Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Butter Spirit's Tithe, by Charles de Lint

Triskell Press, April 2012 (original publication January 2004)

Conn O'Neill is a brilliant guitarist, but not a commanding lead performer, and that's why he's working as a janitor in an office building when he meet the Butter Spirit, a rather mean and vengeful spirit, and unintentionally disrespects him. The spirit curses him for seven years, and says that at the end of the seven years, Conn will be his tithe to the Grey Man.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark

Tordotcom, ISBN 9781250767011, October 2020

I really don't read horror, honest.

Except, as I've said before, quite recently I think, when I do. P. Djèlí Clark seems to be getting almost a permanent pass for his horror. I don't look at it and say, no, it's horror; I look at it and say, oh, it's Clark.

It's the 1920s, with Prohibition, Jim Crow, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. But this is an alternate America. D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and the movie Birth of a Nation is a spell.

Not all the Klansmen are humans. Monsters are coming through from somewhere else, and they have their onw agenda, for which the KKK is useful.

Three young black women are friends and part of a resistance force against the monsters, which they call Ku Kluxes--Cordelia Lawrence, Sadie Watkins, and Maryse Boudreaux. 

Maryse is our viewpoint character, with a book of African-American folktales, and a magic sword that comes to her when she needs it. Sadie has her rifle, a Winchester 1895, which she calls Winnie. Cordelia is called Chef by everyone, but she doesn't cook food. She served in WWI, disguised as a man, and is an explosives expert.

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig (author), Carey Mulligan (narrator)

Penguin Audio, ISBN 9780593340233, September 2020

Nora Seed has been having a life in which it seems every important choice she makes is bad. She lets everyone down, or so it seems the people she cares most about have always told her. Her mother, for whom even the slight asymmetry of her ears is unacceptable. Her father, whose own athletic career died due to an injury. Her brother, when she quit their band for which she was the real songwriter and the best singer. Herself, perhaps, when she quit university, and didn't pursue a career in either philosophy, or glaciology.

Now she's 35, living alone, and is estranged from both her brother and her bestS friend. She's just been let go from a dubiously adequate job at a music shop called String Theory. And then an occasional customer at String Theory knocks on her door to tell her, very kindly, that he's found her cat, dead by the side of the road. She decides to kill herself. Yes, this is just the very start of the book.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Olive, Mabel and Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs, by Andrew Cotter (author, narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781705293706, March 2021

In 2020, we went from our normal lives, angst-ridden about work, family, politics, various national concerns varying by what country you lived in, and the need to rush everywhere, to angst-ridden over a global pandemic, not at all affectionately known as COVID-19. The only one of the previous concerns that was knocked out was the need to rush everywhere, due to shutdowns or lockdowns (depending on how bad things were in your location) that meant almost no one was going anywhere. If you could do your job from home, great! Time to get familiar with Zoom. If you couldn't, you were either a "frontline" or "essential" worker (which did not mean you were earning above minimum wage, necessarily), or you were unemployed. Andrew Cotter was a Scottish sports commentator, working primarily for the BBC. With sports events canceled, he was sitting at home. With his two dogs, a black Labrador named Olive, and a yellow Labrador named Mabel. What does a man who loves walking with his dogs, and is a sportscaster who suddenly has unlimited time on his hands, do with his time, and his dogs, and his GoPro camera?

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean's Greatest Predator, by Jason M. Colby (author), Paul Heitsch (narrator)

Highbridge Audio, ISBN 9781684415533, January 2019

Orcas are the most popular, profitable, and of course, controversial, animals on display in history. The controversy stems largely from the fact that captivity is objectively horrible for orcas. They're large, intelligent, and highly social. They live in large, matrilineal family groups, who live near other, related family groups whom they socially interact with. There's no way we can provide a truly appropriate habitat for orcas in captivity. When captured, they lose their entire families, their entire social group, they lose the auditory stimulation that's a normal part of their world, they're forced to change their diets to what we can feed them, and they are confined to what are rceally unbearably small spaces for orcas. The more people learn about this, the more people want no more orcas in captivity.

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, 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, 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 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,  (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?