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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine by Anaële Hermans, Delphine Hermans

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is an interesting story told in graphic novel form, of a trip to Israel and Palestine by one of a pair of sisters (Anaële the writer), the other sister (Delphine the artist) remaining in Belgium. I never did get out of it why the one sister went and not the other, or how she financed her trip which lasted ten months, or what the actual reason was for her trip!

The other thing that was missing was any sense of history which would have put the present circumstances into perspective. This conflict (which is much too polite a word for it) between these two peoples, and which has religion at its root, did not arise yesterday! It's been going on for centuries, but most notably since 1948 when Palestine, as it was then, was carved into two, with the Palestinians being given what is now known as Jordan, and the Israelis being given a sliver of land along the Mediterranean coast.

On the day Israel was effectively created, it was invaded by four Arab nations (later joined by four others) and yet it held its own without outside help from anyone. It's been under siege ever since, with a continual rain of rockets and mortars (well over ten thousand combined) onto Israeli territory which has been beset by terrorist attacks for some seventy years.

Over just the last two decades, these attacks have killed over two dozen Israeli civilians, five foreign nationals, at least eleven Palestinians, and only five Israeli soldiers. None of this is ever mentioned in these stories. The wall which looms large, both figuratively and literally in this story is a direct outcome of these attacks, yet none of this is ever mentioned in stories like these.

None of this excuses the Israeli behavior towards innocent Palestinians, either, which is quite flatly inexcusable, but it does put it in context. This story focuses on Palestinian deprivations and hardships, and on efforts by both Palestinians and Israelis to address the conflict. For that reason, because it gives a different and very personal perspective and about country I have also traveled in (Israel) and visited many of the places mentioned here, I consider it a worthy read, because it tells a story which definitely needs to be told, and which was both saddening and heartwarming in almost equal measures.

Atheism: The Case Against God by George H Smith

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a book which covers the ground which Richard Dawkins was accused of failing to cover in his excellent The God Delusion, but as Dawkins himself mentioned in that book, it was never his intention to do that since it had been done already - in books such as this one! Note that these arguments are not new (indeed, the copyright on this one is some forty years old), and some of them go back to antiquity, but the refutations still stand as strong as ever since nothing new or original has arisen to overturn these.

The author opens with a discussion of the scope of atheism and the concept of a god, and then specifically looks at the god of Christianity. In part two, he considers reason versus faith, the varieties of faith, and the revelation. Part three addresses the arguments for a god tackling them one after another: those from natural theology, from a first cause, from contingency, and from design: a non-argument which has been much popularized lately by those who are clueless about science and who call themselves creation scientists. Trust me, there is no such thing as creation science unless the definition of science is changed by faith so that it equates to 'carping about things you don't like and can refute neither by logic nor by counter evidence'.

He concludes with a discussion of the practical consequences of belief and the sins of Christianity.

I recommend this as a worthy read, but please note that you can these days find pretty much everything this book contains online.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Dry by Clare Liardet

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I thought this book was a great idea and I enjoyed it, but I have to say I had some issues with the nutritional claims made for some of the fruit employed in these drinks!

The idea behind this, which I think is great, is to supply recipes for an assortment of alcohol-free, fruit and vegetable drinks, and while some were not to my personal taste, most of them sounded delicious and I plan on trying some of them out. I think the best way to enjoy these is to forget about any nutritional benefits and simply enjoy a good drink made with fresh fruit, which is plenty good enough for me!

Fresh fruit is good for you, better than store-bought, processed fruit juice, because it contains fiber in a natural whole fruit. It also contains vitamins and minerals, but we need to be careful about what claims we make for what a given fruit contains. For example, pineapple is a good source for manganese and vitamin C, but it has no other significant value nutritionally and it's misleading to suggest that it does.

While grapefruit does have vitamin C it has less than half the potassium that a banana does. Pink grapefruit does have lycopene which is an antioxidant, but note that some fruits such as grapefruit can interfere with drug absorption, so if you plan on enjoying a lot of fruit and fruit drinks, be sure to run your plan by your doctor for advice on whether your drug regimen is going to be adversely affected by it - just to be safe!

Note also that rhubarb leaves are toxic, but the stems have a wide variety of vitamins (at low levels), a decent amount of vitamin k, and low levels of an assortment of minerals. The claim that ginger root has antibacterial, ani-inflammatory, or antiviral properties needs to be taken with a pinch of that Himalayan salt. Ginger can cause problems too, including allergic reactions, and there’s no medical evidence that it has any ability to control nausea.

There’s also no evidence that Himalayan salt is any better for you than regular salt either, and raw Himalayan salt can contain lead if it’s not purified. The pink color is from dead microorganisms that lived in the ocean where this was formed. Himalayan salt is really just sea salt that's over a hundred million years old so you could argue that it's not exactly fresh!

Since raw honey is a potential source of botulism, it’s not recommended for very young children. It does contain more nutrients than processed honey, but it also contains a lot of calories. In my non-medical opinion, if you’re eating a healthy diet anyway, raw honey isn’t going to contribute anything you’ll miss, so you may as well use the processed kind. Also, while turmeric is related to the ginger plant, there’s no medical evidence that this has any health properties either.

The blood orange on the other hand is indeed colored red by anthocyanins and may - possibly, it’s too early to call - have some value in aiding weight loss. But there isn't just one kind of blood orange. They come in quite a variety and some varieties are sweeter than others.

So like I said, setting the nutrition claims to one side and enjoying the drinks simply for the fun and the fresh fruit and veggies seems to me to be a winning plan. That's what I plan on doing. On that basis I recommend this book as a worthy read.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Twisting Fate by Pamela Munster

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Not to be confused with Twisted Fate by Pamela Kennedy (there is a score of "Twisted Fate" novels!), this is the true story of a doctor and professor of Medical Oncology who works at the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, a part of the University of California San Francisco, who becomes a patient and thereby gets to see her work from the other side. It's a perspective not granted to many people and definitely one no-one would choose when it comes to the medical profession, but as a doctor and a scientist, this author makes the most of it, exploring her feelings as well as her diagnosis, and constantly relating it back to her interactions with her own patients both prior to her diagnosis and afterwards as well as to the prevalence of breast cancer nationwide in the USA.

The events are written well-enough that we get to feel what the doctor/patient feels, but nowhere is it flowery or so sugary that it's actually sickening. Quite the contrary. It's very sober and a little depressing at times, but it makes for an engrossing and useful read. The relation of her reactions and feelings came across as realistic and authentic, just as if they were our own, and they made me live the experience as much as it's possible for someone of the opposite gender (why opposite? Shouldn't it be complementary gender?!) and someone who has no such diagnosis can live it.

I've actually worked in a hospital oncology ward - not as a caregiver but as support personnel, mind - yet I needed none of that knowledge to follow and understand this because the text was informative and did not talk down to the reader, while still simply explaining problems and concepts as they arose.

