Sunday, May 31, 2015

May Site Update

The previous 12 reviews are now archived and cross-linked on the main site. (In other news, if anyone knows what happened to the first half of 2015, please let me know... I know it can't have been that long since the year started.)

 Enjoy!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Meditation and the Art of Writing (Chris Kunego)

Meditation and the Art of Writing
Chris Kunego
What The ?!? Publishing
Nonfiction, Spirituality/Writing
**+ (Bad/Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Learn to overcome writer's block and increase creativity and productivity through meditation.

REVIEW: This short book misrepresents itself. Rather than discussing writing and offering practical meditation advice, it mostly talks about the general benefits of meditation, then gives a rather vague overview of different forms of meditation - which the reader will have to investigate elsewhere if they want specifics or exercises. There's a little bit on writing, but it's so vague that I'm not entirely sure whether the author does any writing himself (aside from self-help titles), and it really isn't the point of this book. Cut that minimal information out, and it wouldn't affect much. If you're looking for a basic overview of meditation, this might be a decent starting point, but if the author keeps referring you to other books on the subject, why not skip the middle man and go straight to better resources?

You Might Also Enjoy:
Spiritual Traditions (Timothy Freke) - My Review
Words to Write By (Elaine L. Orr) - My Review

Friday, May 22, 2015

Forever His (Shelly Thacker)

Forever His
(The Stolen Brides series, Book 1)
Shelly Thacker
Summit Avenue Books
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: A year ago, Celine Fontaine thought she'd be celebrating the end of 1993 with a new husband and possibly a baby. Instead, she's recovering from both panic attacks and a bullet wound, legacy of a failed carjacking that landed her in the hospital and lost her her faithless fiance. It also left a bullet fragment lodged in her spine... a fragment that's moving dangerously close to a major artery and could kill her if not removed. Though she's scheduled the surgery, she doesn't want her family to know; they already see her as the Fontaine failure, the one drifting black sheep in a family of hard-driven successful go-getters. The one thing she wanted - a family - is the one thing she can't seem to get. Celebrating at the ancestral Fontaine home in France only makes her feel more lost and lonely than ever. Will she ever find her knight in shining armor, or should she just give up on her dreams?
In 1300 France, Sir Gaston de Varennes's rivalry with the scoundrel Duc Alain de la Tourelle - a conniving liar who murdered Gaston's father and brother under guise of a tourney, then stole their lands, plundering and raping his way through the peasantry - draws the ire of King Phillip the Fair. He needs a united northern border on his kingdom, not one divided by petty squabbles, so he decrees a settlement by marriage to Tourelle's nearest available female relation, one Christiane de la Fontaine. Gaston would sooner bed a viper than a relative of Tourelle - he'd have a better chance of waking alive. Besides, marriage is something a man does to gain land or power, and this offers little of either, nor does it get him any closer to the vengeance he craves. But the king's word is final... at least, unless Gaston can prove treachery by Tourelle or by the so-called innocent Fontaine girl. So long as he never consummates the marriage, an annulment will be easy enough to obtain.
Celine wakes to find a naked man in her bed - a man who claims that not only does he own her family home, but that it's nearly seven centuries in the past. Worse, he accuses her of being part of a plot to seduce and murder him; he doesn't believe her mad tales of time travel. Everyone here seems to think she's some woman called Christiane, and nothing she says can change their minds. Thus, she finds herself married to a handsome knight at last... but this knight doesn't believe in love - especially not with her. Still, something about him fascinates her, something deeper than his looks. Even if she does manage to thaw his heart, though, that bullet fragment still lurks in her spine, a ticking time bomb that no medieval doctor can possibly defuse.

