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Indiscriminate Reader

Member Since 2010

  • 246 reviews
  • 250 ratings
  • 514 titles in library
  • 57 purchased in 2014

  • Mars

    • UNABRIDGED (18 hrs and 55 mins)
    • By Ben Bova
    • Narrated By Stefan Rudnicki
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Half-Navajo geologist Jamie Waterman has been selected for the ground team of the first manned expedition to our mysterious neighbor planet. Joining an international team of astronauts and scientists, he endures the rigors of training, the dangers of traveling an incredible distance in space, the challenges of an alien landscape, and the personal and political conflicts that arise when the team must face the most shocking discovery of all.

    Ben says: "Solid Near Future Sci-Fi"
    "Mars or Bust!"

    Mars is Ben Bova's love letter to space exploration; it's a novel-length booster for a manned Mars program. A very well-conceived and engaging (in places) novel, you should not read it expecting it to be space opera or really, any kind of adventure aside from the inevitable dangers of flying to another planet. Mars stays strictly hard SF, so even when the possibility of life on Mars arises, you can be sure it won't come in the form of ancient cities and little red men, nor hazardous beasties who need to be shot or run from.

    The main character is Jamie Waterman, a half-Navajo geologist who is a member of the first Mars expedition. The expedition is a multinational effort, with astronauts and scientists from every country that could afford to chip in. Much of the drama in the book involves the politics of the mission — the Russians and the Americans jealously keep track of how many astronauts of each country get to join the landing party, the Japanese astronauts are hyper-conscious of how they are representing their country, and the promiscuous hottie who does every other man on the expedition deliberately drives the Russians crazy by not sleeping with them because Russians killed her grandfather fifty years ago. Meanwhile, back home the founder of the Mars project is trying to balance concerns for the mission (including the fact that his own daughter is one of the scientists on Mars) with satisfying the politicians, in whose hands rest the decision to send more Mars expeditions or not. There are politics in space and on the ground, along with dossiers on each character that add depth to their backgrounds so that we understand why each one behaves the way they do on the mission.

    That said, while the characters were each fleshed out and the story is compellingly plausible, with just enough hazards introduced to make the mission more than a long walk in space, it's a little spare as sci-fi goes. The major life-threatening situation that arises — a "Mars flu" that mysteriously afflicts everyone and stumps all the physicians trying to figure out its cause — has a clever forehead-smacking solution. There are hints of Martian life that don't really develop into much by the end of the book, though they are enough to whet the appetites of scientists, and readers of subsequent books in this series. There is some political intrigue between Jaimie Waterman, his ambitious journalist girlfriend back on Earth, and the opportunistic Vice President of the United States, each of them trying to get what they want from the other to advance their own agenda.

    An enjoyable if slightly dry hard SF novel that should certainly go on your "Mars or Bust!" reading list. 3.5 stars - good book, though not very exciting.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Snow Queen

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 14 mins)
    • By Hans Christian Andersen
    • Narrated By Julia Whelan

    This classic tale is a fantastical fable of two dear friends - one of whom goes astray and is literally lost to the north woods, while the other undertakes an epic journey to rescue him. This charming, strange, and wonderful story is a timeless allegory about growing up and the challenges of staying true to one's self, and it served as the wintry inspiration for the blockbuster hit Frozen.

    Sara says: "Strange & Fascinating"
    "Charming children's fable"

    This Audible freebie is a nice way to hear the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. It's not a particularly thrilling fable - boys meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back - though really, it's the girl who does the getting.

    The story starts with an evil hobgoblin (also referred to as a demon) who goes to magic school (why did Rowling not find a way to hook this into her mythology?) and creates a magic mirror which shows "reality" in the harshest, ugliest way possible. It is shattered into a million pieces, and spread around the world, where it becomes smaller mirrors, spectacles, or tiny specks of glass getting caught in peoples' eyes, creating mischief and cold-hearted misunderstanding.

