A Book Tied To My Ancestry

Under Milk Wood: A Play for Voices, by Dylan Thomas, was published, posthumously, in 1954. It was first performed on BBC radio on January 25, 1954.

The first sentence is: “To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeback, slow, black, crowback, fishingboat-bobbing sea.

Under Milk Wood

The story takes place during a single day in the Welsh town of Llareggub. It begins before dawn, with the residents asleep and dreaming.

Captain Cat, the retired blind seacaptain, dreams of drowned sailors, who all want to hear the latest goings on above the sea. “And who brings cocoanuts and shawls and parrots to my Gwen now?

Miss Myfanwy Price dreams of her lover. “Throw away your little bedsocks and your Welsh wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast…” he says to her.

Mister Waldo, “rabbitcatcher, barber, herbalist, catdoctor, quack“, dreams of his dear mother.

The twice-widowed Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard dreams of her two husbands, who both assure her that they are taking care of their health, just as she always instructed them to. Both husbands, in Mrs. Ogmore-Prichard’s dreams, are happy to be henpecked beyond the grave.

Through their dreams, we are introduced to the residents of Llareggub: Organ Morgan, the organist; Willy Nilly, the postman; Butcher Banyon; Gossamer Banyon, daughter and schoolteacher; Reverend Eli Jenkins; Nogood Boyo, the fisherman, and so on.

Dawn arrives at Llareggub, signaled by Captain Cat ringing the townhall bell.

Up on Coronation Street and down on Donkey Street, Llareggub starts another day. Cherry Owen and Mrs. Cherry Owen have last night’s onions and spuds for breakfast, while bickering lovingly. Sinbad Sailors greets the day with a freshly drawn pint as he opens the Sailor’s Arms. Mr. Pugh fantasizes about poisoning Mrs. Pugh, while treating her well.

Children go to school. Fishermen go to sea.

I absolutely loved this book/screenplay. The story is touching and romantic and hilarious. It’s down-to-earth and magical. It’s beautiful.

I read Phillip the following passage, which made me laugh out loud: Bessie Bighead “…picks a posy of daisies in Sunday Meadow to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once by the pig-sty when she wasn’t looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.” Phillip said that passage reminded him of A Prairie Home Companion. I hadn’t seen that before, but I think that’s an apt comparison for this entire book. If you like one, I think you’ll like the other.

(By the way, there is no actual town named Llareggub. It’s bugger all spelled backwards.)

Why I chose this book:

Except for my father tracing his immediate family tree, ancestry was never an important topic in my family. I know that my father can trace his roots back to Germany. I’ve been told that, if you go back far enough, some of my mother’s family can be found in Wales. That was good enough for me.

Wales seems like a more interesting place than Germany, mainly because I don’t know much about Wales.

I did some internet searching for novels set in Wales. I found a few, but none that were in either of my local libraries. (Someday, maybe, I’ll finally remember the most obvious solution and ask a librarian.) Then I worked backwards and looked for Welsh authors, and, of course, found Dylan Thomas.

A Book About A Villain Or Antihero

Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Ubervilles, by Kim Newman, was published in 2011.

The first sentence is: “Even during the global crisis which broke more famous financial institutions, the failure of Box Brothers was noisy.

Professor Moriarty

Founded in 1869, Box Brothers was one of the world’s greatest financial institutions, serving an exclusively criminal clientèle. They had two specialties: moving valuables to off-shore locations, and storing away valuables until the heat cools down. Box Brothers also made a tidy profit from Dame Philomela Box’s master key: Safety deposit boxes could be opened when clients disappeared, or whenever the Box family simply needed money.

That all ended around 2009, with the indictment of Box Brother’s CEO.

The prologue begins in 2009, when Professor Christina Temple, of Birkbeck College, is called by Dame Philomela to examine some historical documents left in a safety deposit box. Without taking the documents back to her office (which Dame Philomela won’t allow), Professor Temple can’t authenticate the documents, but she concludes that, if they are forgeries, they are very old forgeries. The documents appear to be the genuine memoir of Colonel Sebastian Moran.

The rest of the book contains the text of Colonel Sebastian “Basher” Moran’s (alleged) memoir.

