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

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Yay! You're Gay! Now What? by Riyadh Khalaf


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Errata:
“...you’re going more than you’re sexuality“ that second one should be ‘your’.
“If you ignore the bully, and removing yourself from the situation...” 'Removing' should be 'Remove'.
“If you’ve already come out to friends at school, as if they have any LGBT+ pals” Ask if they have!
This isn't so much an error as a point of order, and it wasn't the author who said this, but Simon Anthony-Roden in his advice to his younger self, but there’s no evidence that it was Oscar Wilde who said “Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.“ People are misquoted or misattributed all the time, so no big deal.

This book is a complete guide to how to handle your discovery that you're gay - or at some other place on what's commonly referred to as 'the spectrum' but which I prefer to think of as a slide since a spectrum implies something that's fixed, and I think very few people are solidly fixed in whatever position they're in. Your orientation and preferences can change over your life and no, thats not the same as saying 'gayness can be cured' because there's nothing to cure.

There were times when it felt a little bit over the top for me, but you can't blame a guy for reveling in who he is, so that's no big deal. There were also times when I felt he went a little in the wrong direction - like seemingly implying right up front that gay guys don't play soccer (Justin Fashanu, Robbie Rogers, and and the entire amateur team of Paris Foot Gay would disagree, as would Eudy Simelane, had she not been raped and murdered in 2008), but usually when he seemed to be veering, it was for a reason.

The book covers pretty much anything a young person may want to know if they have perhaps been wrestling with identity and how to face what's becoming obvious to them, and deal with accepting it, and whether to come out and who to come out to. It doesn't matter what your question is, you will find valuable advice in this book, and not just from the author, but also from an assortment of others who have walked this same path.

it begins with asking if you think you might be gay, and moves on to coming out, finding friends and finding love, then appropriately gets to "all about bodies" and "Let's talk about sex," both of which contain excellent guidance and advice. Be warned, there are no punches pulled here. For a gay guy, the author tells it straight! Each of these sections is filled with personal anecdote, good advice and comments on their own sexuality and advice they would have given to their younger selves by some celebrities, the only two I'd heard of, I have to confess, were Stephen Fry, of whom I'm a fan, and Jin Yong, who I heard of only recently. Others are Clark Moore, Simon Anthony-Roden, Rory O'Neill, James Kavanagh, Matthew Todd, Shane Jenek, and Ranj Singh. That said, I'm not a big TV watcher. There is only a few shows that I tend to watch, and I've never been a fan of RuPaul Andre Charles, so I've never seen his Drag Race, but I have heard of Cortney Act, Jenek's alter-ego, a stage name I've long thought was choice!

The bottom of page 171 (page 86 on the iPad I was using) ended with “You don’t need an” but page 172 (87 on the tablet) was the start of a new chapter! I guess we’ll never know how that sentence ends!

This is yet another case of a print book farmed-out to reviewers as an ebook for convenience, but I often wonder if publishers ever consider what a poor impression one of these 'afterthought ebooks' leaves. As it happens, and apart from a very negative experience on my iPhone before I switched to a tablet, this book wasn’t so bad. There was an occasionally 'sticky page' (and no, not that kind of sticky - but sticky in the sense it wouldn't swipe easily tot he next or previous page, and took two or three times to move it. On the iPhone there were also times when pages came up on the wrong oder, so I wouldn't recommend reading it on a device that small.

This book wasn't so bad, but I’m honestly at the point now where I will negatively review a poorly conceived ebook regardless of its literary merit. Here’s why: the modern concept of an ebook was initiated almost half a century ago by Michael Hart who founded Project Gutenberg and even ePub books have been around for some two decades. There really is no excuse for substandard ebooks these days, and if authors/publishers are going to issue one to reviewers, they need to look at the thing in the e-version on one or two different devices to make sure it's worthy of issuing!

That said I commend this ebook for being a worthy read and a useful contribution to helping those in need of advice and a leg up here and there.


Friday, May 3, 2019

I am Amelia Earhart by Brad Metzler


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a very short book for young children which skipped a huge part of Earhart's life and harped a bit overmuch on her purportedly dedicated lifelong devotion to flight, which actually didn't happen in real life. She took something of a scattershot approach to her career, aiming vaguely toward medical service until she saw this guy fly an airplane at a show. He must have spotted her and her friend standing on the ground watching, and aimed the plane straight down at them before swooping by quite closely. It was at that point, when she was in her early twenties that she really decided she wanted to fly, not when she was a child, but it doesn't hurt to stir up kids' ambitions here and there, or encourage them to aim higher than they might otherwise do, so I wasn't too focused on that.

Other than that, the book was largely factual, amusingly and colorfully illustrated, and an enjoyable read, so I commend it as a worthy read for young children.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Nifty Thrifty Music Crafts for Kids by Felicia Lowenstein Niven


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great crafts book for kids because it allows them to make musical instruments (near enough!) out of household scraps. Stuff that would normally go into recycling can hereby be recycled into an instrument, and then when that's worn out, it can be recycled back to recycling!

