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

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Egyptomaniacs by Nicky Nielsen

Rating: WORTHY!

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

"the tri-factor of ancient Egyptian mysticism and the occult." I think maybe the author meant 'trifecta'? Very strictly-speaking, trifecta isn't the correct term and there are three factors listed before this phrase, but the way the phrase is worded seems to make trifecta a better fit that tri-factor, which is not commonly-used terminiology.

Like many people, no doubt, I've long had an interest in ancient Egypt. I've written a middle-grade humorous novel about a young Cleopatra (Cleoprankster), and there was a section in one of my mature sci-fi novels (Tears in Time) set in ancient Egypt. I also plan on writing at least one more set wholly in ancient Egypt, but trust me when I say I am far from an expert and wouldn't even try to pretend I was. I have read many books on the subject, enjoyed many documentaries, and often enjoy fictional films about it. I was thrilled to be given the chance to view this one and then to review it, and I did not regret it.

I have to say up front that I am always suspicious of authors who put their credentials along with their name on the cover. Often this means they're charlatans, especially if they're talking about new diet regimes! You don't get authors like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins putting 'Dr' in front of their name or 'PhD' after it, but in this case it's fine because the author, originally from Denmark is, to quote his bio page from the University of Manchester, "...a Lecturer in Egyptology teaching both traditional undergraduate units as well as distance learning. He is also the programme director on the MA Egyptology programme." He did his PhD research at the University of Liverpool investigating subsistence strategies and craft production at the Ramesside fortress site of Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham, obtaining his PhD in 2016. This guy knows what he's talking about!

The book is pithy, with a light tone, but a serious intent. It pulls no punches and suffers no fools, and I love that kind of writing! I especially loved the way he took down the "pyramidology" and "ancient alien visitors" garbage. This kind of scientific fraud and appalling ignorance, which nearly always (but not exclusively) seems to come from the right wing curiously enough, is particularly harmful at times like these when we have a serious and deadly virus literally rampaging across the globe and idiot hucksters standing up and recommending unproven 'miracle drug cures' and 'the injecting of household disinfectants to clean out the virus' - and that's just the president of one country.

But I digress. Egyptian obsession, as the author details, goes back way beyond our current era, and it keeps renewing itself every few years as some new discovery triggers a resurgence of interest. The fact is, again as the author makes clear, that the actual reality of ancient Egypt is fantastical and enthralling enough. Making up fake stories about it, like the ridiculous mummy's curse of Tutankhamen, and inane claims like the one that the pyramids of Gizeh were built to store grain by the Biblical Joseph is not only unnecessary, it's an insulting lie that doesn't even gild the lily.

The author covers these topics from the building of the pyramids and the growth of Egyptian culture and power, right up through modern day. The text is wide-ranging, covering not only scholarly works, but also how this work is viewed in the media and by the entertainment industry. There are eight chapters:

  1. The Classical Experience of Ancient Egypt
  2. Cabinets of Curiosity
  3. Death on the Nile
  4. A Tragic Case of the -isms
  5. Tutmania and the Media
  6. The Mummy, The Mummy, and The Mummy Again
  7. Ancient Aliens
  8. Who Owns Ancient Egypt?

Not all was plain sailing. This book was only available to a reviewer like me through an ebook, and once again the publisher kow-towed to the monolithic, almost monopolistic power of Amazon, and once again Amazon turned the printed word to Kindling. I flatly refuse to do any sort of business with Amazon. I do not care if it costs me sales. I would rather have peace of mind that I am not supporting the Amazon business model in any way, shape or form.

The text itself wasn't so bad, but unless your work is essentially nothing more than plan vanilla text, Amazon will slice, dice, and julienne it. Amazon hates pretty. It hates organized and neat. It hates drop-caps, for example, and will instead drop your text to the next line. In fact, it will quite randomly put a new line in and drop your text to the next line whether you intended it or not at any point in the book. Some of the text was blood-red for reasons I've never been able to figure out, but I've seen this frequently in Kindle books.

There are photographs included in the back of this book which surprisingly survived the process remarkably well, although I think Amazon ditched at least one of them. I was unaware of the pictures until I finished the book, so I'd already looked-up some of these images online where I could find them. This is mostly tied to the section discussing artistic portrayals of ancient Egypt.

The book had an extensive notes and references section and an index, although none of this was clickable - you can't, for example, go to the note from the text, nor can you return to the text from the note, be warned. Same applies to the index. I'm guessing this book was never intended to be an ebook and was simply dumped into that format for reviewers. It's never a good idea to treat reviewers so cavalierly! It might come back to bite you!

The content list is a mess; it's completely unformatted, with some chapters being clickable (although once you click to a chapter there's no way to click back to the content list, which you may wish to do since the list is so closely printed that you could well tap the wrong chapter and wish to go back and start over. The chapter titles are all on separate lines except for five and six which are jammed together on the same line (Chapter 5 Chapter 6).

Chapter 8 is the only chapter title that is clickable, but it doesn't take you to chapter eight! I never read epilogues and prologues so it wasn't an issue for me that they're not clickable, but the text heading for each chapter wasn't listed with the chapter header ('Chapter 1' and so on)! It was listed separately after all the chapter numbers had been listed - and some of those were clickable! Very confusing. Amazon are idiots. I'm sorry, but they are.

Note that I also checked this out in the Bluefire Reader and Adobe Digital Editions versions, which are far better formatted but much less easy to read on a phone which is where I do most of my reading since I always have it with me. The problem with the PDF version though is that it's an exact copy of how the print version will look and people who know me will also know that I do not approve of the wasted space on these semi-academic print books.

Trees are the only entity on Earth which is actively engaged full time in combating the greenhouse gases causing climate change, so hacking them down to produce books is a thoroughly bad idea, and worse, not respecting the dead trees by leaving acres of white space on every page in a print book is a disgrace in my opinion. Naturally no one wants the entire page to be obliterated with densely-packed text! Readability alone requires some sort of intelligent formatting, but it's still not necessary to have massive margins and extra insert pages identifying part this and part that. Please! Respect the trees before it's too late for all of us.

Those are technical issues though that can be fixed, like, for example, the fact that the book description on Net Galley has the book title wrong! The title on the cover and the title of the page are correct, but the description thinks that the book title is: "Pyramidiots: How We Became Obsessed With Ancient Egypt." I prefer the actual title to that one. As far as the content of the text is concerned though, there's nothing wrong with it. I loved this book and I commend it unreservedly except for the Amazon edition!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Electric War by Mike Winchell

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great audiobook read by Greg Tremblay. It appears to have no connection with the movie The Current War starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult. While they both cover roughly the same ground, they tell rather different stories, with the movie predictably focusing more on flash and drama, and the book going into some interesting detail without belaboring anything.

The story covers each of the main three men described in the subtitle: Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse, giving each a brief biography from birth until they came into the public light in the so-called "Race to Light the World," and then going into more detail about the interactions between the three of them as the contest between Edison's stubborn insistence upon the inadequate direct current as a power source on the one side, and Tesla and Westinghouse's goal of powering life with alternating current on the other side. Edison lost.

I've never been a big fan of Edison and did not come out of this liking him any more than I did to begin with, which is to say not much. I already liked Tesla, and I knew little about Westinghouse, but I grew to like and respect his abilities and conduct, except for the one instance where he really screwed Tesla out of a living. Tesla had generously agreed to give up his contract which was making him very wealthy, when Westinghouse was struggling financially, but Westinghouse never came back with a substitute offer when he was back on a sounder financial footing, despite Tesla once again helping him when it came to the Niagara falls project. Tesla's life was very sad and he deserved better than he got.

