Author Spotlight: Richard Bach

Author Spotlight: Richard Bach

Happy Birthday, Richard Bach, June 23

Quote: Richard Bach, “Fly free and happy beyond birthdays and across forever, and we’ll meet now and then when we wish, in the midst of the one celebration that never can end.”

 

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Richard Bach’s best known work is without a doubt Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Even though Jonathan Livingston Seagull was published as an adult book in the 70’s, my uncle and aunt gave it to me for my 10th birthday. I adored the story of a seagull’s stubborn pursuit in the joy of flying and took to doodling seagulls in flight for years down the margins of notebooks and homework. Jonathan Livingston Seagull truly fits the definition of a picture book — where both the text and pictures interact to tell the story together.

 

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Although, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, was my personal favorite growing up, indubitably, his Ferret Chronicles made the most impact on my family as a whole. The Ferret Chronicles is the sort of book series that should come with large warning labels and wrapped in caution tape. After reading the series to my children, son #1 asked for a pet ferret and wasn’t sidetracked from the idea even after I demanded an essay on the care of ferrets researched in our local library. And those critters lived for a long time, from the time my oldest was in elementary school till he was in high school.

The books in the Ferret Chronicles were favorite read-alouds when our boys were growing up. Son #2 appropriated the family copies of the Ferret Chronicles books for his forever bookshelf – those books he re-visits and re-reads like old friends. These books make for great shared reading for elementary aged children.

We gave our extended family the first book in the series, Rescue Ferrets at Sea, as Christmas gifts the year it came out because the ferrets as coast guard sailors were probably the closest to a book we’ve encountered about the Coast Guard. (This was a big deal to our family because my mom worked as the civilian personal officer on Governor’s Island a Coast Guard base in New York City’s harbor for many years before the base was closed.) Although, Rescue Ferrets at Sea, will probably be our all-time favorite Richard Bach book, the rest of the series is a fun romp that’s a mix of fairy tale and modern parable. Ferrets are always the lead characters who have an adventure that leads to personal growth.

 

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Author Spotlight: Richard Bach

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie King

Recipe & Review : Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

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Mystery Series Review: Mary Russell Novels, Laurie R. King

Mary Russell is the leading character in Laurie King’s mystery series that takes place between World War I through the roaring 1920s. American raised 15 year old, Mary Russell meets the retired detective Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs one day and they create a unique relationship that grows from mentor-protege to friends to an equal partnership as the series moves forward in time. Mary Russell is a match for Holmes with her keen observational skills, a logical mind with the ability to deduce as quickly as Holmes himself, and an independent spirit with a compassionate and loyal heart. For most of the series, Mary Russell is an academic from Oxford, studying both the Talmud and chemistry; and Holmes has no issues dragging her from the library or lab into an assortment of adventures.

The series itself is suppose to be the personal writings of Mary Russell, mysteriously gifted to the author, in order to create a memoir of Holmes’ later years and the Russell – Holmes partnership. Therefore, the majority of the series stories are told from the perspective of Mary Russell that include personal reflections on the narrative as reminisces that point out youthful folly or include hidden background information.  The characters, interactions, and dialog of Russell and Holmes truly belong to King, even though, Holmes was clearly grown from the cannon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle even makes cameo appearances through out the series as well as other fictional and historical characters. In The Moor, Russell and Holmes return to the Dartmoor setting of The Hound of Baskerville to solve a case for the historical figure of Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. In The Game, the partners work with the adult Kim from Rudyard Kipling’s work. In addition, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft Holmes, and Dr. Watson also appear in the series. The historical detail in each novel make it easy to slide into the period, not only the outward setting of clothes and daily details, but the also the more nuanced social norms and interpersonal manners.

As with many multiple volume series written over a large span of time (first book in 1994 and still going strong), the best starting point is the first novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. King was already an accomplished writer at the start of the series and the craftsmanship in her writing has maintained its high quality throughout the series. With the first book starting with Mary Russell as a teenager, this series is very approachable to readers in middle or high school. The first book could easily be classified as a Young Adult coming of age novel.

