Book Review: A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger


AuthorBruce Holsinger
TitleA Burnable Book
Narrator: Simon Vance
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2014)
Summary/Review:

This historical novel is set in post-plague London during the reign of Richard II.  The key character in this novel is John Gower, a real life poet who Holsinger has also earning his keep by trading in information and intrigue.  The events of the novel kick off when Gower’s friend Geoffrey Chaucer (Gower and Chaucer were friends in real life too) asks Gower to find a book that has prophecies of the deaths of English kings that would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.  Gower’s investigations take him into brothels and the criminal underworld of London which Holsinger describes in all their gritty details.  Too often Holsinger tells instead of shows, so the narrative gets paused while a character explains exactly what has happened. The plot gets too complicated as loose threads are tied off too soon and new contrivances are added to keep the narrative moving.  Holsinger is good at getting the feel of medieval London and has a few good ideas, but the book never lives up to its ambition.

Recommended booksCompany of Liars by Karen Maitland, The Plague Tales by Ann Benson, and Dr. Johnson’s London by Liza Picard
Rating: **

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Music Discoveries: Tom Waits


Tom Waits is a veteran singer-songwriter whose voice is a combination of sidewalk preacher, carnival barker, beat poet, and barstool philosopher. I first heard of Waits in the 80s when he was known as the guy with the crazy, gravely voice.  But then I heard the track “Innocent When You Dream” on a compilation album and fell in love with the heartfelt beauty underneath what sounded like a drunk guy crooning at a bar.  I got the album Franks Wild Years and it remains one of my all time favorites, and I’ve checked in and out on Waits’ career over the years.  This is the first time I’ve listened to all of Waits’ catalog from beginning to most current, and let me tell you it’s not easy to listen to all that Waits’ music back-to-back-to-back, although it is a worthwhile exercise.

Tom Waits’ career can be summed up into three basic eras:

  • 1970s – Waits was a little more eccentric than his contemporaries, but listening to his early recordings and he seems to fit in with the singer-songwriters of the era. You might even imagine an alternate universe where his career followed the paths of the likes of James Taylor, Elton John, or Randy Newman.  His trademark gravely voice didn’t even make its debut until the third album, and in the seventies it was more of an homage to Louis Armstrong or Doctor John as Waits recorded jazz and blues tinged tunes.
  • 1980s – This decade marked the emergence of the iconic Waits’ style, verging between lost recordings of American and avant guarde music with unusual instrumentation and tunings.  The decade is marked by the trilogy of albums he’s most remembered for: Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), and Franks Wild Years (1987).
  • 1992 to present – While Waits’ music in this period remains experimental by the standards of contemporary popular music, and inspiration for “alternative music,”  it doesn’t vary much from the template he established in the 1980s.  Similarly, while 1990s and 2000s recordings include numerous gems and good albums overall, Waits is own worst enemy as a producer in that he allows the albums to be bloated with excess tracks that should be judiciously trimmed.  In short, don’t do what I did and listen to everything, but definitely seek out the good stuff.

Tom Waits hasn’t released anything new since 2011 or toured since 2008, but hopefully he has some songs left in him and there will be another Tom Waits era to look back on in the future.

Five Favorite Albums

  • Closing Time (1973) – definitely one of the great all-time debut albums, and the first three tracks are a strong start to any album.
  • Rain Dogs (1985) – Waits’ masterpiece and one of the great albums of the 1980s.
  • Franks Wild Years (1987) – the soundtrack to a play I’ve never seen, it remains a sentimental favorite
  • Bone Machine (1992) – Waits charges into the 1990s showing the alt-rockers how things are done with haunting lyrics and aural soundscape
  • Blood Money (2002) – these are songs from another play, but also reflect the misanthropy and pessimism of the post-Sept. 11th world under George W. Bush

Twenty-Five Favorite Songs

 

1. “Ol’ 55”

2. “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love With You”

3. “Virginia Avenue”

4. “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)”

5. “Jersey Girl”

6. “16 Shells from A Thirty-Ought-Six”

7. “In the Neighbourhood”

8. “Jockey Full of Bourbon”

9. “Hang Down Your Head”

10. “Downtown Train”

11. “Hang on St. Christopher”

12. “Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)”

13. “Yesterday is Here”

