Book Review: It Comes For Us All

Death Comes for the Archbishop is a novel written by Willa Cather and was first published in 1927. It takes place during the mid-nineteenth century in New Mexico. It centers around the efforts of one Bishop Jean Marie Latour to establish a diocese in New Mexico. He and his friend, Father Joseph Vaillant, meet all kinds of people and face challenges in the desert landscape of New Mexico. The novel was apparently based on a couple of historical clergymen.

I don’t have much to say about this one since I read it for the purposes of a book club participation. This is not my usual type of preferred reading. I can recognize that Cather is a talented a writer. She does well with description of the landscape at the time. I did not find the characters all that interesting. It is not a long book, but it is a slow read at times. Willa Cather is a very acclaimed writer and probably deserves it. She is just not my cup of tea. Anyway, the setting is somewhat interesting and there are a few moments that piqued my interest, but those times were not frequent enough for me to consider returning to this one anytime soon….if ever.

Next up, I will return to something quite a bit more recent and will have a bit more action. Time to check out the works of Brad Thor, starting with The Apostle.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Keep The Light Alive

Doctor Who - The Companion Chronicles: The Dying Light

The Dying Light is a Doctor Who audio drama and is an episode from the range known as The Companion Chronicles. Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury star in this adventure which features the Second Doctor, who would have been played by Patrick Troughton were he still alive and fit enough to do so. The script was written by Nick Wallace, and Lisa Bowerman is once again in the director’s seat. Terry Molloy guest stars as Quadrigger Stoyn, who returns to challenge the Doctor for a second time.

The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to a world with a dying sun. A murder has occurred, and the Doctor encounters an old foe in the shape of Quadrigger Stoyn. Stoyn was first introduced in the play entitled The Beginning. Stoyn seems to have an objection to the Doctor’s sudden departure from his home planet and has been trying to track through time and space.

Hines once again does a solid job with narration and slipping into the role of Jamie McCrimmon. He also provides a satisfactory impression of Troughton’s version of the Doctor. Padbury also sounds good. Molloy’s character is a somewhat engaging and complicated opponent. The story itself is not bad, but it does not really stand out. It’s another adventure where I have little objection to it. but I also fail to find it all that memorable. It’s another one where the performances really help out with making it merely reasonably enjoyable.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Fourth Is Still With Us

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 Volume 01

The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 Volume 1 contains two Doctor Who audio dramas from Big Finish Productions and stars Tom Baker alongside Louise Jameson.

The World Traders is written by Guy Adams and directed by Nicholas Briggs. The guest cast is comprised of Sara Powell, Sian Phillips, Adam Newington, Chris Porter. and Ramon Tikarah. In this one, aliens knows as Usurians make another appearance. The Doctor and Leela first encountered them in the television serial entitled The Sunmakers. The tax-loving, bureaucratic tyrants have come to Earth and have taken possession of the Doctor’s TARDIS. It sounds like a simple plot, but it gets a bit more complicated and sometimes confusing. The Sunmakers is noted as a classic story from the television series, but I was not that enamored with it. Even so, I tend to prefer the Doctor to encounter new adversaries. The story starts off a little slow but does get better. Baker and Jameson continue to present an engaging chemistry. Leela is better utilized by Big Finish writers. The performances once again make this worth a listen, but I was not all that enthralled with it. I was not entirely put off either, so the story just does well enough to stay in the middle of the lane.

The Day of the Comet by Jonathan Morris is directed by Ken Bentley. The guest cast here is made up of Jon Culshaw playing two roles, Sophia Carr-Gomm, Janet Henfrey, Mandi Symonds, and David Seddon. The Doctor and Leela arrive on a planet that is doomed beyond the Time Lord’s ability to save them. Culshaw is best known as an impressionist in England and does great voice facsimiles of Tom Baker and other notable Doctor Who alum. He also has resurrected the character of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in recent audio plays. I like that Big Finish is utilizing him for original characters as well.

Both stories had an eccentric elderly female in the cast of characters and they both did great. Baker performs well with both Sian Phillips and Janet Henfrey in each of the stories, although that really is no surprise since Baker is such an old pro working alongside other old pros.

Neither story is what I would consider a stellar adventure, but both are still worthy of some attention since there is nothing terrible about them. Baker and Jameson continue to provide sold entertainment in their familiar roles. There are two more adventures to discuss in what is considered the tenth season of the Fourth Doctor audio series, but I will have to get back to you on those.

Book Review: A Hawk Is Still In The Wind

The Forbidden Door is the fourth novel by Dean Koontz to feature renegade FBI agent Jane Hawk as she continues her fight to be reunited with her young son while evading capture from a group known as Arcadians. Her latest caper started with the inexplicable suicide of her husband. Jane Hawk sent her son off to hiding and started a campaign to discover the cause of her husband’s death. She has learned through the previous novels of a group within the government who have been using nanotechnology to control people’s minds. The Arcadians are just not nice people, but they are powerful and seemingly ubiquitous. The are all sorts of psychotic, nihilistic characters on the look-out for the elusive Mrs. Hawk.