As an academic or detective, Mary Russell needs a heartier tea like an Assam black tea from India or an English Breakfast blend to get her through both late night study sessions or trailing clues across the country. Likewise, if you can get her to stop and eat, a savory scone or filling sandwich would be needed to refuel her energy level for the next chase and plot twist in a case.

Savory Cheese Scones

  • 2 cups self rising flour
  • 6 TBS cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup grated or chopped extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 TBS crushed french fried onions
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk, cream, sour cream, greek yogurt, or ricotta cheese
  • Optional: smoked paprika for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the flour and butter  to make an unevenly crumbly mixture.
  3. Add the cheese and onion, and pulse till cheese is just coated with flour.
  4. Add the eggs and dairy of your choice; pulse just until everything is evenly moistened; the dough will be very sticky.
  5. Spray an ice cream scoop with pan release; then portion scones (about 12) on the baking sheet, pat the tops to flatten lightly. Sprinkle with smoked paprika.
  6. Bake the scones for approximately 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken Curry Tea Sandwiches

  • 2 cups rotisserie chicken breast shredded or 13oz can chicken  
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 tart green apple (like granny smith or crispin), finely chopped 
  • Salt & pepper to taste (optional, depends on how much curry you use)
  • ¼ cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • Vidalia onion vinaigrette/salad dressing or a light mayonnaise based salad dressing (enough to moisten, so the salad will hold together, but not be runny)
  • Curry powder or paste to taste (if using paste, warm in microwave oven for easier mixing)
  • half a loaf soft whole wheat bread or brioche buns
  • unsalted butter, room temperature
  1. In a large bowl, break the chicken into flakes.   Combine with nuts, apple, cranberries, and onion; stir until well blended. Add curry powder or paste and salt & pepper.
  2. Spread one side of each piece of bread lightly with butter, and go all the way to the edges. Top the buttered side of bread with some of the chicken mixture and top with the remaining bread slices, buttered side down.
  3. Carefully cut the crusts from each sandwich with a serrated knife. Cut the sandwiches into quarters. Yields about 4 whole sandwiches or 8 halves or 16 fourths.

 

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Also see —

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Book Review: The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper

Book Review: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

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Fiction: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

Friday, March 5th, 1954. A young freshman congressman wakes up from a drunken stupor lying in the bottom of a ravine in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. Nearby is a crashed Studebaker…and the body of a young woman. So begins the story of The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper’s first novel, but hopefully not his last.

 

Jake Tapper is a leading correspondent and analyst for CNN’s Washington DC bureau. As such, he has seen the inner workings of modern Washington firsthand. In his debut novel, though, he turns his attention to an earlier era, the 1950s. Ike Eisenhower is president, Jack and Robert Kennedy are rising young stars, and Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn are headlining the news on a daily basis with their hearings on “the Red menace.” Tapper may not have been alive to cover Washington during that time, but he brings a journalist’s eye and a storyteller’s art to bring the time to life in this book.

 

The Hellfire Club is a private, invitation only, club that is one of several such secret societies in Washington. It is so secret, in fact, that few know about it and even fewer will talk about it. There, barons of industry socialize with political leaders from both sides of the aisle. Deals are done, sins are shared, reputations are made and destroyed, and the real power in Washington is exercised. First-term congressman Charlie Marder gets swept up in this world before he knows what’s happening. His exemplary service as an Army captain in WWII Europe and his career as an academic at Columbia have failed to fully prepare him for the battle lines in Congress. Enemies masquerade as friends, true friends are hard to find, and successes become failures with the stroke of a pen. Even the strongest of relationships are tested in this kind of turbulence.