There were, I have to say, multiple grammar issues in the text - more than I usually see in an advance review copy. Hopefully these will be corrected before the actual published copy is released. I list them here to that end:

  • "So at worst the tumor would small" - I assume this should read 'would BE small'
  • "Kate told me that she had noted that her skin dimpling about a couple of months back" - I assume this should read, 'skin WAS dimpling' or 'noted her skin dimpling' (omit 'that').
  • " woman needs the dreadfully surgery..." - dreadful, not dreadfully
  • "...the goal to reduce the body's estrogen in the body." Too many bodies! Either 'to reduce estrogen in the body' or 'to reduce the body's estrogen'
  • "So why are so many mastectomies are still being done" - Too many 'are's!
  • "What appeared important early on may not remained important as the time goes by" - 'may not HAVE remained important'?
  • “And all of us a sudden I found myself weeping” There's an us that shouldn't be in there.
  • “...specific sections on chromosomes 17...” There’s only one chromosome 17 per genome!

One thing I couldn’t help but find curious in this book was how little involvement the author's husband appears to have in this. It’s not my business and not my place to judge; a marriage either works or it doesn't work according to its own rules, and everyone's is different, but after having read a book recently where the author brought her husband into it to what felt like an inappropriate degree, this book contrasted sharply with that one in that it felt like this author all but excluded her husband in a situation where emotional support from family is a critical component of patient care. It may well just have been an accident of the way this was written, and since this was an ARC, things may change before the final published version, but I think it's worth some thought regarding adopting this approach.

This seemed especially relevant given that her husband is also an oncologist and thereby had a much deeper insight into what was going on than your typical spouse might. More of his involvement would have been welcome in my opinion, but there's this one brief mention when they were on a hiking holiday right before she was due to have a double radical mastectomy, and she asked him how he felt about her losing both breasts and he didn't even address the question. Instead began talking about something entirely unrelated.

That to me, seemed decidedly odd, if not outright callous. The author explained it away by saying that's how he always as - it wasn't a big deal to him so he wasn't interested in talking about it, but it presented him in a very cold light, especially when contrasted with how frequently she mentions how emotionally supportive her staff and colleagues were. It stood out quite starkly.

The author talks about her colleagues, staff, and patients quite freely, too. I am assuming - and hoping! - that she's changed the patient names at least. I also hope she asked her colleagues if they wanted to be mentioned. I'm a very private person so had I been a colleague I would have resented being talked about so freely in someone else's book, but each to her or his own.

Normally I ignore things like introductions, prefaces, prologues, author's notes, acknowledgements and dedications as well as chapter quotes and so on in books, but in this case I actually went looking for an intro or a note to see if there was anything mentioned about this: permissions and name changes, but there was not, so there was no information to be had on this topic.

I was once again disappointed here (as I have been in other books from academically inclined authors) to discover that the book is evidently formatted as a print book, with what I call 'academic margins' - meaning the margin is excessive - an inch or more (and even greater at the bottom of the page). I have to ask when are writers and publishers going to respect the only entity on the planet that is actively and dedicatedly trying to combat climate change: trees?

The text on each page occupies only fifty percent of the page. No one wants to see the entire page covered in text of course, but if this book had margins even half the existing size, and the text had not been quite so generously-spaced, the book could well have been maybe half as long, and thereby slaughtered fifty percent fewer trees. Writers and publishers need to think seriously about this, because it matters even in an ebook, which requires more energy to store, retrieve and transmit when it’s longer.

One more curiosity! When I went to look up the author at her professional page on the University web site, I found two links and each seemed to link to a different people! I think it’s really the same person but the two photos look so different: one is a blond, the other much darker haired. Her professional history though is impressive. This is one hard-working doctor!

Despite some issues I had with it, I liked this book a lot. I think it's important and useful, and I recommend it for anyone interested in what those inflicted with cancer go through and what the options are for combatting this awful disease which, despite its virulence, is slowly succumbing to technology and medical science - and to the wisdom and dedication of healthcare professionals like this one. This is a worthy read.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T Parker

Rating: WORTHY!

This book consists of a series of sections showing the different ways that girls can be strong, from overcoming personal handicaps (so called) to being a good friend, excelling in some activity or other, and so on. There are pictures galore of girls who are strong, of all ages, ethnicities, interests, and social classes, and each has something pithy and engaging to say.

The sections include:

  • Wild is strong
  • Kind is strong
  • Resilient is Strong
  • Fearless is Strong
  • Independent is strong

This is a powerful and dangerous book and never has it been more important than in an era where we have a weak president who won his office on a minority vote against a strong female opponent. It would make a great gift for any young girl, especially one who might be going through a tough time. I recommend this as a great ego booster and confidence builder, and a team builder, too - to show your young girl she's not alone and she won't fail.

冬には動物園 (Fuyu ni wa dōbu-tsuen - A Zoo in Winter) by Jirō Taniguchi

Rating: WORTHY!

Chevalier Jiro Taniguchi (he's a knight in France!) died last year at the age of 69. I understand that this book, published in 2008, but set in 1966, is autobiographical and tells the story of how he got into manga in the first place - on the production side, not the reading side. That distinction is important, because this work almost never shows him reading a comic! When we meet him, that's all we get: someone on a voyage, or more accurately adrift, apparently never having departed a port. There's no history here excepting in what we learn tangentially as he floats along, carried by life's currents rather than rowing his own passage. As an autobiography it also drifts from reality in that he's a character with a different name in the story.

He is working in a small textile business and hoping to get a shot at design when, on a trip to visit a friend, he finds himself hijacked into working for a major mangaka - a creator of manga. I'm far from convinced that exchanging the life he had in what I understand is a beautiful Kyoto was worth moving to megacity Tokyo for (the population there was ten million even in 1966!), but never having been to either place, knowing only what I read, I have to take his word for it! I do find it intriguing that Kyoto becomes Tokyo by simply moving the first three letters to the end of the word! This works equally in Japanese or English, but whether it means the same thing when switched in Japanese, I can’t say.

But I digress, as usual. His lowly job is filling in the blanks in the artist's work - painting backgrounds and so on. This seems highly suitable since he is himself a background to the lives of others as told in this story. Eventually he gets his own work published and the rest is history. The story is a bit weird at times and slow moving, but overall I liked it and I recommend it.

Don't Dangle Your Participle by Vanita Oelschlager, Mike DeSantis

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Vanita Oelschlager taught school for two decades and now teaches children via books! I've favorably reviewed at least two of hers before: A Tale of Two Daddies and A Tale of Two Mommies. This one is precisely one of those teaching books - aimed at something that's really quite important for any writer who doesn't want to look like a complete goofball! Or perhaps more accurately, an incomplete goofball?! I've noticed errors of the type demonstrated here in published books which I've reviewed, so no one is free of this pitfall.

