AncestryDNA

May 18, 2014 Home Sweet Home 0

My mother generously gifted us both AncestryDNA kits for Christmas last year. It took us far too long to get around to sending our spit off to be analyzed, but I’m so glad we did.

No big surprises here — we’re both fairly familiar with family lore, though we both also have plenty of holes to fill and not a lot of proof about certain stories (see: every white American’s hypothesized Native great^n-grandparent). But it is nice to see some actual biological evidence of one’s family history.

Here’s mine. . . .

AncestryDNA_1

The British + Western European isn’t surprising at all. I grew up knowing that most of the family was English, French, and German (both sides). The Scandinavian isn’t too surprising either; family lore indicates the possibility of Scandinavian roots, plus there has just been a lot of admixing between Scandinavia and the rest of Europe over the centuries. (Regardless, I’m totally going to pretend it is because I’m part Viking and you can’t stop me.) Iberian (Spanish) fits in with a certain branch of the Cajun part of my family. I’m a little surprised by all that Irish. I guess that’s a branch of the family that I haven’t investigated yet!

Besides all that, the system actually matched me up with a distant family member who’d also done the DNA test. We’re apparently 2nd cousins 1x removed (her great-grandfather was my great-great-grandfather). Isn’t that just amazing? I’m so glad that she’s got a detailed family tree available publicly — now I’ll be able to find out so much more about that branch of my family tree.

Here’s Gary’s. . . .

AncestryDNA_2

My husband has even less information about his family history than do I, but the primarily British + Western European ancestry isn’t a big surprise for him either. But look at all those “trace” possibilities!

Gary’s great-uncle has also done this DNA test (his great-aunt is the one building the family tree), and they were matched right away. Thankfully they’re still in contact and we’ll be able to “steal” some family tree info from them, too!

I’ve been working on our family trees off and on for the past few months, and the more I learn the more I want to know.

 


Deep Blue
by Jennifer Donnelly

April 13, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Donnelly_DeepBlue

★ ★ ★

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly | May 2014 | Disney Press | Hardcover $17.99

Serafina, daughter of Isabella, Queen of Miromara, has been raised with the expectation – and burden – that she will someday become ruler of the oldest civilization of the merfolk. On the eve of the Dokimí ceremony, which will determine if she is worthy of the crown, Sera is haunted by a strange dream that foretells the return of an ancient evil.

Honestly, it reads a bit like Little Mermaid fanfic, especially at the beginning. I mean you can practically see the scenes happening in bright, cartoony animation (which is not too far off the mark considering this is a Disney book for Poseidon’s sake). But I made the choice not to let that bother me, and anyway the feeling of fanfic-ishness doesn’t really last past the first few chapters.

For the most part, the unique physics and cultural stuff of this underwater world are pretty consistent. There is one scene in which a character gets a very funky haircut that I just could not picture happening underwater at all, but I think other than that all of the little details were pretty well done. I’m thinking particularly of a mention of buoyancy problems in freshwater as compared to saltwater, which made me think far too much about the osmoregulatory abilities of mermaids.

There’s lots of fun but sometimes too-cheesy mermaid slang (which undoubtedly would be called merlang, har har har). Plus I have to praise the weirdly delicious descriptions of otherwise gross-sounding seafood candies. And I liked this inclusion of different types of mermaids — classic sparkly scales, lionfish-like, eel-like, orca-like, even bioluminescent (LOVE). Of course, this brought up more questions on the speciation of mermaids (because once a biologist always a biologist) but the backstory of the mermaids in the book is that they were created by a goddess during the fall of Atlantis, so whatever.

Oh and I hope the finished book gets a map. I could have really used one because I had a lot of trouble picturing just where everything was taking place, but the e-galley didn’t include one. Apparently Disney is planning an illustrated gift version as well as graphic novels based on this series, so I don’t think a map is too much to ask for.

