Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Conquest of the Ocean, by Brian Lavery

   Maritime history isn't generally seen as any sort of exciting area of study, but Brian Lavery manages to write an engaging book on just that subject.  He manages this by liberally using primary sources throughout the book, letting those who lived history speak for themselves.  The use of pictures and maps is also well thought throughout, allowing the reader to better visualize seafaring through history.  While this book isn't an exciting page turner of a story, it is an engrossing look at the way people have dealt with the ocean through history.
   I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in the ocean and man's use of it throughout history.  It may not be extremely scholarly, but that just makes it accessible to more readers.  This book is a good example of history written for the general reading public, and that's not such a bad thing.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Review posted for reader Linda Y.:

And the Mountains Echoed is an epic tale of the lives of an Afghan family. Spanning decades, it is both heart wrenchingly sad and hopeful. A master storyteller, Khaled Hosseini can somehow rip out your heartstrings and mend them all at the same time. Beautifully written and extremely touching.

The Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus

I chose this book for the library's Food For Thought book discussion at En Season Cafe, which serves local and seasonal food. It’s not a book I would likely have read otherwise.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The parts about bee life – how new queens are made, the role of each bee in the hive, and the occasional difficulty in returning to the right hive after foraging – were fascinating. The detailed descriptions of the various problems with mites and other bee hazards were not quite as fascinating, but it was easy to skim through them.
I especially enjoyed entomologist Justin Schmidt’s “sting pain index” on pages 131-132. (For example, “Bullhorn acacia ant: a rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.”) It made me glad I haven’t been stung by more insects.
I like that Nordhaus does not rush to draw conclusions about Colony Collapse Disorder that the scientific community has not drawn, but instead presents all the known possibilities. The most interesting section of the book for me is on page 168:
So bees have acquired yet another job. As if they didn’t already have enough work to do pollinating flowers, providing for the queen and her offspring, and building and protecting the hive, they have been assigned extra metaphorical tasks as symbols – of industry, selflessness, community, and domesticity, and lately as exoskeletal canaries in a coal mine. The public is fascinated with Colony Collapse Disorder because many believe that bees are Silent Spring-like harbingers of retribution for our crimes against nature. Dying bees are a symbol of environmental sin, of the synthetic crimes of the chemical industry.

There is a bit of an excess of comparing the beekeepers to their bees and the like, but I can live with that. The Beekeeper’s Lament is well researched and a nice balance of anecdotes and facts. If you enjoy learning more about the natural world, are concerned about the possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder, or are just interested in unusual people who make their living in unusual professions, I recommend it.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Have Space Suit - Will Travel by Robert Heinlein

First published in 1958, Have Space Suit - Will Travel is a classic work of science fiction. Written before man walked on the moon, it is set in a not-too-distant future when trips to the moon are not routine but are regular. Kip Russell wants to visit the moon. When a soap company holds a contest with a trip to the moon as a prize, Kip goes all out to win. But he doesn't win first prize; instead, he wins a consolation prize, a used spacesuit.

He's disappointed but philosophical and puts in time repairing and improving his suit. While fooling around in it in his backyard, Kip hears a distress call from space, and next thing you know he's on a pirate spaceship, cooperating with a 10-year-old genius to find an alien "mother thing" and escape.

This is a quick read and rollicking good time. There is a lot of actual science in it, more than you'll find in most newer science fiction. Kip is a likeable narrator, and his relationship with Peewee, the 10-year-old girl, is realistic and touching. I particularly enjoyed the character of the Mother Thing, a sort of alien cop/juvenile detention officer from a race of beings who sing to communicate.

Heinlein is my new hero with this quote from Kip: "Dad claims that library science is the foundation of all sciences, just as math is the key - and that we will survive or founder, depending on how well the librarians do their jobs."

If you like classic science fiction and long for an adventure in space, I recommend Have Space Suit - Will Travel.

The Tome Raiders, the library's science fiction/fantasy discussion group, will discuss Have Space Suit - Will Travel this Friday,. June 21, at 6;00 pm at Alternate Realities on Main Street. Come join us!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Beginnings... by David Weber

   This book is the 6th anthology of short stories set in David Weber's Honorverse, and I found it as fully engaging as the rest of his books.  This anthology features short stories that are set earlier in time than the main arc of novels that make up the series, and the stories tend to flesh out many of the characters in the series.  Although there are several authors contributing to the anthology, all of the authors have a voice that mesh with the originator of the series.
   I would recommend this book for those readers that feel comfortable with hard science fiction, but it would likely be enjoyable by those that just like a good story.  While it would be helpful to have read the Honor Harrington series, these short stories are accessible as they are.