I can never think of 'dangling participle' without thinking of Tim Curry in the Sylvester Stallone comedy movie Oscar. He plays a speech therapist, Doctor Pool...oh wait! I need to re-arrange that sentence! Curry plays a speech therapist, Doctor pool, who is being employed by Stallone's gangster character, "Snaps" Provolone, who is trying to go legit. At one point, Connie, Snaps's henchman, says, "Congratulations Doc! Will there be a honeymoon following?" and Dr Pool replies, "Watch it there Connie, you've got a dangling participle!" which Connie completely misinterprets of course.

That movie didn't do so well, although I love it, but there's nothing naughty or risqué in this book. Using examples of everyday children's activities: going to the zoo, eating ice cream (hopefully not an everyday activity!), skateboarding and so on, we get to see the error and then the correction, supported by some amusing and colorful illustrations by Mike DeSantis and there's even a page at the end showing how to draw and color a lion! I liked this book and think it well worth sharing with your children.

Foam Crafts for Kids by Suzanne McNeil

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled: Over 100 Colorful Craft Foam Projects to Make with Your Kids, this book was a fun read. I have to say up front that i personally am not a fan of foam crafts, nor have iI ever indulged in any, but I read this book through and I looked up the details of making these things (everything you need to know is in this book!), and I have no doubt that if you follow the author's instructions, you will make these items successfully, and take a joy in doing them, especially if you're a young kid.

Some of the items have a practical use, others are decorative (which is also practical when you think about it!). There were some really fun items. I particularly found the finger puppets amusing. I'm in process of putting out a series of amateur children's books called The Little Rattuses, which is mainly done with drawings and photographs, but I can see myself putting out one of these books featuring images made purely from foam-crafted rats after reading this. I'm not kidding!

I can see kids having a ton of fun with these items (finger puppets I'm looking at you!), and with the satisfaction of knowing you can make your own toys! Working with one's hands has the advantage of somewhat rewiring one's brain and allowing you to see things differently. That's never a bad thing, and it prepares children for other challenges later in life.

I think the book is well done. It's a blaze of color, with examples and templates for cutting out shapes (not sure how those work in the ebook version, quite honestly!), as well as many tips and hints for success. This author is serious about this craft and it shows in her advice, safety tips, and hints and examples. I recommend this for anyone interested in crafting and in teaching kids a craft.

The Beatles on the Roof by Tony Barrell

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a short, easy read, full of interesting facts, informative asides, and rife with anecdote, detailing the rather depressing period leading up to the street-clogging Beatles "concert" on the roof of their Savile Row office building in London's toney Mayfair district. What they were actually doing is making a documentary about making an album, and they had ascended to the roof to record some songs, which is why they played some of them more than once - although the video release of the occasion doesn't make this clear. The film though, in many ways, became a documentary about the disintegration of the Beatles, and Let it Be became their swan song, even though they went on to record an equally famous (if not more so) album directly afterwards, called Abbey Road.

It was perhaps a fittingly cold day - especially on the roof where the wind blew across a London unfettered by the plethora of skyscrapers which have sprouted there more recently - to reflect the chill between the fab four, each wanting their own life, their own way, their own recognition. John was into heroin and even more into Yoko. He seemed completely lethargic, leaving it all on Paul to try and keep things moving, which made the latter seem like a drill-sergeant at times. George was disillusioned with being treated as third string after the internationally famous song-writing duo of Lennon-McCartney.

Ringo, whom the other Beatles called Ritchie - which after all was his name! - was annoyed by the constant bickering. He took off for a two week holiday. Later, George announced he was quitting and walked out. Eventually they all came back together, perhaps never more so than on the roof that day, when everything was forgotten but the band and the music, and they rocked out just like they had a mere half-dozen years before, at the start of their distress-flare career which arced so brightly over the sixties.

Paul really wanted to do a live concert and record that for the album. They talked about places they could do it - such as Tunisia or Russia, or even some venue in London, but George was dead set against performing live again. As each new suggestion was tossed out, one or other of them would veto it until the idea arose, parodying the words of a McCartney song, "Why don't we do it on the roof?" And after having people come in an put up scaffolding so the roof would not collapse under the weight of the people and equipment, they did it on the roof on a day that will be remembered in fame.

This book makes for a fascinating read (although I could have done without being reminded yet one more time that Paul's Höfner violin bass still had the playlist stuck on it from their last (real) concert in San Francisco's Candlestick Park from several years before.

The book had some ebook issues of the type which are common in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. In this case the issue was that the um was removed from the laut! I'm joking, but what I mean by that is that, the umlauts are off to the right of the letter they're supposed to be hovering above! I have no idea how that happened, but it was consistent throughout the ebook.

Presumably this will be fixed before the published version is released. I didn't even know it was possible to separate them like that, but I promise you if the Kindle-izing process can screw up an ebook, it will. You can't submit anything to this system except plain vanilla text if you don't want it mangled. My recommendation is to use the Nook format or a PDF. But note that I am highly biased against Amazon for its business practices and for personal reasons.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins

Rating: WARTY!

This is an educational book about animals and the senses that they have at their command, which tend to put out own to shame, but I can't recommend it because it was so annoying to use unless all you ever want to do is to swipe from page one to the last page and back again. The page-swiping was a bit 'sticky' and slow, and there is no slide bar to rapidly move to different portions of the book.

The images are drawings which are in color but are nothing spectacular. No photographs here. There is a small paragraph of text to accompany each illustration. The book covers a bunch of different senses, fro example revealing that an octopus can taste you through its suckers! Yuk!

Other than that, it's not that great and I'd recommend looking at other options before considering this one, at least in ebook format.

Formerly Known as Food by Kristin Lawless

Rating: WORTHY!

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

" information flow constantly back and forth between the gut and the brain....” should read "flows"?

Subtitled "How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture," this book is a tour-de-force of information on how our diet had changed over the last few generations to a point where it bears little relation to what our grandparents and great-grandparents ate. This may not seem like a problem: active change is pretty much the definition of life, when you think about it, but just like the ocean surface reveals very little about what’s going on underneath, so our dietary changes and the way food is grown, processed and packaged are having a significant, and in many cases dangerous, impact on our bodies and minds.

There's no table of contents in the front of this book. It's in the back! Whether there will be changed in the published print copy I can’t say. it was clickable back and forth - something which i see little value in. Imagine my amazement then to discover that the references - it was a very referenced effort - did not work at all!! So when it came to checking the copious references the author includes in her text, the lack of clickability (or tappability these days - if these were not words, they are now!) was a nuisance because it made it really hard to find the actual reference. In this book there are no footnotes and no chapter-end notes. There is a long set of references at the end of the book, but you can’t click to them or click back from them.

This isn't a problem with the writing quality or the book topic, but it bothers me how primitive this is in an era of common and very pervasive ebooks. These days it ought to be possible to reference something in your book and be able to tap that reference to have it pop up right there on the page without having to swipe to the back of the book to find it and hope you're looking at the right one! In a semi-scholarly work like this one, it ought to be possible to tap the reference and have it open your browser and go to the study or paper the book is referring to so you can see it right there and then. Evidently we're still a long way from that.