It’s 1880, in England. Basher Moran has survived several fights, knife wounds, and gunshots. After the especially difficult killing of Kali’s Kitten, Basher returns to London, without funds, and without a place to stay.

An acquaintance puts Basher Moran in touch with a man named Professor James Moriarty. After a brief interview, of sorts, Basher is hired into the professor’s organization “The Firm” as Chief Executive Director of Homicide.

Professor Moriarty is a man of science, with a sharp mind and keen observation skills. He is a criminal mastermind with a wide influence. Colonel Moran sees him as the embodiment of evil. “If I’d had my Webley on my hip, I might have shot the Professor in the heart on instinct – though it’s my guess bullets wouldn’t dare enter him. He had a queer unhealthy light about him. Not unhealthy in himself, but for everybody else.

Although Basher is no stranger to killing, both in the military and in civilian life, Professor Moriarty instructs him in the art and philosophy of murder-for-hire.

Basher’s first assignment is an American gunslinger named Jim Lassiter, newly arrived in London. It doesn’t go as planned, at least at first.

Professor Moriarty (or, rather, Colonel Moran’s memoir) is presented like a set of short stories, with a central theme – not unlike a collection of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, with Moran recording Moriarty’s exploits in much the same way as Watson recorded Holmes’ adventures.

The first chapter is named “A Volume in Vermilion“. It covers Basher’s first meeting with Professor Moriarty and his encounter with Jim Lassiter.

The second chapter is named “A Shambles in Belgravia“. It’s the story of an elaborate con involving the far-off kingdom of Ruritania and the American Nightingale, Miss Irene Adler, a woman Processor Moriarty will always refer to as that bitch.

The third chapter is named “The Red Planet League“. Professor James Moriarty, mathematician-astronomer, author of the ridiculed The Dynamics of an Asteroid, plots against his arch-rival, Sir Nevil Airey Stent, the Astronomer Royal.

The fourth chapter is named “The Hound of the d’Urbervilles“. Professor Moriarty has picked up a craze for deductions. Colonel Moran doesn’t know, or care, where he got it. Those deduction skills are put to use when Mr. Jasper Stoke, an American originally from Wessex, with familial ties to the Stoke-d’Urberville country estate, seeks Moriarty’s help to have a dog killed. It’s no ordinary dog, of course. It’s the curse of the d’Urbervilles.

Professor Moriarty was fun to read, full of 19th century language and slang, with enough of a 21st century twist to keep it funny. It’s chock full of literary references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells. It’s a clever book. However, it was too much of a good thing. The eBook version I read on my phone was over 1,000 ePages long. (The physical book is nearly 600 pages.) The rich, complex chapter-stories, with multiple character introductions, back stories, and sub-plots, read like novellas. This book could have been a fine trilogy, with two or three stories each. When I started the fourth chapter, I was only a third of the way through, and I was losing interest.

Maybe this review is too long.

The fifth chapter is named “The Adventure of the Six Maledictions“. A man calling himself Mad Carew seeks Professor Moriarty’s help. He presents Moriarty with an emerald “the size of a tangerine”. Mad Carew stole the gem from a (now) one-eyed idol to the north of Kathmandu. Carew is being hunted down by “little brown men” who want him dead. At first, Mad Carew wants Moriarty to take the gem off his hands. Then, on second thought, he wants Moriarty to help him get away with it. Professor Moriarty accepts both jobs.

The sixth chapter is named “The Greek Invertebrate“. Colonel Moran meets Professor James Moriarty’s brother, Colonel James Moriarty. There’s a third Moriarty brother, who works as a stationmaster at Fal Vale Junction, in Cornwall, also named James. (“It was fortunate there were no sisters,” Basher Moran writes.) One evening, after he returns from Colonel Moriarty’s club, Professor Moriarty finds a telegram from Stationmaster Moriarty: A “giant worm” is terrorizing Fal Vale. Stationmaster Moriarty asks Professor Moriarty to come to Cornwall. Colonel Moriarty orders him not to go. Which brother should he obey? It’s an equation Professor Moriarty can’t quite work out.

