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

Sunday, December 16, 2018

101 Textures in Oil and Acrylic by Mia Tavonatti


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled 'Practical techniques for rendering a variety of surfaces' this book of well-over 100 pages demonstrates, with illustrated steps, how to achieve an amazing variety of realistic artistic effects, from creating skin, hair, feathers and fur to rock, pebbles, fabric, glass, copper, thatched roof, water, fruit, plants, and on and on.

To be honest, one or two of the results looked a little off to my admittedly un-artistic eye, but the overwhelming majority of them were quite stunning and highly impressive. That's more than likely because this artist teaches her subject and has been painting and teaching for some two decades, working multiple professional jobs for a variety of well-known commercial employers, and winning awards. I've seen her described as "internationally acclaimed and sought-after muralist, illustrator, painter and mosaicist." and after reading this book, I have no problem not only believing that, but also understanding why.

Each page covers a different topic, but is set up in the same easy-to-follow style, with an illustrative image from the author's own work, accompanied by detailed step-by-step instructions for achieving the end result, and I guarantee if you can follow these steps, you can achieve the same kind of result, and improve your work immensely, if these images are anything to go by.

If I were less into writing and more into art, I would definitely have an easel up and be practicing these techniques. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in a day, so until I can move to a planet that has a longer day, I'm happy to learn something from a master and perhaps use what I've learned to bring a character into a more sharply-focused life in a novel somewhere. For those who are into their art and have the time to work it, I commend this book as a worthy addition to any artist's library of resources.


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Illuminatlas by Kate Davies


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Despite the fact that I am rating this as a worthy read, because for young and inquisitive kids I don't doubt that it will be fun and educational, I have to say that I saw little point in sending this book out as an ebook for review purposes without the accompanying colored 'lenses', because without those three lenses, whether this book is print or electronic, you are completely unable to gage the quality and utility of the images!

Those pictures are printed in three colors, and when viewed through of one the three lenses, red, blue, or green, reveal different things. For each continent ion this atlas, red revealed cultural highlights, blue revealed natural wonders, and green revealed the continental outline and surrounding ocean.

I am not a professional reviewer. I don't get paid for this. I don't even ask for thanks (and rarely get it!) for any of the getting on for three thousand reviews I've posted on this blog. I review books because I love books, and because I think good books deserve promotion, especially when they're aimed at children. So I do not merit print versions of books even when they're designed as print books.

All I get is the ebook, and in order to fully review this particular one properly, I had to do a screen-capture on a couple of images, import then into an art program I have, add a transparent layer to it, color that layer in each of the three primary colors in turn, and then reduce the opacity of that color by 25% in order to see the image below and gather what it is I'm supposed to see when the reader looks at these pages through one of the colored lenses. Consequently I did not do this for all images! I did get the picture though - literally - and it's quite fund when viewed not just through that lends, but through a child's eyes. It's rather reminiscent of that 2004 movie National Treasure where the trio is looking at the map thorough the different colored lenses of Ben Franklin's spectacles.

So again, while I wonder what the publisher was thinking in issuing this for review sans lenses, and while I'd personally have some reticence about buying a book which has not one, but three separate additional and crucial components to it, any one of which could become lost and spoil the experience, I still have to say that I consider it a worthy read provided you can use the lenses (or fashion an adequate substitute for any that get lost). It's fun for kids to explore things by themselves and take control of their reading experience, and it is magical to discover how light can hide and reveal secrets.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Super Structures by Ian Graham, Ian Murray


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Yes, it’s the attack of the Ians! Super Structures by Ian Graham and Ian Murray, and reviewed by Ian Wood! It's a short (~20 pages), well-illustrated book about engineering feats: bridges, towers, skyscrapers, wind turbines and so on. It explains in some detail, but not overmuch, what they are, how they work and how they are built. It’s a great idea for a young, budding engineer or architect, or for any kid who loves to find out how things work.

It goes into a little bit of depth about the history of the structures, too: how this kind of building first began and how such feats are developed, which bridges came first, what the main types are, and how the newer, larger ones manage to stay up. I even discusses different kinds of windmills (the modern sort!), so I learned something there that I did not know. Did you know that the most common kind of modern windmill is HAWT?! We have a whole bunch of those west of where I live in Texas.

The colored drawings are detailed without being architectural, and so are pleasing to the eye, entertaining, and educational. The writing is factual and brief, but still with enough detail to engage young minds and to educate. I liked this book and I think any kid with an ounce of curiosity would - and which kid doesn’t have that?! I commend it as a worthy read.


Who are You Calling Weird? by Marilyn Singer


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a treasure trove of joyful illustration and rewarding information about weirdoes among the animal world. I'm quite well read about the natural world, and especially about oddball critters, but this book held some surprises for me. Some of these animals I had never heard of before; some I am quite familiar with, such as the narwhal, and the pangolin, but I'd never heard, for example, of the Pacific barreleye which is a startling creature to say the least. If someone had invented that for a sci-fi story you would never have believed it.

The book covers over twenty animals, including humans who are in some ways the weirdest of all. The illustrations were colorful and amusing, and the book very educational and eye-opening (barreleye-opening in my case!). I thought it was wonderful and a great way to fascinate a child with the wonders of our natural world, and how delicate and rare they are, and how much they need our love and protection. I commend it unreservedly.


Ella Queen of Jazz by Helen Hancocks


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a very short book - effectively only thirteen pages - aimed at a children's audience, to introduce them to a true diva, but for me it missed the mark. I don't lower my expectations for children's literature, but this book seemed to, and the ebook version - which as an amateur reviewer was the only one I had access to - was missing text on at least two pages as far as I could tell. Hopefully the print version is complete!

