Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Entertaining but a little flat

The Day the Music Died

By Ed Gorman

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Day the Music Died is the first book in Ed Gorman's series featuring perpetually broke lawyer/P.I. Sam McCain. It was published in 1998 but is now being re-released on Dec. 31th, 2013 by both Mysterious Press and Open Roads Media.. Not coincidentally this makes it my last review for 2013.

I must confess that I decided to read this for the title. I love fiction that has a basis in musical pop culture. For those who don't know, the title is a line from Don Mclean's song American Pie which refers to the airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper. All of the titles of the Sam McCain novels come from song lines or titles. So my first and biggest disappointment was that Ed Gorman does not use the music very much or as much as I would suspect. The day Buddy Holly dies is the day this mystery begins but very little comes from this tie-in. More disturbingly, the protagonist Sam McCain relates as much feeling to the death of his hero as to the death of his friends which is almost none. I know McCain is a typical macho P. I. but a little insight might have been nice.

But laying off of that peeve, I have to admit that this mystery is rather entertaining if a little predictable and flat. McCain finds the spoiled son of his boss, the judge in a small town, with his wife who he presumably shot. The spoiled son then kills himself. it looks like a clear-cut murder/suicide but of course Sam is suspicious.

Here we come to the main strength of this novel. Sam investigates and find himself addressing many different people with different strokes in this small town. The author's strong point is making the town and the interactions of its inhabitants a prime part of the puzzle. Gorman has a good feel of small town life in the 50s and it shows. The author uses some social topics well, placing them nicely in the '50 mentality. As a whole, the characters feel real. Yet individually, they seem like cogs in a wheel showing little dimension. I especially wanted to find out more about our main character besides the fact that he is whining about the girl he will never get...at least not in the first novel. While I enjoyed the novel it just didn't hold me enough to think about reading the rest. So I will never know if he gets Ginger or Mary-Lou. (not the names used in the novel. I just couldn't resist the Gillian's Island reference) Or does he forget about Buddy Holly in the nest few years and start digging the Beatles? I'll never know.

Method acquired:  Netgalley

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Exceptional horror...with popcorn

 The Drive-in

By Joe R. Lansdale

Rating: 4 and 3/4 stars

I originally wrote this review for Goodreads in 2010. However, since the book has been released in a Kindle edition in November of 2013, I have re-posted the review in a slightly re-worded version.

I just discovered I still have this inscribed novel in my collection. Totally frigging bizarre.  A different side of Lansdale. I read it originally  in 1988 remembering as a four star book but I think it is ready for a re-read.

So I read it again and am upping my rating to four and a half, maybe even four and three quarters. Just don't get that five star feeling but it is awfully close. This was written when Lansdale was a shining star of Splatter-Punk, a sub-genre of horror that has recently morphed into Bizzaro fiction. Those who know Lansdale only for his mysteries might be a bit shocked by the downright weirdness of his earlier writings, of which The Drive-In is a prime example. Lansdale's Texas authenticity is still there but is wrapped in a form of sci-fi horror gruesomeness that comes out like a Lord of The Flies as if written in a collaboration between  Jean-Paul Sartre and Joe Bob Briggs. Lansdale is still feeling his chops with this one. It gets a little out of hand and over the top at times but that is part of the fun. There are two other short novels in this series and I'm going to hunt them down.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Excellent look at a controversial icon

Junipero Serra

by Steven W. Hackel

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

While growing up in California in the 50s and 60s, the name of Father Junipero Serra was well known to every school kid. As the title of this new biography states, he was considered California's founding father. There's a statue of Father Serra gracing the U.S capitol rotunda as a representation of California's history. He was the person that "civilized" the west coast. His missions still stand as a symbol of the Western exploration and settlement of California. You didn't have to be Catholic to view Serra as a saint which he seems well on the way to becoming after Pope John Paul took the third of four steps to his sainthood by beatifying him on September 25, 1988.

Oh, how myths die hard. Since then, reality has risen up and gave legend a sound slap in the face. While there is no doubt that Serra is one of the most influential figures in the history of North America, he was also a tyrant and a religious fanatic even by 18th century standards. His role in destroying vast populations of Native-Americans is significant. He saw them as "children" and imprisoned them at will and beating them lest they stray from the Christian path. Serra and the Franciscan priests were essential in bringing agriculture to California but this was mainly a ploy to make the California Indian dependent on the mission community and it damaged the culture immensely. Disease and famine followed his successes, decimating the Native-American population of California. Serra was also a member of the Spanish Inquisition and took his role seriously both in the old world and new.

