Sunday, December 28, 2014

Green, by Keith C. Clark

AuthorBuzz, ISBN 9781493783137, March 2014

Wish Fitzgerald is an African American teenager with a dream of being a golfer--in 1969 Connecticut. The nearest he can get to his dream for the moment is caddying at a country club and practicing secretly after hours. It's while caddying at the club that he meets Jackson Spears, whose wealthy father is trying to make him a golfer. The boys strike up a close, if largely secret, friendship, which ultimately crashes on the rocks of Jackson's father and the fraught race relations of the time.

Both boys are profoundly affected by the experience, and over the next five decades, it continues to affect and influence them both. This is a golf novel, but it's also a novel of the seventies, eighties, and nineties in America, a look at race relations through a different lens, the world of golf and the on-again, off-again friendship of Wish and Jackson. They and other characters are developed effectively and movingly, yet with a light touch that has room for humor as well as deep emotion.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Same Sky, by Amanda Eyre Ward

Ballantine Books, ISBN 9780553390506, January 2015

Alice is a middle-aged woman in Austin, Texas, married to Jake Conroe, of the famous Conroe's BBQ. Their marriage is happy and fulfilled but for one glaring lack: they have no children. Surrogates failed them; adoption has failed them; at the book's opening, they've just had an especially heartbreaking failure. Baby Kellan was in their home for a day and a night when the birth mother changed her mind. Alice and Jake's different ways of coping with this latest loss is putting some strain on their relationship.

Carla is a young Honduran girl whose mother has gone to the US to earn money and send it back to her family, leaving Carla and her younger brother with her own mother. When her grandmother dies, Carla, not yet twelve herself, struggles to protect herself and her brother in their increasingly dangerous, gang-controlled village. In the end, she decides she has no alternative but to take her brother on the dangerous journey to join her mother in Texas.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin (author), Scott Brick (narrator)

Highbridge Company, ISBN 9781622313532, April 2014

This is just a wonderful book. So wonderful I briefly imagined sending the author flowers and chocolate in thanks for it.

A.J. Fikry is a grieving widower, owner of Island Books, the bookstore he founded with his wife Nicole. Nicole died in a car accident about an year and a half ago, and A.J. has quietly drinking himself into oblivion. He's just thirty-nine, and it seems he and his bookstore are spiraling down.

And then one more blow comes that may be too much: his one truly valuable rare book, a book he has no love for but thinks of as his retirement plan, is stolen in embarrassing circumstances.

Not long after, he investigates a sound from the bookstore when it's closed, and finds a toddler, with a note from the mother saying she can't care for her daughter and wants her to grow up among books.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas Carol: A Signature Performance by Tim Curry (Christmas Books #1), by Charles Dickens (author), Tim Curry (narrator)

Audible, December 2010 (original publication 1843)

This is a great performance of a wonderful classic.

I think there are few people who don't know the story: Ebenezer Scrooge, tight-fisted businessman who calls Christmas a humbug and has no use for charity or kindness, goes home on Christmas Eve, and is visited by the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley. Marley warns him of the fate he has been forging for himself by caring  only for business and not for other people, but promises him he has one last chance at salvation.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hall of Small Mammals, by Thomas Pierce

Riverhead Hardcover, ISBN 9781594632525, January 2015

This is a collection of short stories, all of the genre that thinks it isn't a genre, literary fiction. Pierce is a good writer, and the stories are well-written. Many of the characters are even engaging; the reader cares about them and wants to know what happens.

But this is literary fiction, so stories don't start in medias res and some to some sort--any sort--of a conclusion. They amble along through events and problems that are sometimes interesting, and then they end in medias res. Or rather, they stop; they do not end. We'll never know what was interesting about the Pippin monkeys, or whether the father/son relationship was at all strengthened by the camping trip, or what were the impliedly huge consequences of the sideshow operator getting the fossil creature rather than the museum. We'll certainly never know what the disease was that killed Bert's brother Rob, or where it came from.

The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen (author), Julia Whelan (narrator)

Audible Audio, December 2014 (original publication 1845)

This is a lovely reading of Andersen's story of Gerda and her friend Kai, who becomes contaminated by the shards of a demon-made magic mirror, and succumbs to the lure of the Snow Queen.

