Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: 'Counting with Barefoot Critters' by Teagan White

✰✰✰✰✰ Throughout the day and into the night a charming group of animal friends enjoy reading, doing chores, racing, and other outdoor adventures together as they learn to count. At each stop there is a new activity and a new friend joins the fun. Read along as the barefoot critters count up to twelve before the day is over. This adorable little board book is one that you and your little one will read again and again.

The Bottom Line: This sweet and sturdy board book gently helps new readers learn to count. Each number is given a two page spread, and both pages feature that exact number of critters. The artwork in watercolor and gouache feature a natural color palette resulting in engaging illustrations. Enthusiastically recommended for bedtime reading for little ones ages 2 – 4.

Details: Counting with Barefoot Critters written & illustrated by Teagan White. Board book edition published by Tundra Books in 2018. 30 p. ISBN: 978-0-7352-6323-9 NOTE: I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review: 'Hedy's Folly' by Richard Rhodes

✰✰✰ Hedy Lamarr was known for her glamour and beauty. During MGM's "Golden Age" she was a much sought after actress starring alongside Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Victor Mature. But there was more to Ms. Lamarr than Hollywood parties and fancy dresses. Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Austria, Hedy always wanted to be an actress, and after a short, unhappy marriage to munitions manufacturer Fritz Mandl, Hedy made her way to America.

In between filming movies, Hedy enjoyed inventing. Her hobby took off when she met composer George Antheil. When America entered World War II, both the actress and the composer were inspired to help in any way they could. The result of their collaboration was a patent application for a Secret Communication System, which featured "frequency hopping." This technology later became known as spread spectrum communication technology which we still use today for GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth devices. It's amazing to think that the smartphones we depend on today rely on an idea that came from "the most beautiful woman in the world."

The Bottom Line: This book is part biography about Hedy Lamarr, part biography of George Antheil, and part science text. It is an interesting look at how everything came together at the right time to bring about a technology we depend upon today. Readers interested in women of science will find this slim book fascinating. However, fans of Hedy Lamarr looking for salacious tidbits of her Hollywood life and numerous marriages will have to look elsewhere.

Book Club Notes: Many of our members were fans of Hedy Lamarr and very familiar with her work as a Hollywood film star. We were all excited to learn about this amazing technology and lost piece of history. However, several members thought the title was misleading. As noted above, this book has three parts to it, and information about Hedy's glamorous life in Hollywood is limited. Several members were discouraged by the dry writing style. Also the technology was difficult to understand at times.

On a scale from 1 - 5, our ratings ranged from 2 - 5 with a group average of 3 stars. Recommended for book clubs interested in science, technology, and the contributions of women in science. This is not a well known topic, but a very worthy one. Our discussion was supplemented with talk about the movies Ms. Lamarr starred in. I also shared information about the patent. Book clubs interested in discussing this title can find a discussion guide at LitLovers.

Additionally, I created a few extra questions to add to the discussion: 
1.) What were your impressions of Hedy Lamarr before reading this book? Did these change after reading this title? 
2. What is invention? What is discovery? How are they similar or different? 
3.) What would George Antheil think about recent technology in music?  
4.) It was during her marriage to Fritz Mandl that Ms. Lamarr learned about weapons over dinner conversations. Were Hedy's ideas original or mostly borrowed? 
5.) Why did it take so long for Hedy to receive the recognition she deserved? 
6.) How would things be different today if Hedy's ideas of frequency hopping had been adopted earlier by the military? 
7.) Does anyone in the group invent or tinker?  

Finally, for those interested in learning more about Ms. Lamarr and her invention, there is a new documentary film out by Zeitgeist Films. Our group met before the release date, but many of us were interested in viewing it at a future date.

Details: Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr The Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes. Paperback published by Vintage Books in 2011. 262 p. ISBN: 978-0-307-74295-7 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Book Review: 'Take Three Colours: Watercolour Landscapes' by Geoff Kersey

✰✰✰✰½ The title of this slim book caught my eye as I browsed through the books about watercolor painting. As much as I like to purchase new paints in awesome colors, I have often wondered if I could mix the colors myself. It turns out that I can! Geoff Kersey takes what might be an intimidating concept and boils it down to the basics. By starting out with a simple cloudy sky and working through the exercises, it's easy to gain confidence in mixing colors. In simple terms, Kersey explains about how to use the colors and the brushes. The book also includes tips and jargon busters in appropriate places. If you have ever wanted to try your hand a watercolor painting, this is a great way to get started. Plus, it's so much fun!

The Bottom Line: This workbook is simply a delight. I had a wonderful time working through all of  the exercises, but my favorite was 'Glencoe' (pictured below).


I would highly recommended this book for both beginning and intermediate watercolor painters. The steps are easy to follow, and there are lots of full color examples. It provides an excellent foundation in mixing colors; however, I do need a little more practice mixing grays. I can't wait to tackle Kersey's other book in the series, Take Three Colours: Watercolour Seascapes.

