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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tigers for Kids by Kim Chase, John Davidson


Rating: WARTY!

This book was a free special on Barnes and Noble, and I can see why. It was not very well written and rather sloppily edited in places. It read more like fan-fiction than any serious attempt to interest young children in tigers. A lot of it was repetitive and felt, at least, like it had been taken from some online source and the rest made-up. A lot of it actually read like it was a middle-grade essay. It was free, so you can't complain too much, but caveat emptor! Or in this case, cave-cat emptor?!

While the book gets a lot right, it's also a fount of misinformation. For example, on page 7 (the page number on my tablet in the Nook reader - the book itself has no page numbers), we're told the modern tiger is a descendant of the "saber tooth tiger" but that's not true. Tigers and their closest relatives, snow leopards, broke away from other cat species some three million years ago and are not closely-related to saber-toothed cats (not tigers!) at all - no modern cat is.

One of the things the introduction promises, is to explain why tigers have stripes, and it comes up with the obvious answer that tigers are better camouflaged with stripes than if they were all orange or all black or white. What this book doesn't tell you is that the basic reason for the coloration is that the tiger's skin is that color! If a tiger were shaved, it would not look as pretty, but it would still have the same stripes, and probably would be a lot cooler in the daytime heat!

But the thing which isn't addressed at all is that the tiger tends to be a crepuscular and nocturnal hunter, plus, it sees prey and prey sees it in ways it is hard for us to imagine with our sight, so the tiger's camouflage and hunting habits have to be pictured in a world of poorer daytime vision, better nighttime vision (be it greyscale), and a world inhabited by odors which we cannot even begin to imagine with our amateur and dysfunctional noses!

It's not true to say the tiger can see as well as a human during daytime. It can see as well as it needs to, but it doesn't have the acuity humans have for the simple reason it never evolved in tigers: it wasn't necessary for them to be able to conduct their business, which is hunting, and which is conducted at twilight or at night. During those times of day the tiger can capture six times more light (not "six time greater" as the book has it) than humans because they have six times the number of receptor rods in their retinas - just like your domestic cat does. They also have, like a domestic cat, a tapetum lucidum - essentially a mirror behind the retina which reflects light back onto the retina so they can 'double-dip' as it were. The cost of this is that they have poorer daylight vision - both domestic cats and tigers - and see color poorly if at all as compared with humans.

The "six time greater" spelling/grammar error is repeated in other places in the book in different ways, such as when I read on page 15 that "their black strips...hide them", when it should clearly have read 'black stripes'. There are awkward constructions such as "One form of verbal communication used by tigers is roaring. Other tigers from as far away as two miles can hear the roaring of other tigers." Another instance was "It is not uncommon for there to be a dominant or leader among the cubs."

Contrary to what the book tells us, that "Our current day tigers evolved into a subspecies that existed 25 million years ago," modern tigers have existed for less than two million years. About three million years ago they existed only as an ancestor species that eventually split into snow leopards on the one hand and tigers on the other, so I have no idea where the '25 million' figure comes from, and the book offers no references whatsoever to check.

In conclusion, if your kids absolutely adore tigers and can't get enough of them, and you can get this book free, then go for it, but I can't in good faith recommend it as a useful book on the topic. You should read my other non-fiction review posted today to see how a book on animals should be done.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Malala: Activist for Girls' Education by Raphaële Frier


Rating: WORTHY!

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

On National Wonder Woman Day I'm not going to get into the dire gender politics and hypocrisy of a UN which proclaims a woman's day whilst rejecting a bunch of female candidates for secretary general, but it seems only right we should celebrate the spirit of this day by looking at a real-life wonder woman. Back in August of 2015 I positively reviewed I am Malala, and this version of her story, aimed at a much younger audience, is a worthy read, too. It zeroes in on the facts of her life, what she did, what happened to her, and how she survived, without going into exhausting detail. The images are colorful and enticing, and bring the reader into the story, which is an important one, and a potentially tragic one which fortunately had a happy ending.

This book even looked good on a smart phone, with the images large and the text legible. It tells of Malala's early childhood, and the conditions in which she lived, which deteriorated dramatically after an earthquake that idiotic religious flakes decided was some god's wrath! You’d have to be a complete and utter moron to worship a god which is as capricious and childish as that, and you would have to be criminally fraudulent to try to argue that this god generates cruel earthquakes, but this is the kind of extremists these people are, and this is what they were promoting. They take power not because they are right, or respected, or admired, or favored by the majority, but because they can get guns and threaten people. These are no disciples of any god of love.

Malala was lucky in having a family which supported educating girls, but the Taliban fears women, and detests equality. They're not the only whack-jobs who do so. There are many nations where women are treated in this same way, although 'treated' is a bad choice of word to describe it. Not all of these nations are condemned as they should be. Some are close allies of the USA. These people have no concept of fun and relaxation, and none of equality or parity. They are control freaks and bullies who fear women garnering any sort of power for themselves, and they started bullying everyone, not just women, but women in particular. People like this are so disempowered that they can only be 'men' when they have 'their women' as the phrase goes: barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen - and uneducated in order to keep them that way. This is something my wife joked about some years ago when she was actually barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen! It’s no joke when it’s real life though.

Malala started a blog to speak out about the problems they faced, and she soon became a local spokeswoman and representative. The Tailiban were pushed back but not far enough, and when they resurged, they cracked down just as hard, and they decided that this little girl was emasculating them. They proved this to be actually true when the only response they could engender was to shoot her three times, but she proved stronger than they, and she resurged herself to become a more effective opponent of their bruitality and cluelessness than ever she had been before. This is an important story which needs to be heard, and children are never too young to start hearing about female heroes. This little book is a great start. I recommend it.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Octavia E. Butler by Gerry Canavan


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I consider this book to be a worthy read, especially for those who are already fans of science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, but I have to confess some slight disappointments in it. Let it be said up front that I have never read anything by Butler! I was interested in this book because I thought it was a biography initially. Since so few women and so few people of any color other than white are active in the sci-fi genre, I thought it would be an education to read of someone who was both female and African American, and it certainly was. I have no complaints there at all.

What I had hoped for though, was more about Butler herself - her youth, her method of working, and so on. As a hopeful author myself, I must confess to selfish reasons for reading about other authors! Maybe I can learn something about how they work, where their ideas come from, how they get through the writing process of growing an embryonic idea into the finished novel - or why they fail to do so. In many ways this book did not disappoint, which is why I favor it. If you want to learn about Butler's books and her triumphs and failures, then this will reveal a lot because of the very approach which was employed, but I felt myself hungry for more about Butler herself, about what was in her mind, and how she went through the creative process. She wrote on a typewriter, and not even an electric one, which sounds primitive and frankly boggles my mind, but it was all she had in the seventies and eighties.

She was lucky to even have that, growing up as impoverished as she did. It makes a heart break to think of how many other such children there are out there who could be enriching our world with their creativity, yet who will never do so because they will not get even the sparse yet good breaks Butler had to somewhat offset the bad. This is a real tragedy. Butler had four older brothers who all died before she was born, and her father also died when she was a child. Please don't ever limit your child's imagination and creativity. Never block their horizon. Butler refused to let her own horizon be dimmed and we're better off for it, but it's sad that she's one of few instead of one of the many that there could be.

