Category Archives: audiobook review

#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 Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Face of Evil by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Face of Evil: 4th Doctor Novelisation

Featuring one of the best covers in the Target range, The Face of Evil is a solid adaptation of a classic serial from an era when Doctor Who could seemingly do no wrong.

Originally titled “The Day God Went Mad” (at least according to fan legend), The Face of Evil is a tight, taut, confident four-part story from Tom Baker’s third season in the role of the Doctor. Fresh off his adventures on Gallifrey, the Doctor arrives on a jungle planet that he’s visited before and had a huge impact upon. However, the Doctor has no memory of his previous adventure there nor the damage he’s inflicted on the societies there.

Terrance Dicks fills in the gap of the Doctor’s previous adventure with a deft, concise backstory that places the original visit during a slight gap in the fourth Doctor’s first story, Robot. It’s hard not to wish that Dicks had a bit more time adapting this one and an expanded page count because a chapter detailing the Doctor’s first visit might have been welcome.

Instead, we get an adaptation of the solid script, complete with a bit of character work for some of the supporting cast. In many ways, this is Doctor Who‘s take on the original Star Trek trope of a mad computer holding a society hostage. However, there’s no Captain Kirk around to “Gracie Allen” logic said computer into submission. Instead, the Doctor has to find a way to undo an error he made in a post-regenerative haze.

In a season full of classic serials, The Face of Evil is another outstanding outing. The audiobook is full of the usual highlights from the Target audio range from sound effects to dramatic music. Louise Jameson turns in a solid performance for this one, though I will still argue her interpretation of Tom Baker’s Doctor doesn’t always necessarily ring true.

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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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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: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Big Shot by Jeff Kinney

Big Shot (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #16)After sixteen entries, it would be easy to think that Jeff Kinney could be running out of material for his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. However, if Big Shot is any indication, that won’t happen soon.

This edition finds Greg dipping his toe into the world of sports — first with field day and then with basketball. Both situations have their amusing moments, including some nice moments with Greg and his mother as she pushes his basketball career. Kinney does a nice job of keeping Greg relatable to readers and his asides are usually pretty funny and well observed. There won’t be any huge surprises here, but after sixteen books, you can’t really expect Kinney to reinvent the wheel.

What you do get is a satisfying entry to the series that was entertaining and welcome.

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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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