REVIEW: I'm coming off a string of disappointing books, so I figured a nice, straightforward romance - albeit one with a fantasy twist of time travel - would be ideal. Thankfully, this book delivers just what it promises: two wounded hearts, various obstacles and misunderstandings, an undeniable building passion, and plenty of steam amid medieval intrigue. Celine's a throwback in a family of progressives, but she still has plenty of spirit and only rarely does her spine fail her. Gaston's a product of his time, but also a product of a hard life with little room for love; he blames his brother's unbridled love for his wife for "softening" him and making it easier for Tourelle to murder him and his father. There's also some personal insecurity, as his path from former Crusader to mercenary to land-owning knight wasn't entirely above-board. The two make a good, fairly believable match. The romance sizzles with sexual tension, which explodes more than once and proved suitably steamy, if occasionally a little drawn out. As for the plot, it moves at a fair pace, with advances and setbacks and challenges for both characters as they struggle to reconcile their feelings with the seeming impossibility of their situation. Along the way, Thacker adds a little local medieval color, somewhat sanitized for modern readers (though not entirely cleaned up), and naturally takes a few historical liberties to facilitate the plot. (Forever His is billed as a romance, after all, not straight historical fiction; the average reader isn't looking for a lecture or strict academic accuracy, here.) The time travel element's a little plot convenient,and perhaps the weakest part of the story on the whole, but it actually plays into the plotline as more than just an excuse for a modern girl to meet her French knight in shining (or, in Gaston's case, somewhat tarnished) armor. For being what I expected and living up to its promises, not to mention luring me into a two-day reading binge to finish it, I give this title a solid four stars, though I expect history buffs (or more discerning romance readers) may find more nits to pick than I did.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Inscription (Pam Binder) - My Review
Broken Wings (Sylvie Kurtz) - My Review
Time Treasure (Sheila Raye) - My Review

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sheepfarmer's Daughter (Elizabeth Moon)

Sheepfarmer's Daughter
(The Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy, Book 1)
Elizabeth Moon
Baen
Fiction, Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Paksenarrion Dothansdotter, born to a humble family of northern sheepfarmers, has dreamed of a soldier's life ever since a cousin returned from service with tales of glory and the wonders of the world beyond the pasture fences. Now eighteen, with her father demanding she marry a local pig farmer, Paks decides to stop dreaming and follow her heart. She runs away from home to sign on with Duke Phelan's mercenaries, one of the more honorable units operating in the realm. As childhood dreams of war collide with the hard drudgery of a soldier's life, a greater threat grows over the land - one that will draw this sheepfarmer's daughter deep into its heart, where dark powers and unexpected miracles await.

REVIEW: This started fast, establishing Paks as a strong-willed young woman who, instead of pining for glory and whining about her harsh life with an abusive father, sets off down the road to make her dream come true. Unfortunately, that's about all there is to her, and the story. She wants to be a solder, then within two chapters, she's a recruit. Problem solved. This is followed by long chapters of training and marching here and there across Moon's fantasy landscape, a journey in which Paks is usually little more than a pair of eyes for the reader to peek through (and a pair of ears to receive long lectures explaining the world, its geography, its politics, and its myriad gods and saints, among other infodumps.) Paks quite literally has no other purpose in this world, no other ambition or want save being a soldier, and nothing stops her from fulfilling it. Yawn. Naturally, she's uncommonly talented at it - she's not a prodigy by any means, but she quickly moves to the head of the new recruits, and her inexperience doesn't keep her from succeeding at pretty much every task she's assigned. It isn't until round about the halfway mark that things start to go wrong, and further still before any great threat arises... but, then, this comes with a revelation (denied repeatedly, and bordering on ridiculously, by Paks herself) that divine will may be guiding her destiny. So, not only is she the perfect soldier, but she's quite literally blessed. No wonder she can't fail. After this, and a few pointless sidetracks into other characters, it ends on an awkward half-finished note - but it's the ending that finally made me understand the snail's pace and grinding, infodump- and battle tactic-heavy tedium of the preceding story: Sheepfarmer's Daughter is not a book per se, but merely one-third of a longer story, The Deed of Paksenarrion. Even though I'd almost, finally, possibly formed some manner of interest in Paks by then, I was so ticked off to realize that I'd been duped this way that I don't foresee myself following her any further. Besides, I'd long since reached my limit on random names - people names, city names, god names, saint names, and more - that I couldn't begin to keep straight anymore.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Green Rider (Kristen Britain) - My Review
Alanna: The First Adventure (Tamora Pierce) - My Review
On Basilisk Station (David Weber) - My Review

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Unwanteds (Lisa McMann)

