Archive | May, 2014

Sea turtles!!!!

30 May

Right now, I’m reading  Sea Turtle Scientist by Stephen R. Swinburne. It’s another in Scientists in the Field  series from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which I love. This book is as fantastic as the others and it has a video trailer:


From the publisher:

Dr. Kimberly Stewart, also known as the Turtle Lady of St. Kitts, is already waiting at midnight when an 800-pound leatherback sea turtle crawls out of the Caribbean surf and onto the sandy beach. The mother turtle has a vital job to do: dig a nest in which she will lay eggs that will hatch into part of the next generation of leatherbacks. With only one in a thousand of the eggs for this critically endangered species resulting in an adult sea turtle, the odds are stacked against her and her offspring. Join the renowned author and photographer Steve Swinburne on a journey through history to learn how sea turtles came to be endangered, and what scientists like Kimberly are doing to save them.

Like the others in the series, this book combines facts about sea turtles with the research done to preserve them and the actual people doing the work. It i very readable and makes me long to be on the beach in St. Kitts.

A new twist on old ideas

28 May


Have you ever wondered where myths and legends come from? I don;t just mean where in the world, I mean, how the people who told stories about griffins and cyclops got the ideas in the first place. Adrienne Mayor has turned such musings into a career.

In The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor  Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science by Marc Aronson, we get a picture of a dreamy young girl in South Dakota who spent a decade poring over old maps, hunting through myths, and following the work of dinosaur hunters to solve the mystery of the origin of the griffin and create a new science.

This might sound like a story as dry as the deserts of ancient Scythia, but it is not. Aronson unfolds the story like a mystery, complete with dead ends and a likable heroine. We travel from South Dakota to Greece, China and Mongolia. We read of griffins and cyclops and Indiana Jones.

Lovers of dinosaurs, mythology,and real life  adventure stories will find this book fascinating. Backmatter includes maps, a glossary,  and a bibliography.

I highly recommend this excellent book. I believe it is in the running for a 2015 Sibert Award.

Keeping an eye out for Buckley

27 May


My girls aren’t good with cats. Whenever I see one while we are out for a walk, I tighten my grip on the leashes, anticipating the barking and pulling about to come.

Friday morning, we saw a white kitty with a black cap & tail. The girls reacted predictably. As we rounded the last corner, though, I saw its picture tacked up on the telephone pole:


I mostly ignore these signs because I have never seen the advertised pets, but this time was different, so I tore off the tag with the phone number. When I got home, I was filled with doubts. Was it really him? Is 7 a.m too early to call? The sign said night or day; did Buckley’s family really men that? So I called & left a message detailing where & when I had seen Buckley and hoping I hadn’t just woken someone up.

I checked my phone a few hours later & there was a message from Buckley’s mom, Frances. She was appreciative of my message & would go check out his last known whereabouts.

That afternoon, the girls & I saw Buckley crossing the road near our corner. I called Frances again when I got home and actually spoke to her, giving more details than I had earlier. She said she’d been to the area & called his name, but he hadn’t shown up. I encouraged her to keep trying. I explained  how it would be impossible for me to walk the girls and pick up Buckley, but I’d do so if I was out without them & saw him. The tome of her voice made me really glad I’d called. She truly did appreciate hearing from me.

We haven’t seen him since Friday afternoon. I hope Frances and Buckley have been reunited. But I guess I’ll never know.

Memorable reads for Memorial Day

25 May

Growing up in Canada, we didn’t celebrate Memorial Day. Right around this weekend, though we had Victoria Day, celebrated on the last Monday before May 25, in honor of Queen Victoria’s’s birthday. She reigned so long, the holiday stuck! Like Memorial Day, Victoria Day marks the beginning if the summer season. 

Since I’m in the US and Victoria day was last weekend, I thought it appropriate to write a bit about some books that would be appropriate for Memorial Day.


The Harlem Hellfighters,  a graphic novel by Max Brooks, illustrated by Caanan White tells the story of a little know piece of World War 1 history.

