Book Review – Doctor Who: Love and War

  • Title: Doctor Who: Love and War
  • Series: Doctor Who The New Adventures
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 6/18/2020

Love and War is a Doctor Who tie-in novel from Virgin Publishing Company’s Doctor Who The New Adventures featuring the Seventh Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy and his companion, Ace (aka Dorothy McShane). The first half of Love and War I really liked. In the far future, an empty planet is discovered that is so perfect it’s named “Heaven”. It becomes an intergalactic graveyard for both Humans and Draconians, who have finally brokered a peace after a very long and deadly war. There are also, now that the war is over, small human and Draconian settlements on Heaven. The Doctor and Ace arrive, though Ace is out of sorts because she’s still dealing with the death of a friend. The Doctor is also acting, well, weird. On Heaven, Ace meets the Travellers, a group of people who travel from place to place, with no fixed abode and little past or future. They share leadership responsibilities and make all decisions together, through consensus in ‘Puter-Space, a type of Virtual Reality. Ace is particularly taken with a male traveler named, “Jan”. She thinks she’s in love with him during much of the novel. And she loves him because he reminds her of the Doctor but he’s human. She’s also hurting from losing her mate.

The Doctor meets Dr. Bernice (Benny) Summerfield, an archaeologist who is investigating a huge arch, which is a ruin left by the extremely old and extremely dead former civilization on Heaven. The Doctor is also trying to find an obscure banned book, which frankly feels like a McGuffin at first, though it does fit into the plot.

All of this is fine, and honestly, an entire book of the Doctor and Ace on vacation on a paradise planet would have been fine, especially as the two really need time to catch their breath. Or even a fairly standard alien invasion would have been fine. But it turns out that Heaven is a farm world for the Hoothi, an alien species that farms entire worlds for “meat” which they then form into slaves, spaceships, etc. The Hoothi are a fungoid species and anything or anyone infected by their spores becomes one with the Hoothi and they can be controlled by these very weird aliens. The Hoothi can also raise the dead, use them as soldiers, slaves, workers, etc.

Essentially, about halfway through the book, it turns into “The Doctor vs. Zombies”, which has the problem of “how do you kill something that’s already dead”? To make matters worse, no one is reliable because anyone can be or could have been infected with spores at any time and become an agent of the Hoothi. The Doctor warns Ace about getting involved with Jan, but, unfortunately, she interprets this as jealousy.

Needless to say, the Doctor, through some colossal manipulation manages to outwit the Hoothi and defeat them, saving Heaven in the process, for the most part. But the victory comes at a high and personal cost for Ace. The book ends with her not even willing to go into the TARDIS, and running off with Bernice instead.

I liked the beginning of this book – but the fungus-creatures and zombies were too much for me. I’m not a fan of horror really and this book got a little too gross. Still, even though I can only give it a rating of 3 out of 5, I recommend it, at least for completeness sake, since Doctor Who the New Adventures is a long-running and interconnected series.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies

  • Title: Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies
  • Author: Blake Snyder
  • Subject: Screen Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/07/2020

Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies is a sequel to Save the Cat! and it basically does “what it says on the tin” – after a short summary of the original Save the Cat! and the author’s theory of the structure of film, it goes on to provide examples of Synder’s ten genres of film and their sub-genres. Synder organizes Genre not in the traditional way (SF, Fantasy, cop show, mystery, horror, etc.) but in terms of the structure of the film and how it hits the beats of the Synder Beat Sheet. Thus though one type of his Genre might mostly align with traditional genre (eg Horror and Monster in the House) often the genres don’t align. This forces a deeper emphasis on the underlying structure of all films, which is good for students or career screenwriters looking to improve their skills. Also, if you read Save the Cat and some of the genres didn’t quite make sense to you or you wanted better examples, this is the perfect book to pick up. More examples are always helpful, especially when you are new to something.

