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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: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Big Shot by Jeff Kinney

Big Shot (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #16)After sixteen entries, it would be easy to think that Jeff Kinney could be running out of material for his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. However, if Big Shot is any indication, that won’t happen soon.

This edition finds Greg dipping his toe into the world of sports — first with field day and then with basketball. Both situations have their amusing moments, including some nice moments with Greg and his mother as she pushes his basketball career. Kinney does a nice job of keeping Greg relatable to readers and his asides are usually pretty funny and well observed. There won’t be any huge surprises here, but after sixteen books, you can’t really expect Kinney to reinvent the wheel.

What you do get is a satisfying entry to the series that was entertaining and welcome.

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Audiobook Review: Firestarter by Stephen King

FirestarterBack in the ’80s, my local library had a special section filled with materials for teenage readers. Not only did it have spinner racks full of books, but there were also magazines targeted at developing minds like Starlog and Mad Magazine.

I was aware of Stephen King, though I hadn’t yet dipped my toes into that horror master’s body of work just yet. So, when Firestarter appeared in the spinner rack one day, I decided that it might be time to put aside my worries of being scared to the edge of my seat and give Stephen King a try. And while I wouldn’t say Firestarter is exactly a top-ten classic from King, it made enough of an impression that I picked up another King novel, then another, and now, over thirty years later, I’ve read pretty much everything that King has written.

Now with a new version of Firestarter headed to our screens, I decided it was time to revisit my first King novel, though this time I did so on audio.

Eight-year-old Charlie McGee has a gift — she can start fires with her mind. She got this ability from her parents, who participated in a college experiment sponsored by the mysterious governmental entity known as The Shop. While Andy, her father, has low-level powers that allow him to impose his will upon subjects, Charlie is the focus of the Shop and its leader, Cap. Her power could be a decided advantage to whatever government gets control of her — assuming that Charlie can control them, that is.

Andy and Charlie are on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the Shop agents. As the net closes in on them, the two are pushed to their breaking point and it could lead to disastrous consequences for all concerned.

I’d forgotten large chunks of Firestarter, so it felt like (at times) I was reading it for the first time. What struck me most this time around was the bond between Andy and Charlie and seeing how far Andy will go to protect his daughter. As a father to a little girl, Andy’s motives and actions come to make complete sense, up to and including the sacrifices and risks he’s willing to take to keep Charlie out of the Shop’s hands. There are some great passages in her that demonstrate this, especially in the first half when Andy and Charlie are on the run.

The novel loses a bit of momentum in the middle third when the Shop finally catches up to them and takes them into custody. King tries to establish their main adversary in John Rainbird, a disfigured man who wants to understand death, but I never quite found myself connecting with Rainbird in quite the way I’d hoped. I can see that King is trying to create a villain who believes he’s the hero of this particular tale, but I’m not entirely sure it succeeds.

The middle third is all about moving pieces into place for the final explosive showdown. We get a preview of it in an early battle between Charlie and the Shop, but it’s the final battle where everything goes for broke.

King’s use of flashbacks to fill in details is an interesting one — especially since a lot of the flashbacks come from Andy’s point of view. The initial experiments and the day that the Shop tortured and killed Andy’s wife, Vicky, are particularly chilling and well done.

And yet, I still can’t help but come away from this one thinking it could have been a bit tighter. It feels like we spend a lot of time between battle one and battle two — and that time feels like it’s treading water a bit.

I still say this is a good entry point to the world of Stephen King, though it’s not necessarily a favorite.

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Audiobook Review: The Arrangement by Robyn Harding

arrangement1For her first Father’s Day, my daughter gave me an engraved keychain that says, “A girl’s first love is her father.”

Listening to The Arrangement, the image of the keychain kept popping into my head time after time. I couldn’t help but feel like the young woman at the center of his novel desperately needed a positive father or father figure in her life. And that she was seeking out the father figure in all the wrong places.

Natalie is a struggling art student at a prestigious school in New York City. Struggling to pay rent and keep up with her studies, Natalie slowly finds a mountain of debt piling up on her and with seemingly no way out. Estranged from her father (he left when she was ten) and not having the greatest relationship with her mom and step-dad, Natalie is averse to taking out a student loan to finish her course work since her field of children’s book illustrator may make it difficult to pay off said loans.