The book is educational and interesting and I commend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Gringo Love by Marie-Eve Carrier-Moisan, William Flynn, Débora Santos

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "Stories of Sex Tourism in Brazil" this was written by William Flynn and illustrated by Débora Santos, and based on the research of Marie-Eve Carrier-Moisan. Published by the University of Toronto Press, this was a look at the delicate politics of 'women of the night' in city of Natal in northeast Brazil, who interact with European tourists in interesting ways that lie all around the blurry line of outright prostitution.

The book was based on real people and interviews the researcher had done with them, and although it was a graphic novel it actually wasn't graphic in a sexual sense; it merely depicted the kind of lives these women led and their aims and dreams. Is it worth noting that this did not pass the Bechdel-Wallace test when the aim of the book was expressly to discuss sex tourism? It's hardly a surprise that it failed, but I have to say that it would have been nice to have learned more about what these women aimed to get out of these relationships. It was touched on but only, it seemed, in passing.

The story is supported by extensive notes and references and contained a glossary of the Brazilian terms used by people in this life. The author of the story visited twice, one in the mid-oughts, and then more recently about six years ago, and the changes were marked. She couldn't even find many of the women who she'd talked to originally since they'd moved on or moved away.

The relationship between the sex tourists and the local women was an intricate dance and not all women viewed it in the same way or pursued it with the same steps and rhythms. There is a constant beat though, and that is the desire and need to escape the poverty trap far too many of these women are born into. Selling sex, or more reservedly, entering into a mutually profitable relationship with the male visitors wherein the guys get sex with able and attractive women and the women receive money or gifts in return, is a way these women have of raising themselves up.

Some of them look toward marrying a visitor, others look to saving money and getting a college education, and changing their life that way. But constantly in the background was the desire of some locals - mostly the ones who live in the alto district as opposed to the girls, who live in the Ville ghettos - to stamp out the sex tourism. The problem is that the protestors seemed to pursue this not only hypocritically, but mindlessly. They had no plan as to how to help the impoverished women once their rewards from their own enterprising endeavors petered out. This is why these protests are ultimately doomed to fail in my opinion.

This was a fascinating study and a novel representation of the results, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, even while feeling depressed that once again, we're seeing economic disparity causing serious problems that are not being intelligently addressed. I commend this as a worthy read.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Radical Wordsworth by Jonathan Bate

Rating: WORTHY!

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

"He said that he would soon be was on his way to Coleorton." 'soon be was' is obviously wrong!

Published for the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth, this was a tome in which I felt very much at home because I grew up in and around many of the places mentioned here. I can only publish my review on the 210thanniversary of the poet's youngest son's birth, a child also named William, but that'll do, right?!

While I'm not much of a fan of poetry despite having published a book of verse and short stories myself, I am interested in the creative lives of artists, and also in life as it was lived by people in more primitive times. This book amply fed my interest on both scores. It was exhaustively researched, but not exhausting to read because the author knew when to share his research and when not to flood the reader in a showy, but unhelpful fashion.

Wordsworth was close friends with poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he of "Ancyent Marinere" fame, as well as a contemporary of many other well-known writers, such as Robert Southey, who Wordsworth, in later life, succeeded as poet laureate. The biography covers Wordsworth's entire life, his extensive travel, both in walking tours of England, and Scotland, and in his travels in Europe.

I had no idea he'd been such a rebel in his time, and especially no idea that the British government sent a spy to keep an eye on this radical - something which Wordsworth evidently found amusing. It also covers his close relationship with his sister Dorothy, who herself was no slouch with a pen. She's not the only female writer mentioned and some of those mentioned in passing in this book were interesting enough to me that I'm looking to find some of their material to read.

Call me mercenary, but personally I would have liked to have learned a little more about how Wordsworth paid his way in life. He received a substantial settlement on debt owed his family from the First Earl of Lonsdale, to the tune of some £4,000 which was a substantial sum back then. It ain't exactly chicken feed now! This money permitted Wordsworth to marry, but it didn't seem like it was enough of itself to keep him going throughout his life and permit raising several children.

He earned some money from his writing, but not as much as you might think, not when we learn for example, that when "The Lyrical Ballads was published by Longman and company in May 1807, in an edition of 1,000 copies, 230 of them were remaindered." He obviously did all right for himself, but he was hardly a sell-out artist. In passing, Lonsdale was of the lineage which lent its name to the boxing award - commonly known as the Lonsdale Belt, although it was the fifth Earl - much later in the lineage, who inaugurated the belt, not the one who paid Wordsworth.

Wordsworth did publish other work of course, and later in life he had official 'jobs' to do, which undoubtedly helped him financially, even as his writing star seemed to fade, but I found myself periodically wondering throughout my reading of this, how he could afford to keep moving his household, and to travel so much in Europe. How did he finance it?! Maybe he was very frugal?

That complaint aside though, it was fascinating to read of his adventures in France right in the midst of the revolution, and of his desire to be a journalist until a journalist friend of his was decapitated! He also spent time in Germany, and he engaged in a lot of walking tours in Britain. These stimulated his creative juices and inspired and fed a lot of his poems.

I was rather disturbed to read that "Back in 1803, William had left Mary, recuperating well from the birth of their first child, and gone on a Scottish tour in the company of Dorothy and Coleridge." That seems a bit callous, especially in an era where children died young quite often. Three of Wordsworth's children predeceased he and his wife, and two of those were very young when they died. I guess parental attitudes were different back then, with the female of the pair very much expected to stay home and care for the children while the male did whatever he wanted. I'd confess I'd hoped for more from Wordsworth!

But these are minor questions that crossed my warped and fervid mind as I read this. Overall, I was quite thrilled with it and enjoyed it very much. I commend it as a worthy read.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Mountains by Charlotte Guillain, Chris Madden

Rating: WORTHY!

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

It's unfortunate to be reviewing this when a soldier is missing, not many miles from here at Fort Hood, who shares a very similar last name to the author. The book though is nothing to do with the military. It takes an interesting idea and runs with it with great success.

The perspective of the environment and wildlife as viewed from the summit and environs of some of the world's most impressive mountain ranges is a good one, and it's pleasing to see that this book doesn't forget, as so many do, that there is, believe it or not, a vast world outside of the borders of the USA.

Illustrated beautifully by Madden, the book begins in the Himalayas, a name taken from the Sanskrit meaning simply, the abode of snow. We learn as we visit each new locale, how it quite literally arose, and what lives there, and how magical the engagingly differing coloration is between the animal life, the plant life, the water sources, and even the very rocks themselves. We also learn what climate change is doing to all this planetary glory.

From there we move to Iceland, land of ice and fire, and thence to the Alps, home of a poisonous salamander! We zoom across to the Andes, which are on the end of the Wristies...just kidding. But we do visit the Andes and say "Hi!" to the vividly pink flamingos and the superior-looking if slightly lazy appearing vizcacha. From there it's on to Japan and the majestic Mount Fuji.

Afterward we visit the Rockies and the amazing assortment of birds as well as the beautiful blue of a glacial lake. If you find this stunning, then prepare to be over-stunned when we end up at the rainbow rocks of northwest China, which is, I have to say, is perhaps the only environment that the artist does not do justice to. Although, to be honest you'd have to be a candy manufacturer to really do justice to the amazing rainbow rocks.

