The 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.
Every once in a while, you hit a string of books that you really enjoyed reading. And then, you hit a string of books you really didn’t like or just didn’t connect with you. The latter is the case with a couple of recent reads that I really didn’t enjoy.
There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
Exiled to Nebraska, senior Mikani Young is enduring life with her strict grandmother and at a new high school. The only ray of hope is her summer hook-ups with fellow local outcast Ollie and her two friends.
But when a series of brutal murders begin taking place around town, Mikani realizes she can’t escape her troubled past. And worst of all — her friends suspect that mysterious Ollie may be the prime candidate behind the murders.
Stephanie Perkins’ There’s Someone Inside Your House suffers from an identity crisis, never quite able to decide if it’s a slasher/thriller or a young-adult romance. The transitions from one focus to the other are jarring and took me completely out of this novel. Add to it that I kept wanting to shake Mikani and tell her it was time to grow up and stop acting like a spoiled brat and it all adds up to one of the least enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.
The serial killer aspect of things becomes tedious quickly and the final reveal of who it was had me going, “Come on, really?!?” I know all books aren’t for me, so I’ll just chalk this one up as another young adult books that just didn’t quite connect and move on.
Panic by Lauren Oliver
Could we please let the young adult trope that all the teenagers are smarter and more together than adults go the way of the dodo?
That thought kept hitting me as I listened to Lauren Oliver’s Panic. And it’s probably why I decided to give up on it about halfway through.
Add in that the novel feels derivative of multiple other (better) young adult-targeted novels (especially The Hunger Games) and this was just another in a string of recent novels that didn’t connect with me.
I had picked this one up with thoughts of trying out the Amazon series based on it. But given the sheer volume of other streaming shows I haven’t started or finished yet, I may not be sampling this one any time soon.
Prequels are difficult. Just ask George Lucas or Brannon Braga.
While there is a great opportunity to fill in the backstory for characters and do a bit of worldbuilding, it feels like the risks often outweigh the rewards. A prequel series can also be limiting in how many surprises or revelations an author or creative team can throw the fans way before fandom starts crying foul or screaming that this detail or that one has violated continuity or a long-held character belief.
But long before Star Trek and Star Wars were looking to their past, author Issac Asimov was taking the opportunity to fill in a few gaps in his Foundation novels. Asimov’s output of the ’80s seemed to be almost obsessed with finding ways to connect various threads across his novels and short stories. And so it was that we come to Prelude to Foundation, a prequel to his popular, award-winning series that explored the early days of Hari Seldon and some of the steps in the creation of psychohistory.
Less sweeping in scope than the other Foundation entries, Prelude to Foundation focuses on an early adventure of Seldon in the days after presented a paper on psychohistory. As the Galactic Empire begins to crumble, multiple parties see Seldon’s psychohistory as their opportunity to gain, keep, or consolidate power. Most of the original Foundation trilogy puts Seldon on a pedestal and gives us the image of a wise figure forecasting the fall of an Empire and doing his best to shorten humanity’s coming Dark Age. Continue reading
One of my reading goals for 2021 was to re-read or experience anew the classic sci-fi series getting pop-culture adaptations — Foundation and Dune.
Halfway though 2021, and I’ve made good on part of that with my listening to Issac Asimov’s Foundation. I have to admit that listening to the novel was a different way of experiencing one of the giants of the science-fiction genre and one of the pillars (notice I didn’t say foundation) that all of science-fiction is built upon.
The good news is that Foundation still holds up. It’s a rich, episodic novel that is less concerned with space battles and space opera and more on having characters debate big ideas and moments. The Galatic Empire is failing and historian Hari Seldon says there is nothing that can be done to stop it’s fall. However, the length of the coming Dark Ages can be shortened if all of humanity’s knowledge is collected together on a single planet in a single resource.
Early on, humanity looks to Seldon to guide them through various crises, before realizing that Seldon has pulled a bait-and-switch. There is no intention of publishing an encyclopedia with all of humanity’s knowledge included. Instead, Seldon has created a group to be a beacon of light in the dark times and to possibly consolidate and wield power. And so, over the course of several thousand years, Asimov details the men who will come to power and the crises that will face civilization continuing.
