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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: NetGalley (page 1 of 8)

Murder on Pleasant Avenue by Victoria Thompson

 

When Gino Donatelli is accused of a brutal murder, beloved sleuths Sarah and Frank Malloy have to catch a killer who is out to destroy their innocent friend’s life in the latest installment of the national bestselling Gaslight mysteries.

A victim is found, brutally murdered and the police are certain they’ve caught the killer. Their only suspect: Gino Donatelli.

Frank and Sarah know Gino is innocent but the police have a one-track mind. Once Frank struck it rich and left their ranks taking Gino with him, there has been a simmering resentment in the department. And now, someone has pulled out all the stops to make it look like Gino is the only one who could have committed the crime.

With the clock ticking and evidence mounting against their friend, Sarah and Frank will try to unravel a treacherous plot before Gino is sent up the river for good.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Once again Sarah and Frank get mixed up in a murder case; in this one Gino is accused of killing a member of the Black Hand and they must clear his name. We see a lot of Maeve in this story, especially in the interactions with Gino. I enjoyed reading their dialogue and loved to picture them flirting with each other. I also got a kick out of Maeve sitting forlornly at her typewriter, practicing her typing while wishing all the while for an interruption.

One thing you can always count on is getting some history while hearing of Sarah and Frank’s adventures. The setting for this story is Italian Harlem, and the author paints a wonderful picture of how the inhabitants lived (and died). This is one of my favorite aspects of the Gaslight Mysteries: Thompson always makes me feel like I have been taken back in time and am living right alongside all her characters. One point of interest is that the author doesn’t censor the seedier parts of the period. We get to see the homeless, we hear about abortions, and we get to experience tenement life. Thompson does her best to make nearly everyone sympathetic, so this makes the story friendlier, and the book very readable as well.

Speaking of characters, some new ones are introduced in this book. We meet Teo, Gino’s sister-in-law, as well as the rest of Gino’s family. One of the funnier sequences in the book is when Maeve needs to go to Gino’s house; her family misunderstands her reason and want to get her out of the house. Thank goodness Maeve is able to straighten everyone out!

I was unable to figure out who dunnit, and that was a plus. It can get frustrating when you know who the bad guys are before the main characters do. My guess was between two characters, and I was surprised to finally learn who it was. As always, the story gets tied up neatly, with the last page a portent of what is to come in the next installment. I enjoyed this book very much and am looking forward to her next one. You can pick up your copy here. 

Masked Prey by John Sandford

Lucas Davenport investigates a vitriolic blog that seems to be targeting the children of U.S. politicians in the latest thriller by #1 New York Times-bestselling author John Sandford.

The daughter of a U.S. Senator is monitoring her social media presence when she finds a picture of herself on a strange blog. And there are other pictures . . . of the children of other influential Washington politicians, walking or standing outside their schools, each identified by name. Surrounding the photos are texts of vicious political rants from a motley variety of radical groups.

It’s obviously alarming–is there an unstable extremist tracking the loved ones of powerful politicians with deadly intent? But when the FBI is called in, there isn’t much the feds can do. The anonymous photographer can’t be pinned down to one location or IP address, and more importantly, at least to the paper-processing bureaucrats, no crime has actually been committed. With nowhere else to turn, influential Senators decide to call in someone who can operate outside the FBI’s constraints: Lucas Davenport.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

Lots of politicking and Nazi alt-right groups in this Davenport outing. Lucas is still smarting from the bullet he took a few months ago, so when he gets a call from Washington demanding his presence, he is not all that eager to go. What he finds when he gets there is a twisted plot that takes nearly the entire book to resolve.

In the meantime, we have favorite characters Bob and Rae, lots of dialogue which moves the book along, and more information about alt-right groups that you never wanted to know. The book shifts back and forth between multiple subplots, which makes the book a bit draggy in places. Towards the end the action ramps up so that the pages are turning a lot quicker.

