Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Mask of Death (The Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries #10), by Karen Musser Nortman (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Karen Musser Nortman, December 2022 (original publication February 2022)

Frannie and Larry Shoemaker, and their dog, Cuba, are once again in an RV campground--but not as guests this time.  They're here to act as the hosts at a campground only an hour from their home, for the month of May. It's part of their longer-term plan to get an assignment at a campground someplace warmer than Iowa for the winter months. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, right, it's the Shoemakers, with Larry's sister Jayne-Ann and her husband Mickey coming to join them. Something will happen, and they'll be involved in finding the first signs of trouble. And Frannie will find clues whether she wants to or not. She is patient, she is kind, she is smart, and people talk to her. And now, for this month, they're the campground hosts.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Secret Life of the Mind: How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides, by Mariano Sigman (author), John Chancer (narrator)

Dreamscape Media, ISBN 9781666601855, November 2017

This is another fascinating look at the development and workings of the human brain. Sigman begins by looking at the brains of babies and toddlers, that period of life we all go through, and yet have few if any memories of. We tend to think of babies' brains as very simple, but there is in fact a lot of complex activity going on inside those little heads. Babies, by the time they are five months old, can respond to puppet shows that show puppets that help another puppet, and puppets that show another puppet that refuses to help. When offered a choice between the helpful puppet and the unhelpful puppet, the babies prefer the helpful puppet. That's an oversimplified description, but children as young as five months can already choose, and express the choice, for kinder, more helpful behavior. There are other experiments described here that show more complex moral choices babies and very young children are able to make.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Christmas at Baskerville Hall: A Sherlock and Lucy Short Story (Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mystery #7.7), by Anna Elliott (author), Charles Veley (author)

Wilton Press, November 2019

This is a short story in a larger series in which, in addition to the regulars we are so familiar with, Sherlock Holmes has a daughter, Lucy James. She's married to a young policeman, called Jack, who has a ten-year-old sister, Becky, for whom they are apparently responsible. (This is the first and so far only story in the series that I've read.) They also have a large dog, a mastiff called Prince.

This entire found-family group has received an invitation to Baskerville Hall for Christmas, ten years after the events of "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Sir Henry has been married to Beryl, the former Mrs. Stapleton, for eight yeas, and they have a five-year-old son, Hugo. Lady Baskerville is pregnant again, and due right around Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Complete Psychotechnic League, Volume 1 (The Complete Psychotechnic League #1), by Poul Anderson

Baen Books, October 2017

Poul Anderson began writing his own "future history" in the 1950s, with its starting point being that there would be a limited nuclear war at some point in the 1950s. From that point would develop a secret effort to build a new social structure that could permanently prevent war. This project was founded on a new discipline of human and social psychology, and a secret organization within the UN, secretly manipulating people and events, including the occasional assassination.

You might think these people are the bad guys, but Anderson intended them to be the good guys, building a human civilization of freedom, prosperity, individual freedom, and no more war. Nuclear weapons meant war could never be allowed to happen again. If you've looked at photographs and films from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including interviews with the survivors, it should be clear why. So Anderson has his initially tiny cadre of people studying the mathematics of the new science of the human mind, who work first to ensure militaristic dictatorship doesn't become an acceptable form of government for UN members, and then to have enough influence to ensure all the countries stay on track and the UN develops toward being a true world government.

One of the interesting features of this story sequence is the Un-Men, the UN's top, and top secret, agents, who undertake all the most dangerous missions to thwart the efforts of nationalists and authoritarians in various countries, including the US, to weaken the UN, strengthen national governments, and bring back the ability of national governments to pursue their view of national interests, even if it means invading and conquering their neighbors. Two things go into making these Un-Men the super-agents that they are. One is superior mental and physical training grounded in the ever-advancing science of the human mind, related to the science that also enables the Psychotechnic Institute to project and manage the future development of human civilization in the direction they want. (It's worth noting that the Psychotechnic Institute is officially independent of the UN, lessening its direct power, but providing a level deniability on both ends.)

The other thing is that one very exceptional man, extremely intelligent, strong, and adventurous, never chose to enlist in the program, but was eventually cloned. The clones emerge identical to the original, not just physically and in some important aspects of temperament and personality, but in every way, except for particular scars that one individual got and another didn't. And this is true to the point that, when necessary, one Un-Man can impersonate another well enough to fool even his wife, in even the most intimate circumstances. This is of course impossible because nurture and life experience does play a role in how we turn out. But in the 1950s, who knew? We were still decades away from cloning Dolly the sheep. The superior science of the mind resulting in more effective education for those to whom it is extended, I'm totally willing to believe as a potential reality. The completely identical Un-Men? That's something I go with for the sake of the story.

Another interesting feature is the story set on Venus. You might argue with the politics of it, and Anderson in his later years certainly did. But this Venus is not the verdant jungle of other sf of this period. It's oppressively hot still, but dry, barren, and uninhabitable in its current state. It's not the real Venus we know now, but it's a lot more realistic than most sf and popular imagination portrayed at the time. The now-independent and unified colonies on Venus are working on terraforming it. But to do so, the colony has become extremely collectivist and top-down, with little to now personal freedom and an ever-present secret police. This is something the 1950s Anderson didn't approve of, the 1990s disapproved of even more, and no one who remembers the USSR, or Mao's China, or other such regimes, would volunteer to live in. Anderson and his protagonist in this story do both concede, and I agree, that some degree of collectivization is necessary to the project they're undertaking. This much, though, stems from the greed and power-hunger of those in charge.

