Book Review: Return of the Living Dad by Kate Orman


Author: Kate Orman
Title: Return of the Living Dad
Publication Info: London : Virgin, 1996
Summary/Review:

In this story, Berenice returns with her newlywed husband Jason to investigate what became of her father.  It’s long been believed that Admiral Isaac Summerfield turned coward in a space battle against the Daleks and died, but new evidence suggest otherwise. Berenice asks the Doctor to use the TARDIS to witness the battle and see that her father’s ship is sucked into a wormhole.  Following through, the TARDIS team arrives in a remote English village in 1983.

Isaac and his crew are not surprised to see the Doctor and Berenice, as they’ve been expecting them to arrive one day.  Isaac’s ship arrived 20 years earlier, and in the intervening years he’s opened a cafe and taken up the duty of cleaning up the messes left behind by UNIT and the Doctor himself.  With an Air Force base nearby with nuclear weapons, the village attracts a strange assortment of refugee aliens, paranormal investigators, and anti-nuclear protesters.  Of course, once the Doctor arrives, strange things begin happening as the TARDIS and several people go missing. There’s a mystery to be solved and a traitor or two in their midst.

Kate Orman is one of the best writers of Doctor Who and particularly good at getting at the humanity (or lack thereof) of her characters and their relationships.  It’s surprising that she’s never written for the television series like other New Adventures writers, but perhaps she’s just not keen on scriptwriting.  Nevertheless, aspects of the book are familiar to what would be picked up ten years later in the new tv series, such as the need to clean up after the Doctor’s adventures, and the nodding winks to fan culture.

Since this is an Orman novel, it also has approximately a gazillion characters and it does get hard to keep track of them all.  I kept forgetting the Doctor’s other companions, Roz & Chris, were even there, and their main plot is their getting romantically involved.  Berenice, who had left the Doctor in Happy Endings, is front and center and this book is very much setting up her own series of New Adventures that would start in 1997.  Indeed, in various media, Berenice Summerfield is still appearing in new stories through today.

 

Other Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating:

Book Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher


Author: Carrie Fisher
TitleThe Princess Diarist
Narrator: Carrie Fisher, Billie Lourd
Publication Info: New York, NY : Penguin Audio, [2016]
Previously Read by the Same Author: Wishful Drinking
Summary/Review:

The late, great Carrie Fisher reflects on her life as it’s shaped by her most famous character, Princess Leia Organa. Fisher begins with growing up with her celebrity parents (and seeing their celebrity diminish) and not really wanting to go into acting.  Nevertheless, she gets a part in the movie Shampoo and enrolls in London’s Central School of Speech and Drama.

She tells the story of her Star Wars audition – which oddly enough was a 2-for-1 audition before George Lucas and Brian Depalma for both Star Wars and Carrie. What would the world be like if Carrie had played Carrie in Carrie? Her experience filming Star Wars which involved rising early to spend intimate hours with the hairdresser Pat to get the ridiculous buns.  She also relates that she and Harrison Ford had a fling even though he is much older and was already married at the time.

Despite the title, the book is mostly memoir rather than actual diaries, but a segment of Fisher’s diary is included at the time of her relationship with Ford, which she calls “Carrison.” It was quite a jarring shift to move from the Fisher’s recollections from 40-years later, filled with self-deprecating humor, to the raw emotion of her 19-year-old journals.  Oddly, this portion is read on the audiobook by her daughter, Billie Lourd, perhaps to give a younger voice to the journals, or maybe they just wanted to make her deeply uncomfortable (and the listener by proxy) reading about her mother’s sexual relations.

The later half of the book deals with life after Star Wars became a hit, starting with the whirlwind press junket Fisher, Ford, and Mark Hammil went on to promote their low-budge movie as it became an unprecedented phenomena.  Fisher remains awed by fans’ dedication to Leia and the weird interactions she has with them. She refers to participating in conventions where fans pay money and line up for autographs as “lap dances.”  And the text includes perhaps real or perhaps exaggerated conversations with fans.

