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Giveaway: Bad Elephant Far Stream by Samuel Hawley (INTERNATIONAL)

December 6, 2014 1 comment

Close-up of an elephant's eyeIt’s the penultimate giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  I was so happy to be able to offer so many giveaways this year! Thanks to the indie authors and indie publishing houses that made it possible.

There are TWO ebook versions of Bad Elephant Far Stream (review) available courtesy of the author, Samuel Hawley!

What You’ll Win:  One ebook copy of Bad Elephant Far Stream (review) by Samuel Hawley.

How to Enter:  Leave a comment on this post stating the coolest fact you know about elephants.

Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL

Contest Ends: December 13th.  One week from today!

Disclaimer: The winners will have their ebook sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

Book Review: Bad Elephant Far Stream by Samuel Hawley

December 6, 2014 2 comments

Close-up of an elephant's eyeSummary:
When Far Stream is still a young elephant in the late 1800s, not yet full grown and learning from her mother, aunties, and grandmother, humans trap and capture her and other members of her herd.  She is shipped to America and sold to a traveling circus.  Over the years, she slowly comes to be known as a bad elephant who must be put down.  But is she really bad?

Review:
I was quite excited when this book was submitted to me for review.  A piece of historic fiction from the perspective of an animal, focusing on animal rights problems in the circus? Such a perfect fit!  This is a well-researched and written piece of historic fiction that eloquently depicts the minds of elephants as similar to and yet different from those of humans.

The book opens with a scene of a so-called bad elephant about to be executed.  The humans state they are doing so humanely and nothing can be done because the elephant has gone rogue and killed too many  humans.  The book then flashes back to see the elephant’s life from the elephant’s perspective, leaving it up to the reader to determine if the elephant is actually bad.  The humans calls her Topsy, but her elephant name is actually Far Stream.  What follows in the flashback is a delicately handled and clearly exquisitely researched tale of the life of a circus elephant in the late 1800s in the US.

From the beginning, the author makes it clear that elephants are intelligent, with lives, families, and emotions of their own.  Quite a bit of this is backed up by science, such as elephants crying and also mourning dead members of the herd.  There are also those who think that elephants might communicate via sign language and/or telepathically, and the book fully embraces both ideas.  What results in telling this tale from the elephant’s perspective is a scene of one intelligent species enslaved by another that is heartbreaking to read.  What really makes the story work, though, is that the author strikes the perfect balance between showing the horror of being a circus elephant and also not fully demonizing humans.  There are good humans (trainers and non-trainers) who love the elephants and treat them well but simply do not understand that elephants are more intelligent and have a richer emotional life than they give them credit for and by simply keeping them away from the roaming herd life they were made for they are hurting them.

Everything about the circus in the late 1800s in the US was clearly thoroughly researched by the author.  The historic setting and ways of life flow smoothly and fit perfectly within the plot.  They are presented simply as reality without any unfortunate modern commentary or forcing of unnaturally modern ideas into the plot.  Reading this book truly transported me back in time, and it was fascinating and enjoyable, as well as heartbreaking.

Although the reader knows from the beginning that Far Stream will be executed, how she gets there is still a mystery and is handled delicately enough that the plot has momentum.

The one bit that didn’t really work for me is how the book presents what appears to be elephant spirituality.  There is one scene where Far Stream and another elephant appear to hallucinate, and it is never entirely clear what actually happened.  Similarly the ending goes to an odd spiritual place that just left me confused, rather than in the strong emotional state I was in the moments immediately prior to this.  I found the elephant spirituality bits to be a touch confusing that lessened the emotional strength of the rest of the book, which came across much more matter-of-fact.  Some readers may enjoy and relate to the spiritual aspect more than I did, however.

Overall, this is a piece of thoroughly researched historic fiction with a smooth moving plot and an empathetic, well-rounded main character.  It clearly demonstrates how animals humans once thought were less intelligent and less emotional than we now know them to be came to be mistreated, setting up a precedent for that mistreatment that to some extent continues to this day.  Highly recommended to readers who enjoy historic fiction and animal main characters.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Stinger Stars by Paul Bussard

July 19, 2014 4 comments

Image of what appears to be a golden bird with a glowy bit in it.Summary:
Maria is working on her thesis at a genetics research lab specializing in looking for ways to get human limbs to regenerate.  When the owner’s son brings back a new species from Peru, a tiny worm-like creature with pyramidal tentacles, she discovers that the larger clones made from them are intelligent.  But the owner’s son wants to conduct brutal experiments on them, involving cutting off their appendages, which grow back.  Can Maria strike the balance between life-changing science for humans suffering from disabled or missing limbs and respecting the lives of an intelligent species?

Review:
Near-future books that question where to draw the line in research are a particular favorite of mine.  It’s a gray area in many people’s minds, and scifi lets us explore the myriad possibilities and options at a bit of a distance, which allows for clearer thought.  This book does an admirable job setting up a realistic near-future world to explore this issue, although the characters don’t quite live up to the world-building and story.

