Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Neil Gaiman (author), David K. Dickson (contributor), M.J. Simpson (contributor), Guy Adams (contributor)

Open Road Media, September 2019

Over thirty years ago, a young journalist named Neil Gaiman (you may have heard of him since in other contexts) was given access to Douglas Adams, his life, his files, his unpublished outtakes, and many of his friends and coworkers, to write a highly entertaining account of the creation of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--the radio show, the six books of the "trilogy," the movie, the games. This is a fascinating look inside how Adams worked, and just how chaotic his creation process was at its best.

Because yes, all his most creative work was done in at atmosphere of chaos and looming deadlines.

And in a time when radio had already become largely a domain of music, news, and talk, he did his best work for radio, and drew in listeners as few if any other entertainment writers and creators could do for radio. This included, of course, not just Hitchhiker's Guide, but his wonderful nature program about endangered species, Last Chance to See.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Swamp Monster (Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries #7), by C.A. Newsome (author), Jane Boyer (narrator)

Carol Ann Newsome, June 2021

Lia Anderson's beloved dog, Honey, has died, and she adopts a new puppy--whom her police detective partner, Peter Dourson, dubs Swamp Monster, but Lia names Gypsy. It's been a long time since Honey or her mini schnauzer, Chewy, were puppies. She's forgotten how much puppies are inclined to chew everything.

Peter Dourson is hoping to wrap up a case involving the organized theft of Amazon packages off of porches, a case that will benefit the whole community, while not involving any dead bodies.

It's just too bad that some of Lia's dog park friends are part of a yacht club tour of the local river, to promote ecological protection of it, when a tree on the unstable riverbank falls, and reveals the bones of a man who died and was buried there in the 1980s. One of those friends calls Peter rather than calling 911, making Peter first on the scene. When someone follows up by calling The National Enquirer that the bones were enclosed in an outfit remarkably like Elvis, it becomes a media circus. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes, by Adam Rutherford (author, narrator)

Tantor Audio, September 2018

Adam Rutherford gives us a fascinating tour of what genetics tells us about the history of our species, including the close relatives with whom we interbred, the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

New discoveries show the first H. Sapiens left Africa even earlier than we previously thought, and didn't always take the paths we assumed. Our DNA tells us a great deal about ourselves as a species, but not nearly as much as we like to imagine about ourselves. There just isn't that much diversity in the genome of H. Sapiens, and most of what there is, is among the peoples of Africa. The rest of us haven't been gone from Africa long enough, or separated from each other long enough, to produce that much genetic variation.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Tender Is the Bite (Chet and Bernie Mystery #11), by Spencer Quinn (author), Jim Frangione (narrator)

Recorded Books, Inc., ISBN 9781705020333, July 2021

Chet and Bernie are back, with a new case--for which, unfortunately, they don't seem to have a client. A scared young woman follows them, then approaches them, and then bolts in terror after Chet, but not Bernie, sees her spot a bumper sticker that someone dropped into the back of the Porsche. A disturbing puzzle, but it's not clear what they can do. Soon, though, there's another scared young woman who also bolts on seeing something, a dead (male) body that disappears, a pet ferret who apparently belongs to one of the young women--who gets stolen out of the back of the Porsche while Chet and Bernie are inside a shop asking questions about the dead man.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Bound and Deceased (Taylor Quinn Quilt Shop Mystery #2), by Tess Rothery (author), Shaina Summerville (narrator)

Tess Rothery, February 2021

Taylor Quinn is suffering from PTSD after the confrontation in her kitchen with her mother's killer. She's not pleased when her ex, Clayton, shows up wanting to kiss and make up, after refusing to come with her to Comfort, Oregon, when her mother died, but do to sheer persistence and refusal to accept "no" as an answer, he finally gets her to agree to go out for breakfast that morning. Unappealing as that was, it's worse than she expected. Sissy, her somewhat combative and critical neighbor who is the mother of one of her sister Belle's friends--and often the source of useful advice--is having breakfast there, also. She's with her son Cooper, who is a good friend of Belle's, another of her own kids, and a woman whom Taylor doesn't know, but who looks like she must be a relative of Sissy's. What's the big deal? Just the fact that the relative, Sissy's Aunt Raynette, drinks part of a cup of coffee, and suddenly vomits, chokes, and dies. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Emma's Tapestry, by Isobel Blackthorn

Isobel Blackthorn, March 2021

We follow Emma Taylor, née Harms, from her marriage in Philadelphia to a British merchant, to London, Singapore just before the start of World War One, Kobe in Japan, Colorado, and eventually back to London.

