Elentarri's Book Blog

Book reviews and other interesting goodies.

Dragon Fireside Tales by Adam Boustead

Dragon Fireside Tales - Adam Boustead

NOTE:  I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.  This review is my honest opinion of the book.



Dragon Fireside Tales consists of a collection of poems and short-stories, most of which are rather short.  I'm not a poetry fan so the poems didn't interest me much.  The fantastical stories are entertaining and strangly compelling, with quirky twists or endings.  There were some common themes and characters in these stories, which added to the oddness.  I did, however, think that some of the stories needed more polishing or editing.  Overall, an entertaining, light read.




QUOTE: The Evolution Underground [Chapter 4]

The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet - Anthony J. Martin

"If too many documentary films and cartoons about the 1.4-meter (4.5-foot) tall emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) of Antarctica have colored your perception of penguins, fairy penguins will surprise you, and in a good way. Once they stand up on a beach, their overwhelming cuteness may very well compel you to babble an infantile string of nonsensical monosyllables while dissolving into a puddle of goo. First of all, these are the smallest of penguins, with adults reaching about 30 centimeters (12 inches), one third the height of the Star Wars droid R2D2. Second, their backs are composed of nearly iridescent-blue feathers, their bellies are white, and their cheeks have just a hint of blush, a plumage contrasting with that of the severe black-and-white tuxedo outfits worn by their southernmost relatives.


Further adding to their charm, fairy penguins hold their thin black wings out from their sides as they walk with webbed feet, looking as if they are performing a balancing act; which in effect they are, because they would easily topple over at the slightest push. (Please don’t do this, though. Remember: overwhelming cuteness.) All of these traits are endearing enough in any given penguin, but when multiplied by hundreds, all of them baby-stepping out of the surf together and looking like one big happy family, it is enough to elicit squeaks and squeals from even the most hardened anti-penguin cynics. No wonder, then, that a longtime fairy penguin colony on the seashore of Phillip Island in Victoria, Australia, has become a huge tourist attraction. Throughout each year, hundreds of thousands of fellow biped admirers gather nightly to watch the hundreds of these birds ambling up the beach in a “penguin parade.”"

From:  The Evolution Underground by Anthony J. Martin




QUOTE: The Evolution Underground [Chapter 1]

The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet - Anthony J. Martin

If this use of alligator dens doesn’t impress as a form of protection, then think of alligator babies. That’s right: cute little alligator babies, which easily fit on the palm of an average adult human hand when newly hatched. Only later do they grow up to become monsters—much like how human children eventually turn into teenagers. Despite being so adorable, nearly everything bigger than a baby alligator—including other alligators—regards it as an appetizer. Hence these little tykes need defending, which is partially provided by their overprotective mothers, but also by dens. Alligator mothers stay with their offspring for as long as two years after they hatch, and if dens are nearby, they will use these not only as places with plenty of fresh water (which baby alligators need), but also for hiding the kids from trouble.


From:  The Evolution Underground by Anthony J. Martin



QUOTE: The Evolution Underground [Chapter 1]

The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet - Anthony J. Martin

Once spotted, I greeted it like an old friend, enthusiastically striding toward its opening before delivering my little lecture to the assembled group. A few students stood back, impressed by the size of the hole and staring into its underground darkness, a seemingly bottomless pit of mystery. The whirring of zoom lenses and digitally rendered shutter sounds behind me told me they were taking plenty of pictures. I was pleased that they found this burrow as interesting as I did.

Suddenly, I was jarred out of my educational reverie when one of students said, “I see teeth in there.”

“Teeth?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, and others nodded agreement. She was looking into the den, while two others looked anxiously back and forth between their camera view-screens and the den, testing what they either observed or imagined.

“What kind of teeth?” I asked. Like a typical paleontologist, I was thinking of a disembodied skull or jaw, instead of a breathing animal bearing (or baring) those teeth.

“I don’t know. Could it be a snake?”

“Sure, that’s possible.” I had seen alligator dens with snakes in them before. Also, unlike certain fictional archaeologists, I like snakes and relished the thought that one might be in the burrow. “But you probably wouldn’t be seeing its teeth,” I said, as I became more confused about this unexpected shift in the lesson plan for my students. Puzzled, I stepped closer to the entrance, which is when I received an admonition from their “classmate” who had somehow (but understandably) made it past the registrar without paying tuition.

I looked up at Michael. The disbelief probably still registered on my face, but my expression also must have wordlessly asked him, “What do we do now?”