    One such shard gets in the eye of a little boy named Kai, who then spurns his childhood sweetheart, Gerda. One day he goes wandering in the woods and is picked up by the Snow Queen. Gerda, convinced that he is not dead, goes on a quest to find him.

    There are talking flowers, talking crows, and a not-really-evil witch, and of course, the Snow Queen herself.

    A cute story with perhaps a few too many elements thrown in for the fantasy-minded modern reader, but it would certainly entertain children. Anderson does wrap this tale up with a rather saccharine Christian moral, but it's a story to please those in search of adventuresome girls and magical talking animals.

    Now maybe I should go see Frozen.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Damocles

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 33 mins)
    • By S. G. Redling
    • Narrated By Angela Dawe
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    When Earth is rocked by evidence that extraterrestrials may have seeded human DNA throughout the universe, a one-way expedition into deep space is mounted to uncover the truth. What linguist Meg Dupris and her crewmates aboard the Earth ship Damocles discover on Didet - a planet bathed in the near-eternal daylight of seven suns - is a humanoid race with a different language, a different look, and a surprisingly similar society. But here, it’s the "Earthers" who are the extraterrestrial invaders, and it’s up to Meg - a woman haunted by tragedy and obsessed with the power of communication - to find the key to establishing trust between the natives and the newcomers.

    Brian says: "What did I tell you about that pie!?"
    "Humans are the aliens, linguistics FTW"

    Damocles is not an action-packed novel. Most of the book is talking, describing the laborious task of humans and aliens trying to establish communications when they share no culture or language in common. The linguistics are not described in detail, but the process of constructing a bridge to translation is realistic.

    This is also a "humans are the aliens" novel, in which it's the Earthers who come from outer space, to the shock and awe and terror of a less advanced civilization.

    The setting the Earthers come from is barely fleshed out — humans have expanded to other colonies, but the message from an older alien race giving Earthers the secret of FTL travel and telling them that there are other races seeded from the same DNA as humanity is never described in more detail than that. It's a MacGuffin to send the crew of the Damocles out into space.

    Damocles is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Meg Dupris, the linguist aboard the Damocles, and Loul Pell, a socially awkward nerd in a dead-end government job when the Earthers arrive.

    Besides the realistic communications problems, the best part of Damocles is the realistic aliens, the Didetos. They are close enough to human that their psychology and physiology is understandable, but different enough that they're clearly not human. Their culture constantly throws the Earthers off-balance with its similarities and differences - Didetos don't sleep, and although they have an industrial society that has begun launching satellites, they have never in their history undertaken to explore their oceans. Yet, they have press conferences, a military-industrial complex, and comic book nerds.

    Loul Pell is one of the latter. A disgraced scientist, now working as a cubicle drone because he once presented a paper speculating about alien contact, he suddenly finds himself whisked away by Dideto Men In Black when aliens actually appear, pretty much where and how he said they would. And so he accidentally takes the role of speaker-to-aliens, and befriends a strange, willowy, extraterrestrial named "Meg."

    Although there are some misunderstandings and tension over miscommunications, and questions about whether the Earthers will be able to return home, there is no dramatic action in this book. It's a novel about inter-cultural communications, and if aliens ever do visit Earth, I can see Men In Black whisking S.G. Redling off to advise our first contact team on how to communicate with them.

    A thoughtful, intelligent sci-fi novel that explores linguistics and alien cultures in a realistic way. Damocles is not a particularly exciting book, but it's a fine work of genuine speculative fiction.

    I did not love the narrator, who particularly when listening at higher speeds (I usually listen to audiobooks on my Audible app) has a very high-pitched and sometimes annoying voice, though she was clear and did a good job switching between Meg and Loul's voices.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Junkie Quatrain

    • UNABRIDGED (3 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By Peter Clines
    • Narrated By Christian Rummel, Therese Plummer
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Six months ago, the world ended. The Baugh Contagion swept across the planet. Its victims were left twitching, adrenalized cannibals that quickly became know as Junkies. Civilization crumbled as people created isolated safe havens to hide from the infected... and the possibly infected. Now, as society nears a tipping point, lives will intersect and intertwine across two days in a desolate city.

