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Monday, February 6, 2017

To England, the North Pole, Africa and Beyond

I've been busy with travel, writing, and just plain coping with life in January. But here's a rundown of the highlights of what I read in December.

1. Thirteen At Dinner by Agatha Christie. (Original title: Lord Edgware Dies). Hercule Poirot's friend Arthur Hastings returns to England in the novel The Big Four, and he returns to his new home in Argentina at the end of this novel. He narrates Poirot's investigation into Lord Edgware's death. The prime suspect seems to be his estranged wife, but not only does she have an alibi, she also seems to have no motive. Any time you can hang out with Arthur Hastings is a fun time.

2. Freddy Goes to the North Pole by Walter R Brooks. Freddy, a self-educated pig, is just one of many interesting characters who live together on a farm. As Freddy longs to travel, he sets up an agency, and he and the other animals conduct tours of nearby sites. Animals travel from nearby farms to enjoy these tours, and pay for them with food or work. Eventually he and his friends garner enough promises of work that they travel off to the North Pole. Along the way, they are rescued from an ice floe by a ship of whalers, who prove reluctant to let such an entertaining (and healthy) pig escape. So more animals on the farm must come to Freddy's rescue. They head off to the North Pole, have exciting adventures, and eventually catch up with Freddy. They also meet a very special person who has his own workshop at the North Pole. Can you guess who it is?

3. Captain's Glory by William Shatner. This novel was cowritten by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. William Shatner, of course, played Captain Kirk on the original series of Star Trek. The latter have cowritten other novels with Shatner, and produced and wrote stories for the series Star Trek: Enterprise. It's one of the most recent Star Trek novels I've read, and appears to be the last in a trilogy. After his death in the movie Star Trek Generations, Captain Kirk has somehow been returned to life. (You know, like Spock in the movie Star Trek III: The Search For Spock). He's married a woman of mixed ancestry, and has a young child who, due to accelerated growth, appears to be an adult. He captains a smaller ship, and his travels take him to Vulcan, where he is searching for Spock, whom everyone else seems to believe is dead. (Yes, again). Among his crew are an ancient-but-kicking Dr. McCoy, and engineer Scotty, who is little aged, due to having been trapped in a transporter for decades. There's a huge threat to the Federation, and Admiral Janeway, who served as captain of the Voyager in the series Star Trek Voyager, pulls together all her best people to investigate it. These include Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise (from the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation), and his former First Officer Will Riker, who now captains another ship. 

It's kind of amazing how the writers combined so many characters from different TV series. There's obviously a huge number of novels that I have not read which relate a lot of the history of all these people, and how they came to their present positions. At times I had difficulty believing in all these people from different series interacting together. But it was nice to think that the writers, and fans, loved these characters so much, that they wanted them to continue living, long after they should have passed on.

4. Ocean Of Storms by Christopher Mari and Jeremy K Brown. This story begins with a bang. Or, to be accurate, a massive Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) that blacks-out cities, and drops planes out of the sky. When scientists discover the EMP came from the moon, NASA kickstarts an Apollo-style mission. Yet, as in the movie The Martian, involvement with China proves essential to the program. So American and Chinese astronauts head off to the moon, where they discover a spaceship, and a mystery that will lead to a worldwide government coverup, and the subsequent investigation in Africa. 

Although the novel has the feel of a Science Fiction novel, it seemed better-suited to the Thriller genre. It was fast paced, and aspects of it were enjoyable. But I felt as if, had it been submitted to one of the established Science Fiction publishers, they would have rejected it for scientific and story reasons. Still, it was a free ebook-of-the-month from Amazon, and I felt like seeing what Amazon felt was noteworthy and worth reading. Having read so many older books recently, it was nice to read something that was published in the last few years.

5. A Rumpole Christmas by John Mortimer. Having watched the first two seasons of "Rumpole of the Bailey," I enjoyed returning to the character with this short collection. The stories mostly take place in and around the Temple area of London, where Rumpole works as a barrister representing the people who everyone believes guilty until proven innocent. But the story occasionally takes him farther afield, such as when his wife Hilda (or, as he refers to her, She Who Must Be Obeyed) takes him to a health spa to lose weight over the holidays, or spend Christmas with an old school friend. Rumpole's extraordinary character really makes these stories come to life. So, so much fun.

6. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. A young boy, whose father has remarried, lives with his sick mother in an English village so small it doesn't even have a McDonalds. (Note: There's more than a few of these in England). The teachers at school are tremendously kind to him, but some of the boys in his class bully him. While his mother's cancer treatments have always worked in the past, his mother never seems to get better. So his grandmother, who he doesn't know well and doesn't get along with, moves in. In his anger and isolation, he begins to notice a tree outside. His dreams of a tree-like creature meld into real-life, and bouts of mindless violence follow. But how much is real, and how much imagined? This novel won the prestigious Carnagie and Greenaway awards for the writing and illustration, and was recently made into a movie.

Reading-wise, December seems to have been a good month. I've had months in which I read more novels, and ones (such as last month) in which I've read less. Of course, this list doesn't refer to reference books, comics and graphic novels, and books-in-process. Nonetheless, the list is a substantive and varied, and a month of reading I can look back on fondly.

What books did you read in December? Any stories that stuck in your mind? Any reading experiences that you'd like to share with others?

Dragon Dave

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