Thursday, November 16, 2017

Narrative Fiction Review: Hypatia of Alexandria by Laurel Rockefeller

“What one studies matters less than the pursuit of knowledge. The gods gave us the power to think, to feel, to reason…”
·         Title: Hypatia of Alexandria
·         Author: Laurel Rockefeller
·         Published: 2017

Image via Amazon.
Hypatia of Alexandria is a narrative fiction piece that follows the life of Hypatia, an accomplished neoclassical philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, which at the time was part of the Eastern Roman Empire.  There is a prologue and epilogue that frame the story very nicely. Saint Hildegard, a German abbess, receives several volumes that contain information about Hypatia. The story begins and ends with Hildegard’s exploration of Hypatia’s life and teachings. 

The book especially excels at conveying the culture and society of Alexandria in the fourth century. The author does not shirk away from exposing unsavory information about Roman society.  For example, it is made clear that as a woman, Hypatia was considered property of her father. The silver lining is that Hypatia’s father seemed to successfully twist a draconian system to support progressive ends, where Hypatia was made his protégée.  Hypatia’s father worked and taught at the Library of Alexandria.   

The story culminates with the unconscionable violence that occurred while the Roman government weakened and Theophilus controlled the archdiocese in Alexandria. The violence is not skirted around, but it is tastefully handled and never graphic, making the book quite suitable for a younger audience.

As a child, Hypatia meets and befriends Rachel, a Jewish girl close to her own age.  Their friendship continues throughout Hypatia’s life, and while never converting to Judaism, Hypatia embraces Rachel’s Jewish heritage and even attends synagogue.  Their friendship is what connected me the most to the book on an emotional level. The section where the great Library of Alexandria burns is also an especially well written scene where the reader can could emotionally connect with Hypatia.  

One area for improvement might be to temper the background information included in the dialogue with more realistic dialogue.  For example, when Hypatia is five years old the conversation she has with her father is too advanced for a five year old. Cultural and historical background information may be best presented in other ways. There is also a stray typo here and there, though it did not bother me while reading and did not get in the way of the content or understanding.

Hypatia is the latest release in Rockefeller’s Legendary Women of World History series, and loyal readers of the series will appreciate that Hypatia includes a hat tip to Boudicca, the Celtic queen of the Iceni and another heroine in the series.  
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Hypatia of Alexandria is available to buy from Smashwords or Amazon.com.
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Thanks for reading! And many thanks to Laurel Rockefeller for sending me a free e-book to read. If you enjoyed this review, please share or follow for more book reviews.
-Brittany


Thursday, November 9, 2017

#RBRT Read and Review: The Elephant and the Sheep Review by Patricia Furstenburg


·         Titles: The Elephant and the Sheep
·         Author: Patricia Furstenberg
·         Published: 2017
The Elephant and the Sheep is an illustrated children’s poem based on the real-life story of an orphaned elephant who was adopted by a sheep.

The Elephant and the Sheep takes place in South Africa and is about the friendship of an orphaned elephant named Themba and a sheep named Albert.  The book particularly excels in creating a sense of carefree joy that surrounds Themba and Albert’s friendship.  There is also a strong sense of place throughout the story.  There are charming touches that mention the weather and baobab trees, which help establish the African setting.
The story is written as a poem. The rhyme and meter are a bit inconsistent, but overall they help create a story that is fun to read aloud to children. The illustrations are attractive and colorful. Some of the clip art pieces were a bit blurry, but the four-year old I read the book with did not mind at all.  She very much enjoyed looking at all the bright, cheerful illustrations, especially the colorful suns
 The names of the main characters are not mentioned for several pages. The main characters are originally referred to as “two tails”, which could be disorienting for children reading the book alone. The reader learns that Themba sleeps all night under the tree where Albert and Themba play, but it is never directly stated that Themba is an orphan who does not have a home.  Younger children will likely need an adult who can explain Themba’s situation to them. The ending of the book lends itself nicely to further discussion with children about the importance of kindness, family and generosity.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
The Elephant and the Sheep is available to buy from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.
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Thanks for reading! This is another #RBRT review.  Thanks to Patricia Furstenberg for sending me a free e-book to read. If you enjoyed this review, please share or follow for more book reviews.

