Doctor Who: Nuclear Time by Oli Smith

The Doctor, Rory, and Amy find themselves in the idyllic Appletown. The trio notice fairly that things are not quite right in this place–for one thing it is a town in the middle of nowhere, the plumbing and electricity are not hooked up, and there is something strange about the people. The Doctor gets separate from his companions and finds himself stuck living backwards through time while Amy and Rory are running for their lives. Can they reunite in time to avoid the coming disaster?

More than any of the other Doctor Who books, this one deals with the “wibbly wobbly timey whimey” that is the way time works. And as the doctor says, “Time travel, you can’t keep it straight in your head.” In some ways, the Doctor explains more concepts of the way time works than ever before but odds are you will find yourself half-interested and half-confused.

Unlike most Doctor Who stories, there are no mysterious aliens secretly manipulating things behind the scenes. Instead, we get more of an up-close look at humankind from the Doctor’s perspective.

I found Rory a bit braver than usual and Amy slightly more inept–more often than not he was pulling her to safety instead of the other way around and it is more his quick-thinking than hers that kept them alive. It was sweet to see him take charge for once and really protect his wife, but it also rang a little false for her to need as much taking care of as she did. That being said, their actual dynamic was believable and true to form. It was easy to see how much they care for each other and even nice to see a Rory and Amy versus the Doctor moment for once (I don’t mean they were literally at odds but there were small moments, as you will see).

A fun read though not my favorite of the Doctor Who books out there.

Doctor Who: Apollo 23 by Justin Richards

When the Doctor and Amy stop at a mall for some food, they are surprised to find a very real astronaut covered in very real moon dust. There is more of course, as a woman’s body appears on the moon, dressed as though she was out for an afternoon stroll in the park. Plus there are the mysterious prisoners on the moon base that shouldn’t exist yet.

When Amy and the Tardis get trapped on the moon base and the Doctor gets stuck on Earth, Amy is surrounded by very real danger. Can the Doctor get to the moon in time to save her or is it too late for his latest companion?

The book is action-packed and exciting, the science interesting and futuristic as always, but it is how well Richards captures the voice of the Doctor that really struck me in this novelization of the show. Having read a number of the books now, none have managed to get the Eleventh Doctor on paper as well. He felt real and developed here like he has not in any other.

If you love the show, this is a great book to read to fill the time until the show returns (because let’s be honest, no matter how good the books are, there is nothing like watching Matt Smith and Karen Gillan running around on screen).

Dr. Who: Night of the Humans by David Llewellyn

The humans on the Gyre, a “planet” made up of space garbage, have regressed to a primitive, illiterate, fanatical people whose religion is based on the remains of the ship that crashed centuries ago. Also living on the “planet” are the Sittuun, a group of aliens who have been sent to destroy the planet in a safe way, so that it will not hit the nearby planets upon its destruction.

When the Doctor and Amy arrive on the Gyre, they find themselves on a world made of space trash where a battle for survival has begun between the Humans and the Sittuun. To make matters worse, a comet is headed straight towards them and its collision will kill everyone on the trash planet.

The best thing the book captures about the show is its mystery and excitement. From the moment Amy and the Doctor land, it is nonstop action and adventure. The running and hurried thinking is all there in book form, something to read while waiting for the show to return.

And it isn’t only the Doctor who gets to have all the fun. We get to see Amy’s braveness and quick-thinking. The book shows why Amy makes a good companion for the Doctor–no matter how much trouble she might get herself in, she is not only capable of helping herself, but of helping the doctor as well.

The book stayed in line with the series and is greatly enjoyable. I definitely recommend it for anyone missing the show right now.

Doctor Who: Dead of Winter by James Goss

Based on the popular TV show comes a book following the adventures of the Doctor, Amy, and Rory in a remote seaside clinic filled with aristocrats, nobles, and other sick patients. When the Doctor and crew crash and are taken into the clinic for care, what they discover is something much more mysterious and sinister going on.

If you like the show and can’t wait for it to return in the fall, the books are a good way to pass the time. It isn’t as good as watching the show of course (because the actors–Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill–are so fantastic), but it does fill that need at least temporarily.

Of the various Doctor Who books, this is my least favorite, primarily because it follows the perspectives of so many characters (the doctor running the clinic, a little girl staying at the clinic, a cranky old patient, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory) when I would have much preferred to stay with Amy, Rory, and the Doctor. We spent so much time with the others that we didn’t really get a chance to delve into the minds of our favorite characters despite the first person narratives. The letters written by the little girl were particularly slow and took us out of the excitement of the moment. It didn’t capture our favorite characters and spent too much time on the non-central ones.

Even with these issues, we did get one particularly fun thing from this book: an insight into the relationship between Amy, Rory, and the Doctor. We get some particular understanding about who Rory is, what he thinks of the Doctor, how he feels for Amy, what he does and doesn’t like about their many adventures…He rarely gets this much time on the show, so it is nice to learn more about him.

