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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn

Rating: WORTHY!

Martha Gellhorn is most often referred to, I have no doubt, as an ex-wife of Ernest Hemingway, like she has no existence apart from him, but she was a reporter who was in Madrid when the rebels were bombing it in the Spanish civil war; she went into Europe on D-Day or shortly thereafter, and was on the beach helping bring the wounded back to the hospital ship she was on while it was still being shelled. She reported on that war right to the end, and was present shortly after Dachau was liberated. After that, she had had enough of war and death, so she did not want to go to Korea, but she felt drawn back into things when the Vietnam war began. Her career spanned six decades and she died in '98 at 89. The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.

This book consists of a series of reports she sent back from her experiences, which were varied and often dangerous, and some of the stories are commented on in hindsight by the author. Her experience with Hemingway was a tiny part of this expanse of time. She met him in 1937 and they went to Spain together, and lived together on an off until marrying in 1940 after his divorce from Pauline Pfeiffer. They divorced in 1945, evidently because he could not stand that she also had a career. According to Wikipedia he once wrote to her asking, "Are you a war correspondent, or wife in my bed?" evidently convinced she couldn't be both, though he could. She apparently asked, "Why should I be merely a footnote in his life?" and refused to discuss her relationship with that dick whenever she was interviewed about her work. Good for her.

The stories she told were typically personal interest stories, although not typically about only one person, but about many - sharing the same experiences under fire or impoverished by war. She wrote well and was a very descriptive and evocative author. The book contains three of her reports on the civil war in Spain, two on the Russian attacks on Finland, one on the war in China fending off the Japanese, twelve on World War Two, including one on the Nuremberg trials and one on Dachau. She covers ongoing conflicts which everyone who faced World War Two hoped would have been over for good, and includes nine reports on Vietnam, three on the Six Day War involving Israel's fight for sovereignty, and two on war in Central America.

I highly commend this book.

Eye to I by Rolf Nelson

Rating: WARTY!

Rolf Nelson is a Professor of Psychology and Dorothy Reed Williams Professor in the Social Sciences at Wheaton College (the one in Massachusetts, not the idiotic creation-preaching one in Illinois), and the only thing I can say is that I pity anyone who has to sit through one of his lectures, unfortunately. These are a series of lectures which I thought might be interesting in view of the topic of the next book in my The Little Rattuses™ children's picture book series, but I'm sorry to report that there was little to nothing to see here, so I moved along.

The idea was to discuss how we see things and how our brain interprets what we see, but the lectures were dry, humorless, rambling and repetitive, and it was truly tedious to listen to them. I kept skipping tracks to move on to more interesting bits, but those were sadly very few and quite far between. I know it's a big academic thing to get a book out there on whatever topic it is that you teach, but I really think it's better not to put one out rather than publish one this bad. You'll learn more from reading Wikipedia on the topic of sight and color vision, even if it's tough-going, than you will from these lectures and stay awake in the process. This was awful.

Travels With Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a record of the author's adventures (mostly) when not reporting on war, the most entertaining of which, for me, was her trip to Africa on a whim, with little forethought and no planning. This woman was fearless and went wherever whimsy took her, reporting with an astute and amusing eye on everything she sees and experiences. She was a woman ahead of her time and an exemplar for feminism. She covers not only adventures in Africa, but also in China, in Eilat in Israel, and in Moscow.

She was not only a journalist, but also wrote novels. She's observant and witty, smart and insightful, adventurous and unstoppable. I commend this as a fascinating travelogue.

In Pieces by Sally Field

Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook started out great, but went downhill quickly once Burt Reynolds came on the scene, and everything from that point on was annoying. I'd skipped almost nothing for the entire eighty percent or whatever prior to that point, but I skipped almost everything after it. That said, however, I consider this a worthy listen because it was heartfelt, informative, and beautifully read by the author, who has one of the best reading voices I've ever listened to.

The story is delicately told, but pulls no punches and hides no secrets. Of course it's one voice and no one the author talks about gets a chance to respond, but they can always write their own biography and address it that way. Talking of which, I'm really not a great fan of biographies, but I do read or listen to one now and then, and I like Sally Field as an actor.

I enjoyed her playing Spider-Man's aunt in The Amazing Spider-Man and the sequel, but prior to that I had seen her in Stay Hungry many years ago, and in Soapdish which I thought was hilarious and in which I really fell in love with her (along with Kevin Kline and several of the other cast members) as a comedy actor. I also loved her voice acting in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. She was great in Mrs Doubtfire and in Legally Blonde 2 too!