-Brittany

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#RBRT Read and Review: Garbage Collectors: Stories for Young Engineers by Mike Grabois


·         Title: Garbage Collectors: Stories for Young Engineers
·         Author: Mike Grabois
·         Published: 2017
Garbage Collectors: Stories for Young Engineers is a middle grades book about kids who use their own ingenuity to solve their problems and improve the world around them.
Image via Amazon.

When I first saw the description for Garbage Collectors, I wanted to get a copy as soon as possible! Garbage Collectors is a collection of short stories about heroes and heroines who do not have anything extraordinary or magical happen to them, but they positively change the world around them by using their intellect.  As the author points out, the process of solving problems is not just a mental exercise.  It involves all of them. While solving problems, the characters experience “anger, happiness, sadness, ecstasy, amazement and more.” 
The collection features six short stories that feature Jack and his cousins Alex and Ria.  The trio face realistic problems that they attempt to solve such as pollution, the impact of natural disasters, and even a creating a new science attraction for an amusement park. Throughout all the stories, the characters are positive role models who seek feedback on their ideas and willingly incorporate and build off of the input of their peers and mentors. Some of the characters struggle with the courage to voice their ideas for solutions. And the intelligent Jack sometimes thinks his friends are just using him for their own benefit. But ultimately teamwork wins out. They rely on one another for emotional and intellectual support to successfully impact their world.  
I heartily recommend Garbage Collectors to any middle grades student for two reasons.  First, when I was a student, I didn’t have the faintest idea what an engineer did. Garbage Collectors provides clear examples of how science class can translate into action in the real word outside the classroom.  Second, even if the reader has little interest in engineering, the team dynamics in each story are surprisingly realistic and reflect issues that all types of professional and academic teams can relate to. 
My one disappointment is that some character and setting descriptions Garbage Collectors tell rather than show. Sometimes characters and settings are explained in general terms, or the details can get confusing. Some of the stories are stronger than others when it comes to character and setting descriptions, but overall a worthwhile read I highly recommend to middle grade students and teachers.
Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Garbage Collectors: Stories for Young Engineers is available to buy as a paperback from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.
Star Rating: 4/5 Stars
Garbage Collectors: Stories for Young Engineers is available to buy as a paperback from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.
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Thanks for reading! This is another #RBRT review.  Thanks to Mike Grabois for sending me a free paperback copy to read. If you enjoyed this review, please share or follow for more book reviews.

-Brittany

Book Review: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston


 Title: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
 Author: Douglas Preston
Link to the video version of this review is available here: https://youtu.be/OP2t00ekKa0

I hope you are in the mood for some jungle exploration because we are going to Honduras! There’s a legendary city in eastern Honduras called La Ciudad Blanca, or The White City. Many Hondurans and native peoples living in Honduras believed in the legend of Ciudad Blanca and a curse that went along with it, which is those who go there would get sick and die.  Very fascinating, tuck that away, because we’ll come back to that.

Douglas Preston is an author probably best known for his fictional thriller novels, include the Tom Broadbent series and the Wyman Ford series, private investigator series. Preston is also a journalist, and he was working as a reporter for National Geographic and The New Yorker in 2013 when he came along for a helicopter ride where LIDAR was used from the sky to gain better imagining of remote, dense jungle in Honduras.  There are a lot of archaeological sites in Honduras, and they’re often studied by archaeologists who are led there by native people groups who know about them. So this site was really different in that it was found by LIDAR, it was not close to any human settlements. The benefit of the LIDAR is that from the ground, the vegetation was so dense, you wouldn’t be able to see any earthworkds, you wouldn’t even be able to see any ruins unless you were basically on top of them. And the LIDAR scan found an incredible amount of evidence that there were earthworks and even lots of stone ruins in the area.  The number of ruins they found went far beyond any expectation.

So it takes about 2 years to work with the Honduran government to get permits for the site.  And in 2015 Preston goes with a team of archaeologists who partnered with the Honduran military to do an excavation. And I thought the book did a great job of providing cultural context for how archaeological sites in Honduras often struggle with looting, with the drug trade, with the historically unstable government.  And I thought he did a great job of chronicling the team’s experience in this incredible place where it’s believed humans had not set foot in centuries.

And I thought there was a good balance of providing historical context of what the region would have been like before Spanish colonization. There was a section that discussion just the historical context, but for the most part, I thought the author did a great job weaving the history into the story. 
So, about the last half to the last third of the book, is about what happens after the team leaves the site, leaves the Honduran jungle and goes home.  

