Book Review: Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Title: Fairy Tale
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: September 6, 2022
Length: 608 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Legendary storyteller Stephen King goes deep into the well of his imagination in this spellbinding novel about a seventeen-year-old boy who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, and the stakes could not be higher—for their world or ours.

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. Then, when Charlie is seventeen, he meets Howard Bowditch, a recluse with a big dog in a big house at the top of a big hill. In the backyard is a locked shed from which strange sounds emerge, as if some creature is trying to escape. When Mr. Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie the house, a massive amount of gold, a cassette tape telling a story that is impossible to believe, and a responsibility far too massive for a boy to shoulder.

Because within the shed is a portal to another world—one whose denizens are in peril and whose monstrous leaders may destroy their own world, and ours. In this parallel universe, where two moons race across the sky, and the grand towers of a sprawling palace pierce the clouds, there are exiled princesses and princes who suffer horrific punishments; there are dungeons; there are games in which men and women must fight each other to the death for the amusement of the “Fair One.” And there is a magic sundial that can turn back time.

A story as old as myth, and as startling and iconic as the rest of King’s work, Fairy Tale is about an ordinary guy forced into the hero’s role by circumstance, and it is both spectacularly suspenseful and satisfying.

In Fairy Tale, master author Stephen King takes a kind-hearted 17-year-old and sends him on an epic quest to battle forces of evil and save a kingdom.

Also, there’s a very good dog. And because I know this is important for many readers to know up front: The dog will be fine! (Stories that treat book doggos badly can be a deal-breakers for many readers, so now you can rest easy and proceed).

Charlie is a strong, self-reliant boy who loves his father, but he’s also had to shoulder far too heavy a burden in his short life. After his mother’s tragic death, his father became lost to alcoholism, and Charlie had to care for himself and his father through the dark years until his father finally found sobriety. For all that, Charlie is remarkably well-adjusted, but he does think back with regret on the mean-spirited pranks and cruel behaviors he indulged in during the worst of days.

When he hears a dog barking from behind the large, spooky house on the hill, he intends to just move on, until he hears a faint voice crying for help. Charlie discovers Mr. Bowditch, the old man who lives alone in the house, severely injured in the backyard. He calls for help, then makes a decision that this perhaps is his opportunity to atone for the bad behavior in his past, and becomes completely devoted to Mr. Bowditch and his elderly dog Radar.

While Mr. Bowditch is hospitalized, Charlie takes on caring for Radar, and begins work on cleaning and repairing the house. After Mr. Bowditch is released, it’s Charlie who takes on the responsibility of daily care, going far above and beyond would might be expected of a teenager (or even most adults). Through their time together, the two become very close, but Mr. Bowditch holds onto his secrets tightly — although he does tell Charlie how to access his safe and the bucket full of gold pellets stored within, and how to exchange the pellets for the money needed to pay the hospital bills.

When Mr. Bowditch suffers a fatal heart attack some months later, Charlie and his father are shocked to learn that Charlie has inherited the house, the property, and everything it contains. Even more shocking is the cassette tape Mr. Bowditch has left, telling Charlie a strange tale about a journey to a hidden world and the magical device there that allows one to regain youth and health. With Radar in sharp decline, Charlie realizes that following the instructions on the tape might be his only option for saving Radar’s life. And so the quest begins.

Fairy Tale in many ways embodies the traditional Hero’s Journey, with Charlie receiving a call to action, setting out on a quest, gaining allies along the way, sinking to darkest depths (in this case, spending weeks/months (?) in a literal dungeon), before finding redemption and reemergence. It’s brilliantly constructed — we can see the framework and understand what King is doing, while still becoming totally immersed in the magical and dangerous world that Charlie enters.

At the same time, Charlie himself recognizes the influence of stories and how they seep through worlds into realities. Rumpelstiltskin, the Goose Girl, the Little Mermaid, Jack and the Beanstalk — all are present in some variation here, not as literal retellings but as universal tropes that inform the reality that Charlie now finds himself in.

