Elentarri's Book Blog

Book reviews and other interesting goodies.


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.

CONCRETE PLANET by Robert Courland

Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World's Most Common Man-Made Material - Robert Courland

TITLE:  Concrete Planet:  The Strange and Fascinating Story

             of the World's Most Common Man-Made Material


AUTHOR:  Robert Courland




FORMAT:  ebook


ISBN-13:  978-1-61614-482-1



From the blurb:

"Concrete: We use it for our buildings, bridges, dams, and roads. We walk on it, drive on it, and many of us live and work within its walls. But very few of us know what it is. We take for granted this ubiquitous substance, which both literally and figuratively comprises much of modern civilization’s constructed environment; yet the story of its creation and development features a cast of fascinating characters and remarkable historical episodes. This book delves into this history, opening readers’ eyes at every turn.

In a lively narrative peppered with intriguing details, author Robert Corland describes how some of the most famous personalities of history became involved in the development and use of concrete—including King Herod the Great of Judea, the Roman emperor Hadrian, Thomas Edison (who once owned the largest concrete cement plant in the world), and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Courland points to recent archaeological evidence suggesting that the discovery of concrete directly led to the Neolithic Revolution and the rise of the earliest civilizations. Much later, the Romans reached extraordinarily high standards for concrete production, showcasing their achievement in iconic buildings like the Coliseum and the Pantheon. Amazingly, with the fall of the Roman Empire, the secrets of concrete manufacturing were lost for over a millennium.

The author explains that when concrete was rediscovered in the late eighteenth century it was initially viewed as an interesting novelty or, at best, a specialized building material suitable only for a narrow range of applications. It was only toward the end of the nineteenth century that the use of concrete exploded. During this rapid expansion, industry lobbyists tried to disguise the fact that modern concrete had certain defects and critical shortcomings. It is now recognized that modern concrete, unlike its Roman predecessor, gradually disintegrates with age. Compounding this problem is another distressing fact: the manufacture of concrete cement is a major contributor to global warming.

Concrete Planet is filled with incredible stories, fascinating characters, surprising facts, and an array of intriguing insights into the building material that forms the basis of the infrastructure on which we depend."


There isn't much to say about this book that hasn't already been mentioned in the blurb.  The book is a well-written, accessible and enjoyable history of concrete and some of the structures built with it.  I did feel the history of concrete in the 20th century dealt more with the people involved than what the concrete was actually used for.   It would also have been nice if the author had inserted chemical equations etc - at least as an appendix - but otherwise it's an informative book about the subject matter.


Goblin Tales by Jim C. Hines

Goblin Tales - Jim C. Hines

An amusing and well written collection of short stories that complements the Jig the Goblin trilogy.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red - Martha Wells

 The Murderbot Diaries #1:  All Systems Red by Martha Wells


I recently came across several reviews of this novella that looked interesting - a shy cyborg type creature that calls its self Murderbot is addicted to TV serials (??!!!).  So I picked up the "book", read a few paragraphs while waiting for husband to come to bed... and ended up finishing the novella that same night.


From the blurb:

"In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth."


There are a dozen or so reviews of this wonderfully written story already so I won't elaborate, but I found the world building interesting and Murderbot is wonderfully characterised.  It's so nice to find a story that doesn't have foul language and doesn't include everyone jumping into bed with everyone else just because.  The interactions between Murderbot and its humans were skillfully written. This is an enjoyable, nicely paced science fiction mystery/adventure novella, with a light plot, an interesting main character, a decent supporting cast, and with an important message.


I'm looking forward to reading the next 3 Murderbot Diaries installments that seem to be scheduled for 2018. 



Scourged (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #9) by Kevin Hearne

Scourged - Kevin Hearne

From the blurb:

"Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They’ve made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there’s a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win.

Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought.

Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry.

And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they’ll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.


I'm quite willing to thank all the gods I can think of, fictional and otherwise, that this is the end of the series and that it was such a short book.  This is a dissapointing, thoroughly unsatisfying and anti-climatic end to the series.  The Iron Druid Chronicles started off really well, then started going sour somewhere in the middle. 


This conclusion is a short novel that starts off slowly and where nothing much happens, except Ragnarok - which wasn't as well written as any of the previous battles and was also pretty mediocre with no suspense (i.e. dull and booooring!!) and no feeling of risk.  The events covered in the book entirely lack impact and danger.  This is supposed to be the end of the world, but feels like a bar-room brawl instead.  At no point did it feel like the Druids had a chance of loosing.  In the previous books I cared about the characters, in this book - nothing.  It was just bland.  None of the POV characters have any kind of in-depth communication within the book - if you hadn't read the previous books you would think these three people had never met!  This is the Iron Druid Chronicles, but for some reason Atticus seems to get less page time?  There are a few subplots (if you can call them that) but they don't add to the main story and are rather pointless filler.  The ending is also completely ridiculous, inappropriate and out of proportion.  I can't give details without adding spoilers, but that was definately a WTF!!! moment. This book also lacked the humour and "magic" that made the rest of the series fun to read.  There was also a great deal of unnecessary foul language in this installment. 


