Storm's Coming! is a really simple, beautiful children's picture book that,This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5
Storm's Coming! is a really simple, beautiful children's picture book that, while it will have special appeal to Minnesotans and this familiar with the Split Rock Lighthouse, will be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates quality art (by David Geister) in a children's picture book and/or informative lessons in nature and history.
Author Margi Preus has written a really simple but tight story about a young girl who sees a storm coming in and runs about the property informing all the family, who are busy with a variety of chores (from picking fruits and vegetables in the gardens, to hanging laundry. to baking, etc). As she goes she sees all the signs of a coming storm in how nature reacts (the change in bee behavior; the way plants close up; the way birds fly lower to water; etc).
This is just the way a picture book should be... beautiful to look at for the child listener, with some nice life lessons that the child doesn't even realize s/he is learning while listening to the story.
This is highly recommended. I suspect sales, on location at Split Rock will do well, but this should be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys reading to children.
Looking for a good book? Storm's Coming!, written by Margi Preus and illustrated by David Geister, is a beautiful children's picture book with special appeal to Minnesotans but should be enjoyed by anyone interested in quality picture books.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelwiess, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Pranks? What is a 'prank' as performed by a 'prankster'? Pulling 'one' overThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5 of 5
Pranks? What is a 'prank' as performed by a 'prankster'? Pulling 'one' over on someone? Author Kembrew McLeod seems to look on it as a practical joke that has political and/or social change connotations.
'Pranking' is popular today as we have television shows all about pranks and tv talk show hosts 'prank' one another all in good fun. So it was with certain expectations that I started this book - with a title that doesn't let on too much as to what it might be about. But this seemed to be a little more skewed toward hoaxes and trickery and flim-flam.
There is actually some really interesting history told here in the book and I found much of it quite fascinating, even though it's not what I was expecting. But even some of this interesting history went on much too long. The chapter on the Illuminati, for instance, just dragged on and on.
That Benjamin Franklin pulled a few pranks is no surprise. To read about some of them was fun. And if the rest of the book were a little more like this, it would have been a delightful read. But sadly it was not.
There are so many little delightful nuggets of information here, but they are surrounded by some dull, and convoluted writing. It's hard to believe that a book about pranks would be some very dry reading, but it is. If you are a knowledge junkie - someone who just likes to know lots of little bits of information - then this is probably a good book to wade through.
If you want a book of history from a different perspective, this is on the right track, but gets bogged down in needless details.
If you want to know about 'making mischief in the modern world' ... this book is a mistake.
Looking for a good book? It's hard to believe that a book about pranks would be dull, but Pranksters, by Kembrew McLeod gets too caught up in the details, and surrounds those details with dry writing, resulting in a difficult read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
I recently worked on a documentary film in which some people were attemptiThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25 of 5
I recently worked on a documentary film in which some people were attempting to sail the Northwest Passage. Because of this, I developed an interest in learning more about some of the expeditions to the Arctic. When I saw this book available on Audible, I was quite eager to give it a listen. It does not disappoint.
In the late 1800's, the Arctic was one of the few, vast, unexplored regions on the planet and many people were fascinated by what might be there. One common belief was that there were warm currents that actually kept a land mass lush with plant life.
After his success sending Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone, James Gordon Bennett, the wealthy owner of the New York Herald, decided to so something similar with the Arctic and funded an official U.S. Navy expedition to head to the Pole.
Captained by George Washington De Long, a young officer, the voyage would have 32 men who would be sailing uncharted territory in a ship re-christened the USS Jeannette, on the way to be the first to plant a flag at the North Pole. Not long after embarking, the Jeannette is stuck in ice, and after two years on the dangerous journey, the ship's hull is breached by ice and the crew continue the journey on foot and sleds. All along, Captain De Long maintains a detailed journal that despite its cumbersome nature he carries with him.
I found the research here to be incredibly thorough and, unlike many non-fiction books of late that write about the thoughts and concerns of the major characters based primarily on presumption, author Hampton Sides does a good job of detailing facts and draws from personal journals and letters to give us a glimpse of what the people involved were going through. At the same time, Hampton builds a sense of mystery and tells the story as though it were a thriller.
Not knowing this story prior to this (other than that I know the North Pole was 'found' in 1908 or 1909 [depending on who you believe found it first]), I was completely captivated by this story and by the characters involved. Hampton really draws us in to the story and helps us get to know many of the crew members as individuals, which means we're much more invested in their story and we hope for their survival.
I don't want to give too much away because this is a book worth reading, but suffice it to say that they do not make it to the North Pole and not everyone will survive this journey. But where they do travel to, and who does live is well worth discovering.
I listened to the Audible version, and narrator Arthur Morey is the perfect reader for this book. He was easy to listen to and helped to keep me interested.
Looking for a good book? In the Kingdom of Ice, by Hampton Sides, is a gripping account of an early expedition to the North Pole and well worth reading. ...more
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
As I write this, the news has been full of reports on the Democratic and Republican stumping for the party nod in ten months and it has been an absolute zoo of presidential wannabees. Political satire today has a broader range as we have not only newspapers and magazines but also radio, television, and internet pundits. But in today's political arena the politicians seem like they are satirizing themselves with their extreme positions and antics. How much we've changed.
Or have we?
Puck was a humor magazine published in the U.S. from the late 1800's to just after the turn of the century. Political humor was perhaps its most popular bedfellow. And one thing we can see by looking at some of the political cartoons from the time is that politicians, and the average person's impression of politicians, haven't changed much in 150 years.
This book is well researched and also incredibly well presented. The book is broken down into sections (History of Puck magazine, The Puck Building, Presidential Politics, Politics and Government, Business and Labor, Foreign Relations, Race and Religion, Social Issues, Personalities, Just for Fun, Biographical Dictionary, Bibliographical Note, Index) and lavishly illustrated with reproductions of the artwork from the magazine to exemplify each section.
The artwork is impressive. The detail these artists provided is so fine, and the ability to reproduce this art is something I wasn't prepared for. The humor here is strong and one can see shades of a precursor to magazines such as Mad or Cracked, though the intended audience has changed. The equivalent today might be the French Charlie Hebdo or the British Punch magazines.
With each reprinted cartoon, the editors have included a synopsis of what the cartoon is targeting, the artist, and the issue date that the cartoon was published. Because the work here was timely and often at the forefront of social thought (whether it followed, or led social concerns is debatable) this book is more than just a beautiful coffee-table-style book (which it could be). It is also a tremendous history book. But here we aren't looking at history as reported on by historians, but history as reported on by commentators (think: Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart).
This really is a great book and anyone interested in art, history, politics, or humor should appreciate it.
Looking for a good book? The Story of Puck: What Fools These Mortals Be! is a remarkable history book of political (and other social) cartoons from a popular turn of the (20th) century magazine, Puck.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for and honest review. ...more
I love it when I learn a thing or two from one of the books I've requestedThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 5.0 of 5
I love it when I learn a thing or two from one of the books I've requested for review. I had requested this book because I enjoy Scandinavian literature and mythology and I saw a natural tie-in with this book. But I did wonder, 'Can someone really write an entire book about some ancient chess pieces?'
First of all, I have to admit that I did not realize how famous these chess pieces are. I did not know that these specific chess pieces were used as the models for the giant chess pieces depicted in the Harry Potter movie. Referred to as The Lewis Chessmen, they consist of 93 chessmen pieces, hand carved from walrus ivory, that were uncovered on a beach in Scotland in the early 1800's. And why are they 'viking'? Well, that's part of the story, but a big reason is that the soldier pieces resemble the viking Berserkers.
To get to the origins of these beautifully carved game pieces, author Nancy Marie Brown leads the reader through a great deal of history and the sociology of the period, focusing on Iceland but including a number of Scandinavian, Germanic, and British countries.
The leading candidate for the creator of the chess pieces was a woman known to us now as Margaret the Adroit, "who at the time was the most skilled carver in all Iceland." Nancy Marie Brown's book pieces together the likelihood of Margaret the Adroit's work coming into contact with many of the famous movers and shakers of the period. To do this we get a lot of background, both historical and archaeological, of the period, as well as some legend and mythology that complements the rationale.
