Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: STAR RANGERS by Andre Norton

StarRangersAnother early science fiction novel by Norton that I missed all these years, first published in 1953, and loosely connected to “Star Guard,” reviewed here recently. This book takes place about 4,000 years later as the galactic empire described in the first book is falling apart. The Stellar Patrol, populated by beings from many worlds and serving as a police force, has been falling apart as well, their ships degrading and barely working. One such ship, among many, the Starfire, has been sent to the edge of the galaxy supposedly in search of lost systems and colonies, but in fact as a way to get rid of them. The ship crashes on an Earthlike world, and though the Captain is injured and unable to accept the truth, will never fly again. On board are a group of Star Rangers, the exploration team of the ship, with two human members, and the rest “bemmies,” or non-human aliens, all with powerful mental and physical skills, but treated with suspicion by the rest of the crew.

Human Ranger Sergeant Kartr is the viewpoint character of the book, from a world that has been destroyed in war, and very close to his Ranger team. Together they explore the area, finding plenty of plant and animal life to sustain the small surviving Patrol group. They also discover an ancient city that has been occupied by survivors of another crashed ship, run by a crafty politician, Joyd Cummi, who has seized control by force. Most of the Patrol wants to join this group, but the Rangers are skeptical, especially when it becomes clear their non-humans will be treated as second-class members or worse. Eventually a rebellion breaks out in the city, and Kartr and his team may be the only ones who can stop Cummi from destroying them all.

I enjoyed this. Norton is not a flashy writer, her plots and ideas are not remarkable by science fiction standards, but she tells a good story with memorable, sympathetic characters, and she makes good moral points here. Substitute Muslims or African Americans for the bemmies in the story, and it would become relevant to today. And there is a great plot point that resonates with our own history in the last third of the story that I won’t spoil for you.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE TIME TRAVEL TRAILER

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Lynne is recently separated from her husband Kurt, and trying to find ways to bond with her grumpy teenage daughter Dinah. Camping seems like something worth a try, and Lynne has the chance to buy a classic old Covered Wagon camper made in the 1930s from an elderly friend. Dinah is not impressed, but gradually takes an interest in fixing up and refurbishing the trailer with her mother, and they plan a weekend trip to a nearby park with campgrounds. When they wake up there after their first night in the camper, they are stunned to discover they’ve traveled back in time to 1962. Lynne and Dinah manage to avoid making the other campers suspicious of their true home time period, though it’s not an easy thing to do, and after another night in the camper, they’re back in the present.

Further adventures are had in a second camping trip that puts them back in 1954. This time they narrowly avoid worse trouble when other campers suspect them of being Communist sympathizers, but a third trip carrying them to 1946 gets very scary for Dinah when she’s taken hostage by an escaped prisoner on work duty at the campground. Lynne and Dinah agree they should put a stop to the trips, but a family fight results in Dinah going back on her own to the 1930s. When she doesn’t return, Lynne and Kurt must work together to follow and try to find her.

This was a fun read. Nortman obviously knows a lot about camping, and a lot about family life, and has done her research to make the past episodes real and believable. My only quibble is the time-traveling aspect is never explained, but that doesn’t harm the story.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: HOMECOMING by Cynthia Voigt

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A while back I read and reviewed “Dicey’s Song,” the second book by Voigt about the Tillerman family. This is the first, and should have been read first, but aside from knowing where it would end up, I have to say I don’t think that harmed my reading experience. These are realistic family stories, but with some pretty amazing adventures in this one. The four Tillerman children—Dicey, James, Maybeth and Sammy—have been abandoned by their mentally ill mother at the beginning of the book, left to sit in the family car in a mall. They search the mall for their mother, but find no sign of her. They had been on the way to their Aunt Cilla’s home in Bridgeport, CT, still many miles away. Their mother has headed there as a last resort, having been evicted from their longtime home on the coast of Massachusetts, with no money and no prospects. Dicey, the oldest, thinks the responsibility of the children has just become too much for their mother. Rather than appeal to the police for help, she decides they are going to walk to Aunt Cilla’s house. This will take at least some weeks, she estimates. They have a little money, but not enough for bus fare, or even food for the trip. Dicey doesn’t know how they will get there, but she’s determined to do it. Determination is her strong suit. The others look up to her now as their leader, and they set off on an epic journey.