Steven H. Hackel's importance as Serra's contemporary biographer is in his ability to balance both views of the Franciscan priest. He doesn't ignore the dark side yet acknowledges Serra's role in developing the Western regions of North America. He follows his birth and childhood on the island of Mallorca to his education and rise to importance in the church. The author traces Serra's journey to "New Spain" from Veracruz to Mexico City and finally to the task of building a string of missions in Baja and Alto California until his death in 1784. This is a fascinating look at 18th century Mexico and California with no sugarcoating. Zorro need not apply.

Hackel portrays Serra as one of those figures that does many things well and succeeds by the audacity of his ambition. He was an excellent administrator, a wise professorial teacher who inspired his students, and an ambitious seeker of church power that led to many struggles with the Spanish secular government especially in California. One of the thing that amazed me was that Serra did not start his California missions in California until he was 60. One can excuse some of what Serra did as him simply being a typical figure of his time in a racist and religiously aggressive society. Hackel takes time to note that some of Serra's excesses were actually normal procedures for Spanish missionaries. Yet I can't lose the feeling that Serra with all his success may have been "over the top" even then. After all it was eventually the Spanish government that removed his power from the missions and turned them from church dominated areas to secular settlements easing the intense control, even enslavement, that Serra had over the California Indians.

This is the kind of historical books we need; the kind that is honest about historical figures and not afraid to uncover the dirt while noting their achievements. Highly recommended to students of the history of North America.

Method acquired: Netgalley

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas time suspense

Hot in December

By Joe R. Lansdale

Rating: 4 and 1/2 out of five stars

Hot in December appears to be a play on the title of one of Joe R. Lansdale's earlier novels, Cold in July. The titling is likely not coincidental since the film version of Cold in July is expected in mid 2014. However this new novella doesn't seem to have any connection except that it is a superior thriller. Lansdale does have a little fun in connecting other works by using two characters from Leather Maidens and some clever allusions to the Hap and Leonard series. There is also a cute reference to Sunset and Sawdust.

Having said all that, Hot in December is highly readable on its own and one of the author's better suspense tales. Kelly and Tom Chan witnesses a hit-and-run that kills their neighbor. Tom is able to identity the culprit only to find out he is associated with an organized crime network. What ensues is a life and death struggle in which Tom recruits two of his Army buddies, one of them a certified psychopath, to assist him in ridding himself of this menace. As usual, Lansdale runs a tight ship, tying all the loose ends together and making you jump at the right moments. Tom is admirable in his principles and his effort to protect his family. There is less humor than usual in this Lansdale tale but plenty of edge-of-seat moments. My main complaint is that it is too brief at 106 pages. Nonetheless, it would be a good introduction to Lansdale's East Texas world of suspense and violence.

Method acquired: Christmas present!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The best of fiction and non-fiction for 2013.

It's Christmas Day. Merry Christmas everyone! I'm sitting here with nothing else to do until this afternoon so I figured it would be a good time to get out my best-of lists. These lists present the best fiction and non-fiction I have read for the year of 2013. I whittled it down to a best ten list for fiction. However, since I read much less non-fiction, I narrowed that list down to the top five.The books are listed in no particular order. I've linked the title to my review on The Novel Pursuit, Cool and Blue Review or my Goodreads page.

Best Fiction of 2013

1. Poe - J. Lincoln Fenn
2. Night Film - Marrisa Oessl
3. Sociopaths in Love - Anderson Punty
4. Shatnerquest - Jeff Burk
5. Doctor Sleep - Stephen King
6. The Hanging Judge - Michael Posner
7. The Thicket - Joe R Lansdale
8. NOS4A2 - Joe Hill
9. In the Land of the Living by Austin Radner
10. Psycho Within Us - Chad Huskins

 Best non-fiction for 3013

1. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth - Reza Aslan
2. How Music Works - David Byrne
3. The Leonard Bernstein Letters - edited by Nigel Simeone
4. Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father - Steven W. Hackel
5. Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion - Robert Gordon

Good reading and a happy new years.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dark Dsytopian Science Fiction


By Simon R. Green

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Mistworld is the first of Simon R. Green's The Twilight of the Empire trilogy which is, in turn, a prelude to his Deathstalker series. It was published in 1992 but has just been re-released as an eBook through Open Roads Media. It is nice to see it back in print for the author knows how to build a world.