There were some signs of an impending love triangle, but either that’s going to come up again in some future book in the series (and, yes, this is the first of a series) or it was wisely given up in favor of sisterly bonding between girl – sorry, merl – friends… or it is a TRICK and one of the boys involved is not whom he seems, which is my bet, and I am going to feel SO SMUG if my guess turns out to be right.


Links:


Publication information: Donnelly, Jennifer. Deep Blue. Los Angeles: Disney-Hyperion, 2014. EPUB file.
Source: E-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Splintered
by A.G. Howard

April 6, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Howard_Splintered

★ ★

Splintered by A.G. Howard | January 2013 | Amulet Books, an imprint of Abe Books | Hardcover $17.95

Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers — precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, she must decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

Ehhhhh. Background info, so’s to explain my state of mind while reading/ranting about this a little bit: I was sort of assigned to read this & its sequel, except that halfway through Splintered I found out that I was NOT, in fact, required to read it.

First, let me be negative for a minute: This book read like more of an attempt at riding along on the trying-too-hard-to-be-“weird” coattails of the Tim Burtonated version of Alice, rather than a 100% original take on the world of Wonderland.

So many of the little “weird” details just felt affected or cliché…. I’ve seen other reviews reference Hot Topic, and that’s exactly what this book makes me think of — if this book were a store, it’d be a Hot Topic masquerading as some kind of quirky/gothy/indie haberdashery. Or perhaps the opposite?

(Not that there’s necessarily something terribly wrong with Hot Topic; they’ve got some real fun merch and I’m not 100% ashamed to have shopped there as a kid still shop there. But if you’re looking for 1-of-a-kind whimsy, that ain’t it.)

And then there’s the “love” triangle, complete with 2 douchey dudes and a *~*~virgin~*~* who can’t make up her damn mind. The characters read like real teens, which is great! But what little character development we get comes in the form of physical metamorphosis and expository memory retrieval, which is just barely cutting it for me.

TBH, if I hadn’t been assigned to read it in the first place, I’d have put it down after the 1st couple of chapters. THAT SAID, I did finish it and speed-read the sequel (Unhinged, the 2nd of a planned trilogy). Because despite all of the eye-rolling (and let me tell you, my extraocular muscles got a freakin’ workout), I was totally into the plot. I kept trying to guess what was going to happen next, the answers to all the little mysteries, and I was totally wrong every time. And I really, really like it when a book keeps me guessing.

I dunno… I think I might keep an eye out for future works from this author. Even though this series is not exactly for me (and heck, it wasn’t written for my demographic anyway) I can tell that the author knows how to weave a crazy plot.


Links:


Publication information: Howard, A. G. Splintered. New York: Aumlet Books, 2013. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Word Exchange
by Alena Graedon

April 1, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Graedon_WordExchange
★ ★ ★

The Word Exchange: A Novel by Alena Graedon | April 2014 | Doubleday | Hardcover $26.95

In the not so distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers and magazines are a thing of the past, as we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication, but have become so intuitive as to hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order take out at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called The Word Exchange.

Liked it, more or less.

It has an intriguing premise; this book is all about the rise of a mysterious plague that destroys a person’s perception of / ability to use language, due in no small part to the quick near-universal adoption of “Memes” (a sort of mind-reading smartphone-like piece of tech).

I’m in love with quite a few bits of the writing — lots of quotables and some really nice passages for the reader’s brain to chew on and practically taste. Plus I felt pretty smart whenever I recognized any philosophical or literary reference, which I’m sure was not nearly as often as it ought to have been, but I do my best.

Did not care for Bart’s POV sections — seriously, the “e.g.” thing was like a mental tic or something and while I understand that this was supposed to be a part of his self-consciously academic characterization it just drove me BATTY. Add that on top of his “nice guy” -ish bullshit attitude toward Ana and, well, I admit that I started skipping whole chunks of his POV sections. This on top of some of the less poetic, more thesaurus-inspired sections began to slightly wear on my patience.

