Book Review: A Gleam of Light by TJ and ML Wolf

A Gleam of Light (The Survival Trilogy #1)A Gleam of Light by T.J. Wolf

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Gleam of Light has many of the elements of a first-rate thriller: a sympathetic protagonist, mystery, conflict, and a fascinating backdrop. It’s clear that a great deal of thought and research has gone into this book. These elements, however, need to be put together differently to keep the reader really turning its pages.

With respect to the characters, Una Waters is an appealing heroine. The deaths of her parents and her estrangement from her ancestral tribe and lands give the potential for a very moving character arc as the story unfolds. Unfortunately much of her backstory is “told” rather than “shown,” as are the revelations that this or that plot development “changed her life.” Colin and Jack are also intriguing characters, but are underdeveloped in various ways. I’d like to know more about Una’s unfinished business with her childhood friends, her life in DC after her parents were killed, and how Colin rose to the rank of general at such a young age (if he was a bratty child on the opening plane flight, he couldn’t be much older than Una herself). In general I wanted to know what Colin and Una saw in each other. In over 300 pages I didn’t get a good sense of what any of these characters really looked like, let alone what specific mannerisms of speech or behavior they might have as adults.

In addition to those three main characters, there are just too many secondary characters in this book to keep track of. Many have unusual names, and they surface briefly only to disappear again for long stretches, or forever. The archaeologist seems to exist only to provide info dumps about tribal cultures and UFO sightings. And this may be just personal taste, but I don’t need to see the “surprisingly precocious genius child wows adults with unexplained alien knowledge” trope in SF ever again. Or if I do, it needs to come with a really unique twist, which it doesn’t here.

This book opens with “You have to believe in gods to see them.” –Hopi proverb. I’m a skeptic by nature. I don’t watch the X-files and I am impatient with conspiracy theories. That being said, I enjoy reading and watching Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I am happy to suspend my disbelief to immerse myself in a well-imagined, well-written fictional universe. In order for the universe in this book to function that way for me, it needed more suspenseful plotting and a more climactic ending. It also needed to integrate the authors’ painstaking research more seamlessly. Instead, its tone and setting waver unsatisfyingly between gray realism and New Age spaceyness. I am an outsider to Hopi culture, so I trust that the research and cultural anthropology in this book are authentic, but I don’t know if that is the case. I became more confused and overwhelmed than awestruck by everything that was discovered during the journey into the cave. This material might make a better screenplay than novel, because I got the sense that the characters were seeing something that I wasn’t. I also didn’t understand why the main events of that journey had to remain secret at the end, except that this is the first book in a trilogy. This is a worthy effort but the authors may have bitten off more than they can chew.

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Thursday Doors: Sunnyvale Fish

My 17-year-old daughter got her learner’s permit a few weeks ago. I had avoided thinking about it until absolutely necessary, but there’s quite a bit of parental teaching expected in CA: 50 hours of driving experience before she can take the drivers’ license test. This phase of my own teenage life was hard on my parents (and on their car repair budget), so I need to take it seriously now.

So far she has driven around town to some appointments and yesterday we drove to church. The UU Fellowship of Sunnyvale is less than a mile from our home, if we were birds. However, the highway 85 is right in the way, and we have to go around it.

So far I’ve been pleased with the results. The church parking lot was completely empty on a Wednesday afternoon, and so she could practice parking the car centered between the lines and not hitting the concrete barrier at the front. A line of these parking spaces bordered on a building with doors that we had not looked at carefully before:

These doors open onto the Sunnyvale Fish Closet. This is a charitable organization that helps out families in need with food, clothing, and basic necessities, sponsored and staffed by more than 20 local churches. The clothes closet is open and accepts donations every Tuesday morning from 9 to 11 am. Look for the doors with the fish!


This post is a contribution to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. 

Muddy Mundane Monday: Heartbreak Hill

My husband and I have gone geocaching together often enough that a theme is emerging. Usually the theme has to do with him suggesting something that I consider a little crazy, and after some negotiation, my going along with it in modified form and taking a lot of pictures. It was true for the events described in my published geocaching stories, “Bobbing for Bob,” and “Gentle Icelandic Sheep.” And it was true this past weekend in Yuba City.

