Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Unexpected Stories, by Octavia E. Butler

Open Road Media, ISBN 9781497601376, June 2014

Octavia Butler was one of the leading lights of American science fiction until her early death in 2006, and one of the best-known African-American science fiction writers. The two stories in this book are early works, from the 1970s, and were previously unpublished.

One, 'Childfinder', was originally sold to Harlan Ellison for his much-anticipated, never-published anthology, The Last Dangerous Visions. It's very short, just a few pages, but reflects some of the themes Butler explored through much of her work: psi talents and the complexities of race relations. An organization of telepaths, mostly white, has formed for self-protection. Telepathy has not, unfortunately, led to universal love and happiness. On the contrary, they understand each other's resentments and hostilities all too well. Barbara, one of the few black women in the group, has broken with them, to recruit and train young black children whose talents are just beginning to manifest.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Spiral Path (Night Calls #3), by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Book View Cafe, September 2014

Alfreda and her cousin and teacher, Marta, visit Alfreda's home for the birth of Alfreda's new sister--and during this visit, Alfreda has an alarming and exhilarating encounter with a unicorn. As exciting and rewarding as this is, Marta is furious with the unicorn; it will make Alfreda far more visible to malignant forces. She needs more protection than she can currently provide for herself, and needs to fill the gap in her education where a knowledge of ritual magic should be.

Marta arranges for her to become a student at the Windward School, in faraway New York. The head of the school, Professor Livingston, is another of Alfreda's cousins, and she, Marta, and her mother will all trade services to the school to cover the cost of her tuition. Alfreda's share of this will be teaching the beginning herbal magic class.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Neverwhere: BBC Dramatization, by Neil Gaiman (creator), Dirk Maggs (writer)

BBC Radio 4, March 2013

This is the BBC dramatization of Neil Gaiman's wonderful 1996 novel, Neverwhere.

Richard Mayhew is a rising young businessman in London, with a beautiful fiancée, Jessica, who is rising in her own field. In connection with that, Jessica needs Richard to come to dinner with her boss after work, and they're on their way, when they stumble across an injured young woman.

Richard insists on helping the young woman. Jessica is outraged that he'd ditch her dinner with the boss for no real reason. The young woman does not want to go to the hospital, so Richard takes her to his flat, while Jessica goes off to her dinner, declaring that their engagement is over.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nest, by Esther Ehrlich

Random House Children's/Wendy Lamb Books, ISBN 9780385386074, September 2014

Naomi Orenstein, a.k.a. Chirp, is eleven years old and growing up in a small town on Cape Cod in the early seventies. Her nickname comes from her love of birds; she's a devoted birdwatcher. Chirp is safe in the warm nest provided by her father and mother for her and her thirteen-year-old sister, Rachel.

And then things start to change.

Chirp's mother, Hannah, is a dancer, still dancing professionally with a small troupe on the Cape, but lately she's having trouble with one leg. When there's no improvement, a series of tests brings a shocking diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey (author), Debra Monk (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781461839064, 2012 (original publication January 2011)

In 1920s Alaska, Jack and Mabel, in their early fifties, are homesteading, building a new life away from the reminders of grief in their native Pennsylvania. It's a tough life. Jack is making slow progress clearing fields for spring planting. Mabel is bringing in extra money by baking for the hotel in town.

But it's November. They've this summer raised barely enough food to get through the winter, if Mabel can keep selling her pies. They're both feeling the strain, and the effects of the short, dim days.

And then the first real snowfall comes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Sweetness, by Sande Boritz Berger

She Writes Press, ISBN 9781631529078, September 2014

In the years after World War One, the older Kaninsky brothers leave their home in Riga, Latvia, and emigrate to New York. Charlie and Louie, now Kane, eventually go back and persuade their sisters, Rena and Jeannette, to join them in America. Their youngest brother, Mordecai, does not. Instead, he moves his small family, and their parents, to Vilna, Lithuania. It's a fateful decision.

When the Second World War starts, the choices made are irrevocable. We follow Mira Kane, Charlie's 18-year-old daughter, and Rosha, Mordecai's eight-year-old daughter. Mira is the daughter of prosperous businessman Charlie, owner of a knitwear business, safe, secure, and dreaming of a career as a fashion designer.

Rosha is the daughter of a Jewish family in German-occupied Lithuania.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Quiet Gentleman, by Georgette Heyer (author), Cornelius Garret (narrator)

BBC WW, ISBN 9780792761525, September 2008 (original publication 1951)

Gervase Frant, the new Earl of St. Erth, returns home unscathed from the Napoleonic Wars to claim his estate--somewhat to the disappointment of his stepmother, the dowager Countess, and his half-brother, Martin. His only friend in the old castle of Stanyon is his cousin, Theo Frant, who has been serving as manager of the Frant lands and investments. Intent on getting reacquainted with his childhood home and taking hold of his responsibilities, he finds himself facing Lady St. Erth's resentment and Martin's hostility.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nop's Trials, by Donald McCaig

Open Road Integrated Media, ISBN 9781497619951, June 2014 (original publication 1984)

Nop is a young border collie, happily living the border collie life on a Virginia farm with livestock farmer Lewis Burkholder. On Christmas Day, Nop and a neighbor's dog are let out to play, and don't come back. They've been stolen, and Nop's life has undergone an alarming and disorienting change.

In alternating sections, we follow Nop's struggles to survive in a life much harsher than he has known till now, and Lewis Burkholder's search for his missing dog.

There's dog drama here, and the dogs are wonderfully authentic and satisfying, but there's also human drama--Burkholder's obsession with finding the dog friends tell him is probably dead, and the strains this creates with his pregnant daughter, the son-in-law he doesn't like or quite trust, and his devoted wife. Beverly doesn't want Lewis to give up on Nop, but she's frustrated that since Nop's disappearance he doesn't really seem to see her anymore.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Old Bones (Casey Templeton #2), by Gwen Molnar

Dundurn, ISBN 9781459714052, September 2014

Casey Templeton is a fourteen-year-old boy in Alberta, Canada, who has a knack for finding dangerous problems to solve. In the first book, it was a hate cell. This time, it's a plot to rob the Royal Tyrrell Museum, a paleontology museum in Drumheller, Alberta.

Casey and his high school science class go to the Tyrrell on a field trip, including the opportunity to actually work on a dig. In the hot, hot sun, Casey leaves off his hat and takes off his tshirt, because otherwise he wouldn't get heat stroke, go to sleep in a closet and wake up to overhear a conversation between two men plotting the theft, and then wind up in the hospital briefly, then staying with the family of the museum director, whose daughter Mandy is an old friend from Casey's high school before Dr. Norman accepted the position at the Tyrrell.

It's possible I'm a bit impatient with that part of the story.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Dog Stays in the Picture: Life Lessons from a Rescued Greyhound, by Susan Morse

Open Road Integrated Media, ISBN 9781497643925, September 2014

After mourning the death of their Australian shepherd, Arrow, and with their youngest two children about to start college, it's time to add a new dog to the family. Or so Susan Morse thinks. Husband David is not so sure. He's especially not sure they want a rescue greyhound. But since David had more or less sprung Arrow on her as a surprise, all those years ago, Susan figures it's her turn to choose, and she's become fascinated by greyhounds.

Lilly is sweet, loving, intelligent, wary of men, suffering from separation anxiety... She's not going to be an easy dog, but Susan is in love. She sets to work helping Lilly adapt to her safe, comfortable new life, and to weave her into her and David's new life with the children out of the house, leaving Susan free to travel with him to his acting jobs on location.

Then Susan gets ambushed by a health crisis threatening to upend all her plans and hopes.