I have never seen her supposed masterpieces, Norma Rae or Places in the Heart for which she won academy awards so I cannot comment on those. They're not my kind of movie. I did take a look at Gidget and at The Flying Nun and was not at all impressed with those - not so much with her personally, but with the whole dumb-ass, tame, uninventive, unadventurous, moronic sit-com shtick, which frankly makes me barf, and which I suspect she might well feel the same way about, but at least it got her face and acting known. It did lead me to read Frederick Kohner's 1957 original novel, Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas which he wrote based on his own daughter's anecdotes, and I found that really entertaining and which I also review positively, today.

This biography begins with Field's early and difficult childhood, her molestation by her stepfather, and her various unsatisfactory relationships. She doesn't blame everyone but herself when things went wrong, either, shouldering her fair share. I found the insights she gave into actors, and directors and into her own lifelong learning of her craft quite fascinating and this was the major reason I wanted to listen to this, but there are also disturbing and moving moments, and amazing descriptions of her giving birth to her first two children, which makes me think she would have made a great comedy writer had she chosen to do that instead of act. What impressed me most though was how whole and sane she has managed to stay despite what she went through.

So overall, I commend this as a worthy read and I'm glad I listened to it (except for that last 20%!).

NPR American Chronicles Exploring space

Rating: WARTY!

This was a short audiobook consisting of excepts (excerp-tuhs as the NPR people pronounce it!), and I was not thrilled with this at all. It was very superficial. The only interviews that were interesting were the ones with the astronauts, notably, John Glenn, veteran space traveler John Young, and African American astronaut Bernard Harris, but htose were very short. The rest of it I could have managed without, including the tinny and annoying musical accompaniment to far too many of the items. Even those astronaut interviews were rather superficial, so I cannot recommend this, especially since I haven't commended it in the first place and I don't intend to!

Galaxy Girls by Libby Jackson

Rating: WORTHY!

Libby Jackson is a physicist and engineer who works for the UK Space Agency. She wrote this book to highlight the contributions women have made toward science and the various space programs, and have often gone unsung. Well...this book sings!

Divided into five sections, the book covers fifty women, and although the subtitle misleadingly says it's 50 stories of women in space, the majority of these women have not been in space, but have unquestionably and materially contributed to the success of everyone who went into space. The sections and the women covered are as follows:

  • The Origins of Space Travel
    • Émilie du Châtelet - or more formally, Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet, was a French author, mathematician, physicist, natural philosopher just before the mid-eighteenth century when women were not welcomed in any of those fields.
    • Ada Lovelace, aka Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was Lord Byron's daughter, but her mother kept her away from Byron and saw to it that she was educated in mathematics, which brought her eventually into the computing field invented by Charles Babbage. Lovelace was the first computer programmer.
    • Jeannette Ridlon Piccard was an aeronaut before there were airplanes. She was the first licensed female balloon pilot in the US and the first women to enter the stratosphere - and that's not metaphor. Where do you think Jean Luc Picard of the Enterprise got his name?!
    • Mary Sherman Morgan was a rocket fuel scientist who invented Hydyne which powered a rocket that put the United States's first satellite into orbit.
    • Jacqueline Cochran was the first woman to break the sound barrier.
  • The Dawn of the Space Age
    • Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to fly in space - in the Soviet space program as it then was, when the Russians were the ones setting the pace and making all the firsts: first satellite into space, first man into space, first multi-person spacecraft into space, first spacewalk. What this book doesn't mentions it had the early soviet spacecraft were rather simplistic things as compared with US space craft, and the cosmonauts have very little to do or control.
    • Jerrie Cobb was an aviation pioneer and the first woman to fly in the Paris Air Show. She was also one of the little known Mercury 13 women trainees who passed the same tests as the Mercury 7 men did, but weren't allowed to fly a spacecraft.
    • The Mercury 7 Wives were the longsuffering spouses of the first seven astronauts picked to fly spacecraft. They were unprepared for the intense publicity, but handled it just fine.
    • Eilene Galloway was the first space lawyer, so to speak. You'll have to read the book to find out what that's all about!
    • Mary Jackson you may recall if you saw the movie Hidden Figures - whi9ch was of course, Hollywood style, overly dramatic compared with the real story which I reviewed a while ago on this blog.
    • Dee O'Hara was a nurse to the astronauts, involved in their care and medical education, and went on to even greater things, such as setting up the Flight Medicine Clinic at the Johnson Space Center
    • Katherine Johnson was also featured in Hidden Figures and was responsible for figuring launch windows and spacecraft trajectories, including emergency return paths.
    • Margaret Hamilton was the director of the Software Engineering Division at the MIT lab which developed the on-board flight software for the Apollo spacecraft.
    • The Waltham "Little Old Ladies" wove the software for the Apollo guidance computer - literally. The copper strands were hand-woven to pass information as a series of ones and zeroes into the computer and were designed this way to be ultra-reliable.
    • Poppy Northcutt was an engineer on the Apollo space program.
    • Rita Rapp worked on a critical aspect of the Apollo program in developing food that could be eaten - and was appetizing and nutritious, for the astronauts, which was a lot harder than you might think, especially with crumbs not being welcome floating around in a spacecraft!
    • Dottie Lee was another 'human computer' who worked on math calculations for the space program. When she retired it took ten men to replace her. She was responsible for the heat shield design for returning spacecraft, which is now also being employed on the new Orion spacecraft.
    • "The ILC Seamstresses" helped outfit the Apollo astronauts, including the ones who walked on the Moon. I also review a children's book about this same topic on this blog in Papa Put a Man on the Moon by Kristy Dempsey and Sarah Green
  • Space Stations and Shuttles
    • Sally Ride was the first American woman and the youngest American astronaut into space, and she survived Challenger twice before it exploded when she wasn't on it.
    • Svetlana Savitskaya was in the second group of Russian cosmonauts selected and the first woman to walk in space, probably an activity prompted by the USA's announcement that Kathy Sullivan was soon scheduled to do the same thing.
    • Nichelle Nichols - actor in the original Star Trek series and inspiration to many women, particularly those of color.
    • Christa McAuliffe and Judy Resnik both died in the appalling and inexcusable Challenger explosion. I'm not sure that being the first women to die in space is really a milestone, but it's something.
    • Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman into space (Guy Bluford was the first African-American man almost a decade earlier) and she went on afterwards to found the 100 Year Starship organization (I didn't know it had been lost!).
    • Helen Sharman was the first British astronaut in space and the first woman to visit the Russian Mir space station. Yeay Britain! Sends a woman up first!
    • Eileen Collins is a (now retired) USAF colonel who piloted the shuttle Discovery in its docking with the Mir. She was also the first female commander of a US Spacecraft.
    • Chiaki Mukai was the first Japanese woman in space.
    • Claudie Haigneré was one of the first seven French astronauts and the only woman - one woman out of ten thousand candidates with very few females included - who was the first French woman to fly in space.
    • Patricia Cowings was the first African-American woman scientist to be trained as an astronaut, but never went into space. She spent her time in research into physiology, and she trained people in the voluntary control of physiological responses which helped astronauts cope with weightlessness and motion sickness.
    • Irene Long was the first female chief medical officer at the Kennedy Space Center.
  • Living and Working in Space
    • Peggy Whitson has the distinction of being the oldest female astronaut to fly in space and is also the holder of the most EVA time for a female astronaut. Having spent some 665 days in space, she's also done the equivalent of a trip to Mars and back - although not all in one go! At her retirement at the end of her last trip, she was the most experienced US astronaut - spending more time in space than any other American.
    • Julie Robinson is the Chief Scientist of the International Space Station and founder of the ISS Program Science Forum.
    • Suni Williams is an officer of the US Navy and I believe the first astronaut to have a haircut in space, donating her pony tail to Locks of Love, but maybe not given how long other astronauts have spent aboard various spacecraft and the ISS. I have no information about hair grooming in space! She is definitely the first person to run a marathon in space!
    • Jeanne Lee Crews was the first waste disposal engineer in the space program - in the sense of designing a shield to protect the ISS from space garbage of which there is an endless amount after fifty years of space flights.
    • Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian woman to fly in space, and Laurel Clark was a Captain in the USN, and a doctor. They died together in the inexplicable Columbia disaster. The US has killed more astronauts in space than any other nation: 14 in just two shuttle flights, plus three on the ground in the Apollo 1 fire.

The last section is The Future of Space and looks at what's coming and who's helping to usher it in. I commend this book as a worthy read for boys and girls.

