Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sōsuke Natsukawa (author), Louise Heal Kawai (translator), Kevin Shen (narrator)

HarperAudio, ISBN 9780063095755, December 2021

Rintaro Natsuki is a bookish, unsocial high school student living with his grandfather, helping to run his grandfather's secondhand bookstore. When his grandfather dies, he gets even more withdrawn. An aunt he barely knows organizes the funeral, and makes plans to close down the bookstore, and take him home to live with her.

But during the week between the funeral and the day she'll come take him home, and the removal company will take away the books, some very strange events happen. The first strange events don't quite register how strange they are. Rintaro knows he doesn't have any friends at school, so he doesn't quite know what to make of it when he gets visits at the bookstore from a boy, Ryota Akiba, who wonders why he's not attending school and also wants to buy some books, and from a girl, Sayo Yuzuki, who is his class representative. She's worried about his non-attendance, and brings him his homework. It's a bit more undeniably weird when the talking cat shows up.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Misfits (Liaden Universe stories #15), by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miller (author)

Pinbeam Books, ISBN 9781935224181, June 2008

Ichliad Brunner is a member of a minor line of Clan Lysta, a meteorologist, and for most of the events of this story, working under contract at a space station orbing the planet Klamath, which is unfortunately engaged in a nasty war.

Miri Robertson, at this point, is not yet Val Con's lifemate and one half of Delm Korval. In fact, she hasn't met him, is still hardly more than a kid, and is a corporal in Liz Lizardi's Lizardi's Lunatics mercenary company.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Winterfair Gifts (Vorkosigan Saga (Publication Order) #13.1), by Lois McMaster Bujold (author), Grover Gardner (narrator)

Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9781481539791, July 2008

Winterfair has come to Vorbarr Sultana, and Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson are about to be married. The wedding is planned, the garden is laid out for it (yes, in the winter; Ekaterin designed the garden and Miles is determined to have the wedding there), the gifts are arriving, and so are the guests.

Elli Quinn, Miles' successor as Admiral of the Dendarii Free Mercenaries, is not coming, but has apparently sent two gifts. One is a Cetagandan genetically-engineered living blanket, which purrs. It's accompanied by one of Elli's ribald limericks. The other, arriving separately and a little later, is a beautiful string of pearls, with no limerick. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Unthinkable: What the World's Most Extraordinary Brains Can Teach Us About Our Own, by Helen Thomson (author, narrator)

HarperAudio, ISBN 9780062847959, June 2018

Helen Thomson is a science writer with New Scientist, who became fascinated by the human brain, its complexity, and what can happen when that complexity goes wrong. In this book, she recounts her meetings and experiences with people with nine different, unusual brain conditions. This isn't a clinical textbook; it's about Thomson exploring how these conditions affect the lives of the individuals living with them. She also talks about what we've learned about these conditions and their origins, but that's not the main focus, here. The people are. And no matter how strange the conditions are, she always treats these people with respect, not as mere examples of how bizarre humans can be.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Emergency Landing A Short Horror Story (Come Join Us By The Fire, Volume 2: Book #15), by: Seanan McGuire (author), Natalie Naudus (narrator)

Tom Doherty Associates, ISBN 9781250811684, March 2021 (original publication March 2019)

Caitlin Wilson is a scientist, an epidemiologist, who, in the current situation, is glad to be able to say that she doesn't actually work for the government. She's a consultant. This doesn't help as much as she'd like.

What is the current situation? She traveling on business, this time flying out of the Atlanta airport. They've just taken off when she sees some flashes of light and feels what a less observant and less informed person would think was merely atmospheric disturbance. When Caitlin realizes that it was falling bombs and they were likely the last people to get out of the Atlanta airport, she flags down a flight attendant she knows from previous flights. She recommends that when wifi is turned on, it should be made free to all passengers, because as soon as some people have access to information about what just happened, unequal access is likely to lead to conflict and panic. 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Whiskers in the Dark (Mrs. Murphy #28), by Rita Mae Brown (author), Sneaky Pie Brown (author), Kate Forbes (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781980029946, June 2019

After a major nor'easter hits northern Virginia, Harry Harristeen and her friends join the groundskeeping efforts for the National Beagle Club at Aldie. There's a major charity event coming up, Hounds for Heroes, a benefit for war veterans. Harry's two cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and two dogs, Tucker the corgi and new addition, six-month-old Irish wolfhound puppy, Pirate, have come with her.

