Audiobook Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (James Bond, #11)

While reading On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I found myself wondering if Ian Fleming had ever been married and what his relationship with his spouse was like.

The question arose early in the story when the father of Tracey (the supposed love of Bond’s life) is having a conversation with Bond about the pursuit of Tracey’s mother. When the comment that some women just want to be raped came up (not for the first time in the Bond series, mind you), I couldn’t help but wonder about Fleming and his wife. Living in the world of easy researching, I quickly found out that the romance and relationship of Fleming and his wife was a volatile as I expected based on some of the comments made by various male characters in his novels.

And yet, interestingly enough, it’s never Bond who makes such statements. If Bond is intended as some type of Mary Sue for Fleming, it’s interesting to note that while he enjoys the company of the ladies, he doesn’t necessarily support forcing his interest on them. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Bond is exactly a knight in shining armor — though Fleming would have you think he is. Bond is a man of opinions and principles. While he isn’t agreeing that some women just need to be sexually assaulted, he is quick to agree that what the depressed Tracey needs is some good loving — and he’s only too happy to provide that interest for her.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feels like Fleming is trying to do some character building with Bond, though whether or not it’s a success depends on the reader. Some of the more recent Bond movies have suggested that Bond is a relic of different era and it feels like Fleming is saying that in this novel. Bond is dismissive of certain trends that younger men seem to be showing throughout the novel and clearly believes that his old-fashioned ways are the way to a woman’s heart –or at the very least her bedroom. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner

Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True EventsIt’s been close to two decades since Star Trek: The Next Generation left the airwaves, so I’ve started to expect the “behind the scenes” confessional books from the cast to start hitting the shelves.

The closest we’ve got so far is Fan Fiction by the guy who brought Data to life, Brent Spiner. Billed as a story inspired by true events, I have to admit I spent more time trying to figure out which bits were taken from reality and which bits were taken from Spiner’s imagination than I did paying attention to the story.

Set at the height of Next Generation‘s popularity, Fan Fiction finds Spiner getting increasingly disturbing letters and mailings from an obsessive fan who only identities herself as Lal, the created daughter of his character on the show who expired at the end of her episode. Justifiably freaked out by these mailings and the missives of another female fan who is convinced she’s carrying on a steamy phone affair with the actor, Spiner turns to first to the L.A. PD’s department of obsessives and then the FBI for help.

It’s at the FBI that he meets agent Cindy Jones and her twin sister bodyguard Candy Jones. Spiner is immediately attracted to both and begins a romantic entanglement with Candy while pining for Cindy. It’s at this point, that I began to question just how much of this tale was from Spiner’s imagination and how much was from reality. I feel certain he got some interesting fan letters along the way as he played Data. But whether or not he met twin sisters who were both attracted to him — seems a bit far-fetched to this reader.

For a good bit of the story, I felt like Spiner was trying to do something clever with the twin sisters who never appear in the same room together — and I will give him credit that he does try a bit. It just never quite goes anywhere satisfying.

Indeed, the entire novel feels as if it wants to be more than it is. The noir aspect of the fem-Fatale and the threat to our hero feels well done and certain Spiner shares a love of older, lesser-known films over the course of the novel. But the ending doesn’t quite bring all the threads together in the most satisfying way possible and left me feeling a bit empty.

Listening to this one as an audiobook may add an extra layer of enjoyment for you if you’re a fan of TNG. Spiner gathers together his castmates to voice themselves in the novel. I do wonder how much of Spiner’s portrayal of his cast members is real and how much is tongue-in-cheek, but it certainly feels like everyone is having a good time here.

I wanted this one to be a bit more satisfying than it was. I wouldn’t say I regret reading it, but this one didn’t quite come together in the end.

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Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation: Shadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Shadows Have Offended

Tie-in fiction was a staple of my reading life for much of my teens and early twenties. I eagerly picked up each new installment as it hit the shelves and would quickly consume them over the course of a few afternoons and evenings.

But then, in the late ’90’s, Star Trek fiction began to become a bit more insular. It started wit the annual (generally summer-released) cross-over events, then it continued with advancing the story and characters beyond the finales of DS9 and Voyager. Slowly, Trek fiction demanded (at least it seemed to this reader) that you have read a half-dozen or so novels leading up to the current one and be aware of the various new directions the characters were going. Alas, I started to get behind on my Trek reading because it felt too much I was missing details and was so far behind that I’d never catch up.