The book was entertaining, educational, beautifully written and illustrated, and a fine introduction to these widely-varying slices of life and environments on Earth. There's also a heart-rending appeal at the end from the author to protect our mountains. While the mountains are solid and seem in no need to protection from anyone, the environments they support are fragile. I hope everyone feels the way the author does, or will soon come to do so. I commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Mini Chibi Art Class by Yoai

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Chibi is Japanese slang for 'short' and it can be both endearing when used with a loved one, or an insult when used inappropriately, so be careful how you employ the term! Here it's used to signify a particular type of art which appears in Japanese manga.

This book sets out to teach the techniques and in my opinion it succeeds. It begins with a brief survey of art materials, and gets quickly onto the basics - designing your character's pose and setting out proportions, and capturing motion. Later it covers lighting and blending colors.

It covers facial features: eyes, nose, mouth, as well as hair design, before leading into specific character creations one for each month of the year!) which you can follow along and draw your own version. It covers even more fantasy-like characters under 'chibi beasties' and it has a section on clothes, props, and accessories.

This was a great book with some really good art, and invaluable instruction for anyone who wants to get into this kind of illustration. I commend it as a worthy read.

Learn to Draw (Almost) Anything in 6 Easy Steps by Rich Davis

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a great little book for anyone who's nervous about even getting started with drawing. This literally does what it says and will show you how to get up and running in drawing simple cartoon figures of (almost) anything. The figures are so simplified and laid out in such easy steps that anyone can do it.

The sections cover dogs, cats, cows, turtles zebras, dinosaurs, birds, fish, flowers, buildings, machines and people, so there's something for every situation, and once you get the hang of these, you can doubtlessly invent your own techniques for anything that's not covered here. I commend this as a useful tool and a worthy read.

Drawing and Painting Expressive Little Faces by Amarilys Henderson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a pretty neat book solely dedicated to drawing and coloring faces and hair. I loved the title! The faces are varied, amusing, and interesting. They're not photo-realistic, nor are they caricatures or cartoonish. They're somewhere in between, and the book shows how to create them and what techniques to use.

It begins with materials - paint, ink, pencils, brushes and paper, and moves on to a consideration of facial shapes and proportions, and where to place the features, and not only for a face looking squarely at the viewer, but for faces at assorted angles. There are several pages devoted to eyes and eyebrows, and how to place the highlight in the eye. There are several more pages on noses and mouths, and more on developing facial expressions. In short there's a lot to learn and nothing missed, with lots of tips and good advice along the way.

I commend this as a useful and worthy read.

Craft Lab for Kids by Stephanie Corfee

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was another fun crafts/art book for young kids, with over fifty projects in it, ranging from from a secret fake book treasure stash, to faux embossed leather cuffs, marbled paper note-cards, photo-transfer memory box, shrink plastic charm bracelet, jiggly soap, sleep mask, hand-tied art journal, painted positivity pebbles, pressed flower stickers, DIY stress balls and apple backyard bird-feeder.

Each section gives step-by-step instructions each with a photographic illustration on how to perform that step. More complex work, such as the mini-wall weaving have even more detail, so you can't go wrong. The book was interesting, literally packed with ideas, and quite engaging. I commend it as a worthy read.

Backward Science by Clive Gifford, Anne Wilson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

The title to this book is rather misleading in two ways because for one, there's nothing backward about it really. There are almost thirty sections which deal with advances in science or, mostly, with inventions. They begin with asking what life was like before the discovery, and how the change came about and was developed. The other way is that it's less about science per se, than it is about invention.

The chapters are short but fascinating, and they cover a wide variety of topics, from smart phones and DNA profiling, to assembly lines and gunpowder, and textiles and steam trains. The book doesn't shy away from naming the inventors, so we see, unusually, several women mentioned as well as some people of color. Unfortunately people of color do not appear in the illustrations very much. Those consist mostly of white folk. I'm not sure why.

Some of the inventors might not seem familiar to you, for example if you think that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb (nope!), or that William Hoover invented the vacuum cleaner. Nope. Had the original inventor of a practical home vacuum cleaner not sold everything to Hoover, we might well be spangling the rug today, not hoovering it!

This book was fun, knowledgeable, and nicely-illustrated by Wilson. I commend it as a worthy read.

Art Workshop for Children by Barbara Rucci, Betsy McKenna

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book's aim is "to Foster Original Thinking with more than 25 Process Art Experiences," 'process art' being the work itself rather than any specific end result. Art for art's sake, you might say. The book was smart and fun, with a lot of images to illustrate the text and some of the cutest quotes from the young children who participated in various activities.

The book begins before any children are on the scene, discussing the kind of area that works best for the artistry to take place in, and the kind of supplies and materials that might be needed or useful, including the indispensable art cart!

Next up is the detailing of the 25 or more art projects which include frame paintings, muffin tin prints, cotton swab mini watercolors, self portraits where you paint the kids face and then slap paper on it, peel it off, and see how it looks...I'm just making that up! There's not such thing in this book! It does cover self-portraits though, along with paper bag collage painting, still life with a donut (I am not making that one up!), paint mixing, folder paper art, cardboard box robots, milk carton houses, tree branch painting and a host of others.

The projects don't have a specific end point. They're about the doing, the experience, the learning. Of course there is an end result, but whether or not the result is what was aimed at is far less important than the journey there - working with the paint and materials and enjoying the trip.

This book was fun and educational, and it has some really good advice about process art, and kids just plan having fun in a stimulating and fruitful environment. I commend it.

The Math(s) Fix: An Education Blueprint for the AI Age by Conrad Wolfram

Rating: WARTY!

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

At one point in this book, the author writes, "When I started this journey, I thought there would be a huge amount of straight hostility. So far, I've found confusion predominates instead." Having read a substantial portion of it before giving up on it, I can only agree.

The book is written by the younger brother of the creator of the Mathematica software, and given that this very software is mentioned more than thirty times throughout the text, I had to wonder if this really is nothing more than an extended sales pitch for said software. The truth is that I honestly cannot say because despite the book being billed as "a groundbreaking book that exposes why math education is in crisis worldwide and how the only fix is a fundamentally new mainstream subject" I could not for the life of me, despite several searches throughout the book, discover what it is that the author proposes to replace traditional math teaching with.

That said, I must confess that I gave up on it about 25% of the way in. The book really dragged. Instead of launching into the new ideas from the outset, the author requires that we spend fully a quarter of the book listening to him waffling on about the problem without really telling us anything. I agree with him that the math we teach these days has little to do with most people's real-world experience of or need for it. The simple solution to that is to teach less of it and more of what people do need!

The language of this book is a bit high level, too. I wasn't sure who the author's intended audience was supposed to be, but given the college-level language he uses, it's definitely not the stereotypical 'man (or woman) in the street'. I didn't have too much trouble understanding most of it, but the writing was very dense, and quite academic in tone. I listened to it (read by my iPhone's Voice Over software) on the commute to and from work each day, and on the morning I decided to give up on it, and the reason I quit was because I realized that I had not understood a single word he'd written in some twenty-five minutes of driving.

This was not because I was too focused on traffic. The streets are largely devoid of traffic when I drive in to work, and I typically have no problem driving safely and hearing what my book or novel of choice is all about as I drive. That morning was a huge fail in this regard, and it's solely because of the high-falutin' language he used.

I read scores of books of all types, and have college-level education, and while it was not wholly impenetrable, this book was far too dense for my taste. He could have eased this quite readily by employing more everyday language, but his attitude seemed to be "why use 'used' when you can write 'utilized'"?! I can't take anyone seriously who regularly writes 'utilized'. For a book that claims to be clearing the cobwebs out of mathematics, perhaps his first step should have been to clear the cobwebs out of his writing, and write at a level that's easy for your average reader to grasp? Just a thought!

