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review 2018-03-19 17:58
Sojourn / R.A. Salavtore
Sojourn - R.A. Salvatore

Far above the merciless Underdark, Drizzt Do'Urden fights to survive the elements of Toril's harsh surface. The drow begins a sojourn through a world entirely unlike his own--even as he evades the dark elves of his past.


Third volume of back-story for Drizzt Do’Urden, drow fighter extraordinaire. This is the volume that connects to the Icewind Dale novels which Salvatore wrote before the Dark Elf Trilogy.

Our hero makes the shift from living as an exile in the Underdark to an existence in the unfamiliar world above ground. While he wasn’t accepted in his birth society because of his sense of morality, he is now judged according to his racial background by those who he meets along the way. Can he find people who will acknowledge that he is not an evil drow? Will he finally find someone to call friend and assuage his life-long loneliness?

Once again, the plot is driven by fight sequences, something which Salvatore seems to prefer writing. There’s a lot of dark brooding, but not much real self-reflection by the characters. Perfect for the brooding teen, not so great for the non-brooding older woman. Still, the books are fun to read and short enough to be ideal for a quiet evening at the end of a work-week.

Book 276 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

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review 2018-03-19 17:45
My Brief History / Stephen Hawking
My Brief History - Stephen Hawking

My Brief History recounts Stephen Hawking’s improbable journey, from his postwar London boyhood to his years of international acclaim and celebrity. Lavishly illustrated with rarely seen photographs, this concise, witty, and candid account introduces readers to a Hawking rarely glimpsed in previous books: the inquisitive schoolboy whose classmates nicknamed him Einstein; the jokester who once placed a bet with a colleague over the existence of a particular black hole; and the young husband and father struggling to gain a foothold in the world of physics and cosmology.

Writing with characteristic humility and humor, Hawking opens up about the challenges that confronted him following his diagnosis of ALS at age twenty-one. Tracing his development as a thinker, he explains how the prospect of an early death urged him onward through numerous intellectual breakthroughs, and talks about the genesis of his masterpiece A Brief History of Time—one of the iconic books of the twentieth century.


With the passing of the great cosmologist last week, it seemed fitting to read his autobiography as a way of appreciating the man a bit more. It’s a very compact account of Hawking’s life, hitting the high spots without going into great detail. One of the more charming aspects for me was the inclusion of a fair number of personal photographs, many supplied by Hawking himself and his sister.

Numerous tributes to Hawking last week referred to his sense of humour. Unfortunately, that didn’t really come through to me in this volume. I can also appreciate that he wanted to be known for more than his ALS, but I thought that a little more detail about the disease would have been appropriate. It seemed to me that his family, especially his children, got extremely little page-time. I didn’t require a tell-all or anything too detailed, but knowing how the children turned out and what they chose to do with their lives would have been interesting. I also wonder if they worry that they may have a predisposition to getting ALS themselves.

To be fair, each person gets to be the star of their own autobiography. Hawking concentrates on what he obviously deemed the most important part of his life—his research. Many of the details that I’m interested in, he probably decided were not his to tell.

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review 2018-03-19 16:32
Gap into Vision / Stephen R. Donaldson
The Gap Into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge - Stephen R. Donaldson

Beautiful, brilliant, and dangerous, Morn Hyland is an ex-police officer for the United Mining Companies--and the target of two ruthless, powerful men.  One is the charismatic ore-pirate Nick Succorso, who sees Morn as booty wrested from his vicious rival, Angus Thermopyle.  thermopyle once made the mistake of underestimating Morn and now he's about to pay the ultimate price.  Both men think they can possess her, but Morn is no one's trophy--and no one's pawn.

Meanwhile, withing the borders of Forbidden Space, wait the Amnioin, an alien race capable of horrific atrocities.  The Amnion want something unspeakable from humanity--and they will go to unthinkable lengths to get it.


Although this is the first series by Donaldson that I can stand to read, I still can’t say that I love it. I’m not sure that I even like it. There really isn’t one character that I can actually identify with—there are one or two that I’m interested in and want to know what happens to them, but I can’t say that I like them. Mind you, that’s not necessary for a novel but it does make it easier reading.

The aliens in this universe seem to take a cue from Octavia Butler’s Oankali in her Xenogenesis series. Donaldson’s Amnioin also seem to be rather echinoderm-like and are interested in acquiring humans for genetic purposes. Selling someone to the Amnioin is seen as the ultimate evil in human trafficking. But when there’s money to be made, you know that some human is going to try to make deals with them—and it’s rather like trying to make deals with the Fae. You need to watch your wording and make sure you know all of the ramifications before you sign on the dotted line.

If you’ve got any issues with rape scenes, you won’t have made it past the first book. That said, don’t expect that to stop in this book. Morn actually has to go to sick-bay at one point, to get repaired after particularly rough treatment by Nick Succorso. Donaldson doesn’t go into graphic detail, thankfully, but there are more than enough hints to be horrifying.

The cynicism evident in the book is a bit depressing too—everyone seems to be on the take somehow, even the police force that Morn used to belong to. She followed her parents into that occupation and had taken pride in their upstanding reputation—this is yet another thing that gets taken away from her, along with her personal agency.

