Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Nick Bostrom (author), Napoleon Ryan (narrator)

Audible Studios, September 2014

I found this a frustrating book.

It's about artificial intelligence, whether or not we'll achieve it soon, and whether or not it will be good for mere human beings if we do. And while I suspect Bostrom doesn't think so, I found it, overall, depressing.

First, he wants us to understand that, despite repeated failed predictions of imminent true AI, and the fact that computers still mostly do a small subset of what human brains do, but much faster, and we don't even know how consciousness emerges from the biological brain, strong AI is coming, and maybe very soon. Moreover, as soon as we have human-level artificial intelligence, we will almost immediately be completely outstripped by artificial superintelligence. The only hope for us is to start right now working out how to teach the right set of human values to machines, and keep some degree of control of them. If we wait till it happens, it will be much too late.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Rue Stone, by Janet Stock

Janet Stock, September 2019

Janna is working in a little inn with an odd history, enjoying her work, but also wondering how, in their small town, she'll meet someone she wants to marry and have a family with. Among the stories her grandmother and others tell is the story of the rue.

They're strange men who wander the world, with hair and eyes that change color, and carrying a stone that sometimes glows. They are rumored to be legendary lovers.

And sometimes, with a particular woman, their hair and eyes come to match. They will leave their stone with her, go traveling again--and then, eventually, come back.

One busy night at the inn, a rue walks in.

This isn't any folklore I'm familiar with, but that's what it feels like.

It's a sweet and gentle story, and I really thoroughly enjoyed it. Very satisfying.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Prime Deceptions (Chilling Effect #2) by Valerie Valdes

Harper Voyager, September 2020

Eva Innocente doesn't want to talk to her sister again.

She doesn't want to call her mother anytime soon.

She and the rest of the crew of La Sirena Negra want paying jobs to pay their bills, and rescue crew member Sue's brother Josh from the Fridge. (It's not clear what the psychic cats sharing the ship want, but they like at least some of the crew members, and know where their purrs are most needed.) An evil organization that is forcing him to work on its nefarious high-tech projects involving banned technology. Sue has been making ransom payments, but no matter how much she pays, Josh doesn't get released.

They're working on what their next move will be when Eva's sister, Mari, an officer with the Forge, contacts her.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Murder by Other Means (The Dispatcher#2), by John Scalzi (author), Zachary Quinto (narrator)

Audible Originals, September 2020

Tony Valdez is serious and professional about his work as a Dispatcher, and normally tries to stick strictly to the legal and ethical side of the business. Times have gotten hard with the declining economy, though, and to keep paying the bills, he's had to take a few jobs that are a little shady.

The latest, for a Chinese businessman who says he needs to get back to Beijing very quickly or lose out on a business deal, is about as close to the line as he's willing to go. He charges a premium for that, and is paid in cash.

These, seemingly coincidentally, after a series of stops to pay some bills, leads him to be in the lobby of his bank just as a bank robbery happens. There are some very odd features to this bank robbery, but that's nothing to the series of deaths that happen afterward.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage, by John McWhorter

The Great Courses, July 2013

John McWhorter is always enjoyable and informative when talking about the English language, and this is no exception. 

It's often popular to talk about the decline of English, bad grammar, and the Awful Effects of texting and email on how we speak and write. We may also tend to think that people doing a foreign language are doing something much more impressive than we are in speaking English,

McWhorter shows us how the things we often denounce as Bad Grammar are often the English language changing in response to changes in our lives, the kinds of changes that English has been undergoing for a thousand years or more--such as the often-denounced verbing of nouns--and normal cultural changes.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

People Don't Do Such Things, by Ruth Rendell (author), Mike Walker (narrator), Reece Shearsmith (narrator), Laura Pyper (narrator), and Michael Maloney (narrator)

Serial Box, September 2020

It's the 1970s. Sid Vicious has just died, and Margaret Thatcher is moving up in the political world. Arthur and Gwen Hitchcock are a suburban London couple. Arthur is an accountant, and he has an exciting new client--Reeve Baker, a popular writer of historical novels. Reeve is also an enormous egotist, who uses his charm as a weapon. 

Reeve's "friendship" is going to be very destructive for the couple. This is an interesting, if dark, study of three very different characters.

Recommended.

I got this audiobook as a Serial Box Thursday night freebie.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Heavenly Desire, by Becca Fisher (author), Stephanie Richardson (narrator)

Kevin MacGorman, January 2020

The Kaufmans' three daughters are all married now, the youngest, Miriam, most recently. Miriam is thinking about how to keep romance alive in her marriage for the long term, inspired in part by her parents' approaching 40th wedding anniversary.

