Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley - Aww!

Pro: An adorable no-text picture book.
Con: None.

Bottom Line: Looking for a different sort of picture book for your kids? This is an excellent choice.

Normally when we get picture books sent in to the store, we end up with four or five of a title each time. But one day when putting books out, I saw this one all by itself. Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley featuring a little sewn together bear character looking curiously at an egg in a world that wasn’t illustrated, but built.

That’s one of the things that makes this book so different and so great. While other picture books are all illustrated with colored pencils, paints, and other mediums (including crayons sometimes!), Rebecca Dudley built the entire forest. From each little leaf to the glowing campfire Hank makes when night falls, it’s a unique world that any reader would want to step into.

The little hero of the story, Hank, discovers an egg on the ground one day. When he finally figures out where it came from, he does what he can to return it. But it’s not an easy task. Will Hank be able to get the egg back home safe and sound?

Children will have to figure out this story without words. That’s the other thing that makes this book special. While there have been wordless picture books before (such as Tuesday and Flotsam by David Wiesner), they aren’t very common. Most parents aim for picture books because they’re fun and help kids learn to read. But a wordless picture book does something else – it allows the child a chance to use his or her imagination and build a story themselves. What is Hank thinking? When other characters come into the picture, what might they say? How does Hank feel? What will Hank do next? What should he do next?

I thought this book was adorable. If I had kids, nephews, or nieces, I would have bought it right then and there. Hank isn’t the only creature that lives in the forest either, so it’s well worth taking the time to look closely at every page and see what you can discover. I look forward to more books like this from Rebecca Dudley.

Notes from the playlist: "Cozy Digs" by Brian D'oliveira

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku – Making the Impossible Possible (Almost)

Pros: Utterly fascinating and mind-boggling (i.e. wow!)
Cons: Occasionally mind-boggling (i.e. huh?) and subject matter is probably not for everyone

The Bottom Line: Centuries ago, the world was flat. Decades ago, the atom was the smallest bit of matter. Currently, concepts like time travel aren't possible...or are they?

I fist found this book while walking past a display at work where I spotted a book with the Doctor Who Police Box on the cover. The TARDIS was in the process of zipping through a wormhole with lines and equations around it. The title read Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku. Oh really? I read the inside cover, which described a book full of exactly what the title promised. I made a note to read it in the future.

Well the future is now or, I suppose, was. And I'll tell you, it really was a fascinating read. That's the best word I can come up with to describe it because it was fascinating. Engrossing, though sometimes mind-boggling beyond the point of "Oh wow" into the realm of "I have no idea what he's talking about."

Michio Kaku is no stranger to the beast that is physics. He was entranced by the science fiction adventures he saw on television as a child, a good thing because in high school he constructed a massive machine to create dark matter. He currently writes books on the subject of physics while working on the string theory--or a theory of everything. (and no, apparently the answer isn't 42).

The idea behind the book is extremely simple. We've all heard about the possibilities of time travel, faster than light travel, cloaks of invisibility, telepathy, and other science fiction-like phenomenons, but most of the time we chuckle and think none of those (among others) are possible. Sure, our scientists are smart, but they have yet to make the imaginations of science fiction writers a reality. Kaku seeks to show readers how some of these ideas may actually be possible. He uses the laws of physics and brings up possibilities for the seemingly impossible. As long as the concepts do not break any laws of physics, then hey, they may very well be in our future, be that future decades, centuries, or even millennia and beyond.

