Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Barrio Girls, by Charles de Lint

Triskell Press, May 2019

Ruby and Vida are barrio girls, cousins and best friends. As children, they were obsessed with fairies. As teenagers, they're obsessed with vampires, and have crushes on the stars of a hit vampire movie, based on a set of books they also love.

They go out one night to the arroyo, looking for bits of magic, most especially a "magic pearlstone" that will help them be like the heroes of their favorite movie and books. What they find instead is a witch, a tlahulpuchi, a vampire witch. And when the witch starts to get alarming, the man following them, Pepé, one of the members of their Uncle Crusher's gang, steps forward to protect them. The witch tosses a spell, and in moments Pepé is dead.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Where Desert Spirits Crowd the Night, by Charles de Lint

Triskell Press, ISBN 9780920623466, January 2015 (original publication in Worlds of Fantasy and Horror #2, Fall 1994)

Sophie Etoile, is an artist and a dreamer whose dreams take her into the the otherworlds--or one particular otherworld, Mabon, where among other charms is found the bookstore run by Mr. Truepenny, and where she meets her good friend, Jeck Crow. Or at least, that's where her dreams usually take her.

One night, she hears flute music, and steps out the back door of the bookstore, expecting to find herself in the alley behind the store. Instead, she's in the desert of the American southwest--and the bookstore, and the door back into it, are gone.

What, or rather who, she meets here are spirits of the southwestern desert, except for Nokomis, also called Grandmother, a spirit of the Kickaha tribe that lives much further east, in the area of the city of Newford, where Sophie lives. Nokomis tells her she can't get out of this dreamworld until she finds the reason that she's here, and than only Coyote or Kokopelli, another spirit who plays the medicine flute, can help her.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Hammers on Bone (Persons Non Grata #1), by Cassandra Khaw

Tor.com, ISBN 9780765392701, October 2016

As all faithful readers of this blog know, I don't read horror.

Except when I do.

This is Tor's free download for September, and it features a P.I., and a kid who wants his stepdad killed. His stepdad is an abusive monster...no, literally, a monster.

Which is what makes John Persons, P.I., right for the job. He's a P.I. right out of the noir era, and that's because he's a monster, too, and the intelligence keeping the body alive and working is way older than anything as recent as the noir era.

So, reluctantly, Persons agrees to take the case, with the promise of being paid with the contents of the boy's piggy bank.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels: A Tor.com Original (Judge Dee), by Lavie Tidhar

Tor Books, February 2021

This isn't Judge Dee, the 7th century Tang dynasty Chinese magistrate and statesman. This is another Judge Dee, a fictional vampire judge, wandering medieval Europe, enforcing the law as vampires see it--which is mostly making sure vampires don't do things that attract too much human attention. Anything that would cause humans to become aware and alarmed enough to endanger vampire-kind. It's not about protecting humans; it's about protecting vampires from humans.

Judge Dee is accompanied by a young man named Jonathan, a human whom he rescued from underneath a pile of dead bodies for entirely practical, even selfish, reasons. He needed directions. Then he decided that Jonathan was useful, and kept him. Mostly he takes good care of Jonathan, but sometimes he forgets that his human servant needs food, and gets cold.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

We Interrupt This Broadcast (Lady Astronaut Universe #0.5), by Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal, February 2014, https://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/45th-birthday-short-story-party-favour/  (original publication in The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination, ed. by John Joseph Adams, 2013)

This story is set in the Lady Astronaut series, shortly before the start of The Calculating Stars. Do not read it before you read the book. Seriously. Do not. Read it after. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Unfamiliar Magic (The Familiar Cafe), by Bonnie Elizabeth

My Big Fat Orange Cat Publishing, March 2021

Jade Owlens runs a cat café in Waverton, Kentucky. Or rather, she runs a familiar café. Jade is a witch, and Waverton is a witch town. There's a specialty library for witches, breeders of a wide variety of familiar animals, not just cats but dogs, birds, horses, sheep, goats--any familiar a witch might find best suits them. There's also a shelter, and Jade's café, taking in familiars who have lost their witches, and are looking to be adopted by a new witch.

Jade's café only handles cats, making it look quite normal for "ordinaries" who don't know that much of the town, including the police force, is populated by witches. One fine Tuesday morning, Jade and two friends--Trinity, the senior library assistant at the specialty library, and Natalie, the manager of the local hotel--are having their weekly "long break," at the café where they have good coffee and good pastries, and the presence of the cat familiars. One of the local police officers comes in, but before he can get his coffee, he gets a call, and leaves. The Jade's own familiar, Mason, howls loudly in distress, and instead of wondering what's going on with the cop, Jade is soothing her cat and asking him what upset him. Mason has seen a spirit, a very distressed spirit, probably murder victim. Mason helped the spirit transition. He doesn't know who it was, but it felt familiar. Maybe someone he'd met.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Lending a Paw (Bookmobile Cat Mystery #1), by Laurie Cass (author), Erin Bennett (narrator)

Tantor Audio, December 2017 (original publication, December 2013)

Minnie Hamilton has been working in the job of her dreams, Assistant Library Director in the small resort town of Chilson, Michigan. Her latest proud achievement, in the face of her boss's cost-cutting preferences, is to get a bookmobile to service the areas no longer served by the now-closed branch libraries. She achieved this by getting a donation from uber-rich Stan Laraby, to purchase the bookmobile and fund the first year's operations. Stan has a reputation as a miser who gives money to no one, but he really values libraries (and, we later learn, other valuable public services), and not only provides the money, but works with her to plan the startup of services. And then, on her first day driving the vehicle, at her last stop on that day's route, she finds a dead body--Stan's. He's been shot.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (Dee Goong An) (Judge Dee #1), by Robert van Gulik (author), Norman Dietz (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781440799204, February 2008 (original publication 1949)