With his GPS unit in one hand, Michael smiled, and with barely suppressed glee at the absurdity of our predicament he said, “Guess we have to mark that one as occupied.”


From:  The Evolution Underground by Anthony J. Martin



QUOTE: The Evolution Underground [Chapter 3]

The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet - Anthony J. Martin

"Just how did the ancestors of both land- and sea-dwelling turtles manage to make it through three heinous events in the history of life and still be around today? If you thought I was going to say “burrowing,” you would be right, but it gets more complicated than that. After all, though a few turtles use burrows for estivation and others for homes, most turtles do not live in burrows at all. For example, nobody is suggesting that Cretaceous sea turtles dug out submarine burrows to wait out an upcoming apocalypse. So rather than making homes, turtles have used underground environments in another way to save themselves and future generations: by female turtles burying their eggs".

From:  The Evolution Underground by Anthony J. Martin






Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth's Last Dinosaur by Carl Safina


QUOTE: The Evolution Underground [Chapter 2]

The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet - Anthony J. Martin

Derinkuyu today is a small town of about 10,000 people, and everyone lives where they can easily see the sky every day. Yet at one time a population twice that lived underground. The Derinkuyu underground city is the deepest known in the region of Cappadocia, plumbing depths of about 85 meters (280 feet), with five levels between the surface and its deepest parts, all carved out of the rock using nothing more than hand tools and people power. According to archaeologists and historians, this city might have been started well before Christians moved into the area, perhaps as long ago as when the Hittites were there, which was 3,000–5,000 years ago.


Other than living chambers, what else would the inhabitants of a city need to stay happy and healthy while working for extended times underground? Wine and olive oil, of course. For Derinkuyu, this meant creating rooms for pressing grapes and olives, as well as wineries for fermenting grapes. Also needed were food- and water-storage (cistern) areas, kitchens, stables for domestic animals, schoolrooms, and places for worship, with religions depending on who was living there at the time. For air circulation, a 55-meter (180-foot) deep ventilation shaft connected to the surface, and thousands of ventilation ducts emanated from this shaft, ensuring that chambers received air from the outside world. Rather than relying on wells—which could easily be poisoned or otherwise sabotaged at the surface by enemies—water was channeled from groundwater and through subsurface conduits. In a seasonally wet-dry climate, it made sense to tap into this underground water supply, instead of relying on ephemeral surface-water sources. For further comfort, linseed-oil lamps illuminated the darkness, with the oil coming from locally grown plants (species of Linum and Eruca). A room or two devoted to pressing plant seeds for their oils was helpful for keeping the lights on.


Although many passageways in Derinkuyu were narrow (more on that soon), some of the horizontal tunnels past these stairways opened up into veritable highways. Such widened corridors were used for moving livestock to and from stables. These were sensibly constructed on the first level, as even the most domesticated of animals would have resisted descending too far into the earth. Chambers connected by tunnels also ranged from the size of a Tokyo efficiency apartment to that of a spacious ballroom. These big rooms were held up by pillars, which were simply fashioned out of the stone. Small, embossed rectangular alcoves held oil lamps, which provided light at all levels. All in all, these functional spaces added up to a self-sufficient and relatively sustainable environment for its inhabitants.


Access to multiple levels and chambers in this underground complex was accomplished by shaping inclined stairways from the stone and long horizontal passageways, respectively. Both types of routes vary considerably in width and height, but most of the stairwells are tight, barely accommodating one person at a time. These were also short enough that the average-height people of today have to stoop to prevent unwanted rock–head collisions. However, the claustrophobic character of these stairways was not a flaw, but a feature, as they were designed for defense.


From:  The Evolution Underground by Anthony J. Martin






Unwritten by Tara Gilboy

Unwritten - Tara Gilboy

NOTE:  I received an Uncorrected Advanced Proof of this book from NetGalley.  This review is my honest opinion of the book.



TITLE:  Unwritten


AUTHOR:  Tara Gilboy




ISBN-13 (paperback):  978-1-63163-178-8

ISBN-13 (ebook):  978-1-63163-178-8



Unwritten is a beautifully written portal-fantasy/adventure novel written for middle-graders but that is also interesting enough for adults to read.  The novel also has an attractive and eye-catching front cover.


