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

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.


Friday, July 26, 2019

An Olympic Dream by Reinhardt Kleist


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a sad, sad graphic novel telling the true story (as near as such a rendering can reasonably get to the truth), about Samia Yusuf Omar, Translated from the original German by Ivanka Hahnenberger, this tells in a 150 or so pages in black and white line drawings, of how Samia competed and came last in her heat in the 2008 Olympic Games and yet garnered for herself cheers louder than the winner did.

Always game, following her dream, plucky to a fault, and never allowing brutality and indifference to dampen her spirit, she decided she wanted to get to the 2012 Olympics in London, and the only way to do that under a brutal, women-repressive regime that an extremist Islamic group brought to Somalia, was for her to flee the country and go through Sudan and Libya, to get on a boat to Italy and beyond.

She did all of this, often alone and usually without much money, always being brutalized by the savage and avarice-driven scum who preyed on these poor refugees that certain equally savage and misogynistic presidents would callously turn away at the doorstep, Samia made it onto a boat which promptly ran out of fuel. Fortunately a passing Italian ship spotted them and began to haul them aboard, but Samia fell into the ocean and drowned before she could be pulled out. Yes, there are more important things in the world than plastic straws, but why would anyone with real power be bothered with these "shit-hole countries".

I commend this as a worthy and essential read about what happens to people who reside in brutal countries where there's no oil 'to make it worthwhile going in'....


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Jet Girl by Caroline Johnson with Hof Williams


Rating: WORTHY!

Having recently had an idea for a novel involving a female fighter pilot (and no, it's never going to be the one you think it will be - not from me anyway!), I saw this on Net Galley inviting review requests, and I jumped at the chance to read a first-hand account. Subtitled "My Life in War, Peace, and the Cockpit of the Navy's Most Lethal Aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet," this book was a fascinating story of the life of a Navy Lieutenant from induction to flying combat missions over Iraq, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I'm very grateful to the publisher for my chance to read and review this advance review copy. Or maybe I should say 'ARC' since we're into military jargon territory now, which as the author makes clear, is almost a foreign language!

This book was perfect for me because I've read several books written by military personnel, including a Navy SEAL and others, but always written by men, and I really wanted a female take on it because I knew this would be more informative than the gung-ho macho perspective too many male writers adopt. That does not mean, by any means, that there was no machismo or gung-ho spirit here. Caroline Johnson - callsign 'Dutch' - was a navy fighter pilot after all - planning and executing more than 700 flight missions, but all of that was tempered by a hell of a lot of other perspectives and it made the reading so much more rounded, with depth and sharp insight. I read it in two days which is not quite a record for me, but it is a sterling effort these days for a book that exceeds 280 pages of tightly packed print! I usually prefer my books shorter, but this one seemed short because it was to the point, with short chapters and an easy-reading style.

Talking of which, I often rail at books which waste paper by having wide margins and widely-spaced text. I've never had to rail the other way, but I came close this time because the book was really tightly-packed! It reminded me of my own tree-saving formatting, although mine isn't as tight as this one. I could not get it to look how I wanted it in Adobe Digital Editions, which I've been using lately because Bluefire Reader - my usual go-to reader, had been giving me grief with a lot of the illustrated books I've been reading recently, but this time, I went back to BFR, which gave me control over the font, and so I finally got it into a format that was easy on the eye and ran with it.

When I first began reading this (it has a prologue and and epilogue, both of which I skipped as I do routinely in any book) and followed the author through her military schooling, I confess I started to wonder where the harassment was. I've read much about harassment and hazing of female conscripts, and there seemed to be none here, which made me wonder if something was being left out, but it seems it was not, because this kind of thing, it would appear, did not happen in college, but was reserved for when you would least expect it: when Lt Johnson was assigned to her first combat role with the VFA-213 Blacklions which flew deadly Hornets off aircraft carrier CVN-77 USS George HW Bush, the tenth and final Nimitz-class carrier to be commissioned into the USN, and named after the USA's 41st president who was a naval aviator in World War Two.

