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review 2018-01-31 23:06
"Dinosaurs On Other Planets" by Danielle McLaughlin
Dinosaurs on Other Planets: Stories - Danielle McLaughlin

 Danielle McLaughlin's debut short story collection, "Dinosaurs On Other Planets" is emotionally powerful, deeply insightful and written with a deft touch that is compelling without being intrusive.


It's taken me a little over two months to read the eleven stories in this collection because each one demands a period of reflection before moving on to the next. Each has its own flavour that I found I wanted to savour by itself for a while.


This is one of those rare collections where all the stories a strong, so I've reviewed them all in the order that they appear on the table of contents, rather than trying to pick favourites.


The Art Of Footbinding


This is a quietly disturbing story that leaves the reader to arrive at an understanding of the meaning of the story or. perhaps, just to see clearly the people in the story.


We are presented with a woman trying to hold on to a husband she is fearful of losing and struggling to assert authority over an increasingly contemptuous and unhappy teenage daughter. Descriptions of the art of footbinding, that read as if they are from a very old Chinese handbook for footbinders, are placed between the unfolding events. That the daughter then starts to bind her own feet, allegedly as part of a homework assignment, links the two streams of text.


I like the words that are left unsaid and the relationships and meanings that are left implicit in this story. The effect is to make the story more truthful and more compelling.

I was left to consider what I thought about the things women are willing to do or are made to or push their daughters into doing in order not to be abandoned.


I wasn't told what to think. I was invited to consider. I liked that. It's something a short story is uniquely positioned to do.


Those That I Fight I Do Not Hate


I've been told that, if you break a hologram into pieces, each shard will contain the entire image. "Those That I Fight I Do Not Hate" seems to me to be a hologram shard. It's not really a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It's an immersion into the experience of a man at a public event in a small town where everyone knows what he's done and who he is and holds him in contempt for it. We don't need to be told what the thing is or was because everyone knows it and accepts it.


In a few short pages, watching the world from inside the head of this untrusted, hard-drinking, adulterous man, I felt I knew not just him, but the people around him and social gravity that keeps them orbiting around one another. The main character IS the narrative. The story is about being not doing.


All About Alice


Alice has a past but what she wants is a future, she just isn't sure how to get there from here.


The story opens with a wonderful image that captures Alice's mood and her situation, living in her father's house, dragged down by the weight of her past and unable to reach the future she can see but can't touch:

"August was heavy with dying blubottles. They gathered in velvety-blue droves on the window panes and beat their gauzy wings against the glass. They squatted black and languid along the sills."

As we follow Alice through a week free from her father's presence we find that Alice

"wanted to leave her life like a balloon leaves a fairground. To slip from life’s sweaty hand and float away."

yet her past life sticks to her not because she holds on to it but because everyone in the village keeps it fixed in place. At one point, Alice meets her friend, Marian and we find that

"Marian, like everybody else in this town, really did know all about Alice."

Eventually, Alice comes to the realization that

"there was no bolt to slide across her past. The past was an open door and the best that could be done was to hurry by on the corridor."

and that, at forty-five, it may already be too late for her to do more than beat her wings against the glass.


Along the Heron-studded River


This is a delicate tale, indirectly told but clearly drawn, about living with someone loved but broken. When I first listened to the husband, from whose point of view the tale is told, and I attributed to him many motives and actions and secrets that explained his behaviour and his wife's. I was wrong about all of them. Only when the simple truth of his situation became clear did I finally see the man himself, the hurt he had suffered and the love he continues to offer.


I understood then that he sees life as herron-studded river that we must swim in to be free, even though that makes us vulnerable to the sharp bills of the herrons looming over us.


Night of the Silver Fox


This story reminded me strongly of the quiet desperation of H.E. Bates' stories. Like the caged silver foxes of the story,  all the characters are trapped so that I felt invited to believer

"It’s what they’re bred for,’ she said, turning away, ‘they don’t know any different."

The story is soaked in a solution of defeat, duplicity and sexual tension that sucks at the characters, dragging them towards another round of bad choices.


