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

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

History Dudes Ancient Egypt by Laura Buller, Rich Cando


Rating: WORTHY!

I liked this book. It was fun, full of detail, not remotely boring, and amusingly-illustrated by Cando (which I confess sounds suspiciously like a made-up name!). From my own researches into ancient Egypt for various projects I've been involved with such as Tears in Time and Cleoprankster, I could tell it was accurate, too.

It tells a young reader everything they might want to know about ancient Egypt and author Buller pulls no punches, beware. It discusses pulling out brains during mummification, and stuffing body organs into canopic jars. But it explains everything about everyday life as well as everyday death along with food, religion, habits, games, and so on. It talks about clothing, wigs, and shoes, about building pyramids, and everything else a young kid might want to know about an ancient and fascinating civilization. It's the perfect introduction to ancient Egypt for young children and I commend it wholeheartedly.


A Girl Walks Into a Book by Miranda K Pennington


Rating: WORTHY!

This was really more of a memoir about the author's life and her bad relationships than it was about the Brontë books, but there was nonetheless enough in it pertaining to the books, and it was interesting and amusing enough in parts that I decided I would rate it favorably. I picked it up to read the blurb initially because I found the title amusing.

This author is clearly in love with the Brontës, something I confess I am not. I tried Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and did not like it at all. I tried Shirley by Charlotte Brontë and found it boring in the extreme, so I DNF'd it in short order. Agnes Grey destroyed my little grey cells. The only place I erred from that poor history was Jane Eyre, which I liked.

Given this dismal track record I was curious as to what new light this author might shed, and there wasn't a lot except in where it applied to her own love life - or lack of one, or failure in one. It became a bit annoying in parts, because it seemed like every Brontë she read pertained to whatever was happening in her life at that moment and I wonder if her attachment to the book might have been less were she to have had a more accommodating social life.

The most infuriating part - and the part where I wondered if I might have to ditch this book - was where she became involved with a colleague at work in a wretched co-dependent relationship and this went on, and dragged on and on forever. It bothered me that she stayed in this relationship with this guy who was half-assed about it for the longest time and just when I thought she was going to ditch him permanently she reported getting back with him and then peremptorily marrying him! Now I'm wondering how long that marriage will last. But it's her life; I'm not going to judge this book on the poor choices she might have made living it! Especially not since the book made a point of comparing her poor choices in other relationships with the relationships the various Brontë books detailed.

It was because of reading this that I decided to try Shirley and Agnes Grey. I do not thank her for that! She ends the book with a report about traveling to London and then to Haworth in Yorkshire which is where the Brontës lived. It's a bit of a honeymoon for her and her husband. Of course the first morning they're in Haworth, he gets sick and she has to hike a mile in the Yorkshire fog down to the nearest pharmacy. Which is called a chemist in Britain.

It turns out he had this thing called quinsy which I'd never heard of before, despite having grown up in Britain. I realized what it was when I discovered the scientific name for it is peritonsillar abscess. From what I've read of it, that's hardly so debilitating that he couldn't have got out of bed and gone to the pharmacy himself, so to me this spoke poorly of this ongoing relationship between these two, but then I've never had it, so maybe it's worse in person than a text can convey. I dunno.

After reading so much about this relationship this felt to me like just one more burden it had put on her. But surgeons took my tonsils when I was little so I don't have any issues with those. They still haven't paid me for them. Maybe if they had, I'd feel differently!

Like I said, this book can be annoying in parts, but it is educational and entertaining, and even insightful in others, so overall, I commend this as a worthy read.


Monday, September 2, 2019

An Autobiography by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

Having listened to a few of Christie's books in audiobook format with varying success recently, I got curious about how she worked, how she felt about her books, where her inspiration came from, how she wrote them, that kind of thing, and I have to say my search for those answers went largely unsatisfied! I found four biographies - after a fashion. One was for children, which I thought wasn't bad for its intended audience, but not suitable for my needs. Another was a graphic novel which told a straight-forward story and which I enjoyed, but again not satisfying my real need. A third was a biography that I thought wasn't worth the reading - not at over five hundred pages!

