Doctor Who in Books

I can’t be the only one who got into Doctor Who after the 2005 series reboot and is now completely overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to get into the original series. I know some of the basics of course, but where (and how) to start watching the original stories?? Well, there are some DVDs available, BUT I found another loophole / fun avenue to explore: Doctor Who novelizations. Here’s two I’ve read recently to get started with:

The Dinosaur Invasion, published 1976, stars the Third Doctor (think gentleman scientist) and superstar companion Sarah Jane Smith (journalist, legend, icon) attempting to unravel a mysterious plot to bring live dinosaurs across time into modern-day London, assisted of course by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT. I adore Sarah Jane (pro tip for parents: The Sarah Jane Adventures is a fun and kid-friendly introduction into the Doctor Who universe) and I love that this book showed her off in all her determination and resourcefulness. I also enjoyed the informative, no-nonsense writing style because it felt like a good immersion into 1970s sci-fi / spy culture.

Shada, by comparison, is much more tongue-in-cheek because it was developed from a script written by Douglas Adams (definite sci-fi icon, humorist extraordinaire  and one of my all-time favorite authors). Here, the Fourth Doctor (Mr. Being Eccentric is my Job and I’m Good At It) and Romana (Paragon of Dignity) travel with K-9 (Surprisingly Sassy Robot Dog) to Cambridge to meet up with an old friend, Professor Chronotis. Once there, they get entangled with a mysterious Gallifreyan relic, a megalomaniac with a mind-stealing orb, and a pair of hapless almost-romantically-involved scientists. The humorous tone is absolutely perfect, the stakes are high, the action is well-paced, and most importantly the characters are sympathetic and well-made. This one was published later, so it captures the spirit of the character while fleshing out some underdeveloped elements.

If you like Doctor Who, 60s and 70s sci-fi, Douglas Adams, or novelizations of famous TV series, you may enjoy one or the other of these books.

Key Changes: Gen Z Hitmakers

I don’t know about you, but I’m hugely vulnerable to earworms: those songs that stick in your head and just never leave. Now, I fall squarely in the “millennial” camp, but in my experience lately, there are some Generation Z (born 1995-2015) pop artists that are making really catchy songs that spread like wildfire on social media and everyone finds themselves singing. Here are three top-rated Gen Z artists whose new albums we’ve recently purchased for the library, full of new earworms for you to love and hate – you’re welcome!

Billie Eilish became iconic for her oversized fashion and green-and-black hair alongside her homemade, whisper-sung tracks. I always found her work atmospheric and spooky, leaning into the dark side of humanity and growing up. For her new album, Happier than Ever, Eilish has changed her image to blonde hair and a nude color palette – but her softly sung, otherworldly musical style and lightly cynical lyrics remain largely unchanged. You might have heard her hit song Bad Guy from debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? This time around, watch out for Therefore I Am, which has a similar sound but revolves around defying bullies and haters.

Tones and I, AKA Toni Watson of Australia, rocketed to fame on the song Dance Monkey in 2019. Like Billie Eilish, she has a unique vocal sound, which in her iconic track is paired with danceable beats (evidence: the song is my favorite from the game Just Dance 2021). Dance Monkey was released on the 6-song EP The Kids Are Coming in late 2019. The new album, Welcome to the Madhouse, may have grown in scope as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: Watson added 5 more songs and took extra time to do most of the production work herself. According to critics, the songs on this album are Watson being really vulnerable and exploring her mental health and the cruelty of haters, through clever lyrics and strong vocals.

This last entry was added to our collection a few months back, but it’s too popular not to be mentioned in this group. Olivia Rodrigo was originally known for her acting work on Disney shows, including High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, but with the release of her smash hit album Sour, her fame has definitely shifted. The earworm (for me, anyway) in this case is Good 4 U, an energetic and danceable take on the anger after a breakup, especially when an ex-partner moves on quickly. The album as a whole is very centered on the teenage experience, especially falling in (and out of) love: the other popular track is Driver’s License, about getting a license but losing a partner. Guaranteed to knock around your brain for a while, this is not an album to miss – even if you’re not a teenager anymore.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

You might or might not remember, but I adore Karen McManus’ work, especially One of Us is Lying. I became interested in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson partly because it sounded similar in theme and character. If you like teen investigators or liked One of Us is Lying, you might like Jackson’s work too.

Here’s the story: Pippa has spent the last 5 years hearing about Andie Bell’s murder, and every time it’s the same story: her boyfriend Sal met her at night, killed her, hid her body, and within a few days was so overcome with guilt that he took his own life. But Pippa knew Sal, and she’s never quite believed it. When she gets a chance to do a senior capstone project on a topic of her choice, she jumps at the opportunity to investigate the case for herself, hoping to cast doubt on the official version. With help from Sal’s younger brother Ravi she digs into everything she can find, requesting records, interviewing Andie’s friends, and just generally turning over rocks that her suspects would rather she not look under. Slowly they put together a much darker picture of who Andie Bell was and why she died, and as anonymous threats arrive Pippa has to wonder if she’s taken on more risk than she can handle.