Recommended Books:

Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Cartoon County by Cullen Murphy


Author: Cullen Murphy
Title: Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe
Publication Info: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.
Previously Read By the Same Author: Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage (with William Rathje)
Summary/Review:

Cartoon County is a memoir/biography/history by Cullen Murphy of the comic strip cartoonists and illustrators who lived and worked in Fairfield County, Connecticut in the post-World War II era. The book focuses on his father, John Cullen Murphy, who illustrated the comic strip Big Ben Bolt and took over Prince Valiant from its creator Hal Foster in the 1970s.

I feel destined to read this book, primarily because I grew up loving newspaper comics and fascinated by their history (although these days I exclusively read the comics’ mockery blog, Comics Curmudgeon). I also grew up in Fairfield County myself, and as a kid was proud that Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker lived there. My father took us to the Museum of Cartoon Art in a castle-like house that Walker opened in nearby Port Chester, NY.  The author of this book was even of the most famous alumni of my high school – along with Broadway actor David Carroll, baseball player Tim Teufel, and publicist Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy – and a customized panel of Prince Valiant graced our school’s trophy case.

Murphy writes about growing up in a community of comics illustrators of the “Connecticut School” where his father and the other fathers he knew did not join the crowds of men in gray flannel suit taking the commuter rail to New York City.  Many of these men (and for the most part, the comics was a man’s trade) came of age during World War II where they used their artistic talents in their military service.  After the war, Connecticut was an affordable place where they could get homes with studio space near the publishing houses of New York (it’s alarming to think that Fairfield County was ever affordable!). These cartoonists include Mort Walker, Jerry Dumas, Stan Drake, Dik Browne, Ernie Bushmiller, Milton Caniff, and Crockett Johnson, among many others.  The School included daily comic strip cartoonists, New Yorker cartoonists, editorial cartoonists, and magazine illustrators.

The book covers a lot of territory.  First, it’s a personal memoir of Murphy’s father, who had the practice of using a Polaroid camera to photograph himself (and any family members or friends in the vicinity) in various poses to use as models for his illustrations. Starting in the 1970s, Murphy would work with his father as the writer of Prince Valiant.

Second, it’s a broader history of the Connecticut School cartoonists who were his father’s friends and colleagues. Murphy details their experiences in WWII, settling in Connecticut after the war, and the interplay between their comics.  Events like Look Day at the New Yorker (the one day each week when cartoonists gathered in New York to show their gags to the magazine’s editors) and National Cartoonists Society brought together cartoonists for business with a heavy side of socialization. The men came together for parties and games of golf (which seems to be the origin of the all-too-many golf gags in newspaper comics) as well.

Finally, the book is a tribute to newspaper comics as a unique American art form of the 20th century.  Murphy has some interesting observations on the cartoonists.  While his father was a strong Republican, most of the cartoonists were politically liberal and lived lives of noncomformity for their time. Sentaro Este Kefauver conducted a congressional investigation of the comics industry in which Pogo creator Walt Kelly declared that being a “screwball” was a badge of honor for cartoonists. The comics were innovative for time, and I learned about a short-lived strip of the 1960s called Sam’s Strip (predecessor to Sam & Silo), which Jerry Dumas created as post-modern, metatextual experiment that left comics readers scratching their heads. And yet newspaper comics on the whole tended to be conservative, and as the generation of cartoonists died (many passing on the legacy strips to their children and grandchildren) and newspapers themselves went into decline, comics failed to adapt to the new reality. Murphy mourns the past but still sees hope in the underappreciated work of graphic novels.

This books is richly illustrated with comics panels, original works of art, and photographs.  It’s a great way to dip one’s toe into a time and place when kids gleefully anticipated the Sunday papers wrapped in the full-color comics section.  It tells the story of the men who brought this joy and some of the behind the scenes secrets of their craft.

Recommended books:

  • Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman by Patrick McDonnell
  • Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones
  • The Mad World of William M. Gaines by Frank Jacobs

Rating: ****

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Books


Here’s my annual list of my ten favorite books read in the year.  As always, this is merely the best books I read this year and not necessarily books published in 2018  For previous years see 2018, 20172016201520142013201220112010200920082007 and 2006. You may also want to check out My Favorite Books of All Time or see Every Book I’ve Ever Read cataloged in Library Thing.

  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro
  • American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent Cannato
  • Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties by Elijah Wald
  • Fault Lines : A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin Kruse
  • The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • One Giant Leap: The Untold Story of How We Flew to the Moon by Charles Fishman
  • Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
  • Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
  • We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang

Books Read in 2019

The books are rated on a scale from 1 to 5 stars with links to summary reviews. (A) is for audiobook.