It's also noted that the Venusian political bosses are making use of the as much of the same science the Psychotechnic Institute is using to remake Earth to their vision, and using it quite effectively. And that right there is one of the things I've always loved about Anderson--that ability and willingness to see that there's more than one side, even when he's coming down firmly on one particular side.

Another thing I love is that the characters are interesting, complex, and realistic. People are individuals, not stereotypes or stick figures. There aren't many women in these stories, but the ones that are here, and play significant roles, are also intelligent, resilient, and interesting, as well as varied in their interests and goals. The ones that are more in the background? They look and sound more like what we find conventional 1950s fiction. The basic social roles seem similar. But the ones who are significant characters are real people, without being portrayed as freakish in their own setting.

The stories weren't written in any particular order, but in 2017, Baen gathered them into three volumes, presenting them in internal chronological order, and providing an introduction and interstitial material reframing these stories as the alternate history they became when we didn't have a nuclear war by the end of the 1950s. The stories in this volume range from shortly after the nuclear war, starting with one of the early experts in the new science of human behavior confronting a valued old friend, to try to dissuade him from unfortunately short-term goals, which would result in more war and death in the longer run.

I haven't talked much about the individual stories. They're good stories, and I enjoyed them, but what struck me most deeply in rereading these, is the overall impact, and experience of reading these 1950s stories in the 2020s. Still very good stories, but as different as my politics are from Anderson's in his later years, I agree with him about the weaknesses here. The Venus story isn't the only one where the potential danger of the Psychotechnic Institute's psychometric science is acknowledged, and yes, I think it's a greater danger than the younger Anderson recognized at the time.

And yet these are still very good stories, and I enjoyed them.


I received this book as a gift, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Red Scholar's Wake, by Aliette de Bodard

JABberwocky Literary Agency, ISBN 9781625676108, November 2022

Xich Si is a tech scavenger, living in Triệu Hoà Port, and scavenging tech to sell and support herself and her daughter, when she's captured by pirates. Specifically, she finds herself a prisoner on the mindship Rice Fish.

Rice Fish is the Red Consort, wife of the Red Scholar, head of the Red Banner faction of pirates. Or rather, she's the widow of Huan, the Red Scholar, who has been killed in the recent fighting. The Red Widow. 

When Rice Fish comes to Xich Si's cell, while the drunken wake is still going on, Xixh Si fears the worst. What the mindship wants, though, is a huge shock--once the mindship verifies that Xich Si is the maker of the bots that attracted her interest, she wants to marry her. But it will be strictly a business arrangement.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Last Wise Man, by Eileen Enwright Hodgetts (author), Leah Klocko (narrator)

Emerge Publishing, August 2021

This is a frustrating, disappointing story. It's the Nativity story, set on another planet in the distant future. The planet has a small and dwindling population of humans, accepted or tolerated to various degrees by the egg-laying natives. We meet three of the humans, who are hearing a voice asking "Where is he?"

There's also, of course, a new star in the sky.

One of the three humans is a young man born on this planet; the second is an older man who was born on Earth before the last humans were forced to leave, and the third is an ancient monk who has been wandering in the wilderness, but now has a vital task to perform.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Anyone But You, by Jennifer Crusie (author), Susan Ericksen (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, July 2008, (original publication January 1996)

Nina Askew is forty, divorced, and newly freed from the last tie to her ex-husband--the stuffy suburban mausoleum of a house they lived in and she always hated. She has a small apartment she loves in the city, the third floor of a divided-up Victorian. She's swearing off men, at least in any way that involves commitment. And today, she's off to the pound, to get what she could never have while married to stuffy, ambitious Guy--a dog. A puppy. A bouncy, energetic, small-breed puppy, who will add joy to her life. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Diamonds and Lies, by Inge-Lise Goss (author), Natalie Disaster (narrator)

Inge-Lise Goss, February 2021

Mia Sloane is a rising young advertising executive--and together with her brother, Andy Carlyle, a jewel thief. She mostly lives on her legitimate income, and uses her ill-gotten gains to build a nest egg for the future. But now Andy is in trouble; he went gambling with a part of a stash of uncut diamonds--and lost them, instead of winning big. Now he needs to have either uncut diamonds of the amount that he lost, or $5 million in cash, in just a week.

This doesn't leave time for their usual careful planning. Andy picks a target, the owner of a chain of jewelry stores, and sends Mia in to check the place, and the owner, out. As hoped, she connects with him, and gets both more information about the shop, and a date with the man, which will give her a chance to check him and the store's operations out further.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Broken Homes (Rivers of London #4), by Ben Aaronovitch (author), Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (narrator)

Penguin Audio, ISBN 9780756409937, February 2014 (original publication February 2013)

Peter Grant and partner Lesley May are at the Folly practicing their magic skills and researching an Oxford dining club called the Little Crocodiles. Magic--Lesley is doing more careful, disciplined, and therefore somewhat more skilled work than Peter. Little Crocodiles--their professor was illicitly teaching them Newtonian magic.