Just so you know it's not only me, I pasted the first 600 or so words from the first chapter into an online readability app, and these were the results:

  • Flesch Reading Ease score: 39.1 (difficult to read)
  • Gunning Fog: 17.2: (difficult to read)
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 14.1 (College)
  • The Coleman-Liau Index: 13 (College)
  • The SMOG Index: 12.4: (Twelfth Grade)
  • Automated Readability Index: 15.6 (College graduate)
  • Linsear Write Formula : 17.3 (College Graduate and above)
So: not aimed at Jo Average! But it wasn't just the level of the language, it was the jargon employed. The word, 'computational' for example appears over 400 times. Here are a few examples, and no, I did not bookmark these at the time (driving!) I just went to random places in the book, and swiped a page or two in one direction or another, and sure enough there was a phrase right there. It's not hard to find them:

"Nor do they provide an appropriate structure for so doing, though in some cases they're complementary outcomes lists and can usefully coexist with outcomes for core computation."

"...that's nullifying the point of having a machine do it instead..."

"...indeed, that the rationale is not orchestrated for practical application distinguishes the discipline..."

"One of the drivers for this is the aforementioned problem of traditional outcomes listings being per maths tool, where our outcomes map instead reflects a distillation of substructure..."

"...not pre-abstracted calculation problem segments..."

"...with respect to a a (sic) core computational curriculum change..."

If only some of this had been rendered into more everyday language it would have improved readability immensely. But this was not the worst problem for me.

The real problem I had was that I really wanted to know what his alternative was, and beyond a vague idea that it seems to involve using computer software, I could glean no idea from the opening portion of the book, and nothing from skimming through and doing some reading in later sections to see if it's explained anywhere at all. I confess it's entirely possible, not having read the whole thing, that I could well have missed it, but I could not for the life of me find anywhere where the author says, 'this is what I propose' or words to that effect and lays out a summary of the new plan. The fact that this book has no contents page did not help in my forlorn quest to get to the 'core computation' (to use a phrase of the author's) and find out what he would like to see as the future of math education. To me that was a serious failing.

Given how tedious it was to read this, and how the author himself seemed curiously loathe to share his plan with the reader, I can't in good faith commend this as a worthy read. The problem seemed to be that he was preaching to the choir for the first quarter of the book. If the language had been simplified a bit, and he'd ditched that first 25% and launched right into it, assuming his readers were interested not in the sorry history of math education, but in discovering what his new proposal was, he would have made a better impression on me. But if his only plan is to sell the Mathematica software to every student at eighty bucks a year, then this seems a little self-serving to me. Maybe he had some other plan; I can't say because I couldn't find out what his plan was!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Black Women, Black Love by Dianne M Stewart

Rating: WORTHY!

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

"Repeating Laura’s name like a mantra, he ensured her" - I think maybe 'assured' her?

"Thirty-three-year-old Mary and her husband, Hazel “Hayes” Turner..." is fine, but the way Kindle mangled this book, 'Turner' was on the next page and indented like it was a new paragraph! Amazon will do that to you. That's why I don't do anything with them. Clearly Amazon's intention here was to split Mary and her husband, thereby making the author's point! LOL!

"T his severing of Black families..." - the gap after the 'T' was in the text. It may have been because the book had drop caps. That's a big no-no when Amazon is going to kindle your book. I use kindle in its original sense. Amazon can only handle plain vanilla text with any reliability - and forget pictures!

"h isTorically, The fear of..." - again mangled by Kindle. Several words had the letter 'T' capitalized for no apparent reason other than this is what Kindle does to your work. This one also had the initial letter not capitalized!

"...but never laid eyes on her husband after the county sheriff and two accompanying police officers first courted him off to jail." Hardly courted! I suspect the author meant 'carted him off'.

“due to the unanimous feeling on the part of the staff and board that there were more work 107 opportunities for Negro women” - the number 107 is actually a page number that Kindle integrated into text

“T he deleTerious impacT” - Another exmaple of Kindle mangling the text.

“taking long-distance trips to see her fianc[é] through a glass.” I don;t understand the use of the square brackets. This was perhaps another Kindle mangle. Kindle sucks, period.

This book was hard to read and not because it was academic or because it uses a lot of big words - it doesn't, nor because Amazon had done its usual job of dicing and julienne-ing the text, but it does tell horrifying stories of how the African American community has been treated through its all-too-often tragic history on these shores. It's a history that both continues in far too many ways today, and can be understood from the roots it has, which extend all the way back to the forcible capture and enslavement of free Africans.

Further, it extrapolates from that long history and puts in perspective the fact that "more than 70 percent of Black women in America are unmarried." Reading this book will remove any surprise you may have as to why that is. Slavery wasn't the only oppression. There has been a history of suppression and oppression, of keeping people down and of treating people unfairly, and the heaviest burden of all of that has always fallen on the black community.

The book explores slavery, the Reconstruction, the Great Migration north, nd the continued history of abuses right up through modern times. It talks about welfare under which - and contrary to disparaging lies that are spread about it - the African American community seldom fares well, and which rather than encourage couples to marry and take joint responsibility for children, it very effectively mandates "that women remain single in order to receive government support." It discusses the modern repercussions of this unfair and unequal treatment including what the author labels "the prison-industrial complex," which unfairly targets people of color and thereby removes them from the pool of potential partners for black women.

Well-researched and unfortunately full of disturbing anecdotes from the people who have been abused by these various systems, this book tells a horrifying tale, but one that needs to be heard and internalized. I commend it fully.

Goodnight Mind for Teens by Colleen E Carney

Rating: WORTHY!

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

"Same’s alarm sounds at 6 a.m." - presumably this was intended to read 'Sam's alarm'
There were also some oddities such as bullet lists starting with a lower case 'y' instead of a bullet, and also an odd sequence of five screens with an alternating full screen line of text followed by half screen line. The last line of all this had ‘morphine’ by itself after a half screen line

There is a book by this author called "Goodnight Mind" and this one is evidently the teen version of it. I haven't read the first one, but this is a useful book which asks, "Do you have trouble getting to sleep at night?" I don't and I'm not a teen (I don't even play one on TV!), but I am the parent of two teens who seem, during this unprecedented home isolation, to be turning into, what was it Dracula called them in Bram Stoker's novel? "Children of the night. What music they make"! So I do understand this issue with sleeping problems even though I personally have very few nights where I have trouble sleeping.

This short book offers explanations for behavior, and suggestions, hints, and tips for working on getting one's head down and actually sleeping. It includes URLs for downloadable checklists to help focus on what exactly the problem is in each individual. The author is Dr. Colleen E. Carney, an Associate Professor and also the Director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. She packs the book full of ideas, techniques, and suggestions to identify what your problem is, because there is no solving it until you understand it, and then she goes after the problem on several levels with multiple techniques, and without getting all academic about it. I commend this as a worthy read.

Feminist City by Leslie Kern

Rating: WARTY!

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

Feminist City isn't an interesting sci-fi novel, but a non-fiction book about how cities are not designed with women in mind. I agree with that thesis as it happens, having read material on this subject before. This is why I requested this book. It never hurts to learn more, especially if you're interested in female issues and especially if you're a novelist who's always open to ideas for plots or at least ideas for how to make characters who are a different gender than your own seem more lifelike, realistic, motivated, and perhaps having issues to pursue!

This take on cities is a very personal view, and I have to say that the author went off on tangents that for me, didn't serve her main argument well. For example, at one point she devolved into discussing how movies don't tend to represent female relationships. I'm like what? The thing is that after rambling about this and even mentioning a couple of movies that do represent them, the author then got into a prolonged ramble about some TV shows I've never heard of that represent female relationships pretty well. I'm like: are you not undermining your own claim with this?

