The Christmas Pawdcast

The Christmas PawdcastThe Christmas Pawdcast
by Emily March
Rating: ★★★
Publication Date: December 2, 2021
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Audible Originals

Mary Landry and her pregnant rescue dog are on their way home for Christmas when the unthinkable happens: Her car breaks down along a deserted stretch of mountain highway in the middle of a blizzard. Facing dire conditions, Mary seeks shelter from a lone cabin in the distance whose warm light beckons her like a Christmas star.

Nick Carstairs has one wish this season -- to ride out his least favorite time of the year in peace while working on the latest episode of his hit True Crime podcast. The sexy-voiced podcaster didn’t plan to host a stranger and her pregnant dog, but he’s happy to help a traveler in need … it’s an extra perk that she’s gorgeous. Now if she would just stop trying to change his mind about Christmas.

As they spend time warming up by the fire -- and an unexpected attraction roars to life -- will Mary help Nick discover the wonder of the season after all?


My last wholly read book of 2022 and I didn’t love it.  BUT there’s only one thing harder for me to do than read romance:  listen to it.  So, while I really liked the parts about the dog, and I appreciated the plausible opening of their meet cute, I didn’t enjoy the yearning bits – especially the part played by the male MC.  There were more than a few fast-forwards through the yearning, and a lot of cringing.  But it was a nice enough accompaniment while working on my jigsaw puzzle.

(This story was enjoyed by a reading friend who doesn’t like romance either, but found this one well done and with a cheerful Christmas vibe, which is why I tried it.  It was well written and cheerful – just too much with the yearning and the romancing for me – especially in audio.)

Hogfather

HogfatherHogfather
by Nigel Planer (narrator), Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781407033075
Series: Discworld #20
Publication Date: January 4, 2007
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Audio

Susan had never hung up a stocking . She'd never put a tooth under her pillow in the serious expectation that a dentally inclined fairy would turn up. It wasn't that her parents didn't believe in such things. They didn't need to believe in them. They know they existed. They just wished they didn't.

There are those who believe and those who don't. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses. Nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it's helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution. There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl - even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions...


Another re-read.  My first read of Hogfather was back in 2017, and I can’t really add anything different, so I’m appending that original review here.

Actually, as the original read was of the printed edition, I will just add that I thought Nigel Planer did an excellent job with the narration, and even MT, who passed by as I was listening, mentioned he was impressed with the wide variety of voices and accents Planer gave to all the characters.

I was supposed to be doing this as a buddy read with everyone, but I’ve not been keeping my end up at all. The cold I thought I’d beaten down made a comeback at the end of last week, so I kept falling asleep every time I tried to get stuck into Hogfather. Which sounds like a terrible condemnation of the book, but is really is NOT. The book was excellent. I’d prove it’s excellence with quotes, except all my reading buddies beat me to all the quotes I liked the best.

There’s mischief afoot in the Discworld, and the Hogfather is missing. Death decides to step in and play the Hogfather’s role, visiting houses, filling stockings and doing his best to ensure that belief in the Hogfather never falters, while his grand-daughter Susan and a host of others do their best to thwart the mischief so Hogfather can come back.

This is a brilliant story – practically flawless. My only two complaints are that:

  1. Teatime is a little too evil; it adds an edge to the story that I freely admit is necessary; without it the whole thing would be a little less brilliant. Nevertheless, His story line was the fly in my lemonade; I’d be reading along having a rollicking good time and then he’d show up being manically evil, and it felt like someone let the air out of my balloons.

  2. The book kept referring to both dollars and pence. Either this was done on purpose, because it’s the discworld and can use any form of currency Pratchett would like, or else it’s an editing error that wasn’t caught during a transition from UK to international editions. If it’s the former, well, that’s totally fine. But I don’t know, so I kept wondering if it was the latter and I kept getting tripped up by the discrepancy.