Judge Dee was a 7th century Chinese magistrate and statesman, of the Tang Dynasty. His cases were recorded in the Imperial archives, but most have not survived. In the 18th century, three cases were written into an anonymous Chinese mystery novel, Dee Goong An. Mystery novels were a popular Chinese genre, but usually with a strong supernatural element that Robert van Gulik thought would be unacceptable to western readers. Dee Goong An mostly lacks that element, and in 1949, van Gulik translated it into English. After that, he wrote his own entirely fictional adventures of Judge Dee, but this book is the only place to find the historical, or believed to be historical, cases of the historical Judge Dee.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Time Traders (Time Traders/Ross Murdock #1) (omnibus:The Time Traders & Galactic Derelict), by Andre Norton

Baen Books, January 2013 (original publication January 1958)

This book is an omnibus of Norton's first two Time Traders books, The Time Traders, and Galactic Derelict.

In The Time Traders, Ross Murdock, a young man and a minor criminal, who has taken some advantage of the services offered by the New York Public Library, is caught one more time. This time, he gets a judge with a reputation for harsh sentences. He has a little talk with a Major Kelgarries, and is offered a choice between "rehab," and joining the Major's project, which is not explained. "Rehab" isn't explained, either, but Murdock knows about it, and quickly decides that the unknown project is a better bet.

He's not quite so sure when he's loaded into a very unusual aircraft, and taken to the arctic.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Mum's the Word, by Lorraine Turnbull

Fat Sheep Press, April 2021

Ann-Marie is struggling--her husband is drunken and violent, her mother has had a stroke, she's worried about losing the family farm, which is from her family, due to husband Bill's desire to sell it and cash in. Her daughter, Lynda, with two children, and currently separated from her husband, is siding with her father. 

Ann-Marie has reached the limit of what she can tolerate.

With the help of her friend, Elaine, she kills Bill with a heavy skillet, and hides the evidence by letting the pigs go at his body. There are a few weeks of tension, as the autopsy and inquest are conducted, but they come out the other side with a verdict of accidental death, which really, no one doubted anyway.

Nothing is ever that simple, of course. Her mother saw and heard enough to be pretty sure what happened to Bill. Lynda, and Bill's brother and sister, make another push to get Ann-Marie to sell the farm. Elaine's husband, Malky, has been having an affair--and really, he's almost as much a drunk as Bill was. More marital problems become apparent among their friends and families. And Elaine isn't quite as cool and confident in the aftermath of Bill's death as Ann-Marie would prefer.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, by Jenny Gardiner

Jenny Gardiner Books, June 2011

Claire Dolittle married her true love, and fifteen years later, she thinks he's turned into Ward Cleaver. Authoritarian, nagging, critical, and dull. Jack thinks she's distant and indifferent. When she thinks he's seeing a younger woman at his architectural firm, and an old boyfriend pops up from her past, reminding her who she used to be, she decides she has to find out if her marriage can be saved, or if it's time to get out.

With five kids, a part-time job, and a husband who expects dinner ready to eat when he gets home, Claire is under a lot of stress. It doesn't help that Jack mostly gives orders and criticisms, to both Claire and their kids. Meanwhile, the five kids, the dog, the parrot, and the cat create a lot of chaos. With a tight margin leaving time for detours to get to work, Claire is often making detours because at least one of the kids will have forgotten their lunchbox--and none of the kids like to eat the school lunch.

Then three things happen. Jack is making a business trip to Miami, and says he'll be too busy for her to come. At a work party, Claire meets Jack's "new colleague," the very lovely Julia, a fairly new hire at the architectural firm where Jack is a partner. And finally, Claire gets an email from her former fiancé, Todd. The guy who, while they were planning their wedding, abruptly dumped her for someone else.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Penny Preston and the King's Blade (Misaligned #3), by Armen Pogharian (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Sue Arroyo, August 2021 (original publication November 2014)

Penny Preston, her friend Duncan, teacher Mr. Myrdin (who is the actual Merlin), Myrdin's companion Master Poe--an exile from the 7th dimension who has assumed raven form in our world, and not least, Penny's companion, Simon, who looks like a very large housecat but is actually a cait sith, one of a race of transdimensional cat-like beings native to our dimension, might have thought they were entitled to a break after their last two adventures. That's not to be, however. A new threat has arrived, a beast from the 5th dimension, is attacking the barriers between the dimensions, threatening the very survival of the multiverse.

At first, all they know is that the weakening of the dimensional barriers is happening. Before they can save the multiverse, they have to figure out what the source of the threat really is.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism: New Edition with Author Updates, by Temple Grandin (author), Sean Barron (author), Veronica Zysk (editor)

Future Horizons, April 2017 (original publication November 2005)

Autism makes social interactions a challenge for even high-functioning autistic people because those parts of our brains aren't wired quite the same as neurotypicals. We have to actively learn things that neurotypicals pick up naturally. And our parents and teachers don't necessarily have a good handle on how to do that.

