Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Christmas Feral, by Mary Matthews

Kindle Editions

This is a charming retelling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, set in the Roaring Twenties, with Judge Scrooge about to issue a disastrously wrong ruling in a case involving feral cats, just in time for Christmas. Tatania, the beautiful, and deaf, white cat who readers may remember from Splendid Summer, takes a firm pawgrip on the matter, along with her companion, Zeus. The humans Tatania consents to hang out with, Jack and Grace, also make an appearance.

This Scrooge is so tight-fisted he won't even heat house; "when you pay the bill, you don't feel the cold." Tatania and her friends have an attention-getting lesson for him!

This is a warm and charming little story, a novella rather than a novel, but well worth your time in this Christmas season.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Crossing the Bridge, by Michael Baron

The Story Plant, ISBN 9780981956817, January 2010

Hugh Penders is back in Amber, CT for his first extended visit since his brother Chase's death because his father has had a heart attack. It isn't just that his parents need his moral support; his father Richard needs him to take over running the store--and hopes he will take it over permanently. Both parents are offended when he flatly refuses, and agrees only to run it until it can be sold.

Since he's been drifting for the ten years since Chase died, and has recently quit his latest job, there's no obstacle to his doing so except that he finds working in the card and gift shop incredibly dull. Eventually, though, he gets bored enough that he starts making changes in the store, changes he feels his father should have made years ago. He's also distracted by running into Iris, his brother's last and most serious girlfriend, a woman to whom Hugh was also attracted. As he and Iris renew their friendship, they both have a lot of emotional baggage to work through with regard to Chase, and it soon looms as an obstacle to any future they might have together.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Terra Incognita:A Novel of the Roman Empire, by Ruth Downie (author), Simon Vance (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781400156672, April 2008

This second entry in Downie's Roman mystery series brings a change of scene. Worn out and mentally exhausted from his unwilling investigation of the deaths of several local prostitutes, Gaius Petreius Ruso fondly imagines that accepting a short mission to the north of Britain with the 20th Legion will be a nice rest for him and an opportunity for Tilla to visit what remains of her family. They'll be just south of what will soon be Hadrian's Wall, with tribes not yet fully reconciled to Roman rule on both sides of the border. What could possibly go wrong?

The accident on the road, when they are nearly there, the oxen pulling a wagon bolting and the brakes failing, resulting in deaths and major injuries, is just the beginning. And it is not, of course, an accident. The brakes were cut.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hugo -- Martin Scorcese (director), John Logan (screenplay), Brian Selznick (book)

George Melies                             Ben Kingsley
Hugo Cabret                               Asa Butterfield
Isabelle                                       Chloe Grace Moretz
Mama Jeanne                              Helen McRory
Station Inspector                         Sacha Baron Cohen

Hugo Cabret is a twelve-year-old orphan who lives in the walls of the train station in Paris in the 1930s. His father was a watchmaker; his uncle maintained the clocks in the train station. They both taught Hugo their craft; his uncle has now disappeared. Hugo keeps his uncle's disappearance unnoticed by maintaining the clocks himself, and steals food from various vendors in the station to eat. He also has a few treasures rescued from his father's shop after his death, most importantly a life-sized clockwork man, and the notebook the elder Cabret kept of his efforts to repair the clockwork figure.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Personal Devil, by Roberta Gellis (author), Nadia May (reader)

Blackstone Audiobooks, ISBN 9780786181889, January 2005

This is the second Magdalene la Batarde mystery, Gellis's 12th-century London whoremistress who protects her women and caters to a clientele who can pay enough to keep them in comfort. With her clientele, and with the Bishop of Winchester as her landlord (she rents the Old Priory Guesthouse as her whorehouse), she has a much wider range of contacts and potential allies than the average whoremistress.

