Picture Book Perusal: Do Not Lick This Book

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Today’s book will have you running the gamut from “Oooh, that’s fascinating!” to “Bleeeeuuuuuuuuurrrrggh!” in a jolly and mildly nauseating romp around the world of microbes and their living environments…on your teeth, on your skin, in your intestines, inside this book, on your shirt….

We received a copy of Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Min is a microbe. She is small. Very small. In fact so small that you’d need to look through a microscope to see her. Or you can simply open this book and take Min on an adventure to amazing places she’s never seen before—like the icy glaciers of your tooth or the twisted, tangled jungle that is your shirt. The perfect book for anyone who wants to take a closer look at the world.

do not lick this book

Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak & Julian Frost.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April 2017.  RRP: $19.99

This is a bright and intriguing gem of a book that blends actual electron microscope imagery with cute cartoons and hilarious text to create a fascinating and mind-expanding look into the world of microbiology.  Readers are first introduced to Min (a microbe) and encouraged to touch the page to pick Min up and take her on a journey to discover other microbes that may be in your local environment.

And by local environment, we mean on your actual person.  Inside your mouth.  On your clothes.  On the paper of the book you’re holding.  That kind of local.

Each new environment is accompanied by a double page image taken by an electron microscope and these we found absolutely fascinating.  Who would have thought paper looked like a collection of discarded mummy bandages from Min’s point of view?Or that the surface of your teeth resembled something planetary from Doctor Who?  These images are absolutely going to blow the minds of young readers and I can’t wait to watch the reactions of the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling when they get their paws on this book.

The microbe characters share some hilariously mundane dialogue throughout the book and as the story continues, the reader picks up different types of microbe, so that by the end of the book you’ve had a good overview of different types of microbes in different environments.  The “Bleeeeeurrrgh!” aspect that I mentioned came right at the end of the book for me, as I read the handy little fact sheet that shows what the microbes, rendered as cartoons in the story, actually look like and we find out that Min is actually an E. coli.

I was totally absorbed by this little book (*as an aside, I find that I’m enjoying kiddy science books far more than I ought to, given that I am an adult*) and I’m certain that this will be a smash hit for young science buffs and a rip-snorter of a classroom read-aloud.  For these reasons, we have branded this book a….

Top Book of 2017 pick!

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If you, or any mini-fleshlings of your acquaintance have an interest in science – or just general grossness and interactivity in picture books – you MUST check out Do Not Lick This Book.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: General Relativity for Babies…

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I’ve got one for the science buffs today with General Relativity for Babies by Chris Ferrie.  I requested this one from Netgalley for review on the logic that I, as an intelligent, adult gargoyle, should be able to understand a concept – even one as advanced as general relativity – when it is explained at a baby’s cognitive level.   Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A brand-new board book series with simple explanations of complex ideas for your future genius!

It only takes a small spark to ignite a child’s mind! Written by an expert, General Relativity for Babies is a colorfully simple introduction to Einstein’s most famous theory. Babies (and grownups!) will learn all about black holes, gravitational waves, and more. With a tongue-in-cheek approach that adults will love, this installment of the Baby University board book series is the perfect way to introduce basic concepts to even the youngest scientists. After all, it’s never too early to become a quantum physicist!

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So, was my reasoning spurious?

Long story short: yes.

Yes it was.

I was unable to grasp complex scientific principles delivered at the cognitive level of a baby.  The first few pages were okay.  I was pretty confident with my grasp of things having more or less mass, and the ability of mass to warp space.

But when we got on to particles not being able to go where they please, I was lost.  It was all over.  Nevertheless, I persisted to the end of the book, picked up some basic information about black holes and subsequently consigned all that talk about particles taking the shortcut through warped mass to the black hole of my memory.

As far as baby-appeal goes however, this book is on the right track.  The illustrations are bright and consist of large shapes in contrasting colours.  The text is short.  The images are stark and perfect for babies at an early stage of development who like big shapes and simple images against solid background colours.  Science fans will get a kick out of reading this to their mini-lab-assistants-in-training.