Mistworld is a planet that struggles with the Empire, a powerful realm that has the ability to destroy worlds that rebel from their authority. Mistworld is a bastion of freedom but is populated by outlaws and rebels which tends to destabilize its society. The planet barely hangs on due to its army of psychic protectors that enacted a shield over the planet. But the Empire's armies are approaching, various Mistworld forces are at odds with each other, and betrayal is always a possibility.

I like this type of dark dystopian fiction and Green does it well. This gritty type of future underworld gets its start from William Gibson cyberpunk novels and various science fiction writers have elaborated on the theme. Gone are Asimov's and Heinlein's vision of a optimistic future. Green's vision is of a technological advanced, psychically endowed society that is still immersed in class struggles, corruption, crime-infested under-layers, and dictatorial rulers. Green manages to put just enough space opera in it to make it slightly less dark and loaded with action. The author fills his tale with cat burglars, psychic hit men, and corrupt officials yet never loses track of these characters nor of the plot. Mistworld turns out to be a nice start in a saga that promises to be entertaining in its own dark and cynical way. Let's hope Open Road Media has plans to re-release the rest of The Twilight of the Empire.

Method acquired: Netgalley

Friday, December 20, 2013

Not very thrilling...

The Widow File

By S. G. Redling

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Dani is a data analyst for a security company investigating possible leaks in a corporation. She and one other analyst becomes the survivors of an attack that killed all the other analysts and stole their files. Dani is left to figure out why they are after her, what information they seek and why they want to kill her while eluding the a clever hit man named Booker.

That is the bare bones of a ordinary and overdone plot. You would think there are only so many thriller plots that an author can do and the trick is for the writer to find new ways to present them.

Well,that doesn't happen here. Redling's brief but excruciatingly overlong novel not only brings out all the old gimmicks but does them badly. It's hard to know who this was written for. It a suspenseful idea but the dialog tends to be over cute and somewhat YA in nature. It really cuts out the action. Dani and her cutesy named friend called Choo Choo are too unbelievable as the smart and resourceful characters they are meant to be. The villain Booker fares no better. Add in an large amount of filler in a relatively short novel and the result is with is a novel that just couldn't interest me, let alone thrill me. I did manage to finish it but it took a lot longer than it should have since I kept getting distracted by everyday life. When everyday life pulls me away from a novel, you know there's something wrong.

I received this from Amazon Prime's new First Read program in which the members get a free book before the publishing date. The Widow File was the mystery selection for December. Let's hope Amazon choose better books in the future. Barely two stars.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Crime and slaughter in the Arizona desert

The Last of the Smoking Bartenders

By C. J. Howell

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Last of The Smoking Bartenders, aside from having one of the best titles ever, is a tough and gritty novel about the dirty underbelly of America and modern paranoia. Someone once said that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you. Whether that applies here can only be determined by reading the book.

Tom (just Tom) is either an deeply undercover lawman on the heels of a terrorist network bent on destroying society or a homeless paranoid drifter. He stays under the radar and refuses to use dollar bills which he says are embedded with a magnetic device that will give away his location. He comes in contact with Lorne, a out-of-work raft guide in Green River. Through a couple of odd and violent incidents, Lorne is swept into Tom's tale and recruits a group of meth-dealing Navajos with delicate trigger fingers to help him.

You know this is not going to end well.

C. J. Howell's novel has an unrelenting sadness throughout. Pretty much all the characters are losers including the FBI agent. Yet there is a rough beauty in them. It the same type of beauty that Howell describes well as he writes about the barren desert landscape of Arizona and the less glamorous parts of Phoenix. Howell seems to have a real affinity for down-and-outers which makes them more sympathetic than they would have been in a lesser novel. Howell's style comes off as a post-modern blend of Jim Thompson and Cormac McCarthy. He doesn't try to hide the brutality of his story yet the character's action make a perverse type of sense. The only place this doesn't ring true is with the FBI agent. The set-up of a disabled agent who can take any case she wants doesn't fit into the harsh reality of the other protagonists. Yet she comes across as a different kind of lost drifter and maybe that is what the author intended.

