Archive for March, 2017

The Jazz of Physics, by Stephon Alexander

Monday, March 20th, 2017

The Jazz of Physics

The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe

by Stephon Alexander

Basic Books, 2016. 239 pages.
Starred Review

I heard Stephon Alexander speak at ALA Midwinter Meeting last year. He speaks with passion about how his love of jazz gave him insights into cosmology. (Of course, I was disposed to like him, because when I got the book signed and showed him my prime factorization scarf, he liked it so much, he called over his girlfriend, an artist, from another part of the exhibits so she could see it.)

As a Black American with roots in Trinidad, Stephon Alexander knows what it’s like to be a minority in physics. This book also tells his story and how he was inspired to turn to science.

I’ll admit, I don’t understand much about the equations or the physics mentioned in this book. But the author’s excitement comes across as he explains how he discovered insights about physics in music.

During all the years of formal training as a scientist, I found myself trying to reconcile my passion for music with physics. I started to not only see how the act of doing physics research could benefit from musical analogies but how our physical world actually had a musical character. Aside from the few mentors, such as Chris Isham and Robert Brandenberger, who had encouraged me to blend the two, I felt pressure to keep these two worlds separate. Physics to some is about absolute truths encoded in rigid mathematics, and music is a language of emotion. Perhaps this tension would not have been a big deal had I known that in the early days of science, music and astronomy were inseparable. To the modern musician and scientist, this may seem preposterous, but to early people, who lacked the scientific tools we now have, music became an analogy for the ordering and structure of the cosmos.

The book talks about sound and vibration and how it relates to string theory. He talks about sonic black holes and cosmic background radiation. Especially interesting is how he arrived at a breakthrough in string theory and cosmology by thinking about jazz improvisation.

I may not understand the details presented here, but I understand passages like this:

Weaving music and physics into one avenue of thought has showed me how to use notions in music as points of access to various fields in modern physics and cosmology. Analogies have helped make the physics more accessible and stimulating.

It is wonderful to think of following the footsteps of our ancestors — the great ancient thinkers who sought to understand physics through sound, and sound through physics. Pythagoras played with hammers and strings to try to understand where the pleasures of music came from, while Kepler used his intuition that the universe was musical to make major advances in the fields of astronomy, physics, and mathematics.

He talks about how the analogies not only help explain physics, but they also help new discoveries be made.

This book is not only about the analogy between music and cosmology but also about the importance of musical and improvisational thinking in doing physics. Theoretical physicists exemplify John Coltrane’s approach to music. We use an arsenal of conceptual and mathematical tools that we practice through examples that were worked out by past masters, like Einstein and Feynman. Likewise, jazz musicians like Coltrane master their tradition throughout countless hours of practice. But for both the theoretical physicist and the jazz improviser, it is not enough to simply master the material of the past; discoveries must be made.

He ends the book by saying, “My journey to reconcile jazz with physics serves as a living example of how a small group of physicists, in the spirit of the jazz tradition, embraced me and allowed me to improvise physics with them, while challenging me to go beyond my limits.”

stephonalexander.org
basicbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting and had signed to me by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? by Alison Limentani

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh?

by Alison Limentani

Boxer Books, 2016. 28 pages.
Starred Review

The more I look at this book, the more I like it. Right now, I’m planning to use it for my next Toddler and Preschool Storytimes, and even bring it to Kindergarten and first grade classes for booktalking. The idea is simple, but it’s got so much depth.

Here is the text of the first several pages:

10 ants weigh the same as 1 ladybug.

9 ladybugs weigh the same as 1 grasshopper.

8 grasshoppers weigh the same as 1 stickleback fish.

7 stickleback fish weigh the same as 1 garden snail.

You get the idea! The book progresses, counting down, through starlings, gray squirrels, rabbits, and fox cubs to 1 swan. Then, of course, to finish off, we learn:

1 swan weighs the same as 362,880 ladybugs.

The illustrations are simple and clear. This whole book could almost be thought of as an infographic, except that the animals are not icons, but detailed illustrations.

