Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rhode Island Red {Nanette Hayes Mysteries #1), by Charlotte Carter

Open Road Integrated Media, ISBN 9781497691827,  January 2015 (original publication 1997)

Nanette Hayes is playing her saxophone on a New York City street, and not taking in a lot of money, when a smart-mouthed young man starts off by insulting her playing, and then moves on to declaring his (platonic) love for her. He says his name is Sig, and it turns out he's looking for a place to crash for the night. Against her better judgment Nan agrees to let him stay the night in her apartment.

She does make him sleep on the couch.

In the very early morning, she wakes up to a very cold apartment.

Her door is open, and Sig is on the living room floor, stabbed to death with an ice pick. And it turns out he's a cop named Charlie Conlin, who has been working undercover investigating a criminal scheme targeting street musicians. That's all bad enough, but after the cops and the body are gone, Nan pulls out her saxophone, and finds that Sig/Charlie had stuffed $60,000 into it before he died.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton (author), Caroline Lee (narrator)

Bolinda Publishing, July 2008

This is a story of a long-buried family secret, an absorbingly complicated family history of secrecy and betrayal.

In Brisbane in 2005, Cassandra, still grieving the death of her husband and their young son ten years earlier, is by her grandmother Nell's bedside as she dies. Nell had raised Cassie since she was eleven, and took her back into her home and her antiques business after the accident that killed Cassie's family. So it's not a surprise when she learns that Nell has left her everything, but it's a big surprise that "everything" includes a house in Cornwall. Attached to the deed is a note saying that Cassandra "will understand."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dragon Space: A Star Rigger Omnibus (Star Rigger #4-5), by Jeffrey A. Carver

Starstream Publishers, April 2011

This is an omnibus of the two novels Dragons in the Stars and Dragon Rigger.

Jael LeBrae is a young star rigger--a starship pilot--who is having a hard time getting her career going. The problem isn't her skills or qualifications; it's her late father. The elder LeBrae was the owner of a successful shipping business, and highly respected, until his business fortunes declined, and he began cutting every ethical corner. Jael's getting the blowback of her late father's enemies, in the form of not being able to get jobs with registered, somewhat regulated shippers.

In desperation she takes a job with an unregistered shipper, and quickly has cause to regret it. In Dragons in the Stars, Jael is forced to grow up very fast, face her demons, and forge a friendship with one of the "monsters" of the Flux--a dragon. A flying, fire-breathing dragon called Highwing.

Horse Crazy, by Caitlin Ricci

Less Than Three Press, ISBN 9781620044803, January 2015

Melody has moved with her teenage daughter Kristen from Seattle to Colorado, to begin her new life living fully as a woman, in a place where no one knows the man she used to be. Kristen has been a trouper through the whole awful divorce and her parent's transition from Melvin to Melody, and Melody has enrolled her horse crazy daughter in a horse riding class as a thank you.

That's how Melody meets Derrick Masters, Kristen's riding instructor, and the first interesting guy she's meet since her transition. Melody hasn't dated since she was a teenager--a teenage boy, at that--and along with all the awkwardness of getting back into the dating game after divorce, Melody has another, scary set of issues to tackle.

This is a short story, and a sweet romance. Melody, Derrick, and even teenage Kristen are all likable characters. If some things seem to happen (and to have happened, in the backstory) a bit more easily than seems altogether realistic well, this isn't a gritty, realistic story. It's a fun, feel-good story

A light, enjoyable read, recommended on that basis.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Plague Dogs, by Richard Adams (author), Ralph Cosham (narrator)

Playaway Digital Audio, ISBN 9781441789303, August 2011 (original publication September 1977)

Rowf, a big, shaggy, black mongrel dog, and Snitter, a black and white fox terrier, are experimental animals at the Animal Research Station--Scientific & Experimental (A.R.S.E.) Rowf was born there, but Snitter once had a loving master and a happy home, until his master was struck by a lorry in an accident that Snitter blames himself for. The two dogs, living in adjoining pens, have become friends, and share their experiences: Rowf is daily nearly drowned in a tank of water, while Snitter has had brain surgery that breaks down the barrier between conscious and unconscious minds, and consequently has mad waking dreams. When carelessness by the animal care man gives them an opportunity, they break out of their pens and subsequently out of the facility via the heating system.