The Unwanteds
(The Unwanteds series, Book 1)
Lisa McMann
Aladdin
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: In the harsh land of Quill, where barbed wire stretches across the sky and great walls defend against jealous enemies, only the strong survive. Every year, High Priest Justine and her Governors conduct the Purge, eliminating thirteen-year-old Unwanteds lest they become a disruptive influence and a drain on dwindling natural resources. Though both twin brothers Aaron and Alex Stowe committed the creative crime of drawing in the dirt, only Alex is shackled and sent to the Lake of Boiling Oil beyond Quill's gates. Alex doesn't want to believe his own brother reported the infraction, but there were no other witnesses... though it won't matter for long, as the dreaded Death Farmer awaits him and his fellow Unwanteds.
Beyond the walls of Quill, however, Alex and the others find something quite unexpected. The "Death Farmer" Mr. Today is no monster, but a wizard. He created the colorful domain of Artimé as a haven for Unwanteds, teaching them the forbidden arts of singing, dancing, and more - along with powerful magic channeled through their talents. Everything the children thought they knew about the world and Quill turns out to be wrong... but the danger of discovery is more real than ever, and the magic they learn may well save their lives when the Quillians who wanted them dead come to finish the job.
Meanwhile, Alex's twin Aaron's future in Quill seems secure, his rise through the ranks swift. If only he could forget about his brother - and his strange, haunting dreams that Alex is still alive...

REVIEW: The cover likens this series to The Hunger Games meeting Harry Potter, a not entirely inaccurate summary, though for me it falls a little short of the mark. Quill seems modeled on modern-day North Korea more than Panem, with an isolated dictatorship actively encouraging citizens to rat each other out for the glory of the state (and personal survival, as water supplies continue to dwindle), while many aspects of Today's realm of Artimé feel sillier than anything Rowling concocted for Hogwarts. Perhaps the silliness is meant as a counterweight to the grimness of Quill (and later sections where actual death is on the table, not the faked version of the Purge), but it starts to strain credulity in too many places. One of the core main characters, Meghann, was branded Unwanted over an infraction for singing and dancing... but how would she even know what either was in Quill, where all forms of artistic expression are outlawed? This isn't the only thing the kids seem awfully familiar with that they really shouldn't be, given their origins. The narration, perhaps to skirt around such flaws, tends to drift into omniscient, despite often hopping into a character's thoughts (then zooming out just so the audience isn't privy to important conversations.) Maybe it's because of this style, but I had a hard time connecting with McMann's characters, whose motivations sometimes seemed to come and go out of the blue. Alex in particular seems bound and determined to be stupid and mess things up, and I grew increasingly exasperated by his inability to figure out very simple things. Aaron, on the other hand, quickly establishes himself as a cunning social climber, every inch the ideal Wanted in Quill. The two sides of this story - the whimsical Artimé, with its talking statues and its flying tortoises and its "squirrelicorns" (squirrels with unicorn horns) and "platyprots" (rather useless platypus/parrots) and obnoxious sapient blackboards, and the bleak Quill, with its barbed-wire sky and paranoia and obsession with killing off its own populace - just never quite seem to click together like they should. A climactic confrontation at the end becomes a mess, wherein it's hard to figure out just who resolved what issues, though at least it's not entirely clean-handed - there is death dealt out here, not always by the enemy and not always on what one may deem honorable terms. Since this is the first in the series, though, certain characters are guaranteed safe passage, even if all of them (even the bad guys) are not the same people as they were at the start. (I also took issue with the misleading cover: the statue Simber is described in the text as a winged cheetah, and the cover quite clearly depicts a lion. There's no mistaking a cheetah for a lion, even in stone. And the fact that this bugged me shows just how irritable I was growing by the end.) Overall, despite some promising pieces and an interesting setup, I just plain felt disappointed by the execution here.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Among the Hidden (Margaret Peterson Haddix) - My Review
Sandry's Book (Tamora Pierce) - My Review
Magyk (Angie Sage) - My Review

Friday, May 15, 2015

Insubordinate Spirit (Missy Wolfe)

Insubordinate Spirit
Missy Wolfe
Globe Pequot Press
Nonfiction, History
**+ (Bad/Okay)


DESCRIPTION: With religious and political tensions reaching dangerous levels in mid-1600's England, the persecuted Pilgrims, led by John Winthrop Sr., set out to the New World to found a colony rooted in their own beliefs. They thought they could create a utopian society where God's grace would at last shine favorably upon them above all others - but found themselves in the middle of more problems than they bargained for, with native troubles and nearby Dutch traders and schisms within their own ranks. Into this mess traveled one Elizabeth Winthrop, young bride (and soon widow) of John's most wayward son. As she struggled to raise a family on the edge of untamed frontier, colonial America reached a pivotal moment in its political and religious history. Using recently-rediscovered correspondences and period documents, author Missy Wolfe examines the life and times of Elizabeth and other prominent figures in 1600's America.

