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 →
Andy Weir has been hailed as a new shining star in the science-fiction universe.
The Martian was a character-driven, page-turner that burned quickly by and left you wanting more. Artemis was largely forgettable (so much so that I struggled to recall if I’d read it only a year or so after it was published).
Now, Weir is back with Project Hail Mary — and the result is somewhere in between. While not quite as compellingly page-turning as The Martian, Project Hail Mary has at least lingered with me after the final pages were turned, unlike a certain sophomore novel by Weir.
Ryland Grace is a middle-school science teacher, who wakes up in a stark white room with no memory of how he got there. Grace’s memory slowly starts to return (in convenient chunks at just the right time for the story’s dramatic purposes) and he recalls that Earth is facing an extinction-level event and that he was one of the three people chosen to be sent into deep space to save himself and our planet. Grace’s two colleagues have perished, leaving him to piece together not only where he’s been, how he got there, but also what he needs to do so hopefully save the planet. And he’s also got to make the first contact with a new alien race.
Grace may not seem like the most likely or likable choice to go on a mission to save humanity. And Weir does his best to make Grace a character we can sympathize with and root for. The problem is that I never quite developed the same investment in Grace that I did in Mark in The Martian. Mark was gifted in certain areas, but never came off as smarmy or overly smug, Grace does. I kept wanting to like Grace but I never found myself rooting for him in the same way as Mark.
Which is all well and good. I don’t expect an author to write the same book over and over again. But what I do hope is the author will find a way to engage me across each of his or her novels. Weir did that with The Martian but failed to do so in his last two books. The dilemma that Grace faces is intriguing enough. It’s just there are long stretches of the book when I feel like Weir is trying too hard to prove the science behind his science-fiction and not necessarily engaging the reader.
Project Hail Mary isn’t quite the triumphant return I’d hoped Weir would have. It’s good, it’s (for the most part) readable. But it never quite got its hooks into me in the way I’d hope it would. This one may drop Weir from my list of automatic reads.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve never read Jane Eyre, so I can’t speak to how faithful to the original Rachel Hawkin’s updated retelling, The Wife Upstairs is or isn’t. What I can speak to is that sense that this novel never quite connected with me.
Set in Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is on the run from her past. Working as a dog-walker for the city’s elite, Jane meets Eddie Rochester. Eddie’s wife disappeared (along with her best friend) under mysterious circumstances and is presumed dead.
So, of course, these two begin dating and their relationship moves rather quickly from dating to living together to engaged. Jane doesn’t want a big wedding for fear of publicity bringing unwanted questions from her past life, but her old roommate is more than willing to blackmail her to keep those pursuing her at bay. Jane works to keep one step ahead of her past, teasing readers with what it may or may not be for far longer than I had much patience for.
That really sums up my disappointment with The Wife Upstairs. It teases us for far too long (though we know a bit about what Eddie is up to early on) without giving sufficient answers to the questions raised until I’d long since lost most of my interest in Jane. I suppose if I’d cracked open a copy of Jane Eyre at some point in my life, I’d already know a lot of what is revealed in the final third of the book. But that might have ruined some of the “thrill” of discovering all this for myself.
Another issue with The Wife Upstairs is that it attempts to be a domestic suspense thriller without offering much in the way of thrills or suspense. I found myself more relieved to finally be done with the novel than satisfied with the overall reading experience once I turned the final page.
Overall, a disappointment.
I received a digital ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
One of my great literary pleasures of 2020 was discovering Katie Henry’s works. Henry’s young adult novels feature quirky teenage protagonists facing issues and dilemmas that most of us would struggle with as adults. The characters are all frustratingly relatable because, as readers, we can see how they could and should change themselves to make interacting with the world a bit smoother and easier. But, like all of us, they can’t or aren’t ready to make that change just yet.
Henry’s third novel This Will Be Funny Someday may be her best offering so far, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed her first two novels.
Sixteen-year-old Izzy has always felt a bit out of place. In her family, she sees herself as the odd person out when it comes to the matched pairs — her parents and her older twin siblings. At school, Izzy is protected by her relationship with her boyfriend, though even that has come at the cost of alienating her best friend. Izzy has deep-rooted issues when it come to assigning herself value — whether it’s the (misconception) that she ruined her mother’s career when her mom discovered she was pregnant with Izzy or the emotionally abusive nature of her relationship with her boyfriend. Continue reading →
Nearing her 23rd birthday in a small village, the Addie LaRue of 1714 wants nothing to do with her family’s plans to marry her to a widowed man nearly twice her age. Desperate to escape, Addie calls upon the gods, making a Faustian deal with a devil named Luc.
Addie won’t age. But she also won’t make an impact on the world nor will anyone she interacts with remember who she is. The deal runs out when grows weary and willingly surrenders her soul to Luc. But Addie didn’t count on the immediate heartbreak of her family instantly forgetting her, leaving her without a home and forced to find loopholes to make minor impressions upon the world for the next three hundred years.