 

Charlie’s wife, Margaret, is an academic herself. A zoologist, she is much more familiar with the workings of nature than of politics. Wild horses could drag her away–and they do. She leaves Washington to participate in a study of wild horses on islands off the coast of Maryland. This leaves Charlie alone in Washington. There, he finds that the taste of power and the pressures of the job lead to compromises he never expected to make, and he finds that he is not entirely the person he believed himself to be.

 

Charlie and Margaret are wonderful characters. Neither are saints. Both make mistakes. Their journey together and their recognition of the other’s failings and strengths makes for a powerful story arc. There are times in the book when neither of them is particularly likable. Yet, by the end, I was cheering for each of them and for their relationship to make it. Any long marriage will face struggles–though most of us don’t have to confront the temptations or the threats that walk the halls of Congress. Charlie discovers that he is not the same person without Margaret. He needs her to be his best self–and that humility guides him (and them) through the powerful conclusion of The Hellfire Club.

 

Tapper brings the transitions of the 1950s powerfully to life. It is easy to look back and gloss over the Eisenhower era as one of peace and stability. In fact, the dramatic transformations of the 1960s were already taking root in the previous decade. Black veterans were being elected to Congress–in very small numbers–but they were not allowed any real power. Women were seldom seen in any leadership roles. Mostly they were used by men in power as toys. Sexual abuse was not only tolerated but expected. Yet the book hints at the changes that were brewing. Margaret Marder has a career, one she intends to pursue even while her husband is in Congress and even while she is pregnant. Charlie’s one true friend throughout the book is Isaiah Street, an African American congressman from Chicago. These relationships help him survive the challenges facing him. Beyond their value to the story, though, Margaret and Isaiah help us remember how far we’ve come in such a relatively short time.

 

Tapper makes 1950s Washington come to life in The Hellfire Club. Within the first 50 pages we have appearances by the Kennedys, the Nixons, Lyndon Johnson, and other power players from history. It may be a book of fiction, but Tapper weaves actual historical figures into the narrative, along with actual events (such as a shooting in the Capitol by Puerto Rican separatists), to make it feel like we’re reading about actual intrigues and cover ups. The Hellfire Club may be a dangerous club to join, but it’s a wonderful book to read.

 

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Book Review: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

Book Review: The Android’s Dream, John Scalzi

Book Review: The Android’s DreamJohn Scalzi

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Science Fiction: The Android’s DreamJohn Scalzi

I will admit it. Part of me is still 13 years old. It probably always will be. So when a book’s opening chapter involves a complex plot to murder an alien trade negotiator using provocatively scented flatulence to send coded messages, messages understood by the negotiator as questioning his virility, I could not help but laugh. Loudly. As I said, part of me will always be 13.

 

The Android’s Dream may be the funniest science fiction book I have read in a decade. Written in 2006, I am so sorry that I was not aware of it years ago. It has the trappings of serious sci-fi. An alien race, nominally aligned with the earth, is facing a succession crisis. Part of the succession plan for the ruling clan involves the sacrifice of a sheep, a sheep specially genetically designed for the ruling clan by biologists on earth (a result of a previous treaty between earth and this planet’s rulers). However, all of the sheep on the alien planet succumbed to an illness, so the original line is only available on earth. And someone is killing those sheep.

 

Harry Creek is a low level state department employee, but he is much more than that. A computer prodigy, he won the Westinghouse Science Award as a teenager. A war hero, he single-handedly saved the few members of his battalion who were not wiped out in a pivotal battle. Back on earth, he just wants to live a quiet life. When he is asked to try to find the sheep for the government, he traces their DNA to a very unlikely source: Robin Baker, a young woman who owns a pet store near Washington, DC. What follows is a combination of humor and hijinks that send Harry and Robin from a shopping mall to an interstellar cruise ship to the halls of power on the planet Nidu. All of Harry’s formidable skills are needed to keep Robin and himself alive and one step ahead of their adversaries.