Overall, this is a super fun idea for a series of board books and are a great way for parents to engage their mini-fleshlings in topics that set their scientific hearts aflutter.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fi50 Reminder and TBR Friday!

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It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

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Good luck!


TBR Friday

And now it’s time for TBR Friday!  Today’s book is Time Travelling with a Hamster, a middle grade contemporary sci fi by Ross Welford.  This one was not on my original list, but I’ve just received Welford’s second book, What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible, for review, so I thought it was high time I knocked this one over. Let’s kick off with the blurb from Goodreads:

 

“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty nine and again four years later when he was twelve.

The first time had nothing to do with me. The second time definitely did, but I would never even have been there if it hadn’t been for his ‘time machine’…”

When Al Chaudhury discovers his late dad’s time machine, he finds that going back to the 1980s requires daring and imagination. It also requires lies, theft, burglary, and setting his school on fire. All without losing his pet hamster, Alan Shearer…

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Ten Second Synopsis:

On his twelfth birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his late father that offers him the secret of time travel and the chance to change the event that caused his father’s death. Life is never that simple and Al soon finds himself up to his hairline in twisted timelines.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Just short of a year.

Acquired:

I bought this one from an online shop -either Book Depository or Booktopia – shortly after it was released because I HAD to have it and wasn’t lucky enough to score a review copy.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Not sure really.  Like I said, I HAD to have it so it’s a mystery as to why I haven’t read it yet.  Possibly it was the thrill of the chase that I was really after.

Best Bits:

  • For those who don’t enjoy a lot of technical sciency information, this story focuses more on the relationships in Al’s life rather than the whys and wherefores of how time travel works.  There is a bit of technical info in order to shut down any loopholes, but the story isn’t overwhelmed by it.
  • This felt like a bit of a mix between Christopher Edge’s The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and Mike Revell’s Stonebird, with the nerdy, science-y originality of the former and the serious issues-based subplot of the latter.  Considering I enjoyed both of those books, it stands to reason that I enjoyed TTWAH as well – especially since it seems to combine the best of both of those books into one memorable package.
  • Al and his dad’s side of the family are Indian (from Punjab), while Al inherits his webbed digits (syndactyly) from his mother’s side, so there is a bit of diversity all round here.
  • Al, his father and grandfather all seem quite authentic as characters in all the timestreams in which they appear, which makes for some genuinely engaging reading throughout and a plot that isn’t dumbed down in any way simply because the book is aimed at younger readers.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • There’s a bit of threatened animal cruelty in two parts.  It never eventuates, but for some people I know this is a deal breaker.
  • The first half of the book wasn’t as fast-paced as the second half.  Before Al has really figured out the time machine, parts of the plot drag a little, but the ending (and especially Alan Shearer’s role in it) is worth the wait.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yep.  It’s a solid middle grade growing up story with a fascinating time travel twist.

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf.

Obviously, I’m submitting this one for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017, as well as for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017.  You can  check out my progress toward all my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

What I Don’t Know About Plants Will Fit Into This Enormous Book: Botanicum…

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I will be the first to admit that I don’t know a great deal about plants.

I would like to.

I have a general interest in things that grow in the earth, particularly species that are native to Australia, but I feel like flora and its related topic of gardening is one of those that is so big and specialised that I don’t know enough about it to know how much I don’t know.

If that makes sense.  Which it probably doesn’t.

I see it as a nebulous topic, let’s say, beyond the reach of knowing of we mortal (stony) folk with just a passing interest.

But when I saw Botanicum by Katie Scott and Katy Willis from Five Mile Press on offer for review, I knew this was my chance to dip a toe into a hitherto unexplored world.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The 2016 offering from Big Picture Press’s Welcome to the Museum series, Botanicum is a stunningly curated guide to plant life. With artwork from Katie Scott of Animalium fame, Botanicum gives readers the experience of a fascinating exhibition from the pages of a beautiful book. From perennials to bulbs to tropical exotica, Botanicum is a wonderful feast of botanical knowledge complete with superb cross sections of how plants work.