The elder Kaufmans are still in love, but there's a cloud on their happiness, and has been for a decade--since their oldest daughter, Abigail, left Lancaster for Philadelphia, and married an outsider. Samuel was appalled, and raged at both her departure from Amish life, and her rejection of his plan for her: marrying the fine young man he'd chosen for her, and inheriting the family's quilt shop. Though she's had some contact with her sisters, Abigail hasn't been back to visit since her break with her father.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Falling in Love With Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson (author), Bahni Turpin (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781515942634, September 2019 

This is a wonderful collection of short stories, and Nalo Hopkinson, as the writer, and Bahni Turpin, as the narrator, kept me listening to stories that were just straight up horror that I would ordinarily just skip right over. Along with the horror, there's dark fantasy, lighter, happier fantasy, and even a couple of stories that can fairly be called science fiction. There's a reworking of the story of Caliban, and a new Bordertown story. It's an impressive range.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Cat on the Edge (Joe Grey #1), by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (author), Susan Boyce (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, March 2013 (original publication January 1996)

Joe Grey is a cat who has been through a lot of changes in the last week or two. He can suddenly understand human language. Sitting with his human, Clyde, while Clyde reads out loud to him, he finds he can even read the words on the page.

That's unsettling enough. Then he discovers he can speak human language.

Joe does not regard this as a Great Step Forward. It's very upsetting to him. He likes being a cat. Clyde's human friends are a lot more annoying, now that he can understand their conversation--entirely focused on things cats consider trivial.

But he might have found ways to appreciate these changes, with some time. Instead, he and one of his cat friends, Dulcie, who has experienced the same changes, witness the murder of a business associate of Clyde's. And the killer sees them. Not only sees them, but apparently realizes that they can tell what they've seen--that they are witnesses who matter. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, by Mary Trump

Simon & Schuster, July 2020

Mary Trump, niece of Donald Trump, has written a short, highly readable, interesting, and informative book about her uncle. It's about how damaged parents raised even more damaged children, especially the "favorite," Donald himself.

It's not a political exposé. You will be disappointed if that's what you're looking for. 

Donald was the fourth of five children, and the second of three sons, of Fred Trump and Mary Anne Trump. He was two years old, and his brother Robert, the one recently buried from the White House, was only nine months old, when their mother became very ill and was suddenly hospitalized. It was months before she recovered, to the extent that she did, and in the interim, Fred didn't bother to parent the kids at all; that was Mary Anne's job. It was not his job, even when she wasn't available to do it.

However good a parent Mary Anne Trump may have been before this illness, she was much less able to be an effective parent afterward. Mary Trump, based on what her aunts, father, and possibly her uncles told her, says that Mary Anne was the type of mother who used her children to comfort herself, rather than comforting them.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Phreaks, by Matthew Derby (author), Ben McKenzie (narrator), Carrie Coon (narrator), Christian Slater (narrator), Justice Smith (narrator), Bree Klauser (narrator), full cast

Audible Originals, August 2020

Emma Gable is a teenager, blind, and living in a small town in upstate New York. Her mother works in the laundry of a nuclear power plant, and her father is a handyman.

Emma is lonely and isolated, and dials random phone numbers, to see what happens, to make prank calls, to just hear the sounds of the phone system. And then one day, one of those random calls, to a phone number based on the date of the Treaty of Versailles, connects her to a group of phone phreaks.

Phone phreaks were people, anywhere from teenagers to experienced engineers, who learned how to hack the phone system to make free phone calls. Except that both understates what they were doing, and misrepresents the motivation of most of them. It wasn't about free phone calls, mostly. It was about the excitement of gaining control of the phone system, and beating Ma Bell at her own game.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Letters From Camp, by Jamie Lee Curtis (author), and a host of narrators I can't find a list of except listening to the audio

Audible Originals, August 2020

Mooky Hooper is eleven years old, and off to summer camp for the first time. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that her mother, Caroline Goodman, now a CNN television journalist, was in her day the very best at any camp activity Mooky might participate in. In the history of Camp Cartwright. With her name and the relevant details of her accomplishments posted. And the camp director, Director Sue, in her enthusiasm at having Caroline Goodman's daughter at the camp, makes sure everyone knows it.

Mooky doesn't necessarily help herself by deciding that she's going to instead concentrate on emulating accomplishments of her mother that she's more familiar and comfortable with--her journalistic accomplishments. It's not long before she's learned of a camper who disappeared from the camp thirty years earlier, and connects this to the camp legend of the Lady of the Lake. She starts investigating. In theory she knows she should be calm and discreet in doing this; in practice, she's eleven, and doesn't always manage to do that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy #5), by Ilona Andrews

Harper Collins/Avon, August 2020

Catalina Baylor and her sisters are  Prime magic users, possessing impressive powers. One of their grandmothers, Victoria Tremaine, would love to control those powers, and is less inconvenienced than one might think by the fact that she's locked up in a prison for magical offenders.

But that's not Catalina's most pressing problem right now. The Warden of Texas, responsible for the enforcement of laws governing the use of magic, hired Catalina as his Deputy six months ago. He's now giving her a very big job. Five Primes, of different Houses and of varied talents, have formed a company to clean out and redevelop the Pit, a sort of magical brownfields site in Houston. This would be very profitable, if they can pull it off.