    Tango says: "An awesome set of vignettes"
    "Four zombie shorts"

    This is a set of four interlinked short stories in post-zombie apocalypse Los Angeles.

    The first story is about one woman, traveling alone, who is supposedly immune to the virus that creates "Junkies" (so-named because they eat literally anything they can stuff into their mouths). She acquires a traveling companion, another woman. Trouble ensues.

    The second story is about a biological researcher who is brought to a research facility that is trying to develop a cure. He uncovers the Horrible Truth.

    The third story is about a band of professional scavengers in the post-apocalyptic city who run into something more dangerous than Junkies.

    The fourth story is about a mercenary/assassin who's still doing his thing after the apocalypse.

    There is some cleverness in the way each story feeds into the next, but there is nothing really new here for zombie fans. Peter Clines's Ex-Heroes series is more interesting, as he mixes superheroes with his zombies. This is a fun, short read, but it's nothing you haven't seen before.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Sagan Diary

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 35 mins)
    • By John Scalzi
    • Narrated By Stephanie Wolfe, John Scalzi

    Jane Sagan: Soldier. Killer. Lover. Dreamer. In John Scalzi's best-selling Old Man's War series of science-fiction novels, we see this warrior woman as the other characters see her - silent and strong, from the outside. But now The Sagan Diary shows us Sagan from another point of view: her own, as she prepares to leave military life and join her new husband and adopted daughter on a colony world.

    Robert says: "Nothing like Scalzi's old man's war."
    "Cutting room floor material for Old Man's War"

    A short story in the Old Man's War universe, originally a freebie on Audible. Jane Sagan, the genetically engineered supersoldier who we first met in Old Man's War, is the narrator of The Sagan Diary, and she refers to events in that book, so it won't make a lot of sense unless you've read OMW.

    Basically, this was a literary experiment by John Scalzi, trying to write from a female POV - albeit not a normal woman. Jane is chronologically only nine years old, but she was born "adult" and is now sorting through what it means to be in love and desire a normal life. There is some musing about life and death and killing aliens and being a supergenius who has to deal with slooooooow moving and thinking and talking normal humans, and then the obligatory love and sex bits which were well written, but not as interesting as Jane talking about how she decided to become a xenoanthropologist, studying the cultures of the aliens they've been sent to exterminate.

    This was an okay short story, but there's not much story to it and it doesn't expand the OMW universe much. It's a decent internal monologue of an unusual soldier, but pretty much only worth listening to if you want some OMW extras.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Crusade: Destroyermen, Book 2

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs)
    • By Taylor Anderson
    • Narrated By William Dufris

    Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy, along with the men and women of the USS Walker, have chosen sides in a war not of their making. They have allied with the Lemurians - a mammalian race whose peaceful existence is under attack from the warlike, reptilian Grik. The Lemurians are vastly outnumbered and ignorant of warfare, and even the guns and technology of Walker cannot turn the tide of battle.

    Laura says: "Woman's Perspective"
    "Good old fashioned heroes in an alternate Earth"

    I found book one in the Destroyermen series to be fun and entertaining, if a bit flat and cheesy, style-wise. Book two, though, actually had me wanting to stand up and cheer. Not that it's any less flat and cheesy, but there are some quintessential qualities that Taylor Anderson brings to this series that I've been missing in sci-fi and military fiction lately.

    Duty, honor, bravery, sacrifice, and heroism. Men acting like men. (Yes, the women - both human and Lemurian - are pretty brave too.) A war that feels like a war.

    This book is very similar to an old WWII movie - the ones made before we got cynical and stopped presenting Americans as the good guys. The USS Walker and its sister ship the USS Mahan have allied with the Lemurians, a civilized race descended from lemurs in the alternate Earth in which the two destroyers find themselves. They face the Grik, an almost mindlessly violent race descended from reptiles or dinosaurs. In Crusade, we learn that the Japanese battleship Amagi, which chased the two American destroyers into the storm that brought it to this world, followed them, and is now allied with the Grik.

