Saturday, October 18, 2014

Plan B (Liaden Universe #4), by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miller (author), Andy Caploe (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, September 2012 (original publication February 1999)

Miri and Val Con have gotten off Vandar, but they're not home free. In fact, the Department of the Interior has declared war on Clan Korval. First Speaker Nova yos'Galen invokes Plan B, which I will simply say puts the entire clan on a war footing, while leaving the details for the reader to discover.

Meanwhile, Miri and Val Con make their way to Lytaxin, home of Clan Erob, Clan Korval's oldest allies--and the Liaden kin of Miri's that she barely believes in, and whom she assumes will reject her out of hand even if they are kin.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Festive in Death (In Death #39), by J.D. Robb (author), Susan Erickson (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, September 2014

Eve Dallas is back, and the Christmas season is upon her. Before the challenges of celebrating and gift-giving overtake her, she gets a more familiar challenge: Trey Ziegler, personal trainer, self-absorbed jerk, murder victim. He's found with a knife in his chest by his most recent ex-girlfriend and her buddy/boss, Trina--the hairdresser and cosmetologist who terrorizes Dallas whenever she needs to make a major social appearance. Trina, no fool, takes one look at the dead body and calls Dallas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Blame It On the Mistletoe, by Nicole Michaels

St. Martin's Press, ISBN 9781466867550, October 2014

Brooke Abbott has returned to her hometown in Missouri after a painful relationship that has left her wary and her brother very protective of her. She's opened a small arts studio, selling her own jewelry and handicraft as well as that of others, and she really needs this, her first Christmas season, to be a big success if her studio is to survive till spring.

When local bad boy/heartthrob (and secret crush) Alex Coleman returns to town unexpectedly, she's pretty sure it's bad news. Alex was always trouble. What she doesn't know is that Alex has returned to see his grandmother, settle his wealthy grandfather's estate, and make peace with his mother.

What Alex doesn't know is that his often cold, distant grandfather has left him his most treasured real estate holding other than the family house: 100 Main Street, the building that houses both Brooke's studio and her apartment.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Christmas at Seashell Cottage (Jewel Cove #1.5), by Donna Alward

St. Martin's Press, ISBN 9781466867567, October 2014

In the tiny Maine town of Jewell Cove, Dr. Charlene Yang has found a home and the family medicine practice she dreamed of. What she hasn't done is free herself from some of the need to plan every detail and keep every aspect of her own behavior under perfect control lest she be a disappointment. And that isn't helping her find love.

Lately, though, Charlie's been watching a handsome guy down on the docks, while eating her lunch at Breezes. When they meet while helping decorate the church for Christmas, Mystery Guy turns out to be as cute up close as he is from a distance, as well as being smart, funny, and charming. He's Dave Ricker, ex-Navy SEAL, and father of a young daughter who lives with her mother and stepfather.

Charlie has been taught in an emotionally cool childhood never to be spontaneous. She wants love and family and commitment. Dave has learned not to make plans, to relax and enjoy the moment.

They both face a major challenge when, at the town tree lighting, they find a days-old baby abandoned in the town manger.

This is a light, fun story populated entirely by good people. There are no villains. That may not be everyone's idea of exciting, but it's sweet and charming.

Recommended for a pleasant seasonal read.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Little Christmas Jingle, by Michelle Dunaway

St. Martin's Press, ISBN 9781466867581, October 2014

Kat Saunders has a problem. Along with her successful veterinary practice, she has been operating a No Kill animal shelter at her clinic. Unfortunately, she dropped the ball on the paperwork and doesn't at the moment have a permit for the shelter. And the head of the local neighborhood association wants the shelter shut down.

Jack Donovan, police detective and head of the city's animal cruelty task force, has his own problems, most notably being the very sexy Mr. December in the local humane society's fundraising calendar, and an upcoming family wedding for which his loving family really wants him to have a date with potential to be his happily ever after.

