There’s something intimate about getting to hear an author read their work. In the case of Laura Lippman’s collection of essays My Life as a Villainess, it feels just a bit more intimate — almost as if you’ve been invited to coffee with Lippman and are getting the chance to hear bits and pieces of her story.
Fifteen essays covering a wide range of topics from our obsession with celebrities to her early days as a newspaper reporter in Waco to her thoughts on her unconventional approach to motherhood. (One particular sentence that haunted me is about seeing your child go through the same types of things you once faced and being powerless to stop them from hurting someone you love so much). As with her fictional writing, Lippman hits home time and again with observations and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Lippman turns the searchlight on herself time and again, detailing not only successes but also shortcomings in her life. At times as I listened to this audiobook, I felt myself thinking, “You know I could be friends with Laura Lippman.” That is, of course, assuming we lived anywhere near each other and I didn’t try to man-splain The Wire to her (I must apologize because as of this stage in my life I haven’t found the time to watch all of The Wire yet. It’s not for lack of desire, it’s just that I’m a slacker when it comes to catching up on my quality tv shows).
Of course, as with all sets of non-fiction essays, there are times I found myself nodding in agreement with what Lippman was saying and times when I felt myself disagreeing and wanting to discuss our differences with her (again, without mansplaining. At least I hope I wouldn’t.). Reading these essays, we get to see inside the world and mind of one of the best writers working today. If you’re a Lippman fan, this is a must read.
The final televised Third Doctor story to reach the printed page was something of a disappointment when I read it initially thirty plus years ago. However, thanks to the audiobook line from BBC Audio, I was given the opportunity to visit the story once again.
In the years since I first read the novel, “The Ambassadors of Death” has grown a bit in my estimation. Yes, it’s still the weakest story of season seven, but that’s damning a bit with faint praise.
Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the John Whitacker/Malcolm Hulke script does a serviceable job of trying to condense seven episodes into the mandated page count. Dicks is able to streamline some of the action sequences (Liz Shaw’s car chase, for example, takes about a paragraph or so) and give a bit more time and space to early developments. However, after listened to some of Dicks’ earlier works when he was given more time to develop the characters and add in some background details to the situation, I can’t help but wish he’d had don that here. Imagine the Dicks who wrote “Day of the Daleks” being allowed to fill in the history of the Mars Probe missions or even time to make General Carrington a bit more of a sympathetic villain (or at least give us a better understanding of his motives).
I can’t help walking away from this one feeling like it’s a missed opportunity more than anything.
And yet, for all of that, the audio version was still a pleasure to listen to. Part of that is narrator Geoffrey Beavers, who could probably read Malcolm Hulke’s grocery list and it would be utterly scintillating to the listening ear. Once again, Beavers shows he’s one of the jewels in the audio book line.
Before I began running, I used to joke that running couldn’t be as much fun as they say it is because you never see anyone running with a big grin on their face. And while I may not have a big smile planted on my face most days while out pounding the pavement, I can’t help but think I had a big smile planted on it for much of the time I was working out while listening to Remembrance of the Daleks.
Based on one of my favorite seventh Doctor stories (and one of my favorite stories from the entire run of Doctor Who), this novel was one that I spent months looking for in book stores when it was first published (back in the days before Amazon and other on-line sellers) and then eagerly consumed once I’d found it. It was one of my favorite entries from the Target novels lines — taking a great story and making it even better with some world building, character development and hints about the past of the our hero, the Doctor that, at the time, I lapped up with a spoon.
I’ve still got my original copy of the book, sitting proudly on my bookshelf with all my seventh Doctor Target novels. And I was fascinated to see that this novel was chosen to represent the seventh Doctor’s era for the fiftieth anniversary books that came out a couple of years ago. And yet for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to re-read the book. Part of me was worried that my memory would cheat and the re-read couldn’t live to the memories I had of reading it. And then there was part of me that said — man, if there was ever a novel I’d love to see become part of the audio range, it would be that one.
