Book Review:Wonderful Life with the Elements by Bunpei Yorifuji

I can remember sitting in chemistry class in high school, totally confused about much of the periodic table. Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely loved the class, and have always been fascinated with science. But I had a really hard time mentally cataloging the various elements according to their properties.

That’s what makes Yorifuji’s book so valuable. Rather than having to memorize a list of facts about each element, now you can just look at the picture. Each element is represented by a character, with different facial, clothing, and hair features that indicate different things about that element. See a picture of an element with an impressive afro? That’s a noble gas. The nitrogen family sports mohawks, while the actinides have a hairstyle that reminds me of Bozo the Clown. Every detail of each element’s drawing means something; visual learners will love this book.

Students in general will love this book, though; it’s easy to read, and full of fascinating facts about the elements. The elements are even given relevance to the students’ daily lives, with sections on “Elements in the Living Room” and “How to Eat The Elements.” You can even find out how much a human being is worth—or at least the average cost of the elements in the average human being.

This book is a bit smaller than I thought it would be—5″ x 6″, and only about an inch or so thick. The print was often too small for my ancient eyes, but my sixth grader had no trouble reading and enjoying the book. She has inherited my love of all things sciency, and this book has opened her eyes to a wealth of possibilities.

Most science-minded adults will already know much of what is in this book, having had to memorize them years ago in chemistry class. But those same science-minded adults will certainly be giving this book to their science-minded offspring, who will learn and enjoy.

Book Review:The Liberator by Alex Kershaw

World War 2 produced many heroes, and many stories that haven’t seen print yet. Alex Kershaw has brought one truly fascinating story to light in this book, which tells the story of Felix Sparks and, to a lesser extent, the men he led through Europe. Kershaw sticks to Sparks’ perspective throughout the book, pausing only momentarily to introduce us to other characters who will become important to Sparks’ story. We see everything through Sparks’ eyes, which often leads to a skewed perspective on historical figures like Mark Clark. We see events through the filter of a “common soldier” — which is ultimately what Sparks is throughout the book, no matter what his rank. He continues to consider the soldiers he leads, and everything that happens, every order given, is seen not in a grand strategic or even grand political light, but in a very tactical light. Withdrawals that make sense strategically are seen as defeats because of the moral of the soldiers who fought for those gains, only to have to give them back. The truly moving part of the book comes almost at the end, when Sparks and his Thunderbirds liberate Dachau. This is an event that changes how each of his men looks at the war, and their duty.

Throughout the book, Sparks is an advocate for his men, often arguing with his superiors when his men’s lives are at stake and are about to be sacrificed unnecessarily. Kershaw paints him as the only real sympathetic character with any rank at all; while this makes for a fascinating and entertaining read, the history nerd in me wants to learn more — to see the other side of Sparks’ conflicts with his superiors, to find the warts and imperfections that would make Felix Sparks more than just a character in a book. That’s really the only shortcoming I found in this highly readable account of a part of the war that is far too often ignored.

No Starch Promotion!!

OK, so I’ve got a copy of Wonderful Life with the Elements coming from the folks at No Starch Press. This is a really intriguing book, especially for parents of middle school/high school age kids, because of the approach it takes to identifying the elements. Just from looking at the promo piece I had emailed to me, the book looks REALLY fun.

And now you can get 40% off the book, AND be entered into a contest to receive a free periodic table poster. PLUS, you get a FREE EBOOK EDITION with your purchase. You can’t beat that deal with a stick!!

Head over to the promotion page for your discounted book and your shot at winning a poster! I just wish I could win the poster ….

Fake Book Reviews and the Internet

I haven’t posted much on here lately, which I’m hoping I will be able to correct in the not too distant future, but when I read this piece about fake book reviews thanks to a link from Tim Challies, I had to post something here about it.

It is, unfortunately, very easy for fake book reviews to be published online. It is also very easy for an author to set up a “book review blog” and review his or her own work, in addition to others in that genre. And I’m sure that there are some authors who view this as simply an extension of their social media strategy, just like setting up and maintaining a Facebook page or Twitter account. But pretending to be someone you aren’t is a colossally bad marketing strategy, and it saddens me that we would actually have to say that out loud. I would encourage everyone to look at all the reviews something gets online before making a decision to buy it; if there are a bunch of three star reviews, and one five star review, it’s a safe bet that the five star review is fake – it’s at least an outlier that shouldn’t really be factored into a buying decision. Read with discernment and a critical eye.

I’m usually pretty critical of reviews that do not mention anything bad about a book, even though I know I’ve written a few of those. I also like to look at other reviews the writer has written, just to see what they thought of other things (or to see if this is the only review someone has written, which can also be a giveaway). And I’m always critical of book reviews written by folks using obvious pseudonyms, until they’ve proven themselves trustworthy (for the record, Warren Kelly is, in fact, my real name).

Once upon a time, it was tough to be a book reviewer. You had to work for a newspaper or syndicate, you had to have some type of background, and you had to have some sort of credibility. The rise of new media on the Internet has changed that; electronic publishing allows anyone to be an author, and that same technology allows anyone to be a reviewer. It is up to the reader, unfortunately, to read reviews with discernment, being aware that things are not always as they seem to be.

The Sword Available as a FREE Audiobook

Quite some time ago, I reviewed The Sword by Bryan Litfin. I’m looking forward to reading the third book in this trilogy, which I’m hearing will be out soon from Crossway, but in the meantime, Christianaudio.com is offering the audiobook for The Sword for free this month.

I love the fact that Christianaudio offers a free audiobook every month, and I really haven’t mentioned them enough here on the blog. I’ve got a TON of audiobooks this way, and I’ve enjoyed them all. So head over and get this book for free — and keep checking back with them each month to see what other goodies they have available.

EDIT TO ADD:

I just got my own free download, and noticed that The Gift (book 2) is available right now for just $4.98 — and so is The Kingdom (book 3) if you are willing to preorder it! This is an awesome deal, and I appreciate the folks at Christianaudio.com and Crossway for making this available!

Book Review: The Janus Affair by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

The Wait Is Over.

That’s all I could think of when review copies were made available for the sequel to last year’s Phoenix Rising — the first volume chronicling the adventures of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. That book, added to my habitual reading of the Girl Genius webcomic, became my gateway into the world of steampunk — a truly fascinating place, to be sure.
Continue reading

INCOMING!!!!

I probably should have warned you all, but today is “Get Caught Up on Book Reviews Day.” The ones I’ve posted so far are reviews that I finished a while ago but hadn’t posted here yet — both Amazon Vine program books that I posted reviews for there first (so I could get more books!). I’ve got a few more coming, so brace yourselves!!

AND I just got two MORE books in the mail today that need reviewing.