The seventh and final chapter is named “The Problem of the Final Adventure“. Doctor John Watson has one version of what happened between Professor Moriarty and the Thin Man of Baker Street, that day at the Reichenbach Falls. Colonel Sebastian Moran has another version.

(The final sentence of that final chapter is amazing.)

I think I read this book in the wrong way. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be borrowed from the library and read in a three-week sitting. Maybe it was meant to be bought and placed on a bookshelf, so the story-chapters could be read one at a time, with breathing room between adventures. Maybe I should have read a story-chapter or two, returned it to the library, and then borrowed it later to read more.

I recommend Professor Moriarty, but I recommend it in small doses.

Why I chose this book:

I saw it on a list of books about villains. I liked the cover.

A Book About Death Or Grief

Monday’s Not Coming, by Tiffany D. Jackson, was published in 2018.

The first sentence is: “This is the story of how my best friend disappeared.

Mondays Not ComingIt’s the summer before eighth grade. Claudia Coleman (the narrator of the story) flies home to Washington, DC, after spending two months with Grandmamma, in Georgia. Grandmamma doesn’t approve of kids playing on the phone, so Claudia and her best friend Monday would typically exchange postcards and letters. This summer, however, Monday never responded to any of Claudia’s letters. Claudia is worried.

Ma doesn’t seem to share Claudia’s concern. Monday probably got involved in something, she tells Claudia, and just couldn’t get over to the Post Office.

As soon as they get home from the airport, Claudia runs to the phone by the stairs and calls Monday. (Claudia isn’t allowed to have a cell phone until high school.) Monday’s phone isn’t working.

School starts the next day. Monday isn’t there. The truth is, Monday isn’t just Claudia’s best friend – she’s Claudia’s only friend. Claudia has never walked into school alone. Ma says that Monday will probably be along shortly.

There are no empty chairs in homeroom. The name Monday Charles isn’t called during roll call. Monday has disappeared, and no one seems to care except Claudia.

That’s basically the plot of this 430-page book: Monday Charles is missing, and Claudia Coleman, with limited resources, tries to find out what happened. (Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.)

Claudia has never been to Monday’s house – she’s always been forbidden to go there, both by her parents and by Monday – so she doesn’t want to simply knock on the door. She seeks her teachers’ help, but, since Monday didn’t enroll this year, they are limited in what they can do. She’s cautious about asking the other kids at school – she doesn’t want to draw attention to the fact that she has no friends.

Claudia Coleman begins a quest that brings her into some dark territory, full of twists and turns. There’s one twist so amazing and unexpected that it makes me want to go back and re-read the entire novel from the beginning, paying closer attention to chapter titles.

Monday’s Not Coming switches time lines frequently, as Claudia remembers their friendship, hoping to find clues that may tell her where Monday went – or what happened to her. Truths begin to emerge: Truths about Monday Charles and her family, and truths about the friendship of Monday and Claudia.

The book immersed me in the world of a black teenage girl in the Washington, DC community. It introduced me to slang I’d never heard before. It introduced me to go-go music. It felt very believable.

Monday’s Not Coming is a Young Adult novel with strong language and subject matter.

I absolutely loved this book, and I highly recommend it. I picked this book up from the library on my way home from work on a Wednesday and, reading it for a couple of hours in the evenings, finished it on Saturday night.

Why I chose this book:

I saw this book on a library list of new books by authors of color. With the title Monday’s Not Coming referring to a character named Monday, I felt iffy about the quality of this novel. (I’m sorry, but I really don’t like the title.) Bit it also sounded like an intriguing mystery. I decided to take a chance and put it on hold. The book was on order and I was one of the first library patrons in line.

It became a book in search of a category. I eventually decided that the disappearance of a friend could count as grief and, depending on how it turned out, could also be about death.

A Book With A Weather Element In The Title

Snowdrops, by A.D. Miller, was published in 2011.

The first sentence is: “I smelled it before I saw it.

Snowdrops

The book starts off with this definition:

Snowdrop. 1. An early-flowering bulbous plant having a white, pendent flower. 2. Moscow Slang. A corpse that lies buried or hidden in the winter snows, emerging only in the thaw.

There’s a prologue, in which the narrator is telling someone else about the day the police showed him the body of a friend, uncovered in the snow. Then the narrator brings the story back to the previous September.