Lt Johnson got her first taste of this shameful conduct when she arrived on base and went to a meet-and-greet kind of a get-together, and was assumed, by the Navy wives there, to be the wife of a male aviator. When she revealed that she was herself the new pilot and was single, she was shunned by these other women which was a disgraceful way to treat anyone in national service in good standing - typically first in her class. Later in the book, Lt Johnson tries to excuse these women for their conduct, and that's her choice, but to me their behavior, particularly against another woman, was inexcusable, even if it's understandable from their shaky perspective.

This isn't the only issue she had as a female pilot in a "man's world" and she lists many, many others, but she rose through them all and she did her job in outstanding fashion. In doing her sworn duty she got some kind of release from that when flying missions - combat or practice or something in between. Even though missions were stressful in themselves, they were fun, until after many years and long deployments they were not so much fun, especially when these pilots wanted to do something about the atrocities they could see ISIS committing on the ground and could not engage because the order had not yet come down from the commander-in-chief to go weapons hot.

The stress doesn't let up even when a pilot isn't even flying, because you never know when you will hear of a Navy plane crash as this author did on more than one occasion, and cannot help but wonder if it's someone they knew from college, from training, from flying, who died. In those circumstances, the Navy requires all personal phones to be on lockdown so no one can even call to tell their own family they're ok, not until the family of the deceased has been personally told by a Navy representative.

The actual combat and near-combat missions are not the most interesting thing in this book, interesting as they are. What I enjoyed most was learning of the day-to-day routine, the cramped conditions (it's not just on submarines where people live on top of one another!), the limited access to things we take for granted, the sometimes long days, down to the the numbed butt from sitting in a hard seat for several hours (the seats are hard so that there is no movement of legs in the event of an emergency eject, which takes place so fast that it could break a thigh-bone, were there any give in the seat).

One of the things you'd be unlikely to find in this book had it been written by a guy, was the issue of going to the bathroom while flying! Astronauts have this taken care of, but not so much the pilots. There are special devices designed for women, believe it or not, but the old version doesn't work well and the Navy wouldn't spring for the new version because it was more expensive (these devices are in the range of thousands of dollars, and unlike Red Wing flying boots, it's not something a pilot can just go out and buy on their own dime). One chapter described an amusing, although inexcusable, situation for a pilot to be put in when they've been on a mission for too long, and despite avoiding drinking too much fluid beforehand, they find themselves absolutely having to go.

So this book had it all - the highs and the lows, and the details I'd been most interested in learning about, and it was a fascinating read on almost every page for me. There were almost no issues I had with it, but I'll mention two which I think worth mentioning. The first is the claim made in the opening paragraph of chapter seven that "The United States is the only country in the world to dare to take off and land on aircraft carriers at night...." This is simply untrue. Even as I write this, British pilots are doing this very thing on their new aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, and this isn't the first time they've ever done this! Nor are they the only other navy which does this. When you think about it, it makes no sense. Why would a navy restrict itself like that and give potentially hostile nations the knowledge that they can get up to something as darkness falls knowing that the nearest aircraft carrier can do nothing about until the sun comes up because they don't fly at night? Nonsense!

The other issue was that there are no pictures in the book. I didn't expect anything that's potentially compromising, or group shots of happy pilots and graduates, but it would have been nice if there had been pictures of the aircraft and the aircraft carrier!) mentioned in the text. There were many airplanes mentioned, and while I have seen some up close and personal, I've enver seen a Hornet. Each of these planes I had to look up to get an idea of what craft was being discussed, which wasn't a huge hardship, but it was a nuisance. Military terminology and acronyms were explained, but we were not even treated to a description of the aircraft, let alone an image.

I feel that would have been an improvement, but even without that, I consider this book to be essential for anyone who is seriously interested in the military. I commend it as a worthy and satisfying read, and I thank Lt Johnson for her service and for being so candid about it in this book.


The Rocking Book of Rocks by Florence Bullough, Amy Ball, Anna Alanko


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Bullough and Ball have proven themselves to be a formidable writing team in this stunningly-illustrated (by Alanko) book on geology, with a great title aimed at young readers. It's in glorious color and skips nothing in its story of how the superficially mundane, but underneath fascinating, rocks that we live on and around, came to be.