She also has more education and culture than the average whoremistress, but we only gradually learn bits and pieces of her background to help explain this. In this second entry in the series, one of Magdalene's former whores, the blind Sabina, is now established as the mistress of the saddle maker, Maynard. Maynard's face is disfigured by an ugly birthmark, but Sabina, being blind, sees only his kind and gentle nature and his strong and graceful body.

All is well until Maynard's appallingly nasty, vicious wife, Berthild, is found dead, murdered, in the yard of Maynard's shop.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Get Back to Work Faster: The Ultimate Job Seeker's Guide, by Jill Konrath

Sales Gravy Press, ISBN 9780981800486,  October 2009

Jill Konrath wants to share the secret of finding well-paid work as quickly as possible even in a terrible economy. She's happy to share that secret for free; you can buy a paperback copy of her book on Amazon, or you can download a pdf copy for free from her website, at

The core of her secret is quite simple: Be a hard-driven, brilliant salesperson.

Really, there are a lot of specific and useful recommendations here. There is also information about valuable resources, most free, some not, that can be valuable additions to your job-hunting strategy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Mystery of Grace, by Charles de Lint (author), Paul Michael Garcia (reader), Tai Sammons (reader)

Blackstone Audio, ISBN 9781433294679, September 2009

Altagracia Quintero, Grace to her friends, is a lover of classic cars--specifically, classic Ford cars. She works at Sanchez Motors customizing hot rods. She's a fan of rockabilly music, and has enough tattoos to make those unacquainted with her believe at first glance that she's a tough, scary, gang member.

John's an artist, doing commission work for his friends' company while pursuing his serious art independently. He's a melancholy and somewhat solitary young man, still coping with his grief and guilt over the death of his younger brother, when they were still children. When he and Grace meet at the local music hall on Halloween, he's immediately attracted to her, and she to him. Before the night is over, John and Grace are well on the way to being in love.

Unfortunately, Grace has been dead for two weeks.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town (The Rice University Campbell Lectures) by Robert Pinsky

University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226669441, May 2009

This is a collection of lectures Robert Pinsky delivered at Rice University in 2009, discussing the ways in which American small towns, symbolized by their main streets named Main Street or Broadway, have been represented in literature and the movies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Mark Twain, Willa Cather, William Faulkner,  and movie directors Preston Sturges and Alfred Hitchcock are discussed.

Pinsky gives us a clear and thoughtful exposition of the ways in which the authors' perspectives on and attitude to the small towns where most of them grew up differs, as well as the perhaps surprising complexities of those small towns and life within them. It's often a surprisingly dark view that's found in their stories, showcasing the ability of American small towns to be stiflingly repressive of anything even mildly outside the mainstream, insular, conformist, banal, upholding the status quo simply because it is the status quo. Yet alongside those tendencies resides a sense of fair play, and protectiveness towards "their own." Willa Cather's Thea Kronberg can't fulfill her musical ambitions in her hometown of Moonstone, but it's in Moonstone that, child and young woman, she gets the education and training that enables her to take her first steps along that path.

It's an interesting and multi-layered look at the American small town in American literature, both the good and the bad.


I received this book free as part of the University of Chicago's "one free ebook a month" program.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe (author), Katherine Kellgren (reader)

Voice, ISBN 9781401395155, April 2010

In the early summer of 1991, Connie Goodwin has just moved into a critical phase of her Ph.D studies at Harvard, approved for candidacy and needing to choose her dissertation topic, when her mother asks her to move into her grandmother's old house in Salem, and get it fixed up and ready for sale. This is even more challenging than might be anticipated, because the house has been empty and neglected since her grandmother Sophie died in the 1970s, and it hadn't been fully modernized even then. Connie's feeling a bit used, especially when she finds the house almost completely hidden behind its overgrown garden--but unexpectedly, she finds herself surprisingly comfortable in the old house.

And among the old books and papers her grandmother left behind, she finds a lead for a possible topic for her dissertation: a previously unrecorded Salem witch, Deliverance Dane, and a hint that she owned a Physick Book, a book of spells and potions.