It’s a fascinating series of stories — ones that never fail to intrigue me or hook me. I will go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think Foundation is quite as solid as Asimov’s robot novels, but that’s probably because I read the Robot novels first. The first entry holds up well, though it does concern me how this might be adapted for the screen since most of (OK, all of) the huge dramatic action tends to take place off-screen and we’re treated to various characters talking about what happened and the ramifications of those actions.
I’ll still be tuned in for the upcoming series, though based on the previews, it looks like they’re adapting the first two books for season one. But after listening to this one again, I don’t hold out much hope that the series can and will be as good or as impactful as the book.
Now, time to keep that resolution and start the second installment….
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
Reading/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
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
Victoria Schwab is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers — and I’m having a lot of fun exploring her catalog.
One aspect that makes Shwab’s output so appealing is her world-building. And that strength is fully on display with This Savage Song. In an urban fantasy world, a monster wants to be a human, and a human resisting the urge to become a monster. August and Kate come from the ruling families on opposite sides of a brewing conflict who are sent to the same school. Kate has been trying to get back home with her father since her mother died and August is sent undercover to keep an eye on her.
Schwab resists the urge to make August and Kate into a Romeo-and-Juliet-like couple, instead opting to make them become friends and reluctant allies in an attempt to keep a seemingly unstoppable impending war from happening. Each has his or her own secrets (August’s is particularly intriguing) and could be a useful pawn in the other side’s attempts to sway the balance of power.
Schwab’s world is full of strong characters, careful world-building, and earned dramatic escalations. The novel builds up the tension and does end on a cliffhanger that left me curious to pick up the next installment in the series and continue to explore this world and the lives of August and Kate. Continue reading
Thanks to the quirks of KTEH’s (a bastion of Doctor Who in the U.S. back in the day) scheduling of Colin Baker’s first season as the Doctor, I saw season 22 of classic Who a lot during my first decade or so as a fan. That kind of explains why it’s been a hot minute since I dusted off that particular season on either my VHS or DVD collection. It’s probably been at least a decade since I really dabbled in season 22 in a serious way — and boy, did revisiting Philip Martin’s adaptation of his script for “Vengeance on Varos” show that.
Martin takes a page from the master of the Doctor Who adaptation, Terrance Dicks, and gives us essentially the same story we get on-screen. Though to Martin’s credit (and Dicks in the early days before they chained him to a typewriter and he churned out eight novels in a year), he does at least try to make the story feel like it unfolds over a longer duration of time than what we got on-screen. Martin makes it feel like the Doctor, Peri, Jondar, and Arata spend a bit more time wandering around the punishment dome, trying to find a way out and escape. He even extends things out enough so it appears the Doctor has passed away for longer than five-minutes than we see on-screen.
There is an extended sequence where we pull back the curtain and see how the Governor truly lives when he’s not negotiating with Sil or being sprayed with death rays. And don’t forget that part where he has Sil fall into the vat of liquid that he’s constantly being sprayed with on-screen.
But despite all these flourishes, it’s the story of “Varos” that continues to shine through and where the success or failure of this particular story lies. Continue reading
One of the eternal questions debated on many a playground is if you could pick one superpower, which one would it be and why? Odds are that a lot of the responses are going to be the old standards of flying, running fast, or becoming invisible.
The becoming invisible portion is the basis for one of the building blocks of the science-fiction genre in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. Odds are that even if you haven’t read it, you’re aware of the basic outline of the story thanks to multiple pop-culture retellings or uses of the character over the years.
For this year’s Vintage SciFi Month, I decided that I’d take a look at the foundational novel in the genre and see if it holds up.
Since it was included as part of my Audible subscription, I decided to take advantage of it and began listening. And immediately found myself not really looking forward to going back to it. The story of a scientist who invents a serum that allows him to become invisible and then becomes a raging ball of id just never quite connected with me this time around. Doing a bit of research, I found that Wells initially serialized the story, which then put into the Doctor Who frame of mind of figuring out where the cliffhangers all were. And maybe the story would have worked better unfolding in weekly or monthly installments. But I’m honestly not so sure. Continue reading