My husband is a geocache collector, like people who collect baseball cards or statistics. I’ve noticed that many hard-core geocachers take this attitude. For them it’s all about the challenge of the rare find, the more obscure the better. Whereas I’m more about the views and the travel that also come with caching. I like a little reminder of where I’ve been, and there’s a bonus if there’s a good story involved, but it doesn’t matter to me if I’ve filled in the entire grid of difficulty/terrain combinations.

MudCoatingOur recent trip turned out to have something for both of us, but maybe more for me than for him. My husband wanted to find a series of caches with unusual terrain/difficulty combinations and he had scoped these out weeks or even months ago.

Our first attempt took us onto a trail that led into private property. We didn’t venture off the trail as we labored up the hill and down again, but as we were putting back the first stage of a multi-cache, we met up with a guy on a mountain bike coming back in the opposite direction. He told us he’d seen the property owner further down the trail with a shotgun, and that the guy wasn’t afraid to use it. He told us that we should turn around now and shouldn’t go any further. I was happy to do so, but that meant we had to abandon our plans for the rest of that cache.

We went on and arrived at another trailhead by a river and boat launch only to discover that the picnic table was no longer open for business. It had fallen into a shallow sinkhole. So we parked some distance away and would later eat our lunches in our car.


The recent rains that caused the sinkhole have left many once-green areas muddy and clogged with debris. And geocaches–often made of little Tupperware containers and camouflaged pill bottles–wash away or get covered in the same stuff.

We went down this perfectly legal trail only to discover that about a third of the caches we hoped to find there were missing. Some had fallen down and could be retrieved; others had disappeared entirely. Our feet sank down into mud, which got all over our shoes and clothes.

Animal Tracks in the Mud

To me this area resembled an alien landscape: a gray/brown cracked moon. Often the path forward was not clear at all, except for the animal tracks. To my husband’s credit, he did not get too angry or frustrated about our bad caching luck. He has plans to go again next week.

And as for me, well, my shoes have cleaned up and I have plenty of pictures.

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #100.

Book Review: Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey

Author’s Note: Anne McCaffrey was one of my favorite authors as a teen. A high school friend gave me a copy of Dragonflight and I was hooked. But as time went on and I read more of the series I started to see its flaws. I wrote this review in college, when I was closer to both my love of and irritation with the books. Years later, I read the Harper Hall trilogy to my daughter, who enjoyed it but who never showed any inclination to pick up McCaffrey’s work on her own. The Harper Hall trilogy probably remains my favorite of all of McCaffrey’s work.

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (Pern, #7)Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you enjoyed Anne McCaffrey’s previous six Pern books, you’ll probably enjoy this one. If you were getting tired of meeting the same characters with different names or beginning to get frustrated by the discrepancy between the books’ potential and what they actually delivered, Moreta will be more of the same.

The story, which takes place nearly 1000 years before Dragonflight and the Harper Hall trilogy, involves a planet-wide plague of mysterious “flu” and the efforts of the people of the planet Pern, specifically Moreta, to deal with it. The logistics of this are a little vague. One is never quite sure exactly how big Pern is. My impression is that it must be an extremely small planet if the entire populated landmass can become infected by one animal within a week because of two large “gathers.” Accepting that, and accepting the deus-ex-machina cure that is suddenly discovered would not be so difficult if the disease were merely a backdrop to a more interesting and human story. I believe this was the author’s intent, but it is only partially successful.

Although sufficient time elapses between Moreta’s ride and the beginning of Dragonflight that Moreta’s ride has become a legend, the cultures depicted in the two books are remarkably similar. Actually, this is not surprising, considering the similarities between the people who make up the two cultures. The talent and imagination that enabled McCaffrey to create Pern and the dragons desert her when it comes to characterizations. She refuses to let the characters or their actions speak for themselves: she interjects her own opinions either as an omniscient presence or puts them in the minds of other characters. Nor does she really allow you, the reader, your own opinions. By the end of the book all the characters you’re supposed to like survive the plague, while nearly all the troublesome ones have been killed off. The exception is Moreta herself, but she too is given very little depth either in life or in death.