Natalie finds the solution in a friend from class who seems to live in the lap of luxury as a sugar baby to rich men who want beautiful women to be seen with them around town. For a fee, a Sugar Daddy can take these women on expensive dates, trips, etc. It’s not even really prostitution (at least as Natalie justifies it to herself) because the transaction is about companionship, not physical intimacy. (But make no mistake, there can be physical intimacy if both parties desire).

Natalie sets up a profile on a sugar babies website and meets Gabe, a wealthy older gentleman, who lists himself as single but is actually still married to his college sweetheart and has a teenage daughter. Gabe is stepping out because his wife has just survived cancer and he’s not quite as attracted to her in the same way. Also, her sex drive has diminished, and divorcing her would be costly both financially and socially. Continue reading

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#VintageSciFiMonth: “Breeds There A Man,” “C-Chute” & “What If –” by Issac Asimov

nightfallasimovAs #VintageSciFiMonth continues, I’ve read/listened to a few more of Issac Asimov’s short stories from his Nightfall and Other Stories collection.

Breeds There a Man?  (4.5 Stars)

“Breeds There a Man?” shows a different side of Issac Asimov and it’s one I found fascinating.

Elwood Ralson is a brilliant physicist who can apparently look at a problem and come up with a solution. As humanity lives under the threat of nuclear war, Ralson may be the only hope for one side to create a defense against nuclear attack. The only issue is that Ralson is suicidal and psychologically unstable.

Ralson operates under the theory that humanity is little more than an experiment in a test tube for higher intelligence and that anytime humankind gets to a certain level, the experiment is wiped out and everything starts over again.

The concept is a compelling, fascinating one and Asimov explores it well in the course of this story. It’s interesting to note how early on, Asimov shows an inclination to exploring why there are highs and lows in the history of humanity and how his characters attempt to combat them.

C-Chute (5 Stars)

Asimov’s work is typically filled with robots rather than aliens. So a short story that presents an alien race is intriguing for him.

“C-Chute” is a bit of space opera with loftier ideals and well-drawn characters. In the near future, humanity is at war with an alien race. Our freighter is caught in the middle and its various passengers and crew are taken as prisoners of war. The group goes from being at each other’s throats to trying to find a way to escape and rescue themselves before being held on the aliens’ home world.

A compelling, taut story that was adapted for X-Minus One. I will definitely be listening to it at some point. This is one of my favorite stories from this collection to this point.

In a Good Cause— (2.5 Stars)

In the preface, Asimov notes that this is a story where he disagrees with his main characters’ viewpoint. And I suppose, that could be interesting if the story were a bit stronger.

Two friends come into repeated conflict over whether or not Earth should become part of a central, unified government (think the Federation in Star Trek). The story unfolds on three days when one of them was arrested for his beliefs and explores why the two are on opposite sides.

It’s good, but I can’t help but think this one should have been stronger. The idea of one man being right at the wrong time is intriguing. I did have a hard time not seeing this as a potential stepping stone for Gene Roddenberry in creating Starfleet, though it feels more like the Starfleet of TNG and beyond than it does TOS.

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Audiobook Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (James Bond, #11)

While reading On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I found myself wondering if Ian Fleming had ever been married and what his relationship with his spouse was like.

The question arose early in the story when the father of Tracey (the supposed love of Bond’s life) is having a conversation with Bond about the pursuit of Tracey’s mother. When the comment that some women just want to be raped came up (not for the first time in the Bond series, mind you), I couldn’t help but wonder about Fleming and his wife. Living in the world of easy researching, I quickly found out that the romance and relationship of Fleming and his wife was a volatile as I expected based on some of the comments made by various male characters in his novels.