I know Amazon's crappy Kindle app is probably the worst in the business as compared with other formats such as PDF or the Nook, for example, for facilitating a good reader experience. Kindle is another way of saying 'mangle' in my experience, and we all know what 'kindling' is good for, but publishers are powerful entities. Some would argue they're too powerful, but that's not quite so true in this era of self-publishing as it used to be. That said, why are they not using that power to pressure the makers of reading apps to make books like this much more user-friendly? Pet peeve! Moving on!

I recommend this book because it carries an important message and not only that, it also marshals an impressive array of evidence. There are caveats to that though, which I shall delve into shortly, but that aside, this is, overall, a good effort. The author is not a scientist. She's a Certified Nutrition Educator, but she makes smart arguments and puts together a good basic case.

My problems with this book ran to referenced supportive material. References are often only tangentially supportive of the assertions made by the author, and they are not 'clickable' - once in a while there is one that is highlighted in blue and if you can tap it with your finger, will take you to a reference, but this applies only to rare end of chapter notes, not to book notes. It was often difficult to tap those references and get there, especially if it was at the top of a screen, because instead of going to the link, Kindle would drop down the little margin at the top of their screen which contains the time and settings icons! I actually tapped one link only by pure accident after I was ready to give up an trying to tap it! Annoying!

The lack of tappable links for the references though, made it a nightmare trying to verify the author's statements connected with the link because I had to jump to the back of the book and wade through the large number of references jammed together there, to try and find the one I needed. I think instead of starting numbering the references over for each chapter, they should have been continually numbered so a reader can be sure they have the correct one: was I in chapter two or chapter three? Which reference '1' out of several back there do I need to look at? I did not try to look at every reference, just a few. While noting that this was an advance review copy and therefore subject to change before publishing, what follows is what I found with regard to some of them.

At one point I read, "...the current generation of children is expected to have a shorter life span than their parents." yet when I followed the link and looked at the reference, the paper was by S. Jay Olshansky, et al, and the title was “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States Note the word 'potential'! There is a big difference between an expectation of, and a potential for something happening! Things like this harm a book's message because they make the author look more sensationalist than sensational.

At another point I read "GMOs were not introduced to the American food supply until the 1990s, so we don’t know a lot about their long-term safety or healthfulness. Even organic corn is likely contaminated with GMOs." I have yet to see what the harm is in GMOs. My position is that some are probably a bad idea, others are fine. I, like the author evidently, do have reservations about the activities of a very powerful company like Monsanto, yet while keeping that caveat in mind, the fact is that nature mixes genes between plants all the time, and the human race goes on! I don't think the jury is in yet on the benefits or otherwise of GMO's in general, so I have to ask why the negative connotation added by the author and carried in that one word: contaminated? Like this is necessarily an evil thing? So again, the wording was overly dramatic.

After talking about how food monitoring agencies are funded by agribusiness, the author extolls a report by Monell Chemical Senses Center which is funded from a variety of sources including, according to Wikipedia, “unrestricted corporate sponsorships”! Pot meet kettle!

I read, “My grandmother...was always skeptical of the benefits of organic foods. She thought it a marketing ploy to get people to spend more money,” but in my understanding,there is no real regulation or inspection of organic foods, so I've never been a big fan. But let;s not get overly dramatic about them. I read, “The review stated that pesticide residues were found in only 7 percent of organics but 38 percent of conventional foods,” and while that's far from ideal, it's certainly not the massive contamination that's been suggested! Two third of non-oganic food is also fine! And some organic food is actually 'contaminated'!

The author mentions “Horizon Organic milk, with its bright red label and happy cow on the container, gives the impression of a bucolic standard” After buying a carton of Horizon milk that, when opened, smelled of fish one time, and complaining to Horizon only to be brushed off, I have never bought another thing with their name on it. I won't touch Horizon products, so I was onboard with the comments made about how big and blended they were! I am not a fan of mega-corporations.

The author says, “Some of that common sense wisdom that farmers speak of is being replicated in the lab with findings that the fruits and vegetables we eat today are far less nutrient dense than those our grandparents ate,” and she cites “a study” but gives no reference! This made me suspicious, as did a claim in an article that was quoted uncritically which said, “...the recipe for mother's milk is one that female bodies have been developing for 300 million years,” but the earliest known mammal is barely over 200 million years old! I'm not sure where the author of the article gets this ancient date from!

There's a section of this book which bemoans the increase of C-section births, antibiotics, and lack of breastfeeding, but published online in October 2014 makes no mention of the disappearance of Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis from our gut. In fact, I couldn't find anything online which did talk about the disappearance of this group of bacteria even as I found mention after mention of its benefits.

The paper referenced by me above says, "The colonization of the fetal gut begins in utero with swallowing of amniotic fluid" so it's not entirely dependent on vaginal delivery. I do agree though that antibiotics and C-Section pose threats of one sort or another, but the author fails to mention that while C-sections have risen alarmingly, so that they now comprise about a third of births in the western world, it's still only a third, and only in the last two to three decades. Allergies and other issues began rising long before that. It's the rather alarmist parts of this book which bothered me, even as I considered it a worthy read for the important information it does convey. A more measured tone would have been wiser.

Breastfeeding is also not a rarity. In Australia for example, almost all mothers start out breastfeeding. It's the lack of continuation of it that's a potential problem, because by the age of one year less than a third are still doing it. I guess they feel they need to wean children asap because breastfeeding is time-consuming and they're poorly educated with regard to the importance of continuing it. Prevalence of breastfeeding was the lowest in the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, but even in these countries, the prevalence was 70%, 69.5%, and 62.6% according to this study in 2012.

So it's misleading for this author to imply that Caesarian section has risen to such dramatic heights or that breastfeeding has plummeted so precipitously that it's affecting children's health and contributing massively to opportunistic disease, allergies, and conditions. I do allow that she has a point about antibiotics, but while we can suggest natural birth as much as possible, as an antidote to C-Sections, and a lengthy breastfeeding as an alternative to formula, what is the use of antibiotics going to be replaced with? Crossed fingers and a hope that infection doesn't set in?

We could ask that antibiotics only be used as needed and not routinely, but that's a medical decision and I think most doctors know this, but there's the ever-present danger, particularly in litigation-happy USA, of a lawsuit if something is omitted and there are consequences. What we can do is have children fed a dose of the good bacteria after they're born, and after any series of antibiotics has ended, in order to keep their gut in good shape, but the author never raised this option as far as I recall.