The story is told from the point of view of a young man in his first job after school, still trying to get a grip on his place in the world. My attention (and his of course) was captured by the smart, determined young woman trapped on her father's dying farm, doing what she thinks needs to be done to survive.


Not Oleanders


This is the story of Lily, a woman in her forties who has displaced herself so that she is not at the centre of her own life. She is living with a loss of meaning, carried along a path she didn’t choose, by a relationship she no longer inhabits. It captures perfectly the gentle confusion and embarrassment that comes from knowing oneself well without gaining power or purpose from the knowledge.


Our heroine, alone on a holiday in Italy that was meant to be with her long-term but now lost, lover, Sandra, impulsively tracks Etta, a chance-met young woman to a nearby town, thinking there is a connection between them.. It is instantly clear to her that she has misjudged. How might she explain this misjudgement, even to herself?

"Hope, she might have said, if she’d tried; the eternal triumph of hope over experience. That and the fact that, if she were honest, there was something about this young woman that reminded her of Sandra; she’d noticed it the minute Etta had settled into the seat opposite her on the train; not a recent Sandra, an earlier version."

For a moment she tries to save something from the encounter because

"Life, after all, was mostly the art of salvage. But Etta, her expression shifting in sudden recognition, was too young yet, too undamaged, to have learned this."

Lily, humiliated, retreats and tries

"to make the best of this place that Sandra had landed her in,"

Lily understands that humiliation is not so easily dismissed. She says:

"It would return, of course, as humiliations always did, it would wait for her in the long grass of memory.

In the final scene, when a small herd of horses that Lily had thought were focused on her, start to run towards a man behind her, who has come to feed them and who was the real object of their attention, Lily's response encapsulates her character and her relationship to life:

"And as they went by, she stepped back into the trees, to shelter from the clouds of yellow dust flung up by the chaos of their hooves."



This is a story of mothers and daughters: how they see each other, how they hurt each other and the love they can offer each other.


Aileen, in her forties, unmarried, living in England, recently made pregnant by a married colleague, returns to Cork to give her dying mother her news. Things turn out to be more complicated than that.


This story shows how hard it is to say what needs to be said to those we love. How even new life and near death can't free our tongues.


My favourite line describes Aileen, sitting with her frail mother, trying and failing to find a way to speak of her pregnant state and recognising both the connection between her and her mother and the deep crevasse it spans.

"They sat in silence for a while. At the end of the day, Aileen thought, this was all she and her mother could offer one another, the comfort of being frightened together."


A Different Country


This tale has the feeling of a nightmare to it, that sense of slowly sliding towards something that appals you but being unable to stop yourself.


We all know that the past is a foreign country but the past that those whom we can move beyond feeling foreign and distance and become something fundamental and immediate.  Sarah, travelling from Dublin to the small fishing village her partner grew up in, discovers not just that Ireland has more divisions than between north and south but that she may not really know her partner at all.


There is no melodrama here, simply the shock that comes from discovering that values, so deeply held that they seemed not to need discussion, are not shared.

Here is the moment when Sarah realises this.

"All of the years he had lived in this place before he met her, all of the time they had been strangers to each other, unaware of the other’s existence, settled upon Sarah, heavy and impenetrable. She felt a small, quiet panic rise up. It was the panic of a swimmer who has drifted out, little by little, on a rogue current and who suddenly discovers herself to be far from shore. She had a sense of something slipping away from her; it was something she could not quite identify, but she could feel its ebbing none the less."


The Smell of Dead Flowers


This story of a young woman taking up lodging with her mother's oldest friend is both gritty and grimy. It feels like one of those 1960's "it's grim up North" English films that were shot in black and white and filled with noisy silences.


All of the characters seem flawed or trapped or both. The tragedy at the heart of the story feels corrupted or at least subverted by the sullied motives and emotions of the people watching it happen.


It is beautifully told, with sparse prose and muted emotions that nevertheless bring you back to a sharp clear image of a moment of playfulness that has many layers of meaning.


In the Act of Falling


This story is exactly what the title suggests. It catches a woman in that weightless moment when her present is slowly crumbling and she can do nothing to control the speed or direction of her fall. 