This book came closest, but even it left me wishing I'd been better rewarded. I do not envy anyone heading into this almost six-hundred page tome, which Christie wrote over many years rather more like a diary than a book in some ways. For my purposes I skimmed it, pausing to actually read only those sections where her books are specifically talked about. That was interesting, particularly how screwed-over she was by her first publisher and how she quickly learned her lessons going forward. Caveat, all ye who wish to publish! This is one reason why I have no time for big publishing™.

I went into this hoping for something different than I imagine many people would, who would presumably read it for a story about her life from the horse's mouth so to speak, with perhaps a minor in book writing, so perhaps I was less satisfied than others might be because of that. I did get some idea of her writing and how she felt, but I felt like I ought to have had more out of it since this was her own words, and she was a writer! Maybe I expected too much.

On a cautionary note, those expecting or hoping for some insight into her missing days way back in 1926, will be disappointed since she doesn't even mention it; not a word. You'd learn more from looking up old newspapers on the subject! But there were parts I enjoyed, and not all of those were about her books, and overall, I commend this as a worthy read because it is from the source and it is unembellished (beyond what a writer might unconsciously do anyway!). It felt honest and from the heart and that I appreciated, but for my purposes, in seeking deeper insight into her writing and motivation, I was less than happy.


Agatha by Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau, Alexandre Franc


Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Martinetti and Lebeau, illustrated by Franc, and translated from the original French into English by Edward Gauvin, this was a really good graphic introduction to Agatha Christie, which I encountered during a search of my local library's resources regarding Christie biographies.

It begins in what is often seen as the biggest mystery about this author, which is what happened to her during her short disappearance in December of 1926. Personally I think it can be quite adequately accounted for in precisely the way this book explains it - she was pissed-off with her husband, who had told her he wanted a divorce so he could continue seeing this woman he had met, named Nancy Neele, and apparently decided that he liked better than he did Christie. I also think her depression over this may have been exacerbated from her mother's death earlier that year.

But this graphic novel goes further, bringing in her literary creations, most especially Hercule Poirot, as characters in the story, seen and heard only by Christie, but who comment on her life and discuss things with her, annoying her as often as not. The story as told her is interesting, engaging, and moving, and tells a complete story, abbreviated as it necessarily is in this format. I commend it as a worthy read.


An ABC of Equality by Chana Ginelle Ewing, Paulina Morgan


Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a neat little colorful book (illustrated by Morgan) for young children written by Ewing, aimed at teaching tolerance and acceptance, and it's never too soon to learn such things. Young children in particular are far more accepting than so-called grown-ups when it comes to those who might be perceived as different, and it's only to the good to bolster those non-discriminatory perceptions. From A for ability through D for difference and E for equality, through I for immigration and J for justice to T for transgender and Y for 'Yes!', this book covers it all. I commend it as a worthy read for young children.


Experiment with Kitchen Science by Nick Arnold


Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

What kid doesn't like to mess it up in the kitchen? This book facilitates all of that, but with a purpose: that of learning some science (and making some sweet treats along the way). We learn how to make butter, how to make a non-Newtonian fluid - which is a lot more fun than it sounds. We lean about fat and protein, starch and cellulose, swelling jellies, and how to mix oil and water!

We learn about specific gravity, air pressure, and surface tension, making beautiful paintings using milk, dishwashing liquid and food coloring, and also about colored foam and giant green eggs! The lesson on bicarbonate of soda and volcanoes makes some crunchy sweet treats, but note that not everything that results from these scientific forays ends up being edible! Educational it is, though. There will definitely need to be a lesson about brushing teeth properly after that one.

Throughout the book there are safety warnings and copious advice on when adults should step in and help out. I think this was a smart, fun, safe, entertaining, and very educational book, and I commend it fully.