14. “Way Down in the Hole”

15. “Cold Cold Ground”

16. “Jesus Gonna Be Here”

17. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”

18. “T’ Ain’t No Sin”

19. “Hold On”

20. “House Where Nobody Lives”

21. “Misery is the River of the World”

22. “God’s Away on Business”

23. “Flowers Grave”

24. “Hoist That Rag”

25. “Chicago”

Book Review: The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White


Author: T.H. White
TitleThe Sword in the Stone
Narrator: Neville Jason
Publication Info: Naxos AudioBooks (2008), originally published in 1938

Summary/Review: For a long holiday road trip with my son, I thought he’d enjoy this introduction to Arthurian mythology.  I did it with some hesitation, as The Once and Future King was one of my favorite books as a child and I feared it may not hold up to nostalgia.  I’m pleased though that this first installment of the tetralogy is still an enjoyable, modernist spin on the story of King Arthur, filling in the story of Arthur’s childhood. Of course, I always thought the The Sword in the Stone was the best of the four parts.  One thing I didn’t know is that White actually made major changes when he incorporated The Sword in the Stone into The Once and Future King, and while I can’t really remember enough to recognize most of the changes I was surprised that Disney didn’t actually make up the duel between Merlyn and Madame Mim.  Another thing I didn’t notice is a kid was just how blatant the anachronisms are, with Meryln living backwards in time making them a running gag.  Knowing how much White loved hunting, I also noticed that he puts a lot of detail into his descriptions of hunts throughout the book, something I must have glazed over as a child.  What remains the same is that the book contains a lot of humor, adventure, animal lore, a cameo by Robin Hood (er, Robin Wood), and surreptitious pacifist social satire.  And my son, well he covered his ears a lot during the scary party, but insisted we keep listening to the story and that we move on to The Witch in the Wood next.

Recommended BooksThe Dragon Stone: A Tale of King Arthur, Merlin & Cabal by John Conlee, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
Rating: ****1/2

TV Review: Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later (2017)


Title: Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review: The cast of Wet Hot American Summer were already too old to play teenagers when they first appeared in the 2001 movie, and way too old to play even younger teenagers in the 2015 tv series.  So it makes sense to have them return for a tenth reunion set in 1991 playing something closer to their middle age selves.  At this point, if you’re invested in the Wet Hot American Summer franchise it’s because of the characters rather than any homage/parody of 80s comedies.  That being said, I have trouble keeping all the characters in mind so I was totally fooled when they splice in two new characters, Mark and Claire, and acted like they were there the entire time.  They were more deliberate in making the fact that Ben looks different in the plot, a nod that he’s now played by Adam Scott instead of the busy Bradley Cooper.  The show gets the feel of the early 1990s clothing and music, rightly recognizing that all the tropes usually associated with The Nineties hadn’t happened yet, although Paul Rudd’s Andy now has a proto-grunge look that fits the character.  The show has fun catching up on what these characters might be doing in their late twenties and fitting them into pastiches of dramedies like The Big Chill and Singles, as well as a subplot about a psychotic killer nanny (played hilariously by Alyssa Milano).  Unfortunately, this show brings back one of the worst aspects of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, the Ronald Reagan as a cartoon villain trying to destroy the camp plot, this time adding an equally bad George H.W. Bush character.  Too much of the series is centered around the Reagan/Bush absurdity that the whole series suffers as a result.  Still, WHAS fans will get some good laughs from every episode.

Related Posts:

Photopost: American Museum of Natural History


Last weekend my son & I made a whirlwind visit to my mother in New York and we stopped by to visit the American Museum of Natural History. Highlights include:

  • the 3-D movie Earthflight where it felt like birds flew threw the theater and included an exciting sequence of gannets, dolphin, and fish all interacting underwater.
  • the mind-blowing comparisons of sizes of cosmic objects in the Rose Center of Earth and Space
  • The Willamette Meteorite (my son still doesn’t believe it’s real)
  • paleontoligical remains of dinosaurs and ancient mammals of unusual size

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Related post: Photopost: American Museum of Natural History (2015)

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 14th


Best of the Left :: The other new Jim Crow (Voting Rights)

This is a repeat, but the denial of voting roots (and the question of who’s counting the votes) is one of the most serious issues in our democracy today.