Book 275 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2018-03-19 15:59
What a Fish Knows / Jonathan Balcombe
What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins - Jonathan Balcombe

Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water? In What a Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal the surprising capabilities of fishes. Although there are more than thirty thousand species of fish—more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined—we rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave. Balcombe upends our assumptions about fishes, portraying them not as unfeeling, dead-eyed feeding machines but as sentient, aware, social, and even Machiavellian—in other words, much like us.

What a Fish Knows draws on the latest science to present a fresh look at these remarkable creatures in all their breathtaking diversity and beauty. Fishes conduct elaborate courtship rituals and develop lifelong bonds with shoalmates. They also plan, hunt cooperatively, use tools, curry favor, deceive one another, and punish wrongdoers. We may imagine that fishes lead simple, fleeting lives—a mode of existence that boils down to a place on the food chain, rote spawning, and lots of aimless swimming. But, as Balcombe demonstrates, the truth is far richer and more complex, worthy of the grandest social novel.

Highlighting breakthrough discoveries from fish enthusiasts and scientists around the world and pondering his own encounters with fishes, Balcombe examines the fascinating means by which fishes gain knowledge of the places they inhabit, from shallow tide pools to the deepest reaches of the ocean.


Fish get short shrift when we are thinking about animal behaviour. Consider the poor maligned gold fish, which is reputed to have an attention span of mere seconds. Incorrect, as it turns out—gold fish can learn tasks and retain that learning for months.

I’m not a diver. I can’t swim and water will always be a scary place for me, but I can see where this book would be very interesting to anyone who spends time in the underwater world. Fish are much more interesting that I gave them credit for. I’m a birder, after all, and so I’m a little biased (although I certainly know that the term “bird brain” is actually more of a compliment than an insult).

It’s difficult for us to imagine what a fish’s life is like—they live in a completely different medium than we do, have extra senses that we can’t fathom, and have unexpressive faces. I think that last point is the one that leads us to underestimate fishes—we value expressiveness over evidence, I think, because it’s something we’re good at.

If you are interested in matters of animal intelligence (and human judginess) I would recommend Franz de Waal’s excellent book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?.

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review 2018-03-19 11:33
Review: Nothing Left to Burn
Nothing Left To Burn - Heather Ezell

I received a copy from Penguin First to Read.


I went into this book not really knowing anything about it. It flagged my attention because I remembered if from my TBR list. I wasn’t expecting such an emotional gut-wrencher.


It starts with teenager Audrey wakened by firemen knocking on her door and some ungodly hour of the morning informing her of mandatory evacuation due to a raging wildfire. Audrey lives in Orange County, California. Her dad is out of town on a business trip and her mom and younger sister Maya have gone somewhere (I can’t remember where) for some really exclusive ballet audition for Maya. Audrey stayed home and went to a party the night before. It’s clear something happened there and she may be a tad hungover.


Naturally she’s completely freaked out and running around trying to figure out what to save, to get hold of her dad. She can’t bear the thought of freaking out her younger sister before her big audition. Also extremely worried over her boyfriend Brooks who is a volunteer firefighter.


What follows is an emotional roller coaster as Audrey comes to terms with the raging fire and how it’s effecting the people in her life. Also with flashback chapters on how she met Brooks and how their relationship developed.


It’s excellently written and the emotion pours out of the characters. Audrey comes across as a bit of a shy loner, with one best friend Grace. She doesn’t seem to get out much and feels a little left behind since Grace got a girlfriend, Quinn. Audrey works with Grace’s older brother Hayden on some AP projects for a class they’re in together. They’re friendly but you also get an impression something happened there as well that Audrey’s trying to avoid dealing with.


She meets Brooks at a party and they strike an immediate connection. He’s a loner as well, there’s gossip about him Audrey’s heard throughout the school grapevine but Brooks is nice and she doesn’t want to listen to rumours. Especially since they seem to be getting on so well. They start hanging out more and more and develop a deeper relationship going from friendship to something more romantic.


Audrey misses some red flags when Brooks’s behaviour starts changing. He’s got a complex past, his beloved brother died, he’s struggling to deal with it. Understandable. He can get her to talk, but doesn’t always seem to divulge much information about himself and gets annoyed and angry when asked about it. That should raise a few questions on its own. He doesn’t seem to like Audrey hanging out with her friends. He makes a scene about it when her friends show up at a birthday celebration for Audrey. He also seems kind of pushy about sex as well, especially since Audrey’s made it clear she wants to wait until she feels ready. Yet at the same time he can be very romantic as well.


The chapters switch between what is happening the day of the evacuation and what happened over the summer leading to that point.  As Audrey gets closer to Brooks she starts ignoring her own friends, and there’s big questions about what happened to Brooks’s deceased brother. Audrey gets some pretty shocking information. Yet she still can’t seem to think of much else.


There’s also a really great family dynamic as well, Audrey and her sister are really close and their relationship with their parents is decently described as well. The parents are involved without being overbearing and not pushed to the background.


There was a surprising twist in regards to the wildfire as well.


Beautifully written and really emotional as well, this was a quick read but a very good one. Definitely an author I would read again.

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