Friday, April 30, 2021

Penny Preston and the Raven's Talisman (Misaligned #1), by Armen Pogharian (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

CamCat Publishing LLC, April 2021

Penny Preston is just trying to figure out what the mist-figures in the corridor outside the school cafeteria are and what they're doing, when she accidentally opens a transdimensional rift and starts a food fight. It's not any great surprise that, though it takes a bit longer than she expected, she's soon enough sitting in the office of Mr. Myrdin.

It is a surprise that she's not there to be disciplined for starting the food fight. Two other students have been blamed for that, and being as unaware as everyone else of Penny's involvement, they've accepted it. No, Penny is there because the only other person who noticed the strange creatures is Mr. Myrdin. He wants to talk to her about the fact that she's "misaligned," existing in more than just the usual three dimensions, and thus an important key to stop transdimensional beings from attacking and destroying our universe.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Burn, or The Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super, by A.T. Greenblatt

Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2020

This is, just like it says on the tin, an episodic account of the life of a new Super, Sam Wells. His superpower is pretty marginal. He can create fire, and while it burns his hair, and his clothes, it doesn't burn his flesh. He's perfectly safe from fire.

But it's not a superpower that has a lot of practical use, in the superhero sense.

We follow Sam through getting accepted into the Super club, learning that since is superpower isn't one that especially useful on Main Team, the ones that go out and save people's lives and interfere with disasters trying to happen, his new job will be the same as his old job--accountant.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A Cowboy Kind of Love, by Donna Grant

St. Martin's Press, ISBN 9781250250094, April 2021

Jace Wilder and Taryn Hillman were in love--and then disaster fell on them.

Ever since her mother's death, Taryn had worked to keep her family together, functional, and out of trouble--with only mediocre success. Her father and brother were working for a drug lord, and one awful night, the drug lord descended on them, and announced they were all--her father, her brother Ben, her younger sister Payton, and Taryn herself, coming with him.

They were all going to work for him, selling drugs, to pay off the debts her father had incurred. She persuaded the drug lord, Boyd Walters, to keep her sister out of it, if she earned twice as much, and she succeeded. Even after Boyd kills her father and brother, she's still doing it, to keep Payton safe. But now she wants to get Payton and herself out altogether, and she's cut a new deal with Boyd. It means going back to Clearview, and she might run into Jace, but she has to do it.

Jace has been trying to patch up his wound, both from Taryn's sudden departure with her family, with only a single text to tell him she wouldn't be back, and his years in the Afghanistan war. It hasn't been working, and lately he's been doing too much drinking, and he doesn't know whether it's the alcohol, hallucination, or reality, when he thinks he sees Taryn in town again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Two Truths and a Lie, by Sarah Pinsker, June 2020

Stella, while home on a visit after years away from her hometown, attends the funeral of an old friend's older brother, and agrees to help him clean out the brother's house. He was a serious hoarder, and Stella is glad she only committed to one day of the exhausting and disturbing experience. One thing we need to know about Stella is that she has a habit of making up lies, not for any particular reason, but simply to see if people believe her.. When she asks her friend, Marco, if he remembers a Saturday morning kids' show called The Uncle Bob Show, she expects him to say he doesn't, because she made it up.

But he does remember it. His brother, Denny, was on it, more than once. The tapes of those episodes are among the "treasures" Marco has uncovered so far, and he starts playing them. It's not your normal Saturday morning kids' show, and Stella is creeped out.

Monday, April 26, 2021

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2), by Arkady Martine (author), Amy Landon (narrator)

Tor, ISBN 9781529001662, March 2021

Three months have passed since the end of A Memory Called Empire, and Mahit Dzmare, who had decided she couldn't stay in Teixcalaan, has found that she can't really go home again, either. Lsel Station is not a friendly and welcoming place for someone who has absorbed so much Teixcalaan culture, and who, oops, has not one but two imagos of the previous Ambassador, Yskandr, in her head. The Minister for Heritage wants Mahit in her lab to upload her imago for future generations, and when she finds out for sure what Mahit has done, it's not likely Mahit is going to survive that.