Nicholas Platt, the protagonist and narrator, sees two women trying to fight off a purse snatcher at a Moscow Metro station. After some hesitation, Nicholas comes to their aid and successfully scares off the purse snatcher. The women, he learns, are named Masha and Katya. They’re sisters.

The story takes place in the 1990s, shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Post-communist Moscow is a character in the story.

Nicholas is a lawyer, originally from England. His specialty is contracts between Russian companies and foreign banks. He takes on a client known as the Cossack, who is starting a new project company with no credit history.

Nicholas quickly enters into a romantic relationship with Masha, and into a friendship with Katya.

Nicholas’ friend Steve warns him: “In Russia… there are no business stories. And there are no politics stories. There are no love stories. There are only crime stories.

Nicholas helps Masha and Katya’s aunt with the paperwork needed for the sale of an apartment.

Nicholas continues to narrate the story as if he’s telling it to someone other than the reader. “Standing there, I remember, I experienced the blissful sense of well-being that expats sometimes enjoy. I was a long way from things and people that I didn’t want to think about – including myself, my old self, the so-what lawyer with the so-what life I’d left behind in London. The me that you know now.

The prologue told me the story was going to end in a snowdrop (in the Moscow meaning of the word). Aside from that, there is an overall feeling of undefined dread to the story. Something bad is going to happen, things are going to go wrong, and Nicholas seems to be confessing that it was his fault, and that the decisions he made caused it all. At the same time, he seems to be a foreigner trapped in a culture beyond his control. It’s all vague, at least at first. The atmosphere is there, but nothing is spelled out. This novel is brilliantly written.

Eventually, of course, the answer comes. Everything is explained. The answer, I felt, was a little anticlimactic. But I enjoyed getting there.

I liked the writing more than the story. I didn’t love the novel, but I did enjoy reading it.

Why I chose this book:

I found it during an internet search. It sounded interesting, and slightly outside of my typical reading material. It was that simple.

I didn’t realize, until I read that opening definition, that a snowdrop is a flower, and not the same as a raindrop. (Botany is not my strong suit.) I decided to go with it anyway.

A Book With A Time Of Day In The Title

4:50 from Paddington, by Agatha Christie, was first published in 1957. (It was also published in the USA as What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!.)

The first sentence is: “Mrs. McGillicuddy panted along the platform in the wake of the porter carrying her suitcases.

450 from Paddington

Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy boards the 4:50 from Paddington, and takes her seat in the first-class compartment. Along the way, the train slows and another train pulls up beside it. Through the windows of the two trains, Mrs. McGillicuddy sees a man strangling a woman. The woman falls down, apparently dead. Then the other train pulls on ahead.

Mrs. McGillicuddy reports the murder to the ticket inspector, who doesn’t believe her. Mrs. McGillicuddy must have fallen asleep, the ticket inspector concludes, and had a dream. He suggests that Mrs. McGillicuddy must be remembering some sensational book she might have read recently.

There is no doubt in Mrs. McGillicuddy’s mind that she witnessed a murder.

Mrs. McGillicuddy deboards at Milchester station, where a car takes her to the home of her good friend, Miss Jane Marple. Miss Marple, of course, believes Mrs. McGillicuddy’s story.

The next morning, the newspaper arrives, but there is no mention of a murder. Miss Marple and Mrs. McGillicuddy go to the police station and speak with Sergeant Cornish. Miss Marple has a flawless reputation in town, as well as with the police, and is known for her sharpness and shrewdness. Sergeant Cornish launches a full inquiry.

Sergeant Cornish can find no evidence that a crime had taken place, or that a woman was injured on a train. He closes his investigation with: “I suggest that your friend may have witnessed a scene such as she described but that it was much less serious than she supposed.

Miss Marple admits that Mrs. McGillicuddy may have been mistaken, but also admits that the police may have been wrong as well. The question remains: What did Mrs. McGillicuddy see? Miss Marple’s inquisitive mind refuses to let it go.

Miss Jane Marple is, in her own words, an old lady. She’s in good health for her age, but she is too old for adventures. So, she enlists her large network of friends and family to assist in the investigation.

