Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book-a-Saurus Rex

Brontosaurus. Triceratops. Tyrannosaurus Rex. We all had a dinosaur obsession in childhood, way back when words like bilkanasaurus and thecodontosaurus simply rolled off our tongues. We’re expected to outgrow the dino phase, but no one ever really stops being completely fascinated by the extinct giants, as the myriad of museum exhibits, dinosaur encyclopedias, and nature channel TV specials well attest to. And when it comes to books about prehistoric reptiles, the sky’s the limit. Far and away beyond mere encyclopedic entries, the dinosaur books included here are true to their subject: wild, wonderful, and larger than life.

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008, Penguin Classics, originally published 1912 (Fiction Classics/ Fantasy/ Adventure)

Daily Gazette reporter Ed Malone is in love with a girl. But the girl isn’t very keen on lowly newsboys; she wants the romance and heart-pounding bravery of an adventurous explorer like Richard Francis Burton or Henry Morton Stanley. Lucky for Malone, there’s an explorer right in town—although cantankerous Professor Challenger’s reputation has taken a hefty blow due to his claims of prehistoric creatures alive and well in the Amazonian basin. But even a discredited adventurer is good enough for Malone and before he knows it, he’s on his way back to South America with Challenger, skeptical scientist Professor Summerlee, and experienced explorer Lord John Roxton. The motley crew is instantly plunged into a whole mess of action and excitement—meeting with secretive Amazonian tribesmen, fighting with primitive ape-people, and (of course!) fleeing from roaring dinosaurs. It’s true that there’s more than a touch of early 19th century racism and classism, but if you can grit your teeth and bear it through the political incorrect bits, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic, witty, true-blue tale of derring-do.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, 1990, Random House (Science Fiction/ Thriller)


You know and love the 1993 Steven Spielberg blockbuster movie Jurassic Park, but that thrill-ride is based first and foremost on author Michael Crichton’s bestselling book of the same name. After decades of research, genetic engineering firm InGen, headed by dapper little old gentleman John Hammond, has successfully cloned the ancient DNA of fifteen species of dinosaur. To show off this astounding breakthrough, Hammond creates Jurassic Park, a dinosaur-themed amusement park and nature conserve on a remote island off the coast of Costa Rica. He invites some very exclusive guests to give the park their stamp of approval before the grand opening—awestruck paleontologists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, sarcastic chaos theorist Ian Malcolm, and his own precocious grandchildren Tim and Lex. It comes as no surprise that all the high-tech science and high-end security cannot stop nature from taking its course, and soon the guests are running for their lives from escaped tyrannosauruses and hungry velociraptors. This sounds a lot like the movie, but the expertly-crafted novel is perfectly paced with fresh plot twists, complex character relationships, fascinating scientific theory, and even more action-packed scenes of nail-biting suspense and heart-pounding adventure.

Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston, 2005, Forge Books (Science Fiction/ Thriller)

Mild-mannered do-gooder Tom Broadbent is riding his horse home across the New Mexican desert when he stumbles upon a man dying from gunshot wounds. The man thrusts a tattered notebook into Tom’s hands and, with his final breath, begs Tom to “bring this to my daughter.” Of course, it’s not just any old everyday notebook. It contains a coded map leading to an unprecedented scientific discovery: The perfectly preserved remains of a tyrannosaurus rex. This is a secret worth killing for, and soon Tom and his pretty wife Sally are in danger from a jailbird assassin, a ruthless British paleontologist, and a deadly squad of undercover army operatives. This colorful cast of characters also includes an ex-CIA agent turned monk-in-training and a talented lab assistant languishing in the forgotten depths of the American Museum of Natural History. Over-the-top? You bet, and it’s a ton of fun. Author Douglas Preston has a fine grip on what makes a good thriller—good guys, bad guys, cliffhanger chapter endings, a pinch of astounding scientific theory, and intrigue and suspense up the wazoo.