The book gives illustrated instructions on how to make a xylophone, rhythm blocks, panpipes, finger cymbals (always fun!), a colonial drum (whatever that is! I suppose it's a drum that wants to take over and make you pay a tax on your tea imports?), American Indian clapper, tambourine, rain stick, maracas, and a rubber band ukulele! You could outfit a whole band with this book and each project gives you a double return because it offers a confidence-building activity for a child, and then a fun toy for that same child. Can't argue with that, unless you have rocks in your head instead of rock 'n' roll! Unless you have no soul! Unless you're tired of taking the rap! Unless you have a bad hip and can't hop! I commend this as an inventive and a fun book for children's activities.


51 Things to Make With Egg Cartons by Fiona Hayes


Rating: WORTHY!

When I was a young kid, my younger brother and I used to use the cut-off bottoms of egg cartons as hoards of Daleks (the menacing robotic beings from the BBC's Doctor Who TV show which I have to say has rather taken a step backwards under Chris Chibnall's leadership - not because the Doctor is now a woman by any means - I like the new Doctor - but because we get fewer episodes and only every other year, it seems. Shameful!).

This author is much more inventive than we were, and this book was a great idea. With the ideas colorfully illustrated and explained in detail - but simply! - kids can end up creating a large variety of neat little toys from animals (chicken, bee, hedgehog, tortoise, octopus, bunny, and others) to vehicles (dump truck, fire engine, pirate ship and more), to flowers, face masks, treasure chests, rockets, and on and on. This will keep a kid occupied and render you broke buying enough eggs to generate all those cartons! LOL!

But approached as a bi-weekly project, once you've used all those eggs, it can be a cheap and fun way to spend your time, especially if it's raining or cold out. They may need some supervision depending on their competency and trustworthiness with glue, paints and scissors, but it's worth it to see their joy at making something themselves - something fun and practical - boosting their self-confidence and getting double the return - time well-occupied making a toy and then more time well-occupied playing with the toy! I commend this as a worthy tool to a child's happiness.


Fast Forward by Adam Skinner


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun book, especially for me who isn't really into motor sports. I have been to one or two races myself and I'm always interested in potential topics for novels, so this felt like a good book to review and I guessed right!

The book is quite short, but full-color illustrations of tracks, cars, and drivers, and a wealth of facts on cars, circuits, and interesting events make it seem a lot bigger than it is. It covers circuits and featured cars as follows:

  • Nürburgring - Porsche 911 GT2 RS
  • Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps - McClaren MP4/4 Honda
  • Suzuka - Honda NSX
  • Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans - Ford GT40 Mk 2
  • Albert Park Lake - Maserati 250F
  • Circuit de Monaco - BRM P57
  • Monza - Ferrari F1-2000
  • Goodwood - Jaguar E-Type 4.2
  • Daytona - 1970 Plymouth Superbird
  • Bahrain International - Red Bull RB8
  • Dakar Rally - Mitsubishi Pajero 2005
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Lotus 38
  • Pikes Peak - Drive eO PP03
  • Silverstone - Aston Martin DB5
  • Hockenheimring Baden-Württemberg - Williams FW23
  • Shanghai International Circuit - Holden Commodore VZ
  • Laguna Seca - Dodge Viper ACR
  • Mount Panorama - Holden Torana A9X

There's a short glossary and a longer index at the end, and rest assured it's not just about cars and tracks, the book also has assorted drivers of note and yesteryear highlighted on each page (such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Jutta Kleinschmidt, Michael Schumacher, Jackie Stewart, Alex Zanardi, and a score of others) including career masterpieces, amazing wins, tragic deaths, come-from-behind wins, fistfights, track and racing records, and amazing escapes from accidents.

I found this book fascinating and educational, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

David Bowie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Ana Albero


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
“This made his eyes look like were different colors” should read look like they were different colors!

I've been following this series quite closely and enjoyed very nearly all of the books I've read in it so far. This is another one to add to the list of successes. David Bowie's career in playing music either as an amateur band member at fifteen or as a legend right before he died in 2016 at the age of 69, spanned over half a century. He constantly reinvented himself and in this spate of musical biopics (including the phenomenal Bohemian Rhapsody and then Rocketman, and the documentary on the Beatles by director Peter Jackson) which seem to be flourishing lately, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see one crop-up about him.

He's been in and out of musical success since he debuted The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the early seventies, and resurged with Ashes to Ashes and Let's Dance in the early eighties, and in between he had a minor film career. He was also a controversial figure regarding his androgyny, but it's not completely clear (at least to my knowledge) whether this was more of an image he was portraying or more of the person he actually was, so I didn't feel that omitting it was a bad thing in this particular case. Overall I enjoyed this and thought it a worthy and educational read.