This book feels like an unedited outline of a first draft.  I get the impression Hearne was bored with the series and couldn't be bothered to write a decent ending, so went for the whole lot of caracturised chopping up people but no decent plot with shocker ending just to get rid of the book.



MICHELANGELO by William E Wallace

Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his Times - William E. Wallace

TITLE:  Michelangelo:  The Artist, The Man, and His Times


AUTHOR:  William E. Wallace




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  978-1-107-67369-4



From the blurb:

"Michelangelo is universally recognized to be one of the greatest artists of all time. In this vividly written biography, William E. Wallace offers a substantially new view of the artist. Not only a supremely gifted sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, Michelangelo was also an aristocrat who firmly believed in the ancient and noble origins of his family. The belief in his patrician status fueled his lifelong ambition to improve his family's financial situation and to raise the social standing of artists. Michelangelo's ambitions are evident in his writing, dress, and comportment, as well as in his ability to befriend, influence, and occasionally say "no" to popes, kings, and princes. Written from the words of Michelangelo and his contemporaries, this biography not only tells his own stories but also brings to life the culture and society of Renaissance Florence and Rome. Not since Irving Stone's novel The Agony and the Ecstasy has there been such a compelling and human portrayal of this remarkable yet credible human individual."


In this informative and fast paced biography of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni.  We learn about his life, his family, his relationships with other artists and patrons, his friends, some of the politics occuring in Rome and Florence during his lifetime, and something of his projects and poetry. Wallace has reserarched his subject extensively and makes use of (and quotes) many of Michelangelo's personal letters.  However, Wallace doesn't not elaborate on any methods or techniques Michelangelo made use of during his many projects.  I would also have liked more detail on how Michelangelo dealt with all his commissions, assistants and actualy physicaly work.


The book includes 10 colour photographs of Michelangelo's works, but it would have been more helpful if the author had included photos of all the works discussed in the book so the reader could see what he was talking about.  The book also includes a list of all the popes during Michelangelo's lifetime, as well as a "cast of principle characters" which is useful since a great many people have the same first name.


This biography is accessible, informative and makes a good introduction to the subject.




-Brunelleschi's Dome:  How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King


-Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King




Goblin Hero by Jim C. Hines

Goblin Hero - Jim C. Hines

From the blurb:

"After barely surviving an adventure he never wanted, the scrawny little nearsighted goblin called Jig is now known as Jig Dragonslayer, and has the power of healing, thanks to the forgotten god he worships. But being a hero isn't all it's cracked up to be. Not when the goblin leader wants him dead, and everyone else actually expects him to keep doing heroic-and incredibly dangerous-things."


An amusing and entertaining sequel to Goblin Quest. 

Goblin Quest by Jim Hines

Goblin Quest - Jim C. Hines

From the blurb

"Jig is a scrawny little nearsighted goblin - a runt even among his puny species. Captured by a party of adventurers searching for a magical artifact, and forced to guide them, Jig encounters every peril ever faced on a fantasy quest."

This book is clean, amusing, adventurous fun!  There is nothing earth-shatteringly original about this novel (it's something of a typical post-Tolkien-90's adventure that has some resemblance to a fantasy RPG), but the writing is enjoyable, the antics of the characters amusing, the main character shows growth and, while the plot is predictable (probably) with the usual old-fashioned fantasy creatures (elf, dwarf, human, wizard) there are still novel elements like the fire-spider (who is soooo darned cute!). This story makes for an enjoyable, cheerful and satisfying afternoon read. 


NOTE:  This is Book 1 of the Jig the Goblin trilogy.  There is no cliff hanger at the end.  This book makes a complete story on its own.


Illustrator:  Hyptosis


I thought the Happiness Board was a nice idea and thought I would share:


The Happiness Board


Furry Logic by Matin Durrani & Liz Kalaugher

Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani, Liz Kalaugher

TITLE:  Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life


AUTHOR:  Matin Durrani & Liz Kalaugher




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  978-1-4729-1411-8



Furry Logic is an interesting book that takes a look at the physics concepts used by a  large variety of animal life for survival.  The writing style is informal, chatty and whitty. Some of the puns and jokes were just awful, but most led to snickers or laughs, so I can't complain about them too much.  While the authors do not go into a great deal of depth with their scientific explanations, the explanations are comprehensive enough to understand the concept.  This is a fun, fast paced, fascinating and informative book, especially for the non-physicist and non-biologist.  This book is divided into 6 chapters that show how animals make use of physics in terms of heat, forces, fluids, sound, electricity, magnetis and light.  


