30 September 2021

Books Completed Since September 1

book icon  The Orville Season 2.5: Launch Day, David A. Goodman, David Cabeza, Michael Atiyeh
Imagine comics that make you think!
These two stories set in The Orville universe are apparently a bridge between second season as aired on the Fox network and the upcoming third season which we'll see at the end of the year (we hope) on Hulu. Both are thought-provoking: the first "Launch Day" has some of the crew investigating a society that turned its back on the Union years earlier. A society consumed by paranoid leaders, the Alibar are now planning something that may send other systems to war—certainly the Krill are ready to fight them already. In the second, "Heroes," Lieutenant Keyali returns to a pastoral society she visited years ago, only to find the population under subjugation. She must find a way to free them, but even freedom won't bring back the innocence the society has lost...
I was skeptical about Orville when it first premiered, but it soon seduced me with its mixture of good stories and offbeat characters. The comic issues just add more good material to a great source.
book icon  Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks
I've heard of Oliver Sacks, neurologist and writer, but had never read one of his books until the title of this one caught my eye. Sacks, born in northwest London, grew up as the precocious child of physicians and loving, not biology, but chemistry; the elements fascinated him. From a large family (his grandfather married twice, so he had many uncles and aunts, some almost two generations older than him) in which some sort of science or manufacturing played a part in their lives, Sacks grew up in a scientific environment, but his favorite uncle was David, the titular "Uncle Tungsten" because he ran a factory that made tungsten light bulbs. Uncle Tungsten fascinated him with chemical experiments, which Sacks duplicated in his own home laboratory, and gave him chemicals back in those days that would horrify adults today. (He regularly set things afire and burned fingers and eyebrows.) For Sacks it would have been paradise, except for it was World War II and he was evacuated to a horrible boarding school where he was bullied and beaten. Only his visits home and his experiments kept him from unraveling.
I am not a science person, but this book was so fascinating and so readable (except for poor Sacks' terrible stories about Braefield School!) that it kept me glued to its pages until the end. It's part an account of growing up during the Blitz, part the story of being Jewish in a chiefly Christian society (where you were forced to say Christian prayers in school), and all about his fascination with the elements, which he conveys in such an interesting fashion you can't help learning a little in the process.
book icon  Exploring Space: 1999, John Kenneth Muir
This is Muir's episode-by-episode commentary of the 1970s series Space: 1999, created by Gerry Anderson after his groundbreaking work in children's adventure series starring marionettes, like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. Space: 1999 was initially conceived as being the second season of Anderson's space thriller UFO (it was the same moonbase), but eventually morphed into a series of its own, one in which nuclear waste (a hot subject in the 1970s) stored on the moon causes it to blast out of orbit and head into space. The residents of Moonbase Alpha must then survive and also seek out a new place to live. In the second season, Fred Freiberger (the guy who ruined Star Trek) was brought in to make the stories more action packed and less cerebral. Well, we know how that worked out!
Muir generally has good points to make on each episode, but he seems to need to run down Star Trek (and sometimes other sci-fi series) to do so; there are times he seems downright scornful. Plus he gives a lot better reviews to second season that I ever would, seemingly convinced that shape-shifting Maya was a brilliant character (I love Catherine Schell, but Maya never seemed very real to me, and her romance with Tony Verdeschi was a real turn-off). Your mileage will definitely vary, and Muir as always writes very well. 
book icon  Doctor Who: Deadly Reunion, Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts
I picked this up used because there's nothing better than I like a story involving the Brigadier, and this one has it in spades: the whole first part of the book involves maneuvers performed by the Brig when he was a second lieutenant in the second World War, assigned to the Greek islands. He meets and falls in love with Sephie, a beautiful Greek girl, who is, with her younger brother Hermy, under the care of her grandmother Mrs. Demeter—only to realize "Sephie" is really Persephone, the goddess doomed to live in Hades six months of the year, and he's the only one who can rescue her. Years later, the Doctor and Jo Grant are in the British village of Hob's Haven, where a massive rock concert is due to take place, when evil things begin to happen. As the Brigadier and Captain Yates struggle to get to the town and help them, the Doctor is approached by the Master...who pleads with the Doctor to help him; he's gotten in over his head with someone he's discovered is Hades, god of the underworld! Need I mention Sephie, now known as "Sophie," and her family reappear?
Reminiscent of "The Daemons" in places, you have to have some patience to get through the World War II bits as the authors get really into making the British Naval manuevers sound realistic, to the point where it's more like a British war film than a Doctor Who story. But it's nice to see the Brig in his salad days, before the mustache and the swagger stick, when he was a young man capable of falling in love. And with a threat big enough to make the Master fearful, anything can happen...
book icon  A Valiant Deceit, Stephanie Graves
I was delighted to be offered this as an advance reader copy, the second book in the Olive Bright series, which I enjoyed much more than the Barnes & Noble-marketed "Poppy Redfern" series, which has a similar theme (young British woman during the second World War who wants to do her bit).

