A boy, a tiger, an ocean, and god: a review of Life of Pi

“Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

Life o PiLife of Pi* is not a difficult book. Author Yann Martel and publisher Knopf Canada released it in 2001, so it’s not even that old. But its literary merits are precious — truly a wonder of our time. This is a novel you can recommend to family and friends with full faith.

And that’s what it’s about: faith. Not necessarily religious faith although that does hold great meaning for Pi Patel, the shipwreck survivor after whom the book is named. It’s also about faith in life and where it takes you. What seem like acts of god may steer us off the course we hope and plan for ourselves, and we’re then bound to where the waters carry us. We can either succumb to hardship or make it a part of our souls and live on.

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The perfect pet: a review of The Caline Conspiracy

His arms were outflung and his mouth was a wide, lipless—no, his mouth was closed, it was his throat that gaped in a ragged, cheerless grin.

Last week Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion, who write together as M. H. Mead, got in touch and offered me a review copy of their latest book. By the sounds of it, The Caline Conspiracy wasn’t something I’d normally pick up, and the cover screamed the nineties, but I agreed to give the book a shot. Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zones.

As silly as the plot felt at times—it’s a murder mystery in which a genetically enhanced pet (a “caline”) is the only suspect—the writing was, well, good. Nothing ground-breaking, but better than a lot of the books I’m handed to read on assignment. I didn’t have to parse the prose to discover the kernel of worth within it. The Caline Conspiracy is written by two clearly talented people.

Of course, M. H. Mead might be writing about the perfect pets (and the not-so-perfect pets), but that doesn’t mean their book is flawless. The writers brush on a futuristic gloss at will, rather than building a believable sci-fi world from the ground up. You can’t have your character make tea or order pizza and then have her use some sort of holo-vid system without making readers wonder if maybe the science fiction part wasn’t a high priority after all. If you’re going to set your story in the future, you have to simulate the future down to the very last detail. Or at least have a robot ringing the doorbell with a steaming pie.

The story held my interest regardless of its slips, but I have to wonder about the scene with Aidra, Edo, and the perficats. The grand realization that occurs then doesn’t seem to have much purpose overall, other than to maybe foreshadow how crazy meddlesome scientists are with things that shouldn’t be meddled in.

I’m not sure I entirely believe a few other plot threads, either: Aidra’s totally lax, “cool mom” treatment of her son had me cringing; and the explanation for their new family member at the end was surprising but not entirely convincing.The backstory about their old dog Nutmeg gave the characters and story some valuable context, but it was never explored as much as I would have liked. A few minor characters could have used more attention after their biggest scenes—like Quinn’s unexpected trip to the hospital and Freddy and his wife. These characters deserve more than a passing role.

These failings in plot aren’t as extreme as they might sound—the only parts I was rolling my eyes at were the one near sex scene that didn’t belong and the aforementioned introduction of Aidra’s son Jon. I can’t recommend The Caline Conspiracy to everyone, but if you like the suspense of mysteries or you’re just a huge animal enthusiast, then you’ll likely find enjoyment in its story.

Thanks to the authors for reaching out and providing a review copy!

Awesome book cover Friday: The Bedside Book of Beasts

This week’s pick is totally wild. The Bedside Book of Beasts: A Wildlife Miscellany by Graeme Gibson was published in 2009.

Compared with the UK cover:

Description of the book as listed on Amazon:

This stunning companion to the internationally bestselling Bedside Book of Birds explores the relationship between predators and their prey.

The intricate, complex connection between the hunter and the hunted has defined animal life on Earth throughout time. In The Bedside Book of Beasts, Graeme Gibson gathers from all eras and cultures works of art and literature that capture the power, grace, and inventiveness of both predators and their natural prey. Here are myths, fables, poetry, generous excerpts from nature and travel writing, journals, sacred texts, and works of fiction. There are vivid descriptions of noteworthy predators — including the big cats, bears, wolves — but also the small but voracious praying mantis. Gibson also brings to life the experiences, strategies, and emotions of vulnerable prey, and paints intriguing portraits of such legendary evil beasts as the Minotaur, Grendel, and the Biblical Leviathan. All of this is enhanced by a breathtaking array of art, both traditional and contemporary, as well as scientific, religious, and mythological drawings, paintings, and woodcuts.

In The Bedside Book of Beasts Gibson evokes a profound sense of the eternal, often unsettling, connection between the human animal and the free, untamed beasts of the wilderness.

Here’s a link to the book on Barnes & Noble.

There’s also a Bedside Book of Birds.