Based on the synopsis, I’d expected the portal elements to kick in pretty early in the story, but in fact, it’s not until around 30% that Charlie first ventures through the passage to the alternate world. The first third of the story is devoted to Charlie’s family’s backstory and his growing relationship with Mr. Bowditch (and Radar!). This is really effective, as it grounds everything that follows in a realistic beginning in our own world, and gives a solid basis for why Charlie acts as he does, both his devotion to providing care to Mr. Bowditch and his actions on his portal adventure.

The flow does seem to lag for a bit in the middle of the story. As I mentioned, there’s a dungeon involved, and Charlie’s time imprisoned there drags on long enough that my interest flagged. Likewise, the sections about Charlie and his fellow prisoners being forced to train for and then compete in a Hunger Games-like tournament to the death felt overly long and drawn out.

Those elements aside, the plot is mostly fast-paced, full of surprises, odd-ball and quirky characters, memorable settings, and a superbly crafted sense of wonder and menace that hangs over every step of Charlie’s journey. Charlie himself is wonderful — smart, caring, and sensitive, but flawed enough that he’s not too good to be true.

Fairy Tale is a big, thick book, but absolutely worth the time and attention. I was captivated, often scared on behalf of the characters, and fully invested in the outcome and the stakes. The world Charlie visits is fascinating, and I would have loved to have spent even more time exploring it at the conclusion of the quest.

Wrapping this up… I highly recommend Fairy Tale! It’s a treat for King fans, but also an easily accessible entry point for those who haven’t read his books before or who feel that his books are too terrifying for them! Yes, there are some frights and scary beings, and as I said, plenty of menace, but this book doesn’t have the absolute terror of, say, Pet Sematary or It.

Fairy Tale is both a coming-of-age story and a tale of a mythical, magical adventure, and it’s a wonderfully engaging read, start to finish. Don’t miss it!

Audiobook Review: Travel by Bullet (The Dispatcher, #3) by John Scalzi

Title: Travel by Bullet
Series: The Dispatcher, #3
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator:  Zachary Quinto
Publisher: Audible Originals
Publication date: September 1, 2022
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 3 hours, 43 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Audible and New York Times best-selling “Dispatcher” series returns with a brand-new mystery, performed by Zachary Quinto.

The world has changed. Now, when someone is murdered, they almost always come back to life—and there are professionals, called “dispatchers,” who kill in order to save lives, to give those near the end a second chance. Tony Valdez is a dispatcher, and he has never been busier.

But for as much as the world has changed, some things have stayed the same. Greed, corruption and avarice are still in full swing. When Tony is called to a Chicago emergency room by an old friend and fellow dispatcher, he is suddenly and unwillingly thrown into a whirlpool of schemes and plots involving billions of dollars, with vast caches of wealth ranging from real estate to cryptocurrency up for grabs.

All Tony wants to do is keep his friend safe. But it’s hard to do when friends keep secrets, enemies offer seductive deals, and nothing is ever what it seems. The world has changed… but the stakes are still life and death.

I hadn’t been aware that a third Dispatcher audiobook was on the way, so I was surprised in the best way to see it available on Audible this month!

In the sci-fi/speculative world of the Dispatcher series, death has become much more optional. Death by natural causes is still death, but if someone is murdered, in 999 cases out of 1,000, the murdered person pops back into life with a “reset”, waking up someplace they feel safe — usually their own home — back in the condition they were in several hours earlier.

In this brave new world, professional Dispatchers are trained and licensed to turn natural deaths into murders, all for the sake of saving lives. A person on the verge of death from cardiac arrest, for example, gets a professionally administered bullet to their brain, and (unless they’re that 1 in 1,000 exception), they end up totally fine. I mean, they should probably go see a doctor ASAP for that heart condition, but they’re alive and have a chance to remain that way.

In Travel by Bullet, things have changed yet again in all sorts of interesting ways. The role of Dispatchers has been around for about 10 years at this point, and our main character, Tony Valdez, is tired. The world has been going through the pandemic for the past couple of years, and new laws have been instituted that give families the right to demand a dispatch for their dying relatives, meaning that Dispatchers are now employed full time in hospitals and are kept incredibly busy.