The book covers such topics as flight, how cats drink, heat detection in snakes, the Komodo Dragon's bite, the electric field of flowers and how they attract bees, the sounds of peacocks and how elephants detect sound through the ground, how some animals use polarized light or magnetic fields to determine direction, how electric eels produce their electricity, how pondskaters skate on water, how geckos walk on ceilings, how the Harlequin Mantis Shrimp punches through crap shells (and aquarium tanks), how well mosquitos fly in the rain, why dogs shake themselves dry, why giant squid have such large eyes, and many more. 


The book includes a section of colour photographs and has a few illustrations to explain concepts spread throughout the book.  Unfortunately, the book did not contain a list of references or a bibliography, which is a bit strange for a science book!



Furry Logic Website


Internet Review and Excerpts





-Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski

-Restless Creatures: The Story of Life in Ten Movements by Matt Wilkinson

-The Gecko’s Foot: How Scientists are Taking a Leaf from Nature's Book by Peter Forbes

-What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins by Jonathan Balcombe

Quote: Furry Logic [Chapter 5]

Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani, Liz Kalaugher

"We’re off on a trip of our own to the Furry Logic summer picnic. Choosing a shady spot on the lawns overlooking the historic hall, we lay down a blanket, get out the cheese sandwiches, open a huge bag of crisps (we’re so classy), pour some tea and unpack our pièce de résistance – home-made scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam. Perfect.


Unfortunately, we’re not alone. Wasps have arrived. First one, then another, then a third, darting madly around us in search of a sugary treat. We try to shoo off the beasts but it’s no use. More wasps turn up. One’s crawling over the jam. Another’s landed in the cream. The wasps are a complete (insert your own expletive) nuisance. Leaping up we tread backwards into a sandwich, knock over the tea and flail furiously about. With more wasps buzzing round our heads, it’s time for plan B: shove everything back into the picnic hamper and dash for the car.


Wasps are one of the most unpopular animals on the planet. They have few fans and many enemies, but it turns out wasps (or at least some of them) are masters of electricity and expert at quantum mechanics. Before we explain how, let’s make a case for their defence. First, without these yellow-and-black striped creatures, we’d be knee-deep in aphids and black fly. If you’re a keen gardener, you can thank your local wasps for devouring these insects and keeping your cabbages in good nick. Second, many species are social creatures that live in giant colonies and have just one aim: to bring food back to their nests. They’ll attack only if provoked or if they see a sudden movement, which is why swiping at one with a rolled-up newspaper is a bad idea. And here’s a tip: if you’re near a wasp’s nest, stay still. Creating a disturbance encourages the wasps to rush out to see what’s going on. If anything, wasps are more concerned about intruder wasps entering their colony. Should that happen, the inmates circle the outsider, before leaping on the enemy, chewing its wings off and stinging it to death. So it’s not about you, it’s them."


Quote: Furry Logic [Chapter 5]

Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani, Liz Kalaugher

"The good news regarding Oriental hornets is that they won’t nest in your house. Nor will you find them living in trees or shrubs. Instead, these wasps hang out in intricate underground burrows, which armies of workers hollow out by digging with their mandibles. Carrying the soil in their mouths, the workers head to the nest exit before flying out about 10m (about 30ft) from home. After dumping the soil in mid-air (the naughty litter bugs) they return home for more digging."


Quote: Furry Logic [Chapter 6]

Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani, Liz Kalaugher

"This cuckoo is not alone in its freeloading. About 1 per cent of bird species act this way – they’re ‘obligate brood parasites’. Laying your egg in another bird’s nest lets you access the world’s ultimate crèche: there’s 24/7 care, no waiting list, and you never have to pay the bill. It’s the bird equivalent of throwing a baby out of a high chair, plonking your own infant in its place, then heading to the pub. For ever. A female common cuckoo chucks one egg out of her chosen host’s nest before laying her own egg in its place. If the cuckoo egg hatches first, the early-bird chick pushes its rival eggs out of the nest. Now it can catch the worm – it’s won the undivided attention of its new foster-parents. And if the cuckoo emerges after the host bird’s chicks, it shoves its step-brothers and sisters over the edge to their death. It’s the story of Cinderella, only an Ugly Sister wins and there’s no Fairy Godmother."


