Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae, by Stephanie Butland

St. Martin's Press, ISBN 9781250217011, October 2019

Ailsa Rae was born with a three-chambered heart, and has spent her life with surgeries, drugs, and hospital stays to keep her alive. At 28, she's been waiting for a heart transplant for years, and now either she gets it, or she won't live out the year.

She gets it, and starts to discover what it's like to be a normal person, who can expect to live, if not a normal life span, at least one that has a few decades ahead rather than a few more weeks. This includes learning to take responsibility for herself and her decisions, in a way that previously she not only didn't need to, but truly couldn't.

It's harder than she expected, and not nearly the delight she might have expected. She needs to learn to separate a bit from her mother, Hayley, without permanently damaging the relationship of the parent who fought so hard to keep her alive. For the first time in her life, she needs to get a job--with no prior job experience to offer. She needs to find out what she enjoys doing, when walking across the room is no longer the limit of her ability to exert herself.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Carnival Row: Tangle in the Dark, by Stephanie K. Smith (author), Karla Crome (narrator)

Audible Original, October 2019

Tourmaline Larou is a student, an aspiring poet, and moderately well-connected. Her future looks promising, if not exactly brilliant, and she lives a pleasant life of studying by day and partying by night.

Then Vignette Stonemoss arrives, her new roommate. She's from a completely different background from Tourmaline and her friends--from the provinces, not the capital. The provincials are normally figures of fun to the elite that Tourmaline is at least on the fringes of.

Vignette upends both her emotional and her intellectual life. Both love and her creative juices are unleashed. Yet while love and poetry blossom, the world is darkening. War, crisis, and occupation arrive. The world of the fae is suddenly occupied by human soldiers.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Progeny's Children, by Ray Jay Perreault (author), Christopher M. Allport (narrator)

Ray Jay Perreault, November 2016

This novel is what we used to call a fix-up, previously separate short stories put together with some revision and interstitial bits to make one novel. I have no idea if that term is still in use with newer sf readers, who don't recall the era when selling short stories to sf magazines was the main way for a writer to build a career.

On Earrth, its residents are living peacefully and harmoniously, following the four laws, and pursuing the increase of knowledge. This last, as it happens, includes some genetic research on the creatures they call "the organics," that leads to the discovery of their own origins, with the previous inhabitants of Earth.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Hallowed Ground: The Mystery of the African Fairy Circles, by Paul Twivy

The Conrad Press, September 2019

Joe Kaplan, Freddie Wilde, and Hannah Chiang--one American and two British teenagers--arrive in Namibia due to their parents' jobs. Ben Kaplan is an anthropologist; Barbara Kaplan has been assigned by the hotel chain she works for to develop a new site; Ralph Wilde is the new British High Commissioner to Namibia; Helen Wilde is a doctor who will be working with AIDS patients; Li Chiang is a mining engineer employed by the Chinese government to develop a uranium mine in Namibia; Sarah Chiang is a special needs teacher who will be working at a local school.

Joe, Freddie, and Hannah are all enrolled at the same boarding school, and quickly become friends. On a school trip, they meet Selima van Zyl, daughter of Ilana van Zyl, a Namibian tour guide, and Darius van Zyl, son of an Afrikaner farmer who is "an entrepreneur" currently giving tours of the magnificent Namibian sand dunes. The four teens quickly become best friends, and adopting the title of Four Teenagers of the Apocalypse, they get interested in the Namibian "fairy circles," strange circles rimmed by drylands grass and completely barren within. Selima can tell them some of the stories of the various Namibian tribes about these circles, but Joe in particular wants to know what the truth is.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Christmas at Pennington's (Pennington's #3), by Rachel Brimble

Aria Fiction, September 2019

Elizabeth Pennington and her husband, Joseph Carter, have continued their remaking and revival of Pennington's department store, but their lives and the lives of their employees and friends are also continuing.

Joseph becomes even more distressed and frustrated over the never-solved murder of his first wife, Lillian, when another kind and charitable woman is killed in exactly the same circumstances--attacked while bringing food to the homeless.

Esther Stanbury, now married to Lawrence Culford, is pregnant with their first child together. Lawrence's sister Cornelia has left her abusive husband, David, taking her two children with her. She's now living with Lawrence and Esther, and working in the jewelry department at Pennington's

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Charles and Ada: The Computer's Most Passionate Partnership, by James Essinger

The History Press, ISBN 9780750990950, February 2020

While this is presented as a biography of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, his professional partner and collaborator, it's mostly about Babbage. One gets pretty far in before there's much about Ada Lovelace.

It's true that there was a considerable difference in their ages, and they met when he was a widower in his thirties and she was nineteen. By the time he met Ada Byron, later Ada Lovelace, he had built a working 1/7 prototype of the Difference Engine. After they met, they quickly became friends, based in their shared love of science and mathematics, and more gradually, dedicated professional partners. Ada Lovelace became an essential part of his work on the Difference Engine 2 and the Analytical Engine. But really, this book is mostly about Charles Babbage.

