Review: Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson

Run Rose Run

Whenever I think of people I’m proud to say hail from my home state, Dolly Parton is one of the first people that comes to mind. Her program to ensure that every child in our state gets a free book once a month from birth to age five led to us referring to her as “Aunt Dolly” when each new book showed up for the first five years of my daughter’s life.*

*On a related note, going to the mailbox without the hope that a new book might show up just isn’t nearly as much fun.

So, when I heard that Ms. Parton was publishing a fictional novel, part of me was excited to see what kind of story “Aunt Dolly” might tell. My hopes for the novel were tempered when I heard that she was co-authoring the book with best-selling machine James Patterson.

But I still picked up Run Rose Run with a bit of optimism and hope.

After finishing the book, I’ve come away with a couple of thoughts. One is that the producers of Nashville should have put Dolly on the payroll to write for that show. The other is that Ms. Parton and Mr. Patterson are not two great tastes that taste great together. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: The Enemy by Sarah Adams

The Enemy (It Happened in Charleston, #2)re

June and Ryan have been rivals since high school, each trying to one-up the other in a never-ending series of pranks and gotchas. But twelve years have passed since that almost-kiss at graduation and both parties are looking forward to seeing each other as part of the wedding party for their best friend’s wedding.

June wants to rub it in Ryan’s face that she’s part-owner of a successful donut shop in Charleston while Ryan wants to see if the embers that have simmered for June all these years might just combust into something more.

And so begins Sarah Adams’ The Enemy.

What unfolds over the next several hours of this audiobook is alternating passages from June and Ryan’s points of view about driving each other crazy and maybe trying to admit there is more to this relationship than just being rivals. Early on, June comes across as a bit harsh and rough around the edges, but Adams wisely fills in the backstory of what’s led June to this point and her “one date” rule for all men. Ryan, it turns out, is almost too good to be true and if there’s one flaw in this story it’s that we never get any major or minor negative points for Ryan.

Adams knows how to simmer the ever-growing romance between these two, all while keeping the story pretty PG-13 along the way. There’s lots of kissing, pining, and description of Ryan’s abs and arms, but that’s where it ends. Adams wisely leaves some things up to the reader’s imagination. She also doesn’t have these two rush into things, allowing the embers to smolder over the course of the novel. She also manages to put in a few realistic speed bumps to the relationship that are completely grounded in her characters.

All in all, this one is a fun, diverting story that is probably different from my usual reading choices. But it was a nice break from murder, mayhem, spaceships, etc. and it kept my interest for the entire run time.

The audiobook features Connie Shabshab bringing June’s chapters to life and Lee Samuels bringing Ryan’s chapters to life. Both readers give an added layer to their characters, as well as create unique voices for the various other players in June and Ryan’s lives.

If you’re looking for a fun, slow-burn romantic read, The Enemy could be exactly what you’re looking for.

I received a digital audio ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Gideon Green in Black and White by Katie Henry

Gideon Green in Black and White

Before the lockdown for Covid-19 hit a couple of years ago, I went to the library and checked out a bunch of books that I thought might be interesting. Included in that pile was Katie Henry’s Heretics Anonymous. I was completely hooked on the story and quickly reserved her next novel, only to be equally enthralled by it.

And so it was that Katie Henry went onto the list of authors who I will read anything they publish.

With her fourth novel, Gideon Green in Black and White, Henry has hit a new high. Sixteen-year-old Gideon Green is a retired private detective, content to stay in his room watching noir films on his TV and occasionally coming out to go to school and interact with his dad. When his old friend, Lily, shows up at this door asking him to come out of retirement, Gideon is reluctantly pulled into an investigation that is bigger than either he or Lily imagined and that just might be a pivotal point for him. Continue reading

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Top Ten Tuesday: One Word Reviews

Time for a little literary meme-ing with Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl). This week’s prompt is to write a one-word review for the last ten books you’ve read. I’ve decided to do two lists this week: One for the books I’ve read and another for books I’ve read to/with my daughter.

Enjoy!

Books I’ve Read

  1. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel — Compelling
  2. Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie — Underrated
  3. If You Tell By Gregg Olsen — Haunting
  4. The Bright Side Running Club by Josie Lloyd — Moving
  5. Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen by Terrance Dicks — OK
  6. Daughter by Kate McLaughlin — Decent
  7. The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward — Memorable
  8. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie — Intriguing
  9. The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi — Light
  10. Seasonal Work by Laura Lippman — Great

Books I’ve Read To/With Shortcake

  1. The Moose Who Loved Noodles by Rachel Dutton — Silly
  2. A Frog Ate My Sandwich by Christine Durkin — Meh.
  3. My Dog May Be A Genius by Jack Prelutksy — Great
  4. It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny by Marilyn Sadler — Fun
  5. We Are Growing by Laurie Keller — OK
  6. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein — Classic
  7. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell — Classic
  8. Big Nate : In A Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce — Funny
  9. Baloney and Friends: Dream Big by Greg Pizzoli — Fun
  10. The Biggest Snowman Contest by V. Moua — Silly

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Audiobook Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility

At multiple points, while listening to Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, I keep asking myself if she’s a Star Trek fan. I ask this because allusions to Star Trek: Voyager were prominent in Staton Eleven and some of the themes and broad strokes of Sea of Tranquility echo the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “All Good Things.”