Gerda sees the change in her friend when he is affected by the shards, and when he vanishes, she will not believe that he is dead. She sets off on quest to find him, armed chiefly with her courage, loyalty, and good heart.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters, From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima, by James Mahaffey (author), Tom Weiner (narrator)

Blackstone Audiobooks, ISBN 9781482995473, February 2014

This is a highly readable account of the history of atomic power as seen through its accidents and safety failures. That might sound like it's anti-nuclear power, but in fact Mahaffey is a long-time advocate. His major point is that in fact significant accidents are fairly rare, and that with a few notable exceptions, serious casualties are even rarer.

His account starts with a bizarre episode in the Ozarks in the late 19th century, with the accidental discovery of what eventually proved to be a radium mine.

I will say that the discussion of radium and its various uses, not just for night-glow dials but its medical uses, both science-based and as "mineral water," is by itself worth the price of admission.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Handsome Man's Deluxe Cafe (No. 1Ladies' Detective Agency #15), by Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon, ISBN 9780307911544, September 2014

Grace Makutsi, growing more comfortable in her position as the wife of Phuti Radiphuti, owner of the Double Comfort Furniture Company, and as partner in the No. Ladies' Detective Agency, has embarked on a new business. She's opening a restaurant, the Handsome Man's Deluxe Café. Phuti has his doubts about Grace's blithe confidence, but he loves her and supports her. Her lawyer helpfully introduced her to a chef, who goes by the single name of Thomas, and who equally helpfully knows a waiter and waitress he can employ.

What could be more promising?

Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe has taken on the puzzling case of a woman who has apparently lost her memory and has no idea who she is. She's been kindly taken in by Mr. Sengupta and his sister Miss Rose, owners of a very successful stationery business. Unfortunately, if she cannot prove her identity and that she is in Botswana legally, she will be sent back to South Africa.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison (author), Kyle McCarley (narrator)

Tantor Audio, June 2014

Maia is the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor of the Elflands, and he's lived his entire life in exile from the imperial court. He has visited the imperial court just once, when he was eight, for his mother's funeral.

Now, at eighteen, a messenger arrives from court with the shocking news that his hated father and all three unknown brothers have died in an airship crash. He is now Emperor. And while he's been taught court etiquette, he's been taught nothing suitable for governing an empire. Maia is alone at court, with no friends, no allies, and no knowledge of either governing, or the common culture of the court. What he does know is that whoever killed his father and brothers didn't intend him to inherit, and could kill him at any point.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users, by Guy Kawasaki & Peg Fitzpatrick

Portfolio/Penguin Group USA, ISBN 9781591848073, December 2014

Guy Kawasaki has been in the forefront of effective promotion of products, services, and one's own skills and talents since his days as the Chief Evangelist for the Apple Macintosh, when personal computers were the exciting new toy and not an appliance we all carry in our pockets. Instead of being left behind by the rapidly changing world of online computing and social media, he has remained a leader, and has become of a great teacher of how to use the same skills and tools for your own benefit. If you have a social media presence--and it's getting harder and harder to function, especially as a working professional or entrepreneur, without one, you want to use these tools effectively.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, by Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt

AMACOM Books, ISBN 9780814433263, August 2014

Coiné and Babbitt make the case that the future of business--any business, any industry--is social. Every company, big or small, business to business or business to consumer, must not only have a presence on social media, but an active, interactive presence. They need to make social media presence not just a marketing tool but an integral part of how the company operates, at every level and in every function.

And on the "every level" point: They also maintain that the best-run, most successful companies will be those that make their organization as flat as possible, ideally so flat that only the CEO has a title, and only because that's necessary to represent the company to the government and the media. The goal of this book is to both make the case for this radical viewpoint, and to lay out the basics of achieving it.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Murder of Adam and Eve, by William Dietrich

Burrows Publishing, ISBN 9780990662105, September 2014

Nick Brynner is the school nerd, genuinely enjoying school work and a bit socially awkward. He and his mom are struggling financially, though, and if he wants to go to college, getting a scholarship would really help. With the help of a surprisingly long-term substitute teacher, Mr. Faunas, he sets to work on a research project for History Day.

