Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

Boy, when Rovelli said "brief" he wasn't messing around. How much can you learn about physics in under 100 pages? Quite a lot, it seems. The key is in presenting broad themes rather than deep details. While you likely won't absorb a lot in a single read, it seems like the sort of book you could read repeatedly and take away a little more each time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book review - Plague Land

Title: Plague Land
Author: Alex Scarrow
Genre: horror/post-apocalypse
Similar books: The Rain by Virginia Bergin
                      Bleeding Earth by Kaitlin Ward
so many missed opportunities

Summary (provided by publisher): In this thrilling young adult horror novel from the author of the TimeRiders series the only thing worse than a virus that can kill is a virus that can think.
The reports start slowly at first: an outbreak in Africa at the end of the evening news, as a headline at the bottom of a website. They’re easy to ignore, and most people do just that. Except for Leon. His mom shakes off the concerns , sure that they shouldn’t be worried about some illness on a distant continent. Until one week later, the virus hits England and chaos ensues, dotting the English countryside with the haunting remains of liquefied victims.
But what scares Leon the most is the way the virus moves- like it’s adapting. Like it has an agenda. If Leon’s going to fight back, he’ll need a plan. But first, he needs to stay alive.

My opinion: My biggest problem with this book is scope. Within the first few chapters I couldn't see how it could possibly end with anything other than the complete annihilation of all life on earth. The virus kills to quickly, spreads too easily. And while we're given an explanation for survivors, it's not a particularly good or in depth one. I found the quick spread and, in particular, the quick evolution of the illness particularly hard to believe. I could accept that stretch if the subtext had been more coherent. But the underlying messages were all over the place. The subtext introduces a number of important messages but doesn't bring any of them to any sort of conclusion. I'd almost have liked this book better if it had been more bleak, more along the lines of The Road. Show us humans determined to keep going even when we know they are ultimately doomed. Scarrow toys with this idea but tempers it with real hope of survival, leaving us with a graphic but ultimately toothless tale.

More information: Plague Land releases December 1.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Book review - Not Now, Not Ever

Title: Not Now, Not Ever
Author: Lily Anderson
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: All the Feels by Danika Stone
                      The Sound of Us by Julie Hammerle

Summary (provided by publisher): Elliot Gabaroche is very clear on what she isn't going to do this summer.
1. She isn't going to stay home in Sacramento, where she'd have to sit through her stepmother's sixth community theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
2. She isn't going to mock trial camp at UCLA.
3. And she certainly isn't going to the Air Force summer program on her mom's base in Colorado Springs. As cool as it would be to live-action-role-play Ender's Game, Ellie's seen three generations of her family go through USAF boot camp up close, and she knows that it's much less Luke/Yoda/"feel the force," and much more one hundred push-ups on three days of no sleep. And that just isn't appealing, no matter how many Xenomorphs from Alien she'd be able to defeat afterwards.
What she is going to do is pack up her determination, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and run away to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College—the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program, and her dream school. She’s also going to start over as Ever Lawrence: a new name for her new beginning. She’s even excited spend her summer with the other nerds and weirdos in the completion, like her socially-awkward roommate with neon-yellow hair, and a boy who seriously writes on a typewriter and is way cuter than is comfortable or acceptable.
The only problem with her excellent plan to secretly win the scholarship and a ticket to her future: her golden-child, super-genius cousin Isaiah has had the same idea, and has shown up at Rayevich smugly ready to steal her dreams and expose her fraud in the process.
This summer’s going to be great.

My opinion: Loosely inspired by The Importance of Being Ernest, you're probably only going to recognize the influence on this book by the constant references. Anderson quotes Wilde (as well as a number of nerdy pop culture sources) often. The quotes both serve to influence the plot and provide a little characterization. This book tries to be a comedy of errors but doesn't quite achieve that aim. We have the element of characters misrepresenting themselves but the plot has a more desperate, less comedic feel. While it's somewhat lacking in comedy, it is engaging even though the elite camp aspect won't be particularly relatable for the average reader. By focusing largely on familial expectations, Anderson presents us with characters we can understand on some level. While the ending is weak, it's largely well worth reading.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope this holiday finds you warm and safe, in the company of those you care about. Blessings.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Locked Up for Freedom

Locked Up for Freedom by Heather Schwartz

I'm of two minds about this book. At first, I didn't love it. In part because the early chapters assume we know nothing about the Civil Rights movement. I'm all for covering your bases, making sure your audience understands what's going on, but this one might go too far. On the other hand, most books we get about the movement focus on Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and school integration. It was interesting to explore this "new" aspect of a familiar piece of history. And the boldness of the young people involved was inspiring.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Book review - The New Dark

