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Hidden in Plain Sight: A Review of A Terrifying Fact About Ants

A Terrifying Fact About Ants - Science Fiction Short Story by Adam Leon book cover. Image on cover shows a colony of ants crawling on each other and on some red soil. Title: A Terrifying Fact About Ants – Science Fiction Short Story

Author: Adam Leon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 11, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 24 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Review:

“I discovered a strange relation between ants and another fascinating insect; spiders. Specifically, the Myrmarachne formicaria; the spider that looks exactly like an ant that was discovered by researchers back in 2001.

How strange it must have been to be the researcher suddenly noticing their colony of ants becoming cannibalistic. The Myrmarachne formicaria’s evolutionary convergence had the primary purpose of mimicking their prey to allow the creature to invade anthills without being attacked, allowing the creature to burrow deep into their homes and devour the larvae of their undeveloped children, and then walking away as if nothing ever happened. Terrifying, yet unbelievably fascinating.

Not only would the spider have to evolve to look exactly like the ant, but the species would also have to understand the simple psychology of ants, matching pheromones, behaviors, antennae communication etc. just to pull off this horrifying heist. How could random evolution be responsible for such deliberate manipulative complex action?

Of course, in recent years, it’s been understood that the Myrmarachne formicaria is not alone in its formation, countless other spider species have mimicked ants so well that researchers were only able to recently discover their existence through the use of DNA testing.

I started to wonder if a similar case could be applicable to human beings. Are there people among us who are not people? Are there psychological manipulators camouflaged as their prey so expertly, for the sole purpose of devouring our young and bleeding the public dry as if we were nothing more than livestock? And I’m not just talking about politicians here.

Be careful who you trust.

I have two quick notes to share about this short story before I jump into my review. First, be sure to read the introduction. It contains some important information that readers will need in order to understand what’s happening. Second, I also wanted to mention that the original Spanish version of this story is happily included in this version, too, for readers who understand that language.

Antonio, the protagonist, and John, the gringo who had recently moved to the area, had a relationship that made me chuckle. Both of these individuals made assumptions about each other that may not have been as accurate as they assumed. I was also amused by how Antonio’s gentle and trusting personality was matched by John’s fierce independence and unwillingness to trust anyone with even the smallest scraps of information about his life until he’d known them for a long time.

The implications of what John had to say about why he left the Anglo world for such a remote Hispanic community were chilling, but I found myself wishing he’d shared more details about what his life had been like before the events that drove him so far away from his original home. I’m saying this as someone who loves analogies and solving the riddles authors sometimes share in their works. It simply would have been easier for me to emotionally connect with John if I knew some basic details about his past like the names of his loved ones or the precise location of English-speaking country he’d left behind.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored the cultural differences between Antonio and John. For example, John thought he should pay for help by the hour while Antonio thought it made more sense to pay by the task so that workers would finish the job as soon as they could. These sorts of cultural misunderstandings can lead to all sorts of amusing miscommunications that work so well in otherwise serious works like this one. The fact that their personalities were also so different from each other as I mentioned earlier only made this aspect of it even more memorable. They had so little in common, and yet I loved seeing how both of them worked together as John built up the courage to share a small sliver of his past.

A Terrifying Fact About Ants made me shudder.

What I Read in 2021

In JA cup of coffee, a tealight candle, and an opened book on a mirrored platter that’s lying in the snow. anuary of 2013, I began blogging once a year about everything I’d read that previous year.  This tradition began when my dad asked me how many books I’ve read in my entire lifetime.

I couldn’t begin to give him an answer to that question, but it did make me decide to start keeping track from that moment forward. The previous posts in this series are as follows: 20202019, 2018,  2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

The pandemic has continued to change my reading patterns. I finished more books in 2021 than I did during the few years before it. Now more than ever, I crave happy endings and lighthearted storylines over the more serious themes I used to enjoy.

I’ve nearly stopped reading horror entirely. The only type of it I can handle these days involves haunted houses or other places whose spirits resort to psychological horror instead of anything that spills blood.

Yes, i know that’s super specific. I have no idea why my mind can handle those sorts of frights but no other.

As always, I’ve included links to the books on this list that I’ve reviewed here or will be blogging a review of in early 2022.

Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs

Senior citizen gently touching a memory book. “American Bastard” by Jan Beatty

“No Cure for Being Human” by Kate Bowler

“Waves” by Ingrid Chabbert

“Fauci: Expect the Unexpected: Ten Lessons on Truth, Service, and the Way Forward” by Anthony Fauci

“A Womb in the Shape of a Heart” by Joanne Gallant

“American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption” by Gabrielle Glaser

“One Pound, Twelve Ounces: A Preemie Mother’s Story of Loss, Hope, and Triumph” by Melissa Harris

“Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah” by Kathy Iandoli

“Natural Killer: a Memoir” by Harriet Alida Lye

“The Plague and I” by Betty MacDonald

“Broken Spaces and Outer Places” by Nnedi Okorafor

“Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love” by Rob Schenck

”Call the Midwife” by Jennifer Worth

“Shadow of the Workhouse” by Jennifer Worth

 

Fiction

Drawing of dark-haired woman reading a book. An evening sky scene streams from the open book onto the white surface behind her.