Bob and Rae are solid as usual, cracking wise and kicking ass. The scenes in which they help Davenport are some of the most entertaining ones in the book. However, it seems that Lucas was affected by the shooting in which he was wounded, and it shows. He is more thoughtful and less raw. He’s not happy about dealing with the Washington crowd, but handles it with diplomatic aplomb. Is this the start of an older, wiser Lucas Davenport? According to Goodreads at the time of this writing, MASKED PREY was a solid 4 stars. I’m not sure why this book didn’t get that fifth star, unless it was the “new” Lucas.

I enjoyed the book well enough, but I’m going to give it four stars as well. There was a bit too much politics. 20% into the book, when Davenport meets alt-right expert Charles Lang and his assistant Stephen Gibson, Lang reminded me a tiny bit of Hannibal Lecter, but without the shock factor and the gore. Lang seemed to thrive on information, and he was hungry for some all throughout the book. I found those interactions a bit creepy. Now that I think about it, both Lang and Gibson did need to be in the book under the guise of plot thickening, but I still don’t like Lang.

Davenport fans should enjoy this albeit a bit mildly. Hardcore readers will gobble this up and look for more, while first time readers may find it a bit dry. I fall between those groups…that said there is nothing like a good Prey novel to while away the hours. MASKED PREY filled a few hours for me, and I enjoyed it more than mildly….yet not 5 stars worth.

You can pick up your copy here.

The Argument by Victoria Jenkins

It happens to every mother. One day, the daughter whose whole world you once were, becomes someone you barely know. And you don’t know the secrets she’s hiding…

One hot summer night, 15-year-old Olivia comes home late from a party she was strictly forbidden from going to, and she and her mother, Hannah, start arguing. Soon Olivia speaks the words that every parent has heard from their teenage child:

‘I hate you. You’ve ruined my life. And I’m never speaking to you again.’

Olivia has never been an easy child, a sharp contrast to her easy-going, happy-go-lucky little sister. But Hannah thinks Olivia’s outburst is the end of a normal family argument. In fact, it’s only the beginning of a nightmare…

After one day of silence, Hannah thinks Olivia is taking a teenage sulk too far. After two days, she starts to feel anxious that something more serious could be going on. After a week, when her daughter still hasn’t spoken, Hannah knows that Olivia is hiding a bigger darkness – something that could threaten to tear their precious family apart…

The Argument is an unputdownable psychological thriller that asks how far we can push our families before they finally break. Perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, The Woman in the Window, and The Silent Patient.

Thanks to NetGalley for this reviewer’s copy!

The premise of THE ARGUMENT is simple – teenage girl goes out to a party, parents disapprove, teenager tells parents she hates them and refuses to talk to them any more. If it only were that innocent!

Hannah is the stodgy, no-fun mother of Olivia and Rosie. Olivia is a normal 15-year-old testing the boundaries of parental control. Rosie is still young and is the favored child, much to Olivia’s chagrin. Everyone appears to be a reliable narrator so far, despite the titular argument.  The book flows along with minimal ups and downs until about 60% gone – then the first twist is uncovered and Hannah becomes a sympathetic character while Olivia becomes a selfish, annoying little girl, still believing that if her parents didn’t treat her the way they did, she would not have had to sneak out to that party. Soon after that, the second twist happens – hold onto your book, because it’s a doozy! My sympathies changed ever so slightly towards Olivia at this point, despite the fact that she was still a selfish teenager. At this point, I was not putting the book down until it was finished; it was that good! Then the author drops another twist into the mix, making Hannah even more sympathetic.

Hold those emotions close, though, as from here on in they will be changing and spinning out of control. By the end of the book every character but one is deserving of pity, more or less. Each character (except Rosie, who is quite the innocent throughout) has their demons and their false beliefs. One is a narcissist, another is a control freak, and the other is selfish. Actually, they are all selfish and broken in their own way.

