Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Belfry, by Gabriel Hardman

Image Comics, February 2017
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This is a horror short story. It's graphic story with impressive artwork, but be warned some of the images are graphic in the other sense too: both nudity, and some horrific injuries shown in great detail.

A plane crashes in the jungle, and passengers and crew are at first relieved that, while there are a lot of injuries, no one is dead. Then they see the captain's injury, a substantial stick in his eye.

Yet he's not dead. He's not even unconscious. He can't remember what happened, although he thinks he could if he could remove the stick...

The passengers and crew are about to find out that the plane crash is only the beginning of their problems. Horrors exist in the jungle that have nothing to do with lions or cheetahs or any other mundane predators.

I'm not a big reader of horror, and this won't change my mind. It's quietly effective, though, and the art is excellent.

I received a free advance review copy from the publisher, and I am reviewing it voluntarily.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2), by Becky Chamberss

Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 9781473621442, October 2016

Lovelace, the AI that operated on Wayfarer, the ship in Becky Chambers excellent first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, decided she wanted a different life. A life in an autonomous, human-format body.

A life that, in the Galactic Commons, is rather inconveniently very, very illegal.

In this standalone sequel, Lovey has awakened in a new body which very convincingly imitates a human body, after a total system shutdown and reboot, which has left her with no idea why her previous installation wanted this new life with these new and strange limitations (such as not being connected to the Linkings fulltime.)

Yet  here she is, in this new, freer yet more limited form, still learning what it's like to be apparently human, traveling with the rather volatile engineer, Pepper, to Pepper's home to learn who she is in this new form.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Hairy Tail, by Jamie Campbell

Kindle Edition, March 2013

Hannah, under pressure from her mother to "get out of the house" during the summer, decides to volunteer at the local animal shelter. On her first day there, she meets Basil, a very sad dog who has been there, unclaimed, for months. She also meets Harry, another high school student and fellow volunteer. Convinced that a dog as nice as Basil, and as sad, must be missing his family and his family missing him, she convinces Harry that they have to find Basil's family.

This is a short, light, fun story about two teenagers doing something positive with their summer. Recommended.

I bought this book.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Arclight, by Brandon Graham (story), Marian Churchland (art, colors), Ariana Maher (letters)

Image, ISBN 9781534300972, March 2017

Lady Kinga is trapped in the body of a monster, living in exile on the edges of the kingdom, and supported only by her loyal knight, Arclight. Then someone turns up wearing her old body, and using her high rank for their own purposes. She and Arclight need to return to the city and fight against an invading power to save their world. the question is, will their magic be strong enough?

This is a graphic novel, and I found the art pleasing and restful for my eyes. I especially liked the goose (sorry, any explanation would be a spoiler), and the way its personality was depicted. This is a fantasy. The goose is dead, or perhaps more accurately, undead; the Lady occupies the body of a monster; a traveling palace is made of the bones of the ancestors of the Blood House, and gets larger with every generation. I can't honestly claim the story made much sense; on the other hand, I can't honestly claim I cared. The hour or so I spent with this book was very enjoyable.

Recommended for a light, pleasant read.

I received an advance reader's copy of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Her Last Chance (Her #2), by Toni Anderson (author), Eric G. Dove (narrator)

Toni Anderson, January 2017

Eighteen years ago, at nine years old Josie Maxwell was the first victim of a man who became the serial killer now known as the Blade Hunter. Josie, unlike later victims, survived, but this wasn't the only event in her life that taught her it's a struggle for survival.

Six months ago, Josie nearly died at the hands of another killer, and drugged and betrayed FBI Special Agent in Charge Marshall Hayes to protect the hiding place of her friend.

Now the Blade Hunter is back, and he's found Josie again. This time, he's determined to finish the job he started eighteen years ago. The only person who's going to put the pieces together fast enough is Marshall Hayes, the man she betrayed.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise, by Chris Taylor (author), Nick Podehl (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, October 2014

In 1973, George Lucas sketched the first notes of what would become his epic space fantasy movie, Star Wars. More than four decades on, Star Wars has become a $37 billion movie franchise and media empire, and an enormous cultural force.

