Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher

Red Wombat Studio, July 2020

Mona is fourteen years old, an orphan, and learning the art of baking from her aunt. She'll inherit the bakery, someday.

Oh, and she's a wizard.

Not a great, powerful wizard, like the ones who defend the city. She can't throw lightning bolts, or talk to water. She can, however, get dough to do amazing things. Sometimes she makes the gingerbread men dance to entertain the customers--although some customers get more nervous than amused. Her familiar is her sourdough starter, Bob. Bob can be a little scary, for people who aren't Mona, but he stays in his bucket in the basement, and it's mostly Mona who deals with him. It's a peaceful, productive, enjoyable life.

Then one morning, she comes in to start the baking for the day, and finds a dead girl in the kitchen. She wakes her aunt and uncle, her uncle fetches the constables.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1), by Rin Chupeco (author), Emily Woo Zeller (narrator), Will Damron (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, March 2017

Tea is growing up in a small village, with several sisters and brothers. Her older sisters are witches, with useful and unalarming powers related to water, or to plants, for instance. Everyone expects that Tea will also be a witch, and she expects that her powers will be similarly domestic and useful.

However, when her brother, Fox, is killed in a battle, and his body returned to his family for burial, Tea, in her grief, accidentally resurrects him. She's not a nice, normal, domestic sort of witch; she's a bone witch--a necromancer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Secret Scottish Escape, by Julie Shackman

HarperCollins UK/One More Chapter, ISBN 9780008455767, May 2021

Layla is looking forward to her wedding, in a few months time, to Mac. He's older, a prominent author, whom she met when she was interviewing him for a feature article. He's away on a trip to London to meet with his agent...

Except he isn't. He didn't leave Scotland. Layla is shocked when she's notified that Mac has died, of a heart attack--while having sex with his ex-wife.

This sends Layla reeling, and initially she's determined to leave Loch Harris, where she's lived her whole life, to start over. After this shocking end to her hopes and plans, she wants to start over, where not everybody knows her and her story. Yet she loves Loch Harris, and Mac has left her an unexpected inheritance. She looks around her village, and sees what an injection of money and imagination could do for it.

Monday, May 24, 2021

2021 Hugo Voter Packet Best Fan Writer Finalist Cora Buhlert, by Cora Buhlert

Pegasus Pulp Publications, May 2021

Hugo season is upon us, the finalists have been announced, and there's a Hugo Voters Packet in preparation--but Cora Buhlert, one of the finalists for Best Fan Writer, has decided to make her contribution to the Hugo Voters Packet available without waiting, and for all interested, not just those who are members of DisCon III.

And I have to say, this is what fan writing is all about. 

She's included reviews of current media (The Mandalorian, Rogue One, Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek Picard) from the perspective of a knowledgeable and thoughtful fan, commentary on the CoNZealand Hugo Awards ceremony, "Retro Reviews" of actual and potential Retro Hugo nominees, and a well-argued defense of the importance of the Retro Hugos themselves. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Time and Again, by Clifford D. Simak

Open Road Media, December 2015 (original publication December 1950)

Twenty years ago, Asher Sutton disappeared in the star system 61 Cygni, a system that the otherwise galaxy-conquering humans have failed to penetrate. Now he's back, in a ship with catastrophic damage he shouldn't have survived.

Yet he's alive, uninjured, healthy--and changed. Perhaps not entirely human, anymore. And, though it's not obvious, he's not alone.

Asher Sutton also has a message--for humans, for androids who are no different from humans except for numbers on their foreheads, the inability to reproduce biologically, and being property, and for the rest of the living beings in the human-dominated galaxy.

It's a message that will change the galaxy.

It's a message that some want to suppress, some want to hijack, and some want to help him spread.

Friday, May 21, 2021

A Handful of Earth, a Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia Butler, by Lynell George (author), Adenrele Ojo (narrator)

Penguin Random House Audio Publishing, ISBN 9780593458617, May 2021 (original publication September 2020)

This is an account of how Octavia E. Butler became Octavia E. Butler, the wonderful writer we loved, and lost too soon. Lynell George gives us Butler's life and development into a writer through Butler's own eyes and words as much as possible.