It's a hugely long story in the making, going back well over four billion years, but the authors have shrunk it down to easily digestible chunks, starting with what are rocks and minerals, and going through the formation of the Earth and a geological timeline (here there be dragons - aka dinosaurs!). There's an overview of the main three types of rock, and the book then goes into a bit more detail about igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock, how they're formed, and the interesting sub-types of rock formations that can be found within each, including fossils and precious stones.

The book not only talks about the rocks, crystals, and gems, but about how they came to be, and where they're found, and each double-page spread (there are about fifty of them - 100 or so pages in all) has gorgeous, detailed artwork. I learned things myself from this book that I hadn't known, and this is after I'd already put out my own modest book about crystals in my "The Little Rattuses" series, so it's not just the young 'uns who can learn from this. I enjoyed it and commend it fully as a fun, interesting, and educational book, and a tour de force of illustration.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

My First Fact File The Vikings by Philip Steele, Stef Murphy


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written nicely by Philip Steele with consultation from Ragnhild Ljosland, and illustrated gloriously by Stef Murphy, this book does for the Vikings what the book on Rome in this series ('My First Fact File') did for the Romans.

It starts off with who the Vikings were, what kind of society they lived in, the Viking longship, sailing (read: lots of rowing!), trading, raiding and settling, the warriors and their armor, clothes, farming, living accommodations, feasting, how children lived, arts and crafts, and customs, festivals, and religious beliefs.

Once again in the series, there are small inexpensive projects for children to get their hands on, such as building your own full-size Viking longship - no, I'm kidding, although wouldn't that be awesome? No, the projects are much more modest than that, but nonetheless fun for youngsters to try their hands at. They include cracking a Viking rune code, designing a longship prow ornament (on a small scale!), making a wind vane, and making your own Viking money!

I enjoyed every one of the books in this series that I've read so far, and each had its own way of bringing out the facts without being dry or boring. They're a great way to learn about nature, or in the case of this one, about the history of some remarkable people from a dim and distant past, and I commend this fully as a worthy read.


My First Fact File Ancient Rome by Simon Holland, Adam Hill


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This continues my four book review in the 'My First Fact File' series today. This is about ancient Rome. Now I've read a book about Rome by a man named Holland, I do expect to see a future book about those Nederlanders written by someone named Rome! Just kidding. I've actually visited Rome, so I have a real appreciation for the history, although of course modern Rome is worlds away from what it was at the height of the Roman empire back in the early second century.

This book will quite effectively take you back there, though. Written with some knowlegeable detail by Simon Holland with consultation from Matthew Nicholls, and finely-illustrated by Adam Hill (who gets to draw hills! The seven hills of Rome! This is poetry in motion, I tell you) this book covers everything a young mind needs to know, from the founding of Rome, the mythology and the actual - to the growth of the Republic, the empire, the Roman soldiers, their weapons, armor, battle tactics and conquest, through everyday life, including homes, engineering, cities, arts, society, childhood, how Rome kept itself fed, to entertainment and religious belief. In short, everything you need to know to get a solid grounding in ancient Rome.

There are, as usual in this series, small, inexpensive and easy projects for children to undertake to get a hands-on feel for some of the aspects of life discussed, including making a shield and a catapult, to designing a city, a home, and thinking about what policies you would implement were you the emperor of your own home! If this doesn't stir your child's mind I do not know what will. I commend it as a worthy and educational read.


My First Fact File Oceans by Jen Green, Wesley Robins


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. You know it's an ARC when you espy a note on page 22 urging Kate to add a leader line! I assume all that will be done by the time the published edition emerges!

Again by the tireless Jen Green, with consultant Diva Amon, and this time nicely illustrated by Wesley Robins, this book tackles the massive oceans that Earth is blessed with - a subject which was touched on in her excellent My First Fact File Weather book I also review today. Again this is a print book, but I got only to review the ebook representation of it.

This book is the same length as the other one - some forty pages, with each pair of pages in a double spread, each spread devoted to an important aspect of a very important subject. It covers an overview of the five great oceans (and no, Ocean's 8 wasn't one of them), winds and waves, currents and tides, the ocean floor on which, (I read on the BBC news website in the middle of last May), a plastic bag was found at the bottom of the Marianas trench - some 35,000 feet down. Yes, we've even polluted that. The ocean floor is constantly on the move, believe it or not, as this book makes clear. Whether that will get rid of that bag, I don't know!

