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Doctor Who, Series 11 (2018 TV Series)

BBC

Status: Complete (10 episodes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The Doctor’s back–but now he’s a she. And she’s as ready to take on the universe as ever, whether it’s talking down a frightened ships crew, cobbling together advanced tech from what pieces she has on hand, or solving a mystery before everything falls apart. What’s more, she’s got a whole gang of three coming along this time; more fun that way, right?

I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews of this season of Doctor Who–everything from praising it as true Who to saying it’s completely fallen away from what Who is meant to be. And to be honest, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the series, although my general experience was mostly positive (remember, a 3.5 for me is somewhere between liked it and really liked it, okay?). First off, I think Jodie did a phenomenal job in a challenging role. She managed to find that balance of being the Doctor but also having a new, regenerated personality. I enjoyed the mix of super-quirky, inventive, and smart woman that she brings to the table. The supporting cast was kind of so-so; they were interesting and I enjoyed their stories, but I didn’t feel particularly invested in them for the most part. I enjoyed the diversity, although it did seem a little forced at times–ditto with the appealing to the common man thing they had going. As for the actual episodes, I found a pretty broad mix; some were excellent (Rosa made me cry) and others (like Arachnids in the UK) just had no appeal. Again, there seemed to be a very intentional focus on diversity and everyday people . . . which is a great thing for stories to have and I love that, it just seemed like the writers were trying a bit too hard here. Same thing with the show being Who if you follow me–the things you expect in Doctor Who were definitely present, but it was almost like they were trying too hard to incorporate them at times. Like, I get that with a new basically everything, they’ve got a lot to prove to maintain their viewership, but still. . . . One last note: this series is really short, like, surprisingly so. On the whole, I enjoyed series 11 of Doctor Who, but for fellow Whovians out there, I can’t say for sure whether you’d enjoy this or not. Fifty-fifty shot, I’d say.

Executive produced by Chris Chibnall/Written by  Malorie Blackman, Ed Hime, Pete McTighe, Vinay Patel, Joy Wilkinson, & Chris Chibnall/Directed by Jamie Childs, Mark Tonderai, Sallie Aprahamian, & Jennifer Perrott/Starring Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, & Mandip Gill/Music by Segun Akinola

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Rosemary’s Baby

rosemary's babyAuthor: Ira Levin

My rating: 4 of 5

Life is glowing with promise for young couple Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse. Guy’s just waiting for his big break to launch his acting career. Rosemary is excited by the prospect of making a home and someday soon having a baby. And the both of them are thrilled at the opportunity to move into the exclusive Bramford apartment building. Rosemary’s friend and mentor Hutch, however, isn’t so excited when he hears they are moving there, citing numerous stories of strange, dark happenings in the building. Rosemary and Guy aren’t about to be put off by some stories, though, especially not after Guy hits it off so well with the neighbors. But as time goes on, those neighbors and various occurrences begin to seem more and more off . . . especially after Rosemary becomes pregnant.

Rosemary’s Baby is something of a classic horror novel–and I’m exceedingly glad that I knew that going in, or I would have been very confused. Because at first, it reads like period-typical literary fiction: young couple settling in, starting a career, making friends, that sort of thing. It’s only as you get further into the story that the atmosphere becomes more tense and the signs that something’s very, very wrong begin to show up more and more frequently and obviously. And it’s only in the climax of the last chapter or so that you get a truly apparent horror vibe, although it’s been building for a long time before you actually get there. Rather than being some intense, jump-scare filled thriller, Levin gives us a gradual build of tension with plenty of hints that (if you know what you’re looking at) point rather clearly to occult, dark influences. I would actually recommend reading the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition prior to reading the story if you get a chance, because David Morrell does a great job of pointing out some of the concepts to be looking for and points out the way the story’s focus changes from a very outside, dispassionate observation to a very narrow, emotional view from Rosemary’s perspective as the story develops–all of which add a lot to the horror aspect. On the negative side, this was written in the 1960’s, so there’s a certain amount of period-typical racism (and kind of sexism) that’s present . . . not in a way that’s central to the story, but still. But on the whole, this was an enjoyable read that I would recommend for those who enjoy a slow-build, atmospheric sort of horror.

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My Life as Alien Monster Bait

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

It’s every kid’s dream, right? Get chosen to be in a movie, and instantly transform from all-school reject to everyone’s new best friend? When uber-klutz Wally McDoogle manages to land a role in an up-and-coming monster movie, his life certainly undergoes an extreme transformation. About the only person who doesn’t treat him differently is his best friend Opera . . . only Wally’s pretty sure he’s too cool to be seen around Opera anymore. The nerdiness may be catching, after all. But when the filming goes haywire (as it is so prone to do around him), Wally finds out just how valuable true friendship is–and how fleeting  those “friendships” based on fame.