What should have been a pleasant and productive couple of days changes abruptly when one of those friends, Jason Holzknect, is found dead, with his throat cut. This terrible event is made worse by the fact that there is simply no evidence of who did it, or what their motive was.  It's clear the killer is frighteningly competent at killing, and very familiar with the grounds.

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Days of Flaming Motorcycles by Catherynne M. Valente (author), Natalie Naudus (narrator)

Tom Doherty Associates, ISBN 9781250807489, March 2021

Caitlin is a young woman living in Augusta, Maine, during the zombie apocalypse. She's surrounded by zombies; all the non-zombies, except her, have left Augusta for safer regions. She's even sharing her home with a zombie, her father. Her mother, who also became a zombie, wandered off.

Caitlin is recording her thoughts, observations, and experiences in a children's school notebook. The current one has a picture of flaming motorcycles on the cover. Her observations contradict much of the official information, still broadcast by tv and radio stations in places where the zombies haven't displaced the non-zombies. One of those observations is that the zombies have a culture.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Ten Little Fen: A Spade/Paladin Conundrum, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

WMG Publishing, November 2021

Spade, SMoF (Secret Master of Fandom), forensic accountant, and amateur detective for sf conventions when necessary, is program director of SierraCon, an sf convention held at a relatively isolated hotel in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, just barely on the California side of the California/Nevada state line. Oh, and this convention is in November. He's filling in for the original program director, who is recovering from chemotherapy for cancer, and not able to do the job. He's not fond of either mountains, or snow, but once the convention starts, no one really has to go out, and the locals say the snowstorms are overblown and don't generally create real problems. Getting ready of the official start of the convention, Spade ignores the weather.

That's a mistake. As the official start of the convention approaches, a major blizzard closes in, flights are canceled, both attendees and guests cancel, and Spade has to remind the hotel's general manager of the unusual terms of their contract regarding cancelations. At least their Writer Guest of Honor arrived early, and the "Usual Set," a group of New York-based writers and editors who travel a lot, show up unexpectedly, just before that becomes impossible, and can be used to fill program holes created by the cancelations. Except, of course, Spade's troubles haven't even started. That happens during dinner that night, when one well-known fan nearly chokes to death, is saved by fandom's other traveling detective, Paladin, performing the Heimlich maneuver, and subsequently proves to have been poisoned. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Origin Story A Short Horror Story (Come Join Us By The Fire, Volume 2: Book #7), by T. Kingfisher (author), Natalie Naudus (narrator)

Tom Doherty Associates, ISBN 9781250811677, March 2021 (original publication October 2020)

The last survivor of three fairy sisters works in a slaughterhouse, because even a fairy has to eat. She's the best butcher in the slaughterhouse, and she can handle animals too difficult for others. Her coworkers slowly realize she's living there, too, but that's no great concern.

Even more slowly, they realize she's making things, small things. like things somewhere between birds and bats, out of leftover pieces and parts from the slaughtered animals. That's creepy and wrong and very disturbing. But she's the best butcher there, and the foreman says that when one of them is the best butcher he has, he'll listen to the complaints. Then one day an old mare is brought in, who isn't really ready for death, but she can't do her old job anymore, and can't be sold for enough to keep her out of the slaughterhouse. The fairy persuades the butcher to let her have the mare, and makes a promise to the mare.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience, by Michael S. Gazzaniga (author), Johnny Heller (narrator)

HarperAudio, ISBN 9780062373410, February 2015

Michael S. Gazzaniga is a leading scientist in the field of cognitive neuroscience, having in fact helped to create the field as the study of the brain advanced. In this book, he discusses his life and his research. He did important, even critical, research on split brains (brains where the corpus callosum, the nerve bundle connecting the left and right sides of the brain) was severed--sometimes in accidents, but often intentionally, in cases where epileptic seizures were unmanageably severe and frequent. It was effective enough to be considered justified in very severe cases--especially as it seemed to have no obvious impact on normal functioning.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Second Chances 101 (Ripple Effect Romance #5) (Safe Harbors #3.5), by Donna K. Weaver

Emerald Arch Publishing, ISBN 9780989992879, September 2020 (original publication February 2014)

Francie Davis has struggled for years to support her family. Her husband, crippled badly in an accident years ago, and embittered by it, has died a few months ago, leaving only Francie and their son, Rafe, now heading off to college. He'll be attending Harvard on scholarship. Francie will only be supporting herself, now, but will be doing it on her own, without Rafe's help in the vegetable garden which has largely fed them for years. But Francie has her own dreams, long on hold, and she's now pursuing them.