Mahatma Gandhi by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Albert Arrayas


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Another in a children's 'Little People, Big Dreams' series which I've been following, this one tells a great story. Anyone who's watched the Richard Attenborough movie starring Ben Kingsley, and written by John Briley will realize how important it is for young children to be introduced to people like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as opposed to an excess of superhero movies where people typically beat the pulp out of one another. Not that those aren't fun in their place, but let's not ever take them seriously as solutions to problems!

Naturally a life like Bapu's cannot be adequately captured in a book of this nature, but I felt that author Vegara does a fine job in distilling the important stuff. This book, delightfully illustrated by Albert Arrayas, follows Ghandi's life from childhood through university in London, to South Africa and back to India, and it explains his philosophy and where it came from. For young children, that's an important start. I commend it.


How to Be a Butterfly by Laura Knowles, Catell Ronca


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a gorgeously illustrated little book for young children about the Lepidoptera, better known to most as butterflies. Note that Lepidoptera also includes moths, and they get a mention here, but this is primarily all about butterflies. How to be one is a cute round-about way of describing what a butterfly looks like without turning it into a boring list of characteristics. It runs along the lines of you having to have colorful wings with smooth edges, but you can also have pale wings or ones with lobes and scallops. You have to have slim antennae with buds on the end, and so on. And of course you have to drink nectar and lay eggs in safe places on leaves your caterpillars can eat, and then they have to lock themselves up and pupate before they can be beautiful butterflies too.

I was seriously impressed by how much work Catell Ronca did in illustrating scores of butterflies of all kinds. It was epic! There are multiple and endlessly varied butterflies everywhere. It was almost like being in one of those lepidopterarium places where butterflies roam free indoors and breed and live out their unjustly short lives, and you can wander around in the middle of them and enjoy the spectacle! I think this book was excellent: educational, colorful, well-written, interesting and fun. I commend it.


Boy oh Boy by Cliff Leek, Bene Rohlmann


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This colorful book, illustrated nicely by Rohlmann and written concisely, but informatively by Leek, takes a brief look at the careers of thirty men who have not exactly gone in for a career in a regular job in an office or a factory - although some may have begun their journey that way.

Some of them you will know by name - or certainly ought to know, and others will be more obscure if your experience is anything like mine. Personally I knew just over half of them. There were some others I'd maybe heard of, maybe not, but the important thing is that I'm a lot wiser now!

The mini-bio in each case gives important details about each person and explains why they're worthy of being included in such an august list. Listed alphabetically by last name, the 'boys' are these:

  • Carlos Acosta
  • Muhammad Ali
  • César Chávez
  • Luther Christman
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • John Dewey
  • Frederick Douglass
  • WEB Du Bois
  • Edward Enninful
  • Jaime Escalante
  • Grandmaster Flash
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • David Hockney
  • Ezra Jack Keats
  • Lebron James
  • Bruce Lee
  • Richard Loving
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Patricio Manuel
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Freddie Mercury
  • Hayao Miyazaki
  • John Muir
  • Alfred Nobel
  • Prince
  • Bayard Rustin
  • Carl Sagan
  • George Washington Carver
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Kit Yan

Note that this isn't the order they're in in the book. I'm not sure what order they're in in the book since it begins with David Hockney, who has neither a first nor a last name that comes first in this list, nor was he born first. The list includes artists such as Hockney (painting), Prince (music), Miyazaki (film), and Acosta (ballet), sports such as Ali (boxing) and James (basketball), as well as union organizers such as Chávez and civil rights campaigners such as Ghandi, Loving, Mandela, and Rustin, so there's a variety, including two ftm transgender entries.

I have to note that most (60%) of the people in the list are Americans, with another 13% British, leaving the rest dotted around in an assortment of other countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia. I'd like to have seen better international coverage, but given who is in this list, it isn't too bad for a start, so I commend it as a worthy read, offering alternatives to boys who might be drawn to certain interests which some clueless people might foolishly seek to dissuade them from.


Supersize Cross Sections: Inside Engines by Pascale Hedelin, Lou Rihn


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
There is a spelling error on the Hindenburg page. Item 04, about the keel, misspells the word 'structure'

Supersize cross-sections are not exactly supersize on an iPad, so my being only the kind of reviewer who doesn't merit a print book for review, I can only guess at how the final copy will look, but viewed in relatively small scale on a medium sized iPad, it looked swell, and would have fascinated me as a child, because I always enjoyed reading the 'how things worked' books, and especially ones with cutaways.

Starting with a pirate ship to get the saliva flowing, this book also covers the Orient Express (now that would have been useful when I wrote my parody!), The Titanic, the Hindenburg, a Sherman tank, the Saturn V rocket (always my favorite - modern rockets have nowhere near the same class that one did), the International Space Station, a submarine, a fire engine, and a host of other items, including a circus and totaling fifteen in all.