The Minister for Pilots is very annoyed with her and not inclined to help. The Minister for Mining has made her what's a really bad offer even if Mahit believed he'd keep his promise. When Three Seagrass shows up, managing to cause more trouble in the process, but asking Mahit, as Ambassador to Teixcalaan, to accompany her to what's going to be a really difficult negotiation in the middle of a war zone, Mahit decides it is, at least, the best offer available.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Monster, by Naomi Kritzer

Clarkesworld, #160, January 2020

Cecily is traveling to a remote area of China, looking for an old friend who has disappeared there. Andrew was her first real friend, the first one who appreciated her nerdiness rather than just overlooking it, the one who drew her into a circle of nerdy friends. They drifted apart after she got into a much better college than he did, but years later, he contacts her again. She's a successful scientist; he isn't. At least, not in the conventional sense. He's interested in her research, and she gives him one of her published papers.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

A Guide for Working Breeds, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Published in Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, edited by Jonathan Strahan; publisher Solaris, March 2020

This is a cute story about a robot newly activated and assigned to a contract job, and an older robot, who has paid off his construction costs and is now independent, acting as the new robot's mentor, and giving him practical advice about functioning in the world. The advice includes such basic, practical guidance as figuring out that the new robot, who has not yet chosen a name, is seeing dogs everywhere because he's got a virus, and how to remove it. It also, when the new robot, who eventually chooses the name "Kleekai Greyhound," gets assigned a job in a diner and has to figure out what his boss means in telling him to "be mean" to the customers.

There is some cute back and forth, and as is obvious from the name adopted, the young robot retains his interest in dogs after the virus is gone. Its mentor, who goes by "Constant Killer," is slowly, unwillingly, charmed by its mentee.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory (The Murderbot Diaries #4.5) by Martha Wells

Tor, April 2021 (original publication May 2020)

This is a short story, more of a vignette, a linking scene between Exit Strategy and Network Effect. It's interesting, enjoyable, and provides something we don't get in most Murderbot stories: it's from Dr. Ayda Mensah's viewpoint. We see the PTSD she's suffering from after the events of Exit Strategy from the inside, rather than Murderbot's working it out from observation.

It's a very interesting, useful story if you are a reader of the Murderbot Diaries, and probably not at all a good introduction to the series if you haven't. In that case, you should go find All Systems Red, the first one, and start there. You won't regret it.

Recommended for those who are already fans of the series. I bought this story.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Open House on Haunted Hill, by John Wiswell

Diabolical Plots #64A, June 2020

This is a remarkably sweet haunted house story.

133 Poisonwood Avenue has been vacant for longer than it is happy with, and when a real estate agent hosts an open house, it's really hoping that at least one family will decide they like it.

Those who come to the open house include some real duds, notably the guy who is apparently only interested in the fact that the wallpaper in one room was not applied perfectly. He's only one among those who leave with clearly no intention of making a offer.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers #4), by Becky Chambers

Harper Voyager, ISBN 9780062936042,  April 2021

This is the fourth, and apparently final, book in Becky Chambers' wonderful Wayfarers series. The series is set in the Galactic Commons, a federation of sapient species in the galaxy, of which humans are one of the newest and least important members. 

In this book, as in A Closed and Common Orbit, humans are more peripheral characters. The central characters are two Laru (a marsupial-like species), a Quelin (arthropod-like), an Akarak (a small, bird-like species that doesn't breathe oxygen, and uses a bipedal environment suit), and an Aeluon (bipedal, scaled, bald, and communicate through color patches on their cheeks--somewhat analogous to cephalopods, who also use the ability to change color in various ways to communicate.)

Gora is a world with no water, only a thin atmosphere, no life, no valuable resources--unremarkable except for being at the nexus of five wormholes that provide transport to far more interesting places. It's a busy hub, and the main, or rather only, industry on Gora is providing hospitality, supplies, and maintenance to the crews and ships passing through. Few visitors hang around long, until an accident among the communication satellites in orbit around Gora.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse, by Rae Carson

Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2020

Brit lives in a protected enclave with a community of women, in a time of zombie apocalypse. She's also very, very pregnant, near to giving birth. Some in the community are very supportive; others think she's being selfish, putting two of the community's most essential members at risk.

