Monthly Archives: November 2013

Review ~ Who’s 50

This book was provided to me by ECW Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories to Watch Before You Die – An Unofficial Companion by Graeme Burk, Robert Smith?

Cover via Goodreads

Travel through space and time with this guide to 50 years of Doctor Who

Doctor Who has been a television phenomenon since it began 50 years ago on November 23, 1963. But of all the hundreds of televised stories, which are the ones you must watch? Featuring 50 stories from all eleven Doctors, Who’s 50 is full of behind-the-scenes details, exhilarating moments, connections to Who lore, goofs, interesting trivia and much, much more. Who’s 50 tells the story of this global sensation: its successes, its tribulations and its triumphant return. (via Goodreads)

According to WikiPedia, there have been 239 Doctor Who story arcs aired on television. How do you whittle that down to an essential 50? Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? give it a good try. They do a great job of providing plot and historical context to their choices as well as defending why a particular episode is important to them. Often, they don’t agree and it’s too bad there isn’t a little extra info on their picking process. The best part of At the Movies was Siskel and Ebert hashing out their opinions. I wouldn’t have minded more of that.

Who is this book for? A fan like me. I’m not an encyclopedic fan–much of the trivia and production stories were new to me, but I’m familiar enough with the older story arcs to know what’s going on. I haven’t watched many of the Classic episodes (pre-2005) in years. I took my time with this book because I wanted to watch as many of the chosen episodes as I could. Being of limited means, I didn’t get to them all. If you’re newer fan who has mainly watched the show since its 2005 return but wants to get into the Classic series, I think it’s probably best to watch the episodes before you read about them and to go in order. If you’ve never watched Doctor Who before, this might not be the book for you. It’s not necessarily a list of the *best* episodes, but episodes that are interesting within the narrative of a 50 year old TV show, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Who’s 50 is more more the history of the TV show than it is a history of the character.

There’s also some mention of the Doctor Who novels, comics, and audio stories. I know it wasn’t within the purview of the book, but I would have loved a quick list of those essentials as well.

I’m not sure I agree with all the picks (no Donna Noble stories?), but I doubt I could do a better job. It’s fifty years of television gracefully distilled down into a 420+ book.

Genre: Non-fiction, television
Why did I choose to read this book? I’m a Doctor Who fan. And I was particularly interested in what the authors had to say about the Eighth Doctor and the 1996 TV movie.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes!
Format: Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: NetGalley

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

2014 Sci-Fi ExperienceHosted by Carl @ Stainless Steel Droppings

I would love it if you would consider joining us to read and/or view some science fiction over the next few months. There are no numbers of things you are required to read or view. This is not a challenge, just an opportunity to experience the wonder of science fiction.

For the last two years I’ve wanted to take part in the Sci-Fi Experience, but I’ve always had other books heaped on the TBR pile that weren’t sci-fi. (Not like Readers Imbibing Peril. R.I.P. is easy. I seem to imbibe peril on a regular basis!) Well, it’s that time again, although a little earlier than I expected, and my TBR stack is full of history, Christmas, and Wilke Collins. Perhaps an ill-conceived notion on my part, but I’m proclaiming my participation.

Very tentative list:

  • Doctor Who Short Trips: The History of ChristmasSome Doctor Who fiction. Chirstmas-y Doctor Who fiction. (Almost a certainty. I’m in a Who mood.)
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
  • In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker (maybe)
  • Whom the Gods Would Destroy by Brian Hodge (maybe)
  • Something vintage off the shelf. (likely)

It’s Monday! What am I Reading? (11/18/13)

31Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between! This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from!

Happy Monday Everyone!

Finished Who’s 50 and worked on The Sons of Moriarty last week, so I didn’t get to either of my bowler-clad book covers. The Pinkerton book will have to wait until until after I finish River City Empire. It’s for research after all.

River City Empire: Tom Dennison's Omaha Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes

The 2013 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge starts Friday with a weekend readathon!

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to -athon on the weekend, but I’m going to try to start in gobliny style:

  • Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel, Trina Schart Hyman (Illustrator)
  • The Goblins Christmas by Elizabeth Anderson

Hope everyone has a great week of reading!

Review ~ The Invention of Everything Else

The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt

Cover via Goodreads

It is 1943, and the renowned inventor Nikola Tesla occupies a forbidden room on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker, stealing electricity. Louisa, a young maid at the hotel determined to befriend him, wins his attention through a shared love of pigeons; with her we hear his tragic and tremendous life story unfold. Meanwhile, Louisa discovers that her father—and her handsome, enigmatic love interest, Arthur Vaughan—are on an unlikely mission to travel back in time and find his beloved late wife. A masterful hybrid of history, biography, and science fiction, The Invention of Everything Else is an absorbing story about love and death and a wonderfully imagined homage to one of history’s most visionary scientists. (via Goodreads)

I.

