Category Archives: audio book review

Audiobook Review: Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca

Well Traveled (Well Met, #4)

I’m at the point where I no longer classify romance novels I listen to while working out as guilty pleasure — I’ve decided that for this year, I will enjoy them without the guilt.

So, when Jen DeLuca published another entry in her rom-com set at Renaissance Fairs, I put it on reserve on Libby and was pleasantly surprised when it quickly arrived. It was then I realized that I’d had last year’s installment in my to-be-read/listened-to list for a while — and that I’d have to skip it (for now) to enjoy Well Traveled. And while my inner continuity self balked at this decision, it did not make a huge difference in the overall scheme of things. DeLuca’s novels are self-contained and while they may feature characters from previous novels, not knowing every nuance of the previous three stories won’t necessarily hurt here.

After the first three novels in the series were set in Maryland, the fourth installment casts a wider net for it setting. Louisa Malone (better known as Lulu) is a driven, high-powered attorney who has been chasing the partner ring for years now. Watching as lesser qualified candidates get her shot at partner and frustrated by the long hours for what feels like little reward, Lulu quits her job while visiting a North Carolina Ren Faire, memorably drowning her cell phone in the wash tub of one of the acts.

But instead of immediately jumping into the job-search mode, Lulu decides to take some time off to decompress and figure out her next steps — and that’s where The Dueling Kilts enters the picture. Lulu (through her cousin from previous novels) arranges to be part of the traveling singing group for a few months and embraces living off the grid for the summer. While Lulu attempts to gain some clarity and perspective, she begins to notice Dex, the guitar player for the group who is a bit of a lady’s man on the Ren Fair circuit. (Dex was featured in the second novel in the series).

But is there more to Dex than just the guy with a girl in every Ren Fair?

As with previous installments in the series, DeLuca’s characters are on-point in Well Traveled. It’s a nice change of pace to see DeLuca expand the world of her Ren Faire romcoms a bit with this installment. And while I was rooting for a happy ending for Dex and Lulu, I can’t help but feel that perhaps romcoms at the Ren Fair are starting to lose a bit of their steam (pun kind of intended here). Yes, the growing attraction is well-handled and there are plenty of legitimate obstacles for our couple to overcome (thankfully, both parties act like adults for the most part, discussing things and not just ignoring them until they become seemingly insurmountable speed bumps), but there were moments where the setting felt a bit too familiar.

Obviously, I have enjoyed DeLuca’s work (I’ve read three of her four novels at this point), but there was part of me that wondered if it might not be time for DeLuca to take a page from Lulu and get out of her comfort zone. I’m hoping her next novel might see her find a different setting or set of circumstances for her characters to meet and fall in love. I think stretching her wings a bit for her next novel would be a welcome change for this reader/listener.

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Audiobook Review: A Guide to Being Just Friends by Sophie Sullivan

A Guide to Being Just Friends

Sophie Sullivan’s A Guide to Being Just Friends feels like a page out of a Hallmark Channel holiday movie — well, minus the snow and season’s greetings.

Following a bad breakup, Hailey has put out her shingle in the business world under the banner of a new, made-to-order salad restaurant. Wes has gone into business with his brothers, trying to escape their domineering father and memories of a bitter divorce between his parents.

When the two cross paths in a meet-cute moment (he assumes she’s the woman he’s been chatting with online at the coffee shop next to Hailey’s salad shop), Wes realizes he owes Hailey an apology. And then, the dance begins as the two decide their lives are just too hectic to date, but they can be just friends.

Except there are things simmering here that could come to a full boil.

Sullivan crafts two protagonists you can easily root for in this romantic comedy. Along the way, there are speed bumps and, given the alternating viewpoints of both our potential romantic partners, this does lead to some frustration in later chapters when the (inevitable) conflict arises.

However, that’s not to say there isn’t a lot here to enjoy. There is, but there were moments I grew frustrated with the story and characters.

The audio version of this works well, though Timothy Andrés Pabon’s narration as Wes tends to come across a bit faster than Stephanie Willing’s does as Hailey. This makes the transitions from one narrator to the other a bit jarring a first, but you will easily settle into the rhythms and voice of each person telling his or her side of the story.

In all, this is a fairly fun diversion and one that I’d recommend if you want a Hallmark Channel-style rom-com.

I received an arc of the audiobook via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Audiobook Review: Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Class Mom (Class Mom, #1)

Jen Dixon isn’t your typical kindergarten-class mom. She already has two daughters in college from her days wandering the globe as a music groupie and a son who is entering his first year of kindergarten with her (relatively) new husband. Despite her protests, Jen’s best friend talks her into being a class mom for her son’s class — and hijinks ensue.

