Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Death at the Cafe (Reverend Annabelle Dixon #1), by Alison Golden

Alison Golden, October 2015

This is a prequel, written after some of Reverend Annabelle Dixon's later adventures, but taking place at the start of her career, during her first assignment at a church in London. Annabelle is always likeable; so is her friend, Sister Mary. The stories are fun.

Nevertheless, I'm growing frustrated.

Annabelle is doing unexpectedly well in her first assignment, in a rather rough, inner city parish. Her friend, Catholic nun Sister Mary, is home briefly from her assignment in Africa--in London to raise money for the hospital she works at as a nurse. They arrange to meet at a café, but Annabelle arrives to find a commotion, and a young woman lying dead, practically at Sister Mary's feet. Mary had intended to meet with another woman, not this one, before meeting Annabelle. The police are called, Sister Mary gives them the limited information she has, and the friends leave.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

On Ordeal: Ronan Nolan Jnr. (Young Wizards #10.7), by Diane Duane

Errantry Press, June 2017

Ronan Nolan is a thirteen-year-old boy living in a small city on the Irish Sea coast of Ireland. He's got a good family, though everyone is under some stress. He has no siblings, and that's one of the stresses. His parents, especially his father, had hoped for a large family. His elderly grandmother is one of the bedrooms planned for those other sibling, failing physically and now maybe mentally, too.

And Ronan has always felt like the odd man out, the kid who is simultaneously rarely noticed, and not fitting in. He's also, until recently, always been the smallest kid in class, a favorite target of the bullies. He's had a growth spurt, and the balance has somewhat changed--but self-defense can also get you in trouble at school. Even when you're doing the right thing, and defending someone else.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Murder Off the Page (42nd Street Library Mystery #3), by Con Lehane (author), Wayne Mitchell (narrator)

Dreamscape Media, November 2019

Raymond Ambler is a librarian at the New York Public Library, curator of the Crime Fiction Collection, and an amateur sleuth. The bartender at the nearby Library Tavern, favorite watering hole of at least some of the librarians, is a good friend, Brian McNulty. Another friend is Mike Cosgrove, an NYPD homicide detective. Adele Morgan is another librarian, a friend, and a potential love interest, if Ambler can figure out how human relationships work.

Ambler also has joint custody of his grandson, Johnny. His son, John, is in prison for second degree murder. Johnny's mother is deceased (apparently unrelated to John's case--hey, it's book three, and the first one I've read.) So Ambler has a lot on his plate without getting involved in a murder at a local hotel, that McNulty wants him to solve. But why? It seems a woman called Shannon Darling is involved.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Nothing Man, by R. J. Gould

R.J. Gould, March 2021

Neville Watkin's life has never been spectacular, but over the last year or so, it's taken a real turn for the worse. He and his wife, Stella, have been distant for years. Now, she has moved out, and is divorcing him. Then he's laid off from his job at the bank--where he's been working since leaving school, thirty years ago.

He really, really doesn't need the accident he has not long after, backing out of a parking spot, into the minivan of a woman and her two kids. The woman is yelling at him for his carelessness, and he can't really defend himself. Especially once his attempt to voice any defense at all ends in him passing out and collapsing at her feet.

He wakes up the next day in a hospital, not very badly injured, and receives an unexpected visitor--Laura, the woman whose car he hit. His life is about to take a truly strange change of direction.

Laura invites him to her house; they work on the insurance paperwork for their accident together. Neville figures that will be the end of it. It's not.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Element of Fire (Ile-Rien #1), by Martha Wells (author), Derek Perkins (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781452686318, July 2015 (original publication July 1993)

The kingdom of Ile-Rien has a weak king, Roland, a strong and ruthless Queen Dowager, his mother, Ravenna guarding the kingdom's interests despite Roland and the friends who manipulate him, and some very dangerous enemies.

One of those enemies is Urbain Grandier, a master of scientific sorcery, who is in Ile-Rien with an agenda of his own. He's not actually hostile to the kingdom, but he wants its resources to destroy his real enemy, the neighboring kingdom of Bisran, his native kingdom, who convicted and tortured the sorcerer for what are serious crimes there. He's prepared to use all of Ile-Rien's resources, both wealth and people, to do that--for however long it takes.