The problem is, for someone on a ventilator approaching death, a reset by dispatch isn’t really going to fix things. The patient will wake up in their own bed in a condition from a few hours earlier, but as in all dispatches, they travel without anything but their bodies — no clothes, and most importantly in these cases, no equipment. Often, desperate families who demand a dispatch are dooming their relatives to pain and confusion and inevitable death, but without the benefit of hospital staff to ease the journey. Tony spends much of his time trying to talk families out of using his services, but at the end of the day, he is required by law to perform if that’s what the family wants.

His daily grind is interrupted when a friend and fellow dispatcher is brought into the ER, on the verge of death and asking specifically for Tony. Tony knows that this person has been involved in the shadier side of dispatching, and the circumstances of the accident that brought him to the hospital are very sketchy.

Tony reluctantly gets drawn into his friend’s mess, and ends up at the center of a conspiracy that draws in the Chicago PD, the FBI, mobsters, VC billionaires, and assorted hoodlums. Tony becomes increasingly threatened as he struggles to keep his friend safe while not alienating other allies or putting his life and livelihood into grave danger.

It’s all very quick-paced and complicated, with crypto-wallets changing hands, billionaires behaving horrendously, and Dispatchers being used in some truly awful business settings (as well as providing the “travel by bullet” concept that gives this story its name).

In my review of the 2nd book, Murder by Other Means, I wrote:

At just barely 3 hours, this audiobook is perfect for a quick entertainment. The action is fast-paced, and the narration is terrific. The vibe is noir, but with enough weird elements to let you know you’re living in a Scalzi world. I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t a Dresden book (minus the magic) — it’s that kind of smart, quick urban storytelling.

The same is absolutely true here! (Sorry, I don’t usually quote myself…)

Travel by Bullet is slightly longer, but still under 4 hours. Actor Zachary Quinto is marvelous when it comes to voicing Tony and handling the storytelling. His narration absolutely nails the noir vibe of the entire story, and it all just works.

I would recommend starting with the first book in this series, The Dispatcher, in order to get a good feel for the world of dispatching and its rules and quirks — but since they’re all relatively short, you’ll speed through them in no time!

Note: Travel by Bullet is an Audible exclusive as of now. The first two books in the series were also originally Audible-only, but were later released in print format too, so I’d assume that eventually, this one will be as well. For now, though, if you want to experience Travel by Bullet, Audible is the only option.

New Release Spotlight: Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory

Introducing… an exciting new release from bestselling author Jasmine Guillory!

Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory
Release date: September 20, 2022
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Berkley

Synopsis:

An intoxicating and sparkling new romance by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Margot Noble needs some relief from the stress of running the family winery with her brother. Enter Luke: sexy, charming, and best of all in the too-small world of Napa, a stranger. The chemistry between them is undeniable, and Margot is delighted that she lucked into the perfect one-night stand she’ll never have to see again. That is, until the winery’s newest hire, Luke, walks in the next morning. Margot is determined to keep things purely professional, but when their every interaction reminds her of the attraction still bubbling between them, it proves to be much more challenging than she expects.

Luke Williams had it all, but when he quits his high-salary tech job in Silicon Valley in a blaze of burnout and moves back to Napa to help a friend, he realizes he doesn’t want to tell the world–or his mom–why he’s now working at a winery. His mom loves bragging about her successful son–how can he admit that the job she’s so proud of broke him? Luke has no idea what is next for him, but one thing is certain: he wants more from the incredibly smart and sexy woman he hooked up with–even after he learns she’s his new boss. But even if they can find a way to be together that wouldn’t be an ethical nightmare, would such a successful woman really want a tech-world dropout?

Set against a lush backdrop of Napa Valley wine country, nothing goes to your head as fast as a taste of love–even if it means changing all your plans.

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I’ve loved the books in Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date series, and I’m so excited to see what she does in this stand-alone new novel!

Sounds terrific, doesn’t it? Who else is planning to read Drunk on Love?

Stay tuned… I’ll be back with a review!

About the author:

Having set the standard for the modern day rom-com and continuing to hit the bestseller lists with each new novel, Jasmine Guillory is not just a publishing phenom, but also a cultural tastemaker. Beloved by the media, Jasmine has been praised by outlets including NPR, The Washington PostElle, and Entertainment Weekly. She is a frequent guest on NBC’s Today Show recommending books, has a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick under her belt, and has written eight novels in just four years.