Zombies are attracted to the smell of blood, of course. They're even more attracted to the smell of birth. So the enclave has a separate, secure location for women to give birth in. When Brit goes into labor, she and her partner, Marisol, go to that location--a shipping container.

What follows is a story of the drive to reproduce, danger, courage, community, and female solidarity. 

I really, really don't like zombie fiction, and wouldn't have read this if it weren't a Hugo Finalist. And yet, after my initial resistance, I enjoyed it.


This story is available to read for free on the Uncanny Magazine website, and I am reviewing it voluntarily.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Mermaid Astronaut, by Yoon Ha Lee

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue #298, February 27, 2020

Essarala is a mermaid, whose chosen name means "seeks the stars." This expresses her desire, her ambition, and is a very unusual choice among her people. for whom her younger sister's name, Kiovasa, meaning "the sun and the moon are partners," is far more typical. But Essarela watches the stars, whenever she can, and is thrilled when a starship arrives with offworld traders.

She's thrilled, initially, and plans to ask if she can sign on to their ship, until she realizes that all the species that crew that ship are land dwellers, and there's no water for her to swim in. When her sister encourages her to ask the witch of the sea to help her, though, the witch offers her a knife that will enable her to transform her tail into legs. There's a price, though, and the witch will not tell her what it is until she eventually returns, and brings the knife back to her. Essarala accepts, but privately thinks she's never coming back.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Physicians of Vilnoc (Penric and Desdemona #9), by Lois McMaster Bujold (author), Grover Gardner (narrator)

Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9781799939436, August 2020

Penric is happily settled in Vilnoc, and enjoying being a new father, when his brother-in-law, General Arisaydia, shows up at his door--but will not come in--to ask him to come to the army fort. A strange and deadly new disease has broken out, and Arisaydia wants Penric to use his sorcerous powers, and his own and two of Desdemona's previous riders, Helvia and Amberein's, medical training to solve the mystery of it and stop the epidemic.

Penric has worked very hard to avoid taking oath to the Mother and becoming the Sorcerer-Physician he was expected to become when he inherited the demon Desdemona from Learned Ruchia. When acting as a physician, he finds it impossible to accept that some patients are just going to die anyway. But the only physician at the fort, Rede Licata, is very capable but not a sorcerer, and the Mother's Order chapter is too busy with the same sickness in town to spare time for the fort. Penric can't say no.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Metal Like Blood in the Dark, by T. Kingfisher

Uncanny Magazine, September 2020

A man living alone on a planet (not Earth) largely stripped of its resources builds himself two robots as companions--Brother and Sister. He encourages them to experiment and redesign themselves as they please, and they enjoy doing so. Brother and Sister are as devoted to him, to Father, as he is to them.

But Father is growing old, and even nanites can't repair everything. Eventually, he has to summon help from outside his abandoned solar system. He's not willing to trust strangers with his two powerful robots, though, and tells them to hide themselves until he's departed with those who come for him. He hopes to return, but can't promise.

Having kept them confined to the planet until now, he frees them to explore the system once he's gone.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Little Free Library, by Naomi Kritzer

Tor Books, April 2020

Meigan builds a Little Free Library to recycle books she's enjoyed but no longer wants to keep (okay, for me, this is one of the weird bits; I cling to my books.) One user in particular seems a little odd, but enjoyable. They take books, but instead of leaving other books, they leave little bits of artwork--drawings and small figurines, and once, a leaf, an actual leaf, that is almost, but not quite, a maple leaf.

Also, sometimes they leave notes.

This becomes an odd sort of friendship at a distance, with Meigan wondering which of her neighbors it is.

Things get odder and odder, as the notes reveal more of the user's life.

It is, as one can fairly confidently expect from a Naomi Kritzer story, a bit weird, and sweet. In the end, this one is a little sad.


I bought this short story.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Masquerade in Lodi (Penric and Desdemona #3.5), by Lois McMaster Bujold

Spectrum Literary Agency, October 2020

Penric, and his demon, Desdemona, are still relatively new in the canal city and seaport of Lodi, and his position as Archdivine Ogial's court sorcerer. When Penric is called to the Gift of the Sea charity hospice for sailors to see a "poor mad fellow" fished out of the sea by a fishing ship, whose problem might be of the supernatural kind, he finds, indeed, that the young man is demon-ridden.