Instead, I read, “Because traveling down the birth canal is the critical means for acquiring your microbiota, those who miss out on this process face lifelong health consequences,“ yet the reference in this case was useless with regard to supporting the author's thesis and was really hard to get to to boot!

part of the problem with this book that I had was what was not covered. It seems to be largely US-based, like the USA is the only country int hew world worth considering. it;s nit. What I kept wondering, but was kept in the dark about, was how other countries fare. Yes, there was an occasional reference here and there that strayed outside the borders, but always it was back to the USASAP. I felt there was a lot that could have been learned by taking a more global view. For example, obesity is rare in Japan, so what is it they're doing that we're not? This book was silent on such things.

I read quite a bit about the Hadza bush people in Africa. The idea is that since they lead an existence far more akin to what all humans did before farming became prevalent in our culture, maybe we can learn things from them and their microbiota. A putative dissenting voice was addressed so: “The argument usually goes something like, 'Well, we live far longer than those populations so we must be doing something right'.” The response was along the lines of "But that argument falls flat with just a little bit of scrutiny. In hunter-gatherer societies most mortality occurs within the first five years of life because their sanitation isn’t on par with ours, thereby increasing the risk for infections. In addition, they don’t have access to antibiotics for true life-threatening infections, or access to vaccinations, so it is understandable that infant mortality rates are high.“

Isn't this a refutation of precisely the argument the author is making with regard to natural birth and eating whole, unadulterated food, which these people do exclusively? Never once did this author ask why infant mortality was so high. And yes, the Hadza do have a comparable life-span to the rest of us if they survive the first five years, after that, but this is one society. Why look only at one that supports your thesis and ignore others which do not - such as, for example, ancient Egyptians, who had a relatively stress-free life and very pure foods compared with ours, and yet who lived only into their thirties for the most part? It would have been nice to have seen the author play devil's advocate instead of harping only on her own theme.

The author references a 2016 paper regarding an experiment by Erica D. Sonnenburg et al with two sets of mice, each of which was artificially infested with the same specific set of gut microorganisms. One set of mice was fed a diet rich in fiber whereas the other was poor in fiber. The results over four generations showed that gut bacteria diversity was adversely impacted by the low fiber diet. I don't have a problem accepting this at all, but the author's report made no mention of the mice's health! Was thatadversely impacted or were both groups equally healthy? In which case, what did this study show that was relevant to her thesis?

I couldn't read the study itself, because it's hidden behind Nature journal's paywall. It may well be that health was impacted (or would be), but to present a study like this which does not directly support the author's thesis is confusing a best, and misleading in that it implies such a thing when it actually makes no such claim. Another example of this was when I read that “It’s important to remember that you first must have microbes that are capable of feeding on the short-chain fatty acids. The findings of German and his colleagues and the Sonnenburgs and their colleagues remind us that many strains of these beneficial bacteria have probably disappeared from the guts of those of us living in Western world.“ Probably? The reference for this was hard to find in the end notes, but seems to refer to insulin growth factor which isn't relevant here! i read a similar thing when I read, “The discovery that many of the chemicals we are consuming every day are EDCs, and are probably changing our bodies” Again, note key word 'probably'! That may well be true, but it’s not a strong argument!

Interestingly, while searching for the article to which the author referred, I came across one which explicitly says that "Human populations with a diet enriched in complex carbohydrates, such as the Hadza hunter gatherers from Tanzania, have increased diversity of the gut microbiota (Schnorr et al., 2014). In contrast, long-term intake of high-fat and high-sucrose diet can lead to the extinction of several taxa of the gut microbiota." This one would seem to fly in the face of earlier suggestions in this book that we should reduce carbohydrates and increase fats! It only goes to show that this is a very complex topic, and the welter of information flying around can be confusing to the lay person (which includes me!). The author sort of touches on this aspect of the problem without going into much of an exploration of it and how it can be counteracted. Even such a simple thing as defining terms can help.

I read of one man who had lived with the Hadza and followed their way of life for a while and he discovered: "The results showed clear differences between my starting sample and after three days of my forager diet. The good news was my gut microbial diversity increased a stunning 20%, including some totally novel African microbes, such as those of the phylum Synergistetes." note that this isn't a study and the plural of anecdote, as scientists ay, is not data But though it is just an anecdote of one man's experience, it does suggest, as a counter to some of the author's assertions, that all is not lost and a change in diet can increase diversity.

Note that this article:
suggests that there are few Hadza and fewer still who pursue traditional lifestyle. Additionally, their diet is extremely restricted: "The Hadza number just over 1,000 people, fewer than 200 of whom adhere to the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which includes a diet composed mainly of five items: meat, berries, baobab (a fruit), tubers and honey." This isn't clear from what the author writes so again this book was misleading as to sample size, and dietary variation.

The article also says, "A 2016 study, published in Nature and led by Sonnenburg and senior research scientist Erica Sonnenburg, PhD, showed that while depriving mice of dietary fiber greatly reduced their gut-microbial species diversity, this diversity was restored when the dietary-fiber restriction was lifted. But if this fiber deprivation was maintained for four generations, microbial species that had initially bounced back robustly became permanently lost." This isn't exactly clear from the book, which talks only of diversity being lost over several generations, and doesn't emphasize that while we cannot replace what has truly been completely lost - not through ordinary means - we can repair what we have by a change in our diet.

It would have been nice in this book to have had less a tsunami of facts and references and more of a coherent story as to what the problem is, what the real connection is to diet and micro biota, and what we can do, realistically and practically to fix it. The author does get into that towards the end of the book and that made for impressive reading. It just takes a while to get there! I think that's one of the weaknesses of the book in that it makes for very dense reading and I cannot see this taking off popularly, which is really what a book like this needs to do, and if it doesn't, that will be a shame.

Another issue was the conflation of correlation with causation! I read, “As I mentioned, this also points to why colon and rectal cancers are now on the rise in people in their twenties and thirties in the Western world...” but just because two things happen at the same time doesn't mean they're connected. I encountered this error several times; perhaps the author has arguments and data to support such assertions, but these were either not made or not well made.

What really shone in this book for me was chapter nine where the author launches a polemic as breathtaking as it is depressing about the devaluation and even oppression of women over the last hundred years by confining them to the house and effectively enslaving them - because that's what unpaid labor is and that's what far too many women have been reduced to doing for far too many years as "housewives' stuck between the kitchen and a vacuum cleaner. This chapter is excellent, well-written, forceful, and really quite beautiful to read. It certainly won back a lot of my good grace (as well as "Goodness Gracious!") after some of the issues I'd had earlier.

So, overall, and with the caveat that this book takes some reading, I recommend it as a worthy read because it makes some really good arguments and is an important contribution to our understanding of an increasing lack of wellness in society and of possible counter-measures we - as individuals - can undertake - and the hell with government and agribusiness who, let's face it, aren't going to do a damned thing to help as long as they can keep on minting money on the backs of the sick people they;re promoting. And you can read that last clause however you like!