And what does it have to do with your thesis about cities not being female-friendly? I don't mind it when authors mention stuff tangential to their main thrust, but a digression like this seemed to be an extended reminiscence about her own favorite TV shows rather than anything that materially contributed to her argument. And lest it be forgotten, TV and movies are not reality, even when they're called 'reality shows'. In fact reality shows are the precise opposite of reality. They're as artificial as it gets.

The author lives in Canada so maybe these are Canadian TV shows or maybe they're just shows I never had an interest in. She seems to be forgetting that unless the movie topic is specifically about female friendships, the writer and director had no reason to go out of their way to tell a story about such things because the movie's story is about something else.

Despite her claim, there are in fact many movies that do have female friendship represented in them not as the main plot, but as an included element. Also there are many movies about female friendships. The author, despite writing a book herself, seems to be unaware that there's a whole genre of novels precisely about female friendships! I guess she doesn't read much fiction, but Netflix has a bunch of movies about female relationships and friendships, so I don't get this fruitless digression into fiction when she's supposed to be making a case for a real world issue.

Another thing that struck me as odd in a feminist book was her digression into the topic of the 'Flâneuse'. I'd never encountered this name before, but it's a French word that describes the kind of person who has sufficient idle time on their hands that they can perambulate the city, exploring it and people-watching. I've never been a fan of pretentious French words being introduced into the lingo, but this one is quiet ancient. The original term was Flâneur, and I while I understand that in the ancient past, a term specific to a woman was routinely coined, particularly in a language that absurdly insists that inanimate objects have gender, I don't get why this was perpetuated by a writer of a book like the one under review here. Nor do I see why a woman can't be a Flâneur and leave it at that.

To me it was disturbing to find a female author of a book, and especially a book decidedly aligning with feminism, seeking to employ a female version of the word. If we're about equality, shouldn't one word serve all genders? It's the same case in Hollywood: why actress and not actor for all? We don't call a female doctor a doctrix! We no longer use aviatrix! Why perpetuate the erroneous idea that a female needs to be singled out a special case? Now I'm digressing! I freely admit that this is a pet beef of mine, and fortunately the whole book was not like this.

For me the author was at her best when relating, anecdotal as they were, stories of contending with urban environments while also contending first with a pregnancy and then with a baby on board - that is, onboard a carrier or a stroller. This was in London where the deeply subterranean underground railway, aka 'The Tube' was effectively inaccessible to anyone with a perambulator and pretty much the same even with a stroller. The fact is that the London Underground is a resistance movement: it's antique for the most part, and resists change for a variety of reasons.

Women were largely unseen and herded, back when most of it was built, and while that's no excuse to persist with that idiocy today, it has to be said - given how old the system is - that perhaps it's harder than it might seem to upgrade it appropriately, which is why the inaccessibility problem persists. Not that I'm trying to justify it; it needs to be fixed, not just for moms, but for people who have disabilities. And fear of heights in some London stations (just kidding)! To me it seems that the real problem is that these things cost money, and the will to make those expenditures is lacking among authorities that are largely male, white, and not sporting any differently-abled status. Once that complexion is changed, the rest ought to follow. I hope.

One thing in this discussion of the London tube was when I read (of the author's experience while pregnant): "This was most obvious to me on the Tube, where I was rarely offered a seat during my rush hour commute." While I understand that pregnancy involves carrying around extra weight and fatigue along with a young life, at times the author seems like she's equating being pregnant with being an invalid! This seems as unkind as it is inaccurate. Not every woman feels disabled by her pregnancy. Some do, and clearly there's an issue here, but the wording might have been less ambiguous.

Clearly there ought to be an offer of a seat, leaving it up to the individual to accept or decline as she sees fit. But I didn't see how this was so much an issue with cities not being designed for women. I mean it's always possible to await the next train since they run so frequently during rush hour, and get in there ahead of the crowd to find a seat. To me this seemed much more of a societal issue, with people in general largely being selfish despite attempts by the news media to show how kind we are. If we were truly that kind, it would hardly be a news item now, would it?!

I went into this book thinking it would answer a question that's asked in the book description. I know authors typically don't write these descriptions any more than they design the covers, but it was a question I would have liked to have had answered. The question was "What would a metropolis for working women look like?" and the problem seemed to be that this book isn't an organized journey through the issues, laying out the problems and supplying answers, or at least offering suggestions toward answers. This book is more like a collection of essays and it's a bit repetitive and lacking in substance. It's more like an impressionist painting where I'd have preferred - on this occasion - a photograph, and for me it really didn't get where it ought to have been trying to go - where it suggested it would go.

The problems with cities were highlighted here and there such as for example, the aforesaid lack of elevators on London's underground system, and the sparsity in the design of public toilets (where these can be found and even if they are in good condition). Some of the issues were less about the design of cities and more about societal issues, such as the idea of "A place where women can walk without harassment." No design of any city is going to prevent this as long as men think women are property, possessions, playthings, or people who are to be treated like juveniles. Even the most perfectly designed city will be nightmarish if it's populated by a significant assortment of jerks and dicks.

One of the ongoing problems with cities and one which was not addressed here is that cities are not communities no matter how well they are designed. No matter how much, say, New Yorkers (or alternatively the media) like to pretend their city is a community, it's in actual fact a large, impersonal city and most people are out for themselves, attending to their own plans and business, and with little time to consider others. This is normal in cities.

That's not to say it's right or that it can't be better, but it is the status quo. Something that would improve the situation would be to design cities not as cities but as conglomerations of small communities, wherein the community is more like a village while still being part go the whole, but even Cuomo's fine words about looking toward an improved future, post-covid 19 (assuming there ever is a post-covid 19) are going to lead nowhere without serious infrastructure changes and attitude modifications. Some systems can be improved, but unless you knock down the whole city and redesign it from the ground up, it will never be ideal.

That doesn't mean there's no room for improvements or that we cannot make cities better even as they stand, but the problem is that there are many interests in the city, and cities have grown the way they have because of those interests, most of which are about making money, not about making sense. None of this was addressed in this book, which in the end was much more a collection of personal anecdotes and ideas about problems than it was about how to get there from here.

It was a bit rambling and a bit repetitive, and overall, I was disappointed in it. Thus I'm unable to commend this as a worthy read because it doesn't really deliver on what it promises. It takes one or two interesting steps in that direction, but it's a long journey and this doesn't cover anywhere near enough of the distance there to make for a satisfying read.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Self-Love Revolution by Virgie Tovar

Rating: WARTY!

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

Subtitled "Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color," I'm not sure this book was really radical except in the author's expression of the sentiments which have been expressed before, so this brings nothing new to the discussion other than the author's personal reminiscences. Virgie Tovar sounds like she might be a fun person to know and to hang with, but the book has the habit of coming off as strident and preachy at times. It was very outspoken and opinionated and while there's nothing wrong per se with that, and even though I sincerely support the book's larger aims, in the end I couldn't bring myself in good faith to commend this as a worthy read because it contains a little bit too much of anecdote as opposed to hard hitting facts, and I felt that this often undermined the author's arguments. It also has some misleading information.

The book assumes a specific audience, so it's like I wasn't invited to read it, and while I understand that it's important to target your readers, it felt weird to me to read: “I was a little older than you are—about twenty-five—when I did this.” No! She's nowhere near older than I am! That wasn't a big issue. It was amusing, though! The same kind of thing happened when I read: “‘No’ wasn’t a serious part of my vocabulary until I was, like, twentyone. It totally changed my life in the best way. I’m kind of jealous that you get to learn this before I did, but I’m glad I get to be the one who tells you about it.“ Nope! But fine for her intended audience even if it felt a bit exclusionary.

