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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

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Audiobook Review: Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny

Early Morning Riser

Locking herself out of her home, new-in-town second-grade-teacher Jane calls for a locksmith. When Duncan shows up, he not only finds a quick and easy way into Jane’s house but also her life.

From their first weekend together, Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser chronicles the ups, downs, and everything in between Jane and Duncan’s relationship and the community they build in the small town of Boyne City, Michigan. Checking in and out every few years, Heiny gives us brief insights into Jane’s world and the changes (or lack thereof) within it.

The novel is a remarkably low stake one in the best possible way. While the decisions Jane faces are momentous ones, often brought about by the slings and arrows of life, there aren’t any stakes like saving all of civilization as we know it. Instead, there’s Jane’s coming to grips with just who Duncan and is what he brings to the table as a romantic partner and friend. (At one point, Jane dumps Duncan because she realizes he has little interest in getting married again).

And yet, I couldn’t help but become invested in Jane and the cast around her over the course of this novel. The episodic nature helps a great deal and Heiny rarely leaves out detail for too long when jumping from one episode to the next. An early episode finds Jane ready to marry someone else until a tragedy strikes her community and we jump forward in time. Heiny teases the reader just long enough about whether or not Jane went through the wedding without feeling like she’s withholding for the sake of withholding.

Over the course of this story, it’s easy to become invested in Jane, Duncan, and the quirky cast surrounding them. Late in the story, when Jane worries that Duncan might be getting too close to his ex-wife while attending a funeral and their high school reunion, I couldn’t help but feel angry at Duncan for his possible betrayal and hopeful that he wouldn’t or couldn’t be doing what Jane suspects of him. Again, it’s low stakes (unless you’re Jane, and then it’s a hugely emotional stake!) but by this point, I was so invested in Jane and company that I found myself caring about them as if they were real people instead of characters in a novel.

In fact, the last episode finds Jane and company in 2019 and I’ve spent a couple of days since then wondering how Jane and her crew responded to the pandemic and what impact it had on their lives.

This is the best endorsement for Early Morning Riser that I can think of — the wanting to spend more time and see what the characters are still doing today. And yet, I didn’t walk away feeling like the book was unsatisfying. It just creates such a relationship with these characters that you wouldn’t mind spending a few more pages with them.

A favorite novel I’ve read this year.

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Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue bu V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueNearing her 23rd birthday in a small village, the Addie LaRue of 1714 wants nothing to do with her family’s plans to marry her to a widowed man nearly twice her age. Desperate to escape, Addie calls upon the gods, making a Faustian deal with a devil named Luc.

Addie won’t age. But she also won’t make an impact on the world nor will anyone she interacts with remember who she is. The deal runs out when grows weary and willingly surrenders her soul to Luc. But Addie didn’t count on the immediate heartbreak of her family instantly forgetting her, leaving her without a home and forced to find loopholes to make minor impressions upon the world for the next three hundred years.

Until one day, she wanders into a bookstore and meets Henry. And while stealing a book (Addie gets by stealing a lot of what she needs since people don’t recall her once she’s out of sight), Henry follows her and confronts her, saying the three words she’s been dying to hear for so long — “I remember you.” Continue reading

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Review: Oh My Stars by Sally Kilpatrick

Oh My StarsNeither Ivy Long nor Gabe Ledbetter could have predicted the chain of events that led them to serve as Mary and Joseph at the drive-through nativity in the small town of Ellery, Tennessee.

A published romance author, Ivy has suffered writer’s block since her husband passed away and plans fell through with their foster child. Gabe has returned home from Memphis, with a failing marriage and a looming malpractice suit.

So, when a baby is left in the drive-through Nativity, neither Ivy nor Gabe expected they would become her care givers. Nor could they predict the impact this little girl would have on their hearts. Could this be a Christmas present or miracle to help them both move on from their past and maybe find a new love — not just for the little girl, but for each other. Continue reading

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Review: Bless Her Heart by Sally Kilpatrick

Bless Her HeartPosey Love hates three little words. Every time someone says, “Bless your heart,” Posey sees red.

But who could blame her? Her life hasn’t exactly turned out the way she pictured it would. After a decade of marriage, Posey hoped to be raising a child with her pastor husband. Still aching each month as she hopes for a positive instead of a negative indicator on a pregnancy test, Posey finds her world turned upside down when her husband absconds with another woman and leaves her with a repossessed car and a pile of outstanding debt.