In her attempts to inject a bit of humor and personality into the class parent’s emails, Jen opens herself up to all types of criticism and judgment from her fellow parents. Never mind that she’s trying to get the job done and figure out the quirks of her son’s teacher (for example, she doesn’t believe in “Hallmark holiday” parties, making planning for said events problematic). She also can’t help that one set of parents uses a parental cocktail party to have a friend pedal her jewelry — and the assumption this was Jen’s idea.

Laurie Gelman’s Class Mom is equal parts hilarious and eye-opening. Seeing Jen navigate the class parent waters is entertaining — even if some of the situations she finds herself in are seemingly over the top. Gelman’s performance of her book is spot and helps you feel for Jen and her self-created issues, including the innocent flirting with her former high school crush that slowly gets out of hand and threatens her marriage.

Jen feels entirely authentic, even as some events spiral out of control. The delight she and other class parents find in trying to delve into their children’s teacher is one of the highlights of the novel.


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Audiobook Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Diper Överlöde by Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Diper Överlöde (The Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series)

Most of the entries in Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series are a lot like the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker movies of my younger days — throwing a lot of jokes and seeing what’s going to stick. This leads to some absolutely hilarious moments on the perils of growing up and to some mainly other forgettable moments. And I suppose I shouldn’t scoff at anything this is encouraging young people to crack the cover of a book.

But as I listened to the seventeenth installment, Diper Overlode, I couldn’t help but think that either the formula is wearing a bit thin or that maybe it’s time to have Greg grow up a bit.

Some of that may stem that instead of putting Greg front and center this time around, the focus is his older brother Rodrick and his dreams of having his garage band become the next big thing. Yes, Greg is there to relate most of the exploits that Rodrick and his band engage in while trying to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands, but I can’t help but feel like a lot of the story is happening without Greg being a vital character to things. Much of it is Greg relating things Rodrick has told hi or the story stretching to find ways to include Greg as part of Loaded Diaper.

Yes, there are so amusing moments including Greg and a band member stealing a drumstick from an animatronic gorilla at the local equivalent of Chuck E.. Cheese. But there are moments where Rodrick and the band get to meet their band heroes that ring a bit more hollow than usual because Greg has little or no investment in the band beyond his big brother being a fan. I can’t help but wonder if deviating from the formula by having Rodrick narrate things might have helped a bit here.

All this isn’t to say this is a terrible book. It’s just one that feels like a lackluster entry in what has been an enjoyable series — and one that I’m reliving with my daughter, who is fully enthralled with the exploits of Greg and company.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Romans by Donald Cotton

Doctor Who: The Romans: 1st Doctor Novelisation

As Doctor Who celebrates its sixtieth anniversary later this year, the Target audiobooks line looks to complete the range that began a decade and a half ago. For the first seven months of the year, the range is releasing one story from each classic series Doctor that hasn’t seen the audio light of day until now.

And honestly, the range may not get a better classic Who release than the first novel of the year, “The Romans.”

After a recent diet of novels did little more than translate the shooting script to the printed page, “The Romans” is a delightful breath of fresh air. Told in epistolatory style, the varying first-person viewpoints are well-done and delightful. Whether it’s the Doctor believing that the slave he keeps seeing looks an awful lot like Barbara to Ian wondering if an alternate timeline through his actions and writings to Nero’s uncertainty as to whether he rules Britain or not, the shifting perspectives keep you on your toes — and laughing all the way.

This may be one of the wittiest and laugh-filled entries from the Target line, with Cotton clearly not giving two figs and going for the gusto. This may not please the strictest of fans who want the novel to mimic the story we got on-screen. However, this one falls into that canon of later Target books that enhanced and deepened the enjoyment of the TV stories. (I can’t wait to get to this serial in my current rewatch of the classic series if only to recall the various thought processes and reflections Cotton gives us here).

The audiobook only enhances the enjoyment of this novel, featuring a wide range of talented narrators bringing each person’s section delightful to life. The cover gives away which actors appear, though the version I purchased didn’t detail who narrated which part (or at least if it did, I didn’t look), thus ensuring some smiles and pleasant surprise over the all-too-brief running time of the audiobook.

My only disappointment comes that the audio range couldn’t lure William Russell out of retirement to read the portions of the story told from Ian’s point of view. But that is just nitpicking what is one of the more enjoyable and delightful entries in this range.

Listening to “The Romans,” I now feel I have to listen to Cotton’s other two books for the range, though I may take a bit of a gap between them. Right now, most other Target books are going to pale in comparison to this one.

A superb beginning to celebrating sixty years of Doctor Who.