THE ARGUMENT is an unputdownable psychological thriller that starts slow, but ends with multiple jaw-dropping twists. The author is adept at creating simmering tension that boils over midway through the book – and the ending will have you shaking your head at Hannah’s final words. I look forward to reading more of the author’s work. You can pick up your copy here.

The Unexpected Spy by Tracy Walder

A highly entertaining account of a young woman who went straight from her college sorority to the CIA, where she hunted terrorists and WMDs.

When Tracy Walder enrolled at the University of Southern California, she never thought that one day she would offer her pink beanbag chair in the Delta Gamma house to a CIA recruiter, or that she’d fly to the Middle East under an alias identity.

The Unexpected Spy is the riveting story of Walder’s tenure in the CIA and, later, the FBI. In high-security, steel-walled rooms in Virginia, Walder watched al-Qaeda members with drones as President Bush looked over her shoulder and CIA Director George Tenet brought her donuts. She tracked chemical terrorists and searched the world for Weapons of Mass Destruction. She created a chemical terror chart that someone in the White House altered to convey information she did not have or believe, leading to the Iraq invasion. Driven to stop terrorism, Walder debriefed terrorists—men who swore they’d never speak to a woman—until they gave her leads. She followed trails through North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, shutting down multiple chemical attacks.

Then Walder moved to the FBI, where she worked in counterintelligence. In a single year, she helped take down one of the most notorious foreign spies ever caught on American soil. Catching the bad guys wasn’t a problem in the FBI, but rampant sexism was. Walder left the FBI to teach young women, encouraging them to find a place in the FBI, CIA, State Department or the Senate—and thus change the world.

 

Thanks to NetGalley and St Martins Press for this review copy!

This is the story of how a sorority girl who was bullied at school found her calling working for the CIA. At a job fair at college, the author filled out a job application on a whim…and the rest is history. She started her job immediately after she graduated.

Shortly after starting work, Walder was promoted to The Vault, under kindly Director Tenet, who made her feel like a part of the team. She was respected by the other team members and everyone worked together well, thanks to Tenet. He was always doing thoughtful things, such as bringing Thanksgiving dinner to the Vault’s hardworking members.

A few months later, she was moved to Counterterrorism to work under Graham Andersson. This continued to bolster her confidence and erase the “loser” mindset she had, because she constantly received compliments and encouragement from her superiors. Some of the missions she worked on dealt with poison and other weapons of mass destruction. Despite being an introvert, she gave apresentation on a poisoning plot she and two other coworkers discovered. Due to their hard work, the people of interest were captured, and the poisoning plot was exposed and neutralized. The book continues with more stories like this, including some that highlight intelligence operatives that don’t work on Sunday, despite the terrorists that lurk nearby.

Walder remains positive, despite being minimalized by the men in other cultures. About 60% of the way through she meets some male counterparts after a bombing in Africa, and they are less than thrilled to be working with her. She remains professional and focused on the task at hand. This strength is one of her main characteristics – it shines through on almost every page. Her writing is full of her eagerness to fight the terrorists before they get a chance to perform their insidious tasks. She also writes about her feelings of personal failure regarding the March 11, 2004 bombing in Madrid. She wondered what scrap of information she had missed and felt personally responsible for all those dead and wounded. It was this final straw that cause her to fill out an application for the FBI and send it in. They accepted her immediately, and so Walder embarked on a new career. However, for the first time in her professional career she felt bullied during her training at Quantico. She kept moving forward and never let the constant criticism get her down – another display of her incredible mental strength.

