Thursday, March 26, 2020

Book Review: The Other Einstein (OT)(physics, Nobel, women scientists, historical fiction)

The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict (Sourcebooks, 2016, 319 pages, $16.99)

By the Author of The Only Woman in the Room

We were so entranced by The Only Woman in the Room (the Hedy Lamarr story) that we decided to read all the other books by attorney Marie Benedict. Fortunately we only purchased The Other Einstein.

You will love the romantic old-fashioned style where the woman, even if brilliant, is constrained by society’s norms. Do not fear: you will not have to wade through explanations of physics and math: this book reminds me of an intermediate French course I once took in that the instructor, rather than talking in French, talked about French.

This is a world of curtsies, and calling people Mr. Einstein and Miss Grossman, and long train rides, and in-law problems, and long skirts, and children born out of wedlock, and anti-Semitism even then. And early 20th century (emotional) spouse abuse. However, keep in mind that this is historical fiction.

After a hectic day, you may enjoy a slow, rhythmic book to lull you to sleep. Einstein is that book. Even relaxing.

Did you know that Albert Einstein’s wife (first wife, a cripple) met him when both were undergrads at a Polytechnic and that she was also brilliant and may have been the brains behind the theory of relativity and the Nobel Prize? Although this is historical fiction, the conversations seem quite believable, as does the fact that we are a result often of the times we live in.

In the early 1900s, a woman spent her entire day cooking and cleaning with little time for physics and mathematics conversations until after the children were in bed. And the papers these women wrote were better accepted by the scientific community with their husband’s names as senior authors or even as sole authors as may have been the case with the Einsteins. And the Nobel Prize. . . You will recognize so many names: Planck, Curie, Haber, Nernst, Rutherford, Poincare – perhaps the Golden Age of Physics.

Add to that, a marriage that separates, a sick child or two, and you have a mesmerizing tale, if you can see beyond the female intellect stifled, shut out by the times and her husband who actually depends upon her for daily life and for her prolific mind.

Bohemian, Philistine, Bourgeoisie – Which Is It?
Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

Also by Benedict, Carnegie's Maid: A Novel

Monday, March 23, 2020

Book Review: When Books Went to War, part 2

When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II, by Molly Manning (Mariner Books, 2015, 304 pages, $23.15)

Part Two

What My Veterans' Book Club Thinks of When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win WW II

I am fortunate enough to be part of a veterans’ book club at my county public library. As part of a grant, 15 military veterans receive four former-library books from different eras to read and discuss over a meal. Members of the book club include both men and women from all braches of the military, and veterans from Korea to Afghanistan.

We first read a couple of articles, followed by When Books Went To War and Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army. Our final two selections will be No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden and Bringing Vincent Home, a novel about a burn victim of war.

Some of the older military history buffs in our group noticed numerous historical errors among the trivia and minutiae that were unnecessary, making it ‘reporter-y’ and a dry read.  Footnotes could have made this a more bearable read. More human-interest stories (like parables in religious writings) would have made a world of difference. The author jumped around but that was enjoyable. 

Author and attorney Molly Manning also could have added a chapter on more recent military conflicts and the presence or absence of books. For example, in 2002-03, a revival of the ASEs was published and distributed, consisting of seven book titles. And when this reviewer was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007-08 she found an abundance of Reader’s Digests and books donated by James Patterson. Soldiers could request certain items from groups of supporters back home, so this reviewer requested a book of poems by Robert Frost and a statistics textbook. We also live in the computer age so perhaps movies, phone calls back home, and books on tape are easily accessible by individuals.

To a T, we were all amazed that such a huge variety of book titles were requested and sent to troops and passed around from one to another, but, after all, drafted troops came from all groups and locations in the country and at times had idle time.

We were mixed as to whether or not we would have chosen the title, When Books Went to War, for a veterans’ book club. Some preferred to stick with personal stories like our other selections.