    This makes the two sides pretty starkly black and white: Americans and friendly lemur-people vs. Japanese and evil crocodile-people.

    But, the Americans and Lemurians are not universally good, and the Japanese are not universally evil. There is in-fighting among the various land-dwelling and sea-going tribes of Lemurians, some of the Americans get themselves into trouble with bad behavior, while in addition to Lieutenant Shinya, the captured Japanese officer who has now become effectively a part of the Walker's crew, Anderson also writes some scenes from the point of view of the Amagi's crew, and specifically, its unfortunate executive officer. The Japanese are Imperial Japanese. They have a duty, and an enemy. But while their captain is evidently going mad, the rest of the crew is starting to have doubts about whether they'd really rather be allied to cannibalistic lizard men than Americans.

    Crusade is a series of battles, political alliances, and chases, with the tension ramping up as they discover that the Grik are invading the home of the Lemurians in a massive swarm, and worse, accompanied by a Japanese battlecruiser. The climax, in which the Walker faces a vastly more powerful ship it can't possibly defeat, is worthy of the most rocking naval adventure. As they are trying to evacuate thousands of Lemurians in the face of the Grik invasion, and no matter what they do, they must cope with the inevitable losses of thousands more, the tragedy and heroism of both humans and Lemurians is rousing, inspiring, a real edge-of-your-seat adventure.

    Removed from the geopolitical considerations of Earth, the Americans in this world are a little pocket of America all their own, and it's what they make of it. And so far, they are what you'd expect from a red-blooded US Navy crew - sailors, heroes, not untarnished with the occasional scoundrel, but good men worthy of respect and admiration without the author doing a lot of jingoistic chest-beating.

    The technical details all seem to be authentic and well-researched, from the advantages and disadvantages of the two American "four-stackers" vs. the huge, ultra-modern Amagi (which is struggling with damage of its own and the difficulties of getting repairs and fuel from its Grik "allies") to the aerial duel between a salvaged seaplane and a Japanese spotting biplane, to problems with American torpedoes. Throw sailing ships and the Lemurians' giant seagoing "homes" into the mix, and you've got a blend of Horatio Hornblower, Battlestar Galactica, and Midway.

    I'm giving this book 5 stars because it was exciting all the way through, and I was worried about the heroes at every step of the way - when the Amagi shows up, you really feel the moment when Captain Reddy realizes how badly they are screwed. This book improved the last by adding depth to Lemurian culture (including more, ah, relations between humans and Lemurians - some good, some very much not), and even a little bit to the Grik, although so far they're still pretty much just a mindless horde of barely sentient monsters led by evil overlords.

    It's not literary, it's just the modern version of a pulp adventure, but I just loved it, even if I am looking at the length of the series (9 books and counting now?) and reviews of later books in the series that seem to indicate that the author is no hurry to wrap it up.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Murder on the Orient Elite: A Tale of the Grimnoir Chronicles

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 14 mins)
    • By Larry Correia
    • Narrated By Bronson Pinchot

    In this brand-new Grimnoir Chronicles story written exclusively for Audible, it's 1937 - four years after the Grimnoir Society defeated the magical alien force known as The Power. "Heavy" Jake Sullivan is summoned by his oddest ally, Dr. Wells, to stop the bombing of a new ultra-luxury airship. Amid the glitz, the gambling, and the high-society types, Sullivan races time to hunt for the saboteur. But surrounded by a blimp-full of Germans, Russians, Imperium Iron Guard, and other magical enemies - where can he even begin?