Friday, May 18, 2018

American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice, with uncredited contributions by Taya Kyle

Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is a review of the author's attitudes as expressed in this autobiography and the story itself. It is not a review of the military in general. Far from it: I listened to a different audiobook a short while ago, and also written by a Navy Seal, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. It was a whole different perspective from this one, and a much wiser, smarter, and mainstream one. And it was read by the author, not by a guy who sounds like his last gig was on Hee-Haw.

Having listened to this audiobook until I could no longer stand the jingoism, racism, self-promotion, utterly braindead patriotism, and rabid bloodlust any longer, I recommend the movie. Neither the book nor the movie is anything to write home about (which is why I'm posting it on my blog instead!), but if you must do one of these options, then my advice is to avoid the book like insurgents typically avoid a pitched battle. When I went looking for the movie, having given up on the book, Netflix predictably did not have it as usual. Great business model, Netflix! As usual Amazon predictably did have it for purchase at the usual $14.99. I wasn't buy-curious and the library had it for free, so take that, Net-azon!

I'd had the audiobook from the library also, but hadn't been interested in the movie until I'd listened to some of the book; then I became intrigued as to what a blinkered right-winger had done with a fascist document like this, and I confess I was surprised it wasn't worse. It starred Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal sniper billed as the deadliest in US history with over 160 confirmed kills. Bradley Cooper does the voice of Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy, so I was curious to see what he did when not impersonating a genetically-modified raccoon. He was pretty good. The movie was a right-wing redneck wet-dream, but even so, I'd recommend it way over this autobiography.

The dishonest blurb (all Big Publishing™ book blurbs are dishonest to one extent or another) claims that "Iraqi insurgents feared Kyle so much they named him al-Shaitan ('the devil') and placed a bounty on his head," but my guess is that it was not fear, merely hatred. It's what terrorists do. That in fact is the definition of terrorism: if it's not like us, subjugate it and if that isn't easy, kill it. The really ironic thing is that the author never held that sadly battle-bloodied mirror up to himself, probably because had he done so, he would have seen a reflection that was far too disturbingly familiar.

The author claims to be a Christian and repeatedly talks about religion and prayer. He puts the order as: his god, his country, his family, which really makes him no different than any other adherent of one of the big three monotheistic religions including the one he hates. The truth is that he - as in the case of most 'Christians' - doesn't actually follow Christ (who was a Judaist not a Christian). Instead, they follow Paul, who very effectively sabotaged and undermined everything Christ purportedly taught.

Very few of these believers embrace the portions of Christianity dealing with turning the other cheek, of going the extra mile, of giving your coat. Those things are very conveniently forgotten by "warriors" (a term this author liked to over-employ), who are praying even as they get amped-up when going into battle. The author is very much an Old Testament believer: all savage justice, shunning the New like most of his fellow right-wing believers, none of whom have any more faith than does a Pope who drives around in a bullet-proof vehicle.

There is asininity in this book. At one point the author says of his kills, "The Number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more." Contradiction anyone? If it's not important, why wish anything about it? He consistently refers to all Iraqis as savages, and at one point in the narrative, he expressed a desire to kill anyone carrying a Koran, but fortunately for the reputation of the US military, he heroically restrained himself. No one can argue that he did not save American lives by what he did. Given that he was there, in that situation, I certainly have no problem with that.

The problem is that never once does he question the validity of being there in the first place. Did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11? No! Were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? No! I could see a rationale - rightly or wrongly - for going into Afghanistan, but there was none for Iraq at all. Anyone who idiotically chants 'my country, right or wrong' is a moron, period. It's not patriotic to follow your government mindlessly and unquestioningly, especially when the result is almost seven thousand US soldiers dead, and over a million injured. And an estimated half-million dead Iraqis, not all of whom were insurgents by any means.

Most people who've served, particularly if they've been in the thick of it, do not favor talking about it over-much. They're stoic and reserved, and understand better than anyone how savage and indiscriminate war is. When they leave service, they want to put it behind them and move on. Assuming PTSD and/or injury allows them to do so. This author is certainly not one of those people, and while I can see this book appealing to a certain element, I can see no value in it as it stands, especially since it's been cheapened by the author himself.

It's not only tragic, but criminal that he died the way he did after surviving so much in Iraq, but when he tells stories that cannot be verified, perhaps tall stories about things he has done in the US - such as murdering 'troublemakers' in New Orleans after Katrina, or killing two guys who tried to rob him at a gas station, or punching out Jessie Ventura, or getting into a bar fight with a guy because that guy's girlfriend has apparently insulted a fellow Navy Seal. Seriously?

That's not heroic. It's juvenile, stupid, and completely unnecessary, since presumably any Navy Seal is trained more than adequately to handle any situation, including defusing one where he's being merely insulted. Does he really need a fellow Seal to go after the woman's boyfriend who presumably wasn't involved in the insulting? Was the girl offering the insult because she'd been hit on? Did the story even happen outside of the author's imagination? Who knows? What is a fact is that we can't trust anything this author wrote because it's tarnished and corroded by this kind of thing, and it devalues the entire book.

Navy Seals, or anyone in any branch of service from coastguard to marines to police, fire and EMTs don't have to prove anything to anyone, nor should they ever feel like they ought to. If the Seals made it through BUDS and hell week, that alone is an achievement which deserves respect. It doesn't matter whatever else they may or may not do. Anyone who went through Iraq or Afghanistan or any other conflict, regardless of the wisdom of our government sending soldiers there in the first place, is valiant and heroic enough. Someone like that does not need something like this to be respected and held in some kind of reverence. Not in my book, which is why I won't recommend this book.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

To Siri With Love by Judith Newman

Rating: WARTY!

I was unaware of how controversial a book this had been in the autistic spectrum community when I saw it in a bookstore and learned that it was also at my local library. I am glad I didn't buy it not because of what the spectrum community is railing against, but because the book is bait and switch and I do not appreciate book blurbs which outright lie to draw-in potential readers. I know that's a blurb's job, but usually a blurb bears some vague relationship to the book it represents. This one didn't.

The blurb begins with the following two paragraphs:

It began when Judith Newman's thirteen-year-old autistic son noticed that there was someone who not only would find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, escalators, and anything related to the weather) but also would actually semi-discuss them with him tirelessly. Her name was Siri and she lived in his mother's iPhone.
Newman's story of her son and his bond with Siri is an unusual tribute to technology. While many worry that our electronic gadgets are dumbing us down, she reveals how they can give voice to others, including children with autism...

This is an outright lie. I came at this hoping to learn more about a fascinating technology, particularly if it's one that can really help people who most need that help. The problem is that there is one chapter and one chapter only on the relationship with Siri. This chapter begins on page 131 of a book which, not counting the introduction (I never read introductions), runs to 216 pages, and it ends ten pages later. That's it. I quit reading the book when I realized that the next chapter was on a different topic and those scant ten pages appeared to be the entirety of the Siri/"electronic gadgets" discussion.

