Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Jet Girl by Caroline Johnson with Hof Williams


Rating: WORTHY!

Having recently had an idea for a novel involving a female fighter pilot (and no, it's never going to be the one you think it will be - not from me anyway!), I saw this on Net Galley inviting review requests, and I jumped at the chance to read a first-hand account. Subtitled "My Life in War, Peace, and the Cockpit of the Navy's Most Lethal Aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet," this book was a fascinating story of the life of a Navy Lieutenant from induction to flying combat missions over Iraq, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I'm very grateful to the publisher for my chance to read and review this advance review copy. Or maybe I should say 'ARC' since we're into military jargon territory now, which as the author makes clear, is almost a foreign language!

This book was perfect for me because I've read several books written by military personnel, including a Navy SEAL and others, but always written by men, and I really wanted a female take on it because I knew this would be more informative than the gung-ho macho perspective too many male writers adopt. That does not mean, by any means, that there was no machismo or gung-ho spirit here. Caroline Johnson - callsign 'Dutch' - was a navy fighter pilot after all - planning and executing more than 700 flight missions, but all of that was tempered by a hell of a lot of other perspectives and it made the reading so much more rounded, with depth and sharp insight. I read it in two days which is not quite a record for me, but it is a sterling effort these days for a book that exceeds 280 pages of tightly packed print! I usually prefer my books shorter, but this one seemed short because it was to the point, with short chapters and an easy-reading style.

Talking of which, I often rail at books which waste paper by having wide margins and widely-spaced text. I've never had to rail the other way, but I came close this time because the book was really tightly-packed! It reminded me of my own tree-saving formatting, although mine isn't as tight as this one. I could not get it to look how I wanted it in Adobe Digital Editions, which I've been using lately because Bluefire Reader - my usual go-to reader, had been giving me grief with a lot of the illustrated books I've been reading recently, but this time, I went back to BFR, which gave me control over the font, and so I finally got it into a format that was easy on the eye and ran with it.

When I first began reading this (it has a prologue and and epilogue, both of which I skipped as I do routinely in any book) and followed the author through her military schooling, I confess I started to wonder where the harassment was. I've read much about harassment and hazing of female conscripts, and there seemed to be none here, which made me wonder if something was being left out, but it seems it was not, because this kind of thing, it would appear, did not happen in college, but was reserved for when you would least expect it: when Lt Johnson was assigned to her first combat role with the VFA-213 Blacklions which flew deadly Hornets off aircraft carrier CVN-77 USS George HW Bush, the tenth and final Nimitz-class carrier to be commissioned into the USN, and named after the USA's 41st president who was a naval aviator in World War Two.

Lt Johnson got her first taste of this shameful conduct when she arrived on base and went to a meet-and-greet kind of a get-together, and was assumed, by the Navy wives there, to be the wife of a male aviator. When she revealed that she was herself the new pilot and was single, she was shunned by these other women which was a disgraceful way to treat anyone in national service in good standing - typically first in her class. Later in the book, Lt Johnson tries to excuse these women for their conduct, and that's her choice, but to me their behavior, particularly against another woman, was inexcusable, even if it's understandable from their shaky perspective.

This isn't the only issue she had as a female pilot in a "man's world" and she lists many, many others, but she rose through them all and she did her job in outstanding fashion. In doing her sworn duty she got some kind of release from that when flying missions - combat or practice or something in between. Even though missions were stressful in themselves, they were fun, until after many years and long deployments they were not so much fun, especially when these pilots wanted to do something about the atrocities they could see ISIS committing on the ground and could not engage because the order had not yet come down from the commander-in-chief to go weapons hot.

The stress doesn't let up even when a pilot isn't even flying, because you never know when you will hear of a Navy plane crash as this author did on more than one occasion, and cannot help but wonder if it's someone they knew from college, from training, from flying, who died. In those circumstances, the Navy requires all personal phones to be on lockdown so no one can even call to tell their own family they're ok, not until the family of the deceased has been personally told by a Navy representative.

The actual combat and near-combat missions are not the most interesting thing in this book, interesting as they are. What I enjoyed most was learning of the day-to-day routine, the cramped conditions (it's not just on submarines where people live on top of one another!), the limited access to things we take for granted, the sometimes long days, down to the the numbed butt from sitting in a hard seat for several hours (the seats are hard so that there is no movement of legs in the event of an emergency eject, which takes place so fast that it could break a thigh-bone, were there any give in the seat).

One of the things you'd be unlikely to find in this book had it been written by a guy, was the issue of going to the bathroom while flying! Astronauts have this taken care of, but not so much the pilots. There are special devices designed for women, believe it or not, but the old version doesn't work well and the Navy wouldn't spring for the new version because it was more expensive (these devices are in the range of thousands of dollars, and unlike Red Wing flying boots, it's not something a pilot can just go out and buy on their own dime). One chapter described an amusing, although inexcusable, situation for a pilot to be put in when they've been on a mission for too long, and despite avoiding drinking too much fluid beforehand, they find themselves absolutely having to go.

So this book had it all - the highs and the lows, and the details I'd been most interested in learning about, and it was a fascinating read on almost every page for me. There were almost no issues I had with it, but I'll mention two which I think worth mentioning. The first is the claim made in the opening paragraph of chapter seven that "The United States is the only country in the world to dare to take off and land on aircraft carriers at night...." This is simply untrue. Even as I write this, British pilots are doing this very thing on their new aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, and this isn't the first time they've ever done this! Nor are they the only other navy which does this. When you think about it, it makes no sense. Why would a navy restrict itself like that and give potentially hostile nations the knowledge that they can get up to something as darkness falls knowing that the nearest aircraft carrier can do nothing about until the sun comes up because they don't fly at night? Nonsense!

The other issue was that there are no pictures in the book. I didn't expect anything that's potentially compromising, or group shots of happy pilots and graduates, but it would have been nice if there had been pictures of the aircraft and the aircraft carrier!) mentioned in the text. There were many airplanes mentioned, and while I have seen some up close and personal, I've enver seen a Hornet. Each of these planes I had to look up to get an idea of what craft was being discussed, which wasn't a huge hardship, but it was a nuisance. Military terminology and acronyms were explained, but we were not even treated to a description of the aircraft, let alone an image.