Taylor gives us both the history forward from that beginning through the making of the films and the sale and rebirth of the franchise under Disney, and the path from the middle class kid growing up in Modesto to the man who made that first Star Wars film and its two sequels. (No, it wasn't originally called A New Hope; I saw the first movie when it first came out. And yes, Han Solo did shoot first, whatever George Lucas now wants us to believe.) Both Lucas' own story, and the story of the Star Wars franchise, are complicated, confusing, and fascinating. Taylor gets quite thoroughly caught up in the story and his own pursuit of it, and makes it reasonably inviting for the reader or listener to jump on that ride with him.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Call of the Herald (The Dawning of Power #1), by Brian Rathbone (author), Chris Snelgrove (narrator)

Brian Rathbone, April 2013 (original publication January 2008)

Caitrin, her cousin Chase, and their friends Osbourne and Strom are farmer's kids, living ordinary lives, until events start to close in on them. Their land is about to be invaded by a powerful and expanding empire, and a religious prophecy is about to come to fruition. Uncomfortably for her, Caitrin, it seems, is the Herald of the return of the Comet, which is the symbol or vehicle of a goddess.

With the Comet becoming visible in the sky, Caitrin now has power, and and this teenager who never expected this is quite convincingly inept and clumsy in her first (initially accidental) uses of it. This quickly gets her a reputation as a witch--the dangerous kind that no sensible person wants around.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of "Unadoptables" Taught Me About Service, Hope, and Healing, by Susannah Charleson (author, narrator)

Blackstone Audio, ISBN 9781482912043, June 2013

Susannah Charleson is best known for a previous book, Scent of the Missing, about her experiences in search & rescue, and working with a search dog, the Golden Retriever, Puzzle. Over the years of her search & rescue work, though, she began to experience health problems, both physical, and reactions to the stress and trauma often involved in such searches. She also began to meet a new kind of working dog: psychiatric service dogs.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ghostnip, by G.B. Brulte

December 2016

Franny is at home on a Saturday morning, eating ice cream and lamenting her lack of a romantic life, when a handsome photographer rings her doorbell and asks if he can take pictures of her cat.

Her half-Bengal, half-Savannah cat. Twenty-two pounds of handsome cat.

It's the start of a silly but fun story, in which pictures of the cat unexpectedly include pictures of ghosts who previously owned the furniture used. Franny and Jason (the handsome photographer), first see a little girl in "old-timey" clothes, whom they call Alice.

Alice is the first, but far from the last, and they are even more intrigued when they realize the cat and the ghosts are able to interact.

In many ways, Jason is just too perfect. He's not only a successful photographer. He also sings, and plays the piano, and cooks. It's all a bit much. Franny is nice, Jason is nice, the cat is nice, pretty much everyone they know is nice. I like having characters who are good people in the fiction I read, but this lack of any real conflict is not a strength in fiction.

And yet, Brulte does go somewhere interesting with the ghost photography, and while not a very strong story, it is fun.

Recommended for a light read.

I think this book was a gift. I am reviewing it voluntarily.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Unknown Universe: A New Exploration of Time, Space, and Modern Cosmology, by Stuart Clark (author), Stephen Hoye (narrator)

Audible Audio, September 2016

It's been fun, over the past few years, reading accounts of recent developments in physics, astronomy, and cosmology. The universe doesn't look the way we thought it did at the start of the 20th century. There are many galaxies, not just one. The universe is expanding. There doesn't appear to be enough matter--enough ordinary matter--to keep the galaxies together, and the rate at which the universe is expanding appears to be accelerating.

The explanations offered for these last two developments are dark matter and dark energy. In this case, "dark" merely means that we do not have the faintest idea what they really are. We can't detect them. They don't seem to interact with ordinary matter at all. Except they hold galaxies together and expand the universe...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Librarian: A First Contact Story, by M.N. Arzu

CreateSpace, ISBN 9781514142059, June 2015

These aliens don't arrive in giant spaceships hovering over major cities.

They don't blast us from space.

They didn't even intend to make contact. They just wanted to study us, quietly and unobtrusively.

That worked, right up until the retrieval of their investigator didn't go as intended.

An ordinary, happily married, librarian waiting for her husband to come home from a day of hiking gets a knock on the door that lands her in the middle of something she would have thought impossible.