In the grand scheme of things, these are inconsequential – this is, hands down, the best discworld book I’ve read so far. But Teatime’s rain on my holiday parade does keep me from going the whole 5 stars.

If you like silly fun with a side of very deep philosophy, read this book.

There’s one quote I don’t think anyone has beaten me to yet:

Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

That might very well be my favourite quote of the book.

Salt: A World History

Salt: A World HistorySalt: A World History
by Mark Kurlansky, Scott Brick (narrator)
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781597770972
Publication Date: May 1, 2006
Pages: 828
Genre: History, Science
Publisher: Phoenix Books

Homer called it a divine substance. Plato described it as especially dear to the gods. As Mark Kurlansky so brilliantly relates here, salt has shaped civilisation from the beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of mankind.

Wars have been fought over salt and, while salt taxes secured empires across Europe and Asia, they have also inspired revolution - Gandhi's salt march in 1930 began the overthrow of British rule in India.

From the rural Sichuan province where the last home-made soya sauce is made to the Cheshire brine springs that supplied salt around the globe, Mark Kurlansky has produced a kaleidoscope of world history, a multilayered masterpiece that blends political, commercial, scientific, religious and culinary records into a rich and memorable tale.


I thoroughly enjoyed this.  It’s a straight up history, and I found it not at all boring.  On some level I knew salt was historically important, but that’s about it.  Its importance, it’s perceived rarity, the lengths cultures would go to for salt – I had no idea.  Needless to say, I learned a lot, and I liked it.  So much so that I found myself listening to this outside my car trips as I did mundane tasks at work that didn’t require my attention (cleaning tech).  Included throughout the text are recipes – mostly historical, but even so, it makes me wish I had a printed copy of this book for my shelves.

The narrator, Scott Brick, gets a lot of credit for the rating.  He did a fantastic job, reading this as if the thoughts were his own and you were in the midst of an enjoyable conversation.  Very natural, and his voice extremely pleasant to listen to.

Never Home Alone

Never Home AloneNever Home Alone
by Rob Dunn
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781541645769
Publication Date: January 9, 2009
Pages: 323
Genre: Science
Publisher: Basic Books

In NEVER HOME ALONE, biologist Rob Dunn takes us to the edge of biology's latest frontier: our own homes. Every house is a wilderness -- from the Egyptian meal moths in our kitchen cupboards and the yeast in a sourdough starter, to the camel crickets living in the basement, to the thousands of species of insects, bacteria, fungi, and plants live literally under our noses. Our reaction, too often, is to sterilise. As we do, we unwittingly cultivate an entirely new playground for evolution. Unfortunately, this means that we have created a range of new parasites, from antibiotic-resistant microbes to nearly impossible to kill cockroaches, to threaten ourselves with and destroyed helpful housemates. If we're not careful, the "healthier" we try to make our homes, the more likely we'll be putting our own health at risk.

A rich natural history and a thrilling scientific investigation, NEVER HOME ALONE shows us that if are to truly thrive in our homes, we must learn to welcome the unknown guests that have been there the whole time.


Another long-term resident of Mt TBR, I decided to tackle this in audio, since it was available.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, for the most part.  It’s sometimes hard with an audiobook: am I getting too much of the narrator’s personality and not enough of the authors?

I’ve been interested in the beneficial role of microbes since reading Yong’s I Contain Multitudes, and for the most part this one didn’t disappoint.  Beneficial microbes is an emerging science so there aren’t any hard answers here, but there are some very intriguing studies including one involving Amish dust.  Toxoplasma gondii will continue to give me significant pause, although won’t keep me from snuggling with my cats, and I have another reason not to love sourdough, in spite of it being good for me.  So those are some of my takeaways.

As I said, I listened to the audiobook and the narration was competent.  I will likely skim re-read the hardcover soon because there are charts/graphs in the hardcover that he referred to in the audio that I’d like to re-visit, and bits I’d like to read out loud to MT – his patience hasn’t been tested in awhile.