Sticks and Stones by Melissa Lennig

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is another inventive and creative book for kids which will teach them creativity and self-reliance - things which will last far longer than any toy they can make or buy. But more than this, it helps eke out a tight budget and also gets kids outdoors. Time away from that video screen is never a bad thing. On top of this, we need more engineers - especially female ones. Who knows? Working with their hands and seeing how to turn ideas into a working finish product could well lead them into a useful and rewarding career. At the very least they will have a love and appreciation of nature and the outdoors.

In this book they will learn how to use outdoor materials to build a shelter and a fort (outdoor survival and history right there!) as well as bridges, dams, and fences. There are large and small scale projects including simple things like making ochre paint from rocks and a marshmallow roasting stick. It's never a bad thing to lure them in with something offering a treat if it hooks them on learning rather more complex projects! And picking up basic manual skills will build confidence and inventiveness which will grow their mind.

The book includes a score of projects and also, most importantly, includes a wealth of safety advice. I commend this as a worthy, educational, and useful read.

100 Things to Recycle and Make by Fiona Hayes

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a sweet and fun book with lots of easy-to-follow construction plans. It's divided into sections, so pretty much whatever suitable item you have around the house can be made into something, whether the material be cardboard boxes or tubes, egg cartons, paper plates or even items from nature. Each section has a score of items to make, so you'll never be stick for something to make although you may be spoiled for choice!

I enjoyed reading this and while my own children are a bit old for a book like this one now, they loved this kind of thing when they were younger. Working with the hands improves the brain, and allows children to think outside the box - quite literally, seeing it not as a box, but as something to be created and then played with and enjoyed.

Entertaining your kids doesn't necessarily mean trip to the store to buy something expensive and made from plastic which eventually is likely to end in some ocean somewhere, killing wildlife. This is a sane and creative alternative, and very easy on the budget! It brings not only immediate rewards to children, but also sets them up with confidence and self-reliability for their future. I commend it fully.

Draw Like an Artist: 100 Flowers and Plants by Melissa Washburn

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an amazing book on drawing that does exactly what it promises to do: it supplies easy to follow step-by-step realistic line-drawing examples for creating 100 flowers and plants that look amazingly realistic.

Starting out with the most simplistic of initial images, the authors shows you how to refine them in five, six, or seven simple steps to turn it from a crude blob outlining what you want, into an ornate flower, of from a spike into an detailed leaf, and so on. Page after page of these examples painstaking outlined (and then filled in!) in simple steps. Yes, they're drawn by an artist, but I'd be willing to bet that any budding artist who works through this book, follows the advice, and copies these examples will be turning out an end result that looks remarkably like the images depicted in this book. I commend it.

Celestial Watercolor by Elise Mahan, DR McElroy

Rating: WARTY!

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

This was the second of two art books reviewed today that I cannot commend. Usually, I enjoy art and crafts books and find them useful and educational, and far more often than not, review them positively because of this, but this one felt like it was uninterested in talking about art, and far more into rambling on about astrology and seasonal Moons. I didn't feel like the book title represented what was going on here, and I was not impressed at all by what was going on.

The astrology treatise occupied over a dozen pages, followed by a short tutorial on actual painting. After that, it went on a jag about the new Moons which ate up another dozen pages without imparting a word about painting technique until, again, a short tutorial appeared at the end of that.

The book did offer some basic introductory information about watercolors, paints, papers, some techniques, and so on, as you would expect from a book of this nature, but after that it really wasn't much help at all. All of those pages passed by filled mostly with a bunch of folklore and fairytales that had nothing to do with painting.

The ebook version I had was annoyingly 'sticky' in the sense that certain pages (not always the same page) brought the book to a screeching halt and no matter how many times I tried to swipe, the page wouldn't change backwards or forwards for about twenty seconds, and then suddenly it changed. I couldn't even tap on it to bring up the slide bar at the bottom of the screen to change pages that way, so I was literally stuck on that page until something clicked internally in the iPad or the app and it swiped.

It was really annoying. I tried this in both Bluefire Reader and in Adobe Digital Editions and had the same problem in both apps, so unlike a print book, the ebook will not allow you to quickly page through to find a specific page. Overall, I felt - or rather I would have, had I paid for this rather than been able to see it as an advance review copy - that there was very little value for money to be had here! I cannot commend this one.