I didn't know that to expect when I started this book, but it was truly remarkable and I was constantly wanting to get back to the book when I wasn't reading. It was smart and informative and dealt with art (the carving), history, politics, mythology, and the history of chess. This was truly a fantastic read and the bibliography and notes in the book have generated a very long list of other books I'd now like to read. So many of the characters who are mentioned here, strike me as equally fascinating and worthy of more discovery. People such as King Magnus BareLegs of Norway,Ragnar Lothbrok, Bishop Pall, Scottish minister Hugh Monro (who is reported to have said to his parishioners: "Out of here, out of here every one of you. The whales have come into the bay. You can get a sermon any time, but you cannot often get the whales."
This is such a wonderful book. Anyone who enjoys non-fiction, particularly history, should be sure to read this book.
While we know this, intellectually, we don't often think about the fact that, as the book notes: The bygone ages of the world were actually filled with living men. This books serves as a wonderful reminder.
Looking for a good book? Ivory Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown, is a tremendous examination of the legend and history and people surrounding one of the great discoveries of the 19th century, the Lewis Chessmen, and you should read it.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
I think that anything that gets people to read, and become more familiar wiThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
I think that anything that gets people to read, and become more familiar with, the U.S. Constitution is a good thing. For that alone, this book is praised.
This edition is a modern retelling of the Constitution. Much as scholars do with Shakespeare, or even the Bible, this edition attempts to simplify the document. It does so by rearranging the layout of the Constitution so that it might make more sense in a consecutive format. It also highlights each section so that the reader knows what it is discussing, and it defines words that the editors think the modern reader might not understand.
The question for me is: is this necessary?
I read Shakespeare as if it were lifted off the pages of the Quarto, though if I were sharing it with students, I would pick a friendlier, easier-to-read edition. I don't read Greek, or Latin,or even German, so I can't say that I've read any of the Bible in any of the earliest editions, but I am comfortable with the older King James Edition language.
The U.S. Constitution is only a couple hundred years old and the language hasn't changed that significantly (we are, after all, still reading Shakespeare, which is over 500 years old). And the subject matter, 'laws' essentially, is still kind of dry reading for most of us. That hasn't changed. For this, I'm not sure that this modern edition is necessary. In fact, this could be more confusing to the student who might think that the Constitution is laid out in the fashion presented here (despite editor's preface to the contrary).
I didn't learn anything new to my understanding of the Constitution (my knowledge is probably a little above average) and I'm not convinced that the new formatting is truly helpful. Is the original so convoluted that anyone who takes on the reading of the document isn't going to understand it?
Reading the Constitution again, even in this slightly altered form was a treat. This is one of those documents you think you know, based on your elementary school knowledge, but actually reading it again, brings it to a new light.
Looking for a good book? The Constitution of the United States of America is a document that should be read by all Americans, but do they need a re-edited version, such as this, or is the original good enough? I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
It is really wonderful when a children's picture book can be captivating aThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.75 of 5
It is really wonderful when a children's picture book can be captivating and educational. Author Eileen Cameron's story of the Magna Carte, Rupert's Parchment is such a book.
Rupert, twelve years old, is the son of a parchment maker. It is Rupert's father's parchments that King John uses for writing his promises to the people of England, and Rupert has the perfect seat for observing and relating the story of this tremendous event.
Author Cameron masterfully manages to bring awareness of just what this event meant to the people of England. It is powerful, it is exciting, and it is very, very real. Making a historical event something that a child can relate to, is more difficult than one might think, but as a reader, I found myself drawn in to this story, and I know younger readers/listeners will too. There is some nice information about the Magna Carta following the story for the adult readers, and somehow, this entire book is only twenty pages long!
The illustrations by Doris Ettlinger suit the book well.
Although I was familiar with the concept of the Magna Carta, I couldn't have told you much about it, and this children's book was a good primer for me, and I suspect for many adults (at least in the United States). I highly encourage this simple, informative book.
Looking for a good book? Rupert's Parchment is a children's picture book with a big history theme and it's worth having and reading.
I received a digital edition of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
A little more than a year ago I reviewed the first March book. You can reaThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.75 of 5
A little more than a year ago I reviewed the first March book. You can read that review here. The review copy that I received is only one-quarter of the full book, but I think it's safe to say that Book 2 is every bit as powerful and inspiring as was Book 1.
As I write this, the rioting in Baltimore is making headline news around the country and since I reviewed the first book, there have been tremendously horrible deaths of black men in police custody around the country that have been making news. This series of books by John Lewis seem ever more important to remind the country ... the world ... of the struggles for equality that have already taken place, and how far we still have to go.
It is amazing the fortitude that people have to resist peacefully, to take continued beatings, and to return to the peaceful protests. If it doesn't move the reader to see (literally 'see' since this is a graphic novel) people stand in line to buy movie tickets, told that the won't be served because of their skin color, and then return to the end of the line to do it again, and finally get beaten for it ... then the reader lacks any sort of human empathy.
And what more can you ask from any book, graphic or otherwise, than to move the reader and to inform the reader. This does both, extremely well. And just as the first time, the art is a perfect enhancement for the story.
You can't go wrong with this, and I hope it will become standard reading in schools all across the country.
Looking for a good book? March, Book 2 continues the historical look at the struggles of African-Americans to be recognized as humans and equals in the United States and does so in a nearly perfect manner that will be read, enjoyed, and understood by adults as well as children.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
This coffee-table styled book is rich with history, excitement, and chock-fThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5
This coffee-table styled book is rich with history, excitement, and chock-full of enough photos to please any historian or gun-lover.
What is it about the outlaw, the criminal, that we are intrigued by the weapons that they favored? Is it simply that they made a name for themselves, using weapons and so those weapons identify them or speak to their manner of thinking and behaving? Perhaps the Souter's will follow this up with a "Guns of Lawmen" next.
We do romanticize the outlaw, and the longer-ago the outlaw lived, the more romantic the period in which s/he fought. I would have to admit that as the book progressed and we approached the period of Al Capone and his cronies, the outlaws lost their lustre to me. I was a little more sickened by the violence of these men, yet they were every bit as violent as those from the 'old west.'
Gerry and Janet Souter, authors of this book, do a very nice job providing history of the weapons and many, many beautiful photographs of often the original weapons being described, or at least a similar weapon from the manufacturer. It is fascinating to thumb through the book and compare the early pistols to the tommy guns of the prohibition era. I couldn't even begin to point out some of the weapons that were most interesting to me because regularly, as I turned each page, I came across something that was new and interesting to me. This book is as much an evolution of the handgun, from the 1800's to the middle of the 20th century.
There are sidebars provided liberally throughout the book, with sidebars sometimes running two or three pages in themselves, such as "Primer, Powder, and Bullet: An Ammunition Evolution" or "The Gun that Never Was: Stuart Lake's Gift to Western Fiction." These are nice little side essays on a related topic, connecting in some way to the particular chapter in the book.
The writing here could so easily be dry and so factual that it is dull. Fortunately this is not the case. The Souters make the history come alive and bring vivid excitement to each page. All history books should be written with such enthusiasm!
I came to this book, interested in the historical aspect, and got so much more than I was expecting (pleasantly so). I did wonder if I would enjoy it as I'm not a fan of romanticizing criminals or criminal behavior, but I don't think that happens here (there are a few photos of the outlaws herein after meeting a violent end).
I would definitely encourage anyone with an interest in history, weapons or weapon history, or even interested in reading about outlaws from days gone by, then I can't recommend this highly enough. I've poured over my digital edition more than once, zooming in on some of the wonderful photos, and I'd really like to hold a hard copy in my hands because this is precisely the sort of book you want to hold in your hands and flip through just to look at the pictures after you've read it cover to cover.
Looking for a good book? Guns of Outlaws by Gerry and Janet Souter is book full of history and captures the thrilling events of a variety of outlaws with great excitement. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
It took me a little while to remember where I knew Don Freeman's name from,This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
It took me a little while to remember where I knew Don Freeman's name from, but it clicked while I was reading this. Freeman is the author/artist of the children's Corduoy books -- books about a stuffed bear that I used to read to my children quite regularly.