The irony of Butler's life is that it was her mother, who didn't even rate her as an author and wasn't supportive, thinking her dream was nothing but frivolous, who was the one who got that typewriter for her. She was also the one who destroyed her comic book collection when Butler was away from home on a writing course. That really struck a resonant chord with me, because my own parents did the same thing with my school books when I was out of the country for an extended period. I never forgave them for that. They did it without warning and without asking, deeming those things to be junk to be disposed of, and I lost a piece of my childhood that I would have liked to have shared with my own children, but now cannot. It was barbaric and cruel. Fortunately, life goes on in other ways.

As far as this book is concerned, in some ways I felt like I lost sight of Butler behind her novels, in a case of 'can't see the author for the trees' (in the form of print books!). So this felt more like it was a biography or an exegesis of her novels than it was of Butler herself. While looking at her through the lens of her books was a...dare I pun and say novel approach?!...I confess to a little disappointment that this method seemed to camouflage her as much as it revealed her.

That said, I found myself oft fascinated by this examination and apart from a piece here and there that I skipped, I was much more often interested in reading through and learning a bit about her thought processes, influences, and setbacks. The author of this book knows his stuff and has researched extensively. The book is packed with insights and observations. He was the very first researcher to dig into some of this material and has some very interesting things to say about it. The book also has an index, a glossary, and extensive reference end notes.

If I had a serious disappointment, it would be that the book seemed very much aimed at academics, especially judged by the language employed here. As such I feel it did a disservice to girls who are growing up in the same circumstances as Butler did: young African Americans who might have been inspired to follow in Butler's footsteps were the book written in a tone more accessible to them, but who may well be put off by the language employed here. Maybe that book still has to be written. Until then, this is what we have, and I recommend it for its worthy and needed exploration of an important author and her work.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Evolution's Rainbow by Joan Roughgarden


Rating: WORTHY!

This amazing non-fiction book discusses "Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People" and shows how blind and stupid the religious fanatics are when they claim that homosexuality is unnatural. It's perfectly natural in that we see it throughout nature, where gender is even less of a binary matter than it is typically perceived as being in humans. Joan Roughgarden is an ecologist and evolutionary biologist who has written several books on the topics, and in this book she explores diversity in gender and sexuality among fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals, including primates, as the blurb says.

She takes issue with sexual selection, which has been a tenet of the scientifically established Theory of Evolution since Charles Darwin himself published The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex way back in 1871. I disagree with her on that score, and have to point out that the book is in places, rather didactic. She has a soap box and she's sticking to it, but on the other hand, being a transgendered mtf herself, she does have an inside track! However, anecdote isn't the same as data, so beware of taking everything she says at full scientific value.

It's important to keep in mind that this is a book expressing a PoV, not a science paper, so it's written in layman's terms and a lot of it is not established scientifically, but I did not read it for that, I read it precisely for the diversity portions, and those were highly informative and quite entertaining. Note also that Richard Dawkins's popular books are, for example, written in precisely the same way as this, so there's nothing substandard or unusual about this style of writing.

While I would take issue with her theistic evolution viewpoint, I do every much enjoy her writing, and I recommend this educational book highly. It's a pity that those who most need to read and learn from it will doubtlessly dismiss it out of hand.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Shadow World by Andrew Feinstein


Rating: WARTY!

Here's another non-fiction I didn't like. Again I came to this through a TV documentary and it really highlighted the problems with documentaries versus the problems with books. TV documentaries are way too much fluff. They show the same images over and over and over, and ask hoards of questions, but give very few in-depth or satisfying answers. Often they outright lie, as I discovered when watching the documentary Pump about the inexcusable stranglehold oil has on society in the USA.

The problem with this audiobook is that it had way too much detail, going onto things in far more depth than I was interested in listening to! By the time the guy rather breathlessly finished his details, I had forgotten what the heck he'd been talking about earlier! This went on for page after page (or in this case disk after disk, and there were a lot of disks). In the end I simply gave up on it. Yes, a lot of people have got rich off arms sales, including US corporations and politicians. Yes it's obnoxious, but after listening to this I was almost ready to say, "Good for them!" I didn't, but I can't recommend this.

If you're interested in excruciating detail, much of which is out of date, and you can get the ebook or print book and read it quietly, focusing on it 100%, it might be the book for you, but it's not something you want to try to get anything out of when driving in traffic because it requires too much attention to detail!


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sudden Justice by Chris Woods


Rating: WORTHY!

From a Heath Robinson start with next-to-nothing, the US now has the capability in drones, logistics, and support, to run over sixty simultaneous observation operations with the ability to deliver a deadly payload if required. The old MQ-1 Predator drone could carry two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or equivalent, whereas the MQ-9 Reaper which replaced it can carry fifteen times more ordnance. We're told these things can observe quietly, gather intel, track people and vehicles, and destroy them if it's deemed necessary, with "surgical precision." The problem, as investigators have discovered, is that no one in their right mind would ever want that kind of surgeon performing an operation this ham-fisted on their body.

This detailed - but not overly detailed - account quickly and efficiently gets to the heart of the issues: where the drones came from, how they were brought into use, how badly-organized the effort was to begin with, and how clinically efficient it is now, yet despite these improvements, the money thrown at it, and the massive support organization, this missteps, and the collateral damage caused by this system is scary - and may be doing more harm to efforts to combat terrorism than it is ever doing good.

The problem with the system is a human one, as always! The issues range from getting good intel from sources other than the drones in order to set the drones on the right track in the first place, to correctly identifying targets and tracking them. The drones fly at 18,000 feet (6K meters), and from that height, even with good video, you can't tell if a person is carrying a weapon. You even be sure who that person is. And without expert support and the patience of a saint, you can't be sure if the gathering you're about to blast with a HARM missile is a meeting of terrorists, or some kids sitting around playing and chatting. The reaper can also carry Sidewinder or AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.

Another issue is the pilots/observers. The USAF has been of late training more pilots for these vehicles than for any other system, and these people evidently work twelve-hour shifts. That's twelve hours (with breaks of course) spent in a darkened room, staring at a rather grainy monitor on which very little is happening for very much of the time. Who came up with a dumb-ass scheme like that is a mystery, but it has government and military stenciled all over it. The result is that pilots are falling asleep and are diverted from the monitors by other interests such as reading a book, chatting with others in the room, and playing computer games! The regular games won't work on this system, but games built using the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or clones of it will work quite handily! This is how a virus - fortunately benign it seems - came to be found in some of these systems.

This book gives the goods on all of this and a lot more. I recommend it if you're interested in finding out what these drones are up to and what their shortcomings are.


The Way of the Knife by Mark Mazzetti


Rating: WARTY!

Unfortunately this is what you get when a reporter writes a book and doesn't realize he's writing a book and not a newspaper column. He's so focused on making the subject seem real that he goes way overboard. Did I really want to know that Mr A smokes Benson & Hedges? Seriously, no!

