Top Ten Tuesday: Getting Cozy

This week’s prompt for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us which books are cozy reads for you. Here are a few that jumped to mind.

  1. Doctor Who Target novelizations as audiobooks. I read a metric ton of these in my teen years and I’ve still got my full run of seventh Doctor novels. Audio versions with an actor connected to the televised serial have been coming out for years now and while the range is slowly winding down, these are a great cozy listen. And there are two great podcasts about the range currently running: The Doctor Who Target Book Club and The History of Doctor Who Literature.
  2. Hamilton Duck by Arthur Getz. One of my favorite books from my earliest days as a reader. I’ve still got my well-read copy and shared it with my daughter.
  3. Star Trek novels. Back in the day, I consumed the Pocket tie-in novels for Star Trek, with one or two novels arriving each month. The release schedule has slowed in the last decade or so, as has my consumption. But I have collected a few old favorites via digital sales and used bookstores to visit again.
  4. The Sherlock Holmes canon by Arthur Conan Doyle. One of my favorite series of mysteries.
  5. Beverly Cleary books. I read and re-read these in my younger days and I’ve shared them with my niece and nephew and now my daughter. I listened to several audiobooks a few years ago and enjoyed the memories. Reading them again with my little girl has been fun.
  6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. The story of the Herdman family taking over the Christmas pageant never fails to amuse me. We saw it adapted for the stage last year and will be re-reading it together this Christmas season.
  7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. In case you haven’t picked up on it, I enjoy audiobooks. And every couple of years, a new performance of his classic story hits audio and I give it a try. Some are good, and some are great. But the story is timeless.
  8. Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories. I still love these stories of the small town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.

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Review: Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering

Tell Me Lies: A Novel

Meet Lucy, an aspiring writer who has chosen a west coast college because it offers an elite writing workshop and distance from her estranged mother. Meet Stephen, an upperclassman, with narcissistic tendencies. Together they equal one of the most dysfunctional romantic couples you will ever encounter in the pages of fiction. And yet, the two just can’t quit each other for the seven long years chronicled in Tell Me Lies.

Carola Lovering alternates chapters between Lucy and Stephen’s narration, giving the reader an interesting perspective into each character’s thoughts and justifications for their actions – and creating the feeling of wanting to shout “What is wrong with you?!?” early and often.

Each one is hiding secrets from themselves, others, and the readers, though most of them will be revealed before we get to the final page.

Lucy harbors the secret of the “Unforgivable Thing” that destroyed her relationship with her mother. Thankfully, Lovering reveals the trauma within the novel’s first quarter and doesn’t string readers along too much. The reveal is one of the first moments in which alarm bells start to ring about how maybe these two aren’t right for each other in every possible way.

As Lucy decides she can trust Stephen to be the first person who knows what happened the fateful afternoon of the “Unforgivable Thing,” Stephen is focused on her bra strap and imaging what it would be like to seduce Lucy. He even offers just enough of a response to convince that a)he was listening and b)cares to eventually seduce her and entangle the two for years to come.

But wait, there’s more. Turns out Stephen is harboring his own big secret – and it’s one that ties into Lucy’s past as well. (The two hail from the same region of the United States). I put together the pieces of what Stephen is hiding earlier than the story confirms them – and I have to say it doesn’t put Stephen in a good light. It isn’t necessarily helped by the attitude we see Stephen take toward people in his life – a lot of times, they’re just stepping stones or obstacles to his ambitions and his actions reflect as much. As the story proceeds, Stephen’s failure to understand that his actions have consequences and the time he spends raging/sulking about it becomes more and more infuriating. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: The Year I Stopped Trying by Katie Heaney

The Year I Stopped Trying

High school is going well for type-A personality Mary. She’s got the grades, the SAT scores, the parental respect.

That is, until one day, Mary wonders what would happen if she didn’t do her homework that one time or try so hard on that next test. She even starts flirting with the guy in her school who is rumored to know how to get drugs and only shows up to class occasionally. Before long, Mary has stopped doing her homework and is spending long afternoons riding around in the car with the boy, wondering when anyone might notice and what they will say.

Katie Heaney’s The Year I Stopped Trying features witty, dry narration by first-person narrator Mary in an authentic coming-of-age story. What drew me in was Mary’s voice, what kept me listening was the authenticity of her journey over the course of the novel. I read Heaney’s non-fiction work Never Have I Ever a couple of years ago and couldn’t help but wonder how much of Mary’s journey of self-discovery was similar to Heaney’s.

All-in-all, an enjoyable read/listen with a good performance by the narrator Kristen DeMarco, who captures Mary’s voice perfectly.