 

Scalzi is hilarious. He introduces us to characters like Takk, an alien on a religious quest to experience sin, who occasionally eats people when his job requires it (were he not on a quest to experience sin, that sort of thing would be too sinful to contemplate). We meet Chet, whose job it is to monitor a play space in the mall (it uses an anti-grav generator that requires the use of special shoes) and who lives to regret giving those special shoes to Harry and Robin before they get into the play space. A computer possessed of a human consciousness (uploaded upon the person’s death) realizes just how horny she is. These are not the usual tropes in science fiction, and they make for some laugh out loud moments throughout the story.

 

And, because it’s John Scalzi, we are asked to consider some deeper questions. What are the ethics involved in genetic manipulation? Is a computer with a human consciousness a sentient being? Do the rights of individuals trump the needs of a planet? With his usual deft touch, Scalzi presents the dilemmas without being heavy handed or dogmatic. His characters find their own answers, but seldom does he leave us thinking that their answers were the only possible right answers.

 

Science fiction as a genre has long been marginalized, not considered worthy of serious consideration by literary critics. Frankly, this is ridiculous, and says more about the critics than it does the genre. Any who still hold this prejudice should be silenced by two words: Margaret Atwood. The Android’s Dream is not a literary classic, but it is a delightful work by an author who himself is creating great books that belie that stigma. Even in a book that is comedic and lighthearted, Scalzi tackles deep, current issues of identity and ethics. He might be playing in The Android’s Dream, but he is playing with grownup toys in the grownup’s playground. And he proves with each new chapter that he belongs.

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Book Review: The Android’s DreamJohn Scalzi

Also see

Book Review: Redshirts, John Scalzi

Book Review: Lock In, John Scalzi

Also read Head On: A Novel of the Near Future (Lock in) — the next book in the series.

Book Review: The Future of Humanity, Michio Kaku

Book Review: The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond EarthMichio Kaku

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Nonfiction Science: The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond EarthMichio Kaku

You cannot avoid physicist Michio Kaku if you watch science shows on TV. Nor would you want to. He has hosted or guest starred on programs for Discovery Channel, Science Channel, BBC, PBS, and other networks, sharing his expertise on physics, string theory, and other scientific disciplines. Well known for popularizing these challenging subjects, Kaku is also a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York. (Probably unrelated to his brilliance or his fame, I would argue he also sports one of the most distinctive heads of hair in science since Einstein, but that may just be follicular envy on my part.)

 

His 2018 book The Future of Humanity explores the possibilities of humans leaving earth to colonize other planets. Clearly written for an audience with one foot in science and one foot in science fiction, Kaku has a breezy style that is easy to read and carries you along. He quotes from theoretical physicists and NASA astronomers, then switches effortlessly to recaps of Star Trek episodes and references to visionary works by Jules Verne and Olaf Stapledon, among others. He looks at both the possibilities and the pitfalls of living beyond our comfortable planet. Could we survive long-term in an environment we were not evolved for? Could we “terraform” another planet? What would it take to make Mars (or any other planet) livable? What are the possibilities and potentials beyond our solar system? How could we get there? Is there intelligent life beyond our solar system? If so, could we coexist? Could we even communicate?

 

Kaku’s The Future of Humanity also looks at colonizing space through unexpected means. If we find that the speed of light is indeed insurmountable (which is a depressing implication of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity), can we send multi-generational ships? If so, how could we guarantee that those great-grandchildren of the pioneers were willing and able to colonize a new planet when they arrived? What are the ethics of sending, say, 200 people from earth who would give birth to children that would live and die on board a ship, and expect that some 250 years later their descendants would be expected to colonize a world they likely knew little to nothing about? What kind of governance would be required to assure the ship-dwellers neither had too many, nor too few, children? Kaku may be a physicist, but his questions and explorations are deeply rooted in a very humanistic ethic. What if we were able to extend life indefinitely–would a 250-year journey be worth making if we lived 1000 years? Or, what if we could upload our consciousness to a machine which would make the journey? Or genetically modify our descendants to live in inhospitable environments? What would it mean to humanity if our galactic descendants no longer looked like us physically–or were no longer even made of the same organic stuff that we consider essential to life?