Ella Fitzgerald was known for her singing talent and in her earlier years for her love of dancing, but I didn't get any of that feeling for her out of this book which seemed more like it was interested in telling the tale of a struggling artist than telling that and the much more joyous success story - with a huge love of singing - that she became. Her career began when she wanted to enter amateur night at the Apollo theater, but was intimidated with regard to her dancing, so she chose to sing instead. She won first prize.

That pivotal moment was completely bypassed in this book, which began when she was already a mature performer. The first two pages which were, I assume, double-page spreads in the print version, simply showed her singing, with neither words nor descriptive text. The pages were not numbered, but the e-numbering at the bottom of the screen showed the first text appearing on page 'seven' where it began, "Before long, Ella was taking her music up and down the country" - so, story already in progress. It was a bit of a sour note for me.

While the illustrations were colorful if nothing extraordinary, and the text did tell her career story in brief, nowhere was there a song lyric. I know to quote whole lyrics demands all kinds of permissions, but to fail to quote even a line here and there, which is entirely permissible, was unconscionable for a story about someone of Fitzgerald's pedigree and contribution to music. We learned nothing of her childhood or influences, but first encounter her on the road, running from one gig to another.

There's a brief mention of how Marilyn Monroe helped her get a gig at a venue where 'coloreds' were typically not welcomed, and this boosted her career too, but then the story is pretty much over. On the 'Marilyn' page there were two speech balloons which contained no text. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but after the obviously missing text earlier in the book, it was irritating to be left in the dark about whether this was purposeful or not. Keeping Marilyn's name secret for a couple of pages previously seemed fatuous. I don't imagine for a minute than any child reading this has a clue who Marilyn Monroe was. Well, she was Norma Jean Baker! But kids today won't know that either so the reason that this section was written this way was obscure.

I felt this was a chance to really talk about a powerful and influential woman of color, and it was lost. I know for a book for young children, you can't go into huge amounts of detail and technical matters, but for a book for children, it helps to connect to them by showing that Ella was herself a young child at one point who came from poor circumstances, but who loved music and dance, and who overcame setbacks to reach success on her own merit. It could have been so inspirational, but to me it did neither her nor the young reader any favors. It essentially told a rather plodding story of how a white woman 'saved' a 'helpless' black woman, and it felt patronizing. Consequently I'm not able to commend this as a worthy read.


Planet Earth by John Farndon, Tim Hutchinson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Don't tell me you didn't want to know this 'Stuff you should know about'. There are adults who could learn a lot from this, but it's aimed at younger readers, with dazzling, full-page (and multi-page!) illustrations and quite a bit of text. It explains Earth, from the core to the sky, and from dusk until dawn, and from north to south, and from dry to wet - in short, everything that goes on with Earth as a planet is in here: How does the Earth move and orbit, how night and day work, why the moon seems to change over the course of a month, what's under the Earth's crust and how does this make continents move? It covers volcanoes and mountains, rocks and water, air and clouds. It digs into caverns and ocean trenches, and discusses storms, rain and the wind, and offers tips on becoming your own weather forecaster!

Designed from the ground up as a print book, this doesn't work too well as an ebook which is the only version I had access to, and especially not on a smart phone! Even on a decently-sized tablet though, the illustrations need to be stretched to read the text. Some of the pages were single screen, but most were a double-page spread, and some were multipage spreads - I imagine the actual book has some pages where a leaf on one page or both folds out to double the size of the illustration.

I'm by no means a scientist, but I am well-read in the sciences for an amateur and I saw no problems with any of the information here, so I commend it as a worthy and very educational read which will answer pretty much any question a younger child has, and stir up a passion to go find out more detail in older children.

I don't know if the ebook review version, which is the only version an amateur reviewer like myself ever gets access to, was abridged, but mine was in two different downloads. The book is numbered through page 80, where the index begins (there's also a glossary), but the ebook numbering on the bottom of my screen went only to page 21! Now some pages where multi=page spreads, so for example what was listed as page 10 by the ebook reader was numbered on the pages form 20 through 23, but even so, the page numbering went only to 57 on my ebook, so I was missing about a third of the book.

It was also difficult to maneuver in the ebook version - hard to swipe from one page to the next, and troublesome to stretch the pages to read some of the text. Also, it was a bit slow to load the next page. I commend this book as a worthy read (assuming the print book has all the pages!) and based on reading only about two-thirds of it, but I cannot commend the ebook version (assuming that there is one, based on my experience of this review copy.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dan Zane's House Party by Dan Zane, Donald Saaf, Claudia Eliaza


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is one party that got my vote! It's a fun and educational look at folk songs from a wealth and variety of origins, from the 'A' landmasses: Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Australia, and they even let in the 'E' landmass: Europe, along with some island nations, so that pretty much covers everywhere. Curiously, Antarctica didn't get a shout. I don't know why!

There is a brief, but interesting introduction by the author, followed by the song discussed, and accompanied with music notation by Claudia Eliaza, and cute illustrations by Donald Saaf. The list contains songs you have undoubtedly heard of, some of which have become popular hits in the west, along with many you probably haven't heard of, some of which have been hits in the past or in non-English languages.

The collection is extensive and is backed by an index, but since this is evidently designed as a print book, that index isn't tappable, to take you to the song listed. Neither is the contents list, but the search function in my ebook reader works well! The book also has chord diagrams. The songs are divided into interestingly-named categories:

  • Songs of Wonder & Waves
  • Songs of Dust and Sunshine
  • Songs Heard From Open Windows
  • Songs of Gusto and Celebration
  • Songs of Love and Community
  • Songs of Childhood and Morning Dreams
  • Songs of Mystery and Miles

This was a fun read and I am sure you can find many of these songs on You Tube or some other online venue to get a feel for how they sound and for the tempo and rhythm, although there are no links in the book. Such links would have been useful. I was able to find pretty much every one I looked for although I only looked for a random sample of them.