I love that the animals chosen are not your typical animal-book animals. But most of them (except maybe the stickleback fish) are ones a child is quite likely to see in their own yard or neighborhood.

The back end papers list average weights of all the animals (in a colorful diagram) with the note, “Different animals of the same species can vary in weight, just as different people do. All the weights in this book are based on animals within the average healthy weight range.”

I love the way this is a counting book, a math book (about relative weight and even multiplication), a beginning reader, and a science book (about these different species).

It’s also a beautiful picture book. The note at the front says, “The illustrations were prepared using lino cuts and litho printing with digital color.” They are set against lovely solid color backgrounds, so the animals show up nice and clear.

I have a feeling that reading this book frequently with a child will get that child noticing small animals and insects in the neighborhood and thinking about weights and differences and good things like that.

A truly brilliant choice for early math and science thinking.

boxerbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Scythe

by Neal Shusterman

Simon & Schuster, 2016. 435 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Printz Honor

Scythe is set in the future, when mankind has conquered death completely. The Age of Mortality is over. Everybody’s got nanites inside them that heal them quickly. Revival centers can bring “deadish” people back to life – even people who fall from buildings and splatter on the pavement. (Which of course becomes a reckless teen thing to do.)

Yes, people grow old, but when their body starts wearing out, they get surgery to “turn the corner” and rejuvenate their body to a younger age.

Earth indeed is run by computers, but that’s not seen as a disaster in this book. Here’s how they describe it.

The greatest achievement of the human race was not conquering death. It was ending government.

Back in the days when the world’s digital network was called “the cloud,” people thought giving too much power to an artificial intelligence would be a very bad idea. Cautionary tales abounded in every form of media. The machines were always the enemy. But then the cloud evolved into the Thunderhead, sparking with consciousness, or at least a remarkable facsimile. In stark contrast to people’s fears, the Thunderhead did not seize power. Instead, it was people who came to realize that it was far better suited to run things than politicians.

In those days before the Thunderhead, human arrogance, self-interest, and endless in-fighting determined the rule of law. Inefficient. Imperfect. Vulnerable to all forms of corruption.

But the Thunderhead was incorruptible. Not only that, but its algorithms were built on the full sum of human knowledge. All the time and money wasted on political posturing, the lives lost in wars, the populations abused by despots – all gone the moment the Thunderhead was handed power. Of course, the politicians, dictators, and warmongers weren’t happy, but their voices, which had always seemed so loud and intimidating, were suddenly insignificant. The emperor not only had no clothes, turns out he had no testicles either.

The Thunderhead quite literally knew everything. When and where to build roads; how to eliminate waste in food distribution and thus end hunger; how to protect the environment from the ever-growing human population. It created jobs, it clothed the poor, and it established the World Code. Now, for the first time in history, law was no longer the shadow of justice, it was justice.

The Thunderhead gave us a perfect world. The utopia that our ancestors could only dream of is our reality.

There was only one thing the Thunderhead was not given authority over.

The Scythedom.

When it was decided that people needed to die in order to ease the tide of population growth, it was also decided that this must be the responsibility of humans. Bridge repair and urban planning could be handled by the Thunderhead, but taking a life was an act of conscience and consciousness. Since it could not be proven that the Thunderhead had either, the Scythedom was born.

Scythes operate under their own jurisdiction, ruled by ten commandments. Scythes are to kill without bias, bigotry, or malice aforethought. They kill within quotas and give a year of immunity to the families of those who submit to the gleaning. The families of those who resist are gleaned as well.

Scythes are to lead an exemplary life in word and deed and to keep a journal.

So this is the background of this book. Such creative world building! It makes you think about the repercussions of such a world, and Neal Shusterman brings up many things I would have never dreamed of.

As the book begins, two teens, Citra and Rowan, are chosen to be apprentices of Scythe Faraday, a conscientious scythe. He chooses them partly because they don’t want to be scythes.

But scythes don’t usually take two apprentices. Scythe Faraday assures them that whoever is not chosen will resume a normal life after the year is up. But at the gathering of scythes, a new “modern” faction takes issue with that and demands that whichever one becomes a scythe, their first act will be to glean the other.