The reader follows twelve-year-old Gracie, who is not a normal child.  She is actually a character from an unpublished novel that she has never read.  She only knows that she was supposed to die in the story.  That's why her parents took her (and some other people) out of the story, into this world, to save her.  She longs to know more about the story but her mother refuses to talk about it. All that this secret-keeping does is foster Gracie's curiousity about herself and the story she came from.  Then the author of Gracie's unpublished story comes to town and things get interesting... and messy.


The main characters are believable (even if I did want to stuff Gracie in a broomcloset for continually ignoring sound parental requests), and the conflicts dealt with are complex.  however, the other characters (Walter, Cassandra and Jacob) could all have used a bit more "flesh".  The plot line is interesting and slightly twisty, with the setting skipping between our world and the story-world.


There are many themes in this book - keeping secrets, being honest, the detrimental effects of being too stubborn, family - but the main theme is about figuring out who you are in a world that may try to turn you into something else; realizing that your story is not written for you and you can determine your own path. 


Being geared for the 8-14 years olds, this novel is rather short and fairly easy to understand, but it is a fantastic story about magic and self-determination that is enjoyable to read.




Dynasty by Tom Holland

Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland (2015-09-03) - Tom Holland;

TITLE:  Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar


AUTHOR:  Tom Holland




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  978-0-349-12383-7



Dynasty is the early history of the Julio-Claudian line of the Roman emperors retold as a story.  This book starts off where Rubicon ended.  This is a narrative history that seeks to entertain the reader and provide a story of what happened.  For me, it did not succeed with either endeavour.  I don’t know much more about the “what happened” than I had before reading this book (i.e. a succession of Roman Emperors that waged war on whom ever stuck their fancy and had a fancy for despotism and murdering anyone they felt like).  Nor was I entertained – I was bored and finished reading the book just to get it off my bedside table.


Holland does not attempt to put forth new scholarly conclusions, nor does he offer much analyses of complex events.  This narrative relies almost exclusively on textual evidence in Roman literature and history, with casually inserted quotes from primary textual sources without bothering to explain their source, context or (on occasion) their relevance. 


The potential storyline is strong, but Holland’s delivery manages to be weak.  The writing is tedious, ponderous, overly-flowery with a disjointed and distant narrative that manages to be more selective gossip and sensationalism than actual history.  It doesn’t help that in a 500+ page book there are only 7 incredibly long-winded chapters, which all have mafia related headings.   The author spends a ridiculous amount of ink on each emperor’s sexual proclivities and random insertions of far too much graphic sexual detail of what the author professes to be the values of the rest of the Roman citizens at the time.  He rather gleefully “spices” up the narrative of these salacious details with foul and vulgar language (apparently big boys like their potty humour too), which jarred with the tone of the rest of the text.  Apparently, Holland is under the impression that popular history books need to be excessively graphic, crude and vulgar to be interesting to readers.


The book is also rather limited in scope, dealing only with the Julio-Claudians and their enemies (i.e. upper-class associates and relatives), thus excluding almost entirely the everyday lives of ordinary Romans, any changes in the Roman economy, trade, and climate, and also excludes anything related to material culture unless it involves monuments relevant to the Julio-Claudians.


This book couldn’t decide whether it was supposed to be a popular history book (with footnotes and bibliography) or a work of historical fiction.  Despite the inclusion of a timeline, maps and family trees, this book came across as a messy hodgepodge of people with vaguely similar names (apparently ancient Romans lacked imagination when naming their children!), who are in some way related to each other, doing various despicable deeds to each other.  Talk about a dysfunctional, psychopathic family!




Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

Artificial Condition - Martha Wells

This is the second installment of the Murderbot Diaries, which extends the world building we saw in All Systems Red.  Murderbot is a wonderfully realised (and developing) main character.  Artificial Condition is a beautifully written, sometimes amusing, and exciting action/adventure/mystery novella set in an internally consistent science-fiction universe.


In Artificial Condition, Murderbot tries to determine the events that led to it becoming a rogue Secunit. To accomplish that, it must take a transport to the world where it happened, and Murderbot offers media to a transport ship in exchange for a ride. However, there is more to this particular transport ship than Murderbot originally assumed.  The interactions between Murderbot and ART are a delight to read.  I'm eagerly awaiting the next adventures of Murderbot.


"Yes, the giant transport bot is going to help the construct SecUnit pretend to be human. This will go well."

Lost Creed by Alex Kava

Lost Creed - Alex Kava

From the blurb:

"Ryder Creed rescues abandoned dogs and turns them into heroes. But this time, it's Creed who may need rescuing when a madman leads him and Agent Maggie O'Dell on a gut-wrenching scavenger hunt.

