Saturday, February 27, 2021

What is the Tapestry of Books?

It took only fifty years but I finally listened to Carole King’s Tapestry.

If you read about my regulated reading a few weeks ago, you’ll remember that I’m reading Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth, his examination about rock music in 1971. As a fun project in 2021, I’m reading the book a chapter at a time, corresponding to a month of 1971. Thus, it’ll take me all year to read this book. Shrug. It’s fun.

Anyway, by reading Hepworth’s book, I have discovered Carole King’s 1971 album, Tapestry. It turns fifty this month, so it’s been fun to read all the retrospectives written about a new-to-me album. By the way, I ended up buying it last weekend after listening to it on YouTube for weeks.

One of those essays is by Bob Lefsetz, the man behind The Lefsetz Letter. He, too, is a new discovery from a few months back. I’ve quite enjoyed his deep dives in music and other things.  

Lefsetz starts his post about Tapestry with this observation:

"It was an album for everybody.

That doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, the music business takes a giant leap forward, everybody pays attention, everybody listens, music is talked about, it drives the culture.

Last example? Adele. Her album “21” sold ten times, literally TEN TIMES as much as everything else in the marketplace. It worked for hipsters and as well as casual listeners. It was an alchemy of songs and singing, of passion and precision. “21” was a statement by an artist, not just product to support a system.

Same deal with the Beatles. At first it was a teen phenomenon. Then came “Michelle” and “Yesterday.” No one could deny them as songs.”

Lefsetz goes on to describe the phenomenon of an album for everybody. It is the album owned by the casual listeners, the hipsters, the soccer moms, the dads, the teenagers, the middle-aged, and so on.

After I finished reading Lefsetz’s piece—while listening to Tapestry for the I-don’t-know-how-many-th time, my thoughts turned to books.

What is the Tapestry of Books?


What is the book or books everybody owns? We can leave aside the question of whether or not the books are actually read. What is the book read by casual readers, soccer moms, dads, teenagers, the middle-aged, and so on?

Almost a decade ago, I wrote a short post about going to estate sales and seeing the novels of Louis L’amour on the bookshelves. But I specifically pointed out that those books were on the shelves of proto-man caves. If we were only talking about men’s novels, I’d suggest Clive Cussler or Lee Child or Michael Connolly.

But I’m going broader. I would think few teenagers or soccer moms might read the exploits of Jack Reacher. What are the books that appeal to a broad reading audience?

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown instantly jumps to mind. It was everywhere in 2003 and it seemed like everyone had read it. I think James Patterson books land in quite a few home libraries, but I cannot think of a single volume of his that fits this criteria. Stephen King is another author who probably has at least one book in many, many homes, but what’s that one book? Nora Roberts is very popular, but I can’t think many guys read her books.

Another candidate is John Grisham’s The Firm. Maybe To Kill a Mockingbird?

So I’m throwing out the question to everyone. What books are for everyone? What book is like Tapestry?

Oh, and yeah, I listened to Tapestry while writing this piece. Man, is that a great album. How in the world did I never hear it until February 2021?

Monday, February 22, 2021

An Wry Narrator Begins a New Series in Open and Shut by David Rosenfelt

Back in the Christmas season of 2020, infused with a desire to read a Christmas mystery, I went to Houston's Murder by the Book and picked up Dachshund in the Snow by David Rosenfelt. I knew nothing about the author or the book's main character. It is the twentieth (out of twenty-one) novels featuring lawyer and dog lover Andy Carpenter. It is a fun book with good legal twists. I've long ago given up the compelling urge that, when I discover a new-to-me series, I start at the beginning. I read the book that captured my attention and, if I like, I'll read more. Having enjoyed the Christmas book, I was curious how the series began so I read the first installment, Open and Shut.