This book features two famous and successful autistic people, Temple Grandin and Sean Barron (confession: I had never heard of Sean Barron, and had to Google him) talking about their own experiences, what they've learned, and ten "unwritten rules" of social relationships. Linking and amplifying some of the information in their contributions are commentary and explanatory notes by their editor, Veronica Zysk.

Grandin and Barron are two very different people, and their autism affected them in very different ways. (Common comment heard in discussions of autism: If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.)

The Last Chance Library, by Freya Sampson

Berkley Publishing Grouup, ISBN 9780593201374, August 2021

June Jones has worked at her local library since her mother became ill. She's never left her home village, or had another job.

And since her mother died, she's been less active and outgoing than she was before. It's been years since she did anything after work but go home, and read the books her mother, the town's head librarian until her final illness forced her out of work, left behind her. There's also a large collection of knickknacks and tchotchkes that her mother loved to collect. Nothing has changed in the house since her mother died.

At the library, as the library assistant, she's liked and valued, but having never left the village even to attend university, she's never going to be the librarian/

But, June is happy. Isn't she?

Monday, August 30, 2021

Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delany (author), Stefan Rudnicki (narrator)

Skylost Media, ISBN 1504668456, November 2015 (original publication May 1966)

The general commanding the forces of the Earth Alliance seeks out poet, linguist, and cryptographer Rydra Wong, to ask her to take on the decryption of the Invaders' code, which is being used to commit sabotage in the Alliance's military and transport forces. After some work with it, she tells him it's a language, not a code, and she needs everything the Alliance has on it to be able to translate it. She also asks him for a ship, and recruits a diverse and somewhat unlikely crew to go with her to what her analysis of the code/language, Babel-17, leads her to conclude will be the location of the next act of sabotage.

They reach their destination, and it's not long before the sabotage strikes in several ways--one of them affecting her own ship, and boosting them into near-disaster.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

I Am Not Starfire, by Mariko Tamaki (author), Yoshi Yoshitani (illustrator)

DC Comics, July 2021

Mandy does NOT love having a superhero mother, and even more the fact that people think she must have superpowers, too. Her seventeenth birthday is coming up. She's determined not to go to college, because she's sick of everyone expecting her to do things she can't do.

But her life is about to change. Really change.

Mandy is the teenage daughter of the superhero Starfire, one of the Titans. Starfire is from another planet, but she has lived on Earth since before Mandy was born. Who, exactly, Mandy's father is, is a mystery to everyone but Starfire.

Mandy, unlike her mother, has no superpowers. Her classmates, for the most part, don't believe that, and keep trying to tease and pester her into revealing the powers they assume she has. She's also dark-haired and pudgy, very different in appearance from Starfire--some of which may be deliberate. Mandy does have one good friend, Lincoln, who understands, sympathizes with, and barring her determination not to go to college, supports her "be herself, not Starfire" approach to life.

But her seventeenth birthday is approaching. One of her teachers has given the class a project, and because they always choose the same partners, has assigned them different partners this time. Mandy's assigned partner is Claire--one of the "popular girls," a girl she has a crush on, a girl whose house she had an embarrassing experience at previously, and hasn't been near since. What can possibly go right? Oh, and Mandy's mother wants to have a birthday party for her.

Claire proves to be an unexpectedly compatible study partner--and unexpectedly likable.

At least until they plan a study session at Mandy's rather than Claire's, and Claire's friends whom even Claire admits are dicks show up, and they all arrive to find Starfire holding a meeting with the Titans, and...things don't go well.

But things don't go really bad until Starfire's sister, Blackfire, shows up, and Mandy both learns unpleasant truths about her family background, and finds herself in a fight for her life. And her mother's life. A fight in which she's supposed to use the powers she doesn't have.

This is fast-paced, a lot of fun, treats the teens like real, complicated people, and being LGBTQ as just another aspect of who you are, rather than a big, hairy deal that has to be the center of the story.

I repeat, a lot of fun. And very satisfying. Recommended.

I bought this book.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Horsepower & Medicine, by Charles de Lint

Triskell Press, February 2019

Yirah Green is working on the wrecked bike of her uncle, Jimmy, who went off to war and never came back. She's doing it in a hidden arroyo on the Kikimi rez, telling no one except her best friend, Santana Corn Eyes.

Yirah is also being visited by what she believes is Jimmy's ghost, silently encouraging to keep working on the bike. Santana isn't so sure; ghosts should not be crossing over from the Otherworld. It might not be a good idea to keep working on that bike.

But Yirah won't be dissuaded, and Santana has promised not to tell anyone her secret.

All seems to be well until Yirah completes her repair and refurbishing of the bike.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Deathbeast, by David Gerrold (author), Andy Caploe (narrator)

Audible Studios, May 2014 (original publication 1978)

Time travel. Dinosaurs. A Captain Ahab-like hunt for a Moby Dick-like tyrannosaurus rex.

A group of six hunters and two guides "flash back" to 100 million years ago, to hunt dinosaurs. And specifically, the lead hunter, Ethab, is determined to bag a T. Rex. And he's not interested in the advice of the guides, Meghan and Loevil, that the hunters who have died on previous expeditions, have been the ones who insisted on going after T.  Rex.

Things start to go wrong immediately upon arrival, when they arrive practically on top of a deinonychus, a roughly man-sized predator who responds to their sudden intrusion by attacking. It loses the fight, but not by much, and a significant portion of their gear is damaged or destroyed.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Doctor Dogs: How Our Best Friends Are Becoming Our Best Medicine, by Maria Goodavage (author), Suzanne Elise Freeman (narrator)

Maria Goodavage, October 2019

This is a really enjoyable and informative look at the expanding roles dogs are playing in human health care around the world.

