Posts Tagged: 3 stars

The Book Jumper
by Mechthild Gläser

December 17, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 7

★ ★ ★

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser | January 2017 | Feiwel & Friends | Hardcover $17.99

Amy Lennox doesn’t know quite what to expect when she and her mother pick up and leave Germany for Scotland, heading to her mother’s childhood home of Lennox House on the island of Stormsay.

Amy’s grandmother, Lady Mairead, insists that Amy must read while she resides at Lennox House — but not in the usual way. It turns out that Amy is a book jumper, able to leap into a story and interact with the world inside.

As thrilling as Amy’s new power is, it also brings danger: someone is stealing from the books she visits, and that person may be after her life. Teaming up with fellow book jumper Will, Amy vows to get to the bottom of the thefts — at whatever cost.

I’m a huge sucker for the Portal Books trope, where characters get to actually explore the stories that the rest of us plebes can only experience in print. The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde and Sherry Thomas’s Elemental Trilogy are great examples of this. Obviously, The Book Jumper falls into this category as well.

(Plus the cover is SO ADORABLE.)

I liked this book, but I think maybe my hopes were a little too high? I figured that if it did so well in the German-language book market that they’ve translated it into English, it must be pretty awesome. And it is good, just not quite mind-blowing I guess. Although, I’m saying that from the perspective of someone who’s read a TON of teen-aimed portal fantasy, so… perhaps I’m just being a little bit curmudgeonly?

The concept is awesome and the writing is decently engaging, but the actual plot was a tiny bit predictable and the relationships were bordering on nonsensical.

Concept: Bookish girl is delighted to learn that she actually has the power to “jump” into stories. Mysterious things start happening in said stories + in the real world, so bookish girl teams up with bookish boy to figure it all out. Totally fun!

Writing: First person narrative, which I know is something that a lot of readers don’t really care for, but I didn’t find it too grating in this case.

Plot: Pretty easy to figure out what’s going on, which means it can be kinda frustrating to watch the characters flounder around until they get it, too. I was a little bit surprised about one revelation, though.

Relationships: WHY. The primary romance, which has the potential to be shippy material, feels like a trite, cliché page-filler. There’s another romance in this book that is simultaneously more genuine and yet slightly icky to think about, too. Just… the characters in general are kinda cheesey/boring, so the crazy plot has to do a lot of the work of keeping the reader’s attention… and when it’s a little too predictable, that’s not the most awesome possible combo, y’know?

Overall I think this is a fine book for a fantasy-hungry teen or YA reader, with the caveat that it’s just not going to be 2017’s earth-shattering breakout book.


Links:


Publication information: Gläser, Mechthild. The Book Jumper. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2017. EPUB.
Source: ARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Martian Chronicles
by Ray Bradbury

September 24, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

bradbury_martianchron

★ ★ ★

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury | May 1950, this ed. 2012 | Simon & Schuster | Paperback $7.99

In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor; of crystal pillars and fossil seas, where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.

When I compiled my Classics Club list, I purposely sought out classic books in the realms of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. To be honest, I rather prefer the stuff closer to the Fantasy side of that spectrum, and — again with the honesty — I don’t think I would have picked up this particular book if it hadn’t been for the Classics Club challenge.

The Martian Chronicles is really a collection of related short stories rather than a “real” novel. The stories begin at a time when Earthlings first begin to land on Mars and meet the native inhabitants, and proceed along to the point where a little group of humans become the Martians.

Of course, this book was written nearly two decades before we landed on the moon — several years even before the Space Race began. So, a lot of what a modern reader might consider “expected” in the way of terminology and technology and culture is completely reimagined. For example, space ships are generally called “rockets”… and mid-20th-century gender roles/expectations are quite firmly enforced, even for the original alien Martians themselves. It’s a little jarring, not gonna lie, but that’s the sort of thing you learn to expect with these old books, y’know? Not worth burning the book over, but I definitely rolled my eyes a few times….