Check out Jasmine Guillory’s book recommendations at Bookshop.org!

Shelf Control #336: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

A programming note: I’ll be taking a mini-hiatus next week while traveling, and as of now, I’m not planning to do a Shelf Control post for 9/28. I’ll be back the following week!

Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Published: 2008
Length: 382 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Marcus aka “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: “M1k3y” will take down the DHS himself.

How and when I got it:

I bought a paperback copy about 3 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that I do want to read this! I’ve heard about Little Brother for years, but in general, tech-focused sci-fi isn’t usually my jam. Still, check out those blurbs by Neil Gaiman and Scott Westerfeld!

This book pops up on a lot of “best of” geeky reading lists, but I didn’t have a copy of my own until a few years ago, when I picked one up thinking it might entice my son to read a book other than those assigned for school. Nope, he didn’t show any interest, but I’ve held onto it, thinking I’d want to read it eventually.

So far, I haven’t been motivated to pick it up and give it a try, so at this point, I’m inclined to think that Little Brother will go in the donate pile next time I need to clear more room on my shelves. But… I’m open to being persuaded that I should keep it and read it!

What do you think? Would you read this book? And if you’ve read it, do you recommend it?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Fall 2022 TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books on My Fall 2022 To-read List. My list this time is a combination of upcoming new releases and books I already own but haven’t read yet.

My top 10 for fall are:

  1. The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
  2. Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca
  3. The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
  4. Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk
  5. Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen
  6. Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell
  7. Troy by Stephen Fry
  8. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  9. The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison
  10. Heading Over the Hill by Judy Leigh

What books are on your TTT list this week? Please share your links!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/19/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

This has been a super-slow reading week for me… or maybe it just feels that way because I’m reading a 600+ page book. Nope, it really has been slow — too many distractions!

One fun distraction — through a work giveaway, I got a table-top s’mores maker! So naturally, my son and I had to test it out and make sure all was in order. Yup… yummy!!

And in more fun news… don’t you love it when your favorite authors have special mailings for their subscribers/followers? My birthday is coming up this week, and this arrived in the mail a few days ago (from the amazing Mary Robinette Kowal):

A programming note:

I’m going to be away for a few days next week, and I’m planning to keep online commitments to a minimum… so I probably won’t be doing much blogging. I’ll be back in full swing the week of October 3rd!

What did I read during the last week?

I managed to finish two audiobooks this week, although I’m still slooooowly working my way through the same hardcover book that I started last Sunday.

I finished:

Birds of California by Katie Cotugno: A Hollywood romance with heart (and a very enjoyable audiobook experience). My review is here.

Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer: A Jewish rom-com, fun and light. My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

The Handmaid’s Tale is back for a new season… and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’m still watching, but this show is so bleak (and does such strange things with its character development) that I’m always on the fence about whether I want to continue.

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Fairy Tale by Stephen King: This book is long, and it feels like it’s taking forever! I’m really liking it so far — I just wish I’d had more substantial reading time this past week.

Now playing via audiobook:

Travel by Bullet by John Scalzi: Book #3 in the Dispatcher series — I really liked the first two books, so weird and twisted! I’ll be starting this one on my Monday morning commute.

Ongoing reads:

My longer-term reading commitments:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’re doing a group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci: I’m reading this story collection in little bits and pieces, but made absolutely no progress this week. (Blame Stephen King and his huge new novel!!)
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain: This is my new Classics Club Spin book! (If you want to know more about this fun challenge, check out my post here). I’m going to read this one via the Serial Reader app — there are 54 installments, but since the challenge due date is October 30th, I’ll need to double-up at least part of the time. I’m pretty happy about ending up with this book — wish me luck!

So many books, so little time…

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My Classics Club Spin book for fall 2022 will be…

Earlier this week, I shared a post with my list of books for the newest Classics Club Spin challenge (see it here), and today, this spin’s number was announced. (For those keeping track, it’s CC Spin #31, and for me personally, #3!)

Hosted by The Classics Club blog, the Classics Club Spin is a reading adventure where participants come up with a list of classics they’d like to read, number them 1 to 20, and then read the book that corresponds to the “spin” number that comes up.