They're interrupted by a call to an auto accident, with the drunk driver dead and the other driver, who was speeding, not badly hurt. And yet there's blood in the car. Turns out it's not the driver's blood. Whose is it?

Oh, and the driver, Robert Weil, is connected to the Little Crocodiles.

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2022, by Rebecca Roanhorse (guest editor), John Joseph Adams (series editor)

Mariner Books, ISBN 9780358690122, November 2022

This is a collection of twenty stories of science fiction, fantasy, and bit of horror, a Year's Best collection with John Joseph Adams as the series editor, and Rebecca Roanhorse as this year's guest editor.

It's a lively and interesting collection of stories, including the ones that are not to my taste. It includes writers of a wide variety of backgrounds, with the diverse characters you, or at least I, like to see.

Some of my favorites here:

Monday, December 5, 2022

Champagne and Lemon Drops (Blueberry Springs 0.5), by Jean Oram (author), Cris Dukehart (narrator)

Oram Productions, ISBN 9781928198758, January 2015

I had very mixed feelings about this book.

Beth is a very likable character, who wants a quiet life in her hometown of Blueberry Springs, her career helping people in and out of the local hospital as a recreational therapist, and marriage, a white picket fence, and kids. A big family around the table for every holiday. She's planning her wedding to her sweetheart, Oz.

Except that Oz, who has seemed a bit "off" for a little while, announces they need to take a break. He hates his work as an accountant in his father's firm. He's living the life his father wants him to live. He needs to find himself.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Wacky Witches and Haunted Houses, by Amelia Morgan (author), Stephanie Quinn (narrator)

Meredith Potts, September 2021

Meg Walton and her police detective husband, Connor Smith, want to get out of their apartment and buy a house in their little town of  Enchanted Bay. But Enchanted Bay is a small town with not many people looking to move out, so every open house they visit is mobbed. Finally, they go to the least appealing one, the one with the lowest asking price and described as a fixer-upper. When they arrive to see the house, the real estate agent is there, but no one else. They're the only ones wanting to see the house, and the reasons are obvious. Fixing it up will be a huge job. But they're here, and decide to do a walk-through.

A woman approaches them asking for help, but only Meg can see and hear her. She's a ghost, and Meg wants nothing to do with a haunted house. She insists on leaving immediately.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Whispers Under Ground (Rivers of London #3). by Ben Aaronovitch (author), Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781452680095, September 2012

When Peter Grant's young cousin, Abigail Kamara, drags him and his colleague and fellow magical apprentice, Leslie May, to a railroad track running under a school playground, they do find the ghost. But the ghost is no threat, and doesn't seem to be pointing to anything of concern now. So when the first case that lands on his desk on Monday is a man stabbed to death on the track at Baker Street Station, he puts the ghost aside, and sets about finding out why the British Transport Police officer, Sgt. Kumar, thinks there's something odd about the case in a way that makes it the Folly's business.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Gaming Hell Christmas: Volume Two, by Amanda McCabe (author), Kathy L Wheeler (author)

Chisel Imprint, December 2022

It's 1797, and in Georgian England, while women have no more legal rights than they will have in the coming Regency era, they do have somewhat more social freedom. The Girls of Wight, a small circle of friends who attended Miss Greensley's School of Comportment for Young Ladies of Quality, now 29 and all still unmarried, are exercising some of that freedom--still quite limited by modern standards.

One of them is Princess Augusta, a daughter of George III. Another is Alexandra, illegitimate but acknowledged and valued daughter of the Duke of Winsome. There are the twin daughters of an earl, Thomasina and Philomena. Victoria Lanford is an orphan who became the ward of her uncle when her parents died, and was sent to school and Miss Greensley's when she and her cousins, Delphine and Melanie, hated her. She now supports herself writing novels by "A Lady L." 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Miracle at Coney Island: How a Sideshow Doctor Saved Thousands of Babies and Transformed American Medicine, by Claire Prentice (author), Coleen Marlo (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, ISBN 9781536689303, August 2017

For forty years, 1903 to 1943, Martin Couney, the "incubator doctor," both cared for and exhibited premature babies in an incubator facility at Coney Island. He also ran similar facilities at amusement parks and world's fairs around the US and in Mexico, London, Paris, and Brazil.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the medical profession considered it not worthwhile to try to save premature babies. It was assumed that even if they lived, they would always be weak, and not productive. Couney disagreed. He believed, based on an exhibit he may have attended in Berlin, and they one he ran in London, that most of these babies could be saved, with good incubators and good care.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

From Every Storm, by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miller (author)

Pinbeam Books, ISBN 9781948465212, November 2022

This a collection of three stories from the Liaden Universe, all focused on coming through a human storm to a happier place in life.