Goodreads summary: In 1919, the 369th infantry regiment marched home triumphantly from World War I. They had spent more time in combat than any other American unit, never losing a foot of ground to the enemy, or a man to capture, and winning countless decorations. Though they returned as heroes, this African American unit faced tremendous discrimination, even from their own government. The Harlem Hellfighters, as the Germans called them, fought courageously on—and off—the battlefield to make Europe, and America, safe for democracy.  


The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights is the latest YA non-fiction book from Steve Sheinkin. It, too focuses on a little known aspect of US military history.

Goodreads Summary: On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution. This is a fascinating story of the prejudice that faced black men and women in America’s armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights.

Both of these are relatively short, engaging reads that added a lot to my knowledge of both World Wars. You might be busy barbecuing today, in honor of the day. But I hope you take the time to get your hands on these two books.


A trio of trilogies: Episode 3

23 May

And now for something a little darker.


The Razorland trilogy, by Ann Aguirre, begins in subterranean New York City, with Enclave. New York City has been decimated by war and plague, and most of civilization has migrated to underground enclaves, where life expectancy is no more than the early 20’s. Fifteen-year-old Deuce, a Huntress,is paired with Fade, a teenage Hunter who lived Topside as a young boy. She and Fade discover that the neighboring enclave has been decimated by the tunnel monsters–or Freaks. These mutants seem to be growing more organized, but the elders refuse to listen to warnings. Deuce and Fade are exiled from the enclave and sent Topside,into the ruins of a city whose population has dwindled to a few dangerous gangs.

In Outpost, Deuce and Fade are living in a town called Salvation. Sh doesn’t fit in with the other girls, who are expected only do female things. Confused, lonely, and looking for a way out, Deuce signs up to serve in the summer patrols—those who make sure the planters can work the fields without danger. It should be routine, but things have been changing on the surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks have grown smarter.

In the final book,  Horde, Salvation is surrounded, Freaks are at the gates, and they’re not going away. Deuce and Fade set out with a group to get help from the nearby settlement of Soldier’s Pond. Deuce tries to band the remaining settlements together against the Horde, before they are all doomed.

Of the three triliogies I’ve written about this week, this was my favorite. Although action packed liked the other two, this series has a little more depth. I also feel that this was the most realistic of the 3 trilogies. I don’t mean to say I think this is more likely to happen than the other two scenarios. I mean, I think these characters are more realistic and I think their reactions to their circumstances, as well as the power they hold within their society, is more realistic.

A trio of trilogies : Part 2

22 May

If you haven’t had enough YA dystopian fiction, you are in luck.

Today’s trilogy is the  Legend series by Marie Lu.



Marie Lu began her career as a game designer and you can feel that active pace in these novels.   The series is set in  a futuristic America, which is split into two parts, Republic and Colonies,  following catastrophic flooding. 

Legend  takes place in a flooded Los Angeles, where the privileged and poor live very different lives and plague is a threat.  The story is alternately narrated in two voices. Fifteen-year-old Day, is a famous criminal, and  June  is the prodigious soldier hired to capture him. When they meet, they discover that they have a common enemy.

In Prodigy,  June and Day make their way to Las Vegas where they join the rebel Patriot group and become involved in an assassination plot against the Elector in hopes of saving the Republic. 

Finally, in Champion, a peace treaty is imminent, but a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, and war threatens the Republic. You can probably surmise that June and Day solve these problems. 

I listened to all three of these on CDs in the car. The stories were good and moved along nicely, as long as you are willing to believe that 15 year olds can have this much power. The thing that drove me crazy was a particular grammatical construction that I hate. I’ve been noticing it a lot lately in the news, in writing and I can’t help but think that it is WRONG.

Lu would write comparisons and insert the word “of” in places that I don’t think they belong. Here are two examples:

“I’m ready,” I say with as genuine of a smile as I can muster.

as short of a summary

I think she should have written these as

“I’m ready,” I say with as genuine  a smile as I can muster.

as short a summary

Maybe it is being overly picky, but it really irritated me. I think I really took note of it because I listened to the series, rather than read it. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this grammar question.

In spite of that, the books were pretty good. The pace was pretty quick and the audiobook narrators were excellent.


A trio of trilogies : Volume 1

21 May

This spring, I’ve finished  three trilogies. Two were dystopian and geared at YA audiences. Today I will share the first of the trio, aimed at a middle grades audience.