For CCSpin #31, the lucky number is:

And that means I’ll be reading:

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (published 1889)

Synopsis:

One of the greatest satires in American literature, Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ begins when Hank Morgan, a skilled mechanic in a nineteenth-century New England arms factory, is struck on the head during a quarrel and awakens to find himself among the knights and magicians of King Arthur’s Camelot. The ‘Yankee’ vows brashly to “boss the whole country inside of three weeks” and embarks on an ambitious plan to modernize Camelot with 19th c. industrial inventions like electricity and gunfire. It isn’t long before all hell breaks loose!

Written in 1889, Mark ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ is one of literature’s first genre mash-ups and one of the first works to feature time travel. It is one of the best known Twain stories, and also one of his most unique. Twain uses the work to launch a social commentary on contemporary society, a thinly veiled critique of the contemporary times despite the Old World setting.

While the dark pessimism that would fully blossom in Twain’s later works can be discerned in ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, ‘ the novel will nevertheless be remembered primarily for its wild leaps of imagination, brilliant wit, and entertaining storytelling.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve read anything by Mark Twain — probably going back to reading Tom Sawyer in middle school — but I’m excited for this one! I’m assuming this will be a lighter read relative to some of the other classics on my list, although it does sound like there are some heavier themes as well as the playful elements.

I’ve been trying to figure out how long this book is, but because it’s public domain and there are so many versions published, I’m seeing everything from 271 pages to 480 for an illustrated edition!

For my own reading adventure, I’ll be using the Serial Reader app, which has this book available in 54 installments. If I start now, reading one installment per day would push me past the October 30th deadline, but if I double up at least some of the time, I’ll make it!

Wish me luck!

Here’s my list of 20 titles for Classics Club Spin #31:

  1. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier
  2. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
  3. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
  4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  5. Peony by Pearl Buck
  6. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  7. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  8. Howards End by E. M. Forster
  9. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  10. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  11. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  12. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  13. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  14. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
  15. Passing by Nella Larsen
  16. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  17. The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
  18. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  19. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  20. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Porter

My previous Classics Club Spin books:

Are you participating in this Classics Club Spin? If so, what book will you be reading?

Audiobook Review: Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer

Title: Mr. Perfect on Paper
Author: Jean Meltzer
Narrator: Dara Rosenberg
Publisher: Mira
Publication date: August 9, 2022
Print length: 387 pages
Audio length: 10 hours 27 minutes
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

From the author of The Matzah Ball comes a pitch-perfect romcom following a third-generation Jewish matchmaker who unwittingly finds her own search for love thrust into the spotlight…

The perfect Jewish husband should be:
* A doctor or lawyer (preferably a doctor)
* Baggage-free (no previous marriages, no children)
* And of course—he must be Jewish

As the creator and CEO of the popular Jewish dating app J-Mate, matchmaker Dara Rabinowitz knows the formula for lasting love—at least, for everyone else. When it comes to her own love life, she’s been idling indefinitely. Until her beloved bubbe shares Dara’s checklist for “The Perfect Jewish Husband” on national television and charming news anchor Chris Steadfast proposes they turn Dara’s search into must-see TV.

As a non-Jewish single dad, Chris doesn’t check any of Dara’s boxes. But her hunt for Mr. Perfect is the ratings boost his show desperately needs. If only Chris could ignore his own pesky attraction to Dara—a task much easier said than done when Dara starts questioning if “perfect on paper” can compete with how hard she’s falling for Chris…

Jean Meltzer, author of 2021’s The Matzah Ball, is back with another Jewish-themed romance, this one depicting a young Jewish matchmaker’s search for her own true love.

Dara Rabinowitz is the powerhouse CEO of J-Mate, the super successful Jewish dating app she created inspired by her mother and grandmother’s careers as matchmakers. Knowing what makes a good match, as well as being a hugely talented coder, is the secret to Dara’s rise to corporate stardom. Dara lives with generalized anxiety disorder, which she’s quite open about, and manages her high-pressure life through coping and calming strategies as well as medication.