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology by Jim Ottaviani and Big Time Attic, 2005, G.T. Labs (Nonfiction/ 19th Century History/ Graphic Novel) 

Once upon a time in the late 1800s, there were two fossil hunters named Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. Cope and Marsh are the granddaddies of modern paleontology. They were scholars and scientists at the top of their field. They discovered the creatures we know today as stegosaurus, allosaurus, diplodocus, and triceratops. Cope and Marsh also absolutely, completely, and bitterly hated each other. In the late 19th century, dino discoveries were making headlines and capturing the public’s imagination, but even the entire American West was not big enough to contain the egos and ambitions of these two men. Cope and March stole from each other’s dig sites and mocked each other’s research. Their public squabbles grew so intense that the period of their study is now simply called the “Bone Wars.” And in Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards, graphic novelist Jim Ottaviani and the artists of the Big Time Attic collective gleefully bring Cope and Marsh’s feud to vivid life. Famous characters like P.T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill, and artist Charles R. Knight pepper the narrative, but Cope and Marsh’s story steals the show and makes for a fast, funny, and truly delightful read.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith, 2010, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Children’s Fiction) 

Little Lulu always gets her way. If her parents dare to say “No,” Lulu simply changes their minds by employing her trademark ear-shattering shriek. For her birthday this year, Lulu demands a pet brontosaurus. Her parents refuse, Lulu screeches until light bulbs shatter, and then the precocious tot heads into the forest—suitcase containing pickle sandwiches in hand—to find a dinosaur all by herself. After lions, tigers, and bears (oh my), the brontosaurus of Lulu’s dreams rears his giant head. But there’s a problem—the dinosaur thinks that Lulu is going to become his pet. As Lulu and the brontosaurus meet their match in each other, the reader will find more than enough charm in author Judith Viorst’s tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale. Artist Lane Smith lends a hand with adorably droll illustrations, and the result is a lively, lovely tale for children of all ages.

Dinotopia: A Land Apart From Time by James Gurney, 1992, Turner Publishing (Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Picture Books/ Illustrated Novels)

In 1862, Professor Arthur Denison and his son Will are shipwrecked on a tropical island. Almost immediately, they encounter strange signs of life—enormous footprints, mysterious noises, and bizarre animals. To Denison and Will’s immense surprise, the inhabitants of this island are dinosaurs who live in unity and harmony with humans. Dinotopia—the name is the island—is a peaceful, innovative, cooperative society. Denison and Will are expected to contribute their skills as well and journey across the island to register at Waterfall City. Along the way, they befriend Dinotopia’s human and dinosaur citizens and observe first-hand the extraordinary workings of this unique—but still mysterious and even dangerous—world. Author James Gurney presents this sophisticated picture book as Arthur Denison’s journal. As such, it is filled with scientific observations and beautiful, realistic illustrations of the people, creatures, and places of Dinotopia—including the dinosaurs, who are portrayed in all their glory as they work, play, and learn side-by-side with humans. Dinotopia: A Land Apart From Time is whimsical, fantastic, and worthy of being read again and again by dinosaur enthusiasts of all ages.

Dinotopia by James Gurney
1. A Land Apart From Time
2. First Flight (Prequel)
3. The World Beneath
4. Journey to Chandara

Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia, 2000, Villard Books (Mystery/ Fantasy/ Humor)

Dinosaurs are not extinct. Really, they’re not. They’ve simply learned to evolve and coexist. They live among us in secret, wearing latex human disguises, carefully governed by watchful Councils, and recognizing each other by their distinct dino-scents. The hero of Anonymous Rex is Vincent Rubio, a Los Angeles private detective and a velociraptor. Rubio is a dino in disgrace. He disobeyed the Council’s strict rules while investigating the suspicious death of his partner. He’s broke, addicted to basil, and has a single chance at redemption when he is assigned a case of arson at a dinosaur-owned nightclub. Rubio’s sleuthing uncovers police evidence gathered by a brontosaur sergeant, plots hatched by scheming dinosaur widows and mistresses, and a triceratops geneticist’s evil plot. Author Eric Garcia gleefully works his premise, spilling the dirt on the dinosaurs’ secrets to survival and blowing the cover on many supposedly-human luminaries. Complete with interspecies fighting, lying, spying, and loving, Anonymous Rex is a riotous, ridiculous romp.

Vincent Rubio Mysteries by Eric Garcia
1. Anonymous Rex
2. Casual Rex
3. Hot and Sweaty Rex

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