First off, their credibility is attacked by a handful of archaeologist who were closely aligned with the previous government party that controlled Honduras.  So the author complains about that for a while. His frustration seemed justified, but I can’t say it was that fascinating to read about. And then, the whole team is completely covered in insect bites, and as the months pass about half the team notices a bug bite that won’t go away, and is it fact getting larger, and redder and covered in a wet film. They’re living in different countries, and they’re all pretty much getting treated with antibiotics for it that do nothing. The bites don’t itch or hurt so they don’t think it’s infected, but the doctors, all of whom live in Europe and North America, don’t know what to do.

So, the guys from the trip do more research about tropical diseases, and they decide they think they’ve contracted leishmaniosis, a parasite that you get from sand-fly bites, and they resolve to see doctors who specialize in tropical disease.  And yes, they all had contracted an ancient strain of leishmaniasis, it’s a terrible, slow moving disease where your nose and cleft palatte and even your eyes can disintegrate into a cavern of mucous.  I’m not going to put images up here, but if you google image mucous leishmaniosis, you’ll get some horrifying images that will stay with you for a long time.  There’s three different strains of leish, and the mucous face one is the one that exists in the Americas. Yay. They had a really hard time getting treated because so few doctors go into parasitology, because there’s no money in it, the patients who contract diseases from parasites are often quite poor.  So the last half of the book is really the author shining a spotlight on this terrible parasite disease and the different strains that impact some of the poorest people living in the world.
And the author then actually goes back to Honduras to visit the same site, after his leish in in remission, and the book ends focused on the native people of the area and the beauty of the Honduran jungle. 

Here are the articles the author wrote for The New Yorker and National Geographic to report on the archaeological sites:

Sunday, September 10, 2017

#RBRT Read and Review: How to Manage Techno Tantrums by David Boyle and Judith Hodge

·         Title: How to Manage Techno Tantrums: 10 Strategies for Coping with your Child's Time Online
·         Author: David Boyle and Judith Hodge
·         Published: 2017
How to Manage Techno Tantrums: 10 Strategies for Coping with your Child's Time Online is a parenting self-help book about how to manage your child’s screen time
Image via Goodreads.
The stated purpose of Techno Tantrums is “to set out the knowledge that is out there and list some of the strategies that other parents have used.”  The authors hope is for the book to be empowering to parents, and I believe it succeeds.  It is a quick read that’s organized into four sections and an introduction.  The introduction begins with a fascinating hook. As it turns out there are many high ranking tech and gadget professional who strictly regulate the use of screen time in their own homes.

Where I think the book could most improve is in the first two sections, especially the section “From Fasting to Chilling”. An overview is given of several common concerns about the impact of too much screen time. Techno Tantrums does a great job of citing specific studies and each study’s results.  I appreciated having some understanding about the scientific evidence for each concern raised, including cutting off social interaction, suppressing emotion, decreasing the ability to relax, etc. But overall I found the explanation for each of these issues too cursory to be worthwhile. A full page or two of discussion about each issue would allow the reader to feel more informed about the current social research and whether or not it is conclusive.

An entire section is dedicated to the experiences of other parents who try to promote restricted or healthy screen time for their children.  I found this section to be incredibly helpful, and I plan to revisit it repeatedly as my child continues to grow. The book ends with an outline of ten strategies parents can use to setup a home life where screen time is regulated. It is stressed that parents must follow these regulations as well.  For example, if phones should be off and charging for the night by 8pm, that means everyone’s phone in the family needs to be off and charging, including mom and dad.

I have not come across any other books on this topic before. How to Manage Techno Tantrums clarifies that it is not about online safety, but rather about how the manage the time in front of online games and screens. It is an excellent resource for parents looking for ideas about where to start.  
Star Rating: 4/5 Stars
Techno Tantrums: 10 Strategies for Coping with Your Child's Online Time is available to buy as a paperback or an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.
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Thanks for reading! This is another #RBRT review organized by Rosie Amber who does phenomenal work on https://rosieamber.wordpress.com/ 
Thanks to Sue Fuest for sending me a free e-book copy to read. If you enjoyed this review, please share or follow for more book reviews.
-Brittany

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Nonfiction Books I Want to Read in August

Hi friends! 
Here's what I'm excited about reading in August this year! It's all nonfiction, and I've been in a bit of a reading slump and emotional slump, so I selected books to motivate me. Let me know if there are any books you're excited about, and let me know if you've read any of the books on my list! 

