Book 17 (of 52) – Quarantine

Quarantine – John Vornholt

In the fourth entry of the Double Helix series, the artificial virus attacks a planet in the demilitarized zone between the Federation and the Cardassians.  Lt. Tom Riker teams up with a group of the Maquis to try and help, stealing medical supplies from the Federation to help control the outbreak while avoiding the Cardassians, both on the surface and in orbit around the planet.

John Vornholt, whose work I last read in 1998, brings us the appropriately titled Quarantine, focusing on the band of Maquis who would eventually serve on board the USS Voyager.  He brings a new approach to the virus, avoiding the plot overlap from investigating the plague that dragged down some of the earlier efforts in the series.  Unfortunately, Voyager is not really my favorite entry in the Star Trek pantheon and having the focus be on characters from that show tested the limits of my interest.  Now that I am more than half way through the series, I am still cautiously optimistic on where the series is headed and that the payoff of who is behind the creation of these viruses will be worth the journey.

Book 16 (of 52) – Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark – Riley Sager

Home Before Dark, the latest from Riley Sager, Maggie Holt returns to the site of her family’s biggest secrets in order to learn the truth, about her childhood, her parents, and the book that sat between them.  After her father’s death, she inherits the home they lived in for 3 weeks when she was a child, the one her parents claimed was haunted and drove them away.  Hoping to find out the truth about what happened and prove the book that defined her life was a fraud, she finds that her father just may have been telling the truth.  As she tries to battle the ghosts of her past, she finds some new ghosts which threaten to take her sanity, if not her freedom.

In his fourth novel in as many years, Sager continues to explore the theme of an isolated young woman trying to make sense of the past.  I’ve yet to be disappointed by his work and look forward to whatever comes next from him.

Book 15 (of 52) – The Case Of The Velvet Claws

The Case Of The Velvet Claws – Erle Stanley Gardner

Following last week’s end of the first season of HBO’s Perry Mason reimagining, I decided to turn to the original source material for the first time.  The Case of the Velvet Claws is the first of 82 Perry Mason novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, first published in 1933.  In it, a woman hires Mason, wanting to keep a scandal rag owned by her husband from discovering she was out with another man.  When the husband turns up dead, she tries to keep the police away from here by pointing the finger at Perry, manages to avoid being double-crossed and still fights to free her from the charges.

The beginning of the series introduces us to mainstays Perry Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake, but doesn’t do much in the way of giving them any sort of discernable character or background.  All you learn of them is the job that they hold, lawyer, secretary, and investigator, respectively.  If I wasn’t coming in to this with an existing knowledge of, and a certain fondness for, the property, I don’t know if that would have been more of a problem.  As it is, the Mason of the novel is a little rougher around the edges than the Raymond Burr version and a little more in line with the Matthew Rhys version.

If I manage to come across more of the Mason novels at a decent price, I’d be willing to go back for more.  To be honest, I’m somewhat surprised they aren’t being republished to capitalize on the publicity of the new series.

Book 14 (of 52) – The Answer Is…

The Answer Is… Reflections On My Life – Alex Trebek

Alex Trebek is dying. The long-time host of Jeopardy!, who turned 80 last month, announced that he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer last March.  With that backdrop, he finally decided to put pen to paper and write a memoir, with, as the subtitle indicates, brief reflections on the important moments of his life and a behind the scenes look at one of the most popular game shows of all time.

Born in Sudbury, Ontario on July 22, 1940, Trebek introduces us to his parents, a Ukrainian-immigrant chef father and a French Canadian mother, while detailing his early years.  After gaining early notoriety as a CBC announcer and host, he came to the US in the early 70s to become host of a new game show, The Wizard Of Odds.  This led to a string of hosting gigs, most for game shows whose lifespans were measured in weeks instead of years.  In 1984, he was hired as the host of a syndicated revival of Jeopardy!, where he has remained for the past 36 years.

Some of the most memorable Jeopardy! champions get chapters devoted to them, including Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, Chuck Foster, Frank Spangenberg, and Eddie Timanus, the first blind contestant on the show.  Trebek also brings us behind the scenes of the show, with a typical shooting day starting with his review of the day’s game boards and the production meetings to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Trebek continues to receive treatment for his cancer, but is forthright about the limited amount of time he has remaining.  For him, the shutdown of the world due to the corona virus may have been a blessing in disguise, as it has given him the opportunity to spend additional time with his wife and grown children.  As someone who has been welcomed into millions of homes over the past 36 years, including mine, this was a worthwhile read and a rare opportunity to learn more about the person we all think we know.

Book 13 (of 52) – Grand

Grand – Sara Schaefer

Comedian Sara Schaefer took a rafting trip into the Grand Canyon with her younger sister to celebrate her 40th birthday.  That trip becomes the framing device for her life story, as she faces her physical fears on the Colorado River and details the emotional fears that have built up over her lifetime, from the announcement from her parents that upended her life as a child, to her mother’s breast cancer battle and eventual death, her failed marriage, and her trials and tribulations in show business.