I feel that would have been an improvement, but even without that, I consider this book to be essential for anyone who is seriously interested in the military. I commend it as a worthy and satisfying read, and I thank Lt Johnson for her service and for being so candid about it in this book.


The Rocking Book of Rocks by Florence Bullough, Amy Ball, Anna Alanko


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Bullough and Ball have proven themselves to be a formidable writing team in this stunningly-illustrated (by Alanko) book on geology, with a great title aimed at young readers. It's in glorious color and skips nothing in its story of how the superficially mundane, but underneath fascinating, rocks that we live on and around, came to be.

It's a hugely long story in the making, going back well over four billion years, but the authors have shrunk it down to easily digestible chunks, starting with what are rocks and minerals, and going through the formation of the Earth and a geological timeline (here there be dragons - aka dinosaurs!). There's an overview of the main three types of rock, and the book then goes into a bit more detail about igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock, how they're formed, and the interesting sub-types of rock formations that can be found within each, including fossils and precious stones.

The book not only talks about the rocks, crystals, and gems, but about how they came to be, and where they're found, and each double-page spread (there are about fifty of them - 100 or so pages in all) has gorgeous, detailed artwork. I learned things myself from this book that I hadn't known, and this is after I'd already put out my own modest book about crystals in my "The Little Rattuses" series, so it's not just the young 'uns who can learn from this. I enjoyed it and commend it fully as a fun, interesting, and educational book, and a tour de force of illustration.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

My First Fact File The Vikings by Philip Steele, Stef Murphy


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Written nicely by Philip Steele with consultation from Ragnhild Ljosland, and illustrated gloriously by Stef Murphy, this book does for the Vikings what the book on Rome in this series ('My First Fact File') did for the Romans.

It starts off with who the Vikings were, what kind of society they lived in, the Viking longship, sailing (read: lots of rowing!), trading, raiding and settling, the warriors and their armor, clothes, farming, living accommodations, feasting, how children lived, arts and crafts, and customs, festivals, and religious beliefs.

Once again in the series, there are small inexpensive projects for children to get their hands on, such as building your own full-size Viking longship - no, I'm kidding, although wouldn't that be awesome? No, the projects are much more modest than that, but nonetheless fun for youngsters to try their hands at. They include cracking a Viking rune code, designing a longship prow ornament (on a small scale!), making a wind vane, and making your own Viking money!

I enjoyed every one of the books in this series that I've read so far, and each had its own way of bringing out the facts without being dry or boring. They're a great way to learn about nature, or in the case of this one, about the history of some remarkable people from a dim and distant past, and I commend this fully as a worthy read.


My First Fact File Ancient Rome by Simon Holland, Adam Hill


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This continues my four book review in the 'My First Fact File' series today. This is about ancient Rome. Now I've read a book about Rome by a man named Holland, I do expect to see a future book about those Nederlanders written by someone named Rome! Just kidding. I've actually visited Rome, so I have a real appreciation for the history, although of course modern Rome is worlds away from what it was at the height of the Roman empire back in the early second century.

This book will quite effectively take you back there, though. Written with some knowlegeable detail by Simon Holland with consultation from Matthew Nicholls, and finely-illustrated by Adam Hill (who gets to draw hills! The seven hills of Rome! This is poetry in motion, I tell you) this book covers everything a young mind needs to know, from the founding of Rome, the mythology and the actual - to the growth of the Republic, the empire, the Roman soldiers, their weapons, armor, battle tactics and conquest, through everyday life, including homes, engineering, cities, arts, society, childhood, how Rome kept itself fed, to entertainment and religious belief. In short, everything you need to know to get a solid grounding in ancient Rome.

There are, as usual in this series, small, inexpensive and easy projects for children to undertake to get a hands-on feel for some of the aspects of life discussed, including making a shield and a catapult, to designing a city, a home, and thinking about what policies you would implement were you the emperor of your own home! If this doesn't stir your child's mind I do not know what will. I commend it as a worthy and educational read.


My First Fact File Oceans by Jen Green, Wesley Robins


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. You know it's an ARC when you espy a note on page 22 urging Kate to add a leader line! I assume all that will be done by the time the published edition emerges!

Again by the tireless Jen Green, with consultant Diva Amon, and this time nicely illustrated by Wesley Robins, this book tackles the massive oceans that Earth is blessed with - a subject which was touched on in her excellent My First Fact File Weather book I also review today. Again this is a print book, but I got only to review the ebook representation of it.

This book is the same length as the other one - some forty pages, with each pair of pages in a double spread, each spread devoted to an important aspect of a very important subject. It covers an overview of the five great oceans (and no, Ocean's 8 wasn't one of them), winds and waves, currents and tides, the ocean floor on which, (I read on the BBC news website in the middle of last May), a plastic bag was found at the bottom of the Marianas trench - some 35,000 feet down. Yes, we've even polluted that. The ocean floor is constantly on the move, believe it or not, as this book makes clear. Whether that will get rid of that bag, I don't know!

But I digress! the book covers the various levels in the ocean from sunlight surface to dark depths, as well as the littoral (literally!), food chains (not fast food!), coral reefs, icy ocean environments (which would sure feel nice as hot as it's been here recently!), animal journeys (including salmon, whales, and the Arctic tern), dangerous waters, rising seas, ships and boats (a brief history), exploration, and pollution. I recently had the pleasure of an ocean cruise and gained a refreshed appreciation for the sea, which I hope will be reflected in a novel I'm currently working on, but this book, aimed at children though it is, brought all of that back to me.

Once again the book has some pretty neat experiments for young children to undertake - safe and inexpensive. There's a sink or swim project to compare fresh and saline water, there's an experiment where you can make your own current, and even one where you can make your own tsunami! Just a small one. Probably won't bring your house down. I'm guessing...! There's a couple of pages devoted to rising sea levels due to climate change - and including a nice little experiment to see how your mini-sea level rises when ice melts.