Given that I don’t know much about plants, I thought I would instead explain to you the things you really need to know about Botanicum; those things that will inspire you to make this eye-catching book part of your collection.

1. It’s impressively large.

You know how in some middle grade, usually fantasy stories there might be a scene where some kids stumble across a dusty old book in a forgotten or forbidden library?  They pull it from the shelf and it’s heavy and the paper is thick and it’s filled with arcane knowledge that will provide the key to whatever mysterious problem they have to solve?

This is that book.  (Except for the old, dusty part).  Here’s a picture of me posing beside our copy, to give you an idea of scale:

botanicum-cover-scale

It’s the perfect size to lay out flat on a table or on the floor, so all of your friends can gather round and point enthusiastically at that bit of information that will move your quest forward.  Seriously, the size and format of the book just screams “Enticing information contained within!”

2. It champions white space.

Unusually for a non-fiction tome, Botanicum makes brilliant use of white space to ensure that the reader doesn’t feel like they need a magnifying monocle to read the text.  Here is one of the page spreads to give you an idea:

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Each page spread is devoted to a small amount of pertinent information about the plant type in question, accompanied by a page of beautifully illustrated examples of the plant type.  The fact that the book is so big means that the pages lie satisfyingly flat, allowing you to pore over the pages to your heart’s content.  The book covers a wide range of plants, from mosses, fungi and ferns to the giant sequoia, succulents, carnivorous plants, vines and fruit trees.  Truly, if you want to know some basic background about things that grow, or how to tell your hornwort from your hellebore, Botanicum would be a great place to start.

3. It’s eye-poppingly gorgeous to look at.

It’s pretty obvious, from the endpapers to the chapter headings, that the makers of this book know a thing or two about visual design.  Everything about this book is visually appealing – the fonts, the colours, the layout – hell, even a cross-section of a breadfruit made Mad Martha want to pull out her crochet hooks and start recreating it in yarn.  The book has the kind of illustrations that you want to tear out (carefully), frame and put on your wall.  Like this one:

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And while I’m at it, here’s a glimpse of the gorgeous endpaper designs, that also features in between chapters:

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Let’s be honest: even if you know nothing about plants and have no interest in learning about plants, if you pop this one on your coffee table, guests you wish to impress are going to be fooled into thinking you’re a botanical genius.  Or at least a botanical enthusiast.

I get that this is probably a book with a specific, and possibly quite narrow, audience, but do yourself a favour and try and get your hands on a copy of Botanicum, if only to appreciate the beauty of the design.  I am now on a quest to procure a copy of one of the earlier books in the Welcome to the Museum series, Animalium by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, because I suspect the mini-fleshlings would be bowled over by it.

Many thanks to Five Mile Press for providing us with a copy of Botanicum for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monster McGhost-Face” Edition…

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Yep, you read that title correctly – today’s books are a selection of monstery-ghosty tomes for the young and the slightly-not-so-young-anymore.  If you are into social history, cryptids or actual genuine science, you might want to strap on your spats and saddle up as we ride on it.  Yeehah!

Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (and Thrive!) In the Real World? (Helaine Becker & Phil McAndrew)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monster science

A high quality meeting of science and mythology in which everyone’s favourite monsters are placed under the cold, hard microscope slide of fact. Kids can read up on the facts behind the myths to see if their favourite monster could exist in the real world.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a beautifully presented tome featuring a topic that most kids love to read about (monsters, of course!), covering some pretty complex scientific principles in a fun way.  I was impressed with how much detail this book provided on the hows and whys of whether a monster could actually exist.  For instance, in the first chapter on Frankenstein’s monster, the book gives information about organ transplants, the electrical workings of our brains and bodies, historical information about grave-robbing and how early doctors made discoveries, and the principles of genetic engineering.  The page spreads are colourful, and although there is a fair amount of text per page, there are also plenty of diagrams and illustrations to break things up a bit.  I would definitely recommend this to those with a mini-fleshling who loves non fiction reads, especially those filled with wacky facts.