    Matthew E. Bowman says: "An Excellent Teaser"
    "Fun filler for the next book"

    This short story, set after Correia's Grimnoir trilogy, was an Audible freebie, and will be quite enjoyable to anyone who enjoyed the previous Grimnoir books. Jake Sullivan is back, and by fairly arbitrary plot manipulation, he's hanging around in Casablanca doing a bad Bogie impersonation when his old "friend" Dr. Wells, the sociopathic mastermind who's now running China's organized crime syndicates, asks if Sullivan wouldn't mind hopping a ride on his expensive new zeppelin full of international high-rollers and figuring out who's brought a bomb on board before it blows up.

    Sullivan agrees, with the sort of reasoning that makes sense when the GM is telling you, "Look, if you say no, we're just gonna have to play Munchkin or something tonight instead." Thus semi-railroaded into the plot, the Player Character proceeds to sniff out the villains, of whom there are plenty to choose from, since Wells's zeppelin is carrying Imperium agents, NKVD spies, a mysterious German working for a more mysterious organization which is apparently being set up as a future nemesis for the Grimnoir Society, and various other rich, powerful scoundrels.

    Correia enjoys inserting historical figures into his alternate history: here, Lavrenti Beria (one of the original Soviet secret police chiefs) makes an appearance. The story is short but of course ends with a super-powered battle and hints of future conflict with the real Big Bad (or rather, the minion of the real Big Bad) getting away. Nice to see that the Grimnoir series will continue.

    Bronson Pinchot continues to narrate, and continues to be one of my favorite narrators.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Who Goes There?: The Novella That Formed the Basis of 'THE THING'

    • UNABRIDGED (2 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By John W. Campbell
    • Narrated By Steve Cooper
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Who Goes There?, the novella that formed the basis of the film The Thing, is the John W. Campbell classic about an antarctic research camp that discovers and thaws the ancient body of a crash-landed alien.

    Joel D Offenberg says: "An Absolute Classic!"
    "Not as gory as the movie, but just as suspenseful"

    One of the things that surprised me about this 1938 Hugo-winner was its conformity to modern science. I am not enough of a historian to always remember at what point people knew what facts, so I was a little surprised at the references to atomic power, and fairly advanced discussions of biochemistry. Physicists or biologists would probably find some fault with the technical details in this novella, but it reads as quite a plausible, relatively "hard" SF story given that the premise is a shapeshifting alien being thawed after spending 20 million years frozen in Antarctica.

    This novella is better known, of course, by the movie based on it, John Carpenter's The Thing, which was a remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World.

    Characterization is sparse, as is typical of 1930s sci-fi. The team of scientists and research camp staff are not much more than names and roles — which isn't much of a fault in a story where most of the characters are expendable. What's notable is how much Campbell does convey in his sparse descriptions.

    "Vance Norris moved angrily. He was comparatively short in this gathering of big men, some five feet eight, and his stocky, powerful build tended to make him seem shorter. His black hair was crisp and hard, like short, steel wires, and his eyes were the gray of fractured steel. If McReady was a man of bronze, Norris was all steel. His movements, his thoughts, his whole bearing had the quick, hard impulse of a steel spring. His nerves were steel—hard, quick acting—swift corroding."

    After finding an alien spaceship that was generating a magnetic field strong enough to distort their compasses from miles away, they bring back a frozen thing in a block of ice. Obviously, such a remarkable scientific discovery cannot just be left alone - they make plans to bring it back to New York. Which means thawing it out.

    Obviously, this is not going to end well. Despite the biologist's confident assurances that the thing couldn't possibly still be alive after being frozen for 20 millions years, they are soon playing a game of "Monster, monster, who's the monster?"

    This story reminded me quite a bit of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness — not just because of the Antarctic setting, but also the stark terror of ordinary, rationalist-minded men facing alien, cosmic horror. Campbell did a lot more with psychological suspense, though, as the survivors eye one another knowing that one or more of them is actually an alien.

    A classic for good reason, and the remote, Antarctic setting, not changed all that much in the decades since, means it hasn't aged too badly.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Empress of Mars

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Kage Baker
    • Narrated By Nicola Barber

    When the British Arean Company founded its Martian colony, it welcomed any settlers it could get. Outcasts, misfits, and dreamers emigrated in droves to undertake the grueling task of terraforming the cold red planet - only to be abandoned when the BAC discovered it couldn't turn a profit on Mars. Mary Griffith and her struggles and triumphs are at the center of it all, in her bar, the Empress of Mars.

