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David

Indiscriminate Reader

Member Since 2010

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  • 244 reviews
  • 248 ratings
  • 514 titles in library
  • 57 purchased in 2014
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  • Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A Maggie Hope Novel, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 48 mins)
    • By Susan Elia MacNeal
    • Narrated By Wanda McCaddon
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (797)
    Performance
    (700)
    Story
    (700)

    London, 1940: Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined....

    Katherine says: "Lovely"
    "Worse than mediocre "cozy" disguised as historical"
    Overall
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    Story

    I thought this book would be about cryptography and codebreaking in World War II. I expected Bletchley Park and Alan Turing and Nazi double-agents, with a female mathematician as the protagonist, which sounded cool... maybe something like a light cozy version of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.

    Alas, no. This was a "cozy" of the most offensively stupid and badly-written kind. Characters who are just quirky/"charming" composites of personality traits (expect many, many recyclings of British/American stereotypes vis-a-vis tea and coffee) and nicknames, arbitrary name-dropping of historical figures and events, usually accompanied by long infodumps to remind us that this is taking place in England during World War II ('cause the title wasn't a big enough clue), and cardboard villains (Nazis and IRA terrorists who practically twirl their mustaches while cackling over England's demise). A male character is introduced as "enigmatic" and "frustrating" (and yes, we're just told he's enigmatic and frustrating, he never actually does anything enigmatic or frustrating) - i.e., DESIGNATED LOVE INTEREST in great big flashing letters, but not content to leave any cliche unplumbed to its depths, sure enough, he and the main character spend most of the book snapping at each other and declaring one another to be insufferable and impossible and annoying while giving each other looks accompanied by "unexpected" hot flushes at Significant Times.

    Maggie Hope ("Magster" to her friends - seriously, was that even done in the 40s?) is British by birth, born in London to British parents, but raised in America by a college professor aunt after her parents died in a car crash. With a PhD in mathematics, Maggie returns to London to sell her grandmother's house, just as World War II begins. By various contrived circumstances, Maggie winds up as a typist/secretary to Winston Churchill himself, by which device the author recites verbatim many of Churchill's speeches, inserting some adoring commentary from Maggie. We also get an extraordinarily cutesy take on Churchill as a fictional non-fictional character, which the publishers have the nerve to call "psychological insight into Winston Churchill," just like they call this book "meticulously researched" because MacNeal mentions Alan Turing (in a single sentence) and makes an allusion to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. (I guess MacNeal thought she was being clever by showing she can read Wikipedia.)

    Oddly enough, though Maggie's aunt is a lesbian and one of her British friends (who works with her at Downing St.) is gay, this is something that is just accepted with open-minded tolerance by Maggie and her friends, along with cheery hopes that someday he won't have to keep it a secret. That's about as far as the book goes in addressing the very real persecution of homosexuality that existed at that time — you'd think if the author is going to name-drop Alan Turing, who was later forced to undergo chemical castration because of his homosexuality and ended up committing suicide (hey, Susan MacNeal, that's on Wikipedia too!), she might have had the characters acknowledge that homosexuality was actually a rather serious secret to be harboring. But no, the gay characters apparently exist only to show us how open-minded Maggie is and to score the author some gay-inclusion points.

    Maggie is a mathematician and we are frequently told how brilliant she is, which is mostly an excuse for her to go on periodic rants about how unfair it is that she's not allowed to be a codebreaker and is relegated to being a typist and how sexist society is and how sexist her coworkers are blah blah blah. Okay, fair enough, it was a very sexist time period and no doubt a smart university-educated woman like Maggie would have been very aware of and irritated by this, but her repeatedly getting up on a soapbox to tell us that England in the 1940s was sexist and the sky is blue do not feel historical or even appropriate for her circumstances, just an excuse for the author to show us how very feisty and feminist her character is. Her friends mostly just kind of nod and say "Gosh, you're right Maggie, oh, hey, what is Winston Churchill really like?"

    Maggie also decides she's either American or British whenever it suits her. When her friends or coworkers question her dedication or trustworthiness because of her American upbringing, she loudly tells them she's British by birth and a British taxpayer and a British homeowner and British, dammit! But when they start criticizing America, she defends the US and complains about the UK and doesn't correct them when they refer to Roosevelt as "your President."