It Shouldn't Happen (To a Dog), while an illustrated book much like his Corduroy books, is not intended for children. Instead, Freeman writes (and draws) a story based on his military days, drawing (literally and figuratively) on the treatment of the enlisted soldier. The fact that Freeman is a black man compounds the inequality and treatment he receives. But as an enlisted man, he is unable to complain.
In the course of the story, our soldier feels his treatment is so bad that he couldn't be treated worse if he were a dog, and wakes up in his barracks one day, having turned in to a dog. We follow him then, being treated like a dog, yet hardly any different than any of the other soldiers.
Writing/drawing an illustrated story, almost a graphic novel, is a great way to get a message across when you can't speak up. But Freeman's story is not as clear-cut as it could be. Our hero-dog manages to shine as a soldier, but then he winds up AWOL, but then back in the ranks. I'm not quite certain what point Freeman is trying to get across. It's hard to respect and enjoy a soldier, even a dog/soldier, when he is not toeing the line. His exploits as a dog deviate from the sorts of things a soldier typically has to do.
I appreciated seeing some of Freeman's drawing work other than Corduroy and I greatly appreciated the historical look at the United States' military during a turbulent time. Beyond that, though, this just isn't a strong book. While the art looks like it's for kids, the story really isn't. And while the personal, historical look at the military is interesting, it's not really told in a way that would rally history buffs to buy it at the book store. This is the sort of book you hope you can find in a local book store.
Looking for a good book? It Shouldn't Happen (To a Dog) is a fictionalized personal account of life in the military, told through the drawings of a noted children's book author/illustrator, Don Freeman, and may be of some interest to readers of history and military history. ...more
In our era of (what we consider to be) highly advanced forensics and crimiThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.75 of 5
In our era of (what we consider to be) highly advanced forensics and criminal investigations, it's sometimes difficult to remember that even in a relatively short time past, much of our modern forensics was still very much in its infancy. In Stolen From the Garden, author William Swanson reopens some old wounds by revisiting a kidnapping from 1972, a case in which modern forensics might very well have solved.
In July of 1972, Virginia Piper, wife of a prominent Minnesota banker, was abducted from her suburban Minnesota home. Aside from the audacity of a broad-daylight kidnapping, this was also notable for a number of reasons including the fact that it was one of the first kidnappings to seek a ransom payday of $1 million. It was also a case that the FBI (with dubious authority over the case) claims to have solved, but which much evidence (albeit some of it circumstantial) supports otherwise.
Swanson tries very hard to not comment personally on the case until near the end, when he admits his own opinions, based on his research. That research includes a great deal of information provided by one of the sons of Virginia Piper who had intended to write his own book, but for various reasons, including familial, chose not to do so. That information, including interviews with family members and others who were very close to the case, is invaluable.
It is a little difficult to write a review of the book without giving away too much of the information presented. Although most of the information herein is public information, Swanson tells the story smoothly and almost as though it were a mystery novel.
Among the most interesting facts of the case is that despite the fact that all the money ($20 bills) were logged and marked by the FBI, very little has turned up or accounted for since the ransom was paid.
This is a most beguiling, bewildering case.
Looking for a good book? Whether you're interested in True Crime, mystery stories, Minnesota history, or just a well-told story, Stolen From the Garden satisfies....more
What a fantastic concept! Convince NASA/JPL to allow an average joe to sitThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5 of 5
What a fantastic concept! Convince NASA/JPL to allow an average joe to sit in on the Phoenix Mars Mission; hanging out with all the brilliant minds (it is, after all, rocket science) and living on 'Mars time' just to be able to go home and write a book about it. Kudos to NASA/JPL for agreeing to it and for letting the visitor in on as many meetings as he apparently did attend. Shame on NASA/JPL for apparently not vetting author Andrew Kessler and making sure he would be able to write coherently and appropriately on the subject.
Kessler tries to be 'personable' with his writing, assuming his lack of science and technical knowledge will make what he has to say more approachable to the average reader. Unfortunately, his style, or 'voice,' comes across as juvenile and forced and frankly, out of place.
"The RAC (Robotic Arm Camera) is attached to the RA just above the scoop. The instrument provides close-up, full-frontal color images of the Martian surface close to the ground, under the lander, or anywhere the RA can go. Its got all kinds of filters and scientific attachments to capture and makes sense of extreme close-ups of dirt or whatever else Phoenix can dig up. I for one am hoping for a secret decoder ring."
A secret decoder ring. The author is sitting in a room with some of the brightest minds on the planet, who are about to reach out to a different planet, and all he can do is remind the reader how out of his league he is by 'hoping for a secret decoder ring.' I know he's just trying to be cute, or funny, but he's not. The information he's sharing is great. His secret hopes and wishes? Not so much.
Kessler has an opportunity many of us would like to have ... a backstage glimpse at NASA on a major project. When he relates the actual information as to what's happening and how the scientists at NASA deal with obstacles, then this is a remarkable book. When a glitch on the lander stops the progress of taking soil samples, we get to see these scientists as people, problem-solving and arguing. How they come to the decisions that they do, is what many of us want to know. It is this that keeps the reader interested. But when Kessler's 'fan boy' sensibilities kick in, he lacks a personal filter and he comes across as the teenage, excited fan.
Dara Sabahi, the chief engineer on the Phoenix project tells Kessler, "Documenting the mission will be very important for the future. ... I'm counting on this documentation. ... The more people can read about the mission process, the more we can learn about improving the process." Yet as the mission moved on, Kessler began to be excluded from some of the important meetings. I took this as a sign that the powers-that-be at NASA/JPL began to recognize that they weren't going to get the 'documentation' that they were hoping for.
I was hoping for an inside look at how NASA works. What I got was a long college essay on how someone spent their summer. I give this two and a half stars for the glimpses of the NASA machinations that we did get.
Looking for a good book? Martian Summer offers a behind-the-scenes look at the trials, successes, and struggles of a true NASA interplanetary mission but the book gets bogged down with the inexperienced writer's ability to let go of his 'fan boy' obsession and just share the story....more
Rod Pyle's Innovation the NASA Way is a very successful book on two levelsThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25 of 5
Rod Pyle's Innovation the NASA Way is a very successful book on two levels.
First, this is a very nice summary of NASA's history, hitting the highlights (Gemini, Apollo, Voyager, Skylab, ISS, Space Shuttle, etc) -- the successes -- and touching briefly on the catastrophic failures. You could certainly write volumes on any one of the NASA projects, but Pyle manages to capture the essence and the innovation of NASA's existence.
Second, the book does precisely what it sets out to do -- point out the innovation of one of the most necessarily creative organizations in existence. Often born out of necessity, NASA's innovation comes from the fact that time and again, they set out to do things that not only had never been done before, but had to prepare for things that they couldn't possibly know might be problems. As Pyle points out, this is precisely why he chose to use NASA to illustrate innovation.
Pyle very nicely poses questions or challenges throughout each chapter, and follows these up with 'solutions' using NASA's history to illustrate his points.
We've probably all heard the over-used phrase "think outside the box" but NASA is the perfect example of this, and in many ways this book is a salute to that tired phrase. Innovation = thinking outside the box.
Something that I found very interesting, though it was not necessarily an intentional point to the book. Money, and the lack of it, can change the course of innovation.
At the beginning of NASA's existence and popularity, money was rather plentiful. Pyle notes that NASA's budget was almost 5% of the national budget (as opposed to the .5% today). At this time, when NASA had a Presidential directive to be the first to the moon, innovation came from a great deal of dreaming and planning and trial and error. When something failed, it was examined, corrected, and attempted again. There was money for this and in many ways it led to a very productive and positive beginning of the space program (with the exception of the horrific results of Apollo 1). At this time, innovation was a result more of preparing for the unknown (would the module actually be able to leave the moon and meet up with the orbiting ship?) and the known (thrusters would only be able to get a limited amount of weight out of Earth's gravity). As the U.S. government lost interest in the space program, innovation was often a result of monetary constraints. NASA might still want to push the boundaries and attempt the unknown, but now they are asked to do more with less. Both reasons for innovation, however, often lead to unusual (some might say unorthodox) solutions.