The book, after the introduction, is split into ten chapters, one per genre, with one example per sub-genre, and a simple list of other examples. The chosen example is then analyzed in terms of Synder’s three-act structure and Beat Sheet. Again, this provides lots of examples of how Synder approaches screenwriting. Although it is obviously helpful if you’ve actually seen (and seen recently) the films discussed if you haven’t the beat sheets provide enough information to follow the analysis. Also, if you haven’t seen some of these films, you can still follow the discussion. I didn’t feel like it spoiled the movie, even though the entire plot is described in terms of structure. This is because of the emphasis on structure not a summary of the plot.

The only negative is there are no examples from older, classic films. The oldest films in the entire book are from the 1970s and I really could have used at least one example from films of the 1930s and 1940s. At least in the “Buddy” film category (where he puts romantic comedies), there are plenty of examples in Classic film from Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story to Shall We Dance and other Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire films (which I maintain are Romantic Comedies with singing and dancing). The book is also copyright 2007 so it doesn’t include anything more recent than that, and thus really misses the opportunity to discuss great Epic films (he should have picked something from the 1960s like Ben-Hur or Antony and Cleopatra and if not that Lord of the Rings). And of course, the Save the Cat! series is about popular Hollywood film so foreign films aren’t included, though many would fit into the same structural patterns and the same beats.

Overall, I really liked Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies it is good to have more examples, and the problem of films being discussed that I haven’t seen, or haven’t seen for a long time can be solved by renting or borrowing said films. The lack of classic films could be solved by a second volume concentrating on older movies. I also like Synder’s method of analyzing film, it is a different approach. I do plan on buying additional volumes in this series. Highly recommended, especially for film students and fans.

Non-Fiction Textbook Review – Save the Cat!

  • Title: Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need
  • Author: Blake Snyder
  • Subject: Screen Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/27/2020

I loved this book! It’s not that often that you can say about a textbook that you genuinely enjoyed reading it but yes, reading this book was an enjoyable experience. Blake Synder’s writing is amusing, engaging, and useful! Save the Cat is a book about the structure of screenwriting. And in particular, it’s about the structure of big-budget, popular, Hollywood films – the type that lots of people see and that make lots of money and the type that a new screenwriter, writing on spec, can actually sell. You need to know the rules before you even consider breaking them, and Save the Cat teaches you the rules.

Save the Cat cheerfully explains the structure of popular film: 3 Acts, 15 beats, 40 scenes. Snyder introduces tools like The Board – a way to quickly visualize your screenplay before you start writing. And he talks about ways to fix your screenplay after it’s written. How to improve it – from flat characters to scenes that don’t quite work. Each chapter ends with exercises to help the reader learn and emphasize the chapter (full disclosure, I didn’t do the exercises. Yes, I did not do my homework. But I intend to re-read Save the Cat and do the exercises the second time around.) This is a practical how-to manual. And it seems like it would be useful for any type of writer.

Save the Cat also introduces a novel classification system for popular films. Instead of genres like mystery, romance, SF, superhero, etc. Save the Cat uses plots and characters as genres, so we have: “Dude with a Problem”, and “Buddy Love”, and “Superhero” (but not just Marvel or DC films, or even the Greek Myths – but any story with a hero beyond the norm (Dracula, Frankenstein, A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, etc.) It takes a bit of getting used to, but this plot/character basis to describe films is a great way to think about movies when you are hoping to write one. There are ten genres in all.

Again, I loved this book! How often does one really truly love reading a textbook? You can learn from a textbook. Occasionally one is well-written. Oh, and that title? Save the Cat refers to the absolute necessity of your audience actually liking your main character. So, if the character is a bit of a jerk, he or she must do something nice so the audience will like them. They must Save the Cat. But this book, Save the Cat, is just fun. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the craft of writing.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Nightshade

  • Title: Doctor Who: Nightshade
  • Series: Doctor Who The New Adventures
  • Author: Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/23/2020

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who: Nightshade is a novel in the Doctor Who The New Adventures line from Virgin Books. The New Adventures feature the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and take place after the Classic Series episode, “Survival” (1989). In the novel, Nightshade, in the 1960s, strange things are happening in the small town of Crook Marsham: a retired actor who played Professor Nightshade on television is attacked by one of the creatures he fought on his television show in his retirement home; a woman is haunted by the spirit of her brother who died in World War I; and other strange occurrences happen. And even though people can enter the village – no one can leave.