Wild in the Streets by Marilyn Singer


Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

A Singer writes poetry! I'm not a huge fan of the poetic despite having published a volume of my own short stories and poems, but you have to love this one which not only teaches about wild animals that have adopted a lifestyle among humans - for better or for worse, but which also teaches a bit about poetry, using several different forms to describe the various animals and discussing those at the end of the book.

As for the animals? Well! The book travels the world from Austin to Australia, Rome to Rio, and it looks at Coyotes in Chicago (although pick most places in the US and you'll find coyotes!), Agoutis in Brazil, Bees in Vancouver, Butterflies in California, Boars in Germany, Hyenas in Ethiopia, tree frogs in Taipei, badgers in burial grounds, and so on. The animals are fascinating: from charming to harming, and trooping to pooping. Just like the the pigeons with the deadly aim, you can't miss with this book, which was fascinating and engrossing. I commend it as a worthy read.


The Art of Drawing People by Debra Kauffman Yaun, William F Powell, Diane Cardaci, Walter Foster


Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is another of those step-by-step books which approaches art from the lowest common denominator, under the assumption that all prospective artists are the same, at the same level, with the same skills and interests. There was nothing new there, and the art was competent enough, but the questions which bothered me about it were two-fold. One was: what does this book teach that a score of others like it do not, and I could find no worthy answer to that.

The other question was why is the book so larded with images of women? Are men so worthy of depicting? Surely what's sketch for the goose is sketch for the gander? If it had not been for the appalling gender-bias in the art and the limited range exhibited in the various depictions of figures, then I might have favored this book somewhat more, but as it was, I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


The Little Book of Drawing Dragons & Fantasy Characters by Michael Dobrzycki, Bob Berry, Cynthia Knox, Meredith Dillman


Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a short but useful book about drawing and shading, and making realistic images of fantasy beasts such as dragons, griffins, satyrs, and wyrms. It takes a step-by-step approach, and I'm not sure I buy into this raw blocky shapes first approach, followed by refining them because, for me at least, it means a rather soul-destroying trudge through drawing and erasing repeatedly as the blocky shape is transformed into the final artwork. Ultimately though, the point is to get to that final image, so whatever works for you as an artist is the way to go.

I wish more attention was paid to thais kind of thing, because I've seen very many art books which take this same approach and treat all prospective artists as though they are at the same level with the same personality and methodology and in need of precisely the same tuition. That is patently untrue, but I guess if you wish for more individual attention, you take an art class. This book is a 'lowest common denominator' kind of approach, but that doesn't mean it can't take you at least a part of the way along the path you wish to travel, and if starting here gets you closer to that fine end result embodied in the examples we see here, then this is as good a way to go as any!

On that basis I commend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Volcanoes and Earthquakes by Anita Ganeri, Chris Oxlade, Pau Morgan


Rating: WORTHY!

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

From the same team who brought The Water Cycle (Ganeri and Oxlade writing, and Morgan illustrating), comes this one about volcanoes and earthquakes. Once again our guides are Ava and George who seem to have an extraordinary wealth of knowledge about a commendable diversity of topics! Would that our president was as well-informed as these two kids are. In this one we go up to the top of volcanoes and deep into the Earth's core.

In this volume we learn of magma chambers and ash clouds, of sliding sandwiches and lava lamps. Actually I made up that last one, but we do have sliding sandwiches so kids can make their own fault lines and strike slips! Fun! The kids take us through tectonic plates and home-made volcanoes and educate us along the way. The only thing I found fault with (if you'll excuse the pun) was that in the section on famous earthquakes it seemed to be largely the USA which was featured - San Francisco and Alaska, with a mention of Kobe in Japan.