The drawings are in color, are crisp and clear, and each important part is numbered, with a key by the side of the drawing explaining what was going on in that section. It's perfect, and I commend it whole-heartedly!


The Dictionary of Difficult Words by Jane Solomon, Louise Lockhart


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I'm quite erudite and familiar with a lot of singular or putatively obscure words, but there were still some in here that I found new or otherwise interesting. I imagine this will be a useful book for any logophile - or if they were not one when they started reading this, they will undoubtedly be so by the time they're finished! The book devotes around two pages to each letter of the alphabet providing a total of some 400 words in all. It's illustrated amusingly by Lockhart and compiled by Solomon. Lockhart and Solomon sounds like a law firm doesn't it? Or an office of private investigators!

But I digress! This is definitely a book for anyone who loves words or who is interested in writing, and if you don't love words, you really have no business being a writer!


Planet Fashion by Natasha Slee, Cynthia Kittler


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Illustrated in style(!) by Cynthia Kittler, this book is an unusual one for children, but I think it will be well-received. Anyone who knows me well or who has read some of my reviews, will know I have no time for the fashion industry, but this book isn't about those pretentious and self-indulgent poseurs. It's a history book about how fashions have changed over the last century and who was wearing what and when. Naturally it's quite USA and Euro-centric, but it also covers other places, such as Australasia and Central America, which was commendable.

It's designed as a print book which means the tablet computer cannot really present it properly. It has to be enlarged to read the text, and then reduced to slide to the next double-page spread, and frankly this caused issues on occasion, with a page disappearing or appearing out of order until I swiped back and then forward again, which seemed to fix it. Do not proceed to page 33 or you will become stuck like I did, unable to swipe back from it! You have to use the slider at the bottom of the screen to get back. Those irritations aside, the book is fully-illustrated and very colorful, but it's not all imagery - there is a lot of text supporting each page and the book is quite long for a children's book, but it is packed with information and interesting facts, and the last few pages have timelines to augment the text.

There is a small boy and a small girl who appear on each double-page whom you're encouraged to look for, and who are dressed in the fashion of the time, and there is also a search exercise at the back where you look at a series of smaller images taken from the earlier pages and then try to find which page it came from. Doubtlessly that would be easier in a print book too. Little kids will have a blast with that while learning something important about how we humans love to adorn ourselves for better or for worse as each page transports them progressively to a different era, and often a different country. I commend this as a fun and education book.


D-Day by Michael Noble


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a nice overview of what was involved for those people who had to face the beaches on D-Day, June 6th 1944. It's told truthfully but not too graphically, so it tells the story, and how bad things were, without overdoing it or skipping the truth about what those men - and women - faced.

Yes, there are women featured here, including one who went onto the beach with the men. She wasn't supposed to, but Martha Gellhorn was resentful that her then husband, Ernest Hemingway, got to go, and she was passed over for a male journalist when it came to her publication's chance to send someone. Martha had an interesting history (not covered here). She was fired from a job after she reported a coworker for sexual harassment. After other adventures, She hid in a lavatory on a ship during D-Day, and then went up on the beaches disguised as a stretcher bearer. She was arrested on her return to England.

She's not the only remarkable woman covered here. We learn of others, along with many men from several nations, including Germany, who were involved in one aspect or another of the landing, either taking part in it on land, sea, or air, preparing weather forecasts for it, designing vehicles to deal with conditions they would find there, or defending the beach, and so on. One story was of a fifteen-year-old boy who was on a boat tasked with towing materials across the channel which would be used to create a temporary harbor for other ships coming later. This was another critical mission which, had it failed, would have hampered the effort.

One of my favorites is Dave Shannon, an RAF pilot who hailed from Australia. The book doesn't mention this, but he was part of the Dam Busters raid in May of 1943 that took down the Eder and the Moehne dams in Germany and dealt a severe blow to the Nazi war effort. On the night before the Normandy landings, this same squadron, used to difficult flying tasks, were assigned to fly progressively in precise order across the channel dropping what the Brits called 'window' which was material that would give a radar echo that made it look like a convoy was crossing the channel. They would fly so far, return, then fly the same route again, but advancing very slightly each time. This is where the precise flying came in. If they had not been exact, the radar signal would have jumped and given the game away, but they did not fail. The Germans were convinced that a large convoy was approaching and that this was where the landing would be, when it was in fact a hundred miles away. It was one of the greatest deceptions of the war.

All of these stories are remarkable, and all worth knowing. I commend this as a worthy read.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Malinche, Pocahontas, and Sacagawea by Rebecca K Jager


Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled "Indian Women as Cultural Intermediaries and National Symbols," this book turned out to be completely wrong for my purposes and from the little I read of it, it felt to me to be completely wrong when it came to the purpose the author evidently intended it to serve. It seemed abusive to me in a way, in ascribing two, three, or four hundred years on, motives to women whose motives were never considered important at the time, so we have no idea what moved them to do the things they did, and we most certainly no grounds to ascribe high-flying reasons for their behavior.

