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.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley

Saga Press, ISBN 9781481447966, March 2019

Dietz is new recruit in the Tene-Sylvia corporate forces, having enlisted to fight the Martians after everyone they know has been killed in the Blink, presumed to have been committed by the Martians, which wiped out much of São Paolo.

Military forces have a new way of deploying their forces now. The soldiers are transformed into light, and rematerialize at their destination. Which is fine, until Dietz starts experiencing drops that are very different from the rest of the squad, and witnessing and participating in a very different war.

Is Dietz crazy? Is Dietz traveling in time? Is Dietz crossing timelines?

Can Dietz do something about the war?

Friday, June 26, 2020

Summer Frost (Forward Collection), by Blake Crouch (author), Rosa Salazar (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

Riley is a video game developer, working on the problem of an oddly recalcitrant non-player character in her current project. After a good bit of work, she manages to extract the code and work on that character--which seems to be developing into an AI.

The character is Maxine, or Max, as she is usually called, whose only role in the game is to be killed by her husband in a bloody, ritual sacrifice that kicks off the game. Riley thinks this can be developed into a very capable and interesting AI. And as she continues to work on Max, she begins to get very involved with Max. Her marriage suffers, she's working on no other projects at all--and her boss is finding it increasingly dubious. Riley starts to wonder what will happen if the increasingly intelligent Max ever gets out into the real world.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Last Conversation (Forward), by Paul Tremblay (author), Steven Strait (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

A man wakes up in an unfamiliar, dark room, with no memory of who he is or how he got there.

There's a voice, his caretaker, Dr. Kuhn, who will help him remember who he is and recover his physical health.

He slowly gets stronger, the pain goes, his sight returns, and he is starting to recover his memories. Yet, something is wrong. Dr. Kuhn won't answer some questions, questions that seem perfectly reasonable and straightforward. He does learn there's been a pandemic, and a lot of people died.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Ark (Forward Collection), by Veronica Roth (author), Evan Rachel Wood (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

A large asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, with destruction of life on Earth the certain result. With enough warning, two ships have been built to move humans and the life they need to survive off the planet.

Samantha is a young scientist cataloging plants to accompany the evacuating humans. With just a few weeks to go, she has her own private plans for what she'll do when she's supposed to board the ship she's assigned  to.

Then, unexpectedly, she makes a real, human connection with one of the older scientists, who loves orchids as she does, and as her mother did.

It's a touching and moving story. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

You Have Arrived at Your Destination (Forward Collection), by Amor Towles (author), David Harbour (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

Sam and his wife, Annie, are finally ready to have a child. Having worked and planned to give their child the best possible start, they've decided to also take one more step. They're going to use Vitek, the newest and most advanced fertility lab, one that will let you not only pick the sex of your child, and avoid known genetic problems, but something more. Something better, they promise.

You can pick the right balance of your gene's and your spouse's, and view projections of the probable life pattern of each of three different genetic balances.

What could be better?

But when Sam, watching the projections of three different lives of their prospective son, "Daniel," he starts asking questions about the choices he's made in his own life. And a stop at a nearby bar leads to even more disturbing questions.

It's an interesting, thoughtful story. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom, by Ted Chiang

Published in Exhalation, Knopf, May 2019

Quantum computing has changed the world--by enabling people to communicate with other versions of themselves, on alternate timelines. This is done through devices called "prisms." Any given prism can only reach a timeline that split off after it was first activated.

Nat is a young woman with a somewhat troubled past, who is now drug-free, and working in what one might call a "prism cafe," where people who can't afford their own prisms can communicate with their "paraselves" on other timelines. This is a dying business model, because the price of prisms has come way, way down.

Her boss, Morrow, has worked out ways to make money anyway.

The big question is, though, does communicating with other timelines and seeing the results of other choices you might have made, help or hurt? 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Dead Djinn in Cairo, by P. Djèlí Clark (author), Suehyla El-Attar (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, August 2019 (original publication May 2016)

In an alternate Cairo in 1912, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Superatural Entities investigates potentially criminal activity involving magic or supernatural entities, such as djinn.