Having worked in the not-for-profit sector for decades, I can greatly appreciate the need for innovation, and can empathize with the need to be creative or innovative and to do more with less. However, Pyle makes one statement that does not sit well with me. At one point, Pyle's "challenge" is:
"Preserving a mission that has gone well beyond all expectations of achievements ... and budgets."
His solution is:
"Trim required personnel, equipment, and "mission footprint" to a bare minimum, and use only the time and personnel that are absolutely necessary to accomplish the task at hand."
While NASA may have had their 'fat' days and the luxury of indulging a large number of people to work on projects, this is very rarely the case in the private sector. I can speak from experience in the non-profit world, that there is already not enough money to hire the people who are necessary. Every year of preparing budgets I have heard the same mantra "trim the fat" and yet there isn't any fat. What happens is that more and more people are reduced and upper management points and says "See...you didn't need those people" not realizing that it has made a dedicated few over-worked for no additional compensation. Who decides what is "absolutely necessary" and what is the criteria? Innovation due to lack of funds is understandable. Innovation as a substitution for funding may show a lack of responsibility and can be dangerous.
I am definitely impressed with Rod Pyle's ability to give us a history of NASA and to point out how innovative the organization has been, challenging companies to think like NASA and come up with new solutions to their challenges. In many ways, I think the book can be summed up in Pyle's own words ... a quote which should have been highlighted, and will become a meme on my Facebook page (emphasis mine):
Despite the challenge of low budgets and risk aversion, thoughtful innovation does ascend through the system. There is always time later to rein in ideas to fit budget and schedule parameters. But if you don’t go large at the beginning, you will never achieve greatness.
Looking for a good book? Anyone looking to get the most out of their workers or company needs to read Innovation the NASA Way by Rod Pyle, and anyone with even a passing interest in NASA and space exploration will want to read this excellent book....more
This is a very specialized book. While the book will be of some interest toThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
This is a very specialized book. While the book will be of some interest to those who might have an interest in cartography or early and contemporary map making, but this is much more about the role of women in cartography ... their journey to being recognized as cartographers, their training and their struggles to be given the appropriate due. As author Van Den Hoonaard writes in his conclusion of Chapter 4:
The premise of our argument is simple. The extent to which women participated in the map worlds of the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth century does not reflect a linear, historic process. Rather, it is conditioned by the social organization of each prevailing map world. Such social organization was shaped by the advent of technological advances, social customs, scientific knowledge, and larger political forces.
While he may be talking about this particular chapter, I think the summation could be applied to women in the map industry at any time.
A portion of the book might be considered mini-biographies of some of the more recent or notable women such as Marie Tharp ("made the most notable contributions to sea floor cartography"); Mary G. Clawson ("considered a pioneer in the use of digital geospatial data to solve complex problems"); Mei-Ling Hsu ("the first woman to obtain a Ph.D. in (academic) cartography"); Judy Olson ("one of the first women to have developed and contributed to academic cartography, cartographic research...was an active participant in the NASA/ASEE programs"). Many of these brief biographies were very interesting and worthy of further reading. Judy Olson, for instance, is noted for being a major contributor in the field of the use of "colour in mapping and designing maps for people with defective colour vision."
Other notables include Kira B. Shingareva who "was busy for ten years at the USSR Academy of Sciences, participating in the Moon Exploration Project" and Barbara A. Bond whose "personal interests included escape and evasion maps in World War II."
Van Den Hoonaard does a great deal of research and manages to interview many of the contemporary cartographers. Given that there were/are still struggles in our modern age for women in nearly all industries, it is not surprising that women in cartography might find it difficult to receive the proper acknowledgements for their contributions. This is a nice, though small, means of acknowledgement. It is too bad, though, that even in a book which looks at the woman's role in cartography and seems to 'stand up' for women as cartographers in their own right, still has to have a section of the book which comments on the fact that "Husbands can make a tangible difference -- for better -- in the lives of these working cartographers." Would you ever see this same sentence, but with the word "wives" for "husbands" about any male cartographers?!
The book is a little academic and dry. Even though it's a book on cartography (which doesn't sound particularly exciting unless you are a lover of maps [and there are those people out there...I'm married to one]) the work that some of these people are doing could be truly exciting if not written about in a rather clinical way.
Looking for a good book? Map Worlds explores the role of women in cartography ... it's a pretty specific target audience, but if you fall in to that demographic the delivery of information herein is probably pitch perfect. ...more
Author John Shiffman has written an exciting espionage thriller ... no, waitThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25/5
Author John Shiffman has written an exciting espionage thriller ... no, wait a minute ... this isn't a work of fiction! This is a well-researched, thoroughly documented expose of a true international sting that readslike an espionage thriller!
First off, the title.... I'll admit that I was, in part, interested in this based on the title as I have a passing interest in Shakespeare. But the 'Shakespeare' moniker is very misleading. It comes up maybe twice in the book, and while I got a real kick out of how the name for the operation came about, it has nothing to do with Shakespeare. No big deal...it's still a great read...but be wary all you Shakespeare geeks.
I'm the sort of person who likes watching Cops because I like seeing the criminals get what's coming to them. I like seeing that good will triumph over evil. And for that reason, I also enjoy reading this sort of book ... where the criminal is caught, justice prevails, and the American way of life is preserved for another day. Author John Shiffman gives us that good-over-evil with the conclusion of a successful mission (I don't think that's a spoiler), but at the same time, reading through this, I couldn't help but get a strong sense of frustration.
It becomes clear that this mission would never have gotten off the ground, never been followed through, and never would have reached a successful conclusion if it weren't for the dedication of a few individuals who often had to fight against their own support groups to get what they needed. I also read in to this that it's generally by great strokes of luck that our government is able to find and catch those who are stealing American military technology. If it weren't for the hubris and general stupidity of the victim here, it's likely that he never would have been caught, much less with his laptop computer containing a great deal of information.
What is also clear is that it is the greed of American corporations leads to much of this technology 'theft' (it isn't theft if our companies sell it or give it away). The victim in this sting was successful for the Iranians partly because American companies are often willing to make a $ale to a questionable buyer. By convincing themselves (and the American government) that the item sold is for non-military purposes, they will gladly profit at the expense of American' soldier's lives. For instance... the book reports on the sale of triggered spark gap switches, ostensibly for medical purposes, sold to an Israeli in South African. Hospitals tend to only order a "handful" of the switches because, for medical purposes, they can be reused many times for the purposes of crushing kidney stones. However, those same switches are also used for making bombs, in which case they can be only used once and are ordered by the hundreds. (This same 'buyer' also helped to arrange for the sale of $1.3 million worth of oscilloscopes, again ostensibly for medical purposes, though the scopes have value to the nuclear weapons industry and the sale ultimately went through to a U.S. prohibited company in Pakistan.)
Shiffman sets up the book with the introduction of the major characters, and just like a good espionage novel, he slowly reveals how the players manage to come together in the sting. Unlike a typical espionage thriller, however, in which there would probably be a wake of bodies and a good foot-chase and shoot-out at the end, this book ends with a bit of a whimper (although the denouement is thrilling as it does look like it won't come off due to bureaucratic in-action).
It's great to see that sometimes our (American) action to stop the sale/theft of military technology actually works, but this book should also be a wake-up call to Americans (and our allies) everywhere that we need to be more diligent about calling for the safety of our citizens and soldiers. Greed should not cost lives. Making a sale of equipment that has military potential should not be the end of the story for any corporation. If items are sold over-seas, there needs to be follow-up, on the part of the companies involved, to ensure that the equipment is being used for non-military intents.
Looking for a good book? Operation Shakespeare is a great non-fiction espionage thriller. ...more
Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley have found a clever, fun wayThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5
Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley have found a clever, fun way to tell a story that engages, informs, and entertains.
Using a modern-day narrator to tell the story of an ancient land and time, the Qitsualik-Tinsley writing duo have managed to create a remarkably accurate representation of the old oral story-telling tradition, but recreated it in written form. You truly get the feeling, while reading, that you are sitting around a fire, being told this tale.
