Tag Archive: books

Book Review: Into That Forest

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Into That Forest Author: Louis Nowra Published: 7 January 2013 Publisher: Egmont Books Summary: Wonderfully told and deeply moving ‒ an instant classic. It’s strange to think that, under the right conditions, humans can revert back to the wild state our ancestors worked so hard to detach civilised society from. After all, we still have the tools; keen eyesight and hearing, a decent sense of smell and a predators’ ability to problem solve, we just fail to utilise them, or simply employ them in different ways. And regressing to the wild-side is exactly what happens in Into That Forest; stranded in the Tasmanian wilderness, two young girls, Hannah and Becky, are adopted by a pair of Tasmanian tigers and spend the subsequent four years learning to hunt, read the outback and generally live as wild animals. As the girls integrate themselves with their new parents, they lose the use of English, instead opting to employ the grunts, snarls and body language of …

Book Review: In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw

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In Defence of Dogs Author: John Bradshaw Published: 5 July 2012 Publisher: Penguin Summary: Illuminating but, at times, a little too academic. One of the most widely held views of dog training is based on two scientific observations. Firstly, that dogs share 99.96% of their DNA with the grey wolves from which they’re descended, and secondly, that captive wolves housed in enclosures quarrel and fight until a particular individual is crowned dominant. These two notions have led to the popularisation of the ‘dominance model’ of domestic dog training, an ideology that encourages owners to continuously assert their authority on their furry companion in order to establish themselves as the superior, or alpha. However, anthrozoologist Dr John Bradshaw has a bone to pick with the dominance model of dog training, and In Defence of Dogs is where he presents his arguments. Bradshaw’s objections are compelling: he notes that, unlike the zoos in which a random assemblage of unrelated wolves are forced into an …

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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A Monster Calls Author: Patrick Ness Published: 2 February 2012 Publisher: Walker Books Summary: Haunting and incredibly compelling – a must-read. Right from the foreword and first chapters of A Monster Calls, it’s clear that the novel is not so much about the tree monster pictured on the wonderful front cover, as the destructive influence of cancer: an illness that seems to touch everyone’s life at some point. The central theme is all the more pertinent as Siobhan Dowd, the author credited with the inception of A Monster Calls, tragically died from the disease long before she could finish the book. Whilst two of Dowd’s completed novels were published posthumously (Bog Child and Solace of the Road), A Monster Calls needed a champion to see it through to publication, and so Patrick Ness, author of the award winning Chaos Walking series, agreed to take the reins and finish the work. The book begins with Conor O’Malley, teenage son to a single …

Book Review: Itch by Simon Mayo

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Itch Author: Simon Mayo Published: 25 October 2012 Publisher: Corgi Children’s Summary: A terrifically fun and wonderfully engaging debut. Chemistry is widely considered as one of the most difficult subjects to make exciting, but Simon Mayo, radio presenter of the BBC’s Drivetime and Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, seems to have discovered the perfect formula for doing so: (explosions x noxious materials) ÷ sinister global corporations. And, utilising this winning equation, Mayo has penned his debut novel, Itch; the story of fourteen year old Itchingham Lofte who, whilst attempting to collect every element in the periodic table, comes into possession of a curious new element with world-changing potential. At its core, Itch revolves around the relationship of Itch, his younger sister Chloe and his cousin Jacqueline (Jack) as they cope with the problems associated with possessing a radioactive substance the world and his dog would do anything to obtain. And what a charming and absorbing relationship it is; despite being the youngest, …

The biology of Harry Potter

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I recently wrote an article outlining how biological concepts are communicated through the Pokémon games and it got me thinking: what other popular franchises might do a similar thing? Now, they don’t come much more popular than JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series (there are probably lichens living under polar rocks that have heard of polyjuice potion and blast-ended skrewts) and I think it’s possible the books may just have transmitted the odd biological principle to a few unsuspecting readers. Perhaps because of the cover art, it’s likely the first images the words ‘biology’ and ‘Harry Potter’ conjure up are ones of magical creatures; hippogriffs, dragons or basilisks for example. Of course, whilst often based on genuine animals, it’s widely accepted such creatures don’t exist and anyone who does go off searching the real world for them is known politely as a cryptozoologist. Interestingly, Rowling includes a nod to the pseudoscience of cryptozoology in the form of the Lovegood family who, unlike …

Book Review: River Monsters by Jeremy Wade

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River Monsters Author: Jeremy Wade Published: 18 October 2012 Publisher: Orion Summary: A fascinating, engrossing read whether you’ve ever cast a line or not. We’ve all heard a fisherman’s tale before. Those far-fetched stories concerning ‘the ones that got away’ shared in the corner of dimly lit pubs by liquor-soaked men with missing teeth. Well, oddly enough, it turns out some of them were true. Of course, zoologist and extreme angler Jeremy Wade has known this for a long time and, for the past twenty-five years, he’s been travelling the world collecting the stories of ferocious freshwater attacks previously written off as folklore by the masses. From tales of sharks attacking horses at river crossings (yes, sharks in rivers!), to spiked fish lodging themselves inside gentlemen’s nether regions, it really is incredible how many of the myths Wade investigates in River Monsters turn out to be fact. From the opening sentence, it’s clear Wade can write (he’s previously been employed as …

Book Review: Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall

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Tiger Wars Author: Steve Backshall Published: 24 May 2012 Publisher: Orion Children’s Summary: A superb, action-packed read for young adults and green oldies alike.   Steve Backshall is undoubtedly one of television’s best known wildlife presenters. Currently working for the BBC’s Natural History Unit, he’s fronted numerous television programmes including Deadly 60; a hugely successful children’s series that sees the adventurer tracking down and coming face to face with some of the world’s most dangerous creatures. Whilst Tiger Wars isn’t Backshall’s first book (he’s released a string of factual titles and television tie-ins) it does represent his first foray into young adult fiction. The novel follows Sinter, as she flees from an arranged marriage to a much older man, and Saker, as he is hunted by The Clan – a shadowy sect that provides young renegades for hire, most recently, to a Chinese overlord who specialises in tiger poaching. Backshall’s writing is fast-paced and crisp; there are no overly verbose descriptions …

Bookworms mimic their heroes

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It has recently come to light that bookworms may actually absorb personality traits from their favourite characters. That’s not to say that, after a few chapters of Harry Potter, readers have inexplicably found themselves donning a mighty beard and waving a pink umbrella around (although I’m sure there’s a fair bit of that going on at most Halloween parties these days), the results seem to be lot more subtle than that. Researchers at Ohio State University examined a process known as ‘experience-taking’, a phenomenon that sees readers experiencing the emotions, thoughts and values of fictional characters in the books they’re reading. The researchers found that, after participants (all students of the university) had read a story in which a central character overcame obstacles in order to vote, said participants were much more likely to vote in a real world election several days later. Interestingly, experience-taking only seems to work when readers are able to forget about and forgo their own self-identity whilst reading. …

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