Category Archives: audio book review

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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#20BooksofSummer: Birds of California by Katie Cotugno

Birds of California

Fiona St James was the star of one of the hottest family dramedies on TV in her younger days, until her spectacular crash and burn not only pulled the plug on her career but the series as well. A decade later, Fiona runs her parents’ printing business by day and acts under a stage name with a local theater group by night.

Fiona has little time or interest when former co-star Sam Fox shows up in her shop, hoping to convince her that starring in a relaunch of the show that made them famous would be good for both of them. Sam’s latest series has been given the axe and he’s looking for something to pay the bills and the growing mountain of debt he faces.

Against this backdrop, the two begin to reconnect and possibly become something more — something the tabloids would love to cover.

Katie Cotugano’s Birds of California takes its title from the fictional series that put Fiona and Sam on the map. The novel serves as a satisfying blend of tropes with two compelling characters that you can’t help but root for to put aside their egos and admit there is something deeper going on between them. Cotugano layers in a few interesting twists along the way about what led to Fiona’s spectacular public breakdown and implosion.

Overall, this is an entertaining story with two well-realized leads.

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#20BooksofSummer: Today, Tonight, and Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Today Tonight TomorrowBefore she started her freshman year, Rowan crafted a list of things that would indicate she’d had the perfect high school experience. Many of those involved besting her class rival, Neil McNair.

In the final few days of her high school tenure, Rowan reflects that she hasn’t really checked as many of those things off her list as she’d like, but she can still complete the one about destroying Neil by becoming the class valedictorian. Except, Rowan doesn’t earn that honor and it feels like her entire high school career is going to be for naught.

Fortunately, there is still the final senior challenge/game that she can play, and finally best Neil. Until Rowan overhears some of her classmates talking about how much they hate her and Neil and wanting to destroy them in the game. Stunned, Rowan teams up with Neil out of a sense of self-preservation (and the fact that the prize money is really good). But over the course of the contest, Rowan begins to realize that Neil isn’t her enemy, but maybe something different entirely.

After praising Rachel Lynn Solomon for her well-crafted, mature characters in the rom-com Weather Girl, I find myself having to take off points here for Today, Tonight, and Tomorrow for falling into the traps and tropes of the young-adult rom-com.

To start with, it’s stunning to that it never crosses Rowan’s mind that her cutthroat competition to be at the top of her class in everything might somehow rub her fellow class members the wrong way. And maybe it’s been a while since I was in high school, but the sheer amount of time and effort that everyone has to put into this contest for the graduating seniors and the seriousness with which it’s taken just doesn’t ring. It feels a bit too cute and like something invented for a teen comedy that wouldn’t necessarily transpire in real life.

And while I can buy that Rowan and Neil have been secretly harboring a crush on each other all this time, the process of bringing them together doesn’t always ring true or come across as authentic.

Overall, there were far too many things that took me out of this story for me to fully enjoy it.

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#20BooksofSummer: Normal People by Sally Rooney & This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

Normal People

About an hour into listening to Sally Rooney’s Normal People, a thought struck me — this is a romance novel with literary aspirations. And one that revelation stuck in my head, it was difficult to shake it for the rest of the novel’s run time.

Normal People languished on my TBR pile since I first heard the initial buzz about it. I’m not sure why really. I guess like Marianne, the book was content to to just sit there silently as I neglected it.

Marianne and Connell have grown up on different sides of the social strata in their Irish town. Marianne comes from a wealthy family who is emotionally distant and with a physical and mental abusive streak. Connell comes from a working-class background single mother who works for Marianne’s mother. Both attend the same school, but Connell is popular while Marianne is quiet and reserved.

The two begin a discreet relationship during the later part of their senior year, leading to all types of drama, angst, and misunderstandings. Both parties are concerned about social status and perceptions, though for very different reasons. We slowly uncover these as the novel unfolds. Continue reading

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#20BooksofSummer: Audiobook Review: The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

The Friend Zone (The Friend Zone, #1)

If you’re looking for a rave review of Abby Jimenez’s The Friend Zone, I encourage you to keep on scrolling. This isn’t going to be one. And in order to articulate why this one didn’t work for me, I will have to go into SPOILER territory. Consider this fair warning….