It starts with dogs who are learning to sniff cancer in humans. This is something that started with people's own pets alerting to Something Very Wrong in some part of their owner's body, with the "something wrong" proving to be cancer. It took a while before anecdotal accounts of such incidents began to get the attention of doctors and medical researchers willing and able to follow up on it. This led to to testing dogs on samples that either did, or did not, contain samples of cancer. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Juniper Wiles (Newford #21), by Charles de Lint

Triskell Press, April 2021

Juniper Wiles played teen detective Nora Constantine on a successful tv show, and then made some movies that weren't so great. She decided to leave LA and go home to Newford. She's living on her residuals, and pursuing the art she once set aside for acting. This has included reconnecting with her friend, faerie artist Jilly Coppercorn, and her interesting circle of friends in the artists' collective, Bramleyhaugh. She's happy, and doing well.

And then one day she's sitting in her favorite coffee shop when a young man walks up to her, and asks "Nora Constantine" to take his case. He wants her to find the man who sold him the manuscript of a new Nora Constantine novel.

He thinks Juniper really is Nora Constantine. And he thinks the new novel is responsible for all the terrible things that have happened in Crescent Beach since the end of the tv show.

Juniper does not respond well, and chases this obsessed fan off.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas

Swoon Books, ISBN 9781250250469, September 2020

Yadriel is a Latinx teenager with a traditional family, and hopes to be a true brujo. He's got the talent. He's of an age to have the ceremony pledging himself to Lady Death, and becoming a true brujo.

The problem: Yadriel's very traditional family is convinced he's their daughter, not their son. They expect him to become a bruja, a form of magic for which he has no gift. Finally, with the help of his best friend, his cousin Maritza, he performs the ritual himself--successfully. Lady Death, at least, accepts him as a real brujo.

But he still has to prove it to his family and the rest of their community. The sudden death and disappearance of another cousin provides a chance to provide that proof while doing real good for the community.

He sets out to summon his cousin's ghost.

Instead, he summons the ghost of a fellow high school student who is a bit of a bad boy, rumored to be a gang member--and now recently dead. The ghost, Julian Diaz, wants to know what happened to him, and if his friends are all right. He absolutely refuses to be released to the next world until he does.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Manor for Sale, Baron Included (A Romance of Rank #1) by Esther Hatch (author), Noah Wall (narrator)

Esther Hatch, June 2021

Lord Farnsworth is struggling with the financial challenges created by the repeal of the Corn Laws and the consequent hardships of his tenants on the entailed properties inherited from his father. The only property he owns that isn't entailed, that he can sell, is the estate inherited from his mother. Unfortunately, in addition to his deep attachment to his mother's home, where he spent every winter until her death, it's also the only one that's currently profitable. The tenants there are raising sheep, not grain, so the drop in grain prices has made their farms more profitable, not less.

His solicitor startles him with a proposal to sell only the manor. There's an offer from a very successful merchant, the owner of British Vermilion Textiles, who wants only the manor. The other surprise is that this merchant is a woman, an unmarried woman, Sally Duncan. After his initial very negative reaction, Lord Farnsworth, i.e. Jonathan, has a clever idea that will solve all his problems.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Different, Not Less: Ultimate Success Stories from People with Autism and Asperger's by Temple Grandin (author), Colleen Patrick (narrator)

Future Horizons, January 2017

This is a collection of success stories from a variety of very different people on the autism spectrum, selected and with introductions by Temple Grandin. The people are very different, their stories are very different, and their definitions of success are very different.

For some, success is holding down a job, however modest, and being able to support themselves. For others, there's considerable professional success, in technology, art, teaching, and business in various forms.

Some have found  that marriage and romantic romantic relationships are not a thing they are successful at, no matter how well they do in other areas of life. Some have built successful marriages, though often only after being diagnosed as autistic, enabling them and their partners to understand their behavior better.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Lost and Found in Dog Town (Dog Town #3), by Sandy Rideout

Sandy Rideout, September 2018

Mim is a single mother, raising a teenage son, working as a nurse in the local hospital, and also as a visiting nurse to earn some extra money. Mim and her son Kyle have a dog, George, from a local breeder of 'doodles, her friend Arianna, or Ari. Dorset Hills, a.k.a. "Dog Town," is a wonderful place for dog lovers to live--or should be. The local government is very into promoting it as a tourist destination; that's part of why they promote the "Dog Town" image. However, they also promote the town for Christmas, and have very strict guidelines for decorations that can be seen from the street, anywhere, under any circumstances. And they don't like negative news.

When George is stolen from Mim's back yard, the police initially have no desire to take it seriously, at all. They insist that George most likely just "wandered off"--out of a yard with a substantial fence and a locked gate. And having wandered off, he'll wander back, right? They really don't want a "dog stolen in Dog Town" story breaking right before Christmas, and it's at this point that I start to wonder how much Dog Town really loves dogs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel's Autism: My Journey as a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician, and Autism Dad, by Peter J. Hotez (author), P.J. Ochlan (narrator)

Tantor Audio, ISBN 9781541449817, October 2018

Peter Hotez is a pediatrician, a vaccine scientist specializing in neglected tropical diseases, neglected mainly because they affect mostly very poor people, and the father of an autistic daughter.