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Review: Star Trek: The Galactic Whirlpool by David Gerrold #SciFiMonth

The Galactic Whirlpool (Star Trek Adventures, #14)

After James Blish’s adaptation of most of the original Star Trek episodes and the first published original novel, “Spock Must Die!”, Star Trek novels entered an interesting era. Many of the books that made it to the market were one step removed from glorified fan-fiction.

But as publishing rights were shifting to Pocket Books with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, one glimmer of respectability hit shelves with David Gerrold adapting his initial story pitch for the original series for the printed page. The result was “The Galactic Whirlpool.”

I read “The Galactic Whirlpool” during my intensive Trek novel phase during my teenage years. The only thing I recalled about it was the opening featuring Kirk reflecting on the nature of his middle name and what that means about his character.

sfm-2022-bannersPicking up it close to three decades later, I was struck by how my memory had confabulated this sequence a bit and how little else I recalled about the novel as a whole.

Given that Gerrold was part of the writing team for the original series, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s got a good grasp on writing for the regular crew – and that he even brings in a few recurring characters as well, including Lt. Kevin Riley who was seen twice in season one and then vanished off-screen. (I guess if you take over the engineering section and demand ice cream for dinner, Kirk takes a dim view of things).

The Enterprise encounters a large vessel in the depths of space on a course for destruction between two interstellar phenomena. Once the crew has entered the ship, they find a group of colonists that left Earth a long time ago, divided into factions. Can Kirk and company convince them they need help before a course change is too late and their ship is destroyed? Continue reading

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Review: The Not So Nice List by Sally Kilpatrick

The Not So Nice List

Audrey and Cole share her grandmother’s home (she co-inherited it, and her brother is renting his part of the home to Cole) and while the two have always been attracted to each other, neither has acted on it. But when Audrey’s current dead-end job lands her on Santa’s “Not So Nice List,” she needs three selfless acts by Christmas Eve to avoid a year of bad luck and consequences.

Cole needs a bit of a Christmas miracle himself as he looks for the elusive contract rider that will win a big-time celebrity endorsement.

Could these two be exactly what the other needs, if only they’d be willing to take a little holiday risk? You can’t help but root for Audrey and Cole to finally get together in this sweet, warm Christmas novella.

Sally Kilpatrick’s The Not So Nice List is like a Christmas cookie right out of the oven – warm and satisfying. And like the best cookies, it’s just enough to be satisfying without being overly sugary.

All that and references to a few classic Christmas movies and specials along the way.

This novella would be perfect if adapted as a movie for the Hallmark Channel’s marathon of Christmas-centered movies. If anyone over there is listening, get on it!

Highly recommended.

In the interest of full disclosure, the author gave me an ARC copy of this novella in exchange for an honest review.

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TV Round-Up: Quantum Leap, “Stand By Ben”

breakfast-club-on-the-run-quantum-leap-s1e8One of the running threads of the original Quantum Leap was the long-standing friendship between Sam and Al and the lengths that each side would go to for the other. Early on, Al was established as a guy willing to bend or break the rules of time travel for his friend Sam – providing details on where to find Donna, helping Sam save his brother, and telling Sam he had a brother named Tom. Sam was a bit more of a stickler when it came to the rules, as witnessed in “MIA” when he chastises Al for not researching fully the reason for Sam’s leap and instead desperately working to get Sam to sabotage Beth’s new relationship.

Over the course of five seasons, we saw Sam slowly begin to realize that his mission wasn’t only to put right wrongs in the lives of people he didn’t know, but also to change his friend’s life for the better. This beautifully hits home when Sam leaps to the final moments of “MIA” as himself and asks Beth to wait for Al. The reveal is that Sam succeeds because he’s finally willing to bend the rules to help his friend. The cost is Sam never returns home.

It’s one of the reasons that the original Quantum Leap still resonates with me today.

It’s also why I’m slowly becoming frustrated with this new version of the show.

As good as the show is at giving us compelling, character-driven stories in the past, it is completely dropping the ball when it comes to the future storylines and the implications they have on Ben’s journey and his decision to start leaping through time.