One of the real problems I had with this book was that it's all about being non-judgmental, and I support that aim fully, but even as it was saying this, the book itself sounded very judgmental at times. For example, in one part I read, “Some people talk about inheritances, like a piece of property or a really nice pair of earrings or your great grandmother’s silverware or your weird auntie’s salt and pepper shaker collection.“ Isn't describing your relative as ‘Weird auntie’ judgmental? I mean based on the fact that all we're presented with in evidence is her collection of salt and pepper shakers, that doesn't strike me as anywhere near sufficient to convict her! It felt like a case of "Pot, meet Kettle!"

On that same topic, I read, “I had a really big crush on my classmate (classmate's name redacted by me - Ian)...He only liked skinny girls and he was really mean to me.” The problem with this is that we have only the author’s story here! That's not to say the author is making this up, but there's another perspective that we never get to hear. Suppose she had this crush and was making herself obnoxious about it? I'm not saying this is true, but the way this anecdote is told, it leaves the person relating it open to the accusation that perhaps the recipient of this crush may have considered that for her, 'no' didn't mean 'no', and found that only rudeness could repel her unwanted attention.

Maybe that's the case, maybe it's exactly as the author reports; more likely, it's somewhere in between - six of one and half a dozen of the other, as they say. I don't know, and this is why this goes back to what I said about the evidence offered here being personal anecdote a lot of the time. Without a larger sample, it's really hard to exclude biased reporting and it makes it difficult for the author to defend herself against an accusation that she has a personal gripe - which still would be valid, but which would also serves to undermine her making a larger case.

As to misinformation? At one point the author writes: "I didn’t know about all the research that says that skipping meals is bad for people.” Yet nowhere is 'all the research' cited or referenced. Again, we have personal anecdote. I would have agreed with her if she'd said irregular habits (whether in regard to eating or to sleeping) are bad for you, but skipping over-indulgence is actually shown to be a good thing and is supported by research! The Harvard Health Blog is hardly a peer-reviewed science paper, but it discusses such papers and I'd take their word over anecdote. This article:
supports reading I've done elsewhere which argues convincingly that intermittent - i.e. regular short fasting - is actually good for your health as long as you eat healthy meals along with it and don't go overboard with the fasting part of it. The author of this book rejects any kind of fasting out of hand, saying at one point, “‘Fasting’ is not a good idea." But we all fast when we're asleep! That's why the first meal of the day is called break-fast! It doesn't hurt to have a period of time - other than when you're sleeping! - during which you avoid food, and eat regular meals the rest of the time. It's not hard to do and it pays dividends (now that's a personal anecdote!). I'm not a Muslim, but I tend to eat very minimally if at all during the day whether it's Ramadan or not, and to eat whatever I like in the evening - but let me qualify that by saying I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and little junk food. All I can say is that it works for me.

While I completely agree with the author that most diets - especially commercial ones and fad diets - are completely worthless - most people put the weight back on and many even gain more weight after than they had before - not all attempts to lose weight are failures. What's a guaranteed fail is dieting like the author says she did: ”When I was eighteen, I attempted a more drastic version of my sixth-grade summer diet. I decided I was going to try to eat nothing— maybe a spoonful of food a day.“ Now honestly, that’s not a diet, that’s just rank stupidity, but because you make a truly dumb decision when you're eighteen doesn't mean that all attempts to diet are stupid. It's just as judgmental to abuse people who wish to diet as it is to judge people who choose to love their body as it is.

Another example of a personal opinion injected into this work is “Food is good, not bad.“ Seriously? It honestly depends on the food. If you chose to eat nothing but cheesecake all day, every day, then yes that 'food' is bad. Choosing to eat healthily isn't ever bad, but the author assumes all food, all cravings, anything you want to put in your mouth is equal and that's dangerously misleading.

The author rightly decries the fashion circus and the cosmetic mega-business, but she conveniently ignores the agribusiness-industrial complex as you might call it, which is dedicated to selling us calories and doesn't give a damn if those calories come as sugary, fatty or salty foods, all of which are unhealthy if not controlled. In a study of almost 6,000 Coronavirus patients, ones with poor outcomes nearly always had underlying conditions, and 41% of those fatalities were at least in part because the patient was obese. Body positivity is the only smart way to go, but that doesn't mean becoming willfully blind to health considerations.

Yes, the author gets it right in that your body does need sugar. It does need carbs. It does need fat. The issue she conveniently ignores is that your body doesn't need the massive quantities of these things that we can readily get from junk food today. Here's where a good science education comes in handily, specifically the science of evolution. During most of humankind's history, it was hard for us to get these things (sugar, fat, salt) in our diet, so our bodies craved them because getting enough back then was the problem and a craving helped to satisfy that important biological need by driving us to seek out such important parts of a naturally restricted diet.

Here and now, in 2020, we do not have any problem at all getting all the sugar, fat, and salt we could ever dream of. That doesn't make it healthy to continue to crave it and eat it every chance we get. Quite the opposite. It's dangerous and unhealthy to suggest all food is equal and we ought to feel free to eat as much as we want, of whatever we want, whenever we want. It's downright irresponsible and this was the main reason why I started turning against this book even thought I would dearly have liked to support it.

The author claims that there have always been fat people, and she's right in a limited sense. What she conveniently ignores though, is that there has been a fat epidemic over the last half century or so. Obesity rates among US adults, for example, have pretty much tripled since the sixties:

This is something new and different. It's not business as usual as the author claims, but we're in danger of complacently letting it become so. What changed is still being argued over, but the easy access to cheap calories - and bad calories - i.e. those coming from junk food promoted by food manufacturers who spend millions lobbying Congress and the senate - is one leading candidate for bringing about this change.

The author claims that “We actually all know how to eat right.” but we manifestly do not. No one is born with the inbuilt instinct of how to eat right. That's something we learn - or do not - from our parents or guardians, our family, our peers, and from movies and TV, from advertising, and increasingly from social media these days where there are paid influencers for everything, and they don't always make it clear who is paying them to promote whatever it is they're pushing. Without having a solid foundation in healthy eating from the off, we're doomed to fail at whatever it is we think we're succeeding at or embracing.

At one point the author mentions “the white standard was the one I felt more pressure to meet” But nowhere is this explicitly defined. We can divine from reading elsewhere that it's intended to be a slim pretty female, but slim pretty females come in all races. They're not just white. This is a racist comment that seems to have roots in the author's own personal history. Again it's a personal anecdote, not the result of an impartial study.

She was on more solid ground when she was talking about how much of what people of color have traditionally been subjected to has been white: the movies, TV, and so on, but that depends on what you choose to watch - and it is a choice. A person who listens to a particular type of music - say country - might conclude there's a white standard whereas someone who watches rap is forced to conclude that there's a black standard. The same goes for watching many sports, such as football or basketball in particular. The encouraging thing is that there's a bigger diversity of media now than there's ever been so it's not quite as bad as it was, and we can personally choose what to accept from it and what to reject. Anyone who truly loves their body will realize this, and take all this promotion with a pinch of whatever.