I'm sorry, but if you're going to try to sell (in the broad sense) a book that not only features this topic prominently but also titles the book after that topic, I actually expect to find that topic throughout the book, fool that I am. You lie about it like this book did, you get a 'warty' rating on my blog. The problem for me was that as I went through chapter after chapter with nary a word about the Siri and Gus 'relationship' I began to tire of the endless rambling and I began to skip and skim, dipping into a section here and there that was of interest, until when I actually did reach the section that discussed what the whole book was supposed to be about, it was far too little, and far too late.

While I cannot for the life of me understand why any parent would want to name a child 'Gus', I can understand why a mom would want to ramble on and on about her child. I think some of the harshest criticism was as rambling as this book though, with the authors of it continuing to shoot arrow after angry arrow into a threadbare target. They simply didn't get the author's sense of humor, but that's not to say their criticism was unfounded.

I think reasonable people can agree to disagree on those details so I'm not going to get into that here except to comment briefly that I think that some readers, in particular those who think the author doesn't think Gus has emotions or thinks Gus doesn't think, have flown off the handle at a throw-away comment the author made without realizing it was a 'first impression' kind of a comment that she later actually did throw-away as she and Gus matured together in their relationship and in her education.

Those critics seem to be forgetting that the author began telling this story chronologically when she was completely in the dark about Gus's status for some time after he was born, and got no help in understanding what was going on from anyone, least of all from the very community, some members of which are so virulently criticizing her now! And yes, criticizing her, not the book!

That said, I have to allow that if the very person the book's author praises highly in this book mounts a campaign against the book, then clearly something is fundamentally wrong somewhere, but the way to fix that is to reach out, not to punch out. I think what disturbed me most of all is that autism is a spectrum and not a narrow rut, yet all of the negative reviews were talking as though there is only one kind of autistic person who has only one kind of perception and feeling, which is nonsense, so I think some of the negative perspectives were a little blinkered to say the least.

Regardless of what other failings it may or may not have, this book failed for me because it quite simply did not remotely deliver on what it promised, period, and so I cannot recommend it. There are books which the autism spectrum community recommends. I recommend reading one of those instead.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Fire Making by Daniel Hume

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I don’t imagine a specialist work like this will have a hugely broad appeal, but it is very informative and well-written, and covers everything you need to know about starting a flame (from a wide assortment of sources) and building and maintaining a fire, doing it wisely, and safely, and taking charge of your situation when in the wild with regard to providing a fire for safety and cooking, for warmth, and of course that general feel-good attitude when you've accomplished something!

I can see it being of value to people who are scouts, and anyone who goes camping or spends time in wilderness areas, or anyone who fears they may be at risk - perhaps because they travel a lot or maybe pilot small planes - of ending up stranded in the wild for whatever reason! It's also a valuable tool for novelists who might like to write an adventure story!

I was impressed by how much this author knows. He's the kind of person who doesn't just talk about it, he lives it (and teaches it!). The fact is that he's been there and done that, and has the ashes of a T-shirt to prove it. I'm kidding about that last bit! Seriously, though, he knows what he's talking about and he not only tells an interesting story of his adventures, but also shares endless practical tips and suggestions every step of the way. I mean, would it occur to you that fungi can burn and even be used as tinder for starting fire? Or would you be stuck looking for damp logs on the ground, an exercise that wouldn't get you started on anything but frustration?

If I wanted more, I would have like to have learned a little bit more about the cultures he's visited and learned from, but he does give a lot, and he's been to places so far off the beaten track that there's no track - other than a game trail. Personally, I'd be leery about following game trails - the operative word being game; that's where the predators are looking for lunch! But bush is bush and unless you want to hack through it, you have to go where the path is easier.

On this score, it was interesting to read of one encounter with a lion - fortunately not a close encounter - where the author and a bush guide were on their way back from observing wildlife at a watering hole - another high risk area for predation! It must have been even more scary to wake up the next morning and find lion paw prints close by your tent. The book contains many illustrative pictures. It would have been interesting to see a picture of that, but there wasn't one; however there are very many illustrating the topics throughout the book.

Talking of pictures, I should say a word about reading this in electronic format. I have my devices set to night mode so the screen is black and the text is white. In this way it saves significantly on battery life. The problem with doing this in a book like this one - with images - is that the image is then rendered negative - and interestingly enough, not even a color negative but a black and white negative!

So when I wanted to really see an image, I had to reverse the setting and change it back to daytime to see the photos as intended. That was annoying, but it's not on the author or the publisher, I don't believe. I don’t know if it’s on the makers of these devices (in my case a phone and a tablet computer) not making it possible, or on the designers of the app (in my case, Bluefire Reader, which is normally excellent), who may well take the lazy route to setting 'night' mode, by simply reversing colors and sliding into gray scale. They don’t care if images are also reversed, I guess!

Despite this being an ARC, I found very few errors in it. In two instances the term 4x4 to describe an off-road vehicle was rendered as 4?4. Why that is I have no idea, but the 'x' didn't translate! In another case I read, "The flames given off by a single flame" which quite literally makes no sense. Other than that it was fine. Very fine! I enjoyed reading this and I recommend it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, Alexandra Boiger

Rating: WARTY!

This is a short and essentially meaningless book aimed at young children. It purportedly champions women who were sold short, but persisted and became famous for something other than overcoming obstacles. Written by Chelsea Clinton (yes, that Chelsea Clinton!) and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger since Clinton can only draw a crowd and big bucks, it features a scant paragraph about each of the following: Virginia Apgar, Nellie Bly, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Claudette Colvin, Florence Griffith Joyner, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Sally Ride, Sonia Sotomayor, Maria Tallchief, Harriet Tubman, and Oprah Winfrey.

Chelsea Clinton and Penguin Random House were sued by Christopher Kimberley for copyright infringement. His assertion is that they 'cashed in on his hard work'. Last I heard Clinton's team of lawyers filed to dismiss the suit. I'm no lawyer and even if I were, my opinion would be irrelevant, but it seems to me that a suit like this particular one has little standing especially when launched against a millionaire celebrity.

As for the book, it became yet another celebrity best-seller, pushing out lesser-known writers once again. Big Publishing™ lavishes big bucks on big celebrities whilst turning down good books by unknowns. This is why I will never publish with Big Publishing. Every time one of us sells out to them, we walk all over others like us.

I hate for books to do well not because of their content, but because of their author, and in this case this is exactly what's happened because there really is very little content. The author is earning a six-figure sum on the backs of those who have gone before her, and if she had made an effort to put some content into the book, that would be one thing, but for someone who has grown up in a very privileged existence to then climb on the backs of those who were far less privileged and milk their hard work for tens of thousands of dollars is a bit much.