Brand it with:

Monster mash-up; mad scientist in training; science is cool

Haunted Bridges: Over 300 of America’s Creepiest Crossings (Rich Newman)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  haunted bridges

Apparently, ghosts love bridges.  This handy tome gives an exhaustive run down on the paranormal stories and phenomena associated with specific bridges across the US.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a concise and well-formatted collection that neatly summarises social oral histories of the paranormal in localities across the US.  I will admit to being unaware of the apparently strong link between paranormal sightings and bridges, but this book certainly opened my eyes on that score.  The author is a self-confessed ghost-hunter of sorts and the aim of the book is to provide other would-be ghost hunters with some well-worn paths to tread in their pursuit of supernatural phenomena.  Happily though, the book can also be read as a collection of popular urban myths and oral histories of specific areas, as the author throws in some definite tongue-in-cheek comments throughout.  The book is divided into categories related to the content of the stories – hangings, invisible hands (this is a ghosty “thing” apparently), historical hauntings, criminal hauntings and so on – and this makes it easy to see the common motifs in stories from varied locations.  My favourite section was the “Unaccounted Oddities” chapter, which deals with bridges that have an original or bizarre story attached – a portal into hell, for instance or a unidentified monster or some sort.  If you live in the US, this would be a fun book to have handy when planning a holiday or day trip!  While these hauntings aren’t local to my area, I still found plenty in this book to draw me in and fire the imagination, as well as give me a picture of how social stories develop over time.  Recommended for when you’re feeling in a quirky, paranormal mood.

Brand it with:

Ghost crossings; unlikely travel guides; social science is cool

A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts: Encounters with Cryptid Creatures (Ken Gerhard)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  menagerie of mysterious beasts

A collection of the author’s own encounters and research on a range of cryptids.  Includes witness accounts and case studies of the same.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a fan of monster-hunting, or just have an interest in mythical creatures that may (or may not) walk (or crawl or slither or swim) among us, then this will provide an irrepressible outlet for your interest.  I DNFed this one at 12%, after the first chapter on the Minnesota Iceman because although the author claims to be approaching these sightings from a scientific angle, it is obvious that he is, in fact, not.  He makes note of the fact that his viewing of the Minnesota Iceman as a child (that is, when the author was a child, not the Iceman), was one of the events that sparked his interest in monster-hunting and it is clear that this is a man who wants to believe.  He makes links between accounts of iceman-type encounters from places as disparate as the USA and China, glosses over the highly dubious provenance of the specimen, and makes wild leaps of fancy as to how the Iceman could have made it to US soil.  As I said, if you are looking for a book on cryptids that will pique your adrenaline levels, this is probably a good choice.  If you are looking for a book that actually takes a scientific approach to the evidence on cryptids, read Darren Naish’s excellent and engaging Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths.

Brand it with:

We’re going on a cryptid hunt; the extraordinary; beyond belief

Got your monster-trapping gear ready by now? Of course you have, because I know you’ll want to track down at least one of these beauties!
Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright: A GSQ Review

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It’s time to look at all that’s good, sad and quirky about The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge, a new release middle grade romp that features science fiction, science fact and lots of sciencey faffing about with bananas and wayward cats.  We received a copy of this one from Allen & Unwin for review after eyeing it covetously on various “coming soon” lists of middle grade fiction.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Albie’s mum dies, it’s natural he should wonder where she’s gone. His parents are both scientists and they usually have all the answers. Dad mutters something about Albie’s mum being alive and with them in a parallel universe. So Albie finds a box, his mum’s computer and a rotting banana, and sends himself through time and space to find her…

the many worlds of albie bright

The Good

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As UK middle grade reads go, this one is quite original.  If you discount the oft-used “child coping with the death of a parent” storyline, there is plenty here that goes beyond the usual bounds of middle-grade fare.  We’ll discuss those bits more in the “quirky” section though.