"Standing Orders" reaches back to this universe's past, the time when the AI Wars have just recently ended, and the ban on complex logics (which created so much trouble for the intelligent ship, Bechimo, during what I think it's fair to call the main time period of the series) has been enacted. The decommissioning of the Admirals, and of other complex logics, including those designed to look like humans, and to think and act as much like humans as possible. Meggie Rootfir and her team have escaped from their former allies, and fled to a system where they can set up a hospital for other fleeing and wounded/damaged AIs and any human team members who accompany them. It's rewarding, successful work, until a hijacked Admiral arrives carrying an AI instance of an officer assigned to decommission all the AIs--and he's got a hostage he thinks will let him control Meggie.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Tales from the Folly: A Rivers of London Short Story Collection (Rivers of London #1.5, 1.6, 2.5, 3.5, 4.6, 5.1). by Ben Aaronovitch

JABberwocky Literary Agency, July 2020

This is a collection of short stories, including some "moments," short pieces that Aaronovitch doesn't want to call stories, set in the Rivers of London world.Not all of these stories feature the major characters in the novels. Several feature side characters, and characters whose stories were intended to be one-offs, but perhaps won't be.

Well, in at least two cases, clearly won't be.Tobias Winter and Vanessa Sommer, two young German police officers, met in The October Man, In Tales From the Folly, Tobias has a Moment in which he first learned disturbing news about the UK's magical establishment. Vanessa has a short story in which, with her new knowledge, she returns home at Christmas time, intending to check out some of the peculiar features of her childhood community.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A post to set up verification on Mastodon

 For real, that's all it is, and let's hope it works


Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity, by Devon Price

Penguin Random House Audio, ISBN 9780593507353, April 2022

This is an insightful book about about being autistic, masking (bluntly, pretending to be neurotypical as well as one can), the important reasons to stop masking, and the risks and benefits of starting to unmask.

Dr. Devon Price is a social psychologist, a professor at Loyola University, and his work is published in peer-reviewed journals in the field. He's also autistic and transgender, and can fairly be said to have a deep personal understanding of the issues of difference, alienation, isolation, and denial of self that he discusses here, along with a professional, scholarly understanding of them that's surprisingly rare in psychological and psychiatric professionals. Autism has mostly been defined as a medical problem to be solved, by getting autistics to behave like neurotypicals, rather than helping autistics to understand and use our differences, and prompting the neurotypical world to make room for our differences and our strengths.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Doctor Ice Pick, by Claire Prentice (author), Chanté McCormick (narrator)

Amazon Original Stories, May 2022

Dr. Walter Freeman was a neurologist, and  the man who invented the transorbital lobotomy, performed with surgical picks and a medical hammer.  The picks looked like ice picks.

It's not the equipment used, of course, that makes the procedure horrific.

This is a short audiobook, about two hours, but it packs a punch. Freeman began actively, even aggressively, promoting and performing lobotomies in the 1950s in the overcrowded, underfunded mental hospitals of West Virginia. 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Isle of the Dead / Eye of Cat, by Roger Zelazny

IBooks, May 2014 (Eye of Cat, original publication 1982) (Isle of the Dead, original publication 1969)

The protagonist of the first short novel in this omnibus--which is in fact Eye of Cat--is William Blackhorse Singer, a Navaho born in the 20th century, and still alive, and fit and healthy, almost two centuries later. This is at least in part due to Singer making use of his tracking skills to hunt and capture alien animals to stock interstellar zoos, as soon as that became a possibility, and thus spending a good deal of time in relativistic travel, 

But Singer is now retired, and is very, very reluctant when Earth's government comes calling to recruit him to protect an alien diplomat on her way to Earth, being pursued by a deadly killer from her own world. He recruits in turn one of the last of the alien "animals" he captured; he has realized that this one was actually a person he badly wronged. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson

Grove Press, ISBN 9780802120205, June 2012

Alif is a young man, a "gray hat" hacker, selling his skills to provide cybersecurity to anyone who needs that protection from the government. He lives in an unnamed city-state in the Middle East, referred to throughout simply as the City. He's nonideological; he'll sell his services to Islamists, communists, anyone.

Alif is not his real name, but it's what he goes by, online, and among his friends. He hates his given name because it's so common. He lives in a very modest neighborhood, in one half a duplex, with his mother. In the other half is another family that has lived there as long as they have, and among the members of that family is Dina, a young woman his age, his friend, who has defied her family by going veiled. He's in love, though, with Intisar, a young woman of much better family.

Everything seems to be going well, until Intisar tells him that her father has betrothed her to an important man in the City's government. She doesn't want to see or hear from him again. And everything starts to go wrong, in unexpected ways.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

A Blessing of Unicorns (Sub-Inspector Ferron Mysteries #2), by Elizabeth Bear (author), Zehra Jane Naqvi (narrator)

Audible Originals, October 2020

Sub-Inspector Ferron and her partner get a relatively rare summons to, not come to police headquarters, but to join an immersive virutal reality replay of a citizen's recent visit. A virtual reality influencer star came in to report that she is being stalked online by someone threatening her with death if she goes online. And if she doesn't go online, of course she can't do the influencer work that provides her livelihood. It's not just an empty threat; another influencer, her close friend, was getting similar threats and has now disappeared.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human, by Siddhartha Mukherjee (author), Dennis Boutsikaris (narrator)

Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 9781797147093, October 2022

Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physcian and researcher, and gives us a fascinating history  of cell biology and cellurlar medicine. Though cancer is a central interest for him, he clearly makes the case that most of modern medicine, not just cancer research and treatment, is cellular medicine.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns (Sub-Inspector Ferron Mysteries #1), by Elizabeth Bear (author), Zehra Jane Naqvi (narrator)

Audible Originals, October 2020

A half-century in the future, in Bangalore, Police Sub-Inspector Ferron is called to the home of scientist with a checkered past, who has been reported missing. What she finds is a toroidal mass of meat that, when DNA tested, is identified as the missing scientist. She also finds the only witness, his parrot-cat--a genetically engineered talking cat.