The tale itself is simple enough, and yet not familiar enough to modern readers. An Inuit hunter, Kannujaq, wanders upon a Tuniit village in what we would call Greenland. Inuit and Tuniit are familiar with one another, but not necessarily friends. The Tuniit village is attacked by Viking raiders. The Tuniit shaman claims that Kannujaq has arrived to be the new leader of the village. The current leader doesn't agree. While Kannujaq also doesn't agree, and tries to walk away, the end result (I don't want to give too much away) is that he does stay with the village. He also manages to find a way to help them with the Viking raids. More importantly, however, Kannujaq comes to understand why the Vikings return to the poor village, time and time again.
The story, as I say, is simple and fine, but the heart of this book, what makes it more valuable, is what it tells us about three ancient cultures. From wanderers, to villagers, to pillagers, we get a sense of the ancient world from three different points of view, made all the more poignant with the author's epilogue in which we learn that one of the cultures did not survive in to our modern age.
And underneath it all, we recognize that despite the material trappings and technological advancements, the heart of mankind, that very thing that makes us 'human' -- hasn't changed. We still long for, and will fight for, family. There are those who crave power, and those who simply want to be left alone. Many still fear those who are marked a little differently. And the 'skraelings' still use cunning to combat might.
I really love books with simple, effective line drawings. I miss the days of books such as Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, with the occasional page devoted to a drawing from the story. The art work here is wonderful. My only complaint...I would have liked just a few more.
Looking for a good book? The historical fiction book, Skraelings, by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley is a touching and beautiful piece of story-telling in the campfire story-telling tradition....more
This is a high-quality coffee-table book for history and military enthusiasts,This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. 4.25 stars.
This is a high-quality coffee-table book for history and military enthusiasts, originally written in French, this was translated by the publisher (Schiffer).
Authors Claude Bera and Bernard Aubry have clearly done great research for this book and have included quality, in-depth technical listings of a wide variety of bayonets. The photos are pristine and very, very impressive. Even reading a digital advance reader's copy, I couldn't help but be impressed with the very high-caliber of the photography. Occasionally there were also extreme close-up photos of the engraving marks (stamps of the makers) which are a true benefit to anyone trying to identify a blade.
But what about these bayonets? Why are there so many different models? What were the different blades used for? Where they all for standard combat? Why the different lengths? Why the curved pommels? Could any bayonet be attached to any rifle? Or where bayonets specific to a rifle? I really wanted to know more about the uses of the bayonets, and not just the technical details.
Occasionally we get some additional details. For instance: Knife-Bayonet Model 1884-98 a/A 1st Type "was made about 1908-09 for the Kar 98 AZ which equipped cyclists, signals personnel and aerial training personnel." Why? Why was this particular bayonet given to these specific classification of people? This additional detail is not included.
While I don't want to review what the book isn't, I do think it was a missed opportunity.
The book goes through the war, year by year, and looks at the bayonets from each country. It is amazing the variety of looks and styles there were to the bayonets.
Accompanying the photos of the bayonets are photos of military personnel from the various countries, and each chapter includes a full-page photo of a typical uniform, including hat and/or helmet, rifle, and various styles of bayonets. On page 63 is a photo of a German uniform, complete with metal chest plate. I admit that I'm not the most knowledgeable person on military history, and it stunned me for a moment to see a 'modern' military uniform include metal armor. I can't ever remember seeing a war photo of soldiers in armor like this, but it makes perfect sense that if combat included close, personal combat with bayonets, that soldiers might wear protection from such attacks. Of course todays soldiers also wear protective armor, in the form of flak jackets, but this metal plate looks positively medieval. It's a wonderful reminder that this war, taking place in the very early 20th century, was a cross-over from 19th century style combat to a much more modern warfare.
Looking for a good book? This is a stunning book for anyone interested in history, military history, or photography. ...more
While it seems that most of this information has been available throuReview originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 stars.
While it seems that most of this information has been available through other sources, this compendium packs it all together and ties it up with the perfect packaging.
I absolutely loved getting the little tidbits of information in quick, rapid form. This is not necessarily a book to sit and read cover to cover (although I did it that way), but rather it is intended to be used as a reference. Want to know about a particular Beatles song; who wrote it, who played on it, who sang, what instruments did they play, how many takes did it take to get it right, who the engineers were? Look it up here.
To learn that George is the one singing on "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Devil in Her Heart" -- I never knew! And while there's nothing I would specifically do with the information, it's interesting to learn what instruments are used and when someone changed instruments before the recording of a song.
I very much liked the relative simplicity to the lay-out and design of the book. I felt that I got a good amount of information for every song, and simply and easily. From sticky-note graphics that shared a Beatles tidbit, to the assortment of photos, to the technical information list, this book compiles all the information in a very easy to read format.
Almost daily I learned something from this book that was interesting or exciting enough that I shared it with my family (my sixteen year old son is a tremendous Beatles fan) at the dinner table.
I'm not sure that there's anything in this book that is new or revelatory, but Margotin and Guesdon have done a remarkable amount of research to pack as much factual information here as possible. The bibliography at the end of the book alone is almost worth the price of admission!
Yes, there are some errors. I've read some of the other reviews for this book (and am always amused at how certain some people are about how much they know to be factual ... even if they weren't there) and admit that there are some proofing errors and some date correlation that doesn't match up. I read an ARC, so I have to trust that some of this gets cleaned up before final print. But larger questions (who wrote which song, which instruments were used, etc) -- well... as this book points out, even the individual Beatles themselves don't always remember accurately how things happened. Paul and John might both claim 'ownership' of a particular song -- how can we expect that they will remember which guitar was used in the recording? Unless there are photos or written documentation (and even the written documentation is sometimes called in to question) ... much is often the result of deduction. Fair enough.
The book is written from the perspective of the British releases of the songs/albums.
I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the Beatles, music history, or music recording studies!
Looking for a good book? All the Songs is an indispensable reference book that every Beatles fan or music historian should have on hand!...more
I consider myself to be a moderately well-educated man and I am certainly familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., and wheI consider myself to be a moderately well-educated man and I am certainly familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., and when I first received this review copy of March, a graphic novel about the Civil Rights Movement, I was a little less than enthusiastic about reading it. I now wish I had jumped right in to it the moment I received it. This is wonderful!
Congressman John Lewis was an iconic figure in the Civil Rights Movement and is the only living member of the major leadership players at the time. This first of three planned books focusses on Lewis' youth, his desire to attend university, meeting Martin Luther King, Jr., and the beginnings of the peaceful Nashville Student Movement and sit-ins at local cafeterias. I whole-heartedly admit that I learned some very valuable history by reading this. I would also admit that, had this been a 500 page biography of John Lewis or even a history book on the Civil Rights movement, I probably would not have read it, fearing a dull, boring read.
And so...why a graphic novel? I think there are a number of good reasons for this. One: it makes it very easily accessible to a very young reading audience, or even a 'low' reading audience. I can see third graders reading this as part of their school's February reading program. Two: adults are more apt to pick up something that looks quick and simple, rather than a thick non-fiction book (as I admit to). And three: the pictures definitely help set the tone. It's very easy to read about non-violence, but something completely different to see people sitting calmly at a counter while others shout at them.
And let me be clear -- while I talk about the seeming simplicity in a graphic novel, compared to a long historical or biographical treatise, there is nothing 'simple' about this. This manages to be a very thorough look at a complicated time. We get a full sense of the power behind what was happening, while understanding that there's likely more to the story if we wish further study.
This is going to sound strange, but the art was so smooth, so perfectly apt for this book, that I often forgot I was reading/looking at a graphic novel. The pictures were such perfect additions to the story that I never felt that I was detached in any way. I read a lot of comics as a kid and I've read a fair number of graphic novels in the last year, since starting this blog, and I can say that I've never felt this symbiotic relationship between art and story so clearly before. I can't imagine any way of improving upon it.
If there's any down-side to this book (and I'm not sure there is), it would be that it's a book one. Graphic novels have come in some pretty thick volumes , so I can't imagine any reasonable explanation as to why this wasn't produced as one book. The only thought I can give is that the publisher wants to make more money and possibly win more awards by releasing this in installments. It's certainly a common publishing game, and I don't care for it. I subtract some points for this reason.