Dara is devoted to her darling grandmother, bubbe Miriam, whom she considers her best friend — but Miriam wants to see Dara happily married and exploring life. When Miriam goes off-script on a TV appearance and shares a private list of Dara’s requirements for her perfect husband (written one night while drinking with her sister), Dara is utterly humiliated… until the video clip goes viral, the show’s rating skyrocket, and suddenly everyone wants more of Dara.

The show’s host, Chris (handsome, non-Jewish, and a widowed father of a tween girl) is enchanted by Dara, and sees her as a potential key to saving his floundering show. Reluctantly, Dara agrees to his proposal: He’ll use her app and algorithms to find her nice Jewish men who are “Mr. Perfect on Paper” — checking all the boxes on her list — and she’ll allow the show to follow her on her dates.

What could go wrong?

Obviously, plenty. Dara encounters one dating disaster after another… and meanwhile, even once she meets a man who might really be her perfect match, she can’t quite shake her attraction and feelings for Chris himself. Chris, too, feels drawn to Dara, but he knows he’s not what she wants. But what if????

Dara and Chris are both sensitively portrayed and well developed. I really felt like I got to know each of them, with attention paid to their family backgrounds and the tragedies and struggles they’ve each endured. Chris’s story is particularly sad, and his dedication to being the best dad he can be, while navigating the tricky world of dealing with a pre-teen girl, is quite moving.

Dara and Chris have good chemistry, and I appreciated how genuine their care and concern for one another is. While denying to themselves that they could ever be romantically involved, they do both consider themselves friends, and they’re truly there for one another in the way that real friends should be.

Some elements of the book just didn’t work as well for me, however. Based on this book as well as her previous one, it seems that this author’s approach to conveying humor is to create slapstick moments where everything goes wrong. Maybe some readers will find these moments funny (such as Dara ending up dunking her head into a barrel of water in the middle of a date in order to get away from a pesky bumblebee), but honestly, I tend to find them too silly and embarrassing and over the top.

I had to question some of the Jewish elements too. Dara is devoted to her religion and her people, which is nice to see, but some of her choices in regard to the TV show seem questionable — for example, allowing the camera crew to come to synagogue on Yom Kippur and follow the date that arranged for her at the break fast. I doubt any synagogue would actually allow a camera crew to set up and film on the holiday, and the idea of having a blind date at a break fast after a day of fasting seems like a set-up for disaster (which is exactly how it ends up).

The audiobook was mostly enjoyable, but the narrator seemed to struggle with some of the Jewish/Hebrew/Yiddish terms and names, and that was very distracting to me. Still, when the characters are in more natural or relaxed setting, the narration flows well, and I liked the scenes with Chris and his daughter very much.

Overall, Mr. Perfect on Paper is light entertainment with a sweet story to tell. The characters are bright spots, very engaging and sympathic, but on the downside, the predictable nature of the plot and the occasional cringe-worthy pratfalls and dating disasters keep this book from being totally successful. It’s fun, but I had to overlook a lot of my quibbles in order to appreciate the good stuff.

Audiobook Review: Birds of California by Katie Cotugno

Title: Birds of California
Author: Katie Cotugno
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: April 26, 2022
Print length: 288 pages
Audio length: 7 hours 49 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Former child actor Fiona St. James dropped out of the spotlight after a spectacularly public crash and burn. The tabloids called her crazy and self-destructive and said she’d lost her mind. Now in her late twenties, Fiona believes her humiliating past is firmly behind her. She’s finally regained a modicum of privacy, and she won’t let anything–or anyone–mess it up.

Unlike Fiona, Sam Fox, who played her older brother on the popular television show Birds of California, loves the perks that come with being a successful Hollywood actor: fame, women, parties, money. When his current show gets cancelled and his agent starts to avoid his calls, the desperate actor enthusiastically signs on for a Birds of California revival. But to make it happen, he needs Fiona St. James.

Against her better judgment, Fiona agrees to have lunch with Sam. What happens next takes them both by surprise. Sam is enthralled by Fiona’s take-no-prisoners attitude, and Fiona discovers a lovable goofball behind Sam’s close-up-ready face. Long drives to the beach, late nights at dive bars… theirs is the kind of kitschy romance Hollywood sells. But just like in the rom-coms Fiona despises, there’s a twist that threatens her new love. Sam doesn’t know the full story behind her breakdown. What happens when she reveals the truth?