I found this book kinda hard to rate because I wasn’t really grabbed by it (if it had been something I’d started on a whim, I might not have bothered to finish) but I can also see why it is so widely considered a classic. Bradbury’s writing is generally clean but beautiful in its own way, and the characters — while not 100% 3-dimensional — are interesting and realistic.

Further complicating matters, this particular edition does not include 2 stories that have been included in some other editions — “The Fire Balloons” and “The Wilderness” — while it does include a story sometimes cut from other editions, “Way in the Middle of the Air”. I suppose I can see why overly-cautious editors would cut the latter, as it includes quite a few utterances of the n-word. However, the story is quite clearly inspired by the budding Civil Rights Movement of the ’50’s-’60’s.

In the end, I’m glad I read The Martian Chronicles but it isn’t something I’d unreservedly recommend to other readers. But it’s a fine choice if you’re looking to expand your experience of early speculative fiction!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?


Links:


Publication information: Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.
Source: Thrift shop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Awakening
by Kate Chopin

July 2, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

Chopin_Awakening

★ ★ ★

The Awakening by Kate Chopin | 1899 | Del Rey | Project Gutenberg $0

Edna Pontellier is a young woman living comfortably in the beautiful city of New Orleans. She is fond of her husband and proud of her sons but finds it impossible to accept that for women it is a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals. She fights back in the only manner she knows.

I put The Awakening on my Classics Club list because it is often included in studies of feminist history, which is a subject that I find very interesting. Plus, not gonna lie, it’s short. So I went into this story knowing nothing more about it than that.

I somehow managed to avoid finding out what happens to Edna (the main character) before reading, and I think this really affected my reaction to the story. So if you haven’t read it yet, please keep in mind:

This review contains spoilers.

Here, have a bit of a line break while you think about whether you want to go on reading this review or not….

– – – –

I wasn’t really expecting Edna to commit suicide, in part because the few reviews I had read before even putting The Awakening on my to-read list made only oblique references to her “choice to leave” or similar.

Now that I understand what they mean, I’m particularly confused by the negative reviews that complain about Edna being generally unrelatable/immoral and condemn her gradual, then suddenly final abandonment of her family. I would argue for a more empathetic view of the situation.

I think the ending of the story shines a particularly illuminating light on the main character’s previous thoughts + actions. The woman is depressed or otherwise mentally unwell. She is having a crisis. This crisis is caused by her being “boxed in” to a particular role by her culture, a role she is not suited for but cannot wholly escape except in one way.

She begins to have an emotional affair with one man, then a physical affair with another; she sends her children away to live with her husband’s family and leaves her husband. Her instability is obvious to everyone around her, and at one point a doctor encourages her to come to him for help. But what kind of help could he really have offered, in this era before psychotherapy and SSRIs?

This was all terribly shocking behavior to the Victorians that were this story’s original readers. Of course a modern reader, especially a socially conservative one, might also think her actions are repugnant — but we also live in a culture where women can have careers and don’t have to marry well or risk lifelong poverty/seclusion, where having children is a positive choice rather than the default assumption, where people can get divorced if their marriage falls apart instead of being unhappily trapped forever. It’s impossible to judge Edna by modern standards when she didn’t have the advantages of modern options.

Well, anyway, this was a depressing story, and not at all what I was looking for when I was hoping for a bit of “light” summer reading. On to the next one….


Links:


Publication information: Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Chicago: Herbert S. Stone & Company, 1899.
Source: Project Gutenberg.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Chocolate Wars
by Deborah Cadbury

June 18, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

Cadbury_ChocolateWars

★ ★ ★

Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury | January 2010 | PublicAffairs | Paperback $16.99

In the early nineteenth century the major English chocolate firms — Fry, Rowntree, and Cadbury — were all Quaker family enterprises that aimed to do well by doing good. The English chocolatiers introduced the world’s first chocolate bar and ever fancier chocolate temptations — while also writing groundbreaking papers on poverty, publishing authoritative studies of the Bible, and campaigning against human rights abuses. Chocolate was always a global business, and in the global competitors, especially the Swiss and the Americans, the English capitalists met their match. The ensuing chocolate wars would culminate in a multi-billion-dollar showdown pitting Quaker tradition against the cutthroat tactics of a corporate behemoth.

