Fugitive Telemetry (Murderbot Diaries, #6)

Fugitive TelemetryFugitive Telemetry
by Kevin R. Free (narrator), Martha Wells
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781980080633
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #6
Publication Date: April 1, 2021
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Recorded Books

No, I didn't kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn't dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people? who knew?) Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans! Again!

Oh, now this one I really, really liked!  It’s a murder mystery!  Detective Inspector Murderbot!

I had a lot of fun with this one, not only because of the murder mystery angle, which was easily 80% of my enjoyment, but also because it all took place on the station, so none of that spacey stuff, except for the scene with the bag thing, and I thought that part was amusing.  And it was short.

I really like the characters Wells has created for Preservation station, and I got a kick out of the dynamic she’s created with Murderbot and the head of station security.  I really hope Wells will create more stories involving these characters – and more mysteries!

The Language of Food (US title: Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen)

The Language of FoodThe Language of Food
by Annabel Abbs
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781398502239
Publication Date: March 2, 2022
Pages: 399
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

England 1835. Eliza Acton is a poet who dreams of seeing her words in print. But when she takes her new manuscript to a publisher, she’s told that ‘poetry is not the business of a lady’. Instead, they want her to write a cookery book. That’s what readers really want from women. England is awash with exciting new ingredients, from spices to exotic fruits. But no one knows how to use them

Eliza leaves the offices appalled. But when her father is forced to flee the country for bankruptcy, she has no choice but to consider the proposal. Never having cooked before, she is determined to learn and to discover, if she can, the poetry in recipe writing. To assist her, she hires seventeen-year-old Ann Kirby, the impoverished daughter of a war-crippled father and a mother with dementia.

Over the course of ten years, Eliza and Ann developed an unusual friendship – one that crossed social classes and divides – and, together, they broke the mould of traditional cookbooks and changed the course of cookery writing forever.

Not quite as good as I’d hoped it would be, but maybe that’s because it also felt a bit different that I expected.  This is a fictional work based on the real life of Elizabeth Acton, author of what is considered to be one of the world’s most successful cookery writers, with Modern Cookery for Private Families first published in 1845 and was a best seller internationally for the next 90 years.

Abbs, condensed the 10 years Acton worked on the cookbook, along with her assistant/servant Ann Kirby, and imagined how the partnership might have worked.  I think she did a great job, and I was enjoying it right up until the end, where it did so rather abruptly.  Acton returns home from a visit to her sister’s, full of enthusiasm, energy, and plans to add a chapter on bread, enters the kitchen to hear Ann humming, and BAM! The next page is the Epilogue.  It was disorienting, to say the least.

Otherwise, it was an enjoyable, if not exactly riveting, read.  I knew nothing about Acton (as I try never to cook), but by the time I finished this book, I planning on trawling the used book sites for a copy of Modern Cookery for Private Families, even though I have no plans to start cooking.  I think it was the scene involving quince paste.  I’m intrigued by quinces and would be willing to try my hand at paste.  Anyway, a good read, with some great author notes at the end about what’s accurate and what’s story-telling.  It’s always a bonus when fiction can be educational too.

Grave Reservations (Booking Agents, #1)

Grave ReservationsGrave Reservations
by Cherie Priest
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781982168902
Series: Booking Agents #1
Publication Date: July 19, 2022
Pages: 292
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Meet Leda Foley: devoted friend, struggling travel agent, and inconsistent psychic. Impulsively re-booking Seattle PD detective Grady Merritt’s flight, she has no idea that her life is about to change in ways she could have never foretold.

When his original plane blows up on the runway, Grady begins to suspect that Leda’s special abilities could help him with a cold case he just can’t crack. Despite her scattershot premonitions, she agrees to join the investigation for a secret reason: her fiancé’s murder remains unsolved.

Leda’s psychic abilities couldn’t help that sad case, but she’s been honing her skills and drawing a crowd at her favorite bar’s open-mic nights, where she performs her klairvoyant karaoke—singing whatever song comes to mind when she holds people’s personal effects. Now joined by a ragtag group of bar patrons and pals, Leda and Grady set out to catch a killer—and learn how the two cases that haunt them have more in common than they ever suspected.

Ever have the feeling that you’ve read something recently, forgot to write down anything about it, and can’t remember what the book was?  Me, with this book.  I only read it 10 days ago and completely forgot everything about it, including its title.

BUT, once I chased it down, it all came flooding back, so let’s place the blame on a synaptic failure, rather than the story.  Because the story is memorable, although perhaps not for the right reasons.

It’s not a bad story – it is, in fact, a really good one, with an interesting blend of amateur detective and police procedural.  I liked the psychic element too, especially since the MC is the first person to stand up and say ‘Yes! I have visions, but they’re often meaningless and almost always unreliable.’