Kaku divides all the "impossibilities" into different classes based upon how possible they actually are, as well as how likely and soon we might develop such technologies in the future. The table of contents gives you perfect insight into the subjects Kaku discusses:

Class I Impossibilities
1. Force Fields
2. Invisibility
3. Phasers and Death Stars
4. Teleportation
5. Telepathy
6. Psychokinesis
7. Robots
8. Extraterrestrials and UFOs
9. Starships
10. Antimatter and Anti-universes

Class II Impossibilities
11. Faster Than Light
12. Time Travel
13. Parallel Universes

Class III Impossibilities
14. Perpetual Motion Machines
15. Precognition

Yeah, I know, you would have thought something like Time Travel would be stuck in a Class III impossibility, but using the laws of physics, Kaku manages to explain how it really could be possible, some of which have been utilized in television shows and science fiction books. In fact, all of these ideas have been involved in science fiction, and the ironic part is that many of these creative thoughts used to be thought ridiculous by tried and true scientists. As Agent K said in Men in Black, "Just imagine what we'll 'know' next."

It's a very cool book. Kaku does what he can to bring examples and concepts down to the level of an every day person to understand. He uses visual examples to help the reader visualize, and of course, brings in examples from popular science fiction films and books to demonstrate points and concepts. For the most part, I knew what was going on and understood how something could potentially work using atoms and computer chips and matter in space. Kaku explains things very well and even gives the reader a healthy tidbit of history and those associated with bits of highly important physics theories and equations, which are rather essential to understanding how we can go from point A (say, Newton's theory of gravity) to point B (opening up wormholes and skipping through them). Of course there were times when even I (who found all variable equations in math more fun than actual numbers) sat there on pause, trying to wrap my head around a paragraph or sentence. There were moments when I thought, "I don't know what he's saying, but it sounds like it could make sense," amid particles inside atoms and how complex equations can work (or fail in some cases). However, those times were few and overall I read each chapter with relish, wondering at the possibilities that Kaku posited and just how cool it would be if we figured out something like starships or force fields.

As a science fiction writer myself, this made the book just that much cooler. I ate this stuff up, wondering how I might incorporate some of Kaku's ideas into my work, if only by a vague mention. The difficulty in creating something like a wormhole made me laugh and wonder how one critiquer of my work could question a completely possible concept and not another, nearly impossible one. If you're a science fiction writer, read this and love it. If you're a science fiction reader, read this and love it. If you like physics and the "impossible," go for it. Even if you're none of the above, I honestly don't see why you couldn't at least get something interesting out of this book.

I even read the Preface, something I don't do often (if ever), but Kaku tells you a bit of his past and lets you know the kind of person he is and how he's able to write about such things (plenty of research involved, to be sure). Kaku's writing style is rather informal, very accessible, and makes you feel like you're talking to someone genuinely interested in both his work and getting others to understand it and be interested in it as well. He might mention something and I would pause, zooming off into my own little world in my head and wondering about the future, the mystery it holds, how small we really are, or the awesome power a Type III Civilization would command. All this, as opposed to the stiff professor who doles out hard facts and ignores whether or not you understand or care about them. He even makes a clever little quip here and there that had me smiling or chuckling.
There's nothing negative to say about this all. I can only recommend it to you and hope that by chapter 1 you'll be as interested as I was and continue reading. I often stick it on the B&N Employee Recommendation display and one I made sure to add to my own collection.

Notes from the playlist: "Angels" by Within Temptation

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rebel Spirits by Lois Ruby - More Like Union Spirits, But Okay

Pros: Cute concept, easy read
Cons: A lot of little things that add up.

The Bottom Line: The premise of this book is very promising, but it doesn’t quite deliver.

I’m a sucker for ghostly love stories, but they’re tricky because it means that somebody is already dead – so how can there be a happily ever after in that case? Either way, I wanted to see how this one ended because hey, the summary made it sound like love might just find a way.

Lorelei Chase has just moved into a big old house in Gettysburg where her parents look forward to running a bed and breakfast. Great timing too because the big reenactment of the battle at Gettysburg is about to take place – which is precisely why Nathaniel Pierce has started appearing in her room. Except Nathaniel is dead. Lori has encountered a few ghosts before, but this takes the cake. Nathaniel made it through the battle – only to be murdered. And he wants Lori to solve the case. But if she doesn’t do it in time, Nathaniel will disappear from existence and that’s something neither of them wants to happen.
Sounds promising, right? I was excited because I like a good ghost mystery and when a ghost and living soul fall in love, I always like to hope that somehow things will turn out so that the ghost can be a live person again. However, this book had a lot of weird things going for it.

