Friday, December 27, 2013

The Love Talker, by Elizabeth Peters (author), Grace Conlin (narrator)

Blackstone Audiobooks, June 2013 (original publication 1980)

This is one of the very early Elizabeth Peters books, when Barbara Michaels was still finding her way with this new voice. It's not as polished as the later Peters books, or the Michaels books, but it's very enjoyable.

Laurie Carlson is in Chicago, laboring on her dissertation in mediaeval history, when a very alarming letter arrives from her great-aunt, Ida Morton. Great-aunt Lizzy, Ida's younger sister, has a new enthusiasm, fairies, and is acting even odder than usual. Can Laurie please come home? Ida, Lizzy, and their brother,  Ned, effectively raised Laurie after her unreliable mother, Anna, lost interest in being a parent, and she can hardly say no.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I, Walter, by Mike Hartner, read by Mike Hartner

Audible, June 2013

We meet Walter Crofter as an old man, 67, ill and possibly dying of malaria, determined to write down the story of his life, both what he did, and most importantly, why. He has secrets never shared, and wants his wife and children to understand.

Walter Crofter is the son of a cloth merchant in Elizabethan England, and his father's lack of business skill does not make life easy. His old patron, Sir Walter Scott is out of favor, his elder son Gerald has embarked on a life of crime, and the cloth merchant has little to offer his younger son but hard work with few prospects. Walter loves his parents, but he wants his work to count for something.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Survival of the Nicest:How Altruism Made Us Human and Why It Pays to Get Along, by Stefan Klein

The Experiment, ISBN 9781615190904, January 2014

"If you want to be egoist, at least be a smart egoist, and share."

So says science journalist Stefan Klein, in his TEDx talk on this book. Why? Isn't it smarter to look out for our own self-interest, put our own needs first, compete ruthlessly for the greatest advantage for yourself and, by extension, your offspring? Don't altruists give away their advantages to others, and make their altruist genes less successful?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no. Klein gathers together the evidence from history, biology, anthropology, psychology, economics: Those who share, who have a strong sense of fairness, justice, and compassion, are overall happier and more successful in the long run. Social groups in which fairness and generosity are valued and widely practiced are more successful than groups which are more "everyone for themselves."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Whom the Gods Would Destroy, by Brian Hodge

DarkFuse, ISBN 9781940544137, December 2013

Damien grew up a stranger in his own family, useless baggage in the eyes of his mother and older brother. Beyond just feeling unwanted, his earliest memory is of nightmarish events involving his mother and brother. And so as soon as he can, while barely into his teens, he quietly joins a far more normal, supportive family, and cuts all contact with the family that has no interest in him anyway. Thirteen years later, he's a happy astronomy student, studying the universe and valuing the experience of being a small part of the cosmos.

Then his brother turns up, with a story about wanting to make amends, and a discovery of alien life. It is, he promises, an incredible opportunity.

While Damien doesn't altogether believe or trust him, he can't let go of the idea of how it will eat at him to not even take the chance of finding out. He and his brother set out from Seattle to Portland.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ladd Springs (Ladd Springs #1), by Dianne Venetta

BloominThyme Press, November 2013

Ladd Springs in Tennessee has been home to the Ladd family for six generations. Now, though, the property is at risk from multiple directions. Ernie Ladd, the current owner, promised his sister on her deathbed that he would leave the land to her daughter, Delaney Wilkins, and Delaney's daughter Felicity--but Ernie can't forgive Delaney for having married the son of an old rival, even though the marriage did not survive. Hotel developer Nick Harris wants to buy the property for the latest addition to his hotel chain. Neighbor Clem Sweeney is taking advantage of Ernie's loneliness and sense of isolation--and has found a secret in the forest that, if he doesn't get caught, will make him rich.

And Ernie, even though he has plenty of money to do so, hasn't paid the property taxes in three years. If he doesn't do so soon, Nick--who is willing to pay a fair price and make provisions for the family in the deal--will wind up buying the property for back taxes.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Delicious (Big Sky Pie #2), by Adrianne Lee

Forever (Grand Central Publishing), ISBN 9781455574353, December 2013

Jane Wilson is enjoying her new job as pastry chef at Big Sky Pie, and life seems to be on an even keel, until she gets two unpleasant surprises.

First, her mother is getting married again--and not to just anyone. She's remarrying Romeo Taziano, the man who broke up her parents' marriage, and then broke her mother's heart.

Second, Romeo's hateful son Nick, the Tazmanian Devil, has just been hired by Quint McCoy to develop an advertising campaign for Big Sky Pie. She's going to be seeing way too much of her ex-stepbrother.

If that weren't trial enough, having the Tazianos back in their lives brings up uncomfortable questions and uncovers long-buried family secrets. Jane is forced to rethink what she has always believed about her parents, their marriages--and even herself.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

These Broken Stars (Starbound #1), by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Disney-Hyperion, ISBN 9781423171027, December 2013

This is a thoroughly enjoyable execution of a seemingly unpromising plot. A young war hero from a lower-class background is on an official PR tour on a luxury spaceship when he meets the pampered daughter of the head of the corporation that owns it--one of the richest girls in the galaxy. Shortly after they meet, there's some kind of an accident, the ship is destroyed, and our heroes, Maj. Tarver Merendsen heiress Lilac LaRoux, are stranded on a terraformed but uninhabited planet, the only survivors.

