Stack Overflow: Wondrous Worlds

Books Columns Stack Overflow

Today’s stack is short, and a mix of somewhat unrelated books, but they’re all books that I’ve really enjoyed reading, diving back into some fictional worlds that I love to visit. First we spend some time in Nagspeake listening to eerie tales, and then we go globe-trotting with some spy kids, and then finally we journey through time itself with Doc Brown. Buckle up!

Raconteur's Commonplace Book cover

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford

Last week was the book birthday of The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book, and if you have ignored all of my advice up until now recommending you check out the world of Nagspeake, then I’m not sure why you’re even reading this column. But I also envy you a little, because that means you still have the opportunity to visit The Greenglass House for the first time, and go sailing with Lucy on The Left-Handed Fate, and meet the strange folks who travel the roads in The Boneshaker.

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book is Kate Milford’s version of the Canterbury Tales: a dozen guests are trapped at the Blue Vein Tavern because of the rising floodwaters, and they pass the time by telling tales. The tales intertwine with one another, and each one reveals a little bit about the teller as well. And if you’ve read the rest of Milford’s books, you’ll catch bits and pieces that link to several of those books, too. The book itself was first mentioned in The Greenglass House, when Milo is presented with a copy of it, and the story alludes to two of the tales in the book. Now, you get to read the stories in full, along with the framing story of the Blue Vein Tavern, which has mysteries and magic of its own.

I particularly liked some of the stories that had a different voice to them: “The Hollow-Ware Man” is a story old in rhyming verse, and it gives it the feel of an old legend. “The Queen of Fog” is a story that has a lot of editorializing—Mrs. Haypotten was concerned about the young girl listening to all the creepy stories and sets about trying to tell something more age-appropriate, and so her story is filled with asides to the other listeners and retractions as she adjusts the story based on her audience’s reactions.

One of the delights of Milford’s world is the way that stories have power. The individual stories are great, slightly spooky, and would be great told around a campfire. But tied together with the framing story of the guests at the tavern, the book has its own story that unfolds, and the stories themselves are part of what develops. If you love magical stories, you won’t mind being trapped in this tavern for a spell.

City Spies: Golden Gate cover

City Spies: Golden Gate by James Ponti

I actually read an advance proof of this middle grade novel back in December, but wanted to wait until a little closer to the publication date this month. City Spies: Golden Gate is the second volume in Ponti’s series about a group of kids who secretly work for MI6, led by a man who goes by “Mother.” (I wrote about the first book here.) There’s a bit of tension in the team: Sydney, the first kid recruited by Mother, is feeling like she’s been displaced by Brooklyn, the newest member of the team. Brooklyn’s quick thinking save the day during a mission despite Sydney’s blunders, so she’s feeling jealous of the attention that Brooklyn is getting.

But they’ve still got work to do: there’s a potential mole in MI6, and nobody knows who can be trusted. The story takes them to San Francisco (among other places) as they follow the leads on a mysterious death, plus some additional intel related to … well, I can’t really tell you that because it’s a spoiler from the first book! Suffice to say that if you like adventurous spy kids, you’ll enjoy this series, and I’m looking forward to where the kids go next.

DeLorean Time Machine: Doc Brown's Owner's Manual

DeLorean Time Machine: Doc Brown’s Owners’ Workshop Manual by Bob Gale and Joe Walser, illustrated by Joe Walser

Whether you like Back to the Future or not, it’s hard to deny that Doc Brown’s DeLorean is the coolest time machine in pop culture. With its gull-wing doors, glowing tubes wrapped around the sides, and the OUTATIME license plate, it was the perfect vehicle for an ’80s time-travel flick, and the car is now inextricably tied to the film series. This book (due out at the end of the month, though thanks to the time travel of advance review copies, I’ve already gotten to read it) details the inner workings of the DeLorean Time Machine, as told by Doc Brown himself.

While the cover is made to look like a Haynes automotive manual (with the official logo, even!), the book itself includes both car-manual diagrams and descriptions and excerpts from Doc Brown’s journals about the development of the vehicle. There are some images from the movies, though fewer than you usually see in a movie tie-in book, primarily of close-up shots of the DeLorean itself showing how various components were seen on-screen. Other illustrations include both drawings and CGI models of the various subsystems showing how they “work” to let the car travel through time. Doc Brown has wisely redacted certain parts of the information to prevent time travel techology from falling in the wrong hands.

The journal portions document Emmett Brown’s life, starting in 1946 when he joins the Manhattan Project up through and including the events of the films (though much of what you seen in the movies is omitted because you already know that part). There are images of newspaper clippings, receipts, letters, and so on that Doc has pasted into his journal. It’s fun to see this portion of the story because it’s not just repeating what happened in the film, but shows some of the various things that Doc was doing off-screen or in-between movies when we’re mostly following Marty’s story.

At the back of the book, the “Behind the Scenes” chapter breaks character and talks a bit more about the making of the movie—the various vehicles that were used in filming and what has happened to them since, various photos of DeLoreans both real and models, and some concept drawings of the modified DeLorean showing how it evolved into what we eventually saw on screen. For Back to the Future fans, especially if you like pseudo-scientific explanations for the impossibility of time travel, this book is a real treat.

My Current Stack

I did finish reading Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (mentioned last week) and I really enjoyed it. A lot of the story involved the dissatisfaction that Tarisai felt during her time at the palace—she would flare up with heat—and the cause was always a bit ambiguous. On the one hand, she worried that it was because of her magical origins, that it was the monster inside her that was trying to fight. On the other, these reactions seemed to come when things weren’t fair, or when she had to suppress her own intellect or abilities to “support” the prince or the emperor. The second book isn’t expected until later this year, but I’ve got it on my list!

I’ve started on The After-Room by Maile Meloy this past week. I’d read the first two books in the trilogy, The Apothecary and The Apprentices, (and even interviewed Meloy a decade ago!) but I fell behind and just never got to the third book, though I picked it up at a bookstore and have had it on my shelf. I decided I needed to correct that, and just dove into the third book. Although I don’t remember all of the details from the first two books, I found it easy enough to get back into the story. There are two plotlines: Benjamin has discovered that in his dreams he has some sort of connection to the world of the dead, and wants to explore it, though Janie is concerned that he’s rushing into danger. They meet a magician who does party tricks … but his magic seems real, and they get mixed up with some unsavory characters when they try to get some more information from him. Meanwhile, another story focuses on Ned Maddox, an American soldier camped out on a tiny island in the Pacific. He’s supposed to be observing and reporting on things related to tensions in China, when Jin Lo (who we’ve seen before in the previous book) washes ashore his island and brings a course change to his life.

Disclosure: I received copies of these books (except The After-Room) for review purposes. Affiliate links to support my writing and independent booksellers!

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