Of all the comedians I follow on Twitter, Schaefer is the one I’m probably the least familiar with.  I’ve seen her a few times on @Midnight, but, aside from that, there’s not much else.  To be honest, I probably would not have bought this book, but I managed to get an advanced reading copy for free from a Goodreads contest.  When I started the book, I was a little concerned about the framing device of the rafting trip, which alternated chapters with Schaefer’s tales of her younger days.  But, I soon was engrossed by the trip, something I know I would both want to do and never do.

Following up on this experience, I will be looking out for more of her stand-up work.  Maybe even venture out to see her in person, should this pandemic ever make that possible again.

 

Book 12 (of 52) – Little Children

Little Children – Tom Perotta

In Little Children, Tom Perrotta tells us the tale of Sarah, a young housewife who spends her days at the playground with a group of mothers she can’t stand. When she meets Todd, a handsome young stay-at-home dad, they begin an affair that threatens both of their marriages, neither of which may be worth saving.  Will they throw it all away and run away together?  Or will they stay in their broken marriages for the sake of their children?  And where does the broken former policeman and the convicted sex offender he is obsessed with fit in?

I saw the movie version of this years ago and was familiar with the basics of the plot, but any details had long since left my mind.  When I saw the book on sale on the Kindle store, I decided to give it a shot given my recent experiences with Perrotta’s work and the HBO translations.  And, I was not disappointed.  Perrotta is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors, especially in the non-genre fields.  I don’t think I have anything else of his queued up on the Kindle, so I’ll have to keep a look out.

 

Book 11 (of 52) – Stuck On The Sox

Stuck On The Sox – Rich Lindberg

This rather light-hearted history of the White Sox, focused primarily from the early 50s until its publication in 1978, comes from noted Chicago historian Rich Lindberg.  I was intrigued when I saw the cover in a Twitter post by one of the NBCSN flunkies, so I ran out to Amazon and found a used copy for a reasonable price.

Truth be told, this really wasn’t worth it.  Aside from 1977, the mid-to-late 70s was not really a great time in White Sox history, and, because of my age, it isn’t a time that I really relate to.  Yeah, there were some names in there, but, for the most part, my life isn’t improved by having read this book.  That said, it was less than 200 pages, so if you happen across it, why not give it a shot?

 

Book 10 (of 52) – Red Sector

Red Sector – Diane Carey

In the latest entry of the Double Helix series, a commander who spent years as a prisoner on a quarantined planet volunteers to go back to help Spock, Bones, and Dr. Crusher find an heir to the Romulan royal family, which has been decimated by an artificial virus, similar to what was seen at Terok Nor and an outbreak the Enterprise had encountered years earlier.

Diane Carey brings us Red Sector, the third entry in the Double Helix series which focuses mostly on the pair from OG Star Trek, with the Next Gen crew playing a bit supporting role.  She deftly avoids the problems I had with the previous installment, with plot overlap trying to investigate and solve for a mysterious plague, by skipping that part of the story altogether.  The disease is a given, with the action focused on rescuing the one person who can potentially cure it from a bad situation.  With three more entries to go, I am cautiously optimistic on where the series is headed.

Book 9 (of 52) – Save Yourself

Save Yourself: A Memoir – Cameron Esposito

Comedian Cameron Esposito checks in with her first memoir, a collection of essays detailing her growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago as a devout Catholic, going to Boston College and discovering her sexuality, coming out to friends and family, moving back to Chicago, finding both herself and a career, and, finally, taking the leap to move to LA.

I have never seen Esposito perform live, despite the best of intentions.  I had tickets to see her in Toronto back in 2015, but she had to cancel due to an acting gig.  I had loose plans to see her this spring as part of her book tour, but, thanks to a certain pandemic, that show didn’t happen either.  Thus, at least for the time being, this book is the closest I will get to her work for awhile.  And an enjoyable book it was.

 

Book 8 (of 52) – Point B

Point B: A Teleportation Love Story – Drew Magary

In his latest effort, Drew Magary introduces us to Anna Huff, a high school junior intent on finding out who killed her sister years earlier.  When her roommate, the daughter of the CEO of the world’s only porting provider, disappears from school after one night, she combines her two obsessions and, with the rag-tag group of friends she manages to make, attempts to bring down the new world order.  In this world, Huff sees her two obsessions overlap, as the search for her roommate/crush overlaps with the search for her sisters’ killer.  Finding one leads her to the other, and, ultimately, the life she has always wanted.

While Magary’s previous novel was a bit of an acid trip, Point B is more of a straightforward story of love and revenge, with the science fiction framework of teleportation wrapped around it.  It’s a pretty realistic take on an unrealistic scenario, which helped ground the tale.  It would have been easy to just add teleportation to the world without going into detail on how it changed things, but Magary builds out the entire world, thinking through the effects this new technology would have on tourism, the workforce, real estate, and international politics.  If he can keep producing content of this quality, then I will continue to be on board.