One of the Primes involved, Felix Morton, has been murdered. His father, Lander Morton, is not actively involved in the project, but is the major source of funding. He wants his son's killer not just found, but killed. He's hired an assassin to do the killing, and an investigative firm to find the killer. Linus Duncan, the Warden of Texas, has ordered Catalina to take over the case. And she's to do it without revealing to Lander Morton or the other Primes involved in the project that she's the Deputy Warden.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Machina, by Fran Wilde (author), Fran Wilde, Malka Older (author), Curtis C. Chen (author), Martha Wells (author). Natalie Naudus (narrator)

Serial Box, January 2020

In this near-future Earth, climate change and other disasters, possibly related, are rendering the planet less and less habitable, and a race is on to get to Mars. But this races isn't just to build rockets powerful enough to get there. Right now, it's a race among tech companies to build an AI that can carry out the first stages of terraforming and building working human habitats on Mars.

Devlok was founded by several college students fleeing a series of disasters near their school. Trey, Stephanie, Lakshmi, and Smits create a company aimed at creating an AI that can help humans colonize Mars.

Watchover is founded by Stephanie and Lakshmi after Smits resigns because progressive disability plus Trey's high-handed, egotistical abuse becomes the last straw--for him and for the two women. Other Devlok employees go with them; Smits was hardly alone in being a target of Trey's abuse. Eighteen months later, the two companies are the leading competitors among the six that have qualified for the government competition for building the first colony on Mars.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Stuck, by Chris Grabenstein (author), Mark Sanderlin (narrator), Elizabeth Hess (narrator), Oliver Wyman (narrator), Farah Bala (narrator), Rita Wolf (narrator), Caroline Grogan (narrator), Cynthia Darlow(narrator, Mateo D'Amato (narrator), J.J. Myers (narrator), Neil Hellegers (narrator), Genesis Oliver(narrator), Chris Grabenstein (narrator)

Audible Originals, May 2020

Jackson Raczkowski, eleven years old, is not quite looking forward to turning twelve. Turning twelve means going to sixth grade, and middle school, where his personal bully, Brandon, will be there to torment him. On his grandfather's birthday, August 8, the day before his own, he wishes to never turn twelve, to remain eleven forever and never move on to middle school.

On the next day, his own birthday, he finds that he has, for the second time, just turned eleven.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Raspberry Truffle Murder (Maple Hills #1), by Wendy Meadows (author), Becky Boyd (narrator)

Majestic Owl Publishing, March 2017 (original publication June 2016)

After a painful divorce, Nikki has left her job as an investigative reporter, moved from Atlanta to Vermont, and opened a chocolate and coffee shop in the small town of Maple Hills, VT. Why Vermont? Well, she needed a change, and a small town in Vermont, in addition to being pretty, is certainly a change from Atlanta.

It's too bad that she's hardly opened her new shop for business when a man walks in, looks around and focuses on the older German couple she's speaking with, and walks out. No big deal, one might think. However, just moments later, Herb, husband of her assistant, Lydia, walks in with shocking news.There's been a hit-and-run, and the man who was just, briefly, in her shop, is dead.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Love, on the Rocks, by Elsie McArthur

Elsie McArthur, August 2020

Rachel McIntyre reached a turning point in her life. Her marriage was at an end; she had kicked her husband, Graham, out of the flat she'd inherited from her Grandma Peggy. Deciding she also wanted another change in her life, she joined LinkedIn, and very soon got an email from a distillery in the North Islands she'd never heard of. She took the chance.

Months later, she's living on tiny Inniscreag, running the business end of the distillery, and building friendships with the locals, including the distillery employees. Her boss, Edith McLeod, has also become a friend, though mostly by telephone. She's now in a care home, which is why she needed to hire a manager. Rachel has new ideas for improving the distillery's finances, and she's persuaded Edith to let her try one--opening a coffee shop and gift shop at the distillery, for those who take tours of the distillery, and other tourists who might be tempted to by making it a bit more of a destination.

Then Edith dies, Rachel learns she's Edith's heir, and Duncan Fraser, a lawyer for a big distillery company, turns up to persuade her to sell the distillery.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, The Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World, by Edward Dolnick (author), Alan Sklar (narrator)

 Audible Studios, February 2011

This is a lively and entertaining history of science in the 17th century, and the birth of the science that helped make the modern world. He gives us a history of the birth of modern mathematics and the science it enabled, including, but not only, modern astronomy. It's filled with not just the achievements but the personalities of Kepler, Galileo, Tycho, Leibnitz, Newton, Halley, and others. Both the achievements and the e egotistical silliness are on display here.

Unfortunately, Dolnick seems to be a better science writer than a historian. He speaks of these men having been born in a medieval world of faith, revealed truth, and predestination as if the preceding century of the had never happened. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Heavenly Purpose, by Becca Fisher (author), Stephanie Richardson (narrator)

 

Kevin MacGorman, January 2020

Patricia leaves her Amish home in Lancaster to pursue her dream of a career in Christian music. In the big city, she finds a family to rent a room from, a church where she can worship and sing in the choir, and a job singing--as a singing waitress in a restaurant. She's got good people around her, but she's not making much progress on her dream.

She's also found a rival, another young Amish woman, Valerie, at her new church, who also has dreams of a music career, and is prepared to cut down anyone who might be in her way. Valerie is beautiful and also an excellent singer.