(Other things the group remarked on included the following: the book burnings, the successful book drives, integration and GI education, the rise of the paperback, and whether or not people donated books as part of the home front initiative or merely to junk old books)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Book Review: Hank Zipzer - A Tail of Two Tails

Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever - A Tale of Two Tails, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver (Grosset & Dunlap, 2008, 155 pages, number 15 of 17, $4.99, ages 7+, grades 2+)

Yes, THAT Henry Winkler!

Why did we not know that our very own favorite Fonzie – Henry Winkler – is an author of three book series* for pre-teens plus a book on fishing and family for adults? And maybe more.

The Mascot Contest

Fifth-grader Hank (named after the author perhaps?) decides to enter his hot-dog dog Cheerio in the PS87 (public school number 87 in New York City) contest for the school mascot for the year. Each team is composed of one pet and a team of students. The pet has to do a trick and the team has to write an essay.

When our hero Hank heard about the essay, “silence fell faster than the speed of sound.” Our Hank is no student (see quote below) but he is a whiz with conversing with adults with adult humor that may be lost on kid readers at times.

I took the clipboard . . . and entered my name. . . . The third column asked for what kind of pet you were entering, and at first, I started to write dachshund, but I stopped short when I realized I had no idea how to spell it. I mean, I was stumped after the d. So I just finished it up with a quick og and with that, Cheerio was an official contestant. (p. 16)

How to Train a Cheerio – Positive Reinforcement?

Cheerio undergoes several ‘training’ sessions with various kids rotating onto and off Team Cheerio, both before and after being arrested! The authors understand dog training with treats, sort of, but use verbal cues before luring so the treats become bribes not rewards and the training doesn’t work very well: Cheerio can almost roll over and almost sit up. However, if Cheerio doesn’t win the Mascot Award, perhaps he will win the Best Consolation Prize ever!

One of the authors, Henry Winkler
Revolving Teams

“Let’s go to Plan B,” Frankie suggested.
“Like, right away,” Ashley agreed.
“Great idea,” I said. “Anyone have a Plan B?” (p. 41)

Hank learns a lot about teamwork and a little about fractions. His team defects to his sister’s team with Katherine the Iguana – from Cheerio the Dog: from Team Cheerio to Team Katherine. Can you imagine that?

This prompts our hero to ask a kindergartener rather than another fifth-grader to be on Cheerio’s team (a discussion idea) and then the teammates switch sides yet again!

Even though a dog appears often in Hank Zipzer, a nice substory relates how Hank befriends a kindergartener and invites the kid to come onto Team Cheerio: 

“Can I come?” Mason asked, running his chocolate-covered fingers through his red curly hair. His mom fumbled around in her bag for a Kleenex or something, so she could wipe his fingers clean. I remember when my mom used to do that. You just wanted to eat your candy bar, and there was your mom, cleaning you up before you could even finish it. Boy, it was rough being a kindergartener. (p. 22)

Who Should Read This Hank Zipzer Book?

-Adults – if you have a lot of patience
-Kids – if you like dogs or iquanas or hate school. Isn’t that just about every kid?
-Adults reading to kids – if you have a lot of patience
-Kids reading to adults – just about any kid

Great Titles in the Series!

Niagara Falls, Or Does It? (book 1)
A Short Tale About A Long Dog (book 2)
Day Of The Iguana (3)
The Night I Flunked My Field Trip (5)
Help! Somebody Get Me Out Of Fourth Grade! (7)
Summer School! What Genius Thought That Up? (8)
My Dog’s A Scaredy-Cat (10)
The Curtain Went Up, My Pants Fell Down (11)
Barfing In The Back Seat, Or How I Survived My Family Road Trip (12)
Who Ordered This Baby? Definitely Not Me! (13)
A Tale of Two Tails (15)

*The Hank Zipzer, the Ghost Buddy and the Alien Superstar series
Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Wash Those Hands! You Know How. Here is When.

