20 Books of Summer (2020 Edition)

20-books

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting the 20 Books of Summer, 2020 Edition.

While I’m a bit late to the party, I am going to join retroactively.  Continue reading

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Review: Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

Follow MeAudrey Miller is the queen of social media, chronicling her life to millions of followers. Her carefully cultivated on-line person is finally opening doors in the real world, landing her a high-profile job at a Washington museum as the queen-bee of their social media presence.

But Audrey’s huge following and thousands of likes come with a downside — it’s left her vulnerable to an on-line admirer who is willing and ready to cross the line from fan to sinister stalker. Moving to D.C., Audrey finds herself in the orbit of her workaholic friend, Cat, and her ex-boyfriend who she keeps finding her way back into bed with.

Kathleen Barber’s Follow Me is a compulsively readable, grim reminder of just how much of our privacy we can willing give up these days in order to gain followers, likes, or comments. The first half of the book is page-turningly fascinating as we jump from chapters from Audrey, Cat, and the stalker’s perspective. There are times when the story reaches chilling heights and there are multiple suspects as to the real identity of the Audrey’s on-line stalker.

It’s once Follow Me reaches the final third and answers start to be revealed that the book goes a bit off the rails. For one thing, Audrey is so self-absorbed that it becomes harder and harder to feel sympathy for her. It also feels as if the final few pages of the novel try too hard to keep us in the dark as to who the stalker really is — and once we get the reveal, it’s not quite as satisfying as it could or should have been.

By the last third of the novel, the most interesting and honest character of Cat is relegated to the sidelines.

And yet, there is still something sinister in the warnings given here. It may make you re-examine just how much of yourself you’re posting in our new digital world.

As a summer read, this one is breezy and light. It feels a bit like the far better You, without necessarily making us root for the anti-hero stalker at its core.

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Movie Thoughts: Back to the Future, Part III, The Last Action Hero, City Slickers

Caught up on a couple of movies that I saw in theaters back upon their initial release over the past couple of days.  Some of them I’ve revisited since the theatrical screening, others I hadn’t.

Back to the Future, Part III

Back_to_the_Future_Part_IIIThe fact that the AFI Movie Club list never got around to including Back to the Future still sticks in my craw.  Back to the Future is a far more essential film than, let’s say, Dirty Dancing or Parenthood.  Nothing against either of those film, but they don’t quite entertain me in the same way that Back to the Future does.

Of course, I said the same thing after rewatching Taxi Driver last summer.  (Let’s face it, if you’re picking a movie for a rainy afternoon, it’s rarely going to be Taxi Driver).

All that brings us to Back to the Future, Part III, the final installment in the trilogy.  I’ll go ahead and say that I love Back to the Future, Part II.   The travels to three different time periods and the consequences of time travel are entertaining as all get out to me.  I know that I’m in the minority on this, but I don’t care.  I love the heck out of Part II and don’t care who knows. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Anna K by Jenny Lee

Anna K: A Love Story (Anna K, #1)Literary confession: I’ve never read Anna Karenina. And, honestly, I’m not really tempted to pick it up any time soon.

So, the thought of reading a re-telling of the story with elite, privileged teenagers standing in for Russian nobles of the day seemed like a good way of getting a taste of the story without necessarily having to commit weeks of my life to actually reading it.

Jenny Lee’s Anna K is the potato chip version of reading classic literature — tastes great in the moment, but it doesn’t have any long term nutritional value. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks by Eric Saward

Doctor Who: Revelation of the DaleksA dark, grim television story becomes even darker and grimmer on the printed page.

I’ve often felt like “Revelation of the Daleks” was Eric Saward’s attempt to one-up what Robert Holmes did the season before with “The Caves of Androzani.” Both stories are bleak at times but are visually stunning thanks to Graham Harper directing. And while Saward does his best to try and channel Holmes with witty dialogue and double-acts, he never does quite succeed in capture what made “Caves” so special.

“Revelation of the Daleks” suffers from a lot of the issues that plagued season 22 and the move to 45-minute episodes. Each story in the season suffers from long sections of the first installment keeping the Doctor and Peri from the central action unfolding in the story as characters, situations, and worlds are created. A better novel might have streamlined large sections of the Doctor and Peri walking into the trap laid by Davros, but instead, Saward follows the basic outline of the script and makes us take every step with them. Continue reading

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Movie Thoughts: Suspicion

Suspicion_(1941_poster)How can a movie as good as this one be so utterly undone by such a discordant ending?

Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion is an enjoyable, engaging movie until the last five minutes when studio interference makes it go completely off the rails.   According to the stories, RKO felt audiences wouldn’t accept that Cary Grant’s character was a murderer and instead of following the original ending of the novel upon which the movie is based, gave us a happy ending of sorts.  Or at least a half-hearted ending wherein Grant’s Johnnie doesn’t try to kill Lina, but instead saves her from hurtling out of the car due as they race along some cliffs.

