Tag Archives: book 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, review

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under ARC, netgalley, review

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

Leave a comment

Filed under audio review, book review, review

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

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, review

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

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, review

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….

Leave a comment

Filed under ARC, book review, books, netgalley, review

Audiobook Review: Prelude to Foundation by Issac Asimov

preludePrequels are difficult. Just ask George Lucas or Brannon Braga.

While there is a great opportunity to fill in the backstory for characters and do a bit of worldbuilding, it feels like the risks often outweigh the rewards. A prequel series can also be limiting in how many surprises or revelations an author or creative team can throw the fans way before fandom starts crying foul or screaming that this detail or that one has violated continuity or a long-held character belief.

But long before Star Trek and Star Wars were looking to their past, author Issac Asimov was taking the opportunity to fill in a few gaps in his Foundation novels. Asimov’s output of the ’80s seemed to be almost obsessed with finding ways to connect various threads across his novels and short stories. And so it was that we come to Prelude to Foundation, a prequel to his popular, award-winning series that explored the early days of Hari Seldon and some of the steps in the creation of psychohistory.

Less sweeping in scope than the other Foundation entries, Prelude to Foundation focuses on an early adventure of Seldon in the days after presented a paper on psychohistory. As the Galactic Empire begins to crumble, multiple parties see Seldon’s psychohistory as their opportunity to gain, keep, or consolidate power. Most of the original Foundation trilogy puts Seldon on a pedestal and gives us the image of a wise figure forecasting the fall of an Empire and doing his best to shorten humanity’s coming Dark Age. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under audio book review, audio review, audiobook review, books, science fiction, vintage science-fiction

Review: Together We Will Go by J. Michael Straczynski

Together We Will Go

Over my course of following the creative output of J. Michael Straczynski, one of his strengths has been the creation of diverse characters who form a connection with his audience. So, the highest compliment I can pay his latest offering Together We Will Go is that it continues that trend in the best possible way.

After suffering the latest in a long string of rejections, writer Mark has landed on his next project — an epistolary tale of a dozen strangers who have decided for one reason or another to end their lives. Renting a bus, Mark places an online ad to find people to join him on his final journey across the United States, planning to culminate the trip by everyone driving off a cliff near San Francisco. Riders earn their spot by agreeing to upload journal entries to a central server and occasionally having the audio transcript of dramatic moments archived and uploaded.

What Mark doesn’t count on is the diverse group of people who will join his cross-country trek and the ways various personalities connect and clash. He also didn’t count on the authorities in some of the states he’s crossing having an issue with a group of people on their way to commit suicide. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under ARC, book review, digital arc, netgalley, review

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….

1 Comment

Filed under audio book review, audiobook review, book review, review

More Reading Outside My Comfort Zone

People We Meet on VacationPeople We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

During a recent Twitter DM thread with an old friend and published romance author, I asked if the fact that I not only read but enjoyed both of Emily Henry’s “romance” novels meant that I had to turn in my “guy card.” She assured me that it was OK to enjoy any writer and genre I wanted.

Reassured, I’m here to report that I really enjoyed Emily Henry’s latest novel People You Meet on Vacation. Poppy and Alex became accidental best friends following their freshman year of college. Carpooling back to their small town in Ohio, the two bonded over various shared interests and some interesting disconnects. A year or so later, the two made a pact to take a summer vacation together each year.

And so, things went well for the first decade or so as Alex pursued his master’s degree and then began to share his love of literature with unsuspecting English students and Poppy pursued her dream of traveling the world and getting paid to share her experience and advice. Then, there was the infamous summer in Croatia and the two haven’t spoken much for two years. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under book review