Unfortunately, the FBI’s mentality was to pair her up with a more experienced partner and marginalize her, never making her the lead when they picked up criminals. She learned that she wasn’t the only female being discriminated against, but she kept going, hoping things would change. It didn’t, and she quit the FBI after working there only 15 months. Currently she is a history teacher at an all-girls school, her mission empowering and educating girls against the bullies and terrorists of the world. Walder puts as much determination into her teaching as she did in her career, and that is refreshing. She is a role model who still cares about eliminating hatred, embracing all walks of life, and giving girls their voice. I am glad that she chose to write her story to illuminate these causes! Her voice is clear and strong, the writing style will pull you in and make you laugh at times, while other times you will be incredulous, such as when you read about the mistreatment the FBI puts forth. It is also very interesting to be “behind the scenes” at the CIA, as much as they would allow. This unforgettable book would be great for any college age girl to read, for it may spark interest in a career such as Walder’s. Her experiences are powerful and empowering. You can get your own copy here.

The Remarkable Life of the Skin by Monty Lyman

Providing a cover for our delicate and intricate bodies, the skin is our largest and fastest-growing organ. We see it, touch it, and live in it every day. It is a habitat for a mesmerizingly complex world of micro-organisms and physical functions that are vital to our health and our survival. It is also a waste removal plant, a warning system for underlying disease and a dynamic immune barrier to infection. One of the first things people see about us, skin is crucial to our sense of identity, providing us with social significance and psychological meaning. And yet our skin and the fascinating way it functions is largely unknown to us.

In prose as lucid as his research underlying it is rigorous, blending in memorable stories from the past and from his own medical experience, Monty Lyman has written a revelatory book exploring our outer surface that will surprise and enlighten in equal measure. Through the lenses of science, sociology, and history—on topics as diverse as the mechanics and magic of touch (how much goes on in the simple act of taking keys out of a pocket and unlocking a door is astounding), the close connection between the skin and the gut, what happens instantly when one gets a paper cut, and how a midnight snack can lead to sunburn—Lyman leads us on a journey across our most underrated and unexplored organ and reveals how our skin is far stranger, more wondrous, and more complex than we have ever imagined.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

Our skin is our largest organ – a fact that is often overlooked. Author Monty Lyman strives to put our skin front and center in this book. Each chapter covers a different aspect of what a marvelous organ our external covering is, from scientific to religious. The author discusses tattoos, skin conditions such as psoriasis, and discrimination based on skin color.

I found the medical portions to be the most interesting; I learned more about lice than I ever planned to. Despite the jargon, this section of the book is easily comprehended, aided by drawings that illustrate the author’s point.

We also learn about how sunburn affects us, why itches are so maddening, and exactly how many microscopic parasites live on us, no matter how clean we are. Each chapter builds upon the previous ones, creating a thorough picture of our skin and why it is so amazingly unique.

Lyman uses anecdotes and history to supplement his writing. He also is unafraid to discuss uncomfortable topics such as racism and lepers, which I found refreshing. I learned a lot about the misinformation surrounding lepers, plus I enjoyed the philosophical leaning during the chapter on racism based on skin color. He even takes a detour into religion, noting that some beliefs require covering most of the skin, while others worship “skyclad” (naked). Despite our differences, our outer covering makes us the same, and you will understand that better once you finish THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF THE SKIN.

I have a new respect for my skin now that I have finished this book – I bet you will too! You can pick up your copy here.

 

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

You probably know someone like Shay Miller.
She wants to find love, but it eludes her.
She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end.
She wants to belong, but her life is becoming increasingly isolated.

You probably don’t know anyone like the Moore sisters.
They have an unbreakable circle of friends.
They live a life of glamour and perfection.
They always get what they desire.

Shay thinks she wants their life.
But what they really want is hers.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This is a difficult review to write. Overall the book was a pleasant read with areas of suspense, but for the most part the plot took a while to advance and there were a lot of characters to keep straight. It also seemed that Shay was prone to make bad decisions or choose no course of action at all. I found myself wishing that she would have more of a backbone. Towards the end she seemed more in touch with reality, once she figured everything out.

I felt a little uncomfortable with all the stalking Shay did; it advanced the plot, but I kept thinking that there was no way she would have been able to get away with it in real life. I also was anticipating the police (or the sisters) would eventually catch up to her at the worst possible moment.