Whose memory, unfortunately, has apparently been wiped. Ferron talks to the cat, gives her food, and calls her Chairman Meow, and the cat imprints on Ferron. This isn't what Ferron intended or inspected, with no previous expereince with parrot-cats. Besides, she already has a pet--a domesticated silver fox, the pet her mother got bored with. Anyway, she has a murder to investigate!

Monday, November 7, 2022

A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny (author), Matt Godfrey (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781705061329, August 2022

Snuff is our narrator, here, and he's a smart, interesting, likable dog. He's the friend and partner of a man called Jack, and they are preparing for a major event. Jack has a very sharp knife, which he and Snuff use in gathering the necessary ingredients for the ancient and deadly ritual that will be performed on Halloween.

But Jack and Snuff aren't the only participants preparing for what they call "The Game."  Crazy Jill and her cat, Greymalk, The Count and his bat. Dr.Frankenstein, Rasputin, The Wolfman, and others--all (except The Wolfman) with their animal companions. Sherlock Holmes is very interested,  but not, himself, a player.

Friday, November 4, 2022

The Neuroscience of You: How Every Brain Is Different and How to Understand Yours, by Chantel Prat (author, narrator)

Penguin Random House Audio, ISBN 9780593584774, August 2022

Chantel Prat, a professor at the University of Washington, says neuroscience's focus on how brains work "on average," while obviously valuable, is getting in the way of the research that helps us understand the differences between us, and our individual strengths and weakness.

She writes and narrates in a lively, informal tone, and in each chapter focuses on different areas and functions of our brains, in which we can identify ways in which different people can function very differently.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Ringworld (Ringworld #1), by Larry Niven (author), Tom Parker (narrator), Grover Gardner (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, ISBN 9781441760415, March 2005 (original publication October 1970)

Louis Wu is 200 years old, and he's bored. It's his 200th birthday, and he's using transfer booths to extend the celebration of it for a full twenty-four hours, and he's really bored.

Then, when transferring from one birthday location to another, he winds up someplace else entirely. An entirely mundane hotel room, occupied by an alien. Specifically, a Pierson's Puppeteer, a being with two small heads on snake-like necks, three hooved legs, and its brain housed in its main body, rather than either of the heads. When Puppeteers are speaking in their own language, the effect is often orchestral. This particular Puppeteer has chosen the human-pronounceable name of Nessus. Nessus has a plan to alleviate Louis' boredom.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

The October Man (Rivers of London #7.5), by Ben Aaronovitch

Subterranean Press, May 2019

This entry in Rivers of London is, for variety, set in Germany, and involves a German river. Or two. And river goddesses.

Tobias Winter is an investigator for  Abteilung KDA, the German version of Britain's Folly. He's on leave when he gets summoned to Trier, to investigate a possible "infraction." A man has been found dead, his body completely covered by a strange fungus, which has also invaded his lungs, causing his death.

(Tobias is Germany's equivalent of Peter Grant, not Thomas Nightingale; he's the relatively new practitioner recruited because "you can't trust the British to keep an agreement over the long term." Yes, there's competition and distrust between the magical law enforcement operations of Britain and Germany.)

Tobias Winter's liaison with the Trier police is Vanessa Sommer, who is intelligent, ambitious, and very interested when she learns that Tobi can actually do magic.

Sommer is also her unit's expert on wine and the local wine industry, more by accident than intention, and the dead man was found near a winery, and was a member of a social group called The Good Wine Drinking Association--half a dozen middle-aged men whose lives were at a standstill  in various ways. The fungus is one that is sometimes used in the wine industry.

Winter and Sommer are soon visiting the winery. The owner is the granddaughter of the last man to run it as a working winery, and has spent years in California learning the ways of the California wine industry. This doesn't include her grandfather's annual gift of wine to the local river goddess, Kelly, goddess of the River Kyll.

Investigation includes talking to Kelly, to the kindergarten-age new goddess of another river, to every surviving member of the Good Wine Drinking Association--and investigating a court scandal from more than a thousand years ago, when Kelly had taken a mortal lover.

There are more deaths, and the deaths have the inconvenient effect of eliminating suspects while not helping them zero in on the real killer, who might be an illegal practitioner, or something more frightening.

I like the characters, the story is interesting, intricate and satisfying. It's also quite fun to get the German perspective on the British and the Folly, including Tobias' study of every detail the Germans have on Detective Constable Peter Grant. It seems there's a lot of possibility for both rivalry and cooperation between the two magical law enforcement organizations. I'd really like to see some of that.