Andy Carpenter is a New Jersey defense attorney, separated from his wife, Nicole, but romantically involved with his lead investigator and former cop, Laurie. Andy's got an ascerbic style that reminds me of older pulp characters like Donald Lam or Archie Goodwin. He's snarky and funny, often leaving the things he wants to say in little asides while his mouth utters the proper thing. His dad is around, too, and they enjoy going to baseball games. The elder Carpenter, a former prosecutor, urges his son to take up the case of Willie Miller, a man on death row. The odd thing is that the former DA put Willie away.

No sooner does Andy accept his father's request than the old man dies, right there in Yankee Stadium. Andy is heartbroken, of course, but he's still got a case to prepare for and a client to represent. Complicating everything is a pair of things he inherited from his dad. One is a photograph with his father and three other men. Who are they and why was his dad with them? The other is the twenty-two million dollars his dad uttered not a word about but is now Andy's.

The narrative weaves in and out of the courtroom as Andy and his team try to uncover anything that will exonerate Willie while also trying to learn the identity of the men in the photo and the circumstances surrounding it. Something is there for no sooner does Andy start making progress with his case than bad things start to happen, including the return of his estranged wife and a certain ski-masked wearing bad guy who give Andy the business. 

As a dog lover, I have to admit that I wondered if his pooch was going to be threatened or play a role in solving the crime. It's kinda how the book comes across. Happily, Tara, his golden retriever, survived the novel without incident. That might be considered a spoiler, but if you're like me, if bad things happen to a dog in a TV show, movie, or book, it really bothers me. Surprisingly, Tara didn't sniff out the culprit or find the missing clue. 

Andy is a pleasant character that I thoroughly enjoyed. In this, my second Andy Carpenter novel, I know what to expect. Even though I read this one--I listened to the Dachshund in the Snow audiobook--the voice of narrator Grover Gardner was the voice I heard in my head. Rosenfelt writes these books in present tense but still first person which gives the story more urgency. It's not like these events had already occurred. It's like you were Andy himself. 

This book is special for me. During the recent winter storm of February 2021 here in Houston, Open and Shut is the novel I read while the power was out for 58 hours. It got me through and I enjoyed reading about characters who existed in a warmer season. 

My wife is a voracious reader. When she discovers a new-to-her author, she will devour all the books in that series until she has read all the books. My ADHD reading style usually prevents me from doing that, but I happily look forward to reading more installments of the Andy Carpenter series. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Great Texas Freeze-Out of 2021

Well, that was something.

As a native Houstonian, I used to look north at winter with a sense of missing out. Look, they had snow. That all changed when I spent a semester in grad school back in 1996 in Kent State University in northeast Ohio. I got a taste of winter and a new understanding came over me: I was not, in fact, missing out on anything. Don't get me wrong: snow for skiing is still awesome. But I was done with cold weather, and I vowed, as I crossed back into Texas that summer never to complain about the heat again. 

And I haven't. Partway through this week, I told my son I can't wait for August in Texas. 

Winters here in Houston are relatively mild most of the time. I kept my Ohio winter jacket but rarely need it. A few years ago, we literally got winter for a weekend. A big cold snap that killed plants but we were back to our normal Houston winter the following week. No problem.

But this week was a problem. For me and my family and millions of others. 

This past weekend was normal. My wife and I watched some television on Sunday night before she retired to bed. My son returned from his job and ventured into his room to watch some anime and YouTube. I had Presidents' Day off so I stayed up later than usual. I channel surfed before falling asleep on the couch, a rarity for me. So tired was I that not only did I fall asleep in my clothes but I didn't plug in my iPhone.

Two hours after midnight on Monday morning, the sleet arrived and the power blipped out. As a resident of the fourth largest city in the country, when our power goes out, it's usually back on in minutes or less. As a preemptive measure, I lit the gas fireplace. I didn't turn it off until Wednesday night when our power was restored. Fifty-eight hours in case you were wondering. 

Monday and Tuesday were the worst, with Monday night the coldest weather I've endured since Ohio. But at least in Ohio we had power and heaters. For two days, during the worst cold to hit the city in thirty years--some say over a century--there was no power in the house.