This book will move you. You will be a better person after reading it and you will have an even better understanding of both the good in humanity and the despicable.
Looking for a good book? This books deserves to be read, shared, and remembered by everyone who can turn a page.
With a sub-title such as this, "Yuetide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year" we know that this is not going to be a rousing, cheerful, typicalWith a sub-title such as this, "Yuetide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year" we know that this is not going to be a rousing, cheerful, typical Christmas book. And if you're not completely sure what this is about, reading the introduction lets you know what sort of voyage this book will encompass. Take for instance:
"Few of the spirits you encounter will make your blood run cold, for the aim of this book is to capture the mystery of Christmas, not to evoke full-blown horror. Still ... you'll be looking out for the Wild Hunt instead of Santa's sleigh, and as soon as you turn your calendar page to December, you'll be on alert for the thump of a broom, the rustle of straw or the brushing of birch twigs against the window pane."
This all made me a little skeptical to get in to the book, but it was in my queue and I was determined to give it a read. And I'm glad I did.
While this is in no way going to convert me to paganism, and maybe not even give me a greater appreciation of the pagan background, it did give me a greater appreciation of the history and mythology of the Scandinavian culture (as most of the information provided is historically linked to our Norse neighbors), and for that, I am grateful.
Author Linda Raedisch has clearly done her research, is passionate about the topic, and writes on her subject very well. I found the information wonderful and easy to absorb. There was so much content that I was not familiar with (I've done a great deal of research on Scandinavian mythology actually) that I took regular notes and devoured her bibliography.
Each chapter included some cooking and crafts related to the information in the chapters. This was over-kill for me, but clearly I was looking to the book for mythological content and not how to enjoy a non-Christian Christmas (which seems to me the initial intent behind the book).
Over-all, I got much more out of this book than I anticipated, and enjoyed it for that.
Looking for a good book? This non-Christian look at the history of Christmas is full of wonderful information and mythological history.
I will admit to a small bias against poetry. Despite studying it, writing it, promoting it, I've always had a hard time getting excited about readYes!
I will admit to a small bias against poetry. Despite studying it, writing it, promoting it, I've always had a hard time getting excited about reading poetry. So when I flipped this open and saw it was in verse, there was a momentary pause, I put it down and came back to it later. And I'm very glad that I returned to this!
In free verse, this tells the story of the slave, known as "Dave," purchased in 1815. His owner, Harvey Drake, is a potter and he teaches Dave the art of pottery. Harvey also happens to violate the law, and teaches Dave to read and write as well. Dave becomes an expert potter, often marking his pots with bits of writing.
Despite the short, free verse poems, we manage to learn a lot about what it's like to be a slave (having wives sold and sent away; the dangers of knowing too much; etc) and about life in the 1800's and about pottery. It's quite remarkable how much I picked up in this brief volume targeted toward elementary school readers. The writing captures a mood and tone of the era quite well.
I finished the book, feeling richer for what I learned, but also wanting to know more about pottery at this time, slavery and the fight for freedom, and the region in which this clay was found and turned in to pottery. Wanting to learn more is always good (provided it's not because we didn't learn anything).
Looking for a good book? This is all-around a fantastic, quick read. Aimed at young readers, adults should feel enriched after reading it to their children.
For about as long as I can remember, my heroes have always been writers, and any kind of a look at a writer's personal life has been a voyeuristic pleFor about as long as I can remember, my heroes have always been writers, and any kind of a look at a writer's personal life has been a voyeuristic pleasure of mine. This book does everything just about perfectly...it touches on a number of different writers and offers a nicely capsulated look at some of the most intense moments in their private lives. By being brief, it makes the reading move along smoothly, never getting boring. And yet we never feel cheated, as though we didn't get enough of the story and at the same time, we can take it on to read more if we'd like (authors Schmidt ad Rendon include a fantastic bibliography).
Despite the sub-title ("The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads") not all literary relationships end with heartbreak or feuds, and that, too is part of the charm of this book...we don't really know who comes out on top (so to speak) until we get through this.
I'm not convinced that writers are any more (or any less) inclined to scandalous living (affairs, broken marriages, unrequited love, homosexual affairs, etc) than any other group of people, but, with the exception of Hollywood stars and starlets, writers perhaps garner more attention than most. And unlike those Hollywood personnas, writers tend to be a bit better at wearing their hearts' on their sleeves (or at least declaring their passions in writing).
And because we look at twenty-five different writers (with nice sidebars to touch on even more literary figures!) there is almost certainly some author to appeal to every reader. I wasn't shocked by anything here ... I think I'd heard/read rumor to most of this (and every writer was familiar to me) ... but Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon clearly did their research on all of this and were masterful at condesning and relating the stories.
Looking for a good book? This is an all-around voyeuristic treasure....more
Once in awhile you come across a book that defines the term "page-turner," or in which you realize the truth to the idea of a book that you simply canOnce in awhile you come across a book that defines the term "page-turner," or in which you realize the truth to the idea of a book that you simply can't put down. This is one of those books.
This is, as the book cover proclaims, "a true-life novel." Let's be clear about that. It's a true story of young man, Frank Mederos', escape from Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro. The story is told by the boy himself (now a much older man), to Patti Sheehy who tells the story with grace and charm and page-turning action. The story is, shall we say, somewhat 'romaticisized.' It is how Frank remembers it, along with a few things that he couldn't possibly know for sure, but tells with confidence.
Frank was a young boy when Fidel Castro took power in Cuba. He grew up seeing first-hand how communism was not the asnwer or the best thing for all Cubans. His family instilled in him the virtues of a free society -- something they all longed for.
Castro's regime began a number of policies that affected Frank. First was a teaching brigade, in which young men who had been in school were sent to the rural villages to teach the families there so that all Cubans could be educated. Then came the draft to the Cuban military. Because of his cleverness and intelligence, Frank is promoted to an elite force where it seems that he is the best of all the soldiers; one whom all the other soldiers look up. His ocassional questioning of communisim and Castro's regime put him at odds with his commanding officer, who looks for reasons to send Frank away as a dissident, but because Frank's the best of the elite, this is hard for the commander to do.
Before being forced to join the military, Frank met young Magda...the love of his life. Even as teens, with Frank in the military, they swear their undying love to one another. When Magda's parents decide that their family will leave Cuba for the United States (still possible, though not easy), Frank is determined to escape Cuba and met them there. Magda's father approves of Frank and approves of the plan.
Nearly half the book is filled with the planning and attempting to leave the island. Because of Frank's standing in the military, his disappearance is sure to cause a national man-hunt. While we admire Frank's resolve, here is where author Sheehy shines. She takes on this journey, sharing every emotion with us -- the highs, the lows, the anxiety, the love. Frank Mederos and Patti Sheehy make this an adventure story. And like any truly great story, there is a goal, there are obstacles, and there is love.
This book is uniquely written so that adults will enjoy it, but children as young as middle-schoolers will enjoy it as well ( and possibly...gasp...learn something!).
We learn a little about what oppression is like, and we learn a little about why people, the world over, give up everything (from family to material possessions) to have the opportunity for freedom. And we learn, very directly, that many make the ultimate sacrifice just for the chance at freedom.
We never forget that Frank is telling the story, so we have some idea as to how it will turn out, but we are never quite sure what turn of events will happen to ensure this result, nor who will realize it with him.
But sadly I have to take half a star away... while the book reaches its natural conclusion, it does not end. Even Patti Sheehy mentions this when she writes that there was so much more she wanted to know from Frank, who seems to smile and suggest that those questions might best be answered in the next book. Of course I will want to read that book! But I really don't like books which don't end.
Looking for a good book? This is the book to read! True-life history political romance. You just can't go wrong!
What is the quickest way to take the joy out of the joyous atmosphere of most Christmas music? Answer: write an acedemic treatise on the subject. To bWhat is the quickest way to take the joy out of the joyous atmosphere of most Christmas music? Answer: write an acedemic treatise on the subject. To be fair, the subtitle of this book is called "A Cultural History of American Christmas Song" and author Lankford sets us up early with comments such as:
"The American connection to Christmas songs, however, runs much deeper than habit and feeling good. By expressing so many aspects of our holiday experience, Christmas songs also reflect American values, ideals, and desires; values, ideals, and desires that were born in the nineteenth century"
"As a reflection of American values and desires, the Christmas song is both multifaceted and endlessly conflicted"
"If "White Christmas" (1942) spoke to homesick GIs and Americans yearning for an earlier place and time, songs like Gene Aury's "Here Comes Santa Claus" (1947) more clearly defined the postwar zeitgeist."
