Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (movie)

I should preface this review by stating that, as a general rule, I very much dislike zombie movies, zombies being the main type of horror-genre monster that actually frighten me. Those that fall more into the humor genre than the horror (such as Shaun of the Dead), have been more tolerable, but I do not usually seek them out.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was an exception to that rule, and I was glad of about 30 seconds into the movie.

(I should probably also preface the following by saying that I have read the original Pride and Prejudice and loved it, but have not seen any film versions of it. I have also not read the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Cut for spoilers.)

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Review: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

(“A nonfiction book” from the Reading Challenge)

I am switching my non-fiction book because I read this one more recently and feel that I can write a decent review. (I did read My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek, which was my original choice, and I definitely liked it a lot and would recommend it! But I didn’t get to writing a review as soon as I should have, so I’ll do this one instead.)

This book was a Christmas present from a family member, who rightly guessed that I would enjoy it. It was very good!

The author is a paleontologist and professor of anatomy, and he has a clear, engaging writing style that was very easy to read. The book is (as you might guess from the title) talking about evolution as it relates to the biology and anatomy of the human body.

I really loved the way he talks about science! He talks about his lab (which is half fossils and half genetics/DNA, apparently), and he talked about looking for fossils in ways that I hadn’t thought about before. He points out that while yes, there is a certain amount of luck involved in actually finding the fossils you’re looking for, you have to start by doing the right prep work identifying where your chances will be greatest.

He uses the example of wanting to find an intermediate stage between finned fish and amphibians with true limbs, a transition which happened between 385 and 365 million years ago. So, he had to identify rocks in that age range, of the right type to preserve fossils at all (meaning, sedimentary rocks), and that were somewhere exposed/accessible to people. In this case, Ellesmere Island in Canada, north of the Arctic Circle, turned out to be the best place, and so that is where he and his team have gone summer after summer. And, after many seasons, they did in fact find the kind of fossil they were looking for; Tiktaalik was a fish that had fins…but they were fins with bones in them, and bones in the same basic number/arrangement that we see in all limbed animals today.

He does a really good job of working the reader through a somewhat abstract idea (that we can trace our bodies/body parts/body construction back in time through evolution, as evidenced by both fossils and genetics), by providing several concrete examples that show this, and going through the process each time. Looking at our bodies this way helps to make sense of some things about us that seem confusing when you think about them by themselves. Hiccups, for example. Why do we get hiccups? Well, probably because our bodies are descended from amphibious creatures that needed to be able to switch back and forth between breathing with lungs in air and breathing with gills in water. The muscle/nerve combination that causes hiccups originally worked as a pausing mechanism that allowed for that switch…only we don’t need it anymore, so for us it’s just a leftover thing our bodies do that can be a nuisance.

All of his examples are really interesting like that. Going back to limbs, he points out that every vertebrate creature that has limbs has limb bones in the exact same combination: one upper bone, two lower bones, blobby bones in the “wrist,” and then rod-like bones that radiate from those (fingers/toes, for us). The exact shapes, lengths and configurations of these bones are very different in an alligator, a bat, and a human, but the same basic combination is there in all three animals. In another example, he talks about nerves in the human head, some of which are very complex and kind of confusing, because they do lots of different-seeming things. But when you look at them from a developmental view, they make perfect sense, because one nerve is connected to all the various parts of the head that form from one “gill arch” on the human embryo, and another nerve is connected to all the parts that form from another “gill arch,” and so on. (Those “gill arches” are so called because, in fish like sharks, they do actually form into gills. In humans, they are present when we are an embryo, but then develop into various parts of our face, jaw, neck, and throat.)

So it was a very interesting book! It falls into the category of “I sort of knew the basics of this (evolution and how it works),” but this book lays it out so much more specifically and with such fantastic examples that it just becomes much, much clearer in my head. Books like that are the best ones, for me. I definitely recommend this one to anyone interested in paleontology, science, evolution, or the history of life on earth. A fantastic read!

Review: The Martian

(“A book a friend recommended” from the Reading Challenge)

I put this on my Reading Challenge list on the recommendation of a friend, and then ended up reading it for a book club that I’m part of with a few other friends – we definitely did not regret it. I’m probably a little late to the party on this particular book, but in case you haven’t heard about it or given it a try yet, The Martian is excellent. (Spoilers below.)

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Review: Jurassic World

I must start this review by saying that I did not expect to love this movie. It’s the fourth JP movie, and the second and third gave me no reason to suppose that a fourth one would be anything but a further slide down from the original. So I didn’t expect to love this movie…but I do, and actually just as much as I love the first Jurassic Park movie.

Let me be clear: Jurassic World is not a good dinosaur movie, in the sense of providing any kind of accurate depiction of dinosaurs as we currently understand them. But it is a fantastic Jurassic Park movie, and for that reason it will always be one of my favorites. (Spoilers below.)

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Review: Princess Retribution by Elaine Tipping

(“A graphic novel” from the Reading Challenge)

I have enjoyed Elaine Tipping’s art and comics for quite some time, and her latest graphic novel, Princess Retribution, was a very welcome addition! As usual, the art was great, and I especially enjoy her character and clothing designs. Add to that the fact that there is a fun story to go with it, and I’m very glad I was able to contribute to her Kickstarter to support this book! (I’ll cut for minor spoilers.)