At Miss Marple’s request, Miss Lucy Eyelesbarrow (professional domestic laborer with a Mathematics degree from Oxford) takes a post as housekeeper at Rutherford Hall – a likely spot, Miss Marple concludes, for a body to be thrown from a train. Lucy Eyelesbarrow’s assignment, besides cooking and cleaning, is to look for clues.

The book cover says this is “A Miss Marple Mystery”, and it is. But for several chapters, it is “A Miss Eyelesbarrow Mystery”. Ultimately, of course, it is Miss Marple who puts the clues together and solves the mystery.

At the beginning, I had a hunch what the solution was going to be, and I was prepared to be upset if my hunch was correct. But my hunch was wrong. It was very wrong. It was one of those solutions that seems to come out of nowhere, but once Miss Marple explains it, makes perfect sense.

4:50 from Paddington is a delight. It’s a solid, old-fashioned mystery, populated by proper old English ladies. I enjoyed it a lot.

Why I chose this book:

I didn’t know where I was going to go with this category. I did internet searches for book titles with vague times of day in them: “Night”, “Afternoon”, “Morning”, and so on.

I was thrilled when I found 4:50 from Paddington, a book title with an actual, specific time of day in it. It was a perfect fit. Plus, it was an Agatha Christie story. I put it on hold at the library right away.

A Book That Was Being Read By A Stranger In A Public Place

The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton, was first published in 1969.

The first sentence fragment is: “A man with binoculars.

The Andromeda StrainLieutenant Roger Shawn and Private Lewis Crane have been sent to recover a Scoop satellite, which has landed twelve miles outside of Piedmont, Arizona (population 48). Neither Lieutenant Shawn and Private Crane know much about Scoop satellites except that they are intended to analyze the upper atmosphere and then return to the ground. Everything else about Scoop satellites is secret.

Lieutenant Shawn and Private Crane drive out into the Mojave Desert at night and, using highly accurate tracking electronics, discover that the satellite is no longer in its original position. It’s been moved into Piedmont.

At Vandenberg Air Force Base, Scoop Mission Control listens as Shawn and Crane drive into town, leaving their radio open, as outlined in the System Rules Manual of Project Scoop. They report that the town is dark and quiet. Then they report that there are dead bodies everywhere. Then Shawn and Crane report seeing a man in a bathrobe crossing the street. There is a high-pitched scream, a crunching sound, and Mission Control loses contact with Lieutenant Shawn and Private Crane.

Flyovers confirm that Shawn and Crane are dead, along with the entire town of Piedmont, Arizona – except for one elderly man wandering around in a bathrobe.

Project Wildfire is initiated.

Then, a second survivor is found: A two month old baby boy.

The satellite (officially named Scoop VII) and the two Piedmont survivors are brought to a secret laboratory in Flatrock, Nevada, buried beneath an agricultural research station. Directive 7-12, which would destroy all traces of Piedmont, Arizona, is delayed while the politics of detonating an above-ground nuclear bomb are worked out.

Four of the five scientists who make up the Wildfire team are taken to the laboratory in Flatrock to find out what Scoop VII brought to Earth.

The Andromeda Strain is a biological mystery. It is a mystery solved by scientists following protocols and using the scientific process of hypotheses and tests. For a story about four scientists running tests, there are surprisingly no slow parts. I had a tough time putting this book down.

It is a novel, a work of fiction, but it is presented as if it was a true story, with a “CLASSIFIED TOP SECRET” warning at the beginning, scientific footnotes at the end, and photos “Courtesy of Project Wildfire”. The science depicted in the book felt very real, and the fake warnings and references added to the realism.

I read this book once before, a long time ago. I loved it then, and I loved it now. I also loved the movie adaptation (which, by the way, is very faithful to the book, with only minor changes, like gender-swapping one character and replacing darts with lasers).

The Andromeda Strain is a wonderful, suspenseful book. I highly recommend it.

Why I chose this book:

I saw a man reading a paperback book on the 47 bus one evening. I recognized the cover as The Andromeda Strain. It brought back memories.

I loved the book when I was a teenager. I haven’t read it since. I also loved the movie adaptation. (I may have seen the movie before I read the book, but I’m not sure.) It was around that time that I realized that movies are often based on books.

