Monthly Archives: December 2021

Review: We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinkser

We Are Satellites

Fifty plus years ago, Star Trek gave us a vision of the future, filled with a variety of cool gadgets that felt as if they were years away from being on the market. And while we haven’t yet invented a way to easily transport ourselves across great distances, we have seen a wide variety of that technology become a reality.

It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have the sum total of human knowledge at our fingertips in an easily searchable database. And now, it’s so commonplace that we even have a verb for it.

So, the idea that we could leap forward from a device we keep in our pockets to one that we put in our brains isn’t necessarily one out of the realm of possibility. Such a device is at the heart of Sarah Pinkser’s thought-provoking novel, We Are Satellites. The Pilot can be inserted into your brain, allowing you to have access to a wealth of information and focus more on certain things in your life. However, this new device isn’t for everyone — there are people who can’t utilize it due to health reasons or because of personal choices.

The decision of whether or not to have a Pilot begins to divide the world into those who have the Pilot and those who don’t. Schools begin to cater to the Pilot students, leaving the ones without behind. Some have new advantages at work or are expected to get the device installed to keep their jobs. The decisions even begin to divide families — including the family at the heart of this novel.

Pinkser uses the technological advance of the Pilots to examine the implications and outcomes on her characters. We spend time with each member of the family, seeing the advantages and pitfalls of their choices. The novel isn’t necessarily one where huge, earth-shattering events take place every few pages. Instead, there is an examination and exploration of these characters and their reactions to the device. It’s a fascinating novel, though low-key one at times.

And yet, it’s one that has lingered with me after the final pages were turned. The ideas and implications are ones that may have you thinking twice about how much you depend on your own Pilot that sits in your pocket. Or about other choices that seem to divide people in our current events facing our world.

A compelling, fascinating book that I highly recommend.

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Christmas Listening

This week, I passed 1400 miles running for 2021. That’s a lot of hours out pounding the pavement in every type of weather condition from the heat of summer to the cold of winter. I tend to draw the line at thunderstorms and heavy rains to prevent a running workout (I find drivers seem to have a hard enough time seeing/acknowledging me in good conditions.

My running time provides me with the opportunity to catch up on podcasts, create a rocking playlist, or listen to an audiobook.

During the Christmas season, I find that I like to listen to festive things — whether it’s a playlist of various Christmas favorites and covers — or a holiday-themed audiobook. This year, I threw in a couple of old favorites from old-time radio as well and I had some thoughts.

Burns and Allen: Christmas in Santa’s Workshop

I find my preference for OTR shows leans more toward comedy — and Burns and Allen is one of my favorite shows. I just can’t say this particular episode is a favorite or necessarily a great example of what makes me such a fan of the show.

It comes from a season with George Burns and Gracie Allen adopting a duck. The duck has a voice a bit like Donald and reacts pretty much like you’d expect. The episode takes place on Christmas Eve and finds the duck and Gracie falling asleep while waiting for Santa. In a dream, they’re whisked off to the North Pole to battle the evil witch who has stolen all of Santa’s toys. Various regulars appear in other roles during the journey, including George as a prince.

I’d heard this one years ago when I checked it out on cassette from my local library and didn’t enjoy it much then. Time hasn’t improved my opinion of it. Part of it is that it lacks the George/Gracie dynamic that generally makes the show work so well. And part of it is that it feels overly silly at times. Again, the whole partially talking duck thing probably took me out of it. But I link it above in case you feel like it’s something you might want to hear.

Jack Benny: Christmas 1938, Christmas Shopping 1943

On the other hand, these Jack Benny episodes were right up my alley. It’s easy to forget that in the days of OTR, there weren’t repeats, so the writers could use variations on the same routine each year. In this case, it’s the various adventures of Jack shopping and/or buying gifts for his fellow cast members. Neither of these necessarily dig too deeply into the “Jack is cheap” laughs, but instead give Jack and his cast new ways to shine. Benny is fascinating to me because he invented the situation comedy with the recurring characteristics being mined for laughs. These two are solid examples of why Jack Benny was so good.