Scythe Faraday thinks of a way to get around this, but it backfires. The book takes the shape of a whodunit and a thriller.

Meanwhile, this other faction of scythes includes a leader who carries out mass gleanings and takes joy in killing. Which group will prevail, the conscientious gleaners who live simply and strive to serve humanity, or those who take joy in killing and think humanity should serve them?

This book is outstanding. The premise sounds a little grim, but it’s thoughtful and visionary and a good read as well.

The flap says this is the start of a series, but the book ties up completely. I wouldn’t have guessed it was more than a stand-alone if I hadn’t read the flap. All the same, I will be delighted to return to this intriguing future earth.

storyman.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

Monday, March 13th, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

by Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 388 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Newbery Medal Winner

In the Protectorate every year, the youngest baby is left in the woods for the Witch.

But this year, the mother of the child protests and goes mad and has to be locked up.

And Antain, the young apprentice to the Elders is disturbed by what he sees and asks uncomfortable questions. But the elders leave the baby anyway.

They left her knowing that there surely wasn’t a witch. There never had been a witch. There were only a dangerous forest and a single road and a thin grip on a life that the Elders had enjoyed for generations. The Witch – that is, the belief in her – made for a frightened people, a subdued people, a compliant people, who lived their lives in a saddened haze, the coulds of their grief numbing their senses and dampening their minds. It was terribly convenient for the Elders’ unencumbered rule. Unpleasant, too, of course, but that couldn’t be helped.

They heard the child whimper as they tramped through the trees, but the whimpering soon gave way to the swamp sighs and birdsong and the woody creaking of trees throughout the forest. And each Elder felt as sure as sure could be that the child wouldn’t live to see the morning, and that they would never hear her, never see her, never think of her again.

They thought she was gone forever.

They were wrong, of course.

Now, there is a witch who lived in the woods named Xan. Here’s her perspective on the Day of Sacrifice:

For as long as Xan could remember, every year at about the same time, a mother from the Protectorate left her baby in the forest, presumably to die. Xan had no idea why. Nor did she judge. But she wasn’t going to let the poor little thing perish, either. And so, every year, she traveled to that circle of sycamores and gathered the abandoned infant in her arms, carrying the child to the other side of the forest, to one of the Free Cities on the other side of the Road. These were happy places. And they loved children.

But this year, which was turning out so differently from usual, something about the baby caught at Xan’s heart. And as she journeyed with the baby, she accidentally fed it moonlight rather than the usual starlight.

There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. There is enough magic in starlight to content a baby and fill its belly, and in large enough quantities, starlight can awaken the best in that baby’s heart and soul and mind. It is enough to bless, but not to enmagic.

Moonlight, however. That is a different story.

Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.

So, baby Luna gets enmagicked, and Xan realizes that means she must care for the baby herself. So Luna grows up in the forest with tiny dragon Fyrian (who thinks he is Simply Enormous) and bog monster Glerk. When her magic comes in, there may be disastrous consequences, so Xan has to take momentous steps to control it.

Luna has no idea of her origins. And Xan has no idea what she has set in motion – things that are going to change the lives of everyone in the Protectorate and the forest. They will find the source of all the Sorrows and discover how to fight against it.

This is a lovely book with a fantasy world not quite like any other. We have the usual quest of good versus evil, but it proceeds in surprising ways.

I like the way this book celebrates Love and Joy. And conquering those who feed on Sorrows.

kellybarnhill.wordpress.com
AlgonquinYoungReaders.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Sonderling Sunday – Das Buch der Tausend Tage, Day 223

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books!

Tonight it’s already late, but it’s been a long time since I wrote a Sonderling Sunday post, so I’m going to try to do a short one.

I’m going back to one of my favorite books, Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale, Das Buch der Tausend Tage

[Okay, I just spent way too much time talking on Facebook about our upcoming Winter Storm. Now this post needs to be extra short.]

Last time, I covered Day 160 to 180 of Dashti’s days in the Tower.