For me, it would have been nice has this clarified that floating ice - like at the North Pole - will not contribute to sea level rise because it's already in the ocean, but melting ice on land - such as that on Greenland and the Antarctic will indeed cause a major sea-level rise if it all melts. But you can't have everything. Of course not! Where would you keep it?!

Overall I really liked this book and commend it as a worthy read. I appreciated that it tells the truth, and illustrates the text well, and colorfully. It's done in ways that will engage young children and educate them, and we all need an education about the oceans, it seems.


My First Fact File Weather by Jen Green, Tom Woolley


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This, one of four 'My First Fact File' books I'm reviewing, is aimed at younger children. It's written as a print book (the content page has no clickable links to other pages in the ebook), and it was finely illustrated by Tom Woolley and written by Jen Green with some consultation with Adam Scaife.

It's over forty pages long and each pair of pages is a double spread. It starts where everything starts - the Sun, (without which we - and even the planet itself - wouldn't exist!) and proceeds through the atmosphere, just like a sunbeam, explaining in some detail along the way how all of this interacts with oceans and winds to create a climate.

I really appreciated that it does not pull punches when it comes to talking about the indisputable fact that the climate is changing and this change has been caused by human activity. There are no cowardly and irresponsible presidential lies here. The book continues with all aspects of climate and weather, and covers biomes, the seasons, the water cycle, clouds, rain, snow, sleet, and hail, thunder and lightning, hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts, and floods. It's really excellent.

There are some practical experiments children can undertake as well, which makes the book fun, including testing air pressure, comparing wind speeds, demonstrating how seasons work, and making your own water cycle. These are simple, inexpensive things young children can safely, do and they looked like entertaining educational opportunities to me!

I commend this book as a worthy and educational read.


My Kindergarten in 100 Words by Sophie Beer


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Yes, there are indeed 100 words, spread over ten pages with fine illustrations to identify what each word is. This was an ARC and the first few images were in color, the rest black and white line drawings, so I don't know if the finished product (I'm not the kidn of reviewer who ever gets the finished product!) will be like this or completely in color. Nevertheless the drawings alone are nice and will draw the eye of kids who look at this, and each is labeled.

I ought to note that while Sophie Beer is the illustrator, I am not sure who the author is. Maybe it's all Sophie Beer's work or maybe the author is anonymous. There's no copyright page and I'm not a beer drinker myself (joke!) so it's not clear who exactly wrote this.

Anyway, the book takes us through the day, from getting out of bed, through morning ablutions and enjoying breakfast, to walking to the nursery, the day at the nursery and five pages of things you might see there, to being picked up for the trip back home. The book is short, simple, and sweet, and I can see this being a really useful tool for preparing a child to go to nursery for that first time, and even getting them excited about it and looking forward to their first day. I commend this as a worthy read.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

George Washington's Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yeager


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook that was written evidently for a much younger audience than I represent. The book was read by Kilmeade, and he did it in such a strident and breathless voice that I couldn't stand to listen to it. Worse than this though, the facts were presented in such a biased and fanciful fashion that I found myself having a hard time swallowing everything he said. It felt much more like listening to florid fiction than to historical fact.

The secret six were actually known as the Culpeper ring, named after a Virginia County. They were spies who fed information out of New York City to Washington about the activities, movements, and plans of British troops in NYC. The main two members were Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend. The best information they got was when they laid hands on a British naval Code handbook. That was less through spying than from luck, but it served the French Navy well.

While these guys (including women) did provide other valuable information, the value of some of their activities was debatable. It's arguable that the defeat of the Brits and surrender at Yorktown did more than any spies did, and this victory was brought about as much by the French and Spanish as it was by the US, if not more so. Cornwallis could well have withdrawn rather than surrendered had the port not been very effectively blockaded by the French.

The secret six were spies for the revolution forces, which side was consistently presented as upstanding, brilliant, heroic, and fine, whereas, of course, the British were evil villains. This was exploited most obviously in the report of the British prison ship HMS jersey, which was pretty brutal, but this was war and it was in the early 1780s, when people were hardly the most civilized and no Geneva convention existed. Additionally, the revolutionaries were considered traitors, so the Brits were not very much disposed to treating them kindly. Not that Washington had many prisoners to exchange anyway, since the British captured far more US forces than the other way around. That doesn't make what happened palatable, but it does provide some context that this helter-skelter account fails to do.

Another thing this story doesn't make clear was that Washington, who could have exchanged prisoners, was disinclined to do so because he didn't want to exchange professional British soldiers for civilian volunteers and conscripts! He didn't consider it a fair exchange. How brutal was that? Remember these were the guys who were fighting for the rich folk who didn't want to pay taxes. That's what today, we call Republicans.

The rich were the guys who claimed they wanted the vote, but none of the guys fighting on the front line ever had the vote! Only about 6% of the population were eligible to vote in 1789! In short, the pretext of the revolution was bullshit, yet those who were wealthy were not the ones dying en masse on the front lines or being interned (and interred) in the HMS Jersey! How long did it take for American Indians to get the vote? For African Americans? For women? This wasn't a fight for freedom - it was a fight for the rich, and the poor paid the price on both sides. When that emancipation was truly sought, it started a civil (read not-at-all-civil) war a century later.

So my take on this is that if you're looking for an historical account, don't look here. If you're looking for an hysterical account, then this is the audiobook for you!


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short and fun graphic novel written by a seventeen year old who was born in Japan to a local woman and a US citizen father, so she has two passports. She migrated at a young age to the US, and this is a sweet and fun graphic documentary of her return trip a decade or so later.

It's quite idiosyncratic, obviously; she remarks upon and records the things which intrigue and amuse her, but much of it has a wider appeal than that. The author and I couldn't be more different than chalk and cheese in things like age and gender, but we do have the ex-pat thing in common, so I could see through her eyes quite well, and she expresses herself with smarts, erudition, and a nice eye for oddity and absurdity.