Such as, in this case, a Marid djinn who appears to have committed suicide, in a very odd way.

Special Agent Fatma el-Sha'arawi is the agent who got the case, and nothing about it looks right. Suicide isn't common among djinn. Magical exsanguination seems like an incredibly unlikely way to do it. There is evidence of a ghoul being present, but ghouls eat their victims alive, not drink their blood. She and the constable find evidence suggesting a tie an, um, not really an angel but they mostly go with that term, they investigate and find one who calls himself Maker, and is a maker of timepieces, and it doesn't seem at all relevant.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Nut Jobs: Cracking California's Strangest $10 Million Dollar Heist, by Marc Fennel (author, narrator)

Audible Studios, June 2020

Marc Fennel is an Australian reporter who came to the US to do an Audible Original story on nut heists.

Yes, nut heists. Thefts of almonds and other nuts, grown in California, and sold all over the world at a very high profit.

The high profit margin means there's a lot of incentive to steal truckloads of nuts and sell them elsewhere. And loads of raw nuts, not yet processed and packaged, are really hard to distinguish from each other, whether stolen or legit.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark

Tor.com, ISBN 9781250294807, February 2019

Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr, and his new partner, brand-new Agent Onsi, of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, are called in to investigate the haunting of a Cairo tram car.

This is, of course, not out Cairo. This is Cairo in the first part of the 20th century, and on a different timeline than ours. In 1879, a man bored through the wall separating our world from the world of the djinn, in the process weakening the wall between the worlds everywhere. Egypt was the first beneficiary, for good and ill, and European powers were driven out. Egypt became a constitutional monarchy. And like the UK, they have an active women's suffrage movement.

So back to the haunted tram car. They quickly determine that it's not a ghost causing the problem. That's no surprise. The Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities has never found any ghosts, no matter how much people believe they exist. It's something else, most likely some variety of djinn.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Deep, by Rivers Solomon

Gallery/Saga Press, ISBN 9781534439863, November 2019

The wajinru are the descendants of pregnant women thrown overboard from slave ships. The women drowned, but the babies survived--transformed into beings with gills and fins, able to breathe both in the air, and in the water. Mostly, tehey prefer to stick to the deeper waters.

They make certain other choices. Their history is painful, not just their origins but other episodes in it as well. To maintain peace and amity within their community, they intentionally forget their own history, even their own personal history beyond a few months. That history is absorbed by the Historian, the only one of their number who remembers everything, their entire history.

The Historian for this generation is Yetu. She's been the Historian for twenty years, since she was fourteen, and she's hated it from the beginning. She's of a much more sensitive temperament than her immediate predecessor, and perhaps most previous Historians. She hates sharing all the pain of the wajinru history, and she is free of it for only a few days every year, during the Remembrance, when she transfers those memories to all the other wajinru. And this year, she has had enough, and flees while her people are completely absorbed in their history.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

How the Penguins Saved Veronica, by Hazel Prior

Berkley, ISBN 9781984803818, June 2020

Veronica McReedy is rich, comfortable, and old. She has no family, having divorced her husband many years ago, and her parents having died when she was a young teenager, during World War II. Well, she did have a baby, a very long time ago, but he was adopted, and she never saw him again. Eventually, she learned, from one of his adopted cousins, that he had died in a mountain climbing accident, in his forties. He had no children.

Except--she has found the box in which she stored some keepsakes, a locket with several strands of hair, and her diary notebooks, which she last wrote in during the war.  And now she wonders, is she really sure? Would an adopted cousin really know, for sure, if her son had any offspring?

Patrick Fuller has just been dumped by his girlfriend, who is now living with a builder, and consequently has also lost his apartment, which her income had been essential for. He's working one day a week at Gav's bicycle shop, and his only other income is the dole. He's in a smaller, crappier apartment that Gav found him, not cooking healthy anymore like he did with Lynette, and even smoking marijuana again.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Omphalos, by Ted Chiang

In the collection Exhalation, Knopf, May 2019

Dorothea Morrell is an archaeologist, studying the history of humanity mainly, in her case, through tree growth rings, in trees and in wood incorporated into buildings--going right back to the beginning, almost ten thousand years ago.