It's a little tiresome for the US to always be puffing-itself up into the forefront, like the rest of the world doesn't exist. San Francisco barely makes it into the top ten of the most devastating earthquakes. All of the others were elsewhere, such as the appalling St Stephen's tsunami of 2004 in the Indian Ocean, and the devastation in Haiti less than a decade ago. I felt it disrespectful that the US was held up as being famous (for what exactly?) as though nowhere else really matters, when these other disasters took far more lives and some of which are far fresher in the world's memory. The world isn't the US and the fiction that it is has become a serious and dangerous problem under our current president. This insularity and provinciality needs to stop.

That aside though, I consider this book an informative and worthy read.


The Water Cycle by Anita Ganeri, Chris Oxlade, Pau Morgan


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
In the back of the book, in a section labeled 'Notes for Teachers and Parents', I read in the second paragraph "How do the children think this might have effected the city?" which should have employed 'affected' rather than 'effected'. I'd recommend changing that before any teachers read it! It's much more effective, and not an affectation!

This was an amusingly-illustrated (by Morgan) and informatively-written (by Ganeri and Oxlade) book which discusses the water cycle, without which Earth would be a desert The book discusses, sometimes a bit repetitively, but repetition helps recollection, how water from the oceans evaporates and later precipitates over land as fresh water, which nourishes the soil and eventually flows back to the ocean via rivers, thereby completing the cycle.

The water cycle is a critical part of everyone's need for water, and access is becoming more stressed as the climate change grows worse and the rains come too harshly or not at all, and changing snowfall patterns leave less water to return to the rivers and ocean in spring. Lack of access to sufficient clean fresh water is looming as the number one crisis on our planet. As spoiled Americans each splash through 300 gallons a day in average, the poorer residents of, say, Chennai, in India, which is undergoing an appalling drought in 2019, have less than eight gallons per person per day.

Ava and George the 'geo-detectives' are our guides in this story, and are well-informed. Taking trips on boats and via airplane and even a parachute, and traveling from beach to mountain, they explore not only the cycle, but how water is abused and polluted. Until recently, Cape Town in South Africa was facing a zero water day in the near future: a day when there would be no fresh water for the city's population to use. This scared people so much that they began a serious conservation effort, and now they have put off zero day indefinitely.

There are eleven other major cities across the globe: Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo, Istanbul, Jakarta, London, Mexico, Miami, Moscow, São Paulo, and Tokyo which will face this crisis as well in the very near future if something isn't done - if water isn't valued as highly as it ought to be. This will occur during the lifetime of the children who might read this book, so any effort to educate them as to the vital importance of water is to be commended. This book as a worthy effort in that direction.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Mythologica by Steve Kershaw, Victoria Topping


Rating: WORTHY!

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

If Steve is the cake in this book, then Victoria is definitely the Topping. The text is great, but the artwork will blow your socks off. In fact I still haven't found mine, and I'm seriously considering billing the artist for a new pair.

I asked myself, when beginning to read this, what it can bring to the table that couldn't be served equally well by a quick reference to Wikipedia. The answer quickly became obvious. This book has pizazz, which no one could ever accuse Wikipedia of! It's not dry and technical, but lively, exciting, and has roots you can follow all the way back to Tartarus. Unlike those annoying Rick Riordan books which brutally-wrenched the mythology from its native Greece and inexplicably transplanted it to the USA with nary a με την άδειά σας (which is Greek for 'by-your-leave'), like only the USA matters and alas who cares about Hellas anyway, this book keeps everything where it originated and tells the complete story in pithy paragraphs that skip none of the weird details which is what makes these tales so engrossing.

The book runs to some fifty pages of text and illustration, and covers Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, Dionysius, Hades, Demeter, Persephone, Ares, Gaia, Prometheus, Pan, Eros, Penelope, Narcissus, Oedipus, Pandora, Icarus, Midas, Cassandra, Orpheus, Helen, Achilles, Hector, Jason, Medea, Cyclops, Argos, Typhon, Chimaera, Medusa, Cerberus, Talos, Pegasus, the Muses, the Fates, the Amazons, the Argonauts, the Hydra, the Centaurs, The Griffin, the Giants, the Hundred Handers, The Minotaur, the Sirens, the Harpies, the Phoenix. In short, it has everything in one convenient place.