Then two things happen. First, she meets a young man, David, whom she shares a strong attraction with, and who supports her dream as much as she does.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Bench by Cromer Beach, by R.J. Gould

Richard Gould, August 2020

This is a charming novel about an English seaside town.

There's not really a plot here; it's about the people of Cromer getting on with their lives, with all their friendships, relationships, their businesses and professions; their children and their parents.

Sharon Kipling and Andy Powell have been a couple since they were students; they're planning to get married. She's a teacher, and deputy head, at the local primary school. He's a real estate agent. They each meet many of their fellow Cromer residents through their work.

But Sharon's father, Jamie, owns the Cromer Curiosity Shop--he says antiques, but other people say junk. Jamie has never been reluctant to talk up the value of what he's selling, dishonestly or not. He's also not reluctant to talk down, dishonestly or not, the value of what he's buying. Sharon's conflicts with her father go back to Jamie's infidelity when her mother was dying. The conflict explodes when Jamie scams Andy on the value of Andy's newly deceased father's extremely valuable collection of art and artifacts from India.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Childhood, Interrupted, by Sanjay Gupta (author, narrator)

Audible Originals, August 2020

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, gives us a short (46 minutes) but enlightening rumination on children, the pandemic, and how it's affecting us all.

At first, like probably most of us, he assumed the COVID-19 pandemic would be like an earlier coronavirus outbreak: SARS. That was a cause of concern, but was ultimately contained without as much damage as feared, and never had any serious impact on the US. We soon learned that this one is different, for a variety of reasons he doesn't discuss because it's not the point of this audiobook. Six months later, we're wearing masks, limiting our  contact with others--and having real conflict over whether or not we send kids to school in the new school year.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Murder in the East End, by Jennifer Ashley

Berkley, ISBN 9780593099377, August 2020

In Victorian London, children from the Foundling Hospital are disappearing, and a nurse at the hospital has also vanished. Kat Holloway, cook in the aristocratic Bywater household, learns of this when her rather enigmatic friend, Daniel McAdam, sends for her to meet his foster brother, Errol Fielding. He's a vicar, now, and a very junior member of the board of governors of the Foundling Hospital. He asked Daniel for help, and Daniel decided that they needed Kat's help.

Kat, Daniel McAdam, and Fielding all have their secrets, and Daniel, for good reason, doesn't really trust his foster brother. Yet the children are missing, and Nurse Betts is soon found murdered. It's clear, also, that whatever other motives he has, Fielding had real feelings for Nurse Betts, and wants her killer found.

This is an intricate story with interesting and complex characters. We continue to learn more about both the major figures and the continuing supporting characters, in a Victorian mystery that is, unlike many, set among the working classes and those among the upper classes who don't quite fit into their assigned roles.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Borrowed Boy, by Deborah Klée

Sherman House, August 2020

Angie Winkle is in her fifties, tired, and alone. She's got endometrial cancer, and knows she's going to die. The doctors haven't told her that yet, but she's reluctant to go in for the appointment where they'll make it official.

What she wants to do, is do some of the things she's never done.

One of those things is go back to Jaywick Sands, where she spent several summers with her friend, Lorraine, and Lorraine's grandparents, whom she also called Grammy and Gramps, and who made her feel like a part of the Jeffers family.

One thing she didn't plan to do is experience life as a grandmother, though she regrets never having had the experience of being a mother and grandmother. It's obviously too late for that, especially since she may have so little time left.

But life doesn't meekly follow our plans, and Angie finds herself taking responsibility for a little four-year-old boy when he becomes separated from his mother on the tube.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Will Travel for Trouble, Books 13-14, by Minnie Crockwell (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Bess McBride, July 2020

Minnie Crockwell and her ghostly companion, Ben, once a member of the Lewis & Clark expedition, have arrived at Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming. They've prepared by watching <em>E.T.</em>, and by reading up on scientific theories of how Devil's Tower was formed. In a possibly misplaced bit of whimsy, they have rented space at the Phone Home RV Park.

It turns out the owner of the rv park, Jack Garcia, and his friend, Jerry, who lives in an army tent in the space right next to the one Minnie has rented, are not just believers in aliens and UFOs, but are convinced they've been abducted by aliens and returned.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Bullet Catcher, by Joaquin Lowe (author), Inés del Castillo (narrator)

Serial Box, July 2020

Imma is a young woman who grew up in an orphanage in a world that looks very much like, but isn't, the American Old West, in a land called the Southland. Her older brother, Nico, left when she was still a kid, determined to become a "bullet catcher," someone who can literally catch and deflect bullets. He promised to return for her. He never has, so  she assumes he's dead. He wouldn't have just abandoned her, right?

She's working in a bar, and one day a stranger comes in. When a dispute becomes a duel, it becomes obvious the man is a bullet catcher. He kills his opponent with the man's own bullets, and starts walking out of town.

Imma grabs her few possessions, and follows him. Maybe she can become a bullet catcher.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A Pocket History of Human Evolution: How We Became Sapiens, by Silvana Condemi (author), Francola Savatier (contributor), Christa Lewis (narrator)

Tantor Audio, October 2019 (original publication October 2018)

This is, as it says on the cover, a pocket history of human evolution. It's clear, concise, informative, covers enough detail to be useful--including some interesting material I hadn't caught up with previously.