I received this book as a gift, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Desperation in Death (In Death #55), by J.D. Robb (author), Susan Ericksen (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781250859250, September 2022

It's 2061, and there are young girls trapped in a hellish "Academy" in New York City, where they are being trained to be slaves--some of them, sex slaves. Among them are Mina, a beautiful girl with white skin and red hair, and Dorian, an equally beautiful mixed-race girl with darker, clear, perfect skin, and sharper features. They become allies in an attempt to get out--which is almost successful. Almost. Soon Mina is dead, and Dorian is injured, in hiding, and has a very hazy memory of what happened. When Mina's body is found, Lt. Eve Dallas catches the case, and soon realizes she's dealing with something very dark.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Alpha and Omega: A Companion Novella to Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega #0.5), by Patricia Briggs (author), Holter Graham (narrator)

Penguin Audio, February 2013 (originally published in On the Prowl anthology, August 2007)

Anna is a werewolf. She was changed without her consent, into a pack where she is a disappointment--a submissive, rather than a female alpha. She's not happy with the rough contemptuous way she's treated, but she can't survive on her own as a werewolf, and she accepts her fate.

At least, until she learns that a newly changed young man has been sold to--someone. Someone who plans to use him as an experimental subject. Anna calls the werewolf king, and tells him what she knows about this crime the leader of her pack has committed. As a result, a dangerous conflict is about to break out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

In Defense of the Grim Reaper, by Riya Aarini (author), Glenn Hascall (narrator)

Riya Aarini, September 2022

This is  pretty cute little story, told in first person by the Grim Reaper, trying to set the record straight about what a nice, charming, and forward-thinking guy he is.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Sarek (Star Trek:The Original Series), by A.C. Crispin

Pocket Books, July 1999 (original publication March 1994)

This is the story of Sarek, Vulcan Ambassador, his marriage with Amanda Grayson, and his complicated relationship with his son, Spock.

We also follow Sarek's investigation of a plot he first began to suspect years ago, which seems to be coming to fruition now--but he doesn't yet have solid proof. 

The Keep Earth Human League, which wants to expel all nonhumans from Earth, but especially Vulcans, has crept along as a minor fringe group for years. Suddenly it has become larger, more active, more visible, and better-funded. Part of Sarek's diplomatic duties has been meeting periodically with a representative of the intensely private Freelans, who reside on a planet in the region otherwise controlled by the Romulans. For some reason, the Romulans have never claimed this world.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Match Made In Wyoming (Wyoming Wildflowers #2), by Patricia McLinn (author), Julia Motyka (narrator)

Craig Place Books, ISBN 9781944126445, November 2013 (original publication July 2001)

Taylor Anne Larsen has left her job at a big firm in Dallas, and bought a tiny practice in a small town in Wyoming. She has friends, including Matty, owner of one ranch and wife of the owner of another. She and Matty work together in a dog rescue organization, and her assistant in the law practice is also a friend, and there are others.

She's mostly seen Cal Ruskoff from a distance. He's handsome, interesting, and clearly determined to maintain that distance. Cal isn't from the town, or Wyoming, and he's got nothing to say about where he's from, or why he's working as the foreman on Matty's ranch.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Anti-Cinderalla: A Very Royal Christmas, by Tawdra Kandle

Tawdra T. Kandle, 2022

Kyra is readying the household and family for Christmas, which this will be spent with her husband's family,

At Windsor Castle, because her husband is one of the grandsons of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. This bugged me through the whole story, that Elizabeth only had four children, and the story doesn't bless her with a fifth child in a slightly alternate timeline to our own. Who is his royal parent? Not Charles, obviously. In Kyra's conversation with Princess Anne, it's clear that Anne's not her mother-in-law. One hopes not Andrew, the utter disgrace of the family. That leaves Edward, and in the few references to the Earl and Countess of Wessex, well, it's not ruled out.

Maybe this bothers no one but me. It does bother me, though, that Nicholas, in order to be the grandson of Elizabeth, needs to have a parent who was Elizabeth's child, and this detail is never clarified in any way. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

A Festive Surprise, by Margaret Amatt

Leannan Press, ISBN 9781914575815, October 2022

Farid Al-Karim is a Syrian refugee living in Scotland. He had to flee Syria because of his political activities, snuck across several countries, and finally reached the UK. He speaks good English, and is an experienced computer programmer, but even after getting legal approval to stay, his Syrian qualifications aren't recognized in the UK. So he's in Scotland, where a business connection of his father's, Archie Crichton-Leith, can give him a job. Unfortunately it's as a lumberjack, but it's work, and Archie also gives him a cottage to live in. The island is small, and friendly, and if he doesn't love the work, he does like Archie and the people he's working with.

Holly Devaney is a programmer working remotely, taking on the projects she wants, and living wherever she wants, usually for a few months at a time. Once she wanted to marry and put down roots; now she wants no permanent abode and no long-term relationship. She's in Scotland, on the same island as Farid, because her university friend Georgia, who married Archie earlier in the year, has offered her a cottage to stay in for the month of December, doing her work in splendid isolation. It's the one right next to Farid's.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Uncanny Times (Huntsman #1), by Laura Anne Gilman

Gallery Books, ISBN 9781534415928, October 2022

It's 1913. Rosemary and Aaron Harker, sister and brother, are Huntsmen. Their blood isn't entirely human, and they have the ability to hunt and kill the Uncanny, unnatural creatures of the night who sometimes hunt humans.

The Uncanny don't hunt humans often, because of the Huntsmen. When they do, the Huntsmen respond, and kill the offender against a long, uneasy truce. The Huntsmen don't try to wipe out the Uncanny, because there are too many of them, and humanity would be the losers.

