Friday, February 22, 2019

Book Review: Watership Down by Richard Adams

Monday, December 25, 2017

#RBRT Read and Review: Muffy & Valor: A True Story by Karl Beckstrand, Brandon Rodriguez

·         Title: Muffy and Valor: A True Story
·         Author: Karl Beckstrand
·         Illustrator: Brandon Rodriguez
·         Published: 2017
       Muffy and Valor: A True Story is an illustrated children’s book based on the real-life story from the author’s childhood about two dogs named Muffy and Valor.

Image via Amazon.

Muffy and Valor: A True Story

Muffy and Valor: A True Story is an illustrated children’s book about two dogs.  The story especially excels in the character development of Muffy, a small dog who lives in fear of other dogs after she is seriously injured by a dog bite. The book successfully creates a heartwarming ending about the importance of friendship and trust that I enjoyed discussing with the four-year-old with whom I read the book.
The plot has a clear and well organized progression.  The opening page read awkwardly for me: “[Muffy] really loves her friend Carlos (almost as much as she loves cheese).” Afterwards the rest of the story read quite smoothly. The illustrations are unusually dark for a children’s book.  I read the Kindle edition and had trouble seeing detail in the dog’s expressions.  The four year old who I read the book with enjoyed seeing all the illustrations of the dogs and liked talking about the emotions on the dog’s faces.
The events in the story follow true events that happened during the author’s childhood. The book is marketed as nonfiction, but the fact that the events in the story actually happened did not enhance my reading of the story. Emotions and cognition are attributed to dogs in the story, so “Based on a True Story” would be a more accurate description for Muffy and Valor rather than “A True Story.” Overall, this is another solid piece of children’s literature from Karl Beckstrand. As always, he includes a positive moral lesson in a well written story. 
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Muffy and Valor is available to buy from Amazon UK or

Thanks for reading! This is another #RBRT review.  Thanks to Karl Beckstrand for sending me a free e-book to read. If you enjoyed this review, please share or follow for more book reviews.


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
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.

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

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.


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
Star Rating: 4/5 Stars
Garbage Collectors: Stories for Young Engineers is available to buy as a paperback from Amazon UK or

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.


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:

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
Thanks for reading! This is another #RBRT review organized by Rosie Amber who does phenomenal work on 
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.