Which is why Cassandra Rose Clarke’s Shadows Have Offended is such a welcome, breath of fresh air to the Star Trek fiction universe – a standalone story set during the seventh season of TNG and focused on Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher. Like many of the most memorable Trek novels of my earlier days, this one felt like an episode of the series, only without the constraints of a television budget.

The Enterprise is “volunteered” by Luxwana Troi to ferry guests for an upcoming Betaziod ceremony across the quadrant, much to the chagrin of Captain Picard. While doing this, a research station in a nearby sector suffers a tragedy. Picard sends an away team of Riker, Data, Crusher, and several other original characters to investigate while the ship continues its duties on Betazed.

The biggest compliment I can give this novel is that Clarke really knows the ins and outs of these characters. It’s easy to hear the actors saying the lines she gives these iconic characters. But she also takes a page from J.M. Dillard and other Trek writers and introduces her own creations into the canon. The members of the away team with Riker and Crusher are all well-drawn and interesting enough to warrant returning in a future offering should Clarke decide to visit the Trek universe again.

Shadows Have Offended won’t be mistaken for a great piece of literature. But, it’s a quietly, comforting novel that reminded me of the days when I was immersed in Trek fiction. I hope Clarke has another novel or two set in the TNG universe in her. This one is a lot of fun and every bit as entertaining as I’d hoped it would be.

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Audiobook Review: Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters

Satisfaction Guaranteed

In a family full of dreamers, Cade Elgin is the one with her feet firmly planted on the ground. She’s spent years as her parents’ accountant and helped their art gallery survive and flourish. It doesn’t leave much time for any other considerations in life, including in the romance area. It probably doesn’t help that one of Cade’s first romances was overly critical of her, leaving her full of self-doubt.

Selena Elgan is also full of self-doubt. A promising art student, seduced by her professor, Selena gave up on art when that relationship crumbled, even going so far as burning all her paintings. Working in Cade’s aunt’s sex-toy shop, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Selena has decided to swear off sex and romance until she can prove to herself that she’s an adult.

When the aunt dies, Selena and Cade are left co-ownership of Satisfaction Guaranteed and given a month to try and get it above water again. But apparently, the aunt had other intentions beyond making these two business partners — she saw that Selena and Cade needed each other and could be exactly what each other needed.

With the unique sex-toy store setting and quirky, believable characters, Satisfaction Guaranteed is an enjoyable romantic comedy that hits all the right notes. Of course, there is a lot of early denying the obvious attraction these two feel for each other and the road to love never does run smooth. But all of those speed bumps feel entirely earned by Karelia Stetz-Walters over the course of the story. Both Cade and Selena are flawed characters who can’t get out of their own way at times — which makes you root for them just a bit more as the story unfolds.

The audio version of this one was light, fun and wonderfully entertaining.

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Review: Falling by T.J. Newman

Falling

T.J. Newman’s Falling created a buzz in the publishing world, landing her a big-league publishing contract and multiple studios looking to adapt the novel for the silver screen. Newman’s background of working in a bookstore and then as a flight attendant made for a potent combination and I have nothing but respect for her tenacity in getting his novel published.

I just wish I’d loved it as much as many of the authors who provided a cover blurb for the novel did.

Pilot Bill Hoffman takes on a last-minute assignment to pilot one-hundred-and-forty-three souls from the West Coast to the East Coast. This move has created tension at homes, where Bill promised his son he’d be there for a critical baseball game. But little does Bill know that will be the least of his worries by the end of the day.

Seems that a group of terrorists has kidnapped Bill’s family and is holding them hostage. Bill now has a choice — sacrifice his family or the souls aboard his plane. And if he tries to tell anyone or call for help, his family pays the price.

The idea of a good man being put into an impossible situation and required to make a choice isn’t necessarily a new one. And for the first third of Falling it feels like Newman might be trying to explore this dilemma a bit. However, the longer the situation goes on and the more players she puts on the field, the less interesting the dilemma and the story become. By the end of this one, I was reading mostly to see if my guesses for what happens next would come true and less because I had any investment in the story or characters.