It's the intersection between his specialization in vaccines, and the fact that he has an autistic daughter, that has given him perhaps more public attention than he really enjoys. Well, that, and that fact that is not shy about speaking up about the absolute nonsense that is the anti-vaccine movement.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Forest Is Crying, by Charles de Lint

Triskell Press, June 2020

Chris Dennison is a social worker, a man dedicated to helping vulnerable and at-risk children, and he's hitting the terrible wall of burnout. A four-year-old boy he'd been working very hard to keep safe dies, and it's just too much for him.

He's going to resign. He's written his resignation letter, and he'll turn it in after he goes out and gets very, very drunk. But at the end of that drunken binge, he meets a young woman, a rather strange young woman, who talks to him about trees, and saving the rain forest--and when he talks about saving children being more important than trees, says, what if the trees we cut down come back as unwanted children?

Monday, August 9, 2021

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl, by Jonathan C. Slaght (author, narrator)

Tantor Audio, ISBN 9781494547790, October 2020 (original publication August 2020)

As a fledgling birdwatcher, Jonathan Slaght, in the far eastern Russian province of Primorye, saw, and managed to get a picture of, a very large, and unfamiliar, owl. When he sent the picture to experts, they identified it as a Blakiston's fish owl, the world's largest, and most elusive, owl.

When Slaght took that picture, the fish owl had not been seen that far south in a hundred years. Its range stretches from Hokkaido, Japan, to Primorye in Russia, and it's both elusive and endangered. Slaght was working towards his Ph.D., and had found his research topic--very little was known about Blakiston's fish owl, and it's endangered. Learning more about both the bird itself, and its habitat needs, to create a conservation plan, would be an excellent project.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Bad Actors: (Adventures in the Liaden Universe® Number 33) by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miller (author)

Pinbeam Books, July 2021

This is a collection of three shorter Liaden Universe adventures--and not featuring the usual type of Liaden Universe heroes. These are people who don't necessarily place the same value on honor

The first is "Excerpts From Two Lives," about a man and woman who are lovers, and part of a political entity that is hostile to Terrans, Liadens, and other political entities that might be more interested in trade and cooperation than in conquest and expansion. The man is a rising military officer; the woman is a scientist developing the means to rapidly terraform planets, enabling rapid expansion and growth for their civilization. The two are willing to cheaat, backstab, and undermine anyone who gets in their way, as they climb the political ladder by coordinating their military and scientific plans.

When something goes badly wrong with the first live test of the terraforming biotechnology, though, disaster strikes and they have a very big decision to make.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

First Flight, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Tor Books, ISBN 9781429952002, June 2010 (original publication August 2009)

Louise is a bit more than a century old, and still fit, healthy, and up for a potential adventure. This makes her golden to the new time travel industry; they can't send you back in time before you were born.

Unfortunately, she's more independent-minded than they'd altogether like.

They send her back in time to observe the very first flight of the Wright brothers, and on her walk from her arrival spot to the flight location, she meets a twelve-year-old boy with a very lively mind. Their conversation is interrupted by a technical failure of the time travel device, and this creates complications. The scientists and executives running the project are not in favor of Louise's proposed policy of honesty. At the same time, they can't pursue their preferred policy of replacing her with someone else, because centenarians are not thick on the ground. She's what they've got to work with, and they can't afford lose out on what they're being paid for the footage of that flight.

And I can't say any more, because anything interesting would be a spoiler. It's a sweet story, with some gentle humor.

Recommended. I bought this book.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1), by Becky Chambers (author), Emmett Grosland (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781250807748, July 2021

On the world of Panga (apparently a moon orbiting a gas giant), it's been centuries since robots awoke to full consciousness and sapience, laid down their tools, and, after negotiating an agreement with the humans, walked off into the wilderness, never to be seen again.

Now, Sibling Dex, a monk who works as a gardener in their religious house, decides they have had a change of vocation. They now wish to be a tea monk, and travel the towns and villages with a tea wagon, offering tea and comfort to the troubled. This works well for them for a while, till they realize there is still some need unsatisfied. They decide to travel to an old religious house, in what is now the wilderness, long since abandoned. This is more challenging than they anticipated, and this is how they come to meet the robot, Mosscap.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Alliance Space (Company Wars #2) (Rapprochement #2) by C.J. Cherryh (author), Daniel Thomas May (narrator)

Tantor Audio, February 2021

This is an omnibus of two novels, both in Cherryh's Union/Alliance universe, but otherwise not closely connected.

The first is Merchanter's Luck, a shorter novel about a small, older merchanter ship, which has had some seriously bad luck over the last couple of decades. It used to be Le Cygne, a family-crewed ship which is typical among Cherryh's merchanters, with a crew of about thirty. Then it had a run-in with one of Mazian's fleet, who were mostly pirates even when they were the official fleet of the Company. Only three young crew survived, one of them truly just a child, Sandor Kreja. They continue to have less than good luck, and by the time this novel starts, Sandor Kreja is calling himself "Edward Stephens, his ship Lucy, operating with whatever crew he can scare up, or when times are really tight, operating alone. He's scraping by, but not entirely legitimately. And then, on Viking Station, he meets Allison Riley, a relatively junior officer on the much larger, and much richer, merchanter ship, Dublin Again. They take an interest in each other. Their lives are about to get way too interesting.

