Saturday, October 31, 2015

Review: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

Synopsis: Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey’s narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them—and who has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters. (from the back of the book)

Review: This novel joins a rare collection of my fiction. Normally, when I picked up a fiction book, it's because someone recommended it, it's an author I already know or have heard about. This book, however, was one that "spoke" to me I picked it up, read the back, and knew it was a book I would adore. And it was. The characters intrigued me, and I was quickly twisted up into the story. The sugar-candy theme wove through out the story, and the magic - I loved it. The books appearing, the magic red sweater, the sweet romance, and the twist at the end - all made this book as satisfying as a warm cookie. Described as a Southern Gothic with a touch of Magic Realism, it truly lives up to those. A bit dark, a bit light, where secrets bind people together and keep them apparent, Allen writes a story worth reading.

Bookmark: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-553-38484-0
Date Finished: 10-27-2015
Pages: 284

Review: From Falling Bodies to Radio Waves: Classical Physicists and Their Discoveries by Emilio Segre

Synopsis: Meet a diverse group of highly original thinkers and learn about their lives and achievements: Galileo, a founding father of astronomy and physics; Christiaan Huygens, a seventeenth-century pioneer of wave-particle duality; and Isaac Newton, the English mathematician and physicist who laid the groundwork for a scientific revolution and promoted radical investigation as the means to reveal nature's hidden workings. This chronicle of physics and physicists traces the development of scientific thought from these originators to their successors, among them Faraday, Watts, Helmholtz, Maxwell, Boltzmann, and Gibbs. Combining his own engaging style with the physicists' original writings, the author illustrates the evolution of individual physical ideas, as well as their roles in the wider field. A student and colleague of Enrico Fermi, Emilio Segrè (1905–89) made numerous important contributions to nuclear physics, including his participation in the Manhattan Project. A Nobel laureate, Segrè is further renowned for his narrative skills as an historian. Hailed by the Journal of the History of Astronomy as "charming and witty," this book is a companion to the author's From X-Rays to Quarks: Modern Physicists and Their Discoveries, also available from Dover Publications. (from the online description)

Review: I'm currently in a Physics course and it's kicking my hiney. But my professor has a penchant for diverting from formulas to the history of Physics - which is quite interesting. He recommend this and the sequel, both of which I purchased for pennies. This was a well written book - as organized as the history of scientific discovery can be. Segre writes in clear, concise way. However, it's clearly written as a supplement to a math-based Physics course. Segre includes examples of formulas, derivations, and other conceptual ideas. At the end, he even includes the explanation of several of the largest discovers - Appendices like "The Essential of Boltzman's H-Theorem" and "The Arguments of the Newton of Electricity". These are math-heavy and pure Physics. This is a must for any Physics major, and an excellent supplement for a major in any science. Many of these giants contributed to chemistry, medicine, industry, and technology. For any one else, the abundance of math may be off-putting, But if you don't mind that, this is a worth while and interesting read. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-486-45808-3
Date Finished: 10-27-2015
Pages: 298

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ramble: Update on 2015 Reading Goals

When we last check on our intrepid heroine, we learned she hadn't gotten as far in her goals as she hope.

Alas, she's still there.

Evolution (5+): I’ve still only read one. I’m supposed to read Bates' The Darwin Reader next, and then a Richard Dawkins. But I can’t seem to motivate myself.  Probably because I’m taking a difficult Physics course, and my brain can only handle so much dense thinking at once. I doubt I will finish this one – but I hope to at least give one more.

Economics and Finance (2+): Done!

Memoir and Essay (2+): I decided on Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle. I just need to read it.

Mystery and Horror (3+): I originally planned to read all my scary stories this month. But it turned out to be a busier month than I foresaw. I still have two days, so maybe I can still get one in!

Science Fiction (10+): Done! 