But I digress! the book covers the various levels in the ocean from sunlight surface to dark depths, as well as the littoral (literally!), food chains (not fast food!), coral reefs, icy ocean environments (which would sure feel nice as hot as it's been here recently!), animal journeys (including salmon, whales, and the Arctic tern), dangerous waters, rising seas, ships and boats (a brief history), exploration, and pollution. I recently had the pleasure of an ocean cruise and gained a refreshed appreciation for the sea, which I hope will be reflected in a novel I'm currently working on, but this book, aimed at children though it is, brought all of that back to me.

Once again the book has some pretty neat experiments for young children to undertake - safe and inexpensive. There's a sink or swim project to compare fresh and saline water, there's an experiment where you can make your own current, and even one where you can make your own tsunami! Just a small one. Probably won't bring your house down. I'm guessing...! There's a couple of pages devoted to rising sea levels due to climate change - and including a nice little experiment to see how your mini-sea level rises when ice melts.

For me, it would have been nice has this clarified that floating ice - like at the North Pole - will not contribute to sea level rise because it's already in the ocean, but melting ice on land - such as that on Greenland and the Antarctic will indeed cause a major sea-level rise if it all melts. But you can't have everything. Of course not! Where would you keep it?!

Overall I really liked this book and commend it as a worthy read. I appreciated that it tells the truth, and illustrates the text well, and colorfully. It's done in ways that will engage young children and educate them, and we all need an education about the oceans, it seems.


My First Fact File Weather by Jen Green, Tom Woolley


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This, one of four 'My First Fact File' books I'm reviewing, is aimed at younger children. It's written as a print book (the content page has no clickable links to other pages in the ebook), and it was finely illustrated by Tom Woolley and written by Jen Green with some consultation with Adam Scaife.

It's over forty pages long and each pair of pages is a double spread. It starts where everything starts - the Sun, (without which we - and even the planet itself - wouldn't exist!) and proceeds through the atmosphere, just like a sunbeam, explaining in some detail along the way how all of this interacts with oceans and winds to create a climate.

I really appreciated that it does not pull punches when it comes to talking about the indisputable fact that the climate is changing and this change has been caused by human activity. There are no cowardly and irresponsible presidential lies here. The book continues with all aspects of climate and weather, and covers biomes, the seasons, the water cycle, clouds, rain, snow, sleet, and hail, thunder and lightning, hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts, and floods. It's really excellent.

There are some practical experiments children can undertake as well, which makes the book fun, including testing air pressure, comparing wind speeds, demonstrating how seasons work, and making your own water cycle. These are simple, inexpensive things young children can safely, do and they looked like entertaining educational opportunities to me!

I commend this book as a worthy and educational read.


My Kindergarten in 100 Words by Sophie Beer


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Yes, there are indeed 100 words, spread over ten pages with fine illustrations to identify what each word is. This was an ARC and the first few images were in color, the rest black and white line drawings, so I don't know if the finished product (I'm not the kidn of reviewer who ever gets the finished product!) will be like this or completely in color. Nevertheless the drawings alone are nice and will draw the eye of kids who look at this, and each is labeled.

I ought to note that while Sophie Beer is the illustrator, I am not sure who the author is. Maybe it's all Sophie Beer's work or maybe the author is anonymous. There's no copyright page and I'm not a beer drinker myself (joke!) so it's not clear who exactly wrote this.

Anyway, the book takes us through the day, from getting out of bed, through morning ablutions and enjoying breakfast, to walking to the nursery, the day at the nursery and five pages of things you might see there, to being picked up for the trip back home. The book is short, simple, and sweet, and I can see this being a really useful tool for preparing a child to go to nursery for that first time, and even getting them excited about it and looking forward to their first day. I commend this as a worthy read.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

George Washington's Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yeager


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook that was written evidently for a much younger audience than I represent. The book was read by Kilmeade, and he did it in such a strident and breathless voice that I couldn't stand to listen to it. Worse than this though, the facts were presented in such a biased and fanciful fashion that I found myself having a hard time swallowing everything he said. It felt much more like listening to florid fiction than to historical fact.