That said, there is still a long way to go. An article on Huffpost:
titled "Why Do Young Girls Hate Their Bodies?“ has (or had when I copied this URL) ads showing rail-thin women modeling clothes! That’s how hypocritical we are. A better and more positive article is this one:

In terms of the general appearance of this book, the publisher once again seems to have allowed an author's book to be put directly into Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion mangle, and out came a noticeably garbled text. Fortunately it was legible for the most part if one ignores the random colorization of the text here and there, but there were issues with headers being interspersed with the text so that I read, for example, the following: “...but when she wasn’t in bed she’d be running around with uncorrected proof...” Now that's amusing, but the 'uncorrected proof' part is the page header which ought to have been removed well-before this book was ever allowed to become Kindling, which is what Amazon typically does to text.

In another section I read, “I never got more compliments from others than when I was Healthy and thin are not the same thing. starving myself.” I think 'Healthy and thin are not the same thing.' was intended as a heading, and Amazon managed to interleave it with the body of the text. That same heading was repeated right after this as well. Way to go, Amazon, you clowns! Not that Jeff Bezos, who has profited from COVID-19 to the tune of $24 billion so I read yesterday - while millions of Americans are now out of work - actually cares.

I personally have zero time for Amazon and I refuse to do business with them. I don't care that it likely costs me book sales. Someone has to take a stand and put quality over profit. Just remember that unless your text is pretty much plan vanilla, Amazon will dice and julienne it in very inventive ways, and especially if it contains images! Hopefully if this particular book is ever issued as an ebook, these problems will be fixed. This was an ARC after all.

So in conclusion, I support many of the sentiments expressed in this book. I dream of the day when perceptions, attitudes, and opinions change. I just don't feel this book will help as much as I wish it would. I felt the sentiments could have been expressed better and with a less blinkered perspective. We do need to be less judgmental and more supportive of people who are, in the author's word, 'fat', but we need to be wise in how we convey this information to people to help them wisely choose their course ahead, rather than brow-beatign them to accept 'my way' or offering them the highway as the only alternative. BTW, fatphobia isn't really a good word, although it's obviously gaining currency. The actual term is Cacomorphobia, even if it probably sounds worse! I wish the author all the best in her career but I can't support this expression of it for the reasons I've cited.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Modern Kogin by Boutique-Sha

Rating: WORTHY!

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

It's been a while since I've reviewed a crafts book on my blog so this was not only an interesting one to look at, it's also long overdue that I look at one! Subtitled, "Sweet & Simple Sashiko Embroidery Designs & Projects" this books draws upon an ancient Japanese tradition, kogin-zashi (hard G, long I in the kogin, short I in the zashi), which was essentially mending fabrics that have begun to wear thin. During the Edo period, in the Tsugaru region, citizens were forbidden from wearing cotton (made form the cotton plant, of course) and forced to wear linen (made from the flax plant), which wore out more easily, necessitating repairs. These skills though, went a step further, and simple darning evolved into techniques of decorative art that adorned all kinds of creative items.

This book addresses that aspect of the art, listing well over 20 projects:

  • Butterfly Brooches
  • Square Brooches
  • Scarf Pins
  • Circle & Oval Brooches
  • Geometric Pattern Barrettes
  • Button Hair Ties
  • Memento Box
  • Kogin Hoop Art
  • Coffee Bean Sampler
  • Floral Sampler
  • Holiday Ornaments
  • Elegant Ornaments
  • Snowflake Pin Cushion
  • Argyle Pin Cushion
  • House Coasters
  • Indigo Pot Holder
  • Square Coasters
  • Diamond Placemat
  • Beautiful Bookmarks
  • Framed Brooches
  • Classic Coin Purse
  • Gusset Pouch
  • Zippered Pouches
  • Kogin Purse

Additionally, the book details techniques, equipment and materials, and offers many hints and tips. I confess I was not quite in agreement with the layout of the book, which listed all the projects with a photo up front, but then referred the reader to page x where the actual instructions were given for that particular project. It would have made more sense to me to include the instructions with the illustration.

But perhaps this is a book not intended as an ebook, but a print book, with the ebook merely distributed to reviewers like moi! The formatting of the ebooks was, as usual, largely mangled by Amazon Kindle's crappy conversion process, which does not handle well anything that's not plain vanilla text. That;s one reason I refuse to do business with Amazon, but the text was legible, so I hope this is intended to be a print book or at least that the ebook version will be revamped before publication. While there was a link from the content page to the relevant project, there was no link from that project to the indicated page, and no page numbering to find one's way there.

But these are minor considerations when compared with the beautiful end-results one can get, and so I commend this book as a worthy read.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent by Isabella Rotman

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I enjoyed this graphic novel aimed at advising people about consent. This would be a great book to have lying around when you bring your date home, assuming we ever get back to normalcy in life after COVID. It's smart, comprehensive, inclusive, and educational, and if I had one complaint it would be the language level. This might well get the message across to avid comic book readers, but the language in use here seemed rather 'hi-falutin' - rather more at intellectual end of the scale than perhaps where it needs to be, and as such, it might well be over the head of many people who are the audience this comic truly needs to reach.

That said, it covered a huge swathe of consent - what consent is, how it can be given, what it means and more importantly, what it doesn't mean, how it's given, what's behind it all, how to approach what might be a difficult conversation, and on and on. It's all done in a friendly chatty manner. It truly is well-written, with the above-mentioned caveat, and the art is wonderful. I commend this as a worthy read. Some millionaire ought to buy the entire print run of this and give them away at appropriate venues! Not that there are any such venues at the moment, but you know what I mean.

Single That by Acamea Deadwiler

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I agreed very nearly 100% with everything this author said, and where I disagreed, it was merely a matter of nuance. This is a short, but forceful book by a strong female author, and I commend it fully. The only real issue I had with it was that Amazon's crappy Kindle-creation process will, guaranteed, mangle anything that's not plain vanilla text. This is one reason I flatly refuse to do business with Amazon. I encountered similar issues in several Net Galley advance review copies I downloaded yesterday. More on this anon.

Subtitled, "Dispelling The Top 10 Myths Of The Single Woman" I would heartily recommend this to every young-adult novel author, and every romance author, and many adult novel authors along with a good many movie and TV show writers because they simply don't seem to get it and in the vanguard when it comes to promoting the myth extolled in the seriously-misguided Neil Diamond song where he sings, "Girl, you'll be a woman soon; soon, you'll need a man." Um, no! Doesn't work that way and there's nothing wrong with that!

Don't get me (or the author!) wrong! This book isn't about eschewing men or hating them, or deliberately living life without them. It's about choice: a conscious and informed choice not to need one. It's about being fine with one or without one, and that there's nothing at all wrong with women who get along fine without men as readily as they get along with them. It's not about celibacy or asexuality. It's not about past trauma or being shy or domineering. It's not about taking a vow.

Someone who has been fine without a permanent man by her side for years may well find one she's perfectly happy to settle down with, and marry. or she may not ever feel a need to do that. But the fact is that it's her choice and none of anyone else's business. We're all human, but we're not clones. This is simply about choice and individuality. It's about being the designer, architect, engineer, maintenance staff, and captain of your own life. Anyone who thinks there's something wrong with those who desires such agency is a moron. Period.

The author covers these topics:

  • Single
  • That does not mean Desperate
  • That does not mean Lonely
  • That does not mean Jealous
  • That does not mean Sexually Frustrated
  • That does not mean Unrealistic
  • That does not mean High Maintenance
  • That does not mean Bitter
  • That does not mean Crazy
  • That does not mean Hard to Love
  • That does not mean Broken

The author does a great job of explicating these thorny issues. When she wrote, “To be admired only for my appearance is not admiration at all. It’s objectification.” I almost cheered out loud. I can't for the life of me think why she didn't actually mention books, comic books, movies, TV shows, and advertising that routinely treat women this way, but this was her book, not mine.