It works because Kaufman and Spooner have created original and interesting characters, and while the expected romance is there, it's the secondary plot.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Disappeared (Retrieval Artist #1), by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (author), Jay Snyder (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, March 2008 (original publication July 2002)

Miles Flint and Noelle DeRicci, police detectives in Armstrong Dome on the Moon, have a problem.

They've been assigned to investigate first one, then two, then three ships arrived at the Moon under peculiar circumstances. These are quickly shown to be related to humans convicted of crimes against against alien laws, who have chosen to "disappear" rather than face their sentences.

The first contains three bodies, eviscerated in a Disty revenge killing.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #14), by Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon, ISBN 9780307378415, November 2013

Precious Ramotswe is facing a new challenge. Grace Makutsi has gone out on maternity leave after the birth of her and Phuti Radiphuti's son--and the office is suddenly quiet. Too quiet. It's been a long time since Mma Ramotswe worked on a case without bouncing ideas off Mma Makutsi, and she finds it's not just Grace's awesome office skills she misses. But life and business must go on, and she has not one but two cases to work on.

Mma Soleti, owner of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, is the target of a nasty whispering campaign that's driving away her customers. And Mma Sheba, a lawyer Mma Ramotswe met a few years ago at a networking lunch for women professionals, wants to know if the young man who has come forward as the heir to an estate she's handling is really who he says he is.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Beyond the Aquila Rift, by Alastair Reynolds (author), Tom Dheere (narrator)

Ifinivox, February 2008

This is a really nicely done short, making very effective use of compression and mood.

Humans have colonized "the Bubble," the local region of our arm of the Milky Way, relatively free of dust. They've done it using a network of FTL travel gateways left behind by some ancient space-faring species they know nothing about except that they left this network behind. Humans have learned how to use, but don't fully understand it or the principles on which it works--so sometimes, things go wrong. Ships wind up somewhere other than where they expected to go, and the crew is just stuck with the problem of getting home again. Depending on how far off course that is, that might take days, or weeks, or months.

The Curse of the Pharaohs (Amelia Peabody #2), by Elizabeth Peters (author), Susan O'Malley (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, ISBN 9780786137060, March 2005 (original publication 1981)

Amelia Peabody Emerson is getting restless in English domesticity, and so is her husband, Radcliffe Emerson. Oh, they love their son Walter, a.k.a. Ramses, dearly, but they were not meant to live quietly at home in England, Emerson teaching archaeology rather than practicing it, and Peabody not having even that much professional outlet.

They are rescued by the unexpected and not entirely welcome arrival one night of Lady Baskerville, widow of amateur archaeology enthusiast and funder of excavations, Lord Baskerville. He had just discovered a new, possibly unplundered, tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and his sudden, seemingly natural death, is rumored to be the result of a curse. Also, his assistant, Armadale, has disappeared. People are quitting, and the tomb is endangered by being now known but yet incompletely guarded and not yet excavated. Lady Baskerville wants Emerson to take over as chief archaeologist of the expedition. Of course, because of young Ramses, he can't.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gold Web (A Klondike Mystery), by Vicki Delany

Dundurn Group, ISBN 9781459707733, December 2013

It's 1898, and Fiona MacGillivray is running a dance hall in Dawson City,  Yukon. "Dance hall" and "respectable" would not seem to go together, but it is 1898, and it is Canada, even during a gold rush. There are decency laws. And Fiona is raising a son, twelve-year-old Angus. The lead dancer is still fully covered when she finishes the Dance of the Seven Veils, and the Savoy is the most popular dance hall in Dawson.

There's also the little potential difficulty of "Mrs" MacGillvray's own checkered past.

So it's definitely not a good development when, as Fiona and Angus are leaving the Savoy out the back door, a man stumbles up to them, collapses to the ground, utters two words ("MacGillivray" and "Culloden"), and dies, stabbed to death.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Christmas Hope, by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, ISBN 9780345530752, December 2013

Claudine Burroughs, a volunteer at Hester Monk's clinic for prostitutes, simply endures her marriage to her husband, Wallace Burroughs. Dutifully attending yet another Christmas season social event with him, she meets a charming if slightly alarming Welsh poet, Dai Tragarron.

Within an hour, a prostitute smuggled into the party is badly injured, and Tragarron is on the run. A servant alerts Claudine to the presence of a man hiding in their barn the next morning, and she discovers it's Tragarron. He insists he's innocent, that the three young men who claimed to have tried to defend the young woman are in fact to blame. Claudine gives him breakfast and sends him on his way.

Later that day, the young woman dies. Tragarron is now wanted for murder.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, by Jennifer Chiaverini

Dutton Adult, ISBN 9780525953 616, January 2013

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave in the antebellum American South, became an accomplished seamstress and dressmaker, and purchased her own freedom and her son's. It's after this that this novel based on her life begins--when she is a dressmaker of rising distinction in Washington, D.C., in the months just before the start of the Civil War.