Seeing The Andromeda Strain being read on the bus made me want to read it again. I have a rule (that I made up) that I won’t read a book for the Reading Challenge that I’ve read before, unless the category required it. I decided to make an exception in this case.

A Past Goodreads Choice Awards Winner

Artemis, by Andy Weir, was published in 2017.

It won the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction.

The first sentence is: “I bounded over the gray, dusty terrain toward the huge dome of Conrad Bubble.

Artemis

Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara lives in Artemis, the first (and so far, only) city on the moon. She is 26 years old. She is the story’s narrator.

Artemis consists of five, half-underground domes (referred to as “bubbles”), plus other structures. The bubbles are named “Conrad”, “Bean”, “Shepard”, “Armstrong”, and “Aldrin”.

Artemis is an expensive city to get to and an expensive city to live in. Jazz is not rich, however. She’s one of the “little people” – the city’s working class. “You don’t expect J. Worthalot Richbastard III to clean his own toilet, do you?

Artemis is a vacation destination. Aldrin Bubble contains luxury hotels, casinos, and shopping plazas. A train takes tourists 40 kilometers to the Apollo 11 Visitors Center. But there is nothing luxurious about Jazz’s sleeping quarters.

Artemis is called a city, but it’s really a small frontier town, population 2,000. It has a volunteer fire department, a security team instead of a police department, and a sick bay instead of a hospital.

Jazz’s back story is told through a series of letters, starting when she was nine, with a pen pal in Kenya.

Jazz works as a porter and, to supplement her income, occasionally smuggles contraband.

Then Jazz is offered a lucrative job. It’s more illegal than smuggling, and a lot more dangerous. If she’s caught, she could be deported to her birth country of Saudi Arabia. Jazz has been living on the moon since she was six. She couldn’t survive the stronger gravity of Earth without extensive physical therapy.

(Artemis is too small to have a prison, so deportation is the sole punishment for major crimes. Since the lunar gravity is too low to raise a healthy baby, Artemis is populated entirely by immigrants and tourists.)

Artemis, the novel, is a crime caper on the moon.

It’s obvious that a lot of research and thought went into this novel. Andy Weir tells us how glass can be made without sand, how to face Mecca during prayer when you’re on the moon, why airlocks would, logically, be locked from the inside but not from the outside, and why the internet on the moon would be so slow.

I enjoyed Artemis. Parts of it were a little too lone-rebel-against-an-evil-corporation clichéd for my taste, but I thought it was a very good book.

Why I chose this book:

I’d heard of Goodreads, but I wasn’t familiar enough with it to know about its Choice Awards. An internet search cured that.

I absolutely loved Andy Weir’s first book, The Martian. (I wasn’t thrilled with the movie adaptation – I felt it lost too much of the novel’s quirky geek humor.) So I was excited to discover that Artemis was a Goodreads Choice Awards winner.

I learned that the novel was on the shelves of several of Seattle Public Library’s branches, including Capitol Hill. For a book less than a year old, and a recent Goodreads Choice Awards winner, that concerned me. I took a chance and picked it up on my way home from work one evening.

A Book With An Animal In The Title

Waypoint Kangaroo, by Curtis C. Chen, was published in 2016.

The first sentence is: “My left eye doesn’t lie.

Waypoint KangarooThe story is narrated by Kangaroo, a spy with electronic body modifications.

His code name is Kangaroo because he has a universe-sized pouch. He calls it “the pocket”. He’s had the pocket since he was 10 years old. No one knows how it works. He can store anything in it. (The book explains, in detail, how he can find anything in a pouch the size of a universe.)

An operation in Kazakhstan went wrong, and Kangaroo’s partner was killed. “As they say: The best laid plans of mice and kangaroos often go awry.

Largely because of the botched Kazakhstan job, Kangaroo’s department is facing an audit. The department is protective of Kangaroo. He’s not the best spy, but he’s the only spy with a universe-sized pouch. They don’t want other agencies questioning Kangaroo, so his boss orders Kangaroo to take a vacation. The next day, Kangaroo is on his way to a cruise ship heading for Mars. Kangaroo has never been on vacation.