 

The Future of Humanity definitely walks the line between science fact and science fiction. It does clearly show where science is right now. If we were to try to colonize Mars tomorrow, we would likely fail. Fifty years from now? It is quite likely the tools will be available. Whether the will and the money will be available is a much dicier proposition, and Kaku acknowledges that. But insert enough time, enough scientific progress, and enough environmental pressure on earth from climate change and overpopulation, and the equation may change. Mars may look very attractive in 200 years when compared to a polluted, crowded, hotter earth. Kaku is not necessarily a pessimist, though, when it comes to earth. He acknowledges that birth rates are slowing, that there are reasons to hope for a cleaner tomorrow, and that climate change has uncertain consequences. Earth itself may not be such a bad place in 200 years. And his vision of an inhabitable solar system relies heavily on technologies that are little more than dreams in visionaries’ minds. For a book of scientific fact, there is a significant amount of hopeful speculation. Someday we might look back at this book in amazement at the technological breakthroughs it foresaw. Or, as we did in 2015, we may be asking ourselves why “Back to the Future” hoverboards aren’t parked in our garages.

 

Science can be both hopeful and hopeless. Kaku’s book envisions a very hopeful future, one where we colonize first the solar system and then the galaxy, one where humanity has a future in the stars for even millions of years. Eventually, though, it will all end. Science is divided on whether it all ends with the galaxy collapsing upon itself in a spectacular reversal of the “big bang,” or whether it ends with the second law of thermodynamics winning and everything just running out of energy and freezing, but either way we may only have several billion years left to prepare ourselves for our eventual end. Somehow, though, even though our earth may burn up in an expanding sun sometime around 5 billion years from now, and even though the universe as a whole will end some unknown billion years after that, Kaku seems to find reasons to hope that humanity has a bright future among the stars.

 

Leave it to a theoretical physicist to remind us that the universe will eventually end. At least, though, we have still some time to prepare for that.

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Book Review: The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond EarthMichio Kaku

Book Review: Lock In, John Scalzi

Book Review: Lock InJohn Scalzi

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Science Fiction: Lock InJohn Scalzi

In Scalzi’s Near Future universe, Haden’s Syndrome, named after former first lady Margaret Haden, who was one of its first victims, has claimed millions of lives worldwide. Over 400 million have succumbed to the disease, which usually presents with meningitis symptoms. Most die. A lucky few survive without apparent long-term effects. But for a small percentage of survivors, there is a permanent change. They suffer from “lock in.” Their minds are alert, but they have no control at all of their bodies. With care, they can live a normal lifespan, but they will never be able to so much as blink their own eyelids.

 

To help these lock-in survivors, three major technologies have been developed. One is called the “Agora.” More than just an online meeting place, the Agora allows lock-ins to inhabit an avatar, create their own private and public spaces, and interact with each other in a virtual reality. A second is called “threeps.” Androids that can be completely controlled by the minds of lock-ins, threeps (short for C-3PO) can interact in the real world and allow lock-ins to hold jobs that healthy persons can do. A final technology allows lock-ins to control neural networks implanted in the minds of people who are both willing and able to get them. These people recovered from Haden’s, but the neural mapping of their brains was changed allowing them to become “integrators,” able to host the neural network that allows those fully locked in to share their bodies temporarily. This allows lock-ins to actually experience life in a working physical human body, though the technology does not completely remove the body’s owner from the equation. It is a shared experience, giving lock-ins sensory experiences like taste that would otherwise be impossible.