The near-future world of genetics research is established both clearly and with subtlety early on in the book.  There are two competing genetics research organizations, and rather than looking into something monstrous or far-flung, they are looking into regenerating limbs.  It’s a logical next-step for a near-future book.  The research labs themselves, as well as how they are run, including the field-work, have a real-world, logical feel to them.

At first I was concerned from the book’s official description that the creatures discovered would be aliens, since alien experimentation would be less of a gray area to explore.  They are not, in fact, aliens, they are a newly discovered species originating on Earth.  The mystery is whether they were always sentient or if something in the modification and cloning process made them sentient.  This makes the conflict of how to use the creatures to help humans without harming them better, because exactly what they are is a bit unclear.  It’s not as simple as if they were simply aliens or some sort of cute, fuzzy creature.  They’re these slightly creepy worm-like things with tentacles, and the conflict is do we still respect these kind of ugly, cloned creatures for their intelligence, or do they need to look cuter or more humanoid to gain that respect?

The plot is complex and keeps the reader guessing.  Even though I was fairly certain things would ultimately end up ok, I wasn’t sure how they were going to get there.  This made it an engaging and quick read.

Unfortunately, the characters are rather weak and two-dimensional.  I never was able to truly connect to any of the characters.  If anything, I connected to the creatures a bit more than the main characters.  There are also a few instances that feel out of character for the small amount of characterization done.  For instance, Maria thinks she can’t date because her family wants her to have an arranged marriage to keep the family Spanish.  This type of arranged marriage situation could definitely happen, but I had a hard time believing that a woman so strong in the sciences, with so much agency for her career and for her grandmother’s well-being would actually even think about not seeing someone she cares for in order to have an arranged marriage.  It felt out of character and simply forced upon her to add conflict.  Similarly, there is an incident that at first is considered a rape and then later brushed off as not a rape.  Without giving anything away, I agree it wasn’t a rape, but I also don’t think the character who at first mistook it for a rape would have made that error in judgment.  It was out of character for their level of intelligence.  This again felt forced to provide extra conflict that wasn’t needed.  The main plot had plenty of interest and conflict to keep the book going without these out-of-character moments.  I also felt the accent written for one of the characters was badly done and distracting.  This character is a scientist with an advanced degree, yet he speaks in an informal, unrealistic accent that primarily consists of him dropping g’s and using a lot of contractions.

In spite of these characterization short-comings, the book still tells a unique near-future genetics research story with a quick-moving, engaging plot.  Recommended to those looking for a scifi-style beach read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Siren by John Everson

January 3, 2013 2 comments

Woman crawling out of the ocean onto a rock.Summary:
Evan walks the seacoast of his small town every night reliving the horror of watching his son drown.  But one night he hears a beautiful song and discovers a perfectly naked, perfectly beautiful woman attached to it.  As he begins an affair, willfully oblivious to anything about the woman beyond her beauty, he fails to realize he is falling for the siren of Delilah.

Review:
I picked this up during one of the monthly kindle book sales on a whim, and am I glad I did!  This book was simultaneously terrifying and electrifying.  The flip-flop between fear and titillation was a truly delightful reading experience, and it came with a well thought-out plotline and delicious settings to boot.

Evan is not a likeable guy. In fact, Ligeia, the Siren, is more likable than he is, and she routinely rips people’s throats out with just her teeth.  But disliking Evan works for the story.  It lets the reader invest in Ligeia and see her side of things.  There are ways in which she is a monster, yes, but there are also ways in which she is quite human.  Having a deeply flawed male “victim” to her charms allows the reader to see the monster in us all.

Both the horror and the sex scenes are adeptly written.  The sex scenes are titillating without being too much, and, similarly, the horrific scenes are grotesque without going too far.  The presence of both in the story makes for an ever-changing, exciting read.  Similarly, the plot is complex without being overly so and managed to keep me guessing.  It also strikes the balance quite well.

I also really enjoyed the light commentary on hunting and eating another species.  It provides a depth to the story beyond simply lust leading one astray.

Kind of puts a whole new spin on fishing, doesn’t it?  Here you men are always out there reeling in the fish, and here’s a half-fish woman who’s reeling in the men.  (page 146)

Of course, there is also commentary on cheating and the other woman. There has to be, since Ligeia is Evan’s mistress.  I must admit that that basic plot can sometimes upset me, so I do think it distracted me a bit from enjoying the book as much as I would have otherwise.  On a similar note, the ending is not quite what I would have hoped for, although it did make sense in the context of the story.

Overall, this is an interesting mix of horror and erotica that is fast-paced and enjoyable.  Those sensitive to cheating as a plot device or explicit deaths may want to exercise caution.  Recommended to those who would enjoy their horror and erotica together.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Animal Rights Poetry: 25 Inspirational Animal Poems, Vol 1 by Jenny Moxham (Series, #1)

Drawng of a little girl hugging a pig next to a goose.Summary:
A collection of 25 poems focusing on a variety of animal rights issues by British animal rights activist Jenny Moxham.

Review:
I picked this up because one of the blogs I follow mentioned it was on sale (for 100% off), and I figured there had to be at least one poem in there that I would find inspirational.  Of course, there was.