Kangaroo takes the false identity Evan Rogers, an Interplanetary Trade Inspector, and becomes just another tourist on the Princess of Mars luxury liner Dejah Thoris.

Kangaroo begins to suspect that several of his fellow passengers are fellow spies, probably sent by his bosses to watch over him. It seems that a spy can’t really take a vacation.

Kangaroo finds that aboard the Dejah Thoris it’s actually impossible for a spy to take a vacation.

Waypoint Kangaroo is a spy thriller/science fiction adventure/murder mystery hybrid. There’s also some interplanetary war history to tie things together.

Waypoint Kangaroo is filled with humor. There’s humor at the start of every chapter:

Chapter Ten
Dejah Thoris – Deck B, officer’s briefing room
30 minutes after room service delivered an unsatisfying omelet

Waypoint Kangaroo is also filled with hard science. The Dejah Thoris creates an artificial gravity by constantly accelerating toward Mars – until it gets halfway to Mars. Then, at the halfway point, the crew provides the passengers with adhesive slippers as the ship’s engines are shut down, and the ship loses its gravity. (“Weightless Day” is one of the selling points of the cruise.) Then the ship flips over, and artificial gravity is restored as the ship constantly decelerates the rest of the way.

I enjoyed reading Waypoint Kangaroo, and I thought the story was fascinating and clever. I thought it was written well.

I also felt it was slow moving, maybe a little too slow. Or, maybe not. It’s the type of book in which three or four chapters can contain a single conversation, and the time stamps at the start of each chapter are sometimes measured in minutes.

I liked this book a lot. It also has one of the best final sentences I’ve read it a while.

Why I chose this book:

This book found me, I suppose. At NorWesCon 41, I went to a book reading by Tina Connolly. Her reading required two people (it was in the form of a play), so she had Curtis C. Chen helping her. I thought that was nice of Mr. Chen, helping out a fellow author like that, so I made it a point to seek out his reading.

Curtis C. Chen’s reading was the next day. He read from his new book, Kangaroo Too. I liked what I heard.

Immediately after the reading, I went to the Elliott Bay Book Company table in the Dealers’ Room, and bought Waypoint Kangaroo. Since it was available only in hardcover, I decided to hold off on buying Kangaroo Too, until I’d decided how much I liked the first book.

I had another book with an animal in the title lined up, but Waypoint Kangaroo sounded more interesting.

An Advertisement

We’ve had a subscription to Entertainment Weekly for as long as Phillip and I have been together. I think Phillip got it as a package deal, or something. I’ve never seen him read it. I used to read it from cover to cover as soon as it arrived in our mailbox. It was my guilty pleasure. It was entertaining.

Then something changed in my life. I begin to lose interest in it. It would arrive, I’d set it aside, and maybe glance though it later. Quite some time ago, I decided to let the subscription run out. We toss the subscription renewal notices in the recycling bin. But the magazine keeps arriving. It’s a mystery. (No, neither one of us has an automatic renewal set up.) But that’s another story.

The reason for this post is that the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly arrived yesterday. I set it aside, and glanced at it today. I didn’t recognize the women on the cover. Then I realized that the entire front cover of Entertainment Weekly is nothing but an advertisement for Dial soap. (The advertisement cover can be peeled off to reveal a “real” cover.) This is where advertisements have reached today, where they take over the entire cover of a magazine. Advertisements no longer sponsor a magazine – the advertisement is the magazine.

ET

Of course, it can be argued that every cover of Entertainment Weekly is an advertisement for some TV show or movie. But, at least, it’s advertising an informative article about a TV show or movie – a reason to buy the magazine. This is just an advertisement.

A Book Set In The Decade I Was Born

Chocolates for Breakfast, by Pamela Moore, was first published in 1956.

The first sentence is: “Spring at Scaisbrooke Hall was clearly the most beautiful time of year.

Chocolates for Breakfast

Courtney Farrell is fifteen years old. Her best friend is sixteen year old Janet Parker. Courtney and Janet are roommates at an all-girl boarding school in New England.

Except for Janet, Courtney doesn’t have any friends her own age. Part of the reason for this is that Courtney grew up with her mother and her mother’s adult friends. There were rarely any other children around.