I asked for this book for Christmas because one of my favorite nonfiction foodie books is The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars by Joël Glenn Brenner, and I thought it might be interesting to read about the history of the chocolate business from the perspective of the Brits. The Emperors of Chocolate is still my preferred title in this chocolatey genre, but I’d say that if you’re really interested in the history of the world’s favorite food you ought to try to get your hands on BOTH of these books.

And yes, the author is from THAT Cadbury family. Curiosity about her own family history is what prompted her to begin investigating/writing this book, actually. But I think she does a fair job of representing the stories of other English (& European, & American) chocolate-making families/firms. The history of chocolate as a foodstuff in general is fascinating, and made even more so when you get to “know” the people who made it into a global gazillion-dollar business.

The last third or so of the book wasn’t quite as entertaining as the first parts. I enjoyed reading about the Quaker families who took chocolate from a luxury (and sometimes highly adulterated) drink to the kind of household confection we’re familiar with today. But the latter part of the story is all about the modern corporate food world, and it turns a bit dry and even a bit more depressing. The subject is no longer chocolate and plucky industrialists; it’s globalization and out-of-control-capitalism. I found myself wishing that the book had ended just a few chapters earlier.

Still, it’s a pretty good foodie history story. I enjoyed Cadbury’s writing enough that I’ll be on the lookout for her other history nonfiction titles — she’s written some quite interesting-looking books!


Links:


Publication information: Cadbury, Deborah. Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers. New York: Public Affairs, 2010. Print.
Source: Gift.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


Consider the Fork
by Bee Wilson

February 27, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Wilson_ConsidertheFork

★ ★ ★

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson | January 2012 | Basic Books | Hardcover $26.99

Since prehistory, humans have braved sharp knives, fire, and grindstones to transform raw ingredients into something delicious—or at least edible. Tools shape what we eat, but they have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. Technology in the kitchen does not just mean the Pacojets and sous-vide of the modernist kitchen. It can also mean the humbler tools of everyday cooking and eating: a wooden spoon and a skillet, chopsticks and forks.

In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson provides a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of everyday objects we often take for granted. Blending history, science, and anthropology, Wilson reveals how our culinary tools and tricks came to be, and how their influence has shaped modern food culture.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely ever give much thought to the basic technologies that facilitate (or complicate) my cooking and dining experiences. I mean, whoever actually does consider the fork? Bee Wilson, apparently.

This book includes some fascinating insights, like the details of the mid-century kitchens on display at the exhibition where Nixon and Khrushchev had their Kitchen Debate discussions over the merits of communism vs. capitalism in the context of model American homes. And there was quite a lot of detail included about each featured technology, from the long evolution of the “simple” table knife to the quite literally life-saving advent of refrigeration.

– – –

So, yes, the information presented in this book is interesting and the writing certainly isn’t bad, but something about the flow of it all didn’t click for me. The book felt, at times, more like a collection of essays than a comprehensive history of food tech, and at other times it seemed to ramble and drift from whatever point or thesis the author was trying to get at. But, again, I think that’s more of a stylistic preference issue than a quality issue.

I do wish there had been more in the way of footnotes or endnotes. I suppose, given the extensive bibliography tacked on at the end of the book and the author’s professional reputation, that it must have been very well-researched. I guess I just prefer the more academic way of citing things when it comes to nonfiction like this.

– – –

The only thing that really rubbed me the wrong way was the low-level but pervasive snark towards whatever cooking techniques/attitudes the author isn’t fond of. I don’t agree with her idea that cooking isn’t really (or shouldn’t be) a science — because ignoring all the science (accidental or otherwise) that goes into producing a meal is willfully, well, ignorant.

I also really don’t care how silly she thinks the American way of using cups and other volume measures rather than metric weight is — that’s how we do it and it’s a ridiculous thing to make an issue of. Americans are happy to put our flour in measuring cups, pour gravy over our biscuits, and dump your stupid tea straight into the harbor.