In this entry, Olive must pick out three pigeons to accompany three Belgian informants being smuggled into occupied Europe; the birds will be vital in sending back information about the Belgians' efforts to mislead and sabotage the Nazi war effort. The Belgians are all pigeon fanciers, reassuring Olive that even though the birds will be in danger from enemy fire, they will be well cared for. She also has to cope with the pretend romance she's set up with her superior, Captain Jameson Aldridge, which she feels doesn't look realistic enough. Then one of the officers at the top-secret Station XVII facility is found murdered in a nearby wood. Olive can't help wondering who killed the young man, although Aldridge warns her off.

If anything, this is better than the first book because the storyline is now established and the missions involving the pigeons can be begun. There's also an affecting subplot involving RAF officers who have been disfigured in plane crashes undergoing rehabilitation at what once was Miss Husslebee's home (she was the victim in the first book). Olive befriends one of the pilots and is determined that these men be reintroduced into society without people making unkind comments about their appearance. Even though Olive makes one serious mistake, her instincts are sound, especially about the pigeons and their handlers.
book icon  Doctor Who: Celebrating Fifty Years, Alan Kistler
You would think that with all the Doctor Who books I have, I couldn't possibly get anything of use out of another one, but this was a very enjoyable history of the series up until the departure of Matt Smith (Peter Capaldi had not yet been chosen for the role when it was published). There are some facts here still that I didn't know, and interesting interstitial chapters that talk in depth about the comics (including the Doctor's in-print grandchildren, John and Gillian, who are often forgotten) and the music (while Ron Granier is usually acknowledged as the creator of the iconic theme song, this is the first book I've read that credits Delia Derbyshire as adding the effects that make the music so memorable) and even whether the "new adventures" and the "continuing adventures" books are canon or not, and why non-television characters like Benny and Frobisher have their fans just as much as Sarah Jane and Leela have theirs. Everyone's favorite humanoid villain, the Master, gets his due as well—none of this almost sole emphasis on Daleks and Cybermen!—which is fine with me as I hate Daleks and love the Master!
book icon  Murder on Trinity Place, Victoria Thompson
It's New Year's Eve 1899 and Frank and Sarah Malloy are sitting in their new motorcar near Trinity Church waiting for the church's famous bells to ring in the new year. They recognize their neighbor Mrs. Ellsworth's in-law Mr. Pritchard, a dairy owner, wandering around belligerently trying to convince people they should be celebrating the new millennium (a particular hobbyhorse of his), and try to stop him, but he wanders off. Next morning they find out he has been strangled. Theda Ellsworth pleads with Frank and his assistant Gino to find out who killed her father.
I found this entry in Thompson's Gaslight series to be full of twists and turns, with things going on that Mr. Pritchard and most of his family had no knowledge of. You also learn about the horrible conditions under which New York City received "fresh milk" in those days, with "swill dairies" operating in disgusting barns where cows were fed spoiled garbage and gave milk so thin it was bulked up with things like plaster of paris!!!
Plus there is an interesting subplot in this entry about a "ruined" wealthy girl who has taken refuge at the maternity clinic Sarah Malloy has established. She can't go home, but can Sarah find her a new one with an unexpected character who will respect her? This subplot is equally as interesting as the murder mystery.
book icon  The Shepherd's Life, James Rebanks
This is an offbeat book about Rebanks' life, in which he at first resisted higher education in order to live the life he really wanted: to be a Lakes Country shepherd like his father and grandfather. A difficult teen who rejected school always to work on the farm, Rebanks later did go to Oxford and discovered he was more intelligent than anyone had ever given him credit for, including himself. Still, like the Herdwick sheep he raised (the breed preferred by Beatrix Potter, whose royalties preserved so many unspoiled areas of the Lakes District), he found himself "heefed" to the land.