Review: Jim at the Corner by Eleanor Farjeon

Synopsis: Every time he went out for his daily walk, Derry had to pass the corner where old Jim sat on his orange box. And every time he lingered there in the hope of a story. For Jim was a sailor who had grown too old for the sea, but who was never tired of his adventures on the good ship Rocking Horse under brave Captain Potts. (from the online description)

Review: Part folk-tale, part fairy-tale, part children's adventure, Farjeon evokes the mystical quality of old sailor telling the young boy that tales of his adventures. Derry eagerly seeks out the old Jim, and begs for his tales - tales full of rainbow-hued sea serpents, green Kittyfish, and intelligent penguins. First published in 1934, the story has a quaint, vintage feel. Younger kids will enjoy the tall tales, while adults will enjoy the peaceful rhythm of the prose. Worth reading.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0844665214
Date Finished: 10-26-2015
Pages: 101

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: Cross Roads and Cross Rivers: Diversity in Colonial New York by Kathleen Eagen Johnson (Philipsburg Manor Gallery)

Synopsis: This is the catalog from an exhibit at the Philipsburg Manor Gallery, part of the Historic Hudson Valley. It combines short narratives with pictures of art and artifacts from the exhibit. Specifically, this exhibit explored the diversity in Philipsburg in the 100 years before the Revolutionary War.

Review: I enjoy when museums and galleries published catalog books for exhibits. It gives the patron the ability to “take home” the exhibit – and to have the information long after the exhibit has been changed. However, if this exhibit was as jumbled as this book, the patrons probably left more confused than educated. This is sad. The information included is instructive and interesting. When they speak of diversity, they don’t mean only black or Native American – but they include anyone who settled in this area: Dutch, English, French, Scandinavian, Creole, and others. The pictures of art and artifacts included help liven up the narrative, and the case study of the Philips family helps add faces to the information. However the narrative is jumbled, disjointed, and awkward to follow. The poor organization detracts from what is otherwise a lovely exhibit catalog. 

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-912882-92-1
Date Finished: 10-25-2015
Pages: 38

Review: The Mysteries of the "Frenchman's Map" of Williamsburg, Virginia by Alan Simpson

Synopsis: When Rockefeller embarked on the restoration to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, the historians involved quickly hailed the Frenchman's Map as the "Bible of the Restoration". But the map, so valuable for the restoration, was shrouded in mystery. This book explors the Six Unsolved Puzzles of the map: When it was Made, Why it was Made, How it was Made, How it was Used, Who was the Author, and What was the Map's Fate. The book includes multiple illustrations and pictures, and includes many facts, names, and history of how these puzzles were or were not solved.

Review: I live close to Colonial Williamsburg and have an avid interest  in Revolutionary War history. This book was a fascinating addition to my knowledge. The Frenchman's Map is one of the best pieces of evidence of how Colonial Williamsburg was laid out during the War. It's precise, labeled, and detailed - and yet, so little is known about it. Even after extensive research, the only question answered was the date - 1782. The rest remain speculation as best. Simpson does an excellent job of moving the reader through the history of the map - including detailed facts about how the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation studied and explored this map. This is a slim volume, but has a lot of information - including colored pictures of many maps. The prose is complex enough for an adult, but would be manageable for a child if they were a strong reader. I recommend as a fine addition to anyone who enjoys Revolutionary War history.
The Frenchman's Map, 1782
Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-87935-104-7
Date Finished: 10-25-2015
Pages: 42

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman

Synopsis: An American Sailor courts a Japanese Schoolgirl, and each secretly tries to learn the way to other person eats.

Review: This is cute, sweet, story. John and Aiko love each other but are worried about embarrassing the other, because John doesn't know how to use chopsticks and Aiko doesn't know how to use a fork and knife. To see them attempt to learn to other person's ways is endearing and fun. I love the mix of culture and romance. Allen Say does an excellent job of illustrating the story - soft colors and lovely detail. I highly recommend this book for kids - with it's humor and good lesson, I think most kids will enjoy it.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-395-44235-4
Date Finished: 10-25-2015
Pages: 32

Reveiw: Danny Dunn and the Swamp Monster by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin

Synopsis: Danny and his friends Irene and Joe join Professors Bullfinch and Fenster on a trip to Africa to search of a mythical creature said to devour men whole and terrorize villages. Will they find the creature or die trying.....

