Elentarri's Book Blog

Book reviews and other interesting goodies.

THE BFG by Roald Dahl

Bfg;The (Pb) - ROALD DAHL

This is a re-read for me - I had to replace my read-to-death copy of the book recently and decided to read it again.

 

This is an amusing (non-politically correct) children's book about the fascinating adventures of a quirky, lovable giant, his not-so-lovable neighbours, and a little girl.  The illustrations by Quentin Blake also add to the enjoyment of this book.  The text is easy enough for a novice reader to understand (with the occasional big word) but the made-up words might prove a bit difficult, if somewhat amusing when read aloud.  The story itself is also interesting enough to keep an adults attention while he/she is reading it to the kiddies.  There are also bits of morality issues which can be discussed with the children. 

 

My edition of the book has black and white sketches, but I've seen some lovely full colour editions of Roald Dahl's books.

 

 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a somewhat bland modern re-rewording of the shenanigans of the Norse Gods and Goddesses, the creation, and end of the World, that can be found in the Poetic and Prose Eddas.  If you don't know much about the Norse Gods and Goddesses, this is a decent, easy to read introduction.  If you know the basics, then you will find nothing new in this book.  This book also does not include any of the Norse myths/legends like Sigurd and the Dragon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by David Whitehouse

Journey to the Centre of the Earth: The Remarkable Voyage of Scientific Discovery into the Heart of Our World - David Whitehouse

TITLE:  Journey to the Centre of the Earth:  A Scientific Exploration into the Heart of Our Planet.

 

AUTHOR:  David Whitehouse

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2015

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-7802-2870-9

 

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In Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Whitehouse takes us on a tour of discovery through the Earth's crust, mantle, out core and inner core.  The author makes use of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" as a literary device as he takes the reader on a trip through the Earth, describing the scientists and the discoveries that lead to our knowledge of the Earth's geological structure.  He discusses such topics as earth quakes and seismology, the Earth's protective magnetic field, the interconnected relationship between biology, rocks and the geological workings of the Earth and other planets in this solar system.  

 

While the information provided in this book is interesting, some of it could have done with more detail.  The chapters are rather short, which is preferable to having separate topics all squashed into one chapter, however, topic organization was a little erratic on occasion.  This book includes many photographs and some diagrams but could have made use with a few more illustrative diagrams (and an editor).  The writing style is easy to read and accessible to the general public.

 

 

 

Fire Sea by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Fire Sea - Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman

Book 3 of the Death Gate Cycle is an entertaining, action packed, and sometimes intense, romp through Abarrach, the less-than-pleasant Realm of Stone (not to mention lava and poisonous fumes).  Haplo and Dog make new "friends" and meet old enemies.  The world building is deliciously original, with a rather interesting take on some old tropes.  The cover art for this book also exquisite!

 

Broken Bow by Diane Carey

Broken Bow - Diane Carey

Broken Bow is an adequate, though bland, novelization of the Enterprise's pilot episode.  There is no deviation and very little additional material from the original episode.  This is a rather disappointing retelling of rather mediocre episode.

GULP by MARY ROACH

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach

TITLE:  Gulp:  Adventures of the Alimentary Canal

 

AUTHOR:  Mary Roach

 

FORMAT:  e-book

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-393-24030-6

 

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NOTE:  The Flat Book Society Book Club selected Gulp by Mary Roach as the book to read for September and October 2017.

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When a book is titled “Gulp: Adventures of the Alimentary Canal” and marketed as popular science, the potential reader assumes they will be reading a book that discusses how the digestive system works and other interesting facts about the alimentary canal.  Well… that is NOT this book.  This book is something of an unfocused hodge-podge of breezy, superficial facts; throw-away statements (we want to know more!); and odd historical stories about the scientists and their less than savoury experiments on the digestive tract.

 

The book is divided into 17 chapters which loosely  follow the physiological structure of the alimentary canal, beginning with taste and smell, and covering such topics as organ meats, cultural food preferences, chewing, gastric acid, saliva, swallowing, being eaten alive, eating too much, intestinal gasses and flammability, extra-curricular storage functions, colonic direction, constipation, and gut-microflora transplants.  After a while I found that the chapters started to blur together due to the collection of random facts, pointless fillers, multiple side tangents, and not-so-witty footnotes. 