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Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

(“A book published this year” from the Reading Challenge)

So, this is technically a review of Shadow Scale, but out of necessity it will also talk about the preceding book Seraphina. Expect spoilers for both books!

I loved both Seraphina and Shadow Scale! Seraphina was one of my “grabbed it randomly off the library shelf because it looked interesting” finds that worked out well – I was hooked about ten pages in. They are set in a fantasy world in which two sentient species – humans and dragons – are struggling to coexist. The first book is set entirely in the country of Goredd, where forty years of uneasy peace between the humans and the dragons is teetering. Seraphina herself is a musician in Goredd’s court…and secretly a half-dragon. Continue reading

Review: Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson

(“A book with bad reviews” from the Reading Challenge)

[Technically, this book has more good reviews than bad on Goodreads, but the list doesn’t specify “only” bad reviews, so I’m going to go with a couple of bad reviews + I didn’t care for it = good enough to meet this particular criterion.]

[Some spoilers under the cut.]

I wanted to like this book. It was one of my “picked it up randomly whilst browsing at the library” books, and the blurb made it sound interesting. The world that the author creates is very interesting, with a society that has spent centuries recovering from an ancient cataclysm currently on the cusp of a technological revolution. Continue reading

Review: The Judge

The Judge stars Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. I went to see it back in October in large part because I like RDJ as Iron Man in the Marvel movies, but haven’t really seen him in many other things. I’ve also seen and enjoyed his Sherlock Holmes movies, but that’s about it.

In the broadest outline of its story, that of a prodigal son returning home, The Judge is not unique. In the details of the plot and the execution by the actors, however, I found it to be a very interesting and deeply emotional movie.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Henry (Hank) Palmer, a rich, successful and arrogant Chicago defense attorney. The movie starts with him being pulled away from his superficially perfect life by his mother’s death, bringing him for the first time in decades back to the small, rural Indiana town where he grew up.

There, he is greeted lovingly by his brothers, Glen and Dale, and almost as a stranger by his father, Joseph Palmer, who is the town’s judge. It is this estrangement from his father that has clearly kept Hank away all these years, and although he is happy to see his brothers, it is clear that even the single day of his mother’s funeral is too long to be back in his hometown. He packs up and heads out the next morning, in spite of his brothers’ clear desire for him to stay a bit longer. His father makes no effort to mend the breach, though, going so far as to mock Hank’s failing marriage and upcoming divorce. Although the judge is deeply grief-stricken over his own wife’s death and having a difficult time dealing with it, this is obviously meant to drive his middle son away again.

It nearly succeeds, for Hank is already waiting on the plane that will take him back to Chicago when he receives a call from his brother Glen. They had all noticed damage on their father’s much-loved car that morning, and it was Judge Palmer himself who drove it last, the night before just hours after his wife’s funeral. The damage turns out to have been from a hit-and-run involving another person, not merely property…and the person in question is dead.

In spite of everything, Hank returns, and fights his way through his father’s pride in an effort to both find out what actually happened the night of the funeral and to then defend his father in court. Further complications arise when it turns out that the dead man was one of the few poor judgments that Judge Palmer ever made; years earlier, he had given the man a lenient sentence, and a young woman ended up dead because of it. Was the hit-and-run truly an accident, or was it the town judge taking justice into his own hands? He claims to not remember what happened; is that a lie, or has something truly caused him to forget? What could be happening to him that he is unwilling to tell even his own sons?

I’ll be vague from here on in the interests of not spoiling the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. For me, the story ended up being one about the necessity of honesty and truth. Hank has not been honest with himself about his own life – he is not truly happy with his current position and failing marriage, with his young daughter being one of the only positive things he has. Opening himself to that truth paves the way for him to consider other options, other paths that might make him happier. Judge Palmer struggles with his pride and dignity, keeping back information vital to his own defense, and thereby setting himself up to receive a wrong sentence. He struggles in finding the strength to tell the truth, both in court and to his family. There are old issues and hurts between the three Palmer brothers that have been left unaddressed all the years that Hank was gone. There are other relationships that Hank walked away from so many years ago, that still lack understanding and closure.

As each of the characters begins to accept the truth about what has happened in the past, or is happening now, and as they start to be honest with each other, things start to improve. It is not an easy transition to make, and at times is quite painful. In spite of that all the characters, and especially Hank and his father, slowly come to realize that they are moving in a better direction. The movie ends on a bittersweet, but overall hopeful note, and I definitely enjoyed it.



Just finished watching How To Train Your Dragon 2 for the second time; I really meant to see it more than once in theaters, but at least it’s out on blu-ray now. I really, really love these movies, both the first one and this year’s sequel (and am immensely excited that it’s going to be a trilogy eventually). This isn’t a proper review so much as me rambling about that, so I’ll put the rest under a cut in case of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen them yet. (In which case, what is wrong with you, go watch them right now.) Continue reading