Our house is U-shaped. On one end was the TV room. That's where the fireplace is. It faces north which, during hurricane season (they come from the south) is a good thing. No so much for winter weather. We put sheets over the back glass door and the short front hallway. We closed the hall door to the back of the house. When we had to let our dogs out, I used the back game room as the 'airlock.' Every door in the house was opened and closed. We could literally feel the temperature drop as we went into each room. 

We stocked our essential refrigerator food into the ice chest and took it outside. Ditto for the frozen food. The irony there was that we needed simply to leave it outside. It was cold enough. We brought in the sleeping bags and the air mattress that we discovered held no air into the main room and hunkered down.

Fearing burst water pipes, we preemptively turned off the water at the house. As of yesterday morning, we still hadn't turned it back on. We wanted Friday's sun and another day's worth of home heating to warm the pipes and pray they didn't burst. For the bathroom facilities, yes, we harvested snow for the bathtub. My dad--who grew up in Tyler, Texas, and dealt with spotty electricity as something that happened frequently enough that they had lanterns around the house--reminded me of the rhyme about hygiene without water: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." 

The clothes I fell asleep in back on Sunday consisted of jeans, undershirt, button down shirt, and a wool sweater. Monday morning, I added a knit sweater and a hoodie. For my head, I put on a stocking cap. In the house. Despite the gas fireplace (and gas stove), the temperature continued to drop. The lowest it got in that room, with three people, two dogs, and a cat, was 39 degrees.

With no power to charge our phones, my boy and I went out to my car, which is now the oldest of the three cars and gets to spend its time in the driveway. Lucky for us. I had filled the tank and the boy and I sat for hours, charging phones, listening to classic rock radio, and getting warm. The wife opted to stay inside with the dogs and the fireplace, layered up, and read or played Plants vs. Zombies. 

Driving around on Monday with the snow and ice on the roads, some of my old Ohio skills returned. I used it as a teaching experience. We found a Walgreens open and bought some more batteries, a trio of flashlights, and some ground coffee. I buy coffee beans and grind them myself, but without power, those beans are as good as useless.

There's something to be said for being a parent and not being able to keep your child warm. Sure, he's nineteen, but there's still that part of you that knows your child will go to bed cold and there's nothing you can do about it other than offer him more blankets. Ditto for your wife. 

With no other distractions, it is amazing how long an hour can feel. Then a day, and then another day. Cell service was spotty so we'd get our news in fits and starts. We brought in an old battery powered jam box on Tuesday evening--hard to remember where it was--and we three settled into a pleasant waiting experience. Sure, it was fifty-something in the house, but you'd be amazed how warm that felt. 

Wednesday around lunchtime as the boy and I were in line for gas the wife called. The power had blipped off/on/off and then it came on. We drove to a battery store and called my parents. They had lost power, too, but it had come back on. The boy and I feared we'd get the call from the wife that the power had gone off again, but, by the time we got home, it was still on. And it stayed on the rest of the week.

Yet we still operated like we had no power. We were asked to conserve and ratio power so we did. We finally turned off the gas fireplace to conserve natural gas for others. We only used a single lamp in the TV room and didn't turn on the TV. We still used flashlights to get around the house, including when taking the dogs out. We repeated the exercise Thursday night, but did turn on the TV for news and escape. 

Speaking of escape, I got to thank my Kindle yet again. With its light feature and a lot of time to kill, I read Open and Shut by David Rosenfelt most of the way through. 

It's Friday morning as I write this. The sun is shining and I hear the sound of a chainsaw down the street. Sure, I'm still wearing three layers in the house and the thermostat shows 63 in the house--more shared conservation--but I'm hoping today will be the first normal day since Sunday. I'm looking forward to turning the water back on. Sure, we'll have to boil our water, but we'll have running water in the house. Which means we won't have to worry about mellow yellow in the toilet. Which means a shower, a luxury we've not experienced since Sunday. Had a short laugh on Wednesday night when I finally changed out of those Sunday clothes and into fresh PJs and caught a whiff of the body odor the five layers were masking. 