Because, yes, this story is set in a universe that really is less than ten thousand years ago.

In the course of her work and her travels, she meets an astronomer who tells her of a paper he's just reviewed, and, much against his wishes, had to approve because there was simply no basis for rejecting it. The science Dorothea, and the astronomer, and many others, have relied on as the bases of their faith in God, has now given them a most unsettling discovery.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes, by Nathan H. Lents (author), L.J. Ganser (narrator)

Highbridge, January 2018

Nathan Lents gives us a lively and interesting look at some of the major flaws of the human body--starting with our eyes, and working downward. Our lenses are backwards. Our wrists and ankles have extra, unnecessary bones that serve no real function. We have a variety of genetic diseases, more than most other species, and they don't get effectively selected against for a variety of frustrating reasons. Once a gene acquires a mutation, it tends to accumulate more mutations. Once that happens, the problem can't be fixed by another single mutation of the kind that caused the original problem. The deletion of our ability to manufacture our own vitamin C, like most mammals, got deleted in a common ancestor of primate species long ago. It wasn't selected against because all the early primates lived in the midst of a vitamin C-rich food supply. That mutation has been accumulating more mutations since long before genus homo arose. We're not getting it back.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Home in Your Heart (Love in the West #2), by Bess McBride (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Bess McBride, May 2020

In 2014, Harriet (Harry) Ferguson is engaged, but seriously doubting that she's made the right choice. It's becoming clear that, in any conflict at all between herself and Tom's mother, his mother is going to win. This isn't a loving son; this is a mama's boy. When they pay a visit to his mother in southeastern Arizona, she becomes more convinced than ever that this engagement is a mistake. Partly to have a few hours to herself, she visits the museum at Fort Huachuca, an army post dating to the 1880s. There she sees, in a diorama, a wax figure of a cavalry officer, handsome and strangely compelling to her.

She touches his face, and falls. Falls through time. She loses consciousness, and when she wakes, she's being shaken awake by the handsome cavalry officer from the diorama.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Randomize (Forward Collection), by Andy Weir (author), Janina Gavankar

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

At a point in the not terribly distant future, the head of IT at Babylon Casino in Las Vegas alerts the head of the casino to a major security risk: The arrival of quantum computing means their games of chance, in particular keno, are not safe. Random number generators are not truly random, and quantum computers are fast enough to crack them.

There's only one way to safely reopen their keno game. They buy a quantum computer of their own, and hire the right IT whiz to set up what they need.

Babylon Casino is safe now. Except that someone on the inside, isn't on their side.

It's a clever, fun, really enjoyable short story. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

Friday, June 12, 2020

For He Can Creep, by Siobhan Carroll

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250237569, July 2019

Eighteenth century English poet Christopher Smart has been confined to St. Luke's Hospital for Lunatics due to "religious mania," i.e., he believes God has commissioned him to write the Divine Poem. Confined to his cell, but equipped with paper, pen, and ink, Smart is working on his Divine Poem, or trying to. He is supported by his cat, Jeoffry, who does not see the point of this poetry stuff, but is devoted to his human.

Jeoffry has the advantage of being able to come and go.

Jeoffry also has the ability to see, and fight with, the demons that haunt the asylum. He can easily chase off the demons and imps that normally haunt the asylum. Satan, though, is a greater challenge.

Years ago, long before his commission from God, Christopher Smart had made a bargain with Satan that seemed unimportant at the time. Satan did him some favors, and in return, Smart promised him a poem, also.

Satan has arrived to demand that Smart finally write and deliver his poem.

Jeoffry, champion of the streets and torment of demons and imps, has a new challenge. It starts with resisting Satan's blandishments. But even if he can, he'll still need to fight, and defeat, Satan.

How can one cat do that? 

Jeoffry is as arrogant and independent as any good street cat should be. He's also clever, and tricky, and has friends as clever and tricky as he is.