The authors are a paleoanthropologist (Condemi), and a science journalist (Savatier), and this is an excellent, accessible overview of what we know about our ancestors. How did our lineage emerge from the many closely related bipedal species to become the only surviving member of genus homo? The only fully bipedal ape? A species able to adapt to every continent (including, marginally, Antarctica), and make major alterations to the planet?

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Black Madonna of Derby, by Joanna Czechowska (author), Claire Nicholls (narrator)

Joanna Czechowska, April 2020

The Baran family of Derby, England, is caught between its Polish past and its English future.

Barbara and her daughter Helena both survived the war, but separately. On one awful day in Warsaw, Helena got caught in a retaliatory roundup that Barbara just escaped, and was taken to Germany. She became a slave laborer in a clothing factory that made German uniforms. Barbara, left behind, kept her head down and survived the war. After the war, Helena made her way to England, married a Polish man who also came to England after the war, and had three children, Wanda, Zosia, and Janek. Eventually, she found out her mother was alive, in Poland, and asked her to come to England.

We follow the lives of the family through the sixties and seventies.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Virtually Timeless (High-Tech Crime Solvers #5), by Casi McLean (author), Rich Miller (narrator)

Casi McLean Inc., June 2020

Doctor Noah Monaco, rare disease specialist, and his twin sister, Sydney, private detective, lost their parents years ago, but have recently inherited an estate in Connecticut, from an aunt they never knew existed. It's 800 miles from their Atlanta home, but Noah takes a few days to check the place out, including walking the perimeter of the property.

In the course of doing that, he finds a woman being attacked by a strange man. He manages to chase the man off, but while pursuing him, Noah stumbles and takes a bad fall.

When he doesn't check in as expected, Sydney turns current cases over to her assistant, and heads to Connecticut to find him.

When Noah regains consciousness, he recognizes that he has a concussion, and is relieved when the woman shows up. Help available! But the woman is very confused, has no memory of seeing him before, and it slowly becomes apparent she has no short-term memory at all. Even turning away for a few minutes wipes out her memory of what went before.

He gets some help from the woman, but soon loses her to her lack of short-term memory.

When Sydney shows up, tracking his cellphone to where he dropped it, and then following the scuffed trail, he discovers he was out longer than he though; it's the next day. The woman wanders back, and the twins manage, despite the woman's confusion, to coax her to help Sydney get Noah back to their aunt's house.

What they don't yet realize is that the spot where Sydney found Noah's phone, and an unusual amulet buried in the leaves, is the entrance to an underground chamber, and the site of a ten-year-old crime.

The confused woman has her own hidden history that she knows nothing about--not even her own name. Sydney and Noah manage to win her trust and get her to record reminders to substitute for real memory for the moment, but it soon seems that she has enemies who are pursuing her, not just a random attacker in the woods.

They need a crafty plan to get them all to Atlanta, and then Noah goes to work solving the mystery of the woman's condition, while Sydney goes to work solving the mystery of her background. It's fast-paced, exciting, and fun, even if the discussion of cutting-edge DNA testing and searching, to identify the woman, does get a little ridiculous. I seriously lost count of the number of times that what sounds like pretty normal use of DNA genealogy databases to identify relatives was described as "cutting edge." I mean, really, this is basically the business that Ancestry and 29andMe, and probably others I'm not aware of, are in. But except for that weakness, it's interesting and entertaining. I really liked Noah, Sydney, and their friends.

Recommended.

I received a free copy of this audiobook from the author, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire

Tor.com, May 2019

Roger Middleton and Dodger Cheswich areey  two kids growing up on opposite sides of the country, Roger in Cambridge, MA, and Dodger in Palo Alto, California. They're both adopted, the same age, and perfectly ordinary kids.

Except they're not. 

Roger's parents and teachers are impressed by his quick grasp of and love for English, but frustrated by his struggles with math. Dodger's parents and teachers are equally impressed by how easily she masters math, and frustrated by her struggles in English class.

Eventually, they both seemingly start to master their weak subjects. What's really happening is that they have started communicating in their heads, not quite telepathically but close, and coaching each other.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Heavenly Temptation, by Becca Fisher (author), Stephanie Richardson (narrator)

Kevin MacGorman, January 2020

Allison Kaufman is the younger sister of Abigail, who not long ago left Lancaster and Amish country for Philadelphia, and marriage to a kind, loving, devout, upright--Englisher. Her father didn't handle it well, and still isn't. Abigail was his favorite, and was supposed to take over the family quilt shop.

Allison is still at home, and is still the second daughter, not the oldest and the favorite. After trying to control every decision Abigail made, Samuel barely has time to notice what his second daughter is doing.

Allison is also far more committed to the Amish way of life.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Chocolate Pudding With a Side of Murder (Daley Buzz Cozy Mysteries #11), by Meredith Potts (author), Stephanie Quinn (narrator)

Meredith Potts, May 2019

When Sabrina Carlson learns, one fine Sunday morning, that she's pregnant, she and police detective husband David are downright euphoric.