“Searching for Sam” by Sophie Bienvenu

“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

“Between Before and After” by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

“A Funny Kind of Paradise” by Jo Owens

“Gratitude” by Delphine de Vigan

”A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

“Once Upon a Wardrobe” by Patti Callahan

 

History

An abandoned stone castle on a hill. “White Unwed Mothers: The Adoption Mandate in Postwar Canada” by Valerie Andrews

“The Toronto Book of Love” by Adam Bunch

“The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live ” by Danielle Dreilinger

“A Short History of Humanity – A New History of Old Europe” by Johannes Krause and Thomas Trappe

“How to Survive in Medieval England” by Toni Mount

“Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age” by Annalee Newitz

“The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine” by Janice P. Nimura
“Ancestors: A Prehistory of Britain in Seven Burials” by Alice Roberts
“The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat” by Matt Siegel

Poetry

“A Thousand Mornings” by Mary Oliver

“Blue Horses” by Mary Oliver

“Dog Songs” by Mary Oliver

 

Science Fiction and Fantasy

A space ship taking off from a planet that has a large moon hanging in its sky. “The Children of Green Knowe” by Lucy M. Boston

“A Psalm for the Wild-Built” by Becky Chambers

Remote Control” by Nnedi Okorafor

“In the Company of Men” by Véronique Tadjo

Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir

 

Science, Health, and Medicine

Close-up of a glowing strand of DNA.“Why Smart People Make Bad Food Choices: The Invisible Influences That Guide Our Thinking” by  Jack Bobo

“Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World” by Elinor Cleghort

“The Book of the Earthworm” by Sally Coulthard

“People Count: Contact-Tracing Apps and Public Health” by Susan Landau

“Rituals & Myths in Nursing: A Social History” by Claire Laurent

“Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding” by Dan Lieberman

“A Story of Us: A New Look at Human Evolution” by Lesley Newson

“You Bet Your Life: From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovation” by Paul A Offit

“Beyond Soap: The Real Truth about What You Are Doin to Your Skin and How to Fix It for a Beautiful, Healthy Glow” by Sandy Skotnicki

“Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health” by Dr. Leana Wen

“American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law from Smallpox to Covid-19” by John Fabian Witt

 

Sociology and Psychology 

Silhoutte of a counsellor talking to a client. “The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town” by Brian Alexander

“The Comfort Book” by Matt Haig

“May We Suggest: Restaurant Menus and the Art of Persuasion” by Alice Pearlman

“The Lost Art of Doing Nothing: How the Dutch Unwind with Niksen” by Maartje Willems

“Veils of Distortion: How the News Media Warps Our Minds” by John Zada

 

Young Adult

Teenager who has placed a book on top of her head so that the spine is pointing towards the ceiling and the book is opened. “Dark Waters” by Katherine Arden (Review coming in 2022)

“Dead Voices” by Katherine Arden (Review coming in 2022)

“Small Spaces” by Katherine Arden (Review coming in 2022)

“The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot” by Marianne Cronin

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

”Prince Caspian” by C.S. Lewis

”The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis

”The Silver Chair” by C.S. Lewis

”The Horse and His Boy” by C.S. Lewis

”The Magician’s Nephew” by C.S. Lewis

”The Last Battle” by C.S. Lewis

 

How did all of your reading habits change over 2021? Did you read any of these books?

 

The Last-Chance Mission: A Review of Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir book cover. Image on cover shows an astronaut floating through space while tethered to their ship. There is a large sun or planet in the background. Title: Project Hail Mary

Author: Andy Weir

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery

Length:476 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could deliver, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

Review:

Content warning: Death and serious bodily injuries. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Failure isn’t an option here if humanity is to survive.

There were multiple sections of this book that went into great detail about the physics and math behind the experiments Ryland ran as he attempted to solve the scientific mystery that was threatening to drive humanity to extinction. This was most definitely a work of hard science fiction. I suspect that people who have university-level degrees in math, science, or technology will get the most out of those passages, but I did understand what the main character was saying. Keep pushing through those passages if you struggle with them. They’re important for the plot, but the narrator will often explain them again in other ways later on if you need a refresher.

I loved the foreshadowing. Yes, it was a little more heavy handed than what I’d typically expect to find in this genre, but given the complex and technical nature of most of the problems Ryland needed to solve I think that was the best choice for most people who will be reading this.

The hopeful nature of the storyline was delightful, so don’t be fooled by the urgent and sad vibe of the first couple of scenes. There were so many wonderful plot twists after that point, some of which I didn’t see coming and found quite relieving once they did arrive. As much as I want to go into vivid detail here, I keep my reviews spoiler-free and want you all to discover these moments for yourselves.