The premise was a little hard to buy, but I guess that’s true for most end-of-civilization stories. But seriously, when almost a quarter of the U.S. population doesn’t have regular internet access and less than 1/2 even own a data-enabled smartphone or tablet (according the the U.S. government)… yeah, it’s hard to buy that in only a few short years all books will be basically dead and we’ll all be fighting off brain-infecting übersmartphones.

Still, the book wasn’t bad. I definitely see potential in this author and will be keeping an eye out for more from her. Suggesting to our adult fiction selector at the library keep it in mind if she has any money left over at the end of the month.


Links:


Publication information: Graedon, Alena. The Word Exchange. New York: Doubleday, 2014. Print.
Source: Received an e-ARC from NetGalley + a physical ARC from the publisher via Goodreads giveaway.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Next Year’s Lemons

March 30, 2014 Garden, Home Sweet Home 0

Our lemon tree is already hard at work getting ready for next winter’s harvest….

Lemons_2014_1 Lemons_2014_2

The backyard smells incredible. It’s almost a little too strong, like a woman wearing just a tad too much of an otherwise nice perfume. Thought I ought to get some good snaps early this morning before the wasps start showing up.

Lemons_2014_3 Lemons_2014_4

It just occurred to me that I never posted about our lemon harvest this past winter! We didn’t even get an “official” count. I guesstimated that we pulled about 300 fruits from the tree in January.  I wonder how many we’ll pull next year?


30 by 30 Project

March 22, 2014 Just for Fun 0

I started this blog a little over 3 years ago, on my 24th birthday, with a 25 by 25 Project.

My last birthday came and went with very little fanfare, but I tend to see my birthday as a “new year” marker — instead of evaluating successes and failures of the previous year or thinking of improvements and adventures for the coming year on January 1st, I tend to get all goal-oriented on the 1st day of spring (that’s right, I have an AWESOME birthday).

The 25 by 25 list wasn’t a completely failed experiment. No, I didn’t achieve all of those goals, but I did manage some of them and I did work towards others and, overall, I think it was a good way to guide my actions for the year.

Now, though, I’m thinking about the next few years of my life (and this blog)… which brings me to my new 30 by 30 Project. In another 3 years I’ll hit the big three-oh, and there’s plenty of stuff I want to accomplish during that time.

  1. Read at least 250 books
  2. Read at least 20 new-to-me classic books
  3. Participate in SpoT High 2014-2017
  4. Write at least 40 book reviews
  5. Write at least 100k words for my multi-year NaNoWriMo project
  6. Finish cataloging our home library
  7. Research my family tree
  8. Build a genealogy website to share with my family
  9. Organize + digitize all of our personal photos
  10. Organize and back up my hard drives
  11. Have a movie marathon
  12. Visit a vineyard or attend a wine festival
  13. Go on a picnic
  14. Go to a geekish con or fest — bonus points for cosplay
  15. Leave the state for a vacation
  16. Spend a day at a spa
  17. Have a party at our place
  18. Write a fan letter
  19. Give up video games for good
  20. Lose weight — ideally, about 50 pounds
  21. Go a month without fast food or delivery
  22. Visit a dentist
  23. Stitch at least 10 wearable/usable things for myself
  24. Sketch or paint at least 10 things
  25. Craft at least 5 gifts for other people or pets
  26. Cook, really cook, at least once per week
  27. Cook my way through a cookbook or food blog
  28. Start a custom recipe book
  29. Vote at least once
  30. Buy a house

Some of these goals are repeats from the previous list, and that’s OK. Those are still things I want to do, after all. Some things involve long-term commitments or new habits, so it will take a while for me to feel comfortable counting those goals as accomplished. Some goals are a little silly or frivolous, but percentage-wise I think this list is a little more serious than the old list.

Maybe not every goal is attainable, but I think most of them are, and I’m certainly willing to try.