So what we have here is a unusual sort of crime noir novel or maybe even a contemporary yet cynical On The Road. However you look at it, you will end up with a strange and original take on the American crime novel.

Method obtained: Netgalley

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A heart-stopping medical thriller

Doing Harm

By Kelly Parsons

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Now this is what I call a medical thriller!

Doing Harm is Kelly Parsons' debut novel and it is an excellent start for the physician turned writer. In fact I would call it the best medical thriller I've read since Robin Cook in his Coma days and that's going back a bit.

The premise involves surgeon Steve Mitchell who is seen as an excellent doctor looking forward to an outstanding future. But a bad call in judgement threatens his career. When one of his patients dies after what seems to be another bad call he starts to question the facts and finds out that someone else may be responsible. What follows is a suspenseful cat and mouse game that may destroy his career and family not to mention his life.

That's all you need to know. There are plenty of tense moments and nice surprises. One of the non-surprises is who did it. We get plenty of clues at first and find out early on who the culprit is. Yet this is not meant to be a whodunnit. The tension is in whether our hero can clear himself and expose the killer. Parsons has made his protagonist flawed but admirable and his nemesis evil but frighteningly clever. The author does an excellent job blending his medical knowledge with the action. A little pharmaceutical knowledge might be helpful to the reader but not essential as Parson explains the more technical aspects in a way that doesn't stop the flow of the novel. One of the things I find essential in a good medical thriller is that the author writes about doctors and hospitals in a realistic way and this is no problem for Parson. A realistic environment combined with edge of your seat suspense is what makes this an excellent example of the sub-genre.

This book is being published in late January of 2014 so I can't call it one of the best novels of this year. But I do feel fairly safe in saying it will be a prime contender next year.

Method acquired: Goodreads Firstreads

Friday, December 13, 2013

Take two aspirins and read a different book!

A Cure To Die For: A Medical Thriller

By Stephen G. Mitchell

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Let's start with the premise. A botanist genetically engineers a marijuana plant and a poisonous plant together to make an herbal medicine that can cure any disease known to mankind and some unknown ones, I presume. The one hitch is the patient has to continue to take the medicine or the disease will return. The pharmaceutical company funded the research stops at nothing to eliminate the miracle cure, including murder, less all their products, and obviously profits, go down the tube. It is left up to our heroes to battle the drug companies, an evil senator (is there any other kind in a thriller?) and mercenary thugs in order to keep the research alive and therefore save humankind.

Let's think this through. The drug company owns the research, they therefore will own the patent and have a monopoly on the cure. I don't think it takes much brains to see that the corporation holding the cure to cancer, the universe, and everything will make tons of moola, regardless of what they sold before. The fact that their customer have to keep taking it, therefore buying it repeatedly, is icing on the cake. Why the hell would they want to destroy it? Now keeping other people from stealing it makes sense but destroy it? I don't think so. Such a plot would only be sensible to Laetrile proponents and gimmicky conspiracy thriller writers.

But if that was the only complaint I had, I could go with it. After all, wasn't it Arthur C. Clarke who said that every novel is entitled to have one unbelievable thing in it? Unfortunately, A Cure to Die For is sloppily written, loaded with spur-of-the-moment unbelievable contrivances, and packed with cardboard heroes and villains. It's the kind of world in which the evil senator sprouts out things like "Words are Turds!" and our hero's first thought, on finding out his new infatuation is going to die of cancer, is what her breasts will look like in the last stage. I know we males obsess about breasts but be real! The heroine isn't much better, going off like a volcano because her boy friend takes pain pills while she is taking a drug that is basically addictive. Well, OK. It cures her cancer. But I think you see what I mean.

Essentially, it's a thriller that isn't much of a thriller. It's predictable with no real sense of tension and foreboding. I really wanted to like it. Despite the preposterous plot it could have been fun. But the string of predictable actions and cliche responses got to me. By the end I was still rooting for the heroes but only so they could win or lose and I could get on with my mundane but realistic life.