The book does talk about the mythology that has built-up around these woman and discusses the roots and aims of that in some detail, but that aspect of their story as viewed today seems to me to be so painfully obvious as to be a fruitless exercise in pursuing it more. People have used these women for their own ends whether those ends were supposedly noble or malign. Of that there is no doubt, but the book seems like it wants to go beyond all that to view them in hindsight as cross-cultural ambassadors and I don't agree that's what they were. They were certainly not at the time, and ascribing such a role to them in hindsight seems pointless to me. It seems like it's just as abusive to them as people were in their own lifetime by disrespecting and using them in much the same way that people have done ever since.

The simplest solution to me is that these women acted in their own best interest, and in the interest of the foreigners for whom they may have developed feelings of affection, respect, or love. It's a perfectly human motive, and it's not superhuman. Malinche, who aided Hernán Cortés during the Spanish take-over of central America in the sixteenth century had been treated shabbily by her own people and was respected by the Spanish, so it's entirely unsurprising that she had switched loyalty and wanted to help those who had treated her better than her own people had. There is no overriding nationalist motive here, anti or otherwise. These women had no great plan. They had none of the hindsight we have today, to see where this was going. They were merely doing what they saw as best in their circumstances at the time.

The same 'motive' applies to Matoaka (aka Pocahontas) and Sakakawia (aka Sacagawea). Matoaka was a child and came to the Jamestown village because it was exciting and new, and there were new playmates to interest her. She was not a princess. She did not represent her father. She had no great diplomatic aspirations. Yes, she came often with gifts of food, but there's nothing recorded to show that this was her idea as opposed, say, to her father's idea. Maybe she talked her father into it, maybe not. We don't know! Maybe she was no more than a spy for her father, infiltrating the English camp and reporting all she saw back to dad. We don't know!

The great life-saving story that John Smith belatedly related was in my opinion pure fiction, and there's an end to it. He'd used the same story before in a different context. And Disney ought to be ashamed of themselves for dishonestly portraying it as a love story, but since when have they cared about historical accuracy, or about integrity in retelling ancient fairytales?

Sakakawia started out in very much the same as Malinche, being kidnapped at a young age and sold or traded off. Her life followed a somewhat less abusive trail than did Malinche's but they were both torn from their roots and were sharp enough women to make it work for them. My own personal feeling about Sakakawia isn't that she saw herself as a great diplomat either, but that she enjoyed new adventures and may well have talked her way into being the one wife of Charbonneau who went on this excursion merely because she relaly wanted to go. She had no great ambition to be a bridge between peoples and to pretend now that she was is farcical!

So I can't take a so-called 'scholarly work' like this seriously, I really can't, and I certainly cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Sacagawea: crossing the continent with Lewis & Clark by Emma Carlson Berne


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm reviewing three different books this month about the life of "Sacagawea" who is actually more accurately referred to as "Sakakawia" - which was, it's important to remember, her Hidatsa name, not her Shoshone name. No one at the time bothered to ask her about her previous name or her life before the Hidatsa era. All we know of her earlier life came out because of fortuitous coincidence during the expedition.

William Clark spent a lot of time with Sakakawia, but he never wrote anything down of their interactions - which admittedly were limited in regard to conversation since she spoke no English and he none of Shoshone, Hidatasa, or French, all of which she had at least a smattering of. Since American Indian names tended to be quite fluid throughout life, perhaps Sakakawia didn't care that much how she was referred to or would have been concerned if two centuries on, we had a clue what it really was or what her short life had been.

This book was fine, but of the three I've read, it was the least interesting even though it wasn't the last I read. I say that because the facts are very limited in discussing her life, and the only thing a new author can add is their own spin, which may or may not count for much. So one book about her tends to be very much like another. That's why I don't intend to write yet another boring book about her life on the expedition; I have something very different in mind which to my knowledge hasn't been done before, and this is why I've been reading all of these books, and why I intend to read the Lewis and Clark diaries too. This is all for background, but my story won't be the expedition, which I feel has been done to death and beyond.

This book tells a workmanlike version of the story if given to flights of fancy at times. That said it isn't ridiculously exaggerated and it does not make up stories any more than any bother such book has done. The problem is that these books tend to ascribe things that were never there in real life. All native Americans, for example, were tough people back then, men and women alike, so personally I don't feel there was anything particularly special about Sakakawia's toughness and abilities. Any "Indian Squaw" could have done what this woman did because it's what they did day in and day out!

