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Reading With Shortcake

It’s been a while since I checked in on Reading with Shortcake.  But not for lack of reading to her.  If anything, we’ve read a lot of books together — most of them many times.   It’s to the point that she can recite some of them to us and even knows when to turn the pages (which I’ve got to get on video soon, I keep reminding myself).

Here’s some of what we’ve been reading:

Another Monster at the End of This BookAnother Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone

After picking up a copy of the original Monster at the End of This Book for Shortcake, I was both excited and wary of this sequel.

We checked a copy out of our library and I’ve got to admit this one isn’t quite up to par with the original. The concept is the same — Grover is worried about a monster at the end of the book but instead of trying to keep the reader from turning pages, this time he’s trying to keep Elmo from proceeding to the final page with the promised monster.

This book confirms what many of have suspected for years — Elmo is a jerk. He knows Grover is worried about this monster but keeps tearing down every defense Grover throws up to get to the promised monster at the end of the book. All while claiming to be Grover’s friend.

We love the original. This one just isn’t quite as good. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: The Mind of EvilMany Whovians consider “The Daemons” to be the Pertwee-ist story of the Third Doctor’s era.

I tend to disagree and point instead to “The Mind of Evil” as the story that brings together most of the elements required for a “essential” Pertwee-era adventure. Featuring UNIT, the Master, and multiple threats to Earth, “The Mind of Evil” has long been one of my favorite stories from this era — and even the entire run of classic Doctor Who.

Which is why it’s a darn shame that Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the story doesn’t even begin to do it justice. If there were ever a story crying out for the rounding out of things that Dicks was able to do with “The Auton Invasion” or “Day of the Daleks,” it’s “The Mind of Evil.” Instead, we get Uncle Terrance late in his run of adapting the original version for the printed page. Continue reading

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Review: You Were Made for This by Michelle Sacks

You Were Made for ThisNo one here is exactly what they appears to be….

That quote from the first season of Babylon Five applies in spades to the trio of protagonists in Michelle Sacks’ debut novel You Were Made for This.

When Sam inherits a house from his Swedish aunt, he and his wife Merry decide it’s the perfect time to move and set-up the perfect home for their newborn son, Conor. As Merry delves into becoming the perfect stay-at-home mother, Sam pursues his passion to become a filmmaker. But lurking below the surface are secrets that each is hiding from the other — whether it’s Sam’s real reason for fleeing his job as a professor or Merry’s true feelings on becoming a mother.

Enter into this scenario a visit from Merry’s oldest friend, Frank. Frank knows Merry better than anyone else and her visit begins to slowly shatter the illusion that Merry and Sam have built up. It also exposes some older, deeper wounds and resentments that Merry and Frank harbor from growing up together. Continue reading

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Review: Who Killed the Fonz by James Boice

Who Killed the Fonz?In the late 80’s and early 90’s, fondly remembered television series of the past received made-for-television reunion films. James Boice’s Who Killed the Fonz feels like it could be a long-lost reunion movie for the cast of one of my all-time favorite shows, Happy Days.

Beginning in 1984 (the year that Happy Days finally ended its epic run), Who Killed the Fonz finds Richard Cunningham at a crossroads in his Hollywood career. While he’s had success as a writer, including an Oscar nod, he can’t quite get his dream project off the ground. When his agent tells presents him an offer to make write a Star Wars clone, Richard is less thrilled. However, it’s either write the movie he doesn’t want anything to do with or face the end of chasing his dreams in Hollywood.

Then, Richard receives a call from Milwaukee that his old friend, Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli had died in an motorcycle accident. Seems that Fonzie flipped off the front of his bike on a bridge, plunging to his death in the icy waters below. Richard goes back to Milwaukee for the first time in twenty years to bury his old friend and to consider what the next stage in his career will be. (Marion moved out to Hollywood with Richard and Laurie Beth years ago after Howard passed away and they left the famous house to Joanie and Chiachi).

Billed as an 80’s noir thriller, Who Killed the Fonz is a loving homage to the classic series. Boice clearly knows his Happy Days lore, sprinkling in a few nostalgic flashbacks to classic episodes and moments from the series run as Richard comes to terms with the Fonz’s death and that he hasn’t been back to see his old friends in two decades.* He even has Fonzie’s funeral take place at the same funeral home used in the “Fonzie’s Funeral” two-parter late in the run of Richie episodes. Continue reading

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Review: The Reckoning by John Grisham

The ReckoningSince I first picked up The Firm a quarter of a century ago, I’ve enjoyed journeying through the pages of a legal thriller with John Grisham. When he’s on top of his game, the pages seem to turn themselves.

At times, his latest novel The Reckoning had the pages turning quickly. At others, it was rough sledding to turn the pages, wondering why Grisham was taking us on an extended flashback sequence to the second World War.

Local war hero Pete Banning is a pillar of the community, farming his land and providing not only for his family but also the people who work for him. But that’s not to say that Banning hasn’t dealt with his own share of setbacks — whether it’s a poor growing season, low crop prices, or having to commit his wife to the state mental facility, forbidding his kids from visiting her.

But nothing could prepare his children or the community for the morning when Pete Banning takes his gun, visits the office of his local Methodist minister and shoots the pastor dead in cold blood. Banning heads home and prepares himself for his arrest, offering no defense for his actions and refusing to offer any explanation as to why he killed the minister. Eventually, Banning is sentenced to the electric chair and executed. Continue reading

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Review: Elevation by Stephen King

ElevationScott Carey is mysteriously dropping weight. Despite no changes to his diet or lifestyle, the number on the scale is slowly decreasing. And what at first seemed like a good thing, despite the fact that his outward appearance isn’t changing to coincide with his weight loss, Scott is slowly becoming worried about what might happen if he continues to waste away.

But before he does, Scott has decided he’s going to accomplish a few things in the small town of Castle Rock. One of those is befriending and helping the lesbian couple that moved in a few doors down from his house and who recently opened a Mexican restaurant.

Stephen King’s novella Elevation doesn’t have King pulling any punches or hiding his feelings on the current day political climate in our country. Several digs at the current administration are present, making this reader wonder if and how well this story will age. Odds are it not age as well, which is a shame because when King isn’t scoring a few political points, Elevation is a taunt story that unfolds nicely over its 200 or so pages. It’s not vintage King and it’s not the best thing he’s published this year (that goes to The Outsider), but it’s still a story that explores one of King’s favorite themes — how do ordinary people act and react when extraordinary things happen to them.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death: 3rd Doctor NovelisationThe 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.

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