Code Switch :: The Passing of “Failing” School

The story of how education “reform” and school closings is destroying communities, particularly communities of color.

Radiolab :: Father K

The story of what happens when a Palestinian American Lutheran Minister runs for office in a diverse and divided Brooklyn neighborhood.  An inspiring story with a sad ending.

Re:sound :: The Determination Show

Some great stories including one man’s successful effort to get the 27th amendment ratified in response to a bad grade at school and a professional soccer player becoming an amateur sleuth to solve a murder in Philadelphia’s homeless community.

Sidedoor :: Confronting the Past

This history of the riot and massacre that destroyed a prosperous African American neighborhood in North Tulsa, OK in 1921 with first-person stories from survivors.

This American Life :: Suitable for Children

This felt like an old-school “This American Life” episode although still reflecting on topical political issues through experiences of children.  Stories include black children in the 1980s playing with the Confederate-flag decorated car from The Dukes of Hazard and a disturbing wax museum with an unflinching look at African American history in Baltimore.

 

Album Review: The Kid by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith


Album: The Kid
ArtistKaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “A Kid” and “In the World, But Not of the World”
Thoughts: An experimental synthesizer album with music that moves from danceable to the cinematic.  There are a lot of hints and references to outside works but there’s also a feeling that it’s not going anywhere.  This album may require a few more listens, but as of now I’m not completely sold
Rating: ***

Song of the Week: “Almost Like Praying” by Lin-Manuel Miranda


“Almost Like Praying” is a benefit song by composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda to raise funds for relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.  The title of the song is a lyric from “Maria” a song in the musical West Side Story about the female lead character from Puerto Rico.  In addition to the recognition that the name Maria will never be seen the same in Puerto Rico after this disaster, the song lists the name of every town in Puerto Rico.  A team of all-star singers perform the song to a reggaeton beat.  Visit the Almost Like Praying website to get the song and/or make a donation to the Hispanic Federation. Learn more about the song in this interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda on NPR’s All Songs Considered.

 

TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2017)


Title:  Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 13
Summary/Review: The third season of the Netflix comedy series continues to be laugh out loud funny and thought-provoking.  Despite having her name in the title, at this point the show is about more than Kimmy Schmidt, but equally the stories of four major characters.  Kimmy continues to seek her place in the world attending college at Columbia University, but really wants to become a crossing guard after a test says it’s her most suitable job.  She finds a new romantic interest in Perry (Daveed Diggs) but her past with the Reverend (John Hamm) continues to haunt her.  Titus (Titus Burgess) returns from performing on a cruise ship unwilling to talk about what happened there and breaks up with Mikey (Mike Carlsen) in a ploy to win him over that backfires.  Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) continues to use her privilege for good and attempt to get the Washington Redskins to change their racist name, but hits a snag when an accident makes her fiance Russ (David Cross) more handsome causing him to become more shallow.  Lillian (Carol Kane) becomes a city councilor fighting gentrification, but ends up falling for Artie (Peter Riegert), the owner of the new high-end grocery store in the neighborhood.

There are a lot of funny plots and gags, but not everything goes well.  One of the most publicized gags of the season is Titus “Lemonading” but there seems to be no joke here other than a large, black man reenacting Beyonce’s music video.  There have been times in the past when I’ve wondered if Tina Fey is secretly Republican and that continues here.  The depiction of Columbia University students as social justice warriors who suppress free speech comes straight from Fox News and Breitbart.  Artie is presented as a compassionate millionaire bringing groceries to the poor and Lillian a loony leftist (although I do appreciate Reigert’s performance with his charm and dry humor).  On the other hand, the attempt to depict the NFL team owners as rightwing loons also misses the mark, so maybe Fey just can’t do political humor without being ridiculous and over the top.

All the same, I love these characters and their stories.  Excluding the “Lemonade” gag, Titus Burgess remains one of the funnies people on tv.  I look forward to seeing where the show goes in its next season.