Francie has gotten a job at the local college, and the benefits include a 3/4 discount on tuition. She'll be a full time student, and a full time worker--while trying to complete the harvesting that was not yet completed when Rafe left North Carolina for Massachusetts.

Alex Diederik is a history professor at that same local college, sharing office support with Prof. Kevin Eldred, and has a daughter, Samantha, who is also a student there. They're going through a rough period in their relationship, because Samantha, or "Sam," finds herself defending her divorced parents against each other. Vicki has remarried, a French man whom Alex, and we later learn Sam, both find rather creepy

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Early Conundrums: A Spade/Paladin Collection (A Spade/Paladin Conundrum), by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

WMG Publishing, Inc., June 2012

Spade is a SMoF, a Secret Master of Fandom, i.e., one of the people who travel the country helping fan-run science fiction conventions operate successfully. He's mainly the guy who understands the finance side of running a non-profit, fan-run convention, but every so often, a puzzle or problem comes up, that Spade is able to solve quickly and quietly, avoiding trouble for the con. That's where he got the nickname, Spade, although in build, personality, and wealth, he's more of a Nero Wolfe than a Sam Spade.

Paladin is short, smart, pixie-ish in build, with elf-like, slightly pointed ears--and by her own description a bulldozer in her approach to problems, rather than someone with any finesse. Like Spade, she solves mysteries and problems in science fiction fandom. Unlike Spade, though she's very much a real fan like he is, she's also earning her living doing this. Both she and Spade want to keep sf cons as safe as possible; Paladin does this by targeting those who would prey on the children and young teens in fandom.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Brass Queen by Elizabeth Chatsworth (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

CamCat Publishing, December 2021

This is just a really fun romp, steampunk style.

Not everyone agrees; on Goodreads, I see a whole lot of five-star reviews, interspersed with occasional one-star reviews. Or rants, as one of the one-star reviewers freely admits.

So, a bit of a marmite book. You'll enjoy it, or hate it.

In an alternate late Victorian England, Miss Constance Hartwhistle, daughter of a baron who is missing. Her mother died; her father went off on somewhat more adventurous explorations than he had while she was alive, and found a portal to an alternate world where his wife is still alive, but the alternate baron is dead. He decided not to go home.

Constance has been running the baron's secret arms trading business for months now, mostly successfully, but there are some challenges. First and foremost, she's 21 years old, and has been, until this, rather sheltered. Secondly, her uncle is, not unreasonably, convinced that her father died on one of his risky adventures into the Congo, or the Amazon, or whatever. He's now suing to force her to produce proof the baron is alive, or to marry a suitable man of noble birth within a couple of weeks, or, failing both, he will become the new baron. This will be disastrous not just for Constance, but for all the people living and working on the Hartwhistle land, because her uncle has very different plans for that land.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

At the Reunion Buffet (Isabel Dalhousie #10.5), by Alexander McCall Smith

Vintage, May 2015

Isabel Dalhousie has agreed to host a party as the opening event of her high school reunion. Most of these people she hasn't seen in twenty years, and Jamie's opinion on reunions can be summarized as "if these people were important in one's life, you'd be in regular touch with them." Not that he'd ever say anything that harsh! But Isabel has agreed, and the plans are in place. The party is being catered, so Jamie doesn't even have to cook.

Monday, December 13, 2021

How Stella Learned to Talk: The Groundbreaking Story of the World's First Talking Dog, by Christina Hunger

William Morrow, ISBN 9780063046863, May 2021

Christina Hunger was working as a speech pathologist for young children, in Omaha, Nebraska, when she and her boyfriend, Jake, got an eight-week-old Catahoula/Blue Heeler mix puppy. They named her Stella, and started doing what neither of them had done as adults: potty training, walks, crate training, and of course puppy proofing their home.

But as she got to know her new puppy, she noticed behaviors in Stella and in the language-delayed toddlers she worked with. The children and the puppy showed similar pre-linguistic behaviors, the behaviors language-delayed children show before they begin to use words. Christina started to wonder if Stella, exposed to the same language therapy and same type of communication device, could learn to use words to communicate her needs to Christina and Jake.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Perils of Morning Coffee (Isabel Dalhousie #8.5), by Alexander McCall Smith

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, ISBN 9780307907516, October 2011
This is an Isabel Dalhousie short story, centered around the mystery entangled with a philosophical dilemma that she encounters. Her husband Jamie and son Charlie are present, as are friend/housekeeper/babysitter Grace, and the handsome Brother Fox. (For those who don't know, an actual fox, who frequents Isabel's garden with her blessing.)