The poems are mostly written in rhyme, a vibe that feels very similar to Mother Goose style children’s poetry.  Some of them worked better than others, but it’s certainly a fine style choice.  It’s easier to remember rhymes than almost any other sort of poetry.

Personally, I preferred the poems that contained solid arguments to use when debating animal rights issues.  My favorite, is this one:

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I’ve often heard it said by folk
Who relish eating meat,
“The animals were put on Earth
For human beings to eat.”

Well if God made them just for us,
Explain it, if you can,
Why they arrived one hundred million
Years ahead of man

(location 95)

I was less of a fan of ones addressing particular events, because I think those would be less useful in more general animal rights work.  I also was surprised by how many of the poems were about Christmas.  Perhaps Christmas is a meatier affair in the UK, but in a book with only 25 poems, having five about one holiday felt like a bit much.

Overall, Moxham’s talent and passion do shine through, but a more varied and longer collection would have been more enjoyable.  Recommended to those with an interest in memorable phrases to use in animal rights work.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: The Mount by Carol Emshwiller (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Man in reins and bit.Summary:
Charley is an 11 year old Seattle and wants to be the best mount there is for his owner, Little Master.  He eats his dry cakes, practices on the go-round, and behaves well.  Little Master mostly likes their lessons.  His ears wiggle, so Charley knows he’s giggling.  But one day Wilds attack the village.  They say that people are meant to be people, not mounts for Hoots.  But the Hoots say the mounts were made for them, see how the primate species are perfectly designed for riding?  It’s all very confusing for Charley.

Review:
It doesn’t take much guess-work to figure out how this wound up on my TBR pile.  It’s a rather obvious allegory for animal rights, although instead of apes enslaving people like in Planet of the Apes, it’s an alien species with cat-like ears and weak legs enslaving humans.  The concept is a good one, but the execution fell short for me, which is sad, because I wanted to love it.

The structure of the book is problematic.  The first chapter is from the perspective of an entirely random Hoot who we never see again. Ever.  We also never see his mount again.  This is just weird.  The rest of the book is told from the first person perspective of Charley, except for one random chapter narrated by his father.  I don’t mind switching perspectives, but there should be some sort of consistency about it, and we should have at least a vague idea who the character in the new perspective is.

I also found myself completely baffled by Charley.  In spite of being enslaved by the Hoots, he still wishes to use a bit one day and other things that drive his father nuts, and one cannot help but agree with his father.  He never seems to really learn better through the book either.  He persists in loving his Hoot and being a mount for his Hoot.  That doesn’t work as an allegory for animal rights or slavery.

Emshwiller does show how teenage boys clash with their fathers very well, however.  Charley’s relationship with his dad, Heron, is well fleshed-out and intriguing.  They want to connect and love each other but struggle with how, exactly, to do that when they are so different yet so similar.  Looking back, this relationship is what kept me reading.  It shines in spite of the other oddities in the book.

I won’t spoil it, but the ending bothered me as well, and I found it profoundly confusing.  In fact, I’d say for the book as a whole I am simply left perplexed by it.  I feel like I missed something or didn’t quite get an accurate picture of the world they are living in or something.

Overall, it’s a very different take on humans being enslaved by another species, but its execution is rather disappointing.  Recommended to readers with a marked interest in scifi depictions of human slavery.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Y: The Last Man: Paper Dolls by Brian K. Vaughan (Series, #7) (Graphic Novel)

Summary:
Our trifecta of heroes have successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean and are now on the seacoast of Australia.  Yorick naturally insists on looking for his long-lost girlfriend in the drug-infested city of Sydney.  Meanwhile, Dr. Mann gets wooed by the one-eyed sailor rescued from the pirate ship in the previous book.  We also learn more of Ampersand the monkey’s backstory.

Review:
It probably comes as no surprise that I am still loving this series, although I am super-grateful to have one containing so many issues to be holding up so well!  Although I’m not a big fan of the Dr. Mann being duped story, the other two more than make up for it.

Seeing Sydney torn apart by heroin provides a different scenario in this post-apocalyptic world.  We’ve seen the women fall to violence, over-monitoring, and chaos, but we haven’t seen the self-medication reaction yet.  The scenes with the women on heroin are sad and poignant.  The perfect backdrop to Yorick’s story.

Naturally as an animal lover and animal rights person I love Ampersand’s backstory.  Originally abused and destined for a research lab, his shipping got mixed up and wound up with Yorick to be trained to be a helper animal instead.  How this ties in with Dr. Mann is disturbing and the perfect set-up for the next issue.  After seeing all he’s been through, I really hope they find Ampersand the next issue!

Overall, the art and story are consistently good and in spite of being the seventh in a long series the storyline has not gotten out of hand or become dull.  This is an excellent entry that will leave fans craving more!

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Previous Books in Series
Y: The Last Man: Unmanned (review)
Y: The Last Man: Cycles (review)
Y: The Last Man: One Small Step (review)
Y: The Last Man: Safeword (review)
Y: The Last Man: Ring of Truth (review)
Y: The Last Man: Girl on Girl (review)