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In these lectures, essays, and his previously unpublished master's thesis, "A Study of the Dolorous Stroke," he traces the origins of these myths and legends, the sources in Celtic mythology, influences from Greek,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.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London #2), by Ben Aaronovitch (author), Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781452680088, September 2012 (original publication October 2011)

Peter Grant, Patrol Constable and apprentice Wizard with the Metropolitan Police, is called in by Dr. Walid to listen to a corpse.

Cyrus Wilkinson, jazz musician by night and accountant by day, died suddenly, right after a performance, apparently of natural causes. However, in the process of doing the postmortem, Walid hears a song. He recognizes it as jazz, but jazz isn't his thing, and it is, if not Peter's, at least his father's. Richard Grant, nicknamed "Lord" Grant by his fellow musicians, stood on the brink of becoming a jazz legend twice, and managed to destroy his own career both times. Peter has grown up with jazz. He recognizes the song as "Body and Soul," but can't identify the musician. The fact that this remnant of music is clinging to the body, though, means that some really powerful magic was involved in Wilkinson's death. There's a killer out there, using magic, and he has to be caught. That means it's Peter's business, or rather the Folly's, which means--Peter and his boss, Thomas Nightingale.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Corpse of Discovery (The Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries #9), by Karen Musser Nortman (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Karen Musser Nortman, September 2022

Frannie Shoemaker and husband Larry, along with friends Mickey and Jane-Ann Ferraro, and Rob and Donna--I think but will not swear I heard their last name as Kenwick--are on another RV camping adventure. Like many of their previous trips, this will be a little more exciting than they would really prefer.

This time they're at a campground adjacent to an annual celebration of Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery exploration of the massive land purchase, the Louisiana Purchase. There will be demonstrations and reenactments of the craftwork, survival skills, clothing, everyday life and food, and Native American dances. It should all be so much fun...

Friday, September 23, 2022

A Brief History of Black Holes: And Why Nearly Everything You Know About Them is Wrong, by Becky Smethurst (author, narrator)

Macmillan, September 2022

Becky Smethurst is an astrophysicist with a great love of black holes, and a desire to share her enthusiasm for them with the rest of us.

She tries to cover, concisely but with absorbing detail, everything important about them, starting with the important facts that they're not black, and they're not holes. They're not black because an active black hole has an accretion disk which generates a great deal of light and other radiation. They're not holes, because that absolute darkness inside the accretion disk isn't a void. It's an immensely dense accumulation of matter, usually many, many times the mass of a star--certainly our star. Smethurst compares  black holes to mountains, which I find not personally satisfying, but entirely reasonable.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, by David Reich (author), John Lescault (narrator)

Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9781982541286, June 2018

This is the least satisfying of the books I've read/listened to about genetics and the history of human evolution.

In many ways it's excellent. Reich is voracious in absorbing and telling us about other people's research as well as his own. His ego isn't tied up in his own theories; he's enthusiastic in reporting on research results that overturn his own theories and prior work. In many ways, it's both informative and enjoyable.

And yet. Reich seems utterly unaware that he has any biases. He says he's arguing against racism, being very clear that our traditional ideas about race just have no basis in science. Then he goes on to say that the best way to study human genetics is by large population groups, and that some large modern population groups have been separated long enough for significant differences of cognition and temperament to exist.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Fair Trade (Liaden Universe #24), by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miller (author)

Baen  Books, May 2022

Jethri Gobelyn was born and raised on a Terran family Loop ship, where he was an unfavored junior, resented by the Captain for reasons of family history. Unexpected events led to him being taken aboard the Liaden tradeship Elthoria, and rising to the rank of second trader under his foster mother, Norn ven'Deelin Clan Ixin.

Now new changes are coming into his life. He's being transferred to be Lead Trader on a smaller Liaden ship, attending his first big Terran trade conference, and taking the lead position in pushing for the adoption of his late father's plan to revamp the trade loops to enable the small Looper ships like the one he grew up on to survive the encroachment of Rostov's Dust.

Friday, September 16, 2022

What Abigail Did That Summer (Rivers of London #5.3), by Ben Aaronovitch

Subterranean Press, ISBN 9781645240280, March 2021

This is a novella in the Rivers of London series.

Abigail Kamara, younger cousin of police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant, has been left largely unsupervised while he's off in the  sticks on a case. This leaves Abigail making her own decisions when she notices that kids roughly her age are disappearing--but not staying missing long enough for the police to care.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson (author), Katie Schorr (narrator)

Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9781538522035, May 2019

Content Warnings: domestic violence, sexual assault, bigotry

The content warnings are things that made this a rough read for me, and more than once nearly stopped me finishing it. Some readers may conclude I'm a bit oversensitive, given there's no really gruesome detail, but truly, for me, emotionally it was rough.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The World Before Us: The New Science Behind Our Human Origins, by Tom Higham (author), John Sackville (narrator )

Yale Press Audio, ISBN 9780300263985, August 2021

Tom Higham gives us a fascinating, absorbing history of our species and our genus. We're the last genus Homo species standing, but 50,000 years ago, we were not alone.

Not so long ago, we thought that 50,000 years ago, there were homo sapiens and homo neanderthalensis, and that Neanderthals died out because Sapiens were smarter and more adaptable, and perhaps more deadly to our cousins than they to us. We met in Europe, and they went extinct.

Then recovery and analysis of ancient DNA advanced dramatically, and we got some major surprises.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Paladin's Hope (The Saint of Steel #3), by T. Kingfisher (author), Joel Richards (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9788765012147, May 2022

Piper is the lich-doctor--effectively, the medical examiner for a district of the city of Archon's Glory. He played a role in the investigation of the "smooth men," who were leaving headless bodies around for unclear reasons. 

Galen is one of the surviving Paladins of the Saint of Steel, a god who died, leaving his paladins to run berserk for just long enough that only seven of them are left alive. They're now in the service of the Temple of the White Rat. Galen is recently returned from a mission in which he played a mostly secondary role in the final resolution of the "smooth men" problem.

Piper and Galen find each other extremely attractive, and are each certain it's just hopeless, for different reasons. What draws time together into a new investigation is a new set of mysterious deaths, several bodies found floating in the river, each killed in different and hard to explain ways.