Related Posts:

Book Review: The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks, Caanan White


Author: Max Brooks, Caanan White (Illustrator)
Title: The Harlem Hellfighters
Publication Info: Broadway Books, 2014
Summary/Review:

In graphic novel form, Max Brooks (curiously enough, the son of filmmaker Mel Brooks) tells the oft-overlooked story of 369th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard.  The largely African-American infantry regiment was among the first American troops to be sent to the front lines in France in 1919 during World War I, where they became known for their toughness and valor and earned their nickname “The Harlem Hellfighters” from their German opponents.  It’s an interesting story although Brooks relies on a familiar story of racial discrimination at home and the horrors of war abroad.  While the story is told from the point of view of a soldier named Mark, there isn’t much to distinguish the characters and personalize the story.  White’s illustrations seem to revel in depictions of gore that would fit in with The Walking Dead, but it’s actually difficult to distinguish the characters – black, white, French, and German – from one another.  One nice touch is that Brooks includes fragments of contemporary songs and poems to accompany scenes of the war.  It’s very cinematic, in fact, which is not surprising since Brooks originally intended to write a screenplay.  The graphic novel has it’s flaws but overall it’s a good introduction to the story of the Harlem Hellfighters.
Rating: ***

Resistance Mixtape: Indigenous Peoples’ Day


Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day so the mixtape celebrates the native people of North America and their continuing struggle against discrimination and elimination by European colonizers.

Buffy Sainte-Marie:: “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone”

Indigo Girls :: “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”

A Tribe Called Red x Prolific The Rapper :: “Black Snakes (Remix)”

Peter Gabriel :: “San Jacinto” the culture clash between Native America and present-day America

Neil Young :: “Cortez the Killer”

 

Grant-Lee Phillips :: “Buffalo Hearts”

Robbie Robertson :: “Showdown at Big Sky”

 

I’m sure there are some knowledgeable people who can add to this mixtape with some terrific music, especially by Native American artists.  If so, post them in the comments.

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 7th


What I’m listening to and what you should be listening to.

Have You Heard? :: Divided by Design: Race, Neighborhoods, Wealth and Schools

A history of racial segregation in neighborhoods and schools that is still feeding inequality to this very day.

To the Best of Our Knowledge :: What is School For?

I was worried that this would be peppered with corporate reform ideology and myths, but actually has some interesting stories on teacher burnout, multicultural studies, and the importance of the humanities.

The Truth :: Brain Chemistry

A funny/poignant audio drama about the life of a brain in a jar in the future, starring Scott Adsit of 30 Rock.

Hit Parade :: The Great War Against the Single Edition

It’s a good thing that Hit Parade is published infrequently, because I think I’m going to post every episode here.  This is the story of how record companies from the 1960s to the 2000s tried to make people by the more expensive full albums in order to get a copy of a popular song.  Deeply fascinating, with lots of Casey Kassem cameos.

99% Invisible :: The Athletic Brassiere

The hidden story of the sports bra (nee, the “Jock Bra”) and how it helped transform women in sports.

Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked :: A Friend in the Forest 

The Snap Judgment spinoff podcasts tells creepy stories for the month of October, and this contemporary ghost story from Ireland is particularly eerie.

Album Review: Harmony of Difference by Kamasi Washington


Album:Harmony of Difference
ArtistKamasi Washington
Release Date: September 29, 2017
Thoughts:

I don’t listen much to jazz, especially contemporary jazz, but a streaming music account means there’s no excuse to not try new things.  The new EP by the hot saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington brings together 6 pieces in about 30 minutes of running time.  There’s a lot of retro feeling to this music, with nods to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” 60’s Brazilian bossanova, and 70s funk fusion.  The EP culminates with the 15-minute piece “Truth” which brings back and mixes together themes from the other five pieces.  Washington’s music has a sound that would be suited to scoring films although it’s also a bit too “smooth jazz” for my taste.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Welcome To Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson


Author: T. Geronimo Johnson
TitleWelcome To Braggsville
NarratorMacLeod Andrews
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers and Blackstone Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

This novel is a social satire rooted in current events related to racism and culture wars.  The protagonist of the story is D’aron, a young white man from a rural Georgia community who escapes to study at University of California, Berkeley.  Overwhelmed by the culture shock of “Berzerkeley,”  D’aron eventually finds solace in the company of three other misfits: Louis, a Malaysian student and comic; Charlie, a large black man from Chicago who looks like a football player but is actually preppy; and Candice, a white woman from Iowa who claims to be part Native American. When D’aron lets slip in class that his hometown stages an annual Civil War reenactment, the four come up with a plan a “performative intervention” by staging the lynching of a slave and filming interviews with the townspeople responding to the intervention.  I shan’t spoil the novel, but things go horribly wrong.  Johnson is an equal-opportunity parodist, satirizing both the “backwards” white people of rural Georgia and their defense of their heritage, but also mocking the ways that academia wallows in theory that is disconnected from the reality of lived lives.  What keeps the book from being merely a big scolding is that its four main characters are well-developed, believable, and interesting people.  The latter part of the book after “the incident” is less interesting than the beginning as it gets bogged down in navel-gazing over what happened. Still it’s an interesting story and commentary on contemporary society.