The secret six were actually known as the Culpeper ring, named after a Virginia County. They were spies who fed information out of New York City to Washington about the activities, movements, and plans of British troops in NYC. The main two members were Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend. The best information they got was when they laid hands on a British naval Code handbook. That was less through spying than from luck, but it served the French Navy well.

While these guys (including women) did provide other valuable information, the value of some of their activities was debatable. It's arguable that the defeat of the Brits and surrender at Yorktown did more than any spies did, and this victory was brought about as much by the French and Spanish as it was by the US, if not more so. Cornwallis could well have withdrawn rather than surrendered had the port not been very effectively blockaded by the French.

The secret six were spies for the revolution forces, which side was consistently presented as upstanding, brilliant, heroic, and fine, whereas, of course, the British were evil villains. This was exploited most obviously in the report of the British prison ship HMS jersey, which was pretty brutal, but this was war and it was in the early 1780s, when people were hardly the most civilized and no Geneva convention existed. Additionally, the revolutionaries were considered traitors, so the Brits were not very much disposed to treating them kindly. Not that Washington had many prisoners to exchange anyway, since the British captured far more US forces than the other way around. That doesn't make what happened palatable, but it does provide some context that this helter-skelter account fails to do.

Another thing this story doesn't make clear was that Washington, who could have exchanged prisoners, was disinclined to do so because he didn't want to exchange professional British soldiers for civilian volunteers and conscripts! He didn't consider it a fair exchange. How brutal was that? Remember these were the guys who were fighting for the rich folk who didn't want to pay taxes. That's what today, we call Republicans.

The rich were the guys who claimed they wanted the vote, but none of the guys fighting on the front line ever had the vote! Only about 6% of the population were eligible to vote in 1789! In short, the pretext of the revolution was bullshit, yet those who were wealthy were not the ones dying en masse on the front lines or being interned (and interred) in the HMS Jersey! How long did it take for American Indians to get the vote? For African Americans? For women? This wasn't a fight for freedom - it was a fight for the rich, and the poor paid the price on both sides. When that emancipation was truly sought, it started a civil (read not-at-all-civil) war a century later.

So my take on this is that if you're looking for an historical account, don't look here. If you're looking for an hysterical account, then this is the audiobook for you!


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short and fun graphic novel written by a seventeen year old who was born in Japan to a local woman and a US citizen father, so she has two passports. She migrated at a young age to the US, and this is a sweet and fun graphic documentary of her return trip a decade or so later.

It's quite idiosyncratic, obviously; she remarks upon and records the things which intrigue and amuse her, but much of it has a wider appeal than that. The author and I couldn't be more different than chalk and cheese in things like age and gender, but we do have the ex-pat thing in common, so I could see through her eyes quite well, and she expresses herself with smarts, erudition, and a nice eye for oddity and absurdity.

The book is also educational. Because she was absent from Japan for so long and having left at such an early age, although a lot of what she saw on her return had a familiarity to it, there was also a lot that was - or at least seemed - new, so we get to look at Japan very much through a visitor's eye, but this eye is softened by her familiarity with the culture. There is also culture shock with regard to how clean and neat everything is, how proud and polite the people are who serve in both fast food places and restaurants, and how curious the toilets are - among many other things!

I've never been to Japan, but I certainly would like to visit. Reading books like this help me feel a little bit like I've already visited. I commend this one as a worthy read.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

My Very First Book of Colors by Eric Carle


Rating: WORTHY!

I think author Carle is being a bit arrogant in assuming this will be your child's very first book of colors, but maybe it will be! This was one of two young children's learning books that I thought was inventive and cute. They consist of solid, hard-wearing pages that are easily wiped clean, and which are split into top and bottom halves. In this one, the top contained a swatch of color (not a real swatch - a printed one, and it didn't tell time), the bottom contained pictures that largely matched the colors, but the top and bottom for each single page did not match, so it's a detective game which encourages a child to explore and find the matching color. The colors are not solid colors, and contain patterns within them, so even if your child is color-challenged it occurs to me that they may still be able to match one with the other, but that's merely a surmise. There are not that many pages, so it's not a huge challenge, but it's enough to get a young mind working, and I commend this as a worthy read.