Category Archives: review

Audiobook Review: She Wouldn’t Change a Thing by Sarah Adlakha

She Wouldn't Change a Thing

When Maria Foresman agrees to see a new patient named Sylvia, she has no idea how profoundly her life will change. She travels back in time to when she was seventeen years old and hadn’t met her husband, much less had two children with another one on the way.

Sarah Adlakha’s She Wouldn’t Change a Thing is a novel with time travel at its core but it is less concerned with the mechanics of time travel as much as time travel’s impact on Maria and several other characters. The novel starts off with an extended look at Maria’s life pre-time travel so that we can feel the loss and desperation to get back to her original timeline with her. There are also several other narrative threads that seem tangential at first but slowly become connected to Maria’s story and dilemma.

And Maria does face a dilemma about time travel — equipped with knowledge of one potential future, can she make alterations to the timeline and possibly jeopardize the future as she knew it?

Adlaha’s character-driven time travel is one of the more intriguing stories I’ve read or listened to this year. The power of “what if”

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Review: I Love It When You Lie by Kristen Bird

I Love It When You Lie

Less a suspense-thriller and more a character study of three women in a small town in Alabama, Kristen Bird’s I Love It When You Lie can’t quite seem to decide exactly what it wants to be. Which is a shame because there are glimmers of an intriguing story and character-study in each section of the novel.

The women of the Williams family have always been on the wrong side of the authorities in their small town. But now as they prepare for family to assemble for their grandmother’s burial, each of them holds a secret that could unravel their world. There’s Tara, the pastor’s wife, who doesn’t see why she can’t skim a little off the top of the offering plate to “pay” for her services at bookkeeper for her husband’s congregation. There’s June, who thinks that taking a newborn baby whose biological mother has passed away from the hospital where she serves as a nurse, will only jump-start the adoption process. Then, there’s Clem, who’s in a relationship with her professor/mentor who has a history of romancing his students and then moving easily from one relationship to the next.

Their stories are all wrapped by flash-forwards to another member of the family, sitting in an interrogation room and being interviewed about a potential crime.

As a character study of the Williams family and how each character makes less-than-ideal choices based on the circumstances life has presented to them, the novel works. As a suspense thriller about the sheriff of a small town holding a grudge and possibly finally finding a way to bring the hammer down on the family, the novel falls a bit short. As the story advanced, I found myself more invested in each of the Williams sisters and what led them to their grandmother’s funeral than most of the flash-forwards. The long-teased secret feels a bit too teased and drawn out, with this reader becoming tempted to skim these passages to get back to the stories of each sister.

All in all, there’s enough here for me not to look for future work by Bird, though.

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

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Audiobook Review: A Guide to Being Just Friends by Sophie Sullivan

A Guide to Being Just Friends

Sophie Sullivan’s A Guide to Being Just Friends feels like a page out of a Hallmark Channel holiday movie — well, minus the snow and season’s greetings.

Following a bad breakup, Hailey has put out her shingle in the business world under the banner of a new, made-to-order salad restaurant. Wes has gone into business with his brothers, trying to escape their domineering father and memories of a bitter divorce between his parents.

When the two cross paths in a meet-cute moment (he assumes she’s the woman he’s been chatting with online at the coffee shop next to Hailey’s salad shop), Wes realizes he owes Hailey an apology. And then, the dance begins as the two decide their lives are just too hectic to date, but they can be just friends.

Except there are things simmering here that could come to a full boil.

Sullivan crafts two protagonists you can easily root for in this romantic comedy. Along the way, there are speed bumps and, given the alternating viewpoints of both our potential romantic partners, this does lead to some frustration in later chapters when the (inevitable) conflict arises.

However, that’s not to say there isn’t a lot here to enjoy. There is, but there were moments I grew frustrated with the story and characters.

The audio version of this works well, though Timothy Andrés Pabon’s narration as Wes tends to come across a bit faster than Stephanie Willing’s does as Hailey. This makes the transitions from one narrator to the other a bit jarring a first, but you will easily settle into the rhythms and voice of each person telling his or her side of the story.

In all, this is a fairly fun diversion and one that I’d recommend if you want a Hallmark Channel-style rom-com.

I received an arc of the audiobook via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Audiobook Review: Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Class Mom (Class Mom, #1)

Jen Dixon isn’t your typical kindergarten-class mom. She already has two daughters in college from her days wandering the globe as a music groupie and a son who is entering his first year of kindergarten with her (relatively) new husband. Despite her protests, Jen’s best friend talks her into being a class mom for her son’s class — and hijinks ensue.

