book review · Shar

Science non fiction mini reviews


 I really like science in general, and I surprised myself by reading 3 nonfiction books about science last month. Although they weren’t YA, I really liked two of them, and I’m also trying to branch out my reading and the content on this blog. So here are some bite-sized mini reviews for you. 

Other Minds

 Peter Godfrey-Smith

One thing you may not know about me is that I really like biology, and I’m going to study it in university. My animal loving, science self adored this book. It basically talked through the evolution of the octopus’ mind and extrapolated to draw conclusions about the evolution of humans and brains.

This book was really well structured, not dense even though it was sciency, easy to follow, engaging, and basically made me really really like octopi and cephalopods in general. I learned a lot about evolution and brains (although I did know some things mentioned already; high school psychology and biology ftw!) and really enjoyed it. 5 stars.


Astrophysics for people in a hurry

Neil Degrasse Tyson

astrophysics-for-people-in-a-hurry-neil-degrasse-tyson1I gather that this author is quite a famous scientist/TV personality? I don’t know anything much about him though. I picked this book because a) it had a pretty cover, and b) I know nothing about astrophysics and wanted to remedy this.

I did learn a lot, but I didn’t find the book that easy to read. It went through various aspects of astrophysics in each chapter, and assumed basic scientific knowledge in all the explanations. I didn’t always know what was going on, mainly because I haven’t done any physics since 9th grade. I could usually figure it out if I concentrated, but it was hard and I had to go back and reread a lot. This definitely affected my enjoyment.

I noticed that the chapters I understood the most, especially the one about the astrophysical origins of chemical elements, were easy and fun to read, and the more theoretical and physical stuff wasn’t.

Also, the writing style was a bit jarring. It was mostly dense language to a layperson at least, but lots of the paragraphs ended in (not very funny) jokes. This didn’t really work for me and felt really awkward. I guess it goes to show good scientists aren’t necessarily good writers?

I did like how the last chapter explored why astrophysics matters amid the turmoil and darkness or life on earth. Then Tyson started to be like ‘the cosmological perspective lifts us from the darkness of our mundanity’ which I felt was a bit much.

I rate this book 3 stars: I’m glad I read it, but didn’t exactly enjoy it.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot

immortal-lifeI’ve been meaning to read this ever since I discovered it was a book, or maybe before that, when I first heard about Henrietta and HeLa in biology class about 2 years ago. This book is about the cells of a black woman who had cervical cancer. In the 50s, a sample was taken, and they turned out to be essentially immortal—able to divide infinitely without dying like normal human cells. This made them ideal for experiments, and they were used to discover a polio vaccine, standardizing culture mediums, learning more about viruses, studying how cells become malignant/cancerous, finding out how to freeze cells effectively, how to clone cells, developing the basis of IVF fertility treatments, learning more about genetic diseases and chromosomes, used to learn about the effect of radiation on cells, used to screen chemotherapy drugs, and to test cosmetics (among other things). An enormous and lucrative industry was built around her cells, but Henrietta died a few months after the sample was taken (without her permission), and it was decades before her family found out about the cells.

This book was really well written, and struck a fine balance between exploring the personal aspect of Henrietta’s story, and her family’s, medical ethics from the 1950s to the present, and the science about how the cells were used. I found it easy to read and intensely interesting. I would say that the book isn’t for everyone; it’s quite dense and scientific in some places and then more like a non fiction novel in others, but it’s really well researched and thorough. It’s definitely worth reading if you like this kind of thing. Four stars.


Do you enjoy nonfiction? Do you have any recommendations for me? How do you feel about octopuses?


book review · books · shanti


H LOOK IT’S MY NEW FAVOURITE BOOK. And it’s the only contemporary on my favourite books list. You know how sometimes you read a book at exactly the right time? That was this book for me. Also, shoutout to the wonderful Sarah @WrittenWordWorlds, who convinced me to read this book in her review. Basically, this story nails the uncertainty inherent in a new stage of life, and just captures the rhythm of being a teenager perfectly.

Continue reading “Untidy Towns: SO IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK”

book review · books · shanti · Uncategorized

8 Reasons to read Ashbury/Brookfield

Hi Virtually Readers! A few months ago I was deep in some corner of the internet (aren’t we all) and found all these posts on inside a dog that Jaclyn Moriarty had written AGES ago, about her Ashbury/Brookfield books, a series of contemporary novels told entirely in found documents. They’re more companion novels, btw, rather than sequels. And I read the series over then next few months, finishing in September, and I loved them all. The books are Feeling Sorry for Celia, Finding Cassie Crazy, The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie, and Dreaming of Amelia (except I got confused and read Amelia before Bindy). Those links, by the way, go to my reviews. I loved the series, and now I’m going to give you some reasons to read it.

One, the books are all hilarious.

Because it’s told in documents, there are all different styles of writing to differentiate the characters. One character, Emily, is prone to malpropism (I shall rain over everyone). Another character thinks she’s really smart, and it shows hilariously in the writing. Then there are fake court summonings (SO FUNNY) and drunk blogging. Not to mention the situations the character get into which are funny…one character is hilariously convinced that there is a ghost and another runs away to the circus.

Two, they’re all mysteries.

Now I’m an idiot and it took until the fourth book for me to figure out that all the books were mysteries. I actually really liked this though; it’s a sign that the mystery is well incorporated into the novel, and the focus stays on the characters.