The woman's dwindling sense of agency is beautifully described: a gradual crippling of the will brought on by a slow but irreversible extinction of hope. We never learn her name. She never uses it and no one calls her by it. It's as if she is already becoming the ghost of her former self.


The tug of gravity is present in many elements of the story: the house that that gone from dream opportunity to economic burden, the husband who no longer earns and seems to have lost traction on the world,, the strange son with obsessed with death and the End of Times. No one thing pushes the woman yet her fall has started and she has nothing to hang on to.


Dinosaurs On Other Planets


This is a tale filled with the sadness of decaying relationships and frustrated hopes. Kate, a woman in her fifties, finds herself at a point in her life where those she loves are moving away from here, pulled along paths that diverge from hers and which will leave here isolated and alone. Her husband, older than her by more than a than a decade, is withdrawing into himself. Her son lives in Japan, her daughter lives in London. Her grandson is almost a stranger to her.


The story is set in a weekend that brings daughter and grandson and an unexpected guest into Kate's house for a weekend. The proximity is made almost painful, despite the moments of connection, because it is clear that it is fleeting.


In only a few pages we get to know Kate, her now, her remembered past, and her imagined and already feared future and yet there remains always the possibility of change, of something not being what she expects it to be. Even so, there is only so much solace to be taken from the notion that there may still be dinosaurs on other planets.




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text 2017-09-05 13:10
Children Books I've Read Recently

Recently I decided to go on a binge of reading children stories. I was just in a nostalgic mood and ended up reading some books I never got around to reading when I was younger, and some that are newer published.


Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, Sophie Blackall (Illustrator) 

#1 (4 stars)

I was browsing through the kid section of the overdrive library, because I was in the mood for some children/middle grade (possibly nostalgic stuff from my past) and I saw the cover for this book. I thought it looked cute, so I checked it out. I liked it. I think it was silly and fun, and of course cute. I'm in my 30s, but I like to believe I still have a firm grasp on my inner child. I can still relate to younger characters. In the case of these two, I can relate to their imagination and how they get along with family; especially annoying a sibling.




The Adventures of Captain Underpants Dav Pilkey

#1 (5 stars)

I think this book is fun, silly, weird, but I can see why it is a hit or miss with some people. I enjoyed the artwork.




Scream Street by Tommy Donbavand

Fang of the Vampire #1 (5 stars)


I thought this series looked interesting and it turned out pretty fun and cute.

Blood of the Witch #2 (4 stars)

I'm on the fence if I liked this one better than the first one or not. It was quite silly, but not in a bad way, and the author is obviously going with his own vampire lore of how vampires are made

and cured.

(spoiler show)

At least they don't sparkle. ha ha

A fun, quick paced read.




The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne, Salvatore Murdocca (Illustrator)


Dinosaurs Before Dark #1 (4 stars)

I never read this series as a kid. It is just one of the ones I over looked and never thought about. But I thought this was cute and fun, especially for the age group it is intended for. The only reason adult me would give it a lower rating is because I would love more details and I believe even as a child reading this, more details couldn't hurt!

The Knight at Dawn #2 (3 Stars)

The only reason I give the volumes after #1 a 3 star instead of a 4 star is because of the repetitiveness. The summery of past books within the new story would be really helpful for a person who hasn't read the series in a long time. I will give this series that! So I understand why it happens, but it takes something from me as an adult reader.

However the books are cute and fun. I can relate to them, even as an adult, because I love books and would love to be in their shoes, to see all the worlds in the books, and who wouldn't want a magic tree house?

Mummies In The Morning #3 (3 Stars)

Now that I have finished the 3rd book in the series, I am starting to wonder... is the magic tree house really there, or are the children making up everything in their heads? Either way, I really like it!

Pirates Past Noon #4 (3 Stars)

So now we know who "M" is. I still wonder if the children are making up everything in their minds. Imagination is a powerful thing! Either way, this series is really fun. Sure, it's simple and short for adult readers, but that is completely fine by me! It is nice to sit down with some books without all the young adult drama. Also, I feel like these "children" books and other nostalgia type books are really good when you are in a reading slump.




Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

#1 (4 stars)

I think I would have rated this higher if the kid hadn't been such a brat. I know kids can be bratty, but he seemed way over the top! I would even say he has a meanness to him and doesn't care what the coincidences of his actions are. I felt sorry for his so called best friend.

I do like diary format in books. I might read more in the series. I hope he grows as a character as the series goes on.

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review 2017-08-21 02:57
The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan
The Dinosaur Lords: A Novel - Victor Milán

Warning: this book includes on-page rape and detailed descriptions of violence. Many characters die.

In the world of Paradise, humans exist alongside dinosaurs. The tame (or, in some cases, relatively tame) dinosaurs are treated much like our pets and livestock. People breed and train dinosaurs for hunting, riding, and fighting.

When I first heard of this book, it was described as Game of Thrones meets Jurassic Park. There are the dinosaurs plus medieval-ish fantasy politics - as far as tone and overall feel goes, it's more like Game of Thrones than Jurassic Park. The four main players are: Karyl Bogomirskiy, a famed dinosaur knight who is one of the few to ride a Tyrannosaurus rex; Rob Korrigan, a minstrel and dinosaur master (trains and cares for fighting dinosaurs and dinosaur mounts); Jaume, famed dinosaur knight and poet, the Imperial Champion of Emperor Felipe, and the fiance of Princess Melodia; and Melodia, who is eager to do important things but seems doomed to waste away in the palace.

This was mostly focused on politics, and unfortunately that politics bored me. I also had a tendency to lose track of what people were doing and why. For example, for a while there I thought Jaume and his soldiers were marching towards the location where Karyl and Rob were training peasants to fight. But no, they were riding towards a completely different area. They didn’t start going towards Karyl and Rob’s location until late in the book (I’m guessing they’ll meet in Book 2?).

It felt like I was supposed to at least be rooting for Jaume, Karyl, Rob, and Melodia, but for the most part I had trouble caring about them. Jaume’s romantic entanglements were exhausting. He was in a relationship with both one of his fellow knights (or not a knight, but at least part of his group? I can’t remember) and Melodia. The problem was that both Melodia and Pere seemed to want Jaume to love them best. Melodia was happy to share Jaume as long as she was more important to him than Pere, and Pere would likely have preferred his relationship with Jaume to be monogamous. Jaume, for his part, seemed to think everything was fine. It bothered me that Milan never really dealt with or resolved these issues, just...made them go away.

Karyl was cardboard, a fallen legendary character who was clearly destined to become legendary again. Rob thought he was awesome, so readers were supposed to think so too. Oh, and Rob. I seriously disliked him. I think he was supposed to be the “loveable rogue” of the bunch, but the more I read about him the more I wanted the author to ditch him. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why one minor female character slept with him. I thought for sure she was a secret spy or enemy, because I couldn’t understand what could possibly be appealing about him. I disliked just about everything about him except his dinosaur mount. One specific thing about him that bothered me was his habit of mentally trying to guess the gender of androgynous urchins. He mentally described one as “it,” before eventually deciding upon “he.” Hello! “They” exists and can be used as a gender neutral pronoun in English. Also, if a character was female and reasonably pretty, he probably leered at her at least once.

Now for Melodia. For most of the book, she had potential. After a while, “potential” seemed to be all she’d ever have. As the story went on and she continued to do nothing much, her horniness and childishness began to bother me more and more. She was so very horny. But only for Jaume! Except when she was mad at him, then she started to consider other options. And when she was mad at him, she was childish enough to not even read his letters. Never mind that she’d have regretted it for the rest of her life if he had died in battle. But as much as I disliked Meloda, she did not deserve what Milan had happen to her near the end of the book. That particular scene killed any desire I had to try the next book in the series. It felt like it happened more for shock value than anything - incredibly lazy writing on Milan’s part.

