Category Archives: book review

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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Review: Falling by T.J. Newman

Falling

T.J. Newman’s Falling created a buzz in the publishing world, landing her a big-league publishing contract and multiple studios looking to adapt the novel for the silver screen. Newman’s background of working in a bookstore and then as a flight attendant made for a potent combination and I have nothing but respect for her tenacity in getting his novel published.

I just wish I’d loved it as much as many of the authors who provided a cover blurb for the novel did.

Pilot Bill Hoffman takes on a last-minute assignment to pilot one-hundred-and-forty-three souls from the West Coast to the East Coast. This move has created tension at homes, where Bill promised his son he’d be there for a critical baseball game. But little does Bill know that will be the least of his worries by the end of the day.

Seems that a group of terrorists has kidnapped Bill’s family and is holding them hostage. Bill now has a choice — sacrifice his family or the souls aboard his plane. And if he tries to tell anyone or call for help, his family pays the price.

The idea of a good man being put into an impossible situation and required to make a choice isn’t necessarily a new one. And for the first third of Falling it feels like Newman might be trying to explore this dilemma a bit. However, the longer the situation goes on and the more players she puts on the field, the less interesting the dilemma and the story become. By the end of this one, I was reading mostly to see if my guesses for what happens next would come true and less because I had any investment in the story or characters.

And that may be the biggest drawback to Falling — the lack of any characters to invest in. Each character feels more like a cliche than an actual person. And while I can see what the story is trying to do with the motivation of the terrorists (which takes far too long to come to light), I’m not necessarily sure I walked away feeling like the characters or this reader has necessarily learned anything.

Honestly, I’m not sure what all the buzz is about. This one has potential, but it never quite lived up to it.

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Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alex E. Harrow

A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables, #1)New takes on classic fairy-tales are nothing new.

So for Alex E. Harrow’s new spin on Sleeping Beauty in A Spindle Splintered to feel like it’s exploring an entirely unique take on the classic fairy-tale makes it something special.

Zinnia is approaching her twenty-first birthday and the end of her life. A rare condition that causes protein build-up in her body and rarely sees people live past twenty-one has loomed large over her life for as long as she can recall. So, when her best friend throws her the best birthday party ever for someone whose time is rapidly closing, Zinnia finds herself transported inside her favorite fairy-tale.

Harrow sells this one as Sleeping Beauty meets Into the Spider-Verse and she’s not wrong. But that elevator pitch doesn’t really indicate just how subversive and entertaining this take on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty really is. A great deal of the enjoyment stems from Zinnia’s first-person narration, which is equal parts jaded, cynical, and optimistic. This is a refreshingly new take on the material and one that was a pleasure to read.

In the interest of full disclose, I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall

The Delaney family history is intricately tied to the world of tennis. Stan and Joy meet and fell in love playing tennis and ran a successful and prestigious Australian tennis academy for years. Each of their four children played the game, with varying levels of success.

Now grown and having taken a step back from the world of tennis, the Delaneys world is shaken up when a mysterious woman shows up on Stan and Joy’s doorstep and is taken in, and then months later, Joy vanishes, leaving her cell phone behind. Suspicion falls on Stan, who isn’t forthcoming with answers. Of course, neither are the Delaney children who each harbor their own secrets and are firmly divided on whether or not Stan did something nefarious to their mother.

And yet, despite all this swirling of potential family drama, Liane Moriarty’s The Apples Never Fall falls into the same trap as many of her other offerings — it simply overstays its welcome. The central mysteries (who is the girl, where is Joy?) propel the first third to half of the novel, as do the character-building of the various children and their secrets. But its once we get to the fateful Father’s Day (which is heavily foreshadowed to the point they might as well put flashing neon signs saying, “This is important!” above passages about it), that things began to derail a bit.

Part of this could be that the group of siblings tied to a sport and having daddy issues was explored already this year in Malibu Rising (and probably better done there, to be honest). Part of it could be that Moriarty’s books all seem to tread water in the middle third, not really dolling out new information so much as presenting things we already know again, just from another character’s take on it. I’m all for giving us character insights by showing us how various characters react to the same circumstances. It’s just that the insights should feel like insights rather than attempts to pad the overall page count.

Maybe I am just not cut out for the domestic thriller. Maybe I have different expectations of the central mystery in a novel that advertises itself as a mystery.

Or maybe I should just consider this the final confirmation that while Moriarty can create a hell of a set-up that taking the journey of reading her novels fully isn’t necessarily for this reader.

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Review: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

In the Wild LightWhen Cash’s best friend Delaney discovers a new fungus that could help treat multiple diseases, she becomes the toast of the world. Receiving multiple offers to pursue her educational aspirations outside of their small East Tennessee town, Delaney makes a bargain with a prestigious private school for her and Cash to be a package deal.

The only thing holding Cash back is his dying Pawpaw. Pawpaw eventually convinces Cash to go and a whole new world opens up to him, including his discovery that he might be a poet (and not know it).

A new novel from Jeff Zentner is something to look forward to and In the Wild Light is no exception to the type of authentic, character-driven young-adult novels he’s written before. However, I have to admit that somehow In the Wild Light didn’t quite hit it out of the park in the ways some of his other books did.