That lasts until not much later, when a murder happens in town. Sabrina had talked to the victim not long before, and knew he was troubled, but murder? What happened?

Finding out is David's job, and this time, because of the baby on the way, Sabrina is going to forgo her usual participation in the investigation.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Berlin is Never Berlin, by Marko Kloos

Tor Books, May 2020

In this story set in the Wild Cards universe, Khan is a Joker-Ace, half human and half tiger--literally, straight down the middle, and he works as a very expensive bodyguard. His latest job is escorting Natalie Scuderi, a young woman who is a wealthy socialite and a pop media figure on a trip to Berlin, Germany. She's brought her small but annoyingly energetic entourage, and they head for a nightclub the day they arrive. As they're leaving the nightclub, they are targeted by an extremely well-planned ambush, which includes another Joker-Ace. He's built like a tree--fairly literally--and is even stronger than Khan.

Natalie is kidnapped.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Widower's Journey, by Abraham Troyer (author), Stephanie Richardson (narrator)

Abraham Troyer, October 2019

Isaac Hochstetler is a widower, still struggling with grief a year and a half after his wife of 31 years died. He's attending a grief support group, where he's made a friend, but not lessened the grip of his grief much. He has also started volunteering at an animal shelter--where walking the dogs really does help, and he adopts one dog, named Grace.

But he's still feeling lost an lonely, until one night a new woman shows up at the grief support group. She's just moved from Ohio to Pennsylvania, and has been a widow about two years. They talk, he likes her, and he goes home.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Knox, by K Arsenault Rivera (author), Brooke Bolander (author), Gabino Iglesias (author), Sunny Moraine (author), Pilar Uribe (narrator)

Serial Box, July 2020

Morgan Knox, an Afro-Latina detective in 1930s New York City, is called to look at a body--the body of a man whom she'd recently met with. The remains are bones and ashes, with a strange coating, and nothing else burned. Is this connected to the case he recently hired her for?

Quite possibly. Morgan was a field nurse during the Great War, and she came back from that experience seeing bizarre and horrifying supernatural phonomena. The more she pokes into this case, the more strange and confounding things appear. The dead man, Siverek, turns out not to be who he presented himself as. His true history is shocking. In his more recent life, he was a book collecter whose fellow collectors seem to be equally odd and suspect. The clues lead her to Craddock, a man from a previous case--who is dead.

Or is he?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The History of Bourbon (Great Courses), by Ken Albala

Audible Originals, December 2019

This is a lively and interesting history of bourbon, starting with human discovery of alcohol, and why it made nutrtional and economic sense to turn a good proportion of your grain into alcoholic beverages.

Eventually, we get to the invention of whiskey, its medicinal uses, and its evolution into a recreational drug. It was not to completely lose its medicinal uses, however, till the 20th century.

Finally, we get to the invention of bourbon in the late 1700s, by--someone. Someone in the new United States of America, probably in Kentucky. From there we get the sruggles over what is bourbon, should we have any pure food and drug laws (really; whiskey and bourbon were a significant factor in this), etc.

Friday, July 17, 2020

With This Click, I Thee Wed (ClickandWed.com #1), by Bonnie R. Paulson (author), Nicole Marie Blessing (narrator)

Captiva Publishing, April 2018

Rachel is living in the Ohio small town she grew up in, divorced from rising politician Derek, and living with her parents, who at best regard her as then unwanted, unexpected third child they never intended to have. Because Derek is making this a choice between him and her, for everyone, everyone is dropping her, including her hairdresser. 

But lonely and drinking on New Year's Eve, she sees an ad for a website, "ClickandWed.com," and decides to give it a try. The survey is easy and fun, and she is offered two possible matches, and chooses one... Before she realizes it, she's committed herself, clicked "I do," and spent a couple thousand dollars she doesn't really have. And the only way to get that money back is to head off to Idaho, stick it out six months, and complete the tasks assigned by the website.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Walk Along the Beach, by Debbie Macomber

Ballantine Books, ISBN 9780399181368, July 2020

When her mother died, Willa Lakey, barely a teenager, she had to take over keeping house and raising her baby sister, Harper. Their brother, Lucas, enlisted in the army; their father fell apart and started drinking. 

Later, when Harper developed leukemia, Lucas came home to be as much help as possible, but their father fell apart even worse. 

Willa become the one who did all the worrying and all the caretaking.

When Harper has been recovered from her leukemia, and is three years into being a fitness trainer, the sisters are still living together in a two-bedroom apartment, and Willa has opened and is having some success with her coffee shop, Bean There. Willa is determined to have stability and safety; Harper has starting enjoying her new-found life with a variety of risk-taking adventures, including bungee-jumping and, most recently, a plan to summit Mount Ranier. She also dates frequently, though no guy lasts very long. Willa, in contrast, rarely dates at all. Then Harper tells Willa a new customer in the coffee shop, Sean O'Malley, is the man for Willa.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Flying Flamingo Sisters, by Carrie Seim (author), Gabriel Vaughan (narrator), Bill Andrew Quinn (narrator), Jessica Almasy (narrator), Carrie Seim (narrator), Kevin Pariseau (narrator), Dina Pearlman (narrator), Khristine Hvam (narrator)

Audible Originals, December 2019

A Depression-era kids' wild romp in the sky.