One other thing I thought would have been useful was translations. Some of the songs are not in English and no translation of the words is given. While they no doubt sound great in the foreign tongue (a couple that i listened to did, particularly Pigogo, I felt it would have been nice to know what those tongues are saying!

That aside, I think this is a fun and instructional book, and a worthy read for anyone interested in the history and sound of folk songs and I commend it.


The Little Book of Cartooning & Illustration by Maury Aaseng, Clay Butler, Jim Campbell, Dan D'Addario, Alex Hallat, Joe Oesterie


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a book I could only review in ebook format whereas the book is clearly designed as a print book, having prepared pages for you to practice the very lessons which are taught here. nut 'lesson' makes it sound much more formal than it really is, and much less fun!

The book begins with some simple rules for drawing and then tells you how and when to break them! Can't argue with that! The first topic is heads and faces, and all that go with them: eyes, ears, noses, expressions. After this it moves on to drawing hands and feet and then whole bodies, and adding color. It goes on to discuss animals and inanimate objects, scenes and gags, and caricatures; in short, everything you'll need to get started - assuming you're willing to take the bit between your teeth, say 'the heck with detractors', and actually get started creating your own images!

The written advice is short, simple, and broken into easy-to-follow steps, and the steps are accompanied by drawings illustrating how the drawing will progress. I found this book illuminating and instructive, and I commend it as a worthy read for anyone interested in cartooning or art in general for that matter.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Egypt Magnified by David Long


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Technically this is Ancient Egypt Magnified, but I'll let that slide! I have no idea how much work it took to create this picture book for children (and even a few adults, I'll be bound!), but I will testify from my own experience that it had to be a heck of a lot.

The patience involved in this kind of detailed work is stunning. In a small way, it's reminiscent of the Where's Waldo books, but other than a superficial resemblance, it's a very different book. It does involve some spotting of people among a crowd of similar-looking people, but the underlying power of this book is educational, and in that as well as in visual appeal, it runs like an Egyptian Mau (which in case you don't know, is a very sleek and fast domestic cat and a descendent of African wild cats).

Each double-page covers an aspect of ancient life or history in a country which is replete with historical depth. The pages show hundreds of ancient Egyptians living, moving and having their being, involved in all kinds of activities from farming, to pyramid construction, to parades, to mining, and on and on. I don't think there's anything that isn't covered.

Note that this is designed as a print book so even on a tablet computer, the text is very small. You'll need to stretch it to read it, or buy the print version. It's not designed to be an ebook, unless you own one of those television-sized super pad devices, but the ebook is the only version I had access to for this review.

Note also that the author encourages the use of a magnifying glass (hence the title!) to spy-out the 'search' items on each page, which sounds like fun for a young kid. On a tablet, you really don't need one, since you can splay your fingers and enlarge the image, but if your kid isn't up to that, a magnifying glass would work too. The images in the ebook version were a bit blurry when enlarged. I assume that's because the images were low-resololution to keep the file size down, and that the print version will be sharper, but this is only a guess on my part.

Each page contains a couple of short, but information-packed paragraphs about life, as well as a key to ten things or people you can find in the picture, and what those particular things and people represent. There's also a quiz at the end to see if you recall where you saw certain images. On top of that's a primer on hieroglyphics, a glossary of terms, and a timeline of Egyptian history, highlighting the highlights! In short, it's perfect.

I had to do some research on Egyptian ancient history for a section of my novel Tears in Time and also for the more recently released Cleoprankster so I know without even having to look anything up that this author knows what he's talking about.

There are some areas of Egyptian history that are obscure - such as exactly how those huge stones were hauled up those even huger pyramids. I can pretty much promise you it wasn't up a long straight ramp like the one depicted in the fanciful movie 10,000 BC! Such a ramp would require hauling more material than the pyramid itself! Whether it was by an encircling ramp as is depicted here or some other method, such as levering the stones up the stepped outside of the pyramid, or by my personal favorite of maneuvering them up an internal ramp (at least in the later, larger pyramids) is hard to say without further research or discovery.

There's no de-Nile - everything a kid could ever want to know about ancient Egypt is most certainly here for their enjoyment, from ankh to Zoser (okay, Djoser, gimme a break!), and from mummy (which is a bit graphic be warned!) to sun worship, and everything in between. I commend this as a fun and education read for children of all ages.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

En Plein Air Watercolor by Ron Stocke


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is the second of two complimentary books, the first dealing with acrylic, this one dealing with watercolor, a medium that is often taught first to young students, when perhaps acrylic ought to be taught instead. This artist has three decades of experience in the art world and specializes in watercolor.

This doesn't prevent him from conveying the important message that if you want to paint, you should learn to draw. Drawing is another way of seeing - a more concrete way in some regards, in that it captures the important details - not every detail, but the ones that made that big impression on you - on paper, so the importance of having a sketchbook to hand, of seeing what it is you want to paint, and reinforcing it in a sketch is invaluable.

Watercolor paintings start not with water or with color, but with that sketch: rough out the pictures you think you might want to paint. Paint only those you want! Keep sketches simple. This advice comes out of the first few pages of this book and seems like a sound beginning to me!

The author opens with this and with a discussion on perspective and subjects for drawing, before it heads into a discussion of equipment followed by a section on tension in pictures and how to avoid it, subject placement and so on. The details are paradoxically brief, but quite in depth and very educational.