Where it floundered for me was the characterisations.  The police detective (my inability to remember names is an across-the-board life failure), is solid, well thought out, real.  I liked him.  The rest … are a work in progress.  I hope.  Especially the MC, whose maturity level I’d put somewhere just above toddler and a bit below pre-teen.  Ok, that’s harsh.  She’s solidly in the pre-teen/adolescent range.  No sense of responsibility, no sense of self, very reactionary, and overly prone to just default to her neighborhood bar and drink to excess.  Totally floundering.  I’m not sure her BFF is any better, or maybe she just had less time on the page.

There is hope though; she takes the investigation seriously and the author effectively communicates the MC’s desire to grow up and let go of the tragedy that compelled her to agree to helping the detective in the first place.

So, while I’m making this sound terrible, it’s really not, and I definitely want to read the second book.  If the MC is still immature by the end of that one, I’ll bow out of the series, but it has a lot going for it, and I’m willing to allow for ongoing character growth.

Network Effect (Murderbot Diaries, #5)

Network EffectNetwork Effect
by Kevin R. Free (narrator), Martha Wells
Rating: ★★★½
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #5
Publication Date: May 1, 2020
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Recorded Books

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century. I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are. When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action. Drastic action it is, then.

What can I say?  I didn’t like this one, the first full-length novel, as much as I liked the short stories.  Part of that was the length, part of it was all the focus on the spacey stuff (wormholes, alien artefacts, blobs on the drive engine, blah, blah, blah), and yeah, part of it was ART.  Now, I like ART, but he was rather pathological until the very end, and at one point I was totally ok with someone wiping his kernel and zero’ing it out, just for good measure.  I felt like the schtick being played out regarding Murderbot’s ‘relationship’ with ART had potential for some big humor, but it never really got to that point, simply hovering in the mildly amusing range.

But the story picked up considerably – for me – once Murderbot got stuck on the planet and the killware came into play.  Unfortunately, by that time there was very little story left, and I thought it all ended rather abruptly.

Still, this reader-who-doesn’t-enjoy-scifi kept listening, and I definitely thought it was worth the 3.5 stars.  I just prefer murderbot’s diary entries to be shorter, I think.  Or less spacey.

Meet Me at the Museum

Meet Me at the MuseumMeet Me at the Museum
by Anne Youngson
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780857525529
Publication Date: December 26, 2019
Pages: 207
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Transworld

This story begins with a letter
From a housewife
to the gentle curator
Of an extraordinary museum
Where lies peacefully
An ancient exhibit
That holds the key
To Everything
We are.

Meet Me at the Museum tells of a connection made across oceans and against all the odds. Through intimate stories of joy, despair, and discovery, two people are drawn inexorably towards each other, until a shattering revelation pushes their friendship to the very edge.

Another winner from LT!  I loved this book and I’m going to buy a copy to have on my shelves.

I really enjoy epistolary novels, and this one tugged at me harder than most because one of my closest friends lives in Denmark and he and I have been corresponding for years, so the parallel pushed it up that extra half star.

If you don’t have a friend in Denmark you correspond with, it’s still a good book.  I’m not sure how to describe it really, except to say it feels like a very realistic correspondence between two people who have never met, yet have become close.  There’s a hesitation, a caution, in the sharing of opinions that rings true and the storylines that slowly and subtly unfold are the storylines that unfold everyday, everywhere.

There’s no happy ending, but there’s no unhappy ending either.  It ends with hope.  A genuinely lovely story.

Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4)

Exit StrategyExit Strategy
by Kevin R. Free (narrator), Martha Wells
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781501999994
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #4
Publication Date: October 1, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Recorded Books

Murderbot wasn't programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah-its former owner (protector? friend?)-submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit. But who's going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue? And what will become of it when it's caught?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, these are starting to blur together in my head because I’m listening to them back-to-back, but I feel like this one started off with more action right off the bat, and I liked it.  I also like that the original characters are together again.

I’ve already stared Network Effect – with some trepidation, I might add, because it’s a full-length novel.  12 hours of science fiction might be more science fiction in one go than I’ve read accusatively over my lifetime.  But so far, so good.

Hunted by the Others (H & W Investigations, #1)

Hunted by the OthersHunted by the Others
by Jess Haines
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781420119411
Series: H&W Investigations #1
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
Pages: 352
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Kensington

Shiarra Waynest’s job was dangerous enough when her client base was strictly mortal. But ailing finances have forced her to accept a lucrative case that could save her firm—if it doesn’t kill her first. Shiarra has signed on to work for a high-level mage to recover an ancient artifact owned by one of New York’s most powerful vampires.