That's when life gets really hard for them.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Throw Like a Woman, by Susan Petrone

The Story Plant, ISBN 9781611881998, March 2015

Brenda Haversham is a forty-year-old divorced mother of two boys who is struggling to make ends meet. She's working in an insurance company, having abandoned her art and her graphic design career when she married. She's never played baseball except with her sons and, long ago, with her late father.

But her father taught her to throw a mean fastball. And curveball. And sinker. And a few other pitches.

On a Little League outing with her sons to a Cleveland Indians game, she takes a turn in the pitcher's cage, and one of her pitches is clocked at 82 miles an hour. Her son's coach recruits her onto his own recreational league baseball team, and she unknowingly takes the first steps on a wild trip to becoming a female Jackie Robinson.

I love Brenda, and I love this book. Brenda is a flawed but fundamentally decent human being, a loving mother, and a tough ball player. She struggles with her personal demons in an utterly recognizable way. The other characters are also layered, human, and understandable. Thirteen-year-old Andy is as difficult as any kid trying to make that transition from child to adult, but I suspect most parents would give a lot to have a son or daughter maturing as Andy is.

It's a bumpy ride for Brenda and everyone around her, but an engrossing and ultimately very satisfying one.

Highly recommended.

Panglor (Star Rigger #1), by Jeffrey A.Carver (author), Mirron Willis (narrator)

Audible Studios, February 2013 (original publication 1980)

Panglor Balef is an unfairly disgraced space pilot, struggling to support himself and his empathic pet ou-ralot with ground-based work, when he is coerced into accepting a mission of murder. He's to pilot an old freighter to a near-collision with another freighter from a large, successful company--Balef's hated former employer. The point is to force the ship to make a bad entry into "foreshortened" space--the technological trick that allows faster-than-light travel--so that it will be lost in limbo and never reach its destination.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Martian, by Andy Weir (author), R.C. Bray (narrator)

Podium Publishing, March 2013 (original publication 2011)

Mark Watney is one of the six members of the Ares 3 mission--one of just eighteen human beings who have walked on Mars. They're supposed to be there thirty-one days, until things go horribly wrong. After just six Martian days on the surface, a sandstorm hits and causes a series of disastrous equipment failures. Mark is struck by flying debris, lost in the sandstorm, and his telemetry flatlines; he's dead.

With their lift vehicle tilting and in danger of being toppled and wrecked, Commander Lewis makes the incredibly difficult decision to save the rest of the crew and not attempt to recover his body.

But Mark is alive; it's the transmitter that failed. And thus begins his battle of wits against Mars to remain alive and find a way to get to the landing site of the next Mars mission in time to be rescued.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Dogs of Christmas, by W. Bruce Cameron

Forge Books, ISBN 9780765330550, October 2013

Josh Michaels, a website and user interface designer, still heartbroken from his girlfriend dumping him months ago, has a very pregnant dumped on him by his neighbor. The neighbor has a fraught story of the dog being dumped on him by his girlfriend who left, and having to leave the country immediately to bail out his brother in France. Josh has never had a dog, doesn't want a dog, but when his neighbor takes off, leaving the dog behind, he has to do the best he can.

Especially when the dog, Lucy, goes into labor.

As we get to know Josh, we find he's emotionally traumatized by the breakup of his family when he was a teen, and has no idea how to handle relationships. As he gets to know Lucy, the puppies she raises in his home, and Kerri, the very nice lady from the local animal shelter, Josh gets an education in dogs, but also emotional education, healing, and growth.

And then it's time to give up the puppies to their new homes, and Josh, who has always felt it's his job to keep his family together, decides he can't do it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lillian on Life, by Alison Jean Lester

Putnam Adult, ISBN 9780399168895, January 2015

Lillian is born in Missouri in 1933, and lives a life that takes her to Europe, the growing sexual freedom of the post-World War II years, the loss of the love of her life, the loss of her parents. Some of that may sound a bit grim, but Lillian chooses to enjoy life. The "now" of the book is the early 1990s, as Lillian in her sixties reflects on her life.