REVIEW: This book was seriously misrepresented by the Barnes and Noble description. It made Insubordinate Spirit sound like a biography of Elizabeth Winthrop, with some background on the era and region. A biography, I figured, might make history seem more personable, giving me a character to follow through a time period that, as an American, I probably should know more about. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a dry, meandering narrative with all the personability of a textbook, awash with names and dates and various locations and native tribes that I couldn't begin to keep straight... in which Elizabeth herself really only figures into maybe a fourth, at most, of the text. Wolfe couldn't even elaborate on matters with direct impact on her life. Her second husband, Robert Feake, suffered from a degenerative mental illness that "defies modern diagnosis"... and apparently modern description, as Wolfe can't even hint as to what, exactly, the symptoms were. Did he hear voices? Grow abusive? Paint himself pink and glue mice to his head? How am I supposed to relate to this woman and her struggles if I don't even know what she's struggling with? Elsewhere, Wolfe recounts detailed descriptions of the torture deaths of Native Americans, so the problem isn't an author's inability to add detail to her narrative. Beneath the leaden cloak of names and events were occasional glimmers of interest and insight, but these were quickly smothered as the book wandered off to some other person or place, sometimes with little seeming connection to what came before and always keeping me at arm's length, if not further. In the end, this just felt too much like a textbook for me to enjoy; sure, there's information here, but it's the kind of book one picks up to research an essay, not to read for pleasure.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Beyond the Western Sea (Avi) - My Review
Newport Tower: Unsettled History (B. Lynn Bryant) - My Review

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Most Magnificent Thing (Ashley Spires)

The Most Magnificent Thing
Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press
Fiction, YA Picture Book
****+ (Good/Great)


DESCRIPTION: An inventive girl decides to build the Most Magnificent Thing she's ever built... but it keeps coming out wrong.

REVIEW: This is perhaps the perfect examination of the creative process for anyone, young or old. Despite extensive plans and experience, the unnamed girl's project refuses to cooperate - making her increasingly upset that nobody else can see the wonderful vision in her mind. But all creativity is ultimately a compromise between dream and reality, intent and execution. The pictures are fun and tell the story well.

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Chloe and the Lion (Mac Barnett) - My Review
Little Red Writing (Joan Holub) - My Review
What Do You Do With An Idea? (Kobi Yamada) - My Review

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Eyes Like Sky And Coal And Moonlight (Cat Rambo)

Eyes Like Sky And Coal And Moonlight
Cat Rambo
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: A commoner woman reminisces about her brushes with a great mage... a case of mistaken identity sweeps a girl off to a magical tower... a centaur secretly records his life of slavery... powerful sorcerers devastate the land with their petty rivalries... These and many more short stories are gathered in this collection by author Cat Rambo.

REVIEW: I got this one as a freebie download for my Kindle. The introduction, however, nearly turned me off to reading it, a rather pretentious little piece by another writer. Overall, especially given my iffy luck with shorts, I found these generally enjoyable. Even the ones I wasn't too fond of had interesting ideas and imagery. Several deal with the same world, but Rambo tells entirely different tales in it with each story, so they read fine as stand-alones. A decent collection of fantasy stories, though some feel rather downbeat.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Odds Are Good (Bruce Coville) - My Review
The Very Best of Charles de Lint (Charles de Lint) - My Review
Here, There be Dragons (Jane Yolen) - My Review

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Artist's Way Starter Kit (Julia Cameron)

The Artist's Way Starter Kit
Julia Cameron
Tarcher/Penguin
Nonfiction, Creativity
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Most everyone has creative urges of some form or another. Maybe we once dabbled in poetry, or fondly remember that long-ago watercolor class, or bought a couple books on writing screenplays... but then we Grew Up. You can't be an Artist if you're not willing to starve and suffer, or unless you're one of the Special Few with that rare, elusive thing called Talent. Just enjoying creativity isn't enough; it has to make us money or bring us fame, or we're just wasting our time. Sure, it's no fun, but it's what's expected of us as responsible adults, mothers and fathers and workers... right?
Wrong.
Creativity isn't a luxury, but a need. Denying it is denying part of what makes us human. But most of us have built walls of fear - or had someone else build them for us - that block our artistic selves. This twelve-week course by prolific author Julia Cameron helps you to acknowledge and push through those blocks, reclaiming your right to create.
This kit includes Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, and a journal with quotes from the text.