Butler's full name was Octavia Estelle Butler; her mother was Octavia Margaret Butler. In her younger years, she went by Estelle. Estelle was a quiet, shy girl--and the more she pursued her ambition to become a writer, the more she realized she needed to develop a more assertive, outward-facing personality.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Beowulf: A New Translation, by Maria Dahvana Headley (translator), (author unknown)

MCD X Fsg Originals, ISBN 9780374110031, August 2020

Beowulf is a classic that comes down to us from Anglo-Saxon times, written in what we now call Old English, and so, except for scholars of Old English, today we read it only in translation.

This is a wonderful translation that's fun, exciting, thoroughly enjoyable.

I'm going to assume that, as Beowulf is more than a thousand years old, and is a popular choice for teachers to assign to high school students who will never even thing of studying Old English, spoilers are not really an issue.

The basic story, of course, is that a Danish king has built a great mead hall, Heorot, where he and his thanes feast, drink, and generally party every night--until Grendel, a never really described "monster," being greatly annoyed by the noise, starts visiting nightly to kill, carry off, and eat men from the court. The Danes are unable to kill him, and this, obviously, puts quite a damper on the partying. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix (author), Marisa Calin (narrator)

Penguin Random House Audio Publishing, ISBN 9780593171875, September 2020

In a 1983 that is perhaps slightly different from the one we remember, Susan Arkshaw turns 18 on May 1, and shortly thereafter goes to London. In three months, she'll be starting art school. In the meantime, she wants to find her father, whom she has never met and about whom her mother has told her almost nothing, including not telling her even his first name.

She does have some clues, though, including a few items that may have belonged to her father, and the name and address of one potential candidate--"Uncle" Frank Tingley, who sent her cards at Christmas for years. When she reaches his home, though, she finds that "Uncle" Frank does not seem at all a likely possibility, and moreover seems to be a rather creepy person she'd rather not be associated with. As she's preparing to sneak out of the house, a very attractive young man comes in, and sticks Frank with a pin, which causes him to disintegrate into dust--which is not the kind of creepy Susan had been worried about.

Monday, May 17, 2021

A Knot of Sparrows, by Cheryl Rees-Price

The Book Folks, March 2021

Winter Meadows was raised on a commune, until events not fully discussed in this book led to him living in town and discovering the benefits of central heating and other comforts. The change didn't lead to him abandoning the beliefs he was raised with. Those beliefs didn't prevent him from becoming a police officer, and eventually a Detective Inspector, investigating a murder in a small Welsh town.

Seventeen-year-old Stacey Evans is found murdered, and a surprising number of people have potential motives for murder. She had recently dumped the teenage boyfriend her parents believe she didn't have. She had been involved with several married men in the village. She had mercilessly bullied and harassed another teenage girl, Erin Kelly, who committed suicide as a result. In Erin's case, it's not just her mother and father who might have wanted Stacey to pay for what she did. There's also Donald Hobson, another teenager, Erin's best friend, who has made no secret of blaming Stacey for her death.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Assassins of Thasalon (Penric and Desdemona #10), by Lois McMaster Bujold

Spectrum Literary Agency, May 2021 

Two years after The Physicians of Vilnoc, an assassination attempt on Learned Penric's brother-in-law, General Adelis Arisaydia, fails only because Penric is right there with him, and Desdemona, his demon, is paranoid and alert. What's disturbing about this attempt is the method: a sorceress attempts to kill Arisaydia by the use of her demon-given powers. 

A Temple-trained sorcerer wouldn't do that; it would cost them both their powers and their standing as a sorcerer, because the White God would immediately take and destroy the demon. A hedge sorcerer wouldn't do it because they wouldn't have the knowledge or the training to try. Who is this assassin, and what is her motive?

There's reason to think that the motive may lie in the deteriorating political situation in Cedonia, where Arisaydia has both enemies, and people who may value him as a potential ally. When Penric sets a trap, using Arisaydia as bait, the capture of the sorceress-assassin reveals a plot that to General Arisaydia and Duke Jurgo might seem almost like normal politics, but to Penric, a Temple sorcerer of the Bastard, is both sacrilegious and horrifyingly cruel.

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, by Zen Cho, ISBN 9781250269249, June 2020

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse and is quietly drinking his tea when a dispute breaks out between a waitress and a customer. Soon it becomes a major fight, in which the bandit, Lau Fung Cheung, and another bandit, Tet Sang, play a major role.

Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, is working as a waitress in the coffeehouse after her tokong was attacked and everyone else killed. She's alive because she was an anchorite, protected by her walls until she realized it had been too long between food deliveries. She emerged to find the devastation. She's not really a very good waitress, and she's a worse assistant cook, so she's fired without hesitation for the fight.

Guet Imm then joins the bandit gang, whether they want her or not.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

From Lost to Loved: A Stray Dog's Tale, by Pamela Schloesser Canepa

Pamela Schloesser Canepa, July 2017

This is a short story of a little dog who goes from home, to homeless stray, to teaming up with a homeless woman, and more adventures before landing safely. Along the way, Woofie/Poopsie/Bixby experiences both good and bad from people, and experiences the hardships as well as the "freedom" of being a stray.

He starts out as a puppy in an "oops litter," a pedigreed mom who managed to get together with a mixed breed male. Even though I could deliver a lecture on the dangers of "free to a good home" as a way to find homes for puppies, this family did find them homes--and Woofie was loved by at least the wife and child of the home. If the husband wasn't such a prize, well, he wasn't the one who wanted a dog, and Woofie stays until their house burns down. Living in someone else's home, with Woofie confined outside, isn't ideal for anyone.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Firekeeper's Daughter, by Angeline Boulley (author), Isabella Star LaBlanc (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781250779519, March 2021

Daunis Fontaine is eighteen years old, daughter of a white woman and an Ojibwe  man, an unenrolled tribal member with much-loved family on both sides of the divide. She's had to delay her plans to head off to college with the goal of becoming a doctor, and eventually scientifically studying traditional medicines. Her uncle, her mother's brother died in what appeared to be a drug overdose, and then her maternal grandmother, GrandMary, had a stroke. Her mother needs her support.

It's a challenging time for her, but there's a bright spot--the new guy, Jamie Johnson, on her brother Levi's hockey team. Yet something about this nice guy does not quite add up.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Goodbye Girl (Pemberton Manor #1), by Becky Doughty

BraveHearts Press, December 2016

Grace Winters is tall and has a commanding presence, but that doesn't keep her from being left behind by people other than her parents and siblings. On this Christmas Eve, she's mourning another such goodbye. However, it is Christmas Eve, and traditions must be observed. Her family gathers at her parents' home for this important night--but this year, her sister, Sarah, has chicken pox. She's staying home, in her apartment in the charming but not always well-maintained Pemberton Manor. Grace, having had chicken pox years ago, is going to spend the night with Sarah. She's brought lots of food prepared by their mother, altogether too much for one healthy woman and one sick woman.

Grace gets as far as the Pemberton Manor elevator, one of the things that hasn't been well-maintained. She's in the elevator with a very pregnant woman named Lucy, Lucy's three-year-old daughter, Itsy, and a rather silent and distant man called August Jones, when it stops between the second and third floors.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow, by Jessica Redland

Boldwood Books, ISBN 9781838890995, May 2021

Samantha and Josh are now happily engaged. Josh's father, Paul, and Paul's new wife, Beth, as well as their year-old son and infant daughter, are living with them. This is due to Paul's upcoming cancer treatment and Beth's near-fatal fall and injuries she's still recovering from.

So that's a pretty full house.

Samantha's cousin Chloe turns up, unannounced, with her baby. She's just left her husband, James, who was Samantha's boyfriend when he and Chloe became involved. She refuses to say why she's left James, and despite having ignored all Samantha's attempts at contact for weeks or more, she bitterly resents the fact that Samantha hadn't told her about her engagement to Josh.

Really, Chloe resents an awful lot. She also expects Samantha to take her in, and of course, Sam being Sam, she does. She's kind and generous, and Chloe has been her best friend as well as her cousin, at least until recently. But this is a pretty demanding situation for her, as she continues to run her hedgehog rescue.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

For a Good Paws (Barkery & Biscuits Mystery #5), by Linda O. Johnston (author), Carla Mercer-Meyer (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, May 2019

Carrie Kennersley, owner of the twin bakeries, Icing on the Cake (selling human sweets) and The Barkery (selling treats for dogs), is a little worried when she learns that Mike Holpurn, convicted of killing Knobcone Heights' first female mayor, is being released on parole after ten years. However, her attention is focused mainly on her assistant, Dinah, and the birthday party Carrie has planned for her at "the resort." If the hotel in question has another name, I didn't catch it in the audiobook. But that's the risk of listening to an audiobook; you may not catch all the relevant names, and you can't easily flip back through the book when you realize you missed it.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Paladin's Grace (The Saint of Steel #1), by T. Kingfisher (author), Joel Richards (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781705297728, April 2021