Giving the mystery case a time limit makes for a good ticking clock, but Lori only had about three days. Three! First of all, that’s not enough for a Civil War cold case. It isn’t nearly enough time for them to fall for each other to the point that they’re taking up time because they’re making out (during the battle’s anniversary he gets to become physical for a while, hence the ability to make out). Likewise, I’m pretty sure Nathaniel would feel making out with a girl without properly courting her is inappropriate, even if he has been lingering around in this plain of existence long enough to comprehend many of the changes.
The short time limit also drove me nuts because Lori knows for a fact that Nathaniel is going to go poof! in a few days, and yet she’s like, “Oh sorry, I have to go wash some dishes first.” I’m sorry, but a ghost asks for your help and you have that big of a case to solve, you don’t waste time.
There was also a weird red herring which eventually turned out to be oddly convenient. It’s hard to elaborate on without giving things away, but it was just a bit too deus ex machina for me. Along those same lines, I’d like to add that Lori doesn’t figure anything out. A friend does, her dog somehow does, and then the whole whodunit is handed to her on a silver platter. I was very disappointed with that because there are plenty of ways Ms. Lois Ruby could have written things for a more interesting discovery.
Then of course, there were the random bad guys. This made for a semi-interesting sub-plot, but I didn’t find it very believable. Lori gets no points for failing to report an intruder in the house (especially when she finds out who it is). Her parents get no points for failing to ask the realtor about certain people when they should have (and any business owner would have). And a mish-mash of other little details that had me saying, “….Seriously?”

While I do nag on this book a lot, like I said it’s a lot of little things that just added up that I wish the author’s critique buddies, agent, or even editor had pointed out. It was still a very fast and easy read, and I really liked Nathaniel (he’s a union soldier by the way, but I guess that wouldn’t have sounded as good for the title), and it was neat having a setting in Gettysburg with a Civil War mystery going on. Maybe nab it from the library and give it a whirl – maybe you’ll like it more than I did.

Notes from the Playlist: "The Mystic's Dream" by Loreena McKennitt

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray - Puppies, Pies, and ABCs!

Pros: A cute board book for learning ABCs
Cons: None
The Bottom Line: If you never thought that there could be an ABC book that told a story about a dog looking to eat some pie - you were wrong.

What first caught my eye was the little dog on the cover.  He reminded me of Snoopy although slightly perkier and a bit simplified.  Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray can be found wherever the children’s board books are.  The thicker cardboard-like pages are great for kids that are ages 0-3.  Easy to hold, and able to last much longer than a typical picture book since there’s no worry about page tearing.

The story is about the dog looking to snack on some apple pie.  The difference is that it’s not a typical story, but rather each short sentence starts with a letter of the alphabet.  As with most ABC books, the alphabet letter is made larger and more noticeable so kids understand the importance of the letter.  The text is easy to read with each sentence comprised of only a few words.  You can read this book to younger children, and then as they start to sound out words on their own, they can try themselves.

The artwork is bright, simple, and totally cute.  The little dog really wants some pie, although the little girl in the house knows perfectly well that pie isn’t for dogs.  Illustrations are fun and expressive and even though the rest of us know dogs shouldn’t eat pie, we’re still going to hope that maybe he can at least get a little lick.  But will he?  You’ll have to read to find out!

I love books like these because of their whimsical illustrations, bright colors, and fun text.  And who doesn’t love puppies and pie?  This is a great anytime book for kids to enjoy with parents or try on their own.  Perhaps after everyone enjoys a slice of pie?

  Notes from the playlist: "Merida's Home" by Patrick Doyle

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...