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big YearLost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year
by Neil Hayward
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Pages: 416
Genre: Memoir, Natural Science, Non-fiction
Publisher: Audible for Bloomsbury

Early in 2013 Neil Hayward was at a crossroads. He didn't want to open a bakery or whatever else executives do when they quit a lucrative but unfulfilling job. He didn't want to think about his failed relationship with "the one" or his potential for ruining a new relationship with "the next one." And he almost certainly didn't want to think about turning forty. And so instead he went birding.

Birding was a lifelong passion. It was only among the birds that Neil found a calm that had eluded him in the confusing world of humans. But this time he also found competition. His growing list of species reluctantly catapulted him into a Big Year--a race to find the most birds in one year. His peregrinations across twenty-eight states and six provinces in search of exotic species took him to a hoarfrost-covered forest in Massachusetts to find a Fieldfare; to Lake Havasu, Arizona, to see a rare Nutting's Flycatcher; and to Vancouver for the Red-flanked Bluetail. Neil's Big Year was as unplanned as it was accidental: It was the perfect distraction to life.

Neil shocked the birding world by finding 749 species of bird and breaking the long-standing Big Year record. He also surprised himself: During his time among the hummingbirds, tanagers, and boobies, he found a renewed sense of confidence and hope about the world and his place in it.


Now that I’ve been emancipated from crutches and taxis, and I can drive again, I’m back to being able to enjoy audiobooks, and after a small audio spree, I have quite a backlog to choose from.  I started with this one; even if I’m not quite up to bush walking while looking through a camera lens yet, I’m definitely ready to hear about someone else’s adventures.

Unfortunately, this was only a little more than half of what I’d hoped it would be.  Neil Hayward’s ‘accidental’ big year was a lot of fun to listen to/read about, and his last minute travel itineraries boggled the mind.  I loved every birding minute of this book.  But this book is also as much about the angst he suffered in his personal life, at least some of which was due to clinical depression, and not a little also due to an extraordinary pessimism he blamed on his British upbringing.  I avoid gross generalisations about people on a nation-wide basis, but Hayward did resemble an old boyfriend of mine, who lived in England, more than a little bit.  Regardless, I was in a mood to read about wild and uncommon adventures in birding, not girlfriend/career/mental illness angst, so I found these parts of the narrative tedious.  A few times at the start I considered DNF’ing because there was so. much. angst.  But once he embraced the goal to see as many birds as possible in one year (limited to US/Canada -Hawaii), the book held my interest more often than not, and ultimately left me satisfied.

The narrator did a very creditable job.

Molly Harper Audio-fest

With the end of the school year approaching, I needed to listen to something light and fun while battling traffic and disinfecting iPads – Molly Harper is sure bet in this department, no matter whether it’s one of her series, or a standalone.

Since all three of the reads, which would fall under the novella category, were solid 3.5 stars, I’m just going to put them all in one post.

Shifters in the NightShifters in the Night
by Molly Harper
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Mystic Bayou #5
Publication Date: January 1, 2021
Pages: 403
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Audible Originals

Lia Doe came to Mystic Bayou for one simple reason: to get her job done. Namely, to build a housing complex for all the new residents flocking to town since word of its supernatural population got out. But from the moment Lia arrives, it’s clear that nothing about the job is going to be simple.

First, there’s the mysterious guy she meets in the middle of the night while they’re both cavorting in their alternate forms. Spending time with shape-shifters is nothing new to Lia, but there’s something special about Jon Carmody…and the magical pull she feels whenever he’s near. There’s also a sense of homecoming and belonging in Mystic Bayou that makes her want to stick around - despite the dangers brewing from mysterious forces.

Will Lia complete her project with her heart unscathed, or will her life shift forever?


Probably the one I enjoyed least out of all three, though it still held my attention.  I really like Amanda Ronconi’s narration, but Jonathon Davies is not a favourite.  I have to say, in fairness, this was one of his better performances.  Mostly, I just enjoyed visiting Mystic Bayou again.

