Audiobook Review: Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny

Early Morning Riser

Locking herself out of her home, new-in-town second-grade-teacher Jane calls for a locksmith. When Duncan shows up, he not only finds a quick and easy way into Jane’s house but also her life.

From their first weekend together, Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser chronicles the ups, downs, and everything in between Jane and Duncan’s relationship and the community they build in the small town of Boyne City, Michigan. Checking in and out every few years, Heiny gives us brief insights into Jane’s world and the changes (or lack thereof) within it.

The novel is a remarkably low stake one in the best possible way. While the decisions Jane faces are momentous ones, often brought about by the slings and arrows of life, there aren’t any stakes like saving all of civilization as we know it. Instead, there’s Jane’s coming to grips with just who Duncan and is what he brings to the table as a romantic partner and friend. (At one point, Jane dumps Duncan because she realizes he has little interest in getting married again).

And yet, I couldn’t help but become invested in Jane and the cast around her over the course of this novel. The episodic nature helps a great deal and Heiny rarely leaves out detail for too long when jumping from one episode to the next. An early episode finds Jane ready to marry someone else until a tragedy strikes her community and we jump forward in time. Heiny teases the reader just long enough about whether or not Jane went through the wedding without feeling like she’s withholding for the sake of withholding.

Over the course of this story, it’s easy to become invested in Jane, Duncan, and the quirky cast surrounding them. Late in the story, when Jane worries that Duncan might be getting too close to his ex-wife while attending a funeral and their high school reunion, I couldn’t help but feel angry at Duncan for his possible betrayal and hopeful that he wouldn’t or couldn’t be doing what Jane suspects of him. Again, it’s low stakes (unless you’re Jane, and then it’s a hugely emotional stake!) but by this point, I was so invested in Jane and company that I found myself caring about them as if they were real people instead of characters in a novel.

In fact, the last episode finds Jane and company in 2019 and I’ve spent a couple of days since then wondering how Jane and her crew responded to the pandemic and what impact it had on their lives.

This is the best endorsement for Early Morning Riser that I can think of — the wanting to spend more time and see what the characters are still doing today. And yet, I didn’t walk away feeling like the book was unsatisfying. It just creates such a relationship with these characters that you wouldn’t mind spending a few more pages with them.

A favorite novel I’ve read this year.

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Review: Later by Stephen King

Later

There are plenty of drawbacks to being a kid; check it out. Zits, the agony of choosing the right clothes to wear to school so you don’t get laughed at, and the mystery of girls are only three of them.

While it may be part of the Hard Case Crime series, Stephen King’s narrator Jamie keeps reminding us that it’s really a horror story.

Take Jamie at his word.

Jamie sees dead people — not like the kid in The Sixth Sense mind you. In Jamie’s case most of the people he sees know they’re dead and gradually begin to fade away. Jamie’s has this gift since he was a young boy, using it to help a woman tell her husband where to find her misplaced jewelry and talking to the spirit of a dead author her mother works with to get the details on the final book in a best-selling series that the author died before finishing.

Those things may seem a bit tame in the world of ghost stories. But, again, Jamie keeps reminding us that bad things happen Later. Continue reading

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Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR 2021

Time again for the Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly book-related meme. This week’s prompt is what do we have on our summer to-be-read list. Here are some of the books I hope to read this summer (this could change, based on my mood, how my holds list at the library goes, etc.)

  1. Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill
  2. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
  3. Doctor Who: Dalek by Robert Shearman
  4. Foundation and Empire by Issac Asimov
  5. Dune by Frank Herbert
  6. Rabbits by Terry Miles
  7. Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
  8. Billy Summers by Stephen King
  9. Malibu Rising by Taylor Reid Jenkins
  10. Star Trek: The Next Generation: Shadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose Clarke

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Reading With Shortcake

Pete the Cat and the Tip-Top Tree House (My First I Can Read)Pete the Cat and the Tip-Top Tree House by James Dean

If you notice a lot of five-star reads in the children’s book category, this is only because Shortcake loves reading as many of the selections on Kindle Unlimited as we can and she’s very generous with her ratings. In fact, she questioned me for hours after I gave a book three stars.

I tend to go in and edit the ratings later when she’s not looking.