As part of that project, he's going to visit an abandoned fort in Puget Sound, which has been off limits for almost a century. There are strange stories about people disappearing there, and mysterious forces, but that's ridiculous--isn't it?

Nick reaches the island, finds the remains of the fort, and after sketching a map of the place, investigates a staircase down into the ground, finds a locked door, finds the key...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A New York Christmas (Christmas Stories #12), by Anne Perry (author), Saskia Maarleveld (narrator)

Recorded Books, November 2014

In the latest of Anne Perry's Christmas novellas, Jemima Pitt, twenty-three-year-old daughter of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, travels to New York with her young friend, Delphinia Cardew. Delphinia is on her way to marry Brent Albright at Christmas time, and her father is too ill to make the trip. At just nineteen, she needs Jemima as a companion and chaperone.

Once in the opulent home of the Albright family, Jemima soon learns that Delphinia's absent mother did not die when Delphinia was young, but merely left, for reasons no one wants to discuss. When Brent's older brother Harley explains that Maria Cardew has led a scandalous life, and is new in New York, possibly planning to disrupt the wedding, Jemima is happy to agree to help find her, and persuade her to stay away.

This is, of course, a terrible mistake.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng (author), Cassandra Campbell (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, June 2014

1970s small-town Ohio is a tough place to be a mixed race family. James Lee is Chinese-American, born in California of Chinese-born parents. Marilyn Lee is white, from Virginia, permanently estranged from her mother because she married James. Their three children, Nathan, Lydia, and Hannah, don't know much about the heritage and past of either parent, because James and Marilyn agreed on their wedding day to never talk about the past.

This isn't even helpful for them, much less their kids.

The book opens with a tragedy. Middle child Lydia, blue-eyed favorite of both her parents, is missing, and soon will be found at the bottom of a nearby lake.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Broken (Apostles #1), by Shelley Coriell

Forever, ISBN 9781455528493, April 2014

Kate Johnson is in hiding.

Three years ago, her brother tried to kill her, and tried again after she left the hospital. Kate Johnson is a new name. She's gone from broadcast journalist to home health aide and online jewelry maker. For the last several months, she's been working for old soldier Smokey Joe, who is happy to run her online business in exchange for having someone who is patient and competent with his PTSD, and who doesn't think he's helpless because he's blind.

But the idyll is coming to an end. Someone has been killing women broadcast journalists, every four weeks, with the exact MO that Kate's brother Jason used when he tried to kill her. The killer has been dubbed the Broadcaster Butcher, and there's no doubt in Kate's mind that he's trying to force her out of hiding so that he can finish the job of killing her.

And FBI Special Agent Hayden Reed is on the trail of the Butcher, and has connected the unsuccessful attack on Katrina Erickson--Kate's former name--to the Butcher.

Friday, November 21, 2014

And Give Up Showbiz? How Fred Levin Beat Big Tobacco, Avoided Two Murder Prosecutions, Became a Chief of Ghana, Earned Boxing Manager of the Year, and Transformed American Law, by Josh Young

BenBella Books, ISBN 9781940363189, September 2014

You may notice that the title is a bit over the top. So is the subject.

Fred Levin grew up a Jewish kid in Pensacola, Florida at a time when Jews were still routinely and openly discriminated against. He worked hard to be one of the most popular kids in high school anyway, did just well enough that he got into the University of Florida--and discovered that he like college life well enough that he didn't want to leave it after just four years. He spent his last year of college getting his GPA up to the crucial 2.0 that would enable him to enroll in UF's law school.

And there, after some initial fooling around, he discovered he actually loved the law. Thus began what was in some respects an unexpected and often startling legal career.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?...and Other Questions From the Astronomers' In-box at the Vatican Observatory, by Brother Guy Consolmagno (author), Father Paul Mueller (author), Joe Ochman (narrator), Rob Shapiro (narrator)

Random House Audio, October 2014

Why does the Vatican have an observatory? Can science and religion exist together? What really happened to Galileo? Does the Bible have anything to say about the Big Bang? Does science have anything to say about the Bible?