Now she has to figure out if this alien who looks like her husband, who says he is her husband of twelve years, is here for good reasons or bad, and what he wants and intends, because he won't talk to the military or anyone at all except her.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly (author), Robin Miles (narrator)

HarperAudio, September 2016

Superficially, this book covers the same territory as The Rise of the Rocket Girls, published earlier the same year. Although the books both tell the story of women breaking into mathematics, engineering, and the space program, starting int the early 20th century, via the originally rather mundane role of "computers," in reality there's a very important difference. The Rocket Girls at what became NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were overwhelmingly white. Shetterly follows black women charting the same course at Langley, in Virginia, where in addition to facing the obstacles women faced simply for being women, the black women were also challenging institutionalized racism in one of the states where it was most entrenched. They had an opening because the demand for mathematicians who could do the work was so high that white men, especially in the WWII years, weren't available in the numbers needed. Holding on and moving ahead depended on their own talent and hard work, plus the persistence and resilience to overcome the discrimination.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Grave Witch (Alex Craft #1), by Kalayna Price (author), Emily Durante (narrator)

Tantor Audio, April 2011 (original publication September 2010)

Alex Craft is a grave witch--a witch able to summon the shades of the dead and question them--in an alternate present where magic and the Fae returned to the world about seventy years ago. One of the cascading effects of this change is that now there are more states in the USA, and Alex lives in one of them, Nekros.

Another effect is that there's an anti-Fae, anti-witches political party, the Humans First party. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Nekros are members of the Humans First party.

Lt. Governor Kane is Alex's father, a deeply buried secret neither of them wants revealed. It all gets very awkward when Governor Coleman turns up dead, and Alex notices something very, very peculiar about his body.

Friday, March 10, 2017

We Thought We Were Invincible, by Michelle Lynn

Creativa, March 2017

In Gulf City, Florida, a group of high school friends are starting their last year of high school. The two viewpoint characters are Callie (California) McCoy, and Jamie Daniels. Callie and her twin brother Colby live with their Aunt Kat, working in the diner they inherited from their mother, Allison, when she died six years ago. They know nothing about their father. Callie, like her mother, is an enthusiastic and very good surfer. She is not otherwise either very social, or very interested in school.

Jamie Daniels is the younger son of a state senator with higher ambitions. The older brother, Jayden, is the apple of his father's eye, and also Callie's boyfriend, or so it appears to everyone except Callie and Jay. Jamie has a bad relationship with his father for reasons that no one outside the family knows. Jamie is also rather a troublemaker.

With the end of the summer, Jay is gong off for his first year of college. Callie, Colby, Jamie, Colby's girlfriend Morgan and her sister Parker are going through their momentous final year of high school together.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shadow of Doubt (Detective Jason Strong #15), by John C. Dalglish (author), Bill Burrows (narrator)

John C. Dalglish, February 2017

Jason Strong is working with a new, he hopes temporary partner, Diana Torres. It's not that he has any objection to Torres; she's a good cop, and a good detective. But the reason for the change is that Vanessa Lane is on suspension, awaiting a disciplinary hearing after she struck a suspect in a previous case.

But things are about to get much, much worse, because Strong and Torres are called to the scene of a homicide, and the dead man is Lane's husband.

He and Lane had argued earlier, and he had asked her for a divorce.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How Great Science Fiction Works (The Great Courses), by Gary K. Wolfe (author, narrator)

The Great Courses, January 2016

Gary K. Wolfe is both a reader and a scholar of science fiction, and this is a great, comprehensive look at the history of the field, the ideas it has explored, and the literary influences that have affected it.

He dates the beginning of real science fiction, rather than simply stories that in retrospect somewhat resemble it, to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Frankenstein, and looks at the social, intellectual, and physical world changes that helped inspire it. Wolfe then follows these themes forward through the next two centuries.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Cold Day for Murder (Kate Shugak #1), by Dana Stabenow (author), Marguerite Gavin (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, ISBN 9780425133019, October 2011 (original publication 1992)

Kate Shugak left her job as a detective on the Anchorage police force, and retreated to her late father's homestead in a national park in the interior of Alaska. That apparently isn't remote enough, though. Her ex-boss, Jack Morgan, and an FBI agent find her and ask her to take on a case of two missing people. The first is a Park Ranger with powerful connections--and whom Kate was previously involved with. The other is the previous FBI agent that went looking for him.