This sounds like it will be a fun ride, doesn't it?
This book mostly avoids the Christmas carol, or the religious songs, and focusses on the secular songs instead. However, the title of this book is quite misleading. The songs "Sleigh Ride" and "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night" are hardly mentioned, while other songs are researched and analyzed in depth. Lankford has even spent a few pages discussing a song called "Christmas Balls" by Ben Light and his Surf Club Boys. This was the only song in the book with which I was unfamiliar, so I looked it up -- it's a pretty rare item. Not exactly what one would consider a common Christmas song...even as a novelty song!
Despite the clear academic aspect of this book, I found the first two chapters quite interesting. Knowing more of the history of some of our popular songs, as well as the culture of the times that produced the works was interesting, and in some cases eye-opening. But as the book progressed, I became irritated with the author's 'insight.' Beginning with the chapter on 'carnival' I sensed Lankford was reading in to some of the songs much more sexual congress and innuendo than was necessary. Or, in other cases...so what?! Lankford writes pages on "Winter Wonderland" and spends a great deal of time focused on the opening verse, which is commonly removed. Five pages on this song, the removed verse, the added children's version, only to sum it up with: "Romance, however, stubbornly persisted, claiming its corner in the holiday celebration." I didn't need to read five pages to get to this. I could have just listened to the song!
Another five pages analyzes "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow." Here, Lankford asks, "The song never answers whether the couple has purposely gone out into the storm or whether the snow has caught them by surprise. One of the two has brought popcorn, so the meeting does seem to have been planned. But where are they?" Is it really important to know this? How does this tie in to the culutral history of America? He goes on to write "Despite this emphasis on physical sensation and sensuality, “Let It Snow” seemed to fit well within the growing Christmas canon" and then "This conservative reading of “Let It Snow,” however, is only one interpretation, and not necessarily how the song would have been read in 1945." But isn't that the point of this book? To look at how the song was influenced by and then influenced the culture of the time? Does analyzing it this way further the point of the book? We end the look at the song with the suggestion that Vaughn Monroe's and Dean Martin's interpretations of the song "assured a less innocent rendering of the song."
From 'carnival' we move to the blues and the depressing nature of Christmas songs, and then to satire and the novelty songs (I never expected "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" to have been studied so thoroughly)! I would also admit surprise at how much the movie Gremlins figures in to this section of the book. This has never struck me as a 'holiday' icon. Yet there is no mention of "Home Alone" that I recall. But this started me thinking that this (Gremlins) was how Lankford actually views the holiday season. From this point on, I sense that our music and holiday traditions are nothing short of being Gremlin-like to Lankford. Cute, cuddly, and furry on the outside, but nasty and razor sharp when you get a more intense look at them. In the next chapter, "The New Nostalgia," we get some harsh words toward the Christmas culutre. He writes:
"The influx of consumer culture and the strain it placed on the American family was deepened by a simple fact: Americans wanted to believe they could have it both ways. They wanted to believe they could step into—and back out of—consumer culture as it suited them; that there were good and bad forms of consumerism; that they could retain influence over children while filling the home with consumer goods; and that a group of people under the same roof could consume as individuals and still come together—especially at Christmas—as a family. Far from questioning these assumptions, the modern American holiday song supported these myths with few reservations. The delusion was so complete that even the Christmas song seemed unaware of itself as a commercial product."
The "delusion?" This is how we end this study...with Lankford suggesting that our Christmas songs are a failure because we as Americans are failures...we want traditional values as reflected in the nostalgia of the songs, but that the songs haven't kept up with the culture and that the song writers have been "unwilling" to show us these contradictions in song. But this isn't a failure, it's just part of the zeitgeist...we want it both ways and we don't want to be told we can't have it. Leave us alone to enjoy our Christmas songs and go take a look at how Rap is often closely identified with Shakespeare instead, why don't you?
Looking for a good book? This is probably only going to be found in very specific university classes.
I've looked at the genre of memoir for awhile, read more than a few, and wondered why it is that anyone would read a memoir by someone they didn't knoI've looked at the genre of memoir for awhile, read more than a few, and wondered why it is that anyone would read a memoir by someone they didn't know or by someone not 'famous.' After reading Leaving Rollingstone, I think I found my answer...to learn a little more about one's self. And when you can do so with words so deliciously put together, such as Fenton's, it makes the self-discovery a joy.
Now I have to admit, despite my preceding paragraph, I do know Kevin, though I definitely learn a little about him (and myself) in this book.
Kevin's ability to get right to the heart of an emotion or evoke a memory through words is unparalleled. It is savory. There was a part of me that wanted to flash read the book -- to get through it quickly because I so wanted to read the next portion. But there was another part of me that only wanted to read a little bit each day, to let his words linger with me because they are so carefully chosen and decidedly well used. It is poetic, in all the best sense of the word.
The book emcompasses a great deal of Kevin's life...from early days on the farm in Rollingstone, through a period of alcoholism, to his life in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and working in advertising. And while there is a great deal of sticking to a chronological timeline, this is not a chronological biography. He sets this up, showing how early influences act as pillars to what he will become; each moment defines us, and by looking back, we can see how the present has been shaped.
There is a strong sense of nostalga, and Kevin even writes:
I am nostalgic. I wrote this memoir because I have a crush on the past. I love the game Twister; streamlined toasters and ottomans with atomic/cocktail motifs; TV shows such as Laugh-In, The Avengers, Get Smart, and Batman; the originals of the movies Charade and Ocean's 11; and the music of Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz.
And this book appeals because Kevin isn't the only one with such a crush. Those who grew up in the sixties and seventies have all come to a period in their lives when reflection waxes notalgic. There is a reason so many movies and television shows are sad homages to the past -- those in charge have reached that age of reflection and often look to reliving a glorified past. But you can't recreate old glory, you can only unintentionally mock it, or you can reflect on it, as Kevin does.
I've known Kevin since our high school days. He has always been one of my favorite poker-playing friends (our poker days were not so much about playing cards but a means to sit with good friends and talk). Yet I learned much about him through this memoir. And, as I mentioned earlier, by learning about Kevin, I've learned some things about myself and my own history.
Leaving Rollingstone is an homage to a gentle past that gave way to a turbulent time in a man's life, and we understand that we all are leaving something, but that leaving something means a coming in to something else.
Looking for a good book? This is a beautifully written memoir that evokes strong emotions and memories in all of us.
August Derleth is a name that many might recognize, mostly for his science fiction writing. Derleth was a prolific writer in many genres, and he enjoyAugust Derleth is a name that many might recognize, mostly for his science fiction writing. Derleth was a prolific writer in many genres, and he enjoyed writing about the area in which he lived...Wisconsin. According to an on-line biography, he considered his most serious work a series of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry about the Sac Prairie Saga. I believe that The House on the Mound is one of those works.
This is true historical fiction. Author Derleth recreates, in fiction form, historical events with actual persons from history. As Derleth notes in his note to the reader at the end of the book, all incidents (save one) are actual events. This makes it so much more incredible.
This books tells of Hercules Dousman, an entrepreneur who was involved in fur-trading, railroad building, and shipping. He was friend to the Indians and generally well-loved by all who knew and worked for him. This book takes place primarily in and around the area now known as Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin (not too terribly far from where I write this review). I've come to discover that the older I get the more I enjoy reading about history (I know...there's a joke in there), and I enjoy readin ght ehistory of areas that I am familiar with.
What impressed me the most about this book is August Derleth's ability to write about a character (Dousman) who, by any other writer would have likely been stereotypically a bit of a jerk...stepping on the little people and pushing around the Indians to make way for what he himself wants ... but Derleth makes him quite likeable. Even in those passages where he is trying to make his young son, DéDé, more of a man because he thinks his wife is coddling him too much. We the reader, like Hercules Dousman, and respect him, and this is quite a talent for Derleth to have done. And the way Dousman deals with his bastard son...also keeps the reader liking the character.