And, oh yes, would you baptize an extraterrestrial?

This is a very lively discussion, a dialog between two Jesuit scientists, a planetary scientist and a physicist, about Christianity, science, cosmology, conflicts and resonances between science and religion, and what questions each can address. Consolmagno and Mueller are both men of faith and men of science, people who felt called to the religious life, and to do science as part of that religious life. They're thoughtful, serious, and each has his own sense of humor and interests outside the realms of science and religion.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hello From the Gillespies, by Monica McInerney

NAL Trade, ISBN 9780451466723, November 2014

For thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent out happy Christmas letters from her sheep station home in the Australian Outback. This year is different.

This year, Angela and the whole family are under stress. Her two oldest, the twins, are back home after work-related scandals cost them their jobs. Younger daughter Lindy, who has bounced from career to career, is home after an attempt to start her own business has landed her deep in debt. Late-in-life son Ignatius, at ten years old, still has an imaginary friend, and keeps running away from the boarding school his father and grandfather attended.

And husband Nick has signed an exploration lease with a mining company for half the station property. He hasn't told her why. For the past year, he's barely talked to her at all, and not about anything important.

In a stressed and frustrated mood, Angela writes a Christmas letter that tells the whole truth. She intends to delete it--but in the chaos of an immediate family crisis, the email gets sent. To Angela's entire, 100 person, Christmas email list.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Look of Love, by Sarah Jio

Plume, ISBN 9780142180532, November 2014

As a small child, Jane Williams watched as her father left her, her mother, and her older brother Flynn, breaking her mother's heart. When she was eighteen, her mother died, also.

Jane has always guarded her heart.

But while guarding her heart, she's been running the flower shop she inherited from her mother and grandmother. As a florist, she spends her days making gifts of love for other people to give. Jane loves her work, loves making flower arrangements that bring happiness, but her own heart has never been in danger.

At twenty-nine, on Christmas, which is also her birthday,she receives a card from a stranger, with a very strange message.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Conflict of Honors (Liaden Universe #2), by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miller (author), Andy Caploe (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, September 2012 (original publication 1988)

Priscilla Delacroix y Mendoza is declared legally dead and exiled from her homeworld at just sixteen. She spends the next few years working her way up through the ranks of spaceship crew, moving from ship to ship, and getting pilot training whenever she can. The Liaden trading ship Doxflon is not a pleasant ship, but she's gotten to the rank of cargo master, and she can't afford to buy out her contract before its end in six months anyway.

Even though she thinks she's found evidence that the ship's Trader, Sav Rid Olenik, is engaged in some very serious smuggling.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar

Ballantine Books, ISBN 9780804176378, December 2014

This is a really wonderful novel of the early years of the Bloomsbury Group. They'll go on to be the writer Virginia Woolf, the artist Vanessa Bell, the novelist E. M. Forster, the economist John Maynard Keynes, and other memorable figures, but right now, they are simply the Stephen siblings (Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian) and their friends. The Stephens have taken a house in avant-garde Bloomsbury, and begin hosting daring literary and artistic salons. It's glittering and edgy, optimistic and ambitious, though as yet none of them has achieved much.

Then Thoby dies, and Vanessa, the main anchor for brilliant and unstable Virginia, marries art critic Clive Bell. Virginia feels abandoned, and sets out to get Vanessa's constant attention back.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Importance of Being Seven (44 Scotland Street #6), by Alexander McCall Smith (author), Robert Ian Mackenzie (narrator)

Recorded Books, August 2012

We return to 44 Scotland Street, and Bertie Pollock is longing to be seven. He believes he'll be treated with more respect and have more autonomy. Meanwhile, he continues to cope with his well-meaning but overbearing, pompous mother, and the endless round of therapy visits, yoga, Italian classes, and saxophone lessons.

His father, Stuart, though, is starting to assert himself, and take small but crucial actions to give Bertie opportunities to just be a six-year-old boy.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Treasure on Lilac Lane (Jewell Cove #2), by Donna Alward

St. Martin's Press, ISBN 9781250045171, October 2014

Rick Sullivan was Jewell Cove's golden boy when he left home to join the Marines, a star athlete and the reigning heartthrob. He came home from Afghanistan wounded in both body and soul. He's struggled with alcohol, anger--and the painful months of watching his mother die. There's no question Rick is damaged.