The core of this story begins with an accidental email invitation to coffee one morning that week, with two philosophy professors at a nearby university. Isabel hasn't met either of them, but she does know some of the work of at least one of them. She assumes they're interested in her journal, Review of Applied Ethics. She replies, accepting, then is very apologetically informed by the apparent inviter, Prof. George MacLeod, of the misfire of the software he uses to manage invitations and meetings. They wind up agreeing to meet anyway, only the two of them because the other professor isn't available, at a coffee house they both like.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Knot of Shadows (Penric and Desdemona (Publication order) #11), by Lois McMaster Bujold

Spectrum Literary Agency, October 2021

Penric, Learned Divine and Temple Sorcerer, is having a quiet morning with his family when a knock at the door brings a summons from Master Tolga, head of the hospice in Vilnoc. A body was fished out of the water in the port, and the body proved to be less dead, or at least more active, than a clearly dead body pulled out of the harbor ought to be. When Penric and his demon, Desdemona, arrive, they find that the body is indeed dead, but a sundered ghost, unable to move on to the afterlife and its god, has taken up residence in the corpse. The ghost will be one of the patients who has recently died in the hospice. More critical is the identity of the corpse. They need to notify his family, or friends, or someone, but the body was dressed only in a cheap worn nightshirt, with no indication of who he was.

While that question is answered when a clerk from the Customs Office in response to the story circulating of a man who fits the description of the head of the office, Master Therneas, who hasn't showed up for work for two days. Yet rather than an answer, this proves to be the start of a confusing and disturbing mystery.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

A Favorite Son, by Uvi Poznansky (author), David Kudler (narrator)

Uvi Poznansky, March 2013

This is a retold version of the story of Jacob and Esau, or, in this telling, Yankle and Esav, their bitter rivalry, and the conflict between Isaac and Rebecca, about who is the "favorite son."

It's a modern retelling, with cars and planes and a chain of restaurants named after Yankle, who is the true chef in this family. Yet in many ways it retains the setting of the Bible's original story, with the family being desert nomads, with herds to care for, and the constant concern over enough water, and, most bemusing for me, we're explicitly told that the Scriptures haven't been written yet, and that Yankle and Esav's story will be part of those scriptures. To me, this last bit seems a very strange choice.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist, by Ben Barres (author), Nancy Hopkins (Foreword), Paul Boehmer (narrator)

Highbridge Audio, ISBN 9781684416776, September 2018

Ben Barres was a groundbreaking scientist in neurobiology, and groundbreaking as a transgender person in science. This is his autobiography, completed shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer in 2017.

Barbara Barres, even as a very young child, had both a strong interest in science, and a strong sense of gender confusion and belief that she was assigned the wrong gender at birth. She was, she was sure, meant to be a boy. Unfortunately, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was no one and nothing to tell Barbara that yes, she really could be Ben. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Sherlock Holmes & the Singular Affair, by M. K. Wiseman

MK Wiseman, December 2021

With Sherlock Holmes recently deceased, Dr. John H. Watson has received a package left to him by his old friend. In that package he finds a story--Holmes' own account of an adventure he had before he ever met Watson. It involves high society, stage-door dandies, and a young woman wanting to know where the young man courting her has disappeared to.

Miss Eudora Frances Clarke grew up as neighbors and close friends with Mr. Tobias-Henry Price, until when they were twelve years old, his father died, and his uncle, whose heir he now was, took him away to his home. There was little contact, and then Tobias-Henry was sent abroad to oversee some business of his uncle's. Then he returned, proposed marriage, hinted at problems related to his business activities, and disappeared.

Except, as everyone assures her, Mr. Tobias-Henry Price is not missing. He's living the life of a cultivated gentleman in the London society which, due to being of far less prosperous family, Eudora has never been a part of. She contrives to encounter him leaving his club, and--the man is handsome, charming, altogether likeable, but he is not her Tobias-Henry. This man is a stranger. Everyone, including his Uncle, assures her she is wrong. But her Tobias-henry had a scar acquired in their childhood, which this man does not have.

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, by Andrea Wulf (author), David Drummond (narrator)

Highbridge Audio, October 2015

This is a fascinating biography of an impressive scientist, whom I don't believe I ever heard of before.

