Category Archives: book review

Review: Together We Will Go by J. Michael Straczynski

Together We Will Go

Over my course of following the creative output of J. Michael Straczynski, one of his strengths has been the creation of diverse characters who form a connection with his audience. So, the highest compliment I can pay his latest offering Together We Will Go is that it continues that trend in the best possible way.

After suffering the latest in a long string of rejections, writer Mark has landed on his next project — an epistolary tale of a dozen strangers who have decided for one reason or another to end their lives. Renting a bus, Mark places an online ad to find people to join him on his final journey across the United States, planning to culminate the trip by everyone driving off a cliff near San Francisco. Riders earn their spot by agreeing to upload journal entries to a central server and occasionally having the audio transcript of dramatic moments archived and uploaded.

What Mark doesn’t count on is the diverse group of people who will join his cross-country trek and the ways various personalities connect and clash. He also didn’t count on the authorities in some of the states he’s crossing having an issue with a group of people on their way to commit suicide. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Foundation by Issac Asimov

Foundation (Foundation, #1)

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….

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More Reading Outside My Comfort Zone

People We Meet on VacationPeople We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

During a recent Twitter DM thread with an old friend and published romance author, I asked if the fact that I not only read but enjoyed both of Emily Henry’s “romance” novels meant that I had to turn in my “guy card.” She assured me that it was OK to enjoy any writer and genre I wanted.

Reassured, I’m here to report that I really enjoyed Emily Henry’s latest novel People You Meet on Vacation. Poppy and Alex became accidental best friends following their freshman year of college. Carpooling back to their small town in Ohio, the two bonded over various shared interests and some interesting disconnects. A year or so later, the two made a pact to take a summer vacation together each year.

And so, things went well for the first decade or so as Alex pursued his master’s degree and then began to share his love of literature with unsuspecting English students and Poppy pursued her dream of traveling the world and getting paid to share her experience and advice. Then, there was the infamous summer in Croatia and the two haven’t spoken much for two years. Continue reading

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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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Review: Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Ready Player Two (Ready Player One, #2)

While I loved Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One upon first reading, a subsequent reading didn’t do it any favors.

So, I have to admit I was a bit wary when I heard Cline was headed back to that RP1 universe with Ready Player Two. I wanted to believe that Cline could somehow capture the lightning in the bottle of my first reading of RP1.

Alas, I’m here to report that he couldn’t.

In many respects Ready Player Two is just a retelling of the story from Ready Player One. Yes, the stakes (such as they are) have been raised a bit, but it’s essentially the same story one more time — Wade Watts is given a task in which he must save civilization as we know it, via a contest put in place by Oasis founder, James Halliday. But where the first third of Ready Player One was about world-building and getting us to like Wade, the first third of Ready Player Two is about transforming Wade into an insufferable jerk, who by the time the quest begins I found myself wishing that something terrible would happen to him. Where Wade was relatable in the first book, he becomes unbearable in this one, with long passages that seem simply put in to prove he’s the world’s biggest expert on everything that has ever existed in pop culture.

At several points, I felt like I’d wandered down a bad sub-Reddit or YouTube thread, inhabited by those who believe they know better than the creative people creating content about what a particular franchise needs or wants instead of reading a novel. This may be why it took me so long to wade through the book (pun fully intended here) and why finishing it seemed like such a chore. Look, I wanted to believe in this book and to enjoy it. It just never happened.

This makes two novels in the last few months that I picked up on the basis of the author’s first book and came away disappointed by. At this point, it may be best to relegate Cline and Andy Weir to the status of one-hit wonders and not on the automatic “must-read” lead I placed them on after their first offerings.

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Review: The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek by Lance Parkin

The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek

“When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.”
— The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

This famous quote from the iconic John Ford Western could easily apply to Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry was a good storyteller, who rarely (at least according to this book) shied away from an opportunity to present himself as the hero of any particular story — whether it was behind-the-scenes battles to maintain the integrity of his vision of the future or being one to take credit for the successes of Star Trek while finding a scapegoat in others for its shortcomings.

In the thirty years since Roddenberry’s death, fandom has been given the opportunity to examine the Roddenberry legacy and to wonder just how much of the success of Star Trek could or should be laid at his feet. Lance Parkin’s The Impossible Has Happened attempts to distill multiple narratives into a single cohesive portrait of the man who created Star Trek and his legacy. Parkin’s assessment is an honest one — probably somewhere in middle between the official Roddenberry biography and the unauthorized one. Parkin throws in details from various other cast and crew members behind-the-scenes looks at the Trek phenomenon to give us his assessment and view of the man and his franchise. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny

Early Morning Riser

Locking herself out of her home, new-in-town second-grade-teacher Jane calls for a locksmith. When Duncan shows up, he not only finds a quick and easy way into Jane’s house but also her life.

From their first weekend together, Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser chronicles the ups, downs, and everything in between Jane and Duncan’s relationship and the community they build in the small town of Boyne City, Michigan. Checking in and out every few years, Heiny gives us brief insights into Jane’s world and the changes (or lack thereof) within it.