 

I’m not really sure what the aim of this book was supposed to be, but it is more entertaining (if you find potty humour and fashion commentary entertaining) than educational.  In any case, Roach seems to take delight in showcasing the more sensational trivia and taboos about the digestive system, while at the same time providing excessive fashion commentary of the people she interviews.  There is very little actual science in this book and a limited coverage of the functioning of the alimentary canal.  This book emphasized the strange and bizarre occurrences related to the digestive system, but never fully explained the system itself.   

 

I found the writing to be a little sloppy with odd sentence structures, interesting single sentence comments that went no-where and lack of clarity between fact and personal opinion.  In addition, the author has an irreverent, rambling style with excessive asides, puns, dodgy humour and innuendoes, and a preoccupation with toilet humour that might appeal more to a 12 year old boy trying to revolt his baby sister than someone actually looking for information about the topic.  The excessive, crude toilet humour also didn’t appeal to me.

 

The subject matter has the potential to be extremely interesting; however, this book is not.  One reviewer described this book as the “Trivial Pursuit version of the “adventures on the alimentary canal,” not the informative, organized tour designed to give insight in an entertaining way”.  I can’t really argue with that.

 

I would not recommend this book to anyone, except possibly the aforementioned 12 year old boy in the hopes of enticing him away from the computer/ TV for a while.  There is too much filler and pointless trivia; and very little actual science in this book.

 

 

The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire

The Brightest Fell - Seanan McGuire

From the Blurb:

 

For once, everything in October “Toby” Daye’s life seems to be going right. There have been no murders or declarations of war for her to deal with, and apart from the looming specter of her Fetch planning her bachelorette party, she’s had no real problems for days. Maybe things are getting better.

Maybe not.

Because suddenly Toby’s mother, Amandine the Liar, appears on her doorstep and demands that Toby find her missing sister, August. But August has been missing for over a hundred years and there are no leads to follow. And Toby really doesn’t owe her mother any favors.

Then Amandine starts taking hostages, and refusal ceases to be an option.

 

A wonderfully enjoyable, exciting and heart-rending addition to the October Daye series. 

Elven Star by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Elven Star - Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis

From the blurb:

 

"On steamy Pryan, never-ending sunlight and plentiful rain have created a jungle so vast that humans and elves dwell high in the trees and only dwarves live anywhere near the ground. From the treetops the aristocratic elves sell weapons to the other races, whose incessant warfare sends a steady steam of profits and essential resources skyward. Now, generations of dissent and race hatred will not heal -- not even under the threat of annihilation at the hands of legendary Titans. Armed with little more than their wits and prophecy, an elf, a human, and a dwarf must unite to try to save the world from destruction."

 

This is the second book in the complete Death Gate Cycle.  It's a bit thin on plot but the characters are entertaining (Zifnab and his dragon are rather amusing or irritating depending on your tastes) and Dog makes a reappearance.  The world building is original and fascinating.  While this book is a complete story it doesn't really hold up without the rest of the series.  It is however, still entertaining and run to read.

 

 

 

The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology by Kevin Crossley-Holland

The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology - Kevin Crossley-Holland (Translator)

A lovely, diverse collection of Anglo-Saxon writings translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland, including Beowulf, a collection of  Heroic Poems, Elegies, Church writings, Laws, portions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Poems of Exploration, some riddles from the Exeter Book and other odds-and-ends.  The translations are clear and accessible and each section is preceded by a commentary which puts the Anglo-Saxon texts into context.  This collection provides a picture of the people who migrated to the British Isles as pagans and became Christians within a few centuries.