The book contained a wealth of tips and suggestions about things people starting out may not consider much - such as how to paint windows, how to make shadows realistic and what separates a shadow from a reflection (other than the seemingly obvious!). These are the truly useful benefits of an author's long experience and while an artist is always growing into their own, it does no harm at all to pick up advice along the way and adapt it to make it your own.

As with the other book, the art is different for each person who sees it: some we feel is great, some not so great, some unappealing, some brilliant. Some of the paintings in this book are quite startling and made me see watercolor in a new way. I particularly liked English garden on page 52, Elliot Bay Marina on page 92 (the depiction of the water was masterful) and Solo in Paris on the next page, both of which were used in illustration of capturing realistic reflections.

Like the acrylic book, this one is also designed as a print book and the ebook version on my tablet did not allow viewing of the entire image on some of the images (particularly toward the end of the book) that ran across more than one page. This is a problem with ebooks. Some I have seen presented as two-page images when they should have been shown as single pages. In this case, the opposite applies: it really should have been viewable as double-page images otherwise the educational power and import of what the artist is trying to show us is diminished annoyingly.

But that did not rob this book of its value. I know a lot more about watercolor now that I did before and I find it a fascinating medium! Consequently I commend this book as a worthy read! The author's website is at ronstocke.com.


En Plein Air: Acrylic by Mark Mehaffey


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I'm not a painter or artist of any kind notwithstanding my The Little Rattuses children's book series which is far more cartoonish than ever I'd label it art, but like they say: I may not know much about art but I know what I like, and it is a truism! Art, as a form of beauty, is very much in the eye of the beholder.

That doesn't mean we can't learn to better appreciate more of it, and to me that's why it's always useful to read a book like this one, which is not so much about art appreciation, but very much about art creation, particularly in the outdoors (the En Plein Air of the title) - and importantly how to travel light when you're on an expedition to find a locale and capture something there on canvas.

It occurs to me that there's no better way to appreciate art than to understand from an artist's perspective, what it takes to put together an eye-catching painting. This is the first of two En Plein Air book I shall be reviewing. The other is about watercolor - a medium that is often taught to kids in primary school, which is probably a bad idea, but while on the one hand it is an unfortunately cheap and favored solution, on the other, it is an introduction to art, and any such intro is better than none, I guess!

I have to say that the book is aimed at a print book audience, so the ebook version I had to review sliced up some of the paintings, and failed to show pages in juxtaposition, thereby diluting if not derailing the author's message and making it harder to compare one with another when you had to keep sliding the screen back and forth instead of sliding your eyes back and forth.

I've seen some ebooks that did present as a two-page view and I typically found that annoying since there seemed to be no reason for it, but in this case, there really was a valid reason to show the book in this format and it was viewable only as single pages, which downright spoiled parts of it. But as an amateur reviewer, ebooks are the new print copies, I'm sorry to say!

But anyway! The author starts out by briefly introducing the medium and the tools by which it is applied, talking about acrylic paints, and about canvases, brushes, and techniques for bringing all three together into a harmonious result. It's a bit like magic, isn't it?! The brushes are the wands, the medium is the spell and the painted canvas is the result.

Referring often to his own long experience, the author discusses lighting, paint hues, tints, tones and shades, paint temperature (and no it's not about freezing your butt off while sitting outdoors painting!) and about differences between acrylic and oil - and it's not just the price! There are even differences within acrylics which are well-worth knowing. There are many photographs - of paintings! - which admirably illustrate the points he makes in the brief, but highly illuminating text sections.

I have to say that some of the pictures did not look great to me, but many of them have an impressionistic element to them and I am not a big fan of the impressionists. I can't say how this author (who was a public school art instructor for some three decades) would describe his own work; I can only speak to how it appears to my amateur eyes, but to them, other paintings looked wonderful.

Talking of impressionism, two of these really made an impression on me. My favorite was the Morning Glow which he included on page 98 in a discussion of temperature blending. That painting was great and truly captured its subject. The two paintings on the next page, Corner in Winter and Deep Woods Violets were worthy of a special mention, too.

The other painting was revealed in stages starting on page 84, as the artist walks us through putting together an entire painting from scratch: how he does it and what his thinking is at each stage. This was very educational. The interesting thing for me though, was that I considered the painting to be perfect and highly atmospheric on only step three, and liked it less well as other elements were added to complete it in step 6.

It just goes to ask that old question: if a work of art ever really complete, and how do you know if it is? Eye of the beholder again! Another example was when I thought the pencil sketch made to assess values for a painting on page 82 was more impressive than the painting which is led to, but maybe that's just me! I'm sure you'll find your own likes, dislikes, and loves here as anyone would.

So I thought this book was well-worth the reading and if you don't find fresh inspiration and a renewed drive to go out there and do it after reading this, then it's all on you - right next to those paint splashes! I commend it as a worthy read. You can find the author's website at markmehaffeyfineart.com.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Complete Book of Calligraphy Lettering by Cari Ferraro, Eugene Metcalf, Arthur Newhall, John Stevens


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book is exactly what it claims to be - complete! At least as far as a rank amateur like me can tell!

It contains everything from start to finish with information about pens, paper, brushes and even chalk. It covers a variety of alphabets and gives numerous detailed examples not only of how to create a beautiful calligraphic end result, but even down to the details of how to create each letter:- which strokes to use and which direction to draw them in, in black and colored ink and in an almost bewildering variety of styles, from simple lettering (no that any calligraphy is truly simple!) to exotic stuff with all the curlicues and flourishes you could hope for. Ancient and modern, elegant and edgy, it's all here.