It could be that part of it is because this novel feels a bit weightier than some of his other books. Cash’s struggle with his own self-worth and depression is well explored, though it does make for difficult reading in some passages — especially late in the novel as it feels Cash just can’t quite catch a break. And yet, in all the darkness, Zentner offers up a commentary on how the arts can help and their value. Cash’s discovery of poetry and his talent for writing it is one of the great threads in this novel and seeing Cash explore that part of himself is one of the best parts of this book.

>In the Wild Light includes some Easter eggs to previous works from Zentner. I’m sure I saw many of them but missed a few more along the way, but it’s that extra bit of world-building that was appreciated by this reader.

In the Wild Light is a great read. It has some beautifully realized passages that I had to just re-read to appreciate the beauty of the language. But, it could be that Zentner has set too high a bar in his previous works that no new book could quite exceed. This one comes close but just feels a bit off in the final analysis. But that still makes it one of the shining highlights of the young-adult genre and a book that’s definitely worth your time and attention.

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A Few YA Reviews

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

There's Someone Inside Your HouseExiled 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

Panic

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.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Dalek by Rob Shearman

51rkR2wzh0LOn television, “Dalek” is a masterpiece and possibly the best hour of the revived Doctor Who has yet produced. I’ve loved it since it first enthralled me upon first airing and it’s probably the new Who episode I’ve revisited the most.

So, when news broke that Rob Shearman was adapting the story for the second set of new Who Target novels, I was very excited. And a bit nervous, fearing the novel might not live up to my lofty expectations. Expectations only grew when the four new Target novels were pushed back a year in the early days of the pandemic and lockdown.*

* On a positive note, this gave me a chance to explore some of Shearman’s other writings, including his collection of non-Who short stories. This, as it turns out, was a very good thing.

And so it was, at last, that the four new Target novels hit my download queue and I could finally take a listen to “Dalek.” And I’m happy to report that Shearman has hit out of the park with this one. He’s taken one of the quintessential episodes of Doctor Who and turned it into a quintessential Target adaptation. I’m not sure I could have enjoyed this one more. Continue reading

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Summer Repeats: Re-Visiting Some Old Friends

Growing up, summers were the time when my favorite TV shows aired repeats of the previous season, allowing you to catch-up a bit , visit again with old friends, or discover a new favorite. Today with streaming, repeats have become a thing of the past and it’s all about new, new, new content.

This summer, I’ve been visiting a few old friends on the printed page — both through re-reading of physical copies and audiobooks. It’s been an interesting journey and I’ve been struck by a few things.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)It’s probably been twenty-plus years since I read Ender’s Game, so I figured it was time to visit this one again. I did wonder how knowing the twist at the end of the story might change my reaction to certain scenes and characters.

While knowing where it’s all leading certainly lends a different light to certain portions of the story, it still didn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the novel this time around. Continue reading

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Review: Billy Summers by Stephen King

Billy Summers

Billy Summers is one of the best in his business. However, that business is killer for hire, where Billy puts his military sharpshooter training to good use. Billy justifies his chosen profession by telling himself he only takes jobs where he’s eliminating “bad guys.”

Realizing that he’s only got a certain number of “bad guys” he can take out, Billy decides to take one last, extremely lucrative job and retire.

But what he didn’t count on was that while getting in place for the kill, that he’d start to immerse himself in the community around him, connecting with his neighbors under his assumed identity, and even starting an itch to put down some roots or establish a few human connections. Of course, Billy then has to complete the job, leaving those who met him, knew him, and grew to love him, scratching their heads at how this nice guy who played Monopoly with the kids could be a cold-blooded killer.

One thing you can say about Stephen King is he never writes the same book twice. He may revisit some of the same themes in his work — especially when it comes to exploring the process and the implications of writing — but he doesn’t repeat himself when it comes to characters and situations. And while he’s primarily classified as a horror writer, I’d argue that in the last decade or so, he’s moved away from just writing about the supernatural. Continue reading

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Review: Dream Girl by Laura Lippman

Dream Girl

I was probably one of the few who didn’t love Laura Lippman’s last book Lady in the Lake last year. It wasn’t that it was an unpleasant reading experience, but it just wasn’t up to my usual lofty expectations for Laura Lippman.

So, when I heard there was a lot of buzz surrounding her new book Dream Girl, I have to admit I was wary. Could it live up to the hype?

I knew the answer within reading the first ten or so pages of this one — I was hooked. In fact, I will (spoiler alert) go so far as to say this is one of Ms. Lippman’s best books. It’s something different for her — a thriller that isn’t necessarily plot-driven but is instead a character exploration. In her afterward, Lippman says that she wrote this response to Stephen King’s Misery and that connection is easy to see.

Gerry is a best-selling writer whose seemingly done it all. His first novel won critical and popular acclaim and while he’s published several books since none has burned quite as brightly. Along the way, Gerry has left quite a wake behind him in his personal life, including multiple ex-wives, various affairs, and an ex-girlfriend who has been squatting at the apartment he sold in New York when he moved to Baltimore to care for his dying mother. Gerry is opinionated, arrogant, and deeply flawed. In other words, he’s a human being who happens to be a best-selling author. Continue reading

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