During this time, her patrons were both Democrats and Republicans, Unionists and secessionists. If it seems odd to modern readers that one of her best and favorite patrons at this time was Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, soon to be President of the Confederate States of America, it's really an illustration of how messy and complicated human relationships really are. Mrs. Davis values her skills and likes her personally; she's perfectly sincere, if utterly obtuse, when she asks Elizabeth Keckley to go with her family when they leave Washington for Montgomery, Alabama.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Presidential Picture Stories: Behind the Camera at the White House, by Dennis Brack

Brack Books, ISBN 9780615648828, December 2013

Dennis Brack, a White House photographer himself, gives us a very readable short history of the photographers who have worked the White House beat, from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama. We get engaging stories about the photographers, the presidents, their interactions. It was Teddy Roosevelt who first moved the photographers from the street to the first improvised photographers' room in the White House. We see that working space for the photographers and reporters evolving over the decades, because of the changing technology, needs, and numbers of the working press.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Last Clinic:A Darla Cavannah Mystery), by Gary Gusick

Alibi (Random House Publishing Group), ISBN 9780345548887, November 2013

Darla Cavannah is a South Philly girl, a Philadelphia cop, who moved to Jackson Mississippi with her husband, Jackson native and football hero Hugh Cavannah. Injuries ended his career, and, just six months ago, a car accident, fueled by the pain pills demanded by his injuries, ended Hugh's life.

On a leave of absence from the Hinds County sheriff's department while she grieves Hugh's death, Darla is startled to be abruptly called back to work in the wake of the shooting death of Reverend Jimmy Aldridge.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1), by Elizabeth Peters (author), Susan O'Malley (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, ISBN 9780786136483, November 2007 (original publication 1975)

Amelia Peabody has spent her life taking care of her scholarly father and keeping house for him, and incidentally quietly mastering several foreign languages and a considerable body of ancient history and Middle Eastern archaeology. She's in her mid-thirties when he dies, and outrages her brothers (all older, independent, and successful) by leaving her his entire, unexpectedly large, fortune.

Amelia may be plain, and past the usual age of marriage in Victorian England, but she is now free to pursue her own interests with no restraint from anyone.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Temptation Bay (Windfall Island #1), by Anna Sullivan

Forever (Grand Central Publishing), ISBN 9781455525355, September 2013

Maggie Solomon has built a life and a business for herself on Windfall Island, the prickly, insular community descended from salvagers and wreckers, off the coast of Maine. Her mother grew up there, and left to marry Navy officer Phillip Solomon, but Maggie, their only child, a girl, and not willing to enter the Navy, was a sad disappointment to her father. Instead, she's returned to her mother's birthplace, become a part of the tightknit community, and built a charter business and a small airport.

She's a loner, and distrustful of strangers, but that's not unusual on Windfall.

When she flies in Dexter Keegan, a stranger arriving on unstated business near the end of the tourist season, she's naturally suspicious that he means trouble for someone on the island. It's annoying that he's so attractive, and persistent, but she's not going to succumb.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sound and the Furry (Chet and Bernie #6), by Spencer Quinn

Atria Books, ISBN 9781476703220, September 2013

Chet and Bernie are back, and due to Bernie's odd habit of befriending the perps he gets locked up, they're on their way to Louisiana, to look for the only honest member--and almost the only smart member--of the Boutette family, who has mysteriously gone missing.

Frenchie Boutette, now doing time including working a highway cleanup crew as a prisoner of the state of California, is worried because his wife, Vannah, reports that his brother Ralph is missing. Frenchie has convinced his brothers, Duke and Lord, his wife Vannah, and his mother Mami, that Bernie is the one who can help. Someone needs to help, because Duke, Lord, and Baron (Frenchie's real name) aren't that bright, and being criminals, going to the police doesn't seem like an option.

Polio Wars: Sister Kenny and the Golden Age of American Medicine, by Naomi Rogers

Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195380590, November 2013

From around 1900 until the 1950s, when Jonas Salk developed his polio vaccine, the US and other developed countries were stalked by the fear of polio, the dreaded crippler of healthy children and adults. The treatment of polio rested on certain beliefs for which the medical community believed it had ample scientific evidence. Among these was the belief that the polio virus attacked the central nervous system and only the central nervous system--paralysis was the result of lesions on the parts of the brain that controlled those body parts. It was also believed that this caused affected muscles to be flaccid.

Treatment centered around immobilizing the limbs, and even the whole body, with splints or casts. Life-long crippling was believed to be inevitable, and the goal was to avoid deformities and keep the limbs straight and normal-appearing. There were few prospects for the permanently crippled, and institutionalization was frighteningly common.

The person who changed this was not Jonas Salk with his vaccine. He came later. The first liberator of the polio-afflicted was an eccentric Australian bush nurse, Sister Elizabeth Kenny.

Kenny was born in 1880, and after an extended stay with a doctor when she was ill as a child, she developed an interest in medicine and nursing. She worked for years as a bush nurse--the only easily accessible health care in much of small town and wilder regions of Australia. She served as a nurse in the Australian army during World War One (where she acquired the title "Sister," the title that the British and Australians give to senior nurses.) When she returned home after the war and resumed her bush nurse practice, she found herself dealing with growing numbers of polio patients. Without the medical education of a registered or graduate nurse, and with no doctors or hospital nearby, she developed a therapy plan based on her own careful observation of symptoms. Where doctors saw some muscles flaccid, she saw other muscles in spasm, and treated her patients with hot packs, manipulation, and exercise. She concluded that the polio virus did not limit itself to the nervous system, but directly affected muscles and skin.

This was turning not only the treatment but the understanding of polio on its head, and when Sister Kenny took her new therapy and new theory first to Brisbane and then to the UK and the US, she was embarking on a years-long struggle to be heard and to have both her therapy and her theory accepted by the medical profession.