In her attempts to inject a bit of humor and personality into the class parent’s emails, Jen opens herself up to all types of criticism and judgment from her fellow parents. Never mind that she’s trying to get the job done and figure out the quirks of her son’s teacher (for example, she doesn’t believe in “Hallmark holiday” parties, making planning for said events problematic). She also can’t help that one set of parents uses a parental cocktail party to have a friend pedal her jewelry — and the assumption this was Jen’s idea.

Laurie Gelman’s Class Mom is equal parts hilarious and eye-opening. Seeing Jen navigate the class parent waters is entertaining — even if some of the situations she finds herself in are seemingly over the top. Gelman’s performance of her book is spot and helps you feel for Jen and her self-created issues, including the innocent flirting with her former high school crush that slowly gets out of hand and threatens her marriage.

Jen feels entirely authentic, even as some events spiral out of control. The delight she and other class parents find in trying to delve into their children’s teacher is one of the highlights of the novel.


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Audiobook Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Diper Överlöde by Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Diper Överlöde (The Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series)

Most of the entries in Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series are a lot like the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker movies of my younger days — throwing a lot of jokes and seeing what’s going to stick. This leads to some absolutely hilarious moments on the perils of growing up and to some mainly other forgettable moments. And I suppose I shouldn’t scoff at anything this is encouraging young people to crack the cover of a book.

But as I listened to the seventeenth installment, Diper Overlode, I couldn’t help but think that either the formula is wearing a bit thin or that maybe it’s time to have Greg grow up a bit.

Some of that may stem that instead of putting Greg front and center this time around, the focus is his older brother Rodrick and his dreams of having his garage band become the next big thing. Yes, Greg is there to relate most of the exploits that Rodrick and his band engage in while trying to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands, but I can’t help but feel like a lot of the story is happening without Greg being a vital character to things. Much of it is Greg relating things Rodrick has told hi or the story stretching to find ways to include Greg as part of Loaded Diaper.

Yes, there are so amusing moments including Greg and a band member stealing a drumstick from an animatronic gorilla at the local equivalent of Chuck E.. Cheese. But there are moments where Rodrick and the band get to meet their band heroes that ring a bit more hollow than usual because Greg has little or no investment in the band beyond his big brother being a fan. I can’t help but wonder if deviating from the formula by having Rodrick narrate things might have helped a bit here.

All this isn’t to say this is a terrible book. It’s just one that feels like a lackluster entry in what has been an enjoyable series — and one that I’m reliving with my daughter, who is fully enthralled with the exploits of Greg and company.

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Review: The Winds of Change and Other Stories by Issac Asimov

The Winds of Change and Other Stories

Even though Isaac Asimov published prolifically across multiple decades, his stories feel like they should fall under the #vintagescifi umbrella. So it is that each year for #vintagescifimonth, I always want to pick up an Asimov collection to try and gain some headway on the sheer volume of short stories he published

The Winds of Change is a collection that dates from the mid-’80s and while it only has one or two stories that would be considered “vintage” by their publication date, the entire collection feels like it’s “vintage Asimov.”

My favorite story from the collection is “Fair Exchange,” in which two Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiasts meet, fall in love, and marry around their shared love of the duos plays, including the lost score to a Thespis. The premise is that our narrator is given the chance to leap back into the mind of an ordinary person from the era and ends up saving the score from being lost, but there’s a Twilight Zone-like twist/price to doing so. As a fan of classic Doctor Who, I often wonder what price would be too high to have a full catalog of the last episodes from the program’s earliest days in the archives and/or sitting on my shelf on whatever physical media of the moment is. This story made me stop and ponder the question and its implications in greater depth.

Of the twenty-one stories in the book, some are hits, and others are misses. Asimov includes several stories that serve as long versions of “dad jokes” complete with the groan-inducing pun at the end. The only story that qualifies as “vintage” is “Belief,” about a man who is slowly levitating but apparently can’t control it. In the introduction, Asimov notes that the publisher asked for a revision to the original ending, which was apparently a bit darker. The note made me curious about his original intentions for the story in light of the happier ending. Apparently, Asimov didn’t have a copy of the original ending for publication here.