There will be investigations, accusations, blame, and accountability in the months to come. Our legislature is in session this spring so I hope something will be done to ensure something as severe as the Presidents' Day Ice Storm of 2021 doesn't happen again. Well, we can't prevent Mother Nature from doing this again, but we sure as hell can prepare better. 

This was my story as my family experienced it. We're going to learn a whole lot more as we get some distance. Many of those stories will be heart-wrenching and anger inducing and deservedly so. But there will also be stories of shared sacrifice people coming to each others' aid. Let's be sure to listen to them both, commiserate with those who have suffered and celebrate with those who came through. 

My family and I came through. Ain't gonna lie: it was hard but manageable. I consider us blessed to have persevered as smoothly as we did. Other did not. Let's keep them in our prayers and figure out ways to help them now and prepare us all for the next time. Because if we're talking Mother Nature, there will be a next time.

It also made us very aware of just how much electricity we use. As the boy and I drove around the west side of town on Thursday night, much of the power was back on. Office buildings and parking garages were lit up with abandon. So were various commercial places. It was a lot of power at a time we are supposed to conserve. We can't do much about those places, but already we are ensuring all lights and nonessential appliances in our house are turned off. It's a lesson we've certainly learned and will carry forward, thankful for what we have.

But I also want to leave you with this wonderful story: the family who welcomed their newborn son into the world while stuck at home without power or water. Wow.

Update: The pipes held although the water flow in a couple of the sinks have low flow. We think it is the rust of the pipes that have settled and now is clogging those little filters at the faucet. We'll have to fix that this weekend.

Update 2: As of Friday evening, the house was more or less back to normal. We still have pots in the kitchen full of clean, pre-storm water to drink. But it's a little surreal to walk through the house again, the sheets having been taken down and the sleeping bags back in the garage. It's good to be back to normal. May it last a long, long time. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Enrolling in Cozy College

I’m going to school again, and I couldn’t be more excited. I call it Cozy College, a year-long look into cozy and traditional mysteries. And I even have a professor.

My Preconceptions

Even though I spent my youth reading novels featuring The Three Investigators and the Hardy Boys, I didn’t truly become introduced to mystery and crime fiction as an adult until 2001 when I read Mystic River by Dennis Lehane. I liked the harder-edged material and started to amass a list of like authors. Couple this reading with my discovery of pulp novels and authors of the past and I was firmly in the realm of the hard stuff.

When it came to traditional mysteries—the kind whose Golden Age was between the world wars, usually featuring a quirky detective with violence largely off-screen—I just never got into them. Throw in cozy mysteries with their cutesy titles and eccentric hooks and I dismissed them out of hand.

But something changed over the past few years and it all started with television. Masterpiece Mysteries and online streaming services showcase fantastic programs from around the world and many of them, while not cozy, are certainly firmly ensconced in the traditional mystery field. I’m thinking Unforgotten, Broadchurch, The Killing, Hinterland, Elementary, and, most recently, Knives Out and Before We Die. What they showed me was there didn’t have to be a lot of violence, blood, and language to create some rich characters and stories.

These shows were traditional mysteries, but not cozies, so something else needed to be added to the mix.

The other thing that helped change my mind also involved television. It begins with the word “Hall” and ends with the word “Mark.” Yes, I’m talking Hallmark, specifically Hallmark Christmas movies. In past years, I’d kinda sorta check the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas lineup and watch barely a handful, many of them unmemorable. In 2020, I went the opposite direction. I actively sought out and watched as many of them as I could. I would earmark certain movies and make sure to watch them or tape them. I’d set the VCR (yeah, really) to record the ones I wanted to finished if I had to go to bed on work nights. I started to recognize the actors, where they showed up in other movies, and basically had a field day in the coziness of a Hallmark Christmas.

That’s when I basically looked over at the mystery genre again with a decidedly open mind about cozy mysteries. Maybe they weren’t all that I thought they were.

