Poetry Tuesday: Song of the Sky Loom

In the Tewa (Native American) language, 19th Century.

Oh our Mother the Earth, oh our Father the Sky,
Your children are we, with tired backs
we bring you the gifts you love.
So weave for us a garment of brightness;
May the warp be the white light of the morning,
May the weft be the red light of evening,
May the fringes be the falling rain,
May the border be the standing rainbow.
Weave for us this garment of brightness,
that we may walk fittingly where birds sing,
that we may walk fittingly where grass is green,
Oh our Mother the Earth, oh our Father the Sky.


Book Reviews: A Lot More Kiddie Stuff

Return the fervor.

Amelie and the Great Outdoors
A little girl who lives in a skyscraper never goes outside. Her friend, a bird, tries to convince her to go out, but she won’t, so he gives up and flies away. Then she realizes she’s missed him and thinks something might have happened to him, so she demands to be taken outside. She finds him and fun ensues.
An incredibly simple story, even for kids, and all the better for it. The watercolor-like illustrations are the best part.

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education
If you don’t know by now, Malala is the young girl who stood up to the Taliban and got shot in the head by them, only to survive and win the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course there’s a lot more to her story than that, and this book fills in some of those gaps, albeit for kids; it’s not written for adults.
Her father is progressive, especially for Pakistan, and not in Karachi either. When the big earthquake hit the Taliban claimed it was due to god being mad at their decadence, and it worked; oddly enough—not really—it’s the same tactic used by some Christians here. But there’s actually not that much background, since this book aims to humanize someone who has really become an icon more than an individual. For example, Malala wears a shawl that belonged to Benazir Bhutto.
Most of the book is matter-of-fact notes spruced with beautiful watercolors, then the second half is mostly photos and data blurbs at a kid level, told in a boring style. For example: “Malala is transferred to a hospital in Birmingham, England.” This should have been expanded, it’s what made her famous worldwide.
Could have been written more inspirational, but good for a second grade book report.

The STEM Club Goes Exploring
A school club takes field trips to look at disparate jobs in the STEM professions.
After a brief intro, Nixie—great name—is seen interviewing her uncle, who has a software company. This is told in sharp cartoon-like drawings in bright colors, which works perfectly.
Winston’s cousin is going to veterinarian school, but not to be a vet; instead he wants to be an animal medicine researcher. Someone else wants to design pet food. The book is full of jobs that most people would never think of (try to find the surprised looking bunny on that page). There’s interviews with a geologist, doctor, mechanical engineer, and chemical, molecular (nano), and electrical engineers.
It’s the kids in the club who handle the video and sound as well as the interviewing; they’re kinda young, but I guess being in this particular club helps.
Ends with glossary of careers.

Margo Thinks Twice
Margo lets her big imagination get the better of her, but hey, at least she has one. She plays with glue, enjoys her swing, pretends to be a jungle explorer, and takes a trip to the pet shop, all occasions where her mom warns her of a danger that makes her think twice; sometimes it’s because she’s being reckless, other times she’s afraid of what might happen. But if there’s a theme here, it seems to be “Listen to your mother.”
Margo reminds me of Phoebe from—you guessed it—the Phoebe and Her Unicorn comic strip. The artwork is very expressive and adds to the story.


Poetry Tuesday: In Praise of a Sword

Full title: In praise of a sword given him by his prince, by Colman mac Lenini, 6th or 7th century Ireland.

Blackbirds to a swan,
Feathers to hard iron,
Rock hags to a siren,
All lords to my lord.
Jackdaws to a hawk,
Cackling to a choir,
Sparks to a bonfire,
All swords to my sword.


Book Reviews: No Fiction At All

“Where are we going?”
“Vasquez Rocks.”
“Yeah, he DOES!” she woohooed, then looked perplexed. “Who’s Vasquez? And where are we GOING?”

Nonflict: The Art of Everyday Peacemaking
The title tells it like it is, or how it wishes it was.
Most of this book features examples, stories told by people close to the authors. Some of them pretty good, and are the best part of this book. The rest of it is not nearly as coherent as it claims to be.
There’s some good stuff here, but because its points deal with optimism, the expectations are too high; hard to believe they would work in real life.

Countdown to Pearl Harbor
The start is all bios, which had me yawning. It wasn’t till the author did a good job of humanizing Yamamoto that things picked up, so that the Stark and Kimmel bios felt much better.
There are two main points that run throughout the book, and occasionally come together:
1. “For the first time in history, there existed a carrier force comprising enough aircraft to do strategically meaningful things on the battlefield.”
2. American complacency, if not outright racism.
“Japan’s fortuitous realization could never have produced such success if not for American complacency, anchored in a belief that its Asian adversary lacked the military deftness and technological proficiency to pull off something so daring and so complicated, and a belief that Japan knew and accepted how futile it would be to go to war with a nation as powerful as the United States of America. Assumption fathered defeat.”
When discussing his methodology in the intro, the author doesn’t pull any punches: “When conflicts (in the stories) arose, it seemed logical to weigh the evidence based on whose reputation had the most to gain or lose, and to rely on recollections given soon after the attack, rather than those from several years later.” He even brings the funny occasionally. “‘There was no training for intelligence officers in those days,’ an intelligence officer in those days said.” Did not expect to find genuine snark in a book like this: “‘He might have asked me for a clarification,’ said Stark, who might have provided one on his own.”
The epilogue describes what the “characters” did during and after the war. Acknowledgements and notes take up a solid quarter of the book, along with the 5% that is the bibliography at end.
All in all, this tome was more matter of fact on the subject than most I’ve read, going out of its way to avoid conjecture.