Each story comes with a short introduction by Asimov, which offers some insight into the creation and/or publication of each story. The peek inside the mind of the writer is a fascinating one — and one that I kind of wish we’d got a bit more of. I foresee myself seeking out Asimov’s autobiography at some point in the near future based on these introductions.

As with any short story collection, mileage varies from story to story. I will say the first half feels a bit stronger than the second half, though I do like Asimov’s decision to include the stories alphabetically.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Romans by Donald Cotton

Doctor Who: The Romans: 1st Doctor Novelisation

As Doctor Who celebrates its sixtieth anniversary later this year, the Target audiobooks line looks to complete the range that began a decade and a half ago. For the first seven months of the year, the range is releasing one story from each classic series Doctor that hasn’t seen the audio light of day until now.

And honestly, the range may not get a better classic Who release than the first novel of the year, “The Romans.”

After a recent diet of novels did little more than translate the shooting script to the printed page, “The Romans” is a delightful breath of fresh air. Told in epistolatory style, the varying first-person viewpoints are well-done and delightful. Whether it’s the Doctor believing that the slave he keeps seeing looks an awful lot like Barbara to Ian wondering if an alternate timeline through his actions and writings to Nero’s uncertainty as to whether he rules Britain or not, the shifting perspectives keep you on your toes — and laughing all the way.

This may be one of the wittiest and laugh-filled entries from the Target line, with Cotton clearly not giving two figs and going for the gusto. This may not please the strictest of fans who want the novel to mimic the story we got on-screen. However, this one falls into that canon of later Target books that enhanced and deepened the enjoyment of the TV stories. (I can’t wait to get to this serial in my current rewatch of the classic series if only to recall the various thought processes and reflections Cotton gives us here).

The audiobook only enhances the enjoyment of this novel, featuring a wide range of talented narrators bringing each person’s section delightful to life. The cover gives away which actors appear, though the version I purchased didn’t detail who narrated which part (or at least if it did, I didn’t look), thus ensuring some smiles and pleasant surprise over the all-too-brief running time of the audiobook.

My only disappointment comes that the audio range couldn’t lure William Russell out of retirement to read the portions of the story told from Ian’s point of view. But that is just nitpicking what is one of the more enjoyable and delightful entries in this range.

Listening to “The Romans,” I now feel I have to listen to Cotton’s other two books for the range, though I may take a bit of a gap between them. Right now, most other Target books are going to pale in comparison to this one.

A superb beginning to celebrating sixty years of Doctor Who.

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Review: Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto Is Back

Carrie Soto rules the tennis court during her career, stacking up wins, earning the nickname “The Battle Axe,” and setting a record for most Grand Slam wins. But while she collected trophies, she didn’t collect many friends and even fired her father as her tennis coach.

Six years into her retirement, a new tennis phenom is setting the world on fire in Nicki Chen. When Chen ties Soto’s record for Grand Slam wins, Carrie decides it’s time to come out of retirement and win back her record. With bridges repaired with her father, the Sotos embark on a mission to take the tennis world by storm. But will Carrie’s now-thirty-seven-year-old body allow her to dominate the way she did in her youth and can she win the elusive next title?

Taylor Jenkins Reid takes us inside Carrie’s head for the journey in her masterful Carrie Soto Is Back. Reid has been on the must-read list for a couple of years now with Daisy Jones and the Six and Malibu Rising. But there’s something about Carrie Soto that feels like Reid is taking us to the next level. It could be the singular focus on Carrie’s story as related by her. Or it could be the story of redemption and ambition tempered with being inside Carrie’s mind as she doubts herself and whether she’s doing the right thing or not.

But most of the novel’s success comes down to the superlatively drawn father/daughter relationship. Carrie’s father introduces her to the world of tennis and is an early guide to her career and then helps her find her way back for a comeback. I didn’t realize how invested I’d become in the relationship between Carrie and her father until certain events unfold late in the story and I found myself getting a bit of a lump in my throat — while reading at the dentist’s office as I waited on a family member.

Of all the books I’ve read by Reid, this is the one that sticks the landing the best. It’s bittersweet that the story ends for the characters involved exactly when it needs to, answering most of the big questions but leaving a few things for us to wonder about and fill in the gaps with our own imaginations.

Given that Reid inserts Easter eggs from other novels into other works, I wouldn’t be shocked to get an update on Carrie in a future story — and it’s something I will look forward to reading.