The Parasol Protectorate
by Gail Carriger

March 19, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Carriger_Soulless
Carriger_Blameless Carriger_Changeless Carriger_Heartless Carriger_Timeless

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Parasol Protectorate boxed set by Gail Carriger| October 2012 | Orbit | Paperback $39.99

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire–and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

Based on the reactions of most of my friends, both online and IRL (admittedly too small a sample size to be scientific), it seems to me that a reader either loves or hates this series.

I’ll be up-front about it: I come down on the love side. I didn’t really expect to. Based on my lukewarm feelings towards Gail Carriger’s YA series and the descriptions of Soulless et al. as “paranormal romance” and “urban fantasy” I didn’t expect to care much for these books. But I did care for them, so much so that I returned my library copy of Soulless early and bought the entire boxed set for me to own and devour all in one gulp.

(I’m also going to admit that I was completely biased against these books because of their covers. My bad, yo.)

The scene is set: Victorian London, where supernaturals and a single preternatural (our heroine) live more-or-less openly and more-or-less (in this case, less) peacefully alongside regular folk. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the slightly mad scientists and their extremely steampunk-y inventions. And the tea. There’s plenty of tea to go around. And really, you can’t help but brew a pot or two while reading. It’s better if you can find some nice little floral patterned porcelain cups and saucers to go with, but we can’t be too picky.

A small caveat: I’m a bit of a prude, and so found myself blushing at a few scenes. The “romance” parts of this series are more along the lines of what you find in Fabio-emblazoned bodice rippers rather than the fade-to-black sorts of scenes that I prefer. But the story as a whole was soaked in such a nice mix of winking/dry/exaggerated bits of humor that the love scenes came across as more naughtily playful than flat-out pornographic. And really, these scenes did lean more towards the fade-to-black method as the series developed (thank goodness things didn’t progress in the opposite direction).

Oh, all right, another caveat: all of the -isms. Racism, and its close cousin Colonialism. And Sexism, though of a slightly less jarring form than the previous. I suppose these things might be unavoidable in an historical fiction set in England of the late 1800’s, but still. I wonder if certain small things might not have been handled with more sensitivity? The passing mentions are buried in piles of more pleasing stuff, but, you know, microaggressions make me sad.

5 stars for sure, though I’m waffling about whether I want to give this a spot on my “favorites” shelf. Would that be a move that I would question later because right now I’m on a book high and can’t be trusted to make rational decisions? Or is this a series that I’ll return to again and again because it really is just that fun? Time will tell.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I simply must track down some more tea.


Links:


Publication information: Carriger, Gail. Soulless. New York: Orbit, 2009. Print. ; Carriger, Gail. Changeless. New York: Orbit, 2010. Print. ; Carriger, Gail. Blameless. New York: Orbit, 2010. Print. ; Carriger, Gail. Heartless. New York: Orbit, 2011. Print. ; Carriger, Gail. Timeless. New York: Orbit, 2012. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal collection from Amazon.com
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Mistborn
by Brandon Sanderson

March 18, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Sanderson_Mistborn Sanderson_WellofAscension Sanderson_HeroofAges

Sanderson_AlloyofLaw

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Mistborn boxed set by Brandon Sanderson| November 2009 | Tor | Hardcover $24.97

Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.

He failed.

For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.

Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.

Why did it take me so long to get around to reading this series?!?!

Loved it. Practically every piece of it. Loved trying to guess at the mysteries — who is ___? and what is ___ playing at? and will ___ make another appearance? Loved the plot twists, even when I anticipated them — though the most important twists were true surprises, which is something I definitely appreciate. There were two things that really kicked this series into “favorite” shelf territory.

First, I loved loved loved the really organized magic system and its accompanying religious elements. Which, honestly usually I’m not a fan of too much religion in my fantasy, especially when it feels arbitrarily shoehorned in OR when religious mythology is clumsily alluded to but never directly referenced. But Sanderson managed to avoid those issues. And of course the author is well-known for his sensical magic systems for good reason. (Is “sensical” even a word? I might not actually care.)