    Dave says: "I love this book."
    "Worthy peer of Bradbury and Robinson"

    My first Kage Baker novel, and this is apparently a later entry in her "Company" series, but I found it stood alone just fine. The Empress of Mars is set in an alternate history, where Mars was settled by the British Arean Company, and then mostly left to dry up as unprofitable. A few hardscrabble settlers, emigrating to Mars for the usual reasons that misfits emigrate to backwater frontiers, or else abandoned by the Company when they were no longer useful, are now scratching out a living there.

    Although there are multiple story arcs running through this book, it reads more like a collection of linked short stories than a single novel, probably because it's based on a novella (which I haven't read).

    The central figure is Mary Griffith, formerly a scientist for the British Arean Company who came to Mars as a single mother with two daughters, and found herself stranded when the company no longer had need of her services. Now she runs a bar, has to contend with Clan Morrigan, a band of homesteaders who are Celtic tribesmen run like a corporation, and the always conniving and grasping antics of the BAC.

    A range of interesting characters come to Mars — miners, con men, secret agents, and missionaries from the Mother Church (which in this universe is the "Mother Goddess Church" — Christians are a minority subject to considerable prejudice). The stories weave through years of the life of Mary and the Martian colony, ending with the bankruptcy of the British Arean Company, only to be replaced by another company, just as mercenary, and Mary's attempt to move her bar, the Empress of Mars.

    The Empress of Mars inevitably reminded me a bit of Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, and a bit of Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars, but Baker's book is more character-driven, and has the added element of that alternate history, for which the point of divergence is never described. I found it to be lots of fun from start to finish, one of those books with a large cast of characters, all of whom become familiar friends by the end.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 4 mins)
    • By Steven Sherrill
    • Narrated By Holter Graham

    Five thousand years out of the Labyrinth, the Minotaur finds himself in the American South, living in a trailer park and working as a line cook at a steakhouse. No longer a devourer of human flesh, the Minotaur is a socially inept, lonely creature with very human needs. But over a two-week period, as his life dissolves into chaos, this broken and alienated immortal awakens to the possibility for happiness and to the capacity for love.

    Cathy says: "Full of surprises, delightfully unexpected"
    "Ovid by way of Faulkner"

    This fourteen-year-old book was "discovered" by Neil Gaiman, and thanks to his project of putting underread books on Audible, it has become available to a wider audience, which is how I came across it.

    A minotaur - not just a minotaur, but The Minotaur - is now working as a line cook at a steakhouse in the South? What is this nonsense? Is it some deeply metaphorical new take on the Theseus myth - Ovid by way of Faulkner? Is it Southern magical realism? Is it literary bizarro fiction?

    Maybe it's a little of all those things, but mostly it's a story about the human heart (even if that heart is half bull's) and loneliness. The yearning for human contact. The way small moments can register large for the poor and working class who have little in the way of luxury, recreational time, wide circles of associates, and opportunities to go on fun-filled vacations. They live in trailer parks, they work paycheck to paycheck, they make bad choices in life and love, often because their menu of choices is pretty damn limited, and so a little thing like a hand placed over yours can take on Homeric significance, and an investment in a corn dog trailer can represent the sailing of the Argo.

    Okay, I am probably stretching my metaphors a little too far there.

    The Minotaur (he has no other name, though his friends and coworkers call him "M") has wandered the Earth for five thousand years. This isn't your typical fantasy story about an immortal, mythological being, though - he's simply existed, in all that time, and acquired no great wealth or power or mad skills. If he's met any famous people since Theseus, it's not mentioned. And the "magical realism" is in the way his existence is simply accepted. People react to his bull-headed appearance, but only the way they might react to any unusual, freakish person - no one ever says "Dude, that guy has a bull's head!" or "Oh my God, minotaurs are real!" They just tell him to watch the horns (after five thousand years he still seems to have trouble maneuvering around spaces built for human heads) or, if they are of a mean and taunting disposition, moo at him while he's on a miniature golf date.