Multiple characters mean multiple POV’s. This changed with each chapter and at times it was difficult keeping everyone’s story straight, especially some of the more minor characters.

What I did like: The suspense kept building up until the end – the last 25% of the book was the best part. I could not guess the ending until almost the last pages; once I did, I was very glad things turned out the way they did. I enjoyed hating Jody, Shay’s roommate’s girlfriend. She definitely was someone to keep your eyes on and her despicableness did not disappoint.

I enjoyed the authors’ other books and will look forward to reading the next one. They are masters of the psychological twist and you can be sure each book will leave you thinking about the characters for a few days after you are done.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Swim, Bike, Bonk by Will McGough

Just as George Plimpton had his proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL as the un-recruited and certainly unwanted fourth-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions, so, too, did Will McGough immerse himself in a sport he had no business trying. Like Plimpton, whose football folly turned into the bestselling Paper Lion, travel and outdoor writer McGough writes of his participation in, around, and over the course of the one of the world’s premier triathlons, the annual Ironman 70.3 in Tempe, Arizona.

McGough chronicles the Ironman’s history, his unorthodox training, the pageantry of the race weekend, and his attempt to finish the epic event. The narrative follows not just his race but also explores the cult and habits of the triathlete community, beginning with the first Ironman competition in Hawaii in 1978. This is a light-hearted, self-deprecating, and at times hilarious look at one man’s attempt to conquer the ultimate endurance sport, with a conclusion that will surprise and delight both dedicated triathletes as well as strangers to the sport.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

I’m going to say right off the bat that this book is not for the faint of heart. The author talks frankly about peeing and pooping himself during training/racing, as well as how his sex life is suffering during his 3 months of intense training. If you don’t mind the gory details, read on.

The premise behind SWIM, BIKE, BONK is simple – the author signs up for a triathlon. However, it’s not just any old triathlon: he chooses an Ironman race where you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, then run a marathon (26.2 miles) immediately afterwards. In the beginning, he is very laissez-faire about his training, thinking that since he is young and in shape he won’t have any trouble. Everyone else around him speaks differently though. Eventually, he realizes that it won’t be that easy as his training miles mount up and he experiences the joy of a numb butt (and other parts) during a long bike ride.

The main part of the book consists of his training miles and his thoughts about same, interspersed with stories on buying just the right bike for the job, which Gatorade flavor is best, his fears about taking on too much, and how his endeavor is affecting his personal life. At times I skipped through some of the training miles because I wanted to get to the racing part to see what happened. Once the racing part started, he accurately captured the emotions and struggles of those involved. He writes about the bonk as he sees those experiencing it:

“With every step, another drop of life falls from their eyes”.

That is a great way to sum up how the bonk feels to a racer. I’ve only run in half marathons, but I have felt the bonk – and this book brings back memories of how it felt. There are some poignant emotions described at the end of the race, as well as afterwards. To finish a challenge such as this brings a wide range of feelings that can only really be understood by those who have done it. The author does his best to convey those feelings, however, and does a good job.

He also adds some thoughts about race volunteers (there was a failed lawsuit where they sued because they wanted to be paid) and how big the Ironman corporation really is. That part was surprising because I didn’t realize how fully corporate Ironman was. There is a lot of profit generated from these races.

SWIM, BIKE, BONK was a fun little read about one human’s desire to push himself to the limit. I think anyone who is interested in competing in the Ironman will love it, and those who run or bike competitively will also enjoy the author’s self-deprecating humor that shines through in most situations. As I mentioned, it’s not for the squeamish, but you can skip over those parts and still get the gist of the story. You can pick up your own copy here.

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

Imagine that your husband has two other wives.