It's true, as the blurb says, that "America has pursued its enemies with killer drones and special operations troops; trained privateers for assassination missions and used them to set up clandestine spying networks; and relied on mercurial dictators, untrustworthy foreign intelligence services, and proxy armies." How a writer can make that boring is a mystery to me, but this one did.

This book, which I came to via a TV documentary I watched recently, had some really interesting bits, but most of it is now out of date and the bulk of it is boring. Overall it was a tedious listen. I found myself skipping tracks more and more, and then I skipped the entire rest of the book. I can't recommend it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Welcome to Shirley by Kelly McMasters


Rating: WARTY!

It's been a while since I've reviewed a non-fiction, so I am due for a few. This is the first of those and it's a negative, I'm sorry to have to report. I came to this book via interviews conducted in a documentary I watched about nuclear pollution. The author was one of those interviewed and it mentioned that she'd authored this book about the nuclear waste leakage from Brookhaven National Laboratory which was apparently causing an unduly-high number of cancers in the town of Shirley.

The incompetence and irresponsibility has cost roughly a half billion dollars to clean up, to say nothing of health concerns. There's no way in hell, given the track record it has demonstrated, that this country is fit to be running nuclear power plants, labs, and and other such facilities with this level of abuse of public health and public trust. The world has a half million tons of toxic nuclear waste and nowhere to put it safely. This needs to stop right now, period. Nuclear power plants need to be permanently decommissioned. It's that simple.

I thought that this would make an interesting read, but it didn't. The entire first half of the book had nothing whatsoever to do with any nuclear waste issues. It was a memoir of the author's childhood and youth, none of which was interesting to me. It wasn't even very factual according to one reviewer who actually lives (or lived) in the town. I became so bored reading it, and seeing it fail - on page after page - to actually get to the topic I thought the book was going to be about, that I simply gave up on it. I cannot recommend this.


Monday, August 29, 2016

The Midwife by Jennifer Worth


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second of two memoirs I'm reviewing this month. The other was Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash. I have to say I'm not a fan of this kind of book but as it happens. I enjoyed both of these. This one I got into through the TV series which was made from it (and named Call the Midwife). I really enjoyed the series, which is set in Britain in the late fifties and early sixties, and I wanted to read the book (the first of three) because of the TV show, but I have to confess I was very skeptical since book and screen rarely mesh well.

In this case it was not a bad experience, so despite it being a memoir, and despite it being a book from which the show was derived (and which I saw first), I enjoyed the book as much as the show. Do please note though that, as is the wont of TV and movie, things have been modified, re-ordered, compressed and combined so while in general, the two follow each other quite well, there are some notable differences here and there (mostly there), some of which were a bit jarring. Obviously the book is canon in this case, so I accepted the book version without question or issue.

Having said that, one problem I have with this kind of book is the ostensibly crystal clear recollections of the author. These are events which happened some forty years prior to the book being published! I can barely remember anything from even five years ago except in very general terms, especially when it comes down to supplying the kind of detail I was reading here. I could fill-in details from various memories, but that's not the same as reporting what actually happened or faithfully recording the surroundings in which events took place, and it's sure as hello not recalling actual conversations.

I know in this case that the author made notes in a professional capacity about her visits to her 'patients', but those would not have carried detailed descriptions of people (outside of medical requirements), and their homes and possessions, and certainly not verbatim recollections of conversations, so I have to wonder how much of this is accurate and how much is fantasy. Maybe she kept a diary, but she makes no mention of making diary entries in the narrative. It doesn't take from the power of the story, because I'm sure the essence of it is quite true, and she did make many visits to some of these homes and grew to know the environment very well, but I keep wondering about the details, especially given how faulty people's memories generally are. That doesn't stop it from being captivating and from being an entertaining account of what things were like back then in her world, so I won't harp, carp or warp on that. Ha! English! Why is that last one an 'or' sound and the others not?

The TV show begins with Jennifer first arriving at the medical convent, whereas the book retains this until chapter two, throwing us right into her work in the first chapter. The order of events isn't just changed in this one place though. Events are quite mangled in some accounts in the TV show as compared with the book. For example in the show, Jennifer is depicted letting her childhood friend Jimmy crash at the convent in the boiler room for one night, whereas in the book, this happens when she was a nurse prior to joining the medical convent, and it wasn't just Jimmy, it was he and several friends who had failed to pay their rent.

They were housed in a drying room in the attic of the nurses accommodations for several months, and had to climb an exterior ladder late at night to get in, and leave very early in the morning to avoid running into nurses or worse, the strict and severe sisters who were in charge of the nurses. Some of this is augmented by later events though. In the show, the story appears to be the kind-hearted and loving Jimmy being callously turned away by Jennifer because she was in love with a married man and could not get over him, whereas in the book, Jimmy appears to be much more of an irresponsible young man without whom she's better off. The married man, conversely is made to appear much more irresponsible and more of a user than the book, in which he figures very little, depicts him to be.

One event in the TV show related to eclampsia, is a combination of two separate events in the book, one of which is recounted as a recollection rather than a current event. Billy, the odd-job guy a the convent is largely confined to one chapter in the book, but is spread throughout various episodes in the show. The story of the Spanish woman, Conchita, is compressed and rather more dramatized in the show. The chapter on her in the book is different and charming, although she still had twenty four pregnancies by the age of forty-two, which is shocking to us, but from the account, was very much everyday life to her. She must have been a startlingly strong woman. Finally, in the book, Jennifer's growing religious leaning is made more clear than it is in the TV show.

I have to say that the stories slid a bit in quality towards the end - they seemed much more hum-drum, almost as though they were being summarized and tossed in for a page count that being truly warm and/or memorable events, but perhaps I was also becoming more inured at that point, so the last few chapters weren't as captivating for me, but overall, I really liked this book and I recommend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Oh Joy Sex Toy Vol 3 by Erika Moen, Matthew Nolan


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
p60 "aught" means nothing! The word required is "ought" as in 'feel compelled to'!

Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan seem like a fun couple who have made an industry out of graphic - and I mean graphic! - adventures with sex toys. This is an adult publication, be warned, with no holds barred - or anything else for that matter. It's also a whopping three hundred pages, so there's a heck of a lot here.

The discussions are frank, open, amusing, and detailed, and they cover topics which are important and far too often badly served in a fundamentalist and conservative nation like the USA: sexual health (both disease-wise and exercise-wise), sex education (inlcuding book reviews), and physical/mechanical sex aids. I've never been a fan of toys myself, but this is evidently a fifteen billion dollar industry, so clearly many people are, and it was climbing out of the closet and into the mainstream, so get used to it!

I don't know anything about Matthew Nolan,but I'm vaguely familiar (in an innocent way) with Erika Moen's work. She's an artist who's been involved in comic books and other art endeavors. She's also a member of Periscope studios which has had a hand in some Wonder Woman comics, so it's good to know that super hero is in highly capable hands if that team is anything like Erika, who reminds me of one or other of the two goal keepers in my Seasoning novel. It's good to know that goal mouth is in capable hands, too!