I am about as far from a calligraphy expert as you can get, but I was impressed by the sheer amount of example and detail - some 240 pages of it, and the hints and tips which were included frequently. My guess is that if you cannot get these skills down from reading this, following the examples and practice, practice, practice, then you never will, so I commend this as a one-stop shop for learning this fine art.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Who Will Roar if I Go? by Paige Jaeger, Carol Hill Quirk


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Illustrated beautifully by artist Carol Hill Quirk, and written poetically by the author with the highly appropriate name of Paige Jaeger (Jaeger in German means 'hunter'! Page Hunter? Great name for a writer! LOL!), this book highlights some of the endangered animals on the planet, and we really need to start paying close attention.

We need to focus not just on the species charmingly depicted in this book, but to entire ecosystems that we are despoiling not only through hunting, poaching, and habitat destruction, but also through climate change, which notwithstanding our idiot president's delusional view of science, IS caused by humans, IS happening right now, and IS dangerously affecting the entire planet.

The lion is considered a 'vulnerable' species, which is only one step up from endangered. The gorilla is critically endangered, which is one step below 'merely' endangered. Well over a thousand rhinos were killed by poachers in 2015. Their population cannot remotely sustain such wanton murder. The western black rhino and the northern white rhino are already extinct along with a sub-species of the Javan rhino. We will never see their like again. The rest of the Javan, and also the Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered, and the Indian rhino is vulnerable.

In the mid-nineteen thirties - Ernest Hemingway's puffed-up 'Great' White Hunter era - there may have been as many five million elephants in Africa. Now there is far less than a million. The tiger is Asian, and it's endangered. There is much less than four thousand of them left in the wild. Most zebra species are endangered. One of them, the quagga, is already extinct.

The quetzal bird is much better off, being 'only' near-threatened, while the Chinese giant salamander is critically endangered because the idiot Chinese hunt it for food and medicine. The North American Karner blue butterfly - which I have to be honest and say the art in this case does not do justice to (sorry, Ms. Quirk!) - is vulnerable, and all eight species of the pangolin - which live across the southern hemisphere and which are utterly adorable - are threatened with extinction. Despite China doing the right thing (but perhaps only because it's a national treasure) the panda is still considered vulnerable.

This gorgeous picture book is the beginning of what I hope will be a successful and informative series because it has a lot of potential not only to do good, but to be inventive in how it informs readers. This first makes a colorful statement and a plaintive call for help.

There's a glossary of long words in the back. I would have liked to have seen a short section giving some details - for the grownups! - in the back along with some ways they could help - for example by means of listing URLs of conservation and wildlife protection organizations, but any enterprising adult ought to be able to find those for herself these days. Other than that I though this was a treasure and I commend it for its message and its presentation.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

March of the Suffragettes by Zach Jack


Rating: WORTHY!

This marks my 2,800 book review! Yeay me!

A century ago this year, in Britain, Parliament granted the right to vote to women, but only if they were homeowners over the age of thirty! This purported enfranchisement still very effectively disenfranchised the majority of women. Thankfully that has changed now, inevitably for the better, but there was a fight on both sides of the Atlantic for a woman's right to have a say in the largely old white male government which dictated how she should live her day-to-day life.

While in Britain the fight got quite brutal, in the US it was rather more gentile, and a leading light in this 'fight' was a woman in her late twenties from a privileged background, who led a march from New York to Albany to present a request to the newly-elected governor in New York state.

Somewhat misleadingly subtitled "Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the March for Voting Rights" this library print book aimed at younger readers, began as a real disappointment because the male author seemed like he was far more interested in talking about press coverage of the march by the male reporters than ever he was about the women enduring the march. Since it seems like he took his entire story from newspaper reports I guess this isn't surprising, but it makes for a disappointingly thin story.

Thankfully this approach seemed to change about halfway through and the story became much more palatable. Even then though, we got to learn very little about the women involved. I am far from a Stephen King fan so I do not demand the entire life history of a character back through three generations. I can do very well without that, but a little bit of background in this case would have been nice.

This highlights the weakness of the author's approach because investigative reporting wasn't a thing back then. The old boys reporters club was more interested in pointing out the cute women marchers and the hiccups along the route than in actually doing any real stories on the marchers, and I'm guessing that's why the author offers no background. There was none in the newspaper sources he used and he was too lazy to do any digging of his own.

Another weakness at times was his style. At one point when he was talking about a rousing speech delivered by Jessie Stubbs, he said, "Here was a woman who would not be slowed by excessive baggage or supposed burdens of her sex," but this was right after he had, in two different successive paragraphs, loaded her with precisely that baggage by describing what she was wearing. This is a typical journalistic approach to describing women subjects of a news report, but not when describing men! So please, journalists do not burden your female subjects with this excessive baggage and burden of her sex! Good lord!

Rosalie Gardiner Jones was a remarkable young woman who was influenced by the Pankhursts in Britain (Emmeline nee Goulden, and her daughter Christabel), although the book won't tell you this. In late 1912 when this march took place - just months after the Titanic sank with 1500 people preserved in icepick. Rosalie was just 27 when she led her group of varying size (sometimes it was down to only the three core marchers) over a hundred-fifty miles due north. They walked all the way, blisters and all, through fog, rain, and snow.

Many towns along the way took the opportunity to hold fetes and welcome the visitors. The support they had was surprisingly diverse and commonly to be found. The coverage they got was international. The march really was a game-changer. Sometimes men would march with them. They were kindly treated by police it would seem. Some senior police officials would come out from their towns and walk or ride along with the march as they entered their domain. One factory owner apparently supported the march and allowed his female employees an afternoon off (without pay of course) to march with the group. This was interesting because at the same point in the journey, the marchers were joined by female students from Vassar college who, the author tells us refused to associate with the factory girls, so not all rights were being represented here.