Albie is a character who will resonate with many readers; a young man trying hard to honour his mother’s memory, while his father just works to forget.  There are a number of competing themes going on here including family realignment after the loss of a parent, dealing with grief, finding one’s purpose and challenging accepted boundaries of thought.  The pace of the book is even, with an episodic plot that follows Albie as he hops from one world to another.  I particularly enjoyed the character of Alba and her interaction with Albie and would have loved to have seen more interactions like this throughout the book.

The Sad

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There was something missing throughout this book for me and I suspect that the missing something was a strong supporting character.  For much of the book Albie goes it on his own, so the narration comprises a lot of Albie telling us what’s going on or relating his thoughts without much to break this up.  A bit more banter between Albie and …someone…would have made the book a bit pacier and more engaging in my opinion, and allowed for a bit of unexpectedness in a plot where the reader suspects everything will turn out in the end.

I also had a problem with the straightforward way in which Albie manages to solve all the problems of inter-dimensional travel without much effort. The plot is full of complex, nebulous scientific ideas that even proper scientists have trouble with, but Albie’s scientific problems – such as getting from one world to another and how to get home again – are solved by accident or dumb luck.  I felt that the author couldn’t quite decide whether this was supposed to be first and foremost a book about science and parallel universes, or a book about grief and personal growth, so left both plotlines a little underdeveloped in order to manage such big ideas in a book for young readers.

The Quirky

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I can safely say that this is the first time I have encountered such a focus on science in a middle grade fiction offering.  Throughout the story many theories, experiments and facts are brought up – including, but not limited to, the Large Hadron Collider and Shrodinger’s Cat – and this will really appeal to those young readers who can’t get enough of science fact and how it might be imagined as science fiction.  I can imagine that after reading this book at least one kid (or adult!) will grab a bunch of balloons and their younger sibling’s favourite toy and attempt to launch the two into space.

Overall I enjoyed this book but not nearly as much as I expected I would.  I was hoping for a little more challenge and struggle in Albie’s journey toward healing, and a little more zany danger in his romp through the unknown universe.  It is certainly an ambitious undertaking to attempt to blend high level scientific concepts with the enormity of a child’s grief, but for me it didn’t quite hit the mark.  I certainly enjoyed it while I was reading, but I don’t think it will be one of those books that makes it into the regular rotation of books I recommend to others.

Unless they’re looking for a middle grade read featuring cats that are simultaneously dead and alive.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Shelfies: It’s a DNF-a-thon!

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The “Did Not Finish”.

It’s the bane of many reviewers’ lives.  Are we obliged to finish books we receive for review?  Is it simply good etiquette to do so?  Are those who decide to cast a review book aside woefully lacking in moral fortitude?

The DNF is an issue I’ve pondered since becoming a reviewer and I have only just started to become comfortable with the idea that I don’t have to finish EVERY SINGLE BOOK that crosses my path just because I’ve received it for review.  According to my Goodreads tally, I’ve already knocked over 82 books this year so far, so leaving a few by the wayside probably isn’t that great a sin.

Then I came across this mind-blowingly sensible article from Anya (On Starships and Dragonwings), challenging us to consider making the DNF our default option for reading.  It would certainly save time.  Theoretically, it would ensure that we were only reading the books that we were really invested in.

So I got on board.  And now I have a slew of DNFed books to share with you.

*I should note that I don’t plan to make a habit of DNFing copious amounts of books.  I just seem to have hit a bit of a pile of books that were DNFable for me in the last month*

Here they are then folks: the books I have recently DNFed.  Perhaps amongst this collection you will find your bookish heart’s desire.  I truly hope so.  Click on the covers to be taken to the book’s Goodreads page.