Until one day, she wanders into a bookstore and meets Henry. And while stealing a book (Addie gets by stealing a lot of what she needs since people don’t recall her once she’s out of sight), Henry follows her and confronts her, saying the three words she’s been dying to hear for so long — “I remember you.” Continue reading →
Lindsey, Kendra, and Dani have shared multiple big life events over the year of their friendship. Their friendship has rubbed off on their teenage sons, who have grown up together and are very close.
Then one tragic night, everything is ripped apart, leaving one of their sons dead, the other in a coma, and the other unable or unwilling to provide any details of how, why, or what happened.
Lucinda Berry’s The Best of Friends has a great premise, a solid first chapter, and a great hook. It’s just too bad that the novel never really delivers on the promise of its initial chapter.
Part of this stems from Berry’s utilizing alternating first-person narration by all Lindsey, Kendra, and Dani. What should have been a great way to put us inside the emotions and thoughts of these three best friend as they try to make sense of what happened and why instead gives us three narrators who all come across as so similar that it’s hard to recall who is narrating each chapter were each one not identified at the top.
About a third of the way through the novel, I found myself earning for Berry to make one of the voices more distinctive, but it never happens. And while curiosity about what happened and who did what to whom kept me going, I never felt a connection with the characters enough to be truly shocked or rocked by any of the secrets each is hiding from her other friends.
We do get answers to the central mystery, but it ends of not feeling quite like enough. Maybe I’m spoiled by the likes of Laura Lippman or Elizabeth George who give us mysteries that not only work as puzzles to be solved but also attempt to give us some insight into the implications of the mystery on its characters and the larger world. I have a feeling this will be one of those books that I see crop up on my feed again in the near future and I’ll quickly forget most of the details.
I received a digital ARC of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Alex and Lulu are as close to star-crossed lovers as you’ll see in Coffee County High School.
Beginning in their freshman year, both run for class president on the platform of how to best use some of the school’s vacant land. Alex wants a batting cage, Lulu want a garden to provide the cafeteria with sustainable fresh fruits and veggies. Despite being opposites, there is an unmistakable attraction between the two.
That attraction plays out over the next four years of their journey through high school in Miranda Kenneally’s Four Days of You and Me. The story unfolds one day in May as their class takes a field trip — whether it’s to the local science museum, a theme park, New York City or London. Continue reading →
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, fondly remembered television series of the past received made-for-television reunion films. James Boice’s Who Killed the Fonz feels like it could be a long-lost reunion movie for the cast of one of my all-time favorite shows, Happy Days.
Beginning in 1984 (the year that Happy Days finally ended its epic run), Who Killed the Fonz finds Richard Cunningham at a crossroads in his Hollywood career. While he’s had success as a writer, including an Oscar nod, he can’t quite get his dream project off the ground. When his agent tells presents him an offer to make write a Star Wars clone, Richard is less thrilled. However, it’s either write the movie he doesn’t want anything to do with or face the end of chasing his dreams in Hollywood.
Then, Richard receives a call from Milwaukee that his old friend, Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli had died in an motorcycle accident. Seems that Fonzie flipped off the front of his bike on a bridge, plunging to his death in the icy waters below. Richard goes back to Milwaukee for the first time in twenty years to bury his old friend and to consider what the next stage in his career will be. (Marion moved out to Hollywood with Richard and Laurie Beth years ago after Howard passed away and they left the famous house to Joanie and Chiachi).
Billed as an 80’s noir thriller, Who Killed the Fonz is a loving homage to the classic series. Boice clearly knows his Happy Days lore, sprinkling in a few nostalgic flashbacks to classic episodes and moments from the series run as Richard comes to terms with the Fonz’s death and that he hasn’t been back to see his old friends in two decades.* He even has Fonzie’s funeral take place at the same funeral home used in the “Fonzie’s Funeral” two-parter late in the run of Richie episodes. Continue reading →
Neither Ivy Long nor Gabe Ledbetter could have predicted the chain of events that led them to serve as Mary and Joseph at the drive-through nativity in the small town of Ellery, Tennessee.
A published romance author, Ivy has suffered writer’s block since her husband passed away and plans fell through with their foster child. Gabe has returned home from Memphis, with a failing marriage and a looming malpractice suit.
So, when a baby is left in the drive-through Nativity, neither Ivy nor Gabe expected they would become her care givers. Nor could they predict the impact this little girl would have on their hearts. Could this be a Christmas present or miracle to help them both move on from their past and maybe find a new love — not just for the little girl, but for each other. Continue reading →
About two-hundred pages into The Wife Between Us the unreliable narrator notes that there are three sides to a marriage — his side, her side, and the reality of the situation.
This thought occurred to me long before Vanessa pointed it out to her readers. I also found myself wishing that the cover blurb and marketing materials hadn’t teased that there were twists contained within the pages of the story and that we’d question everything being related by the narrator. It would have made the surprises much more unexpected when Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen begin pulling the rug out from under us and playing with our assumptions.
After her husband divorces her, Vanessa is left trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. She is apparently obsessed with the woman who will soon be marrying her husband and will do anything in her power to warn his next wife of the secrets she hid before, during, and after her marriage. Vanessa teases tidbits to come that led to the demise of her relationship as well as the truth of what was really happening in her life and her marriage. Continue reading →