The Doctor and Ace arrive, but the Doctor is ready to just settle down and retire instead of getting involved. While Ace explores the village and meets a young man named Robin, the Doctor heads to a nearby monastery for some well-deserved rest.

There is also a large radio telescope on the moor. The small staff there is studying the constellation of Orion, specifically looking for novas to study. Yet their instruments keep getting overwhelmed by some sort of strange signal. Also, Holly and Vijay, two members of the staff are having an affair, much to the dismay of their racist co-worker, Hawthorne. Fortunately, the director of the work at the radio telescope, Dr. Cooper is much more reasonable.

As the situation becomes more desperate and people start dying, the Doctor and Ace get involved and the Doctor tries to help. But this creature that remains unseen, attacks people through their memories – feeding on regret, sadness, guilt, and anger. And the Doctor has plenty of regrets. When the mysterious creature uses Susan against the Doctor he barely escapes. The situation becomes desperate, a nursing home aid accompanies a busload of seniors out of the village but their driver becomes overcome by sickness and crashes the bus. The driver dies but the seniors and Jill are alright. A visiting BBC reporter entering the village sees the accident and helps get everyone to the monastery. The Doctor reads up on the history of the village in the monastery and tries to discover what might be plaguing the village. Ace helps but also becomes friends with Robin. But the arrival of several seniors ultimately leads to a horrific creature attack when someone makes the mistake of starting a sentimental singalong.

As more people die in the village itself, the Doctor has everyone gather in the church, which has the effect of putting all the food in one place. He also spends time at the radio telescope, examining the signals that Dr. Cooper and her team found. But it’s at the monastery that he encounters the creature, which has taken over one of the local young men the Doctor tries to talk to it. He discovers the creature is old, nearly as old as the Earth itself, which formed around it. And the history of haunted castles and such in the village is due to the creature.

Later, however, as the situation gets desperate, the Doctor, Holly, Vijay, and the actor, Trevithick, go to try to communicate with the creature. It’s a disaster as Holly dies, and Trevithick sacrifices himself so the Doctor and Vijay can escape back to the radio telescope. But the Doctor finds out how to get the creature to leave. He tells the creature he can get all the energy he wants from the exploding star, a nova. The creature uses the radio telescope and leaves, heading to outer space and back in time as it follows the explosion that occurred nearly 300 years ago. Ace and the Doctor head back in the TARDIS and see the creature arrive in the 1600s where it causes a fire at a castle. The creature then heads into space to the nova – and eats up all the energy of the star. It follows another energy trace to a supernova and eats that up too. But eventually it gets trapped by the gravity of a black hole.

I enjoyed Nightshade. The Doctor is in a bit of a mood, due to previous events in the series, but the events in the village and Ace help bring him out of it. He’s much more fallible in this story, which fits with the Seventh Doctor – for example, he never should have brought Holly, Vijay, and Trevithick with him when he tries to communicate with the creature. Having the village gather in the church is less of a disaster – because, although the creature attacks it, no one dies. But having a radio telescope as a major set piece also reminds the Doctor of how his Fourth incarnation died, so that hangs over the novel, effectively.

Nightshade has a spooky quality to it – Holly, though she’s fallen in love with Vijay, cannot forget her previous fiancé who died. Trevithick remembers the most successful time in his life, playing the lead on a spooky BBC television children’s SF show (sound familiar?). Various characters remember past friends, relatives, situations, that they regret or that make them sad – which makes them vulnerable to the creature. Even the Doctor isn’t immune. Ace actually uses her complicated feelings about her mother to her advantage to fight off the creature. And the story takes place in an isolated village, on a moor, which adds to the spooky factor. Nightshade is an atmospheric novel, well-written, with great guest stars, and I also liked seeing a more vulnerable Doctor who can make mistakes. But the story is also clear and understandable, something that can be hard to find in the Doctor Who New Adventures line from Virgin Books. I recommend Nightshade.