Moving back in with her mom, Posey decides that she’ll “give up” going to church for the Lenten season and follow her younger sister’s advice to experience each of the seven Deadly sins during those forty days. Continue reading

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Review: Never Apart by Romily Bernard

Never ApartHe steps back, steps back again. He can’t believe what I’m saying. Once, I might not have believed it, either. But the lie is the closest to the truth we’re going to get. We’re never going home. We Fall again and again, and every time it’s a little different, but it’s never right.

Grace is trapped in a loop that resets itself every five days. Despite her best efforts, she can’t find a way to escape the seemingly inevitable death of her boyfriend Ander at the hands of Finn.

Heaven knows she’s tried forty plus times now.

But landing in the latest loop, things feel different. Her twin brother Jem has returned, Ander has no memory of their previous Falls (he did in the first forty or so) and her family seems to be more functional. As Grace contemplates embracing the current Fall and staying in this set of events, she can’t shake off the feeling that there’s something she’s overlooking in trying to break the never-ending cycle of tragedy and death. Continue reading

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Review: Orange Blossom Special by Sally Kilpatrick

Orange Blossom Special“As everyone had long feared, it was Tennessee football that finally killed Jerome Malcolm.”

With an opening line like that one, how could I possibly resist Sally Kilpatrick’s Orange Blossom Special?

The short answer is that I couldn’t.

When her husband of sixty year passes away, Edie Malcolm discovers that he has some very specific thoughts on how he and his estate should be distributed. In addition to leaving behind funding for two neighborhood friends to pursue a college education, Jerome wants to be cremated and have his ashes sprinkled in three places – the Ryman, General Robert Neyland’s grave and the orange and white checkerboard of the University of Tennessee end zone. And Jerome wants his wife, sister and the two college scholars to complete the scattering together.

So, the four of them pack into Jerome’s orange and white checkerboard painted hearse with Jerome safely stored inside a Carmen Miranda cookie jar and set out to fulfill his final wishes. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks: 3rd Doctor NovelisationIf there has been one glaring omission from the classic Doctor Who Target novels audiobooks line, it’s “The Day of the Daleks.” One of the first serials adapted by Terrance Dicks, “Day of the Daleks” was one of the first Target novels I read (though it was under the U.S. Pinnacle reprint, including the fantastically, ranting introduction by Harlan Ellison) and it’s easily one of the strongest adaptations the line ever produced.

And while I was delighted that the story was finally getting the audio treatment, part of me was still a bit nervous about visiting this old friend from my Target-obsessed days. Could it live up to the greatness associated with it in my memory?

The good news is that it not only lived up to my fond memories of it, it may have even exceeded them. Continue reading

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Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zetner

Goodbye DaysCarter Briggs knows about the power of the written word. Not only can he entertain and touch his three best friends with his stories and jokes but a simple text message to them could have been a factor in the auto collision that took their lives.

Wracked with guilt and hurting from the loss of the fellow members of the Sauce Crew, Carver faces the difficult task of trying to move forward with his life. It doesn’t help that the twin sister of his one his friends and a high-powered judge and father to another friend hold Carver responsible for the death of his friends. And both want to see Carver “pay” for his actions.

Jeff Zetner’s Goodbye Days chronicles Carver’s journey to come to terms with the death of his friends and the impact it has not only on him but those around him. Carter’s witty, self-aware narration is honest, authentic and, at times, utterly raw. Zetner ably captures the conflicting emotions Carver experiences, including several panic attacks that send Carver looking for help beyond what his family and friends can offer. Continue reading

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Review: Better Get to Livin’ by Sally Kilpatrick

 ByBetter Get To Livin'The Happy Hour Choir made me a fan and Bittersweet Creek put Sally Kilpatrick on my “must read” list. With her third novel Better Get to Livin’, Kilpatrick has ensured that her books join the likes of Stephen King, Elizabeth George, Laura Lippman and Peter David on my list of “authors I will read their latest offering first no matter what other books are on the to-be-read pile.”

Presley Cline left her small hometown in Tennessee for the bright lights of Hollywood. But just as her fortunes are about to take a turn toward that goal, she’s caught up in a Hollywood scandal that has her not only embarrassed but headed home to try and hide out with her mother for a while. Those plans quickly go awry when her mother’s trailer is destroyed by a tornado and Presley and her mother take refuge at the local funeral home, run by Declan Anderson.

Like Presley, Declan has his own “big dreams in a small town.” He’s been holding down the fort on the family business for a couple of years now while his brother is off in Atlanta, going to school. The two had an understanding that once school was over, the brother would come back to town, take over the day-to-day funeral home operations and let Declan pursue his own dreams. Continue reading

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