As with the first book in this series (My Life as a Smashed Burrito with Extra Hot Sauce), My Life as Alien Monster Bait is a great Christian middle-grade story that manages to teach important lessons without being stuffy or “preachy” in the slightest. Between Wally’s escapades, the offbeat stories he writes, and the quirky first-person writing, you’ve got a story that’s absurdly funny (even to an adult, but even more so as a kid). But in the midst of the humor, you’ve got some excellent lessons on pride, true friendship, and that more challenging concept to nail down–not treating people differently just because they have more fame or money or coolness points or whatever. Myers brings us a blatantly Christian story with solid life lessons . . . that’s also immensely enjoyable and laugh-inducing. Definitely recommended.

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Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario

Author: Daniel Pinkwater

My rating: 4 of 5

Getting left with his Uncle Mel for 6 weeks over summer break wasn’t too bad–other than trying to survive solely on junk food. But then, when Uncle Mel got dragged away to Rochester for a 2-week training session for his work, Eugene got dragged along as well and found himself going mad with boredom . . . that is, until he saw a documentary movie with his uncle about a man searching Lake Ontario for a monster called the Yobgorgle. That’s when Eugene has the bright idea to get in touch with this guy, Ambrose McFwain, who (let’s face it) is rather mad but also quite interesting, and who hires Eugene as his assistant on the spot. The summer’s about to get a lot less boring and a lot more wacky.

Daniel Pinkwater is one of those underappreciated authors who can take the absolute zaniest things and make something absolutely captivating out of them. Yobgorgle is a tall tale about a kid and an inept monster hunter that gets taller the longer it goes. All told in first-person from a twelve-year-old’s point of view. And Pinkwater nails the twelve-year-old part impressively; there’s a dry, cutting observation to the way Eugene views the world, with none of the filters and social niceties that adults use in their way of expressing themselves. No, Eugene tells it like he sees it, for better or for worse. And the situations he finds himself in just keep getting more and more spectacularly strange as he goes. It’s all very funny and engaging. It’s also interesting to read this book today; it was originally published in 1979, and it’s telling. There are so many little cultural snippets that loudly proclaim that this is a story of a bygone era . . . the clothing, the emphasis on vending machines (Uncle Mel’s job is working on them), but perhaps most of all the way a twelve-year-old kid is able to just roam around Rochester, New York on his own. It’s an interesting peek into the past, although with the specifics of this book, it’s a past that never was. Still, another zany, all-ages-friendly offering from an amazing author; Yobgorgle definitely goes on my recommended list.

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My Life as a Smashed Burrito With Extra Hot Sauce

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Wally knew his summer was going downhill as soon as his dad started throwing around phrases like “great outdoors” and “think manly thoughts.” He just didn’t know how bad it was going to get until he stumbled onto the bus to “Camp Whacko” (as it was fondly nicknamed) and into the bad graces of notorious bully Gary the Gorilla. Somehow (yes, his ego tends to be his undoing), his fellow campers convince Wally to stand up to Gary in an all-out camp war–pranks in the middle of the night, traps on the trail, that sort of thing. Only, all of that doesn’t go very well with all this teaching on wisdom that Wally’s been hearing from his camp leader, and at some point he’s going to have to make a defining choice.

I discovered Bill Myers’ Wally McDoogle books back when I was still in, like, middle school. They were fabulous then, and they continue to be a joy even today. They manage to be distinctively Christian middle-grade fiction, with solid teaching (in this volume, focusing on making wise choices, choosing good friends, and even loving your enemy), while still being relatable and impossibly funny. Wally is just so utterly clumsy and has such an over-the-top sarcastic sense of humor (and yes, everything’s told from a first-person perspective, which in this story definitely works), that you can’t help but laugh. The collection of circumstances as a whole is so improbable as to be basically implausible. And yet, the attitudes Wally has, the bad choices he makes, and the hard decisions he’s faced with, are completely realistic–they’re the sort of challenges that real people are faced with on a everyday basis. Which (besides the gut-wrenching laughter) is what makes this story so great; it equips kids to face real choices and helps them think through things so that they are more ready when they’re faced with this stuff in real life. Definitely recommended.

