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!

Book Review – Murder Past Due

  • Title: Murder Past Due
  • Author: Miranda James
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/25/2019

To be completely honest – I finished this book, maybe a week ago, and I put it down several times while reading it. And it’s not a bad story, not by any means, but it’s deceptively slow-paced and longer than the typical cozy mystery.

Charlie Harris is a retired librarian, now working as a part-time archivist for his alma mater, a small Southern college in Athena, Mississippi. He’s also a library volunteer and has a large Maine Coon cat named Diesel that he walks on a leash who accompanies him virtually everywhere, including to his job. Besides his librarian work, Charlie owns a boarding house where he takes in students from the local college. The house had belonged to his aunt, who looked after her own boarders, and Charlie decided to keep the tradition going. Charlie’s current boarder is Justin, the son of an old school friend of his.

After introducing us to Charlie, his cat, his boarder – Justin, Justin’s mother, Julia, and Charlie’s cook and housekeeper, as well as individuals at the college, we meet Godfrey Priest – world-renowned author of thrillers and mysteries. Godfrey was also a classmate of Charlie and Julia. In fact, Julia had dated him in high school – and he is Justin’s real father. Godfrey claims to be in town to donate his papers to the college, which is why he initially visits Charlie at his job, but it soon becomes clear – he’s there to meet his long-lost son. This reunion happens, but shortly thereafter, Godfrey is murdered. And it also soon becomes clear that Godfrey was a jerk and pretty much everyone had a reason to hate and resent him. It’s a case of “who killed the jerk”. Charlie and Diesel investigate, overturning lots of long-buried secrets, and lots of reasons why someone might want Godfrey dead. They even discover that the other guy that everyone can’t stand was Godfrey’s barely compensated ghostwriter. Charlie, and a local police officer named Kenesha, investigate and try to figure out who was angry enough at Godfrey to actually kill him – or accidentally since there is evidence he was killed in a struggle.

As is often the case with such stories, in the last chapter, all the suspects are gathered at Charlie’s house, as well as the police and a lawyer. The lawyer reads out Godfrey’s will, which leaves most of his considerable fortune to Justin and revelations are made and the murderer reveals themselves.

Murder Past Due takes considerable time to explore time and place, setting up the characters and the curiously timeless small town they live in. But the murder and case are somewhat disappointing. Godfrey is a jerk, lots of people wanted him dead, so the catch is – who wanted him dead enough to actually do it? Which is not the best premise for a murder mystery. The final scene is unconvincing, as is the final twist and actual revelation of the murderer. But I would read another mystery in this series because I liked Charlie and Diesel and I wouldn’t mind finding out what happened to some of the other characters.

Book Review – Cat in an Aqua Storm

  • Title: Cat in an Aqua Storm
  • Author: Carole Nelson Douglas
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/18/2019

I started the e-book Cat in an Aqua Storm while I was on vacation and I had finished the books and graphic novels I brought with me but when I got home from vacation I promptly forgot about it. Then I picked it up again. Cat in an Aqua Storm is a light mystery story. The main character, Temple Barr, is an independent PR consultant in Las Vegas. Midnight Louie is her black tomcat. The book alternates between chapters told in a straight forward fashion about Temple, and chapters told in first person from the point of view of Louie. This is the second book I’ve read in this series, though the other one was later on in the series.

Temple, as she is wont to do, falls into a mystery, when a rival PR person is attacked while providing coverage for a stripper contest. This guy is rude and sexist, and continuously harasses Temple, but after he ends-up in the hospital, she agrees to provide PR for the contest, something she had turned down initially. Then Temple proceeds to trip over bodies – also something that seems to happen to her a lot.

Over the course of the book, four strippers are killed, all of whom had entered the contest in hopes of winning the cash prize and changing their lives. All had been in abusive relationships at some point in their lives and that abuse had led to their careers as strippers. Temple is forced to confront some of her own assumptions about the lives strippers lead. She even encounters a woman who protests the stripper contest, though this woman is made out to look like a fool who is out of touch with reality, which is a bit unfair.

Temple has also recently lost her boyfriend, who disappeared on her, but she inherited his condo, something that costs her a lot of money. She’s also met a handsome man who teaches self-defense courses and works at night at a helpline for abused women.

Midnight Louie meanwhile pursues the pampered Persian cat that belongs to one of the contestants in the contest. Temple stumbles around, getting to know the various strippers, and trying to figure out who the killer is. Eventually, the crime is solved, and the conclusion makes sense.

Cat in an Aqua Storm is a fun, lightweight, mystery story. The only thing about it I found weird is that the main character is not a private investigator, or police officer, or lawyer, or someone who has any reason to be involved in solving murders – she’s a PR person. Someone who gets paid to help companies, events, people, or organizations get good publicity. It seems incongruous that such a person would constantly stumble over bodies and then get involved in solving the murders. I like Midnight Louie, but he also doesn’t seem to be a “gumshoe” and doesn’t work to solve the crime. Overall, the book is a fun, light read, but it leaves one wanting a bit more depth. Overall, I’d give this novel 3.5 stars.