Peace, Blood, and UnderstandingPeace, Blood, and Understanding
by Molly Harper
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Half-Moon Hollow #15
Publication Date: January 1, 2019
Pages: 410
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Audible Originals

Ever since Jane Jameson took over running the Vampire Council for Half-Moon Hollow, things have been a little unorthodox, and that doesn’t sit well with the head office. Who would have thought vampires were so into bureaucracy and tradition?

Enter a vamp from corporate who’s determined to unseat Jane and get the council back on track - which means no more of this Kentucky neighborliness and mixing with humans, werewolves, witches, or anything else.

But Jane’s not interested in going back to the bad old days when the council was mired in corruption and tended to "accidentally" eat people now and again, but she might be in over her head this time. Good thing there’s a pretty new face in town who just might be the perfect distraction and help save Jane’s career.


This is the one I enjoyed the most out of the three, because I’m a long time fan of not only Half-Moon Hollow, but the general format of the books.  Each chapter starts with an excerpt from the book that shares its title with the current story.  So Peace, Blood, and Understanding is the name of the book within the book, and its excerpts are relevant to the theme of the story.  I’m not sure that was coherent, but suffice it to say I enjoy the extra boost of wry wit these bring with them.

Pasties and Poor DecisionsPasties and Poor Decisions
by Molly Harper
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 2020
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Audible Originals

Anastasia Villiers has hit rock bottom. And that rock is named Espoir Island.

Abandoned by her disgraced investment banker husband who liquidated all of their assets and fled the country, Anastasia is left with nothing - except for Fishscale House, a broken-down Queen Anne in the Michigan hometown she swore she’d left for good.

If Ana quickly renovates and flips the dilapidated building, she can get back to Manhattan and salvage her life. The problem? The only person on the island with historical renovation cred is Ned Fitzroy - Ana’s first love - who insists she help him with the labor herself. As Ana gets reacquainted with Ned, and her hometown, she realizes home may be just what she’s always wanted.

Previously published in the I Loved You First anthology.


This is a stand alone novella, apparently original to a multi-author anthology.  It’s also a little bit of a diversion for Harper.  The character is older, with grown kids, and living the B-list reality star life in New York City when her husband is indicted by the Federal Government and takes off with her Pilates instructor to an island lacking a US extradition treaty.    There’s no Southern anything here; it’s a solidly mid-western character, and Ronconi did a great job with it.  The story goes exactly the way you’d predict it would – absolutely no surprises – but it was a pleasant diversion.

One Fine Fae (Mystic Bayou novella, #4.5)

One Fine FaeOne Fine Fae
by Molly Harper
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Mystic Bayou #4.5
Publication Date: January 1, 2020
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Audible Originals

Charlotte McBee knows she’s in for a challenge when she accepts a job as midwife for a dragon and a phoenix shifter. Being a fairy herself, it isn’t the supernatural world that scares her. It’s the thought of delivering a giant metal dragon’s egg, which has her gritting her teeth in pain for poor Jillian, the anxious mother-to-be.

While preparing for the big event, a handsome town resident catches her eye. Leonard is kind, charming, and a little bit mysterious. He’s also suffering from a highly unusual condition brought on by an ancient fairy curse, and he’s too wary of Charlotte to allow her to get close.

Will love overcome fear before the end of her assignment?


 

So I thought I’d closed my Audible account last year, but it turns out, nope, I didn’t.  One of their emails got through the spam filter last week and informed me that I had 12 credits sitting there.  Of course, I had to use them all before I shut the account for good, so I went on a bit of a spree and bought a bunch of titles, and I made sure Molly Harper’s books accounted for at least a few.

One Fine Fae is, really, not a 4 star read – it’s closer to a 3.5 star, but I think Amanda Ronconi does such a fabulous job with the narration of these that she gets the .5 star bump.  Jonathan Davis narrates the male POV and I rather wish he didn’t.  He reads awkwardly, often mangling sentences with his oddly placed pauses, and he’s terrible at female voices.