Recommended booksConfederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz, We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge, and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Rating: **1/2

Album Review: The Wild by Kris Delmhorst


AlbumThe Wild
Artist: Kris Delmhorst
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: I’ve been following Delmhort’s career for years (decades, actually!) and while she’s no stranger to the ballad, her albums usually have a fair share of raucous, upbeat tunes as well.  The Wild finds her in a more contemplative mood as every track slow, emphasizing her voice and introspective lyrics, with a touch of a country twang.  It may not be up there with my favorite Delmhorst recordings, but it’s still pretty darn good.
Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: Master of None (2017)


Title: Master of None
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 10
Summary/Review:

The second season of Aziz Ansari’s sitcom/romantic comedy/social satire picks up where the previous season left off and continues with the laughs and impresses with the experimental approaches to television.  Following up on the season 1 cliffhanger where Dev went to Italy to study pasta making, the first two episodes are set in Modena and the opening episode is filmed in black & white and stylized like a classic Italian film.  These episodes introduce Francesca, a new love interest for Dev, complicated because she is engaged to someone else.  This story plays out over the course of the season culminating in the hour-long final episode “Buona Notte” which is almost like a feature film.  In between there are episodes focusing on religion, Dev’s dating life, and Dev’s unhappiness as the host of a cupcake cooking competition reality show and efforts to create something new with celebrity chef and producer Jeff.  A couple of episodes stand out, and both rely on the talents of the supporting cast and guest stars.  First, is “Thanksgiving” which starts with Dev & his friend Denise as children, and Dev attending her family’s Thanksgiving dinner.  Over the years, Denise comes out to her family and then begins bringing her dates to Thanksgiving as well.  It’s an amazing, heartwarming story and features Angela Bassett as Denise’s mother.  My favorite episode of the season is “New York, I Love You” which is built on the conceit that the incidental characters we see in tv shows and movies have fascinating lives of their own.  In 30 minutes we see a doorman named Eddie struggling with difficult tenants, a deaf woman named Maya who works in a corner store argues with her boyfriend about her unsatisfactory sex life (this segment has no sound), and Samuel, a Burundian immigrant who drives a taxi, tries to enjoy a night out clubbing with his friends.  I would watch a spinoff series about any of these characters!  Overall, Master of None is a well-acted, well-written, thoughtful, and hilarious show.

Book Review: Roll with the Punches by Amy Gettinger


Author: Amy Gettinger
TitleRoll with the Punches
Publication Info: Raucous Eucalyptus Press (2015)
Summary/Review:

I read this book as an attempt to read something I wouldn’t usually read after seeing it in a Kindle deals email and thinking “I’ve never read a romance novel based around roller derby.”  Turns out that this novel is actually about an aspiring author, Rhonda, who has discovered that her novel was stolen and published by a popular novelist and she is now being accused of plagiarism.  Also, her mother is in the hospital and she has to take care of her father who is suffering from dementia.  And there are two men in her life with whom she has romantic feelings: James, a handsome young tech geek from her writers’ group, and Dal, a former student of her fathers.  Also, Dal is Native American so there are a lot of uncomfortable Indian joke.  And there is a roller derby plot squished in there although it doesn’t seem to fit in with everything going especially since the roller derby team also doubles as another writer’s support group.  Whew!  I was curious about the mystery of who stole the manuscript so I read to the end, but ultimately was disappointed by the increasingly ludicrous situations, the two-dimensional nature of most of the supporting characters, and the unlikely way all these different things overlapped in Rhonda’s life.