We all now know how to wash our hands but do you know when to wash your hands? This checklist may help. I even left some blank for you to fill in with your specifics. Some of these you will do several times a day and at other times you will not be able to wash your hands so always bring along hand sanitizer.
_____ when you get up in the morning
_____ after using the bathroom
_____ after taking your dog for a walk (regardless if he does his business or not)
_____ after feeding the dog
_____ before making and eating breakfast
_____ before taking pills
_____ before brushing your teeth
_____ before getting out a cigarette to smoke (does anyone smoke anymore?)
_____ before eating an apple or peeling an orange for a snack
_____ before putting gum in your mouth
_____ after pushing a button in the elevator
_____ after using the escalator at the Metro (subway)
_____ after getting up from a public seat (doctor’s office, bus, taxi)
_____ before lunch
_____ after petting the dog
_____ after playing fetch
_____ after brushing your dog
_____ after handling money, credit cards
_____ after opening the mail
_____ after using a seatbelt
_____ before hugging your child
_____ after adjusting or putting your child in a highchair/booster seat or getting him out of it
_____ before making/eating supper
_____ after using a menu, the salt shaker – at the restaurant and before eating
_____ after doing the dishes or using a sponge
_____ after loading the dishwasher, washing machine
_____ after using the phone
_____ before brushing your teeth
_____ after using the phone
_____ after using the keyboard
_____ after using a mouse
_____ after filling the car up with gas
_____ after coughing
_____ blowing your nose
_____ combing your hair
_____ before and after putting in/taking out contact lenses

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Rook Review: Theodore Boone: The Accused (dog, 8th grade boy, crimes, heroes)

Theodore Boone, The Accused, by John Grisham (Puffin, 2012, 271 pages, $8.99 paperback, ages 8+, grades 3+)

This was a time when 13-year-old boys rode their bikes everywhere in their small town. This was a time when Monday night meant Chinese take-out; Tuesday, volunteering at the homeless shelter for dinner (soup and a sandwich) and helping younger kids with math homework afterwards; Wednesday was the daily special at a Turkish deli, brought home; Thursday – an Italian restaurant, always at the same table; Friday, fish at Malouf’s, a rowdy Lebanese bistro; Saturday, each Boone, in turn, selected his/her favorite and on Sundays, the busy attorney, Mrs. Boone, would try another roast chicken recipe. Life was simpler then.

Meet Theo, Kid Lawyer

Lucy the llama makes quite an appearance, spitting all the way, and young Theo, kid lawyer, ends up defending her successfully in Animal Court* (AKA Kitty Court in other books of the series, such as The Abduction).

A simple plot that is added to, linearly, in each chapter but with Uncle Ike’s help you think you know the culprit who is accusing our hero and planting evidence that points only to Theo.

The Accused begins with a murder trial that can’t begin without an accused who pops up later, towards the end of the book. But with our young hero, Theo, also being accused, you may wonder who the book is really about. Maybe there are two story lines. Maybe this book is like a Saturday afternoon matinee, to be continued next week, in the next book of the series.

Crime, guilt, burglary, fights, vandalism, a stalker, school suspensions and false accusations, rocks thrown through windows, search warrants, flying lessons, Boy Scouts, the VFW, slashed bike tires – again and again, planting the stolen loot, school locker break-ins, Uncle Ike the disbarred lawyer-turned-hippie, and finally, more of Judge the dog**.

As you finish The Accused, you may wonder who really was the hero after all. You will turn the last page to start in on chapter one of The Scandal
and then, if you haven’t read Kid Lawyer yet, the first chapter is also included to hook you.

Author John Grisham remembers what it was like to be an eighth-grade boy, or, at least, what we would have liked it to be like, living in a small town where kids bike everywhere. Where the protagonist has an ideal family and dog and is a good guy himself – smart and well-liked but one who still gets into trouble on occasion. And Grisham also adds funny little anecdotes.