The book is also educational. Because she was absent from Japan for so long and having left at such an early age, although a lot of what she saw on her return had a familiarity to it, there was also a lot that was - or at least seemed - new, so we get to look at Japan very much through a visitor's eye, but this eye is softened by her familiarity with the culture. There is also culture shock with regard to how clean and neat everything is, how proud and polite the people are who serve in both fast food places and restaurants, and how curious the toilets are - among many other things!

I've never been to Japan, but I certainly would like to visit. Reading books like this help me feel a little bit like I've already visited. I commend this one as a worthy read.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

My Very First Book of Colors by Eric Carle


Rating: WORTHY!

I think author Carle is being a bit arrogant in assuming this will be your child's very first book of colors, but maybe it will be! This was one of two young children's learning books that I thought was inventive and cute. They consist of solid, hard-wearing pages that are easily wiped clean, and which are split into top and bottom halves. In this one, the top contained a swatch of color (not a real swatch - a printed one, and it didn't tell time), the bottom contained pictures that largely matched the colors, but the top and bottom for each single page did not match, so it's a detective game which encourages a child to explore and find the matching color. The colors are not solid colors, and contain patterns within them, so even if your child is color-challenged it occurs to me that they may still be able to match one with the other, but that's merely a surmise. There are not that many pages, so it's not a huge challenge, but it's enough to get a young mind working, and I commend this as a worthy read.


My Very First Book of Shapes by Eric Carle


Rating: WORTHY!

I think author Carle is being way optimistic in assuming this will be your child's very first book of shapes, but maybe it will be! This was one of two young children's learning books that I thought was inventive and cute. This one consists of solid, hard-wearing pages that are easily wiped clean, and which are split into top and bottom halves. The top halves contain silhouette shapes; the bottom, pictures that match the shapes, but the top and bottom for each single page do not match, so it's a detective game which encourages a child to explore and find the matching shape. There are not that many pages, so it's not a huge challenge, but it's enough to get a young mind working, and I commend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Painting Masterclass by Susie Hodge


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Subtitled "Creative Techniques of 100 Great Artists" this book of almost 300 pages does precisely what it promises, and explores well-known (and lesser-known) works by artists both classically famous and bubbling under. In each case a painting is depicted and discussed, including the paints used, the techniques employed, and imparting some information about the artist as well. Susie Hodge has an MA in Art History from Birkbeck, University of London, and has has written over 100 books not only on the topic of art.

If I have a complaint - and notwithstanding that it may seem churlish to complain about a book that has commendably assembled five-score masterpieces for our perusal and education - it would be that once again we're faced with something designed for a print version and therefore being inadequately represented in ebook format. Too many of these paintings are unfortunately - some might say scandalously - split across two pages which is never - ever - a good thing. In the ebook version it's worse, because there is a thick gray line down anything that dares to be in landscape orientation. Additionally, the book has a glossary and an index, but again the index is for the print version, and is not 'clickable' to navigate in the ebook.

If I have praises, I have too many to list here in a review that's already yeay long, but the inclusion of so many female painters is definitely praiseworthy. The history of arts isn't that of white men, but for all that's written about it, you can be excused for being bamboozled into thinking it is. You can go back as far as you like - even to cave paintings (which get some coverage in the introduction), and it seems that the thrust (the male thrust, of course) is to exclude women as creators - like the caves were solely painted by men when we have no idea who the artists actually were. This book commendably does a lot to redress that sorry imbalance (and no, Joan Miró isn't female) and is the better for it.

After some fifty pages of material that is both introductory and educational, including a history of art (not quite the same as art history!), the book is divided into seven main sections, each with a dozen or so artists representative of that category:

  • Nudes
    I'm not sure why nudes get to be first. Sounds like naked aggression to me, but here we go (and I promise not to make fun of artist names or painting titles):
    • Titian - Venus of Urbino
    • Jacopo Tintoretto - The Origin of the Milky Way
    • François Boucher - The Triumph of Venus
    • Francisco Goya - Nude Maja
    • Gustave Gourbet - Sleeping Nude
    • Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - The Turkish Bath
    • Gustave Caillebotte - Man at his Bath
    • Georges Seurat - Models
    • Edvard Munch - Madonna
    • Paul Gaugin - Nevermore
    • Paula Modersohn-Becker - Self Portrait on Her Sixth Wedding Anniversary
    • Gustave Klimt - Danaë
    • Amedeo Modigliani - Red Nude
    • Suzanne Valadon - Reclining Nude
    • Jenny Saville - Branded
    • Cecily Brown - Two Figures on a Landscape
  • Figures
    Figures excludes portraits, which appear in 'heads'!
    • Michelangelo Buonarotti - The Delphic Sybil
    • Sofonisba Anguissola - The Chess Game
    • Paolo Veronese - The Wedding Feast at Cana
    • Pieter Breugel the Elder - Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery
    • El Greco - Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple
    • Caravaggio - Deposition from the Cross
    • Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith Beheading Holfernes
    • Frans Hals - The Laughing Cavlier
    • Diego Velázquez - Las Meninas
    • Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Jewish Bride
    • Jacques-Louis David - The Oath of the Horatii
    • Édouard Manet - Luncheon on the Grass
    • Honoré Daumier - Third Class Carriage
    • Edgar Degas - The Ballet Class
    • Berthe Morisot - The Cradle
    • Eva Gonzalès - Nanny and Child
    • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - At the Moulin Rouge, the Dance
    • Egon Schiele - Seated Woman with Bent Knee
    • Balthus - The Card Game
    • Richard Diebenkorn - Coffee
    • Peter Doig - Two Trees
    That cavalier really isn't laughing, so I feel that portrait name has been treated rather...cavlierly. Also the Jewish bride wasn't so named by Rembrandt. Luncheon on the Grass was rather controversially imitated for an album cover by the new wave band Bow Wow Wow in the early eighties.
  • Landscape
    These are the gray divider line pictures
    • Claude Lorrain - An Artist Studying from Nature
    • John Constable - The Hay Wain
    • Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot - The Bridge at Narni, Near Rome
    • Caspar David Friedrich - Mountain Peak with Drifting Clouds
    • JMW Turner - The Red Rigi
    • Jean-François Millet - Haystacks: Autumn
    • Oskar Kokoschka - Tre Croci Dolomite Landscape
    • Paul Klee - Hammamet with its Mosque
    • Claude Monet - Water Lilies
    • Edward Hopper - Haskell's House
    • Emil Nolde - Distant Marshland with Farmhouses
    • Frank Auerbach - Primrose Hill Study Autumn Evening
    • Julie Mehretu - Retopistics a Renegade Excavation
    • Hurvin Anderson - Untitled (Red Flags)
    Constable's painting is known as The Hay Wain but it wasn't originally named that by him. His less memorable name for it was 'Landscape: Noon'! It was subject to minor vandalism in 2013 in the museum where it's kept, but no lasting damage was done. there is a beautifully-rendered rose on the Klee page which to me far outshines the main painting. Nolde's watercolor is equuisite and Anderson's untitled beach scene is equally entrancing.
  • Still Life
    Isn't all painting still life, ultimately? LOL! Just kidding.
    • Floris van Dyck - Still Life with Fruit, Nuts, and Cheese
    • Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin - Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts
    • Henri Fantin-Latour - Flowers and Fruit
    • Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Onions
    • Paul Cézanne - Still life with Cherries and Peaches
    • Georges Braque - Violin and Palette
    • Juan Gris - Grapes
    • Fernand Léger - Still Life with a Beer Mug
    • Georgio Morandi - Still Life
    • Georgia O'Keeffe - Jimson Weed White Flower No 1
    Gris's painting was curiously not done as a Grisaille. Go figure! Not sure how still a life with an empty beer mug would be, especially if it was the artist who drained it, but moving along.... Georgia O'Keeffe's painting is wonderful.
  • Heads
    Portraits.
    • Leonardo da Vinci - Mona Lisa
    • Raphael - Madonna in the Meadow
    • Hans Holbein the Younger - Jane Seymour
    • Johannes Vermeer - Girl with a Pearl Earring
    • Adélaïde Labille-Guiard - Self-Portrait with Two Pupils
    • Mary Cassatt - Portrait of the Artist
    • Piere Bonnard - Self-Portrait
    • Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear
    • Eugène Carrière - Self-Portrait
    • André Derain - Portrait of Henri Matisse
    • Henri Matisse - Portrait of Derain
    • Amrita Sher-Gill - Hungarian Gypsy Girl
    • Pablo Picasso - Weeping Woman
    • Alberto Giacometti - Anette
    • Marlene Dumas - Amy Winehouse (Amy Blue)
    Mona Lisa is never described as The Laughing Lisa. I rest my case.... I have to say I am not convinced there was any pearl earring here. It seems to me, given the circumstances, that it was more likely that it was some sort of shiny metal - perhaps silver if it was the daughter of Vermeer's sponsor. No one knows what Vermeer titled it, but it became known as the girl with a turban until relatively recently when it became rather poetically known as "Girl with a Pearl." If you look at Vermeers featuring girls actually wearing pearls they look quite different from this one, but you pays your money and you takes your art. These were all created before the term 'selfie' came into use, so the much more formal 'self-portrait was a common title. I love the reciprocity of the Derain and Matisse works! Weeping woman was probably captured after Picasso jilted her for another woman, and 'Anette' looks like something out of a horror movie, so disturbing is it.
  • Fantasy
    This was an unexpected, but welcome inclusion.
    • Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus
    • Peter Paul Rubens - Minerva Protects Pax from Mars
    • Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Finding of Moses
    • Eugène Delacroix - The Death of Sardanapalus
    • Rosa Bonheur - Highland Raid
    • Ilya Repin - Sadko and the Underwater Kingdom
    • Edward Burne-Jones - The Doom Fulfilled
    • Marc Chagall - I and the Village
    • Francis Picabia - Dances at the Spring
    • Leonora Carrington - Self-Portrait
    • Frida Kahlo - The Two Fridas
    • Howard Hodgkin - Robyn Denny and Katherine Reid
    • Philip Guston - The Street
    • Paula Rego - The Dance
    Repin's painting is remarkable, but I think that the Best Title Award has to go to Burne-Jones's painting. It's really hard to tell if Picabia's spring is a season, a water source, or even...a bedspring.
  • Abstraction
    I wish I could be more specific about this section but....
    • Wassily Kandinsky - Composition 7
    • Hannah Höch - Mechanical Garden
    • Joan Miró - The Poetess
    • Jackson Pollack - Autumn Rhythm (No 30)
    • Nicolas de Staël - Agrigente
    • Hans Hofmann - The Golden Wall
    • Helen Frankenthaler - The Bay
    • Gerhard Richter - Abstraktes Bild
    • Cy Twombly - Untitled (Bacchus)
    • Gillian Ayres - Suns of Seven Circles Shine

Long list! But worth it. The paintings - some you may love, others you may hate - say a lot and are well-worth seeing, as is reading the breakdown of how they were composed, and what sort of paints and materials were used in their creation. This book is as remarkable as the paintings and I commend it as a worthy read for any artist or anyone interested in art.


Desert Exile by Yoshiko Uchida


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a depressing read, but never was there a better time since this travesty took place than now to read this account of one woman's experiences in the concentration camps set up by the racist hypocrite Franklin "Detain them" Roosevelt to intern Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. Most of the well over 100,000 people imprisoned behind barbed wire were American citizens.

The constitution meant nothing to a clueless and panicked government back then. These people were incarcerated in shoddy, ill-finished - if even finished - barracks and everything they owned which they could not carry with them and which they could not entrust to reliable friends, was gone when they were finally set free two or three years later. They were released into destitution and had to start over from scratch; then this same government had the nerve to ask the young men they'd detained to show their loyalty by signing-up for the same military which had pointed machine guns at them for the previous few years.