    So, this story is about a minotaur (The Minotaur) who's settled, for the moment, in the South, living in a trailer park and working at a steakhouse. He is handy with engines and knives. And he's lonely. He's had lovers before, and he remembers, very dimly, the days when he dined once every seven years on virgin youths. But that ancient, immortal capacity for rage and evil is like an old Greek ruin, still visible, maybe possible to excavate if an archeologist were so inclined, but to all appearances it is a dead and ancient thing seen now only in outline.

    "The architecture of the Minotaur’s heart is ancient. Rough hewn and many chambered, his heart is a plodding laborious thing, built for churning through the millennia. But the blood it pumps – the blood it has pumped for five thousand years, the blood it will pump for the rest of his life – is nearly human blood. It carries with it, through his monster’s veins, the weighty, necessary, terrible stuff of human existence: fear, wonder, hope, wickedness, love. But in the Minotaur’s world it is far easier to kill and devour seven virgins year after year, their rattling bones rising at his feet like a sea of cracked ice, than to accept tenderness and return it.”

    The Minotaur has a bit of a crush on a waitress named Kelly. He wants a relationship, obviously, but does not know how to initiate one. (After five thousand years, this bull still has got no Game.) But things do indeed proceed towards the inevitable, well, you know you were wondering this, right? Is minotaur sex bestiality? It's actually, while certainly not the tenderest part of the book (in fact, things don't really go well), neither gratuitous nor lurid.

    It remains hard to describe this book, because it really is just a bit of close-up human drama, with a main character you will find it easy to root for, so earnest and ancient and sad is he. Who'd have thought someone could write a Southern literary novel about a minotaur who just needs a hug? So read this for the excellent writing and the characterization (and I should note that part of the characterization is of the food the minotaur prepares and serves — seriously, you will be able to smell the onions and have a hankering for a nice juicy steak, which is kind of ironic considering who/what the protagonist is...). But be aware there isn't a big plot here — it's a slow story about a guy with horns. Don't expect Heracles to show up for a climactic mythological wrestling match. You might spot a few other myths here and there (blink and you'll miss them), but this is not an adult Percy Jackson novel.

    I also have to say that having listened to this as an audiobook, I never thought you could put so much expressiveness into a grunt — grunts making up about 90% of the Minotaur's dialog. 4 stars for the story, but 5 stars for the narration — I suspect you might actually be missing out if you read it in print.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Amy Falls Down: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Jincy Willett
    • Narrated By Amy McFadden
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Amy Gallup is an aging novelist and writing instructor living in Escondido, California, with her dog, Alphonse. Since recent unsettling events, she has made some progress. While she still has writer's block, she doesn't suffer from it. She's still a hermit, but she has allowed some of her class members into her life. She is no longer numb, angry, and sardonic: she is merely numb and bemused, which is as close to happy as she plans to get. Amy is calm. So, when on New Year's morning she shuffles out to her backyard garden to plant a Norfolk pine, she is wholly unprepared for what happens next. Amy falls down.

    Jessica and Will says: "Not contemporary fluff"
    "All lovers of writing should love this"

    I love this book and I want to recommend it to everyone, especially those who are seriously wide-read, "bookish" people who have at least some familiarity with the literary scene, writers' workshops, and the angst of being an aspiring writer (or even a published one).

    If this book puts you off because of the pink cover and all the people who have shelved it as "chick-lit" — ignore that nonsense. Jincy Willett only writes "chick-lit" if you think a book by a woman about a woman is by definition chick-lit. Amy Falls Down is "writer-lit."

    You should also know that this book is a sequel to "The Writing Class," which is unfortunately not available on Audible. However, it's a sequel only in the sense that follows chronologically with the same main character. There are some references to the events in the previous book, but you don't have to read it first. Though you really should, because The Writing Class was also wonderful and the reason I discovered Jincy Willett.