All in all, this a great series for pre-teen boys, girls and adults alike.
Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

*The previous book also told of Theo’s ‘lawyery’ work in Animal Court with an African Grey Parrot. I wonder if each book will have a subplot with a different animal. Guess I’ll have to read them all to find out – or you could, and comment below.

**Will Judge the dog play an increasingly larger role in each succeeding book? We hope so. It has certainly started out that way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Book Review: Love My Rifle More Than You, Part Two

Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Armyby Kayla Williams (Norton, 2005, 290 pages, $24.95)

Part Two

This reviewer takes part in a Veterans’ Book Club that runs for five months under a special grant at the county library. Members include veterans from all five services and from every recent conflict, men and women both, but a group with rotating membership as it turned out, both losing and gaining members each month.

Love My Rifle is the second book we read and discussed (after When Books Went to War). My review of Love My rifle appears here but I thought I would add the comments from other veterans who read the book or spoke with the author.

First of all, we were amazed at the rapid publication - within a year of Kayla Williams’ return to the US after her deployment to Iraq. We decided this was due to being the right person at the right place at the right time: female, after the Iraq conflict supposedly ended, the author having a college degree and having been in combat, and Norton (a prestigious publishing house).

One veteran in our group joined the military in spite of her father saying that all military women were either whores or lesbians: this mirrored Williams’ mention of a fellow soldier calling female soldiers either sluts or bitches. And I learned a new term, WUBA – woman used by all. Despite all this, my years in the Army did not expose me to any more gender-based negative experiences than my civilian years did. Did bitching among the bitches really take place to the extent the author experienced or does each person in the military experience his or her own individual world?

The book club discussed the need to dehumanize the enemy in order to survive, a theme rampant in World War II and more recent wars. We talked about ‘herd mentality’ and compared situations in Love My Rifle to My Lai and the Nazis creating The Holocaust. 

Perhaps the younger one is, the more one is susceptible to the pressures of the group.

Our facilitator emailed Williams who responded about the tensions of her transition back into the civilian world, particularly since she married a wounded veteran and subsequently became a civilian – the trials and tribulations of a civilian in the military medical system was quite taxing, especially for a spouse who was a veteran. We all took home a copy of a blog Williams wrote on the subject (“Dear Military Spouses: I’m Sorry”) and learned of her follow-up book, Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War.

We talked about the several incidents in Love My Rifle where a lower-enlisted person back-talked to an NCO and got away with it – perhaps a different culture exists in combat. And none of us experienced such poor leadership and lack of professionalism from NCOs as did Wiilliams. (Book Club members were in the military both before and after the author.)

A major portion of our session focused on both the sexual harassment and the interrogation incident (and suicide) and the frequency (or lack thereof) of the former along with my experiences of the latter. (I did not mention the female in my unit who threatened suicide with her weapon – I wonder if the relative percentage of females attempting or committing suicide is greater than that of males.) We talked about ROE (rules of engagement) and one person brought up the notion that the thin line between an army and a mob was separated only by discipline. With less than the requisite discipline, that line has a greater probability of being crossed.

All in all, our book club session was so engrossing that some of the members asked me to see if we could continue the book club after May when the grant is finished. That will be easy to do and very worthwhile to talk among men and women veterans from different eras!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Book Review: Theodore Boone, The Abduction (kid lawyer, kidnapping, dog)

Theodore Boone, The Abduction, by John Grisham (Puffin, 2011, 217 pages, $8.99 paperback, ages 8+, grades 3+)

Kid Lawyer with a Dog

Here at DogEvals, we have been busy, busy, busy, way too busy, reading non-dog books for some prestigious literary awards – so many books (and most of questionable quality) that this blog has suffered (the next excuse will be a spring semester course in creative writing but I’ll save that one for later!).

But now we are back and so happy to read about dogs again that we started with a quick, easy one: Theodore Boone, The Abduction.