So obviously it is a book I can not recommend. As I said. I really like thrillers but this novel isn't thrilling nor it is very medical.
I guess I'll just have to reread some old Robin Cook novels if I want a medical thriller.

Method acquired: Goodreads Firstreads

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A modern space opera

The Duke of Uranium

By John Barnes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In one way, The Duke of Uranium is a blast from the past. I grew up on the space operas of Robert Heinlein, C. L Moore, Doc Smith and Andre Norton just to name a few. John Barnes seems to be channeling a few of these writers in this modern but somewhat retro space fantasy. I even sense a smitten of Orson Scott Card minus the pretentiousness and arrogance. Like most good space operas, it seems to be catering to the young adult, mostly boys, but intelligent enough for adults. The Duke of Uranium is a entertaining tale of space espionage and galactic intrigue.

So why am I not that all that enthusiastic about this novel? It does a lot right but some things bothered me...a lot. First, I couldn't really believe in the hero, Jax Jinnaka . He starts as a spoiled rich kid until his girl friend is kidnapped. Soon he finds out that not only is his girl friend a princess. But he has been raised to be a cog in a complex and colorful wheel of conflict between various power players. With that kind of scenario, you would think you would see sort of a sea-change between spoiled brat and warrior, But it never shows up. In fact Jax seems a bit passive, traveling and thinking a lot and getting saved by other people, to be called a hero. The other characters didn't help much neither . They often seem introductory, like being a set-up for a series.

Then there is the made up language. Many science fiction writers use fictional words and and slang to give an exotic feel to their stories. But Barnes' made up words do not always make sense. There should be some kind of mini-Rosetta stone embedded in the tale to help the reader feel part of the language and to have an actual sense of what they mean. To this reader, it just felt annoying. Admittedly I am no fan of this type of imaginary word play. Yet even the most used word in the book didn't seem to have a distinct meaning. I never could figure out whether "Toktru" meant "Darn!, "True Dat!", "Really?" or "Fergitboutit". As Jaz would say, I didn't dak it.

Tip: Add a glossary to the next book.

But there is a thing the author does exceedingly well and it holds promise for the rest of the Jax Jinnala novels. Barnes is a master at world building. The future alt-reality that he creates in quite vivid both in the harder (and more technical) science fiction aspects and in the description of the socio-politcal intrigue of the future society. The structure of his hierarchy of power brokers and their distinct philosophies is my favorite aspect of the tale. It reminded me a bit of Ian Banks' Culture series, another modern space opera. The author uses a lot of his novel to build his world and while it does slow down the action a little, especially in the middle, I still found it fascinating. In my opinion, world building is what makes or breaks a science fiction adventure novel like this one.

One more thing. I really liked the little computers with attitude.

So overall, this is a pleasant novel that holds promise for the rest of the series. I would like to see Jax become more three dimensional and more of an actual hero. I must say I didn't find it totally successful due to the issues I mentioned. But those who loved the science fiction of Heinlein and others, or those who just like to lose themselves in a different world, will find something to like.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Beware the Shatzilla!


By Jeff Burk

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

First, I feel I owe Jeff Burk an apology. In a past review of Cripple Wolf, I insinuated that the author did not like cats. From Shatnerquest, it is clear he loves cats, or at least one particular cat. You can count me in as an official Squishy fan. Grumpy Cat move over!

Shatnerquest is a sequel of sorts to the very funny Shatnerquake. Yet it is separate enough in plot to rank as a stand-alone. Its premise involves a trio of sci-fi/fantasy convention nerds and one fat cat who, having nothing to do after a sudden apocalypse, embark on a journey to save William Shatner. Why Shatner rather than another pop icon like Bruce Campbell or Adam West? As obsessed Star Trek fan Gary says, "Because Bruce can take care of himself and fuck Adam West."

Yes, there are plenty of pop culture references in this short novel. Enough to say it is primarily a satire of pop culture fandom. Yet the references are wide enough to entertain even the barely initiated pop culture geek. More importantly, the author uses these references in very creative ways (Look for a very polite Dalek) and is clearly having a lot of fun with them. As much as I liked Shantnerquake, I found Shatnerquest to be even more entertaining and creative. I especially loved the ending which features a climatic battle between Shatzilla and...sorry, no spoilers. It's too funny to give away.