– – –

I’m afraid that’s all I have to say about Consider the Fork. My brain is feeling a bit fuzzy lately (blame it on allergies, terrible sleep habits, measuring cups, or whatever) and it’s all I could do to concentrate on this book long enough to make it through a chapter or so at a time. But I’m glad I read it and get to count it towards my Foodies Read challenge this year.


Links:

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


Publication information: Wilson, Bee. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. New York: Basic Books, 2012. Print.
Source: Purchased from public library used bookshop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Circle
by Dave Eggers

January 18, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Eggers_TheCircle

★ ★ ★

The Circle by Dave Eggers | October 2013 | Vintage Books, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday | Paperback $15.95
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America — even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

This book was chosen for a community-wide book club, Galveston Reads, sponsored by the local public library and some local foundations and businesses. This program always includes several themed events and book discussions, which I look forward to participating in this year.

I can see why The Circle is so popular. There’s even a movie based on it due out in 2016, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks (which I’m very much looking forward to seeing). Comparisons to dystopian classics Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four are apt, except that this time the boogeyman isn’t Big Government or Big Industry — it’s Big Tech.

– – –

It is flawed, mind you. I got the feeling that Eggers was trying to be subtle about the moral of the story at first — that allowing the encroachment of technology into private lives is perilous — but I personally thought it was immediately obvious and got to be a bit tiresome. And I’m a librarian, for heaven’s sake, practically a card-carrying member of the Privacy is Fucking Important League. So perhaps my impatience with this is merely a function of being steeped in the issues on the daily?

And I have to admit that I bristled 2 or 3 times at the descriptions of the young, hip techies — including our supposed heroine, Mae — just blindly accepting whatever shiny new thing their company asked them to swallow (quite literally, in one instance… except it wasn’t even a consensual swallow, which I know sounds dirty, but it just bugged me, and I’d better stop talking before we get into Spoiler Territory).

Maybe I’m just a little touchy about all the “Millennials blah blah this,” and “Snake People blah blah that,” swirling around in the media these days, but the assumption that pretty much everyone, but especially almost all young adults would just unquestioningly accept some of the shit that went down in The Circle really rubbed me the wrong way. Things like SnapChat exist primarily because there is already a widespread  understanding of the need for some level of privacy or erasability among the up-n-coming generations.

Mae, the main character is… annoying in a sympathetic sort of way. She’s self-centered and often purposefully oblivious to actual human communication, ready to lie (even to herself, especially to herself) in even the most ridiculous circumstances (even when she’s being “transparent”, especially when she’s being transparent), and she has terrible taste in men. Unfortunately, she genuinely thinks she’s doing the right thing in most situations, she wanted so badly to get out of her home town that she took a huge risk to make it happen, and she often wishes that someone else would make important/confusing decisions for her… which I all find embarrassingly relatable.

Speaking of terrible taste in men… there was one “twist” in particular that I didn’t find at all surprising, and I won’t say too much about it in order to avoid spoiling the plot for potential readers — except to say that it should be obvious to just about anyone who isn’t an oblivious idiot like Mae. Once I had this figured out, nothing at all about the rest of the novel was a surprise. There are some plot holes related to this particular revelation, too.

– – –

So… why 3 stars? Because despite all of that, I practically devoured the book. I stayed up too late reading it and couldn’t stop thinking about it after working through a few pages during my lunch break.

Even a week after finishing it, I kept thinking about it. I got more and more irritated with the premise and the bleak assumptions about human nature, but I kept thinking about it, and that’s something.

The plot pacing is addictive. The insidious way that a giant tech company can fool the world (starting with itself) into believing that it cares is depicted in a perfectly creepy way (… and yes, I’m writing this on a Google platform). Warts and all, it’s still a well-written, provocative book.