I do feel, and this is just a guess, that she had an interest in adventure, and so was game to go on this expedition. It could have been Charbonneau's other wife (latterly referred to as 'Otter Woman' although no one actually recorded her name at the time) who went instead, but to me it feels like Sakakawia was intent on going and did not see her post-partum status as an obstacle, whereas Charbonneau's 'Other Woman' wasn't at all interested, and perhaps this 'Older Woman' saw his prolonged absence as a chance to get away from him and find a better life for herself? The truth is that we don't know how or why the cut was made the way it was, we just know it was.

The backcover blurb for this book - which is not typically in the hands of the author admittedly - claims that without Sakakawia, "Lewis and Clark certainly could never have succeeded," but I think that's patent buffaloshit. I think they would have succeeded with or without Sakakawia, with or without "Otter Woman" and with or without Charbonneau, but that doesn't take anything away from the real and solid contributions that Sakakawia made and the fortitude and can-do qualities she exhibited. She deserved a hell of a lot better than she got, and she deserves to be remembered, honored, and commemorated. If this book helps with that, then it's a worthy read.


Sacagawea : westward with Lewis and Clark by Alana J White


Rating: WORTHY!

With any book on Sacagawea the problem is not only getting her name wrong, but also fictionalizing her life and adding fanciful and wishful things which are not in the historical record. This is nothing new. Historical revision began over a century ago when the suffragette movement in the USA was looking for a strong female figurehead and poor Sakakawea was resurrected to fit the bill. That's when the myth-making began. No one stopped to think whether she would have wanted or supported something like that.

The fundamental truth about her is that the record is light. She's barely mentioned in the diaries that the two expedition leaders kept, and when she is, the variations in spelling are numerous making it difficult to do a search to find all the references to her. She's referred to as "the Indian woman", as "Charbonneau's squaw" (various spellings), and by the name the Hidatsa kidnappers gave to her (again with variations). That's how little regard she was given at the time.

No one bothered to record her original name or her thoughts and feelings about the journey. In that, she was treated like every other member of the expedition despite being the youngest who also happened to be carrying and expertly caring for a young baby for the entire journey. In this, she was treated as an equal to the men, so in that regard she might be considered the first recorded exemplar of equal rights in North America.

The closest we can come to her Hidatsa name is Sakakawia which means Bird (sakaka) Woman (wea). No one recorded why she had this particular name or what happened to her original Shoshone name. Native American names were very fluid, changing sometimes many times between birth and death. They were more like a current status - like something in social media - than an actual name as we in the west in modern times view names, so perhaps even Sakakawia didn't care that much what her name was.

This book along with most others, refers to her as Sacagawea which is closest to the name used phonetically in more than one spelling, in the diaries. As to her Shoshone name, no one knows what it was. A popular one doing the rounds is 'Boinaiv', but that sounds far too much like Bowie Knife to be taken seriously. Besides, as far as I know, Grass Woman in Shoshone is Ambosoni, not Bonaiv!

The next thing the books tend to do is to inflate Sakakawia's importance and contributions to the expedition by claiming, for example, that it could not have succeeded without her. I don't buy that, and neither Lewis nor Clark ever made such a claim, but this takes nothing away from the important contributions she did make, which were acknowledged by the expedition leaders.

Stoicism was an important part of Indian life. These people were tough and resilient, and Sakakawia was stoic without a doubt. She never complained, even when she was sick. She accepted what life laid before her if perhaps hoping always for something better. She obviously never wanted to be kidnapped by the Hidatsa, but she made a life with them. She more than likely didn't want to be married to Charbonneau, but she made a life with him, too.

When he signed on for the expedition, in part being allowed in because he could boast two "squaws" who spoke Shoshone, it raises the question as to why she went along when she had a newborn in tow, rather than his other wife who was referred to in later mythology as midapokawia (Otter Woman), although she remained nameless during the time of the expedition and disappeared from recorded history at that time.

But she was older with no new child, so why take the younger post-partum woman? Personally my feeling is that Sakakawia actually wanted to go on the expedition and didn't see her newborn as an obstacle. I really think she wanted the adventure and a chance of seeing her own people again, whereas 'Otter Woman' (Other Woman?!) wasn't that interested and perhaps saw this as a chance to get away from Charbonneau in his absence?

There seems to be some conflation of Otter Woman with the friend of Sakakawia's who was kidnapped at the same time as she was. That girl is referred to as Leaping Fish. I have no idea what the Shoshone for that name is, but fish is Akai. She was not Otter Woman, because Leaping (or Jumping) Fish managed to escape the Hidatsa and return to her own people. Why Sakakawia didn't go with her was never recorded. Perhaps she could not escape, didn't know about Leaping Fish's escape plan, or was recaptured. Or maybe she didn't want to escape because staying with the Hidatsa was an adventure for her - a chance to see different things. Perhaps that's why she married Charbonneau too. Perhaps she didn't escape because Charbonneau offered another distraction. We simply don't know.