With one missing six weeks, and the other missing two weeks, there's not really any chance that either is alive.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Up Against It, by M.J. Locke (author),Cassandra Campbell (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, September 2011

Geoff and his friends on the asteroid Phocaea, just graduated from school, pull of an epic technical hack. They successfully dodge the omnipresent camera remotes of "Stroiders, a reality show broadcasting the lives of the Phocaeans to the entire system. It's a triumph.

It's quickly followed by someone's shocking act of sabotage that kills Geoff's brother, wtih Geoff and his friends, as well as Carl's boss, arriving too late to save him.

And even that is just the start.

The sabotage that kills Carl starts a meltdown of a delivery of much-needed water and methane ice, vital not just to the colony's economy but its survival.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Piano Girl (Counterfeit Princess #1), by Sherri Schoenborn Murray (author), Sarah Zimmerman (narrator)

Christian Romances, July 2016

Princess Alia is a gifted pianist, and also the heir to the crown of the kingdom of Blue Sky. Her kingdom has been at war for twelve years, and it has just ended.

On the day after her sixteenth birthday, Princess Alia discovers she's being given away in marriage to a man she's never met. For her safety, she's got to travel in secret, disguised as a chicken farmer's daughter, to the kingdom of Yonder. She's about to get an education she never imagined.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Trouble at the Animal Shelter (Cedar Bay Cozy Mystery #10), by Dianne Harman

Amazon Digital Services, January 2017

A cozy mystery involving dogs--I really wanted to like this one. And the characters are likable, at least the ones who are supposed to be.

But.

The basic setup is pretty straightforward. Maggie Ryan taught school in Cedar Bay for many years, but retired a few years ago, and has since become a bit of a recluse. When the local police get a call about barking dogs, they arrive to find her house on fire, about thirty dogs there, and Maggie Ryan dead from a bullet hole in her head. Who killed her, why, and where did those thirty dogs come from?

I have two basic types of complaint about the book. The first is what is known in science fiction reading world is known as "As you know, Bob"; information the reader needs is conveyed by the characters telling each other things they both already know.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Woman Misunderstood (Tennessee Delta #2), by Melinda Clayton (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Thomas-Jacob Publishing, February 2017

Rebecca Reynolds returns to her parents' home for her weekly visit only to literally stumble over her wheelchair-bound sister's dead body.

Her parents are also dead, all three hacked to death with an ax.

She calls 911. She wonders where her other sister, Lena, disowned by the family years ago, is. And she wonders how long it will be before Lena is arrested.

It's a very effective, chilling set-up for chilling psychological suspense. We see the story through three sets of eyes--Rebecca's, Lena's, and those of the lawyer Rebecca hires for her sister (who is indeed arrested as the most likely suspect), Brian Stone.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dallas Homicide (The City Murders #4), by John C. Dalglish (author), Rich McVicar (narrator)

John C. Dalglish, January 2017

A man arrives home, late, intentionally because since his divorce there's no pleasure in it anymore. Unfortunately, on this night, it's worse than usual: A killer is waiting. He is shot and killed.

Peter Brandt, a Dallas homicide detective, begins to investigate and quickly finds himself deep in the weeds of politics, corporate intrigue, and a love triangle. This is a short novel, a tightly plotted police procedural set in Dallas. Dalglish builds up his characters--both living and dead--convincingly. This is written with respect for the police but not a false sense that they're perfect, and I like to see both those traits in a good police procedural.

I don't know Dallas, so I can't say how true it is to the city, but other readers who say they know Dallas seem happy with it, so probably no major blunders. The narrator has a good, clear, strong voice, which is not only true to the main viewpoint character, but also good for the listener.

Recommended.

I received a free copy of this audiobook and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Interior Life, by Katherine Blake (a.k.a. Dorothy J. Heydt)

Dorothy J. Heydt, October 2016 (original publication Baen 1990) (downloadable at http://www.kithrup.com/~djheydt/)

Susan is perfectly happy as a suburban housewife in 1980s America.Well, perhaps not perfectly happy, or she wouldn't be periodically slipping away into a fantasy life, would she? As long as she keeps it within bounds...

She's periodically sharing the minds of sometimes Lady Amalia, a noblewoman with the Sight, and sometimes her servant and general right hand, Marianella, and occasionally others. She sees what they see, learns what they learn, about the creeping Darkness that threatens the land of Demoura.

As long as she doesn't let her fantasy life affect real life...