The world building was intriguing but vague. At first I thought this was an alternate history, but it turned out to actually be a completely different planet/dimension. Dinosaurs either existed there from the start or were transported there from our world and thrived. Humans and several other animals were transported to the world at a later date. Humans live longer and, if injuries don’t immediately kill them, can heal faster, and disease is almost unheard of. How humans and other beings made it to Paradise is never mentioned.

The best thing about this book was its cover and the black-and-white artwork at the start of each chapter. The story itself had far fewer dinosaurs and cool dinosaur moments than I was expecting - there was one battle I enjoyed and a fascinating bit involving an enormous dragonfly used like a hunting falcon, but that was basically it. Shiraa, Karyl’s mount, had potential but disappeared early on in the book. It’s likely she’ll show up in the next book but, as I said, the horrible and unnecessary scene with Melodia killed my desire to continue on with this series.

All in all, I really wanted to love this and I’m sad to say I didn’t. Even if that scene with Melodia hadn’t existed, this would never have been more than a so-so read. It was surprisingly boring for something that should have been completely awesome.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-08-16 12:07
Books&Chai Series: 6 Reasons I Fell in Love with Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker
Raptor Red - Robert T. Bakker


Introduction to the Book

My friends already know how crazy I am when it comes to fiction based on dinosaurs. I have been known to wax poetic about such books.

In this book, however, Bakker takes facts about dinosaur life and weaves them into a story. So, it is like reading fictionalized non-fiction!


Introduction to the Chai

Now that you have had your book intro, let me proceed by introducing you to another series of blog posts: Books&Chai. Whenever I post with this tag, you will find a book from a genre that goes beautifully with the featured flavor of chai (tea).

Black tea, which is the flavor featured in this post, is known to improve concentration and focus. Since I was reading a book about a very intelligent species, the Utahraptor, I decided black tea would be a smart choice!



Reasons for all that Book-Luvin’

Now, we move on to the six reasons that made for an awesome read:


The Humor

If you have been following this blog, you must know now that for me, humor is an important part in a book. In any book! The more unlikely it seems that the author might be able to create humorous situations (say, like in a book from a bloodthirsty monster’s POV), the more I appreciate it!


I found the two examples from Raptor Red funny as heck!




The Sciency Bits

You can’t have a good fact-based book without some science in it. For me, catching glimpses of the science while being embroiled in Red’s latest adventure was a lot of fun!

This particular quote is from a scene when a male raptor comes face to face with a field of red flowers. What’s more, they smell like rotten meat, which the raptor considers food. This kinda blows up its sensory perception temporarily. Faced with such an evocative color, it doesn’t know whether it is supposed to court the blooms, fear them, or eat them!



This quote is from a scene where Red sees a turtle for the first time. The whole scene was written well enough to have me go Awww and Lol in turns.



The Dino-Facts

I am aware that I could have included these in the sciency bits mentioned above. But, no! These facts were juicy enough to merit their own category. Snippets of how life used to be for different kinds of dinos gave the book an authenticity.


This quote explains how after speciation (birth of a new species from an old one) Utahraptor society had adopted a matriarchal structure.



This one is about how two completely different species banded together for survival. One of them had longer necks that enabled them to check for predators over a wider area. The other one contributed by their sheer numbers.



The Poetic Language

I am a sucker for when a scientists takes a theory or fact and describes it with beautiful language.



The Squicky Bits

Another favorite. There was a bit about how dangerous assassin bugs could be to the raptors. I looked them up and science (and class Insecta) did not disappoint!


Absurd Creature of the Week: The Ferocious Bug That Sucks Prey Dry and Wears Their Corpses



…wears their corpses. I mean corpses! Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude!


A Mixture of it All

The example below is an unholy combo of all the reasons that I have mentioned above. Watch them in action:






What do you think about the book? Do you like the new tag that this review is sporting?

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url 2017-07-24 19:24
"More Dinosaur Lords Art from Richard Anderson"

I'm now 384 pages into the book. It's not giving me nearly as much dinosaur time as I expected, although there are some nice moments here and there.


Richard Anderson's interior dinosaur art is probably the best dinosaur stuff in the book. Tor.com has some examples - there's one of these at the start of every chapter.

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