The First Step

In December, seeking to merge my love of Christmas, Hallmark, and mysteries together, I went over to Houston’s Murder by the Book bookstore and picked up a couple of cozy Christmas mysteries. I finished one during the season, Dachshund in the Snow by David Rosenfelt. With a title like that, my preconceived ideas were all cutesy things where the titular hound solves the case. I was prepared for saccharine.

Didn’t get it.


I got a darn good book with a good mystery and a likeable narrator who is a chip off the block of past detectives like Donald Lam and Archie Goodwin. The novel was traditional but not necessarily cozy. Nonetheless, I was definitely intrigued, so much so that I went to my Libby app (for public libraries) and downloaded another audiobook in the series. And I decided to spend 2021 reading a lot more traditional and cozy mysteries. But I would need a guide to help chart my course.

Tthat’s when I got the email.

Murder by the Box’s Subscription Service

Just in time for Christmas, the owner of the bookstore, McKenna Jordan, sent an email describing the new Murder by the Box subscription service. In either 3-month or 12-month choices, readers can choose one of three themes and receive books. There is Best of the Month (a new hardcover), Crime Fiction Legends (two trade paperbacks) and—yes, I literally scanned the email quickly to make sure it would be a choice—Cozy Corner.

Bingo!

I was set. One mass market paperback in the cozy/traditional genre per month. I eagerly signed up in December—it was my Christmas gift to myself—and waited for January.

The book was brand-new: Bait and Witch by Angela M. Sanders. With the book came a postcard with a welcome message, the reason the book was selected, and immediate recommendations for similarly themed stories. Like Rosenfelt’s book, Batch and Witch was a good mystery but definitely more on the cozier side. I enjoyed it and am definitely looking forward to each month’s selections.

Maybe all those preconceived ideas I had about cozy mysteries were wrong from the jump. I hope this reading list of 2021—and the jumping off points—prove me wrong. It’s already started.

The Professor Is In

But what makes the Cozy Corner special is the person selecting the books, the Professor at Cozy College. John McDougall is the Event Coordinator at Murder by the Book. If you’ve seen the many author talks via the store’s YouTube channel since 2020, you’ll recognize him. He is the resident cozy expert. I reached out to John this week to ask him a few questions, including how this subscription idea came about and what drew him to cozies.

“A few years ago when Helen Ellis (author of American Housewife) signed at the store, she said she wished I could send her a cozy every month, and that's what unofficially started it. As subscription boxes became more popular, McKenna started playing with the idea of starting one for the store, but we never got all the logistics nailed down. In one of those weird coincidences, I mentioned to McKenna that I wanted to start something more official for the Cozy of the Month and she told me that she had also been thinking about wanting to start a subscription service. We were both really excited to get the program started for the holidays and offer the three different options.”

The genesis of his love for cozies stemmed from him reading Posted to Death by Dean James. “At that point I was just a customer at the store and David [Thompson] gave me a copy because he knew I liked other paranormal mysteries. After that I devoured the Ghost Hunter books by Victoria Laurie and I was hooked.”

“The thing that draws me to cozies is the character development. Cozy authors have to quickly create a main character you'll fall in love with, and a community that you'll want to return to over and again. But there's also depth there that people might not expect based on the covers or by calling them cozies. A prominent trope in the cozy genre is the main character going through a bad breakup or divorce and returning to her hometown to start over. A lot of times, that breakup is the thing that allows her to follow her dream, and the dream is usually starting her own business and rebuilding her life on her own terms. The genre has a lot of heart to it, in addition to some really stellar plots.”

In light of the chain of events and mindset shifts I had experienced, John’s words in this last paragraph really hit home for me. Here I was, having a predefined idea of what a cozy was, and basically, I was wrong. And the two books I’ve read so far have proven John’s point. I have already returned to the Andy Carpenter series and the second book in the Witch Way Librarian series will be published in September.

I haven’t been this excited about “reading assignments” in a long time. I am eager to learn more about the cozy genre, and I’m happy to have Professor John McDougall as a guide.