I was also really impressed by the obviously well-planned overarching plot. You know how sometimes it’s just so obvious that the author maybe wasn’t planning much for the future of his/her series? Or how sometimes the 2nd book in a trilogy just feels like filler that could have been better managed? Or how sometimes you stumble across those gaping plot holes and chronological inconsistencies and you wonder how no one noticed this before the final product hit the shelves? Yeah, none of that here.

Funny thing is, I picked up Alloy of Law first. It’s sort of a stand-alone book, not really part of the original trilogy even though it is set in the same universe. And I do think it could be read on its own — no need to be intimately familiar with the Mistborn ‘verse. But I’m glad I waited to read the first 3 first. It didn’t take me long, anyway; I practically inhaled this series.

I know a book is going on the “favorites” shelf when my immediate reactions upon finishing it are (1) to insist that my spouse read it NOW so we can talk about it and (2) to spend far too much time browsing Tumblr, looking for fellow fans and (3) to immediately go shopping for more stuff from the author.


Links:

Publication information: Sanderson, Brandon. Mistborn. New York: Tors, 2006. Print. ; Sanderson, Brandon. The Well of Ascension. New York: Tor, 2007. Print. ; Sanderson, Brandon. The Hero of Ages. New York: Tor, 2008. Print. ; Sanderson, Brandon. The Alloy of Law. New York: Tor, 2011. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal collection
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Joining the Classics Club

March 16, 2014 Books 0

I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and join the Classics Club.

The Classics Club is, in its members’ own words:

Classics Club Logo… a club created to inspire people to read and blog about classic books. There’s no time limit to join and you’re most welcome, as long as you’re willing to sign up to read and write on your blog about 50+ classic books in at most five years. The perk is that, not only will you have read 50+ incredible (or at the very least thought-provoking) works in five years, you’ll get to do it along with all of these people. 

Sounds intriguing, right?

I thought so, too.

I’ve challenged myself to read 80 books this year — which, based on what I’ve managed for the past couple of years, and considering my 2014 – 2017 term on the Texas Library Association’s Spirit of Texas committee, is not that wacky — and I figure… why not give myself a secondary goal besides just “read X number of books” in the long term?

50 classics in 5 years? That’s not a bad bet.

I’ve decided to try it, with the caveat that I’m not aiming for a strict 10 books per year. 5 years is kind of a long time! Who knows what kind of life events and career developments and new fav authors/series can happen during that time.

But I do have a short selection of self-imposed ground rules for this challenge . . .

  1. Haven’t read before, or it’s been over a decade
  2. Focus on YA, SF/F, and science narrative non-fiction, but not exclusively
  3. Loose definition of “classic” but must be over 20 years old
  4. Not required to finish, given sufficient effort
  5. Required to post a full review as proof of having read (or attempt)

I also have a little list of books of interest to get me started, though I haven’t committed yet . . .