The Genius Factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat (Paul Tobin)

how to capture an invisible cat

Categories: Middle Grade, science, fantasy, friendship, tea, secret societies

DNF’ed at: 29%

Comments:

I was actually really enjoying this one to start with.  There is a particularly touching friendship between Delphine and Nate that develops early on.  There’s plenty of banter that I’m sure middle graders will love.  I DNFed just as the secret society bit was coming into the story, so obviously there’s some mystery and danger involved.  Essentially, as an adult reader, I just lost interest.  Definitely worth having a look if middle grade humour/fantasy is your bag though. (And tell me how it ends)


The Smell of Other People’s Houses (Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock)

the smell of other people's houses

Categories: YA, historical fiction (1970s), indigenous issues, Alaska, coming of age

DNFed at: 29%

Comments:

Overall, this felt just a bit too depressing for me.  That enticing cover drew me in and I was interested in the Alaskan setting and characters of indigenous heritage but I just wasn’t compelled to keep reading.  Unusually for me, the alternative points of view in the narrative left me finding it more difficult to keep the characters straight.  This one would appeal to those who enjoy fiction featuring recent history, with a pervading atmosphere of realism and struggle.


Riverkeep (Martin Stewart)

Categories: YA, fantasy, death and dying 9781101998298_Riverkeep_HC_CvLib.indd

DNFed at: 11%

Comments: 

It felt like I read a lot more than just 11% of this book.  That astonishingly lovely cover drew me in, along with the blurb, with promises of a boy whose job it is to drag corpses from a river, but I just couldn’t get my head around the world-building.  The main character wasn’t particularly charismatic either, and I felt like his confusion and despair became my own.  Early on I got the sense that reading this was going to be like wading through molasses, so I made the decision to put it down.  This one would probably appeal to those who like high fantasy and epic tales that require total immersion in a new world.


Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts (A. K. Benedict)

Categories: Adult fiction, mystery, paranormal, police proceduraljonathan dark

DNFed at: 19%

Comments:

I think that in another time and place I could have really enjoyed this one.  It features two intersecting storylines – one involving a police investigation of a blind woman (who is not really blind, by the way) being harassed by a stalker, and the other involving a bloke who can see ghosts.  There seemed to be a whole ghostly world going on in this second storyline which I may have become more interested in, but the police procedural part just seemed too dense and slow.  Having said that, I may pick this up again later on if I feel like a bit of a challenge.  I’d recommend this for fans of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series and those who enjoy a bit of a paranormal/murder mystery mashup.


There Will Be Stars (Bill Coffey)

Categories: Adult fiction, paranormal (?), family relationships, redemption there will be stars

DNFed at: 7%

Comments:

What a journey of confusion I set off on during the 7% I read of this book.  I honestly had no idea what was going on for most of that 7%; a feeling made considerably worse by the irritating dialect in which the dialogue was written.  By the time I decided to put this down I couldn’t bear to see another “ain’t nothin'” or “y’all” or pithy cheesy cliched saying.  The book features a sort of groundhog day reliving of a tragic event in the life of the protagonist, but I decided I didn’t even want to experience it the first time around and so placed this one to the side.  I’d say this would appeal to those who like a quirky narrative style and don’t mind working to unravel the plot threads early on.


So there you have it.  A DNF-a-thon indeed.  I do hope you have more success with these tomes than I did.  You might even persuade me to have another crack at one!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Rickety Cossacks and an Fi50 Reminder…

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Before we get into the meat (and bones) of today’s book, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 will be kicking off for June on Monday. This month’s prompt is…

 june fi50 button

…and I can’t wait to see your contributions. If you’d like to play along, just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words then pop back here on Monday and add your link to the comments of my post. For more detailed information about the challenge, just click on the large attractive Fi50 button at the beginning of this post.