Sixteen years ago, Ryder Creed's sister, Brodie, vanished from an interstate rest stop. She was only eleven and Creed was fourteen. Her disappearance ripped apart his family and has haunted Creed.

Now a former Marine with his own scars, Creed has dedicated his life to his K9 business. He takes discarded and abandoned dogs and trains them for scent detection. Together they search for the lost and the missing. And always, Creed has held onto the hope that one day he might find out what happened to his sister.

A thousand miles away during a police raid, FBI Agent Maggie O'Dell stumbles upon a clue that may explain what happened to Brodie Creed all those years ago. But to find the answers she'll need to make a deal with a madman. And the search that follows will be as agonizing for Creed, as are the answers he discovers.


This is a tightly plotted, wonderfully written novel.  I love the search and rescue/cadaver/sniffy dogs that show up in these books.  The main characters are also strongly written.  There isn't much more to write that isn't in the blurb and that won't be a spoiler.  There are no cliff-hangers at the end of these books but some characters reappear frequently and show growth/development so reading the previous 3 books is helpful, but not necessary.


A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup


TITLE:  A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie


AUTHOR:  Kathryn Harkup




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9781472911308








From the blurb:

"People are fascinated by murder. The popularity of murder mystery books, TV series, and even board games shows that there is an appetite for death, and the more unusual or macabre the method, the better. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but poisons are inherently more mysterious. How are some compounds so deadly in such tiny amounts?

Agatha Christie used poison to kill her characters more often than any other crime fiction writer. The poison was a central part of the novel, and her choice of deadly substances was far from random; the chemical and physiological characteristics of each poison provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. Christie demonstrated her extensive chemical knowledge (much of it gleaned by working in a pharmacy during both world wars) in many of her novels, but this is rarely appreciated by the reader.

Written by former research chemist Kathryn Harkup, each chapter takes a different novel and investigates the poison used by the murderer. Fact- and fun-packed, A is for Arsenic looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering, and detecting these poisons, both when Christie was writing and today.


Kathryn Harkup has written a lovely book that explores the poisons used by Agatha Christie in her novels.  The introductory chapter provides some interesting biographical material of Christie and why she knew so much about poisons.  Harkup then dedicates the next 14 chapters to a specific poison, such as arsenic, belladonna, cyanide, digitalis, eserine, hemlock, monkshood, nicotine, opium, phosphorus ricin, strychnine, thallium and veronal (a type of barbiturate).  Each chapter describes how Christie used the poison in her novels, how the poison works, if there is an antidote, and examples of the poison used in real life.

I am not an Agatha Christie fan so found the sections describing Christie's novels and their plot summaries didn't particularly appeal to me, and also became tedious after a while.  Reading several plot summaries does not make for thrilling reading.  Harukp managed to avoid spoilers for the most part, or at least warned of spoilers before discussing pertinent Christie novels.  This will no doubt be appreciated for Christie fans who haven't read all of her novels.


The sections that describe how each poison effects the body were more interesting to me.  Harkup provided enough science to understand why substances were toxic without bogging the lay reader down with irrelevant detail.    Many poisons have similar effects on the body (i.e. they impair nerve functioning), so some sections were a bit repetitive by necessity.  Appendix 2 provides structures of a few of the chemicals described in the book, which was a nice addition.


The real life poisoning attempts were also interesting, especially the manner in which the poisoners were eventually caught.


This book would appeal to fans of Agatha Christie and for those who would like to know how a variety of poisons work.  There is no overall narrative, and each chapter can be read separately and out of order.  None the less, this is an interesting, informative and enjoyable book.





Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams - Matthew Walker

TITLE:  Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams 


AUTHOR:  Matthew Walker




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9781501144318



From the blurb:

"The first sleep book by a leading scientific expert—Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab—reveals his groundbreaking exploration of sleep, explaining how we can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better.

Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don't sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life—eating, drinking, and reproducing—the purpose of sleep remained elusive.

An explosion of scientific discoveries in the last twenty years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.

Walker answers important questions about sleep: how do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses. Clear-eyed, fascinating, and accessible, Why We Sleep is a crucial and illuminating book.


This is an interesting, informative and important book on sleep and how it effects us.  The contents of the book are as described in the blurb.  The writing is clear and the science easy to understand.  I would recommend this book to everyone because the subject is important and potentially life altering.



