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February 18, 2022

George Ernsberger
Posted 2/18/22

Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses by Jackie Higgins (Atria).

A seriously brainy book of popular science, but then, also, popular philosophy—uh, kinda—but …

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February 18, 2022

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Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses by Jackie Higgins (Atria).

A seriously brainy book of popular science, but then, also, popular philosophy—uh, kinda—but also fun. And as original as the thinking is, it’s not dense or difficult: Jackie Higgins is having a good time, here, and so will you. It’s a way of thinking about our own senses that, amazingly, as we read about how other species focus on and consult and learn from theirs (their often quite different senses), and especially those that we know are superior to ours (a bloodhound has not a few dozen more, but thousands more scent receptors than we have; the conditions in which they can detect distinctive, specific scents seems almost supernatural, spooky) can make us more and more alert to what ours are telling us. It makes us, in fact, not only more conscious but larger, in fuller touch with our world as much as our selves. The narrative (or argument) is clear, fluidly told, and sprinkled with odd surprises. (Owls hear with their whole bodies, not just their ears, which might be kind of cool; but fish taste with their whole bodies—which I’m pretty sure would be great only some of the time.)

With Love from London by Sarah Jio (Ballantine).

Trade paperback original novel that looks like just another romance novel, but—though it’s all of that; there’s a fine romance—it’s both ingenious and heartfelt enough to richly reward the attention of anybody who just likes credible and likable characters and thoughtful storytelling. A young woman estranged from her mother, at her mother’s death inherits her bookshop (in London; she’s American). She then finds in the shop clues that her mother had planted in books that she knew were her daughter’s favorites, to explain to her for the first time why and how they had become estranged.

Dark Horse: An Orphan X Novel by Gregg Hurwitz (Minotaur).

City of the Dead: An Alex Delaware Novel by Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine).

For the second time in recent weeks, two only superficially similar suspense novels by column regulars share the exact same publication date—February 8, this time. And here, even more than in the earlier case, the similarities really are just superficial; I wouldn’t have thought to cover them together if they weren’t both long established favorites of this column and its readership, and so easily characterized for their respective readers. Kellerman’s Alex Delaware is a lawyer, of course, and, though Delaware himself is no caricature, but a nicely realized, very bright guy, he is, and this book is, talky. Smart, often tense, sometimes amusing, and all of it, of course, just what his readers expect. And Hurwitz and his Evan Smoak (the Nowhere Man, now, rather than Orphan X, but the same guy) are brainy, too, but the Nowhere Man doesn’t talk so much. Cracks heads, more.

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