When their aviator parents take off on a record-setting expedition, and then disappear over the Pacific, the Flamingo sisters--Flo, Faye, and Franny, ranging from 16 down to 9--have very little time to be worried before their Evil Uncle Freidrich swoops in to inform them he's now in charge. And girls can't fly airplanes, or aeroplanes, so he's taking possession of the girls' biplane. Oh, and they need to hand over the map to the Flamingo family treasure, immediately.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Heart of Barkness (Chet & Bernie Mystery #9), by Spencer Quinn (author), Jim Frangione (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781501997631, July 2019

Chet and Bernie are back, with Bernie just being released from the hospital after his injuries at the end of the previous book. 

Susie Sanchez has come back from London, but only because she feels they need to make some real decisions. They both want to be together, but how badly? Working for the Washington Post is her dream job. Bernie loves what he does, and his son, Charlie, lives in the valley with his mother and stepfather. A tough decision is coming.

So when Bernie is given tickets so oldtime country singer Lottie Pilgrim singing at a local bar, he and Chet go to see her perform.  This draws them into a case that starts with a stolen hundred-dollar bill, and leads to dead bodies, broken hearts, and a really complicated family tangle that has nothing to do with Bernie's family.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders

Tor Books, ISBN 9780765379962, February 2019

The planet of January is tidally locked, one side endless, blazing daylight, and the other endless, frozen night. There are two human cities on January, in the narrow temperate zone. They're cities of very different cultures. 

Xiosphant is rigidly autocratic, with very tight rules governing waking, sleeping, work, the limited amount of leisure time available. The language is complex, with case forms that indicate social rank of speaker and of the person addressed, time of day, and numerous other details.

Argelo superficially appears to be without rules, and in reality is run by several Mafia-like families, and its own complex social conventions. There are no rules about when you can eat, work, or sleep, and the language lacks all the complex case forms, working entirely by word-order.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Rattlesnake Brother (Gabriel Hawke #3), by Paty Jager (author), Larry Gorman (narrator)

Paty Jager, June 2020

Gabriel Hawke is a Fish & Game State Trooper in Oregon. The story starts with Hawke encountering a well-known poacher with a hunting tag that's perfectly legal, for once, and a another hunter with him, whose tag was issued to the local district attorney, who is not part of this hunting party. From this seemingly mundane crime, the kind Hawke handles all the time, there slowly develops a disturbingly complex tangle of bodies, conflicting evidence, and clues weirdly pointing at a fatal car accident that happened decades ago when the current DA was in high school.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Space Academy, by Hannah Hopkins

The Conrad Press, May 2020

In the last days of a dying Earth, or at least dying human civilization on Earth, Elsie James risks everything to get her infant son onto the colony ship, Mayflower, to head out to what those privileged to be aboard hope will be life on a clean, undamaged new world, called Novum. She has the amazing good luck to discover that the captain of the Mayflower is her old college friend, Alfie Sommers. He takes them both on board, and gives them an apartment on the elite Floor One, along with an unlimited credit supply. The reader, but not Elsie, sees Alfie giving the order that the people intended to have that apartment are not to be allowed to board; that apartment is no longer available.

Thirteen years later, Will is about to start as a student at the Space Academy. This means, among other things, his friend options won't be limited to his tutor group and his across-the-hall neighbor, Spencer. This is a school for which the students have to qualify, and their families have to pay, so they're all smart, and they're all privileged. Will quickly meets Emily, from the Floor Two, some bullies Emily knows but is happy to cut ties with, and Finley, from Floor Seven. Yes, Finley is what we would call a scholarship kid, the first ever in the history of Mayflower, and the Space Academy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Heavenly Dreams, by Becca Fisher (author), Stephanie Richardson (narrator)

Kevin MacGorman, January 2020 (original publication November 2012)

Beth is a young Amish woman who has one of those really annoying sisters--one who seems to be prettier, more confident, more social, more attractive to all the attractive, suitable young men in their community. Then Thomas returns from his time in the city, having decided that Amish country is where he belongs.

When Beth and Patricia  meet  Thomas at a church social, the two sisters both get a surprise at who Thomas seems to prefer. Has Beth finally found her true love? Will Patricia take him away from her, the way she has attracted every young man in their community, whether she had any longterm interest in them or not?

It's a sweet short story, about two young women reaching maturity and reaching for their dreams. A pleasant listen.

I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Roommate (Cormac Reilly #0.7), by Dervla McTiernan (author), Aoife McMahon (narrator)

Audible Originals, July 2020

Niamh Turley is a twenty-two-year-old teacher at a Catholic school, when she is wakes up one morning to the garda knocking on her door. A body has been found inside the building, and it turns out to be her roommate.