The Great Gildersleeve: Christmas Program (1942)

The Great Gildersleeve may be my all-time favorite OTR show and it’s one that keeps surprising me. This Christmas episode from 1942 is chock full of what I love about the show. Gildy is behind on his Christmas shopping due to the annual water report and is trying to catch up. Meanwhile, his rival Judge Hooker has proposed to Leila Ransom and Gildy is trying to get her to turn down his proposal before she heads to Savannah for the holidays.

Gildersleeve feels like one of the first shows to have a continuity of sorts (that wasn’t a serial like Superman or the Lone Ranger, mind you) in the forms of Gildy’s various romances. At this point, Leila is clearly the romantic foil of choice, though this time around I was struck by how manipulative she is to Gildy and the Judge. She plays the two off each other to get a ride to the airport, then proceeds to flirt with the pilot while in front of a man who has proposed to her and another suitor.

That said, this one hits the right spirit for the season and may be the favorite of the OTR I sampled during Christmas. And it’s amusing to hear a show come from a war time and discuss how war bonds are a better gift than a model airplane.

There’s Something about Merry (Mistletoe Romance #2)There’s Something about Merry by Codi Hall

Since the birth of his son Jace, Clark Griffin has been the most devoted of single dads. Working hard to earn his degree, he’s been nose to the grindstone at work to provide the security and loving home that he and his brother, Sam, grew up without. So, when he sees an ad to be the foreman at the Winters’ Christmas tree farm, Clark is quick to apply and move back to his hometown.

Merry Winters returned to town a year ago, smarting from the latest in a string of failed romances. She’s slowly getting herself back on track, though she wants to take a greater part in running the family business. When she’s roped into overseeing the local holiday event, Merry finds demands on her time are increasing — she’s also a devoted knitter, making stuffed creatures that look like male genitalia as voodoo dolls for scorned friends.

While Merry and Clark had a moment when they could have connected romantically in high school, Clark sees her as off-limits because she’s the daughter of his bosses and Merry sees Clark as off-limits because she sees him as competition to run the family business someday. So, when the two download a dating app and find a connection in the small town, they have little to no idea that they could be kindling a new holiday romance.

I spent time in the appropriately named Mistletoe last year, so a return visit this year with Codi Hall’s There’s Something About Merry was a pleasant holiday treat. As she did with her previous couple of Nick and Noel, Hall creates reasonable, believable obstacles to the budding romance of Merry and Clark. Clark has issues with trust — from his parents to the mother of his child abandoning them hours after their son was born — while Merry is stubborn, independent, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

The romance has its steps forward and backward, finally culminating in the pair getting together in a sweet, steamy way. I will admit there was a point about a third of the way in that it felt like Clark had truly blown his shot, but it’s nice to see that he could recover a bit and find his footing. Hall also wisely brings in Clark’s status as a single dad and the connection he’s building with the Winters family as potential consideration to the relationship.

Even when I had guessed that a certain someone from the past would show up to throw a monkey wrench in things, Hall was able to surprise me a bit with how this particular plot thread was utilized.

I know I’m probably not the target audience for romance novels. But they make for a nice, fun distraction while pounding the pavement and I’ve got to admit that Hall has kind of got me hooked on spending a bit of my holiday season in Mistletoe each year. She’s found romance for two of the three Winter siblings, so I can only hope that the seeds she’s sewing for the other sister might pay off in her next book.

An entirely satisfying holiday romance that is the right balance of sweet, sassy, and steamy.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favorites (And Not Favorites) of 2021

It’s been a while since I participated in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

As 2021 winds down, I’m looking back over my reading. Between physical books, ebooks, and audiobooks, I read 97 books this year. Of course, when you add in the books I read with and to my daughter, that number balloons to a staggering 500.

Here are my favorites and least favorite books of the year.

Favorites

  1. Trial and Error by Robert Whitlow
  2. What’s Done in Darkness by Laura McHugh
  3. Later by Stephen King
  4. Much Ado About Barbecue by Sally Kilpatrick
  5. Doctor Who: Dalek by Rob Shearman
  6. Assassin’s Apprentice & Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
  7. Together We Will Go by J. Michael Straczysnki
  8. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster
  9. We Are Satellites by Sara Pinkser
  10. Dream Girl by Laura Lippman
  11. Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny
  12. In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Disappointing Reads of 2021

  1. Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
  2. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
  3. Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
  4. The Stowaway by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth
  5. What’s Not To Love by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegmund-Broka
  6. There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
  7. Panic by Lauren Oliver
  8. The Last Best Story by Maggie Lehrman
  9. Falling by T.J. Newman
  10. Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty
  11. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

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Review: The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

The Last Thing He Told Me

When Hannah Hall meets Owen Michaels, both parties have a no dating policy. Hannah’s policy stems from Owen’s connection to a client and Owen’s stems from being a single father to his teenage daughter. But an innocent evening to see a play in New York turns into something more and soon Owen is leaving behind the Big Apple to marry and live with Owen and his daughter, Bailey, in Saucelito on a floating houseboat.