The press coverage though was a part of the problem because in the first half of the book we learned very little about Rosalie and her marching partners Sibyl Wilbur, Ida Craft and the feisty Lavinia Dock who was in her fifties at the time of the march). The even more feisty Inez Craven, who seems to have been lost to history was also on and off the march, somewhat scandalously so at times. She was of the more proactive British origins. Jessie Stubbs was also there from time to time but she commuted back and forth delivering press reports. Jesse made an important speech along the route and was known for urging women to refuse to bear children until war was abolished. She died apparently by suicidal drowning less than a decade after the march and only a year after the nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

Later in the book, we did learn a little about Rosalie's mother. The young marcher spent a part of the trip fearing her wealthy upper-class helicopter mom would come down there and wrench her wayward daughter away from this folly! The author won't tell you this (at least I don't recall reading it), but her mother was a member of the anti-suffrage league! There were a couple of other issues with this author's habit of omitting or worse, inventing information. The first of these is that while the author does reference certain material (references are pretty much always to newspaper articles), he makes up an entire story about how Christmas was spent and offers no references at all.

There's a huge difference between telling a story based on historical fact, and fabricating one, and that latter is what would seem to be happening there. There's also an outright fabrication, when the author mentions suffragette Gretchen Langley rowing away from the sinking Titanic in rough seas! No, she did not. If there is one consistent agreement among all Titanic survivors, it's how mirror-calm the sea was that night. The ocean was like glass, and that's what Langley would have rowed in. The next day as dawn broke and rescue finally seemed a hope, the seas did kick up more roughly, but by then the Titanic was some two thousand fathoms down, and no one was rowing away from it. On the contrary. Through the night and as daylight dawned, they would have been rowing toward one another to secure the lifeboats to each other for safety.

How times have changed, and how times haven't. It was a sixty-year battle to get to the 19th amendment to the US constitution adopted and even then women were far, far from equality. This same battle goes on today albeit in different arenas. I commend this not because it's a great book, but because it does cover, albeit in amateur fashion, an important step on a too-long road to equality, but if you can find something better, then please read that instead.


Faces From the Past by James M Deem


Rating: WORTHY!

There are few places where science and art intersect more masterfully than in forensic face reconstruction. Most people who have heard of this might associate it with a modern murder investigation, but it is often used to see how someone looked who lived long ago. This book describes some North American cases, which seem disproportionately to favor the Albany, New York area, for some reason, but which cover other skeletal remains, too.

The reconstructions cover a long time period, from the ten thousand year old man from Spirit Cave, to much more recent skeletal remains, such as 'Buffalo' soldiers of the "Indian wars" (which were really white folk wars, let's face it!). The first chapter is about Spirit Cave, and other chapters cover a sailor who died apparently of dehydration during the disastrous La Salle exploration of America's gulf coast during the late seventeenth century, the forgotten slave burials at Schuyler Flatts, a Mexican soldier from San Jacinto, and six Chinese miners from Wyoming, among others. Each chapter gives background history of events and habits and customs, and provides copious photographs and illustrations, while discussing the discovery of the remains, the decision to create a likeness, and the process, and the artist who did the job.

Reconstructions literally put a face on our past, and examining remains can inform us about the lifestyle of the person whose body has been found - including how brutal it was for slaves. This book is one of a number which cover this kind of work, and it is particularly good in how it tells these stories. It's also eminently suitable for younger readers, some of whom may well end-up making a career in this line of work. I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Soar, Adam, Soar by Rick Prashaw


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a very personal account of a family event that has much wider implications. I'd like to say it was told well, but I can't, because it was disjointed and disorganized and sometimes hard to keep track of where we were at, but even so I consider it a worthy read because it's an important story. It's also a very tragic story, and while all deaths like this are heart-breaking, it's hard to become emotionally involved when it's not someone with whom I am personally familiar. I can become emotionally moved by the greater story though, of endless people who are persecuted and brutalized for their perceived 'non-conformance' to so-called 'norms' of one sort or another, in this case, gender.

Adam Prashaw was not brutalized, as some have been, with violence and rejection by peers or parents, but he was knocked around by two things: the system, which does not make it easy for a person born in the wrong body to correct that situation, and by the fact that Adam also suffered from epilepsy, and it was this which killed him at an appallingly young age by dint of the fact that he drowned in a hot tub in the few minutes while his friends were absent, succumbing to a seizure which everyone thought and hoped had been cured by brain surgery only a few months before.

Obviously there are lessons to be learned here, such as that epilepsy, like alcoholism, is never really cured and we must be vigilant over those who have it to prevent accidents like this one from happening, but the lesson that's taught here is that of making the most of your life, even if that life is destined to be short - something none of us can know except in the hindsight of those we leave behind.

There are teaching opportunities which I felt were missed in this book, and this was one issue I had with it. One of them was the tragic accident at the hot tub. Another, for example was where at one point we were introduced to two women who would help Adam through this transition: "Pivotal this year are his first meetings with his counsellor, Nichelle Bradley, and his doctor, Jennifer Douek." These are both females and I felt it would have been nice to know more about how such people become attached to these cases, and whether gender plays any part, and if so, why?

If Adam were transitioning from male to female (the opposite of what he was actually doing) would these have been men, or is the gender simply random - this is just how the counsellor and doctor happened to be? Does it matter? A little talk about that would have been interesting to me, because I think it could matter if these particular two professions are overwhelmingly populated with gender-bias. On the other hand, if it makes no difference, it would have been nice to hear that.