You’ve never met the other wives. None of you know each other, and because of this unconventional arrangement, you can see your husband only one day a week. But you love him so much you don’t care. Or at least that’s what you’ve told yourself.
But one day, while you’re doing laundry, you find a scrap of paper in his pocket—an appointment reminder for a woman named Hannah, and you just know it’s another of the wives.
You thought you were fine with your arrangement, but you can’t help yourself: you track her down, and, under false pretenses, you strike up a friendship. Hannah has no idea who you really are. Then, Hannah starts showing up to your coffee dates with telltale bruises, and you realize she’s being abused by her husband. Who, of course, is also your husband. But you’ve never known him to be violent, ever.
Who exactly is your husband, and how far would you go to find the truth? Would you risk your own life?

And who is his mysterious third wife?

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This is the story of Seth and his three wives. The story is told in the voice of (legally married) wife #2; sometimes amorous, sometimes regretful. Seth explains his polygamy with the explanation that he grew up in Utah and with the sentence I love you all differently but equally. One day wife #2 discovers a piece of paper in Seth’s coat and discovers information about wife #3, named Hannah. Wife #2 snoops some more and tracks her down, eventually, ironically, becoming friends with her. They share breakfasts and family stories without discovering they have a husband in common. However, Hannah starts showing up to their meetings with visible bruises, and wife #2 has questions. Lots of them. Seth has never been violent with her before, and she starts wondering more about the man she married. She also continues to snoop, finding wife #1 on Facebook and other social media sites. It’s like she’s addicted to hurting herself with this information.

The author paints a perfect picture of a woman with a polygamous man; insecure one moment and in love the next. Wife #2’s internal monologues are spot-on, just another woman wondering about what her husband is thinking and what he’s doing when he is away from her. The twist here is that none of the narrators are reliable, and you don’t know what is going to happen next. I thought I had the story straight, then suddenly there was a plot twist and it changed EVERYTHING. After that some things made more sense, while others didn’t make sense at all. I was torn between feeling sorry for wife #2 or thinking about her scornfully. Seth is no gem either, despite the fact that wife #2 keeps hanging on to him even though she is crazy jealous of his other two wives.

This book lived up to all the hype – there is drama and psychological suspense galore. Towards the end, all the characters start to decompensate, which provides for an amazing and shocking ending. I literally spent the entire day reading this book, which is something that I don’t normally do. I’m eagerly awaiting Ms. Fisher’s next work. You can pick up your copy of THE WIVES here.

The Only Child by Mi-ae Seo

An eerie and absorbing novel following a criminal psychologist who has discovered shocking and possibly dangerous connections between a serial killer and her stepdaughter.

Criminal psychologist Seonkyeong receives an unexpected call one day. Yi Byeongdo, a serial killer whose gruesome murders shook the world, wants to be interviewed. Yi Byeongdo, who has refused to speak to anyone until now, asks specifically for her. Seonkyeong agrees out of curiosity.

That same day Hayeong, her husband’s eleven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, shows up at their door after her grandparents, with whom she lived after her mother passed away, die in a sudden fire. Seonkyeong wants her to feel at home, but is gradually unnerved as the young girl says very little and acts strangely.

At work and at home, Seonkyeong starts to unravel the pasts of the two new arrivals in her life and begins to see startling similarities. Hayeong looks at her the same way Yi Byeongdo does when he recounts the abuse he experienced as a child; Hayeong’s serene expression masks a temper that she can’t control. Plus, the story she tells about her grandparents’ death, and her mother’s before that, deeply troubles Seonkyeong. So much so that Yi Byeongdo picks up on it and starts giving her advice.

Written with exquisite precision and persistent creepiness, The Only Child is psychological suspense at its very best.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

THE ONLY CHILD is a very dark book that explores the mind of a fictional serial killer while contrasting his behavior with Hayeong, the main character’s stepdaughter. Seonkyeong is a criminal psychologist who is summoned to prison to interview the notorious killer Yi Byeongdo. As she delves deeper into his mind through his stories, she notices how his mannerisms mirror that of 11-year-old Hayeong, who has recently come to live with her and her husband after a fire destroys her house.