Alexander von Humboldt was the second son of an aristocratic Prussian family, who used his inheritance to pursue a career as, essentially, the first real naturalist. At 27, he went on an expedition to South America, with one other scientist and a couple of guides. In the course of his expedition he invented the concept of isotherms, which made global study of climate possible. He collected specimens, climbed mountains, and took detailed notes on plant and animal life, climate, and the effects of wholesale clearing of trees and other inconvenient plants and animals. Humboldt's journey, and his letters reporting home on it, were widely covered in the newspapers, worldwide, not just in his native Prussia. He returned home, and continued to be both a celebrity and a working scientist--and in many was perhaps the first science popularizer. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (The Hinges of History #3), by Thomas Cahill (author), Brian F. O'Byrne (narrator)

Random House Audio, July 2000

Between 1995 and 2013, Thomas Cahill released a series of books called The Hinges of History, about, as one might guess, critical turning points the history of western civilization. This book, the third in the series, is about the impact Jesus, his teachings, and his followers had on history.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Bread Alone (Adventures in the Liaden Universe® Number 34), by Sharon Lee, Steve Miller

Pinbeam Books, November 2021

This is a collection of four stories set in Lee and Miller's Liaden Universe--space opera, values that make my heart sing, an appropriate appreciation of the excellence of tea and of cats, together with helpings of romance.

These aren't Korval stories, but rather stories centered around The Bakery. In "Degrees of Separation," Don Eyr is a young, unvalued member of one small and poorly run clan. His love of baking born in his delm's kitchen, where the servants, at least, have time for him. His cousin the nadelm persuades the delm to send him off to be educated--and young Don Eyr decides to attend a prestigious culinary school. When he returns to Liad, he's a different young man, with a partner, Serana, formerly a member of the City Guard where the school is located. On Liad, they find not all is well, and decide to fix their little piece of it. 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Gaming Hell Christmas, by Amanda McCabe & Kathy L. Wheeler

Chisel Imprint, December 2021

This is the first volume of Gaming Hell Christmas, stories about six women who attended Miss Greensley's School as young women, now older, out in society, and making decisions about the rest of their lives. It includes two novellas, the first featuring Miss Alexandra Blessing, beloved but illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Winsome, and the second about her dear friend, Annabelle, the widowed Lady Ranstruther. 

Alexandra has lived with her father and his family since she was nine, and has six younger siblings. The two sisters still at home give her little peace, including happily disregarding the privacy of her own bedchamber. At 28, she doesn't expect to marry, but does want a home of her own.

Annabelle, after a year of widowhood following the death of her elderly and perhaps not very kind husband, Annabelle is ready for love and a happier life.

The stories take place over the same period of time, the Christmas season of 1796. These are Georgian stories, not Regencies, and while the legal status of women isn't any different, socially, they have just a little bit more freedom than they will in the Regency era. Thus, the ladies can, if discreet and careful, visit the exclusive gaming hell, la Sous Rose. And of course they do.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

One O'Clock Hustle (Inspector Rebecca Mayfield Mystery #1), by Joanne Pence

Quail Hill Publishing, June 2019 (original publication March 2014)

Inspector Rebecca Mayfield, a homicide detective with the San Francisco Police Department, is a strictly by-the-book cop. Outside of work, she lives quietly in a small, not quite legal in-law apartment, with her dog, Spike, who is a hairless Chinese Crested-Chihuahua mix.

And then one fine Saturday night, she gets called to Big Caesar's, a popular, fancy club where there has just been a shooting. There's one dead woman, and one suspect, caught standing over the body with the gun in his hand. He has a crazy story about being innocent, and seeing the actual killer leave via the window.

This suspect is Richie Amalfi, a charming, handsome businessman whose business and actual source of income isn't entirely clear. Richie, though, is "practically family" at Mayfield's home police station, with his niece engaged to marry another Inspector there. And however skeptical Mayfield and others are about his source of income, he has absolutely no record of violence. Yet, he's been caught red-handed, right?

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Dragon Waiting, by John M. Ford

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250269027, September 2020 (original publication 1983)

This is an alternate 15th century Europe, brought to us by the brilliant John M. Ford. 

Instead of Julian the Apostate, who only briefly interrupted the spread of Christianity in Europe, in this alternate history there was Julian the Wise, who lived long enough to prevent any faith from being banned, and any faith from becoming dominant over the others and being able to ban them. The eastern empire, its capital at Byzantium, remains strong and vibrant--and in the 15th century, is working to expand into western Europe. It controls about half of France, and parts of Italy, and wants more.

In other ways, this Europe is very familiar. Edward IV is King of England, Lorenzo de' Medici is a powerful banker and de facto ruler of Florence. Galeazzo Sforza is Duke of Milan, though in this world he's in the pay of Byzantium, and also a vampire.