Yoshiko Uchida was merely one of these, but that doesn't make her personal story less important. She, her sister, and her mom and dad were given ten days notice that they had to leave for a camp taking only what they could carry. The camp was a racetrack and they were 'housed' in the horse stables - a family of four in a large horse stall stinking of manure with no privacy and barely any facilities. Later they were moved to a specially-constructed - well half-constructed - camp in the middle of the Utah desert.

It was a couple of months before they got sheetrock installed inside their 'apartment' to keep the desert wind and the chalky desert sand out of their 'home'. It took equally long to get their stove installed - which until then had been a hole in the roof where the desert sand and chill got in. The list of abuses continues not only back then, but also today. Like I said it's a depressing but necessary read at a time when this government is doing the same thing to illegal immigrants - using euphemisms to describe the concentration camps. You don't make America great again by treating humans beings like cattle, and apparently that's a lesson we have a really hard time intern-alizing.

I commend this book as an important and worthy read.


Friday, July 5, 2019

101 More Mixed Media Techniques by Cherril Doty, Heather Greenwood, Monica Moody, Marsh Scott


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm not the kind fo reviewer who gets a print version to review, which is fine, but it does mean I get some slightly-askew perspectives on a lot of books, and the thing that caught my eye immediately with this one was the table of content. It told me that this book is designed as a print book with no thought given to electronic format readers because there is no click option to go to a specific part of the book from the content nor to return to the content, unfortunately, although I guess you can always use the search function if you know what you're searching for. That aside it was well laid out and organized.

The book opens with a word or two on materials and supplies, and then quickly launches into the various sections, which cover borders and edges; embossing and casting; drips, drops, and sprays; aging and antiquing; pens, pencils and Pastels; yarn and string; fabric and fibers; using metals; resists and masking; alcohol inks; watercolor monotypes, pyrography; washi tape; alternative surfaces; spray inks; ephemera; and finally gelatos - and I'm guessing that's not desert!

As you might guess from this, I'm not a professional artist or any kind of artist really, but I love to learn, and I learned a lot from this, including some new terms/techniques I'd never encountered before despite reading a lot of art books! Each of the above sections is broken-down into actual techniques for achieving the required effects. For example, borders and edges covers such techniques as cut, torn, and colored edges; burned edges and sharp borders; colored border effects; and applied borders.

Each section is subdivided this way with a simple, but detailed path working towards the desired outcome with step-by-step instructions augmented by photographs. For example, the section on embossing covers not only embossing by hand, but also by vehicle - yes, setting up your materials in front of the vehicle tire and driving over it to create the emboss. This section also includes making your own pulp paper, creating molds and using found objects. The section on aging and antiquing employs several methods, including recycling teabags. This is something soccer player Arrogant Alex would not be able to appreciate, I suspect!

This isn't just about method and technique - it's fundamentally about art, and some of the art work including as examples here is quite remarkable regardless of what technique was used to produce it. The picture on the tea bag antiquing page is really quite outstanding, for example, as is the ocean and beach in the section on pastels, the rose in the 3D fabric effects section, the bird and the butterfly in the candy foil accents section, the chicken in the wax-resists section, the two pictures in the cling-wrap effects, the amazing image in the using yupo section (plus now I know what yupo is!). The stag and the butterfly in the pyrography section are noteworthy. I'm not a big fan of 'day of the dead' style art, but if you are, you'll no doubt love the decorated 'coffin' in the 'burn outside the box' section.

And on that score, if this book does nothing else for you, it will unquestionably get you out of any rut you might be in, inspiring you to try something new and experiment more. Washi tape, for example, is something I learned of only very recently, and the section here on it is short, but it contains four different items on the uses of this tape. Alternative surfaces is another out-of-box experience section, covering the ABC's: acrylic, burlap, clay as well as fabric, styrofoam, wood, muslin, and glass - always a fun medium to explore in art. A word about the flammability (especially in a paint environment) and non-biodegradability of styrofoam would have been appreciated. It's a nasty material.

So overall, the book is comprehensive and really helpful. It covers a lot of ground in relatively simple steps, and will no doubt make a major contribution to any artist who wants to stretch themselves or improve on techniques they may already possess. I commend it as a worthy and education read.


Show Me Cool Magic by Jake Banfield


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a fun book in the end. it got off to a bit of a slow start for me when I realized that almost half of the book was taken up with information about staging a magic act rather than magic tricks. I started to wonder how many tricks there could be in the remaining few pages at this rate, but in the end there was a bunch of them, and while many of them are really for a young performer, and one of them was the same card trick twice, just done in a slightly different way, some of them are quite sneaky and sophisticated, so overall, I think this is a winner.

The tricks are varied and are explained by means of written instructions augmented by photographs, so in general it's clear what's happening. The trick section of the book opens with a discussion of basics covering card, coin, and 'mind reading' as well as magician's tools and troubleshooting - always good to have handy! It then lays out the tricks in three sections: openers, middles, and finales. Good to be organized!

The tricks themselves are fun. The openers include producing four aces out of a shuffled pack, reading your subject's pulse (not really - that's the illusion!), a body illusion, a vanishing pen - a neat and simple trick which is relatively easy to do with little practice. Once you've mastered that, you can also master the cut and restored shoelace trick! There is a total of ten tricks in the 'openers' section.

In the 'middles' are eleven more tricks, including the lie detector(!), jumping rings, stacked kings, pencil through a banknote, and how to make a coin appear to enter a sealed drink can! Yes, it can be done with some practice and trickery! 'Finales' brings a further nine tricks, including prediction and the always amazing cup-and-ball trick, with a surprise! In short, there is some thirty tricks here, ranging from simple, but effective, to rather more complex, but nothing that a willing child cannot do with some dedication and lots of practice. That's the real secret here: practice until you're confident, and once you master one trick, others will come a lot easier.

It doesn't matter whether you're planning on putting on a 'professional show' or you just want to learn some neat tricks to impress your friends and family, there is something here for all occasions. It's all about misdirection and illusion, and with some reading and practice, you can emulate the professionals. I commend this as a fun, worthy, and education read!