Day 223 begins like this:
“This past week I was wishing for something new to happen so I could have a reason to write. It’s bad luck to make a vague wish like that, because Under, god of tricks, is bound to grant it with something unpleasant. And so he did.”
= Letzte Woche wünschte ich mir noch, etwas Neues zu erleben, das ich aufschreiben könnte. Solch schwammige Wünsche bringen nur Unglück, weil Unter, der Gott der Streiche, sie gerne mit etwas Unerfreulichem garniert, wenn er sie erfüllt. Und genau so ist es gekommen.

I love Shannon Hale’s turns of phrase:
“as though he called all the world to dinner”
= als würde er alle Welt zum Essen rufen.

“I want to punch him with all my strength”
= möchte ich ihn mit aller Kraft verprügeln

This has a nice sound in German:
“There was a knock on the flap” = Als jemand an die Klappe klopfte

“clanking and scraping” = klirren und kratzen

“burning straw” = brennende Stroh

“fiery chip” = brennender Span

I like this one:
“fizzled” = verpufften

“bright” = loderte

“ran and stomped and slapped” = rannte, trampelte und schlug

“My lady began to scream hysterics” = Meine Herrin fing an hysterisch zu schreien

“washcloth” = Waschlappen

“if the wood caught fire” = Wenn die Scheite erst mal zündelten

“partly charred mattress” = stellenweise verkohlten Matratze

“greasy black” = triefend schwarz

“willow flower” = Weidenblume

“chamber pot” = Nachttopf

“He hollered” = Er brüllte wie ein Stier

That section ends with:
“Then we lay back together and laughed in a tight way, as though we actually cried.”
= Rücken und bekamen einen Lachanfall, als würden wir heulen.

That’s all for tonight! This was a turning point and dramatic section. May you not need to use most of these phrases. And may all your troubles go verpufften.

Review of Duck, Duck, Porcupine, by Salina Yoon

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Duck, Duck, Porcupine

by Salina Yoon

Bloomsbury, May 2016. 70 pages.

This has the feel of another classic beginning reader. We’ve got friends in everyday situations — with a payoff ending. The story is told using speech bubbles (as well as pictures of lists). There are three stories, so it’s preliminary to chapters.

Classic beginning readers have two best friends. In this book, we’ve got a trio. There’s Big Duck, Little Duck, and Porcupine. Big Duck seems to think she’s the leader, but in all three cases, Little Duck figures out a solution.

The bright colors and thick line drawings are visually pleasing. The pages of this book reach out to the reader. Yes, the text is in speech bubbles, but there are only a few words on a page, and even the youngest reader will not have any trouble following which speech comes next.

The promise is that this is the first of a new beginning reader series. I love seeing books that not only help a child who’s beginning to be able to read on their own, but also give them something they will be happy to read. This story is good enough that kids not able to read yet will enjoy it just as much as those who gain the pride of reading it all by themselves.

salinayoon.com
bloomsbury.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Another Coded Blessing Blanket!

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

I finished another Mathematical Knitting Project!

This is another Coded Blessing Blanket.

This time, though, it’s for my 22-year-old son.

I’d finished knitting for babies in the family. (Though now it’s time to knit again.) So I asked my son if there were anything he’d like me to knit for him. He said, “Blue Blankie could use a stunt double.”

Blue Blankie is the blanket I knitted him when I was expecting his birth and I was on bed rest. After he was born, I gave him the blanket every time I fed him. I was happy when he took Blue Blankie with him to college, but yes, sadly, Blue Blankie is falling apart.

However, Tim said he’d like a purple blanket this time. And I’d already used the same pattern to knit a blanket for my niece Alyssa with a blessing coded in the stitches. So I decided to do the same for Tim.

Here’s how it works. The stitches make a sort of plaid pattern with knits and purls. The pattern has a sequence of 12 rows that make one large pattern-row. Each pattern-row has seven smooth panels on the front side of the blanket. And each smooth panel is split into two parts. So I used those panels to code words of seven letters or less.

The code I used was base 5. So A = 01, B = 02, C = 03, D = 04, E = 10, F = 11, and so on. So I only need 5 stitch patterns, using three stitches.

I used some simple patterns. 0 is knit each stitch. This matches the background.

1 is purl each stitch, making a bumpy row.

