Doctor Who: The Forgotten, by Tony Lee

Doctor Who: The ForgottenSo I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here before (oh, right, briefly), but I like me some Doctor Who. I’m not as obsessive about it as some I know, but I’m always game to watch the new episodes or some of the older episodes that I hear are more modern in style, and I might possibly own a TARDIS coffee mug even though I don’t drink coffee. So when I found a couple of Doctor Who comic collections (this one and one other to be read later) on the shelf waiting to be cataloged, I figured I’d give them a go.

Well, actually, I almost didn’t give this one a go because I opened it up and saw Martha, my least favorite companion, and she wasn’t even written like the Martha of the television show and I was like, great, a lame companion and a lame writer? So I gave up after five pages. But then my husband, who shares my appreciation of the show, read it and told me that the writing was not, in fact, lame and that Martha was not really a major part of the story, and I was like, okay, let’s do this.

The story opens with Martha and The Doctor hanging out in a The Doctor Museum that is at first cool, and then kind of creepy when they note that no one else is around. The focus of the museum is a room containing the costumes and notable objects of the first nine Doctors, and when the Doctor suddenly loses his memory due to villainous interference, he uses the objects to remember stories of his past lives and thus remember himself or such-like. There are lots of adventures with lots of different companions, some happiness and some sadness, and of course lots of Doctors saving the day.

It’s not the greatest frame story, and the little mini-stories with the different Doctors are pretty quick and sometimes a little confusing without the context of a specific Doctor’s general escapades. However, being a primarily new-series Doctor Who watcher I appreciated the chance to find out more about all those Doctors I’ve missed and hang out again with those I haven’t seen in a while. I also really appreciated the writer’s notes at the end detailing how the project came about and how it had to change quite a bit between conception and execution, like a little commentary track for the book (how I love those!).

Recommendation: If you like Doctor Who and you want a chance to visit or revisit some past Doctors, you’ll have a fine time with this book, but I probably wouldn’t seek it out again.

Rating: 7/10

The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

The Neverending StoryOh, The Neverending Story. I watched the movie version probably several times as a short person (read: child), but it’s one of those movies that I’m incapable of remembering, so mostly what I knew going into this book was that there was a kid and a dragon thing and Atreyu and something about the kid going into the book?

At first it was kind of cool, knowing just a tiny bit about the book. I was having fun listening to basically a brand-new story, but I also had an idea of where things would go and I could look forward to dragons! I like dragons.

I also like the way Ende writes this story. I am a sucker for a frame story, which is what we’ve got here: our hero, Bastian Balthazar Bux (pronounced like “books” by the audio narrator), steals a book from a similarly alliterative bookshop owner and hides in his school’s attic to read it. Go with it. He starts reading the book, and we are treated to a story about a Childlike Empress and kid hero called Atreyu who goes off on a dangerous quest to save said Empress and also the whole of Fantastica. Frame story? Quest? You know I’m in.

Then the story gets even more interesting, with characters in Bastian’s book seeming to react to things that Bastian says, or seeming to see him via magics, and soon Bastian finds himself written right into the book he’s reading, and then finds himself writing the book, which is absolutely insane and I like it a lot.

Except… once my vague recollection of the movie had been fulfilled by the book, I was basically done, but it turns out that there’s a whole second half to the novel that got made into another movie that I didn’t see. So for those six or seven hours of audio, I was like, seriously, this book isn’t done yet? Is this book done yet? This really is a neverending story, isn’t it?

That’s entirely on me, though, and it’s not to say that the second half of the book isn’t interesting, but it basically repeats Atreyu’s quest plot of the first half with Bastian in the lead role and with more melodrama and self-absorption. From a literary standpoint, this seems really cool. From a listening-at-work standpoint, this seems really boring.

I may try this again at some future date after I have completely forgotten the story again, but in print form this time, because I feel like I missed out on a lot of cool things in the story. The audio was rough for me not just because I got bored halfway through, but because the narration and sound mixing is such that some characters are super loud and some are practically silent, and for the parts I listened to while on a road trip it was basically impossible to hear both sets without causing some sort of accident. If you’ve eyes-read this, what do you think? Is it worth another shot?

Recommendation: For lovers of quests and fairy tales.

Rating: 6/10

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

So here’s a book I was probably never going to read, because everyone and their brother was fawning over it when it came out a couple years ago and I only go for those massively loved books if they sound like something I’d read anyway (see The Night Circus). And while I have a soft spot for Holocaust books, I have somehow never gotten into other World War II books in the same way. But perhaps this will change, because this was a pretty good book!

Hotel, as I will call it because dang, long title, is about a dude who hears about a trove of unclaimed stuff left after the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Seattle during “the war years” and is like, “Hey, I know a person who left her stuff there! I’mma go looking for a specific thing that might be there, but also I’ll take some time to prove to my estranged son that I have layers and maybe also stop acting like my father while I’m at it.”

Hmm. That sounds pretty bad. But for all that I love frame stories, I really prefer the frame to be around the story, not all up in it (see The Madonnas of Leningrad), and so this outer story with the dad and the son and the dead wife was pretty meh to me.

What I really enjoyed was the past story, with Our Dude, Henry, growing up Chinese and American at the same time and dealing with all of that drama and then also dealing with having a Japanese best friend (not good for Chinese or American kids at the time) and watching how her life goes terribly and unfixably wrong. There’s so much truth and sadness to Henry’s life at a new, white school — the loss of his old friends, the rejection by his new classmates, his parents’ pride in the scholarship that has him slinging food in the cafeteria every day, his attachment to the only other person who might understand. It’s quite beautiful.

I wish the whole of the book had felt that way; there was a lot of the frame story that was less than truthful and often boringly predictable. But not offensively so, and I was so excited to get back to kid Henry’s story that it didn’t bother me terribly much.

I’m not sure I would ever have picked this book up were it not for my book club, and I’m not sure I would go recommend this book to my past self without the reward of the book club, but I am glad that I read it and I hope it opens up a whole new section of war stories for me.

Recommendation: For fans of war stories and coming-of-age stories, and also possibly people who like jazz music.

Rating: 7/10