25 July 2017

Review: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a super cool book.

I want to say I heard the author or something about the book on a podcast a while back and sought this out. The book brings us deep into the lives and societies of various animals, giving us an idea as to how they operate, their heirarchical structure, and so on. One section is dedicated to elephants, another wolves, and so on.

For someone who has limited science knowledge, this was a really great book where I learned a lot. Elephant societies are fascinating! Wolves are weird! It's all super interesting and complicated, and this book strikes the near-perfect balance of not dumbing the information down while also not playing a pandering game with the audience. An underrated nonfiction read for me - I don't know why I'm not constantly hearing about this book.

If you like science, animals, biology, sociology, learning... check this one out.

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21 July 2017

Review: And We're Off

And We're Off And We're Off by Dana Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite thing about this book is the concept - any time a story wants to subvert the coming-of-age traveling novel, I'm on board, and when it's because an overbearing mother trying to relive her own teen years vicariously through her daughter? I'm totally in.

It's sort of like a Gilmore Girls episode with a lot more conflict, and there's a lot to love about it on a whole as our mother-daughter team bumble through Europe and ruin each other's experiences.

The downside to this book is that the conceit does get a little stale in the middle part until things move to their conclusion. Getting to the end can be a bit of a rough patch if you're used to a more typically-paced narrative from the YA genre, but that shouldn't keep you away from the book on a whole.

It's funny and it's got a lot of heart, and it's definitely a fun read in the genre.

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20 July 2017

Review: The Night Ocean

The Night Ocean The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While I'm pretty much into a lot of Lovecraftian stuff these days, The Night Ocean takes a slightly different exploratory track with it to mixed results. Ostensibly about a woman trying to find answers after her husband goes missing and how it lines up with her husband's obsession with a specific facet of Lovecraft's life, this book gets bogged down VERY quickly with a lot of fictional-and-not-so-fictional research and history, and the narrative completely loses the plot very quickly. As someone who enjoys books about research and such, yeah, sure - you do you, Paul LaFarge. But losing the narrative in service to theories regarding the Barlow/Lovecraft relationship simply didn't do the trick here.

This was a very frustrating read without the payoff I was hoping for, and I thought this book had some amazing potential. Unless your consumption is almost exclusively Lovecraftian in nature, consider skipping this one.

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Review: Kissing Carrion

Kissing Carrion Kissing Carrion by Gemma Files
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've noted before that I'm relatively new to horror at this point, and I've been delving into a lot of short stories as of late. While I didn't love Experimental Film, I was interested in the short stories of Gemma Files anyway, and this collection came highly regarded.

Like any collection, there are hits and misses, but there are a lot of solid, creepy stories here. The highlights of the title story, of the story with literal meat puppets, they don't take away from anything else, and even the stories that don't quite work still succeed in the efforts. My big complaint is less structural and more personal - one thing I have not been able to really do well with on the horror side of things is body horror, and Files deals heavily in this area. If that squicks you out a lot, this might not be the collection for you.

For everyone else, though? Check it out. The stories are quick and well-crafted, and there are some real gems here. Worth a read.

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Review: Windfall

Windfall Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

Jennifer E. Smith has hit her stride as of late with some great young adult romances. Windfall, from the cover alone, is very clearly a change of pace for her, and while it mostly works, what it gains in story development it loses in charm.

What is the windfall in Windfall? It's a birthday lottery ticket that ends up winning millions for a girl's best friend. The story quickly rolls into a cautionary tale about the pains and pleasures of a massive financial gain before hitting the inevitable redemption arc.

I'm not saying Smith had to go the route of truly negative results on this, especially for YA. But what was truly disappointing here was the paint-by-numbers approach throughout the tale that may not be immediately obvious to the target audience but was amazingly predictable to this adult reader. While I don't need surprises in YA, it doesn't mean they can't at least be tried. Still, it's a fine read and hits more than it misses - it's just not what I feel like it could have been.

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Review: Tomorrow's Kin

Tomorrow's Kin Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy Kress
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tomorrow's Kin is a solid, interesting first contact novel. As someone who generally really responds well to any first contact novel, to enjoy one a little more than the rest is not a bad thing in the least, and I would say that's where I place Tomorrow's Kin.

The premise is pretty straightforward, where some aliens land on Earth and, once communication is established, we learn about where they are from and why they are here. The results of all this information inform a story that becomes less about "what is it like knowing there's other life" and more about coping with the aftermath, both of meeting an alien race (and all that implies in this book's conceit) and of what the aliens came to accomplish. It's a unique and different take on the genre, and one I appreciated greatly.

The big downfall of this book? Approximately the first third is basically (if not entirely) a reprint of the novella that preceded it, Yesterday's Kin. I somewhat wish someone had warned me of this ahead of time, as I worked to complete the novella before diving into this only to find that I was basically rereading the novella immediately afterwards. If there were additions, they did not make a measurable impact on the overall story for me, so use this as a takeaway if you're already familiar with the novella. For new readers, though, you can dive right in without issue. Absolutely a great read and solid take on the subgenre.

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