Here’s a thumbnail of what the ratings mean:

  • 5 stars – all-time classic (I’m very stingy with these)
  • 4 stars – a particularly interesting, well-written, or important book
  • 3 stars – a good book from start to finish
  • 2 stars – not a good book on the whole but has some good parts
  • 1 star or less – basically a bad book with no redeeming values

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Vol. 11, Call Your Squirrelfriend
  • Ms. Marvel. Vol. 7, Damage Per Second
  • Ms. Marvel. Vol. 8, Mecca
  • Ms. Marvel. Vol. 9, Teenage Wasteland
  • Ms. Marvel Vol. 10: Time and Again
  • Star Wars: The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry (A) – ***1/2
  • The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman (A) – ****
  • Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes –
  • Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon –
  • Star Wars Vol. 3: Rebel Jail –
  • Star Wars Vol. 4: Last Flight of the Harbinger –
  • Star Wars Vol. 5: Yoda’s Secret War –
  • Star Wars Vol. 6: Out Among the Stars –
  • Star Wars Vol. 7: The Ashes of Jedha

 

Book Review: The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman


Author: Michael Waldman
TitleThe Second Amendment: A Biography
Narrator: John Glouchevitch
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2018)
Summary/Review:

The Second Amendment: A Biography is a thorough history of “the right to bear arms” in America from colonial period to today.  Bearing arms has always been seen necessary for hunting and self-defense, but in Colonial America the greatest purpose of gun ownership was the duty of serving in a citizen militia for mutual defense.  The idea of militias was highly regarded in the culture of the time since its membership included the most prominent members of the community whereas the regular army drew from the dregs of society. There was a fear of standing armies being a temptation for tyrannical rulers, so the civilian militia was seen as the ideal.

When the Constitution was sent to the states to be ratified, many opponents complained that it did not include a bill of rights and submitted over 100 suggestions for inclusion in a list of rights.  The Framers of the Constitution for the most part didn’t consider a Bill of Rights necessary since they were already encoded in most state constitutions, and by the time the first Congress met the push for a Bill of Rights had faded away.  Ironically, James Madison was among the leaders who didn’t see a necessity for a federal Bill of Rights, but as his constituents were particularly adamant about the issue, he took it upon himself to whittle down and combine the many suggestions into the Bill of Rights we know today.

Waldman takes the time to discuss how this process of revision, combinations, and debate lead to the awkwardly worded Second Amendment that we know today.  He also cites records of the drafting to show that the concerns underlying the Second Amendment were related to individual gun ownership and self-defense as many activists insist today. Waldman examines the quotes the Second Amendment activists use from leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry and shows that they are used out of context or are irrelevant to the Second Amendment.

The idea and practice of the militia evolved over time with the Civil War prompting a major growth in a federal military.  By World War I, the United States had the standing army many early Americans feared, and militias had all but evaporated.  Even within these changing times, courts still interpreted the Second Amendment as a communal rather than individual right. When the Franklin Roosevelt administration introduced bans on machine guns and sawed-off shotguns, event the president of the National Rifle Association wrote in support of sensible gun regulations.

The great societal upheavals of the 1960s – especially expanded civil rights for Black Americans and urban riots – lead to a backlash among conservative white people who began emphasizing the right to firearms for individual defense. At a NRA convention in Cincinnati in 1977, the more conservative members revolted against leadership and moved the organization to be the activist gun rights lobbying organization we’re familiar with today.

At the same time, judicial appointees from the Nixon and Reagan (and later the Bushes) made the courts more conservative in their interpretations of the Second Amendment.  Waldman focuses particularly on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his idea of following the original intent of the Framers. Waldman demonstrates that original intent is actually a reactionary and activist position. Over Scalia’s long career on the Supreme Court, he went to being an outlier on the idea of Constitutional originalism to being in a judiciary where such interpretations were widespread.  Which leads to the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller where the Supreme Court affirmed for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms.