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Audiobook Review: Resting Scrooge Face by Megan Quinn

Resting Scrooge Face

Nola and Caleb were quite the item in their small town years ago but broke up when Nola wanted to pursue her dreams in New York City and Caleb wanted to stay in town.

As the Christmas season approaches, Nola is back in town following a break-up and trying to avoid Caleb, the boy who broke her heart. In a town full of the Christmas spirit, neither is really feeling it and starts putting down those feelings on paper in the form of anonymous letters that get passed back and forth by the town mailman.

Meghan Quinn’s Resting Scrooge Face (the name Caleb assumes for his letters to Ho Ho No) is a perfect holiday confection — sweet and a bit sugary. Quinn allows us just enough time to invest in the characters (I understand Nola features as a supporting character in other stories) but wisely doesn’t make us spend too much time doing the “will they or won’t they” rom-com dance. A diverting audiobook.


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Audiobook Review: Along Came Holly by Codi Hall

Along Came HollyAt the end of There’s Something About Merry last year, I noted the potential for a novel centering on Holly Winters and Decklan Gallagher. For this holiday season’s visit to Mistletoe, Codi Hall grants that particular wish.

For two years, Holly and Decklan had feuded over their shared store wall and the decibel level of her holiday music. Holly embraces everything about the holiday season, while Decklan seems a bit like the Grinch.

As with her previous novels, Hall alternates perspectives between Holly and Decklan, allowing us to see each party’s reasons for embracing or not embracing the holiday season. Decklan has good reasons for not loving the holidays, centering on his mother leaving town as soon as he graduated high school and him making assumptions about the demise of his parent’s relationship.

Like the first two entries in this series, the attraction between the two leads is apparent early and often, though circumstances keep putting up natural barriers from pursuing something more too soon. However, as each side admits there is more to their rivalry and the series of pranks they begin to pull on each other, Hall tugs gently on the heartstrings and makes you root for these two crazy kids to get together.

And while you can see where Holly and Decklan are headed, Hall still puts a few natural speed bumps along the way. As with previous installments in this series, the speed bumps are effective without being overly cliched and (thankfully) don’t entirely derail the growing romance between the two.

Brimming with characters from the past two novels, the story is a warm one that provides just the right blend of holiday cheer. It never gets overly smarmy and I looked forward to each time I could come back and listen to the audiobook during my workouts. At this point, I am willing to spend as many holidays in Mistletoe as Hall is willing to bestow upon us. And while all three Winters’ siblings have found their happy ending, there are still some other characters who might enjoy a happy ending as well.

The audio version of this was well done, though I will admit it took me a chapter to really connect with Skyler Hutchinson’s performance as Decklan.

I listened to this one as part of the Audible Plus Catalog.


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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Nightmare of Eden by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Nightmare of Eden: 4th Doctor Novelisation

Doctor Who‘s seventeenth season firmly divides fandom — some love it, others not so much. The stories have a lot of ambition, but it’s just not all realized by what we finally get on our screens.

It’s a season that could — and should — be helped by the Target adaptations of each story. Freed of the budget limitations and the feeling that maybe script editor Douglas Adams should have had one more pass at polishing each story before production began, these stories could have been something wonderful on the printed page. Unfortunately, this was also a period when the Target adaptations were coming out fast and furious and not allowing writer Terrance Dicks to do much more than adapt the shooting script for the printed page.

All of this brings us to “The Nightmare of Eden,” a story in which Doctor Who tries to rise above and do anti-drugs story. Except the message is fairly simplistic (“Drugs are bad”), and the story around it isn’t necessarily the greatest in the world.

Two ships collide exiting hyperspace, creating an unstable region between the two. The Doctor, Romana, and K-9 arrive on the scene and set about trying to pull the two ships apart. Also on board is Tryst, who has created a CET machine. The machine is able to capture samples of various environments in a crystal and render them on-screen for further study and to save multiple endangered species from each planet. Unfortunately, the dimensional instability leads to various creatures, including the deadly Mandril, being able to cross over from the crystal to various ships.

Throw into this chaos that someone is smuggling the deadly drug vraxoin and working hard to cover his or her tracks and you’ve got the makings of a pretty interesting story.

Except the pieces never quite add up. There are some solid sci-fi elements here and the wider implications of vraxoin and its destructive and addictive properties, but they’re never fully realized. The connection between the CET machine, the Mandrils, and the drug becomes fairly obvious early as well, thus leading to it feeling like a lot of episodes two and three is various parties running around corridors and escaping each other.

Dicks does his best given the time constraints and he does make the Mandrils a bit more intimidating on the printed page than they come across on-screen. However, this is a story that could have benefited greatly from the Dicks who gave us “Day of the Daleks” or “The Auton Invasion.” Rounding out the characters a bit would have helped a great deal, as would connecting certain scenes during the story.