I really liked Jeoffry and his friends. Satan is properly impressive, and Christopher Smart properly values his loyal friend, Jeoffry.

Recommended.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye, by Sarah Pinsker

Uncanny Magazine, July 2019

Zanna is a mystery writer who has had her assistant rent her a cabin with no near neighbors, no internet, not even a landline phone, so that she has no distractions while she works on her latest book. The assistant, Shar, will stay in a hotel in town, checking in on Zanna daily, but giving her time and space to write. The cabin proves to be a little more basic than Zanna anticipated, but it has a desk for her to work with, and a good view from the window near the desk, and that's all she needs.

The next morning, though, when a fuse blows and she has no microwave, no coffee, and in fact there's no power at all now, that's a little too basic. She has to go down the mountain, on foot, to find her landlord, since she isn't even getting one bar of signal on her cellphone.

When she gets there, she finds her landlord, dead. He seems to have fallen, and hit his head on a rock. He also looks, from his position and the look on his face, like he was running in fear from his own house.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Away With the Wolves, by Sarah Gailey

Uncanny Magazine, September 2019

Suss is a young woman, and also a wolf. Her mother, now dead, always taught her it was selfish and self-indulgent to spend too much time as a wolf, out living her wolf life. Suss tries to live by her mother's rules and severely limit her time as a wolf.

Unfortunately, in human form, Suss spends much of her time in pain. Her hips, her shoulders, her legs, her hands; it's the rare day that she's not in some significant pain.

Fortunately, her friend, Yana, understands. Yana's father, Alger, maybe doesn't understand as fully, but he's patient and supportive. Their neighbors are tolerant, as long as she pays for what she kills or damages in wolf form.

But it's a lonely life. And Yana understands better than Suss does that she's not spending too much time as a wolf; she's spending too little.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin

Amazon Original Stories, September 2019

A soldier is sent from his home planet to Tellus, or as we usually call it, Earth, to obtain some vital samples. The Founders will reward him richly for this, with a real skin, a beautiful skin. Having a skin which is real and biological, rather than engineered for harsh environments is a mark of high status. And on this mission, he has, inside his head, an AI that is the consensus opinion of the Founders, the rulers of his world, and perhaps the very ones who left Earth.

As they approach Tellus, they find that the orbital junk that had been left behind is gone. The atmosphere is clean. The planet appears to be completely healthy, unlike what the AI claims it expected. The soldier is puzzled.

Then he discovers that humans are living happily on this supposedly ruined planet.

Is the AI lying? Is the AI deceived? 

It's not long before the soldier discovers facts that can't be explained away, and starts to ask questions the AI won't answer, and threatens to punish him for. We also start to learn some really interesting things about the Founders.

This is an interesting story, and an interesting world I'd like to see more of. Recommended.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Archronology of Love, by Caroline M. Yoachim

Lightspeed Magazine, April 2019 

Dr. Saki Jones was on the way to the New Mars colony, to do research but also to join her lifelove, MJ, also a scientist with the colony.

On the way, first they learn that a plague has broken out, suspected to be from the alien artifacts found on the planet. They've been looking for a virus or something similar, as the cause, but without success. Then MJ, and the rest of the colony, are all dead.

Now their mission is to find the cause. And because they don't know how to protect themselves from the unknown cause, they need to do that from orbit. They will need to use the Chronicle, a complete, immersive record of everything that has happened on the colony, which, however, they can only access any given part of it once. Collecting the data means it's effectively erased from the Chronicle. So this needs to be done with care.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

And Now His Lordship is Laughing, by Shiv Ramdas

Strange Horizons, September 2019

The time is the Second World War, and the place is Bengal, India.

An old woman is making dolls out of jute, and caring for her young grandson. She's getting regular visits, though, from a British officer. The governor of the region wants one of her dolls for his wife, but Apa has been refusing to make one. The officer tells her she's making the wrong choice, but she won't change her mind, and the officer leaves. For that day, at least.

Then the British start confiscating all the rice, and everything else edible. The village, all of Bengal, and though she doesn't know it, all of India, begins to starve. It's not because of her dolls, but because the British are willing to let the Indians starve in order to feed their troops for the war.