I liked this book a lot, for the skilled writing and the well-drawn characters; I rooted for Pippa, Ravi, and their friends and I mourned their losses along with them. I especially liked that Pippa had devoted friends, despite being the hardworking bookworm, and that she was compassionate as well as determined as she investigated such a sensitive topic. Jackson adds in realities of life, such racial prejudice, sexuality, blended families, and death. And, with no spoilers, the resolution was as unexpected as you’d want it to be after all that buildup. All in all, very effective, but at the same time it didn’t really compete with One of Us is Lying for my favorite YA mystery – mostly because Jackson stuck solely to one character’s perspective instead of alternating voices like McManus; as a writing style I prefer the breadth of viewpoints you get from an ensemble cast.

If you’re a mystery reader, a reader of young adult books, or a McManus fan like me, don’t miss out on A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, or its sequels Good Girl, Bad Blood and As Good as Dead, expected this fall.

Fence: Striking Distance by Sarah Rees Brennan

I don’t know much about fencing, but luckily you don’t need to in order to enjoy Fence: Striking Distance by Sarah Rees Brennan. Based on comics by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad, Fence tells the story of the skilled but disorganized fencing team at private school King’s Row as their coach tries to use a series of team bonding exercises to bring them together and enhance their effectiveness.

Aiden (flirt extraordinaire) hates the idea of team bonding, but loves Harvard (though he couldn’t possibly tell him that), so he tries to go along. Harvard (team captain) loves his team but isn’t so good at doing things for himself, so at Coach’s suggestion he tries to date. But he has no idea what he’s doing, so he asks Aiden for help – forcing them both to reckon with what their feelings really are. Freshmen Nicholas and Seiji are mismatched roommates and (according to Nicholas) also friends. For Nicholas, this means trying to measure up to Seiji’s last friend, fencing prodigy Jesse, in hopes that someday Nicholas and Seiji will be best friends – or at least fencing rivals. Seiji isn’t where he expected to be, not at King’s Row or in friendship with Nicholas. He’s not sure who he is or wants to be, but he knows he wants to be the best, at fencing and at teamwork (if he has to). So he’s going to do whatever it takes to be a good friend. Along for the ride is the fifth teammate, Eugene, who wants all his bros to get along.

The book didn’t actually include much fencing, but it did a great job showing each character’s perspective, making them each unique individuals with their own backgrounds and concerns. The best descriptor for all the characters is “oblivious”. They’re so oblivious it’s endearing; trying to do the right thing but failing to use basic communication skills leads the whole bunch on a comedy of errors that almost (but not quite) resolves by the end. Both characters and plot rely on stereotype and formula, but for me it was a restful experience. If you like character-driven sports stories, fencing, deep and adorable friendships, a bit of romance, and a lot of miscommunication, you might like this book as much as I did.

The original graphic novel series is also available to put on hold through our catalog and on Overdrive, and a sequel (Fence: Disarmed) was released in May and might be available soon through interlibrary loan.

Skincare: Science and Art

For me, the world of skincare has always been confusing, not least because my sensitive skin reacts to products unpredictably. Unfortunately, none of these titles really make skincare less a less baffling arena, but they do give some fascinating scientific or professional perspectives on just what to try in order to have healthy, clear, happy skin.

First, for a radical scientific take, try Clean: the new science of skin by James Hamblin. Hamblin takes a deep dive into the microbes that affect our skin’s health and proposes some serious overhauls to the skincare industry and practice, including showering less to avoid over-washing skin. He reportedly didn’t shower for the entire duration of writing the book.

An Atlas of Natural Beauty by Victoire de Taillac falls more on the beauty side of skincare, with a detailed encyclopedia-type description of how a wide variety of botanicals and plants can be minimally processed into effective beauty and skincare aids. A fascinating and aesthetically appealing version of the topic.

The Clear Skin Diet by Nina and Randa Nelson is part-memoir, part health manual, drawn from the twin authors’ experiences fighting their acne growing up. After trying all the medical and chemical interventions, the sisters Nelson found success by making radical changes to their diet. Apparently they were inspired by cultures and communities around the world who have no acne.

Goop Clean Beauty is more of an instruction manual from the lifestyle website / newsletter created by Gwyneth Paltrow. It highlights the ways that beauty starts with health, beginning with clean eating and moving into makeup and skincare recommendations.

The Age Fix by Anthony Youn is the work of a plastic surgeon who’s spent years compiling advice from his colleagues in plastic surgery as well as cosmetologists, dermatologists, dieticians, and more, all to give the reader a one-stop shop for advice on keeping skin looking young. Like the Nelson sisters, he encourages people to think about their diet in order to affect the look and feel of their skin; he also reveals that expensive creams and surgeries are not necessarily the most effective solutions. A refreshing take, coming from someone in his profession, if you ask me.