Monday, August 2, 2021

The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson

Ballantine Del Rey, ISBN 9780593135051, August 2020

Multiverse travel is now possible, but you can only travel to worlds where your parallel self is dead. This gives people born into bad conditions where survival is unlikely a unique, if limited, value to the Elbridge Institute in walled and wealthy Wiley City.

Cara is one of those outliers, plucked from poverty and danger in the wastelands, to work as a "traverser," bringing back data from the scientists from many of the worlds where her parallel self died. She works with Dell, her Watcher, temptingly attractive yet aloof and withdrawn, a woman of old money in Wiley City. 

Everything is going smoothly, and Cara has a nice apartment and a good income, and makes regular visits to her family in the wasteland settlement of Ashtown. Then another of Cara's parallel selves dies. Cara has a new world to visit, and events start to threaten Cara's dangerous secret.

It also leads to Cara discovering the dangerous secret of the seemingly kindly scientist and Elbridge CEO who invented the world-crossing technology.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Ghostsitter - A Crazy Inheritance (Ghostsitter #1) by Tommy Krappweis, Michael Braun (narrator), Marc Vietor (narrator), Jay Snyder (narrator), Dina Pearlman (narrator), Cynthia Darlow (narrator), Stephen Bel Davies (narrator), James Fouhey (narrator), Jenna Yi (narrator), Jessie Cannizzaro (narrator), Kevin T. Collins (narrator), Mateo D'Amato (narrator)

Audible Originals, June 2020 (original publication October 2015)

Tom is a fourteen-year-old boy living with his adopted grandmother when he receives a letter from a law firm inviting him to the reading of a will. It's the will of his great-uncle, Heinrich, his grandmother's brother. He's just absorbing that information when there's a knock at the door. The man at the door is his Uncle Welf.

It's worth noting that Tom had never heard of Great-Uncle Heinrich or Uncle Welf before.

Uncle Welf drives them to the reading of the will, where Tom learns that he will inherit more than ten million euros if he takes control of Heinrich's ghost train carnival ride, the Terror Train, and keeps it operating until he's eighteen. Uncle Welf, of course, will be his agent because he's underage, but he'll have to travel with the ride.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Trader's Leap (Liaden Universe Publication Order #23), by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

Baen Books, December 2020

Shan yos'Galen, Clan Korval's Master Trader, is working to build profitable new trade routes to make up for its lost routes and its expensive move from Liad to Surebleak. Unfortunately, Korval's enemies and rivals are still at work, and it's not proving easy to find ports that are profitable, respectable, and willing to welcome the ships of the Tree & Dragon.

It's a task not made easier by Shan's near-fatal clash with an agent of the Department of the Interior, or by his daughter and heir, Padi's, newly emerged dramliz powers and her reluctance to embrace them. There is, nevertheless, a potentially promising contact with Terran Trader Janifer Carresens-Denobli, and an unexpected encounter on Pommierport, with down-at-heels Luck and his unlikely companion.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Neil Gaiman (author), David K. Dickson (contributor), M.J. Simpson (contributor), Guy Adams (contributor)

Open Road Media, September 2019

Over thirty years ago, a young journalist named Neil Gaiman (you may have heard of him since in other contexts) was given access to Douglas Adams, his life, his files, his unpublished outtakes, and many of his friends and coworkers, to write a highly entertaining account of the creation of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--the radio show, the six books of the "trilogy," the movie, the games. This is a fascinating look inside how Adams worked, and just how chaotic his creation process was at its best.

Because yes, all his most creative work was done in at atmosphere of chaos and looming deadlines.

And in a time when radio had already become largely a domain of music, news, and talk, he did his best work for radio, and drew in listeners as few if any other entertainment writers and creators could do for radio. This included, of course, not just Hitchhiker's Guide, but his wonderful nature program about endangered species, Last Chance to See.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Swamp Monster (Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries #7), by C.A. Newsome (author), Jane Boyer (narrator)

Carol Ann Newsome, June 2021

Lia Anderson's beloved dog, Honey, has died, and she adopts a new puppy--whom her police detective partner, Peter Dourson, dubs Swamp Monster, but Lia names Gypsy. It's been a long time since Honey or her mini schnauzer, Chewy, were puppies. She's forgotten how much puppies are inclined to chew everything.

Peter Dourson is hoping to wrap up a case involving the organized theft of Amazon packages off of porches, a case that will benefit the whole community, while not involving any dead bodies.

It's just too bad that some of Lia's dog park friends are part of a yacht club tour of the local river, to promote ecological protection of it, when a tree on the unstable riverbank falls, and reveals the bones of a man who died and was buried there in the 1980s. One of those friends calls Peter rather than calling 911, making Peter first on the scene. When someone follows up by calling The National Enquirer that the bones were enclosed in an outfit remarkably like Elvis, it becomes a media circus. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes, by Adam Rutherford (author, narrator)

Tantor Audio, September 2018

Adam Rutherford gives us a fascinating tour of what genetics tells us about the history of our species, including the close relatives with whom we interbred, the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

New discoveries show the first H. Sapiens left Africa even earlier than we previously thought, and didn't always take the paths we assumed. Our DNA tells us a great deal about ourselves as a species, but not nearly as much as we like to imagine about ourselves. There just isn't that much diversity in the genome of H. Sapiens, and most of what there is, is among the peoples of Africa. The rest of us haven't been gone from Africa long enough, or separated from each other long enough, to produce that much genetic variation.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Tender Is the Bite (Chet and Bernie Mystery #11), by Spencer Quinn (author), Jim Frangione (narrator)