Many years ago on a radio show Harlan Ellison was interviewing Robert Silverberg about his new book. When asked if it was a human book, that old rascal Silverberg replied, “It’s more than human.” And while I could almost hear Ellison’s eyes rolling, it stuck with me enough that I thought about it as I read this book by former astronaut Dr. Mike Massimino.
“Mass” is more famous for making fun of Howard on The Big Bang Theory than his actual exploits in space. (He acknowledges this in the book.) He comes across as a bit of a bully there, so perhaps he wrote this in order to correct that reputation. And indeed throughout it he comes across as a nice guy, though of course since this is an autobiography you’d hardly expect him to make himself look bad.
The prologue is a shuttle launch; it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The story of his father’s illness, and what he learned about being an astronaut from it, is the best, closely followed by the hesitant Hubble handrail.
This turned out to be a surprisingly easy smooth read. Highly recommended even if you’re not a space buff.

60 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds (or More)
The people who put out these books assume you will not take the time to count if there are actually 60 ways listed here.
The first part is all about diseases made worse by being overweight; not what this book claims to be about. Later it tells about ways to lose weight that the doctor himself doesn’t recommend, like surgeries and pills. But it’s the talk about surgery, especially bariatric, that takes up the biggest section; wonder why. It’s all very technical and boring. And lastly there are long articles on binge eating, anorexia, and bulimia. At least these are important, but still, where’s the title?
At different points he mentions reductions in carbohydrates and calorie intake, as well as vitamin D supplements. So there’s three out of 60. Yippee.
This same author has written 60 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure, 60 Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol, and so on. Yep, he’s got it bad for that number, but I’ll bet those were lies too.
So this was almost exclusively what not to do to prevent gaining weight, and very little on how to lose weight, which is what the title describes. Almost comes across as fraud. . .


Book Reviews: Kiddie Stuff

Whenever a woman comes on to me and I need to let her down gently, I tell her about my fetish for tall ladies: “You have to be at least 6’2 to ride this ride!”

Fifty Nifty Facts about Cats
The title does not lie. What you get here is the book form and bigger version of those Facebook links you end up getting even if you didn’t want to.
At least some of them are interesting. Felines are the only animals who don’t like sweets? That explains a lot! And cats would be pissed to know that they share something with dogs: an aversion to chocolate.
It turns out I’m not allergic to cat fur; I’m allergic to a protein in their saliva which gets into the fur while grooming. Whatever, same sneezy.
So some are fun, others obvious, most in between. With the pictures it should make kids happy.

The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale
A historical story from Dutch Colonial Noo Yawk, in the town that later became Albany.
Saint Nicholas is the Dutch version and primary source for Santa Claus, only thinner. Cookies shaped like him are the big draw during Christmas. With that background comes the story of a successful baker, whose luck changes when an old woman comes in and demands that a dozen is 13. When she doesn’t get it she puts a curse on him, and it takes him a whole year and a dream to figure things out.
And supposedly that’s where the expression Baker’s Dozen comes from.
Bright autumn colors vastly overshadow the small written parts. Some kids may forget to read, considering how these paintings draw the eye. But it works if treated as a picture book with long captions.

The Sea King’s Daughter: A Russian Legend
A poor musician in Russia loves his city but is lonely, cuz girls—or their families—only care about money. The Sea King hears him playing and invites him to give a royal recital, but he has to find his own way to the underwater kingdom, which is the hard part. But it’s the artwork that is vastly more important here than the actual story.
The illustrations are said to be done in “fairy-tale realism,” which sounds awesome. They do come off as dreamy; even the title page has the city walls on all four borders. The dancing scenes are so richly illustrated I can’t tell where to look first. There’s even a cute braided little girl in one corner. And then the underwater palace dance scene surpasses the previous.
“Music is worth far more than gold!” Yes. . .
I’d always thought this was a strange story, or at least had a strange ending, for a kid’s tale. Even though he got rich and married and had kids, there’s still a sadness that he chose his city over a beautiful princess. What exactly is the message here? But look at the amazing drawings and don’t worry about plot.
The extras, like a deleted scene, are online, with links that can take you there straight from the ebook.

Adventures of a Kid Magician
Everything you need to know is in the title: a skinny geek finds a way to survive school by entertaining with magic.
At the end of each chapter there’s a question about the story, and if you get it right you go online and use it as a password to see a video that teaches you how to do the magic trick you just read about. These videos alone are worth the price of this book.
The drawings are simple yet wonderful, especially those of Sammi, the girl who has a crush on him and he’s too clueless to see. She cleans up nicely.