Book Review – Death by Coffee

  • Title: Death by Coffee
  • Series: A Bookstore Café Mystery
  • Author: Alex Erickson
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 4/4/2020

Krissy Hancock and her best friend Vicki give up their lives fulfilling their parents’ expectations and decide to strike out on their own – opening a combination coffee shop and book store in the small town of Pine Hills. But on the first day, they are open for business, a rude man buys a coffee, then returns to his office across the street and dies mysteriously. Krissy isn’t a detective or a writer, but her curiosity is peaked – and before long she’s dating a local police officer and investigating on her own. Krissy asks questions, listens to gossip and looks for clues. Eventually, she solves the case and her boyfriend arrests the (accidental) killer.

Although this quick read is easy to summarize – I enjoyed reading it very much. Krissy is a fine heroine – a bit clumsy, not sure she even wants to investigate the case, and more motivated by curiosity than anything else. The story moves quickly and the other characters are interesting and feel real. Plus there’s coffee, a book store, two trouble-making cats, and a cute cop. What else do you need? The story is a good escape and draws you in. I highly recommend it.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Women Who Lived

  • Title: Doctor Who: The Women Who Lived
  • Author: Christel Dee & Simon Guerrier
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/30/2020

Doctor Who The Women Who Lived is a large coffee-table book with gorgeous full-color art for each character described in the book. But not only does it include all of the Doctor’s awesome female companions – it also includes friends, acquaintances, and one-time “companions” from the various specials or single stories of Doctor Who. But unlike the title says – these are not simply the women who lived, because companions famous for dying such as Sara Kingdom and Katarina are included. The book also includes villains and enemies of the Doctor.

Doctor Who The Women Who Lived lists each woman it discusses alphabetically and starts the description of each person with “there was a girl who” and then something positive that defines that character. Even the enemies of the Doctor, such as Mercy (from “The Next Doctor”) and Missy are given a positive spin, though their negative aspects are discussed eventually. Not only are careers discussed, but what made each person special and memorable to the Doctor and each person’s special abilities and personality are discussed too.

Doctor Who The Women Who Lived is an excellent reference book about the Doctor’s female companions – who they are, where they came from, their careers, and most importantly who they were as people that made them special and in the cases of most of these women – how they came to travel with the Doctor. However, it’s a little unusual to read a discussion of Barbara without also discussing Ian or Zoë without discussing Jamie. The other unusual thing about the book is that in some cases the book reveals a character’s entire fate it a way that may spoil a story if one hasn’t seen it. The entry for Samantha Briggs (“The Faceless Ones”) is especially bad this way. And it’s a hefty coffee-table book with beautiful art. This book is a must-have for any Doctor Who fan and makes for an excellent gift for young women. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure

  • Title: Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure
  • Series: The Summersbys
  • Author: Sophie Barnes
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/5/2020

**Spoiler Alert** Alex Summersby, the titular Lady Alexandra, is a bit of a tomboy – she can outride, outshoot, and outfence her brothers, which allowed her to join the British Foreign Office, where her brother Ryan also is an agent. When Lord Percy, head of the Foreign Office receives a letter from France from another agent, accusing Alex and Ryan’s older brother of treason, none of the three really believes it. But Percy has to do something with the information. So he sends his agent, Michael, Earl of Trenton, Ryan and Alex to France to find William and bring him back to England. Alex, disguised as a man joins the mission.

Soon Ryan, Michael, and Alex are off to France during the Napoleonic wars. Alex keeps up her deception of being a man on the journey to France, leading to some very frank discussions with Michael. But even when Alex is disguised as a man, there is an attraction between Alex and Michael. Once they reach France, Alex reveals herself to be a woman. Michael is appalled, both that a woman would be allowed on a Foreign Office mission and that Alex had deceived him so easily.