This is not to say the book is entirely without merit. Some of the lesser dragonriders–the blues and greens–play an important part in the story for a change, rather than merely existing to absorb the contempt of the bronze, gold, and brown riders. The rider-dragon empathy, one of the stronger points in all the books, is also given some new and interesting twists. However, when beautiful, heroic Moreta flew into between never to return, my reaction was something like, “who cares?” because Moreta had never become a person, but remained a figment of Anne McCaffrey’s active imagination.

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Thursday Doors: A Parking Lot in Rio Vista

One of our geocaches last weekend took us to the loading area of a small ferry in Rio Vista. We missed the ferry and didn’t get to take a picture of its door. But the parking lot had a couple of interesting ones.

Now I know who to call when the zombie apocalypse hits!
Have potty will travel?

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun at Norm 2.0’s blog

Mundane Monday: Stained Glass Windows

Almost every Sunday morning I sit in church in one particular pew and look out of a stained glass window at a makeshift stone labyrinth onto a parking lot beyond. The church building houses two congregations: the UU Fellowship of Sunnyvale, which I attend, and the Congregational Community Church of Sunnyvale, whose services immediately follow ours. The building is architecturally interesting, and modern. Low to the ground, it’s easy to miss when driving by. It’s all triangles and peaks, not like the gothic cathedrals of old with their famous rose windows and gargoyles.


Somehow I don’t think the builders of Notre Dame ever imagined people would look through this window and see their bright blue and red cars parked on the other side, the way we do in Sunnyvale.


But, lovely as that rose window is in Paris, there is also much to be said for this simple, sweet, mundane sunlight, framed on the wall and the floor by the modern window. The UULent word for today is rest. This meditative space and its windows encourage rest and relaxation and help me to get ready for the coming week.

Thank you to PhoTrablogger for the Mundane Monday challenge #99. This challenge will keep going beyond #100 after all!

Book Review: Tales From Alternate Earths

Tales From Alternate EarthsTales From Alternate Earths by Daniel M. Bensen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this idea for an anthology and even though the premise is popular and often tried, I was intrigued to pick it up and explore the stories. My favorites were “Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon,” which also had the best title and the most imaginative characters, and “The Secret War,” which provided a unique twist to a story I already thought I knew something about.

The collection is reasonably eclectic but I thought there were too many post-apocalyptic stories set in ruined cities. This tended to necessitate so much world-building that there wasn’t enough time to fully develop the plot and characters. In that vein, I would have liked to see a world more subtly altered, or perhaps more stories in which the world was unequivocally altered for the better; I think the story, “One More Dawn” could be characterized this way. But mostly, I came away from this collection thinking that this group of authors believe we now live in the best of all possible worlds.

The anthology is thoughtfully arranged and introduced. I enjoyed the Prologue and the Meet the Author sections at the end of each story and would read more in the Inklings Press series. It reads like a labor of love for authors exploring new ideas and finding their voices.

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Mundane Monday: Framed Cat

So I hear the Mundane Monday Challenge might be winding down. Only a couple of more weeks! The challenge is to find a mundane object and frame it beautifully. I think I have to settle for interesting, rather than beautiful, when it comes to frames. But I never go wrong with cat pictures. Continue reading Mundane Monday: Framed Cat

Book Review: They’re Not Dumb, They’re Different by Shiela Tobias

This review was first written in 1992, and I wonder how much has changed. The projected shortfall in scientists has not come to pass. It is more difficult than ever for PhDs to get jobs in science. But the challenge of public scientific literacy remains.


They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second TierThey’re Not Dumb, They’re Different: Stalking the Second Tier by Sheila Tobias

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This independently funded book, called an “occasional paper,” probably isn’t available in the local bookstore. I came across a largely favorable review of it in Science magazine, and sent for a copy. It addresses the question “what turns people off science?”

Continue reading Book Review: They’re Not Dumb, They’re Different by Shiela Tobias

The Brain—is wider than the Sky

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