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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Underworld by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Underworld: 4th Doctor Novelisation

This is one of the few novels from the Tom Baker/Louise Jameson era of classic Doctor Who I had in my original Target books collection. It was only because I somehow kept missing the serial — whether it was my PBS station skipping it in the rotation or just plain not setting the VCR right to catch it when it was repeated (ask your parents, kids).

So, for a long time, my only impression of this story came from Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the Bob Baker and Dave Martin scripts. And that probably helped things a good bit because, quite frankly, Dicks seems a bit more invested in this fourth Doctor story than he is in many of the others he adapted. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: What’s Not to Love by Elizabeth Wibberly and Austin Siegmund-Broka

What's Not to LoveReading/listening to What’s Not to Love, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the early days of the Sam and Diane romance on Cheers. One scene, in particular, kept standing out, when during an argument that ends up with Sam and Diane smacking each other, Sam points out that he didn’t hit Diane as hard as he wanted to. It’s a dark moment for the show, one that indicates just how opposite these two romantic partners really are.

Of course, if you’ve watched Cheers (and if you haven’t, why are you still reading this?!? Get to streaming it immediately!), you know that Sam and Diane were on-again, off-again for several more seasons before she left.

I bring up that moment because it feels like the kind of moment you can’t really come back from — and there’s one like it in the middle of What’s Not to Love. Ethan and Allison have been rivals for all four years of high school, competing against each other with ever-increasing stakes and a blatant disregard for themselves or the people around them. Both of them want to get into Harvard and are on the school paper, which brings things to a huge boil when both parties do something equally unforgivable in an attempt to sabotage the other — again, not thinking about if or how their actions might impact other people in their lives. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Arc of Infinity by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity: 5th Doctor NovelisationLike many of the fifth Doctor stories in the Target range, this is one that I simply skipped in my earlier collecting years and never got around to reading. Listening to the audio version, I can see why.

Arc of Infinity is a solid example of Terrance Dicks taking the shooting script and adapting it for the printed page with ease and professionalism. But for a story that’s a sequel to one that Dicks himself worked on during his tenure as script editor, it feels a bit wanting and thin at times. The story goes to great lengths to keep the identity of various villains secret during its four-episode run time. And translated to the printed page, it feels like there’s a lot of treading water taking place from the Doctor’s being almost taken over by Omega in episode one until Omega is dispatched in episode four. In between, there is some running up and down corridors and later along the streets of Amsterdam.

Dicks is able to consolidate much of the running about via his prose, but somehow it makes the story feel thinner than it did on-screen. I couldn’t help but find myself wishing for the Dicks who gave us “The Auton Invasion” or even “The Three Doctors” to fill in some gaps here or to give us some other reason Omega is still lurking about other than “well, we wanted to bring him back for the twentieth anniversary.”

All that said, the saving grace for the audiobook is the performance by Geoffrey Beavers. As I’ve said before, Beavers could read a take-out menu and hit the right notes of menace for a Doctor Who villain — and that is certainly the case here. Beavers does his best with the material he’s given, elevating it a bit and making the entire experience a bit more enjoyable.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Time-Flight by Peter Grimwade

Doctor Who: Time-Flight: 5th Doctor Novelisation

Nostalgically, “Time-Flight” holds a special place in my heart as the first Doctor Who serial I watched one warm summer evening on San Jose’s KTEH. The story of a Concorde vanishing into pre-historical times hooked me on Doctor Who for life. And since I didn’t have much to compare it to, I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen.

It didn’t take me long to realize that “Time-Flight” wasn’t necessarily the best offering for not just the Peter Davison era but also Doctor Who as a whole. That’s probably why I skipped the Target book during my teenage years.

Forty years later, I’ve finally experienced the Target version of the story in audiobook form. And it was about as disappointing as I thought it might be forty or so years ago.

Freed of the limitations of an overstretched budget, I’d hoped that author Peter Grimwade might use the printed page to enhance and expand the story a bit. Instead, Grimwade seems to follow the Terrance Dicks of the Tom Baker era model and just translate the script to the page with a few descriptions of items, sets, and characters thrown in for good measure. The story of a Concorde being stolen down a time corridor in order to help out the Master’s latest nefarious scheme doesn’t even come close to making one lick more of sense on the printed page. It really does make one yearn for the days of Roger Delgado as the Master when the villain’s schemes felt like they had a bit more planning behind them.

The audio version of this one tries its best with Peter Davison in there giving it his all and the story full of sound effects that try their darnedest to make it all a bit more palatable. Alas, it never quite all gels and I can’t help but feel that this one was a bit of a disappointment.

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Audiobook Review:The Effort by Claire Holroyde

The Effort

An updated take on Lucifer’s Hammer, Claire Holroyde’s The Effort speculates that it (still) wouldn’t take much for civilization as we know it to collapse and our world to descend into chaos. In the case of The Effort, it’s a large comet that is on a collision course with our planet. Holroyde bounces between multiple characters in the story, from members of a team, tasked with finding a way to save the planet from destruction to those dealing with civilization as we know it falling into chaos as some of humanity’s more base tendencies toward self-preservation kick in.