Draw 62 Magical Creatures and Make Them Cute by Heegyum Kim

Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was rather disappointing for me. While it does offer step-by-step examples in drawing creatures, that's literally all it offers. There is little to no text, and no pointers, hints or tips. There is no advice about materials such as those which art books typically offer in my experience, or information on style or technique in terms of approaching your drawing.

All you get on each page is a set of half-a-dozen or so simple steps to start, add to, and finish your creature or folk-lore person, and then there are some suggestions, in the form of additional drawings, on how to make it look cute, which to me didn't always succeed, but that's a matter of personal taste.

So overall, if you don't mind emulating existing drawings, but being largely in the dark about methods, this book might work for you. For me, I do not like the minimalist approach which some might argue is lazy or cynical. To me it felt more like it was offering nothing more than basic patterns to copy, and I was not impressed. Having seen other, much more generous books on art, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Dolly Parton by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Daria Solak

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I've been following this series of biographies for a while and rarely does it take a misstep, so this was pretty much a guaranteed winner. Written by Vegara, and illustrated flamboyantly by Solak, this book takes a look at entertainer Dolly Parton's life. Parton has had 25 number ones on the Billboard Country Music chart, and just as many gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards, as well as a record number of top ten country albums.

She started out young and dirt poor, and her voice and talent carried her to stardom, which she did not let slip from her grasp, converting her fame into long-term business ideas that kept her comfortable (and more!) even when her popularity wasn't always what it had been. This book aimed at young children tells of her life in simple and straight-forward terms, always moving the story forwards. It's short and sweet and I commend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Yay! You're Gay! Now What? by Riyadh Khalaf

Rating: WORTHY!

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

“’re going more than you’re sexuality“ that second one should be ‘your’.
“If you ignore the bully, and removing yourself from the situation...” 'Removing' should be 'Remove'.
“If you’ve already come out to friends at school, as if they have any LGBT+ pals” Ask if they have!
This isn't so much an error as a point of order, and it wasn't the author who said this, but Simon Anthony-Roden in his advice to his younger self, but there’s no evidence that it was Oscar Wilde who said “Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.“ People are misquoted or misattributed all the time, so no big deal.

This book is a complete guide to how to handle your discovery that you're gay - or at some other place on what's commonly referred to as 'the spectrum' but which I prefer to think of as a slide since a spectrum implies something that's fixed, and I think very few people are solidly fixed in whatever position they're in. Your orientation and preferences can change over your life and no, thats not the same as saying 'gayness can be cured' because there's nothing to cure.

There were times when it felt a little bit over the top for me, but you can't blame a guy for reveling in who he is, so that's no big deal. There were also times when I felt he went a little in the wrong direction - like seemingly implying right up front that gay guys don't play soccer (Justin Fashanu, Robbie Rogers, and and the entire amateur team of Paris Foot Gay would disagree, as would Eudy Simelane, had she not been raped and murdered in 2008), but usually when he seemed to be veering, it was for a reason.

The book covers pretty much anything a young person may want to know if they have perhaps been wrestling with identity and how to face what's becoming obvious to them, and deal with accepting it, and whether to come out and who to come out to. It doesn't matter what your question is, you will find valuable advice in this book, and not just from the author, but also from an assortment of others who have walked this same path.

it begins with asking if you think you might be gay, and moves on to coming out, finding friends and finding love, then appropriately gets to "all about bodies" and "Let's talk about sex," both of which contain excellent guidance and advice. Be warned, there are no punches pulled here. For a gay guy, the author tells it straight! Each of these sections is filled with personal anecdote, good advice and comments on their own sexuality and advice they would have given to their younger selves by some celebrities, the only two I'd heard of, I have to confess, were Stephen Fry, of whom I'm a fan, and Jin Yong, who I heard of only recently. Others are Clark Moore, Simon Anthony-Roden, Rory O'Neill, James Kavanagh, Matthew Todd, Shane Jenek, and Ranj Singh. That said, I'm not a big TV watcher. There is only a few shows that I tend to watch, and I've never been a fan of RuPaul Andre Charles, so I've never seen his Drag Race, but I have heard of Cortney Act, Jenek's alter-ego, a stage name I've long thought was choice!

The bottom of page 171 (page 86 on the iPad I was using) ended with “You don’t need an” but page 172 (87 on the tablet) was the start of a new chapter! I guess we’ll never know how that sentence ends!