The best part about the audiobook is Dan Starkey avoids the temptation to use an outrageous accent (think one of the French knights from Monty Python and the Holy Grail) that Tryst has in the story. Starkey does a nice imitation of Tom Baker and his reading of the book is nicely done. It is telling that this audiobook clocks in at just under two hours — just a hair more time than you’d spend watching the story. It shows how little time Dicks had to rush the story out and how little he embellished it.

The most praise you can heap on this one is that it’s “serviceable.” I’m always struck by the thought that Tom Baker’s era of Doctor Who is one of the most popular among fans, but it’s one of the lesser-served eras when it comes to the Target books. “The Nightmare of Eden” reinforces that feeling.

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Audiobook Review: X-Rated by Maitland Ward

Rated X: How Porn Liberated Me from Hollywood

Early in her memoir Rated X, Maitland Ward relates a story about how her first boyfriend discovered a cache of Penthouse Letters and then read them to her over the phone. As the story of Ward’s life and career unfolds, I couldn’t help but think that this was her own take on a letter to the adult magazine.

Ward is either best known for her role in ABC’s Boy Meets World or her racy photos that she’s “reinvented” herself on social media.

A lot of the run time of Rated X is Ward patting herself on the back for being who she is and what she’s become today. She is unashamed of the career path she’s taken, nor is she necessarily worried about the bridges she has burned within the professional community. A common theme of later chapters, after Ward overhears an agent saying her career is pretty much over, is that she and her family are all proud of who and what she’s become and that Hollywood can just get over it.

I don’t mind that Ward feels empowered by her chosen path. I don’t mind that she feels like she has to be her own champion and throws her success back in the face of everyone who ever doubted her. However, as the chapters slowly blur together the closer to the present we get, I kept waiting for something more substantial to emerge than Ward’s observation of “Hey, look at me. I do porn and I’m fine.”

It’s similar to how I feel about DVD commentaries on recent shows or movies — the participants haven’t necessarily had the time and distance to really get a perspective on what they’ve done and its impact. I feel like Ward is so caught up in the justification of her current career and choices, that we don’t have much deeper consideration of what those choices can and will mean to her.

In many ways, it felt like this was a “strike while the iron is hot” kiss-and-tell memoir, designed to keep Ward’s name and face in front of the media. Indeed, upon its publication, I did see multiple articles that referenced some of the more salacious details and observances from Ward.

But, in the end, I couldn’t help coming away from this one feeling like it was more of a bag of chips instead of a substantial meal in terms of reading/listening. Ward telling her own stories on the audio was both intriguing and disconcerting. In the end, it feels like the last few chapters are more designed to draw attention to Ward now and justify her choices, rather than being truly interesting or offering any new or interesting observations.

Read this one at your own risk. It’s not for the easily offended.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus by Phillip Hinchcliffe

Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus: 1st Doctor Novelisation

Arriving on the island of Marinus, the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan are reluctantly enlisted to seek out four of the five computer keys of Marinus that will restore the Conscience of Marinus.

In the lore of classic Doctor Who, The Keys of Marinus is a story that worked better when the episodes were produced each week instead of in filming blocks for an entire serial. Each episode features a different location and adventure as the TARDIS crew transports across the planet, looking for the keys.

The script feels like writer Terry Nation is trying out a few of the tropes that he will revisit time and again over the course of his career. We’ve got hostile plant life, a well-placed chasm, and even more of Nation’s favorite things to include in a script. As a quest storyline, it holds up well enough with the team not spending too much time in each location, thus allowing the story to gather and keep some momentum.

That’s not to say it’s necessarily a classic of its era. “Marinus” is good and it certainly as a few moments. But overall, this one isn’t the strongest of the first season of Doctor Who.

What’s odd about this novelization is that it comes from fourth Doctor era producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe has little or no connection to the era and while he does a nice job of adapting the original scripts to the printed page, the novel doesn’t go much beyond that. There are little hints about Sabetha and Altos falling in love and Hinchcliffe tries to make the Voord a bit more threatening and scary.

This is another one that I skipped in my initial collection of Target novels, probably due to it having one of the more generic covers in the range. Or it could be my younger self found this one a tad on the dull side, even with the quest throughline driving the story.

The audiobook is up to the usual standards I’ve come to expect from the BBC audio range. I won’t say this is the best sample of the audio range, but it works well enough. Narrator Jamie Glover’s work is good though it’s not quite the stand-out of the range. There were moments I kept wishing William Russell had found time to be lured from retirement to perform one last Target book for our listening pleasure.


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