Rosemary and Aaron receive a letter, telling them a distant cousin, knowledgeable about the Huntsmen but not quite one himself, has died. He left a note saying that if he died in unusual circumstances, Rosemary and Aaron should be summoned. They quickly pack and leave, with their hound, Botheration, for a small town in upstate New York.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

The Bookstore Sisters, by Alice Hoffman

Amazon Original Stories, November 2022

Isabel grew up on Brinkley's Island, Maine, and always felt out of place. Her father ran a bookstore, but while he loved books, he was pretty bad at finances, or the most basic aspects of running a business. Family money was always tight. Their mother gave her and her sister a lot of love, though--until she died, when- Sophie was twelve and Isabel was ten. Their father did his best, and Sophie took over most of their mother's duties, but when their father died, Isabel had had enough. They had both promised to keep the bookstore running, but Isabel wants to sell it and split the funds. Sophie wins the fight, and Isabel leaves for New York.

She's only seen Sophie once since then, and that was twelve years ago, when Sophie's husband died while she was pregnant. Isabel knows she handled that really badly, and has worked hard to forget everything about Brinkley's Island. Then she gets an envelope in the mail, with a card that says nothing but HELP.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Inconstant Moon, by Larry Niven (author), Bronson Pinchot (narrator)


Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9781538453490, September 2017 (original publication June 1971)

Stan, a science writer, and his girlfriend Leslie, a computer programmer, each independently realize that the sun has apparently gone nova. They're in California, on the night side of Earth when it happens, and they have only a few hours until the planet turns enough that they experience it first hand. They decide that they are going to enjoy their last night on Earth.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Irregular Lives: The Untold Story of Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, by Kim Krisco (author), Dominic Lopez (narrator)

MX Publishing, August 2017

This new Sherlock Holmes novel is set in post-World War I London, and prominently features the Baker Street Irregulars.

Holmes, now spending much of his time at his country cottage, receives an invitation to a photography exhibit by S.P. Fields, at the Royal Photographic Society. The name is unknown to him, but it's an interesting puzzle, and he wants to know why S.P. Fields invited him. Holmes arranges to visit Watson in London, and stay overnight, because the show is in the evening, too late to conveniently travel home.

At the show, alone, he sees pictures taken in Spitalfields, one of the poorest sections of London. It's the area where his Irregulars lived, and the largest pictures in the show are portraits of the children who were his Irregulars.

The Twelve Wishes of Christmas, by Ruby Basu

HQ, ISBN 9780008471361, October 2022

Sharmila Mitra is a young British woman whose parents are from India, and have now moved back. Sharmila is a lawyer, who had been practicing family law. After the death of her fiancé, Hari, who had lied to her about where he would be, she just can't o it anymore. She can't be objective with or about her clients. She takes a leave of absence, after which she is transferred to a different role in the firm--and from Birmingham to London.

But while she was on sabbatical, she visited her aunt and helped out at her café. One day in July, she was working at the café, and had Christmas movies on. Soppy, romantic, Hallmark movies. An older American man came in, seeming rather sad, and she took his order. The movie on at the moment caught his eye, and they started talking--especially about her fascination with American Christmas as portrayed in those movies. Her own family doesn't celebrate Christmas at all, being Hindu.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Cottage at the Beach (The Off Season #1), by Lee Tobin McClain (author), Sandy Rustin (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781980091301, May 2020

Trey Harrison is an injured K9 cop, on unwilling disability leave, with his disability benefits not yet kicked in. There's also the problem of the issues that let to the impulsive mistake that led to his injury. He and his dog, King, rushed into a meth house when he heard a baby crying. This also placed at risk the officers who responded when he did call for help. His chief was already concerned about his behavior; now he's sent him to "volunteer" in a program called Healing Heroes. He'll be working in a program for troubled teens, a non-profit program based at a private school, serving teens not at all from the same social circles as most of the students--the students the school wants. It's not a program Trey feels is a good fit, but he needs a way to get by till his disability kicks in.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

The Furthest Station (Rivers of London #5.5), by Ben Aaronovitch

Subterranean Press, ISBN 9781596068346, June 2017

The London Underground has ghosts. Well, the London Underground always has ghosts, but usually they're gentle, sad creatures. Lately there's been an outbreak of more aggressive ghosts. Groping, shoving, insults that are racist and/or misogynistic--offensive and provocative. Victims of the assault report them, but have completely forgotten them by the time Transport Police get back to them to follow up.

Jaget, the member of the Transport Police most adept at seeing ghosts, calls in Peter Grant, Patrol Constable and Apprentice Wizard, part of the only unit of the Metropolitan Police that deals with ghosts and other spooky stuff. He in turn brings along Abigail, who, yes, is only a teenager, but as someone, perhaps Nightingale, says, she sees ghosts when she's on her own. Just as well to have her supervised and learning how a proper investigation is run.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Falling into Magic (Destiny Falls Mystery & Magic #1), by Elizabeth Pantley

Kindle Direct, November 2020

Hayden Caldwell's parents disappeared, her father the day she was born, and her mother two days later. She was raised by her grandmother--Nana, and her great-grandmother--Granana. 

When she was a child, her cat disappeared. The adults told her the cat ran away, but Hayden knew something they didn't. There's a magic mirror in the house, and she and Fluffball had already nearly fallen through it once. That's where Fluffball had disappeared to, she knew.