  1. The adventures & memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. All the pretty horses by Cormac McCarthy
  3. An American tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  5. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  6. Around the world in 80 days by Jules Verne
  7. The awakening by Kate Chopin
  8. Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
  9. Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  10. Cat’s cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  11. The chocolate war by Robert Cormier
  12. Clockwork orange by Anthony Burgess
  13. The color purple by Alice Walker
  14. Cosmos by Carl Sagan
  15. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  16. The death of the heart by Elizabeth Bowen
  17. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
  18. Foundation by Isaac Asmimov
  19. The French lieutenant’s woman by John Fowles
  20. The golden compass by Philip Pullman
  21. Gone with the wind by Margaret Mitchell
  22. I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou
  23. In the shadow of man by Jane Goodall
  24. The little prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  25. Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore
  26. Manufacturing consent by Noam Chomsky
  27. The Martian chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  28. The merry adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  29. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  30. Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers
  31. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  32. My man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
  33. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  34. North and south by Elizabeth Gaskell
  35. The once and future king by T.H. White
  36. The outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  37. Passing by Nella Larsen
  38. The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  39. The silent world by Jacques-Yves Cousteau
  40. Snow crash by Neal Stephenson
  41. Stranger in a strange land by Robert A. Heinlein
  42. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardey
  43. Their eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  44. The time machine by H.G. Wells
  45. Ubik by Philip K. Dick
  46. Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
  47. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  48. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  49. Wizard’s first rule by Terry Goodkind
  50. The yellow wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It’s almost embarrassing to admit that I haven’t read most of the above (even the ones we own!), and it’s been at least 10 years for the few that I have seen before. I wanted a good number of SF/F options, but quite a lot of the classics in that genre are much newer than what many people really consider classic classic. Anyway, this is a “living” list, so I may or may not make changes as needed.

Thoughts from the peanut gallery?

The Monkey’s Voyage
by Alan de Queiroz

January 29, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

deQueiroz_MonkeysVoyage

★ ★ ★ ★

The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life by Alan de Queiroz | January 2014 | Basic Books | Hardcover $27.99

Throughout the world, closely related species are found on landmasses separated by wide stretches of ocean. What explains these far-flung distributions? Why are species found where they are across the Earth?

Since the discovery of plate tectonics, scientists have long conjectured that plants and animals were scattered over the globe by riding pieces of ancient supercontinents as they broke up. In the past decade, however, that theory has foundered, as the genomic revolution has made reams of new genetic data available. And the data has revealed an extraordinary, stranger-than-fiction story that has sparked a scientific revolution.

I found The Monkey’s Voyage surprisingly amusing; the narrative “feel” of it makes it appropriate for casual reading as well as academic. It reads as though one is having a nice discussion with someone who is clearly well-versed in his subject but who can’t hide his amicable humor — or, in some instances, his sharp snark. I don’t know the author personally, obviously, but this book makes a nice contrast to those cases (all-too-common in science writing) where the author seems to be impatiently talking down to or obliviously over the head of the reader, or where the story could be quite interesting if only the voice that was telling it wasn’t so dry and robotic.

Alan de Queiroz’s first full book serves as a kind of primer on biogeography, the study of the distribution of species across our planet (or the “analysis of the spatial distributions of organisms” if you want to get fancy). Well, perhaps it isn’t so much a primer — though the author does patiently explain some of the basic concepts of the field — as a sort of history of the development of biogeography as a science, like a narrative tour of sorts.

My impression is that The Monkey’s Voyage is written for a semi-scientific audience, by which I mean one should definitely already be familiar with the basics of ecology and evolutionary biology but needn’t be a professional in the field. Certain unavoidable terms (vicariance, dispersal, taxon, cladistics, etc.) are briefly and nicely explained, but a quick familiarity is definitely expected of the reader. Maps and charts and things aid understanding, if you can decipher them.

Bits of snark make for an amusing, if not entirely neutral, read (though the author never claims neutral ground). My favorite example of this can be found on pages 89-90, in an examination of Gary Nelson and Norm Platnick’s particularly enthusiastic insistence on a certain point of view: “It’s a grand vision for humanity, placing us within the great story of the fragmentation of the world’s biotas through continental drift. It’s an epitome of the Croizatian vision that ‘Earth and life evolve together.’ It’s . . . [page turn] . . . also completely looney.”

I’d recommend this for those who are curious about biogeography (obviously) as well as those who might like a somewhat idiosyncratic glimpse of some of the less-than-gentlemanly “feuds” that can erupt between scientists when their major hypotheses are at odds.


Links:


Publication information: de Queiroz, Alan. The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life. New York: Basic Books, 2013. Print.
Source: I received a free copy of this book from Basic Books via a Goodreads
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.