The governor is happy to use her starvation to force her to comply, though. And seemingly, Apa agrees.

But he has made the wrong choice, and he has no idea what Apa's dolls can do.

The story draws the reader into a less familiar culture, and I became fully involved with Apa, her grandson, and her quest for justice. Recommended.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Blood is Another Word for Hunger, by Rivers Solomon

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250243911, July 2019

During the years of the American Civil War, a farm now peopled only by women--the wife of the owner, their two  daughters, her mother, her sister, and their fifteen-year-old slave girl, Sully, gets word that the owner has died in battle. Sully forms a careful plan, and puts it into action. That night, she mildly drugs all five of the women, and cuts their throats. The next day, she washes her clothes and all the bed linens, digs a hole, and buries them.

A few hours later, she gives birth to another teenage girl, who has been dead for two hundred years. Sully has, due to her rage, and the five murdered women, become a pathway from the other side.

What follows really should be more horrific and less a satisfying tale of Sully, Ziza, and other "recruits" successfully building free and productive lives together. Yet, I found myself really liking these young women and their other friends, and after each moment of  "oh, no, I'm supposed to be appalled at that," I went back to cheering them on. Fighting for freedom is never a bad thing, and you use the tools you have.

Recommended.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Friday, June 5, 2020

As the Last I May Know, by S.L. Huang

Tor Books, October 2019

Nyma is a ten-year-old girl, raised by the Order, and now called upon to do the hardest job the Order has.

In an alternate history, Nyma's country was hit with two seres, terrible bombs that vaporized two entire cities. The country responded by becoming a major force for world peace. The country has its own seres now, but it has put a terrible price on the use of them. When a new president takes office, the launch codes are changed, and inserted, in a capsule, into the chest of a ten-year-old child. To get them, to launch the seres, the president himself must kill the child and cut the capsule out of their chest.

Nyma is the carrier for the newly elected president, and the country is at war against a dangerous enemy. She acts as an aide, and is around him nearly constantly. The idea is that, if she is a real person to him, he won't be able to use the weapons he says "should always be on the table. The question is, will it work?

It's  dark story, and yet life-affirming. I've liked the other short story finalists I've read so far, but this one just hits it out of the park. Highly recommended.

I received this story in the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Ten Excerpts From an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, by Nibedita Sen


Nightmare, May 2019

This is an odd one, a horror story in the form of an academic annotated bibliography, about an island of cannibal women and the consequences of their first contact with the British, in 1893.

Much of the population gets wiped out, possibly because the British noticed they were cannibals. and two young girls are brought back to England. They're sent to a girls' boarding school, the Churchill School, and seem to be adjusting really well, until they reach seventeen. "The Churchill Dinner" is one of the first really alarming references.

We get, over the next few pages, a succession of brief excerpts from academic papers over the years down to 2017. In these, we see both the bewilderment and confusion of the "civilized" people, and confusion and frustration of the descendants of those two "rescued" girls, finding that they don't quite fit in anywhere, with brown skins, Ratnabari eating preferences, English clothing, and English language.

I think it's very good, but I can't quite connect with it. It's a story I probably wouldn't have read at all, if it weren't a Hugo finalist.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A Catalog of Storms, by Fran Wilde

Uncanny Magazine, January 2019

A village by the sea, with a steep cliff overlooking it, contends with dangerous and peculiar weather. They have terrible storms, and storms not seen elsewhere, and all they can do is hunker down. Even when there is no storm at the moment, the sky is always gray; blue skies are a memory passed down from past generations.

Then some of the village's young people start fighting the storms. They become "weathermen." One tool in the fight is naming the kinds of storms, which makes it possible to fight them.

This story is told from the viewpoint of the youngest daughter in a family that has a tendency to produce weathermen. Sila's voice grabbed me and pulled me in.  I found it intriguing and enjoyable. 