Details: Take Three Colours: Watercolour Landscapes by Geoff Kersey. Paperback published by Search Press in 2017. 64 p. ISBN: 978-1-78221-297-3

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: 'Marley & Me' by John Grogan

✰✰✰✰✰ When you are young and in love, everything seems like a new adventure. So when newlyweds John and Jenny Grogan moved to Florida to begin their life together everything was going as planned. Then came Marley, a cute, cuddly, and wiggly puppy full of boundless energy. This rambunctious pup soon grew up to be nearly one hundred pounds. Obedience school was a joke, and there was just no stopping the antics Marley would get into.

Although he stirred up plenty of trouble, Marley’s heart was in the right place. He was a loyal and faithful companion even during the young couple’s most challenging times. Is it possible for a mere dog to teach humans a lesson or two about life? Check out this book to discover the joys and trials of being a pet owner.

The Bottom Line: This quick read made me laugh and cry over and over again. Marley reminded me so much of the dogs that have been a part of my life over the years. Reading about Marley's bond with John and Jenny will make you look at your own pet with new eyes. Author John Grogan is a gifted storyteller. This humorous and touching story is very enthusiastically recommended for teens and adults who enjoy books about animals, humor, and memoirs.

Book Club Notes: Although this title was and still is a popular one, none of the book club members had read it before. We were surprised by how much this story touched our hearts. We laughed. We cried. Sometimes we laughed and cried at the same time. This book gave us the opportunity to talk about our own pets and the lessons they provide. We also discussed the relationship between John and Jenny, as well as their relationship with Marley individually, as a couple, and as a family.

Our group has some very discerning readers, and all were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed this book. On a rating scale from 1 – 5, with 5 being the highest, we gave the book an overall rating of 5+. Wow! Out of all the discussions I have hosted over the years, that’s the highest rating ever. The movie, on the other hand, received a rating of 4. The group simply felt that the book provided more depth on sensitive and intimate moments than the film.

Grogan’s writing style combines humor and sensitivity to make this book a winner. Both John and Jenny were amazingly open with their story. This was one of the most animated discussions I have ever had the pleasure of hosting. It left the participants feeling positive about both human beings and animals. Pet lovers of all ages will relate to this memoir. Highly recommended for book clubs or film clubs.

Discussion questions and reading guides are available at Heartland Film and LitLoversAlso, check out scenes of Marley (as himself) in the film, The Last Home Run.

Details: Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan. Hardcover published by William Morrow in 2005. 291 P. ISBN: 978-0-06-081708-4 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book Review: 'Happy Easter, Davy!' by Brigitte Weninger

✰✰✰½ Little Davy and his family live in the woods. When his big brother tells the story of the Easter Bunny bringing pretty eggs and presents to human children, Davy and his siblings search for him. They want to know why the Easter Bunny doesn't visit them. They search high and low, but the Easter Bunny is nowhere to be found. Davy doesn't want his brothers and sisters to be disappointed on Easter day, so he comes up with a plan. Easter morning brings a surprise for everyone including Davy!

The Bottom Line: This is a sweet story of thoughtfulness written for the holiday. The watercolor and graphite illustrations in spring tones of greens, yellows, and blues are engaging. This tender tale will appeal to  preschool age children.

Details: Happy Easter, Davy! written by Brigitte Weninger & illsutrated by Eve Tharlet. Hardcover picture book published by North-South Books in 2001. 32 p. ISBN: 0-7358-1437-6

Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Review: 'Hoppy Passover!' by Linda Glaser

✰✰✰✰½ Two little bunnies visit their Grandma and Grandpa to celebrate Passover. There is much to learn as the little ones help fill the Seder plate. They sample the parsley, Grandma's special charoset, and even try the horseradish. After dinner, it's time to find the afikomen. Then they open the door for the prophet Elijah. Will he drink any wine? The little ones wait and watch as they learn about the best parts of the holiday.

The Bottom Line: The sweet tale of a family celebrating Passover will appeal to little ones and their parents. It's also a great introduction to the holiday for people of other faiths who want to learn about the Jewish holiday. Watercolor illustrations in vibrant, seasonal tones add to the appeal of this picture book. Highly recommended for storytime or bedtime reading for little ones in PreK - Grade 1. As a bonus, the book includes a recipe for Grandma's Charoset. Yum!

Details: Hoppy Passover! written by Linda Glaser & illustrated by Daniel Howarth. Hardcover picture book published by Albert Whitman & Company in 2011. 24 p. ISBN: 978-0-8075-3380-2

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Book Review: 'The Night Before St. Patrick's Day' by Natasha Wing

✰✰✰ In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, two children decorate the house and set traps for the tricky leprechaun. With streamers, shamrocks, and plenty of shiny things, how can the leprechaun resist? The next morning at breakfast, there's a loud clatter. The traps have worked! It seems like the little leprechaun has met his match and must reveal the location of his gold. However, as the kids soon learn, the leprechaun always gets the last laugh.

The Bottom Line: This is a cute St. Patrick's Day take on the classic Christmas poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Recommended for storytime for kids ages 3 - 6.

Details: The Night Before St. Patrick's Day written by Natasha Wing & illustrated by Amy Wummer. Hardcover picture book published by Grosset & Dunlap in 2009. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-448-44852-7