Looking for a good book? Some nicely researched history and wonderful, three-dimensional characters drive this historical fiction work. Well worth reading!...more
Opening a new Kim Stanley Robinson book, whether physical or electronic, is to know that, as a reader, you are about to go on a journey that will longOpening a new Kim Stanley Robinson book, whether physical or electronic, is to know that, as a reader, you are about to go on a journey that will long be worth remembering.
Shaman feels like a departure for Robinson. Typically his books have a cast of characters so long and complex that the readers needs a score sheet to keep track of their movements. And each set of characters has their own plot line, often disecting, sometimes running parallel to the books’ central theme. Shaman deviates from this norm. The entire book seems to focus on one Paleolithic man, “Loon.” Loon is surrounded by others, but only three characters, “Heather,” “Thorn,” and “Elga” figure prominently in the novel.
What is not unusual in this Kim Stanley Robinson book is Robinson’s understanding of, love for, and writing about, nature and environment. I see this in all his novels, and it is one of the things I like most about his work. Imagine Aldo Leopold or Sigurd F. Olson writing science fiction/fantasy, and we come close to the genius of Robinson. (Have I made it clear yet that I’m a fan of his work?)
Shaman starts with Loon setting off on his “wander” — that time when a boy becomes a man and must prove himself capable of surviving a month on his own. Here, though, he is also proving himself as a future shaman … the care-taker of a a small band, or village, of people. He is apprenticed to Thorn, a cranky but loveable figure who has much to teach. It drives Thorn crazy when Loon intentionally wants to change lines in a recited poem to make it his own, or so that it relates more to his own understanding.
Loon, we learn, was orphaned and taken in by Thorn and Heather, the wise, almost-witch-like, herb woman who seems to have more power in the community than anyone else. Thorn will doubt his ability to become shaman as he wasn’t born to the role, but forced to it by adoption. Loon will meet his future mate, Elga, at a once-a-year gathering of clans. She, like Loon, comes to her role through an adoption of sorts … adopted first in to the clan through which Loon meets her, and then in to Loon’s clan. It will be through Elga that Loon takes a life-changing journey … a continuation of his wander.
Author Robinson creates truly wonderful people. Each with a unique identity and so very appropriate to the time frame. What we see as we read this, is that human-kind hasn’t changed so very much over the course of tens of thousands of years. If anything, we’ve become less adept at being able to survive the wilderness; less capable of reducing waste in what we use; less thankful for what we are provided. But we do see that what hasn’t changed is the human passion for love; the human need for companionship; the homan desire to improve on what s/he already has. Here we see Loon making small, but we have every confidence that it will be lasting, improvements in conceptual thinking (art), and logic thinking as he improves upon existing snowshoes.
Everything I’ve ever read of Kim Stanley Robinson’s has been inspiring, and Shaman is no exception. Although relatively simple in story and plot, it is remarkably bold and comprehensive in scope. It feels as though nothing less than the future of mankind is on the line — we either grow and survive, or we remain stagnant and the future is bleak, and Loon is the hinge-pin.
One of the more fascinating aspects of Loon’s training is his learning to paint. How to mix the colors, how to apply it to the cave walls, how to show movement and action. Robinson writes about art, as an artist. He understands it deeply and fully and conveys all the feelings and emotions of an artist. We understand Loon’s work because of what it means to him. It’s an amazing ability to write about art in such away that we understand or feel that art.
I hadn’t made the connection until late in the book, but I had recently watched a documentary on the cave of Chauvet Pont d’Arc, and was completely engrossed in the cave paintings and animal bones found in this cave. When Loon first entered the cave to paint, I immediately thought of Chauvet Pont-d’Arc, because it was what I could relate to. But as the story developed, and particulalry through some actions of Loon’s near the end, I became more and more convinced that it was this cave that inspired Robinson to write this story. (You can see some of it here at their website.)
One extremely interesting aspect of this book… while the narrative of this book is third person, mostly focused on Loon, but occassionally on Thorn, there were two moments (and only two that I noted) when there was a brief first person narrative, by a person not identified. I have my suspicions as to what’s happening at those times, and I look forward to re-reading the book and better inspecting these moments. Robinson, being the the writer that he is, you know it’s not an accident, but because it’s so spare, it feels like a mistake. I read the first, first person section three times, trying to understand what I had come up against.
Still, this is one of the most remarkable and memorable books I’ve read in a very long time. This should be on every reader’s list.
There’s an intriguing story here — what’s not to like: Spain, Olympics, Nazis, Pablo Picasso, mystery, thriller…?
Sometimes, though, it felt as thoughThere’s an intriguing story here — what’s not to like: Spain, Olympics, Nazis, Pablo Picasso, mystery, thriller…?
Sometimes, though, it felt as though it had found its focus.
It started off slow, almost too slow and I was about to put the book down — but I plugged through. Most of my confusion stemmed from not understanding the characters and what their roles were. How an Olympics sports reporter got involved in the conspiracy plot is still a little confusing to me (and, sorry, I’m not interested in re-reading to try to understand). Part of me felt that it was intended all along, but another part felt that it started as a misunderstanding.
Although told in third person, the book seemed primarily focused on Richard Clare, the reporter, following him throughout. But occasionally there would be chapters in which Clare is not present, and it always felt awkward, as if author Skeet had changed voices. Picasso’s chapter was exciting and a delight to read, but it definitely felt as though it was written by a different author and part of a different story.
I really like the premise, but the characters started out a little unclear and developed in to stock characters living out a thriller novel plot rather than being real people. I did not bond with the main character, Richard Clare, and found him acting out of character… no… I take that back — I didn’t feel he had developed a consistent character. At times I want him to succeed; other times I thought he’d do a lot less whining if he were out of the picture; and sometimes I wondered just where the heck his motivation or drive came from because it hadn’t been there before.
I want to like this book much more than I did. With more then 200 books in my reviewing queue, I often pick those that look most interesting to me, so it’s extra disappointing when it doesn’t pan out....more
This is a review of the Audio/CD version of this book, as read by Bill O'Reilly.
O'Reilly knows how to get dramatic and hold a listner's attention. I aThis is a review of the Audio/CD version of this book, as read by Bill O'Reilly.
O'Reilly knows how to get dramatic and hold a listner's attention. I am aware of who he is, but will admit that I've never sat through an entire set of his on the news station. What I heard here is a veteran rabble-rouser ... someone who can get you excited and keep you anxious about what comes next.
Although his voice work is great, part of this excitement is in the writing itself. (Who REALLY wrote this?) My knowledge of the Lincoln assassination is probably fourth grade basic. I knew it happened, I knew who did it, I know the villain was found in a barn and killed. Beyond that, most of this was really wonderful, well-presented information. I had never quite put it all in to persepctive with the Civil War, and this book starts out by giving us that perspective. This alone makes it all worth while to me.
Following Booth and his companions was eye-opening, and the book manages to leave a little conspiracy question mark as well (bank funds, known associations, etc).
My only complaint, really, is that there were more than a few times when the book references someone's emotions or state of mind and I couldn't help wondering to myself, "Really? How do we know this? Is this based on general human practice and assumption?" After all, while *I* might have knots in my stomach before pulling the trigger, there are certainly plenty of people who wouldn't. Unless someone wrote it in a journal, I don't think we can really, truly know what they were thinking or feeling. But O'Reilly and Dugard make some of these assumptions, which definitely adds a human element to the work, as well as helps to make it exciting.
Over-all...I really liked it. I feel I know much, much more about this important event and I learned it in a way that wasn't quite so dull and dry as my fourth grade teacher explained it to me....more
This seemed as if it would be an interesting book, but the reality is that it's a bit unfocused. A book about the group of playwrights who were ShakesThis seemed as if it would be an interesting book, but the reality is that it's a bit unfocused. A book about the group of playwrights who were Shakespeare's contemporaries would be fascinating, but this book really only contained one chapter of such. The rest was history of the era and the Elizabethan theatre.
I know there are bios of these individuals out there, but I was definitely looking forward to a combined sort of bio.