That said, it's a very interesting account of both the roots and the development of Babbage's ideas, including the seemingly unexpected role played by advances in weaving, most importantly, the development of the Jacquard loom, producing intricate and beautiful designs by means of punchcards.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Circle is Closed (Progeny #2)

Ray Jay Perreault,February 2016

Humanity managed to completely wreck Earth's environment, making it unfit for human survival. With no other real choices, a surviving remnant of the human race set out for a distant system where they seem to have a good chance of finding a habitable planet--and they succeed.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Understanding Complexity, by Scott E. Page (author, narrator)

The Great Courses, March 2019

This is a set of interesting, entertaining, informative lectures on the science of complexity.

Much of the world we live in consists of complex systems, inherently changing, always in motion, or, as the author says, "dancing." They can't be controlled, but if we take the time to understand them, we can influence them. Properly applied, this could help prevent financial crashes, or prevent or contain epidemic. It can help design buildings better designed to enable people to evacuate safely in the event of a fire or other emergency.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Snowflakes at Mistletoe Cottage, by Katie Ginger

HQ Digital, October 2019

Esme Kendrick thinks she's living her best life, with a job as food technologist on a popular cooking show, a handsome boyfriend, and amazing apartment in London.

Then she loses the job because she objects to the star claiming one of Esme's grandma's most treasure recipes as her own, and that same day, her gorgeous boyfriend dumps her for the woman he's been seeing behind her back. Since the amazing apartment is his, that's gone too.

Her friends help her get her stuff out, but unemployed now,, her only option is to go back home to Sandchester, and start rebuilding her life and career. Her parents give her the money they'd been saving for her wedding, and a guy she knew in school, Joe Holloway, is back in Sandchester as an estate agent, after a disappointment he doesn't discuss in Australia. He helps her find a small cottage she can afford for a few months, to avoid living with either her parents or her married sister. (Who are lovely people, but for reasons that quickly become clear, it wouldn't have worked.)

Friday, October 18, 2019

Sabrina Carlson Cozy Mystery Anthology, by Meredith Potts (author), Lil Dubuque (narrator)

Meredith Potts, April 2019

This is a collection of short mysteries featuring Sabrina Carlson, who owns a coffee shop in Treasure Cove, California. She has a good manager for the shop, which is good, because these days she spends a lot of her time helping her husband, police detective David Carlson, investigate murders in the town of Treasure Cove. And it really runs in the family; their daughter, Jessica, has gone off to the police academy in San Francisco, determined to be a police detective herself.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Omar Nelson Bradley: America's GI General, 1893-1981, by Steven L. Ossad (author), Bill Nevitt (narrator)

University Press Audiobooks, August 2019 (original publication November 2017)

Omar Bradley was one of the American generals of World War II in Europe. He was, quite literally, born in a cabin his father built with his own hands. His family was rather poor for most of his childhood--there were a few years of relative prosperity when his father was a newspaper editor, ended when he died.

But when he decided to try, with little expectation of success, to seek an appointment to West Point, he became his congressman's backup appointment. And then the other, primary choice didn't pass the relatively new West Point exams,and Bradley did. He entered West Point with the class of 1915. It was an iconic origin for a man who became an important World War II general, though being a quiet, relatively shy man, with a dislike for newspaper attention, he didn't get as much press as his classmates and colleagues--who of course included Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton, among other well-known World War II names.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Twice Blessed (Blessings of Love #5), by J.J. DiBenedetto

Writing Dreams, October 2019

Allison is a young widow, raising her 9-year-old daughter, Lucy, and running the bookstore her parents, now retired to Florida, founded.

Mike is the new science teacher at Lucy's school, her favorite teacher--and still feeling a little bit singed by his short marriage and rocky divorce from another widow with a child to raise.

Lucy has recently seen The Parent Trap.

Friday, October 11, 2019

A Typical Family Christmas, by Liz Davies

Independently Published, September 2019

Kate wants a happy, stressfree, family Christmas.

Unfortunately, she has two teenage daughters, a son on the edge of being a teenager too, a husband who is stressed at work and thinks her part-time job plus three kids who need to be supervised, fed, and ferried everywhere is easy and stress-free, a mother-in-law who after twenty years still thinks Kate isn't good enough for her son and makes snide comments whenever she visits, and a mother who "hates Christmas." And who says so constantly at Christmas time.

Most years, only her mother-in-law comes for Christmas. This year, her mother his coming, too. And along with everything else, the two mothers hate each other.

Her mother-in-law, Helen, normally arrives on Christmas Eve, but her mother, Beverly, has decided that she will arrive five days early. When Helen finds out, of course, so does she.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Mardi Gras Madness (Roxy Reinhardt #1), by Alison Golden

Alison Golden, September 2019

Roxy is living a safe, no-risks life in Cleveland, working a dull but reliable call center job, and living with her boyfriend. Or so she thinks.

