Category Archives: audio book review

Audiobook Review: Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Book LoversNora Stephens reads the last chapter of a story first. As a literary agent whose life is consumed by all things literary, Nora likes knowing where the story is going before starting the first page. Her younger sister, Libby, will not only barrel into a book without any preconceptions, often not even reading the back cover so she won’t ruin the surprises along the way. When Nora and Libby decide to spend a few weeks away from the hustle and bustle of New York City in the small town that served as a literary basis for one of Libby’s favorite books that Nora edited, their hope is to reconnect before the birth of Libby’s third child. But what they find is something else entirely unexpected.

Emily Henry’s latest novel, Book Lovers deftly deconstruction the tropes of small-town romance in a delightfully entertaining way.

If her life were a romance novel, Nora would be the heartless, big-city girlfriend who gets dumped for the small-town girl with a heart of gold. In fact, Nora has been dumped four times for that, including on her way to meet with high-profile editor Charlier Lastra. When Charlie dismisses the latest offering from her client before they place their drink orders, Nora chalks it up to being off her game due to the previous rejection and being late.

Two years later, she runs into Charlie in the small town she’s visiting with her sister, and the sparks inevitably being to fly. Things are helped when a new manuscript has Charlie and Nora teaming up as editors, bringing the two into each other’s orbit on a more regular basis.

Book Lovers is a slow dance of a story, slowly revealing layers about its characters and deconstructing the small-town romance story in an entertaining fashion. As with her previous two novels, Henry puts realistic, grounded obstacles to each of the relationships at the heart of Book Lovers. Whether it’s the secrets Charlie is holding about his family and growing up in a small town or the secret that Nora and Lilly are keeping from each other, each revelation is earned by Henry over the course of the story.

As a stand-alone story, this one succeeds on every level, offering a satisfying story. Henry sows the seeds of the eventual resolution in the story’s early goings, allowing this reader to see where things could go before some of the characters do.

An entertaining journey, Book Lovers is yet another feather in Henry’s already impressive cap. Needless to say, I will be back for whatever she offers next.

The audio version of this one is well performed by Julie Whalen, who brings June’s first-person perspective vibrantly to life. She also does a superb job of crafting all the other characters we meet in Nora’s story to life as well

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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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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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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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Audiobook Review: Firestarter by Stephen King

FirestarterBack in the ’80s, my local library had a special section filled with materials for teenage readers. Not only did it have spinner racks full of books, but there were also magazines targeted at developing minds like Starlog and Mad Magazine.

I was aware of Stephen King, though I hadn’t yet dipped my toes into that horror master’s body of work just yet. So, when Firestarter appeared in the spinner rack one day, I decided that it might be time to put aside my worries of being scared to the edge of my seat and give Stephen King a try. And while I wouldn’t say Firestarter is exactly a top-ten classic from King, it made enough of an impression that I picked up another King novel, then another, and now, over thirty years later, I’ve read pretty much everything that King has written.

Now with a new version of Firestarter headed to our screens, I decided it was time to revisit my first King novel, though this time I did so on audio.

Eight-year-old Charlie McGee has a gift — she can start fires with her mind. She got this ability from her parents, who participated in a college experiment sponsored by the mysterious governmental entity known as The Shop. While Andy, her father, has low-level powers that allow him to impose his will upon subjects, Charlie is the focus of the Shop and its leader, Cap. Her power could be a decided advantage to whatever government gets control of her — assuming that Charlie can control them, that is.

Andy and Charlie are on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the Shop agents. As the net closes in on them, the two are pushed to their breaking point and it could lead to disastrous consequences for all concerned.

I’d forgotten large chunks of Firestarter, so it felt like (at times) I was reading it for the first time. What struck me most this time around was the bond between Andy and Charlie and seeing how far Andy will go to protect his daughter. As a father to a little girl, Andy’s motives and actions come to make complete sense, up to and including the sacrifices and risks he’s willing to take to keep Charlie out of the Shop’s hands. There are some great passages in her that demonstrate this, especially in the first half when Andy and Charlie are on the run.