Rogers gives us an enlightening view of Kenny, her supporters, and her critics, in Australia and in her second home in Minnesota in the US. Kenny was such a strong personality, hard-headed and often abrasive, and truly objective information is hard to come by; people loved her or hated her. She was not deferential toward doctors, as both gender and class expectations required; she tended to regard all questions as challenges; and she was so certain she was right that the prospect of controlled studies of her therapy vs. traditional polio therapy seemed deeply unethical and unacceptable. She was also, as mentioned before, abrasive, intolerant of questions, and a much better clinician than a teacher. She didn't make it easy for people to give up their own strongly-held views and adopt hers, instead.

On the other hand, her opponents disliked her therapy in part because she was a nurse demanding to be taken seriously as a medical innovator, and in part because her findings were "empirical"--based on her own clinical experience and observations--rather than "scientific," derived from laboratory work.

Rogers follows Kenny through her years of teaching, promoting, proselytizing her polio therapy, in Australia and the country of her greatest success and greatest frustration, the US. She gives us what is probably as balanced a view of Kenny as is possible. This is a woman who had a tremendous impact on polio treatment, yes, but also on medical attitudes to all crippling diseases and rehabilitation of patients suffering from those diseases or from physical handicaps due to injury. She was a celebrity in America, with friends and connections everywhere, including Hollywood, but rather less so in Australia.

Kenny's fame faded quickly after her death, in part because she died in 1952, just a few years before Salk created the first effective polio vaccine. She revolutionized the treatment of polio, and then treatment of polio became irrelevant in the developed world. That's an excellent development for all of us, but Kenny ought to be better remembered than she is.

Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Delectable (Big Sky Pie #1), by Adrianne Lee

Forever (Grand Central Publishing), ISBN 9781455574414, September 2013)

Callee McCoy is just making a quick stop in Kalispell, Montana, picking up her remaining belongings, saying good-bye to her beloved mother-in-law, Molly McCoy, and filing the final papers for her divorce from Quint McCoy. Quint's workaholic ways had put a strain on their marriage from the beginning; it broke apart entirely after the death of Quint's father Jim, as Quint refused to share their grief and disappeared for weeks at a time on fishing trips, letting both his marriage and his business fail.

Callee finds Molly in her new shop, Big Sky Pie, due to open in a couple of weeks. The surprise is that Molly has taken over, not just the part of the building Quint wasn't using for his real estate business, but the whole thing.

Quint is surprised, too, when he gets back from his latest fishing trip, finally ready to get back to work and revive his business before it's dead entirely. He's not happy; in fact, he feels betrayed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Dog Named Boo: How One Dog and One Woman Rescued Each Other & the Lives They Transformed Along the Way, by Lisa J. Edwards (author), Meredith Mitchell (narrator)

AudioGo, ISBN 9781620644492, February 2013 (original publication January 2012)

Lisa Edwards didn't need another dog when found an abandoned litter being offered for sale in a local pet supply store. She already had two dogs, two cats, a painful chronic medical condition, and a husband with Crohn's disease still recovering from a serious medical crisis during the summer. And it was Halloween; winter would be closing in soon. It's a terrible time of year to raise a puppy.

So naturally she brought home the clumsy, uncoordinated runt of the litter.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bellman & Black, by Diane Setterfield

Atria/Emily Bestler Books, ISBN 9781476711959, November 2013

Will Bellman is growing up in Whittingford, England, when, on his tenth birthday, playing with his cousin Charles and two other local boys, he makes a really excellent catapult and, in a moment of bravado, says he's going to use it to hit a rook sitting on a tree branch a good distance away.

It's so improbable a feat that all the boys, including Will, are laughing at the idea--but the stone he launches does hit, and kill, the bird.

It's a small incident, surely of no lasting significance. Yet it will subtly haunt Will for the rest of his life.

We follow Will through the seemingly charmed first part of his life and career, an assistant to his uncle at Bellman's Mill, a happy marriage, the arrival of healthy, happy, much-loved children.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Down the Stream of Stars (Starstream #2), by Jeffrey A. Carver (author), Merrit Hicks (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, September 2012

Quite a few years have passed since Willard Ruskin and his companions merged with the dying star Betelgeuse and helped open the gates to the galaxy for humanity and its neighbors. As humans and others use the starstream to reach new worlds to colonize, it's a boon but also a danger: In the starstream are the Throgs, seemingly incomprehensible beings who have destroyed ships and even whole worlds, when they are able to follow a fleeing ship out of the starstream.

Most ships get through safely, though, and Charity is carrying colonists bound for a new colony world. Among those on board Charity are Claudi Melnick, age eight, Sheky Hando, age six, and Jeaves, AI age two hundred or so--the same Jeaves who was a very mixed blessing for Willard Ruskin. Jeaves still has his own agenda, and it involves the Throgs.

It also, as he observes Claudi and Sheky, comes to involve the children, who are seeing and experiencing things that most of the adults, and most of their fellow children, are not. Things like the still-distant Throgs.

Things like the multiple-consciousness being that was once Ruskin, Alimaxim, the assassin Gantz, and Bright (Betelgeuse's own name for herself.)

Claudi and Sheky are bright, sensible, but real children, with real personalities and limitations. Their youth may be part of why they are open to what's happening around them; they also struggle to make sensible and responsible decisions beyond their experience--especially as they come to realize they may be the only ones who can avert disaster on this voyage down the starstream.

Carver has done a great job in portraying real kids, real adults, real relationships among them, as well as a fast-paced and enjoyable adventure.