Book Reviews: Mrs. Einstein, Big Nate, and Camels

“Dude, I’m over you!” she sneered.
“Yeah, last night you were all over me!”
I’m so witty. . .

The Other Einstein
A fictionalized autobiography of Einstein’s first wife.
The intro states, “Readers may be curious as to precisely how much of the book is truth and how much is speculation.” Uh, yeah! Having to keep reminding myself this was fiction was the main stumbling block to reading this, especially since from the beginning Albert seemed charming but self-centered. He obviously admired Mitza for her brain, and mistook it for love. And while he was a product of his times—he might have been on her side as far as attending university, but only to help himself—he seemed even more so than most. Maybe it’s fiction, but Albert comes off as a complete ass. And yes, despite this being a story about her, everything happens either in his presence or his shadow, so that it sounds like it’s all about him.
There were some funny moments, the best being when his mother accused her of getting pregnant to trap him. As her father said, “Who would want to trap an unemployed physicist?” But then there’s all the times he’s horrible to her and she rationalizes it; even with her brilliant scientific mind, she went against her instincts and fell for his charms. The fact that she kept forgiving him and buying his words is painful. I doubt the term “enabling” was in use back then, but come on, she really should have seen it all coming.
As stated above, the worst part is knowing what’s real, or more likely what isn’t. For instance, no one knows what happened to their first child. Here it says she died of scarlet fever. Even bigger, it’s stated she’s the one who comes up with the theory of relativity, when thinking about that dead child.
What was no doubt intended to be a joyful revelation of an extraordinary woman forgotten by history turned into something a lot more depressing.
Wonder if she actually ever met Curie. . .

Epic Big Nate
A massive best of, chronologically. Had no idea this strip had been around so long.
It starts with a long intro, deep into how comics get sold. This continues throughout the book, as every once in a while you get a small note from the author, like how he finds Sundays more difficult. Considering how hard it must have been to condense twenty-five years of daily jokes, it’s not surprising most of these entries are one-off, though every now and then a larger plot sneaks in, like how mold forces them to go to their rival school, then have to play a soccer match against them. As a former goalie, it was easier to understand the jokes, especially in the penalty phase.
Some of the highlights:
A little girl dresses as a witch, only to have daddy tell her to choose a more positive character. . . so she goes with devil. Perfect.
“Who did invent the high-five?” Exactly. . .
“You totally ‘Nated’ it!”
Never expected Nate, of all imaginary people, to say “Scoreboard!” but on this occasion you can’t blame him.
The gerbil was the smartest character.
There’s a pretty long Q&A; the first part is almost embarrassingly fawning.

Shadows of the Stone Benders
The plot starts with the death of an old professor killed while hiking, but the reader isn’t told how. The professor knows, though, and as a hook it’s actually pretty good. From there his rich inquisitive nephew and his semi-girlfriend try to find out what happened, and fall into a story too big and fantastical to believe.
There’s some good stuff here. I enjoyed the mythology without feeling any need to believe it. Both Jen and Pebbles were well-written; together they’d make the most amazing woman ever. I just wish the leads, who’d been so smart up to then, hadn’t turned stupid to service the climax.
Early on I was liking the descriptions, but as the book wore on they became tiring, overdoing how the women are dressed in particular; I really didn’t need to know what Pebbles was wearing every time she changed. Worse, there’s lots of signs that this is an early work, possibly even a first, without much outside input. The use of unnecessary verbs is the largest indicator, along with the descriptions. At one point the author used parentheses to hammer his point, in case we simpletons didn’t get it. Please don’t insult your reader’s intelligence, especially if you’re expecting them to keep up with the premise of your otherwise intelligent story.
This one really bugged me: “Ruefully, Pebbles cast a last forlorn look at the lonely uneaten doughnut still staring up at her from the plate and followed Anlon to the cash register and then out the diner door.” So take it with you!
But for what’s obviously a first time writer there’s a lot to like here. Great imagination, plotting, sense of humor. He should get better the more he writes.
3.5/5 (Would have been a straight 4 if not for the dumb ending.)

A Jerk, A Jihad, and A Virus
A terrorist plot to manufacture a biological weapon is opposed by stalwart Americans of various professions and the bad guy’s own ineptitude.
Before halfway I was already saying the plot was convoluted, which in the end wasn’t needed. It was a long way to go for such a tiny climax. . . so to speak.
This author’s best feature is his humor, from university office politics to a camel spitting in the bad guy’s face, as we would have all liked to do. The characters are all well drawn, each with their individual foibles that often inspire outright laughter. In the first half my favorite character was Ann, until she went all silly on Jason for something she knew wasn’t his fault. “Sue and Ann decided you should apologize for not telling Ann you didn’t know what she was talking about.” Just like that I couldn’t stand her anymore, regardless of the “all women do it” premise. Worst of all, it had nothing to do with the story. In the same vein, all the science explanations were confusing and completely unnecessary, the writer giving in to the urge of showing off.
I tried really hard not to compare this to the author’s previous novel, which I enjoyed a lot, but found I couldn’t help it. I have to say this was not as good as the first one.
And definitely not enough camel.