 

This is the setting for John Scalzi’s masterful work, Lock In. Chris Shane is a Haden, locked in since infancy but now an adult and just hired by the FBI. He is partnered with Agent Leslie Vann, a former integrator. They are part of the Washington, DC, field office in charge of Haden related crimes. Since location is not a factor in Haden involved crimes (a person’s physical body can control a threep or be in an integrator from anywhere else in the world), the FBI is automatically in charge of any crime involving a Haden. And on his second day on the job, Chris falls into a doozy. One man is dead, his throat slit, and an interrogator is sitting in the room with the body, refusing to talk.

 

Shane’s investigation takes him via threep to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, to Los Angeles, and all over Washington. In the process, we the readers get to know him. A former “poster child” for Haden’s, his father was a Hall of Fame basketball player who later became a billionaire real estate investor and a very politically active resident of Virginia. Seemingly everyone knows who Chris Shane is. This opens doors, but also makes people think they know him without having met him. There is a tension between the public “boy with Haden’s” and the private man trying to become a good agent that Scalzi does an excellent job probing. I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of John Scalzi’s books, and although this book did not win the big awards that some of his others have, in my mind it is one of his best. Every character, even the fairly minor ones, is written with compassion and understanding. They are complete, whole people. Some are likable, some are appalling, but all are whole. You feel the pain of being locked in, the freedom and constraints of living life in the body of an android, the challenge of sharing your own body with someone else, the pain one character has being mentally challenged and how that leaves him open for manipulation and abuse by others, and the tension between those who are “able” and those who are “different.” Scalzi does not avoid the live electric wires of race, gender, sexuality, and ability. Rather, he grabs those wires to give power and life to the wonderful characters in Lock In.

 

A more timid author would shy away from some of the topics in Lock In. A lesser author might try for a simple or easy answer. Scalzi is a master. He is able to introduce subjects that make you think, yet avoid being heavy handed or dogmatic. Part of the backdrop of the novel is the political battle over rights and funding for Hadens. The fault lines look familiar to anyone who reads today’s news. But Scalzi avoids stereotyping or judging. Some are for, some are against, but all have their reasons and no one is completely with the angels.

 

Read Lock In. Read everything by Scalzi. You’ll be glad you did.

Book Review: Lock InJohn Scalzi

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Also read Head On: A Novel of the Near Future (Lock in) — the next book in the series.

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Also see — Book Review: Redshirts, John Scalzi

Book Review: This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works, Edited by John Brockman

Book Review: This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works, Edited by John Brockman

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Nonfiction Essay Collection: This Explains Everything, John Brockman, Editor

John Brockman is the founder of the Reality Club, a gathering of thinkers and intellectuals that met in restaurants and other locations from 1981-1996. In 1997, the Reality Club went online and became Edge.org. Each year, a question is posed to the contributors, a question intended to provoke discussion, debate, and most of all, thought. The Edge question for 2012 was, “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” The responses to that question were culled, edited, and became the book, “This Explains Everything.”

 

The list of contributors to this book is amazing. Several are Nobel Prize winners. Others are famous intellectuals, including Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, and Richard Dawkins. Many are professors in top universities around the world. Musicians, filmmakers, philosophers, psychologists, artists, scientists, writers…it is a truly astounding collection of brilliant persons who spent time on this question. And the approaches they took to the question are as varied as the disciplines they represent. Most of the essays are two-three pages long. A few are longer (I didn’t specifically count, but I don’t think any reached eight pages). Many are shorter. The very shortest is “Occam’s Razor,” by Katinka Matson: “Keep it simple.” (The strikethrough is in the original.) She succeeded.

 

Some theories had several fans among the authors. Perspectives on evolution, natural selection, and other Darwinian themes were addressed by a number of authors. The double helix (DNA) takes its place, as do some odes to quantum theory, Einstein, and “the big bang.” Others are perhaps less well known, but the authors are enthusiastic in their advocacy. The “Law of Unintended Consequences” explores how almost any action in a complex system will have unintended results: some positive, some negative, but always unintended. “The Importance of Individuals” posits that every change in human history is the result of single individuals making decisions which influence others. Sometimes those individuals stir up a grass-roots movement and sometimes those individuals are in positions of great power but it is still one person making one decision and taking one action that leads to change. That person may be unknown to history, but the power to change the world is housed within every individual.