Recommended booksFurther Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Rating: **

TV Review: Doctor Who (2017)


Title: Doctor Who
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 10
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

The 10th series of Doctor Who includes several landmarks.  First, it is Peter Capaldi’s third and final series as The Doctor.  I’ve grown to love his performance and wish he could stick around for one more series.  Of course, I thought that about previous Doctors too, but Capaldi has joined the ranks of my favorite Doctors of all time.  Second, this is the sixth and final series for Steven Moffat as showrunner.  Moffat has been an innovator and changed Doctor Who for the future.  He does have a habit of repeating himself in his themes and ideas, though, so it may have been better if he’d finished a little earlier.  He apparently intended to leave after series 9 but was asked to do one more series, but oh wouldn’t Hell Bent been a story to go out on.   Nevertheless, series 10 shows that Moffat had a few more good story ideas left.  Third, the series sees the return of Matt Lucas as a full-time companion Nardole, a decision that seemed odd at first, but paid off across the season. Finally, this series introduced Pearl Mackie as the new companion, Bill.  As a young, working class woman of color and a lesbian, Bill is a unique character in Doctor Who history, and Mackie shined with her humor, intelligence, and clear chemistry with Capaldi.

Moffat stated that the season was a jumping on point for new viewers and the first four episodes followed a familiar pattern for new companions: meeting the Doctor in the first episode, traveling to the future in the second episode, an historical adventure in the third episode, and the supernatural intruding into the companion’s everyday life in contemporary times in the fourth episode.  All of this is undergirded by the mystery of what The Doctor is keeping in a vault underneath the university.  The middle four episodes took a huge left turn and were more reminiscent of highly experimental style of series 9.  First there was Oxygen, one of the standout episodes of the series that is a caustic critique of capitalism, and features a grave threat to Bill and The Doctor making a sacrifice.  This is followed by three episodes linked together as “The Monks Trilogy,” although each episode features a different screenwriter and director.  Moffat introduces a major new villain in the Monks but unfortunately they’re too reminiscent of previous villains the Silence and the Headless Monks.  The trilogy starts off well with Extremis which could easily be edited to make a stand alone episode, but there are diminishing returns in the ensuing two episodes.  There are good parts to each story, although I don’t know if it would be possible to pare it down to just one or two episodes instead of three. The final four episodes feature a couple of more episodes that fit more into the theme of Bill discovering the thrills of travel in time and space, while also incorporating Michelle Gomez Missy into the Tardis team (spoiler: she’s what was hidden in the vault).  The concluding two-part story World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls is a tour-de-force that explores Missy’s efforts to try to be “good,” the return of John Simm as an earlier incarnation of the Master, and some extreme body horror in the form of the Mondasian Cybermen.  Capaldi, Gomez, Simm, and Mackie all put in a remarkable performance in a mindblowing and heartbreaking story.

The mid-season “Monks Trilogy” derail makes it hard to give the series as a whole top marks, but for the most part it’s some excellent television and a fitting finale to the Capaldi era.  Now Christmas needs to get here so we can say farewell to these characters and meet our first woman Doctor!

Below are links to my reviews of each episode from my Doctor Who sideblog on Tumblr:

  1.  The Pilot (7 of 10)
  2.  Smile (5 of 10)
  3.  Thin Ice (8 of 10)
  4.  Knock Knock (6 of 10)
  5. Oxygen (8 of 10)
  6. Extremis (8 of 10)
  7. The Pyramid at the End of the World (6 of 10)
  8. The Lie of the Land (5 of 10)
  9. The Empress of Mars (7 of 10)
  10.  Eaters of Light (8 of 10)
  11. 12. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls (8 of 10)

A note on ratings:  A score of 5 is the baseline for a decent story from end to end with 10 being an all-time classic and 0 being an utter stinker.  Basically, any story rated 8-10 is a great story, 5-7 is good and worth watching, 2-4 has its moments but can be passed, and 0-1 is only for the Doctor Who completionist.

Album Review: Cost of Living by Downtown Boys


AlbumCost of Living
Artist: Downtown Boys
Release Date: August 11, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “A Wall,” “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas), “Lips that Bite” and “Clara Rancia.”

Thoughts: The Providence-based, bilingual punk band is back with an energetic new album filled with hard riffs and pointed lyrics.  I particularly like it when the horns kick in.  This is the music for our fraught political times, filled with anger but leavened with hope.
Rating: ****