This is yet another case of a print book farmed-out to reviewers as an ebook for convenience, but I often wonder if publishers ever consider what a poor impression one of these 'afterthought ebooks' leaves. As it happens, and apart from a very negative experience on my iPhone before I switched to a tablet, this book wasn’t so bad. There was an occasionally 'sticky page' (and no, not that kind of sticky - but sticky in the sense it wouldn't swipe easily tot he next or previous page, and took two or three times to move it. On the iPhone there were also times when pages came up on the wrong oder, so I wouldn't recommend reading it on a device that small.

This book wasn't so bad, but I’m honestly at the point now where I will negatively review a poorly conceived ebook regardless of its literary merit. Here’s why: the modern concept of an ebook was initiated almost half a century ago by Michael Hart who founded Project Gutenberg and even ePub books have been around for some two decades. There really is no excuse for substandard ebooks these days, and if authors/publishers are going to issue one to reviewers, they need to look at the thing in the e-version on one or two different devices to make sure it's worthy of issuing!

That said I commend this ebook for being a worthy read and a useful contribution to helping those in need of advice and a leg up here and there.

Friday, May 3, 2019

I am Amelia Earhart by Brad Metzler

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a very short book for young children which skipped a huge part of Earhart's life and harped a bit overmuch on her purportedly dedicated lifelong devotion to flight, which actually didn't happen in real life. She took something of a scattershot approach to her career, aiming vaguely toward medical service until she saw this guy fly an airplane at a show. He must have spotted her and her friend standing on the ground watching, and aimed the plane straight down at them before swooping by quite closely. It was at that point, when she was in her early twenties that she really decided she wanted to fly, not when she was a child, but it doesn't hurt to stir up kids' ambitions here and there, or encourage them to aim higher than they might otherwise do, so I wasn't too focused on that.

Other than that, the book was largely factual, amusingly and colorfully illustrated, and an enjoyable read, so I commend it as a worthy read for young children.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Nifty Thrifty Music Crafts for Kids by Felicia Lowenstein Niven

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great crafts book for kids because it allows them to make musical instruments (near enough!) out of household scraps. Stuff that would normally go into recycling can hereby be recycled into an instrument, and then when that's worn out, it can be recycled back to recycling!

The book gives illustrated instructions on how to make a xylophone, rhythm blocks, panpipes, finger cymbals (always fun!), a colonial drum (whatever that is! I suppose it's a drum that wants to take over and make you pay a tax on your tea imports?), American Indian clapper, tambourine, rain stick, maracas, and a rubber band ukulele! You could outfit a whole band with this book and each project gives you a double return because it offers a confidence-building activity for a child, and then a fun toy for that same child. Can't argue with that, unless you have rocks in your head instead of rock 'n' roll! Unless you have no soul! Unless you're tired of taking the rap! Unless you have a bad hip and can't hop! I commend this as an inventive and a fun book for children's activities.

51 Things to Make With Egg Cartons by Fiona Hayes

Rating: WORTHY!

When I was a young kid, my younger brother and I used to use the cut-off bottoms of egg cartons as hoards of Daleks (the menacing robotic beings from the BBC's Doctor Who TV show which I have to say has rather taken a step backwards under Chris Chibnall's leadership - not because the Doctor is now a woman by any means - I like the new Doctor - but because we get fewer episodes and only every other year, it seems. Shameful!).

This author is much more inventive than we were, and this book was a great idea. With the ideas colorfully illustrated and explained in detail - but simply! - kids can end up creating a large variety of neat little toys from animals (chicken, bee, hedgehog, tortoise, octopus, bunny, and others) to vehicles (dump truck, fire engine, pirate ship and more), to flowers, face masks, treasure chests, rockets, and on and on. This will keep a kid occupied and render you broke buying enough eggs to generate all those cartons! LOL!

But approached as a bi-weekly project, once you've used all those eggs, it can be a cheap and fun way to spend your time, especially if it's raining or cold out. They may need some supervision depending on their competency and trustworthiness with glue, paints and scissors, but it's worth it to see their joy at making something themselves - something fun and practical - boosting their self-confidence and getting double the return - time well-occupied making a toy and then more time well-occupied playing with the toy! I commend this as a worthy tool to a child's happiness.

Fast Forward by Adam Skinner

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun book, especially for me who isn't really into motor sports. I have been to one or two races myself and I'm always interested in potential topics for novels, so this felt like a good book to review and I guessed right!