Waldman’s book is very detailed and provides a lot of interesting context for a thorny topic.  Regardless of where you stand on the issue, I expect this book will show you that there are a lot of things about the Second Amendment that are not what you thought.  This is a good book to read as we continue to grapple with the issues that come at the conflict of individual rights and communal responsibilities.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Book Review: Star Wars: The Weapon of the Jedi by Jason Fry


Author: Jason Fry
Title: Star Wars: The Weapon of the Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Narrator: Jonathan Davis
Publication Info: Listening Library (2015)
Previously Read by the Same Author: The Last Jedi
Summary/Review:

Set after the destruction of the first Death Star but before Luke Skywalker began training with Yoda, this novel tells the story of the first time Luke used a light saber to fight an opponent. Amusingly, it’s told as a reminiscence of C-3PO sharing a lesser known story of the famous Skywalker.  It’s a simple plot, but Fry does a lot with Luke’s character, exploring him at this very vulnerable period when he has only a slight grasp on using the force and needs to figure things out on his own.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Comics Review: Star Wars: Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca.


Title: Book I: Vader
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Adi Granov
Summary/Review:

Set after the destruction of the Death Star, Darth Vader is in hot water for allowing a Rebel victory on his watch.  The Emperor has put Vader’s rival in control, and Vader sets in motion a plot to both regain his position of influence as well as the personal goal of finding the young pilot who fired the shot that destroyed the Death Star.  To accomplish these goals he recruits archaeologist Doctor Aphra to carry out missions for him.  In turn she teams up with her assassin droid companions, 0-0-0 (Triple-Zero) and BT-1 (Beetee), kind of a perverse version of See Threepio and Artoo Detoo.  Aphra is a great character and addition to the Star Wars universe.  Kind of a morally gray person willing to do the bidding of Darth Vader more out of fear than loyalty, but also capable of doing a great job.

Rating: ****


Title: Book II: Shadows and Secrets
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Adi Granov
Summary/Review:

In this volume, the Emperor’s plans to have several rivals compete for Vader’s position are revealed.  Darth Vader also works secretly with bounty hunters to carry out an attack on an Imperial ship to gain Imperial credits.  And Dr. Aphra uses the credits to track down the identity of the Rebel pilot, Luke Skywalker.  Another entertaining volume of Star Wars intrigue.

Rating: ****


Title: Vader Down
Writer: Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Mike Deodato, Jr. and Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Mark Brooks and Jordan D. White
Summary/Review:

This volume collects crossover stories with the standard Star Wars comics run. Darth Vader tracks down Luke Skywalker to a planet but finds himself in the middle of Rebel training.  The Rebel Forces are no match for Darth Vader on his own.  It’s an interesting plot that almost brings Vader and Luke together but without spoiling their first real meeting in Bespin Cloud City. It’s great to see the familiar characters – Leia, Han, Chewbacca, etc. – brought into the Vader story.

Rating: ***


Title: Book III: The Shu-Torun War
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Kaare Andrews and Mark Brooks
Summary/Review:

Darth Vader is responsible for suppressing a rebellion on the mining planet of Shu-Torun. To accomplish this, he assassinates much of the ruling family and manipulates the youngest daughter, Trios, into being the puppet ruler.  He fights on two fronts against the rebellious Ore-Dukes and his rival for the Emperor’s second-in-command, Cylo.  I did not enjoy this volume as much as the others.

Rating: ***


Title: Book IV: End of Games
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Max Fiumara and Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Mark Brooks, Juan Gimenez, and Salvador Larroca
Summary/Review:

In the culminating story of the arc, Vader battles Cylo and his other rivals that get him back into the place of power we see him in Empire Strikes Back.  Meanwhile, Dr. Aphra works on a plan to escape the servitude of Vader while still living.  A good conclusion to an entertaining addition to Star Wars lore.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado


Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Title: Her Body and Other Parties
Narrator: Amy Landon
Publication Info: HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books (2017)
Summary/Review:

This collection of short stories uses tropes of horror – and particularly body horror – to relate the struggles faced by women and LGBTQ people. Stories include allowing the woman with the ribbon around her neck from an urban legend tell her life story and what seems to be a list of sexual partners growing into a story of a nationwide plague.  One story is synopses of Law and Order: SVU episodes that grow increasingly absurd and macabre. That story, and some others, went on too long and I lost focus. But overall this is a creepy and sexy collection of stories.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Fault Lines by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer


Author: Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer
Title: Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974
Publication Info: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2019]
Summary/Review:

I was born near the end of 1973, so this book is essentially the history of America during my lifetime.  The authors are professors at Princeton University who built the book out of course on recent American history.  I’m not familiar with Zelizer, but Kruse has established himself as a leading public historian by sharing facts and debunking myths on Twitter. The central thesis is that the polarized politics of the United States began in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal (which disillusioned Americans faith in government, something that is ironically exploited by Nixon’s own party) as well as the revolutions of civil rights, gender, and sexuality and their conservative counter-revolutions.