And so it was that when the Target audio range finally got rolling again this year, I was took great delight to see that Remembrance of the Daleks was headed to audiobook. I ordered it the audiobook, quickly converted it to .mp3 for my iPod and was ready to start listening. Continue reading
Don’t fall in love with a Vargas. That’s the vow of the Hernandez sisters after two of Jude’s older sisters had their hearts broken by a Vargas brother. One got stood up at prom and another saw an engagement called off just weeks before the wedding. Each of the four Hernandez sisters swore and signed an oath that they wouldn’t get involved with a Vargas boy.
But when her father develops early onset Alzheimer’s, Jude wants to defy the doctor and experts by helping her father restore his Harley. And that means hiring a Emilio Vargas to work on the bike. Jude hopes she can keep his identity hidden from her sisters and parents, who may not react well to having Emilio spending time in their barn, working with their father and putting the old motorcycle back together. But as her father slowly disappears into his illness and parts of his life vanish from his memory, Jude finds herself isolated from her old friends and touched by Emilio’s sensitivity and connection not only to the Harley but to her father as well.
Could it be that Emilio is the apple that fell far away from the family tree? Or will he eventually revert to family type and break Jude’s heart?
One of the things that keeps me from embracing the Big Finish range more than I do is that it seems too determined to maintain the sensibility of the classic Doctor Who serials from which it springs. No where is that more evident than in Andrew Smith’s latest offering to the range, Mistfall.
A sequel to Smith’s own Full Circle, the story finds the fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough heading back to Alzarius, just in time for Mistfall to happen again. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, mind you, except that Alzarius is in a separate universe and the story spends a good bit of the first episode negotiating the TARDIS and our heroes back into e-space. Once we get there, we head to Alazarius where the Marshmen are rising from the swamps and people are trapped on the planet. There’s also a nefarious agenda involving the Marshmen thrown in for good measure.
Smith incorporates some aspects from his novelization of Full Circle here, but I just couldn’t quite get past the feeling that we’d been here before that pervades the first two installments. Things pick up a bit in the third part when the story begins to go in different directions, leading to a hurried fourth installment that tries to wrap up things a bit too quickly and neatly for my liking. The pacing for this one is entirely off and the story as a whole suffers for it.
And, of course, this being the current state of the main range for Big Finish, this one has to be the start of a trilogy of stories. Again, we’ve had a trilogy of stories in e-space and they were fairly successful the first time around. I can’t help but get the feeling of “here we go again” from the inevitable cliffanger to end the story, but dammit, if they don’t make it just intriguing enough that I want to come back and see how it all unfolds.
Clocking it at 13 episodes, “The Dalek Masterplan” is one of the longest stories from the classic series and one that, for a long time, I had next to no exposure to. I’d read the synopsis of it in my well-worn and much-loved copy of The Doctor Who Program Guide but beyond that I had little or no awareness of how the story unfolded episode to episode until the early 90’s when Target finally worked out a contract with Terry Nation to adapt several of the Dalek stories from the 60’s.
And given the long running time for the story, Target wisely decided to split the story into two halves, thus insuring that the story was done justice and that fans could purchase two books instead of one to complete their collection. The author chosen for this undertaking with John Peel, who had earlier had success adapting “The Chase” for the printed page. At the time, I recall thinking Peel was an ideal choice for the role and eagerly reading both installments.
Now close to twenty years later, I have visited Peel’s two part adaptation of the saga again and found that it doesn’t quite stand up to the test of time or my memory. Part of this could be that the BBC released narrated soundtracks of the episodes years ago, thus allowing me to get as close as possible to experiencing the lost story as we’re ever likely to get (assuming they don’t turn up tomorrow and I have to buy the story on DVD). There is also the DVD release of the three orphaned episodes from this story that exist in the archives which serve only to whet the appetite for more (it’s probably for the best that the seventh installment which serves as the series first Christmas special isn’t one of them. I think the three episodes we have do a nice job of giving us a taste without necessarily overstaying their welcome). Continue reading
Hitchhiking his way across the country, Reacher ends up in Maine near the Canadian border. Picked up by tourists from Canada, Reacher shares a ride and a meal with them (in a diner, because where else would Jack Reacher have a meal?!?), he parts ways with them. Only to find a few hours later that the trails are closed and the military police are out in force.
Reacher is drawn into the mystery of what happened to the hikers and what the military police are so intent on hiding from the world at large.