The novel loses a bit of momentum in the middle third when the Shop finally catches up to them and takes them into custody. King tries to establish their main adversary in John Rainbird, a disfigured man who wants to understand death, but I never quite found myself connecting with Rainbird in quite the way I’d hoped. I can see that King is trying to create a villain who believes he’s the hero of this particular tale, but I’m not entirely sure it succeeds.

The middle third is all about moving pieces into place for the final explosive showdown. We get a preview of it in an early battle between Charlie and the Shop, but it’s the final battle where everything goes for broke.

King’s use of flashbacks to fill in details is an interesting one — especially since a lot of the flashbacks come from Andy’s point of view. The initial experiments and the day that the Shop tortured and killed Andy’s wife, Vicky, are particularly chilling and well done.

And yet, I still can’t help but come away from this one thinking it could have been a bit tighter. It feels like we spend a lot of time between battle one and battle two — and that time feels like it’s treading water a bit.

I still say this is a good entry point to the world of Stephen King, though it’s not necessarily a favorite.

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Audiobook Review: The Arrangement by Robyn Harding

arrangement1For her first Father’s Day, my daughter gave me an engraved keychain that says, “A girl’s first love is her father.”

Listening to The Arrangement, the image of the keychain kept popping into my head time after time. I couldn’t help but feel like the young woman at the center of his novel desperately needed a positive father or father figure in her life. And that she was seeking out the father figure in all the wrong places.

Natalie is a struggling art student at a prestigious school in New York City. Struggling to pay rent and keep up with her studies, Natalie slowly finds a mountain of debt piling up on her and with seemingly no way out. Estranged from her father (he left when she was ten) and not having the greatest relationship with her mom and step-dad, Natalie is averse to taking out a student loan to finish her course work since her field of children’s book illustrator may make it difficult to pay off said loans.

Natalie finds the solution in a friend from class who seems to live in the lap of luxury as a sugar baby to rich men who want beautiful women to be seen with them around town. For a fee, a Sugar Daddy can take these women on expensive dates, trips, etc. It’s not even really prostitution (at least as Natalie justifies it to herself) because the transaction is about companionship, not physical intimacy. (But make no mistake, there can be physical intimacy if both parties desire).

Natalie sets up a profile on a sugar babies website and meets Gabe, a wealthy older gentleman, who lists himself as single but is actually still married to his college sweetheart and has a teenage daughter. Gabe is stepping out because his wife has just survived cancer and he’s not quite as attracted to her in the same way. Also, her sex drive has diminished, and divorcing her would be costly both financially and socially. Continue reading

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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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Audiobook Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (James Bond, #11)

While reading On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I found myself wondering if Ian Fleming had ever been married and what his relationship with his spouse was like.

The question arose early in the story when the father of Tracey (the supposed love of Bond’s life) is having a conversation with Bond about the pursuit of Tracey’s mother. When the comment that some women just want to be raped came up (not for the first time in the Bond series, mind you), I couldn’t help but wonder about Fleming and his wife. Living in the world of easy researching, I quickly found out that the romance and relationship of Fleming and his wife was a volatile as I expected based on some of the comments made by various male characters in his novels.

And yet, interestingly enough, it’s never Bond who makes such statements. If Bond is intended as some type of Mary Sue for Fleming, it’s interesting to note that while he enjoys the company of the ladies, he doesn’t necessarily support forcing his interest on them. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Bond is exactly a knight in shining armor — though Fleming would have you think he is. Bond is a man of opinions and principles. While he isn’t agreeing that some women just need to be sexually assaulted, he is quick to agree that what the depressed Tracey needs is some good loving — and he’s only too happy to provide that interest for her.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feels like Fleming is trying to do some character building with Bond, though whether or not it’s a success depends on the reader. Some of the more recent Bond movies have suggested that Bond is a relic of different era and it feels like Fleming is saying that in this novel. Bond is dismissive of certain trends that younger men seem to be showing throughout the novel and clearly believes that his old-fashioned ways are the way to a woman’s heart –or at the very least her bedroom. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner

Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True EventsIt’s been close to two decades since Star Trek: The Next Generation left the airwaves, so I’ve started to expect the “behind the scenes” confessional books from the cast to start hitting the shelves.