Ravenna, and the captain of the Queen's Guard, Thomas Boniface, and various other court officials, who may or may not be fully aligned with Ravenna, suspect Grandier is in the capital, but don't know where he is, or what he plans.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, by Lulu Miller (author, narrator)

Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 9781797106045, April 2020

Lulu Miller, NPR journalist, grew up with a father who taught her that chaos rules everything, that the universe doesn't care about anything or anyone, and that any belief that anything matters is deeply unscientific. I can't imagine why she also grew up to struggle with whether there was any point to her own existence. (It's unlikely that her depression is the result of her father's world view, but honestly, I can't imagine how that helped. To be clear, the issue here is not atheism. It is, specifically, the belief that nothing matters, a belief I have not heard from my atheist friends, acquaintances, favorite scientific writers, what have you.) As Miller moved through her life, education, career, she struggled with the ups and downs of her life and depression--and at some point, discovered David Starr Jordan.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Cold Crowdfunding Campaign, by Cora Buhlert

Pegasus Pulp Publications, 2020

This story is a response to a science fiction story that's rather famous, in part because of the controversy it provokes. "The Cold Equations" is about an emergency dispatch spacecraft that is, in its current mission, delivering medication to a colony world, in response to the outbreak of an outbreak of serious illness. Unfortunately, after the ship is well on its way, the pilot, Barton, discovers he has a stowaway. Because the EDS has no margin for error in its fuel and weight capacity. The stowaway, Marilyn, saw the sign banning entry when she snuck onto the EDS, but assumed the penalty would only be a fine. She just wanted to visit her brother, who is on that colony world.

In fact, because the EDS's limitations are so extreme, the penalty is death--being ejected from the ship into space.

There is some touching angst, pathos, and moralizing. In the end, Marilyn willingly stepping into the airlock to be spaced and die.

There are some really obvious problems with this setup.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Odder Than Ever, by Bruce Coville (author), The Full Cast Family (narrators)

Full Cast Audio, February 2021

This is a really enjoyable collection of short stories, some fantasy, some science fiction, some riffing on fairy tale themes and settings.

There's a boy whose father is a diplomat--and Earth's first ambassador to another planet. It's challenging being the only alien in his school, but that's not the big challenge he faces. At a critical diplomatic dinner, his presence required by the customs of the planet they're on, but including the ambassador from another planet, where someone as near physical size and development as Jacob is not considered a child. Jacob makes a mistake, and doing the adult thing may cost him something he truly loves.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Fireworks in France (Reverend Annabelle Dixon #7), by Alison Golden

Alison Golden, March 2021

Police Inspector Mike Nicholls is trying to plan a hopefully-romantic vacation with his beloved Reverend Annabelle Dixon, when Annabelle's lifelong friend, Sister Mary, shows up unexpectedly. There is, she says, a problem at the convent where she has been living, in the tiny French village of Ville d'Eauloise. Specifically, a murder.

Of a priest. And her dear friend, another priest, is the chief, or rather the only, suspect.h But he can't possibly be guilty, and can Annabelle and Mike help?

They decide to spend their week of vacation in France, of course.

The French police inspector for the district, Charles Babineaux, initially seems like an ego-inflated fool, and he and Mike, to say the least, do not hit it off. There's more to him than meets the eye, though, and despite his own initial hostility, Babineaux decides that with his limited resources, two more experienced investigators are not to be turned down.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Change State (Adventures in the Liaden Universe #32), by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

Pinbeam Books, March 2021

Two Liaden stories, "Dead Men Dream," an original story providing a follow-up on two characters from Trade Secret, and "Command Decision," which originally appeared in an anthology.

Bar Jan chel'Gaiban Clan Rinork is the young Trader who challenged Jethri to a duel, for various poorly-thought-out reasons of resentment, and lost. It's a serious embarrassment for his clan, and his Delm declares him dead, and puts him off the ship at Port Chavvy Station. His servant, Khana vo'Daran Clan Baling, chooses to go with him, and is also declared dead.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Snowspelled (The Harwood Spellbook #1), by Stephanie Burgis

Five Fathoms Press, September 2017

In 19th century Angland, Cassandra Harwood has pursued the contrary course of studying magic, despite all resistance from a culture that says that magic is for the more emotional and creative gender--men. Women, being more pragmatic and more stable, are expected, if they are of the upper classes, to pursue politics.