I borrowed this book from a friend.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Medical Affair

Booktrope Publishing, ISBN 9781620151747, September 2013

Heather Morrison is in her thirties, single, successful professionally, and wants to be a mother. With a series of failed relationships behind her, she's not interested in including a man in the picture. Instead, she applies, and is approved, to adopt a little girl from China. As part of her plan, she buys a condo large enough for her new little family.

Unfortunately, painting the rooms triggers an asthma attack, her first ever, and she winds up in the emergency room at Lenox Hill Hospital, looking up into the eyes of handsome pulmonologist Dr. Jeff Davis. He's charming as well as handsome, and Heather briefly entertains a few daydreams before learning that he is also married. Since this is her first asthma attack, he gives her prescriptions for maintenance and rescue medications, has her make an appointment to see him at his office in two weeks, and at some point gives her his personal cell number.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Family:The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, by Jeff Sharlet

Harper Audio, ISBN 9780061977312, October 2009 (original publication June 2007)

Jeff Sharlet spent several years exploring American popular religion, and along the way discovered the Family, an elite fundamentalist group with extensive connections in Washington. He wrote an article about them, and then subsequently this book.

Sharlet first tells us of his introduction to the family and a little about his stay in a Family training house for young men, Ivanwald. He then circles back to the history of American fundamentalism and the rise of the Family (originally the Fellowship), founded by Abraham Vereide, and currently headed by Doug Coe. Finally, he explores the current reach and influence of the Family, nationally and internationally.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Alex, the West Nile Horse: A Rescue Story, by Katie Klosterman

Inkwell Productions, ISBN 9781939625397, July 2013

Alex, an American Saddlebred horse with an impeccable pedigree, contracts the most damaging form of West Nile virus, and suffers brain damage. He's at risk of going to auction (a near-certain death sentence) when Katie Klosterman, a middle-aged, middle class horse owner, takes him on.

Over the next eighteen months, Katie and Alex both struggle, with triumphs, defeats, and challenges, to get Alex back to wholeness--confident, happy, and safe to ride. Since this story is quite real, their path is neither straightforward, nor amenable to fiction formulas. Katie makes mistakes, gets discouraged, gets cranky, gets giddy at small successes. She encounters problems from people whose motives are no more sinister than running their businesses in ways that aren't helpful for Katie, Alex, and her other two horses, Oro and Cole. Since Katie has to board her horses, not having horse property of her own, Alex gets moved twice and her other horses once, a move that proves unexpectedly challenging.

Rehabilitating Alex is a real challenge for Katie, an average horse owner and no gifted specialist in rehabilitation. She's also not a professional writer, just a woman telling her own story, and there are occasional rough patches in the prose. She's upfront about her own challenges, failures, and false steps, and her dedication to Alex and doing what's best for him shines through.

For any horse lover, this is a rewarding read. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Basket of Trouble (Claire Hanover, Basket Maker #3), by Beth Groundwater

Midnight Ink, ISBN  9780738727035, November 2013

Claire Hanover is thrilled to be attending the official opening of her brother's riding stable, now relocated from Durango to Colorado Springs. She's also hoping that, with her younger brother close by now, she'll be able to grow closer to him, and heal some of the wounds from their childhood, when she was held up as the shining example he could never quite live up to.

What she's not expecting is that the day will be marred by the death of one of Charley's trusted wranglers, apparently kicked to death by one of his most valued horses.

It's the first of a series of frightening events that will threaten the survival of Charley's business, and test the relationship between the siblings as never before.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thankless in Death (In Death #37), by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)

Putnam, ISBN 9780399164422, September 2013

It's a few days before Thanksgiving, and Roarke's entire Irish family will soon be arriving to spend the holiday with him and Dallas. She loves him, she loves them, but really, she'd rather deal with a nice, straight-forward murder investigation. At least in theory.

When the call comes in about the murder of the Reinholds, a nice, quiet, responsible, middle class couple, it's a tragedy. When Dallas and Peabody realize that their grown son killed his mother, waited around until his father came home, and killed him--and then sat around eating and emptying his parents' accounts into his own accounts--it's horrifying.

What they don't know yet is that the killing has only started.

Eve Dallas, her friends and colleagues, and especially, of course, Roarke, are old friends now, and they don't disappoint in Thankless. Dallas, Peabody, and Roarke, in particular, have grown deeper and richer as characters in every book. In this addition to the series, Eve has to make a big career choice she wouldn't have been ready for earlier, and Roarke has his own, related but separate, challenge to overcome.

If you've enjoyed earlier In Death stories, you'll enjoy this one. If you haven't encountered the series before, this isn't the best place to start, but the story is sufficiently self-contained that it should be no real problem to follow. There are references to earlier cases, but you don't need more information than is included.


I bought this book.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Trial of Dr. Kate (Round Rock #2), by Michael E. Glasscock III

Greenleaf Book Group, ISBN 9781626340138, October 2013

It's the summer of 1952, and Lillian Johnson, just 32, is found dead in her home. She's been suffering from multiple sclerosis and colon cancer, but neither of those caused her death. She died of an injection of Seconol--and it's not clear that she administered it herself.

The prime suspect, indeed the only one, is her friend and physician, Dr. Kate Marlow. And Kate can't prove she didn't, can't even be sure what she did that morning, because she's been experiencing alcoholic blackouts, and doesn't remember that morning before she found herself parked on the road to Static.