As soon as the detective meets the sexy, mesmerizing vampire Alec Royce, she knows her assignment is even more complicated than she thought. With a clandestine anti-Other group trying to recruit her and magi being eliminated, Shiarra needs backup. She enlists her ex-boyfriend—a werewolf whose non-furry form is disarmingly appealing—and a nerdy mage with surprising talents. But it may not be enough. In a city where the undead roam, magic rules, and even the Others aren’t always what they seem, Shiarra has just become the secret weapon in a battle between good and evil—whether she likes it or not.

Standard UF fare, but good, standard UF fare.  Very readable, likeable characters, lots of action, a sentient belt that made me laugh, nice friend dynamic.

But it just didn’t hook me enough to want to read the rest of the series.  Reading reviews for further books, there seems to be a strong theme of the (female) MC being exploited one way or there other in every book, and if I’d been interested before, I’m definitely not now.  I have no interest in reading about victims, even if they’re tough and can get themselves out of scrapes.  Not even for the sentient belt.

Definitely not a bad book at all, but for me it’s a one and done.

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)

Rogue ProtocolRogue Protocol
by Kevin R. Free (narrator), Martha Wells
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781501999796
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #3
Publication Date: August 7, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Recorded Books

Sci-fi’s favorite antisocial AI is back on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensha’s SecUnit is.

And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.

I’ve been listening to these back to back and I’m behind with my posts, so they’re all starting to blur together a bit, but this was the one with Miki, right?

If so, it started off slow for me; space travel … meh.  But once Murderbot started interacting with humans, and even better, when things started attacking, my attention was hooked.  Can’t say I liked the ending though.

The House Between the Tides

The House Between the TidesThe House Between the Tides
by Sarah Maine
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781760297046
Publication Date: April 26, 2017
Pages: 385
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Following the deaths of her last living relatives, Hetty Deveraux leaves her strained marriage behind in London and journeys to Scotland to inspect her inheritance: her ancestral home, now in ruins. As Hetty dives headfirst into the repairs, she discovers a shocking secret protected by the house for a hundred years.

With only whispered rumours circulating among the local villagers and a handful of leads to guide her, Hetty finds the power of the past is still affecting her present in startling ways.

Another LT recommendation, and to use my father’s phrase, it was fair to middlin’.

The book is well written and the plots (dual time lines) were well constructed.  The story just didn’t do it for me.  My cockles weren’t warmed and my attention wasn’t hooked.  The present day POV kept me reading far longer than I should have, while the past POV had me bored and the trope had me rolling my eyes.

Just really not my jam.

I would, however, totally live somewhere that’s only accessible during low tides.

Away with the Penguins

Away with the PenguinsAway with the Penguins
by Hazel Prior
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781787630949
Publication Date: March 19, 2020
Pages: 341
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House

Eighty-five-year-old Veronica McCreedy is estranged from her family and wants to find a worthwhile cause to leave her fortune to. When she sees a documentary about penguins being studied in Antarctica, she tells the scientists she’s coming to visit—and won’t take no for an answer. Shortly after arriving, she convinces the reluctant team to rescue an orphaned baby penguin. He becomes part of life at the base, and Veronica’s closed heart starts to open.

Her grandson, Patrick, comes to Antarctica to make one last attempt to get to know his grandmother. Together, Veronica, Patrick, and even the scientists learn what family, love, and connection are all about.

LT is on a roll.  This was, mostly, a delightful read, with a side salad of melancholy, regret and loneliness.  Mostly, thank goodness, delight.  The story is told with a dual POV between Veronica and James.

Veronica is a cranky old bird, but wealthy enough that most people would just call in imperious.  She comes by it honestly, as events in her life have served to sever her from who she used to be and who she might have turned out to be.

James is a hot mess, living off the dole and occasionally self-medicating and just trying to get through it all.  He, too, comes by his dysfunction honestly, though he seems to have a very good heart.

When Veronica and James meet for the first time, it’s not a success, and Veronica walks away from her only relative in the world.  It’s her trip to Antartica, her resulting precarious friendship with one of the scientists, and a small fluff ball of a baby penguin that finally cracks Veronica’s shell, and that crack brings James to Antartica and together again with Veronica.

The reunion happens relatively late in the book, so the resolution is a bit … not rushed, but not strung out either.  It mostly works.  What I enjoyed most was – ok, it was the penguin, totally and completely the penguin – but what I enjoyed second most was that the author wrote a story about an 86 year old woman travelling to Antartica, alone, and she did it unapologetically, without caveats, or explanations.  Almost as though people on the top end of the age spectrum still had agency; imagine that.

An easy read that isn’t an empty one; a book to be enjoyed while still leaving the reader with a few things to chew over afterwards.