On a point of order, I have to disagree with her assertion on page 53 that the particular item under review will open up her "world of wanking opportunities". I contend that female cannot truly 'wank' unless she is unusually well-endowed clitorally-speaking. It's just not physically possible although I don't doubt it's fun to try! Masturbate yes! Wank? Not really! LOL! However in the interests of the Equal Right-On! Amendment, women are most welcome to go for it!

I have to say that a lot of what's in here (I'm talking about sex advice and discussion of sexual disease and medical conditions, not the product reviews) is common sense and common knowledge - at least it ought to be common knowledge, but that's just the problem. Because sex has been treated as such a tabu subject, nowhere near enough people are educated on these topics. This is why knowledgeable and responsible publications like this are so important.

This kind of graphic novel isn't for me, and some parts of it felt incredibly naive and gullible (notably the two sections on porn films, where in the one they believed it wasn't staged, and in the other they seemed to be polishing the whole porn industry with a huge shine based on one particular filming session they'd witnessed).

This is aimed at sex positivity, and I can understand that, so I didn't expect anything truly negative from it, but it seems to me they're under-serving their readers if they don't look at the downside of things as well as the upside. They do review a book which touches on some of those stories but it's aimed not at how the porn business works, but at how some performers coped with balancing their professional life with their private life.

The last third of it is guest comic strips, and they cover a variety of topics all related to sex. I didn't find these as amusing as the first two hundred pages, except for Donut's Cream For You which I thought was hilarious. My biggest concern over these though, was that they were heavily biased towards trim Caucasian couples and where women were involved they seemed to be almost exclusively slim and comic-book curvy. While that's common in comic books (and on TV and in the movies and in literature), it's not right, and in a graphic novel like this, which is all about inclusivity, they seemed inappropriate in a way which had nothing to do with their subject matter!

I haven't read the previous two volumes in this series, so perhaps they have a slightly different take on things, but the feeling I have is that they would be very much like this one in tone and approach. That said, I don't doubt that these volumes will be useful and helpful to many people so I have no problem recommending this one. We don't need less of this, we need more! But we also need balance, so keep that in mind, and enjoy!


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Kid Artists by David Stabler, Doogie Horner


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
p114: 'permanent' should be 'permanent'.
"a magazine published an article about him entitled" There was no entitlement here. There was a title: the magazine published an article titled "Keith Haring"!

Note that this was an advance review copy I obtained from Net Galley. Thanks to the publisher for the chance to read it!

What a great idea for a book: talk about the adventurous, mischievous, slightly scary and unusual lives of renowned artists and maybe it will put modern kids' lives into perspective and even inspire some of them to go for it! This is part of a series featuring books on Kid Athletes and on Kid Presidents. I haven't read any of the others, so I can't speak to them, but I'd sure like to see one on Kid Scientists or Kid Engineers. We need a lot more of those than we ever do presidents and athletes.

This one was fine, though. Here we learn of Leonardo da Vinci and the scary shield he painted when he was fourteen, and of Vincent van Gogh who shared Leonardo's love of solitude and nature when he was a kid. We meet the young Beatrix Potter, who had a grisly adventure in Scotland, who kept a coded diary, and who once again, turned her love of nature into her art. Perhaps a love of nature is a defining characteristic, because eccentric Emily Carr shared it, to the chagrin of her sisters, and she got no credit at all for decorative fingernails which are now quite popular! A fellow nature lover was rebel Georgia O'Keeffe, a contemporary of Beatrix Potter. Leah Berliawski not only changed countries but also her name, before she changed her life and became an artist!

The book is replete with such stories: Ted Geisel, Jackson Pollack, Charles Schulz, Yoko Ono, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Claude Monet, Frida Kahlo, Jacob Lawrence, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and last but certainly not least: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso! There are interesting stories for each of them, and many of them led lives which were problematic for one reason or another, but none of them let this interfere with their vision and their dedication. The book is inspirational.

The only error I found (short of researching every story for inaccuracies which I'm not about to do!) was the idea that snakes are poisonous? Venomous? yes! But I'm not aware of any snake which, if eaten, will poison you! Not that I've eaten many snakes. Or any for that matter! But that's a common error and shouldn't get in the way of enjoying a book that will, hopefully, encourage many kids to pursue their own vision whether it's in art, literature, or any other field of endeavor. Don't let difficulties wear you down - go for your vision! I recommend this.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The STEM Club Goes exploring by Lois Melbourne, Jomike Tejido


Rating: WORTHY!

With some nice artwork by Jomike Tejido, and enthusiastic writing by Lois Melbourne , this story offers a much-needed glimpse into the world of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which are important and useful fields of endeavor and which need smart people, particularly females, who are under-represented in these fields. We are quickly introduced to Betik, Fran (who has ambitions to become a science and technology reporter), Jenny, Jesse, Nixie, Sara, and Winston, who is interested in marine biology.

Fran is narrating this report as the children are taken by a teacher to interview people in various fields and learn about them. They look at software development, medical care, mining, and several other fields. I'm not sure we got the best perspectives on everything, and it felt to me like there ought to have been more emphasis on the environment, and perhaps on robotics (and it would have been nice to have it made clear that software engineering has applications in fields other than game development!), but on the other hand, you have to deliver something which will keep a child's interest, so as long as we have something focusing on STEM, I'm not going to worry too much about the minutiae.

If I had 'complaints' - other than that the traffic lights didn't seem to be working on page 36! Either that or the cab is going through on red and going straight into a head-on collision with a bus! - they would be very minor. There are some enlarged initial caps used here, which are a pale blue and hard to see. On one page I thought the letter was missing until I looked more closely. Also the double pages don't work in the e-version because you see them in sequence, not as a spread like you would in the print version. But other than that, the layout and general looks of the book were great, and I think it's a worthy read. Its heart is certainly in the right place.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Puppy Steps by Libby Rockaway


Rating: WORTHY!

I found this to be a cool title from an author with an amazing name! How cool is 'Rockaway'? Yeah! The book is intended as a practical guide to raising a dog to be well-behaved and sociably-adjusted, and from the start it was obvious this was not only written competently, but also well intelligently thought-out. This girl knows what she's doing. I'm not a dog owner at present, but I have owned and known many dogs and I've never been a fan of the training-your-pet-as-a-circus-dog, but that's not what this is about. It's about building a relationship with your pet so that you both maximize your comfort and fun, and become true companions, not over-bearing master and timid slave. It's about raising a healthy and emotionally well-balanced pet who heeds you without you having to get heavy-handed, domineering, or frustrated.

The book is replete with lists and charts, hints and tips, and is set out in a smart and orderly fashion,. It features step-by-step instructions towards the end of the book, on how to achieve specific goals. This is where the 'Puppy Steps' title was so great. The steps start small, when your pet is young, and they don't demand too much of you or your dog - except in that you need to stay with the program or you're not going to get results.

Note that this involves spending a lot of time with your pet, especially in the early stages. But then why get a pet if you're not going to spend lots of time with it? This kind of training cannot be done with a five minute session here and there; it does need time and work on a daily basis. I like the way the author maintains a positive attitude and a good sense of humor, and explains things in easy-to-grasp way without being condescending or talking down to the reader. I'm a visual person - I often grasp things better when I can see it being done and have notes to fall back on than I do with only written instructions, and we're covered there, too: the author has several videos on YouTube.