For now, Carrie Soto Is Back is an utterly satisfying story, steeped heavily in personal and professional redemptions for a compelling first-person narrator. I can’t recommend this one enough. Try it. I think you’ll like it.


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Review: The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series by Jessica Radloff

The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series

As an early adopter of The Big Bang Theory, it seems strange that the series not only thrived but is also ubiquitous in syndication today. And while I may not love it in quite the same way I do Seinfeld, I was intrigued by the opportunity to peak behind the scenes with this oral history of the show’s twelve seasons.

The first half of the book which details the early days of the show and examines how the show came together and developed is fascinating reading. Hearing the various parties offer little tidbits and bombshells of what happened in the early days (the network originally wanted Raj’s character recast and/or cut) makes for fascinating reading, as well as how the original cold open is dropped from syndication these days makes me want to fire up HBO Max and revisit the early days of the series. However, as with many DVD commentaries, I find that the more time has passed, the greater the perspective of those involved to critically examine their creative process and output. Once we get to chapters on later seasons and the decisions to end the series and it feels a bit more like everyone saying “Oh, we were so good” and doing a victory lap.

It made the second half of the book a little less intriguing than the first half, but overall, it’s still worth reading.

Jessica Radloff assembles just about everyone who ever worked on the show for interviews here and weaves their reflections together into an imminently readable story about one of the most popular sitcoms of the last two decades. I have a feeling that my grandkids may be watching this one and asking me to explain some of the pop-culture references at some point. And I’ll probably be trying to convince them that Seinfeld is better (it is, but that’s not the point of this review).

I will warn you that a lot of the more intriguing tidbits of this oral history have been given away by various industry outlets when the book was first published. This just reinforces my sadness that pop culture these days is treated more like a contest with who can spill the biggest details first and forget about the ordinary mere mortals out here who can’t or don’t have time to consume everything within the first two hours of it being out on the market. However, there are still some details and context those kiss-and-tell articles didn’t get into or spoil.

If you love The Big Bang Theory, you’ll love this book. I did walk away from it feeling like an oral history of Two and a Half Men might also be intriguing, given the references to that show peppered in this book and the differences between the two. But I have a feeling all the participants from that one aren’t as likely to get together and spill the beans as the participants from this one are.

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Holiday Audiobook Reviews: The Twelve Dates of Christmas and The Upside Down Christmas

The Twelve Dates of ChristmasThe Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss

With the title The Twelve Dates of Christmas, I expected Jenny Bayliss to do more with each of the holiday-themed blind dates than this novel ended up doing. Instead, it’s a friends-to-lovers romance between a local coffee shop owner and the girl who moved back to town to take care of her father.

Bayliss earns all the tension and undercurrent of attraction between coffee-shop owner Matt and newly returned to town Kate. She even throws in a few speed bumps for the two — they slept together once in their teens but never talked about it, Matt has a girlfriend, Kate is meeting twelve potential suitors that could steal her heart away. My big issue with the book is that the speed bumps are easily removed with little or not subtlety of foreshadowing. The biggest is when Kate goes on a date with Matt’s girlfriend’s ex and he admits he still loves his ex. So, we can all see where that is heading.

And yet despite being somewhat predictable, I still kept listening. Odds are that was due to the English accent of the narrator Elizabeth Knoweledon (the irony that her name sounds like Noel and this is a holiday romance isn’t lost on me).

Overall, a predictable romance that doesn’t quite live up the promise or premise of the title.

The Upside Down ChristmasThe Upside Down Christmas by Kate Forster

Following the death of her mother and her father remarrying, Marlo moved from England to Australia to start her life again.

Five years later, she’s living with flatmate Alex, working as a legal secretary, and dating a nice enough guy. Well, until the guy leaves a Halloween party with someone else, and Marlo is suddenly left questioning all her life choices.

Oh, and she’s also seeing a growing romantic interest in her flatmate, Alex, rearings it’s head.

The Upside Down Christmas is light and frothy enough –and that may be the biggest issue I have with the story. Marlo feels like she’s just sitting back, waiting for things to happen in life, rather than having any kind of motivation to make strides herself. Even when she decides to go back to school and pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer, it feels like good things just fall into her lap because she’s a nice person.

And while the roommates to more storyline is solid enough, it just’s a hair too predictable for its own good.

All in all, this is one that should have taken a queue from the title and maybe made Marlo’s life a little more upside down before giving her (inevitable) happy ending.


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