That’s only the first third of this large book, the rest is equally amazing. The characters are beautifully written, the plot is full of surprises, some good, some bad, and the children prove to be resourceful and clever enough to actually pull off their mad scheme. It’s a brilliant book, as was “Dicey’s Song.” I’ll have to find the rest of the Tillerman saga.

Highly recommended!

And Then I Read: KNIGHTS OF THE SQUARE TABLE 2 by Teri Kanefield

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I enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, and am back for more. The Knights of the title are six young people in a San Francisco school chess club, but they are much more than that. Each of the six is very smart, though they have a wide variety of personalities and interests, as well as strengths and weaknesses. In the first book they had some remarkable adventures. First the jet plane in which they were returning to the US crashed on a small, uncharted island off the coast of Iceland. There Alexis, Cindy, George, Liam, Natalie and Spider found ways to help all the crash victims survive in harsh conditions, as well as keep their spirits up and their relationships civil. They won the admiration of the plane’s pilot, Don, who offered to help them in the future any time they asked. Next, back in San Francisco, the Knights took up a new challenge: trying to avert the beginnings of a nuclear war. When the leader of a southeast Asian country (read North Korea) threatens to launch a nuclear missile, the Knights find a way to hack into the country’s defense computers and prevented the launch. Then George, who speaks several Asian languages, called the leader and spoke to him directly, convincing that leader to change his stance and negotiate for peace. Incredibly, it worked, and no one figured quite how the Knights did it, though the event made them even more famous.

As Book 2 opens, Cindy is calling the group together to explain her plan to continue their good works through hacking, though they all know how dangerous it could be for them. After much argument, they decide to try a “Robin Hood” hack on a bank who has swindled its customers and gotten away with keeping millions of their dollars. They successfully get into the bank’s computer system and redistribute about a half million dollars to charities, but this time aren’t able to cover their tracks completely. They find this out when the FBI shows up and and confiscates all their computer equipment. It seems likely the group will soon be headed to court, but they have time for a quick escape, and head to Canada. There they call on Don, their pilot friend, and ask him to take them back to the island near Iceland. They’ve decided to hide out there. Don is reluctant, but finally agrees. The Knights begin making the island their home, and then current events bring them back into the spotlight in a surprising way.

Well written, with realistic characters I liked, and a story I found unpredictable and fun. Recommended.

And Then I Read: GAY-NECK, THE STORY OF A PIGEON by Mukerji

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This was the Newbery Award winner in 1928. Ellen read it and didn’t like it enough to keep, so it was going in the donations box, but I pulled it out to try it myself.

Mukerji writes of a very different world: northern India before World War One,  when he was a boy raising pigeons, a popular hobby among him and his friends. Gay-Neck (so named because of iridescent feathers on his neck) was his prize pigeon, and this is the story of his life. It has some surprising elements, including trips to a remote monastery in the Himalayas near Everest (not yet conquered by men at the time) and a trip to Europe during the war to act as a courier pigeon for Indian troops fighting for the British. There are harrowing moments: encounters with hawks and eagles, not to mention war planes and guns, but much of the book is about daily life in India, at Mukerji’s home and in the forests and countryside. Some of the book is “narrated” by the pigeon himself, other parts are told by the author. The style seems unusual, with elements of mysticism, pragmatism and occasional sly social comments. Mostly it’s a good animal story, though. The plot is definitely episodic, and wanders off topic at times. I can’t say I loved it, but I’m glad I read it. Newbery winners are almost always worth a try. The illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff are stark, striking, all black and white patterns and shapes except for the cover, unique. I liked those too.

Recommended.