Links:

– – –

Publication information: Eggers, Dave. The Circle. New York: Vintage, 2014. Print.
Source: A gift from my local public library for Galveston Reads.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Adventures & Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

December 15, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

Doyle_SherlockHolmes

★ ★ ★

The Adventures & Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | 1892, original publication; 2004, this edition | Sterling Publishing | Hardcover $14.95

It’s elementary — there’s no more intriguing detective than Sherlock Holmes, with his unequalled powers of deduction, and no better mysteries than the tricky ones that only he can solve. Here are some of the finest Holmes stories, recounted by his trusty friend and assistant, Dr. Watson.

Only 3 stars for Sherlock Holmes! What are you, some kind of bonkers philistine with a puddle of cheese for brains? Your opinions are bad and you should feel bad.


That’s what you’re thinking right now, isn’t it?

Look, as it turns out, this whole Sherlock thing is not my thing. Holmes is not my homie.

It isn’t that these stories are bad! They’re not. A 3 star rating is nothing to sneeze at. I can still appreciate these stories for what they are — classic mysteries featuring unique, witty characters that have inspired a billion adaptations and reinterpretations.

I didn’t outright dislike this book. I was just kind of bored after the first couple of stories, TBH. Every story follows a formula: someone brings a case to Holmes, Holmes sees a bunch of details and clues that everyone else misses, some kind of small crisis or adventure happens, and Watson writes it all down from his own point of view. The end. Some of the mysteries were fairly interesting, but after a while they all started to blend together.

– – –

Beyond that, my main complaint is that Doyle relies on a lot of slight-of-hand storytelling devices. For example, take the overused “My dear Watson, didn’t you notice the X?” scenario where X is a thing that the reader, seeing things from Watson’s point of view, would also be unaware of until it was suddenly important. There’s also a lot of telling instead of showing, which I don’t think would fly if these books were written for modern mystery readers — somewhat ironically, as Doyle essentially popularized the genre single-handedly.

However, it isn’t entirely fair to judge the classics by my modern standards, is it? Especially since the mystery genre is not something I usually go for. Dunno why, I just am often bored with mystery books. Which further complicates my thoughts on rating this book, because how can I fairly rate a book if I rarely even read other comparable stories?

– – –

What I did like about this book, though, are the characters of Holmes and Watson themselves. It makes sense to me now why I enjoy most movies and TV shows based on these stories. Their personalities do shine through and develop over time despite the repetitiveness of the actual mysteries, and that’s what kept me reading until the end.So there it is, my dumb but honest opinion of this classic book. Please refrain from throwing all your rotten tomatoes at me….


Links:


Publication information: Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2004. Print.
Source: Owned, original source unknown.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Only Woman in the Room
by Eileen Pollack

September 3, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

pollack_only

★ ★ ★

The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys’ Club by Eileen Pollack | September 2015 | Beacon Press | Hardcover $25.95

In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. In the 1970s, Pollack had excelled as one of Yale’s first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics. But, isolated, lacking in confidence, and starved for encouragement, she abandoned her lifelong dream of becoming a theoretical physicist. Years later, she thought back on her experiences and wondered what had changed in the intervening decades, and what challenges remained. Based on six years of interviewing dozens of teachers and students and reviewing studies on gender bias, The Only Woman in the Room is an illuminating exploration of the cultural, social, psychological, and institutional barriers confronting women in the STEM disciplines.

This review is based on an e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss. The book is due to be published September 15, 2015. 

This book is generally OK, but I’m not sure whether this is something I’d generally recommend. In my opinion, the way it is being marketed is ever-so-slightly deceptive. This is not really a book about why more men than women manage to have successful careers in science. It’s one person’s extra-long lament about their disappointing experiences in college – which, granted, were often due to being a woman studying science, but still… not quite what is being advertised.

There are some quite lovely bits of prose, like this one from the last chapter:

Which only goes to prove that if you want to become a physicist – or anything else – you need to do it for yourself. You need to do it for the little girl who couldn’t stop thinking about how everything that exists evolved from nothing, how the first human beings learned to speak inside their heads, whether time would exist if no observers existed to record it, how a ray of light sniffs out the fastest path to follow, how an electromagnetic wave might appear if it were traveling in two or four rather than three dimensions, how an infinite number of infinitesimally tiny slivers beneath a curve can be integrated to find its area, or how an infinite number of infinitely tiny fractions of human life can be combined to create a whole.