The text alone would have made this a worthy read, but add to that the artwork (and especially its diversity) and it takes it to a whole other place. I was repeatedly struck by how much of the Bible's mythology was taken directly from the earlier Greek stories. This is a wonderful book with much to entice, and I commend it as a worthy and educational read.


Math Games for Kids by Rebecca Rapoport, JA Yoder


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Telling a kid that the book you're gifting them has some forty pages of math might well make the kid turn and run the other way. Is math fun? Well that depends how it's done. If you lead with the idea of building 3-D shapes using toothpicks and...gumdrops, then you might get the kid's attention, and that's how this book starts out!

Not all kids are math averse, of course. Some do love it already, but for many, if they're at all like me (and hopefully they're not!), then math might seem daunting rather than haunting. The first thing you should know is that this isn't really about working with numbers, but about working with shapes and patterns, and reading this made me wonder if maybe our approach to math ought to include topics like these early - bring math to your kid as fun and games and maybe when the tougher and more numerically-oriented materials inevitably crop up, they'll be less inclined to run? I know I would have been.

Colorfully- and simply-illustrated and full of fun topics laid out intelligently and attractively, this book begins with creating shapes using toothpicks for the edges and gumdrops for the vertices, teaching about prisms and pyramids, but before your child becomes completely imprismed, the book moves on to drawing circles and ellipses, including how to create a giant one in the playground. Next up is topology and Möbius strips, which might sound scandalous to some but it really isn't, because Möbius knows where to draw the line.

This is followed by a little bit of geography and a lot of four-color maps, and then stitching curves (which commendably shows both boys and girls at work) followed by fractals. And trust me if you understand only a part of the fractal section you've got it all. Snowflakes and graph theory lead to Eulerian circuits and a trip to Königsberg which now has a much less appealing name I'm afraid to say. No! I'm not afraid to say it. I will say it! It's Kaliningrad! There, I said it!

All the solutions to the various puzzles are included toward the back of the book along with an index. I liked this book, and consider it very useful and effective way to introduce young children to math. I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Catch Cat by Claire Grace


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is aimed at providing fun and interesting facts about the world, continent by continent, but it was designed from the ground up as a print book and I got to review only the ebook which was disturbingly low-resolution. The problem was that this very resolution defeated one of the stated challenges in the book - that of finding things in the picture of the continent in question, including the 'Catch Cat' of the title.

The book is laid out in a series of descriptive pages, each of which is followed by a color image of the continent being covered. The challenge is to find those things described in the descriptive page, in the continent image, including the cat. While the descriptive pages seemed fine and even interesting, the continent page was so crowded and of such poor resolution that I couldn't see anything reliable in any of them. It reminded me of those old computer games way back when resolution was poor: blocky and ugly. It certainly wasn't possible to see anything useful let alone pick out things described on the previous page. Even when I looked in the area the cat was supposed to be (there are 'solution' pages at the end of the book which highlight it), I still couldn't pick it out.

That wasn't even the worst problem. Judged by the first continent covered - North America - I can judge fairly confidently that the author is of USA origin, and is white. I've never seen her so I don't know, and I may well be wrong, but I got this impression from the fact that despite being home to nearly forty countries, North America is described by the author as consisting only of Canada, the USA, and Mexico. The 'landmarks' page covers solely things found in the USA, with the lone exception of the Canadian Mounted Police! Disturbingly, there's not a word about Mexico - nor any of the other countries. It's like they don't exist.