Now on to the bookishness! Today’s book was a strange choice for me given that I don’t really know much about paleoanthropology….hardly anything in fact…but I was drawn in by the exciting cover, chuckle-worthy title and general “that sounds quite interesting” vibe of the whole package. The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution by Ian Tattersall is a going-over of the history of human paleoanthropology with an eye to debunking (or at least, highlighting) the specious reasoning that seems almost inherent in some historical views of human evolution as a process.   I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. Note the armchair as an indication of my intention to submit this tome for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.

Without further faffing about, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In his new book The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack, human paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall argues that a long tradition of “human exceptionalism” in paleoanthropology has distorted the picture of human evolution. Drawing partly on his own career–from young scientist in awe of his elders to crotchety elder statesman–Tattersall offers an idiosyncratic look at the competitive world of paleoanthropology, beginning with Charles Darwin 150 years ago, and continuing through the Leakey dynasty in Africa, and concluding with the latest astonishing findings in the Caucasus.

The book’s title refers to the 1856 discovery of a clearly very old skull cap in Germany’s Neander Valley. The possessor had a brain as large as a modern human, but a heavy low braincase with a prominent brow ridge. Scientists tried hard to explain away the inconvenient possibility that this was not actually our direct relative. One extreme interpretation suggested that the preserved leg bones were curved by both rickets, and by a life on horseback. The pain of the unfortunate individual’s affliction had caused him to chronically furrow his brow in agony, leading to the excessive development of bone above the eye sockets. The subsequent history of human evolutionary studies is full of similarly fanciful interpretations.

With tact and humor, Tattersall concludes that we are not the perfected products of natural processes, but instead the result of substantial doses of random happenstance.

rickety cossack

Let me say straight off that I found this book to be informative, engaging and generally thought-provoking. I suspect, however, that I am not the target audience for this tome, given that the content seemed to be pitched at a reader with slightly more prior knowledge in this field than I currently possess. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t know very much about the history of evolution and you think this book sounds interesting, I would DEFINITELY recommend that you pick it up, but I was mildly surprised to note how technical the content turned out to be. On the other hand, my Kindle dictionary feature got a cracking workout, which I always enjoy.

Essentially, after a short introduction featuring lemurs and an unexpected coup, Tattersall takes the reader from the early years of paleoanthropology, during which little was known and much was surmised (and just plain old made-up!) about discovered remains and what these remains meant for how modern humans came about, to current scientific practice in dating remains and hypothesising about evolutionary processes. For each historical period, Tattersall introduces the reader to the main players on the evolutionary scene and the theories that they endorsed, with detailed examination of their background to establish the context in which their theories were developed. Clearly, this is an author that knows his stuff and has put together a comprehensive critique of the assumptions that have historically influenced the way in which people think about human evolution.

Now, my next criticism is going to sound a akin to someone ordering sushi and complaining it doesn’t taste like pizza, but I expected this book to be funny. That might sound odd to those who regularly read such scientificky books, but I feel I was misled by the highly amusing “Rickety Cossack” theory and expected that the book would have a lighter tone. It doesn’t. And to me this was mildly disappointing. On the positive side though, I do feel like I gained a solid base of knowledge about human evolution and the current theories and pitfalls of assumption that I did not have prior to reading this book.

The other desire that made me feel a bit childish while reading this was that of wanting more illustrations. Throughout the book there are a few comparative drawings depicting various human fossils to which the book alludes, but given that I am a newbie in this subject area, I desperately wanted more visual information. A map, for instance, showing where each of the bits were discovered would have been incredibly helpful, as I did have a bit of trouble keeping the place names straight in relation to the fancy names that were given to different sets of remains. Again, I suspect Tattersall was aiming for a reader with slightly more knowledge in the area than I, but all the same, a bit of visual prompting would have enhanced my reading experience no end.

