book, fiction: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (Tor, 2011)
The re-boot of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. I last read the original, oh, about forty years ago, and I don't remember much about it except that it occasionally descended into the nauseatingly cute. Scalzi chooses instead to descend into the cruftily sardonic. All the human characters in this book talk alike, and what they talk like is the wise-cracking Hollywood agents in Scalzi's first novel, Agent to the Stars. As do the characters in his comic short fiction. I'm half-tempted actually to read one of his serious Old Man's War books (the consistent description of these as the second coming of Heinlein has kept me away so far), to see if he can write dialogue that sounds like anything else.
book, non-fiction: The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann (Doubleday, 2010)
This is where you may find Grann's famous essay on Cameron Todd Willingham, the man executed by Texas despite strong evidence of his actual innocence, in book form. It also contains a number of other weird New Yorker and New Yorker-style essays on other topics, largely of crime and death, of which the most interesting is that of the unsolved death of Conan Doyle scholar Richard Lancelyn Green, which may have been suicide made up to look like murder.* The best other essays are also non-crime, one on the hunt for the giant squid, and another on the hunt for New York City's water tunnels.
CD, classical: Octets by Mendelssohn and Bargiel (Helios, 2000)
This is the most interesting CD I picked up on my visit to Portland's classical store. British chamber ensemble Divertimenti gives a righteously vigorous run at Mendelssohn's famous string octet, but what caught my attention for this particular recording was its pairing with the similar octet by the obscure Woldemar Bargiel (1828-1897), who was Clara Schumann's half-brother. I'll bet you didn't even know Clara Schumann had a brother. (Neither of my biographical books on the Schumanns brings up the subject.) Clara was a good composer herself, and it turns out that so was her little brother. His octet has a darker opening movement than Mendelssohn's, a solemn chorale-like slow movement with bits of Mendelssohnian scherzo embedded in it, and a finale more like the yet-unexisting music of Dvorak than anything else.
*I once almost had a near-contact with Richard Lancelyn Green. I was on the advisory board of the Mythopoeic Press when we wrote him inquiring about obtaining rights to reprint a book by his late father, a noted children's fantasy author and semi-Inkling. However, we'd been told that Green was notoriously bad about answering his mail, and this proved to be the case.