There are also a number of great lines that really capture the feeling of the show. This may not be my favorite in the series, but it is still great fun.

Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code (Book 3) by Eoin Colfer

Artemis, super-villain extraordinaire, has both his mother and father back. He has one last plan before he settles into an honest life–a supercomputer compiled from stolen fairy technology. But he may have met his match. When his deal goes wrong, the cube is stolen, and one of the people he is closest to is deathly injured, everything he cares about is put at risk. In addition, his mistake might lead to the discovery and ultimate destruction of the fairy races below ground. Can Artemis, with the help of part-time/part-time ally Captain Holly Short set things straight in time?

Though I was sad to see the sidelining of one of the more common characters, it was nice to see more of Juliet who is now mostly grown up. She has a small, but satisfying story arc, which is all you can really ask for side characters.

Mulch Diggums also returns–I like how he always gets pulled into the story, no matter where he is or what he is doing. It also doesn’t feel overly coincidental, which I find many fantasy authors struggle to accomplish. He is my least favorite character (gnomes are a little too ridiculous for me) but he still always feels integral to the story, so I can appreciate him.

My favorite relationship of the series, Holly and Artemis, did not have as much development as it has in the first two books. This is unfortunate, but on the plus side, we did get a little bit of insight into her feelings for Artemis.

This book is darker and more complex than the others in terms of morality and trust, which is something I like to see in a series as it grows. Artemis himself has undergone a great deal of change over the course of the three books and I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby

Emma has never had any doubt that she will follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a dragon slayer. So when she is assigned to slay fairies, she is anything but happy. She takes it out on Curtis, the attractive but quiet boy who gets “her assignment” instead. But when Emma finds herself fighting dangerous creature that only she can see, she will need to dig into her mother’s past and find a way to put her dislike of Curtis aside. Otherwise, the entire world–and most especially the people she cares about most–will be at risk.

I have always found the idea of special schools for magically gifted kids to be a logical and particularly enjoyable facet of many fantasy series. This was something I was particularly excited to read in this book–a school where people who can see evil elemental creatures are specially trained to slay them. I was disappointed not to get much time spent in the actual school as I would have liked, but many of the other elements of the story worked so well that it wasn’t something that bothered me.

Emma is the most well developed character (which makes sense considering it is first person from her perspective). Ashby had to walk a fine line to keep Emma’s whining from being irritating, but she managed to make her a sympathetic and realistic teen. Her friends are somewhat less developed, though they have some fun quirks that make them enjoyable anyway.

I would have liked to find out why Emma tested to be a fairy slayer (especially is fairies were considered unkillable). I didn’t love the fact that ultimately there was nothing inherently about Emma (or her family history) that made her able to see the creature that no one else could find–it ultimately felt like chance and anyone could have done what she did had they been where she was when she was. It also felt like the way to fight the creature was a little out of place with a series where all creatures have kill spots that make them explode. It felt a little silly.

Despite these complaints, I really enjoyed the book and hope Ashby opts to write another adventure for Emma. (At present it seems like she’s going to lead a fairly dull life and that would be a shame.)

Everyone’s a Critic (a Drama novel) by Paul Ruditis

It’s big news for the drama geeks at Orion University when Hartley Blackstone, a major Broadway producer and the creator of a major acting school in NY, plans to audition the students for two spots in his program. one boy and one girl will win. Bryan Stark, along with his two best friends Hope and Sam, are dying to get the spot, but they have to contend with the other talent in the school as well as some personal drama of their own. But when the Blackstone gives Bryan a scathing critique of his acting skills, Bryan is forced to wonder if the one thing he has spent all his time doing–acting–was a waste of time.

Whereas The Four Dorothys story was a mystery where Bryan mostly took a backseat, this book has Bryan front and center. This fact makes the story comparatively stronger. It has less exposition and allows us to really connect to the characters more closely.

There is still the issue of Bryan’s closeted gayness, which again mostly gets skirted over, but at least he deals with some other issues. Mainly, the fact that his best friends have been in relationships with the soccer kids he doesn’t like. Particularly his former best friend Drew, who was Hope’s boyfriend for years before they suddenly, inexplicably break up.

Everyone’s a Critic was by far the superior book, but the resolution felt lacking at the end of the book. It isn’t bad and would probably connect well to people who have had their dreams shattered, but there are stronger teen novels out there.

The Four Dorothys (a Drama novel) by Paul Ruditis

Bryan Stark attends Orion Academy where all the students are talent-filled and ego-ridden. When the school puts on only one theatrical performance per year and is jam-packed with skilled kids (or at least, powerful parents), how do you make sure every kid shines? Naturally, you have multiple kids play each part. Orion is putting on the Wizard of Oz, with two Glinda’s, two Scarecrows, and most importantly, four Dorothys. But when the girls playing Dorothy start being sabotaged, Bryan has to figure out who is sabotaging the Dorothys before his friend Sam becomes the next victim.

