track down the six segments to the Key to Time. They were at odds at one time but now work together to use their vast god-like powers to help others. Their efforts have lead to actually threaten all of space and time because it would not be a proper Doctor Who story otherwise. Leela wants the Doctor to help convince the sisters to end their own lives, but the Time Lord is not so sure something so drastic is needed. Anyway, there are three interconnected tales to see how this quest progresses.

The Garden of Storms brings the Doctor and Leela to a planet that looks like a paradise. They find a society that sacrifices those who have reached forty years of age. They find Abby and Zara quickly enough, but they also find a mysterious people made of smoke. This first story is rather interesting and sets up the saga well. The Smoke Creatures make for an interesting villain. I also like that the sisters are dangerous not necessarily evil. It’s one of these shades of gray situations. Jansen and Doddington do have an engaging chemistry, which is important considering the whole thing centers on them. Davison and Jameson have done a previous story together, which is interesting since Louise Jameson is more associated with Tom Baker’s Doctor. It was also pretty cool to see Leela reacting to a different version of the Doctor. They also seemed to work well together. So far, the set has a solid start with this first installation.

The Moonrakers pits the Doctor, Leela, and the sisters against the Sontarans. Dan Starkey returns to the role and continues to provide a compelling performance as the militaristic clones. Although the Sontarans in this story are not quite as hungry for war as usual. It’s not a bad story but not one I would consider a favorite. What was kind of cool is that the four main cast got separated with the Doctor and Zara trapped together while Abby and Leela have to find them. I should mention that Leela’s time on Gallifrey has afforded the opportunity to learn to pilot the TARDIS. I am not sure this particular development is something I find to be a good idea considering, but I guess it serves its purpose. Anyway, it’s good to have Dan Starkey back, and I rather like the Sontarans, but I would not call this particular story anything special.

The whole thing comes to an explosive confrontation with the Smoke Creatures in The People Made of Smoke, appropriately enough. The Doctor may have to sacrifice himself to save the universe and the two powerful sisters. This actually had a rather strong and somewhat moving conclusion, although since there are many Doctors to come after this version, we can still be assured that the Fifth survives his travails.

The whole series was actually quite good though. Some different dynamics were tried and succeeded mostly in being entertaining and compelling. The cast was well selected, which is expected of Big Finish. Abby and Zara have their own spin-off series with Big Finish called Graceless. This little adventure returns them to the company of the Time Lord. I have yet to experience the Graceless series, but that did not really dampen my enjoyment overall of this set. I also prefer that this is a trilogy all written by one guy. Guerrier is a prolific contributor to Doctor Who and Big Finish, and he may not have hit a home run here, but he got a solid hit out of this one.

Book Review: Four Corpses In A Limo

The Museum of Desire is a suspense novel written by Jonathan Kellerman. It is one of the recent installments to feature Dr. Alex Delaware once again helping out Lt. Milo Sturgis of the LAPD. The title does seem like something one would view on late night Cinemax, however it is not that perverse. The story will not make for good bedtime reading for the little ones though, as is the case for most Kellerman works.

The good doctor is asked to give some thoughts at a rather unusual crime scene in which four homicide victims are posed inside a limousine, and none of them seemed to have been connected to each other in life. Once the victims are identified, the other clues start to come to light. Anyway, there is an art gallery in the center of this whole gruesome business.

The basic premise is pretty intriguing, but there are times that the journey to the truth drags a bit. I guess that is the way it goes in real homicide investigations, but it can get a bit irritating in a crime novel. It is actually Alex’s girlfriend that provides a ,major clue, which was kind of cool. I have read a lot of this series, and I was a little less impressed with this latest addition to Delaware’s case file. Kellerman is a reliable writer, but this series could use a little shot in the arm. I am not sure what that should look like. Anyway, The Museum of Desire was not as desirous as I hoped.

I am no cook and likely to become one, but I am going to get some culinary insight from the late Anthony Bourdain with his autobiography, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.

Film Review: The Code Of All Codes

How The Da Vinci Code's filmmakers nearly faced jail time for the movie –  Film Stories

The Da Vinci Code was first a novel published in 2003 by Dan Brown. In 2006, rabidly popular movie directed by Ron Howard was released. The screenplay was written by Akiva Goldsman. Tom Hanks plays the lead role of Professor Robert Langdon. Langdon teaches iconology and religious history of some sort at Harvard. Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan, Alfred Molina, Paul Bettany, and Jean Reno are also included in the main cast. So there is plenty of more than reliable talent on the screen.

Professor Langdon happens to be lecturing in Paris when he is asked by the local constabulary to examine a group of symbols etched into the body of a Louvre curator. This kicks off an examination of the works of Leonardo da Vinci in which all sorts of implications challenges that is known or taught in the Christian faith. There is a murderous monk on the trail of Langdon and the granddaughter of the victim who has become an ally. So there are few chases and scenes of grotesque violence in the midst of overdramatic revelations.

So I am generally a conservative Christian who believes in the teachings of Scripture, but I am going to do my best to put aside my views on what would be considered just blatant blasphemy in which this story spews. I had heard the hype about this film and was prepared to have strong disagreement with the theories presented here. Fortunately, there was no real sense that I needed to question the teachings of my church because of this film. Saying that, I will still a bit disappointed in this film. It had a lot of moments that seemed to drag. It comes in about two and a half hours, and I felt every moment of that and then some. The visual effects and the settings were very compelling though. The performances were fine, which is not surprising considering the cast sheet. I think the problems had more to do with with the screenplay than much else. Visually, it looks great most of the time, but I still had trouble being all that interested in the dialogue, A lot of these alternate revelations and explanations as to the real nature of Jesus Christ. Basically I was just a bit bored with the movie, but surely that would be better than being outraged.