The story is told in very nonlinear fashion, "starting" in London in 1940, with German-born, American-raised Emma, a nurse, at the bedside of an elderly, Jewish heiress, who loves to tell stories of her friendship with Oscar Wilde. At this point, we know Emma’s husband, Ernest, is gone from her life, though we don't know why or how. Her two daughters are grown.

And she is very, very worried about anyone learning that she is German-born, not American, and has English nationality only by marriage. 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Ruff and Tumble (Dog Groomer Mysteries #2), by Chelsea Thomas

Chelsea Thomas, July 2021

Amy's pet grooming business, Creature Comforts, is going gangbusters in Toluca Lake, California, but that doesn't mean Amy, her grandmother, Petunia, and her assistant Betsy, can't find time to investigate a murder.

A new client, Jasper, brings in his bulldog, Jonathan, and mentions his boss, retired actor and producer Margo Edmonds. Margo, it seems, has an Afghan hound, Majesty, who never gets groomed. Amy says she'll do it, Jasper says Margo won't let her, and by the end of the day, Amy has an appointment to pick up Majesty for grooming at 8am, the following morning.

When Amy and Betsy arrives, no one answers the bell, or a knock on the door, but by cavalierly disregarding private property, Amy finds her way in--and finds Margo in time to watch her die, apparently of poison.

They call the police, but when the police check the house, they find no body. Margo is gone, and there's no signs of a struggle, and Detective Rotund and Amy's old high school classmate, Detective Mike Fine, don't believe there ever was a body. It gets stranger and stranger from here.

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Learning Brain, by Thad A. Polk (author, narrator)

The Great Courses, May 2018

In this set of 24 half-hour lectures, Thad Polk gives us a fascinating, and often entertaining, rundown on the human brain, memory, and learning. Looking at long-term memory, working memory, and the mutability of memory, we get a good overview of how our brains work in the areas that are most often of everyday interest to us.

Some of the important areas to understand are explicit memory (explicit, declarative knowledge that's easy to talk about), implicit memory (what I've often heard called "muscle memory," though of course it's formed in the brain, not in the muscles, and which you can't really talk about easily), and the mutability of memory. Our memory of events isn't like a video recording, no matter how vivid it seems. We retain some key details, and fill in the rest--meaning that over time, even those "flashbulb memories"  of major, shocking events, such as the Challenger explosion or 9/11, can change substantially.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Lammas Night, by Katherine Kurtz

Open Road Media, July 2016 (original publication November 1983)

It's 1940, and Britain's war against Nazi Germany isn't going well. The British Expeditionary Force has been evacuated from Dunkirk back to England, and while the evacuation was a success, it was also a retreat. Hitler is planning an invasion of Britain, and the British military and political leadership really don't know how they're going to mount an effective defense.

Col. Sir John Graham, "Gray" to his friends and family, is a  military intelligence officer--and also a high-ranking member of an occult group, practitioners of the Britain's traditional, ancient rites. This group, the Oakwood group, and other occult groups in Britain, are planning their own response to Hitler's invasion plans. This includes responding, more directly than conventional military forces can, to Hitler's own occult assault on  Britain and Britain's military forces.

In addition to his occult colleagues, Graham has another dear friend--Prince William, Duke of Clarence, the (fictional) twin brother of King George V's youngest son, John, who died at age fourteen. This close friendship is going to lead to some serious complications as the Oakwood group works to organized a unified British occult response to Hitler.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Girl Least Likely, by Katy Loutzenhiser

Harper Audio, ISBN 9780063077744, June 2021

"Voice galley," read by a synthetic voice, not whoever is the eventual narrator. The sound of the voice is pretty good, but intonation, emphasis, pronunciation are not always consistent. The real narrator will undoubtedly be much better.

Gretchen is a high school junior in Portland, Maine, the youngest of three siblings, and a generally quiet, somewhat withdrawn girl. She doesn't call attention to herself. She has only a few close friends, and not a large number of friendly acquaintances. She's a member of the yearbook club mainly because an extracurricular activity is required, and in her freshman and sophomore years, there were enough members that she as able to do only tasks that didn't require much interaction with anyone not a member of the yearbook club.

Becoming a standup comic is something that never crossed her mind.