Sometimes her wording was a bit obscure to me, but I was rarely left in doubt about what she meant. Sometimes there were sentences that to me were nonsense not because I disagreed with what was being said, but because the sentence literally made no sense such as:

“There are no probably won’t like what’s absolutes.” I think something got mangled there! This also raised a frequent formatting issues. The word 'absolutes' in that sentence was on the next line. This is one of many examples I found where the formatting of the book was lacking. For that sentence, I have to blame the author - or editor! For the formatting, I have to blame Amazon. And maybe the author/editor! But it's no huge deal. As writers, we've all been there! Presumably the final print edition will have these wrinkles ironed out.

There were several cases of missing hyphens, such as “all-handson-deck” and “onenight-stand." There were some oddball cases, such as the use of “Cadillac’s” where no apostrophe needed since it was merely a plural and not a possessive. Apostrophes like that are way over used! One sentence read, “This is far from a state reserved for scorn women.” Scorn was wrong. I wasn't sure if she meant scorned or scornful, or something else. Another sentence read, “But it’s easier to designate this a female trait and slap it on to any woman....” I think 'onto' was called for there.

There were times when I felt the author was too kind to her critics! At one point I read, “Since I don’t really know this guy I can’t say if he’s good or bad.” On that I had to disagree! Any guy who would post to a chat group: “Camey . . . you need some good DICK . . . which will inspire you to write a different kinda book.” Is a bad person period - and potentially dangerous too. I'm not a huge fan of pet names. Maybe the author likes to go by Camey, but personally I'd prefer the full glory of Acamea. It's a strong name, reminiscent of Academia!

This book is obviously aimed at a US audience, and I confess I don't have her take on Thanksgiving: “Thanksgiving dinner can be tough.” I didn't grow up in the USA, so the annual holiday is meaningless to me, although the four-day weekend is great! But I don't even experience that at Christmas, not even when I was single. Maybe I'm selfish with my time, but I always have things I want to do that don't require company. It does mean I fully understood her because when I was single, I had times when friends would all-but beg me to join them for Thanksgiving dinner evidently out of fear I would die of loneliness if I were by myself, and so I allowed myself to be brow-beaten into it, and then spent the whole occasion trying to gauge how soon I could leave and get back to what I really wanted to do (writing, or maybe a movie, most likely!) without seeming to be rude.

On the topic of formatting, there were many instances where the text would jump to the next line, mid-sentence, or where the next paragraph wouldn't be indented like all the others were. There were too many of these to track, but like I said, these are relatively minor formatting issues, and do not detract from the force of the author's important and powerful message. Overall, I loved this book, felt it deeply, and I commend it highly.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Fly Girls by Keith O'Brien

Rating: WORTHY!

Fly Girls details the lives of a handful of early female pilots back when air travel was new, largely experimental, and very dangerous. The story of these people proved to be highly engaging. My only disappointment was the lack of images - it would have been nice had there been a pic of each of the pilots covered in the narrative, but of course that's the price we pay for listening to an audio book! I don't know if the ebook or print book has such images, but pictures can be readily found online of both the pilots and the airplanes.

The book is subtitled "How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History," but it never really made it clear who these five were. That picture only emerged slowly over the course of the book. The blurb, which usually the author has nothing to do with, identifies them as Louise Thaden, Ruth Nichols, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Elder, and Florence Klingensmith.

It was paradoxically Earhart, not a great flyer, who got the lion's share of the story and Klingensmith who got so little. The blurb was highly inappropriate, too evidently written by a guy and breathlessly describing Thaden as a studious pilot, mother, and wife, although why 'mother and wife' were in there is a mystery. Have you ever read of a male pilot being described as a 'father and husband"? I haven't. In the same blurb, Ruth Elder is described as "gorgeous." Why? She looked like most other women of the 1920s did! But the question is, was Chuck Yeager or some other male pilot ever described as gorgeous? I don't think so. This is a serious and ongoing problem with Big Publishing™.

Other than that, the only real complaint I'd have was this one section which rambled on endlessly about this guy Cliff Henderson, who was instrumental in setting-up air racing back then when it was a new and exciting thing. Why the author chose to go off at a major tangent with him in particular, I do not know. Many men were mentioned, of course, including some air pioneers with renowned names like Beech, Curtiss, and Fairchild, with a few details given in each case, which is entirely understandable, yet none got the treatment Henderson did. I guess it's hard for some authors to leave all that research unused, but it was annoying and it felt inappropriate and rather insulting to the five women and the other female pilots about whom this book was purportedly written.

Other than that, the writing was good and engaging, although perhaps fanciful here and there, the author claiming to know what these pilots were doing, and thinking and saying when clearly that could not have been the case. In some cases there were diaries and newspaper reports and so on, and books (Amelia Earhart wrote one) which supplied authentic and interesting information, and O'Brien did his research, but I've never been a fan of fictionalized accounts creeping into an otherwise non-fiction book.

One of the most interesting sections (aside from Earhart's cross-Atlantic trip) was the 1929 Women's Air Derby. This was of course re-named the "Powder-Puff Derby" when that jackass, so-called comedian Will Rogers disparaged it as such, and the newsmen got hold of the story. The race was from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland over several days. Despite disparagement from men, out of 20 pilots who began it., only six failed to finish, which is pretty impressive in an era of relatively untrustworthy airplanes and multiple technical issues.

One competitor died when her plane lost an argument with gravity. She apparently had engine trouble and was trying to set down on a flat area close by a river, but ended up crashing. She'd evidently tried to use her parachute, but deployed it so late that it didn't even have time to open before she quite literally hit the ground. Her name was Marvel Crosson.

Amelia Earhart was in that race, but came third. She would have been fourth had Marvel not crashed. The men who organized it put all kinds of obstacles in the way, such as telling the women the airplane had to have horsepower 'appropriate for a woman'. One of the contestants, Opal Kunz, owned and flew a 300-horsepower plane that was disqualified as too fast for a woman to fly, so she was forced to find a weaker one! There were incidents suggestive that maybe some of the women's planes were sabotaged - like when one woman discovered gasoline had been put into her oil tank in place of oil, and so on.

One of the biggest critics was a man named Haliburton - yes that one - who founded the company that Dick Cheney had ties to, and that has a string of issues tied to its name including some during the mid-east conflicts. Haliburton was convinced women didn't ought to be flying at all - that they ought to be home having babies - and probably barefoot and in the kitchen! He likely would have died of apoplexy had he lived until 1993 when Jeannie Leavitt became the first female fighter pilot. She was the one who trained Brie Larsen, the actor, so she could pretend to be a fighter pilot in the Captain Marvel movie. Shades of Marvel Crosson!

This book was sad at the end. Of the five girls the story covers primarily, Amelia Earhart disappeared without a trace, as most people know, but the other four, despite typically accomplishing more than Earhart did, are far less well remembered and most are equally sad.

It's not a spoiler to relate the historical record: Florence Klingensmith died young, in a crash. She demands a movie be made about her life, feisty daredevil that she was. Ruth Nichols almost died in a crash and spent the last few years of her life depressed and in pain from assorted injuries until she committed suicide. Ruth Elder also attempted suicide, but was discovered in time, and she went on to live up to her name, dying at the age of 75. Louise Thaden seemed to be the only one who escaped those problems, perhaps because she had a happy marriage and children, and she died last of all in 1979. As I said, it's a real shame that Earhart is better remembered than any of the others; all of them deserve to be remembered.

Despite its sadness, and despite how angering it is that these women were constantly kept down and demeaned for their gender, I commend this book as a worthy read. It demands to be read. People need to know how far we've come and then maybe they'll better understand how far we still need to go.