Quote: Furry Logic [Chapter 3]

Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani, Liz Kalaugher

" Pond skaters should rejoice that water has such a high surface tension. It stops them sinking and lets them propel themselves across ponds and lakes. But pond skaters are a superficial bunch. Most animals have a much deeper relationship with water. Fish swim in it, absorbing dissolved oxygen. Hippos lead a double life, grazing on land at night but spending their days in rivers, coming up every few minutes to breathe. Crucially, mammals and birds won’t survive unless they can get water into their bodies. Even cats need to drink, despite their aversion to getting wet.


But have you ever stopped to think how you drink? For us, it’s easy. Fill a glass at the tap, grab a coffee or pour an orange juice from the fridge. Lift the vessel to your lips and pour the liquid into your mouth. Obviously without making any disgusting slurping noises; only other people do that. We’ve even got two back-up techniques. First, we’ve got a complete set of cheeks so we can make a partial vacuum in our mouths when we suck in, which is how to sup a cocktail with a straw. The pressure in your mouth is lower than outside, with the difference counteracting the force of gravity and drawing the drink up into your mouth. It’s like having your own personal vacuum cleaner. The other, rather revolting method is to put a tube in your mouth, connect a funnel to the top and ask a friend to pour the liquid in. Lean your head back and the pressure of the column of liquid forces the fluid down your gullet – ideal for students wishing to consume lots of beer as fast as possible in drunken drinking games (or so we’ve been told).


Other animals have to make do with fresh water, not beer. As it lies mostly in puddles, ponds, lakes or streams, they’ve developed a variety of strategies for supping. Pigs, sheep and horses are like us – they have complete cheeks and can drink by sucking the water up. Frogs absorb water through their skins, while the desert-dwelling Merriam’s kangaroo rat (Dipodomys merriami) extracts water entirely from the food it eats, even if fresh rainwater is about. Hummingbirds dip their tongues into nectar, with the sticky fluid flowing up grooves in the tongue like ink moving through blotting paper. As for the Namibian desert fogstand beetle (Stenocara gracilipes), it lives in one of the driest places on Earth and collects water from the fogs that drift in off the Atlantic Ocean every morning. The beetle sticks its bottom in the air so its body is at about 45° to the ground and waits for the tiny water droplets landing on its back to clump together and roll down into its mouth.


But what about cats? How they drink is a question many scientists have overlooked in pursuit of supposedly deeper quests, such as searching for the Higgs boson or designing a pen that can write in space. "




Quote: Furry Logic [Chapter 3]

Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani, Liz Kalaugher

"Intrigued by their observations, Bush and his two colleagues decided to mimic the animals’ motion by building a larger-than-life mechanical pond skater. Dubbed Robostrider, this beast isn’t as menacing as it sounds. Its 9cm (3.5in) body was made from aluminium cut from a fizzy-drink can, while its legs were fashioned from stainless-steel wire. The researchers powered Robostrider by running an elastic thread from a sports sock down the length of its body and connecting the elastic to each leg via a pulley. Weighing just 0.3g (0.01oz), Robostrider acted like a real pond skater. With its weight supported entirely by surface tension, this artificial creature moved forward, just like its real counterpart, by rowing its legs to make hemispherical vortices. It travelled about half a body length per stroke – roughly 18cm (7in) per second (about one-fifth the speed of a real pond skater). ‘It moved relatively clumsily, like a water strider wearing chain mail,’ says Bush. Though that’s not bad for a beast made from a sock and a fizzy drink can."



Quote: Furry Logic [Chapter 2]

Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani, Liz Kalaugher

"Before we deal with how geckos cope with wet surfaces, let’s find out how they hang on to dry ones. Yup, it’s all about physics. As experiments by Kellar Autumn of Lewis and Clark College, US, showed in 2002, the gecko uses van der Waals forces, the tiny attractions between molecules. Named after Dutch physicist Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1837–1923), these forces are like a mini-gravity. The science gets scary but basically the forces arise because each molecule contains electrons whizzing round in random orbits. These charges set up electric fields that can temporarily attract another molecule close by.


Since they’re due to weakly charged electrons, these forces are weak too. Typically, they might provide an adhesion energy – a measure of how much the molecules want to stay together – of 50–60 millijoules (mJ) per square metre. So how do van der Waals forces counteract the body weight of a 100g (3.5oz) gecko? There’s another snag: van der Waals forces only work over distances of less than 10 nanometres. That’s smaller than the size of a virus, so the gecko must plonk its feet right up close to the surface it’s trying to cling to; the molecules in its skin and the ceiling must be near enough to attract. To achieve this, species like the tokay gecko have fleshy folds known as ‘lamellae’ covering the soles of their feet. The result is like a rubber tyre tread, with folds spanning the width of each of the toes. In spite of its fleshy feet, the tokay gecko is beautiful, with large eyes with a vertical slit pupil, and a pale blue or grey body speckled with a mix of yellow, orange or bright red spots, as if decorated by a pointillist on acid."