Review: I've read two other Danny Dunn books and enjoy the hoking plots and characters. It's like reading a Leave-It-Too-Beaver-Science mash-up. The science seems mostly solid, if a bit simplistic, the plot overall is simple and cheesy. I'll continue to collect and read these books - if for no other reason that I enjoy them!

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

Date Published: 1971
Date Finished: 10-18-2015
Pages: 110

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: The Animal Review: The Genius, Mediocrity, and Breathtaking Stupidity That Is Nature, A Report Card by Jacob Lentz and Steve Nash

Synopsis: From Aristotle to Charles Darwin, Carolus Linnaeus to the Crocodile Hunter, humans have been studying animals for thousands of years. Sure, we've learned some stuff. Snakes lack arms. Fish breathe water. Bears have complicated biochemical nervous systems. But in all this time, no one has answered the most important question of all: Are these animals any good? Here, at long last, are the authoritative listings and ratings of dozens of your favorite (and least favorite) animals. Expanding on their popular blog of the same name, Jacob Lentz and Steve Nash give you facts, charts, and photos with which to make your own judgement....and then they make it for you. Endlessly entertaining and surprisingly informative, The Animal Review is a perfect gift for animal lovers, comedy fans, or anyone who once bought you a gift and is probably expecting something nice in return. (From the back of the book)

Review: This was funny for the first few pages, and then the jokes got lame, repetitive, and stupid. For every funny joke, there was 10 that fell flat. The science is limited and sacrificed in an attempt to be humorous. There was a lot of pop culture, which dates the book. The authors included excellent color pictures but tagged each with asinine tags and comments. Overall, this book was boring and not for me.

Bookmarks: 5 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-60819-025-6
Date Finished: 10-17-2015
Pages: 133

Monday, October 26, 2015

Reveiw: Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams (Star Wars: The Old Republic)

Synopsis: From across the galaxy they’ve come: agents of both the Republic and the Sith Empire, an investigating Jedi Padawan, an ex-trooper drummed out of the Republic’s elite Blackstar Squad, and a mysterious Mandalorian. An extraordinary auction has drawn them all together—in quest of a prize only one can claim. Each is prepared to do what he must to possess the treasure, whose value may be the wealth of a world itself. None intend to leave empty-handed. All have secrets, desires, and schemes. And nothing could ever unite them as allies—except the truth about the deadly danger of the object they covet. But can Sith and Jedi, Republic and Empire—enemies for millennia—join as one against the certain doom of the galaxy? (from the back of the book)

Review: As an avid player of SW:TOR, I was eager to read a book set in the world. Story wise this was mediocre - not amazing, but not bad either. Good characters and action sequences, but the pace dragged at parts and the plot was mildly predictable. I enjoyed when I recognized the moves or characters or places from the game. Williams remained faithful to the feel and arch-types of the game - both the unique characters and the big-name characters, like Satele Shan. This is a fun read for any SWTOR fan, and any Star Wars fan in general.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-345-51133-1
Date Finished: 9-15-2015
Pages: 482

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Review: Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

Synopsis: A vacant lot, rat-infested and filled with garbage, looked like no place for a garden Especially to a neighborhood of strangers where no one seems to care. Until one day, a young girl clears a small space and digs into the hard-picked soil to plant her precious bean seeds. Suddenly, the soil holds promise: To Curtis, who believes he can win back Lateesha's heart with a harvest of tomatoes; to Virgil's dad, who sees a fortune to be made from growing lettuce; and even to Maricela, sixteen and pregnant, wishing she were dead. Thirteen very different voices - old, young, Haitian, Hispanic, tough, haunted, and hopeful tell one amazing story about a garden that transforms a neighborhood. (from the back of the book)

Review: Told through different voice, this story grows with the garden - told from the first young girl who digs in the hard dirt to plant bean seeds to the last voice, an old black woman, speaking about spring and hope, even as the garden dies. It's a power story, giving hope and warmth to the reader, just like the garden gave to the neighborhood. Published in 1997, it has a timeless quality to it. It could be from 1950 or today. This would be an excellent book for elementary age kids (indeed, the young girl is about that age) or teenagers and college kids, to spark discussion and thought about people and community and what brings people together - and what separates. This story explores race, gender, and culture - the things that divide and the things that bind. The prose is simple, but not dumbed-down, complex enough for adults but easy enough for kids. Absolutely worth reading!