The thing I liked most about this is the emphasis on positive reinforcement, which is not always what you might think. It's not just a matter of having the dog do something and rewarding it. Sometimes the rewards come when the dog is doing nothing, but is nonetheless behaving and doing what you would wish them to, such as staying out from under your feet. It's also not a matter of leaping from no behavior to good behavior. You have to take the puppy steps and do them in the right way so your dog gets a clear and positive message. I like the way the training is about having fun with your pet and making sure your puppy also has fun. You're working with the animal, not against it. You can take shortcuts to good behavior when you're using the animal's own behaviors and instincts to get messages across about what you expect.

I liked this book. I liked that it made sense, that it was clear, instructive and well-written. Obviously I haven't tested out these guidelines with a puppy of my own, so I can't say this worked for me, but to me the training makes good sense, and I think this book does too, if you and your puppy are going to grow to get along with each other! The You Tube videos are evidence enough for me, and I recommend this book as a worthy read and a useful tool for dog owners.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction by Mary Ellen Hannibal


Rating: WARTY!

I normally rate science books highly, but here is one I'm afraid - and sorry - I cannot get behind, because I was never convinced this was doing what it set out (according to the blurb) to do. I know authors cannot be held responsible for their book blurbs unless they self-publish, so I don't blame the author for this, but for me the promise in the blurb of a "wide-ranging adventure in becoming a citizen scientist" was not met. I wasn't even sure who it applied to: the author? the reader? the people featured in the book? For me it seemed like there was very little about actually becoming a citizen scientist, and certainly not in the manner of offering very much in the way of pathways or advice in pursuing such an ambition.

There were some stories about people who are citizen scientists, and some of these were quite interesting, but they were few and far between, and they were buried under the overwhelming volume of what was, to me, extraneous information about anything and everything that had little or nothing to do with citizen science. This first came to my attention when I noticed how much the author talked about losing her father to cancer. I can sympathize. Both of my parents are dead, and it's an awful thing to lose a loved one, but it really has nothing to do with scientific study, much less citizen science. If it had been mentioned briefly, that would be one thing, but the author kept coming back to it as though it were central to the theme of the book. I kept waiting for a point to be made in keeping with the book's title, and it never came.

All of the first five chapters were of this nature - either starting out off-topic, or starting out on topic and then meandering far from it. For example, the entire 20 pages or so of chapter 4 is about author's father and about Lewis & Clark, and about the California gold rush. There was nary a word about modern citizen science, how to become involved, what they do or why or how they find or make the time for it. I simply didn't get the point of chapter four at all. Chapter five began in the opposite way, by launching a story of cellphone use to track and report illegal logging, which was a great example of citizen science, but there was not a word in there about how this operation was brought together.

The chapter then switched to Google's admirable outreach program, which has led to advances in detecting and neutralizing land mines, and other such important and vital community projects, but just as I was starting to appreciate some citizen science here, the chapter veered off completely into a lecture about people protesting corporate malfeasance in logging and mining, which to me is not actually citizen science. It may employ science, and of course a corporation is now legally a citizen, isn't it? But realistically? No! To me this was the biggest problem - the book was not a guide or an exploration, but a tease. We were offered burlesque-like glimpses of the flesh of the topic, but we never got a full frontal! Each time we thought we would see something wondrous and beautiful, down came one of the seven veils and hid it from us while the spotlight was whisked away to another part of the stage.

Some of the arguments seemed to me to be poorly thought through. For example, one part of the book discussed the disappearance of whales and what a huge hole (both practically and metaphorically to my mind) they leave in the environment. This is a tragedy and the people who have been carrying out the genocide on whales are the ones who really need harpooning in the ass, but the argument about whales being valuable because they sequester carbon - embedding it into their thirty to one hundred tons of flesh and then carrying it to the bed of the ocean when they die - was not a balanced one. Worse, it was a wrong-headed one.

The author seems to have forgotten that whales are air breathers and as such output carbon dioxide throughout their lives - lives which may extend in some species to a hundred years. I read somewhere that whales as a whole, output some 17 million tons of carbon a year. That said, they also help decrease carbon by stirring up iron in the water, which then supports plankton growth. The science is not exact; it's still under study, but it seems to me that the best we can say is that some species of whales could be carbon sinks or at worst, carbon neutral.

The study - as far as I can tell - was not exactly scientific either, in that it failed to take into account whale farts! This might seem frivolous, but whales pass gas and that gas contains carbon dioxide and methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Some more work needs to be done, but as far as I can see, removing whales from the oceans, as humans have so mercilessly done for centuries, is a capital crime, yet it would seem that it has no overall effect on global warming, as the history of the last forty million years has shown! We need to save the whales not because they are carbon sequesters, but because they are sentient, feeling beings, period.

Digging deep into history might be interesting for some readers, but it offers not a whit of help for anyone who was interested in learning what opportunities there are for citizen scientists and how potential volunteers might avail themselves of these. This is far more of a memoir and a history book than ever it is a useful guide to citizen science, and I felt saddened by that. It seemed like a great opportunity was squandered here, and what was here was certainly not something I would want to read some four hundred pages of! I can't in good faith give a positive recommendation for this book, although I thank the publisher for the opportunity to read it, and wish the author all the best in her future endeavors.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Panel to the Screen by Drew Morton


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"The majority of the sequence is represented by a blending what McCloud describes as moment to moment panels..." A blending of? (p29)
On page 92, n comparing the comic of 300 with the movie version, the text reads, "Below is a panel", but the panels in question are actually on that same page, above the text! There were several instances of images and text being out of sync to a greater or lesser extent.
"From a stylistic criteria" should read 'criterion' since the singular is required, or drop the indefinite article if a plural is intended. (p101)
Pictures appear on pps 102-104, but the text mentioning them appears p106! Slightly out of sync.
"We're not going to play be all the rules..." should be 'Play BY all the rules' (p141)

I had some mixed feelings about this, but overall came to consider it a worthy read because it held my interest and offered me an ocean of material that I found interesting. On the downside, I have to ask for whom this swell rolls, because it made for very academic and dense reading. I cannot imagine many comic book fans and movie-goers being interested in this as it stands, so perhaps it is aimed at academics.

The author is an assistant professor of mass communication at Texas A&M University–Texarkana. He's also the co-founder and co-editor of [in]Transition, a journal devoted to videographic criticism. Personally, I can testify that he's also very fond of the phrase "stylistic remediation," which he uses a bit too often including, in one place, employing it three times in the space of twenty-one words! He is also fond of employing 'entitled' when the technically more accurate 'titled' is required, but these are minor quibbles of mine. Language is a dynamic thing, and I feel as ineffectual as Cnut in holding back the changing tide in this era of texting and trash talking! Like Cnut, I know I'm doomed to failure!

That aside, the book was, with some effort here and there, readable and delivered on some interesting information and premises. While I'm not a big comic book fan, I am a big movie fan, including the spate of comic-to-movie translations we've seen over the last two decades, and notably in the blitz over the last few years successfully spearheaded by Marvel. I was interested in how they get brought to the screen, but please note that while this book does discuss some of that, the main focus is not on the mechanical process, but on the stylistic choices in translation from one medium to another, how they worked, what kind of effort was made to stay true to the comic or to depart from it, and where perhaps this may go in the future. It also looked at the reverse process - how some movies have translated into comic book form.