Sparks fly and things get real in this sharply sexy and whip-smart romantic comedy set against the backdrop of a post #metoo Hollywood from New York Times bestselling author Katie Cotugno–page-turning escapist fun in the spirit of Beach Read, The Kiss Quotient, and Red, White and Royal Blue.

In Birds of California, former star and tabloid bad-girl Fiona has left her acting days firmly in the past, preferring a quiet life tending to her father and sister, working in the family print shop, and avoiding the spotlight. Of course, it’s hard to actually forget her past when not a day goes by without being recognized, but for the most part, Fiona lives a private, quiet, hidden life.

Until one day, her ex-agent calls out of the blue with big news: There’s going to be a reboot of Birds of California, the show that made Fiona a breakout teen star, and the production wants her in it. Fiona wants no part of it — but then Sam Fox, her former co-star shows up at the print shop on a mission to change her mind. Fiona still is adamantly opposed to doing the show… but she’s less opposed to spending time with Sam.

The two start to connect, and rediscover a chemistry that was cut short back in their teen days, but of course, misunderstandings and hidden secrets arise and threaten to tear them apart, just as they’re growing closer.

Birds of California is billed as a romantic comedy, and yes, there are some funny moments, but a lot of it really has to do with the damage done to Fiona as a rising Hollywood star hounded by tabloids and paparazzi. The romance between Fiona and Sam is dynamic and worth cheering for, but I did wish they’d each open up and be honest a lot sooner than they did.

Mild plot spoilers ahead…

Mostly, my lasting impression of Birds of California has to do with its brushing up against toxic Hollywood culture and the #metoo movement. It’s pretty clear early on that Fiona didn’t publicly self-destruct for no reason — she was a young girl who wasn’t adequately protected and who was victimized by the people and studios that should have kept her safe. Unfortunately, while the book eventually makes clear what actually happened to her, it focuses so much on the current-day romance between Fiona and Sam that the past isn’t explored sufficiently.

I would have liked a little more attention at the end of the story, after Fiona finally tells Sam about her experiences, on what happens next and why. I would REALLY have liked to see the fall-out and (hopefully) justice that must be coming for the people who so seriously mistreated Fiona — the story ends with wheels set in motion, but no concrete consequences.

Overall, I enjoyed the characters and the story, and the audiobook narration — by Julia Whelan, one of my very favorite narrators — makes it both fun and heartfelt. I wish there had been a bit more substance beneath the romance, including more development of the more serious aspects of the story, but still, Birds of California is an entertaining read with fresh, funny, authentic characters to root for.

Getting ready for the Fall 2022 Classics Club Spin!

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin, and I can’t wait!

Hosted by The Classics Club blog, the Classics Club Spin is a reading adventure where participants come up with a list of classics they’d like to read, number them 1 to 20, and then read the book that correponds to the “spin” number that comes up. This will be my 3rd time participating — although for The Classics Club, it’s spin #31!

Here are the dates and guidelines from the host blog:

On Sunday 18th, September, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by the 30th October, 2022.

We’ll check in here on Sunday the 30th October, 2022 to see who made it the whole way and finished their spin book!

What’s Next?

  • Go to your blog.
  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog before Sunday, 18th September.
  • We’ll announce a number from 1-20. 
  • Read that book by 30th October, 2022.

I’ve had so much fun with my previous CCSpin experiences, so of course I’m going to do it again! I’m going back to my list from last time, and other than replacing the book I just read, I’m going to leave the rest of my list as is. I’d be happy to read any of these!

And now for the good stuff…

Here’s my list of 20 classics for my 3rd Classics Club Spin:

  1. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier
  2. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
  3. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
  4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  5. Peony by Pearl Buck
  6. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  7. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  8. Howards End by E. M. Forster
  9. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  10. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  11. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  12. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  13. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  14. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
  15. Passing by Nella Larsen
  16. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  17. The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
  18. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  19. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  20. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Porter

Wish me luck! I’ll post again on Sunday once the spin results are announced!

My previous Classics Club spins:

Spring 2022 (CCSpin29): The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer
Summer 2022 (CCSpin30): Cannery Row by John Steinbeck