Jess Collins has struggled with her own issues, including an abusive relationship that only her brother Josh knows the truth about. Now she's happy running her her art shop, Treasures, and only a little bit wistful about her siblings and her Arsenault cousins one by one finding lasting relationships.

It's really inconvenient that Rick Sullivan, who now seems to represent everything she's learned to be wary of in a man, is at least as attractive to her as he was when they were in their late teens.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Plainsong, by Kent Haruf (author), Tom Stechschulte (narrator)

HarperAudio, ISBN 9780694522880, November 1999

Plainsong weaves together the stories of Victoria Roubideaux, seventeen years old, pregnant, and thrown out of the house by her mother; the McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond, elderly bachelor ranchers; high school teacher Tom Guthrie and his two sons, Ike and Bobby; and Maggie Jones, another high school teacher.

Set in the small town of Holt, Colorado, sometime in the 1980s or 90s, this is a meditation on community, decency, and pulling together. Victoria, pregnant and now homeless, turns to her teacher, Mrs. Jones, for help. Maggie takes her in, and when it becomes clear that her father's advancing dementia makes the house unsafe for Victoria, she convinces the elderly, and lonely, McPheron brothers to give her a home.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tales From High Hallack, Volume 3, by Andre Norton

Open Road Integrated Media, ISBN 9781497637122, October 2014

This is the third and final volume of the collected short stories of Andre Norton. It's a mix of science fiction and fantasy stories, and of stories from her established fictional universes and free-standing stories, ranging from 1943 until her death in 2005.

Norton was one of the most treasured writers of my youth, a huge influence on subsequent generations of, especially, women writers, and a SFWA Grand Master. Those familiar with her Witch World stories will recognize the name High Hallack, but the title of this collection doesn't refer to those novels, or not directly. It's the name she gave her magnificent private library, which she used to support younger writers starting out on their careers.

Andre Norton and her stories were both treasures. She's gone now but her stories are still here for us to enjoy.


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

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Fall of Kings (The World of Riverside #3), by Ellen Kushner (author), Delia Sherman (author), Ellen Kushner (narrator), Delia Sherman (narrator) Nick Sullivan (narrator), Neil Gaiman (narrator), Simon Jones (narrator), Katherine Kellgren (narrator), Robert Fass (narrator), Richard Ferrone (narrator), Tim Jerome (narrator)

Neil Gaiman Presents, August 2013

This is a real treat, a wonderful performance of a very enjoyable book.

Set in the world of Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword, it's about forty or fifty years after Privilege. Katherine is Duchess Tremontaine, and Theron, Alec's posthumous son from his very late marriage to Sofia, now a physician and a Doctor of the University, is her heir presumptive.

He's also young, romantic, a poet, and an eternal student, flitting from one field of study to another, currently studying rhetoric. His heart broken (most recently) by the artist Isolde, who painted him for a year and then was done with him, he meets the dynamic young magister, Doctor of History Basil St. Cloud.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bad Grrlz' Guide to Reality, by Pat Murphy

Open Road Integrated Media, ISBN 9781480483200, April 2014

How have I not read Pat Murphy before this year?

This is an omnibus of two connected novels, Wild Angel and Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell. There was originally a third, the first one in the sequence, There and Back Again by Max Merriwell, but the Tolkein estate objected, and the publisher at the time decided not to contest the issue.

Wild Angel turns Tarzan inside out. A little girl's parents are murdered while panning for gold in California, and she escapes to be rescued and raised by a pack of wolves. Sarah is the hero of her own story, growing up smart, strong, and gifted. Max is not her rescuer but her chronicler. He's well-meaning, honest, kind, and honorable, but occasionally clueless. Sarah's Aunt Audrey, the adventurous young Helen Harris, a circus leader, and a temperance preacher of many talents all add to the fun and adventure. This is light entertainment and a lot of fun.

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.


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.