And that may be the biggest drawback to Falling — the lack of any characters to invest in. Each character feels more like a cliche than an actual person. And while I can see what the story is trying to do with the motivation of the terrorists (which takes far too long to come to light), I’m not necessarily sure I walked away feeling like the characters or this reader has necessarily learned anything.

Honestly, I’m not sure what all the buzz is about. This one has potential, but it never quite lived up to it.

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Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alex E. Harrow

A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables, #1)New takes on classic fairy-tales are nothing new.

So for Alex E. Harrow’s new spin on Sleeping Beauty in A Spindle Splintered to feel like it’s exploring an entirely unique take on the classic fairy-tale makes it something special.

Zinnia is approaching her twenty-first birthday and the end of her life. A rare condition that causes protein build-up in her body and rarely sees people live past twenty-one has loomed large over her life for as long as she can recall. So, when her best friend throws her the best birthday party ever for someone whose time is rapidly closing, Zinnia finds herself transported inside her favorite fairy-tale.

Harrow sells this one as Sleeping Beauty meets Into the Spider-Verse and she’s not wrong. But that elevator pitch doesn’t really indicate just how subversive and entertaining this take on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty really is. A great deal of the enjoyment stems from Zinnia’s first-person narration, which is equal parts jaded, cynical, and optimistic. This is a refreshingly new take on the material and one that was a pleasure to read.

In the interest of full disclose, I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall

The Delaney family history is intricately tied to the world of tennis. Stan and Joy meet and fell in love playing tennis and ran a successful and prestigious Australian tennis academy for years. Each of their four children played the game, with varying levels of success.

Now grown and having taken a step back from the world of tennis, the Delaneys world is shaken up when a mysterious woman shows up on Stan and Joy’s doorstep and is taken in, and then months later, Joy vanishes, leaving her cell phone behind. Suspicion falls on Stan, who isn’t forthcoming with answers. Of course, neither are the Delaney children who each harbor their own secrets and are firmly divided on whether or not Stan did something nefarious to their mother.

And yet, despite all this swirling of potential family drama, Liane Moriarty’s The Apples Never Fall falls into the same trap as many of her other offerings — it simply overstays its welcome. The central mysteries (who is the girl, where is Joy?) propel the first third to half of the novel, as do the character-building of the various children and their secrets. But its once we get to the fateful Father’s Day (which is heavily foreshadowed to the point they might as well put flashing neon signs saying, “This is important!” above passages about it), that things began to derail a bit.

Part of this could be that the group of siblings tied to a sport and having daddy issues was explored already this year in Malibu Rising (and probably better done there, to be honest). Part of it could be that Moriarty’s books all seem to tread water in the middle third, not really dolling out new information so much as presenting things we already know again, just from another character’s take on it. I’m all for giving us character insights by showing us how various characters react to the same circumstances. It’s just that the insights should feel like insights rather than attempts to pad the overall page count.

Maybe I am just not cut out for the domestic thriller. Maybe I have different expectations of the central mystery in a novel that advertises itself as a mystery.

Or maybe I should just consider this the final confirmation that while Moriarty can create a hell of a set-up that taking the journey of reading her novels fully isn’t necessarily for this reader.

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Review: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

In the Wild LightWhen Cash’s best friend Delaney discovers a new fungus that could help treat multiple diseases, she becomes the toast of the world. Receiving multiple offers to pursue her educational aspirations outside of their small East Tennessee town, Delaney makes a bargain with a prestigious private school for her and Cash to be a package deal.

The only thing holding Cash back is his dying Pawpaw. Pawpaw eventually convinces Cash to go and a whole new world opens up to him, including his discovery that he might be a poet (and not know it).

A new novel from Jeff Zentner is something to look forward to and In the Wild Light is no exception to the type of authentic, character-driven young-adult novels he’s written before. However, I have to admit that somehow In the Wild Light didn’t quite hit it out of the park in the ways some of his other books did.

It could be that part of it is because this novel feels a bit weightier than some of his other books. Cash’s struggle with his own self-worth and depression is well explored, though it does make for difficult reading in some passages — especially late in the novel as it feels Cash just can’t quite catch a break. And yet, in all the darkness, Zentner offers up a commentary on how the arts can help and their value. Cash’s discovery of poetry and his talent for writing it is one of the great threads in this novel and seeing Cash explore that part of himself is one of the best parts of this book.