Owen works for a software company that is working on the next big thing and collecting investors. Then, one afternoon, a knock at the door finds a girl from Bailey’s school with a note in hand, saying that Owen has to go away and he needs Hannah to protect Bailey. Seems that the software company is under scrutiny and being raided by the government, something that comes as a complete shock to Hannah. But that is only the first of multiple shocks as Hannah beings to slowly peel away the layers of Owen’s life and finds that her husband may not be exactly who said he was.

Laura Dave’s The Last Thing He Told Me starts off at a brisk pace, only to slowly lose momentum over the course of the story. Seeing this novel pick up all kinds of praise and be included on multiple year-end “best of” lists, I was curious to see if it could live up to the hype and praise piled on it.

Alas, this novel just never quite clicked for me in the way it has for others. The revelation that Owen may not be who he claims comes in the first half of the novel and from there, the peeling away of layers had me shaking my head in disbelief as one revelation after the other kept coming to light. Part of this is Dave’s use of flashbacks to set up things and to show how Hannah slowly begins to suspect that Owen isn’t all he claims to be. These moments are meant to illuminate Hannah’s journey of discovery but had me wondering, “Why isn’t she seeing that he’s hiding something?” to myself.

And once we get to the big reveal of where Owen has gone and why I found my eyebrows raising higher than expected. The revelation feels like it’s ripped from the pages of a sudsy nighttime drama and not grounded in the real-world authenticity that Dave seems to be working hard to establish.

I suppose part of my disappointment stems from the previously mentioned expectations. But part of it comes from that looking back at the novel, it’s not nearly as substantial as it could have been. I went in expecting a nice meal and left feeling like I’d only get a hot dog and bag of chips. Nothing wrong with the hot dog and chips unless you’re expecting more.

Lots of readers seem to love this one and it’s going to be a TV series on Apple TV at some point. This reader isn’t one of its biggest fans, though.

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Comic Book Review:Spider-Man: The Spider’s Shadow

Spider-Man: The Spider's ShadowAfter enjoying Spider-Man: Life Story, I was optimistic to see what Chip Zdarsky might do for an encore. The result is the fairly disappointing extended “what if” story The Spider’s Shadow.

What if instead of giving up the symbiotic black costume when Reed Richards warned him about it, Peter Parker kept it and gave himself over to its dark nature?

Well, according to this collection of five issues, Peter Parker would become public enemy number one, slaughtering multiple members of his rogue’s gallery along the way because the Hobgoblin kills Aunt May. There’s always been a bit of a dark undercurrent to the story of Spider-Man, though many writers haven’t really explored that side of things. Zdarsky did that over the course of Peter’s life in Life Story and maybe part of my issue here is that the timeline is simply too compressed to make for a satisfying story like the original collection was. Seeing Peter slowly descend into darkness makes sense and the question of “what if” Spidey had a really bad day and was pushed too far is an intriguing one.

But this could be one of those stories where it goes too dark and possibly too far. I get that Venom is a violent, dark mirror of Spider-Man — a creature that is the bonding of two entities that hate Peter Parker. And the idea the alien costume might feed into some of Peter’s internal self-doubt and loathing is an intriguing one. But honesty, the concept of Peter going dark was better realized in the animated series from the 90’s when the dark suit was brought into the story. I guess I wanted to see Peter do more than just become a violent sociopath who kills or hurts everyone around him before getting a bit of redemption and an obligatory happy ending.

Like a lot of modern comics, this feels like a story that was expanded a bit too much for its running time. Life Story had each issue focus on a decade of Peter’s life. This one just seems to run along from violent point to horrifying cliffhanger.

I wanted to enjoy this a lot more than I did. A bit of a disappointment.

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