I'm used to the USA behaving as though it's the only important country on the planet, and being so insular and provincial as to be laugh-worthy, particularly under this president where hatred toward Mexico is being daily fomented, but even so, this was a bit much. It's put right there front of the line for no good reason. Alphabetically it comes almost last in a listing of continents. It's a USA-produced book, aimed at USA audiences presumably, so I can understand North America coming first, but it was entirely inappropriate to treat North America like it's only the USA and nothing else matters or is of interest. That I can't forgive. And yes, in case you wondered, the book is printed in China! I guess the USA isn't everything after all, huh?!

I would like to assume that the print book is larger format and higher resolution than my iPad, but since I didn't get the print book to review I can review only this one, and based on what I saw here - or more accurately in some regards, what I failed to see - I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Birds & Butterflies Drawing & Activity Book by Walter Foster Jr Creative Team


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say right up front how disappointed I was in this book - designed as a print book but reviewed as an ebook - which purports to teach how to draw birds and butterflies. I felt it didn't do anywhere near enough to teach any art at all. The book offers three methods and cycles through each of them with different pictures alternating between birds and butterflies. The first is simple tracing, and the print version of the book has tracing paper built in, presumably over the top of the image you're expected to trace. Tracing isn't really art in my book.

The second method is drawing using a grid. You copy each square section of the larger image by duplicating the lines in a marked four square wide by six square tall grid. This is a step closer to art, but it's still not really teaching anything. The third method comes closest, but even here there are problems. The third step involves drawing simple shapes initially, to 'map out' the more complex shape of the thing you're drawing. I've seen this method used many times in art books and while I remain unconvinced that it's the best method to teach art, I do acknowledge that it provides a rudimentary means to that end which hopefully anyone who is serious about pursuing art will find ways to circumvent as their personal technique improves.

My problem with this method was that as presented here in this book, it offers not steps, but jumps. The examples shown start with simple clusters of circles and some other shapes for, say, a butterfly, and these are refined in subsequent steps, but suddenly, in five steps, we have a professionally-drawn butterfly and in the sixth, a colored one without any hints, tips, suggestions, or advice about how to get there from step four, which was nothing more than an outline that might as well have been traced.

For me this was a major failing with this book because it assumed way too much, particularly with the coloring. It was a mystery because on the face of it, the book appears to pander more to people who want to idle their time away while on vacation and who are not really that serious about learning to drawn and paint. For an art book this contains a disturbing amount of non-art activities, such as word search, sudoku, spot the differences, and on and on.

Those pages could have been better used to explain the art and suggest ways to work on and improve ones technique. So on the one hand we have these professional insta-art projects which start out looking like amateur step-by-step methods before leaping to a professional finish with no suggestions as to how to get there from here, and on the other, we have completely unrelated activities that contribute nothing to learning about art and seem merely to be mindless time-wasting activities.

Admittedly, it helps to step away from your art now and then, so you can come back to it with a fresh eye, and I know the cover says quite plainly it's an art and activity book, but the way this book is thrown together seemed insulting to anyone who seriously wants to learn how to draw and color, and pointlessly complex to anyone who merely wants to dabble and who really does want some mindless distraction for a vacation. For these reasons I cannot commend this book, with anonymous authors, as a worthy read.


Friday, August 9, 2019

The Animal Awards by Martin Jenkins, Tor Freeman


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written by Jenkins and illustrated by Freeman, this is a fun and educational book about animal world record holders. Some of the records are less to be desired than others, but are nonetheless interesting. The book covers axolotls to vampire bats, and scores of others in between, but it features only those who are outstanding in one way or another - and their closest competitors. It might be that they live longest - like an estimated 400 years for a Greenland shark! - or that they are the fastest on land - like the cheetah, or the fastest in the air, like the peregrine falcon.

Maybe they have the goofiest mating dance, or can make the loudest noise (from one of the smallest animals, too!). Maybe they dive deeper or travel further, or have the most boring diet. Whatever it is, they're very likely in here. The record holders are not always cute and cuddly-looking mammals either. They could be vertebrates or non-vertebrates, fish, molluscs, birds, insects, mammals, amphibians. They could live anywhere on land or sea, or in the air. They could live in the hot or the cold, the jungle or the plains. But they're out there, and this books tells you what's special about them, and with enough text to educate, without lecturing, and with colorful and useful illustrations.