2 is a cable made by holding 2 stitches to the back.

3 is a cable made by holding 1 stitch to the front. (Making the cable go the opposite direction from 2.)

4 is a yarnover and knit 2 together — making a hole.

Here’s a closer look at how the stitches turned out.

And an even closer look.

The first four rows are my son’s name, Timothy Ronald John Eklund. So the first row, for example, is 40 14 23 30 40 13 100. (To knit Y, I began one stitch ahead of the 7-stitch panel, using 9 stitches for 100.)

I’m not going to tell what the rest of the blanket says, except to say it’s a blessing. Can Tim read the code?

Now, this is exactly the same way I made Alyssa’s Blessing Blanket, but it turned out that hers had an error. I had almost finished Tim’s at Christmas time, but finally proofread it — and found an error, took out about 50 rows, and reknitted them. But now it’s done, and it’s error-free!

And it was a wonderful thing to knit a blanket full of love for my 22-year-old son who had just moved to the other side of the country.

May you thrive, Tim!

Review of Thirty Million Words, by Dana Suskind, MD

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Thirty Million Words

Building a Child’s Brain

Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns

by Dana Suskind, M.D.

Dutton, 2015. 308 pages.
Starred Review

The thirty million words of the title refer to the number of words children hear from birth to 3 years of age. But that’s not the total number of words — that’s the gap between the number of words children from language-rich families hear and the number that children from language-poor families hear.

The number is based on a study done by Betty Hart and Todd Risley.

The data answered the paramount question: Was a child’s ultimate ability to learn related to the language heard in the first years of life? Three years of painstaking analysis left no doubt. It did. Counter to prevalent thought at the time, neither socioeconomic status, nor race, nor gender, nor birth order was the key component in a child’s ability to learn because, even within groups, whether professional or welfare, there was variation in language. The essential factor that determined the future learning trajectory of a child was the early language environment: how much and how a parent talked to a child. Children in homes in which there was a lot of parent talk, no matter the educational or economic status of that home, did better. It was as simple as that.

When they followed up with the children years later, the trend continued.

The essential wiring of the human brain, the foundation for all thinking and learning, occurs largely during our first three years of life. We now know, thanks to careful science, that optimum brain development is language dependent. The words we hear, how many we hear, and how they are said are determining factors in its development. The significance of this cannot be overemphasized since this window of time, if neglected, may be lost forever. When Hart and Risley looked at their data, the influence of early language on a child was unmistakable, the negative impact of a poor early language environment critical, including the effect on vocabulary acquision. Even more significant was evidence of the effect on IQ at three years of age.

Also important was what was said.

But quantity of words was only one part of the equation. While the number of words a child heard was important, imperatives and prohibitions appeared to stifle a child’s ability to acquire language.

“We saw the powerful dampening effects on development when [a child’s interaction with a parent] began with a parent-initiated imperative: ‘Don’t’ ‘Stop’ ‘Quit that.'”

Two other factors seemed to have an effect on language acquisition and IQ. The first was the variety of vocabulary the child heard. The less varied the vocabulary, the lower the child’s achievement at age three. The other influence was family conversational habits. Hart and Risley found that parents who talked less produced children who also spoke less.

This book is ultimately a book of hope, about teaching parents how important their words are.

The incredible power that helps nurture the brain into optimum intelligence and stability is parent talk. If the most profound mysteries of the brain are still to be discovered, that truth has already been revealed. And it shows you how smart the brain really is, because, in absolute evolutionary brilliance, it harnesses a plentiful, natural resource as the key catalyst for its own development. The process is so simple and hidden that you aren’t even aware it’s happening. You can’t sell it, you can’t store it, you can’t list it on the New York Stock Exchange, but a caregiver’s language is the essential resource of every country, every culture, every person, extending into every crevice of who we are, what we can do, and how we behave.

The book goes on to talk about how parent talk helps in every area of brain development.

But then it talks about how to turn this research into action. In the Thirty Million Words Initiative, parents are being taught effective ways to talk with their little ones.

I like the memorable Three Ts that parents are taught: Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns.