The book is solid and well-supported, with some twenty pages of end notes, a fifteen-page bibliography, and an index (missing from this advance review copy but intended for the published version). It was interesting to me to read a comment in the conclusion to the effect that comic books are, in some ways becoming a form of R&D for the movie companies, but as this author shows, it is in some ways a crap shoot as to whether something which appears to have done well in the comics will do well on the big screen. The comic book readers and the movie-going public, which having some (and perhaps increasing) cross-over elements, is not at all the same audience.

I found a curious fixation on DC comics. Others, including Marvel and smaller imprints such as Dark Horse, get a mention here and there, but the focus seems repeatedly to return to DC properties (particularly Batman) with very little discussion of the Marvel 'Universe' and the runaway success it has had of late. I have no idea why that should be. For me personally, I would have liked to have had this author discuss how Marvel has fared in translating its properties to the screen, in comparison with the approach DC has taken. There is also little discussion of TV properties, which have been growing dramatically recently, and which have a long history. These other media (including radio and video gaming) get mentions here and there, but really have little 'screen time" of their own.

I was however fascinated to read the material that was here, which is extensive and well-presented. The author knows this world intimately, and I learned a lot from his presentation. I recommend this for anyone who is seriously interested in the migration of one entertainment medium (particularly comic books) to another (particularly the big screen). I consider this a worthy read and I recommend it. I thank the University Press of Mississippi and the author for the opportunity to read an advance review copy!


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Wonder Women by Sam Maggs


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a book about twenty five women in various fields of endeavor who have distinguished themselves as 'innovators, inventors, and trailblazers'. I would say twenty five plus women, but that gives entirely the wrong information! But there are more than twenty five women discussed here and every one of them is interesting - some much more so than others. Note that there's a score of books out there with 'Wonder Women' in the title - make sure you ask for the genuine article by name: Sam Maggs!

I was impressed that the mini-bios began with women of science, which featured astronomer Wang Zhenyi, mathematician Ada Lovelace, nuclear physicist Lise Meitner, mathematician Emmy Noether, and Chemist Alice Ball. Next, in medicine were Jacqueline Felice de Almania, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, Ogina Ginko, Anandibai Joshi, and Marie Equi, all doctors. On the secret world of spies, there was Brita Tott, Mary Bowser, Sarah Edmonds, Elvira Chaudoir, and Noor Inayat Khan. Among Innovators were Huang Daopo, Margaret Knight, Mariam Benjamin, Bessie Blount Griffin, and Mary Sherman Morgan (who actually was a rocket scientist!), and explorers/adventurers featured Maria Sibylla Merian, Annie Smith Peck, Ynes Mexia, Annie Londonderry, and Bessie Coleman.

These women lived from the thirteenth century to the latter half of the twentieth, so there's some serious history here too, and each section was punctuated with some mini bios about yet more women, and interviews with contemporary trailblazers, including a transgender woman who was fired by IBM for...wanting to be who she felt deep down she was, as well as one with Buddhini Samarasinghe, founder of STEM women. The book was a fun read and a great introduction. Many of these women, such as Zhenyi, Anandibai, Noor, and Annie I had not heard of before. Others such as Ada, Emmy, Lise, and Hypatia were much more familiar. These women were cutting edge in their time, and enlightened even by our standards.

I never read introductions and what-have-you so I skipped that, and launched right into the bios which was all the introduction I needed. The author's tone is warm and light-hearted, which makes for a cool refreshing read for the most part, despite the wealth of facts which are delivered. Plus the author is evidently into Doctor Who, which is never a bad sign! I did have one issue that I have to raise though. I can understand and appreciate the author's enthusiastic tone despite it being rather over the top at times. That's fine! These women need to be celebrated and in far too many cases it's long overdue, but I don't think you serve the cause of feminism well by insulting half the population on what felt like every other page.

It made me wonder who the target audience was - are we preaching only to the choir? If we are, isn't that simply putting the same limitations on these women as they suffered during their lifetime! Are we to confine these revelations only to a female audience? Even if that's the plan, it's still no excuse to indulge in flagrant and liberal man-bashing here and there, as though modern men are no better than men have historically been.

Yes, male-dominated societies have treated women abominably historically, and still do in far too much of the world, but it's only recently that this injustice has been widely recognized and combated. In the past, it was the way things were because so few people had the wisdom, education and influence to change it into what it needed to be. That doesn't excuse what it was, nor does it make it acceptable, nor should we ever forget it, because that's the surest way to let it come romping right back through the front door. In fact, trying to wedge that door open is precisely what the Republicans are doing right now in the US as I write this review. Next they'll be trying to get us to believe that if Hilary wins, she's going to rename her workplace 'the ovum office'. I sincerely hope she does win not only because of what she can bring to the table, but also - given the current alternative - it's a dangerous step backwards for the US if she doesn't.

The way to address a pendulum which has swung too far in one direction is not to swing it to the same extreme in the opposite one. The solution is to bring it to a stop at dead center and nail it down so securely that it never moves again! Writing as though modern men are inevitably tarred with the sins of their forefathers, or trying to project modern views backwards to show how shockingly far short of today's standards men fell a hundred or five hundred years ago, isn't a wise move in my view, especially not in a book of this nature.

That said, I really enjoyed this for the most part. There was some great humor in it, such as an aside that daguerreotypes are "...not something that steampunk authors made up," and "...the late Middle Ages, a time when everybody had weirdly flat faces if you believe the artwork..." were most welcome. The stories needed this to leaven the ofttimes heart-breaking revelations I was reading, such as in Lise Meitner's story. On a related note, I personally found it interesting how many unsung women of Jewish descent have made their gender proud over the years.

Describing Emmy Noether as "a total BAMF" might not be the wisest description, although it is a powerful one! I'm sure that the author humorously intended it as the acronym for Bad-Ass Motherfucker, but it’s also become a well-known word in the comic-book world used to describe the sound that Nightcrawler makes when he teleports, and by extension, a word used to describe teleporting in general. Might be a bit confusing, although given what's been learned of late about quantum teleportation, maybe there is a tie-in!

The 'Sub' articles on people like Hypatia, Sophia Brahe (yes, that Brahe!), Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet (whose name alone is worthy of celebration), Marie Curie, Lanyang Lin, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Daly et al were most welcome, and I couldn't help but wonder how it was determined who got a long article and who got an honorary mention. I'll bet it was tough. Of course, with some of these women, there is very little known about them - another problem with how history treated women. Others are still living today, such as Dr Lynn Conway of whom I had never heard, so I owe the author a dear thanks for that education!