But the tension continues to rise between Alex and Michael, as they attempt to find William and discover what is going on. Alex and Michael end up in a compromising position, so William proposes. But due to Alex’s fear of commitment and determination not to marry, they end up fighting a duel – the stakes? Letting Alex lead in the investigation into William, versus marriage. Though Alex is an excellent fencer, it is Michael who draws first blood and thus Alex must accept his proposal. Though Alex is attracted to Michael and even falling for him, a tragedy in her past has made her extremely distrustful of marriage. Alex fears the pain that comes from ultimately losing the person one loves.

The three agree to go to a party at the French palace to find William. Alex dresses up in a ball gown and soon has slimy French officers falling all over her. She plays her part and even manages to find out that a British “spy” is being held in the basement of the palace, awaiting transfer to another holding prison. Alex decides they must help this spy escape. Ryan and Michael locate William and discover he’s been in deep cover to get Napoleon’s battle plans against the British.

Alex leads Ryan in a successful mission to free the spy, but the escape from the palace is considerably less successful. The spy, the same who had sent the letter accusing William is shot and gets left behind. Ryan, William, Michael, and Alex barely escape and make their way to a French safe house. There, William explains he’s discovered Napoleon’s plans and he must get the information to Wellington. Also, the “spy” was a double agent who was selling information to the French and the British. Still, with a few mishaps along the way, they get to Wellington, give him the information, then return to England. Once back in England, Michael releases Alex from her promise, telling her he won’t force her to marry him.

However, once back in England, Alexandra realizes she has fallen deeply in love with Michael. She discusses the tragedy in her past with her father and he convinces her that love is the most important thing in life, even if it comes with risk. Alex fears she’s hurt Michael too much, but her father thinks he will forgive her. Alex is to meet Michael again at a ball given by his parents and properly impress him.

Alex goes to her aunt’s in London to have a dress made and prepare herself for the ball. Events happen at the ball, as well, but eventually, she meets up with Michael, their issues are worked out, and Michael proposes again. They decide to marry quickly. In the epilog, Michael still works for the Foreign Office, and Alexandra cares for their four children. But as a couple, they are very happy.

I found Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure a little more slow-moving and formulaic than the previous book I read by Barnes, but it’s still an enjoyable read. I could have done with more historical detail, especially about the Napoleonic Wars and Wellington’s camp, but I’m more used to historic novels than historical romance. Alex and Michael, though are an excellent couple, and this is the first book in the Summersby series – a series I’m now curious about. Recommended, especially to fans of the Romance genre.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Good Doctor

  • Title: The Good Doctor
  • Series: BBC Books New Series Doctor Who Adventures
  • Author: Juno Dawson
  • Characters: Thirteenth Doctor, Yaz, Ryan, Graham
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/30/2020

I found The Good Doctor to be disappointing – it’s basically a chance for the author to bash organized religion and even make lots of anti-Catholic attacks at the end of the book. And that type of bigotry is something that doesn’t belong in Doctor Who, especially the more recent years which have tried to be more accepting of diversity.

The story opens at the end of another story as the Doctor, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz are on Lobos, a planet with two races: human colonists and intelligent dogs. The two races are in a civil war, so the Doctor with help from Ryan, Yaz, and Graham, brokers a peace agreement. There’s even an interracial couple that’s a symbol of the new way, with the Humans and Lobos sharing the planet. Having “fixed things” the Doctor and company leave.

But Ryan realizes he’s lost his phone on Lobos so they return. And it’s 600 years later and someone has started a new religion – worshipping “The Good Doctor”. This religion has become the state religion of the humans and sees the Lobos enslaved. Women are also second-class citizens, forced to worship separately, not allowed out by themselves after nightfall, and basically denied their civil rights. Women are blamed for “The Fall” and a “plague” that nearly wiped out everyone on Lobos – the Lobos are also blamed for the plague, and it’s revealed they were hunted and killed. And this new religion thinks Graham is “The Good Doctor”.