So over all, this is a hilariously fun roller coaster ride. I give it a strong four stars but my two cats, who are also Squishy fans, give it five stars. So rounding out, an enthusiastic four and three-quarters stars.

P.S. My cats are mad at me because I didn't round up. They are not speaking to me and parading in front of the house with "Unfair to Squishy" signs. So, for the purpose of bringing peace to the family...five stars.

Method acquired: Purchased

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Haunted House

By Jack Kilborn

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It is hard to know who to recommend Haunted House by Jack Kilborn to. To horror fans? Absolutely. It is a tight if stereotypical package of gore horror. Yet its gimmick may narrow the scope. Horror writer Jack Kilborn and his attached-at-more-than-the-hip mystery author friend J. A. Konrath have previously written six horror and mystery novels titled Afraid, Endurance, Trapped, Serial Killers:Uncut, Origin, and The List. In this novel, Kilborn brings back all the main characters of those books through the premise of a scientist inviting them to spend the night in a haunted house and having the chance to win one million dollars if they survive the night. They should have listened to the old saying to never bet against the house. But then we wouldn't have a story, would we?

I've read all the previous novels except The List and Serial Killers. I'm also a big Kilborn fan. So it was a little bit like homecoming week for me. Yet I couldn't think about how indifferent most readers would be to this gimmick if they haven't read the others. Kilborn clearly sets it up as a stand alone but in order to do that he needs to leave out essential information in the previous books...like WHAT HAPPENED?!!. This results in characters that are too cardboard when they didn't need to be. As for the plot, it is fairly conventional for most gore horror buffs and very predictable. I won't give away the ending but I kept waiting for the Scooby Doo Gang to show up.

Even with that said, this is a fun roller-coaster ride. It's not up to the normal Kilborn/Konrath levels of pulp fun and tension but still worth reading. If you can, read at least a few of the previous novels first.

Method acquired:  Purchased

Monday, December 2, 2013

The making of a scientist, indeed!

An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist

By Richard Dawkins

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Richard Dawkins gets a bad rap. Sure, I understand he can be critical of religion and maybe a little arrogant.. He thinks the world would be better off without religion but never advocates its banishment. So what? I hate beets but i won't stop others from eating them. But Dawkins has never knocked on my door at 7 AM and shoved a religious pamphlet in my face. He never insisted on his ideas being read in Sunday school to provide a balanced viewpoint. And he never threatened eternal punishment if I don't read his books. So I'll give him a pass.

The sad thing about people's opinions of Dawkins is that they come almost exclusively from his book The God Delusion. Many do not realize that his reputation as a world class scientist was first cemented with the book, The Selfish Gene in the 70s. Dawkins's research into genes and evolutionary science plus his popular boos introducing the topic to the masses, would trouble no one except those who think the Bible was meant to be a book of science.

An Appetite For Wonders will disappoint those looking for the abrasive Dawkins. The main focus in this memoir, which goes from his birth to the publishing of The Selfish Gene, is on the influences and revelations that led to his love of science. He only pauses on his religious background briefly mentioning he had two short conversions, one from his childhood indoctrination to Anglican Christianity and another through the music of Elvis (If someone as cool as Elvis believes in God it must be right!). But Dawkins was more interested in the area of biology. Any more insight on the development of his theological views, or lack of, will need to wait for the second memoir.

Yet there is much here to rejoice about. His growing up in Africa with his two naturalist parents. His experience in the boys' schools of England. I thinks it says of lot about Dawkins that when he writes about the notorious hazing traditions of British schools, he downplays his own experiences but writes emphatically about what others went through. Also his first job at Berkeley in California not only tells in detail of his education in science but about his budding concern with social issues. Yet there are two areas that make this memoir drag more than necessary. His detailed ancestral tree may be of importance to him but makes for a slow beginning. And when he writes about his first research projects, his love for research come through but his insistence on describing it in detail to what will probably be a layman reader really halts the narrative. If one wants to explore that part more thoroughly he is more likely to read The Selfish Gene or The Blind Watchman, both books I highly recommend.

Yet Dawkins' autobiographical endeavor is quite enjoyable and has plenty of interesting revelations about this extraordinary scientist. If you are already a Dawkins fan like me, it is a must. For the regular reader or those whose opinion of him is only derived from The God Delusion, it might be helpful too.