I have to note again that this is a very personal account, so perhaps it's expecting too much, but to me such things are interesting and I felt that a little more commentary would have enriched the reading, but this wasn't the only thing which caught my attention. The book is far more about feelings and relationships, and a father's experiences than ever it is about the practical trials and experiences of a person going through gender reassignment, so perhaps we shouldn't expect a tutorial. It's also about how little time Adam got to enjoy the new him. Being a parent myself, I don't ever want to know what it's like to lose a child, so I can appreciate what this parent/author went through. I just wish it had been easier to follow and that Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process had not mangled the text as it reliably does.

The book was available for review in PDF format which was not mangled at all, but which was too small to read on my phone, which is where I read most of my ebook material. I don't fault an author for that except in that it cannot be repeated often enough that if you're going to publish a Kindle ebook, you cannot have anything fancy in the text at all - not even italics, because sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, Amazon will frag your text. Italics generally do fine except that the last character, if it's something like a lowercase 'd' or an exclamation point, will be beheaded by the non-italic text following it. Guaranteed every time. An author needs to check for how much Amazon has screwed-up their text in the ebook version, because I have seen this repeatedly in Amazon books, and not just in advance review copies. Errors are rife in Kindle format, which is one reason I refuse to publish through Amazon.

In this particular case, text inserts/boxes were rendered part of the text, cutting into the middle of sentences in the main body of the book, so those are a complete non-no, as are drop-caps and other fancy additions. Images can be problematical. Amazon made a jigsaw out of the front cover image in this book and I've seen that before, but the images inside the book were generally fine except that they did not always merge into the text properly, leaving a largely blank screen here and there, either preceding the picture or in its wake.

Here's a quote that illustrates this text julienne à la Amazon: "The doctors wanted to completely remove the piece, which Bekkaa October 22, 2012 "The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience." -Eleanor Roosevelt appeared to be triggering..." Good luck making sense of that. It incorporates the page header and a text box (I believe) all in one. Never use page headers or page numbering for an Amazon ebook. I've never seen this kind of mangling in any reading app other than Amazon's crappy Kindle app.

Here's a footnote in the middle of a sentence: "There were mood 1. Now known as a 'focal impaired awareness seizures,' these start in one area of the brain and negatively affect sensory perception. Other symptoms may include automatic behaviour. Such seizures generally last between one and two minutes. swings, too..." Here's another example of the garbling: "a work colleague, and her partner, David White, a United ChurchAdam minister; they happened to be visiting at the time.July 25, 2015 The chaplain prays for Adam with us. He touchThunderstorm!!! es my son." It's character coleslaw, and Amazon does it best.

The author is quite religious and it's commendable he had such an open attitude towards Adam's predicament. Far too many believers are entirely reprehensible in their position, but not this one. I didn't find his references to religion annoying though, being an unbeliever myself. At one point I read, "Adam is surrounded by love, God's and ours. This is all good." This was shortly before he was declared dead without ever recovering consciousness after his drowning. Clearly, as Al Pacino's character declares in Devil's Advocate 'God is an absentee landlord'.

Later there was another quote along these lines: "Everything that led to the day that Adam died and the day that John received his heart were destined to be, whether I like that or not ... It was meant to be." And the author adds, "I agree. A divine plan." I don't see anything divine in killing a young man so others can have his body parts. If God really wanted to do his job, he would not have let Adam drown, and he would have miraculously cured the heart and kidneys of those whose lives were improved through Adam's premature death and commendable organ donation. Otherwise what's the point of having a god if he does nothing to help, prayers are not answered, and evil all-too-often prevails? I personally have no time for a worthless god like that.

The authors comments were at times hard to understand. I read at one point, "AS ADAM'S GENDER transition and epilepsy collide full force toward the end of 2015, there is a remarkable change in him. An adult is emerging, a guy with a stronger voice." Well, he's 22 years old at this point, so I am not sure what was going through the author's mind. I know there's that old sawhorse that a child is always a child to a parent no matter how old the 'child' actually is, but I have never felt that way with regard to my own offspring. I see nor reason for that attitude. At some point they grow up and it's insulting to keep reducing them to kids when they're teenagers or young adults. The author wrote later, that he did "hug a few kids whom I recognize. They are all 'kids' to me, although most, like Adam, are now adults." This was after fussing over getting Adam's name right - the male name not the female name he was assigned at birth along with the wrong body. It felt hypocritical to me.

But in context of the overall story, these felt like relatively minor beefs, and not that important in the grand scheme of the story the author was trying to convey, so I was willing to let that slide, and all in all I commend this as a worthy read and an important book even though I have to add that I've read clearer and more educational accounts of a gender transition than this one.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Paint Alchemy by Eva Marie Magill-Oliver


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Be warned that this is not a complete beginner's how to. It is a how to, but it covers a specific topic and assumes you know a little bit about what you're doing. It's much more of a guide to improved technique than a beginner's guide. For me, a beginners word here and there would have been useful.

For example, the author will mention using a specific brush by name, without explaining what that brush is, and although the illustrations are copious these are more of the finished work and of an assortment of painting tools than they are illustrative of the particular tools mentioned in the text at that point. An image of the brush just mentioned in the text would have been more useful to me, but that said, the book description does make it clear that this is aimed at "Exploring Process-Driven Techniques through Design, Pattern, Color, Abstraction, Acrylic and Mixed Media." It's not aimed at baby-sitting the reader!

From that perspective it does well - talking knowledgeably and from experience about techniques and materials and explaining how to work with them to achieve certain effects. It goes way beyond simple brush technique digressing into unusual topics such as blowing through a straw to move paint on a surface, and spraying the brushed-on paint with liquid to achieve a different effect than what the brush alone can offer. There's also an interesting mention of using thread soaked in bleach to achieve certain effects, so if you're looking for inspiration of a slightly different sort - in moving beyond simple brushwork, then this book is ideal. I commend it as a worthy read for budding artists looking for the next phase in their arsenal.