The abuse and enslavement of the Lobos and lower status of women have led to a resistance movement. Unfortunately, the rebel leader has been pushed so far, especially after the death of his wife in a raid, that he wants to destroy the ruling humans completely. The entire city, especially the TARDIS-like temple rests on a network of caves and tunnels from previous mining. And the rebel leader has been expanding the tunnels, causing earthquakes. But his big plan is to literally topple the temple by tunneling under it.

Although the story moves along quickly, it’s marred by the author’s attacks on religion, which weaken the story as well. It would have been more interesting if Ryan’s lost phone had had some sort of effect on the culture of Lobos, but as it is, the phone is barely mentioned and never recovered.

The Doctor confronts the leadership of this new religion, while Yaz talks down the rebel leader from his winner-takes-all position and Ryan works with one of the Lobos. It works out, but it’s hinted that now the Thirteenth Doctor is the subject of adoration and worship. The book is OK but not great. I’m very glad that this was the last of the three Thirteenth Doctor BBC novels I read, though it may have been published first. I’d recommend only purchasing it to have a complete set.

Book Review – The Infamous Duchess

  • Title: The Infamous Duchess
  • Series: Diamonds in the Rough
  • Author: Sophie Barnes
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 1/12/2020

**Spoiler Alert** I enjoy good historical fiction, but I’ve never really read that much Regency Romance – it all seemed so predictable: boy meets girl or girl meets boy, they are perfect for each other but have issues, those issues get resolved, and in the end, they end up together. Sigh. But, when you think about it – a lot of genre fiction as a certain formula to it – the detective solves the crime, the superheroes defeat the villain, etc. etc. so dismissing something as genre shouldn’t be the “insult” it often is. Besides I really enjoyed reading The Infamous Duchess and it even got me out of my funk from the holidays, work, and the weather crashing in on me at the same time. So a book that I liked that made me feel better? In my book, that’s a good thing.

Viola Cartwright, Duchess of Tremaine – wasn’t always a Duchess or even a member of the Aristocracy and therein lies her problem. The daughter of a doctor who was a private physician to a Duke and his family, Viola grew up in the Duke’s household but not really a part of it. She became friends with the Duke’s son, but then he took advantage of her when she was 16 – an event Viola has blamed herself for years. Fortunately, the elderly Duke of Tremaine isn’t the cad his son is – he sends his son off to a British colony in Africa or someplace and marries Viola, making her a Duchess. He also changes his will to leave everything to Viola, because he’s become estranged from his family, especially his son.

Once the elderly Duke dies, Viola buys a small house for herself, sharing it with two former prostitutes she met through her good works and charity. However, unlike many others of her class – she doesn’t look down on the unfortunate women, but genuinely wants to help them and she becomes friends with them. But her main project is a hospital to help London’s poor. She starts the hospital, hires the staff, and works as a nurse (her father had trained her as a doctor but because she’s a woman she is not able to attend university to get an official degree and certification). Fortunately, the main doctor at her hospital, Florian Lowell, judges Viola by her abilities, not her gender – which is part of why Viola hired him. As the story opens, Viola’s hospital is doing well enough that she’s able to open a second location, a day spa, modeled on the health spas in Bath, where the rich can go to be pampered and looked after. The spa is meant to provide income for the hospital so it can be self-sufficient instead of depending on donations.

The story opens with Florian’s brother, Henry Lowell, being brought in after a duel. Henry is a notorious rake – yet Viola and Henry get along well from the very beginning. He’s kind to her and realizes she’s been hurt in the past, whereas from the beginning, Viola notices that Henry seems to be kinder, more preceptive, and less of a cad than rumor would lead her to believe. Besides Viola knows firsthand how vicious and unfounded the rumors of bored aristocrats can be. Once Henry is released from her hospital, she and he run into each other over and over again – often with good results. Meanwhile, Florian and his wife head to Paris for a long-deserved and planned vacation.