REVIEW: For the record, I did not just read this book; I did all twelve weeks, insomuch as I was able. Billed as a "spiritual" path for "blocked" creatives - those of us who have let fear, uncertainty, and the pressures of a product- and fame-oriented society stifle our artistic sides - Cameron offers concrete steps for healing old hurts and moving through doubt. She does not promise to eliminate self-doubt or fear altogether, but rather teach ways to acknowledge and work through them so that they no longer significantly impede progress. Fear, not laziness, is to blame for most procrastination, she claims... and I must say, after working through this book, she's probably right (though there's still a little raw laziness in there, at least for me.) Cameron also emphasizes the spiritual aspect, crediting God (or Source, or the Universe, or whatever alternative nomenclature one might use) as the source of inspiration. Her attitude that "everyone has to believe in Something" is a little presumptuous, making those sections of her book feel a little strained. Otherwise, despite some initial skepticism, I found the experience more interesting and useful than I might have expected. I even got a short story out of it - and a rejection, but just finishing a short and submitting it is more than I've managed for far too long. The fact that the idea more or less fell out of my head during my attempt at "reading deprivation" (an exercise from the book, wherein one does not read anything, be it a website or a book or a newspaper ad - not an easy task at all for me, as one might expect, especially when I work at the library) lends a little more credence to Cameron's methods. I also actually find myself enjoying the "morning pages," three pages of daily writing in the morning before one starts one's day, despite some initial rebellion over not being a morning person. (Though I can't recommend the Artist's Way Morning Pages Journal; the stiff spine makes it difficult to write in.) Overall, despite being a little God-heavy now and again, I'd say the experience on the whole is worthwhile.

You Might Also Enjoy:
How to Avoid Making Art (Julia Cameron) - My Review
Hocus Pocus, You're Focused! (Arthur Laud) - My Review

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (Laurie Lamson, editor)

Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror
(The Now Write! series)
Laurie Lamson, editor
Tarcher Penguin
Nonfiction, Writing
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Maybe you're a beginning writer who doesn't know where to start. Maybe you have a project that's fighting you tooth and nail. Maybe a string of harsh critiques or rejections has you wondering if something's wrong with your storytelling skills. Or maybe you just want to improve. This collection of essays from a variety of genre authors offers insight into the writing process and exercises to hone skills.

REVIEW: Rating this one's a bit difficult. The subject matters of the essays, though generally focusing on speculative fiction and horror, range all over the map, from basic storytelling to tips on crafting a salable screenplay to dealing with conflicting copyright issues before they botch potential sales. Some of the authors also seem a little dated in their approaches, stuck in the "white male saves the universe and gets the girl" mindset, while others are so convinced their way is the Best and Only way that they dismiss the notion that others can succeed with alternate methods (a mindset that seems particularly prominent among rabid outliners.) The exercises vary from specific step-by-step processes to generalized "just write something, then keep writing it" advice, so vague that one wonders why they bothered writing an essay for this particular series (which touts writing exercises as one of its selling gimmicks) at all. Will these exercises help writers improve, or at least overcome blocks? Possibly. Did I, personally, get much out of them? Again, possibly, some essays more than others. Would I recommend it to others? I might, with the caveat that no one writer or book has all the answers.

You Might Also Enjoy:
No Plot? No Problem! (Chris Baty) - My Review
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (Orson Scott Card) - My Review
Write Good or Die (Scott Nicholson, editor) - My Review

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Book of Gryphons (Joe Nigg)

The Book of Gryphons
Joe Nigg
Apple-wood Books
Nonfiction, Mythology/Folklore
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Since the dawn of civilization, gryphons and their kin have served humans as protectors and monsters, symbols of divinity and foul treasure-hoarding man-eaters. Nigg examines the roots of gryphon lore, tracking them through their heyday in the ancient world and their downfall in the Renaissance, to their re-emergence in modern literature.