Koontz has been writing of these shadowy rogue government agencies for some time. In some ways, this is more of the same. Not much new goes on here, but Jane Hawk is still a fairly interesting heroine. Koontz still has a pretty distinctive prose style that makes the repetition bearable. The story was still somewhat engaging. Much of the familiar elements were present. We still had the child who was much more insightful and wiser than his peers. Eccentric allies and clever canines were also there. Koontz continues to be fascinated by people who are not merely evil but completely disconnected from most societal norms.

I think I continued to read these novels more out of tradition than actual enthrallment. I believe there is only one more novel in particular series, but I shall defer the reading of that for a while.

Time to shift gears a bit in my literary journey and check out Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

Doctor Who Audio Review: Jo Didn’t Say That!

Doctor Who - The Companion Chronicles: Ghost in the Machine

Ghost in the Machine is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish and is an episode from the range known as The Companion Chronicles. It takes place during the era of the Third Doctor, who was played by the late Jon Pertwee. Jonathan Morris wrote this script which was brought to life under the direction of Louise Jameson. Jameson is, of course, best known as playing Leela in the television series and has performed in several audio dramas as well. Katy Manning stars in this episode and is joined by Damian Lynch.

Jo Grant steps out of the TARDIS after discovering the Doctor was not on board. She finds a number of skeletons in an abandoned station and then see the Doctor in a rather unusual coma. He has a voice recorder with brief instructions. When she starts giving a vocal chronicle of her discoveries, she senses that she is not alone. When she plays back her recorded voice, she finds phrases on the tape that she did not utter. She also hears the voice of someone who has apparently been long dead, but Benjamin Chicoto’s status is a bit more complicated than that.

This one actually sets an effectively creepy tone. Manning really gets to exercise her eclectic vocal talents as well. The explanation for the spooky occurrences is a little confusing at the end since it involves various characters switching bodies and identities. I generally enjoy almost all of Big Finish output, but this episode ended up being one of the better ones in recent memory. It is a fairly creative notion to have a story that explores the notion of how some people dislike hearing their voice on playback. Anyway, if anyone else who encounters this blog is also a Big Finish collector, I would recommend that this story not be overlooked.

Film Review: Maximum Road Rage

Unhinged' review: Russell Crowe iis unleashed in a thriller that's not  worth venturing out to see - CNN

Unhinged is a thriller film starring Russell Crowe as the ultimate road rage perpetrator here. The film was written by Carl Ellsworth and directed by Derrick Borte. Caren Pistorius plays the young mother in the crosshairs of the murderous Tom Cooper after a somewhat unpleasant exchange at an intersection. Other cast members include Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P. McKenzie, and Michael Papajohn.

The film starts of with a couple being murdered and the house being burned to the ground. Tom Cooper apparently feels that he did not get a fair shake in his divorce and went a bit overboard in expressing his dissatisfaction. Rachel Flynn is a young mother going though her own divorce and apparently has an aversion to punctuality, but she tries. While taking her young son to school, she rather loses her patience with a driver in front of her at an intersection, who does not move when the light turns green. Unfortunately, the inattentive driver is Tom Cooper, who does not appreciate the insistent honking from behind him. From there, the body count starts to ratchet upward. Rachel is terrified understandably but is still hesitant to offer the sincere apology that is being not no nicely requested by Tom. There are car chases aplenty. There is some impressive brutality when Tom starts finding out about Rachel’s friends and family. It’s just crazy violent.

Unfortunately, the film has some shortfalls as expected. Tom Cooper’s background and the reasoning to his rage is not really explained all that well. Russell Crowe does do a good job and conveying that madness though. He is a talented guy and has been known to flip out a bit in real life, so he was well cast for this one. He can do a convincing madman. Pistorius is pretty good in her role, but I did not find her character all that interesting or sympathetic really. Maybe she needed to be a little sassier or something. I think it had more to do with the writing than the performance though. Pistorius did her best with it, but the material with which she had to work was not all that much of an attention grabber. Another issue I had was that the police were already supposed to be looking for Cooper since the beginning of the film for the murder of his ex-wife and her new beau, and yet I was not sure how he was successfully eluding the manhunt up to that point. Some of the plot points don’t make much sense, but I could be expecting too much for this type of film. Basically, some of it works adequately, but much of it doesn’t. It’s not a complete waste of time, but it certainly isn’t a hidden gem either.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Testament Of Terror

Doctor Who: The Blazing Hour

The Blazing Hour is a Doctor Who audio drama from Big Finish Productions. James Kettle is the scriptwriter while Ken Bentley serves as director. Peter Davison returns as the Fifth Doctor with Mark Strickson reprising his role as Turlough. The guest cast is comprised of Rakie Ayola, Lynsey Murrell, Raj Ghatak, and Donna Berlin.

The Doctor and Turlough arrive at a scientific installation on a planet known as Testament. Testament is the site of some experiments that allow for long-distance space travel. The experiments could have very dire consequences for the planet, however the Doctor finds his efforts to save the populace hampered by the greater threats of politics and bureaucracy. The Doctor will be hard pressed to enjoy a complete victory on this one.