Unfortunately, this book seemed to focus primarily on the author’s own personal issues rather than any larger trends or cultural problems. Oh, sure, the story was well-written (as you’d expect from Creative Writing professor) and Pollack’s story is somewhat intriguing, but I’m afraid I just could not relate to either her experiences or her attitudes in many instances. Part of that is due to generational differences and subject focus (after all, a Jewish woman who studied physics at an Ivy in the 1970’s would have a different point of view than a WASP woman studying biology at a public college in the 2000’s), but part of it is her reactions to incidents in her life, which often struck me as unnecessarily anxious or defeatist.

I kind of hate that I feel that way, because the epilogue includes responses from readers who thought the author lacked courage or blamed other people for her failures too often. I don’t want to be grouped with the “male professors [who] wrote to express their impatience, even anger at women who exhibit ‘self-esteem’ issues” because I don’t think that reaction is productive.

Plus, Eileen is of my own mother’s generation — and my mother was earning her master’s in organic chemistry at roughly the same time as the author was going through university. My mother and I haven’t really ever talked in depth about her grad school experience, but this book has made me curious. Did she experience the same issues? I’ll have to ask next time we meet.

– – – – – –

I was also a bit irritated by her assertion, based primarily on her own experiences and anecdotal evidence from a few other people, that most women just need more encouragement than men in order to be successful in STEM academia. First of all, that hasn’t been my own experience at all – but again, we are products of different times and disciplines. But the more irritating thing about this assertion, to me, is that it wasn’t scientific … at least until well over 200 pages into the book, when Pollack finally mentions a major study on the subject and gets some evidence-based exposition from one of the women who published it. Here we are, diving into the topic of women in science, and one of the author’s primary assertions isn’t even backed up by scientifically gathered/considered evidence until the story is almost finished?

Where was the in-depth discussion of developments in science education? Where did the author give any serious page space to statistics, trends, or peer-reviewed papers? Where was the scientific investigation of “why science is still a boys’ club” in this book?

– – – – – –

I’m struggling to rate this one, because the book wasn’t outright bad. It was just… more of a memoir and a series of interviews than an examination of the STEM gender gap. To be fair, the very last part of the book did involve the findings of various studies/committees (with the focus on one in particular). But that wasn’t even close to the bulk of the focus of the book, and in the end it just wasn’t what I thought it would be.

BUT.

Don’t take my word for it. Lots of people have enjoyed this book and the conversations it sparks are super important. Check out the links below for some other perspectives.


Links:


Publication information: Pollack, Eileen. The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys’ Club. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2015. EPUB.
Source: Electronic format review copy provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Dinosaur Lords
by Victor Milán

July 19, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

milan_dino

★ ★ ★

The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán | July 2015 | Tor Books | Hardcover $26.99

This review is based on an e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss. The book is due to be published July 28, 2015.

A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons. Vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted.

I wish I liked this book more than I did.

Come on, it’s a high fantasy set in a world where people ride DINOSAURS into battle (and keep them as pets and have otherwise domesticated them). Knights in shining armor who ride goddamn dinosaurs… what’s not to love?

Well, several things, TBQH….

Despite my everlasting passion for epic high fantasy stories, I’m not really a big fan of most battle scenes — and this book (especially at the beginning) involves several of them.

Most of the characters seemed flat to me. A couple of them did get to be more compelling as the story went on, but I really couldn’t make myself care about the fate of most of them. Even the main female character, the emperor’s daughter, seemed more like a vehicle for romance and court intrigue than a fully fleshed out character at first, although I do think she improved as the book went on.

(And I’m feeling pretty generous right now, so I won’t go on a rant about my frustration with yet another epic fantasy that features only a single, somewhat boring female POV character. You’re welcome.)

– – –

The world this book is set in is literally called Paradise. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of disease or natural disasters as far as I can tell, and humans can live to be over 300 years old. The danger is all either human-to-human or supernatural-to-human. I’m not sure why, but this rubbed me the wrong way.