She tells her story in her own voice, and in an episodic, nonlinear way. Each chapter reflects on one period of her life, one life lesson or formative experience. First boyfriend, first sexual experience, first time living with a man. Attending Vassar, and discovering through her education major assistant teaching stints that she loves caring for toddlers--but not necessarily even slightly older children. The tensions between her and her mother, and the closer connection to her father.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Love Gone to the Dogs (Second Chances #1), by Margaret Daley

Kindle Edition, July 2012

This is a sadly frustrating novella.

Single mother Leah Taylor and small town doctor and mayor Shane O'Grady are both likable characters, and I wanted to like their story. And really, there's a fair amount to like. Leah works hard to protect her family, including cavalierly experimenting grandfather and her socially awkward, brilliant younger son, Joey. Shane became a doctor and came back to his home town of Shady Oaks because he cares about people and the town he grew up in. Shane's mom, also Dr. O'Grady, is a delight for those who want to see strong, intelligent, mature women in their fiction. Joie is a fairly convincing inconveniently bright child, not a cartoon, and his older brother Sam is believably both loyal to and frustrated by a brother he loves but doesn't entirely understand.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Catwalk (An Animals in Focus Mystery #3), by Sheila Webster Boneham

Midnight Ink, ISBN 9780738734880, October 2014

Animal photographer Janet McPhail, her Australian shepherd dog, Jay, and her cat, Leo, are back, along with her human friends and acquaintances, including Goldie, Tom, and the easily agitated but surprisingly sound Alberta. Leo has just begun competing in cat agility, while Alberta is working, against considerable opposition, to establish a managed feral cat colony--with all the cats neutered and vaccinated, and shelter and food provided. (The effect of this would be to both gradually reduce the number of feral cats, and to reduce their hunting. But don't tell the cat haters that; they won't listen.) Even worse, one of Alberta's neighbors wants to develop the adjoining wetlands, doing far more damage to the local wildlife than a cat colony, managed or not, ever could.

Meanwhile, Janet's mother, now in a nursing home, has met someone, a sweet, kind man of her own generation. His son-in-law (the developer) discovers the relationship, expresses outrage, and decides to move him.

This is all distressing enough, but it gets worse when the developer turns up dead in the agility tunnel at a competition.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

I, James (The Eternity Series #2), by Mike Hartner

Eternity4Popsicle Publishing, September 2014

This is a sequel to Hartner's previous I, Walter, following the adventures of Walter's second son, James, kidnapped at age eleven by Walter's evil brother Gerald. It's best to think of these books as alternate history, and not worry too much about the details, as the Crofters, father and son, invent first modern international trade, and now, in this book, paper currency and the modern banking system.

That snarky comment made, I have to say that this book, like the first, is solid YA adventure, with lots of action, and with courage, intelligence, and honor prevailing over greed, cowardice, and cruelty. James, Rosalind, and those who help them, and whom they help, are likable people, and James and Rosalind, in particular, don't do foolish things because the plot requires it. They take risks, but with their eyes open and with a solid plan.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy, by Mark Logue (author), Peter Conradi (author), Simon Vance (narrator)

Tantor Media, February 2011 (original publication 2010)

In 1926, the future King George VI, still merely the Duke of York and with no expectation of ever being King, found his lifelong stammer an increasing obstacle to his increasing public duties. With recommendations from friends, he sought the assistance of Lionel Logue, an Australian-born speech therapist who had emigrated to London with his family. The movie The King's Speech tells the story of their relationship from 1926 until 1939, when the King delivered the speech of the title, when Britain declared war on Germany.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

House Broken, by Sonja Yoerg

NAL Trade, ISBN 9780451472137, January 2015

Geneva Novak is happy in her career as a veterinarian, and reasonably happy in her marriage, too. There are some stresses, as in any life: her kids are teenagers now, and she and husband Tom have different and sometimes conflicting views on discipline and rules. But that's life, and they work at it.

Then her brother Dublin calls to say their mother, Helen, has crashed her car while driving drunk and is in the hospital in Los Angeles. With a busted knee and a busted shoulder, even after she can be released from the hospital, it's going to be weeks before Helen is able to return to her own apartment. Dublin's house is too small, and Helen doesn't cope well with his autistic son. Their sister Florence lives in New York, and their sister Paris is somewhere in Africa--and has been for almost thirty years.