Three, melodrama

All of the characters are teenagers, and like teenagers are wont too, tend to exaggerate their own circumstances to be a little more important and life changing than they really are. (especially Emily. Oh Emily, how I love you) But there are just enough instances where something ~creepy~ is actually happening that you can’t quite be sure.

Four, friendship

There are so many strong female friendships; and even just friendships in general. Finding Cassie Crazy and Dreaming of Amelia especially focus on a trio of girls, Cassie, Emily, and Lydia, and they are very funny and very supportive and generally excellent. And Amelia and Riley are very good friends to each other, and I love that Ernst is friends with Bindy (also a bit of shipping there tbh), and also all the boys in Finding Cassie Crazy are great (except for some of them). I liked Seb particularly.

Five, creative and quirky documents

Remember the fake court summonings I mentioned up above? Well, they’re part of the documents that make up the story. It’s a lot like Illuminae, but less pretty. There are also these excellent messages from various ‘societies’ in the first book which help us get into Elizabeth, the main characters head. In every book except The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie, you don’t know why the docements have been found and collected; but they’re there, and they’re wonderful, and you just enjoy it.

Six, compelling characters

Sometimes with document based stories, it’s hard to connect to the characters, but Jaclyn Moriarty is so clever that this never happens. I especialy connected with Bindy Mackenzie and Elizabeth Clarry, in the first and third books, which are more centred on one person. The honesty of the stories, the issues the characters have, and the way that the documents they leave can and simeltaneously cannot account for their lives; somehow, it works, and all the characters are just so true to life.

Seven, surprises

I often guess plots, but Moriarty consistently surprised me. I never knew what to expect and quite what each clue added up to, and that made such a nice change. The endings are a little ridiculous, but still perfect.

Eight, ALL CAPS.

There are a lot of ALL CAPS as emphasis in the book. Very relatable if you’re a book blogger.

I do actually have some critiques of these books, which you can see in my reviews. Overall, though, they’re very clever, very enjoyable, and very funny and I think more people need to read them so go forth and do likewise.

Have you read any of these books? And what’s your favourite document based book? let me know in the comments!


book review · Shar · Uncategorized

Review: Genuine Fraud (genuinely not for me)

33843362Title: Genuine Fraud

Author: E. Lockhart

Genre: YA mystery/thriller

Themes: Friendship, murder, power, wealth and poverty

Blurb: Told in reverse chronological order, Genuine Fraud is about a girl who has conned her way into inheriting and heiress’ fortune. Now on the run, Jules refuses to let anyone take what she’s got away. But what did it take for her to get what she has? Where has she come from? And what happened to Imogen? Continue reading “Review: Genuine Fraud (genuinely not for me)”

book review · books

The Bear and the what now?

A few months ago, I read The Bear and the Nightingale, a story completely saturated in Russian myth, so much that it forms its own kind of myth. The details that the author put in as an expert–she has a degree in Russian studies–formed a nuanced picture of medieval Russia. However, I wasn’t that invested in the story or the perspective.

31344916‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…

Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman. blurb from goodreads

The pacing of the narrative is such that the action is focused really on the last third of the book, so the first two thirds merely detail the world in which Vasya, the heroine, grows up. Along the way, we’re treated to a close third for a variety of perspectives, which humanizes all secondary characters (other than Mozorko, perhaps) I love how the pieces of Vasya’s life added together to her narrative arc, but I struggled with her character. TBatN is a chosen one story: evil rising, magic birthed, trials, tribulations, friends, enemies, and obviously, a bittersweet sacrifice oriented ending. A good story; a formula which works for a reason. But Vasya is an uncompelling heroine—in fact, I found Konstantin, Anna, and Pyotr more interesting than her. Maybe I’m growing up, or maybe Vasya, a cardboard cutout, far-too-perfect Strong Female heroine is too bland. I completely failed to identify with her.
I’ve read several stories of Russia in the last few weeks, and it seems to me that Russia is the setting for more stories written by non-Russians than, say, Uganda, Malaysia, or Vanuatu. The Bear and the Nightingale exemplifies why (according to me), its such a popular setting. For one thing, Russia is an ‘East meets West’ place (and I know those dichotomies are Eurocentric). It’s not the US or Western Europe—it’s a little bit exotic, but similar enough to still be recognizable to the average media consumer, and it has myths that the West does not share, and medieval Russians wear dresses, but they’re called sarafans! How strange, but not weird, right? The endless, mostly empty plains, and the frosty forests add to the appeal too—the blank space is unexplored! (not really) but it practically begs for a story. Russian history is rich, too, and it has enough connections to the familiar Western European history that it turns up in lots of accessible Western TV shows and educational sources (including, say, degree programs at universities). TBatN, in rural medieval Russia, with a forest to explore and myths and details to pop out, along with mentions of Khans, totally shows my theory (which is right, obviously). And it’s not that I mind—Russia is fascinating—but food for thought.
TBatN is heavily critical of religion, particularly the abstract forced kind, which it implies much of Eastern Orthodox was at the time of the story (which to be fair, considering historical context and the devastation that Christianiy has wreaked on fold cultures worldwide is probably true). However, I hope religion and its role in daily life get a bit more nuance in the next bok. (which had an intriguing extract at the end of my copy).
tl;dr: The Bear and the Nightgale: Russia cold. Vasya boring. Story obvious (but still appealing.)

Have you read this? What’s a story you enjoyed that is set in Russia? tell me in the comments!