 

Most of the essays looked for theories that tied other things together. Natural selection, for example, explains so much of how the world works. Before Darwin, we had no coherent scientific explanation for why some animals and plants thrive while others go extinct. It seems obvious to us today, but it is hard to look back and realize how our understanding of the world transformed with the publication of Origin of the Species. The depth, elegance, and beauty of the theory is how it draws together so many disparate facts and gives them context and meaning. No other theory had as many essayists in the book, but most of the theories explored shared that “Aha!” factor, that feeling of, “Now this helps other things make sense.”

 

Some of the essays I enjoyed the most addressed the question itself rather than trying to answer it. “Kepler et al. and the Nonexistent Problem” celebrates Kepler’s theory about the orbits of planets around the sun. The author delights in this theory that was deep, elegant, beautiful–and totally wrong. Some question the question, asking “what is deep, elegant, or beautiful”? Is it deep because it is correct? Is it elegant because it is simple…or is it elegant because it is complex? What makes a theory beautiful? Many of the essays which probe the question are, in my opinion, just as deep, elegant, and beautiful as the essays which actually try to answer the question.

 

This Explains Everything can look intimidating, from its list of powerhouse contributors to its imposing 400+ page length to its intellectual subject matter. However, this book should not scare you away! First, most of the essays are short, many of them less than a page long. It is a great book to snack on. Read a few pages, put it down and let them digest, then pick it up again and read a few more. If one essay is not to your liking, move on! Second, the editor and writers have worked incredibly hard to make this accessible to people with curiosity and interest. I won’t pretend that it is meant for children. Adults with an interest in science, both physical sciences and social sciences, will find the book speaks to them. It may not actually explain everything. But it does open a window to the minds of those who are trying to find and grapple with the explanations for the world we live in.

 

The “question of the year” has been turned into a book for several years now. I plan to check out others in the series at a later date. Also, visit www.edge.org to sneak a peak on the conversation for this year! Provocatively, it is titled, “The Last Question.”

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Book Review: Type and Cross, J.L. Delozier

Book Review: Type and CrossJ.L. Delozier

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Fiction: Type and Cross, J.L. Delozier

Persephone “Seph” Smith is a profiler. Her acute empathy allows her to get into the minds of criminals, understanding the way they see the world and sometimes anticipating their next moves. When a killer executes a plot to release a deadly virus into the world, one with the potential to kill well over half the population, Seph is called to join the team pursuing him. What follows is a globe-trotting chase matching Seph’s wits against those of a killer who seems just as capable of seeing through her as she is of seeing through him.

 

J.L. Delozier is a doctor with years experience in both community medicine and in treating people during the worst of emergencies. Her clinical expertise shows in the details of the book, but does not overwhelm the story. This may say something about me, given that the book is about a mass murderer using biological weapons to cull the population, but I found the book to be a very enjoyable read. Seph is a thoughtful protagonist, capable of using her intelligence to track and capture the criminal, but also one who considers seriously the ramifications of life and death when confronted with the reality of plague in a modern era.

 

Type and Cross raises some interesting questions. What would people do when they knew they had a month to live? Delozier poses some intriguing possibilities. Some would turn to religion. Some would see an opportunity to strip off the veneer of civilization and give in to much baser instincts: rape and pedophilia, for example. Some would withdraw their savings and take that “bucket list” trip. Others would huddle close to loved ones. These possibilities are not dwelt upon. They are listed as observations Seph makes as the world confronts mass mortality, but they show the depth of the author and the character. We are mortal creatures who never fully accept our mortality. Each of us tends to live as though we have all the time in the world. Curiously, though, that refusal to bow to the inevitable might make us powerful enough to live beyond our years.