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Do Not Look Back, My Lion, by Alix E. Harrow

Beneath Ceeaseless Skies, January 2019

Eefa has been a good husband to her wife, Talaan, a soldier of Xot, the Golden Butcher. Eefa is a healer, though, and much as she loves Talaan, never a supporter of the wars of conquest.

Eefa has had enough. She's decided to leave.

But Talaan catches up with her, and promises the child she's carrying now won't be a soldier. She won't have her face scarred, promising her to the service of the God of Death. Eefa will have her to raise as a healer.

What follows is the struggle between intentions, promises, and the culture they live in. It's a well-depicted crisis of love, faith, duty, and the demands of an Emperor who needs Talaan for her wars.

Recommended.

I received this story as part of the 2020 Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Life and Times of Prince Albert, by Patrick Allit (author, narrator)

Audible Originals & The Great Courses, February 2020

Prince Albert was the younger son of a fairly minor German prince, and he married the queen of one of the great powers of Europe. They were each among a very short list of eligible marriage partners for each other. That it was a love match was a bonus extra for them.

This isn't a biography of Victoria, or even of Victoria and Albert. This is specifically about Albert, his lie and times, and his unexpected and significant influence on British politics and culture.

Victoria and Albert were both twenty when they married, intelligent, and energetic. However, Albert had received a much better education. This was partly because young men were deemed to be more suited for education than young women, but also because Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, and the Duchess's lover, Sir John Conroy, were trying to mold Victoria into someone they could easily control. They weren't successful, but that didn't change Victoria's lack of education.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Women Talking, by Miriam Toews (author), Matthew Edison (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781501998782, April 2019

This story is based on real events in a remote Mennonite community, in which more than a hundred women and girls were drugged and assaulted during the night by what the men of the colony told them were ghosts or demons. Eventually, one of the women succeeds in outsmarting her attacker, and the truth is exposed.

This book is about an imagined response to this, in which eight women, over forty-eight hours, talk about what they can do and will choose to do about what's happened, while the men of the colony are in a nearby town trying to post bail for the men involved in the assaults. It's a challenging listen, but also fascinating.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Prisoner's Wife, by Maggie Brookes

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9780593197752, May 2020

This is based on a true story from World War II, as improbable as it seems.

It's 1944, and Izabella is a twenty-year-old farm girl. Her father and older brother have joined the partisans; Izzy, her mother, and her younger brother, Marek,are left alone on the farm.

Izzy's mother, fortunately, was always the farmer in the family; it's her family's farm, and Izzy's father was a musician. But with only Izzy and her mother to do the heavy work, it is a struggle. When Nazi officer Captain Meier shows up and says he can bring a work crew--prisoners from the Allied forces--her mother accepts.

It's a team of five captured British soldiers. They don't come every day, but for every major job the farm has. Among the prisoners is William King, and he and Izzy are quickly drawn to each other.

They have to be very, very careful.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Professional Integrity (A Riyria Short Story), by Michael J. Sullivan (author), Tim Gerard Reynolds (narrator)

Audible Studios, June 2015

Hadrian and Royce have been operating a very successful thieves-for-hire business for several years, but this latest proposition is truly unusual. A young heiress wants them to kidnap her, to attract the interest of a most desirable potential suitor. She won't even get to meet him if they don't, because her father locks her in a steel box whenever he visits.

Something is not what it seems here. Her story does not really make sense, and yet she seems completely sincere. What's really going on? Is someone setting Royce and Hadrian up, or attempting to use them as tools in some larger scheme?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Marvel's Thor: Metal Gods, by Aaron Stewart-Ahn (author), Jay Edidin (author), Brian Keene (author), Yoon Ha Lee (author), Daniel Gillies (narrator)

Serial Box, December 2019

Thor and Loki have each had their adventures and made their mistakes. In this adventure, their past mistakes collide and they have a major problem they will have to solve--even if, this time, they have to, however reluctantly, solve it together, and learn from each other.

Many years ago, Thor responded to a request from the government of the planet of Miskandr, to help them put a stop to terrorist attacks from rebels. Thor does so, and upon successful completion of his mission, they give him a crown made of a metal unique to their planet. Thor has lots of such trinkets, and he puts it in his treasure room and forgets it.