So those are the facts, and this book does not embellish them inordinately. It tells a wider story, too, offering insights into life back then, into the different tribes we learn of, and so on, so it fills out the story and makes for a much more rounded reading experience. But in the end, one book about 'Sacagawea' is pretty much, of necessity, like another, because the facts don't change - only the spin an author chooses to put on them. So while I think I am done reading such books after this present flurry, I can commend this one as a worthy read.


Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an autobiographical comic following the author's long, and evidently ongoing, trek into gender identity. At one point, the author choses to use what are referred to as 'Spivak' pronouns (E, Em, Eir) after Michael Spivak, for reasons which are never made clear. These particular ones were first used in 1975 by Christine Elverson, so I didn't get why they weren't referred to as 'Elverson pronouns', but there it is.

For me, one big problem with these sort of options is that there is maybe half-dozen or more sets of them, all unagreed upon. For me, the worst problem with them is that they're superfluous when we already have they, them, and their which are all-inclusive gender-neutral words. Personally, I find this to be a fatuous and pointless attempt to create a new word group set when a perfectly functional one already exists. I'm for simplicity and clarity, for ease and comfort, so I will use existing, established pronouns in this review.

The journey they undertook in trying to feel comfortable with themselves is a remarkable and moving one, told here unvarnished and raw as it must have felt in making that journey. To feel constantly uncomfortable with your body in a world which has a two-million-year tradition of humans supposedly (if often delusionally) being definitely either male or female has to be traumatizing, and we get the whole feeling of that conveyed in this book. If it makes you feel uncomfortable and brings you along on this journey, then author is doing a fine job. It worked for me.

A person who starts out biologically female, and if the zygote is destined to be a male, certain things need to kick in, and often they do, but quite often they do not, or they kick in part way, and this is how we get a sliding scale, all too often holding people hostage, who feel somewhere adrift, but not exactly sure where.

In this case the author ended-up feeling extremely uncomfortable with breasts, and a vagina that bleeds periodically(!), but not feeling like a male either (even while harboring fantasies about male physiology), they became someone who is interested in friendship and companionship but not in marriage, children, or even sex. "What am I?" is a question they asked themselves frequently - as frequently, probably, as "Where am I going and what will I find when I get there?" which is a scary question for anyone in this position.

The blurb says this book is "a useful and touching guide on gender identity" but I disagree. I think it's more of a guide in lack of identity, and how to cope with that, how to work with it, how to address it and pursue your own path even while surrounded by uncertainty.

This was a long journey, and I traveled every step of the way, and I think this book is an amazing and informative volume, very personal, but universal, very uncomfortable, but comforting, readable, amusing, disturbing and unnerving. I think everyone needs to read this and try to understand it, especially in the political climate we've made for ourselves in the USA right now. I commend this as a worthy read and salute the author and wish them an easier journey in the coming years than it has been at times over the last few.


Art Makers: Polymer Clay for Beginners by Emily Chen


Rating: WARTY!

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

I'd never heard of polymer clay and I don't consider myself an artist, but art interests me and has done more so since I started this childrens' picture book series of mine, so anything out of my experience zone tends to attract my attention.

For the most part, this book was well-written and very informative, colorfully illustrated and explained in detail where necessary. This 'clay' is made from polyvinyl chloride or PVC. The water that comes into your house and the waste you flush away more than likely runs through PVC pipes, and the electricity you use more than likely runs through cables insulated with PVC. Polymer clay is treated in various ways with 'plasticizers' to render it into modeling clay. You will need to work it to get it soft and ready to mold into whatever shapes you want, but once it's 'loosened up' it's just like clay. When heat-treated though, instead of melting or drooping, it hardens and retains its shape; it's rather like baking ceramic or pottery. It also retains its color. This makes it perfect for making items you want to keep and even use, such as jewelry. You could make buttons for your clothes and other useful items such as, for example, the pieces for a chess game - and even the chessboard itself!

The author shows many techniques and steps the reader through making a variety of items, some of which look good enough to eat - such as fake chocolate chip cookies and a fruit flan that, when done properly, looks very realistic. Polymer clay comes in a variety of bright colors and it mixes readily with other colors to blend shades. There are also varieties you can get which make for a semi-translucent or a pearlescent finish. You can, as the author explains, add other materials to the clay to change appearance, and make a more matte finish to your project. The clay remains workable until 'cured' by heating at relatively low temperatures in an ordinary oven, but perhaps a dedicated oven might be a better bet, or an alternate heating technique. Here's why.

The author doesn't mention this, which for me was a big no-no, but there are certain health risks associated with long-term use of certain types of polymer clay - specifically those which contain more than 0.1% of any of a half-dozen specific chemicals known as phthalates. This is why polymer clay isn't a good material for making children's toys or for making items which might be used as food containers. I understand that the manufacturers of this clay have sought to remove such plasticizers from the clay since 2008, but it's always a good idea to be fully aware of what it is you're working with and what the risks are, which is why I would have preferred at least a mention of this in the book.