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Danny Phantom (2004-2007 Cartoon)

Billionfold Studios with Nickelodeon

Status: Complete (3 Seasons/53 Episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Fourteen-year-old Danny Fenton’s life gets a lot more interesting when an accident in his ghost-hunting parents’ lab transforms him into a half-ghost, a halfa as the other ghosts in Amity Park soon begin calling him. The change definitely comes with some cool powers–invisibility, intangibility, and the ability to sense when other ghosts are around, to name a few. But life isn’t all cool abilities and fun; Danny’s parents have built a portal into the Ghost Zone, the place where ghosts normally stay, and now the ghosts are spilling out and causing havoc all over town. And since his folks are well meaning but not exactly the most competent hunters ever, Danny finds himself in the position of being one of the only people who can do anything about Amity Park’s ghost problem. And with the help of his two best friends, techno-geek Tucker and goth-girl Sam, he sets out to do just that . . . which would be way easier if he didn’t have to also keep up with school, dodge bullies, and keep his ghost half a secret from his parents!

Danny Phantom is one of those cartoons that I kind of wish I had discovered as a kid because I’m pretty sure I would have loved it. As it is, watching this as an adult is still pretty cool. The show has a strong Nickelodeon vibe, which is something that I unfortunately can’t solidly define; it’s just something that you know when you see it. But seriously, while falling solidly into the cartoon category, Danny Phantom manages to be engaging and fun in a way that most cartoons just miss. The comic-inspired superhero storyline is a winner to start with–complete with “pow” splash panels in some of the action scenes, which I love. The concept itself is pretty interesting, and Danny makes a good protagonist; he’s powerful and responsible for the most part, but also learns and grows as he goes and has his fair share of failings. He’s remarkably human, despite the whole half-ghost thing. He has some fabulous friends as well; Tucker and Sam absolutely make the show, Sam and her badass good sense in particular. Fair warning for parents that this show does include a certain amount of disrespect for authority and authority figures being incompetent; it’s one of the few negative comments I have about the show, honestly. Still, for all their bumbling, the Fentons do have their moments, and they kind of grew on me over the course of the story. As for the story itself, it’s fairly episodic with each episode focusing on a particular conflict–many of them with Danny fighting ghosts, but some with school, friends, and other normal teenage life issues with ghosts being a background issue. I enjoyed the recurring cast of antagonists, especially the way many of them become almost frenemies–a force to be opposed, but with plenty of punning and a certain casualness to the whole endeavor. But despite its episodic nature, there’s a broader progressive storyline that develops over the course of the show, which I looooove. Visually, again, the cartoon is pretty Nickelodeon with a distinct angular sort of style. I really like the color scheme–lots of strong greens and purples. It’s one of those strange styles that just works and fits the story remarkably well. Also, the music is fabulous and fits the story amazingly! So yeah, I would recommend Danny Phantom for older kids and teenagers as well as a fun treat for adults.

Created by Butch Hartman/Developed by Steve Marmel/Music by Guy Moon/Starring David Kaufman, Grey DeLisle, Rickey D’Shon Collins, Colleen Villard, Rob Paulsen, Kath Soucie, & Martin Mull

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Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Author: Paul Krueger

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience for language, alcohol use, and mild sexual content

All throughout her school years, Bailey Chen has been a force of nature, succeeding the first time with everything she tries. But after graduating with a fancy business degree, she finds a grating disconnect in her experiences with adult life. While trying to get a “real” job that actually utilizes her (significant) skills, Bailey settles for working at a bar–a job gotten for her by her childhood best friend, Zane, which could actually be a good thing, except for “The Fight” four years ago, since when they haven’t actually really talked. Like, at all. And the fact that he actually looks and acts like an adult now, nothing like the unkempt, goofy boy she remembers. And just to make Bailey’s life even more of a mess, while closing the bar one night, she stumbles on Zane’s secret stash of alcohol, mixes up a drink that has actual magical properties (she’s just a natural like that, remember?), and discovers a whole nasty world of monsters and alcohol-powered magic. And it’s looking more and more like her actually calling is less up-and-coming businesswoman and more magical monster-hunting bartender. Yikes!

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is a volume I probably wouldn’t have picked up necessarily on my own (although the cover is distinctly tantalizing, don’t you think?); however, it came to my attention in a Humble Bundle I purchased–the Quirk Books one, surprise there. And you know what? It manages to be surprisingly good. Yes, it’s never going to be great literature, and it’s definitely something of a niche story. But . . . it manages to bring us a quirky, fun new-adult urban fantasy that’s solidly build from start to finish. It delivers an exciting story, some surprises, a messy-cute romance, and a fascinating magic system. Seriously, I think the whole cocktails-based magic thing–and the way the author develops it, complete with extracts from a “reference book” explaining things in more detail–is fresh and engaging. Add to the cool urban fantasy aspect some relatable, interesting characters and a sometimes painfully familiar expedition into the wonderful world of adulting and yeah, you’ve got a pretty neat story. Recommended for those just venturing into the whole adulting thing themselves, as well as for fans of urban fantasy, regardless of age or life experience.

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