Play, Make, Create, A Process-Art Handbook by Meri Cherry


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

It's very rare for me to be disappointed by a crafts or arts book from Quarto Publishing Group, and this one is yet another winner, full of fun, color, adventure and exploration. And all this from simple ingredients. The book covers painting and crafts projects as well as out-and-out fun projects such as making your own play dough, and your own slime!

An author with the most amazing of names - Meri Cherry - brings over forty projects - she calls them invitations, because really that's what they are: invitations for younger children (and likely older ones as well) to indulge in process art. What is that exactly? The author explains, but in short it really means the point of these projects isn't the destination; it's the journey - the learning of self-sufficiency, the growing of confidence, the freedom of exploration, and the joy of creativity.

The projects include collage, salt painting, self portraits int he mirror, covering a picture with clear plastic and paining on top of that to augment the original image, drawing with eyes closed, creating 'artist trading cards', and oobleck. Yeah, that one caught me by surprise because I'd never heard it called that before and I'm not a fan of Dr Seuss. The technical term for it is a non-Newtonian fluid, which is how I know it, but oobleck works better with kids! The thing is this term was introduced before it was defined (with a recipe!) on page 40, so I was lost for a while on that one!

That aside, the book was amazing, fun, and inventive, with internal links to things that are referenced in the text. These links never have a link back to where you were, unfortunately, but my app has a feature which allows you to return to the original page after a jump like that. The problem is that Bluefire reader - an app I normally swear by for reading ebooks, got into trouble when I reached page forty - I think it was.

It wouldn't swipe past there for love or money (I tried both!) and even when I slid the little bar at the bottom of the screen, the image wouldn't switch to the next page. I don't know what that was all about. I was able to download the ARC to Adobe Digital Editions and finish reading it in there, fortunately. Just FYI! I'm not the kind of reviewer who merits a print book, which is fine with me, but it does occasionally lead to technical difficulties!

The book covers a large variety of projects, including ice sculpture (after a fashion - no chain saws involved!), volcanic eruptions, potions, and crazy contraptions in addition to a bunch of regular art ideas, so no matter what your charge is into, this book doubtlessly has a bunch of things that will interest them. I commend it as fun, educational, and confidence-building. The book even includes tips about clean up (or avoiding it by staying clean, which is even better), so what's not to like?!


Thursday, July 4, 2019

When We Became Humans by Michael Bright, Hannah Bailey


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Erratum:
On the introductory page What's a Human?' - in the section on hominins, the text reads, "Humans and are closest relatives are called hominins" I suspect it should read, 'our' closest relatives.

Written well by Bright and illustrated nicely by Bailey, this book tells of the evolution of humans over 65 million years - and yes, that's when the first mammals date back to! People often say that it was only the destruction of the dinosaurs in the penultimate extinction event (we're going through the ultimate one right now) that 'allowed' mammals to evolve to become today's dominant class of living things (aside from bacteria and viruses, that is. And beetles! LOL!).

I'm not sure I buy that. Dinosaurs, in one form or another date back to some quarter billion years ago, and they didn't start to become dominant themselves until a major extinction event from which they profited, in much the same way we profited. But could mammals have become dominant if Dinosaurs had not died out? I think they could, but there isn't any way to really know! perhaps a more interesting questions is: would humans ever have evolved if dinosaurs had not died out?

This books isn't about speculation though - it's about what actually happened as testified to by the abundant evidence we have for primate and human evolution from fossils, from genetics, and from other sources. This books starts tracing that lineage from the earliest mammals such as Purgatorius (sounds like a Roman gladiator, right?!) to Archicebus, to Aegyptopithecus. Here's a tip - any complicated fossil name like that which ends in 'pithecus' - that means it was some sort of ape or monkey. This one - the fossil of it, that is, was first found in Egypt, hence the start of the name.

A couple of others were Proconsul and Pierolapithecus. Yeah - not all names follow the same rules! Proconsul was a monkey but it cheated a bit because there was an ape in London zoo when it was discovered, that was named Consul, so this was named to indicate it came earlier than modern apes. Duhh!

In language suitable for younger children, the book explains clearly not only what we know, but how we know what we know. Evidence from anatomy, from old DNA, from comparing skeletons, and even from studying modern DNA and how modern organisms are related, can reveal a lot, when you know what you're looking for and have a competent scientific understanding. Those without such an education will draw false conclusions and even make things up. Those people are not scientists, and don't know what they're talking about. Stick with a solid 150 or so years of evolutionary science, a steadily mounting trail of reliable evidence, and a solid track record, and you won't go wrong!

Next up comes the earliest precursors of modern humans such as Australopithecus - there it is again. You now know the pithecus part, but what of the Australo-? Well, what sounds like that? Australia! That doesn't mean it was found in Australia, but that word - that prefix, means of the south. Australia's in the south and this specimen was found in the south - but of Africa. Ah you ask, so why isn't it called Africanus? Well, there is actually one called Africanus! Can't use the same name twice!

The names kept on coming. At one point there was almost no fossil evidence for human evolution; now, scientists are finding it regularly as they learn more about where to look. The book discusses these findings, including what these primitive people ate (and yes, by this point they were more like people than like apes), where they lived, and how they worked with tools.

The scientist sho study these things have found evidence of rock shelters where primitive humans lived the fires they made, and the tools they created. They even named one species 'handyman' - Homo for 'human' and 'habilis' for handy - that is, they were good with their hands. The name is often shortened to H. habilis - the first part always with a capital letter, the second part always lower case. They weren't handy because they lived close by and could come over and fix something for you at short notice! Once the 'H's started showing up, many more were found and this book does a great job of laying out the story, and illustrating how they might have looked - remember we have only the skeletons, so we have to kind of guess how they looked, and one guess is as good as another!