Well, this episode has a bit of a slow start for my taste, however it does get better. That’s fairly common for these audio dramas and for Doctor Who in general. Turlough is one of the most intriguing of the Doctor’s companions since his over developed sense of self-preservation makes him not so trustworthy. Strickson delivers a strong performance here. Davison is also pretty good here. There is a time where the Doctor believes Turlough to be dead, and Davison performs the anguish pretty convincingly. The most interesting guest character is Ayola’s Violet Hardaker. Violet is so condescending and shifty that she probably is cut from the same cloth as Turlough may have been at one time. Violet is also not the woman in charge as she first appears. Anyway, the other cast members are fine, but I think Ayola likely had the most fun with her character. I had the most fun following her anyway.

Some of the action sequences are a little hard to follow, which is a common issue with audio plays. The sound effects sound great, which is a very common accomplishment of Big Finish’s.

The story itself is pretty interesting. The Doctor and Turlough are separated much of the time, which is a common occurrence in these episodes, but it tends to work and gives the listener a couple of threads to follow. This one is no exception to that. The Doctor and Turlough make an interesting pair when it is just them in the TARDIS. The television viewers did not get much with just these two, but Big Finish has done a decent job of making them compelling.

It took me until the second half of this story to appreciate it properly, but I did end up enjoying it overall.

Classic Doctor Who Review: Before The Time War, There Was The Master Plan

The Daleks’ Master Plan is a Doctor Who television series which was aired by the BBC in late 1965.when William Hartnell was still in the lead role. Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner share the writing credit for this twelve episode saga. A prologue episode known as Mission to the Unknown is included in this CD set. The serial exists mostly in soundtrack. Peter Purves provides narration an does well.

Peter Purves plays Steven Taylor, one of the First Doctor’s companions, during this era. The Doctor has stolen a component for the Time Destructor from the Daleks and fled through space and time. Nicholas Courtney makes his first appearance in the series before he became better known as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Jean Marsh joins the TARDIS crew as Space Security officer Sara Kingdom. Kevin Stoney plays Mavic Chen. Adrienne Hill joined the TARDIS crew in the previous adventure as Katarina.

As a fan, it was fun to finally experience the performances even if I could not see them. Hartnell still messes up some lines and not all of the writing is all that well thought out. The performances are a little hit and miss throughout the cast. This thing is twelve episodes of varying quality, but nothing ended up being truly awful. There was obviously some noticeable padding and somewhat unnecessary detours.

There were some interesting risks taken in that the notion of possible death of those who join the Doctor in the TARDIS gets explored here.

This was not worth twelve episodes, but the serial has a certain iconic place in Doctor Who history, so it was still quite the treat to finally hear it. It was a fairly enjoyable adventure even if it did take some extra concentration to stay engaged.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor No More

Doctor Who: The War Doctor - Infernal Devices

The War Doctor: Infernal Devices is a Doctor Who audio boxset containing a trio of episodes starring John Hurt as the incarnation that has come to be known as the War Doctor. All three episodes are directed by Nicholas Briggs, who also performs as the Daleks. Hurt is joined by an impressive guest cast that includes David Warner, Jacqueline Pearce, Zoe Tapper, and Tracy Wiles.

The War Doctor was introduced during the fiftieth anniversary episode known as Day of the Doctor in 2013. This incarnation renounced his name due to his disdain for what he would have to do as the Time Lords and the Daleks faced off in the Time War. The cosmos has gone insane and was on the verge of the being ripped apart as the conflict escalated. The Doctor became a warrior when he found that he could no longer stay on the sidelines. Big Finish Productions released some stories which chronicled the actions of this darker version of the Doctor.

Legion of the Lost by John Dorney starts off this little bundle in which the War Doctor finds that Time Lord casualties are being resurrected at the cost of another intelligent species. Dorney delivers a solid start here Hurt portrays the War Doctor’s outrage at this latest atrocity committed by his own people quite convincingly. I thought some of the ethical dilemmas presented here were quite intriguing.

A Thing of Guile is up next is written by Phil Mulryne. Pearce takes a more central role as Cardinal Ollistra, a Time Lady in power willing to cross all manner of boundaries to defeat the Daleks. The War Doctor is considered a prisoner of war and compelled to help the Time Lords investigate the latest Dalek stratagem. Pearce and Hurt have an amusing and fascinating banter containing threats and mutual disdain. The story also contains giant worms, and who doesn;t appreciate that? The antagonism between Ollistra and the war Doctor is quite the treat in this one.

Matt Fitton concludes this set with The Neverwhen. This is where the War Doctor gets the shock of his lives when he finds the most of infernal of devices being used in a war that has escalated to more than a fever pitch.

The writing is pretty good, although I am not exactly sure how John Hurt’s take on the Doctor is that different than his other incarnations. The War Doctor still wants to save lives. Hurt has a distinctive voice and delivers the barbs at his fellow Time Lords effectively enough. Some of the battle sequences are a little hard to follow with just audio. Big Finish does an effective job with post-productions. I don’t really dislike the War Doctor, but I am not finding him quite as dangerous as I imagined when he was first introduced. Anyway, it’s a solid enough series of adventures. The performances are great, and the battle of wits between Ollistra and the War Doctor keeps one interested.

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.