Younger by Harold Lancer is, similarly, the advice of a Beverly Hills dermatologist attempting to cut through all the confusing and contradictory advice. Apparently he also recommends products at various price points to support different budgets, none of which are as complicated or expensive as you might think. His main focus is on stimulating the skin’s own natural healing power in order to maintain or restore youthful, healthy skin.

If you want to dive into the world of skincare and get some different perspectives, try any combination of these titles to get started – and then double-check with your doctor.

Popular Manga Explained: My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi

Have you ever wondered what the heck people are talking about when they rave about a series of manga (Japanese comics read from right-to-left) or anime (Japanese animation)? So have I – and luckily for you I have made it my mission to educate myself about things I never seem to stop hearing about. My latest escapade was into the wildly popular My Hero Academia manga series, which is also a smash hit anime available on DVD. Here’s my breakdown of what it’s all about, my reading experience and why all lovers of superhero stories and high school dramas should give it a try.

My Hero Academia is like The Karate Kid meets The X-Men. It imagines a world where 80% of people are born with a unique superpower, or Quirk, that sets them up for a life of superhero stardom or villainy (depending on their preference). In a world where amazing superheroes are commonplace, a boy named Midoriya (also called Deku) is their biggest fan and a dedicated memorizer of superhero trivia. He wants nothing more than to be a hero himself one day, but unfortunately for his dreams he was born without a Quirk – a fact his bully Bakugo (also called Kacchan) never lets him forget. Then one day, a chance encounter with All Might, the most legendary superhero of all, changes his fate and plunges him into the cutthroat world of the city’s best superhero training academy. Deku finds himself making new friends and enemies, meeting unusual classroom demands, AND struggling to master his new abilities without revealing how he got them. Action, hilarity, and inspiring determination ensue.

Personally, my main struggle with manga is getting into the right headspace – as translated works they have an entirely different culture built in which takes some getting used to when you start reading. Most obviously, you start at the opposite end of the book from where Western books begin, and you read from the right side of the page to the left. If you can make that switch, there’s Japanese names to master and a very dramatic art style. However, once I get my brain in the right gear, I love manga’s big-scale action and even bigger-scale emotions, not to mention the wildly creative character design. My Hero Academia in particular is the ultimate underdog story, filled with a wildly diverse set of characters, each with a very unique superpower to set them apart. I quickly got hooked and wanted more of Deku’s unending perseverance. Bonus: if you’re not into the different reading style, you can watch the anime to get the same story in color.

If you like teen dramas, superheroes, mutants, and/or underdogs, this may be a story for you. And the library has all the manga volumes AND anime seasons, so it’s never too late to jump in and experience the phenomenon.

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

You’ve probably seen a book like this before – promising to tell you the secret to escaping the cage of your material goods, into a brighter and more fulfilling life. How-to manuals on this subject are everywhere, but that’s not quite what’s happening in The Year of Less by Cait Flanders.

More than anything, The Year of Less is a really good story. Cait Flanders tells her own tale of how she navigated her way out of various addictions, including buying things to try and make herself feel better. Her journey began when she decided to undertake a shopping ban for one whole year: for 12 months she would only be allowed to buy consumables like groceries and toiletries and other essentials. Buying new clothes, housewares, books, etc. was all off the table. Each chapter focuses on a month, in which she tells the story of her most significant epiphany from that month, and how her journey was affected by that month’s circumstances. Any advice or “how-to” feel seems to happen by accident as the reader is drawn along, fascinated by Flanders’ story.

As a blogger, Flanders knows how to structure each short chapter and keep the reader’s attention with bite-size anecdotes that all build into a larger, more profound narrative. Bits of wisdom and insight are scattered throughout, and it was these that gave me a sense of wonder and clarity. Flanders knows, as she writes, that the specific advice of what to get rid of and how are less important than uncovering the emotions and habits that caused the clutter to build up in the first place. Good tidbits include: sometimes we buy things for the ideal person we’d like to be instead of the person we actually are; buying things is a way of insulating against pain, so instead we need to learn to feel things and keep on living; a shopping ban is a countercultural lifestyle and as such will face digs and doubt and peer pressure from those around you.

If you’re interested in memoirs, minimalism, mindfulness, organization, or things like intentional consumerism and the zero waste movement, this may be the book for you.