H. heildebergensis and the Neanderthals are discussed next, the mysterious Denisovans, and even the 'hobbit' people - H. floresiensis! But you know what? All of these have disappeared, leaving humans: H. sapiens, as the sole surviving member of our genus (the genus is the first bit, the H, the species is the second bit, the sapiens. If there's a third bit, its a sub-species. All modern humans, no matter whether they look exactly like you or a bit different, no matter what country they live in or what they wear or believe, or eat or do everyday, are this same species. There's a chart toward the end of the book laying out all of these human and near-human species.

The book discusses how this all began in Africa, how the giant mammals of the world died out, and how humans spread from Africa to occupy every content on the planet - the most wide-spread single species there is. Maybe apart from rats. And mice. And bacteria. And viruses! I guess that's quite a few of us, huh?! There's a nice map showing how humans spread across the globe near the end of the book.

We went on - as the book makes clear, to refine our tools, to invent the wheel, to invent glue to hold weapons together to go hunting and to protect ourselves, to beginning agriculture, to domesticating animals - including the wolf which we now keep as dogs - and to inventing video games. Wow! Actually the book doesn't say that last bit - I added it myself. Bu we learned how to make things and then trade them with other communities to get other stuff that we couldn't find or make. Then came trade tariffs. Actually, I added that bit as well!

We went far beyond that over time to grow into and create the complicated world humans inhabit now. The book discusses healthcare, jewelry, art, and monument building, and then writing came along, of course, so we could record everything we did in order to benefit future generations - and this book is one of those results! I commend it as a fun, interesting, educational, and very worthy read.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Primates : the fearless science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani, Maris Wicks


Rating: WORTHY!

Louise Leakey, the renowned, if controversial Kenyan paleoanthropologist, got three things unquestionably right - he talked Jane Goodall into studying chimpanzees, recruited Dian Fossey to study gorillas, and Biruté Galdikas to study orangutans. Each of these three were each self-starting groundbreakers in their respective fields: hard-workers who contributed immensely to our understanding of these three major primates, which in turn helped us to understand both ourselves and the primitive hominids that Leakey himself was studying.

I've read and enjoyed books written by each of these three "Trimates" as Leakey referred to them, and so it might seem strange to then go on and read a necessarily limited graphic novel about them, but I admire them immensely and I found this book amusing, educational, and well-worth reading as an introduction. It's suitable for young and old alike, and so serves its purpose well. It's divided into three sections, one for each of them, beginning with Goodall, then moving on to Fossey and Galdikas in turn, including sections in between where all three meet, albeit on very rare occasions. You can find photos online of these encounters along with much material about their research.

Only Galdikas, the youngest of the three, still remains in the field so to speak, having married a "local" and taken up residence down there, and she continues her research. Fossey was murdered brutally on St Stephen's day in 1985, and Goodall is in her mid-eighties, but still an energetic advocate for chimpanzees. I enjoyed this book and commend it as a worthy read.


Kitchen Science Lab for Kids by Liz Lee Heinecke


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

You can't have a poetical name like 'Liz Lee Heinecke' - and that last name redolent of my favorite Dutch lager, without a certain confidence that whatever she cooks up in the kitchen will be worth followinbg. Not that I've cooked up any yet, but I have my list of ingredients prepared so I can try at least a couple of them over the July 4th weekend. I;ve made jelly rolls before, but never a tie-dyed one, so that's on the list. Plus I need the food coloring for another project related to my 'The Little Rattuses' series!

This book here is dubbed the 'Edible Edition' but I'm not sure why - unless the print version is printed with vegetable ink on rice paper or something! I suspect it's because there are other labs, and this is the one working with actual food. Overall I found it enjoyable. It is full of great ideas for fun foods and drinks, but more than this, it offers some science tips on why foods bake, cook, ferment, rise, and otherwise behave the way they do when manipulated in our kitchens. This was a fun twist that I really enjoyed because knowing some science is never a bad thing.

This book covers simple projects like 'mere' decoration (that's not 'decoration of meres' but decoration of foods, BTW), to tastier treats like desserts, as well as drinks, main courses, snacks and sauces (again with the poetry!), so there ought to be something for everyone. All of these recipes are nut-free and other potential allergens are identified, so those fears are also addressed. The preparations are aimed at being child-friendly too, so there are advisories about potential problem areas where an adult might be needed or is required.

The recipes begin not only with a complete list of ingredients, but also any other items needed to complete it successfully, and each step is laid out with a photograph so you can make sure you're staying on track - assuming you can keep your mind off sampling those ingredients along the way! There's a richness of recipes and no frugality of finished foods to enjoy when you're done. It's fun, easy to follow, great to look at, and it's educational! Who could ask for a more useful book than this? I commend this one as a worthy read followed by a worthy eat!


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Papa Put a Man on the Moon by Kristy Dempsey, Sarah Green


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a charming book for kids that runs along the lines of 'every little helps'. Papa had nothing to do with the Moonshot or with landing anyone anywhere, except in that he worked at a clothing factory and it happened to be one that produced a part of the lining for the Apollo space suit, so in the end, something he had touched in the course of his work went to the Moon and helped keep the astronauts safe while on the surface.

Sadly the book doesn't touch on the complexity of the Apollo Moon suit - or extra vehicular mobility unit in such typically tedious governmental jargon labeling that it was known as the EMU. Seriously. The suit was so complex that it took three years to design it and then another several years of modifications to reach the suit that was worn for the later Apollo missions. The one worn to the Moon debuted in early 1969 with Apollo nine. They were produced by ILC Dover which believe it or not was a subsidiary of Playtex, of bra fame, back then. The total weight of the suit all told was 200 pounds, but out in space and in the Moon's low gravity, it wasn't that much to carry.

The suit consisted of thirteen layers of materials designed to insulate, protect, and prevent air escaping, including rubber coated nylon, aluminized Mylar, Dacron, Kapton film, and Teflon-coated 'Beta filament cloth' to provide protection from fire after the horrible Apollo One fire in 1967. Naturally a children's book isn't the place to go into all that technical detail, but a word or two about the complexity would have been a good move. That aside, I liked this book for the unusual approach it took and for encouraging children to believe they can make a difference no matter what they feel is their lot in life.