Old friend Shenandoah Coleman is a reporter in Memphis now, but comes back to Round Rock to cover the trial--and to reconnect with friends and family she's avoided because of the burden of the Coleman reputation.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Pedigree to Die For (Melanie Travis #1), by Laurien Berenson

Kensington, ISBN 9780758208545, August 2004 (original publication 1995)

School's out for the summer, and single mother and teacher Melanie Travis is not enjoying the easy summer days.

Her boyfriend has dumped her for a chorus girl, her summer job as a camp counselor has fallen through, and her Uncle Max  has died suddenly of a heart attack. All that would be bad enough.

But then her Aunt Peg, Max's wife, calls with the news that one of her and Max's prize poodles, Beau, has been stolen. She wants Melanie to help her convince her brother Frank to help track him down. This can only go one way, and it does: Frank is completely dismissive of the importance Peg places on this dog, believes she's making it up about the dog's dollar value, and refuses to become involved.

So Peg settles for Melanie instead, and Melanie can't say no. Suddenly she's embarked on a crash course in dogs, genetics, and the politics of dog shows. It's even kind of fun, until she discovers a dead body.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

From a Changeling Star (Starstream #1), by Jeffrey A. Carver (author), MacLeod Andrews (narrator), September 2012 (Original publication 1988)

Willard Ruskin has survived being killed twice, nearly killing his girlfriend before he recognizes her, and having his memory seriously compromised by the nanobots warring for control of his mind.

And that's just for starters.

Ruskin is an astronomer, part of a project studying the star Betelgeuse, which is about to become a supernova. But that project, Starmuse, is a cover for the real project, Breakstar--a project with a far darker purpose. But with much of his memory missing, Ruskin doesn't know who he is, or was, working for, or who, if anyone, he can trust.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Night Calls (Tales of Alfreda Golden-Tongue #1), by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Book View Cafe, ISBN 9781611383201

This is a really enjoyable YA novel set in an alternate North America, where the settlement patterns were similar if not necessarily identical to our own world. We don't know for sure where the history diverged, but there is, in passing, a reference to "King Washington." Date is pretty vague; there are references to trains for long-distance travel to larger population centers, but the story is set in small settlements where the technology is that of the frontier. Any reader of the Little House series will recognize it.

Except that, as we gradually discover, magic works.

Eleven-year-old Alfreda Sorensson's life takes a dramatic turn when her father and brothers, along with neighboring men, kill a wolf that turns out to have been a werewolf. In the aftermath of the werewolf killing, death and tragedy stalk the community of Sun-Return, and Allie discovers she has true dreams as well as other skills that help her family and neighbors to weather the crisis.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Complexity and the Arrow of Time, by Charles H. Lineweaver, Paul C.W. Davis, and Michael Ruse

Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9781107027251, August 2013

In recent years, a new scientific discipline has begun to grow around the concept of complexity. It's still very new, and even definitions and measurements are still up in the air, with no general agreement. It's further complicated by the fact that physicists and biologists, the two disciplines most interested in complexity, have very different perspectives on it.

This book is in essence a symposium on the subject, with physicists and biologists approaching it from a variety of different angles.

Does complexity have a direction as entropy has a direction--does it inevitably increase over time? How does complexity increase in the inanimate physical universe? How does it increase in biological systems? Do we have any sensible way to arrive at an agreed measure of complexity in living beings and systems?

It's a fascinating subject, and this is a challenging and very interesting read, with contributions from a wide range of perspectives on complexity.


Book trailer:

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Litter of the Law (Mrs. Murphy #21), by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Bantam, ISBN 9780345530486, October 2013

Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen and her husband, Fair, are out with their dog, Tee Tucker, and their cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, when the animals find a very interesting scarecrow, apparently being torn apart by crows.

Why would crows be attacking a scarecrow?

It's a corpse. His name was Josh Hill, and he was shot through the heart before being dressed as a scarecrow and hung up in the field. It's the start of a frightening October, building toward Halloween and the annual hayride to raise money for the Crozet Library.

Tee Tucker, Mrs. Murphy, and the often reluctant Pewter need to keep a close eye on their favorite human, Harry, as well as doing (in their minds) all the real investigation of this shocking crime.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Moving Violation (Chloe Boston #1), by Melanie Jackson

Brian Jackson/Smashwords, July 2011

Chloe Boston wants to be a police detective. Instead, she's a meter maid.

She's very smart, very capable, and very tiny. At 98 pounds, she will never meet the police physical requirement of being able to lift 100 pounds. But she's the daughter of the former chief of police in her town of Hope Falls, and initially at least, that was a little bit of an advantage and she managed to land the meter maid job.

But Daddy wasn't a very good cop, and especially not a good chief of police, and he's been forced out. Chloe was mocked for her tiny frame and her connection to the chief while her father was in office; now it's worse.

And now her best friend on the force, Jeffrey Little, her fellow parking enforcement officer, has disappeared, and no one is taking it seriously. Chloe decides to launch her own investigation.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Love Overdue, by Pamela Morsi

Harlequin MIRA, ISBN 9780778315377, August 2013

Dorothy Jarrow--D.J.--has just landed her dream job, director of a small town library. It's in Verdant, Kansas, the heart of Kansas wheat country, and the library, long neglected, is in desperate need of revitalization. Offered the job based on her resume with no interview, D.J. packs up her possessions and her dog, Dew (Melville Dewey), and moves from Texas to Kansas without a backward glance.