That said, I did like the sort of alternative history — the book is basically set in a Europe where Spain, now called the Empire of Nuevaropa, basically took over everything and other countries are either subject to it or part of its empire. England, now Anglaterra, is called “Pirate Island” in a nod to its past attempts to defeat the Spanish fleet at sea. I liked that characters come from all over this version of Europe, too.

(Again, I’m feeling generous so we can skip over the rant about why we might not need yet another alterna-Europe high fantasy story….)

– – –

Lest ye think I’m complaining to much to justify the 3-star rating, I do want to point out some of the good stuff:

What it lacks in character detail/originality, it makes up for in setting detail/originality. This book includes a fully fleshed out world and I was delighted by all the little tidbits of dino biology and the history of the various nations.

The pacing is nearly perfect, too. Even though this book is well over 400 pages, not a single bit of it drags and I never felt like I might get too bored to finish. So despite my complaints above, I read the whole thing and mostly enjoyed it!

I also really liked the artwork by Richard Anderson. Each chapter is preceded by a lovely illustration as well as a short definition of  particular dinosaur species.

Dinosaur Lords is the first in a series. Will I read the following books? I don’t know yet. I won’t say no, but I’m not just bouncing off the walls in anticipation, either.


Links:

Publication information: Milán, Victor. The Dinosaur Lords. New York: Tor Books, 2015. EPUB.
Source: Electronic format review copy provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


All We Have is Now
by Lisa Schroeder

July 12, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

schroeder_allwehave
★ ★ ★

All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder | July 2015 | Point, an imprint of Scholastic | Hardcover $17.99

Just over twenty-four hours are left until an asteroid strikes North America, and for Emerson and everyone else who didn’t leave, the world will end. But Emerson’s world already ended when she ran away from home. Since then, she has lived on the streets, relying on her wits and on her friend Vince to help her find places to sleep and food to eat.

The city’s quieter now that most people are gone, and no one seems to know what to do as the end approaches. But then Emerson and Vince meet Carl, who tells them he has been granting people’s wishes — and gives them his wallet full of money.

Suddenly, this last day seems full of possibility. Emerson and Vince can grant a lot of wishes in one last day — maybe even their own.

This review is based on an ARC provided and signed by the author. (I won a very generous giveaway!) The official release date is July 28, which is less than 3 weeks away!

Keywords for this book? Sweet, well-paced, and thoughtful… but also not really my personal thing.

The entirety of the plot takes place in the final day leading up to an asteroid impact that is expected to cause an apocalypse-level disaster. The main characters are two homeless teens who don’t expect to survive, so they have to figure out how to fill their last living hours. The whole asteroid thing takes a backseat to the main plot, basically serving as just a whip to crack to get things moving…

… which is probably fine if you’re just looking for a nice little contemporary teen romance/social issues novel, but the SFF nerd in me was super annoyed and distracted by the lack of details and the obvious “twist” ending. I also started to feel really impatient with one of the main characters and I found myself rolling my eyes at her every few pages.

I’m going to set that aside for a minute, because it’s really a me problem, not an actual problem with the story itself. Here are some other things I liked about this book:

1. There are several rather lovely free verse poems scattered throughout, which serve as flashbacks and atmosphere-building devices.

2. Even though the kids are homeless and have obvious issues, their lives aren’t all about drugs or violence or prostitution (I find it refreshing when homelessness is not used as shorthand for “drug-addled holes for hire”).

3. The adults in this book are not perfect, but they’re not the enemies either — every character is treated like a real person, with flaws and positives in a flavorful blend.

In the end, would I recommend this book? Well, yeah. See above re: sweet, well-paced, and thoughtful — I really do think that folks who enjoy stories about troubled teens facing their problems (and maybe finding a little romance along the way) will enjoy this book.


Links:


Publication information: Schroeder, Lisa. All We Have is Now. New York: Scholastic, 2015. Print.
Source: ARC provided via giveaway.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.