Hidden Database Gems: MasterFILE Premier

Our available library databases have recently changed! Unfortunately, this means we no longer have Credo Reference, Chilton’s, or some Gale databases. However, we have gained a great new resource! With your library card, you now have access to MasterFILE Premier, a database of full-text articles, primary source documents, and more! Including publications like Consumer Reports, Kiplinger’s, and Newsweek, it’s perfect for research, and the interface will be familiar to anyone who’s used an EBSCOhost database before. If you haven’t, here’s how it works:

If you click on MasterFILE Premier on our list of Online Resources, you may be asked to sign in with your library card number, and then you’ll be taken to the basic search page.

To get the most and broadest results, put a general search term in here and hit search.

If the results aren’t what you’re looking for, try a similar search term or related words in the search box on the top of the results page.

If you’re looking to narrow your results down to what’s most relevant, you’ll want to click on Advanced Search underneath the search box. Here, you can search only in one particular publication, you can choose what kind of resources you want to find, you can limit to full-text results, you can specify a range of publication dates, and more! This is also where you can use Boolean searching, where you search multiple terms at once connected by words like AND, OR, and NOT – these limit, broaden, or define your search, respectively. The strategies and tools on this page will give you the most relevant items and cut down on the time you’ll spend sifting through the results.

When you have a list of results, you can narrow down your results list using filters along the left side of the page. Here, you can pick what kinds of publications to draw from, pick specific publications, narrow it down by language, publication date, category, and more.

Once you find something interesting, you have a few options: You can click on the title or on the Full Text version from the result list, as shown.

Clicking on the title will give you a detailed record of what the resource is, as well as some tools to save or access it AND the option to find similar results.

Choosing the full-text version, meanwhile, lets you read the resource directly, access more from the publication, and access the same tools to save or share it.

And as always, if you need any help using this or our other resources, don’t hesitate to contact us for some assistance! Our Book-A-Librarian service is available again, allowing you to reserve a dedicated session for help with any number of topics, including databases and digital resources.

For Small Creatures Such As We by Sasha Sagan

We all deserve holidays, celebrations, and traditions. We all need to mark time. We all need community. We all need to bid hello and goodbye to our loved ones… All our best rituals are a kind of performance about what we need or want most.

Sasha Sagan is the daughter of renowned cosmologist Carl Sagan and writer Ann Druyan, which gave her a uniquely scientific upbringing. Her parents focused on teaching her the wonders of the universe and the powers of critical thinking and the scientific method. When she became a parent, Sagan and her partner had to decide what philosophies and beliefs they wanted to teach their own child, and the result of that decision is her book For Small Creatures Such As We.

Sasha Sagan is presenting a secular worldview,  but is not hostile to religious perspectives. She expresses a warm curiosity and appreciation for the history of religious traditions around the world, and seeks to capture the spirit of religious rituals and festivals in her own life. Accordingly, she focuses each chapter on an aspect of life which has given rise to rituals in different religions: birth, coming-of-age, the changing of seasons, marriage, death, and more. She outlines how different traditions have celebrated these events, and offers meditations on their meaning alongside potential adaptations for secular or personal rituals. At its core, though, Sagan is urging us to really feel and celebrate the magic of being alive, however it works for us as individuals.

I enjoyed this book for the poetic descriptions of what living is, and I was moved by how honestly she talked about loving, losing, and grieving her father. I also thought she gave meaningful perspective on a lot of traditions and rituals that run through our lives. I came away feeling enlightened about the traditions that have shaped my life, and empowered to craft rituals that would add meaning to my own marking of time.

No matter your belief system, I think if you’re looking for a meditative read on how the sacred meets the everyday, there’s something in this book for you.

Better Than People by Roan Parrish

I’ve reviewed one of Roan Parrish’s earlier works before and while I loved it, it had some issues. I’m happy to report that in her more recent Garnet Run series many of my complaints have been fixed! The first in a duology, Better Than People is a sweet romance for animal lovers and mental health advocates alike.

Jack is a prickly artist who has surrounded himself with a menagerie of animals, finding their company more enjoyable and trustworthy after a recent betrayal. Unfortunately, he can’t find his usual joy in taking care of them after breaking his leg in an accident. He’s going to need help – his least favorite situation to be in. Enter Simon, a man burdened with crippling shyness soothed only by the company of animals and his recently-widowed grandmother. But that’s his problem: his grandmother is terribly allergic to animals, keeping him from having a pet of his own. Having Simon walk Jack’s dogs (and cat) solves both their immediate problems AND their underlying loneliness, as a business arrangement blooms into love. But there’s a reason they both prefer animals to people; can their love triumph?

Being a shy animal lover myself, I really sympathized with the characters in this case, and I appreciated that Parrish’s take on anxiety and shyness is NOT “they need to get out more”, but rather a compassionate observation that some people are just built differently and have different social needs. To have Jack respond empathetically to Simon and listen to what he needs was exactly what I, as an anxious mess myself, needed to read.

If you take comfort and company from animal friends, if you find other people difficult to navigate sometimes, and if you like stories of supportive, affirming love (with spicy scenes mixed in), this may be the book for you.