And it’s not too late to join Cozy College for 2021. The February book hasn’t been released yet. If you subscribe now, you’d have to buy Bait and Witch on your own, but you’d get every book from here on out on your 3- or 12-month subscription. If you’re in Houston, a full year is only $99. For twelve books! It’s only $135 if you're out of town and need the books shipped to you. The other themes have different prices, so I encourage you to head over to their website and have a look for yourself. 

You never know. Maybe one of your preconceived notions will disappear just like mine did.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Joy of Unexpected Discovery

Y’all are going to laugh at the irony of this post.

How often do you discover something (or experience something) completely on your own?

It’s happened to my three times in the past week or so. The first was the latest book in my science fiction book club. It’s called Space Team (my review). I make it a personal policy for books my club members select that, if I don’t know the book or author, I read no reviews. I just read/listen to the book and let the story wash over me how the author wrote it. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Other times, like with Space Team, it is fantastic.

And it all came without any preconceived notion.

The next two are music related. Like I wrote last week, I’m reading Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year Rock Exploded. I’m onto the February 1971 chapter and the first third of it was about Carole King’s Tapestry album. Carole King, I thought. I think I know who that is. The one King song on the author David Hepworth’s February 1971 playlist was “It’s Too Late.” I listened and instantly recognized the tune. Curious, I went out to YouTube, located King’s official site, and queued up Tapestry.

Holy. Cow. That was a remarkable album. Even though it was a fifty-year-old piece of music, it was brand new to me. Before listening, I didn’t go to allmusic.com or any other site. I just pushed play. I listened to it twice on Monday and every day since. I’m going to have to buy a copy now, maybe even on vinyl. 

The last was just yesterday. The new Foo Fighters album, Medicine at Midnight, was released. I’m a casual Foo fan, a greatest hits guy who owns none of the albums (although my wife does so, I guess, I actually do own some). The lead single, “Shame Shame” was good, but, for whatever reason, it didn’t click.

Until yesterday. 

I queued it up on YouTube and listened to the album. Three times. Having read no reviews, I didn’t know what to expect other than the style of music featured on all the other Foo songs. Boy was I surprised. Happily surprised, mind you. These songs are great and a nice departure from many of the traits associated with the Foo.

What am I getting at? How often do you open a book, push play on a record, or attend a play or movie knowing next to nothing about it? That is, how often do you experience a thing without a review ahead of time?

Look, I know what you’re thinking. Scott, you review stuff all the time. Yes, I do, and I thoroughly enjoy sharing the fun stuff I’ve discovered. It’s my hope that a few words from me might introduce to other this cool thing. And I do read reviews. But, and this is a new thing for me, if I can help it, I don’t read reviews ahead of time. I let a book cover sell me, a movie trailer convince me the film deserves my time, or that there’s a new album by a veteran act that might be the benchmark for album of 2021.

I’ll never stop reviewing things nor will I stop reading reviews (or watching Beau's). I’ve discovered plenty of awesome books, music, and movies from recommendations and reviews. It was a review, after all, that introduced me to my favorite new band, The Struts. 

But those moments when you hear or read or watch something without any preconceived ideas and the thing wows you? Those are priceless moments. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Hilarity in Space: Space Team by Barry J. Hutchison

I haven't had this much fun with a book in a long time.

I've been a part of a science fiction/fantasy book club with the same group of folks for over a decade now. There are now six of us and each month, we take turns selecting a book. Some choose award-winning classics. Others choose new works by established authors. Sometimes we choose wild cards, new-to-us authors that somehow catch the selector's fancy. It was in the latter category that Space Team by Barry J. Hutchison landed on my to-be-read stack.

I didn't choose it, but I'm sure glad my friend did.

Space Team is the first of a 12-book series. If the cover doesn't give you a sense of the type of book it is, the tagline will: "The galaxy just called for help. Unfortunately, it dialed the wrong number."