The book is quite short, but full-color illustrations of tracks, cars, and drivers, and a wealth of facts on cars, circuits, and interesting events make it seem a lot bigger than it is. It covers circuits and featured cars as follows:

  • Nürburgring - Porsche 911 GT2 RS
  • Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps - McClaren MP4/4 Honda
  • Suzuka - Honda NSX
  • Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans - Ford GT40 Mk 2
  • Albert Park Lake - Maserati 250F
  • Circuit de Monaco - BRM P57
  • Monza - Ferrari F1-2000
  • Goodwood - Jaguar E-Type 4.2
  • Daytona - 1970 Plymouth Superbird
  • Bahrain International - Red Bull RB8
  • Dakar Rally - Mitsubishi Pajero 2005
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Lotus 38
  • Pikes Peak - Drive eO PP03
  • Silverstone - Aston Martin DB5
  • Hockenheimring Baden-Württemberg - Williams FW23
  • Shanghai International Circuit - Holden Commodore VZ
  • Laguna Seca - Dodge Viper ACR
  • Mount Panorama - Holden Torana A9X

There's a short glossary and a longer index at the end, and rest assured it's not just about cars and tracks, the book also has assorted drivers of note and yesteryear highlighted on each page (such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Jutta Kleinschmidt, Michael Schumacher, Jackie Stewart, Alex Zanardi, and a score of others) including career masterpieces, amazing wins, tragic deaths, come-from-behind wins, fistfights, track and racing records, and amazing escapes from accidents.

I found this book fascinating and educational, and I commend it as a worthy read.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

David Bowie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Ana Albero

Rating: WORTHY!

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

“This made his eyes look like were different colors” should read look like they were different colors!

I've been following this series quite closely and enjoyed very nearly all of the books I've read in it so far. This is another one to add to the list of successes. David Bowie's career in playing music either as an amateur band member at fifteen or as a legend right before he died in 2016 at the age of 69, spanned over half a century. He constantly reinvented himself and in this spate of musical biopics (including the phenomenal Bohemian Rhapsody and then Rocketman, and the documentary on the Beatles by director Peter Jackson) which seem to be flourishing lately, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see one crop-up about him.

He's been in and out of musical success since he debuted The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the early seventies, and resurged with Ashes to Ashes and Let's Dance in the early eighties, and in between he had a minor film career. He was also a controversial figure regarding his androgyny, but it's not completely clear (at least to my knowledge) whether this was more of an image he was portraying or more of the person he actually was, so I didn't feel that omitting it was a bad thing in this particular case. Overall I enjoyed this and thought it a worthy and educational read.

Mahatma Gandhi by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Albert Arrayas

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Another in a children's 'Little People, Big Dreams' series which I've been following, this one tells a great story. Anyone who's watched the Richard Attenborough movie starring Ben Kingsley, and written by John Briley will realize how important it is for young children to be introduced to people like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as opposed to an excess of superhero movies where people typically beat the pulp out of one another. Not that those aren't fun in their place, but let's not ever take them seriously as solutions to problems!

Naturally a life like Bapu's cannot be adequately captured in a book of this nature, but I felt that author Vegara does a fine job in distilling the important stuff. This book, delightfully illustrated by Albert Arrayas, follows Ghandi's life from childhood through university in London, to South Africa and back to India, and it explains his philosophy and where it came from. For young children, that's an important start. I commend it.

How to Be a Butterfly by Laura Knowles, Catell Ronca

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a gorgeously illustrated little book for young children about the Lepidoptera, better known to most as butterflies. Note that Lepidoptera also includes moths, and they get a mention here, but this is primarily all about butterflies. How to be one is a cute round-about way of describing what a butterfly looks like without turning it into a boring list of characteristics. It runs along the lines of you having to have colorful wings with smooth edges, but you can also have pale wings or ones with lobes and scallops. You have to have slim antennae with buds on the end, and so on. And of course you have to drink nectar and lay eggs in safe places on leaves your caterpillars can eat, and then they have to lock themselves up and pupate before they can be beautiful butterflies too.

I was seriously impressed by how much work Catell Ronca did in illustrating scores of butterflies of all kinds. It was epic! There are multiple and endlessly varied butterflies everywhere. It was almost like being in one of those lepidopterarium places where butterflies roam free indoors and breed and live out their unjustly short lives, and you can wander around in the middle of them and enjoy the spectacle! I think this book was excellent: educational, colorful, well-written, interesting and fun. I commend it.