>In the Wild Light includes some Easter eggs to previous works from Zentner. I’m sure I saw many of them but missed a few more along the way, but it’s that extra bit of world-building that was appreciated by this reader.

In the Wild Light is a great read. It has some beautifully realized passages that I had to just re-read to appreciate the beauty of the language. But, it could be that Zentner has set too high a bar in his previous works that no new book could quite exceed. This one comes close but just feels a bit off in the final analysis. But that still makes it one of the shining highlights of the young-adult genre and a book that’s definitely worth your time and attention.

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Audiobook Review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

The GirlfriendThe Girlfriend by Michelle Frances
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Michelle Frances’ The Girlfriend‘s cover blurb had intrigued me enough to put it on my Audible wish list. So, when it was included in the Audible plus program, I figured I had nothing to lose except a few hours listening to it.

When Daniel falls for his real estate agent, Cherry, his mother, Laura can’t wait to meet her. And while their first meeting is cordial, both sides believe the other has an agenda for Daniel and his future. And so, begins the long, slow burn between Cherry and Laura.

The Girlfriend hints at something nefarious happening early in the novel before jumping back and forth in time to catch readers up on what’s happened and why. The problem quickly becomes that it’s difficult to sympathize with any of the characters over the course of the story. Every one has something to hide and it feels like Daniel becomes a pawn in some odd game between Cherry and Laura. And yet, I was intrigued enough to want to know the answers, even if my own guesses proved far more interesting to me than what we actually get here.

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TV Round-Up: LaBrea, “Pilot”

NUP_193928_2191-H-2021Early in the first episode of NBC’s La Brea, a character turns to another and notes that it feels like they’re living an episode of Lost.

Which is all well and good, if you’re doing something that feels fresh and original like Lost did when it debuted all those years ago. Alas, too many shows since Lost have come and gone by attempting to capture lightning in a bottle again by doubling down on big mysteries that promise answers that will be as mind-boggling as those we got on Lost.

Part of what made Lost work was that it allowed us to invest in the characters on the island. Even in the pilot, there was enough time to at least give us something to grasp onto about each character beyond the superficial.

In its pilot episode, La Brea hasn’t yet given me anything concrete about these characters that makes me want to invest in them. We have the estranged husband and wife, Gavin and Eve, and their two teenage kids. They’re separated but Eve is still wearing her wedding and engagement ring on a necklace. Meanwhile, Gavin has headaches and sees visions of something that he can’t quite identify yet. Those visions drove him out of the Air Force where he did, um, something.

Eve carries a massive amount of guilt over not being their for her kids — especially the daughter who lost a limb in a car accident because Eve couldn’t or wouldn’t get away from work.

One morning, while taking the kids to school, a massive sinkhole opens up in downtown Los Angeles. Eve and the son, Josh, are sucked into the sinkhole while the daughter, Izzy, isn’t. Turns out there is some type of tear (think Doctor Who’s tear in space and time from Matt Smith’s first season) and somehow Josh and Eve end up in a prehistoric time, complete with no cell service and hostile animals.

La Brea - Season 1

Meanwhile, Gavin sees birds flying out of the sinkhole that match his visions and now he’s seeing his wife. Is he somehow connected to them and will the governmental agents, who are covering up the rip in the space time continuum at the bottom of the sink hold up, believe him?

The pilot throws a lot of characters at us, fast and furious. We have a doctor/survivalist and his daughter, a guy who wants to commit suicide, and the wacky comic relief guy who has downloaded music to his phone and has working air pods. The pilot builds in a lot of mysteries and threads but none of them particularly seized my imagination in quite the same way a polar bear on a seemingly tropical island.

La Brea also suffers from some effects that make your basic SyFy series great by comparison and some rather dull direction. Again, comparisons to Lost, which had its pilot directed by J.J Abrams (back before he started polarizing fan bases), don’t help.

After a single episode and an extended preview of what’s to come, I’m not sure I necessarily will be coming back for more. I’m already behind on so many other things I want to or feel like I should be watching (looking back, I should have watched the first episode of Foundation instead) that I’m not sure I can or want to give this show any more bandwidth.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes Eve does lose the wedding ring necklace and its dug up by her husband near the exact spot she lost it. So, there is apparently some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff going on here. Except, Doctor Who has already done it and done it better…

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