Or maybe it’s just that I’m such a Trek fan that I’m finding connections where none were necessarily intended.

Whatever it may be, those thoughts didn’t in any way diminish my enjoyment of Sea of Tranquility.. If anything, it enhanced it a bit.

Like Station Eleven, Tranquility is a literary science-fiction slow burn as Mandel introduces multiple characters across multiple time periods and slyly slips in details that will pay dividends as layers of this literary onion are slowly peeled away. Mandel gives us a time-travel story less interested in the mechanics of traveling through time but instead looking at the character impacts that time travel and paradoxes create upon various characters. A dense crowd of characters including the time traveler, a musician, and an author on a book tour inhabit these pages, each of them given a moment to shine. I won’t give away too many of the details here because that might ruin some of the well-earned surprises that Mandel sets up over the course of the story. Just know that if things start slow, there’s a reason and that your patience will be rewarded.

Mandel’s story of hope and optimism in the wake of dark days or overwhelming real-world circumstances is the kind of a breath of fresh air that I need literarily. The sense of human connection that develops over the course of this story was utterly compelling and delightful. I know that Station Eleven was adapted for the screen by HBO — and I couldn’t help but wonder if this one might also be developed for the screen as well. Given the nature of the story and its time-travel implications, I’m not sure it could or would work as effectively.

Give this one a chance and just let it wash over you. I found it compelling, entertaining, and enthralling.

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Review: Daughter by Kate McLaughlin

Daughter

Drawing inspiration from Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, Kate McLaughlin asks the question of what would it be like to be the teenage daughter of a notorious serial killer.

As Daughter begins, Scarlett has never known her father and her mother isn’t too keen to give her any details. As Scarlett balks at what she sees as her mother’s overly restrictive rules, she worries about the things many teenagers worry about — school, relationships, etc. Until one day when the FBI shows up at her house with news that Scarlett isn’t really her name and that she’s the daughter of a notorious serial killer who is dying and will only share details of some of his victims with his daughter. Suddenly, Scarlett’s life is less about the question of whether she should sleep with her potential new boyfriend and is about the question of if and how willing she is to help the FBI, all while being thrust into the media spotlight.

The portions of Daughter that detail Scarlett’s being thrust into the role of a reluctant celebrity and how the media wants to shatter her and her mother’s life (mom was married to said serial killer while he did the killings and even brought her home trinkets from his various victims) are among the novel’s more compelling. However, the novel falters a bit when Scarlett makes her decision and decides to meet with her father in prison to try and get any information she can in order to give the victims’ families some peace and closure. At this point, Scarlett seems far more mature than the character we’re presented with early on in the story and almost unnaturally calm n the face of a guy that McLaughlin wants us to buy as Hannibal Lecter if he had kids.

The novel also seems a bit unfocused in the second half when Scarlett meets up with the hot teenage son of the FBI profiler working on the case and the two seem to start hitting it off. McLaughlin has a lot of threads running through this one, though I honestly found the parts focusing on Scarlett’s turmoil of who her father is and what he did more compelling than the pages that feel grafted out of a young adult novel.

In the end, it all adds up to a solid start let down by a finish that doesn’t quite stick the landing.

I received a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen: 4th Doctor Novelisation

“Revenge of the Cybermen” was never intended to be the season finale for Doctor Who’s twelfth season. It became the “de facto” end to the season when the BBC decided to hold over the already produced “Terror of the Zygons” for the next season in the fall.

So, if you’re expecting an epic, spine-tingling end to Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor, you may be a bit disappointed. I’ve detailed my disappointments with the serial itself elsewhere, so I won’t rehash those here. Instead, I will attempt to review the Target novel version of this one.

Early on in my Doctor Who watching days, I checked the adaptation of “Revenge of the Cybermen” out of the library a lot. It was one of a dozen Target books reprinted in the United States under the Pinnacle banner — and to my mind, that meant it had to be one of the best the series and range had to offer.

Alas, “Revenge of the Cybermen” isn’t one of the best, but I wouldn’t say this adaptation is one of the worst that Terrance Dicks ever gave us. It does its best to translate the televised story faithfully to the printed page, though at times you can feel Dicks’ frustration at trying to make the (supposedly) emotionless Cybermen interesting on the printed page. This comes across a good bit when various Cybermen speak or when Dicks is forced to try and explain away why they’re acting emotionally when (technically) they shouldn’t have any emotional reaction to things.