While Penric is in the hospice physician's office discussing how how quickly they can get a Saint of the Bastard there to relieve the unidentified young man of his demon, the young man and the demon, alarmed by the visit from Penric and Desdemona, escape from the hospice. This makes a relatively simple, if unpleasant, task far more difficult. It's seemingly a good development when a woman and another young man show up--the demon-ridden young man's mother, and a friend, who was a shipmate on the ship the demon-ridden fell overboard from. More eyes, someone who can join the search knowing where in Lodi the young man, at least, might think to hide, etc. Penric also learns where to find the Bastard's Saint in Lodi. She's a young woman who grew up in the Bastard's orphanage on the Isle of Gulls, and still resides there.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Inaccessibility of Heaven (Dominion of the Fallen), by Aliette de Bodard

Uncanny Magazine, Issue 35, July/August 2020

Samantha de Viera works at a shelter for newly Fallen angels. She's in a relationship with Calariel, a Fallen who also works at the shelter. Sam is also a minor witch. One day, she comes home to find that guests have let themselves in.

Arvedai is a Fallen Sam has had conflicts with in the past, but now he's asking for her help. Fallen are being killed, and in a horrifying way, torn apart by something with claws and fangs. Arvedai wants her to help find out who is doing it, and why. This will be dangerous--and it becomes a cause of conflict with Calariel.

This is part of de Bodard's Dominion of the Fallen series, a Gothic Paris where the Fallen are a major presence, defining how everything works in a rather grim, dark world. It's well-written, developed and textured and interesting, and it's just not my kind of story or my kind of setting.  Too dark. Too grim. This novelette is a 2021 Best Novelette Hugo Finalist, and I can't say it doesn't deserve to be. For myself, though--I much prefer de Bodard's Xuya Universe stories.

This story is available as a free read on the the Uncanny website. I'm reviewing it voluntarily.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Seven of Infinities (Universe of Xuya), by Aliette de Bodard

Subterranean Press, ISBN 9781596069770, October 2020

Vân is a scholar of modest background with no connections, and a single mem-implant (which she built herself )nd represents no ancestor of hers) to help her on her way. She's working as tutor for the daughter of a dead war hero, and helping maintain her own image of respectable standing by participating in a poetry group.

It's not a good start to the day when another member of the poetry group, the mindship, The Wild Orchid in Sunless Woods, arrives to warn her that some of the socially higher-ranked members have decided she's not worthy of the group and must be expelled. Sunless Woods takes it for granted that Vân will want to fight her expulsion--but Vân has secrets she can't risk attracting attention to. They're at an impasse, when a worse interruption arises.

Vân's student, Uyên, has admitted her own visitor, who has dropped dead in her room.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Four Lost Cities A Secret History of the Urban Age, by Annalee Newitz (author), Chloe Cannon (narrator)

Highbridge, February 2021

The allure of "lost cities" is a strong one; many of us love the story of one lost city or another. Annalee Newitz gives us the stories of four of them--Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic site in Turkey; Pompeii, on the Italian coast and the slope of Mt. Vesuvius; medieval Angkor in Cambodia; Cahokia, an indigenous North American metropolis at the site that's now East St. Louis.

Newitz looks at each of these cities using new developments and techniques in archaeology to consider the cities and their culture through the lives of the average residents as well as the elites.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner (author), Lorna Bennett (narrator), Lauren Anthony (narrator), & Lauren Irwin (narrator)

Harlequin Audio, ISBN 9781488210761, March 2021

In 1790s London, Nella is an apothecary, a very specialized apothecary, who dispenses carefully disguised poisons to women who want to remove the oppressive or abusive men in their lives.

Eliza Fanning is her newest client, a twelve-year-old girl sent by her mistress, Mrs. Amwell, for poison for Mr. Amwell, who has molested female servants in the past, and has started to take an interest in Eliza.