The book is a thorough history of the past 45 years, and I had a lot of “oh yeah, I remember that!” moments.  I have two criticisms of the book in general. One, is that it reads like a laundry list of events with very little analysis.  Two, it is a top-down approach focusing on the actions of Presidents and Congresses as opposed to the greater societal actions.  I understand it would be a much thicker book if these things were included, but the instances in the book that offer analysis and history of the people are much richer than the book overall.

That being said, this is an excellent summary of how we got to where we are in the United States.  Every living American has lived at least partly in the period of time covered here and would benefit from reading about our recent history.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Archives Omnibus


Volume 1
Author: Tony Lee, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Matthew Dow Smith, Dan McDaid
Artists: Andrew Currie, Richard Piers Rayner, Horacio Domingues, Tim Hamilton, Mark Buckingham, Matthew Dow Smith, Blair Shedd, Mitch Gerads, Dan McDaid, Josh Adams, Paul Grist
Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff, Phil Elliott, Rachelle Rosenberg
Title: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Archives Omnibus – Volume 1
Publication Info: Titan Comics, September 30, 2015
Summary/Review:

These comics were created earlier than the other Eleventh Doctor comics I’ve read and feature Amy and Rory as companions.  The comics were obviously made after Series 5 (or perhaps even based on scripts of Series 5) so the characterizations seem frozen in a weird place of Amy and Rory as were first saw them, not the characters they would grow to be.  There are some adventures here including visiting Wemba’s Lea (the medieval location that would become Wembley Stadium) for a humorous soccer-themed story, a multiworld where multiple versions of all the characters must work together to stop a Sontaran plot, a wordless story where the Doctor helps Santa Claus, and several stories with a new companion named Kevin who is a robotic T-Rex.  The comics are silly and fun, but nothing groundbreaking or worth making into a television story.

Rating: ***


Volume 2
Author: Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andy Diggle, Brandon Seifert, Len Wein, Tony Lee
Artists:  Matthew Dow Smith, Mark Buckingham, Philip Bond, Matthew Dow Smith,
Mitch Gerads, Josh Adams, Marc Deening, Andres Ponce, Horacio Domingues, Rubén González
Colorist:  Charlie Kirchoff, Adrian Salmon
Letterer: Shawn Lee, Tom B. Long
Title: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Archives Omnibus – Volume 2
Publication Info:  Titan Comics, October 28, 2015
Summary/Review:

The second volume of this series of Eleventh Doctor stories continues with Amy and Rory with stories that take place after Series 6 and incorporate the character growth missing from the previous volume.  In this collection they recreate Casablanca with Silurians, the Doctor and Rory have a “boys night out” where they can’t return to Amy without first making their way through several adventures, Christina de Souza returns, and the Doctor helps rescue a cosmonaut from the Vashta Nerada.  Again, the stories are fun and breezy but slight compared to what Doctor Who can offer.

Rating: ***


Volume 3
Author: Andy Diggle, Eddie Robson, Tony Lee, Matthew Dow Smith,
Paul Cornell
Artists: Andy Kuhn, Mike Collins, Horacio Domingues, Jimmy Broxton
Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff, Phil Elliott
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Title: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Archives Omnibus – Volume 3
Publication Info:  Titan Comics, November 24, 2015
Summary/Review:

The comic book version of Clara Oswald joins the Eleventh Doctor for this final set of adventures.  The wackiest story of all is set in Deadwood and involves Oscar Wilde, Thomas Edison, Calamity Jane, and a zombie Wild Bill Hicock. The volume also includes special issues for conventions and the 50th anniversary, with the most compelling being The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who where the Doctor enters our real world and finds that there’s a tv show about his adventures starring Matt Smith.

Rating: **1/2