A little bit more about each one:

Of the Three Ts, Tune In is the most nuanced. It involves a parent’s making a conscious effort to notice what a baby or child is focused on, then, when it’s appropriate, talking with the child about it. In other words, focusing as the child is focused. Even if the child is too young to understand the words being spoken, even if the focus is constantly changing, Tuning In refers to a parent’s following and responding to a child’s lead. It represents the first step in harnessing the power of parent talk to build a child’s brain. If a parent is not Tuned In, the other Ts will not work.

The second T, Talk More, seems self-explanatory.

Talk More, which goes hand in hand with Tune In, refers to a parent’s increased talking with a child, especially about what the child is focusing on, not to him or her. While this may seem a subtle distinction, it is fundamental to the TMW approach. Talking More with a child requires a mutual level of engagement between the child and the parent. Like Tune In, it is another critical element of parent-child attachment and brain development.

And the final T puts it all together.

The final T, Take Turns, entails engaging a child in a conversational exchange. The gold standard of parent-child interaction, it is the most valuable of the Three Ts when it comes to developing a child’s brain. In order for the necessary serve-and-return of conversational interaction to be successful, there has to be active engagement between the parent and child. How does the parent achieve this? By Tuning In to what the child is focused on and Talking More about it. The key, whether a parent has initiated interaction or is responding to a child’s initiative, is for the parent to wait for the child to respond. That is what sets the stage for the critical Taking Turns.

The book goes on to talk about practicalities, and how this applies in many different ways and many different subject areas. But I like how nicely the content is summed up in the title alone.

As a children’s librarian, reading this book urges me to communicate these important principles to parents and helps me realize how important parent talk is, even from birth. I recommend this book for all parents, but also for anyone who works with babies or parents of babies. A powerful, hopeful message.

thirtymillionwords.org

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/30_million_words.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Illuminae

The Illuminae Files_01

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 599 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #13 Teen Fiction
2016 Cybils Award – Young Adult Speculative Fiction

First, a nod to Illuminae for winning the Cybils Award! My committee chose the book as one of our Finalists in Young Adult Speculative Fiction, and the final team of judges chose it as the winner! (I think I was the one who first put it on my working shortlist, though definitely not the last. It was one of the first books I read for the Cybils, while I was treating myself to a reading weekend right at the start. It was a big contrast with the fantasy I had been reading.)

Illuminae is a science fiction thriller. It’s set up as a file — a file of information taken from ship’s records and other sources. There’s a memo at the front, addressed to Executive Director Frobisher from The Illuminae Group.

You’ll find all intel we could unearth concerning the Kerenza disaster compiled here in hard copy. Where possible, scans of original documentation are included. Fun Times commence with the destruction of the Kerenza colony (one year ago today) and proceed chronologically through events on battle carrier Alexander and science vessel Hypatia as best as we can reconstruct them.

I found this bit quite amusing:

Some written materials were censored by the UTA and had to be reconstructed by our commtechs, though profanity remains censored as per your instruction. Sure, the story kicks off with the deaths of thousands of people, but god forbid there be cussing in it, right?

Throughout, all swearing was blacked out. So no one can complain about profanity in this novel. It amused me how one’s mind fills in the words, though.

The story, though. The story begins with the transcripts of “extracts of debriefing interviews with the subjects of this dossier, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason. The interviews were conducted shortly after the evacuation of Kerenza.”

It all began on the day Kady broke up with Ezra and was staring out the windows of her classroom figuring out all the things she should say to him. So she saw the spaceships arrive and fire on their settlement.

Their settlement was illegal, but had been there for twenty years. But a ship from rival corporation BeiTech came to wipe them out. Kady had her truck in the parking lot because she didn’t want to ride the tube home with Ezra, so she got to her truck. When Ezra knocked on the window, they both were able — just barely — to make it to the shuttles and supposed safety, though they were shipped onto two different ships of the three escaping.

The largest ship is the Alexander, a UTA battlecarrier, going to escort the other two ships to the nearest wormhole, 7 months travel away. The Alexander suffered some damage. It is not able to create its own temporary wormhole for transport, and there’s damage to AIDAN, their artificial intelligence network.