 

Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Dragon Wing - Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis

Dragon Wing is book 1 in the completed Death Gate Cycle of 7 books.  The first book contains a complete story but there is quite obviously something more complex going on.  The best part of this book is the world building - it is original, even after all these years.  The characters are also fairly well written and complex.  Even the dog has his own personality.  The book starts off with an assassin in what is superficially a medieval world and ends up with a variety of elves, dwarves, humans, an "adorable" manipulative little child, wizards of various kinds, a man with bandaged hands (and his dog) in a world that isn't all that medieval anymore and on the cusp of change.  Book 1 takes place in the World of Air, which is a world of floating continents with a contraption (of unknown purpose) called the Kicksey-winsey worshiped and maintained by the locals.  Travel between these floating islands is via dragon back or airship, and the local currency is barrels of water or their equivalent in coin.  This adventure is a fun, action packed romp through an interesting realm.  If you want to know what happens in such a fascinating world, you are just going to have to read the book (and the rest of the Death Gate Cycle).

 

Bats Sing, Mice Giggle by Karen Shanor & Jadmeet Kanwal

Bats Sing, Mice Giggle: The Surprising Science of Animals' Inner Lives - Jagmeet Kanwal, Karen Shanor

TITLE:  Bats Sing, Mice Giggle:  The Surprising Science of Animals' Inner Lives

 

Author:  Karen Shanor & Jagmeet Kanwal

 

Publication Date: 2010

 

Format: e-book

 

ASIN: B00JFVOLXM

 

 

Bats Sing, Mice Giggle:  The Surprising Science of Animal's Inner Lives is an uneven collection of random animal behaviour facts grouped into themed chapters, rather than a cohesive book on animal behaviour.  

I found this book to be rather frustrating and annoying.  All the information presented in the book has the potential to be interesting, but a lot of the topics were only covered in passing, with little depth and the reader would really like to know more.  On occasion, some of the topics would just break off.  The writing style was also somewhat erratic, with some sections reading like a kiddies book, while other sections read more like a standard popular science book.  Apparently, no editor went anywhere near this book!

While the book is interesting, it would probably work better as a bathroom reader or when you only have time for short sections at a go, otherwise the lists of animal facts would become rather boring.


St. Patrick's Gargoyle by Katherine Kurtz

St. Patrick's Gargoyle - Katherine Kurtz

This short and sometimes emotional novel is told from the perspective of Paddy, the gargoyle who guards St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland.  It is a tale of good vs evil, as Paddy enlists the help of 82 year old Francis Templeton, a Knight of Malta with a fondness of his old Rolls Royce.

The book is somewhat weak on plot but heavy on theology and church functioning, including a section on bell ringing (which was rather interesting).  I didn't feel that the author was preaching, despite the religious themes of the book (which couldn't really be helped in a book like this).

The author's portrayal of gargoyles is original and something I enjoyed immensely.  The story also makes use of miracles (sort of), demons, angels and a cat.  This is a sweet little mystery story, with lovable characters, delightful interactions and a unique perspective.  It is not gritty or dark, though there are intense moments, nor is it quite fluffy either.  I found this book to be a pleasant and enjoyable diversion.

The book isn't particularly meant for children but i is safe for their consumption, i.e. no gore, excessive violence or sex.

The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

The Black Lung Captain - Chris Wooding

From the Blurb:

"Darian Frey is down on his luck. He can barely keep his squabbling crew fed and his rickety aircraft in the sky. Even the simplest robberies seem to go wrong. It's getting so a man can't make a dishonest living any more.

Enter Captain Grist. He's heard about a crashed aircraft laden with the treasures of a lost civilisation, and he needs Frey's help to get it. There's only one problem. The craft is lying in the trackless heart of a remote island, populated by giant beasts and subhuman monsters.

Dangerous, yes. Suicidal, perhaps. Still, Frey's never let common sense get in the way of a fortune before. But there's something other than treasure on board that aircraft. Something that a lot of important people would kill for. And it's going to take all of Frey's considerable skill at lying, cheating and stealing if he wants to get his hands on it..."

 

The Black Lung Captain is the second fantasy/steampunk (sort of) tale of the Ketty Jay airship and it's misfit crew.  This is much better than the first book - more character development, lovely world building, more action, more surprises and lots of fun swashbuckling adventure.  The story is self-contained but it is best to read Retribution Falls first.  