What the adults have never told her is that she had a brother, two years older than her, who disappeared along with her father.

As an adult herself, she's running Natural Living Magazine with her friend, Luna, living alone with her Himalayan cat, Sassy, and still very close with Nana and Granana. She's also close to Luna's large, Italian family.

Then one day, after a disturbing series of encounters with a red-bearded man wearing grass-stained canvass pants, Hayden, carrying her cat in a carrier, is pushed, falls into a construction hole, and finds herself--somewhere else.

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Mistletoe Mixtape, by The Christmas Collective

The Christmas Collective, October 2022

Twelve Christmas romance short stories, by twelve different authors. They're set in the UK, Ireland, and the US. Guaranteed happy endings!

We have a woman who ran away from the Irish aunt who raised her to her Indian father's family in England. Having planned to finally return for Christmas before her impending arranged marriage to a presumably "appropriate" man whom she hasn't met yet, she learns her aunt has died. Instead, she's returning for the funeral. But why did she leave? We know as soon as she encounters her old friends, James and Caitlin.

We meet Charlie, a successful and fairly famous musician, in December 2016, December 2017, and December 2018, as this gay man's love life rises, falls, and rises again.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Miracles on Maple Hill, by Virginia Sorensen (author), Cynthia Bishop (narrator), Lauren Synger (narrator), David Baker (narrator), JoAnna D'Aloisio (narrator), Seth Jackson (narrator), Willard E. Lape, Jr. (narrator), Kate Huddleston (narrator), David Bostick (narrator), Bruce Coville (narrator), Emily Meidenbauer (narrator), Victoria King (narrator), Carol Sprading (narrator)

Full Cast Audio, ISBN 9781933322254, August 2004 (original publication 1956)

Marly, Joe, and their parents have been struggling for a while, since the father of the children returned home from war.. In addition to the experience of combat itself, he was captured, and in a prisoner of war camp for months. He was then hospitalized for a while before being able to return home.

But Daddy is suffering from what today we would call PTSD. He reacts very strongly to loud or sudden noises, is often sunk in depression, and equally often reacts to even small disagreements, even between others, with a frightening anger. Marly sometimes guiltily thinks things were better before Daddy came home.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Grim Tales, by E. Nesbit (author), Peter Yearsley (narrator)

LibriVox (original publication 1904)

I had no idea Edith Nesbit wrote for adults, but, since she did, it makes sense she'd write at least some horror.

A total of seven stories, they're darkly creepy rather than filled with screaming, dramatic incidents of terror, and gore.

A man in love is approached by another woman he knows with a letter his beloved wrote to the woman's brother--a passionate love letter. He ends his engagement, and gradually, comes to love, and marry, the woman who exposed the truth. But was it the truth? Was the letter a forgery? Can the answer to both questions be "yes"? He makes a tragically wrong decision, and has a tragically dark encounter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth, by Joseph Campbell (author), Evans Lansing Smith (editor)

New World Library, ISBN 9781608688289, first paperback printing August 2022

Joseph Campbell was a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College, and wrote extensively about comparative mythology. His "hero's journey" theory has been extremely influential.

This book is a collection of his lectures and writings on the Arthurian adventures and Grail Quests of the Middle Ages, specifically the "Matter of Britain" stories of the 12th and 13th centuries. These are the stories, or the basis of the stories, of Arthur's court and its knights and ladies that we are most familiar with, and have nothing to do with the probable historical Arthur figure of the late 5th/early 6th centuries who may have led the Celtic Britons in resistance against the invading Saxons. If the historical Arthur existed, Arthur would have most likely been a nickname or title, not his name.

And that's not the Arthur Campbell was interested in. He was in it for the mythology, the fantastical adventures, the stories of the Grail, the Fisher King, the Dolorous Stroke, Tristan and Isolde. He makes it fascinating.

In these lectures, essays, and his previously unpublished master's thesis, "A Study of the Dolorous Stroke," he traces the origins of these myths and legends, the sources in Celtic mythology, influences from Greek, Islamic, and Indian myths and poetry, and the transition from originally religious mythology to perhaps the first secular mythology, influencing and influenced by the emerging customs of courtly love.

That Greek mythology would have influenced European poetry and story-telling is of course just a given. Islamic influence is also not very surprising, given that much of Spain was occupied by Muslims who had conquered the territory. I was initially quite startled by the idea of Indian influence. That seemed a reach--until I reminded myself of the Silk Road and the trade and communication between Muslims in Europe and the Middle East, and Muslims in India. The contributions to one of the most popular, influential, and lasting story cycles of Europe was truly not just international, but from the entire Eurasian world. That's part of why we see repeated themes told differently, including the "dolorous stroke" that wounded the Fisher King and made his kingdom a wasteland until the true and proper knight arrived to set things right, occurring several different times, with kings of different names. And while the "dolorous stroke" is most often from a spear, sometimes it's a sword.

There are even echoes of some of the Arthurian themes in African stories from cultures distant enough to wonder if this is influence, or an underlying theme arising in more than one culture.

It's interesting, complex, not always an easy read, but well worth the time and the effort. Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book as a gift, and am reviewing it voluntarily.