Overall, if not for the amusing title and blurb anecdote, I doubt I would have picked this book up. It didn’t turn out to be what I was expecting, but I still had an enjoyable, brain-stretching experience while reading it. I’m not sure whether someone more deeply versed in this particular subject area would feel the same, but if you are a paleoanthropogical novice with a desire to enrich your knowledge in this area, then I recommend riding into battle with Tattersall and his rickety Cossack.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge goal: 7/10

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monsters, Widows and Random Body Parts” Edition…

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imageWelcome to another Reading Round-Up pardners! Today I have an eclectic collection of bookish beasts so hopefully there’ll be something to satisfy even the most fussy lariat-wielding reader.  I received all of these books from their respective publishers (two via Netgalley, one via Simon & Schuster Australia – thanks!) for review.  Let’s ride read!

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse (Leslie Bulion & Mike Lowery)random  body parts

Two Sentence Synopsis:

This one does exactly what it says on the box: you guess which body part a cheeky verse is describing.  Some are blindingly obvious, and some take a little more deciphering, but all in all there’s a lot of fun to be had here mixing science and literacy.

Muster up the motivation because:

…it’s fun, funny and pitched perfectly for the middle to upper primary age bracket.  There are also plenty of illustrations, and a glossary and annotations so there’s a lot going on visually for those who get bored looking at print on a page.  Really, this book harnesses the brilliant (and educationally useful) idea of linking two subject areas that rarely see the light of day together, except in picture books for the early years, and executes it with vim and vigour.  *My kindle version did have a few problems in the formatting of the imagery with the print, but I got a good overall impression of the book despite this.  I would also love to see the finished version in print because of this*

Brand it with:

innovative educational text, shakesp-ears (and eyes and brains etc), poetry in motion

Read my Goodreads review here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1207887128

I’m also submitting this one for my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge in the category of books with an odd language element.  To find out more about the challenge and join in, just click on this cute little button:

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 My Daylight Monsters: A Gothic Novella (Sarah Dalton)my daylight monsters

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Mary has been seeing visions of creepy ghosty-zomboid monsters since a devastating accident in which she lost some of her friends.  She checks herself into a psych ward for teens to get some respite, but it appears her monsters follow her even into the safety of daylight.

Muster up the motivation:

Overall this is a solid, psych-ward adventure-drama, with all the expected patrons in attendance and some unexpected ones also.  The ending got to be a bit unlikely for my tastes but the bulk of the storytelling is done well with some interesting twists and reveals.  As a novella, it’s also a quick read and a great opportunity to try the series before committing to the full length novels featuring Mary in other adventures.

Brand it with:

unhelpful helpers, daytime hauntings, tall-dark-mysterious strangers, take your medication

See my Goodreads review here!

 

 

The Widow’s Confession (Sophia Tobin)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  widows confession
Two American sisters come to Broadstairs, Kent in 1850 to hide from a secret in their past (and enjoy the bracing sea breezes and picturesque painting opportunities – obviously).  When the corpses of young girls start turning up, more than just sand is churned up as the townsfolk try to keep the past buried.

Muster up the motivation because:

…there’s plenty of broody atmosphere to go round, as well as a piecemeal approach to the reveal of past secrets as each chapter is preceded by parts of a letter of confession.  As a period piece and murder mystery, all the tropes are there – the holidaying dapper young gent, the worried vicar, the cold-hearted physician and the mysterious foreign lasses with a shady past.  If you are looking for a book that will make you feel like you’re really there, wuthering on the clifftop (being wuthered? Not sure of the correct verb usage there!) then cosy up with The Widow’s Confession and be blown back and forth with the changing tides as characters’ secrets are revealed.

Brand it with:

An American in Kent, pretty young things (deceased), blustery clifftop strolls, historical fiction

Read my Goodreads review here!

So there you have it. Three rather different books, but hopefully something there has piqued your interest.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge goal: 4/16

I’m a quarter of the way there! How are others going in the Oddity Challenge? Anyone else want to join in? There’s plenty of time. Come on! Get on it!

Until next time,

Bruce