Actually, it's a lot much, and I cannot recommend this one or its sequel, wherein the author recognizes that while the USA isn't the only country in the world, it is the most important (by granting it the first publishing), and also on par with all other nations put together (they merit only one book of equivalent size). This book is far more about illustration than it is about illumination, so despite its superifcial good intentions, I really can't recommend it, and I have to wonder where all that money is going from the sales of the book. It's not like the author is exactly short of cash, but maybe it'll help pay-off that five million dollar mortgage, huh?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Algeria is Beautiful Like America by Olivia Burton, Mahi Grand

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This story had an interesting effect on me because I liked it even though it's not the normal sort of story I like. Most stories that involve people recounting a travelogue - finding their roots or worse, finding themselves, bore me to death, but this one sounded interesting and miraculously it actually was. I think the author can thank Michael Palin for preparing the way with his story of his adventures in the Sahara, which I enjoyed immensely. This story was well-told to begin with, and very competently illustrated by Mahi Grand with sweet, gray-scale drawings.

The one thing I really honestly neither got nor liked about the story was the last two words of the title. Why "Like America"? It seemed like shameless pandering to an American audience. Why not "Like France"? Why not just leave it at "Algeria is Beautiful" or better yet, "Algeria The Beautiful" which both makes a powerful statement and harks to the poem Pike's Peak by Katharine Lee Bates.

The author's family hailed from Algeria, but as French citizens, they had to flee during the civil war in the 1960s, when her grandparents literally flew across the Mediterranean and settled in France. Unlike most people, the author's grandparents did not view the South of France as a paradise. Instead they viewed it as a poor man's Algeria which amused me! After hearing so much, one way or another, about Algeria, the author decided she had to visit and check out her grandparent's roots. She gave up on her hope of collecting some friends to travel with her. She should have asked me! I would have loved to have gone had I been single.

So, alone, with only the name of a contact in Algeria, she traveled. It's no spoiler to say she made it there and back safely since she could not have written this had she not (this is why first person voice horror and thriller fiction doesn't work! But I digress!). Anyway, she has some great fun, some disturbing moments, some confusing ones, and some very happy ones, and a lot of other emotions in between. The story was well-told, was entertaining, and kept me reading. I recommend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, Kerascoët

Rating: WORTHY!

I favorably reviewed Malala Yousafzai's I Am Malala back in August of 2015, and also Raphaële Frier's book about her, aimed at young children, back in October of 2016. This is a book for younger children still, and was penned by Yousafzai and illustrated by Kerascoët, which is the joint nom de plume of artists Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset.

Beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated, it tells an autobiographical story of Malala's childhood fancy and dream, and of what she wished for in a world which was and still is extremely hostile to half the population. I think it makes a worthy read for anyone. I'm truly sorry that it may not reach those children who are most in need of hearing these words.

Circuit Clay

Rating: WORTHY!

This was fascinating and I was sorely tempted to buy it myself just to see it work, which is why I mention it here, but note that I have not tried this. I just saw it on the shelf and it looked like fun for about $20. It allows kids to make safe (I assume and dearly hope it's safe!) low voltage electrical circuits using modeling clay. The clay conducts electricity which itself was way cool to me, and you can build light-up toys and models. The cover says it makes 15 projects, but I'm assuming those are simply imaginative repurposing of a few basic ones. The point about this though is to stimulate a child's imagination. Society will never run out of a need for inventive and competent engineers, and this is a good way to get a child thinking that this can be a real option for them if they want. My only concern about this is whether or not it overstimulates your child to the point where they are tempted to mess with more dangerous electric things around the house! We definitely don't want that! But with that it mind it looks like a lot of fun, and electrical modeling clay sounds way cool to me!

Build Your Own Gotcha Gadgets

Rating: WORTHY!

Now I have to say up front that I have not tried this book, but I saw it on the shelf and read a little about it and feel it deserves an honorable mention. Advertised on the box as 'Now with DOUBLE the sounds', I am frankly not sure if that's a lure for the kid or an abjure for the parent! It looked very cool and for around $20 (prices vary store to store) it's not a bad deal assuming the gadgets (motion sensor, light sensor, door alarm, etc) are buildable as advertised and they really work. I used to love this kind of stuff as a kid. Yes! I was the nerd with the chemistry set, and I never lost my love of science!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Let's Play Yoga by Márcia de Luca, Lúcia Barros, Bruna Assis Brasil, Ana Ban

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note that there is a website for this book if you want to take a look at that before deciding whether this is for you! It's at

This book is translated from Brazilian by Ana Ban, and it's a fun and colorful book with some playful illustrations and a diverse cast of kids shown doing yoga poses. It begins with a lot of well written and fun advice on what yoga is all about and how it should be approached. Anything which encourages kids to be mindful, thoughtful, considerate of themselves and others, and to stay limber in a safe way, is to be recommended in my opinion!

The book is easy and gentle, and it has a lot to say about how yoga arose and what it's all about without going into too much detail on any one topic; then it goes on to show some simple yoga poses which any kid can work at. Not that it's treated as work! The authors talk of it as play, which is a great approach, because this should appeal to any kid. The book is very portable, too. it worked as well on my phone as it did on my tablet, although I have to say that some of the pages were a little hard to read not because of small text (the pages enlarge), but because of a bright green page background with off-white text! But that was only for a couple of pages.

On a personal note, I tried a yoga class one time, a while ago, and I was so disappointed in it that I never tried anything else along those lines! Unlike this book, the instructor didn't offer anything about the history and practice, and he gave no preparation, no advice, and no stretching. His sole purpose seemed less aimed at teaching us than it was at showing off what he himself could do. He offered no suggestions as to a daily regime or organized system for people to follow, and the entire class felt like a waste of my time.

I could have used a book like this when I was a kid, as well as in place of that class! It was nice to read a thoughtful and useful introduction to it. I was pleased to discover that something like this was available, aimed at kids, and which takes a holistic approach to the entire practice, discussing it in some detail but not too much, and advising kids to enter into it gamely, confidently, but cautiously, so no-one accidentally injures themselves by trying things too quickly, too strenuously or too enthusiastically!

Kids are not urged to try to get everything right from day one, but to enter into it in a spirit of can-do, and to keep practicing until the stretches and poses become second nature. It covers mindfulness, breathing (which an be employed in stressful situations away from the yoga mat!), and the poses or sanas. It's perfect for kids who may have problems exercising, because they're not required to do everything at once or to do it perfectly, or to run marathons! All they're asked is to give it a try, and to simply do as well as they can.

It's a nice philosophy to go with some nice relaxing exercises that will juice your joints, limber your limbs, spark your spine, and generally make you feel like you're doing a little something to make life better. There's nothing back-breaking or too hard here, so any child ought to be able to join in. To that end I would have liked to have seen the admirably diverse group of kids pictured here also include someone who was overweight or perhaps handicapped in some way to show that this can be done by everyone to the limits of their individual abilities and restrictions. All you need is a yoga mat - or something that will work as one - comfortable clothes, bare feet, and a willingness to give it a try! I think this is a great book, and I highly recommend it.