I found this an inexcusable omission in that this was not mentioned at all. I also understand from reading around on the topic, that the clay doesn't necessarily need to be baked - it can be heat treated with a hair dryer, dryer for example, or put into very hot water and left for a time to harden that way. Given that some formulations of polymer clay could exude hydrogen chloride gas when heated, the water idea seems like a safer bet to me, but maybe more modern formulations of the clay do not have this problem.

The fact is that I don't know, and the author made no mention of this in this book. I think this was a serious omission and which is why I am not recommending this book. The author also neglected to mention pricing, which can vary and change over time, I know, but a rough price-range would have been nice as a guide. A dedicated oven (an old toaster oven will do) might cost around $70. The clay itself costs about a dollar an ounce, or perhaps more from a brief survey I did, and a hand pasta roller - which you can use to work the clay and make it malleable prior to modeling, will be around $30, although you can work it by hand or even with a rolling pin, I guess; then you would not want to use that rolling pin for food, so a dedicated roller is also wise.

So while this book did offer hints, tips and advice about getting started, the lack of any sort of pricing or safety warnings made it a fail for me, and I cannot commend it. It may well be that safety concerns have been reduced with newer formulations of this material, but still a note of caution would have been wise I felt, especially if (for all I know) there may be 'cut price' older formulations of this material out there. Hopefully there are not!


The Art of Visual Notetaking by Emily Mills


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an interesting book discussing a technique for note-taking that involves not just notes, but graphical elements to enhance the written word, highlight portions of it, and make specific points stick in the memory.

While I am confident this will help people who are very visual in how they retain information, I have to say that for me personally, I saw no use for it. I am not a student and rarely attend lectures and conferences, so I have no need of note-taking for that purpose, but I can see a use for this in brainstorming ideas for writing projects which I'm very much into!

One thing I would have liked to have seen discussed is how well this author's note-taking held up over time so that, for example, if she went back several years later, and consulted notes she had taken much earlier for a conference or lecture, how much of what she had drawn and written would be clear to her.

The reason I mention his was that she included images of two examples of her own work, one a church conference which was the first thing she did this on, and another - a later example of her note-taking - when she attended a lecture by a writer. To me the church conference material made a kind of sense, but the material she had prepared representing the writer's lecture made zero sense at all. It conveyed literally nothing except that the writer was tall, which to me was irrelevant and said more to me about the author of the notes than the author the notes were about! Obviously they were not taken for me and would mean more to the person who created the record, but I would have liked to have heard about that side of the process.

This raised another issue related to the one I just raised: we do not remain the same people over our lifetime. While there are, of course, continuities, we are different in high school than in college and different again in a college senior year than we were when new to college life. It occurs to me that we do not perceive the world in quite the same way, and therefore the imagery that we might employ to represent something as a high school senior might be significantly different from that we employ as a college senior or a doctoral candidate. This author must have insights into that, but I don't recall any of that being raised here which mades me sad and a little disappointed.

That aside, though, I think this book has value and it was a worthy read for me. There were some minor issues related to the fact that this was obviously designed as a print book with little thought given to the electronic version which is why page 73 for example, led to blank page 71, which in turn led to page 74! Strange but true. Note that this was an advance review copy, so maybe there will be changes to get rid of the 'sticky' screens, where one swipe won't move the screen to the next one.

I had several similar issues with books I read this weekend, all of which were no doubt designed as print books while other books I read had no such issues so something was going on independently of my tablet. Maybe I should have tried two tablets and written this in the morning?! But my considered opinion is that the ebook version requires attention and I'm sorry publishers undervalue ebooks so badly. Sometimes I found myself swiping three or four screens just to get the page numbering to go up by one! Obviously there is an issue with the conversion process which perhaps ought to be given some serious attention if this is going to be actually issued as an ebook.

But I am willing to let that slide and declare this a worthy read because I think this process has a lot of potential.


Portfolio: Beginning Pen & Ink by Desarae Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Part of the Portfolio art series from Walter Foster Publishing, this book takes the reader from beginning level to competency status with advice on tools of the trade, techniques, step-by-step examples, and ideas for projects. It covers drawing techniques for achieving ink effects such as softly graduated shading, each aimed at improving your drawing technique and making it look ever more advanced and professional.

The book instructs on terminology with examples, explaining light, mood, shadow, texture, tone and value in terms of drawing effects, and while most of the book is black ink on white paper, it also introduces the idea of using color. This book was designed as a print book and there were issues with the page numbering such that, even on a full-screen iPad, I had to swipe by four screens before the page number went up by one. I'm not sure what was up with that. It looked to me like this was yet another book designed with little thought given to the electronic version. Aside from making it difficult to go to a specific page to reference something I'd read earlier, this was a minor issue, and overall I consider this a worthy read and a useful asset to anyone who is interested in pursuing this as a hobby or a career.