When I first saw this book, all I could think was, Glee? My friend and I joked about how it must be the same story until I became curious enough to actually find out. Glee turned out to be superior. There is more heart behind the stories of Glee than there are here. These are sort of fun, mindless stories that are good to kill a bit of time.

Bryan is a closeted gay teen, but the story is hardly about this. In fact, he is mostly a bystander in this entire book, which is a little irritating. His gay storyline could be interesting but since it is a non-player in the book it ultimately doesn’t do much. (I’m fine with there being no drama surrounding the fact that he is gay, but he has kept this fact a secret which means there is, at least in his mind, some issues with it which go unaddressed.)

My biggest complaint is that there was no real twist. It became clear who the culprit was very early on and we were never surprised to find that the person we (and Bryan) expected was innocent. Sure, the lesson you can take from that is that some people are exactly as evil as they seem, but it doesn’t make for a great story.

Ultimately, it isn’t a book that I would recommend but I’ve read worse.

The 39 Clues: Vespers Rising (Book 11) by Rick Riordan, peter Lerangis, Gordon Korman, and Jude Watson

The mystery of the 39 clues has concluded: Amy and Dan have won the Clue Hunt in all the ways that matter and they can finally go home to take a well deserved rest. Or can they?

Taking a slightly different approach to the multi-author series, this book sets up the next leg of Amy and Dan’s story by starting way back in the past and following four different generations of Cahills to show us how things became the way they did:

  • First we start with Rick Riordan’s story about the original Cahill family, showing us how the Cahill formula was discovered, how the family shattered, and how the family’s biggest rival came to be. (It is appropriate for Riordan to write this first part, since the 39 clues series were his idea.)
  • Next we follow Madeleine, the fifth child in the Cahill family as she attempts to reunite the siblings she never met.
  • For our third segment, we skip ahead some centuries to Grace Cahill as she finds herself mixed up in the clue hunt and family rivals as a young girl.
  • Finally, we come back to the present when the siblings are drawn back into the fighting before they have had time to settle back into their lives at home. Are they ready for a rival stronger and more vicious than the other branches of the Cahill family ever were?

The major downside to getting a book split into four separate stories (even if they all play a part in the bigger picture of our story) is that we don’t get much time to really get to know the different characters involved. The characters, for the most part, come off as a bit one dimensional until we come to Grace (because we have learned so much about her already) and Amy and Dan (who we’ve been following all along). In particular, most of what we learn about the original Cahill siblings is told to us rather than shown to us, simply because there isn’t time to spend on each of them. I would not have been upset if they had instead written us three prequels that went into the stories in depth. That being said, it was still an interesting and exciting book.

The best part of the story is easily once we get back to Amy and Dan. Immediately the question of how the Cahill siblings would adjust to normal life after such crazy adventures is answered. They have a hard time doing it. Everywhere they look they see danger and assassination attempts. And to be fair, it isn’t all in their heads. They are quickly drawn into another world-hopping adventure, but this time they are fleeing for their lives.

My biggest complaint in this book is that I miss the other members of the Cahill family that we have come to know over the course of the series. Now that they have friends in all of the branches, I wanted to see those friendships utilized in one way or another. (To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of time considering they had only a quarter of a book to finish their adventure.)

I like that Amy and Dan have finally decided to become a bit more proactive and can’t wait to see where things go.

The 39 Clues: Into the Gauntlet (Book 10) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Amy and Dan have found out the truth about their branch of the Cahill family–the Madrigals–and along with this revelation is a new assignment: to reunite the branches of the family. But can Dan and Amy put all the backstabbing and murder attempts of their family behind them?

We have finally hit what is sort of the end of the story, but really just the start of something bigger. Amy and Dan are racing to the finish line in a clue hunt that has taken them around the world and back to the place where it all began and they are not sure if they can put the past behind them.

A lot happens in this book: We are surprised with the addition of another set of siblings in the Cahill clan (I wish we had met them a few books earlier to really get a sense of them and to really connect with their own struggles). Isabelle Kabra becomes crazier and more imbalanced than we have seen her thus far. All of the branches are forced together to discover the truth of their past and what is coming in their future. And a dangerous new enemy is revealed–an enemy that can only be fended off with the help of a united family.

We are left guessing until the very end who will win in the clue hunt that has been going on for centuries. Amy and Dan finally come into their own and step up in a way that they never could have done before the series began.

This book is longer than those that preceded it, but it doesn’t feel dragged out or too long. The story moves quickly and stays exciting the whole way through.

The book doesn’t shy away from the tough issues that Amy and Dan face, which is the best element of the story. Our characters (not only Dan and Amy) are complex and interesting in a way that few books manage with such a large group.

I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.