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by CS Lewis 

In this book Lewis tells of his search for joy, a spiritual journey that led him from the Christianity of his early youth into atheism and then back to Christianity. After the death of his mother in his youth, Lewis enters a long lasting period of atheism. Although he knew epistemologically that God didn't exist, he still felt that there was something else "out there." This is different from agnosticism though - he believed that the "something else" was not divine. Lewis is truly surprised by a God who cares, a "true mythology" (the Christian narrative), and the creator of joy.




Make Your Bed by William H McRaven

A brief motivational story based on a graduation speech given by Admiral William H. McRaven addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin. Building on the core tenets laid out in his speech, McRaven now recounts tales from his own life and from those of people he encountered during his military service who dealt with hardship and made tough decisions with determination, compassion, honor, and courage


The Book of Joy Archbishop Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama 

The Book of Joy is a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu about finding joy and happiness in the face of suffering and grief. The two old friends met in India for the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday, and they had long discussions over several days. Writer Douglas Abrams helped facilitate the dialogue, asking questions and taking detailed notes.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott 

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said. 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"
With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer's life. From "Getting Started,' with "Short Assignments," through "Shitty First Drafts," "Character," "Plot," "Dialogue." all the way from "False Starts" to "How Do You Know When You're Done"

The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom 
Corrie ten Boom is a 40 something spinster at peace with her quiet life. She is a watchmaker in her father’s shop and lives with her older sister and their kind father. She never expected to become embroiled in an underground revolution but when German soldiers invade her homeland and friends and neighbors start to disappear because they are Jewish or lending Jewish families safe harbor, she can’t stand by and do nothing. As conditions become increasingly worse for the unfortunate people in her beloved town, she decides to put her life in danger in order to save those of others. Her family has a hidden room built and they take in the desperate. Eventually she is imprisoned, along with most of her family. She recounts the long, grueling days of hellish conditions in prison and in concentration camps. The sickness, the starvation and the everyday cruelties inflicted. Their faith makes up a big part of who they were and how they managed to make it through the inhumane conditions. 



Saturday, July 22, 2017

Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise #RBRT

  • Author: OJ Modjeska
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • My rating: 5 stars out of 5
Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise by OJ Modjeska is the true story of the deadliest aviation accident in history. In 1977, the main airport in the Canary Islands was bombed by a separatist group seeking independence from Spain.  When the threat of another bombing occurred, the decision was made to divert all air traffic to Los Rodeos, a small regional airport on a different nearby island. Los Rodeos was understaffed and ill equipped to handle the influx of planes.  The events leading up to this catastrophe are explored and presented to the reader with an overwhelming sense of dread, like watching the chaotic elements of the universe come together to form a terrible evil. The result was the Tenerife Airport Disaster which killed 583 people, making it the deadliest accident in aviation history. 


Under 100 pages in length, Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise focuses on the topic of examining how events came together to result in the Tenerife Airport Disaster, and the author’s attention is not diverted. Modjeska provides a thorough and succinct examination. She has a methodical approach to her research and provides images and diagrams to support her writing.  Transcripts between pilots and air traffic control to support an examination of the key players in the disaster.  The writing goes beyond a straight narration of events and attempts to understand the perspectives of the pilots, crews and air traffic control.  Modjeska takes the reader from what appears to be a possible terror threat from the Canary Islands Independence Movement, to language barriers between pilots and airport staff, possibly worst-ever timed chance radio glitches, a lack of standardized aviation terms, and terrible weather conditions.  In this brief book, Modjeska particularly excels in creating a mounting sense of doom and dread.  I was on the edge of my seat despite obviously knowing how the story ended.   It was the same type of suspense that comes from reading a horror novel.  

Because the accident happen on a Spanish territory, Spain managed the accident investigation. 
The investigation concluded that the fundamental cause of the accident was that Dutch KLM Captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten took off without clearance. The Dutch authorities were reluctant to accept the Spanish report blaming the KLM captain for the accident, and Modjeska provides a balanced perspective of why blame deserves to be shared with chance and all those involved. 


I received this book through Rosie's Book Review Team.