Ryland was a well-developed character whose wry sense of humour often made me chuckle. I enjoyed seeing how quickly and (usually) calmly he came up with new ideas when he was in a crisis and his previous solutions didn’t pan out. He honestly reminded me a bit of Mark Watney from Weir’s earlier book, The Martian. While these characters lived in different universes, I enjoyed comparing and contrasting them. Some of Ryland’s strengths were things that Mark probably would have found difficult, so that was an extra layer of amusement for anyone who is already familiar with this author and his previous works.

Project Hail Mary was an amazing adventure that I heartily recommend to anyone who loves hard science fiction.

A Review of Curse of the Nain Rouge: The Legend of Detroit’s Red Devil

Curse of the Nain Rouge: The Legend of Detroit’s Red Devil by Michelle Nunley book cover. Image on cover is of a red, black, and white drawing of a devilish character. Title: Curse of the Nain Rouge: The Legend of Detroit’s Red Devil

Author: Michelle Nunley

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade 

Length: 5 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author. 

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

There are many urban legends of hauntings throughout Michigan. Some tell of an ominous white ghost, others of mysterious dog-headed creatures. But none is quite as haunting as that of the curse placed on the city of Detroit by a small red devilish-looking creature . . .  The Nain Rouge.

A short 1200 word story that tells the tale of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit, and a curse placed on the city by a small red, sharp toothed devilish looking creature. Detroiter’s call him the Nain Rouge. Based on encounters and sightings throughout history, it is said the creature appears before every disaster throughout the city’s history and long list of misfortunes.

Review:

Some curses exist for good reasons. 

I was surprised in a good way by fact that Antoine was such an unlikeable protagonist. There’s something interesting about seeing how such a selfish, egotistical man reacted to a threat to his city that he didn’t believe in or think should be taken seriously. We all have our own blind spots, of course, but Antoine’s blind spots much bigger and more dangerous than most. 

This story could have used a little more character development. I had trouble empathizing with Antoine because nearly everything I learned about him was negative. Yes, he was a villain, and arguably even more so than the Nain Rouge itself, but even the worst person in the world is bound to have some good in him or herself. While I understand that this isn’t the strong suite of most folktales, there was definitely room here to humanize him a tad before he met up with his nemesis. 

My favorite part of this tale was the ending. It tied up the most important plot strings but also explained why this legend continues to be shared three hundred years after it was said to begin. I couldn’t help but the turn the unresolved portions of the storyline over and over in my mind to see if I could think of a good way to resolve them. There’s something to be said for a legend that could still yet have more chapters added to it!

 Curse of the Nain Rouge was a thought-provoking tale that I enjoyed reading. 

A Quiet Life: A Review of The Retirement

The Retirement by Keith Minnion book cover. Image on cover is of multiple gravestones crowded into a graveyard together. Title: The Retirement

Author: Keith Minnion

Publisher: White Noise Press

Publication Date: January 4, 2021

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 9 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Charles Midwich, a recent retiree, decides to move to a new state, a new town, an entirely new life and lifestyle. What he finds once he gets there, and settles in, is nothing like what he ever expected.

Review:

What is your idea of the perfect retirement plan?

Mr. Minnion’s beautiful writing style sucked me into the plot immediately. He knew exactly when to describe one moment in detail and when to leave other details up to the reader’s imagination. I enjoyed switching between his descriptions of the scenes and characters and coming up with my own theories about the things he only mentioned briefly.

Unfortunately, the author gave far too many clues about what was happening to Charles as this character adjusted to retirement. I had a hunch about the ending from reading the blurb, and I was certain I was right by the time I finished the first scene. It would have been nice to be challenged more here.

With that being said, there was something about Charles I really liked. He was a conscientious man who thought through every decision he made carefully. I also appreciated how calm and polite he was no matter if he was ordering honey fig scones at the local bakery or taking a quiet stroll through the cemetery. This was one character I’d love to eat scones with, so don’t be frightened off by the horror tag if this isn’t a genre you normally read.

The Retirement was short, thoughtful, and worth checking out.

Risky Wanderings: A Review of Leprechaun Luck

Title: Leprechaun Luck – A Witch of Mintwood Short Story Author:Addison Creek Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: March 1, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 48 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: It’s St. Patrick’s Day and Lemmi, Charlie, and Liam are determined to have some fun… Read More

Rural Frights: A Review of Cabin for Rent

Title: Cabin for Rent – A Short Horror Story Author: Seth Tucker Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 19, 2018 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary Length: 19 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Learn about the macabre history of the cabin on the lake, as you take a… Read More

I’ll Show You My Drafts Folder If You’ll Show Me Yours

Why, yes, I did write the same sort of post last summer! It was such a smashing success that I’ve decided to do it again. Last year’s peek at upcoming posts has since been edited to include links to everything that I ended up writing. Some of the stuff listed below are ideas from last… Read More