The novel is a remarkably low stake one in the best possible way. While the decisions Jane faces are momentous ones, often brought about by the slings and arrows of life, there aren’t any stakes like saving all of civilization as we know it. Instead, there’s Jane’s coming to grips with just who Duncan and is what he brings to the table as a romantic partner and friend. (At one point, Jane dumps Duncan because she realizes he has little interest in getting married again).

And yet, I couldn’t help but become invested in Jane and the cast around her over the course of this novel. The episodic nature helps a great deal and Heiny rarely leaves out detail for too long when jumping from one episode to the next. An early episode finds Jane ready to marry someone else until a tragedy strikes her community and we jump forward in time. Heiny teases the reader just long enough about whether or not Jane went through the wedding without feeling like she’s withholding for the sake of withholding.

Over the course of this story, it’s easy to become invested in Jane, Duncan, and the quirky cast surrounding them. Late in the story, when Jane worries that Duncan might be getting too close to his ex-wife while attending a funeral and their high school reunion, I couldn’t help but feel angry at Duncan for his possible betrayal and hopeful that he wouldn’t or couldn’t be doing what Jane suspects of him. Again, it’s low stakes (unless you’re Jane, and then it’s a hugely emotional stake!) but by this point, I was so invested in Jane and company that I found myself caring about them as if they were real people instead of characters in a novel.

In fact, the last episode finds Jane and company in 2019 and I’ve spent a couple of days since then wondering how Jane and her crew responded to the pandemic and what impact it had on their lives.

This is the best endorsement for Early Morning Riser that I can think of — the wanting to spend more time and see what the characters are still doing today. And yet, I didn’t walk away feeling like the book was unsatisfying. It just creates such a relationship with these characters that you wouldn’t mind spending a few more pages with them.

A favorite novel I’ve read this year.

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Review: Later by Stephen King

Later

There are plenty of drawbacks to being a kid; check it out. Zits, the agony of choosing the right clothes to wear to school so you don’t get laughed at, and the mystery of girls are only three of them.

While it may be part of the Hard Case Crime series, Stephen King’s narrator Jamie keeps reminding us that it’s really a horror story.

Take Jamie at his word.

Jamie sees dead people — not like the kid in The Sixth Sense mind you. In Jamie’s case most of the people he sees know they’re dead and gradually begin to fade away. Jamie’s has this gift since he was a young boy, using it to help a woman tell her husband where to find her misplaced jewelry and talking to the spirit of a dead author her mother works with to get the details on the final book in a best-selling series that the author died before finishing.

Those things may seem a bit tame in the world of ghost stories. But, again, Jamie keeps reminding us that bad things happen Later. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library

Like most people, Nora Seed has regrets. She regrets giving up swimming because of the strain it placed on her relationship with her dad. She regrets calling off her wedding to Dan and working with him to start a country pub. She regrets quitting a band with her brother just as they were on the cusp of success due to crippling social anxiety.

After being laid off from her dead-end job in a music store, Nora decides that her life is no longer worth living. She sets about ending things, only to find herself at The Midnight Library. The library is a kind of way station between this world and the next, in which Nora is allowed to pick from a myriad of books that represent different choices she could have made during her life’s journey. The hope is that Nora will find a life in which she’s happier or one that helps her erase the heaviness of her personal book of regrets.

And so, Nora starts trying on lives. She can return to the library at any time if she starts feeling the life doesn’t live up to her expectations. Continue reading

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Review: The Last Best Story by Maggie Lehrman

The Last Best Story

Defenders of high-school journalism, Rose and Grant were inseparable — until one fateful day a few months before the end of her senior year when Rose walked away from the paper and Grant. Now, it’s the night of prom and Rose is there with someone else while Grant continues to wonder why Rose walked away from the paper and the dream of becoming a journalist. When the school is put under lockdown, it’s up to Grant and Rose to get the real story of what’s going on at the big dance out to the world.

The Last Best Story wants to a hybrid of romantic-comedy, thriller, and ripped from the headlines social commentary. Unfortunately, these elements aren’t as well-blended as they could or should have been and the entire novel comes off feeling like it’s treading water for far longer than it should have.

Part of this is how entirely clueless Grant is about his role and influence over Rose. The obvious simmering attracting between the two occasionally bubbles over in flashback, but it feels a bit like watching Who’s the Boss where it felt like every sweeps period, we’d get something that might push our leads into a romantic relationship, only to see it backed off and the status quo reset by episode’s end. It was frustrating then and it’s frustrating here — especially given that the book is trying hard to give Rose a character arc. The question of whether Rose loves journalism or loves that Grant loves journalism and it’s rubbed off on her is an intriguing one that’s brought up, but never reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Add in an almost Scooby Doo level of “I’d have got away with it if not for these darn kids” level thriller plot and you’ve got a novel that just doesn’t quite add up in the final analysis.

One of the most disappointing novels I’ve read this year.

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