Friday, November 16, 2018

Kiss My Math by Danica McKellar


Rating: WORTHY!

This is book two in an evident series and I was curious about it since it has a distinctly female bent to it. I know nothing about Danica McKellar, so it was interesting to discover she has some math cred. She certainly knows what she's talking about (as far as I could tell, although be warned, my math sucks). I didn't agree with all of her teaching methods (calling integers mintegers because they taste good?!), but often her approach helped make sense of what she was teaching, so this was on balance a good thing. I mean, who knew that y was such a square? My money was on X which has a distinctly square shape to it, but minus X, it leaves only y. Why? Read the book to find out.

I recommend this as a fresh and young approach to math for anyone who is interested (and all of us should be). Math underlies everything. It really is the language of the universe, but closer to home, it helped the author avoid overpaying for something the clerk had rung up wrongly - something she might not have noticed had she not been idly doing math in her head while waiting in line - so there are real practical benefits to it, as she points out often.

McKellar lays it all out in short sections covering different topics from fraction calculations to variable values and exponentials, beginning with an easy walk-through examples, explanations, and hints and tips, followed by some 'homework' (the answers are included, don't worry!). In fact, the page was often a bit too busy for my taste, but today's generation of sound-biters, snap chatters and other twits might appreciate that approach. I commend this as a great effort to get young women interested in math, We need female mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. They're criminally underrepresented and anything which can lure more into those professions is to be welcomed.


Hand Lettering A to Z Workbook by Abbey Sy


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Note that this is a companion to Hand Lettering A to Z. I didn't realize it fully at the time I requested this for review, so this is a very short review for a very short book aimed at the print book market, because though it had some 195 pages, only about 23 of these are the book. The rest is largely-blank exercise sheets where you can practice the character sets the author lays out for you. I haven't read the original volume, so I cannot comment on that.

Those twenty-three pages lay out in brief the rules and arts required to create your own hand-lettered whatever-you-want-to create! The tips and hints start before you even write the letters, beginning with information on the kinds of paper and tools you might want to lay your hands on first, and then progressing into different styles of writing and different effects that can be achieved using those tools. I commend this as a worthy companion book, but as I said, I can't comment on the book it's a companion to!


Friday, November 2, 2018

Clean Enough by Katzie Guy-Hamilton


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Clean Enough from someone with the most intriguing author name I've seen in a while, promises to get you back to basics and still leave room for desert, and I think it achieves its aim. It's equally divided into two parts, the first titled 'Clean'. I'll let you guess what the second is titled! Clean is comprised of several sections, the first of which is Drink to your Health, featuring drinks to get you up and moving in one way or another, and including Designer Cashew Milk, Runner's Juice, and the Indiana Jones-sounding Holy Coconut Matcha Elixir.

Next up is Harmony Bowls, comprised of suggestions for breakfast which consist mostly of granola, eggs and oatmeal concoctions. There's a section on augmenting a common breakfast item by adding healthful foods such as avocado, mushrooms, tomatoes, and such to toast to taste! This idea works with the oatmeal too: start with something simple and basic and augment it to your own personal taste. After this comes a very full section on salads including some items you may not think of when you think of a salad. This is followed by prepared veggies including broccolini, onion, green bean, carrot, and eggplant, even though some of those aren't really vegetables.

Following this is a section on 'good starch' which covers rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, and quinoa, which I personally think we should call kwin-o-ah. Who can seriously get with keenwah? Really?! Keenwah sounds like a karate punch that will make you howl. I do not want that in my stomach. LOL! Remember starches (aka carbohydrates) are a required food for your body to function. It's not actually eating them that's the problem. Like everything else in your diet, it's the overeating of the wrong stuff that causes problems! After this section comes a short one on soups, which offers squash, tomato, beet, and coconut. The 'Clean' section finishes up with some suggestions for sauces and dressings.

The 'Enough' part covers a shocking array of desert items that will put weight on you just from looking through the pages. It features cookies (chocolate, molasses, raisin, coconut), cakes (the banana whiskey torte sounded really interesting!) and pies. That latter includes a Wimbledon pie which I'd never heard of, and which yes, contains strawberries, and which looks disgustingly irresistible from the photograph, although I cannot claim I've tried this!

Does anyone else find the name Wimbledon amusing? Okay, just me then. I asked around about this pie and it's not a racquet! It turns out that you get four servings and if you ace them all, you win.... The silk road custard tart looked scrumptious to me. It reminded me of such tarts I enjoyed when I lived in Britain (and no you are not allowed to double-entendre that!). Not that these deserts are Britain-based by any means. What you'll find yourself needing to remember in this section is that wholesome isn't the same thing as calorie-free!

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to what one eats and some of those preferences are decidedly unhealthy. Eating whole foods rather than processed foods is healthier because those kinds of foods are what our bodies have evolved to digest healthily. Our problem is that we've been primed to gobble down fatty, salty, and sweet foods from when such things were scarce, but our bodies, which naturally sought out these things for perfectly healthy reasons in prehistory, cannot cope with this stuff now it's so very easy to come by.

Any eating plan (let's not talk about diets which rarely work) that gets you partaking healthily of good food, and which you can stick with is the plan to adopt for you, and while this book may not appeal to everyone, no book can! That's why my recommendation is to check it out and see if it fits your lifestyle if it does, you're on the gravy train! Or something like that.... I commend this as a worthy title.