We both love the Pete the Cat series — and this one may be one of the best we’ve read together, so far. Pete wants to invite all his friends over to hang out in his new treehouse. In order to entice them over, he adds on a wave-pool, a bowling alley, and several other large room items to make his friends happy. The sheer absurdity of Pete adding all these rooms and things to the treehouse just amused me no end.

As Pete would say, “Groovy.”

Never Let a Unicorn Wear a Tutu!Never Let a Unicorn Wear a Tutu! by Diane Alber

Shortcake loves unicorns, and she loves dancing. So, a story that promises both — much less that a unicorn might wear a tutu can only be a good thing.

Luckily, Never Let a Unicorn Wear a Tutu! is just as much fun as the title promises — and there’s even a lesson lurking in there. The illustrations are what really people this one over the top, though. Colorful an fun, they helped elevate this story to one of our new favorites and sent us down the rabbit hole to read as many other books from this series as possible.

The Cat Who Wanted To Be A Princess: A Children's Book About Manners, Empathy, and Kindness (Perfect For Princess And Cat Lovers)The Cat Who Wanted To Be A Princess: A Children’s Book About Manners, Empathy, and Kindness by Sonica Ellis

“Daddy, we have to read this one about a princess kitty cat,” Shortcake exclaimed upon seeing this cover in my Kindle Unlimited suggestions.

So, we did.

It’s a cute story about (wait for it) a cat who wants to be a princess. She asks her grandmother about how she can become one and her grandmother offers various behaviors that might help. This doesn’t end with the cat in question, Sophia, become a princess. But what she does learn is how to be kind and empathetic to your friends and neighbors. Not necessarily a terrible lesson and something I feel like I (and a lot of people in the world today) need to be reminded every once in a while.

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Review: Marvel-Verse: Venom

Marvel-Verse: Venom

I should preface this review by saying I’ve never been the biggest fan of Venom. The character is an interesting idea, but I honestly think he’s been overused and overexposed by Marvel since his creation.

So why, then, would I pick up this collection of stories focusing on Venom?

Call it an impulse check-out from my local library.

After reading this collection of five comics, I find myself wondering just who the target audience is for this collection. Is it young readers to introduce them to the character of Venom (in case you’ve just discovered comic books, I guess)? Or is it older readers to give a quick overview of Venom’s origin? I don’t necessarily think it’s anyone who has only seen the big-screen, live-action version of Venom with Tom Hardy because that storyline doesn’t include Spider-Man as part of Venom’s origin. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Time-Flight by Peter Grimwade

Doctor Who: Time-Flight: 5th Doctor Novelisation

Nostalgically, “Time-Flight” holds a special place in my heart as the first Doctor Who serial I watched one warm summer evening on San Jose’s KTEH. The story of a Concorde vanishing into pre-historical times hooked me on Doctor Who for life. And since I didn’t have much to compare it to, I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen.

It didn’t take me long to realize that “Time-Flight” wasn’t necessarily the best offering for not just the Peter Davison era but also Doctor Who as a whole. That’s probably why I skipped the Target book during my teenage years.

Forty years later, I’ve finally experienced the Target version of the story in audiobook form. And it was about as disappointing as I thought it might be forty or so years ago.

Freed of the limitations of an overstretched budget, I’d hoped that author Peter Grimwade might use the printed page to enhance and expand the story a bit. Instead, Grimwade seems to follow the Terrance Dicks of the Tom Baker era model and just translate the script to the page with a few descriptions of items, sets, and characters thrown in for good measure. The story of a Concorde being stolen down a time corridor in order to help out the Master’s latest nefarious scheme doesn’t even come close to making one lick more of sense on the printed page. It really does make one yearn for the days of Roger Delgado as the Master when the villain’s schemes felt like they had a bit more planning behind them.

The audio version of this one tries its best with Peter Davison in there giving it his all and the story full of sound effects that try their darnedest to make it all a bit more palatable. Alas, it never quite all gels and I can’t help but feel that this one was a bit of a disappointment.

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Audiobook Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library

Like most people, Nora Seed has regrets. She regrets giving up swimming because of the strain it placed on her relationship with her dad. She regrets calling off her wedding to Dan and working with him to start a country pub. She regrets quitting a band with her brother just as they were on the cusp of success due to crippling social anxiety.