Another reason is that Courtney’s mother, Sondra Farrell, is an actress in Hollywood. The girls at school all want Courtney to provide some juicy Hollywood gossip, and Courtney doesn’t want friends like that.

Courtney Farrell is going through some gender confusion. She’s attracted to women, but doesn’t like them. She often wishes she was a man, but feels that she would have to be a homosexual man, and she wouldn’t want that.

Janet accuses Courtney of being in love with their teacher, Miss Rosen. Courtney maintains that Miss Rosen is her English tutor, and nothing more. Courtney know that she and Janet are both right.

Sondra Farrell is not happy about being old enough to have a fifteen year old daughter, and wishes people would stop asking how Courtney is. She is not looking forward to when school is over, and Courtney comes home to live with her. Sondra does not want to be a mother.

School is finally over, and Courtney Farrell flies home to rejoin the Hollywood life she grew up with. Courtney’s mother and her friends are all struggling actors, always drinking, always bad-mouthing each other, and often staying at each other’s apartments.

Courtney begins a secret, romantic relationship with an older, homosexual actor named Barry Cabot. The affair is over when Barry returns to his boyfriend.

Courtney and her mother move to New York.

Courtney reunites with Janet Parker, who is also living in New York. Janet introduces Courtney to her circle of Ivy League (mostly dropout) friends. Courtney begins spending more time with people her own age, and less time with her mother. Courtney’s life becomes a cycle of cocktail parties and more cocktail parties.

Courtney begins a secret, romantic relationship with a young aristocratic named Anthony Neville. (They keep it secret because Anthony and Janet have some history together.)

Chocolates for Breakfast is a story about changes. It’s about Courtney Ferrell growing up and finding herself. It’s about moving from a New England boarding school to a public high school in Beverly Hills. It’s about moving from an environment where having an actress for a mother is a big deal, to a place where everyone has a mother who’s an actress. It’s about movie actors trying to adapt to the coming age of television. It’s about a generation of young people gradually breaking away from their parents’ generation. (On The Road would be published the year after Chocolates for Breakfast was.)

Chocolates for Breakfast was written in the mid-1950s. There’s no mention of what year the story takes place, but it seems to have been written as a contemporary story. There is one brief mention of trouble in Korea, which would seem to place it in the early 1950s. (I mention this only because of the Reading Challenge category.)

There are sub-plots in this novel that go nowhere, and that irritated me a little. Courtney’s crush on Miss Rosen seemed to be leading up to something – maybe a confrontation – but it doesn’t. Courtney’s attraction to women is brought up, but then, except for dating at least one homosexual man, she appears to be solidly heterosexual for the rest of the book. (The bonus sections following the novel, about the author and about the book, mention that sections of Pamela Moore’s manuscript were never published. Maybe that explains it. Maybe I shouldn’t be too harsh on the author.)

I absolutely loved this book, despite the issue with the sub-plots. It’s a character-driven novel, and well written. Courtney Farrell is an interesting and complex character. It’s set in a fascinating era.

The bonus sections mentions some interesting trivia around Chocolates for Breakfast. The name Courtney was rarely used as a girl’s name until 1958, when the paperback edition of the novel was published. Musician Courtney Love claims that her mother named her after Courtney Farrell.

Pamela Moore’s parents were both writers. Her father, Don Moore, wrote the comic strip Flash Gordon. Pamela Moore wrote Chocolates for Breakfast when she was eighteen. She continued to write, but was never able to repeat the success of Chocolates for Breakfast. Pamela Moore killed herself at the age of twenty-six.

Why I chose this book:

Finding a book for this category was a little tougher than I’d thought it would be. Internet searches for “books set in the 1950s” most often turned up books written in the 1950s. Maybe I needed to word my search differently. I had thought this category needed a nostalgia piece – written in more contemporary times, looking back on the 50s.

I put too much thought into these Reading Challenge categories.

I have a fondness for mid-twentieth century American novels. From the 1950s, Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, and so on. From the 1960s, To Kill a Mockingbird, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and so on. Yet, I had never heard of Chocolates for Breakfast, until it turned up in an internet search. The synopsis sounded intriguing, so I took a chance that, while written in the 1950s, it was also set in the 1950s.