The story is told from multiple points of view, with a concerted effort to make Byeongdo appear somewhat sympathetic. Hayeong is a manipulative little girl and I disliked her immediately. Seonkyeong’s husband brings his daughter into the house and soon becomes an absentee father, only seeing the “good” side of the girl.

The plot could have used a bit of tightening up, as it takes a while to establish Hayeong’s dark side. There is a longish portion regarding the “punishment” of a cat which could have been shorter yet still convey the latent evil that was lurking that day. There is also a series of dithering by Seonkyeong in which she alternately fears the girl, then feels sorry for her due to the tragedies that have befallen her. She seems almost blind to the danger that Hayeong poses to her family.

Most of the action occurs around the last 15% of the book, as the serial killer escapes jail while the tension between the psychologist and the girl comes to a head. The ending itself is a shocker yet I felt it wasn’t a surprise.

None of these characters are truly given life; I am not sure if it is due to the original work being translated, or if it is the writer’s style. (Click here for information on more Korean mysteries being translated into English.) There is only the briefest of backstory and Seonkyeong is not portrayed as a strong female character. Certainly someone of her background would have better sense regarding Hayeong’s penchant for evil. Again, this could be due to the culture, as Asian women are not known for taking the lead and being dominant. In any case, I wish she had been given more of a backbone, especially as she began discovering Hayeong’s secrets.

I would like to see a sequel to this book to see what happens next with the characters. The ending does leave room for another story, and I can imagine different plot twists taking place. All in all, not a bad read. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke

Mary Roach meets Bill Bryson in this “surefire summer winner” (Janet Maslin, New York Times), an uproarious tour of the basest instincts and biggest mysteries of the animal world

Humans have gone to the Moon and discovered the Higgs boson, but when it comes to understanding animals, we’ve still got a long way to go. Whether we’re seeing a viral video of romping baby pandas or a picture of penguins “holding hands,” it’s hard for us not to project our own values–innocence, fidelity, temperance, hard work–onto animals. So you’ve probably never considered if moose get drunk, penguins cheat on their mates, or worker ants lay about. They do–and that’s just for starters. In The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke takes us on a worldwide journey to meet everyone from a Colombian hippo castrator to a Chinese panda porn peddler, all to lay bare the secret–and often hilarious–habits of the animal kingdom. Charming and at times downright weird, this modern bestiary is perfect for anyone who has ever suspected that virtue might be unnatural.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This book reads like it was written by the love child of Charles Darwin and Mary Roach. There is humor, pathos, and animal facts aplenty. The author’s writing style is easy to read and captured my attention immediately. The love Cooke has for these beasties is quite obvious from the start. Hopefully, given the facts, others will learn to appreciate these maligned characters that occupy the animal world.

Each chapter is devoted (lovingly) to a misunderstood animal, where we find myths debunked through modern science. The reader will learn about sloths, bats, and hyenas, to name a few. The author will discuss how the animals were experimented on/studied over hundreds of years (Who knew that Aristotle was a proponent of spontaneous creation?) then get to modern times, where myths are debunked and the many reasons to love these animals are revealed.

Some of the experiments detailed can be a bit gory, such as when, in the 18th century, the Catholic priest Lazzaro Spallanzani practiced blinding bats in order to find out how they managed to find their way around in darkness. (He also coated them in varnish for another experiment, but I digress).  Other tales are edifying and satisfying, such as:

It may sound suspiciously like bogus medieval folk medicine, but from the 1940s through the 1960s the world’s first reliable pregnancy test was a small, bug-eyed frog. When injected with a pregnant woman’s urine, the amphibian didn’t turn blue or display stripes, but it did squirt out eggs 8-12 hours later to confirm a positive result.

Cooke’s book is full of factoids like that one. How can you not love this book? You will learn, you will laugh, and you will be full of obscure information. That sounds like a winner to me.

Yes, you want your own copy and can pick it up here.

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