    Amy Gallup is a writer. A dumpy, sixty-something writer who had a brief moment when she was in her twenties, as a "writer to watch out for." She wrote several books that received critical acclaim but only modest sales, and then, for reasons that only slowly emerge in this book, reasons that she herself can't fully articulate, she stopped. She hasn't written much of anything for thirty years. When we first met her in The Writing Class, she was making a meager living teaching creative writing as adjunct faculty at a community college. That book was our introduction to Jincy Willett's scathing and hilarious (yet affectionate) send-up of the modern writing scene, and a cozy-ish murder mystery.

    Then Willett comes along and writes Amy Falls Down, in which there is no murder, no mystery, and not even that much of a plot. Yet it's every bit as good as the first book — in fact, possibly better. It reads like something Willett wrote just because she felt like writing it. Which is perfectly congruent with her protagonist, Amy Gallup, who writes when she feels like it, which hasn't been for thirty years.

    In the first chapter of this book, Amy falls down. And hits her head on a birdbath. Which gives her a concussion. By coincidence, she had an interview scheduled for that afternoon. A reporter, doing a story on "washed up writers - where are they now?" (not phrased quite that unkindly) was supposed to come to her house to talk to her. To her horror, Amy realizes that she gave the interview and can't even remember it. She goes to the hospital, meets a nice doctor who is, like apparently almost all doctors, a wannabe novelist himself, and then gets a call from her former agent, who informs her that she has suddenly generated "buzz" because of her interview.

    As Amy suddenly finds herself attracting (unwanted) attention for the first time in years, she also finds herself writing stories again for the first time in years.

    The story is ostensibly the resurrection of Amy's writing career, a resurrection she never dreamed about, cared about, or particularly wanted. Along the way, she attends writers' conferences, bookshop appearances, and radio talk shows in which, pushed once too often, she turns her rarely-deployed but devastating wit on a windbag host and generates more publicity for herself by taking him apart on the air.

    You can also see thinly-disguised representations of prominent contemporary authors, bestsellers, in the fictitious authors Amy meets. I won't name names because Jincy Willett is a lot better-read than I am and probably was thinking of completely different names than the ones I thought she was satirizing, but the beauty of her characterization is that every one of these people is real, hilarious, sometimes likable and sometimes buffoonish, but no one is a cartoon. Much of the book is spent inside Amy's head and her interior monologue, which is maybe why people insist on calling this "chick lit" (it's not), but Amy's thought process is human and funny and real, and gives you a glimpse of what a real writer can do when writing about real people with messy, complicated lives even if they are, from the outside, perfectly mundane ones lacking any sort of novelistic drama and adventure.

    I hesitate to identify Amy as an author stand-in, even though the similarities between her and her author are too obvious to be ignored. Because I can picture Jincy Willett reading my review and letting out an exasperated sigh about readers who think they're smarter than they are. Not that she'd say anything, because like Amy Gallup, I imagine that Jincy Willett may find people exasperating and annoying, but she doesn't have the cruel streak necessary to actively mock them even if they deserve it.

    Since I listened to Amy Falls Down on audio, I can't easily type all the quotable passages I want to fill this review with. Just take my word for it that there is lots of quote material. Willett writes with wit and humor and warmth and sometimes just enough of a sharp edge to let you know that, like Amy, she could really cut you down if she wanted to. But she won't, because she's too nice.

    The subplot, with some members of her writing class from the previous book setting up an "authors' retreat," is almost incidental, and for much of the middle section of this book I thought Willett had dropped it completely. It gets wrapped up at the every end, with enough humor to justify its inclusion, but it seems like mostly a bone thrown to readers of the first book. It does, however, continue to skewer the foibles and pretensions of writer wannabes, writer gurus, writers' workshops, and the entire industry that has grown around those who fancy themselves enamored of "the writing life."

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