Barbarians to Angels by Peter S. Wells

Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered - Peter S. Wells

TITLE:  Barbarians to Angels:  The Dark Ages Reconsidered

 

AUTHOR:  Peter S. Wells

 

DATE PUBLISHED: 2008

 

FORMAT: e-book

 

ISBN:  9780393069372

 

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In Barbarians to Angels, Wells discusses his basic thesis that the “Dark Ages” weren’t quite so dark. That the barbarians “invading” the Roman Empire, adapted,  integrated and modified the Roman government institutions, but also retained a great deal of their own complex culture and institutions after the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Wells decides to focus his attention on the examination of archaeological materials to construct a picture of barbarian society in northern Europe.

 

In my opinion, Wells’ argument may well be correct, but he doesn’t convey this adequately (in this book) due to poor argumentation and the questionable interpretation and use of evidence.  The author continually states that the Dark Ages were a time of brilliant cultural activity, but fails to show this.  He keeps going back to the archaeological evidence and ignores any other type of evidence.  While Wells describes the archaeological features in detail, he fails to place these objects in a wider context or compare them with similar findings in the rest of Europe.  Wells’ also tends to focus on sites on the edge of the Roman Empire or even beyond its borders.  There is rarely any discussion of sites within what once was the Western Roman Empire.  There is also a lack of information of how his findings compare to what was happening in the area before the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.  The author does present some interesting information about the evidence for trade and culture and wealth that refutes the common misconception of savage barbarians plundering cities, ravished populations and empty landscapes.  But he doesn’t provide enough information to compare economic complexity during the Roman period and the post-Roman period.  For example, Wells demonstrates that Dark Age Europeans were capable of creating sophisticated goods and distributing them, but the why, how, and its relation to the earlier Roman period is not explained.

 

In general, this book is rather basic and bland and may well be intended as an introduction to the early Middle Ages or as a limited survey to the subject.  The writing style is easy to read with many photographs and maps, however, the argument is weak and unsatisfactory.

 

OTHER BOOKS:

 

~Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages by Frances Gies, Joseph Gies

 

~Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe by Peter Heather

 

~The Celts by Alice Roberts

 

~A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons: The Beginnings of the English Nation by Geoffrey Hindley

 

~Terry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History by Terry Jones, Alan Ereira

 

~The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 by Chris Wickham

 

~Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 by Chris Wickham

 

~The World of Late Antiquity 150-750 by Peter R.L. Brown

 

~Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World by Patrick J. Geary

 

~In Search of the Dark Ages by Michael Wood

 

~The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph & Diversity 200–1000 by Peter R.L. Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms - Amy Stewart

The Earth Moved is an overly chatty book that takes a superficial look at the uses of earthworms.  I felt the author spent too much page space regurgitating what Darwin had to say about earthworms and going on about her worm bin and her garden.  There wasn't nearly as much information about earthworms as I had hoped, just generally the stuff one learns in junior high-school biology class and the odd factoid, and no diagrams.  I did however find the chapters on land reclamation and sewage treatment informative.

 

 

 

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves - Neal Stephenson

"The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."

Seveneves is an entertaining, complex and thought provoking hard-science fiction book that takes a look at humanity, the good and the bad, during an apocalyptic event.

 

The book is split into three sections.  The first sections deals with humanities' preparation for the cataclysm that will result from the split moon.  The second section focuses on the people in space immediately after the cataclysm, who have the task of keeping the human species alive or the duration of the catastrophe.  The third part of the book takes a look at what happens when the Earth is made habitable again five thousand years after the cataclysm.

The author has a fondness for lengthy explanations and descriptions of new environments, but is short of character development.  There is a great deal of focus on hard science in this novel - everything from orbital mechanics, robotics and the physics of keeping a space station in space to genetic engineering and psychology.  However, this story is still enthralling, the world building is fascinating and the character cast entertaining and their interactions complex.  I enjoyed this book immensely, but wish there was more to the second and third sections.  There are some poignant moments, some funny moments, feats of heroics, and then there are the moments where you wish you could toss a particular character out the airlock!  

NOTE:  Seveneves is a palindrome.