And yet, interestingly enough, it’s never Bond who makes such statements. If Bond is intended as some type of Mary Sue for Fleming, it’s interesting to note that while he enjoys the company of the ladies, he doesn’t necessarily support forcing his interest on them. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Bond is exactly a knight in shining armor — though Fleming would have you think he is. Bond is a man of opinions and principles. While he isn’t agreeing that some women just need to be sexually assaulted, he is quick to agree that what the depressed Tracey needs is some good loving — and he’s only too happy to provide that interest for her.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feels like Fleming is trying to do some character building with Bond, though whether or not it’s a success depends on the reader. Some of the more recent Bond movies have suggested that Bond is a relic of different era and it feels like Fleming is saying that in this novel. Bond is dismissive of certain trends that younger men seem to be showing throughout the novel and clearly believes that his old-fashioned ways are the way to a woman’s heart –or at the very least her bedroom. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters

Satisfaction Guaranteed

In a family full of dreamers, Cade Elgin is the one with her feet firmly planted on the ground. She’s spent years as her parents’ accountant and helped their art gallery survive and flourish. It doesn’t leave much time for any other considerations in life, including in the romance area. It probably doesn’t help that one of Cade’s first romances was overly critical of her, leaving her full of self-doubt.

Selena Elgan is also full of self-doubt. A promising art student, seduced by her professor, Selena gave up on art when that relationship crumbled, even going so far as burning all her paintings. Working in Cade’s aunt’s sex-toy shop, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Selena has decided to swear off sex and romance until she can prove to herself that she’s an adult.

When the aunt dies, Selena and Cade are left co-ownership of Satisfaction Guaranteed and given a month to try and get it above water again. But apparently, the aunt had other intentions beyond making these two business partners — she saw that Selena and Cade needed each other and could be exactly what each other needed.

With the unique sex-toy store setting and quirky, believable characters, Satisfaction Guaranteed is an enjoyable romantic comedy that hits all the right notes. Of course, there is a lot of early denying the obvious attraction these two feel for each other and the road to love never does run smooth. But all of those speed bumps feel entirely earned by Karelia Stetz-Walters over the course of the story. Both Cade and Selena are flawed characters who can’t get out of their own way at times — which makes you root for them just a bit more as the story unfolds.

The audio version of this one was light, fun and wonderfully entertaining.

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Audiobook Review: Foundation by Issac Asimov

Foundation (Foundation, #1)

One of my reading goals for 2021 was to re-read or experience anew the classic sci-fi series getting pop-culture adaptations — Foundation and Dune.

Halfway though 2021, and I’ve made good on part of that with my listening to Issac Asimov’s Foundation. I have to admit that listening to the novel was a different way of experiencing one of the giants of the science-fiction genre and one of the pillars (notice I didn’t say foundation) that all of science-fiction is built upon.

The good news is that Foundation still holds up. It’s a rich, episodic novel that is less concerned with space battles and space opera and more on having characters debate big ideas and moments. The Galatic Empire is failing and historian Hari Seldon says there is nothing that can be done to stop it’s fall. However, the length of the coming Dark Ages can be shortened if all of humanity’s knowledge is collected together on a single planet in a single resource.

Early on, humanity looks to Seldon to guide them through various crises, before realizing that Seldon has pulled a bait-and-switch. There is no intention of publishing an encyclopedia with all of humanity’s knowledge included. Instead, Seldon has created a group to be a beacon of light in the dark times and to possibly consolidate and wield power. And so, over the course of several thousand years, Asimov details the men who will come to power and the crises that will face civilization continuing.

It’s a fascinating series of stories — ones that never fail to intrigue me or hook me. I will go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think Foundation is quite as solid as Asimov’s robot novels, but that’s probably because I read the Robot novels first. The first entry holds up well, though it does concern me how this might be adapted for the screen since most of (OK, all of) the huge dramatic action tends to take place off-screen and we’re treated to various characters talking about what happened and the ramifications of those actions.

I’ll still be tuned in for the upcoming series, though based on the previews, it looks like they’re adapting the first two books for season one. But after listening to this one again, I don’t hold out much hope that the series can and will be as good or as impactful as the book.

Now, time to keep that resolution and start the second installment….

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Underworld by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Underworld: 4th Doctor Novelisation

This is one of the few novels from the Tom Baker/Louise Jameson era of classic Doctor Who I had in my original Target books collection. It was only because I somehow kept missing the serial — whether it was my PBS station skipping it in the rotation or just plain not setting the VCR right to catch it when it was repeated (ask your parents, kids).

So, for a long time, my only impression of this story came from Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the Bob Baker and Dave Martin scripts. And that probably helped things a good bit because, quite frankly, Dicks seems a bit more invested in this fourth Doctor story than he is in many of the others he adapted. Continue reading

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