    Does Maggie ever use her codebreaking skills? Yeah, kind of, at the level of a 12-year-old cracking his first alphanumeric-substitution cipher.

    The plot involved a really stupid Nazi/IRA plan to assassinate Churchill and some "surprise twists" that are pretty lame (and also spelled out for us beforehand by the author's constant "telling"), but it still could have been moderately entertaining anachronistic brain candy if the writing hadn't been so terrible.

    Ever heard the writing advice "show don't tell"? You have if you've ever flirted with writing even a little. Mr. Churchill's Secretary could be a case study in how to tell without showing. We are told that everyone is very inspired by Churchill's speeches. We are told that the British bravely face the Blitz. We are told that this or that major event happened. We are constantly told what characters are thinking and feeling, in lieu of having them actually say it or act like it. When a character dies, we are told they died. The book is also full of head-hopping by a third-person narrator who can't decide whether she wants to be close-third or omniscient. Really, I could not believe this book got published, the writing was so bad.

    It doesn't help that all the women are constantly "shrill," "hysterical," "trilling," and their eyes are constantly filling with hot tears on every other page. There's your "feminism" for you. The female characters are also the ones who break down, the female villains are the ones who are easily overpowered - I mean, at one point someone walks into a room and just walks over and takes a gun from a woman holding it pointed at someone else because... she's a woman and couldn't actually be a threat, with a gun? And of course they are also the ones who have second thoughts and end up abandoning their cause when they find out that gosh, Nazis and IRA terrorists are actually bad people who do bad things - why they never imagined that things might get ugly!

    Just bleah, bleah, bleah. A dumb story without a spark of originality or nuance, and offensively bad writing. And this is the first in a series. No, I will not be reading the sequels. If you're looking for an exciting tale of a codebreaking female special agent in World War II, don't get suckered like I was, because this book is mindless and poorly crafted. 1.5 stars, the half star because the story is kind of okay for what it is, but I am rounding down instead of up like I usually do because I have read fan fiction and rough drafts written better than this and I am depressed that this book got published.

    10 of 14 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
    Overall
    (1022)
    Performance
    (939)
    Story
    (953)

    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"
    Overall
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    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
    Overall
    (766)
    Performance
    (660)
    Story
    (668)

    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"
    Overall
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    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
    Overall
    (1554)
    Performance
    (1052)
    Story
    (1064)

    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"
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    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
    Overall
    (40)
    Performance
    (39)
    Story
    (38)

    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"
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    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
    Overall
    (414)
    Performance
    (340)
    Story
    (345)

    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"
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    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
    Overall
    (230)
    Performance
    (207)
    Story
    (208)

    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"
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    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
    Overall
    (832)
    Performance
    (783)
    Story
    (783)

    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"
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    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
    Overall
    (285)
    Performance
    (252)
    Story
    (255)

    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"
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    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."

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • FREE: Mitosis: A Reckoners Story

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 3 mins)
    • By Brandon Sanderson
    • Narrated By MacLeod Andrews
    Overall
    (1406)
    Performance
    (1297)
    Story
    (1310)

    Epics still plague Newcago, but David and the Reckoners have vowed to fight back.

    Thomas says: "He is back!"
    "Entertaining filler between books"
    Overall
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    This Audible freebie is a short story set after Steelheart (so spoilers for that book) and before the second book.

    Like Steelheart, it's an entertaining if lightweight story. Now that Steelheart has been slain and the former city of Chicago, once ruled by the tyrannical Steelheart, is free, the Reckoners are trying to rally the citizenry, who are still terrified of "Epics" (the metahumans in this universe) who they believe will soon return.

    An epic known as Mitosis, because he can split into an infinite number of clones of himself, has come to Newcago to challenge David, the slayer of Steelheart. The story is about half-and-half Sanderson's usual tropes: trying to rally the common people to Do the Right Thing (but always under the leadership of author-designee Chosen Ones), and being clever with super powers. Mitosis's weakness was rather amusing, as were the few bits of non-monologuing dialog he had.