Cassandra has been successful, having gained admittance to the premier school of magic in Angland, the Great Library, graduated top of her class, and becoming betrothed to her only real competition there, Rajaram Wrexham.

Then something happened. It's a while before we learn what, exactly, but it was bad. Cassandra can't perform magic anymore--it will kill her. And two months after that disaster, her betrothal to Wrexham ends, by her choice, for reasons she doesn't explain to anyone.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

City, by Clifford D. Simak (author), Peter Ganim (narrator), Mike Resnick (narrator)

Audible Studios, July 2008 (original publication 1952)

This is a collection of connected short stories and novellas, recounting the decline of the civilization of Man and the rise of the civilization of Dogs. Obsolete usage intentional; these stories were written in the 1940s, with a couple of exceptions, and the underlying viewpoint is that of a midwestern American man of that era, born in 1904. In the case of Simak, that's a compassionate, kindly, humane, even in many ways progressive viewpoint, but it's not the viewpoint of someone whose formative years were the 1960s or later.

These stories chronicle thousands of years of history in relatively brief glimpses of a total of nine short stories and novellas, and the "notes" that tie them together and provide added context, to make them a novel. We follow the men of the Webster family; the Webster family's robot and household retainer, Jenkins; and the dogs. Or, as they start to become beginning in the third story, the Dogs, the uplifted species that will succeed Man.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Swearing is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language, by Emma Byrne (author), Henrietta Meire (narrator)

Highbridge, January 2018 (original publication November 2017)

This is a lively, funny, informative book about foul language.

Emma Byrne, a computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence, has always loved a good swear. In this book, she lays out, using peer-reviewed science, why swearing and foul language is really good for you, for work teams, and society as a whole.

A key "news you can use" bit is that swearing is a very effective pain reliever. Whether you've hit your thumb with a hammer, or are sticking your hand in a bucket of ice (part of a real study to test this effect), or being treated for cancer, swearing really, measurably, helps your ability to handle the pain. The bad news? If you're a woman, even if you're being treated for cancer, even your female friends will judge you for this, and may drift away.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell #6), by Deanna Raybourn

Berkley, ISBN 9780593197264, March 2021

Veronica Speedwell and her lover, Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, a.k.a. Stoker, have been living in unaccustomed and not entirely comfortable domesticity. They're staying at home in London, and preparing an exhibit for the Curiosity Club, the women's adventurers club of which Veronica is now a member. The exhibit is to honor a recently deceased mountain climber, Alice Baker-Greene, and will be attended, and is sponsored by, Her Serene Highness Princess Gisela of Alpenwald. (Alpenwald is the fictional independent German principality in which Miss Baker-Greene had recently settled permanently.

Stoker and Veronica, in the course of preparing for the opening of the exhibit, discover evidence that Miss Baker-Greene's death was not a tragic mountain-climbing accident, but murder. They tell the Princess, who has come to inspect the exhibit. The Chancellor assures them that the matter will be handled--but they are both skeptical. This trip, with the exhibit featuring the charms of Alpenwald, an opera featuring both an Alpenwald composer and an Alpenwald soprano, is all about boosting the principality's image and charms as a tourist destination. Murder wouldn't fit that.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Other Daughter, by Lisa Gardner (author), Brittany Pressley (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, December 2018 (original publication July 1999)

At nine years old, a little girl with no memory of her past was abandoned in a hospital, and after several months was adopted by the wealthy Stokes family--a cardiac surgeon, his wife, and their son Brian, a family grieving the kidnapping and murder of the Stokes' four-year-old daughter, Meghan, five years earlier.

Twenty years later, Melanie Stokes is happy, confident, loving and loved by her adoptive family. She volunteers for various charities, especially the American Red Cross. On the night of one her major events, a party plus blood donation event plus "donate a rare book" to raise funds, a voice out of the past intrudes.