We puff ourselves up with human achievements, and often forget that these animals were first in the field (and elsewhere!). I commend this as a worthy read.


Portrait of an Artist: Frida Kahlo by Lucy Brownridge, Sandra Dieckmann


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I've been intrigued by, nay, in love with Frida Kahlo ever since I first heard of her. She's something of an enigma. I'm a lot more a fan of hers than I am of her art as it happens - not that there's anything wrong with her art. I find her work evocative, and some of her most moving paintings are featured here as modest reproductions. Many of her works are like mini biographies - the equivalent of what today, with always-on instant communication, are called 'status updates'. She went through two different hells as a child and a teenager: first suffering polio, and then a pelvis-breaking tram accident which left her in pain for the rest of her life.

This didn't stop her from painting and painting and painting. In fact one could argue that the accident, which left her in bed for some time, unable to do anything much other than read and paint using a special easel her father made for her, triggered her advance into art. Her meeting renowned painter Diego Rivera gave her another push. He liked her work and liked her and eventually they married, but the marriage wasn't always a happy one. This book wisely doesn't go into that. While it does talk of her polio and the accident, it otherwise paints a rosy picture of her too-brief life, written in short, clear bursts and eminently suitable for a younger child to read. Kudos to Lucy Brownridge for getting it right.

And talking of art, Sandra Dieckmann paints us a fine visual picture on every page: colorful and playful, serious but not staid, and very endearing. I already knew lots about the artist (Kahlo, not Dieckmann!) having read at least four other books, including children's books about her, or about art that mention her, yet I still found this one engaging, fresh, and entertaining, and I commend it as a worthy read. Let Frida Ring!


Portrait of an Artist: Vincent van Gogh by Lucy Brownridge


Rating: WORTHY!

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

What can be said about van Gogh that hasn't been already? Well, this book reveals that and more! It's very colorful, aimed at a younger audience, and it tells an honest story while not becoming maudlin or depressing. The book features modest reproductions of several of his works including the well-known ones, and the art (by Edith Carron) is as well-done as the text, which is brief without being too brief and informative without being exhausting - in short, just right for a young reader whom you want to introduce to the kind of art that, let's face it, a child might emulate in many ways, especially if they try to copy the colorful, unadorned, yet fine-looking works that Carron reproduces here.

For me the real tragedy of van Gogh isn't his life, but what happened afterwards. He can never know how beloved he is today after having such a short and unappreciated life, and that's inexcusable, so it would behoove us all to remember that when looking at new art today.

The book discusses van Gogh's art, his life, his relationship with his brother, and even his depression without becoming medical or unintelligible. It's not just about the art, but about the whole idea of what brings an artist to paint what they do, and as such the book does have something new to say about van Gogh, something younger reads would like to hear. I commend this as a worthy read.


Crack The Credit Code by Todd Wilson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "To Play The Game, You Need To Know The Rules" this book aims to teach the reader about credit scores and how to make the most of them. It discusses how your credit score is arrived at and how to work on improving it.

The book has been worked-over by Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process, which is apparently a portmanteau of con and aversion, because it can seriously mangle a book if the book's text and layout is anything other than plain vanilla. The result in this case is that it's a bit of a 'run on' sort of a book with one section leading straight into another and no "white space" between sections.

The content page is rather sliced and diced too, and runs straight into the Introduction (which I skipped as is my wont!). As a wild guess, I think the content page was supposed to be set up with a chapter enumeration (which says 'Chapter 1' for example) on the left side of the screen and the chapter title on the right with the page number, but in practice, all the left side is listed first, and below it all comes the right side with the page numbers, so it's a mess. It is 'clickable' (at least, the lower half is), but it's so jumbled and so close together that it really serves no purpose for jumping to a chapter unless you have very small fingertips, and there's no way to click back from the chapters to the content page if you happen to tap the wrong link. This was an advance review copy, so hopefully that can be fixed before it's finally published.