In the present day, Caroline Parcewell is in London on what was supposed to be a celebratory tenth wedding anniversary trip with her husband. Instead, her husband is home in Ohio, and Caroline is in London on her own, contemplating the possible end of her marriage. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Pride and Premeditation, by Tirzah Price

Harper Audio, ISBN 9780063053601, April 2021

This is a "voice galley," intended only for reviewers and read by a synthetic voice, not whoever will be the narrator. This is not the version that will be for sale.

This an alternative version of Pride and Prejudice, in  which Mr. Bennet is a barrister, and the family live in the Cheapside section of London. His firm is Longbourne & Sons, but of course there are no sons, and the dreadful Mr. Collins, a cousin from Hertfordshire, has been employed as a solicitor for the firm, and named as the heir.

Next we come to Elizabeth Bennet and her friend, Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte in this retelling has a very respectable father, Sir Henry Lucas, but Sir Henry married a West Indian woman, and Charlotte is too dark-skinned to pass as "really English." Charlotte works as a secretary in the Longbourne firm. Elizabeth longs to be a barrister, and volunteers at the firm, doing work the junior solicitors don't have time for, and in Mr. Collins's case, isn't really very good at.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal about Aliens – and Ourselves, by Arik Kershenbaum (author), Samuel West (narrator)

Penguin Audio, March 2021

Arik Kershenbaum is a zoologist, and College Lecturer at Girton College, Cambridge. In this book, he uses his deep knowledge of zoology on this planet to work out what alien life might be like, if and when we find it.

He starts from the assumption that both the same physical laws will apply everywhere, and that evolution is the only reasonable mechanism to govern the development of life. We can't say exactly what alien life forms will be like, but we can make reasonable projections of how life forms might move, communicate, and socialize in environments we can plausibly envision existing on other worlds.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

A Spell of Murder (Witch Cats of Cambridge #1), by Clea Simon (author), Hillary Huber (narrator)

Dreamscape Media, November 2019 (original publication December 2018)

Becca  Colwin wanted to pursue a library science degree, but circumstances intervened. She had a job using her research skills, and a boyfriend, Jeff Blakely. She also had three cats--three littermates she adopted from a local shelter, Harriet, Laurel, and Clara.

Then Jeff broke up with her, and entirely too soon after, she lost her job. This leaves Becca with two things to do--find a new job, and pursue her new interest of studying witchcraft. Discovering an ancestor was one of the executed Salem witches sparked her interest and moved her to join a coven; now she has lots of time for it.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Dog-Free Dinner (Auntie Clem’s Bakery, Christmas Short), by P.D. Workman

P.D. Workman, December 2020

In Bald Eagle Falls, Tennessee, baker Erin Price, and her friend and assistant Vic, or Vicky, are prepping Christmas dinner for their friends, police officer Terry Piper, and local handyman and jack of all trades Willie Anderson. Growing up in foster homes has left Erin with no love for Christmas, but for Vic, it's a favorite time of year. Erin wants to make sure it's special for her.

It becomes special in an unexpected way when the friends realize that Terry's police dog, put in the fenced back yard to enjoy his turkey giblets, has disappeared. The other three are at first very puzzled by Terry's reaction, discouraging an immediate, full-scale search. It turns out there's a pet-napping ring the police are trying to keep quiet so that the thieves don't realize the police are actively investigating. After Terry finally spills the beans, Erin and Vic organize a search anyway.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Love at First Bark (Love Unleashed #0.5), by Dana Mentink

Harvest House Publishers, April 2017

Marcy Deveraux, having frustrated her family by refusing to commit to a career cooking and managing their family restaurant, has found a success that impresses even her parents. She's written three bestselling romantic adventure novels about the adventures of Prince Rafe. But now Rafe's story is told, and if she wants to continue her success, she has to find her next story to write.

To do this, Marcy has rented a cabin in the mountains near a campground and ranch. She's barely settled in when her attempt at developing a work routine is disrupted by a lively little dog, a scruffy little terrier. Not far behind is the man who manages the stables and the horses for the ranch, Jackson Parker. Except for being drop-dead handsome, he's very different from a stereotypical romance novel hero--quiet, thoughtful, a reader, deeply involved in the ranch/campground's summer session for special needs kids.