Title: The New Dark
Author: Lorraine Thomson
Genre: dystopia/sci-fi
Similar books: The Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray Kendall
                      Meritropolis by Joel Ohman

Summary (provided by publisher): "She thought she knew who she was and where she came from.Then her home was destroyed. Her brother lost amongst the ashes. And the boy she loves vanished. She owed her own survival to a mutant — the very forces behind the destruction. Now Sorrel will never be the same again."
There is no "Before", there is only "Now". Because now there’s no internet, no TV, no power grid. Food is scarce, and the world’s a hostile place. But Sorrel lives a quiet life in the tiny settlement of Amat. It’s all she’s ever known ...
Until a gang of marauding mutants destroys the village, snatching her brother Eli, and David, her boyfriend. Sorrel sets out after them, embarking on a journey fraught with danger. Can she survive? The only thing that keeps her going is Eli and David. They are out there somewhere. They must be alive. And if she has her way, she will find them.

My opinion: I liked the base elements of this story. We've bot some mysterious, near apocalyptic event that lead to subsistence living and some level of mutation. This, in turn, leads to human trafficking and discrimination. So the bones are decent if somewhat predictable. The actual line-to-line writing, though, was less than fantastic. Almost painful at times. The dialogue is awkward and unnatural. Events take strange logical leaps. As much as I wanted to like the story, I found it too frustrating to read.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Book review - Nevermoor

Title: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: Gnome-a-geddon by K.A. Holt
                      Goblins by Philip Reeve
good fun

Summary (provided by publisher): A breathtaking, enchanting new series by debut author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world--but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination
Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she's blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks--and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.
But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.
It's then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city's most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart--an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests--or she'll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.
Perfect for fans of the Harry Potter series and Neil Gaiman, this fast-paced plot and imaginative world has a fresh new take on magic that will appeal to a new generation of readers.

My opinion: Both thematically and stylistically, this novel is reminiscent of Harry Potter and Doctor Who. It has the magic and wonder, the looming evil force and promise of a better life for an undervalued child, the hallmarks of Harry Potter. It has the mischief, the wildness, the sometimes sheer lunacy of Doctor Who. And it does credit to both of these monolith, largely because it doesn't rely too heavily on the parallels. It has room to tell it's own story. Townsend has created a complex world with rules of magic and the promise of great future complications. It's exciting and funny with tight prose and realistic characters.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by publisher.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Graphic novel spotlight - Biographies

Pele by Eddy Simon
Monet by Salva Rubio

I am a big proponent of graphic biographies, particularly when the subject's life is characterized by action or art, as with this pair. While a traditional text biography can quickly become overwhelming, representing life events visually engages the reader quickly. These two biographies are particularly good choices for a number of reasons. 1) They're names most will recognized but know very little about. 2) The art styles are appealing and reflective of the subjects lives. 3) The authors don't white wash. They acknowledge the mistakes these men made, the ways their egos hurt their professional lives.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Rewilding

Rewilding by Jane Drake and Ann Love

Much of my early science education, like many in my generation, was focused on ecology. We were raised to revere endangered species, to vilify logging and oil companies. We tend to think there's nothing else we can learn about ecology. So when I came across this book and a term with which I was unfamiliar, I was intrigued. And I was not disappointed. There is plenty of good information. Each example is presented with an easily understood vocabulary that isn't oversimplified. Each case study brings another element into the conversation, both successes and new complications.  

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book review - My Brigadista Year

Title: My Brigadista Year
Author: Katherine Paterson
Genre: historical fiction
Similar books: Shadow Warrior by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
                      Girlcott by Florenz Webbe Maxwell
an interesting bit of history

Summary (provided by publisher): In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she volunteers for Fidel Castro’s national literacy campaign and travels into the impoverished countryside to teach others how to read.
When thirteen-year-old Nora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Nora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Nora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Nora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Nora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Nora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.

My opinion: Most of us don't actually know much about Cuba's history and culture. When we were growing up, Cuba was a shadowy villain, a trickle down from the Cold War. Now that routes to Cuba are starting to open, that's going to change and books like this one will help. I was blown away by the facts of this year of Cuban history, the huge effort to bring the entire Cuban nation into a more educated culture. For the history buff, this will be a fascinating read. For others, it's perhaps a slow read.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, November 13, 2017

I'm back!

I had intended to only take a few days off to catch up on some projects. Here it is, most of a month later but now that my craft fair is over I should be posting more regularly again. Thanks for sticking with me.

Here's a t-shirt I customized for my cousin's son who's on a real dinosaur kick at the moment.