Recorded Books, Inc., ISBN 9781705020333, July 2021

Chet and Bernie are back, with a new case--for which, unfortunately, they don't seem to have a client. A scared young woman follows them, then approaches them, and then bolts in terror after Chet, but not Bernie, sees her spot a bumper sticker that someone dropped into the back of the Porsche. A disturbing puzzle, but it's not clear what they can do. Soon, though, there's another scared young woman who also bolts on seeing something, a dead (male) body that disappears, a pet ferret who apparently belongs to one of the young women--who gets stolen out of the back of the Porsche while Chet and Bernie are inside a shop asking questions about the dead man.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Bound and Deceased (Taylor Quinn Quilt Shop Mystery #2), by Tess Rothery (author), Shaina Summerville (narrator)

Tess Rothery, February 2021

Taylor Quinn is suffering from PTSD after the confrontation in her kitchen with her mother's killer. She's not pleased when her ex, Clayton, shows up wanting to kiss and make up, after refusing to come with her to Comfort, Oregon, when her mother died, but do to sheer persistence and refusal to accept "no" as an answer, he finally gets her to agree to go out for breakfast that morning. Unappealing as that was, it's worse than she expected. Sissy, her somewhat combative and critical neighbor who is the mother of one of her sister Belle's friends--and often the source of useful advice--is having breakfast there, also. She's with her son Cooper, who is a good friend of Belle's, another of her own kids, and a woman whom Taylor doesn't know, but who looks like she must be a relative of Sissy's. What's the big deal? Just the fact that the relative, Sissy's Aunt Raynette, drinks part of a cup of coffee, and suddenly vomits, chokes, and dies. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Emma's Tapestry, by Isobel Blackthorn

Isobel Blackthorn, March 2021

We follow Emma Taylor, née Harms, from her marriage in Philadelphia to a British merchant, to London, Singapore just before the start of World War One, Kobe in Japan, Colorado, and eventually back to London.

The story is told in very nonlinear fashion, "starting" in London in 1940, with German-born, American-raised Emma, a nurse, at the bedside of an elderly, Jewish heiress, who loves to tell stories of her friendship with Oscar Wilde. At this point, we know Emma’s husband, Ernest, is gone from her life, though we don't know why or how. Her two daughters are grown.

And she is very, very worried about anyone learning that she is German-born, not American, and has English nationality only by marriage. 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Ruff and Tumble (Dog Groomer Mysteries #2), by Chelsea Thomas

Chelsea Thomas, July 2021

Amy's pet grooming business, Creature Comforts, is going gangbusters in Toluca Lake, California, but that doesn't mean Amy, her grandmother, Petunia, and her assistant Betsy, can't find time to investigate a murder.

A new client, Jasper, brings in his bulldog, Jonathan, and mentions his boss, retired actor and producer Margo Edmonds. Margo, it seems, has an Afghan hound, Majesty, who never gets groomed. Amy says she'll do it, Jasper says Margo won't let her, and by the end of the day, Amy has an appointment to pick up Majesty for grooming at 8am, the following morning.

When Amy and Betsy arrives, no one answers the bell, or a knock on the door, but by cavalierly disregarding private property, Amy finds her way in--and finds Margo in time to watch her die, apparently of poison.

They call the police, but when the police check the house, they find no body. Margo is gone, and there's no signs of a struggle, and Detective Rotund and Amy's old high school classmate, Detective Mike Fine, don't believe there ever was a body. It gets stranger and stranger from here.

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Learning Brain, by Thad A. Polk (author, narrator)

The Great Courses, May 2018

In this set of 24 half-hour lectures, Thad Polk gives us a fascinating, and often entertaining, rundown on the human brain, memory, and learning. Looking at long-term memory, working memory, and the mutability of memory, we get a good overview of how our brains work in the areas that are most often of everyday interest to us.

Some of the important areas to understand are explicit memory (explicit, declarative knowledge that's easy to talk about), implicit memory (what I've often heard called "muscle memory," though of course it's formed in the brain, not in the muscles, and which you can't really talk about easily), and the mutability of memory. Our memory of events isn't like a video recording, no matter how vivid it seems. We retain some key details, and fill in the rest--meaning that over time, even those "flashbulb memories"  of major, shocking events, such as the Challenger explosion or 9/11, can change substantially.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Lammas Night, by Katherine Kurtz

Open Road Media, July 2016 (original publication November 1983)

It's 1940, and Britain's war against Nazi Germany isn't going well. The British Expeditionary Force has been evacuated from Dunkirk back to England, and while the evacuation was a success, it was also a retreat. Hitler is planning an invasion of Britain, and the British military and political leadership really don't know how they're going to mount an effective defense.

Col. Sir John Graham, "Gray" to his friends and family, is a  military intelligence officer--and also a high-ranking member of an occult group, practitioners of the Britain's traditional, ancient rites. This group, the Oakwood group, and other occult groups in Britain, are planning their own response to Hitler's invasion plans. This includes responding, more directly than conventional military forces can, to Hitler's own occult assault on  Britain and Britain's military forces.