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-06-447207-8
Date Finished: 10-17-2015
Pages: 69

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery by Janet Willen

Synopsis: From the early days of the antislavery movement, when political action by women was frowned upon, British and American women were tireless and uncompromising campaigners. Without their efforts, emancipation would have taken much longer. And the commitment of today's women, who fight against human trafficking and child slavery, descends directly from that of the early female activists. Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery tells the story of fourteen of these women. Meet Alice Seeley Harris, the British missionary whose graphic photographs of mutilated Congolese rubber slaves in 1904 galvanized a nation; Hadijatou Mani, the woman from Niger who successfully sued her own government in 2008 for failing to protect her from slavery, as well as Elizabeth Freeman, Elizabeth Heyrick, Ellen Craft, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frances Anne Kemble, Kathleen Simon, Fredericka Martin, Timea Nagy, Micheline Slattery, Sheila Roseau and Nina Smith. With photographs, source notes, and index. (from the online description)

Review: I chose this because I enjoy reading vignette biographies and have begun to take an interest in current state of human slavery around the world. This is a good introduction into the history of the fight against slavery, told through the life and work of women who have taken up the fight. Starting with Elizabeth Freeman in 1781 and ending with Nina Smith in 2015, this book takes the reader from courtrooms to rallies to jungles to boxcars - across the world, telling the stories of the women in slavery, women who have escaped slavery, women who have seen slavery and chosen to not be silent, and women who have dedicated their life to eradicating it. The women chosen span nationality, socio-economic stratus, cultures, and backgrounds - but they share the commonality of not staying silent.
While the stories are excellent, and worth reading, the writing is simple and the stories arranged awkwardly - something that detracts from the stories. The book itself is heavy and filled with glossy photos that add much to the story. In addition to the stories, the author has included resources and more information in the end. In particular, organizations that work against slavery and ways to get involved. This is an excellent touch. I would recommend this for anyone who wants an introduction to the fight against slavery and worth the time to read. It's not a bad book for children, although I would say 10+ and an adult may want to read it first, as there are some plain-telling stories of sex slaves and a picture of a young girl's hands after they were cut off.

Note: I received this free from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-77049-651-4
Date Finished: 10-5-2015
Pages: 205

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Aquisitions: Book Jenga

I went book shopping:

Some from the Thrift Store. Some from the two Used Bookstores I frequent. Some from the Library Booksale. All told, it's about $30 total spent. But this picture doesn't include the second stack of books that I gave away....

The best part? The Library is having a second book sale this Saturday - $5 a Bag. Hurrah!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Synopsis: They mustn't harm a human being, they must obey human orders, and they must protect their own existence...but only so long as that doesn't violate rules one and two. With these Three Laws of Robotics, humanity embarked on a bold new era of evolution that would open up enormous possibilities - and unforeseen risks. For the scientists who invented the earliest robots weren't content that their creations should remain programmed helpers, companions, and semisentient worker-machines. And soon the robots themselves, aware of their own intelligence, power, and humanity, aren't either. As humans and robots struggle to survive together - and sometimes against each other - on earth and in space, the future of both hangs in balance. Here human men and women confront robots gone mad, telepathic robots, robot politicians, and vast robotic intelligences that may already secretly control the world. And both are asking the same questions: What is human? And is humanity obsolete? (from the back of the book)

Review: I enjoyed the movie and was eager to read the book - which turned out nothing like the movie. At all. The only thing the same was the name Susan Calvin. But while the movie and the books (which is actually a collection of short stories) are vastly different as far as character and plot, the remain the same in essentials. The idea of the three laws and what they really mean to those interpreting them - both human and robots - is essential to both. The book explores the theme of what it means to be human - and can a robot be human or not? My favorite story was Evidence - because at the end, I still wasn't sure. And I love a good mystery. For any science fiction fan, or fan of philosophy, this is a must. Asimov is a brilliant writer and worth reading.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-553-29438-5
Date Finished: 8-5-2015
Pages: 272