D.J. presents herself as the librarian stereotype come to life, glasses, bun, severely modest, respectable clothes, but in her mind, she has a reason. Eight years earlier, on her twenty-first birthday, she tried to break out of her emotionally stunted upbringing and went to South Padre Island on spring break. She had an exciting one-night fling with a guy she met in a bar--and when she woke up in the morning, was utterly humiliated by what a stupid, reckless thing she'd done. This fling turns out to be central to the story, as D.J. discovers that the hot guy from South Padre is in fact Verdant's town pharmacist--and the son of Viv Sanderson, her new landlady and member of the library board.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Quin's Shanghai Circus, by Edward Whittemore

Open Road Media, ISBN 9781480433885, July 2013

Quin's Shanghai Circus is a product of the 1970s, written by a man who had an amazing career as a military officer, CIA operative, and manager of a Greek newspaper, among other things. The language is lush, the imagery strange and compelling, the story intricate, and the characters complex.

I'm sorry to say that I didn't actually like it.

A young man named Quin, born in Japan and raised in the Bronx, meets a man named Geraty, who suggests to him that he can learn more about his long-dead parents if he escorts a simple-minded adult orphan, Big Gobi, to Japan. Big Gobi's original guardian and sponsor, Father Lamoureux, knew Quin's parents, and in gratitude for Gobi's return, might be prompted to talk about them. It seems Geraty also knew them, or knew of them, before and during World War II, but he claims to know almost nothing.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Forever, Interrupted, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Washington Square Press, ISBN 9781476712826, July 2013

Elsie Porter is a librarian, estranged from her birth family, content to have the excitement in her life come from her friend Ana's wildly unpredictable dating habits. It's a quiet life, and she's happy with that.

Then on the first day of the new year, Elsie goes out to pick up a pizza for supper, and meets Ben Ross. They are instantly taken with each other, and exchange phone numbers. It's the start of a whirlwind courtship.

Six months later, Ben is dead.

In alternating chapters, we learn Elsie's story of their romance, and Elsie's story of Ben's sudden, pointless death in a traffic accident, and adjusting to his loss. Joy alternates with grief, and Elsie coming out of her shell to build a future with Ben alternates with her collapse into grief and her slow climb out of it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Accidents Happen, by Louise Millar

Atria/EmilyBestler Books, ISBN 9781451656701, June 2013

Kate Parker is living a stressful life, and most of the stress is generated inside her own head. She's obsessed with statistics--two glasses of wine lower your risk of a heart attack, but three increase you chances of cancer, 85% of bicycle casualties involve riders not wearing helmets, etc. She governs her own life by the pursuit of the greatest possible safety, and does the same with her eleven-year-old son, Jack.

There's a reason for her anxiety, and her desperate attempts to keep her son and herself perfectly safe. On her wedding night, her parents died in a bizarre accident, killed when the taxi taking them home, driving on a dark road, hit a dead elk who had been shot by a poacher and then stumbled off to die in the road. Six years later, her beloved husband Hugo is killed by a gang of young toughs out to steal his expensive new sports car. It's all too much, and Kate is fighting fate to keep her son safe. To that end, she moved from London to Oxford, to be near her in-laws, so that they could help with Jack.

But her in-laws are increasingly worried by the effects of her paranoia on Jack. And when she starts finding small things missing, or says she does, and hearing strange noises, everyone knows it's Kate's anxiety kicking into overdrive.

Even Kate knows this.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

With All My Love, by Patricia Scanlan

Atria Books, ISBN 9781476704517, July 2013

On the anniversary of her father's death when she was a small child, Briony McAllister, young wife and mother, is helping her mother Valerie Harris settle into her new vacation home in southern Spain. In looking through an old photo album, she discovers a letter--to herself, from her paternal grandmother, Tessa Egan.

A letter Valerie never gave her.

A letter that reveals that Valerie has lied to her for years, about the real cause of the split between the Egan and Harris families after the death of Briony's father Jeffrey.

She never saw her paternal grandparents again after the death of her father, not because, as Valerie told her, they could not bear it, but because Valerie would not allow it.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Inside Job, by Connie Willis (author), Dennis Boutsikaris (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, April 2008

Rob's a professional debunker, publisher of a skeptic/debunker magazine. At the insistence of his too-good-to-be-true, beautiful, former actress assistant, Kildy, he attends a performance of a hot new channeler. It's all very normal and boring, with the alleged spirit, Isus, spouting typical "insights" and advice--until a different booms out from the psychic "channeling" him. This voice is different, skeptical, belittling--and oddly familiar.

Is Ariaunna channeling H.L. Mencken?

Or is this a new trick or scam? And if so--whose?

This is a neat little story, with Willis in very good form. The plotting and character development, and attention to detail, are all excellent and entertaining.


I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ocean on Top, by Hal Clement (author), Tom Picasso (narrator)

Audible, January 2013 (original publication 1973)

It's a couple of centuries in the future, and Earth is ruled by a Power Board created with the energy crisis became so severe that the choices for the human race were Ration or Die. Our protagonist, who hates his name and therefore never says it, is an engineer with the Power Board who has been assigned the risky task of investigating the disappearance of three other Power Board officials--friends as well as colleagues of his--who have disappeared in the South Pacific.

What he discovers is shocking--an undersea secret nation using unrationed volcanic power to live lives free of the restrictions and constraints of society on the surface.