Like Lucifer’s Hammer, I found myself slowly starting to root for the cosmic calamity to befall the planet and start getting rid of certain characters, chief among them the head scientist Ben. Ben’s worst tendencies include not allowing members of his team to manifest any physical appearance that time is passing and his lack of consideration for those he doesn’t consider of immediate benefit or impact to the group trying to find a last-second way to save us all from destruction. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Don’t Move by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

Don't Move

Don’t Move starts off with a gruesome, chilling first chapter and never lets go.

Enjoying a summer evening at the local traveling carnival, Megan Forrester’s life shatters before her eyes when a horrific accident claims the lives of her husband and son. Months later, Megan is trying to get her life back together and overcome the near-paralyzing guilt she feels. A church camping trip seems like the perfect way to ease herself back into the world a bit and start claiming her life.

Little does she or any of the other members of her party realize that what started out as an innocent weekend excursion will soon become a terrifying, deadly fight for survival in an isolated part of the Monongahela National Forest. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: My Life as a Villainness by Laura Lippman

My Life as a VillainessThere’s something intimate about getting to hear an author read their work. In the case of Laura Lippman’s collection of essays My Life as a Villainess, it feels just a bit more intimate — almost as if you’ve been invited to coffee with Lippman and are getting the chance to hear bits and pieces of her story.

Fifteen essays covering a wide range of topics from our obsession with celebrities to her early days as a newspaper reporter in Waco to her thoughts on her unconventional approach to motherhood. (One particular sentence that haunted me is about seeing your child go through the same types of things you once faced and being powerless to stop them from hurting someone you love so much). As with her fictional writing, Lippman hits home time and again with observations and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Lippman turns the searchlight on herself time and again, detailing not only successes but also shortcomings in her life. At times as I listened to this audiobook, I felt myself thinking, “You know I could be friends with Laura Lippman.” That is, of course, assuming we lived anywhere near each other and I didn’t try to man-splain The Wire to her (I must apologize because as of this stage in my life I haven’t found the time to watch all of The Wire yet. It’s not for lack of desire, it’s just that I’m a slacker when it comes to catching up on my quality tv shows).

Of course, as with all sets of non-fiction essays, there are times I found myself nodding in agreement with what Lippman was saying and times when I felt myself disagreeing and wanting to discuss our differences with her (again, without mansplaining. At least I hope I wouldn’t.). Reading these essays, we get to see inside the world and mind of one of the best writers working today. If you’re a Lippman fan, this is a must read.

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Review: Oona Out of Order

Oona Out of OrderTime-travel isn’t a new trope in fiction, but Oona Out of Order‘s take on how time travel could work is one of the more interesting storytelling devices I’ve come across in time.

Each year on her birthday (which happens to be January 1), Oona Lockhart leaps forward or backward in time. Externally, she’s whatever age she would be in the year she’s arrived, but internally, she’s only aged one year. Each time she leaps (I couldn’t help but have visions of Quantum Leap while reading this novel), Oona equips herself with knowledge for the year, a secret binder containing information on investments that can be made to support her independently wealthy lifestyle, and a letter from her previous self to help get her up to speed on where she is in time and her various relationships.

Like Quantum Leap, Oona has her own version of Al — in this case, it’s her mother and her mysterious assistant Kenzi, both of whom are there to try and help her transition from one year to the next. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death: 3rd Doctor NovelisationThe final televised Third Doctor story to reach the printed page was something of a disappointment when I read it initially thirty plus years ago. However, thanks to the audiobook line from BBC Audio, I was given the opportunity to visit the story once again.

In the years since I first read the novel, “The Ambassadors of Death” has grown a bit in my estimation. Yes, it’s still the weakest story of season seven, but that’s damning a bit with faint praise.

Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the John Whitacker/Malcolm Hulke script does a serviceable job of trying to condense seven episodes into the mandated page count. Dicks is able to streamline some of the action sequences (Liz Shaw’s car chase, for example, takes about a paragraph or so) and give a bit more time and space to early developments. However, after listened to some of Dicks’ earlier works when he was given more time to develop the characters and add in some background details to the situation, I can’t help but wish he’d had don that here. Imagine the Dicks who wrote “Day of the Daleks” being allowed to fill in the history of the Mars Probe missions or even time to make General Carrington a bit more of a sympathetic villain (or at least give us a better understanding of his motives).

I can’t help walking away from this one feeling like it’s a missed opportunity more than anything.

And yet, for all of that, the audio version was still a pleasure to listen to. Part of that is narrator Geoffrey Beavers, who could probably read Malcolm Hulke’s grocery list and it would be utterly scintillating to the listening ear. Once again, Beavers shows he’s one of the jewels in the audio book line.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Robots of Death by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Robots of Death: 4th Doctor Novelisation\In an interview for a DVD extra, author Terrance Dicks notes that one aspect of his career he’s most proud of is his ability to meet deadline. As a person who understands the importance of writing on deadline, it’s easy to admire that about Dicks.

However, it’s also easy to lament that having to meet that deadline for a lot of Target Doctor Who novels in the mid-70’s means the adaptations are a bare-bones retelling of the script with little or no room for expanding the story. The image of Dicks handcuffed to his typewriter and having to churn out a new adaptation of a fourth Doctor script often springs to mind when I think of this era in Doctor Who publishing.

Which is what makes it a shame that Dicks wasn’t given the time to embellish and enhance stories like “The Robots of Death” like he did with “The Auton Invasion” or “Day of the Daleks.” Continue reading

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