In addition to his occult colleagues, Graham has another dear friend--Prince William, Duke of Clarence, the (fictional) twin brother of King George V's youngest son, John, who died at age fourteen. This close friendship is going to lead to some serious complications as the Oakwood group works to organized a unified British occult response to Hitler.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Girl Least Likely, by Katy Loutzenhiser

Harper Audio, ISBN 9780063077744, June 2021

"Voice galley," read by a synthetic voice, not whoever is the eventual narrator. The sound of the voice is pretty good, but intonation, emphasis, pronunciation are not always consistent. The real narrator will undoubtedly be much better.

Gretchen is a high school junior in Portland, Maine, the youngest of three siblings, and a generally quiet, somewhat withdrawn girl. She doesn't call attention to herself. She has only a few close friends, and not a large number of friendly acquaintances. She's a member of the yearbook club mainly because an extracurricular activity is required, and in her freshman and sophomore years, there were enough members that she as able to do only tasks that didn't require much interaction with anyone not a member of the yearbook club.

Becoming a standup comic is something that never crossed her mind.

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor #2), by Katherine Addison (author), Liam Gerrard (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781250807892, June 2021

Thara Celehar is the Witness for the Dead that the goblin emperor Maia, in The Goblin Emperor, consulted concerning the deaths of his father and three half-brothers. A minor character in that story, he's the protagonist in this one.

Celehar is no longer at court; he's now in the distant city of Amalo, Witness for the Dead for the people of the city. It's a humbler but for him far more satisfying position. In this role, he can often really help ordinary people. He can identify the dead,  and often identify the cause of death. In one case brought to him, he's able to identify a deceased man's true heir, when at least one of the two competing wills is clearly forged.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Phobos Experience (Lady Astronaut Universe #4.1), by Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal, August 2018

Lt. Darlene Ritika, a "Lady Astronaut" stationed on Mars, is given an unexpected assignment. She, a geologist, and a pilot are sent to Phobos to check out the cave system on the tiny moon--which apparently really is mostly hollow. Even though the story of it being mostly hollow had been definitively exposed as a hoax, years ago...

When they arrive, they find a thick layer of dust which makes moving around challenging, and, yes, a cave system. While one would expect there to be less dust inside the caves, away from the entrance, one would not expect to find it apparently swept clean.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Assault and Batting (Taylor Quinn Quilt Shop Mystery #1), by Tess Rothery (author), Shaina Summerville (narrator)

Audible Audio, January 2021

Taylor Quinn has been building a life for herself in Portland, Oregon--a good job she likes, a home, a boyfriend--and then her mother dies.

She's back in the small town of Comfort, suddenly responsible for her sixteen-year-old sister, Belle, their grandfather, and her mother's quilt shop, Flour Sax. Oh, and her boyfriend broke it off and found a new girlfriend almost immediately, when she said she was moving back to Comfort.

The official verdict is that her mother, Laura Quinn, tripped and fell, possibly due to one drink too many, on the dock near the B&B she and some old friends were staying in. Belle has a different theory. She thinks she accidentally triggered one of her mother's friends to push Laura into the water. She has a reason for this that is almost as much a shock to Taylor than just the theory that their mother was murdered.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, by Stephen Brusatte

William Morrow, April 2018

This is exactly what it says on the tin: a highly readable history of the dinosaurs, from their beginnings as very minor players in the early Triassic, to world-dominating predators and plant eaters in the late Cretaceous. And then the end of the Cretaceous, the meteor that ended dinosaur dominance--but not, as was once thought, the end of dinosaurs altogether.

Brusatte gives us both the story of the dinosaurs, and his own development from a teenager fanboying important paleontologists making major contributions to our knowledge of dinosaurs, to a student making his own first expeditions and contributions, and eventually an accomplished professional in the field.

Dinosaurs started out relatively small, and obscure, and got a boost from a mass extinction early in the Triassic. Brusatte takes us through their evolution, and the breakup of Pangea into separate continents. It's a fascinating story, more complex than I had previously fully realized.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Articulated Restraint (Lady Astronaut Universe #1.5) by Mary Robinette Kowal

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250241306F, February 2019

This novella is a deleted episode from The Calculating Stars, featuring Ruby Donaldson plunged into helping deal with a major emergency while trying not let the fact that she sprained her ankle the night before slow her down.

Being one of the Lady Astronauts always means having to work hard and be better to get the same recognition and respect as the men. It's not made easier by the fact that Ruby is on the diminutive side, the "Astronette."

Ruby arrives at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab for a training session with a small crew and one other astronaut, only to find that the place is bursting with activity, and four, not two, EVA suits are ready for astronauts to don them. Ryby had been at a dance rehearsal the night before--one of the few things left in her life from before the Meteor--and, having sprained her ankle, went straight to bed rather than watching the news or checking for messages. She's just now learning there was an accident in space, no deaths, but a ship now stranded, with only sixteen hours of consumables, including air. Ruby, her expected partner Eugene, and two other astronauts will be testing rescue procedures for this crisis, before they have to be put to the test in space. Find the flaws and fix them on the ground, not in vacuum and real zero-G.

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Cuckoo's Cry by Caroline Overington (author), Aimee Horne (narrator)

Audible Studio, July 2020

Don Barlow is retired, widowed, and living alone in the home in Bondi, near Sydney, where he and wife Pam raised their daughter Danielle. With the global pandemic lockdown about to hit, he answers a knock on the door, and finds a young woman standing there. She says her name is Morgan, she's in trouble, has no place to go, and finally, springs the news that she's his granddaughter--the child of the son he had with a girl when they were in high school. That son was given up for adoption, and Don has never seen him, but he responds to this surprise granddaughter, and invites her in.