The closest we’ve got so far is Fan Fiction by the guy who brought Data to life, Brent Spiner. Billed as a story inspired by true events, I have to admit I spent more time trying to figure out which bits were taken from reality and which bits were taken from Spiner’s imagination than I did paying attention to the story.

Set at the height of Next Generation‘s popularity, Fan Fiction finds Spiner getting increasingly disturbing letters and mailings from an obsessive fan who only identities herself as Lal, the created daughter of his character on the show who expired at the end of her episode. Justifiably freaked out by these mailings and the missives of another female fan who is convinced she’s carrying on a steamy phone affair with the actor, Spiner turns to first to the L.A. PD’s department of obsessives and then the FBI for help.

It’s at the FBI that he meets agent Cindy Jones and her twin sister bodyguard Candy Jones. Spiner is immediately attracted to both and begins a romantic entanglement with Candy while pining for Cindy. It’s at this point, that I began to question just how much of this tale was from Spiner’s imagination and how much was from reality. I feel certain he got some interesting fan letters along the way as he played Data. But whether or not he met twin sisters who were both attracted to him — seems a bit far-fetched to this reader.

For a good bit of the story, I felt like Spiner was trying to do something clever with the twin sisters who never appear in the same room together — and I will give him credit that he does try a bit. It just never quite goes anywhere satisfying.

Indeed, the entire novel feels as if it wants to be more than it is. The noir aspect of the fem-Fatale and the threat to our hero feels well done and certain Spiner shares a love of older, lesser-known films over the course of the novel. But the ending doesn’t quite bring all the threads together in the most satisfying way possible and left me feeling a bit empty.

Listening to this one as an audiobook may add an extra layer of enjoyment for you if you’re a fan of TNG. Spiner gathers together his castmates to voice themselves in the novel. I do wonder how much of Spiner’s portrayal of his cast members is real and how much is tongue-in-cheek, but it certainly feels like everyone is having a good time here.

I wanted this one to be a bit more satisfying than it was. I wouldn’t say I regret reading it, but this one didn’t quite come together in the end.

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Audiobook Review: Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters

Satisfaction Guaranteed

In a family full of dreamers, Cade Elgin is the one with her feet firmly planted on the ground. She’s spent years as her parents’ accountant and helped their art gallery survive and flourish. It doesn’t leave much time for any other considerations in life, including in the romance area. It probably doesn’t help that one of Cade’s first romances was overly critical of her, leaving her full of self-doubt.

Selena Elgan is also full of self-doubt. A promising art student, seduced by her professor, Selena gave up on art when that relationship crumbled, even going so far as burning all her paintings. Working in Cade’s aunt’s sex-toy shop, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Selena has decided to swear off sex and romance until she can prove to herself that she’s an adult.

When the aunt dies, Selena and Cade are left co-ownership of Satisfaction Guaranteed and given a month to try and get it above water again. But apparently, the aunt had other intentions beyond making these two business partners — she saw that Selena and Cade needed each other and could be exactly what each other needed.

With the unique sex-toy store setting and quirky, believable characters, Satisfaction Guaranteed is an enjoyable romantic comedy that hits all the right notes. Of course, there is a lot of early denying the obvious attraction these two feel for each other and the road to love never does run smooth. But all of those speed bumps feel entirely earned by Karelia Stetz-Walters over the course of the story. Both Cade and Selena are flawed characters who can’t get out of their own way at times — which makes you root for them just a bit more as the story unfolds.

The audio version of this one was light, fun and wonderfully entertaining.

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