That aside, and though the book layout felt a little bit disorganized, it dispenses good and useful advice. Obviously the way to stay out of credit trouble is never to have a credit card, but such cards are really a requirement in this day and age, so the next safest bet is to get the card and use it for small items here and there, always paying-off the balance, or the bulk of the balance each month, so it never builds up to unmanageable levels.

Should that fail, this book offers advice about credit repair (and engaging a repair service isn't your best bet unless you have lots of money and little time to do it yourself). But if you have lots of money, your best bet is to use that to pay down your balance, meet your payments, and thereby improve your credit score! That's the kind of common sense approach this book takes. It's short, to the point, and offers sound advice for all kinds of credit situations, including explaining the background and thinking behind credit scores.

I commend this as a worthy and useful read for anyone who is experiencing credit difficulties of any kind.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Framed by Gender by Cecilia L Ridgeway


Rating: WARTY!

I had high hopes for this book which discusses how women are framed by their own gender when it comes to getting "fair do's" out of society. This is so embedded in our culture that despite several revolutions such as the 'emancipation' of women way back, women becoming 'liberated' in the sixties, and even the #MeToo events of very recent years, women are still not where they logically and rationally ought to be. This author asks why. To me it's right there in 'emancipation'! 'Man' is right up front - 'E MAN', even! It too much like 'He Man', and that needs to change.

But joking aside, the problem I had with the book is that it's far too scholarly for the average reader. It has an index and extensive references, and that's a part of the problem in a sense: it's not written in a popular tone like, say, Richard Dawkins might write a science book, and make it accessible to the masses. I've read a few scholarly publications in my time and this one felt disorganized and meandering, and it was way too dry and academic for most readers, so Ilm not sure who it was written for. I quickly took to skimming the text and focusing on the conclusions, and even that took some effort. I agree with the author's thesis in general terms, but I don't see that she really gets her point across or effectively offers any good ideas for solutions.

Gender ideas are, as she explains, so profoundly embedded in our society that people find it hard to function when gender cannot be used to help categorize a person. The example she employs at one point is that of the 'Pat' sketches which ran in the early 1990's in the Saturday Night Live comedy sketch show, where this character named Pat was completely gender neutral and everyone was trying to categorize Pat as either a male or a female, and when they failed to do so, they could not function adequately and began to panic. But it's not just gender - it's typically gender in the context of some other factor which is what really causes problems for people: again, it's a perception (or lack thereof) problem it would seem.

Scientific studies have shown this to be the case, and likewise shown that people - men and women alike, have inbuilt gender biases that inappropriately favor or disfavor a given gender depending on context. So I think the author's overarching idea is that the reason gender imbalances persist so tenaciously is that we have yet to provide ourselves with the tools to adequately address discrepancies, perceptions, and biases and until and unless we get these, we're never going to get the issues of inequality properly resolved.

One thing which undermined this book in my opinion was that it is completely North America-centric. It's hard to be absolutely sure because the author herself doesn't specify or qualify, but from a reading of the references and the publications they appear in, it felt to me like the studies the author quotes an uses to support her position are almost entirely rooted in north America. I'd have liked to have seen much broader perspective taken. Is this problem just in the US? Is it just in western civilization, or is it world-wide? I know there are cultures and societies in this world which differ widely when it comes to gender roles and perceptions, and a failure to consider those necessarily means a survey like this one is missing something important.

So, while this topic is a critical one that begs for resolution, I can't commend this book as properly addressing the issues, and I can't commend it for cleanly and clearly conveying even the narrow and biased perspective the author does consider, despite largely agreeing with her overall view with regard to how deeply-embedded this is and how constricting it is to any efforts to move forward wisely and effectively.