What brings them together is an abused pit bull puppy, burned over much of his body. Kat's is the closest veterinary clinic that has agreed to take animals from the task force for treatment. She names the puppy Jingle, and puts everything into saving him.

And of course, Kat and Jack begin their own dance of fighting their attraction to each other.
Kat and Jack are both easy to like, and have issues from their past experiences that are easy to relate to. With a light touch that never lets it interfere with enjoying the story, Dunaway works in some of the issues and progress in humane animal sheltering and adoption, which is a bonus extra for me. And it all builds toward a wonderful Christmas climax.

Fun and heartwarming. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Visiting Lilly, by Toni Allen

Booktrope, ISBN 9781620153994, October 2014

Detective Inspector Jake Talbot has been having a bad year. He's spent most of it investigating a truly horrendous crime. It's finally resolved, but during it, his significant other, Claire, got tired of it and him and moved out, taking not just all her own things, but gifts she'd given him. It's now nearly Christmas, always a bad time of year for him because of a past family tragedy--but worse than ever this year, because of the Lassiter case and Claire's departure.

Not wanting to take his boss's advice and take time off, Jake focuses instead on what seems to be a minor case, easily resolved: A young man unrelated to the family has been attempting to visit Lillian Charteris in her care home, over the objections of her grandchildren, Peter and Melanie Charteris.

Yet the young man, Frankie Hayward, seems quite harmless, and Peter's reaction, in particular, seems out of all proportion and entirely too personal.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Death at Chinatown (Emily Cabot Mysteries #5), by Frances McNamara

Allium Press of Chicago, ISBN 9780989053556, August 2014

It's the summer of 1896 in Chicago, and Emily Cabot is now Emily Chapman. She is married to Stephen Chapman and the mother of two young children. Her sleuthing days and her days in academia alike are over. With the amazing and heavy responsibilities of two young lives, how can she neglect them for even a moment?

Then Stephen insists that she attend a demonstration of the new, still experimental, x-ray machine at the university. He introduces her to Mary Stone and Ida Kahn, two young Chinese women who came to America to study medicine. Their medical degrees in hand, at the end of the summer they will be returning to China to open a women's hospital. Emily is unhappy when Stephen corners her into inviting them to tea, but it's only one afternoon, right?

When her old friend, Detective Whitbread, arrives to arrest Mary for the murder of an herbalist in Chinatown, the reader knows her sleuthing days are not behind her, although Emily resists the knowledge for a while longer.

This is a fascinating look at a transitional period in American society, as well as a good mystery. Mary Stone and Ida Kahn are real historical figures, though neither was accused of murder. Other figures, such as the journalist and Chinese civil rights activist Wong Chin Foo, and the Moy family and their extensive business activities, including translation services and manufacturing of documents for Chinese wanting to immigrate to the US, are also quite real, though these events are fictional.
Emily is part of a largely forgotten generation of American women. They could get excellent advanced education if their families supported it. They could even have academic careers--but were expected to withdraw from them if they married, and certainly if they became mothers. Emily is among the first generation of women to seriously challenge that expectation. Her husband Stephen is a keeper, supporting both her academic studies in sociology and criminal anthropology, and the amateur sleuthing that grew out of it.

This was a lot of fun to read. Recommended.

I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Carpe Diem (Liaden Universe #3), by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miller (author), Andy Caploe (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, September 2012 (original publication 1989)

Miri Robertson and Val Con yos'Phelium, having escaped both the Juntavas and the Yxtrang, are now stranded on Vandar, a planet without spaceflight and therefore interdicted. Without a ship of their own, they have no realistic prospect of getting home anytime soon. They settle in to learn the language and build new identities--and incidentally learn how to be a couple, while each fights the demons from their respective pasts.

Meanwhile, Val Con's clutch brothers, Edger and Sheather, continue their hunt to find and rescue their adopted brother and sister. And on Liad, Nova, Shan, and the rest of Clan Korval, also seeking Val Con, discover the Department of the Interior and its terrible plot against the clans.