Cal Carver is a motor-mouthed con man who is "accidentally" put in a prison cell with a notorious, cannibalistic serial killer named Eugene. Cal only has to spend one night in the cell before he (might?) is transferred, but he takes matters into his own hands and tries to take out Eugene. Surprisingly he manages to do just that, but then the bug things arrive and he is snatched away.

Bug things, you ask? Why yes. Little nanobots were sent by aliens with the sole purpose of enabling said aliens to abduct “the person in Eugene’s cell” and deliver him to the spaceship. The aliens kidnap the one person in the cell. That’s Cal. Why? Well, Eugene is needed for a very special mission. See where I'm going with this? Cal is mistaken for Eugene the Cannibal.

But that's not even the worst part. Once he is aboard his very first spaceship, he learns about the mission and the entities with whom he is supposed to carry out said mission. There is the blue-skinned female soldier who just follows orders and tries to fend off Cal’s advances. There is the werewolf female alien who barely keeps her temper in check while she puts the moves on Cal. There’s Mech, a cyborg who has a dial that can turn him either all logical or all berserker. And there’s Splurt, a shape-shifting alien described best as Silly Putty with eyes.

This band of misfits—aren’t all memorable teams misfits?—is given a mission to warp across the galaxy and deliver some crucial information to a notorious alien bad guy. In exchange, the misfits will earn immunity from the crimes they committed and will we handsomely rewarded.

So you have the type of story that works so well in just about any version of science fiction or fantasy: a newbie lead character who is teamed with veterans who get to explain all the new things the newbie encounters. Along the way, newbie is able to play to his strengths. In Cal’s case, that’s his quick-witted responses to all the stuff thrown in the team’s path.

There is a high level of frivolity in Hutchison’s book and he writes the characters quite well. With Cal the central character, he is played off each being on the team. His back-and-forth with Mech is hilarious, with Mech constantly wanting to throw Cal out the airlock for the Earthling’s incessant talking and adding the word “space” in front of every new thing he sees. Thus, the title of the book. Cal genuinely cares for Splurt and goes out of his way to include the oddball alien in the group.

The Audiobook is Fantastic


I’m an avid audiobook listener and get more than half the stories I consume in this manner. Narration is key. A good narrator can add that special sauce that heightens the story above where the author wrote.

That is the case here with Phil Thron. This is the first I’ve heard of him, but it won’t be the last. He nails the four main characters aurally so that you don’t need the ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ attributions. Cal is basically Phil’s voice. Mech goes back and forth depending on where his dial is. When he’s the emotionless, all-logical version, Thron uses a British accent. But normally, he’s like a gruff drill sergeant who’s had it up to here with Cal’s yammering. Lauren is a pretty good male-actor-reading-a-female part, not always easy to do. In fact, I haven’t heard it this good since Johnny Heller and Robert Petkoff each did the Nikki Heat books. For our werewolf lady, Thron puts just enough California valley girl into his voice to give that extra sous son of goodness.

The Accidental Discovery via the Audiobook


I listen to many audiobooks, so many that often, I’m down to a week to listen to the latest SF book from the club. If I find myself with too few days and too many hours in a book, I’ll up the narration speed on the Audible app. This does not make the narrator sound like a chipmunk. Rather, it has the effect of shortening the silences between words and sentences. For Space Team, I bumped up the playback speed to 1.4.

And it played perfectly with this book.

Remember how I said Cal was a motor mouth? Well, by playing Phil Thron’s narration at this speed, Cal’s mouth flies by and actually makes him come across like Nathan Fillion in Castle. Now, that TV show is one of my all-time favorites so I was in aural heaven.

I think you can figure out how much I enjoyed this book. I laughed out loud numerous time. And there’s a moment, late in the book, when Mech speaks a simple phrase and dang it if I didn’t literally cheer aloud. I was trimming and bundling hedge clippings so no family member looked at me askance.

How much did I love this book? I’ve already gone back and purchased books 2 and 3 (actually the first three books are available as a single unit on Audible).

Highly recommended.

For a list of all the other books in this month’s book club, click the icon.


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