The Lakes District is now a great tourist area, and Rebanks took quite a few years to figure out why these "silly people" invaded the land where he worked and struggled to prosper. Now that he is older he has acknowledged that tourism has profited the area, but he spends much of the book, especially in the part of the memoir of his growing up, speaking disparagingly of travelers who come for the scenery. For him, the land is all about his work with the sheep.

An interesting read because, unlike a tourist brochure, Rebanks is not trying to lure you with scenery; instead you read of the hard life of the sheep farmer and of the disasters, especially during lambing time, that can hit at any moment. After reading this, perhaps you will think of the people who actually work in the area you are visiting on vacation, and realize how differently they view the place where you're having fun.
book icon  The Moment of Tenderness, Madeleine L'Engle
This is a recent publication by L'Engle's granddaughters of manuscripts they found in L'Engle's "Ivory Tower," her writing room at her Connecticut home, Crosswicks. Some of them had been sold to magazines, some have never been published, many are autobiographical, and they all show her progress as a writer. Several of the stories, like "The Birthday" and "The Mountains Shall Stand Forever" were revised and incorporated into two different novels, two other stories were incorporated into her nonfiction.
The stories vary in quality; some are merely vignettes that reflect aspects of L'Engle's life, from when she lived in Europe to when she went to boarding school and was bullied. "Summer Camp" talks about the difficulty of peer pressure. Then there's "Madame, or...", which is a very surprising story for L'Engle to write, about a young woman living at a residence for young ladies. "A Room in Baltimore" recounts L'Engle's real-life adventure of being on the road with a theatrical troupe and having difficulty finding a place to stay due to the fact that she took care of a miniature poodle that appeared in the play. "Julio at the Party" I found very strange.
"The Moment of Tenderness" of the book title is actually a very sweet story about a long-married woman who develops an attachment (but nothing physical) with the family physician. The one story I had read in this collection was "Poor Little Saturday," which was included in a Newbery Winners book of short stories with a Hallowe'en theme, about a young man who meets a "witch woman" and a sympathetic girl in the woods.
The one really big surprise in this collection is "That Which is Left," about a son returning to his home for the first time in years, which really, really packed a punch.
book icon  Emily Makes A Difference: 1893, A Time of Progress and Problems, JoAnn A. Grote
This is part of the "Sisters in Time" series by a Christian publisher recounting the adventures of girls around age twelve in different points of American history. Emily Allerton lives in Minneapolis in 1893, just as two big events occur: the Chicago World's Fair (the World Columbian Exposition, to be official) and the Panic of 1893, which was a smaller, less dire version of the Great Depression. Emily and her best friend and cousin Ted Kerr witness a run on the bank, and then she has to be rescued from the trolley tracks by a poor boy named Erik Moe, who's had to go to work because his brakeman father lost his job after losing fingers operating the dangerous couplings on railroad cars. Emily, who is rather heedless, runs into one scrape after another as the cousins struggle to make sense of the Panic and also negotiate the World's Fair.
This is not a great entry in the series. Emily is really scatterbrained and never thinks about the consequences of her actions, and even though she ends up doing good in the end, it takes her a long time to mend her ways. Ted is much more sensible, and it makes Emily look even worse. The other problem is the info dump the author does about the time: this is not a period of history very much covered in history, so we get great quantities of information about railroads (specifically a certain railroad that runs from Minneapolis to the west coast for lumber), the Fair, and the Panic. I love books that explain historical details, but this one has almost too many, and the ending comes off as sappy as a Hallmark Christmas film.