This week was another example of this. Ben leaps into a teenager, who with three other teens has escaped a deprogramming camp in 1996. Ben helps them survive and turns the tables on the camp administrators. It’s all solid enough and the story hits the right emotional beats. Continue reading

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Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Want to Catch-Up On

The bookish meme Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks a reading-themed question each week. Today’s prompt is about which series you would like to start, continue, and/or finish. Here are my choices:

Series to Start:

  1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  2. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
  3. The Locked Tomb by Tasmin Muir
  4. Cassie Dewell novels by C.J. Box
  5. Star Trek: Coda trilogy

Series to Continue/Finish:

  1. Joe Pickett novels by C.J. Box
  2. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
  3. DiscWorld novels by Terry Pratchett
  4. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovich
  5. Hercule Poirot novels/short story by Agatha Christie
  6. The Sandan by Neil Gaiman

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TV Round-Up: Doctor Who, “The Power of the Doctor” #SciFiMonth

Doctor-Who-The-Power-of-the-Doctor-poster-cropped-BBCDoctor Who specials have to walk a fine line between pleasing hard-core fans (like myself) and not being so dense that the casual fan tuning becomes lost and frustrated with the viewing experience.

Like many specials designed to celebrate something – anniversary, holiday, etc, “The Power of the Doctor” also faced the climb of sending off the Jodie Whitacker era. Given how I feel that Chris Chibnall is like the Doctor (good at starts, not great at endings), my biggest concern going into the episode was that Chibnall wouldn’t be able to stick the landing – just as he hasn’t in three previous series finales.

For the most part, “The Power of the Doctor” did well enough, though even at close to ninety minutes, it felt like it needed about five more minutes. Of course, that could be the classic Whovian in me who’d gladly take as much time for the Doctor’s former companions meet to share stories time as they wanted to give me.

“The Power of the Doctor” isn’t a perfect episode, but it still leans heavily into the strengths of this era – namely, Sasha Dhawan as the Master and the give and take between the Doctor and the Master. I’ll admit that the 80’s weren’t exactly kind to the Master and the new series take on the character has been hit or miss. But what Chibnall did with the Master during this era really resonated, simply because Chibnall made the Master into a legitimate threat again. The big criticism I have of Ainley’s Master is that too many of his plans were half-baked at best – and while the Master not thinking things entirely through goes all the way back to Roger Delgado, it just felt a bit too campy many times in the JNT era. Continue reading

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TV Round-Up: Quantum Leap, Oh Ye of Little Faith

Quantum Leap - Season 1

The problem the new Quantum Leap faces is the original did one hell of a Halloween episode back in its third season. Fans who only casually watched the original know about “The Boogeyman” because Sam met Stephen King and faced off against the devil.

Topping “The Boogeyman” in terms of sheer shock value was going to be difficult to do.

Give “O Ye of Little Faith” credit for trying, even if the final result isn’t exactly as memorable or over-the-top bonkers fun as the original version.

Ben leaps into a priest, who has been summoned to perform an exorcism on an apparently demon-possessed young girl who just turned eighteen. Eerily enough, as Ben attempts to follow the script for an exorcism, he’s cut off from Addison.

As with most of the episodes of the new Quantum Leap, the stuff in the past works very well (even hitting a few, great creepy moments) while the things in the present feels like it’s being forced on the script. This week’s biggest culprit is a conversation between Addison and Jenn where we discover that Addison had never vowed to get married – until she met Ben. I’m all for character development for all the characters on this show (quick tell me one thing about Ian besides he’s good at computers), but even this one felt like it was written to get screen time for Narisa Lee and less about advancing the plot or characters in any significant way.

Plus, I think it fails the Bechdel test on just about every level. Continue reading

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TV Round-Up: Quantum Leap, “What A Disaster”

Quantum Leap - Season 1

After seeing “What a Disaster!” I can see why the producers shuffled the order of things, moving this from the pilot to the sixth episode of the season. That’s not to say “What a Disaster” is bad, so much as to say asking the audience to invest as much in Ben’s background in episode one would have been a larger ask.

Ben leaps into a John, a man facing imminent divorce from his wife, just moments before the San Francisco Earthquake in 1989. The series is doing well at having Ben cover his initial confusion upon entering a person’s life mid-drama, and this week is no exception. Ben having to cover for gaps in his knowledge of John’s wife as his wife asks for divorce works well enough, though I keep wondering why no one notices that Ben is focusing on Addison and her advice from the future.

Speaking of Addison, can I just say that I liked the handlink used here a lot more than the one we’ve seen until now? If there’s one aspect of the original pilot they can and should use again, it’s the link.

Back to our story. Turns out John is there to save the couple’s son from dying and reunite an estranged mom and son. This mission has a personal note for Ben, who once got B’s on his report card because he was tired of his mom telling him he was special and then after they got in a huge fight about it, she died. So, Ben’s carrying around a bit of guilt over that (as one would) and it all comes bubbling back.

Some of the better emotional beats of the original series came when Sam connected with the leapie due to some emotional connection. So, Ben’s connection here worked, as did his call to his mom seconds before he leaped. Continue reading

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