The garda in question is Detective Cormac Reilly. He wants to ask her some questions, for which she has fewer answers than he'd hoped. Niamh and her roommate (no, I'm not guessing at the spelling of Irish names I haven't seen in print) had only been roommates for three months, and had been agreeable roommates but not really friends. However, they also want her to formally identify the body, so that the immediate family doesn't have to do it.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Real Sherlock, by Lucinda Hawksley (author, narrator)

Audible Studios, May 2019

This is a short, lively account of the life of Arthur Conan Doyle. It's fun and, to a point, informative. However, when I realized two of the people contributing to it were Catherine Ruml Doyle and Richard John Francis Doyle, great-niece and great-nephew of Arthur Conan Doyle, two of the family members who control the estate, I knew it would include nothing critical or suggesting any faults or weaknesses at all.

Which put me in a snarkier mood while listening than I would have been otherwise.

But of course Conan Doyle gave us Sherlock Holmes, and all the entertainment that has come from that. We get an introduction to what went into creating the characters of Holmes and Watson, what led him to writing fiction at all, and bits of the novels that Conan Doyle thought were much better, and which were initially more profitable for him.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Tea Shoppe, by Josie Adams (author), Nicola Barber (narrator)

Audible Originals, June 2020

Eleanor is the manager of a very cosy English tea shop, and we follow her through the ritual of her day, with her beloved cat, Darjeeling, her fahvorite teas, and her familiar and welcome customers. There's no plot here other than that, and isn't meant to be. This is just a pleasant, soothing account, just enough going on to distract your mind from busy, active thoughts, and let you relax. There's nothing here to keep you awake waiting to see what happens next, and that's the point. You can listen to this and relax, while relaxing and dropping off into sleep.

Recommended.

I received this as part of the Audible Originals program, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Santa 365 (A Chet and Bernie Mystery #3.1), by Spencer Quinn (author), Jim Frangione (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781501909795, November 2015

Chet and Bernie, in a Christmas mystery only Chet and Bernie could unwrap. Or get wrapped up in, or something.

It's "every second Christmas" this year, Bernie's son Charlie is with them for the holiday. Bernie has really fallen down on the "getting ready for Christmas" thing, and they happen to run into an old perp Bernie helped lock up, now done with his short stint in jail. And Plumpy Napoleon has a new business, Santa 365. For just a small fee (which oddly keeps growing), he'll supply elves, gifts, a tree, everything! It'll be a blowout Christmas. 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1), by Arkady Martine (author), Amy Landon (narrator)

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250186430, March 2019; Macmillan Audio, March 2019

First I want to note that I received this book in the Hugo Voters packet, as a PDF, in which the text was too small for me to be able to read comfortably. In self-defense, I took a spare Audible credit and got the audiobook. Because I had to listen rather than read, there are and proper nouns I'm guessing at the spelling of. Because listening rather than reading was not really my choice, well, let's just say there's a limit to how much work I'm prepared to do to find the author's preferred spellings. Accessibility is a thing, people. 

Mahit Dzmare is the Ambassador from Lasalle Station to the Teixcalaan Empire. She's young; it's her first assignment; she's well-prepared academically. However, because the Empire demanded a new ambassador "immediately," she's not as well-prepared as she would otherwise be. There was no time, and there's another problem, related to her predecessor not having been as communnicative as he ought to have been.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Heavenly Blessing, by Becca Fisher (author), Stephanie Richardson (narrator)

Kevin MacGorman, January 2020

Abigail is a young Amish woman, with a plain, simple life laid out for her. As the oldest of three daughters, her father intends for her to inherit the family quilting shop, He also has her  husband all picked out for her.

Abigail doesn't care for the man, though, and also doesn't love quilting the way the other women in her family do. She also wants to see more of the world than their little town. Surely it's possible to live a Godly life elsewhere? Even in Philadelphia?

Despite her father's opposition, she goes to Philadelphia, finds an apartment, a job, and a church, and begins to explore living a Godly life without the restrictions of Amish life.

This is a very sweet romance, with a young woman finding her own path and her own happiness, without losing her own faith and values.

I receved a free copy of this audiobook from the author, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Coming Out Party, by Nikki Levy (author, narrator), Shangela (narrator), Jake Borelli (contributor, narrator), Nicky Paris (ontributor, narrator), Daniel Webb (contributor, narrator), Rosanny Zayas (contributor, narrator), Angelica Ross (contributor, narrator), Lisa Dickey (contributor, narrator)

Audible Originals, June 2020

This is just a very lively, enjoyable, warm listen.

It is, as the title suggests, a collection of coming out stories, released in celebration of Pride Month. Included are stories of first love, telling parents, coming out in one's work life, surviving Navy service during "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," coming out in response to a question from Barack Obama in a BBQ joint. The stories are all very personal and compelling, and the tellers of them are peronalities who just reach out and make you care.

And in the irony of our time, some of these stories were literally recorded in the closet, as the COVID-19 pandemic kept people in their homes, surrounded by family or housemates. Some of them litereally had no place quiet enough to record except in a well-chosen closet!

It's a lot of fun. Highly recommended.

I received this audiobook free as part of the Audible Originals program, and am reviewing it voluntarily.