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Review: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabriel Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Sam Mazur and Sadie Green meet and bond over a Super Mario Brothers on the Super NES at the local children’s hospital – Sam is there recovering from a devastating car accident and Sadie is there with her sister, Alice. The two quickly become best friends, until Sam catches wind of the fact that Sadie was receiving community services hours for her bat mitzvah for spending time with Sam and he severs the friendship.

Until a chance encounter years later brings the two gamer lovers back together. Their friendship rekindled, Sam and Sadie become forever linked when they spend a summer creating an iconic video game and then the next twenty or so years trying to follow up on that initial success. Sadie wants games to be an art form, Sam wants to make money. In the middle is Sam’s roommate Marx, who becomes a business manager for their company and the third side of an intricate love triangle.

Borrowing a title from the Bard himself, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is an immersive love story of flawed, intriguing people and their impact on each other’s lives. It’s the story of rifts that develop and how they crumble and fragment the friends sometimes, bringing them together at others. The initial estrangement over Sam’s perception that Sadie was in their friendship for something more than just a shared love of video games is nothing compared to the fissure that develops early in their professional relationship when Sam insists on changing the identity of their main character from gender neutral to male and that the team take a deal to distribute the game that will give them a quicker payday up front, but limit their options down the road.

The slow burn that Sadie goes through for the next decade and the impact is has on the trio drives a good portion of the book – though it took a few pages and chapters to realize just what was happening and why it was happening.

Zevin clearly has a love of gaming – something that comes across on every page. The details of certain games will leave you yearning to revisit a couple of the games and even wishing that somehow the games we read about Sadie, Sam, and Marx developing and marketing could somehow become real and we could at least try them out. (I especially want to try Sadies’ game that involves blasting fragments from Emily Dickison poems)

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is an immersive story, at times, washed over me. The celebrations and the tragedies (both large and small) are profoundly felt. Each of these characters is fascinating, flawed, and unforgettable.

This is the type of story that comes to a natural conclusion, and yet you won’t want it to end. Simply put, this novel was the perfect read at the perfect time for me, connecting with me in all the right ways.

Easily one of the books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

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#20BooksofSummer: Normal People by Sally Rooney & This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

Normal People

About an hour into listening to Sally Rooney’s Normal People, a thought struck me — this is a romance novel with literary aspirations. And one that revelation stuck in my head, it was difficult to shake it for the rest of the novel’s run time.

Normal People languished on my TBR pile since I first heard the initial buzz about it. I’m not sure why really. I guess like Marianne, the book was content to to just sit there silently as I neglected it.

Marianne and Connell have grown up on different sides of the social strata in their Irish town. Marianne comes from a wealthy family who is emotionally distant and with a physical and mental abusive streak. Connell comes from a working-class background single mother who works for Marianne’s mother. Both attend the same school, but Connell is popular while Marianne is quiet and reserved.

The two begin a discreet relationship during the later part of their senior year, leading to all types of drama, angst, and misunderstandings. Both parties are concerned about social status and perceptions, though for very different reasons. We slowly uncover these as the novel unfolds. Continue reading

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#20BooksofSummer: Audiobook Review: The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

The Friend Zone (The Friend Zone, #1)

If you’re looking for a rave review of Abby Jimenez’s The Friend Zone, I encourage you to keep on scrolling. This isn’t going to be one. And in order to articulate why this one didn’t work for me, I will have to go into SPOILER territory. Consider this fair warning….

The story starts off with a meet-cute for Kristen and Josh, with a minor fender bender involving her best friend’s fiancee’s new truck and Josh’s car. Before too long, it’s revealed that they are both a significant part of their best friends’ wedding party and are suddenly thrown together to spend large amounts of time.

Kirsten is an independent business owner, making accessories for dogs including staircases to get up on beds. Josh needs a little extra income after his ex stiffed him with the bills for fixing up the house they shared. So, Josh starts working for Kristen and the sparks are starting to fly. Continue reading

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Review: Sparring Partners by John Grisham

Sparring Partners

Like Stephen King, John Grisham has earned a spot on the best-seller list for just about anything he chooses to publish. And similar to King, it appears that Grisham isn’t content to crank out the same book year after year to his adoring fans (I’m looking at you as the biggest culprit James Patterson)

This time around, Grisham offers up three novellas he says were written during the lock-down instead of a full-length novel.

Here are my thoughts on each of them.

Homecoming
Grisham returns to his world of Ford County and Jake Brigance. As a big fan of Jake’s, it’s nice to get to spend a hundred or so pages with him and the cast of characters Grisham has created. “Homecoming” centers on Mack Stafford, a former lawyer who got tired of his life in Clanton and disappeared three years before, leaving his family behind. He also took a large chunk of several settlements as well. Mack wants to come home three years later and see his family again. He reaches out to Jake and Harry Rex about coming home and the wheels start turning. Continue reading

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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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Review: Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson

Run Rose Run

Whenever I think of people I’m proud to say hail from my home state, Dolly Parton is one of the first people that comes to mind. Her program to ensure that every child in our state gets a free book once a month from birth to age five led to us referring to her as “Aunt Dolly” when each new book showed up for the first five years of my daughter’s life.*

*On a related note, going to the mailbox without the hope that a new book might show up just isn’t nearly as much fun.

So, when I heard that Ms. Parton was publishing a fictional novel, part of me was excited to see what kind of story “Aunt Dolly” might tell. My hopes for the novel were tempered when I heard that she was co-authoring the book with best-selling machine James Patterson.

But I still picked up Run Rose Run with a bit of optimism and hope.

After finishing the book, I’ve come away with a couple of thoughts. One is that the producers of Nashville should have put Dolly on the payroll to write for that show. The other is that Ms. Parton and Mr. Patterson are not two great tastes that taste great together. Continue reading

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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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Review: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

The Kaiju Preservation Society

Redshirts was John Scalzi’s homage and love-letter to all the tropes and cliches of the original (and still the best) Star Trek.

With his latest novel, The Kaiju Preservation Society, Scalzi brings the same level of love, homage, and poking fun to monster movies involving large creatures destroying large swaths of our world.

I’ll admit I’m not as steeped in the world of kaiju as I was Star Trek, so I probably missed a lot of the deeper nudges and easter eggs that Scalzi includes in this book. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy another great offering by one of my favorite writers.

As 2020 begins, Jamie Gray’s professional career is set. Heading into his performance review, Jamie sees great things ahead at his tech company that offers an alternative to UberEats or DoorDash. Jamie is blindsided when his boss not only demotes him but takes away his opportunity at a huge financial windfall that could see Jamie up for the foreseeable future. Instead, he’s offered the chance to be part of the team delivering meals to people.

At first, Jamie is dead-set against it. Then a real-world pandemic sets in and Jamie finds himself unable to find other work and so he begins delivering meals. While delivering one, he meets an old friend from college who needs a guy to “lift heavy stuff.” The pay is great and Jamie jumps at the chance — only to find himself on a plane to Greenland and a whole other universe that includes real-life kaiju creatures like the kind we’ve all seen in movies.

What follows is a fascinating, fun story that, like all good science fiction, brings up more than its fair share of big ideas and world-building. You can be forgiven if you don’t notice that as Scalzi is tickling your funny bone that he’s also engaging your thought processes along the way. In his afterword, Scalzi compares this book to a pop song–an entirely accurate description since a lot of the books will get stuck in your head and pop up when you’re least expecting it.

Overall, this is yet another winner by an author who’s been on a heck of a streak since Old Man’s War debuted all those years ago.

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

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