The story starts off with a meet-cute for Kristen and Josh, with a minor fender bender involving her best friend’s fiancee’s new truck and Josh’s car. Before too long, it’s revealed that they are both a significant part of their best friends’ wedding party and are suddenly thrown together to spend large amounts of time.

Kirsten is an independent business owner, making accessories for dogs including staircases to get up on beds. Josh needs a little extra income after his ex stiffed him with the bills for fixing up the house they shared. So, Josh starts working for Kristen and the sparks are starting to fly. Continue reading

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#20BooksofSummer: Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Power of Kroll by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Power of Kroll: 4th Doctor Novelisation

Back in my early days of Doctor Who fandom, some friends caught a few moments of “The Power of Kroll” and incredulously mocked me because the Doctor somehow defeated a giant squid creature using a tiny stick. Of course, I tried to explain to them exactly what was happening in the scene and how it wasn’t really a tiny stick, but my pleas fell upon deaf ears and taunts about the budgetary limitations of my favorite show.

Years later, removed of the mocking jabs of my youth, I’ve come to see that “The Power of Kroll” is a rough draft for Robert Holmes’ triumphant “Caves of Androzani.” And while most fans will be quick to cry that its the scripts that make classic Who so special, the comparisons between “Androzani” and “Kroll” show sometimes there are other elements involved as well.

Pursuing the fifth segment of the Key to Time, the Doctor and Romana arrive on a moon of Delta Manga. A revolutionary station is processing protein from the swamp and sending it home to feed the greater population. One obstacle is a group of natives, who were displaced from Delta Magna originally and now stand in the way of full development of the small moon’s resources. Lurking in the swamp is a large creature, worshiped by the natives and known as Kroll. After some time being dormant, Kroll is on the move again — and is hungry. Continue reading

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#20BooksofSummer Review: Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Weather Girl

Like tie-in novels from my favorite pop-culture franchises, rom-coms are a great way to distract/entertain myself while working out or completing daily life stuff.

But every once in a while, one of those stories breaks out from the pack and surprises you in the most unexpected of ways. That’s exactly what Rachel Lynn Solomon’s Weather Girl did.

Ari Abrams has achieved her professional dream, working for the woman who inspired her to study meteorology at the station she grew up watching. But this dream isn’t exactly everything Ari hoped it would be since her would-be mentor and her ex-husband, Torrence and Seth Hale, spend more time feuding than they do running the station or mentoring the news staff. After a spectacular blow-out at the office holiday party, Ari and sports anchor Russell Barranger hatch a plot to Parent Trap the Hales back together, in the hopes of allowing the station to become more professional and for them to get the professional encouragement and guidance they crave.

It isn’t long before Ari and Russ begin to see each other as more than just colleagues helping their bosses get together. There’s already an undercurrent of romantic tension, one that slowly builds over the course of the novel.

What makes Weather Girl such a refreshing entry in the rom-com field is that both Ari and Russ have obstacles separately and collectively along the way to “happily ever after.” Ari and her mother are clinically depressed and Ari worries that her depression makes her “too much” for anyone who might find out the truth about her. Russell has a “dad bod” and a 12-year-old daughter who is into musical theater. Oh, and he hasn’t…ahem…dated in five years either.

As each obstacle arises in Ari and Russ’s journey together, the characters actually come together in a mature fashion and discuss the obstacles facing them. And while the truth isn’t necessarily a magic cure nor does telling it instantly fix everything, it’s nice to see characters interacting in a mature, believable fashion to overcome obstacles and not allow them to become bigger than they could or should be.

Even late in the game with a huge obstacle arises, it’s dealt with realistically based on what we’ve learned about the characters to this point.

A sweet, funny, authentic-feeling rom-com is nothing to sneeze at. And this may be why this one has lingered with me a bit after I finished listening to it.

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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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