The story itself is about what you’d expect from a novella: short and shallow, relying on established characters for any real depth while the newbies have their meet cute and establish a relationship.  There’s no tension, or plot, other than the birth of Gillian’s daughter, who is half dragon and half phoenix, and that wasn’t at all tense.

All in all, just a light and amusing way to kill a few hours while driving and ironing.

Heroes

Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and AdventuresHeroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures
by Stephen Fry
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: November 1, 2018
Pages: 462
Genre: Mythology
Publisher: Penguin / Michael Joseph

 

Well, with the lockdowns, it took me not quite 6 months to finish this on audio (I can only listen in the car), but I finally did it.  It was, of course, worth every minute, and I’d recommend the audio version to anybody who even wants to like Greek mythology.  Especially those who want to like it, but always struggled with the names, and the who begat whoms, and the who married whoms.  Fry unapologetically tells the listener to ignore all of that – there won’t be a test at the end – and just enjoy the stories.  His narration makes this all the easier, as he’s absolutely brilliant at it, even if the Greeks are speaking with Scottish, English and at one point what I think was a distinctly cockney accent.  In fact, the hint of Monty Python in some of the stories made them all the more enjoyable for me, because they made me chuckle.

I’ve never been all that interested in the Trojan War, but I’m sorely tempted to check out his version with the next book in this ‘series’.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants

The Body: A Guide for OccupantsThe Body: A Guide for Occupants
by Bill Bryson
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780857522405
Publication Date: October 3, 2019
Pages: 455
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Penguin Books

Bill Bryson sets off to explore the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself. Full of extraordinary facts and astonishing stories The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a brilliant, often very funny attempt to understand the miracle of our physical and neurological make up.


Another book I own but borrowed in audio from the library.  Also another read by the author, though Bryson does almost all of his own books and I’ve always enjoyed his readings.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants is an overview of the human body, taking it system by system.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but looking through my hard copy, I can see it includes photos, making me think this is yet another book destined to be re-visited as a read, rather than a listen.  No hardship, as Bryson is an excellent writer, and The Body is no exception.  He covers the basics, plus just that little bit more, offering what might perhaps be new information, or a different perspective, or a fresh historical anecdote.  He also doesn’t pull any punches about humanity’s propensity to overeat and under exercise, something that in (what is for me) these post-lockdown days had a more pronounced effect than they might otherwise have had pre-covid.

I don’t think fans of Bryson will be disappointed.

Caesar’s Last Breath (Audio)

Caesar's Last BreathCaesar's Last Breath
by Sam Kean
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780316381642
Publication Date: July 26, 2017
Pages: 375
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group

A round-the-globe journey through the periodic table explains how the air people breathe reflects the world's history, tracing the origins and ingredients of the atmosphere to explain air's role in reshaping continents, steering human progress, and powering revolutions.


I listened to this back in December-February, and forgot all about posting a review; this happens frequently with my audiobooks since I borrow them from the library and they’re not physical objects, sitting around mutely mocking me for my slack ways.

I like Sam Kean’s books, and I always have.  They’re popular science books and I enjoy his way of attaching science to everyday anecdotes; for me it’s a nice reinforce how science is at the very core of life.

Caesar’s Last Breath is about the air we all breathe and which parts of the periodic table we’re breathing at any given moment.  I own the book, but it was available from the library as audio and I needed something for the car.  It’s narrated by Kean himself, which can often not be a good thing, but I think he made a fair performance of it.  But this book also uses visuals, so while I enjoyed it, I think I’d have gotten more out of it had I read my hard copy.  Something I’ll probably do soon.

If you’ve read his other books and didn’t care for them, don’t bother with this one, but if you enjoy accessible science tied to historical events or everyday living, you might enjoy this one.