Years after that, in the 1980s, Loki steals it, and uses it to boost a musician in the band he's amusing himself with into an apparently major talent. The musician, Sylvain, gets more self-involved and stops believing Loki has anything to do with his success. They break up, and Loki doesn't manage to get the crown back.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Caving into You (Love in the West #1), by Bess McBride (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Bess McBride, March 2020

Hilly Creighton is a romance writer, on her way to visit her brother in Phoenix after attending a writer's convention. She stops near Tombstone to enjoy the stark landscape, and finds a cave. She calls into it, just being silly for a minute, and then goes on her way.

Clint Woodrow is a miner in 1881 Tombstone, until he hears a woman's voice calling to him from the entrance to his mine, and emerges to find no woman in sight, but but a very different world than the Tombstone he knew.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Pile of Bones (Legends of the First Empire #0.5), by Michael J. Sullivan (author), Tim Gerard Reynolds (narrator)

Audible Studios, January 2020 (original publication August 2019)

Suri is a young apprentice mystic, and one day she and her wolf companion find a cave, and explore it--though the wolf thinks it's a bad idea, and makes that clear. In a hidden chamber in the far back of the cave, Suri finds a pile of bones, and experiences a very strange presence.

And then she makes a potentially fatal mistake. Having accidentally kicked over the pile of bones while fleeing the hidden chamber, once safely out, she finds one bone has been kicked out of the chamber. It's long and straight, and perfect for making a bone flute. She takes it home.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Beach Read, by Emily Henry

Berkley, ISBN 9781984806734, May 2020

January Andrews and Gus Everett met in college, and clashed rather than connected. They were both aspiring writers, but with very different styles and goals.

Some years later, January is a successful "happily ever after" romance writer, with three books to her credit, and Gus is a serious literary writer with two successful and well-received books.

Also, January's father has died, and his lover shows up for the funeral, and gives January a letter from her father, and a key. It turns out that January's mother knew about the lover, Sonya, and Does Not Want To Talk About Any Of It.  January is devastated, and for now, can't see past the wreckage of her illusions of her parents' happy marriage to write her next book, which is under contract and has a due date.

The key Sonya gave her is to a beach house on Lake Michigan, that her father has left to her. She heads there, planning to work on her book while also working on selling first the contents of the house, and then selling the house. When she arrives, she soon finds that her next door neighbor is now Gus Everett.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Network Effect (Murderbot Diaries #5), by Martha Wells (author),Kevin R. Free (narrator)

Recorded Books, May 2020

SecUnit, a.k.a. Murderbot, makes a deal with Dr. Mensah that he'll accompany an expedition with members of the survey team, and a couple of family members, if she goes for trauma recovery treatment.

They get attacked on the planet they're surveying, and successfully fight them off, but of course that's not the end of the matter. They wind up being kidnapped in space, by the ship that is, or was, piloted by Murderbot's old friend, the bot pilot who is really a pretty sophisticated AI, ART. (Asshole Research Transport.)

ART doesn't seem to be there. There are, though, some very strange-looking and quite hostile people--Murderbot immediately dubs them "Targets."

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Last Emperox (Interdependency #3), by John Scalzi (author), Wil Wheaton (narrator)

Audible Studios,April 2020

The Flow is continuing to break down, and the Interdependency is coming apart. Emperox Grayland II, a.k.a. Cardenia Patrick-Wu, has managed to take full control of her empire--for the moment. Unfortunately, she still has enemies--lots of them, and powerful ones. Some are resisting the reality of what is happening. Others, the more dangerous ones, recognize what's happening, but don't share the Emperox's goal of saving the entire population of the Interdependency. They think--not completely irrationally--that that is impossible. And that being the case, they think the important thing is to save the culture, achievements, and values of the Interdependency. Which is to say, the aristocracy. I.e., themselves.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

On Cats, by Charles Bukowski (author), Roger Wayne (narrator)

HarperAudio, ISBN 9780062421210, December 2015

This is a short collection of poetry about cats, that does not quite work for me.