Dicks does a bit better in translating the epic Vogan conflict to the printed page –or at least he helped this fan identify who was who in the conflict a bit better than the televised version did. Dicks seems to understand when to minimize certain aspects of the story (the gaping loopholes in the Cybermen’s plan) and when and what to expand and play up. He even tries to find an explanation for why Voya is able to toodle about the galaxy, though there is little explanation of why it comes so close to the Nerva Beacon.

All in all, it’s a good job with a script that was full of gaping holes to begin with. There isn’t a lot of depth given to the supporting cast, but this is far from the later fourth Doctor adventures when it feels like Dicks is only being given enough time to translate a shooting script to the printed page.

As an audiobook, this one works fairly well, though the nitpicky fan in me found it hard to hear Cybermen speaking in mechanical voices as opposed to what we saw in the original version. It’s an interesting choice and one that creates a consistent feel to the Cybermen audiobooks, even if it doesn’t line up with the televised version. Nicholas Briggs does solid work, even trying to give us his own take on the fourth Doctor, which is good but he’s no Jon Culshaw.

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Star Trek: Picard: Fly Me to the Moon

star-trek-picard-fly-me-to-the-moonAs Picard enters the mid-point of its second season, we’re treated to another episode that feels like it’s moving chess pieces on the board a bit.

This week, we meet Renee Picard, a distant aunt of Picard who was part of the Europa missions that first explored the galaxy, and Brent Spiner’s latest descendent of Dr. Noonian Soogh, who is exploring the field of genetic engineering to keep his daughter alive. Of course, said daughter is played by the same actress that plays Data’s daughter in season one – because, of course, she is.

Behind the scenes, Q is manipulating both parties for reasons that haven’t quite been made clear yet. Given that Q doesn’t experience time in quite the same linear fashion as we do, I can’t help but wonder what his overall end game here is. Has his interest and fascination with Picard turned to hatred, to the point that he’d change history to get back at him? Or are there changes to the continuum that are so radical that Q wants to stop PIcard from ever making them, dating back to the trial on the way to Farpoint station?

I’m not sure what Q’s agenda is – perhaps beyond getting his powers back. But I can’t help but feel that as Picard tries to save Renee Picard that he’s overlooking something fundamentally important with Dr. Soongh’s manipulation. It would be like Q to distract Picard and his crew with one thing while fundamentally altering something else to make the real changes.

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Review: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

The Kaiju Preservation Society

Redshirts was John Scalzi’s homage and love-letter to all the tropes and cliches of the original (and still the best) Star Trek.

With his latest novel, The Kaiju Preservation Society, Scalzi brings the same level of love, homage, and poking fun to monster movies involving large creatures destroying large swaths of our world.

I’ll admit I’m not as steeped in the world of kaiju as I was Star Trek, so I probably missed a lot of the deeper nudges and easter eggs that Scalzi includes in this book. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy another great offering by one of my favorite writers.

As 2020 begins, Jamie Gray’s professional career is set. Heading into his performance review, Jamie sees great things ahead at his tech company that offers an alternative to UberEats or DoorDash. Jamie is blindsided when his boss not only demotes him but takes away his opportunity at a huge financial windfall that could see Jamie up for the foreseeable future. Instead, he’s offered the chance to be part of the team delivering meals to people.

At first, Jamie is dead-set against it. Then a real-world pandemic sets in and Jamie finds himself unable to find other work and so he begins delivering meals. While delivering one, he meets an old friend from college who needs a guy to “lift heavy stuff.” The pay is great and Jamie jumps at the chance — only to find himself on a plane to Greenland and a whole other universe that includes real-life kaiju creatures like the kind we’ve all seen in movies.

What follows is a fascinating, fun story that, like all good science fiction, brings up more than its fair share of big ideas and world-building. You can be forgiven if you don’t notice that as Scalzi is tickling your funny bone that he’s also engaging your thought processes along the way. In his afterword, Scalzi compares this book to a pop song–an entirely accurate description since a lot of the books will get stuck in your head and pop up when you’re least expecting it.

Overall, this is yet another winner by an author who’s been on a heck of a streak since Old Man’s War debuted all those years ago.

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

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Star Trek: Picard: Assimilation & The Watcher

bqvKB7iYbNR65xUPUR3XpV-1200-80Can we just address the elephant in the room for this fan of Star Trek and Impractical Jokers?

With the cameo by Brian “Q” Quinn from IJ, does this mean that IJ and Star Trek are set in the same universe and that Q is actually a member of the continuum?

OK, so there are probably deeper, more fundamental questions arising from these two episodes of Picard, but it’s still fun for this fan of both shows to ponder.

The first two episodes of the season seem to be about establishing the situation that Picard is addressing in season two – namely that Q has somehow interfered with time and created an alternate timeline. “Assimilation” and “The Watcher” start making steps toward finding a way to correct that adjustment, even if our characters don’t necessarily have a clue yet about where the timeline went wrong and just how to fix it. Continue reading

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