Previously DogEvals reviewed the first Theodore Boone book in the series, Kid Lawyer here and we were lucky enough to find several more in the series (so, stay tuned for the rest!) This is the second.

The Pacing

A book primarily for pre-teen boys (and girls), The Abduction starts out slowly as do many of the pre-teen books we read. Each chapter ends with a slight cliff-hanger to keep the interest of the young reader perhaps, but, towards the end, the action picks up rapidly and the denouement is complex enough to tie up all the loose ends.

Theo is a typical 8th grader and it’s fun to remember what middle school was like (or junior high) and debate club and living with parents. He is a good kid and you will like him fretting about possibly getting into trouble and biking to school and even texting his mother when asked. He vacillates between wanting to become a world-famous lawyer or a world-famous judge. The reader may want to do the same after reading this series, may want to go into law, with all the new knowledge absorbed from Theo.

Speaking of parents, The Abduction has two sets on opposite ends of the spectrum – one set who separate on occasion and are of the hippie persuasion (a musician of sorts and a cheese-maker) and the other set who are both tied to schedules so much that every Monday night is Chinese food night and Tuesday is pizza, etc. But we love them because they love Theo and the feeling is mutual! And the whole town knows and loves Theo, making this a warm reading reminiscent of “Father Knows Best” or The Bobsey Twins or Nancy Drew.

Judge, the Dog

In each book we learn a little more about Theo’s dog, Judge, a mutt who goes to work every day with Theo’s parents, both lawyers, and is content to snooze, sometimes creeping quietly from room to room in the law offices, hoping for a handout. At home, the Judge slept under Theo’s bed.

The Judge came home to live with Theo after a case in ‘Kitty Court,’ also known as animal court.

In Kid Lawyer, Judge hardly makes an appearance and so goes the first half of The Abduction. Theo manages to take Judge in the car as they go to hunt for his best friend, April, several hours and a couple of states away (it appears the book is set in Pennsylvania by the sound of Theo’s hometown of Strattenburg, a mention of DC (the District of Columbia) and a midnight drive through Virginia to a university in North Carolina to find an aging hippie band. Of course, our hero, 13-year-old Theo, takes along his disbarred and unique uncle Ike as the driver.

Kids Thrive on Conservation

This series reminds us of Saturday matinees from the 20s and 30s (so I’m told) starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland or comics with Archie and Veronica and Betty and Ronnie and Jughead. And because the set of seven Theo books could have been one long long book of short stories but isn’t, author James Patterson uses some of the same introductory paragraphs in each book – just in case there is a lengthy period of time between reading them all or in case you start in the middle of the series. The reader will recognize his repeated setting-the-stage and feel comfortable*. Or not.

The Plot

April disappears in the middle of the night. Theo was the last one she talked to (on the phone). The entire town searches for her for days and even drag the river , yielding a body – not hers. An escaped convict is apprehended and spins a story. And there is more: African Grey Parrot Pete also makes an appearance. Have you ever read a mystery book for kids with an African Grey Parrot in it? Here’s your chance!

Next on our list to read: Theodore Boone, The Accused (the first six seem to be in alphabetical order)

Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

*A Kid Lawyer

Theodore Boone is an All-American 13-year-old boy who rides his bike to school in a small town and is experiencing growing up pains.

Theo is the only child of two lawyers (a divorce lawyer who stays in his office, and one who is super-organized but only cooks twice a year) and the nephew of a disbarred hippie lawyer. Theo is smart and well-liked, in the Debate Club (but not athletic), and is also the only eighth grader in town with his own ‘law office.’

But Theo is not your average 13-year-old boy: half a dozen kids and grown-ups come to him for personal legal advice, including a potential witness to a murder. And then there are the requisite shady characters plus the smell and look and sounds of a courtroom where our hero, Theo, hopes to preside one day as a wise judge.