Saturday, March 8, 2014
NEBULAE: A BACKYARD COSMOGRAPHY
By Dana Wilde
313 pages, $20.95
When amateur astronomer Dana Wilde looks up into the night sky, he sees and understands things about the universe that most people never even think about.
NEBULAE is a reflection of Wilde’s personal odyssey to learn about the stars and planets, constellations and solar systems, captured in 48 essays. Wilde, of Troy, is an editor, college professor, amateur scientist and author of THE OTHER END OF THE DRIVEWAY (Booklocker, 2011), a collection of essays about the natural world.
Many of these essays have been previously published in the Bangor Daily News and other publications, and a few are original to this book. Wilde is a thoughtful man, smart and articulate, and his writings here reveal much about the history of astronomy, the science of cosmography (the mapping of the universe) and his own philosophical thoughts on infinity, astrological mythology and space-time.
Several essays are scholarly mind-numbing, but once past obscure scientific jargon like epiphenomalism, absorption nebulae, bosons, gluons and eclipsing binary, the reader will find a wealth of fascinating historical and scientific information about our universe.
Wilde vividly describes phenomenon like starlight and supernovas, how to find certain stars and planets in the night sky, the history of the names of prominent stars and planets, why stars have different colors, why Italian philosopher Giordana Bruno was burned at the stake in 1584, and why the Milky Way is not just a tasty candy bar.
Best is his essay, “Diamond Stars,” an intriguing explanation of how stars are formed and how they die, showing that “the universe is an evolving creature,” always changing.
This is heavy stuff, indeed — not for the casual reader — but well-crafted and certainly appealing to readers with a scientific curiosity about the mysteries of the universe.
By Jennie Bentley
Berkley Prime Crime, 2011
293 pages, $7.99
Eastport author Sarah Graves has her well-established and popular “Home Repair is Homicide” series of clever mysteries set in Maine, and now Jennie Bentley is elbowing her way into the same Maine mystery genre.
FLIPPED OUT is Bentley’s fifth mystery featuring amateur sleuth Avery Baker, a talented home-renovation maven, and her hunky contractor boyfriend, Derek Ellis. Maine has no shortage of amateur detectives with a gimmick sideline — catering, antiques, home repair, farmer, etc. — and now another home-repair/renovation/detective hook. It remains to be determined if there is room for two such detectives in the Pine Tree State. However, Graves’s character Jacobia Tiptree has the edge, and Bentley’s Avery Baker will have to play catch up.
This is a soft murder mystery, little action, less suspense and not much detective work, a lot of hand-wringing and too many details of a quickie home renovation to “flip” a house for a fast sale, as well as Avery’s sappy descriptions of Derek’s dreamy blue eyes, washboard abs and tight jeans.
In fictional Waterfield, Maine, Avery and Derek are hired to renovate a small house owned by local TV personality Tony “The Tiger” Micelli. The project will be filmed for a reality television show called “Flipped Out.”
Shortly after the TV crew arrives in town, Tony is found murdered in the house (guess they’ll need new floors), and his fiance, the town’s beautiful, gold-digging realtor is the prime suspect. Avery has good reason for hoping the realtor is the killer, but each member of the TV crew turns out to have malicious motives as well.
Avery spends more time painting the kitchen cabinets than solving the crime, but she eventually uncovers some surprises and finds herself both a target and the bait in a dangerous and unlikely trap.
—Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.