Never mind that the movie has spent the previous ninety or so minutes setting up so that we, the audience, will doubt Johnnie’s word on everything, undermining his every good intention by revealing he’s a liar and hinting that he’s eliminated people in the past to get out of debt or for some kind of financial gain.  The film even shows us how he could and probably did off his old friend, Beaky, who has a severe allergic reaction if he drinks too much hard liquor.  Continue reading

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Review: Oona Out of Order

Oona Out of OrderTime-travel isn’t a new trope in fiction, but Oona Out of Order‘s take on how time travel could work is one of the more interesting storytelling devices I’ve come across in time.

Each year on her birthday (which happens to be January 1), Oona Lockhart leaps forward or backward in time. Externally, she’s whatever age she would be in the year she’s arrived, but internally, she’s only aged one year. Each time she leaps (I couldn’t help but have visions of Quantum Leap while reading this novel), Oona equips herself with knowledge for the year, a secret binder containing information on investments that can be made to support her independently wealthy lifestyle, and a letter from her previous self to help get her up to speed on where she is in time and her various relationships.

Like Quantum Leap, Oona has her own version of Al — in this case, it’s her mother and her mysterious assistant Kenzi, both of whom are there to try and help her transition from one year to the next. Continue reading

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Movie Thoughts: Gidget

gidgetI’ve never been a big fan of the ending of Grease.

It’s not that the songs aren’t catchy to close the show.  It’s just the message that the musical sends to teenage girls is one I can’t quite behind.  Basically, it’s do whatever it takes, even if that means changing your entire personality to get the boy.

Watching Gidget, I couldn’t help but wonder if Grease’s borrowing Sandra Dee’s name for its title character wasn’t some kind of homage or shout-out to the actress and her role as Gidget.  Certainly, the way Gidget is portrayed here makes the Rizzo’s “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” take on a different level of meaning.

Made in 1959, Gidget kicked off the beach movie era and may have also ushered in the era of teenage sex comedies.  While Gidget isn’t quite as ribald as Porkies or the American Pie series, the film isn’t exactly “pure as the driven snow” either.  Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

It Sounded Better in My HeadEighteen-year-old Natalie’s life is in a bit of turmoil. Waiting on her final exam scores that will determine her future collegiate and possibly professional choices, her parents pick Christmas Day to inform her they’re divorcing. Meanwhile, her best friends Zach and Lucy are dating and Natalie finds herself suddenly attracted to Zach’s “bad boy” older brother, Alex.

Natalie suffers from self-esteem issues from severe acne that has left scars — both physical and emotional.

But as she continues to be drawn to Alex, could it be that he’s drawn to her as well?

Nina Kenwood’s It Sounded Better in My Head is a refreshing entry in the young adult genre. As Natalie tries to come to terms with the vast changes taking place in her life, the first-person narration is always authentic. Natatlie’s confusion and concerns at this crossroads in her life ring true on each page (or in my case, in each minute of the audiobook). As Natalie struggles with her feelings about Alex and her changing world, I found myself rooting for her. And not necessarily for a perfect ending to everything, but one that rings true and works for Natalie.

It Sounded Better in My Head doesn’t find an insta-fix for all of Natalie’s concerns by the final pages. But it find a nice conclusion to the journey she takes over the course of this book. And while I was completely satisfied with where Natalie’s story ends in this novel, I wouldn’t be opposed to future books checking in on her and giving us a bit more of her journey.

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Movie Thoughts: Tank

tankposterI’m not sure how Tank got on my radar years ago — was it the preview on the front of multiple VHS tapes our family rented, the box at the video store, or someone else?  All I know is the selling point of a guy who owns his own Sherman tank busting his kid our jail sounded like a can’t miss prospect.

My parents eventually allowed me to see the movie — or at least some of it.  I’m fairly certain, though I can’t be sure, that family viewing night probably ended the one time James Garner’s Zach Carey dropped an f-bomb about the apple cobbler served in the base mess hall.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first — the level of swearing in this movie is pretty high.  In addition to the f-bomb detailed above, the movie also has both Garner and co-star Shirley Jones using the word “a*****e” (I can only imagine how their use of colorful metaphors clashed with the persona each actor had crafted during their tenures on television shows).

Tank is also advertised as a comedy, even though it’s not necessarily as hilarious as the trailer or the soundtrack would want you to believe.

Garner stars as Army Sargeant Major Zach Carey, a soldier who does things by the book and is looking forward to retiring in two years and setting sail on a boat he wants to purchase.  He owns a restored Sherman tank that he moves from assignment to assignment with the family. Continue reading

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