Kady is “good with computers” and figures out how to communicate with Ezra, despite all communication being shut down. And she wants to know what’s going on.

And things rapidly get worse and worse. Ezra has been conscripted to be a fighter pilot, so he witnesses AIDAN blowing up the other ship they’re escorting, though he refuses to fire on the escape pods filled with civilians, which are now under quarantine in Landing Bay 4 — but then the powers-that-be blame the destruction on the Lincoln, a BeiTech fighter ship that is out there, closing on them.

AIDAN gets shut down, but they know they’ll have to turn it on again when the Lincoln catches up to them in order to have any chance of escaping the Lincoln.

And — from there, the situation rapidly gets worse and worse. In this book you’ve got a virus that turns people into what are essentially psychotic zombies on an enclosed spaceship, military types incompetently trying to keep secrets, artificial intelligence taking over control, and an enemy space ship quickly approaching to blow them out of the sky.

And it’s a lot more exciting than I made it sound.

I realized just how high the death count was when I read the Acknowledgments at the back. It included lines like this:

… we also hope you never find yourself unexpectedly shivved through the eyehole of your hazmat suit by a small child.

… May your throats never be snipped open by a lunatic with a pair of pinking shears.

… May you never die howling, abandoned in an escape pod at the end of the universe.

… May you never be run over by a seventeen-year-old in a stolen truck after you shot her ex-boyfriend.

… We hope you’re never incinerated in a nuclear firestorm initiated by a mostly insane artificial intelligence off the shoulder of Kerenza VII.

You get the idea!

I had a few quibbles, especially with the portrayal of AIDAN. But mostly, despite the body count, this book had me cheering for Kady and her quest to get out the truth about the attack on Kerenza. I did wonder, many times, how in the universe these files were going to survive.

I’m reading a lot of fantasy novels for the Cybils, so it was refreshing to read some hard science fiction, executed brilliantly.

And I must mention, in case you couldn’t figure it out from the subtitle, that this is only Book One of a longer series. However, that is forgivable, since this segment of the story is complete, so you’re not left in an agony of suspense — though you definitely want to find out what happens next. They hit the sweet spot of what a reader would like to see in a Book One.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Lily and Dunkin, by Donna Gephart

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Lily and Dunkin

by Donna Gephart

Delacorte Press, 2016. 331 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #10 Children’s Fiction

Neither Lily nor Dunkin is happy with the name they were given at birth. Dunkin doesn’t like his name because it’s Norbert Dorfman, after his grandfather and great-grandfather. Lily doesn’t like her name because it’s Timothy. Lily knows she’s really a girl, and is trying to be brave enough to wear girl’s clothes to school when eighth grade starts, but she doesn’t quite manage it.

Dunkin met Lily before school started, and even saw her wearing a dress, but when he asks about it, Lily backs down and says it was just on a dare. Dunkin would like to be friends with Tim at school, but when the guys on the basketball team take an interest in him because he’s so tall, he can’t stay away — even though they’re the same guys who bully Tim.

On the surface, this is an issue book. Lily is dealing with being transgender and trying to get up the courage to go public with that. She also wants to go on hormone blockers before it’s too late, but her Dad’s having a hard time with it.

Meanwhile, Dunkin has his own issues. He’s got bipolar disorder. His mother decided to trust him to take his own medication this year. But if he takes his antipsychotic pills, he doesn’t have enough energy to play basketball. So he sneaks a pill into the trash each day.

As an issues book, I enjoyed this. It’s for a slightly older reader than George but I like the way both books help you understand how it would feel to be transgender and some of the many difficulties you’d face.

But the book does have more to it. There’s navigating friendships and eighth grade, and there’s an old tree in front of the library that’s scheduled to be cut down. It’s a tree that meant a lot to Lily and her grandfather who is now deceased. As for Dunkin, he’s the new kid. He’s just moved to Florida, leaving behind some kind of family disaster involving his Dad. He knows nothing about basketball, but now he has a chance to be somebody because he got his growth early. If he can learn enough about the game before it’s time to play.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/lily_and_dunkin.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?