This is a fun, fast-paced adventure in a nicely intricate universe. The relationship between Miri and Val Con is interesting and believably complex, while the planet-
bound culture and its citizens are treated with respect and some depth.

Recommended.

I bought this book.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth, by Chris Stringer

Times Books/Henry Holt and Company, ISBN 9780805088915, 2012 (original publication 2011)

Where does our species come from? Who were our ancestors?

These are enduring human questions, and we are piecing the answers together out of bits of bone and stone tools and recovered DNA. Chris Stringer is one of the world's leading paleoanthropologists, and one of the leading proponents of the "Out of Africa" theory, proposing a recent African origin for Homo sapiens in eastern or southern Africa, who then expanded out of Africa, replacing the archaic humans, including Neanderthals, in the rest of  Eurasia.

Lone Survivors is an examination of the major breakthroughs of the last thirty years, with new evidence and new kinds of evidence, including the advances in recovering and analyzing DNA from ancient fossils. That evidence has, in fascinating ways, both reinforced the basic "recent African origin" hypothesis, and raised serious challenges to the idea that this origin happened in one, highly localized place.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lock In, by John Scalzi (author), Wil Wheaton (narrator)

Audible Studios, August 2014

Just a few years in the future, a new disease that initially looks like a really bad bird flu variant sweeps through the world in a pandemic that puts the 1918 Spanish flu to shame. It soon reveals itself as something very new, that causes a small percentage of its survivors to experience complete loss of voluntary muscle control, while mental faculties remain unimpaired. This horrifying condition becomes known as "lock in," and the disease that causes it is called Haden's syndrome.

Twenty-five years later, Haden's patients have neural networks implanted in their brains, and can control robot "personal transports," popularly called "threeps." (For C3PO.) Alternatively, they can hire an Integrator, someone who also had Haden's but didn't progress all the way to lock in, and emerged with an altered brain structure that lets them, with the help of a neural network of their own, act as living bodies for paying Haden's clients.

Chris Shane, having spent childhood being the Haden's poster child, one of the first to use a threep, is now a rookie FBI agent, teamed with experienced agent Leslie Vann. On Chris's first real day on the job, they are called to the scene of a murder with some very unusual features. The apparent killer, found over the body, is an Integrator, Nicholas Bell. Bell says he doesn't think he did it. And if he was carrying a client at the time, maybe he didn't--but he won't say.

The problem is that the victim is also apparently an Integrator, except he has no records of any kind, which is impossible.

Shane and Vann have a very tangled mystery on their hands, and they quickly find it has potentially major political implications, as well. And that's before the attempt to kill Vann and Shane.

Scalzi has created both an excellent mystery and a convincingly complex and textured near future world. The technology has advanced, impressively in some ways, but not implausibly given where we are now and the driving force of hundreds of thousands of locked-in Haden's patients spread throughout the population. The mix of virtue and corruption in both politics and business feels real, with neither field caricatured. I do think an especially nice touch is the plausible extrapolation of changing relations between the USA and the Native American nations within our borders.

It should come as no surprise to John Scalzi's fans that he both assumes and reflects gender equality within the world of his novel. An extra reflection of this is that Chris Shane's gender is never stated--and the audiobook is available in two versions, one narrated by Wil Wheaton and the other by Amber Benson. This makes a subtle difference in the listener experience, but requires no word changes at all. Personally, I chose the Wil Wheaton version because I happen to like Wil Wheaton as a narrator, but I was really tickled by the fact that the choice exists.

Another feature of the audio edition (either one) is a bonus novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome.

And finally, because this is a John Scalzi book, and he attracts talented people and unlikely ideas, there is a Lock In theme song, though it is not included in the audio editions.

Highly recommended.

The Lock In theme song!


I bought this book.