    Sanderson always has some logical, well-constructed underpinning to explain all the supernatural/superhuman phenomena in his worlds, usually revealed only after a few books, and I think I've figured out the key to the Epics' "random" weaknesses.

    Definitely read Steelheart before you read this. Still not sure how soon I will get around to the next book, as this series is not his best, but if you like a slightly different spin on superheroes, Sanderson usually succeeds in throwing some interesting twists.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Fool Moon: The Dresden Files, Book 2

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Jim Butcher
    • Narrated By James Marsters
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (8367)
    Performance
    (6378)
    Story
    (6356)

    Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is Chicago's only openly practicing wizard. He is also dead broke. His vast knowledge and magical skills are unfortunately matched by his talent for making powerful enemies and alienating friends. With little more than his integrity left, he accepts an offer of work from Lt. Karin Murphy of Chicago's Special Investigations Unit. He wants to redeem himself in Murphy's eyes and make enough money to quiet his rumbling stomach.

    pterion says: "I'm liking Harry more and more"
    "Harry Dresden vs. werewolves"
    Overall
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    More than one Jim Butcher fan has told me that the Harry Dresden series takes several books before it really picks up. I am still unsure if I have the perseverance to keep reading one mediocre book after another until the awesome happens.

    Fool Moon is okay. This time Harry Dresden, the angsty, soulful, oh-so-manful-yet-gentlemanly-yet-chivalrous-yet-really-a-big-fat-tool wizard, has to solve a bloody series of murders in Chi-town. At least there is no coyness in this urban fantasy — right from the beginning, he, and the reader, knows he's dealing with werewolves, and he even mostly convinces his mundane cop friend Detective Murphy.

    Dresden pulls the magic staff and demon-summoning and charmed amulets out right away. So far the best aspects of Jim Butcher's writing seems to be the worldbuilding. In two books, we already have been presented with a considerable menagerie of supernatural beings existing in the shadows of the mundane world, complete with rules and secret societies and laws of magic that are as consistent as in any urban fantasy.

    The werewolves killed some associates of "Gentleman Johnny" Marconi, Chicago's biggest gangster and Harry's nemesis from the previous book, apparently destined to be the ongoing mundane antagonist to our hotshot wizard, as opposed to all the demons and dark wizards he's pissing off on the supernatural side. Murphy is under investigation by Internal Affairs because of stuff that happened in the last book (some of it Harry's fault), and the FBI shows up to investigate the killings, with their usual lack of humor, and lack of appreciation for so-called "wizards" babbling about werewolves.

    Naturally, there are twists. The biggest non-spoiler twist is one of the better elements of Butcher's worldbuilding in this book - there are several kinds of werewolves. Butcher makes the distinctions between them interesting and believable. Dresden finds himself alternately allied with and battling werewolves of different types and factions.

    Butcher is a decent writer. The weakness in this book was the same weakness as in the previous book - Dresden is supposed to be this bad-ass wizard, who has so much darkness in his soul that his "soul gaze" can leave people shaken and stunned, and yet he spends much of the book being chased, beaten, bushwhacked, and bedazzled, between musing on how very old fashioned and chivalrous he is. Karen Murphy, his "will they/won't they?" supporting character, is a hot-shot police detective who's constantly described as a cute little cheerleader getting cutely irate at Harry for cutely holding doors open for her. Harry has a real white knight complex going on and while I know it's gauche to infer too much about an author from his characters, I really do wonder if Butcher is one of those guys who spent his entire high school and college years moping about being "friend-zoned."

    By the second half of the book, you can predict how it will end, but it's still a decently entertaining story. Butcher is starting to hint that "dark things are afoot" and the supernatural is becoming more active, so maybe Harry will go on to more world-saving stunts in future volumes. Will I continue reading this series? Eventually I'll probably try the next book. But so far it is a strictly average urban fantasy series, basically a paranormal romance for guys.

    James Marsters is a great voice actor - however, I can't give the performance 5 stars for this book, because he does have a tendency to speak in a low, almost muttering voice, which is not a good feature in an audiobook that may be listened to while driving or doing housework with background noise, etc.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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