There are occasions when I read a book and it and life exist a little too close together. When I read Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres in college, it was while my family was going through upheaval. That very much affected my experience of that book. Last week, as I was reading The Invention of Everything Else, I was juggling NaNoWriMo aspirations, a high work-load for VOTS, and the development of web pages for Eric’s and my science fiction books. The last on that list was particularly kicking my butt. I know very, very little about JavaScript and JQuery. I was no help to Eric, who knew slightly less than me about JavaScript and JQuery before last week. I’m not a fan of feeling incompetent and ineffective. And the entire project is a gamble–a lot of work for nothing certain.  Enter a Nikola Tesla at the end of his life, destitute and imagining talking pigeons. It wasn’t a comfortable read.

II.

Back in September, before I read The Invention of Everything Else, but after I had marked it TBR and purchased Lightning by Jean Echenoz, I took particular notice of an entry at Paleofuture: Making Nikola Tesla a Saint Makes Us All Dumber. The gist, if you don’t click through, is that it’s better to have a realistic notion of a person rather than a mythologized one because it makes them, well, a person. Does working with a character that’s a person (rather than a “character”) make for better fiction? More satisfying fiction?

To the outside observer, Nikola Telsa had a few eccentricities. I have a tendency to view eccentricities in their least exaggerated forms. To me, Tesla sounds like an introvert and probably on the autistic spectrum (as are many of the engineers I know). He was very intelligent, very outspoken in his views, and maybe not the world’s best communicator (…as are many of the engineers I know…). It’s easy to latch on to eccentricities and blow them out of proportion into pure crazy. I found Samantha Hunt’s version of Tesla verging on mentally ill and that seemed extreme to me.

III.

It’s been a while since I’ve read anything-goes literary fiction. I found it tiring. (And again, this might be because last week was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in a while.) There were dual narrators (mostly), with Telsa in the first person and Louisa (mostly) in third person. It’s set somewhat in the last days of Tesla’s life as the past and present start, for him, colliding in his mind. For Louisa, the juxtaposition of past and present takes the form of a time machine built by Azor, the balmy friend of her father. Obviously, there are some parallels. Is Azor any crazier than Tesla who claimed to have received transmissions from Mars? To the everyman, should a time machine be any more ridiculous than AC current? The story does veer into the land of speculative fiction when it seems that perhaps Azor’s time machine might have worked. And I don’t know if that magical realism aspect was really needed to give Louisa hope. Maybe I just take too much comfort in science to appreciate magic.

Genre: Historical speculative fiction.
Why did I choose to read this book? I think I came upon someone’s page 99 challenge and thought it sounded interesting.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Format: Hardback
Procurement: Tempe Public Library
Bookmark: Checkout receipt.

Review ~ Adventures of a Psychic

Adventures of a Psychic: The Fascinating and Inspiring True-Life Story of One of America’s Most Successful Clairvoyants by Sylvia Browne & Antoinette May

Cover via Goodreads

In this uniquely fascinating book, world-renowned psychic Sylvia Browne recounts her captivating life as a clairvoyant, telling of her earliest “readings” as a young child in Kansas City, and of her first contact with “Francine”, her spirit guide.In engrossing detail, Sylvia tells how her “gift” has assisted police departments in their search for missing children and dangerous criminals — and how her predictions of deaths, plane crashes, and momentous world events were sometimes heeded — or tragically ignored.

But more than anything else, this is the remarkable story of one woman’s psychic odyssey, for it offers illuminating insight into how we can better understand ourselves and our own psychic abilities. (via Goodreads)

Why did I read this book… I have been researching the techniques spirit mediums have used historically and I’m strongly skeptical of Sylvia Browne and her modern colleagues. And I will recuse myself, as I often find myself doing here on my blog: I am not a believer. I did not even try to be objective while reading Ms. Browne’s book. I was curious, I guess, about how a late 20th century psychic presents her history.

The first thing that struck me was the similarity in presentation of Browne’s early history and the semi-fictional biographies of magicians. Some details are over-blown: Browne stating that her ancestors are from a noble Rhine family. Other details are obscured. Dates are few and far between, so some details are hard to pin down. Like the wandering magician, Ms. Browne had an older mentor, in this case her grandmother Ada.  She is physically described several times in the book (more than most fictional characters)  and is always portrayed as good-looking. Model-esque and doe-eyed. These things are meant to accentuate the positive. They’re a sales job. Even Robert-Houdin knew the value of a good sales job.