But every story needs a villain, and in The Infamous Duchess that villain is Robert, now Duke of Tremaine, who failed to become successful in whatever colony his father banished him to, and who’s wife died there under mysterious circumstances. Also, Henry had known Robert at school, and they had been friends (something Viola finds disturbing) though their friendship had cooled over the years. Robert returns to London, threatens to take Viola to court and demands his inheritance back. Told the money was invested in the charity hospital and the spa – Robert coldly tells Viola, he’ll just take the hospital from her then and sell it.

Robert not only gets himself a barrister who specializes in “getting back” inheritances – but the two also bribe a judge to rule in his favor. Henry helps Viola to obtain a good barrister and looks into Robert’s past – remembering a scandal that Robert had roughed-up a “lady of the evening”. He also finds considerable proof that Robert probably returned and killed a young woman in St Giles – a notorious slum. Despite sympathetic police, testimony from another lower-class woman, and information from the dead girl’s parents that she wasn’t a prostitute – the police refuse to prosecute a Duke when all they have are “rumors” and the testimony of “unsavory” people (including a gangland boss). The judge in Viola’s case won’t even let her present the information that Robert may have killed someone. Henry also attempts to get information about the death of Robert’s wife – but the evidence that he killed her and bribed a corrupt cop to get away with it arrives too late to save Viola.

Viola and Henry, meanwhile, have become close – and married, which should have protected Viola’s assets, since by the laws of the time they became her husband’s property. However, the judge still rules for Robert and takes the hospital from Viola. It’s quickly sold. But the person who bought it is the gangland boss who feels indebted to Henry for trying to get justice for the girl Robert killed and to Viola for building a hospital to help London’s poor in the first place. He returns the hospital to Viola as a gift, so the hospital belongs to her husband, Henry, now. It’s not clear if Robert was able to take a controlling interest in the spa or not because the other main investor is Florian, Henry’s brother and the surgeon at Viola’s hospital.

With the hospital safe, Henry and Viola honeymoon in Paris for a month. They return and Robert bursts in on them, attacking Henry and nearly killing him. Viola shoots Robert in self-defense but fails to kill him. Both Henry and Robert end up at Viola’s hospital and both survive their injuries. Now, however, Robert has attempted to kill Henry – who is now a Viscount and due to become an Earl when his father passes. Attempted murder of an Earl’s son is considered much more serious than the deaths of two women – and finally, Robert is sentenced to death. No mention is made of what happens to the money and property he took from Viola or even who would inherit his title.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Infamous Duchess. It was a fun, light read, but it was nice to read something knowing it would all work out in the end and that the book would have a happy ending. But the story also had a nice mix of traditionally romantic scenes: Viola and Henry dancing at the opening of her day spa, their trip to the seaside, with more action-oriented scenes – Viola meeting Henry when he shows up on Florian’s operating table, a second duel at dawn between Henry and Robert, Henry’s investigation into the truth about Robert – that frustratingly, they can’t use against him. It’s a great story, and it was enjoyable to read. It also appears to be part of a series, with brief references to “difficulties” in Florian and his wife getting together and a hint that the gangland boss with a heart of gold would get his story next. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Molten Heart

  • Title: Molten Heart
  • Series: BBC Books New Series Doctor Who Adventures
  • Author: Una McCormack
  • Characters: Thirteenth Doctor, Yaz, Ryan, Graham
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/30/2019

**Spoiler alert**

Molten Heart is an achingly beautiful book. The planet where the Doctor and her companions happen to land is beautiful, and home to a unique society of living rocks. The story opens with the Doctor and her companions, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz landing the TARDIS – they are in a bubble inside the crust of a planet. There are gemstones and semi-precious stones in abundance, but something seems off. Ryan and Graham are nearly killed by a sudden super-heated geyser of water and steam and the group meets Ash – a living rock, and one of the people who live in Diamond City, though she is more of an explorer than the very much stay at home types of her home city. It turns out her father, Basalt was a scientist – and a scientist who is very concerned about their home. He did studies and experiments in his library and workshop but the leadership of Diamond City ignored him. Finally, in desperation, he set out on a mission to find out more about the sudden cracks in the sky, the geysers, why the Ocean dried up, etc.