Man Down by Dan Abrams

Dan Abrams is a television legal analyst currently working for ABC’s Good Morning America. After reading a lighthearted article about how women are superior to men in a variety of professions, the lawyer in him was intrigued and sought proof. The result of his research was his first book, Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else.

Man Down is a fun and factual if somewhat fluffy read. Statistics from various studies are balanced by wry and often random comments from Abrams about life and pop culture. (I could have done without the many references to Jersey Shore in chapter 13.) Man Down is not a serious tome, but it does contain a lot of serious and fascinating information.
Each chapter starts with a quotation from notables ranging from President Grover Cleveland to Miss Piggy. (For example: “I hate women because they always know where things are.” – Voltaire.) Most chapters are 3-5 pages long, so this is a great book for picking up and setting down rather than reading in one intense sitting.
One chapter I found particularly interesting was “Women in Politics Are Less Corrupt.” In 2000, a team from the Williams College Center conducted a survey of corruption in 93 countries and concluded, “Countries which have greater representation of women in government or in market work have lower levels of corruption.” Coupled with the chapter “Women Are Better World Leaders” and the conclusions of a 2008 Pew Research Center survey, I feel like I have much food for thought when making decisions in future elections.
Man Down is not a rant against men. Abrams acknowledges that there are many areas where men are superior to women. But the overall conclusion from the many studies referenced in his book is this: women are more efficient, take fewer unnecessary results, and achieve equal or better results in many areas.
Author Abrams sounds like someone I’d like to share a drink with, and it is easy to read his breezy style. I recommend this book for anyone interested in cultural studies, women’s issues, and light-hearted reading covering thought-provoking matters. Man Down by Dan Abrams is available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Lower River by Paul Theroux

The Lower River by Paul Theroux is a story of longing and a desire to recapture the past. Forty years ago, Ellis Hock spent four years in the African country of Malawi with the Peace Corps. They were the happiest years of his life. He was called back to the United States when his father died, and he took over the successful family business selling menswear.

When his wife discovers his online flirtations with some of his female customers, she leaves him, and he finds himself thinking more and more about Africa. He feels he has just been marking time since he left Malawi. Hock was known as the Snake Man in his village in Malawi. An acquaintance has a friend with a python. The acquaintance calls Ellis for advice on the snake.

“She wants to know why the snake is acting weird. It still isn’t eating. It lies beside her, flattening itself.”

“Did you say flattening itself?” Hock said. “Listen, get her on the phone. Tell her to put the snake in a cage immediately.”

“Why are you shouting?”

Only then had Hock realized that his voice had risen almost to a scream. In this same shrill pitch he said, “The snake is measuring her. It’s getting ready to eat her!”

As his memories of Africa resurface, Hock decides to return to Malawi and the Lower River. But many things have changed in 40 years, and his trip takes a dangerous turn.

It is obvious the author knows his subject well. Theroux was also a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi many years ago and has since returned. The descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of Africa are authentic. The characters seem like real people, and the dialog rings true.

This is a grim and fascinating book with true moments of terror. If you are interested in well written fiction, Africa, and traveling vicariously, I recommend The Lower River.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Submitted by Lucas, teen reviewer:

Rick Yancey, the author of The 5th Wave, has also written The Monstrumologist along with The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp and various adult books.  Having started and stopped halfway through both of the books mentioned above, I approached The 5th Wave with some hesitation.  As it turned out, this hesitation was justified.  Although I cannot fault Mr. Yancey’s writing style or plot, the main reason that I didn’t like this book was that it was very depressing.  Yes, it is true that when browsing through the YA section of the library one frequently encounters books with titles such as The Knife of Never Letting Go or The Morgue and Me, but this book ranks just under Holocaust books like Night or Maus on the depressing/disturbing scale, and only because it is fiction and they are not.

The basic premise of the story is that aliens want to colonize Earth, and to do so they must kill all humans.  To accomplish this task, they send waves of various attacks (the first wave (an EMP) disabled all human machinery/electronics, the second caused large earthquakes which killed about 3 billion people, etc.).  The book follows two major characters as they try to fight back and survive the 5th wave.  Unfortunately, fighting back is difficult if you don’t know who your enemies are.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes an intense story and a good plot; although I was able to predict most of the events, the conclusion caught me completely off guard.  They would also need to enjoy reading about fighting to survive in a hostile environment (e.g. the typical zombie apocalypse story), and most of all not mind disturbing and depressing novels.