Speaking of the positive, Sylvia Browne is never wrong in this book. She might relate times when her talents predict something unfortunate, but she’s never wrong. The book paints herself as completely and uncannily reliable.This is in contrast to a statement made after one of her more recent failures: “Only God is right all the time.” Or maybe it’s her spirit guide Francine who is wrong and, considering what a party the afterlife is, spirits are sometimes too busy to talk.

Francine is also an interesting throwback to mediumistic history. Ms. Browne redubbed her spirit guide with a European name, but like many spirit guides of the Victorian and Edwardian era, Francine is the helpful spirit of a Native American woman.

(Another incredibly co-incidental connection to mediums of old, and something not mentioned in this book, is Sylvia Browne’s criminal conviction involving selling securities in a gold-mining venture under false pretenses. The money solicited from investors was not used for operating costs, but to establish Browne’s psychic research foundation. David Abbott tells of “spirit mine” case in the early 1900s that at least involved a boulder of gold quartz materializing at a seance.)

Much of this book is a presentation of Browne’s religious and philosophical beliefs. Biographical stories are turned into catechism-like Q&A sessions. The afterlife, it seems, is for extroverts, full of parties and discussion groups. Reincarnation exists, as long as you feel the need to work through issues in your next life. There is a God, but he/she is loving and all-knowing, interested in what’s best for us little people. In general, it’s all pretty…general. If I could credit Ms. Browne with anything, it’s devising system of spirituality that is encompassing and tolerant. It seems to be designed to be appealing to a wide range of people. Unfortunately, these very didactic sections make the case-study anecdotes feel vague and glib.

The one area where Ms. Browne shows her warts is her love life. She’s been married or nearly married many times. And I have to wonder, why do so many people follow someone who has made a great hash of her life in this arena? Or, is this weakness calculated? Who hasn’t been foolish in love? Are people inspired because she has seemingly become a success despite these really bad decisions?

I have to be most harsh when Ms. Browne describes the medical applications of her talents. She has no science background and when she mentions something scientific it’s just…wrong. Seven levels of abnormal behavior? The spirit enters through the pituitary gland?  Arthritis is described as energy bulging from the joints. Heart attacks are caused by broken-heartedness. In an effort to be scientific during sittings, controls are used to make sure there is no telepathy involved, not to prove that Ms. Browne isn’t using earthly means instead of her clairvoyance. I would find Ms. Browne to be less dangerous if she limited herself to spiritual matters. Leave policing to police and doctoring to doctors.

Genre: Biography/Autobiography
Why did I choose to read this book? Curiosity
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Format: In-Browser eBook
Procurement: Phoenix Digital Library

It’s Monday! What am I Reading? (11/11/13)

31Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between! This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from!

Happy Monday Everyone!

For this week:
Pinkerton's Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes River City Empire: Tom Dennison's Omaha
Really meant to start on Pinkerton’s Great Detective last week, but The Invention of Everything Else took me a while to get through. Sons of Moriarty is a languishing ARC and River City Empire is, according to Amazon, on its way.  (And I still have the rest of the 80s in Who’s 50.)

Next up:
Death from a Top Hat
Huh. A hat on every book cover…

Coming up on the blog, reviews of The Invention of Everything Else
by Samantha Hunt and Adventures of a Psychic by Sylvia Browne & Antoinette May. Maybe a Saturday Cinema post.

Reading Events – November & December

Starting in November

christmas 2013-4Hosted by the fabulous Michelle at her Christmas Spirit Blog

These must be Christmas novels, books about Christmas lore, a book of Christmas short stories or poems, books about Christmas crafts, and for the first time…a children’s Christmas books level! Levels:

  • Candy Cane:  read 1 book
  • Mistletoe:  read 2-4 books
  • Christmas Tree:  read 5 or 6 books (this is the fanatic level…LOL!)
  • Fa La La La Films:  watch a bunch or a few Christmas movies…it’s up to you!
  • Visions of Sugar Plums:  read books with your children this season and share what you read

I’m going to shoot for the Mistletoe level because, well, I have good intentions but I’m also fickle. I’ve love the juxtaposition of Christmas and ghost stories, so there will probably be a lot of that. I’m also always interested in exploring other holiday season holidays. I am, I suppose, holiday greedy. I like that so many cultural and religious holidays are clustered during the darkest time of the year. I see no reason why everyone can’t celebrate everything if they so desire. Some of what I might read:

Charles Dickens' Christmas Ghost Stories Spirits of Christmas Haunting Christmas Tales Let it Snow!  Season's Readings for a Super-Cool Yule!

The Twelve Days of Yule Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins Kwanzaa: A Family Affair The New Year's Eve Compendium: Toasts, Tips, Trivia and Tidbits for Bringing in the New Year

Starting in December

wilkieinwinter-1024x1024I will finish A Woman in White, I swear it.