After learning about this from Ash and a friend of Basalt’s named Quartz, the group hides as much of Basalt’s research as possible, then sets off to follow him. Fairly early on in the trip, there’s another surprise geyser and the group is separated into two groups – the Doctor, Ryan, and Ash continue to follow Basalt’s trail whereas Quartz, Yaz and Graham return in secret to Diamond City. The Doctor manages to warn Yaz not to trust Quartz.

In Diamond City, Yaz and Graham meet a group of Basalt’s “friends” but many of them don’t quite trust the travelers and see them as proof of Basalt’s “heresy” instead, so they are turned over to the Greenwatch – the secret police directly controlled by Emerald, the leader of Diamond City. Yaz tried to explain to Emerald she was from another planet but that the Doctor was there to help, but Emerald refuses to listen and locks her up. Fortunately, one of the people at the initial meeting, Onyx, does believe Yaz and helps her and Graham get out of jail.

Meanwhile, The Doctor, Ryan, and Ash follow her father’s trail – it’s beautiful, exciting and weird, the type of fantasy-science adventure we don’t often see in Doctor Who more similar to Jules Verne or JRR Tolkein than the show, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You have canoeing on a lava river, giant mushroom forests, all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff. Eventually, they find Basalt and the remains of an extraterrestrial mining colony – which is stressing the crust of the planet and threatening the entire civilization. Basalt and his small company of companions are trying to stop the crack, because if it continues the entire world will flood, but they aren’t having much luck against such a huge problem. The Doctor goes to the surface of the planet only to discover the entire operation is automatic, and even the machines were built automatically by nanomachines. She turns off the drilling equipment but triggers a series of defense satellites, which start firing at the planet. Then she contacts the people responsible – only to discover an inexperienced staffer on his second day who has no idea what to do. The Doctor talks him through making some good decisions. Ryan also gets to play an almost video game of shooting the unarmed satellites out of the sky. Needless to say, Ryan loves it.

The Doctor also uses to alien telecom equipment first to reach Yaz and Graham, but later to address Emerald – and when she discovers Emerald had declared Basalt a heretic who’s “science” was causing the disasters (by this time an entire “colony” or suburb had been destroyed when a crack in the sky let in deadly seawater), the Doctor address all the people in Diamond City, showing them the truth about their Bubble World, the aliens who had started mining operations, and how even with shutting everything down – Basalt would need help fixing the existing damage. Emerald has a hard time admitting her mistakes – but she does, and the Doctor uses the TARDIS to transport more rock people to the crack to help fix it. Ryan also suggests reversing the nanobots to take apart machinery and fill in the miner’s tunnels, which they do.

With everything on its way to being fixed, and Basalt being rescued – as well as seeing the surface of his own planet for the first time, briefly, the Doctor and her fam leave.

Molten Heart is a beautiful story – the rock people and their city is gorgeous, their society makes sense (it’s small and insular and in general no one wants to explore – very much the small English village or even small, American town), and even though the message about how the climate is changing and it threatens everyone and everything if something isn’t done – well the message is there but I didn’t feel it was too overbearing. Emerald isn’t evil, just a bit misguided in how she approaches a challenge. Her fear of “panic” if people know the danger is overblown of course, once the Doctor tells everyone the truth and asks for help for Basalt – she gets even more help than she needs and everyone pitches in to help shore up the cracked ceiling and prevent seawater getting in and killing the rock people and destroying their city. (The salt water acts like acid and dissolves the rock people instantly.) Even the aliens who set up the mining are more lazy and inefficient than outright evil – the planet seemed uninhabited. (The guy the Doctor contacts is almost laughable and adorable at the same time – it’s his *second day* and he has no idea how to handle a crisis, much less the Doctor!) I highly recommend this novel, it’s one of the best Doctor Who stories I’ve read in a long time!