And all three of his friends are alive--two of them working for the Council that rules this undersea culture.

This is a nifty little story that presents the narrator with a real moral dilemma.


I borrowed this book from a friend.

Time One: Discover How the Universe Began, by Colin Gillespie

Big Fizz Inc., ISBN 9780795333538, April 2013

I'm not quite sure what to make of this book. Gillespie seems to be serious about his physics, and to a non-physicist, it doesn't sound much stranger than currently accepted physics. Gillespie also has what appear to be real physics credentials, too. He seems to have the notion of popularizing high-end physics and encouraging broad popular interest in revitalizing physics.

But there's the rub. If you want to inspire serious interest in physics, it's a bit odd to do it in a book with a fictional narrator on the fringes of a terrorist plot. It's as if he thinks he has to sugar-coat the physics and spoon-feed it to us. Generations of other science popularizers have done far better with far more respect for their readers.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Noise, by Hal Clement (author),

Audible Frontiers, March 2013 (original publication 2003)

Mike Hoani, a linguist/historian from Earth, has come to Kainui, a true water world, to study the languages of the Polynesian-descended inhabitants. Kainui is an interesting world, and a challenging one to live on. Tsunamis, waterspouts, and electrical storms with accompanying thunder are all constant. It is, as the title implies, noisy. There's no land at all, and the inhabitants live on artificial floating islands that maintain generally the same latitude, but otherwise have no fixed position. The main economic activity is mining the ocean for its dissolved metals, which the cities can trade among themselves as well as with other planets. The technology is mostly biotech pseudolife, and essentially all forms of long-distance communication are impossible because of the constant electrical activity of the atmosphere. Mike is conducting his research as a passenger-cum-junior crewman on a small family trading ship.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Where Angels Fear to Tread, by Allen Steele (author), Marc Vieter (narrator)

Playaway, ISBN 9781608128426, May 2009

Time travel is fraught with problems, starting with the very practical one that, while wormholes should make it possible, the physicists tell us, we have no idea how to make or control wormholes. In science fiction, though, we get to assume a solution to the practical obstacles, and look at the really knotty problems.

Such as what happens if you visit the past and change something--big or little--that has important consequences.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Broken Land, by Ian McDonald

Open Road Media, ISBN 9781480432178, July 2013 (original publication March 1992)

This is an older book, first published in the early nineties, and a true classic.

Mathembe Fileli is a girl on the verge of womanhood living in a village on a far-future Earth, an Earth where biotechnology is the main technology, the dominant technology even in the areas where mechanical technology is still used. It's also a world with strong ethnic and religious divides, with the Proclaimer and Confessor religious split even on such seemingly minor points as which hand should be your dominant one. The Emperor Across the River, though, is a Proclaimer, and so the political power lies with the Proclaimers.

Despite that, the Filelis' home village of Chepsenyt is a peaceful and congenial place for the most part--until the fateful day that Proclaimer and Confessor villagers alike decide to shelter some young rebels, Warriors of Destiny, from the brutal justice of the Emperor's soldiers. From that moment, Chepsenyt is doomed.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Earth Below, Sky Above (The Human Division #13), by John Scalzi (author), William Dufris (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, April 2013

It's the last episode of The Human Division, and I have mixed feelings about it.

Back channel efforts, trade contacts, and plain diplomatic persistence have finally produced a major diplomatic conference on the Colonial Union-owned Earth Station, with some real hope of at least improving relations. The CU intends to surprise the Earth diplomats and put them off balance by offering to sell Earth Station to Earth governments, and lease back the facilities it needs. What the CU wants, of course, is the ability to recruit soldiers as it previously did, and also to accept colonists, although at a much slower pace than in past decades.

Sixteen ships dropping into Earth orbit and opening fire on Earth Station and the Clarke is not part of the CU's plans.

The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads, by John Scalzi (author), William Dufris (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, April 2013

Danielle Lowen is back on Earth after her entirely too exciting adventure on board the Colonial Union's diplomatic ship, the Clarke. Unfortunately, she's not done with events on the Clarke; she's still looking for an answer to the question of why an apparently ordinary Brazilian diplomat decided to kill a colleague and attempt to frame the Colonial Union.

Her investigation on Earth is supposed to start with the very routine step of talking to the Brazilian Ambassador and getting background information on the now-dead killer, Luiza Carvalho. Instead, it starts with a real blast as the Brazilian consulate where she is supposed to meet the Ambassador blows up while she's across the street getting a bagel.

Through the Eye of a Needle, by Hal Clement (author), John Nelson (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, February 2013 (original print publication 1978)

Seven years ago, Bob Kinnaird, high school student, encountered Hunter, a green protoplasmic glob of an alien, and became his host. Hunter is a police detective chasing a criminal, and he and his quarry have both crashed on Earth and are stranded. Since the quarry's crime is callous disregard for his hosts and placing them in danger, tracking him down and stopping him on a planet full of suitable but wholly unaware hosts is even more important.

That problem was resolved, and now, a college graduate with an engineering degree, Bob is coming home to the Polynesian island he grew up on. He's got a job as well as his family waiting for him. Unfortunately, he's also, quite possibly, dying, due to the same friendly alien symbiont who for years has protected him from illness and injury. His immune system and his blood clotting ability and other systems are simply failing, and Hunter, a cop not a medical specialist, has no idea how to fix it. He needs to contact his own kind and get the right specialists on the job, or Bob will die.