Stephen is, or perhaps better say was, a paladin of the Saint of Steel. Three years ago, though, the Saint died. The paladins were triggered into a berserker rage, and not all of them survived. Now, the seven survivors are living in the Temple of the White Rat, and serving the Rat, who has never called paladins of his own, but is glad enough to accept the service of the former paladins of the Saint. Stephen worries, a lot, about going into a berserker rage again, now that the Saint no longer exist to channel it.

Grace is a perfumer, a Master Perfumer by accomplishment, but officially merely an apprentice, because both her masters, both the original one and the one to whom he sold her apprentice papers, refused to put her up for Master, in order to keep control of her. The second master, whom she ran away from, is an important factor in this story.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1), by Nghi Vo, March 2020

In an Asian empire that is not China, but perhaps based on it, Cleric Chih and their intelligent, talking bird, Almost Brilliant, are sent on a mission from the Singing Hills abbey to document the history of a former empress's place of exile.

In-yo came to Anh to marry its emperor, as a young woman from the far north, from a different culture, with a rich dowry, but no friends or allies. She learned the customs and ways of her new country, and gave birth to a son to be the heir.

Then she is banished to a rural estate called Thriving Fortune, a house that overlooks Scarlet Lake.

Chih arrives on their assignment after the place has been closed off for half a century, and finds there an old woman, the empress's former handmaid, Rabbit.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Chaos on CatNet (CatNet #2), by Naomi Kritzer (author), Casey Turner (narrator), Corey Gagne (narrator)

Audible Studios, April 2021

Steph and her mother are no longer on the run. Steph's father is locked up in Boston, awaiting trial with no bail. They're living in Minneapolis, and Steph is finally enrolled in a high school she can expect to graduate from. She's enrolled under her real name, with all the school information that she has, and telling the truth about why it's so spotty.

She also has a new friend, a classmate named Nell, who has her own interesting history. She's been homeschooled until now, because her mother joined a cult. Well, a series of cults, but the latest one is especially extreme, and is run by someone called the Elder, whom no one ever sees. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Finna (LitenVerse #1), by Nino Cipri (author), February 2020

Ava and Jules work at a big box furniture store. They're also in the immediate aftermath of a really painful breakup a few days ago.

This chain, LitenVรคrld, has a little problem with wormholes occasionally opening up and swallowing customers. They don't make a point of telling employees that, especially not new employees. It cold be bad for the bottom line. They used to have a division, Finna, whose job was to go through the wormhole and retrieve the customer--or the nearest available substitute. The Finna division was disbanded for budgetary reasons, so now the policy is to send the two lowest-paid employees after the customer.

In this store, on this day, that's Ava and Jules, who are currently having difficulty even speaking to each other. But these are the only jobs they have, and the alternative to accepting the assignment is termination.

Into the wormhole they go.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries #6), by Martha Wells (author), Kevin R. Free (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781980080633, April 2021

Murderbot is living, not exactly happily, on Preservation Station, doing its self-assigned job of protecting Dr. Mensah, when it finds a dead body. It's quickly determined that the person was clearly murdered, and Dr. Mensah wants Murderbot to work with Station Security on the investigation. This pleases neither Murderbot, nor Senior Security Officer Indah, who has still not gotten over her anger at having a rogue SecUnit living free on her station. She tolerates some basic informational assistance from Murderbot, and then tells it she'll call it if they need it.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World's Smartest Birds of Prey, by Jonathan Meiburg (author, narrator)

Penguin Random House Audio Publishing, ISBN 9780593349014, March 2021

During his voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin encountered a bird in the Falklands, a falcon, but oddly crow-like. It was unwary of people, extremely curious, and prone to rather aggressively stealing anything that caught its interest, whether potential food, or not. And the bird's view of what's "potential food" was quite broad. Darwin was puzzled by this crow-like falcon that existed nowhere but in a fairly narrow range of South America, but it was one of many mysteries he noted on his voyage, and this wasn't one he returned to.