As far as Reacher stories go, this one is a perfectly entertaining enough one. Honestly, it felt a lot more complete and enjoyable that the last longer Reacher novel in the series. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and it tells an effective little mystery.
One of the better Reacher novellas that Lee Child has published in the last few years.
I listened to this one as an audio book, read by Dick Hill. It runs ninety minutes and it never felt like there was any dead period where my interest waned. I’m grateful my local library allowed me to download this as part of their digital audio collection.
While I’m sure there were either crossover, limited series events before Secret Wars arrived on the scene, Secret Wars was the one published at the height of my love of comic books and one that featured one huge development in the life of my favorite super hero. Yes, I’m referring to Spider-Man getting his infamous black suit, an event that set off twenty years of new continuity for my favorite (then and now) super hero.
Interestingly, the whole black suit thing takes up less than five minutes of this audio adaptation of the entire saga, somehow feeling less monumental than I recall it being in the initial wave of comics. Or it could just be that we had to wait EIGHT issues into the storyline to see Spidey get his new duds. Or it could also be that there are twenty years of spin-off storylines from that one single event that it pales in comparison to what was to come — namely Venom and a whole lot of other symbiotic baddies that would menace our hero.
Secret Wars begins with the kidnapping of various Marvel heroes and villains. Sent to a strange far-off place called BattleWorld, the heroes and villains are promised their fondest wish if they will battle each other until only is left standing. This promise is made by a mysterious creature known only as the Beyonder. Interestingly, the hero team isn’t exactly the most unified for much of the storyline with various hero teams not trusting each other — the Avengers don’t have much love for the X-Men because Magneto has, for some reason, been lumped in with the heroic side of things instead of being with the various baddies that include Doctor Doom, Doc Ock and others. Continue reading
Along with trimming the tree, making cookies and enjoying the lights, there are certain traditions that I look forward to each Christmas. One of them is enjoying stories of the season in various forms of pop culture media — movies, television shows (if the second season episode of Happy Days where Fonzie comes over to the Cunningham’s for Christmas dinner doesn’t make your heart grow three sizes with Christmas spirit, I don’t know what will) and literary ones.
One of the familiar stories that makes its way into my rotation every few years is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’ll still admit I’ve got a soft spot for the Disney records adaptation that my parents gave me years ago on vinyl with Scrooge McDuck as Scrooge and a lot of catchy songs that will get stuck in your head for days, but I still enjoy visiting the story of Scrooge and the spirits in the original Dickens. I’ve listened to a couple of audio versions of the story, performed by various actors from Patrick Stewart to Tim Curry, but this year’s visit was performed by the man best known for his role as the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker.
I’ll admit I’ve got a certain fondness for Mr. Baker, so it’s hard to set aside that bias here. But his performance of this classic story is among the more satisfying and enjoyable I’ve heard. And given that I’m not generally a huge fan of his readings of classic Doctor Who Target novels, that really surprised me. Baker is restrained at times and completely over the top at times, but it all works. He brings an infectious joy to the transformed Scrooge that works so well that he cast aside memories of the previous audio version I’d listened to with Tim Curry. (He won’t necessarily make you forget Patrick Stewart, but then again few actors will make you forget Patrick Stewart).
As always, when it comes to re-reading a familiar story, I’m struck by the nuances that are included in Dickens’ original telling and those that don’t generally make it into the pop culture adaptations. One thing that struck me this time is that the ghost of Christmas past takes Scrooge back to his childhood and establishes a bit more of his relationship with his sister and tells us her fate. It’s helps to establish one more reason that Scrooge becomes as hard-hearted as he is when we meet him in this story. I also find it intriguing to see what his nephew’s wife thinks of Scrooge during the ghost of Christmas present segment. Too often, I think adaptations in pop culture emphasize the Cratchett family and Tiny Tim and overlook some of the other connections that Scrooge has.
It’s one good reason to be a literary snob and pick up the original source material every once in a while — whether on the printed page or as an audio book. And this audio book is one of the more engaging and spirited (pun fully intended) versions I’ve experienced and one that I highly recommend if you’re looking for a good way to enjoy a classic and get into the holiday spirit.