The story of the Blackwell sisters was another welcome learning experience. Elizabeth Blackwell became, despite strenuous opposition, the first woman in the USA to graduate with a medical degree. She went on with her younger sister Emily, who became the third woman in the USA to graduate with a medical degree (the second was Lydia Folger - not that Folger! - Fowler who graduated the year after Elizabeth), to start up the very excellent New York Infirmary for indigent Women and Children. Having said that, I was sorry to read the author citing their policy of "no boyz allowed" as she puts it, as though it was a proud credential. It made me sad, because this was just as discriminatory as it was for the male-dominated colleges and universities to declare no women allowed in their medical programs. Or indeed to abuse women in places like Pakistan for wanting nothing more than a basic education. I didn't see that approach as a positive or commendable step. It's that pendulum again! This kind of thing is one reason why I wrote and published Seasoning!

It isn't mentioned in this brief bio, but Elizabeth was also instrumental in founding and running a school aimed at supporting her family after her father died prematurely, and she started a slave Sunday school. She was a self-starter to her core! Elizabeth never married - claiming she could never find anyone good enough to make up her other half, although some would say that Florence Nightingale was a contender. That didn’t happen, but her sister Emily moved in with yet another female Doctor, Elizabeth Cushier. I guess female doctors were a very close-knit community back then!

I encountered another similar instance in the story of innovator Margaret Knight who invented (inter alia) a machine which could create flat-bottomed paper bags. I know! It's not something to which anyone pays attention in our spoiled-rotten modern (western) world, but back then it was a labor intensive process to make such an ostensibly simple thing. Margaret fixed this by creating a machine to do it and do it well (and almost got ripped off for it).

The author casually mentions that the machine "did the work of thirty humans!" I know (at least, I assume!) that she intended this as an enthusiastic compliment on Margaret's ingenuity, but this was in 1868, and back then it would have been a tragedy for thirty people to lose their livelihood - multiplied over and over again for each machine which was produced. Progress runs rampant and people do lose their jobs. Tesla and Edison between them, for example, put professional lamplighters and snuffers out of work, and this kind of thing was repeated over and over again with every new "labor-saving" device.

It bothered me that the author trotted this out with such abandon when it was clearly bad news for those self-same poor families from which Margaret herself had only just risen. Whilst I commend the enthusiasm, I think for the sake of balanced reporting, this wasn't something which should have slipped by so cavalierly, especially when it's still going on today as robots take over more and more jobs which thirty (and more) humans were once earning their keep from. And no, this is not a Luddite call to arms! It's just something we should not let slide by our attention.

Aside from having an amazingly cool name that I'm totally going to steal for a novel at some point, Ogino Ginko (that would be Ginko Ogino in western cardinality), did in Japan what Elizabeth Blackwell did in the US, and against tougher odds, in my estimation. The Indian equivalent to these two women was Anandi Joshi, who said, "I thought that I should never learn any more, and I would rather have died." if that doesn’t emote a tear in your eye, you’re a statue. In pursuing a medical education, she faced the same kind of abuse that too many Muslim women (and one is too many) face even today.

I read with pure pleasure the stories of the unstoppable force of nature named Marie Equi, and the mini-bio of Agnodice, an Athenian woman who was equally feisty, and who exposed herself in a court room and got away with it because it was evidence! There's also Maria Dalle Donne, the first female MD ever, in 1799, Rebecca Lee Crumpler (whose name might have been better assigned had it been owned by Marie Equi!), the first African American woman to become a doctor of medicine, Okami Keiko, the first Japanese woman to earn a medical degree in the West, Sarah Josephine Baker, Fe del Mundo, the first woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School (they evidently didn’t know that Fe was a Filipina name...), and Gurubai Karmarkar. There is a bunch more, and every one is worth reading about.

The book was well-written, as I mentioned. There were a couple of minor writing issues, such as "Margaret Knight was born the youngest of five children with two older brothers and sisters" and which seems not to make sense at first glace, or which seems to be tautologous. It actually does make sense. I just think it could have been better worded! The last gripe I have is about factory safety. The author mentions at one point men objecting to women's hooped skirts in the factory, and she dismisses it as sexism. I agree that genderism was a part of this back then, but there is also a very practical safety issue here. I've worked in places like that (not, thankfully, in nineteenth century conditions!), and even today there are safety rules in place about loose clothing for very, very good reasons which have nothing whatsoever to do with genderism and everything to do with protecting limbs. About every four days in the US someone gets injured because hair or clothing is caught in machinery. This is what I meant about commentary being a bit over the top at times.

But those issues aside, I highly recommend this book, because the problems I encountered with it are far less important than it is that knowledge like this be preserved and disseminated.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Human Evolution by Robin Dunbar


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"resting, dosing..." Dozing? I don't know what 'dosing' means int his context! p229
"No species of primate devotes more than 20 per cent of their day to social interaction" - perhaps 'ape' was needed in place of 'primate' since humans are primates?

This was a fascinating glimpse into human evolution and had a lot of material which captured my interest. I don't know if this is all up-to-the-minute material or has a mix of new and old, but I was happy to encounter material I had not seen or heard of before, so this was a good educational experience for me, and well worth the learning. This is a dense book; not scientifically dense in the sense a published science paper, but a lot of information coming down the pipe in short order, so no space is wasted here and it's all good stuff, as they say, packed with science, with references (there are extensive end notes, as well as a bibliography and an index), and with in-place nods to authorities in the various (and diverse) fields this work touches on.

The author pursues a position that I have very little familiarity with, so it was interesting to me to learn of it. Its focus is on time-budgeting: how much of their day early humans, and before them Australopithecines (and before those, apes and monkeys for comparison purposes) needed to devote to resting, foraging, and grooming in order to get the rest, the nutrition, and the social interaction completed in order for their society to function. A lot of this is speculative in relation to ancient societies, in the sense that these things don't lend themselves to fossilization. but there is indirect evidence to support the contentions which are explored here. There's also direct evidence for some facets of this. For example, it's possible to learn from the chemistry of bones whether an individual was stressed or healthy and even what they were eating. What's offered here makes sense in the context of what evidence we do know, and I liked the arguments.

This book was clearly written, and it placed early humans and Australopithecines in an easily grasped context which certainly clarified things for me. I was interested to learn more about just how transitional H. habilis was, and I was also interested to learn more about Neanderthals. I've never viewed them as the bumbling hunched-over people of the historical view, so my quandary has always been just how much like us they were, and I read arguments here that offered some interesting and surprising differences.

There were also some novel (to me) cases made from topics which you don't normally read about in books of this nature such as, how important are things like laughter, singing, and religion, things we take for granted and spare little thought for, in sculpting the kinds of societies in which these individuals existed - or could exist? Laughter is offered as an interesting and viable substitute for grooming in societies who had so many members that a decent amount of physical grooming could not have been indulged-in to cement such numbers together given time constraints on their day. With grooming, we're told that only one of the grooming pair benefits (but perhaps these people sat around in a grooming circle, each grooming the one in front?!), whereas with singing and laughter, more than one recipient benefits, thereby cutting down on how much time was required. I think more study is required, but these seem intelligent arguments to me.