The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer Nielsen

The False Prince  came out in 2012 with much acclaim. I didn’t read it until this year, however. I read the first one in the Winter, the read the last two in quick succession when the third book came out.

This is an action packed. Sage is  an orphan running the streets of Carthya,   depending on his quick wits and quicker mouth to survive. When he finds himself one of four boys bought by a wealthy nobleman with a dastardly plan to gain control of the throne, Sage must use every trick at his disposal to outmaneuver the other boys and convince the kingdom that he is fit to rule.

In  The Runaway King , Jaron escapes an assassination attempt. With rumors of an impending war, Jaron runs away in an attempt to prevent the war from happening.

In the final installment,  The Shadow Throne, war has come to Carthya. King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission.

For readers who love action, this series is wonderful. I think reading them in pretty quick succession I was struck by Jaron’s impulsivity and tendency to get himself kidnapped or imprisoned. I had trouble suspending my disbelief at times and thought “Here we go again!”. Realistically, a king would not be permitted to act the way Jaron does, but this is clearly not realistic fiction. I do wonder how Jaron will take to ordinary life in the palace now that all the excitement is over. I see him as a King Henry VIII figure, loud and rowdy.

In any case, you should give this one a try if you kid you middle grade fiction full of action.

It’s only a matter of time

20 May


There are only 16 days of school left. There’s excitement and stress in the air as we count down the days.

On the home front, though, I’m having a different sort of experience with time.

Last year, the clock in my car stopped working. I think there must be a short or something because the light that let’s me see what gear I’m in is out too. This is only a problem at night, but I get around it by opening the door to see what the gear box. Fortunately, my car is an automatic.

Last week, the battery in my stopwatch died while I was doing DRAs. I had to remove 7 tiny screws in the back in order to replace the battery.

On Sunday, the clock on my stove died. This is by far the most serious problem because the oven controls are connected to it.  I don’t use the oven very often (and never when it is hot) but the stovetop still works. I have a call in for a repairman and my fingers are crossed.

Football and the brain

18 May

Everyone who knows me, knows that I have very little interest in sports. However, I like to follow the Olympic Medal count and I do love a good sports story.I was thrilled to read this football book:


Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make or Break Moment by Carla Killough McClafferty is a fascinating look at the connections between football and concussions. It has been in the news for a while, but this book begin in 1905 when, as the 1905 football season ended, nineteen players were dead and countless others were critically injured. Apparently, there has been a very long history that we are only now taking seriously.

The book begins with a history of football, football injuries and the efforts made by President Teddy Roosevelt and working with Yale, Harvard and Princeton advisers and coaches to make college football less deadly. McClafferty then explains what a concussion is and what medical science is still learning about what happens when a person has a concussion. She then connects it to football,helmet construction and research that is going on to better protect players. The book explains CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and has some really cool photos of real brains.

This book is  a must for middle and high school libraries and would be a great resource to get football fans reading more non-fiction.

Move over Eleanor and Park

15 May

My sister likes to walk into bookstores and ask the clerk in the children’s/YA section for the titles of the best books he or she has read lately. A title recommended to her recently was Going Over by Beth Kephart.


It is a story told in two voices. Ada lives in squatters’ slum in West Berlin. Her story is narrated in the first person. Stefan lives in Communist East Berlin. His story is told in the second person. An unusual choice, and yet, it works.  really though, the whole books works because Beth Kephart is such fantastic writer.

“There is a line between us, a wall. It is wide as a river; it has teeth. It is barbed and trenched and lit and piped and mesed and bricked–155 kilometers of wrong. There are dogs, there are watchtowers, there are men, there are guns, there are blares, but this is West Berlin, the Kreuzberg Kiez, Post Office Sudost 3, and we’re free.”

The book is set in 1980’s Berlin, before the wall came down in 1989. Ada Is a graffiti artist who sends messages of hope and escape to Stefan, with whom she is in love. I remember when the wall cam down, but had forgotten about the graffiti.


Stefan dreams of going over to West Berlin. Their grandmothers are best friends and so they meet as children. Eventually, they fall in love and the  dream of Stefan’s escape to the West begins.

I highly recommend this book. This is one you really should read.

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