 

Seph realizes she will die. (Spoiler, though, she doesn’t.) The disease will kill almost everyone. This gives her an element of freedom to pursue a hurried relationship that, if they had more than a month to live, might not have developed. It pushes her to appreciate and welcome her family roles as a sister and an aunt. But it also focuses and motivates her to complete her task and find the killer. If she dies, when she dies, she will die doing what she is supposed to do. Ultimately, that may be all any of us can live for.

 

I am looking forward to finishing the prequel book, Storm Shelter. Although Type and Cross was published first, it should be regarded as the second book in the series according to the author. Regardless of the order you read them, J.L. Delozier has given us a delightful protagonist who may have to save the world again someday. I am glad she is up to the task.

 

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Book Review: Type and CrossJ.L. Delozier

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

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Book Series Review: Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Mitford, NC is an idyllic town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that bursts with all the drama of big city lights in the package of small town interpersonal relationships. In Mitford, cake competitions are as fierce as Superbowl Sunday and potlucks can vibrate with the tensions of a boardroom during a hostile corporate takeover. In Mitford, folks celebrate the first harvest of sweet corn and the turning of the fall leaves. In Mitford, they bake from scratch and start making Christmas presents in the fall. In Mitford, people share joys and hide pain. In Mitford, they laugh and cry, and some die, but mostly they live. The characters of the town are all people who live and they don’t feel like characters but like real people.

The heart of the Mitford Books belongs to the main character, Father Tim Kavanagh. Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest, shepherds, cares, and prays for his eccentric parishioners and the entire town of Mitford. The majority of the series is seen through his eyes. As clergy, or retired clergy, or just good friend, Father Tim is the man that the town goes to share all of life’s secrets, sorrows, challenges, milestones, and triumphs. Father Tim is just the fellow to share a story or two over a glass of cold southern sweet tea.

The Mitford Books should be savored on a Sunday afternoon or evening as a gentle way to prompt reflections during the transition between weeks — preferably, in a cozy and cheerful room with some southern sweet tea and a light treat since Father Tim always needs to look after his blood sugar levels.

Southern Sweet Tea

  • 12 regular sized black tea bags
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (to keep liquid clear and not cloudy)
  • 1 cup sugar or Splenda/stevia (if serving to Father Tim)
  • 1 quart filtered water
  • 1 quart ice cubes

In a large glass measuring cup, place the tea bags and add the baking soda.

Pour the boiling water over the tea bags.

Cover and steep for 15 minutes.

Take out the tea bags and do not squeeze them.

Pour the tea mixture into a pitcher; add the sugar.

Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Add in the ice cubes.

Let cool; chill in the refrigerator and serve over additional ice.

Garnish with lemon slices or mint sprigs

 

Cornbread Cookies

Father Tim is very fond of cornbread, however, cornbread is not very fond of Father Tim as it sends his blood sugar to bad levels. Hopefully, the lower sugar, ground chickpeas, and whole wheat flour in these cookies will prevent a sharp sugar spike, yet satisfy that cornbread craving.

  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Splenda/stevia
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 cup canned chickpeas drained and minced in food processor
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven 325

In stand mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and Splenda/stevia. Add extract, honey, and egg.

In separate bowl mix together remaining dry ingredients (corn meal, flour, baking soda, and salt). Then slowly add to wet ingredients with the mixer on slow.

Use a cookie scoop to form dough balls on baking sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes till edges barely start to brown.

 

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Quote: If you take a book on a journey…Inkheart, Cornelia Funke

Quote: If you take a book on a journey…Inkheart, Cornelia Funke

“If you take a book with you on a journey," Mo had said when he put the first one in her box, "an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it... yes, books are like flypaper—memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.” ― Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

“If you take a book with you on a journey,” Mo had said when he put the first one in her box, “an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it… yes, books are like flypaper—memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.”

Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

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Quote: If you take a book on a journey…Inkheart, Cornelia Funke