After being laid off from her dead-end job in a music store, Nora decides that her life is no longer worth living. She sets about ending things, only to find herself at The Midnight Library. The library is a kind of way station between this world and the next, in which Nora is allowed to pick from a myriad of books that represent different choices she could have made during her life’s journey. The hope is that Nora will find a life in which she’s happier or one that helps her erase the heaviness of her personal book of regrets.

And so, Nora starts trying on lives. She can return to the library at any time if she starts feeling the life doesn’t live up to her expectations. Continue reading

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Review: The Last Best Story by Maggie Lehrman

The Last Best Story

Defenders of high-school journalism, Rose and Grant were inseparable — until one fateful day a few months before the end of her senior year when Rose walked away from the paper and Grant. Now, it’s the night of prom and Rose is there with someone else while Grant continues to wonder why Rose walked away from the paper and the dream of becoming a journalist. When the school is put under lockdown, it’s up to Grant and Rose to get the real story of what’s going on at the big dance out to the world.

The Last Best Story wants to a hybrid of romantic-comedy, thriller, and ripped from the headlines social commentary. Unfortunately, these elements aren’t as well-blended as they could or should have been and the entire novel comes off feeling like it’s treading water for far longer than it should have.

Part of this is how entirely clueless Grant is about his role and influence over Rose. The obvious simmering attracting between the two occasionally bubbles over in flashback, but it feels a bit like watching Who’s the Boss where it felt like every sweeps period, we’d get something that might push our leads into a romantic relationship, only to see it backed off and the status quo reset by episode’s end. It was frustrating then and it’s frustrating here — especially given that the book is trying hard to give Rose a character arc. The question of whether Rose loves journalism or loves that Grant loves journalism and it’s rubbed off on her is an intriguing one that’s brought up, but never reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Add in an almost Scooby Doo level of “I’d have got away with it if not for these darn kids” level thriller plot and you’ve got a novel that just doesn’t quite add up in the final analysis.

One of the most disappointing novels I’ve read this year.

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Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary

Andy Weir has been hailed as a new shining star in the science-fiction universe.

The Martian was a character-driven, page-turner that burned quickly by and left you wanting more. Artemis was largely forgettable (so much so that I struggled to recall if I’d read it only a year or so after it was published).

Now, Weir is back with Project Hail Mary — and the result is somewhere in between. While not quite as compellingly page-turning as The Martian, Project Hail Mary has at least lingered with me after the final pages were turned, unlike a certain sophomore novel by Weir.

Ryland Grace is a middle-school science teacher, who wakes up in a stark white room with no memory of how he got there. Grace’s memory slowly starts to return (in convenient chunks at just the right time for the story’s dramatic purposes) and he recalls that Earth is facing an extinction-level event and that he was one of the three people chosen to be sent into deep space to save himself and our planet. Grace’s two colleagues have perished, leaving him to piece together not only where he’s been, how he got there, but also what he needs to do so hopefully save the planet. And he’s also got to make the first contact with a new alien race.

Grace may not seem like the most likely or likable choice to go on a mission to save humanity. And Weir does his best to make Grace a character we can sympathize with and root for. The problem is that I never quite developed the same investment in Grace that I did in Mark in The Martian. Mark was gifted in certain areas, but never came off as smarmy or overly smug, Grace does. I kept wanting to like Grace but I never found myself rooting for him in the same way as Mark.

Which is all well and good. I don’t expect an author to write the same book over and over again. But what I do hope is the author will find a way to engage me across each of his or her novels. Weir did that with The Martian but failed to do so in his last two books. The dilemma that Grace faces is intriguing enough. It’s just there are long stretches of the book when I feel like Weir is trying too hard to prove the science behind his science-fiction and not necessarily engaging the reader.

Project Hail Mary isn’t quite the triumphant return I’d hoped Weir would have. It’s good, it’s (for the most part) readable. But it never quite got its hooks into me in the way I’d hope it would. This one may drop Weir from my list of automatic reads.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Colorful Covers

TOPTENTUESDAY

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to judge a book by its cover — and in this case, the more colorful the better!

Included are some old favorites, some new favorites, and a few I’ve discovered and shared with Shortcake.

Ch

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