Category Archives: review

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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Audiobook Review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

The GirlfriendThe Girlfriend by Michelle Frances
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Michelle Frances’ The Girlfriend‘s cover blurb had intrigued me enough to put it on my Audible wish list. So, when it was included in the Audible plus program, I figured I had nothing to lose except a few hours listening to it.

When Daniel falls for his real estate agent, Cherry, his mother, Laura can’t wait to meet her. And while their first meeting is cordial, both sides believe the other has an agenda for Daniel and his future. And so, begins the long, slow burn between Cherry and Laura.

The Girlfriend hints at something nefarious happening early in the novel before jumping back and forth in time to catch readers up on what’s happened and why. The problem quickly becomes that it’s difficult to sympathize with any of the characters over the course of the story. Every one has something to hide and it feels like Daniel becomes a pawn in some odd game between Cherry and Laura. And yet, I was intrigued enough to want to know the answers, even if my own guesses proved far more interesting to me than what we actually get here.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Meglos by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: Meglos: 4th Doctor Novelisation“Meglos” features one of the shortest run times in all of classic Doctor Who. If you remove recaps and the credits, the entire run of this one barely runs just a shade over eighty minutes — well short of the standard run time for a four-part serial. And while many will agree with this is the weakest entry for season eighteen, I choose not to see that as a blight on the story, but rather a compliment to just how good season eighteen really is.

And if we’re being honest, I’d rather watch “Meglos” than “The Horns of Nimon” any day of the week.

So, the sheer fact that Terrance Dicks is able to get the novel up to its usual page count and to actually enhance the story a bit is a testament to just how good Dicks can be. Oh sure, he can’t really explain away a sentient, talking cactus as the main villain, but he can at least give us a bit of backstory and a name for the kidnapped human who serves as a host for the titular “Meglos.”

Dicks also fills in a few gaps in the history of both worlds and the conflict between them, adding a bit of depth to the story. And yes, this is a story of doppelgangers and huge coincidences, but I honestly didn’t mind them as much on listening to the audiobook of this one. This isn’t a classic serial, but if taken in the right way, it’s a good one. The commentary on the conflict between science and religion on the planet Tigella seems like it could or should be more interesting or substantial than it turns out to be.

The audiobook of this one is another solid entry in the line. John Culshaw has become one of the strongest readers as the range starts to wind down — and not just because he imitates Tom Baker spot-on. Of course, having John Leeson on hand to read K-9’s lines is an added bonus.

Look, this isn’t a great story but it’s a damn fun one –and the audiobook reflects that. I don’t regret a moment I spent with this one.

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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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Review: The Stowaway by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

The Stowaway

Two years ago, Maria Fontana served on the jury of the suspected serial killer, Wyatt Butler. Ending in a mistrial that set Butler free, Maria’s life has been a whirlwind ever since that time as the world won’t stop hounding the jury, demanding to know who the dissenting vote was. When Maria outs herself as the lone juror who voted not guilty, things only intensify.

After a tell-all book by a possibly unscrupulous writer and being put on sabbatical due to her increasing instability, Maria is ready to get her life back on track with her fiancee and her two children. So, she books a cruise and looks forward to a week away and then entering the real world again. Alas, the two-year nightmare isn’t about to end for Maria. Instead, it’s about to get much, much worse.

A series of mysterious deaths on the ship, all connected to Maria and the trial take place. Could Wyatt Butler be on board and is his final target, Maria?

I’ve read and enjoyed the first couple of offerings from Impratical Joker James S. Murray and Darren Warmouth. Those novels weren’t exactly great literature, but they were still entertaining rides into horror. The Stowaway moves away from the horror genre and into the suspense area — and the result is a book that I couldn’t quite become as invested in. The characters are paper-thin and it feels like the suspense strung out a bit too long for my liking. We spend a long time wondering if Wyatt is on the ship, and, if so, where can he be hiding in plain sight. There are some pretty gruesome deaths in here as well — if you’re triggered by young victims in peril, this one might not be for you.

By the time we get to the final revelations and the twists, I’d pretty much guessed a good share of all of them.

This isn’t necessarily a terrible book. It’s just one that disappointed me.

It’s the literary equivalent of a bag of potato chips.

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

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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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Review: Much Ado About Barbecue by Sally Kilpatrick

Much Ado about Barbecue

Sally Kilpatrick’s latest novel, Much Ado About Barbecue should come with a warning label that you’re going to crave some good barbecue. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing — unless you don’t have access to good barbecue, that is.

Emma Sutton and Ben Cates have been rivals all their lives. It started in kindergarten when Ben pulled the chair out from under Emma and continued throughout their educational history, including Emma’s underpants winding up on the school flag pole. So, when Emma returns to town after a series of disappointments in her life, she quickly finds the rivalry resuming thanks to Ellery’s barbecue competition. Both families own barbecue joints in town, each praised and respected for differing ways of cooking the meat. Ben has reluctantly embraced using a smoker, while Emma’s family still does whole-hog pit barbecue.

There is a bit more to the rivalry between Ben and Emma than the competition for who has the best barbecue and juvenile pranks. Emma has repressed large portions of junior high school due and she holds a deep secret about possibly raining on Ben’s dream of playing baseball at the next level. Needless to say, these two are probably the last two people you’d imagine ending up together.

And like the main dish of the book’s title, the potential romantic entanglement is one that roasts slowly, marinating in its own rub of family secrets, long-held resentments, and misunderstandings. Along the way, we meet a colorful cast of characters from Jeremiah, the long-time pitmaster as Emma’s family barbecue joint (and a character I’d love to see get his own novel) to Ben’s sister, Shero.

Between family secrets, the slow-simmering enemies-to-lovers story, and a colorful cast of characters (including several familiar faces from previous Ellery novels), Much Ado About Barbecue proves to be another winner from Kilpatrick. Filled with the types of characters you’d expect to me in a quirky small town, Much Ado works much like the barbecue does — as a satisfying, enjoayble meal that left me fully satisfied and yet somehow wishing I had just a bit more room for another bite or two.

Taking a page from Shakespeare (maybe you’ve heard of him), Kilpatrick gives us her spin on Much Ado About Nothing in her quirky creation of Ellery. As with her other novels, Much Ado About Barbecue is a delightful gem and most likely destined to end up on my list of favorite books I read this year.

Add this one to your to-be-read pile, folks. Just don’t do it on an empty stomach.

Highly recommended.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. No bribing of barbecue was done or needed….

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