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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: 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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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: 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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Audiobook Review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

The GirlfriendThe Girlfriend by Michelle Frances
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Michelle Frances’ The Girlfriend‘s cover blurb had intrigued me enough to put it on my Audible wish list. So, when it was included in the Audible plus program, I figured I had nothing to lose except a few hours listening to it.

When Daniel falls for his real estate agent, Cherry, his mother, Laura can’t wait to meet her. And while their first meeting is cordial, both sides believe the other has an agenda for Daniel and his future. And so, begins the long, slow burn between Cherry and Laura.

The Girlfriend hints at something nefarious happening early in the novel before jumping back and forth in time to catch readers up on what’s happened and why. The problem quickly becomes that it’s difficult to sympathize with any of the characters over the course of the story. Every one has something to hide and it feels like Daniel becomes a pawn in some odd game between Cherry and Laura. And yet, I was intrigued enough to want to know the answers, even if my own guesses proved far more interesting to me than what we actually get here.

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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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