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.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda's Daughter (Rav Hisda's Daughter #2), by Maggie Anton

Plume, ISBN 9780452298224, September 2014

Hisdadukh, daughter of respected rabbi Rav Hisda in late third century Babylonia, is learned, beautiful, passionate, and an aspiring sorceress of great talent. A young widow who has had to give her son over to his father's family to raise, she leaves her home in Sura to apprentice with Em the Healer in Pumbedita. In Em's house, she is living under the same roof with another rabbi, Rava, a firend and rival of her late husband, and a man with whom she shares both deep attraction, and shared conflicts and misunderstandings.

This is the starting point from which Hisdadukh and Rava spend the next six decades learning, loving, and growing together, as she becomes mistress of a now-lost tradition of Jewish women's magic, and he studies the Torah, priestly magic, and the secret Torah, and becomes a leading light in the growing tradition of the Talmud and rabbinic law. Set in Babylonia, a.k.a. Persia, or the country we now call Iran, it's a different look at the third and fourth centuries than most of us have learned, east and south of the Roman Empire, in a culture where the dominant religion is neither the Roman or Greek gods, nor Christianity, but Zorastrianism.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Sunless Sea (William Monk #18), by Anne Perry (author), Ralph Lister (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, ISBN 9781423372639, August 2012

Monk and his partner Orme are rowing down the Thames on an early morning, when a woman shouts and screams and waves to attract them over the Limehouse pier. She's found the horribly mutilated dead body of a woman.

As horrifying as the murder is, the case gets stranger and stranger as Monk and Orme investigate. The dead woman is Zenia Gadney, and she was apparently a prostitute with just one customer--the very respectable Dr. Joel Lambourne. Yet this most obvious suspect cannot be the killer, because he's been dead for two months--an apparent suicide. Nor does it appear to be the other obvious but terrifying possibility, a madman killing for reasons that make sense only inside his own head. There are no crimes that look even remotely similar, before or after.

And why does the government keep interfering in Monk's investigation?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Terminal World, by Alastair Reynolds (author), John Lee (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781400197118, July 2012 (original publication December 2009)

Zeppelins. A steam-powered cyborg. Mad Max-style savages. Angels! And a city on a spire of--something--rising into the sky, on a cooling Earth.

Overlaying everything are the zones, little understood but very carefully mapped, because what technology works depends on what zone you are in. Highest up on the spire of Spearpoint are the Celestial Levels, where the angels dwell, modified humans who can fly and who are heavily loaded with nanotech inside them. Because the nanotech won't work at any lower level, angels can't leave the Celestial Levels. At the bottom is Horse Town, where the tech is about the level of the American Wild West.

Quillon lives in Neon Heights, just below Circuit City and just above Steamville. He's the last survivor of an infiltration mission from Celestial Heights, his wings and nanotech removed, under a false identity, working as a pathologist.

Until a barely-alive angel fallen from the Heights is brought to him, with the message that the faction that sent Quillon to Neon Heights now wants him and the knowledge hidden in his head back--and they don't need him to be alive to get what they need. Quillon has to run, out of Spearpoint altogether, and right now. He turns to Fray, who might be considered a local fixer, and one of the few friends Quillon has made. Fray quickly plans his escape, with a guide, Meroka, foul-mouthed, impatient, but very, very capable. Oh, and she hates angels, for reasons buried in her past, so it's just as well that Fray doesn't tell her Quillon is an angel in disguise.

What could go wrong?

Along the way to getting shanghaied into the dirigible fleet called Swarm, they meet the steam-powered cyborg, ruthless, drug-addicted savages, a woman who might be a techtomancer and her five-year-old daughter, and the "vorgs," really nasty cyborgs who survive in part by harvesting human organs. Especially brains.

And in the midst of all this, there's a major zone shift, the result of which is really exciting for everyone who isn't killed by it.

I really enjoyed this one. The characters are multi-leveled and compelling, and everyone you care about has a fundamental decency, albeit sometimes very deeply buried and expressed in quixotic ways. The pacing is great, and the world is a fascinating one.

Reynolds does not believe he needs to give us all the answers. There's plenty of room for a sequel, and I'm a bit surprised that there apparently isn't one. (If I'm wrong, please correct me!)


I bought this book.