Ocean Worlds by Jan Zalasiewicz & Mark Williams

Ocean Worlds: The Story of Seas on Earth and Other Planets  - Mark Williams, Jan Zalasiewicz

TITLE:  Ocean Worlds: The Story of Seas on Earth and Other Planets


AUTHOR:  Jan Zalasiewicz & Mark Williams




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  978-0-19-967288-2



From the blurb:

"Water, water everywhere?


So it would seem, and not ust on our home planet, but across the Universe,  In this exciting exploration of oceans, Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Willimas take us to the beginnings of oceans on the hot, young Earth and show the critical role oceans have played in plate tectonics, in the development of the Earth's climate, and in the evolution of life on the planet.  There is much we still have to learn about the depths of our wold;s oceans.


Beyond the Earth, we explore possible oceans past on Mars and Venus, the ocean below the icy carapace of Euopa, and the water jets of Enceladus.  Will the Earth become another Mars or Venus in the future, when its oceans have boiled away?  Do the oceans of Saturn's moons harbour life - at least microbial life?  And the tantalizing possibility of finding another Earth-like world with oceans beckons.  Understanding oceans is central to understanding our planet, managing its future, and seeking life on other worlds."


Ocean Worlds is a well written science book that covers information and theories about the history, evolution and future development of the Earth's oceans, and then takes a look at other ocean worlds.  In short, the book is as described on the "tin".  The narrative is clearly written, fast paced and easy to understand but not overly simplified.  Numerous illustrations, diagrams and colour photographs are included.




- Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts

- The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels by Brian M. Fagan

- The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions by Paul B. Wignall

- The Goldilocks Planet: The Four Billion Year Story of Earth's Climate by Jan Zalasiewicz & Mark Williams




The Music of the Deep: A Novel by Elizabeth Hall

The Music of the Deep: A Novel - Elizabeth Hall

This is not my usual reading fare, but I wanted something that was entertaining but didn't require too much input from my side.  This book is entertaining and has interesting characters.  Something light to read in the evenings.  I was expecting more ghost activity, but that is apparently not this book.  The orcas were a nice touch.

The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke

The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife - Lucy Cooke

TITLE:  The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife


AUTHOR:  Lucy Cooke




FORMAT:  ebook


ISBN-13:  978-0-465-09465-3



From the blurb:

"Mary Roach meets Sam Kean and Bill Bryson in this uproarious tour of the basest instincts and biggest mysteries of the animal world.  Humans have gone to the Moon and discovered the Higgs boson, but when it comes to understanding animals, we've still got a long way to go. Whether we're seeing a viral video of romping baby pandas or a picture of penguins "holding hands," it's hard for us not to project our own values--innocence, fidelity, temperance, hard work--onto animals. So you've probably never considered if moose get drunk, penguins cheat on their mates, or worker ants lay about. They do--and that's just for starters. In The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke takes us on a worldwide journey to meet everyone from a Colombian hippo castrator to a Chinese panda porn peddler, all to lay bare the secret--and often hilarious--habits of the animal kingdom. Charming and at times downright weird, this modern bestiary is perfect for anyone who has ever suspected that virtue might be unnatural."




The Truth About Animals provides an entertaining and interesting look at the private lives of animals.  The book takes a look at the oddball myths that surround some of these animals and the (sometimes ling-winded) opinions/works of historical (and modern) naturalists with regards to these myths.  Each chapter deals with a different animal and is filled with fascinating tidbits and humour.  Animals covered in the book include eels, beavers, sloths, hyenas, storks, vultures, bats, frogs, pandas, penguins, hippos, mooses, and chimpanzees.  This is an enjoyable, informative and light read.



Sister of the Hedge & Other Stories - Jim C. Hines

From the blurb:

"In the world war against the Elf King, what is the cost of victory ... a dryad vigilante in Tuscon fights an enemy more dangerous than any other: her own nature ... a grim look at the true cost of Sleeping Beauty's curse. This collection features six of Jim C. Hines' more serious stories:


Each story includes an afterword from the author.


This is a delightful collection of short stories - entertaining, enjoyable and a bit more series than Hine's usual fare.  It was interesting to see how some of the author's novels started off as short story ideas.  The author afterward at the end of each story was also very interesting.

Currently reading

Evolutions: Fifteen Myths That Explain Our World by Oren Harman
Progress: 18%