REVIEW: I found this during a recent excursion to Half Price Books. I hoped to find an interesting exploration of classical gryphon lore. This book, however, seems somewhat shallow, more of an overview than a detailed examination, with barely 100 pages of material in large-print grey text. Had it been text alone, it might have rated only three, maybe three and a half, stars. The pictures, however, are easily worth a star on their own. Though most of them are black and white, they nevertheless display the many faces of the gryphon (and kin - Nigg connects gryphons to sphinxes, rocs, simurghs, and other fantastic beasts) through several cultures. Most of these images were new to me. The final section on gryphons in modern fiction felt a bit sparse, but this book was published in 1982; had he published more recently, he would've had a whole host of gryphon tales to choose from, as they've seen a remarkable resurgence in popularity in the 21st century. (And he still offered no explanation for why "male" gryphons in traditional European heraldry have spikes, possibly representing light rays, instead of wings... somewhere, there must be a answer, unless it's been lost to antiquity.) On the whole, it makes a decent introduction to the classical gryphon. I'd just hoped for a little more depth and detail in the text.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Here Be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary (Ariane Delacampagne and Christian Delacampagne) - My Review
The Black Gryphon (Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon) - My Review
The Book of Fabulous Beasts (Joseph Nigg) - My Review

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Flying Dragon Room (Audrey Wood)

The Flying Dragon Room
Audrey Wood, illustrations by Mark Teague
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Picture Book
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Patrick wants to help with the house remodeling, but everyone tells him he'll just be in the way. Everyone, that is, except the handywoman, Mrs. Jenkins, who gives him a very special toolkit. When the renovations are done, Patrick shows off the wondrous rooms he's built.

REVIEW: Another quick read during some slow time at work. The title grabbed me, and the idea is fun, but I just didn't feel this book delivered on its promise. The descriptions, both inside the cover and on the Amazon page, are misleading: the boy doesn't accidentally create anything, and he seems to know exactly what he's doing with Mrs. Jenkins's tools. Despite the whimsical illustrations, the sense of wonder seems muted, and there's no real adventure: he just leads his family from one bizarre room to another, ensuring that they're appropriate awed (but never in danger - even the T. Rex is conveniently vegetarian.) At one point, Patrick and his family are menaced by a giant beast... a beast that Patrick has to have built, as he built everything else. He solves the problem easily, leading me to wonder why he bothered leaving the beast in its original, dangerous state to begin with. As a possible spoiler, despite the title and cover illustration, don't read this book expecting to actually visit a "flying dragon room" in Patrick's creations; there's only a brief mention of it at the end. Color this dracophile disappointed... Overall, while it's an imaginative concept, I think I was set up for a story this book just didn't quite deliver.

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Fairy Dreams (Carol McLean-Carr) - My Review
Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak) - My Review

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (Bill Nye)

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation
Bill Nye
St. Martin's Press
Nonfiction, Science
****+ (Good/Great)


DESCRIPTION: Long before Charles Darwin published his famous, controversial findings in 1859, people have speculated on the origins of life. As more and more evidence mounts in favor of evolutionary theory, some cling all the harder to models of creationism and "intelligent design," turning what should be a true debate of evidence and facts into a theological minefield of half-truths and unshakable dogma. But denying what evolution shows us is to deny one of the great wonders of the universe, not to mention the immense potential for new medicines and other direct benefits to the very people who wish to deny it most. Scientist Bill Nye explains what evolution is (and what it isn't), and why it's more important now than ever that we, as a species, embrace it.

REVIEW: I've been watching with growing concern as what used to be a fringe minority has grown in power and influence, squashing education and belittling science while using their fundamentalist beliefs like a club to bludgeon our nation into line with their way of thinking (or non-thinking, as clinging to dogma despite provable facts is not my definition of thought.) Many still want to deny what they're doing, and the real harm they're causing now and to future generations, but some few - like Bill Nye - have been brave enough to venture into the proverbial lions' den and confront the creationists on their own turf. In this book, he explains evolution and how overwhelming the evidence is in favor of it... not to mention other facts, like the age of the universe and Earth, that they wish to deny. He also explains why it matters. This isn't just a philosophical debate or theological discussion. This is about the ability to ask questions and search for answers - not in a holy book, but in the laboratory and in the world itself. Evolutionary theory explains observations, invites questions, and enables one to make predictions, while creationism begins and ends at an unbreachable divine wall, beyond which humans are not to cross. Denying facts, twisting half-truths and evasions and elevating them to an unassailable, unquestionable Way Things Are, cuts off avenues of thought and research such as those that have led to life-saving vaccines, new crops, and other direct benefits to humanity. Faced with a changing world and a sixth mass extinction, it's more important than ever to understand our place in the natural world if we're to have a future on this planet (and possibly beyond.) This book is an interesting and important read, but one I fear is just preaching to the choir; those who truly need to understand it are those who refuse to believe there's anything to understand.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Ghosts of Evolution (Connie Barlow) - My Review
Your Inner Fish (Neil Shubin) - My Review
Last Ape Standing (Chip Walter) - My Review