But she feels bullied by her co-workers, and one day, after a really difficult customer complains to her boss, she gets indefinitely suspended from it. Then she arrives home to find that her boyfriend has moved out, leaving her for another woman. While reeling from the cumulative events, she sees an ad on tv touting the pleasures of going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

Never-impulsive Roxy has reached her breaking point. In short order, she and her cat Nefertiti, are on their way to New Orleans, to stay in a guesthouse called Evangeline's. 

It's not long before Evangeline and the regulars at her guesthouse--Nat, the young woman who helps with the cooking, cleaning, and general care of the guests; Elijah, who runs the bakery across the street; Sage, who does the guesthouse's website; Sam, who runs the laundry that handle the guesthouse's laundry as well as providing handyman services. There's also another guest, Louise, who seems nice enough, but also hung up on Sam to a degree that Sam clearly finds unwelcome and embarrassing.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

50 Dinosaur Tales: And 108 More Discoveries From the Golden Age of Dinos, by Sabrina Ricci

I Know Dino, October 2019

This book is organized in sections, one for each continent, with stories and facts about a selection of the dinosaurs found on that continent. Each section contains several brief stories about a probable typical day in the life of a member of that species of dinosaur, based on what we know about it and its environment, followed by basic facts about that type of dinosaur. After several such stories plus facts, each section has several "just the facts" summaries about additional dinosaurs from that continent.

I think I am not the intended audience for this book. With the title, I was expecting mostly narrative story-telling, and whether it was narrative accounts of what we think we know about the dinosaurs, or narrative accounts of the scientists and expeditions that discovered the dinosaurs, didn't really concern me. Either can be extremely interesting. Instead, while there are narrative, unavoidably somewhat speculative but well-grounded in known facts, stories about the dinosaurs, they're fundamentally just brief intros to the recitation of facts about those dinosaurs. There are no real accounts of the discovery and identification of these dinosaurs, and mentions of the people who did the discovering is largely limited to explaining the genus and species names.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

My Lost Family, by Danny Ben-Moshe (author, narrator), Dasha Lisitsina (author)

Audible Original, October 2019

This is the true story of a family turned upside down by the reappearance of two children who disappeared forty years previously.

Lillian was a young girl growing up in a Yiddish-speaking East London neighborhood when she met handsome, charming Raymond. He was twenty and she was fifteen, when she got pregnant with their first child, and they immediately married. When they wound up living in the tight quarters of Lillian's parents'  apartment with their two young children, it breaks what was never a well-advised marriage to begin with. For a while, Raymond showed up most Sundays to pick up the two children and take to them to the park or someplace else. Then, one Sunday, he picked up the children and never returned with them. Forty years later, in the mid-90s, Lillian received a letter from her daughter with Raymond, Michelle.

Monday, October 7, 2019

First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety, by Sarah Wilson (author, narrator)

HarperAudio, ISBN 9780062847270, April 2018

This is a really excellent book about living with anxiety.

The author is not a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or any other kind of medical professional. She's an author and journalist, and a woman who lives with chronic anxiety. Over a lifetime of dealing with it, she became interested in understanding what it is, where it comes from, and history of treatment for it, including the fads and fashions that affect medical treatment.

Some of what she has to say may strike some as borderline woo-woo, but she's very clear about talking to medical professionals knowledgeable on the subject to ensure that known of her advice is safe, and the importance of medical support when you're going off medication.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Jagannath, by Karin Tidbeck (author), Kirsten Potter (narrator)

HighBridge, ISBN 9781684410712, February 2018

Karin Tidbeck is a Swedish fiction writer who writes in both Swedish and English, and does her own translations in both directions. In her afterword, she talks about both the challenges and the benefits--the concepts that can't really be translated, the ones that can't quite be translated, but don't add anything but an extra stumble for the reader who doesn't speak that language, the insights you can get by coming at a language from the outside.

She also talks about the experience of reading all of H. P. Lovecraft's work, more or less nonstop.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Cursed, by Thomas Wheeler (author), Frank Miller (artist)

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ISBN 9781534425330, October 2019

I tried to like this book. I really did.

It's an Arthurian story in which Things Are Different, and the Sword that empowers the True King has gone to Nimue--designating, instead, a True Queen.

I ought to love this.

There are a whole range of Fey peoples, of different types and features and magic. Nimue is one of them.

I ought to love this.

Nimue and Morgan and others are interesting characters.

I ought to love this.

Unfortunately, the bad guy characters are stereotypically, cartoonishly evil. It renders them unbelievable and, in my opinion, not worth the reader's time.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez (author, narrator)

Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9781982699383, June 2019

We live in a world driven by data, an ocean of data that in theory should enable us to make much better decisions. Yet, to a truly frightening degree, that data leaves out half the human race--the female half.

One way is, of course, in medical studies. For a long time, women weren't included at all. Only men were included in medical studies, and it was just assumed that of course the same data, at least when adjusted for weight and height, will apply to women. Yet the reason women aren't included in studies is because women's bodies are different, and in some ways more complicated. It's bizarre that no consideration is normally given to whether this might mean that drugs and treatments might affect women differently.