One which I found intriguing is the position that, in modern societies, it seems that three is the size limit for shared laughter in the form of amusing stories or telling jokes, and this may well be true in a modern society where there are so many distractions, and so many topics to talk about. Neanderthals, after all, had no cell phones and played very few professional sports I imagine! I have to wonder if, in a primitive society, we really need to revise our estimates of this nature? Even in modern societies, many more than three people can share a joke if they're attending a performance by a comedian, for example. Not that I'm suggesting that archaic humans had comedy clubs, but they did have camp fire gatherings, so I was rather leery of too much comparison with modern human society.

It would have been nice had this been explored more, and perhaps in scientific circles it has and it would have bulked-up the book too much to go into a deep discussion of it, so my speculations may be immaterial, but this was not the only area where I would have liked to have known more. Another of these was with regard to burials. We can only speculate about the elaborate burials of some individuals that have been exhumed: bodies buried with lots of personal artifacts, rich clothing, tools, weapons and other artifacts. This has been used as an argument for religion, and it is persuasive, but nowhere have I seen another argument set forth, which is that these burials were simply an attempt by friends or relatives to express their love, respect, and sense of loss for those who died. The revelation that an ochre-packed extraneous human femur was found in one grave tends to suggest that not everyone was buried with reverence! I mean, if all of the dead were so decently buried and decorated because of religious belief in an afterlife, then how did this one individual end up being employed as a repository in the burial of two children? Could these people not have been accorded a respectful and loving burial without any thoughts of an afterlife entering into it? It seems possible to me, but then I'm no expert on these topics!

I loved the non-nonsense science which puts creationists in their place anytime, anywhere. One thing which rang throughout this book was that there was a plethora hominins and hominids, which show a continual transition from apes to modern humans This is indisputable. What is harder to nail down are less physically evidenced things such as the arrival of speech and whether Neanderthals had it. here, scientific evidence can still be employed, but it's not quite as cut and dried as are other aspects of evolution. I enjoyed this discussion immensely - it was clear, to the point, and well supported, as was the discussion on friendship and the differences between men and women in this regard. It seems there are six potential requirements for a real friendship to form, any three of which can cause a level of bonding: language, place of origin, similar education, shared interests/hobbies, world view, sense of humor. These things are worth knowing for those of us who are interested in writing novels and imbuing them with realism!

Overall, I enjoyed this immensely. I appreciated the well-referenced, clearly argued text, and the wealth of good and fresh (at least fresh to me!) ideas. This book was very engaging - more so than I had feared it might be!) and kept my interest throughout. I'm grateful to the author and the publisher for the opportunity to read an advance review copy, in return for which I offer this honest review.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Our Amazing World: Dinosaurs by Kay de Silva


Rating: WORTHY!

I reviewed another book by Kay da Silva back in April, 2016. That one was about sea turtles.

This is a children's introduction to dinosaurs and has photographs of fossils and computer-rendered pictures of dinosaurs in their natural environment. I was able to read this on a smart phone with no problems, although you really want a bigger screen to really see the pictures. You can enlarge the pictures on the phone screen, but frankly, and unlike the claws of Deinonychus, they were not very sharp! This probably won't bother young kids as much as it did me!

The real value of the book is in the details it gives. The author really goes into dinosaurs and their life and habits; not so much that a child would get lost or overwhelmed, but more than you would typically find in a book like this one. The images are not all the typical favorites, either. Yes, Tyrannosaurus puts in an appearance, but we also see Tarbosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Albertaceratops (which looks like it's having a bad horn day), Yangchuanosaurus, Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Elasmosaurus (which wasn't actually a dinosaur!), Kentrosaurus, Peteinosaurus (again, not actually a dinosaur), Plateosaurus, and a host of others, in addition to photographs of footprints, eggs, and skeletons, all supported in the text.

If your kids love dinosaurs (and friends) then this is definitely something you should consider adding to their collection.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Orange Animals on the Planet from Speedy Publishing


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not sure about the idea of an authorless book, since no author is named here, or about a publisher named 'Speedy', but I think this is the second children's book from this publisher I've reviewed and they're not at all bad. This one was quite dramatic: "on the planet"?! But orange animals are often dramatic, although the definition of orange is stretched somewhat here. Flamingos put in an appearance at one point, for example. I guess pink is the new orange! LOL!

That said, the book is very colorful and informative - a bit of information here and there - just enough for growing minds, and some really engaging photographs of the various animals. What was most impressive to me was the unusually wide range that's covered here. Typically a children's animal picture book favors mammals - the cuddly ones, even if cuddly when used there is stretched a bit to include lions and tigers and bears, oh my! It was nice to see a wider world here, with representatives of all five vertebrate classes featured: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. There were also insects and arachnids, so kudos for that. It's important for children to learn how varied life is, and how important it is that we protect that variety.

We get to meet the clownfish (a mated pair here, evidently). What we don't learn is that Pixar's view of Clownfish life was biased in that typically, when the female dies, the male spontaneously goes transgender and becomes the new dominant female! Nemo could never have had his dad chasing him across the ocean after mom died! Not that a parent fish chases its offspring across the ocean! If it had, it's far more likely to have been the mom clownfish, but I digress. We also get to see and learn about the Andean cock-of-the-rock, the tiger, the Julia butterfly, the Baboon spider, orangutans, spider crabs, river hogs, newts, corn snakes and so on. It's a lot of orange. Note also that weights and measures in this book are in metric, not the lone hold-out USA system.

I liked this book. It's bold and straight-forward, varied and colorful, and educational. You can't ask for more in a children's book.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Helen Keller: A Life by Dorothy Herrmann


Rating: WARTY!

I started out liking this biography of the deaf and blind Helen Keller, but as it went on (and on), I started disliking it and gave up about half-way through. The problem wasn't the reader, for a change! Mary Peiffer did a workmanlike - if a bit pedantic - job. The problem was the boring and extensive asides the author insisted upon meandering into just when the actual story I wanted to hear - that of Helen Keller - got interesting.

For example, Helen's closest companion was Annie Sullivan, the controversial woman who brought Helen out of her silent darkness and into the world - almost as a mother births a child - and we hear a lot about Annie here, including the fact that she had a sort of control over Helen's life that only religious cults seem to manage these days. At one point, the author began a chapter talking about the unprecedented event of a deaf and blind woman graduating Radcliffe summa cum laude. Right in the middle of it, she meandered off to talk about Mark Twain, who couldn't be there because he was escorting his wife's coffin back through Italy. Just to mention this would not have been a bad thing. Helen knew Mark Twain, and he had entered the story several times, but instead of merely mentioning it and getting back to the graduation and Helen's story, the author completely subverted her account of the remarkable achievement Helen had managed there, in favor of rambling on in endless detail about Twain.

Whose biography am I reading here?! Now contrast this with the fact that when Annie Sullivan gets married, the entire event gets such short shrift that it may as well not have happened. This was seriously a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. Get a life, woman - not a death! The author was quite evidently obsessed with Mark Twain. I think she needs a slap upside the head with a langhorn, the little clemens.

This was not the only time she rambled on either, and after a while it really ticked me off. I wanted to hear about Helen, not everyone but Helen. I'd like to visit this remarkable and intriguing person again at some point in the future, but I shall not read another work by Dorothy Herrmann. Next time I'll pick one which Helen Keller wrote herself!

Spoiler alert: Helen dies at the end.